Through the Looking Glass

Chapter 25 'The Serpent and the Apple'

Swallowing her fear, Lucrecia dubiously raised her hand and knocked on the door to apartment 71f. There were the sounds of someone tripping and swearing loudly inside which oddly cheered her. A bright smile lit up her face as the door opened and a set of deep brown eyes stared back at her through the narrow crack. They blinked a few times in obvious surprise but seemed to warm as they fell upon her frame and looked her up and down.

"Lucrecia," said a pleasantly surprised voice, her heart fluttering like a bird trapped in a cage, begging to be set free. "Nice to see you. Do you want to come in?"

She nodded, the smile never leaving her lips and he opened the door fully, standing to one side in order for her to pass.

As she entered Vincent's home she was momentarily taken aback by the dramatic change in himself and his surroundings. The curtains were open giving the once depressing room a light and airy feel. His steps were calm and confident as they always had been when she'd seen him in the past. His curtained, jet-black hair was immaculately groomed and there were no dark smudges beneath his almond eyes. He wore his perfect Turks suit and his small pistol sat on the coffee table before one of the couches. He motioned for her to sit and she did so, unwilling to seem impolite. She sank into the luxurious, black leather seating and leant back comfortably. Even the seating seemed more comfortable; the recovery which had come over the apartment and its inhabitant was almost miraculous.

He disappeared into one room and re-entered minutes later carrying a tray with two cups of coffee on it.

"Coffee?" she asked bewildered.

"Yeah, two sugars, right?" he responded to her puzzlement.

"How did you know?"

He seemed suddenly thoughtful and his brows knitted together. "Did I not ask?"

She shook her head and he shrugged with a slight smile.

"Lucky guess I suppose," he explained lamely as he sat down on a couch opposite her. Their eyes met and she gave a slight smile, directing her gaze towards the brown liquid in order to avoid his questioning expression. She sipped her coffee and silence weighed upon them as she began to ponder his strange intuition. Unwilling to dwell on the odd occurrence however, she placed down her cup and regarded him carefully. "So how have you been?" she inquired eventually with a light tone of voice.

"I've been fine," he answered simply. "I've slept solidly for the past few days and I'm ready to go back to work for now."

"But you were seriously ill yesterday," she contended in puzzlement and he met her gaze.

"Ill? No I wasn't."

She nodded firmly. "You were. I came around to see you. I, I thought you were dying. You were seriously delirious!"

He looked at her with unabated astonishment. "I was? You came to see me?"

She nodded again, this time hesitantly as though unsure how he would react to the information. He didn't seem to be alarmed, only greatly confused and she found herself oddly unsurprised at the reaction. "You truly can't remember? Well, you were almost unconscious at the time so I suppose that's not too shocking."

He looked down at his hands and then up at her face again. "I feel fine now though," he protested.

She stood up and walked past the table to sit down next to him. He frowned in confusion but her expression remained contemplative as she reached up and placed her palm gently on his forehead. He felt a tingle rush up and down his body at the touch and felt as though he could leap up and run around the HQ a thousand times screaming about just how happy he was at her contact. But he forced his pulse to calm and sat as still as he could for her crude test.

Her expression crumpled into a ponderous frown as she withdrew her hand leaving him with a feeling of desire he'd never experienced before. A long period of hush elapsed as she sipped her coffee thoughtfully and he did likewise, glancing in her direction out of the corners of his eyes. She peered up at him over the rim of the cup, her blush hidden as their eyes met in the awkward silence. Eventually, he placed the mug on the table and turned fully to her.

"Well?" he queried curiously.

She paused to gather her thoughts and slowly turned to him. "You seem… fine now," she responded deliberately, unable to quite grasp what thought flickered through her head.

A smile found its way onto his mouth. "Then I hope that the expert doesn't mind if I go to work?"

She looked back at him, a brown eyebrow raised gracefully over a hazel eye. She was obviously trying to look agitated or serious, but it collapsed as the contagious smile started to turn up the corners of her lips. "I suppose you can," she said. "But I want you to take it easy, war or not. If you even get the slightest sign of illness, you have to find Dr Hojo or I immediately. Understand?"

