A/N: Has anyone else ever noticed that all the items Cid sells are worthless crap? But hey, someone's gotta be buying it…

This started as a Cid-centric thingy but (pairing-wise) turned into some sort of somewhat-Shera/Cid/Beatrix/Steiner + ANGST!thing. (Mutant plotbunny at work. Again.) And, you know, I don't even like Steiner/Beatrix that much. Subtle not-subtle-in-the-slightest Yuffie/Vincent for kicks, though.

(P.S. – Beatrix is the woman with the green skirt and white top leaning by the bar next to the Item Shop entrance, and if you don't think it's her than that's fabulous and all but this fic still exists. Or something.)

I blame this entire mess of a fiction on listening to ORANGE RANGE at midnight. One can only listen to a song entitled "Hai! Moshi moshi… Natsu desu!" so many times before one's mind snaps into a thousand million fragments.

And then drinks Diet Coke. (The one, not the fragments, mind you.)

And I usually end up screwing everything over times a jillion anyway because I write the beginning and then I write the end and then I make all the middle crap. (Usually when any sort of baked good is attempted this way it ends up falling in on itself and/or exploding in your oven. This should be some sort of sign that things are not supposed to be done this way.)

So.

Enjoy, you silly masochist you.

- - -

(Because cigs are lit with Moogle-made candles, silly!)

- - -

Minor Side Effects Include

- - -

Cid Highwind spends his days polishing – pointless shiny rock after rock after rock.

Hmmm, sounds familiar, Yuffie smirks at him, leaning on the counter. You whiny old fart, Gawd, I've been doin' that crap for thirty years! And you can't handle a little shiny-shiny? – and Yuffie scoffs at him, never-minding that she's yet to brave twenty-five, and Squall deadpans that her usage and invention of the word shiny-shiny is an utter abomination of the English language and Aerith giggles, light and hiccupping now Leon, don't be mean and Yuffie is all for the English language with an eloquent ...whut?

(And Cid still has no idea what the hell's going on, but makes a mental note to never consider using the word shiny-shiny, ever.)

Yuffie says it's cake – but that's just 'cause she's the materia-brat, the thief-brat, and she musta cut her teeth on a damned Bahamut ZERO or something because those little shiny rocks are so deep in her that it's unnatural. So of course Cid chases her away, threatening the ever-so-painful bonks should she dare step foot in his godforsaken shop again – and she somersaults in the air and sticks out her tongue and jumps out the door, never to be seen again. (But Cid hears giggles upstairs, and he settles for listening quietly to the sound of real laughter, only banging the ceiling with the dull end of his trusty old Mop when he hears her try to tickle the Moogles – and they giggle like choking Chocobos, and Cid has no wish to hear that, no sir-)

Cid Highwind fingers the straw in his mouth, then takes it out and sets it on the counter and pulls an abused-looking pack of cigarettes from his front pocket, and an even more abused-looking cig from the pack, and then he chomps on the unlit tobacco-stick instead.

He won't light it – really – (He damns the day he promised Aerith that, and damns the day he first took to the sweetness of an alcohol sea, for making him spew such crap in the first place. In fact, he damns a lot of days, now that he thinks of it-) – though he wants to. Gawd, he could use a smoke. But sometimes, now, he finds it really hard to breathe.

He doesn't know why – oh, God, if only he fucking knew why! – it happens, or how it happens, or even what is happening – but he knows enough to know it shouldn't be happening, and it just can't be happening again, but it's always been happening and he can't make it stop.

Not to him. Oh Planet, not to him.

Sometimes he finds it hard to breathe, but it's not because of the air (as smoky and shit-filled as it is, and Yuffie was damned right to despise it and the similarly shit-filled town and their own whole shit-filled situation) or even the cigs (well, actually it might have a fucking lot to do with the cigs. He lays off them for a while and sticks a piece of straw in there to keep his teeth busy, 'cause if he's not clamping down on something he'd be more than willing to use fingers – and they wouldn't be his).

He still doesn't know why it happens.

