A Rose By Any Other Name Chapter 16
Natalie yawned and stretched, feeling much the cat that had swallowed the canary. She yawned again and then increased the tightness of her arms around Vincent.
Good morning, he greeted in a sleepy tone.
Natalie looked over at the clock on the far wall. It certainly is. The temptation to snuggle in closer was tremendous, but she resisted. Instead, she sat up and put a hand to salvage her ponytail of tousled curls as she changed her gaze to Vincent. So, what did you want for breakfast?
His eyes glowed for a moment and then a guard was lowered. Anything will do.
She smiled and carefully turned to slide off the bed. She stretched and twisted the kinks out of her body and then faced him. He was watching her with an odd expression. Natalie blushed. Now, can I trust you to stay in bed while I go get some muffins and juice?
His lips were tickled with a brief smile. Yes.
She wagged a finger at him with fake seriousness. If I find you out of bed, youll be in trouble.
You havent performed the surgery yet, Natalie, he reminded.
Her mouth framed an oh just before she brought her pinky to her mouth and nibbled on the fingernail. Thats right. I havent. It was just a dream. She sighed and dropped her hand to her side. Oh well. Ill go get breakfast. You stay put.
She left the room, closing the door softly behind her. Vincent stared at it for a moment before changing his gaze to his arm that was fastened securely to the side-table and its partially dissembled claw. The urge to grasp it and tear it forcefully from his arm was so strong He turned his face away and clenched his fist. He had waited this long. A few more weeks or days would be a mere blink, especially when in Natalies presence for said time. What else mattered?
The realization of my freedom, he muttered harshly. Do not forget that.
But it had already faded to a distant second. He knew that if the cure that seemed so simple actually would cause his death, he would be content to remain as he was now. After all, how could he not be content when she loved him for what he was: darkness and light. Vincent took in a deep breath. The scent of her yet lingered in the air and on his shirt. With each breath, his humanness forced its way through some type of mired sludge that had once seemed to choke his compassion to nonexistence. Now Every laugh. Every smile. Every intentional touch of her hand on his seemed to revive that which he had once thought lost forever.
I am becoming less human
Isnt that what he had thought when taking on his final form: Chaos? Now he was remembering it again. As he had told himself he would. Vincent changed his gaze to the claw again. As you so often tried to make me forget. Well, you have lost. Your final defeat lies within her control, Hojo. Her tender touch will render your twisted accomplishment void and you will be forgotten. You will be forgotten and not I. That admission caused a wave of warmth and freedom.
A smile danced on his lips and twinkled in his eyes.
* * *
Natalie stood at the entrance to the Mansion for a long time with a silly smile on her face before she was able to venture out into the town. She sighed and then stepped forward, kicking at pebbles as she made her way to the Item shop for their breakfast. Time after time she had woken to the warmth of his hand clasping hers. To the steady beat of his heart in her ear. To the softness of his breath against her hair. Had anything been so wonderful?
She had to admit that shed been oh-so-tempted to relieve him of his clothes (at least his shirt), but the larger part of her modesty and conscience had kept her desires at bay. Barely. Itll come when it comes, Nat. Sheesh! Never before had being pure and innocent been so blasted irritating. She chuckled despite herself and entered the shop to place her order for muffins and grape juice. She paid for it, and then sat at a nearby table to wait.
Natalie looked up and gave Cloud a small smile as he sat across from her. Good morning.
Hows it going?
She shrugged and began to pick at the fraying tablecloth. Its kind of early to tell.
Need any help with the whole cure thing?
She shook her head. Ill be fine, she said absently. Thank you.
He smiled. Okay. Dont say I didnt ask. Silence descended for a long moment. Hows the generator working? Any hiccups?
No. Its fine.
Good. He tapped his fingers on the table and then stood. Well see you around, Natalie.
She raised her eyes and gave him a half-hearted wave. Bye.
