Not everyone is a Vincent Valentine fan. A character study in one act.
Vincent was on his fifth double-shot of tequila, with two more sitting in front of him by the time Marshall downed the first shot of whatever the green stuff was he was drinking.
The gunman regretted not having gone to one of the several bars in Kalm that now kept reserves of the "Blue Death" he drank on hand strictly for him. Not too many people could handle the two-hundred-some proof, sapphire-colored alcohol, but it was the only thing that could give Vincent a buzz without him having to drink gallons of it.
Not only that, he couldn't stand the taste of most other alcoholic beverages. Beer and bourbon tasted so horrible to him that he'd just as soon not drink again, ever, if they were the only choices. Good tequila was the only thing he could tolerate when his blue drink wasn't available, and it wasn't all that much better than the others. Like everything else, he had to drink an assload of the amber liquor to get even moderately intoxicated. That, and he had to drink a good bit of water to wash away the bitter taste that the lemon and salt didn't kill.
What all this meant for Vincent Valentine tonight was-because of the amount of alcohol he had to consume to even realize he was in fact drinking at all, plus the water taste-chasers-he had no choice but to get up and walk right past the green-haired medic. The goddamned restrooms were on the other side of the bar.
Vincent picked up one of the two remaining double-shots on the table and, not even bothering with the lemon and salt ritual, polished it off in one long gulp. He drank an equal amount of water to deaden the bitterness on his tongue, then headed for the men's room. If he was lucky, maybe Marshall wouldn't recognize him.
In the mirror, Marshall saw the dark man stand and quickly glanced at the table he had just vacated. There was no tip, which meant that either the former Turk was outrageously cheap, or he was headed for the men's room. As he approached, the medic hunkered down over his drink, hoping his head was far enough below his collar to hide the green shock of hair.
/Just let him go by me/, he prayed. /Just don't let him recognize me/.
That was when the bell started clanging.
Oh, Ozzy, please...don't tell me... was as far as the thought got before the bartender stopped the raven-haired figure with a quick, "Just a second, sir."
"Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to have in this fine establishment, two real live heroes," Ozzy boomed. "Doc Marshall, chief medical officer on the Shera."
With a flourish of his hand to indicate the figured hunched over his tequila, he continued, "And Vincent Valentine, who needs no introduction! Give 'em a hand, folks!" He began clapping.
"Stand up, Doc," Ozzy hissed at Marshall through his smile.
Before he turned and stood, Marshall managed to mutter, "Ozzy, you're a dead man."
"Shake hands, lads! Always a pleasure to have such esteemed gentlemen in my bar!" the bald man bellowed for the benefit of the crowd.
/This is why I don't go drinking with Cid/, the medic thought to himself as he smiled for the congregation. He turned toward Vincent, hoping to get the show over with.
Just as Vincent reached the floor behind Marshall, the bartender's tip bell clanged. The man caught his attention and asked him to stop. The next thing he knew, the bartender had announced to the whole fucking bar that he was there. So much for anonymity.
To make matters worse, the bald, mustachioed bartender then put both Vincent and Marshall in an awkward position by requesting that the medic and the gunman shake hands.
/Great. Just fucking great/, Vincent cringed inwardly.
Not wanting to make a scene, coupled with the fact that the six double-shots of tequila and the three glasses of water he'd drunk were becoming an issue of some urgency, Vincent neither protested nor procrastinated. He extended his hand toward the now-smiling Marshall, grasped his hand and pumped it quickly three or four times.
"It seemed like a nice, quiet place when I walked in," he said to Marshall, just over the din of the applauding and hooting patrons. "If you'll excuse me..."
Vincent headed for the restroom, quickly.
The crowd had settled down by the time he exited the restroom, having returned to their drinks and conversations in the meantime. Fortunately, no one bothered the gunman as he strode toward the bar.
The handshake was going to be as brief as it could be while maintaining appearances for the bar's exuberant patrons. Marshall was grateful that the man had deigned to shake hands with him, if only to keep the peace.
