Through the Looking Glass Chapter 29

"Don't Blame Yourself"

By Lucrecia Marionette

Janus walked nonchalantly down the eerie corridor. At least, it used to be eerie, now it was just a long-winded way to reach the basement laboratory. Why on earth couldn’t they have a shaft running straight down into it? What on earth was the point of the secret doors, winding crude-cut tunnels anyway? It begged the question of security; was Shinra so anxious about keeping the Project secret that he needed to carve a small labyrinth to ensure its safety?

And what was so wrong with guns anyway?

He muttered to himself as he kicked yet another grinning skull from the path. He did it every time he walked down the peculiar purple tunnel cut deep in the bedrock of the Mansion. Not only had the bloody thing been mined at all, it had sliced straight through the ancient family cemetery which ringed the building. As a result, the sturdy beams which supported the ceiling also had a habit of letting the occasional skeleton slip through. Every single time he blundered his way through the peculiar violet-pulsating maze a new arrival was there to greet him.

Sometimes an ivory globe, all cavernous and papery, would leer up at him as though it had died with a filthy joke on its fleshy lips. At other times, teeth or entire jaws were missing. It must’ve been one hell of a ride.

An entire room had been carved for the sole purpose of storing the remains and coffins that had been revealed by the hasty mining. It was supposedly President Shinra’s way of showing ‘respect’ to the original owners. Janus knew one thing for certain and that was the fact that when he was dead, he sure as hell didn’t think it’d be respectful to throw his corpse in a dingy little chamber, limbs mixed in with the rest of his family’s.

Baby’s fingers entwined with grandma’s pelvis.

Of course, they were dead so what was it to them?

Janus supposed that it only mattered to him because the red-suited hypocrite that funded the operation actually thought he was doing something good. ‘So long as he keeps on sending money our way, I wouldn’t care if he had the bones sent back to his office so he can gnaw on them like the ignorant dog he is’ Hojo had mumbled bitterly to himself when Janus approached the subject to fill in yet another uncomfortable silence.

It was uncomfortable to him, not to his superior. In fact, Tobias Hojo positively relished the quietness while he stood rigid, trying not to gag as the sound of tearing flesh and cracking ribs replaced amicable chatter. Daniel Janus had always had a strong stomach for that kind of thing; he’d dissect a corpse or saw limbs off animals until the cows came home, but just the noises make him blanch. Why couldn’t Hojo put some music on once in a while?

A humming rectangle of light caused him to look up with a shuddering sigh. He was suddenly nervous he realised. His brief walk from the spiral staircase had left his palms sweaty and heart fluttering in minor panic. He stopped for a moment to scrape back his awkwardly long hair. It still draped half in his face despite his efforts to pull it back and Hojo hated it with a vengeance. Said it was messy and uncouth. He’d even threatened to shave him bald with a scalpel once but had regained his sense before Janus found his scalp shredded to pieces.

He was stronger and certainly more athletic than the deputy head of the science department but there was still something about him that could halt a grown man. It was as though you turned to ice, the soles of your feet frozen to floor and muscles solidified under the near-black gaze.

In fact, the only person he’d seen to resist that overwhelming glare was Vincent and that was under the most terrifying circumstances. Janus knew when to keep his head low; he’d managed to keep practically invisible during the collision between Lucrecia and the Turk which left them relinquished of a lifetime’s work. He found himself wondering what else could turn the scientist so completely rabid. He hoped that mere words wouldn't... .

To his horror and alarm, Janus found himself standing before the doorframe he had noticed many metres back. Although he had stopped, during his deep meditations he must have started forward once more. It was too late to turn back now, if he did then who was to know how long it would take for him to collect his courage once more? Besides, if Hojo heard the news through someone else it would ruin everything.

He had to do it, and he had to do it now.

He rapped lightly on the door despite the fact it was already open and stepped into the laboratory. He was instantly swallowed by the hum of machinery and the stench of mako. At first it had made his stomach bunch in disgust, but now he inhaled it deeply- it was safe here. Safer than anywhere else anyway. Hidden so many metres below the surface, people could forget he even existed. Whilst others found solace in the light he had found that shadows had always appealed to him.

His lips twitched in a smirk; it was more appropriate than he dared to admit.

"Yes?" snapped an unseen figure tersely, the irritation in his voice severing the muffled blanket of unintrusive sound from the surrounding consoles. Janus swallowed forcefully and prepared himself.

"Sir? Its me, Janus."

