I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.31

Sad how out of all the vast treasury of memories one human mind contains, very selected few actually survive till the end. Most of them fade away with time, losing their novelty and flavour. The once sharp details become dim; the clear faces turn blurry. Indeed, most of our memories are so similar to paintings: the older they grow, the more faded and dusty they become. When Time at last fades their colours and obscures the details, those wasted memories are sometimes utterly forgotten.

Yet the precious few memories which completely evade Time, on the other hand, remain forever fresh in the mind until death. These memories could be happy, confusing, sad, or even painful. Nothing, not even Time itself, could hope to dim one detail of it: the face remains forever fresh; the moment forever new; the emotion forever vibrant.

It simply refuses to die.

Despite the torturous, long years of separation, Lucrecia's precious memory remained thus forever preserved in Vincent's mind. He sealed her beautiful face in his memory. Every curve of her slender figure, every movement of her body had long engraved itself into his brain. Vincent still remembered the feel of her hair between his fingers; the incredible amount of respect and admiration he felt for her; even the warmth of her gentle touch. He had absorbed her whole spirit into himself, and jealously protected it from any tarnish Time may induce.

However, with the precious memory of his beloved Lucrecia came the unbearable guilt of abandoning her in her most hour of need. The self-disgust and hatred always wrangled his aching heart whenever he recalled her image. This one wretched sin, of all the horrible sins he had committed, haunted this man's lonely days and cold, black nights. They never granted him peace, nor would they spare his tortured mind.

Thirty-one years could not mollify his guilt. On the contrary, time had only intensified the pain until his sin obsessed his tormented mind. He yearned for forgiveness...*her* forgiveness. What hatred and revulsion he felt at himself whenever he remembered how he idly watched her suffer so miserable and alone. Her bitter, bitter reproach "you never came" hammered his head and tore his senses to shreds. He wanted peace of mind, which ultimately meant his beloved's forgiveness.

If only he could somehow suffer to atone for the unbearable crime. Somewhere on this wretched earth, there *must* be some excruciating punishment he could endure to win her forgiveness. Some arduous task he could perform, some torture he could undergo just to stop the guilt from haunting him.

And yet, Vincent knew no amount of groveling, suffering, or torment could match the agonies Lucrecia had borne. In being honest with himself, Vincent never believed, not even for one moment, he could hope to atone for his crime. He had loved Lucrecia with such a violent passion, yet at the same time had abandoned her to a cruel fate. He had watched her suffer instead of preventing her pain. In short, Vincent did not believe himself *WORTHY* of Lucrecia's forgiveness.

Her pain had damned him to a wretched life forever plagued by guilt and relentless self-hatred. He would always live in misery and bitter remorse, denied any peace of mind.

But most importantly, Vincent would live his lonely life as he had always: a stone-hearted, demoniacal monster. Not because he could transform into a hideous creature with sharp claws and black wings. That monster was merely part of his abnormal body he artfully concealed behind a human guise. No, the real monster was *him*: it was the same heartless creature who just watched Lucrecia suffer instead of protecting her.

Let that be his eternal punishment. No mercy. No forgiveness.

But Vincent had Aeris, a frightened little child lost and hounded by her dark fears. If he protected her now like he should have protected Lucrecia thirty-one years ago.....if he, in fact, PRETENDED he fought for Lucrecia instead of Aeris.....would the sin be washed away? Would the guilt at long last spare his tortured mind?

Would he THEN be forgiven?

Vincent suddenly broke off in the middle of his gloomy thoughts without waiting for an answer. After waking up a second time during the night, he had set his tired mind adrift until he had sunk into semi-consciousness. Though aware of his wandering thoughts, he scarcely possessed any control over their direction or meaning. Yet, being still so physically and mentally weak, Vincent had offered no resistance to his train of thoughts; at least, not until that desperate question struck him in the face. He abruptly ended his morbid meditation by forcing his eyes open.

A peaceful silence ruled the grey bedroom.

He lay flat on his back in bed, his dull attention tiredly focused on the ceiling. Both his hands rested on his calm chest, the metallic claw heaped over the other hand. Vincent scarcely twitched a muscle whenever a cold shiver tickled his pale skin. On the contrary, he felt quite relaxed. Though the bedroom was quite cold, Vincent had chosen to sleep on top of the covers in hopes of cooling his feverish body. Much to his relief, his plan had succeeded: the fever had almost disappeared.

