Perhaps For One Day More – part 1
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII and its wonderful characters belong to Squenix/Square/whatever-its-name-is/rich Japanese guys, so don't try to sue me… But the story belongs to me.
Everybody, make sure you read "At Least" before this… I fixed a few minor details in it to make this story fit better… Anyway, read the first one so a little thing like "Christmas" doesn't confuse you. I mean, really, look at the calendar… Heheheh… I was one month off in my estimation, by the way. ENJOY!
After Christmas flew by, Tifa Lockheart felt that the New Year's Eve celebration passed just as swiftly. Her guests had plans to leave too, just after they counted down to midnight, and she would cherish the moments she had left with them before they decided to run away from her again. She was still a bit disappointed that she couldn't see Cid, but she figured that there would be plenty of opportunities to see him and Shera in the future.
Marlene had long fallen asleep in Barret's arms, but that rest was immediately interrupted in the next minute when Yuffie screamed for joy and blew into a party favor, and the young girl's eyes flew open wide at the sudden interruption of her beauty sleep.
After a moment, Barret let out a sigh and stroked Marlene's cheek. The young girl yawned helplessly and sent bemused doe eyes to Yuffie's general direction.
"Where the hell did she get one o' those things anyway?" Barret demanded, narrowing his eyes at the Wutaiian girl as she danced around the room cheerfully. "Wakin' up my Marlene--"
His eyes widened when Yuffie suddenly scooped up Marlene in her arms and spun around the room. Marlene, still barely awake, even managed to giggle as the ninja girl made goofy faces at her during their uninhibited spinning.
Grumbling incoherently, Barret glanced at the clock hanging on the wall.
"What the—"He glared at Yuffie. "Girl, it ain't even midnight yet!"
But Yuffie was too busy twirling with Marlene.
Earlier that evening—like one of the many evenings after their Christmas party—Tifa had sat them all down in her living room and talked about their lives. Except Vincent, who chose to stand in the doorway of the kitchen with his arms crossed over his chest, silently observing them as always. She didn't want to press him into sitting with them and talking about his past. She knew better than that, and his replies often left much to be desired. Some people may have seen him as snobby because of his aloof behavior, but she knew better than that too; Cloud and the others had also been more considerate about his manner, and simply took it as it was. Especially since he decided to stay even after Christmas was over.
She remembered looking over at Cloud in those hours before, her heart lightened by the sight of his rare, crooked smile, made even more genuine by the fact that he was unaware of her scrutiny. She had to admit that it was good to see him, even if he couldn't love her the way she wanted him to.
"So Cloud," she'd said cheerfully, turning to face her friend completely, "how've you been?"
He'd sipped his drink, set it down on the table and then licked his lips, his eyes darting about as he gathered his thoughts and his smile faded as the entertaining moment with Yuffie past.
He'd bent his head. "Well, Tifa..." He'd raised his eyes to glance at everyone around the table, but she couldn't help but notice that he barely settled his eyes on her. The corners of his lips were raised, on the verge of a smile, and he lifted his head and his face visibly brightened. "I found someone... She's a nice girl…"
"Oh—no shit!" Barret leaned back in his chair, impressed. Marlene had been in the other room, drawing; he wouldn't have sworn had she been in the room, even though she was probably used to his profanity slipping out every so often by now. "So what's she like?" he ventured.
Tifa didn't want to hear. She didn't want to know how the young woman was everything she was not, who probably looked exactly like Aeris, who probably wore a pink dress and had sparkling emerald eyes. And who could forget that innocent giggle and those blessed dimples on her cheeks? And her charm?
"She's a red-head," Cloud had explained, "with dark brown eyes and a nice smile. She's a good girl, and spunky. We've only dated a few times but I'm looking forward to our next meeting..."
Damn it, Cloud, Tifa thought. I know you don't love me but do you have to talk about her like that? Can't you just be quiet and say 'whatever' just like you always did whenever I said something meaningful to you?
Tifa had opened her mouth to speak, to say that she had to go check on Marlene so she wouldn't have to hear anymore of this. But when she looked up, her gaze collided with Vincent's, and he uncrossed his arms to stride down the hallway towards Marlene's room. As always, his gaze was unreadable, so she could hardly imagine if he'd sensed her discomfort, felt bored by the conversation, or simply wanted to check on Marlene for himself. Either way, she'd lowered her eyes in disappointment for her lack of excuse to leave the table at her disposal, and drummed her hands on her knees, barely listening to Cloud and Yuffie as they suddenly made an exchange.
