Just noticed I've been calling Scout a mixture of He and She. It's a HE, people. My bad.
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The vehicle was well equipped to deal with the ruts and potholes that spattered the winding country lanes, though still it would lurch periodically, and rather unexpectedly- it was only because of this that she was unable to at least feign sleep. His knuckles were white, gripping the steering wheel tightly, ruby eyes fixed firmly ahead, trained upon the long shafts of light cast before them by the headlamps.
He didn't say anything to her, which was perhaps just as well. Her throat was raw already, from the effort to keep her sobs silent. The swish-swosh of the windshield wipers, as well as the drone of the engine was a comforting enough blanket to hide within, though she was partly soothed by the feel of Confucius's fur at her fingertips, reaching through the wire of the carry case she had managed to persuade the old cat into, much to his protest. She moved her other hand from its numbing position resting against the cold window pane to wipe roughly at her cheeks where the tears were starting to sting. What was she going to do, when she got to wherever she was going?
Vincent was too lost in his own thoughts to even question Tifa about hers- how could he have not known? The name Wallace- she had introduced herself as Tifa Wallace! He should have put two and two together. Barrett had always talked of his farm, his wife, and even his chocobo for heaven's sake! At the time, the subject first and foremost on his mind was his survival. There hadn't been time to consider the consequences, the repercussions….
They had left the door open. He could hardly belief it. Numb, and strapped to a table, he still found the strength to writhe and wriggle free of his wrist restraints, with only a little burning from the leather straps. He'd grabbed his clothes, and after a little desperate searching, that shining silver revolver Tifa had recently returned to him. The door made the same sound that it made whenever someone had entered or left, though this time it was music to his ears. Two years, and he'd never really left that room; though there was no way he would have let himself forget the way out of this hell hole. With the revolver armed, his pockets filled with the bullets he had scavenged, he was not going to let anyone stop him…
Not even her. She had begged him not to run away, that they would find him, but he had seen her hand reach for her own weapon, beneath the folds of her lab coat. Lucy, the woman he had believed MIA for years, was alive and well… working for the enemy. It was because of her that he was here in the first place, or at least, still here. He had intended it to only be a swift data retrieval mission, though he had stalled too long, thinking that she had been kept here against her will… but he was wrong. She lied, had deceived him, delayed him long enough for security forces to catch up with him. Then his so called in-and-out mission had turned into a indefinite imprisonment.
But now, he was free at least. He might not have the data he went in for, but he wasn't going to give up now, that's for sure.
A swift glance to his right found Tifa's face averted, any part of her expression hidden away behind her curtain of dampened hair. A soft whimper at his feet and then a cool kiss of a nose against his hand gripping the gearshift brought his attention to Scout. He'd been curled around Tifa's ankles silent for most of the journey.
"I know, buddy. We'll get you out soon, I promise." He allowed himself to reach out and scratch him behind the ears, before returning his attention to the road ahead.
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It was still here; One bubble of safety amidst a ruined warehouse, a retreat for agents caught out in the field. It wasn't in use, otherwise the fingerprint scanner would not have allowed him inside.
Tifa had been sleeping, though she looked anything but rested. He quashed the sense of guilt at waking her- they were going somewhere warm and safe, where she could sleep in peace for a little while at least.
"What is this place?" She muttered a little gruffly once Vincent had secured the heavy metal door behind them. The lights above their heads buzzed on, humming softly as they warmed up.
"It's a military safe house. Agents in the field can access them at any time if they are in danger, or if they're caught out somehow."
"You're an agent?"
He said nothing for a moment, his pale lips pulled tight. "I would have said perhaps not, but the finger scanner would call me a liar. It seems even agents thought missing are still allowed access."
"And we are safe here?" She let Confucius out of his box, watching as he sniffed tentatively at his new surroundings. Scout seemed relatively happy with the place at least, his tail twitching as she sniffed hopefully at Vincent, who was busy rummaging inside a metal cabinet at the far end of the room.
"Nobody can get in from the outside, unless they happened to have a rather copious amount of TNT. We can stay here for as long as it takes to rest up. I can call for a pick up whenever you feel ready."
"We are staying here for the night?" She notes that there are several cots against the wall, ready to be pulled down to sleep on. Vincent disappears for a moment into a tiny room that she assumed is a bathroom.
"You would prefer to leave now?" He frowns as he re-emerges, setting down a bowl full of water for Scout. "Only I've been MIA for two years, and I don't doubt they'll want to question you, too. It'd be best if you got some rest first, believe me."
"Ok." Running a hand through her hair, she allows herself a moment of vanity; her hair is matted, damp, and probably looks about as bad as it felt. "Can I take a shower?"
He nods in the direction of the door. "Go ahead. You will find everything you need in there. Should I make something to eat?"