But it does, it does – and none of the brats know it, and Aerith doesn't know it, not yet – or if she does she knows it's hopeless and knows him well enough to leave him to rot by himself, all lonesome, like he's supposed to. (Which means, of course, that she doesn't.)

And, dammit, he can't help himself! – he'll go to the bar with the hot barmaid and with Yuffie, and they'll all get drunk together and laugh their hearts out (the ones that haven't been stolen, that is, that is) and hurl their dinners up (and Aerith is always ever-so disapproving, and Cid can see why – but, dammit, he can't help himself -) and bawl their eyes out, moaning and groaning till they fall over each other, falling into that sea over and over again and waking up to bang their heads on the undersides of dreamy mushrooms – and then the sleep fades away, the hangovers kick in and Cid realizes it's really just a barstool instead of the underside of Shera's nightstand.

(and oh, how he wishes that it was!)

Cid Highwind spends his days polishing – pointlessly shiny rock after rock after rock. Chains and bangles and earrings – what does it matter? All the people who buy from him are dead by now anyways. Oh, he's seen people come in – go out – so long and thanks for all the gil, pal, he thinks, each time he watches their backs leave the store – oh, he's seen people come in and tell him that they won't be like all the rest, seen people saunter in with their armor and weapons and ask him to show them his best.

So long and thanks for all the gil, pal, he thinks, each time he watches them leave. Normal people, people who have been here a long while, always come up to the Shop for a chat every now and then – and that's how Cid gets his merchandise. Found this on the armor – you know how it is, no body, but all his old stuff the Heartless didn't take was still there. Ya want it? I don't need it. You can sell it. Maybe it'll actually save someone, this time. And Cid Highwind is a rich man.

Not that riches do him much, except afford his and Yuffie's and Beatrice-Beatrix-Beatriz's (whatever the hot barmaid's name was – he could never remember, and whenever he remembered to ask he was drunk and forgot it the instant she said it in between the weeping and the bawling and the combination of salt water and scotch in puddles on the tables, oh God not this again, Christ he can see his own reflection-) alcohol.

Tonight he will go to the bar with Yuffie, if she's up to it – and if she isn't already drunk on the giggles of Moogles and her own tinkly-high laughter, and if she's forgiven him for his earlier "anti-Valentine propaganda" (you can tell the brat's been around Leon too much recently when she starts spewing words like propaganda in his general direction and expects him to know what in fuck's name she's talking about) (well what was he supposed to do? he asked. What was he supposed to do, with his little twentysomething of a ninja-daughter-pain-in-the-ass sobbing her eyes out over the damned vamp, and her diving into the sea over and over because she coulda sworn she'd seen his face there – what was he supposed to do? His little ninja-daughter-pain-in-the-ass-whatever-the-hell-she-was, all grown up and shivering and fucking scared of the dark – and Ciddie was dying, dying, and she didn't need another dead man in her life-)

Alcohol was bittersweet. Cid takes out his lighter and tosses it from hand to hand, and upstairs he hears the sound of Chocobos choking and drowning and dying in salt water and brandy and scotch.

Hey, and maybe they'll bring along Squall – just because. Squall isn't much for the bars, but when he wants to he will – and Yuffie hates that Squall, because he's a sad drunk. He sits on his dream-mushroom of a barstool, contemplating the lines in the wood on the counter and the stars in the sky and Barman, could you get me another glass of the scotch? The one brand, what is it?– Twilight'll do, thanks – while Yuffie, Yuffie sloshes her brandy all over herself and misses her face half the time when she's too far gone to aim straight, and she giggles hysterically – and Cid knows what bells in water sound like, what drowning bells sound like.

Beatri-something drinks vodka, and that's all he knows. Beatri-something's a bit of a quiet drunk too, but then she gets pushed off the edge and throws her glasses at chairs and makes bottles explode and she screams crazy things at candles – Moogle-made candles, never go out, never leave you alone in the dark. STEINER, STEINER you stupid BASTARD, I could have handled them myself!, and Beatri-something eventually fades back into her world and mind and vodka glass – but once she breaks like that she won't let Cid help her walk home.

