Nothing could change the fact Vincent rose with the sun. 30 years in the darkness of a coffin in that forgotten basement had sensitized his eyes, so the first ray of light slipping through the window always woke him. No matter if he wanted to stay oblivious just a little longer.
Today waking proved more difficult than usual, as if something lurked beyond that light he didn't wish to remember. Vincent blinked the brightness from his eyes, squinting. Some sleep-dulled urgency churned at the back of his mind, insisting he rise immediately, but he couldn't remember why.
He'd once thought thirty years of sleep would make it easier. But he'd long since lost that hope. Every single day retreating from the place of rest was a conscious effort.
Vincent blinked blearily, realizing he was sitting up, leaning against the wall. That explained the light in his face, and the ache in his back. Why had he chosen so uncomfortable position to sleep?
Breathing. Not his.
Vincent's eyes flew open, making him wince as the light left him briefly blinded. Day brought silver and intrusive red and black into sharp contrast as he began to see again.
Vincent's rose quietly, sore joints protesting the awkward sleeping position. He remembered now. The day before, then the nightmare last night.
Unpleasant reflections were pushed aside for later. First, he had a patient to care for. An insidious sinking feeling predicted there was little he could do. Vincent walked silently to his charge, hoping the situation had stayed stable overnight.
Sephiroth lay as he had left him in the night, wounds preventing him from rolling much. His breathing seemed eased compared to the night before, with less choking, yet still it raced far to fast and shallow. His eyes were closed, no trace of expression on his face now even as Vincent stood so close. Vincent felt a heavy weight settle on his shoulders. Well and truly dead to the world.
The thought chilled him, and he thrust it aside. Sephiroth lived right now, each rattling breath proved it. Only that mattered, and doing anything he could to drag that out a little longer.
Something caught his eye as he scrutinized Sephiroth for change in condition. Long strands of hair clung to Sephiroth's neck and bare arms, sweat gleaming on his skin.
Alarmed, Vincent felt Sephiroth's forehead, moving carefully so as not to wake him. The skin was hot, heat pulsing against his fingers with each shallow breath.
Fever. Not severe yet, but he had little doubt it could easily worsen. And likely would. Sephiroth lacked the strength to fight through everything dragging him so close to death. Geostigma monopolized the immune and reparatory systems in victims, preventing injuries and other crises from healing.
Denzel had come down with fever, and Vincent remembered Tifa's distraught fear they would lose him. Everyone knew those who died succumbed to a fever and never came out of it again, coughing their insides out in black mucous before the end. It had been a miracle Denzel had pulled through, little short of Aerith's magic.
Miracles were in short supply now. The unconscious man on his bed twitched slightly in his sleep. Sephiroth's eyes were closed in senseless oblivion. He no longer reacted to Vincent's presence at all, unaware an enemy stood close enough to observe a hair-thin scar beside his eye.
It was so wrong to see him like this, wrong for him to be so weak. Vincent had seen enough of death to recognize it approach a man, much as he'd wish to deny it. Sephiroth was dying, slipping into that mid-state between living and dead, unaware of even his own ebbing life.
But, no, that wasn't right. Vincent couldn't believe that after seeing Sephiroth survive so much. Since Sephiroth's birth everything had a protracted struggle for survival. Surely, even as his body fell, Sephiroth fought there somewhere. Struggling with all the strength he had, whatever was left. That was who he had been made to be. How else could he even have survived this long?
The stab of guilt at that thought had to be ignored, there wasn't time for selfish loathing.
A few faint red marks tinted the bandages on Sephiroth's abdomen, meaning some of the wounds had reopened in the night. He would have to Cure them again. There was little hope Geostigma sores' weeping had slowed, either, with nothing he could do to stop it.
No matter how strong willed, how could any man survive so much? Eventually a body must fail and drag the soul with it. He had seen it too many times before, pitiful deaths of those who clawed tooth and nail to survive. Too tired. Lost too much blood. Better to give up.
Vincent clenched his fist violently, foregoing the satisfaction of hearing his metal claw shriek incase it startled Sephiroth. It was inexcusable that Lucrecia's son suffered like this while he was, for once, beside him! He should be able to do something about it!
You never did anything before. You failed then, as you will fail now.
Easier to blame that insidious thought on his demons and shove it away.
A low groan from the still form on the bed monopolized his attention. Sephiroth's face contorted in a grimace, closed eyes roving restlessly. Renewed shivers left his hands trembling, shaking his shoulders violently.
He was fighting the fever, too, along with everything else.
