Countdown to Chaos
By Rachel "Darknightdestiny" Winslow

Chapter One: The Beginning of the End (Of What May or May Not Have Been)

"I don't know what I'm going to tell him."

She sat at a desk in the darkest corner of the lab, documenting by the bright light of a small lamp that hung over her hurried hand as she wrote, the aid held to the surface of the desk by a thick, wire coil. Her brow was strained in an expression of obvious distress, and she bit her lip erratically as she scribbled in the file. Her sand-colored hair was touseled and fell out of her clip at inopportune junctions of plastic teeth, and her green eyes were dim, even though the small light cast a glow on her pale skin. She continued.

"There's no way to do this without hurting him."

"You know Turks don't have feelings, dear," her companion offered slyly.

She ignored him and went on. "I never meant for him to get that kind of impression. I'd rather be here working, but I feel so guilty." She slammed her pen down on her paperwork and looked to the ceiling for an answer, eyes glowing with defiance. "Why did he have to be such a nice guy?"

The other shuffled past her and carefully mounted a heavy box full of observatory equipment on the shelf behind her. He turned to face her with an expression that announced the answer to be quite simple, and yet it wasn't quite condescending. It didn't matter either way, because she had already lost herself again in her writing. "You can either hurt him now, or you can do it later, but if you wait it will be much worse."

"But I don't want to hurt him at all," she replied, turning to look at him.

He sighed and removed the glasses that rested on the bridge of his nose, and he began to wipe at them idly with the sleeve of his lab coat. "It would seem that whatever you do will have a terrible effect on his heart," he paused dramatically before continuing with, "if indeed he has such a thing. It appears to be more of an unhealthy obsession than genuine affection."

She gave him a scolding look. "I wouldn't call it that."

"He follows you everywhere like a lost puppy, and I find such a guise as that quite disturbing on a Turk."

"Well," she quickly asserted herself, "he thinks you're creepy too." And with that, she playfully stuck out her tongue at him, trying to lighten the heavy mood that had so quickly descended on them.

"Whatever it is that you decide to do, you should do it quickly. I don't like him hanging around all the time. It's distracting, and his meddling causes me unease. Our research is valuable, Lucrecia."

She rolled her eyes and turned in her seat to fully face him as she slung one arm over the back of her chair. "He might not be a licensed practitioner, but he still knows how to conduct himself in a lab."

He scoffed at this. "You've no need to make excuses for ShinRa's muscle. Unless, of course, you do feel something for him."

"I said it was nothing. Why do you think I've been wracking my brains all night trying to figure out how to explain myself to him? My work is suffering as well."

"You certainly are putting quite a bit of time into this," he replied casually, smirking at her. "And you're so defensive," he said with a mocking shame as he shook his head.

"Well, you're claiming that there's something there when there's not."

Disrupting the flow of conversation that she had so earnestly tried to establish with her last comment, hoping to steer him away from his arsenal of criticisms on the occupation of the man in question, he shot her a grave look in hopes that the reality of the matter would sink in. "...He murders women and children."

It was no matter that she didn't hold the same feelings as the Turk did. This still hurt her. "There are things you don't know," her voice cracked.

He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the shelf, staring down at her tired expression through his gleaming lenses. "I know all I need to know. The man is a hired killer, a monster. Whatever his reasons, he is still that. You cannot be worried over the emotions of a man you barely know, when all the personal information you do have about him is that he has none!"

She shook her head after some hesitation, her eyes becoming slightly wet. There was no excuse, not for all of the innocent lives lost because of the gift of a trigger finger. And that was why it hurt.

Friends, yes. She had wanted to befriend him. In all the years she had worked for ShinRa, she had never really had anyone that she could call a "friend". She had co-workers and superiors, and she had test subjects and volunteers. The same man made deliveries to their current location each and every week, and she would see the same people when she had to go into town for supplies, but she had not had any friends.

Even Hanzatsu, who she saw every day and worked with in the lab, wasn't necessarily a friend. When they worked together, he tended to focus more on what was in the beaker, or under the lense, than personal problems or pasttimes. And she liked it that way. But sometimes she wanted someone to talk to about more than just experiments and numbers. The way Hanzatsu worked in the lab was ideal for the tasks they undertook. But sometimes, she wanted to see what he was like aside from his work.

To put it simply, she was lonely. They were all a part of the same company, and it was nothing to talk to the Turk on her free time. She actually enjoyed it, and he was a surprisingly nice person once she got to know him, though he had always seemed quiet and stand-offish when in his working environment. He was actually very relaxed and calm, but there were a lot of things he never talked about, and he usually didn't open his mouth unless he was asked a question.

