Junon's newest lab tech placed a petri dish under an odd piece of equipment. She positioned it carefully under the tip, which happened to be shiny. And glowing. Happy with her placement, she hopped back and hit a button on the machine, which began to hum. After about thirty seconds, it shut itself off. She grabbed the petri dish and half-pranced over to the digital microscope at the next station. Wrapped up in her own efforts, she very nearly dropped everything to the ground when she heard a voice.
"I just came down from seeing him."
She swallowed. "How is he?"
The intruder shrugged. "Okay, I guess. It's only his second attack. If it had happened a month ago, they'd have upped his medication, but now..."
"Have you heard from Elena and Rude?"
"They haven't been able to find a thing in days. And he'll hold on for awhile longer at least, but the attacks will come on stronger and stronger, and when the meds run out for good..." His voice trailed off.
"Don't say that, Reno! I'm trying really hard! We'll come up with something! Okay, it won't be me, but everyone else here is so much smarter."
"I'm not saying give up. I don't think anything I can say would change your mind once you've set it, Yuffie. But I'm not going to lie. Without something more, the answer to 'how is he?' is never going to be that Reeve's better. Or Marlene's better. Or anyone's better. Hell, the nurses told me another one died today."
She bit her lip and began to focus her microscope. "That makes how many?"
"Five. But no one died before a coupla weeks ago."
"That still gives us time. We're making progress here."
He shook his head. "It's not fast enough."
"Excuuuuuse me!" Yuffie wiped away a tear.
"No, no." He stroked her damp hand and set it firmly back onto the adjustment knob. "You're all doing fine. It's not the techs here that fucked up. You're limited by what you have to work with."
"The base materia is awesome."
"You bet it is." Reno calmly walked over, paused for a moment, and then slammed his fist through a bare spot on the clean, white laboratory wall.
"...what's wrong with you?" Her eyes widened in shock. "Why the hell would you want to break the wall?"
"Don't ask what's wrong with me! Ask what the hell is up with that goddamn vampire who's got the only hope for a vaccine hidden away!"
He grabbed her shoulder. "Please, stop doing this. Stop protecting him. He's had it hidden away for months."
"'It' is his daughter. And she's just a baby." She squirmed herself out of his grasp. "Besides, I thought you didn't care." She turned back to her equipment.
"What does that have to do with anything? Maybe I just want to know why. I know you actually give a shit. Tell me why you are all his accomplice in this lunacy, when your own friends are..."
"He thinks taking her to a lab for all of this...subjecting her to the pokes and prods and needles, that it'll make her another Sephiroth. And he can't bear to kill his own flesh and blood, so he took her away."
"Doesn't he get it?" Reno laughed bitterly. "Man, look at apathetic little me, getting it. I fucking wish I could go drink myself into oblivion this time."
"And you don't 'get' why we're going to let him be with this? If you saw even half of what we saw...you'd know that Sephiroth was such a huge..."
"Yuffie, please. I don't care if we needed ten of his daughters. If we don't do all we can, he's the next Sephiroth without even having to lift a finger. Thousands of lives versus one. And you know the science people here. You know they'll treat her as well as possible, given the nature of things."
She looked at him through tear-filled eyes. "I still don't know where he is, Reno. Don't ask me again."
"Fine." He turned to leave. "I doubt you'll see me again. I hope your group's 'hero pact' is worth all the other people you're destroying." He was almost through the door entirely when she spoke again.
Yuffie swallowed. "Tifa's in town. I saw her this morning before I came in. Marlene's just about..." She closed her eyes. "Anyway, I think she's going to go beg Vincent one last time. She should be able to lead you right to him. Then your training can take over."
"She can try her approach first. But if mine's the only way..."
"...then it's the best way. But Reno..." Her voice trailed off, and she focused her gaze on him. "...even if you fail, make sure it's a way where you can come back."
"Are you saying what I think you are?"
Her eyes broke away. "I'm sick of people dying. So just don't do it."
The stone walls narrowed and broadened in various places. If you weren't careful where you stood, it could feel like the Planet was closing in around you. Tifa ran her hands along the time and water-smoothed hardness, before continuing on further into the cavern. The roar of the waterfall behind her slowly dulled as she made her way deeper.
"It's so nice of you to pay us a visit." A dreary voice broke into the dank solitude. "Again." Vincent, even after he had lost most of his sense, always kept his sense of sarcasm.
"And you're happy I came, I bet." She crossed her arms, an unconscious act of defensiveness. "Gonna throw up a banner? Toss confetti? Eat cake?"
"It's awhile yet until Ada has a birthday." He stepped out of the alcove, backlit by the one small lamp he kept burning in the cave. Next to the cradle. "You're welcome to help plan the party, though."
