I wanted to either update Ivory Keys/ publish a one-shot themed for Halloween. I haven't done a seasonal post for a while! Look out for it this week! Please enjoy the chapter!

Chapter 18: Spiralling

Cid cursed under his breath as he entered the main gates of Kalm, tossing his cigarette butt on the ground and stepping on it with a dirty, travel worn boot. He exhaled his last mouthful of smoke into the cool, night air.

Tifa's old bar stood empty, no warm, welcoming glow shining out from the windows. But somehow, Cid felt that his search wouldn't be as fruitless as the last; He found the door open already, Just as he had anticipated.

How could this place have gotten so dirty so soon since Tifa have moved out? In the shaft of moonlight that penetrated the windows, he could make out footprints in the carpet of dust; fairly fresh ones at that. So Vincent was here.

His boots thudded unnecessarily loud on the floorboards, no matter how lightly he tried to tread, the thick layer of dust serving him ill in muffling his passage.

"Shit…" He cursed under his breath, aware of movement on the floor above.

He dropped his failing attempts at stealth and made for the stairs, taking them two at a time. In the dark of the hall, light leaked from a door that had been left ajar; the door to Tifa's room. Cid pushed the creaking wooden door wide to admit him, spotting Vincent immediately, stood with his back to the room, his outline illuminated in silver moonlight.

"The hell you doin' here, Vince?" Cid appraised the empty space around him, devoid of all personality, all traces of Tifa long gone. "Don't suppose you remember what I tol' ya in Rocket town, do ya?"

Vincent turned to face him, his brow furrowed slightly. "I'm sorry, but I gotta do this."

Cid drew back his arm, and planted a solid punch in the centre of Vincent's face, his knuckles making contact with a sickening crack. Cid rubbed the thumb of his other hand back and forth over his knuckles, watching Vincent carefully. He had not moved, or tried to defend himself. He was accepting Cid's treatment as his punishment. Blood was running from his nose freely, down onto his lip. Vincent wiped it away briskly, his eyes gleaming, no doubt from the pain.

"I needed some time to think," Vincent's voice was thick, edged with pain.

Cid grunted, unable to prevent sarcasm leaking into his voice. "The hell you run off for like that? Havin' an old man like me trekking' around after ya, like some goddamn kiddie's treasure hunt…"

"I did not intend for you to follow me, Cid." His tall form seemed to slump, crumbling under the metaphorical weight of all of his troubles. Cid scratched the back of his head and reached for the cigarette tucked behind his ear, pinching it between his lips and lighting up, flame illuminating his haggard face.

"Well, I did." He shoved his hands into the pockets of his flight jacket, sucking on the cigarette, the acrid stench of tobacco assaulting Vincent's nostrils. "Listen Vince, everyone knows how you feel abou' Tifa… only an idiot would pass up a chance to be with a woman like her."

"I am a fool, no less."

"I told ya, not to break her heart, Vince… You force me to do things I really don't want to do sometimes. Jeez, we've all been worried sick about you both."

"She deserves someone better." Vincent turned to face the window again. Cid growled in frustration.

"Y'see, this is your problem; you always think that yer not good enough, but Tifa wants you, and no one god damn else. Hell, I can't see why! But I know that y'love Tifa, and Vince, that should be enough, goddammit!"

"It is not as simple as that Cid…"

"Well, we got all the time in the world…" Cid sat down heavily on the bare mattress, the strings groaning a little as they accepted his weight. "I'm jus' strugglin' to understand you, Vince. I mean, do you really want to see her with someone else?"

The knuckles of Vincent's hand whitened as he clenched his fist. "See? I know it bothers ya. We all heard her, Vince—Its botherin' her too. She doesn't know why you left so suddenly, and she doesn't want anyone else."

His lips were a thin line now. "Evidence would suggest the contrary."

"Now don't be giving me that shit, Vince." Cid took the cigarette out of his mouth in anger, plumes of blue smoke seeping from his lips with each word. "You can't tell me you've lived a blameless, mistake free life. None of us have. I suggest you man the fuck up, and be honest, which ever route you decide. She. Needs. To know."

