Not everyone is a Vincent Valentine fan. A character study in one act.
Vincent was half surprised and half not when the green-haired young man approached the booth with a half-hearted joke and a question.
The gunman looked at Marshall, then nodded at the high-backed bench opposite his own. "Please do," he said politely.
The medic sat down at the invitation, and the sincerity with which it was offered helped him regain control. He looked across the table at the raven-haired figure for a second, then poured himself a shot. "One-Thousand Needles," he explained. "Cactuar tequila. Kicks like hell, if you're interested." He glanced at the man's current selection.
"It's a bit more expensive than what you're drinking, but it works for people who have a hard time working up a buzz," he said with a knowing look.
Vincent emptied his glass, then set it on the polished wooden table and pushed it to the center.
"They didn't have my usual poison here," he said as Marshall filled the shot glass. "Not many places do. I'm not even sure what it's called, actually. All I know is that it's blue, and it'll floor most men in two shots."
Vincent picked up the glass and held it toward the medic in salute. "Here's to saving lives."
Marshall could not have been more shocked if the gunman had set him on fire. Still, he recovered quickly, and responded with, "I'll drink to that."
/Not to mention irony/, he thought.
He pushed the thought away. There was plenty of time for that later. It was still early yet, and sobriety was proving a vigorous opponent so far. He threw it an uppercut in the form of another shot of the green-tinted liquor. It was still there, but it was wobbling on its feet.
"I'm not sure anyone knows what that stuff is called," he said, remembering Vincent's comment a moment ago. "Ozzy dropped it from the shelf because he got tired of piling unconscious drunks outside after closing." He chuckled for a second, as a memory traipsed by.
"Before /this/," he said, combing a tuft of green hair upwards, "I ended up in said pile my fair share of times."
Vincent put the glass to his lips and tossed back the shot of green liquor. He ran his tongue around the inside of his cheeks briefly to catch all the nuances. "More peppery than I would have thought," he commented, "and quite a few notches up in proof from the pretty gold water I was drinking. Might just do the trick."
He slid his glass toward the medic again. "When that's gone," he nodded toward the bottle Marshall had brought, "the next one's on me."
Vincent wasn't anywhere near drunk, not even halfway to not-quite-sober yet. He wasn't sure why, but he suddenly felt the need to get nicely hammered. The dark-haired man still felt restless, but there was something else lurking just beneath the surface. It was nagging at him in a vague sort of way, and all he knew with any certainty was that it wasn't entirely pleasant.
He shrugged off the thought as the re-filled glass was slid back in his direction. "So," he asked, "what brings you here to numb those brilliant brain cells?" The shot of grass-green tequila disappeared quickly.
"I needed to come here tonight," the medic said simply, staring at the glass in front of him. Marshall sighed as the memory of the failed rescue came flooding back. He gulped the burning liquid down, hoping it would take the images with it, then continued.
"This place has a lot of fond memories for me. When I was in ShinRa's med school, a bunch of us students used to hop over here to Kalm for the weekends and raise hell," he smirked. "Ozzy used to keep us in line with the seltzer hose. It was all in good fun, and it was a nice break from the authoritarian teaching staff."
He poured another shot, then continued. "It just reminds me of what it was like to be a kid, with the world ahead of me, and hope..." he trailed off, his face darkening visibly. He sat silently, staring into the glass. It was almost a full minute before he spoke again.
"I lost someone today. I kinda needed that feeling back."
Vincent listened to what the younger man was saying, never taking his eyes off the other man's. Choice of words, tone of voice, body language...all important things, but nothing compared to what you could see in a man's eyes if you only looked close enough.
Whomever had coined the expression that the eyes were the 'windows to the soul' had hit the target on the mark. Part of what had made Vincent the best-of-the-best at what he used to do was the fact that he could read people well. He could tell when people were telling the truth and when they weren't; he could tell when someone had told all they knew, and when they were holding back. It was all in the eyes.
This young man was hurting, badly-but it wasn't just from whatever had gone wrong on the job today. Despite the fact that Marshall was being cordial and a good deal more open with Vincent than he would have anticipated, there was still a distinct loathing for the gunman in those emerald pools.
Vincent pushed the bottle of amber tequila out of the way and reached for the more exotic variety, not bothering to ask. He was buying the next bottle anyway, and this one was well on its way to gone. He poured another shot for himself and dispensed with it immediately.
"I know it hurts," Vincent said, "and at the risk of telling you how to do your job... If you're going to succeed at the business of saving lives, you have to accept that you're not going to be able to save them /all/. It's fucked up, but it's the truth. And if you beat yourself up and guilt over it every time you lose one- because they're too far gone already, or you couldn't get to them in time in the first place-it's going to eat you alive. When that happens, you won't be able to save anyone. Not even yourself."
Marshall managed to quell the firestorm that had swirled up at the man's words.
"No, I know that. But just because I can't save them all doesn't mean that I don't owe it to them to try," the medic said as he poured himself another half-shot. "Coming here was just my consolation prize, I guess. 'Tough luck, doc. Maybe you'll catch the next one. In the meantime, put your feet up and have a drink'."
"Of course you have to try," Vincent agreed, "but that doesn't guarantee you're going to succeed. And I didn't mean to imply that you shouldn't care, or that you shouldn't hurt. You just can't let it rip you apart from the inside. You mourn quickly and quietly, then you move on to the next one."
Marshall sighed and looked around the bar, smiling when Ozzy nodded at him and winked. He grinned and turned back to Vincent.
"Don't you ever feel like you need a recharge from," he paused, thinking, then downed the shot, "whatever it is you do?"
Vincent picked up the empty bottle of One-Thousand Needles, then turned slightly to wave it in the bartender's direction. He set it back down on the table when the bald man nodded at the silent request for another.
The gunman picked up a soggy cocktail napkin and absently fiddled with it. "I suppose you could say I'm recharging now," he said. "I consider myself retired, at least for the time being. Two hard battles inside of two years, and I'm tired. The world is pretty quiet right now, and since going back to my former occupation is certainly not an option, I'm taking a break from everything. Except this," he lifted his empty shot glass briefly.
"I had a considerable stockpile of firearms," the ex-Turk continued, "most all of them rare antiques. Serious collectors are apparently willing to pay a hefty sum for rifles that are thirty years old. Particularly Turk Valentine's rifles." Vincent picked up his empty glass again, swirling it around as if more booze would miraculously appear as a result.
He looked over at the bar to see that the stocky bartender was, thankfully, on his way toward the booth with another bottle of the green tequila in hand. "I gave most of the proceeds to the orphanage in Edge. The rest, I can live fairly comfortably on for a year, maybe longer if I choose to be frugal."
"'You mourn quickly and quietly, then you move on to the next one'," the medic repeated incredulously, shaking his head. It was already a strain to maintain the level of civility he had been, but that phrase and the potent liquor had finally pushed him over the edge.
"Spoken like a true immortal," Marshall stated. "Well, that may work just fine for someone who will live to see the apocalypse, but those of us who aren't going to live forever tend to try and make the time we have here as meaningful as we can."
His hand was grasping the shot glass in front of him and it was trembling with a years-old rage. He looked down and noticed it, and caught himself. "Look, it's just that you're the last person I want to hear from on how to mourn or how to do my job," he said more quietly, but with an edge in his voice.
"Maybe this was a mistake," he said as he regarded the empty glass.