He glanced askance at Aeris, who slept buried underneath all the warm covers. She lay snugly nestled against his body, most of her face hidden under the blankets save her eyes and hair. Sweet slumber had overpowered her senses so completely, she lay oblivious to her surroundings, even to some of her curls that dangled before her lovely face. She did not move when Vincent flicked a strand of her hair away. Utter exhaustion had rendered her helplessly unconscious.

He turned his eyes back to the ceiling, and did not move for a long time.

Gentle morning sunlight smuggled through the window, slowly dispersing the darkness away. Since Vincent had left only one curtain open during the night, some of the room basked in sunlight while the other parts lay in grey shadows. Vincent languidly watched the ceiling brighten as the rosy morning besieged the bedroom. When he had heard the faint chimes of the bell tower signal six o'clock, Vincent sat up in bed.

He gazed absent-mindedly at the window just opposite the warm bed. Pure white snow had clogged the corners of each window pane, while a gentle mist completely smeared the glass. Indeed, it had snowed very heavily all throughout the night.

Vincent hopped out of bed. After one good stretch, he wandered over to the cold, misty window. He wiped the fog away with his hand, then peered through the glass: the whole world outside lay trapped in snow. It covered every rooftop and car in view. The bare tree branches outlining the streets below were laden with clumps of snow. One passerby trudged through the thick snow piled on the sidewalk, making sure his precious briefcase stayed safe and dry.

Vincent turned his weary eyes up to the grim skyline of the black city. The ugly tall buildings and banal offices contrasted sharply with the beauty of the pure snow. The soot and grime would probably soon dirty the snow's beautiful whiteness. How greatly winter in Midgar differed from winter in Nibelheim...

He turned abruptly from the window on remembering that loathsome village. Its memory filled him with intense pain, just as much as Lucrecia's filled him with bitter guilt: It was in Nibelheim where he realized his heinous crime. How long ago it happened, yet how vivid it seemed.

The mirror hanging across the room suddenly caught his eye: Vincent stared in silent wonder at his image, which returned his look with the exact same expression. His face had grown quite wan and haggard. The cruel illness had, in truth, drained every ounce of life out of his weak body until not a drop remained. His keen red eyes sparkled brilliantly like a pair of rubies.

And how pale his skin was! His disheveled, long black hair tumbled in lustrous strands all around his head, a few infront of his face, others well over his shoulders. The shocking contrast between his jet black hair and pale white skin only added to his wonder. He had also grown thinner: his sleeveless black shirt and loose pants felt a bit baggier than he last recalled.

But it's the same face, Vincent mused to himself, the exact same face I had in that hectic nightmare....

He stared very meaningfully at his face, his turbulent thoughts scurrying around his head. That face did not belong here, it belonged to his bloody, murky past. And yet, he still bore the same young, fresh face he had borne thirty-one years ago. Age hadn't touched it a wrinkle.

To his bitter mind, this face hardly differed from an artful mask, cleverly disguising a monster as a human.

Feeling sudden disgust at his "mask", Vincent tore his eyes away from the mirror back to the misty window. He folded both arms across his chest as he gazed broodingly out the glass pane. The bakery shop down the street finally opened its doors to greet the cold morning. Little school children scurried down the pavement, throwing snowballs at each other all the way. Several of the black buildings in the distance had already returned to work. The whole city of Midgar braced itself for another cold winter's day.

However, Vincent only noticed these signs of life with hardly any interest. Many thoughts, far too morbid for the cheerful morning, occupied his mind. He paid no heed to the bright world outside. He had grown quite accustomed to the gloomy world inside his head.

The pleasant tranquility of the cold bedroom pleased him.

Unfortunately, the loud sound of the door opening disturbed his gloomy meditation. He glanced askance at the intruder without muttering a word.

Tifa stumbled into the bedroom, yawning and rubbing her sleepy eyes. Her chaotic hair all hung behind her back, with many distorted strands pointing in every direction. She wore a large, long night-shirt, horribly wrinkled from an unsettled sleep. Evidently, she had just woken up.

She fully stretched out her two slender arms as another lazy yawn attacked her. When at last she noticed Vincent by the window, she sprang back in surprise, exclaiming, "V..Vincent!!!!"

"Good morning, Tifa," Vincent greeted calmly. He returned her stunned look with a very composed expression.