And that's when she suddenly felt guilty at the direction of her bitter thoughts. Didn't Cloud have every right in the world to do what he wanted and to be with whomever he wanted? Didn't he deserve it? She shouldn't have felt so bitter...
Drawn back to the present by the comeback of Yuffie's party favor, Tifa shook her head out of her trance and she stepped into the kitchen to pour more drinks for everyone.
To her surprise, the dark, elusive ex-Turk stood at the counter with his back to hers, holding a glass with one hand and holding a champagne bottle with his claw. He'd filled three glasses already, excluding him, Yuffie and Marlene, Tifa suspected. However, her eye caught sight of chocolate milk in a flowery cup. For Marlene.
She approached him silently and said, "That's nice of you, Vincent." She believed that he knew she was there long before she spoke, but it was always so hard to tell with him.
He shrugged and twisted at the waist, offering her a filled glass. "For you, Tifa."
She smiled brightly and took the drink from him. "Thanks, Vincent... Aren't you going to have any?"
He shook his head.
After a moment of awkward silence—of which whenever she stood by Vincent were many—another thought finally popped into her head and she asked, "So, are you going to stay for a few more days?"
He shook his head. "I think I have stayed long past my limit, Miss Lock--er... Tifa." She smiled faintly. "I have already packed to leave tonight."
"But it's so late!" Tifa protested, even though she well knew how Vincent preferred the dark and solitude of night compared to the noise of day. "Can't you at least leave tomorrow morning?"
He shook his head again, whether in declination or in defeat of her persistence, and then took the remaining glass for Cloud and the cup for Marlene.
She furrowed her brow and leaned in closely to whisper, "Why didn't you pour Yuffie any?"
He stopped abruptly in the threshold between the kitchen and the living room and cast and bent his head towards her. Flatly, he quietly explained, "Miss Kisaragi informed me that she wanted a soft drink... but she doesn't trust me to prepare her one."
She smirked and murmured, "I'm sure she's just teasing... but maybe Yuffie doesn't need any alcohol in her system anyway."
"Agreed." The intentions and concerns of the Wutaiian princess typically meant something annoying for him anyway.
The two continued into the room. Once they distributed the champagne, Vincent glanced about for Marlene, holding the cup of chocolate milk in his hand, and crinkled his brow in bemusement when he couldn't find her. Had she gone to bed?
He twisted at the waist to glance behind him, and then something tugged on his cloak on the opposite side. He turned back around to find Marlene lightly pulling on his cloak, her brown eyes wide and her smile adoring.
"Oh, there you are..." She'd grown taller since the first day he met her, for certain, but to Vincent almost everyone looked vertically challenged. He knelt down so they were at closer heights and offered her the chocolate milk.
Happily, she took it from him and smiled wider, if possible, before eagerly downing some of her drink in seconds. He took comfort in her silently content company for awhile before rising to his feet.
At this opportunity, Vincent thought it would be a good idea to get his things together. So he could leave first thing in the morning, before everyone woke up.
"...I'm gonna hate going back to Wutai tomorrow!" Yuffie was saying, her nose picking up the smell of Tifa's apple pie in the oven, almost ready to be devoured. "I won't be able to have any of Tifa's cooking..."
"Oh, Yuffie. We can always visit," Tifa assured her.
Tifa watched Barret at the corner of her eye as he carried his sleeping Marlene out of the room and down the hallway, much to the girl's silent protests of "I'm not tired yet" and "I want to eat Tifa's pie," to which he replied, "Don't worry, we'll save you a piece."
Yuffie glanced over at Cloud, who bent to pick up his bag, or 'crap,' as she called it, and then muttered, "Where the heck are you going, Strife?"
He raised his eyes to Yuffie, then over to Tifa, and back to the shinobi. "I... thought I'd get going."
"Without having Tifa's pie? You're worse than Valentine!" Yuffie accused. Vincent hadn't even emerged from his room to wish everyone a happy New Year. "I bet you a billion gil he's gonna come crawling back to the living room after he catches a whiff of Tif's pie... Barret too."
