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by Solace Hayate


Chapter 2

As the hot water trickled down and eventually enveloped every inch of his skin, he felt his body and, to a slight extent, even his emotional state de-thaw under the welcoming heat.

October is rainy season in Midgar: cold, wet, and dripping, foretelling of the approaching bitter winter days. It's a deceiving kind of cold, the kind that you shrug off when you first step out of the door, but by the time you return, it has seeped under your skin and chilled your inner being.

Bending down, he picked up the pile of wet clothes on the bathroom floor and tossed them into the laundry basket. The thought of going back outside into the cold rain wasn't very appealing to him, but Orata was waiting for him, and the invitation to spend such a dreary evening with a good friend was attractive. There would be many more evenings for his habitual solitude, but tonight, he didn't want to be alone.

The shower had fogged up the mirror. He wiped at it with his right hand and with his claw, he brushed back the few damp locks of hair that fell in front of his face. He lightly shook his head, and the sleek, silken strands fell in place. In the mirror, his cheeks were flushed from the warmth of the shower, the crimson eyes shimmered softly under gentle lashes, and his skin was pale, smooth, and flawless. The visage suggested youth, but he knew otherwise. He knew exactly how many years he had lived. How could he not, when each year brought with it renewed guilt and grief? There was still one more thing he needed to do before he could let go…one more act to atone for his sins. With an empty expression, he spoke to his mirror self, "Happy birthday, Vincent."

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The girl made her way down the alley slowly, with weary and unsure footsteps, oblivious of the three black figures that followed closely behind. Frequently, she would stop to rest, pressing her hands on her protruding stomach to ease it's throbbing. The black figures exchanged a few gestures, and quickening their steps, they closed in around her.

"You look a little lost there, Miss." A surly looking man with greasy hair emerged forth, startling the resting girl. The other two positioned themselves around the now alarmed girl and inspected her with hungry eyes.

The girl was soaking wet. Long, brown tresses hung helplessly around her pretty, frightened little face. She wore a white dress with a gray overcoat, both looked refined and expansive despite the dirt streaks and small tears they had accumulated. A dainty necklace made of perfectly shaped pink pearls decorated her delicate neck. Everything about her suggested that she came from a wealthy home. Maybe she got lost, maybe she ran away, who knows? But one thing was for certain, she was the perfect bait for blackmailing, and a pregnant one at that.

"What's a sweet little thing like you doing out here in this kind of weather?" Greasy Hair smiled at the girl, revealing his blackened teeth. Pointing to her belly, he added, "You are in no condition to be out running around like this. Are you lost? You must be lost. Poor thing…maybe we can help you. Are you here alone, all by yourself?"

The girl was naďve enough; she made no attempt to escape but stared at her intruders and seemed confused as to their intentions.

Growing impatient, Greasy Hair prompted for her response again, "Well, sugar pie, answer my question. Did you come out here all by yourself?"

With troubled eyes, she looked at her questioner and nodded her head. The three men exchanged glances, and together, as if on cue, they advanced toward their prey.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Vincent made the final leap to his destination and steadied himself on the rooftop, silently, effortlessly, and his movements completely hidden in the shadows of the surrounding buildings. He had been walking down the maze of interconnecting alleys that served as a shortcut from his apartment to Orata's office when he heard the loud crashing and shouting, followed by the sounds of windows shutting close (from nearby inhabitants that did not wish to bring troubles onto themselves). His Turk instincts kicked in, and within few seconds, he climbed and jumped to the source of the noises with trained precision, and now, perched in the darkness, he looked down and beheld this curious scene:

The bodies of three men lay motionlessly on the ground, and in the middle, stood a trembling girl, a trembling pregnant girl. She clutched at her stomach and backed up a few steps to lean against the wall. Her trembling became more violent, and doubling over, she collapsed onto the ground. From her hand, a tiny green glowing globe rolled out into the middle of the passageway. Then, all was still expect for the girl's irregular, labored breathing.

The small orb shined innocently like a jewel: an item that linked all its possessors to the entangled, twisted network of the fallen ShinRa Empire. Vincent narrowed his eyes on the collapsed girl whose hand this particular materia had fallen from. Her features were blurred from the distance, but he felt his chest tighten as a sense of recognition momentarily took over and suffocated his senses, stirring images and voices from his consciousness, images and voices that were equally blurred. The more he studied the helpless frame quivering with pain, the more his chest knotted with uneasiness… As Vincent calculated his next move, his attention was caught by the rustling of movements below.

Whoever this girl was, it was apparent that she didn't know how to unlock the full power of a materia, as she had only knocked out her targets briefly and they were now stirring again. One by one, they managed to sit up, and right away, words of profanity rolled out of their mouths.

After exchanging several elaborate strings of cuss words, Greasy Hair stood up on shaky legs and declared, "Quiet! The bitch is down. Let's just grab her and skip before someone comes by." Extracting a bundle of twine from his pocket, he proceeded to tie the girl's hands while she ineffectively writhed her body in protest. "Stop squirming!" gripping her jaw in between his iron fingers, he examined the girl's face. "Pretty little thing aren't you. Now let's hope you will fetch a pretty penny after all the trouble you've caused." He let go of his grip and slapped her across the face, knocking her head into the wall.

She felt the sharp throbbing pain as her head collided with the cold stone surface. For some minutes, she saw only blackness, a stream of warm liquid trickled down her face and seeped in between her lips with its distinctive salty taste, and amidst the ringing sounds that resonated in her head, she heard three deafening blasts.

Three bullets, each through the head. Vincent placed the gun back into its holster. Kicking Greasy Hair's body out of the way, he knelt down next to the distressed girl. She recoiled further upon the approach of this new stranger. Her face was white from fear and pain, and blood continued to run down the side of her cheek, mixing and diluting with the rain.

