Chapter Thirty-Five: Old Flame
Archer leaned against the railing and resisted the urge to sigh. He was really a happy person, and there was no need for such morose thoughts… but that didn’t mean he could stop them from coming. No more than he could stop the odd feelings that had been rising up within him lately. He, of course, knew what had brought on the sudden bout of melancholy.
He felt the complete odd man out.
As he idly eyed the swiftly passing scenery below, thousands of miles above the surface of Gaia in the airship Highwind, his thoughts returned to what had occurred only minutes before, his previous escape. Cid had picked up Reeve, Reno, and himself not but twenty minutes ago off the plains of Wutai. The residents had been sad to see their hero, Reno, go but understood the situation. The red-haired Turk preened under their attention, and it only did more to inflate his already ballooned ego.
Reeve and Reno had a happy reunion, getting over their little argument and finally acting like the sweet and loving couple they were. Archer knew this for a fact, returning from the party a little early and getting an eyeful from out on the veranda. He tried not to stare for too long before quietly turning away and heading to his own room.
To his empty bed… by himself… again.
He resisted another sigh as well as he could, only letting out a small puff of indignation.
Where was he… oh right, recalling all the way back to a few minutes ago…
It was on their ascension into the airship, and subsequent piling into the bridge, that the three of them learned that Vincent Valentine was alive and well, standing by the side of the pilot that had searched so endlessly for him. He looked different than they remembered, but everyone knew him on sight.
It was a joyous occasion to be sure. A small reunion of sorts was occurring at this very moment between the friends, Nanaki and Yuffie included who had been picked up earlier in the day. It had been a surprise for Archer to see that the young man had reverted back to his lion wolf form. Both he and the ninja had been reluctant to talk about it, so Archer didn’t press.
The friends seemed very distracted, however, as if something had occurred between them. They still acted as friends, but there was an undercurrent of tension that hadn’t yet been acknowledged. Archer couldn’t even begin to speculate.
After a few minutes standing in the back of the bridge and watching, he had decided his presence was no longer necessary. No one was speaking to him anyways. He didn’t really know the ex-Turk at all, nor did Vincent know him, so it wasn’t as if he would be missed. He had slipped out unnoticed, barely acknowledging the sound of the door hitting him on the way out. After his quiet exit, he headed straight for the deck, wanting not only solitude but the peace that was offered by the always lovely view.
He wasn’t much of a brooder, really one of those given to happy exteriors. He didn’t feel there was much of a need for wasting time with regrets and sadness when there was not a lot of time in the world to live. He preferred to be happy while he could, sadness not much of a factor. However, Archer figured every man was entitled to moments of self-pity and now was the perfect opportunity. He had the excuses, and now was the time to enact them.
So there he stood on the deck of the Highwind, feeling incredibly sorry for himself and bemoaning his lack of a significant other. He had managed to draw his normally happy face into something resembling dark feelings and even procured a dissatisfied slouch as he leaned against the railing. To those observing, rude as that may be, he would appear the perfect picture of ‘go the hell away and leave me alone’. Or something to that effect.
Beside him, a feminine voice chuckled, trying to rouse him from his thoughts of self-pity. He, of course, recognized her in an instant, quite familiar with the voice now that it had made a seemingly permanent home in his head recently. Not that he wasn’t happy to have a constant companion as powerful as the Myst Dragon, Tiamat, but she did have the habit of making comments on his personal thoughts when he would have rather kept them… well, private.
“A morose face such as this does not suit you. Look how hard you are trying,” the dragon teased, suddenly appearing beside him. He should have known to expect that she would decide when and where to return, randomly popping in and out of existence. How he wished he had such powers; it would make his life that much more fun.
Archer frowned, attempting to give his anima a sour look and failing miserably. He was trying to keep up his brooding façade. “I can be depressed and sullen if I like,” he responded with a haughty sniff. It was not very believable. “Besides, you have no room to speak, Mrs. Bahamut.”
Ah, therein lay the source of his forced melancholy. After all, if there was any man who had a right to bemoan his lack of companionship it was he, especially surrounded by as many happy couples as he had taken to lately. It had been a good while since he had last had a serious relationship, not that his sex life had suffered – just his… what would he say… commitment life? He wasn’t even sure if that made much sense.
Nevertheless, the cause of his sorrows – he was incredibly lonely. Sure he had friends – and lots of them, more especially since he had aligned himself with Reeve and company. Yet, it seemed everyone around him was getting married or making lifelong commitments.
And if he wasn’t helping them get over their silly little arguments with their significant others or finding their missing lovers, then he was feeling like the damned third wheel – well, more like the seventh wheel currently. He hated it because it left him having nearly no fun at all.
