Tangible Schizophrenia


Saturday Night Special

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Semi-noncon, BDSM, virtual-kink.
Pairing: Sephiroth/Vincent
Feedback: Good lines, typos, etc.
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.
Notes: AU. Insert your generic Japanese cyberpunk dystopia as a background. Slight crossover with Boondock Saints at the end.
Summary: Sephiroth goes to co-opt and ends up co-opted.


The atmosphere alerts have been at code red for days and days, and even the rich snobs with their custom-styled mouth filters have given up and are staying indoors. Of course, that hardly means that the streets are empty. No, actually they’re teeming with life, with the modified forms of humanity that have been squeezed out of the man-made evolutionary pressure-cooker of pollution, megapolis-caused deprivation and too-advanced technology gone underground and black. Every cornerside sex-simulator has long lines of both sexes standing in front of it, and the vehicle traffic is jammed up damn near to the outskirts of the city. Sephiroth has a fleeting moment of pity for whomever’s drawn House interchange duty this week.

Then he remembers it’s Zack, and the moment passes. He is by no means denigrating the job of overseeing the various intersections of ground- and air-traffic, because obviously if the city was as deadlocked as it actually seemed, it would rot like a body left too long before being sent to the incinerators.

But it is tedious, and involves more time jacked into the lowest, most primitive levels of the networks than anyone likes, and it should do something to curb Zack’s irritating tendencies towards…pranks. Of course Sephiroth has a sense of humor, but he prefers to employ it in situations that do not increase the workload on his head. For example, if that blond rookie doesn’t notice soon that Zack’s ridiculous antics are for his benefit, Sephiroth is planning on sending the pair of them to go babysit Rufus Shinra for a while. If tracking that idiot schemer through his nightly round of debauchery and chaos-surfing doesn’t knock a clue into Strife’s head, then Zack had better give up on him as one of the rare monosexuals around.

Sephiroth, however, doubts that that’ll be the end result, and the activities of the other people in this nightclub give him plenty of proof to cite. The walls are lined with booths of people vigorously entangling themselves in each other’s limbs and in the wires trailing from their jacks. Ornamenting the brushed-steel bar—an interesting addition, since it’s in the extreme old-fashioned mode instead of just being a central collection of servers and generators—are strung-out waifs with eyes rolling on everything from artificial hormones to VR feeds. The choice of clothing for most of them is some combination of restraints and implants.

Compared to them, he knows he looks terribly out of place. For one, he has on trousers and a full-length, plain leather coat, and instead of cascading loose, his hair is neatly back in a ponytail so its silver can’t relieve the blackness of his outfit. Even that is too tame, considering all the various shades of fluorescent he notes.

The latest fad is colors pinging into the near-UV zone, which is just on the edge of most people’s ocular mods. The resulting strain tends to produce a sense of giddiness coupled with an increased sensitivity to normal light. For most people. For Sephiroth, who can see perfectly fine in UV and infrared if he wants to, it mostly irritates. But at least it makes it equally easy to pick out the only reason he’s bothered coming to this end of town.

For two, this area isn’t under the control of the House of Shinra. Technically it’s in a dead zone, where truce skulks like a jackal, but in reality it’s gone back and forth between the Houses of Gainsborough and Kisaragi, neither of which particularly like Shinra, either. The same time that Sephiroth spots his rendez-vous, he’s spotted by low-level footsoldiers and other scum. They sluice out of the slow-pulsing light and chrome panels like dirty water from the treatment plants.

It’s too confined a space to use Masamune, and anyway, real blood falling would start a stampede. Sephiroth sighs, cracks the fingers of his right hand, and in the process his knuckle implants set off a localized EMP starburst. In a few seconds, he’s calmly walking over the twitching bodies of his fried opponents.

A tinny voice transmission informs his right ear that he will be charged a fee of 300 wulong for the inconvenience to the staff. If he wanted to, Sephiroth could blow every damn p-junction in this shithole, but he settles for subvocalizing a calm reply: “So charge it to Shinra.”