The words still burned in his mind.
"You're an ass, Marshall."
Still, his choices had been: a) just shake his damn hand and be done with it, or b) cause a scene and get barred from a place he'd been coming to since he was a teenager.
Despite the fact that the bartender had been the one to put him in this position in the first place, he went with option 'a'. Marshall needed this place tonight, more than he cared to admit to himself. There was too much history in here for him to turn his back on it.
Of course, Vincent couldn't resist getting a verbal jab in. "It seemed like a nice, quiet place when I walked in."
Just like a vaccination, it stung him like hell, and then it was over. The dark man excused himself curtly, and headed for the restrooms. Marshall sat down, poured himself another round, and slammed it back with a scowl.
/Well, it seems Ozzy will let anybody in, these days/, Marshall thought.
"There ya go, Doc. I got you a handshake with Vincent Valentine. It pays to be friends with the owner sometimes, doesn't it?" the bartender asked, beaming.
"We've met," the medic replied, irritated. "We're not exactly in each other's fan clubs, Ozzy. No more stunts."
The stocky man raised his hands in surrender. "Okay, Doc. Sorry. It's just not every day you get to meet a-"
"Don't say it," growled the man with the emerald-green eyes, cutting him off. "That man is no hero in my book." Glancing up, he caught a stern look from Ozzy. "Don't go into that Meteorfall bit. I know. Call him whatever you like, just not to me." Marshall poured another half-shot.
He regarded the liquid in the glass, sighing. He was about to toss the half-full shot glass back, when he caught long, midnight-black hair in the mirror. Vincent had returned from the restroom.
And he was heading for the bar.
Vincent stepped up to the bar to Marshall's left, crossing his arms and leaning his elbows on the bar top.
"Look," he said, leaning his head a bit closer to the medic to keep his words private, "I know you have a hate-on for me for some reason, and frankly, I'm probably not your biggest fan either. But you saved my friend's life, and for that I'm grateful. I didn't come in here looking for a hard time, Marshall. Just a few too many drinks, and maybe some interesting company."
Vincent leaned back from the bar and adjusted the stool he'd disturbed. "My drinks are waiting. Take care."
When he returned to his booth, the dirty glasses were gone, replaced with a clean one and an unopened bottle of tequila.
Ozzy had been well out of earshot of the conversation, but after years of tending bar, body language and the fact that it was meant to be private gave him an indication of what had been said. He casually made his way over to Marshall, drying out a glass with a towel.
"Doc, I don't know what's going on between you two, but it seems like both of you are here for the same reason," he said earnestly. "Maybe you should talk to him."
"Dammit, Ozzy, who asked you?" the medic sniped back. He caught himself, realizing he had been sifting through old wounds, and that the anger was bleeding into the present. He looked up apologetically.
"Sorry, Ozzy. Look, I'm just not sure I have a lot to say to him."
The bartender nodded knowingly. "I know, kid. But if for whatever reason you're gonna hate that guy's guts to your last breath, I'd say he at least deserves to know why." Ozzy shrugged.
Marshall sighed. Part of it was exasperation. Part of it was knowing that Ozzy was right. This was probably going to end poorly. Valentine always seemed to bring out the petulant child in him, despite himself. Despite how many times he thought he had reconciled the whole thing and made peace with it, the sight of that man set him to seething.
He was pretty sure the effect was mutual.
Still, Ozzy was right. He hadn't decided which way this was going to go as he picked up the bottle of exotic tequila and the shot glass, then started slowly for the booth. By the time he reached it, his mind was a swirling mass of emotions. He almost turned back for the bar without a word, but he took a deep breath and centered himself.
"'Too many drinks' is Ozzy's house specialty," he said quietly, lacking the energy to back the joke up with a smile. He managed a half-grin instead.
"As for company," he paused and looked at the empty seat across from the gunman, "is this seat taken?"