Chapter 8.  "Erase/Rewind"
11:  "Down in a Hole" by Alice in Chains

I was crying helplessly as Vincent fell silent.  He looked at me, waiting for me to say something as I wiped my eyes.  He seemed empty now, as if the need to tell someone his story was the only thing that had kept him going for the past year.

I really couldn’t think of anything to say.  Consolation would sound silly, and I had little ground for commiseration.  So instead of trying to come up with some meaningful words, I closed my eyes to hide from whatever expression might cross his face, and leaned into him, slipping my arms around his back.  I felt him stiffen, and I thought he would try to move away, so I tightened my hold a little, but after a few moments he sighed and relaxed.

Neither of us had said anything yet.  I wanted to hear his voice again – his slight Kalman brogue had come out during his long narration, and I found it rather charming.  “Vincent…  I can say nothing to your tale, but I have a question for you…”

“Yes?”  He sounded very tired.

“Why…why do you hurt yourself…?”  I moved away from him slightly and carefully took his metal hand in mine.

He hissed slightly, which startled me, but I knew it wasn’t from my touch; it was from the question.  “I’ve already told you that I won’t do it again,” he said softly.  “Why does it matter?”  There was anger in his voice, as there had been the first night we met.  I knew now that it was his self-loathing that I was hearing, and it frightened me.  Was I enough to keep him from taking his own life?  Now that he had seemingly been relieved of the burden of his story, would he disappear, like Lucrecia?

He seemed to catch some of my thought; he reached his good hand up and stroked my hair gently.  “Don’t worry, lirienn,” he said, using a Kalman endearment, “I stayed in this world for a year, and now that I’ve found you, the phantom who stepped through my uneasy dreams…”

I felt my heart beat a little faster at that; he wanted to stay with me…?  I looked up at him, but his eyes were closed, his long eyelashes casting shadows on his pale cheeks.  Feeling emboldened by his unexpected acknowledgement, I leaned in and kissed him.

To my increasing surprise, he returned the kiss willingly.  It seemed as if finally telling me about himself had broken the walls he had kept around his feelings for me.  We exchanged a few more tentative kisses; he seemed shy, yet at the same time he came across as a man with a good deal of experience.  It made for an odd impression, and I really wasn’t quite sure what to do.  I rested my head against his shoulder, nuzzling his neck a little as I tried to bring my mind to terms with what was suddenly happening.

He pushed my unruly hair out of the way with his good hand, and bent to whisper into my ear, “I can’t believe this is happening.”  That echoed my sentiments exactly.  I took note of his tone, though – he sounded amused.  His black mood seemed to have been chased away, so, feeling a bit more daring, I reached up and nibbled on his earlobe.  He shivered slightly and chuckled low in his throat, his hands tightening on my back.  I playfully bit my way down his neck, giving him little chills, but when I reached the hollow between his collarbones, his entire body suddenly tensed, including his clawed left hand, which bit into my back around my left shoulder blade.  In what I still consider one of the most disciplined actions of my life, I bit down on my tongue to keep from screaming – I didn’t want Cloud and Tifa bursting in here at such a fragile moment.

It was quite bad enough already.  Vincent released me immediately, looking at his claw in a mixture of hatred and horror.  He leapt up and retrieved his Restore materia and Cured me, and then dropped it and ran into the bathroom and locked the door before I could say anything.

I thought that he was being ill, so I didn’t intrude, even though I really wanted to rinse the blood from my tongue out of my mouth.  But then I heard those soul-killing moans through the door.

I didn’t want to have to break the door down.  Wondering how clearly he was thinking right now, I simply stepped out of his room into mine and tried the bathroom door from that end.  Sure enough, it opened.  I almost had to bite my tongue again; he had cut himself deeply this time, blood seeping into his torn cotton shirt.  He looked at me with hatred and anguish in his eyes; the pain of it made me breathless for a moment.

“You promised me,” I said weakly, clutching the Restore materia.  He saw the glint of the little orb, and before I could cast a spell, he dashed it from my hand.

“Let me suffer!” he cried in a terrible voice.  “I also swore to Cloud that I would make myself die if I hurt you.  I’m not sure how long it will take me, but I’m going to try.”  He laughed in a hopeless, insane way; I shivered violently, staring at all of the blood.  “I am still a fool, no better than I was at the beginning of my tale.  A fool, to think that he would let me touch anyone…  Even in death, he tortures me!”

