I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.70


"Davo..? Davo, wake up."

The gentle voice, at first very muffled, floated through Davoren's ears. He opened his tired eyes half-way. 

Light streamed in to fill his gaze. It bathed him whole in pleasant warmth until he melted away to such peacefulness. Not even a ripple of trouble disturbed him. Soon, he found himself flat upon his back, surrounded all around by this glow. There was another presence closeby. Indeed, on looking up, Davoren discovered a young man sitting nearby, peering back down at him. 

Davoren could not move, nor cared he to even try. He simply stared up in bewilderment at this youth. His very presence filled him with such comfort...such security. 

"You've slept a long time," smiled the young man amicably, "C'mon, Davo. Wake up." 

Strange enough, the smile looked just like Davoren's. In fact, the youth bore a curious resemblence to him, especially those lovely honey-coloured eyes. Davoren blinked- "Davo"? How long has it been since he last heard that nickname? 

However, as he gazed into this young man's kind face, a tired yet very happy smile spread across his own. 

"..ah..Donny..heheh," chuckled Davoren, rubbing his eyes to disperse the fatigue, "I was having this awful nightmare." 

"..a nightmare?" 

"I dreamed...you were taken away, and.." 

"Heh, silly big brother. You always worried about me, even when I was a little kid. I'm right here. I've always been here." 

"It doesn't matter," Davoren sighed all his relief up into the youth's face, "It was horrible..I..I thought it was real. But it was just a nightmare...just a bad dream." 

His smile broadened as he felt this safety wrap him from harm. Davoren's happy gaze clung onto the young man, who still beamed down in equal warmth. It soothed Davoren to wallow on his back in such tranquility...just rest here for an eternity. 

It crept on him from behind. Through this silence, Davoren discerned another voice in the far, far distance. He tensed, whereas the young man continued to smile as if he could hear nothing. Steadily the voice drew closer upon them until Davoren heard it clearly: it was someone crying out his name. 

Wild terror froze him in place at once. He recognized that voice too well. Still the tearful wail grew stronger and stronger. Amidst this madness, Davoren gaped up horror-stricken. But the young man still smiled down; a smile full of gentle kindness, totally oblivoius of the insanity raging around. 

The scream hammered on...calling his name again..and again...louder and louder... 

Suddenly, Davoren's eyes shot wide open. He had regained consciousness at last. 

It was quiet here, and dark. The bewildered gunman did not twitch a muscle, but remained thus flat upon his back. He stared emptily at the grey ceiling, where just moments ago that youthful face had filled his eyes. Though awake, Davoren seemed at best half-aware of his surroundings. 

There was another presence very closeby, thoughtful and morbid. Vincent sat bent over a bit, coolly peering down at this man. Obviously, he had been waiting for Davoren to awaken. 

Devil's luck; that's what Vincent attributed to their miraculous survival. That massive explosion had cast them both into the abyss, along with a shower of debris. Down, down they had plunged towards doom when Vincent spotted a balcony just ahead: their only hope! 

He still could not believe how he dared this crazy stunt, especially in his ruined state. Then again, the urgency of the moment surpassed any physical weakness. It had all happened during free fall, just as they zipped down past the balcony. Vincent exerted himself to a fast recovery. Somehow, he touched down onto the largest debris piece in reach. Using this as a springboard, he had instantly rebounded straight across, over the balusrtrade, and clear into safety. 

From peril to impunity, Vincent had tumbled wildly across the room, still holding onto Davoren, until he slammed hard into the concrete wall. Not his most graceful landing, but it didn't matter. They were both alive, and there was a floor beneath them. 

It appeared they had crashed into a small surveillance room, now just a squallid hovel for ghosts. Some mainframes occupied one side, with many panels of screens running along, all dead and neglected. The air was stale and quite chilly. Yet however shabby this sanctuary appeared, Vincent hadn't refused its shelter. He needed respite to gather his senses again. 

His immediate attention had been to check Davoren for any injuries. Much to his relief, the gunman had only lost consciousness. Vincent had then lain Davoren flat upon his back, and since then sat still, watching over him, dreading what may follow once this man would reawaken. 