Vincent turned his back on Cid, eyes wildly taking in every detail as his mind processed Cid's advice.

Every room, even every object here seemed to hold a memory, so strong that it were as if Tifa herself would appear in the doorway, as though she had never really left at all. There was the window on the landing where she had kissed him; the spot where she had watched him walk away from her, when she had needed him the most. Then there was the living room where they had talked for many hours, where they had become comfortable with each other, at least, for a time.

The he passed into the bar, the place where it had all began. He recalled his sudden impulse to visit, when looking for a place to stay the night. Somehow, he had driven away her fears and become her crutch, her foundation, and he had somehow become irrevocably and irreversibly entwined in her life.

They had argued here, talked, kissed…

… He could still see the broken glass, the blood on her wrists; he could still feel his heart pulsing with surging hatred for a man who had broken something so beautiful, he wasn't so sure it would be the same again. Why should it have fallen to him to fix it all; that was, if he was able to fix it.

How did he always manage to get himself into such tangled situations? First there had been Lucrecia and her pregnancy, and at first there had been doubt as to the legitimacy of Hojo's paternity claim. But He had known all along, of course. Lucrecia had been distant for weeks; kisses were cold, no longer warm enough to kindle their desire.

And now there was Tifa…

Would she be too angry to allow him to make amends for the damage he had caused? Did he have the strength to tell her the real reason for his ill-timed departure?

Then there was this Greg character; She was still young, he reminded himself, still had so much to live for. He couldn't blame her for turning to someone else, who seemed to offer her much of what she was missing from her life. He found that he was angrier than he cared to admit. Who was this man? Could he ever understand the complexity of one of Tifa's smiles? Would he ever be adept enough to read each of her expressions, her body language, the hidden tones in her words?

Yet in spite of the fact that he felt he knew her quite well, he still had to wonder; Why him?

Why did she love him?

He couldn't accept the validity of that night in Wutai; She was so vulnerable, yet so irresistible to him that night. Bringing his lips to her skin was to devour her completely. She was succulent and tantalising, a drug he could never shake his addiction to. For the first time in too-many-years, he had let his walls crumble away, exposing him to her completely. She had touched places he had forgotten felt so good to be touched. He had tasted her skin, her mouth…

He heard Cid close the door behind him, taking a breath of the clean, dust free air of the town. He heard the click of the pilots lighter, as no doubt, he was smoking again.

If he were to go back, he couldn't expect a warm reception. Would she be angry? Yes- no doubt about it. As to how she would vent that anger, however, he couldn't guess. She might chose to ignore him, she might shout at him, or even slap him—either way, he would deserve it.

But he had to try, at least, and put his restless mind to rest.

-0-

Her every fibre was shaken; reduced to trembling child, both relief and disappointment clashing within her. She longed for her mother's wisdom, her Father's protection, and Vincent's dark yet comforting presence presence. She sank down into the dining chair with a heavy sigh, staring at the floral pattern on her table cloth until it blurred before her eyes.

The test was Negative.

The relief overwhelmed the minor disappointment; she was not ready for children yet. She was not in the emotional position to be a mother, to have someone so dependent on her. She was finding it hard to depend on herself, as it stood now.

"Are you…"

"Happy? Yes. Relieved? Yes. Sad? Yes."

"You are sad?"

"If I was pregnant it would have been Vincent's." She gazed down at her flat stomach, as though something that should have been there was missing. "It's as if… there is no reason for him to come back."

"He has many reasons already for coming back. He just hasn't realised them yet." Shera placed her hands firmly on Tifa's shoulders. "You can't go on like this."

"I know."

"Vincent will come back if that is what he feels is right for you both. When you and ready for him to come back- you won't realise you are ready- but he will come."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Tifa massaged her temples, closing her eyes as she struggled with Shera's evasive statement. "Do you know something I don't?"

"No, Tifa. I saw you two together at Christmas, and being the observant scientist that I am, I observed," She gave a small laugh. "And I know Vincent would never jeopardise you, in any way, be it your happiness, you stability. He saw how happy you were when you came back from Wutai," Tifa turned to interrupt.