Now, he was happy for them… but also explicably and insanely jealous. He wished them all the best – perfect happiness, great sex, and many orgasms for the rest of their lives – because truly, life was too short. However, the old green-eyed monster had built up a strong residence in him.
Not especially of Reeve, however, Reno was more of a handful than he would have liked. However, Vincent – ah the missing ex-Turk miraculously returned to life – he envied that man deeply.
Valentine had the devotion of one blond pilot that Archer would never forgive himself for letting get away. He wondered how it felt to be loved like that, to be so entirely cared for that death would be a better option than living without… because that was how Cid felt. He certainly had no experience with it. It was painful to watch a man he had once loved, and still cared for, fall apart because of one missing ex-Turk.
And by the gods! He could see where much of the devotion stemmed from, not that Cid was shallow or anything, but Vincent Valentine was a beautiful man. Archer was not the type who normally went around calling men beautiful, preferring handsome or some other such word, but he had to face the facts in the case of Valentine. And to think! Before he disappeared, he was even more exotic looking than now. Crimson eyes? Who in life really had crimson eyes?
There was no way that he, as he was, could compete with a man like Vincent Valentine, not that he had tried. It was the principal of the matter, and the man seemed completely oblivious of his attraction, making him all the more alluring. Perhaps that was what had attracted Cid… Archer really couldn’t say.
However, his runaway thoughts were rudely interrupted by the interference of one powerful anima, so perhaps he wouldn’t say she was being rude aloud and just keep his comments to himself – provided she hadn’t decided to suddenly read his mind. The demi-goddess had a knack for doing that.
Tiamat shook her head as he turned to give her his full attention and grabbed his hand, holding it soothingly. In her most serious tone, belied by the fact that her eyes twinkled with amusement, she spoke.
“Seiryu is my husband, and you are my animus, the two men dearest to my heart.”
Archer chose to scowl in response, knowing as a man who was brooding and therefore angry and/or sad at the world, it would be expected of him. The look, however, did not reach his eyes.
“You mock my pain.”
The mist dragon laughed the sound like wind chimes in the distance. Small blocks of carefully crafted glass lightly rapping against each other in the wake of a summer storm… yes, he was at times poetic. It came with the territory. He had to have an artistic outlet other than his engineering designs. Not to mention the forced class in Icicilian. (1) He internally shuddered at the memory.
“You are not even sufficiently depressed, my dearest,” she whispered softly. “Please believe me when I say, the king of broodiness resides on the Highwind on this very moment. If Erebus is to be believed, that is.”
“Hmph,” he replied in a haughty tone, for this was how Tiamat and he conversed. Archer was a tease and flirt, the mist dragon pretended to be all-knowing and dignified, but she still liked a good joke as well as any other. “Doesn’t make me any less depressed.”
Somehow he had the feeling that his attempts to lock himself away in broodiness were doomed to failure, but he was determined to keep trying. After all, he was lonely; he had every right to sit hours on end grumbling about his lack of a husband, wife, and significant other, whatever the hell he was interested in at the moment.
Tiamat, however, gave him a look of express disbelief as she raised an elegant brow. “You are honestly trying to tell me that you wish to stand out here, on this deck, in the heat and stare morosely into the distance, mournfully proclaiming your woes to the wind as you will forever be alone since no one understands you?”
The engineer couldn’t help himself. His carefully crafted façade of surly depression cracked around her melting words. He laughed, loud and full, shaking his head in disbelief.
“You make me sound entirely ridiculous.”
“That is because you are,” replied the demi-goddess plaintively. She was teasing him, of course, but that was much of the fun in being an anima. The mortals were oftentimes amusing.
Archer sighed, attempting to school his expression back to something more dire and contemplative. He failed miserably. He leaned his elbows on the rail, bent down further and placed his chin in his hand, attempting the ‘pity’ look.
“I can’t even brood properly. Here I am laughing when I should be… I don’t know… what do broody people do, cry?”
Tiamat nodded sympathetically, trying to restrain the mirth that was bubbling up within her. Archer had not yet failed to make her laugh. He was intelligent and cheerful but not bubbly in a way that annoyed her, not like dear Asclepius could be at times.
“Unfortunately, we cannot all be world-class dark thought producers.”
So he wasn’t cut out for brooding, Archer already knew that. Sighing internally, lest his anima laugh at him again, he returned his gaze to the passing scenery. He was sorely tempted to break out into song… that ‘Nobody Knows’ song that all broody people seem to be fond of. Then again, his singing voice left much to be desired. It was probably best if he didn’t.
If only he hadn’t been such an expressive asshole in his younger years, he would have never lost Cid to begin with. Then he wouldn’t be on the airship, standing on the deck, attempting to brood and failing with a sarcastic quick-witted dragon anima for company. Where had he gone wrong?
