Breath of Life, Part II

"I love you," Cid whispered then.

But as I smiled back at him, the first inkling of something huge dawned on me. Like a tiny black crack in an otherwise flawless porcelain vase.

I stared at the space in-between us, as the crack slowly got larger, and the inkling grew into a thought.

Along with Sephiroth and Meteor... Jenova had been destroyed.

And the Jenova cells that had been planted into people... couldn't survive without the mother organism...

So what would happen to the ones whom Jenova cells were keeping alive..?

Like me....?

I looked into Cid's eyes. The thought hadn't occurred to him.

"Vin... we got our happy ending after all, didn't we?" He asked gently, sliding a hand down my face softly.    

Horror struck me.

Why had I never realised this before? I'd felt so weak after we'd fought for the last time in the crater, but I figured it was just fatigue... was I really going to...?

"Vin, what's wrong?" Cid asked, smiling at me.

I looked into his eyes, and I think he saw the dread in them.

"...Vin..?"

My poor love, I thought... How am I going to tell you this...?

~~~~~~~

"Vincent, just tell me what's going on! What are you talking about?! Tell me for @#$%'s sake!"

Vincent looked into Cid's eyes and saw the fear. Did he know?

He didn't know for sure what it was.

But when Cid looked into Vincent's eyes there was something... something...

Cid froze.

No!

Vincent lowered his eyes. "It was bound to happen."

No!

Cid couldn't move a muscle.

Vincent continued, his head hanging almost sadly, he couldn't look Cid in the eyes. "Jenova is destroyed. Her cells were keeping me alive. I probably don't have long."

"NO!!" Cid shouted, and grabbed Vincent by the shoulders, making the dark haired man stare back into the pilot's eyes. "That's @#$%ing bullshit! It's BULLSHIT!!"

Vincent shook his head slowly, looking into Cid's eyes, that were close to shedding tears. But Cid was acting angrily, it was the way he reacted to things. It wasn't really what he felt inside, and Vincent just let Cid shake him and swear and scream at him until he quietened down.

"...no..." Cid ended, his voice almost trembling. "It... it can't be true, Vin. We stopped the evil @#$%ers for god's sake! It.. can't happen... You can't leave me, not now..." Cid slid slowly to his knees, his hands still clutching loosely at Vincent's clothing, and began to shake with silent sobs.

Vincent's face was a mask of pain as he looked down with compassion at the man kneeling at his feet.

This was the first time he had ever seen Cid this devastated...

He gathered Cid's head to his body and cradled it to him, silently comforting as Cid's tears at last broke free and ran down his soot-smeared face.

"I had considered not telling him... just taking off when the time came for me to go... then maybe he'd be angry with me and hate me. Better that than him having to watch me deteriorate and eventually...

But it wouldn't be right. He couldn't hate me, I know. He'd at least know that I love him if I stay. I couldn't lie to him..."

...................................

"It's been a while since we all got off the Highwind. Midgar was in a very bad state, and people have begun to start some semblance of order, and rebuild their homes. Barret, Tifa and Cloud have gone back to help. Cait Sith... I don't know what happened to Reeve. Perhaps he was one of the casualties of the Meteor before the Lifestream came. I can't remember seeing Cait Sith in the commotion. Yuffie went home to her father in Wutai. That place is so far away from all the trouble. They're lucky there...

Red XIII assumedly returned to his home in Cosmo Canyon to take care of the duties left him since Bugenhagen returned to the Planet.

As for Cid and I...

He at first insisted that we go immediately to Nibelheim, to the laboratory...

He wanted to find a way to preserve my life as Hojo did once. Of course, there was no more Jenova to take cells from anymore, so he couldn't even if I'd let him. I told him firmly that Hojo's acts were not done out of love, they were done out of hate and cruelty.

I couldn't seem to explain to my poor love that I...

...I would rather die than be trapped inside this body. I hadn't been able to die before, and now I was finally going to be free...

He became angry with me. He wouldn't talk to me for hours, as we made our way to rocket town.

Even as we arrived in the house, he stormed into the kitchen and sat on his chair, slamming his boots onto the table.