Weakness and pain had finally caught up to Vincent with a vengence. It had required much effort to subdue his gasps, and even then he could not abate the agony burbling inside. 

He had been glad to discover the bleeding in his side had stopped. With luck, it would heal enough to hold him through. Vincent dared not even think about the other injuries; he thought himself better off not knowing. Yes, his battered appearance testified how much damage his abnormal body had endured so far. But if strength ever depleted, he knew the image of Aeris would hold him up. 

Still, Vincent had had plenty of time to contemplate his many thoughts while waiting: he spent a long minute wondering about Rufus' fate- had Professor Hojo killed him, or..? What significance had that boy borne? An ominous cloud of mystery still surrounded "Genesis Retrial", but try as he may, all his questions amounted to frutration. 

He caught a stray thought of Aeris. The more time that passed, the greater he feared for her. He yearned to wisk her out of this nightmare as much as the Professor yearned to keep her here. On the other hand, he would not leave Davoren unattended. 

Not surprisingly, as he gazed upon the unconscious gunman, Vincent's mind had drifted upon the past. He marvelled at how well this man had equally proven himself a true friend and a deadly enemy. He still grappled with the truth: old ShinRA had "donated" them to this experiment, while the new one had brought it to its final stages. Both presidents had worked in cahoots with the professor towards the same goal. 

And now the goal shone almost within reach. But to Davoren, all truths would fly past except one: Donal, his beloved brother, had been used as the "dummy" test subject. Professor Hojo had cruelly crushed this man's heart before attempting his life. 

It was at that moment when Vincent had noticed Davoren stir to life again. He edged closer, just as the man awakened. 

Davoren still lay there upon his back, listening to something else above this heavy silence. His blank stare rested upon the ceiling, while Vincent waited all the more gravely. Both men lingered long in the stillness. Even a breath would have sounded too loud.

"I didn't hear him, Vincent," mumbled Davoren tonelessly. 

Vincent said nothing. 

Nor would Davoren have listened. The gunman spoke in a numb stupor as if lost between two nightmares, "He cried all the time. He was in pain and so scared. He screamed my name out, over and over," his voice trailed farther into hushed sorrow, "..that's what he's been doing all these years..calling my name.." 

Despite his feebelness, Davoren somehow managed to sit himself up unaided. Slouched thus into a hunched posture, he stared vaccantly into space, "But I didn't hear him, Vincent. I didn't hear him." 

The simple sentence chewed on Davoren's sanity. The more he repeated it, the lower he sank into dull shock. The world around faded away, including Vincent who sat nearby. He was alone. Just him and the truth. 

That man was your brother. 

Vincent studied Davoren from the side in particular thoughtfulness. Never had he beheld such despair..such misery weigh so heavy as upon this man. Davoren seemed quite old now. His face, dirty and wan, showed the ruins of someone scrubbed to utter degredation. His clothes were torn, with the double-holster harness still in tact and tie loose half-down. He cut such a pitiful figure now, more so because he himself did not realize it. 

The silent truth still echoed out: that man was your brother...and you served both his murderers. 

Vincent could have spoken, only it seemed so useless. Would his voice even reach the gunman through his grief? Besides, what could he possibly say? Davoren, it's okay. They played you for a fool? I'm sorry? He rummaged through words, but found no comfort. 

"..Davoren..," Vincent hesitated, unsure how to continue. However, Davoren didn't flinch any response. Strangely, something else far more wonderous occupied his attention. He gaped straight ahead, blank eyes wide with awe. 

Most puzzled, Vincent glanced askance towards the source of such fascination. Just a short distance away, he spotted his own gun discarded upon the floor. It had probably slipped unnoticed out of its holster during that crash-landing. 

Both men silently beheld the black gun. It filled their eyes, singing a song of dark temptation to those who'd listen. From the weapon back to the entranced Davoren, and Vincent understood: suicide. 

Next blink, then Hell broke loose. Davoren suddenly dove in like a maniac straight for the gun, just as the alarmed Vincent pounced on him, and managed to grab him in time. 

