James dreaded going back home. That catand the ghost. It was as if his worst nightmares of the past were back to haunt himwith insane embellishment to heighten the horrible dream-like quality. There was the mad cat...and the ghost of his son waiting for him there, waiting to kill him. He knew it was only a matter of time before the spirit had its way, before he died a gruesome death, one he deserved long ago.
As he walked slowly toward his house, James traced a finger over his abdomen; underneath his suit jacket there was a scar...one received at the hands of his only son, one that should have been the death of him, to follow after his child.
He considered moving every now and again; maybe to Kalm, or Costa Del Sol perhaps...but he couldn't bear the thought of leaving all the memories of his late wife and son behind. All he had left of his beloved were memories. He had never moved on after her lingering death, and didn't want to. Sighing, he dropped his hand and trudged on.
When he turned the last corner before the paved road that lead to his home, he paused for a moment, seeing someone unfamiliar sitting in front, leaning against the banister of the short stairway to his door. James let out a long-suffering breath, hoping this wasn't one of the mad cat's friends come to torment him, then continued on his way.
His steps became slower and slower the closer he got to the unfamiliar person. It was a man, well armed if the giant gold bladed halberd meant anything...but that's not what slowed James' walk. It was the man's hair, the ash blond atop his bowed head. That very color...it elicited so many memories of his late wife... James stopped for a moment to collect himself, shoving down the knot forming in his throat.
A few more steps and the man heard him and looked up. James nearly broke down right there; the man looked so much like her, his eyes, the shape of his face...the only thing missing was the warmth of her smile. This man wasn't smiling. For a brief second there was nothing, then an expression black as night settled in his face.
Undying hate...then it suddenly struck him why he so strongly resembled his beloved. James breath caught in his throat; the thought hadn't even occurred to him...because this man was supposed to be long dead. But there he was, Cid McKenzie, his son.
For a long time, James did nothing. The shock paralyzed him. How could Cid be here, alive? And this was certainly not the ghost; the ghost was young, having never aged after his death. But...how?
Cid stood slowly and crossed his bandaged arms over his chest, holding that frightening halberd in his hand like the weapon it was. Finally the shock of seeing his son alive was overcome by his love for him and joy at seeing him alive, and he ran over to him, weeping for him. All he wanted to do was touch him, to embrace him...both to assure himself this was no hallucination and to let his son know how much he missed him.
With a surprising quickness of movement, the butt end of the halberd flicked out, right in front of James' feet, forcing him to stop short. "Cid," he murmured, wiping his sleeve across his eyes. "You're alive..."
Cid's tempestuous glare was his only reply.
After wiping his eyes once more, uselessly, James reached over the green haft of Cid's pole-arm, intending to set his hand on his son's shoulder. With another deft movement, Cid caught James' wrist in his hand and forced it back, twisting his arm in the process. James winced in pain and whispered, his voice almost pleading and choked with tears, "Cid...I just wanted to touch you..."
With a shove, Cid let go of James' hand, causing him to stumble back. "Why?" he snapped, and James could see the stark fury in his face...and the deep confusion.
Rubbing his wrist, James answered honestly. "Because you're my son and I love you."
Cid's jaw dropped for a second, and then incoherent rage filled him. James backed up a step, realizing he'd said something very wrong but not knowing what.
He didn't have time to get away before Cid's bare hands wrapped around his throat in a death grip, the weapon clattering to the ground. Gagging, James tried to pull his son's hands off of him, scrabbling for a hold, but he knew he couldn't. It was obvious Cid was very experienced in battle, and much stronger than he was. James' vision grew dim, and as a last ditch effort he scratched at Cid's bandaged arm, pulling off the gauze and clawing at the wound underneath.
With a shocked, strangled cry Cid dropped James, and the older man fell to the ground, holding his throat and sucking in desperate breaths. When he recovered enough to look up, he saw Cid clenching his fists, making a massive effort to control his rage.
"How...dare...you!" Cid growled through clenched teeth as he held his arm to his chest.
James continued gasping for breath, watching Cid sadly. He had forgotten...or at least, pushed out of his memory, the fact that he had branded Cid on that arm. Being burned was one of the last memories he had of his father, and now James remembered that Cid had disowned him...And after that I left him to die...
No wonder he was angry. "I'm sorry, Cid," James whispered, hanging his head.
He heard Cid hiss above him, "You hated me."
Now James began to feel anger rising in him. It wasn't true. He had never hated Cid. "That's not true."
Closer to him James felt Cid hiss again, "You hated me."
Just moments ago he had learned how dangerous his words were, but James couldn't help himself. He couldn't stand to have anyone accuse him of hating his family. "Cid, I love you; you're my son, and I love you," James insisted, then braced himself for whatever was coming.
He felt Cid grab his hair and yank his head up, forcing him to look at the arm held in front of his face. James flinched, but Cid didn't let go. "What does it say," the pilot asked, his voice cracking. James tried to look away, but couldn't.
Cid asked again, "What does it say, Jay?" At that name, which he hadn't used in years, James looked up at Cid as best he could from his position. He didn't know what to expect, perhaps the same fury he had before, but no...tears were dropping from Cid's eyes unashamedly, some nameless agony etched into his features. James looked down, his stomach tying itself in knots.
The ghost was a terrible reminder...but this...his living son...James began to wonder if this was just an accounting before Cid killed him.
So he sighed, resigning himself to a fate he couldn't escape, and looked at the old scars he had burned into his son's arm in a fit of madness long ago. He was surprised to find the letters not old, but very new, as if they had been created only that day. He wondered about that, but set it aside, thinking he didn't have much time to wonder anymore. So, with a catch in his voice, he read the words. "It says...J. McKenzie."
He felt Cid's hand trembling on his head, and his head shaking a no'. "It says I hate you'....it says worthless', you mean nothing to me'." James felt Cid shaking hard now, as if sobbing silently, and his voice betrayed him. "It says I own you'....Jay...."
"I'm sorry Cid," James answered, his voice barely audible. How had it happened? How had he gone so staggeringly, incredibly wrong? How had he managed to convince his son he hated him when that was the farthest from the truth?
Cid let go of James' hair, and James sat back on his feet, watching Cid very carefully. He felt destiny coming for him...and he wasn't sure he wanted to go just yet. Cid had retrieved his weapon and turned his back on him, but James could still see how tightly he gripped the haft; his arms were shaking with the effort. And he knew Cid was crying still. He had always been like that...fast to laugh, fast to cry, and fast to anger. He never did hold back his emotions, never had been afraid.
While he watched, it dawned on James that all this time, while he thought he had killed his son and grieved for him, in reality he had...merely...wounded him to the core, and left him to wonder why. Sixteen years for his son to wonder why...and try to shove aside the memory of four long days James had at the time found all too easy to forget.
"I...I did mean...to come back that day," the older man said quietly. Cid stiffened, and James thought that perhaps he had said too much. When he had returned four days later, Cid was more than half dead. The shock of what he had done was almost unbearable then...he couldn't even begin to imagine how Cid had felt, lying helpless and dying by inches. And now...maybe thinking about it was more than he could handle. There had been too many reminders of dark days already. So James said nothing else.
After a very long, tense time, Cid finally said, without turning to face the older man, "It was because I reminded you of her, wasn't it."
