A Rose By Any Other Name Chapter 9
Vincent adjusted his perch on the top of the partially dismantled Mako reactor nestled on the summit of Mt. Nibel. A storm rumbled and sparked in the distance and caused Vincent's scowl to darken. All dangerous subjects were kept in the background, safely aloof. His only thoughts were of the coming storm and the rain that would again attempt to freshen the ravaged planet. Occasionally, a snippet of a statement or a tickle of her laugh would slip through the tight control and he would tense, harshly pushing it away with a toss of his head.
He clenched his jaw. Confusion goaded him to anger, but he knew it was only to protect himself. Fear had never before been a part of his life. Not as a Turk, and not as a Vincent flinched, changing his dark gaze to the dented metal on which he crouched. He had left too quickly, with no explanation to assure her that she had not been to blame. Her questions, though, had gone too readily to that which he had normally hidden within himself. The reliving of it, with her there, had been something he hadn't ever experienced. Not since Lucrecia. Maybe not even then.
His memories of that time had long since faded into an odd oblivion.
Natalie had listened so intently with the heartbreak for what he had gone through clearly brimming in her green eyes. The compassion. The understanding. It had been too much. Had he ever received those while in the service of Shinra? Had the victims of Shinra's 'justice' ever looked at him like she had? With sympathy and something else he couldn't recognize? Vincent clenched his claw into a fist and stared down at it with an empty expression. 'She didn't flinch. Again and again, she didn't flinch.' Had anyone done that but her? Even Tifa and Aeris had cringed away from his eyes when they had first seen him. They had also given a little start if he had come close to touching them. They would deny it now, but he had seen the expression all too often.
When he had kept Natalie from going while in her room at the inn, she had not given even a remote sign of disgust. Instead, she had held onto his hand when he had made a move to pull it away. When he had touched her face, the reaction had been the same. Acceptance, yes, but there had been something more. Some feeling of instantaneous normalcy. As if she had been missing that aspect of her life and then suddenly found it. A fragment of her voice drifted past the walls of his existence and he grasped it. 'I've been looking for you for a long time and I'm not going to let you get away now,' she had said. 'I love you, Vincent. Don't forget that.' Yes. She had said that too, while drifting on the tale end of a dream.
Vincent looked up, gazing at the darkening sky with narrowed eyes. How could loving him be anything but a nightmare? Yet, it wasn't. Then again, there had been her reaction to her confession of love outside the Shinra mansion. The confusion resurfaced and his amber eyes sparked with anger. She seemed to be as confused as he was. About her feelings. About her desire to cure him. About whether she was coming or going. Seemingly about her entire residence there in Nibelheim. She was going, and then she was staying. She was retreating, and then she was staying. She was determined to cure him, and then she was asking why he wanted to be cured.
Vincent stood sharply; leaping from roof section to roof section with a grace and ease that had become second nature to him. He landed on the ground below, a puff of dust rising from his boots, and remained crouched as he glared up at the Mako reactor. If only his confusion could be as easily dismantled as the reactor. With each attempt, though, his confusion seemed to double. It only lessened when she was there, listening to his words and digging deeper to another, hidden meaning. Even Lucrecia hadn't taken the time to do that.
He grumbled under his breath, dropping his eyes from the reactor before slowly standing and making his way toward the door that would lead him away from the summit of Mt. Nibel. Away from the summit, but toward his greatest fear. Her. Natalie Long would very likely be his salvation, but in what way? In the reverting to his original form? Or in the softening of a guilt and shame ridden heart? Vincent clenched his jaw. 'Why should I fight that which I want so badly. That is the question I voiced and the question that doomed me. She is too naïve. Too innocent of the world. She doesn't understand. She never will.'
Yet, the open expression in her eyes belied that statement he so desperately wanted to believe. After all, if he believed that she would never understand, wouldn't that make it easier for him to hide himself away? To deny his desire and bury himself from the reminders of the normal life that had once been his? She seemed so willing to give it to him. So eager to tap into his very heart and soul because she was convinced they held the key to her own purpose. 'Purpose. Didn't I once have this luxury?' Now? Now he had nothing but the interest of a love-starved professor who was infatuated with the mystery that surrounded his existence. A mystery that she understood. A mystery that she relished as an adventure in life. Had anyone ever delighted in any aspect of his existence?
