A Rose By Any Other Name Chapter 8

By Mintbaby

Natalie stretched slowly, wiping a bit of wetness from the corner of her mouth before lifting her hands above her head. She had a tendency of drooling when she slept and it irritated her to no end. She let out a deep breath and opened her eyes, a slight movement by the window catching her gaze. Vincent stood there, staring across the scenery of Nibelheim with crossed arms.

Natalie sat up in surprise. "Oh!" Vincent turned his face toward her and smiled slightly, his amber eyes guarded. Natalie flushed and dropped her eyes. "I didn't expect to see you. Not after… well, you know."

"Yes. I know."

He didn't offer anything more and Natalie cleared her throat, suddenly very unsure as to what to do. Of course, she had a tendency of always feeling that way when he was close to her. The only time she had ever been more at ease was when she'd been in the lab. 'But I can't go back there because it's ruined.' She sighed. 'How can I cure him now?'


Natalie's eyes widened. 'Did he just say my name? Oh God, he said my name.' She slowly turned her head to face him. He was still standing by the window, his arms were still crossed, and his eyes were still guarded, but there was something different about his expression. "Y-yes?"

"What do you remember?"

'I said that I loved you. I remember that as clear as day. I remember you got angry with me. I remember a lot of things.' "Remember? What do you mean? Remember about what exactly?"

"What do you remember about what happened here."

'I remember I had an interview and didn't have the guts to tell you at first. I remember that you weren't here to share the laughter.' "Here? As in here in the room?" He simply nodded. "Um. Well, I don't really know what you're talking about, to be honest." 'Not really. Not ever. I don't even know what I'm doing here with you.'

"You don't remember what happened after our… conversation outside Shinra mansion?"

'Oh no…' Natalie went slightly pale as she dropped her eyes. "Why?" Her voice was soft. "What happened?"

"I brought you back here," he said simply. Vincent seemed to hesitate for a long moment before continuing. "One day I shall tell you the rest."

She looked up and examined his expression, but still couldn't tell what it was that he was choosing to keep to himself. 'When are you going to trust me, Vincent? When are you going to understand that I can only help you if you talk to me?' "All right." He looked away, again staring out at Nibelheim in silent retrospection. Natalie watched him and then slid off the bed to come and stand beside him. "What's the matter? Is it because of the computer being ruined?" Vincent didn't answer. "Vincent, I'm sure I can still help you. After all, we didn't always have computers. I'll just have to dig my brain out of the dust bunnies and do the long division myself, that's all. It may take longer, but that's okay. Isn't it?"


Silence settled over them again and it was all she could do not to grab him by the arms and shake him in frustration. 'Vincent, why won't you talk to me?' He looked down at her suddenly and caught her gaze, clearly reading her expression of aggravation and uncertainty. Natalie dropped her eyes and made a move to turn away, but he caught her by the arm. She looked up at him in surprise.


Natalie watched as a battle raged across his expression and felt her stomach tighten with emotion. 'If he would just talk to me I could help him. The last thing I want is for him to go through all this by himself. But I can't force him to talk. It's got to be his choice.' She held his eyes. 'Come on, Vincent. It's all right to talk. You can do it. Just say something, anything. I'll listen. I promise.' "What is it, Vincent," she urged gently.

The battle increased and his face seemed to harden, his eyes becoming progressively more distant as his hand tightened its grip on her arm ever so slightly. Desperation rose in Natalie's stomach. 'Come on, Nat! You've got to say something! You can't let him do it all! He's been in that blasted box for years and hasn't ever really learned how to talk to someone. You know that even the Turks were tight-lipped. Say something!'

"If I wasn't interested in what you had to say," she said softly, "I wouldn't have asked. It doesn't matter to me if, to you, the question or comment sounds ridiculous. I want to hear it anyway. Please, Vincent. Just say something. I don't care what." He made a move to take his hand from her arm and she quickly grabbed it, closing his fingers around her arm again. "No. Don't do that. Say what you wanted to say."

"Stay here."

Tears popped to Natalie's eyes and her throat constricted so violently that a sob choked out. She released his hand to cover her mouth for a brief second, and then gave him a quivering smile as her eyes twinkled with tears. "There. Was that so bad?"