Vincent reached out and gently touched the back of his clawed hand to Sephiroth's forehead. The cool metal seemed to ease him somewhat. The shivers slowed, and his face relaxed slightly.
He still responded to touch. He wasn't so far gone yet.
Vincent scowled. He wasn't going to allow it to happen! He couldn't fight the Geostigma. He didn't know how. But had he not been a Turk, highly trained in combat medicine? He could handle the red-blood wounds, battle against the fever, at the very least give Sephiroth some strength back to fight. He knew how to do that, had done so many times. Time was wasting…
Something told him it was going to be a long day.
Gathering his ammunition against the wounds let him ignore thoughts that wouldn't leave him. He couldn't break the fever. He could do his best to help, to give Sephiroth a fool's chance against the disease, and that at best, but in the end it fell to the ex-SOLDIER to survive. Vincent didn't know if he would, if he had the will left in him after so much struggle. How much pain did he endure even now?
Because he'd seen it before. Easier to give up. Easier to die. A fight you couldn't win, why fight?
He couldn't think of that, dared not remember instances from before. Focus. Do what you can. And hope Sephiroth's strength would be enough. After all, if anyone in the world could survive, it must be this man.
The fever seemed higher than just minutes before, though that may have been his overactive imagination. Vincent frowned at the tense expression that had returned to Sephiroth's face.
He needed to change the bandages on Sephiroth's abdomen, reseal the wounds. But first Vincent gently wiped the sweat off Sephiroth's face as well as he could. A hot breath brushed the palm of his hand as he ran the cloth over closed eyes. Sephiroth didn't notice.
He'd have to stay nearby and wait, he knew, after the bandaging was done. There was nothing else to do. Just like with Denzel, waiting, wiping away the sweat and watching. It was maddening to sit as helpless spectator such a struggle, knowing in the end it depended on the weakening fighter to survive or die. Regardless of anything the watcher could do, nothing would change it. Gods he didn't know how Tifa had managed.
But he had to. He had to try. Too many times he hadn't, he'd slept while Sephiroth suffered.
Vague memories of his own time under that man's "care" made Vincent shudder sharply, nausea somewhere in his stomach. Years under Hojo's knife. Shiva, Sephiroth must have suffered. The madman would have no pity on a child.
It's your fault. Everything he's suffered is your fault. You know that.
Vincent breathed out slowly, crushing the thought away. Right now it was no help, to Sephiroth, to him. He had to focus on what he could do to keep him alive. Goddess willing, Sephiroth's strength would hold and his condition would improve.
It didn't. Sephiroth barely reacted when Vincent rebandaged the wounds in his chest, locked somewhere beyond simple pain. Hour by hour his temperature rose, his sleep punctuated by restless fever-dreams that sent him muttering incoherently. But, most disturbingly, even as his closed eyes roved and he cried out in wordless sounds, his movements weakened. He didn't have the strength left.
Bit by bit, Vincent heard Sephiroth's breathing grow ragged. He was beginning to gasp again. His throat had seemed miraculously clear earlier; no longer, Vincent could practically hear the sickness encroach again, making it difficult to breathe.
Sephiroth's body was being run ragged. No man, even him, could endure this forever.
Vincent managed to coax a little water into him, but most of it trickled unswallowed from the corner of Sephiroth's mouth, tinted a bracken-black, staining his skin. Afterwards, Sephiroth swallowed nothing, choking out blackish liquid whenever Vincent tried, as if it were tainting his throat. Sephiroth lay motionless for long minutes after regaining his breath, panting, sweat blending the edges of the black marks on his skin.
Long hours had passed since Sephiroth ceased to register Vincent's touch. Now he only clenched his fists and growled hoarsely as if to fight feverish hallucinations Vincent couldn't understand. He was senseless of Vincent crouching beside the bed, wiping black blood and sweat from his face.
Words were beyond him now, but Sephiroth's skin screamed as if fire burned in his veins. His cheeks flushed with the heat, while his fingers had grown cold, the skin near-white.
By afternoon the first trail of black blood slipped from sodden bandages and trailed sluggishly along Sephiroth's hand. The sores had not stopped seeping through. Vincent wiped it away, but the dark smudge looked painfully unnatural against sickness paled skin. He hurried to change the dressings, letting the fouled cloth splatter in the bathtub until he could burn away it. The decayed smell was overwhelming.
