Title: Mastered Materia
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Disclaimer: No ownership implied, no profit gained. This is a fanwork.
Summary: Two souls lost in different ways converge during an ice storm only to begin an odd and wonderful relationship.
Two weeks later, Vincent was standing on the outskirts of Midgar again. He was more than ready to begin the trek to catch a ship back to the west continent, but he couldn't ignore the odd urge he had to pick up a few things for the man who lived in the forest.
Vincent wandered through a couple shops, picking up whatever caught his eye. Within an hour, he had an extra bag filled with vegetables, fruit, and a few toiletries. After passing a pharmacy, he stopped in to get some basic medical supplies and a first aid kit as well. Surely living in that forest wasn't without incident. In fact, he found himself wandering through most every shop he came across. He didn't even remember this many businesses scattered so far from the center of the city, but perhaps it was a sign of economic recovery.
There was a commotion outside one of the stores when Vincent happened upon it. More than a dozen people had pressed up against the storefront and even more crowded around the doorway and most likely inside.
He knew it was none of his business, and while natural curiosity was tempting him, he really wasn't much for crowds. Once past, he noticed a weapon shop next door and after tying his chocobo to a nearby hitching post, he walked in to pick up some extra ammunition.
The shopkeeper looked up when Vincent walked in, apparently a bit shocked that she had a customer.
"You're missing all the fun in the materia shop next door," the shopkeeper said as she stood up and smoothed her long skirt. "I didn't get the full story, but apparently some guy took in a couple pieces of materia to be appraised."
Vincent nodded absently, searching a shelf for the particular bullets he needed.
"And from the crowd out there, I'm guessing it's something really worthwhile," the woman continued. She walked around the counter and over to Vincent. "Looking for anything in particular?"
"I've found them," Vincent replied, snatching a couple boxes from the shelf. The store could stand a bit more organization, but for the space it was confined to, it was workable.
"Thank you sir!" The woman rang up the purchase quietly, and reached under the counter for a bag. "I hope he sells them off and comes in here to shop. I could use the business."
"Good luck," Vincent replied silently and turned to go. The door opened just then, and Vincent stopped short as he stared at the man who had just walked in.
"You!" both he and Vincent exclaimed in unison. And everything made sudden sense.
Before Vincent could say anything else, he was captured in a tight embrace. A moment later, the man was holding him at arms-length and had pulled a glittering blue orb from his pocket.
"You need to take this back!" he said, shaking his head. "I don't know what you're thinking, but..."
"I have no use for this," Vincent replied, handing it back. "I have others."
"Other mastered All materia?" An eyebrow was raised with that as the man dropped the orb back into his pocket.
"Yes. And I picked up a few thing for you that I was going to drop off," Vincent said, pointing outside. "Vegetables, mainly."
"I was trying to be nice." Vincent looked down and headed towards the door.
"I like vegetables. My garden didn't survive that storm though, uh... I don't know your name," the man stammered, almost smiling.
Vincent stopped, looking back at the man. "I don't know yours, either."
"Zack," the man replied, looking between Vincent and the curious shopkeeper who was watching intently.
"Well, Vincent, nice to meet you," Zack replied with a smile. "So you're helping with dinner tonight."
Vincent looked down again. "I was just going to drop a few things off. I didn't know you'd be... here."
"I needed a few things, like some clothing, tea, and a dinner guest."
"If you don't go, I just might," the shopkeeper broke in, which caused Zack to start laughing. "It sounds like a good offer."
They left the shop a few minutes later, Vincent protesting until Zack bought a rather large sword and started mock threatening him. They rode out of town together, but the wind whipping the plains discouraged conversation between the two. It gave Vincent plenty of time to think about his current situation and the man, Zack, whom he was riding beside.
The eyes were an obvious giveaway that Zack had worked for ShinRa, but he couldn't exactly sneak away and look for files that had most likely been destroyed anyway. And asking Cloud about anything was rarely a good idea. As much as he cared for Cloud, certain things...
He didn't follow that train of thought any further though, as the sky was getting dark and Zack yelled that another storm was coming in. They had the chocobos in the stable and had just walked inside as the first drops of rain fell. It was nowhere near as intense as the last storm had been, but still, it was nothing to ride in, given a choice.
"Looks like you're staying the night again," Zack said, unpacking one of the bags that covered his table and some of the floor.
"Yes, I suppose so," Vincent replied, peering out through the window.
Zack cast an empty bag aside and walked with an armload of clothing to a set of shelves that served as a dresser. "So what were you doing in Midgar, anyway?"
"Is that all I get? Visiting?" he questioned, walking back over to his purchases.
"Yes." Vincent set to gathering all of the food together in one pile, to be sorted and cooked. Halfway through, he realized he was still wearing his cloak and quickly unclasped it and hung it on a hook near the door.
On his way back, he passed the Buster-style sword Zack had bought. His mind flicked back to Cloud, the only person he'd ever met before now who bothered using the weapon. Of course, Cloud had gotten his from one of his comrades, a man named...
Vincent's eyes grew wide and he stopped in his tracks. He'd only heard the story once, and that had been ages ago, but not only did his host have the same name as Cloud's lost friend, but he matched the physical description as well. Cloud would...
No, Cloud couldn't handle it. Not the way he was now. This would have to be a secret.
