I am not a romantic poet. I am not a pedagogue. I am not a soothsayer. I am not a fool. I am not a vagrant. And I am not a fucking vampire...

Vincent slipped down along the ash-grey alleyway, vomiting every foul curse he could force out into the heavy night air, with his long cape drawn out around him to cover his metal claw.

It was just like any other alley around here - carpeted with dust, dead cigarettes, and crushed gravel, with narrow walls of deteriorating bricks the color of burnt-out match heads. There were stray cats slinking behind modest, noncommittal trashpiles. There were insects, and cracks in the pavement. It was one of millions of disreputable-yet-preserved haunts of the exhausted remains of Midgar: half-ruined shops and shacks, damp streets with steam rising from sewer grates, crumbling buildings sans windows and rooftops, and these age-old alleyways, the leftover spaces in-between structures - all knotted together, shivering relief and crime and the neverending stain of ancient misfortune.

Midgar was crippled. But it still lived - sheltering the vulgar, the proud, and the weak, guarding its meager inheritance with depraved brutality, hoarding dross, lashing out at apparitions of danger - and gradually beginning to heal.

Vincent felt that he owed much to Midgar. He believed that by failing to stop Hojo he had failed this whole city. He was a strong and able man, and assisting in the repair of this valiant, decadent metropolis was the best way he could think to make apology for his imagined sins.

But Reeve was pissing him off.

Not that Reeve was an unsavory individual by any means. Everyone had had suspicions about him at first, but he had turned out to be a real friend. He was loyal and charitable and genial.

And flighty. Frivolous, indecisive, and completely incapable of concentrated thinking under pressure. And, worst of all, he had recently developed a temper - without developing any manner of restraining a temper.

And when he was mad. He. Said. The. Stupidest. Shit.

And the man was the topmost supervisor of the rebuilding of Midgar, since he was the only high-level Shinra employee who had aided the Heroes of the World. And he was, admittedly, doing a decent job. But it was simply too much work for one man to do by himself. His fatigue was showing.

He fucked up now and again. He gave sloppy orders, didn't respond to reports or complaints, ignored sound advice. A few men had actually been injured as a result of his lack of foresight. Bottom line: Reeve had a terribly difficult and complicated job. He needed help.

Vincent was a construction worker in sector four. Sort of like a supervisor, but he didn't shy away from manual labor. He was the ideal man for the job - muscular, efficient, and knowledgeable about first aid in case of accident. He was simultaneously an overseer and laborer.

And he felt at peace with his role. Finally, he was doing something that he knew would bring relief to others and hurt no one. It also helped his peace of mind to actually be physically suffering, which made it seem all the more like the penance that he craved.

But he couldn't ignore the change in his associate, Reeve, who was now a fidgety waif of a man, scatterbrained, frail, and irascible.

So he offered to help.

And Reeve chewed his ass off for it. Chewed his ass right out the window, calling him names, throwing things, accusing Vincent of directly slandering him.

I was only trying to help, Vincent reflected. Reeve is definitely nothing like he used to be. He was friendly, even when he betrayed us. Guileless, thoughtful, always patient. Nothing like this.

As he padded through and out of the alley and into the ruined streets, dodging rubble and orphaned pets, he noticed The Golden Light of Divine Illumination. It said "Bar" in yellow neon letters.

Vincent didn't normally drink. But right now, he was thirsty and very angry, and felt that a mild depressant might help ease out the kinks in his mind. One drink. Then he would go to bed.

It was amazing that there still were buildings standing in Midgar. Reconstruction had only been underway for just short of one month, and most projects involved clearing out unusable rubble. Very few buildings had been re-erected, so businesses were run from half-crumpled, flimsy structures that were held together with whatever band-aids their occupants and owners could scrape together. It was unsafe, to say the least. But everyone was so relieved that they were still alive, and so intoxicated most of the time, that few people cared about the danger of further collapse.

Yet many buildings had fallen. Almost three thousand people were dead or missing from post-meteor building collapses, with over eleven thousand injured. And there were too many damaged buildings to deal with at once. Condemnation orders were disregarded by people who needed shelter. And many were altogether ignorant of building condemnation orders, since there had been no progress in effective communication to all areas of Midgar. The best they could do was post notices. Notices that people stole and burned for tinder, or didn't bother reading for being too busy with survival, or couldn't understand because they were illiterate.

Damn. Another important thing that Reeve can't accomplish by himself! He needs help, dammit, why can't he take on an assistant? It doesn't have to be me; I was only offering to be kind!

Vincent cautiously wandered inside of the small tavern. It used to be a restaurant, with its own bar, but the bar was the only thing left now. There were a few other people there: all men, all sloshed. It was quiet. Vincent asked what the bartender had. The reply was scotch whisky or straight gin.

Wincing at the thought of straight gin, which always tasted like liquefied pine needles and insect repellent, Vincent told the bartender that he preferred scotch. He didn't mind gin when it was mixed with something, but straight? That was just plain disgusting.

He had hoped for something less alcoholic than whisky, so that he could drink more of it. He really was thirsty. He contemplated asking for a glass of water along with his scotch, but decided that he would probably be laughed out of the bar. He'd already been called a candy-ass once today. Damn Reeve.

He was handed a smallish tin cup half-filled with lukewarm liquor, and was surprised when he realized that it was very good scotch. He certainly hadn't expected his whisky to taste pleasant. He'd never really enjoyed the taste of scotch. It was good for relaxation, or antifreeze.

"I must really be thirsty," he murmured aloud. He continued to sip his drink, with a small smile of satisfaction. He was no longer angry.

What right do I have to be angry, anyhow? I have to remember. I'm the fuckup. Reeve is doing his best. I have to remember what I am. I don't have the luxury of self-righteousness. I shouldn't ever think the way I was thinking earlier. I am only here to serve others, as my penalty for my mistakes, and because these people deserve better than this. I can help these people. And I will, at any cost.

The scotch tasted good, but it burned in his throat like hot bile. He became aware that he had a great desire for water, and so he paid, tipped, and rose to leave.

On his way to the door, he stopped. He'd noticed another man entering. Cid.

It surprised Vincent very much to see him there. He hadn't seen Cid for almost two weeks; he was stationed in sector two, assigned by Reeve to superintend the Emergency Water Appropriation project.

"Vincent?"


Since Cid's voice was jarring even when foreseen, Vincent was startled a little by the familiar gruff sound. He couldn't gather up his own voice fast enough to respond, so Cid continued.

"How the hell are ya!"

"I need a drink," was the only response Vincent could choke out, idiotic and half-muffled as it was, since his longing for cold water was the only thing he could really concentrate on.

"Then why the shit are you leaving?"

He thought.

"Of water. I need water." He was suddenly embarrassed, frustrated, and even thirstier.

"Hey, don't get a fuckin' nosebleed, Vincent. I'm the Water Man, remember?"

"Mmn," he managed. His throat hurt, and he had no idea what to say. He just wanted to leave and get water.

"You didn't try to order water here, did you? Siddown."

"Cid, I..."

"C'mon. I've got a canteen."

"Of water?"

Cid looked irritated at Vincent's inane question. "Yeah, fuckin' water! If it was filled with booze, it'd be a flask."

"Oh." Conceding defeat, he sheepishly allowed Cid to lead him back to the bar, where Cid, chuckling, ordered a drink and passed Vincent his water canteen. Both men leaned against the counter, since there were no seats, and drank. Cid was drinking gin.

Vincent drained the canteen within seconds, and was satisfied. The water was cool and sweet. He looked back over toward Cid, and began to thank him, but was interrupted by Cid slamming his metal cup down on the counter and cheerfully demanding a refill, which he promptly received. He began again.

"Thank you, Cid."

"What?"