Tifa was ready to defend Vincent, as he'd poured drinks for everyone. At least he wasn't made of stone…
Cloud shrugged and scratched the back of his head. "Whatever." Ah, there was the Cloud everyone knew so well... Tifa could tell that Yuffie was ready to slap him upside the head.
Tifa approached him gingerly, her hands behind her back. "I can't even convince you to wait so I can cut you a piece for the road?" she coaxed.
He smiled at her. "Thanks, Tif, but I think I'll pass... Besides, I've bothered you enough already..."
Tifa threw up her arms in defeat and walked away, half-jokingly muttering, "Why does everyone think that they're such a huge opposition?"
"Goodnight, Tif," Cloud said as though he hadn't heard her. "Thanks for your time." And then he was gone.
Tifa bit her lip as she looked over her shoulder at the front door, not quite sure whether she should be angry or crestfallen at what just occurred, and then Yuffie came up out of nowhere and put an arm around her.
"Oh Tifa," Yuffie consoled without her usual loud voice this time. "You're such a sweetheart. Cloudie's just being a dumb-ass—look at him." She threw her hand up towards the window, where they could see his lean figure silhouetted by the street lights in the darkness. "He didn't even stop to glare at me, the jerk. He doesn't care. Personally, I thought he was being a lot nicer earlier..."
Tifa managed to laugh through her nose and made a weak smile, and then looked at Yuffie gratefully. "Thanks, Yuff... I think you're being a little harsh, but he's always been that way. So nonchalant. I wish I could pull off that pretense as easily."
"Yeah, you're pretty transparent," Yuffie easily agreed, her ebony eyes twinkling with amusement.
Tifa pursed her lips and her eyes blazed like fire, but behind that threatening expression was a smile dying to get out, and she burst into nervous laughter. "I'm gonna kick your ass, Yuffster." She put up her tensed fists to reinforce her point.
The shinobi put her hands on her hips, smiling broadly at her ability to push Tifa's buttons. "I've actually humbled myself enough to know that you can, Tif..."
The timer for the pie beeped just before Tifa could respond, and Yuffie's eyes nearly popped out of her head in her excitement. "Oh, finally!"
She made a mad dash for the kitchen, Tifa following closely behind. I hope she remembers to let it cool first, Tifa thought to herself, and reached for the pair of flower-patterned oven mitts.
Barret had soon returned too, and by the time they were finished, Tifa doubted there would be much pie left.
Vincent left his room around three o'clock, his feet making no sound as he crept across the dark hallway towards the lighter kitchen; Tifa probably left the light on just in case one of her guests needed a drink or something. He stepped across the tiles of the kitchen and instantly picked up the lingering scent of her pie. The pan still lay in the sink and the pie on the table, wrapped securely in a piece of cellophane. There were two plates and a pair of forks set on the table as well, though Vincent couldn't imagine eating anything at this hour, especially since he was surprised that there was any pie left anyway...
He drew back one of the chairs and seated himself down, careful not to make the wooden chairs screech on the tiles, and then began to finish up cleaning his guns.
Be serious, Valentine... There's another reason why you came here...
Unfortunately, he couldn't imagine what that reason might be, so he continued working, unperturbed by the thoughts creeping into his mind.
His concentration as of late had been interrupted often; not necessary by thoughts, but by physical beings. Tifa and the others. He didn't remember when this sudden change in his character occurred, this change that made him feel closer to them, making him vulnerable. He couldn't remember when he first let his guard down. By many people, he'd been told to let loose, and each time he'd refused to let that tension go, but now it seemed almost inevitable but to relax; Tifa and Marlene made it impossible to do otherwise.
A noise came from nearby, a heavy sigh. His hand stilled on the gun piece he'd been working on, and his eyes slid upward. With heightened senses, he waited for a moment as he tried to imagine where that sound came from--certainly not from his own lips. At once, he thought of intruders, but then recalled how safe the town had been recently and simply discarded the notion. He glanced across the room where he could see into the living room, though Yuffie the others were in their respectful beds in the guest rooms. Perhaps he expected to see Yuffie and Tifa sleeping on the couch, having passing out just after chattering endlessly, or even Barret, finishing up the paper or perhaps watching television.
He lowered his eyes to his work on the Death Penalty again, pretending that the sound simply came from another room, until he heard another sound. A soft voice, producing a song he'd heard recently but he couldn't put his finger on it.
