Chapter Fourteen – A Leader’s Burden
Being the leader of an environmental terrorist group wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. The stress and responsibility of doing his job was beginning to weigh heavily on Cid’s shoulders. It seemed everyday that it was getting harder to get up with all the weight on his back, or at least, so Vincent had noticed. Leadership was taking a toll on the pilot and not in a good way. His eyes were sunken, less bright, and his face stretched with weariness.
Cid consistently worried about Cloud, more for selfish reasons than anything else. He was tired of being leader, weary of being asked what to do, scared that the next decision he made would send them to their deaths. The pilot had changed with the stress. He was even more short-tempered than usual. Poor Yuffie had even learned to keep her mouth shut.
The Fort Condor mission was the beginning of it, sending soldiers to their deaths against attacking ShinRa troops, barely able to maintain their hold on to the high ground. It was a narrow battle. In the end, Cid, Vincent, and Reeve had had to take on the ShinRa general on their own to prevent defeat. The General had been nothing against the three battle hardened warriors but having to deal with the prior loss of life weighed heavily on the Captain’s shoulders.
They had managed to gain hold of the Huge Materia and acquire a new summon as well, but the price they paid had been high. Fort Condor would never be the same, and no one could say if the condors that they struggled for so long to protect would ever return.
That mission had been their first in terms of stopping ShinRa from using the Huge Materia to blow up Meteor. Cid’s group had learned of their plans when Rufus had sent orders through all channels to begin collecting the Huge Materia in Corel, Fort Condor, Junon, and Nibelheim. As a group, they had decided it was better to use the materia against Sephiroth than allow the company to use it for their own means. It had been too late for them to go to Nibelheim, Rufus’ first stop. So they had gone to Fort Condor first.
But there had been no time for rest before they had to move on to Mt. Corel and, by proxy, the town of North Corel. They had been lucky that Barret hadn’t been there; otherwise, they might not have been able to get in without blowing everything up. Even with that, ShinRa had already been at the reactor when they had showed up.
There had been no choice then. They had stolen aboard the train, working their way through multiple enemies to reach the front. There, it had been up to Cid to stop the rampaging train. Somehow, they managed it seconds from smashing into a town already on its last limbs. In thanks, a boy had given them an Ultima materia as a gift, as if that sort of thing was easy to come by.
Still, it had been close, too close for their Captain’s liking. He had seemed particularly solemn after that success, despite now having two of the four Huge Materia in possession.
Nor could Vincent forget the events of a week past, when he had woken to find himself in Hojo’s care once more. He desperately wanted to wash away the feel of that man’s hands on him. Perhaps it meant he was only using Cid for that purpose; he wasn’t sure, but he was positive that he couldn’t help himself. He wasn’t a perfect man.
It was for this and other reasons that Vincent found himself searching for the stressed blond. In the cockpit, the gunman had been informed that the Captain had retired early, muttering something about food and cleaning up. Vincent had also tried the mess hall, finding it mostly empty. Yuffie was poking about in the fridge, but that wasn’t something unusual. On the deck, Reeve was staring out into the dark, and Nanaki was sleeping in the cargo bay, not that Vincent could particularly explain that.
The gunman had headed for the living quarters, the only plausible place left for Cid to be. It was there that he finally stood in front of the Captain’s quarters, three times larger than anyone else’s. It wasn’t until he raised his hand to knock that he even realized exactly what it was he was doing and where. He didn’t even know if he was ready to do what he was about to do.
And what was it he was doing again? Apologizing? Asking for more?
Hell, he didn’t even know anymore. Cid was probably tired of waiting for him to make up his mind. Vincent didn’t know what he wanted. Revenge? To try again? Could he honestly have forgotten Lucrecia that quickly?
//Bah, you’re just fooling yourself.// Hellmasker cackled within his mind, rasping laughter grating on his nerves. //You’re going to use him and throw him away, just like you did the first time.//
Vincent’s hand paused in front of the door, raised to knock, but he never completed the action. Crimson eyes narrowed.