"Yes." He sent her a slight, momentary smile. "I did not mean to frustrate you. It's been a habit of mine for far too long."

She waved a hand in dismissal and dropped her eyes. "It's okay."

"No. It isn't."

"I don't mind."

"Yes. You do."

Natalie laughed and changed her eyes back to his face. He was watching her. "Okay. So, it bothers the heck out of me. I'll get over it. I'm a big girl."

Vincent looked away again. "Yes. You are."

Natalie raised an eyebrow. 'Hmm. I wonder what that was supposed to mean.' "So, how does it feel to be out of the basement for more than 10 minutes? Has the noise gotten to you yet?"

"It's been quiet."

"Well, that's good." Natalie tucked her hands into the pockets of her jeans to keep from wrapping him up in a hug. It looked like he needed one. "How long have you been stranded up here?"

"Just through the night."

"Really? I must have been tired."

"You were exhausted."

'I haven't really been sleeping all that good, Vincent. The dreams haven't given me any mercy at all. Kind of like you.' She felt his gaze on her and began to wonder if he could hear her thoughts. It certainly seemed like it lately. Natalie cleared her throat, but didn't say anything.

"I once believed that only I was tortured by nightmares."

Natalie flushed and then went pale. 'Can he possibly know what I think?' "What makes you say that?"

"The exhaustion. I have seen that type before. When we find no solace in our slumber because of the dreams awaiting us, that desperate delirium comes." She remained silent and he turned to look at her. "It seems we share more in common then you first suspected."

'Fine with me. I've never had anything in common with someone before. Not someone like you, anyway. Maybe that's why I'm so afraid of what I feel. Maybe that's why I don't want to admit to you that I feel anything.' "Looks like."

"Did you dream as you slept just now?"

"I don't remember. I don't think so." She looked up and caught his gaze. He was still watching her. "I've never slept that well before. That I remember."

"The restful sleep of the content. How I envy you."

Natalie blinked in mild surprise. She hadn't expected any kind of comment like that from him. 'You're doing good, Vincent. Keep going. I'm listening.' "You haven't ever had a restful night's sleep? Never?"

He clenched his jaw, but didn't turn away from her as she suspected he wanted to. "No. Never have I slept as you did. You were quiet. No groans of misery. No whimpers of fresh agony. A gentle smile caressed your lips and made me wonder what had pleased you…" His voice faded and this time he turned his face toward the window. "No. I have never slept as you did."

Natalie stared at him in silence, her mind quiet as her heart beat rapidly in her chest. Then, before the logical side of her had a chance to object, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him, pressing her cheek against his chest. "I'm going to fix that. I promise, Vincent. I'm going to fix that if it takes my entire life."

His arms remained at his sides for several long moments, so long that Natalie almost began to doubt the wisdom of her action. Then, when she began to think that she should pull away, he hesitantly wrapped his arms around her. She closed her eyes and fought the tears, gnawing on her lower lip to keep them under control. 'Nat, don't start blubbering. You'll humiliate yourself and more than likely irritate him.' She took in a slow breath. 'But I have to be myself, don't I? I don't want him to care for someone other than who I really am, do I? That wouldn't be fair. To me or to him. I didn't work so hard for so long in order to find him just to start being someone else.'

Her grip around him tightened briefly and then she sniffed and pulled away, sending him a brief smile as he examined her face. "I need to take a walk," she said as she turned for the door.

'Please. Don't come with me.' A part of her wanted him to. A part that was so big it nearly won the war with her common sense. She knew, though, that in order to come down from where she currently was she had to be by herself. Too much of Vincent would never be a good thing. Not so soon after finding him. She had to bring her life back into perspective. She had to remember who she was. What drove her. What made her get up in the morning. 'It's Vincent, Nat. You know that. It's always been the mystery that surrounded him. Not so much the science in itself. He was an impossible goal that seemed safe enough to strive for. After all, you didn't think you'd ever find him.'