Vincent glanced at that face and he froze. He felt as if he had stepped in quick sand was sinking rapidly into some fabricated past that smothered his very being: every detail of her face became excruciatingly obvious, and the familiar features so deeply ingrained in his mind twisted and distorted into a monstrous creature that mocked him, ripping his chest apart to expose where he had so carefully buried his secrets. He forced himself to breathe. One breath…two…three…four… The cold air brought his scattered senses back to reality. He found himself looking into her eyes, wild, apprehensive, and puzzled, they questioned the way he scrutinized her. Something else in the girl's appearance disturbed him, something that lurked behind this haunting resemblance, something that he couldn't quite put his finger on… Regardless, his heart felt gratified, and his eyes betrayed tenderness. It must have been his gentle gaze that soothed her fear away, for the eyes that looked back into his were now unguarded and communicative. Implicitly, he understood what he would have to do, what he must do, and what the ramifications were.

He reached for her hands to untie them. She still trembled uncontrollably, and her hands were cold as ice. Vincent noticed that the bottom half of her dress was soaked with blood. He took off his cloak and wrapped it around her before taking her up into his arms. Softly, he spoke into her ear, "Let's get you to a doctor."

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Vincent leaned against the sink counter and watched as Orata scrubbed the blood from his hands. The baby was stillborn. He had barely made it to Orata's office before she gave birth. He saw the baby when it came out: it was a boy, unusually large in size for a fetus, but all purple and shriveled up. Then there was blood everywhere; blood kept flowing out of her body until Orata surgically stopped the hemorrhage. It must have been difficult to operate without the aid of a single nurse, but then again, Orata was an exceptional doctor.

From the moment Vincent carried the girl into his office until now, Orata had been wholly occupied with tending to this unexpected patient. The only communication that passed between the two friends was a brief moment when their eyes met: he had shot Vincent an alarmed look after realizing who the girl had reminded him of, and in those crimson eyes that looked back at him, he received a pained acknowledgement of what he noticed. Drying his hands with a clean towel, Orata asked, "How about a drink?" then without waiting for a reply, he lead the way into the back of the building, and Vincent followed behind.

Vincent had first met Orata during his Turk years. Being the most brilliant physician and surgeon of the ShinRa Corporation, Orata was chiefly assigned to care for the Turks, as they were the ones that incurred the most acute and fatal injuries. The first time Vincent got hurt on an assignment, Orata was the one that brought him back on his feet. And in the years that followed, somewhere in between the numerous emergency visits, a mutual friendship formed. As a general rule, Orata stayed clear of ShinRa politics, focusing only on his medical practice, but on several occasions, exhausted and exasperated, he would exclaim in front of Vincent, "What is ShinRa trying to do?! Purposefully sending you guys out on death missions!!?" That was when Vincent knew that he had lost a patient. After the ShinRa Corporation dissolved, Orata established his own practice. With his savings, he had bought this building: in the front, he set up a small office, a well-equipped lab and clinic took up the majority of the space, and in the back, separated by a storage room, was an apartment where he lived.

While the drinks were being prepared, Vincent related a brief account of what happened. He took the glass that Orata handed him and started into its amber liquid, but seemed to have no intention of drinking from it. Orata sat down across from Vincent and sipped from his own glass.

"Did you know that the girl is a mute?" Orata began.

Vincent looked up from his glass, and slowly, he shook his head.

"She can't talk… She kept gesturing to me as I prepped her for the surgery. It took me a few seconds, but eventually I realized that it was sign language."

"I didn't know you studied sign language."

"I dated a girl back in med school. She was in a car accident when she was three years old. It killed her parents and almost killed her. She lived, but her vocal cords were permanently damaged; she couldn't talk either. I learned sign language from her." Orata took another sip from his glass, "My god she was bright! And beautiful! She was studying to become a surgeon. She never made it though. Two months before graduation, she was killed in a car accident."

Vincent kept his silence, but his eyes searched those of his friend's, and in them, he detected shadows of grief and regret he knew only too well. Orata had never married, and in all the years that Vincent had known him, he never dated or even talked about dating any woman. Nevertheless, he was an attractive man and always carried himself with dignity. The contours of his face were mild and his eyes illuminated his whole countenance with benevolent wisdom. Physically, he was still strong and healthy, but more than half of his hair had turned gray with time, and visible lines marked his face. He was the same age as Vincent. Vincent reached over and poured his drink into Orata's near empty glass.

"She seemed relieved when I showed her that I understood her gestures," Orata continued, "She had seen the baby when it came out and knew that it was dead, but she wanted me to confirm it, and when I did, her eyes grew terribly sad. Then she became very agitated and anxious, begging me to destroy every trace of the baby and insisting that she must hide before he could find her. 'He must not find out that the baby is dead,' she kept repeating." Orata paused for a moment to finish his drink, then gravely, he added, "Before the anesthetics took effect, she told me her name."

Vincent knew that he didn't need to ask, but the question escaped his lips before he could suppress it, "What's her name?"

"Desire."

Silence ensued as each man retreated into his own thoughts.

Cryptic lights flickered and danced in Vincent's jewel like eyes as he absorbed the information, and finally, he spoke, "As soon as she is well enough to travel, I want to take her to the countryside with me. She will be safe there until she recovers."

Orata had anticipated this decision. He knew what the girl represented to Vincent. Whether Desire's resemblance to his lost love was an intended trap or a mere coincidence, it made no difference in the fact that she would offer Vincent one more opportunity, however remote, to "redeem" himself. Vincent would protect her. The only thing left for Orata to do was to offer his advice and help.





*fire*rain* || Nocturne || Chapter Index || Chapter 1 || Chapter 3