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The Devil's Own

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

Cid sat by the window and smoked. A pack of cigarettes got sucked down in the span of a few hours, but then his nerves were shot and he had plenty of things to worry about. Chief among them Vincent, who was still out, with new wounds mixed in among the old upon pallid flesh. There was a particularly nasty one on his shoulder, a through and through, that might have been a helluva lot worse than it was, if he hadn't been overcome by his demon. The wound was half way healed over now, the edges a relatively healthy pink against otherwise pasty skin. It would be just one more pale scar against paler skin in a week or so. Vincent healed inhumanly fast. And he went into these comatose states when he was hurt bad and came out of it hale and whole again.

So what was Cid worrying about? It was a just a body protecting itself, healing from too much trauma and too much energy drain that had Vincent down for the count. Maybe it was the fact that there were enemies still at large out there, and the good guys were short on numbers and beat to hell. Vincent out of it, Cloud put through the wringer, him with a bum arm and Tifa and Barret with a slew of kids to worry about - - it just put them at a disadvantage and he didn't like sitting here waiting for the anvil to drop.

He wished Cloud would get his ass back here and bring Tifa and Barret with him. He wished they'd taken up Reeve on his offer of a few WRO security placed around the neighborhood just in case. Early warning never hurt.

But the WRO had their hands full hunting down the strays they knew the general whereabouts of, especially with Shinra Security conspicuously absent, and Reeve didn't have the manpower to spare to play watchdog to a bunch of folks who could damned well take care of themselves. On good days.

He stubbed the dregs of his last cigarette out on the windowsill and flicked the butt into the alley below. He got up and carefully rotated a stiff neck, feeling the pull of his bad arm. Vincent lay death still under white sheets, his gear neatly draped across the back of a chair, his various hardware on the desk next to it. Cid eased himself onto the edge of the bed, arranged a pillow against the headboard and leaned back.

It would have been comforting to feel the warmth of a body next to him, but Vincent emanated nothing but cool, system so slowed down in the hibernation-like recovery it was practicing, that it was like sitting next to a corpse. Cid shivered a little, reflex to that morbid thought, and wished he'd drawn out that last smoke.

It felt good to stretch out his legs though, to relieve the pressure on his aching back. He was tired and his body felt every one of its forty odd years. Damned if he wasn't getting too old for this. If he shut his eyes, he'd be out for sure, and somebody needed to be awake to keep an eye out just in case some of Diablo's dogs - - or god forbid, Diablo himself - - came looking for Cloud or retaliation.

He thought about the Sierra and the repairs that needed doing and the parts that repair required and cursed a little in his head. He'd gone through hell and back getting those engines to begin with. It wasn't like big airship turbines were sold at the corner market. Shinra Corp had the monopoly on construction and since Meteor their output had shot down drastically, them being short on funds and having enough reconstruction ahead of them to daunt even the most lucrative of corporate monsters. He ought to be making calls right now, to every scrap yard and machine shop on two continents trying to track down replacements parts, since getting new engines seemed a long shot. He was just too damned tired.

If he just rested here, where he could keep an eye on Vincent, until he got his wind back, then he'd go to work.

He might have dozed, because he started in surprise at the racket downstairs, his heart thumping a little erratically and it felt like he'd lost a little time. The light didn't look much different coming in through the slats in the blinds though, and Vincent hadn't moved. Not an inch. To damned corpse-like for anybody's good.

Cid swung his legs onto the floor and felt the stiff joints that said, yes, he probably had napped. He stretched, working out the crick in his neck, and headed towards the stairs.

Barret's deep voice assured him that it was friendly commotion and not invasion, so he took his time. The need for a smoke was itching its way up his spine.

Barret was annoyed about something, a scowl on his broad face, and Tifa was frowning a little and trying not to. She looked up at Cid's decent and put on a ghost of a smile.

"Still out," he answered, before she could ask the question. "Where's the kid?"

"Walking," Barret exploded like it was a sin against nature. "Needed some damned space."

Cid cast Tifa a questioning look and she shrugged. "He got his sword back. Whatever happened with Rufus - - upset him. He'll be back when he's ready and tell us."

"Last time he took off in a snit, we didn't hear from his ass for three months." Barret reminded.

