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11 May 2014 @ 09:52 pm
Journey Chapter 32 Original Version  
The discarded 1st version of chapter 32.

Title: Journey Chapter 32
Pages 11


The first thing he became aware of was the extreme discomfort. He itched and he ached, like he had been sleeping in much too long. Cid never lazed often, his lifestyle was usually too busy for such luxuries, always eager to get started on his engine work, but when he found time he could make it to noon. This was usually his limit because any longer and his body protested. He was pretty sure it was past noon right now.

He shifted on whatever he had fallen asleep. The fabric was comfy even if his position was not. His hand groped for the sheet covering him. Fresh cotton feel. Smelled odd, though, like hospital disinfectant. His throat tickled and a grunt escaped him. Something hummed in the air, short and deep. He barely registered it and tried to sit up. Something pushed him down gently. He heard the soft rumble again, a little more defined. A voice. His eyes slid open slowly. A pair of red ones watched back. Cid said something, his mouth moving of its of volition before his eyes closed again, sore against the light. Then the dull pain hit him, radiating from his chest. He lifted a hand to feel his sternum, feeling soft flat gauze across his skin. He wondered why that was there.

“Cid…”

The deep voice, smooth, smoky.

Cid mumbled something. He should get up, he must have slept in late, and Shera would be buzzing in, telling him he was wasting the day away.

“Cid.”

Goddamn, that was one nice baritone. His eyes fluttered open again, but past his lashes he could make out very little. Red-Eyes was still watching him.

“…Shera know yer here?” Cid muttered, rolling his head in the pillow. “Gas turbine’s in the shop. Jammed compression rotator …gotta be fixed.” He tried to sit up again, there was work somewhere to be done, but the force on his shoulder returned, pushing him back down firmly but carefully, remaining in place. It was warm, his skin was bare.

“Cid, you’re on the Highwind,” the voice said.

“I am the Highwind,” Cid scowled. Pretty idiot didn’t even know whose house he was in.

“Your airship.”

Cid paused. His airship, of course. He had named it after himself. A memory dug itself to the surface, of Avalanche in his kitchen, Shera with them. He relaxed into the pillow as more memories followed.

“Vincent,” the name rolled off his tongue. He peered at the gunman through half-mast eyelids, able to register that perfect face. “Vince… You alrigh’?”

A touch of amusement graced the man’s fair features, Cid’s concern was misdirected. “Yes. How do you feel?”

Cid blinked several times, trying to increase his focus and awareness. “Weird… where’m I?”

The hand on his shoulder removed itself, taking with it the comfortable weight. “The Highwind’s infirmary.”

The pilot took a moment to register his words. He swallowed, his throat dry. “Did we get the Huge Materia?”

Vincent reached for something. “No. We had to retreat.” He held something in Cid’s limited field of vision. “Drink.”

Catching sight of the glass of water, Cid took the straw between his lips and a second later blissful liquid soothed his throat. It felt strange to drink while horizontal. Cid released the straw and inhaled loudly, drawing in a refreshing lungful of air. Combined, the oxygen and water cleared his mind somewhat. He glanced around with better focus. The infirmary, from what he could see, was empty and softly lit. He started to sit up once again.

“Thomas recommends you remain down while the wound is healing,” Vincent told him, pushing him back down.

Disgruntled, Cid’s brow furrowed. “That why they left you to confine me to this cot?”

“He did suggest you were a stubborn patient,” Vincent said lightly. “Someone had to keep you rooted.”

Cid made a displeased face, pressing his head into the pillow. “How bad was I?”

“Very. The creature was poisonous and the wound severe.” He paused for a long moment, leaving something unsaid. “Your medic predicts a fast recovery, though.”

Cid listened, registering the hesitant space in the man’s unspoken words. He got the distinct feeling Vincent had excluded something. Cid tucked that conjecture away for later and turned his attention to the matter at hand.

“How long’ve I been out?” He asked, words still slurring together a little. “The others okay? Are we on our way to Rocket Town? Has Shinra done anythin’ to my rocket?”

Vincent’s head lowered, hair obscuring his face, but through his bangs Cid caught the distinct, albeit small, curl of a smile. When his face lifted he had composed his renegade features.

“Whuh?” Cid demanded. Had he been more lucid he would probably be smiling, too.

“Thomas warned me you would wake with a bombardment of questions.” Vincent blinked softly, leaving an adequate gap before answering. “You’ve been unconscious for seventeen hours. Barret and Cait are fine. Your co-pilot has set us down on the east coast of the west continent, and Shinra have not yet made it to Rocket Town.”