The voice shuts up. The charge is never going to appear, and whoever actually runs this place behind its web of false names and front companies will just absorb the trouble. It’ll hardly make a dent in their profits, anyway; Sephiroth dips his fingers into a shot of ganga on his way towards the back, then touches his fingertip to his tongue. They’re watering everything down by about fifty percent and charging full black-market price for it.

“Shinra never seemed too interested in the West Strip before,” comments a shadow. The light display flickers over the spot a second later to show that it’s empty.

Sephiroth glances to his side, hiding the slight clench of his hand in the folds of his coat. The other man’s much better than average. Of course, the other man is also supposed to have died thirty years ago in the Jenova debacle, so that’s to be expected.

Valentine doesn’t look like a fifty-year-old man. He barely looks to be Sephiroth’s age. He gathers his hair back into a loose tail with a red strip of cloth, and wears a sleek long coat of blood-red, but otherwise he dresses as conservatively as Sephiroth. Actually he reminds Sephiroth of the old twenty-first century yakuza, except for an indefinable something that sends a warning frisson through Sephiroth’s nerves. It’s not the red eyes, because those are just as outdated—the current fashion’s the green that Sephiroth’s eyes are.

“We’re not. If the other Houses wish to argue over this land, then we have no wish to intervene,” Sephiroth blandly replies. The West Strip is quite profitable, but Shinra reaps a larger benefit from how the quarrel over it keeps Kisaragi and Gainsborough too exhausted to pay attention elsewhere. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Valentine. Your reputation—”

“—survived my apparent death. Thank you, but flattery isn’t necessary to the dead.” Vincent speaks dryly and moves silently. He’s leading them towards the back halls of private rooms. When he turns, the flashing lights glint off his left hand, which appears to be entirely cyborg. The light collects on the sharp tips. “Have you been doing much research on me?”

The backrooms are small and mainly intended for one purpose. Sephiroth would rather they move back out into the street and continue their negotiations, but he’s in the position of the supplicant here. He’s under orders to secure Valentine’s allegiance to Shinra before any of the other Houses get word of the rogue player now in the deck. Re-secure, actually.

It’s not a position Sephiroth particularly likes, and he’s all but certain that he’s in it because the Head thought he needed a lesson in humility. Which isn’t a piece of knowledge that Sephiroth likes, either. “What was my mother like? I’m given to understand that the two of you were…close.”

The room they finally enter is near the very end. It is circular, with a long, wide plush couch running about the whole rim. Everything is padded and smoothly curved to protect the semi-conscious from themselves. Hidden in the ceiling are the wires for the neural jacks, which Valentine cleverly uses as a way to cover up his flinch. He takes them down with his cyborg arm; something is triggered so soft light bathes the metal limb in an eerie phosphorescence.

A nice little piece of gamesmanship there, Sephiroth acknowledges. The other man not only letting Sephiroth know that he’s spotted the fascination, but also flaunting it.

“Your mother was a very sweet, very good and brilliant woman that was misled by your father. Whom I killed with great pleasure two weeks ago,” Valentine tonelessly replies. The way his coat drapes over him reveals a very lean but muscled body and at least three guns. He twists one long shimmering wire around his hand so the thin line slides delicately, sensually over the razor tip of his littlest…claw. “How did Shinra take that?”

Like with Sephiroth, mostly annoyance that he hadn’t gotten to do it himself. Whatever genius Hojo had had, it’d long since been dissolved in an addiction to self-stimulating neural feedback loops. He’d been a blithering idiot. “He was displeased. But he understands that you have provocation on your side, and he’d—”

Sephiroth had been expecting the other man to try a surprise attack, and to be honest, he is severely disappointed that it came in such a predictable form. Quickdraw on the sly is an outdated tactic when people can disable each other by targeting the nerve impulses that produce muscle movement.

He stoops and catches the gun before it can hit the floor, while Vincent staggers slightly back, cradling his shocked arm. Valentine does seem to absorb pain rather well.