This sometimes frustrated her, but it wasn't a big deal. It wasn't like she had been looking for more than someone to talk to, just someone to listen. And he did that quite well. But after some time, she became curious about him as well. Their relationship seemed very one-sided, and she felt that she should offer him the same kindness. But unfortunately, he had taken her sudden show of concern as more than just that.

They talked regularly once she had gotten him to open up to her. After that, he would share things with her that he'd never told anybody- things about his home life, things about his family...why he was a Turk. Many of the things he told her surprised her, and she'd felt guilty for assuming he was like all the rest of the people in his profession. But this opened her up to the idea that most everyone was not what they seemed.

She thought the same of Hanzatsu, but every time she saw him, he was immersed in his work. She wasn't sure of how to drop a hint to him, because it was hard for her to get to understand his personality, because she never talked to him about anything that didn't pertain to their job.

Unless it was about the Turk.

She almost wished he was jealous. She had a hard time letting go of the time she was spending with him, but she had to let the Turk know that it wasn't her intention to lead him on. He was always eager to spend time with her, and no matter how subtle his expressions were, she could tell he was excited to see her. He asked her on outings on so many more occasions and was completely open and honest with her, and had even started volunteering information. But she couldn't be completely honest with him.

She knew that she had to set things right with him, and she hoped he wouldn't be angry with her, or abandon her offer of friendship to him. But she just didn't feel the same way towards him. Part of it might have been because he did what he did, but she knew that it was also because she felt something for Hanzatsu. And she saw him more often than she saw the Turk, and to be honest, she had started staying in the lab late into the night for more than the fact that she enjoyed her work. She labored on repetitive actions that could surely wait until the next morning, all because she enjoyed having him in the room with her.

Clearly, Hanzatsu hated the Turks. He used every opportunity he could get to talk about what horrible things they did, turning her words toward the subject all the time. He never missed a chance to talk about their wrecklessness, their disregard for human life, and their disrespect for themselves. He loved to make mention of their drunken revelry and the stupidity it caused, and if she was completely honest with herself, the stories she had heard were disturbingly convincing. To him, they were the scum of the earth.

Hanzatsu's voice broke into her thoughts. "What, pray tell, is on your mind?"

She shook her head again, a small smile- a fake smile- passing over her face, a fleeting shadow of emotion. "Nothing much. Just...thinking over what I have to do, what I'm going to say."

"Ah," he smiled at her, before his nose wrinkled up into an expression of distaste. "thinking about him again," he teased.

"You are so cruel." She sent an eraser his way, which he ignored as it shot past him, barely grazing his shoulder.

"He is what he is," he said without sympathy, and went back to his work rearranging equipment and setting up for the next day's experiments.

However much Hanzatsu was beginning to grow on her, she couldn't help but care for her friend; he was the first person she could call that ever since she got that job, and yet she couldn't help but feel that she'd lost that friendship already. It wasn't her fault; he had changed that relationship in an uncomfortable manner and without her consent.

How she wished everything could go back to the way it was.

"You don't know that," she said softly. "It's not as simple as you think. Vincent's..."

"A Turk?" He shot her a meaningful glance, practically ordering her to answer him.

"Well...yes." The answer was given, be it ever so reluctant.

"Well then I think that's all we need to know. He has his place. You should be mindful of yours." He patted a box of microscope pieces and casually walked away from her desk, one hand pocketed in his coat and the other rubbing the back of his tension-ridden head.

"Hanzatsu Hojo," she called after him, breaking the perfect silence that had followed their conversation. He turned to face her and lifted his chin in expectation, his ear tilted to her as if he was giving her his full attention, plus more. She smiled. "You are a tough man to contend with."

One side of his mouth lifted upwards in amusement. "You have no idea," he finished, and threw a receipt at her that he'd produced from his pocket, something he'd acquired in town that day.

She watched him go, a sigh escaping from her mouth. The next morning was going to be awful, she could feel it in her bones. She wished he could help her more, wished he would just hold her hand through the entire thing. But this was something she needed to do alone. She went back to jotting notes down on her memo pad, but her hand eventually cramped up, and she threw her pen across the room in frustration. Rubbing her temples with her calloused fingers, Lucrecia let out another sigh.

This just wasn't her week.

Hanzatsu is the Japanese word meaning, "complexity". I chose this name because Sephiroth described Hojo as being, "...A mass of complexes."

This is going to turn into a gory piece, and will be quite sad. After the first few chapters, things are going to go downhill for poor Vincent, so if you are squeamish, you may not want to get interested. It will most likely be worse than my flashback scenes in Flirting With Death...though I'm not really finished with that story as I write this...

Feedback is appreciated.