"Please, if you would." Tifa stepped around him to enter the small bathroom, aware suddenly of how cold she felt. A nice hot shower would do her good.
"Tifa… I'm… I'm sorry." He calls suddenly after her, and she turns to find him staring hard at the concrete floor. "I owe you... I'm sure you have… questions you want answering." He runs a hand through his hair, chancing a glance at her, stood awkwardly in the door. "And I promise you can have them. It's the least I can do for… for ruining everything."
"I… You haven't ruined anything, Vincent, you-"
"I have." He asserted his point with a heavy sigh. "I'll get started on the food, you just… take your time."
Dinner was relatively silent, and awkward. Dressed in black pants and a long sleeved top Vincent had found for her from the lockers, she felt at least refreshed after her hot shower. She had emerged red and glowing, to find a bowl of steaming soup waiting for her at the small table in the centre of the room. Vincent wasn't offering up any conversation, and she didn't feel she was strong enough to take up the challenge. Her hunger allowed her to focus solely on the task of eating, though when her bowl sat empty, she realised she couldn't avoid it any longer.
"You should… Shower too. You'll catch a cold or something." The compact safe room wasn't exactly warm either; the concrete was hard and frigid beneath her bare feet. "Or at least get out of those wet clothes…" She probed, when he showed no signs of moving, or even acknowledging that she had spoken.
He made a non-committing sound, before getting up slowly out of the chair and returning to the metal lockers and taking out fresh clothes. The door to the bathroom closed with a snap after him.
"What's going on, Scout?" She sighed, setting down her bowl so the apparently still-hungry collie could lick it clean.
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When he emerged, she'd already laid out the cots, and having figured out the lighting system, turned out the noisy electric lights and lit a hurricane lamp, setting it upon the vacant table. She finished patting the last pillow and smoothing down the sheets before turning to him.
"I have thought about what questions I want to ask you," She ventured, seating herself on the edge of her cot, and drawing her legs up to wrap her arms around them. Confucius had settled himself at the foot of Vincent's, and so Vincent seated himself cross legged upon the mattress, burying his fingers in the cat's fur.
"What do you want to know?" He'd resigned himself to her questions, and wasn't really looking forward to the retelling of his story; he knew it'd have to have come out at some point, though. He may as well get it over with.
"Where were you, before I found you near death that day?"
Not too difficult. "I had been a prisoner at a nearby illegal research facility."
"A prisoner? Why? How long?" Her eyebrows had shot up at that. Well, at least he wasn't a convict.
"I believe I have been there for nearly two years- and I was a prisoner because I was not supposed to be there."
"But where? I know the area around Kalm and there are no buildings or anything that could house a research facility."
She was sure to be assembling the clues soon enough. "In the mines."
"The mines?" She stared at him aghast for a moment, before her expression darkened. "I knew you were hiding something from me. You knew Barrett all along, didn't you?"
She was furious. Not that he hadn't expected that, but… "I… I knew him. But I was protecting you. I… I should have left, as soon as I was able. I was putting you in danger, by staying."
"How did you know him?" Her voice was a deathly whisper. Did she think he had been responsible for his death?
"We… We worked together." This was going to be the hardest part, and only because he knew what it might do to her.
"Are you crazy? Barrett was just a miner! And he never mentioned you."
"Barrett wasn't a miner, Tifa." He said softly, unable to look her in the eye. "He was… we were partners. He was working for the government."
"No…" She shook her head slowly, standing upright suddenly, and beginning to pace the room. "He… he lied to me, too? For how many years did he lie to me?"
He stood, too, unsure of what he would do. Still, he reached out to stop her in her trajectory around the table, pale, strong fingers holding her firmly by the shoulders. "He had to. He didn't have a choice. He was doing it for you, Tifa." He took her chin between his thumb and index finger to force her to look at him. "I didn't know your name, or what you looked like, but he… he talked about his wife a lot. Now I know that it was you."
"He… he talked about me to you?"
"Yes. He would say how beautiful you were, about how much he looked forward to your cooking every night," She returned his smile, if not a little feebly. "He would tell me that as soon as he made enough money, he'd be able to start converting the spare room into a nursery…"
"Stop…" She whimpered, shaking her head desperately. "Please stop… I don't…" She was sobbing bitterly now against his chest, beating at him weakly with her fists. "I can't… it's not fair."
He found himself mentally crying out an apology to Barrett as he held her tightly, trying his best to soothe her. "I'm sorry, Tifa. I tried to tell him to wait, that we needed to make sure that… that it was safe before we rushed in… But he didn't listen. I was knocked out when the explosion happened but… he didn't make it." He waited for her breathing to calm before he forced himself to continue, directing Tifa to her cot. She lay on her side, her hands splayed across her abdomen as though she would tear in two if she let go. After a moment, he seated himself on the edge beside her. "I tried to make the men up top see sense. But they wouldn't give us the resources we needed to launch an assault on the base, now that we knew where it was. I was getting angrier by the day- how could they let Barrett's death be in vain? Two years of waiting, my partner dead, and still they would do nothing. I blamed myself for his death… I needed to make things right… maybe then I could tell his widow that we had completed what he had been to desperate to achieve."
