The Man in the Shadows
Prequel to Void 1
Summary: When Vincent is paid a visit by a man he saved six months ago, he finds himself slipping into temptations he no longer wants to fight.
Characters: are based on the FFVII Game, not the movie or any of the other FFVII games branching from the original, except for the clothing and their looks (I like the way they dressed and looked in the movie). There is also no influence or history from any of my other stories either, except for Merciless Shadows, because that's what inspired this.
Headnote: This is just a short story that won't run for very long. I got inspired to write it after writing Merciless Shadows and the question about how it all started popped up, and I wanted to see if I could actually make it work. The only difference between this one though, is that Tseng doesn't have a sister. I actually had no intention to post this one originally, because I don't really know what I think of it, even though I've already finished it and have been sitting on it for a couple of days now. So, what I'm going to do is post a chapter a week. If there's any sign of interest, I might continue with separate instalments, or keep this one open until the bigger picture is done. But due to the fact that Vincent and Tseng are not a popular pairing, even though I've grown to really like them as one, I'm not going to waste too much energy writing a full story unless there's a reason to do so.
As usual, there is some strange quirkiness that I like to use to make the characters more unique from other stories, hence, Tseng's sweet-tooth.
Disclaimer: Square owns the characters and worlds. I'm just elaborating on them.
For some reason, I always find my way back here. No matter where I go or where I try to wind up, I wind up here in the end.
It's been almost half a year since Cloud defeated Kadaj and his brothers, and whatever Rufus is up to still remains to be seen. He claims he's trying to build a new empire—one for the people. Coming from the mouth of a Shinra descendant though, I find it hard to believe.
But as far as I'm concerned, they can devour the world as long as they leave me out of it.
I haven't seen any of the members of Avalanche since the day the rains broke loose and fell from the skies for the first time in a long time and washed away the hovering darkness infecting the people, and whether I see them again or not, means very little to me.
And with that thought quickly coming and going, I take a look around the streets of Kalm and pay little mind to the atmosphere. It's always cheery, as if the people here have no connection to the rest of the world. The markets are always busy and it's as if this town is lost somewhere in time.
But as I look around, I see something that doesn't belong. He belongs as much as I do. Shadowy, dark, and cynical. He stands in the darkness of an alley, making his presence all the more fitting while toying with something silver in his hand. It catches the light as if he wants it to, and with narrow eyes, he coolly regards me as if through a blackness in his soul.
At first, I only stare back at him, caring little about what he wants or why he's here. I can't even bring myself to be concerned about who he is. Then I recognize him as a memory of something I care little for flashes through my mind, and I sneer under the concealment of my mantle.
He's a Turk—a man I saved, along with his partner. Though I could never explain why. Whatever he's up to, I fail to see it as a concern, and I walk to the Inn where I usually stay and get the room I usually get.
It's the same as I left it, as if the keeper kept it aside for me, making me realize I might be returning more often than I thought. The bed even looks as if I'd just slept in it and I walk up to it to find one of my own hairs on the pillow. I suppose I should have been offended by the fact that the bedding wasn't changed. But I'm not. Instead, a part of me feels warmed by it.
It makes me feel like I'm home, even though I don't really know what home is anymore.
I remove my cloak and my armour, and as if I'm drawn, I walk to the window to open the curtain enough to peer out. And I stare at the alley to see the man had left. Why I did it, I don't know. Maybe I'm just curious. Or maybe I'm just territorial and I don't want him marking in my territory.
A few moments pass and I remember wearing a uniform of similar status. It's the same feeling I had the last time I was around them. A part of me feels a tug toward it. But another part feels repelled, even more so when I hear someone fiddling with the lock on my door.
I pull out my gun and wait as if it's a habit borne from burden. No thought goes into it and even less goes into whether I'll use it. But for the sake of mercy, I consider it might be the chambermaid and I hold my fire until the target is identified. Whether or not I'll frighten her is of little consequence.
And there he is, calmly closing the door behind him and staring at me, unaffected, with charcoal eyes. Either he thinks I won't harm him because I saved him before, or he's simply arrogant and doesn't know the meaning of fear.
"What do you want?" I ask as I lower my head and keep the gun aimed at him.
He doesn't answer. Instead, he removes a thin pair of leather gloves and takes a look around as if he's gauging me. Then he walks over to the table and runs his forefinger across the dust before he quirks his brow and turns his cold and austere eyes upon me like he's amused.
