Warnings: Small spoilers of Final Fantasy VII and mentions of torture.
My notes: Mentions of one pairing in this one; Cid and Vincent.
"Damn, it's snowing like hell!" Yuffie blurted out as she tried her best to shield her eyes. Agreeing muttering could be heard from the rest of the team as they all traversed through the harsh snow filled land near the Northern Crater.
"Don't fuckin' swear, brat." Cid grumbled out. And as Yuffie didn't even try to argue back, AVALANCHE really started to worry. Yuffie never, ever missed such an opportunity to start a fight with their pilot.
"We need to find shelter!" Cloud managed to holler out over the roar of the wind. "Or we will freeze to death!"
Everyone nodded grimly in agreement. In a snow storm like this no one could last long, except for Vincent who looked strangely unaffected, Nanaki with his fur and Cloud who had his Mako in his blood to warm him. Suddenly they heard Vincent mumble something, but no one heard what.
"Speak up, vampy!" Barret managed to roar loud enough for them to hear, and Vincent flinched at the loudness. Vincent merely shook his head in reply before grabbing onto the sleeve of Cid's pilot jacket and started to drag him in a, to AVANALCHE at least, random direction.
"Let's follow Vincent." Cloud said, because he was out of ideas by now. The rest of the team seemed to agree, except Barret of course who muttered something coarse about "fucking vampires who would get them all killed" under his breath. They started to follow the tall, black shadow that was Vincent, who was still dragging Cid by his sleeve as he walked with confident steps. Cid himself really didn't seem to mind the closeness and didn't try to free himself from the ex-Turk.
All of a sudden, the rest of the team saw what Vincent was walking towards. In the whiteness of the snowstorm they could make out the faint profile of a mountain, and a cave opening. They all smiled tiredly at Yuffie's enthusiastic cheering before shuffling inside the cave. Before they settled in they tried their best to get rid of the snow that had piled on their bodies. Then Aerith used her equipped Fire Materia to start a meager little fire with some dry sticks she found in the cave. They huddled around the fire, shivering. They were cold and wet, and clearly not dressed for his. They had not meant to wander around in the middle of a blizzard, because the news had clearly stated that the weather in these parts would be calm and even. Yeah, sure, if ya say so, as Cid would say.
With his next actions Vincent greatly surprised the rest of AVALANCHE. The normally shy and timid man, who hid under several layers of clothing and a cloak in silence, began to strip. Firstly, he placed his cloak over the shoulders of Tifa, Yuffie and Aerith who sat huddled together and tucked it around them. Everyone just stared at him in shock, no one moving or saying anything. Then he stripped his shirt, headband and even the glove of his unclawed hand and wrapped them around the hands of the girls.
"You can get frostbites and lose fingers if you are not careful." he mumbled softly.
Only then did the rest of AVALANCHE realize what they were seeing. They all reacted differently, some paling at the sight, some looking a bit green. Only Cloud seemed strangely unaffected, and he had an understanding look in his eyes. Vincent bare torso, throat, arms and forehead were covered in angry, red scars that looked like they had healed badly. Especially a huge scar on his torso drew their attention; it looked like an autopsy scar. They also noted that he was very, very skinny. They could easily count the ribs of the dark haired man.
"Vincent…" Aerith said softly after a few moments of silence as they all tried to take it in. "Are… Aren't you cold?"
He gazed at her with a calm and serene gaze, as if revealing his body that he normally was so ashamed of had been a relief, a burden taken of his shoulders. "I'm not." he then said, quietly as usually. "The demons… They are creatures of fire, in some ways. I don't get cold anymore."
With that said, he withdrew deeper into the darkness of the cave, clearly showing that he wished to be left alone. After a thank you directed at Vincent from the girls and approving nods from the guys, sans Barret of course, they let him be to lurk in the darkness as he wished.