I began to cry again; yes, this was Hojo’s gift, just as Vincent had described it:  the extermination of his humanity, the theft of the ability to simply touch others.  It was why he held himself so far away from me until that night.  At that moment, I hated Hojo more than I ever had for my own sake.  For him to destroy someone’s chance for a normal, happy life with such vicious subtlety…

I knelt and fumbled for the dropped materia, and checked for another in my hip pocket.  I felt a bit guilty for having even brought it, but somewhere in the back of my mind I must have expected something like this to happen.  I cast the Cure spell on Vincent, and then, before he could become angry – or hurt himself again – I cast Sleep with the other materia, a Seal.  He gave me a final look of betrayal as the spell took effect, and then he slumped forward.  I carefully wiped the blood from his claws, then carry-dragged him to his bed and laid him down gently before finally going to rinse out my mouth.  The color of blood, his and mine, haunted me as I tried to go to sleep.


The next morning dawned cloudy.  I felt that to be an ominous sign as I hopped out of bed to check on Vincent.  He was still asleep, all signs of the previous night’s disaster erased.  I knew that he would not wake until noon, if my spell had been at full power; hopefully he would not do anything dangerous without at least a chance to talk to me again.  I leaned and kissed his cool cheek softly; he stirred a little but did not wake.

I was understandably sullen all morning.  Cloud was a bit put off, as I was usually as cheerful as anyone could be in that horrible library.  I wasn’t volunteering any information, though, and he knew better than to ask about my mood and Vincent’s absence.

Actually, part of my silence was just from me thinking furiously about where Hojo could have possibly hidden his notes on Vincent.  It felt important for me to find them, even though Vincent had explained everything that had happened to him.  I wanted to read Hojo’s thoughts, perhaps to see if he had really been as evil as we all thought.  The things he did to Vincent were some of the most evil things I had ever heard of.

It was after lunch when I finally came up with an idea.  I stood before the shelf that held Lucrecia’s notes, looking speculatively at the rows of books.  Vincent wouldn’t touch them; would Hojo have known that?  I began to pull the notebooks out, one by one, and look inside the covers.

“Mara?  Er…why are you looking at those?” Cloud asked hesitantly.

“A hunch,” I replied as I flipped through the books.  As I pulled out a binder near the end of the shelf, a smaller notebook fell out of it.  I picked it up, trembling as I looked at the cover.  There was none of the usual data and indexing information, only a specimen number that I recognized as Vincent’s birthday.  Letting the empty camouflaging binder fall to the floor, I stumbled back to my chair, flipping the book open and reading Hojo’s hateful opening comments.

Vincent Douglas Valentine, Subject xxxxxx. 

Have I ever hated someone so much?  Even after Lucrecia came to me, she constantly sought his approval and his help and his, his, him!  If he was going to be out of her life, as she said, why was he still where the sun rose and set for her?  Hate isn’t a strong enough word!

Well, now he’s mine, and I am going to make him suffer more than he ever imagined possible in the pile of wet sawdust that serves him as a brain.  He tried to destroy me and my work, and he thinks he’s discovered the folly of crossing me, being fired.  He knows nothing.  I will have my proper revenge.

And what’s more, I’ll forward my research.  Of course, I’ll have to run these experiments a second time for validity – no one will know of my work with dear, dear Vincent – but I will have already had the taste of success and the wisdom of experience.

Yes, Vincent, you’re in for such a lovely time with me…  

The malice leapt from the page with enough force to make me gasp out loud.  I looked up at Cloud, who had probably been staring since my performance in front of the bookshelf.  It was easy enough to read the question on his face.

“It’s…Hojo’s notes about Vincent,” I said softly.  “I…I don’t think he would want anyone to read them, Cloud, but he’s already told me what happened…”

Cloud looked at me even more curiously.  “He told you what happened to him?”  He sighed as I nodded in reply.  “No wonder you seem so gloomy today.  Er…how did you know where to look for the book, though?”

“Hojo put it with Lucrecia’s notes, in the one place where he figured Vincent wouldn’t look,” I explained, making a face. 

Cloud mirrored my grimace.  “That figures.  Well…I hope it’s…useful,” he said as tactfully as he could.  I just nodded again and kept reading.

The subsequent books filled the rest of Lucrecia’s shelf in their fake coverings.  I felt nauseous reading some of Hojo’s entries, and nearly became violently ill at a few.  Just as he had with everything else, he had recorded Vincent’s tortures in hair-raising, shameless detail.  It was, without question, ten times worse than hearing Vincent’s story, because every detail was there – every action Hojo took, every reaction Vincent gave, and then Hojo’s cold assessment on how to cause further suffering.  I wondered how any human could treat another in such a way.