Tifa, of course, had least expected to see this man up so early, standing in his usual aloof manner by the window. Nor had she dreamed of finding Vincent speaking and behaving so coolly. She strongly suspected he still suffered from delirium, but was pretending to be sane.

"Vincent...you..," she faltered confusedly, marching over to him, "..are you...all right???"

"Yes. I'm fine now."

Still doubting his sanity, Tifa pressed her hand over his forehead, then his cheek. Vincent fidgeted uncomfortably under her sharp scrutiny: she peered suspiciously into his pale face; examined the smallest detail for any sign of delirium. Nevertheless, Vincent dutifully succumbed to her will, and made no protest to the inspection.

"The fever..it...it's practically gone!" Tifa cried amazedly, "..my God! And you're not raving anymore! You've almost recovered!!"

Vincent only nodded once to the joyful news.

Tifa, on the other hand, expressed far more enthusiasm for his miraculous recovery. Much to his confusion, she threw both arms around his neck and embraced him. Being much taller than her, Vincent stooped slightly for her to fully hug him. Though he felt a bit awkward in Tifa's tight embrace, he did not resist the kind gesture.

"Ah, you jerk! What's the idea getting sick like that and making us worry?" Tifa reproached in a low, faltering voice. She tightened her grip around him, as if fearing the dreaded fever may return, "...coughing out all that blood, and raving like there was no tomorrow. We all thought you'd die before the night was through."

Vincent, sensing a sob in her voice, gently patted her back as he humbly apologized, "...I'm sorry, Tifa..I'm very sorry.."

"You don't have to apologize, Vincent," Tifa replied softly, "What matters to us is that you're okay now."

She held him in that friendly embrace another moment just to reassure herself of his presence, then released him. Vincent ran his fingers through his hair, thinking he should say more. However, since all words failed him, he turned awkwardly back to the misty window again. Similarly, Tifa fumbled in the uncomfortable silence. She glanced at his face from the side: how morose and pensive he looked. She gazed outside the window, wondering what thoughts preoccupied this man.

For one full minute, neither spoke a word.

"Excuse me, Tifa," Vincent began softly all of a sudden. He turned to face her as he said, "..I have to go now. Good bye."

"Eh??!!" she blinked in amazement, turning to him as well, "W-where are you going??"

"I need to take a shower, then get ready for work."

The simplicity of the answer doubled her astonishment. She gaped at his calm face, thinking she had perhaps misheard him. But his serious expression proved otherwise. Without another word, Vincent politely walked past her.

"W-w-wait a darn minute, you!!!" Tifa cried angrily, yanking him back by the arm, "You can't just 'get ready for work' as if nothing happened! You were raving with a killer fever only last night! And you still have a small fever too! You must rest!"

"But, I..I'm fine.."

"If it's your job, then don't worry," Tifa interrupted loudly, "I personally explained to them you couldn't go because you were sick. Now, unless you want that fever to return, Mr. Valentine, you'll get yourself straight back into bed! I do NOT want you having another relapse, and..."

"Sh!" Vincent hushed, placing his finger before his lips very nervously, "Not so loud. You'll wake her."

"'Wake...her????'" Tifa repeated in puzzlement.

She looked deliberately to the side, where the bed stood, suspecting to find an explanation there. To her great shock, she finally discovered Aeris snuggled underneath all those warm covers. Aeris, who had noiselessly shifted to her back during the conversation, slept as soundly as ever. Her head was turned to the side, so that part of her beautiful face lay in her thick brown curls. The cozy blankets had slipped off her upper body, thus exposing her neck and entire shoulders. One of her delicate hands lay carelessly near her face, while the other clutched the hem of a blanket to her breast. Aeris only heaved one tired sigh. She looked extremely exhausted, but quite content.

To be sure, Tifa had not even noticed the girl sleeping so innocently in the man's soft bed. She gaped with eyes wide open at Aeris, then back at Vincent, who felt very uneasy on seeing her stunned look. Tifa spent a long time glancing between the two. Suddenly, she folded her arms and nodded her head quite sagaciously, as though she understood the real situation. Vincent watched her uncomfortably.

"Ah, I see," Tifa remarked, eying him very meaningfully, "So **THAT'S** what you two were up to while I was blissfully asleep. Guess I don't need to ask if you slept well, do I, Mr.Valen-TINO?"

Vincent blinked in astonishment at her sly meaning.

