Chapter 6.  "Half the Man He Used to Be"
Track 6:  "Platinum" by Orgy

After a satisfying home-cooked dinner that we all helped to make, we talked some more about what had happened on that last day of the war, how Sephiroth had tried to control Cloud, and what they had been doing since coming to Nibelheim.  Cloud’s story of how Sephiroth messed with his mind reminded me a little of my nightmares again, and that incident I had in the bar.  Could Hojo have done something to us to make us more susceptible to these intrusions?  Or did he give others the ability to intrude?  Or both?  I asked Cloud for his take on it, and he looked thoughtful.

“That’s something we can look up in the lab records, Mara.  Along with so many other things…”  He sighed and stretched.  “It’s getting late.  Why don’t we turn in, and start out early tomorrow for the lab?”

I nodded.  I was pretty tired from my trip.  “Sounds like a plan.  Thank you both so much for letting me stay here.”

“It’s nothing,” Tifa said with a smile.  “You’re perfectly welcome here.”

I smiled back.  “Well then, goodnight, everyone.”  I went up the stairs to the room Tifa had made up for me.  It was a small room, but very cozy.  I retrieved my toiletry bag and went into the bathroom to settle myself for bed.

There was a door in the bathroom that I presumed led to the other guest room.  Curiously, I opened it.  The room beyond looked pretty much like mine, but it was odd; the room was very neat, as if no one had been in there in a while, but there was a duffel bag on the floor at the foot of the bed.  Also, there was a very faint scent of (rather nice) aftershave in the bathroom itself.

Closing the door to the other room, I pondered this mystery as I brushed my teeth, then my hair.  I finally figured that maybe they had had a guest who had left in the last couple days but had forgotten a bag.  If they had another guest right then, wouldn’t they have told me?

I remembered then that I had forgotten to give the couple greetings from Reeve.  Them, and Vincent Valentine.  I wondered where I was supposed to find him – apparently he was in Nibelheim somewhere.

As I was crawling into bed, I heard Cloud and Tifa talking quietly in the hallway on the way to their room.  I felt a little jealous – not of them, but of the fact that they were in a happy relationship.  I was getting so damned lonely.  As I drifted off to sleep, I wished that I would be so lucky sometime.

I awoke to a light touch on my face, as if someone had pushed a lock of hair back.  I opened my eyes quickly and saw a large silhouette that belonged to neither Cloud nor Tifa.  I sat bolt upright.

“Who – ?!”  Before I could say more, the hand covered my mouth gently.

“Shh, don’t shout. I didn’t mean to wake you, but…I had to see you…”  The voice was a soft, expressive tenor, and oddly familiar.  Its owner leaned forward, and I saw long, dark hair and oddly colored eyes.  Not recognizing my visitor, I groped surreptitiously under my pillow for a throwing knife.

“Mara…I’ve tried to find you again for so long…”  The quiet intensity in his voice frightened me.  His hand slid back to my cheek, and as he leaned forward, as if to try to kiss me, I stabbed at his right shoulder with my knife.  His hand dropped away from my face and he moaned softly.  It was an unnatural sound, and I shuddered, pulling my knife back.

“Oh, Mara, I’m so sorry…I’m not doing this right…”  He clapped his other hand over his shoulder.  I stared at his left arm, which was made entirely of polished metal.  Recognizing that clawed construct from my nightmares, I began to tremble.

“It’s…it’s you!…” I stammered, dropping the knife and going to my pack to dig for my Restore materia.

“Yes, me…you finally recognized me,” he said, sounding slightly angry.  When I tried to move his hand to look at the wound, he swatted my hand away.  “I can take care of it.”

“But – “

He smiled bitterly.  “I can cast this sort of spell between one breath and the next, don’t worry.”  He turned and left through the bathroom door, heading for the other room.

I sat down abruptly on the bed, my head whirling.  In the back of my mind, I was thinking that I was sick of being surprised all the time.  The ghost!  He was a living, breathing man, not very old, and seemingly quite bitter.  I felt very bad for having stabbed him, but he had frightened me, and how was I supposed to know that he wasn’t some maniac rapist or something?  But why was he in the house, and why hadn’t Cloud or Tifa told me someone else was here?

A couple of things clicked into place then.  Reeve had said that Vincent had been “an incredible mage – he could cast the greater Summons without breaking a sweat.”  He also had mentioned, briefly, that Vincent had had a very personal grudge against Hojo.  This mysterious man here in Nibelheim, staying with Cloud and Tifa, had to have been Vincent Valentine.

That didn’t make me feel any better for stabbing him.  Wanting to apologize, and to actually talk to the man, I rose and went to the door in the bathroom and opened it slowly.  What I saw nearly made me scream.

He had clawed himself across his chest – which looked painfully thin to me – and was sitting on the bed, staring blankly at the wall.  His lips were moving, but I could not hear his voice.  I stood there, frozen in the doorway, unable to do anything but shiver as he raised his left hand and dragged his claws across his chest again.  He moaned in a voice that nearly sent me running back to my room again, a miserable voice that both wanted the pain and feared it.

I felt hot tears in my eyes.  This was the legacy Hojo had left him with.  “Vincent…” I whispered, clenching my fist hard enough to tear my skin with my nails.

He slowly turned to look at me, his eyes – they were a startling red – haunted.  He didn’t move, didn’t even seem to breathe as I hesitantly approached him.

“Vincent…  Why…?”  I gently pulled his left hand away from his chest, but he pulled it back roughly.

“Go,” he said dully.  “You don’t need to see me like this.”