Furrowing his brow, he carefully put his gun back together, his eyes inexorably sliding down to the tablecloth with growing suspicion.
Perhaps someone wasn't sleeping after all.
He placed the firearm on the table and then leaned back in his chair, awkwardly straightening so he could lift up the tablecloth with his claw and peer underneath the table.
Marlene sat cross-legged underneath the table, dressed in pale blue pajamas, her eyes glued to a book with a flashlight in her hand, illuminating her heart-shaped face.
He quirked an eyebrow at the peculiar sight—the girl could have been reading in her own room. Perhaps she was simply being creative. At some point, he intended to address that matter, but now he thought of asking her why she was awake at this hour.
"I'm concerned about your sleeping habits of late, Marlene," he informed her.
Alarmed at being discovered, she lifted terrified eyes up to meet his gaze, and closed the book in her hand quickly. "Vincent," she stammered.
He sighed and then pushed his chair back so he could kneel down underneath the table with her. Gently, he eased the book out of her grasp and spoke in his low monotone while he looked it over.
"And what are we reading...? Fairytales, Miss Wallace?" He thought it was fitting for a girl her age. He sent his crimson gaze to her face intently, but opted for a change of tone.
"Are you unable to sleep?" he asked gently.
She seemed to look a bit more at ease, probably when she realized he wasn't going to reprimand her and send her to bed instantly, as Barret or Tifa would have done. But she still appeared to feel guilty, and she lowered her eyes and her lower lip protruded out.
"I wanted to read... but I didn't want to miss anything... since everyone always sends me to bed earlier..."
"Everyone appears to be asleep now… You probably won't be… missing anything," he reasoned.
"Well, you're awake," she pointed out.
Since he couldn't really argue with her, he just patiently waited for her to continue.
"...I don't really go to sleep sometimes. I just stay in bed with my eyes open and listen to what everyone else is doing. I couldn't sleep tonight." She played with the flashlight, shining the light on the underside of the table. "...I thought that if I read out here someone would come out... and I could talk to someone..."
He didn't think a girl like her would be lonely, but apparently that was the case. He appreciated her honesty in the matter, but something else troubled him. "Have you talked with Barret about this?" he murmured.
She shrugged. "A little... I told him… that I don't like to play with the other girls. He says that I'm better than the other girls and that I don't have to worry if they don't like me or not..."
He gave a single nod of agreement. "You don't have to worry about what others think... and yes, you are probably better than the other girls your age..."
She smiled shyly at him and then averted her eyes again.
"Why don't you want to play with the other girls, Marlene?" he inquired after a moment.
She fell silent then, her eyes roaming the floor as though she'd find an answer there among the tiles.
"Why don't you?" he persisted gently, studying the floor as though he might discover the same thing as she. Truthfully, he thought he knew the answer to his question already.
"Because..." She stalled a bit, and then tilted her head to a side, bringing her eyes to the double-row of buttons on his black shirt. "...I prefer adults sometimes... I don't know why."
She was certainly more mature than most of the children her age; he knew that already. "You know that not all children are as immature as you think... don't you?"
"...Would it be fair of me to say that you're just shy then, Miss Wallace?" He hoped he hadn't offended her by the comeback of his address to her, since he still hadn't been able to break out of his own strange social habits yet.
She looked up at him in alarm, perhaps shocked or apprehensive that he figured her out so easily. And then she timidly regarded her book again. He imagined that she wanted it back, but he wasn't ready to give it up just yet.
He tilted his head to a side as he curiously watched her deal with her conflicted thoughts. He didn't think she was as shy as she used to be, but even someone as cheerful as Tifa had moments like these.
There I go, comparing her to Tifa again, he criticized himself.
There were a few more moments of silence, before she spoke to him again, the last subject forgotten. "Vincent…?"
"…Are you leaving tonight?"
His plan to leave tonight had wavered because of Tifa, but he would leave sometime before the sunrise, when most of the guests were asleep, to acquire the belated Christmas gifts for Marlene and Tifa. Already, he was despairing what he could get for Tifa that would possibly compare to all the wonderful things she gave him…
"I will leave before dawn," he informed her. She didn't need to know the rest.
"…Why don't you ever say good-bye to anyone? Don't you like us?"