Cid processed his answers, wondering which to address first. Finally, he came out with, “seventeen hours? What the hell’ve I missed? I’ve been out for a whole day – what time’s it?”

“You haven’t missed anything of importance,” Vincent assured him patiently. “It’s three thirty in the morning.”

Cid was still processing seventeen hours. That monster had obviously inflicted a very potent poison on him. He glanced around what he could see of the infirmary. The time explained why no one else was there. It was strangely serene with the low lighting and quiet air; even the ship’s engines were silent. Vincent’s strong presence was oddly soothing, his faint leather scent pleasing to Cid’s nose. He wanted to reach out and touch his hair, discover how soft it was, watch his reaction. Damn, how he wanted to. If he had been a little less sober he might well have acted on his impulse. But he restrained himself; he wasn’t in the best condition for anything like that, Vincent would see it as a drug-induced influence.

Gesturing for the glass, Cid took it from Vincent and sipped from the straw, resisting the urge to sit up. He would only be held down. Shit, don’t think of that out of context… “What’re Shinra doin’?” He asked as he handed the glass back, desperate to banish the resulting visions. “Why’vn’t they launched the rocket?”

Vincent put the glass on a small table. “Most likely because the Gelnika didn’t make it there. They’ve been conducting searches for the missing plane beneath the ocean. It seems they are unaware we found it first.”

Cid closed his eyes and sighed. “We could have had all four’uv’um.” Fatigue crept upon him quickly, threatening to pull him into a forceful slumber. “Rufus mus’ still be furious though. Wish I could see ‘is face.” He cracked his heavy eyes open again. “Yer been watchin’ me all night?”

“Yes.”

Cid smiled. “Were yer worried ‘bout me?”

“…Yes.”

“If I was gonna die at leas’ yers would’a been the las’ face I saw…”

He fell asleep to silence.

//

He next awoke to the sound of low voices permeating his consciousness. They stirred him to a realm of semi-awareness where he could distinguish each speaker but not their words. An incoherent mumble escaped him and the voices stopped. He sensed them approach.

“Cid? You awake?”

Cid’s eyes flickered open only to shut again. It was hard work waking up. “’S’at Barret?” He slurred.

“Like you had to ask,” the gunman answered, a smile in his tone. “You had us worried, ya grouchy bastard.”

“How’re you feeling?” Came Tifa’s voice.

He tried once again to open his eyes, gaining more strength. He spied Barret and Tifa’s faces looking down at him, and Thomas behind. Cloud’s spikey hair lingered in the background. “Like shit.”

“He’s okay,” Barret was glad to deduce.

Thomas fussed over Cid for a minute, checking his vitals and asking relevant recovery questions while the fuzzy haze disappeared. Cid was scowling when Thomas retreated to his work corner, but the verbal stimuli had cleared his mind, and he was able to sit up, ignoring his dizziness.

“Shit,” he hissed, bringing a hand to his chest. He looked down. Gauze had been taped across his torso, and he’d been stripped of his clothes. Thankfully, Thomas had preserved his decency with a pair of drawstring scrubs. “What happened? Where are we? How long was I out?”

Barret folded his arms as Tifa tilted her head, both amused. Cloud stepped into better view beside Barret.

“Don’t you remember talking to Vincent?” Tifa questioned.

Cid frowned. “When?”

“You woke early this morning,” Tifa said, picking up something on a small table behind her. “He told Thomas you had come to for a few minutes.” She held out a glass of water.

The drink and the straw were like a catalyst, and the conversation he’d had with Vincent hazily floated back. He couldn’t recall all of it, but he remembered the pale man watching over him, answering his questions. That small, flicker of a smile…

“What time’s it now?” He asked after a long gulp of water (around the straw).

“Almost nine in the morning,” Cloud answered, sitting down on the cot opposite.

Cid looked at Barret. “What happened after I passed out on the Gelnika?”

The large gunman sat down next to Cloud, arms still crossed. “We had to get you outta there, you were bleeding out badly. Your blood must have drawn out the rest of them monsters because we were surrounded in a second. We got out without a scratch, though.”

“Pretty lucky,” Cid commented.

“Damn straight. And it was lucky you showed me how to steer that damn sub ‘cause it was up to me to get your bleeding ass to the surface. Cait helped a bit,” he added with a shrug. “Vincent kept most of your blood on your inside, your jacket was used as a compress. One of your crew is trying to get the stains out.” Barret paused his face dropping faintly. “You died for a minute in that submarine.”