Vincent grumbled again. His mind was leading him in circles and giving him no peace in the action. 'Will peace be waiting for me if I return?' It was highly unlikely. Each time he watched her expression there was no peace. Only confusion and an intoxicating addiction to watching the emotions dance across her simple yet lovely face. That intoxication had chased him away from her. That overwhelming desire to again touch her warm lips.
Vincent pushed the cannibalistic thoughts away with a ferocious toss of his head. She did not remember their kiss. It had only been a dream to her. Something that had faded with the dawning of the new day. Some future hope that she more than likely believed would never come. Now she was convinced that he had been chased away, scared off by something she had said or done. He had seen it on her face and in her eyes. He had recognized it in the slight tremor of her lips. All these reactions continued to flash through his mind with all the clarity of his past nightmares. Bittersweet. Kindling his hope. Feeding his dread.
"I have fed her hope. I have instigated her dreaming," he said in a cold voice. "To turn away would be Would be cruel."
Yet, how could he not when drawing her close could mean another life hurt? If he should die, she herself had said that she couldn't bear it. But it was too late. He saw the hold that he had on her. Each time she said his name, the tenderness was there. Each time she saw his face and held his gaze, the attraction and devotion was there amidst her fear at the power of her emotion. To turn away from that would wound her sensitive heart as much as that of his death.
Why not surrender?
His dread rose again, but he beat it back. Maybe the cure to his existence wasn't so much in the discovery of a way to take back his former life, but in the acceptance of a seemingly impossible attraction that was very quickly developing. Maybe the way to 'fix' him was to love him. Vincent felt the blood drain from his face as he continued on his way back toward town.
Why not submit? The question lingered, hovering in every aspect of what he was as he attempted to ignore not only its continuing presence, but also the silence the question brought to his mind.
Yuffie pulled a sharpening stone from a pocket of her extremely high-cut shorts and adjusted her hold on the shuriken as she leaned against the windowsill. "So, how did you meet him anyway?"
"Purely by accident."
Natalie sighed as she sat in a chair by the table in her room. They had finished lunch, doing little talking except for the occasional comments about the amazing recovery of the planet, and had adjourned to Natalie's room when the lunchroom at the Item Shop had become too crowded.
"Yeah. Me too. Cloud, Aeris, and me were investigating the mansion because some weirdos in black capes were spouting that Sephiroth was in there. He was there all right, but so was this riddle about some guy being locked away in the basement because he was in the way of some kook's research."
"That would be Hojo."
Yuffie snorted. "Bingo. That guy was the kookiest of all the things I've seen, man. Plain, all-out strange."
"I agree with you there. But, in a way, his tendency toward the bizarre is exactly what drew me to Vincent."
Yuffie paused and raised her eyes to Natalie. "What?"
"Lucrecia, Vincent's lady love, was Hojo's assistant in almost all of his research regarding Jenova, Mako, and genetic engineering. She was also related to my roommate, in a round about way, and so I had the luck of being kept abreast of all she was involved in. Well, as much as my roommate was told."
"Gossip. Juicy gossip. That gets schoolgirls each and every time. Believe me. I know."
Natalie smiled slightly. "Yes. I suppose that's how it started, but the heartbreak he suffered and then the experiments done directly after It just called to me. I was at school for archaeology, but when all this happened, I minored in the genetic sciences."
"All because of Vincent? Wow. That's deep."
"No. Not really. It's fantastical nonsense."
Natalie sighed and leaned her elbows on the table. "I studied Hojo's work because I knew that, one day, I would find Vincent. When that happened, I wanted to be able to cure him. I wanted to have him fall in love with the only person alive who was capable of saving him." Natalie looked to Yuffie with a pained expression. "I was selfish, pure and simple. I knew the temptation of me being able to reverse the genetic altering would prove too much and he'd be hooked."