He swallowed and forced himself not to look away from her round eyes, and chose to answer the easiest of her questions.
"Of course… You are all good people…"
She waited patiently. Apparently, he wouldn't be able to escape the other question.
He sighed and shifted his position, minding his head underneath the table. "It's not simple… but… I suppose you can say I'm…"
"…Are you shy too?" she interjected.
"In a different way, Miss Wallace," he answered slowly.
She crinkled her brow, uncomprehending.
"…I do not wish to… depress you with my thoughts," he said awkwardly. "I think it is a story for another day…" But I can't promise that I'll ever tell you…
Her face saddened a bit. "Well… Can you at least do me a favor?"
"Of course," he said with a nod, grateful for the switching gears. "What can I do for you?"
"…Would you have some pie with me?"
He was taken aback. It was a simple request, when he had expected something much worse, but he had reason to decline.
"…It's a bit late for pie, don't you think?" He raised an eyebrow at her, his lips twitching to suggest a smile, but Marlene wasn't watching him very closely and completely missed it.
"I don't think I'll be sleeping for awhile," she said, looking disappointed at his refusal.
He studied her face for a long time, and then conceded, "Very well, Miss Wallace… But I think only one piece… Your father wouldn't be pleased."
Completely disregarding his comment about her father, her smile returned after a long absence, and her eyes brightened at his ultimate acceptance. "Thank you, Vincent!" she whispered loudly, and then crawled gaily out from her hiding place, switching off her flashlight to greet the dimly lit kitchen.
Vincent released a heavy sigh and then glanced down at the book she'd been reading. Tucking it under his arm, he moved out from underneath the table to rise to his feet and place the book on the table with care.
He reached for his gun and set it aside, even though Marlene would probably pay no attention to it when she had pie to consume. Anyway, she was far too mature to pick up his gun anyway.
Marlene sat down before one of the table settings, a mischievous smile on her face. He wondered if she planned this from the beginning, table settings and all, counting on him to be awake at this hour. The same thought from before tugged at him: Did he deserve such company?
He sat down next to her, watching her boldly reach across the table to remove the cellophane and then cut a piece of apple pie. He raised an eyebrow as she plopped a large piece onto his plate, and then as she placed a much smaller portion into her own dish, breaking the piece in the process.
"Would you like something to drink?" he asked, a bit amused as she slid the remnants of the pie from the knife and then licked her fingers.
She shook her head.
What type of a young girl didn't drink milk or juice with her pie, he wondered? And then he berated himself—this was Marlene Wallace, not an ordinary young lady.
For the first few moments of eating, neither spoke a word, but they both thought the same thing, that Tifa's pie was worth dying for.
"So Vincent…" She was talking a little louder now, probably forgetting that there were others asleep. "…How long do you think you'll be gone?"
He stopped in mid-chew as the question startled him, but then continued when he thought up a good reason.
"For a long time, I imagine…"
"Tifa was saying that she was thinking of moving too… since Nibelheim has so many bad memories… maybe Kalm… or Wutai with Yuffie. I don't know…"
He furrowed his brow at this sudden change in topic, patiently waiting for her to carry on.
She took another bite and mumbled with her mouth full, "I hope she doesn't go… because… daddy and I… we were going to rent an apartment here so we could stay with her…" She swallowed and then poked at the pie in her plate with her fork. "…because she gets lonely, I think…"
He remained quiet, unsure of how exactly to approach this problem. He believed that Tifa accepted visitors because of her loneliness, but also because she was a good friend, and anyone who cared to look would surely notice the sadness behind her eyes. All the friends she'd lost, all the tears she'd shed… all the love she missed out on… with Cloud…
He lowered his head so his hair fell into his face and closed his eyes. He knew all too well about such a tragic story of unrequited love. Why Cloud chose some 'spunky' red-head over Tifa would remain a mystery to Vincent. Perhaps Cloud felt unworthy, or maybe he just didn't love her because when they met they were younger, and their affection could never grow because inconsistency in youth…
Why was he thinking about this? It shouldn't have mattered to him. After tonight, he wouldn't see Tifa or the others anymore, he hoped. Except for belated Christmas gifts for Marlene and Tifa, which he would drop off in a clandestine manner, there would be no more reunions. He would go live in the Icicle Area or perhaps make multiple homes for himself elsewhere. He would travel and attempt to live again, but he didn't think he could remain composed if he stayed with the others. Too many memories would awaken unwanted emotions. He'd let himself slip too much already. After the holiday season, there would be no more of this. They didn't need his company anyway...
