Natalie blinked her focus away from the genetic sciences research paper and looked to the doorway. She paled and then flushed, hurriedly standing to her feet and setting the report aside. "Hello."
Vincent motioned inside, amber gaze guarded. "May I?"
"Oh! Certainly." She stepped up to the table and tidied the papers and magazines, freeing up a chair in the process.
So now what? Do I admit? Do I withdraw? Do I apologize? Natalie absently gnawed her lower lip as she fingered the binding of a reference book. Vincent continued into the room, but only to stand across from her position at the table. She knew, in her head, that her comment about 'care' had likely been taken as an innocent expression of a fact. But you know different, don't you, Nat?
Natalie cleared her throat and met his gaze. "What can I do for you?"
Silence settled, making Natalie progressively more nervous while aggravating her previously conquered headache.
"If you're concerned about the setback of the computer; don't be. We didn't always have them, you know." She forced a smile. "I'll just have to dig my brain out of the dust-bunnies and do the long-division myself. I'll be fine."
Vincent didn't respond. He only continued to watch her with glowing amber eyes and a guarded serious expression.
Natalie cleared her throat again and set down the reference book. "I'm sorry about losing my temper," she said finally. "Reactionism is a pet-peeve of mine, especially when the person reacting doesn't listen to me." She smirked. "I have a tendency of thinking I know what's best for everyone, even when I don't."
"Cloud apologized," Vincent said simply.
Natalie rubbed at her forhead. "It figures. It seems to always be the 'other one' that apologizes first. I seem to have the talent of making everyone who argues with me think they're really to blame." Vincent didn't comment, so she released a quick breath and motioned to the door before moving toward it. "I need some air. Care to join me?"
Vincent followed after, still silent. Still hauntingly forboding and intense. Natalie loved it. She rolled her eyes and shrugged into her jacket. You're a sick soul, Nat. Sick and twisted.
They stepped out into the late morning sunshine, Natalie tucking her hands into her pockets as she sent him a sidelong glance. His jaw had clenched, as had his golden claw. Natalie looked away and released a deep breath. Dammit, Nat, you big-mouthed ego-maniac.
"You said you would be buying the mansion," he said suddenly, voice as guarded as his expression when Natalie looked over at him.
"Uh... Yes. I... er..." Natalie swallowed hard when he finally met her gaze. Nat! "You wouldn't need to stay in the basement when I do. You could have your own floor. Well, if I didn't need it, that is."
Vincent moved his gaze to the Mansion.
Natalie glanced away. "I'm always doing some type of half-crazy research project, so I might need all the floors. But you're welcome to a room or three."
Vincent didn't respond. Come on, Vincent... Natalie paused at the gate to the Mansion's front walk and leaned against it. "Talking with Barret and Nanaki really inspired me to put all my effort into coming up with environmentally safe solutions for the planet. The Mansion would be the perfect place to set up. There are so many rooms that I could have several projects going at the same time."
Natalie gave a slight shrug. "Oh, you know. My usual research of the reaction human cells have to Mako or Jenova cells when forcefully introduced." She looked toward him. "And then there's my dig projects, which always includes cataloguing and researching the finds and how they affected our history. It's quite interesting, on paper."
"Why did you begin genetic research?"
Natalie shrugged again. "I suppose I had a hard time believing Hojo or anyone would do that to people. Then, as I read more and more articles and learned more about him... He was capable of a lot more insanity. All because he wanted to have some type of power that existed in his mind. I don't know what he thought he was doing by experimenting on all those people. Nothing good ever happened from it." She looked to Vincent again. Her lips twitched. "Well. Almost nothing."
Vincent regarded her. "What exactly did Hojo alter?"
"Well, it's complicated." Natalie cleared her throat. "Um... Each of our genes has the molecule deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA." She cleared her throat again. "When one or more genes of an organism are introduced to a second organism and is accepted, that's called recombinant DNA. In your case, the genes inserted consisted of Jenova genes. This recombinant DNA then altered the characteristics of the organism - you - by changing its protein makeup."
"Proteins perform vital functions in our body. Enzymes, for example, cause chemical reactions within an organism while hormones control growth, our metabolism, and reproduction."
"So the recombinant DNA that was injected into my cells changed this... this protein, thereby changing me," Vincent said slowly.
