Edge's streets lay empty, the moonlight illuminating the streets softly with a passive, ethereal sheen, barely penetrating the thick, black clouds that shrouded the tranquility of night. Rain, slick, shining, fell heavily from these clouds, each droplet of water shattering into shards of crystal as it impacted upon the floor, shimmering fragments of perfection skittering and splintering with every raindrop.
But not all of Edge's inhabitants were asleep.
Atop the spire of a church, high, high above the city streets, a lone figure stood motionless, gazing up at the full moon impassively, his long, tattered crimson cloak playing out behind him like tendrils from a disturbed wraith, his long dark hair flowing over his shoulders and fluttering with the wind, playing around the pale skin of his neck and face. Crimson eyes maintained a steady gaze at the silvery orb in the sky from beneath a dark red bandanna, unflickering and steady, so contrasting to the pale, smooth skin around it. Crimson… oh, so crimson…
Vincent Valentine's eyes were as crimson as his sins.
Motionless he stood, heedless of the precipitation and wind that plucked at his slim, muscular form, velvet cloak billowing around him, his arms dormant at his sides, lost in thought as the world raged around him, seeking to shroud him in a torrent of rage and despair, dancing a never-ending dance of lightning, sorrow, and tears.
Vincent Valentine did not care. He had been dancing that macabre dance for longer than he could remember.
The eyes slowly closed, and opened again, revealing those haunting, crimson orbs that betrayed so little, and yet so much, self-loathing, pain, and memories seething, barely contained.
I'm so… I'm so sorry…
Vincent closed his eyes again, bowing his head at the soft, gentle voice that he had tried so hard to forget flow through his mind.
But of course, he couldn't forget. Because that was the greatest of all his sins. Because he loved her.
Love wasn't an emotion that came easily to a broken, shattered soul like Vincent. His heart, or what remained of it, had already been through the fires and agonies of the bitterness life had to offer. Now, Vincent Valentine hid his heart away from the world, hid his mind, his soul. Hid his memories.
His memories of her.
Still he could picture her. Still he could remember the softness of her voice, the frailness of her slim, beautiful face and body, the lovely brown eyes that he had instantly fallen in love with. Still he could remember the desire to simply wrap his arms around her and kiss her sweet, soft lips. But he had not been what she wanted. No, once again irony had played its fickle hand upon his life, denying him the one thing that he had ever truly wanted. It had been… unbearable, that the most beautiful person he had ever seen in his life could never be his.
She had chosen someone else. She had chosen him.
Vincent no longer held any anger or bitterness that was directed at Lucrecia because of her choice. He had known that he could never have given Lucrecia what she wanted, needed. He knew he would never be enough.
And yet he had loved her.
And he had let her die.
Vincent didn't move, allowing the rain to beat against his bowed head, hiding his pale, haunted face from the night, lost in his memories as the wind swirled around him, lightning flashing and screaming through the skies.
He had not been enough in life. And yet he remained in eternal, self-chosen thralldom to her memory, even in the tangible, shadowy embrace of death. Vincent Valentine had forsaken any denial at his own death long ago. Now, he existed only to atone for his sins, to walk the never-ending road of repentance with the slightest glimmer of hope for forgiveness at the end of that road, wherever it may be.
Startled, the shadowy gunslinger raised his head to the skies once more.
"Lucrecia...?" he spoke softly, his lips savouring the feel of the sweet, beautiful name.
I'm so sorry… Vincent shook his head slowly, droplets of rainwater gently falling from his onyx hair.
"No, Lucrecia… it should be I who apologizes… not you."
You have nothing to apologize for, Vincent.
Was this… a dream? He had not heard her voice in... so long… It tempted him, tortured him… healed him… "Lucrecia…"
Why are you doing this to yourself..?
The Gunslinger looked at the moon.
"Someone once asked me… whether sins could be forgiven. In my experience… they cannot."
You have never tried, Vincent. You've been loathing yourself for so long now… isn't it time you finally forgot?
Vincent shook his head slowly. "My sins make me who I am. I could never forget what I have done… what I failed to do."
He could hear her laughter, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.
