Hidden Light

Seeking Answers and Finding Trouble

Another few days passed with silence from Reeve. Hikari appeared fully recovered from her scare at the WRO lab and did not mention it or anything regarding the needles again when she and Vincent had their nighttime conversations. But every once in a while during their comfortable silences, Hikari would shiver and draw herself into a ball as if by becoming smaller she could escape whatever memories came to torment her. Vincent was not sure what to do when this happened, so he would remain sitting in silence until she uncurled.

During this time, the other members of this strange little family were careful not to let Hikari wander away from the house. Until they got some solid information from Reeve, it didn't seem like a good idea to take Hikari out to mingle with the rest of society. Hikari did not seem upset by her unofficial captivity, but Yuffie was going crazy.

"She's been here for months now and she hasn't gotten to see any of Edge! Not even once!" the young ninja stormed. Hikari was outside with Marlene and Denzel, and out of earshot of the argument going on inside the house.

"It hasn't been that long…" Nanaki said, but Yuffie waved a hand impatiently, cutting him off.

"Weeks, months, doesn't matter!" Yuffie said. "Point is we're treating her like a prisoner! She's no better off than she was in that tank of hers!"

"I think she has a little more freedom here than in that tank," Tifa said softly, trying to calm Yuffie, but the girl wasn't listening.

"She should get a chance to experience normal life for a while!" fumed the young ninja. "C'mon, we all know that she's harmless."

"We won't know for sure until Reeve contacts us again," Vincent said quietly.

"Pah! If we wait for that blue bearded slow-poke, Hikari will be ancient before she gets out of this house!"

Cloud tried to get a word in. "Chronologically—"

Yuffie only allowed him that one word before continuing her rant. "She's, like, Marlene's age… at least, in her head. She's sweet and gentle and nice and I know she wants to see more of Edge! It'd help her adjust to see normal people for a change!"

"There's the pot calling the kettle black," muttered Nanaki, and Tifa tried to smother a giggle.

Vincent, on the other hand, was getting irritated. "Yuffie, that's enough. We don't know—"

"We don't know, we don't know!" The ninja stuck out her tongue. "Well, I know that she's just an innocent girl who deserves to be treated like a human being, not a test subject in an experiment."

Vincent tried appealing to reason again. "That's actually why—"

"Why what? You going to keep her here under observation like a bug under glass?" Yuffie snorted. "Honestly, Vince, you're as bad as those Shinra scientists."

The temperature in the room dropped about ten degrees.

"That was uncalled for, Yuffie," Cloud said, eyeing Vincent warily.

Vincent was so still he looked like a statue carved of vermilion marble. Yuffie, realizing that she'd crossed the line, shut her mouth tightly, but her face still wore a defiant scowl.

After a few long moments of tense silence, Vincent spoke. His voice was tightly controlled, but his red eyes smoldered. "Fine. Do as you wish. Take her cavorting all over town. And know that the consequences will fall on your head." With those words, he turned sharply and left the room.

A chorus of relieved sighs followed in his wake.

How did I get into this mess? Vincent wondered a few hours later as he repressed a sigh of annoyance.

Actually, he knew the answer to that question. It was Hikari. The girl had sounded so happy to be going out into Edge; her cry of delight had reached his ears from a block away after he'd stormed out of Barret's house. The desire to see her reaction drew him back to the house as if pulled by a magnet. Hikari looked so downcast when Yuffie told her that he wasn't coming and, in fact, disapproved of the whole idea.

"If Vincent not come and not want me to go, then Hikari should stay," she had said, but the yearning on her face as she gazed towards the rest of the town was too much for him. So, gruff and glaring, he'd agreed to join them on their little expedition into Edge.

Which was why, several hectic hours later, Vincent found himself in the last place he ever wanted to be: a dance hall. He'd been trained to be silent, alert, and immune to his surroundings, but he'd never felt so out of place before. Luckily there were enough shadows surrounding the pools of warm lamplight to allow Vincent a nominal amount of privacy; he could stand and keep an eye on the others while remaining unobserved himself.