"Now wait a minute!!" he retorted but instantly lowered his voice, "You have the wrong idea. This is definitely NOT what it looks like..."

"Uh-huh. Sure," Tifa teased. She playfully slapped his arm as she added in a peculiar whisper, "You don't need to be so uptight about it, Vincent. I mean, no matter how you look at it, you're a man, and she's a pretty young girl. It's good to know underneath that cold exterior, you still have the same basic instincts all normal men.."

But she stopped short when Vincent abruptly turned away from her. He folded both arms across his chest as he closed his eyes in annoyance. His back remained rigidly facing the bed. Though Tifa knew her joke had probably offended him, she could not help but smile at Vincent's embarrassment.

"When I woke up around two in the morning, I found her at my bedside, washing my forehead...and trying to calm me down, because I was having a nightmare," Vincent explained in a low, controlled voice, "I could see her whole body shivering from the cold. She was so exhausted, I wondered how she managed to stay up at all. Then I learned she's been like this at my side for a day and a half. Well, I certainly didn't want her to become ill on my account, so I made her sleep in my bed."

Tifa raised an eyebrow suspiciously, as if doubting the validity of his simple story. Vincent glanced at her, then coughed uneasily. Tifa thought she saw a very light blush colour his cheeks, but he turned away before she could check.

"She slept under the blankets; I slept ON TOP of them for the whole night," he concluded softly, "That is all. I certainly did not exceed those boundaries."

"Heh heh..aw c'mon, Vincent! Don't be mad," Tifa laughed amicably at his stiffness, "I was only teasing you. Heck, I know you're not that kind of guy."

He looked suspiciously at her from the corner of his eye. Tifa winked playfully at him to prove she did, indeed, believe him.

"But you know, Vincent," Tifa added, her tone growing quite serious, "..Aeris lied to you. She didn't spend a day and a half watching over you."

He listened to her in silence.

"Aeris spent the full week literally by your side, nursing and caring for you. She never left your side. For a full week, she washed your forehead, held your hand, even whispered in your ears (I have no idea what she told you). Whether you were unconscious or raving like mad, Aeris watched over you by herself. She refused to let me or Cloud look after you, not even for a minute."

Vincent fixed his eyes on the view outside the window without interrupting Tifa. Tifa glanced timidly at his stoic face, then looked at Aeris. The girl hadn't moved a muscle.

"She probably just lied to you so you wouldn't get worried about her," Tifa excused for the kind-hearted girl, "Caring for you was so important to her, the silly thing hardly bothered sleeping. I told her to wake me at midnight, because I wanted her to get some decent sleep. But, of course, being so stubborn, she didn't listen."

An awkward silence filled the room as she finished her story. Vincent turned around to face Tifa again, unsure how to react to the truth. Tifa studied Aeris' tired face for another minute before she too turned to Vincent. Her brown eyes softened with tender kindness on meeting his calm, red eyes.

"Would you like some coffee before you go to work?" Tifa smiled simply.

Vincent nodded his head in consent.

"Alrighty then. It should be ready in a minute."

Tifa immediately left the room to prepare his hot drink. Vincent, on the other hand, lingered for another moment at the foot of the bed. His whole face darkened with some troublesome thought as he gazed very intently at Aeris. The girl slept in her same position, blissfully unaware of all around her. Sweet, deep sleep had gently lulled her eyes to seal shut. Vincent carefully tucked her in again, then drew the curtains across the window. He quietly shut the door after he left the room.

As he wandered down the familiar hallway, loud snores from the living room caught his attention. He silently peeked into this dark room in search of the noisy source.

Slouched on the couch, Cloud slept soundly in nothing but a light undershirt and his boxer shorts. Both his legs were wide apart, one dangling over the arm of the comfy seat. His head, with all that shock of blond hair, slumped sharply against his shoulder. A woolly blanket, obviously his own, lay discarded on the floor. Cloud snored with a large, gaping mouth, occasionally giving a sharp snort whenever he scratched his thigh. To be sure, not even the mightiest of earthquakes could have awakened this young man from his deep slumber. He looked exhausted beyond description.

Vincent frowned slightly at Cloud's sloppy way of sleeping on a couch, but let the tired man enjoy his rest. He entered the kitchen across the hall, where Tifa had just finished preparing his coffee.

"Careful now. It's very hot," she warned as she handed him a steaming mug.