For a moment James wasn't sure what Cid meant. Then he realized...was that it? James floundered, understanding finally what Cid had realized so many years ago. He had never wanted to move on from his beloved wife's death, he had loved her so dearly...had that...had that made him push Cid away? That must have been it, because Cid was so much like her, so much that even now it hurt James to see him, to see the shape of his face, his eyes, his hair, even his build. It still hurt.
No wonder Cid thought he hated him. The magnitude of James' error nearly choked him and blinded him. James wasn't the same man now as he was the day he thought Cid had died...or the day four years before when he first struck his son in anger, at least he hoped he wasn't. He had been so worried, scared Cid was dead, and in his error he lost his temper and hurt him. Of course Cid wouldn't have known how frightened James had been that day when he came home and Cid wasn't there.
All Cid would have seen was his distant father beating him senseless. That's all Cid would ever have seen. James had been so insanely stupid...so selfish...so quick to rage and so cold. Very quietly, the realization of why he had been so distant and why Cid had thought he hated him strong in his mind, James whispered, "Y...yes...That...must have been...why.... I'm so sorry...you didn't understand...."
He saw Cid flinch, but just as James realized that he had been misunderstood, Cid made a quick motion, then he was in the air, moving through it in ways no ordinary man could. A leap...a Dragoon's jump. James fell back, certain he was about to die. He cried out, "No! It was me! I do love you, Cid, I always did!"
Cid flew down toward James like a diving raptor intent on its prey. In an instant, the gold bladed halberd was buried at least a foot and a half into the ground, right between James' shoes. On either side, a blade just touched the top of each of his feet. A little deeper, and James would be maimed for life.
Breathing hard, Cid hissed, "And what about this? Did I misunderstand you when you tried to rip my leg off for being a Highwind?"
James was white, his body heaving in short ragged gasps. He could barely think. He should be dead. He could have been, it was obvious Cid was so well practiced in the skills of the Dragon Knights that he could have impaled him, or worse obliterated him, leaving nothing but a massive smear of gore on the road. James scooted back away, not caring that he cut his feet on the exceedingly sharp blades of the weapon. While James attempted to recover his voice, Cid pulled the halberd out of the ground and backed up a step and watched him.
It took a bit, but finally James was able to stammer out, "N-no...me, it was me... I should have never have acted the way I had...I should have known better." He watched as Cid stepped back to the porch and sat down heavily on one of the steps, his rage apparently spent.
James watched him for a long time. "We can't go back, can we. I can't make it right."
"No," Cid said quietly, looking at James for a moment. Then he pulled a cigarette from the pack in his goggles and lit it. After a second he blew the smoke out his nose, his gaze fixed on nothing. "No."
James nodded slowly, and in his heart wished there could be a way.
Shera closed the door behind her, wiping at her eyes. She looked down the hallway, toward the back of the house, where she saw Mog standing. Slowly she stepped over to the bottom half of Reeve's toysaurus, looking for the brains' of the operation.
"Cait?" she said quietly, her voice shaking. Seeing the ghost had reminded her very forcefully of what Cid had told her while she slept...an uneasy, faltering dream memory made very, startlingly, coldly real. And her voice wasn't shaking just because of fear...she was angry too, angrier than she'd been in a long time. She wondered what she would do if she ever met James face to face.
"Oh, I'm in here," the cat called, from what must be James' bedroom. Shera slipped by Mog and into the room, where she found Cait looking at several photographs in a drawer. There were also a few children's books.
"What are you doing?" she asked, trying to calm her voice. Calm was something she was known for...she could manage the facade...
Cait looked up from his seat on the carpet in front of the open drawer. "Lookin' at some pictures. Tryin' to get a feel for how them two acted around each other...lookin' fer hints I s'pose. Pull up some carpet and have a look."
The corners of Shera's mouth turned up slightly at the odd turn of phrase. She sat down next to Cait and looked in the drawer. "It was Cid. I talked to it...him...for a little while. It was terrible...he was dying Cait...way back when...he really was."
Cait's ears drooped. "Well, that would be enough to leave a shade I think...really that bad off? I didn't get a chance to look real close."
Shera nodded slightly.
The cat pulled a picture from the drawer. It showed a woman and a little boy, both smiling happily. They looked very much akin. "That's his mom. Pretty thing ain't she...as long as yer not thinkin' bout how much she looks like Cid...."
"I happen to think Cid is very handsome," Shera said as she took the photograph and gave it a closer inspection. They looked so happy.
Cait snorted. "No accountin' fer taste."
Shera levered her gaze at Cait Sith. "And what would a cat know, hmm?"
"Arright, I admit I ain't in the position ter be judgin' the looks o' humans. But Cid's all scruffy and he smells." Cait passed Shera another picture, this time of a man and a child...must be James and Cid...and they looked happy too. James was swinging Cid by his arms, and Cid was laughing.
"Amazing. I wonder what happened to them," Shera said, setting the photo down. "So Cid's a...well steeped in tobacco smoke. Some women like scruffy."
Cait reached into the drawer and pulled out a book. "Don't that make em all scratchy? Like kissin' a cactus?"
Shera blushed a little, but countered, "If I recall, Reeve, you have a goatee...."
Cait made a noise that could easily pass for choking, then said quickly, "Nice little picture book. Had me one when I was little...when I was...never mind. Anyway, it looks like something Cid woulda liked. Probably his."
Shera leafed though the pages of landscapes and birds flying and tried to imagine what it would be like looking at from a world where the only sky was a dingy metal plate. Would she have believed there was a Sun and a Moon if she'd never seen them before? "Probably is. He would have liked it. He told me he never saw the sky until he was thirteen."
"Holy %^&*," Cait gasped. Then he clamped his paws over his mouth. "Sorry!" he squeaked from behind his white gloves. "It just came out!"
"Cait, I live with Cid. I've heard worse."
He lowered his paws. "Maybe, but not from me. It jes caught me off guard, that's all. Never seen the sky til he was a teen. And with him bein' Cid...no wonder he kept goin' out. Pieces'r fallin' inter place...."
Shera looked at Cait. "What do you mean?"
"James said Cid never stayed at home when he was told. I knows Cid well enough that if I was him I wouldn't stay inside knowin' there was all that wonderful sky and stars what I loved just waitin' to be seen. Probably a major point of contention with them two. They musta never saw eye to eye on it...I dunno why...James ain't so mean he wouldna let Cid go stargazing...wonder why...."
Shera's face hardened. "James nearly let Cid die of thirst in his own house, Cait."
"Well...er...that's so...ain't denyin' that...but they was happy before! It had ter have built up...I know you have trouble believin' me, but James is a nice guy, and he feels really bad about what he did. Not what he shouldn't feel bad...but I don't think it started out like that. Just lookit the pictures! Him and his mom and his dad...they was all a happy family. Somethin' happened, made them angry...probably with James...I wonder what...."
A shrill cry interrupted Cait's thoughts. He bolted up and ran, and so did Shera. It was like the death scream of a woman...and if either of them had stopped to think, they would have realized how much like Shera it sounded...
Outside, Cid and James heard the shrill cry. Cid shot up and ran into the house, that house he swore he would never again enter. But it had been Shera's voice and he was terrified something had happened to her. James followed after Cid, dreading the ghost may have done something.
It didn't take long to find out what had happened. Shera and Cait stood in the living room, staring at a ghost. The spirit stood looking silently toward the doorway, where Cid and James were located. It shocked Cid to see...the ghost really did look like him, just younger. He opened his mouth to say something, relaxing his grip on Venus Gospel, but his words were cut off by a dark, chilling laugh.
The ghost was changing, shifting, laughing.
