As the last traces of the lifestream faded away, as Meteor dissipated, I breathed a sigh of relief. Sephiroth was defeated, the world was saved. Cloud and Tifa rejoiced in a difficult hug, and I looked away from them in hatred. I, Vincent Valentine, had noone to hug. Lucrecia was gone. I was just a freak fighting for a cause I could not believe in. What did I have to gain? I was better off dead. I raised my clawed hand to my scalp, caressed the long, black hair as though to comfort myself. I exhaled slowly. This was the end. What would happen from here?

"We did it," came a deep voice to my left. It was Cid. He threw his spear to the ground and reached into his back pocket for a cigarette. Lighting up, he inhaled deeply, exhaled with just as much force, then placed the cigarette between his lips and looked around.

I couldn't follow his gaze. I looked instead at the ground near my feet, willing the lifestream to flow out of the ground beneath, to suck me in to its depths and carry me away to where I could simply cease to exist. I shook my head and cleared my thoughts for a moment, then looked towards Cid. Cid, beautiful Cid. Cid with the gruff voice, pale skin, blonde hair, ever-present cigarette, peppered language and...

I was awakened from my reverie by the very one I was taken in by.

"Vincent?"

I looked into questioning blue eyes. I raised an eyebrow slowly, as the tall, thin being in front of me raised a packet of cigarettes in my direction. I raised my hand slowly, took one, lit it, and inhaled sharply. I inhaled again, and the putrid smoke was in my lungs, choking me from the inside.

Suddenly all time stopped and I saw myself in ShinRa headquarters, clad in a blue suit, hair pulled back, smoking a cigarette with Tseng in the corner of the room. I used to smoke with Tseng all the time back then, relaxing when we stopped for a moment from carrying out the persecution, the corruption, the will of President ShinRa. I closed my eyes tightly, and pictured Lucrecia. She and I used to smoke clove cigarettes together, drinking wine, talking, smiling, laughing... happy.

The blue eyes came into view again, and I closed my gaping mouth. The cigarette fell from my fingers to the ground. I couldn't move, couldn't talk. I could only think of my past, my glum present, my dark, black, lonely future.

My body began to shake, my legs grew weak. I fell on to my hands and knees, breath rapid, choked. Cid looked at me in shock, and bent to kneel beside me. He put a hand on my back as it rose and fell with my ragged breathing.

Pain spread through me and my mouth opened slowly. I tried to choke out some speech, but I failed. I raked my metal claws on the rocky ground, making a horrible screeching sound that rang through my body.

It was happening to me and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I was transforming into the beast implanted within my soul. The muscles in my arms and legs dilated and broke the material that previously covered my skinny limbs. My cloak was shed, metal claw obsolete, trousers torn, shoes ruptured.

I didn't want to get up, so I let myself fall on my side. I closed my eyes, not wanting to take in the sight of my indigo skin, three-toed feet, clawed hands, scarred chest and bare torso. I felt myself slipping out of consciousness, closed my eyes, and succumbed to the darkness that enslaved me.

I awoke, cold and naked, in a small room within the Highwind, my belongings in a small heap beside me. The only other person in the room was Cid. He was sitting on the floor, facing me, feverishly dragging on a cigarette. He noticed I was conscious, and raised his head. He looked at me with sincere concern in his eyes, uttered my name slowly, then got up and fumbled in a cupboard for a while, producing a pair of black jeans which he handed to me. I put them on and slowly dragged a hand through my hair.

"Vincent..." Cid spoke softly, crushing what remained of his cigarette with his foot. "Why did that happen to you?"

"I... was... I was thinking too much." I felt like shrugging but couldn't be bothered to summon the energy.

"What about?"

"My past. My lack of a future. I'm... not normal. I can never be normal." I held my head in my hands, willing everything to go away.

"You don't have to conform to anybody's standards."

"So I should just lock myself away again, awaiting death. Or will I be put to sleep again... only to awake some day with more pain to endure?"

Cid fell silent, thinking of what to say. He sighed, closing his eyes and scratching his forehead.

I slowly reached towards him, gently touching his surprisingly soft lips with mine. He pulled away instantly and I was enraged at his rejection of me. I grabbed his chin and pulled his face towards mine, kissing him more violently this time, pushing my tongue through the barrier of his lips.

Cid wrestled out of my grip, his fists clenched in rage. "What are you doing?" he shouted at me.

"Don't you reject me as well!" I barked at him.

I reached out for my gun and quickly pointed it at Cid. The blue eyes showed only shock and I realized I was never going to receive any love from this man.

I turned away from him.

"Vincent, what's wrong with you?"

I raised the gun to my head.

"Vincent. Put the gun down." Cid took a deep breath. "I..."

BANG

"...love you too."