Late that night, Cid was once again in the engine room, toolbox in tow. He set it down rather gently on the floor, and went about quietly unpacking the contents.
First came a large towel, which he spread out beside the box. It had seemingly served as padding for what was underneath; for a teapot followed, as well as cups. Next came two saucers and forks, along with more small containers. One revealed small cakes, the other, fresh berries. These, Tifa had gathered from nearby while the others worked on repairing the airship.
Cid could feel eyes upon him as he spread out what he had brought. He placed the cakes on the saucers, covering them with the berries. When he had finished, he picked up one of the saucers and turned around; his gaze directed toward Vincent’s hiding place. He smiled; extending the saucer in silent invitation and waited.
Long moments went by before he was rewarded. Vincent appeared silently from behind the maintenance shaft and stood gazing down. His response was the same as before; his gaze flicking from the saucer to Cid’s face, as if reading his intent. Then he simply slung one leg, then the other over the railing, and drifted down to the floor.
Cid almost dropped the saucer in shock, before noticing a glint of something akin to humor in Vincent’s eyes. The expression was quickly gone, but Cid knew what he had seen. His smile broadened when Vincent approached and accepted his offering. Cid sank down to sit cross-legged beside the towel, reaching to pour their tea.
Vincent simply held his plate, staring at what it contained. He finally reached out, poking at a berry with a claw of his brass-covered arm. He speared it, bringing it to eye level, simply looking. Cid watched him in fascination, wondering why such a simple thing should require such scrutiny. At last, Vincent brought the berry to his lips, and a pink tongue darted out, tasting. The berry disappeared in a flash, yet he did not immediately reach for another. Vincent held the berry in his mouth, his ruby-jewel eyes crinkling with something that was almost a smile before meeting Cid’s own.
Cid grinned and plucked a berry from his own plate, popping it into his mouth. His eyes drifted closed, the smile remaining upon his face as he savored its taste. He hummed with the enjoyment of it; pleased not only with the sweetness, but being able to share this simple pleasure. When he opened them again, Vincent was watching him, a faint smile playing about the corners of his mouth.
Cid picked up his teacup, offering a wordless toast.
And so they sat, the low hum of the engines providing music for their simple picnic.
Afterward, they walked out on deck, sharing the view of the stars, still in companionable silence.
Just before sunrise, Vincent curled in the warmth of his blanket; inhaling deeply of the scent of its former owner still lingering upon his pillow, his expression peaceful.
Cid decided to allow everyone another day of ground time, determined to complete a full inspection of the airship’s exterior. The day had turned uncomfortably warm and he was grateful to be finishing early enough to spend the rest of the afternoon lounging somewhere in the shade. He was giving a final look to the starboard props when he noticed movement from the corner of his eye; a flash of red was just disappearing into the treeline.
Cid had noted a large stream in that direction before they landed, so he decided to follow Vincent and explore the area along with him. At least it would be cooler near the water.
Vincent’s unique tracks were easily followed in the soft earth, and before long Cid reached an area where the trees opened up to reveal a large pool the stream had formed.
Gigantic ferns and moss-covered boulders at the pool’s edge made for an idyllic, peaceful setting and the pilot felt some of his aggravation from recent events begin to melt away.
At the far edge, the stream cascaded from a rock overhang; creating a waterfall that fell from a height of several feet. His view of the fall was partially obscured by one of the tremendous boulders, so he decided to investigate further after he had indulged himself in a bath. The showers aboard the Highwind served their purpose well enough, but such an opportunity for a long soak in the crystal clear water was not to be wasted.
Cid quickly stripped and submerged himself in the chest-deep water; swimming a few lazy strokes toward the center of the pool. He came up shaking the water from his face and hair, wiping it from his eyes. He glanced to the waterfall and froze.
Beneath the cascade with his back to Cid, was Vincent. He stood with his face upturned to the falling water, his long black hair a satin ribbon down his back to his hips. On a rock nearby was Vincent’s clothing, neatly folded. Upon it was a shape of gleaming brass. At least there was one mystery solved; the brass was a gauntlet, rather than a prosthesis. On top of the red cape, Cerberus lay within easy reach.
Cid meant to retreat; to leave Vincent his privacy, but he couldn’t look away.
Vincent’s slender body was as well formed as a dancer’s; beautifully proportioned, his pale skin gleaming like porcelain in the afternoon sun.
If Cid had thought him beautiful before, it was nothing compared to the vision before him now. He found himself unable to breathe, a warmth building in his lower belly, along with a tightening that persisted despite the coolness of the water.
He wanted to bury his hands in that dark ribbon of hair, to touch, to taste, to bear Vincent down into the water, to…
Vincent had turned toward him and Cid could clearly see the discolorations on his skin even from this distance though his body was partially obscured by the falling water.
Apparently, Vincent hadn’t come through their last skirmish unscathed after all. Cid had raked the members of his team over the coals on several occasions for attempting to hide or make light of injuries. The pilot submerged again to swim the remainder of the distance between them; giving himself a moment to cool his wrath.
He resurfaced slowly and found himself staring down the barrels of Cerberus.
Vincent’s expression was unreadable, but his meaning was clear. There was no hint of recognition in his eyes.
Cid stood his ground.
What the pilot had taken for bruising from recent injury was in fact heavy scarring; and the scars were hideous. They were huge; puckered and uneven, obviously very old. Whoever had done this had obviously not cared for the end result; as if Vincent had been sewn up in haste so that no one need be inconvenienced by anything within the man having an opportunity to fall out.
When Cid looked up again, Vincent’s head was turned away, his expression colored by shame. The hand holding Cerberus had fallen to his side, the gun held loosely in his grasp.
Slowly, and with great care, Cid took the gun from him, moving to place it back upon the folded clothing. He paused, thinking; reached down and chose a water-smoothed, gleaming white pebble. Turning to face Vincent once more, he reached for his hand; placed the stone in his palm and curled his fingers around it, holding on.
Vincent still refused to meet his eyes; and Cid reached slowly once more, his other hand gently turning Vincent to look at him, his hand remaining to cup Vincent’s face. Cid’s expression was honest and open as their gazes met; and a single word formed on the pilot’s lips. It was swallowed by the roar of the falling water; but he knew Vincent had understood when those jeweled eyes widened in disbelief.
He stood quietly, allowing Vincent to read his truth. When the ruby eyes blinked in confusion, Cid took the opportunity to gently pull Vincent to himself; closing his arms around him, bringing the dark head to rest upon his shoulder. The desire Cid had felt earlier was blanketed in something deeper; something profound, as he felt Vincent’s shuddering sigh.
They stood thus for a long while; until Vincent slowly pulled away. He went to dress himself, but Cid noticed the small stone was carefully laid aside and then reclaimed when he was finished. Without looking back, Vincent made his way around the pool and disappeared into the woods in the direction of the ship.
Cid sat on the stone where Vincent’s clothes had lain; watching the falling water as the sun slowly sank to the horizon.