Cid was silent for a moment. “…Damn,” he cussed softly.

“It was the hemotoxin,” Thomas said walking back with his clipboard in hand. “It targets red blood cells and organs, and with your blood loss it was actually a miracle Mr. Valentine revived you.”

“Vincent did?” Cid questioned, absently rubbing his chest. It stung and ached, but there was a discomfort inside his ribcage, too.

Barret had adopted a strange expression in response. “He got yer heart starting again. Never seen him look so worried. After we got you onboard he said we should get a cure materia for sure. To be honest, we should have gone after one before now.”

“We’ll make it our next mission after this rocket mess,” Cid said distantly, thoughts tripping over themselves in his clouded head.

Barret gave a shrewd smile. “We’ve already got one.”

“Eh? When?”

“Cait’s controller gave us the location of a nearby Shinra storage facility,” Tifa answered. “We raided it last night.”

“Got a couple of other goodies, too,” Barret said, proud of their haul.

“So I did miss somethin’,” Cid complained. He would have loved a good rummage in a Shinra warehouse. He slid off the cot carefully with Tifa’s guiding hand, suffering a rush of light-headedness. “Can we get healin’ me then?”

“Red’s taken it down into the wilds for some mileage,” Cloud spoke up. “It’s too weak for your level of injury.”

“Typical,” Cid muttered, stretching his legs and wiggling his toes. “Shinra found the Gelnika yet?”

“Yes,” Tifa answered, drawing an air of significance to the topic. “Cait told us a few minutes ago. We’re waiting on the Shinra’s next move. We don’t know if they’ll go ahead to Rocket Town with just one Huge Materia.”

“So we’re just waitin’…” Cid summed up, more to himself. He let a few stray thoughts chase each other through his mind. The prominent of which were Barret’s heavy words. Cid had died on the submarine. How close had he been to the point of no return? It was strange to hear of his own mortality, and certainly an eye opener. They had been foolish to run around without a cure until now, finding one should have been their top priority. How had his friends reacted in the submarine, knowing that they had already lost one dear friend, temporarily lost two others, and had been faced with losing another? What if he had died? Sure, there was a possibility they would all perish if Sephiroth won, but there was something very different about Armageddon and a dying alone. He would never see Shera again, he would never get to fix up the Tiny Bronco… he would never get to hear that laugh he so wanted to obtain. If he’d died, would Vincent continue with the team to the end? Would any of the others fight for his companionship? Without Cid, who would get to tell him he was beautiful?

Something bold and daring befell him, spurred by his brush with death. “Where’s Vincent?”

“I think he’s in his room,” Tifa answered, watching him take a few unsteady steps before his locomotion balanced out. “He might be sleeping,” she called after him. “He looked pretty rough.”

“He did his monster trick down in the sub,” Barret informed him, slightly guarded in tone. Galian was still a risky topic to him. “I wouldn’t bother him if I were you.”

Cid pressed the door release. “Yer not me.” He stepped out to the spluttering voice of Thomas, calling for him to come back. Not likely.

The grating underfoot was cold on Cid’s bare feet as he made his way to the crew quarters. The little voice in his head was encouraging his every step. He probably should detour to his own cabin for his clothes, or boots at least, but every distraction might dissuade him from his destination. With every foot forward he couldn’t shake his lucky escape from death. He had a second chance, he wouldn’t let it pass.

But he never made it to Vincent’s door. Red bounded into view with Cait Sith sat on his mane. They caught him a deck away from the infirmary.

“Cid!” Cait waved happily as his steed came to a stop before him. “You’re looking well, lad! Where were you off to?” He asked, looking at Cid’s lack of clothes. Before he gave the pilot time to answer, he jumped to his own urgent topic. “Shinra are on the move. They’re going ahead with the plan to blow up Meteor – they’re heading to Rocket Town right now.”

“Shit!” Cid cursed. He glanced back at the direction his body was urging him to go, but he knew he couldn’t delay. He started back to the infirmary with his two furry friends in tow, bursting back into the room to inform them on the latest update. He was quick to order a course destination to Rocket Town over the ship’s tannoy.

“We should beat them there, right?” Tifa asked as Cid turned from the wall panel. “You said this is the fastest aircraft.”

Cait hopped from atop Red onto a cot. “I’m not so sure. I’m going through the logs of the submarine that found the Gelnika. It didn’t report back to Junon like I thought. It went to Costa Del Sol. They’re transporting the Huge Materia via the helicopter there. They have a big head start.”