Natalie actually smiled and then looked away with a slight nod. "Yeah. I guess you're right." She released a slow breath. "My heart went out to him, Yuffie. I was the one hooked, and I hadn't even met him. All I had were stories and pictures and articles of his exploits with the Turks. His life of adventure and danger and broken hearts was just too too romantic for me to forget. Then, when Hojo did what he did, it was my way of rescuing him from a life I didn't think he'd ever wanted."
"You don't think he chose to be a Turk?"
"Not really. The people in the slums, and even out here, didn't have much of a choice in anything. Shinra was the absolute power and that was that. How else was he going to survive unless he chose to do so." Natalie shrugged. "To survive he had to do what I think went against his nature. Then, like any of us, he got used to it. Desensitized. Cold." Natalie changed her gaze to Yuffie. "Come on. Don't tell me you're not guilty of the same thing?"
Yuffie dropped her eyes and scowled at the sharpening stone she held in her hands. "Yeah. I guess so. I see what you mean."
"Well, that was that. The adventure was beckoning and I couldn't turn away from it. So, I studied and struggled to understand everything Hojo was involved with. Believe me, he was into some pretty outlandish things."
Natalie smiled. "I guess that was kind of obvious."
"I know it's none of my business, but does Vincent know how you feel?"
Natalie swallowed hard, her lips tilting downward. "I haven't told him."
"Why not? Might as well get it out into the open. That one thing drove me nuts about Tifa and Aeris. Both of them were nuts about Cloud, but none of them would say anything. Aeris wouldn't because she knew how Tifa liked him and he liked her. They had a history, I guess. Tifa wouldn't because she thought Cloud was wild about Aeris. Of course, even I thought that because he was always doing so much for her. Finally, Cloud never said anything because he was so obsessed with finding and killing Sephiroth." Yuffie made a disgusted sound. "Now Tifa and Cloud are together like they should have been in the beginning. It took them long enough."
"It's never that easy, Yuffie. Just wait. You'll find out one day."
"I don't think so. If I like someone I'll just march right up to them, tell them straight to their face, and ask them out."
Natalie turned away with a moan. "Yeah. I guess you would."
"Why can't you do that with Vinnie? Don't let his face fool ya. He's a great guy. Sure, he doesn't talk much, but he kicks butt in a fight."
"That's not exactly the basis of a relationship, Yuffie. Besides, we don't have anything in common."
Natalie looked at Yuffie with a raised eyebrow. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Oh come on. Not even you believe that. I can tell from your face." Yuffie straightened and came to straddle the chair opposite Natalie. "Look at it this way: Lucrecia was a brain. Am I right? Of course I am. You are a brain. Lucrecia researched genetic whatever-you-call-it with Hojo. You researched Hojo's research. See? There's two right there."
"What are you talking about? That doesn't show we have anything in common. It just shows that I'm similar to Lucrecia." Natalie stood and walked toward the window. "Believe me, that's not exactly making my life easier."
"Why? Because he was sweet on her once?" Yuffie scoffed. "Vinnie isn't dumb. He knows you're not Lucrecia."
Natalie dropped her chin. 'Does he? Does he really? Don't you think that may be why he runs away from me? Because I'm not her? Because he wants me to be her?'
"Well, I'm bored with this conversation," Yuffie said suddenly. "Let's talk about my ideas for a power source."
Natalie couldn't help but smile. She turned toward the young woman and leaned against the windowsill. "You're a joy, Yuffie. Don't let anyone tell you different."
Yuffie twisted up her face. "Don't get mushy on me, prof. We've got work to do."
Natalie continued to smile as she pushed from the windowsill, gathering her notebooks and pencils on the way back to the table. "Yes. We certainly do." 'Okay, Vincent. You want to be normal? I'll make you normal. It's the least I can do. Besides, I promised.'
Yuffie dived into the project with all the enthusiasm that was to be expected from a 16 going on 17 year old. It was contagious too and reminded Natalie of how she herself used to be excited about science and archeology.
"Here's what I'm thinking," Yuffie began. "Okay, here in Nibelheim you have a mountain. Am I right? Of course I am. Okay. Now, on a mountain there's usually either waterfalls or lots of wind. Am I right?"
