'Dammit...' I limp hastily along, blood dripping from my left arm. I pull out another throwing knife and chuck it behind me, successfully nailing the last beast between the eyes. I breathe a sigh of relief, slowing to a stop. My ankle's started throbbing, and my arm hasn't gotten any better.

'I need to find a safe place; more of those things could show up anytime.' I look around at my surroundings, having been chased pretty far up a mountain, and thankfully find a cave not to far away. I hurry towards it, my eyes darting around and searching for any movement. I finally reach the cave's mouth and my paranoia dies down. Oddly enough, there's a blue glow coming from deeper in the darkness. 'Hmm...' Using the wall for support, I make my way further into the cave.

"Whoa..." I murmur, stopping dead at the sight. The tunnel opens up into a huge, room-like space. Blue crystals are all over the area, probably what made the glow I'd seen. I look at the center of the place, where there's a large crystal. My head tilts to the side, 'Is that... a person inside?' Being mindful of my ankle, I limp closer to it. I stop about a foot away and gasp, "God..."

Encased in the crystal is a woman in a stunning white dress, her face frozen in a sad expression, and her hands are folded over her chest.

I put my hand on the surface of the stone and almost instantly feel the energy radiating from it. "Mako..." I whisper, studying the woman. 'She's beautiful... but why does she look so familiar? And so depressed...'

Footsteps from the entrance of the cave snap me back into awareness. 'Shit!' I go around to the other side of the crystal and curls up on the ground.

The person walks into the cave, stopping about halfway in.

I instinctively try to curl myself tighter, but with my luck, accidentally kick a small rock, which rolls and creates an echo. I curse mentally, my jaw clenching. I hear the click of a gun safety and stop breathing. 'Dammit, they're armed...'

"Show yourself," comes a man's voice.

I bite my lip and try to diffuse the situation a little. "...I'm not gonna hurt you. I was just looking for a safe place to hide for a while." It's silent after that, which I take as a good sign.

"Where are you?" he finally asks.

I let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. "Behind the big crystal. ...Please put the gun away? I'm not here to hurt you." I hear him slip the gun into a holster and step slowly around the crystal. I look up at him from beneath my brown, face-framing bangs.

He's pretty tall, and he's wearing all black, save for his headband and long, tattered cape, which are crimson. The cape is clasped around most of his face.

He looks me over, "...Who are you?"

"Alex Ayres. Yourself?" I respond calmly.

He hesitates, and I can tell he's debating whether or not he can trust me. "...Vincent Valentine."

I blink up at him. 'I've heard that name before. Maybe... No, he can't be the same guy. It's gotta be a coincidence.' Ignoring my thoughts, I smile slightly, "Nice name." Now that I'm not fearing for my life, the pain coursing through me comes back with a vengeance. I wince and latch my hand onto my still bleeding arm.

Vincent kneels in front of me slowly, staring at my arm. "What happened?" he asks, easily moving my hand to get a better look at the wound.

"Just some fiends hounding me. I'll be able to heal once I've gotten some energy back; I'll be fine," I murmur, looking at the ground. I can feel his eyes burning into me, though.

"Heal yourself? How?"

I sigh quietly. "It's one of my... enhancements." At his silence, I continue, "I was a 'guest' in Shinra's labs for a couple of years; the test subject for an experiment called Project Angel. I used to be a normal person just like anyone else, but then those deranged scientists went to work on me."

He stares at my face. "...You seem normal to me."

I smile wryly. "That's because they didn't change my appearance at all. I think Shinra planned to use me for covert operations." I finally meet his gaze. "How many people do you know that can heal their own injuries, or sprout feathered wings?" I'm not surprised that he has no response. I look back at the ground and place a hand over my heart. "I guess there are advantages, too."

My hand starts to glow golden-yellow. I hold my hand over my bleeding arm and breathe steadily. The teeth marks mend themselves, and the blood appears to evaporate. Once it's healed, I do the same to my ankle with the same effect. When I'm done, the glow disappears. After looking myself over, I pull my knees up to my chest and hug them. "So, what's your story?"

