A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH

Chapter One: A Fate Worse than Death…

Vincent Valentine was a man that was not afraid of anything. Ex-Turk and member of AVALANCHE, hero of the planet, he feared nothing. Standing at an imposing six feet plus, dressed in all black except for his red cloak and headband, with silky onyx hair and piercing crimson eyes against a back drop of ivory skin, he was a force to be reckoned with. When he pulled out any one of his deadly firearms, enemies were known to run in terror for his aim was deadly. As if the gun itself wasn't frightening enough, he also had a golden claw, seemingly razor sharp, which covered his left arm to just beyond his elbow. He had a commanding presence on the battlefield, and rightly so. Yet, despite the fact that he was afraid of NO man, he found himself running for dear life through the passageways of the airship Highwind from a most fearsome foe…

Yuffie Kisaragi.

He rounded a corner, skidding to a brief stop, looking frantically for a place to hide, his red cloak billowing all around him. For just a moment he hated the damn thing, its bright color was like a signal to everyone, telling them his location. His eyes quickly scanned from side to side. Anything would do, he was desperate.

"Vinnie? Why are you running? Vinnie?" He could hear Yuffie calling out for him, her voice getting closer and closer. God, how he hated that ridiculous nickname!

This particular hall had many doors on it; yet, he had no clue where any of them led, but at this point, it did not matter to him. He just needed to hide.

Moving as swiftly as he could he frantically rushed from door to door, trying to find one that was unlocked. On his fourth try, he found one knob that turned easily under his grip. Without a second thought, hearing another cry of "Vinnie" on the air, Vincent pushed open the door and shut it, locking it behind him. He held his breath, holding as still as possible, trying to keep quiet.

He leaned against the door and listened intently, one eye looking out through the tiny peephole. He heard her before he saw her, as she came rounding the same corner he had passed by just moments before.

"Vinnie? Don't think I won't find you," she called, a big smile on her face. Looking through the peephole distorted his vision, but he could still see the predatory gleam in her eye. He gulped soundlessly, uttering prayers in his mind to whatever would listen and make them come true. (Please don't let her start knocking down doors.)

But no, she just ran down the hall, not bothering to check any of the doors. Either she knew where they led, or thought that he would not be behind any of them.

Heaving a quiet sigh of relief, Vincent turned around and leaned exhaustively against the door, sliding down it until he sat on the ground, panting with the exertion of his mad dash for safety. Finally, he peaked around the room in which he had taken refuge.

It was someone's living quarters, and a quite large one at that. Vincent's own room was only half the size of this one. An enormous bed took up one wall, covered in a black and blue thick blanket that looked all too inviting. A simple but elegant desk sat in one corner, matched with a plain wooden desk chair. There was another door off to the side, obviously leading to a private bathroom.

Having never really explored the airship, Vincent had no clue where he was. During the fight against Sephiroth, when Cloud hadn't taken him with his group, Vincent spent most of his time either in his room or standing on the deck. He hadn't made it a habit to go wandering off into the confusing hallways and different living spaces. There were the captain's quarters somewhere, the crew's barracks, and even the guest rooms that the members of AVALANCHE had divided amongst themselves. There were no words to describe how happy Vincent was when he got his own room. He was shuddering to think he would have to share with Cait Sith or even the fire-wolf Nanaki. He enjoyed his privacy far too much. Still, he had no idea where he was.

Suddenly the door to the bathroom opened and Vincent got his answer. Cid Highwind stepped out, rubbing a towel through his shower soaked hair, his ever present cigarette already between his lips. He wore no shirt, only low slung pants, and no socks or shoes. A silver chain hung around his neck with a decoration that Vincent could not identify as it was concealed by the thick towel that Cid had wrapped around his shoulders and was still running over his hair. For a man of his age, Highwind was in surprisingly good shape. Yet, another reason Vincent found himself having an inexplicable infatuation with the pilot.

Cid stopped in surprise, nearly mid-step, when he realized that Vincent was sitting on the floor in front of his door, looking at him with something he didn't quite understand behind his crimson eyes.

"Vince?" he questioned. "What are you doing here?" His hands halted in mid rub, water trickling down his back.

"Hiding," Vincent answered simply, rising to his feet.

Quickly regaining his composure, Cid continued into his room, sitting on the corner of his bed to rub the rest of the water out of his hair. He gave Vincent a surprised look before a huge smile crept onto his face. "From who? Tifa trying to put your hair in braids again?"

Vincent snorted, crossing his arms. "No, this creature is far more terrifying… a fate worse than death." Cid was probably his closest friend on the ship, which really wasn't saying much.

Cid furrowed his brow in thought as he stopped, considering his hair sufficiently dry. He let the towel fall back across his shoulders as he started searching for a match for his cigarette. "Who?" he repeated.

Vincent opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by a series of vicious knocks on Cid's door, a yelling voice accompanying them.