"Of course you are," Natalie said with a smile.
Yuffie nodded. "Okay, well here's my idea. Why can't we rig some sort of pinwheel, except real big, that catches the wind and turns it into energy? They already have windmills at Cosmo Canyon. Why can't they hook it up to something that makes the blades turning make power?"
Natalie raised an eyebrow and nodded in interest. "I'd say that's an excellent idea. So simple. Hmm. I wonder why no one's thought of it before?"
"Who's to say they haven't? Maybe they've been working on it and can't get it to work?"
"That's certainly possible. Now, about the waterfalls "
"Oh. Yeah. Well, the water around here goes by so fast, I figured that we could build some sort of windmill. Just have it be turned by the water instead of the wind. A waterwheel, I guess is what we'd call it. Same principle, don't you think?"
"I don't know if Cid's already working on them. He's always so secretive about everything. I guess you could ask, though. I mean, you already got them to talk about what they were doing to get this kooky planet back to normal."
Natalie nodded. "That's true."
"And we could always go back to coal."
"We discussed that. Everyone seems to think that burning coal is just too poisonous for the atmosphere to be worth it."
"Yeah," Yuffie admitted with a nod. "I guess that's true---"
Yuffie's eyes suddenly widened and she stood quickly, her chair scraping on the floor. Natalie looked over her shoulder toward the door and dropped her pencil, her face going pale.
"Hey there, Vinnie," Yuffie said with a hesitant smile. "Long time no see."
Vincent stood in the doorway of Natalie's room with a guarded expression in his eyes and no emotion showing on his face. "Yes. How are you?"
Yuffie seemed surprised at the question. "Doing good. Thank you. You?" He shrugged. She looked over at Natalie, who still hadn't dropped her eyes from his face, and suddenly smiled. "Good as I'm doing, I feel like going for a walk. Tifa said that there's a great Materia fountain around here somewhere and I thought I'd take a look. C'ya."
Vincent stepped aside and let her pass. Once she'd gone, he turned back to Natalie.
She broke his gaze and turned to gesture to the seat across from her. "Have a seat." 'Oh God.' He sat across from her, his eyes searching out her face as usual. Natalie kept her eyes on the paper in front of her, tracing and retracing her notes with the quickly dulling pencil. "What can I do for you?" 'Yes, Vincent. What? Do you need me to back off? Do you need more time? Do you need me to be the same? Do you need me to leave? Just tell me and I'll do it.'
Natalie's throat tightened, as did her grip on the pencil. It snapped in two and she set the pieces aside. "For?" 'Don't do this. I was just becoming resigned to the idea that you didn't want anything to do with me. If you do this what does that mean?'
"For earlier. For leaving so abruptly. For losing my temper." His tone was calm. Almost too calm.
Natalie cleared her throat, smoothing the edges of the paper from her notebook with quivering fingers. "Of course." 'Do you really need to ask? Vincent, don't you know that I understand why you do the things you do? Don't you know that I don't blame you for anything?'
"No. Not of course. It should never be 'of course'."
'Why not? Tell me that, Vincent. Why not? You've had a rough life. It's only understandable that you'd be a little rough around the edges. It doesn't matter to me if you are. I'll always forgive you. I'll always give you another chance. Then another. And another. Why not? It's more than anyone else has given you.' Natalie remained quiet.
Natalie blinked very slowly. She liked how he said her name. Soft. Almost hesitant. As if he wasn't sure it was allowed. "Yes?"
"You did nothing."
'How can you say that? I made you angry!' Natalie cleared her throat again, still refusing to lift her gaze. 'You were trying to hint at changes and I was too stupid to realize what you were saying! How can you say I didn't do anything?' "What do you mean?"
"My anger was at myself and not at you or anything said by you. I was angry because I was afraid."
Natalie lifted her eyes in surprise and, as usual, his amber ones were there to meet them. "Afraid? Of what?"
Natalie lifted a hand to her chest. "Me?" Her eyes brimmed with tears. "Why?" 'Oh my God. What have I done? I made him afraid of me!'
"Natalie. You did nothing," he said again. "I was afraid of you, yes, but not in that way. I was afraid because I was afraid because of what I felt."
