Title: Clumsy

Summary: Vincent and Cloud and the snow falling on a certain evening. Yaoi.

Warning & Disclaimer: Explicit sexual acts. Angst. Romance. Vincent x Cloud, allusion to Sephiroth x Cloud. All characters belong to Squaresoft.

Notes: Without heaps of encouragement from Twig and Catt, this never would have made it out of the scrap pile. Thanks very much, both of you.

and maybe you should sleep
and maybe you just need
a friend.
as clumsy as you've been
there's no one laughing
you will be safe in here

~our lady peace, clumsy

When he placed his hand against the window, it momentarily made halos of clarity in the frost-clouded glass, five trails for his fingers and one patch for his palm. After he took his hand away, the glass would slowly frost over again, the handprint obliterated. So he would do it again, letting the cold seep through the leather guard covering his palm and the fabric encasing his fingers. No patterns to trace, no words to write, just the simple print of his hand, sharply defined and then fading away. Something about the time of day made small things like that pleasing, and he was reminded of how their tracks would fill up behind them into smooth, white obliteration whenever they trekked in the snow.

There were worse ways to spend an evening than watching the snow fall, he supposed. He thought he should maybe do something in preparation for tomorrow but he couldn't think of anything more that hadn't already been done. Materia loaded, sword sharpened, everything he owned in the world tucked away in the pack lying in the corner of the room--- nothing to do except wait and try not to think.

They liked candles in this inn and he couldn't blame them; the light was already thin and watered-down by four in the afternoon. The candles made small golden pools of light on the snowy streets below; beyond them were the dark and the cliffs and someone waiting for him. The winds were blowing from the north tonight and the thermometer read thirty below. When he first came up to the room, the heater was just clicking on and he had needed to break the thin skin of ice on the water in a bowl before he could wash his hands.

Tomorrow was the end of his world.

He would not think about that.

It was evening now, and his body ached with the cold that the candle lights and wool blankets never touched. There was a draft somewhere in the room; he could feel the passage of the cold air and shivered. He wanted to press his hands to the small of his back and protect that vulnerable spot. He had been standing by the window for… minutes? Hours? Fugues weren't uncommon to him yet and he knew that he was still capable of drifting in and out of awareness. There was some similar memory of this in his mind, a time when he had been alone in an empty room and stared thoughtfully at his hands, wondering what they might be capable of. What he thought they might be able to do now… what they would have to do anyway, never mind if he could or could not.

Of all the memories floating behind his eyes, swirling like a body caught in the Lifestream's embrace, he wasn't sure how that one had come back. Odd how his mind could do that, giving him carefully encapsulated fragments that led nowhere and let him stave off the worst of his past. All the spaces between his thoughts were white, like the world outside and just as cold; he couldn't have said what he saw with his open eyes in the waking world. Maybe this was Sephiroth's doing still or maybe he wasn't ready to let go or maybe he had let go and he just hadn't realized it yet---

Whatever it was, whatever it wasn't, fucking deep thoughts and not entirely unapt.

Someone entered the room. It was more like the stirring of air over the fine hairs on his neck that gave it away, something that made the candlelight tremble, a sign of passage that wasn't really noise or sight. Lifting his hand and forehead away from the glass pane, he turned around to see, although he had already guessed from the silence. "Vincent."

The door closed behind the other man. He heard a quiet chink of metal-toed boots stepping from the throw rug to the flagstone floor and tensed; but Vincent's motion was to the empty hearth rather than the window. "A fire would make it warmer in here. Sleep would be more comfortable," Vincent said, his tone as neutral as though suggesting a different piece of armor.

Snow flitted past the window, brief little sputters like panicky breath or dying light. "I don't mind being cold."

"Cid threw a knife at the inn's cook."

"What?" Momentarily thrown off balance, he half-twisted from his position but Vincent was examining the empty fireplace.

"He claimed that she had burned the soup and his steak was inedible." A bare pause. "Not quite in those terms, though. She replied that he should be grateful for a warm meal at such a late hour and that smoking was forbidden in the building. So he threw his butter knife at her."

Behind him, he heard the whisper of a spell and a whisper of cloth as fire bloomed in the hearth and Vincent stood up, but by then he had already turned back to the window and only saw an indistinct red and black suggestion of movement in the glass. "Do they want us to leave?"

"No. He went to the pub, along with Wallace before it could get worse. The cook wants an apology."

The reflected colors of Vincent's clothing blurred with the lights outside; he wondered if they put candles in the windows of the other buildings as well, for tradition or simple necessity. "I could go talk to Cid."

Vincent's shrug made the candlelight tremble again; now the room seemed different with firelight stuttering along the walls as well. "If that's what you feel you want to do."

He had expected no reply, but hearing one didn't surprise him; no reason to be surprised by Vincent, none at all. He had gotten over any surprise, anyway, if not completely getting rid of the tension that knotted between his shoulder blades, feeling the direct gaze from behind. It didn't bother him, no surprises, simple logic, really… Like Cid. Cid responded to violence quickly and easily with violence of his own but then again, he had spent the last month doing--- hell, being expected to do just that. To say nothing of the fact Cid was just as used to giving orders as he was to taking them… "You'd think," he said to the glass, "with the world ending, we'd get a little smarter."

"He did miss."

Logic from Vincent yet. Not surprised yet. No reason, no reason. He kept his eyes trained on the weather outside and not the approaching reflection. "Has anyone else gone anywhere?"

"Everyone else planned to either retire to sleep or follow Highwind and Wallace's example." Vincent was close to him now, close enough to touch, close enough to be touched, and close enough that he could feel warmth at his back, as though he had moved to warm himself at the newly kindled fire after all. Close enough to hear his breathing-- he had spent the first week that Vincent joined their party in a half-paranoid state, consciously listening for that. Weren't coffins supposed to be air-proof? Stupid, he supposed it didn't matter by their very function definition. Logic.

It didn't always work that way, though. It didn't help him to understand Vincent's proximity and it didn't help him to understand why he wouldn't let himself turn to see Vincent. He flinched when the hand touched his shoulder and wondered when he had taken his shoulder guard off. It was sitting on his bed but he couldn't remember doing it, just as he couldn't remember when and why he had ever come to the window in the first place.

"I'm sorry," Vincent said. But he didn't move his hand and the weight was not unpleasant. Nothing made sense.

So--- throw logic out the window. A world of things left to say. No time or space left to say them. Strange as they were, unexpected, Vincent's words felt like… something to be saved, maybe. They turned over and over in his mind and he wondered and was afraid to think too closely about why he wondered.

"Look. There they are."

