Final Fantasy VII, Life Ever After; Chapter 9 Reunited

In case you've hit this page from some random link out there on the internet: Chapter 1

Copyright: Characters not mine... blah, blah... you know the drill.

Ah, the angst!
***************
Vincent lay on the bed in the quarters Cid had spared for him. He had slept, surprisingly, without turmoil. He had been told that Lucrecia was stable but still unconscious. Would she remain forever so? Had the incarceration in the crystals merely been an accident of time after she had simply slipped into a coma inside the cavern?

His thoughts were cut short. A scream vibrated through the entire ship, a terrified howl that bore deep into his heart. Before he could even collect his thoughts his feet were pounding on the metal floors of the Sierra's corridors as he ran towards the infirmary.

Cid met him on the way; "Is that...?"

"Who else?" Vincent called over the continuing screams.

Vincent flew into the infirmary. The doctors and nurses were in a flutter, one woman standing with her hands over her ears to block out the hoarse screams. Two orderlies were leaning over a bed, wrestling with its inhabitant. Vincent wrenched them out of the way and, without thinking, wrapped his arms around Lucrecia.

"Shh," he cooed, holding her tight against his own body. "Stop this, it's okay, Lucrecia."

Her screams broke into sobs, she gripped his cloak as she hugged him.

"Vincent, oh Vincent," she raised weary eyes to his face, her hair hanging loose. "What has happened? I had a terrible nightmare, I was..."

Her eyes drifted over his as her fingers rose to touch his long dark hair. His eyes had once been brown but were now a fiery crimson. His hair had once been short but now flowed down his back and over his shoulders.

Her gentle features crumpled as her nightmare became real. She pushed him away from her and began to scream again. He fought her, pulling her back into his arms against her will.

"No! No, what have you done! No! Take me back," she began to sob, curling up against him. "Please, take me back."

"I'm sorry."

Why had he done this, brought this upon her? How could he not have known this would happen? Of course she had allowed herself to fall into a coma, a deep unending sleep encased in the Mako. How could she live with the memories, with the guilt? But just as Chaos had not allowed him to die, J-E-N-O-V-A would not allow Lucrecia to die.

"I'm sorry," he repeated. "I... I need you."

"How could you?" her muffled voice shook as she held back her sobs. "After what I did, what I let happen to you?"

"I... it doesn't matter," he chided himself; even now he could not tell her he loved her. If she replied, if she told him she did not love him back, if she pushed him away, it would break what was left of him.

"Please, take me back."

"No," he whispered, as though it would make it easier for her to hear. "I can't do that."

"Chaos... I can't look on Chaos inside you again."

A chance!

"Chaos is gone, returned back to the Planet which birthed it."

"Gone?" she looked up at him with bloodshot eyes. Her fingers rose to his temples, thumbs tracing the high lines of his cheeks as she stared into his eyes. "Gone," she repeated, a smile twitching on her lips.

"Yes," he whispered, her fingers sending shivers through his body. "All of it, gone; Chaos, Hojo and his experiments, all gone. The world is at peace now, you don't need to hide."

She frowned and then, slowly, a smile spread and her eyes lit up. Vincent's heart skipped and he could not help but smile back as her own words washed over him.

"We can be together now?"

"Yes," he replied, tugging her back into his arms. He would never let her go again.

"Alright, alright," Cid clapped behind him. "You kids better break it up or you'll get me all tear-y."

"Where are we?" Lucrecia whispered, pressing herself against his upper body.

"On an airship, above the mountains."

"The Sierra," she whispered. "I dreamt... I thought they were dreams, of the world, of things happening, of you. Big things, small things, they came to me through the Lifestream that made the Mako crystals. I saw Omega... and... Sephiroth."

"It's all over," he repeated.

"Yes, you're right."

Lucrecia pushed herself away from him. She smiled softly as she rubbed away her tears and took a deep breath, pushing back her shoulders. Glancing around the room at the shocked medics she said; "Thank you. I'm sorry if I frightened you all."

There were murmured replies but Cid cut in.

"Yeah, yeah," he said, approaching the bed, not caring to put out his cigarette. "So, this the lady Vincent has been mopin' over?"

Lucrecia laughed; a delight to Vincent's ears.

"You must be Cid Highwind," she said. "I thank you too, for taking care of Vincent for me."

The ex-Turk felt the blood rise in his face as Cid laughed.

"Well," said the Captain. "Yah hungry?" He looked at the medical staff and asked them; "She's good to go, right?" He did not wait for an answer though. "Ah'll have the ship's cook rustle somethin' special up."