"For the water. Thanks."

"Aren't you gonna order a drink?" Cid demanded, ignoring Vincent's gratitude.

"No. I've had one," he mumbled absently, glancing down to make sure his claw was still concealed under his cape.

"One?"

"Cid," he protested, not warm to the idea of intoxication. He had to work in the morning. And his job was dangerous. He couldn't do his job tomorrow if he had a hangover. But he was cut off before he could finish his objection.

"Four more of these. Three for me and two for him."

The barkeeper raised an eyebrow, then started pouring, and Vincent gawked.

"Cid, I cannot drink any more."

"What? I'm buying. Anyway, what brings you here tonight? Didn't figure you for someone who'd hang out in shitty bars after hours."

What? I just said I couldn't have any more to drink! And what are you doing here? You work two sectors away!

"I wasn't here to 'hang out.' I wanted a quick drink before going home to bed."

"Well, I'm glad I ran into you - five? Hey, you fat fuck, I ordered seven! - I wanted to tell you that I'm working in this sector now."

"Oh," he replied automatically, then considered what had been said while Cid paused to take a drink. He's working here? Since when? "What? Why?"

"Few places in the north of this sector are flooded from broken water mains. And there's been reports of people pissin' blood, probably from fucked-up water. Also, some sewers here aren't draining, and some are torn to all hell. So there's some people living in shit. And this sector has fewer public pumps than the others. So I'm here now, and I've got a bitchload of work to do."

"Hnm," Vincent replied, his wits finally regathered.

"Yeah. I'm gonna try and repair the water mains and sewer pipes right away, and use them if I can make them safe enough. It's less labor than pumping in river water, or building purifying tanks."

Cid was drinking his gin in increments, like shots. Three shots in each cup, one shot after each sentence or independent clause. He was almost done with his fourth cup of gin when he finished explaining his presence.

Vincent was not going to drink gin. And he was concerned about how much Cid was drinking. The man might poison himself...

"Cid, I'm not drinking anymore. And...maybe you should slow down a little."

"Well, fuck, Vincent," Cid grumbled. "It's been a long time since I've been really hammered. And right now, in all seriousness, I've got a very real reason to get fucked up."

"...And that is?"

"I'm pissed," he spat, and finished his fourth. The bartender set two more on the counter, in front of Vincent.

Well, if I don't drink these, he will. Maybe I could pretend to drink them? No, there's no place to discreetly dump them out. Wait...

Satisfied with his ruse, Vincent began immediately, while Cid continued to give account for his ire.

"It's fuckin' Barret! I mean I love Barret to death, he's the only guy in our, whaddayacallit, group I guess, that really got it when I made a dirty joke. Or any joke. It was like everyone else had sticks up their asses long enough to grow shoots. Err, I mean, not you...er sorry. And Yuffie! Shit, who lit the fuse on her tampon? She wasn't so bad, before all this..."

Vincent was barely listening, but was embarking on the dangerous and disgusting task of taking small sips of gin, acting like he was swallowing, then putting the canteen to his lips under the guise of drinking from it, while he was actually spitting his gin out into it. He still had to endure the awful taste, but at least he wouldn't have it eroding his insides.

He decided he should still participate in the conversation, since Cid was obviously upset, and because he had been kind to give him drinks, however unsolicited a couple of them were. So he tried to encourage his friend while he had paused to take a long, slow drink.

"I've heard that Yuffie is going back to Wutai to negotiate shipment of emergency rations and building supplies to Midgar, so you won't have to be irritated by her for much longer."

Cid finished his draught and interjected, "But Barret is constantly pissin-an-moanin' about Reeve's plans to rebuild the reactors. Which I think is a good goddamn idea. I mean, once we get energy to help us work, our jobs will be a million times easier, and the sooner, the better. We don't have time right now to fuck around experimenting, trying to find a new energy source! Buildings are fucking collapsing on people, for Chrissakes."

"Mmn. I haven't talked to Barret in quite some time..."

"'Cos he's too busy runnin' his yap in sector two! Big motherfucker can throw a shit fit like nobody's business. Hey why's Yuffie going back to Wutai personally? I mean..."

"Communications between Midgar and Wutai were cut down because of the war, and haven't yet been reestablished. So we can't just send a wire to Wutai requesting disaster relief, like we did to Kalm and other cities. And there are still some nasty grudges, so we need an ambassador. Just as we need all the help we can get."

"Well, I guess I'll miss her. She really was a peach, once you got past her goddamned swindling bitchery."

Vincent, proud that he had "finished" his first cup of gin, began on the second, then continued to speak with Cid.

"Well, I guess all of us are just on edge right now." It's not just Reeve. Everyone is under a bit too much pressure. I have to remember that I'm not exactly charming company, either.

"Yeah, guess you're right, Vincent. Speaking about 'on edge', you seen Reeve lately? Holy shit, that man is cranky."

Vincent suppressed a groan. "He is the reason that I came here tonight."

"Poor bastard looks like hell. And he acts like it, too."

"He was calling me names today." Oh God, now I'm whining. After all, Reeve was right about a few things he said. ...But I am not a vampire!

"Well, me too. He called me a stupid old bastard. And I didn't say nothing to make him mad. I think he's just going crazy."

"Well, he probably isn't getting very much sleep. He is not talking or acting like himself. He could use a rest."

"Yeah," Cid sighed, his speech beginning to show signs of intoxication. "I could too. Maybe I'll turn in soon."

"Where are you staying?" Vincent inquired, after he spat his last mouthful of gin into the canteen (which was now, more or less, a flask), and set his cup back down on the bar counter.

"Well, that's the thing. I hafta share a room with Barret, since we're both working on water in the same sector now. After all that shit he's been tossin' around all day, I have to fucking stay with him." He drained his last cup. "So I'm not thrilled about going home," he slurred.

Vincent felt genuinely sorry for Cid now. He tried to imagine what he'd feel like if he had an evening and morning with Reeve to look forward to. As much as he knew he had no right to be angry with Reeve, it would still be sheer hell to live with someone who's that difficult to get along with. Well, I've got extra space, some spare blankets... I could sleep on the floor.

"You are welcome to stay the night at my residence, Cid."

"...Serious?" Vincent couldn't help but give a small smile. Cid's words had come out, 'sheerush?'

"Yes. I will show you the way."

"Lemmehavasmoke...real...quick."

"You can smoke on the way." Cid, inattentive to Vincent's words, yanked out a cigarette from his breast pocket, but struggled a little with the lighter. When Cid can't operate a lighter, you know he's drunk.

Finally able to light his cigarette, Cid declared, "Damn childproof catches," and left 270 gil on the counter. Way too much. Vincent couldn't tell whether he was a very generous man, or if he was just too drunk to count his money.

Either way, they exited the bar without episode. When they were outside, seeing that they were the only two people in sight, Vincent uncovered his claw arm and steered the tottering pilot away from potential obstacles that he could stumble over. They had covered a distance of about thirty meters, when Cid wavered in his step and began to fall down.

Vincent instinctively grabbed Cid's jacket collar and halted the fall, then swooped in front of Cid to still and steady him. Cid crumpled into Vincent, who slipped both arms underneath Cid's shoulders and held him up. They remained that way for a couple of seconds.

"Cid? ...Cid!" He had apparently lost consciousness. He felt very warm, and his breathing was long, and deep, and heavy. Vincent was shocked and unnerved at the unforeseen pleasantness of holding the other man this way. Cid had managed to fluster him, again, without even being awake.

Vincent shifted so that he held Cid up completely with his claw, then used his other hand to lightly slap Cid's cheeks. When he get no response, he slapped harder, and, failing that, he began to hoist Cid to carry him home.

"Whadda...fuck'r'ya...hugginmefor?" Cid suddenly queried.