Once she breaks. Cid knows she hasn't really broken – just a couple little rips and tears here and there – but Yuffie is nearing it, and Cid tries his damnedest to polish her back up again and make her good as new.

He coughs, and he takes the still-unlit cigarette from his lips and sets it down on the counter next to the straw.

He doesn't know why it happens – but it does. And he knows what he needs, and what he needs is something so very far beyond his grasp at this moment that not even rum and scotch and beer can bring it back to him (though he comes close, so close – he sees her face, smiling, in the bottom of the sea, and he dives down and down and down – the last time he thought he might have brushed his fingertips against the hem of her lab coat, and it was – so – close – ! – and the barman took away the rum and killed her, killed her dead with a Sorry, but that's enough for you, mister.)

Cid Highwind coughs in the Accessory Shop, and wishes that Shera was there to crush his tablets into his tea – because otherwise, he won't eat them, not even for Yuffie – he won't eat the medicine unless Shera is there, and real, and not Bea-something in a white coat and with too much alcohol in the both of them to see anything the way it really is – in Traverse Town.

(Sometimes – when he has the quiet and the Moogle-made candles to himself, and there are no drowning bells and choking Chocobos – he wonders if she will let him call her Shera. He will certainly let her call him Steiner, if she asks – and he thinks of this, and feels just the tiniest bit more filthy-)

And the bells ring over the door, and Cid takes up his straw again, and all his trusty dark materials – takes up his cloth and his chain and his straw again, and leaves the cig on the table, and prepares to kill another customer, because it really doesn't matter what Cid says, they'll all go in the end – all in order to afford his alcohol – but it's a sweet alcohol, it really is, it really is

But it's only a kid. Just a brat, another squirt – Christ, he couldn't'a been taller than Yuffs- "Hey, mister?"

Cid recognizes that voice (or at least that thing in his voice, that most cruel and damnable thing) – and it makes his heart jump and do a double-take, jump and wince again. And he finds it very, very difficult to breathe – but Cid recognizes that voice, and his heart jumps around in its place and his tar-scarred lungs try to fill themselves and fail, try to fill themselves and fail – but it has fucking nothing to do with the cigs, he remembers, but his lungs don't remember, and Cid would give anything, right now, to fall on the floor in the bar and look up and see the underside of Shera's nightstand. Cid recognizes that voice of silly hope and stupid valor, and it is not something he would have granted himself the chance to hear, if he'd had the choice.

And Cid Highwind grunts, and Cid Highwind chomps down on his straw and wishes for fingers. "…Yeah, kid? 'Nd don' mister me, it's just Cid, dammit."

He misses his alcohol – but he doesn't want to kill this kid. It's a strange first thought to have, but – Christ, he can't kill this kid, this brat who blinks with his big sky-wide eyes and grows frowns unnaturally in the curves of his face. If the boy would pout, Cid realizes, and if his eyes were gray then he'd be as close to Yuffie – the Before Yuffie, the Real Yuffie, the Yuffie that tickled the Moogles and giggled like bells and who he had yet to see really, really laugh – as anyone could be – that lovely Yuffie that stood and could be innocently evil, evilly innocent, and shining as well, as long as that walking, talking rock-of-a-boyfriend of hers was there to keep her that way, there to make her smile and happy, and make her – tea, and crush the pills for her

"Cid, then – where am I?"

And Cid Highwind answers this high-pitched, prepubescent voice, this voice of Hope – this thing he has not heard in such a long – such a long, long time – "Nowhere, kid. Yer nowhere. Welcome to Traverse Town." And he flourishes it with a wave of his arms, because, y'know, Traverse Town is just that freaking AMAZING-!

And the brat cocks his head in childish confusion, and Cid's lungs allow him a brief hack of a laugh (Cid recognizes, too, the sound of a choking Chocobo, the voice of a drowning Chocobo in his throat, and wishes for tea.)

