A Rose By Any Other Name Chapter 15

By Mintbaby

Natalie hurriedly wrote out the notes on the quickly filling desk blotter and then looked around for the other blood sample. She placed the slide under the microscope and zoomed in. “That is so strange. How can that be right? Did I date them wrong?”

She gnawed on her lower lip and sat back in the chair, twirling a curl around her finger before nibbling on the end. It was like looking at the samples from three different people. There was Vincent’s original sample, his present one, and then the one taken directly after the experiment done by Hojo. She couldn’t understand it. The one she had just taken more closely resembled his original, but there had been definite traces of the Jenova cells that had been forcefully inserted into his protein makeup.

They just hadn’t been as pronounced.

Natalie pulled her hair back into a bun, which she fastened by wrapping it around a pencil and securing it through her mass of curls, and then went over to the lights that held Vincent’s X-ray. Thanks to Shinra technology, she’d been able to scan through the claw to see the human skeletal structure beneath. What she had always assumed was a Jenova graft, was not. It was his arm beneath that golden frame. There had to be a reason for the claw’s presence, though, and by looking at the wavering Jenova traces in his blood, she was beginning to think…

“Could it be that simple? Could it?”

Natalie turned away, lightly scratching at her scalp as she frowned in thought. She needed to know for sure. ‘I have to take the outer covering off. I must know what’s under there before I can say for sure.’ She nodded brusquely and hurried out of the lab, rushing down the hallway to climb the spiral stairs, and then hurrying out of the Mansion to Cloud’s house. She didn’t notice the stars twinkling in the sky, the still silence of the town as the people slept, nor the fact that it was close to 2 o’clock in the morning.

She knocked on the door and it was immediately opened by Vincent. Natalie was so wrapped up in her reasoning and possibilities that she didn’t notice his eyes were filled with concern and lack of sleep while his face bore the marks of what was akin to haggardness. “Vincent, I need you to come down to the lab.”

He shut the door behind him. “Is there something wrong?”

She shook her head, absently taking his hand and pulling him toward the Mansion. “No. Nothing’s wrong. I just need to do something with your claw. I need to see about taking off the outer covering.”

“Take off the outer covering?”

She nodded and offered nothing more, oblivious to his scrutiny of her face.

When they reached the basement laboratory, she sat him in the chair and went in search of the tools she’d seen… “Here they are.” She went back to his side, set out the ones she’d need, and then went to work. “This shouldn’t hurt.”

It didn’t. Or, at least, he never once complained of discomfort. The claw, much to Natalie’s surprise, was very easy to dismantle. All she needed to do was press a switch here, release a catch there, slide off a restraining chain from a screw, and the claw slipped free… to a certain extent. It seemed to catch on something and when she attempted to pull it the remaining way, Vincent winced.

“Sorry,” she said absently, and immediately went to work analyzing the problem. “There seems to be something connected in there. Hold on a second.” Natalie touched her upper lip with the tip of her tongue as she looked up at the ceiling, closing her eyes to aid in her concentration as she gingerly felt up his arm. Her eyes flew open and her mouth dropped. “Oh my goodness!” She knelt down and tried to see what she’d found with her fingers, then sat back on her heels as a hand went to her forehead. “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that before?”

Natalie shook her head with a slight laugh and rushed to her feet, hurrying to the other side of the laboratory while muttering under her breath about “chemical reactions” and the ”possibility of rejection” being “too great to risk anything else”. Vincent could only watch her (when she very occasionally was in his view), desperately attempting to reason out why his arm had been hidden by a claw and not a grotesque portion of Jenova grafted to his body, as he had supposed for years.

Finally, Natalie came to kneel in front of him again, her hands disappearing up the arm of his shirt to feel for the things she had found before. “Okay,” she told him matter-of-factly as she faced him with eyes closed, “you have some tubes inserted into different arteries in your arms that are, apparently, circulating the Jenova cells into your system on a semi-continuous basis.”

Her tongue flicked out to touch her lips in concentration for a moment and then she opened her eyes with a smile, withdrew her hands, and rest them on the thighs of her legs as she sat back on her heels. Her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.

“Do you know what this means? It means your body rejects Jenova cells when left to its own devices! The chemical matrix of your body and that of Jenova aren’t compatible. So, Hojo had to rig up this device, which works like a dialysis system, in order to continually introduce the Jenova cells that have kept you this way.”

Vincent’s eyes changed and Natalie continued to smile up at him. “What made you think of this?”