A deep sound shuddered through the room, so low that it was more felt than heard. And then everything went dark.
Shera and Cait Sith both began to stir about the same time. Mog sat up and rubbed his wide head. They lay outside on the dirty street, unceremoniously dumped there after the ghost had knocked them out. While Shera rubbed her head, Cait Sith muttered, "Get the number of that there WEAPON what hit me?"
"No...," Shera groaned. Then she stood up and dusted herself off. She was about to ask what had happened when she caught a glance at the window looking into the living room of the old house. Taking a few steps to get a closer look, she saw Cid pacing back and forth, his face dark with sadistic anticipation. Or was it?
Shera leaned down and tapped Cait on the shoulder and asked, "Is that the ghost? It looks like Cid, but...."
The robot cat jumped up on Shera's shoulder to get a better look. His whiskers twitched. "Naw, that's not. I dunno how, but it looks ter be the ghost. He muster gotten older since we last seen him."
"Yeah...well...we have to get back in there somehow. I don't like the idea of having Cid stuck in that house with that thing."
Cait nodded. "And by the looks a things, front door's out."
Shera adjusted her glasses with one hand, thinking silently. "Could we break in? There's a window facing the alley...."
"Yeah, I kin break in there. No problem. We gots ter be quiet though."
"Mog, you wait here," Cait said, and the cave moogle nodded, still rubbing its head.
Without getting any nearer the front of the house, Shera and Cait ducked down and carefully made their way to the side. Once they reached the alley, they moved quickly to the window on the side of the house, then Cait Sith leapt over to it. With the uncanny balance only a cat can have, Cait stood with his hind paws on the thin edge of the window sill and set his fore paws on the glass. Then he yanked off a glove with his teeth and tossed it on the ground, exposing claws sharp as razors.
"Are you going to cut the glass?" Shera whispered, and Cait nodded his head in response. Then he set his claws on the window and carefully traced a circle just large enough to fit his fist through. A quick jab knocked the glass loose, and Cait reached in and unlatched the window. Jumping back down to the ground, he allowed Shera to push the window open.
With the pane opened, Cait lightly leapt up and over the sill, while Shera scrambled over. She caught one of her khaki pantlegs on a nail jutting out of the sill. Grumbling softly, she untangled herself and fell forward, landing on her hands and knees. She looked down and saw the haft of the Venus Gospel—she was fortunate she hadn't landed on the blades.
Cait grabbed her sleeve and started yanking on it, his eyes wide as saucers. Shera looked up in the direction Cait seemed to be looking, and with a tiny gasp she launched herself in the direction of the bedside she had landed near. They had broken into Cid's old bedroom, where both Shera and Cait Sith had seen the spirit.
The scene was similar to when they saw the shade, but this time it was not a ghost that lay handcuffed to the headboard, dripping blood from his hands. This time it was real; somehow Cid had been caught and chained to his old bed. Shera rapidly climbed up and kneeled over him on the side of the bed, looking down and wanting to take him away from this nightmare, but not knowing how.
And it was a nightmare: to Shera's eyes it looked as though every injury Cid had ever had from the least and the smallest scrape to the greatest...the terrible burns, and his torn hands. She never thought she would ever see him look worse than the ghost had, but he did; all the ghost had Cid also felt, but he bled freely and there was more. One arm was broken...Shera bit her lip when she realized, afraid she might have hurt him more in her haste. But he never made a sound, and his eyes were closed.
She tried to say something, to do something, anything, anything...but she was paralyzed by the sight. Her breath came in short gasps, and tears started pricking her eyes.
"Ahh...aaa.........haaa.......?!" She caught her hand, stopping herself from caressing his cheek, sorely afraid of causing him any more pain. Then she caught herself a second time.
Cait Sith jumped up beside Shera, his eyes no longer so wide but rather glassy and dull. "Asleep," he muttered to himself.
After a second, Shera tore her gaze from Cid's battered form and looked at the cat. "Ahh....a...sleep? Ghhhost s-s-aid...."
Then Cid screamed in his sleep, and before their eyes his already broken arm twisted and cracked again, as if taken in invisible hands. Shera cried out at the same time, and without thinking fell on him and held him and kissed his cheek. "We have to...aaa.......the ghost said......if he slept again......we h-ha-ave to wake him.....!"
"How?! If that didn't wake him, what would?!" Cait shouted.
Shera turned her head and looked back at Cait. "Take...take these damned cuffs off him...I-I don't want him t-to wake like this," she answered, her voice catching in her throat.
Without a second thought, Cait hopped up and over Shera, and began to pick the lock on one handcuff, as carefully as he could. His white paws quickly slicked with the blood that steadily leaked from the rough cuts on Cid's wrists, but his grip was sure.
While Cait worked on the locks, Shera laid her head on Cid's shoulder, racking her brains for anything that might serve to wake him. She moved her head slightly so that her lips were a scarce millimeter from his ear and she sniffed quietly, but with fearful earnestness, "Cid.......what can I do.....you h-have to wake up.... Tell me what to do...."
Cid started for a second, and Shera hoped he was waking up, but no...instead, she felt something begin dripping down her temple and she smelled something metallic. Anger arose in her gut like a hot flood; she balled up her fists and clenched her jaw tightly. And her heat was directed at not only the ghost but to James McKenzie for ever hurting Cid like this in the first place.
"One down!" Cait shouted, then bounded over to Cid's other hand. "I think this'll go faster, assumin' they're keyed alike."
Shera nodded, trying to relax her hands. "Come on, wake up...."
After just a minute, Cait announced that he'd unlocked the second cuff. Then he sat up and twitched his whiskers for a moment. Sensing something, a strange darkness, as if something were pulling another something away from here...perhaps...perhaps the spirit was linked here? "I gotta plan, Shera. We gotta get'm away from here."
Shera looked up, confused. "What do you mean?"
"I'm thinkin' that there ghost's got a special concern for this exact location, this bed...y'see, I thinks it was, well, born here. So we gotsta move Cid."
She looked back down at Cid, frowning deeply. How could they move him? Planet knew what sort of damage had been done...she already knew he had broken bones...what if there were others? What if there were internal injuries? But...what if Cait were right? A low moan and spout of blood from Cid's mouth shattered her moment of indecision. Instantly, Shera grabbed Cid around his chest and started dragging him off the bed and onto the floor, as fast as she could, without any regard for safety.
Cait helped as best he could, but he was too small to do much. Eventually they managed to get Cid off his old bed, and onto the dusty floor. Still he slept, but Shera felt something had shifted, something in the air maybe. She felt hopeful, and yet she still hadn't figured out a way to wake Cid up. Too scared to shake him, knowing he wouldn't hear her if she spoke, she just sat and looked at him and pulled at a bit of her hair.
"Now you wait here for a sec, I gots some materia, but I gotsta go get it," Cait told Shera just before he leapt nimbly out the window.
"OK, OK," she answered without thinking, even though the cat had already left. Shera looked a little longer at Cid, then with a sudden idea she very gently picked up his unbroken arm. Maybe she could surprise him a bit, maybe that would wake him up. It hadn't been that long since they had come here, and she remembered how he'd ran his hands through her hair so softly and so intently...because he'd never done so before. He had always kept his hands covered, for practical reasons, and to cover up his scars. She didn't know how long he'd done that, but she did know she had never done this before. As carefully as she could, she held his hand in hers and kissed his fingertips.