He eyes me curiously. "My... story?"

I smile more genuinely now. "I sense a unique aura from you. You're different, too." I frown when he doesn't say anything. "Don't tell me... you're like me?"

Something flashes in his eyes right before he looks away.

I follow his gaze to the woman in the crystal.

"She saved me. But to do it... she gave me something that changed me," he murmurs hesitantly, like he's trying to choose his words carefully.

I look back at him, my breath caught in my throat. 'It's him. It has to be.' "H-Her name..." I shake my head, clearing it before trying to talk again. "Is she Lucrecia Crescent? The scientist?"

His eyes snap back to me, making me flinch back a little. "How do you know that?"

I realize that he doesn't sound angry; more like anxious. "Before I escaped the lab... I made sure to erase all of the data about me from their network. But I also read as many of their files as I could before they found me. I thought if the Turks came after me, I could use some of their hidden information to get Shinra to back off. Like blackmail.

"After a little digging, I found a series of entries by a Dr. Crescent detailing the experiments she conducted with someone named Dr. Hojo. There were a lot of notes about something called Chaos and mentions of a Turk who'd gotten involved." I look him in the eye as I finish, "Vincent Valentine."

He stares at me once I finish, then looks at Lucrecia again. "...Then you already know my story."

I nod, "Most of it. ...I'm sorry. You've been through so much, and it's really none of my business..."

"Don't apologize. You didn't do anything wrong."

For a few seconds, I can't seem to tear my gaze from him. 'I feel like there's still something I'm missing... Am I forgetting something else?' After a minute of silence, I decide I shouldn't be here. I feel like I'm intruding on something important to him. And so, I stand from my place on the ground. "You probably want to be alone. I'll leave you be."

He stands as well, and I notice that he looks me over. "...Are you sure you're alright?"

I can't help but smile at the fact that he's concerned. "Just fine, thanks. ...It was nice meeting you, Vincent."

He nods and says nothing more than, "Be careful."

With that, I give a small wave before turning tail and hurrying outside. Once I'm out of there, I take a deep breath. A faint glow surrounds me, and a bright light flashes behind me before my wings form. A few of the white feathers float to the ground as I stretch the large appendages, readying myself for flight. Once I'm set, I run towards the ledge and jump off, catching the air with my wings and soaring back towards Midgar.

Now, of all moments, my cell phone starts vibrating in the pocket of my now shredded jeans. Slightly irritated, I pull it out, careful not to drop it, and hold it to my ear. "Hello!" I yell over the wind.

"Alex? Where are you?" I barely make out.

"Carrie, you have to talk loud! I'm airborne!"

"Where are you!" she asks again.

"On my way home!"

"I'll meet you there! I'm off today, remember!"

"Yeah, alright! See you then!" I hang up and continue on my way home.

~.*-About Four Hours Later-*.~

"He doesn't look like a chocobo!" Carrie protests as we walk into the Seventh Heaven. It's around seven o' clock, now.

"Yes, he does! Jeez, how do you not see it?" I argue back.

"Carrie! Alex!" Denzel and Marlene immediately run up and tackle us.

Tifa smiles at us. "Hey, guys."

I notice a familiar someone sitting at the bar; someone with a tattered red cape.

"Vincent! Long time no see!" Carrie calls.

I'm a little surprised when she greets him. 'They know each other?'

He turns at the sound of his name and responds, "Hello, Carrie." His eyes land on me, so I smile at him and give a shy wave.

My best friend looks from Vincent to me and seems to realize something. "Oh, right! Vincent, this is-"

"Alex; I know," he finishes for her.

She gives him a confused look. "You know?"

I look back and forth between the two of them. "Wait, he's the one you wanted me to meet? The other member of Avalanche?"

She nods slowly. "Yeah, this is Vincent. You two know each other already?"

