A Rose By Any Other Name Chapter 6
Vincent stared at the door. He could hear the rhythmic tapping of her fingers on the keyboard, even through the solid wood of the door. Occasionally, the tapping would pause, but then it would resume at an even faster pace. ' An idea I've been toying with ' she had said. The hope that longed to bloom within him fought at the restraints of his long-practiced self-control and his face hardened as he clenched his jaw. He had told her that he didn't believe there was hope for him, but did even he believe that? He and the others had battled against impossibilities too long for him to now believe this wasn't also a reasonable hope.
Vincent's red eyes narrowed as he examined the door, seeing Natalie Long's seemingly innocent face. She had known Lucrecia He turned away sharply and strode away. He had fought long and hard against Sephiroth and Hojo in order to put the guilt of her death behind him. It was odd to be faced with another remembrance of her. Someone who had admired her courage and intelligence as he himself had. Someone who had been enthralled with what she herself had found intriguing. And yet And yet, there was a fascinating difference about this stranger that had pulled him from his fitful slumber. She had plunged forward even though he had sensed her fear. The hold he had on her seemed to overpower her normal sense of self-preservation. That grip he had over a person whom he had never previously met interested him, much as he hated to admit it.
He came to the door of the room that housed his coffin and paused, his gaze cold and hard as he stared at it. After another brief pause, Vincent passed by and ascended the stairs to the main floor of the Shinra mansion. Somehow, sleeping for much longer when there was a mystery beginning to unfold didn't seem the thing to do. It had been boring anyway. The nightmares that had tortured him for so long had passed at the defeat of Sephiroth, and the memories he had of Lucrecia were beginning to fade. Most hours found him staring at the cover of his self-appointed tomb while wondering what to do in order to fill the unknown remaining years of his life.
Then he had heard a voice exclaim, Oh my God. I found you. I finally found you.
His insides seemed to twist with an unknown agony at the remembrance of the unhidden joy he had heard in the hushed words. For someone to be so pleased to find his crypt was beyond the scope of his withered heart and imagination. Hojo had made fear the only emotion ever witnessed by him. And yet Vincent clenched his jaw and stepped out into the late afternoon sunshine. He looked up at the sky and took in a deep breath. Yes. The effect of Sephiroth's evil was dwindling. He could sense it. Jenova's power over their planet was a mere memory easily and eagerly forgotten.
Her voice was no longer clearly spoken in his mind.
Vincent changed his gaze to the well that Cloud had often mentioned in his pleasant memories of home. It yet stood, almost a beacon of hope for all who gazed at it to believe that such pleasant dreams were possible for them as well. He could even sense his own soul's attempt at belief. ' An idea I've been toying with ' and that was his hope. Vincent knew he did not deserve it, but it was there for him to take just the same. 'Why shouldn't I take it?' But his soul remained distant, testing the newfound idea with an air of feigned disdain. Hope had never before partnered itself with him. 'Why should it?'
No excuses against the idea surfaced.
He clenched his jaw and almost turned back for the mansion. The sound of familiar laughter stopped him. Cloud and Tifa were approaching from the path that led to Mt. Nibel. When they saw him standing at the gate, they hesitated for the briefest possible moment before hurrying to his side.
"Well would you look what the cat dragged in?" Cloud said with a smile as he clapped Vincent on the shoulder. "It's great to see you, Vincent. What brings you out here?"
Vincent examined Cloud's expression with a slightly raised eyebrow. Such an emotion of happiness and laughter had not been often seen on the young man's face. Most often, he had displayed a tortured expression of guilt, rage, and confusion. To see him eagerly smiling with a twinkle of nauseating delight in his Mako glowing eyes nearly sabotaged Vincent's carefully constructed calm. So, he chose not to speak any kind of answer to Cloud's questions. Instead, he continued to examine Cloud and Tifa's expressions. They exchanged a guarded glance and Vincent crossed his arms.
Tifa spoke up next. "Vincent, you haven't seen a woman with red curly hair around, have you? Her name's Natalie Long and she's a scientist doing an article on the progress the planet's made since well, since Sephiroth was beaten." Vincent remained quiet and Tifa absently pulled at the hem of her short, black skirt. "I was just wondering if you'd seen her. She did such a good job on the interview I I was just hoping we could get together some time maybe."