A head appeared from behind the partition that cut through the centre of the chamber. Eyes narrowed behind a pair of small spectacles and fixed on him intensely. "I thought it was your day off."

"It is, sir."

"Then why are you down here?"

Janus moved further into the room and around the large operating table which was set awkwardly in the middle of the green tinted floor. He stopped and sat back on the table in a rigid self-confidence and flicked back his fringe. "Uh, I just wanted to let you know that they’ve arrived."

Hojo’s forehead creased in a deep frown. "What are you talking about?"

Janus pointed upwards and slightly behind himself as though capable or piercing the layers of rock above them. "They’ve just turned up now."

Hojo stepped out fully from behind the screen, snapping off a pair of rubber gloves and casting them with an expert flick of his hand onto a steel tray placed nearby. He tugged off his lab coat and flung it detachedly onto the operating slab, his eyes never leaving the ice-blue gaze of his assistant. "You’re annoying me now, Janus. What has just arrived? This had better be good because I’m very busy and I do not appreciate being disturbed as you should know by now."

"Y-Yes, I’m sorry sir. It’s just that the Turks are here."

Hojo’s entire body went so completely stiff that Janus felt as though he could tap the statuesque figure and make him crumble. His fingers formed into bitter claws and his thin lips turned down in a grimace. "Turks?" he spat.

Janus nodded, his muscles bunching in a hesitant fear. "I’m afraid that it gets worse."

Hojo’s eyes narrowed so viciously that they were little more than demonic slits, his face contorted in an unabated rage. "He’s here isn’t he?"

Janus forcefully swallowed and licked his lips. "Yes," he replied in a small voice and Hojo gave a growl which sounded remarkably feral. He turned sharply and clenched his fists, inhaling and letting the breath out from between his clenched teeth in a shuddering hiss.

"I fucking knew it," he snarled. "He wasn’t satisfied enough with destroying the cells and trying to steal my wife away from me in Midgar, he’s hunted us down to finish the job. BASTARD!!"

He gave a roar and grabbed the steel tray, hurling against a bookcase with a shocking clang which resounded around the chamber. Janus cringed and slipped off the table, side stepping towards the door.

"How dare he try to take what’s mine. She and I were close once until she came to that cursed HQ! She hadn’t seen me for a few months and lust kicks in the second she meets some dashing murderer. Fuck him." Hojo dragged his hands down his face so hard that it hurt, the skin under his eyes almost spilt as he tried to suppress his rage.

"I just wanted this to work," he breathed as he pulled off his glasses and leant heavily against a shelf. "God damnit, doesn’t she realise that this could make us? All I ever wanted was for us to be renowned and she wants to throw that away in the pursuit of a quick fuck. Are physicality’s too much to pay for scientific immortality?"

"Sir, don’t blame yourself," Janus blurted out in less than believable consolation and Hojo glared at him wickedly as he pushed back on his spectacles.

"I don’t," he snapped. "I knew something like this would happen which is why we had a contract. I’ve abided to my side of the agreement but she hasn’t. She’s a beautiful woman whose thoughts stray too much for her own good, if only she realised how important our work is then maybe she wouldn’t do this. When we married it was out of love- mental and physical attraction. But it never lasts, nothing ever does. I knew that even if she didn’t; her head was up in the clouds. I sometimes wonder if she even knew what she was doing when we were married."

"Oh don’t say that sir," Janus objected and Hojo shook his head; he didn’t notice the utter lack of sympathy which laced his assistant’s voice.

"It’s happened again. She’s daydreaming again and living out some romantic fantasy. But its not with me, its with someone else." He gave another snarl and slammed his fist against the table. "I’m her husband!" He rubbed his fist absently as he shook his head, the initial anger dissipating from his mind leaving a hollow numbness. He blinked slowly. "I can’t afford any time to help myself. This could not have come at a worse time.. . The Project needs to go ahead now, and while my life is being broken apart I have to fulfil what I’ve always wanted. Perhaps this," he waved his hands around the room. "Is my own little daydream. Maybe I’m no better than she is; our paths have merely taken different directions but the means are the same. While I find my dreams in science, she finds her in lust."

"She must… love you."

Hojo gave a bitter snort or derision. "She did, because I loved her. But now its different." He gave a sudden shrill laugh which set Janus’ nerves on edge. "You know, I think I’m more torn up about the fact that she’s mine and Valentine is taking her from me! She’s just another possession, another bit of baggage. But… I actually need her. The Project isn’t even a possibility without her. She’s my key but if they have their own way then I’ll have nothing."