Even more disturbing were Hojo’s later notes, after he had finally broken Vincent.  In a mirror image of Vincent’s “addiction”, as he termed it, to the sensations Hojo tortured him with, Hojo himself was becoming addicted to the feelings of empowerment the torturing gave him.  The frank way he discussed his feelings of lust frightened me.  Here was the record of two victims of a sick game: the aggressor and the broken.  And if Vincent emerged from the ordeal as an empty, subhuman monster, then Hojo came out of it as a true mad scientist, his morals eroded to nothing, willing to do anything to have his way and forward his work.  He had destroyed Vincent’s chances at happiness, but in doing so, he had condemned himself and also destroyed his own.  Did he realize that, I wonder?  It was clear to read in his notes.

Shaken to the core by what I had read, I gathered the books up to take them to Vincent.  We generally didn’t remove the books from the library, but in this case, seeing my pale face, Cloud did not voice a protest.  These were more personal than scientific, anyway.  I walked quickly down the road to the house, eager to be rid of my important, but distasteful, burden.

I gave Tifa only the briefest of greetings before I paced up the stairs and into Vincent’s room.  He was not there.  Feeling suddenly scared, I set the notebooks down and went back to my own room.

There was a folded bit of paper on my pillow.  I picked it up with a shaking hand and unfolded it, afraid to see the contents.

All that was written on the paper were the words, “Mara, ha lirienn, cuidh lloraith.

It was the ancient language of Kalm, and only Vincent would and could have written it.  I had no idea what it meant besides the “lirienn”.  Oh, then I felt “my heart turn cold in my chest”, as Vincent had said.  Was this a goodbye?  A love note?  Or a suicide letter?  Stuffing the paper into my pocket, I flew down the stairs.

“Tifa!  Has Vincent gone out today?”

“Well, yes, he just went out about a half hour ago.  He didn’t go to the Mansion…?”

I shook my head, feeling my stomach turning itself into knots.  Where could he have possibly gone?  I looked out the window at Mount Nibel, looming over the town; a flicker caught my eye, and I thought I saw red in that sudden movement.  Without another word, I dashed out of the house, not even closing the door behind me.  I faintly heard Tifa calling me, but I ignored her as I ran towards the mountain, seemingly faster than I had ever run before.

I had to check my frantic pace as I reached the rocky terrain at the mountain’s foot, weaving around rocks and boulders up the narrow path.  I knew the way; I had gone up there many times in my year posted at the town, but I had never felt any urgency on my hikes like I felt now.

It seemed like I climbed for hours up the tricky path, never sighting what I thought to be Vincent’s traveling-cape again.  I was beginning to wonder if I had been mistaken in my guess, and if the glimpse of motion I had gotten had simply been a bird.  I should have at least asked Tifa if Vincent had been wearing his cape when he left!  Even worse, I wondered if I had come too late…

I rounded a wide ledge of stone and came out onto one of the few wide shelves on the upward path.  Vincent stood at the far end, his back to me, with the red ribbon of fabric he habitually wore in his hair dangling from his hand.  He couldn’t have been standing more than six inches from the edge of the shelf; I cowered down and kept from making a sound.  I didn’t want to startle him and make him stumble over the edge – but how could I let him know I was there?

He moved one foot forward to the edge and sent pebbles clattering down the mountainside.  Unable to stand it any longer, I took four running – almost leaping – strides to him and grabbed his arm, pulling him down with me into a trembling, tangled heap.

The side of my face was against his chest, so I heard his heart beating rapidly.  I clung to him tightly, relief bringing new tears to my eyes.  I had been crying a lot lately. 

“Vincent, you…you idiot,” I stammered, trying to sound angry.  “What’s the matter with you?  Did you think that this would make up for scratching me?”

He shook his head angrily, but made no movement to push me away.  “It’s not just last night.  It would be every night after…  I can’t sleep in the room next to you, night after night, knowing that I can never touch you – !”  His emotion choked him as he tried to speak.

“But there has to be some way around it, Vincent, there has to be.  Give me an hour and I can figure out some way…I’m thinking of something now!  It’s not impossible at all, it’s not…”  I trailed off as he looked at me with that horrible, burning anguish in his red eyes.  “…And besides, you have to tell me what this says.”  I struggled to pull the crumpled note out of my pocket.

His hurt expression faded a little as he looked at the paper I held in front of him.  “It says, ‘Mara, my heart-of-hearts, I love you,’” he said softly.  I looked at him in surprise, but he was looking up at the sky, as if he were praying.  I waited patiently for him to look down again, and then I pulled his head down a little and kissed him.  After a moment I felt a sharp pain in my lip again, but I held onto him tightly and didn’t let go.  He had done it in a moment of spite, wishing to prove me wrong, but I wasn’t going to let him fall into Hojo’s quicksand again.  Hesitantly, he wrapped his arms around me and held me close; I had to break off from the kiss for a moment as he crushed me tightly to his chest.

