Through the Looking Glass Chapter 28
By Lucrecia Marionette
"So anyway, after the storm hit the farm it was a complete wreck. And I mean complete. The chocobos had scattered to the high winds and we never saw them again. Dad was distraught; it had taken his father his entire life to breed the gold choc, and after only a few weeks of running the place, hed managed to lose it in a night.
"Thats why we moved to Midgar in the end. Dad spent the money he got by selling our only specialised bird- the blue river one, Aqua. He got a lot of Gil for it, whoever bought it though seemed to think that it was just for show. A weird bird, probably a mutant with bright blue feathers! He gave us plenty of money for it though. We had enough to get a pretty shoddy apartment on the upper plate.
"Whatever money he, my dad that is, had been putting into my college fund was taken out. Instead he used it to buy me self-defence lessons; said that theyd be more useful. Said that there was no point planning for the future when you couldnt be sure if you even had one. The sector wed moved into was one of the worst for crime and that sort of thing."
Malcolm stopped and looked up at his superior. The fact that he had been speaking persistently for the past three hours now without so much as a grunt or nod of understanding was finally worrying him.
Vincent sat with his elbow pressed up against a tiny ledge beneath the dusty porthole in the side of the metallic truck. His cheek was planted wearily against the gloved palm; his other hand lay idly over his lap, the fingers brushing absently against the hilt of his silver pistol. His dark brown eyes didnt even flicker, nor his countenance shift at the sudden cessation of his rookie partners life story.
He occasionally blinked, but nothing more as his eyes found purchase on the drab mountainous skyline of the rapidly approaching Mt Nibel.
"Uh Sir?" Malcolm ventured warily as he leant forward a little. "Mr Valentine, sir?"
Reaching across very slowly, he nipped the navy blue sleeve of the Turk leaders jacket between his index and middle fingers and gave it a subtle tug. With a sudden, alarming flurry of movement, Malcolm found himself whirling through the small compartment, his arm twisted around his back and the icy cold circle of a gun barrel jabbing against his temple.
He was face down on the floor with a large weight on top of him; the weight of a six-foot tall Turk to be precise. His ribcage was crushed and his eyes were only capable of focusing on the grimy, metal plated floor when the agonised specks of pain cleared themselves from his vision.
The entire event had taken less than a heartbeat, and it was only now that he released what had happened did a pathetic squeak of surprise escape his lips. "Ow," he whimpered feebly into the floor.
Vincent blinked for a moment, uncertain as to why he was suddenly sat on top of his comrade, or why he had the barrel of his pistol pressed up against the young mans head. He frowned to himself eventually, and stood up whilst holstering the weapon.
Gradually realising that he was free to move, Malcolm pushed himself hesitantly off the floor and sat back on his heels. The entire left side of his face was black with dirt, and the front of his previously impeccable suit was brown; bits of fluff and other, less pleasant substances clinging to the fabric. He frowned deeply and almost comically from his grubby position and glared at his superior.
"What the hell was that for? If you didnt like my lifestory then you couldve just said so, you know." He rubbed the back of his neck sulkily as he stared menacingly at Vincent.
The older Turk stared back at him, his expression impassive yet dazed as his mind grudgingly pieced together the events of the past minute. "I, uh," he faltered as he sought vainly to find the right words. "Sorry. You caught me by surprise."
Malcolm winced a little as he dragged himself back onto his seat, a rather fragile looking crate, and pulled out a handkerchief to start wiping down his face. "Youve on edge ever since that shooting accident." He stopped to gauge the dark mans reaction but could discern no emotion through his typically imperturbable visage. "Has it really bothered you that much? I mean, youve killed loads of people, right?"
Vincent sat down on his own crate and leant forward a little, resting his elbows on his knees and allowing his hands to hang loosely between his long legs. "Most people I kill for a reason; mindlessly following orders just so I can stay in my nice apartment in the HQ and get a fat cheque at the end of the year. They tend to be rebels or anarchists of sorts and I have no qualms with setting people like that to rest. They annoy me; they persist in fighting a lost cause and at the end of the day feel as though theyre doing something glorious. They set off bombs, they vandalise properties and create general chaos in the name of some magnificent ideal. Yet, if indeed they got their way without the ruling power of Shinra, theyd be lost and alone. They wouldnt have a clue what to do with themselves or the free-for-all they willve created."