Vincent's smile was washed away at the sound of the callous scientist's name and the glacial mask which defined his Turk occupation found it's way onto his visage, unsuccessfully disguising the antipathy in his eyes. Lucrecia's heart gave a sudden chill at the inscrutable visage and for once she found herself completely unable to see into those beautiful brown eyes. It terrified her to the very depths of her soul and she unconsciously leant away from him with wide eyes. "Why should I talk to him?"

She started to speak but the words stuck in her throat. For a short time the only things which whirled through her mind were her husband's cruel jibes the night before. What exactly could she tell this man who had been nothing but a perfect gentleman since they had first met? What could she say that would not destroy the strangely handsome Turk that sat worriedly beside her?

"There were… chemicals in that needle which you pricked yourself on a few nights ago," she answered being purposefully selective with her information. He had done more than 'pricked himself'. Fate had decided that Vincent Valentine would in fact have eighty-percent of a lifetime's worked injected into his system. A lifetime's worked which left his future uncertain and physical and mental nature a horrific mystery.

She swallowed forcefully as she watched that glacial front melt into a sudden panic. "We just want to make sure that you'll be all right," she ended in a soft lie.

"'We'?" he exclaimed with a bark of cold laughter as he picked upon her words with a vicious anger and stood up roughly. He flicked an ebony bang off his face and turned away in disgust. "Anyone would think that the bastard even cared if I was still breathing this morning!"

Lucrecia lowered her eyes and stared at the floor. A gesture Vincent mistook as hurt was actually the representation of the terrible guilt that she felt gripping at her soul. A grip she somehow knew would not be relinquished, for a long, long time. He turned back to her helplessly and sank back onto the seat with a heartbreakingly apologetic glimmer in his brown irises. He felt his very soul twist and writhe in agony at the sight of his wonderful angel contorted in such emotional pain.

He loathed himself at that moment more than he ever had before.

"I, I'm sorry Lucrecia," Vincent whispered hoarsely. "You and he… . I didn't mean to snap at you like that. Please accept my apology."

Vincent's humble attitude and remorse only further the scientist's anguish and she turned her head away from him, putting a hand to her mouth in order to hold back the sob which threatened to rip up her throat.

"Lucrecia…?" Vincent asked quietly as a hollow feeling chilled his soul. His mind reeled with disbelief at the fact he had just inspired such a reaction to the only pure thing in his life.

Before he could reach out and touch her in an act of repentance, she quickly stood with her back to him in order to hide the tears that now welled in her eyes and had spilled over like waterfalls down her cheeks.

"Just remember what I've said to you," she ordered in a choked murmur.

She began to move away from him and towards the exit without another sound. The door opened and shut with loud bangs before he could even walk around the table in front of him. As the sounds of her feet carrying her rapidly away from the apartment faded in the corridor, Vincent sank back down onto his couch and put his face in his hands.

She perched in the edge of the wooden bench in the HQ arboretum, an apple resting on her lap. Although her hair was tightly pulled back, several bangs hung loose and covered her eyes. She was glad for this; if anyone had seen the red smudges beneath her hazel gaze, they would have asked her what was wrong. It would've destroyed her to explain her dilemma.

Thinking it over was one thing; saying it aloud was quite another.

Ignoring any passers-by and focusing solely on the fruit held between her hands she stayed silent, discreetly tucked away in an ivy covered corner. She hadn't been at the HQ long, but it hadn't been difficult to find a place to be comfortable in.

Her parents had warned her of what a cold and harsh place the hub of Midgar was, but she didn't want to hear their objections. What did they know? They'd lived in Icicle all of their lives and knew little of the world outside snow and ice. Her aspirations and ambitions had always been greater.

Perhaps that's why she was here. Perhaps that's why she had sold her body and mind to a harsh world of experimentation and malice?

Lucrecia blinked hard to fight back the tears. Why have I always been like this? She asked herself rhetorically, knowing well that if she knew the answer she wouldn't be there in the first place. Why couldn't I have simply settled down, safe and content, happy to run the hotel like mother always wanted me to? Why did I have to sell my soul to the devil…?