And he did stir, just a little. She leaned over him and asked him to wake up, still holding his hand. His breathing changed, and she hoped she was getting through.
She held the back of his hand to her mouth, to kiss him again, but instead she screamed, startled, because something had hit her in the head. For a split second she was scared it was the ghost, realizing maybe that its prey was no longer in its power, but no...it was Cait, standing on her head. Cid clenched his fingers.
"What are you doing?!" she hissed, angry at the start and confused.
Cait shifted a little and said, with what she just knew was a Cheshire grin, "Mog's not here, and I gotsta git in the right position ter be castin' magic!" Then Shera felt the mechanical cat do a little dance on her head and shout through one of his megaphones Ancient words to call up healing magic.
Still on edge, Shera went to shove the cat off her head, but instead watched as the Cure magic did its work on Cid. It wasn't a complete fix, but she could see many of his wounds heal over, including the cuts on the hand she still held. Heartened, Shera did kiss the back of Cid's hand this time and then shook him gently. "Wake up, Cid!"
This time it worked, and he did wake up. He blinked a few times, but before any of the pain he still must have felt caught his attention, he narrowed his eyes up at Shera, with Cait now splayed out on her head, and spluttered, "The HELL?!"
"Hafter be in the right position to cast magic," Cait replied helpfully.
"You were asleep," Shera said, very quietly. She was relieved to see Cid alert. "The ghost was doing something to you we think."
Cid looked up at the ceiling. "Oh ^%$#, hell I know, never had such awful dreams." Suddenly Cid's casual glance at the roof turned into a stare of frightening intensity. Cait cowered and Shera unconsciously moved away a fraction of an inch. "NOT AGAIN!" he screamed, and tried to get up as fast as he could, but he leaned too much weight on his broken arm and he fell to the side, white as a sheet and close to swooning.
Outside the door they all heard an inhuman cry, as if in answer to Cid's. Shera and Cait realized quickly that the ghost must know now that they had taken Cid out of its power for the moment. Shera looked back at the door quickly then up, trying to see the cat on her head. "We have to get him fixed up now."
"I gotcha," Cait replied. "But first things first." With that, he leaped off Shera's head and landed behind Cid's head, who was now gasping as if he couldn't breath. Speedily, Cait whipped out a big, bright yellow ribbon and tied it to the back of Cid's goggles. "It'sa Ribbon. Now the ghost can't make him sleep again. Shouldn't be able to anyway." Then he jumped back up on Shera's head. "If you can fix them breaks and stuff, I can do a buncha Curin', hopefully enough so he'll be good as new."
"Yeah, I can fix them," Shera said, her voice steely. As fast as she dared, she moved Cid onto his back again, then said, "Sorry, Cid...no time to do this right." Cid didn't appear to hear her at all; he wasn't asleep, but he was still struggling and from the looks of it, feeling every wound. Shera sighed, and told Cait to get a spell ready fast. She felt Cait preparing, then as quickly as she could, she set one of the breaks in Cid's arm and Cait cast as soon as she did. Cid gasped and turned even paler, but that break was healed as much as it could be for now. "Sorry, sorry, I'm sorry, got one more, Cid, I'm sorry," Shera muttered staccato, then set the second break. Cait cast again.
She checked Cid's leg, and was thankful to find the ghost apparently hadn't managed to repeat in Cid's dreams whatever had caused it to be dislocated the first time. But Cid was right at the edge of fainting, skin totally bloodless. "Cait!" Shera shouted...
...And then the door opened.
Shera swung around to look, ignoring Cait's shouts and the claws he dug into her hair and skin to keep his perch. Cid was standing in the doorway, with a fireplace poker in his left hand. Or rather, the not-Cid, the ghost. It was a terrible wonder how his eyes could be so dead and so full of anger at the same time. "What have you done? It was almost finished!" the ghost shouted, voice like Cid's, but with a darkness his never had.
Shera ignored the question. Instead she shouted, "Cait, cast! Now!"
She couldn't see the cat on her head, his hackles up and tail stiff as a rod, but she felt him dancing and heard him cast Cure 3 on Cid again. The not-Cid screamed and swept the poker through the air, just above Shera's head, and knocked Cait off, sending him crashing into a wall.
"No! I have to finish this! Then I'll be free!" the ghost howled, and stomped by Shera to the real Cid's side. Cid was still slow, but recovering from the near swoon; he wasn't so pale. Cait's magic was having an effect. He struggled to sit up, glaring at the ghost.
The not-Cid grabbed Cid by the shoulders and picked him up. They looked so alike, at least on the surface. Then the ghost tossed Cid on his old bed and took hold of one hand, preparing to bind the handcuffs again.
Shera growled in her throat, stood, and launched herself at the ghost...but she shot right through, and stumbled into a wall. She spun around, angrier than she had been in a long, long time. She looked around, wishing she had brought one of her guns with her, though she was uncertain how that would have helped.
Cid had come around enough to fight back now, and realizing what the ghost was doing and where he was, he fought with every ounce of strength he had. Somehow he could get a hand on the ghost, and he struggled to get his hand free of its grasp, while kicking at it. The ghost shrieked and grabbed Cid's arm with both hands, dropping the poker.
After a dazed moment, Cait got back up and staggered nearer. He narrowed his eyes, seeing the fight and Shera's expression, then as fast as he could, he cast as many Cure 3 spells on Cid as his dwindling magic would allow. He had figured out part of what was going on, and knew that casting magic on the ghost would be a waste of time.
Nevertheless, it helped a great deal. Every time the magic healed Cid, the not-Cid got weaker. Cait had exhausted his magic before he could fully heal all of Cid's injuries, for there were many and severe, but he'd done enough.
All three of them, Shera, Cait Sith, and the phantom saw a glint in Cid's eyes and the smile he reserved for people and monsters to whom he was about to deal out some severe punishment. It was not the first time Shera or Cait had seen that grin that was more a baring of teeth. The not-Cid didn't recognize it until it was too late. With inhuman agility Cid brought his booted foot up to the ghost's chest and kicked him...right through the door, shattering the jambs, and into the hallway wall. It too cracked; the phantom apparently had not been prepared for the attack, and didn't have time to phase itself into the nothingness ghosts usually were made of. Or perhaps with Cid, it was unable to.
In any event, the not-Cid was staggered, and while it attempted to get its bearings, Cid shot up and grabbed the phantom, turning it to face him. Then he kicked it again, this time down the hallway, and it flew as if it had grown wings, until another wall easily twenty feet away intercepted it.
Cid spat at it, then turned back into his old room. Shera was blinking in shock...it was sometimes very easy to forget that Cid had the strength of Dragoons in his legs, and getting kicked by him was dangerous business. Cait merely nodded appreciatively.
"It'll come back when it gets up," Cid said quietly.
Cait walked over to the window and grabbed something with both hands. Shera moved over to stand by Cid, and after she looked at him for a moment, seeing all the blood on his face and hands, her expression turned cold as ice. "I wish I could kill James for what he did to you."
Cid looked at her and was about to say something when Cait appeared at his feet and tugged on his green pants. "Look, Cid, we gotsta destroy that thing's power source. Well, rather...not the source, but the point it pulls it through. I'm thinkin' that's this here bed. I was also thinkin' you wouldn't mind doin' the honors; I gotsa feelin' you don't care too much for this room'r nothin' in it." Cait pulled up the butt end of the Venus Gospel and lifted it as high as his little hands could.