He stopped and leant back against the side of the truck compartment, folding his arms and staring down at the floor. Malcolm tucked his soiled hanky away and stared at him. "So you think that Shinras right?"
Vincent gave a snort of derision. "Im not choosing sides. Im open to all options; whoever has the best argument wins my vote. The fact is that at the moment Shinra is winning. Hes not the most moral man in the world, hes more like the devil himself as he prances around in that red suit waving around a cigar which costs more than a house in the slums. Its not my fault if he presents a better case than the mindless criminals who call themselves freedom fighters."
Malcolm fell silent as he mulled over the intense opinions presented to him from the usually morose, wordless man opposite him. He knitted his fingers together contemplatively and leant back against the compartment wall with a blank expression. "Is that why you were upset about killing the old man? Because he didnt turn out to be a rebel or spy?"
Vincent slowly lifted his head and met the eyes of the rookie. "Yes," he replied eventually, Malcolm shifting a little nervously under the vehement stare. "That and many things."
"Perhaps Ill tell you some other time. But now, it is a personal matter."
Malcolm shrugged. "Youre the boss." He turned back over his shoulder and looked askance at the increasingly lifeless landscape of the Nibel foothills. Their destination could be no more than ten minutes away; theyd been travelling solidly in the tin on wheels for about five hours and every bone in his body seemed shattered and bruised. As he lifted his arms in a languorous stretch, a moan passed his lips with exertion. "So why have we been sent out to this dump anyway?" he asked.
Vincents eyes flicked back to him from the window and for a long time there was silence. Malcolm prepared to ask again before Vincent hastily intervened. "Training. The President noticed the way you froze up at the sight of the dead body. By taking you out here in the middle of nowhere, I can acclimatise you to killing. Well start on small things of course, but he expects activity from Wutan spies concerning the secret experiments going on here. With any luck, by the time they make an appearance you will be able to effectively assist me in removing them."
Malcolms eyebrows raised in surprise but his frame sank a little in shame. "Was he really pissed off with me because I bailed?"
Vincent shook his head. "He doesnt care whether or not you faint at the sight of blood or torture civilians in your spare time. So long as you do what he tells you to then youre just another drone. Were not paid to think or act of our own accord; just seek out threats and put a stop to them. This training scheme was my own idea. As head of the Turks I feel an obligation to make sure youre up to scratch."
Malcolm squirmed self-consciously and pulled a face. "I um I really dont think Im worth all this time."
Vincent allowed a slight smirk to play on his lips as he observed the uncomfortable figure before him. "Youre good in a gun and with your fists. You took to training well and youre obviously talented with electronics; more so than the other candidates we tested. As a matter of fact, you scored higher on the mechanical test than any of our current Turks, myself included. A skill like that is more than useful in a technologically evolving world."
Malcolms face split into a broad grin as he looked up through his light-brown bangs at Vincent.
"Also," the Turks leader continued as the truck began to slow a little. "If you had been excused from the Turks after that mission in the morning, you would have been dead by lunchtime."
The rookies face went horrifically pale as he gaped at his superior. His eyes darted over the frozen mask of his comrade but could locate no hint of joviality nor playfulness. He was completely serious.
Swallowing hard, he bunched his fists tightly and looked away to the window which transfixed the head of Turks attention so firmly. In a distance, perhaps a mile away the small, backwater town of Nibelheim loomed beneath the shadow of Mt Nibel. Hed heard accounts of its chilling beauty; stalagmites arching unnaturally from its grey sides like wicked thorns from a dark cone. Against the high disc of the day it was a terrible monster bearing down on the innocent locals; its shadows obliterated the light up until evening when the sun set glorious and golden. Despite the terrible cost of the eerie geological feature, Nibelheim was rewarded heavily with one of the most beautiful scenes of nature when the sky seemed to flow red with blood as the bronze orb of the sun hovered over the horizon.
