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The Devil's Own

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter 17

 

The sun was well on its way to banishing the pre-dawn murk by the time Cloud and Vincent made it back to 7th Heaven.

They were cutting it close to Cid's declared curfew, and it irked having to stay to somebody else's deadline, but Cloud didn't doubt for a minute that Cid, Tifa and Barrett would have geared up and headed out to the wasteland if they'd lingerer much longer. Cid didn't make idle threats and Cloud didn't trust that Diablo had truly departed the immediate Midgar area. If he were out there lurking in the shadows, he'd strike at the easy targets first.

Not that Tifa or Barrett or Cid were easy targets - - they were all damned good and had proved it time and again. But they weren't Super Soldiers. Not that Cloud was, but he'd had a bit more experience dealing with the Shinra elite - - or ex-Shinra elite as the case might be - - than most. He had that thread of connection, one of those lucky few survivors of Shinra's Jenovian experimentations.

He shook off the those musings, no comfortable place for his mind to go when he had only just managed to lighten the black mood this whole current situation had pulled him into. Unlocked the bar and walked into cool shadow with Vincent in his wake. As always, it smelled of alcohol and smoke, but it was a welcome change from blood and gasoline.

He didn't see Cid until the man moved, stubbing out a cigarette at the far end of the bar, and silently rising from the stool he'd been sitting on. Cid didn't say a word, looking damn near as tired as Cloud felt, just gave them one of his narrow blue once-overs as he passed, maybe checking to see that there were no obvious wounds that needed tending, before he started up the stairs.

Pissed maybe. Or just exhausted from a long night waiting up for them. Cloud glanced back at Vincent, but there was no reading his expression. He passed Cloud by with a faint nod and followed Cid up the stairs, to soothe bruised feelings in private, maybe.

Almost, Cloud felt a pang of envy, that in the end, Vincent always migrated towards Cid. He shook that off, too, knowing very well that his capacity for relationship was stunted at best. Tifa could attest to that.

Tifa. Cid had stuck to his word and not told, otherwise she'd have been down here waiting, too. And she would not have been silent in her reproach. He was grateful for the chance to slip into his room quietly, shed his clothing and step under the lukewarm water of the small shower. He closed his eyes and sighed, the water plastering his hair to his face and neck and washing the blood and grime away.

He toweled off, fell into bed naked, hair dampening the pillow and not caring. The room swam a little, as his body oriented to the sudden lack of motion and he shut his eyes and went with it until it settled and there was only the cool quiet of Midgar in the earliest part of morning.

He dreamed of hunting down wasteland scum, strangely soundless fighting. He dreamed of Diablo, sitting on an outcrop of rock silently watching, of himself approaching ready to take up the fight where it had left off. Of Diablo's features fading, melting into finer more elegant flesh and bone, fall of silver hair, eyes so pale a blue that they came across as silver in the right light. Sephiroth smiled, faint twitch of the lips, not moving to meet him head on, just sitting, nothing of the madness that was all Cloud could easily remember now when he thought of him, in his eyes. Like how his eyes used to be, before he'd gone over the edge. When he'd been a man other men had aspired to be. A man that inspired respect and love - -

Cloud woke to the dull blare of the Sector 7 iron works factory horn announcing to the world that day shift had begun. Light poured through the cracks in the blinds of a brighter sort than that to which he'd fallen asleep. He'd gotten a couple of hours sleep, tops. But he felt better because of it. He considered ignoring his body's internal clock and burrowing back into the covers, but Tifa would wonder and he disliked lying to her almost as much as he did having to endure a lecture. Better by far to avoid the issue.

So he pulled on a T-shirt and the oldest, most care-worn pair of jeans he owned and ambled down stairs. It smelled of smoked meat and coffee this morning, the odors wafting out from the kitchen beyond the swinging doors behind the bar. Barrett sat at one of the round tables with Marlene and a handful of other kids, eating breakfast. The big man nodded at him, grunting something unintelligible through a mouthful of food. Cloud nodded back and strolled to the kitchen, thinking breakfast a fine idea.

Cid was back there with Tifa, a spatula in hand, tossing a handful of diced meat into scrambled eggs. Apparently his internal clock was as insistent as Cloud's, to be up so early after a sleepless night.

Tifa leaned back against a counter, happy to let someone else take over the cooking duties that usually fell on her. It wasn't that Cloud, or Barrett weren't willing, just that they sucked at it, talents lying in other areas.

"Good morning," she smiled at him.

He nodded at her and went for the coffee.

"I'm putting together a care package to take down to Sector 9," she said. "A lot of people lost everything in the fire last night and the radio says the shelters are overflowing."

It was a more benevolent response than going out and killing wastelanders, though it was debatable which course of action the victims might have appreciated more.

"I'll see if I have anything to add on," he promised, which he figured was the reply she wanted.

Cid gave him a look over his shoulder, but refrained from comment. Cloud didn't bother to ask where Vincent was, Vincent being somewhat less than a morning person.

He went out to the garage with coffee and a scrambled egg wrap on the pretense of scrounging up donations. Sat down instead and took the time he hadn't early this morning to clean the blood off his blades.

It was cathartic, the maintenance of his weapons.

Afterwards, he found an old backpack and threw in a canteen and a few battered travel utensils, a few other odds and ends that he never used, a pale purple T-shirt that someone had given him, because pale purple just wasn't his color and brought it out to Tifa as she was climbing into the truck to head down sector 9 way.

He went back into the bar once she'd gone, and Barrett had herded the kids off to school. Cid was at the bar, pretty much the same spot he'd been early this morning, nursing a cigarette and coffee, empty plate pushed to one side.

