Well, I'm starting this prologue off with an author's note. Bear with me.

This story has already been posted on Fanfiction.net, but at the end of it I threatened everyone with the future prospect of me editing (or perhaps even *gasp* rewriting) certain sections of this fic. And that's what I did / have been doing for awhile. So, things have been tweaked. Like...the ending is a little different. Not drastically. Just...well, just read it if you read it before, and see for yourself what's changed. And if you haven't read it before, well...you obviously won't notice what's different. Ch 30 specifically has undergone some rewriting. Friend of mine accused me of 'losing Elira', and I realized she was right. Elira's the strong one. She stays strong.

Okay, that's it. Thanks to all previous readers and reviewers, and to any future readers and reviewers who may someday stumble over my pet project. Here's the fic...again.

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Disclaimer: Nope, I don't own anything even remotely associated with Final Fantasy VII. I may have kidnapped Vincent for this story, but he's not mine to keep. All characters not in the game are mine, so if anybody else wants to use 'em (god only knows why) they gotta ask me first. Thanks. Now, read.


by thelittletree

Is there such a thing as fate? Does a higher power hold humanity in the palm of its hand?

Those who don't believe in fate carry a heavy load of responsibility for their own lives, tottering under their burden, looking for a way to step on the other man to get to the top. If the other man lets himself get stepped on, it is his choice of a chance missed. But if the other man reaches up and pulls the first down to use him as a stepping stool, he has taken the chance and used it well. For this man there is no such thing as mercy, as 'lending a helping hand'. His motto is 'Look out for Number One'. Often, this person finds himself at the end of life standing alone on top of his hoarded treasures, a chill wind blowing through his empty soul.

To those who do believe in fate, she is often seen as a changeable force, a mysterious lady who takes pity on one while scorning another, her affections changing as frequently as the wind. She claps her hands together in pleasure, spinning humankind around and around before her, alternately loving and hating until the incurable disease known as death takes her toys away. But birth supplies her with more as the turning globe brings mortals to frailty within a century or less.

Is there such a thing as fate? Or is life simply a string of coincidental events, meetings and partings, based entirely on our own decisions?

In a world of people who believed that fate had willed them to a lifetime of sorrow lived a man named Vincent Valentine.

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Midgar. A city fated to die while the rest of the planet survived. The belief in this was so strong that even those who didn't believe in fate sometimes found themselves in the bar saying fate had made Midgar possible only to destroy it. Others said the devil had done it. And others said the city had been too evil, and God had plucked it from existance. But, even when beliefs clashed and caused heated arguments, it was unanimously agreed that, no matter what the reason, Midgar was dead never to be rebuilt.

Neo-Midgar emerged not long after, though many had been against the name. Calling the new city after the damned one was like bringing down a curse on it from the beginning, they said. But the name was not to be changed and soon the incensed objections dwindled to murmured prophesies of doom. People migrated from far away places to settle in the near-replica of Midgar, and soon the city thrived. No slums existed there; no plates, no reactors; no Shinra building dominating the view of the sky from the streets. In place of the Shinra building stood an imposing stone structure, the Metropolitan Building, where the representatives from each sector met once a year to discuss what should be done for the good of the city.

Jobs were plentiful, opportunity running rampant for those quick enough to grab it. Many religions were represented within the sectors, though few worshipped fate. The consensus in Neo-Midgar was that people made their own fate. And so, to the rest of the world, it was a fairly heartless place where a man went only if he was ready to step on his fellow man. Those who didn't step were stepped on.

But those who didn't step did exist in Neo-Midgar; and most lived miserably, unwilling to leave the city and their dreams, hoping against hope that fate would be kind to them before the turning of the world brought around their day of death. Those who said they weren't miserable were lying. And those who said nothing felt nothing.

Sector six. MiraCletus. It was not the most populated sector; it was not the most prosperous; but neither was it the worst. It was in the middle with a few of the others, the one people usually forgot about. If a sector was left out of a discussion, it was usually sector six. Named after Mira, a particular budding flower, and Cletus, a prominant constellation, it was fairly uncluttered by the flashy lights of commercialism and dominated chiefly by residential blocks and industrial zones. The commercialism of Neo-Midgar, as a rule, was restricted to Ubanis and Tetrach, sectors two and three respectively. There, you could buy almost anything your mind, heart, or body desired. None of the religious orders set up there, though they glady accepted the money of one whom fate had blessed at the casinos.

Trains and subways ran day and night from sector to sector, racing noisily from one place to another, much like the people they carried, rattling windows and making the taller buildings quiver in their wake.

The buildings in MiraCletus were some of the oldest in Neo-Midgar, almost as old as the city itself. In sectors two and three, a structure was considered ancient if it lived out five years, but in six the oldest building was a non-descript, twelve-story lodging facility. In its tenth year, it was still in fairly good condition. Its apartments were clean and spacious, and once a boarder moved out a new one grabbed it up within the week.

The floors were carpeted thinly in a sidewalk gray material that ran down the halls and spilled into each room like dried cement, covering the bare floorboards underneath with an emaciated layer of matting. The walls and ceilings of each chamber were sanitarium white, the doors a dull, dirt brown. Empty, each apartment was like the ward of a hospital, a place where a man could be put in a strait-jacket and left to lose his mind. Full of furniture, potted plants, hanging pictures, and other trinkets, the rooms became less so as they took on the personality of the renter.

One apartment, however, looked almost as it had before it was rented.

There were no pictures, no plants, no curtains on the windows, none but the most necessary furniture. The most notable features of the apartment were the mismatched bookshelves lining one wall of the living room. Each shelf was haphazardly stacked with books of different sizes and colors, adding dischord to a world of gray and white unpretentiousness, made that way only because of the barrenness of the chamber.

A sound pervaded the silence of the apartment, floating through the empty calm as the only sign of life. A running shower. In the stillness, it seemed somewhat out of place.

The door to the tiny bathroom was closed to keep in the heat. The mirror was fogged with steam and everything else was covered in a blanket of moisture, as if the walls were sweating. A bland white curtain sheltered the tub.

Water hit the linoleum of the bath like needles or pelted against the chest of a pale, lanky man standing with his face to the spout, his eyes closed. Water dripped from the fingertips of his right hand, and from the claw-like digits of the golden metal left arm that had replaced his flesh and bone from the elbow down. Clumped strands of black hair streamed down his shoulders and back.

With slow movements, the man leaned forward, crossing his forearms and resting them on the water-stained tiles. The water fell on his hair, running in rivulets down his face and neck like a downpour of tears, dripping off of his nose and chin.

His burden lay heavy upon him.

Even in sector six, the heavy boot of rivalry existed as one man stepped on another, straining for a site where they could see over their problems to their dreams. Often the younger men could out-step the older ones. There was a factory situated among some decaying buildings, run by an elderly gentleman who'd had it passed down to him from his father, from Midgar. It was not strong enough, not ambitious enough, to fight against the crushing heel of competition. Downsizing was the word the owner had used. The list had been posted on the cafeteria door for all to see. One after another, the men had glanced at it, hoping not to see their name. Some smiled, high-fiving their buddies. Some trudged through the door, shoulders slumped at the realization of how little time two weeks notice really was. This was a recognition they knew no one envied.

Almost the last name on the list, in alphabetical order. Valentine, Vincent.

The water hitting him couldn't dissolve the burden. Vincent twitched his aching shoulders and turned the shower off.