Three Turks Walk into a Bar
by Teri Stearns and Meriko Robert

Another Monday evening has fallen on Midgar and the air holds you in its usual opressive mugginess--like being choked in a headlock, like being smothered in a wet blanket, like being drowned in thick glue... It's a feeling that drains the last thread of energy from you--a feeling beset by the gaudy, squalid atmosphere of the city itself. Escaping the humidity and life in general, a trio of antiheroes share a drink together in a deserted, smoky bar, too awake to go to their respective homes, too tired to be anywhere else.

Three Turks. Together...and yet somehow apart.

Te-Lyn, a platinum-blonde woman in her early 20's, with a tall, slender build and bright, exotic eyes smirks at one of them--the red-haired one--and seems quite satisfied with herself. The red-haired man--Merrick--shakes his head slightly and fails to conceal his own amusement. Returning to the table with three filled glasses, a handsome black-haired man sits down on on the end of the shared booth and distributes the glasses between the other two and himself. Vincent stares at his own glass for a moment in silence, then lifts it gingerly and sips the contents.

"Know what I just figured out today?" he mentions dryly.

"That you stand a better chance of being hit by a meteor than getting a raise from Shinra?" remarks Te.

Vincent eyes her reproachfully for a moment, but doesn't retort. "That today," he announces with a sarcastic sort of loftiness, " the three of us together, as a team, performed our 50th hit..." His voice trails off. Lost for further words, he takes another sip.

No one says anything for a moment, they all just stare at the table in maudlin afterthought. Finally, Te speaks. "Yea us," she says flatly. "Hell of a thing to be celebrating."

Merrick frowns a bit, his thoughtful expression half serious, half mocking, and suggests, "Maybe if you rephrase it it'll sound better." He raises his glass, tosses back his head, and announces in a voice that's so dead serious that you know he's being wildly sarcastic, "This day marks the successful completion of the 50th hit by the members of the Shinra ElectricPower Company's very own Turks. And being that one of those Turks is an overbearing, anal-retentive control freak, and yet another one of those Turks can't keep her fat mouth shut and her divine opinions to herself no matter what's going on, the fact that these Turks have completed 50 hits without getting killed or killing each other...is very much a hell of a thing to be celebrating."

And with that, the redhead tosses back his drink, downing a good four ounces of alcohol as smoothly as if it were tap water. Smoother, in fact, considering the toxins polluting Midgar's water supply. The other two glasses remain full, as his companions both stare at him with one eyebrow raised each. While Te-Lyn searches for one of her "divine opinions" to unload on her partner, Vincent seems to be struggling against the urge to laugh, and comments,

"You know, Merrick...I think that's the most I've ever heard you say in one breath in our entire career together. Usually I just get nods and grunts and the occassional, 'I need coffee.' Were you drinking before we got here?"

Te-Lyn gives an inelegant snort and says, "No...when he's drunk he gets moody. THAT was just plain stupid, so I'm pretty sure he's still sober."

Fishing a waitress over with one finger, Merrick replies in a more honest voice, "I'm short on sleep, I'm tired, and I'm pissed because I broke a blade on a guy's C3. Can't I even string five words together without being picked on, or does Te hold the rights to all smartass remarks?"

"The answers to your questions are no, you can't, and yes, she does," replies Vincent, smiling and draining his own glass belatedly, while Merrick makes an executive decision and orders two bottles from the waitress who has just appeared, correctly anticipating another long night spent unwinding, rehashing, debriefing, and whatever else this strange bonding thing was that they did once in a while.

"And by the way," adds the raven-haired man, "where do you get off calling me overbearing and anal-retentive?"

"You forgot control freak," supplies Te helpfully, while Merrick takes a deep breath.

"'Stay back for a second,'" quotes the redhead, "'I'll go in first.' 'Read the Ops Manual, Merrick.' 'Don't forget the plan, Merrick.'"

"'Keep your cool, Te. Better safe than dead, Te,'" adds the young woman next to him, in a droningly patient voice. The recitals keep coming, in increasingly complaining voices, and accompanied by many rolled eyes.

"'Make sure you always have a backup, Merrick. Those blades are only good for close combat.'"

