Stones: Chapter 5

Rating: Solid M this chapter

Only when Vincent appeared to be resting somewhat comfortably did Cid feel as if he could finally take a deep breath.
He sagged back against the maintenance shaft in exhaustion; hearing the sound of something crumpling at his lower back.
He reached for it, hoping he hadn’t damaged Vincent’s drawing. As it was, he’d only managed to crease it a bit, but hadn’t stained it with his bloodied clothing.

The picture Vincent had drawn was of Cid himself; sitting by the waterfall after Vincent departed. How long had the gunman stood just out of sight, watching him?
He held the paper in his hand, hoping he hadn’t irretrievably broken Vincent’s fragile trust.

Carefully, he tucked it under the back cover of the blank logbook he’d gifted Vincent. The white stone Cid had given him marked a place within and Cid could see an edge of writing where it was held partially open. He placed the book back in its original position, resisting the temptation to read. He’d already done enough damage without violating Vincent’s privacy.

Cid raised himself to a crouch; pains from sitting in such an uncomfortable position, as well as his injuries making themselves known. If he was going to accomplish anything else before caving from exhaustion, it would have to be soon. He staggered to his feet, swaying a moment before he caught his balance. Considerably more slowly than he had last made the trip, he descended the ladder and went about the business of gathering the rest of the supplies he’d requested from Tifa. He bundled everything in the blanket, tying the corners together. He looped the belt under the knots then slung the bundle behind him as an awkward pack before making his way back up to the catwalk.

A cold sweat chilled him as he rested beside Vincent once more, the trip back up the ladder draining almost the last of his reserves. Still, he owed Vincent better than to leave him streaked with the blood of injuries Cid himself had inflicted. And so he unwrapped the blankets, brought out the canteens he had asked for, glad that the one was still warm to the touch. It wasn’t much, but under the circumstances was better than nothing.
As gently as he would have for a child, Cid removed the brass gauntlet; swallowing hard at the sight of the badly damaged arm it revealed and felt tears prickling at his eyes. He bathed Vincent carefully and washed what he could of his hair where it had soaked up the blood of his wounds.

Only then did he attempt to care for himself. He stripped off his blood-stiffened clothes and found himself less injured than he’d previously thought; aside from the heavy bruising around his shoulder. The antiseptic burned through the places where Vincent’s claws had raked him. Guilt washed over him once more as he realized how shallow the slashes actually were, even as Cid fought him so violently. Those talons were deadly, yet they had barely broken Cid’s skin.
He then washed himself with the last of the warm water from the canteen, berating himself for not thinking to ask Tifa for a change of clothing. He could just imagine the reaction he would get if anyone saw him making his way through the ship wearing nothing but a blanket belted around his waist.

Sighing, he proceeded to move Vincent’s unconscious form to one side so he could spread a clean blanket for him to rest upon. Forcing himself not to pay attention to the sight of Vincent unclothed was difficult; even in his exhausted state of mind. He then gently raised the gunman’s head, removing the stained pillow to replace it with a fresh one from his bundle. A clean blanket then covered the slender body, and Cid felt satisfaction in knowing he’d cared for Vincent as best he was able. He uncapped the remaining canteen, taking a long, welcome drink of its coolness before closing it and placing it near to hand. If Vincent needed water in the night, he didn’t want to be hunting blindly about for it. He merely glanced at the food included in the bundle, uninterested. At least he would have something to feed Vincent if he became hungry. Cid made one last call to the bridge, letting Cloud know he would not be available until further notice and reassuring him regarding Vincent’s condition.

The pilot’s next decision was made for him. He honestly didn’t believe he was able to remain upright and on watch any longer. His body demanded rest; but Vincent might wake and need aid and Cid wanted to be certain he would be aware instantly if such occurred. He crawled painfully beneath the blanket; draping one arm carefully across Vincent below the damaged ribs. He was asleep before his head came to rest on the pillow beside the gunman’s dark one; his last conscious thought that of wondering how he would explain his lack of clothing if Vincent was the first to awaken.

*********

The space where Vincent had lain was empty, but this was neither more, nor any less than Cid expected. He blinked blearily to clear the sleep from his eyes and considered sitting, but after a failed attempt gave it up as a bad idea. He brought his forearm up to rest across his eyes and sighed. His internal clock told him it was the depths of the ship’s night; so there wasn’t anything beyond routine that needed doing anyway and if there had been, the others could handle it.

At least Vincent hadn’t killed him in his sleep.

Not that Cid would have blamed him. Adding what he had discovered about Vincent to what he already knew; the pilot considered. To his knowledge, the gunman had never transformed in the presence of the team before now; or if he had, no one had witnessed it and made the connection between the creature and Vincent. If Vincent chose to hide this aspect of himself, Cid couldn’t blame him…Cid knew enough about Cloud’s past to appreciate the gunman’s probable mindset, but it at least meant Vincent retained some measure of control over when the transformation happened. The battles they’d faced thus far together had all involved Vincent using his abilities as a superior marksman, and those abilities were impressive indeed. The man got the job done.

So…apparently Vincent had not yet felt the need to call upon whatever the creature was that Cid had seen.  This in turn implied Cid would not need to be concerned about a Hojo-induced, genetically-altered monster running loose on his ship. The pilot would have to ask Nanaki what he’d noticed about Vincent; the being from Cosmo Canyon had senses to call upon which humans simply didn’t share.
But Red would surely have made mention if he’d seen anything, wouldn’t he? And Cloud…another possible source of information. He knew at least something about the genetic tampering Hojo was so obsessed with…damned if it wasn’t confusing.

