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The Devil's Own

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter 15

 

Fire lit the night out over the old walls of sector nine. You could see it from the beams and catwalk crawlies that extended between the new rail construction over Sector eight. The wastelanders had hit old town, where the defenses had been crumbling to begin with and no active city patrols to try and keep them from their mischief. Not that any pair of roving Blue's would have made much difference against the vicious shit eaters that worked for Diablo.

Cid took a long drag from his smoke, legs dangling off the wide I-beam and watched the glow of fire. You could hear the wail of sirens still going off and the distant cries of fire fighters, come too late to save the ram shackle homes of those dirt-poor souls who etched out a life in the old sectors. Damned sad place to hit, devastating folks who had nothing to begin with - - unless all you were out to do was raise hell or make a point.

Cid glanced aside, where Cloud stood out over the middle of the beam, staring silently in that same direction. Vincent perched like a red cloaked night bird on the skinnier beam above. They'd come up here to watch, when word of the wastelander strike had come in over the radio. Too late to do anything about it, but observe the fight to contain the fires. There were probably dead over there, but body counts wouldn't come in until things cooled down.

"Makes no damned sense, hitting the slums like that. Ain't like there was nothing to steal," he complained.

Neither Vincent nor Cloud had an opinion they cared to voice. Both of them too damned quiet for their own good.

"Second strike in as many days. Is the bastard sending them out or are they just getting bored and raising hell on their own. What in hell is he trying to prove?"

"That he can," Vincent said softly.

"Yeah," Cid snorted. "Ain't no doubt about that. What's he want?"

But he knew the answer to that, and so did they. What that bastard out there controlling the roving wastelanders wanted was the kid. For whatever damned twisted reasons a madman infiltrated with the ghost of another crazier sociopath might concoct. God knew a reasonable man, a man as sane as the world would let him be couldn't quite wrap his mind around the dark machinations of the movers and shakers that rocked normal folks lives.

Cloud's expression hardened, fists clenching, unclenching at his sides, easy as a cat out there in the middle of a beam three hundred feet off the ground. Vincent was worse. Vincent likened to give a man grey hairs before his time, with some of the shit he pulled, like he had some special arrangement with gravity that none of the rest of them had.

Cid crushed out the remainder of his cigarette and flicked the stub over the edge, took a deep breath of smoke tinged air and growled. "Somebody needs to jam a fistful of their own medicine down the murdering bastard's throats."

Vincent was quiet as death up there, save for the flap of his cloak. You could practically hear the low grind of Cloud's anger, though. The clench of leather as he fisted his hands again and again, helpless up here to make a difference. And standoffish as Cloud was, he did like to make a difference. He'd done his part and then some to make life livable for folks that otherwise might have died long before. Kid didn't deserve the bad luck that always seemed to flow his way, but he dealt with it.

"I think," Vincent said finally, softly. "I'm going to take a walk."

Cloud shifted his gaze from the glow of distant fires to Vincent, silent exchange between blue eyes and demonic red. The ghost of a grim smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. Closest Cid had come to seeing the kid smile in - - well, a damned long time.

Damn. Pair of fools was what, considering neither one of them was likely 100 percent after the tussle with Diablo and his wastelander army.

"A man that had his ass handed to him a few days past ain't got no business roaming around out there looking to pick a fight, so I guess I'll be sitting this one out. Guess you two ain't got enough common sense to do the same."

Cid ran a hand through his hair, figuring one way or another somebody that deserved it was going to feel a little pain tonight. Damn sure he was too tired and sore to dole it out, but if Cloud and Vincent were in the frame of mind to relieve a little tension and dispose of a bit of garbage in the process, nothing he had to say was going to stop them.

"You just make sure you're back by morning, else I guess I will be dragging my sorry ass out there looking for you. Tifa and Barret, too and they got better things to do than combing the waste looking for scraps of you.

He pushed himself up, staring at Cloud unflinchingly until the kid inclined his head.

"That means you, too, Vin." Cid turned his eyes to Vincent.

"Yes."

Cid took a breath, not feeling much better about it, but if anybody was equipped to go out there and hunt in the dark it was Vincent. And Cloud - - well, save a lot of recent bad luck, there weren't nobody better. Far as Cid could tell Diablo hadn't ever faced Cloud without an ace up his sleeve or a pack of trash armed to the teeth at his back. One day there'd come a reckoning. Not tonight he hoped.

"Ain't either of you up to tackling that bastard tonight. Not while you're still healing. You run into Diablo, do the smart thing and live to fight another day." Cid said, climbing down from his perch. "You hear me, kid?"

"I hear you," Cloud said grimly and Cid was frankly surprised he'd gotten that acknowledgment. Maybe the kid had grown a little common sense. Vincent was already gone.