Outside, someone was walking up a path to the tavern, hunched against the wind. When the small figure opened the door, there was a sudden visible wash of red-gold firelight from inside, as briefly warm and startling as blood spilled on snow. The door closed again and the outside view resumed its white quiet.

"I think that was Tifa," he said. Hand on his shoulder still. "Yuffie's too young to be in there. Don't suppose she'd let that stop her, though."

"Do you think so?"

"I guess. Yuffie and Cid don't always get along." The idea of the two, so incongruous and yet alike at the same time pulled at something within him and he thought he might smile for a moment, for some reason wanting to share the joke of it, the humor with Vincent. "He might throw something at her, too."

"Would he?" Vincent's voice was mild, colored faintly with curiosity but not with focus.

He felt disappointed and he didn't know why. He shrugged and tapped his fingers once against the glass. No more giving away.

The question spun out between them and it was Vincent who spoke again, finally.

"We do things," Vincent said quietly, as self-contained as ever, "with our emotions, because they are the only human way of expressing ourselves and without them, we are less than what we are. And although they say we should not bring emotions into battle, understanding our emotions is the real battle we go through."

(But we're not human, something said in his mind, so how does that apply? He doubted he could say that to Vincent.)

"I guess," he finally replied and his own words seemed to get swallowed up by the white outside. His eyes had begun to hurt from staring at the unrelieved blankness of it but the candles in the windows had started going out, leaving him nothing else to focus on.

"You don't believe that, though." A statement rather than a question from the dark-haired man.

There was a shadow passing behind one of the windows in the house opposite the inn on the street. The dark bulk paused, momentarily backlit in the glow and then the candle was extinguished and he couldn't discern where the shadows of the unknown person and the dark of the room that wasn't his own began and ended. "I don't know about beliefs. Mine haven't really stood the test."

There. Hopefully pointed enough to match whatever it was Vincent would say next, or better yet, make Vincent stop asking him things and therefore give him to leave to go back to the white and the cold, not an interesting place, but a safe one. If he had the slightest idea of what this was all about, it might be easier.

"We do things sometimes," Vincent continued more slowly, "that we know are right, even when they don't seem that way or require us to discipline and set aside our own ideals and goals."

He knew enough to realize they had stopped talking about knives and angry hosts and but he didn't know why and he didn't trust himself enough--- not fear, no reason to fear, no reason, no reason at all--- to ask or reply. The silhouette of Vincent's head and shoulders against the window was familiar and he thought someone else had spoken in this quietly thoughtful voice to him before, and they too had asked him questions he couldn't answer and said things he couldn't understand. When he shrugged, he suddenly felt a familiar ache flare up in his back, hard-edged in a horizontal stripe of pain; the phantom memory of a wooden library shelf leaving its mark as he fell against it, an far-away memory of pissing blood for a week afterwards.

He almost reached up to touch his shoulders and back and to reassure himself that the bruise had long ago faded, but not under the cool green wash of a restore materia. He had been too ashamed, even though there was enough opportunities afterwards for a potion or a quick cure spell; he had worn his injuries in secret as a sort of penitence or even just a proof that it had happened. It had been difficult; he'd had to avoid getting severely injured in battle so to make his avoidance of magic unremarkable. But he had had so few ways to keep the whirling mass of real and not-real separated in his mind that it had seemed to make sense at the time. The Reunion had come and gone and he knew nothing more than before.

Vincent's voice had no change. "Do you want something to believe in?"

"I don't know."

As though he had it in mind all along, Vincent's hand touched the back of his neck, fingers wrapping around the nape, more warmth against the skin than his own high-collared shirt had been able to produce. They rested lightly, not moving, and he wondered if Vincent was nervous. Not unreasonably; it felt like the kind of gesture that would precipitate violence in this sort of situation, and he didn't think either of them would be able to deal with that. But he had never seen Vincent nervous and he could count on the fingers of one hand how many times he had seen Vincent miss his target.

He stayed in the same position he was in, elbows braced against the glass and fingers curling away from the cold. His forehead barely brushed the window and he didn't move from or move into the embrace. Sephiroth had once stood this way, alone and quiet against a window.

He wondered what Sephiroth had thought then, and he wondered if the pane of the window had been cold against Sephiroth's forehead. It had been in early spring, the false kind, where a few days of warm weather and sunshine brought the first plants out, only to kill them off with a sudden returning frost. It had been raining back then, the cold sloppy kind that churned the bare earth into a viscous mass that clung to boots and could never be completely wiped off when entering the house.

If Sephiroth had felt someone's hand on his neck, the touch of someone brave enough to offer an embrace, would he have turned around? Cloud didn't know.

Was there any way to think about Sephiroth without wanting to know if he was sorry at all for everything he'd ever done, from killing Aeris to going insane in the first place and leaving Cloud behind? It made him want to reach out, to grab Sephiroth by the shoulders, to shake and shake and shake until something, anything, came back to normal, look, see what you've done!

Not that it would have ever been an option or happened, even if he had been brave enough to be the first one to touch back then. It never stopped, it always came back to him that maybe he might have been able to do something but never had.

It was this thought that thawed his mouth long enough to speak and the words came out harsher than he meant them too, as jagged and sudden as icicles breaking. "I don't need your pity, Vincent."

The touch didn't go away, though. If anything, there was the barest flex of a finger and he was even more sensitive to it, the five strange lines of fingers around that vulnerable spot where the spine directed movement.

And despite himself and his words and all his intentions, he moved against it to feel the strength and warmth behind the hand. A gunman carried different calluses then a swordsman and Vincent's hand was like and yet not like Sephiroth's.

"Tomorrow." Vincent sounded almost conversational. "Tomorrow we'll all go out there, but this is for you, isn't it? For you and him and whatever there is between you two. The rest of the fate of the Planet is merely incidental."

Hand moving down between his shoulder blades. A barrier of cloth between fingers and skin that seemed far too thin. Vincent's voice, sliding as smoothly over the words as his hand was down Cloud's back. "This is not pity, as you say."

The hand withdrew and he found himself pressing the palms of his own hands against the window even harder, as though the sudden departure had rocked him off balance and left him reeling to stand alone. His view of the outside fogged over as his own sudden exhalation of breath clouded the glass and left everything even more murky and indistinct than before. Nothing to see but white though, nothing outside and he wasn't sure if he could turn around and see what was inside without releasing his grip and falling.

"I say it is simply wanting to touch someone while there's still time to do so. Despite or because of who they happen to be."

