Not everyone is a Vincent Valentine fan. A character study in one act.
Ozzy the bartender set the new bottle of One-Thousand Needles on the table along with the tab. The bald-headed barkeep seemed about to speak, but closed his mouth instead and went back to the bar. The tension surrounding the booth was thick and palpable.
"Fair enough," Vincent said. "Subject closed." He picked up the new bottle and uncorked it, first re-filling Marshall's empty shot glass and then his own.
/I should have asked for a bigger glass/, he thought wryly.
The gunman rose momentarily. He took off his jacket, tossing it onto the bench as he slid back into the booth. There was a time, not so long ago, when he wouldn't have dared let anyone see his left arm unadorned by the shiny brass gauntlet. Now, he simply didn't give a shit. The micro-thin metal pads on the tips of the prosthetic fingers made a barely audible ping when he rested the hand on the table. With his right hand, he picked up the small glass and knocked back its contents.
"Perhaps it was a mistake," Vincent said while pouring himself another shot, "but do me the courtesy of answering one question before you go. You must have a damn good reason for detesting me as you apparently do. I can see it in those pretty green eyes of yours. It can't be simply because I called you an ass, or offered you unsolicited career advice."
Vincent raised a questioning eyebrow, and reached again for his glass. "You can't possibly do what you do and be that thin-skinned."
When Vincent had revealed the gleaming metal appendage, Marshall hadn't batted an eyelash. He had heard the stories, and had seen it before in person. Being a medic, he had seen numerous prosthetics, and this was essentially no different.
Marshall eyed the drink the man had poured for him and considered what he was about to say. Stalling for more time, and figuring that going too far with the tequila was ill-advised, he turned and grabbed Ozzy's attention.
"/Water/," he mouthed, receiving a nod in reply.
His attention returned to the dark-haired man across from him. Absentmindedly twisting the shot glass around and around on the table, he looked over at him, trying to figure out where to begin.
"I don't hate you. I used to..." he trailed off. "It's complicated."
The gunman was listening patiently, and Marshall was at least grateful for that. He slammed the tequila back, and set his glass back down.
"You and I have a history, although it's one you probably don't even know about," he tried to explain. "Look, I can't promise I'll be able to keep this civil, and I won't make it any more dramatic than it has to be. I'm willing to try to say what I have to say for as long as you're willing to listen."
Vincent wasn't surprised that the medic had stayed instead of taking his leave. The gunman had seen this sort before. Passionate people who've either been hurt or severely disappointed often internalized their anger and pain. It would roost in their heart to spoils and rot, marking their soul with a festering sore that not even alcohol can heal. He was fairly certain he was about to get hit with both barrels, but he wasn't concerned.
Since returning from his long sleep, the ex-Turk had been confronted by enough people already who had reason to despise him, or at least believed they did. Among them were quite a few current Turks, who felt that he'd betrayed 'The Brotherhood' by not returning to their ranks when he came back. When he'd chosen to align himself with AVALANCHE he'd made even more enemies within the ShinRa organization, including its current president.
Aging spouses and adult children of his targets-thanks to Rufus ShinRa's misguided vendetta against him-had approached him on the street, slinging curses and worse at him. They wrote obscene graffiti on public buildings, burned his image in effigy. Fortunately, it had ceased as quickly as it had started. Rufus ShinRa couldn't try and convict him for his murderous crimes; that had been Valentine's job/, and the Turks were /still doing it. Since ShinRa was the law, the only recourse for those who wanted him punished was death by vigilante. When they had discovered that wasn't a viable alternative in his case, they'd finally backed off and left him alone. The fact that he'd helped to save the goddamned planet-not once but /twice/-hadn't redeemed him at all in their eyes, but at least he didn't have to exile himself to some godforsaken, armpit corner of the world to keep them at bay.
Listening to one more angry person who didn't think Vincent Valentine deserved to live for another hour, much less longer than anyone, wouldn't really matter. This kid needed to vent and get rid of the ugly sore marring his soul. If Vincent was the cause of it, there wasn't much else he could do but listen and agree. If Marshall came away from his venting better off somehow, at least Vincent would be able to walk away knowing that there was one less black mark on his own soul and, perhaps, another life rescued.
"Go ahead," Vincent said quietly. "I'm listening." He pushed his glass and the bottle aside.
The tequila had thrown the carousel of Marshall's thoughts into high gear, and he suddenly found himself saying something to the former Turk that he had never imagined he would.
"Thanks," he said quietly.
"Let me explain the history part. I was born and raised in Mideel. Mom and Dad were both doctors, and they used to tell me that my first word was 'Stat'," the medic said with a wan smile. "I must have picked up the family gene for medicine, because by the age of ten, I could read and understand the entire medical encyclopedia. I was breezing through school, and it was obvious that I was going to follow in my parent's footsteps, so they petitioned to have me sent to ShinRa's Medical Training Facility."
Marshall poured another shot, and stared into it as he went on. "That's how I found this place. That was also where I met her," he said, his face falling somewhat and his tone growing a bit darker. "I was fifteen when I arrived at the school, and the first few days were absolute hell. I was a lot younger than the rest of the students, and the teachers seemed to expect twice as much from me, seeing as I was some medical prodigy."
He scowled and his voice grew bitter at the memory.
"Then I met Bobbi. She was a third-year student, and took me under her wing. I knew I was just her idea of a pet project, but I was young and I fell hard for that girl," Marshall said with a rueful chuckle.
He swallowed the contents of the shot glass in one gulp, and kept his eyes glued to the table. "To make a long story short, nothing came of it. I was busy blowing my way through the curriculum, and we saw each other in passing, but that was all. She ended up staying on at the hospital..." he managed to get out before a quaver hit his voice. He cleared his throat, then finished the sentence with a twinge of anger in his voice.
"The hospital next to the Sector Five reactor," he growled out through gritted teeth. He collected himself as best he could, wanting to get everything out, needing to, before the memories overwhelmed him and he retreated back into his silent hatred of the man in front of him.
"When I look back on it, in my mind, it's a simple case of doing the wrong thing for the right reason. But at nineteen years old, all my heart knew was that AVALANCHE had murdered my best friend," Marshall said softly.
Vincent pulled the bottle and his glass closer to him. He poured another shot, downing it immediately. It was shaping up to be a long night.
"I'm very sorry about your friend," Vincent offered sincerely. "I hadn't been...awakened yet at the time they took out the reactor, but I did see the aftermath." He poured and drank another shot, then pushed both the bottle and his glass against the wall of the booth. No sense in drinking any more of the stuff; it wasn't really working anyway. "When someone you care about is killed like that, there's precious little difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist," he quietly added.
There was an obvious, pointed question that Vincent could have asked at that point, but he chose to keep it to himself for the time being. The answer would reveal itself soon enough anyway.
It was abundantly clear that Marshall wasn't finished. The young medic's entire body was tense, the catch in his voice unmistakable, and he hadn't lifted his eyes from the table top for minutes. Vincent leaned forward, crossing his forearms to rest his elbows on the table. Dipping his head slightly, he tried to peer up to catch Marshall's emerald eyes with his own blood-red ones. "I'm still listening," he said softly.