I couldn't help but smile, in spite of myself. This was just like when I saw him for the very first time. Do you remember me telling you? I laid my hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it off, ignoring me.

It hurt. I knew he didn't mean it, but...

Shera walked in.

"Captain! You're home! And Vincent!" She smiled at us and hurried over, asking all sorts of questions, if we were all right and that she had heard all about the incidents at Midgar on the news. It had taken us a couple of days to get to rocket town, after all.

"Shut the @#$% up, Shera!" Cid snapped at her, stopping her dead, the smile freezing on her face.

"I'm sorry!" She muttered. "I'll make some tea, shall I?" She quietly went over to the side to prepare tea.

"Yeah, you better make the @#$%in' tea, you lazy piece of shit!" He barked.

I looked over at her and saw her shoulders trembling. I went over purposefully and took the kettle gently from her hands and proceeded to make tea myself. I knew it was making Cid angry but I didn't care.

He didn't say one word to me still, not even to shout. I heard Shera run upstairs.

There must have been silence for twenty minutes, as the two of us sat at the table. The atmosphere was like lead. Just like the first time... it was so strange... I almost expected to see Cloud's familiar face if I should turn to my left.

"I'm calling up the doctor from Mideel." Cid said shortly, after what seemed an age. It wasn't merely a statement, it was a statement with a threat behind it if it was disagreed with.

"There's no point, Cid." I murmured, nursing my cup.

He suddenly smashed his gloved fist hard upon the table, almost knocking over his cup. "I thought you'd gotten out of that kinda state of mind! There's always hope! Always!!" He shouted. With that, he stood up and went to the phone.

He rang the doctor in Mideel. Of course, he was a specialist doctor that dealt with rare and fatal conditions - he had cared for Cloud while he had severe Mako poisoning. I listened to the conversation.

I picked up from what I heard that the doctor must have been reluctant to come all this way, but this was Cid Highwind he was talking to. The man had never heard of the word "no".

The doctor was due to arrive in four days. I stayed downstairs when Cid hung up the phone and stormed up to his room.

I sat in silence for a few minutes, unsure of what to do or say. What could you say to a man with such heartbreakingly hopeless determination? I couldn't bear it. I had to at least make peace with him.

As I climbed the stairs slowly and put my hand to the door handle, I expected a barrage of shouts, insults, maybe even projectiles such as boots being hurled at me.

He was crying.

He was sitting on his little single bed with his knees curled up and his head buried, weeping freely.

I couldn't bear it. I rushed over and sat next to him, holding him tight, rocking with him.

"Vin, look, I swear - you'll be fine. I - I called the doc from Mideel, he'll be here soon. I'm telling ya, there's not a @#$%ing thing in the world that he can't cure."

He can't cure death, I thought...

"Cid." I took his face between my hands and looked deep into his red, teary eyes. This was horrible. "Cid, whatever happens, I love you. Nothing will ever change that. Understand?"

Cid's face crumpled even further, tears running down his face and he shook his head. "Don't, don't talk like that! I can't @#$%ing stand it! I just can't! I just can't..." He sobbed and his face fell forward onto my chest. I kissed his hair and held him, not knowing what else to do.

I woke the next morning curled up with Cid, we'd fallen asleep as I held him that night. I carefully untangled myself and sat up, looking at his peaceful sleeping face. I wished that he could wake up and find it was all a dream. He'd think it was, at first... a nasty dream that he would wake up from into my arms.

But it wasn't. I felt strange... light-headed, nauseous...

I got up from the bed and my head was spinning. I was going to be sick... I hastened to the bathroom and heaved over the toilet, but I wasn't expecting what I saw.

Blood... I was vomiting blood. I wretched and brought up a second lot, before going back into the bedroom. My head was whirling. I held my hand to my temple and shakily sat down upon a chair."

