A/N: I was always sorta sad when all people talked about was Chaos Chaos Chaos; he's awesome, yes, but nobody ever mentions three very important characters. I've seen fanfiction with Galian Beast, but rarely - if ever - have I seen mentions of Death Gigas and Hellmasker, and they're part of the story, too. So this one is for them ;) All in the name of Yuffentine, of course. Obviously no rights to me except for this little story... I have a bad habit of forgetting disclaimers in my stories. Hmm.

-Manda


Concrete

Yeah, I know that kind of torture.

I know that kind of torture. It's a little like knives, a little like whipping, a little like falling and hitting concrete hard.

But I can deal with it. My concrete is backed up by grass and soft earth, but his is a never-ending layer of rock underneath, hard and cold.

Yeah, I know that kind of torture.

Mine just isn't as bad. And that really sucks, when it all comes down to it, because who decides who gets it worse, and do they just close their eyes and point a celestial finger to find the unlucky sucker, and what gives them the right?

"Yeah, I know that kind of torture," I tell him, but he says nothing because he's not awake at the moment, all black and red and pale pale pale washed-out watercolor skin like the moon, all unhappiness and guilt and vampire-wannabe styling. Sprawled against the tree like a sleeping sentinel, guarding secrets and hushes of fairies, hiding.

Oh, right – no, we don't randomly meet up to go around falling asleep in forests. That would be weird, even for me, the Great Ninja Yuffie Kisaragi, White Rose of Wutai!

(I love that title. I love saying that title. I love writing that title. Really, I just love that title.)

W.R.O mission, last little bits of loose thread to tie up with the end of the Tsviet-case; killed off the very last members of the organization, looked for Shalua. Still haven't found her. (And that's a little bit of torture, too, all wrapped up in a nice little box with a bow, a little tiny needle that pricks you just hard enough to earn a little teardrop of blood.)

He doesn't have Chaos, anymore, you know. Thinks he may start to age normally again, too, but isn't sure just yet – time will tell with that one. It's a relief, because I think I would be able to handle being immortal, but Vincent's not built for it.

(That sounded exceptionally cocky, didn't it? The reason is because of Wutai. I would be able to rule it for years and years, decades and maybe even centuries, the Empress of Heavens and all that jazz, to make sure it stayed in tip-top shape. But then I think that yes, I would get tired, until I would go begging for Leviathan to give his child rest.)

He still has Galian, though. He isn't sure about Death Gigas or Hellmasker yet.

Ugh. Those two always give me the shivers, and I try not to show it because to Vincent, that would be like rejecting him – he's tough, on the outside, but if you peel away the metal shell and demons, he's like an orange on the inside, soft and a little bit tart and a little bit sweet.

Galian? I could – I can – deal with him. He's almost cute, to a point, you just have to know how to handle him. (The trick is to approach slowly with empty hands – unless they have some form of meat in them – and then scratch him behind the ear. Never fails. He turns into a mass of lolling tongue and tail thumping against the floor like a puppy. A very big, big puppy.)

I don't think Vincent knows what's happening when one of them takes over – actually, it's probably true, not even seeing what would be happening from behind his own head. Like a multiple personality disorder, just blank spots where it seemed like he was unconscious but really… was just being controlled by somebody else.

Death Gigas, actually, isn't too bad, either – he's all power but no brain and watching him is like watching a machine that could swoop down on you like a lumbering tower and crush you, but that's not quite right because he's pretty slow and I know that I, at least, would be able to outrun him.

It's Hellmasker – Hellmasker scares the shit out of me, and I'm not afraid to say it, either. The sad part is that he saved me, once, back when Sephiroth was still running rampant and sticking his gigantum swordy into things for fun, slashin' and hackin' and laughin' all the way with his mama in his head all day and night.

We would basically split into groups to do what we needed to do, and then rendezvous to figure out the next action plan. The groups switched, from time to time, but I was always with Vincent and Red XIII; that was our group. (Well, sometimes we'd have Cait Sith instead of Nanaki, but usually it'd be good ol' Red. Much better.)

We were somewhere in Gongaga, I think. We needed training, all of us, so we took about a week to get our skills up to par. We were against some monster – I don't even remember, but it was One Tough Cookie – and Red was down for the count, I was low on magic and Vincent lost control and BAM, hellooo Hellmasker.