Hikari remained ecstatic the entire day, surrendering herself completely to Yuffie's whirlwind tour. It was amazing how she could maintain such a high level of enthusiasm… but then again, all of this was completely new to her. They'd scoured the streets for entertainment, open-air markets, construction sites, and any other attraction Yuffie could think of with Vincent trailing behind. Marlene and Denzel had both wanted to go as well, but Barret put his foot down, figuring that Vincent would have his hands full just keeping an eye on Yuffie and Hikari. This first day, they didn't need a bunch of distractions. Reluctantly the children had agreed, reassured by Tifa's promises that they could come along next time.

Next time… Vincent nearly groaned at the thought. He looked over at a nearby table. At least Hikari is having fun.

Since this particular establishment served alcohol and food as well as music for dancing, the young woman was sitting at one of the tables with Yuffie being introduced to more foods. A bunch of noodles were hanging out of her mouth as she tried unsuccessfully to slurp them up like Yuffie was doing. The expression on Hikari's face was comical, and a slight smile crept across Vincent's face. So far the day had gone pretty well. No close calls or strange occurrences, for which he was very grateful. He only hoped their luck would last, at least until they got Hikari back to Barret's place.

The lights changed, the small lamps on the tables dimming as overhead lights came on, illuminating the dance floor as a small band began to play a fast-tempo song. Amidst all the suffering and strife that had rocked Midgar these past few years, some people had kept alive their musical talents, saving them for times of peace.

Hikari's head jerked up from her plate, food forgotten, as she stared in wide-eyed wonder. "What… what that?"

"Hmmm? What's what?" Yuffie asked, still slurping up the noodles.

"That… that sound. So pretty!"

Tifa smiled. "It's called 'music,' Hikari. The people over there, you see? They are musicians. They make music by playing instruments."

Hikari's mismatched eyes grow even wider and her body started swaying slightly back and forth with the beat. Grinning, Yuffie abandoned her noodles and pulled Hikari to her feet.

"C'mon, let's go dance!"

Bewildered, Hikari allowed the ninja to drag her towards the middle of the floor. "Dance?"

"Yeah, dance!" Yuffie began stamping out a tattoo on the floor with her feet to match the beat, bobbing, dipping, swaying, even jumping, whatever movement struck her fancy. Hikari just stood there for a moment, utterly and totally confused until Yuffie grabbed her hands and pulled her along. "You've gotta relax!" the young ninja cried, laughing. "Move with the rhythm, girl! Find the rhythm and dance!"

At first, Hikari was simply dragged along with Yuffie's enthusiasm, trying desperately to keep up with her and mimic the ninja's movements at the same time. But slowly Hikari found her footing and her confidence, the smile on her face growing wider and her eyes more brilliant as the music continued. There was a moment of confusion when that particular song ended and a new one began, but soon Hikari was twirling around the dance floor under her own power, her movements just as wild and free as Yuffie's. Her bright laughter floated over the music, adding a joyful accompaniment. It was the happiest Vincent had ever seen Hikari and it made him strangely glad.

His moment of contentment did not last long.

"Well, if it isn't Mr. Vincent Valentine. I must confess, I never thought I would find you in a place like this."

Vincent turned sharply, automatically reaching for his gun, but did not draw the weapon when he saw who had addressed him.

"Rufus Shinra," he said flatly.

The blond man before him smiled and bowed slightly, almost mockingly. "At your service."

Vincent had heard from Cloud that Rufus Shinra, son of the previous director of Shinra Corporation, had survived the destruction of the Shinra tower and had been part of the fiasco with Kadaj and his gang, but this was the first time Vincent had ever met him. Apparently Rufus had recovered from whatever injury had kept him confined to a wheelchair. The two Turk bodyguards, brooding Rude with his ever-present sunglasses and impulsive Reno with his bright red hair and rumpled appearance, loomed behind Rufus. Or rather, Rude loomed, trying to look menacing, and Reno leaned against the wall, perfectly at ease. For some reason, Reno's careless attitude irked Vincent even more than Rufus's mockery. Perhaps it was because Reno was a Turk and the Turks were supposed to be elite specialists; looking like a half-asleep school boy ruined the effect.