Natalie paused at the open doorway and turned back to face him. He was yet standing by the window, his arms at his sides as he watched her. 'Do you really want to leave him here by himself? There will be a lot of days when you'll be alone, Nat. There already have been. Just as he's had a lifetime alone. You're already a whole person, Nat, and spending time with him is not going to change that. Spending time with him will help him heal, that's all. It's not going to make you forget who you were and who you still are. You'll become a deeper person, if anything. Don't you want to help him remember who he once was?'

Natalie dropped her eyes and took in a very deep breath; releasing it so slowly she thought it would never end. "I don't suppose you'd come with me?"

"Is that what you want?"

'You have no idea.' "Yes. No. I don't know. I'm a little distracted right now. Been outside the cover of my books too long, I guess," she finished with a brief smile at the toes of her feet. "Look. I forgot to put my shoes on." He remained silent and she looked up, her smile dwindling. "Come with me? Please?"

Vincent paused for a moment longer before moving toward her, picking up her hiking boots and socks on the way. "Yes." He handed her the boots. "Put your shoes on first."

When they stepped out into the late morning sunshine, Natalie tucked her hands deep into the pockets of her jeans and lifted her shoulders high for a long moment. She passed Vincent a look from the corner of her eyes and noticed that he was looking toward the mansion. "Did you want to walk around there?"

He changed his gaze to her. "Not particularly."

"Oh." 'Well, I guess we don't look around at the books and stuff down there yet.' She sighed. 'Don't worry, Nat. He'll let you know when he's ready.' "How about Mt. Nibel? I could show you the fossil excavation site."

He hesitated, his amber eyes registering a strange emotion before he looked away from her face. "Just walk. It doesn't matter where you go. I'll follow."

'You have no idea what that means to me, Vincent. Please. Watch what you say.' "Okay, then. We'll walk." Natalie cleared her throat and then struck out, her feet naturally leading her toward the Shinra mansion. She stopped by the gate and looked up at the old monstrosity with a slight smile. "I'm going to buy it, you know. Fix it up real nice."

"Would you live there? Alone?"

'I wouldn't be alone if you stayed there with me.' "Sure. Why not? I've been on my own since I can remember. Besides, less people around means more time for research and experiments. Talking with Barret and Nanaki really inspired me to put all my effort into coming up with environmentally safe solutions for the planet. The mansion would be the perfect place to set up shop. There are so many rooms that I could have several experiments going at the same time."


Natalie turned and leaned against the gate with a smile toward Vincent. "Yeah. I'm always doing some type of half-crazy research project."

"Such as?"

Natalie dropped her gaze to the toes of her boots. "Oh, you know. The reaction human cells have to Mako when it's forcefully introduced. The reaction human cells have to Jenova cells. How much of the organisms protein makeup is actually changed with the alteration. If it affects future offspring of the altered person. Things like that." 'I can't believe I just brought up children.' "It was quite interesting, on paper. I had a hard time believing that Hojo, or anyone, would do something like that to people. At first. Then, as I read more and more articles and learned more about him… He was capable of a lot more insanity than that. All because he wanted to have some type of power that existed in his mind. I don't know what he thought he was doing by experimenting on all those people. Nothing good ever happened from it." She looked to Vincent briefly. 'Except you.'

"I'd like to hear more."

'I'll tell you whatever you want to hear.' "About what?"

"What exactly did Hojo alter?"

"Well, it's kind of complicated, but I'll do my best to explain it to you." Natalie cleared her throat. "Um. Each of our genes has the molecule deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA. Well," she cleared her throat again, "when one or more genes of an organism are introduced to a second organism and is accepted, that's called recombinant DNA. In your case, this recombinant DNA consisted of a couple of Jenova genes. This recombinant DNA altered the characteristics of the organism - you- by changing its protein makeup."

"Protein makeup?"

"Proteins perform vital functions in our body. Enzymes, for example, cause chemical reactions within an organism while hormones control growth, our metabolism, and reproduction."

"So, the recombinant DNA that was injected into my cells changed this… this protein, thereby changing me."

"Essentially, yes." Natalie sighed and pulled her hands from her pockets and crossed her arms. She changed her gaze to Vincent as he stood beside her. His amber eyes were intensely scrutinizing her face. 'Tell him about the offspring, Nat. Go ahead.' "Genetic engineering doesn't affect the children of those who have been genetically altered. Interesting, isn't it? Even though the protein makeup of your DNA was altered, the DNA contained in your…" She flushed and dropped her eyes. "You're the host and you're the only one affected by the alteration."