Malcolm had seen a few photos of it before, but they always looked like some tortured scene imposed over a sheet of satin; never something so gorgeous could shed its presence over the drab little village. Oh well he mentally sighed. Ill see soon, huh?
As the pair watched silently through the tiny, dirt-laden window, the town of their attention drew closer. It grew ever quaint and yet depressingly colourless with every metre which trundled shudderingly under the truck wheels. Malcolm drummed his fingers on his thighs numbly as he pulled a face and stared at his superior thoughtfully.
"So whats wrong with you then?"
Vincent tore his eyes laboriously from the landscape to face him and blinked slowly. "Have we not just talked about this?"
"No. You said that there were other things which were bugging you. Other than you shooting that old Wutan guy." He paused. "Personal things."
"I also said that Id tell you another time."
"Yeah," Malcolm relented grudgingly. "But weve still got a few more minutes, right? And Ive told you all about me so surely you can tell me just one thing. I mean its probably something trivial like your dogs been run over."
A faint smirk twitched on Vincents lips but hastily dissipated. "I have no dog. And to be honest Im not even certain if indeed the problem is trivial or not."
Malcolm tilted his head to one side curiously. "What? You mean you dont know?"
Vincent didnt make so much as a gesture to answer and looked back to the window.
Minutes later the truck pulled to a jerking halt as it started to rumble over the partially ruined cobbles of the entrance road. It had once probably been a busy main way of sorts, providing access to Nibelheim from the other, smaller villages surrounding. Now it was overgrown and barely discernible through the ankle high grass of the plains which lapped up against the town. Like so much else in the depressed area it had been consumed by age and lack of care.
The wheels had ceased their seemingly eternal battle against their poorly oiled axles and rested in comfortable niches created by flattened grass a short walk from the town gates. Vincent was the first to stand as he lifted himself from his crate seat and pushed open the doors at the back of the compartment. Sunlight drifted in lazy shafts through the now open escape and the blue-suited man slipped out onto the field with a weary moan. He arched his back a little and pulled a face as Malcolm stumbled out beside him. The rookie took a few deep breaths of the fresh air and proceeded to flop unprofessionally onto the grass.
Vincent flashed him a look of disdain. "If you dont get up now and stop acting like a child then I shall ask the driver to reverse over you."
Malcolm immediately leapt to his feet and brushed himself down. "Im just so tired," he apologised. "And after been cooped up in that tin on wheels for so long " He moaned again as he stretched, his back clicking in more places than was healthy.
Vincent dragged a couple of suitcases from the truck and passed one to his counterpart who shut the doors and started to walk towards Nibelheim. Smacking the side of the truck in a wordless farewell, Vincent paused to watch the driver salute to him in respect before pulling away and driving back to the distant port. He turned and started to follow after the younger Turk.
"Theres still a little more time before we get there," Malcolm piped up suddenly.
"If you want to talk about anything ?"
Vincent stared at him impassively. "You would make an excellent interrogator," he muttered. "Youd drive a man insane through your constant questioning."
"You know, youre not the first person to say that," came the thoughtful response. "But come on then, are you going to talk or do I have to bug you for a few more nights?"
"Id shoot you within the hour."
" is that a yes or a no, then?"
Vincent stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the brown haired, blue-eyed youth with pure incredulity on his pale features. The expression softened slightly however as he ran a gloved hand back through his jet-black hair and glanced up at the increasingly overcast sky.
"Just " he began slowly. "Just make sure that you stay out of the way of the scientists, all right? They dont like their work being interfered with and try not to get under their feet."
Malcolm frowned in puzzlement. "You dont like the scientists?"
Vincent shook his head. "And the feeling is mutual. They dont like Turks. And they hate me with a vengeance. I happened to screw up one of their experiments."
Malcolm couldnt suppress his grin as he gazed at him almost admirably. "You messed around with the white-coats? Hah! Well done!"
The expression of joviality died on his lips as Vincent looked at him directly, suddenly all illusions of the stoic and proud Turk leader melted to reveal a shockingly haggard and drawn visage. The brash hints of shadows beneath his almond eyes were darkening, his cheekbones so much more prominent than usual.