(That is not what happened,) he snapped internally. (I was confused.) He didn’t know why he felt he had to justify himself to the demon. Perhaps because he knew he needed to explain the same to Cid.
//Who the fuck cares what he thinks?// The demon snorted. //You’re no longer human. You don’t need emotions; you belong to us,// Hellmasker hissed, clearly pleased with himself.
Vincent frowned, finding it odd that Hellmasker was the one speaking and not Chaos, the more vocal of the four. It seemed that lately, they were finding times to be more loquacious. They bickered from time to time until Chaos took over and made them be quiet. It was getting harder to push their unwanted appearances down as well. During battle, it was all he could do not to randomly limit break.
(I do not belong to you,) Vincent growled to himself, clawed hand clenching into a fist at his side. (If I could finally be rid of you, I would–)
Hellmasker laughed, cold and grating. //You would what? Without us, you are nothing,// the demon snarled. //Just another one of Hojo’s freaks. His pet! His bitch!//
Crimson eyes flared with fury. (Silence! Don’t speak to me of that again. Just… be quiet!)
//At least, with us you have power. To destroy and hand out death, just like before when you were a Turk,// Hellmasker continued, undisturbed by Vincent’s vehemence. //The pilot means nothing. You mean nothing. When the time comes–//
Gathering up all of his strength, Vincent threw up his mental barriers, cutting off the demon’s taunts mid-rant and giving himself blissful silence. It was only then that he realized his body was shaking, Hellmasker’s cruel words reverberating in his mind.
Monster… freak… what the others thought of him as well. Everyone but Cid.
The ex-Turk took a deep breath, trying to calm himself as he again asked himself exactly what it was he was trying to do, staring at the seemingly innocent door in front of him. He and Cid weren’t lovers, nothing special to each other outside of friends. He had no real reason to want to come and comfort the pilot except that he could not help but remember what he had seen yesterday.
– – –
It was right after the Fort Condor mission, and the group was wearily trudging up the ramp of the airship, hoping to get some rest before they intercepted any more of ShinRa’s transmissions. At the time, they hadn’t known it would be their luck to have to immediately head out once more for Corel.
Vincent was usually the last to enter the ship, one of his silly quirks that he had picked up since being awoken from his slumber. But for once, Cid was the last, insisting that he wanted to give the airship one last go over from the outside before they took off for the day. On impulse, he had hung back as Reeve entered ahead of them, complaining of aching muscles and needing more daggers. Vincent hid in the shadows to watch the pilot, wondering exactly what it was he was going to do.
At first, it seemed that Cid was doing nothing more than he had explained to them. He lit up a cigarette, puffing on it slowly as he inspected some of the landing gears and perused the metal coverings over the wings. He appeared to be muttering to himself, but the gunman couldn’t make out the words.
Finally, he seemed satisfied with whatever it was he was looking for. But instead of heading for the ramp to get back onto the ship, Cid stood and stared off into the distance, his back to the Highwind and his hands on his hips. Vincent could not see his face and did not know what he was doing, even as he shifted uncomfortably in his hiding place.
When had life become so complicated for him?
One minute he was a Turk, one of the best, his life set in stone. The next, he had brief flashes of memories and nightmares about torture and pain. After that, he woke up to find a pair of mako blue eyes staring down at him as he laid in a coffin, and right along side were a strange feline creature and a perky flower-girl. Thirty years had passed. Lucrecia was dead, Sephiroth had become homicidal, and Hojo, the bastard, was still running free, performing experiments as horrible as the ones that had been done to Vincent himself.
The gunman did not exactly know what all had happened to him down in the basement, only knowing the aftereffects: the demons, strange healing and longevity, and, of course, the damn metal claw. He had voices in his mind always calling for death and destruction. He had to fight down urges for blood that were not his own. He couldn’t explain any of it, but he could remember the cause for his suffering.