"So, what brings you here?" Rufus asked, pulling out a chair for himself and one for Vincent, who ignored the proffered seat. He didn't draw the Cerberus, but he didn't take his hand off it either.

"I could ask you the same thing."

Rufus laughed. "Ah, suspicious as always, but I assure you, Mr. Valentine, my presence here is completely peaceful and accidental."

"I doubt anything you do is accidental," Vincent replied.

"Or peaceful?" Rufus returned lightly.

The scarlet-clad man chose not to reply.

"Oh come, now, Mr. Valentine. We are all on the same side here. And I have no ill-will towards you or your companions whatsoever, so there's no need for you to be concerned."

"Then why are you here?"

Rufus put a hand to his heart, affecting a pained demeanor. "I cannot simply be passing by and stop in for a little music and refreshment? Your suspicions wound me, Mr. Valentine."

Before Vincent could come up with a response, Hikari skipped over and grabbed his clawed hand. Her mismatched eyes glowed with excitement.

"Vincent! Vincent! This so much fun! Dancing and music and… and… everything! Fun fun fun!" She tugged on his hand. "Come dance! Come dance with me!"

Even the impassive Rude showed some surprise at Hikari's easy manner with the taciturn ex-Turk. Reno, no longer leaning against the wall, was openly gawking while Rufus looked more amused than anything else. Yuffie, still on the dance floor, noticed the trio and started forward, but Vincent met her gaze with a slight shake of his head. He would handle this.

"Mind introducing us to your friend, Mr. Valentine?" Rufus asked, pushing back his chair and standing.

Hikari, noticing the three men, dropped Vincent's hand and bobbed a quick bow. "Oh, sorry! I not see you. My name Hikari. You friends of Vincent?"

Rufus, still smiling, took Hikari's hand and lightly kissed it while Vincent glowered. "A pleasure to meet you, Miss Hikari. I am Rufus Shinra. These are my guards, Rude and Reno."

"Rufus, Rude, and Reno," Hikari repeated, smiling brightly. "Reno, Rude, and Rufus!" She trilled the "r's" happily and laughed. "I sorry for laughing," she said, trying to get a hold of her mirth, "but names make such pretty one-sound—I mean, rhyme—like that." Hikari cocked her head to one side, looking at them with wide eyes. "You friends of Vincent and Cloud and Yuffie and Tifa?"

"Yes, we've worked together before," Rufus said, his amused blue gaze flickering to Yuffie, who glared, "although I must confess that I regret not seeing your lovely face before."

"I only just come," Hikari replied, oblivious to Rufus's flattery. "Music and dancing much fun! So much fun! And Yuffie is good teacher." She looked up at Vincent and tugged on the edge of his crimson cape. "Come dance now, Vincent? Much fun, you like?" Hikari was so eager that she was literally bouncing from one foot to the other, unable to stay still for longer than a few seconds.

"I'm afraid not, Hikari," Vincent said as gently as he could. Seeing her face start to fall, he hastily added, "I must speak with… my friend Rufus about something important. Do you understand?"

The young woman nodded solemnly. "Yes, good for Vincent to talk with friends. Should do more often." She grinned and then looked at Reno and Rude. "Come dance?" she asked innocently.

Rude shook his head and blushed, shifting his feet and muttering something intelligible. Reno was a little more articulate: "S-s-sure thing!" Smiling broadly, Hikari grabbed Reno's hand and dragged him out on the dance floor with her and Yuffie. Within moments, the other dancers cleared off the floor, trying to evade the red-headed Turk whose dance moves were even more dangerous and extravagant than the young ninja's.

Rufus watched Hikari go, a look of amusement and consternation on his face. "So," he said softly, "that is Hikari."

Vincent tightened his grip on Cerberus. "You act like you know her or something about her. What is it?"

The former Shinra president looked at the grim face before him and sat down slowly. He steepled his fingers thoughtfully, as if debating how much to reveal. "My sources uncovered some interesting activity regarding a search for a young girl's origins. Needless to say, I was intrigued and decided to mount an investigation of my own. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was you, Mr. Valentine, who had initiated this search on Hikari's behalf."