"Cid! Ya old fart, ya in there? Cid!" It was Yuffie.

Eyes widening in terror, Vincent sprang away from the door, heading straight for the bathroom. Cid watched him in amusement as he dashed into the other room, and made to close the door.

"You haven't seen me," he hissed softly, popping his head back out, hoping that Yuffie could not hear him over her own yelling.

Cid could hardly contain the amusement on his face when he realized that it was Yuffie whom Vincent was hiding from.

"But you are standing right there in my bathroom," Cid pointed out. He could not help himself.

"Cid! If you don't open up, I'm breaking down the door, whether you are in there or not!" called out Yuffie threateningly.

"Come on, Cid," pleaded Vincent. "I've never asked for anything or won't ever again…"

Cid shook his head with suppressed laughter and waved his hand at Vincent, "Hurry up and shut the door," he ordered. Vincent gave him the slightest smile of gratitude before gently closing the bathroom door.

Stomping over to the door, Cid threw the bolt on the door and flung it open, Yuffie nearly falling in on top of him as she was leaning forward to bang on it some more for good measure.

"Whaddya want, brat?" he growled, giving her his best 'I'm the captain and I'm dangerous' glare. It didn't work.

"What took ya so long?" she complained, inviting herself in.

"I was in the shower," he responded, gesturing to the towel around his neck. He turned to face her as she had come into his room and started looking around.

"Oh," she responded, craning her neck to see all around the room, as if she were trying to find something.

"Was there a reason you came a pounding on my door acting like a damn idiot?" Cid asked tersely.

"Have you seen Vincent?" she questioned, using his true name for once and not that ridiculous nickname. She squinted her brown eyes at the pilot, as if checking him for lies.

Cid scratched his head and stared up at the ceiling, looking for all intents and purposes as if he was trying to recall quite hard. "Last I saw him was last night when Tifa was teasing the hell out of him," he answered with only the slightest of shrugs. "Why you looking for him anyway?"

"He ran out on me, the creep," she answered in her typical Yuffie fashion, balling up her fist and shaking it at an unknown perpetrator. She returned her attentions to Cid, narrowing her eyes suspiciously, "So you haven't seen him in the past ten minutes or so? I coulda swore he went down this way…"

"Shower remember? So no. Look somewhere else," Cid responded. He walked over to his door and opened it, gesturing towards the hallway with an open palm. "Scram, brat!"

Yuffie shrugged and started moving ever-so-slowly towards the door, literally dragging her feet as she walked. Cid stared at her impatiently, trying again to give her his infamous Highwind glare. It still had no effect. He was beginning to think the little ninja wasn't afraid of him at all.

Yuffie stopped in the doorway, just outside the frame, turning to give Cid one last questioning look. Her mouth opened, another series of reiterated questions threatening to spill out.

"Goodnight, Yuffie," Cid stated with finality as he slammed the door in her face. The distinct sound of a lock being thrown could be heard and Yuffie was officially out of his room. He watched through the peephole as she appeared to throw a silent fit before huffing angrily and heading off in the direction of the guest rooms.

He waited a minute or so more to be sure that she had gone before he sighed and turned back around.

"Okay, Vince, it's safe now," he called out, hoping the ex-Turk would overcome his fear and just come straight out.

The door opened just slightly and Cid had to bite back his laughter when he saw one lone crimson eye peering out carefully, making sure that the pilot had not lied to him. Apparently satisfied with his observation, Vincent opened the door completely and stepped out of the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

"Thanks, Cid," Vincent murmured with relief, plopping down in the desk chair. He heaved another sigh of relief before he began to fiddle with the clasps on his cloak. After having fought with Vincent in the 'Great Sephiroth Fiasco' (as Cid liked to refer to it as), the pilot had come to recognize this as a sign of agitation. "I will wait a minute or two more, and then I will be out of your way."

"Oh, no!" disagreed Cid. "You aren't going anywhere until you tell me why you were running in the first place." He strode over to the bed and sat on the edge. He crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at him with his don't-make-me-hurt-you glare. It didn't appear to be working as Vincent just turned his head away and pretended to be staring at a very interesting water stain on the ceiling. Maybe he was losing his touch…

"It was nothing important," the gunman mumbled, in a voice barely loud enough to be heard.

"Is that so?" Cid spouted. He got up from the bed and went over to the door. "Then I will just call Yuffie back here. I am sure she is not too far away…" he trailed off, reaching for the knob.

"No!" yelled Vincent, jumping up from the chair and pushing Cid away from the door. He blocked it forcefully with his own body, putting himself directly in front of the handle. He held out his right hand to ward Cid away even as his metal claw hovered near the handle. He was prepared to fight for his life. "Sit down, HIghwind! I… I will tell you."

"Good," Cid affirmed, nodding his head. He reclaimed his comfortable seat on the bed and waited patiently for Vincent to begin. He had a feeling it was going to be quite amusing.

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