"If this DNA has been accepted by my own, how could you possibly reverse the alteration? You have said the protein makeup of my DNA has been altered from what it was, so how…"

"I…" She took in a slow breath. 'Tell him, Nat. Sure. It sounds ridiculously simple, but tell him anyway.' "I was going to reintroduce your original DNA back into your system. In essence, I was going to alter the protein makeup back to its original specifications." 'It's either that or cloning you from the DNA sample I found and then giving you the choice of which one was to live your life.'

"If that doesn't work, did you have another option?"

Natalie closed her eyes. 'Why does he keep doing that? Why does he keep reading my mind?' "I don't want to talk about it." She pushed away from the gate and began slowly walking toward the path that led out of Nibelheim and toward Mt. Nibel. After several moments, he followed her.

"What is it?"

"Nothing. I… I just never really cared for the other option. That's all." 'I don't even know if I want to change you back anymore, Vincent. But how do I tell you that? How do I tell you that even though I may have thought of the way to put you back to normal, I don't want to? How do I tell you that I'm crazy about you just the way you are? Claw and all.'

"Something is bothering you."

"Yeah," she sighed.


'Should I say it? Should I just blurt it out and hope he doesn't look at me in disgust or horror? But I promised I'd fix him. I promised I'd cure him. I can't stop now. What did I just waste my entire life researching if I wasn't going to go through with it?' "Don't worry about it."

Vincent was quiet for a while and then halted her progress with a hand on her arm. She turned to look at him. "Why do you believe I may die if you reintroduce my original DNA?"

Natalie dropped her eyes. "The Jenova cells influenced your DNA in a way I can't really categorize. You don't seem to age, your eyes changed to red, which caused your visibility to become enhanced, and you now have the ability of flight. Well, maybe not flight, but something similar. Then there are the alter egos that emerge when you lose your temper. I don't know how the Jenova will react to the process. It may accept the procedure. It may ignore it altogether. Or it could completely shut down your entire system because of some type of unknown incompatibility."

"In other words, Jenova may prove to be stronger than my original DNA."

"To put it simply, yes." She sighed. "I want to believe it's possible. After all, wouldn't that be a dream come true? Then again…" Natalie turned away and began walking again, her misery settling in the pit of her stomach with a wave of nausea. "I just don't know what to do," she murmured.

"Ah. So we are back at this crossroad. Do you perform the procedure and risk my death? Or do you leave me to my misery?" Natalie cringed without meaning to. Vincent noticed. "What was that?"

'Is it really misery, Vincent? Why do you hate yourself so much? Your friends don't. I don't. Lucrecia didn't.' "Never mind."

"Do you doubt that my current existence is misery?"

"I really wish you wouldn't do that."


"Read my mind." Vincent didn't say anything. "But, yeah, if you really want to know. That's what I was thinking. Basically." 'I like you just the way you are. You're fun to be around, even though you'll never admit it.' Natalie looked over at him only to find him watching her yet again. "Is your life really that miserable?"

His eyes flickered with something before he looked away. "Perhaps."

"Perhaps? What kind of answer is that?"

"The only one I am able to give at the moment. Many things are changing and I haven't had a chance to…" His voice drifted.


But his answer had confused her. 'Things changing? What things? I wonder if it has anything to do with what happened in my room at the inn? I need to ask him what happened one of these days.' The only problem was, she was afraid to hear what he might say. 'Oh, what the heck. I might as well ask him. Goodness knows he can't be honest with me unless I'm honest with him. I'd say that's more than fair.'

"Vincent. Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

"No." His answer seemed guarded, though, belying his caution.

'Okay, Nat, be careful. Start light and work your way to the more personal questions after he's had a chance to get used to you asking them.' "If I get out of line, I'm really sorry. Don't be mad." Vincent only nodded very briefly, still not facing her. "Why do you want me to change you back to normal?" 'Oh yeah, Nat, real light! What happened to you wanting to ask about what happened in your room?'

Vincent answered before she could take back the question.