“Or perhaps you two just were not meant to be,” suggested the female dragon softly.
Archer sniffed, frowning intently. “Since I am remarking on the unfairness of this very situation, why can’t I read your mind?”
The lady smirked. “You could, if I allowed it, but I do not. You will just have to deal with it. Life is not fair, my dearest little dragon; that is simply the way the universe is.”
Archer shrugged. “And here I was expecting a little sympathy. I suppose when you are a who-knows-how-old dragon such a thing no longer matters.” He waited for the blustery response that he knew was to come anytime a man dared bring up a woman’s age. Yet, there was none.
Surprised, he turned his head only to find that Tiamat had promptly disappeared. He furrowed his head in confusion.
(I will get you for that later, hatchling!) the mist dragon hissed within his mind. (Yet, for now, I will reside in here. You have a guest, dear.)
The engineer frowned, not having any idea what she was speaking about. However, his confusion was allayed when a voice wafted out from the area behind him. He didn’t recognize the speaker and half-turned to see who it was, eyes automatically widening in surprise. Well, well, guest indeed.
“It appears that my personal brooding spot is no longer my own,” Vincent Valentine commented, only half-jokingly. He had escaped from the somewhat clinging nature of his friends, still unused to the touchy-feeliness that they tended to invoke on him. He was glad that they were happy to see him, but by the gods, he needed to breathe!
The ex-Turk came further onto the deck, moving to a portion of the unoccupied railing and half-leaning upon it, staring out at the swiftly moving waters of the ocean below them.
‘This is awkward,’ the engineer commented to his anima as he somewhat nodded his head in response to the other dark-haired man’s statement.
“It is a good place to escape,” he replied, idly observing the gunman. He was dressed rather darkly, all black clothes except for the stone colored cloak. His hair was loose about his face, halfway obscuring his features, and he wore black leather gloves. There was a thigh holster on his right leg with a rather dangerous looking gun within it, and heavy black boots with thick silver buckles were on his feet. All in all, Vincent Valentine looked like a very dangerous man wrapped up in a pretty package.
(Only if you make it so,) the mist dragon countered. Archer chose to ignore her for the moment, instead focusing on what the ex-Turk was saying.
Vincent had inclined his head slightly in agreement, the wind pushing at the loose tendrils of dark hair that were around the frame of his face. Grey was swiftly becoming one of Archer’s favorite colors… The ex-Turk half-turned to look at the amethyst-eyed man, something indistinguishable behind his eyes.
“You must be Kyle Archer, Reeve’s associate and Cid’s business partner, yes?”
The engineer found he rather liked the sound of Vincent’s voice. It was deep, belying his somewhat bishounen appearance, and smooth as well, not at all rough like Cid’s. Although, the pilot’s had a ruggedness that was charming all on his own. He also spoke softly, not overly dramatic or boisterous, just loud enough to be heard and nothing else.
Archer chose to answer by nodding simply, rather than saying anything further. Really, what else was there to do but either affirm or deny his declaration? He shifted a bit uncomfortably under the speculative gaze, the awkward feelings again rising up in him. He wondered how in the world Vincent could look so calm and collected. These were the type of tense moments he chose to avoid.
The ex-Turk seemed to accept his answer, regarding him coolly for a moment with those stormy grey eyes before turning his attention back to the scenery. Silence fell between the two – a very uncomfortable silence – at least to Archer. Here he was, the ex-boyfriend, and there was Vincent, the new boyfriend, what on Gaia could they have to talk about?
Well, technically, a lot, but unless they wanted to discuss Cid Highwind, a man who sparked many a long conversation that they really did not need to get into, what did they have to say to each other?
Frowning inside, but showing nothing on the outside lest Vincent take offense, Archer scanned his mind for a good excuse to swiftly exit the deck and leave the man to his ‘personal brooding spot’. He didn’t care how /he/ looked, only that he wasn’t interested in feeling awkward right when he was in the middle of a good –albeit forced – self-pity session.
(Wait,) interrupted Tiamat, making him forget all of the lame excuses his pathetic excuse for a mind had dribbled up. (He is trying to say something; he is just having trouble forming the words. That is his way. Please, be patient, little dragon.)
Archer huffed internally but obeyed the mist dragon. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Vincent; he just hated the discomfited and somewhat self-conscious feelings the man invoked in him. It didn’t bother him that Cid was in love with another and that person just /happened/ to be standing directly in front of them. In fact, he wished them all the best, knowing that the pilot would be happy and that was all that mattered. He was friend first, ex-boyfriend second.
He supposed that the slight anger he felt towards Vincent /might/ have had something to do with his discomfiture. After all, the man had disappeared for six months, and going by all accounts of what had happened, had basically committed suicide without a word of goodbye or warning in order to save the world.