After that, he smirks, very subtly, and walks up to me with his hands relaxed at his sides. A waft of cologne, light and airy, expensive, fetches my attention, as he looks me in the eye and continues to ignore the gun.
"Vincent Valentine," he says, calmly, and remains still and content while he looks at me the way a leader would look at those who follow him, "I did some research on you."
Then he turns and walks over to my window to peer out from the side as if he doesn't want to be seen and closes the curtains like they're his to close.
With a relaxing sigh, he takes another look around and smirks at the gun again.
"I'm under the impression money is of no worth to you."
Then he looks at the bed and the tatters on the cloak that rests over the foot of it as a sharp glint flashes through his eyes, almost too quick to notice.
"Physical comfort doesn't seem to be a concern… hm," he mutters, "I suppose that means a cheque is out of the question."
Then he looks at me again and arrogantly states, "I assume you don't have a bank account."
I'm still waiting to be impressed by his meagre observations. Then he sets his eyes upon a chain around my neck and quirks his brow. With narrow and slightly slanted eyes, he remains relaxed while he walks up to me again and insolently reaches for the chain to observe the keepsake hanging from it with an uncharacteristic refinement to his movements.
His fingers are slightly callused but well-manicured, and his knuckles are scarred from fighting and whatever else he's had his hands into, making his sophistication appear as if it's superficial and meant to mislead.
"Jewellery," he mutters, and almost speaks to himself, "I wouldn't have expected that."
Then he lets go and openly runs his eyes over me.
He's clinical in his study, and now that he's close, I'm able to see why his eyes always appear like charcoal. And I find myself studying the unreadable depth of a brown so dark that it blends with his pupils, leaving me with a strange and uncomfortable feeling as he studies me back and calmly orders, "Put the gun away."
For some strange reason I do it, and he watches my hand, keenly, every habitual movement of my fingers as I place it back in the holster and latch it, and I ask, "Why are you here?"
"Why are any of us here?"
He's stone-faced as he ignores his own common comment and turns his attention over to my armour on the chair while I stare at him with no attempt to hide the fact that I'm not impressed.
Then he looks back at me and sighs.
"Besides the fact that you like gold and necklaces, I'm afraid I'm stumped."
He smirks when he sees my irritation at his words and arrogantly corrects himself, "I see. Someone gave you the necklace."
And for a moment of pause, he fiddles with the gloves he's holding in his left hand, almost mindlessly as he adjusts them and runs his fingers into the fine leather while he concludes, "A woman."
It would be an understatement to say that he's pissing me off at this point. But he clarifies the reason for his presence soon enough, as if it's meant to set my mind at ease.
"I wanted to thank you."
"Then leave," I tell him before I walk passed him and open the door to show him the way. But he does something I don't expect. He steps back—calmly but obviously—as if he doesn't want to be seen from the hall. Then I remember him closing my curtains and I realize he hasn't come here under orders. He's acting on his own, albeit, antisocial will.
"You're very rude," he states, factually, almost like he feels I need to be told.
"I never invited you."
"Close the door," he calmly commands, hands still relaxed at his sides and again, I listen though I don't know why. Then he surprises me again by nodding and saying, "Thank you."
"You're not welcome."
He doesn't take offence, as if he's used to being spoken to like that or simply doesn't care. I won't openly admit it, but he's making me more curious about why he's here and is refusing to leave if he's not acting under orders. I'm also beginning to think that he's aware of what I'm thinking as he smirks and properly sits down in the empty chair near the bed.
With a straight back, he crosses his legs—surprising me somewhat—and holds onto his gloves with both hands while keeping them rested on his knee. He fiddles with them again, mindlessly caressing the leather as he remains expressionless and meets my eyes with the same shallow expression.
I'm left with little wonder over why the remnants tortured him to the state I found him in. If it weren't for his arrogance or toying, it would have been because the man's unreadable, misleading, and callous. I can only imagine that trying to get him to talk must have been a form of torture for them as well.
"My name is Tseng. But you already knew that."
I also don't care and couldn't make it any more obvious if I were trying.
"You also know that I'm the head of the Turk department, or what used to be the Turk department."
He almost sounds regretful, slipping from his stone exterior for a moment before he quickly realizes he's letting his guard down and recovers.
"We've met before. But under undesirable terms."
He says the last part professionally. But he contradicts it by mindlessly fiddling with his gloves again.
"I wanted to thank you for saving my life."
"What about your partner?" I ask in a manner of test and watch him quirk his brow before he makes another brash and idiotic comment while keeping a straight face and a cool tone.
"I don't see why I'd need to thank her. From what I recall, you were the one that saved us both."