My eyes widen when it hits me. 'That's what I forgot!' "Oh my God..." I mutter, slapping my forehead at my own stupidity. I sigh, "Yeah, we met about a week ago. But I had no idea he was the same person you told me about..." I then look back at Vincent with an embarrassed smile. "How's it going?"

Carrie just stares at me oddly. "Whatever... GAH!"

"CARRIE!" Yuffie yells after jumping on my somewhat small friend.

I laugh and venture over to where Vincent's sitting. I settle next to him at the bar.

Carrie tries to pry the ninja off of her. "Alex, HELP!"

I roll my eyes. "Yeah, right. Like you helped me last time? It's your turn."

She glares at me and goes back to trying to free herself.

I turn to Vincent and the first thing I say is, "I am so sorry for not realizing who you were."

A small smirk can be seen on his face. "What do you mean? You seemed to know who I was."

I narrow my eyes at him. "You know what I mean. Carrie must've talked about you a hundred times. Leave it to me to forget what she said and remember all the morbid stuff," I curse myself. I think he actually chuckles at my self-criticism.

"It's fine. I didn't realize who you were, either, despite Carrie always bringing you up," he admits.

I blink. "Carrie told you about me?"

"You sound surprised."

"That's because I am. She told me about everyone in Avalanche, which is why I heard about you. ...I didn't think she said anything about me," I explain, thinking about what she might've told him.

"Hm. Well, it was all good things, in case you were worried," he says, as if reading my mind.

"Thank God..." I mutter.

"Hey, Alex!" Yuffie calls over. "I'm taking Carrie shopping! You in?"

I smirk and shake my head. "No thanks; already been."

"Aw, come on, Alex!" Carrie cries.

I laugh at how desperate she sounds. "Suck it up. At least you'll get a few band-tees outta the deal."

She sighs and doesn't bother fighting when Yuffie drags her out of the bar.

I giggle at the sight, then turn back to the counter when Tifa asks if I want something to drink. "My usual would be great," I answer, still smiling.

She nods and grabs a glass from the shelf.

"I take it you come here often," Vincent guesses.

"Well, I work here, so that's a yes," I tease. I grin when Tifa slides me my drink. After thanking her, I look back at Vincent. "I'm the entertainment three nights a week."

"Entertainment?"

"She sings," Tifa clarifies. "And she makes good tips doing it."

I laugh at the comment and joke, "Since when do drunk men tip well because of my singing?"

She laughs with me, agreeing. "Good point."

"What does that mean, Alex?" Marlene asks, looking up at me curiously.

Thinking quickly, I smile down at her. "Something you'll understand when you're older. Believe me, you don't need to know yet."

She just tilts her head, but nods, "Okay." With a sweet smile, she asks me, "Are you gonna sing tonight?"

I nod, "Yep. I go on late though, so if you can stay up, I'll come upstairs and sing for you and Denzel before I start. But only if you promise to go to sleep when I'm done."

She nods excitedly, grinning from ear to ear. "Thanks, Alex!" She then runs off upstairs, probably to go tell Denzel.

I laugh as she goes. "She's so cute." I then turn to Tifa, "You think Barret would let me keep her for a few days? The house is too quiet."

"Hmm, maybe. He should be stopping by tomorrow to see her. Ask him then," she suggests.

I nod and take a sip of my drink. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Vincent looking at me. "What?"

"She seems to like you," he points out.

Tifa smirks. "Marlene's not the only one. Alex is better with kids than anyone else I know. Except maybe Cloud; they love him for some reason..."

I roll my eyes. "So, I'm a munchkin magnet? Thanks, Tifa."

A few guys start wandering in now that it's getting later. One of them looks over and sees me. He laughs, "Still afraid to try a real drink?"

I give him an annoyed look and, just to spite him, sip at my drink again. "At least mine doesn't turn me into a brainless pervert, jackass."

The man just sneers and sits at a table, his buddies laughing at him.

Vincent eyes my glass. "What is that?"