"Barrett always rushed into things head-first," She chuckled dryly, reaching out a quivering hand to grip his arm. "Don't blame yourself, Vincent. I'm sure if he were here, he'd smack you upside the head for being so bloody impatient."
They shared a laugh at that, and Vincent felt a little better for being able to tell her the truth. "He was a great man. We all missed him."
"Why wasn't I allowed to know, Vincent?"
"Classified information. It's awful, I know. But… It can't be helped. The information would only have put you in danger."
"Aren't I in danger now, then? Why are you telling me everything that your… organisation worked so hard to keep from me?" She fixed him with her amber eyes, her expression expectant.
He swallowed. "I already put you at risk. as it was. I think you at least deserved to know why."
"I appreciate it. I could tell that… there was something about you. You started to look at me differently, like you knew me from somewhere. I guess you did, in a way, huh?"
"Hm." He noted vaguely how warm her fingers were, still entwined around his wrist.
"What were you hoping to achieve, by going in alone? That's the sort of thing Barrett would have done." She gave a soft chuckle through her nose, no doubt reminiscing.
"Yeah, well… I wanted answers, and I wanted action. I was already suspended from active duty- what more damage could I do? So I set off to make things right… Only I… I got stupid."
"Stupid?" She frowned, shifting her position a little. She was almost curled around him, her knees at one hip, and her upper body at the other.
"I met someone there that I didn't expect to see, let's just say." His lips were a thin line, and he felt a wave of unexpected anger wash over him, returning to him as it hit him then, when he realised he had been betrayed.
"You don't want to talk about it?" She'd propped herself up on one elbow, considering him carefully.
"It's not that. I just... I haven't really had the chance to think about her since… I suppose I should start at the beginning." He folded his hands in his lap, considering what exactly to tell her. It certainly wasn't a pretty story. "About six or seven years ago, this wasn't my job- being an agent, I mean. My father was of high rank in the governments agency, as was all I knew, back then. I'd seen what his profession had done to my mother- she'd been helpless to help him, left hurt by his coldness and his detached attitude towards both her, and me and my sister. I didn't want that kind of life for my wife and children, as they were yet to be." He rubbed at his chin agitatedly. Her fingers, still in place at his wrist inched a little closer to his palm. "I chose a different path- I worked in the police force for five years, inching my way up the ranks. Then I met her." His knuckled went white.
"You met who?" She probed softly.
"Lucy. Lucy Williams. She was everything I thought I wanted in a girl; she was attractive, funny, and not to mention incredibly intelligent. First in her class in chemistry and biology, she then went on to work for a top medical research company, where she excelled-"
"Vincent, you're reading like a computer- Just tell me what happened. I don't need all the details." She worked her fingers across his palm, holding his hand firmly in hers, encouraging and steadying him. He apologised mentally to Barrett again.
"Sorry. Well, she was doing pretty well for herself. We started dating, after I was introduced to her through a friend, and we'd been together for a year when… when she just disappeared. It was as if she had been abducted by aliens or something. The detectives couldn't figure it out. Nothing of hers was missing at her apartment, nobody had seen her, or anything out of the ordinary. It was as if she had dropped out of existence, leaving no trace.
"I was devastated. I worked all through the night for most days, trying to crack the case of her disappearance. My performance dropped, and I was a mess, basically. Then my father alluded that I could do more to try and locate her if I… If I became an agent for the government."
"And you bought it?"
"Hook, line and sinker," He scoffed. "I thought I was going to be enlightened by a world of Intel and secrecy. But all I got were more false leads, and cold trails. I kept at it, though. Then I found something. Erratic signals had been getting picked up from the Kalm mountains, and there were a couple reports of 'incidents' where miners were getting killed. It was over a period of several years, and all of those deaths were explained by some sort of accident… But still, the trail eventually lead me to the Kalm mines."
"And you met Barrett, then?" A lump formed in her throat.
He game a confirmatory nod. "My father hired him. He had excellent local knowledge, and he'd pass off as a miner- I couldn't believe the size of the guy when I first met him." He shuddered to think what he might have done to him now, locked in a sound-proof, impenetrable concrete bunker with his wife. "Well, the rest is relatively simple. I managed to get in, two years ago, then I ran into Lucy."
"What was she doing there?" Tifa's shock could hardly match up to his, that day.
"She was working for them. She had been using me in an attempt to gain Intel on my father and his operations. Though it seemed that when it became clear she wasn't getting anything out of me, she just upped and left. When I saw her I… I thought… I thought she was a captive there. I couldn't have made a more idiotic mistake. Because of her, they caught me. Then I found out firsthand what exactly it was they were doing there that was so bad they had to keep it hidden.
