At first he hadn't realized what was going on. Thought it was just post-traumatic stress (again) when the flashes came. Visions of things in the past. Horrible, sometimes physically painful visions.
Cloud had never had a migraine before... but he'd heard Tifa's horror-stories about hers, and knew her wrath when one treaded on unsafe territory (A.K.A. anywhere along the entire length of the hallway where her room was) during the time when she was stricken with one.
He imagined this had to be at least ten times worse.
One time he'd taken care to watch it happen, what little he could see beyond the visions... standing in front of a mirror, he saw his eyes dilate and constrict rapidly. Also, he wasn't sure, it was probably just his vision fading slightly or something, but he thought he'd seen the color change... but that couldn't happen, could it?
As if the splitting headaches weren't enough... the visions... Thing's he never wanted to remember again, things he thought he'd long since put behind him, brought back in a whole new light.
But they were just dreams of the past. He wrote them off as nothing... he wasn't getting enough sleep. That's what it was.
Until the dreams of the future came.
He saw himself, laughing, and bathed in blood amidst a strikingly familiar morbid scene... the burning houses of Nibelheim, Tifa weeping over beside someone's body... he would've thought it nothing but another appearance by that damned recurring nightmare, if it were not for the fact that this time, he stood in Sephiroth's place. That had never happened before. And as he looked around, he took notice of other things being different...
Tifa's clothes, for example. Not the brown blouse over the white shirt she'd worn back then, but the sable cargos and vest she wore now. The body, too, was not her father's but Cid's, or so he thought, and worse yet...
...a shot rang out. His entire body lurched forward, and he fell to his knees.
Oh, this dream... he thought. After Kadaj's death. Yazoo had shot him from behind and...
...but he was already turning, and running to face the adversary, his sword scraping along the ground just as it had done before. And his foe? A long haired man, cloaked in darkness, but... only one.
As he jumped, his weapon arcing over his head, he saw the hair that blew in the fiery hot breeze was raven, not silver, and he wore a cloak of blood, not shadow... and garnet, instead of jade eyes met his gaze as he bore down hard, and the sword came slicing through...
...and when he woke up with a yell and a cold sweat in the dark empty apartment where he lived, he knew the difference. He dreamt the future.
He looked closer in the mirror the next time the flashes took him. Got right up with his nose almost touching the glass, and really saw what was happening. His irises did not constrict, they changed shape. From a normal, human round, to a cat slit. And the difference in color had also been for real. From blue to green.
The date was set.
He was scared, but that was part of the reason why he had bothered to set a date. Because he knew if he didn't have some sort of schedule to work on, he would never get up the guts to actually do it.
In the meantime, he'd made all the proper arrangements, what goes to who and all that awkward blah-blah... confessed for past sins, said last goodbyes, and laid to rest long regrets...
...and that's why he was here.
On the eve of his premeditated suicide, he had but one more thing he needed to take care of before he was done.
But he was strangely calm while riding hastily along the dirt paths that led to Nibelheim, those familiar roads that he'd somehow never actually gotten to while on his bike. His thoughts were not, as they would be under normal circumstances, on the conversation that undoubtedly lay ahead... he'd been over it eight other times with eight other people, he about had it memorized by now:
Jenova's coming back. Yes, that's right, she's not gone. Yes, I know I can defeat her again... I've figured it out. How did I know? Um, well...
The headlight of Fenrir flashed across glass display windows of shops in the little town, lighting the way as he tried to very slowly and quietly make his way through the sleeping streets in the still-grey light of predawn.
At last he rumbled up to the old, dilapidated front door that had become so strangely familiar. He turned the engine off, flipped down the kickstand, and walked away from the motorcycle and to the mansion.
Not bothering to knock, Cloud just went straight on in, and to exactly where he knew Vincent would be. Unfortunately, that place was the basement.
Passing along the dank corridors, with the bats and other various nasties that popped out at him only being casual nuisances, Cloud made his way surely to the door of the crypt room. Reaching out to the rusty handle, he turned, and pushed, and the heavy door slowly jerked open, the hinges catching often, and the metal groaning in protest to being woken from its long, idle sleep.
Someone else inside was also protesting to being woken from his sleep. With a sigh loud enough to be audible even through velvet padding and thick oak wood, the coffin lid from the center box was pushed aside, and a bleary-eyed, bed-headed Vincent slowly looked out.
The sight almost made Cloud want to laugh. Almost. He'd come to grips with the gravity of his situation long ago, and had since learned not to let it bother him. But this was not the time to be making fun of poor Vincent, and he knew it. Still, though, he wished he had a camera.
"Cloud..." his deep voice croaked, "...what is it? I thought you weren't a morning person, and honestly, even I need my beauty sleep." he yawned.
Cloud smirked, oh, he was just asking for it, "I can see that." he murmured.