"LET ME GO!!" roared Davoren savagely. 

"No, Davoren! Don't!!" he begged aloud. 

It escalated into a violent struggle. Vincent strove by any means to stop him. In desperation, he tried pleading for sense. All in vain. No effort or entreaty could match the lure of that gun. Frantic beyond reason, Davoren angirly crawled across the dirty floor, despite Vincent's every attempt to pull him back. His outstretched hand groped around until at last it gripped the weapon. 

One bullet; that's all it would take. Pain had spawned an endless cycle of bloodshed...crimson red to blot over Donal's memory. Now when it overwhelmed him, Davoren would still spill more blood. This time his own. 

But damned if Vincent would let any bullet be fired. Davoren's rage tripled when this man suddenly pinned him down upon his side, then reached over to grab his hand with that claw. The delirious madman struggled wildly. 

"Let me go!! His face..his voice are in my head!! I can hear him screaming my name now!! I can't bear it!! Let me go!!" 

In Death, he'd find shelter from the storm. He fought more firecely, even thrashed his legs about. No good. Vincent would not release him, nor would he stop until he had wrenched that weapon free, "Drop the gun, Davoren!" 

"Let me GO, damn you!" 

"Drop it!!" 

"Argh!!" 

When reason failed, Vincent resorted to brute force. He forcefully twisted Davoren's hand around, disregarding his painful cry, then ruthlessly pounded it hard against the ground several times until he let go. The disppointed gun fell out, whereby Vincent immediately flung it away into a corner. 

His attention returned to the distraught gunman. Out of caution, Vincent still held down Davoren, who by then had dissolved into another tearful defeat. Gone all strength, all dignity, even the choice to die had been denied him. Davoren didn't resist anymore. Instead, he languished weakly sprawled upon his side, held prisoner thus. 

One could only wonder how much sorrow this pitiful wretch had borne. Again, a storm had swallowed him, and nobody could reach deep enough to pull him out. 

Still, that wouldn't deter Vincent. He bent over to speak very, very gently into his ear, "Davoren.." 

Davoren burried his face away into the dirty floor. Sounds of rage seethed up his thraot. He squeezed both eyes, gnashed his teeth, anything to repress it; or maybe to block out Vincent's voice. He obviously didn't want to listen. 

Nevertheless, Vincent persevered, "Davoren, if your brother could see you now, he wouldn't want you to do this to yourself." 

"IF MY BROTHER COULD SEE ME NOW, HE WOULDN'T RECOGNIZE ME!!" bawled Davoren in one passionate outbusrt, "I've changed so much, even *I* can't recognize myself anymore!!!" 

The bitterness quaked his very depths, casuing him to tremble like mad in Vincent's arms. But the same grief swamped over again, and his belligerency died into a long-drawn moan, "While we were fighting..w-when Rufus saw me...those eyes..that's EXACTLY how Donal would look if..he saw me..n-now.." 

Pain, shame, anger. They all flooded him until he could no longer suppress it. Davoren feebly curled upon himself as misery gushed out. It choked him breathless. So much anguish, from a broken heart onto the floor, just pour it out for all to hear. 

Vincent let him cry. No doubt, these were tears bottled up for a long, long time. Throughout this ordeal, he sat huddled up against the man's backside, holding him down to the floor. Outside his face showed no emotion, but inside, he felt so angry at his own helplessness- he could find no words to comfort this devestated soul. 

All he could do was offer Davoren silent reassurances of his presence, and wait. Once, when the agony sunk to such lows, Vincent even hugged him against the shoulder for comfort. Here he held the shattered pieces of one man together; and he feared that if he let go now, it would collapse again. 

More than thirty-one years ago, Davoren lost his brother. It cut a wound into his heart, and he bled alone in the shadows, concealing the agony from the world around. He yearned to forget this pain. So, he walled himself up in grief, then built another person around that foundation. 

He built the opposite of himself. Someone strong, brutal, who would not be affected by emotion or pain. But deep within, the foundation was weak. Now the wall had crumbled, and they found his heart in the rubble, still bleeding after all this time. 

