Chapter Forty-Six: Mother
The piercing whine of the alarm clock woke Cid up from his deep sleep, the shrill noise easily breaking into his muddled mind. He absentmindedly flung out an arm, striking the annoying contraption and causing it to fall to the floor. The beeping continued unabated. Cursing mildly, the blond threw back the covers and groped around for it, seeking the off switch. Beside him, Vincent stirred, grey eyes peering blearily around him. The dark-haired male had returned earlier that night, waking Cid up when he did so. Not that the pilot minded. It had inspired a wonderful little romp in the covers between them that eventually carried into the showers as well, until they stumbled to their bed completely exhausted. (A/N: That scene has been written, but edited out for sake. NC-17 rated version can be found on any of the links on my homepage).
“Dammit,” the pilot mumbled, fumbling about still half asleep. “Stupid fuckin’… ah!” The sound ceased, and the air filled with blissful silence.
“What time is it?” Vincent asked, trying to resist the urge to dive back beneath the blankets in his warm cocoon and return to sleep. But he knew he had important business to attend, and he had the feeling that the pilot was not going to like it one bit.
“Too fuckin’ early,” Cid grumbled in his usual fashion as he yawned and sat up on the bed, idly scratching at his chin. He longed to smoke a cigarette, but he respected Vincent’s wish for him to quit. “Gotta get a good start looking for that crazed bastard.” He was, of course, referring to the demi-god Balaam.
Vincent rose, grabbing his clothes to dress. “You’ll have to go alone today,” he said quietly. “I have something I need to do.”
The blond shrugged, stretching as he reached for the pair of jeans thrown over a nearby chair. They were clean… enough. “Balaam ain’t goin’ nowhere. I’ll go with you.”
The gunman shook his head as he buckled the Hell Fire’s holster around his thigh. He still regretted the loss of the Death Penalty, but the replacement gun was strong enough.
“It’s something that I have to do alone.”
For a moment, the pilot could only stare as he pulled a shirt over his head. “What’s so important that I can’t be there?” he asked, voice tight with emotion.
Vincent closed his eyes, trying not to sigh. “It has nothing to do with you,” he replied, wincing when he realized that had come out entirely wrong.
Sky-blue eyes narrowed. “How can you say that?” Cid growled, turning to face his recently found lover. His hands clenched into fists. “After all that I went through to find you… after all that I suffered… how can you tell me that something about you has nothing to do with me?” he demanded, his voice harsh.
The gunman shook his head, moving to place his hands on Cid’s shoulders, and he idly noted that he could finally touch the man with two flesh hands, rather than one of bronze. “That’s not what I meant,” he explained, trying to calm the upset pilot. “This has to do with my past. Thirty years past, to be exact.”
However, those words did nothing to soothe Cid, whose eyes widened in both surprise in anger. He took an unconscious step backwards, hating how jealous and… insecure he sounded. “There’s only one thing thirty years ago that you ever cared about. You’re going to see /her,” he spat. “At least that explains why you don’t want me there.”
“You misunderstand,” Vincent attempted again, but Cid shook his head, cutting him off.
“You don’t even deny that’s where you’re going!” the pilot argued loudly. “You act like its nothing. After all this, you still can’t let go of the past!”
Cid turned away, emotions flaring up in him that he didn’t even want to consider. He hated how jealous he sounded, how petty. And he despised seeming like a child in his anger. The blond knew that he had to leave before he made an even greater fool of himself. He quickly began snapping up the rest of his clothing, pulling on boots and grabbing his pack and spear.
“I won’t deny it as it’s the truth!” Vincent returned. “I have to settle this, and Sephiroth does as well!” He hoped that by explaining why, Cid would stop his ridiculous rampage of anger and concede that he had made the right choice. Nevertheless, as with all things concerning Cid Highwind, nothing was ever easy.
The pilot paused, the gears in his head shifting and grinding to a halt. “Sephiroth?” he repeated. “What the hell does that crazy bastard have to do with this?”
“I’m taking him to see her,” the gunman replied. “She is, after all, his mother… and you have no place in that.”
