Vincent was sitting in a chair in the lab, reading the “new file” with equal parts curiosity and disgust. Most of it he knew already, but the other details only added to his loathing of Hojo, and the entire ordeal of the experimentation that had occurred after She had died. He closed it, looking at it for a moment, then threw it from him in utter disgust, watching the papers as they shot out and floated to settle gently on the floor. So you have a bit of a temper after all!, came the wicked voice. How charming. It's wonderful to see you have some human-like feeling left in you for me to exploit. He gritted his teeth, refusing to answer, mostly so that Sephiroth, who he could hear in the office down the hall, would not hear.
Sephiroth himself had taken to dissecting the file on this "secret project". He had determined it was perhaps a project even more powerful than himself and could only infer small reasons why. But he did know one thing that was mentioned in passing in the file that had to be more. The Cetra. Still they haunt me.
He frowned as he suddenly heard a flurry of papers spilling and wondered what Vincent Valentine was up to.
Vincent watched the last of the papers come to rest atop an old book sitting on top of one of the lab machines. He walked over to it, wing tips trailing on the floor. The paper had settled atop a thick layer of dust. Obviously this book had been there for some time. He opened in and suddenly stopped. After looking inside for a moment, he moved swiftly into the room Sephiroth was in, the book under his arm.
Sephiroth looked up as Vincent walked into the room. They had not spoken since their first conversation. The ex-Turk seemed content to wander the basement of the mansion, and Sephiroth himself had been content to continue to read, as well as contact Cloud Strife.
Vincent moved over to the other man. It was true that they had not spoken, both carefully aware of each other and treating the other with respect, but also respecting their wishes to be alone. Now he broke that tentative silence with four short words. "That is your mother," he said, opening the book. It was an old photo album, held open to a page near halfway through. There lay a black and white photograph, placed in the center of the page. It was a trio standing in front of the mansion gate, the sturdy building looking somehow equally frightening then as it did now, despite that it was in a better state of repair. On the far left was a young man with short black hair and a suit, with a smirk gracing his lips. In the middle, a young woman with bangs, a bright smile, and a lab coat. And on the far right, a man, also wearing a lab coat, black hair held back into a ponytail. All easily recognizable, even with the years that had passed.
Sephiroth did not understand the intrusion until the photograph was laid before him. The first person his eyes flicked to was Hojo and the mako in his eyes brightened with his anger. As he looked upon the woman the glow softened, but he could still feel the sudden adrenaline rush through his veins. "Why...do you show me this?"
"Because it is something you should see," he replied simply. "You should have some idea of what she was like, aside from official photographs." He looked at the photograph, the upside-down faces from across the table. The smirk looked like a sneer from there, and Hojo's cold expression somehow became one of malice. Only, of course, if viewed from the correct perspective, of upside-down or years of bitterness. Only her expression stayed the same—of course, because she could no longer change.
"This...is you." He indicated the man with short hair and the distinct suit of the Turks. "You were their guard while they conducted their experiments here?"
He glanced up from the photograph. "Yes, I was. Not that one was really necessary, in such a backwater town."
"Then why...?" There had been nothing in the files about Vincent Valentine before the experiments. He found that perhaps Vincent could be the wealth of information that he needed, if he wanted, on his mother.
"ShinRa was paranoid. It was potentially a very...lucrative project. They wanted it protected, just in case. So they sent me. It's that simple." In this case, as far as he knew, there was no evil plot or purpose on the part of ShinRa. Just simple paranoia for their new discovery, and want to assure its safety.
Sephiroth nodded and let his eyes roam over the picture again, taking in the appearance of the woman. He didn't feel anything. Though he wanted to. "The project.....me?"
"Eventually, I suppose you could say that. You were the result, not the initial aim." His eyes flicked up to the other man's face, watching him absorb the picture. "The initial aim, as far as I know from what I was told at the time and know now, was simply to research Jenova and the effects of her cells."
Sephiroth's eyes narrowed slightly at the mention of Jenova. "I was not their initial aim...?" He had not read that in any of the files. It was new information which did cause him a moment of bitterness.