He and Marlene finished eating in silence, but once she was done and looked at him with such a sad look in her eyes, he felt compelled to ask, "What's the matter?"
She frowned. "Well…"
He waited patiently.
"…Are you going to isolate yourself for the rest of your life?" she asked softly.
"What?" he asked icily.
"…Never mind…" She grimaced, probably disappointedly.
Quiet, again, as the room went several degrees cooler. He should've known this would be a problem, to sit down next to the girl with pie and expect no conversation. Was he that brainless? Now, he felt guilty for hurting Marlene with the unexpected comeback of his insensitive demeanor. Perhaps he was better off not talking at all, the way he used to be before this. But his life had changed drastically ever since Cloud came to the crypt to awaken him, and ever since he met Tifa and the others, so could he really control how his behavior was now?
"…I'll… return you to your room, then," he said after a few minutes. A glance at the clock told him that it was only a few hours before dawn. He needed to get going.
The shy girl nodded in compliance and then dutifully brought her empty plate to the sink.
He was grateful, although surprised at her easily concession. It was his fault for changing the atmosphere. Being the coldest bastard on the planet, he wouldn't apologize no matter how much he wanted to, but instead consider ways to punish himself, and leave her in the dark. He didn't mean to, but he simply could find no other way to stop this…
He walked her to her room and knelt down beside her bed as she crawled underneath the covers. She didn't even look at him, but turned on her side and murmured, "Goodnight, Vincent…"
He swallowed hard and lowered his eyes guiltily. "Sweet dreams, Miss Wallace…"
He clenched his jaw and rose to his feet, willing himself not to look upon her again; else he'd surely find a reason to apologize for his erratic behavior.
He would return to the kitchen, clean up the dishes and do anything else he could for Tifa, before he'd remove all trace of his presence from her house and excuse himself.
They wouldn't see him the next day when he brought gifts to her house, before leaving for good.
But he didn't even reach the door.
He turned towards the girl again, irritated that he hadn't escaped in time, but not exactly upset with Marlene. "Yes?" he responded lowly. He half-expected her to ask him to read her a bedtime story, as it was not too far-fetched from eating pie after midnight.
"…What does 'unrequited love' mean?"
He swallowed hard as he stood in the doorway. He was hardly able to conjure an appropriate answer even though he knew very well of the phrase's definition and all the pain it carried. But how could Marlene possibly know this…?
Why was he acting as though she was trying to torment him on purpose? Marlene would never do such a thing.
"From where did you hear that phrase?" he returned.
She shrugged and turned onto her back so she could stare up at the ceiling, bending an arm behind her head as a second pillow. "I heard Yuffie muttering about it… about Tifa… I think… and I've been thinking about it… and there's no dictionary in the house, so…"
He almost smiled at her explanation, and he approached her hesitantly as he tried to figure out the best way to explain it without bringing back too many painful memories. That, of course, was a laughable way to approach this simple problem.
This isn't a problem; you're implying one where there isn't any. Just answer the question, Valentine...
He knelt down beside her bed and draped his claw across his knee, looking down at the girl calmly. "Unrequited love… is when a person loves someone who does not return those same feelings…"
Her face suddenly grew sober with realization, and he watched with dismay as a deep crease appeared on her forehead. "Oh…"
"…Is that all you wanted to know?"
"Yeah," she said thoughtfully. "Thanks, Vincent." She smiled weakly at him and then he gave her a single nod in reply before rising to his feet again.
Ah, it wasn't as bad as he expected it to be, or so he thought.
"Have you ever loved someone who didn't love you back, Vincent?" she asked as he made his way towards the door.
He nodded slowly as he crossed the threshold and glanced over his shoulder at her. "A long time ago, Miss Wallace…"
"Oh… Was she pretty?"
He stopped suddenly. "She was the most beautiful woman I had ever known," he informed her truthfully. But beauty, of course, was not the only reason he was drawn to her at the time.
"…I bet Tifa's prettier," Marlene said softly, and as he silently walked away from her, he couldn't find any fault in her judgement.