"These are different circumstances," Tifa said quietly, but there was doubt in her dark eyes. Cloud's reliability often hinged on his state of mind, and at the moment he had a lot to be unhinged about. He wouldn't abandon them with half the dead beats of two continents circling the city like wolves on the prowl - - Cid hoped.

"Listen, I need to get out and stretch my legs a little, maybe walk down to the corner market and pick up a pack of smokes. Check on Vin for me, will you?"

Tifa nodded, grateful to have something to take her mind off Cloud and Cloud's issues - - not an easy task considering what those issues were.

He got out side, into sector 7 at mid-day, the light filtering down through the foliage of metal and concrete above bright enough to show all the blemishes of old buildings and pot marked streets. There were a few older kids out, but the younger ones were absent, squirreled away somewhere out of harm's way. The older street rats, the shiftless and the criminally minded stuck to their dark alleys and didn't venture out to harass him. That sort had a sixth sense about who was predator and who was prey, but none of them here in this part of the city could hold a candle to what lurked outside it.

The Corner Market stocked a little bit of everything. Foodstuffs and thrift goods, the odd weapon or two and assorted mechanical junk salvaged from where ever they could find. Cid sorted through the junk in the back, always on the look out for the odd rare gear or pinion that couldn't be found except for stripping it out of an old piece of equipment. There was nothing of interest. So he left with two packs of smokes and a strip of seasoned jerky.

There were two big junkyards in the city that he'd stop by maybe tomorrow and see what sort of pieces and parts he might find for the Sierra. He'd maybe see if Barret wanted to come along, Barret being on the in with the local salvagers. Maybe by then Vincent would have snapped out of his slumber.

He tapped out a smoke, and walked to a railing overlooking a lower section of city. He leaned there, one foot on the rusted railing and sucked on the cigarette, going over logistics and repair schematics in his head, calculating lost income if the Sierra was down for a month - - two months. More. He had capital, but not enough to purchase all the repair parts he'd need and dole out salaries to the crew both for a long stretch of downtime.

He'd curse bad luck, but it hadn't been ill fate that had blown up his engine. He flattened the nub of the smoke with his boot and headed back to the bar.

Barret was wailing on something in the adjoining warehouse, trying to make headway on repairs. If Cid hadn't felt like warmed over death, he'd have offered a helping hand, but one handed as he was, it would be a lousy offer.

Tifa came downstairs a little later, after he'd settled into a booth with a stiff back and a view of the street. She saw him and nodded, going behind the bar to do whatever it was bar tenders did when the bar was closed.

"He's so quiet when he's like this." She said softly, and he knew she was talking about Vincent's imitation of a dead body.

"Yeah. Freaks me out, too."

She smiled a little at that, at his light tone, because maybe she'd put a hand on Vin's face and felt the cold and been scared by it.

"You opening up, tonight?"

She took a breath, eyes flittering around the bar room. There was no smoke damage here, but the air reeked of it. Course, after a few shots of strong drink, a man wouldn't care, even if he did notice.

"Maybe," she said. "I don't want to loose customers. If everything stays quiet - - yeah."

He sat for a while, finally lit up another smoke and settled his nerves with the flavor of tobacco.

"What do you think they're doing out there?" Tifa broke the quiet with the soft question. The outlaws. The bandits. Diablo's pack.

"Waiting." It seemed like the right answer. The gut feeling answer.

"For what?"

He wasn't so sure with that one. Thought maybe it had to do with Cloud, but she wouldn't want to hear that and he didn't want to dwell on it. He shook his head.

She poured him a shot of the good stuff, and he sat and savored it, listening to the sounds of Barett's repairs and the muffled noise of Midgar outside the bar's thin walls.

Cloud rolled in eventually, big sword strapped to his back, face unreadable. Tifa came out from the back room, looked at him in silent relief and went about her business. Damned smart woman, not to pry when a man had issues, Cid thought. Otherwise Cloud would have been gone long since, prickly as he was.

Cid just nodded at him and Cloud took a breath, loosening the sword and laying it on the bar top, before reaching over the bar and snagging a plastic bottle of water.

"Vincent?" he asked.

"Still out." Cid shrugged.

Cloud took a swig of water. Finished off half the bottle before putting his back to the bar and saying. "Call Rufus Shinra. Tell him what parts you need for the repair."

Cid almost laughed. "Yeah? And what good's that gonna do me?"

"He owes me. Go for broke. He'll cover the bill."

