Summary: The past can teach us, reflecting upon it can help us, but it cannot sustain us. The essence of life is change, and we must continue forward or else the soul will wither and die.
Character Pairing: Vincent Valentine x Yuffie Kisaragi
Rating: M for some graphic detail and language, as well as sexual content in later chapters.
A/N: I admit to taking some liberties with Yuffie's character here and there, but it was ultimately to aid the flow of the story. If you don't like it, fair enough. Italics are the thoughts of people; bold italics are the thoughts of Hellmasker.
Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy VII or any affiliated characters.
Chapter 1: Forsaken
The distinct, tattered, scarlet fabric billowed gracefully around the svelte frame of its master, with an infinite and enchanting ease. Bewitching almost, it would have been to those who had the pleasure to remain within his company and observe, but like on so many other innumerable occasions, he was alone. The quiet solace of darkness welcomed him, and he welcomed it in return.
Vincent Valentine was a man shrouded in mystery. A silent and ethereal enigma. A tormented soul trapped within an eternal thralldom for past 'sins' committed. No amount of confession can absolve him. Never can he seek redemption. Empathy with a creature such as himself was impossible—unattainable.
The Deepground conflict had ended exactly three months ago now, its leader Weiss finally defeated. With the destruction of Omega, the demon Chaos had at last been released, unfurling to its full extent and erupting from within its human host to meet Omega head on.
With the entity's release, an opportunity presented itself for the others to do the same. Vincent quietly recalled the excruciating pain that had ripped throughout his impaired frame as each beast followed suit, bursting forth from within him. Death Gigas, Galian, Chaos... each entity erupting with an immense wave of intense agony greater than the last.
All but one.
Hellmasker. He, however, had chosen to remain.
What had become of his other inhabitants, he was uncertain. The majority of his physical enhancements had remained intact, but he himself was no longer immortal. That blight had vanished, along with the demon Chaos.
The Gunslinger surveyed the darkened landscape silently, arms crossed, the metallic gauntlet encasing his forearm shimmering within the dimmed starlight. Shifting his weight slightly, he let out a diminutive sigh, his brow furrowed in perturbed thought.
Hearing more acute than that of any normal being, the crimson-eyed gunman was alerted of his comrade's approach, the tinkle of her weaponry betraying her deliberate steps. Approaching from the rear, Yuffie cautiously paused, lingering within the shadows of the Tavern they had been occupying the past couple of days.
Nodding lightly in acknowledgment, he gave no inclination that he was about to engage in any conversation. Instead, he merely turned his attention back toward the landscape, dismissing the young woman. He was in no particular mood for any company.
She shifts closer, and his eyes dart deliberately to his feet with the utterance of her words. A voice profuse with youthful brashness. A voice, that at times, he found comfort in, and others, mild irritation. Impassively, he listens to his young comrade's inquiring tone.
"Vinnie? Whatcha doing out here, all alone?" She mused, in her usual, jubilant manner.
In response, he offers a slight shrug, encouraging her to move closer still. Now situated right beside him, she notes, even in the faint traces of moonlight, that familiar, troubled look. In an attempt to extinguish the intensifying tension, she continues her encouraging chatter, now with a somewhat, forced cheerfulness.
Bouncing onto the balls of her feet, the young Ninja grins up at him broadly. "I was thinkin' that tomorrow we could—"
"—I'm leaving, Yuffie." Vincent interjects sharply; his response quiet, expression passive. The young Ninja grows stiff, her grin instantaneously vanishing with the utterance of his words.
"Wh-what? But... why?" She stammered, eyes widening in bewilderment and disbelief. When he gave no immediate response, she pressed on hastily. "Bu-but... I had so much planned for us to do this fall..." she states, unbridled emotion now threatening to come forth in the form of tears, "you will be around for that at least, right?" Another pause follows, her features drawing into a morose grimace as she adds a soft plea. "Please, Vinnie... don't g—"
"—I have no further reason to remain here, Yuffie. I am leaving first light." He stated, his deep voice quiet, almost strained. A stifling silence descends, many thoughts being left unsaid. She knows what she wants to say, of course—a disrespectful and sharp-tongued comment that will undoubtedly earn her a serious reprimand, but for this particular moment, she did not wish to face Vincent's own, cutting tongue.
She resumes her prior expression, but the grimace is no longer an imploring one, but one of petulance—of sheer animosity. After everything we have been through together... evacuating Midgar, saving its people from Sephiroth's Meteor spell... thwarting Deepground... defeating Omega. Me preventing Rosso from killing him in cold blood! After all these years, you'd think he'd at least show me some gratitude...some damn kindness! What an ungrateful, selfish jerk! A calming breath is sucked in, a futile attempt to steady the rapid, afflicting emotions battling inside of her.