"No," she replied, shaking her head. "Thank you, but I'm not hungry. I just... can we have some time together, please?"

Cid nodded and ordered everyone out of the infirmary. "Vincent," he said as he was leaving. "Where we goin'?"

Home, Vincent thought, his dwellings were meagre but they would be brightened a hundred fold by Lucrecia's presence. "To Kalm."

Alone now, in the thrumming quiet of the ships infirmary, she smiled up at him and raised her arms; "Help me up?"

He lifted her off the bed and set her down on the floor with ease. She stood straight and steady on her bare feet. The shock and fear had passed, she was once again the head-strong, gentle woman he had met thirty years ago. She glanced around the room, hands running down the surgical gown she had been dressed in.

"Do you know where my clothes are?"

He could make a guess. He rifled through a few nearby cupboards until he found the right one. Sure enough, there were her clothes along with her shoes and the ribbons from her hair. He handed them to Lucrecia and turned his back to her.

He heard her chuckle softly as she dressed.

"You're so sweet," she said, tugging his shoulder. He turned to face her and was dragged back to the day they had met. He had been young and naive, she gentle and innocent. He had dreamed of marrying her from that very moment, but how to ask her? She was a scientist; brilliant in her field, if radical, well known amongst other researchers. What could she have wanted with a lowly bodyguard?

At the time he had not known she had worked with his father. The two men had not been very close, he had not taken the path Grimoire had desired for him and they had fallen out. In his final breath Grimoire had asked Lucrecia to tell his son that he was sorry.

"You look so serious," Lucrecia said, her hands clasped behind her back. "You were always thinking about things. And now," she chuckled. "Your hair, it makes you look so much older, wiser."

She laughed again as he became flustered. He could never find the right words when Lucrecia was making fun of him, playing with him.

"I guess some things never change," she sighed softly and looked at the ground. "Does all this... does it mean you forgive me?"

"Forgive you?"

"For betraying you."

"You didn't..."

Her words spilt out in a sudden torrent; "I killed your father with my reckless experiments. I shunned your clumsy advances. I leapt into Hojo's arms to hurt you when you couldn't tell me not to and because I could not let go of your father's death. And then," she swatted at a small tear that clung to her soft skin. "I... I let..."

"Don't talk of those things," he said, eyes darting from hers as she spoke of their past mistakes.

"Do you love me?"

He looked up; her eyes burnt with a deep intensity. Her eyebrows knit slightly and her lips were pouched. She wanted an answer, an answer he could not give so easily.

"Please, tell me."

He felt warmth on his face again, his fingers and toes tingled and his stomach was turning loops as he opened his mouth; "Yes."

"Still?"

"What more can I say?!" was she going to drag a confession of his love for her out of him? Did she want to hear the words? "I love you Lucrecia, I always have done."

Shaking, his trembling hands covering his face, the gauntlet cold against his flushed cheeks; he sat down on the bed.

"I know," she said, standing in front of him.

She pulled his hands from his face and leaned close to him. His eyes were closed as his mind raced over her words again and again. Suddenly he felt her lips against his, warm and soft. He shot backwards, staring up at her.

"What are you doing?" he spluttered.

"I longed to hear those words."

He looked away from her as she drew close again. He wanted to ask her if she felt the same, if she could give him the reassurance he needed. The words stuck in his throat, dry and scratching. If she did not give an answer he still had the hope that she loved him in return.

"I did terrible things, because you couldn't say those words."

"No."

"Yes!" she caught his hands in hers, the heavy gauntlet dwarfing her small fingers. "And now I have the chance to undo them"

"Chaos is gone," he muttered.

"Stop fighting this Vincent. You said 'don't talk of these things' but they still play on your mind, on my mind."

Vincent stared down at his gauntlet, flexing his fingers. Lucrecia took a grip of his hands and pulled herself up onto his lap.

"Wh-what are you doing?"

"Ssh," she smiled, kissing his lips again. "Lets try, okay? Try to forget it all."

"Forget?" his voice trembled; he had never been so close to her, not in this way.

"Start over," she smiled as his eyes finally returned to her. "See if we can get it right this time."

Try to start over? Go back to the beginning and win her love, whether he had it now or not. Yes, a second chance. Take her kisses, her caresses, hold her, kiss her, love her and maybe she would love him back. As he relaxed to her touch she let his hand go, unbuckling his cloak.

"Stop," he gripped her wrists softly, fear filling his heart; she could not see him, could not look on his disfigured body and he did not want to be reminded of it.

"I want to see you," her lips touched his again, hands fighting against his.