Well, he looks a little frightening to begin with. Hockey mask, oversized shoulders with gigantic boots and scraggly hair and a chainsaw, that chainsaw – the first time I saw him, I was a little freaked out – okay, a lot freaked out – and later, in my tent, I could've sworn I heard it revving. Kept me up all night. Sometimes an overactive imagination is not as awesome as it seems.

It was us two against this monster, and then the monster – I remember green, lots of green – came straight for me and I couldn't dodge and I held my arms up in a standard 'x' to soften the blow even if it would still hurt like hell and probably kill me in the process, which means it was a useless gesture anyway, and my blood was pounding in my ears fast like a carousel at the Gold Saucer on overdrive—

And then, and then, there was revving and the wind knocked out of me like BAM that hurt like whoah, and my back hit the ground and my head felt like I had fallen on concrete with neon lights dotting my vision and he had caught himself before falling on me, a mass of one-hundred-percent demon and bloodlust because Galian lives for adrenaline and Death Gigas lives on hatred and Chaos lived on anger but Hellmasker doesn't give a damn about anything as long as he gets blood blood blood like an angry chant forever and always with him, like he was oozing it. When he hit me he caught himself just in time, chainsaw slamming and sinking into the ground next to me and he was right above me, right above me, sweating and stringy hair falling and only black behind the eye-holes and I knew right there and then that there wouldn't be a human face behind that mask, even if the rest of him said otherwise, and I could feel him leering with crooked teeth, even if I couldn't see it, but I could smell it, blood blood blood all over him and his breath smelled like it and his sweat smelled like it and his stringy black hair that almost reached my face smelled like it—

And I was petrified, terrified, because I'm no coward but I was afraid for maybe one of the first times in my life since I was seven and Wutai was burning and dying and crying all at once.

And then there, hitting his back, was the sound of maybe a blow or maybe a slice because I don't know, but the chainsaw was out of the ground in a flash to perform an arc that decapitated the monster instantly and then the chainsaw sank it's teeth into the planet again and Hellmasker sucked in a breath, and then too-wide shoulders fell and an inhuman face hidden behind a hockey-mask hit my neck and the chainsaw revved for the last time for a while and he collapsed on me, all bloodlust and metallic scent and sweat. And even if his skin was a little rough but still soft like human skin and even if it seemed like if I peeled that mask off it would be an extremely malformed human, it wouldn't be because he was still a demon and nothing would ever change that and he would have killed me and lapped up the blood like chocolate if it hadn't been for the green monster.

And there was nothing remotely human about Hellmasker, and maybe that's what scared me most of all.

I waited, barely breathing, and only when grotesquely enlarged shoulders shrunk and the mask faded away and yellow turned to red and black and sweat was replaced by almost ice-like cool skin and hair filled out to normal, and blood blood blood melted away to be replaced by gunpowder and musty dark wood, not unpleasant, and damp earth— only then did I let out a sigh a mile long and breathed again.

(Later? Vincent asked me with quiet concern why I smelled like blood all over, because it was coating me as a scent and I could smell it, too; I told him with a moody sniff that it was that time of month and to piss off, with a stuck out tongue, and he didn't buy it and Red didn't buy it and I knew they didn't buy it and they knew I knew, but nobody said anything and I jumped into the next lake we found to get the smell of blood blood blood off.)

That's all that Hellmasker wants, is blood blood blood, and they all live off something different – I can understand Galian, even identify with him, because I'm an adrenaline junkie, too, and I won't even begin to try to unravel Chaos, who lived on anger and everything else in hell but I think that I never really understood Death Gigas at all, at-all-at-all. He lives off hatred, and I don't get that, I don't get that at all.

But maybe I do, because I'm human and I've had my fair share of emotions like a wild range of colors and grays. I know the feeling of righteous anger and fury, and then how it solidifies into hatred when they cross the line one too many times and of course I'm talking about Godo because our relationship is so twisted and coiled like a French Horn done up all wrong it should be illegal.

But I don't know. If old Godo were to kick the bucket now, that would all change in the snap of Lady Luck's fingers because I'm human I'm human I'm human and that's what makes me different, and that's what makes Vincent different.

And that isn't just it. That isn't just it at all.

Pain and hatred go hand in hand in that circle of bad karma; I know that, anybody knows that, Vincent knows that better than almost anybody but Death Gigas knows that most of all.

It was after Aeris, after Sephiroth had flown down and I had watched frozen like Shiva and after fun times at the Gold Saucer and after, after, after, and I was tired, Tifa was tired and Cid and Barret and Red and even Reeve from his hiding hole in Midgar were tired, and maybe even Vincent was a little tired and Cloud was tired most of all.