Vincent's eyes narrowed. "So you do know something."

Rufus spread his hands as if to show that he was unarmed. "It's more like a lack of knowing something. There is no record of any Shinra research connected to her."



"There must be some mistake."

The blond man raised an eyebrow. "You think Shinra was the only company to conduct human experiments? I never thought you were that naïve, Mr. Valentine. Shinra just seems to be… more notorious than most." This last Rufus said with a tone of distaste.

"Everything leaves a mark, a trail, a scent to follow," Vincent retorted, "particularly when it comes to hubristic scientists."

"Ah," Rufus said, making a gesture as if it were a toast, "that may be true, but if you aren't looking in the right place then you will never pick up that lingering scent, will you?"

Vincent glanced towards Hikari, twirling on the dance floor with Reno and Yuffie, face bright with laughter. Who are you? Vincent wondered. Where did you come from? What happened to you? These questions had been lurking in the back of his mind ever since they found Hikari in the crumbling laboratory… yet this was the first time that he had also wondered if it would be best to just let those questions remain unanswered. To just let Hikari live her days as a regular person with Cloud and Tifa and Barret in Edge… Would that really be such a bad thing? Would that be better for her?

Before Vincent could question Rufus further, a disturbance at the main entrance caught his attention. Some kind of scuffle…

Suddenly, eight men, armed to the teeth with guns and knives drawn, burst through the door and spread out among the patrons, herding them towards the walls. The music abruptly stopped and people began screaming and backing away from the armed men. Although the WRO was working hard to restore the cities of Gaia, thieves and gangs were still a big problem. The screaming was abruptly silenced when the tallest and most well-muscled man, presumably the leader, fired his revolver at the ceiling. A death-like hush fell over the room.

"All right!" shouted the leader. "Keep your hands where we can see them! Be quiet and cooperate and we won't have to get nasty. Turn out your pockets of everything valuable. When one of my boys comes to you, put your… contribution in the bag. And no funny business! One wrong move and we'll start shooting, starting with this little lady. " He grinned lewdly at Hikari who was standing, frozen in the middle of the dance floor with Yuffie and Reno slightly behind her.

Damn, thought Vincent, still gripping his weapon. If I start firing Cerberus, I could get this scum, but in such close quarters, the bullets would go right through them. I run the risk of killing the patrons. One glance at the two Turks confirmed that they were similarly handicapped. Yuffie didn't have her shuriken and although she was good at hand-to-hand combat, couldn't move fast enough to avoid a bullet. Hikari…

A voice split the silence. "Eight targets."

Vincent started. It was Hikari's voice… but the tone, the manner, was nothing like her. It was cold, bloodless… almost mechanical. She was still, still as stone. Her face and eyes were blank. Empty. A shiver of something akin to fear ran down his spine.

The bandit leader apparently felt no such sensation. The man took a step towards Hikari, gun pointed at her chest. "What're you—?"

He never got to finish his sentence.

Hikari burst into motion. With lightning speed, she grabbed the leader's arm and bent it backwards. There was a snap of bone, a howl of pain, and a clatter as the gun dropped to the floor. At the same time, Hikari yanked a knife from the leader's belt and drove it up to the hilt in his chest. With a gurgling groan, he sank to the floor.

The other seven men were turning, bringing their weapons to bear, but Hikari was no longer standing in front of their fallen leader. In fact, as soon as the knife buried itself in his chest, she dove to the side, tackling the nearest man. Taken by surprise, he toppled. In a flash, Hikari pulled the pistol from his stunned grip and fired two rounds, point blank, into his chest. The bullets tore through his body into the floor. She swiveled, aiming the pistol towards the two bandits who had remained near the door to guard the exit. Four more rounds fired off, two bullets finding each man's heart.

