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18 April 2014 @ 07:42 pm
Chapter 30 Version 1 and 2  
The discarded original version of chapter 30.

Title: Journey Chapter 30
Pages 12




Sleep had been elusive that night. Cid managed to cleanse his mind of stimulating thoughts, forcing it blank in order for oblivion to settle in. For him to do that he had to convince himself he was suffering nothing more than a glorified man crush. Just that. A man crush. He’d heard of them, hell, he had been the object of man crushes once or twice from lesser minded engineers in the Shinra Academy. He’d told them where to stuff their praise, but he knew it was nothing more than simple admiration. Even the pat on his ass… respect, nothing more. And after many restless minutes staring at the dark ceiling of his inn room, Cid swiped each thought from his immediate consciousness and stored it within the back recesses of his mind, where they would undoubtedly escape at a later date and pester him further.

He was jolted from sleep by loud rapping on his door the following morning, and Barret’s voice calling his name. Cid rubbed the sleep from his eyes and kicked his way out of the bed sheets. He pulled on his undies on his way to open the door. Barret informed him it was nearly 9.00am, and his crew had already returned to the ship. Kicking himself for sleeping late, Cid had hastily dressed, grabbed his things and joined his teammates in the trek back out of town. His baby awaited his return, safe and sound as he knew she would be.

“What would you do if you found Vincent had scratched it up or blown holes in it?” Yuffie pestered him with ridiculous-scenario-number-five as they made their way out of the woods.

Cid pulled off his best deadpan. “I’m not even gonna answer that one.”

“What if the Highwind wasn’t here when we got back?” Yuffie called up as Cid took to the rope like a gymnast, eager to put some distance between him and the ninja. “What if Shinra had gotten hold of it?”

Cid hopped over the balustrade. “I’d have left you on it last night,” he grumbled. “It’ll almost be worth it…” Barret gave him a side-long grin.

Once all onboard, they headed straight to the bridge, catching various greetings from the crew as they carried out their pre-flight duties. Berto was once again at the helm with Kejon, walking him through the console boot.

“Plot in a flight path for Mideel,” Cid ordered, sweeping past them to gaze at the fresh morning sun climbing into the sky. On their way from the village, they had discussed what their next action would be. Cait’s controller had been keeping an eye on Shinra activity, but it was still too soon to approach Junon for either the Huge Materia or fuel. They didn’t have a lot of options, but Barret had put forward a suggestion. Although it had barely been two days since leaving them, he proposed they visit Cloud and Tifa in Mideel town. Cid didn’t see the point, if there had been any change Tifa would have contacted them, and the flight out there would needlessly suck up fuel they probably couldn’t spare. But they were already near the Mideel area, and Cid understood that Barret was worried for Tifa. They had been together throughout this team’s adventures and with her absence grew concern. Even if he didn’t outright say anything, he wanted to make sure she was alright. After a little convincing, Cid had agreed.

“I’ll go tell Vincent,” Red said, trotting from the bridge.

Cid watched his tail disappear, having hoped he could inform Vincent, and thank him for watching over the Highwind at the same time. However, a little voice in his head advised him to keep his distances until his high-school-style butterflies had disappeared for good. He didn’t need that shit. Another, contradictory voice, prodded him with encouraging thoughts that urged him to spend more time near the gunman, and he was more inclined to follow that one. But he knew he needed to focus on the mission, nothing else. This thing that he felt would only get in the way.

The Highwind rose into the air a few minutes later and soared onwards at a more sedate pace than usual. Cid had capped the ship’s speed to conserve fuel, and while it would take them longer to reach destinations, it would last further.

Red returned to the bridge halfway through their flight alone, tempting Cid to pay a visit to Vincent himself. But Barret invited him to the galley for the breakfast that they had missed, so Cid found himself with a bowl of what looked like gruel a few minutes later. It tasted must better though. Yuffie, Red and Cait joined them, providing a source of conversation which hopped from topic to topic quicker than Cid could listen in. Their ninja and robot cat could sure talk when they started. He shook his head in vague amusement, spooning the last few mouthfuls of food around his bowl until the natter stopped suddenly.

“Hey, Vincent, you hungry?” Yuffie asked after a second’s pause.

Cid looked up. Vincent had appeared in the corridor; evidently something had drawn him out. When had he last eaten? Cid doubted he ate anything at the hot springs hotel. He lingered in the doorway, clearly on the verge of leaving again, but Barret spoke up, surprising everyone.

“C’mon, sit down,” he said gesturing to the only empty seat on his left. Cid was on his right. “Never know when our last meal will be.”

Even Vincent seemed momentarily surprised by Barret’s words. He entered the galley as Omar slapped some more gruel into a bowl and plonked it on the table before the empty seat. Vincent approached and lowered himself into it. Conversation started again. Omar came back, leaning on the back of Yuffie’s chair as he participated. Cid found himself enjoying the group atmosphere. The only things missing were three people.

Leaning on the table, Cid turned his attention to Vincent. “Any problems or anythin’ last night?”

Vincent, spoonful in hand, looked up and caught his eye. Something was different in the gaze he set on Cid. “No, everything was fine.”

“Did she cry and keep you up all night?” Barret poked fun at Cid, directing his sarcasm at Vincent.

An eyebrow rose with a touch of humor, which increased a notch when Cid tried defiantly to defend his ship.

“Hey, she does not cry.”

