I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.22

The months rolled by very gently.

A windy autumn gradually replaced the hot summer, banishing it from the city until next year. What trees the grim Midgar still possessed soon lost their precious leaves in the wind, and stood as barren as ever in the smog. The cool, chilly wind constantly huffed over the city, yet failed to fully remove the stuffy heat trapped within.

Despite the seasonal changes in Midgar, scarcely anything changed amongst the Turks. Vincent still kept a cool "friendship" with his colleagues; close enough to exceed an acquaintance, yet not intimate enough for a personal friendship. In all fairness, they were fiercely loyal and co-operative, yet Vincent never felt very attached to them, even after many more months of work in ShinRa Inc.

Cindy, though intelligent in her own cunning way, obviously preferred Gerald to Vincent's company. And Gerald, being an established anti-reader, favoured more rowdy modes of entertainment which did not appeal to the Turk's taste (like fast cars, snooker, bars, and rugby matches).

Not surprisingly, Davoren became his closest Turk friend. The beloved leader of the Turks, while always modest and easy-going, also possessed a serious, almost depressed, nature as well. He sometimes advised ways for Vincent to improve his gun skills even further, which the latter heartily thanked. However, Vincent enjoyed Davoren's perceptive (and cutting) "observations" about ShinRa Inc., especially on an intellectual level. And the more Vincent listened to him, the more he respected and valued this man's friendship.

He only met Professor Hojo occasionally whenever he happened to be near the ShinRa laboratory. The insolent man would snub him with a loud "harrumph", then brush past him as sullenly as before. Vincent, of course, never wasted his time on Hojo, thinking him simply "an arrogant, skinny grouch".

Vincent was slightly surprised to find his opinion widely shared. Once, Gerald and he happened to spot Professor Hojo trotting some distance away, his two scrawny arms behind his bending back.

"Fuh! Whatch it, lad," Gerald had warned scornfully, "There goes the sorriest bit a' milksop ye'll ever see, ye will!"

The secretaries always grimaced behind Hojo's back as he walked away; other employees, normally talkative, would pause whenever he passed by. Even the ShinRa President seemed to hold this scrawny man in contempt; not as blunt as his employees, of course, but equally as hateful. Indeed, nobody liked this spiteful scientist, nor did he make himself very agreeable to others.

"But what can you do?" Lucrecia had sighed as she tried to explain to Vincent, "He's still part of the 'JENOVA Project' team...like him or not."

As the months carelessly slipped by, Vincent and Lucrecia grew more intimate with each other. Whenever time permitted, the two friends would meet in the café or library. Vincent still avoided discussing any of his missions for fear of upsetting her (they usually involved some form of violence). Instead, he encouraged her to speak about her research or any other recent issue. He never grew tired listening to her talk excitedly about the "JENOVA Project". Nor did her unselfish dedication and patience ever cease to amaze him. Indeed, he found her company far superior to any other.

Whenever she smiled, Vincent felt her warm his heart to the very core. If she spoke, he listened with all attention riveted on her alone. In his eyes, every word, every move, every look of hers was a stroke of wonder.

Not that he lacked any control over his emotions. On the contrary, Vincent performed all his duties and missions as impeccably as before. In fact, the President had been so impressed with this Turk's obedience and perfection, he bestowed on him a most generous raise. Vincent's face always assumed a hard, cold expression during working hours. Even Lucrecia had once declared how unfriendly his face could look at times.

"You should smile more, Vincent," she had insisted, "After all, you're smart...well-off...not to mention very handsome..," but she instantly blushed for some reason, then changed the subject.

He only felt those strange emotions when *she* was near him.

Unfortunately, Lucrecia grew increasingly absorbed in the "JENOVA Project" as time passed by. She would spend days on end, scribbling in her notebook under a bright lamp. She constantly ran between the preservatory room and the laboratory with all sorts of files in her delicate arms. Yet despite all the hard work, nothing could dampen her spirits or enthusiasm about the project. She had, in short, sacrificed all her time and energy for the "JENOVA Project". Much to her relief, Vincent never pressured her into meeting him. He only asked she "take it easy".