######

Cid opened his eyes slowly, still encased in the blissful ignorance of sleep. As his sight blearily focused and his mind came to, he made out the shape of Vincent sitting on a chair at the far end of the room, holding his head. Cid groggily wondered what he was doing, then the reality of wakefulness rushed in on him and he remembered everything, like a kick to the stomach. He sat up immediately, and Vincent raised his head to meet Cid's gaze, smiling as best he could.

"Ah, you're awake. I was wondering when you'd wake up. What would you like for breakfast?" He stood up and made for the door, a little less than effortlessly.

Cid caught his arm as he went to pass him and stared almost accusingly up at Vincent. Vincent met his gaze with an expression of near guilt.

"Vin... are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine."

"Why is there blood on your lips?"

Vincent froze and touched his lips, looking at the dark red stain on them when he pulled them back again. "Nothing. Like I said, I'm fine. Let's go downstairs." He went to leave again but Cid tightened his grip on Vincent's arm.

"Vin, you @#$%ing TELL me if there's anything wrong! No secrets, we promised! Don't you remember?"

Vincent closed his eyes. He did remember... "I... vomited a little blood this morning. But don't worry," He added quickly as Cid jumped up with an exclamation. "I'm fine."

"Don't @#$%ing worry?! You say you're vomiting blood and you tell me not to worry?!? The hell with that!! Why can't that @#$%ing doctor get here sooner..." Cid yelled and went across the room, pulling on his goggles.

"What are you doing?" Vincent asked.

"I'm @#$%ing taking you there my @#$%ing self! Come on!" He commanded, taking the taller man's arm and pulling him along as they went downstairs and straight out of the door. Cid had hardly been awake for a few moments and he was going to fly the Highwind.

"Come on! The quicker we get you there, the quicker we can get you fixed up!"

###

I hung my head as I let myself be pulled onboard into the cockpit. The quicker to get me fixed up...? Perhaps we should go... but rather because it will be the quicker he realises it's no use. It felt so wrong to be trying to take away his hope, especially after he had given me mine... he had breathed life into me and now I was drawing it out of him as mine was extinguished. Love is much more cruel than hate. Hate is blunt, brief. Instant. Love kills you slowly after showing you pure happiness then wrenching it away...

###

The Highwind landed just outside Mideel, and the two disembarked, making their way into the village proper. The clinic had been rebuilt in the three weeks they had last seen it, although not yet finished completely.

Silently, the two entered the small building and the doctor immediately recognised them. "Hello! Why I recognise you. You're the ones who came to visit young Mr Strife when he had Mako Poisoning."

"Yeah, that's us." Said Cid, waving his hand dismissively. "Look Doc, we couldn't wait for you to come to Rocket Town, this is urgent!"

"I see," Said the doctor, taking off his glasses for a moment to polish them with a cloth from his pocket before putting them back on. "That's understandable, I realise that this is an urgent case. Would you care to explain the situation in more detail?"

Cid nodded. "This is Vin..." He gestured to Vincent, who was standing somewhat apart from them, looking at the floor and his face looked pained. "I told you last night that he's sick, and this morning he brought up blood."

The doctor looked at him. "I gathered from what you said on the telephone that he'd been reanimated with Jenova cells in the past, when he'd been... well, anyway. The Jenova inside him shouldn't ..." The doctor stopped, was silent for a moment, then took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I see."

Cid was looking intently into the doctor's face, still clinging onto his hope. "Well? What are you gonna do for him?"

The doctor put his glasses back again. "Well, I shall have to examine him first. I'll need to carry out a few tests. Is that all right?"

"Sure it is! Just do whatever you gotta do, doc!"

Vincent hung behind still, noting that no one asked his permission to do tests on him. He hated the thought of being tested on. Just like that time in the laboratory in the Shinra Mansion...

 "Mr Valentine? Would you care to come behind the screen?" The doctor pushed aside a green screen and motioned for Vincent to come.

Cid looked at Vincent and nodded once at him, begging him with his eyes to go along with it.

Vincent sighed and nodded quietly, brushing Cid's hand with his own as he made his way over to the chair behind the screen.