With that feral glint in his eyes, Cid grabbed the halberd and hissed, "Yes, I think I would." He held the Venus Gospel ready to strike. "I'd stand back if I were you," he warned, and the two did just as they were told.
Then with a shout of rage, Cid brought down the weapon on the bed, splitting it in two. The ghost had returned, and it cried out and rushed to stop Cid. But Cid wasn't finished; he slashed at the bed, cutting it and breaking it into so many pieces it was unrecognizable as anything but splinters, shrapnel, and kindling. Cid finally lowered the Venus Gospel and stood, panting a little from the exertion.
The ghost stepped back, suddenly young in appearance again, as it had been when Cait and Shera had first seen it. Cait gasped, certain that destroying the bed would be enough to disperse the creature. But it almost looked like it was smiling, and for a moment it appeared the way Cid must have before James had branded him and left him.
Cid looked at it, stunned a little, as if he were looking at a mirror into the past. The ghost glanced at Cid with a thoughtful expression, but it didn't last. A flicker of shadows and it was back to the condition Cid had been the last time that he had been in the house, desiccated and hurt. It reached down and picked up the poker and walked out, looking for all the world like a memory without any context, uncertain.
Cait rushed out to follow the ghost and warn James. Shera was about to, but Cid stopped her for a second. She turned to him, her expression still cold.
"Jay didn't do all this, Shera. He broke my arm once; Demon Gate broke it the second time."
Shera paused, confused. "So...he didn't...and the dreams?"
"All the dreams I've had, good and bad, have been from my past. But no, he didn't do all that you just saw."
Cid closed his eyes briefly and exhaled. "I don't even remember anymore." Then he walked out into the living room, using the Venus Gospel as a staff. Shera followed after, frowning.
James sat in his chair, despairing, waiting for the accounting that seemed to be coming far too slowly. The ghost, now fully as big and aged as Cid...but not of his dead son. How had that happened? How could there be a ghost of a man that had never died?
It didn't matter much, James thought. He knew the ghost would kill him soon, and relieve him of his wonderings and guilt. It would finally finish what Cid had started, and what James felt he fully deserved.
He watched the phantom pace back and forth in his living room, every now and then swinging the poker, almost as if it were testing its weight. If the ghost had grown in power as much as it had in stature, James had no hope of surviving this time.
He was shocked he had survived the first time.
He remembered the complete ^&*#%^&* lies Shin-Ra had told him when he had awakened in the hospital. That they came to find him because they cared about their employees. It was a lie. If they cared about him, they wouldn't have held the debt over his head, the one for Cheryl's lingering illness, and sucked him dry to pay it off. He wasn't an employee of Shin-Ra, he was a debt-slave to them. They kept tabs on him because he owed them money.
But in those lies they told him, one thing he had thought was true—that Cid was dead, at James' own hands. Maybe it was because Shin-Ra sent in a Turk to tell him so. A young one at that, Tseng if he remembered right. Tseng had told him that his son was dead. At the time James had no reason to disbelieve it, and why he ever believed Tseng that Shin-Ra had decided to absolve his debt and even give him a good bit of money out of some feeling that it was "their fault" that James hadn't gone back to Midgar when he had promised to free Cid, he had no clue. Maybe he was just blind with grief. When he'd finally been released, he came back home to find it partially refurnished, the living room pretty much completely redecorated with fairly nice couches and a new carpet, all evidence of Cid's terrible rage against him erased. James never went back into Cid's room...in fact, he had locked it, and left it.
He remembered with some bitter irony that he had never much followed the news, but with his new-given freedom', he had gone into business and begun watching the regular business reports. How odd it was, though he tried to ignore it at the time, that some years later he would catch reports of a very capable pilot named Captain Highwind during the Shin-Ra-Wutai war. Some relative of Cheryl's she must not have known about, he had thought then. Some people even made this Captain Highwind out to be a legend of some sort.
James knew better now. The ghost, like his son still living, was pacing the room in the garb of a pilot, Captain's rank pins on his lapels, an H/W patch on one sleeve and Airforce on the other. His son was the legendary Captain Highwind. Funny how Shin-Ra news had never mentioned his first name.
Yeah, Shin-Ra had felt guilty about his dead son. What they really did was buy him, in a way. And Cid must have known...and of course he would take whatever it was they offered him, because it obviously meant that he didn't have to come back and live with his abusive father.
That realization stung. Cid must have known all along that the father he disowned thought he had killed him. James didn't really blame him, but it still hurt. At any time in his adult life Cid could have come back and simply told him that he was alive. No, James didn't blame him really, but it angered him nonetheless. He wondered if Cid ever took some secret pleasure in knowing that James was in the dark, still thinking he had murdered his own son. James' jaw set, and he ground his teeth.
The ghost spoke suddenly, snapping James out of his thoughts. Its voice was cold and whispering. "Soon this will be done, and I'll be free."
Still feeling some of his anger, James spat, "Why don't you finish it now? Why did you wait?"
"Not time yet, not finished yet...."
"What isn't? What do you mean?"
"We're both here...not supposed to be that way, we're supposed to be dead. History will be put right."
James narrowed his eyes, and moved to stand, a chill settling in his gut. "You...you're going to kill him too."
"We're supposed to be dead," the phantom repeated, hissing through a sadistic smile.
James stood and began crossing the room. "You will not kill him! I will not let you kill my son!"
With a sudden movement, the ghost used the butt end of the fireplace poker to hit James in the right on the solar plexus. James staggered back, gasping for breath. The ghost growled, "I do not have a father...so you do not have a son." Then the ghost grabbed James and tossed him back into the chair he had been sitting in. "Don't leave there, not yet," it said menacingly.
James sat and fumed. "I have no intention of letting you kill...my...s-s-Cid!" He moved to get up again, but the ghost held him down, one hand on either of his shoulders.
"And I have no intention of letting you stop me from correcting history." The two stared at each other for a while, dead blue to living.
"You can do with me what you want, God knows I deserve it, but leave him alone," James growled finally.
The ghost almost looked confused. "Him, who is him'? I should be dead, and I will be, and you will be, then I'll be free."
"But you aren't Cid! You're a ghost...no, not even a ghost! I don't know what you are!"
"I am Cid!" the phantom insisted. Then it let go of James and went back to pacing.
James realized the futility of arguing with the ghost. He wondered if it even realized that earlier that day it had been only 17 in appearance and now was in its early 30's. He thought it didn't; he had a feeling the thing really didn't know anything.
Then James heard some noise coming from Cid's room, and noticed that the ghost somehow seemed a little more terrifying, a shade darker. A few more tense minutes went by, and James heard what could only have been a scream...and the ghost again grew in substance.
James shot up, unheeding of any danger. "What are you doing?!" he demanded.
The not-Cid smiled. "I'm sleeping."
"No! Why is Cid screaming!"
"I'm sleeping! Just a little longer, and I'll be free! Now sit back down or I'll knock you out!" James took the threat at face value; the ghost had already knocked him out once.
As he sat, James heard other noises, but they were subdued. Suddenly the ghost looked uncertain. James just watched it, not sure what to do. Soon there was quite a ruckus going on in the other room, and the phantom turned towards it, looking like it was about to go investigate.
Suddenly realizing that whatever was going on in Cid's old room, the ghost needed to stay out of it, so James decided he should distract it. "Cid," he asked very cooly, "why do you wear such long gloves?" James had noticed the ghost wore elbow-length brown leather gloves, but Cid didn't, not as far as he knew.