Taking the cup in his hand, Vincent collapsed into the nearest chair by the wooden table. Without a word, he took a quick sip, then began idly swirling the drink. The hot coffee, with its distinct aroma, quickly sharpened his senses and dispersed whatever weariness still clung to him. He took another sip in silence.

Tifa watched him revel in his pleasant drink without interruption. After a moment, she too poured herself some coffee, and sat near her gloomy friend. As she quietly sipped her hot drink, Tifa studied Vincent's pensive face from the corner of her eye.

"Cloud looks very tired," Vincent remarked casually without looking at her.

"Oh yeah. He should be after that little 'adventure' of his last night," scoffed Tifa, feigning real anger. She placed the mug on the table firmly as she recounted, "See, last night, you had this REALLY BAD fever. We were actually fighting just to keep you alive. You were delirious, of course, screaming and kicking. None of the medicines were working, and your body was burning like fire. So, leave it to Mr. I-am-so-damn-clever Cloud Strife to come up one last ditch effort to save you."

She gulped down her coffee, disregarding its hotness, in an effort to mollify her agitation. Vincent eyed her cautiously, but did not interrupt her story.

"He filled the bathtub with water, dragged you all the way in spite of your raving, and dunked your whole body in the tub to cool you! I nearly murdered him! I mean, I thought he was trying to do some kinda 'mercy killing' by drowning you. But Cloud kept on repeating he wouldn't let you die just yet. So, he spent around two hours last night dunking your body in and out, until the fever finally went down. Naturally, he was exhausted, so there he is now, snoring away in dreamland."

She paused before adding softly, "I was skeptical at first... but I..I'm just glad his crazy idea worked."

An awkward silence followed after Tifa reached the conclusion. Vincent brooded over his cup of coffee, while Tifa glanced timidly at him to check his reaction. He swirled the hot coffee several times before standing up all of a sudden. Keeping his back totally turned to Tifa, he wandered over to the counter. Tifa wondered at his strange behavior.

"..Tifa..," he muttered after some hesitation, "..thank you. I..owe you my life. I'm very sorry for troubling you..all of you, like this.."

Although the show of gratitude quite simple, Tifa sprang out of her seat in great surprise, almost absolute shock. Vincent coughed uneasily at her reaction, but still kept his back turned to her. He could discern her confusion without even looking at her.

"Ah..now..h-hey, Vincent!" Tifa faltered nervously, walking over to him at once, "I told you you don't need to apologize for anything! You're our friend, remember? We all look out for each other! .....though the way you've been outta touch for this last year..not bothering to visit us even though you lived right here in Midgar... hhmmmm...makes me wonder if you really worth saving..."

When Vincent glared significantly at her, Tifa immediately laughed, "Just kidding! Kidding!!"

He leaned back against the counter, taking one last sip from his coffee before discarding his mug. Vincent silently folded his arms across his chest, and narrowed his eyes in deep contemplation. He paid no heed to Tifa who eyed him with peculiar concern.

"But, Vincent," she whispered, touching his arm lightly to win his attention, "I just want you to take care of yourself..and watch out for any danger. If not for your own sake, then at least for Aeris."

He made no reply.

"See, I'm very worried about you," continued Tifa softly, "I have this bad feeling you're hiding something from all of us. And I can't guess it, because you don't WANT anyone to. If there is anything, Vincent, any trouble..any danger you're concealing, then please tell me."

She stared so intently at his face, beseeching him to unburden whatever "trouble" pestered him. In return, Vincent gazed stoically back at her. For one full minute, no sound but Cloud's rude snores interrupted the heavy silence of the kitchen.

At last, Vincent turned away.

"...I cannot tell you, Tifa..," he apologized very gently.

"Vincent," she retorted in a cautious undertone, "Does any of this have to do with...a white-haired man?"

He froze solid in his spot on hearing those last three words. His reaction certainly baffled Tifa. She watched him fumble in confused hesitation for a minute. When he finally turned to face her, Vincent's keen eyes fixed themselves rigidly on her face, demanding an immediate explanation.

Tifa realized she had somehow hit the mark.

"I...I've been meaning to tell you this, but I forgot," she recounted nervously, "About a month ago, this man...with unnaturally white hair and these weird pink eyes asked me to meet up with him. He was a bit taller than you, around thirty, and wore this thick trench coat over his suit."

