DISCLAIMER: As with Bound, this is the only disclaimer I'm writing for this particular fanfic, so don't freak out when I don't attach one to each and every chapter. Final Fantasy VII, the characters contained therein, the cities and the locations they visit, and Sephiroth's left sock do not belong to me. Although I did manage to steal that last one a little while ago. (ducks as Seph attacks her) EEK! Okay, okay! The stupid sock is yours—

"Thank you." Sephiroth takes the sock.

—and everything else I listed belongs to the wonderful people at SquarEnix, which I will one day own.

What?! Why are you all looking at me like I'm crazy?

Fine, on with the notes. This story is the prequel to Bound, part one in the Ties That Bind trilogy, and does not focus around Cloud and Sephiroth in the same manner as its sequel. Rather, this particular book is separated into three parts: the Vincent Arc, entitled Monster, the Sephiroth Arc, entitled Angel, and the Cloud Arc, entitled Mortal. Along with those there are sort of "subquests" giving Zack own part—which spans from Sephiroth's to Cloud's—and also giving one to Hojo—which spans the entire book—and Lucrecia—which exists in Vincent's arc and in a small portion of Sephiroth's.

It's kind of hard to explain, but I figured I'd warn anyone reading this that this story runs the course of about forty to fifty years, from Vincent's childhood to…well, I'm not gonna give away the ending! (Even though anyone who's read Bound should be able to figure where this one will cut off.)

All right, as with its sequel, Raveled starts on a rather unsettling, somewhat confusing note, and doesn't explain anything outright. This first chapter is kind of short, but I can promise that the next is longer. I finished it a while ago.

Enjoy the story, and please review!

- - -

Chapter One: Taking Control

The boy rocked back and forth, the head of an older girl cradled in his arms. Her eyes were closed, brown hair matted with blood, and her skin had gone pale long ago. Yet still he held her, still he called her name, still he begged for her to breathe again. "Come on, Alora, wake up! Open your eyes, please!"

A man came up behind him, tall and bronze-haired with eyes of amber-hazel that held more shadows now than ever before. He placed a hand on the ebon-haired youth's shoulder and spoke quietly. "Vincent," he said softly, "she's gone."

"No she's not!" Vincent cried in reply, shooting his father an angry glare. "She can't be gone!" His grip on the dead girl tightened, his knuckles going white as he buried his face in her deep brown hair. "Come on, Alora, please…" me murmured, tears streaming down his pale cheeks. "You promised you wouldn't leave me. You promised you wouldn't be like Mom…" He choked slightly, a quiet sob emerging from his throat. "Please, Alora, open your eyes!"

Gabrael Valentine placed one hand on either of his young son's shoulders and pulled him back. "She's gone, Vincent, let her go." He drew the boy into his arms and held him tightly, letting him sob into his chest. The man was reminded yet again just how small his child was, taking so much after his mother. Vincent would never be as physically strong as his father—or even as his older sister, perhaps—but Gabrael loved him just the same. Even if he would never be able to shape metal and piece together guns as his father and grandfather had for generations, even if he never even touched a gun for the rest of his life, Gabrael loved him just the same.

Because he loved his only living child so, he let him cry. "Let her go…" he whispered into the boy's short black hair. "Just let her go, Vincent. It's all right."

Vincent wrapped both arms around his father's broad chest in a tight embrace. Gabrael almost stiffened, but didn't dare—Vincent never displayed this kind of affection toward anyone, not even Alora. For him to hold his father, for the first time in his life, was a miracle. But, of course, not the kind the child was looking for. "Sh-She promised she wouldn't leave me…" he rasped. "She swore, Dad! She…swore…!"

The sunlight shafted across the town square, casting orange and purple shadows on the blue bricks of the ground. Three suited figures—two men and one woman—stood around the mourning pair, sunglasses removed and in their hands, weapons put away and Materia recovering; they bowed their heads in silence, each one giving a silent prayer for this poor unfortunate family. One man inparticular, however, did not pray; a man whose blue-black jacket lay discarded on the ground behind him, whose white button-up shirt and hands were stained with blood. That man dropped to his knees before the child and his father and bent down in a deep bow of apology. What could he possibly do to make up for this? What could he ever hope to do? "I-I'm so…"

"It's all right."

