A Rose By Any Other Name Chapter 17
Natalie stretched and then pushed the book aside. Vincent looked up from the book he was reading and sent her a quizzical glance. She smiled. Its really interesting, the human body. Its amazing how it all works.
Are you finished?
Yeah. I did a quiz and got 100%. She rested her arms on the table, stretching out to take his hand in hers. It isnt the same as medical school, but its all I can do.
Itll be enough.
I hope so. She gave his hand another squeeze and then released it to stand. The Item Shop was beginning to fill with the later risers. Lets go. I want to get started while its fresh in my memory.
Vincent stood and followed her from the shop, falling into step beside her as they made their way to the Mansion. It had been the best seven-day vacation she had ever had. Vincent had grudgingly allowed her to read and take notes during the sabbatical, just as he had allowed himself to be persuaded to sit with her in the Item Shop as she did so. When she hadnt been studying, they had taken long walks around Mt. Nibel. Mostly, the walks had been silent times of enjoying the others company. There had been occasions when one of the two had begun to talk about how a specific section of scenery had reminded them of a memory they had, and then each had taken turns offering a similar memory.
Vincent began to take shape in Natalies heart and soul as the impassioned person she had suspected he was.
When tempers flared due to frustration and sexual tension, they had somehow controlled their passions enough to vent the rising emotions and work them out. These altercations had usually resulted in a tight embrace that had lasted for several minutes. No kissing. No caressing. Just a very, very tight embrace. Those hours when their passions were more easily controlled, the two had found a patch of lush grass and laid there on a blanket, enfolded in each others arms to listen to the beat of each others heart as they caressed arms, hair, or back.
Natalie had become second nature to Vincents each waking moment.
He changed his glance to her. What is it?
I have this feeling that I shouldnt take them out just yet.
What do you propose?
Im going to clamp them off first. I dont want to take them out only to find that you go into some type of horrid withdrawal. It would be my luck that Hojo used an addictive chemical base. Natalie looked over at him. All right?
You are the professor, Natalie. This is your field of expertise.
She smiled. You just want the easy way out.
He smirked and held the door to the Mansion open for her. I would never recognize the easy way.
Yeah. I guess you wouldnt.
They made their way to the basement laboratory, where they paused in the entrance. Natalie released a slow breath and then stepped forward. Shed come down to set up the night before as Vincent was sleeping.
I see you were here recently.
Yeah. Last night.
You knew, then, that today would be the day?
I was hoping, but I wasnt going to bet on it. It depended on how I did on the quiz.
How many times have you done said quiz with such high results?
Natalie flushed and double-checked the tools. Oh, about a hundred or so. I lost count.
Day two or three?
She smiled over at him. Three.
He smirked. I suspected as much.
See? You were enjoying yourself as much as I was.
I didnt deny it.
Natalie gestured him to the table. Come on. Lets get you ready for the show.
He eased himself up onto the bed and lay back, resting his claw up on the side-table. She reached out to dissemble it and then paused, casting a glance at the sleeve hiding the insertion points from her view.
She cleared her throat and tapped her forehead. Uh, Vincent, youll need to take off your shirt.
He sat up with a slight smile in her direction as he unbuttoned his shirt and slipped out of it. He handed it to her. You have been wanting to do that yourself for quite a while, havent you?
Natalie flushed as she set the shirt aside. Dont start, she warned with a slight smile.
She clenched and unclenched her hands to keep from running them across his smooth chest and focused her attention (quite a feat, considering) on the claw and its insertion points. There was a metal guide, as it were, which kept the tubing from being jostled and reduced the risk of them being accidentally (or purposefully) removed. When she lightly touched the skin just behind the metal guide, she could tell that they were a good 1 or 2 inches into his arm. They would need to be carefully removed via surgery. The tubing, however, could be nothing more than a type of IV. In fact, when she examined the metal guides, she could tell that while it wasnt exactly like an IV, the tubing could indeed be removed by simply retracting the needle inserted there. Whether the guides had a catch that needed to be released before they would easily retract was, again, a different story.
Natalie straightened, sent Vincent a reassuring smile, and then turned for the clamps that would cut off the Jenova from his body. She hesitated for a moment, sent him another smile, and then clamped the tubing. The tubing that ran into his arm cleared of fluid. Now we wait.
Natalie shrugged and sat on the bed, reaching out to brush some of his hair from his face. He always wore it down. One time hed told her that he wore it like that, now, so that shed do just this. I dont know. I thought that the Jenova was circulated semi-continuously, but Ive never seen the tubing empty. So, it could take just a few minutes to react. If I was wrong about the whole theory, that is. If Im not, and it does only re-circulate every few hours or so, thats how long your body will take to react.