"I guess... this is our final goodbye then." Yuffie stated flatly, failing to disguise evident bitterness. This made Vincent turn to her at last; however, still encouraged no proper response from him, just a steely glare. Insistent, angered tears sting her eyes finally, and she squints, turning away, desperate to keep them at bay.
Surveying her ex-comrade with one last look of disdain, she leaves, blazing eyes follow her in silence as she proceeds to stalk haughtily back toward the Tavern's confines, obscured by shadow, before a loud, harsh slam of a door follows, shattering the previously tranquil morning.
–Five years later–
The thick blanket provided little comfort and warmth. Frustration turned to anger, and from anger to despair as the bed creaked dissonantly beneath the turning figure. Abandoning the futile attempt to catch up on some much-needed sleep, she rises into a seated position, wide eyes scanning the darkened room, the all too familiar, fleeting hope slowly ebbing away as her yearning gaze yet again found no trace of a tall, dark figure silently watching over her from the confines of shadows.
Valentine had still made no appearance prior to their last encounter. With the swiftness of a shadow, he had vanished, his whereabouts unknown. The others had long since abandoned their futile search of him, but her thoughts of him, however, had not ceased quite as easily as those of everyone else.
Five tedious years had passed in his absence, seeping slowly by, uneventful and dull, with no excitement nor meaning. And with the passing of such time, the inevitable transition of maturity had consumed her body, forging solid curves and taut muscle—infinitely comparable to what it used to be—boyish, wiry and thin. The mane of hair was no longer short, but untamed, wispy and long, resting just below her shoulder blades, matching her eyes in its darkness.
She had indeed blossomed into an attractive, spirited young woman, her rebellious, immature nature absconding in the process.
Emitting an exasperated sigh, she shifts her frame upon the edge of the bed, hands supporting her chin in deliberation. The most likely of places he would be was that damned cave she concluded bitterly. The same place he had regularly haunted years before they had met. Resting place of the woman from his tragic past. Her fingers curled subconsciously into fists as Lucrecia Crescent inevitably intruded her thoughts.
Assigned to guard the scientist in Nibelheim, Vincent was captivated by Lucrecia instantly, and it was during this period of time—due to this woman's selfish and deplorable actions—that he became subject to a series of scientific experiments.
Experiments that would alter his very existence, bringing about his unceasing suffering and pain. A pain he would have to endure for the remainder of his unnatural life. Yet, in another more selfish retrospect, she was somewhat thankful to the woman for the tragedy she had caused, for she would never have met the gunman in the first place.
The Wutaniese Ninja rose, abandoning her bed in order to approach the adjacent window. It is in these quiet, solitary moments that she stands, overlooking the expanse of surrounding terrain—as she had done countless times now—that she feels a sense of bitterness. Glassy eyes stare, unfocused and detached, the scattered, distant lights becoming hazy and blurred as she briefly allows herself to become lost in her numerous thoughts.
Surely, his absence would have made the feelings cease. Fade from existence. But no. In actual fact, it made them considerably worst. Something more evident with each passing day he did not return. So often these feelings had been disregarded as a silly infatuation, typical, lustful, teenage desires—truthfully, to sate the dull and painful ache it evoked. Yet, even now, after all this time, she yearned to hear that voice—his voice. So much time had passed... she had almost forgotten how it sounded.
Indeed, he had been one of the oddest of people she had ever encountered, but there was no denying the powerful allure he possessed. And his quiet, unfathomable personality only added to his intrigue. To her, he was exquisite perfection. All cadaverous muscle and dark, cascading hair. A perfection she sadly came to realize... she would probably never experience.
Often, she finds herself dreaming, hoping he could someday possibly return her feelings. Could relinquish the last remaining piece of his heart to her. Impatiently she waited; waited for the day that he would forget about Lucrecia. When he would finally accept that she was lost to him. It was clear now. He haunted her—tormented her—refusing to leave her mind in peace.
The skin which used to bear the healthy, radiant glow of the sun's rays was no longer present. Instead, it was pallid—pale as death itself. The genuine, carefree smile that had often graced such features long since forgotten. Faint shadows ringed the fiery eyes that were currently fixed—as they frequently were—upon the glowing form of the woman who continued to relentlessly torment him. This is where he chose to remain; content with his own dark, bitter thoughts, red, tattered cape sprawled out behind him.