"You passed out," Vincent responded. "Do you think you can walk now?"

"Yeh. C'n I have some water, please?"

Vincent halted in his tracks. "I am sorry, Cid. There is none left."

"C'mon, Vince. I know y'didn't drinkitall. I c'n hearit swishin'."

"We are almost at my place. There is plenty of water there," Vincent announced, with a tone of finality.

"IT'S MY GODDAMN CANTEEN!!" Cid childishly screamed.

"And it's empty." came Vincent's hissed rebuttal, as he finally pulled his arms completely away from Cid, and dumped the foul contents of the canteen/flask out right in front of him.

Cid gasped, horrified, then gave Vincent an angry glare. "You're a sour old man when you're drunk, Vincent." Cid suddenly looked like he was going to pass out again, which worried Vincent, and reminded him to get Cid to a bed.

"Let's go," Vincent suggested, his voice softening with concern. He looks like hell. "You need to get some sleep."

To Vincent's astonishment, Cid nodded, and draped his arm over Vincent's neck, gripping his arm to support his weight. Thus bolstered, he was able to keep Vincent's slow pace the short distance to their quarters for the night.

Once there, Cid sprang to the corner of the room, immediately vomited in the trashcan, and passed out on the floor. Sighing, Vincent carried Cid to the bed and covered him with the bedspread, then cleaned his mess. He then rinsed out the canteen, filled it up from one of his water jugs, and brought it to Cid.

Cid was completely motionless on the bed. His mouth was open slightly, and his eyelashes were fluttering a little in the deepest level of sleep. Vincent found himself wondering if the man ever shaved. He always had stubble, never long enough to be a beard, never looking trimmed, and never shaved off. It was always just disheveled and uneven. How in the world does he manage that? I guess it kind of looks good on him. He looks good like that. He looks...good.

Before Vincent could chastise himself for his thoughts, Cid stirred, and Vincent took the opportunity to wake him, shaking his shoulder gently with his human hand, while offering the canteen with his claw. Cid, now partially awake, gave a sweet, meek smile that Vincent had never seen before, and he was momentarily stunned by it. Cid accepted the canteen and took a sip, then spoke, a little fuzzy and weak.

"Why'd you dump it out earlier? Bastard, I needed a drink then!"

"I...didn't want you to...get my...germs," Vincent answered, feeling heat rise to his cheeks.

"Aww, Vince." Cid managed an unsteady chuckle. "Y'don't have cootiesh." To prove his point, he pulled Vincent down, unprepared and dumbfounded, into a hard, sloppy drunken kiss.

Thankfully, and to Vincent's surprise, Cid didn't taste like puke. The alcohol and cigarette taste camouflaged that, and maybe the water had helped rinse some of it out. And although the gin and the smoke on his breath were bitter, the kiss was sweet and scorching. Delicious. Vincent found himself pushing his tongue into Cid without thinking, insisting on more of this intimate contact. He felt a new thing - too slippery for definition - strange and out-of-balance, unfamiliar to his staggering heart.

He was overpowered by need for this. His cognition completely vanished and he was lost. He had been asleep to feeling for too long; he had been locked away for too long. And now, finally, he felt this. He felt this. He felt....

He felt Cid's lips leave him, and his breath caught in his throat. The withdrawal from the kiss actually physically hurt. He reeled back into himself, and shot up from the bed reflexively, still choking on his uninvited desire.

He looked at Cid. He was fast asleep. He had that sweet, meek smile on his face again.

Vincent removed Cid's goggles and gloves, set them on a nearby shelf, then drew back from the bed, stupefied, and went to retrieve his spare linens to make himself a bed. When he had finished, he stripped down to his pants, and encased himself in the blankets. His body was weak with fatigue, and his eyes were stinging their need for sleep. But his thoughts were in such disorder that he couldn't relax. His mind wanted to work, but it didn't know what to think. He was absolutely, thoroughly mystified.

 

 

 

And then he woke up.

The smell of morning was the first thing he was aware of. Afterward, he promptly opened his eyes to see the dawn through the hole in his wall that he liked to call his "window." Even with all of Midgar's pollution, asbestos ash, and floating dust, the smell of morning always hovered faithfully, between the hours of five and seven, unconquerable, everywhere.

Vincent rose, stretched, realized he hadn't slept in his bed, and remembered that he had a guest to tend to. Oh. Will he want coffee? I don't have any...oh, that's right. He drinks tea. He'll probably want tea then.

He poured a tin bowl full of water, and placed it on his hot plate. Then, as noiselessly as possible, he brought his tub outside, dragged it to a nearby water pump, drew himself just barely enough water for a very modest bath, and carried it back, setting it in the portion of the house partitioned off by a curtain. He proceeded to bathe quickly in the cool water, dry off, dress, dump his bath out over the sewer grate outside, and draw another bath for Cid. When he was finished, the water was boiling, so he turned off the heat and poured a cup for Cid, placing a small gravy ladle in the cup that was equipped with puncture holes. He filled the ladle with crushed tea leaves and let it steep, then he poured the remaining hot water into Cid's bath, and went to wake his visitor.

Cid was not willing to be roused from sleep. He whined at first, then grunted, then growled. But when Vincent stopped tapping and shaking him, and handed him hot tea, Cid smiled and sat up, draining the hot, morning treat he was offered.

"Good morning," Vincent greeted him.

Cid gave him a strange look. "Where the fuck am I?"

"My house."

"Oh," he muttered, rubbing his eyes. "Did Barret throw me out, or did I kill him?"

"You...don't remember last evening?" Vincent said, hoping to evade the whole kissing issue altogether.

"It's a little sketchy, maybe. We met in that bar, right? Did I tell you I'm working here now?"

Vincent smiled, feeling much lighter now that the burden of kiss-explanation was no longer a threat.

"Yes. I made a bath for you, Cid; you should hurry before it cools. It's behind the curtain over there."

"Wha? How come you're being so fucking nice to me?" he joked. "Am I gonna die or some shit?"

Vincent blushed. "You were kind to me last night. You...bought me drinks. And I thought you'd probably be too hungover this morning to make your own tea and bath."

"Oh. Well, up an' at 'em!" He hopped out of bed, handed his empty cup to Vincent, and scratched his torso all the way to the bathtub. His stubble looked exactly the same as it had last night.

As Vincent went to take out some cornbread and pour water for the two of them, he couldn't help but glance over at the curtain when he heard sounds of water. Cid was naked behind that thick white sheet; he could make out his silhouette. He forced back a wave of arousal, and continued to place out their meal.

No! I can't think like that. I don't have the luxury; I don't have the right! He didn't mean to kiss me last evening. He was inebriated and probably imagined I was someone else. I'm deformed. And heterosexual, I thought! And he is definitely not attracted to men. I must stop the perversion of my thoughts of him. I must have just overreacted because it's been so long since I've been kissed. And she...never...felt like...him. No!

He shook his head. He couldn't deny that Cid was an attractive man. Pacifying himself with the axiom that it is only natural to appreciate the way that attractive people look, he concentrated hard on discarding the remnants of tea into the recently-cleaned wastebin, and on beginning to boil hot water to clean the dishes with. Anything to avoid concentrating on the desirable naked man behind the curtain.

But Cid just had to break his focus.

"Uh, Vincent? I feel like a real fuckhead askin' this, but, you got any spare underwear?"

He gulped. "Yes. Did you...find the towel I left for you?" he asked, going toward his box of folded clothes and taking out a pair of light brown boxer shorts.

"Yeah, I'm dry. My clothes aren't too dirty, but my mommy trained me never to go without clean underpants. I'll wash 'em for you, don't worry."

"It is not an inconvenience." He hoped Cid couldn't hear the tiny shiver in his voice as he contemplated the delivery of the undergarment. Would Cid pull back the curtain?