Cue the airship tales from Omar, who delighted in telling Avalanche some exaggerated recounts of Cid’s devoted affection. Everyone was laughing minutes later, save for Vincent (and the most part Cid, who clung to a grumpy disposition as best he could). He found this time to be a good opportunity to sneak glances at the gunman, testing out his recent self-theory. Every time he looked at the man he felt a soft jab in his gut, an agreeable nudge. His eyes were drawn to him like a magnet, and he felt a fond rush just from watching him unawares. Man crush, definitely. He should try to quash it while he still could, but that second voice was telling him he didn’t want to. Especially while he was watching Vincent eat. How could something so simple fascinate him so much? How could it look like the most curious action in the world? Being the current object of ridicule, he had to cease his observations as every now and then Omar threw him a look to accompany his story, and his teammates would laugh at his face and take glee in his acerbity.

“Damn, the planet can’t end quick enough,” he somberly joked after a loud bout of chuckles. It only provoked more.

Berto’s announcement over the tannoy informed everyone they were approaching Mideel a short while later. Avalanche had long since eaten their breakfast and had lost track of time. It felt good to unwind with a little joviality and a few embarrassing stories. Cid couldn’t help feeling it had done them all some good. Even Vincent, who had remained with them, listening with intrigued attention to the long spun words spewing from Omar’s mouth. At least the anecdotes he chose to tell were vaguely flattering.

Once on the bridge he patted Berto on the back and dismissed him to teach Kejon himself. He talked him through the approach and into an almost smooth landing, stilts down. He left Berto to shut down everything they didn’t need until Avalanche returned, and took his team back to Mideel.

Nothing had changed in the time they had left, even the old man at the town entrance was still there, but with no Tifa to leer at he didn’t give them so much as a glance. The little white chocobo chick recognized them and trotted to Yuffie, seeking attention. Cid ushered her on before the crazy owner could show up.

Outside the clinic, they paused. Nothing would have changed in Cloud’s condition; did they really want to see his soulless eyes again? Did they really want to suffer that feeling of uselessness again? But… they could be there for Tifa, and that would be worth it. In they went.

“Hello again,” the doctor greeted, noticing their entrance into the waiting room. His eyes flickered to them all and lingered on Vincent. Cid wondered if he had been pondering what Yuffie had last said here. “Your friend’s condition remains unchanged.”

The team acknowledged his statement and passed from the waiting room into the corridor to Cloud’s room. Tifa had pulled a cushioned chair to the window beside the young man’s wheelchair, both were gazing out at the view. Barret approached first.

“Hey, Tif,” he said, catching her attention. He gave Cloud a glance, but the blond made no indication he was aware of him. Even the past two days hadn’t brought any time to fully register his condition, and it was just as painful to watch him now as it had been almost two days ago.

Tifa’s surprised eyes looked over them all. “I didn’t expect to see you back so soon. Did something happen?” She made a head count, but seeing no one missing the tight concern in her features relaxed somewhat. “How’s the mission going?”

They gave her a run down on the past events and their triumph over Shinra for the Huge Materia, choosing various places to sit or perch while she listened. She was impressed and proud of them, with a longing in her eyes.

“So we thought we’d pay a visit while we wait for the buzz to die down,” Barret summed up, sitting on the edge of a chest of drawers. “I bet we’re public enemy number one by now.”

“We have been for a while now,” Cait stated, leaning forward on his mog.

“Somethin’ to break the champagne out for,” Cid smirked.

“How’s Cloud?” Yuffie asked gently, drawing in a more tentative quiet.

Tifa’s small smile slid from her face and she turned her brown eyes on the motionless young man. “The same… I don’t know what I can do for him.” She trailed into silence, pain flickering like dying embers in her gaze. It was the look of someone who could do nothing and knew it.

Before anyone could comfort her with words or gestures, the entire room began to shake, stirring up a deafening roar. The furniture rattled and rocked and Cid was forced to grab the partition to keep himself upright.

“What the hell?” He yelled.

“It’s… coming…”

Even amongst the racket of the earthquake they recognized Cloud’s voice. Cid’s eye snapped to him sharply as Tifa reached for him, an expression of shock lighting her face, clinging to her shaking chair as best as she could. The building creaked and groaned around them, painting fell from the wall. Distant shouts and screams came from the town.

“Cloud?! What did you say, Cloud?” Tifa tried. But he remained silent, returning to his lifeless doll-like behavior.

Cid tore his attention from him and glanced at the door. “We gotta find out what’s happenin’!” He called to his team.

They followed him from the room, through the corridors and outside, stumbling into various objects in the proximity. Cid grabbed Yuffie’s arm as she pitched forward towards a definite face-plant in the dirt, scanning the town as he did so. People raced about, running around with wild, scared faces.

“The Lifestream –” Came Vincent’s deep voice. Cid looked over his shoulder to find the gunman’s eyes glowing like lamps. “It’s breaking the surface of the planet.”

A noise – the likes of which Cid will never forget – filled the air around them; a mournful, painful sound that weighed in every particle of air and infiltrated every cell of Cid’s being. His blood ran cold and the hair on the back of his neck stood up. What the fuck was that?

“Shit, this’s bad!” Barret yelled with Red braced beside him. “If pure Lifestream bursts out of this town we’ll all be goners!”

“We gotta warn the townspeople!” Cid ordered, starting forward. “Barret, grab Tifa and –”

He stalled mid-sentence as something enormous appeared in the sky, drawing nearer to the town with incredible speed. It gave a mighty, bone-rattling roar, even above the din of the earthquake.