"No. You were something conceived along the way. Figuratively and literally, I suppose," he added, with a shrug. "Unless, of course, before your mother was even pregnant Hojo already had the idea in his mind, and was just waiting for the opportunity he needed, which I would not doubt."
Sephiroth's eyes gleamed for a moment, the mako glow brightening the room, before it receded and all settled into the mute darkness of the room again. "Hojo..."
Vincent noted the sudden glow with slight surprise. "Well, judging by that little display I see we share the same opinion." His eyes roamed the books on the shelves, all studies of various subjects. The perversion of many lives was there, including his and Sephiroth's, Cloud's, and countless others.
"Yes." Sephiroth nodded and had the urge to take the picture. He was above such immature acts, but the thought of burning Hojo's image from the picture seemed something that would offer some small satisfaction.
Vincent was silent for a moment, thinking. He spoke again, abruptly. "What was that? The glowing, I mean." It was not something he had seen in any of the other projects, though they were each singular in their personal abilities...and twistings.
Sephiroth's gaze flicked up to the crimson one of the other man. "It is something all SOLDIER's possess." He attempted to remain casual about it and hoped his answer would deter Vincent from further questions, for the glowing was not characteristic but unique only to him.
Vincent said nothing more on the subject. If he did not want to be truthful, so be it—it was no business of his. "I see," he said simply, his tone betraying nothing.
"You seem a man of many secrets, but also of questions, Vincent Valentine. If we are to be allies, you may be as truthful as you like. I am not..." He paused and searched for the right word. "I am not receptive to lies anymore. My life has had too many."
"Alright then. What was that glow truly all about? I know a lie when I hear one. I've had much experience with them in the past." That last statement could have meant anything, but its meaning was defined by the slight bitterness it held.
Sephiroth's lips twitched slightly into a smile, before his expression smoothed out. "A vestige of Jenova's power...it is still with me, though I am sane." He let Vincent feel the weight of his gaze. "Now, the lies of your past?"
"Too many...too many to name in one sitting, I'm afraid," he said, his voice dropping to a whisper that rebounded off the stone walls. There was a flicker of a bitter smile, and a slight twinge of pain in his chest, which he staunchly ignored.
"Tell me the secrets you know about my....mother, Vincent Valentine." Sephiroth had a hard time saying the word "mother". It caused his heart to do something funny. Anyone else would have known it was simply emotion, but Sephiroth did not have experience of the feelings reserved for family.
"She was a kind woman, if naive, that being her greatest shortcoming. I suppose that counts as a secret, if you did not know it. She loved your father and I doubt suspected a thing of him." The twinge was getting a bit more painful and insistent. He paused for a moment.
"She loved....he is not my father." Sephiroth's eyes glowed again. He could not suppress the bitter anger that welled up in his gut. His gaze remained glowing, he did not care to suppress it. "You...why do they matter to you?"
"Because they are, both, involved in my greatest sin," he said, leaning against the wall as the twinge grew to a stabbing pain, "And my past. And now, the past is all that matters." He stopped a moment, and taking a deep breath, spoke as steadily as he could. "I might suggest that you leave for a few minutes..."
Sephiroth's eyes narrowed. "Why should I leave?"
Vincent leaned more heavily against the wall. "Because...he is coming..." he said in pained tones. Meeting the other man's eyes and trying to convey what he did not have the courage to say.
"He?" Sephiroth studied the other man, and the only "he" Sephiroth could think of was. "The demon. The black demon?"
There was a dry, brittle laugh. "Who else?" He gasped suddenly as the pain lanced stronger through his chest.
Sephiroth watched with interest. He was greatly intrigued that the being that shared Vincent's body would have such a strong personality of its own. "I will speak with him when he comes."
Vincent slumped against the wall, shutting his eyes for a moment. "Please..." The plea came out with more emotion than usual, much more, a weary sadness imbuing it. If he showed more emotion normally than he did...perhaps everything he said would come out this way. Instead of finishing his sentence, a small cry escaped his lips as he suddenly slid down the wall to fall on all fours on the ground, the pain moving throughout him now.
Sephiroth watched with interest as Vincent allowed this "Chaos" to take over him. It appeared painful and it was strange to see the normally emotionless man suddenly on all fours, pain raw on his face.