"In this form I am… Hojo's creation. His slave and puppet. If I do not attempt to free myself of his influence, then he has won the final battle and laughs last. I refuse to allow him this power when there may be an avenue of release." He finally turned to face her. "He took my life from me without my permission. He acted as God and chose this existence for me with no thought of what my future would be. That control was not his to take and I have chosen to take it back. You are my only hope of that."

Natalie swallowed hard, his amber eyes easily holding hers. 'There it is, Nat. You asked a heavy question and got a just as heavy reply. He opened up his heart and gave it to you without even a blink. What are you going to do? Chew on it a bit and hand it back to him with a "so sorry, changed my mind" excuse that neither of you will believe? Don't think so.'

"I've never admitted to hope before," Vincent went on calmly. "It is foolishness, I know, but because of the life I experienced with Cloud and the others I am more able to accept the impossible as a reasonable truth. After all, isn't that what we did in rescuing the planet? The impossible? Now you have taken on the implausible goal of finding a cure for a monster. You accept it as your life's quest and move on, even in the face of the current difficulties. I find my hope becoming… more than what it was."

Vincent moved his gaze to Shinra mansion and Natalie watched him in awe-struck wonder. "For what seemed like ages I enclosed myself in that box, believing it a suitable punishment for whatever great sin I had committed. In reality, it was my way of hiding from life. I did not want to face alone what we had once shared together."

Vincent dropped his eyes briefly before looking toward Natalie. He examined her face for a long silent moment and then refocused his amber eyes toward the mansion. "I have been a coward for many years and this is yet another way Hojo has shamed me. Me, a Turk, allowed myself to be tucked away and forgotten. Taking my life back when Cloud and the others had found my resting place felt exhilarating. Duty. Purpose. These had been facets of my life as a Turk that had become somehow forgotten. Pushed aside by guilt and shame. Now, I have been given yet another chance to find these. To find my place in this new existence. Why should I…?"

His voice died away and Natalie took a step forward without realizing it. "Why should you what?" She placed a hand on his arm. "Vincent? Why should you what?"

Vincent changed his gaze to her again and the expression in his normally guarded amber eyes gave Natalie a shock. She saw confusion and helplessness. She raised a hand to her mouth to stifle the gasp as she dropped her other hand from his arm. When she did, something in his eyes changed, but the guard wasn't raised. Instead, he simply turned his eyes away from her.

"Why should I fight that which I want so badly?" Vincent finished in an odd voice.

"To fit in?" 'Please let that be what you're talking about, Vincent. I haven't had enough experience with Turks or men or life in general to truly understand anything else.' "To feel like you belong?"

Vincent smirked, but it was very near a sneer. "Oh yes. That has always been a dream of mine, dear professor. To fit in with the rest of the human race so that I may scurry around as a bug to desperately search for an empty meaning to an even emptier existence."

The tone of his voice brought a sick sense of panic to her soul. 'Of all the stupid and ridiculous things to say, Nat! Did you have to give such a brainless answer?' "Vincent please," she said in a choked voice. "I'm trying to understand. Please don't shut me out." He faced her with a scowl and Natalie blinked. 'Whoa. I said that out loud, didn't I?' She dropped her gaze and cleared her throat. "Sorry. I… um… I think I'll go back to the inn now."

She hesitated a moment, looking up at him to catch his darkened eyes. Above all else, she wanted him to tell her to stay, as he had before. Unfortunately, she was afraid she'd stepped too far past the invisible boundary between them for that to happen. One chance was all she'd be given and she'd apparently used that up. Natalie cleared her throat and dropped her eyes, pushing herself off the gate with a sigh. When she turned to move away, something inside wouldn't let her go. She could only stand there and fight a silent battle with her fear and her growing feelings for him.

Finally, she sighed and turned back to face him. As always, his intense eyes were there to meet hers. "I guess I should stop running away when life gets hard," she whispered. Natalie dropped her gaze for a moment and then looked up again, putting her hands out in front of her in a pleading gesture, wanting to say something but not knowing what would put right what went wrong. "Help me out," was all she could say. Another battle of emotion crashed across his face and he clenched his jaw before turning away. "No, no. Please don't do that, Vincent." Her voice broke and she cleared her throat. "I… I don't know what to do. Haven't you ever been in a situation like that before?"