“One of the Weapons!” Yuffie exclaimed.

The monster’s wingspan could have reached from one end of Mideel to the other, but even so it was smaller than Sapphire Weapon. Not a whole lot of comfort in that. It circled the shaking town, bellowing as it went until it drew closer, kicking up a powerful gale through the street.

“I-is that thing looking at us?” Yuffie shrieked, arms before her eyes protectively as dust and dirt was flung at them.

“It’s coming down!” Red warned, hackles raised.

The ground shuddered hard under the landing weight of the huge creature. It crushed two buildings beneath its colossal mass like they were nothing more than cardboard, sending roof tiles, planks and debris flying in all directions. Avalanche was forced to duck.

A shadow fell over Cid and he dared look up. The monster loomed before them, its beady little eyes staring at them – at Cid. His heart tripped over itself, but no, it was glaring to his left. He looked. Vincent was beside him. His eyes were gold.

A sharp string of bullets tore through the air as Barret yelled, “Eat this, fucker!” And everything sprang into action. Yuffie zipped past him with her conformer in hand, Red bound past and flew into the air. Vincent’s eyes shimmered red once more and he leapt into the fray, leaving Cid to watch him and his team mates fight gallantly against a being that probably had its own gravitation pull. Their fierce determination and courage ignited something within Cid. He gripped his spear tightly, and with a battle cry sprinted into the fight – a fight that seemed pointless. But they were doing damage! They were mere insects to the mammoth Weapon, and yet their strength together inflicted definite injury, provoking an enraged snarl from the creature. It swiped at Vincent in mid-air and missed, instead catching sight of Red as he dashed along its appendage towards its face. He had to abort his target, but where he failed Yuffie succeeded; her weapon slicing surface lesions just short of the monster’s eye. It roared and shook its head, flinging away its attackers, before coiling down and unleashing its spring, leaping into the air, whipping air currents into motion all around. Avalanche landed safely and watched its ascent.

“I didn’t get to use my Ultima,” Yuffie said regretfully as the Weapon flew out of vision.

The ground ceased rumbling and shaking, leaving everything in a vague shell-shocked state. Locals poked their heads out their doors, scanning the skies for the monster.

“Why the hell did it attack us?” Cid voiced his concern aloud. “Why the hell was it here?” He glanced across at Vincent’s overly vivid eyes, but the man’s gaze was flitting across the ground. Something else had grabbed his attention. Before Cid could ask, the shakes began anew, stronger, more violent, and he almost lost his balance. “Shit!”

Buildings were being shaken to pieces, pots shattered and windows smashed. People screamed and shouted once again, running towards the town border. They knew something Avalanche didn’t. Cid wasn’t going to risk anything for ignorance.

“Go!” He shoved Barret and Yuffie, pointing to the town entrance. “All of yer! Somethin’ bad is gonna happen, get back to the Highwind!”

“What about Tifa and Cloud?” Red called.

“I’ll get ‘em, now hurry!” Cid jabbed his finger again, ordering his team to comply. They did so, albeit hesitantly. The pilot turned and broke into a sprint for the clinic, avoiding falling objects from the buildings around. A flower vase exploded as he passed, showering him with soil. “Tifa!” He bellowed, hoping she would hear him across the distance and noise. The earthquakes increased, throwing Cid to the ground. He scrambled to his feet as a mighty CRACK erupted before him. A large, jagged fissure had opened up the ground, threatening to swallow him as it yawned wider. The earth was splitting open. Cid sucked in a gulp as air as he prepared to jump across, but something gripped his arm and pulled him back. He jerked around. Vincent had grabbed him.

“You can’t reach them in time –” Vincent shouted above the noise, his eyes hard but meaningful. “The Lifestream is breaching the surface.”

“I can’t just leave them!” Cid yelled, frowning angrily at the mere thought. “Go back, I’ll get ‘em out befor –” The ground swayed fiercely, throwing both men to the floor. They rolled down the rapidly inclining road as it erupted into the air, tossing them further away from the clinic. Cid detached himself from the material of Vincent’s cape and clambered back to his feet, gawking up the almost vertical summit before him. His balance was almost lost once again as the floor lurched.

“Cid,” Vincent called.

Cid couldn’t leave without Tifa and Cloud – he couldn’t abandon them. He started forward but a strong grasp on his arm halted his movements, dragging him back just as another fracture tore open to their side. Cid tried to wrench his arm from the gunman’s vice-like clench, which did nothing but bruise his own arm and tighten the grip. The ground was coming apart around them.

“You can do nothing for them now,” Vincent told him firmly, his eyes practically shining, boring into Cid with a penetrating quality.

The floor beneath them dropped suddenly, sinking into the earth. If not for Vincent’s hold Cid would have fallen down.

“Fuck,” he gasped.

Vincent spotted their exit via a fallen tree and pulled Cid with him into a run, up onto the trunk and finally back onto higher ground level. With the town falling apart Cid had no choice but to run, and only then did Vincent release his arm, assured the pilot was following. They ran across the devastated town, dodging and ducking until they dove from the last ruined road onto the stable, solid wooded land surrounding it. Cid flipped onto his back just in time to witness the remaining buildings sinking out of view, into a deep, massive pit of glowing Lifestream. It gurgled as it swallowed everything, leaving nothing left of the town but a sinkhole of desolation and clouds of dust.

Cid’s mouth was hanging open as he climbed to his feet, his eyes glued to the swirling, mystical force. He could feel its affects, like a taste in his mouth, like a tickle in his brain. Everything had gone. People had disappeared into that pool.

