Rating: G, I swear.
Warnings: ANGST! ::swoons despairingly with back of hand to forehead::
Vincent sat at the base of a large oak tree, leaning against the broad trunk with his eyes half-closed and his ears open. The others slept close to the slowly dying fire, wrapped in bedrolls and blankets; even poor Red had curled up in a fluffy blanket that Aeris had given him, and now slept with the tuft of his tail covering his nose. At this latitude, the October air carried a sharp chill, speaking of frost to come. Soon, it would no longer be practical to camp outside at night, and that, combined with the shortening of the days, would start to hamper their progress.
He never minded keeping the late part of the watch; his supernatural senses made him an excellent sentry, and he needed little sleep. Honestly, he didn't want to sleep. Thirty years of nightmares was quite enough — although being awake only set him in a nightmare he couldn't escape from simply by opening his eyes. Still, being awake and able to try to think about something else was perhaps better than being led around by whatever perverse demons were at work in the depths of his subconscious.
With a sigh, the dark-haired man plucked a long grass stem, toying with the fuzzy awn before absently slipping the other end between his teeth. As he realized what he was doing, a faint smile made his lips quirk upward. Childhood habits came easily when one was distracted. There was some small comfort, however, in these little things...some assurance that the world wasn't yet so topsy-turvy that one couldn't sit back and chew on a grass stem like a farmer's son ought.
When he was a Turk, he would have died of humiliation if his comrades had seen him doing such, let alone Hojo or Gast. But he couldn't bring himself to be that concerned when it came to the members of Avalanche. Not that some part of his mind didn't care what they thought, but... they would think nothing of it to begin with. Might find it humorous — and he would have to agree — but they certainly wouldn't deride him for it.
Perhaps that should mean something, but Vincent just wasn't willing to put that much thought into it at the moment. He glanced up at the sky. Judging from where the moon hung, its light veiled by a thin grey swath of cloud, it was somewhat past midnight. It was his birthday, then, his first since waking up.
Well. Happy birthday to me, and many more, he thought sardonically. Birthdays had stopped being exciting after he had turned twenty-one and been appropriately hazed by his fellow Turks-in-training. And as he was now... what did one more year mean to someone who no longer aged?
With a snort of self-disgust, he pulled the grass stem from his mouth and deliberately crushed the awn between his metal thumb and forefinger, spilling little unripened seeds on his black clothing. Cut down before its time — much like himself. But at least the grass would grow back...could he say the same of himself?
He shook his head slightly, rising to his feet. It was about time to wake Cloud for his turn at the watch. Perhaps he'd be able to catch a few short hours of sleep, but that was being optimistic. He'd be lucky to even doze off.
As the gunman walked silently through the others to reach Cloud, they each stirred slightly as he passed, as if some unsettling dream rode in the folds of his cloak. Such was the effect he had on people, whether they were awake or asleep. It was, perhaps, one of the more subtle, and more disturbing, effects of Hojo's experiments, and one that made him grind his teeth unconsciously when he thought about it. No matter how quiet and unobtrusive he tried to be, his presence was almost always noted; even if people were not specifically aware of him, they shivered and glanced around as if touched by a ghost. But then, perhaps they had been.
As if the Powers that Be had a point to prove, Cloud's glowing blue Makou-eyes snapped open a moment before Vincent's hand reached his shoulder. "It's time to switch?" the ex-SOLDIER asked, trying to conceal his surprise.
Vincent nodded in reply. "It's been very quiet. There are clouds gathering, but it doesn't smell like rain," he reported quietly. When the younger man shrugged laconically in response, sliding his boots on, Vincent nodded in acknowledgement and went to retrieve his blanket from his pack. A few moments later, he lay watching the embers in the fire pit wink orangely, waiting for sleep to come, if it would.
The first, muzzy thought that came into Vincent's mind as he woke up was that if people were going to whisper, they should do so more quietly. As the mental cobwebs cleared, he chided himself. It wasn't their fault he could hear so cursedly well. Still, it was rude to pretend to still be asleep if he was the cause of their whispering, so he slowly sat up and stretched as surreptitiously as he could.
Sure enough, the low talking stopped. As he readjusted the plates on his boots, he saw the others approaching him, Cloud in the lead, like a party of envoys sent to parley. The blonde young man carried a long, slender object wrapped within a rough piece of wool. Vincent was almost afraid to acknowledge them for an irrational moment; finally, he stood and turned to face them, keeping his expression politely curious.
They smiled at him with various degrees of uncertainty, and Cloud cleared his throat slightly. "Uh... well, happy birthday, Vincent," he said in that characteristic mumble he had when he was embarrassed. To cover up his awkwardness, he held out the wrapped bundle. "This is from all of us."
Vincent could barely contain his surprise as he carefully took the thing. How had they known? He hadn't told them, not that he could remember. His expression must have given him away; Red houghed and shook his mane. "If you'll recall, Vincent, Hojo often uses birthdates for his specimen numbers. It was a simple enough piece of information to find."
"Ah..." he said a little distantly as he unwrapped the bundle. It was a fine long-barreled rifle, with an astonishing eight linked materia slots. From all of them, indeed — this couldn't have been cheap. "Thank you," he murmured, feeling a little overwhelmed. He ran his hand over the empty slots, down onto the trigger guard, and back onto the stock. The solid reality of a good gun in his hands restored his equilibrium somewhat.
"Thank you," he repeated, looking up at the assembled group in something like awe, not for the gift itself, though it was very fine, but for what it represented. Good God, why was he so surprised to realize that he had... friends?
Aeris was the first one to catch his eye, and her smile made Vincent feel like she had read his mind. Aye, why should he be so surprised? As the others gave him their well-wishes for the day, he decided that as nice as the rifle was, this discovery was a better present.
10/13/2004 - Written, obviously, in honor of
Vincent Valentine's birthday. X3 I can't draw, so I had to do SOMETHING.
I think being at work brings out the angst. Really. Still, I wonder if the latter part is too squishy. If it is, my bad. ::smirk::