The sparkle of surprise in twin sapphire pools was the last thing Vincent saw before his eyelids fell shut.
Slow, sensual, and the suffusion of the taste that was uniquely that of the individual before him seeped through the seam of his lips. The hot issuance of breath against his face was a summery breeze, the welcoming heat of Angeal’s physicality like the warm embrace of sunshine. The exhilaration that was coursing through his veins in those few ephemeral moments was something he hadn’t felt in decades. So, when he withdrew, it was going against everything his body was begging him to do.
It seemed that the younger man wanted to pursue but reigned the urge in, and instead, leaned his forehead against Vincent’s just as the ex-Turk had been about to do the same. The auditory knowledge of their inhalations and exhalations co-mingling between them was the sole acoustic he could hear as cerulean filled his vision once Angeal opened his eyes. The mouth he’d claimed only moments ago was touched by the barest hints of a smile, and Valentine couldn’t help but return it.
Hewley hadn’t changed much from the last time the marksman had seen him; the sable tresses framing his aquiline visage beckoned the older man to run his fingers through them, longer now and gathered in the back in a loose ponytail; the sky of his irises though, was clouded just as it’d been back then, and Vincent couldn’t help but wonder if he’d added to the burden of worries the swordsman shouldered by what he’d done earlier.
It hadn’t been his intention, but not knowing if he was going to see another day, he’d dithered long enough to catch one last glimpse at the raven-haired ex-First who was now before him. And once he had, the gunman had realized with no small amount of astonishment that despite having been ready to give up his life for Angeal Hewley, to prove his innocence and to ensure his freedom, he wasn’t ready to leave without saying goodbye.
The timid touch of calloused fingertips against the side of his face fettered him to the here and now, where the subject of his ruminations had his eyes downcast and the seam of his lips was just about to come undone with words.
“I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you to this country too,” The vulnerability tingeing his dulcet tones was reminiscent of how Vincent had confessed earlier, unable to bear the worry the former SOLDIER’s voice had been fraught with any longer. The younger man’s other hand rose between them, the falter in its ascent belying its owner’s hesitation, but the ebony-haired gunslinger wasn’t going anywhere, nor was he going to shy from the touch he’d already accepted. Crimson irises followed the path those digits took–their slow journey giving him ample time to renege the welcome he’d extended–to where they settled against the fabric that covered his chest, over the place the materia had been housed within. “I swear on my honor, I’ll bring it back to you.”
Forever a man of his word, that hadn’t changed either. So, even though Vincent said ‘No’ , his tone just as final as Angeal’s, he knew that there was no deterring the individual before him from the path he’d set ahead of himself; the determination that coruscated in the sapphire of those eyes was clear as a summer day. The marksman had many questions, and they both seemed to have a lot of unuttered words, but they all evaporated in the searing congress of their mouths as they met betwixt yet again.
Doggedly divesting the glove that covered his good arm despite the multitude of buckles, Valentine reached up to card through the noir of Hewley’s mane just as the swordsman’s fingers plunged in the waterfall cascading down over his shoulders. The moist tip of an adroit tongue licked the seam of his lips and the nuance of their kiss deepened; Vincent gave chase, only for his own to be captured and sucked on, and the deep rumble of a moan that was swallowed betwixt could’ve belonged to either of them. The hand that had been pressed against his chest wandered toward the small of his back, seeking to enmesh the map of their physicalities.
It was a distracted affair to make sense of their tangle of limbs; and somewhere in his attempt to wrap his long legs around the younger man’s waist as he’d been about to do the same, the marksman ended up nicking Angeal’s forearm with one of his blasted sabatons, which made for a premature peroration of their make-out session.
Cradling the arm he’d injured as both of them caught their breaths, Vincent observed the shallow cut close itself until the ex-First uttered, “May I?” His cerulean irises guided his crimson ones to where Hewley’s other hand was wrapped around his shin, two fingers hooked underneath the fold of his leather boot. Their gazes met, and how could he say no?
Nodding his assent, the ebony-haired former Turk busied himself with the zipper of the younger man’s footwear, watching the aforementioned individual’s ministrations from the corner of his eyes as they both finished with one pair and moved onto the next. Their hands brushed against each other as two sets of boots were set next to the bed on the ground, and the evanescent sensation was something Vincent wanted more of.
Whether it was because without the Protomateria, Chaos was a virulent roil underneath his skin, or because of the coagulation of emotions that had resurfaced out of nowhere and caught him by surprise, the gunslinger didn’t know. His fingers were unhesitating in encircling the forearm he’d accidentally grazed earlier, eager to trace the bunch of sinew beneath the smooth epidermis as they traveled further up under his crimson gaze. Angeal’s digits, however, had busied themselves with another undertaking: unbuttoning the first two buttons of his shirt, then two more, and before the older man could feel the warmth of that calloused palm against his chest, he knew where Hewley’s hand was going.
