A Rose By Any Other Name Chapter 7
Her face faded in and out of his memory, dim and shadowed with each passing nightmare. A tickle of a past he never wanted. And then there was the voice he heard in a corner of his mind. A voice with a tremble. A voice with a touch of joy and a smile. That voice forbade the face from coming. Vincent beckoned to the darkness again, but it didn't come as completely as before. It was different. Finally, he conceded defeat and allowed the voice to create the nightmare.
It began with a shaded forest and a sunny, warm afternoon. Vincent recognized the place as the Sleeping Forest. He hesitantly stepped forward, looking intently for the owner of the voice that continued to weave stories of history interwoven with fun and mysteries discovered. There was a melodious ring of laughter and a shadow passed behind a tree. Vincent moved toward it without realizing he did so.
"Lucrecia?" The laughter stopped and the warmth of the forest drifted to a sudden chill. The abrupt change made Vincent's stomach tighten with an unknown emotion. When the shadow was seen passing behind another tree he hurried forward, reaching the tree just as the shadow passed behind another. "Wait! Where are you going? Why are you here? What do you want from me?"
He heard a soft cry of sorrow and rushed toward the sound. There was only emptiness and forest. Vincent looked around, his movements agitated and panicky. Something seemed to have him by the very soul and refused to release it's grip. Some part of him was searching for this shadow, but didn't know where to look or by what name to call to it.
"Please. Forgive me," the shadow whispered on the breeze.
Vincent stepped out into the open and looked into the canopy of the trees in hopes he would find it. But it was gone and only the murmur of its continued tears remained behind. Tears of mourning. "Forgive you? Forgive you of what? Who are you?"
The forest scene faded to blackness and the silence began to eat at his sanity
Natalie stared at the Shinra mansion for a long time before finally deciding to go in. She had to explain what she had meant by 'care'. She shook her head and pushed the gate open. The exact meaning was different to a lot of people. Surely she could reason it away in a reasonably believable way? 'I'll do anything to make him more comfortable around me. I'd deny it if I thought it would make him feel better.' Whether or not it would be a believable denial wasn't her problem. Wouldn't he believe it if it was what he wanted to hear?
Her throat constricted, a warning to the tears lurking under her emotional surface, and she cleared her throat as she climbed the stairs to the room that would lead to the spiral staircase. 'Okay, Nat. You can do this. Sure, communication isn't your thing, but how hard can it be?' Not too hard if he was in the box. She could say anything to the box. If he was just sitting on it, though
Natalie cleared her throat again, steering her mind quickly away from any hint of what could or could not be.
As she made her way down the staircase and down the corridor her pace began to slow and her thoughts came more and more quickly. 'No. I can't deny it. That would be a lie and I said I wouldn't lie to him. I promised myself to be honest with him in everything.' She came to stand outside the door to his tomb and simply stared at the door. 'So, if lying is out, what are you going to do, Nat? Just ignore it? Pretend it never happened? Sorry. That's not an option. You know it, too.'
She took in a slow breath and opened the door, closing it very softly behind her. His coffin was closed, but there was something heavy and distraught in the air. It wasn't the same. It was almost suffocating in its intensity. 'Okay, Nat. Why don't you try and cheer him up a little. After all, he's probably upset because of the scene you caused.' Natalie nodded her head brusquely and surprised herself by walking forward with an eager smile.
"Hello again. I'm sorry about rushing off earlier. I don't do well with authoritative figures. It's always been a fault of mine. Besides, I was a little guilty that I'd gotten caught." 'Okay. So far, so good.' She didn't believe anything of the kind, but she wanted to keep her hopes up. "I should tell you of some of the confrontations I had while working at Bone Village. They were ugly; let me tell you that right away. That was one of the reasons I left the dig so many times."
Natalie reluctantly laughed and made herself comfortable at the foot of his coffin. The blanket from her 'picnic' was still there and she made the most of it. "It wasn't completely my fault," she continued. "The head digger was a bone-head, no pun intended. He'd go tromping around the dig site in those god-awful shoes of his and then be as mad as a who-knows-what when something showed up with a fresh break. Blamed us every time. Well, I'd finally had enough of it. So, I stomped right up to him and told him what for. I must have really said some great stuff because he was so busy trying to think of a comeback that wouldn't make him look like an idiot that I was able to pack up my stuff and leave. He still hadn't said anything by the time I walked past him and you should have seen the look on his face!"
Natalie shook her head with a smile and chuckle.