"'I'll go talk to the boss, and you two get checked out in the infirmary.'"

"'Check your corners, Merrick.'"

"'Watch your back, Te.'"

"'I'll draw their fire.'"

"'You guys go around back.'"

Vincent attempts to protest, but is cut off by more comments, which rapidly degenerate from fact into ridiculousness.

"'Hold my hand when we cross the street to the drug warehouse, Merrick."

"'Ooh, a gunshot wound. Does Te-Lyn wanna bandaid?'"

"'Coffee is bad for you, Merrick. Here's a nice bottle of milk instead.'"

"'I'm only telling you guys this for your own good, and because I'm the leader, and because you two are just a pair of five year olds who can't load a nine mili without stopping to play Chocobo Farm with the bullets!'" finishes Te-Lyn, before Vincent, who has managed to choke down his laughs, finally cuts them both off.

"All right!" he declares, lifting his hands in surrender, "Fine, fine...I'm a little controlling."

"A little?!" retorts Te-Lyn, and is immediately pointed at with one long finger.

"And you," states Vincent, "absolutely deserve that fat mouth crack." Turning to Merrick, he dubiously adds, "And I think you ARE drunk...or something. What's with you anyway?"

Merrick declines to reply, sipping at his glass once more. Te-Lyn offers a response instead, which results in Merrick inhaling a good ounce of whiskey and then coughing on it until his face is nearly as red as his hair.

"Oh, he's just in a pissy mood because you almost got shot - again - today," she says, smiling rather inappropriately over her own cut glass tumbler. "You know he's totally in love with you, Vincent."

"Well," replies her boss while helpfully pounding Merrick on the back, "he doesn't have much of a life outside of work, and..." Vincent eyes Te-Lyn up and down, as if mentally noting all of her outward assets...striking platinum hair ruffled becomingly on her pert head, glittering sea-green eyes, graceful neck, and a body that was VERY not bad, and then finishes, "...I AM the more attractive of the two of us."

Unfazed and quite amused, Te continues to return Vincent's glare unwaveringly, noting, not for the first time, how attractive he really is. High cheekbones, lustrous hair and smooth, pale skin stretched over a lean frame, he seems to posess a certain quality of elegance and agility most men don't have. 'Handsome' just doesn't say it quite right. Vincent is one of those rare men who would actually be considered...beautiful. Only to be enhanced by the fact that, with the exception of his last jibe, he rarely seems to care...or notice.

She'd be damned to let him get away with that little remark though.

"Yeah...maybe in a dress," she leers with a sensually peverse sort of smile. "Really, Vincent, you should grow your hair long and put little bows in it too."

"That's sooo not even funny," intejects Vincent, his smirk belying his censure. Vincent once let slip that his past attempts to grow his hair long when he had been younger had resulted in a few embarassing cases of being mistaken for the wrong gender. Embarrassing, yes...but riotously funny in hindsight.

"But it probably has less to do with looks and more to do with preference," Te purrs. "Merrick knows he doesn't have a ghost's chance in hell of sleeping with me. You, on the other hand..."

"So now you're calling me gay." Vincent remarked.

"And easy, but that was less obvious," she casually ammends.

Vincent silently wondered when he'd drawn the your-turn-to-get-picked-on straw this evening. "Great," he scoffs, "so now I'm an overbearing, anal-retentive, drag-queen control freak. Did I miss anything?"

"Nope, that about covers it," mutters Merrick, relieved that the conversation has been drawn away from himself. "For now anyway. Night's not over yet."

"Check, please," says Vincent dryly and reaches across the table for one of the bottles to refill his glass. Truth be told, Vincent didn't mind the teasing one iota. He'd take the brundt of their jokes and digs--he was capable enough to throw them right back. But it was these routine "bonding sessions" where he began to really learn about Merrick and Te and one of the few times in his life he would allow himself to relax enough to be known. Fact of the matter is, Vincent didn't mind this at all.

"Now the question is," drawls Te lazily, slouching back in a very unlady-like posture that she still manages to make look good, if not a little Tom-boyish, "is which one of the two of you would be on top?"

"Me," Vincent replies immediately, which is NOT what Merrick was expecting to come flying out of his very much straight as well as mostly straight-laced superior.