She paled. "E-excuse me?" 'I was right. He's beginning to feel something for me and doesn't want to. I've been pushing him too hard. He only wants Lucrecia.'
Vincent examined her face and eyes for a long moment and then moved to the seat beside her. He offered her his golden-gloved claw. "Take my hand." She didn't even hesitate before slipping her hand into the cool golden glove. One side of his lips tilted upward. "Do you see what you've done?"
She looked down at her hand as it rest quietly in his and then met his gaze once again. "What do you mean?"
"This claw. This monstrosity. This thing has caused no amount of horror and disgust in those who look on me. You are the only one I've met who touches its cool exterior without a flinch."
Natalie dropped her eyes and self-consciously pulled her hand from his. 'It's a part of you, Vincent. Why would that disgust me?'
"Do you wish to know what happened in this room after you lost consciousness?" Natalie said nothing. She only swallowed hard. "You relived a dream."
She looked up sharply, her eyes wide in horror. 'Oh no. Not the dream. Not the dream' "What," she whispered.
"'Vincent, we need to talk,'" he quoted. "'About,' I asked. 'About us,' you replied." He paused, watching her reaction. "You know it?"
Natalie barely nodded, her eyes still captured by his. 'Not the dream. Anything but that.'
"You admitted that you were afraid and then " Vincent leaned closer, his lips going to her ear. "And then I whispered that it was all right to be afraid."
Natalie closed her eyes, her hands clenching into fists. 'No '
"Then I agreed to kiss you." Natalie hid her face in her hands, but he pulled them away. "I did it, at the time, so that you would sleep. It seemed the only way to end the fantasy. Well I know of fantasies." She lowered her head as the tears began to fall. "But it was different," he went on. "It was a beginning. An answer. A question. A hundred different things that caused no end of confusion and fear."
She shook her head. "Please don't say anymore " she said in a voice filled with tears. "I want to wake up now. I can't stand anymore. Please. Let me wake up. Let me wake up."
Vincent watched her reaction with a slow dawning of understanding. He had recognized her exhaustion and now he recognized the terror at the possibility of being trapped inside another nightmare. Beginning to enjoy it and fearing that result because, when it came time to awaken, the pleasant life would cease to exist. Yes, he recognized the misery.
"Natalie." He released her hands and cupped her face, ignoring the frantic grasp of her hands on his wrists. "Natalie. You are not asleep. This is real."
"No. No, it can't be. I'm asleep. Let me go. Let me wake up. I can't keep doing this. Dreams aren't enough. They aren't. Please. Let me wake up."
Vincent exhaled deeply and then leaned inward, touching her lips with his. Her grip on his wrists tightened and he touched the warmth of her mouth again. And again. Then again. Each time their lips met it lasted a little longer and went a little deeper. Fear continued to pull him away, but the light touch of her breath on his lips would call him back for another taste. Then another. And a little more. Before he realized what was happening, the touch of her lips was his only focus. Her arms had wrapped themselves around his neck and his own had long since migrated to encompass her small waist and pull her closer. Wave after wave of flames and bursts of light exploded inside his head. Each movement of her lips and caress of her fingers through his hair brought another eruption of light that would blind him, deafening him to the outside world that had already been forgotten.
A sob broke from Natalie's lips and he pulled his head back, his eyes slowly opening to focus on hers. Tears cascaded down her cheeks, dripping from her lowered lashes as sob after choked sob erupted from her. Vincent's throat tightened as he watched her cry, helplessness refusing to allow him any words to speak. Instead, he pulled her into a tender embrace, wrapping his arms completely around her. She moaned, her sobs intensifying until her entire body shook with them.
"Pinch me," she cried. "Please. I've got to I need to know this isn't a dream."
Vincent reluctantly smiled, but instead of pinching her as requested, he tugged at a lock of her red curls until he heard her muffled cry. Her arms around his neck tightened and she snuggled in closer, her shoulders still shaking with her tears. He caressed her soft curls and closed his eyes, relishing the intensity of emotion that roiled and thrashed within him.
Submission had been a surprisingly easy answer.
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