Once hed left the shop, she cleared her throat and looked back down at the table. I guess I did it again. I hope he isnt mad. She had a tendency of getting distant when she focused on a project. Always had. It seemed to help her. Of course, that tendency had gobbled up many a friendship as well. Then, she had stopped trying to make them understand. It had been too hard. Too exhausting. She pushed the thoughts away with a sigh and accepted the breakfast boxes with a slight smile as she stood to leave the shop. She hoped Vincent would understand and not get hurt. You should warn him. Natalie nodded her head. Good idea.
He already seemed to understand so much about her that it scared her at times, but there would always be that one time Yeah. Just my luck, too. She sighed, grappling with the dreary mood that was quickly gobbling up the happiness that had been so bright earlier. Youre just hungry. You always get like this when you havent eaten in a while. And it has definitely been a while.
She made her way to the basement laboratory and pushed through the door with a smiled greeting. Vincent returned her smile with a genuine one of his own. In fact, she actually saw the gleaming whiteness of his teeth. Natalie blinked in surprise and then set the boxes on a small patch of clearing on the desk. She moved toward Vincent with a question in her eyes and then sat in the chair by the bed.
What is it?
She examined his face for a long moment. I You look happy, Vincent. I She smiled and it wavered with a hint of tears. Ive never seen that expression on your face before.
Natalie shook her head, gnawing on her lip to keep from crying. No. Not like that. What happened? I was only gone a moment.
A moment can be an eternity. He reached forward and caressed a tear from her cheek. A realization was made, Natalie. Many, in fact.
About who I am. About who I want to be. About what I want. He smiled and it twinkled in his eyes. Natalies throat tightened as he went on. I want you to try, but I will no longer force you to continue if it means my death. The life I have with you is not only enough, it is a pleasant future.
Natalies eyes brightened. Really? She took his hand in both of hers and squeezed it. Really?
She smiled and it flashed in her eyes so bright that it infected Vincents mouth with a smile just as wide. Natalie leaped to her feet and threw her arms around him with a choked, oh, Vincent, and buried her face into the tangled lengths of his black hair.
His arm wrapped itself around her as best as he could in his limited capacity, and then he was pushing her back with a chuckle. I feel like a beast caged to a post. Natalie, could you do something about the claws fastenings?
Oh! Im sorry. She stood back and hurriedly reassembled the covering before unfastening it from the side-table. Vincent flexed the fingers of the claw with a strange expression, changed his gaze to Natalie, and then caressed her cheek with it. She smiled and took it in her hand to give it a squeeze. Come on. Lets have some breakfast. Then Ill need to hide myself away and start refreshing my memory on anatomy and surgery practices.
I dont suppose my presence would be anything but a distraction.
A nice one, but yes. She looked regretful as he stood. If I trusted myself better, Id beg you to be there with me.
You know yourself too well.
She smirked and wrapped her arms around his waist to press her cheek against his chest. Not really. I just know what I want.
He took in a slow, deep breath of the scent of her hair. So do I.
His voice was tight and raspy and Natalie knew she had to pull back before something they both wanted happened at what she supposed was the wrong time. It certainly feels right His grip resisted for the merest second, but he did release her.
Maybe we better have breakfast outside, she whispered.
Vincent gazed down at her for a moment before nodding and turning to the desk to retrieve the breakfast boxes. I think that is a good idea.
She cleared her throat and accepted her boxed breakfast, adjusting it to her other hand so that she could take his human hand in hers. Okay. Lets go where its not quite so cozy. He chuckled and Natalie smiled as the familiar tingle shot from the center of her soul to the very tips of her toes and fingers. She squeezed his hand. I cant believe this is happening.
This is not a dream. Dreams are never this real. He paused outside the door of his one-time crypt and stared at the door. Did I ever rest there?
Yes. Yes, you did. For a very long time, too. Natalie stepped forward and opened the door to pull him in after her. They moved to stand in the center of the room and stared at the black coffin where they had first met. There. Right there is where I first saw you. Thats where I first came to the realization that I was going to do this, no matter what. No matter how long it took to get you to come out, I was going to cure you.