“We’re prepared to make you a generous offer,” Sephiroth says. From here it should progress as every other forced-recruitment ever has, and eventually the target would thank him for it. Or die.

But something in Valentine’s eye gives Sephiroth pause: the absence of surprise. In its place, an emotion unfamiliar to Sephiroth wells up. “You never cared for your mother?” he asks almost indifferently.

The gun is custom-made and quite interesting; Sephiroth tosses it on the seat with a mental reminder to dissect it later. Valentine’s an old hand and he probably is used to this form of persuasion. His conversational jab is old, too, and Sephiroth has had a good deal of practice letting it glide by without ruffling up any emotions. “She never was living to me. Do the dead need care?”

Something very like but not quite rage flexes the muscles in Valentine’s face, draws back the corners of his mouth in a snarl. “Ah,” he says.

Then it happens.

* * *

Most people replay fights after they’ve ended. Sephiroth’s mind replays them almost before they do. He sees Valentine uncoil from his injured crouch with the seamless grace of the trickster, and sees his own knees fail beneath the impact with the awkwardness of the tricked. His back slams hard into the door, closing it and doing the job of trapping them for Valentine.

Whatever constitutes Valentine’s modifications, they’re unlike anything Sephiroth has ever come across. They don’t succumb to any form of electromagnetic interference Sephiroth can generate; the shocks sink into Valentine’s body and seem to disappear, vanish within him as if all Sephiroth had done was throw confetti at him. Of course, Valentine had been faking before, and Sephiroth too confident to realize it.

They fall on the floor, Sephiroth underneath, and he never manages to get the upper hand. He still has other resources besides EMP generation, but they all basically amount to enhancement, not invention. It’s a glorified brawl, where they strike at each other at speeds that would blind anyone else, where in one second thirty blows are dodged and delivered—but it’s still a brawl. Sephiroth is brilliant there as well, but so is Vincent. In fact, Sephiroth isn’t sure he’s ever met a better fighter.

One by one, Vincent draws his guns, but Sephiroth manages to knock them aside before a shot is let off. It’s less of an advantage than it seems, since now when they roll over the floor, Sephiroth is weakened by the bruises and momentary distractions incurred by passing over the sharp muzzles. He gets Valentine’s coat ripped half-off and flays open the other man’s shirt, nails reaching for the line of spinal implants everyone has, and which is everyone’s most prominent weak point, except—

--except Valentine has none. Has no implants whatsoever, no hint of cyborg mods except for his arm, and thus no pressure points for Sephiroth to exploit. Whereas Sephiroth has far too many; thumbs jab at the ones below his temples, then vanish so heels of hands can chop numb the ones in his wrists. He grits his teeth and holds back unconsciousness by sheer willpower.

It’s too small a space for him to draw Masamune to its full length, but by now he thinks that his sword’s edge might be the only advantage he has left. He desperately seizes an opening and slams his hand upward into the underside of Valentine’s jaw. In the brief space of time that the other man is reeling, Sephiroth slashes his hand across the separating space to trigger the implant in the center of his right palm.

His black blade arcs out in the opposite direction and part of it catches; a fine spray of red blood patters over Sephiroth’s eyes. Too fine. It’s a miss.

By the time Sephiroth could have recovered, Masamune is jammed, its tip stuck in the base of the couch. Even then, it isn’t completely out and its half-materialized state is sending explosive concussions of pain up his arm. He had one last strike—one final strike, made out of desperation because its failure would and has trapped him—and he missed.

Valentine briefly appears, rearing up above the blade. His face is twisted in a ferocity Sephiroth is unaccustomed to seeing in his opponents, and his eyes…there are no telltale dots of silver around them. The red color is natural.

A blow strikes Sephiroth in the solar plexus, stunning the air from him. Then his head snaps back as a brutal wave of electricity rips through him, and the red swirls him down into the blackness.

* * *

His self-healing abilities let him—or rather Valentine’s carefully controlled blow—wake only a few minutes later. To Sephiroth’s surprise, they’re still in the same room. He would have thought Valentine either would have killed him, or spirited him away to a conveniently secure location from which the man’s triumph over Shinra’s best enforcer could be safely broadcast. Then again, it’s long since become clear that Valentine has very different motives than the ordinary enemy.