What to do with such pain? Keep it hidden, or show it? Everyone must bear his cross upon his own shoulders, but where to take it? And the longer one carried it, the more burdensome it became. 

Vincent's face darkened: how could he offer any comfort, when he himself didn't know the answer? 

"..w..why did you save me?" a hoarse voice suddenly broke into his thoughts. Before Vincent realized it, he felt a violent force shove him off, hard enough to send him landing on his bottom. 

Davoren's new strength exploded like a volcano, whereby he scrambled onto both knees in a rush for fury. He almost pounced on Vincent to grab him by the collar. In return, Vincent found himself staring back into the eyes of a madman; harsh and bloodshot with tears. 

"We've spent this whole time trying to kill each other...and then you! You have the gall to save me?!" Davoren snarled outloud, "BASTARD! What the Hell do you gain by saving me?!!" 

The ravaged gunman fumed with hard-grit hatred, even suspicion: one man's death meant the other's victory, so why? Why would Vincent rush in to save him? This man, just an hour ago his enemy, why would he push Death away, when Davoren should...no, *wanted* to die? 

What does he gain? 

Such questions hung open in the hostile air. Amazingly however, Vincent maintained a most serene visage. Nor did he try to break free of Davoren's grip. He answered, "I gain the friend I lost thirty-one years ago."

At first, the reply caught Davoren off guard. There was no hidden meaning, just a plain truth: below the ruins of a hateful demon, Vincent had found his friend again. And for that friend, he'd gladly rush through fire and fury to save him. 

It all shone so clear for Davoren to see. But the longer he beheld those solemn crimson eyes, the greater swelled his irritation until he suddenly spat back at full scorn, "Your 'friend' died long, long ago. Don't you know, Vincent?" he rattled the man hard to shake the words through, "I died when my brother died! They murdered *ME* when they murdered him!!" 

Vincent absorbed this belligerency unruffled, even as the insane Davoren roared clear into his face, "What can you say now?! Do you know how it feels to live your whole life just for someone else?..to be dirt-poor.. but sacrifice yourself to give him a better life...raise him from a little child...love him and watch him grow... only to have him snatched away!! Do you even understand it?!!" 

He shouted, but the bitterness only echoed back upon his wounded heart. It stirred a flood of memories and emotions: Donal and Donal again. Anguish strained Davoren's face to distortion until he could speak no more. Finally, he flung Vincent away, just as he himself crumbled into bleak despair. 

"..aah..your friend..," he lamented weakly, "..your friend is long dead..there's just an empty old man here.." 

Outside, he appeared young, but inside there ached an broken, old heart. He sat slouched forward with both legs folded up, hiding his agony in one hand. The storm had left him lonely and desolate; no strength to even cry anymore. 

They had murdered his soul. Now he languished for Death to take the rest of him...take this hollow body..this breathing prison of flesh...it was dead and empty. 

After being released, Vincent sat himself upon both knees again. As he beheld this pitiful wretch, his eyes darkened into thoughtfullness. There was still more to say. 

"Davoren," he challenged gently, "Doesn't the fact that you care so much for Rufus...prove you wrong?" 

The gunman peered askance, where he met Vincent's meaningful look. When he found no counter-argument, Davoren just scoffed back, "The boy's a lunatic." 

"No. That boy is Rufus ShinRa, the ex-President of ShinRa Inc. He's a criminal, just like us. You've given your kindness to someone you *know* does not deserve it." 

He delved deeper inside, "You care dearly about Rufus, just like your brother. And he was right. All this time, you have been trying to hide him from punishment. You may try, but you can't bring yourself to hurt him or watch him suffer." 

Davoren listened in a tired daze. This time as Vincent spoke, he didn't drill through him for the core. Instead, he invited him to dig it out by himself. 

"My friend Davoren is not dead. He's right here, the same man I knew thirty-one years ago. I'm sure because only HE could give such kindess to someone everyone else would shun." 