Natalie released Vincents hand and stepped close enough to the box to touch it, her fingers gripping the edge with white knuckled hands. I hated this box. Hated everything that it stood for. Hated how it meant youd been thrown away as if you didnt mean anything to anybody. Hated how it meant you were seen as dead in the eyes of all who knew you. It kept you away from me and from the life that I wanted to give you.
Her voice choked on the sudden tears and she lowered her chin, closing her eyes against the onslaught.
Natalie. Vincent rested a hand on her shoulder. Natalie, dont.
She took in a ragged breath and pushed away from the coffin. I know. I I shouldnt look back because it doesnt prove anything. Its just Natalie wiped the tears from her cheeks and Vincent wrapped her up in his arms. Her arms went around him with a slight sob. I hurt, Vincent. I hurt for you every time I think about what youve seen and done and had done to you. Its like my entire insides twist inside out and then again.
Vincent smoothed her curls, his arms increasing their grip around her. Come. Lets leave this place.
Natalie pushed away suddenly, her eyes flashing with anger as she turned on the coffin. You lost! Do you hear? You cant have him anymore! Hes mine!
She hurried forward and kicked at the coffin several times, leaving dents and cracks in its side with her heavy soled hiking boots. Vincent attempted to pull her away, but she shook loose and reached into its velvety softness to grab fistfuls of material and pull with all her strength. It ripped with an awful sound, so loud that she cringed away from it. Natalie stared down at the dark material in her shaking hands for a long moment and then tossed it to the ground, gazing down at it with wide eyes.
Vincent took hold of her arm and pulled. She resisted, still staring at the material. Natalie.
Im going to burn this room, she whispered.
Vincent looked at her in shock, and then stepped in front of her to take a gentle grip on her arms. He caught her eyes. Natalie, that would prove nothing. I choose to be outside this room, so its power is gone. Burning it would leave nothing changed. It would only mar this room with permanent ugliness.
Natalie looked down. Y-youre right. Im s-sorry. She brushed some curls from her face and swallowed hard as she turned away from the coffin. I I dont She shook her head. Im sorry.
Vincent guided her from the room and down the hall to the stairs beyond, their breakfast boxes forgotten on the floor of the crypt. They exited the stairwell and Vincent led her to a chair. She sat and he knelt in front of her, taking her hands in his as he looked up into her face. Her eyes were closed and her face was slightly pale. Natalie, are you all right?
She shook her head. I dont know what happened, Vincent. Natalie caught his gaze and gnawed on her lower lip a moment. I I was just so angry. I couldnt think of anything but but destroying that room. It s-scared me.
Have you ever felt this way before?
She shook her head again. No. Never. M-maybe Ive been down there too long. Maybe Im too stressed and need to take a break.
Vincent nodded, bringing one of her hands between his to rub it. I have waited this long, Natalie. A little more will not matter one-way or the other. I do not place my health above yours.
Natalie rubbed at her forehead. Studying will help. She almost seemed to be trying to convince herself.
No, Vincent said firmly. No studying. No tests. No tissue samples or X-rays. No wandering about in the basement laboratory or thinking of any cures to my person.
He moved in and covered her mouth with his, his hands gripping her shoulders to pull her closer as their lips worked together. Tension drained from her body like water and she wrapped her arms around him to move into his embrace. After a long moment, he pulled back and caught her gaze with his.
No excuses, he rasped. This is what you must remember. He touched her lips again. This, Natalie, he said against her mouth. This
She moved closer and tumbled from the chair, pushing Vincent backward and landing on top of him with an oof. She stared down at him for a long moment with a smile twinkling in her eyes before she burst out laughing, rolling off of him to lay on her back and stare at the ceiling. All right, she laughed with an occasional glance toward him. Youve convinced me.
Vincent watched her for a long moment before he stood and helped her to her feet. Good.
Not that you would have taken no for an answer anyway.
I know. She sighed and then made her way into the next room and then down the hall to the main entryway, Vincent falling into step beside her. Ive never had a break like what you want me to do. Im liable to go insane. Vincent said nothing and Natalie glanced over at him. He wore a frown. Whats the matter?
