"It hurts, doesn't it," Genesis said to me as I made my way back to the building. He was still alive and crouched in the snow as if he'd been dragging himself back to the laboratory, "Knowing that even in the end… After everything in between… that he would go to Sephiroth."

"You're not dead," I dully muttered, and I mindlessly fondled my forefinger over the trigger of my gun while I blankly stared in the direction of the lab and wondered why Tseng thought it was a base and why he thought he'd destroyed it.

He was so certain.

"I know… what you're… going through…" Genesis grunted out as he stumbled closer to me and pulled out his sword to pierce it into the ground so that he could support himself. It was just like the one in my dreams—the steel handle that reminded me of pewter.

It was intricately designed with carvings that extended beyond the hilt and slightly down the blade, and the design on the guard reminded me of an Ark Dragon with its wings spread. It was a straight-sword, unlike Sephiroth's, and broader. The fuller was tinted red, almost dominating the entire blade while the steal edges retained their natural finish. It wasn't as long as Sephiroth's and it appeared more ornate and royal.

"How did you do it?"

"Do… what?"

"Make him think he destroyed the place," I said, and I continued to stare at the direction of the building.

"Rufus…" Genesis grunted out as he struggled to stand while gripping onto the hilt of his sword, "felt Tseng… was getting too close to… finding the place… So he called in a specialist… Tseng was at an impressionable stage… Shot him when he was done…"

"If he didn't want him finding the place, why did you give me the map and tell me to bring him here?"

"Was different this time… Needed…" Genesis broke off and almost fell down again. Then he shook his head like he was trying to force himself to stay awake. "Wasn't finished… Running out of time… Needed him to come back…"

"So you used me."

"Had to."

"Mm," I grunted, and I started to walk away while Genesis called after me.

"It's not too late," he said, and I stopped in my tracks without bothering to turn around. Part of me wanted to hear him out and the other part of me—the one that was still stroking the trigger on Cerberus—wanted to silence him once and for all. But strangely, Genesis was all I had that was left of Tseng, and I simply stood there, frozen and black inside.

"Too late for what?" I asked, and I could almost feel the conniving grin start to play across his lips as he stared at my back and uttered my own thoughts back to me.

The unthinkable.

"So…" Reno started.

Almost three weeks had passed since I left the nightmare behind and I chose to save Reno instead of Genesis and his madness while Tseng remained where I left him—preserved on the frozen ground, never to decay as he should have. I don't know, maybe a part of me didn't want to see him go just yet, despite that he'd asked me to ensure that it would never happen again.

"What did she say?"

"She said…" I started as I stared at the crisp hospital sheets over Reno's legs and pushed his water towards him as a side thought, "that she knew."

"Knew what?" He asked, and then he grimaced when he moved his arm to grab the water and I noted the bandages over his chest and shoulder looked cleaner that day.

"Everything," I muttered, and I lowered my head. "She always knew what he was—what he did… The only thing she couldn't understand was why he never told her."

"Heh… mothers," Reno mumbled as he put the straw in his mouth and took a small sip while I reflected on the fact that Reno had always known too.

He just couldn't seem to get Tseng to admit to it no matter how much he flirted with him or outright tried to call him on it.

He tried everything, he said, simply to satisfy his own curiosity and have Tseng finally admit to Reno's suspicions. Regardless though, a part of me was still uncertain what Reno's real motives were while he continued that, "Can't pull nothin past them."

Then he paused for a thoughtful moment and picked at the salad I brought for him since he'd been complaining about the Icicle Inn Hospital's lack of fresh food.

"What'd she do when ya gave her the locket?"

"She cried."

"Ya know…" he trailed off and took a moment to pull another leaf out of the salad to quickly chew on it while he winced when he tried to sit up, "you must be the only person that's ever met her… Even Sephiroth never met her.

"Ain't no one knows what she looks like, what she's like, or even where she lives… not even her name… Well, I'm guessin' it's Xvan now, but I ain't too sure from all the crazy I read in Hojo's notes… Am I guessin right? Hojo was in love with Tseng's mom? Like I mean… That's some pretty fucked up shit to think about… Ya know?"

"Mm," I muttered.

Then I got up and helped him sit before I pushed the tray closer to him so he could reach it better. I guessed I wasn't the only one that Tseng kept things from and felt a little better over that small fact.