Night came, and the storm continued to rage outside their little sanctuary. Tifa, Aerith and Yuffie still cuddled together under Vincent's cloak, and even Cloud, Cid and Barret huddled together as much as their manly pride could allow. Even Cloud with his Mako-infused blood had gotten cold by now. Nanaki lay over the feet of the girls to warm them; apparently he had taken Vincent's warning of frostbite to heart.
"Are… are we going to make it?" Yuffie asked, her normally cocky teenage voice suddenly childish and innocent. And afraid, very afraid, and it made the others hearts clench.
"Of course, honey." Tifa said with a soothingly. But she could not hide how her teeth clattered because of the cold. No one else said anything, and Aerith just hugged Yuffie closer to her. Despite of the lit fire, they could still see their breath in the air. They all knew that they would not last until morning.
Suddenly, Vincent stepped into their line of sight again. He looked completely unaffected by the cold. He looked at them with hesitant eyes. "Please…" he said. "Please don't be afraid." And before everyone's wide eyes he began to transform.
"Shit!" Barret cursed. "He's limit breaking! Fuck!"
Before anyone else could react or draw their weapons one of the demons stood before them. But they had never seen this one. Vincent had briefly explained the concept of the demons that resided inside of him and had transformed into three different ones during especially harsh fights. AVALANCHE had simply assumed that they were the demons Vincent spoke of, and yet, here stood a fourth one before their very eyes. It was only slightly taller than Vincent, but had much broader frame. It also had giant, bat like wings. Its eyes were a scalding yellow, and studied them with an almost curious look. Imminently, the temperature in the small cave rose drastically.
"Well, hello there, mortals." it said with an amused tone, it's voice deeper and less hoarse than Vincent's.
"Fuck!" Cid said, sounding startled and a bit stunned. "It can talk!"
The demon frowned at him. "Of course I can talk, human." it said a bit sourly.
"What do you want?" Cloud asked curtly and defensive as he reached for his sword. Barret loaded his gun arm and aimed it at the demon's head.
"I am only here because the host insisted." the demon said with a snort. "Something about you not freezing to death, I think." The large demon sneered at Cloud's battle stance. "If you even try to charge at me with that pitiful sword, you will regret it. I have no intention to attack you, and I would appreciate if you would return that favor. And if you do attack me, you attack Vincent, understand?"
The demon and the humans regarded each other in silence. Cloud then warily put down his sword, but kept it within reach. He then signaled at Barret to lower the gun, and the big man did so with a low growl directed at the demon. The demon simply snorted in a superior manner before taking a seat near the fire. They sat still in silence for a while. Then the girls had to remove the cloak around then because it now was quite warm in their small cave.
"So…" Cid said, and the rest gave him a slightly nervous glance, not wanting him to cause any anger from the demon with thoughtless words. Which he ignored as unusually, of course. "What's yer name, bat boy?"
The large demon gave him an amused smirk. "You mortals have given me the name Chaos, a long time ago. It is not my original name, but I suppose it is good enough."
"So what's yer original name then?" Cid pressed on, and the others gave him a shocked look. Only Cid Highwind could hold a casual conversation with a powerful, ancient demon.
"It does not matter." Chaos said simply, and shrugged slightly.
"Awright then." Cid paused, and looked as if he were pondering something. "So…"
"So…" Chaos imitated him in mockery.
"Those big ass wings." Cid said and waved in their direction. "Can ya fly with those?" he said and stared at them with fascination in his eyes.
Chaos raised an eyebrow in response and expanded the huge, leathery wings as far as they would go. They filled a great part of the cave, and made a truly impressive sight. "Well, they are not for show."
Cid sighed in a jealous way at the sight of those wings. "Well, I always wished I could fly…" he muttered before reaching out and, to the rest of the team's great horror, touched the thin but strong tissue of the wings. The rest of AVALANCHE huddled together on the other side of the fire, away from Chaos and Cid. Chaos himself didn't seem to mind the touching, and just smiled a crooked smile at the wistful pilot.
