A/N: Here it is, readers, the very first author's note of the fic and the very last chapter of A Fine Line. This was my first completed story that ended up over fifty thousand words, and I want to thank all of you for following along and bringing in other readers. I'm quite proud of this and the attention it received, and I'm glad that anyone at all took the time to read it.
- - - - - - - - - -
"Jeez, Vinnie, you sure do cry over me a lot lately."
Vincent jerked upright at the sound of that very familiar voice. He stared, eyes wide and unblinking, at the form of one Yuffie Kisaragi, Single White Rose of Wutai.
In that moment, she was the most beautiful thing he had seen in a long while.
"Yuffie," he choked around the thickness in his throat.
She rolled her eyes at him. "Oh, get up, you idiot." With a derisive look on her face, she kicked the dead body that looked exactly like her. "That is not me.But woo, you sure did a number on it. Note to self: do not try to kick Vinnie's ass ever again."
Vincent couldn't do anything but stare hopelessly at her. He had come all this way to rescue her, to take her soul back, all at great personal tragedy and wounding, and then he had had to kill her. He thought he was completely broken then. Everything he had come there for was gone, and what purpose was there to even go on now that he had killed the very thing he had set out to protect? But there she was, standing right there in the flesh, acting as though she wasn't dead, acting as though they weren't in Hell…
Acting exactly like Yuffie Kisaragi would act if she found out she were dead.
"It's you." He immediately felt as stupid as that had sounded. She knew it too, because she grinned unabashedly at him.
"So I'm dead, and you, for all intents and purposes, are dead, and you came all the way to the deepest reaches of Hell to get me and all you can say is 'it's you'? Well, my reply to that is 'no, duh, Vinnie.'"
She stuck a hand in his face, and he took it, allowing her to help him to his feet. He brushed himself off, wondering what to do next. Every other answer had come to him so easily, but that might have been because he had had no choice but to participate in whatever had been thrown at him.
He stared at her dead 'body.' "What…why did I have to…I don't understand…"
She scratched her head. "Well, you're supposed to figure that out for yourself, I think, but I guess it's because you have to learn to let go of people eventually. Jeez, Vince, you've got skeletons havin' parties in your closets."
He just stared at her.
She raised her hands placatingly. "Come on, you gotta admit that the irony here is huge. Like whoa huge. You've got to break yourself to get to me. It can't all be daisies and ice cream, Vinnie. It's Hell for God's sake—wait, I made a funny." She giggled at her own joke, and he sighed.
Yuffie cocked her head at him. "Do you wanna get out of here or what? 'Cause you've still got another task to go, ya know, and we're both stuck here until you finish it."
He arched a brow. "I wasn't aware that there was anything else I was required to do."
The familiar stance: hands on hips, one shoulder higher than the other, weight improperly balanced. "Well, see, that's the problem. I'm not sure you're gonna like it all that much." She pushed a hand through her hair, tousling it.
"I'm positive that whatever you can tell me won't be any worse than…that." He flicked his gaze briefly to the dead body of Yuffie's double.
She looked away from him. "Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you. In exchange for my soul, you have to…sort of…give up your immortality."
His eyes widened and his eyebrows shot almost to his hairline. She nodded, something like resignation flickering in her eyes. "Yeah, that's what I thought. You can go on home, Vinnie. You did try, and that's what matters most, you know. I guess I'll be seeing you—or actually," here, a harsh laugh, "I won't be seeing you."
She turned away from him then, and began to walk in the other direction. In a few short moments, several things went through his head.
How much had he given up to get this far? Sweat, blood, tears, and pain were what accompanied every footstep he had taken into the abyss, and it had taken everything he had in him to get even that far. Finally, he found what he was so desperately searching for, and now he was being asked to give up one more piece of himself, something else that belonged to him for this void.
Had he still not given enough of himself? He had teetered on the brink of insanity through the whole process of being there, with every memory of everything he had ever done and every sin he had committed biting his ankles the whole time, and still it was not enough?