He continued to clench and unclench his jaw. "Yes."

"Then couldn't you help me a little? Give me a little hint of what you're feeling. Or what I can do to help you. What you want. Anything."

He shook his head. "No. Not now. Not like this."

"What? That doesn't make sense."

He turned on her, his eyes glowing brightly. "Of course it doesn't make sense! This entire scene doesn't make sense," he finished harshly. Natalie took a step forward, her hand reaching out for his arm. He flinched back. "I need time. This is wrong. Impossible. No!"

He turned sharply and vaulted into the air, disappearing toward Mt. Nibel. Tears brimmed in Natalie's eyes and she slowly wiped them away, her gaze still trained on the last place she had seen him. 'What happened? What did I do? Did I say something wrong? Was he angry with me?' She choked on a sob and turned for the gate to Shinra mansion, pushing it open and making her way up the walk without even thinking of what she was doing. 'It was me. I was asking too many questions. I should have left him alone… The walk was too much.' Her tears came faster as she made her way through the rooms that led to the spiral staircase. Natalie pressed on the wall to reveal the hidden stairs and then made her way down, desperately attempting to relive each statement they had exchanged in order to discover where she had gone so terribly wrong.

Natalie heard a scuff of shoes on wood as she came up to the door of Vincent's room. She hesitated and then slowly pushed open the door, peaking her head around the corner. What she saw surprised her. A young woman with short-cut brunette hair was sitting cross-legged on Vincent's coffin sharpening a nasty looking shuriken-type weapon. Natalie didn't recognize her, but there was something strangely familiar about the weapon. Some description she'd read somewhere.

Natalie stepped the rest of the way in and the young woman looked up, her eyebrow rising as her eyes took on an almost disbelieving expression.

"What are you doing here?"

Natalie arched an eyebrow in surprise. "I'm sorry. Do I know you?"

"No, and that's why I'm asking. Vincent likes his privacy."

'Don't you think I know that?' "And what do you know of Vincent?"

"Me? We're chums, if you really need to know."

Natalie didn't like the girl's attitude. "Then I'll leave you alone." Natalie turned to go, but the girl rushed to stand in front of her. Natalie frowned. "Yes? Can I help you?"

"You don't need to look down your nose at me. Just tell me why you're in his space."

"I'm not looking down my nose at you," Natalie said defensively. "I just don't like you very much. You have a bad attitude."

The girl blinked in surprise and then crossed her arms. "Hmm. Spunk. I wasn't expecting that from you."

"And just how would you expect anything from me," Natalie countered with a frown. "You don't know me."

"Oh, I know your type all right. Seen enough of them with all my traveling. Scientist. Old maid. Doesn't know much about anything but things that haven't existed for, like, a hundred years."

Natalie flushed with irritation and clenched her fists. "Of all the--- Who do you think you are?"

"Think? I know who I am. Who are you?"

"None of your business."

The girl shrugged. "Fine. Suit yourself." She made her way back to the coffin and vaulted up onto it, again sitting cross-legged. She pulled out her weapon and began to sharpen it once again. "I'll just wait here and ask Vincent."

"Good luck. I doubt if he'll be back."

That comment made the girl look up with a raised eyebrow. "What are you talking about? This is Vincent's home. He always comes here." She narrowed her eyes as she examined Natalie's face. "Then again, he's usually always here in the first place. Doesn't ever go anywhere. Just stays in the box, dreaming. Nightmares. Whatever. How would you know anything about it?"

"For your information, little miss, I've been researching Vincent ever since I was in school. I know a lot about his past and what Hojo did to him."

"Is that so?"

The girl looked downright amused, which irritated Natalie even more. She didn't remember ever being as annoyed and angry as she was at that moment. "And what is so blasted funny?"

"Oh, nothing. I just never thought I'd see the day when Vincent had someone sweet on him." Natalie's jaw dropped and she spluttered for several seconds. The girl laughed. "Gee. This is fun. The others just ignore me."

Natalie glared. "With good reason," she shot back.

The girl laughed again. "Yeah, well, what can I say? That's me for you."