“Fuck,” Cid spat. He did a few quick mental calculations as he rubbed his bandage. “Chopper’s max speed is about 330 MPH, but they won’t be doin’ that.” He paused a beat. “Say an average of 280… I’ve clocked it before and it took me…” He trailed off into his head, barely aware of the eyes on him. A few seconds later he came to a conclusion. “We can probably get there right behind ‘em.”

“How long will it take to reach Rocket Town?” Cloud asked.

“Several hours,” Cid said grimly. They should have taken the Highwind directly to Rocket Town instead of hanging around between it and Junon. If he’d been awake, Cid would have done so.

Thomas took advantage of Cid’s return and forced him back on the cot so he could take off the bandage, ignoring the pilot’s protests. He wanted to get his ass to Vincent’s cabin before anything else could redirect him, compelled by the little voice in his head.

“Have you been running?” Thomas asked, pressing his hand against Cid’s chest. “Your heart’s beating fast.”

Not for that reason, he thought. He forced himself to sit still as Thomas removed the gauze, getting a good look at the scar there. It was pretty impressive, a deep gash across the valley of his pectorals. No wonder he had been in bad shape, the poison had traveled only a short distance to his heart.

“Your sternum is also fractured,” Thomas told him, trashing the old gauze. “It’ll be sore for several days, or until your cure materia is strong enough to mend bone.”

“Seriously? The hit didn’t even throw me to the floor,” Cid frowned.

Barret sat down in front of him, observing the scar. “Vincent cracked your rib,” he told. “He was doing compressions on your chest.”

Cid found the irony funny. “He saved my life and broke my chest.” That was the second time Vincent had snatched him from death’s grip.

Thomas revealed a fresh bandage, applying it over an unusually compliant Captain. “If you don’t mind me asking, Sir, what’s the deal with Mr. Valentine?”

He’s fucking gorgeous?

“He’s a demon,” Barret replied.

Cid shot him a sharp look, but it was apparent in the wry gleam of his eye that the gunman was joking. Thomas chuckled.

“That’s not funny,” Tifa scowled lightly, slapping Barret’s arm. She looked at the medic. “He’s been through a lot. Professor Hojo of the Shinra got ahold of him and performed horrible experiments. He’s… a bit stronger than the average human now.”

That’s an understatement, Cid though, recalling the vivid image of Vincent lifting up the Mudroller. But he appreciated Tifa’s downplay, she hadn’t made him seem like something inhuman. Thomas and the crew already knew of Vincent’s transformation, it wouldn’t do any good to increase his shaky reputation.

As soon as he was able, he escaped Thomas’ clutches and once again left the infirmary with his boots on. Nothing is gonna stop me this time. He strode through the ship and down to the crew quarters like a man on a mission. At the cabin door, he rapped his fingers on the metal, fleetingly aware that his bloodied knuckles had been healed. Maybe that cure had done a little work after all.

After a minute and no response, Cid knocked again. Maybe Vincent was sleeping deeply? Or maybe he wasn’t in there. He let another minute pass before concluding there was no one home. He turned on his heel and headed to the main decks, wondering where the elusive ex-Turk would be. Cid poked his head into the gallery, but found only Omar. He checked the bridge, but saw only Berto and Kejon. He stepped into the conference room, but it was empty. He even looked in the empty chocobo stables. Nothing.

“Who’re you looking for?” Yuffie asked as he left the conference room. She was hanging by the wall clutching her sick bucket, watching whoever went by.

Cid paused to prop his hands on his hips and gaze down the deck absently, finding it odd that he hadn’t found Vincent in the only places he would have been. “No one,” he answered vaguely. He turned his attention on her. “Get yerself to the medic, he can give yer somethin’ for airsickness.”

“He already has,” she groaned, rubbing her stomach.

“Then lay down. Yer makin’ the place look a mess.”

“Where? Can I have your cabin again?”

Cid paused. “Fine. But don’t touch those Huge Materias.” He gave her the lock code and warned he would be in there to grab his clothes. She hobbled off. Cid watched her go as his thoughts circled back into his head. Vincent couldn’t be on the outer deck, only Cid had the authority to open the hatch during flight, and he wouldn’t be in the systems control room. What about the small confinement cells? It was worth a shot. He turned and headed to them, but they were as empty as the stables. Perplexed, Cid trudged back to his cabin for some fresh attire. Vincent must have been in his room all along, asleep… very asleep.

