Also, please excuse the seemingly random shift from past tense to present tense. It is, in fact, not random, because the epilogue basically picks up where the prologue left off, as though Vincent has just finished telling his story.
Warnings for some dream-like sequences, boykisses, self-beta, and the important, character death.
Please enjoy. With tissues ready of course.
Chronicles of Valentine
"I didn't know how to say goodbye," Seifer admits hoarsely, breaking into my tale. His eyes are dry but something building so strongly behind them that I believed he wept without tears. "So I ran. Like a coward." His face twists, as though angry with himself for his own actions.
I weakly squeeze his fingers, to prove that there are no hard feelings. "Saying goodbye is the hardest part, but as a friend once told me, sometimes it's easier to just say goodnight."
"Goodnight?" he repeats, and laughs roughly, dragging my hand towards his lips and pressing a kiss to one shaking finger. "Something like, see you in the morning?"
I nod. "Something like. I know this world no longer believes in the Lifestream, but that doesn't mean it no longer exists, Seifer. It is the reason I don't believe in goodbyes."
He looks as though he's considering my words. And I think to continue, to explain more of what I mean, but the tightening in my chest prevents me. I cough again, the blood spilling over my tongue and out through my lips. I double over, the pain wracking at my lungs and tearing away more pieces of my precious organs.
Careful hands quickly urge me into a sitting position, allowing the blood to flow free so I don't choke. Another hand presses a cloth to my lips, catching the frothy, sanguine liquid. Each movement gentle and tender.
Just looking at him, no one would have believed Seifer capable of such actions. But then, few are able to look through a person's windows as I. Few are capable of seeing what could hide deep inside a person, begging to be unleashed.
"Better?" Seifer asks once the tremors subside, leaving me achy and dull all over, inside and out.
I can't reply in an affirmative because it would be a lie to do so, and of all things, I have promised not to lie to him. Not again, at any rate. There is no getting better for me. I can feel it. The death cycling through me, inching along my muscles and bone and sinew, creeping through every inch of my body like a disease.
My breathing is shallow, my color beyond that of death, and my eyes limp and lifeless. I can barely focus anymore, and were it not for my youthful appearance, one would probably believe me to be a man of more than eighty years. I gasp and wheeze for each breath, grip so weak that I can't even hold my own glass of water.
No, this Seifer holds to my lips, encouraging me to take a sip. Of course, my stomach rebels and I have to refuse with a mute shake of my head. What point is there in water when I can see the darkness encroaching on my vision?
Seifer sighs, setting the glass off to the side.
The room is silent for the most part. He had tossed the others out several minutes ago, leaving just us in the room. And Squall, thankfully, is forcing them to allow us our privacy. I understand their concern, but Seifer is the one I am most worried about. The others will recover, but Seifer... he means something more.
Warm hands encircle the cold fingers of my left and I manage a weak squeeze that is pathetic compared to my former strength. "Two millennia is a long time," Seifer comments.
"Even longer... when one is alone," I say in agreement, struggling to form the words without aggravating the scratchy feeling at the back of my throat.
"For some reason, it never really registered to me that you had lived all that time," the blond continues, his eyes looking lost and frightened, like a little boy. He tears his gaze away from me, focusing on the far wall as though.
I want to chuckle, but such a thing will only send me into another violent coughing fit. And there are things I want to tell Seifer before I let the darkness take me. The silence where the demons had once been is all too telling.
I draw in a slow breath, forcing myself to inhale slowly, cautiously, even as the tingle starts in my toes and stealthily creeps towards my knees. "Seifer, I want you to listen to me."
Wariness enters his eyes, but Seifer inclines his head, his palms so warm against my scarred fingers. If not for him, I would have forgotten the feel of another human. I am grateful that he, at least, is here. That way, I don't feel so alone.
With his attention fully on me, I grasp for the right words. What I want to say isn't nearly as good as what needs to be said. I've seen the cracks in this boy's heart, and I don't want to add to his wounds. Injuries that still bleed despite the passing years. I don't want him to add me to the list of those that have betrayed him.
But Seifer is much stronger than I realize. Than he realizes. Than everyone else has come to understand. It won't be long before he will come to grips with the truth. That I was dying long before we met, and it is my good fortune to have met my fate while drowning in happiness, rather than lingering in despair.
Seifer is going to be alright. Because while it seems he's alone right now, he's not. He won't suffer in solitude like he believes. They will be there for him, whether he wants them to or not. His friends are his family, and they will drag him out of his sorrow and force him to realize that he's not alone.
"I have lived a long time..."
Which is like saying the sky is blue and the grass is green, and wow, no matter how I look at it, the ocean is a really, really big puddle. But that is beside the point.
"... so believe me when I say something..."
Something being so indistinct right now. But I can't seem to form the proper words. Or the polite ones. Or the intelligent ones. The Turk training that has left me unflappable in all situations has all but faded. I can't even remember that past. Not anymore. It's fading with everything else.
Even if, in the back of my mind, I can remember mako eyes, and a charming grin, and the smell of cigarette smoke, and bubbly laughter and a printed fan, faded with time, but still somewhere in my personal belongings tucked close to several empty materia and the Dirge of Cerberus.
"... Life, even one like mine, is always worth living. The tiny things are always worth enjoying..."