"So, brat," he says, after the laughter that plagues him leaves, and after he sees the boy's face scrunch up in that painfully familiar indignation over his title, "what's yer name?"

(Because he can't stay the brat forever – that's Yuffie's job, and Yuffie will always be the brat as long as Cid can make it so, when all her other fathers and brothers and lovers were dead-) "…hmph. I'm Sora!" And Cid sees some of Yuffie (the fragments of Yuffie that Yuffie has lost – no, just temporarily misplaced –) in his smile – God Almighty, I could never kill this kid.

"Whatdya want, then, Sora?"

"…uh, well… I'm, uh, sorta lost… have you seen a boy – silvery hair – bit taller than me – turquoise eyes – and a girl –" He gestures wildly, as if forming their bodies in the air (-and Cid wishes, oh, he so wishes that it could be that easy, to people the Town with familiar forms of smoke and smog and breath!-)

"…Ain't seen anyone like that." And Cid's eyes, they get darker – this boy is too young to be looking for dead people. Too young to look for those faces, smiling from the bottom of the sea.

" – red hair, and – oh." (But Cid, he still hears the Hope inside that boy's voice-)

He takes the straw out of his mouth and sets it on the counter. "…'Lot of people lookin' for someone they know these days, kid. Couple of 'em have even found 'em." (And doesn't Cid know it – Cid knows them too well, those sad, sad fools that come and buy and charge into the Second and Third Districts of Traverse-Nowhere. And Cid knows them too well, he knows them by all the crap they leave behind for the cowards who look not in the darkness for those faces – but in that deceptive – dreamy – sea. Everyone was looking for someone –and the ones that found familiar faces only found those black faces and bulging eyes, and Cid knows, Cid knows all these things – and they don't help him sleep at night or breathe easier, no sir-) "So, what'll you do now… Sora?"

(Everyone was looking, but Cid and Yuffie were cowards and looked in their sea instead of the darkness – and wondered, and kept wondering if they loved their Moogle-made candles more than all the Vincents and Sheras in the world. He hopes it's not so – how Cid hopes his foolish, ancient hopes-!) "What'll ya do now?", the tired old man asks again, and he reaches for his cig – and stops himself when he sees Yuffie's heartbreak in Sora's face.

"I… I don't know." And the boy looks down at his feet, as if all the answers to everything are inside of them (ridiculously bright color, yellow, Cid thought. What a damned stupid color to make shoes, they'll stick out like fucking frolicking flowers out here and catch every Heartless's eye from here to godforsaken Nibelheim – and Cid resolves to paint his next airship so bright a yellow that all the Heartless in the worlds will catch on fire, and he wonders if insanity is a long-term effect of alcoholism. He doesn't bother correcting himself with Nibelheim's current status.) – and then and there Cid decides that Yuffs and this kid are somehow related.

And Sora, he straightens – "… I guess… I'll look for them."

Cid – is halfway through contemplating the right words for his next question ("Hey, kid, ya ever hear of havin' an Aunt Yuffie? Prob'ly a couple hundred times removed, though-") "-What?"

He smiles. (He smiles, and Cid's mouth goes dry for a matter of nanoseconds and he feels something suspicious creep up to nestle beneath his cheekbones.) "I'm gonna go find them!"

And the quiet cannot even be broken by coughing Chocobos, at this point, and then– "…Kid, did ya ever hear of any relatives of yours named Yuffie?"

Christ, the kid blinks like Yuffie in her innocent-act, but with this kid it's actually genuine – and Cid waves his hand as if to swipe the memory away, and he feels the suspicious somethings crawl closer to his eyelids. (It took him by surprise, is allhe never thought he'd see something so close to purity again in his life, after Aerith.) "Uh, actually, never mind. Forget I said anythin'."

The boy shrugs, whatever outlined in his bones – Cid decides to try and stop seeing all the other people in this boy, especially when most of them were dead (or at least half-dead; Cid couldn't really say he'd read all the fine print concerning Heartless killing methods).