Tender, the place the materia had been housed in was sensitive to the touch, but even as an involuntary shiver quavered down his spine, Vincent wanted it there, everywhere; wanted to bask in it like a man who hadn’t seen sunlight for years yearned for those chartreuse rays. What they had shared so far, the feelings they’d evoken within him… The gunslinger had known he cared for Angeal; had known it the moment the recently-resigned General of the Shinra had handed him a company-issued cell phone and he’d accepted it whereas the Turk of his yesteryears would’ve done without it; had known it when he’d caught himself smiling when he finished reading the messages the sable-haired ex-First had sent; when he’d felt disappointment once Veld had informed him that Hewley wouldn’t be turning up at their rendezvous. But this, whatever this was, it was different.
Reciprocatory, like how his prosthetic digits tentatively settled just shy of the apex where the younger man’s shoulder met his neck, toying with the funnel collar of his light khaki T-shirt while Hewley’s gradually peeled back the layer of leather and kevlar over his shoulder. The adulations of that hot mouth trailed after the exploratory caress of Angeal’s fingertips, making it even harder to keep his eyes open as they roamed over the fabric that hugged the well-built contours of the former SOLDIER’s physicality.
It was impossible not to give in to how exquisitely Hewley seemed to want to rob him of his breath; impossible to hold on to all the doubts and queries filling his head when the ex-First parted his mouth to suck a blooming bruise against the jut where his amputated limb met his shoulder. This close, each with one thigh over the other’s opposite one, their co-mingling heat had ignited a blaze within him that was exquisitely burning him from the inside out; desire, a liquid fire that licked at his being, seeking to consume him whole.
And the ebony-haired ex-Turk knew that he wanted it; the need he had for it seemed to have flourished somewhere unbeknownst to him in the time they had spent apart, but he didn’t know how to proceed from this point onwards; didn’t know if the individual in the circle of his arms wanted this the same way he did. And as much as Angeal was an old head on young shoulders–despite the fact that his reciprocation meant that he wanted this as much as Vincent did–he was still young enough to be his son.
“Are you sure? ” Vincent hated the vulnerability of his voice; hated how ragged it sounded as he tried to reign in the urge to go further, his golden fingers hooked just inside the waistband of Angeal’s dark pants while his thumb hovered over the buckle of his belt. His query had given the younger man pause in his ministrations; and even though the ex-Turk couldn’t see it, cerulean irises were gazing at the faint shimmer of his talon that contrasted with the silver of the clasp. With the hand Valentine had been holding onto, the former SOLDIER freed the end of the band before raising his head from where it’d been leaning against the gunslinger’s clavicle.
“ Yes…I’m sure, ” was the equally hoarse whisper before fervent vermillions sought his lips yet again. And Vincent chased that prurient sensation with equal if not more fervor, the suffusion of their mingled singular signatures bursting forth on his taste buds as he explored the cavern of the younger man’s mouth; past sharp incisors and laving at an adroit tongue. The acoustic of their ragged breathing was joined by the negligible sound of Angeal’s belt falling to the carpeted floor; the shuffle of fabric as the ex-First’s dexterous fingers made quick work of the buttons of his shirt and tried to divest him of it but to no avail.
The marksman took it upon himself then, and the breathless smile that stretched across that sanguine mouth disjoined the congress of their lips. It was probably due to the ease with which Vincent stripped the leather and kevlar of his sleeves and then threw the garment aside. The distance between them yawned, and the sight of those ocean-blue eyes that had filled his vision disappeared momentarily behind the veil of Angeal’s outfit. Off and over his head, the reveal of the younger man’s toned body was a sight for sore eyes; and now, with their clothes out of the way, the gunslinger didn’t have to miss the loss of contact for long. The light khaki garment joined the rumple of the sheets, but neither men were watching as their hands, organic or prosthetic, began the languid expedition of the map of each other’s physicalities. Their kiss which they had ended prematurely was consuming both of them now, heady and intoxicating, as though the essence of life was wrought from the coupling of their lips.
With his golden palm splayed against the small of Angeal’s back, Vincent moved even closer, enmeshing the angles and planes of their bodies together as the other occupant of the room held him tighter. Skin to skin, the sensation was so profoundly tangible, heightened by the firm press of the ex-First’s right hand, a meandering brushstroke across the canvas of his torso. Still clothed, the throbbing apex of their needs burned hotter in the conjoined heat that had engulfed the chrysalis of their limbs as they twined around one another.
The cradle between their legs was filled with shuddering desire, growing want moving his organic fingers to reach between the two of them; to seek that inveigling heat and free it from the confines of Angeal’s trousers. The blunt nails of the digits at his back dug in, and the faint pain tingeing his pleasure brought a smile to his lips. The issuance of breath against his chest was a cool breeze in the oasis of his burning epidermis; the relish of hearing the younger man’s exhale backending in a hiss, along with the lascivious thought that he’d been the one to bring Hewley to this level of debauchery, was like pouring gasoline over the fire of his pleasure.