His pride and his arrogance, they were his sins and his downfall. He had loved Lucrecia, which was enough to make Hojo despise him. He had tried to take her away from that godforsaken place, which made him hated. And then, he had insulted the madman’s research. That had all cumulated in his doom.
He was a Turk; he should have known to take his weapon. But Hojo was just a scientist, a small, nerdy guy with glasses. Not really a match for Vincent Valentine, Commander of the elusive Turks. Lucrecia was pregnant, and Hojo wanted the child; a child that should have been Vincent’s but most assuredly wasn’t.
He had deserved all that happened to him. He hadn’t protected her like he promised. He hadn’t protected the child, the baby that would be born to grow up and lead ShinRa’s armies. That was his sin; that was his sorrow. And that was why it was up to him to destroy Hojo and stop Sephiroth’s madness.
He had failed his one true love. He had no right to expect any happiness. He did not deserve what Cid wanted to offer him.
Vincent was distracted from his internal memories when he noticed that Cid’s position had shifted. He was no longer facing the horizon anymore but walking up towards the ramp. The ex-Turk moved further back into the shadows as the blond climbed and hit the button that would raise the ramp, allowing the Highwind to lift off.
The pilot pressed a button, activating an intercom to the cockpit. The helmsman listened quietly as Cid ordered him to get the ship off the ground and head towards Cosmo Canyon. With that taken care of, Cid moved away from the panel and further into the recesses of the ship. He seemed to walk slower than usual, dragging his steps.
Vincent detached himself from the shadows, following silently. The blond was acting oddly, and he was determined to find out why.
The gunman wasn’t sure when his feelings for the pilot had become more than early lust. Ever since that night at Gold Saucer, he could think of nothing else but doing it again. Cid had invaded his mind and his dreams, not that he minded, but it was very confusing. He had had male lovers before, quite often when he was a Turk. Everyone had wanted to taste the Vincent Valentine, but there was something about the pilot that made him different.
It made him feel warm inside, like something was melting down his walls, and he wasn’t able to build them up fast enough before there was another attack. Cid was the first to befriend him, the first to speak kindly. But still, was that enough for these sudden sparks of emotion?
Regardless, Vincent knew he couldn’t give Cid what the man desired. He wasn’t a person cut out for that kind of thing. He couldn’t save Lucrecia; he couldn’t protect the woman he loved. Creatures such as the one he had become could never truly love. Vincent honestly believed that he had lost that capacity.
The gunman had made a serious error, the day that he so rudely shot down Cid because he didn’t want to think about anything at the moment. Goes to show how he was more similar to monsters than humans. Perhaps Hojo really had changed him more than he thought.
He jerked out of his musings when he noticed that instead of heading for either the cockpit or the living quarters, the pilot was moving toward the deck. He was walking thoughtfully, hands in his pockets, eyes staring at the ground, his shoulders hunched. Cid Highwind certainly looked like a defeated man, despite the victory of the day.
A few minutes later, Vincent found himself peering through a gap in the doorway, observing the pilot’s actions for the moment feeling very much like a voyeur. Cid stood at the railing, hands gripped tightly onto the metal bars as he stared out at the passing scenery. That should have calmed the pilot, but it only served to make him feel worse.
Vincent’s eyes widened in shock when Cid suddenly stepped back from the railing and punched it viciously. He didn’t even flinch as his knuckles began to redden and bleed, instead muttering something under his breath. His blue eyes shone as if he was going to cry, but the tears would not fall.
Vincent held his breath with the sudden realization that Cid, their leader and famous Captain of the Highwind, was breaking; he was falling apart. The former Turk took several steps back from the door, even as he caught a glimpse of the blond collapsing, staring out morosely at the setting sun. He would have to think about what it was he had just seen.
At the time, he didn’t even think to rush out and say something. He was too shocked by what his eyes had seen. Instead, he disappeared to his room, only to be called out shortly after when they learned about North Corel.
– – –
Vincent took a deep breath, again staring at the door. He had wanted to believe Cid was going to be just fine. The Captain wasn’t the type to linger on the negative. He preferred to keep on going and push forward, to never give in when the going got rough. Cid was used to being in charge of an airship, a crew of men that worked to keep the Highwind in the skies, not leading a group of people in a life-preserving mission around the world.