Tifa and Cloud were gone.

Rage welled up within Cid like boiling magma. He spun around. “Why the hell did you stop me?!” Cid bellowed.

“You would never have reached them,” Vincent explained, his brow pinched in either remorse or irritation – perhaps by Cid’s lack of gratitude.

“You don’t know that!” Cid threw up his hands. “Tifa and Cloud could be dead because of you!”

The vague frown took on a hesitant line and his voice softened. “… You would have joined them.”

“At least I would’ve tried!”

Avalanche approached, having obviously disobeyed the order to return to the airship. They stared at the gaping hole, shock in their eyes.

“Tifa,” Barret murmured, stopping before the edge. The glow from the Lifestream painted his face a pastel green, but his face was far from peaceful. Downfallen. “They’re gone…”

Guilt ripped through Cid. “I couldn’t get to them,” he bit ruefully.

Barret shook his head. “It happened too fast. You’d’ve never made it.” He turned around and fixed the pilot with a painfully empty expression. “You’d’ve gone in, too.”

Cid’s fists balled so tightly he felt the skin break. But somewhere in the back of his mind he knew both gunmen were right. He might have reached the clinic but he wouldn’t have made it back. He would be drowning in that Lifestream right now, probably dead already. Cloud had survived physically, and maybe he would again, but Tifa would be lost.

“I can’t believe they’re gone,” Yuffie said quietly, staring at the lake of Lifestream, his eyes large and doleful. “…We’d just found Cloud…”

The locals who had survived milled around them, some still recovering from the shock and/or loss, some muttering in disbelief, others sobbing over their lost homes. Cid’s brow furrowed, listening to the dismay, absorbing the catastrophe and wondering if Weapon had caused this. He glanced over at Vincent and the anger ignited weakly, but it died almost as quickly, replaced with a strange grip of gratitude. The man had come back for him, he had sensed the Lifestream rising and had risked his own life to bring back Cid.

Barret had lowered to his knees and looked out across the expanse of green silently. Red sat down next to him, his tail flickering weakly. Cid lowered his eyes and caught sight of a mark on his forearm, a bruise. A handprint. Vincent had been ready to literally drag Cid to safety. His hand had been locked around the pilot’s arm. Cid lifted his gaze again. Vincent’s eyes were incredibly bright, still reacting to the magical properties of the Lifestream, but they were lowered to the grass, guilty and repentant… and something else. Cid had berated him for saving his life – what an asshole. But he couldn’t gather the strength to go over and apologize.

It was at that second the negativity disappeared from Vincent as he lifted his head and listened; something unseen had yet again caught his radar. Cid watched intently as he turned around, looking along the edge of the Lifestream as though he could see something. The pilot approached him.

“What is it?” He asked.

Vincent turned his unnatural eyes on him. “Cloud.” Was all he said before taking off at a fast stride into the trees around the edge of the town.

Cid quickly called to the others and followed after, batting leaves from his way as he followed the red of Vincent’s cape. He found himself walking alongside the edge of the sunken town, until eventually the drop leveled to a softly sloping bank. The Lifestream lapped gently along the ground like calm ocean waves along a beach. Wooden planks and debris littered the area and bobbed gently on the surface.

And there, where Vincent had crouched down, were two motionless bodies. Cloud and Tifa.

Cid covered the rest of the distance with a fast jog and pulled Cloud away from the edge of the Lifestream as Vincent lifted Tifa, setting her down at a safe distance.

“Tifa?! Cloud!” Barret burst from the trees, the others in tow. “Are they alive?!”

Cid checked Cloud’s pulse, finding a strong rhythm. Relief flooded through him. “Cloud’s alive.”

Vincent stepped away as Barret and Yuffie dropped beside Tifa. Yuffie quickly announced that she, too, was breathing.

“It’s a miracle,” Cait said in wonder, his little cat mouth open in a human display of disbelief. “Unbelievable.”

“They may be alive,” Barret said, suddenly both grave and elated, sitting back on his heels. “But they might not be them anymore…”

“We need to get them to the ship,” Cid announced. “Have Thomas check over –”

He was interrupted by Tifa’s groan, and to their further surprise her eyes fluttered open slowly, blinking for focus. She saw Barret and Yuffie crouched above her.

“Hey,” Barret tried hesitantly, unsure what to say and what response he would get. “Tif? You with us?”

Her brow tightened, disorientated. “Barret…? Where am I…?”

A grin split across the gunman’s face. “You’re alive, that’s where!”

“We thought we’d lost you,” Yuffie edged closer, a huge smile at her lips. “You and Cloud – you’re alright! Do you feel funny?”

“A little,” the martial artist answered, lifting a hand to her head. “…Cloud. We were in his mind… I found him… the real him…”

Cid exchanged frowns with Barret. “What’d’yer mean?”

Tifa closed her eyes and smiled. “People have so many things… pent up inside of them. They can forget so much… Strange, isn’t it?” And with those odd words, she relaxed completely and lost consciousness.

Barret shook her shoulder gently, calling out her name. Red assured him she was still alive, probably exhausted.

“How come she didn’t lose her mind?” Yuffie asked, pausing as though she feared she would jinx the woman. “And what was she talking about?”

Cid was at a loss. A relieved loss for once. “I’ve got no clue…” He just hoped whatever fortune had protected Tifa had done the same for Cloud.

