This is a sub-story to SINS—if you haven't read it yet, you may want to, otherwise please be my guest! As a quick and dirty explanation: In an attempt to help Kadaj find a means to grow up, Reno called in a favor to Vincent Valentine and sent Kadaj off with him. They were gone for over a year, and this is what happened.

Vincent didn't stop until he realized that Kadaj was no longer keeping pace with him.

Slowing his trot to a standstill, he turned to look behind him, silently watching the boy stagger up and collapse at his feet. Those jade eyes glared up at him from beneath a spill of silver hair, annoyed and ready to murder, that little pink mouth parted as he gasped for breath.

"If you need to rest, tell me," Vincent shortly said, irritated at this sudden kink in his plans—he hadn't exactly counted on being slowed down by a boy, but Reno's offer had been too good to refuse and his business simply couldn't wait.

Kadaj scowled at him but remained silent, something Vincent could get used to. He'd been mildly concerned that this boy, so close to Yuffie in age, would be similar to her in annoying habits—mainly, talking nonstop. Much to his relief, Kadaj didn't seem too interested in conversation…but, then, how to find out what was going on if he never spoke?

"Your souba," he said, deciding to indulge his curiosity and, perhaps, put the boy at ease. He leaned against the nearest drought-blasted boulder and crossed his arms over his chest, keeping his face tucked behind the collar of his mantle. "I imagine you know what it's worth?"

Kadaj merely touched the hilt, shifting to sit up straight, rapidly regaining his breath. Ah…to be young.

"You must know of the Masamune," Vincent said, his voice low. He moved to crouch next to Kadaj, running clawed fingers down the sheathed length of the twin-bladed katana. "Sephiroth's ultimate weapon. No one knows how he got it, there's legend that it came to him of its own accord—she is an ancient weapon, the Masamune."

Kadaj shied away from him, clearly uneasy, though not specifically of Vincent.

Ignoring his reaction, Vincent slid the blades free and stood, lifting them to the clear moonlight and admiring their sheen. If anything, at least Kadaj knew enough of weapons to keep his in good condition.

"How…" the boy asked, hesitant to show any interest. Vincent pretended that he didn't hear the uncertainty, his curiosity roused once more at how the child he'd seen so many months ago could be the child before him. Such a difference, such a change. Not all love was good, Vincent knew—some was more poison to the soul than anything…

"How did you know that's the Masamune?" Kadaj asked, taking a sip of water from the canteen slung at his side.

Vincent felt himself smile and allowed it, knowing the boy couldn't see. He tipped the blades down, the light glinting from metal.

"I would be twice the fool not to know her when I see her," he murmured. "She has a soul of her own…and a piece of Sephiroth's spirit as well. It is this that he calls on when he manifests—he conjures her from this relic, this remnant."

He slashed the blades a few times, testing the perfect balance, and then replaced it smoothly in its sheath with a soft sigh, saying, "I should like to meet the one with the power to forge her anew."

Kadaj looked uncomfortable again, his eyes narrowing and his eyebrows lowered in a frown.

Vincent regarded him, straightening once more to gaze thoughtfully down at the top of his silver head.

"With a weapon such as that, you are dangerous," he said, keeping his tone neutral. "I've seen what you are capable of, I've seen your handiwork up close—while you are with me, Kadaj, you are mine."

The boy flinched, his body drawing in on itself.

"You are my weapon," Vincent went on. "When you lift the souba, you do so because I tell you to, and when I tell you to drop it, you obey."

That head snapped up, pretty little face set in a rebellious sulk, green eyes angry.

"When I tell you to let it go, you let it go," Vincent reiterated, calmly holding that angry glare until those eyes broke contact, confused and uneasy again. He crossed his arms over his chest, wondering how much loyalty he could expect from this child. He knew of the resurrection, knew that this boy had undergone an experience that had changed him—in some ways for the better, in some ways for the worse. "Will you let it go when I tell you?"

There was a long, defiant silence and then a low, abrupt, "Yes."

"And why will you do this?" Vincent pressed, watching his subtle reactions.

Kadaj shifted a little, and when he spoke there was a surprising amount of both venom and frustration in his voice.

"Because you are stronger than me." Again those eyes lifted, mutinous and hurt. "Because I don't have a choice."

"There is always a choice," Vincent graciously allowed, gesturing a little with his clawed left hand. "You just may not like the alternative."

He held out that hand to help Kadaj to his feet but the child refused, clambering upright under his own power.

So. Was it the monster in Vincent that he feared?

"I don't like people touching me anymore," Kadaj said, his first, spontaneous volunteering of information. He dusted off the seat of his pants, shivering a little in the cool night air. He didn't look at Vincent. He didn't know Vincent. "When I let someone touch me, they hurt me."

Vincent said nothing, knowing that Kadaj spoke of deeper things. His broken heart bled like a wound, so profusely Vincent could almost taste the blood. Any animal driven to exhaustion and pain would do the same to protect itself, driving away even comfort in the confused and desperate need to defend its safety.

'What on earth have you done, Cloud? And how could you do it to one so young?'

"Don't let them touch you—don't let anyone touch you…even me," Vincent softly told him, respecting his right to lick his wounds in peace. "Especially not me…"

The boy looked at him, puzzlement and wary alarm in his eyes. What did it mean? That Vincent wouldn't care to hurt him? That he'd best not expect kindness or compassion? That weakness would be exploited? Though he'd been cleansed of so much, Kadaj felt the return of old, bestial instincts—suspicion and caution, a wildness that kept others at bay, a soul and heart that trusted no one, nothing.

He wanted to ask questions but he kept them to himself.

Crimson eyes gazed at him steadily, as if reading the very thoughts from his head. Kadaj took a steadying breath and forced himself to clear everything from his mind, to find again that blank, encompassing nothingness that had once been his madness and his curse. Surely to admit weakness to this creature would earn him a quick and inglorious death. And what benefit was there to reaching out? He'd opened himself to Cloud, he'd come back from the dead for Cloud, who had loved him…who had loved him—and if someone who had loved him could do such damage, how much worse could a stranger do? He had no reason and no right to expect mercy from Vincent, and merely had Reno's trust in the man to fall back on.

Licking his lips a little, Kadaj felt himself close up, draw in. In a soft, low voice he told Vincent what he wanted to hear.

"I won't."