And I suddenly get it. I realize that his comments and behaviour are nothing more than amusement to him, dry humour that only benefits him and no one else. He probably gets off on it and uses it as a tactic to throw others off their guard.
"I thought money might do. But material means little to you. Buying you jewellery or armour would be of little value since you obviously keep what you have due to sentiment. And as far as weapons go, you seem to be quite fixed on what you already have."
"Jewellery," I say, somewhat stuck on that thought and surprised that he'd even say it, even more so, that he'd say it like there was nothing odd about it. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to laugh or take him seriously and it makes me realize that I've fallen victim to his cynical amusement.
"If it would express my thanks," he states, and stands before he nods while giving it close to no thought, "Yes."
Then he walks up to me and stares at me with a stone expression again.
"I'd buy you flowers if I knew that you liked them. But you don't. So that's out of the question."
"You could always leave," I tell him, reminding him that I'd be more than willing to accept that as his thanks.
But he just looks at me like it's not acceptable to him while that strange glint passes through his gaze again.
"Very well," he states, "If that's what you truly want."
And like the arrogant Turk that he is, he doesn't wait for me to open the door and brushes passed me to let himself out, leaving the air of his cologne in his wake and causing me to shake my head to get it out of my senses. Then he stops and places his card on the small table by the door and calmly tells me if I change my mind that I know where to find him.
Once he's gone, I find myself standing there with a strange feeling. I can't help but think his real intention was to simply size me up and had nothing to do with thanking me at all. But for the life of me, I don't know why.
With a strong sense of distrust, I carefully inspect the chain Lucrecia gave to me to make sure he didn't take anything, plant anything, or tamper with it in any way. Normally, I would have noticed something like that right away. But something about the man was distracting, almost hypnotic, making me realize that he could have done a number of things without me noticing.
Nothing is out of place though, except for the mark he made in the dust and the card he left and I protectively return the chain to where it was—underneath my shirt—while wondering why I let him touch it in the first place.
Like a servant beckoned by his master—though I'm not sure why—I find myself at the window, watching as he walks out to the town's square. Slick hair passed his shoulders, jet black and combed neatly… He's slender, almost suave… black suit, neatly pressed…
He moves with an assuredness, separate from the others and like air. Though he doesn't sway like most men do. He doesn't advertise at all. It's almost like he's comfortable with himself and doesn't need to attract attention to his masculine form by anyone.
Or maybe he's just not interested.
When he walks to the town's centre, he stops and pulls something from his right pocket. A moment is wasted with him fiddling with it as he has his back to me. Then he looks to his left and turns around to drop a piece of paper into the trash.
It's a chocolate, he was unwrapping, and he pops it into his mouth while closing his eyes as if he's never tasted anything like it before and approves.
After he's done with his initial reward, he puts his gloves back on and looks up at the starlit sky for a moment. The moonlight makes him seem paler; it makes him seem out of place, like a phantom. Then he looks at my window, out of curiosity at first. But he's quick to notice the curtain is open and he's quicker still, to notice that I'm holding it open before I abruptly let go.
I can still see him though, through the narrow opening as he quirks his brow while the rest of his features remain stark. If he's thinking of anything, he's hiding it well. Then he walks away, toying with something in his pocket and finds himself the most expensive Inn near the outskirts of town.
I remember finding him left for dead in the realms of the forest—the Forgotten Capital that no one ever forgets but wishes they could. I never bothered to tend to him. I only used a Restore on him and helped drop him off at the nearest hospice while retrieving what little information I could.
He was with his partner, Elena. She was small, petite, with large brown eyes, a delicate voice, short flaxen-blonde hair—baby-fine—and was hardly convincing as a Turk. Both of them were left for dead, nearly emptied of all thresholds and life-giving fluids. The woman was easy to revive and responded quickly to the Materia. She claimed they tortured her to get him to talk.
I guess Kadaj wasn't familiar with the cold loyalty of the Turks, more to their leader than to each other because from the looks of things, he never said a word. Although after meeting him this evening, I'm beginning to think he did say something, only nothing they wanted to hear.
He must have been more resilient than her because he was in far worse condition—bloodied, torn, and broken—suggesting he was put under far more stress and abuse. It possibly stemmed more from anger than an attempt to get him to talk. I never had the displeasure of him awakening to find out what he was like then—not that I really cared—but I'm thankful now.
I'm also confused.
Because I don't remember how I wound up in the distant shadows outside the window to his room.
Well, vaguely—curiosity had something to do with it.