And Cid sighs his worlds-weary sigh (and, truly, he is weary of them), "So how do you intend on finding them, kid?" He picks up the cigarette and twirls it between his calloused fingers, twirling and spinning, dancing on his fingertips–

"…uhhh…" (Sora's life, too, Cid thinks, in a peculiar Zen moment that he knows is the result of being around Aerith too much, is caught up in the spinning cancer-stick, whirling and spiraling, out of control–) "Well, I… guess I'll have to go to a bunch of all the worlds…"

"Quite a few of 'em, kid." he says evenly (though the cig is as crooked as anything, still, turning and falling but not) "'nd how ya even gonna get there, hm?"

"…Well… I… haven't really figured that part out yet…" and he reaches his hand back to scratch the back of his head. (Cid mentally punches himself for seeing Cloud in him now – the Before Cloud, the Real Cloud – a Cloud with an Aerith, and that damned fairytale that was sweet enough to make him cry at the wedding, the wedding that should-have-been and would-never-have-been) "…but I bet it can be done!"

(Why can't he smoke?) "…It can, kid." He drops the cigarette onto the counter (and just – for – a – moment, –)

(everything is still.)

Sora's smile hurts Cid's eyes. "All right! Awesome!" He pumps his (stick-thin, scrawny, weak, but not cowardly) arm into the air, and then looks up at Cid again. "…You… sell stuff for fighting the Heartless, right?"

Cid's quiet, for a moment, and grabs the cigarette from the counter and stuffs it into his mouth and doesn't chew it (because, for some reason, it feels like some dead thing, some limp and empty thing and it's disgusting.)

(– you – can't – kill – this – please,–)

(If cigs had voices, they would sound like drowning bells, Cid is sure, and dammit he prays to whatever god doesn't already hate him he isn't going sentimental and weepy while sober, 'cause that means the end of the world is nigh like a renzokuken or maybe an omnislash in the head)

"…right?"

(and groin. Simultaneously. He bets Cloud could do it if he tried. And, y'know, was actually alive, and all that good shit.) "…Sure do, kid." And he spreads his arms wide, all hail glory hallelujah – "The Traverse Town Accessory Shop, and what can I do fer you?"

But he swears on Shera and Cetras and all of Yuffie's half-made-up gods that he's not mocking Sora. And maybe Sora understands a bit – maybe – a few of Yuffie's ridiculous gods, because he smiles and pretends as well, just for a bit. (It's just a bit of innocent pretending, Cid remembers thinking, just a sort of meeting-again type of thing where confused little boys stop being the spawn of déjà vu and stupid old men get their heads out of their asses, just a sort of starting-over – no pilfered white coats and alcohol involved –) "Hi, can I see some of your weapons and stuff?"

And Cid suddenly remembers being The Captain of Rocket Town, mechanical genius extraordinaire – and tries to be that dashing man again, that same man that could convince a housewife to buy a rocket engine and a schoolgirl to pick up a sparkplug, both completely dazzled and starstruck by this magnificent connoisseur – "Sure can, kid – what type of thing ya int'rested in?"

"…well, actually, I've… what's this crystal thing? Got anything else this, uh… I don't know – shiny-shiny?"

- just like a certain scientist had been, a while ago – a long, long time ago – and Cid suddenly remembers his gray hairs, and Bea-something, and all the people who have paid for his drinks, and blames bipolarity via Yuffie, because it's definitely contagious and he has it and no amount of tea and pills can cure him at this rate.

"…shiny-shiny… huh." Overexposure to Yuffie… huh.

"Well, um, really – I just – want something to help me!" He glances around, looking for something to grab him and slap him in the face and scream at him "use me, I'm an instant ticket to everyone you've ever known and loved!" (but Cid has hidden all the sherry bottles by now, nyah-nyah, says Yuffie in Cid's head and Cid grunts and secretly agrees and then remembers-)

(Whatever.) "Well, then, Sora – what'll it be?" And he picks up the tired materials, his cowardly tickets – and brandishes them in the boy's face. "Protect Chain–"

"I'll take anything! Anything that can help me."