Vincent shook his head quickly, trying to knock the realization away as he went back to the vegetables.
"You okay?" An arm was flung over Vincent's shoulders as he stood in front of the table. "For a second, you looked like you'd seen a ghost."
"Just had a thought," Vincent replied.
"You're a hard guy to talk to, Vincent," Zack said, letting his arm slip off as he walked away. "But there's something about you that makes me feel comfortable."
Vincent turned and looked at Zack. No one had ever said that to him before. Not even Cid, whom he considered his closest friend, had said something like that.
"It's like meeting someone who fought in the same war but with a different company," Zack continued. "There's a connection, but I can't place it."
For a moment, Vincent pondered telling Zack what he knew, but he wasn't sure how much Zack remembered. It could end up being more trouble than it was worth. It was safer to say nothing, so that's what he did.
And they said little more than a few incidental things until after they'd eaten. Zack had been a little more upfront about watching every move Vincent made, especially if said move involved Vincent's claws.
"I'm still trying to figure out why I don't know you," Zack said after a prolonged silence. "You look to be the right age for..."
"I'm older than I look," Vincent replied, hoping to end the conversation there.
"I am too. I know that the Mako acts as a...," Zack began.
"You don't know me," Vincent said quickly, cutting him off. Hopefully that would end the discussion for good.
There was another long pause.
"So where are you from?
Vincent sighed. It was going to be a long night. "I currently reside in Rocket Town."
"That's... That's over by..." And Zack stopped. "There used to be a town on the other side of the mountains called..."
"Nibelheim," Vincent supplied. "I lived there once as well. It's growing into quite an economic base, actually."
"Nibelheim. It's probably much bigger than you remember, though," Vincent said. Hopefully Zack would say something that'd give away how much or how little he knew.
"I'm... sure it is," Zack replied slowly. "I had a friend from there. I wonder if he's still alive."
And they both fell into silence again as they cleaned dishes and took a few scraps out to the chocobos. Afterward, Vincent noticed he'd gotten a piece of straw jammed in between a couple joints of his claw. He had limited sensation with it, most of which he was sure he imagined, and hadn't realized how stuck the straw currently was.
"Need a hand?" Zack asked, noticing Vincent's predicament. "Er, bad pun."
"I can get it," Vincent replied, walking over to the fire so he could see a bit better.
"Let me." Zack grabbed Vincent's claw-hand and settled down, legs crossed, beside him.
It was odd, having someone else holding onto that hand. Usually he kept it hidden, and even when he was forced to do anything with it, no one touched it. Not even Cloud.
"War injury?" Zack asked as he pulled the offending piece of straw free.
"It's not bad."
"What?" Vincent tried to pull away, but Zack had his hand tightly between his.
"It's not too bad. Maybe not as nice to look at as some, but it looks good on you," Zack explained, a slight smile on his face. "Or maybe I've just lived out here too long."
"Don't lower your standards," Vincent replied, quickly snatching his hand back and standing up. "I believe I'll try to sleep now, and I insist upon the floor."
Zack just nodded before standing up and taking a couple blankets off the bed. "Suit yourself, Vincent."
Without another word, Vincent settled himself into a bit of floor space near the fire. Zack, on the other hand, picked up a book and found himself a decent space with enough light to sit and read.
When Vincent woke up, Zack was still reading, except he'd switched positions to sit by the window. Vincent hadn't forgotten the night before, but he'd managed to rationalize it a bit.
"Want some coffee?" Zack asked, the moment he noticed that Vincent was awake.
Sure enough, a pot of coffee sat on a grate near the fire. Vincent was amazed the smell alone hadn't woken him up.
"Yes," Vincent replied as he stretched.
"And I'm sorry about last night. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable," Zack said as he retrieved a mug from the only cabinet in the place.
"I mean, you obviously have... someone. That's who you were visiting, right?" Zack handed a filled mug to Vincent, who'd sat down at the table.
"Why don't you live closer?"
"That wouldn't be a good idea," Vincent replied, blowing over the top of the steaming mug as if it would truly help cool the contents.
"But you're not a prostitute," Zack said before wincing. "Not that I thought you were. Or, well, I mean, you could be, you're... No, that sounds..."
"Perhaps it's something similar."
"I don't understand." Zack stood up to get more coffee for himself. "Keep talking."
"I... He's a very important friend, but he's not well," Vincent said. "I'm trying to make him happy."
"But are you happy?"
"It doesn't matter."
"I once had friends I'd do anything for, but I don't know if I could..." Zack began, only to look away.
"It's not like that. Well, it wasn't at first, but..." Vincent suddenly decided his coffee was more interesting than the conversation.
"Now I'm almost sure he only loves me for who I remind him of," Vincent said before taking a slow sip of his coffee.
"Who you remind him of?" Zack asked as he leaned back.
"Someone who... died," Vincent explained as he gazed towards the window. That was something he didn't want to have to explain any further.
"Oh. Sorry. I didn't mean to pry."
"Actually, it felt... good to tell someone. The people who watch over him, I don't always trust them," Vincent said. He did feel better, and listening to himself, he almost felt a bit pathetic. Still, he had no other use. And really, did he deserve better?
Zack just nodded. "I suppose you'll want to leave right away."
"You're welcome here any time, Vincent. And I mean that."
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