//

Thomas tended to their comatose friends once onboard the Highwind, finding no physical injuries on them at all. After the fall they had taken with the entire town, Cid had expected broken limbs, or at the very least open wounds. But either the Lifestream had healed them, or they had been extremely lucky. The ship remained grounded until they had decided what to do. Thomas had warned them that Cloud could remain unconscious for an indefinite amount of time, but it was likely Tifa was running through a simple REM sleep cycle, and could awaken in several hours. Cid wanted to wait for her.

Only an hour after returning to the ship Cait announced quite suddenly that Shinra had deployed an investigatory squad to Mideel, in order to determine what had happened there, following reports of the missing town. Cid had the Highwind moved from the area, halting her an hour away in the safety of the immense forest. She perched on the edge of a water filled gorge, hidden amongst the canopy of leaves. With nothing to do, some of the crew had taken to exploring outside. Exotic birds chirped and sang, flying about, some curious of the airship, others frightened.

Barret found Cid watching them from the glass dome on the bridge, leaning on the rail as they both followed the rapid, jittery flight path of a rather colorful bird.

“I don’t know why, but we were dealt a lucky card back there,” Barret began with a heavy weight to his words despite his topic. His prosthetic arm clanging softly on the metal pole. “It seems too good to be true… I can’t help thinking something’s fucking with us.”

Cid couldn’t agree more. Cloud and Tifa had almost certainly been lost to them, even if their bodies were living. How had Tifa, an ordinary human being by medical standards, retained her sanity, her essence, when Cloud had not? It was perplexing, but how could Cid question it? How could he be suspicious about a miracle?

“Would that same fate have saved you, if you had fallen in, too?” Barret continued, musing aloud. “What if you hadn’t turned back and we lost you, as well?”

Cid frowned. “I didn’t turn back. Vincent practically dragged me back. He wasn’t gonna let me go on.”

Barret tilted his head, his eyebrows furrowing curiously. “Really?” He paused for a long moment, turning to observe the water in the gorge. “He saved your ass, then.” He paused yet again. “Is that why you were yelling at him?”

“Hey, I could have gotten Tifa and Cloud outta there,” Cid defended himself, even as the words fell out of his mouth he could hear the futility. “I had to try, Damnit.”

“You stubborn ass,” Barret shook his head. “Yeah, I would’a done the same, but Vincent was right to drag your ass out. You think we’d’ve been happy with you sacrificing yourself stupidly? Last thing we need is to lose another friend.”

Cid bit his tongue, fighting the instinctual urge to argue. Barret’s reprimanding was justified, he was completely right. Avalanche was facing a dangerous path, they couldn’t afford to falter, to fall or sacrifice unless it was imperative to the mission. What Cid had fooled himself into thinking was a choice leader decision, was in fact a twisted sense altruistic automation. Deep down he knew the chances of saving Cloud and Tifa were slim, but his heroics had overridden his self-preservations.

“…hell, he wouldn’t have done that for anyone else,” Barret was saying, drawing Cid from his thoughts. “We might’ve got a warning, but he wouldn’t have dragged our asses back to safety. That’s special treatment, alright.”

Cid didn’t need to ask to confirm Barret’s insinuation. Why had Vincent forced him back? It wasn’t in his character to do so.

“I thought he was allergic to touch,” Barret continued on, his focus on the forest outside. “Would barely let Aerith touch him. Guess I can understand it, after what he’s been through. Still…” he straightened up from the rail and turned his thoughtful brown eyes on Cid. “He ain’t as reserved around you, is he?”

He wasn’t expecting an answer to his rhetorical query, but the pilot found a response formulating inside his mind regardless: No, Vincent wasn’t as reclusive with Cid as he was with the others. And while that secret little man crush spawned a ridiculous furnace throughout him, Cid had to convince it that the only reason why was because he had encouraged a friendship between them, nothing more – despite some deep-seated sentiment trying to say otherwise.

A sudden craving hit him in the silence between them, niggling persistently until Cid could ignore it no longer. He foraged in his pocket for his packet of cigarettes as he turned from the glass, telling Barret he was heading outside. He strode through his ship to the outer deck, half a mind on his need for nicotine and the other half focused uncomfortably on that damn red-eyed gunman. Cid shook his head to himself as he pinned a cigarette between his lips and groped for his lighter. What if he had fallen into the Lifestream and lost his mind? It sounded worse than death. He despised the thought of people taking care of him, feeding and washing him, like some vegetable. The very thought made his skin crawl. What an end to the adventure he so readily accepted.

Sliding over the balustrade, Cid dropped to the grassy ground below. Everything was vivid green and picturesque. One of his crewmen waved to him from across the Highwind’s clearing, light up in the bright sun. Cid nodded back and wandered away towards the line of trees by the edge of the gorge, compelled in that direction. He took a draft on his cigarette and watched the smoke twist into the air, recalling a rainy night many weeks ago in a small village when he had done the same. Vincent had emerged from the downpour, an eerie presence that offered no hospitality. How far Cid had delved into the deep mystery since that time…

He had an itching to get moving. To get back on the road, as it were. The mission was a great distraction, leaving little room for anything else in Cid’s noggin when they were actively traveling it. He disliked thinking too much and he’d been doing it a lot lately.

His crew communicator beeped from his belt and he reached for it with his opposite hand while the other held his cigarette.

“Captain, Tifa’s awake,” Thomas’ voice came through.

