Another Night Before
"Only just we two
blood in my veins
the shadow of you
perfect as frost on the flowers...
red rushing sound in my ears
as the candles burn down
one lights the way, one disappears..."
My leg has been asleep so long it feels leaden, like a dead thing. There is no circulation and no feeling, and it's as if it never belonged to me. Intellectually, I know I could end it; know I could move, stand. Leave. But some buried, crazed part of me insists, and goes on insisting, that to do so would wake her.
I can see dawn beginning through the doorway. It's almost time for me to go back. Past time, really, I suppose. The cave is cool but not cold; the iridescent blue-lilac walls must be better insulators than they seem. They take in the dawn now, sending it back in little waves of rippling light across my skin, and across Lucrecia's bloodless face. How can she be so pale? Like wax. She was always so full of vitality, of life. Until the end, of course. Her hair is loose, spilling over her, puddling around her shoulders. My hand rests lightly on her head; which, in turn, is pillowed on my black-clad leg, like a strange child with a stranger father. There are still faint, crusted streaks of her blood ground into my fingers. My cloak, spread over her, looks like a pool of it, resting on the smooth and somehow fragile floor. Blood on ice. On the glass of a microscope slide.
I could ask, "What have I done?", but I already know. I know.
And my mind slips back to it. Lives it again, as I think I'm doomed to from now on; living every moment over and over, forever.
I came back to see her one more time before we went.
The evening is dim and dingy, stained with Meteor's sick glow. I step into the cool ripple of Lucrecia's new residence. For a moment I don't see her, and am seized with an unaccountable anxiety--and then her voice stops me.
"You came alone."
She is crouched over, on her knees on the glassy floor, staring down into its aquatic depths. The ragged garments she has been carelessly draped in spread in tendrils across the floor. Her hair spills in a brittle brown mess around her pale moon's face--barely aged, but more so than mine--and the ancient cracked lenses that can't possibly do much for her vision anymore. She's deteriorated since we left. Her voice is a cracked whisper.
I must have stepped toward her; her hand flies up in a warning, warding gesture. It trembles in the air, a leaf on the wind.
"Stay away." She sighs it, sobs it, laughs it in utter defeat. "I don't know how much control I have, or what she'd do to you."
Lucrecia raises her head. In the near-dark her green eyes are luminous, the eyes of a mad cat, her broken glasses scattering them into ill-fitting shards. For a moment I think I can see shapes under her skin, moving and writhing; but it's only a trick of the flickering torchlight. Or some kind of trick. I still don't speak. Can't speak.
"She tells me things now," she murmurs, almost muses. "Things she wants me to do. Places she wants me to go. Things... about my son. I can't sleep anymore; she takes my dreams..." She wavers. Almost falls.
I don't have to ask who she means. I knew the things Hojo worked with. I know the meaning of those glowing eyes. Lucrecia. Lucrecia, my heart.
"Do you remember the dance?" her whisper cuts my thoughts. "The party they held at the mansion, for the project, and all of us... I fell, you tried to help me... and we danced..." She sways again, slowly. "We danced--do you remember, Vincent?"
"Yes." My own voice startles me. "I remember."
"I knew you would." Her smile is ghostly. "Do you remember when I fell? And Simon told them all it was only the pregnancy? You didn't know I was pregnant before then, did you?" She doesn't wait for an answer. She already knows. "And when Simon sent me away? Do you remember?"
Her eyes flutter closed. "/I remember everything,/" she breathes. "That... /that/ is my curse."
I don't realize I plan to speak until the words emerge. "And mine," I tell her. I step nearer.
Her response is immediate; she draws up, back, bracing her arms and pushing herself up on them. "Don't come closer," she says sharply, her voice strengthening with alarm. "I can't warn you again... I'll try, but I can't..." Slowly, her head begins to drop as she speaks, until she loses the path of the words, staring again into the floor. "We danced..." she whispers at last, almost soundlessly.
Then she is silent so long it unsettles me. The hush over the cave seems to grow, to expand outside it; I imagine the deep lake outside quieting to perfect stillness, the animals and insects that should haunt the dusk holding their breath for this single moment. I almost decide to speak--
Lucrecia lurches, wavers, climbs to her feet. Slowly, carefully, tiptoeing around her balance, she turns from me, to stare off to where the cave disappears into darkness.
"Would you do something," she asks in an airless sigh, "for me, if I asked you?"
"Anything," I say immediately, and know in an instant that I spoke too soon.
She does not turn back, but even takes a few precarious steps away, toward the shadows. For a heartbeat she is quiet again, gathering strength.
"Cancer is a madness of cells," she begins softly, meditatively. "They forget when to stop increasing, how to control. They grow without seeing that their progress is destructive. In time, they take over the organ where they started... they spread into the bloodstream, and they kill their source."
Her voice drops back to a whisper. "Jenova is a cancer; but her cells are /all/ mad, and always were. She spreads and takes over, and she destroys; but never lets her host die. Instead, the body changes... mutates..." She turns her head halfway back to me, her eyes closed. "If her cells had been set first into my blood, I would already be past that point. But Simon's injections were only for the enhancement of one organ... or, rather, what was inside that organ..."
Understanding washes over me in a cold wave; and with it comes a dim species of premonitory horror. What is she asking of me?
"She's filled me there," Lucrecia whispers, her alien gleaming eyes beginning to brim. "Filled up where my baby was. My son... She's finished her home organ, and if she metastasizes... then I will be worse than dead. I will be her monster."