The spirit spun around and pinned James with one of the most malevolent glares he had ever seen. It hissed and said, "So I don't have to see that brand on my arm! So I don't have to look at those scars! I shouldn't have scars! I should have died before they healed. I will die before they heal."
James narrowed his eyes. "Is that why those cuts were fresh? Did you do that?"
"I don't know what you're talking about. Of course they're fresh." The ghost turned back to the hallway that led to Cid's old room, then with an almost mournful cry, ran in. James stood but stayed back, hearing the sounds of a scuffle, muted shattering, shouting, and rank fury.
He started when the ghost crashed into the wall just outside the living room—shattering the wall, sending splinters flying. It got back up quickly though, and stalked back down the hall.
Then suddenly, Cait Sith came rocketing out of the hall and nearly knocked James over when he pounced and clung to his chest.
"Look, James, you can't let that there ghost see ya. I think I know what's goin' on, and you can't let it see you! Whatever ya do, stay outta its sight!"
"Why?" James asked, still surprised and shaken from the unexpected pouncing.
"No time ter explain. Just...hide, get behind the couch, I dunno, you just gotta!" Cait insisted.
Shaking his head, James did as he was told, crouching behind the couch. He watched the hallway entrance for a bit, and he got another shock when the ghost returned. It was a teen again, wandering around like it had lost all memory of what it was doing or why. "What happened to it?" James asked quietly.
"It lost its hold on Cid."
"I thought it was Cid's ghost...," James asked in confusion, careful to duck when the ghost turned toward him for a moment.
"It is," Cait whispered back. "But...but...it ain't just Cid's. It drawed its power off him, and I think it was made by him, but...it ain't really Cid's."
Before James could ask Cait another question, he saw Cid and his lady friend come into the room. Cid looked as though he had been beaten within an inch of his life...and yet not so; he must have been healed quite a bit, because while he was well bloodied, he wasn't bleeding. And his lady friend...no, change that, his girlfriend, had a good deal of blood on her white coat but didn't seem hurt except for some scratches on her head. They were holding hands, and Cid was leaning slightly on his halberd.
Cait bounced around the couch and said, "We can't let that ghost see James, OK?"
Cid's girlfriend's expression hardened considerably. "Where is he," she ground out. Then, apparently being very fast on the uptake, she realized where Cait had come out from and launched herself at the couch.
James moved back, seeing that she was positively livid and figuring Cid had told her enough horror stories that she might feel every desire to rip him to pieces. Fortunately, Cid apparently felt she was being a bit too hasty and caught her around the waist, nearly causing the two to topple over. "Not now Shera," she said, his voice pained. Not every wound had been healed it seemed.
Meanwhile, the movement attracted the phantom's attention, and for a few moments it watched Cid and Shera.
"No, no nononono!" Cait squealed. "We hafta keep James hidden, remember?"
"Why?" Shera shouted. "Why should we?"
"Becaaaaauuuuse," Cait drawled out, "it's not Cid's ghost! I mean, it is, but it ain't neither! It's James' ghost. I don't want it to see him and make the connection again."
James gasped. "What do you mean it's my ghost?!" The spirit in question didn't seem to hear his voice, as it wandered off into the kitchen, and thus was out of sight for now.
"I mean just that, James," Cait answered. "If it was just Cid's it would be gone now."
Seeing the ghost absent for the moment, James came out from behind the couch, and carefully avoided Shera's deadly gaze. Cid had let go of her but looked prepared to grab her again. "I don't understand," James said.
Cait bounded over to the doorway into the kitchen, keeping an eye on the ghost. "Well, it's kinder difficult to explain, exactly," he said, half turned toward the three. "Sometimes when really bad things happen to people, they leave...well...shadows, psychic traces of themselves where it happened."
"I'm still confused," James replied. Meanwhile Cid had taken a death grip on the haft of his halberd.
Cid spoke in a low, flinty voice, "Certainly something really bad' happened to me here." He apparently unconsciously put one of his wrists to his mouth, something of an instinctive move, and he was shaking.
With the ghost out of the picture for the moment, James' ire flared and he jabbed an accusing finger in Cid's direction. "And you knew! All along! How could you not tell me!"
"Knew what?!" Cid shouted. Shera's hands turned to fists, but she somehow managed to hold herself back for now.
"All this time! You knew that I thought I'd killed you! How in the HELL do you justify not telling me for sixteen years?!"
"Whoa now! Hold up, this isn't the time!" Cait interjected, but he was ignored.
"To be completely honest, Jay, I ^*&%!@# FORGOT EVERYTHING after I joined the SAF until about a week ago."
"Guys, this really isn't the time, we still have a ghost to talk about...," Cait added once again.
Cid continued his shouting, advancing on James. "I forgot what the sky looked like the first time I saw it, I forgot why I wanted to fly...I forgot why I loved the stars, dammit! I forgot EVERYTHING! I EVEN FORGOT WHY MY NAME IS $%&&*&^ HIGHWIND!!"
James tried not to step back as Cid came toward him, but he did, a few steps, such was Cid's rage. But James could hardly believe it. "How could you have forgotten all of that?" He thought he could understand easily why Cid would want to forget...at least, forget all the things that James had done to him, especially the last and most damaging, but he still found it stretched belief.
"Why in the hell would you care, you never knew any of it. You never let me tell you," he answered, softly, but breathing heavily. Cid paused for a second, then added, "And I forgot because I had to. It would have driven me insane, I think."
"What? Everything? Surely not everything," James said slowly, cowed, and sad.
Cid pulled both of his wrists up to his mouth, holding his halberd in the crook of his arm. "Everything...because anything would have reminded me...I usually wear long gloves...so I don't have to see these scars...."
"OK," Cait Sith said sternly, "Enough is enough, we can talk about this later, right now there is still a ghost out there, and it could still kill you both!"
The cat got three very hot glares for his troubles.
"Not that it's any of my business, ya know, but I kinda likes the two a ya, and I'd rather not see you both KILLED! Yes, I said KILLED, as in DEAD! As in remember how we don't want a repeat of Cid and James' Last Performance Together Live in Sector 2 of Midgar, four days only, don't bring any drinks in with you?!"
Cid turned absolutely white, and barely managed not to get sick right there. Shera suddenly felt she might try to turn Cait into scrap.
James didn't have a chance to react, because Cait Sith had pounced on his head from behind and knocked him down onto the floor. James struggled to get up, but Cait had draped his body over the older man's head and dug his claws into the carpet, effectively pinning James to the ground.
"Look, I'm sorry about all the theatrics and makin' light of your bad experiences, Cid, but the ghost is coming back and if it sees James I am really scared it will just start up again what it's been doin' to you," Cait explained. James made some muffled noises into the carpet. "And you too," Cait said to the struggling man below him.
Indeed, the ghost did return, wandering aimlessly through the room. Apparently it didn't recognize James, pinned to the ground as he was, and wearing clothes Cid at 17 had never seen him in. Eventually the spirit just stopped and stared at a wall, silent, in the middle of the room.
Cait let James move his head sidewards, away from the ghost, but he didn't let the man up. Shera made a supreme effort to calm herself, and when she felt sufficiently able to, she asked, "Cait, why again do you think this is James' ghost and not Cid's?
"OK...lemme try to explain again. Now, I'm makin' a guess here, but...Cid, you spent a lot o' time wakin' up in that room mad as mad can get, just judgin' on yer reactions, right?"
Cid nodded slowly. "I hated it. Every time...every damn time."