Sephiroth is lying face-down on the couch, slightly turned onto his side so he can see into the middle of the room. His boots are off and neatly stacked on the opposite side on top of his folded coat. His ankles are bound in a restraint that keeps them spread with a foot-long bar; his wrists are cuffed behind his back and his right hand has been swathed in a plastic jammer that’d prevent him from materializing Masamune again, if he were to try. The center of his chest still feels as if it’s had a hot poker shoved into it. Everything is oddly numbed, and it takes him a moment to understand it’s because somehow the constant information flow that seethes everywhere has been blocked out of this room—no one can read their electromagnetic waves, and he can’t sense anyone except his captor.

Valentine has retrieved his guns and now appears to be programming the simulator in the ceiling. He doesn’t appear to be injured at all, and doesn’t even show a trace of where Sephiroth’s blade had caught him.

“Hojo used to complain you were his lost masterpiece,” Sephiroth mutters. He thinks he detects a slight flinch at that name. “So he did find a way to make implants biological instead of mechanical.”

“He didn’t. Lucrecia did.” The last keystroke Valentine enters is made with a violence that sets the simulator to rocking as it whirrs back into the ceiling. He coils the wires around his hand and comes back to kneel beside Sephiroth. His eyes slowly wander over Sephiroth, too hot to be as detached as he sounds. His gaze makes Sephiroth’s skin tense into chills. “I thought you knew that, considering.”

One finger, one cold finger that has the strange, slippery smoothness of exotic alloy, trails down Sephiroth’s unmarked spine. He can’t help but twist slightly to get away from it. Normally Valentine’s finger would be encountering implant after implant, but there are none. The few that have ever seen Sephiroth’s back have always been fascinated by that detail, but not with this kind of cool taunting.

Professional again. If Sephiroth calls for help—if he even can be heard that way—he’ll only bring down the other Houses, who’d be no less delighted to capture him. “Considering what?” he cautiously asks.

Vincent lifts and drops his shoulder. It’s an abrupt, restless motion that contrasts greatly with his earlier deliberation. “She died before he could extract all her discoveries from her, of course.” It sounds as if Valentine is talking to himself, muttering in the dark about all the mistakes of the past. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have to rely on these.”

His hand slides coldly over Sephiroth’s back, raising prickles in its trail, to touch on the mods in Sephiroth’s knuckles. Something odd happens then, something that puts more fear in Sephiroth than anything else that has happened tonight: the implants tingle lowly, responding to an alien command. They warm and send out short shocks that snap his hands into fists.

“All those years, and he never managed to rise to what she did in less than twelve months.” The corner of Vincent’s mouth twists bitterly. A few locks of his hair have fallen loose, and they swing to bar his expression when he flicks angrily at Sephiroth’s hands.

The implants let out a brief burst that numbs Sephiroth’s arms to the elbows. He tastes sourness in his mouth, and hears his breathing as a loud, harsh rattle. “I take it that was you? Hojo did always have the habit of taking credit for what wasn’t his.”

Valentine hums emotionlessly. His hand drawls an insinuating touch back up Sephiroth’s spine and curls around the back of Sephiroth’s neck. He almost seems to laugh when Sephiroth instinctively bucks, but he draws away and instead busies himself with brushing stray hairs off of Sephiroth’s skin. Every line his fingers draw leaves a lingering hot shadow of warning.

“So you’re my mother’s work,” Sephiroth says. His tone makes Valentine hesitate—not out of fear, but out of expectation, like how an animal will curl back on itself when it senses an attack imminent. “Did you love her so much that you’d enjoy being a lab subject? Or do you regret that it was only Hojo that was in your crosshairs a few weeks ago?”

