Episode Six – Crimson Thorn
I always knew there was more to him than we originally thought.
He had the look of a man haunted by his past, though he refused to let it rule him or his future. He wanted revenge for what had been done to him and ‘Lucrecia’. Against a man like Hojo, that I can understand.
He wasn’t a freak or monster, just another man – human in my opinion – who had suffered the Hojo taint. He was a quiet person, not shy or withdrawn, just stoic. He didn’t waste words, which was a pleasant change from Barret’s rambling.
Of course, considering what he had been through, it came as no surprise that he was withdrawn. Locked in a coffin for thirty years after being in Hojo’s care would do that to a person. We let him out, and he entered into a world that was different from his own, thirty years worth of difference.
He was among strangers, every one of us technically younger than him and looking very battle experienced. Barret immediately was uneasy around him and – in typical Barret-fashion, as I soon learned – became blustery and loud. He was the first to give Vincent the nickname Vampy, short for vampire.
Yuffie was quick to pick up on this and consistently called the poor man that just to be aggravating. It was completely idiotic and wrong of them to name him as such. Vincent displayed no signs of being such a creature, not that vampires are necessarily bad… but that is a story for another time.
Regardless, Barret feared him, his look and quiet presence, and that was enough.
Our reactions to Vincent’s appearance were all different. Yuffie was initially curious, staring at him with mouth slightly agape and her fingers twitching as if she couldn’t wait to delve into his pockets. She was introduced, and he said nothing, even when she smiled up at him guilelessly. He only acknowledged her with a slight, nearly imperceptible nod of the head.
Nanaki seemed speculative, I remember. He and I along with Cloud were the ones to open the coffin. During Vincent’s entire explanation of who he was and subsequent joining of our quest, I recall the lion-wolf – now demi-human – was always regarding him with an expression of… understanding, possibly.
It could have been something more. Not quite the blatant curiosity of Yuffie, but something entirely different. The two of them didn’t speak much, but it was obvious – to me at least – that Nanaki was looking forward to talking to the ex-Turk, as if they had much in common. Perhaps they did.
I can’t really say what Cait Sith’s reaction was. After all, he was just a cat sitting on top of a stuffed moogle. He was cheerful, however, greeting the new arrival with a wave of his paws and a small toot of his megaphone. I always wondered how he was able to fight with such a weapon.
I think it was Cloud’s reaction that shocked me the most. At first, it was interest over a new companion. Then it grew to thinly veiled suspicion. As if he knew something about Vincent the rest of us did not. It wasn’t that Cloud didn’t like him, more like he knew there was something to be wary about. Perhaps it was because he knew of Hojo’s madness and feared it. I can’t be certain.
My own reaction… heh. I was surprised at first to open up a coffin and find a man inside, and an ethereal beauty at that. I never thought I would ever call a man beautiful, but there was something about Vincent Valentine that brought the word to mind.
His eyes, though an unnatural crimson, were like shining jewels, and his hair was so black, so ebony that it nearly disappeared in the dark. He was very pale, as if he had never seen sun a day in his life, and it contrasted perfectly with the darkness of his hair. The lines of his face were soft rather than hard and muscular, and he wasn’t exactly built like Barret or Cid. More thin, much like Cloud.
I won’t say that I was instantly attracted to him because even then I was beginning to feel something for Cloud, but I did feel instantly inferior in his presence. I couldn’t help but self-consciously pat my own plain reddish-brown hair. He looked up at us, not with surprise, but with something that seemed more like resignation. As if he knew the coffin was going to be opened at some point and guessed what would happen when it did.
“You’ll dream about bad things if you sleep in a place like this.” That was what I had told him when he first opened his eyes, after Cloud had so smartly informed him that he had been having a nightmare.
Cloud… I really liked him, but at the time, his intellect left much to be desired.
Vincent had scoffed at the idea of dreaming of bad things. I got a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. As if nightmares were all that he dreamt about as he laid there. He had responded as if they were nothing new, as if he… deserved to remember such awful memories and relieve terrifying moments. It was something that I couldn’t understand.
So I told him so.
“So your punishment was to sleep?” I questioned him. “That’s strange.”
And indeed, to me it was. He spoke of atonement, of making amends for his sins, for his wrong doings. Yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand what he had done that was so terrible, nor could I comprehend how sleeping would be a punishment. Then again, the idea of living your nightmares every day until you drew your last breath did seem like a good way to penalize someone.
Until I realized that he had done nothing worthy of guilt. Slowly over time, as his story came to light, I understood that there was much about Vincent Valentine that we didn’t understand, including his seeming immortality. I imagine that if we had not found him, he would have been sleeping forever, consumed in his guilt and reliving his nightmares over and over.