With his eyes shut tight to block out the grey and white, he wondered, briefly, how this whole thing would end. Eventually they would finish whatever they would do and leave; there was still a debt to be paid by both of them to the same man. And if he told Vincent anything… There were already so many people out there with parts of him that he himself didn't even know were missing. Places, names, faces--- everything lost, just like parts of his physical self could be lost and who knew how many out there had his shreds of skin and drops of blood under their nails. Some of the things he had given or thrown away carelessly before he knew better but he thought--- he knew, now anyway, that giving away anything, especially feelings, was a sure way to lose them forever. Having luck or being special was the only way to get them back and he didn't think he could manage even that.

Some nights he was sure he had forgotten where he had come from. Some nights he woke up with one arm out-flung, searching the mattress for the warmth of a body-hollow that was never there and would never be there again. What did people want from him, anyway?

The snow blew by and the absence of Vincent's touch was a palpable thing and the wind howled in the ruins of an ancient land, down and down and down from the crater and all the way from Sephiroth who might or might not be waiting for him. "I'm tired," he heard himself say, as distant and thin as if he really were outside after all.

He didn't pay attention to how they got to the bed, only knew that he somehow kept his feet the whole way and didn't give Vincent the burden of carrying him. There was a moment, though, as he leaned against the other man, forehead against shoulder--- red everywhere, a smooth curve of shoulder and fabric, red with his eyes open and red behind the closed lids of his eyes--- when his weight transferred to the crook of Vincent's arm.

It was almost too good not to be obliged to think. His boots were being pulled off and Vincent must have placed them side by side on the floor by the bed; he heard no noise of a careless dropping. It was like Vincent to take such care about small things automatically; he wondered if all Turks were like that.

Another pause and then Vincent was lying next to him; he must have been taking the time to remove his own boots as well. A hand pushed at his hip and then under, lifting a little and he nearly sat up; but Vincent achieved his goal and pulled back with the trapped edge of blanket clenched in his hand. After some tugging and more shifting and a few changes in position, they were both beneath the blankets, with himself staring at the third button down on the black shirt and Vincent's right arm performing some trifling business, tucking in a stray sheet corner, smoothing a wrinkle. Typical.

It felt strange to be in bed with all his clothes on, unfamiliar textures against the sheets and blankets. They confined him when he tried to move, the cloth of shirt and pants dragging against the sheets in the way that his bare skin and worn-thin sleeping shirt never did. But he didn't want to move much anyway, and while he wasn't warm, there was at least a slight feeling of protection and layers that would shield against… whatever, a cold that was trying to get in or out.

He kept studying that one button. The thread color was different, dark blue instead of black, and he couldn't remember any of the girls working on Vincent's clothing, so Vincent must have sewed it back on himself. He wondered where Vincent had learned to sew, and before he remembered what tomorrow would bring, briefly considered asking Vincent to show him how.

"Good enough?" Vincent asked, hand still straying over the blankets and he made a mumble that Vincent must have accepted for assent. When he pressed against Vincent, something passed over the other man's face; something like and not like a shadow that changed his normally calm expression into something like and not like the usual.

"I didn't think…" he started to mumble, but the words came awkwardly and he let them die out.

"Didn't think what?" Vincent said, settling back himself.

Firmly telling himself that it wasn't a blush or anything near to it working its way under his skin, he stared hard at the button. "That you would want to."

He had come to expect the pauses from Vincent by now. "I realized that," Vincent said dryly, "from your comment on the airship."

"I just didn't think…" He tried again. "There's nothing wrong with being detached," he finally said, not sure who he was defending. "Just because that's the way someone happens to be…You or anyone."

"'Cold-blooded bastard'," Vincent mildly translated out loud.

"I didn't mean that."

He turned his face slightly to see Vincent's mutilated arm, laying out and exposed as if it matched his other human arm. He had never seen him quite leave it this way before; often it was out of sight under the cloak even when firing his gun and when it became totally necessary to expose, he tended to maneuver it out of the way as unobtrusively as possible. Even when he let it remain, there was the impression he had to consciously withhold himself from drawing it back.

Vincent caught the gaze and the not-shadow flickered over his face again, but passed too quickly for Cloud to identify it. Exhaustion? Regret? Nothing that he could understand or make sense of. Nothing that he really wanted to make sense of.

Without knowing quite why he wanted to keep looking, he found himself mentally examining it, stroking imaginary fingers over the metal to see how cold it was, analyzing the weight and wondering how it blended into the flesh so seamlessly. Terrible piece of machinery but that didn't stop the fact that it was perfect in what it had been designed for, simple brutality able to swing forth in an instant, death coming in a blurred arc of gold.

"Can I see?" he heard himself asking and he didn't know why.

"Do you want to?" Vincent replied, and his eyes were nothing but candid. There was an absolute stillness about his body that wasn't like the relaxation of a few seconds ago, more like a stillness born of waiting, muscles tensed, about to spring into some action.

His clothing dragged against the sheets again, hard to move, hard to move at all… He tried to hold as still as Vincent was but something deep inside was starting to shake like the beginning of an avalanche, a bare tremble of something he couldn't bring himself to name because that would make it more real than he wanted to allow or admit. "If you don't want me to see it…"

"What do you want?" Vincent asked again, eyes trained intently on Cloud's own. The dark-haired man brought his claw up to face-level and laid it flat, directly next to his face; he could have turned his face and pillowed his cheek against it. Almost close enough to touch, hard not to, really. He stayed still and he could feel his heart beating and see the miniscule jump of sheets where they were pulled over his chest.

Vincent's face eclipsed his vision, he couldn't stare at the ceiling, nothing to look at but that gaze and he kept his eyes open, not daring to close them and leave himself vulnerable to whatever would come. Red eyes, like and not-like mako, like and not-like someone else… he wondered what color Vincent's eyes had been before he had been changed. The words dragged and tore at the inside of his throat as he pushed them out. "It doesn't matter."

"Cloud…" He felt a long slow exhalation against his face and Vincent was closer now, almost completely lying over him and he had never noticed the movement, caught as he was in the blankets.

When Vincent leaned down to kiss him, he turned his face to one side and squeezed his eyes shut against the offered gesture. "Don't." He had to let it out as a short, sharp word, afraid of what would come out and what would break if he loosened any more, one more ripping and he would drown in his own blood. "Don't."

Too close to him now, it was too much to think of and take in. Vincent paused but didn't pull away and after a short, thoughtful interval of silence, shifted downward. Someone would have to leave and he was afraid it would have to be himself but he didn't know if he had the strength to get up.

"I don't think," Vincent said before pressing his lips very deliberately against the line of Cloud's jaw, "that I am whoever you are seeing in your mind right now."