The quirk in Valentine’s mouth coils in on itself even more. His nails suddenly gouge at Sephiroth’s back, and in response, waves of bone-low shocks begin to precipitate from the implants in Sephiroth’s head, arms, legs. He squirms and fights them, yanking hard at his restraints, but it’s only seconds before his struggling is due to muscle spasms he can’t control, and not to his own efforts. He’s beginning to black out as he loses the ability to manage his breathing, his heartbeat.

“And still no one understands,” Valentine mutters. Lightheaded and gasping, Sephiroth has a fuzzy impression of the other man getting up to lean over him. Warm breath coasts over the back of Sephiroth’s neck, overloading too-burdened senses. “This isn’t something rational, like you hope it is so you can reason out of it. Like she hoped.”

Wetness. It saturates him, permeates everything with its startling heat till suddenly the fog lifts. Some control’s been given back to Sephiroth—enough for him to see, to distinguish his body from Vincent’s, his skin from the tongue lightly stroking it. He bites into the couch and arches, trying to throw the other man off, but Valentine merely pushes him down. The tips of the claw leave scratches over the hypersensitive skin of Sephiroth’s waist, and when the implants in his legs misfire this time, it’s his own fault for sending the wrong signal. He loses his balance and falls heavily, muffling himself in the soft, yielding cushions.

Above, Valentine is hard and demanding, attacking on both the visceral level and the ones above it. He bites between Sephiroth’s shoulders, teeth scraping on either side of the vulnerable spine, and it’s a reminder too that this man knows something of Sephiroth’s body beyond anyone else. Beyond even Sephiroth, who is supposed to be perfection, who has thought of himself as perfection in a certain way, but is now raw to the fact of…flaw.

Years of training to gain power of every fiber, and now Sephiroth cannot master his own body, cannot keep his breath from coming short or his hips from pushing into the hand running over them, his skin from tingling at the tantalizing, dangerous graze of claws just beyond the leather of his trousers. And worse, it is becoming increasingly hard to tell whether this difficulty arises from Vincent’s ability to take over his responses or from something…more internal.

“Not much of him in you,” Valentine mouths along the line of Sephiroth’s shoulder. It’s a rough caress, if it is a caress and not merely an effective manipulation of sequential sensory centers. It draws the blood to the surface of Sephiroth’s skin so when Valentine drops the shoulder, moves to biting behind Sephiroth’s ear, the abraded flesh stings against even the silky plush cushions. “Almost nothing.”

“What? Did you think he wasn’t punished enough?” Rage flares up in Sephiroth, rage that is both an ally and a fiend. For it gives him sufficient impetus to ignore the way Valentine is teasing down his trousers, and it also reveals just how much more ground Sephiroth has lost. “Think this’ll offend his spirit?”

In reply, Valentine savagely rips down Sephiroth’s trousers; part of them catch briefly on Sephiroth’s erect prick, but Valentine doesn’t brook any opposition. He gnaws at Sephiroth’s neck, comes within a fraction of an inch of chewing through the jugular, while Sephiroth writhes in pain, tries to grind his abused flesh into the forgiving cushions.

“It grew past Hojo a long, long time ago.” A vise of fingers twist back Sephiroth’s head, and Valentine’s hot mouth clamps viciously over the gorge of Sephiroth’s throat. It holds Sephiroth up—not long, but long enough for Vincent to drag his fingers from Sephiroth’s hair, take the jacks and stab them into the sockets just behind Sephiroth’s temples.

Flash of intense pain.

The world explodes into color. Bright, blinding shades that pulse and vibrate, each at their own speed, and they seem to control different parts of Sephiroth’s body. His blood swoons and roars in time with the orange, his breath reels with the yellow and the purple pumps his heart.

[I was sick—a combination of a virus caught from taking down a rogue hacker and a rare…some kind of allergic reaction against a new implant. She wanted to save me. That was all it was in the beginning.]

They don’t permeate Sephiroth. They vivisect him, reaching into his throat, his nose, his ears and then sinking themselves into his organs. Then they push at his knees, stroke up the inside of his thighs, and he tries to close his legs but the blue crawling beneath his skin shudders and he shudders with it, sinks half-drowned into a sea of cutting pleasure that leaves him bloody all over.