“I noticed that your blood chemistry was different in ways that it shouldn’t have been. It’s like the claw is set to introduce the Jenova cells only at certain times.”

“So, if you remove the claw and the tubes that have been inserted… I should revert to my original form?”

She laughed and leaned forward to rest her elbows on his knees, resting her chin on her hands as she gazed up at him. “No, no. You’re already in your original form. You’ll just lose the characteristics that Jenova was giving you. The red eyes, longevity of life, flight, and who knows what else.”

He changed his eyes from her face to the claw that dangled precariously in his grasp, tubing snaking from its hollow shell to disappear up his arm. Every once and a while there was a slight twinge in his upper arm. Mostly it came when he attempted to move, which pulled at the claw and, consequently, at the tubes inserted into the arteries.

“I… I…” Vincent attempted.

Natalie’s expression softened as she stood, carefully reassembling the claw over his arm. He placed a hand on hers to stop her and she looked over at him. “It’s all right, Vincent. I’m only going to put it on temporarily. Just until I can get all the stuff set up for the procedure to remove it. I don’t want each movement to hurt you. Besides, I need to do a little bit more research into how it’s inserted into your arm before I go poking around in there.”

He removed his hand and watched her own as they worked, gently reconstructing the cool, golden claw. “Could it be? Could my answer be so simple?”

Her smile remained as her hands tenderly held the claw in place. “Come on. I need you to come over here. I’ll hold it to make sure it doesn’t pull at the insertion points.”

Vincent stood and allowed himself to be led to the table where the X-ray machine had been. It had been converted into an examining bed and offered more comfort than the hard surface of the X-ray table from earlier. He laid back on it and rest his arm on a side-table, Natalie again dissembling the claw to arrange it as painlessly as possible around his arm.

“Natalie,” he said in a quiet tone, “could my cure be so simple as this?”

Natalie set the pieces of the claw aside (they were still in the vague shape of the claw, but more of his hand and arm were exposed. She couldn’t take them completely away because of the tubes, but she could carefully maneuver her hand in to hold his) and pulled a chair up to the table. She took his hand and gave it a squeeze. “We’re the ones who usually believe that science has to be difficult or complicated. Often times it isn’t. Just like this. The most difficult thing about this will be the removal procedure. I’m not a surgeon and it’s been a long time since I took anatomy in school.”

“Once it’s taken out?”

Natalie gave a slight shrug. “Rejection won’t take too long, knowing you,” she added with a smile. “I’d recommend bed rest for at least a month. Don’t worry, though. I’ll take care of you.”

Vincent continued to stare at the hand and arm that had finally been freed from the chilled metal of the claw with what could only be described as a blank expression. Natalie’s eyes brimmed with tears as she watched him, her other hand reaching out to brush some hair from his cheek. His hand tightened on hers as his eyes went to her face.

“You going to be okay?” Natalie asked softly. “This is a lot of information to be sprung on you, I know.”

“I believe it’s my turn to ask to be pinched,” he told her with a brief smile. It just as quickly faded. Vincent’s eyes once again focused on his hand as it held hers. “Could it be so simple?”

“Sure. Why not?” She rest her elbow on the bed and propped her chin on her hand, watching him with a slight smile. “You’ve never had it simple, have you?”

He laid his head back and closed his eyes, his hand tightening on hers again. “No.”

“I’d love to be able to break your record, Vincent,” she whispered. Her thumb continued to caress his hand. “You deserve a break. Don’t you think?”

His lips twitched upward. “Perhaps.”

Sleep began to ease the tension from his body. “Getting sleepy?” Natalie asked.

Vincent nodded; his eyes drifting open long enough to catch her gaze. “I was concerned about you. You missed lunch.”

Her expression twitched with regret. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I got distracted. You’re not mad, are you?”

“No. I knew that you were working.” His eyes closed again. “I tried to meet you in my dreams instead.”

“Couldn’t sleep?”

He released a long breath. “No. Your voice wasn’t there.”

Natalie’s eyes darkened with sadness and she stood to carefully ease herself up beside him, turning in to his side and draping her arm across him as she laid her cheek on his chest. His heartbeat was rhythmic and strong. “I’m here now, Vincent. Go to sleep.”

“Am I not already? Are you sure this isn’t a dream?”

Her eyelids began to droop and she fought back a yawn. “Positive. I’m too sleepy.” She surrendered to the yawn and let her eyes close. “I think I’ll take a nap, too. You’re warm. I’ll cure you in the morning.” She snuggled in closer. “I love you, Vincent.”