Yuffie was right there, what he had been groping blindly in the dark for, the whole purpose he was there in the first place, just out of his reach. He only needed to give one more thing. But he found that even that one thing was difficult to give. His immortality?
He had cursed it so many times in his life. It was something that had been given to him by Hojo, which made it bad. But what made it worse was that he would never be able to escape himself, his sins, every one of his crimes with the sweet release of death. He would have to live forever, watching everything around him he cherished die and watching everything he touched wither. The more he thought about, the more he realized he didn't want it.
He was there, she was there, and he only needed to give one more thing. If that was what it took, then so be it. No one could say he hadn't done everything.
"Yuffie." She stopped, turned around, and looked at him. Not a single emotion was betrayed on her face. She waited on him, impassive.
Something flitted across her face then, but before he could read into it, a light flashed so bright that it blinded him momentarily. It narrowed to a small beacon, the size of his fist, centering straight over where his heart was. From there, it seeped outwards, drenching his form in that glowing white light. A pleasant warmth settled over him, tingling throughout his whole body.
He supposed it was to prepare him for the decidedly unpleasant wrenching sensation that came over him directly after that. It felt like two different things had taken hold of him on each side and were pulling hard. Another sharp tug, and it felt as though something had come away from him, leaving an aching, empty hole where the something should have been. He fell to his knees, clutching at his chest, where it hurt the most, surprised to find that there was no blood or any type of wound. He looked exactly the same as he had before, intact, just in pain.
He breathed deeply, feeling the hot ache slowly ebb away, and looked up to see Yuffie gazing thoughtfully at him.
He blinked slowly and got to his feet, never taking his eyes off of her. She reached out her hand, solemn for once in her…well…not life, but…oh, hell, Vincent was done thinking at all. It was just too confusing.
He took the offered hand and everything went dark.
- - - - - - - - - -
"Goddammit, Valentine, breathe!"
Vincent's eyes shot open and he coughed, his throat burning horribly as he hacked up countless amounts of water. Someone pushed him to a sitting position and patted him on the back, helping him remove the water from his system. He panted a bit, regaining his breath, and was surprised to find that he was shivering heavily.
"Off with the cloak, Vincent, before you get hypothermia." That was Tifa. Deft hands knocked his fumbling, quaking ones out of the way and unclasped his cloak and tossed it to the side. A blanket, warm and soft was draped over him after that, and he settled into it gratefully.
Something tickled at the far reaches of his mind, niggling insistently. It eluded him briefly, but once he caught it, it smacked him straight in the face.
"Yuffie," he gasped, his eyes darting around wildly. Cloud was sitting on the ground with a bundle in his arms, clutched close to his chest. A hand landed on Vincent's shoulder and he looked up at Barret.
"Strife's got 'er, Valentine." There was a warm smile on his face, coated in approval.
Cid was on his other side, kneeling. "Ya did good, Vince. She's alive."
Red XIII spoke up from next to Cloud. "Now is the time for you to rest."
It registered that they were on the shore of the lake in the Lost City. The spires of the giant conch shell jutted into the sky a short ways away. The trees around them were luminous in the lack of light, and he realized that it was nighttime.
"How are we getting out of here?" he rasped. All the water vacating his body via his esophagus hadn't been exactly kind to his throat.
"Well, Cid's got the Shera here so we'll airlift you out of here."
"Is anyone going to tell me what happened?"
"We'll give you the rundown after you've rested a bit," replied Reeve. "I don't know what all happened down there, but you look like straight hell."
The statement struck a particular chord in his brain, and Vincent let out an odd sort of giggle. And then another. Soon, his head was thrown back and he was laughing, deep and loud and fulfilling, straight from his gut.
They all just stared at him, which made him laugh even harder.
- - - - - - - - - -
Vincent found himself laying in a cot in the hospital wing of the Shera. He hadn't let Yuffie out of his sight once since he had been wakened from death, and he refused to rest, despite the dark circles under his eyes.
It was unfortunate that he had chosen not to rest, however, because Tifa chose that time to be confusing. He had had just about enough of confusing things, but she was a woman, and he often found that women didn't give a shit about what you had had enough of.