Cloud shook his head with a smirk and draped an arm protectively around Tifa's shoulders. "Come on, Vincent. Give us a break. Have you seen her or not? It's an easy question. It's not like we're asking you for your personal feelings on the matter."
"She's in the basement lab," he said simply.
Cloud straightened sharply, his arm dropping from Tifa's shoulders. "What? Why in the hell did you let her go down there? It's dangerous!" He turned sharply and charged into the mansion, the door slamming closed behind him.
Tifa stared after him with an amazed expression for several quiet moments before turning back toward Vincent. "Now why in the world would he think it was so dangerous?"
"Perhaps because Hojo left an experiment running?"
"Those cylinders Cloud's mentioned? Surely they can't be all that dangerous."
"One never knows when it comes to Hojo."
Tifa turned back toward the mansion and leaned her hands against the gate without opening it. After a moment, she took in a deep breath and released it slowly. "Vincent, I know you don't talk much about the stuff that's happened to you, but But when you did, didn't it make you feel better?"
Vincent leaned his back against the gatepost and crossed his arms. "It did," he admitted reluctantly.
She turned her face to examine his expression. "I don't get it. Why have you been hiding in the basement for so long? Didn't you want to be involved in everything that's been going on out here? Didn't you want to be around your friends for the celebration of a new beginning?"
"Yes, Vincent. Friends. I'd like to think that's what we all are. After all, we've put up with your gloomy attitude with patience for the most part. We helped you find Lucrecia's tomb, or whatever it was, so that you could put some of the guilt away. We asked you to become a part of our team no, our family because we knew that we could help each other." She turned and leaned her back against the gate, tapping her heel into the dusty ground. "Come on, Vincent. We don't ask for a lot in return. Just open up a little. We're all worried about you."
"I'm out of my coffin. Isn't that good enough?" His voice sounded impatient.
"But for how long?" She looked over at him. "We liked having you around, Vincent. You were always interesting company. On those long nights when none of us could sleep you told some of the best stories of Shinra and the Turks. Sure, you never talked about yourself, but that was okay. Why is it so hard to do that now? Just because the world isn't in mortal danger?"
He clenched his jaw and straightened, tossing his red cape over his shoulder as he turned for the gate. Tifa straightened and moved out of the way. "I'm doing my best." Vincent could sense her surprise at his response, but didn't turn to gauge her expression. After a moment's pause, she hurried to walk beside him. "That coffin was what I knew. The nightmares were my entertainment. To give that up so quickly It isn't so easy for a stubborn soul bent on his own destruction."
"So, why are you out now? Can I ask?"
It was a question that even he hadn't had the courage to ask. "Perhaps perhaps I'm searching for something."
She nodded thoughtfully. "I can understand that. I was once there myself. I think I still am." Tifa stopped him with a hand on his arm and held his expression when he looked down at her. "Just be patient with yourself. Okay? Not all questions can be answered at once. Some take time. Some hurt. Some will make you angrier than you've ever been. Give yourself a break, though. It's not easy to do this."
"Do whatever it is you're doing. Trying to find whatever you've lost. Be patient. That's the best advice anyone could give you."
Vincent examined her and then turned away. "Yes. I believe it is."
The door slammed open and Natalie nearly fell out of her chair as she turned. Cloud rushed further into the room and dragged her chair from the computer before reaching down to yank the cord from its power supply. Natalie stood and stretched out an arm with a cry and a firm "Stop!" But it was too late. The monitor went black and all the progress she'd made was gone, save the shorthand notes she'd scribbled on a faded desk pad. Before she had a chance to react, Cloud waved the cord at her with a dangerous scowl and she found herself taking an absent step backward.
"This is against the law," he snapped. He threw it roughly to the ground and then grabbed her by the arm, dragging her none to gently to the door as he ignored all her protests and explanations. "I don't care if you're a scientist. I don't care if you knew what you were doing. That experiment is none of your business!"
