Monday; the start of another week. It is approaching midday, and I have begun my menial daily tasks; the washing, cleaning the bar, cooking. Marlene and Denzel have gone to school, and Cloud and Barret are out working for a few days. I sigh out a breath, blowing my fringe out of my face as I shake out the freshly washing bedlinen, the scent of fabric softener drifting over me.
I look up as the bell above the door of my bar tinkles suddenly; it is way before opening, and so I wonder if Cloud or one of the others has forgotten something. I walk into the back, into the cool air of the bar, and gasp in shock.
"Vincent?!" Vincent Valentine himself was stood, clutching his arm, which was bleeding profusely, dripping down his fingertips, and onto my floor. "What happened?"
"Ran into a little trouble." He says with a faint hint of sarcasm, seating himself at the bar as I rush around to his side. "Damn kids."
I inspect the wound; two bullets, quite deeply embedding into his flesh. He winces when I touch it.
"I wonder if you have anything I could use to patch it up." He says calmly. I laugh a little.
"Vincent, you're going to need some help doing this." I reach under the counter, and fumble around for my first aid box. I kept it well stocked; in times of unrest, people didn't always have access to a doctor, especially in the slums. After a while I got into the habit of leaving the door unlocked. In a city like this, people often called in for my help. And I was always in.
"I wouldn't want to trouble you, Tifa." He says, removing his coat, and wincing again as he tears the fabric of his sleeve away to give better access to the damage.
"Vincent, this isn't so much of a bar as a mini clinic." I giggle, turning around and taking two glasses and a bottle from the shelves. "I am used to this."
I place down two glasses in front of him, one filled with clear liquid, the other with brandy. He picks up the former, and sniffs it.
"Vodka?" He raises an eyebrow.
"Alcohol is a good disinfectant." I state plainly, slamming the bottle I had taken from the shelf before him. "I want you to drink as much of this as you can."
"Its not even midday." He says with a smirk that I don't miss.
"I need you verging on paraletic, Vincent. I don't have any anaesthetic." I chuckle slightly.
He eyes the glass, before downing its contents with a grimace. I fill it again.
I leave the room and return a moment later, with a bucket in my hand. He raises his eyebrows.
"In case you are sick." I say simply, turning to wash my hands in the sink. "I will start in ten minutes. I need you to have drunk at least half of that bottle first."
As he steadily drinks, his good arm starting to shake, I bite my lip slightly. Vincent had been helping Barret and the others with the cleanup of the slums. It was a dangerous job; there were gangs, exploiting the fear of the poor people, and levels of crime were rising. I constantly worried for them: the man in front on me, slowly drinking himself into a stupor a living example of my daily fears.
When his eyes began to glaze over, unfocused, staring at nothing in particular, I took a deep breath and stepped forward.
"Ok, this might sting, but try your best to stay still." I soak a cotton wool ball in the vodka and apply it to the wound, my hand resting on his shoulder, as I lean close to the injury. His muscles tense and he groans, his head resting on his folded arm. But he does not move. "I'm sorry," I apologise, as I insert a gloved finger into the wound, feeling for the slug of the bullet. Its about an inch in. I would need to get some forceps out for this.
I set some water on to boil, and take out my required instrument, all the while glancing back at him. He lay motionless, head on the bar, responding only with a grunt to my periodic inquiries.
I sterilise the enlarged metal tweezers, and approach him again. I part the wound slightly with my fingers. I am glad to see the bleeding has almost stopped, though I expected more of it to come. I daub it again with liberal amounts of alcohol and then brace myself against his shoulder, partly to support me, partly to hold him still.
"Are you ready?"I ask, forceps poised. He gives a slight nod.
He lets out a groan, bites down on his sleeve, as I grasp the tip of the slug with the forceps and… twist. It came free with a disgusting squelching sound, and I immediately cover the wound with an alcohol soaked cloth.
"That's one down, one to go!" I announce cheerfully over the sounds of him vomiting into the bucket, dropping the fragment into a bowl I had lain aside for that purpose. I rub his back gently, giving him a little time before I attempt the second one. He finishes, and slumps forward, allowing me to resume.
"You know something…" He mumbles, as I slip the forceps a little deeper into his arm, drawing from him, a low grunt of pain. "You're a remarkable woman, Tifa..." I smile a little, though I don't remove my eyes from the aim of my excavation.
"You know something, Vincent, you're drunk." I pull firmly and quickly, catching him unaware. He swallows a shout of pain, breathing heavily, his whole body trembling. "There. Now I just need to stitch you up."
I wipe away the fresh blood and set about locating the surgical needles and thread.
"I mean it…" He raises his head to watch me, leaning on his good arm. "You are an extraordinary lady. You do so much for everyone. You don't get enough credit."
I swallow, not answering straight away. Vincent never talked this way, sometimes he never talked at all. Why was he so grateful to me, all of a sudden? It had always been my role; the group mediator, the healer, the one people could rely on. But as I thought about it, he was right; I took on my role without expecting anything in return. Though I never let it bother me.
"What I mean is, Thank you." He looks me in the eyes, as I seat myself next to him at the bar. I place my hand over his on the wooden surface for a few moments, and smile.
"You are always welcome, Vincent."
We sat in silence as I stitched the large jagged 3 inch gash together. Then, after I had cleared all of my materials away, I notice he had passed out, snoring lightly as he slept. I giggle a little to myself, as I pull his limp, uninjured arm around my shoulders and encourage him to his feet, leading him into the back where I manoeuvre him onto my sofa.
It was good to see him so calm; In the days of Avalanche, he hardly every slept, if not for a restless few hours. His face was tranquil, chest rising and falling with every breath he took.
Cloud had mentioned he was staying in an inn somewhere in town; I knew there only to be a few, so I rang around. I eventually located his room, and cancelled his reservation, telling the inn keeper I would come to collect his belongings.
He would remain here with me for a while; I thought it as good an excuse as any to have him stay, to catch up with him. I had not seem him since last year, and Marlene was always asking questions.
I left the house for the inn.
"This is his room ma'am." The old innkeeper opened the door to reveal the sparse room, which I expected was pretty much in the same condition as Vincent had found it in. I did a quick scour of the room. Vincent's cloak and a pre-packed black bag were all I could find; He wasn't the unorganised type. I checked under the pillow out of instinct, my fingers finding what felt like a stiff piece of card. On withdrawing my hand, I looked upon what I held with a soft smile, a wave of affection for the pensive gunman welling up inside of me.
A photograph of Avalanche; it was at Christmas, with Marlene and Denzel sat with us. , I recalled. He had surprised us all by coming to stay that year, as he had declined the previous invitation.
"You're full of surprises Valentine." I mumbled to myself, as I slid the photograph into the side pocket of his bag, and left the inn, leaving a tip for the inn keeper.