Any idea what reaction to expect?
She shook her head. Sorry. No idea. Prepare yourself for the worst, I suppose.
He took her hand and pulled her toward him, pressing her cheek against his chest to hear the rhythmic beating of his heart. She wrapped her arms around him as best she could and closed her eyes, relishing the feel of his smooth chest against her face and the feel of his hand stroking her hair.
I am reluctant, Natalie, to have you here to see my pain.
I am too, but Im not going anywhere.
He took in a deep breath and released it slow. I know. We shall wait together.
With each minute and hour that passed, they fought against the elation at the apparent ease of Vincents cure. The desire to hope that such pain could be ended so quickly was intense, but they pushed it away as each new hour approached. They couldnt be certain. Not yet. So, they waited. They waited and saw the redness of Vincents eyes decrease until Natalie saw that he had dark, rich, chocolate-brown eyes. They waited and saw the almost undead pallor of his skin fade, revealing a naturally dark complexion easily tanned when out in the sun for extended periods of time.
When Vincent said his stomach growled, Natalie beamed at him and ran out of the Mansion to come back with a thick sandwich, a large piece of fruit, and a tall glass of juice. He ate them all with barely a pause and then rubbed his abdomen and said he was full. Natalie made a few notes on her ever-present spiral notepad, and then resumed their card game. It had been nearly 10 hours. Occasionally, there would be a high-pitched whine from the innards of the glove, but Natalie assumed it was the circulation system complaining at its lack of outlet for its Jenova cells. They ignored it with ease and pleasure.
At the 11th hour, Natalie decided that they both needed to sleep.
She stood from the makeshift table propped on top of his claw, picked up the cards to set them aside on the table by the computer, and then gave Vincent a kiss on the cheek. Im exhausted, Vincent. Natalie pulled the cot closer to his bed and plumped up the pillow. Some sleep would do both of us some good. If you feel anything odd happen, just wake me. All right?
He nodded. I will. Good night.
She lay back on the cot and smiled up at him, her green eyes catching his luxurious brown ones (shed positioned the cot so that her head was at his feet. It was easier to see him that way). I love your eyes the best, she yawned.
Her eyes drifted closed and her breathing deepened. Vincent watched her for a long moment, a smile twinkling in his eyes and on his lips. His night vision had faded to practically nothing, so it was hard to see her features in the shadows as clearly as before, but he was seeing her in a different light. Human. Faulty. Real. He was seeing her. Vincent didnt know how to categorize the emotion that welled up within him at that realization, so he filed it away for a future discussion with her, yawned, and then allowed himself to sleep
* * *
Natalie's eyes opened suddenly and she turned over onto her back, listening. Something wasn't right. Her eyes slowly became accustomed to the dimness of the room and she heard it again: a ruffle. A shift. A groan. She sat up sharply, her feet diving for the floor as she stood and took that one step to Vincent's bedside. She brought her hands up to her mouth to stifle the gasp and then was immediately reaching for the clamps.
He was thrashing and his face and body continued to phase in and out of different forms.
"Vincent," she said in a soft and calm voice, "Vincent, I need you to be still. I know it hurts, but I need to take the clamps off." Vincent gripped the ends of the bed and looked to Natalie with an expression of terror. Natalie nodded and placed a reassuring hand on his arm. "I know, but it's going to be all right. I'm here and I'm not going anywhere. Just be as still as possible and I'll take the clamps off."
He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, the muscle in his jaw twitching wildly as he focused his every ounce of strength on keeping rigidly still. The phasing slowed and Natalie gnawed on her lower lip as she reached out and carefully withdrew the clamps. Fluid immediately rushed into his arm and he howled, his back arching with agony.
"What is it?" Natalie asked in fear. Her hands felt at his forehead and felt his pulse at his throat. "Vincent? What's wrong?"
"It burns! Natalie, it burns like acid!"
Panic rose to choke her as she replaced the clamps. His hands didn't release their tight clasp on the side of the bed, but he was able to settle into the mattress after a long 5 minutes. "Maybe that little bit will help relieve the phasing." Her voice quivered. "Vincent, I'm sorry. If I had known..."
He clenched his jaw tighter and looked over at her after a pause. "It is not your fault, Natalie. It was a reasonable assumption that simply removing the clamps would ease the discomfort. There was no way you could know that my body would so easily reject the chemical base and lose its tolerance for its presence in my system."
"I don't like how this feels," she said in a soft whisper as she caressed his arm. "I feel like this is an experiment and I never wanted that to happen."