But above all, it was the events of that afternoon that led Vincent to Cid’s door. Today, at Mt. Corel, when they were frantically trying to stop the train, both Vincent and Yuffie had turned to Cid, the most experienced in moving mechanics for answers. And for a moment, the pilot had panicked, staring at the dials and switches with incomprehension.
There was doubt flashing in sky blue eyes, doubt about his own skills, about his ability to make his decision, about everything. Cid had always been one who was confident in himself. He never hesitated. He needed something, someone to support him.
Maybe the gunman couldn’t love; maybe he didn’t deserve it. Maybe he was a monster, but Cid was not.
His courage regained; Vincent moved to knock on the door.
Too late, the door suddenly swung inwards revealing a very confused Cid, who stumbled backwards in shock. “Vince?” he asked, blinking at him blearily, his voice thick with alcohol, and Vincent could smell the booze from where he stood. “What’re you doin’ here?”
The former Turk lowered his hand as he considered the pilot and his question. “You look like shit,” he commented softly.
Never a more obvious statement there had been. Cid’s blond hair was mussed and sticking up in all directions, no longer restrained by the ever present goggles. There were dark circles under his unfocused eyes, and his normally tanned skin seemed paler than usual. He wore only his blue jeans, and even they hung loosely on his hips. The pilot leaned up against the doorway, holding the door open only enough for his body to fit.
“Thanks,” he responded dryly. “Any other obvious statements?”
“Can I come in, or would you rather I say this out in the hall?” Vincent asked, raising an eyebrow.
Cid pushed the door open completely and turned around, heading back into the room. It was up to the gunman to show himself in, and that was exactly what he did, shutting the door quietly behind him. But he moved no further than a few steps, instead watching Cid intently. The pilot shuffled over to his bed, where he crawled back on it, reaching for a small bottle that was sitting on the bedside table.
“You can sit in a chair, Vince,” Cid said wryly as he reached for a cigarette and lit up.
The gunman complied, striding across the floor towards the small table that housed two chairs. He pulled out one and sat, gazing at Cid. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence until finally he spoke.
“What are you drinking?” he asked, even though he could smell the liquor from where he sat. It was Cid’s favorite flavor, scotch.
The blond took a deep swig before he mumbled, “Water.”
Vincent shook his head. It was obvious that Cid was lying to him. But why the pilot thought he needed to hide it, the gunman wasn’t sure. Cid never really was one for keeping things hidden.
“Why the hell’re you in my room?” the Captain asked, noting the look that Vincent had given him. He was already feeling a bit of a buzz from the scotch, which he had been downing straight.
The Captain had never been the type to drown his sorrows in alcohol, but for some reason, today seemed like the perfect day to start. At least if he had to be leader for the rest of the battle, he would have a coping factor. But now, this gunman was making things different. Their relationship was like a labyrinth, and he had completely lost the bit of string to lead him around. Vincent just didn’t know what the hell he wanted, and to be honest, Cid wasn’t entirely sure either.
“I know, Cid,” Vincent said, his way of answering, a purely enigmatic response as always. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, again questioning his own actions.
What the hell was he doing? Was he only making things worse?
Cid rolled his eyes as he snorted, clearly not amused. “Know ‘bout what?” he asked gruffly.
“After Fort Condor, I was watching you.”
Cid shrugged. The alcohol was coursing through his bloodstream, making him feel warm and causing his brain to fog. There was a pleasant numbing feeling to his emotions that seemed strangely addictive.
“’Sat s’posed to mean somethin’ to me?” he demanded, waving a hand of dismissal, failing to notice the uncertain way it wavered mid-air.
Vincent’s eyes narrowed as he watched the pilot take another swig of his scotch and draw thickly on his cigarette. He was going to make himself sick if he kept that up. The dark-haired man stood quickly from the chair and stormed over to Cid, jerking the bottle violently from his grasp and throwing it far away from the reaching pilot. He heard a resulting thud and the sound of something shattering.