Yes, Vincent could recall that day so long ago when they stormed a Reactor full of terrorists. Orders were given to kill them all, and they obeyed. But after the slaughter, only Davoren offered pity and prayer to those terrorists, while everyone else scorned them away. He didn't even regard them as "terrorists". Just "poor, illiterate men" duped into violence. 

And now, thirty-one years later, he had done the same thing. When everyone else would disdain Rufus ShinRa, Davoren alone sheltered him. Professor Hojo considered this being "prone to petty emotion". To Vincent, this was a quality far superior to any other. 

He fidgetted to add something, however awkward it made him feel or wistful it sounded, "..I..always respected and admired you, Davoren. I see matters as they appear square before my eyes. But somewhow, you can reach deeper and see things in a completely different way...the more..'humane' way. I suppose I..wish I had that type of insight too." 

Davoren expressed some surprise. Indeed, they had never spoken heart to heart like this before. Yet as they beheld each other, Vincent could perceive his plain words sink into Davoren's consciousness, slowly but surely. 

So much had happened since the day they first met. Mysterious Fate had twisted their paths from warm friendship to bitter enemity. Now as they sat here again, it all entangled together into a jumble, and neither man knew how to unravel it. 

At last, Davoren broke away to rub his temples, whilst his sad eyes mused upon empty space. After some difficulty, he wearily confessed, "..when I first saw Rufus, it was during one of his spasm fits. I..I found him huddled there like a wild animal...raving mad, clutching his head and shivering in the cold." 

Vincent knew the rest. The gunman had then wrapped him in his trenchcoat, and lulled him to sleep with some fairy tale. Yet did he even once consider who this boy actually was? 

"I knew who he was..of course I knew," Davoren sighed as if admitting a heinous crime, "All those things I shouted at him..about him deserving punishment..that's what I should have thought of him. But that night, I didn't see 'New Age President Rufus ShinRa'..," he turned to Vincent in desperation, "..I just saw a frightened lunatic. And he was so alone, Vincent. He didn't even have anyone to cry out for! Who was I to judge him for his crimes?..me..with my own hands so bloody..?" 

Vincent watched anguish gnaw this man alive. He said nothing. 

"..maybe..there's a hole inside of me I needed to fill..I don't know..for all the boy was, I still took him in," his tired voice quivered. Weak, devestated, the gunman burried this sorrow into his hands again, "..I just want to forget Donal..oh God..he's still screaming my name, Vincent..I want to forget him..." 

He was doomed, forever a prisoner of his own pain. He'd shed blood to blot out one face...one face burned into his mind like a curse. But the more red he spilled, the more desperate he became. For no blood thick enough could ever cover that face completely. 

In the silence, these two men waited for nothing. Between them there stood a wall of misery, so high Vincent saw no end to it. He could have withdrawn. But no. Of all barriers, he wanted to break this one the most. If never again, he wanted to reach out for Davoren just once...truely reach out for him past this wall of pain. 

He had no clever arguments, just a handful of feelings and a steady voice. With these simple tools, Vincent edged closer to the forlorn gunman, and there placed one firm hand upon his shoulder. Surprised, Davoren lifted his head to look at him. 

"No, you are wrong," Vincent stated, "Donal isn't crying out your name. Right now, he just wants to return to you, because that is where he belongs." 

His grip tightened a bit on Davoren's shoulder, as if he'd imbue him with enough strength to build a new dignity. Vincent whispered solemnly, "Don't taint your brother's memory with blood, Davoren. It's far too precious for that. And don't shun him out in the cold. Take him back in, just like you took in Rufus, and keep him warm inside." 

These words touched the wall at its most sensative stone. Vincent himself could not quite explain where they had originated. But from afar, he could almost discern a strange aura linger about. With eyes ever benevolent, it seemed to smile back upon him, as if to thank him for being its true voice. Had that been his silent aid? 

Strange. It seemed this presence had loitered here all along ...observing these two men...listening to them speak. Was it....Donal? 

No one except Davoren could say how deep those words had sunk. He gaped at Vincent in certain awe, for a moment too tired to speak. He dwelt long upon his own shattered thoughts. Maybe he too sensed that gentle presence somewhere about. Whatever happened inside, Davoren's face soon relaxed into pensive menalcholia. 