At his quarters, Yuffie was already sinking into the mattress. He searched through his empty draws to discover he had no extra clothes, apart from the dirty items he had left in his little bathroom after the Red Rescue. After Vincent had cleaned him up.

“Can’t you call in at your home and grab something there?” Yuffie asked after he gave a frustrated growl, slamming his draws shut.

“We won’t have time, we’ll be chasing the damn Shinra,” he replied, disgruntled. He would have to return to sickbay again.

Leaving Yuffie with another trashcan by the bed, Cid stepped out onto the corridor decking, books clunking. He turned to his right and took two steps forward before something tickled his sixth sense. He stopped and looked over his shoulder.

Vincent stood in the corridor behind.

“Vince,” Cid said, turning around.

“It’s good to see you up and about,” the gunman spoke. His eyes flickered to the bandage on Cid’s chest.

Cid adopted a smooth smile, although now he had finally found Vincent, his heart started to kick up a gear. “No thanks to you. Again. I –”

“Cid –” Someone called, approaching.

“Goddamnit,” Cid gritted his teeth, turning around to fix whoever with a thunderous glare.

Morrey didn’t appear to notice. “Thomas wants to try the cure materia on the back of your neck, you left before he could,” he said. “I wanted to be the one to tell you. Haven’t seen you since I woke up.”

Cid paused. Morrey had been in a mini coma since they rescued Vincent and Red, and the Captain hadn’t even been to check on him. What a poor leader. Cid’s irritation died down a little. “I’m kinda in the middle of somethin’ right now –”

“You should get those stitches out,” Vincent cut in.

Morrey gestured expectantly for Cid to follow him, who glanced back at the red-eyed man. Vincent was already turning to leave. He cast a last look over his shoulder before disappearing around the corner. Cid felt frustration ball his fists as he followed Morrey back. Some unseen force was determined to keep him from his goal.

He managed a few conversations with Morrey before they entered the infirmary, but his mind was elsewhere and he wasn’t sure he actually registered anything. Thomas manhandled him back to the cot and Morrey stood to the side. His Avalanche teammates had left.

Thomas pushed Cid’s head down and a second later a warm, tingling sensation played across the pilot’s skin. It was distinctly magical, and very soothing. A few seconds later it ended, and Thomas deemed Cid’s stitches and wound gone. At least it wouldn’t be ripping open again.

Cid slid off the cot. “Right, if there’s anythin’ else, let me know now before I have to come back into this damn room.”

“I want you to eat before we get to Rocket Town,” the medic said. “Your body needs it.”

“Great,” Cid sniped. “Anythin’ else?”

“Nope. Seeza will have your clothes fixed up soon, so she’ll find you later.”

Cid recalled the new crewmember, one of those recruited by Shinra. He gave a grunt and escaped, unable to leave the infirmary quick enough. Within a few minutes he was striding back down the cabin deck right up to Vincent’s door, heart hammering, brow set, impulses on overdrive. He raised his fist and banged three times. When it opened, he spoke before Vincent could blink.

“I’m done dancin’ around.” Cid stated. He hooked a finger into the cape collar, yanked it down and kissed him.

It was rough and demanding, hot and meaningful. He poured his feelings through, exerting deliberate attention. He savored the abrupt touch of warm lips on his, marveled at their softness, their suppleness. The response. Cid had expected rejection, braced himself for a physical strike –but never had he considered reciprocation. Vincent responded with barely contained power, and in that short period of contact Cid felt the man’s hidden, deep longing. It traveled through him like a tsunami.

Vincent broke their contact suddenly, a mix of expressions fighting for dominance on his features, finally relenting to a look of grave regret. He stepped back. “Cid…”

Cid knew that tone. “No, don’t you dare,” he warned him, stepping closer. “Don’t you dare say that was a mistake.”

Vincent shook his head, eyes locked on Cid’s. His lips had gained a tint of color and his eyes were blazing. But his manner contradicted his physical reactions. “I can’t do this with you, Cid.”

“Can’t or won’t?” Cid demanded, stepping fully across the threshold. His mouth was still tingling, his head reeling, even his damn knees felt like jelly. How fucking cliché. But the momentary high he had just been floating on came crashing down. “Don’t gimme that bullshit, Vince.”

Vincent turned away, an angry line on his brow, although angry at himself more likely. “I can’t. I shouldn’t have let that happen.”

Cid felt the anger bubbling inside him. He balled his fists and tried to suppress it. “Tell me why,” he managed levelly.

