Author's Beginning Note Thingy: So any of you who stuck through this... thanks a whole lot. I think I lost some people when I killed Tifa... XD I realize this isn't your usual Yuffentine or Tifentine, and these aren't the pairing I usually write either. So if you made it to the morbid end, props to you, and hope you enjoy.

xxx

Dully, Tifa's glazed eyes seemed to twitch... perhaps it was just death-throes, the last of her life leaving her body as it entered Vincent's, but perhaps not... She was definitely watching something.

All this was barely comprehended by a pain-wracked, grief-stricken, guilt-ridden mind. Vincent lay on the floor; he'd fallen off the couch in shock, and was now motionless on the ground, watching her watching him. The lightest of his curiosities wondered what she saw, this last vision upon death...

Beneath the tumultuous, watery-black surface of the demon's flesh, the smooth heart smoldered with a sulfuric yellow pallor. It looked sickly and corrupted... but only because of what lay around it. At once a piercing ray of light, like an arrow, burst out, burning the shadow away...

The demon form around him, mirrored in Tifa's clouding eyes, grew less and less distinct. Little feathers and leaves of dark went wafting off of his body, bit by bit to swirl around. Where once there had been horns and claws, now in no time was a shapeless blob, and not long after that there was no other black than the natural shadows of the room.

With an extended hiss, or perhaps it was the sound of rushing wings, it all disappeared, the beast becoming encapsulated within him, and on the outside was only Vincent. The last of the light died, and contentment settled on Tifa's face before it froze like that, completely still.

Breathing felt strange... like each inhalation was stretching him out, like he'd spent too long packed away in a tiny little box, and needed to be set out in the open air again. Something was thumping wildly in his chest, an equally odd sensation from a part of him that had so long been out of use.

Vincent would never forget, could never forget the feeling... the glowing yellow ball's acidic aura burning into him, moving aside the matter that was in the way, boring a hole deep into his chest, settling itself there, and taking up root. Running new arteries out from its plastic boundary to reconnect with his old, shriveled, neglected ones. For a while he was stricken immobile and silent with pain, his extremities tingling with new feeling, a sharpened edge on the world.

The still that followed as the burning ebbed away was horrific. Vincent was so used to hearing the ambient sounds of other people... light footsteps, a shifting of clothing against itself, breaths, heartbeats. He knew how to hear them over his own, and now... there was nothing but his own sighs, his own pounding chest, and his own mind, completely clear. No more clouded judgment, no more swayed desires or skewed outlooks. No more demons pushing him this way and that, just him and the stillness.

Slowly, achingly, the gunman sat up on the floor, putting a hand over an eye. Raising it up, he saw the reflection of fiery orange on flesh, still. So it seemed that some damage was irreparable...

He glanced over at Tifa's unmoving body, and looked down at the ground with the sensation of needles in his eyes. Yes... irreparable. A part of him was lost... never to be found or replaced. Two parts, in fact, one lay just behind him, the other in the room down the hall. Vincent was swimming in all the blood on his hands. His mind bashed on the top of the inside of his skull, screaming to get out of the quickly-flooding deathtrap it was in, wanting to be free of this cursed body.

The blissfully new heart that beat in his chest had an infant's naivety on the world, and each of its sorrows (and he expected its joys, too) came with the swiftness and severity of a knifestrike. He supposed this was just a punishment for living in a dull-edged illusion for so long. But now that womblike exterior had been stripped away from him, and at the cost of two loved-ones' lives.

Vincent found himself alone, and realized only then what that was really like. Deafened by the silence, there was no-one... not an enemy, not a friend, or a lover, or a demon, just he and the night, with a stillness so great that the very air seemed solid, a breath impossible to take.

With a swish of his cloak rippling the fluid air, it's subtle sound like the crack of a whip to the noiseless peace he'd just smashed, Vincent turned and walked out, like a puppet pulled by its strings. There was grief simmering in his soul, and guilt, and longing, and horrible, horrible sin. So much of it, it made his skin feel hollow, made it seem like the amazing, overwhelming pressure of the outside world he was about to face would just fall in on him and crush him into nothing.

He hadn't fathomed of time ever moving on after that moment when Tifa died... and yet it had, and it was, and he was caught in the current of it, for the first time in forever.

Vincent Valentine stared with broken eyes at the winding road that led out of Edge. A gory, grim past was behind him, and as he took the first step, he felt a crack, and a thunk, and an even larger part of who he was just fell away, and shattered in the dust. And it seemed like he didn't even remember the past few weeks... if only because he didn't want to.

A young little heart was dancing enthusiastically in his chest, and it was calling out for someone... someone... Tifa's heart was calling for someone, and Vincent had no choice and no desire to do anything other than what it said.

A slow complacence settled over his troubled face, and the steps came quicker now: one foot after the other. The road led to Cosmo Canyon, perhaps the end of his searching waited there.

xxx

Author's Ending Note Thingy: Not how I originally intended to end this. Do I sense a wee little bit of hope in the last line? Naw... must just be me... XD Reading into things too much. A sequel is on it's way... it'll get here eventually. It'll take a while. I'm gonna say right here and now... the main characters of the sequel are Vincent and Cloud. I don't intend for there to be any romance, but I am a hardcore Vincent/Cloud fangirl, so I really can't promise anything. If that squicks you, oh well, hope you at least liked this fic, it'll probably at least get some attention from the other Strifentiners. Thanks for reading!