(And it all sucks, when it comes down to it, because it's like everybody is competing to see who can get it worse and that's not right, but a lot of things aren't which just makes it part of life. Which also sucks. I am a young adult barely out of teenager-ism, I am allowed to use grammatically incorrect words.)

Right after Aeris. All we wanted to do was go to Icicle Inn and crash and burn, wake up after a million years of sleep to find it was all just a bad dream, a nightmare.

But Vincent was second in the race, bested only by Cloud, and then some monsters ran across our path and hello, Death Gigas. Nice day, want to beat some monsters up and then turn back into Vincent before maiming the rest of us, please?

I think I was a little closer to Vincent than anybody else, back then, and maybe everybody else just thought I knew how to handle demons a little better than they did, and I don't know, maybe I did, but I wasn't sure myself but as soon as the muscles began to hulk and turn green and blue and stitched together like a doll that never, ever should have been sewn together in the first place I yelled out that I could handle it, we'll catch up in a minute, you guys are too tired! You'll slow me down anyway!

And they were hesitant, but I shooed them and they left with drawn eyebrows but shot spirits that were sorry but couldn't do anything, anyway, and they knew it, too, and maybe that's what makes it worse.

The monsters weren't too bad; two snow wolves. Easy. Death Gigas was restless, though, angry too because that's what feeds hatred so after I finally killed the first one he went in and Slam Dunked the last one to a bloody messy pulp, and you know what he did? He turned, and he looked at me, but it wasn't angry or hateful, it was almost hopeful like mommy mommy, look what I did see mommy see—?

But I was afraid then, too, because it was just me and nobody else and the possibility of dying was so real that he could see it all on my face, all of it, and all I could see was green skin and blue skin all woven together with crude little stitches and giant muscles that never should be that big—

And pain and hatred go hand in hand in that circle of bad karma, because the expression – an expression, he was a demon and he had expressions and oh, gawd – fell like a sack of bricks or like a body hitting concrete hard, a little like torture and yeah, I know that feeling, and he just sort of stood there limply, a hulking mass of bare skin that must have been cold in the freezing temperature in the snow, and he just stood there limply and looked at me, just watched.

Just watched. Just watched, and then he slowly sat down and closed his eyes and after an eternity of gathering snow on top of him, he faded back into Vincent.

And I could only watch, too.

(And the expression, the expression, oh gawd—)

And then I scrambled up, slipping n' sliding in all the snow to pick up my friend and make sure that he would wake up because falling asleep in the snow with lips turning blue is dangerous, and I was relieved when scarlet eyes opened up like little pinpricks of summon materia in snow, and we supported each other, somehow, leaning despite the gross height differences all the way to the inn.

And then we did crash and burn, even if we didn't sleep for a million years and it wasn't just a nightmare, but we fell into bed anyway, and of all the tired bones in my body, I couldn't sleep because all I could see was numb and limp and snow and stitches and an expression on something that shouldn't have.

(And maybe that's what made it worse.)

And then tears were quietly making a journey down my cheeks, and I didn't even know if they were for Aeris or a monster.

(And maybe that's what made it worst of all.)

But now isn't the time, because my eyes are feelin' sorta glassy, and I still don't know if it's for Aeris or our own personal Frankenstein, and that's an uncomfortable thought so I breathe in and out, deep breathing to make it all better – more oxygen, yunno, releases more enzymes to your brain, makes you happier – and then I stand up with a bounce, like I haven't just been reminiscing about things that aren't happy sunshine and flowers.

"Well, Vinners, time to go."

I wait.

"Vinnie."

I wait.

"Vinnie VinVin Valentino."

Still waiting.

"Oh well," a mock-exasperated sigh with an award-winning grin – real shame nobody saw it, either – and I crouch down to sling him over my back, his head lolling against my shoulder and I do the weird jump-thing to get a better grip on the vampire sprawled across my back like his luxurious gigantic coffin or something, and off we go.

It's over, now.

After we saved the world from Sephiroth, it was over. After we saved it from Kadaj, it was over. And here we are again, and maybe something else will come along, but until that day comes we'll enjoy life right now.

Vincent, I think, will learn willingly and quickly, or maybe he's already started to figure it out.

Just maybe.