She entered the hospital wing, her wine-colored eyes alighting on Vincent, who was gazing once more at the sleeping Yuffie. She sat on the foot of his bed, avoiding the lumps where his feet were.
"Vincent, do you have any idea how Yuffie came from the lake? I thought you hid her body…"
He looked up, resting his eyes on her. "I did hide her body. I put it in my coffin in Shinra mansion."
She frowned. "Odd. Well, this whole ordeal has been more than odd, but we'll have to check the mansion and see what's become of the body."
He nodded. "I expect it won't be there, but it would be a good idea to make sure nothing has happened to it."
"Vincent, there's…" Tifa hesitated, plucking at the wrinkles in the sheets. "There's something else I wanted to ask you."
"Well, I…" Her eyes flickered from his face to everything else in the room and back to his face again. "Do you love her?" she blurted, gazing intently at him.
The air left him suddenly and he felt faint. That was not what he had expected. Actually, he didn't know what he had expected, but it hadn't been that. His jaw worked, up and down, opening and closing, for a few tense moments before he could bring himself to reply.
"I…no, Yuffie and I are…no, I do not love Yuffie. We are merely friends. I would have done it for any of you."
Tifa frowned at him. "You would have? I don't think so, Vincent. I've never seen someone do what you've done for her with the kind of…of…devotion you put into this task. Even before she died, you were there with her almost every waking moment that you were allowed."
He swallowed, finding that his throat was very dry. "Love and devotion are two separate things, Tifa."
"There's a very fine line between love and devotion, Vincent. You've crossed it. You're playing jump rope with it, as far as I can see."
Something about the statement bounced around in his head and it hit him.
"On the contrary, Vincent. I think there's a very fine line between devotion and love…"
Hojo had said the very same thing to him, all those ages ago. He felt very tired, all of a sudden.
"Tifa, if you will excuse me, I need rest." She knew when she was dismissed and rose to leave, giving him one last, long look. "That's fine, Vincent, but think about what I said."
Vincent laid his head back on his pillows and tried to sleep, but found he couldn't with Tifa's thoughts running around his mind.
"There's a very fine line between love and devotion, Vincent."
The man he once hated with every fiber of his being had said the same thing to him. The man he had once considered his greatest foe, and the man who created the hatred in him that consumed his soul with a burning, raging fire.
But now, something else was burning at him, something bright and warm and soft. It was a fire, true, but it was soothing. He couldn't put his finger on it until he glanced into the cot next to his, taking in the sight of Yuffie's sleeping face. It flared then, tickling his senses and making him blink confusedly.
"Sometimes you gotta look to see what's right in front of you."
He was looking now, and he saw something he'd never thought he could see again, after Lucrecia.
"There's a very fine line between love and devotion, Vincent."
The one man he had hated more than anything in the world had been absolutely, insanely, blindingly correct. There was a fine line between love and devotion, and Vincent found that he was practically stomping on it as emotion swept over him and crashed like a tidal wave.
He figured something climactic and momentous was supposed to happen then, but he was too tired to even deal with this new revelation. He promptly went to sleep.
- - - - - - - - - -
He woke to silence. The cot next to his was empty, the blankets rumpled. Panic filled him, and he jumped out of bed, running unsteadily to the door in his blind haste, but he didn't get so much as five feet down the hall before he smacked straight into Barret.
"Whoa, hold on there, Valentine. Where's the fire?"
Vincent attempted to push past Barret, but the large black man had a firm grip on Vincent's shoulders, and even though Vincent was a good bit more than six feet tall, Barret beat him in height and bulk. He stopped struggling for the moment.
An odd, crooked grin lit up Barret's face, and his hold on Vincent loosened just a little bit. "It's coo', man. Calm the hell down. You think we'd let somethin' happen to her after all you did? She's on the bridge with the rest of 'em. I was comin' to wake you up."
He let Vincent go completely then, and Vincent looked somewhere past his left ear, slightly embarrassed at the state in which Barret had caught him. "Thank you, Barret."