Vincent dropped his head, forced out of thinking now. The agony rippled through his limbs, causing his muscles to tense, as if just waiting for the first signal. It came with the dark skin spreading up his arms, his fingernails thickening to claws sharp enough to rip a man's throat in half, as opposed to out. The same occurred to his feet and legs, the wicked claws biting into the wooden floor of the office. His muscles bulged, forcing him from waifish to muscular in seconds, and the darkening, leathery skin encroached upon his neck. Though beyond speaking, he could not keep it down any longer. He had held in the scream as long as he could, in shame as much as in defiance, but now it ripped loose of its moorings as at last, the skin came up over his face, sealing him inside a body that was not his own.
Sephiroth watched with calm interest as the transformation took place. The sight of the man's face being replaced with the demon's was impressive enough to cause Sephiroth's silver brows to raise. He considered the demon and wondered what ever could this beast have to say.
”The demon” pulled himself up from the floor. The final change was the least drastic. As he took control, the pupils of his eyes, the same blood red as Vincent's, contracted into nothingness. He looked Sephiroth over, and, with an oddly human gesture, he cocked a brow. The first words out of his mouth were frank. "I thought I killed you." He added a bit of a grin. "Or at least helped things along. Strife, prima donna that he is, just had to get in the last strike, didn't he? Ah well...it was a good fight anyway." His voice was Vincent's, but with some major differences. It was much lower, and much more emotive, his skepticism and general arrogance coming through with every word.
Sephiroth could not help a small smirk. "Prima Donna...words I had never thought to hear when describing Cloud Strife. Yes, he did kill me...but I live."
"Ah, ever the vague, aren't we? I'm sure you and Valentine must so get on, speaking in prophecies and riddles and enigmas and all that. And yes, Strife's a prima donna." He paused theatrically, before adding in a matter-of-fact tone, "The man's hair is over a foot tall. If that does not define 'Prima Donna', then I don't know what does."
Sephiroth actually quirked a brow at Chaos' description of Strife's hair. "Yes, it is rather...tall." He couldn't help the spark of amusement he felt in saying that. He let his green gaze traveled over Chaos' hulk until he settled on the crimson eyes again. "Why did you not allow Valentine to continue speaking with me?"
"Oh...no particular reason. Wasn't even paying that much attention to the conversation. In all honesty..." he paused. "I thought it might be fun to talk with you. Fun for me, anyway." He chuckled darkly. "And of course, there is the fact that now that he's changed in front of you, Valentine will be ever so shameful." He adopted a mock compassionate tone during the last sentence, and grinned.
"Ashamed of you?" Sephiroth considered this. "Valentine spoke of him having many secrets. Do you know these?"
"Oh, and then some. And I'd be happy to spill them for you. Your question is my answer." He watched the other man with considerable amusement.
Sephiroth considered this offer. He did not want to compromise his new relationship with his ally, but he was also interested in these secrets. "If I ask, you will not tell him we have spoken of these things?"
"No guarantees. I'm a demon. You expect me to make a solid promise?" he cocked a brow. "But rest assured..." the grin returned. "I'll do my very, very best."
Sephiroth's lips twitched up into the smallest of smiles. "What secrets does Vincent have that would be of any interest to me?"
Chaos thought for a moment. "The most obvious and general I can think of is that your mum, at least to my knowledge, never loved him at all. Makes you kinda wonder why he's still pining, doesn't it? Rather sad, really." He paused, thinking. "Hmmm...got anything more specific you want to know, or just random nuggets that I can pry out for you?"
Sephiroth thought about this, he had so many things that he could ask this strange beast, for his own amusement as well as to gather information. "How did Hojo come across you? To place you inside of Valentine?"
"A wicked mixing of Alchemy and science. Don't ask me where he found out how to summon a demon, frankly, I'd like to know myself. But he managed to 'summon me up' as it were, then bound me to Valentine through a few magical bindings and one very large syringe. He's fond of syringes. I noticed that through watching him." He smirked.
Sephiroth nods slowly. "He does enjoy syringes." He has a flash to a memory as a child, which is strange, because he rarely thinks about his childhood. "How long will you remain until Valentine is allowed control again...do you make this decision, or he?"