Esurient, Vincent latched onto the column of the throat that was proffered to him, trailing open-mouthed kisses that left behind the impression of sun’s ecliptic coronet against Angeal’s neck before they, too, disappeared like the thin cut from earlier. That lush mouth ensnared his on its trek along the angle of Hewley’s jaw, and the gunslinger eagerly swallowed the groan his lover fed him as his organic fingers experimentally stroked the ex-First’s length.
Too much friction, Valentine knew, but the distracted look swirling in sapphire depths, the exquisite frown of those jetblack eyebrows was a sight he couldn’t have enough of. Nor could he have enough of the salty tang of the ocean breaking over the pale skin his tongue laved at intermittently, darting between the part of his lips as they returned back to their course.
Smoothing a hand over raven tresses, his mouth fell open against the epidermis of Hewley’s temple–his destination after trailing kisses up and along the line of that stubbled jaw–when the younger man’s digits plunged betwixt to hold him in hand. The fingers at the small of his back were ticklish whirligigs as they meandered further down–relentless in pushing down the waistband of his undone pants–before they grabbed a handful of his flanks to knead the soft flesh, and his huff of laughter caught in the column of his throat. Really, Vincent forgot to breathe when those wandering digits rubbed along the cleft of his hind just as Angeal brought the apex of their needs together with those of his other hand; wrapped his warm, large palm around the ex-Turk’s organic one, and then…they were both still.
There was an intimate vulnerability about how they simply were in those ephemeral moments, in each other’s embrace, as the gleaming ocean-blue of those eyes gazed into his wild crimson ones. It was there in the faint impression of the younger man’s nose as he nuzzled the side of his face, in the barely-there caress of that noir cascade against his visage, in the trembling adulations that rubicund maw bestowed along a path that mirrored the one Vincent’s lips had taken before.
Tilting his head, Valentine caught them in a sensual, yet no less fervent, kiss.
From then onward, it was a slow dance of rippling sinew, of rolling hips as they swayed together to the pounding of each other’s hearts; to the music of salacious sighs and abbreviated moans which the play of those artistic fingers over his body brought forth past the part of his mouth. Feverish, his crimson gaze watched the delirious apex of their combined needs hide and reappear in their firm conjoint grasp; and with every sure stroke, the cradle of his thighs trembled with the exhilaration coursing through his veins. The rustle of the sheets as he hiked up his legs to coil them around Hewley’s back was a negligible sound, for he only had ears for the cut-off whispers of his name and their ragged breathing. The earthy musk that was uniquely Angeal’s, doused with the heady scent of sex, suffused his olfactory senses, heralding the pearlescent effervescence of his lover’s climax as it rushed forth to meet the shores of their physicalities. Following closely, Vincent’s toes curled in the sheets as the cresting wave of his pleasure caught him by surprise; lightheaded and overwhelmed with ecstasy, his gilt talons clutched at the covers as he chased after the sensation with his other hand, pressing his eyes shut as euphoria dawned behind his closed eyelids.
It was the languorous brush of Angeal’s tremulous lips against his that brought him back to his body, breathing life into him after his little death. Those sapphire irises were shivering with an impossible look, before they were veiled by creamy lids as their foreheads touched just like when they’d started. A warm, large palm covered where the tumultuous tide of his heart was ebbing away as they both basked in the afterglow; until the coagulating aftereffects of their lovemaking necessitated that they do something about it.
It took more than a couple or so of napkins to make them both slightly more presentable; in all honesty, they both needed a shower but the bathroom was across the room, and the languor settling in his limbs and the welcoming promise of the cushions was simply too compelling.
Leaning back and watching from behind the ebony fringe of his hooded eyes as the ex-SOLDIER made a clambering trip to the bathroom, Vincent couldn’t deny missing that warm embrace as the sudden ingress of cold made him shudder. The acoustic of the faucet being turned on was followed by the monotonous rush of water and the sluice of it down the drain, seeping into the background of his thoughts as he lay there for a few moments more and just listened, before the urge to follow the younger man became impossible to resist. Sighing, he swung his legs over the side of the bed, fixed his pants as his long strides retraced the steps Hewley had taken, before he, too, stepped into the cramped space.
Leaning against the cool tiles lining the wall and staring while Angeal’s fingers wrung the water out of the washcloth, Vincent couldn’t stop his mind from thinking back on the heights of pleasure those articulate digits had brought him to only minutes ago. His crimson irises watched their reflections in the mirror, traveling to where his thumb was brushing to and fro over the purpling flower at the apex where his shoulder met his neck. It’d take a few days to heal, but thankfully it wasn’t anywhere anyone could notice. Even if it was, his choice of outfits covered almost every inch of him, especially with the high collar of his cape.
With a resigned sigh, he was forced to acknowledge that the blissful moments of having absolutely nothing coursing through his head were over.