Natalie looked at the coffin and her smile faded as her heart dropped to the soles of her feet. As clear as day she had heard him ask if she was Lucrecia. 'Is that all I'll be to him? A memory of her because I knew her once? Because I'm a scientist like she was?' Natalie dropped her head and clenched her hands together. 'I should have known better. He and her had something special and she'll always be in his memories because of how he feels responsible '
Natalie stood and turned for the door, a tear escaping her control.
"Wait. Where are you going? Why are you here? What do you want from me?"
"I " Natalie's voice broke off and she swallowed hard. She didn't even know. Did she want him to satisfy her seemingly impossible romantic dreams? Did she want him to need her? Or did she simply want to have him indebted to her in a way he wouldn't be indebted to anyone else. She shook her head. 'I can't do that to him. It's not fair. No one should have that kind of control over somebody else. Natalie, you've been taking advantage of him.'
A sob broke through her reserve and she rushed toward the door, fumbling with the handle with both hands before finally yanking it open. Her eyes were already so filled with tears o that she couldn't even see the coffin as she glanced toward it with a yearning expression. "Please. Forgive me."
She pulled the door shut and ran down the corridor, tears dropping from her cheeks to the floor below.
Vincent pushed off the cover and sat up to gasp for breath as he gripped the sides of his coffin with white knuckled hands. The room was empty, as it always was, and no shadow hovered on the other side of the door. No voice whispered. No laughter sounded. No tears were shed for him. With a desperation that he had never before felt, Vincent scrambled from the coffin and hurriedly opened the door. The hallway was empty---
'There! A shadow at the far end of the corridor!'
Vincent ran forward, bolting up the staircase as the footsteps became more and more faint. The room at the top of the spiral staircase was empty, as was the room beyond that, and the hallway beyond that. Dread rose up to choke him and he fought it back as he hurried down the main staircase to the front doors of the mansion. The walkway was empty, the gate yet securely closed. Vincent stepped forward slowly, his eyes narrowed as they examined all. No shadows. He was about to turn away when he heard a door shut. He raised his head sharply and vaulted into the air, hovering quite still as he attempted to gauge the direction from which it had come.
Vincent dropped to the ground, unable to move. The inn. He clenched his jaw and turned away, but didn't move toward the door of the mansion. He couldn't. The sound of the door opening again made him stiffen, but he still couldn't move in either direction. Then there were footsteps coming closer closer closer and then they stopped. If the shadow of the strange nightmare had been Natalie, what did that mean? How could she have entered that place where only he had ever gone? How could she have controlled what he saw? How could she have heard his questions and be affected by them?
The footsteps began again, more hesitantly, until they halted directly behind him. "I was coming to say good-bye."
He turned sharply, her response unexpected in the midst of his own turmoil. She stood only a mere foot away, her curls tousled, her cheeks wet, and her eyes red with crying. "Why?"
She looked down and made a slight gesture with trembling hands. "I'm just causing trouble here. I should have known better than to I should have known better than to dream of making your life better. It's impossible. We don't have the technology anymore " Natalie covered her lips when a sob broke free and turned away. "It's just better if I go," she finished in a choked voice.
"No. It isn't."
"Yes, it is. If I go, you can go back to sleep and not worry about life. It's easier. I I just can't do this." And her voice faded into tears.
It was several long moments before she was able to answer. Before doing so, she wiped the tears from her face and wrapped her arms around herself. Then, she lifted her chin, straightened her shoulders, and turned to face him. "Because you might die. Because it might not work. Because it might work. Because a lot of things."
"If I die, I die. It would be better than living the remainder of my existence in that box."
"But I don't want you to die," Natalie cried as her hands went out in front of her. "Can't you see that? If it didn't work, I could live with that. At least you'd be here. Breathing. Dreaming. But if I killed you Oh God, I couldn't live with that. Don't you understand?"
"It doesn't matter if I die---"
"It does matter!" Natalie protested. She took a firm hold of each of his arms as she stared up into his distant red eyes. "Dammit, it matters to me! You always have! I know you don't understand how or why, and even I can't explain it. All I know is that since the first time I heard about you I " She broke off, examined his red eyes, and then released his arms as she dropped her head. "Oh, what does it matter what I feel or think about anything. I'm a silly girl who doesn't know reality from dreamland. A silly girl who thought she could undo what a madman did to the man she's dreamed of loving. A silly girl " She shook her head and turned away.
"Then do it."
"Do what? Try and unravel a mystery that's intrigued me for as long as I can remember?" Natalie brought a hand up to her forehead with a deep, choked breath. "Surely you know I'll do whatever you want me to."