This got him sent a stern glare. Vincent slowly rose from his bed, and stepped down onto the rock floor with a clang of his metal boots against the ground. "What is it, then? Must be urgent..." he mumbled.
"Well, it... kind of is." Cloud began lightly.
He looked around, eyeing the skeletons that, yes, after all this time, were still here. "Couldn't you have picked a less morbid place to slee-"
"Cloud, what is this about?" he asked shortly.
Ooh, now the dread was settling in. Still, though... Vincent was never this blunt and direct... even when he was sleep deprived. He swallowed down nerves, and looked away. Of course he had the conversation memorized...
You see, remember what happened with the children two years ago? Yeah, that's happening to me. No, I don't know how, or why now, I figure Jenova's got her own reasons for doing things the way she does... and as for me? I've been pretty fucked with over the years, in case you hadn't noticed. I wouldn't be surprised if one day I randomly sprouted tentacles from out of my eye sockets...
Okay, so it normally wasn't that bad... but still, it was always part two that got to him. Part two was improvised, and specialized... every bit of it crafted unique for the particular person he was talking to. It was Vincent's that he was most worried about.
"No, you go first."
Cloud sighed and stepped forward, "Vincent, it's happening again-..."
"Jenova." he explained, "...is happening again. In me, this time, not Sephiroth, and not the children or Kadaj, or..." he trailed off at the look of horrified familiarity in the gunman's eyes. The normally collected man looked completely scared out of his wits, and that alone was enough to shake Cloud.
Other times, with other people, there had been tears, in Cid's case violent swearwords, and so on... but never this...
"Vincent...?" he asked gently.
The gunman swallowed, and shook his head, "I didn't know..." he stammered weakly, "I didn't know... Cloud... you too?"
A moment of quiet, "Me too?" Cloud repeated, "Wait, what do you mean 'me too', Vincent?"
A sour smile spread across the gunman's pallid lips, "I never told you. I've never told anyone. There's Jenova in me too."
Yep, this part two was definitely going somewhere Cloud didn't want it to, "You mean..." he muttered, "But why didn't... you get geostigma?"
Vincent shook his head, "You don't understand. How else would I have so easily recognized the symptoms of yours?" he said softly. In that moment Cloud realized what the ex-Turk had been doing with his hands... a few clicks, and a pop, and he slid the brass claw-arm off, to reveal a warped, crumbling, and blackened human limb below. Vincent offered a pained smile to Cloud's look of utter shock and horror.
"And you all wondered why I kept it hidden..." he whispered, sliding the armor back on.
"But... Vincent... why didn't you heal-"
"It's like poison to the demons." he cut in, "You don't think I would be foolish enough to live with the ailment for all this time...? I've had it ever since I woke up in Hojo's lab the day the experiments ceased... he overdosed me on that alien's blood, and this is what happened."
He went on explaining, "There was incredible pain ever since. I rejoiced the day I saw the rainfall, and came back in secret to try the water on myself. But one touch of it, and..." he shook his head, "Come now, Cloud, you've had the disease. You know what it looks like. It's a festering, rotting thing, wet, shedding black sludge, and bleeding black blood. This is different. It's almost... embalmed." he frowned, unable to come up with a better word for the oddity.
"Apparently whatever was in Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo, and Galian and Chaos is all of a similar makeup. It doesn't like the water."
"Vincent." Cloud stepped forward and timidly slipped his arms around the gunman's middle, leaving him as equally astounded as Cloud had been when the dark limb was revealed. In a moment he stepped back, and looked down.
"So you know." he said, back on task.
With a nervous swallow, Vincent offered a shaky, "Yes..."
"And then you know what we must do?" Cloud continued, now looking up.
At the same moment, Vincent's eyes went down, "...yes."
"I've... already decided to choose tomorrow." Cloud mentioned, "Well, by now it's today... but that's why I originally came here. I was visiting all of the old AVALANCHE, one by one, and telling them."
Vincent met his gaze, "And you saved me for last, Cloud?"
"Only the best for last." he added with a small smirk.
He thought he saw the gunman's cheeks tint.
Vincent sighed, "I suppose... I shall have to do it too..."
"Not if you don't want." Cloud shook his head, "Of course... if you don't, that might mean that you can potentially be the one who finally destroys the world... without me there to stop you." he grinned.
Vincent smiled too. "I will go."
The two went through their day in a strange, anticlimactic stupor. Both were blatantly avoiding the subject of Cloud's choice to see Vincent last... though the swordsman's mind always lingered on it. He wanted to tell him. He wanted to tell Vincent.
"We should pick up the pace." he mentioned as the two of them turned the corner around the back side of an ice-cream shop, both holding cones in their hands, as Cloud had insisted they get after Vincent had mentioned that he hadn't had ice-cream in a while (a while being somewhere in the region of 40 years). "I gotta be out of here by midnight." Cloud reminded.