“Roger that,” Cid said, and he tucked it back onto his belt. He headed back to the ship, inhaling as much as he could from his nicotine stick before stamping it out, picking it up and tossing it into the galley trashcan when he passed a minute later. When he arrived at sickbay Barret, Yuffie and Cait were already there, gathered around Tifa who was sat on her cot. She smiled warmly at Cid as he approached. “Hey, Tifa,” he greeted, releasing a lopsided grin. “You all in there?”

She nodded, eyes brighter than her usual dark hazel, more vivid, almost a rich dark burgundy. “I’m me. I can’t believe it though,” she said, looking at her hands. “I thought I was done for when we fell into the Lifestream…”

“Did something happen to you in there?” Barret pressed. “You should be like Cloud, or worse, dead.”

The smile on her face relaxed a little as she recalled her experience. “I was in Cloud’s mind… Somehow, I was inside his thoughts, his memories.” She looked over her shoulder at the cot next to hers, where Cloud lay sleeping peacefully. “When he wakes, he’ll explain everything…”

Cid looked at Barret and back at Tifa. “He’ll be him again?”

Tifa smiled again. “Yeah.”

Relief blossomed behind Cid’s ribcage. She sounded so sure, and he believed her. Hell, after what he’d witnessed throughout this insane mission, he’d be crazy not to.

They spoke briefly about their next course of action, and as Cid was still the appointed leader, he was tasked with the final decision. After consulting with Cait on the status of Shinra, he felt confident in ordering the Highwind on a flight path to Junon. Activity there had quieted, and Cait was concerned Heidegger was losing patience. He wouldn’t leave that Huge Materia for much longer.

Minutes later they were airborne. Tifa remained in sickbay with Cloud, and Barret with her. Cid watched Yuffie and Red trot off into the ship while he paced slowly along the corridor. His nicotine craving felt cheated and so he yearned for another, but there was something else fighting for attention within the crevices of his psyche, and without realizing it his feet were taking him to the source.

Once again, he stood before the threshold of Vincent’s cabin door. Should he really be feeding this fascination by conversing even more with the man? One of his two little voices told him he had to right his wrong, again, and the second one approved of this idea wholeheartedly. Cid lifted his hand and paused. Should he? Shouldn’t he?

“The occupant isn’t in,” came a deep voice.

Cid jerked. “Fuck,” he breathed, turning to find Vincent in the corridor. “Yer scared the shit outta me.”

Vincent said nothing. He blinked expectantly, awaiting Cid to explain his presence, his face a well conserved, stoic mask.

Swallowing back another burst of words, some that were likely to get him a definite reaction, Cid pointedly ignored the way his gut writhed and kept his eyes from roaming Vincent’s face. “I guess I owe yer another apology.” That’s right, quick and easy, like ripping off a band aid. “I thought we’d lost Cloud and Tifa, and I guess I wasn’t thinkin’ right. Me and my temper, huh?”

Vincent blinked again patiently and his head inclined. The damn man crush flared into life like a sickness; a reaction to that look. To that face. That man.

Cid frowned. “What?”

“Your apology?” Vincent responded pointedly.

“Eh?” He rewound his conversation. “Oh right… Yeah…” He worried a hand on the back of his neck, running across the stitches. “I’m sorry. Shit, Vince, yer saved my life, I should have said it straight after.” He lowered his arm and offered a meek smile. “And yer found Cloud and Tifa. If you hadn’t been there, we could’a walked right by ‘em… Damnit, Vince, yer’ve done so much for this team. We owe yer. I owe yer.”

What passed across the gunman’s face was only recognizable as a reaction to Cid’s words. Trying to decipher it was beyond his current skills. But it was a new one.

“I believe we draw on the tally chart,” Vincent finally said. At Cid’s questioning eyebrow, he added, “your ‘three course meal’ meets my saving your life.”

Cid grinned, walking towards the man. “Don’t think that cancels out my dinner,” he told him, afraid that was exactly what Vincent might suggest. He folded his arms so his hands wouldn’t wander where they didn’t belong. He stared at the man for a long moment before a question popped into his head. “Did Weapon come to Mideel for you?”

The touch of ease that had fallen over Vincent’s face disappeared. “…Why would you think that?”

Cid lowered his voice a tad, softened his tone. “Your eyes changed color, like… they were reactin’ to it. To Sapphire Weapon, too. And this one looked at you.”

Vincent stepped back, eyeing Cid with a sort of suspicious skepticism. “My eyes…?”

He had been unaware, Cid realized. “They go gold,” he told him slowly, unsure whether or not he should be mentioning this.

The gunman’s eyes looked away, absorbing this information and apparently processing it. He was still so unfamiliar with his own body.

“Did yer… feel anythin’ when it happened?” Cid pressed.

Vincent looked at him as though he had appeared there. “



The discarded 2nd version of chapter 30.

Title: Journey Chapter 30 version 2
Pages 3 (Most of it is identical to above so it's cut out)




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Thomas tended to their comatose friends once onboard the Highwind, finding no physical injuries on them at all. After the fall they had taken with the entire town, Cid had expected broken limbs, or at the very least open wounds. But either the Lifestream had healed them, or they had been extremely lucky. The ship remained grounded until they had decided what to do. The medic had warned them that Cloud could remain unconscious for an indefinite amount of time, but it was likely Tifa was running through a simple REM sleep cycle, and could awaken in several hours. Cid wanted to wait for her.