"Essentially, yes." Natalie sighed, pulling her hands from her pockets and crossing her arms. She moved her focus to Vincent as he stood beside her. His amber eyes intensely scrutinized her face.
"If this DNA has been accepted by my own, how could you possibly reverse the alteration? You have said the protein makeup of my DNA has been altered from what it was, so how..."
"I..." Natalie cleared her throat. "I know. It sounds ridiculously simple, but I was going to reintroduce your original DNA back into your system."
She sent him a sidelong glance. "Well, even though the protein makeup of your DNA was altered, the DNA contained in your sperm wasn't." She flushed but held his gaze. "You're the host, so you're the only one affected by the alteration. I was going to use that DNA to re-introduce your original DNA to alter the protein makeup back to its original specifications."
"If that doesn't work, did you have another option?"
Natalie closed her eyes. "I don't want to talk about it." She pushed away from the gate to begin walking toward the path that led out of Nibelheim toward Mt. Nibel. After several moments, he followed her.
"What is it?" Vincent asked.
"I... I never cared for the other option."
Vincent regarded her a moment. "There's something else."
Natalie shook her head. "Don't worry about it."
Vincent halted her progress with his claw on her arm. She turned to look at him. "Why do you believe I may die if you reintroduce my original DNA?"
Natalie moved her focus away as she released a deep breath. "The Jenova cells influenced your DNA in a way I can't really categorize. You don't age - did you know you're almost 60 years old? - your eyes changed to red, which caused your visibility to become enhanced; and you now have the ability of flight. Well, maybe not flight, but something similar. Then there are the alter egos that emerge when you lose your temper."
Natalie rubbed her forehead with one hand, the other resting on her hip. "I don't know how the Jenova will react to the process. It may accept the procedure. It may ignore it altogether. Or it could completely shut down your system because of some type of unknown incompatibility."
"In other words, Jenova may prove to be stronger than my original DNA."
"To put it simply, yes." Natalie sighed, lowering her hand to meet his gaze. "I want to believe it's possible. Then again..." She turned away, walking again toward Mt. Nibel. Her misery settled in the pit of her stomach with a wave of nausea. "I just don't know what to do," she murmured.
"Do you perform the procedure and risk my death? Or do you leave me to my misery?"
Natalie cringed without meaning to.
"You doubt my current existence is misery?"
Natalie stopped and faced him. "Yes," she said, matter-of-fact. "All your friends said that they like you just the way you are. They said that you're fun to be around, even though you'll never admit it. So that leads me to wonder, is your life really that miserable?"
Vincent's eyes flickered before he looked away. "Perhaps."
"Perhaps?" Natalie repeated with a slight wrinkle of her nose. "What kind of answer is that?"
"The only one can give at the moment. Many things are changing, and I haven't had a chance to..." Vincent's voice drifted.
Natalie examined his expression. "Vincent, do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"No." Though his answer seemed guarded.
"Why do you want me to change you back to normal?"
Vincent stared ahead of them so long that Natalie didn't think he would answer. "In this form I am... Hojo's creation," he finally admitted. "His slave and puppet. If I don't attempt to free myself of his influence, then he has won the final battle and laughs last. I refuse to give him this power when there might be an avenue of release." He finally faced her. "He took my life without permission. He acted as a god and chose this existence with no thought of what my future would be. That control wasn't his to take, and I have chosen to take it back. You're my only hope of that."
Natalie swallowed hard, his amber eyes easily holding hers. There it is, Nat. You asked a heavy question and got a just as heavy reply. He opened up his heart and gave it to you without even a blink. What are you going to do? Chew on it a bit and hand it back to him with a 'So sorry, changed my mind' excuse that neither of you will believe? Don't think so.
"I've never admitted to hope before," Vincent calmly continued. "I suppose it comes from the life I experienced with Cloud and the others. I'm more able to accept the impossible as a reasonable truth. After all, isn't that what we did in rescuing the planet?" He motioned toward her. "Now you've taken on the implausible goal of finding a cure for a monster. You accept it as your life's quest and move on, even in the face of the current set-back. I find my hope becoming... more than what it was."
Vincent moved his gaze to Shinra Mansion. Natalie watched him in awe-struck wonder.