By the time the shaking started, sweat drenched Sephiroth's skin. The combination of hypothermia and fever could kill in hours if left alone. Vincent spread blankets around his charge to keep him warm. Yet some places he dared not cover for fear of putting weight on wounds. The trembling began slowly; a shudder in Sephiroth's hands, but by the time he looked again they were still. But gradually the shakes increased in strength, coming with building frequency. Soon, Sephiroth shivered as if frozen even as his skin burned. His muscles twitched in waves, almost as in convulsions rather than from cold.
It worried Vincent the strongest muscle spasms seemed centered in Sephiroth's shoulders. There was something unnatural in the violence these attacks brought. Twice Sephiroth cried out, muscles clenched so tightly Vincent could feel the tension in his hands. Left with few options, Vincent had to press his hand into Sephiroth's jerking shoulder, trying to loosen the excruciating tension there, knowing he caused terrible pain over the Geostigma sores. Closing his ears to Sephiroth's fractured yowl, struggling to pull away. Long moments of his fingers in shuddering flesh before the muscles wrenched free, and then Sephiroth lay panting raggedly, pain etched deep into his face.
The second time, Vincent sat beside the bed, disturbed, unable to shake the feeling. It had almost felt like...something twitching, jerking beneath the skin. Not muscle, not bone, something that shouldn't be there.
But there can't be...Sephiroth is human. I know that, even if he never... Vincent's eyes flickered unwillingly to the metallic claw entombing his left hand, dulling his sense of touch. A constant, cold reminder of what he too had once been. He swallowed, looking to Lucrecia's unconscious son.
Sephiroth's eyes were closed, but Vincent could picture perfectly their unnatural mako-light, pupils slit like a creature's. Not his mother's at all, yet painfully the same in other ways, in the touch of the same man who'd torn him from Lucrecia's arms at birth, who had done this to a child, left him with a monster's eyes.
The claw clenched into a tight fist, metal hissing on metal. Hojo, what did you do to him? If you...I'll...
Low choking stopped him, his charge calling. Sephiroth groaned in his sleep, shuddering again. Vincent hurried to bathe his brow, trying to cool his temperature, trying to keep from thinking.
Twice Sephiroth had transformed during their war, taking a monster's body to match his eyes. It had acutely pained Vincent, though he had mentioned it to no one. That was Lucrecia's son flying high above them, more wing than man.
More monster than human. As Vincent himself.
But when Cloud fought him days ago Sephiroth appeared human again, as far as Cloud had indicated. Despite everything Vincent had taken small comfort in that, though guilty of taking it at the expense of his friends' safety. Lucrecia's son at least hadn't been forced into a monster's shape permanently. That would've been too much for Vincent, even if Cloud had simply struck him down again.
Now he wasn't so sure, and cold suspicion settled uncomfortably in his chest. But much as he needed to know, he didn't investigate further. Sephiroth's back was sensitive to the air alone, and to cause him more pain was cruel.
By evening, exhaustion weighed Vincent down, his left hand near too heavy to lift. Small victories; Sephiroth's fever had stopped fluctuating, though still present. No trembling fit for about an hour, and Sephiroth lay quiet. Vincent just dared hope he may actually sleep in peace. At least then Vincent could breathe for a bit. Unlikely, yet perhaps…
Either way he willingly gave up sleep. Too dangerous to risk it. If Sephiroth suffered another episode in the night he could choke to death.
The stars blinked bright outside when Vincent finally settled beside the bed to wait. Every blanket he had was nestled around Sephiroth, to keep him warm without crushing him with heavy quilts. A water pitcher set out the bedside table with several cloths, ready if needed. Judging by today, they would be.
Sephiroth lay in the nest Vincent had built around him, skin still slick with sweat. He panted a steady tempo, breaths painfully shallow, but thankfully constant. Splotches of black liquid crusted on his bangs. Vincent hadn't had time to clean them.
A brief wince crossed Sephiroth's face. Vincent grimaced reflexively. How much longer could he keep this up?
He sat there watching Sephiroth breathe, so when he was needed he would be ready.
He didn't remember dozing. He hadn't meant to. But stress and roiling emotions dragged him down, and inevitably he dreamed of her.
Lucrecia cried, begging to hold her son just once, while an infant wailed in cold and fear. He tried to call out to her, but couldn't make a sound.
Abruptly, terrifyingly, claws crashed in around him and a roar shattered the nightmares, dragging him from the mists, an image forced before his eyes in vivid heat-bright colors. Vincent shot bolt upright at the horrible, guttural snarl echoing all through the room. What!? He scrambled for his gun even though he could see nothing to aim at.
ENEMY! The word blasted through his mind with enough force to flatten thought, and it was only then he realized Chaos had dragged him awake, and the deafening roars were only in his mind.