Only an hour after returning to the ship Cait announced quite suddenly that Shinra had deployed an investigatory squad to Mideel, which was to be expected. Cid had the Highwind moved from the area, halting her an hour away in the safety of the immense forest. She perched on the edge of a water filled gorge, hidden amongst the canopy of leaves. With nothing to do, some of the crew had taken to exploring outside. Exotic birds chirped and sang, flying about, some curious of the airship, others frightened.

Barret found Cid watching them from the glass dome on the bridge, leaning on the rail as they both followed the rapid, jittery flight path of a rather colorful bird.

“I don’t know why, but we were dealt a lucky card back there,” Barret began with a heavy weight to his words despite his topic. His prosthetic arm clanging softly on the metal pole. “It seems too good to be true… I can’t help thinking something’s fucking with us.”

Cid couldn’t agree more. Cloud and Tifa had almost certainly been lost to them, even if their bodies were living. How had Tifa, an ordinary human being by medical standards, sustained her sanity, her mind, when Cloud had not? It was perplexing, but how could Cid question it? How could he be suspicious of a miracle?

“I wonder if whatever saved them would’a saved you, too, if you’d fallen in.” Barret continued, musing aloud. “What if you hadn’t turned back and we lost you, as well?”

Cid frowned. “I didn’t turn back. Vincent practically dragged me back. He wasn’t gonna let me go any further.”

Barret tilted his head, his eyebrows furrowing curiously. “Really?” He paused for a long moment, turning to watch the water in the gorge. “He saved your ass.” He paused yet again. “Is that why you were yelling at him?”

“Hey, I could have gotten Tifa and Cloud outta there,” Cid defended himself, even as the words fell out of his mouth he could hear the futility. “I had to try, Damnit.”

“You stubborn ass,” Barret shook his head. “Yeah, I would’a done the same, but Vincent was right to drag your hide out. You think we’d’ve been happy with you sacrificing yourself stupidly? Last thing we need is to lose another friend.”

Cid bit his tongue, fighting the instinctual urge to argue. Barret’s reprimanding was justified, he was completely right. Avalanche was facing a dangerous path, they couldn’t afford to falter, to fall or sacrifice unless it was imperative to the mission. What Cid had fooled himself into thinking was a choice leader decision, was in fact a twisted sense of altruism. Deep down he knew the chances of saving Cloud and Tifa were slim, but his heroics had overridden his self-preservations.

“…hell, he wouldn’t have done that for anyone else,” Barret was saying, drawing Cid from his thoughts. “We might’ve got a warning, but he wouldn’t have dragged our asses back to safety. That’s special treatment, alright.”

Cid didn’t need to ask to confirm Barret’s insinuation. Why had Vincent forced him back? It wasn’t in his character to do so.

“I thought he didn’t care about anyone,” Barret continued on, his focus on the forest outside. “Would barely let Aerith touch him. Guess I can understand it, after what he’s been through. Still…” he straightened up from the rail and turned his thoughtful brown eyes on Cid. “He ain’t as reserved around you, is he?”

Cid stared. No, Vincent wasn’t as reclusive with him as he was with the others. And while that secret little man crush spawned a ridiculous furnace throughout him, Cid had to convince it that the only reason why was because he had encouraged a friendship between them, nothing more – despite some deep-seated sentiment trying to say otherwise.

A sudden craving hit him in the silence, niggling persistently until Cid could ignore it no longer. He foraged in his pocket for his packet of cigarettes as he turned from the glass, telling Barret he was heading outside. He strode through his ship to the outer deck, half a mind on his need for nicotine and the other half focused uncomfortably on that damn red-eyed gunman. Cid shook his head to himself as he pinned a cigarette between his lips and groped for his lighter. What if he had fallen into the Lifestream and lost his mind? It sounded worse than death. He despised the thought of people taking care of him, feeding and washing him. The very thought made his skin crawl. What an end to the adventure he so readily accepted.

Sliding over the balustrade, Cid dropped to the grassy ground below. Everything was vivid green and picturesque. One of his crewmen waved to him from across the Highwind’s clearing, lit up in the bright sun. Cid nodded back and wandered away towards the line of trees by the edge of the gorge, compelled in that direction. He took a draft on his cigarette and watched the smoke twist into the air, mesmerized by the similarities between it and the eerie, ragged ends of Vincent’s cape. Such a strange article of clothing, it was wrapped in as much mystery as the wearer himself. Cid had accepted the metamorphosis capabilities of his comrade, but now came the puzzle of his clothing. How could material mend itself? How had the gunman’s leather suit sewn itself back together after it had been riddled with bullet holes? Cid assumed whatever powers Vincent contained could extend themselves to his outfit, it would explain how he could transform around his clothes, instead of out of them.

Venturing into dangerous territory, Cid quickly pushed the mental images of unclothed Vincent from his mind, but they pushed back in more stubbornly. It wasn’t the sensual issue that captivated him so much (although, he couldn’t deny it was part of it); it was the concept of unmasking Vincent that enthralled him. He was a man shrouded in mysteries and darkness, an outward frontage that concealed so much more. Cid wanted to take down that guise and find the naked soul, he wanted to discover the real man. The first man.

He entertained fantasies of Vincent smiling as he meandered through the trees, enjoying the rush of desire that pumped through his veins. Maybe one day, when the planet was safe, Cid would have the opportunity to draw a smile from the darkness Vincent had hidden it. Maybe he could even hear the man laugh before Cid died of old age (or in the air, as he always predicted). That should earn him a medal of recognition. Forget notability for saving the planet, it would be for the laugh.