The gunman grimaced, despite the sweet lick of ice-cream he had just taken into his mouth. Cloud gone... that was not a pleasant concept.
As time ran shorter, and emotions ran higher, ideas ran stupider... it was after dark, just as the sun had set, in fact, that the two had found themselves far off in the Nibelheim mountains, hidden amidst a rolling grassy glade within the crags, laughing, and toying around with their materia like they were Yuffie on a sugar high.
"Look at this one!" Cloud exclaimed, raising his bare arm into the chill air, and sending a white bolt far into the sky.
Vincent outright laughed. He'd broken down and started sputtering and choking from so much of it about an hour ago, when it had first spawned itself, the idea of trying to combine odd materia combos to see if they could make their own fireworks... because who didn't like fireworks? And if these two world-saving heroes didn't go out with a bang (possibly literally), who the hell else deserved to?
With a happy sigh, Cloud fell flat back onto the ground, and rolled slightly along the incline, though he didn't mean to. Giggling madly, he found himself coming to a stop on a softness other than the fresh grass beneath him.
He looked over, struggling to keep his face straight, and failing, as Vincent looked down with an eyebrow raised, and an equally strained look. He broke, snorted, and it wasn't long before the two were once again bending at the middle, holding painfully tight to their lower ribs and stomachs, and gasping for breath.
And at once, there was a flapping, and a strange warmth embraced the swordsman. Looking up, and wiping happy tears from his eyes, he saw that Vincent had thrown his cloak over them. Unhesitatingly, Cloud snuggled up in it, and sighed with contentment, minding to take only occasional glances up to his companion's equally peaceful face, which rested on the palm of his hand as they lay there and watched eachother.
"...you know what's kind of funny...?" Vincent remarked softly, turning his face up to the starlit sky.
"...in a way..." he began, "...we're kind of having our own little 'reunion', right here, right now..." he smirked, "...as we would be in who knows how little time if we weren't going to do what we're about to do."
Cloud smirked, "Different reunion." he said softly, turning to the man and smiling warmly, "Better one."
Another long silence. Both expected the other to start laughing again, neither did, only a few awkward chuckles broke away in between.
"Vincent..." Cloud looked at him gravely, "I got it before, now it's your turn to go first." he said.
Vincent sighed, "Are you..." he began, another flush rising to his face, "...are you sure?"
"Damn sure." he answered with a big smile, "As sure as I am that we are, once again, probably talking about the same topic."
The blush deepened, and Vincent's eyes widened, "Do you... you think so?" he asked, hope shining out like a beacon in his voice.
"Yeah..." the whisper was soft, and Cloud was close, his breath warm against Vincent's already very warm face, "...I do."
Vincent bridged the gap, then. The two met, then pulled away, and looked at eachother, both studying the opposite's expression carefully, before doing it again, as if the first was just a trial, and this was the real thing... and oh, was it the real thing.
In the cold September night, they soon had nothing more but Vincent's cloak to keep both of them warm... but it did it's job well. Out in the mountains where they were, no-one could hear the sudden, yet complete and perfect fulfilled cries as they both gave eachother everything.
Breathing hard, with the film of sweat already cooling on their skin, the velvety cape was pulled over the bare bodies, and Cloud buried his face in Vincent's chest, his hair tickling along the man's collarbone. Vincent smiled, and idly ran his good hand through it. Legs entwined like a net, locking on, and making promises of never letting go. Cloud's arms encircled Vincent's waist protectively, comfortingly...
In the still, a far off bell could be heard tolling in the Nibelheim church.
"Midnight..." Cloud whispered, looking up.
"Yes." Vincent hissed into the boy's ear.
"...we have to do it."
Two hands reached at the same time for two weapons. Cloud's choice, a trusty little knife he kept always in his boot, in case the sword got knocked away. Vincent's, a convenient Derringer that stored nicely in one of his pockets.
Vincent placed the cold barrel of the gun to Cloud's forehead, as the boy placed the sharp tip of the knife to the man's chest.
The bell tolled six...
"Ready?" Cloud breathed.
"Ready." Vincent affirmed.
The bell tolled nine...
"We'll let it count us down." the swordsman offered.
"Cloud..." Vincent purred, "...I love you."
"I love you."
That was all that they needed to say. The bell tolled twelve...
A shot that rings out where nobody but a dead man can hear is all but silent to the living. So as dark blood pooled around pale skin, two heroes passed silently from this world, and two pairs of glowing eyes slid closed behind the curtains of the last act.
Author's Ending Note Thingy: I don't know where all the freakish dark humor came from... Ice-cream and fireworks? I must be a nut. Then, it is three in the morning. I like it. At least right now. I'll read it again tomorrow to see if I still do.