Cloud nodded, wary, not used to Cid and long silences and wondered what Vincent had told him of last night's activities. Of Cloud's little break with sanity.

"Good run last night, huh?" Cid finally said, stubbing out the smoke. "Hear you thinned out the current wasteland lowlife population, right nice."

Cloud shrugged, uncomfortable talking about deaths at his hands.

"Heard there weren't no sign of the big man out there."

"No," Cloud agreed.

"Think he's flown the coop, after all?"

Cloud didn't know. Couldn't begin to fathom what went on in Diablo's Sephiroth influenced mind. He didn't bother to answer.

Cid frowned, blue eyes narrowed. Then shook his head and leaned over the bar to snag the coffee pot and refill his cup.

"Talking to you is like talking to Goddamned Vincent," he muttered, which meant Vincent had been miserly with the details. Cloud was grateful for it.

"What the hell you want?" Barrett's voice from outside, reverberating with agitation. Cid perked up, eyes turning towards the front door in interest. The hairs on the back of Cloud's arms tingled, not quite the hackle rising sixth sense he got at life threatening danger, but close to it.

The door slammed open and Barrett stomped half way in, face twisted in a glower. He stood there, blocking egress and Cloud could just make out dark suited figures waiting outside.

"There some smarmy bastards come all the way from the fancy side o'town looking for you, Spiky."

Shinra. If they'd come here looking for trouble of some sort, he was weaponless. Of course, Barrett was never without firepower, and who knew what dangerous toys Cid had secreted about his person. But then again, it was old habit to assume Shinra looking for him automatically meant the shit was about to hit the fan. Shinra owed him nowadays and Shinra was depleted enough in resources not to come looking for trouble that it damn well ought to have learned would only cost it manpower and assets.

Still he didn't like them showing up at his home, and stalked across the bar, not wanting any confrontation that had a whisper of a chance of turning destructive to take place inside Tifa's bar. 7th Heaven had sustained enough damage lately because of him.

There weren't a troop of them outside, though, just Reno and Rude and Cloud figured even without a blade in hand, he could take them in a pinch.

Rude still had his arm in a sling and if Rufus had sent out people to give Cloud grief, then it was doubtful one of them would have been a man with a disability.

He slipped past Barrett and stared silent inquiry.

"So somebody boosted an official Company ride last night and went out into the wastelands to do a little taking of the law into their own hands," Reno started off.

Cloud continued to stare, waiting for the point.

"Wouldn't know anything about that, would you?" Reno prompted after a moment, a vague hint of irritation in his voice at the lack of comment, presumably. Though you'd think he'd be used to one-sided conversations after years working with Rude.

"Why you come here askin'?" Barrett cut in. "What you want, us to do your job for you?"

Reno's mouth curved up in a smile, but it didn't reach his eyes. Rude didn't shift, silent and utterly unreadable behind his black glasses.

"Girl returned it this morning. Kidnap victim from old sector 9. She was a little sketchy on the facts, but there were a few descriptive details that made me think I'd pop round and talk to you, Cloud."

"I'm not much in the mood for talking this morning."

"As opposed to the chatterbox you turn into in the evening?" Reno asked.

Barrett snorted softly, amused despite himself. Cloud kept staring, waiting for either an accusation or an end to the conversation.

"So you're saying you don't know anything about this little spree of vigilantism out in the waste?"

"Since when have I gone out of my way to do your job for you? It is your job, right? Keeping the city safe?"

Rude's mouth twitched down in a frown. Cloud could see the spark of irritation in Reno's long eyes. A sore point with them, maybe, that Shinra had never been as good as it thought it was at protecting the world that it liked to think it controlled. Used to control. Now, in the aftermath of continental catastrophe, the company was hanging on by its nails to that faded power. It had to rankle. Cloud couldn't give less of a damn.

He turned, starting past Barrett and back into the bar.

"Did you hear about the auctions at Gold Saucer?" Reno asked to his back. Cloud hesitated, not liking the tone in Reno's voice, like he was sitting on information that Cloud might find interesting.

"What you talking about?" Barrett did him the favor of actually having to prompt more information.

"Since Cloud here helped wreck the place, its been closed for repair - - a lot of people left in a pinch - - or didn't leave at all - -a lot of abandoned shit and whatnot. Personal possessions, vehicles - - bikes. They're holding a public auction to get rid of anything that hasn't been claimed and taken off Gold Saucer property. Think I'll head that way and see what I can pick up for cheap. Never know what junk got left behind."

Fenrir. Cloud felt just a tinge of that red come back that he'd felt last night. Reno had a talent for bringing it out. He clenched his fists and asked. "When?"

"What, you didn't see the public notices? They're posted in every Shinra outpost from here to Gongaga."

Cloud turned and gave him a look.

"Four days." Reno shrugged, turned and started to saunter back to the shiny black Shinra SUV parked down the street. Rude stood a moment, then moved to follow.

"So give us a holler if you hear anything about that incident out in the wastes," Reno rolled down the tinted driver's side window.

Cloud watched them navigate down the street, Barrett at his side.

"What the hell they talking about?" the big man asked.

Cloud wasn't sure if he meant the wasteland activities or the Gold saucer auction.

"Kid's bike is still parked over at Gold Saucer," Cid supplied from inside the doorway.

"Well ain't that a hell of a thing." Barrett shook his head. "Don't seem right, them sellin' off folk's belongings like that. You better get on over there, Spiky."

"I'd give you a lift," Cid eased out onto the street, thumbs in his belt loops, new cigarette dangling from his lips. "But - - well, I'm ground bound at the moment."

Which meant hitching a ride with a cargo transport or a public flight. The latter was costly and the former not a sure thing. Four days wasn't a damn lot of time.

 

 

 

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