“I was drinkin’ that!!” he angrily protested.
Vincent ignored him, drawing up to his full height to stare down at the other man. “Where were you going when you opened the door?” he demanded.
“To throw myself off the deck,” the pilot joked bitterly.
Vincent moved swiftly, gripping Cid by the shoulders and forcing the pilot to look him in the eye. The blond was barely able to focus. Apparently, the scotch was having too much of an effect on him.
“Okay, sheesh. I was joking,” Cid muttered.
“What is wrong with you, Highwind?” Vincent hissed, not moving from their position. Cid made no move to remove the gunman’s hands from his shoulders, though he did reach up to pluck the cigarette from his mouth, crushing it into the table and effectively putting it out. “You are not one to fall apart at the seams.”
“Hey!” Cid answered angrily. “No one asked me if I wanted this. They all just said, ‘Ooh, let’s make Cid the leader! He’ll be good at it!’” He weakly pushed against Vincent, trying to make the man back off, even as he struggled to rise to his feet.
He did not get far, head spinning from the quick movement and alcohol combination. Vincent shook his head as he caught the slumping pilot, using his arms to lift Cid up and lay him down on the bed. He sat on the soft surface next to the pilot and looked down at him, his face impassive but emotion showing through his eyes.
The blond reached blindly for the table. Hadn’t he put that damn scotch there the last time he checked?
“Fuck!” Cid groaned, putting a hand to his suddenly aching head. “You busted my scotch. I paid good money for that.”
“You don’t need it,” Vincent answered simply. “Now, answer my question.”
“I already did.”
Vincent wanted to growl. “You once said that if I ever needed someone to talk to I could always come to you.” Cid’s eyes widened, but he didn’t say anything. The gunman continued, “I now extend the same invitation to you.”
For some reason, those words pierced through the hazy fog of Cid’s subconscious, and he sought to push past the buzz and sit up. Hell, if Vincent was going to sit and let him talk without saying anything, who was he to pass that opportunity up?
“Okay,” began Cid. He ran his hands nervously through his hair as he contemplated on where to begin.
“I will just listen.”
Cid nodded. He wasn’t even sure where to begin. There had been so many things going on the past several days that his mind hadn’t been able to catch up with the rest of him. He suddenly wished that Cloud would hurry up and get better.
“Do ya think Cloud will ever come out of it?” he asked finally for a lack of anything better to say.
Vincent sighed, idly fiddling with one of the clasps to his cloak. Despite his inebriation, the pilot was quick to recognize that as one of the ex-Turk’s few nervous quirks. It always made him seem more human.
“I do not know. But for your sake, I hope so,” the gunman replied.
The Captain raised a brow, suddenly hyper aware of the fact he was wearing nothing more than his jeans and the man of his desires was sitting on his bed. “My sake?” he questioned, somewhat distracted by Vincent’s nearness. Why had the gunman come to him anyways? Was it really just to listen?
The crimson-eyed man gave him an even stare. “Don’t lie and tell me you suddenly enjoy being leader?”
Cid sighed. “Yer right, ya know. If I had chosen wrong… North Corel would be nothing more than a pile of scrap and rubble right now.” That thought instantly destroyed any and all erotic ideas that had filled his head. He slumped morosely.
“But you didn’t,” Vincent pointed out reasonably, for once sounding optimistic. “You saved them and got the Huge Materia in the process. You’re doing a fine job leading us. Think of what would happen if we left Yuffie in charge.”
Sky blue eyes darkened. “That’s not the point,” Cid roared angrily, slamming a fist into the bedcovers. He instantly regretted his tone of voice when he saw the hardened look on Vincent’s face and the set tone of his jaw. The pilot took a deep breath, struggling to reign in his swirling emotions.