The demon screeched and roiled, clawing. He had to suppress Chaos now, or the entire room would be torn to pieces! Holding the flailing demon back enough to think demanded great effort of will. Chaos, what...? he managed, before the demon roared again.
Enemy! the creature howled, thrashing against Vincent's hold on him. Murderer! Monster! Poison! Cursed Enchantress! He struggled fiercely, making the tips of Vincent's clawed fingers twitch and curl uncontrollably.
Vincent grit his teeth and pushed back sharply. Chaos roared as he was forced down. Enemy! Coming, fight! She is here, she is here with us in this room! Yellow eyes burned accusingly in Vincent's mind. Fool!
I'm not letting you out! Vincent grit in response, firmly burying the demon into the recesses of his mind. Chaos snarled once more in defiance before being submerged. Coming...coming...enemy…! The growling litany faded.
Vincent breathed unsteadily, staring out into the dark, forcing his hands to uncurl, the racing of his heart to slow. Chaos only reacted so strongly to presences he utterly despised. Vincent had only encountered two before. What could possibly have riled him?
Chaos' echo, still reverberating in his ears like a far off roar. monster...calamity...Jenova.
A ragged, hoarse cry. Heavy cloth striking the floor.
Inexplicable fear forced him to his feet. Sephiroth!
What he saw froze him in his tracks.
Sephiroth thrashed with all his feeble strength, fighting the blankets around him, jerking as if in a seizure. His nails tore uncontrollably at whatever they could catch, as if struggling to cling to something but unable to hold on for his shaking. Black Geostigma runoff covered each finger in diseased rivulets, staining skin, cloth, whatever it touched. The muscles in his shoulders buckled, rigid and shaking violently, as to tear themselves apart.
If Sephiroth didn't stop, he'd tear the wounds open again-!
Low, choked gasps tore from Sephiroth's throat as he jerked into a ball, limbs shaking. He coughed desperately, black blood in his mouth, splattering his hair and face. Breaths stopped completely as he convulsed again, half-rolled over by the brutal force. His back touched the bed, dragging forth a low cry as he recoiled, and Vincent could see the cruel waves of shivers that wracked his shoulders. Black blood escaped his mouth with each breath.
Vincent rushed forward. He'd heard of the like before; Denzel suffered fits like this, but Sephiroth had already been bleeding black so long it hadn't even occurred to him- And this wasn't simple unconsciousness like Denzel, dangerous enough in itself, these convulsions would kill any normal man with injuries like this!
Metal shrieked, his clawed hand in a tight fist. No!
What the hell do you expect to do? Not Chaos, much as he wished it was. No time. "Sephiroth!"
No response. Lost in whimpers torn free each time another spasm took him, twisted with blood from his throat. And Vincent knew the futility of calling him. Who was he be answered? He had never been there. Sephiroth didn't know him. But he kept saying it, as if the power of his name could hold Sephiroth here a little longer. As if maybe he would sense that for once Vincent was here, that he hadn't failed him.
But he had. He didn't know what to do, and if he did nothing-!
Sephiroth clutched desperately at the bed, curling tighter with a sharp moan, head bent almost to his knees. Vincent hesitated, torn. The wounds in Sephiroth's abdomen must already be torn open, he had to stop moving. But to hold him down, to fight him and force him still…Vincent didn't know if he could bring himself to do that. The pain and fear that would cause… But he had to do something.
Chaos' shrieks echoed still, making burning urgency worse.
Suddenly Sephiroth bucked, back arched, fingers dug into the bed like claws, his entire body jerking violently. Vincent's heart contracted in horror, driving him forward. He could see Sephiroth struggling to make a sound, to scream. He couldn't cry out, throat closed, locked as every muscle in his body seemed to curl in on itself. His back rippled unnaturally, Vincent could see it now, almost as if something were fighting to move-!
A loud crack of tendons, a strangled cry of pain, and something black shot across Vincent's line of sight. Intense, slamming pain on his forehead, a broadsword's force rained down on a single point of bone. Everything abruptly dark and swimming in pain.
The floor slamming against his back, the breath gasping out of his lungs, the cruel shift in gravity dragged him back alert, head aching. For a moment he lay disoriented. All he could see was black.
The black was shaking, and he could hear low, hollow gasps.
Something dripped down to splatter on his cheek, impact reflexively driving his eye shut. Vincent blinked as black liquid trailed thickly towards his ear. Only then he began to process what he saw.