I shivered at the thought.
What had driven him to the point of believing he deserved such a thing?
It didn’t seem like he was going to leave the coffin. I didn’t relish the thought of leaving him behind. I wanted him to come with us. I wanted him to leave the coffin and the stuffy basement, stop sleeping with his nightmares. I have a kind heart, and sometimes, I can see through people. I can see what they need and how to help. And Vincent Valentine did not need to spend all eternity within that coffin. However, no matter how much we spoke to him, he kept repeating “go away.“
With nothing further to say, we turned from the room and left him. I couldn’t help but feel as if we were leaving something important behind. I heard the whispers of the Planet across the back of my mind, but I didn’t understand them. Confusion was evident on my face, and I could see it on Cloud and Nanaki’s, too.
And then, just as we closed the door behind us and started back towards the staircase, it opened again, and he appeared. Vincent wanted to know if he would meet Hojo, if he joined our crew.
Hojo… the name sent shivers down my own spine as I’m sure it did for my friends. That man had his slimy grip on everything it seemed and had angered many, including Vincent. If he would meet Hojo, he would join with us. That is what he said.
“That sure is a quick change of heart…” I remarked, surprised that he would change his mind so quickly.
His gaze instantly landed on me, crimson eyes peering. It was almost inquisitive the way he looked, and my breath caught in my throat. It wasn’t fear that grabbed me but something entirely different. As if in that one glance, I felt every pain, heard every tear. It was painful, and I knew then that I wanted to help him, in any way that I could.
“It shall be atonement,” he had said, in a voice barely more than a whisper. In fact, I wasn’t even sure he said it aloud.
Cloud allowed him to join our group, despite the suspicions I am sure he felt. If I were him, I would have been somewhat apprehensive as well. As much as he had told us to go away… but then came anyway. Knowing Hojo and his sick mind, I can understand our leader’s carefulness.
I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to Vincent. I mused as to why he had been placed in the coffin and how long he had been there. The mansion had been abandoned for who knows how many years, and Cloud never mentioned someone being in the mansion when those events happened five years ago. Could he have been there since before that time… or maybe after? Yet, he looked far too young and healthy to have been in it a long time.
It was only later that I found out he had been sleeping for thirty years. Most of his life had been spent in a box of death, surrounded by dust and spiders, alone and forgotten in the basement of a decrepit mansion. I wanted to help him, the soft-hearted part of me wanted to reach out and heal the pain that I found in him. I just didn’t know how. It wasn’t until after Cid arrived that I saw something that was building… something that would aid him where I could not.
I’ll be forever grateful to the stoic man, who hid his pain. I didn’t know when I made the decision to leave on my own and pray for Holy that it wasn’t going to be my sacrifice. I only knew that I had to do something before Sephiroth destroyed the mind of the man I had come to slowly but surely love.
I never would have guessed that the Planet had other plans in mind when Vincent awoke from his sleep. I know he believed it to be his redemption, but he never truly understood that it wasn’t his fault.
I think we as humans have that drive in us, that desire to live as we see fit, trying to be the best we can be. I think it is inherent, the piece of us that is alive. I know that no matter how much I ran from ShinRa, how much I missed my mother or just tried to go on, that I never gave up. I was convinced that life still held something happy for me.
And eventually, I found him. I found it in Cloud.
But Vincent… he runs on a different course. That drive… it had been taken from him, in one of the worst ways. Hope had been stolen from him. Hope and dreams, Hojo had taken those from him. He kept going though.
I’ve always seen him as a rose. One of the strongest and most beautiful flowers on Gaia, the red rose. You stop to smell one, realize it has this potent heady scent, and you think, ‘I would love to have one of my own.’
So you reach out to pluck its fragile beauty, reach to take it home only to find that the flower has thorns; it’s not as defenseless as you think. That’s Vincent.
Hojo made a gross error when he tried to destroy the soul of one Vincent Valentine. And in the end it came back to bite him on the ass.
It was no more than he deserved.
Every rose is fragile even in its strength, despite its crimson thorns, and Vincent eventually found his happiness, too. It gave him what he needed to face that final end. It was something that I couldn’t do, no matter how much I wanted to. Or Cloud or Yuffie… or Nanaki even.
As cliché as I hate to be, it was something more like love. I am positive that in the end, it will be love that finds him… because I don’t believe he is dead. I know that if I can return from the other side and Cloud can survive the lifestream, then a man like Vincent, who fought through Hojo’s madness, can find it in himself to come back as well.
After all, someone’s waiting for him, and Vincent is not one to forget his responsibilities.
… And the beauty of the crimson rose will continue to grow.