"Oh, gawd, you look like a freakin' stick but you weigh like five million pounds," I finally give into my aching legs and whine to somebody who can't hear me, and not even ten yards from where we were I let him down again.

Guess I can only wait, now.

He's sprawled against a tree again, the sleeping guardian. I look around and twirl for a bit, but he isn't getting back up for a while, I can tell. When he wakes, he'll be ready to go at that ridiculously fast pace he always sets, but until then…

I sit down next to him, throw myself down sloppily to lean against the tree trunk.

"Vinners?"

No response (it wasn't expected, anyway).

"…Galian is still there. Can you hear me, from in there?"

No response. I feel a little stupid, but this is sorta one of those things where – where the moment you think about it, you feel a little bad if you don't do it. It'd be fine if you didn't, because nobody would know, but you would know. And sometimes that's the only thing that counts.

"…Right. Maybe you can. So… just wanted to say hi."

Not really, no. What a lame conversation starter. And to think, I'm going to be a diplomatic leader one day? I hear my pops snorting in my head. Thank you, geezer.

"Okay, no. No. I wanted… I'm sorry," I blurt out. It's a bit blunt, but it's easier this way. "I'm sorry that the first time I saw you, I threw a rock at you because I though you were going to eat Aeris. And if— and if Gigas and Hellmasker are in there… tell Hellmasker that he's an asshole. And… and," and I sort of find that I'm breathing faster, a little, sort of like I'm falling and waiting for that concrete, "And tell Death Gigas I'm sorry. I'm real sorry."

I wait, but nothing happens.

Maybe they aren't even in there. Maybe I'm just talking to one lone demon, or maybe I'm just talking to a sleeping man and nobody can hear me.

But even if that's really true, even if they're long gone, I've said my goodbyes.

Because I kind of feel like I owe it to them, you know?

I've fought alongside them too many times to count. And I don't know if it was always a sort of temporary ally thing. Maybe it was. Maybe I really would have died if that green monster hadn't hit Hellmasker unconscious. But I still owe it to them.

And a lot of times, when I think about Aeris I think about the demon that looks the least human but might be the most of all, and I think about the snow and his face and when I cry, I'm crying for both ends of the spectrum, for somebody as pure as Aeris and something as bent up on the inside and out as Death Gigas.

"…Yuffie…?"

I snap out of it and look over at my companion.

"Ah, so sleeping beauty awakens!" I grin that amazingly awesome grin again, jumping up to land nimbly on my feet and twirl my shuriken as Vincent slowly lifts himself up from the ground, elegant and controlled as always.

"…What happened?" He checks his gun.

"Last wave of Deepground soldiers. We killed them all, but you passed out on the way back," I chirp helpfully, and he avoids my gaze. I know what that feels like, too. Feeling like you're depending on someone too much. I mean, it isn't like that – isn't like that at all – but reassurances don't help very much, because self-disillusions are the worst kind.

The truth is, though, for that last little division, I only got to about seven soldiers and he wiped out a wave of thirteen, not including the monster-dogs they used.

"…Did… you say something?" He finally asks quietly. I blink.

"When I was waking up…" Vincent murmurs, eyes looking somewhere ahead of us as we begin to walk.

"…Nah," I finally tell him. It's a little embarrassing enough as it is.

I'm a little quieter than usual, but it's my job to break silences, comfortable or no; they might get suspicious otherwise, can't have that.

"So… besides Galian, do you think the others are still in there?"

His eyes go to me, and it's a personal question, I know, but I've never been one for tact or grace outside of battle.

He says nothing – this is his style. If I wait long enough, he'll answer. It's all about patience, which is why it took so long for me to actually get anything out of him.

"…I do not know," he finally answers. He's looking straight forward, never at me. It's understandable. "It is… possible. I don't feel as much of their presence as before. But I am still also stronger than the average human, and I don't think that Galian Beast's presence, alone, could cover such a large portion of myself in inhuman abilities."

Huh. Well, whaddaya know. Maybe it did reach somebody in there.

"Would you miss them?" I ask him. Red eyes snap to me in genuine puzzlement and confusion.

"They are nothing more than demons, Yuffie."

I wait, but he doesn't say anything else. Round two, Yuffsters going in for the goal.

"Maybe, but that isn't what I asked."

Vincent sighs a long sigh, a big long sigh to get all the bad feelings out until his lungs are ready to collapse on themselves, and I would know because I've done it, too, and he watches me for a while as we keep going.