"..you've changed, Vincent," he remarked dully. His wistful gaze dug deep into the crimson brilliance, "But tell me...is what you do with *your* own pain any better?" 

This time, Vincent was caught by surprise, as if Davoren had read deep into a place even he himself had never seen before. Those pink eyes mirrored the image upon his conscousness. The reflection filled him with contemplation, but equal dread. In order to reach Davoren, Vincent reaziled he had bared parts of himself..parts he never knew existed before. If he stopped to think, had he really..."changed"? 

In a way, he and this man were both similar and different. Each one dragged his own pain across an endless desert of suffering. But Davoren channelled his outward. Vincent reverted his inward, towards himself. Was that really any better? Could there perhaps be another way? If so, where? He couldn't find it anywhere. 

For some very strange reason, the image of those snow fields crossed his memory, with Aeris standing there alone amidst their whiteness. 

Davoren, however, interrupted his reverie, "You'd best go now. Your little girl is waiting for you." 

Vincent was aroused back into hard focus. Yes. Aeris. He'd have to shelve these many questions. For now, he must hurry. Instantly, Vincent scuffled onto his feet again. 

"One warning," added Davoren, "Professor Hojo has this crazy...'infatuation' with her. Find her before he does, and get out of here. Most likely, he's already given you a brain-fever attack...it's just a matter of time before it starts." 

The grave-faced Vincent nodded in acknowledgement, then struggled to stand again. Davoren remained slouched on the dirty floor. He sat huddled upon himself, legs drawn up, with his heavy head in one hand. 

Vincent limped over to the corner, and picked up his discarded gun. Concentrate. He must concentrate on reaching Aeris. The last he saw her was when she ran away through the southern entrance. That path led down to the lower levels, around here. Then she was close. From this surveillance room, it would take him a while to reach the main hall, especially since he intended to search every corridor. But he could probably manage it. 

He glanced quizzically towards the miserable gunman, whoose mind seemed stranded miles away. Vincent thought he should stay here a bit longer. But then, nothing remained to be said, and somehow, he knew Davoren wouldn't re-attempt suicide. In fact, maybe it was best to leave him alone. 

Besides, there was no time. After a final check, he quietly made his way to the door. 

"..Vincent?" called Davoren. 

Vincent stopped, his hand frozen upon the doorknob. He peered over his shoulder back towards the gunman. 

Without looking around, not even a tinge of emotion, Davoren said, "Goodbye." 

Though he realized the meaning of that word, Vincent did not respond. Instead, he took a final moment to study this man. So this would be how they part. This was how he'd remember Davoren last: a wretch sitting upon the floor, with his head in his hand. How ironic. This same man could raise an invinsibility level to shield himself from...pain. 

Then the moment passed. Vincent opened the door, and marched out before gently closing it again. He never looked behind.

 ******************************************************** 

The silence here resembled a tomb's. In the darkness, Davoren sat a long, long time. His hollow eyes hung down upon his shoes, simply because he hadn't the strength or interest to lift them. Around him loomed sorrow..more pain...more bitterness. They all crushed his shoulders with their inconsolable weight. 

"We're all soaked in sin..but tell me, Donal..," he whimpered, so lost in a blind daze, "..up there..is there any room up there for bloody demons..like us?" 

No voice replied. Slowly, Davoren huddled back into utter dejection. Fresh tears welled up despite his every effort to suppress them. Inside, he had reached a point where he just did not know what to do. All roads were grim, with no solace in sight. 

He sat by himself, but not alone. Indeed, if (for just a moment) logic were suspended, one could have sensed a peaceful spirit descend by Davoren's side. It lovingly embraced him into a loose grip, letting him languish, but always reassuring him of its presence. Though two worlds apart, man and spirit sat huddled together on the filthy floor, around them the grimness of a nightmare. 

Perhaps this was the answer. After an eternity of wandering, perhaps Donal had finally returned home to his brother.


-End of Chp.70