Cid stared, almost afraid to know what favor Rufus owed Cloud that would cover the tab of a refit for the Sierra. His mind was working though, making lists, big ticket items that a privateer like himself would never be able to get his hands on without a fantasy line of credit and damned good connections - - maybe not even then if he dreamed big and started thinking military class engines.

"You sure, Kid? He owes you this big and you're handing it off to me?"

Cloud finished off the water, looked under his lashes as Barett came in from the back, with Tifa trailing behind. Cloud nodded once, mouth tightening even before Barett opened his to complain about Cloud's absence half the morning.

"About goddamned time you got back. What the hell?"

And Cloud told them. An abbreviated version, Cid figured, but what he said explained a lot. Tifa didn't do a lot of questioning, but Barret did, asking things like why Rufus had been so certain Diablo would go after Cloud personally? Like couldn't there have been an easier way than drugging a man and trading him off to the enemy to deliver this supposed virus - - and it all it had taken was close contact, why not just expose the bastard at the meet?

Reasonable questions that Cloud got a closed off, flat look in his blue eyes listening too and refused an answer past a shrug. Not happy, Cloud - - and holding back a simmering anger that would break sooner rather than later, if Cid knew the kid. And he figured after all this time, he knew Cloud about as well as anybody, 'cept maybe Tifa - - and Vincent. And he thought maybe Cloud admitted things to Vincent, that he didn't even to the girl - - because, well there were things a man just didn't admit to a woman and still feel like a man.

Vincent. He ought to go up and check on him. Did after Cloud got fed up with Barret's bitching and padded down to his garage.

The room was just as dark and just as silent as last he'd been in it. You could hardly hear the sound of Vincent's breath it was so shallow and soft. Cid put fingers to his neck, just to be sure, and felt the slow thud of pulse. He sat down in the chair afterwards, feet up on the edge of the bed and concreted the list of components he'd need for the Sierra. He'd call home to confirm that no other problems had been found, no damaged supports or other major problems found that might need to be added to the wish list, before he presented it to Shinra for filling. Damn, but wasn't that a concept? Having the Company bend over and absorb the cost of a damned major refit. Stuff of wet dreams. Cid grinned a little, before he fell into a doze himself.

Came awake near evening, the light coming in the slats of the window sullen and purple. His bladder ached, and he got up, grimacing at the complaint of one stiff knee, and ambled to the bathroom down the hall. He heard the muffled sound of the jukebox from downstairs and figured Tifa had opened the bar and early customers had already ventured in.

He caught a reflection of himself in the weathered mirror, and paused, running a hand over a chin covered with more stubble than he generally liked to allow. He looked gaunt. Felt gaunt and thin and wasted. It had been a hard few days and he'd gotten lazy the last few years, sitting comfy in the pilot's seat, running cargo from coast to coast with a damned proficient team doing the heavy lifting. It had made him soft.

He returned to the room, stopped in the doorway and stared at white rumpled sheets and an empty bed. He opened his mouth to swear, broke it off when the shadows shifted by the window.

Vincent moved forward, all slim, lean lines in just the black of his unbuttoned shirt and the simple cut of trousers without the addition of assorted belts, buckles and weaponry. He had his holster in the metal hand, but it dropped to his side as he took a step. There was something in his face, that was as close to honest surprise as Cid had ever seen him show. A widening of blood red eyes and a parting of soft lips as he let out a breath.

"I thought you were dead," Vincent said simply, softly.

"Who? Me?" Cid scoffed, and smiled crookedly - - let it falter after a second because Vincent was still staring at him like he was a revelation and it made something inside quiver a little.

"I dreamed of blood and destruction," Vincent said. "And I dreamed of you - - dead. I grieved."

What did you say to that, coming from a man that never let his emotions slip?

"Yeah, well. You should have had more faith. How are you feeling?"

Vincent looked away, face half cast in shadow, maybe taking stock. Maybe collecting himself.

"It overcame me. I let it willingly." He lifted his flesh and blood hand to the half healed wound and shrugged.

"He ran you through and through." Cid explained the wound, in case Vincent didn't recall. Moved into the room and pushed the door shut behind him, before walking over. "But you drove him off. You going somewhere?"

Vincent had had that look. That flight or fight look, when Cid had appeared in the doorway. If Cid hadn't walked in when he had, if he'd have gone downstairs to enjoy a drink and a smoke before coming back up, Vincent might have just been gone, disappeared where none of them could find him if he'd been feeling the sting of fresh grief.