Vincent brushed past the larger man, hearing the heavy footsteps as he followed. When he opened the door to the bridge, he caught sight of Rocket Town not too far from the ship. They had landed, then, which was probably good, if Yuffie's airsickness was to be taken into account. He barely had time to register this before he was accosted by a lot of hugging and smiles and affectionate claps on the shoulder. When AVALANCHE had had their fill of dumping praise on him, they parted, leaving him to stare at Yuffie as if she were the rarest treasure in the world.
She smiled cheekily at him, striding up and tapping him on the cheek. "Jeez, Vinnie, if you stared any harder I might melt. Get a grip on yourself, you freak." The ninja looked at everyone around her. "Hey, you guys better have been taking care of my Wutai. And who's ruling right now? Please tell me you left it to someone intelligent, like Staniv. If Shake gets his hands on it, the place is likely to be in flames by now."
Laughter rose from all sides, and Vincent smiled slightly. After that, there were many questions and answers over food. Vincent told them about what had happened in his trip to the afterlife—leaving out the more personal bits—and got the "rundown" on what had happened after he had taken his plunge into the lake in the City of Ancients.
It turned out that the "rundown" had gone something like this:
Vincent had traveled to the City of Ancients, and Reeve had hopped into his private helicopter and followed after him. He got to the lake where he knew Vincent was going and saw no sign of him, but noticed the footprints in the muddy lake's edge. Frantic, he had called Cloud, shouted something about saving Vincent and to bring the Shera and hung up. It turned out that Cid and the whole of AVALANCHE was already in the airship, on their way to help. Reeve had shed his business coat, kicked off his shoes and dove straight into the water.
He had to resurface for air a total of three times before he went down again and found Vincent tangled in weeds in the bottom of the lake. He had worked frantically at untangling the gunslinger while trying not to get tangled himself. He had had to come back up for air two more times before he fully freed Vincent's body and tugged it to the surface with him.
Reeve had been a lifeguard at Costa Del Sol for about five years of his younger life, so he attempted again and again to get Vincent to breathe, to show some sign of life.
In the meantime, the Shera had touched down a little farther away. Cloud and co. rushed onto the scene of Reeve trying to revive Vincent, panicked and pale. Nanaki dashed back to the airship and got blankets, but while he was gone, the lake had started bubbling. Soon it had worked itself up into a giant foam, steaming and churning. Reeve didn't pause in his attempts on Vincent, but the others were amazed, watching the water.
It finally calmed, but there was something bobbing on the surface of the lake. Cloud had jumped in to retrieve it after seeing what it was and getting over the initial shock. He had paddled back pulling an unconscious but definitely breathing Yuffie Kisaragi, to all their relief. But Vincent was still not breathing, and Reeve was doing his best.
Cid, in a fit of desperation, had suddenly raised his fist and pounded Vincent on the chest, yelling "Goddammit, Valentine, breathe!" Vincent had started to cough then. The jolt to his body and jumpstarted his heart and ejected some of the water from his lungs. That was when he woke up and processed the scene around him.
Everyone was amazed at Vincent's side of the story, and his part took considerably longer to get out due to all the interruptions with questions. Yuffie inexplicably knew about everything he had done, but then again, Hojo had too when Vincent confronted him. It must have had something to do with being dead. When questioned about what happened when she died, Yuffie told them all with a frustrated frown that she couldn't remember anything before Vincent's arrival except a very content, warm feeling.
The stories and the heartfelt reunion went on for hours. Tifa cried on an embarrassed Yuffie and Reeve also looked decidedly teary. Red XIII didn't leave his place at Yuffie's side the whole time, allowing her to twine her hand in his mane—something he usually asked her not to do, as it made him feel much more like an animal than he wished.
Eventually, it got late, and everyone retired to their separate bunks on the ship. Vincent found that he couldn't fall asleep after all the time he had spent sleeping before, so he returned to the bridge, intending to gaze out the windows until he was tired enough to rest.