“Mara, Mara, forgive me,” he whispered.

“There’s nothing to forgive,” I told him, “as long as you stay…”

We sat there together in silence for a long time, until almost sunset, when Cloud and Tifa came looking for us.  I wondered why they had waited so long, but I figured that they thought we were having a fight, and didn’t want to intervene.  They hadn’t known how close Vincent was to suicide, which was just as well, or we probably wouldn’t have had any privacy.  They meant well, but Vincent had been kind of right: our relationship was really none of their business.  While they had had their own problems, caused by Sephiroth’s fracturing of Cloud’s mind, the wounds Hojo had similarly inflicted upon Vincent ran much deeper, and were perhaps less obvious to others.  Only someone with the closeness of a lover could bring those hurts to the surface, and then erase them.

With time, I knew now that I could erase those scars.  With time…Hojo’s spell over Vincent would finally be broken.


After that day, Vincent began to really crack his shell of loneliness, like a bird hatching.  We spent a lot of time just sitting together, not really saying anything but enjoying the closeness.  We took a bit of a vacation from the library and its horror stories, and helped Tifa around the house.  Cloud didn’t mind; he was as glad as anyone to see Vincent showing some feelings, and smiling often.

Yes, a smile was really something on Vincent’s handsome, but so often solemn, face.  Now, his smiles are as commonplace as anyone else’s, but back then, every time he smiled at me it was like a light turning on.  There’s no face I find fairer in the world.


Vincent wanted to make some outward change to his appearance to signify his “new” self, or as he put it, his return to the man he used to be.  There was no reckoning with his left arm, but he asked me to help him with something else quite drastic.

“Cut your hair?” I remember saying to him, dumbfounded.  He had such lovely, long black hair!  I thought cutting it would be a waste.  But he was adamant; he wanted his hair short, the way it had been so long ago.  Tifa was as dismayed as I was, but Cloud, with his typical tact, pointed out that it was Vincent’s hair, not ours to admire, and if he wanted to cut it, that was his right.  

Besides being unhappy with the change, I was afraid to mess up if I tried to cut Vincent’s hair for him, but he didn’t want anyone else to do it.  “You’ve wrought the changes here,” he told me, smiling a little as he placed his hand over his heart, “now bring more changes here.”  He tugged on a lock of his hair.  “Don’t worry, I won’t let you cut too short,” he chuckled.

Hardly reassured, I took up the scissors and began clipping the length of his hair to a little below the nape of his neck.  Released of all that weight, the shorter hair that remained curled slightly, looking rather cute.  Vincent guided me carefully as I clipped the hair around his face to the proper lengths, locks of black hair spilling all over the bathroom floor.  It made me somewhat sad to see it all lying on the floor like that to be thrown away, but I had to admit, he looked considerably less gloomy with some light on his face.  

He looked in the mirror, turning his head to see from different angles, then finally beamed at me like a kid who’s just gotten a present from the aunt they’ve never met: sort of shy, but very pleased.  “Thank you very much, Mara,” he said, taking my hand.  “You’ve done it perfectly.  I feel…”  He took a deep breath.  “I feel as if I’ve been released.”

I remembered how he described the feeling that his long hair was a symbol of his imprisonment, and then I felt ashamed for trying to dissuade him from cutting it.  “You look quite sharp,” I said with a grin.  “Like a typical roguish Turk, ready to go bar-hopping and wenching.”

“Hmph.”  He put on a haughty air.  “As you yourself said, there’s only one pitiful bar in this town.”  He pulled me closer, grinning.  “And I have no need for wenching.”

I ruffled his short hair; it was enviably soft.  “You’ve got that right,” I said in a mock-growl.  We both laughed.  Broken things can be mended, and time will heal all wounds.


Well, that's it.  Hope you liked it. ^^;  Comments!  Please!

What do you think of Vincent's change of haircut?  It was tough call for me; I do so love long hair!  But the long hair made him look so very gloomy.  Short hair would suit the new, happy Vincent much better.  And he still looks foxy with short hair. ^.^

In case you're wondering why I made Vincent's middle name Douglas, I chose the name because it's Celtic in origin and is quite appropriate.  The name has several meanings and connotations: "dark grey" is the literal translation; "from the dark water"; "black hill"; "dark stranger" (I picked it for this one); graceful; handsome; talented; makes many friends of both sexes.

I just looked up "Douglas" at kabalarians... this rings frighteningly with how I wrote Vincent, even though the analysis is for a first name.

The analysis of "Vincent" just isn't as neat, although the bit about intensity at the end is interesting...

No next episode.  That's the end!

Chapter 7