He was relieved when he saw a strong arm poke out, and he immediately placed the shorts in Cid's outstretched hand.

"I have breakfast ready, when you come out." Vincent put his boots on, then his headband, then clasped on his cape. He was ready to eat breakfast, tidy up, and depart, but waited a few more moments before Cid emerged, carrying his bath outside to pour out. He came back, tucking in his scarf, saw his goggles and gloves on the shelf and put them on, then sat down at the table across from Vincent.

"Goddamn, what I wouldn't do for a fucking doughnut," Cid cheerfully announced, taking a large bite of cornbread.

"So you're feeling all right this morning then?"

"Yeah. I don't get hangovers. They don't make hangovers in fuckin' big enough sizes to punish me for as much as I drink!"

"How far away from here are you working today?"

"I have to go north of here, several miles. Patch up some water mains, bail people out of flooded homes. Barret and I are riding a bike there. You?"

"I only have about a half a mile to walk. My crew and I are rebuilding an apartment complex from the ground up. So far, we have only laid the foundation. Now we have to start erecting the structure."

"Where're you getting wood 'n shit?"

"We've salvaged thousands of usable planks, and have sanded and retreated many of them. We have a blueprint for the new building, and most boards are already sawed off to the correct lengths. Some men have already begun to make trusses. We have many men for the job, and even though it is a very large complex, we hope to have it finished within the week. There will also be men laying pipe, and electrical wire, but we don't have insulation."

"Cool shit, anyway. What I mostly do is dam off places where water mains have busted, then suck the water out from around the pipes, have my team weld and fortify the existing pipe with scrap, then move on to another section. 'Cos we don't fuckin' have any big enough replacement pipes to just replace section by section, and we can't get into the water facility to shut the broken mains off, 'cos the place got completely fucked by meteor."

"How far away is Barret's place?"

"He lives in a flat about a fifteen minute walk from here, and he won't be awake yet. So I guess I should take off, before he gets up and wonders what gutter I'm dead in." He paused before adding, "And thank you for putting me up for the night, and the tea and bath and everything."

Cid had already finished his breakfast, and although Vincent was still eating, he rose to see Cid off. Cid walked over to the bed and made it, then started toward the door. Vincent felt a strange pang of loss at the departure of his companion.

As Cid approached the door's threshold, Vincent blurted out, "You may come back here, Cid, if you want to. You may even stay here with me." He continued to explain when Cid looked stunned. "I mean, If Barret is giving you so much trouble, you're welcome to move in here. I...wouldn't mind the company." He knew he must be turning as red as his cape, but Cid didn't seem to notice.

"Vincent, you don't have to. You know that."

"I...don't like living alone," he ground out, shame-faced. I have been alone for so long. I know I deserve to be, but last night, I felt like you...sucked out my poison...can't you see how delightful you are? I am so tired...I think I need you. I don't think I can deny this. I can't be alone...even if you never touch me again...I need...I need you to stay. Please stay.

"Sure, Vince, that'd be great. I mean you've got such a nice place here. It even looks sturdy, and it's right near water and a sewer. If you're sure it's no trouble..." Cid looked almost shy, and even a little embarrassed. Not like his ever-brazen, cocksure self.

"It would be a pleasure to have you." He swallowed hard and bit the insides of his cheeks.

Cid was silent for a moment. The way Vincent had confessed his lonesomeness must have given him pause. Vincent's vision was blurry with embarrassment at his unplanned admission, but Cid's next words sounded agonizingly sincere, as if Cid were touched deeply by Vincent's invitation.

"Thank you. I'll...get my own bed."

And with that, he was gone.

 

 

While Vincent worked that day, making scaffolding and nailing beams in place, he couldn't keep himself from thinking about Cid. It really had been a long time since he'd been kissed. His heart was heaving, and his lungs were weak with desire to feel that kind of touch again. He found his work more difficult than usual; his vital organs felt strange. Cid had reminded him last night how sublime the feeling of physical affection could be. It defied all his principles, all his intentions, all his assumptions - but he needed more of that. And he knew. He knew for a fact that he would never feel that again.

He continued to pound in nails - his right claw arm made him twice as fast and effective at this as any of the others - when one of the other laborers informed him that it was time for the afternoon-hour break. Some women had brought cooked chickens, rye bread and cool water for the workmen, and everyone thanked them and found shady places to sit and eat.

There were fifty-some chickens, and only a little over one hundred men, so everyone split chickens and shared their meals in pairs. With the exception of Vincent. He took his portion of food and water and sat by himself in the shadow of the grey concrete foundation, which jutted out a few feet up from the brown dust, with the shafts of its first supporting beams rising up from it. He began to eat, slowly, knowing that such palatable food was expensive and unavailable to many. His thoughts began to dislodge themselves from Cid as he ate, and settle back into their long-chiseled groove - his shames and failures - the loss of Lucretia, the corruption of Sephiroth, the unobstructed perversion of Hojo.

He was awakened from his meditations by the metallic taste of Dread in his mouth, causing him to reflexively spit out his food and rise to his feet, searching with dimmed red eyes to find the source of his apprehension. His unease only grew when he saw nothing amiss. He began to walk around to the other side of the foundation, his vision settling on one of the scaffolds, which had a warped leg on its second level.

He immediately bolted back to where the other men were eating, and informed three of the other foremen of the hazard he had noticed. They assured him that they would remove the scaffolding from the site until it had been repaired, and so he walked back to where he had been sitting and finished his meal.

The other foremen always seemed like they found something hopelessly amusing about Vincent and everything he said, and he always wished he knew what it was they were masking snickers about. It is imperative to ensure the safety of all workmen! What could be so funny about reporting possible danger?

When he thought about it further, he remembered that on several occasions, not only foremen, but regular laborers had also seemed to find something comical about Vincent, often smirking or chortling when he spoke to them. Is it just my claw? That should be repugnant, not mirth-provoking.

Nevertheless, the scaffold was removed, the day passed, and great progress was made on the building. All first-story supports were in place by dusk, and tomorrow, they would be ready to begin the second story. Dozens of planks for stairwells were measured, cut, and sanded - ready to be installed. Their toil was already showing reward. They were far ahead of schedule.

Vincent walked home in a more agreeable disposition than usual because of the day's progress. He felt a sharp, inexplicable pain, however, at the sight of Cid - but his emotion was smoothed over swiftly when Cid offered him a warm mug of...brandy?

"Cid? This is boiling hot..."

"Like it? It's blackberry brandy! I don't know why the fuck it is, but I've always kinda liked it warmed. Guess I'm just kooky like that." Cid grinned and leaned back in his seat at the table, gesturing for Vincent to sit across from him. Vincent took another sip of the peculiar beverage while he sat down, then glanced over to the bed. There was a small mattress next to it on the floor.

"I could get a bed frame for you, if you like."

"Nah, it's cool, don't worry 'bout it. Anyway, I have great fuckin' news! For me, anyway. Barret quit!"

"What?" Vincent asked, incredulous both at the news, and because he had just found that he kind of enjoyed warm brandy.

"Red persuaded him to help with the search and rescue shit. So he's leading that project on this side of Midgar, while Red gets the other half with his team. Now he's gonna dive into heaps of debris and save people, which is good news for me, 'cos I won't hafta fuckin' work with him anymore, and especially good news for all the people still trapped in rubble. He says he'll still give me rides to work, though."

"That is great news," Vincent agreed, taking another quiet sip of brandy before continuing. "How long have you been home?"