I must go.
Natalie went yellow and stopped to take hold of his arm. What are you talking about? Go? Go where? Why? Why now?
Cid and Cloud plan to build another generator in Rocket Town.
I could help.
Natalie shook her head violently. No. I need you here, Vincent. I want you here!
I know, he said softly as he gazed down at her. I want to be here, too, but you must rest. You must relax. You cannot do that with my presence here.
Why not? Natalie asked passionately. Why not?
Because of how you feel.
She pulled him into an embrace, tightening her arms around him till it was a struggle to breathe. You make it sound like its wrong to feel.
Vincent stared up at the ceiling of the Mansion for a long time. His arms rigid at his sides. His hands balled into fists. Natalie, that is not what I mean for you to think.
Then why? Her voice was tight with tears. Why go?
Because it is becoming harder to resist, as it is for you. I will not erase your innocence unless there is no possibility of my cure. Only then Natalie, please. He took a firm hold of her arms and pushed her back, only after using a great portion of his strength. He gazed down at her tear-filled eyes. Please. Listen. Your passion for me is stealing your focus away from what you wish to do. If I leave for a day or two, you will be better able to think and reason. As will I.
Just make love to me, Vincent, she said with an impassioned plea. Its what we both want! Natalie struggled against his grip on her arms and then looked up at him with sparkling eyes. Dammit, I dont care about monster or human or whatever you think might make a bit of difference. I love you, Vincent, and I want to be with you. All of me! Do you really believe Im going to be able to think straight when all I imagine is what itll feel like with you ins
Dont, Vincent said harshly. His eyes flashed with anger and desperation. I understand, Natalie, and have grappled with that myself. I wont change my mind. Dont torture me!
She clenched her jaw for an age of silence and then turned away, storming from the Mansion to slam the door shut behind her. Vincent stared at the door for what seemed an eternity in and of itself before taking in a long breath and changing his gaze to the floor. Since that evening she had nearly asked him to stay in her room, the tension between them had risen exponentially. Each day was worse than the last with no outlet. Now that she was to take a break from the experiment, the channeling of their feelings into a night of shared passion and intimacy loomed closer than it ever had. His only hope for survival was to leave.
Hopefully, their relationship would survive this torrent.
Vincent cleared his throat, released another long breath, and made his way out into the late morning sunshine. Cloud and Natalie were having an argument. Dread welled up in Vincents soul and he strode forward. Before he could rescue Cloud from what Vincent knew would be a bad situation, however, Natalie slapped Cloud hard and then stalked away. Cloud held his cheek in silent stupefaction as Vincent came to stand beside him.
What the hell got in to her? Cloud changed his gaze of confusion and bewilderment to Vincent. She wanted me to tell you that I didnt need your help and I told her that we needed whatever help we could get. I didnt know you were planning on coming with us, though. I thought I dont know what I thought. Next thing I know, shes yelling at me that Im ruining her life and that I should just leave you alone because I already had Tifa. Cloud stretched out his hands in a pleading gesture. Vincent, what the hell is going on?
I told her that I was going to Rocket Town to help you and Cid with the generator.
But what about your cure?
Natalie needs a break.
Cloud opened his mouth to say something and then closed it with a shake of his head and a mumbled, I just dont understand anything anymore, before he meandered toward Tifas house to say good-bye.
Vincent watched him leave with what was close to an understanding expression. He had barely turned to make his way to the inn when Cid was slamming the door behind him and stalking toward Vincent with an expression as black as death. Vincent groaned inwardly, sure that he was about to witness another casualty to Natalies temper.
Vincent, I need to have a word with you. Cids voice was calmness itself.
Vincent nearly took a step backward. What is it?
Your scientist friend nearly took my head off with a chair. Cid removed his cap and pointed out a fresh cut oozing blood. He replaced his cap and took a very long drag on his cigarette. Do you mind telling me why shes acting pissier than a cat in heat?
Oh, I know itll pass, Cid said. His voice was still dangerously calm. But it better pass before I lose my patience, or shes liable to find herself over my knee with a sore behind. He stalked away.