"Then save me." He hesitated a moment and then stepped up to her, the emotion of uncertainty unfamiliar to him as he gently placed his hands on her arms to turn her to face him. He tilted her chin up with a finger from his golden-gloved claw. It was all coming back to him. How to be human. How to be gentle. How to care for someone who wanted nothing more than to be needed. "I couldn't save Lucrecia and that has haunted me. It haunts me still. If you leave without attempting to save me, you will be haunted as I was. Your life will become a collection of regrets and bitter suppositions. Doubts will plague you. Self-hatred will darken you until you will not resemble, in the least, that which you once were."
Natalie closed her eyes, tears again cascading down her cheeks. "But if you die "
"It will not be death. Only freedom."
Natalie choked on another sob and stepped forward to envelop him in a firm embrace, her cheek pressed firmly against his chest. Vincent stood solemnly still for a long moment before wrapping his own arms around her, remembering a similar embrace he had witnessed. Shared between Lucrecia and Professor Hojo. Vincent clenched his jaw and closed his eyes, violently pushing away the memory as he dropped his cheek to rest on Natalie's soft red curls.
He would let himself remember. How to feel. How to care. How to mourn. He would let himself remember it all with no regrets. Lucrecia made her choice, as did he. He had paid whatever debt he had felt owed and now it was time to move on. He had done it once and he would do it again. And again. And again. He would move on until he found the peace he so desperately desired. If this young woman was the one to give it, then he would do his best by her. If she wasn't he would move on. Again.
"I've been waiting a long time for this." His voice surprised him. It wasn't cold and distant. There was a quiver of emotion. A hint of tightness. She raised her eyes slowly and caught his. There was dread and terror in her gaze. She pushed away as a flash of panic was seen, but he held her arms. "What is it?"
"Please," she said in a tone filled with desperation. "Please. Let me go. I need to go. Now. Let me go. Please."
She wriggled her arms, struggling against his firm grasp as he simply examined her face. He didn't understand the change in attitude. "What's wrong? What did I do?"
"Nothing. Please. Vincent. Let me go." Her voice was trembling with her fresh tears. "I can't do this. I can't."
"Do what? What's the matter?"
"I can't let myself love you---" She froze and her face paled to a soft shade of yellow. Her eyes glazed over and her arms went limp at her sides.
Again, he didn't understand the reaction. She looked as if she were about to retch. He cupped her chin with his one normal hand and her glossy eyes caught his. He examined her expression in confusion and a little annoyance. "What is the matter with you? Is caring for me so despicable that you must run and hide at the first hint of tender feelings shared? Am I such a monster?"
There was no reaction.
He pushed her away, his rage growing to spark in his eyes. They glowed a dangerous shade of crimson. "You woke me, woman, and now you are playing me for a fool? Was that your intention? To play me as a cat plays with the mouse before tasting its blood? Did you wish to see how vulnerable I would allow myself to become before I allowed you to splice and manipulate that which truly holds your interest?" Her shade of yellow turned to green. "I've come from my coffin for you only to be chased back by the very brand of scientist who made that black sarcophagus my home. Have you no defense? Nothing to say?"
She turned and fell to her knees, vomiting so violently that she convulsed with each wave of nausea and coughed after each vicious retch. Vincent knelt and steadied her as she retched and gagged, comforting her through the waves when nothing surfaced but air and deep-seeded misery. When the fit passed, her skin was chalky and clammy and she muttered nonsensical phrases, barely able to hold her head up as she collapsed against him.
Vincent clenched his jaw and held her against him, the rage passing to reveal the fear that had fed it. "Dammit, woman, I've waited for someone, anyone to care about the hell I eagerly fled to each night. Don't leave me now," he muttered.
"I-I'm sorry," she murmured. "I didn't mean to. I-I didn't know I didn't know what I was doing. It was the dream. I know it was. I was scared. I'm always scared. I don't want to be scared anymore."
She murmured similar phrases over and over again and seemed to sink further and further into a type of delirium that seemed so hauntingly familiar. Tremors came in waves throughout her entire body and her teeth began to chatter so violently that he thought they would break. Vincent unclipped his cape and wrapped her into it, then lifted her and gently carried her to the inn. He made his way up the stairs and into her room and then carefully placed her on her bed, adjusting the covers so that they came up to her chin.
There was a basin of water on the dresser and he soaked a rag, then turned to her and wiped the vomit from her face. Her eyes fluttered open and she smiled briefly before her eyes rolled back in her head and the smile disappeared. He clenched his jaw and tossed the rag into the basin, striding to the table to grab a chair. He brought it to her bedside and sat with crossed arms.
"It was the dream," she mumbled again and again. "You always kiss me in the dream. I was scared. I don't want to be scared anymore. If you just say that, I won't be scared anymore. I didn't know you were going to say that. It scared me."