As though reading his mind, or perhaps it was how exasperated he must have sounded, Angeal turned off the tap, wrung the water from the fabric one more time before turning to face him. The beads of sweat from before were now replaced by the thin sheen of aquamarine that glistened faintly in the over-mirror light; and Vincent couldn’t help but be enthralled by how some of the droplets came together to form a larger one; couldn’t help but trace them with his eyes as they rolled down the dips and valleys of the musculature underneath that pale skin… Down, further–
–The warm dampness of the washcloth as it was gently pressed against his sternum brought him out of his trance. The ex-Turk in him berated him for being too distracted, but here, with Hewley crowding his space, with the tips of those calloused fingers cradling his elbow, Vincent felt…safe. At home, even. It was an incredulous notion, but he couldn’t dwell on it now, when Angeal’s other hand–which was separated from his sticky epidermis by the thin fabric–was swabbing down his chest.
Apart from these errant thoughts, the scenery of his mind seemed peaceful compared to the constant churning of his other moments; and even Chaos seemed to have retreated to the recesses of his consciousness, still there, but not virulently so. Raising his head to meet those cerulean irises, Vincent noticed that they weren’t on him but his doppelganger beyond the mirror. The reflection of that darkened sapphire gaze held his crimson one in thrall, its owner closing the already negligible distance between them to languorously mouth at his jaw. The gunslinger’s whole physicality seemed to come alive and respond to that touch, nearly arching off the wall to beckon those articulate digits to hold him, before the drizzle of water pooling in his navel gave him a full-body shudder.
The curve of the ex-First’s smile Vincent felt against his face, and opened his eyes to see the beautiful play of it across that aquiline visage in the mirror. His lover chased away the goosebumps that had broken over his skin with the warmness of his touch, trailing slightly damp swipes across his limbs before reaching for the towel to wipe them away. The rapt attention Hewley was giving to the task at hand, the care with which he dabbled at the hickeys dappling his skin, the apology that fell from the part of his kiss-swollen mouth–
–they were all kindling flames of a different kind within his chest.
It was rude to interrupt, Vincent was well aware, but he couldn’t bear to hear Angeal apologize for something the older man cherished.
There’s nothing to apologize for.
Vincent didn’t know what this was, nor whence the desire to share with the younger man came. To share all that he had, which wasn’t much, and all that he was…
His gaze zeroed in on the golden digits that had risen to his command to press against those lips.
…even if it meant sharing the results of the experiments Hojo and Lucrecia had done on him, the toll they had taken.
Cradling the elbow of his left arm with his organic hand, his thumb hovered over the release button as his mind wandered, his body still tethered to the here and now by how Angeal was still holding him in his loose embrace. Instead of saying that there was no need for the apology he had so rudely cut short, ‘I had to see you again’ were the vocables that his voice formed, the words he should’ve uttered earlier. “ Needed to,” the ex-Turk ameliorated–because it was the truth, especially after the culmination of his conversation with Lucrecia. But perhaps, this was also an attempt to postpone what he was about to do. Just like back in Dio’s room.
A different kind of warmth permeated his being as calloused digits came to cover his hesitating ones. “You don’t have to,” the Banoran uttered quietly, good-naturedly; those aquiline features betrayed no judgment, no prejudice toward what the gunslinger had been poised to do.
“I want to.” Just like the beginning of their conversation, there was no hesitation in his voice, and if it sounded a bit too stern, there was no taking it back now that the words were out there in the open. Averting his gaze, Vincent finally pressed and held the button that would make his prosthetic come undone.
The sensation of not having what remained of his forearm clothed by the flexible inner socket was both welcoming and bizarre, especially since the times he went without his artificial arm kept stretching further and further apart. The paresthesia of flexing and relaxing the fingers he no longer had was a tingling traveling up his spine that welled in the base of his skull; in his brain, he could still wiggle them, turn his wrist this way and that just like he could with his good arm, but…there was simply no action there. Nothing.
Setting the restorative implant next to the sink, his hand came to hold the stump before Vincent finally raised his head to look into the clear skies of Angeal’s eyes. The revering captivation within them gave way to an unnameable emotion as the younger man met his gaze, tinged with the brightness of an affection and acceptance that was reminiscent of sunshine on the idyllic summery days of his youth back at the plains surrounding Nibelheim.
The ex-Turk couldn’t understand it, how readily those sentiments had been proffered to him; especially when the cerise of those trembling lips closed against a corner of his incredulous mouth–faint, akin to the shivering caress of a zephyr–he couldn’t fathom what Hewley was thanking him for when a ‘thank you’ was breathed against his skin. The second kiss mirrored the first on the other side of his visage, as was the sentiment that had accompanied it before.
“Thank you.” Solemn, the tone with which it was uttered; and it was as though what had just transpired was a privilege for the younger man, as though it was an honor that had been bestowed upon him.
The gunslinger didn’t know how to feel about that; couldn’t distinguish the nuances of the myriad of emotions coagulating within him enough to be able to place what he was feeling. Angeal’s fingers covered his yet again–surprisingly gentle for the powerful hands that could wield a broadsword such as what the younger man owned–but they didn’t move to prise his organic digits from where Vincent had been cradling what remained of his forearm, yet.