"Excuse me?!"

"Oh, right. Sorry," apologizes Vincent. "I. I would be on top, not me would be on top," he restates, with not much improvement on Merrick's mental state, although Te-Lyn is giggling...or would be, if she ever did anything so girlish and cute, which she doesn't, so it's to be supposed that she's not really giggling, but simply finding a new way to respire while expressing humor.

"After all," Vincent explains, "I'm your boss, so it really wouldn't do for me to take a submissive role in our relationship, now would it?"

"Could we not talk like there IS a relationship?" the redheaded subordinate asks in a pained voice. With renewed discomfort at having been handed the pick-on-me hat once more, Merrick adds, "Why are we even talking about this anyway?"

"Because Te needs more fantasy fodder, I suppose," replies Vincent. The implied voyeur wants very much to make some snide remark to this, but is currently being distracted by some mental images. A vivid imagination can be pretty entertaining sometimes. The blonde looks at her two fellows with an openly speculative air, and they both stare back in some small consternation, becoming aware that they're being mentally undressed...together.

"Te...you're sick," observes Merrick, amusement creeping into his voice despite himself.

"I'm pretty sure I can write you up for this," adds Vincent.

"For what?" Te asks, batting her eyelashes in a manner that was both mockingly innocent and disturbingly adult.

"For thinking what you're thinking about your superior," replies her boss.

"Hey, I can't help it," Te protests, "I'm a visual person."

Merrick decides to test this. Leaning toward her with his arms resting comfortably on the table, he intones solemnly, "Hojo in a thong."

Te seems to have been telling the truth, and evidences this with an absolutely disgusted cry and some amusing optical gymnastics as she sets her eyes on everything that she can in the bar in order to more quickly speed Merrick's vision out of her mental queue. A vivid imagination can be pretty inconvenient sometimes, too.

Her partners dissolve into laughter at her discomfort as well as her barrage of uncomplimentary remarks about Merrick's lamentable tastes, sexual proclivities, and dubious heritage.

While Te-Lyn finishes up one particularly long-winded series of epithets involving a warthog and Merrick's father among other things, Vincent remarks, "I just had another thought."

Te-Lyn stops her griping long enough to quip, "Two thoughts in one night? Don't overdo it, Vincent."

Sparing a moment to toss a hurt look her way, Vincent says, "I actually know almost nothing about the two of you, and I bet you know even less about me."

"Now YOU'RE drunk," Merrick declares, while Te-Lyn protests in an insulted tone,

"What the hell are you talking about? All this time and everything we've been through, and we don't know each other?"

Vincent holds up one hand each for his two ruffled co-horts. "I didn't say we didn't know each other. Hell, we could probably pretend to BE each other by now, and do some pretty convincing acting. I'm saying that we don't have much in the fact-file."

"For instance," the dark-haired man continues, "I can tell when Merrick needs coffee, and I can tell when Te needs to be alone, but do you know that I don't even know your last names?"

"Don't have one," Merrick says with a shrug, and Te replies with scorn,

"You couldn't possibly pronounce it."

A pause, and then Vincent adds, looking intently at his youngest team member, "And I can tell that Merrick really doesn't give a crap about not having a last name, and that you care more than you want to about your last name...and not about its pronunciation."

For seconds that seem to be almost tangibly long, Vincent and Te exchange cool glances and it appears that for the first time since she'd come into their little ring, Te-Lyn is actually short on words. Merrick's eyes shift from Te to Vincent and back to Te. Merrick has heard her talk about her past quite frequently...but only to a certain point, and then it always seems to hit a wall. A very hard brick wall maked "Detour" and "Keep out or else."

It's obvious from her facial structure and slightly foreign accent that only surfaces when she's either very tired or extremely angry that she is Wutainian. But she's never said as much. Never talked about it at all, in fact, not her past life there, not the country itself, not even the food. Merrick had noted this, naturally, not much slips by him, he's quite observant...but it wasn't his business to ask. Some things he wondered if he'd rather not know. However, he wasn't going to simply close his ears, either. Indeed, his curiosity was very piqued.

"Don't think you're gonna trick me into admiting something I don't want to," she says finally, her voice loosing all trace of amusement formerly heard.

"I would never trick you, Te," Vincent tells her honestly. "I'm just making an observation."

Te snorts and a faint smile curls at the edge of her mouth, easing some of the tension from the last few moments. "Your observations seem more like inquisitions."

Vincent shrugs. "Natural gift, what can I say?"

Then Te says, unexpectedly, "You know what Wutainians do to you when you oppose the family government?"

The two men blink in surprised unison and say nothing in return, save for Vincent shaking his head 'no' with barely a hint of movement.

"Neither do I," Te says breezily. "That's why I left. I mean, after my entire family had disappeared and all, it wasn't really on my list of things to discover..."

Her partners sit in silence for a moment, digesting this information. Finally Merrick finds himself asking, "You don't know what happened to your family?"

Te turns her head fully to look at him as if he'd just suggested she might look good with blue hair. Then she smiles at him, a warm smile that takes Merrick completely aback, and says, "Of course I do...they're right here. Sitting at this table."

As soon as the sentiment appeared, Te burps unattractively and picks up her empty glass, setting it down a little harder than necessary in front of Vincent. "Now you can both kiss my Asian ass while 'mom' pours me another drink and 'dear brother' here," she emphasizes with a kick under the table directed at Merrick's shins, "tells us something interesting. C'mon Merrick. Your turn to share with the class."

Instead of "sharing" immediately, Merrick whips his head around to Vincent and...God forgive him...WHINES, "Mooooom, she kicked meeeee!"

Her usual hard-shelled cool apparently loosened by copious amounts of alcohol and the unexpected decision to get downright mushy on her fellow Turks, Te-Lyn actually leans back and laughs loudly and abruptly enough to turn the heads of the bar patrons who are seated nearest them. One glimpse of the blue suits, however, and the heads just as quickly turned back. Midgar Unofficial Keeping-You-Alive Handbook Rule Number 1: Avoid gaining the attention of Turks. These three assassins could strip naked and start lighting the heads of the other people in the room on fire while singing raunchy renditions of elementary school campfire songs and no one - at least, none of the sober or halfway intelligent ones - would even make eye contact with them for fear of accidentally volunteering for a larger than usual portion of whatever punishment was being meted out.

No one messes with a Turk. Unless they're a Turk, too.

Vincent slaps Merrick upside the head.

"Ow!"

"Stop being an ass," Vincent remarks laconically. "Te was man enough to lay it on the table." Here a snort from Te-Lyn in reaction to her apparent gender switch. "C'mon, Merrick. Family. Details. Now."

In an instant, the joking expression falls off of the younger man's face, and he is left wearing a neutral expression...or perhaps neutral leaning towards cold-enough-to-freeze-the-balls-off-of-a-brass-monkey. A passerby would interpret the expression - or expressionlessness - as they wished, according to whatever their current state of mind might be. Vincent saw this expression and recognized it as a sign that Merrick was now in will-communicate-only-under-duress mode. And Te-Lyn, who despite having known Merrick for less time than Vincent, understood him far better, saw that Vincent had been wrong when he'd noted that Merrick didn't care about his lack of a family name...or a family.

As if following up on Te-Lyn's unformed thought, Merrick gives a short sigh and says, "Same as Te. You two are my family," and then leans back in his seat, toying with his glass and not offering any more comments, implying that his few words were the only ones needing to be said.

A long silence later, which is broken only by the rhythmic tapping of Vincent's fingers on the table, Merrick bends under the weight of his boss' expectant don't-think-you're-getting-off-that-easy glare and says suddenly, "Fine!"...and then launches forth into more words than Vincent ever expected him to say at one time, giving yet another show of his usually restrained mercurial personality.

"I was raised by a pack of wolves, pretty much," Merrick begins, scowling at the beaten surface of the table, "except that these wolves wore make-up and had daggers instead of fangs. One of these prostitutes must have been my mother, but hell if I know or cared which one. I must have been fed and clothed, but all I remember is trying to recall at the tender age of four which hooker was behind which door, so that I wouldn't get beaten too much more than my usual quota for messing up the customers' orders."

His companions listen in silence, their eyes wide and trained on Merrick constantly, as if the shock of hearing these words come tumbling out of his mouth have nudged their perception of reality just enough that they want to keep an eye on him...just in case he suddenly disappears into thin air. Vincent in particular muses over the absolute inadequacy of the recruiting folder he had beeen given on this man.

A post-it note reading, "Twenty-something old cat burglar named Merrick. Looks good." And then ten pages of criminal records, plus a list of all other suspected criminal activities which could not be proved quite yet. And a silent form standing in his office, tense and wary and so very angry at Vincent for no reason. Now one of his two best friends.

"And then I went from the whores' nest to the thieves den," Merrick continued. "Some fifteen or so crooks needed someone small and wiry to get in windows and down chimneys and through sewers...a few had seen me running around while they were waiting for one of the 'girls,' and one night I found myself getting on-the-job training in all the classic arts of transferring property from one hand to the other."

"Shinra picked me up a few times, but they must have had some really strange catch-and-release program back then, because I was always back on the streets before I could figure out what happened. Grew taller, grew older, grew stronger...and so I started to have to learn more than lifting window latches. I learned to use guns and knives, I learned all the alleys and sewers of the city, and I learned to read and write...because all of those things were weapons I could use. Shinra thought that all of those things made me a weapons THEY could use. And they were right, I guess," Merrick says, looking up for the first time since he began speaking.

He glances quickly at two pairs of eyes, one green, one brown, both familiar and safe and there for him.

"I'm not grateful to God for keeping me alive," Merrick declares firmly, as if daring either one of them to rebuke the sentiment. "I'm not grateful for the food I was given or the training I received, and not even for this job, this chance at life, this oh-so-wonderful opportunity that Shinra thought they were so gracious in giving to me! 'I'm a survivor,' 'it's a miracle,' 'this is a great gift I've been given'...they can all go to hell for all I care!" The last few words are delivered in a rather savage tone, a hint of the constant, mindless anger that Vincent had seen upon first meeting Merrick. But it, like his voice, fades away, and Merrick's final words upon the subject are subdued, nearly lost in the din and babble of the busy bar.

"But now there's you guys...you really are the only family I have, or have ever had...so..."

So maybe he is grateful for the tortured life that has deposited him here. So maybe he is thankful to Shinra for giving him two people to love, out of the entire world that he never knew to feel anything towards but hatred. So maybe life is worth something, maybe these two make life worth living, maybe once he thinks to sit up and take notice, he realizes that he doesn't hate quite as much any longer, and that he loves more than he ever thought possible, and...

...and this is nothing that he had any idea how to express, so he just shrugs, and his "sharing" is really over this time.

For now.

Merrick glances over at Te-Lyn and then Vincent, and his superior gives him a small, crooked smile, with a slightly helpless expression on his face, as if unsure of what to do next. A joke is out of the question at the moment, and sympathy isn't even to be thought of, much less pity. He had certainly not been expecting this sort of emotional outpouring when he'd first suggested that the three of them hit their usual watering hole tonight.

Vincent and Merrick both look away as a sudden impact shudders through the table, and find Te-Lyn crawling over the tabletop separating her from the two men. A few discarded glasses tip over and roll off of the table as she plunks herself down, wraps her arms around a very surprised redheaded Turk's neck, and kisses him for about eight seconds. This may not sound very long to you, but believe me...any longer than that and Merrick would have had a stroke.

Immediately afterwards, she shows her boss the same, mildly tipsy affection with utter disregard for rank and title, and then manages to settle herself back into her former seat. Not finding her glass where she'd left it - it was on the floor in six different pieces - she turns her head and yells, "WAITRESS!," glares around the room, and then dissolves into giggles. And it really is giggles this time.

Vincent and Merrick resume their interrupted eye contact, the former with a bemused look on his face, and the latter holding one hand over his mouth as if holding back laughter...or something along the lines of, "What the really-bad-word-that-Merrick-just-invented was that?!" After a second or two of listening to the blonde Turk fizzing below the table's edge - for she'd slumped over lengthwise on her side of the booth - both men said laughingly, "SHE'S drunk."

Merrick and Vincent continute to exchange amused glances between themselves and the seemingly empty opposite side of the booth where Te still had not emerged from beneath the table's depths. When a full minute passes and still no Te, amusement gives way to concern when Merrick wonders outloud, "You think she's passed out?"

Vincent shakes his head. "I thought she could hold her liquor better than that. I've never seen anyone who's literally been drunk under the table."

After a pause, Merrick suggests, "Should we take her home?"

"I suppose we can drop her off at her place before I take you home," is Vincent's practical response. "It might take both of us to get her into the car."

"Oh no no no!" comes the protest, as first one slender hand finds its way to the table top, then the next. Surfacing from beneath the table, Te pulls herself up and manages to resume an upright posture, leaning her elbows on the table for support. Her pale face is flushed from the alcohol, and presumably the impromtu kisses, but her eyes are once again sharp and clear. "No, way buddy. You're not getting away with it that easily," she admonishes, waving a finger in Vincent's face.

Vincent reels slightly at the action, but primarly looks puzzled. "Getting away with what?" he asks suspiciously. For Vincent Valentine and to two other people that presume to know him, that look might be classified as 'innocent'. But as both Vincent Valentine and those two other people know, this Turk is anything but 'innocent'.

"We're not leaving here until we hear about you, dammit," demands Te. "We've spilled our guts, now it's your turn."

Vincent smiles. Naturally it would be his turn. Ok. Time to get this over with... "Ok, Te," he placates, taking hold of her finger and placing her hand once again on the table. "I'll humor you because you're drunk."

"You're stalling." Te's thin eyebrows draw down in an annoyed V and she glares at him impatiently.

"Well, there's not really much to tell," he maintains. Then the words spill out rapid and aloof as if he were recalling the details from a movie he'd recently seen. "I mean, I grew up in Midgar. Been here all my life. I'm an orphan, so I don't have any parents. Lived in the slums, fended for myself and came to work for Shinra when I was old enough to realize it was better than starving."

He pauses for a moment and his hands drop from their defensive gesture to the glass in front of him. Voice lowering, he goes on with an air of dark sarcasm, "Vincent Valentine isn't even my real name. Like Merrick here, I don't know my name. So I made one up... Or rather, borrowed someone else's.

"When I was about ten years old or so, I snuck into a traveling stage show on the upper west side and saw this magician. Well, more like stuntman... For his finale he did this trick where they stuck him in this water chamber in a straight jacket upside down and he had two minutes to escape before they busted the glass. And, like the rest of the audience, I sat there and held my breath while the guy struggled for almost exactly two minutes before he got out. But that's not what impressed me..." he said leaning forward a little as if confiding a great, dark secret, and the others leaned in to listen more intently. Vincent, on the rare occasions he decided to open his mouth, could tell a hell of a story.

"Two days later I figured out how he'd done that trick. Some sort of gaffe is triggered when they pull the curtain around it, and the rest is just showmanship. But right in the middle of the act, he performed this Amazing Bullet stunt. Now this isn't the one where they catch a bullet in their teeth, no... This guy had his assistant strapped to an upright board with ballons pinned around the upper corners. Now this girl, skinny and tiny as she was, wasn't much smaller than this board. They blindfolded the magician and gave him a rifle. An M24 sniper rifle, to be exact. Then she had this little clicker toy, and with it she sorta clicked around in a circle where the targets were. When she was done, he fired four shots in a row and hit all the balloons without hitting her. While blindfolded! And to this fucking day," he said punctuating his words by tapping his finger on the table, "I don't know how he did it. I swear it wasn't a trick, though. You could smell gunpowder. I decided right then that I wanted to be that guy." Then he added with a satiric smile: "So I took his name."

Vincent leans back in his chair again with a small degree of satisfaction. Merrick snorts and shakes his head, sitting back again himself. "Cute story,Vincent," Te grins back at him predatorily.

Vincent shrugs. "Not a story," he smiles. "Not everything in my life is tragic and horrible."

"That's not what I wanted to know." Te quickly dissuades the conversation, adopting a more serious tone.

"Then what?" asks Vincent, matching her intonation.

"I don't want to know about your childhood, or how your chose that clever little name for yourself. I can pretty much guess how you joined Shinra and perhaps even how you became a Turk..."

She pauses and Vincent arches a curious eyebrow. "Yes?"

"What I want to know," she says slowly, "is why?"

There is was, on the table, the question of the century. Why had Vincent Valentine become a Turk. Not how, or when or even what he got out of it. Why? "Ask the easy questions, don't you Te-Lyn?" Vincent made a mental note never to underestimate Te's intellect again, even when she was inebriated.

Now if he only knew the answer...

"Well, why not?" Vincent asks blandly, answering Te-Lyn's conundrum with an unanswerable question of his own. This reply only gains him another irritated frown, and he smiles and nods to head off yet another barrage of complaints about his unfair reticence.

"I know, I know," he placates Te-Lyn. "Not what you wanted to hear. But really...I don't have any involved answers for you."

Vincent looks back and forth between his two protoges, two hurt and angry and dangerous people whom he'd managed to train and tone down...but not tame. Never that. He has no use for complaisant Turks. The very idea was an oxymoron. He needs sharp, fierce, and deadly, just as he needs guns that are clean, accurate, and reliable, and these two fit the bill to a frightening degree. That these two assassins of his are also capable of the utmost loyalty and an amazing depth of affection - carefully hoarded and hidden - are only one more reason to marvel at human nature and all its possibilities. Merrick especially surprises him on occassion, when he is able to catch rare glimpses of how deeply the younger man feels towards his fellow Turks. Something like Te-Lyn's mercurial behaviour several minutes ago, when she followed up a cold shoulder with a warm smile and loving words. They had all of them been hardly more than jagged blades when they'd first set their respective foot onto Shinra's tiled floors, tempered by life, with cruel, biting edges. Although none the less dangerous, they were all more polished now...more akin to scalpels which Shinra used to excise unwanted flesh from the city they were slowly but surely taking over from the inside out.

God, why HAD he chosen this?

"Because," he mused aloud, but as if talking to himself and continuing his mental meanderings, "it was the highest I could reach at the time."

Merrick frowns and Te-Lyn raises her eyebrows at the idea that Shinra could encompass the pinnacle of a man's hopes and dreams. Catching their dubious expressions, Vincent gives a mirthless laugh and asks,

"And what? Did you nod off in the slums and dream of one day having a little house in some no-name town, raising little copies of yourself and then dying of old age?"

"Think about it," Vincent insists. "I had nothing. Nothing. Not one single thing to push me towards any kind of normal future. If I'd been born in Gongaga or some other backwater town...I probably would have ended up as a shopkeeper or something. Nice job, respectable and all that. Had a pretty wife who could cook good, little house with flowers in the front yard. I've got my own share of ambition and pride." Vincent smiles in a depreciating manner, but without any laughter in his eyes, waving one hand about as if to better convince his listeners of the rightness of his words.

"But I wasn't born in Gongaga," he continues, leaning over the table slightly. "I was a slum rat. All I knew growing up was poverty and crime. But I wasn't going to just survive...I wanted to fight my way to the top of the hellhole I was in. My...ambition, or whatever it is, wouldn't let me live and die as just some nameless, homeless, powerless nobody. But my circumstances...my birth, my past, my life...that didn't allow me to look any higher than the top of the criminal food chain."

His listeners are more than convinced by now...they are realizing that the truth of his words applies to them as well, and that realization is sobering and sad. Vincent smiles again, this time, at his two friends. He's ambitious, proud...and selfish. He wouldn't wish these two away from him and in better circumstances if he could, right now...he wants them right where they are...by his side. It's very noble to preach self-sacrifice and all of that, but that's just one more thing that circumstances did not allow into Vincent Valentine's make-up.

Te-Lyn and Merrick are his family, just as much as he is theirs, and in his role, he takes on a slightly more protective, fatherly stance. He teaches them, leads them, and protects them as well as he can while making sure that they get their fair share of experience and strengthening hardship. He can stand in the stead of a father for them in some aspects, but just as his circumstances only let him reach so high, who he is will only let him send his prodigals only so far. And he doesn't even see the lack, for all of his philosophical bend. If he'd been in Gongaga, he would have hoped for his children to have a long, happy life filled with success, wealth, and love. As it was...he held tight to the only two people he loved and trusted implicitly, and hoped without much real hope that they would survive to at least 30, and die quickly from a bullet to the head or heart.