"Just remember what I said," he said quietly, his words tight. "The scientists think theyre God but theyre just little people with big titles. Its whatever the hell theyre doing I want you to stay away from. Clear?"
Malcolm nodded pensively, and without another word they once more started to walk.
The soft thuds of grass underfoot were swallowed by the harsh clicks of their heels as shiny black shoes stepped through the threshold of Nibelheim. Glancing around himself, Vincent dropped his case to his side and pulled out a hastily scribbled map from an inside pocket.
"Where are we meant to go? Its completely dead here." Malcolm peered around the small town square and although he gazed through the windows was unrewarded. They gaped back at him blankly with all the warmth of dead fireplace- so much promise yet so little reward.
"A mansion of sorts," Vincent mumbled back as he attempted to make sense of the scribbled illustration. "Im going to have to have words with Tseng when I see him. If he made a map like this during a mission wed be dead before we found out where we were "
Malcolm grinned sloppily and took a few steps away to involve himself further in the quaint surroundings. His bright blue eyes skipped scantily over the grey buildings which circled the patch of cobbles and settled on the vague shape of a dark grey smudge on the top of a nearby hill. A path ran down its side, barely discernible through the nest of trees it streamed through and merged with another road which lead out of Nibelheim. Occasionally beams of sunlight trickled like spot lights over the side of the grassy hill, but he noticed with numb interest that very little golden light bathed the unclear building at the crest.
"Could that be it?" he asked Vincent as he pointed towards the source of his interest.
Vincent looked up and with a grim expression tucked away the piece of paper. "Yes, thats it."
"Jeez, you have good eyes."
The Turk leader blinked at him emotionlessly before lifting his case. "No I dont," he snapped back somewhat testily. "I know that its a little out of way."
"Alright, calm down," Malcolm responded in defence. "Were here now; no need to be so on edge."
Vincent fell again silent and lifted his case once more as he strode forward with a deadened expression. "Im not on edge," he muttered under his breath.
He was walking so fast that Malcolm was forced to jog slightly in order to keep pace with the long-limbed Turk; he shifted his heavy case uncomfortably from hand to hand and dropped it more than once in the haste. He looked up through furrowed brows as he dragged the heavy bag from the shadow of a creaky looking well and watched as Vincents back moved quickly from the immediate nestle of towns and down the out-of-town road. Turning a corner, he was obscured by one of the houses and fell out of sight.
"Gdarnit," Malcolm sighed as he slumped down onto the object of his strife. He mopped his brow a little and leant back against one of the well support beams. He decided to sunbathe for a while.
Vincent glanced back over his shoulder with Nibelheim dropping back behind him. His counterpart was nowhere to be seen; hed obviously grown tired of keeping pace. Vincent realised idly that perhaps this training scheme was out of his league, the boy was fit but he was nowhere near the level of the Turks.
And yet, he mused detachedly, he knew himself that something had changed. The shooting of the Wutan barely a fortnight previous had left even Rebecca stunned; the speed and unexpectedness of his action had lasted longer than any mere accident. He had killed someone before his eyes could even focus on the corpse; for a second he felt as though he could have shot the man and reached over to grab the bullet out of the air before it did any damage. His nerves and muscles had soared with some intelligible power and just as it fascinated him, it terrified him.
Hed heard instances of adrenaline rushes when people had been able to accomplish feats of unimaginable skill. But they happened in times of great danger and life threatening terror. Vincent had stood with an old man cowering at his feet. It was more life threatening actually inhaling the air than it was to have a Wutan in the same room as him.
But it was so much more than that now. Little things were bugging him. It was more than a simple shooting; it was the way he was increasingly able to detect someones presence by smell than sight. As he watched people walk past him, he could feel their emotions drip from them like oil and swirl around the streets before draining viscous-like down drains. Getting ready in the morning, a routine he had timed to perfection took less time than it ever had done before.