“And you do?” Even as the question broke from his lips, a memory cropped up in the pilot’s mind. He half turned to regard Vincent, who had only responded with one of his many expressive looks. He recalled the first time they had gone to Lucrecia’s cave and what had happened to the ex-Turk. He remembered what Vincent had told him then. He knew how Hojo had taunted the other man with his love’s death, never really revealing the identity of Sephiroth’s true father.
He took a deep breath, uncertain how to deal with this sudden realization. “That’s what it’s about, isn’t it?” he questioned slowly. “You’re not going just for Sephiroth. You want to know.”
Vincent’s gaze softened. “Wouldn’t you?” He shook his head again. “But that’s not the reason. I could survive never knowing. Truthfully, it’s probably better that I don’t.” He sighed. “Sephiroth deserves to know the truth, especially after all he has suffered. And what better than from the mouth of the woman who caused half the pain? I don’t know all the facts. I can’t answer his questions. Neither is it my place.”
The pilot shouldered his pack, still determined to leave because his mind was in turmoil. He hurt, and he didn’t know why. Even after all this time, Lucrecia was still fucking with his lover’s mind and causing him pain. Why couldn’t the bitch just die and go on like everyone else?
“It’s not a difficult place to find,” Cid responded lowly. “It’s a fucking waterfall in a huge chasm. It’s the only one on this continent. He could reach it by chocobo easily. You don’t have to go.”
Vincent shook his head. “Yes, I do.”
Cid just did not understand, and the ex-Turk wasn’t certain if he ever could, not when it came to his past and certainly not when it came to Lucrecia. He had to go because he needed to find the truth about himself as well. Still, he didn’t want Cid there. Some things, he would rather no one ever knew.
And Vincent also understood that Cid wasn’t really angry, so much as hurt and confused. The pilot hated Lucrecia… her and Hojo both for what had been done to him. As such, Cid couldn’t understand why Vincent would ever want to see her again.
The pilot growled under his breath, an aggravated noise as he reached into his pack and dug around, finally producing a pack of crumpled cigarettes, the last of his stash. He could really use one, even if he had plans to quit. He couldn’t handle both the nicotine cravings and the emotional turmoil. One of them had to go. He lit up the cigarette, casting Vincent a look before heading for the door.
“Where are you going?” Vincent asked, concerned by the strange expression on the pilot’s face and the fact that he had grabbed his traveling pack.
“Out,” Cid returned easily as he strode towards the door, viciously yanking it open. “I suddenly feel the need to slice up some monsters. It does no good to fly over the world when I don’t know what I’m looking for. When you get done with your ‘past’ and feel like joining the future again, let me know.” With that final declaration, he strode out into the hall, slamming the door behind him.
The ex-Turk winced at the force of the slam as it managed to shake some of the things on the walls and caused one of the portraits of the Highwind to fall and shatter. The glass tinkled as it dropped from the frame. Still, he did not go after the pilot, knowing that he did not have the time nor was he going to deal with Cid’s anger. Though he could understand why Cid was upset, he felt that the blond had acted a bit immature. He was jealous, though Vincent could not fathom why.
The gunman stifled a sigh and finished dressing, gathering his own weapons and materia. He had expected Cid to be angry and hurt… but he hadn’t been ready for the pilot to storm out in a fit. Perhaps they didn’t know each other as well as they had thought… maybe their love wasn’t enough to overcome the past.
“It pains me to see that even with your memory the eternal brooding does not cease,” a voice commented dryly from behind the gunman. As was his usual way, Erebus had just popped into existence to offer up unnecessary and irritating comments. “Why can you not just accept what you already have and move on?”
Vincent exhaled loudly in annoyance, not bother to turn and fix the demi-god with one of his ruthless cold stares. “Don’t pretend as if you understand,” he commented. “My life has always been… complicated,” he finished rather lamely. He risked a glance at the clock. It was 11:30, and he had to hurry else he would be late.
“I never said I understood,” Erebus returned with a hint of rebuke. “Goodness knows you make that near impossible, especially when you complicate things yourself.”