The pilot sighed and explained, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want this responsibility. If we hadn’t saved that town today,” Cid shook his head before continuing, “I don’t know what I would have done.” His confession out, the blond felt strangely weak, as if he had just finished running a marathon. He slumped against the headboard.
“Cid…” Vincent murmured. Something within him broke, and all he wanted to do was comfort the pilot. Yet, he still held back. His own fears were presently louder than his conscience.
There was a moment of silence before Cid finally spoke. “Do you still… hate what we had together?” he asked tentatively, eyes closed in exhaustion.
“I never hated what we did,” Vincent answered truthfully. “I was just–“
“Scared,” Cid finished for him. He nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I am. Scared that I will screw up everyone’s life or end up making the wrong decisions or fail in some way or…” he trailed off, throwing up his hand to signify his feelings of defeat.
Vincent nodded. “Those are the unfortunate circumstances and doubts that come along with being a leader. You can’t be right all the time.” His gaze traveled over the weary blond, again feeling that subtle leap in his chest.
“Yeah, whatever…” the blond mused, wrapping his arms around himself. “Thanks for listening, but I want to be alone now.”
The dark-haired man balked at leaving, refusing to even stand. “I still haven’t told you why I was standing outside your door,” he countered. There was absolutely no way he was going to leave the pilot to his depressive state. But now was the moment of truth. He couldn’t back out now.
The Captain opened his eyes and turned his attention to the former Turk, searching his face intently. “Why?” he questioned, sitting up on the bed, clearly interested. His own heart began to beat quickly in his chest, wondering if what he hoped for was finally going to happen.
Instead of answering, Vincent decided to just act. He knew his words would only come out stuttered and confusing so he chose to show the frustrating pilot. He reached out quickly and pulled the man close to him, hands latching onto Cid’s shoulders as he leaned in.
Cid’s eyes widened in surprise when Vincent suddenly kissed him, pressing their bodies together against the headboard. His mouth opened almost immediately, and the gunman slipped his tongue inside, searching for Cid’s. They met and began to dance, a rhythm that both men’s bodies unconsciously recognized. Vincent’s tongue slid along Cid’s, sending a spark of arousal shooting straight to his groin.
He knew now why Cid haunted his dreams and why he couldn’t stop thinking about him. The man had a way of crawling inside his thoughts and breaking down his barriers. For the moment, he completely forgot about Lucrecia and his revenge and Hojo. He pushed aside his concerns with the demons and everything else, concentrating only on the here and now.
The pilot brought his arms up to wrap around Vincent’s neck, eager to deepen the kiss as he settled comfortably into the embrace. It felt so right. Warmth washed over him and that defining enigmatic, spicy scent that was pure Valentine. The drunkenness of the scotch faded, washed away by the inebriation provided by kissing the man that had already captured him.
It was a need to breathe that finally separated them as Vincent began to trail small licks across the blond’s stubbly jaw and heading for the sensitive area on his neck at the base of his jaw and earlobe. His tongue curled along the flesh, his flesh hand slipping off the pilot’s shoulder to trail down the bared skin of his lover’s back, warm and supple beneath his touch. He could feel every shift of Cid’s muscle beneath his fingers.
“Vince…” Cid moaned, voice turned breathy at the ex-Turk’s touch. He could still taste that kiss, rolling around inside his mouth, and Vincent’s warm hand on his back was encouraging his already hardening length. He rocked forward against the ex-Turk, arousal straining beneath his jeans.
Vincent nibbled at Cid’s neck, eliciting another moan from the pilot. “Just let me do this one thing for you…” he offered in a voice that hinged on pleading, nipping again at the blond’s neck. “I can help you forget about it all, make you feel good.” He pulled back, crimson eyes meeting sky blue.
Cid searched Vincent’s face, unsure of what he should do. He desired the man, but then again, he also remembered what happened the last time they had sex. But he felt so damn good pressed up against him.
He stuttered, uncertain of his choice. “I…” the pilot trailed off, chewing on his lip in indecision. They would be stepping beyond simple friendship. Was Vincent going to act the same again?
Cid took a deep breath. What to do?