Yet it wasn't enough to fill anything up and my thoughts grew darker by the day. Things I could do to fill the emptiness swam in my head towards dangerous depths. Both Genesis and Tseng were out there. Both of them were frozen, preserved, and both of them could be brought back at any given moment, and I wound up giving my head a shake as I grabbed a piece of cucumber from Reno's salad and walked over to the window and stared off into the direction where I left them both to lay.

The old madness that came with Tseng's presence might have left. The dreams may have been silenced, and I may have even resigned myself to simply being nothing more than a phantom in people's memories, and I thoughtfully chewed on the flavourless vegetable that Reno insisted on eating without any dressing.

"It ruins the flavour," he said, and I came to discover that he preferred to eat everything in its natural state. He felt that it tasted better that way.

After I managed to finally choke it back, I started reminiscing over Genesis and what he said to me before I left him there as Reno began chattering away and I barely heard a word he said—the struggle inside was growing stronger by the day and suffocating every last piece of resolve I had left. What Genesis suggested was immoral and beyond madness, and I was considering it as I turned to stare emptily at Reno through heavy bangs as he continued to speak like the sound of his own voice was the only thing that brought him comfort, "Ya know?"

"Mm," I agreed, and I didn't really care about what it was I was agreeing to while I thoughtfully stroked the handle on my gun and then turned so I could lean against the wall.

All I was able to focus on was Tseng. His kiss, his touch… For all the brutality that the man possessed, he was gentle and kind when he allowed himself to be, and I found myself wanting it more than anything else while constantly reminding myself that it was gone—all of it was gone. Yet he wasn't exactly gone—not technically.

There were so many things I could have done, so many paths I could have taken to affect my life in an infinite number of ways. I could have followed in my father's footsteps like he wanted me to, and it wasn't too late, I briefly thought—I had forever—before my throat tightened in resistance at the possibilities again. Every one of them led back to the one thought I didn't want to think about because it went beyond immoral.

And like a continuing cycle I invented solely to torture myself with, I repetitively asked myself the same question every time I came to the same conclusion and desire.

Would I have done the same to Lucrecia?

But then again, Tseng wasn't Lucrecia. All the work had already been done and the plans were already written and laid out, and like Genesis said, he wouldn't have to remember a single thing.

"He never does," he assured, and he even suggested that Reno could be involved to ease Tseng's transition. "With enough persuasion… he'd do it… Tseng's a God to him…"

He even went so far as to suggest something more insane than he was already suggesting.

"But then again… with Tseng's body already… advancing to the next stage… it would be difficult to predict… the outcome… A different body—"

"What the hell are you suggesting?"

"A different… body," Genesis flatly repeated as if that's exactly what he was suggesting.

"Ya always this quiet?"

"Mm," I muttered, and I stared at the tips of the claws on my gauntlet while wondering if I'd really want Reno involved. Not only that, would Tseng ever forgive me regardless of which way I chose Reno to be involved?

Of course not… I thought, before I slightly turned my head to regard him and he took another bite from his salad.

"It's either that… Or take a chance… on creating something… you'd only have to hunt… and kill… over… and over."

"Or I could just let him rest."

"I kind'a hafta admit that it's a little creepy," Reno mumbled with his mouth full. "Yer a bit of a brooder… and ya kind'a… Well… Guess it jus bother's me cuz ya don't say much and I can't help but wonder what's goin through yer head… Heh… Tseng was a little like that too though… Guess I should be used to it, eh?

"I'm curious though… Is that whatcha liked about him?" he asked, and then he quizzically regarded me and attempted to look past my bangs so he could try to figure out what I was thinking. "Was he like some kind'a penance fer ya?"

Hm, I wondered. He'd be more of a penance if I did what I knew I shouldn't have done.

Then I pulled out the chair by Reno's bed and sat beside him, staring and thinking while he uneasily continued to eat his salad and attempted to ignore me like every other time I'd done it since I brought him there.

And like every other time, I wondered why I brought him there.

"You'd get used to it, Valentine… and eventually… He'd learn to accept it… Just… consider… that he only… said what he said… to spare you from yourself… It's easier to let him go if… you hate him…"

This was probably the most difficult thing I've had to write to date. Vincent is such a dark, brooding, and depressed character that he is the epitome of angst in my eyes, and choosing to write it in the style that I chose proved to be more of a challenge and it dragged me down more than I thought it would; for many reasons. One was that I wound up feeling too close to the character and out of sync with myself due to the issues he was struggling with, and the other was that it made it difficult to explore the other characters without throwing a little bit of 'crazy' into the story line.