"You pilot that big airship, yes?" he said. "Is not that flying?"
"It's just not the same." Cid responded while stroking the leather skin. "I was kind of curious though… How much do ya see? Do ya see everything Vince sees or what?"
Chaos closed his eyes as he tilted his head a little to the side, as if in deep thought. "I see what he sees, yet I do not. I hear what he hears, yet it is not the same. I feel what he feels, yet I can not truly feel those human feelings." He opened his eyes and gazed into the pilot's eyes with something ancient showing in his eyes. "Do you understand, human?"
"I suppose so." Cid said quietly, unusually quietly for the normally brass man. "You are a part of him, but you are still separate beings."
"That is, in some ways, correct." Chaos said with a nod.
Suddenly Aerith joined the conversation. "I understand, from Vincents… brief explanation about the demons and such that you are not inside him from your own free will." she started, speaking in a slightly hesitant voice, but I grew stronger as she went on. "But do you have to torture him so? We all hear his nightmares… And they sound… so… horrid." She shuddered a little in memory of those nightmares that woke Vincent almost every night, shivering, sweating and screaming. Terrified. Not even Barret could be mean to Vincent after one of his nightmares, because they were so horrible.
Chaos turned his eyes to her. "Young Cetra." he began. "Whatever made you think we are responsible for his nightly terrors? If you had any idea how much we shield the host from his own memories to avert those nightmares…" he drifted off and averted his eyes from her and looked into the fire with an emotionless look on his face.
"You aren't the reason for his nightmares?" Tifa butted in. "But what does he dream about then?" she asked in confusion.
"We are not evil creatures by nature." Chaos said simply, ignoring her second question.
"Yer demons, of course yer evil!" Barret said, and crossed his arms.
"Demon is only a name given to us by humans. We are creatures created of fire, shadows and darkness, true, but we are not evil by nature. Just like creatures of light, like humans, are not necessarily good." Chaos said as he continued to gaze into the fire. "We are of an ancient race… As old as the Cetras, and even older than that. Long before the race of humans ever were born. Demon is simply a label created by humans to ease their minds. I suppose it is easier for them to sleep at night when they believe the darkness is bad and the light is good." He sent a crooked smile in Barret's direction as he said the last part.
"Yeah, right." Barret said and snorted sarcastically.
Chaos smile merely widened in response. "One example could be that the nightmares the host suffers through every night are created by a human, from the memories the host has from that mans actions and misdeeds, while we demons, as you seem to prefer to call us, are the ones to soothe him and get him through another day."
"I'm sure you only do that so that he won't fuckin' kill himself and drag ye things with him!" Barret said angrily.
"Barret!" Tifa exclaimed. "That's horrid!"
Chaos laughed sarcastically. "As if." he said. "If the host actually could take his own life, I am quite sure that he would have done so already. He has certainly tried, but our healing skills are…"
Cid interrupted him abruptly. "Wait a sec!" he said. "Vince tried to fuckin' kill himself!"
Tifa put her hand in front of her mouth in horror. "When did this happen?"
"Well…" Chaos began. "The first time was two days after you woke him up. He put up a rope in the roof of the cabin you gave him on the Highwind and tried to hang himself. He hang there for about three hours before giving up and using his claw to cut himself down."
Aerith let out a strangled sob and Yuffie felt tears gather at her eyes. "We didn't even notice…" Aerith said between sobs.
Chaos ignored her and went on. "The next time was two weeks after the awakening. While you were chasing after the young ninja girl when she had stolen your Materia, he left the group for a while. Not that you noticed, of course. He threw himself down some cliffs. A fall of about 200 meters I suppose. I let him fall, because I knew that if I saved him, he would only try again later. It took him half an hour to heal from the wounds and breaks. Then he was back in the group again."
"Please…" Tifa said, as if trying to stop him.
