Not everyone is a Vincent Valentine fan. A character study in one act.
"If nothing else, this 'reformation' of mine, as you call it, puts a lot fewer people in the morgue," Vincent replied. "I would think you'd be happy about that." His patience with the green-haired man on the lofty pedestal was wearing thin.
He grabbed the bottle and re-filled his glass, then slid the bottle back in Marshall's direction. "I had something profound happen to me, so obscenely horrible that you can't even begin to comprehend it. It changed me, irrevocably. I no longer kill indiscriminately. When they show up, I take care of the bad guys so people like you can live safely in your little glass houses."
Vincent took a large swallow of the liquor that was now becoming tasteless and hadn't yet nicked his brain in the slightest. "Let me ask you a hypothetical question, Marshall. You keep saying over and over again that you're all about saving lives. What if you hadn't gone traipsing off to take a peek at the fissure, and you had been there when those thugs approached your parents? What if you'd been armed, and had the opportunity to take them out before they snuffed out your parents' lives?"
The dark-haired man paused for the briefest moment to bring himself down a notch, and failed. "I know that you know how to handle a firearm. If you didn't, Highwind would be missing a fucking foot right now. Would you have been so sanctimonious then? Or would the fact that you could have done something to prevent the death of people you cared about been overshadowed by your dedication to do no harm? Wouldn't the fact that you could have prevented your own tragic loss have changed you in some way? I was a killer. Past tense. I don't deny that, and I don't ask for anyone's forgiveness, including my own. But what happened to me in those fucking labs did change me, and I don't just mean /this/."
Vincent threw a sharp glance down at the device that had been installed to replace his severed arm. "I'm not a cold-blooded killer, Marshall. Not anymore. These days, I even carry a reminder with me, just in case something happens that might make me forget that."
The gunman stood, then propped his left foot up on the bench. He pulled his pistol from the ankle holster and fairly slammed it on the table. "Look familiar?" Vincent's pistol was a forty-five, with the medical red cross emblem embedded in the grip. A token from the medic for the quick action Vincent had taken to save Reno's life before he was taken aboard the Shera.
The former Turk pulled the leg of his jeans back down over his boot. Sliding back into his seat, he picked up his glass, drinking slowly to buy time for his heart to stop pounding.
Marshall regarded the gun on the table for a second. He looked up, gazing defiantly at the sniper. "If you think I haven't had to kill before, you're wrong," he stated plainly. His face twisted into an ugly mask of rage and hatred at the mention of his family's murder.
"If you think for one second that I wouldn't have blown away the son of a bitch who killed my parents, you're wrong. How fitting that the analogy you throw back in my face is another example of killing to protect someone. You're damn right I would have shot that fucker down," Marshall growled, "and I would have walked away from it knowing that I did what I had to do."
"What you did," the young medic seethed, "was kill on command and without question. The only time I have ever pulled the trigger with a human being in my sights was when they were endangering the life of another person. Not because they were 'in the way'. And if you think I didn't spend a week after the first time I killed someone puking my guts up, think again. Don't tell me about glass houses and try to turn this around on me/. You want me to drop the bit about your past? Well, I can't! Because the /one time in my entire fucking life that I ever needed a cold-blooded killer like you, you didn't show, goddamn it!"
And suddenly, there he was. Nineteen again. Trapped, scared, and finally, disappointed. Tears started to shimmer against the background of vibrant green, as he sat there with his face contorted with all the anger he had been trying to contain since it had happened. "I hate myself for ever having needed someone like you!" Marshall raged on. "Why do you think I carry my own?" He ripped an identical sidearm out of the thigh holster, slamming it onto the table next to its twin.
"The doctor in me hates you for killing people, the child in me hates you for not killing people when I needed you to, and the adult in me has already accepted everything and forgiven you. So where does that leave me?" he asked quietly. "When do I get to move on?"
Vincent took a deep breath and his voice quieted. "That leaves you a very bitter, very confused young man," he said, calmer now, "and I wish more than anything that I knew how to help you." The former Turk stood, grabbing his jacket as he slid out of the booth.