Clip empty, Hikari dropped the gun and sprang into the center of the room again. The four remaining bandits, realizing that they could not shoot without hitting one of their own, closed in, the blades of their daggers shining wickedly. One tried charging at her, hoping to bear her to the ground, but Hikari ducked the swing, one leg shooting out to knock the man down. He toppled backwards, the knife spinning away across the floor. Hikari leapt back on her feet and stomped down on his throat, crushing his windpipe.

Hearing the strangled gurgles of the dying man, one of the men hesitated, then started backing away. The other two circled her, trying to find an opening. Hikari turned with them, one eye on each man, muscles tensed and ready to spring. The bandit who had retreated abruptly threw his knife at the young woman when her back was turned. Using this as a diversion, the two bandits circling her lunged forward, reasoning that she would be unable to evade blades coming from the back and both sides.

But Hikari was faster than they anticipated. She dropped to the ground and did a backward roll towards the knife-thrower, catching the blade by the hilt as it flew overhead. The two other men, unable to stop their forward momentum, stabbed each other, howling in confusion and pain. Hikari, knife in hand, stood, took three quick steps towards them, and calmly slit both their throats with a pair of swift strokes. Then she turned to the last man. With a look of stark terror, he turned and tried racing for the door. His own knife caught him in the back and he sank to the ground. Once again, silence reigned.

The entire battle took less than thirty seconds.

Hikari stood rigidly in the center of the room, surrounded by the bodies of the eight men. Her face was still and emotionless, eyes blank and empty. No one in the room dared to move, or even breathe.

Then her lips moved and she spoke in that same disturbing tone: "All targets eliminated."

As if someone had thrown a switch, Hikari staggered slightly, shaking her head. "What… what happened?" she asked in her normal voice, putting a hand to her forehead. Then the young woman looked around, at the silent, frightened faces around her, at the bodies so quickly and easily dispatched, and at the blood spattered on her hands and clothes. She raised her hands, staring at them in growing horror, and then slowly looked up at Vincent.

"I… I…" Hikari tried to speak, to say something, but words failed her. Vincent could do nothing, say nothing, just stand and stare at this girl and the carnage she had wrought.

Hikari looked at her hands again and started trembling. She slowly knelt by one of the bodies and hesitantly touched it. Then she started shaking the corpse. "Get up," she whispered. "Get up, get up, get up!" Her voice started rising in urgency and hysteria. "Get up! Please, get up!"

Almost before he knew what he was doing, Vincent found himself kneeling by Hikari's side, and gently pulled her hands away from the body. "Stop, Hikari," he said in a voice that was much calmer than he felt. "There's nothing you can do."

She looked up at him, mismatched eyes wide, confused, and afraid. "But… why still? Why so… so still? Sleeping? Are they sleeping? Are they sick, are they broken?"

Vincent's crimson gaze was steady. "They are dead, Hikari."

The strange young woman's face went still. "Dead? They… they are… dead?"

He nodded.

She began shaking even harder, wrapping her arms around herself and rocking back and forth. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no…" she whispered. "Dead, they are dead. Hikari killed… Hikari killed them. I killed them!" And then she broke down weeping.

Vincent carefully wrapped her in his red cloak, her sobs muffled by his chest. The others slowly drew near. Yuffie's face was ghostly pale. Reno looked both stunned and afraid.

A chair grated across the floor as Rufus stood and started walking towards the door, Rude and Reno falling in behind him.

"Wait!" Vincent's voice stopped them. "If you know anything about this, tell me!"

The pause, punctuated by Hikari's sobs, was interminable. Finally, Rufus spoke, and his tone seemed genuinely regretful. "I have no information for you, Vincent. You will have to search outside Shinra." The former Shinra director turned to look back at Vincent cradling Hikari and there was a hint of compassion in his blue gaze. "I wish you luck… but be wary of meddling with unknown substances."

No one noticed a figure slip out while everyone's attention was focused on the tableau of the two men and the weeping girl. The figure hurried away from the dance hall, pulling out a cell phone. "Sir, the subject has been located. She's in Edge... with Vincent Valentine."

Static crackled, then resolved into words. "Excellent. Bring her to me."

"And Valentine?"

"Don't worry. He will be dealt with."

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