"A Shirley Temple; basically 7-Up with cherry," I answer, twirling the straw around in the soda.

"You don't drink?"

"Nope. I think alcohol's gross, and I value my brain cells, unlike the drunks that stumble in here at night."

Cloud comes downstairs and looks over the few people that are already here.

I wave at him, "Hey, Cloud."

He nods my way. "Hey, Alex. Vincent." After getting a nod from the cloaked man, he asks me, "Is Carrie with you?"

I laugh, "Sorry, she got kidnapped by Yuffie. I shudder to think of what torture she's being put through right now." I catch Vincent smirking behind his collar.

He sighs. "Right... Thanks." Then, he walks out, probably to look for the girls.

I glance at Tifa, who's busied herself with cleaning the counter, and send her a sympathetic look. Before I can say anything, though, a painful pulse shoots through my skull. "Ow!" I growl, trying to shake it off. With a sigh, I get up from my seat. "Be right back; Carrie's getting shot at again." I hurry out the door before either of my friends can say anything.

~.*-*.~

"I can't leave you alone for more than five minutes, can I?" I mutter to Carrie and Yuffie as we walk back to the bar.

"It wasn't our fault!" the ninja defends. "Those guys cornered us and started hitting on us! They pulled knives when we started fighting back!"

"Again, no more than five minutes. You guys attract creeps."

Carrie shrugs, "Nothing I can't handle."

"Right, which is why you felt the need to call out to me..." I trail off.

"Well... there were a lot of them. And besides, you know you enjoy creeper bashing once in a while!" she argues.

I laugh and nod in response. "That I do. Oh, for future reference, try to calm down before calling out. When you're panicking or something, the pulse kinda hurts."

"Got it; my bad."

Yuffie eyes Carrie weirdly. "...I don't get why you had to bring Alex into it. I mean, you're a psychic for crying out loud! A couple of your energy blasts and they would've scattered like little girls!"

"It wears me out. I need my energy to fight off Reno and his stupid pranks."

I elbow her with a smirk. "You love when he teases you."

"Oh yeah, having a stalker is such a turn-on..."

I laugh at her comment as we approach the bar.

Yuffie runs ahead, leaving Carrie and I to shake our heads at how hyper she always is.

Once inside, I see Yuffie already seated next to Vincent at the counter. I almost chuckle, 'Right where I left him.' I start to join them when Cloud walks through the door, causing me to grin. "Hey, Carrie, your chocobo-headed boyfriend's back!" I yelp when she swats at me, flinching away.

She sighs, but goes to give Cloud a hug, which is where I "aww" and giggle. After I look away from them, I notice Vincent staring at them while they talk. Concern bubbling up, I lay a hand on his shoulder and send him a worried/questioning look when he turns to me.

His crimson eyes are practically burning through me for those seconds, but then he sighs and just gets up. My eyes follow him as he exits the bar without a word.

"What's up with him?" Yuffie asks no one in particular.

"I dunno... but I'm gonna find out," I answer, getting up and going after our mysterious friend. Outside the doors, he's already disappeared completely. I walk the streets for around five minutes, but soon realize that I have no idea of knowing where he is. 'This was a dumb thing to do... Oh, wait a second!' Feeling like a genius, I run into an alley and sprout my wings, then take off towards the mountain. 'Hopefully, if I found it by accident, I can find it again...' The entire trip over the city, I try to ignore the weird stares. My mood brightens significantly when the same cave comes into view. 'Yes!'

I glide towards it, descending onto the cliff and taking a minute to catch my breath. Once I'm caught up and my wings have disappeared, I creep quietly into the cave. To my relief, I find Vincent sitting among the crystals, staring at Lucrecia. Having a nagging feeling he won't be happy to see me, I proceed with caution. Deep breath, and, "...I thought you might be here."

He glances at me, but only for a few seconds before returning to his staring.

I sigh, slowly walking towards him. "I know you probably want to be alone, but... I wanted to see if you were okay."