“You think I should have let Cid come then?” Vincent demanded, looking over his shoulder to eye the ancient demi-god.
Erebus shook his head. “You are putting words into my mouth. All I am saying is, do not just assume it’s not going to work out due to one little misunderstanding.” He pointed out, “That is your incessant need to make a situation more difficult than it needs to be. Need I remind you, Lucrecia was the one who did not return your feelings. Yet, you pursued her anyways.”
The ex-Turk glared, shoving one last box of ammunition into his overused and rather disgraceful looking travel pack, slinging the bag over his shoulder. “You presume too much,” he replied harshly, although a part of him agreed with the demi-gods words.
Erebus sighed, waving a dismissive hand at the ex-Turk. “You know, sometimes I wonder why I even bother trying to help you mortals,” he said with a shake of his head. “I’ll try talking to you when you are less… irrational,” he concluded before disappearing.
Vincent snorted. “As if you could ever keep your nose out of my business in the first place,” he retorted sharply as he headed towards the door.
(Sometimes, I regret these choices.) Erebus sighed within his mind. (Nevertheless, I am attached to you, and I must admit, despite your irritating mortal tendencies, I have grown rather fond of you.)
Vincent didn’t bother to respond as he switched the lights off and exited the room, closing the door shut behind him. He would have to hurry if he was going to meet Sephiroth, and presumably Zack, at the chocobo stables in time.
The three men stood in front of the darkened maw of the cave, their chocobos warbling softly from just beyond the curtain of water behind them. Sephiroth had informed them that Masa would keep the two borrowed chocobos in line, and Vincent had believed him. Sephiroth’s female was certainly a magnificent example of breeding. Nevertheless, no one made a move to enter the cave, perhaps stymied by what they would find within. Even the General seemed reluctant.
Finally, encouraged by Erebus’ sly chuckle within his mind, Vincent strode forward, leading the other two inside. It always surprised him how quickly the darkness seemed to swallow him, and without the demons in his body, he could no longer see through it. At least, not with the same clarity as before. The mako helped some, so he knew that Sephiroth and Zack were all right. Still, it was not the same.
It wasn’t long until the sound of three pairs of boots was the only nuance they could hear. The darkness was encompassing, clinging to them like a cloak and turning their senses against them. Vincent was never happier to see the faint greenish-purple glow of the materia laden cave than when they finally reached the end of the tunnel. In turn, it opened into the huge cavern where Lucrecia had hid herself. The gunman was the first to enter, hearing Sephiroth and Zack pause just inside the doorway to view everything before coming completely within. He was sure it was a result of their SOLDIER training.
Nothing had changed, Vincent noted, nor was Lucrecia in sight. Nonetheless, he was certain that she, or her apparition as he was never quite sure which she was, would show up and make herself known once she had determined their identities. He vaguely wondered how she would react to him as he walked towards the platform where she usually stood. The last time they had parted had not been on good terms; she had cried as he walked out on her. She had begged him to say, proclaiming her love. And he had told her to go to hell, but in nicer words.
“Why have you brought me to an empty cave, Valentine?” Sephiroth inquired evenly, his voice echoing around the cavern.
Vincent turned, looking at both ex-SOLDIERs over his shoulder. “It is not empty,” he responded coolly. “She is merely biding her time until she makes her appearance.”
No sooner had the words left his lips then an eerie shiver slid up his spine. “You said he was dead,” came a voice he recognized well, only this time it was laced with ice and anger.
The ex-Turk shifted his gaze and found Lucrecia standing near the far right wall, in full view of all those present. She still wore the same outfit as when he saw her last, the long white lab coat over the jade-green dress. Seeing her again, he was reminded of just how much Sephiroth looked liked her.
She glared at him, her eyes flickering over to her son before returning to glare at Vincent. She began to walk towards him, her steps purposeful. “You told me my boy was dead, Vincent,” she accused bitterly. “You lied to me.”
Grey eyes narrowed as he angled his body towards her, one hand sliding to rest on his gun as if in warning. “How does it feel?” he questioned scathingly. “How does it feel to have something so important kept from you? Does it make you angry?” he added, lowering his tone. “Does it hurt you?”