Cid reached down and gently eased the holster from Vincent's metal grasp. Damned risky endeavor, considering Vincent and his relationship with his hardware, but Cid figured he had a lot of leeway coming, turning up alive and all.

Vincent let him, and Cid draped it across the back of the chair. Got close enough to be well into Vincent's personal space and looked him direct in the eye, seeking those little clues that hinted at the state of Vincent's sanity that only those few people he let close might know to look for.

Vincent met his look, eyes steady and unflinching, drifting down finally to a new scrape on Cid's neck and a big purpling bruise peeping out from under his collar across his shoulder. Vincent's eyes didn't flicker, didn't make those little darting motions that most folk's did when they were studying the details of things, his just moved with a slow steady drag from point A to point B, until he'd covered the required space.

"You're not injured?" Vincent asked.

"Not much more than I already was."

"The others?"

"Everybody's good. Kid's okay. Pissed off. Got some information out of Rufus Shinra that's eye opening. Wanna sit down and hear it?"

Vincent sat down on the edge of the bed. Cid scraped the chair a few inches closer and sat down opposite him, knee to knee and told him Cloud's rendition of the story. Vincent didn't say anything.

"If they're still out there - -" Vincent finally said.

"Yeah, somebody'll need to drive their sorry asses out of Midgar territory. Bad enough that the stray bandit or six harasses travelers - - couple of hundred out there will cause major fuck ups. WRO's got patrols out. Shrina damn well ought to have more than they do, but Rufus is holding his people close to Midgar. Go figure what that smarmy bastard is thinking."

"He won't leave until he's settled with Cloud. Diablo," Vincent said.

Cid thought about that smoke. Thought about the things Cloud hadn't said. Thought about the damn scary things he had. Sephiroth, for God's sake. As if they hadn't had their fill of him. Twice. Damn Shinra and his schemes.

He flexed his bum arm, growled a little at the stab of pain, but he'd damned sure better get used to it if there was something bigger on the horizon than they'd already gotten their asses kicked by.

Vincent reached out, stilling his rotation of the arm with his flesh hand. Cid grinned at him grimly. "Yeah, if I could sleep the injuries off in a day's time like you, I'd be in right good shape, wouldn't I?"

"You can't." Vincent had that look in his eyes that said he was still thinking about fleeing the uncomfortable confinement of walls and human companionship. Cid knew it like the back of his hand.

He grasped the back of Vincent's neck, fingers biting in hard, through the fall of silk sleek hair, pulling him forward a little. "Just cause you can, don't mean you need to rush out there in the middle of the night and take out frustrations on those shit eaters out in the waste. I know you got more common sense than the kid and even he ain't rushing into that, yet."

Vincent's lashes flickered down, thick black fringe against corpse pale cheeks. Vincent did have common sense. In spades. He was usually damned meticulous in the things he did - - like he planned out everything in his head before hand. It was what made him so deadly even without the benefit of demonic alter egos. 'cept when something got under his skin - - something personal - - like the handful of people he called his own on this fucked up planet getting hurt. Then he started veering into Cloud's territory of unpredictability and damned if they needed two wildcards with the situation as explosive as it was.

"Ain't no reason to go out tonight when the rest of us are still healing up. Would you make me traipse out there after you, banged up like I am?" Play the pity card. Vincent wasn't immune, as much as he liked to pretend he was.

"It would be foolish if you did," Vincent finally said. "And you are seldom foolish."

Cid sniffed, curled his fist in the hair at the nape of Vincent's neck and Vincent leaned over his knees and endured it, looking up at Cid from under those lashes of his. The urge to kiss him hard and rough, to reaffirm the physical things, the state of a body's well being, was damned hard to fight off. But the door didn't have a lock, and Tifa or Barret or God help him, one of Tifa's kids, walking in and catching them at it would have been damned embarrassing.

So he settled for squeezing Vincent's knee with his other hand, and sitting back, digging in his pocket for the soft pack of smokes.

"Cloud was in the garage sharpening blades, last I checked. Wanna walk down and see what's brewing in his head? Maybe we can actually get our collective shit together for a change and coordinate."

It would be a long shot with this bunch, but hell, anything was worth a shot.

 

 

 

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