"Maybe a half hour. Work was hell, worse than usual. Some of the scrap metal we were using to repair pipe turned out to be about as useful as a condom with a hole in it. We had to redo a whole fucking section of pipe! Re-dam it and everything. I'm gonna hafta find a guy who knows a lot about metal, and have him do nothing but inspect scrap all day to see what we can use and what we can't. I'd do it myself, but I'm too goddamned busy!" He stopped, looked around the room as though he were a little nervous, then asked, "So, er, anyway, how was work for you? Mind if I smoke?"

"Of course you may smoke. And work was fine. We got a lot done on the new apartment building."

Conversation died off for several minutes after that, since both men had already shared the compulsory information and weren't sure how to continue talking to one another, now that they were both more-or-less completely sober. They just sipped their brandy in silence, until Cid asked, "So what's for supper?"

Accustomed to living alone, and momentarily startled by the sound of Cid's voice, Vincent took a moment to collect his thoughts before answering.

"Oh. I...have a ham. And bread." Cid got up to flick his ash out the window, then sat back down and drained his drink.

"I am sorry, Cid. I didn't think...I will find something that you can use for an ashtray." Vincent got up, retrieved the ham, the bread, and an empty tin can, then set them all out on the table, while Cid poured cups of water for them both.

They didn't use plates; they just each had a knife and sliced off pieces of ham and bread as they desired and ate with their hands. Neither man spoke until they had finished eating.

"Vincent?"

"Yes?"

"S'ere something botherin' ya?"

Oh, nothing, Cid. Nothing except for my aching body, my empty heart, and my unclean, unrequited longing. Other than that, I'm as happy as a pig in shit.

"I am a little sore from work today."

"Sore, like somebody piss you off? Or your muscles're sore?"

"I am not angry," he muttered, and felt himself droop in his seat.

Cid finished his cigarette and snuffed it out on one of the inner sides of the tin can, then got up to put away the leftover food. As he rose, he asked in an earnest tone, "What's wrong, Vincent?"

"Nothing," mumbled the disconsolate man at the other side of the table, straining to look like he wasn't suffering.

"Horseshit." Cid put some water to boil on the hotplate for cleanup, then sat back down, eyeing Vincent piercingly.

"Cid..."

"Spill, goddammit! I'm no good at shit like this..."

"What do you mean?"

Cid lit up again. "Aw, you know, consoling people an' shit...don't fucking change the subject!"

Vincent offered a weak smile. "Do I really look that bad?"

"You look like God personally came down from heaven just to take a big shit all over you."

Vincent sat up and then hunched over, his eyes inspecting his loathsome claw, his mind wondering how to prevent Cid from prodding into and exposing his still-fresh wounds. Cid took Vincent's silence as encouragement to continue.

"Are you...er, still upset...about Lucretia and all?"

That did it. Vincent's composure was shattered.

Oh God, how can you do this? You know what I did...what I didn't do! How can you mention her so casually? Like she's a lost pet, or a stain on my clothing! I loved her; I failed her - can't you see I was responsible for her death!? Do not speak falsely to me, Cid! I trust you! I fucking respect you...don't say what I think you're going to say...don't...

"Vincent, I think I know what you're thinking, and it wasn't your fault." Cid's words were heartfelt, serious. Unwelcome.

Don't you dare try to tell me it's all right! You don't fucking know, you could never fathom the depths of my inadequacy, my ruin, my complete and irreparable loss!

By this time Vincent was quivering and sweating in his chair like a man in the throes of high fever. After Cid's impetuous words, he rose to his full height and thrust his cape back behind him.

"You know nothing," he snarled, fists balled and teeth clenched, before fluidly turning and disappearing, slamming the door behind him.

I should never have let anyone come to live with me. I shouldn't have the indulgence of human company anyway, after what I've done! And now, he is so presumptuous, so foolhardy as to think he can share in my pain, and to think it can be taken from me? He desires to help me! How much clearer could it be that I am beyond remedy? He has overstepped his bounds. He has violated our companionship! He is so...beautiful...fuck!

He ran through the alleyways, slicing through the humid air, head down and bent forward, coursing though the oblivious city with the speed of a missile. His vision was red. His fingertips were hot and swollen. His breath was slashing out from his throat in furious wheezes and half-sobs. He was completely hysterical.

I am not a fool. I am not a victim. I am not an innocent. I am not a sniveling, fragile child! I am not a broken trinket to be repaired! And I am not a fucking martyr!

He careened into an abandoned building and began to break things. Naturally, everything was already broken, but he proceeded to pulverize anything that he could. He hoisted up piles of rotten wood and threw them, splintering them against the walls and floors. He kicked down some of the interior walls completely, and scratched ribbons of wood off of support beams and exterior walls with his claw.

And then, abruptly, he felt the familiar, unstoppable, all-consuming pain of metamorphosis, as his body and mind were invaded by Chaos. And his awareness was lost.

The next thing he was conscious of was awaking in his bed, dry heaving, with Cid asleep in a chair next to him. The noise of his unsuccessful retching roused Cid.

"Hey, you alright?" Cid asked, unmasked worry in his voice, as he helped Vincent sit up in bed. This contact re-ignited Vincent's longing for more of Cid's touch, and he bit hard on his tongue to keep back any admission of his need. Cid pulled away as soon as Vincent was sitting up.

When he realized that Vincent had completely come to, Cid's voice came again, this time with its usual relaxed coarseness. "You run fast, you crazy bastard! I barely got there in time. You tore the supports outta that building like they were fucking tinker toys!"

Vincent was overcome with embarrassment. "Cid, did you...carry me home?"

"Naw, I carried you out of the building, 'cos it was about to cave in. But I dragged you home. By the shoulders. Shit, you're too damn heavy to carry all that way, lard-ass!"

Vincent put his hand and claw over his face and sighed. "I am so, so sorry."

Cid surprised Vincent then. He placed his hands over Vincent's - he even put one hand on the claw - and pulled Vincent's hands away from his face, looking searchingly into his eyes.

"Just don't do that again." His voice was somber. "If you hafta throw a tantrum, I understand. But don't run off alone like that." He removed his hands from Vincent, and scowled hard at the floor. "You scared the shit outta me."

"I won't, Cid. I won't do that anymore."

"Promise?" Cid looked up at him again.

"I promise."

Cid smiled, then got up and put his chair back where it belonged in front of the table, extinguished the cigarette he'd been smoking in the tin can, and came back to plop down on his mattress. He almost immediately began to snore softly.

Vincent followed him in sleep after a short time, but not before getting up to relieve himself outside in the privy.

He'd forgotten that blackberry brandy was a natural laxative.

 

 

 

 

Vincent was surprised awake by a reversal of roles. Cid was offering him hot tea, and, almost a little reluctantly, admitting that he'd drawn him a warm bath, explaining that there's "nothin' else useful to do with the rest of a fucking pot of boiling water but use it to heat a bath."

Vincent still felt guilty for his behavior the previous evening, but this feeling was overshadowed by another. He was warmed by Cid's support and forgiveness, even though he had clearly troubled and insulted the man to a great degree. Probably more so than Barret had. And here he was, rescued, cared for, forgiven, and now offered tea and a bath.

He swallowed his tea, then washed up and dressed. The morning was cool, so when he got out of his bath, he was in a great hurry to put his clothes on. Afterward, he sat down to eat with Cid, who had been waiting for him and smoking.

"Cid, thank you, for..."

"Shaddup."

Vincent did. Cid went on.

"I wanna say something, and I don't want you to go fucking ballistic, or apologetic, or sulky. I want you to just listen to this and then that's all I'll say about it."

Vincent braced himself. It must be about what he was saying last night...he'll try to...oh no.

"For most people, when something painful happens to them, they like to blame other people for it. Look at me, for example. I was just about to realize my dream of space flight, but I fucked up by not listening to Shera. And I blamed her when my dream was shot down, even though it was actually my own goddamned fault. Likewise, Barret blamed Shinra for Biggs', Wedge's, and Jesse's deaths, when it was partly his fault for haven' 'em out there blowin' up shit in the first place. It's normal for people to blame others for things that are entirely or partly their own fault."