"I know, but in science one seldom has the luxury of anything but. Do your best. It will be enough." Vincent flinched and his eyes closed as he took in a quick breath and held it. A grotesque mergence of at least 3 different faces broke out across his features and he moaned. "Do not leave me, Natalie," he whispered through clenched teeth.
"I won't. I'm right here." She pried his claw from its grip on the bed and held it tightly in hers. It expanded and formed different versions of his same extremity as she held it. "I'm right here."
Natalie desperately wished she felt it was safe to give him some type of drug that would allow him to sleep during the process of rejection, if that was indeed what it was. She didn't want to risk a chemical reaction that would likely cause his death. She didn't even dare risk giving him something like a mild pain-reliever due to the same reason. She felt helpless; her heart wrenching at each of his restrained moans of pain as yet another barrage of images twisted his body. 'It wasn't supposed to go like this,' she told herself. But she had known, deep down, that it was a great possibility. A possibility that would make the end result all the more miraculous and appreciated.
Natalie's fearful gaze focused on his pinched face. "What?"
"Speak to me, Natalie. Reality is fading and I do not wish to become lost." His hand clenched hers for a long moment as he choked back a groan of pain. "Tell me a story."
Natalie swallowed hard, fighting against the sobs that threatened her sanity and peace of mind. 'I have to be strong for him. I have to.' "All right." Her voice was calm and warm. "I'll see if I can remember something I haven't told you before."
"Tell me how---" Vincent's voice broke off with a roar of pain as his face fully took on the shape of Death Gigas. Blood trickled from the corners of his eyes and he growled deep within his throat as his large, grayish fist clenched Natalie's.
Natalie's face went from pale to yellow and she kissed his hand. "I'll tell you how I found your picture as a Turk. I've always loved that story." She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, grappling with the panic that refused to be pushed completely away. When she opened her eyes again, Death Gigas was fading to a bluish beast she remembered as Galian Beast. She choked back a sob and swallowed again. "It's a long story, Vincent, but I'm sure it won't bore you." She stroked the bluish paw in an effort to soothe his pain. 'Oh God, don't die. Please.'
"Believe it or not," she began softly, "we were allowed on a field trip to this very Mansion. It was a fluke thing that my teacher was able to arrange for his honor students. I believe Shinra wanted to use it as a kind of recruitment tactic. Show the glamorous side to the corporation and hope that these honor students would sign up straight out of school." The Galian Beast phased out again, leaving Vincent's face covered with sweat and blood. Natalie's hand tightened on his glove and she pressed her lips against it as she caressed his cheek. 'Hold on, Vincent. Hold on.' "I had no idea about the basement laboratory and so I was confused as to why they would bring us there. After all, we were science students. We didn't care much about the perks from being involved in the Shinra Hierarchy.
"Then we were met by Professor Hojo and his assistant, Lucrecia. Most of us knew who they were before they even introduced themselves. After all, we weren't honor students for nothing. We did research. A lot of it. While mine was in archeology and not the genetic sciences, I still knew who he was because of his involvement in research of the Cetra with Professor Gast."
Vincent suddenly released a long breath and his death grip on her hand loosened somewhat, as did his grip on the other side of the bed. He opened his eyes after another pause and focused on her face. "The pain has receded a bit," he said in a raspy voice.
"Shh. Don't talk, Vincent." She stood and pried her hand from his. "I'm going to get you some water. I'll be right back."
She hurried to the desk and retrieved the thermos of water she kept in a small dorm-fridge, and then rushed back to his side. Natalie helped him sit up slightly, guided the straw into his mouth, and then held it as he took in the long draughts of chilled liquid. After a moment, he pushed the thermos away and she helped him lay back. She took hold of his hand again and turned his arm so that she could see the inner side. The skin just behind the metal guides was red and inflamed. She gnawed on her lower lip and set his arm down beside him.
"I need to get some gel," she whispered as his gaze caught hers. "It'll only take a moment." Natalie hurried to the table on the far wall near the X-ray machine and grabbed the tube of local anesthetic she had found while organizing the lab. The moment she returned to his side, he took a firm hold of her arm. She caught his gaze. Its coming? He nodded slightly and she hurriedly removed the cap, spread some of the gel on the skin where the metal guides disappeared inside, and then tossed it aside. Im going to remove these tubes, Vincent, so Im going to look for the catch.
His grip tightened on her arm momentarily as she leaned forward to get a closer look at the metal guides. She touched them gently, feeling out each crevice, knob, and button in an attempt to find the release. Every once and a while she saw an expression near desperation on Vincents face and knew that the pain and chaotic phasing was edging ever closer. Her stomach tightened with a lurch and she nodded as she gnawed her lower lip. She pressed her lips together and released an annoyed exhalation of breath. Dammit! Natalie turned to a bookcase, halted by Vincents frantic clasp on her arm.