( - please, not this hope too –)

Cid has seen – people come in, people saunter in with their weapons and armor, and buy his merchandise. Cid has seen – all of them, almost all of them – also return that same merchandise, indirectly, through the work of scavenging townspeople and Heartless selflessness, and Cid, Cid – he knows – (damn, he knows his trade too well – to think, that Cid Highwind would sell garbage for booze and then pick his own merchandise off the corpses-that-weren't! Oh, oh, Shera would kill him, and it makes him want to laugh and scream at the same time, oh, oh –)

(please, not – this – hope – too.) And Cid knows – that he will not polish whatever this boy will return to him. He – refuses – to. "…Never mind." (And even though it kills him. Even though it kills Shera, too, Shera, deader than any barman could ever hope to do, Shera still buried at the bottom of the sea –) "Thing's crap, anyway – crap, through and through." And he drops the chain to the counter, where it lies with his cigarette and his polishing cloth. "How much munny ya got, kid?"

And he blinks. (Predictable, Cid thought, that he would be also as constantly poor as Yuffie, despite her evil thiefy skills, oh yes-) "…Munny? What's that?"

(If Cid had been a joking kind of person, he would have fallen on his face in sheer disbelief – but the darkness and the sea have drained this simple humor from him, sapped it out through his very pores and sent it to the bottom of) "Forget it. I'll… give ya this. For free."

And the kid (Predictable, Cid thought, that he would be as unselfish as Yuffie never was, though – maybe, in some small – smallsmallsmall way, she might've had a grain of selflessness, a bit so tiny it could only be as small as a materia orb, and yet so big that it could envelope an entire city – because Wutai had ceased to be a town for some time now – had been – almost a –) widens his eyes and starts to shake his head. "No! Um, n-no, that's… it's fine…"

(- not that it was anything more than darkness now, Cid thought, darkness and ashes and long-dead materia, as he bent his aching back to pick up something he'd been polishing a long, long time. So dead – that maybe, we can pretend it was never there in the first place, and Yuffie can really laugh – any day now. Any day now, soon as she picks up that brandy bottle and forgets it was there too, that tiny materia orb –) "Nah, kid. Take it. I don't need it, 's just more crap in the Shop."

Sometimes he wonders how Aerith does it. How does Aerith goes on from day to day to day, smiling that omniscient smile that would look overconfident and stupid on anyone else, spending her days mending clothes and planting flowers and bandaging wounds and just being a goddamned overachieving do-gooder? (Yuffie says it's a side effect of being dead, and Cid doesn't disagree, 'cause if insanity is a side effect of rum and bipolarity is a side effect of Yuffie and stupidity and cowardice are side effects of love, then sure, overbearing goodwill-towards-all-mankind sort of shit can be a side effect of getting kebabbed by a psychotic demigod-alien, yeah)

It's a weird little thing, really – somewhat heart-shaped, and a maroonish-magenta-red (definitely a Vinnie color – Yuffie nods decisively upon picking it up, turning it over and over and trying to see her reflection on the inside. Definitely. Thought it also sorta looks like that disgusting kimono I had in my closet as a kid, with little yellow lotus flowers all over it – I remember I used it to hide my first materia in it – though it might've been more of a really nasty burgundy color – I remember – Cid wants her to stop talking, and stop being so goddamned old and stop using the past tense – but he wants a lot of things to stop, now that he thinks of it–) with little black engravings on the edges of it and a strap on the inside. A weird little thing, definitely –

"Called the Heartguard." He grunts, because he can recognize that look of confusion on Sora's face too. "'S just a shoulder-guard, actu'lly, 's just a misleadin' name. Strap it to yer shoulder."