“But why are you doing this…?”  I felt the building tears start to spill out of my eyes.

He shook his head, scowling angrily, but not at me.  “Leave me.”  He looked up.  “You don’t want to stay.”

What did that mean?  “I do,” I replied, “I do want to stay, and…”  I trailed off.  How could I tell him that I wanted to help him?

“Why?” he demanded, suddenly sounding furious.  “Listen!”  He clenched his metal hand into a fist, the claws rasping against each other, making a sound like swords crossing.

I shivered.  For a moment, I didn’t understand why he had done that, and then I realized that he was demonstrating the danger of his claws.  He didn’t want to hurt me with them.  I understood his reasoning, but I would not be scared off by a noise.

“I won’t leave you,” I said softly.  I reached for the materia he held in his good hand.  He batted my hand away, and our eyes met.  He sounded angry, but his expression was one of anguish.  Keeping my eyes on his, I reached again for the materia and gently took it from him, murmuring the Cure spell under my breath.  Then, before the healing glow had even faded, I slid my hand into his hair and leaned forward and kissed him.

He was trembling slightly as he brought his good hand up to my face.  His other arm wrapped around my back as he pulled me closer, the metal feeling strangely warm through my thin nightgown.  I was starting to tangle my fingers into his hair to keep him from getting away when I felt a piercing pain in my lip.  Startled, I flinched back, tasting blood.

Vincent had his good hand to his face, as if he was in pain.  His left hand was clenching and opening, sounding like scissors.  I licked the blood from my lip and winced.

“Please…  Just leave me,” the tenor voice came from behind his hand.  It sounded like he might have been crying.

Thinking about the nightmares, and the way he was trying to force me away, I realized that he was barely in control of himself right now.  He had bitten my lip involuntarily, and now he was even angrier with himself than before.

I pulled his hand away from his face.  He looked up at me, his eyes dull.  There was a spot of blood on his lip, which he licked off, looking even guiltier.

“I can’t do this…not now,” he said, shaking his head.  A few tears fell from his closed eyes.  I noted irrelevantly that he had very long, pretty eyelashes.

“Vincent…”  I couldn’t think of what to say.  “Please, don’t drive me away…I…I want to help you through this…”

“You make it sound like drug rehab,” he said bitterly, “although, maybe it’s a similar thing after all…”

“Please!”  I tried to marshal the thoughts that were whirling around in my head.  “I…I think I know what’s happening, and…it’s all psychological, isn’t it…?  It can be reversed…”

He shook his head again.  “You’ve seen some of it, I know, and I’m sorry for sending those images into your mind… But you have no idea what he’s done to me, Mara.”  He looked up, his eyes burning into mine.  “I’m not the same man I used to be.  I’m not even human…”

“Stop it!” I snapped, finally getting a little angry.  His self-loathing was painful to see.  “You’re just as human as I am, as Cloud is…”

“As Sephiroth was,” he finished my list with a dark smile.

“Sephiroth was perfectly normal until he tried to break Hojo’s lies,” I said angrily, “and all he found was more lies!  That’s enough to make anyone go mad.”

“Someone like Sephiroth was never normal,” Vincent muttered.  “Not with a father like Hojo.”

“He acted like a normal human being,” I clarified.  “Vincent, please…”  I looked down at my hands, growing tired of fighting with him.  “Don’t push me away because you think I don’t understand…”

“What is it you want, Mara?” he asked flatly.  The sharpness in his tone brought tears to my eyes again.

“If you don’t know,” I said softly, “then I can’t explain it to you.”  I stood and hugged myself, rubbing my bare arms.  He was being so cold!  He didn’t trust me, didn’t believe that anyone would care for him.  He suspected me of ulterior motives, which really hurt.  I had spoken the truth, though; I couldn’t explain what I was feeling towards him then.  It was partly curiosity, partly attraction, and partly concern for his somewhat fractured mental state.  I wanted to help him, but I also wanted to be with him, and it seemed to me that he would not accept that, even though he felt the same.  It was very frustrating, and very depressing.

He didn’t say a word as I left silently, placing the Restore materia on the dresser as I went by.  At the door to the bathroom, I turned.  He was watching me dully.



“Promise me that you won’t…you won’t hurt yourself again.”  I shuddered as I thought of the bright red lines of blood across his chest.

He was silent for a long moment.  I thought I had made him even angrier, until he looked away from me.  “You ask for a lot, Mara,” he said quietly.

“I know, but…please…for my peace of mind, if nothing else.”  I leaned against the doorframe, suddenly tired.  It was well after midnight, I knew; I didn’t have much longer before I’d be rising to go researching with Cloud.

There was another long silence before Vincent finally answered me.  “I promise you, Mara.”  The tone of his voice had changed, from sullen dejection to something almost like surprise, as if he didn’t understand why he was saying such a thing.  He looked up again, some of the pain gone from his expression.

I nodded once, accepting his pledge.  “Then…goodnight, Vincent.”

“Goodnight, Mara,” he said softly as I closed the door.

This encounter is quite a bit different from my original version, which was too "easy".  When I thought about it again, and the way I was writing Vincent, I realized that his self-loathing would put up a much tougher barrier than I had originally written.  So now I get to do more character development!  Yay!

I toyed with the idea of making Vincent have a blood fetish, but I decided not to; Vincent-the-vampire is almost cliché, even if it is appropriate.  Besides, I'm giving him enough problems. ^.^;

Next episode:  A trip to the library!  Who's Snow White?  Watching ice melt!

Chapter 5