Vincent cocked his head to one side in confusion, and as a request for Cid to go on.

"But you are the exact opposite. You blame yourself for things that are other people's fault. And you've got to understand, Vincent, that is completely fucked up!" Vincent began to protest, but Cid cut him off.

"Lucretia is dead. Hojo is dead. Sephiroth is dead. It's all in the past, and you have to let it go now! I know you loved Lucretia. But if she really loved you, do you really think she'd want you to be miserable for the rest of your life? Don't you think, if you want to do something for her from beyond the grave, you should be happy? And no matter what you think, she didn't die because of you. She died because of that son-of-a-bitch Hojo. And you avenged her by killing Hojo!"

"I also killed her son," Vincent grated out.

"I said shut up! You saved the whole goddamn world by helping us kill Sephiroth. You did what was best for everybody, regardless of how you felt about doing it, and that takes brass balls to do. And you're not some kind of fucked-up monster because of your prosthetic claw-arm. I think it looks cool on you. So you need to quit cryin' in your fuckin' beer, and start enjoying yourself once in a while, 'cos being gloomy doesn't do nothing but make other people gloomy."

The rest of Vincent's breakfast suddenly looked very unappetizing to him. He felt too sick to respond to Cid's outpouring of undue compliments. He was silent while Cid finished his bread, water, and tirade.

"I've said my piece now, and I promise I won't bitch at you anymore. Take it or leave it, that's what I honest-to-fuck believe, every last motherfucking word. And I'm not mad at you for last night. So don't apologize again." He stopped to light a cigarette, then rose from his chair, and came around behind Vincent to place a hand on his shoulder.

His hand was reassuringly strong. But gentle. Almost cautious. Vincent's stomach whirled around like a bicycle tire. He still couldn't speak, but he heard Cid's parting remark.

"We're still pals, Vincent. And I'll see you after work."

He heard a motorcycle, and a few far-off curses, presumably from Barret. And Cid was gone.

He put away the remaining food and washed the dishes, noticed that Cid had already made both beds, then put on his boots and left for work.

When he arrived at the construction site, there was a surprise waiting for him.

Reeve.

He was speaking with the other foremen, along with another man that Vincent did not recognize. And Reeve looked calmer, more like his old self. Smiling at this, Vincent approached the group.

They were silent when he got there. To his sorrow and surprise, Vincent received a very bitter look from Reeve, who began to address him formally in front of the other supervisors.

"Vincent. I am relieving you of your duties as Head Foreman, and am appointing Mr. Henshel in your stead." He indicated the unfamiliar, brawny man standing next to him. "As of now, if you choose to continue working at this site, you are a regular laborer, earning regular laborers' wages."

Vincent nodded. This is his way of getting back at me for our exchanges in his office the other day. But I don't mind not being a foreman. I can work just the same. "I understand, Reeve."

Reeve curtly introduced Henshel to the other foremen, and Vincent waited for his orders, which Henshel gave him within a minute's time. He was to help install stairwells, and was directed to the location of his day's work.

He nodded his understanding and walked there, swiftly. He was still spilling over with tension from Cid's words, and he felt that some hard manual labor was just what he needed right now to rid himself of nervous energy.

And he did work hard. All day long. He even hurried through his lunch and worked through some of his break. And when evening came, he'd helped the other men finish all seven stairwells. And he was glad.

He walked home with a satisfied half-smile on his face. The second story was well underway, and the first-story stairwells were complete. Wiring and pipe-laying was also mostly finished on the first level. And now he would eat, and drink, and sleep. And tomorrow he would help complete more of the building.

 

 

When he arrived home he noticed three things. First of all, Cid wasn't there. And there wasn't enough food in the house to feed both men. And the water jugs, which before had been empty, were now missing completely. Who would steal empty jugs? Vincent wondered, while gathering up some money to take with him to market.

Just then, Cid tore in through the door, carrying the now-filled jugs and a small bag of something that smelled very good.

"Heavy motherfuckers, when they're full!" he declared, setting the water jugs down. "You'll never guess! I got us some hamburgers."

Vincent, cheered by the news, filled two cups with the ice cold water, while Cid unwrapped the meal he'd brought: two enormous hamburgers topped with lettuce, and two fresh rolls. Both men sat down to eat, expertly ignoring everything that had transpired between them last night and that morning.

"I got paid today, and I got home before you did, so I decided we'd eat some real food tonight, and I went and bought these. Don't you dare eat that fucking roll yet, Vincent! I got butter!"

Vincent obeyed, then asked, "So, how was work today?"

"Actually, it was pretty good. Believe it or not, nobody fucked up. At all! It was just like a goddamn dream." Cid took a bite from his burger, and when he finished chewing, he asked, "How 'bout you?"

"I was demoted, but I got a lot of work done," Vincent replied while buttering his roll.

"Who the fuck demoted you?" Cid demanded.

"Reeve."

"What!?"

"I think he was angry with me, for our argument the other day."

"The other day? You guys fought?"

Vincent felt stupid. He'd remembered confiding in Cid, in the bar, that it was Reeve that had made him want to drink, but he'd never told him exactly what had happened. And Cid didn't remember any part of that night at all, anyway. And here he was, speaking about it as if Cid were supposed to know everything.

"I am sorry. I forgot I hadn't told you. Reeve and I...had a disagreement the other day. They day you and I met in the bar."

"Oh. So that's why you were drinkin' then, huh."

"Yes. I had confronted Reeve about his exhaustion, and pointed out that it was affecting his work. I offered to help him, and suggested that he take on an assistant. I suppose he thought that I was trying to force myself into a position of leadership at his expense, but I really hadn't intended to propose that he take me as his assistant." He looked up at his friend, who was close-mouthed, solemnly listening. He smiled weakly at Cid and went on. "I just...didn't want to see him like that anymore. He is crumbled. Just as crumbled as Midgar itself. He needs help."

Cid chewed slowly, beginning to frown, and digested this before commenting.

"Fuck. So good ol' Shit-for-Brains Reeve demoted you for giving a damn."

"Cid," Vincent warned, sighing. "I am not angry. Nor am I fired. I can still work."

"Well, if you're not pissed," Cid spat, reaching for the butter, "I'll be pissed for you. He..."

Vincent caught Cid's wrist and said, "Don't be."

After a moment of watching his companion's surprised and softening expression, Vincent realized with great embarrassment that he was touching Cid with his claw. He withdrew it immediately and looked at the floor, his face and ears burning. In a few seconds, he forced himself to look back up at Cid. His hand was still outstretched where Vincent had left it, his fingers relaxed, his eyes doleful. He replied softly to Vincent.

"Well, if it doesn't bother you, then, I guess it's all right." His gruff whisper vibrated in his throat, somewhere between a growl and a purr. And then he continued to eat.

When both men were finished with their supper, they cleaned up the table, threw out the trash, put away the butter, and turned in for the night. They'd both worked hard that day. And they were tired.

The next morning, Cid was almost ready to leave when Vincent woke up. They greeted one another briefly before Barret's motorcycle was heard outside, then parted company. Vincent bathed and dressed in haste, and scurried out to work with a piece of bread and Cid's canteen to eat and drink on the way.

When he arrived, he was instructed to hoist planks up to men on the scaffolding with pulleys that had been set up earlier that morning. He began to work right away, making his rounds as needed on every side of the building, lifting boards two at a time with the help of other men, and raising them in bundles with the pulleys. Occasionally he would climb the scaffolding himself when someone dropped a tool, or needed more nails. He continued until the sun was directly overhead, rested for lunch, and eagerly began again.