Dimly, Cid thinks it sort of sounds like a song – Yuffie found it, Cid shined it, Sora wore it. Sora wore it, but Cid swore on it that Sora wouldn't die with it, and Cid swore on it that Sora would live to some ripe old age and die surrounded by faces he knew and loved instead of faces he knew and who wanted his heart for breakfast and lunch and dinner and more. And Yuffie – (Yuffie knew nothing about it, nothing at all of that shoulder-guard she named Heartguard her second day in Traverse Town, something Vincent-colored and worn by some dead person previously who'd broken oaths that not-Cids had made and not kept) – Yuffie knew nothing about it.

Sora pulls at the band a little bit, trying to loosen it. "…how does it look?"

Cid puts the straw between the calloused fingers of his right hand and waves it back and forth. "Kid, I don' think the Heartless 're goin' to give a damn 'bout what it looks like."

"… Ehehe… I – I know, I'm just… asking…" Cid rolls his eyes at the kid's blush and the way he scratches the back of his head. (Cid wonders if he's just too used to people who would sooner kick you in the face than say thank you. He decides that that's a problem and begins to wonder about who he could begin to associate with for regular kindness before he remembers how much more homicidal those sorts of people made him.)

"…it… - ah…" he mutters. (Sure, Yuffie-in-his-head chirps, red and maroon clash sort of but not red and Vincent, ya kidding me, old guy? Red and Vincent, mind you, Ciddie, not Nanaki and Vinnie – Red and Vincent! – Cid wonders if it's a joke or pun or something and regrets not laughing when he had the chance.) "…it works fer you, kid."

Cid hates being nice. And kind. And sensitive-touchy-feely-sentimental. Sora smiles. "Thanks!"

"…hrn." Classic noncommittal grunt. Cid's still got it, oh yeah-

(Sora smiles, but now that Cid has made the connection, all he sees is bits – and – parts –)

"...Thank you so much!" Sora leans against the counter, grinning widely with his eyes closed (until he looks like Wutai's spare heir-to-the-nothing, or something). "I owe you a big one, man!"

(–of Rocket Town. Yuffie has the same side effects, he remembers, vaguely – brat won't enter the Red Room to save her soul, no sir-)

Sora's eyes are a painfully vivid blue, and Cid resists the urge to ask him if his father's brother's cousin's son was named Cloud (if you couldn't prove they were related by eye color, Cid reasons, then they are certainly related through hair, and he wonders if Sora's ever used the word "mosey". It's on Cid's list of Things to Never Say, right above shiny-shiny.) "…so, you goin' to wait around fer yer friends to find themselves, kid?"

"…Ah!" (Hypocrite, hypocrite! Cid wants the Yuffie-in-his-head to go away, and tries to drive her out with a good mantra. I'm not insane, I'm not insane, I'm not insane-) Sora already begins to run for the door - I'm late, I'm late! (Cid is sure that his friends are going nowhere fast, regardless, but neglects to tell Sora this because Yuffie is beating up his mantra with a brandy bottle and a lit cigarette and laughing like she found a thousand gajillion mastered Knights of the Round under her Christmas tree and Leon is accusing her of murdering Santa and stealing his stuff and Aerith is giggling, light and hiccupping and Cid is – Cid is -)

(-I'm not insane, I'm not insane, I'm not insane.)

"See ya around, mister! I'll come back and see ya for sure!"

(…Did he really say "for sure"?) The bells over the door laugh at him and something thumps upstairs.

And then there's nothing. Cid scratches the back of his head and forgets to smile sheepishly while doing so.

(Coward, the silly voice of hope and stupid valor calls him, and Cid doesn't deny it, but somehow Cid thinks that Sora really will come back.)

The trapdoor in the ceiling pops open and he resists the urge to grab his Mop. The brat hangs from the opening, stick-arms hanging and her hair being pulled into the sky (which is secretly the ground), and grins. "Hey, old fart."

Cid grimaces and grabs his cig and chomps on it till he can feel some of the bitter tobacco spilling into his mouth (and this time he won't lie and say it's sweet, 'cause Cid and Shera and Aerith all know it isn't. It isn't. Haha, side effects of being alive and being dead and being dead and alive at the same time, and Yuffie smiles at him sometimes with the pieces of Before-Yuffie and says, just before conking out below a barstool, that his clothes don't smell as nasty as they used to.)