Which reminded him, just /where/ had the ex-Turk been for the last six months? Didn’t he /know/ that Cid was killing himself trying to find him? Archer was sorely tempted to give the gunman a piece of his mind.
Except… Vincent chose that very moment to speak.
“I am told that I have you to thank,” the ex-Turk spoke finally. He paused for a moment, as if searching for the right words or phrase. “That you… watched after Cid,” he finished, frowning somewhat, as if he didn’t quite like the way it came out.
Archer nodded, resisting the urge to gape at the dark-haired man. “He wasn’t himself,” the engineer explained, as if he really needed to do so. There were other things he could have said but hoped that was quite enough. He guessed that if Cid wanted Vincent to know about the drinking, not sleeping, and not eating – the pilot would tell him.
“Are we ever ourselves?” mused the dark-clothed man aloud, but Archer wasn’t sure the comment was directed at him. He instead chose to observe the ex-Turk, watching as something he could not decipher flashed through those stone grey eyes. He closed them, shaking his head as if to clear morbid thoughts.
“Nevertheless, I thank you,” finished the ex-Turk, half-turning as he stuck out a hand. Archer reached out and took it, shaking it slowly.
He was surprised that the gunman would have such a thing to say to him. He wondered if the man had come in search of him on purpose or had just stumbled upon him and took the opportunity to express his thanks. However, he had no time to speculate or say anything further because the door to the deck swung open loudly, banging against the wall of the airship behind it.
Both men winced openly as Yuffie, ninja extraordinaire came striding in, a beaming smile on her face. “There you are, Vinny! I should have known I’d find you hiding somewhere.” Without further ado, she bounded in and launched herself at the ex-Turk, wrapping her arms around his neck and hugging him fiercely.
He immediately stiffened with the sudden affection, arms coming up to try and tug the clinging ninja off of him. “Yuffie! By the gods, let me go!” he gasped, struggling for breath. “My back!” He was of course, referring to the wounds from earlier that day, but the engineer did not know that. Still, Archer found it highly amusing and stepped back to watch.
“But I haven’t seen you in ages!” whined the ninja girl. “And then you disappeared from the bridge. Cid’s worried you know!” She explained, slowly extricating herself from his grasp. It was then that her keen eyes caught sight of the engineer, and Archer knew true fear.
He took a step backwards, but it was far too late.
“Archie!” exclaimed the brown-eyed girl, launching herself at him as well. To spread the love, of course. He nearly crashed against the railing with the force of her hug. “You disappeared, too!”
The amethyst-eyed man gasped for breath. “I needed some fresh air,” he said as an excuse.
The engineer couldn’t help but notice Vincent slowly and carefully backing away towards the exit, not wanting to draw untoward attention to himself. He still wasn’t that keen on personal affection, and the last thing he wanted was for Yuffie to latch himself onto him again. His back was beginning to ache. Perhaps he would just go to Cid’s room and convince the pilot to rub some healing salve or something into the still slightly stinging wounds.
He was to have no luck, however; Yuffie instantly spotted him trying to make his get away. She released the suffocating engineer and bounded over to Vincent, grabbing his arm excitedly. “Come back to the cockpit. We’re still curious about where you’ve been.”
An exasperated look came across the gunman’s face. “Yuffie…” Yet, before he could get the words out, there was a small chuckle in the doorway of the deck. Both men and ninja looked up to see Nanaki sitting on his haunches in the aperture, shaking his head at the antics of the little woman.
“Yufs, leave poor Vincent alone,” spoke the lion wolf before padding out onto the deck.
The ninja attempted to pout, looking up at her long lost friend hopefully. Archer was somewhat bemused by her actions. Vincent sighed, rubbing his forehead with his forefinger and thumb before his shoulders sagged. He had given in.
“Very well then, back to the cockpit,” spoke the ex-Turk. A big smile broke out on the dark-haired woman’s face as she led the gunman from the deck and back to the inside of the ship. Nanaki followed after them, shaking his head.
Archer breathed a sigh of relief and returned to his contemplations on the deck. The recent event was just… odd, at least to him. He leaned against the railing and watched the scenery fly by.
“See, my little one, it wasn’t entirely awkward speaking to him,” Tiamat said, deciding to reappear unannounced, just as she had left.
Archer huffed and rolled his shoulders. “Were you even watching? My gods, I don’t see how he could look so cool when all I wanted to do was fidget restlessly.”
Tiamat laughed. “He felt just as awkward as you, hatchling. He just knows how to have a straight face.” She came up behind him, resting her hand on his shoulder and squeezing. “In fact, probably more so than you.”
The engineer snorted disbelievingly. “Whatever.”