"For what seemed ages I enclosed myself in that box, believing it a suitable punishment for whatever great sin I had committed. In reality, it was my way of hiding from life. I didn't want to face alone what we had once shared together."
Vincent lowered his eyes briefly before looking toward Natalie. He examined her face for a long and silent moment, and then he refocused his amber eyes toward the Mansion. "I've been a coward for many years, yet another way Hojo shamed me. I was a Turk, but I allowed myself to be tucked away and forgotten. Taking my life back when Cloud and the others found my resting place felt exhilarating. Duty. Purpose. These had been facets of my life as a Turk that had become somehow forgotten. Pushed aside by guilt and shame. Now I've been given yet another chance to find them. To find my place in this new existence. Why should I...?"
Natalie took a step forward without realizing it. "Why should you...?" She placed a hand on his golden claw. "Vincent? Why should you what?"
Vincent moved his gaze to her again, and the expression in his normally guarded amber eyes gave Natalie a shock. She saw confusion and helplessness. She raised a hand to stifle the gasp as she dropped her other hand from his arm. When she did, something in his eyes changed and he turned away.
"Why should I fight what I want?" Vincent finished in an odd voice.
Natalie watched him for a long and silent moment before saying "I don't know. Why should you?" very quietly.
And the intensity of the silence that followed hit her like a wave. Then he was saying "I must go," in a taut voice and propelling himself into the air and away toward Mt. Nibel, Natalie taking a step after him before she could stop herself.
But then he was gone and she was left to stare after him.
Natalie heard a scuff of shoes on wood as she came to the door of Vincent's room later that afternoon. She slowly pushed open the door, peeking her head around the corner. Instead of Vincent, a young woman with short brunette hair sat cross-legged on his coffin while sharpening a nasty looking shuriken-type weapon. Something rang strangely familiar about the weapon as Natalie stepped the rest of the way in.
The young woman looked up. An eyebrow rose as the eyes took on an almost disbelieving expression. "What're you doing here?"
Natalie arched an eyebrow. "Do I know you?"
"No, and that's why I'm asking. Vinnie likes his privacy."
Natalie crossed her arms. "And what do you know of Vincent?"
"Me? We're chums, if you really need to know."
"Then I'll leave you alone." Natalie turned to go, but the girl rushed to stand in front of her. "Can I help you?"
"You don't need to look down your nose at me. Just tell me why you're in his space."
"I'm not looking down my nose at you," Natalie contradicted. "I don't like your attitude."
The girl blinked in surprise, and then she crossed her arms. "Hm. Spunk. I wasn't expecting that."
"And just how would you expect anything from me," Natalie countered with a frown. "You don't know me."
"Oh I know your type all right. Seen enough of them. Scientist. Old maid. Doesn't know much about anything but things that haven't existed for, like, a thousand years."
Natalie flushed with irritation as she clenched her fists. "Of all the-- Who do you think you are?"
"Think? I know who I am. Who're you?"
"None of your business."
The girl shrugged. "Whatever." She made her way back to the coffin and vaulted up onto it, again sitting cross-legged. She pulled out her weapon to sharpen it once again. "I'll just wait here and ask Vinnie."
"Good luck. I doubt he'll be back." That statement acted like a knife to Natalie's heart.
The girl looked up, eyebrow raised. "What're you talking about? This is his home. He always comes here." She narrowed her eyes as she examined Natalie's face. "Then again, he's usually always here in the first place. Doesn't ever go nowhere. Just stays in the box dreaming. Nightmares. Whatever. How would you know anything about it?"
Temper sparked. "For your information, little miss, I've been researching Vincent ever since I was in school."
"Is that so?"
The girl looked downright amused, which irritated Natalie even more. "And what is so blasted funny?"
"Oh, nothing. I just never thought I'd see the day Vinnie had someone sweet on him." Natalie's jaw dropped, and she spluttered for several seconds. The girl laughed. "Gee. This is fun. The others just ignore me."
Natalie glared. "With good reason!"
The girl laughed again. "Yeah, well, what can I say? That's me for you."
"And who is 'me'?"
Natalie's temper died as quickly as it flared. "Yuffie Kisaragi?"
Yuffie raised an eyebrow. "Yeah. Who wants to know?"