"Brat." (It isn't, and he hopes he's not having side effects of Aerith and her goddamned sensitivity as well.)

"Wanna go out with Beatrix today?"

Oh, so it was Beatrix. Cid gives himself a mental pat on the back and a lollipop for effort. "…Nah. Didn't get any money today."

Yuffie pouts (like Sora, who pouts like Yuffie, who pouts like Sora, who-) and crosses her dangling arms. "Dammit, old man, your sales pitch must suck."

(He grunts and secretly agrees and then remembers-) "…Hey, brat."

"Hmm?"

He plucks the cigarette out of his mouth and spits some of the tobacco (bittersweet tobacco, but Aerith made you promise) on the floor of the Accessory Shop. "…ya ever hear of any relatives of yours named Sora?"

She shrugged (upside down). "Dunno. Didn't really pay attention to Pops when he was in the mood for rattling off family trees. Might've, though. Why?"

He shrugged (right side up, but still the same) "…Nothing. Get back to yer damn Moogles – and stop ticklin' them. They sound like they're drownin'."

Yuffie snickered. "You're just jeeeeealous, Ciddie. Want me to tickle you too?" She wiggles her pale (yet dangerously dexterous, as Cid has learned time and time and time again) fingers for emphasis.

"Fuck no, brat. Vince might like little girls, but I prefer my women more – matured. 'specially in… certain areas."

Yuffie spluttered, "I'm not a little girl, you pervert! 'Nd Vinnie is not a pedophile! And–"

The bells ring over the door, and Squall maintains his Air of Coolness (Yuffie calls it his 'Air of One Whose Ass is Occupied by Stick', but Cid only laughs when Squall is fifty feet away or unconscious) for a moment before saying, "…Please refrain from telling me what you were talking about just now. I don't want to know."

"–Squallie! I have boobs, right?"

(Cid Highwind spends his days in the Accessory Shop, polishing chains and bangles and jewelry for all the dead people he knows and will know, and Cid Highwind – sinks into his sea, and looks up at the surface every once in a while – to see if that kid is still walking along, walking on saltwater and scotch, with hope in his voice and a heartguard on his shoulder and Yuffie's smile on his face –)

"Riiiiiiight? Answer meeee, dammit! SQUAAAALL!"

And Cid chuckles without hacking, for once.

(and Cid Highwind wonders if – maybe – maybe it'll actually save someone, this time.)

- - -

END.

- - -

A/N: I think I accidentally made Cid sound like a pirate. Yarr-harr-harr-har!

I think everyone has a Yuffie-in-their-head. No, I don't think Yuffie and Cloud are related via proof of Sora. Yuffie has a habit of holding her vowels for long stretches of time. And of course Cid would know what a renzokuken was! There sure is a hella lotta drowning and water references here and I don't know why but whatever.

O my readers, forgive me my dialogue, for it knows not how it sucketh.

And I sort of shoplifted a bit from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy – or, more precisely, one of its sequels, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. (I stealth like ninja in night! Kekekekekekeke!1!one!)

Sorry if you don't like Cid all angst-ish and whatnot. It actually started because I've always held a sort of fond love for Cid. I mean, he smokes, he cusses, and he drinks lots and lots and lots of tea. What's not to love? So of course I thought "hey, why don't I take Cid, make a random story about him in Kingdom Hearts, and fill it intravenously with angst and all sorts of other fun things like heroin and alcohol and Beatri-somethings?"

Now, the really depressing thing is the lack of good angst!Cid-centric fics in the KH section. (As oxymoronic as that statement seems, because Cid seems like the absolute manifestation of all that is anti-angstmuffin, ever. Even I don't know how the hell this mutated fic works. If "Tamatebako" was incoherent, then this sinking ship of a fiction is descending into the murky depths of the lair of the Black Lagoon Creature or something.)

One day I'll write a fic that makes actual sense, dammit. I swear.