All of a sudden, the thumb that had been rubbing along his halted in its tracks; a hiss of a breath issued forth before the former SOLDIER’s head jerked to the side as his gaze roamed over the wall before fixing on a point. It was as though he’d heard a disembodied voice or seen a ghost, because the faint flush that had dusted Angeal’s cheeks drained from his visage. Despite not having heard nor seen anything, the ex-Turk followed the line of his companion’s sight just to make sure, only to find nothing there but tiles.
He couldn’t help but shiver with the sudden sense of absence that forced its way betwixt–even though they were close still–as the short distance seemed to have yawned and become an unbridgeable void. Holding all the thoughts at bay since he was at an absolute loss on what was going on, he reached for the hand that had fallen away to hang limply by their side. The touch seemed to bring the other occupant of the room back from wherever he’d disappeared to, but when he did come back, Angeal was avoiding his gaze; averting it to where the golden prosthetic was lying on porcelain while the gears turned in his sable-wreathed head.
The fingers that had been cradling didn’t leave their station, but those of the younger man’s other hand–which were held in his–extricated themselves to wrap around the restorative implant.
Valentine couldn’t believe that there’d come a day that he’d feel this way, but the silence...it was killing him.
“What happened?” He prodded quietly, seeking those sapphire eyes that had yet to meet his. The uncomfortable quench of quiescence drizzled further between them, the warmth from before replaced by an incorporeal onslaught of cold. Not wanting to break the only significant point of contact they now shared–with an inward jolt, he realized that Angeal seemed to be holding onto it as much as he–and not feeling comfortable enough to use whatever remained of his arm to hook it underneath Hewley’s chin to raise his head, he pleaded instead. “Angeal?”
“I have to go…”
It was so abrupt he had to take a moment to fully comprehend what he’d just heard. Noir eyebrows furrowed as the ex-Turk tried to make sense of it to no avail; self-doubt was a frigid poison leaking into his chest, exacerbating the damage of that insidious voice that fed him scathing remarks by the ear. Along with how Chaos seemed to want to surge, having returned full force out of nowhere, it was nearly enough to bring him to ruin, but Vincent strove to reign it in. He wasn’t aware of the reason behind those words, and Angeal didn’t seem like the kind of person who suddenly got cold feet. He knew he could be pretty much rationalizing it to soften the blow, but without asking the younger man to elaborate was there any other way to figure out what was going on?
“I see,” blurting out against his better judgment, even he winced inwardly at the unemotional affect of his voice. That seemed to be the thing that prompted the former SOLDIER to meet his gaze after all, eyes wide with disbelief before he ducked his head, his broad shoulders slumping forward almost imperceptibly.
“I…” The dark-haired ex-First trailed off, and Vincent was tempted to tell him that there was no need to explain himself; to tell him that whatever his reasons were, the older man wasn’t going to stop him from going, but what the other occupant of the room uttered next changed everything. “I know it doesn’t make any sense, but…I don’t know where I have to go…” Sapphire met crimson as Angeal continued, his voice earnest as he tried to elucidate, “It was like…there’s something out there…calling me. Not a voice, but a stirring within…a restlessness–” the former SOLDIER struggled with his words, “–no, an intrinsic urge that’s been lying dormant ‘till now. Vincent, I…” Something shivered within those cerulean depths, the ghost of an emotion fleeting across too quickly for him to name, but the gunslinger didn’t have to wait too long, for whatever Hewley was feeling was echoed in the words that followed, “I don’t know what’s going on.”
The primeval emotion that Vincent was all too familiar with. The very first time Chaos had taken the reins, the marksman had stood above the chasm of the unknown, with the very void staring back at him before it had become his reality. With all his control lost to the entity that had taken over, the gunman had gradually given himself up to the horror of not knowing what was happening to him, to the despair of never being able to see the world through his own eyes… Within that seemingly eternal darkness, he had to face the nightmares that used to solely exist behind his eyelids in real life, the shadow of all that he’d buried deep an undertow that swept him away.
It was a cold that burrowed within your bones and burned; a curse that kept on giving; a compounding neurosis feeding more power to the demon, and leaving you to necrose and crumble to dust.
Having put the prosthetic back next to the sink, the fingers that reached out to supplicate his were already touched by its frostbite, and Valentine couldn’t begrudge the younger man the warmth of his hand.
“I don’t know what I’m going to find there, I don’t–”
Nor could he begrudge him the heat of the kisses Angeal had bestowed upon him earlier. It’d be the second time he’d interrupted Hewley that day. Whereas the gunslinger had intended for it to be short and chaste, the former SOLDIER responded to it with the yearning of a man who hadn’t held his paramour in his arms for a long time. Somehow, it was different from all the ones that they’d shared before, as though the Banoran wanted to commit to memory the feeling of Vincent’s lips against his.
“Why does this feel like a goodbye?”
Lucrecia’s words from before seared to the forefront of his mind; so, as much as it physically pained him to retreat from the moist softness of that mouth, he had to; he had to open raven-wreathed eyelids to stare into those bottomless sapphire pools that were gazing into his very soul to make sure…?
