Disclaimer: I don't own SquareEnix or any of their Squaresoft characters. I don't own Advent Children, or else I would be rich. I don't own Cloud, Fenrir (his bike), Vincent, or any of Cloud's many many many swords. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children I have seen through the generosity of others, and not because I begged them to.. well, maybe a little. It was hard to get a hold of.

Author's Notes: Tons of spoilers. For those of you who have seen the movie, you might understand where this could be coming from. I've recieved lots of good words for this on the Livejournal Community acfiction.

Cloud Watching

Sometimes when the wind blew, I could hear the engine screaming as the blonde warrior ripped across the landscape in some kind of hurry. His new attire whipped and snapped like a flag at full mast in a hurricane; both package and delivery man going somewhere down the back of a black serpent that coiled through the grassy landscape.

Sometimes I took the boat from Bone Village to Costa Del Sol and then directly to Junon, and watched him from a distance as he hurried here and there but never quite hurried back to Edge City or Midgar, where his friends and orphans waited hopefully for his return.

I did not understand his avoidance, but I could see that his pattern never let him stray far from the home continent. I needed never to follow him to another continent, for his wheels ever touched the shores of the other lands. He never stopped, either, except to rest. Never stayed over at the Inn, but bought camp equipment and laid out beneath the stars at night and watched the universe float by him. Arms tucked underneath his head, legs stretched out along the ground, he began to look like both an old man and a young boy.

I did not mean to spy. I often wandered close to watch him and ponder about this man whose mind I could not delve into much deeper than he supplied in words. But his face of late had been expressive of his inner turmoil, even when he wasn't aware of it. It was full of worries and pain and physical discomfort at night as he held his arm wrapped in black sleeve, while the coals died down and he pressed a hand against his forehead in annoyance.

And the tears that glistened in his eyes that shone like the stars.

And then one night Cloud returned to the Healing Lodge, and spent a day and half there, talking to Tifa. I followed him there and thought it impolite to eavesdrop, but the sound of strained and unhappy voices drew me to the door.

"Weeks, Cloud!" Tifa's voice rang sharply in the corridor. The sound of boots on the floor approaching swiftly.

"I... was busy," Cloud answered in a gruff mumble. Only I know that his exhaustion was not an act to ward off her wrath.

"How busy can you possibly be? Apparently you can't pick up your phone when I happen to call you!" Tifa's voice was strained. She was struggling and failing to rein in the rampant emotions tearing apart her heart.

"Tifa." Cloud sounded desperate. "I can't stay."

"What? Another job? I'm starting to think I have to hire you just to get you come up and visit me!"

"I'm sorry," was all he could say. Suddenly a phone rang, and Tifa's light footsteps retreated into the next room.

"Don't you dare leave on me!" she called. "Strife Delivery Service, how may-- Cloud!"

"I'll be back in a day or two," the blonde warrior said, pausing as perhaps they shared a silent moment. I tried to imagine how he looked at her; were his eyes shining with regret? Pain? Or were they full of honest and unquestioning love?

Did she look at him the same way?

I barely had time to jump away from the door and leap to the roof when the door opened. Cloud stepped outside and quietly shut the door. He gripped his sleeved arm again, wincing. And then he jerked his head upright, turning to stare at the place I had once been. I was out of sight, a dark crimson shadow lost in the depth of the green trees, a crimson orb staring from between the broad plummage.

And then he descended the steps, after a long survey of the Lodge roof and the trees around. Satisfied that he was alone, he climbed onto the motorcycle and started the engine. He peeled away under the moon's white-washing light.

I did not like the moon in other parts of the world other than the Sleeping Forest. There, in that perpetual night, I could lay underneath the moon and feel it caress me, purify me in some way that I could not describe. I am no poet, of course; I merely feel and try my hardest to explain. Perhaps that is my unforgivable sin. When I looked at Cloud disappear around the corner and onto the main roadway, I felt that purification again.

I had taken a leave of absence from my Cloud-watching to return to Edge and attend to the store I had opened there on occasion. I fixed, manufactured and customized fire arms, but the job was only for my entertainment. I wasn't dedicated to making money. Business was pleasantly slow and I usually sat and watched the polluted rain burn in the streets beyond the greasy window of my store.

I left the shop again three days later in the care of my bright assistant, who was more than happy to keep business flowing.

It was during one of those long evenings when the cicadas were singing all at once, and I sailed the violet and deep blue sky, touching the earth to leap again into the free, clear air. Not a sound but for the distant and constant growling of Cloud's motorcycle as we followed the stretch of highway between Midgar and Kalm. His package? Nothing now. His engine was screaming until it cut down a few miles per hour and fell into a lower gear so he could turn the next corner smoothly.