He found when he got there, however, that his usual place at the windows was being occupied. He was surprised to see that it was Yuffie who was gazing at the lights of Rocket Town from her spot, and he joined her after a moment's hesitation at the window.
His epiphany from earlier that day was threatening to overtake him, biting and scratching around in his head. After several very long minutes of silence, the air was so thick with tension that Vincent couldn't take it any longer. He whipped around to face her, and even though he knew she had to have seen his movement out of the corner of her eye, she still did not acknowledge him. The moonlight played around her face, making it seem paler than it was, and making her eyes large and luminous in the dim light.
"Yuffie…" He was trying to make his voice stop trembling. Vincent Valentine's voice did not tremble. He sounded pathetic.
This time, she did look at him, waiting patiently for whatever it was he had to say, as usual.
"I love you."
He almost stumbled over the words, they were so taboo to his senses. For a few more long moments, she didn't say anything, just looked at him. He couldn't read anything in the shadows on her face, and nervous tension thickened his throat. Why was he nervous? This was very new to him.
Then, the corner of her mouth quirked upward. "…I know."
Vincent was dumbfounded. He worked his mouth, trying to form a coherent sentence, some kind of reply to that. Nothing came to mind.
Dark amusement flickered over her features. "Close your mouth, Vincent. Your face might get stuck that way, and I like your face way too much to let that happen."
"Because I'm awesome. Because I'm a woman. Because I'm Yuffie. Because I'm so much cooler than you. Because I'm not an idiot, and what else am I supposed to think when you go through Hell and back again to get my eternal soul back from the dead? Goddamn, Vinnie, you never could let go. Even after you killed me yourself,you couldn't let go, and I thought that was a bad thing, but now all I can do is thank you for it, you big fat idiot."
He stared at her, still stunned.
She laughed. "Men are idiots. You still don't get it, do you?"
He shook his head slightly, flummoxed. "What do you mean?"
"You really are stupid sometimes, do you realize that? I've been in love with you since the day I first saw you. Do you realize the kind of shit you put me through all these years?"
Vincent's eyes widened; he still couldn't seem to bring his brain together to say anything even halfway intelligent, which probably explained why he even asked his next question. "You never told me. Why?"
Anger flashed in her stormy gray eyes. "Because you were so caught up in the memory of a dead woman for so long that I thought I'd never have a chance. Honestly, Vincent, would you ever have considered what I had to say if I had told you then? No, you wouldn't have. Then, after the whole Deepground fiasco, I thought maybe I had a chance, but even then I knew you didn't see me as anything more than a nuisance. So I kept my mouth shut, for both our sakes."
"I'm sorry, Yuffie," he said, looking away then.
"Damn right. You're a sorry son of a bitch sometimes, Vincent Valentine, but if I could put up with you for this long and still be in love with you, then I guess we're stuck with it."
"You mean…you still…" He tripped over his own hope.
Yuffie laughed softly then. "What? Want you? Not even death could have changed what I feel for you, you fathead."
"…oh." Vincent didn't think he had ever felt so undignified or moronic in his life.
She rolled her eyes. "Looks like I'm going to have to tell you what to do next too, huh?"
He blinked at her. She threw her hands into the air, exasperated, and took the three steps to close the distance between them. With a quick hand, she yanked him down by the collar and slammed his mouth to hers in the most awkward, fumbling kiss he had ever experienced.
It was the sweetest thing he had ever known.
She tasted alive, warm, and she burned him with her boundless, crackling energy, setting him aflame with it. He lost himself in her, letting go of everything he had never realized he had been holding in before, drowning in that release.
She pulled back first, and he opened his eyes slowly, reluctant to let go of the moment. She was observing him calculatingly, and he was caught off guard by that kind of look on her face. It was unfamiliar on her features. She broke into a smile at his startled look, and he could swear that smile was the second most beautiful thing he had seen in a long while.
Yuffie rolled her eyes, huffing at him. "Just shut up and kiss me again, Vinnie."
Vincent Valentine was human
It was the first time in thirty years.