Cid could have chased these thoughts endlessly, but they were just the facts as he knew them. He weighed what he felt against what he had learned and knew it made no difference. Vincent was what he was, and Cid would be damned if he would dismiss him as a freak. Some things were worth fighting for, and Cid wasn’t going to give up without a battle. Whether Vincent felt the same, or if he would ever trust Cid again after the damage the pilot had inflicted upon him remained to be seen; but all that could be done was to wait for whatever happened next. They had to start somewhere.

A small sound distracted Cid from his thoughts and he listened closely; following it to its source. He sat up painfully, turning to face the direction from whence the noise had come.

Vincent sat behind him, his knees drawn up under his chin. His arms were wrapped around his legs, hugging them to himself. The bandages upon the gunman’s arms were gone. Cid was thankful the low-level materia had done its job, but wondered how it had worked so quickly. More mysteries…

Vincent was wedged as tightly into the far corner between the railing and bulkhead as he could manage, almost as if he were trying to make himself as small as he could. His dark hair fell about him in a curtain, blanketing as much of his body as possible from Cid’s gaze. The jeweled eyes stared across the space separating the two of them; filled with the deepest sorrow Cid had ever seen. The shame he had seen in Vincent’s expression when they were at the waterfall had returned; and over it all lay a sense of hopelessness.

Many thoughts crossed Cid’s mind in rapid succession.

This was not how it was supposed to have been.

Not in this sad little corner that defined Vincent’s place in the world.

It was supposed to happen somewhere beautiful; a place worthy of what Cid felt for him.

Cid dreamed of sitting with Vincent on the deck at sunrise, his toolbox open to reveal what he gathered beside their waterfall. Had dreamed of giving the stones to Vincent, watching as he tossed the weight of words over the side one by one. Had dreamed of taking him to back to Vincent’s lake, making love to him for the first time on its shore as the sun rose to paint the water the color of his eyes.

All these things, and more…but all that remained was here… and now.

Cid moved slowly; pausing to light the candle on its dented little saucer before reaching for the stone marking the pages of Vincent’s journal.
He let the book fall closed without ever having glanced at the page; letting him know his secrets were safe, feeling Vincent’s eyes following his every movement.

Cid did as he had done before; placing the smooth white stone in Vincent’s hand and gently closing his fingers around it. For a long, breathless moment he held the gunman’s gaze, telling him without words that the stone’s meaning had not changed.

Tears started in the jeweled eyes, hung upon his night-dark lashes before falling to splash upon the damaged arm still tightly wrapped around his knees. Cid gently claimed that hand also, drawing Vincent back to the blankets and into his arms. He held him there, the dark head upon his shoulder; determined to be Vincent’s strength until he could reclaim his own.

When Vincent at last raised his head to meet Cid’s eyes, there was hope reflected there…and the beginnings of desire.

Cid buried his hands in the black silk of Vincent’s hair, his fingertips caressing his crown as he lowered his head to place a soft kiss upon the upturned lips. Vincent’s eyes drifted closed, leaning into the touch, claiming another, deeper, the moment their lips parted.

Desire burned into a bright spiral of hunger; and Cid gave himself fully to the need awakened the day he first held Vincent in his arms. He touched, tasted, caressing the beautiful face, kissing his way down the line of Vincent’s throat. The dark head fell back, an almost inaudible humming the gunman’s only voicing of his need to be seen; to be held, to be anchored within something he had yet to fully understand. Cid’s fingertips gently traced the path of Vincent’s scars; his lips following, apologizing for the wounds he had inflicted, accepting even the years-old damaged places of the slender body as being beautiful in his sight.

Vincent’s hands clutched almost desperately within the pilot’s bright hair, his body vibrating with the flames Cid was igniting everywhere his touches traveled. Cid’s hands and lips sculpted his very being; discovering the mystery, initiating a wholeness; leading him along the path to a life beyond mere existence. Cid’s touches were everywhere, claiming as he gave, his lips at last closing around Vincent to bring the truth of his feeling to the fiery core of his being. The humming rose to a keening cry as Vincent’s very essence was demanded of him; bringing him to the brink of a high and sacred place, yet not allowing him to fall. The touch drew away, slowly, and Vincent’s eyes fluttered open.

Cid’s gaze met and held his own, never breaking their contact as he drew Vincent to rest upon the full length of his body. The blue eyes held a depth of trust that made Vincent’s tears threaten to fall anew; until he was shaken to the core of his being by the motion of Cid’s thighs opening in silent entreaty.

A day would come when they might play the roles of dominance, but this day was for healing, for finding the way to a place of belonging. Vincent made a small sound of protest; silenced by the heat of another kiss as Cid claimed his lips; his hands slickened by whatever Cid had found in the medkit to ease their joining, and a spark long buried blazed anew.

Vincent’s renewed keening broke in a shuddering breath as work-roughened hands prepared, then guided him to sink himself within the warmth of Cid’s body.

Vincent couldn’t breathe; couldn’t think. He could not see, but the urgency to move, to claim this pure aliveness fed his instinct to gift this all-encompassing wealth of feeling to the one who rose in perfect trust to meet him.

At the last, when they lay quietly entwined once more, something in Vincent’s heart broke free of the place where it had lain buried so long in the darkness.

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

And of course I forgive
I’ve seen how you live
Like a phoenix you rise from the ashes
You pick up the pieces
And the ghosts in the attic
They never quite leave
And of course I forgive
You’ve seen how I live
I’ve got darkness and fears to appease

…Vienna Teng: Eric’s Song

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