Helplessness rose in Vincent's heart as he watched her greenish face twist into hundreds of expressions. From fear, to happiness, to agony, and back again. He leaned forward, resting his arms on the bed as he continued to watch her. "So, you dream of me? What life have you had that causes you to love such as I? What kindness blossoms in your soul that makes you have the desire to put right this blackened soul of mine? Why do you so desire to save me?"
She rocked her head back and forth, her hands occasionally flying outward to grope the air, searching for something that would seemingly give her peace. Vincent caught one of her hands in his and it fluttered in his grasp like a butterfly, ceasing only after several failed attempts at freedom. His claw carefully smoothed her now damp curls from her face. Once, he allowed himself to caress her cheek. When he did so, Natalie sucked in a breath and her head ceased its rapid movement from side to side.
"Vincent, we need to talk," she choked out.
Vincent was surprised at the sudden clarity of speech and examined her expression. Her eyes were still closed, drifting rapidly from side to side under her lashes. She was dreaming. "About what?"
He was intrigued. "Us?" There was a sudden sense of fear radiating from her and he again caressed her cheek in an effort to soothe it. "What is it that needs to be said that makes you so afraid?" Her countenance firmed and he could sense her resolve.
"I can't see you anymore."
He raised an eyebrow. "Oh? It seems to me that you've said that before and yet you always come." Vincent remembered something she'd said and smoothed more curls from her face. "I understand now. You're afraid of yourself."
She rolled over, pulling her hand from his grasp and wrapping her arms around herself. He had begun to notice that she did this when she felt threatened. Somehow, though, he knew he didn't threaten her. She was terrified of her feelings. "It just wouldn't work, Vincent. I care about you, yes, but "
"But?" He wanted to hear her reasoning. With someone as logical as her, she would need realistic grounds before she could end something that meant so much to her.
"I don't know anymore. I'm just so afraid."
Vincent actually understood. Fear had controlled many people. The original president of Shinra had used a type of fear to control the people of Midgar. Rufus had used an even greater aspect of fear. Even he himself had been influenced by fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of allowing himself to be as he once was.
An unexpected emotion of compassion warmed his normally cold insides and he leaned toward her ear. "It's all right to be afraid," he whispered. "Aren't we all, at one point or another?"
She rolled onto her back again and turned her head toward him, an air of expectancy settling over her. He examined her expression with confusion. After a moment or two, the expectancy dwindled and there was an emotion of regret and sadness. Natalie turned her head away, her face twisted in an agonized frown. Her spirit seemed to distance itself from him and he took hold of her hand.
Her hand fluttered in his grasp. "What is it? What did you need?"
"No. It's not supposed to be like that. Something's wrong. He's not there. Where are you? Vincent? Vincent?" Her head twisted from side to side and this time her entire body began to writhe.
Her eyes fluttered open and her color became less green. "Vincent?"
Natalie smiled groggily and rolled onto her side, pulling his hand to her cheek as it rest on the pillow. She closed her eyes. "You were supposed to kiss me. You always do. Always."
"Ah." He analyzed her face with an amused expression. Her pallor was much improved, but she still seemed to be drifting from her dream world to reality and back again. "You look forward to this part of the dream, I imagine." She grinned a silly grin and nodded against his hand, still held captive between her cheek and the pillow. Her expression was so ridiculous that he nearly laughed out loud. "Very well," he conceded.
She tightened her grip on his hand. Vincent hesitated. There had been no other woman in his life after Lucrecia. Was he so willing to enter into this 'relationship' with such reckless abandon? He brushed a clawed finger lightly across her forehead and noticed that, again, she did not cringe away from the touch. That decided him. He leaned forward and tenderly brushed her lips with his.
The contact, brief as it had been, caused an avalanche of restraints and controls.
Vincent took in a gasp of surprise at the sudden rush of freedom and stared down at her in shock. Natalie had a simple smile on her face and seemed to have fallen asleep. "So. I have found you then. Or rather, you have found me. Fool that I am, I would have chased you away with my rage. But But you did not run. You faced me in my darkest fury and reacted in this way. Your broken heart doing this." He tightened his grip on her hand. "Will you also be my cure? Or my release from this curse to a final blackness?"
Her eyes opened slowly and she caught his gaze. She smiled and brought a hand to brush his hair from his face. "I won't leave," she whispered. She yawned suddenly and then nestled her cheek against his hand again. "I won't leave. I've got to cure you first."
"Sleep now. The cure will wait."
Natalie yawned again. "I love you, Vincent. Don't forget that," she murmured.
He closed his eyes and shook his head as he dropped his chin. "I won't."
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