Other than that, I don't know why I'm here. So far, he's only spoken on the phone. After three calls, he seems to finally be done. Then he hangs up, leans against the door and places his hands over his face for a moment.
When he removes them, a different face appears as if he were wiping the other away and he let's his gaze fall distant and reflective while he mindlessly toys with the clip on his tie. The rest of him remains as stark as he was before. But his eyes…
They almost seem forlorn.
It's erased in the instant of a heartbeat though. The charcoal-hardened eyes return. Whatever or whomever that was is gone the moment someone disturbs him by tapping on his door.
He politely opens it and accepts the covered plate he's handed before he respectfully bows and places a generous amount of gil in the small woman's hand and closes the door.
There's a striking glint in his eyes, like the one he had when he was back in my room as he sets the plate down and takes a moment to fight with himself to wait before removing the lid. It's not obvious. But given the way that his fingers tap over the handle, it's apparent.
Instead, almost like he fights for self-control, he removes his blazer and neatly places it over a soft-edged chair. Then he removes a device from around his wrist with a blade attached to it, making me realize that he could have slit my throat any time he wanted to. The next thing he removes is an extendable cane from a hitch on his belt, thin, and it probably carries a paralyzing sting when struck by it.
He only carries one gun though, a modest model, standard issue and nothing to brag about. But it doesn't take me long to discover why he's not so concerned about his gun.
He likes sharp objects. There's a knife in his boot and two on his belt, and something I don't recognize on the other side of his holster that appears custom, along with that part of his holster, and several other small and sharp objects that appear mostly disposable.
Once he's unloaded himself, he undoes his tie and neatly folds it before unbuttoning the top three buttons to his shirt, slightly revealing the beginnings and endings of scars. Then he sits properly in front of the plate and inspects his fork.
I might not have considered him as neurotic until this point. But I'm suddenly getting the feeling that he might be, especially when he shines the light onto it and ensures there's nothing wrong with it. Either that, or he's one of those people that pays for things and expects exactly what he pays for, leading right back to his arrogant streak.
The latter is probably more accurate. But from what I've seen of him so far, I'm beginning to think there's something more to him.
For a moment, he grimaces and straightens out his leg like it's bothering him. It's something he hid well when he was in my room, and he reaches down to massage it above the knee while grimacing again. With his other hand, he removes the lid and appears to forget about whatever ache he was pampering as his eyes light up at the sight.
It's a dessert, a rich one, drizzled in Kalm's finest chocolate and raspberry sauce, and he leans forward to inhale it as if he's deprived. Then he turns the plate a quarter turn and dips his ring finger in the sauce to taste it while closing his eyes and taking a moment to savour the taste.
Something tells me this is a side of him that he doesn't share with anyone, and it sinks in even more when I note that he's alone in his room and not in a restaurant.
He treats it like a ritual—an almost erotic experience. Each bite is savoured, sucked on, rolled over his tongue before he swallows and moves onto the next bite. Then he does it all over again. I'm beginning to wonder how long it's been since he's been with a woman and then I remember the way he walks and wonder if he's ever even been with one at all, or if food is the only indulgence he allows himself.
I shake the thought off though, and I watch him finish and stand while removing a gold watch from his wrist before he places it on the nightstand by the bed. Then he digs through his bag and drapes something black over his forearm and continues to search until he pulls out his personal toiletries.
Apparently, he has preferences and the Inn doesn't meet them all.
He disappears into the bathroom while undoing his shirt and he stays in there for almost forty-five minutes. From the sounds I can make out through the slightly open window, he's not taking a shower. He's running a bath.
When he comes out, he's wearing a robe, black, made of heavy silk. The length runs down to his ankles and the arms billow down passed his wrists. It doesn't strike me that he chose it for comfort but more for concealment.
As he walks across the room to pick up his watch and check the time, he crimps a starched white towel over the ends of his hair. Then he quirks his brow and disappears to put his towel away and returns to the small balcony's door and opens it wide.
He steps up to the railing and rests his hands on it, far apart, and inhales the fresh scent of the air as if he's relaxed and can let his guard down. I can't help but notice the room he rented is situated in a corner of the building that juts out from the others and is surrounded by foliage and forest. The rooms above and below are both empty and I wonder if he went out of his way to set it up like that on purpose, given the private nature he's been exhibiting.
I can't help but feel akin to him in some way. Though I try to convince myself that there's no similarity between us.