Oh, Vincent… do you remember..? Our special place? Under that tree?
He closed his eyes as the bittersweet pain of memories he had hidden away began to surface. "Lucrecia, please…"
Your hair used to be so much shorter…
The Gunslinger sighed.
"My hair suits me fine, thank you."
I like your phone. He laughed softly, a sound that was almost drowned out by the wind's shrill song. What's so funny?
"Nothing," he said dryly.
You're still a terrible liar, you know. More sweet, soft laughter.
"To you, perhaps. I just… can't persuade myself that this is nothing but a dream."
Do you want it to be? He could just imagine her tilting her head sideways with that familiar look in her eyes whenever she asked him a question.
"I would be lying if I said I did."
"Hmm..?" he looked up again.
Do you remember..? How we met..? He didn't answer.
How could he have forgotten? Her eyes… so innocent, so radiant…
"Yes…" he whispered softly, "I remember."
The Gunslinger closed his eyes as the memories that he had tried so hard to lock away came flooding back.
He hated laboratories. So haunting were the noises of the cryo-tubes, so eerie were the glow of the multiple screens that barely illuminated the gloom of the chamber. Musty tomes and grimoires filled the shelves from floor to ceiling, containing knowledge in both languages still used and languages long lost with the vicissitudes of fate and time. Vincent Valentine's perpetual frown remained upon his face as he approached the female scientist whom had her back to him, mood darkening due to the distastefulness of his surroundings.
Nevertheless, he was a Turk, and he had a job to do.
He halted just before the female, who had not yet noticed his presence due to the silent, swift precision of his well-placed footsteps. Vincent had learnt how to weigh his footfalls perfectly a long time ago, and thus was able to move silently without any major effort.
"Vincent Valentine reporting for duty ma'am. I have been assigned your protection." Vincent vaguely wondered what sort of a person his charge was likely to be. Was she one of those vaguely-aware scientists, the type who was so lost in her own world of formulae and theorems that she barely retained her sanity? He hoped not. Vincent Valentine was not a person who desired company very much, be it intelligent or not.
The woman turned to face him, startled at the nearness of his presence that she had failed to notice, and Vincent was instantly stunned.
Before him stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life.
Long, flowing hair coursed down from where a lovely yellow ribbon had bound it up, cascading in a waterfall of honey-brown behind her shoulders and down her back stray strands falling softly past her nose and ending halfway down her face. Soft, gentle hazel eyes that positively shone with innocence met his from beneath that magnificent veil of hair, which in turn revealed a face with skin that was pale and smooth. She wore a long white lab coat, and beneath a unique blue blouse that matched her silky skirt perfectly, also emphasizing the glittering silver pendant that hung just below her neck. Her body was perfect, not overly curvaceous or unformed, and unlike many Shinra employees, her face was not over-lavished with eye shadow, mascara, or any other form of cosmetic.
Vincent Valentine had never believed in angels, but now, he was convinced that he stood before one.
The honey-brown eyes met his in puzzlement, and he mentally berated himself, pushing all of his previous thoughts and wonder to the back of his mind. He was a Turk, and could not afford to lose focus of his priorities.
Soft, full lips slowly opened in a gasp as the woman returned Vincent's gaze. Confused, the Turk automatically frowned. "Huh..?"
The woman turned away and spoke softly, in a hushed tone, seemingly speaking to herself. Vincent's eyebrows shot up so high they almost disappeared under his onyx fringe.
"Why would they send his..?"
Vincent frowned again. He was losing his composure, again. Assertively, he cleared his throat, albeit still confused, and attempted to retain control of the situation.
"Excuse me?" His words seemed to have an effect on the woman. Starting, she looked directly at him again, this time with a nervous, shy smile on her features, making her look, if possible, even more beautiful.
"I apologize. This is the first time I have ever met anyone from the Turks." Her voice was soft, oh so soft, so… melodious. "Lucrecia Crescent. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Valentine." She smiled again, and Vincent felt weak at the knees.
Lucrecia… he thought, speaking the word again and again through his mind.
He liked it.
From that moment, Vincent knew that he was lost.