"I'm Natalie Long. I've been trying to get a hold of you for an interview, but no one knew where you were."
"You're Natalie Long." Yuffie's expression became guilty. "Damn. Sorry about that. Now you probably won't make me sound so cool in your article."
Natalie waved it away. "Don't worry about that. I've not exactly had the perfect day today. I'm a little short-tempered."
"Noticed. Anything to do with the fact Vinnie isn't in his box?"
Natalie cleared her throat. "Yes, well, never mind about that."
Yuffie slid off the coffin. "Whatever floats your boat. I'm starving. Can we get something to eat?"
"Then I'll tell you all I know about these losers."
"Well actually, the article is about what they're doing to save the planet."
Yuffie looked bored. "Oh. I won't have much to say about that. They never listen to any of my ideas."
"Ideas? About what?"
"About what we could use for power instead of Mako. They just think I'm a stupid kid. Well, I'm more than 16," she said defensively as they made their way toward the staircase, "and just because I'm young doesn't mean I'm stupid. I've been around. I've seen things."
"I'm sure you have." Natalie regarded the young woman a moment. "Why don't we get some lunch, and then you can talk as much as you want. I'm sure I'll be interested in everything you have to say."
Yuffie looked surprised and then suspicious. "Yeah. Right."
"No. Really. I'm a scientist, and I'm sure that what you think about things has a lot of plausible merit. Just because you're young, as you say, doesn't mean you don't have a lot of good scientifically solid ideas." Natalie smiled as she opened the door at the top of the spiral staircase, allowing Yuffie to go first. "Besides, I was young once. I'm sure I remember feeling just as frustrated with the scientific community not listening to me."
"Cool." Yuffie looked her over. "You're all right, Nat. You're all right."
Yuffie sent Natalie a collection of sidelong glances. "So, how'd you meet him anyway?"
"Vincent? Purely by accident."
"Yeah. Me too. Cloud, Aeris, and me were investigating the Mansion because some weirdos in black capes were spouting that Sephiroth was in there. He was there all right, but so was this riddle about some guy being locked away in the basement because he was in the way of some kook's research."
"That would be Hojo."
Yuffie snorted. "Bingo. That guy was the kookiest of all the things I've seen, man. Plain, all-out strange."
"I agree, but in a way, his tendency toward the bizarre is exactly what drew me to Vincent."
Yuffie switched her focus to Natalie. "Huh?"
"Lucrecia was Hojo's assistant in almost all of his research regarding Jenova, Mako, and genetic engineering. She was also related to my teacher in school, in a roundabout way, and so I had the luck of being kept abreast of all she was involved in. As much as my teacher was told, anyway."
"Gossip. Juicy gossip. That gets schoolgirls each and every time. Believe me. I know."
Natalie smiled slightly. "Yes. I suppose that's how it started. I was intensely interested in furthering my studies in archaeology, but when I read of the experiments, I decided to minor in the genetic sciences."
"Because of Vincent? Wow. That's deep."
Natalie grimaced. "Not really. It's fantastical nonsense."
Natalie chuckled. "I studied Hojo's work for a purely selfish reason."
"I don't buy that."
"Well, it's true just the same. I wanted a life of adventure. And what is more adventurous than curing a lunatic's mad scheme or experiment? And then, to add to it all, was Vincent's life of adventure and danger and broken hearts. It was just too... too romantic for me to ignore. I wanted to rescue someone the same way all the heroes and heroines in the books did."
Yuffie regarded Natalie. "You don't think Vincent wanted to be a Turk?"
"No. I don't. The people in the slums, and even out here, didn't have much of a choice in anything. Shinra was the absolute power. How else would he survive unless he chose to do so?" Natalie shrugged. "To survive, he had to do what I believe went against his nature. Then, like any of us, he became desensitized. Cold." Natalie changed her gaze to Yuffie, who looked incredulous. "Come on. Don't tell me you're not guilty of the same?"
Yuffie lowered her eyes. "Yeah. I guess so."
"Well, that was that. The adventure beckoned, and I couldn't turn from it. So I studied and struggled to understand everything Hojo was involved with. Believe me, he was into some outlandish things."
Natalie smiled. "I guess that was obvious."
"Does Vinnie know how you feel?"
Natalie looked sharply over at Yuffie. "What are you talking about?"