Even if every memory is like a jab into your heart. Even if every broken piece of your past stings through you like a thousand knives. Even when they fade and you can only remember the little things – rough laughter, blond spikes, sparkling eyes, the smell of incense, the tinkering of machinery – it's always worth it.
Always, always, always.
And I'm getting repetitive, even if it is only in my mind. I can feel the tingling in my knees. I don't know if my toes are still there. Not that it matters. The numbness creeps towards my thighs, my hips, my abdomen...
I close my eyes and swallow thickly, the copper taste of blood sharp on my tongue.
"... the past shouldn't hold you back. It should never hold you back, but urge you forward. Always forward..."
I am such a hypocrite for saying so, especially if Seifer were to mention Lucrecia, but blessedly, he doesn't. He remains silent. If I opened my eyes, I could see his expression. But I've the feeling that if I do, I won't be able to maintain my own composure. It's not like I don't know what is coming.
I know what I'm trying to say, and I hope it's getting through to him. Words have never been my forte, even before my stint under Hojo's care. I just don't want Seifer to return to the mess I found when I arrived. To the wounded man hiding behind bluster and arrogance, to conceal where he is still cracked and bleeding.
"... Seifer, don't force yourself to be alone," I finish, the numbness reaching my mid-section now, creeping through my lungs. Each breath is like drawing fire, and the steady rhythm of inhale-exhale is now a matter of voluntary action. I can't rely on my own body anymore.
I can't feel Seifer's fingers.
Warmth cups my cheek and my eyes open of their own accord. Seifer is leaning over me, his eyes unguarded, and full of tenderness. It is a look few people have had the luck to witness. A part of me is very grateful for it, but I can't find the words. Not because I don't know what to say, but because I can't seem to talk.
My tongue is a numb, leaden weight in my mouth and there is a dull buzzing in my ears. The edges of my vision ripple with dancing black. I cannot remember the last time I told myself to remember to breathe and I hear it, a slowing, steady beat. A muffled, low sound.
Perhaps it is the sound of my own heart. Though significantly slower than it ought to be. I can't feel anything other than Seifer's fingers pressing gently against my cheek, and now, his lips over mine, warm and soft
He says something, his face pinched with worry, but my ears don't work anymore. Either that, or it is barely above a whisper. I see his lips quiver, and then that, too, falls into darkness. Whether my eyes have slid shut or my vision has ended, I don't know. I can't even guess.
It feels like I'm sinking, and I'm angry, with myself more than anything else. I didn't say all that I meant to say. I never said it. Not once. Not to anyone who deserved it. Not to Cloud or Reeve or Leora. Not to my dearest friends Cid and Shion.
I can't feel any of my limbs, but still, I have the distinct sensation of floating through something warm and welcoming. Sensation returns, but only distantly. A hand caresses my knee. One brushes over my shoulder. Someone lovingly guides hair out of my eyes. And a voice that I haven't forgotten, despite the decades, pours out of the dark.
"About time, Vince. Sure took ya long enough."
"We've been waiting for you," Another voice intrudes with an excited chirp, a giggle of happiness as another wisp of a touch brushes across my left hand.
"I told you. Not even stars last forever." A whisper of a touch, brushing against my leg, accompanied by an amused, gravelly chuckle.
Someone's arms wrap around me from behind, a chin settling on my shoulder. I feel an incredible warmth as a familiar scent washes over and through me. It feels so much like home. "We were beginning to worry. You always make us worry. Especially me."
Another achingly familiar laugh rings through the dark, which is already lightening to a pale green. A beautiful, evanescent jade.
"We knew you'd come eventually though," someone says, her voice filled with gentle kindness. Even now, I can see her smile. "You've always been one of us, even when you wouldn't admit it."
I can't see them, not just yet. But I can feel them. Oh, how I can feel their presence. All around me, close enough to touch, and in one case, actually wrapped around my body.
"You're tired, I know," she says sympathetically, and I know that voice. Know it better than anyone who has spoken before. Know it in the deepest crevasses of my heart.
The arms around me tighten, the palms pressed tight against my belly, but he says nothing. Just holds me closer. I am his and he is mine in a way so much more different than the way my heart has leaned towards her. I feel a hand cup my face, gentle and so, so familiar. I turn my head into the touch, fingers as cool as I remember, her scent a strange mix of antiseptic and gunpowder.
"You can rest now," she says softly, and I dare say that my throat grows thick and scratchy. I can barely breathe. "You can dream."
I would have closed my eyes in relief, if they weren't already closed. Instead, I lean back into the embrace of home behind me, feeling something inside me finally click into place. A feeling of peace sweeps through me, leaving me lethargic. I feel myself sliding into sleep, every bone and muscle and sinew melting away.
The last thing I hear is his voice washing into my ear, soft and familiar, sounding just like home.
"I'll be here when you wake up."
*subtly wipes tears from eye*
Dammit, I wrote the damn thing! I shouldn't be this affected by it. But I am! *wails* This was MY project for so long that it almost hurts to say goodbye to it. I put a lot into this story and even I'm surprised at how well it turned out.
Ahem. Anyway, that is the end of Chronicles of Valentine. Feel free to ask questions, especially if you're not sure who the voices were at the end there. I love to answer questions and if I get enough of the same, I'll tack on an After-Fic faq.