"Their abilities, perhaps. Their company… was often frightening," he confesses very quietly, like he doesn't want nobody but me to hear, "But also sometimes… maybe comforting. It might be that… I wasn't alone. And sometimes it would be a good thing. Sometimes a bad."

Vincent looks forward again and breathes in deeply.

"They were not separate entities in my mind. They were grouped, in a sort of way; Chaos was the only one apart. I do not feel Chaos. But I still feel some presence, which is Galian. And it could also be one of the others, maybe both, maybe neither. I'm… not worried," and it sounds relatively peaceful.

I try not to show it, but a sort of grin lights me up like a glo-lamp, like the moogle lamp in Reeve's funny office or the Tonberry nightlight I had as a child (until Wutai was burning and dying and crying all at once and I couldn't do nothing, nothing at all).

I'm proud of you, Vincent.

You're finally getting there.

We're both silent, for a ways.

"They were good allies," I say, a little unexpectedly to him and me both. I'm content to leave it at that.

"…Were they?" He asks, a little amused and a tiny bit bewildered, and I just nod absently.

They were, you know. Maybe only allies in combat until the common enemy was defeated.

But sometimes, when I shut my eyes, I can see Galian Beast with an almost frightening but happy grin on his dog-like visage while Marlene is scratching his tummy, giggling. And sometimes, less often but much more vivid I can see Death Gigas the last time I saw him, sitting in the snow with his eyes closed because he lives off hatred, but to hate something you need pain—

And maybe they're all a little more human than I thought.

Maybe we all have our own personal demons.

Maybe only Vincent's are the ones that were real.

But they were demons, and that doesn't make them human. But that doesn't make them evil, either.

It's a hard thing to wrap my mind around, and harder to try to put into words, but in the end, I don't think they were all that bad.

Because if I line them up with some of the people I've known, and met, and will meet? When I line those three up with all of those men, all of those women and even those children, they're the most human of the bunch.

And maybe they were all just a little unhappy and a lot lonely, because Galian liked running and when we traveled with him he would always run ahead, but always stop when he was just out of sight to watch us come closer, and he would wait quietly for us, almost like he expected us to run away. And Hellmasker was always quiet and leering, but when a big gash was on his arm and only Aeris would heal it, he was a little more subdued and sated and happier, almost, when the flower girl's hands brushed across his arm almost comfortingly, because Leviathan knows that nobody's ever given any form of comfort to him, and Death Gigas was loneliest of all with his demented, lopsided smiles and big hands, giant hands that covered his face in shame.

Covered his face in shame with his beady, mismatched eyes closed and waiting for the cold to come and for himself to recede back into the real body he was just borrowing.

That makes me more than a little sad and more than a lot ashamed. I want to cover my face, too, cover that little inhuman part of me up with small, human hands.

"I'm sorry," I say unexpectedly, to him and not to him at all.

Vincent looks down to me in mild confusion.

The edge of the forest is coming. We'll be in Edge, soon. Deliver our report and then go back to Tifa's bar to crash and burn for a million years, wish that it would all just be a nightmare so that when we wake up it will be back then, before before before and fix all our mistakes with a giant eraser to put to life and wipe it all off to make it better, because reliving these memories can't be good for my mental health.

I don't say anything else.

Vincent doesn't seem to mind. He's smart; he might know. There's a bond, there, in that head between him and them somewhere, a bond maybe forced but strengthened over years and years and decades. So maybe it isn't all that surprising to him.

The last trees are here. We walk past them into the sunlight of the street.

Yeah, I know that kind of torture.

It's a lot like any other kind, but it's on the inside which always makes it worse and pretending it's not there makes it even worse than that, but Vincent is stronger than I am because he owns up to it while I want hide my face in my hands like a mockery.

(When we get to Seventh Heaven, later, Tifa needs to run some errands and leaves us in charge; there is nobody inside, but when it starts to rain and the sky is gray and the pitter patter of the drops reflect off the glass I do slump down and hide my face, because I really am flaying myself with it this time around – but he slides down next to me and wraps one human arm and one cold metal claw round me and tells me quietly, very quietly and so quietly I almost didn't catch it, that even if there's still something there to forgive me or not, I'm figuring it out and that's all anybody can ask for.)

When I cry a little bit, and I don't know if it's for Aeris or Death Gigas, I want to laugh a little.

I sit with Vincent, instead, listening to his heartbeat while there is only silence and breathing.

That's all anybody can ask for.