There was no love between them anymore, no sense of guilt in his heart. This woman that had betrayed him; this female that had, in all sense of the word, left him to his death and torture at the hands of a madman. He was amazed at how much that still hurt him, tore at his insides so fresh and raw. Though he had originally lied to spare her the pain, he was not ashamed to admit that he was glad he had not told her the truth since it hurt her. It was wrong of him and cruel, but he was altogether human. And that little piece of revenge was worth the guilt he would feel later.
“You mock me,” she hissed, still hurt by the way he had left her more than six months prior. This man that had claimed to love her, but he had left her alone in her torment. He abandoned her to agonize over her wrong choices, though she had once believed them to be right.
Vincent shook his head, almost forgetting the initial reason why he had come. “Don’t presume this innocence with me,” he shot back. “For what I’ve been through you deserve far worse!” he all but spat. “Still, that is not why I have come. Yes, I lied, but now I bring you your son. He wants answers, dear Lucrecia,” the gunman continued in a more neutral tone, though it echoed with sarcasm. “He desires answers I am not going to give him because I refuse to make excuses.” He stalked towards her, looking down into the brown eyes that he had once loved so dearly. Yet, she was defiant in her returned gaze, though the pain was present in her trembling form.
“You are going to tell him the truth, and no lies, little Lucia. He deserves more than that for what Hojo put him through, for what you were too selfish to save him from.” He narrowed his grey eyes, his tone cold and harsh, and he made sure to convey his true emotions of disgust and hatred. “There are ways of making even those with Jenova cells perish, Lucrecia. And if you lie to him, I /will/ introduce them to you.”
She trembled as her eyes widened. She darted forward, clutching onto the front of his cloak. If not for his incredible self-control, he would have recoiled. Still, Vincent managed to stare at her impassively as her eyes swam with tears.
“Then kill me now,” she begged him, voice breaking. “I have longed for death… not even able to take my own life. Please, Vincent, just end this!”
He shook his head, grabbing her arms and removing her nearly death-like grip from his clothing. He held her forearms tightly, locking grey eyes with brown, and she finally noticed the change in his appearance, her eyes widening in surprise.
“If death is what you seek then I will not grant it, should you lie to him,” he warned, though he kept his voice low so that the two watching could not hear. “I will seal you up in this cave alone. And who can say how long the Jenova cells will sustain you.”
With that, Vincent released her and turned his back on her for the second time. Despite himself, his voice became softer when he heard the choked sob that she struggled to contain, and he stared at the ground.
“I loved you once, Lucia. I died trying to protect you.” His eyes rose until they were locked on the former General, who was watching the proceedings with a carefully guarded expression. “I died to protect you and the child who could have been mine, though you never would tell me.” He paused as if considering his words. “For once in your life, do the right thing and have the courtesy to mend something you helped to destroy.” He stepped away from her, heading for the exit to the cave, determined to leave Sephiroth alone to his conversation with Lucrecia.
He got as far as the lip of the tunnel before she tried some last parting words. “But you didn’t save him either!” Lucrecia shrieked back, her voice almost pleading. “You failed and suffered… even as a Turk!”
Vincent closed his eyes at the reminder, but he had long come to grips with that. “Maybe so,” he responded quietly, though he knew his voice would carry to her. “But at least I tried, which is more than you can say.”
He left on that note, his swift steps carrying him back down the darkened tunnel. He had no desires to hear Sephiroth’s conversation with his mother. That was a private matter. Nor did he care that the former General had heard what was between he and the scientist either. Sephiroth needed to see that, if only to understand why Vincent had come to him in the first place.
As he walked towards the waterfall, determined to stop just inside the edge of the tunnel, he could feel his heart beating madly in his chest. Only then did he realize the adrenaline that was pumping through his veins and the way that his hands madly shook. He had been so calm when talking to Lucrecia, but mostly, he had felt numb. Now, the emotional reaction to seeing her was beginning to hit. No matter what he did, she could still affect him. That was perhaps the most unnerving part of all.