"We're talking in circles, Marshall," Vincent said as he put on his jacket, "and nothing I can say is going to make you feel any better." He reached across the table and picked up the pistol the medic had given him some months before. Leaning over, he tucked it back into its holster. "I'm closing out the tab. I need some air."
Vincent started toward the bar to pay up; three steps away he turned back. "You get to move on, Marshall, when you forgive yourself because you weren't there to help them. Not a day sooner."
Marshall holstered his sidearm against his thigh as he stood up from the table. He wiped his eyes quickly and took a deep breath through his nose. As Vincent stood there, those eerie red eyes taking in every move the medic made, Marshall slowly approached the sniper.
He held the gaze from the embers burning in the former Turk's eyes with the ocean of green in his own. Finally, softly and sincerely, he spoke. "Then please, tell me how you forgave yourself? You did it. Why am I so stuck?" he asked.
"I haven't forgiven myself," replied Vincent. "I haven't even tried, because there's no point to it. It won't bring those people back. What I did do was promise myself I'd do everything in my power to not be that person anymore. There was no forgiveness involved."
Vincent dragged his fingers up through his hair to chase stray bangs from his eyes. His emotional temper flare of moments before was gone now, and his features softened. So did his voice. He put his hand gently on Marshall's shoulder.
"You really have nothing to forgive yourself for/, Marshall, except in your own mind, "the gunman said. "You didn't do anything wrong. It was nothing more than rotten, fucking bad luck and bad timing. If you /had been there, they most likely would have killed you, too." Vincent removed his hand from the medic's shoulder, then ran his fingers through his hair again.
"I'm not sure how you're supposed to get un-stuck, Marshall," Vincent continued. "Survivor's guilt isn't easy to shuck off. If you believe in fate, maybe you were supposed to go to the fissure that day so you, at least, would survive. So at least a little piece of both your parents could live on, in you."
The ex-Turk crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at the floor. Shaking his head, he said, "I don't know, Marshall. I'm not a shrink, and I'm not a philosopher. I just know you can't continue to mentally and emotionally bludgeon yourself for something that wasn't your fault and that you can't change. It'll corrode you from the inside out until there's nothing left, and then you'll be of no use to anyone."
Vincent lifted his chin, shifting his blood-red gaze from the dingy floor to the medic's jewel-green eyes. "And that would be a tragic waste of a good, decent man."
The hurt child in the medic had finally been laid to rest and had been told what he'd needed to hear. Marshall found himself dizzy with the emotional rush that played through him, but managed to keep his face calm. "Vincent," he began, soft eyes locked onto the raven-haired man's, as if the liquid green could wash over the blazing red and quiet some of the fire that burned behind them.
"I don't know if this will mean anything, but for what it's worth, I forgive you," Marshall said quietly.
It didn't escape Vincent that, for the first time since they'd met, Marshall had called him by his given name. It felt somewhat symbolic, like he'd been promoted, upgraded from 'killer' to 'person' in the young man's eyes.
It also wasn't lost on Vincent the profound, unexpected impact Marshall's words had on him. His eyes misted over. Not a single soul had ever uttered those three words to him in the context of his brutal past. Even if they never crossed paths again, Vincent Valentine would always remember the young man with the bright green eyes and the equally vivid hair. The first and only person who'd ever offered him absolution.
Vincent offered his right hand to the medic. "Thank you," he said, simply and quietly.
Marshall took the offered hand and clasped his other hand over both of them. He stared at the gesture as he spoke, almost lost with the simple but powerful act. Finally, he looked up.
"Thank you, too," he said simply. During the handshake, he had caught a glance at his watch, and sighed through a grin as he realized it was time to go.
"I have to get back to the ship and try to catch some sleep before my next shift," he explained. "You take care of that redhead, okay?" he said with a smile.
Vincent nodded, and for the first time that evening, offered the other man a smile. "You take care of you. See you around, Doc." He slid his hand from Marshall's and stepped away slowly.
The gunman went to the register. He paid off the tab, leaving a generous tip, then left the bar. Taking a deep breath of the cold night air he started briskly for home, his footsteps-and his soul-much lighter than when he'd left.