He opened his eyes reflexively upon hearing that but he couldn't bring himself to look Vincent in the eyes-- not too hard to avoid because Vincent had moved downward to the hollow of his throat and the fragile skin there. The words were a little more muffled but he could still hear them and feel them tremble--- or was that himself?--- when they were spoken. "And you won't tell me how you feel about it."

A hand pushing through his hair, fingers touching the point right behind and below his ear where the jaw met skull and left a vulnerable gap in one small place... "I don't know what you want to do or want me to do because you won't tell me that either."

Vincent's weight was on top of his legs and lower body, solid and warm. Strange the way he could feel the texture of wool blanket and the texture of Vincent's skin in almost the exact same area, both heated and both entirely different and provoking shivers of sensation across him. "So I will do this until I learn what you want to do or until you tell me."

The weight lessened and Vincent deliberately kept the majority of it off by bracing his arms on either side of him in something that wasn't quite an embrace but not quite a caging. He felt the soft, inquisitive touch of cold air between them now that they were no longer pressed together and the small part of him that still kept track of such things worried over whether the fingers of the claw would snag and tear the sheet. "You can leave---" More contrasts, the cool silk drag of black hair across his chest and the warmer feel of lips barely brushing a nipple. "---Or stay. I won't stop you. But either way I'll know."

One hand with splayed fingers touched his face. It burned so badly, that first handprint on that spot he had thought was frozen forever, that his eyes involuntary smarted with tears and his breath was gone, like being suddenly forced from cold air into scalding water. There was an instant of muscles revolting mutely, his chest hitching to let out breath, a scream through a silence spell, magic-gagged, materia-bound, hurt, it hurt, it hurt...

The palm fit against the curve of his own cheek and there was a thumb smoothing his lips, too many textures, too many differences to take in at once, pain and not-pain, old-pleasure and new-pleasure. Everything whirled until Vincent deliberately kissed his mouth without asking for permission and then the motion stilled and he never noticed that he had started to breath again. "And then I'll do whatever you want me to."

All right. Take it simple, take it slow. Whatever he wanted… what a strange thing to say, what a strange concept. He, Cloud. Wanting. It was easier to take things one at a time, break it down to simple words or just the sensations. If he didn't think too much about the whole process, it was easier.

Touching. Vincent was touching him, that much was clear. Touching him through partially unbuttoned, partially pushed-up clothing with one hand, and he noticed the calluses on Vincent's hand again. He wondered if Vincent's hands had needed to harden and strengthen again after he had lain asleep for so long, not touching any gun. Vincent touching him, finding all his vulnerable points, as easily as if on a battlefield.

One of Vincent's legs was between his, his knee nudging upward. Strange how intimate the contact could be, even when both areas were covered with cloth. He wasn't sure quite what to do with his hands. It felt uncomfortable to keep them passively by his sides, swaddled in blanket, but he wasn't sure where---if, maybe?--- he would be able to touch back. It made things awkward to keep them there, blocking where Vincent would normally brace himself and forcing Vincent to center his weight on his left arm for any sort of support. Vincent couldn't touch him as much that way. He wasn't sure yet what he thought about this.

When he finally wormed his arms out of the blankets, he felt cold air rush in and Vincent pressed against him in response to the involuntary shiver. Touching distance. Or lack of distance, he guessed. He wondered what would be best to touch first or the safest. He had felt the texture and particular curve of the skin around Vincent's lower ribs when helping to reset a broken bone before casting a restore spell. That kind of touch was a simpler thing. Need and giving, or something like that… He needed something now but he didn't know what. Vincent's cheekbones, which were the easiest things he could reach, had a different curve beneath his fingers.

The way Vincent suddenly raised himself upwards in a crouching position tented the blankets around them and he was the one to push closer to Vincent this time, anticipating the chill before it came. He lifted his head up before Vincent would have to lean too far, misjudging the distance so that their mouths met abruptly, a soft and awkward clash of lips and teeth and tongue, utterly unlike what he had expected.

The first time he had seen Vincent had been a little like this, full of dark strangeness and flickering shadows, and the thrilling anxiety of knowing Sephiroth was somewhere near, utterly surreal. The way his eyes had shone bloody-red in the dark, the way the inner lining of the coffin had framed his form… Not exactly a picture but more of a pattern or even a design, brilliantly clear, with no depth or perspective or ability to know what was where.

"Strange," Vincent murmured as if mirroring Cloud's thoughts, spoken words not detracting from the determined skill in his mouth working away at Cloud's own. Vincent's hand also held its own skill and was deft on the belt-buckle, finding a way past layers of fabric and closing over the whole aching length of Cloud's shaft, just as talented as it was on the triggers of Vincent's own guns.

Such different touches, like a comparison of sword-clash to gun-fire. Outside, the world was snow and ice and darkness, inside here there was darkness as well but the motion was different and there was the dampness of kisses and whispered words against his skin, like melted flurries in a warm room. He arched into the touch, hips rising off the bed. "What…?"

Vincent, over him and pressing him back into the bed, gave him an unreadable look. "You were always the one teaching us."

He blinked up at Vincent, not sure whether he should be offended or not. "So what?" he finally said, not sure of anything else he could say, and started working on getting Vincent's shirt off. Sometimes, after a battle, there would be energy left in him that he didn't know what to do with. Zack had used to tell him about Soldiers storming the brothels after missions or just grabbing hold of each other, trying to reassure themselves that they were still alive.

"You're right."

And Vincent's mouth was suddenly moving past his, working its way across the line of his cheekbone even as his hand worked away, sliding up and down and defining the particular curve and shape of what he held, as though he was trying to memorize it without looking. And Vincent's mouth was on Cloud's cheek and then his ear, biting and licking and doing something that made his hands grow progressively unsteady and his mind less able to concentrate on simple things like clothes and how to remove them. By the time Vincent moved to the side of his neck, he could do nothing more than to claw at the smooth plane of the other man's back and press his cheek into the pillow, breathing in the smell of fresh linen.

He could hear his breath in the quiet of the room, as gulping-sudden as though coming up from underwater and the sound was strange to him, like someone else was doing it. When Vincent finally got back to his mouth, he was gentler than he had been the first time, careful in the way he set his lips and very thorough.

Like a Turk, he thought suddenly, always like a Turk although he hadn't thought very much about that before. There was an almost terrible efficiency in the way Vincent touched him, instinctively honing in on the spot of attack, never breaking a rhythm. He wanted to touch Vincent back, more than ever now, but his hands wouldn't cooperate with what the rest of him wanted and his body lifted and fell and he was many different parts now, mind-hands, lips-tongue, hips-legs, and that one spot Vincent coaxed with his hand.