"It depends. Sometimes he's good enough to slip past and regain control. Other times, I'm at the helm until injury or exhaustion, or simple boredom force me off. More often though, especially recently, it's the second rather than the first." No matter how much Vincent tried to deny it, Chaos had, and possibly always had, the upper hand.
"No wonder the man is so guarded. With something like you living inside of him." Sephiroth could understand being controlled by something greater, but he was now free.
Chaos smiled, a slow, wicked spread. He sighed happily. "Wonderful, isn't it?"
"If you enjoy such pastimes." Sephiroth was silent a moment as he studied the red eyes of the beast. "What secrets amuse you the greatest?"
"Hmm...Valentine's constant insistence that he can repay his sins, and his insistence as well that she will forgive him. It's high time that he remember that she loved someone else, is dead now, and that he should get on with giving up already!" There was some slight annoyance in this which quickly dissipated as he changed topics. "Oh yes, his squeamishness about letting others see his 'monstrosity', or, in plainer terms, me. That's always been amusing."
"His sins. He is not a religious man, is he?" Sephiroth leaned back in his desk chair and let his arms rest on the chair arms. "He...you...are not so monstrous. Not when you have done what I have done."
"Oh, you insult my demonic pride good sir!" he exclaimed, continuing to smile. "No, he's not religious. It's sin in the more general turn of something done wrong. It's not religion at all, actually, just that—a bad deed to be made up for." He made a scoffing noise, then his eyes lit up. "Oh yes, I meant to mention. I am so very fond of your work. Beautiful what you've done with the place. The Planet I mean. Smoking ruin everywhere, bodies piled sky high...ah, it's been a long time since I saw such beautiful destruction." His eyes went misty.
Sephiroth's eyes suddenly grew rather twisted with unspoken feelings. Yes. Sephiroth could feel these emotions as he thought about the images he had seen of broken Midgar, of the great crater he had climbed from only a few weeks ago, and then he remembered himself as that great angelic monster fighting Strife and his friends and this monster before him. "I understand what your gift is, Chaos. An apt name for such a monster as you are." He smirked slightly.
Chaos pointed at him with a long, clawed finger. "You see? Now that's more like it." He dropped the hand and smiled contemptuously. "I think you see now, why Valentine continually tells you people that he is a monster. And yet, no one listens!" He grinned, his eyes glowing with a feral light.
"Vincent Valentine does not truly understand what being a monster is..." Sephiroth's eyes glowed, he did not care to hide the power that he felt constantly thrumming through his body. "You are the monster. But you are Chaos and so Valentine's mind is chaos."
Chaos watched the reaction with satisfaction that, for once, he would not voice. "It's a beautiful thing, my namesake. Stirs things up, makes them more..." he paused. "Interesting..." he hissed.
Sephiroth was curious. "If I were to kill you now with my blade. Would you disappear? Would Valentine die as well? Or are you never able to separate?"
"Don't know..." he said thoughtfully. "Of course, not that I would let you, but were you to kill me, Valentine's hope is of course, that I would disappear, or even better, take him with me. But, you know...I think the latter is more likely. The bonds Hojo put in place are as unbreakable as they get. Were they not, I'd have been fully in control since I got stuck in here."
Sephiroth tossed his theory aside and his hands and body relaxed. He considered what to ask next. ""Chaos. Your opinion of me?"
"You were an excellent destroyer. It's a shame you've apparently reformed. I don't see how one can ever lose the joy of killing but..." he shrugged, and sneered. "I suppose it happens to the best of us."
"I never said I did not enjoy killing." Sephiroth's eyes seemed to hold some unspoken amusement. "I simply am not working for Her anymore."
Chaos' eyebrows shot up. "Well!" he said, drawing out the word, "That is such wonderful news. Do you plan to ravage the world and all who live in it all over again? If so, I'd be happy to help." He grinned.
Sephiroth actually chuckled at Chaos. "You are a fool. I would kill you before I asked you to join me."
He shrugged it off. "Your loss then, I guess."
"You are simply too weak to be worth my time." Sephiroth enjoyed the feeling return to him that he had often as a General, power over another.