He still says nothing, leaving me standing there feeling very small and stupid.

I interpret this as him not wanting me there. "Right, uh... sorry to bother you, then. I'll leave you be." I turn and start walking back, wanting to kick myself for even thinking I could help.

"You're not bothering me."

I stop, turning around again. "I'm... not?"

He shakes his head slightly in response.

With another breath, I go back to him and situate myself at his side. I let the silence hang over us before speaking again. "...Why did you just up and leave like that?"

He seems reluctant to answer. He eventually replies, "Seeing Carrie and Cloud together..." and leaves the sentence hanging.

I nod, already knowing what he's talking about. "I get it. You don't have to explain anymore. ...But I don't understand how coming here would help at all." I slap a hand over my mouth when his smoldering gaze turns back on me.

To my surprise, he doesn't look put off; just curious. "Why do you say that?"

It takes some work to snap myself out of my deer-in-headlights trance so I can answer. "Well, uh... if thinking about what happened depresses you... then seeing her like this can't make you feel any better."

His eyes flicker, then move back to Lucrecia.

Glad to have avoided saying something even dumber, I try to offer something helpful. "You know... a lot of people live by the phrase 'seize the day'."

He glances over again. "...What's your point?"

I smile to myself. "It's advice, Vincent. ...You need to start living again."

It takes him a second to answer. "...I know. I'm just not sure how."

That throws me a little. 'Umm...' "I guess you need to find somewhere to start."

Vincent looks like he's actually considering the things I've said. "...Any suggestions?"

"Hmm... Maybe... you should start by letting go."

~.*-*.~

"Tell him."

"No."

"Tell him!"

"No!"

"ALEX!" Yuffie yells in frustration, breaking the pattern between her, me, and Carrie.

I sigh, "Are you two done?"

"Not by a long shot," Carrie replies.

Yuffie groans. "We're just trying to help, ya know!"

I rest my head on the bar and cover it with my arms. "Then don't."

"But he seems so much happier when you're here! Come on, you know you want to!" the ninja persists.

"No, I really don't."

"What don't you want to do?" Tiffa asks, coming out of the back room.

Carrie answers for me. "She won't admit that she's crushing."

Tifa laughs, "Oh. Old news."

It's been nearly two weeks since my little "talk" with Vincent. After only one week, Yuffie got it in her head that I like him, which she told Carrie, and which they both bug me about every day.

Tifa sets a glass down, "Why won't you tell him? I'm sure it'll all work out."

I just sigh again, keeping my head down and my eyes shut in an attempt to ignore them.

Carrie gets up from what I can hear. "Just leave her, I guess. We'll try again tomorrow, Yuffie." She then walks to the door, which I hear open and close after a pause, so I assume she's gone.

After thirty seconds of silence, I hear Yuffie giggle. "Just admit it. You'll feel better if you do."

Next is Tifa muttering, "Yuffie, don't..."

Still not looking behind me to see her smartass grin, I prop my elbow on the counter and hold my head up. "...If I do, will you leave me alone? No more teasing or bugging me?"

"I promise!" she chirps.

'Finally!' I roll my eyes, thankful for a way out. "Fine. I like Vincent. Are you happy now?"

To my surprise and confusion, she starts laughing.

A little miffed that she'd laugh at me after that, I spin around on the barstool. "What's so-" I freeze, wanting nothing more than to strangle Yuffie.

Standing no more than ten feet away is Vincent, his head tilted to the side, and eyes locked on me.

'He must have come in when Carrie left...' I send a glare Yuffie's way, my face starting to burn.

She just shrugs with an innocent smile. "Oops."

'Yeah, right.'

"Alex."

I hesitantly look up at him, "Hm?"

He just turns and walks outside.

Knowing well enough what that means, I sigh and get up, then follow his lead. Once outside, I see that he's already a good way down the street, so I jog to catch up. My hands are clasped behind me, and my eyes are glued to the ground. "...Where are we going?"

He catches my wrist, easily tugging me behind a building.