The flicker of something bright and irreconcilable snatched Cid’s focus from his pool of thoughts, and he found his eyes pinned to the flame of Red’s tail. By his side, gazing down at the gorge, was Vincent. He glanced at Cid before turning away again.

“You’ve wandered a ways from the ship,” Red commented lightly, cocking his head.

“Same to you,” Cid gestured to them both with his cigarette hand, walking to them with a lazy gait.

“It’s quieter out here,” he hound explained simply, turning to admire the water flowing below them. “No metal ship, no unnatural noise. Just nature.”

Cid considered the bubble he had broken between them, feeling suddenly like an unwelcomed guest. Before he could excuse himself though, Red stood up on all fours and announced he was thirsty. He padded off towards the airship, disappearing through the trees, leaving the two humans to themselves. Cid couldn’t help but speculate on his timely exit.

“I think I owe you another apology,” Cid started, directing his gaze across to the other side of the gorge. The rush of the water was a peaceful filler between them, soothing on the ears. Vincent said nothing. “Man, I’m shit with good people skills. I just used to bark orders and people’d obey them, I’ve never had to apologize for stuff ‘cause I never fucked up. That’s not braggin’” he added. “I’ve always been in my element, around engines, so I knew what I was doin’.” He paused to take a suck on his cigarette, releasing the smoke slowly, wondering when he had started feeling the need to explain himself. “Back there I thought we’d lost Cloud and Tifa, and I let my temper get the better of me.” He chanced a look at the gunman, receiving a small bolt through his chest when he found crimson already set upon him. For a long time neither said anything. Finally, Cid asked. “What?”

“Your apology?” Vincent replied pointedly.

“Eh?” Cid blinked, rewinding his conversation. “Oh right… Yeah.” He worried his free hand on the back of his neck, running across the stitches. “I’m sorry. Again.”

Vincent watched him a second more. “Apology accepted.” Was all he said before turning back to stare at the far side.

His cold response brought an uncomfortable knot to Cid’s chest. The little voice told him to leave now, while Vincent was giving him the opportunity to put distance between them; he could make it easy and just walk away, let the unknown issue build a blockade. But the other voice was protesting, urging him to interact, probe, prod, find out what had instigating this sudden gap when they had been warming up to each other so well. Should he or shouldn’t he? Save the hassle and ditch him now, or bridge the gap and fight for that smile?

Cid’s indecision resulted in a long hesitation, and he found himself staring at the man. There was little trace left of the warm tolerance he reserved for Cid, no comfortable demeanor. Just a man void of life and filled with hard vengeance. A man trying to detach himself from humanity so he wouldn’t have to feel again. Somehow, Cid knew if he left now Vincent would be lost to everyone. He would shut himself off and reserve his focus for his single, last mission. He would see himself dead after his deed was done. Cid couldn’t let that happen.

He found his hand had risen to Vincent’s shoulder, cigarette on the floor. Those crimson eyes swung around to his, questioning. Cid stared harder, unabashed by his blatant act. And there, in the depths of ruby, he saw the conflict. Cid faltered, words on the tip of his tongue, but then he saw his reflection in the gunman’s eyes, snapping his from his reverie.

“You saved my life,” he enunciated, tightening his grip. “You knew the Lifestream was gonna crack the town apart any second, but you came to get me. And, hell, if that don’t make me in your debt…” He trailed off, darting his eyes from both of Vincent’s. “Thank you.”

For a long time it seemed as though Vincent wouldn’t say anything. He clung to an indifferent exterior as long as he could before it began to waver. There was battle inside him, one that Cid wished desperately to understand, but with this stubborn reluctance of Vincent’s it was a wish far from fulfillment.

“You owe me nothing,” Vincent finally stated, his voice softer than his acceptance, but still void of the informality he had once extended to Cid. He turned his gaze away and began to move back from Cid’s grasp, but the pilot grounded him with his hand on his shoulder, refusing to let go.

“I won’t let yer shut me out,” Cid professed brazenly.

Vincent studied the conviction in his eyes reticently; a slight increase in the size of his pupils was the only reaction Cid could detect. He gave very little away, but the fact that he had yet to pull back was the sign to Cid, the sign that Vincent didn’t want to lengthen the distance between them.

Cid’s crew communicator beeped abruptly from his belt, shattering the strange tension that had accumulated. He paused before releasing Vincent’s shoulder to answer it.

“Captain, Tifa’s awake,” Thomas’ voice came through.

“Roger that,” Cid answered, eyeing his tall friend as he tucked it back onto his belt. The air was still heavy around them and he didn’t want to leave it like that – even as Vincent began walking back towards the airship. Cid followed, tired of vague speculations and darting looks. He went for the bold approach. “Did I do somethin’ to affend yer?”

Vincent’s looked ahead. “No,” he answered.

“Well, I’m fuckin’ stumped, then,” Cid threw his hands up, trying to match Vincent’s long strides. “Are yer still pissed that I yelled at yer?”

“Cid, I’m not angry at you.”

“Then why the sudden cold treatment?” the pilot demanded, frustrated.

“I’ve always been cold.”

Cid grabbed him, halting the man and turning him around. “Not to me, yer haven’t. I told yer yer could tell me to shut up when I piss yer off, but don’t take me for a fool.”

Those words provoked a minute change in Vincent’s expression, of what he hadn’t dipped behind his collar, anyway. “I would never play you for a fool,” he said genuinely.

“Then tell me what the fuck’s wrong?” Cid almost shouted.

Vincent’s brow furrowed into a line above his eyes and he looked away, clearly bothered by something.



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