Outside he could hear the weather cresting. He wondered how the people in the town got used to having a constant storm. There was nothing extraordinary about it anymore for them, he supposed. The sound of the wind and chill of the air were something constant now and they would only notice them if they stopped. You never know you're freezing to death until you're dead, they said, you never know you're in pain until you can't feel the pain.

Touch. To touch. To feel the way someone else could touch you. What had always been a surrender before-- after all, what was it except meaning that someone had gotten close enough to defeat your guard, break your defense?--- was now something else. He arched upwards, back flexing, pushing blindly towards warmth and texture and the strangeness of touch.

His own pants had been pushed around his knees and he kicked and twisted a few times, trying to get free and move unconstrained, his legs tangled in blankets, his fingers tangled in long dark hair. It was wet now, dampened skin but he burned all over despite that, a climbing heat, a blaze. Vincent rocked against him and he leaned with the motion, and with the same simplicity--- so obvious in retrospect, like tinder catching or ice melting away--- he came and everything else dissolved as well.

It wasn't terribly comfortable, but he didn't notice this for a few minutes. It was enough to feel someone solid on top of him and to tentatively label the sensations of warmth and peace and then, stickiness. Vincent rolled over when he gave a short wiggle from underneath, but he kept one arm--- his left arm, Cloud noted-- draped over Cloud and after a moment, his right arm edged its way under him as well, shifting until they were both together and under the blankets again. Vincent's right hand was damp but not noticeably so; he must have wiped it against an unobtrusive part of the blanket, or maybe even the side of the mattress.

"Why?" he said, because it was the only question he knew how to ask.

Vincent's breath stirred the hair on the back of his neck. "Because I want to. And you looked like you wanted to."

He thought about this and finally just nodded. Holding someone wasn't the same as touching them, not exactly. The wind rattled at the window and he thought it was someone at the door for a moment. When he looked at the door, Vincent misread his motion and moved an arm more firmly around him, strange with warmth from the skin above his elbow and the coolness of the claw's metal. "Wait until morning," he said quietly, his eyes all too knowing. "Not yet."

He could have replied that it was closer to morning than they would have thought or that the beds weren't made for two, there would be more comfort in separation. But the heat had gotten beneath his skin and Vincent's pulse in his own and…

He stayed and Vincent stayed, tangled and warm all over, tired in a different way now.

So, now there were changes. Things to incorporate into what he already knew. He could feel an itch starting on his thigh but he would have to reach in between Vincent and himself to touch it and he wasn't sure what Vincent would take it for. They were very close together and there wasn't much space for maneuvering.

Across the room, the fire was flickering and he could smell the wood-smoke before it escaped up the chimney. Pine, he thought, and not quite seasoned enough, giving off extra smoke as it was. He saw wet black tree trunks behind his eyes, spotted with gray-green from lichen, wet black branches twined around each other like lover's fingers and standing out like shadows against the white.

Dramatic things. Like Sephiroth, dramatic without meaning to be so. Sephiroth, surrounded by the motion of flames and shadows in the basement of the mansion. Sephiroth had used candles then, too, curling one careful hand around the flame to protect against drafts so that he was reading everything literally through a glow of blood. It had felt like prayer to watch him read.

The edge of the blanket was ridged uncomfortably against his hip and he could just feel the wadded mass of his pants and boxers with his toes, kicked down to the end of the bed. His shirt was riding up his back a little bit but he couldn't pull it down. His thigh still itched.

The mattress dipped a little as he adjusted his weight and moved his arm. He carefully eased his arm out of the right sleeve and pushed the material behind him so it danged off the bed. A few more shakes of his left arm and it fell to the ground in a soft rustle.

He pulled the blanket back up before gooseflesh could rise up. Vincent made a wordless noise when Cloud bumped him with his knee accidentally and he nodded his head in the dark in apology. He considered trying to steal more of the pillow from Vincent but decided against it. The fire threw black ripples of shadows against the wall like dark water and he slid into them, down and down and down.

He must have slept because when he opened his eyes again, the fire had died down to only a few blinking coals, but he didn't remember dreaming and he felt wide-awake. It seemed like only a few moments had passed but the quality of the dark in the room seemed different somehow, deeper against a thinner moonlight, sharper in the thrown outlines. The window formed a cross of shadow lying across the coverlet and he closed his mind against omens.

Vincent's face was the next thing he looked at, the smoothness of his brow and the way his face stayed composed and self-contained, even in sleep. The skin on his body was pale all over and not skew-streaked with a tan. Moonlight fell full across his face, bleaching-silver like lye and left no shadows on his body.

Someone else had been as pale as this but with blue-tinted hollows where the shadows from a past night had fallen. Everyone was supposed to look younger or like their child-selves when they were asleep but Sephiroth had looked like…Sephiroth. Sephiroth always was the General, awake or asleep. He had realized this the one night he had lain awake at Nibelheim, too worried to sleep, and had looked over at the other bed to see Sephiroth with one arm flung in front of his face and a silver drift of hair spilling no the pillow. It was the same for Vincent; everyone was always the same, just another fancy-myth for insomniac lovers.

The word tasted odd in his mouth. Lovers. If that was what they were, with Vincent sleeping there quietly with whatever dreams he had behind his eyes, and himself unable to sleep. Somehow, they had mostly twisted free of each other. Not surprising, he guessed, it had been a long time since either of them had spent a full night with anyone in one bed; Sephiroth hadn't usually been patient in that regard. God only knew how long it had been for Vincent; he wondered if sleeping in a real bed was strange for Vincent after so long otherwise.

The moonlight made the wall silver instead of white and he suddenly felt pressed by sadness, something not as deep as the knowledge of life soon to end--- he had been used to that for a long time now--- but something simple, something that based itself in calendar pages and memories so old and untouched that they seemed crusted over. Sadness, he supposed, for five years ago in Zack's apartment, sadness for one month ago in another inn with silver hair on a pillow, longing for all the times that were beyond him now. Just a few inches between he and Vincent on the sheets and it felt like miles, just a few hours between one event and another and it felt like years. He might as well be outside.

…He might as well be outside anyway, for the way the room had gotten cold again. There could be comfort enough in the bed if he held perfectly still and wrapped closer around the other man, but no matter which way he turned his head, there was always something exposed to the chill--- ears, nose, the vulnerable nape of neck. He sought warm places on his own body, tucking his hands where he could and thought that maybe that if he kept his mind blank and held himself motionless, he might return to sleep and hold onto the offered palliative of before just a little longer…

Sleep didn't want to bend to his will and he felt unpleasantly sticky on the one place of his body where he could find heat. He muddled his way out of the fragile warmth in the bed and limped over to the fire; one of his legs was asleep from being pinned under Vincent's own and the tingling buzz of blood returning to the deadened limb was just beginning. Just a few coals were still alive in their blanket of ash, blinking like drowsy eyes but still able to be pulled back from the edge when he blew on them quietly, not wanting to equip a materia and risk waking Vincent with even a simple spell.