His breath became tight in his throat, and he stumbled for a moment in his steps, glad that he had reached the end of the tunnel before the emotions overtook him. He slumped against the wall, leaning against the sharp, fractured rock that dripped with water. Vincent struggled to control his breathing and the shuddering of his body. Lucrecia reminded him of everything he still hated about himself and all that had been done to him.
As he clutched to the side of the tunnel, glad for its solidness as he struggled to gain control of himself, he couldn’t help but wonder if this was why he hadn’t wanted Cid to come along. He knew how emotional he would get and how much seeing the woman would upset him. Unlike the last time when he had come demanding answers, this time Vincent had come to lay everything to rest, to end that chapter of his life once and for all. The part of him that yearned for Lucrecia was dying now, giving in to his hopes for a new life but still fighting to live, and as a result, his carefully crafted and guarded mind was struggling to maintain some sort of balance.
Vincent closed his eyes and sucked in deep steadying breaths. Lucrecia had been right. He had failed. Yet, he believed that by being the one to end Sephiroth’s life back in the North Crater six months prior, he had somehow helped the man. After all, the former General was now back to life… back to himself, and he was no longer ruled by Jenova. If he had not been forced back into the Lifestream, Sephiroth may have never found his peace. Saving the child that could have been his was the only reason he consented to the exchanging of sacrifices.
(You foolish child.) The words slithered across his unconscious, causing his entire body to shudder. It wasn’t Erebus speaking to him, or even the taunting voice of Balaam. This was something entirely different, someone he thought that he might just recognize. (You still believe that it is all the fault of one insane human. Can you not realize that this goes beyond a mortal’s grip?)
Vincent growled aloud, eyes snapping open. “What the hell are you talking about?” he questioned this invasive voice even as he worried that he might be losing his mind once again.
(I am speaking of your so-called sacrifice in the North Crater!) the obviously male voice snapped, (and your blame of Hojo for all the evil that has scourged the land.)
The ex-Turk struggled to understand the words of the unknown voice, his mind still reeling from the confrontation with Lucrecia. “Who are you?” he demanded. “And why are you speaking to me?”
Then, a familiar person chuckled from behind him. “Relax, Vincent. He is just glad that he has finally broken through… though his methods are rather gruff.”
Vincent whirled around to find Erebus standing there, hidden deeply beneath the dark folds of his cloak with his arms folded over his chest. The skeletal deity shook his head.
“You are in a rather unique position,” the newcomer added.
(My friend is right,) the unnamed voice continued. (The conclave determined that because of your precarious position as host, you were to be granted a guardian as well as an anima, though our bond is much the same as the animum bond.)
“I…” Vincent shook his head. “Host? Conclave? What did you mean by ‘so-called sacrifice’? And why am I hearing you now instead of earlier?”
(You always ask so many questions,) the unnamed one commented dryly.
Erebus chuckled again. “And yet, he hardly stills long enough to accept the answers, my friend. Either that… or he makes up his own, convinced they are the truth.”
Vincent glared at his animus. “Now is not the time to criticize me, Erebus. I’m teetering on the edge as it is.”
“Why do you allow her to effect you when she is meaningless?” the demi-god questioned with a sigh. “It is not even her that you should blame.”
(True. It is Balaam who is the reason for it all… even stemming as far back as Jenova. He has been orchestrating everything from behind the scenes… pulling the strings, so to speak, and trying to gain his freedom. As for me… well, I cannot tell you my name, but I will give you a hint. The final battle… I tried to stop you from destroying your friends.)
Vincent shook his head. “I can’t remember that battle,” he insisted. “When Chaos broke free it was all dark. The only time I managed clarity was right as I dealt the killing blow to Sephiroth, and that was only because I used every ounce of my will to speak what I knew needed to be said!”
The voice sighed. (That is quite all right. Do not get all worked up about it. The name will come with time.) He exhaled loudly, a rushing sound that irritated the fringes of Vincent’s subconscious. (Still, it is rather annoying, especially considering the layers of broodiness, self-hatred, and pity that I had to wade through to simply come to the surface. Kami knows how Erebus was able to do it so quickly.)