The next thing I know, all I can see is red. There's the sound of rushing wind and the feeling of being held onto. I can't make anything else out, though. This goes on for a few moments, but then I blink and find myself surrounded by glowing, white trees. Right nearby is a small lake, but it's so still, it almost looks like a mirror.

Vincent moves from behind me towards the water and sits down, nodding for me to follow.

Regaining feeling in my legs, I comply, settling next to him. "...Why here?"

"We won't be bothered out here."

Feeling stupid for asking, I hug my knees. "Right..." Not knowing what to say, I just stare out at the water.

"...Why?"

I look at him, confusion clear on my face. " 'Why' what?"

He keeps his gaze straight ahead. "Why me?"

I smile a little, despite my anxiety and embarrassment. "Because you understand... and I like to think I understand you in some way...

"Hn, then you're the first," he remarks sarcastically.

My smile becomes a smirk. "Maybe you're just too complicated."

"Could be..."

I look back out at the lake. "So... are you going to let me out of the dark?"

He barely reacts to my question. "What do you mean?"

I take a steadying breath. "You already know how I feel... but I have no idea what you think of me."

He continues his distant staring. "... I care about you. More than you know."

I just sit there blinking at him, unable to form a sentence.

"You knew how different I was from the beginning... but you accepted me despite it. The way you are sometimes... you remind me of her."

My mind is mostly blank, but a little voice left in me manages to ask, "...Isn't that a bad thing?"

He shakes his head. "No. I meant that... you're like her in some ways. Happy and caring... the kind of person it's hard not to smile around."

A tiny grin breaks loose. "I never would've guessed that you thought that way. ...I've been trying to make you smile, but I didn't even think I was coming close."

Vincent chuckles with a small smirk. "Good luck."

I look at the ground, my face a nice shade of red at this point.

"If you'll help me..."

I turn to him again and find that he's finally met my gaze.

"...I think I'm ready to let go."

~.*-*.~

"RENO! YOU ARE SO DEAD!"

I laugh when I hear that come from inside the Seventh Heaven. I wander inside, grinning when I notice Vincent at the bar. I walk up behind him and slip my arms over his shoulders. "Hey, Vincent."

He looks at me over his shoulder, "Hello, Alex."

Tifa eyes us and smiles, "You two are so cute."

Vincent sort of hides behind his collar, but I still catch the slight blush on his face.

Giggling at his reaction, I look over at Carrie as she beats Reno with his mag-rod. Smirking, I ask, "What'd he do this time?"

She pauses long enough to answer. "He shook my soda when I wasn't looking."

It's now that I notice she's wet from the waist down. Laughing, I warn her, "Just don't kill him."

She nods, then goes right back to beating him senseless.

"Ow! Cut it out! It was just a joke, yo! OW!" Reno defends, or tries to.

"This is the third time this week!" *WHACK*

"Is not! You stopped me yesterday!"

"You still did it!" *WHACK* *WHACK*

"OWW!"

Tifa sighs, then turns to us again. "Promise me you guys won't end up like that?" she jabs her thumb towards the other two. "They may not be together, but they fight like an old married couple."

I laugh at the notion. "I doubt I'd ever get that mad at Vincent, but if I do, I promise I'll try not to beat him up too bad."

Vincent glances back at me. "You think you can hurt me?"

"I know I can," I retort.

"And how do you plan on doing this?"

"Think about it. If I came at you, would you seriously fight back?"

"..."

I grin, "Exactly."

Tifa laughs at us and continues straightening up the bar.

Vincent smirks a little. "That seems a little unfair."

I shrug, "No one ever said I was fair. But no worries, I wouldn't really try to hurt you... much."

He chuckles quietly. "Since when have you been this violent?"

I grin again. "Since always. But you love me that way."

"...Yeah. ...I guess I do." He murmurs it so low, I barely hear it.

I'm really taken back by that, but I find myself smiling all the same. I kiss his cheek and reply, "I love you too, Vincent."