Yuffie grimaced. "Oh brother. It's obvious you're sweet on him, Nat. And you might as well get it out into the open. That drove me nuts about Tifa and Aeris. Both of them were nuts about Cloud, but none of them would say anything. Aeris wouldn't because she knew how Tifa liked him and he liked her. They had a history, I guess. Tifa wouldn't because she thought Cloud was wild about Aeris. Of course, even I thought that because he was always doing so much for her. Finally, Cloud never said anything because he was so obsessed with finding and killing Sephiroth." Yuffie made a disgusted sound. "Now Tifa and Cloud are together like they should have been in the beginning. It took them long enough."
"It's never that easy, Yuffie. Just wait. You'll find out one day."
"I don't think so. If I like someone, I'll just march right up to them and tell them straight to their face."
Natalie chuckled. "Yes. I guess you would."
"Why can't you do that with Vinnie? Don't let his face fool ya. He's a great guy. Sure, he doesn't talk much, but he kicks butt in a fight."
"That's not exactly the basis of a relationship, Yuffie. Besides, we don't really know each other very well."
Natalie looked at Yuffie with a raised eyebrow. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Oh come on. Not even you believe that. You've been studying him for, like, all your life. All you've got to do is tell him about you. And you've probably been doing that already. All you professor types talk a lot when you get started." Yuffie pointed at Natalie. "Am I right? Of course I am."
Natalie cleared her throat and looked away. "I found him to cure a mistake, Yuffie. That's all." I'll never be his Lucrecia.
"Fine, whatever. So do you want to hear my idea or not?"
"Of course." Natalie opened the door to the Mansion and gestured ahead. "After you."
"Here's what I'm thinking," Yuffie began. "Okay, here in Nibelheim you have a mountain. Am I right? Of course I am. Okay. Now, on a mountain there's usually either waterfalls or lots of wind. Am I right?"
"Of course you are," Natalie said with a smile.
Yuffie nodded. "Okay, well here's my idea. Why can't we rig some sort of pinwheel, except real big, that catches the wind and turns it into energy? They already have windmills at Cosmo Canyon. Why can't they hook it up to something that makes the blades' turning make power?"
Natalie raised an eyebrow, nodding with interest. "I'd say that's an excellent idea. So simple. Hmm. I wonder why no one's thought of it before."
"Who's to say they haven't? Maybe they've been working on it and can't get it to work? Maybe they were sabotaged by Shinra, like Corel."
"That's certainly possible. Now, about the waterfalls..."
"Oh. Yeah. Well, the water around here goes by so fast I figured we could build some sort of windmill. Just have it be turned by the water instead of the wind. A waterwheel I guess is what we'd call it. Same principle, don't you think?"
"I don't know if Cid's already working on them. He's always so secretive about everything. I guess you could ask, though. I mean, you already got them to talk about what they were doing to get this kooky planet back to normal."
Natalie nodded. "That's true."
"And we could always go back to coal."
"We discussed that. Everyone seems to think that burning coal is just too poisonous for the atmosphere to be worth it."
"Yeah," Yuffie admitted with a nod. "I guess that's true." She shrugged. "I guess it doesn't matter one way or the other."
Natalie chuckled. "Well, anyway, thank you for letting me know about your ideas. I'll definitely add them to the list. Would you be interested in helping with them?"
"Helping?" she asked cautiously. "By doing what?"
"By helping me survey some possible locations for power-sources, for one."
"Really?" Yuffie shook her head. "You don't want me to get lost?"
Natalie laughed. "Of course not. I need as much help as I can get." She gestured to the path leading toward Mt. Nibel. "I want to show you an idea I had on where we could set up the power generator. Do you mind?"
"Hell no! I scoped a couple places myself."
"Come on. Let's go and compare notes."
They headed toward Mt. Nibel.
"What a trip if we actually build it before Cid even comes up with something," Yuffie guffawed.
Natalie chuckled. "He does seem a bit over-assured, doesn't he?"
"Damn straight." Yuffie scoffed. "I'd like to smear that damn smirk off his face. I swear he wears it 24/7." She sent Natalie a sidelong glance. "How much do you know about electronics and engineering and shit like that?"
"Nothing, but I'm sure there's a book about it."