Cid waited outside the clinic, on the step. He went through half a packet of cigarettes as he waited for the tests to finish. He was going out of his head waiting for the doctor to come out, and his mind was running over all sorts of things, the worry was too much.

Eventually the doctor emerged. Cid stood up. "Well? What's goin' on?" He demanded.

The doctor laid a hand on Cid's shoulder. "Please, Mr Highwind. Calm down. I conducted a blood test and a blood pressure test, the blood test results wont be in till tomorrow, I have to analyse it in the lab."

Cid grabbed at his hair. "@#$%ing TOMORROW?! I've been going out of my mind just waiting fifteen minutes!"

The doctor sighed, exasperated. "Please understand, analysing a blood sample is not a simple process, nor is it something that can be done quickly. I must wait until after surgery hours or it would not be fair on my other patients. I can however, tell you about the blood pressure test. Would you come inside and take a seat?"

Cid swore under his breath and they went back inside, to see Vincent sitting back in the main part of the surgery, clasping a cloth to the crook of his arm from the blood test. He looked up at Cid and smiled faintly. Cid sat down near him and looked at the doctor expectantly. "Well?"

The doctor sat down too. "Well, according to the blood pressure test, Mr Valentine's blood pressure is very low... I would say abnormally low. I haven't seen any as low as the count I just made."

Cid leaned forward in his chair. "Could it be a mistake? You sure the @#$%ing thing's working properly?"

"I'm afraid so, Mr Highwind. The apparatus is not digitalised like much equipment today. The pump blows up the band, which tightens around the patient's arm so much that it reads the pulse and affects the dial here," The doctor showed Cid the apparatus. "Which tells us the patient's blood pressure. It is a virtually dead accurate reading."

Cid struggled with his voice for a moment, shaking his head. "But, what do you mean, "abnormal"? I thought that high blood pressure was bad, not low!"

"Both high and low blood pressure are bad in different ways, Mr Highwind. Abnormally high blood pressure ( hypertension ) may be associated with various conditions or arise with no obvious cause;  abnormally low blood pressure (hypotension) occurs in  shock  and after excessive fluid or blood loss from any cause."

"Shock? I thought shock would cause high blood pressure!" Cid said.

"No, Mr Highwind you don't understand. In medicine, shock is circulatory failure marked by a sudden fall of blood pressure and resulting in pallor, fast (but weak) pulse, and sometimes complete collapse. Causes include disease, injury, and psychological trauma. The weak pulse gives the low blood pressure reading."

"Oh..." Cid looked at Vincent. Vincent was always pale, so it was hard to say if that was a symptom... but his pulse was quite weak according to the test.

The doctor stood up. "Well, I suggest that you stay in Mideel for the night, and I shall give you the blood test results first thing tomorrow."

####

The day we waited was agony. Agony for Cid because he was so worried about me, and agony for me to see him like that. I tried to take his mind off it, by talking to him about other things as we spent the day in the peaceful hot springs town. We took a look around, seeing how the repairs were going. The people of Mideel were made of hardy stuff.

I know that Cid was making an effort to be normal, even under all his worries and fears... He must have wondered why I wasn't worried too. But I wasn't worried, I was certain. I knew that no matter the result of the blood test, or anything that the doctor would try to do for me wouldn't work.

I had felt myself weaken slowly ever since Holy emerged from the North Crater. I still felt a little ill from that morning, although the nausea had gone.

I admit that I felt a little frightened at the prospect of getting worse, deteriorating right before Cid's eyes... I would have preferred it to be quick. But it would be an end, whichever way. Finally, freedom from this body...

I looked at Cid as we sat in our room in the newly built inn. But what about him...

I had been thinking of my end as an escape from this life that went so badly wrong, the grateful end to a tragic tale...

But what about Cid?

He would be alone... I would leave him alone, abandoning him to his grief. It would be a sin.

But it was unavoidable now.

I only hoped that he would forgive me.