[The infection was worse than they thought, she said. They’d have to almost take me apart to the atoms to fix it, but she and Hojo had already been working on a project that might work. But it’d never been tested on humans before.]

The orange licks hungrily at the scrapes, probes into the cuts so he throws his head about, but it is good even as it hurts and in the end he bends his neck to it. His hips are cradled in a restless, moving net of green and it masters his muscles, commands him to open that to it as well and he does. But it doesn’t force its way in, as he’d feared, expected, almost wanted…it is delicate, slow. Devastating, whereas fast and hard would have been merely scarring, he suddenly understands.

[It worked, but they wanted to try more. Bad idea to leave it half-done, he said—after all, I’d just had the infection because of a badly-done implant overhaul. So they kept working, changing me, and then I think she and I both realized it was going too far, but Hojo had such pull back then. Such a hold over her—he’d tricked her into becoming pregnant with you, and she felt so guilty…so guilty for cheating on me she didn’t even mention it. But he threatened to.]

It presses up into him and everything else that had invaded him bows to it, let it rules them and so he is ruled by it as well.

[And with me, he said he’d keep her away from me and he could do that since he ran the lab. But we could have run, we could have…we were both wondering, a little. He could describe research beautifully when he wanted to, paint you a wonderful picture…in a sick sort of way, he had a hold over me, too, and it had nothing to do with her.]

But that isn’t enough for it, because it keeps pulling, wrapping him around it, and he has no more to give but it asks for it anyway. He does try to give to it because he has to, because it has him, but there is nothing and it keeps asking. Pressing. Forcing. It is going to kill him if it doesn’t release him soon.

[Him and Shinra, because of course Shinra wanted to know how much of a supersoldier he could have. My job…and I liked my job. I loved her. I let it happen. I let it all happen, and now it’s gone so far as you--]

It wants him to die. A little, little part of Sephiroth rebels at that realization, not wanting the shame or the failure or the death, but it is so little and what has him is so great and overwhelming, like nothing he’d ever come across before. And…and he gives up. In the end, he gives up to it with something like happiness, he thinks.

[…Lucrecia. You. God damn you.]

* * *

Sephiroth’s eyes had been shut, but he only knows that because when the jacks are yanked out, his eyes snap open so hard that it feels like his eyelids have been ripped off. He is completely, utterly gone—he’d slammed through the last stages in the millisecond that it took for the metal plug to scrape out of the socket. His body collapses.

He can’t move, can’t see. His throat is dry and sore, as if he’d been screaming. He has only the barest awareness of the strictures around his wrists and ankles being released. Has a little more of something scratching over his cheek: enough to let his tongue loll out and weakly touch it.

It pauses, then slides around his chin. What hits his mouth is burning and wet, and oddly soft beneath its hard downward press. It sucks at the places where he’d bitten through his—he’d bitten his lip? Then it disappears, and he dimly hears the sound of departing footsteps.

* * *

Smecker isn’t happy when Sephiroth tears out his temple jacks, but he is intelligent enough to protest vocally and not physically. “I am listening to you. For the hundredth time—I can work better through your damn neuroses if I’ve got something organized and equally complex to compare them to. Have some respect for Beethoven, would you?”

“And I have a strategy session in an hour, and after that I am supposed to report to the Head about my meeting with Valentine,” Sephiroth says. He keeps his voice modulated and deliberate, but it is difficult. It’s been years since he’s ever had to exert effort in regards to that, and that piece of knowledge is making it even more difficult. “Don’t make me regret coming to you in the first place.”

“Because you’ll skewer me on your big black knife, blah, blah.” For a psychologist, Smecker can be irritably flippant. On the other hand, he is brilliant, and he always calculates his flippancy to within the fraction of an inch less than what it’d take to actually make Sephiroth kill such a useful colleague. He also is sensible enough to keep his mouth shut about their discussions. “Okay. Valentine fucked you up, and what’s more, made you like it. Sephiroth, this isn’t something I can fix for you in fifteen minutes.”