She gave a drawn out sigh and rolled the apple in her hands. Smooth and soft beneath her hands it felt so real and yet so vague in her touch. It was a bright red one, her favourite kind; the colour of rubies. She remembered liking them as a child; they were rare in Icicle which made them even more special. She distinctly remembered roasting apples which her parents over a blazing fire in the Inn fireplace. And yet now it was different. Then it had been something so wonderfully delicious and innocent; now it was something so much more sinister. It's scarlet skin was so shockingly like the deep crimson of blood. Blood made her think of suffering and in turn science.

Before she even realised it, science dragged her to experimentation and finally …Vincent.

She frowned a little, surprised at herself. The frown dissipated to utter openness however and a look of anger and helplessness at herself. She was so damned caught up in trying to make sense of what flashed through her body and mind whenever they made physical contact, that she didn't even notice the world around her. But it was much more than that, so much more. What flickered through her mind at that moment in time was the feeling that went though her soul whenever their eyes happened to meet. She hadn't thought about her husband all day except to give him a routine peck on the cheek as he fawned over his medical papers.

As she reflected back on their stilted conversation that morning she frowned a little. He was being cold, colder than usual if that was possible. Something was bothering him.

Her elegant hazel eyes widened a marginally hinting at only a millionth of the panic which suddenly attacked her heart. What if he knew?

But… knew what exactly?

She gave an indignant sigh. She didn't even know herself so how could he…? But still, she found herself unable to shake off the turmoil of emotions bubbling through her. She knew that if she were a stronger person she could've hidden them and allowed them to simmer until she was prepared to sift through them one by one. But she wasn't strong, and knew that well. Perhaps a little too well. She wasn't strong enough to resist the lure of the bright-lights Midgar had promised her. And when Hojo had proposed… .

Her thoughts trailed off.

If her husband had happened to pass by at that moment he could have seen straight into her soul and would've probably murdered her for what was visible. Maybe it would be better if he knew; maybe all she needed was for someone to take her by the shoulders and just tell her what was fluttering through her heart. There was no chance of that happening though; not there and not then. Screened by smattered green foliage and the chestnut bangs of her hair no one could possibly know that she was there… It was the only sacred place in the whole of Midgar and it was her place. So private and so secret; not even Hojo knew her place of meditation and peace.

No one did…

"If that apple is as interesting as it seems to be, I may have to borrow it from you at some point."

Lucrecia jolted so hard that the fruit tumbled from her grip and landed with a thud on the grassy floor. She leapt to her feet and spun to face the speaker. The shock didn't fade as she examined him in an almost accusing fashion.

A man stood before her; she'd never seen him before. If Vincent was handsome for his pristine suit, and dark demeanour, this man was handsome for his lightness and casual appearance. He had dark blonde hair which brushed against his shoulders, layered into an angular face. He was totally clean-shaven save for a small, dark brown goatee which started at his bottom lip and tapered to a point just below his chin. He wore a very loose fitting, baggy white shirt with the top few buttons undone exposing hints of a subtly muscular chest. On his legs he donned light-brown combat trousers and clean, white trainers. Her gaze lifted back to his face and she was startled to see shockingly cold blue eyes staring intently back at her.

His lips turned upward in one corner to give a lopsided smirk. "I didn't mean to scare you," he said simply.

"Th, That's… all right," Lucrecia stuttered in return. "I was… just thinking. I didn't hear you approach."

His smirk didn't shift at all and he gave a single nod. He held out a hand towards her and she took it lightly, apprehension obvious in her faltering action.

"Daniel Janus," he told her unprompted.

She snapped out of her dazed silence and seemed to realise he was telling her his name. Blushing slightly at her slowness, she gave a slight smile. "Lucrecia Marionette."

"That's a beautiful name, Lucrecia," Daniel smiled, and despite herself, her cheeks flushed an even deeper shade of crimson. "I had a feeling it was you."

"Thank you," she muttered, pulling her hand back as she turned slightly. Who was this young man who had intruded so suddenly on her meditations? He was charming, certainly, but there was something about him… . Delicate brown eyebrows met over the bridge of her nose. "What do you mean by 'you had a feeling it was me'?" she pressed him in an almost accusing fashion.

"May I?"

She looked back at him.