"And who is "me"?"


Natalie's temper died as quickly as it had flared up. "Yuffie? Yuffie Kisaragi?"

Yuffie raised an eyebrow. "Yeah. Who wants to know?"

"I'm Natalie Long. I've been trying to get a hold of you for an interview for a long time, but no one knew where you were."

"You're Natalie Long." Yuffie laughed and then shook her head. "Gee. Sorry about that. Now you probably won't make me sound so cool in your article."

Natalie waved it away. "Don't worry about that. I've not exactly had the perfect day today. I'm a little short-tempered."

"Noticed. Anything to do with the fact Vincent ain't in his coffin?"

Natalie cleared her throat and dropped her eyes. "Yes, well, never mind about that."

Yuffie was silent a moment and then slid off the coffin. "Whatever floats your boat. I'm starving. Can we go get something to eat?"


"Then I'll tell you all I know about these losers."

"Well, actually, the article is about what they're doing to save the planet."

Yuffie looked bored. "Oh. I won't have much to say about that. They never listened to any of my ideas. That's why I left them alone."

"Ideas? About what?"

"About what we could use for power instead of Mako. They just think I'm a stupid kid. Well, I'm more than 16," she said defensively as they made their way toward the staircase, "and just because I'm young doesn't mean I'm stupid. I've been around. I've seen things."

"I'm sure you have. Well, why don't we get some lunch and then you can talk as much as you want. I'm sure I'll be interested in everything you have to say."

Yuffie looked surprised and then suspicious. "Yeah. Right."

"No. Really. I'm a scientist and I'm sure that what you think about things has a lot of plausible merit. Just because you're young, as you say, doesn't mean that you don't have a lot of good, scientifically solid ideas." Natalie smiled and opened the door at the top of the spiral staircase, allowing Yuffie to go first. "Besides, I was young once myself and am sure that I remember feeling just as frustrated with the scientific community not listening to me."

"Cool." Yuffie looked her over and then nodded. "You're all right, prof. You're all right."

"Thanks." 'Now if only Vincent thought so.'

"If you're going to listen to me about all that stuff, maybe I could help you with Vincent."

Natalie cleared her throat and shut the hidden door behind her. "Maybe. We'll see."

"Yeah, right. That's a no if ever I heard one."

"No. It's just… I don't really want to think about him right now."

"Whoa. You've got it worse than I thought. You went white as a ghost when I said his name."

'Of course I did. I may have chased him away from me forever and now you want to talk about him? Why wouldn't I go pale? He's no longer in my future, more than likely.' "I'm not feeling very well today."

"Uh-huh. Yeah. Right. Don't think I haven't learned a thing or two about stuff like this. After so many days with Aeris, Tifa, and Cloud, a person learns a thing or two. Just now you had the same expression that Tifa did when Cloud and Aeris went on that date at the Golden Saucer." Yuffie shivered in mock terror. "Absolutely horrified, that's what she was." Yuffie got a thoughtful expression on her face. "You know what, I think Vincent tried to cheer her up. Hmm. Isn't that an interesting idea."

'It sure is. It means he's been fighting his cold persona for a while. It means that he wants to change…' Natalie stopped suddenly, a sudden nausea making her swallow hard. 'Oh my God. Is that what he meant when he said he needed time? Is he beginning to… Is he beginning to feel something for me?' Natalie covered her mouth with both hands. 'He's probably scared to death and I was so stupid… So blind that I couldn't help him!'

"What's with you? You look like you're going to lose your lunch."

Natalie took in a deep breath and swallowed several times, desperately attempting to control the nausea. It faded and she dropped her hands. "Don't worry about it now, Yuffie. Let's go have some lunch and do some talking. Then I'll think about whether or not to let you know what's bothering me." Natalie turned to her. "Just know this. If I do tell you something, I'm telling you in the strictest confidence. If I find out you've told anyone---"

Yuffie put her hands out in front of her. "Hey, hey. Prof, I totally understand. Don't worry. My mouth is shut forever."

Natalie gave a brusque nod and then turned to make her way out the other room and down the main staircase to the main doorway of the mansion. "Good."

Yuffie followed her with an amused smirk.


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