Chaos lowered his head slightly, cocking a brow. "Oh really? Well then, mighty, all powerful and all-arrogant general, have you any more questions for your lowly servant?" He sneered in amusement at the dismissal. Weak. His ass he was weak.
Sephiroth chuckled low in his throat. "Yes. Leave me. Let Valentine return."
"Oh, if you insist..." he said, sighing. "I was getting bored anyway." He gave Sephiroth a mock salute. "Tally ho, general." He suddenly doubled over, still laughing as the black skin receded and he shrank, the muscles and bristling claws melting away to slowly reveal the waif beneath and the laughter devolving to a scream. And finally, that too dropped off, leaving Vincent Valentine back where he had started, on the floor on all fours. He slowly drew himself up to stand against the wall, not even bothering to check if the wings were still there, the weight on his back being enough to tell him the answer. He breathed slowly for a few moments before he was able to speak again, but chose not to. He didn't meet the other man's eyes—he couldn't. His pupils had expanded back to their normal size. He was in control again, though, of course, how long was anyone's guess.
Sephiroth was pleased that Chaos actually felt the need to listen to him, though Sephiroth took the monster's tone for mocking. If you only knew what power I have inside me, Chaos. But Sephiroth's expression remained neutral as he studied Valentine. "Welcome back."
"I'd use the term 'back' loosely" he muttered, with a short, mirthless laugh. He continued to stare at the floor, the books behind the desk—anything but Sephiroth's eyes. He wasn't sure what he would find there, and he didn't want to see it.
Sephiroth leaned forward in his seat so that he could see Vincent's form more clearly. "He is a fool, that Chaos. I asked him to leave so you could return."
Vincent frowned slightly, turning his eyes to the side. "No fool. He presents himself that way—hiding in plain sight, I suppose. He's much smarter than he acts, but prefers to keep up that pretense so no one need know that the beast has intelligence." He shook his head.
"No, he is a fool. A fool what he offered me. How ever did you use him to fight me when it appears he wished the end of the world as well?"
"I was able to...get control of him during that battle. I believe the importance of the battle lent itself to strengthen my resolve...but that is the first and last time that has ever occurred."
Sephiroth nodded. "I asked him if I killed him, would you be free. It appears that the answer is no."
He shook his head, eyes now studying the ever fascinating floor. "As far as I can tell, he speaks the truth."
Sephiroth watched Valentine stare at the floor as if he were a child who had done something bad. "You are a man, are you not Valentine?"
"Depends on what you mean by 'man' I suppose," he said calmly.
"Valentine. You should not stare at the floor as if you are some child being reprimanded. What are you afraid of?"
"Too many things to name..." he said, leaving his gaze to the floor.
"Chaos says you are ashamed. But you should not be." Sephiroth felt the desire to stand, which he did, so that he could look as if he possessed more authority.
"Can you give me a single plausible reason why I should not?" He finally dragged his gaze up to Sephiroth's for a fleeting moment, before glancing away.
"You are acting worse than a new recruit, Valentine." Sephiroth strode around the desk and used the hilt of his sword to lift Valentine's face so that he could see the other man's eyes. "You are a man. You may revel in your sins all that you wish, but...you do not have to." Sephiroth could sympathize, though it was a new emotion to him, but he did understand having so many sins it did not seem one would ever be clean of them.
Vincent met Sephiroth's eyes in this forced way. The shock left them open for a moment, revealing the deep sadness that resided within them before they closed again, like shuttered windows. "You may say what you wish, but it does not make it true." He kept matching gazes with Sephiroth. "What I did must be made up for. What I am must be made up for. I am just ashamed you had to see it. That's all."
Sephiroth felt no shame in allowing his expression to twist, his lips in a sneer as the image of himself as that monstrous seraph came to his mind. "You are speaking to a man...if you would call me a man...who has seen Hell and come from it. You should not feel ashamed for what someone else made you."
"Perhaps I shouldn't...but I do. You cannot understand why I act the way I do, and why my beliefs are skewed the way they are. Suffice to say I have my reasons," he said, still not breaking his locked gaze with Sephiroth.
Sephiroth moved his weapon away and let his hand relax at his side. "No, I do not understand why you act as you do. For the same reasons no one will ever understand me."