Glimmering arcs of light, radiated from the delicate crystals, danced across the rugged walls, becoming lost and distorted by its copious, hidden crevices, their eerie sheen illuminating his unnatural eyes magnificently. To anyone, he would have been the vision of perfection. However, beneath the beautiful facade manifested sorrow, loneliness, and regret. What little humanity that remained within him was slowly dying, withering away as he sat days on end, staring longingly at the woman he was never destined to have.
For so long now, he had tried to cut her from his life, to eradicate her from his mind, his memories, his thoughts... but he always seemed to find himself continuously returning here. As if some incomprehensible force pulled him back. With little regard for his misery or pain. There was the slightest sigh, a saddened gaze leaving her momentarily as his lips finally parted in order to speak.
"Lucrecia... forgive me..." he whispered mournfully, but as it so often did, his despairing utterance fell on death ears.
Jealousy was a bitter emotion, with ravaging and consequent impact. To keep such an emotion contained within oneself for so long had a profound effect. Growing steadily, amplifying until it grew into an immense hatred. Yuffie knew that the potent jealousy that filled her heart would never cease. It felt almost ready to implode.
An explanation had been anticipated long enough, and in one swift motion, she mounted her golden Chocobo, taking to the surrounding, rocky terrain of Wutai.
As soon as the creature touched down onto the familiar, jutting rock-shelf some hours later, she quickly dismounted. Gazing up at the dwellings cascading water, its thunderous roar filling her eardrums, she expelled a long, shuddering breath, bracing herself, before finally stepping through the curtain of frigid liquid.
An immediate quietness ensued. Squinting into the dim light, her eyes immediately sought any movement, however, she quickly ascertained that there was no Vincent here, just the being she immensely despised. Trapped within one of the various crystal pillars protruding from the rock surface, there she was. Lucrecia Crescent.
Following her desertion of Shinra, she eventually ended up within the Crystal Cave—doomed to be encased within its walls forever—and that's just where Yuffie liked her. Though she wished Vincent had never discovered this wretched place in which she dwelled.
She remained motionless, glowering at the beautiful woman with resentful intensity, hatred and jealousy building within her to a whole new level. Still, there was no denying the radiant beauty Lucrecia possessed—incomparable to her own. How she wished the wretched woman would just deteriorate before her very eyes.
In her sour thoughts, her eyes prickled and stung. The warm, clear, liquid that had been threatening to fall for so long at last bid its freedom, rolling feebly down her burning cheek before being hastily wiped away in frustration as she began to vent aloud, pacing back and forth before the lucent, crystalline tomb.
"It's all your fault," she whispered bitterly at the lifeless figure, "you. You're the reason he cannot move on with his life! The reason for his dejected, bitter ways! Why do you insist on tormenting him so? Have you not caused him enough misery already!?" The whispers had now risen to angry cries, echoing around her vehemently as she continued her tirade through brimming tears. "If it wasn't for you, he would be back in Wutai, with the others... with me! Free to actually enjoy the remainder of his life! Not here in this wretched place with you!"
Coming to a stop, she kicked the water ebbing at her feet in frustration, droplets of the frigid substance splashing up her bare legs, prompting a sudden break from emotion. Sighing quietly, as her anger began to subside, she clamped a hand tightly around her upper arm, white rings forming from the pressure of her fingertips as her gaze followed the expanding ripples distorting the reflection of the woman she loathed. Long moments passed in silence as she remained this way.
Feeling rather foolish, she made to leave, but not before the heavy veil of mist surrounding her shifted suddenly, every hair on the back of her neck stiffening as she suddenly sensed some unknown presence. Yet, before the Ninja could even consider her next movement, she heard a soft sound from directly behind her, quickly followed by the unmistakably cold rim of a gun being pressed firmly to the back of her neck.
"Don't move." Came an all too familiar, monotonous voice, sending a painful jolt to her stomach. A voice so eloquent and soft, yet gripped with such unambiguous melancholy. Eyes widening in disbelief and uncertainty, she froze, slowly raising her hands into a gesture of compliance.
"Face me." The voice commanded quietly.
Drawing a deep, careful breath, she slowly turns, the very breath she had sucked in caught in her throat, her heart rattling within the very foundations of her body as she immediately found them. The intense, red lucidity of the most magnificent eyes she had ever had the pleasure to look upon. Currently, they were fixed with her own, boring into her with an intensity that stole all coherent thought from her mind.
A silence falls between them briefly, as the alarm and trepidation quickly cease, Yuffie's expression relinquishing to one of relief. Vincent's expression, however, remains stern. He didn't appear to comprehend who she was. The triple-barreled Cerberus remained aimed at her head, his lips pressed together; downturned and unsmiling as he continued to fix her with a callous stare.