Yuffie laughed. "Yeah. Probably. Well, let's get our asses in gear and go check out the different locales for the power. Then I can go start looking for parts and shit."
Natalie looked over at Yuffie with a blink. "A good idea, but how are you going to haul them here by yourself?"
Yuffie jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "Got a car... well it's a buggy more than anything, but it'll have plenty of room without everyone else's ass plugging it up."
Natalie laughed. "All right." She motioned down the path. "I don't know where you went, but the location I saw was just off the main path toward the reactor. It seems there's a little trail that leads to a clearing, of sorts, with quick access to the river at the foot of a cliff. The current flows fast there."
Yuffie nodded. "I know exactly where you're talkin'. Saw it. Found a wind tunnel, too."
Natalie smiled. "So did I. Was it on the other side of the reactor?"
"It seems we're on the same wavelength."
Yuffie smirked. "Seems like." She didn't mind.
"One - two - three... I believe this will be enough, Yuffie."
"What of this one?"
Yuffie and Natalie blinked at each other before looking beside them to the walkway between tall bookcases. Vincent approached, book open and expression guarded.
Natalie sent Yuffie a sidelong glance and then cleared her throat. "What is it?"
Yuffie set down her own handful of books and watched the pair, smirking.
"While more general in subject matter, it seems to cover the field quite extensively." He handed it forward, gaze not looking away from her face.
Natalie cleared her throat again as she reached out to take it. Just calm yourself, Nat. "Really? Hmm... All right. We'll take that one, too. Thank you."
"I'm gonna go find someone to help out with the parts and stuff," Yuffie said as she stepped past. "You guys do the boring brain work. I'm outta here."
Natalie's serious expression warmed to a smile. "All right, Yuffie. Good luck."
Yuffie waved behind her without turning.
Natalie sent Vincent a glance and then focused again on the books.
"For--" Natalie blinked up at him in shock. "Forgive you? For what?"
"For earlier. For leaving so abruptly." Vincent's tone was almost too calm.
Natalie stared at him, slack-jawed. "Of course I forgive you. You didn't do anything but leave after I practically brow-beat you with personal questions." She set the book aside and stretched her arms out toward him. "I understand about all that, Vincent, and I don't blame you for anything."
He shook his head. "It should never be 'of course'."
"Why not? Hm? Tell me that, Vincent. You've had a rough life. It's only understandable you'd be a little rough around the edges, and it doesn't matter to me if you are. I'll always give you another chance. Then another. And another. Why not? It's more than anyone else has given you."
The intensity of her statement reverberated in the room, glowing in Vincent's eyes as they watched her face.
Natalie cleared her throat and looked away, again picking up the book. "This is fun," she admitted, remembering Yuffie's advice. "Reminds me of school and research papers and science projects."
"Grade school? High school? Or college?"
Natalie looked up. Interest could be seen in his expression. She smiled. "Yes."
Vincent motioned toward a collection of chairs further within the library. "You were more at home when at school?"
Natalie cleared her throat again, sending him another sidelong glance as she passed to a chair. "Unfortunately. My parents and I had different ideas of what was acceptable and not." Natalie sat in an overstuffed chair with an arched back situated by a massive desk. Vincent sat opposite her, closely watching her face. "My research papers in high school uncovered some nasty sides of Shinra, but my parents still wanted me to do my best to enter into the hierarchy."
"You didn't want the same."
Natalie shook her head, absently opening one of the books to turn the pages. "No. I wanted to go to college, get my Masters in Archeology, and maybe even my doctorate. Then I wanted to work at private digs, write articles, and research the Cetra. Like Professor Gast."
"Yet your parents didn't agree. They pushed for you to become involved with Shinra immediately following graduation from... high school?"
"I couldn't do it. I hated Shinra. Hated what they stood for. Hated what they wanted for our future." Natalie released a breath. "Hojo worked for Shinra. I-I couldn't. Not when I knew what he'd done. To you, to Lucrecia, to Sephiroth, and even Cloud." She shook her head. "I couldn't."
"And so you became independent, supported by your tenacity and wit."
Natalie chuckled and looked up, a bit surprised at the mild amusement in his expression and tone. "I didn't find it so poetic at the time, but yes."
"And your Masters?"