The problem was, there were too many things that he ought to think of, too many things to try and remember before everything was gone. Maybe so, but no matter what they all said, he didn't know where they would go from here; or he knew it too well.

Sephiroth would be pleased. Sephiroth would have said remember now-- a memory once suppressed or replaced could store up trouble for the future, ne? Ne?

Well, too fucking bad. Refusing to think at all, whether about the past or anything was the only way he could hold onto himself right now and anyway, what future?

For the first time, he wondered who had been in Vincent's mind when they coupled and he was afraid. Vincent had said it was about wanting to touch somebody. Looking over at the dark-haired man on the bed, he tentatively ran the softness of Vincent's voice and the strange care of his hands through his own mind, fearful of what they might have been. A trade was one thing, ends fulfilled and everything balanced; a gift was something else entirely. A gift made you think about the future but he didn't know if he had one of those to come.

His handprints had disappeared from the window and vines of frost had grown all the way up the panes, opening silver-fragile petals and leaves to the moon above. "It's cold out," Vincent said from behind him. He hadn't heard Vincent wake up but he wasn't surprised by this.

He turned around and Vincent was still in the bed, propped up on his right arm. Despite his previously spoken words, he noticed Vincent made no move towards the blankets that had fallen below his waist.

Vincent's shirt had ridden up and become untucked from his pants and he tried not to look too closely at the delta of pale skin he could see in between the hem of shirt and waistband of pants. "Do you think…"

Not just that little swath of skin either; there was the barest hint of a hipbone edging out and Vincent must have unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled up his sleeves at some point, both arms. Casual in a way he hadn't thought to see Vincent, he guessed, one more surprise. He had thought that nothing could surprise him anymore, that while drifting somewhere in the Lifestream he had mislaid the capacity to be surprised, but so far the entire night had been a constant stream of surprises.

He shouldn't have left the bed, he knew that now. But he was afraid that he shouldn't have gotten into it in the first place and that somehow having done so had left some mark on him that someone else would see and be angry for. "Do you think he…?"

The words stuttered on their way out, questions that he caught between his teeth as they stumbled over. Do you think it's as cold up there or colder? Do you think he knows? Do you think he cares? Do you think he remembers anything? Do you think he remembers me? Unfair questions but they tried to shake their way out of him and he wondered, briefly, if he had been dreaming and if this whole thing was real or not or if anything had been real. "It's going to be hard getting there, the storm picked up, the Highwind should handle it though… Do you think that maybe…?"

He stopped, feeling tired and stupid. Outside, most of the windows of the other buildings had gone dark. He looked down at the windowsill; there were traces of where old wax drippings had been scraped away, small circular marks on the wood.

Vincent nodded and studied him, eyes the same color as the dying coals in the hearth. "It's cold out," he finally said again, "Will you come back to bed?"

"Oh." Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the fire was gone and he was momentarily confused. "Yes. All right."

Vincent rolled over to make room, flashing more bare skin through the dragging hang on his half-unbuttoned shirt. He hadn't done a very good job on those buttons, he realized, as he slid in next to Vincent. His hands itched and the touch he decided on was careful at first, noncommittal until he realized he was undoing the remaining six buttons

It took very little time to finish but he let his fingers linger, stroking curiously over pale skin, mapping lightly flushed trails as the blood rose and subsided under his careful press and release. Vincent watched him the entire time from under half-closed lids and when he cupped one hand carefully over Vincent's heart, there was something approving in that heavy, quiet gaze.

Something about the pulse beat reminded him of the liquid rushing roar of mako, falling endlessly in a sea of green and never knowing, never caring when he would hit the bottom, drugged by the all-encompassing presence around him. He wondered how cold his hands must seem to Vincent, he couldn't really judge with one hand buried deep in a fistful of sheet and the other lying flat against skin, two different mediums.

Now that he had Vincent's shirt off, the contrast where claw became arm was much more startling. Vincent followed his gaze and the quality of his stillness changed.

"Does it hurt?" he asked.

"No," Vincent said but his eyes shifted further to the left, past the claw, as if contemplating a meaning in the pattern of cracks across the wall.

He lifted his hand from Vincent's chest and touched the metal surface, rubbing away a small smudge and drawing the other man's gaze back. "Really?" he asked, with genuine curiosity.

Vincent shifted in not-quite a shrug. "I've forgotten how it feels."

He thought that it must take a long time for someone to forget something as commonplace and simple as using a limb. Or maybe that was why, maybe that was how someone could forget, when it was so ordinary.

Instead of answering, he rolled off and to the side, propping himself up on one elbow. With his right hand, he lightly started to stroke the place where metal met flesh with one fingertip. The claw widened out in a cuff to attach to the elbow and narrowed again, overlapping the skin and clamping over like a vise. There was barely any room to fit a even fingernail between the metal and skin. He traced all the way around, following the circumference of the fitted metal, first running a fingernail, then a fingertip, then the side of his hand, all three feeling different.

He tried the heel of his hand, moving it all the way from the top of the claw to the curve of Vincent's shoulder. The feel of the bicep was the most pronounced and he moved the heel of his hand over it again in small circles, tracing the line and then back to where the claw began. The muscles of Vincent's arm had tensed under his touch but Vincent himself had not moved. He could feel the slight shivering of them better when he laid his cheek against the crook of Vincent's elbow, half metal and half skin against his face, and tapped his fingernail against the metal to hear the sound of it.

Still no response, and he kissed the place where the knob of bone made the outer joint of elbow and met metal. It didn't really taste of anything, cool, clean neutrality with maybe a passing suggestion of soap or salt. The metal ridge was cold against his lips and tasted the way he expected metal to taste, not an unpleasant tang but not something good either. He found that the skin on the upper part of the inner crook of the elbow was softer than the skin anywhere else on Vincent's arm.

When he looked up, Vincent's mouth was set in a thin line, as though in pain or anger but not quite the same. "You shouldn't. Forget, I mean," he added when no answer seemed to be forthcoming. "I would know."

He had meant it to be a simple statement, but the truth of it still hurt him on the way out, like bumping an old bruise. With no answer received yet, he thought about stopping, decided he didn't want to, and shrugged, more for Vincent's benefit. The palm of the claw was a shallower curve than a normal hand. He raised it to his face this time instead of lowering himself back down, and tested to see if his cheek fit in the bowl of the hollow. It did.