"Sit down?" he clarified and she nodded.

"I was just leaving actually," she told him with an uncharacteristically terse tone. "I have work to do."

"Really? That's actually what I've come to see you about. Where are you going?"

She felt a sudden hesitance to reveal anything about herself to the handsome, young stranger but found herself speaking before she could think. "The labs."

He gave a frighteningly knowing nod and his smile remained in place. "It appears as though I didn't need to find you at all then."

"I'm sorry?"

"I'm an assistant to Hojo on this Jenova Project of his," he told her. His tone was deceptively cheery; she found herself unable to turn away from his glacial blue eyes. "He told me to come down here and see if I could find you. He said he needs to discuss something with you."

She stared at him with an almost incredulous glare. "Why did he tell you to come and find me? Why didn't he come himself if he knows where I am?"

He shrugged. "He looks preoccupied with something. I thought he was going to jump me when I first walked into his office! He just turned around and told me to come down here though. Said it was important."

She turned away briefly in thought.

"I'm guessing that he wants you up there right away. He sounded unsure, like it had taken him a while to come up with the courage to make a decision of some kind."

Without even thinking, Lucrecia turned and glared at the young stranger who claimed to know more about the man she lived with then she did. She opened her mouth to ask how he had the nerve to suddenly presume to know so much about so little but stopped herself in time.

Instinctively saying nothing more about herself, she took a step back to the pathway; never breaking eye contact with him. "I was just leaving," she repeated expecting some kind of reaction. His expression remained as frozen as ever; designed to give the impression of emotion but revealing absolutely nothing of the man behind it. Her eyes narrowed at his inscrutable aura and she opened her mouth to speak. No words came out though as she found it impossible to vociferate her thoughts and so she closed her lips and gave a simple nod. "Nice meeting you Mr Janus."

She turned and began to leave when he suddenly made a noise. Spinning around she was just in time to catch her apple as it was thrown gently in her direction. She fumbled with it for a few seconds, trying to overcome the shock of the action. Clutching it firmly in a hand by her side, she lifted her head to scowl at him but found the angry words in her throat stuck fast.

"Don't want to forget your apple do you?" he asked her in a perfectly pleasant tone. "It was nice meeting you too, Miss Marionette." He seemed to mull on his words. "Miss Marionette? Peculiar that isn't it? How you didn't introduce yourself with your married name?"

She blinked once before walking hastily from the area.

Hojo looked up from the work surface as he caught sight of movement in the corner of his eyes. Lifting his stare, he turned his head and gazed askance at his wife. Lucrecia entered his office warily, biting her bottom lip and holding the forearm of one arm in the opposite hand. Her steps were faltering and her eyes flickered around the room as though she'd never set foot in there before.

"Can I help you, dear?" he asked, turning fully and drawing himself up to his full height.

Hojo certainly wasn't a short man, but he never walked; always strode or paced quickly. The hasty gait always meant that his back was slightly hunched, knocking inches from his vertical height. Large round glasses sat high on the bridge of his nose and he pushed them up further in an unnecessary, unconscious action as he focused on his wife. She stopped in her tracks and lingered on the cold, tiled floor a few metres from him. Her eyes were fixed on a spot near where he had been working; her mind was clearly troubled.

"What's wrong?"

She slowly lifted her eyes and met his eyes. "Nothing," she answered dreamily. "Just thinking."

"About what?" Hojo asked her.

She shrugged. "Nothing much."

He stared at her thoughtfully for a few minutes before swivelling back to his work and toying absently with the various test tubes and assortment of chemicals laid out before him. He gave a quiet cough. "You're up here because Janus found you, I presume?" he asked her openly.

She didn't answer for a long time; so long that he was starting to turn around before she uttered a word. "Janus? Yes… . He spoke to me in the gardens."

Hojo nodded and stayed as he was, one eye visible to her and the other obscured by the bridge of his nose. He blinked a few times and hesitated before finally standing again. Although Lucrecia's mind seemed to persist in wandering elsewhere, his agitation and fumbling movements were obvious to her. The realisation focused her thoughts and she removed the glazed look from her face as she turned fully to him. "Yes," she repeated. "He said that you wanted to speak with me."