His black robe blows in the wind like heavy waves in the water, but never revealing, and his hair remains stationary, weighted from being damp. His eyes hold that distant emptiness again and he closes the robe across his neck and holds it to ensure it remains so, as if even the night has no invitation to see what he keeps concealed.
And I become taken with an almost childlike look in his eyes before I realize I've let my own guard down.
I failed to see the shadow of a man creeping up behind him.
On instinct alone, and nothing more, I find myself appearing as if from air with the claws of my gauntlet digging into the man's neck as he gasps out and chokes.
Tseng only stands there, pursed lips and wide-eyed, still clasping the robe about his neck. He does and says nothing as I smash the man's head into the exterior wall and mindlessly toss him over the railing like a guard-hound protecting its master.
When I turn to see if he's okay, he quirks his brow and returns to the man he was earlier, like stone and unimpressed.
"Why did you do that?" he calmly asks, though his tone demands an answer.
"He was going to attack you," I tell him.
But after seeing the way he just stands there, unreadable and hard as charcoal, I begin to wonder if I'm right. I begin to wonder if I haven't just been set up for his amusement, given the way he was studying me earlier.
Then he leans over the railing and quirks his brow while stating, "I don't need your help," before he states it was odd for me to show up like I did and concludes as he gauges the dark forests surrounding him that I was watching him and asks, "Why were you watching me?"
I don't know. Maybe I was curious. Or maybe it had to do with some sense of nostalgia over the uniform I used to wear.
Maybe he just caught my attention, too glacial and unmoving to be real, and maybe I just needed to find out who he really was.
When I fail to answer him, he stands, straight from the rail and openly runs charcoal eyes over my lowered head as I stare back—silently—through thick and heavy bangs. Then he steps closer and studies my clothes, the way the cloak falls and the armour. He silently notes all the things I wasn't wearing earlier and snorts as a waft of lavender catches my unguarded attention.
"Pack animal," he concludes, still stark and although I should be insulted, I can't help but notice the scent is coming from his hair as he states with that dead tone from whatever deadness he carries inside, "You need to leave."
I do as I'm told, feeling that I went further in the violation of his privacy than he did with mine, and feeling that he'd made the same observation. He only observed from what he was allowed. I took it a step further and looked into a place where I was never welcome.
I wasn't on a job. He wasn't a target.
And I had no right.
But I couldn't go very far.
Why? I don't know, and as soon as I left, I found myself somewhere else where I could observe him from. Like an unhealthy addict, I crouch down and begin to wonder why I'm allowing myself to do this and I tell myself it's because he's a Turk.
They can't be trusted and they can't be left alone.
At least, that's what I'm telling myself as I watch him climb down with his gloves in his hand before he puts them on and mutters "Cure" over the man I thoughtlessly injured.
Then he kneels beside him and helps him sit up. With his hair falling forward, the knee he was pampering earlier slides out of his robe, revealing a dangerously deep scar—not very old—before he quickly covers it back up.
He strokes the man's cheek with the backs of his fingers, tenderly, and uncharacteristically asks in an almost kind tone, "Carl? Are you all right?"
And immediately, he's accused of being a traitor and something else that doesn't get finished.
I don't get to hear the rest because Tseng's hand is over the man's mouth faster than I could see it move, like a warning, before he slowly removes his hand and coldly states as if he's been insulted, "I don't like being disrespected."
For a moment, he merely cups the other man's face in his hands as he stares at him with an empty shallowness that reflects his feelings on the accusation, piercing. Then he places a gentle kiss upon the man's forehead before a sharp snap fills the air. He stands then, and takes a look around while adjusting his robe more securely about him as the other man falls lifelessly to the ground from a broken neck.
After that, he bows his head as if he's paying respect. Then he proceeds to pull the body away from the open and leaves it in the bushes, hidden but obvious like he wants it to be found, but not right away. Then he steps back and mutters out "Shadow Flare" and smirks when a loud crunch fills the air as the body is crushed by the force, mangled. Then he takes his gloves off.
I understand what they're for now.
He carries Enemy Skill Materia in them—the most dangerous materia there is, considering one has to be attacked by the cast in order to be able to contain it. It's also a good way to hide where the source came from, considering they're the natural abilities of our world's most dangerous creatures.
I'm not sure what to think or make of his actions, or what just happened, and I realize that he could have tried to kill me, maybe even succeeded if he wanted to as he climbs back to his balcony and closes the door behind him. Then he takes another sharp-eyed look into the darkness of the woods, almost looking directly at me before he closes the heavy curtains with a movement that suggests he's in no mood to be interrupted any further this evening.