The metal fingers of the claw flexed individually, one by one, as though Vincent was unsure of how to use them. Cloud touched the index finger and the neat seam of the joint, gently pressed to see how it bent. He wondered how good of a shot Vincent must have been as a Turk to be able to adjust so rapidly. "Do you hate it?"

Vincent's right hand touched Cloud's hair and rubbed a strand between the fingers, the gentleness of the gesture at odds with the stark reply. "Yes."

"Do you hate this?" He reached up to Vincent's hand and couldn't get his fingers to meet when encircling Vincent's wrist. There was about a quarter-inch of space between thumb and forefinger. He measured the span of length from wrist to elbow, palm to wrist, his own fingers against Vincent's. Vincent's right hand had long fingers and short, blunt-cut nails. Tidy. He wondered how Vincent trimmed his nails that neatly, or at all. "Why do you let me? Do you trust me?"

The pulse was a flutter of life against his lips. Vincent made no reply.

"I trust you, Vincent," he said. There was no answer. "I trust you." His own unspoken words and Vincent's hovered in the air between them. Had he ever said it to Sephiroth? By all likelihood no, but it was strange the things that came out while in bed. It was strange, this sudden wanting to be kind. Vincent had done the same for him but it wasn't coming out right.

Carefully, not unkindly, Vincent pulled his right hand free and started to stroke Cloud's hair again. "That's good." He sounded very quiet, not disappointed, but quiet. "I don't trust you, Cloud." His fingers brushed to the end of one of the strands in his grip and then returned to the scalp, still very gentle. "I don't trust anyone."

He looked up and Vincent was looking back at him. He stared back, studying the way Vincent's eyes were darker without the fire to reflect on them, only a low red glint beneath the lids. It came to him with an odd sort of incredulity that he didn't know Vincent, didn't know him at all, despite what they had done so far. Because of what they had done so far?

The stroking in his hair felt good. He knew Vincent's arm, every inch of it, better than any other part of the other man's body. He knew Vincent's other arm; he could close his eyes and reconstruct every piece of the claw from his memory.

He didn't think about it; he only held the gaze for a few more seconds before pulling away and sliding down the bed. Vincent's pants were already unbuttoned. He pulled them down over the other man's hips, past his thighs, past his knees, all the way off and very carefully to avoid wrinkling them. He expected a brief shiver and didn't get it; Vincent drew his legs up slightly and then spread them apart, giving him a level look.

An invitation if he ever saw one. He knelt in the space created and touched curiously, then lowered his head. Vincent took one long slow breath, maybe at the change in temperature. Taking Vincent into his mouth felt like prayer of a different sort, as he slid as close as he could. On his knees, anyway.

He didn't want a comparison but his mind found small things to notice anyway. Salt and something like almonds on his tongue, bitter but not sour taste, the smooth skin of Vincent's inner thigh. Vincent's hand threaded through his hair and guided his head in a different way than Sephiroth; of course, it would be like that. Sephiroth used to take his gloves off and the feel and sight of his bare fingers had been strange, like the awed expectation of a blessing and receiving something else. Sephiroth had beautiful hands, long and pale beneath the dark leather, careful and economical in every gesture but full of grace, not too much movement or too little. Vincent's remaining hand was like that. He knew Vincent's hand better than Sephiroth's but it was Sephiroth's hands that had touched him most often.

Sephiroth used to touch him with that same grace, working over his body as though he was just another battlefield to be surveyed, explored, taken, always taken, always looking for the conquest. He had always found victory and Cloud hadn't thought he had ever really stood a chance anyway. He thought, maybe, he hadn't wanted to, either.

Want. Wanting. He had already thought about that earlier. Such a casual word, as though the things he could want were nothing more than something as easily offered as a restoring spell in the middle of battle. He wanted to touch himself at the same time, ground himself with the familiarity of his own body (but it isn't yours, not really, something said in his mind but it was something he could brush aside) but he thought he might lose his balance or disrupt the rocking of the hips beneath his hands. At times, the human body seemed very poorly designed.

Vincent made a low, inarticulate sound of pleasure and it was almost a shock, after the long concentration on only motion and not sound. He waited for the upwards thrust further into his mouth, already trying to prepare his throat muscles and gag reflex for the deepening nudge but it didn't come. Vincent and patience; Vincent must have known about patience. Sephiroth knew about patience but could move quickly anyway.

A memory overlapped his hand for a moment, making him reach blindly for a tube that wasn't there, wedged between mattress and wall. His hand closed on nothing but the blanket and he shut his eyes to try and dispel the sensation of a different place. He wasn't sure why he had remembered now of all times; Zack was dead and Sephiroth had always been terribly quick to hone in, almost never making him wait unless he wanted to play. The pain was brief and after a while, he had learned what he could do to make it better; after a while, there had been so much on his mind that mere sexual hurt seemed an insignificant thing. It didn't always hurt him; Sephiroth knew enough to make it good, maybe even had cared enough. It was hard to imagine Sephiroth not being skilled at whatever he chose to do.

He pulled away and Vincent was already reaching lower, releasing the grip on Cloud's head so Vincent could touch himself and finish. But he caught Vincent's hand before it could reach, sucking one finger into his mouth and then releasing it and focusing on Vincent's mouth.

"You can," he tried to say through a closed throat with a thick voice. "It's all right. If you want to." His lips felt clumsy and too sensitive and the murmur Vincent made might've been agreement before it was kissed away.

He lay down. The space on the bed between Vincent's legs was warm from where he had been kneeling, the wool of blanket was scratchy against his back. The shivery places along the line of his spine felt safe that way, protected and covered. When Vincent leaned over him, kneeling as he had been doing until just a moment ago, he drew one leg up almost to his chest and lifted the other to hook over Vincent's shoulder. And waited.

Vincent got off the bed and left him there, stepping carefully around the clothes tossed on the ground and walked over to the corner of the room where the dark bulk of the packs were heaped. He stared up at the ceiling and listened to Vincent sifting through and setting things aside decisively.

When Vincent's weight settled on the bed again, he heard the quiet clicks of a jar being unscrewed. He smelled something thin and sharp, and suddenly remembered Vincent sitting by the campfires each night, patiently disassembling, cleaning, oiling, and reassembling each and every gun he carried.

A mouth suddenly found his own in the dark, warm and demanding. It attacked his mouth, slid over his cheek, teased and did things to his ear that made to hard to think. "You trust me," Vincent said into his ear, just a hint of raggedness and heavy breathing in his voice. "You trust me," and he felt warm all over and not just from the press of another body against his.