"Fine," Natalie told him in a voice that was just as angry. "I don't care about that blasted experiment anyway. I was only attempting to discover information about---"
"It doesn't matter," Cloud interrupted rudely. "That computer runs on Mako and you could be severely punished for using it. Just be thankful that it was me that found you and not Barret. I'm willing to forget it even happened, but he'd more than likely make you an example to everyone else."
Natalie was able to painfully twist her arm from his grasp and then stopped, glaring up at him with her fists on her hips as he also came to a stop. "It doesn't matter if Sephiroth himself had found me. You had no right to go bursting in there and ruin all the hard-earned progress I'd made. You have no idea what I was in the process of doing and now it's ruined! Perhaps gone forever if you crashed the hard drive!"
He attempted to grab her arm again, but she was able to avoid his grasp. "Like I said, professor or doctor or whatever you are, I don't care. Everything about Hojo, Gast, and Shinra has no business being rediscovered. Do you have any idea what could happen if it fell into the wrong hands?"
"That was a risk I was willing to take," she shot at him. "Besides, I didn't plan on telling anyone that it was still running. Vincent was the only one who---"
"Vincent?" Cloud's eyes darkened. "Vincent told you about that place?"
She crossed her arms and refused to answer. Of course, she didn't need to because Vincent and Tifa had just arrived. Natalie turned her face away from Cloud and tilted her chin up in mute defiance.
"What's going on here," Tifa asked calmly.
"What the hell were you thinking," Cloud shot at Vincent as he jammed a finger in his chest. "You had no business showing her that place."
"She needed a lab," Vincent said calmly.
"She needed a lab? She needed a lab?" Cloud gestured back at the door to the laboratory. "So you just usher her in there?"
Tifa put her hands on Cloud's arm. "Cloud, calm down."
"There was no harm being planned," Vincent countered, still calm.
"No harm--- How do you know what she was planning? You don't know her from Jenova and you think you have---"
"Cloud," Tifa interrupted more firmly. "Cloud, I think you better walk this off before you say anything else you'll regret later." He glared down at her, but she didn't budge her position.
Natalie clenched her jaw and turned to face him. "For your information, Mr. Strife, I was doing research on the possibility of reversing the alteration Hojo did on Vincent. Now, if there's harm to the planet by doing that well, I guess I'll harm the planet. I don't know about you, but I don't have any desire to turn my back on the possibility of helping him. I care about him a whole hell of a lot more than this planet!"
With that, she turned on her heel, pushed by both Tifa and Vincent, and strode from the basement without a single look backward. Tifa stared after her and then looked back to Vincent and Cloud with crossed arms. Cloud swore and turned to punch the wall with a fist. Vincent looked a little pale.
"You always did have a tendency of picking a fight. Remember when we were kids?" Tifa shook her head. "I thought you'd grown out of it. Guess not."
Cloud ignored her. Instead, he leaned against the wall and crossed his arms as he looked to Vincent. "Sorry, Vincent. I didn't know."
"Yeah? Well, you didn't ask either," Tifa pressed.
"Okay, Tifa. I get your point. Back off a little."
Tifa smirked. "I'll go talk to Natalie, then." She turned and hurried away.
Cloud watched her and then turned his gaze to Vincent again. "So, is she right? Is there a cure for whatever Hojo did?"
Vincent changed his eyes from the wall in front of him to the corridor that led to the spiral staircase. "I don't know."
"What about what she said? She said she was trying to find a way of undoing it."
"I know what she said."
"Didn't she tell you anything about it?"
"She said she had an idea." Vincent's voice was becoming more and more strained.
"An idea, huh?" Cloud ran a hand through his spiked blonde hair and looked back to the lab. "I never wanted to see that place again, but now I'm going to end up fixing it so she can use a Shinra invention without screwing up the planet?" He shrugged suddenly. "Why not?" He pushed away from the wall and disappeared inside.
Vincent was left alone in the corridor to stare at the door of the room that housed his coffin. He stepped into the room and stared at the large black box for a long moment before disappearing inside and closing the cover tightly after him. He closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep, grateful for the ever-familiar oppressive blackness that submerged his mind into nothingness
and the nightmares
Natalie stiffened and quickly wiped the tears from her face before again making her way toward the exit of the Shinra mansion. 'You made a total and complete ass of yourself, Nat. Not only did you confess how much you care for Vincent in front of his friends, therefore embarrassing him beyond measure, but you lost your cool and told off the savior of this planet!' She pressed her lips together and wiped another volley of tears from her cheeks.