Rourke stiffened at the sound of Gabrael's voice, barely able to comprehend what had been said. He lifted his brown eyes from the cobbled stones, eyes that were wide and red-rimmed, and spoke in a disbelieving whisper. "What?"

Gabrael shook his head, closing his eyes and holding his shaking son closer. "It's all right, Sir Rourke. There is nothing anyone could have done to change this—it's not your fault."

"B-But it was my shot!" Rourke replied incredulously, sitting up. "I'm the one who shot her! It's because of me that she—"

"To say that you are the reason Alora has died would be like saying Vincent is the reason my late wife, Ayako, passed away." Gabrael's eyes went momentarily dark, and his drew back from his son slightly, letting the boy look at the man who had shot his sister. "It was the birth of my son that weakened her, and her immune system never recovered. She passed away because of Vincent, technically, but there is nothing he could have done to change it. This is the same."

Vincent's brown eyes, still red-rimmed and shining with tears, lit on the copper-haired man kneeling before him. His lower lip shook slightly, but he forced himself to speak nonetheless. "I-It's not your fault," he said softly. "We were in the wrong place…at the wrong time."

The brown-haired weaponsmith smiled down at his youngest—and now his only—child, wrapping one arm about the boy's shoulders with a smile. That smile faded, however, as Vincent rose to his feet, shrugging off his father's warm gesture of assurance, and turned to walk away. He paused barely three steps out, and turned to look at Rourke once more. "How old do you have to be," he inquired, "to become a Turk?"

Rourke's brow furrowed, and he turned to face the Turk Leader, Mirialle. The mousy-haired woman thought for a moment, then shook her head once. "There's no age limit—you just have to be skilled enough. I think the youngest on record was twenty-two when he joined."

The black-haired child nodded. "All right," he said softly. "When you leave, I'm coming with you," he said easily. "I'm going to become a Turk."

- - -

The boy, amber eyes wide, cried out in disbelief. "You're going to do what?!" he inquired hotly, making his mother—who was attempting to sleep in the next room—call out for silence. He winced at her voice, and lowered his own several decibels, leaning in closer to the slightly-older boy. "You don't mean that, Vin," he continued. "I mean, they killed your sister!"

"I'm going to become a Turk," the youth repeated sternly. "I'm going to join them and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. They were here to stop a gang war, not kill a little girl. It's only because they were preoccupied with their mission objective that they didn't realize what they'd done sooner." He bit his bottom lip, lowering his round eyes; his pale skin was slightly flushed, evidence of the fact that he had run across town to reach his friend's home before the Turks left. "I know it sounds weird, Katal, but I think they need to be trained differently. They need a sharpshooter who won't miss what he's aiming at, even if it's moving a hundred miles per hour, and a Leader that won't hesitate to draw back if there's another problem like this."

Katal narrowed his eyes, folding his small, slender arms over his chest. "What, and you're going to do all that? You're only eleven years old, Vincent Valentine. There's no way you could do any of those things! And even if you could," he added bitterly, "they'd never listen to you because you're just a little kid."

"I won't be a kid forever," Vincent replied assuredly, brown eyes still averted. "I'm going to train, I'm going to learn, and I'm going to make sure that this never happens again."

Katal sighed, realizing that there was no way to talk his best friend out of this. Vincent had always been stubborn; born two months early, it was a miracle he was even alive, much less healthy. His father and sister had always said it was because he was so stubborn that he made it through those first months. That same stubbornness was carrying him far away to Midgar, a place his mother had hated, the place his father was born; a place both native and foreign to the Midgaran-Wutaian half-breed.

"What does your dad think of this? And your stepmom?"