Ten seconds to get out of bed after the alarm had gone off. One minute to get dressed by slipping on the suit he had washed and ironed the night before. Three minutes to wash. Five minutes to eat breakfast. Three minutes for a cup of coffee and glance over the mail which hed read in greater depth that night. There was generally no point in lingering over letters which wouldnt be overly important if he didnt manage to get through the day. Ten minutes for general flicking through the paper and seeing what was new on the news. Then hed leave.
Hed gained two minutes somewhere- he was doing it faster.
That was like, only spending one minute drinking his coffee or forgetting to get dressed. Hed notice that. Things like that didnt change without reason or obvious consequences.
Perhaps this was what being in love did to you though he had thought. But isnt it meant to numb you and make you feel as though your soul flies beyond this plane and soars with the angels? Mine does I know it does because whenever I even imagine the way her beautiful hazel eyes would linger on my own my heart beats so fast I want to tear it out of my chest. I dont have butterflies in my stomach its as though my entire being has been scattered to the winds and allowed to fly with the grace of an seraph over this pitiful world.
But but my body. This body doesnt even feel like my own any more.
He lowered his eyes as he sought to drag his thoughts back to the present without avail. There were so many conflicting thoughts ripping through his brain that where his feet hit the mudtrack didnt matter. The way that occasional beams of sunlight drifted divinely across his route and played in a manner unheard of in the slums of Midgar were menial distractions.
He didnt even notice when he suddenly found himself flung back onto the ground. It was only a cry of surprise which succeeded in tearing his mind from its meditations. His head snapped up from his sprawled position, his suitcase thrown to one side in the collision. His mouth was drawn out into a surprised o as a shroud of black hair blinded his vision for a second.
"Oh!" cried the voice. "What the ??"
Vincents eyes widened even further as he brushed back his hair and found himself staring at an angel.
"Lucrecia!" He exclaimed as she flicked back her now unkempt light-brown hair from her face. She stared at him in stunned silence through several messy bangs, her legs clumsily placed either side of her and her previously pristine turquoise turtle-neck smudged with dust.
She gawked back at him similarly, his suit jacket pulled open and tie hurled lying over one shoulder. His white shirt was almost brown with dirt from the road and he leant back on his palms with his feet pointing towards her.
A slight smile pulled up her lips and it was mirrored in him as his smirk broadened into a grin. A giggle escaped her mouth before she could stop it and they were soon in hysterics; one look at the other only restarting their mirth. The speeches they had planned out and illusionary dreams of a fantasy meeting were cast away as they sat in the muddy road with their clothes filthy and skin blemished by dust.
However, laughter turned to tears as Lucrecia picked herself up and stumbled back a little, turning away to face the eternally rolling hills and plains that washed around the small village. Vincent frowned, his heart almost torn in two by her sudden change. He leapt to his feet and moved towards her.
"Y, You shouldnt have come," she gasped as she took a few steps away from him.
"How could you expect me to stay back in Midgar after your letter?" he pressed gently. "Lucrecia, I do love you. And you love me too."
She nodded and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Thats why this is so wrong," she responded hoarsely. "Im married, and theres more to it than you should know."
He stepped towards her, but she was too slow to move and could only stand rigid as he held her arms to her side. "Then let me know. Why dont you just leave him? Lucrecia I, I know we havent known each other long, in fact, I dont even know how old you are or where you were born or anything like that. I used to think that sort of thing matters but it doesnt. Ive never felt like this and I know that I never will again- dont deny that you feel the same.
"Leave him! I saw how he treated you in the lab and no one could love anyone like that."
"I do!" Lucrecia snapped with a startling anger as she pulled away from him. "Vincent, I love you. You know I do, but never say that I dont love my husband either."
The Turks eyebrows raised in a solitary reaction to her outburst, but inside it felt as though his heart had suddenly stopped.
"Vincent, I love him enough not to leave him. What you and I have is beyond anything I could have ever dared to dream, but I worry about Hojo. If I left him then I dont know what hed do. If I went with you then it would be for myself- it would be selfish and it could never be right nor pure because of that.
"Ill go with you. Ill leave with you eventually, but not now. Not when he needs me so much."
Vincent realised then that he loved her more in that instant than he ever had before.
Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic