[Shattered] Ice 06

Chapter Six – On Our Own

Cid sighed as he looked at the expressions on the faces of everyone. Aeris’ death had hit all of them hard, even Vincent. For the first casualty of their journey to be someone as full of life as Aeris… well, it just showed them their own mortality. It reminded them all that it wasn’t a game; they were fighting for their lives.

Yet, Cloud claimed that she came to him in a dream, and he knew where she was going, so they all started on a chase that would take them across the world, through Bone Village, to the City of the Ancients. It was there that they received their worst shock.

Cid sighed again as his gaze lowered. He puffed quietly on a cigarette, exhaling the blue-grey smoke into the chilly air as his thoughts turned inwards, his mind replaying the scene once again.

They had come to the City of the Ancients expecting to aid Aeris, to protect her from whatever foul plot that Sephiroth had concocted. But it had been too little, too late. Before their eyes, the crazed General had dropped from above, spearing the flower-girl in half with his sword. She had knelt there on that altar beneath the city, so angelic and pure, praying to save the world she had come to love. And Sephiroth had so callously stolen that, taken her life and peace. He had disappeared after boldly proclaiming his plans and fucking up Cloud’s mind even further, leaving them a nasty gift in the form of another Jenova body part, and rage had boiled over their party, Vincent and Cid having gone with Cloud into the City. The Jenova-form had been demolished, managing one last taunt before dissolving into nothingness.

It had been quite heart breaking to see Cloud after the battle, repeatedly casting Life and using Phoenix Down on Aeris. But it was far too late. Her soul had already departed. The spells and items had been completely useless. Sephiroth had succeeded in distracting them long enough to lose their small window of time. Aeris was… gone, and nothing could bring her back.

Once Cloud had been forced to give up, there hadn’t been much more to be said. He had cradled her body gently in his arms and had lifted her up from the altar of the underground City. He had carried his beloved flower-girl out to the pool beyond the ancient building, wading out into the deep waters.

There, under the saddened eyes of all his companions, he had laid her body to rest. The pain in his mako gaze had been easily read, but there had been nothing anyone could say. So they had just stood in silence, watching the heart of their leader break even as he ruthlessly blamed himself in unspoken words.

Afterwards, they had all trudged to the rundown home they had claimed as shelter for the night. The companions had dispersed in their own directions, still staying within the confines of the common room, waiting for new plans. But no one had been in the hurry to speak yet or to move on. If indeed anyone had any clue what they were to do next.

None among them understood anything about the Cetra and the Promised Land. Aeris had been the very last of the Ancients, and now, she laid at the bottom of a lake. She had seemed so peaceful in her last moments, or so Cid had thought. He wondered why Cloud chose to bring Vince and him along, but he hadn’t once stopped to question their leader’s choice.

It had been Aeris, who was slowly leading them, even though Cloud was still technically in charge. It was her knowledge that had given them their only clues. And now, they were on their own.

Out of all of them, Cloud had taken her death the hardest. This had come as no surprise since the two of them had gotten really close in the last couple of weeks. Cid wouldn’t be surprised if love had been involved, in any small but precious amount. The pilot had learned from Yuffie about the night they spent in Gold Saucer, considering it was the two of them who caught Cait Sith in the act of his betrayal. At least, Cloud had Tifa to fall back on; that girl would do anything for their spiky-headed leader.

Cid could understand how they all felt. He may not have been particularly close to the flower-girl, but he knew he would miss her unfailing smile. She had never judged anyone and even put up with his coarse ways. She had been kind to everyone, accepting even Reeve when he had first appeared and had been friendly to Vincent, the near outcast of the group.

So now, it was a solemn group that sat huddled in one of the abandoned homes. Even the fire seemed to glow dimly, barely warm enough to push away the cold.

Tifa still sniffed slightly, upset over the loss of her friend. It was long suspected that the two girls hated each other, both of them vying for Cloud’s attentions. But somewhere along the way, they had realized that there were more important things and had stopped fighting. After that, they had been best friends, and it hit Tifa hard that Sephiroth could kill Aeris in such a cold-hearted way.

Finally, Cloud spoke, standing with his back to them, staring off at nothing. “Everyone, listen.” At that, he had their attention. Seven pairs of expectant eyes turned towards their leader, both hopeful and wary.

“I’m Cloud, ex-SOLDIER, born in Nibelheim,” he said, almost to himself. He turned around to face them. “I came to settle up with Sephiroth.”

“I came here by my own free will… or so I thought.” He turned his back on his comrades once again, as if he feared their reaction to his words. “But there is a part of me that I don’t understand. That part that made me give the Black Materia to Sephiroth. If you hadn’t stopped me, Aeris might have been.” He paused, coming to grips with his words before switching his flow. “There’s something inside of me. A person who is not really me. That’s why I should quit this journey before I do something terrible.”

He faced them once more, looking them each in the eye as he clenched his fist. “But I am going,” he said solidly, almost convincing himself. “He destroyed my hometown five years ago, killed Aeris, and is now trying to destroy the planet. I’ll never forgive Sephiroth. He must be stopped. But this is my fight.”

Tifa gasped. “Cloud, what are you saying?” she asked, looking up from her huddled position near the fire.

He sighed, lowering his gaze slightly. “You should all go home before my problems kill you, too.”

Barret snorted. “No can do, Spike. We’re in this until the end. Sephiroth is going to pay.”

When Cloud opened his mouth to protest, Yuffie interrupted him with a haughty snort of her own. “You think I’m going to let a former ShinRa save the world?” she asked with an almost derisive laugh. “Sephiroth… and his materia… are my prey.”

“You can’t do this on your own,” Nanaki added in quietly, his face solemn. “Allow us to help you.” The others nodded in agreement, even if they said nothing else.

In the face of such loyalty, Cloud’s resolve faltered. His shoulders fell, and he sighed, succumbing to their insistence. He ran a hand through his hair as he acquiesced. Inwardly, he wondered how they could put so much trust and faith in him, especially after what they had witnessed. Perhaps that only meant they were all fated to be companions, each mildly insane in his or her own way.

“I don’t know how Aeris tried to save the planet from the Meteor, and I guess now we’ll never know. The only thing we can do is get the Black Materia back before Sephiroth uses it.” As everyone nodded their heads in agreement, Cloud smiled. “But don’t think I’m harsh as all that. We will rest here for the night.”

“Thank goodness,” Tifa said, breathing a sigh of relief.

“Yeah.” Yuffie nodded.” For a minute there, I thought you were going to make us march all night.”

“There should be plenty enough room for everyone to sleep in this building,” Cloud responded, shooting the ninja a look that bordered on irritation. He noticed then that Vincent had moved from his position and was stealing silently towards the door, and he watched as the gunman slipped outside, heading for some unknown location outside.

Cloud waited until the others had moved on and were ignoring him before he slipped out after Vincent, wanting to see where the man had gone, and he couldn’t help the slight suspicion that gnawed at his belly. Vincent was quiet, private, never revealing anything and always hiding behind that damned cloak. The blond wasn’t sure if he trusted the ex-Turk’s intentions or his sanity for that matter. They were much the same, tainted by the touch of Hojo. Cloud barely trusted himself knowing that fact. How could he put faith in someone else?

He peeked out from the doorway, and Cloud could see the shadow of the gunman as it followed the path further into the village. He could not hear his steps, however, and knew that he had to be stealthy, so he carefully trailed after him for the better part of fifteen minutes, the older man heading deeper into the city until he reached Aeris’ resting place. The swordsman hung back in the shadows, hand resting carefully on his blade. He didn’t want to think that Vincent was there to defile her grave, but if he was…

But no. The ex-Turk merely sat by the edge of the water, one knee drawn up to his chest. His claw rested against the ground, his other arm draped across his knee. Vincent gazed across the still waters, his lips moving soundlessly. From where he was standing, Cloud could not hear him, only knew that he was speaking. Still, it surprised him, for once able to see that part of the gunman’s face.

Cloud sighed and shifted, entertaining thoughts about sauntering up to Vincent and demanding to know what he was doing. Yet, as quickly as the thoughts entered his mind, they were cast aside. Instead, he would put this away for future reference. Sooner or later, he would come to understand the enigmatic man, but for now, the blond would leave him alone. He didn’t believe Vincent actually meant harm, at least not in this instance.

Glancing back at him once more, Cloud turned around and headed back, certain that Vincent could take care of himself. He walked swiftly, not wanting anyone to notice his absence. He was sure that no one would particularly care that Vincent was gone, but if he stayed away too long, someone would come looking for him.

He still hurt, his heart feeling like it had been torn in two. The man he had idolized, adored… perhaps even loved, had killed the woman he had given his heart to in such a short time. And he had done nothing but stand there like a mindless moron.

Kami! If it hadn’t been for Cid, he would have killed her himself.

Cloud gazed down at his gloved hands, hating the sight of them. They would have been stained in her blood. His mind was not his own, his sanity faltering with every step he took towards Sephiroth. A bitter laugh escaped his mouth. He had the gall to be suspicious of Vincent when truthfully, he was the one who was the most dangerous to them. The truth was terribly ironic.

Perhaps that was why he didn’t bother casting Reeve aside. At this point, they would handle whatever ShinRa sent their way, all scrawny former executives aside. That wasn’t even mentioning how he wanted to believe Reeve was telling them the truth. There had been a strange look to his amber eyes, both haunted and earnest, as if he feared for someone else’s life more than his own. Cloud couldn’t fault him for that.

He exhaled, shoulders sagging as his steps slowed. Aeris would have told him to trust Reeve, the same way she always had for Vincent. She had always been unfailingly compassionate, but thoughts of her threatened to unravel him, only his iron will managing to pull himself into some semblance of composure.

Cloud reached into his pants pocket, pulling out a small bag that was cinched shut. Mako eyes roamed over the object, knowing already what was inside. He opened it carefully, reaching in with two fingers and pulling out a small dried flower. It had long since lost its fresh scent and color, but it still served to remind him of what he had lost.

Aeris had given it to him, or should he say he bought it from her? He wasn’t even sure then why he agreed to buy a flower. He was an ex-SOLDIER; he had no need for such frivolous things. There was a look in her green eyes and a smile that he couldn’t say no to. So he bought the damn thing and then told the girl to go somewhere safe. He had turned and left her there after that, but he couldn’t shake that smile. It stayed with him. He had kept the flower, tucking it away in his pocket almost forgotten until he ran into her again. He had agreed to be her bodyguard, though why he did was another mystery. It was then that he had moved the already dying flower to his small pouch.

And now, just like her flower, Aeris was dead. He would never see her smile at him again, never see her question him with her thoughtful eyes. He felt his own stinging with remembered tears, and he shoved the flower back into the bag, stuffing it into his pocket. What good were memories?

Cloud breathed deeply, trying to put a lock on his rising emotions. He didn’t want to have to put up with the suffocating nature of his companions, especially the increasingly clingy Tifa. She was acting bizarrely lately, a problem he had never before associated with her.

Cloud looked up, finding that his thoughts and idle walk had taken him directly to the decrepit building they had claimed for the evening. He passed through the front opening, the door having long since been destroyed and gone, and slipped in quietly. Most of his friends had already gone to sleep, exhausted by the events of the day, a fact he was thankful for. He couldn’t stand the looks in their eyes. He couldn’t help but feel like they radiated disappointment.

Nanaki had curled up close to the fire, Yuffie’s head lying on his stomach with a content smile on her face. Cloud wondered if he knew the little ninja was using him as a pillow. They seemed comfortable enough, however, so he wasn’t going to disturb them. That was one budding friendship he could not comprehend.

Reeve was wrapped up in a blanket Tifa had loaned him and was snoring quietly on one of the empty beds. The man had not spoken much since joining them without the medium of Cait Sith between them. Perhaps it was because he felt guilty over his deeds, or maybe he feared Barret’s wrath, though the gun-armed man was more bluster than bite. And surprisingly enough, for a ShinRa executive, Reeve was quite good in battle. He had great aim with his seemingly endless supply of throwing knives. Cloud had kept him close on their journey to the northernmost continent in deference to everyone’s distrust of the former ShinRa.

Barret and Cid were sitting by the fire, talking quietly so as not to awaken the others. They both looked tired, haggard and worn, but had the gleam in their eyes that proved sleep was an elusive mistress. As for Tifa, he didn’t see her anywhere.

“Where’s Tifa?” Cloud questioned, moving further into the run-down building and plopping down near the fire, somewhere between the two men. They were older than him yet followed his lead, something he didn’t think he could understand. Cid was “The Captain”; he was well versed in leadership, and AVALANCHE was led by Barret. Why would the two men defer to him? Especially since he had an obvious lack of capabilities? What did he have that made everyone trust him?

Barret’s started in surprise, even as he managed to squint one eye at Cloud. “Ain’t she with you?”

Cloud shook his head. “No,” he answered, giving them a strange look. “I went outside to get some fresh air.” They hadn’t even asked, but he already had a lie prepared. It was pathetic.

Cid shrugged, casually flicking some ashes from his cigarette. “She’s prob’ly usin’ one of the beds upstairs. She might want to be alone.”

“You’re probably right.” Cloud sighed, poking a stick into the fire. “Why don’t the rest of you get some sleep? I don’t think I’ll be feeling tired anytime soon.”

Barret grumbled. “There’s no way I could sleep.” He shifted his position until he was more comfortable. He continued fiddling with his gun-arm, tightening a few screws and cleaning the barrels. It was almost fascinating to the ex-SOLDIER, who hadn’t thought it was actually possible to fuse man and weapon.

“Vincent is gone, too,” Cid muttered, ignoring Cloud’s suggestion. At his words, the younger blond’s gaze shifted in his direction. The pilot had been acting odd lately, a little more short-tempered than usual and oftentimes drifting into silent moments of thought. Did everyone in this Kamiforsaken group lack a firm grip on sanity?

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a damn spy!” Barret growled, eyes shifting to where Reeve lay asleep. “He is an ex-Turk.” His meaning and accusation were clear; it was a continuously repeated argument that Cloud was growing rather aggravated with. He may not trust Vincent wholeheartedly, but he didn’t go around pointing fingers at every opportunity either.

“Dammit! Not everyone’s a spy!” Cid yelled back angrily, rising to his feet. “Vince may be the biggest bastard this side of planet, but he ain’t a spy.” He wondered to himself where his misguided loyalty had come from but stuck to his statement. Cloud and Barret gaped at him in confusion. The dark-skinned man sniffed, while his blond compatriot merely made a patting motion with his hand, gesturing for the pilot to return to his seat.

“Cid, be quiet, or you will wake the others.”

“Tch! Fuck you… and your close-minded attitude!” Cid cursed, stomping away. He headed for the front exit, eager to be away, while Cloud and Barret exchanged confused looks over the fire. The angry pilot wasted no further time, storming off in no particular direction. He stomped his way down a random path, muttering curses to himself. How in the hell did he get off defending the bastard?

After the way Vincent treated him, Cid should not have cared what Barret decided to think about him, but he found that he could not. Ever since that night, he and Vincent had been rather cold to each other. They still had to share a tent or a room, depending on the situation. For some reason, no one else would tolerate the pilot’s behavior, not to mention most were still afraid that Vincent was a vampire.

Cid smiled to himself, in spite of his ire. He remembered the day when he had confronted the gunman about his eating habits. The thought caused his angry steps to slow and fade, his irritation managing to dissipate somewhat. He may not have been as angry with Barret, but he had served as an outlet. Still, the memory was fresh in his mind as were the feelings that particular confrontation evoked.

~# Flashback#~

It was late at night, and they were still trying to discover where Sephiroth had gone, just a day before they would stumble upon the strange weapon maker and his home. Their group had stopped for the day, seeking to both eat and rest. Cid wasn’t up to talking shit with the rest of the group and decided to retire early, returning to the tent that he shared with Vincent. It came as no surprise to him to find the man already there, lying on his side and facing away from the pilot.

Cid cast a brief glance in his direction before attempting to make himself comfortable, but after spending several minutes tossing and turning on the hard, compacted ground, Cid discovered that he wasn’t as weary as he originally believed. He also knew from the sound of Vincent’s breathing that he was not asleep either.

Truthfully, the gunman didn’t sleep much, usually the first to rise. Sometimes, he didn’t even sleep at all. The pilot didn’t know what exactly Vincent did during the long hours of the night and hadn’t thought to pry. He was an intensely private person, and though Cid lacked tact at times, he knew when to back away from certain subjects. Asking the gunman what nightmares kept him awake at night was certainly one of those topics he should not ask. At least, for the time being. Nevertheless, the Captain took a risk, not wanting to return to the talk at the fire.

“Vince?” He kept his voice quiet in deference to Vincent’s attempts at feigning sleep. It was low enough that the gunman could pretend he had not heard but loud enough for him to respond if he was “awake.”

His response was easily predictable. “That is not my name, Highwind.”

The pilot waved a hand of dismissal. “Whatever, Vincent.” Cid rolled his eyes. “Are you really a vampire?” He wasn’t sure why that particular question had popped out, but now that it was there, he might as well go with it. After all, it was the number one query burning on the minds of their companions, and as he waited for the gunman’s response, Cid idly grabbed a cigarette from the pack at his side and lit it up, inhaling the burst of nicotine with gusto.

Vincent sighed heavily, rolling over to look at the pilot, eyes glowing in the darkness. “Do I look like a vampire?” When he saw the teasing smile on Cid’s face, he rescinded, “Wait, do not answer that.”

“Ah, come on, and I had the perfect response.”

Vincent glared at the other man before turning back over. He tried to ignore the pilot as he attempted to settle back into that haze between sleep and wakefulness. His nightmares usually didn’t come then, and he managed some semblance of rest. It was tiresome and mind-numbing, but for the moment, it was the best he could handle. However, Cid’s voice broke through the quiet once more.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

He resisted the urge to sigh again, feeling his eye twitch. “That is because it is irrelevant.”

“So you are a vampire.” He could almost detect a smirk in the blond’s voice.

“No, Highwind, I am not a vampire. Contrary to popular belief I do not suck blood to gain sustenance,” Vincent growled.

“They think you do.” Cid waved a hand, gesturing towards their companions outside the tent. As if on cue, a small burst of laughter rose up from them, breaking the silence.

“I fail to see the relevance.” He shifted, trying to find a more comfy position, but he failed miserably. It was nearly impossible to lie on his side thanks to that damn claw.

Cid’s voice dropped, becoming serious. “‘Cause you care what they think.”

Vincent snorted. “If that were true, then you wouldn’t have needed to ask me that question in the first place.”

“I don’t believe you,” the Captain muttered. Vincent could feel the pilot’s gaze burning into the back of his head, but he ignored it. What did it matter to him if Cid didn’t believe him? It was the truth.

The pilot cleared his throat. “Well, what do you eat then?” he questioned, starting up the conversation once more. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you eat.”

“There is a reason for that.”

The smirk returned to Cid’s voice along with the familiar sound of an exhale of cigarette smoke. “Because you are a vampire.”

Vincent turned over angrily, shooting Cid a furious glare. “For the last time, I am not a vampire!” He hated how he sounded almost too protesting and the fact that a simple conversation with the pilot could rile him more than Barret’s blatant accusations.

“Then what do you eat?” Cid asked, not affected at all by the look he was getting.

“The same thing as the rest of you,” the former Turk retorted. “I just prefer to eat in private. Barret’s eating habits make me queasy…” he trailed off.

Both of them were pictured the way the large man gobbled down his food, crumbs flying everywhere. He tended to talk with his mouth full and would poke people with his fork if he was telling a story. Around Barret, they faced the fear of being sliced by a wayward knife or speckled with half-chewed food. Together, they shuddered together at the thought.

“I can understand that then,” Cid commented with another shudder. He paused, another thought striking him as his voice took on a serious tone once more. “Why d’you let them call you vampy?”

Vincent sighed, looking up into the ceiling of the tent. “Because I do not care what they think of me. They know nothing,” he answered voice soft. “No one does.”

“Hell, Vince, that’s just cuz you won’t give no one the chance,” the pilot accused, focusing his eyes on the other man. “Always hiding away and talking behind that damn cloak of yers, actin’ all mysterious. No wonder no one knows anything!”

Vincent scoffed to himself, more than the pilot. “They wouldn’t understand, even if I told them,” he responded bitterly. “I can just see the looks that I would be given. It is far better to keep it hidden.”

“How do ya know unless you try?”

Vincent did not respond.

Cid tried to press him, “C’mon Vin, you can talk to me.” But he was quickly cut off before could say anything further.

“I am going to sleep now, Highwind. Do not bother me any more tonight,” Vincent said shortly. He moved his head away from the pilot to gaze at the walls of the tent.

Cid frowned, still momentarily satisfied with all that he had heard the ex-Turk say already. Perhaps there was hope for them becoming friends… or something close to it. He was just beginning to drift into a comfortable cozy state when the gunman’s voice floated to him over the small confines of the tent.

“Highwind?”

“Yeah, Vin?” Cid pulled the last bit of nicotine from his cigarette and pinched out the burning tip between his calloused fingers, hardly wincing.

There was a moment of silence as if the gunman was steeling himself to speak. “Your gesture is appreciated.”

Cid smiled, though it could not be seen in the dark. That was as close to an outright thank you that Vincent would say.

“Any day, Vin, any day.”

~# End Flashback #~

It had seemed like the two men were going to become friends then. They still had that awkward kiss between them. But at that time, Vincent made no mention of it again, and so Cid didn’t press the issue. In truth, Cid had meant to kiss him, although he wasn’t sure why. All he knew was that something in him called out to the mysterious gunman.

When Vincent had kissed him at Gold Saucer, Cid was sure that his feelings were the same. Then, they had what could only be described as a night of amazing sex. Cid had thought everything was going to be fine, until Vincent woke up the next morning and went all ape shit on him. The blond could see it in Vincent’s eyes, even when he flat out denied everything. There was lust and hints of something more. He was confused and knew no other way to express himself other than to push Cid away.

And now, things were tense. Well, tense was putting it lightly. The two shared rooms or tents in stony silence, only speaking when necessary. It was painful for Cid how close and yet so far the gunman was, both physically and mentally. Awkward didn’t even begin to describe it either, leaving his emotions oscillating between irritation and anger.

With a sigh, he devoted his attention to the path he was talking, raising his gaze and causing him to draw up short suddenly. His travels had taken him to the crystal lake, and his eyes widened when he saw that the source of his thoughts and angst was sitting on the ground by the water, staring morosely across the placid service.

He froze in place, unable to fathom what he should do next. He was lucky that Vincent hadn’t seen him yet. Cid could easily back away and head back in another direction, having never spoken to him. He wasn’t up to another cold shoulder from the man, so he turned away. He would find somewhere else to sit and fume.

“You don’t have to leave, Cid,” Vincent said softly but his voice easily carried. The pilot stopped, thinking that the gunman had not seen him. He was again ambivalent about what he should do.

Without turning around, Cid answered,” I am really not in the mood for another betrayal, Vince.” He still made no move to leave, curious as to how Vincent would respond. Cid held tighter to his Trident, white-knuckled hand gripping it.

“I never betrayed you.”

“Bullshit!” the blond swore angrily, leaving it at that. He completed started to leave the area. There was no way he was going to stay around. He might not stop at hitting the gunman just once if he did.

“I was confused…” Vincent still had not moved, and Cid wasn’t even sure if he had really heard those words. He whirled to look at the gunman. Vincent was still facing the lake, not even appearing to see him. There was something in the dark-haired man’s tone that he was not sure he could identify.

“Care to repeat that?”

Vincent sighed audibly. “Why don’t you have a seat, Cid?” That was the second time that night that he had used the pilot’s first name. The blond looked at the ground unsure of what he should do.

“What do you want from me, Vincent? I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. I won’t hesitate to punch you again.”

The gunman visibly winced, which Cid admittedly took some pleasure in seeing. He wasn’t normally vindictive, but felt it was justified.

“I probably deserved that.”

Cid snorted. “There ain’t no probably about it. You did deserve it, you bastard,” he spat none too kindly, keeping his gaze locked on Vincent’s face to gauge his reaction.

“Are you going to sit or continue to stand there?” the ex-Turk asked simply.

Cid did not answer. Instead, he chose to stomp over and plop himself on the ground. His spear clattered down next to him within easy reach. He did not look at Vincent but chose to stare out over the still waters as he waited for the gunman to say whatever the hell it was he had to say. The pilot hoped it was an apology to start with.

“She was a great person. She did not deserve what Sephiroth did to her,” Vincent commented finally, gesturing out at the waters of the lake with his flesh hand.