Feathers. A sheet of black feathers blackened his vision, trembling rhythmically, like a heartbeat. Yet unlike birds' wings he knew, these feathers were rumpled and sticking out in every direction, some barely clinging to the flesh they were meant to cover. Broken, split edges ragged from neglect, some feathers halfway and then shorn, naked stems. Red liquid mingled with dripping black across the pitiful form.
The flesh shuddered, and Vincent realized it arched over him, a feathered joint shaking against the floor by his head. He could see through raggedy feathers to the skin beneath, covered in dark bruising and hair-line cracks oozing thick black liquid. Skin color was impossible to tell so soaked were the feathers with red and black blood.
Vincent stared—a wing, his eyes insisted, it had to be a wing. But how...what wing?
Another whimper, a shudder through the form above him dislodged a black feather, which fell slowly onto Vincent's cheek. He blinked and flinched away from its bloody scent of decay. The movement left fine black dust on his face, baffling him. Where had...?
The feather broke apart as he pulled away, his slight movement shattering it to dust.
Goddess, what-? Vincent scrambled from beneath the feathers as if struck. The wing must be, much as he hated the horrible thought-
Sephiroth lay still now, too exhausted to move. He gasped shallowly, his mouth still black and bloody, eyes closed tight. Bandages hung around him in shreds, torn from his body by the wing's attempts to unfurl. Geostigma now trailed further, dark bruises over his shoulders towards his collarbone that promised fresh black ooze if touched. The wounds in his abdomen bled crimson anew, staining the bedsheets. Mottled sores had even appeared along the side of his neck, reaching his jaw.
Yet most horrifying was the raggedly feathered limb that sprang from Sephiroth's exposed shoulders.
It was clearly a wing. The limb arced from Sephiroth's back off the bed's edge, meeting the floor at a sharp angle and laying flat, reaching near the footboard. Bony, bloody knuckles marked the joints, where the feathers had fallen away. Vincent had first seen near the elbow joint, after the wing's release had slammed into his head.
But wretched as the wing seemed there, the joint between the wing and Sephiroth's back was worse. Feathers drooped, plastered to the skin by half-clear scabs, failing in their mangled scarcity to conceal the mottled sores weeping black blood. Where the muscles of shoulder and wing met and tangled, the black mixed with vivid red, as if in its struggle to extend the wing had torn fresh wounds. Bruises and blood darkened the flesh even beneath the appalling second skin of dried Geostigma runoff.
Sephiroth gasped pitifully as the wing jerked, twitching all along its length, grinding feathers and skin against the floor. A feeble attempt to move, failed before it started. Any strength he'd once had was spent, and the wing only shuddered and jerked hopelessly, blood-caked feathers dislodged and snapped by the movement.
Something turned in Vincent's throat at the horrid sight, nausea at the scent of blood and disease that soaked the broken, pitiful form. And nausea too at this thing twitching and jerking off Sephiroth's back. Hojo had done this! How could he have let Hojo do this!?
But overwhelming anything else was painful, stifling pity. Sephiroth lay battered, struggling to breathe, the weight of the wing pinning him down. Dying. Twisted, wings built into his body, then cast aside, like some broken animal left to die. He couldn't bear to see him like this!
This was beyond any power he possessed, though. The wing almost seemed to be tearing itself apart. The blood and Geostigma were so thick. At this rate, who knew how long until Sephiroth broke...
No! He knew what he must do, the only thing that could possibly save Sephiroth. But it made no sense; he didn't know what he was asking, if saving him was even possible now. Sephiroth had killed her. And he didn't know if it was even possible anymore for him to live.
Could she save someone who served...her?
Vincent winced. He had to try. There was no alternative now. If Sephiroth died, he...he knew he wouldn't...
The dim roar in his mind sounded much like Chaos, but may not have been. It seemed touched by anguish rather than rage.
He didn't know what he would do if he had to watch Lucrecia's son die.
Rushing to bandage Sephiroth's wounds enough to carry him, Vincent found his hands shaking, and he didn't have the strength to stop them. Prayers came to him without knowing to what deity he directed them. Better not to. He fell to the only truth a monster could be sure of, and begged her forgiveness for the betrayal and impossibility of what he must ask.
A/N: I am back! 1 college admissions season later and I have finally come back from the dead! Thank you all for keeping supporting this story, and know that I never gave up on coming back. I won't leave this alone, I promise! This has been in the works for an obnoxiously long time, and I apologize. But, here you are. Hope you enjoyed, and hopefully I'll get chapter 5 out in less time.
I love you all! Your support inspires me so much! 3 ~Alma