Everywhere, and all day, there was the sound of wood. It was not in the least bit abnormal to hear wood creaking. But at the beginning of dusk, when Vincent heard wood crack, he jumped up from where he'd been tying together a bundle of wood and gaped, horrified, at the source of the noise.

It wasn't really a crack. A sharp 'crack' would have sounded no different than a 'whack,' or a 'bang,' which were commonplace. But the sound of breaking wood is a cruel, cracking 'rip', and is unmistakable. Vincent was frozen in place as he watched the scaffolding fall.

There were six men on it. Two had the amazing presence of mind to leap onto the beginnings of the building, and were saved from the two-story plunge. But the other four came down.

And the scaffold's destruction caused the ropes holding up the boards to snap like fishing wire. If the fall hadn't killed the men, the heavy boards would have.

Vincent ran. He leaped into the wreckage and began to wildly hurl boards up from off of the four destroyed bodies, while several other men climbed nearby scaffolds to rescue the surviving two.

But the other men were too late arriving, by two or three seconds. One of the men had grabbed an unsecured plank, and he fell. Vincent was looking down at the loss and not up and the unharmed when it happened, and so he did not notice the man's fall until it was finished. But the man had not died. A hoard of men streamed up to him and scooped him up as Vincent drew away, swallowing back bile and tears. He heard the men shouting at one another about the fastest way to Cloud and Tifa's Emergency Medical Center, and he heard the agonized bellows of the dead men's friends. He saw that only one man in six was safe. And then he turned on his heel and ran.

That must have been the same scaffolding I noticed before! How could I be so stupid not to see that it was being used today!? I probably climbed it at least once! Four men are dead because of my negligence! And the man that fell afterward was practically right above me! If I'd paid attention to the needs of the living, he would be safe now!

Vincent stumbled through the door of his house. His eyes would not focus, and for a moment he only stood in place, shaking with terror and guilt. And then he screamed. And he began to move.

He was aware of loud noise, crashing and clanging. He was aware of cries and wails torn out from his own chest. He was aware of downward motion. And then he was aware of Cid.

He felt indomitable, consuming warmth surround him, as he was lifted from behind by strong arms iced with soft blond hairs. He turned around and fastened himself to the soothing presence as if he were a drowning man, and melted into the affection he found there. His legs gave way, and he fell completely into Cid, quivering and choking on his rasping sobs.

"Vincent?"

"Don't let go," he heaved.

"Wouldn't dream of it." Cid pulled him up even closer to him as evidence, and buried his unshaven face deep into the other man's long, black hair. "What happened, Vincent?"

His voice was almost too faint to hear, and Vincent couldn't understand the request. So he repeated the only thing he could think.

"Don't let go."

"Vincent...?"

"I need this," he sputtered out as he began to break down in tears again, this time not from remorse, but because he couldn't bear the thought of losing this touch. He always had lost this kind of contact. It eternally escaped him, and left him in splinters. And he couldn't lose this now.

The arms pulled him upward from where he half-knelt on collapsed legs, and Cid supported Vincent's weight as he continued to weep. He began to caress Vincent's back, and Vincent, relaxing slightly, rested his head on Cid's shoulder, right next to the hollow of his neck, and stopped crying. His delirium was pushed back by Cid's embrace.

Abruptly, Vincent regained his senses. He perked up his head and looked around him. The house was trashed.

The table and chairs were overturned. Cid's mattress was torn open. The privacy curtain was yanked down. The shelf on the wall was snapped in two. The water jugs were broken open and spilled. There were claw marks all over the walls, and thin, curled shreds of wood on the floor.

He looked down at Cid and waited for the curses to come.

They didn't.

Cid's face showed nothing but concern. And tenderness. Two things Vincent knew he didn't deserve.

"I am sorry," he breathed, feeling entirely used-up.

"Vincent, it's alright." Cid brushed the wet streaks from Vincent's face with his callused fingers. His voice was mild, and trembling a little. He didn't let go. "Let's get you sitting down."

For a few moments, neither man moved. Then Cid grasped Vincent's forearms tightly and led him to the bed, where they sat down beside one another. Vincent's breathing was still labored and heavy, so Cid placed one of his hands on Vincent's chest, indicating that he should try to slow his breaths down. His other hand settled on Vincent's claw, which was instantly pulled away.

Vincent tried to look away from Cid, turning his face toward the wall, but Cid caught his chin with his hand and forced him to meet his gaze. Cid's left hand was still on Vincent's chest. His other hand pursued and again claimed the golden claw, entwining his fingers with it. Vincent was confused, but he began to calm down some more, and rested his now-held claw on Cid's thigh.

They slowly leaned in toward one another, and Vincent placed his flesh hand over Cid's where it still rested on his chest. They were both very timid about it, uncertain and conscientious, but they nevertheless closed their eyes and shared the kiss that had been inevitable for quite some time now.

And after it had only just begun, Vincent felt all of his guilt surge back into his heart at once. He broke away and looked at the floor, pleading, "Cid, stop. You don't know what I've done."

"I don't care," Cid countered, in a whisper. And Vincent again felt a hot mouth covering his own.

I think I understand now.

Vincent tentatively dipped his tongue into Cid's mouth, turning to face him, and moved his claw to fist in Cid's hair. He felt all of his blisters - Lucretia, Sephiroth, Hojo, the work site accident - all lift themselves up from his heart one by one, chased away permanently by Cid's touch. He leaned greedily into the shorter blond man, and held him with all his strength. In his life he had endured so much pain; he had seen so much depravity. He'd seen war, and treachery, loss, rape, betrayal - a thousand nightmares. And now the only thing in the world he was afraid of was that Cid might withdraw from his arms right now.

And Cid did not. His tongue eagerly met Vincent's, and he brought his hands around to tangle in the other man's silk black hair. He pressed himself up very closely to Vincent, then loosened his embrace just enough to reach up with one hand and remove Vincent's headband.

The small gesture had massive implications. It was now sharply clear to Vincent how intimately Cid wanted to be joined with him. For a moment, the idea of such pleasure was too much to comprehend. He had convinced himself so thoroughly that it was impossible, that to be proved wrong was a tremendous shock. He drifted back to reality, however, when Cid unclasped and removed his cape.

He took Cid's goggles and scarf off, while Cid began to run his hands up inside of Vincent's shirt, smoothing up and down his ribs. Vincent leaned over Cid and pushed his jacket off, then pulled off his shirt, and ran his hands over his stomach and chest, making Cid moan softly. They drifted deeper and deeper into their caresses, forgetting any inhibitions, and devoured each other's mouths with kisses.

In a flurry of desire, they shucked their boots and pants and underclothing, until they were both naked and frantic with lust. Cid wound his arms around Vincent, who trembled at the carnal heat of skin on skin, and held on with all his strength. They locked their bodies together, sucking breath from each other's lungs, pressing their erections together, licking and kissing and rocking in unison. But one small frustration still nagged at Vincent.

He could only feel Cid with one hand. His other arm was equipped with a hideous, unfeeling abnormality, and he wished very much right then that it weren't so. He stopped kissing Cid's neck for a moment to glance down with contempt at his malformation. Cid noticed, and placed a hand over the metal arm. There was a long interlude of quiet before Cid spoke.

"Vincent. I want you. All of you."

"...Even this?" Vincent hesitantly queried, embarrassment reddening his cheeks as he indicated his claw.

"I wouldn't change a thing about you, Vincent," Cid murmured, his voice wavering. "Not a goddamned thing." He picked up the claw, and placed it up against his cheek.