He nodded and swallowed. After a second's stilted thought, he tentatively took a few steps forward and scooped her hands into his own. She looked in puzzlement at his hold and then met his eyes. "What's wrong?"

He met her eyes with an unabated stare and his eyelids didn't even flicker until his small speech had been completed. "It's… time," he began cryptically. "President Shinra is getting impatient. He knows nothing about the small advances we've made. Or the mishaps which have occurred during our time here."

Lucrecia swallowed. It didn't take a genius to understand what he was referring to; Vincent and the entire Jenova Project.

"Nonetheless," he continued. "He wants to see results. Us merely turning around and stating that we've succeeded in extracting Jenova cells to their purest form isn't good enough; I can guess right here, right now that he already presumes we were able to do that. The man has money, but only a brain for business. Patience is not a virtue to own in the lifestyle he runs. Moves have to made quickly and mercilessly. Our own work is an artform which requires time and so much more effort than running a franchise.

"I cannot risk going upstairs and asking him to grant us a few more years. The race of soldiers he's charged us with creating is what he wants and he wants it now. Wutai gathers strength every day whilst the Shinra Inc continues to swallow up and spit out companies in the confines of Midgar. He wants the world and the one time he places his frustrations upon the Science Department, he can't understand what we need!

"Gast is up there now, trying to buy us a few extra months at least. I doubt it'll work though… ."

Lucrecia almost fell to the floor in shock. Hojo's words had been jumbled and unclear; his attitude towards President Shinra was infamous in the Department but that wasn't what bothered her. She wanted time; of course she wanted time. The whole reason for her coming to Midgar in the first place rested upon the shoulders of the Jenova Project. But this meant more… so much more.

Hojo was agitated because the limited time could result in disaster. Years of fine experiments and theories were one thing, but putting them into practise was quite another. So far their only close results had come from Vincent but he was nowhere near the advanced level their final experiment would be. He was a grown man; the Project required a child.

A child…

Lucrecia's hands slipped from Hojo's and she fell to the floor with a thump. It took him a few seconds to realise that she was no more standing before him and he leapt back in shock at her reaction. Frowning in irritation, he knelt down next to her and dragged her into a sitting position.

"Wake up," he said firmly as he gave her shoulders a rough shake. Her eyes snapped open and stared in horror at him.

"A, A child," she murmured and his brow furrowed even deeper.

"What?"

"A child," she repeated. "The Project… needs a child. I'm not ready… not yet."

Hojo gave a threatening snarl. "You signed a contract," he growled as his grip on her shoulders increased and it felt as though ten daggers were cutting into her skin. She gasped in pain. "Time was never an issue. You gave your life to this work and I expect you to give it. Your bond is broken the second I have the baby in my possession, after that you may continue to practice science or you can leave."

Lucrecia stared at him in horror. "The child?" She gasped in alarm. "Is that all you care about? I thought you married me because you loved me, not because you wanted to ensure I didn't run away after I signed that precious piece of paper you hold so dearly! You wouldn't even care if I left afterwards??"

Hojo's eyes flashed with a moment's panic, but his face set quickly into the hard, impassive mask she was so used to him wearing since they said goodbye to Icicle. His mouth was pulled into a thin white line and he pulled her to her feet. "Don't be like that," he said and she wondered whether or not she detected a tone of sorrow in his words. Sorrow for his actions, or sorrow because it was the truth? Her jaw tensed as she fought to refrain from asking him. "You know I love you," he told her firmly. "That has never been an issue. But what's going to happen has been the purpose for our lives for so long now. Whether you're ready or not, it has to go ahead. You understand that don't you?"

Despite herself, Lucrecia nodded emotionlessly.

"We've been married for three years now. Most couples have a family before now; just view this entire event as our own attempt at what …'normal people' do. What happens afterwards is not of consequence. You do not even have to be involved."

"I can't just walk away. It'll be my baby which is poked and prodded. For the amount we know, it may not even resemble a human!"