By the time Cid reached the ground, Cloud was nowhere to be seen either. He shook his head and lit up another smoke and started walking back towards the bar. He took his time, debating whether to tell Tifa and Barret about this little night venture. Wouldn't serve no purpose, he figured, save to stir up trouble. Side's the last thing two quiet, efficient hunters needed was Barret charging into the fray guns blazing and Cid figured he knew Barret well enough by now that it was a good bet the big man wouldn't sit tight while friends of his were out there picking off wasteland scum alone. Cid might not have been willing, if he'd had two good arms.

So, he'd keep his mouth shut 'till morning.

Tifa was still up when he got in, doing some late night cleaning after the night's business. Somber crowd, what with the latest attack. But somber folks drank as much as happy ones, more maybe, so she'd likely had a big crowd.

She inclined her head at him as he shuffled in, not asking about Cloud or Vincent out loud, though she had to be wondering. Smart girl. Always had been a damned smart girl.

"Good night?" He settled at the bar and she put a shot glass before him without asking and filled it up with amber liquor. Damned good woman. If either of his ex wives had had half the sense maybe he'd still be wearing a ring.

He downed the whisky and sighed at the burn.

"Good night," she confirmed. "People drink more when they're scared."

She didn't sound happy about it. He wondered if Barret was with the kids. Probably. Loud and inelegant as he was, Barret was protective as hell over Marlene and those others too young to protect themselves. With a sector on fire, those kids wouldn't be in a good frame of mind.

Tifa poured herself half a shot and sat the bottle between them, clear invitation. Cid accepted it, and refilled his glass. Might as well get a little drunk rather than sit here on edge worrying about two fools who could damn sure take care for themselves.

She kept wiping out glasses, keeping her silence until she was probably so eat up inside that she couldn't keep it any longer. She didn't look at him when she asked. "Cloud went out there, didn't he?"

He wouldn't lie to her. "Him and Vin. Yeah."

She was still for a moment, then she nodded, more to herself than him and turned back around, sliding the last clean glass under the shelf. She pulled another bottle out from under the bar. An old one, that a man with a sense for such things, just knew contained very fine whiskey. The good stuff that she didn't just share with any old drunk.

She came around the bar and sat down on the stool next to him and refilled both their glasses. Cid took a sip and sighed. As fine a burn as he'd ever tasted, a thing to be savored.

"Cloud brought it back from a job that took him out to Shan'roo, last year," Tifa supplied, downing her own shot in one big gulp. "This is the first time I've gotten around to opening it."

"Good stuff." Cid finished off his own and Tifa refilled.

The girl could hold her liquor, that was for sure. He was twenty plus years her senior and she kept up with him shot for shot while they sat there in silence and polished off a good half a bottle of expensive whiskey.

Finally she said, looser tongued than usual. "I don't know what he wants."

Cloud he figured. And Tifa a woman who loved a man who had no idea what it was he needed. He had no notion what to tell her, advice on affairs of the heart the last thing he was qualified to give, having gone through his share are failed relationships and engaged presently in one that was as bizarre and unpredictable as they came.

"He's a kid," he said finally, because she was staring at him like she needed an answer. "What - -twenty-two, twenty-three - ? And been through the ringer than more times than most folks four times his age can even imagine. Don't surprise me that he's got issues."

"I know," she wrapped her fingers around the bottle, staring into amber liquid. "I know he can't always - - connect - - the way other people do, but he's getting better. And I think he feels this is home now - -that 'we're' home now. But I'm not sure his idea of family and mine are the same thing."

Cid studied her, hearing fears that he doubted she'd ever had voiced to him stone sober.

"Are we talking sex?" If he'd have been stone sober he'd never have asked. But he got the feeling he'd hit the nail on the head when she winced, fingers tightening on the bottle.

"I don't know if he's just scared of crossing that line - - or if he doesn't want me that way."

He felt for her, worrying about this for how many years, waiting for Cloud to make a move that never came. Cid didn't doubt the kid loved her, but when it came down to those desperate moments when he was strapped for comfort of the physical sort, it wasn't her bed he sought. Vincent's, if he were available, or god knew who else that fit the bill. It hadn't occurred to him, who had no trouble bedding women or men, that maybe Cloud had narrower preferences. Or that maybe the kid had been so fucked up when he was younger by the whole miserable mess that had torn away his identity, that right was left and up down and every other priority he had skewed out of whack.

"You ever just ask him?"

She laughed, dropping her forehead to her arm. "And have him clam up and disappear for a month? Or forever? I can wait for him to make up his mind."

Cid finished off the last of his whiskey and thought that might be a damn long time for a good woman to wait.

 

 

 

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