The two friends saw less of each other, Lucrecia too engrossed in her research, and Vincent swamped in missions requiring his "special touch". A week flew by unnoticed, neither person having the time to even think of the other.

One evening, Vincent chanced upon Lucrecia rushing through the hall with some papers heaped in her hands. On hearing her name called, she noticed him, and they chatted for a few minutes about trivial matters. Luckily, Lucrecia had just completed her lab work for the day. That task done, she was tidying up before heading home. Vincent, being done too, asked to accompany her some of the way. She gratefully accepted.

The streets of Midgar had emptied considerably after the warm sun had descended the sky. A chilly autumn breeze blew over the gloomy city, swirling bits of papers and dead leaves on the pavement. Night enshrouded the sky with a black, starry blanket, thereby forcing a stillness on the usually bustling city. Though occasionally a stray car zoomed through the quiet streets or a lonely passerby skipped across the road, the streets remained almost deserted.

The two strolled casually down the tranquil streets, talking in a very subdued voice. However, they too grew silent as they crossed the bridge towards the city centre. Vincent, with his hands thrust in his pockets, occasionally glanced at Lucrecia, but returned to his own thoughts again. It was very quiet in the city.

"Do you always carry that gun with you, Vincent?" she asked all of a sudden. Her eyes looked up at him with slight apprehension.

"Hm? Yeah..it's an old habit," Vincent sighed knowledgeably, "But it's more comfortable than the AK. 47 semi-automatic rifle I hide on my leg."

Lucrecia stopped short on hearing the comment. She gaped straight at him with a most horrified look on her face. Vincent, on the other hand, smiled at her shocked expression, then decided to calm her down.

"That was a joke," he explained.

She blinked in surprise, only muttering a faint, "Oh!"

They resumed their journey along the road, Lucrecia still trying to find the humour in his "joke"; she thought it perhaps too "Turkish" for her to grasp. Vincent walked by her side as quietly as before. The two followed the winding path around a corner, through a black alley, until finally emerging into the city's main square.

The city square was merely the banking section of Midgar, named so because of the ugly stone fountain marking its centre. A high, broad parapet surrounded the fountain, whose centre basically consisted of three tiers piled over each other. Yet despite its grotesqueness, this unfortunate fountain retained a certain charm, if not a strange beauty, about it: the pure, shimmering water covered the dull tiers with a thin sheet of silver as it streamed downwards. The moon's reflection in the water constantly danced, caused by the gentle ripples of the clean water.

The two lingered a moment near the fountain, neither wishing to disturb the pleasant sound of the water gently splashing into the fountain.

Lucrecia suddenly took Vincent by the arm and pulled him over to the fountain for a closer look. After placing her briefcase on the ground, she gracefully perched herself on top of the stone parapet. Vincent watched her sit with her back facing the fountain, letting her two feet dangle playfully downwards. He then leaned against the parapet, and gazed silently at the silver water dance in the fountain.

A peaceful silence fell on the two for a few minutes.

"Say, Vincent," she asked in a most soft voice, "When did you first become interested in guns?"

He glanced at her briefly, then replied, "When I came to live with my uncle in Midgar, he happened to be some famous gunsmith. He always used to tell me I had potential to be a gunsmith like him...so I think when I turned twelve, he taught me how to handle a gun. And by then next year, he let me practice with real bullets."

"What did your parents think?? Weren't they afraid you'd hurt yourself?"

"I doubt it. My mother had died when I was three...and my father..he committed suicide a few years later...from grief, I was told. So, I went to live with my uncle in Midgar after that."

Lucrecia paused a long time before timidly reaching for his hand. Vincent felt a strange thrill at her warm, soft touch, yet refused to look at her anxious face. Instead, he fixed his eyes on the shimmering water.

"I..I'm very sorry..," she whispered as she pressed his hand gently.