If it was possible for a skeleton to look smug, Vincent was sure that Erebus would have carried that expression. “I belong in his mind,” the demi-god pointed out. “You are merely a temporary visitor.”
Vincent blinked, quite aggravated, and put a hand to his forehead, trying to quell a rising headache. It was too much: Cid, then Lucrecia, and now these two anima bickering, one within his head and the other outside. He wouldn’t be surprised if his body just gave up soon and sent him into all out shock.
“Would you two please start making some sense?” he snapped. “Why the hell were you calling my sacrifice a waste?”
(Balaam wanted out of your body,) the still unnamed one explained, his voice slightly apologetic. (No matter the cost, and thanks to Hojo’s rambling, he knew the properties of the Lifestream. All that was left was to somehow make you dive into it. A sacrifice was not necessary… neither was Aeris’ death meant to be one. She had actually intended to live when she went to the Ancients’ city. Gaia does not require blood for the activation of Holy. Balaam subconsciously planted the idea within you that a sacrifice was needed and that you were the new candidate.)
“Then, why was she returned?” Vincent questioned, hopelessly confused.
“Gaia hoped that if Aeris was given a second chance at life, then you would find the strength to ignore Balaam. Not to mention she was needed to return Cloud to a more sane state of mind. Instead, Balaam turned that hope to his favor, twisting the truth inside your mind,” Erebus explained. “Remember, Chaos is his element. Creating the disorder within your mind was an easy task.”
Vincent was about to open his mouth, another question on the tip of his tongue, when the sound of booted feet on stone distracted him. Erebus disappeared in a whirl of black and grey. The ex-Turk turned to find Sephiroth and Zack emerging from the darkness, both men looking subdued. The gunman was especially surprised by the show of emotion on the former General’s face. He was both hurt and angry, surprised and yet resigned. All fluttered across his face and his eyes in a confusing maelstrom. Vincent was sure those same emotions had probably reflected on his face when he first strode away from Lucrecia’s presence.
He looked up and locked eyes with the younger man as he moved from the cave, an unspoken something passing between them. He passed them, intent on heading back in for one last confrontation, completing the promise he had made, but Sephiroth spoke, causing him to pause in his tracks.
“There is no need to fulfill your promise,” he explained, his voice rather hoarse, as if he had spent the last few minutes screaming, crying, or both. “With the main body of Jenova gone, if she truly wishes to die, all Lucrecia needs to do is dive into the nearest upwelling of Lifestream. The choice is hers.”
Vincent turned to regard Sephiroth over his shoulder, noting that the younger male did not call her mother. Mossy eyes met his evenly, and he simply nodded in understanding, shifting so that he was turned to face the cave exit and the crashing waterfall beyond. He noticed that Zack was just standing at the very edge, looking out at the pouring blue, his shoulders tight.
“I still have questions,” Sephiroth inserted easily. “There were some things she said you are meant to answer, and others I know only you have the answers for.”
Vincent inclined his head in understanding, already heading for the exit, determined to leave the place he despised as much as the ShinRa Mansion. He vowed never to return, that this was the last he would ever see of Lucrecia.
“I will explain all in Midgar. Not here… not with her presence so near.”
The former General nodded, and the three men quickly exited the cave, determined to put distance between themselves and the source of so much strife. Once outside, they found the sun to still be shining brightly, and their three black chocobos still waited patiently. It was almost as if a different world existed beyond the falling water.
“Women,” Zack muttered, shaking his head as he looked at the haggard expressions on his travel companions’ faces, which were now absolutely clear in the daylight. They gave him a look as they climbed onto the back of their chocobos, Masa warbling softly.
“No wonder you guys are gay,” he put in, not intending for it to be a joke, but it sounding much like one nevertheless. He clucked lightly to his chocobo as he steered it towards the city of Midgar.
Both Sephiroth and Vincent exchanged glances before sighing and choosing to glare at the spiky-headed male. Zack gave them both a raised eyebrow in return as they started on the path. However, he knew enough to say nothing further, and the three former ShinRa made their way back to Midgar in a contemplative silence.