Make sure what? That Angeal would come back? That this wasn’t the end of the road for the two of them even though they’d barely even begun?
“Can I ask for something?” Quiet, the query was almost inaudible, and Vincent wanted to respond ‘anything, everything’ just to keep the younger man there, because if this meant another person he had to lose–…
“And I’ve lost two of my closest friends…”
“We’ve all lost so many, too many good men have fallen, and I refuse to leave any more behind…”
“I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you to this country too…”
–“Will you promise to fight against anything that torments this world?” With wide crimson eyes, he stared mutely at the individual before him who continued. “If I came back and I wasn’t… myself …” The ebony-haired ex-Turk didn’t need to hear any more of what Angeal was saying. “Will you make sure that I don’t become the instigator of all that creates suffering?” Shaking his head, he extricated himself from their huddle despite Hewley’s half-hearted attempt to keep him there by their intertwined fingers.
Vincent didn’t know why he was so terrified of that concept, the imagery of a world without the younger man…a world within which he had to take the life of someone who had given him another shot at the life he’d been so eager to throw away. It was gut-wrenchingly bleak, inconceivable even. Raising his hand to clutch at the blooming ache in his chest, the realization that he’d forgotten his prosthetic in the bathroom in his haste hit him like a freight train. The insurge of doubt nearly pulled him under, and the onslaught of that insidious voice from before was relentless as it derided his desire to share all parts of himself with the younger man. The gratefulness he’d felt, the blissfulness of previous moments were no more as he stepped toward the door, all lost to the flood of his thoughts that was drowning out the throb of his heart.
What had seemed like a second chance at life until only minutes ago, was now a repeat of how his nightmares unfolded in Nibelheim. One of stasis, one of being unable to keep the person he loved from leaving…
Hojo’s denigrating laughter was still ringing in his ears, but this time, it was as though the whole world was laughing alongside him as silence sluiced back in the room, mocking him for ending up back in square one despite all that he’d done and tried doing differently.
It was enough to bring him to his knees, but Angeal was right there to catch him, following him to the floor and mirroring his posture as his kind-hearted palms cradled Vincent’s elbows.
If the former SOLDIER was here to ask that same question again, Valentine’s answer would still be the same, because he couldn’t… Hewley had been the reason he’d survived; if he hadn’t met the younger man back then, there was no telling where he’d be now; it was entirely possible that the life he’d been gradually rebuilding would be no more, and that he wouldn’t come as far as he had. If it was a matter of letting him go…Vincent knew how to do that, even if it meant going back to the dank sublevels of the Shinra Mansion again to sleep in his coffin like he had all those years ago… But Angeal wasn’t asking him that, because that would be asking him to fall back onto the same old habits again, and the mere idea of it was simply ridiculous.
What the ex-First was asking him to do was what the Turk of his yesteryears should’ve had no problem dealing with. Being able to do away with people had been the very definition of his job, and even then…he’d failed to end the nightmare before that monster of a man could bring about a world of suffering. And now, to be asked to do it to the one person who had given him what Vincent had no right to ask for? To throw away the acceptance, the respect, and the understanding he’d received by the man who had proffered them so willingly? To disregard all that they had shared, before and tonight when there was no denying their verity? To dismiss it all as something heated and forgettable to be able to force his immovable fingers to pull the trigger?
The gunslinger knew he couldn’t; he couldn’t without ripping a part of his being out just as he had with the Protomateria; only, that had been physical, painful as it had been, and this would be an existential rent with no remedy.
The feel of those nimble fingers traveling toward the wrist of his good hand brought him back to the present in which Chaos was strangely silent for some reason, watching with a breathless sort of bewilderment through golden irises as Angeal’s digits encircled his blackened wrist.
“I’m sorry,” was the gentle whisper that trembling mouth brushed against the back of his palm before turning his hand to plant a kiss just shy of his pulse point. The fringe of ebony lashes hid those scintillating sapphires but only for a moment, and when they were revealed again, there was nothing but the coagulation of emotion he felt within himself looking back.
No, I’m the one who should apologize , Vincent wanted to say, but those words merely reverberated around the emptiness of his psyche.
Cradling that angular jaw, the deep rumble of the moan that had bubbled up the back of his throat was lost when Chaos moved forward to crush his lips against that of the individual before him. Sloppy and rough, the greed with which the demon claimed that stern mouth was nothing like the man who’d been pushed to the backseat. The whisper of Vincent’s name was lost in the deep nuance of the kiss, and so was Angeal’s surprise and his surrender. The demon’s blackened claws clutched at Hewley’s hip, enthralled by the soft give of the flesh his talons were digging into. His canines dragged over and tugged on a lower vermillion, and the mellifluous moan that elicited from Angeal was like music to his ears. The metallic tang of blood that exploded on his taste buds was akin to an ambrosia he couldn’t have enough of; the escalating staccato of the jugular under his thumb an impetus to tighten his vice-like grip, and the stutter of the puffs of air he felt against his visage heralding the promise of death...his sole purpose.