Vincent notices Te-Lyn watching him intently, not with any of her former impatience, irritation, or inebriation, but with a calm, quiet watchfulness that reminds him of a cat who is neither hungry nor playful...but just...watching.

He raises an inquisitive eyebrow toward her and asks, "Yes?"

"So that's your not-very-involved answer?" she asks, a small smile quirking up her lips at one corner.

He smiles again, with actual feeling this time rather than just teeth, and replies, "Well, I had to explain it all in more detail because you two idiots didn't get it the first time."

"Yeah, well," cuts in Merrick, "since we're such mental morons, here's another thing you can get for us." And with that, he flutters a small piece of paper with an obscenely large number - considering the quality of the alcohol - written on the bottom in front of Vincent's face.

Vincent stares at the paper like he's just been handed a plate of live escargo when he'd ordered a cheeseburger. "I don't recall saying the words, 'its on me tonight' before we got here," he says dryly not moving a muscle to accept the bill.

Merrick smirks and grabs Vincent's hand, slapping the note into his palm. "Well, I just nominated you...mom."

"Here, here! I'll drink to that," agrees Te lifting her empty glass into the air.

"And you, I think, have had enough, sis," says Merrick taking the glass away from her and setting it down in front of him out of her reach. "You have to work tomorrow, you know."

Te mimics his reprimand similary to how a child would sass an older sibling, and Vincent can't help but smile at the picture his two 'children' are creating. Sometimes, for the love of God, they seem too young for this life, he thinks with sad affection. Then glances at them again as Merrick very discreetly so as to not try and alert Vincent to his action, quickly sticks his tongue out at Te. Other times I know it, Vincent thinks again with a private little chuckle.

Slapping the bill on the table top, Vincent reaches into his pocket for his wallet and fishes out enough gil to cover the tab and tack on a sizeable tip. Turks they are. Ruthless, cunning, quick and deadly, they might be. But that doesn't mean they're not civilized. Well...he thinks as he looks around at the toppled over empties and slivers of broken glass on the floor from Te-Lyn's improvised table show... mostly.

"Fine, if you two kids are done bickering, I think I'd like to go now," Vincent announced, streching out his long legs and rising from the table.

"You ok to drive?" asks Te.

"As opposed to who? You?" he scoffs.

Te scowls at him darkly before walking a reasonably straight line for the door. "As opposed to my fist up your ass," she mutters only loud enough so he can hear as she passes by him.

Vincent chews his bottom lip to conceal his smile and muses to himself, would Te be as beautiful and appealing if it weren't for her mouth? Vincent can definitely reason Merrick's attraction to her...not that Merrick's admitted as much. But it doens't take a highly trainied sharpshooter to see that...

Heading after Te-Lyn to the exit of the bar, Merrick stops Vincent with a hand on his shoulder before he pushes the door open. "Hey, Vincent..."

Vincent turns and glances down at the shorter red-head and raises his eyebrows questioningly. "Hmm?"

Merrick pauses and searches his superior's eyes for a moment before flashing him an knowing smile. "Did you really name yourself after a magician?"

Vincent opens his mouth as if to answer then shuts it again as a smirk curls at the edge of his mouth. "Merrick...what do you think?"

"I think," he begins to speculate, "that you probably lifted someone's wallet and decided to take their name with it."

Vincent looks up and thoughtfully considers the idea for a moment. "Not bad, Merrick," he agrees and slaps him heartily on the shoulder. "I'll remember that one for next time." With that, Vincent casually withdraws a familiar brown folded leather wallet from the inside of his blazer and holds it out to Merrick, giving him a friendly wink. Speachless, Merrick takes the wallet--the wallet he recognizes as his own--and slowly it dawns on him that once again, he's been conned by the best trickster in town.

Looking up at him with a sardonic grin, Merrick chides, "Don't give up your day job, Vincent."

Pushing the door open with an 'after you' motion of his hand, Vincent smiles back as he walks by. "Don't plan to, Merrick."

Three Turks on an overtime mission to unwind and share a little relaxing conversation. Three Turks had walked into a bar...

...and walked out as a family.

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