Author: Cassiel Kelner (a.k.a. Cassiel)

Series/Genre: Final Fantasy VII

Rating: R

I'll admit it. The main reason I chose Cassiel's "Nobody" to review this month was because it made me cry. Okay, all right, I'm a wuss, I'm a sucker, let's just get that out of the way, lemme alone.

"Nobody" is not an angst-fest. It doesn't pull any heartstrings. It's not a "feel-good" story. No characters are tortured at any point. No one dies. So why did I cry? Because it's painfully, realistically, unromantically bittersweet. That's a good thing. Let me explain:

"Nobody" is based on Final Fantasy VII, the Playstation video game that broke sales records (and production budget records) worldwide. Not surprisingly, it intrigued a number of doujinshika, who collectively penned hundreds of stories about the game's multiple biseinen. One of the more popularly slashed characters has been Vincent Valentine, a tall, brooding long-haired beauty with a generous dash of beast---literally---and a tragic past. One of the almost completely slash-ignored characters of the game has been Reno, one of the yakuza-like "Turks" whom Vincent and the other characters must occasionally fight. It is this unlikely pairing which becomes the focus of "Nobody."

The story takes place during a lull in the game's storyline that takes place in the town of Wutai, where the Turks and the "good guys" of Vincent's team have called a temporary truce in order to face a common foe. Once the action is over, Vincent leaves his companions, in a melancholy mood, and heads to the town's bar, where he encounters the Turks again. The truce is still on, and so when he sits down to drink himself into oblivion, Reno joins him and the two become drinking buddies for the night. Before the night is done, they've become much more.

And that's it. The plot of "Nobody" is almost nonexistent, but it's an unabashed PWP-style ("Plot? What Plot?") story, so that's fine. A plot would only hamper this story---and indeed, the few concessions to plot that the author makes do slow the story down a bit.

Before getting into the dialogue and character interaction that comprise the heart of the story, the reader must first wade through lengthy descriptions of Vincent's trek to the bar, and Vincent and Reno's efforts to get the unconscious Rude up to his room. The story would have suffered none if it had simply foregone any attempt to explain Vincent's presence alone in the bar, or Reno's unexpected approach. It might have better opened at the point at which Reno sat down to share drinks and misery with his sometime enemy.

Once the reader gets past this setup, the dialogue between Reno and Vincent becomes the focus of the story, and here the story's emotion and subtle development become visible. Through the course of the drinking binge and subsequent conversation, the reader comes to know two lonely, wounded people, both hiding their past tragedies behind masks--- emotionlessness in Vincent's case, and tough-guy nonchalance in Reno's. They are drawn together by a mutual need for simple companionship. The sharing of alcohol and eventually sex are just a means to an end. It is the painful self-disclosure, empathizing, and finally catharsis between the two, which is most important---and most powerful---in this story.

It is the realism with which this is handled that keeps "Nobody" from falling prey to the typical hurt-comfort fanfiction cliché. This is not a romance. It is a communion between two needy people for the purpose of mutual healing, with the possibility of romance in the far future, but only after circumstances and major emotional loose ends are resolved. The story suggests clearly that this romantic resolution may never come to pass, for the characters---and yet the reader is left with a sense of resolution anyhow.

For example: one of the great tragedies of Vincent's past is that he's been surgically mutilated by a mad scientist. In the brief and lyrical sex scene, his scars are revealed, unromanticized and ugly, and his chief mutilation---the metallic claw which has been grafted onto his arm in place of a hand---is incorporated. This is something not often seen in FFVII yaoi doujinshi involving Vincent. What might be ugly in a visual medium becomes a beautiful contrast between the tenderness of the moment and the harshness of reality, in this fanfic.

"Nobody" is short, sweet, and painful. Despite the inherent angst, it lacks the sort of maudlin heavy-handedness that could so easily make this story a tiresome wallow. The pain is sharp, but tempered by hope at the end. The hope is what made me cry.