"No."

"Please, I want... to know. It's okay, I'm not afraid."

He was terrified, but her tender touch and pleading eyes were striving against him. He let her continue, fingers still around her wrists as she worked at the buckles, her kisses never fading.

She let the cloak fall from his shoulders then freed her hands from his. Pulling away from him, she took his gloved right hand, sliding the material from his upper arm. Vincent watched the glove flutter to the ground, eyes purposely avoiding the scar that ran from his elbow to his wrist on the inside of his arm. He heard her stifled gasp, felt her fingers running around his arm. He looked at his hand, the thick red tissue that circled his wrist. Many scars sat one upon the other from months of straining against the bonds Hojo had put him in.

"Please," he begged her. "Don't do this."

Lucrecia shook her head, hands moving to the gauntlet. "It'll be okay, Vincent. You can't hide from your own past forever. We both need to face it."

Was that what she was doing? Forcing them both to face the torment he been through?

She kissed him again, trying to keep his mind from the emotional pain she was inflicting upon him until the right moment. The gauntlet slid from his arm without him fighting it; he was simply lost in her gentle touch. If he closed his eyes, if he did not look, he could pretend his body was his own, pretend Hojo's blades had never touched him.

"Stop it," she whispered, her lips moving against his. "Don't run from it anymore."

"I'm not ready," yet he was not fighting her. He let her do as she wanted. Her fingers played in his hair, tugging at the crimson bandana as her lips covered his face in long, lingering kisses. "Please, stop," his hair fell lose, she brushed it aside, her hands coming to rest on his neck, tilting his head upwards.

"Open your eyes, Vincent."

Crimson eyes fluttered open, resting on an angel's face. Lucrecia smiled as her eyes fell again to his left arm. She tugged at the black glove but he caught her hand.

"I can only beg you," he whispered, looking down at his arm.

"I know," she pulled at the glove as he watched.

Lucrecia could not hold back her cry of horror at the chilling evidence of Hojo's gruesome experiments that had been kept hidden beneath the dark material. Below the elbow, darkened scar tissue merged with creamy white skin. The inside of Vincent's arm was a mass of healed puncture wounds, the scars swelled in small bumps. Lines of raised skin indicating long buried material.

Gingerly, Lucrecia ran her fingers across his arm. "Do they hurt?" she asked.

Vincent shook his head; "No; they are only scars."

"What... what did he do to you?"

*************

Vincent had been sleeping. A sweet dream of a pain free existence lingered in his thoughts before the agony struck his conscious mind.

"Please," he begged reflexively, throat dry. "Let me go."

He struggled in the bonds that held him to the laboratory table, blood running from the damaged flesh of his wrists. His attempts were feeble, his body weak. How long had it been now; months?

Light flashed against his closed eyes. The whir of the voice recorder coming to life sounded. Present collided with past as Hojo played back the last seconds of his previous session, chuckling as Vincent writhed; his own screams coming from the speakers. Hojo stopped the playback and began recording again.

"The subject is dying," Hojo's high pitched voice. "G-substance can only do so much to combat the decline of its cellular structure."

Dying? No, he could not die on this table, under Hojo's knives. He had to escape...

"I will endeavour to keep it alive. However, my efforts will be futile if it is not strong enough for the next phase."

Another sharp pain cut through Vincent's arm as more vibrant, noxious liquids were forced into his body. Vincent screamed as cold steel punctured his burning flesh.

******************

"When I found you..." Lucrecia shook her head, collecting her thoughts. "Hojo was always obsessed with aesthetics, with beauty. He had clothed you, before setting you to rest in the crypt. I had no idea of the damage beneath..." Unable to tear her eyes from his arm she continued; "I read his reports, but... they were dry, sterile. I couldn't imagine..."

She raised her hands to his collar, unbuckling the straps with a feverish rapidity; she had to see, had to know exactly what her actions had caused.

"No!" he cried, clutching her hands with force. "Please, no more."

"Stop running," she said, resisting him. "Chaos has gone, but you're still in its dark grip, Hojo is still in your nightmares. I know; he's still in mine. You have to face this, Vincent. Stop hiding and accept it. Otherwise we can never move beyond it."

There was no fight left - he gave in to her elegant words; she was right. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing, trying to calm his body and mind as Lucrecia exposed them both. Her hands worked quickly and lightly, tugging the shirt from his body.

She made no sound.

Vincent opened his eyes to find Lucrecia staring at his chest. A droplet of blood formed on her lower lip as she bit it. Tears ran down her cheeks.