"I wasn't happy, I was falling in love with him, and I was torn in two, Shera, I-" Shera raised her hand to silence her, her clever eyes, concerned.

"He did not see it like that. He sees it that his being there, made you miserable. He thinks that you are at your happiest without him."

"But that's not true!"

"The truth comes in many forms, each as ugly as the last." Shera sighed wisely. "But it will come."

"He was so patient with me in Kalm…" Tifa reminisced. She recalled the tension filled silences, the strained conversations, the awkward touches. "After everything I said or did… he was always there…"

"Then you should do the same for him, Tifa."

-0-

That night her dreams were plagued by perplexing architectures; rooms that didn't end, staircases that lead to nowhere. In one room the floor was littered with broken glass, glinting in eerie blue light, wooden chairs and tables smashed into splintered chunks of wood.

She stepped over the devastation and walked into the centre of the room, realising that she was looking for something that was as of yet elusive to her.

But at the sound of a familiar voice, she turned her head. It was coming from the door she had entered from.

Then there was Vincent, as clear as day. In that tantalising moment, as she parted her lips to speak, she is aware of herself being dragged into consciousness. Then she awakens to find herself on her sofa. No Vincent, no bar, no Kalm.

Just herself, her house, and the darkness.

She frowned at her reflection as she brushed her teeth. The mint of her toothpaste was still resonant on her tongue as she sat down in the kitchen, the scent of Shera cooking breakfast awakening a sudden hunger in her she didn't know she had been harbouring.

Whilst chewing, she mused upon her night-time wanderings, with Shera chatting away to her across the table between mouthfuls.

Past or none, Vincent should never have run away. Past or none, she had no reason to feel guilty for sleeping with Greg. Only shame. Shame was different. She wished she hadn't been so weak. Then maybe things would have turned out another way. If only she had faced her daemons, instead of trying to run from them.

"You don't seem all here today." Shera's concerned tone distracted her from staring into her mug of coffee.

"I feel as though I haven't woken up yet, like I'm still trapped in my stupid perplexing dreams… She said, words falling out of her mouth, still in a dream-like state. "I never wanted it to be this way... I thought that in buying me a house… maybe he would have come with me. A new start, no bad memories… We could have been happy."

Shera touched her shoulder lightly, offering no verbal response this time. She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, until little white stars danced in front of the blackness. "I don't know what it all means." She addressed the stars, aware of the room seeming to melt away in her created-dark.

Shera's presence moved away, and she was left alone in the kitchen for a few minutes. She took comfort from the stars, before returning to the real world, where everything was bright, and she couldn't hide.

She wished she had had the backbone not to go with Cloud in the first place. But no, she had needed him, convinced herself that he needed her, no matter what he did or didn't say, or do.

The pessimistic part of her wished Vincent had never come to her rescue; she would have simply withered away into nothingness, not knowing what she could have had.

It was too easy to want to take back the past, too easy to say that you wished it never happened. And in her doubt, in all her questioning, in her self-interrogation, she would never be able to let go; Of Cloud, of Vincent, even Greg. She was too weak to put things behind her.

It was her fate to live in a state of flux, never knowing the answers to her infinite what if's, and if only's. She was growing sick of listening to herself. Facing a new direction was a scary concept to her. New beginnings never boded well, and the unknown frightened her.

But one thing was for certain; she would be beginning again, alone.

-0-

I know this is a bit of a pessimistic chapter, but it needed to be out of the way. For those of you who have read this before, you might have noted that I opted for Vincent/Cid not to be aware of Tifa's pregnancy scare. In the end I didn't think I wanted it to be the reason Vincent would return to Tifa. I wanted him to reach a conclusion on his own. Tifa's scare is a battle of her own, independent of Vincent's struggles.

I hope you enjoyed the chapter, and please leave a review if you feel you have any thoughts you want to share.

Also, I wanted to either update Ivory Keys/ publish a one-shot themed for Halloween. I haven't done a seasonal post for a while! Look out for it this week!

Thanks to Cascade00, a new reader of mine. I hope you like the update!