A dreadful uneasiness filled Tifa's heart as she looked into Vincent's morose face. He seemed to weigh her every word quite heavily. She distinctly recalled this mysterious stranger, but now his memory sent a cold shiver down her spine.

"He asked me whether I knew you...he even showed me a picture of you as a Turk. Then he asked me where to find you. At the time, I had no idea where you were. Like I said, you didn't keep in touch after Avalanche disbanded. I repeated several times that I simply did not know. So, he just left without another word, and I never saw him again. He...he was very strange. Oh, he was polite and everything, but he.. wouldn't tell me his name. He just seemed so bent on finding you."

Vincent's red eyes sharpened keenly at the conclusion of Tifa's story. A most solemn expression darkened his face. Several thoughts battled through his mind at the same time, each in a completely different direction. So engrossed in his own gloomy contemplation, he forgot Tifa standing concernedly before him.

The image of Davoren floated into his mind, both the one he had befriended in that nightmarish flashback, and the present one he fought that day Aeris ran away in the rain. His hair colour had faded from chestnut to abnormally pure white. His eyes, once of a deep honey colour, had changed to the strangest shade of pink. Nor did he behave like the Davoren Vincent had always known. Far from it, the Davoren Vincent had battled that night to save Aeris acted with such ruthless brutality..such bitter hatred. Not at all like the one who had shown genuine compassion and kindness.

Yet, the face remained the same, not a wrinkle added, not an ounce of youth taken. Davoren's face looked as young as it had the night Vincent killed him, thirty-one years ago. But *HOW* was Davoren alive....and why was he here?

He said he served some "Professor" now..the very same who had heartlessly tortured poor Aeris in a laboratory.....was it Professor *Hojo*? This mysterious "Professor" also wanted Vincent...why? What connection existed in all of this madness?

"an....'experiment'?" Vincent mumbled inaudibly to himself. He frowned at the unsatisfactory answer.

"W-what??" Tifa asked, baffled by his strange meaning.

Vincent suddenly looked at her on realizing how far his mind had drifted. Tifa waited anxiously for him to speak. His moody silence and grave expression alarmed her beyond measure.

"Listen, Tifa," he begged gently but firmly, "There are many... many things I can't tell you now because I don't want any of you involved. I don't want to endanger your lives when you can be safe as you are now. Trust me, when the time is right, I'll tell you all you need to know. But for now, Tifa, please don't ask me anything."

"But, Vincent, what..."

"Please, Tifa."

Both stared intently at each other. Tifa gazed searchingly into his ruby-red eyes, hoping perhaps to find answers to all her burning questions. Unfortunately, he had buried his own thoughts and misgivings under an absolutely stoic visage. He would not betray a thing to her.

Defeated at last, Tifa sighed softly, "I..I understand...but, Vincent, just be careful."

He nodded his head in silent agreement.

"Thank you for the coffee," he concluded politely, "I must take a shower now before going to work."

Without further argument, he left the kitchen.

His brain churned a thousand thoughts around his head, all related to Davoren in some way: undoubtedly, Davoren would return someday to claim Aeris for his "Professor". He showed no pity for the girl's fright; no regret for trying to drag her back to her despised tormentor. And Aeris, understandably, regarded Davoren as the cursed devil, and Vincent as her blessed guardian angel. She knew absolutely nothing of either man's past; only that she wanted to feel safe and free from harm, just like she had wished last night in bed.

The thought played on Vincent's mind: if you protected this girl NOW like you should have protected Lucrecia THEN.... maybe you'll be forgiven. Perhaps if you deluded yourself a bit and pretended you fought for Lucrecia instead of Aeris...sure, maybe you'll wash the crime clean from your hands.

But, Vincent, when Aeris ran away in the rain, mad with fear, you followed her without hesitation. You told her bluntly you felt "concern" for her...and that you didn't want to see her end up as "mentally shattered" as you were; you also said you understood her feelings; you wanted to help her. Strange enough, you meant those words....every single one of them. Last night, as she lay by your side remembering the torture she had endured, you embraced her to stop the pain. It hurt, even angered, you to see her suffer like you had long ago.

Were you pretending she was Lucrecia that time as well?

And is that all? Are you sure that is all Aeris is really worth to you? Simply another means of atoning for one sin you have become so desperate to erase? Could you really be such a selfish...monster?

The instant the simple question struck him, Vincent immediately shoved the whole thought away, and occupied his mind elsewhere.

-End of Chp.31