Vincent scoffed, rolling his eyes. "They locked me in my room and told me they aren't going to let me go."

Katal blinked, running a hand through short black hair. "They locked you in? How are you here, then?"

"I'm not an idiot, Katal," the boy said, sounding so much older than his scant eleven years. "There are plenty of things in my room that can pick locks; dad gave me that gun cleaning kit for my birthday, and one of the brushes was just the right size. It was easy—took me about ten minutes." He grinned proudly, Wutaian-slanted eyes brightening slightly as he met Katal's pale gaze. "I was made for this, Katal. I have to go." The shorter-haired boy let out a sigh, realizing that Vincent was right.

Vincent had never been any good at weaponsmithing, his family's livelihood; his slender fingers were clumsy when it came to piecing the metal parts together. He wasn't physically strong, but he possessed mental acuity unparalleled by anyone in the village—child or adult. He had a mixed photographic-phonetic memory, making his recollection nearly impeccable, and his fingers were anything but clumsy when it came to actually firing the guns he helped to painstakingly put together. He was genius, and he could shoot. With the right training, he could become one of the strongest men Gaea had ever seen.

But that meant leaving Katal, his first and only friend. The boy, while he knew that Vincent was a prime subject for becoming a Turk, wasn't quite certain how; he didn't yet have the clarity of thought to list the different things Vincent was capable of, but knew that he was far beyond normal children. After all, the longer-haired child understood, in words and images far beyond even his best friend's comprehension, why he was made for this. Vincent knew, and so did Katal.

But that didn't mean the latter of the two had to like it.

The younger boy took hold of his best friend's shirt, small fingers curling around the black fabric and clinging tightly. "I don't want you to go," he whispered. "If you go, Vin—"

"You can make more friends, Kat," Vincent replied, using the boy's rare diminutive. "The only reason you haven't so far is because you're friends with me; the other kids are afraid of me, and so they avoid you. Like I'm some kind of contagious disease that you could pass on to them."

Vincent was right on that account as well. Katal hated it. "Dammit, Vin," he breathed, using his mother's favorite oath, "why do you have to be so smart?"

The young Valentine shrugged, eyes going dark. "I don't know. If I knew, then maybe I wouldn't be leaving." He let out a sigh. "I'm sorry, Katal," he murmured, placing both hands on the other child's and lifting his eyes. "I have to do this—you know I do. Please, let go."

"B-But…"

Vincent gave another rare smile, looking his age for a fleeting moment. "Please, Katal." He pulled the boy's hand away from his shirt, carefully uncurling each finger before letting it drop. "Let me go." He took a step back, out the doorway. "I'll come back, someday," he promised. "And I'll write."

Katal arched both eyebrows, eyes stinging with tears. "Promise?"

"Promise."

The younger boy held out one hand, palm up, and Vincent held out his own. They grasped each other's wrists for a short moment; in the light from the streetlamps, Katal could swear he saw tears in Vincent's brown eyes.

A voice hissed from the dark. "Hey, are you comin' or what?"

Vincent turned, though Katal couldn't be sure what he was looking at, and nodded. "Just a moment more, Valyend," he urged. Brown eyes locking with Katal's once more, the youth gave a quick smile. "I'll be back, Katal. I promise." Then he took another step back, the shadows swallowing him, and he was gone.

Katal stood there in the doorway for an eternity, staring out into the nighttime darkness, ears straining to hear the last vestiges of Vincent's footsteps, but they were already gone. Lost before even given life. Vincent had always been quiet when he moved, like a cat. Was that one more thing that made him so determined to become a member of the group that killed his sister? He was made for this; it was Fate.

It's not fair…

The boy took a step back and closed the door, staring blankly at the doorknob for a long moment. He heard the creak of a floorboard behind him, and turned to see his mother—brown hair messy, pale pink robe wrapped tightly about her sickly-slim form—step into the room. They locked eyes for a moment, amber meeting amber, and Katal's bottom lip began to quiver. Another second passed, and he began to cry. His mother dropped to her knees as he rushed to her and held him tight as he sobbed.

