STRIPES: CHAPTER TWELVE
by K. Trotta


Vincent himself was wondering how he allowed himself to become so soft. It wasn't good for him, and he had known it. Stupid Lucrecia. Why had she come back to haunt him now that he had himself firmly secure in his rut? He could have led a happy frivolous, uneventful life if she hadn't resurfaced. She had sliced open a dreadful wound that had nearly killed him once. Why now?

He was thoroughly enjoying himself the way he had been for the past five years.

Lucrecia materialized through the mirror, slightly blotting out Vincent's favorite image. She had not come at the right time. He contorted his face into an unbecoming frown and, without a word, stomped out of the bathroom.

Lucrecia was hurt. ~What's wrong, my soul?~

Vincent was sitting on his bed, pouting like a little boy. "Go away."

Lucrecia floated to be in front of the face she had loved so well...a face that now had a few dark circles, but was still handsome as ever. Vincent turned away every time she got in front of him. ~Vincent--~

"Are you deaf? I don't want to talk to you!"

Lucrecia blinked back tears. ~Wh-why not?~

"I got over you. Like you asked me to. And now you're just tromping your way back in? Dammit, Lucrecia, don't you know what you want?!"

~I...thought I could talk to you for comfort. I guess I was wrong,~ she said, starting to cry.

Vincent closed his eyes. He used to spring up and want to kill the reason why she was crying. He guessed she was still used to this. He rolled his eyes. "Wait."

Lucrecia's ghost turned around hopefully, smartly, brightly, beautifully. The only things that had really mattered back then. What did they mean to him? ~Yes?~

"Am I Sephiroth's father?" he asked gloomily.

~Hojo rais--~

"Am I Sephiroth's biological father?" he asked, a tinge of exhaustedness in his voice.

No loophole. ~Yes...~

"GOD DAMMIT! Then everything I mourned about, everything I felt sorry for causing during that time was TRUE! I DID deserve to be in that fucking coffin!"

Lucrecia faltered. ~I'm sorry...~ she said at length.

Vincent was angry. Very, very angry.

Scientists, for all their smarts, were the stupidest people he ever met.

"Why did he TELL me he was his father?"

~Because he brought him up. He always wished the child was his. He was drunk. He was pathetic.~

"Then why didn't you set him straight? Me straight? Haven't you been watching me become..." at his current loss for words, he pointed an accusing finger at a teenie bopper poster of himself he had ripped out and posted on the wall, "...this?!"

Lucrecia looked at the floor. ~I had never known you to be wrong. I thought you knew what you were doing.~

Vincent grabbed his hair and suppressed a scream. "LUCRECIA!! Dammit, I'm not a god!! I'm not perfect! What made you think I ever was?! I'm a human, God dammit! HUMAN!!"

If he could have, he would have shaken her by the shoulders. Lucrecia blinked. ~God? That's something for simple people to explain the rain and why their dogs die to their children. True perfection can be achieved on earth, and you are it! Be proud!~

Vincent let his good hand slide down his face in exhaustion and sighed. Tears started to well up behind his eyes. Fans of his surely believed what she had said about him being perfect. That was all right by him. He would never see them again. They made no profound impact on his life. But his first fan, one whom he thought better than himself once...she thought that about him that way? Was content to watch him turn into a popular icon? Someone, whose class of people looked down on anything pop culture in favor of their microscopes.

He had done some thinking the other day and decided that the Media was a monster. And a liar. He was the face of that monster now. How could she love that monster? That monster was worse than Hojo's terminal case of unenlightenment. Unenlightenment? He remembered some of the letters his fans wrote, their screaming faces...Vincent was the flagship of the army that spread unenlightenment!

"This is too much," he stammered, letting his claw slide down his face.

~What did I say?~

"TOO MUCH! Perfection on earth?! How do you think that makes me FEEL? How am I expected to keep this up?! I'm HUMAN, God dammit, God damn YOU, I make mistakes!!"

~But--~

Vincent slashed his claw at her. The ghost evaporated slightly, but didn't move. "Just leave me alone! I couldn't be yours if I wanted to live, I can't be the people's if I want to be myself, and I can't be myself with your damn fool clipboard hovering over me documenting me like some sort of perfect lab animal! God, I hate you and your STUPID religion!!"

~Religion? No. Science isn't a--~

"All of you idiots seem to act like it is. Taking things apart and gluing them back together...thinking there is no power greater than yourselves...how can you live like that? Arrogant strutting muddy self-loathing, cowering snivelling PEACOCKS! Anyone who uses their own imagination to explain anything is automatically a cave man to you people! What happened to stuff being magical? Had to dismantle it, explain it, package it, sell it to the masses like some kind of thaumic candy!"

~What are you talking about?~

"I don't know!" Vincent cried, putting his claw on his forehead. "I don't know anything anymore! Just leave me alone! That's all you've ever done. You're good at it. Stay that way."

~Are you trying to force your religion on me?~

"Are you trying to force your lack of religion on me?~

~NO!~

"There you have it. I bet you tried to when you died, didn't you...but no. It didn't last. It was a fad. I was a fad. I am a fad. And how does this fad feel? Damn fucking horrible! Do you know how that makes me feel?"

~No...~

"Do you know what I should do next?"

~Don't you?~

"NO, because I'm not God! You're not helping me at all, Lucrecia Hojo!"

~Don't! Never call me that! Never!~ she cried.

"Hide from your past, but it's still there. That's no way to live. Face your past...accept it...then you might be able to live with yourself. And you are still alive. Jenova's still got you hooked up somewhere to something."

~Jenova is...dead,~ she lied, meeting Vincent's gaze uneasily, ~Hojo's taken her place.~

"Then why don't you ask him to let you go? I'm sure he's dying to! I know I would if you treated me like you treat him! Just go away!!"