'How am I going to face him ever again?' But she had to. Why? Because she couldn't just walk away now that she had found him and a lab that could mean his salvation. All her life she had felt that there was something waiting for her. Something always out of her grasp. Now that she had this chance, that feeling was no longer lurking in the background of her soul. She had found her purpose. Saving Vincent from whatever hell he went to each night he submerged into that coffin was what she was meant to do. 'And now he knows how I feel ' She choked on a sob and shook her head, furiously wiping more and more tears from her reddened cheeks as her steps slowed. Natalie finally stumbled to a stop to lean on the base of the well.
Tifa came to stand beside her, resting a hand on her back. "Natalie?"
"What?" Natalie choked out.
"Does it look like I'm okay?" Natalie burst out as she turned to face Tifa, tears streaming down her face. "I've just humiliated myself in front of the only man I've ever wanted to impress and you think I might be okay?" Natalie covered her face with her hands and shook her head. "Just kill me now and be done with it. My research is ruined, so I'll probably never be able to find a way to reverse what Hojo did to him. My one chance and this had to happen. It's not fair."
Tifa absently rubbed her shoe on the back of her leg as she gnawed her lower lip. "Natalie---"
"What do you want," Natalie cried as she dropped her hands from her face. "Haven't I humiliated myself enough? Do you have to come and see me like this " Natalie turned away, leaning against one of the many legs of the well as the tears came faster. "Just leave me alone."
With that, she pushed away from the well and stumbled into the inn. Tifa stared after her with a pained expression, then slowly shook her head and made her way back to the Shinra mansion. When she came to the doorway of the lab, she hesitated for a long moment before entering. Cloud was standing in front of the two cylinders with crossed arms and a scowl.
"Cloud, can I ask you something?"
"Does Vincent seem different to you?"
Cloud looked over at her with a little confusion. "Different? What do you mean?"
"I'm not really sure. I guess just the fact that he's out after so many months is difference enough, but there was something in his face when she left. Something I've never seen before. Did he say anything to you before going back in his box?"
"Nope. He was just as tight-lipped as ever. Couldn't even get him to talk about her supposed research. He just said it was an idea of hers." Cloud looked down at his feet. "I didn't piss her off too badly, did I?"
"Surprisingly, no. She was upset, though."
Cloud looked miserable. "Damn. Why do I do this to people, Tif? Why do I find the quickest way to piss them off and then go that little bit extra?"
"Cloud, she wasn't angry at all. She was crying. All she could think about was the fact that she may have humiliated Vincent. Apparently, she wants to impress him and cure him." Tifa hesitated and looked quickly over her shoulder before moving closer to Cloud. "I I think she's in love with him."
Tifa nodded. "Really. I'm serious."
"How When would she have had a chance? He's been in that box forever and the only time he's been out is when he was helping us."
Tifa shrugged. "I don't know the details, but I'd recognize that expression of misery anywhere. You heard what she said, didn't you? About caring for him more than the planet?"
"Well I'll be a---" Cloud broke off and strode to the computer, glaring down at it with an intensity that was reminiscent of the days when they were desperately attempting to defeat Sephiroth and the Turks. "Okay, Tif. This is what we're going to do. I need you to go to Rocket Town and get Cid and Shera. Tell them that we need to get this computer up and running without using Mako. Who knows? Maybe this will help them come up with a new power source."
"Okay. What are you going to be doing?"
"I'm going to go around to the different towns and see if any of them have come up with any ideas. Maybe I'll run into Yuffie somewhere. Seems to me that she was spouting some weird stories about power sources that Wutai and Gongaga were using that didn't have anything to do with Mako."
"Yuffie? Go figure."
Cloud smiled. "Yeah. No kidding."
"What about Natalie and Vincent?"
The smile faded and Cloud rubbed at his scalp. "I don't know. I don't know one way or the other, to tell you the truth. At this point, I just want to stay out of the way. They'll deal with whatever's going on between them a whole lot better if we butt out."
"I guess you're right."
Cloud shook his head. "Don't bet on it."
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