Suddenly it sounded... wrong. I leapt closer, just enough to see that Cloud was spiralling out of control, and sparks were flying from the undercarriage like a Red Dragon's fire. My eyes widened and I descended fast and hard, landing just in time on the motorcycle to pull Cloud from the bike before it spun over the cliff, smashing through the guard rail and falling, falling through the thick tangle of trees.

The blonde warrior writhed in my grasp. He was not trying to escape. I landed near the edge of the road and held him tightly, listening to the crack and snap of branches and the fading sound of the bike as it spun out and disappeared into the trees, listened to his ragged panting as he pulled at his black sleeve.

Something wet dripped onto my claw and gleamed black in the starlight.

The silence stretched on. He spasmed, until he grew at once limp and unconscious, and I lifted him quietly, resting his head on my shoulder as I carried him slowly into the dark corridors of grass in the plain of starlight.

He wasn't harmed at all from the accident. But it was apparently clear that he was in pain and his arm spasmed violently and pulled at my red cloak as if to pull it away. I caught his wrist and pushed it down next to him on the grass. When he was quiet, I removed his goggles, his sword sheaths, peeled back his sleeve and observed in shocked, unhappy silence that the Geostigma scars were oozing black, inconsistant dark liquid.

His muscle was firm and clean-cut, his skin otherwise unmarred and porcelaine beautiful (not necessarily pale like mine). I reached inside my cloak and found the roll of bandages I always carried with me for just such an opportunity. I shredded a piece and began to wrap it around his arm. Cloud's parted lips pursed slightly, pain writ upon his angelic face as I gently wrapped his scars.

Then, with what little cloth I could spare, I gave him a makeshift pillow. At last I built up the fire. My heart was filled with conflicting desires: to leave him and fetch his bike and disappear again, or stay and make sure he was alright. Certainly his motorcycle wasn't destroyed. I had not heard it any explosion. When at last the logs began to catch, I turned back toward the swordsman.

I felt adequately protective toward him. He was weakened. He was, as I saw it, dying from Geostigma. There was nothing more I could have done for him; I should have left him there and went away, satisfied of his safety. But slowly, gradually, I became at peace with my decision to remain there. The night was cold, and I had made the fire to burn hot and keep him comfortable. The clouds slid over the stars and moon, deepening the callous shadows.

I sat in the dark and watched him.

On close inspection, I did not detect much of the past year's effect on him. His face held fewer cares, but seemed preoccupied even in his sleep with at least one or two burdensome worries. He seemed just as young as before, but his adventures have made him stronger and somehow alluring, as leopards were, all graceful lines and camouflage and power. I watched the way he moved when he was alert, his long, easy strides, purposeful and firm. While he slept at that moment, his chest rose and fell beneath the blue sweater which protected an enhanced his muscled ribcage. He seemed at peace, and his Geostigma bled no more. He was not walking or graceful now. He was still, vulnerable, alone.

As the fire wore itself down, the cold settled in. Very slowly, he began to shiver steadily. His arms trembled. His hands closed into fists, which tightened and convulsed. And his teeth chattered as his breath sucked in through them sharply.

I put more fuel for the flames before I rose, stepping around the dancing light and crouched near him. I touched his forehead with my gloved fingertips. He turned his head slowly toward me, his brow furrowing slightly. "Kaasan...?"

Uncertainly, he reached up toward me. I drew away, and he dropped his hand again and slowly rolled over, toward the fire. I watched his powerful arms close around his chest, gripping his shoulders.

I closed in again; he breathed deeply, exhaled, shuddered. I opened my cloak at once, laying my body against his, and with my arms I drew him close to me almost lovingly. I felt him murmur in soft contentment.

His arm locked around my waist instinctively, embracing my welcome warmth. I situated my thick cloak around him, tucking here and there until he was safe. His legs quivered unintentionally against mine, his shivering intensifying the longer he stayed. I held on. His nose was next to my neck, consequently fanning my skin with his warm, sweet breath, his breathing loud as he put voice to his discomfort.

We lay intertwined, black leather and crimson blood under the watchful night, his limbs closely entangled with mine. I brought my lips to his blonde, spiked hair and breathed deeply; he smelled like the wind and pine trees and very indistinctly of leather and gasoline.

Minute by minute, he began to grow still again. His arm did not relax its hold on me completely; he held on. My heart grew weak at the sight of him in my arms. My eyes were drawn from his beautiful face to the metal claw that grasped him gently around his waist. He was blissfully unaware of it, but my hand slowly crawled along his back, and began a slow caress along his shoulderblades.