She turned toward him, a similar expression of panic in her wide eyes. I know, Vincent. I know. I need to see if I can find a diagram in one of Hojos reports for this thing. She covered his hand with hers and gave a squeeze. Ill be right over there.
He nodded slightly and released his grip, watching her every move with an expression of barely restrained dread at the coming onslaught. Natalie dove through drawers and file cabinets, rifled through manila folders and thumbed through dog-eared books looking for the design that would help her. Every twitch from Vincents direction captured her attention for a long moment, and then she was back into the files with renewed fervor.
Vincents exclamation of agony and terror brought her head up. Natalie dropped the book to run to his side, grasping his hand so tightly that his eyes opened and captured hers. Im here. Shh. Shh, she soothed in a choked voice.
His grip tightened around hers and his eyes squeezed shut, blood escaping the corners once again. Natalie reached out and caressed the bloody tears away with the tips of her fingers, chewing her lower lip until she could taste her own blood. It wasnt fair. She couldnt relieve any of his pain. She couldnt stop the horrid phasing from one beast to another. She was powerless to help him through the toughest time in his life and she was terrified that the pain would be too intense to withstand much longer. She had to give him something. Anything would be better than this hell.
Oh God, she whispered in a choked voice. I didnt know, Vincent. Im so sorry. I didnt know. She pressed his glove against her forehead and sobbed.
* * *
After what seemed endless hours, Vincent quieted and was able to drift to sleep. His breathing was ragged and labored at times, and his pallor did nothing to alleviate Natalies suspicions that he wouldnt survive the night. She had put on a brave face for him, of course, and hadnt let the tears of mental and emotional exhaustion slip past again until she was sure that he was asleep. Then her research began in earnest. She had decided that there would be no rest for her until she eased his agony. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else was recognized in her mind.
It was Vincent or nothing.
She had found the diagram for the metal guides shortly after Vincent had drifted to his not-so-restful slumber. The catch that prevented the removal of the tubes was a combination of releases, just as the claw had taken a combination of procedures before it could be removed or released from the wearer. Natalie had studied the design carefully for several minutes before tenderly pulling Vincents arm to a position where she could reach said catch. Barely a moment it had taken and then the tubing had been free of his arm, the claw tossed to the side with a sob of relief. She had decided that her next project would be to study the diagram and insertion technique in more detail and then plan an operating procedure in order to remove them. For right now, though, they would stay because she had need of them.
At the beginning of her 7-day vacation, she had set up a machine to reproduce Vincents original blood type from a single sample by using a ready supply of plasma found there in the lab. Now she had a nice collection of soft containers in the dorm-fridge. Natalie could only hope that the transfusion would help flush the Jenova toxins out of his system. In order to help, she had been able to use the time while Vincent slept to rig up a rough dialysis system. It would circulate the blood through its pre-programmed setting of what his blood should look like on a molecular level (even deeper) and filter it, keeping a close eye on the level of blood drained compared to that which was introduced.
Now Natalie gazed down at him with a sad expression. I wanted to protect you from this, Vincent. Really. I did. I wanted your cure to be painless. To be simple. To be To be so many other things. She closed her eyes and lowered her gaze, gripping fistfuls of the bed sheet. She had wanted so many things to be different. Natalie released a deep breath and opened her eyes, reaching out a hand to gently caress his hair from his face. Now I see that Im causing you more pain than Hojo ever did.
She watched his face for a long moment and then turned away to move toward the south corner where the blood machine was. She checked the connections, made sure the appropriate settings were listed, and then wheeled it next to Vincent. She carefully adjusted his arm so that she could more easily access the metal guides, and then inserted the special designed needle (a horrible looking hollow piece of steel that looked like a pipe). She turned and switched on the power, waited a moment for it to detect a correct insertion, and then sighed with relief when his blood began to flow in to, as well as out of, the machine.
All right, Vincent, she said softly as she moved to his opposite side, now we wait again. Natalie took hold of his hand and squeezed it. There was a slight response and she smiled. I hope your dreams are nicer than what Ive been doing to you. You deserve some relief. She sat on the edge of the bed and gazed down at his face. An expression of calm and comfort was there and his breathing slowly became less haggard. Im still trying, Vincent. Im still trying to make it go away. Just fight it with me. Okay? Dont give up. Remember what you said? You said that if the cure would kill you, you wouldnt make me do it. You said that a future with me was better than death.
Natalie released his hand and lay down beside him, holding him tight against her. You said that a future with me was better than death, she repeated in a choked voice. Dont leave me.
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