"In science with a focus on Archeology. The Cetra, of course."
Vincent conceded the statement with a slight nod. "And what of your doctorate?"
Natalie smiled. "Side-tracked by delusions of grandeur" and romantic notions of saving a lost soul.
Vincent's lips twitched.
Natalie rested her elbow on the arm of the chair, placing her chin in her palm. "What about you?"
Vincent held her gaze. "Surely you've read my file."
"I have, but I want to hear it from you."
Vincent looked down to the book in his hands. He lightly stroked the binding and the cover as he turned it over and again. "It has been a long time since I held books in these hands. Thirty years? Forty? I don't remember."
Natalie watched him, her throat constricting as she did so. She straightened and looked down. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked. We don't have to talk about it."
Vincent gave a slight shake of his head as he raised his eyes. "It's all right. Curiosity is natural for you."
Natalie flushed, lowering her gaze to the words on the page. "Yes, but there's a time and place for everything. I usually forget that." She felt a bit of wetness run down her cheek and quickly wiped it away. "I better start studying," she whispered.
Natalie could feel him watching her as she searched the Table of Contents for the appropriate sections of the book. In fact, she could almost hear the question he wanted to ask. Or maybe she heard the statement he wanted to say. Or maybe she heard the question he wanted her to ask. Maybe all.
The first section of the book was found and turned to, but the words refused to be understood as she read and reread paragraph number one. Natalie sighed, rubbing her forehead with a finger as she tried yet again to understand the general workings of engineering. It should have been simple compared to what she'd discovered of genetic engineering and DNA manipulation.
Natalie sighed and started again.
"I studied literature at University," Vincent said suddenly.
Natalie blinked, and the words on the page vanished from her attention.
"I believed I wanted to teach once I had my degree. What else was there to do? In school I was like you, independent with a leaning towards being a recluse. Although I did join the archery and sharp-shooting teams there. I wonder now if that was due to the need I had to be a part of something. A team. A... family."
Natalie swallowed hard and looked up to meet his intense amber gaze.
"That of course drew the attention of the Turks. I was 23 when I joined." Vincent dropped his gaze to the book in his hands. "My mother died when I was quite young; my father also. I believe I was 17. Living without their support made me... cold. I found it easier to live behind a wall of nothingness than face emotions which caused pain and misery. Yet another asset the Turks reaped for their benefit."
Vincent released the book and stared down at his hand and claw with an expression that showed memories and disgust. Natalie's throat tightened as she watched him.
"I suppose my current form is a culmination of the horrors I enacted all too eagerly. I did monstrous things. Hojo then made me a monster. How apropos."
Natalie shook her head, suddenly leaning forward in her chair to take his hands in hers and meet his gaze... it was cold and distant. "Vincent. You've had a hard life, harder than some, but you aren't a monster," she said calmly enough, but panic had her by the throat. "That's why I looked for you, because I didn't believe that the life you had before or after was what you wanted. You didn't really have a choice. You did what you had to do in order to survive. To be part of something." Her hands tightened on his. "I want to help you find that something, but I need your help."
Vincent stared down at her, the memories and accusations crashing across his face... Then the glaze and distance slowly began to fade. He very slightly nodded.
Natalie released a deep breath and reluctantly released his hands as she forced a smile. "Now let's start studying. I need power before I can cure you, and I'm determined to have that before the week is out."
Vincent raised an eyebrow. "You shouldn't raise your hopes."
"Why not?" she asked, expression serious. "If I don't give myself a goal, how do I get better?"
"But Cid has attempted the same without success."
"And what does that have to do with me?" Natalie asked as she looked down to the book on her lap. She flipped through the pages again. "I'm not Cid."
"No, you aren't. Cid is an engineer with years of experience."
"Experience," she scoffed. "What's experience next to the desire to actually do what I've set out to do?"
"Don't argue," Natalie scolded with a sharp glance up at him.
Vincent blinked, expression mildly surprised. That quickly faded to a smirk. "Yes, Professor."
Natalie chuckled, cheeks flushing. "Sorry. I told you I'm not very tactful."
I can't believe this is happening. I'm joking around with Vincent Valentine. Vincent lowered his gaze to the book in his hand and opened it to begin reading. Natalie silently watched him, lips tilted upward in a smile.
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