Vincent lowered his head. "And what are those reasons, then, Sephiroth?" Had he thought about it, he would realize it was the first time he had ever actually addressed his love's son by name. "What keeps others from understanding your demons?" he asked softly.
Sephiroth's eyes became unreadable, though perhaps Vincent could understand some of the emotions swimming in them. "Who could ever understand the man who once almost destroyed the planet?"
He watched, actually somewhat curious. "Try me," he remarked dryly.
Sephiroth had never expected anyone to truly ask. "Why do you care?" He was not trying to be offensive, it had just never occurred to Sephiroth that someone might actually wish to try to understand him instead of simply write him off as a killer and the enemy of the planet.
"Why do you?" he asked, cocking his head to the side.
"Because, it had not occurred to me until this moment that anyone would care to understand me. I am simply "Sephiroth." I am feared, adored, and now...I am hated."
"You said yourself...'You should not feel ashamed for what someone else made you'."
Sephiroth looked then to the bookcases. "You have reminded me of my own shame, Vincent Valentine. I had thought it would be forgotten, but even I do not possess that power."
"No one forgets what they have done, no matter how they lie to themselves that they have left it behind them." He noticed the shift in gaze, but said nothing, watching the other man anyway. "That aside..." he thought of how to word what he wanted to say. "In my case, I suppose, the reason why I repent is because if I could not, if there was no chance of her forgiving me...there would be no reason for this cursed life. I would be a stain upon humanity, striving for nothing and doing nothing. It is my final hope, I suppose." There was a quirk at the edge of his mouth, more at the irony of the idea than anything else.
”You feel this way all for one woman?" Sephiroth supposed the woman in his life, Jenova, had a lasting effect as well. But Sephiroth felt no love for her, or for anyone...he simply did not understand how Vincent could twist himself into this darkness and not simply ignore it and walk away, as Sephiroth would have done.
A smile flickered across his face, an honest one, for once, if sad. "There has been no other, nor will there be. She is what I lost myself over...were I to throw away the cause of her now, everything I have done will have been in vain. And besides..." he looked down now. "I still love her..." he said, his voice barely a whisper.
Sephiroth simply stared, because he could not sympathize nor relate. "I am sorry that you have lost her then."
He glanced up, understanding. "You'll understand someday," he said, watching Sephiroth.
Sephiroth allowed his eyes to narrow. "Understand what?"
"What it means to love someone so wholly and completely, you'd happily die for them," he said, unflinching at Sephiroth's reaction.
Sephiroth continued to stare, it was a long moment before his gaze moved away and went to study the books on the shelves. "No."
Vincent followed his gaze to the shelves, then back to Sephiroth. "Why?" he said, responding equally simply.
Sephiroth slowly shook his head, his silver hair swishing against the leather of his coat. "Love. It is not something I believe I am capable of."
"I think you are capable of more than you know, or you will be, before the end." He spoke slowly, but with calm conviction.
"Before the end." Sephiroth wondered if he could even die. It seemed that the planet wished him to live to feel the regret of his mistakes.
Vincent felt the same way, though he no longer wondered. "Whatever that may be," he finished, a statement oddly decisive, despite its apparent vagueness.
"I wonder if I can die." Sephiroth chuckled to himself, a low and bitter tone. He was becoming more and more comfortable talking to Valentine, it seemed the other man was just as twisted as he himself was.
"I don't imagine either of us can," he said offhandedly, still watching Sephiroth.
"It is perhaps well that we have met then. At least we know someone will always be alive, just like the other." Sephiroth strode to the desk and laid his Masamune across it.
He laughed, a short, bitter thing. "Wonderful. Good to know that at the end of time, I'll still have some company aside from a demon who takes pleasure in calling me names."
Sephiroth rewarded Vincent with a small smile. "Perhaps we may even try to kill the other and end our misery."
He laughed again, smiling a bit. "Of course. At the end of all things, we'll be arguing politely about which of us kills the other, each insisting they do it."
"I wonder..." Sephiroth's thoughts suddenly went to Strife. "Or he will kill me...or save me."
He watched Sephiroth. "Save you? In what way?"
Sephiroth shook his head slowly. "It is nothing. If anyone needs to be saved, it is Strife."