He fiddles with his jacks, but doesn’t put them back in. Good choice, because presently Sephiroth’s nerves are very short. He can’t even stop pacing about the room. “That’s not the problem. The problem is that I don’t want to fix it.”

“So don’t.” Smecker leans back in his seat and raises his eyebrows at Sephiroth. “What? Do I look like an idiot? I can smell a coup in the wind as well as the next guy. And hell, there are so many flying around here that I’m surprised Rufus or Zack haven’t jumped the gun yet. You’re going to have to be quick if you want to get in first.”

“Valentine doesn’t appear to be the kind of man that’s interested in that,” Sephiroth says. He makes himself stop and lean against a chair back.

The other man lets out a low, mocking whistle. When Sephiroth turns around, Smecker raises his hands and smiles unconvincingly. “Well, he didn’t kill you.”

“He wants Shinra completely destroyed, if I—I read him correctly.” Which Sephiroth is no longer certain about, and which thoroughly irritates him. Eats at him. He squeezes the chair top so he can’t clench his hands into a fist. He’d made sure that all the…marks…were no longer visible, but he can still feel some and they itch. “I merely want a change of Head.”

“Do you think you’re Shinra to him? Or something else?” Smecker says.

Sephiroth…cannot answer. He glances at the clock, then realizes he was starting to bite his lip. He angrily stops himself, realizes now that Smecker must have noticed, and barely holds onto his temper. “Thank you, Smecker. We’ll discuss this further.”

“You know where to find me,” Smecker cheerfully calls after him.

Of course. But he wasn’t the one Sephiroth really wanted to find.

* * *

Some days Paul just wonders whether he should hook into the network, jam a lethal dose of tranq into his veins, and see whether haunting the virtual world is possible. “Well, what do you want me to say? ‘Hey, Vince, you know your obsession with Lucrecia? Well, fucking her son isn’t exactly a great way to get over it.’”

Vincent continues polishing his big fucking gun and staring moodily into space. “I’m amazed that you’re still around.”

“Yeah, so am I. Fucking hell…I didn’t appreciate you showing up after thirty years without so much as a heads-up. And you could’ve mentioned you were going to mess around with Sephiroth, too.” Paul idly picks up and drops things on his desk till his fingers tangle in some wires. He gratefully grabs the jacks and jams them back in, using his other hand to dial up Bach’s whole catalog. “I’ll buy you a goddamn bottle of champagne for Hojo, but Sephiroth? If you’re not going to kill him outright, then watch your fucking step. He—I don’t know where he came from, but it’s not Hojo’s genes or Lucrecia’s, really. He’s got his own mind.”

Hopefully Valentine is listening better than he had thirty years ago. If he was, then there is hope. Maybe Paul’s the best mindhunter, but that’s reconstructing after the fact or building off others’ minds. Valentine had been the best damn tactical originator Paul had ever seen, and it doesn’t look like the years had dulled that any. Long as Vincent remembers to use it.

“You know what the real problem is?” Paul sighs. “You didn’t fuck him up—he already was pretty screwy. You seduced him. You showed him the real dark side, Vince, and he likes it a hell of a lot. Better keep him on a short leash, or else I think you’ll have unleashed the whirlwind.”

“I was going to kill him. But…he looks like her. When he’s begging, he looks…” Vincent puts his gun away and closes his eyes. He slowly tilts his head back and takes a long, long breath.

Paul just puts his head down on his desk. Bach. Concentrate on Bach. Whatever Vincent, goddamn psychotic Turk that he is and always was and which everyone’s forgotten about, is going to do with Sephiroth is beyond Paul’s influence now. “Are you going to leave Rufus alive?”

The other man startles slightly, then pushs off the wall and heads for the window where he’d entered. “I haven’t met him yet. I’ll make a judgment afterward.”

“Great,” Paul mutters. When he looks up again, Vincent’s gone and not a blip on the security systems show that he was ever here. Paul reaches for the drug jack, shoves it into his wrist implant, and dials for a migraine-strength dose of headache-killer.