At this rate, there was nothing that could restrain Chaos or push it back whence it’d come, but then, the deep baritone of Hewley’s voice uttered his name.
“Vinc-ent,”–a sacrosanct sacrament uttered on the wings of the faintest whispers–“Come back…” The fingers encircling his wrists tightened, trying to get Chaos to loosen his hold, but those words, the exquisitely delicious lifeblood that now flowed freely between the open-mouthed part of their lips, and how the younger man was trying to fight back further incensed the demon. “...to me.”
Come back? He wasn’t going anywhere. He wasn’t even the one who was going away. Angeal was, so he could make sure that the ex-First couldn’t go at all.
“Born of the Lifestream. Bringing all together. Stopping the imminent decay of tissue. But instead...born was...the chaos that took you...away from me.”
You must fight him, Vincent…
You don’t want him to die.
The rivulet of carmine running that stubbled jaw came into his view, the almost imperceptible impression of his hand around Angeal’s neck, and the reality that he’d hurt the younger man rushed to the forefront of his mind in full force.
Immediately, he pulled away, the motion so abrupt he fell back on his hind, panting with the strain of having managed to bring himself under control; or perhaps it was the demon himself who gave up his hold for the sake of not furthering the damage he’d already done… His chest felt like it was on fire, magma constricting his throat as he stared disbelievingly at the blood that coated the tips of his quavering organic fingers.
Vincent had no awareness of how he must’ve looked on the outside, his world within was crashing around his ears, but whatever it was–or perhaps it was due to another reason altogether–it’d moved Angeal to creep toward him on his knees, his palm-up hands reaching for him.
But the only thing the marksman could hear was the hoarseness of the ex-First’s voice and the intermittent coughs that marked his gasping inhales. The glare of the crimson indent of his thumb just shy of Angeal’s iliac furrow made him retreat even further.
“No!” The vociferation was wrought from the desperation and alarm he was feeling inside. “I hurt you… Please– ” Valentine pleaded before his back hit the bed. Perhaps it was for the best, perhaps it could push the younger man away before he could hurt him more than he already had…but those kind-hearted hands found his and intertwined their fingers, prosthetic and organic alike.
“I’m alright,” the raven-haired former SOLDIER reassured him, his voice dropping to a gravelly whisper as he sat between Vincent’s legs, “I’m okay.” Shame at what he’d done was a crown of thorns stuck in his throat, the pain of it rippling through his frame and making him lame. Angeal guided his crimson eyes with his cerulean ones to where his hip was healed and his digits had left his to wipe the rubicund ichor away. “You haven’t hurt me, Vincent–”
Unable to form words, the gunslinger mutely shook his head, averting his gaze to the side. The ex-Turk still knew what he had done, even if there were no visible scars to remind him of it. Even if mako or Jenova cells mended the damage he’d done so that no discernible trace was left, they couldn’t wipe away the blood coagulating at the tips of his fingers and underneath his nails…
It was Angeal’s calloused fingertips that rubbed it off, slowly, taking as much care as he had earlier with the washcloth. His sapphire gaze hadn’t left Vincent’s visage, entreating the older man’s rubicund eyes to meet his. The aforementioned man wasn’t yet ready to do that, even though he couldn’t deny the twinge of guilt that stabbed in his chest to have made those broad shoulders slump slightly forward and for that sable-wreathed head to hang somewhat defeatedly. His attention was drawn to where Hewley was still cradling his hand between his, and even when he moved to sit beside him, they didn’t leave; instead, the golden talons of his prosthetic–which had been summoned when Chaos had taken over–were intertwined with the digits of the ex-First’s right hand.
“I…” that silvery baritone tore through the uneasy pall of quiescence. Its owner trailed off before raising their joint hands betwixt to place a kiss upon Vincent’s knuckles. Beyond that point of contact, twin cerulean pools were swirling with emotion as their gazes finally met, and below–where Angeal took their intertwined digits–was the place where Chaos’s hand–still his though–had been wrapped around Hewley’s neck. “This–” When the younger man spoke again, it was to begin on a different note as he gestured vaguely in the direction of the hip closer to him with his free hand, “this, they’re nothing compared to how we looked, Genesis and I, after we came back home from our shenanigans. There wasn’t an inch of us that wasn’t covered in cuts, scrapes, or bruises.”
Vincent, obviously, wanted to argue that the scenarios weren’t really comparable, but his companion hurried onwards, “or during our SOLDIER training and spars, or the war…” Lowering their joint hands, the other occupant of the room turned to face him fully. “I know they’re not the same thing, but I am fine, Vincent. You–” There was an infinitesimal pause. “Chaos, didn’t harm me. When we came here, Ms. Crescent warned me, but I wanted to stay by your side. I–” The ex-First averted his gaze to where the cradle of their digits was resting against his crossed legs. “I care about you.” A miniscule nod followed, and perhaps it was to himself, for the sapphire-eyed man raised his head then to meet his amazed crimson stare. “All of you, as you are… I lo–”
For the third time that day, he was interrupting Angeal, but Vincent had to. He had to because he couldn’t believe what good he’d done in all his life to deserve something like this. Not only to have met Angeal Hewley and have him in his life, even if it was from far away, but to have the subject of his affections return them in kind.