"Yeah," he replied, and the affirmative turned into a sharp gasp when he felt a familiar nudge between his legs and a wet, smooth touch seeking entrance, squirming and slick or was that himself moving?

Vincent's grip, warm on the left side of his hip and cold on the right, both steady. He smelled copper and cloves, felt a drop of something wet run down his thigh, felt Vincent move his hand away, shift to find the right angle and then Vincent was pushing his way inside, deep and hard in one long thrust. It made him hiss and bite down hard on his lip, cold to hot, a jolt of pain but it was real. He felt. He felt.

Vincent didn't stop; his thrusts were as unhurried and deliberate as his previous motions. When Vincent leaned over him to kiss, he dug his nails into the back of the other man's neck, got nipped on the lower lip, and then got a quick lave of tongue over the same spot in consolation.

He lifted himself into it, trying to meet the thrusts and find a rhythm for them to move in tandem to. It still hurt. But the part of him that was greedy for feeling, sensation, anything beside the cold protection he had been holding--- that part of him wanted it anyway, held it close and demanded more.

They were moving both together and apart, Vincent going a little faster now, just a little; they would bring their bodies together and then fall out of rhythm, trading kisses and blind touches and leaving dignity behind. He had never seen Vincent without his hair held back before.

This was warmth, this was energy, this was life. He wondered how he could have forgotten so easily. Maybe it had simply hurt too much to remember what it was like to really feel. But he had forgotten more important things than that. Had he? It didn't bear thinking about in what he wanted right then.

There was another shift in thrust and the counter push, Vincent's grip tightening and his movements becoming erratic. The press of his chest against Cloud's own was damp with sweat and effort as he lifted, returned, and then pulled away entirely as he withdrew and tried to force their tangle of limbs into some other position. "Move." The word was almost lost in the quick, hard dart of his mouth against Cloud's own.

He glared and kissed back, daring the other man to force him away from the hollow in the bed. His back was finally comfortable. Vincent's eyes narrowed and the tangle got, if possible, worse. "Turn over," Vincent hissed. "It isn't working."

He almost said something about the fucking efficiency of Turks and the fucking efficiency of Turks and even got as far as another good mako-glare before Vincent's mouth and hand descended on him with a honed intent, wearing a smile like a blade. "You trust me."

"I trust you," he replied heatedly and bit Vincent's collarbone. He grudgingly scrambled over onto his stomach but not before getting bitten back on the shoulder. Vincent's body blanketed his back, warm again, bracing arms alongside his own in a cage. A tongue prodded the bite on his shoulder and nuzzled his neck; he almost turned around again to reach anyway but Vincent drove himself back in.

He pushed back, instinctively catching the rhythm (push back, someone told him once, push back and it'll feel different. Go on, try. Who told him that? Zack?) and stared down at the blanket. He focused on his own hands with their pale fingers played out against the dark blue wool of the coverlet. He wished he could look at Vincent's face; he wished he could turn around and touch everywhere but that meant Vincent would have to stop doing whatever it was that was that was making him melt all over. More awkwardness of body-design. Frustrating.

Somehow, the tightness and edge of pain was slipping into something else entirely, so gradually that the shift was there before he knew it. And oh, this was good, this was Vincent going slow and smooth and full of intent, this was his arms giving out and letting him rest his forehead on the blanket, this was them together, Vincent over him and in him and a different protection, this was, of all things, right. It didn't matter what he had forgotten; he was learning again.

Vincent's right hand reached for him again. As he turned his face sideways on the blanket to breathe, he touched himself as well, fingers twining unashamed with Vincent's as he stroked and stoked and coaxed until it wasn't just warmth anymore, it was a blaze. He clenched his teeth and refused to make a sound, tightened his hands around Vincent's as the world flared. Vincent still with him, following him down. Hot and cold, skin and metal, clenching and burning, touching holding coming coming coming.

Vincent's movement against him was something he only noticed distantly, change in tempo and then relaxation. When Vincent came a few moments later, he said Cloud's name quietly and almost reflectively, as though considering the taste it left in his mouth.

He could feel the brush of Vincent's hair on his back, a forehead resting where neck met shoulder. The bed had rocked beneath them. He wondered who was next door and if they were awake and if he was going to get any funny looks when he checked out. He didn't even remember which rooms the others were staying in, let alone if they had come back to them last night. If it really was their last night before… well, before everything, it wouldn't be an unreasonable assumption.

What did you do, anyway, after everything was over? What had he used to do with Zack? Whenever Sephiroth was done, he left, and he remembered that he wasn't always conscious for it. If they were supposed to talk about feelings, God help him.

Vincent was trying to find a more comfortable position and coolly forcing him to move over. He pushed Vincent back, and kicked at the sheets until they were moved down far enough to slip under. He noted the wet patch on the top blanket and groped about for something to blot it with. All that he could reach without getting out of bed were the clothes and those were out. His bare toes curled in reluctant anticipation of the floor and he wondered if wool blankets absorbed semen to a great extent.

He didn't know he was going to speak until he did. "If I'm going to do it, you should too."

"Going to do what?" Vincent eyed the remaining coat of oil on his hand with distaste.

"Do… you know. Do that." He was having a hard time looking Vincent in the eye and settled for staring at his collarbones, particularly the patch of skin that still held the marks of his own teeth.

"Trust you?" Vincent asked, eyebrows knitting together, and for a moment, he thought everything was ruined.

"No," he replied, trying to make order of the sheets. He finally settled for dumping the soiled top blanket on the floor and letting the cleaning staff make what they would of it. "Wait. Just wait." Somehow, Vincent's leather glove for his right hand had fallen down to the foot of the bed and he kicked it away as well. "Okay? Just wait."

Vincent looked at him, expressionless. He wondered if Vincent could also feel a difference between words unspoken because of not knowing what to say and words unspoken because of how damaging hope could be before a final battle. Wait. Wait for this to be over. Wait for me. I'm coming.

He pushed closer to Vincent to make up for the lost blanket, figuring out how to fit best against the hollow of armpit. "It's like trusting, sort of."

The dark-haired man pushed a pillow back against the headboard. "Waiting," Vincent said, settling back in the remaining blankets and pulling over more than his fair share, "is what I do best."

He appropriated Vincent's shoulder and chest for his own pillow, firm muscle underneath his head. "Yeah, I know." The metal of the arm warmed against his skin. "I know."

Outside, the snow was drifting more quietly and he thought the wind had changed direction. The crater would probably be a great expanse of darkness and wind and ice crystals. Sleep came easily.