Vincent looked up to the second story window of the inn just as there was a crash and a long growl that ended with a high-pitched meow, similar in pitch to Red when he got his tail stepped on.
Natalie Vincent released a long breath and made his way toward the inn. Red was limping down the stairs, nursing his left front leg. What happened?
Red cleared his throat - he seemed embarrassed - and then moved past Vincent to the exit. My fault. I asked the wrong question at the wrong time. Red noticed that Vincent was moving toward the stairs. Vincent, I dont believe it would be wise to disturb her at the moment.
Its my fault shes upset.
Perhaps so, but it would still be the best to let her cool off.
Vincent hesitated, looking toward the crest of the stairs with an expression deep in uncertainty. Finally, he turned and followed Red out of the inn, cringing when another crash was heard upstairs. Red
It will pass, Vincent. Believe it or not, it will pass.
Vincent sighed and then nodded, moving toward the well where Cid and Cloud were waiting to leave. Cloud had a pronounced hand-mark on his cheek and Cid sported a bandage under his cap. Vincent sent a look over his shoulder toward the upper window just as the curtain closed. He clenched his jaw and then turned back to the others. He didnt want to leave her like this, but he knew that he had to. If he went up there now, hed give in and he wasnt ready. Not yet.
It wont take too long to get it built because I have all the parts in my workshop, Cid was saying. Once we get it running, we can run the cable from there to here and see about synchronizing the generators to produce enough power for 1 or 2 other towns.
Sounds good, Cloud said with a nod.
Vincent said nothing.
Now, I dont know how accessible the geothermal power is in Rocket Town. All I know is that its there.
If its there, well find it, Cloud said firmly.
Vincent still said nothing. He could feel her gaze. This isnt right. Leaving didnt feel as it should have if it was the best thing to do. If anything, the tension would rise. Their relationship would become strained. They would begin to walk away from each other. Always running. Always hiding from the desires they both shared. They had to work this out. They had to face their passions, talk about them, and then make a decision together.
I cant go.
Cloud, Cid, Tifa, and Red looked over at Vincent in surprise. What? Cid asked first. What the hell do you mean?
Vincent looked to Cloud, who nodded with an understanding smirk, and then turned his focus on Cid. I have unfinished business.
Ill bet you do. Cid intercepted a dirty look from all three and then strode out of town without another word.
Good luck, Cloud said. Youll need it, I think. He gave Tifa one last embrace, and then followed Cid.
Red looked over at Vincent for a long moment and then shook his head. Farewell. Im off to Cosmo Canyon to see about a source of power there.
Bye, Red, Tifa said. After a moment, Tifa turned to Vincent. Is there anything I can do?
Vincent stared up at the second-story window. I dont know.
This is a really tough part in a relationship, Vincent. Dont give up. Dont try and hide from your feelings, either. It wont help. As you can see. Vincent turned and looked at Tifa. She smiled. Im not saying you should give in, Vincent. Dont worry about that. I understand where youre coming from, as much as someone could who isnt you, and I really think its wonderful. She does too, I bet. Its just a little too hard right now. She probably feels like shes about ready to blow up and doesnt know how to vent. Tifa laughed. Poor Cloud.
How do I help her? How do I help myself?
Talking about it in a public place always helps. That way you dont have to worry about wanting to take a detour to the bed. Tifa flushed slightly. Ive nearly done that a couple times. Believe me. Its easy to do. But. Tifa sighed deeply. Unfortunately, you guys have to deal with this before you can move on. I know it feels like youve already dealt with this and that youre going around in circles. Or you dont know why you just dont do it and give her what she wants: you. Thats the decision you both have to make. Once its made, its made, though. You cant go back.
Yeah, I know you do. She rested a hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Good luck, Vincent. She turned away and then stopped. Oh. And listen to what shes saying. Okay?
Vincent looked up at the second-story window, took in a deep breath, and then stepped toward the entrance.