Vincent pressed his lips against her hair and Natalie released a long breath as reality faded to dreams.

* * *

“Tifa, you seen Vincent or Natalie?”

Tifa looked up from where she was curled up on the couch reading a book. She gave Cloud a smile. “Hey, you. How was the walk with Cid to the power plant?”

Cloud came over to sit beside her, pulling her legs up onto his lap. “Good, considering. Everything’s looking great. It’s working fine. No hiccups. No bugs. Nothing wrong that we can see. He scoped out a couple more places where he can build them and figures we can power at least one more town just from here. We just need to figure the best way to get the power from here to there. I’m voting for underground cable.”

“That’s cool. Now, what’s this about Vincent and Natalie?”

“When I woke up this morning, he was gone and Yuffie said that Natalie never went to bed last night.”

“Do you think they’re in the Mansion? You know yesterday was the day.”

“I was on my way over when I figured I’d stop and say ‘hi’.” He placed a kiss on her lips and smiled at her. “Hi.”

She wrapped her arms around his neck. “Hi, yourself.”

Cloud stood, Tifa still in his arms. “Wanna come with?”

“To the Mansion?” She shrugged, adjusting her hold around his neck. “Sure. Why not? It’s not like I have anywhere else to go.”

Cloud made his way to the door, waited while she opened it for him, and then stepped through to head toward the Mansion. “I hope they aren’t in a situation like they were before.”

“Yeah. Catching them twice would be a little too embarrassing.” Tifa was quiet for a moment and then rest her head against him. “It was sweet, though. Vincent kissing someone shy and innocent like Natalie. A Turk with a professional bookworm.”

“Go figure.”

They reached the entrance of the Mansion. “So, what exactly did you want with Vincent and Natalie?”

Cloud smirked. “I was wanting to know how the computer was running.”

“Liar. You wanted to check up on those two. You aren’t their chaperone, you know.”

“I know.”

“So, what’s the real reason?”

Cloud’s eyes twinkled. “I was curious. I wanted to see what she was planning on doing. Look over her shoulder, I guess. Maybe give her a hand.”

“Don’t you think she’d ask if she needed help?”

Cloud shook his head with a chuckle. “Are you kidding? She wouldn’t think of that. She’s used to working by herself. Just like me.”

“Oh. You recognized the ‘loner’ attitude, eh?”

Cloud set her on her feet inside the Mansion. “Something like that.”

“Vincent sure makes it go away, huh?”

“You noticed?”

Tifa smirked at him and nudged him toward the room with the spiral staircase. “Smart aleck.”

“Hey. No name-calling. I’ll have to retaliate.”

Tifa chuckled. “Oh, that would be interesting to see.”

He grabbed her waist and nibbled on her ear. “Hey, just say the word.”

She pulled herself free and turned to face him, still walking backwards. “Behave yourself, Mr. Strife, or there will be no dinner for you.”

Cloud smiled and then put on a dutifully abashed expression. “Yes, ma’am.”

Tifa laughed and reached out to grab his hand. “Oh come on, silly. Let’s go down and see if they’re here.”

As the two made their way down the spiral staircase and through the hall past what used to be Vincent’s crypt to the basement laboratory beyond, they didn’t hear voices or any telltale sign of any activity whatsoever. Once they reached the door to the lab, they were reasonably certain that there would be no surprises behind the door. Not to mention the fact that it was slightly ajar already. So, Cloud and Tifa both gave a shrug and then pushed it open.

Inside, Vincent and Natalie were sound asleep on a makeshift examination bed positioned on the far side of the lab.

Tifa tightened her grip on Cloud’s hand and rest her head on his arm. “Is that the sweetest thing you’ve seen in ages, or what?”

“Damned if I thought it would happen.” There was an obvious smile in his voice. “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer two people, though.”

“It’s like they’ve been together forever.”

Cloud nodded and gestured over to the desk with its varying assortment of opened books, scribbled notes, and microscope slides. “Take a look. She’s been busy.”

“How much of that is new and how much is from her whole life researching him?”

“Probably 6 of one and half a dozen of the other.”

Tifa wrapped her arms around Cloud’s midsection. “You think she’ll cure him?”

“Hell ya. That woman is a lot like you. She can do anything once she sets her mind to it.”


He pressed his lips against her hair. “No problem. Now, come on. I feel like we’re eavesdropping. Let’s go have some dinner. They’ll wake up soon enough and let us know how things are going.”

Tifa nodded and sent the sleeping couple one last smile before turning and following Cloud from the room, closing the door quietly behind her.


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