"Yeah, so there's your trauma right, repeated often enough that that very location got...well, damaged by it. Places remember things like that, sorta. Not real memories, but its like Lifestream gathers there tryin' to heal psychic hurts, and it makes them places different. Like the mansion in Nibelheim...the basement of that place gives me the creeps so bad! And it's all on account o' what happened there. Vincent himself left nearly thirty years of psychic trauma there, and look how many monsters live in that place. Now...here, we don't have no monsters, we gotsa ghost, or rather, a shade. A Cid-shadow. Probably has the shape it does because the thing that made the worst impression on that room and the bed was them days...I ain't gonna ask about it, on account of I seen the shade with my own two eyes and I can tell just from that it must have been terrible."
Under Cait, James shuddered. "So," James asked, his voice thick, "what I did...that...made the ghost?"
Cait shook his head. "No, you missed it. Cid made the shade on account of how he felt there." The cat's voice became very gentle. "What you did made Cid feel like that. But it was Cid's feelings that made the shade, and I think, what hooked it there. I thought it would be gone when Cid wrecked the bed, it seemed to be the...well...draw point, the anchor, for the shade. That's why when it knocked us all out, it put Cid there...it was getting power out of him by making him relive all them things that made the shade in the first place. And then some...I been fightin' with Cid a long time, and I recognized some of the hurts that shade was inflictin' on him. I'm guessin' that when Cid came here, the shade got access to everything Cid experienced right up to the moment, and that's why the shade got older n' stuff." Cait looked over at Cid, who had sat down on the couch, with Shera next to him. "Izzat right?"
Cid nodded, still holding his wrists to his mouth. Cait sighed; he wondered if it had been such a good idea to bring him here. If he really had forgotten his entire childhood, sticking him smack dab in the middle of the worst parts of it must be overwhelming for him. "I'm sorry Cid...probably shouldna asked y'all to come here."
"It wouldn't have mattered, Cait," Cid said quietly. "This...shade...was doin' ^&%$ to me all the way in Rocket Town, and I dreamed the worst things...and the best things there. It mighta fallen out like this anyway." Then he looked down at his feet. "But I think I woulda rather never seen this place ever again...or him."
Those words were like knives to James, but he said nothing, only let tears silently fall. Cait felt it though, and rubbed the side of his face against James' hair in feline affection. Then he went on with his explanation. "So we're all clear on how this here shade came ter be. But that don't explain why it's still here. As long as it don't get connected to something here again, I don't think it can hurt you...otherwise it woulda already tried. Cid's totally outside its power now, or again, it would still be older and meaner like it was before. I don't think none of us want ter experiment with it by makin' Cid fall asleep again...but I really think it's lost its connection to Cid. Its back to what it started out as...with its most recent shadow bein' what happened 16 years ago, but even less, on account of it gots no way of getting any power outta Cid again." Cait paused for a long moment, then continued. "Now this is why I think it's really your shade, James. Cid made the shade, but it didn't do nothin' for a real long time, not even when Cid was in Midgar recently. I'm really thinkin' the reason it ain't gone yet is on account of you're holding it here, James."
James sniffed and said, "I don't understand. What could I be doing that would hold a shade here, when it's not even my shade?"
"Ah, but see...it is yours. Cid wasn't the only one leavin' psychic trauma in that room there. If I'm not guessin' too far off the mark, you were really mad all them times you brought Cid into that room and he woke up angrier than a hornet."
"No...no...you're right. And I was worried sick. I thought he was going to run away one day and get himself killed. But yes, I was angry, very angry." He paused, and then said, "I may be taking my life into my hands saying this, but whatever mistakes I made Cid, I had every right to expect you to stay put when I told you not to leave."
"You lost that right, you lost it the first time you laid a hand on me," Cid said hotly.
"That's not true! No child has the right to do whatever he wants just because he wants to!"
"You don't know what it was I went out to see. You don't know why I had to be outside, under the stars, with real air and real wind and real birds!"
"You never told me," James hissed.
"You were too busy beating the %&** out of me to bother asking," Cid retorted. "You never gave me a chance."
After a very long pause, James answered, "It doesn't change the fact that you should have stayed here like you were told!"
"Arright you two, when I'm done explainin', then we can set up a ring and you can argue til yer blue in the face!" Cait shouted. "If'n you keep this up that shade's gonna get attracted to all them familiar feelins!"
James muttered something under his breath. The ghost did appear to be somewhat less confused and homeless', as if it really was picking up on familiar anger and trying to get hold of it.
After a moment, when Cait was satisfied James and Cid were finished, he continued his explanation. "I'll take all that to mean I guess right. Anyway. Now then you left some major anger there, James, and after that, some major guilt. In fact, you still feel every inch as guilty now as when you came back after them four days, right?"
James squirmed a little. "How did you know about that? I didn't tell you what happened."
"No, but Cid gimme a description of the major points, nothing real detailed, but I seen enough o' that shade and what it was doin' to Cid to put some facts together. And you told me yerself how bad you felt about it...and ter look at you, it's like you never moved on. You look all eaten up, James."
Cid had pulled his legs up on the chair and was resting his forehead against his knees. "He never moved on from anything."
Cait nodded. "You two is one right pair that way, ain'tcha. How long was you doodlin' around with that rocket? I don't think I never seen people who can hold on ter the past like y'all can. I know I wouldn't never want ter get in a grudge match with either one a ya."
Cid made a non-committal noise, and started thinking pretty hard about that, realizing he hadn't fared much better than James had...that he'd done very nearly the same thing to Shera that James had done to him, except with words and not violence. Similar in that Cid had hurt Shera because she reminded him of something he had loved and lost, while James hurt Cid because he reminded him of someone he had loved and lost. "Dammit," he muttered, and glanced over apologetically at Shera, who just smiled very faintly back; she seemed to have figured out just what Cid was thinking.
"Well, continuin' on," Cait said, "that's why I think the shade is still here. On account o' James hasn't let nothin' go and don't move on. It's your feelins keepin' it here, James, and maybe you wouldn't feel so bad if you wasn't bein' constantly reminded of these things you can't let go of. Do you have any liquid assets? Any solid ones?"
"Well...yes, I do...but why?" James asked.
"Enough to buy you a house somewhere else?"
"Yes, quite enough," James replied, still confused.
Cait explained, "I propose we raze this house. Destroy it and everything in it. You won't get no happy ending like Cid and Shera did with that rocket, I don't think, especially not with yer wife, James."
"WHAT?! You want to destroy my house? Take all my precious memories away? Even my pictures? What use could that possibly serve!"
"It'll force ya to move on! Yer lingerin' here like a ghost yerself, James! And you'll still have yer memories, you just won't have nothin' to be constantly goin' back to to dredge up all yer old feelins. You won't have no locked doors that you pass by feelin' guilty about what you did in there...no pictures to remind you constantly of what you can't never have again. But we don't have to destroy yer pictures. I'll keep the one with you and yer wife and Cid, and you can give the really nice one of yer wife to Cid. Only fair that if he has ter have permanent reminders of bad days here that he can have one for a reminder of good days. And I'll give you yer picture of yer family back when I think you moved on enough. Maybe there's a couple other things y'all can keep, but I don't recommend you keep much."
James was nearly distraught at the idea. "I can't do that! I can't...I don't want to. I never wanted to. I love her too much." Then he added, "And...how exactly did you know what pictures I had?!"