"Vincent..." She uttered, her whisper carrying eerily around the expanse of the cavern. He frowned momentarily in response, his expression passive. "Yes...?"
It seemed, she thought wistfully, that his self-imposed seclusion had consequently affected his ability to even recognize those he once knew. That, and the ability to revive what memories of her—if any—that remained intact. She couldn't deny that it frustrated her—as well as disturbed her.
"It's me, Yuffie." She stated slowly, lowering her arms in assurance, trying desperately to discern his expression. The mention of her name seemed to finally spark some sort of long-suppressed remembrance of her, but true to his usual nature, it was only the subtle widening of his eyes that gave away his surprise.
Lowering the revolver silently, he sweeps the threadbare remains of his cape aside, returning it to its home—the holster attached to his right leg, his eyes swiftly roving over her now, 'fuller' form, sending a faint blush to her cheeks.
"What are you doing here?" He intoned, eyes fixated on her face once more, frustration evident in his quiet voice. She tries to remain calm. To keep collected. After all, she should be used to his dejected ways by now, having dealt with them countless times before, but his inattentive words only encouraged the fury within her to finally spill forth. This was not the welcome she had so long anticipated.
"How dare you ask me such a ridiculous question," she growled in apparent disbelief, "no one has seen you in at least five years! You know, after you suddenly decided that it was convenient to just up and disappear on us all, even after all we had gone through..." she stated pointedly, "this is the response I get?"
He didn't deny her words; it seemed a lifetime had passed since the day that he'd made himself out to be the monster he had always felt like in her eyes, abandoning her and the others after all they had endured. He looks away, his shame evident, but she did not pause, not on his account. She was furious. And she had every right to be!
"Why am I even surprised?" There is a displeased note to her voice, one that manages to stir his eyes to hers briefly. "I suppose you have been too busy here,"—she motioned airily to their surroundings—"moping about and wallowing, as usual."
Flee... flee for your own sanity. Before you can inflict any harm! His ever-adamant conscience screamed at him. Return to your impervious darkness!
The silence falls heavy yet again, as Vincent regards her with a cold stare, making her shift uncomfortably beneath the searing heat of his gaze, but it was sheer, unbridled anger on her part that maintained the connection between their eyes.
"Why did you leave?" She demanded, "without even giving me or anyone else an explanation," an undeniable hint of sadness suddenly seeping into her tone, "didn't you think I was at least deserving of that?" Considering her for a moment, he used the brief silence to formulate a befitting response.
"Omega had been destroyed. You were safe. I saw there was no longer a reason for me to remain." He replied quietly, looking upon her with a sincerity that made her heart clench. Yet, she quickly dismisses it.
"Do your friends not matter to you?" She demanded, her tone cold and low, "Or, do the remains of your-your trinket!"—she motioned angrily to Lucrecia—"matter more? Because it sure seems that way." Vincent's eyes abruptly squeeze closed, blocking out the animosity, the grief.
Pull her in... into the darkness... make her feel the insufferable, icy bite of sorrow and regret. She doesn't understand—she will never understand! her anger returning with a vengeance.
Evidently, her words had stirred something within him, and his eyes lift to search hers, imploring and hesitant. "I have committed many sins, Yuffie." His voice was quiet, barely a whisper. "More than you could even comprehend."
Force her to endure them. To suffer them as you do!
She forces herself to draw a deep breath, an attempt to keep her admittedly short temper in check, but it is rapidly dwindling again. She can feel his eyes searching her face, seeking the slightest shred of compassion—of understanding. Her own are momentarily drawn back to Lucrecia, a lick of further anger spurting through her nerves.
"If you are referring to you not being able to stop the Jenova Project—" she pauses, allowing the retort to hang on the silence as she releases a soft, exasperated sigh.
What does she know of eternal purgatory? Punish her as you have been punished!
"How much longer are you going to go on blaming yourself?" She snapped, throwing her arms in the air to demonstrate her frustration. "I don't know what more I can possibly do to convince you—"
"—then don't bother." Vincent interjected coldly, eyes focused beyond her, determined not to meet her own. His loathsome words gave a deep strike; Yuffie's mouth fell open, her next words dying on her tongue.
"Fine, please yourself. I won't then!" She cried, regarding him with a resentful glare before taking several incensed steps backward. Turning sharply on her heels, she bolts toward the cavern exit, animosity evident in every step she took.
Vincent emitted a quiet sigh, regarding the retreating figure with an expression of compunction, a pang of profound guilt penetrating his already troubled mind as he watched her, yet again, vanish from sight.
Good. Now you can return to the solace of darkness.
But... I do not wish to.