A tear slipped from one of her eyes and tumbled solitarily down her ivory cheek. Hojo cupped her face in his hands and wiped away the salty droplet with one of his thumbs. "Don't think like that," he told her in a soft whisper. "Don't even worry about things like that. We've worked so hard up until now that if anything goes wrong then it was always meant to be. Fate is a peculiar thing. It was pure coincidence that the Shinra drilling company happened to be exploring up on the snowfields in the same place as the Lifeform was buried. It was wonderful serendipity which led to you and I working on the same team up there. So many things have gone right that it would be sheer insanity for luck to change so rapidly."

She gave a nod under his grasp and his hands slipped to his sides.

"I knew you'd understand," he said, and for the first time that day a weak smile turned up the corners of his lips.

There was a light rapping on the door to the Office and Lucrecia found herself suddenly pulled back as Hojo marched over to the doorway. Dr Gast stood outlined in the clinical light of the vast outer-lab, a haggard expression marred his middle-aged features and a clipboard sat snugly under his arm.

Lucrecia had always liked the older man. Even though she had married Hojo, the two scientists had unconsciously played 'good-cop, bad-cop' since she'd know them. It was only now, in relation to so many factors did she understand that she's fallen in love with the wrong man.

But love? Hah! Love?? She had known nothing about it! If what she had felt then was love, what she felt now was the birth of a universe; it was the start of all life and creation of emotion as her soul floated with the wings of an angel amongst the heavens. And that was merely at the thought of His face. But whenever He touched her, oh god, whenever He touched her it was as though a million butterflies fluttered in her heart and took her soul before God himself. The thought made her go weak at the knees and she rested the palm of a hand on the bench beside her.

A sudden exclamation of anger however tore her from the divine thoughts and her head snapped up. Hojo gave a roar of fury and shoved past Gast and out into the labs to take out his rage on an unsuspecting lackey. Glancing around with a puzzled and thoroughly stunned expression, Lucrecia looked to Dr Gast.

"Hojo," the older man said eventually with a humourless laugh. He shook his head. "I'm sure he'll calm down soon."

"Wh, What did you tell him?" she asked warily. "What did President Shinra say?"

"It's… not good news I'm afraid, my dear," he sighed as he rested his back against the doorframe and held the clipboard over his front behind folded arms. He crossed his ankles and stared down at a space on the tiled floor numbly. "President Shinra seemed to interpret my request for more time as a hidden desire to move to better, more calming locations. He seems to think that without the hustle and bustle of Midgar we'll do five years work in the space of nine months."

Lucrecia's jaw dropped open and her long eyelashes quivered in terror. "W, We're… moving?" she asked and she was rewarded with a single nod. "We can't move!" She cried and Gast looked at her in surprise.

"I know, I know," he sighed eventually with a helpless shrug. "I tried to tell him that it was pointless and we don't need a nice view; we need more research and time. Unfortunately the word has no meaning whatsoever to that man."

"Where are we going?" Lucrecia asked, already feeling the colour drain from her cheeks.

"Nibelheim."

"But that's on the other side of the world!"

Gast frowned a little. "I must say, I think you're taking this worse than your husband, Lucrecia! Is there something here you don't want to leave behind? You've only been living here a few months!"

Lucrecia's mouth closed hastily and she turned away quickly. Love doesn't know what time means either, she whispered mentally to herself. I knew I loved Him from the second I lay eyes on Him. His wonderful, ebony hair and ivory skin. Those beautiful, almond eyes; the way that they just wrap me up and make me want to give myself completely to him. And I would've…! Eventually I'm sure I would've!

But now… . Never again. I'll never see him. I'll be lucky to survive these experiments; I know that even if my husband doesn't... . Maybe this is all part of that fate he was talking about. Things are meant to be if they happen. There's no use in looking back and regretting the past because we cannot live out our lives thinking of different outcomes when there could only ever be one.

…But, if that's true… why does it hurt so much…?

"Mrs Hojo?"

Lucrecia's head lifted sharply and she almost collided with Gast who stood close to her.

"I'm sorry, Jonathan," she sighed and shook her head apologetically. "My mind was elsewhere. My husband is so excited about this whole thing. Secretly, deep inside I think he's glad for the sudden pressure. But me…? I'm just not ready for this. Being pregnant; it seemed so distant and unreal that I didn't even consider it happening."