~No! I still want to help you!~

"You're not helping me! You fawn, you praise, you tell me he's alive, but you can't tell me where he is. You're not helping! You're making me worse!"

~I would if I could! I'm trying to! Hojo is--~ Lucrecia's ghost mouthed the word 'Stripes.'

"He mutes you every time you try to say it. Heh. If this wasn't so grisly, I'd think it would be amusing. Or maybe he's not conciously muting it. Maybe you can't bring yourself to tell me...because underneath everything horrible he's ever done to you, there is a tiny fragment of faithfulness still in you."

~NO!~

Vincent closed his eyes and smirked. "I admire it."

Lucrecia stopped dead, blinking. ~That's not how it is.~

"Or so you'd have the world believe. But I know you better than that, Lucrecia Hojo. If you never had any love for him, as you say, then you would have never been Lucrecia Hojo. I used to envy the way you looked at him, at first. When I saw the two of you stroll into Nibelheim, arm in arm on that first day there..." he reminiced, tilting his head upward. "Both of you looked so clean and polished. Hojo had this big 'I know more than you do' attitude and you were only slightly behind him, looking at him as if he were some sort of movie star. The other Turks thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever seen. I was too busy feeling that Hojo didn't appreciate you to enjoy that little moment."

Lucrecia looked down, the beginnings of realization stirring in her mind. ~He was many things...scared...arrogant...impatient...too proud...incapable of successfully communicating anything...but...he wasn't...he wasn't unappreciative. At least...for the first four years.~ She felt the burn of jealousy within her once again after the encounter at the beach with JENOVA.

Vincent blinked. "So, you're finally realizing that now? You can't very well carve a whole five years out of your life and pretend it didn't mean anything. Especially if it was around 25% of your life."

Lucrecia shook her head. ~I...I'm sorry, Vincent. Hojo was waiting for me to do something I had no idea I was supposed to do. So, I never did it. We both got distracted too much. I got distracted by you...and Hojo got distracted by...~ she couldn't finish her sentence. Tears pricked at the back of her eyes. God...this must have been how HE felt about me and Vincent. He couldn't even say his name. ~Oh, God...~

Vincent was absolutely sure that she knew what was going on now. He tried to keep from smiling. "Glad you finally figured it out."

~And I...our sons...I never got to hold either of our sons...not your son...not his son...oh, God!~

Vincent sobered and looked down. "So Sephiroth was mine after all..."

~I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done anything... Now look at this place... this city, this planet...it's completely trashed...and it's my fault...~

"It's not a good idea to say things like that. You had no idea what would happen. Neither did I, and least of all, Hojo. It's no one person's 'fault.' There's no point in pointing fingers, because it's happened. Nobody can fix what happened. Maybe in a parallel universe, it might have happened a different way because one of us was a little more enlightened, but this is -our- universe. And it happened -this- way."

Lucrecia shook her head. ~Ohh, all three...four of us are going to burn in Hell for the longest time!~

"Hell is something you make for yourself. I realized this about five years ago. If you keep feeling bad for yourself, nothing will be made better. Ever. Not like that. The best thing to do is move on. Because if everything turns into a sin, you'll be too busy hating yourself to correct what you want to correct," Vincent told her, trying his best not to cry. "But if you can't get past that..."

~If you can't get past that, everything turns to...to shit.~ Vincent blinked. He had never heard Lucrecia curse, except when she was damning her husband. She continued: ~The world is not such a beautiful place if what you worked for, what you really wanted, you let go because you found something else to occupy yourself with momentarily. To give up all you were building toward for a fling, and then planning to build the rest of your life on that fling...~ An image of Hojo and Jenova flashed in her head, followed closely by the almost exact same image of her and Vincent. She gasped. ~Hojo...I'm sorry. Vincent...I'm sorry...I'm sorry I lead you on like that. ...I'm so sorry!~

As she started to cry, Vincent nodded. "I'm so glad to see you realize what you're doing now. I must admit, I wasn't so clear-minded myself on the subject at that time either. But I forgive you. Although it's not my forgiveness you would be better off seeking right now."

Lucrecia nodded quietly, vanishing.

***

Sunder staggered through the streets. He had been running around for a week without shelter or change of clothing. He had sacrificed his well-being unnecessarily and it was taking its toll. Valiantly stumbling around gained him absolutely no credibility. The other Turks had done their duty by posting up flyers around the city of Junon, but Sunder was determined to capture the scientist himself. Going beyond and above the call of duty. Yeah. That would get himself noticed. That would make them proud.

Lucky for him, he stumbled his last steps upon the steps of a friendly home. Building. Newspaper headquarters. Junon Times. It was many different things to many different people. But to Sunder, it was a pillow for now.

As his head hit the pavement, it began to drizzle.
Then the raindrops became bigger
And bigger...
Soon, the storm was a full-blown hurricane.
Sunder didn't notice that he was floating away from the steps of Junon Times. He was unconcious from his concussion.

Lightning crashed.

A figure in a black cloak followed the young Turk as he floated down the river that Main Street had been transformed into. It followed until the boy crashed into the door that led to the elevator to Old Junon and the AVALANCHE officer barracks. It sloshed through the street and picked up the boy with the ease of a pebble, plodding back to Junon Times.

The wind blew back the figure's cowl, presenting a young man in his late twenties. He had balls of ice for eyes, and his hair was dark grey, cut off two inches below the ear, starting to curl under at the ends. Lightning crashed again, and his eyes lit up mako green as he opened the gigantic double doors of his home--the Junon Times, carrying the unconscious Turk in his arms.


Chapter 13
Index