She turns slowly back to me... and for the first time I see the gaping, shredded hole in the front of her draperies, over the swell between and below her hips. Through its open mouth I can now see the scars, a dark mazelike lattice of them, of more different ages than I can count. Long, ragged, unclean cuts, half-healed and forgotten. And the old, dried blood under her nails.
She has been trying to claw out her own womb.
"I tried to fix it," she whispers strengthlessly, gesturing vaguely to that history of violence, unself-conscious in encroaching madness. Tears lie utterly unnoticed on her face. "I tried to get her out, but I can't. I can't do it. You have to help me, Vincent; that's what I want to ask. Get her out of me before she takes me. Make her leave me be. Let me rest. Let me /sleep/..."
My body feels like ice, my throat fire; but still I answer. I have no choice.
"I'm not a surgeon, and I don't have any supplies." The words sound strangely flat, tinny, like echoes of themselves. "If I do it like this, without Jenova in you--you'll die."
Lucrecia sighs, deeply, letting her eyes slide shut as she sways on her feet, with a sense of what can only be profoundest relief. "Of course," is all she says.
And is all she needs to say. Of course. That is what she wants; that is /all/ she wants.
How can I describe this? How can I make you understand? Night for her is deepest night for me. The end of her life ends mine. And she is asking--and with her eyes, even begging--me to kill her. Not only to kill her; to cut open and hollow her. Mutilate her.
What would her Simon have done, I wonder? Would he have remembered that he promised her anything? Would Hojo have done as asked without a thought or a word? Would he have turned away, sneering, from such a ridiculous idea, such an unnecessary, /unprofessional/ surgery?
It doesn't matter, anyway. I am not him.
I step nearer to her, and this time she doesn't stop me. I come right to her side. My voice is full of broken glass.
"Tell me what to do," I say.
It's curiously easy.
I clean my knife as best I can, and sit over her. She directs me in a hoarse rasp until she can't anymore. An incision down from her navel to the beginning of the shelf of bone; it opens a few of the old scars. The bleeding is pulsing and immediate, spilling onto me. The cuts inside are clumsier. I can't see for the blood, and I have to work one-handed. The claw is too unwieldy. Her face is taut to stoniness, and I know she would be screaming if she had the breath.
After a nightmare eternity, I finally manage to free it. I lift it out with my one hand; its flesh is swollen, greenish, misshapen, pulsing slightly. It feels diseased; I'm careful not to touch it for long.
There is no way for me to stitch shut the incision, of course; I tear a few strips free from my cloak and bind it as tightly as I can. She is semi-conscious now, slipping toward the inevitable precipice without complaint. She shudders once, with chill, and I ache with the obvious pain of the spasm; I lay my cloak over her, protecting her, pulling her with infinite gentleness to pillow her head on my leg. Her hand reaches up to clasp by my knee, her eyes squeezed tightly closed.
There are no thanks, no words. She does not suddenly declare that she loved me all along; she gives no indication that she even realizes my presence. It's all right. I didn't expect it, and past this point a thing like that hardly seems important. I love her, and I gave her what she wanted. Only that much matters.
"It's coming," I hear her murmur, exhausted, into my thigh. "It'll all be all right now. It's coming."
I touch her hair. "Just go to sleep," I find myself able to whisper.
She goes silent, and I sit and look at nothing, listening to her breathing slow down, her heart turn sluggish; I hang on every pulse like notes of a symphony. I listen to her giving up, singing herself her own eternal lullaby.
Inches from the end, she holds for a moment, her hand clamping suddenly on my leg. Words force themselves from her throat, one last thought all that holds her to life.
"Bring... my son... to me," her voice hisses.
And I could say that it was only delirium; that as death draws her into the darkness her mind is backsliding to the past. But it would only be lies. She knows.
And now she is still. It's over.
I could touch her now; say goodbye with the caress, the kiss I never had. But I don't. I don't dare, and I know she wouldn't have wanted it.
So I only sit, keeping vigil over her until tomorrow.
Dawn is turning fast into morning. And still I can't seem to move.
It amazes me how effectively I've been able to master and rein everything I feel; the control is so total it is constant, unconscious. When a beast can be freed by the slightest change in emotional weather, one learns to clear the skies. And even now that clarity remains intact; even when there is no warmth of the breath that should come from Lucrecia's lips, even when her hand has gone limp on my knee and my bloodied fingers are tangled in her hair...
What kind of beast would the tremors of this moment release in me, I wonder? A broken-armed Grendel, perhaps mewling and afraid at the moment of his destruction, weeping over his immense and irretrievable losses.
But it's time for me to go.
Slowly I stand, listening with a wince to the creaking of my long-abused joints. I feel every moment of my real age today. Feeling rushes painfully back to my leg.
At length I pick up Lucrecia, wrapped in my cloak. I carry her back into the far reaches of the cave, the dark, shadowy cold at its end. Deep in that enfolding darkness, a subterranean river runs an oddly quiet course. I look at the dim lines of her features for a moment... and then give her body to the rushing water.
Blinking and squint-eyed, I emerge into the morning light.
The sky is rose and violet, bathing and rebirthing the world. The submarine waits at the edge of the lake, where I left it. Birds sing; a breeze tousles the sparse grass. All is calm normalcy, laughing in the face of a sleeper new-woken from his nightmare.
I'll go back to them now. I did as I was asked. I found a reason to fight; a reason to destroy Sephiroth, if not to continue any life in this world.
I will finish what Lucrecia asked of me. I will bring her son to her. And perhaps somewhere, in the depthless, lightless ocean beneath this world and its life, she will finally enfold the baby she never touched in her formless and ethereal arms.