It was true that the nature of their relationship was entirely different from the bond he’d shared with Lucrecia; that three years of long-distance correspondence was by no means a long time–even though it had felt that way at times, and the only thing that had assuaged that longing he hadn’t known he’d felt had been holding onto the device Hewley had bought for him–but it was certainly longer than the time he’d known Lucrecia before falling for her when he had. Was it the only explanation for the myriad of emotions he’d been feeling over the course of their rapport and especially those of the recent months? Why else had he braved that unfathomable expanse of unknown that awaited him in the aftermath of taking out the Protomateria, if not only for the sake of the individual before him?
Was it too far-fetched to call it all love?
Even so, he couldn’t allow Angeal to fully utter those words. Knowing that they were going to get separated, knowing that the man whom he was kissing like his life depended on it was going to leave...Vincent couldn’t, because he’d already cared too much. With his organic hand, he cradled the nape of the younger man’s neck, and tried to commit to memory the feel of that waterfall of obsidian against the tips of his fingers, the crush of those soft, lush lips against his and their unique egregious taste. With every inhale, he sought to steep his olfactory senses in the earthy musk that was singularly Angeal, and through the magma coalescing in his throat, he tried to breathe–no, to live his name.
Angeal , he wanted to say, but his voice broke into the shape of the whimper that withered behind the cage of his teeth. Chaste, just like the first kiss they had shared, but neither of them were willing to let go. Those powerful hands slithered under his knees, and then Hewley lifted him up to lay him onto the bed before joining him there. And even then, Vincent reached for those digits that had brushed the blood from his fingertips and clasped them between his golden ones.
It was just wide enough for the two of them to lean against the headboard, side by side. And maybe they could’ve lied down, but the marksman didn’t want to lose a second of the little time they might have left together. So, with his crimson irises gazing at the fading darkness of the welkin outside the window, he promised that he wouldn’t fall asleep. Why slumber when he could sit there and listen to his lover breathe? When he could hear him talk about all the shenanigans he and his childhood friend had been up to? Even as his head lolled to rest against a wellbuilt shoulder, even when his eyelids grew laden with sleep, he tried to hang onto every word and to inscribe the tranquil cadence of the younger man’s baritone into his auditory senses.
At one point, the weight of that sable-wreathed head leaned against his, following the impression of the kiss that was pressed against the crown of his head, and Vincent couldn’t help but smile drowsily; the seam of his lips loosened by the shroud of serenity that had descended over the room.
Somewhere, between the realm of wakefulness and unconsciousness, he whispered: I love you.
Or he thought he did, because then, his head lolled forward and jarred him awake.
Somebody knocked on the door.
It was Veld, but whatever he was saying didn’t register as the only thing the crimson-eyed ex-Turk could think of was the fact that beside him, the bed was empty.
Angeal wasn’t next to him.
Nobody was holding his hand.
His mind was working overtime to try to understand what was going on. There was no way the events of the night before were a figment of his imagination, but had they all been a fantastical dream?
On his left, the space the blue-eyed ex-First had occupied was cold, overlaid by the drape of a thin blanket that covered his torso and shoulders. Underneath it, Vincent knew he wasn’t wearing his shirt, but shoving it away just to check the only thing that could confirm that it all wasn’t a fantasy wasn’t an option in front of his former colleague.
To his right and on the floor, there was no sign of the younger man’s belt or khaki t-shirt that had been lying there discarded on the carpet either.
Instead, as his crimson irises followed the golden rays that were pouring in through the now-open window, Vincent found an ivory plumage...then another, and another. A shiver quavered down his frame, and–paying no heed at all to Veld or whatever he was saying–he wrapped the blanket tighter around his body as he got up on his feet. His legs somehow traversed the distance between the bed and the armchair of their own accord before giving out under him. Falling to his knees among the multitude of feathers that had fanned out in that part of the room, he was oblivious to the breeze tousling his hair and displacing more of the white pinions that were his proof.
“My protege tells me that it’s an angel’s wing, my childhood friend believed that they make us monsters… I don’t know which one I am, a monster that desires for world domination or revenge, or an angel who yearns for being a human…But I know one thing…”
“Will you promise to fight against anything that torments this world? If I came back and I wasn’t…myself…Will you make sure that I don’t become the instigator of all that creates suffering?”
In front of him, perched on the upholstery Angeal had occupied hours ago, was his second testimony, the Protomateria…
“I swear on my honor, I’ll bring it back to you.”
…and his third was his phone, left open on the latest message that had been sent to him.
From: A. Hewley
I’m sorry for leaving without a goodbye. I negotiated with Dio, there’s no need to be concerned. It’s all yours…
As I am.