Stones: Chapter 3

The Highwind was well underway again early the following morning.

Cid sat with his feet up, making appropriate notations in his logbook, but his mind was not truly upon the task at hand. He read back over what he had written to confirm the details, but found himself pausing between words; recalling the day before.

Dusk was almost upon him when he’d finally made his way back to the airship. He’d risked full darkness to accomplish the task he had set for himself; knowing he would not have another chance before they departed. He then stood for several long moments beside the stream, taking a last look around.

One day, he would return here. Who he was and what he wanted had come fully to his realization in this place and he wanted to pay some small tribute to that awakening.
He bent down, retrieving what he had come to collect before leaving the pool once more to its peace and memory.

************

Cid blinked, bringing himself once more into the present. He gazed absently upon the book in his hands and the words scrawled upon its page before coming abruptly to a decision. He closed the logbook with a snap and allowed his feet to thump to the deck.

Offering no explanation to the bemused expression of his crewman, he set the helm to autopilot and called Barret to the watch.
What he wanted to accomplish wouldn’t take long, but he needed to make a stop at his cabin first to retrieve the item he needed before proceeding onward to the engine room. Vincent’s assigned task for the day would keep him in the cargo bay while Cid accomplished his plan and the pilot would be well away before the gunman’s return.

Cid left his small gift upon Vincent’s folded blanket; smiling as he beheld the white stone nestled within the teacup Vincent had claimed. He’d turned to leave when a fluttering piece of paper near his feet caught his eye. It was held to the side of the maintenance shaft with a small chip of magnet; arranged so it would be at Vincent’s eye level if he were lying down.
Cid couldn’t make out the series of lines and colors from where he was standing so he knelt to get a better view; feeling rather ashamed of himself for his curiosity.
When he rose to his feet once more, his smile was even more pronounced. He turned and went back the way he had come; exiting the engine room and making his way to the bridge.

If anyone noticed Cid’s uncommonly good mood that day, they made no mention of it; merely enjoying it while it lasted.

**********

Despite what he had seen in Vincent’s picture, he was confused; therefore Cid found himself more restless than usual. He felt, however, that seeking out Vincent would probably be the worst thing he could do. The events of the past days had shaken his sense of himself; and for the first time in his life, Cid literally wondered what to do next. Waiting for a given situation to resolve itself was not within his experience, not when he could charge in and set things to rights with what was for him, a minimum of effort.
Anyone caught in his path in this time of redefining himself soon came to the conclusion that Cid was, in summation, a force of nature; forever in motion.

When the pilot stood by the stream, everything had seemed so clear; his path laid out before him, destination firmly in sight. That was before.

Vincent was avoiding him, Or so it seemed.

Usually, the two would cross paths several times on any given day, but no longer. If Cid chose to appear in the area where the gunman was assigned, Vincent vanished. Cid could still feel the jeweled eyes upon him at times when he went about his own necessary duties; but he caught no glimpse of the man himself. He wandered in the engine room, tinkering about with things that didn’t need adjustment simply to be near him; but Vincent remained unwilling to reveal his presence.

**************

They made port and Cid spent two full days personally overseeing repairs and taking on supplies.

It was a welcome diversion. The pilot never fully trusted his ship in another’s hands where maintenance was concerned and it gave him the opportunity to vent the worst of his frustration. He sweated and swore; bruised his knuckles and scraped his arms digging into the heavy work, falling exhausted into dreamless sleep at the end of the day. He had chased Cloud and the others away for shore leave while he worked; leaving himself alone on the Highwind at night with his thoughts. He had no idea if Vincent had chosen to accompany the others, but the big airship seemed to echo with a deeper emptiness than the mere absence of her crew. Cid hadn’t ever been deliberately non-vocal when it came to sparing others his moods; but some things were just too personal. He didn’t want a well-meaning Tifa or anyone else asking questions about why he’d chosen to spend his nights on the floor of the engine room with only a pillow, a blanket, and his despondency. If there was a silent presence standing beside him as he tossed and muttered in his restless dreams, it seemed to have gone with the morning.

Even after the Highwind was airborne again, the pattern of Vincent’s reclusiveness continued. The pilot began to doubt; both himself and what he thought they had shared at the waterfall. Cid fully expected Vincent to depart as suddenly as he had arrived in their midst; the fact that he hadn’t yet only serving to make him feel as if he were living on borrowed time.

Cid couldn’t blame him. Why, after all, would Vincent want him? It was time to face the fact he’d somehow misread the mystery that was Vincent; seeing something deeper than actually existed in the companionship they’d shared. Cursing himself for a fool, he hauled his toolbox from underneath the ledge where he’d stored it since the night at the stream; went out into the night and prepared to dump its contents over the side.

Cid Highwind didn’t cry. Why, then, did he feel a trickle of wetness upon his face as he stood at the railing?

Something in his eye. He knew better than to be out there at night without his goggles down. Yeah. That was it. Damn bugs…

The toolbox sat at his feet, forgotten as he stared into the darkness. He reached down without turning and was startled when his hand brushed something other than the handle he’d expected. Instead, he found his hand encountering the tattered hem of Vincent’s cape.

The pilot stood, slowly, giving himself time to bring up a hand, wiping the tear away under the pretense of scratching the side of his nose. Still, he felt Vincent would see through the ruse. Cid doubted the man missed much.
He didn’t know whether to be relieved at Vincent’s reappearance after he had hidden away for so many days, or to brace himself for a confrontation. Cid found himself adrift once more; weary.
A long moment passed before he raised his head, daring to meet the gunman’s gaze.

Vincent’s eyes held confusion…and trepidation. It came to Cid suddenly that the gunslinger may have had doubts of his own; a thing the pilot had not expected as he chased his own thoughts in endless circles over the past days.

So many questions he wanted to ask…but the one foremost in his mind went unvoiced.

Are you as scared of me as I am of you?

Something of his thoughts must have shown in his expression. A black-gloved hand reached out, hesitantly; stopping before making contact. The fingers curled, began to pull away.

Before Vincent’s hand could fall back to his side, it was captured in Cid’s larger one; betting everything on one roll of the dice. It was brought to lips where a kiss was placed tentatively in the palm. Still holding gently, Cid brought Vincent’s hand to his chest, capturing it against his heart. Only then did he allow his eyes to seek the ruby-jeweled eyes, finding them closed. A tiny smile hovered on Vincent’s face as he increased the slight pressure of his hand; as if to better feel Cid’s heartbeat.

They held this stance for many long moments before Cid drew Vincent against his chest, their hands still captured between. The wind from the airship’s passage swirled Vincent’s hair around them; the strands tickling Cid’s nose. He found himself indulging in his first genuine smile in days. He laughed; causing Vincent to draw back, surprised. Cid in turn made a show of rubbing his nose with his free hand as if it were itching him to madness; grinning. When a full smile appeared on Vincent’s face in return, Cid’s breath caught in his throat. Before he realized, he had pulled Vincent against himself once more, placing a soft kiss upon those smiling lips.

The hand Cid held captive suddenly escaped, the fingertips coming to rest against Vincent’s mouth, as if he could not believe what had just occurred. The gunman blinked before the beautiful eyes slowly raised to meet Cid’s once more; their expression filled with wonder and surprise.

Then Vincent did something completely unexpected. His hand came away from his mouth, reaching up to wrap around the back of Cid’s neck and promptly pulling his head down for another.

They were still locked in their embrace when something hit them with tremendous force from the side, breaking their embrace. Cid bore the brunt of the hit and grabbed for the rail with one hand to regain his balance while reaching for Vincent with the other.

He almost succeeded.

Before he found himself falling through empty space.

**************

TBC

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