"You know my question, Vincent."
"And you already know my answer. I failed Lucrecia once. I won't do it again, not now."
"Right, you're being ever so heroic. I didn't know you had it in you. I didn't know you cared." Tifa snorted, stepping closer to him. "In case you've already forgotten, Mr. Proactive, we found you steeped in self-pity inside of a coffin in a fake town. The only thing that kept you from going back to being a vegetable was the thought of revenge. Revenge on the man who made the biggest monster this Planet has ever seen."
"Hojo was deserving."
"These people are not. The ones that you are letting die. Don't you get it?"
"You said Sephiroth was a monster, but this child, she is the potential worst-case-scenario. I will not let anyone toy with that, not even old teammates. I failed before and look what happened to him. I'm not losing her."
She shook her head. "You know, you say you loved Lucrecia and that you failed her. I don't know if you love us, your comrades. But you are failing us. Marlene is dying, Reeve, too... You are making all of us who are left behind into the monster you are now." Her lip curled into a sneer. "No, no, I've got it wrong. You would. But I'm not gonna let you."
His eyes widened with a sudden realization. "You wouldn't dare."
"Fuck you." Tifa boldly began walking, intending to shove her way past him to where the child lay. She stopped though, when she heard a metallic click. She'd learned it all too well, in her travels.
The Death Penalty was cocked, loaded, and aimed straight at her. "Do you still?"
"Until I'm bleeding to death." They glared angrily at each other, locked in a standoff.
"I'm not so sure that'll be necessary, honey." Reno stormed in, a pistol of his own leveled at Vincent.
"Those will only stun me momentarily." Vincent's voice came out strong, but his eyes betrayed his doubts.
"Oh, I think they're good for a few minutes' stoppage, at the least." He flashed a cocky grin. "More than enough time to shoot the fucking brat, take a blood sample, and leave you to mourn and crawl back into the coffin where you belong."
"Reno!" Tifa gasped.
Vincent growled. "You're too weak to manage it."
"The job's gotta get done. You of all people should know that. Weren't you one of my Turk predecessors?" He jerked his head in the direction of the alcove. "That where the kid is?" he asked Tifa.
"Go get it."
She hesitated, cautiously glancing between Reno and the Death Penalty leveled at her head.
He sighed and looked straight at Vincent. "Put the goddamn gun down on the floor."
"I'll bash her skull into the side of this cave."
Vincent's eye twitched.
"I'm not bluffing. I am so sick of this situation. If you let us leave with the kid, I promise she'll be taken care of. If you fight, she dies. Period. If not here, not now, don't worry." He stepped in closer, bringing the pistol near Vincent's face. "I left word with some friends. And they don't even have a Turk's level of ethics." He nodded to Tifa.
She fled to the cradle and began to gather up a bundle.
"One word," Vincent whispered. "Chaos."
"I have to hurt you quite a bit for that to come out, fellow. Your monsters don't work on fury alone. Hojo reduced you to an animal for amusement, not your convenience or survival, my friend."
Tifa hurried past them, cradling the baby in her arms. "I took a buggy here..."
"Get in the chopper with Lane. I'm behind you." After she ran out, Reno slowly backed towards the cave entrance, his gun still trained on Vincent.
"You are dead. Not anyone else, just you."
"Only if I don't see you first." He stood right outside the opening, barely untouched by the cascading water. Grinning, he held up an armlet that had several materia orbs slotted in. "Break." Green waves flew from one of the orbs, around the waterfall, which slowed to a trickle, then nothing.
The water had been transformed to some clear mineral, possibly quartz. The layer ran many inches thick. No one was getting in or out of this new entombment any time soon.
Reno swaggered over to the hovering helicopter and climbed up the rope ladder with ease. "Let's get the hell out of here."
"Aye, aye," said Elena sarcastically, as she fiddled with the controls. They rose higher in the air and began a course towards Costa Del Sol.
Tifa looked down at Lucrecia's waterfall, now frozen in time. "What did you do?"
"Break. It petrifies things. Yuffie's idea, so I wasn't sure it would even work."
"Is he gonna ever get out?" She clutched the infant closer to her chest.
"Not for a long time." A strange look darted across his face. "Unless he thought to keep a Soft potion around, for emergencies." He flashed her a comforting smile. "Unlikely, I'm sure."
She nodded. "Right. Of course." A whimper rose up from her lap. Looking down, she became caught in the soft glow of Mako eyes as they filled with tears.
They were almost auburn, brown with a hint of red fire.
Reno's strong arm kept Tifa from collapsing completely over the child. She quietly held Vincent's daughter, trembling as she tried to keep her own tears from falling.
The crying didn't stop until long after they arrived in Junon.