Vincent looked at him, something held back with considerable restraint. For a long time he said nothing, clearly fighting internally, choosing his argument carefully. “Because I could kill you…”

The anger eased only slightly. Cid blinked. “Vince, if I thought yer were a danger, I’d have kicked yer off my ship ages ago. Do yer realize how many people in this world I trust? I’m pretty sure I told yer this already. I could count ‘em on my hand,” he brandished his left one for emphasis. “You’re one of ‘em.”

“Then that would make my offence that much worse,” Vincent retorted.

“Yer soundin’ like yer already know yer gonna do it.”

“Because it is a great possibility.”

Cid growled, anger rising. “No, it’s not! Yer using that as an excuse because yer afraid of startin’ anythin’. I have never, for a minute, thought that yer’d lose control and hurt anyone –much less kill ‘em. Shit, Vince, do yer know how I feel about yer? Even if there was a possibility I’d still fuckin’ take it!”

“I wouldn’t,” Vincent said harshly, his eyes sharp, desperately trying to push Cid away. “I’ve already lost one person to mad science, I won’t be a party to another…”

Cid lowered his hands. “Yer not gonna lose me, Vince.”

Vincent turned away again. “Please leave.”

“Oh, hell no.” Cid whirled him around, gripping his arms, glaring at his perfect face. “I ain’t leavin’. If yer were worried about anythin’ happenin’ then why the hell didn’t yer just shut me off like yer do with the rest of the team? Why’d yer act nice to me, and talk to me when it’s clear no one else ever got the same treatment?”

Vincent was glaring back, but the intensity lacked commitment. “A naïve mistake on my part. I didn’t think that you harbored anything other than platonic curiosity.”

Cid almost felt insulted. “Curiosity? Yer thought I was just interested in the supernatural side of yer?”

“Weren’t you?”

Cid released his arms. “No!” He cried indignantly. “I’m curious about the whole fuckin’ package!” For a moment all he could do was glower. Vincent had that ability to ignite his fuse far too quickly. “Damn, you know how to complicate things, I’ll give yer that!”

Vincent half turned from him. “Everything about this is complicated,” he remarked.

“And I’d be worried if it wasn’t” Cid said practically interrupting his last syllable, sensing a negative follow up. “But that don’t change my mind. I woke up in that infirmary and heard I’d died in that sub. I dunno what that was like for you guys, but it took a while to sink in for me. And yer know what I thought when I heard that? I thought of you.”

Those red eyes flickered back to him, seeking the validity of Cid’s words. He found the sincerity there.

“I’ve almost died twice now, that’s two extra shots at life, and I sure as hell ain’t gonna piss about any more. If I die for good tomorrow, at least I got this out in the air. You actually died once, is vengeance the only thing yer ever gonna want?” Cid paused for a breath, feeling his blood rushing through his veins. “Stop tellin’ yerself yer can’t have things when yer can, damnit, ‘cause yer only foolin’ yerself. Yer said the woman yer loved didn’t return yer feelin’s… Well I am doin’.”

Vincent’s gaze was eerily steady as it bore into Cid’s eyes. For a long time neither said anything, and the air between them drifted thickly. Cid felt exhausted, his chest throbbed with every heartbeat and his palms had become sweaty. But he felt resolute, and in some strange sense, satisfied; he had shown his feelings, he had offloaded part of the weight, and he had put the cards on the table. The hardest part was done.

To his pleasant surprise Vincent reached out his hand deliberately, slid his fingers through the back of Cid’s hair and drew their lips together. It was a slower kiss, a searching, experimental contact. When it ended, neither said anything, sharing the air of their hot breaths. This close, Cid could see every amber speck circling Vincent’s pupils. His could see his own reflection in those eyes; two crimson galaxies of intricacies. Breathtaking.

The hectic atmosphere seemed to have been banished, and in its place was a calm, patient but uncertain mood. Cid lifted a hand and combed his fingers gently through the bangs that obscured half of Vincent’s face. Finally: He could confirm it was as silky as he’d thought.

“Been wantin’ to do that for a long time,” he said, his voice lacking volume. Vincent had literally taken his breath away.

Vincent’s eyes darted between the pilot’s, thoughts and concerns practically visible in the faint tightness of his brow. “Cid…” he began, with a cautioning inflection to his tone. “There is an element of danger. From me… I don’t know if…”

“I know what I’m signin’ up for,” Cid interrupted, assuring. “Yer ain’t gonna put me off so easily.”

The gunman considered the blond before him. “Stubborn pilot.”

Cid grinned. “And look what it’s got me.”

//