"Lucrecia?" he coughed. When she did not respond he pushed her off his lap and rose, turning away from her.

"Vincent..." her voice wavered. "I'm so sorry..."

"Don't! Don't say it anymore." He wrapped his arms around his body; it was all he could manage, his limbs refusing to obey him. He could not stand to hear her apologise anymore. She had not been at fault, and she had suffered far greater torment than he ever could; losing her son to Hojo's wicked experiments.

"I know," her fingers touched his arms, her forehead resting on his back. "I know, neither of us can accept the responsibility of the other," her arms wrapped around him, her body against his. "These scars... they represent suffering we both inflicted on you. If I had only been able to let go of your father's death. If you had only been able to open up to me fully... if only, if only. We can't go on this way. YOU can't go on this way."

Her lips touched his back, wet with her tears. She circled around to face him, fingers tugging at his arms. His eyes were closed, head down. He was terrified of what she was going to do, the doors to his past she was opening.

As he let his arms fall from his chest Lucrecia released them, placing her hands on his cold body. A large white scar ran down the centre of his ribs, burrowing past his navel and beneath his belt. She traced the wicked line with her fingers lightly.

Vincent jerked, gasping as the pain of his bones cracking beneath Hojo's instruments burst into his mind. She did not stop, instead she put her hand behind him, holding it against his lower back so he could not pull away.

"In the reports," she said softly. "Hojo wrote that... he kept you conscious during most of his work. That must have been... I can't bring myself to imagine it. Feeling those blades, those hands..." she shuddered; her own memories surfacing?

Holding him firmly she touched another scar. A wide jagged blemish that stretched over his heart. Vincent tensed, the muscle pounding so fiercely Lucrecia could feel it.

"It's not yours, is it?" she whispered, following the outline of the darkened tissue with her finger tips.

Vincent's only movement was to clench his fists, fighting the memories that she was dragging up from the depths of their past.

"He took it, gave you another. The heart that beats in your chest, that keeps the blood flowing in your body, is not your heart."

"Stop this!" he cried, pulling away from her again. How could she do this to him? How could these words help them?

"No," she caught his left arm, pulling him to her again. There was fear in her expression, but he could not fathom what she was afraid of. He would never hurt her, no matter what she did to him now; he could not give her more pain.

Her tender touch once again came to rest on his chest. Her fingers ran down his side and onto a scar that lay bellow his ribs. Vincent lurched from her  but she held him tight.

"This," she whispered, her thumb running up and down the indented tissue slowly.

"Please, stop this. What are you trying to do?"

Lucrecia put her arms around him. She rested her head on his chest, listening to his heart race. "Why are you so afraid?" she asked. "Why didn't you want me to see?"

"Because it hurts," he answered honestly; it was a question she already knew the answer to. "I just want to forget that nightmare."

"But you cannot, how could you? Your body reminds you, everyday, of the torment Hojo put you through."

She kissed the scar over his heart, holding him against her as he tried to escape her embrace, her own body strengthened by J-E-N-O-V-A.

He wanted her kisses, her touch, but the suffering of his past, embedded in every scar, was released by her soft lips. Memories of agony ripped through his mind, not dulled by the passage of time. The fear of those months returned as if he had never been released. Still she continued, her tenderness forging a path through his pain.

"Stop. Stop this. Please, stop!"

Memories flooded his thoughts, fresh and new. Hojo's cold steel and burning chemicals, cutting his flesh and sending fire through his veins.

"Please," he begged again, unable to push her away. His eyes were closed, tears forming on his lashes. Breathing sharply he slipped to the ground.

"Let it go," she whispered, kneeling in front of him. She released her tight hold on him, turning it into a soft embrace.

The misery and anger he had kept inside welled up in chest, clawing at his throat. He held back a strangled sob, clutching Lucrecia close to him, his head buried in her lap. She brushed her fingers through his long hair, letting it trail across his back.

"How did we let it all go so wrong?" she asked. "Why did I let him hurt you?"

"Stop it!" he cried as her fingers traced a cobweb of tiny scars across one shoulder.

"Let it go," she said, kissing the back of his head.

Finally he could hold it back no longer. He clutched her body as his own shook with violent sobs, not raising his head from her lap. She leaned down, resting her own body against his back. With every racking sob, every tear and cry that emerged from his body a small part of his pain went with it, freeing his soul.

He could not stop, now he had begun it would not end till, exhausted, he began to fall asleep, still bent over Lucrecia's lap. Gradually his cries lessened, body settling until he was still and silent, only tears soaking into Lucrecia's dress.

He was not healed, but it was a beginning.
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