He started to pace, his lips moving and allowing occasional mumbles to emerge but nothing coherent. Janus watched him impassively, his mind reeling for something solid to grasp to so that he could think. He needed to think now.

"They embraced each other outside," he revealed abruptly and Hojo looked at him.

"They did?"

Janus nodded with a frown of shame as a parent would wear when berating a child. "She practically leapt into his arms."

Hojo’s face sank a little, but not even a glimmer of emotion showed on his face. He looked old for his years, the red creases of when he had tugged at his face looking more like wrinkles in the dim light. His glasses had fallen to the end of his nose and he didn’t even bother to push them up again. "Have you ever spoken to her, Janus?"

"A bit," the assistant shrugged.

"I want you to stay with her for me. I can’t afford any time to keep a grasp on my life any more, so I am asking you to for me. I’ll reward you greatly, make no mistake," he said quietly. "Keep her away from him, keep her busy. I want you to tell me everything that happens but don’t let her know. She’d hate me if she knew I was… spying on her," he spat. "I’m no better than those blue-suited murderers," he sighed. "Nonetheless…"

"Say no more," Janus soothed, an undertone of insincerity in his words so obvious that even the numb Hojo gave him a peculiar glance. "I’ll get right on it."

Shrugging off his moment of doubt, Hojo gave a callous nod and waved him away as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. With a final glance at his superior, Janus turned and left the room, closing the door with a near-silent click behind him.

He exhaled deeply, so deep it felt as though he had been holding in the breath since his entry to the lab. It flowed up from his feet and washed through his body, cleansing it of his previous fear and apprehension.

A grin floated lazily on his features like debris from a storm. "Oh, now that was easy. Far too easy," he muttered to himself, his lips quickly pressing together as he glanced back at the lab doorway.

Over the sounds of clanging metal and slamming books, it would be a wonder if Hojo could hear himself think let alone the amoral mutterings of his assistant. Shrugging to himself, Janus strolled lazily down the corridor. Time was his now. The only question that had to bother him was what his next move would be.

Science, he decided, to a point was interesting. But watching people… now that was a challenge. The competition naturally lay in camouflage and one’s ability to remain hidden. People were so much more perceptive than fungi on Agar Jelly or a disembodied eyeball sat moist and blind upon a piece of sterilised cloth.

Daniel Janus knew that he was intelligent, more so than most but when compared by the blinding intellect of Hojo he was little more than a light-bulb. Genius came at a price though, he had noticed. Whilst alone with the Lovely Lucrecia in Icicle (most romantically excavating the bloated corpse of an alien organism, perhaps over a flute of champagne, Janus chuckled to himself) Hojo had time to sit back and admire the way the shimmering light played upon her flawless complexion. Probably filled with girlish fantasies from perfect magazines and movies, Lucrecia would have been able to seen beyond the cruel intellect and gaze peacefully upon the naked man beneath.

(This alone made Janus feel ill, but for the sake of his task he allowed himself such moments of revulsion)

He shuddered with comical exaggeration as he began to make his way up the spiral staircase again. He was going off track.

But, when the Mad Scientist was once more introduced to his familiar world of test-tubes and conical flasks, there was no competition. Luscious Lucrecia became as significant as any other number on his numerous sheets of data from the dig. Important, but only in the correct context.

Lucrecia’s context happened to involve becoming a living cradle for the product of the Jenova Project.

But nothing more.

Hojo’s scientific significance 1, Hojo’s capacity for human fulfilment 0.

Janus didn’t deny that he relished the prospect of eventually filling the Doctor’s shoes, but certainly not at the expense of his life. Besides, that was the hard way. Scientists were not the most astute of all people and with a little clever talking, he was sure that he could do things the more traditional Shinra way.

Lying, stealing and fighting your way to the top.

If there was one thing that President Shinra liked more than results, it was someone he could see elements of himself in. As much as Janus despised likening himself in any way to the pompous git, he couldn’t help but grudgingly admire how the son of a weapons merchant had come to found the largest conglomerate known to human history.

Janus shielded his eyes against the sunburst of light which flashed in his face as he pushed the secret door to one side. The dusty bedroom beyond greeted him in a drab fashion and he pleasantly sniffed in return.

He meandered idly over to the bedroom window that overlooked the main gate outside.

Lucrecia had gone elsewhere, but now two suited Turks stood conversing outside the wrought-iron entrance. They flicked occasional glances up at the Mansion but made no move to enter.

After several minutes, they lifted their suitcases and entered.

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