I met Cid before I went to prison. He was an engineer and a mechanic –damn good at both– and he was a very good friend. We met through Tifa, which is always how anyone new is introduced into our circle. He left a rugged impression in my mind: a no-nonsense, chain-smoking, hard-working man who had earned everything he had acquired. He told me I was beautiful and then asked why I was running around with a gang like the Turks. He almost made me regret the lifestyle that had been mine for over a decade. Keyword being "almost" What really made me regret it was the seven-year prison sentence for possession of Mako, a well-known and highly addictive street drug. The beauty that Cid found alluring and endearing was a weapon used against me during my trial. The up-bringing that I had forgotten when my father died was thrown back in my face. Honestly, as soon as they recognized the black feather tattoo on my lower back, I'd had to fight not to be tried for intent to distribute, despite the well-known fact that the Turks don't sell drugs. I'd had to use my rank in the organization strategically and explain that Mako was an enhancement drug in certain quantities and that the Turks use it themselves. Even then, I was charged with a felony instead of a misdemeanor, hence the length of my sentence. Ironically, I didn't lead them back to the jackass who framed me, mostly because I rather enjoyed watching Doctor Garrick Hojo squirm in his seat throughout the trial, wondering when I would betray him. Doctor Hojo was the head researcher at Shinra Industries, and he was responsible for the creation and distribution of Mako. But then, if the public knew just how much connection there was between SOLDIER, the Turks, and Shinra Industries… well, let's just say that wide-spread panic had never been one of my long-term goals. Besides, had I ratted, I wouldn't have gotten to see Rufus Shinra one more time. Since he was the heir apparent for the president of Shinra Industries, I had no doubt that the next Turk I would have seen would be one of his new recruits with a bullet and the intention of ending me. Had I thought about it before hand, the upside would have been not doing seven years in a federal maximum security prison. Ah, missed opportunities. "Valentine," the guard barked. Unperturbed, I took my time and finished my set of crunches before even acknowledging his presence. Trust me, there are scarier things in this place than the guards and I had taken pains to make myself one of them for a reason. "Skylar," I returned in a soft voice. I took great satisfaction in watching the younger, burlier man tremble. "It seems some fool has set you to be released today. Happy Valentine's Day." I forced myself not to grimace at the ironic day. "Great. Can I call someone to come get me?" He cocked his head at me. "There's someone here waiting on you." Then he left as quickly as he had arrived, as thought to give me time to say goodbye to the cell that had been my home for five years. My other two years had been spent in solitary for various reasons. I looked around the Spartan cell. The only important things that were even here were two simple photographs: the first was of my father, clasping my shoulder and smiling down at me, and the second was a photograph of my friends all gathered around me, glasses raised as they toasted my twenty-first birthday. I gently tugged them down with my ruined hand. "They letting you go, Vincento?" Tycho asked from the cell next to mine. "Yeah," I returned, flexing my ruined hand. "My hand will miss your art." He chuckled. "I'll miss working on you. The others whine and bitch like virgins." I'd allowed Tycho to cover the scarred and ruined flesh of my left hand bit by bit with various Islamic mosaic-inspired intricate patterns. I figured that if people were going to stare at it, there may as well be something beautiful to it. After the pain that had come with its ruin, little needles pushing in and out of my flesh were no hardship, so I was usually silent as he created new patterns on the skin. He did this all for me simply because I protected the slight, artistic man from the fate I had suffered before I was one of the scariest people caged behind these four walls and a barbed-wire fence. "I'll make sure Marcus protects you," I returned softly. Tycho was doing ten years for counterfeiting –he was given a much lighter sentence for having such a small role, his general ignorance and naivety, and the fact he had willingly come clean as soon as he was brought in– and he still had five more years here. He was so slight and delicate, with pale skin, long and straight dark hair, and big blue eyes. He would easily be taken advantage of and hurt if no one looked out for him. He stuttered. "Y-y-you d-don't have to do that, Vincento." I smiled. It was no secret to me that he had a huge crush on the man who basically became my lieutenant in the prison hierarchy. His face turned red whenever he had one of those momentary inappropriate thoughts. He trembled when Marcus was near and he always wore the most adorable wide-eyed expression as if he were basking in his presence. It also amused me to see that Marcus seemed to have a yearning for the slight artist. Watching him work up the nerve to ask Tycho to ink him had been absolutely adorable. "Yes, I do. I protected you while I was here and it makes it my responsibility to make sure you remain protected. And I don't trust anyone in here more with that task than him." This was my last-ditch effort to get them together. Then I would watch their love bloom from outside of these walls. Outside. Gaia, how long had it been since I had been beyond the walls of this prison? I'd counted the days for a while, but then stopped when I realized it made it feel all the longer. "Valentine!" Abrams barked. Every shift had a guard that got off barking orders at the resident bad ass. Norah Abrams was that guard on this shift, mostly because he felt he had to outrun his feminine name. I pulled back from the wall and gave him a menacing look as I handled the photographs with my desensitized fingertips. "Your boyfriend's waiting on you," he growled back. I waved him away with my hand. "Fine. Let's get me out of your hair, then." Hearing my visitor –moreover, in this case, the person who would be taking me home– referred to as my "boyfriend" was normal enough. Apparently, when you have soft features like I do, people expect you to be gay. Even the Turks who came to pay their respects were referred to as my "boyfriends", even the equally soft-featured man who had taken my place as Rufus' right hand. After all, a marksman with a ruined hand is no use to the head of a gang. When your lieutenant can't do his job, it's best to replace him. I rather liked my replacement: Tseng still had an interesting level of respect for me and my opinions, so he actually had been one of my most frequent visitors. My cell door buzzed and unlocked, but I waited until I was directed to step forward to do so. I was allowed to wash myself and to dress in my rumpled suit from my trial. The photographs were tucked into a pocket with the tie I could no longer tolerate wearing. They led me out into the waiting area where I was greeted with the sight of a gruff, rugged-looking blond man with an unlit cigarette clenched between his lips. Reflexively, I reached out toward him with my ruined hand. "Cid." He eyed the Islamic motifs on my flesh. "Hey there. How ya been, Vince?"