He may not have been friends with the flower-girl, but she had always been unspeakably kind to him, offering comforting words or gestures in her quiet voice. She had always seemed to know the exact words that he needed to hear, not to mention she had always spoken for him when he was too weary to defend himself. He always thought it better to ignore and avoid, but she had been quick to scold, too kind for her own good.

There had been a quiet wisdom about her, one that belied her age. She had reminded him of someone, but it his memories were so scattered now. The time he had spent in Hojo’s tender care was nothing but a painful blur. His soft and gentle moments with Lucrecia were slipping from his memory. It was like there was something within him, eating away at his thoughts and memories. He could scarcely remember anything about his past before the Jenova project. His life as a Turk and even memories before that were fading.

His gaze fell on the still waters, remembering the gentle flower-girl. Vincent felt guilt over her death, as if there was something that he could have done to prevent it. If Sephiroth had never been born, if he hadn’t been such an arrogant fool, Hojo would never have won. It was his own pride that caused him not to carry his own weapon that day, his pride and Lucrecia’s soft pleading.

It was why he had come to this place, to apologize in his own fashion to Aeris. No one else would be able to understand, but that didn’t matter to him. It seemed he would spend the rest of his life always apologizing for things he should have done. He kept making mistakes, enough so that his lifetime would be consumed with atonement. It was a sad thought.

“Yeah.” Cid sniffed, disturbing him from his reminisces. He returned his attention to the pilot as he continued. “We now have a great reason to shoot the bastard on the spot.” The blond reached for a cigarette, knowing he would need the nicotine rush to deal with the conversation.

Vincent winced but refrained from commenting on that particular statement. “I should have done something. Then, she never would have died.” He spoke softly, his voice seeming strained.

Cid looked at him, noticing how much paler he was. His eyes widened in surprise when he thought that Vincent’s eyes were red-rimmed. He had never seen such an expression on the gunman’s face before, and it made him uneasy.

“What could you have done?” the Captain asked quietly, hoping he wasn’t making things worse. He wasn’t quite sure what Vincent wanted from him. “Damn Sephiroth came outta nowhere, and Cloud wouldn’t let us on the platform.”

Vincent exhaled harshly. “I’m not talking about that.”

Like he was supposed to know what the hell Vincent meant by his damn double-meanings. He wasn’t freaking telepathetic, telepathic, or whatever the hell it was.

“Then what’re you talkin’ bout?”

Vincent shifted his eyes, seemingly searching for something. Cid wasn’t sure what he was attempting to find, and the gunman dropped his gaze once more, looking down at his hand as he clenched and unclenched his fist. He shook his head, squaring his shoulders as he stared at his gloved fist.

“It’s nothing. Forget it.” The gunman shivered faintly.

Cid huffed. “Damn, Vince. You’re the one that told me to sit here,” he stated, now highly irritated. “Now ,you gonna go all close-mouthed on me?”

“It was nothing, Highwind. Just a forgotten memory that never ceases to show me the error of my ways.” Vincent shifted his position, golden claw scraping lightly at the rocky ground.

“Oh, so it is Highwind again? You never cease to piss me off, Valentine,” Cid sneered. He puffed on the last of his cigarette, scraping the butt against the dirt before flicking it away. He grabbed the spear at his side, prepared to rise and get the hell out of there before he punched the gunman again.

Vincent titled his head, looking at Cid. “I didn’t think that you were the type to hold a grudge.”

The pilot snorted. “Yeah… well, when someone fucks your brains out and then tells you it meant absolutely nothing, it tends to make you somewhat cynical,” he muttered bitterly. His own gaze fell away as he carried on his original train of thought, pushing himself to his feet and casually slinging his spear over his shoulders. If he clenched his fists around the shaft of the Trident; it was better than slamming his fist into Vincent’s face. At least, that was what he was telling himself.

Something flashed in the gunman’s eyes as he started to rise as well; perhaps to stop the pilot from leaving, he wasn’t quite sure.

“Cid, I–” Vincent began to speak but the sound of an explosion interrupted him.

The two immediately flicked surprised eyes to where they had left their companions earlier in the evening. The bright orange flash that rose into the night was a foreboding flare.

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