Cait harrumphed. "James, are you just not getting it? That shade'll go away if you quit hangin' on to it and everything it represents! It's your shade! It's your bad feelins, it's your anger, it's your guilt, all made up in one nice neat package that wants to kill you."
Cid added quietly and very deliberately, as if he had to force the words out, "You said...you loved me...but you...you did kill...you killed Cid McKenzie...when my mother died."
For a long moment, James was silent. Then he nearly exploded. "RRRAAAAAGHH! Why don't you kill me now Cid! Get it over with!"
Suddenly Cid stood and very nearly kicked James. "I DON'T WANT......." Then he froze. For several seconds he just stood there, then he turned around and sat down on the couch next to Shera, almost in a state of shock.
There was silence in the room for quite a while. The phantom continued wandering aimlessly, eventually leaving the room again. When Cait saw this, he let James up, and the man sat on the carpet, nearly as dazed as Cid. He whispered, "I thought...this was some divine reckoning." He ran his fingers along one of the larger scars that crossed his face. "A judgment...and then that ghost...or you...were going to kill me."
Cid didn't answer; he just stared out the window, at nothing, fingering his scars. Shera was also silent.
But Cait said, "I think this was some freak accident. Anyway, I ain't gonna let nothin' kill you on my watch. So will you move? Let soma friends I know knock down this here house?"
"Yeah," James said finally. "Yeah."
James stood near the edge of the Highwind's railing, watching the ground run swiftly below. The wind caught his graying hair and he wondered at it. It was altogether exhilarating. He thought back to brighter days, when his wife still lived, before that long illness took her. Her name was Highwind...she had been one of the last in a line unbroken that extended so far into the Planet's past no one was quite sure any more of the origin. Highwind meant something, the name of a high and proud warrior, the name of a house of men that could claim the name as a description. He knew that...he remembered so well Cheryl's deft grace and how she danced as if the ground hadn't the power to hold her. Highwind was the name of the ancient Dragoons, the leapers, the Dragon Children.
Now it was the name of a steel ship lighter than air. One designed by his son...the son he lost, just as surely as he had lost his wife. And it was his own fault. He should have known, seen it and accepted it. Cid was a Highwind, just as he claimed. He was his mother's son...gravity could lay no claim on him any more than it had on her. And had he tried to force that out of him? Beat it out of him, drive all resemblance of his wife out of his son, just because it hurt him to see it?
Yes, James thought to himself, he had, just as Cid said. Because he couldn't let go of his beloved dead. Now they were both dead to him. He looked at his hands, and at the railing he held. His son...yes, he had long lost his son...but Cid Highwind was not dead.
This sudden curious thought ran through his mind, and he turned it over, examining it. Was it possible? Cid had disowned James many years ago, and he had every right to do so. And until yesterday, he thought his son had died by his own negligent hands. But now...could he? Could he leave his son dead as he had always thought him...leave the ghost of his son...and meet the man as he was today?
Cid McKenzie lie in dust and ashes...in faded memory and destroyed shadow.
Cid Highwind stood in the cabin of his airship.
James left the railing and climbed the stairs into the cabin and stepped onto the bridge.
Just as James did on the deck below, Cid saw the ground pass beneath him. He didn't watch it closely though, he didn't revel in the feel of the wind and speed as he usually did. It just wasn't fast enough...he'd run for so long, for sixteen full years, and still his past had caught him and chained him to that damned bed. It would never happen again, not literally, he had seen to that. But the past had a way about it, it ran faster than he could fly, it dodged faster than he could strike...it danced away from him faster than he could jump, and it caught him faster than he could move, fleet and swift as a Dragoon though he was. It would catch him again, he feared.
He held Shera's hand, his gloved again. He looked at her and saw her sympathy. Maybe she wished to have his hand bare, but she didn't say anything. She seemed to understand why for now, or maybe forever, he would cover his hands, cover the brand and the scars left there. But he knew she was sad too...for him, or for her, probably for them both, that he needed to hide cruel reminders, or that he should have them at all.
Maybe some day he would be able to look at his own hands and not shudder at the memories. At least now they weren't his alone to hold in secret...Shera knew and could help him should ever his past come rushing at him again. And Cait Sith too...Cid almost smiled at that, such an unexpected friend at need, a magic cat...he probably had his own story as well, and he would understand.
Cid thought, however, if he were troubled that he would probably turn to Shera first in any case.
Sitting on one of the control panels on the bridge was a photograph of Cheryl Highwind, and a picture book with a children's story inside; the yellow circle, the silver-white spotted one, the little birds, and the blue sky that was not a plate.
He turned back to the view rushing by, watching it this time, and for a few minutes he was content to do so. Then he felt Shera stiffen slightly next to him, and he looked at her questioningly.
She looked past him, over his shoulder, but before Cid had a chance to turn, he heard Jay clear his throat and say in a cracking voice, "Um, Captain Highwind?"
Cid turned, more than a little surprised to hear Jay address him by that name. He narrowed his eyes at the man he had disowned, wondering why he would suddenly accept Cid's chosen name, his mother's name, when before he had burnt his own name into his arm rather than allow Cid to take another. "Yeah?" he said, cautiously, unsure what to expect. Shera tightened her grip on his hand.
Jay shuffled his feet slightly, then stammered out, "It...it is...an honor to meet you, Captain." Jay saluted, somewhat clumsily, then extended his hand, shaking slightly.
Cid blinked several times, taken aback. He was confused, but an awareness of what Jay intended suddenly dawned on him. Jay had said he loved him...and maybe he had found a way to continue his relationship with his...son...on his son's terms. Not a relationship as a father to a son, as that had been destroyed long ago, but something else...Cid realized with a painful clarity that it was something he wanted as well. Very carefully, Cid took Jay's extended hand...he realized his own was shaking also. "The name's Cid Highwind. You?"
The other man coughed once and said simply, "James."
"No last name?" Cid asked.
"No," James replied. "None worth having."
Cid found himself smiling, and James had to fight back choking tears...his expression was so like his mother's. "Nice ta meetcha," Cid answered, and with careful deliberation, he added, "James." Cid had never called his father by that name...and he wasn't calling his father that now. He had no father. But maybe he could have James.
James wanted so badly to grab Cid in a bear hug, but not now, now wasn't the time. Maybe there would never be a time for that, but then again...Cid was speaking to him...even smiling. That was something. "Yes, it is nice to finally meet you, Cid Highwind."
Author's Note -- Special thanks to NC, Cloud, and Al for letting me bombard them with plot, threatening me with bodily injury should I fail to finish, and also for Al brainstorming titles with me :)
I feel I must point out, to put any possible misunderstandings to rest, that Jay is James McKenzie as seen through Cid's child-eyes. As children, we are often unable to see where our parents are coming from and why they do things we don't understand. It is not uncommon for this blindness to last into adulthood, and we often take it to the grave with us. I wanted in this fic to show that it is possible to be reconciled to people so close to us who have hurt us, and that often there is more going on with a person than is immediately visible, that what motivates them may not be what we see or understand. As such, a fic that I wrote after starting this but finished long before, Puss in Boots, is a companion piece and was written to tell Reeve's story the way this fic tells some of Cid's, and James'.
Puss in Boots grew out of the desire to write that story, but knowing it had no place in this.
James is the most complex original character I have ever attempted to write; I hope he comes across as human, very fallible, prone to fault, but not a monster.
Lastly, I paint with a very dark brush, or rather, more appropriately, an intense one. Please bear that in mind before turning me into a flambé.