"It's alright," he smiled without turning to her, "I don't remember them, really... just this fuzzy blur in my memory."

Another prolonged silence fell on the two again. Leaning his body further against the parapet, Vincent ran his cold fingertips through the soothing water of the fountain. Lucrecia watched him for a while until she suddenly hopped off the stone parapet. She leaned next to Vincent, and gazed dreamily at the silver water shimmer in the moonlight. Vincent studied her face from the corner of his eye: he had never seen her look so beautiful as she did that moment.

"So, you've been practicing with that gun for a long time now," she marveled, turning her head to him, "I bet you couldn't wait to become a Turk when you were a kid."

Vincent pulled his wet hand out of the cool water, his eyes still lingering over her lovely face in complete fascination.

"Actually, I didn't care what I became," he corrected good-humouredly, "My uncle at first wanted me to take over his gunsmith business, but then thought I could do better than that. He happened to know all the right people in ShinRa Inc., so..I became a Turk."

Lucrecia looked quizzically into his face, as if doubting the whole truth of his simple story. Her disappointed look amused Vincent greatly.

"Well, I never claimed to be a very ambitious man," he could not help adding with a smile, "To me, one job's as good as any other. That's why I admire you so much, Lucrecia: you know exactly what you want, and won't let anything stop you."

Lucrecia started on hearing his generous compliment, then blushed slightly as her eyes returned to the clear water. Vincent turned around so that his back now leaned against the parapet. Try as he may, he could not tear his eyes away from Lucrecia, who fidgeted bashfully by his side.

"To tell the truth, Vincent," she giggled softly, taking off her glasses, "I didn't know what I wanted to be either...not until I was seventeen.."

He looked significantly at her, studying every feature of her lovely face as she continued, "One morning, my father and I were walking in the woods near our house. He made me look all around myself, and I always remember him saying 'Everyone here is running around, looking for miracles on earth; but they can't see the biggest miracle of all, even though it's right infront of them: the miracle of life'. And I thought that was so wonderful..I..I simply wanted to know what exactly gave things 'life'...heh heh...so, here I am now."

Vincent only smiled at her, yet said nothing.

"That's why this project means so much to me," Lucrecia explained with shining eyes, "Even though JENOVA is a completely different life form..it too possesses life. And if we can unlock some of its secrets, then maybe...just maybe, we can unlock some of the secrets to human life too."

She glanced timidly at Vincent when she finished, and found his bright eyes riveted on her face. The two stared fixedly at each other, until Vincent suddenly broke the silence.

"Lucrecia," he asked very softly, "Do you know that you're....beautiful?"

The woman blinked in complete surprise at him. Her cheeks flushed heavily as she looked down in shame, as though he had scolded her for some mistake. She even retreated one step away from him.

"But, I don't mean JUST physical beauty," he explained hurriedly, "I won't lie to you: you are that most beautiful woman I've ever seen. But, Lucrecia, that's not the only thing I love in you..I think you're beauty springs from the inside too."

Lucrecia looked curiously up at him again, but did not open her mouth. She still appeared overwhelmed with her emotions.

"I mean, you're very noble-minded," he continued as he stepped closer to her, "And I can't help but marvel at how hard-working, intelligent, and principled you are. You're far more superior to any other person I've met. Sometimes, I wonder why I'm the only one who sees all this. I..I'm not trying to run any corny lines to you, Lucrecia..I'm just saying how I feel about you."

An awkward silence followed.

She hesitated several times, dismally trying to avoid his eyes, until finally faltered very softly, "Th...thank you..Vincent...I..you're very kind.."

Lucrecia looked around herself in apprehension, then resumed more confidently, "When..when other men walk up to me..I never bother even listening to them..because I can tell how crude their minds really are..."

When she noticed Vincent standing exactly infront of her, eyeing her very keenly, she dropped her voice even further, "But...that's not how I feel about you..no, not at all...you're so different from the others..."