* * *
Natalie saw him start toward the inn and turned for the exit of her room, stalking out and striding down the hallway to the stairs. Vincent had just entered when she reached the middle of the stairs. He paused, but she didnt. She strode past and left him standing there. After a moments hesitation, she heard him follow after her.
I dont want to deal with this right now, Vincent, she said in an angry tone. Im mad at you. Very mad.
I know. He easily matched her stride. I know, he said again. We need to talk.
All we do is talk, she snapped with a harsh glance over at him. He met it easily. Natalie looked away. Im tired of talking. Im tired of being sensitive. Im tired of controlling myself. Im tired of being alone at night.
I know. So am I.
She halted so suddenly that Vincent took a step past her before turning. Then what is the problem?
Thats what we need to find out. He paused. Ive explained it to you, Natalie, and you said you understood. Now you act as if you have forgotten what I told you.
I havent. I just dont care anymore.
Then I guess we have nothing more to talk about.
Natalie regarded him suspiciously, her anger dwindling slightly at the fear of what he might have meant. What do you mean?
If you no longer care what I feel, then you are no longer the woman I grew fond of in these short days. Professor Natalie Long was determined, yes, but she was sensitive to the feelings of others.
His words felt like a dagger in her heart. Thats not fair. Im human.
Are you saying I am not?
Natalie paled. I didnt say that!
Then why would you think that I couldnt also change my mind about my decision?
Then why wont you?
Ive explained that. Why must I continue to tell you what I know you understand? It is hard enough being by your side, Natalie, when your breath smells of honey and your hair of flowers, without you pushing each and every button that weakens my restraint on my desire. He moved toward her, but she stepped back. He sighed. This is a hard time for you, Natalie, and your innocence makes it harder. As does your love for me.
She dropped her eyes.
You want instant gratification, and dont realize that our long-term relationship will be sacrificed to that moment. Vincent stepped forward and lifted her chin to raise her eyes to his. Natalie, you are special to me. So should our first lovemaking be special. Dont you believe this as well? A tear trailed down her cheek and he continued. When you are frustrated with the lack of intimacy between us, vent at me. Dont let it build up within you until it endangers us both. Passions are hard to curb when allowed to foster.
Natalie pulled his hand from her face. Im just so tired of being the responsible professor, Vincent. I want to be reckless and passionate. I want to know what I want and go after it. I dont want to be told to run-along and then do it.
You are passionate, Vincent told her. You are reckless. What else could be behind your searching me out and then falling in love with that which you found? Dont change any aspect of what you are, Natalie, for it is that which I love.
Natalies throat tightened and she balled her hands into fists. Wh-what did you say?
I said that I love you as you are. I love your innocence, your passion, and your tendency toward absentmindedness when engrossed in a project. I love your eyes and the brightness of intensity that is always there. He stepped closer, caressing her cheeks with his thumbs. I love your blushes. I love your temper. I love the way you swear when youre angry or distressed. I love you, Natalie, and that is why I want to wait. Please, please understand.
I do understand Her voice drifted and she gazed up at him with wide eyes. Please. Say it again.
I love you.
Vincent smiled and wrapped her up in his arms, taking in a deep breath of her hair. I love you.
She tightened her hold on him. Im sorry I lost my temper. I got so frustrated Of course, you know all that. You just deal with it better than I do.
Only because I have had too many years of self-restraint. His grip tightened around her. I could stay like this until the seasons changed, Natalie. Like this, in your arms, feeling your body so close against mine It is hard for me to keep from taking you where we both wish to go, but I remind myself. I remind myself that you deserve more than that. As do I. I will not settle for second best.
I would love you no matter what, Vincent, and sometimes I think you forget that.
I dont. That is what reminds me of my decision to wait.
She buried her face in his shirt and took in a deep breath. This is what I needed, Vincent. Just this. A nice, tight hug. Again, she heard the thumping of his heart. I like hearing your heartbeat. It always sounds like its saying my name. Natalie smiled when Vincent pressed his cheek against the top of her head. Can we just stay like this for a while? She sighed. Just like this.
Yes. Yes, we can.
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