The logs settled, sending dancing lights into the sky. I felt him move and forced myself to relax, become more accustomed to him as he drifted back and back into wakefulness. He gently rolled onto his back, lifting his leg and pressing his foot against the ground as he stared at the sky. He rubbed his bare arm for a thoughtful moment. I sat up on my elbow and watched, fascinated.

Slowly, those blue orbs turned to me. The firelight played on his cheeks and in those innocent boy's eyes. His voice was soft and unbroken. "Vincent." It was not a question; it was not even an accusation. It was just my name, to acknowledge, to understand.

"You had an accident. Do you remember?"

Cloud nodded. Then he turned his head away and said toward the fire, a little tersely. "You've been following me, haven't you?"

I said nothing.

"Why?" he asked gently. "For days, now. Not for a few days lately, but... why?"

Still I said nothing. I could find no answer that he would deem acceptable. He turned to address me, annoyed at my silence.

"What's wrong? Did Tifa send you?"

I laughed softly. Cloud's eyes went ablaze with slight irritation. He leaned his hand on the grass, his pout almost becoming a frown.

I quickly gathered a response for him. "No. You see, I don't carry a phone with me as you do. Even if I did, I don't think she would have called me."

"So then..."

I sighed, looking across the grass hill toward the road. "...I am afraid to wander alone. Should something happen to me..."

"Nobody would know about it."

"Exactly."

"Still doesn't explain why you've been tagging along and not speaking to me."

I scrabbled helplessly in my own thoughts. I was hanging from a metaphorical cliff, staring down into an empty abyss, while directly above me Cloud was asking me to tell him why he should save me. To touch upon such a thing was not only forbidden, but immoral. Was not Tifa, only days ago, almost in tears with Cloud's constant absence?

He was still silently but patiently demanding an answer. Good God, I thought, can't you understand and leave me be? I saved your life, only to realize you are still slipping away regardless.

"I should think," I said coldly, "that you of all people would understand my need to be alone. But never truly alone. Is that why you keep taking messages?"

This time, Cloud said nothing.

I slowly crossed my legs, speaking in a gentler tone. "That's why you listen to their voices. To hear them lets you know that they still love you. They still care. That's all you need from them now. While I..." I strayed in my thoughts, lost again. "...I need them. Yet I do not. If all of them should be close to me all at once... I don't know what I would do."

Cloud was polite and silent. He touched his sleeve again, realizing that I had wrapped his arm, and he slowly raised his eyes back to me, his mouth becoming gentle and understanding. I could touch my lips to that mouth. I could say his name and he might say mine, and we could yet hold each other in the dark with nothing but ourselves. Oh, these thoughts hurt me so much!

"Vincent," he called softly.

I refused to look at him. What did he see with those blue eyes? Did he see a lonely man in a red cape looking off into the darkness? Did he sense that I had held him closely and still wanted his arms around me?

He sighed heavily. He did not understand. I fought a violent battle inside myself as I clenced my hand around a fistful of grass. I could only taste the wind on my lips from kissing his hair. I wished I had not wasted my moments in stillness. I did not want him to die. But I was not ready to let him go without making sure...

I turned my head toward him slowly. He was looking into the fire, perhaps wondering about the future. Maybe worrying about how he would find his bike and put it on the road again. I seemed to float toward him. I reached; he tensed, but did not pull away. Blissful. His mouth. His skin, the soft brush of his lashes against my face. I kissed him so softly, a moth-like caress, that I doubt he felt it at all.

I heard the quiet creak of leather while his gloved hand lifted, touched my face and knotted his fingers gently in my hair. I felt a tug, and he pushed his lips harder on mine. Panicking, I pulled away and twisted my face away in shame, his hand still half-tangled in my black, silken hair.

"Vincent..."

"I can't."

"But--"

"I won't do it."

"Lis--"

I shut my eyes tightly. "Tifa would never forgive me."

Cloud was silent. He freed his fingers if only to touch his lips. I watched the wind pull the grass and then change direction as the clouds moved - dark, silent ships that seemed to be moving farther and farther away. I listened to him breathe softly; then there was a rustle, and I felt his arms grab onto me. There, again, his mouth upon my own, demanding acceptance and cooperation. These I gave with a painful sigh and a willingness that was damning and liberating.

Such a sensuous, generous kiss he had...

I shut my eyes and felt the persecuting pressure of his soft, warm lips, his tongue that found its way inside. I didn't fight. I could have wept. My limbs would not obey me, but maybe they did and it was my mind, disconnected, watching coldly at a distance as my fingers toyed with his hair and raked over his back again lovingly.

"Don't say anything," Cloud told me. I nodded silently. He slid his arms around me and held me close again, shivering until he was still once more.

The sun bleached the horizon faint blue. The flames died down and became silent, solitary coals of crimson and black, ashes and blood.

Fin