She broke down in the middle of her sentence, letting silence reclaim its lost place again. She only managed to look up at his face, her mind waiting for a response.

Her beauty was, simply put, stunning.

Vincent gently placed both hands on her soft cheeks, and stooped slightly to kiss her. He could feel her whole body tremble as he pressed his lips against her mouth, almost as though she were afraid of someone catching them. However, some of her tenseness quickly dispersed when he began to caress her cheeks and run his fingers along her slender waist; she even ventured to touch his cheeks most tenderly and return his kisses. Yet her body continuously quivered with some suppressed emotion.

Suddenly, Lucrecia forcefully shoved him away from herself, and stared at his astonished face with her trembling hand over her mouth. Hot tears began to flood her anguished eyes; her legs shook violently underneath her.

Vincent, wondering what exactly had upset her, opened his mouth to speak. But she shook her head vigorously to stop him. Her tearful eyes darted all over the place in complete anxiety, then focused directly on him.

"V..Vincent," she faltered on removing her hand from her mouth, "P..please..don't ever do that..again..please..."

"I'm sorry," he immediately apologized in most gentle tone, "If I knew you didn't like.."

"No!! No, it's not that at all!! It's the opposite, in fact!!" she interrupted passionately, much to his surprise, "I..I loved the kiss..I really did...and as for you..I.. I feel this...see, I can't..you..you wouldn't..oh!"

Unable to express herself any further, Lucrecia snatched her forsaken briefcase off the ground, and nervously placed her glasses on her nose again. Vincent watched her fidget around, completely baffled by her strange answer. After wiping away her tears, Lucrecia made a deep bow to him, then straightened herself up again very excitedly.

"Th..thank you for walking with me, Vincent," she spoke with a wooden smile, "but..I..I have to go home now...thank you...g..good night!"

She instantly dashed away. Before Vincent had a chance to stop her, Lucrecia had scurried away across the square, and disappeared out of his sight.

The stillness crushed him utterly.

He stood rooted by the stone fountain, completely dumbstruck. His confused mind recalled every syllable of their conversation, but could make no sense of her last response. He admitted he hadn't had any intention of confessing or kissing her until the very last minute. But while he was kissing her, she seemed to enjoy it...she even confessed so herself! If that were so, why in God's name did she push him away like that, as if he intended to poison her?

Maybe she simply did not feel the same emotions he felt for her.

Vincent wisely decided to avoid Lucrecia until she would forgive him. He performed all his missions with redoubled diligence which astounded his friends, and won him more acclaim from the President. If he chanced upon her in the hall, he passed her as though he had not seen her at all. He even avoided the library for fear of meeting her, preferring to join the other Turks in the café or lounge. He happily embraced any chance to push Lucrecia from his thoughts. For a long time he was quite successful, yet she always occupied some corner of his mind.

Lucrecia occasionally bumped into him in the corridor, and was forced to mutter some confused "excuse me" before scurrying away. Her restless eyes always avoided looking up at him, perhaps for fear of blurting out some suppressed emotion. Her whole countenance trembled at his sight, then she instantly would dash away in distress.

One whole month dragged by. Vincent never attempted to contact or reach her. He would not impose himself on her, nor would he upset her further if his presence discomforted her in any way.

Sometimes, however, Vincent wondered why Lucrecia had repulsed him that night. He could have sworn the words "I love you" were on her lips, yet she seemed to desperately force them back. When he had kissed and fondled her, he knew she enjoyed it (why else would she kiss him back if she didn't?!) Indeed, she seemed to have forgotten most her timidity and fears as he touched her. But she instantly pushed him away, as if remembering something. And now, she seemed so afraid of him.

What contradiction was that? Why did she repulse him, she enjoyed his caresses?!

"Gerald," Vincent complained to his friend, completely at his wits' end, "I don't understand women."

"Aye, lad, join the rest of the male population," Gerald sighed tiredly, "I'll wager if ye can understan' a woman, ye must be a genius!"

-End of Chp.22