"Human experimentation. There were others there, Tifa- And it seemed they'd had the worst of it. One of them couldn't speak, and a couple of others were verging on mentally unstable. Nearly every day, from what I could tell, I was strapped to that fucking metal table and… prodded with needles, blacking out periodically until I lost all sense of time…"
"And you are alright? I mean, what did they do to you?" She made no attempt to hide her horror, her spine stiffening as she sat up a little, focussed intently upon his face.
"Like I said, I didn't seem to get the worst of it. Those poor bastards must've been…" He shook his head, the memories clearly haunting him. "I don't know what they did. All I know is… When those men… at your farm; My senses were… elevated, somehow. It was like I could hear his heart beating, like I could… I knew exactly where he wouldn't be able to see me. I had strength that someone as malnourished as I was shouldn't have had…" He was staring at his hands, revolt emanating from his stiffened form. "And I only noticed what had happened to me eyes once I'd gotten the chance to see my reflection for the first time in two years. It's like I'm some kind of demon."
"No. No you're not." Sat crossed legged now, she reached across the space between them to turn his face toward hers. "Your eyes are beautiful. A testament to your suffering, if you will; to your strength and endurance."
"I wasn't strong," He said bitterly, avoiding making eye contact with her. "There were days when I just wanted it all to end. I just wanted to die, to escape the seemingly never-ending hell I was trapped in."
"But you made it out alive. You survived."
"Yes. But at what cost?" He stared down at his palms again, finding them trembling slightly. "She got in my way… I… I had to… I had no other choice."
"Lucy?" Tifa dared to whisper her name. What had he done?
"It's… it's getting late." He stated after a moment, getting steadily to his feet and crossing over to his own bunk. "We should rest. We have a long day ahead, no doubt." The hurricane lamp was snuffed out, and the room sank into the thickest kind of darkness. No windows, no cracks through which light could enter. It choked her momentarily.
"Vincent?" She called out testily.
"Could you… Will you promise me something?"
"What is it?" She could hear him desist in moving, perhaps adjusting his position in the small bed.
"I'm scared, Vincent. Everything that I thought I knew has changed… You are… you are the only friend I have. Please don't leave me, when we get out of here. Don't let them keep secrets from me about Barrett, as if they knew him better than I did. Don't'-" She was near panicking now, though she felt somewhat soothed by the sudden burst of light as the hurricane lamp was lit again, Vincent's shadow passing before it as he approached her bunk.
"Hey… Calm down." His hand rested against her still-damp hair, his weight comforting beside her as he seated himself on the edge of the mattress. "I promise I won't let them drag you off anywhere. I won't let them hide anything from you anymore. You deserve to know the truth."
"You'll stay?" She wasn't really making sense, but he nodded anyway.
"I'm not going to leave you, I swear. Ok?" When he received a shaky yet confirmatory nod, he left her to return once again to his bed, this time leaving the lamp on.
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"This is it, now." He stated, his hand poised before the button. "Once I press this, they will be alerted, and a team should be on its way to collect us. There's no turning back. Are you sure you're ready?"
Judging by Vincent's watch, as she had no other way to determine the time, it was a few hours past dawn. "I… I'm ready." She was sat at the small Formica table, Scout's snout resting upon her lap. She scratched him behind the ears to ease her own discomfort.
"All right. Headquarters, here we come." He heaved a sigh before pushing the button with a weighted sigh.
After an immeasurable amount of time had passed, or at least it seemed that way to Tifa, there came a resonant, shrill beeping sound from the control panel at the door. She met Vincent's gaze as he approached it, pausing only briefly to make sure she was in place with the shotgun she'd thought to bring along aimed at the door. Just in case.
After pressing the button he stepped away quickly to join her stood sentry before the door, aiming his revolver, too.
The metal door whined as it was pushed open. illuminated from the lights within, was an ethereally beautiful woman. She was perhaps a few inches taller than Tifa, clad all in black leather. Her sheet of black hair fell almost to her waist, and though Tifa was too far away to detect the colour of her eyes, she was sure they might have been green. Behind her were several helmeted men, armed and alert.
"Anna?" Vincent called out testily, his grip on the revolver faltering. Tifa stared from the woman, to Vincent, and then back again, only lowering her weapon partially when she saw Vincent holster his. The guards relaxed.
"It's good to see you alive, Vincent." She stepped forwards gracefully and embraced him, smiling with her full, sensuous lips. "The terrible twins are together again." Anna rested her chin upon his shoulder, though her inquisitive gaze was fixed upon Tifa, faltering in the background. "Who is she?"
"This is… Uh… This is Tifa Wallace."
She gave him one, hard look before she said, "Fuck."
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I know this is slow, but its coming together.