"Don't worry, Lucrecia," Jonathan Gast smiled kindly. "I'll talk to Tobias, I'll make sure he takes things slowly no matter what his eager impulses and Shinra tell him to do. I'll look after you, okay? There's nothing to worry about."

Lucrecia looked up at him and found a genuine smile creep up on her soft lips. She stood on tiptoes and pecked his cheek lightly. "Thank you Jonathan," she murmured. "You've been too good to me. I don't know what I'd do without you."

He chuckled and patted her on the shoulder. "You'd live out your life and be happy that you never had a doddering old scientist interfering in it."

She laughed at him, her soul feeling as though it was on the brink of collapse and he left the room. The second the door closed, she let out a wracking sob and fumbled in the drawers for a piece of paper and a pen.

Perching on a stool and wiping her face clean of the bitter tears which ran down her cheeks with the back of her sleeve, she began to write a letter.

With a light 'ping', the elevator doors opened and Lucrecia stepped through, tucking a strand of chestnut hair behind her ear as it fell lose from her ponytail. She smoothed down her lab coat, tugging on the collar of the turquoise T-shirt she wore beneath it uncomfortably. She hated the restricting uniform; it seemed so demeaning and coldly categorising. Jenova Project workers donned turquoise shirts whilst those who experimented on the properties of Mako had a dark blue polo neck on. It was a neater and more definable method of seeing who everyone was; reading badges required time and there were already too many keycards to carry around. When she had first arrived, a scientist required small wallet just to contain the many security passes and cards they needed to move around without being thrown into a cell. Colours were just one of Jonathan Gast's many new ideas he'd developed since returning to Midgar from his brief time in Icicle. At first it had seemed wonderfully revolutionary; now it was just another obvious way to see who was better than everyone else.

Clearing her throat anxiously, Lucrecia walked forward with a confident, fluid grace towards the reception desk of floor six, the second floor of four housing levels. A receptionist sat there, her eyes fixed intently on the screen before her as she typed speedily on a keyboard. She blinked every now and then, but otherwise stood rigid and unmoving. Lucrecia's footsteps faltered as she neared the table and she considered turning back before the young woman suddenly looked up at her and gave an obviously forced smile.

"How can I help you Madam?" she asked in a sickeningly cheerful, nasal tone.

Lucrecia's hand tightened unconsciously around the letter in her lab coat pocket and her jaw tensed marginally. "Y, Yes," she stuttered uncertainly. "I was wondering," she coughed again and felt her cheeks flush a self-conscious red as her embarrassment steadily increased. Becoming suddenly angry at herself, she pulled the letter from her pocket and took a firm stride up to the desk. "I was wondering if you could give this to Mr Valentine of apartment 71f. It's extremely important," she blurted out before she could change her mind

The receptionist looked at her with an unexpected look of such venom that Lucrecia took an unconscious step backwards and placed a hand over her chest.

"Is that all right?" she asked worriedly. "I mean I don't want to you do anything if its inconvenient-"

"No, that's fine," came the harsh, interrupted response and the receptionist snatched the folded piece of paper from Lucrecia's hand.

The scientist stared back in shock, her mouth opening slightly as she floundered for something to say in the circumstances. The silencing glare shot in her direction from the woman behind the desk forced her into holding her tongue and she fell into awkward shame.

"Vincent is out on Turk business at the moment," the receptionist informed her coldly and Lucrecia felt her heart sink at the odd way the woman's eyes flickered with his name. She frowned a little and almost asked her what the hell the problem was but stopped herself in time.

"When will he be back?" she asked in a similarly icy tone.

"I don't know. It's Turk business. He might not be back at all."

Lucrecia felt the blushing on her cheeks disappear as the blood drained from her face so fast she thought that she might faint. Instead she merely swooned a little and blinked in horror. Feeling tears well in her eyes, she hastily put a hand over her mouth and stumbled back towards the elevator doors.

"Just… just make sure he gets it," she ordered softly as she stepped into the cubicle and pressed the button for floor sixty-seven.

The receptionist watched after her for a while, long after the doors had closed and the elevator had travelled up the tube. She frowned and blinked a few times before thrusting the piece of paper to one side and focusing on the screen before her once more.