- - -

"It's the same as kidnapping, for Gaea's sake!"

Rourke shook his head. "He came of his own free will, sir," he replied. The suit-garbed woman arched one eyebrow, eyes casting to the boy seated in the farthest corner of the transport. His eyes were blank and staring, obviously not seeing a flicker of the scenery outside the window he gazed past. Rourke leaned forward, dropping his voice to a whisper. "Please, Mirialle," he begged. "We owe him this much, don't we? I'll take care of him for a while, and he'll get tired of it in a few months and ask to be sent back home. I'm sure of it."

"I don't need taking care of," the boy said. The two Turks started and turned to face him, discovering that he had not removed his eyes from the window—indeed, he had not moved at all. "And I'm not going back to Kalm. I want to become a Turk, and I'm going to become a Turk."

"But you're just a boy," Mirialle cajoled. "I'm sure someone as smart as you has more choices for a future than this."

Vincent shook his head. "This is all there is," he said softly, his voice just above a whisper. He turned at last to face the Turk Leader. "I was made for this, sir," he explained. "You don't understand that now, but you will. When I become a Turk—maybe when I become a Cadet, even—then you'll understand."

The woman exchanged a glance with her rusty-haired second. Rourke shrugged subtly, hoping the boy wouldn't notice. Neither of them would ever find out if he had. Mirialle let out a sigh and rose to her feet, walking the short distance from her seat to Vincent's. "We're murderers, Vincent. We sabotage, we spy, we steal, we destroy, we lie. But, most of all, we kill. No matter who it is, no matter the reason—if we're given a reason at all." She dropped to one knee, looking up at the youth. "Can you really see yourself living a life like that?" She stared deep into his earthy eyes, looking for some hint of shock or aversion, some realization of his mistake in following them.

Instead, the boy's gaze remained even. There was understanding, certainly, maybe even a little determination, but not a hint of fear. "As humans," he said quietly, "we have the power to choose our own destinies—or so my father says. But my mother didn't choose to die because of my birth, and my sister didn't choose to die by Rourke's bullet. We may have some control, but it's tentative at best. My life was planned out for me from the day I was born; take my father's place as the head of Valentine Weaponry, get married, have at least one child to take over after I'm gone, die. That's all." His eyes narrowed slightly. "I'm taking control. I've made my choice, and I'm standing by it."

Mirialle, somewhat unnerved by the wisdom in the boy's words, managed to speak only after a long second of silence. "And what if, someday, you're ordered to kill your own father?"

Vincent was quiet for a moment. "Then…" he breathed, averting his eyes. "Then I hope he doesn't resist too much."

The Turk Leader—all three Turks, actually—felt a chill run through them at the boy's words. Mirialle stared, dumbfounded, for what must have been at least ten minutes. Rourke was the first to break the silence. "So do I, kid," he whispered, shaking his head and lowering his gaze. "So do I."

- - -

Author's Note: Sorry for the shortness of this thing. Really. There's a lot more on the way, and this is actually more like a prologue than a first chapter…but the title Prologue just didn't seem to fit it. It's kind of like a blend between the two—a propter or a chalogue or something stupid like that. Vincent is one of my favorite characters, (currently tied with Reno and, of course, Sephiroth), and I understand that my display of him here is a bit harsh, but I always felt that Vincent couldn't have been a normal child to have been like he was.

Admittedly, Hojo's screwing with his genetics accounted for a lot of the brooding angst, and Lucrecia accounted for more, but he always seemed kind of distant before either of those things happened. The little flashes they show here and there in the game before he was rejected by Luc' always made me wonder what kind of person he was as child, but the game seems to behave as though his life didn't begin until Lucrecia and Hojo came into the picture. Everyone has something, sometimes several things, that happen in their childhood to define who they are, and this is my rendition of it.

Sorry if it's confusing and kind of boring, the next chapter is a lot better than this one. I promise.