"Thank you," whispered Vincent as he lowered himself over Cid, laying himself down on top of his lover. He began to apply his mouth to Cid's jawline, while Cid continued to play in Vincent's hair and stroke his back with his fingertips. Vincent felt light and loose and easy, like this was what he was meant to do all his life, and he was home now. He was experiencing the delightful, incredulous feeling that a person gets when they realize that their wish had come true after they blew out their birthday candles. He was soaring.

Before long, he brought his claw up underneath Cid's neck to draw him closer up into a deep and desperate kiss. This is more forgiveness, more grace, than I could ever have hoped for. You make me feel like I'm all new again, like everything's new again. And you've been here all along. He trailed his left hand down Cid's side and rested it on his hip as he continued to kiss him.

He felt Cid part slightly from his mouth, and broke away to see what the other man was doing. Cid's hands traveled down his chest and abdomen, coming to rest on Vincent's hardened flesh. He hissed and rapidly sucked in air when he felt Cid's caress, then reached out his own hand to reciprocate.

"Let me taste you," Vincent heard himself wheeze under his breath. Cid moaned and let go of Vincent, allowing him to slide down and position his lips near his partner's groin. He kissed Cid's cock at first, then licked it experimentally, and found that it felt wonderful against his tongue. It was so hard, but its skin was so incredibly smooth and hot. He slid his tongue in and around the slit at the top, tasting the salty moisture there, and feeling Cid's groan of need vibrate through his skin all the way down to where Vincent was touching him.

He enfolded as much of Cid's erection as he could in his mouth and tried to suck on it, but he hadn't realized it would be so difficult to suck on something so large. It literally seemed to fill up his whole mouth, and there didn't seem to be room for the motion of sucking. So he simply moved his mouth up and down Cid's pulsing shaft, enjoying its taste and its twitching responses.

"Vincent..." He stopped for a moment to listen but did not remove his mouth from Cid. "There's a small bottle in my jacket pocket..."

Vincent pushed himself off of Cid with reluctance, and quickly fumbled through the discarded garments until he found Cid's jacket, and pulled out the container.

"Cid? This is a glue bottle."

"I fucking know that," Cid whined, his voice scalding with eagerness, "but it's filled with lube. Trust me."

Vincent climbed back into the bed and knelt between Cid's legs. He squeezed some of the clear liquid - that was not glue - onto his human hand, and coated his fingers with it, then gradually slipped one digit inside of Cid. He stopped when Cid gasped, but when he heard an encouraging moan he pushed his finger in farther and moved it inside. In a few moments he pulled it out and applied more lubricant, then added a second finger.

In a short time Cid was savagely pushing himself down over and over onto Vincent's fingers, so Vincent stilled Cid's hips with his claw and removed his hand. Cid whimpered, but opened his eyes to watch Vincent coat himself with the slippery fluid. When he was lubricated to his satisfaction, Vincent touched Cid's entrance with his penis, and slowly sank inside.

I never would have believed that something could feel so tight around me. And so warm. I've never felt anything like this before...no one has ever felt like him. He waited until Cid seemed comfortable with the presence inside of him, then moved out fractionally, and tenderly drove back in, sharing a moan of pleasure with his partner. He leaned down so that he was once again on top of Cid, kissing his face and mouth and neck, strands of his obsidian hair falling down all over, brushing Cid's face and shoulders.

With their arms clasped fast around each other, they rocked and shuddered together for a time, until their breaths came out harsh and raw, and they were overcome by the urgency of their appetite. They were groaning one another's names, sputtering out lewd and incoherent songs, blessings, and promises, reassuring and fueling one another toward release.

Vincent felt Cid convulsing beneath him, felt the burning fluid burst out between their chests. Drunk with lust, he plunged in helplessly and soon followed Cid in orgasm, pouring out his semen into the sex-flushed blond. Vincent then flopped bonelessly down on Cid from exhaustion, allowed his eyes to droop shut, and completely slackened every muscle in his body.

"I need a fuckin' cancer stick." Cid slid out from underneath Vincent, then sat up in bed and turned around, leaned over, and retrieved the necessary equipment from his jacket on the floor. Vincent rolled over and sat up next to Cid, and while Cid lit his cigarette, Vincent put an arm around his bedmate and leaned his head on Cid's shoulder. When he'd taken his first drag, Cid asked, "You feelin' better?"

"Yes, much better. Thank you."

"You wanna tell me what happened now?"

Vincent sighed. When he was making love with Cid, the tragedy at his job that day had seemed to vanish. And now it was back again, as heavy as ever.

"There was an accident at the work site today. Just before it was time to leave." He paused to take a few more breaths before continuing. "It was beginning to get dark. A scaffold collapsed. Four men were killed and one was injured."

"Were they friends of yours?"

Vincent pulled himself up from Cid and looked down at the bed. "No. But I was partially responsible for the accident."

"Bullshit."

"It is true, Cid. I had noticed that one of its legs was unstable the day before I was demoted. I told the other foremen, and it was removed, but they must have forgotten to repair it. And if I'd only noticed it today, four dead men would still be alive right now."

"Vincent. Fuck. I can't find the words to tell you how fucked up that logic is. It isn't your fault that those dickheads ignored you! The ass-lancing bastards who decided to use defective scaffolding are responsible. You did everything you could to..."

"But I didn't. I could have seen it today! I should have noticed, and told someone!"

Cid exhaled smoke gruffly. "Vincent, you can't save everything. You can't expect yourself to fix everything that's fucked, or stop everything that's gonna get fucked in the future." He stopped to take another puff. "If you had the ability to see and know everything, and you didn't do anything about it, then yeah. It'd be partly your fault. But you're not some kind of fucking god. So just fucking forgive yourself already." He looked up at Vincent, who was facing him now. "For everything."

Vincent smiled weakly. That's not as easy as it sounds. But I'm willing to move on. For you. And with you.

"I'll try, Cid...thank you."

"All of us have a lot on our plates right now. Everyone in Midgar has one thing in common right now. We're all just people, trying to get by. With what we have. And it's important to still indulge sometimes, you know, to still have fun. Let's you know you're still alive. Living through what we have is really something to fucking celebrate. So I really want you to try, like you said. Try to have fun. Raise some hell." Cid extinguished his cigarette, then swallowed. "...And let me stay with you."

"Cid?"

"Yeh?"

Vincent covered Cid's mouth with a firm and heated kiss. He soon pulled back, but held his face very close to Cid's, looking deep into the young captain's eyes.

"I will not leave you, Highwind. And you and I will both enjoy our time. Together."

Cid smiled and kissed Vincent on the forehead, barely applying any pressure, then met his eyes again.

"G'night, Vince."

"Good night."

 

 

 

 

Vincent was the first to wake the next morning, at first light. He carefully disentangled himself from Cid and sneaked out of bed, bathing and dressing quickly, then hurried outside into the crisp Sunday dawn.

Since all of this sector's churches were destroyed, worship services were held outdoors, and there were hundreds of people sitting outside in clusters, singing hymns and chanting psalms. No shops were open at this time on a Sunday. Except one. Vincent rushed there.

Having obtained a jug of water and his desired merchandise, he raced back home and made tea, then tidied up the mess he'd made last evening as best he could. And then he woke Cid.

The groggy pilot cracked his eyes open a tiny bit, and at the sight of his lover, he sat up, smiled, and greeted Vincent.

"Morning, Sunshine. You don't hafta wake up so early today, you know. It's Sunday. We don't go to work for hours."

"I have brought something for us to enjoy together. And I made tea."

"All right, Vince, you don't hafta twist my arm!" he replied, bouncing out of bed and donning his boxers. Vincent led him to the table, where he'd set out their prize. Cid gaped in joyful astonishment. Vincent gave a satisfied smile and sat down. It was going to be a very good morning for them both.

On the table, there were a half dozen fresh doughnuts: three chocolate, and three glazed.