Of course, anyone that's read my other stories would know that I don't shy away from crazy.

But this was a bit different. In many ways it was more of an experiment. I always wanted to see how these two would mix after I fabricated their friendship (nothing more) in one of my other stories – they never appealed to me until I created the dynamics of those two and watched them evolve, and it got me thinking. Also, after seeing who they were in Crisis Core, Dirge of Cerberus, FFVII, and Advent Children, I thought that it would be exactly what it became – a challenge.

Throughout each story line from Square, Vincent never lost his angst. He was always a miserable, antisocial, self-destructive and brooding character (maybe even a little masochistic too). That really only depicts one fate, and that's always the fate that no one really wants to see since it's heavily peppered with burdens, penance, and bad luck (let's not mention that the man was murdered, experimented on, and fused with a demon before he was locked in a coffin for 30 years on top of that – he's going to have some issues). His main focus has always been on his sins, which are non-existent or fabricated in my eyes, and Lucrecia – who was the one that was guilty (and whiny too—incessantly whiny). Yet he managed to convince himself that it was him that needed her forgiveness instead of the other way around.

Tseng, on the other hand, was a bit more complex. In Crisis Core, he had a bit of an impish side where he giggled at people without sharing the inside joke – mostly Zack. Was he laughing with you or at you? He appeared a bit forgiving, soft, and – dare I say it – feminine and a bit seductive, and it wasn't just because he had a pony tail. Seriously, his hips swayed in a very sultry way. Anyone who's played it must have noticed. Either way though, my son pointed out the fact that Tseng must have been pretty strong to withstand the Fire spell that Genesis threw at him when they finally caught up to him in one of the labs, and I thought, Hmmm.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed in his character that time around, but I was willing to accept it as the whole package based solely on the thought that he hardened with time, and I also liked the way that he watched over Aerith. He appeared to enjoy watching her from afar and it struck me as a bit fatherly.

In FFVII, he was dark, quiet, and professional, and he was also quick-tempered and easily irritated – anyone remember the time he slugged Aerith so hard that she fell to the floor of the helicopter when she tried to tell Barret where Marlene was? He did that right before he gave Reno the orders to drop the plate over Sector Seven. He was a bit of a bad-ass in FFVII, and he harboured a little bit of resentment towards the fact that he felt he was underpaid – enter the short conversation between him and Scarlet outside of Gongaga while they're standing by the broken reactor that Cloud and Company are hiding behind.

In Advent Children, you hardly see him unless you have the Blu-Ray version with the extra 20 or so minutes – it's so worth it. Either way, he looks pretty mean and comes across as very serious and dark, and maybe even a bit sadistic too. There's one part I particularly love, and that's the 'look' that him and Rufus briefly share when they're all reunited right before the big motorcycle chase. It was quick and you'd really have to watch to catch it, but it was very communicative at the same time. For me, that summed Tseng up to a tee – effective.

Those aspects made these two very difficult to write when it came to me wanting to make anything work between them. Their polarity is in constant flux. In a way, I see them both as 'birds of a feather' that don't necessarily 'flock together'. Yet in many ways, there's something endearing about the thought of these two fortifying their strength in one another. Unfortunately, there really was no other outcome, short of a Greek Tragedy, that would have been as complete for these two. They either would have killed each other due to their inabilities to deal with their own baggage, or they would have continued hurting one another until they finally parted. Happily ever after just doesn't work for two people as miserable as Tseng and Vincent. At least, it's just not something I could easily buy into, despite how much I'd like to prove myself wrong.

Heck, I even tried. But alas, these idiots wrote themselves and I was merely a vessel floating upon their sullied waters. It didn't matter what I wanted or wished for, they did what they wanted to do anyway.

Maybe that's why I fought with myself for a good couple of days on whether to do this Epilogue or not. I was debating on whether or not to simply end it the way it ended on 'What Tonberry Really Meant.' It ended well there, I thought… for an ending, that is. On the other hand, I just couldn't bring myself to finalize it there – it was too final. There's something infinite and cyclic about these two, and despite how twisted and malformed their realities are, it felt better for me to leave it open, even if it meant something horrid, unthinkable, or risky.

This way, in my mind, there is always a small remnant of hope, and always room to imagine anything that could possibly arise from the possibilities that are left behind.

Thanks to everyone that read this, I appreciate your support as always.


Anyone up for a back story? No promises; just curious.

ETA: There is a back story in progress now. It's called: Nullified.