"Then." Chaos said, pointedly ignoring her protests. "Then he stole pills. Lots and lots of pills from the infirmary of the ship and swallowed them all. He eventually threw them up. The last try was only two weeks ago. He shot himself in the head as a last resort."
"Vincent…" Cid said and laid his face in his hands.
Chaos smiled almost tenderly. "He is broken, I suppose." he said. "He never talks to you. But he does enjoy your company. I just thought that you should know about some things." Chaos finished and retuned his eyes to the flickering fire.
They spent the rest of the night in silence around the fire. Not that they needed it very much ever since Chaos made his appearance and warmed the cave with his being. The girls even fell asleep for a few hours as the storm continued to rage. At sunrise however, the worst had passed and they were ready to leave. Only then did Chaos move again after being motionless for the whole night. He rested his yellow eyes on the girls who were still wrapped in Vincent's clothes.
"Get out, all of you." he said. "I will change back and let the host dress. He will join you shortly outside."
The others nodded in response before beginning to leave. Just before Tifa left the cave, she turned to the great demon.
"Thanks." she said simply. "For saving us… But mostly for taking care of Vincent where we have apparently failed."
The great demon looked at her with his ancient yellow eyes and nodded. "He… needs you." Chaos said. "I do not understand his feelings about you humans which he travels with, but the host needs you."
"He needs us because we are his friends." Tifa said.
"Friends…" Chaos echoed, and it was clear that he did not truly understand the meaning behind that word.
Tifa merely smiled at him, tiredly and a bit sadly, before leaving the cave. AVALANCHE only had to wait for a few minutes before Vincent emerged from the cave, dressed again and wrapped in his cloak, and as silent as always. They regarded each other in silence for a few moments, before Yuffie surprised everyone by throwing herself at Vincent and staring to bawl. Vincent just stood there, stiff as a board, unable to comprehend what was happening as Yuffie started hitting his chest.
"How could you?" she screamed. "Stupid, stupid, stupid!"
Tifa ran forward and managed to pry the angry girl of Vincent. "I'm sorry…" Vincent said hesitantly. "I know he scared you, but it was the only thing I could think of to warm the cave and…"
"It's not THAT you should apologize for, stupid!" Yuffie screamed, in tears and still trying to struggle out of Tifa's arms to attack again. "How could you try to take your own life?"
Vincent looked stunned. "Why would you care about that?" he said. "I'm sure you will be able to take care of Sephiroth without my help and…"
Before he could continue, Cid interrupted him. "It's not about that, shithead." he said angrily. "Gods, Vincent, do ya seriously think that we wouldn't care if ya died?"
Tifa stepped forward and grabbed Vincent's hand in both hers. "Vincent." she began. "We are disappointed that you tried to take your own life. But we forgive you. You are our friend, and we want you to live."
"I…" Vincent said, and averted his eyes from them.
"It's alright." Cloud said and gently took Tifa's hand from Vincent. "Just don't do it again. Let's go back to the Highwind."
"Wait a sec!" Cid said, still upset. "It's not fuckin' awright! Vince, yer not allowed by yerself again! Yer sleeping in the extra bed in my room from now on, got it, shithead?"
"Cid, be nice!" Aerith said and put her hands on her hips. "We can't force him to hang around you all the time, that's mean!"
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" Cid asked in mock anger.
Aerith ignored him and went on. "I'm sure Vincent won't try anything that stupid again. Right, Vincent?" she asked pointedly. All head turned to Vincent, who was still studying him feet as if they were the most interesting thing in the world. When Aerith still wouldn't cease her pointed glare he relented and answered.
"I won't." he mumbled, and apparently that was good enough because Aerith turned back into her usual perky self.
"Let's go!" she said happily and grabbed Clouds arm and started to drag him with her. The others followed, chattering among themselves. Vincent stayed in the rear of the group as usual, and this time Cid joined him back there.
"Don't think this is over, Val." Cid said and glared at Vincent. "I'll keep an eye on ya so that ya don't do anything fuckin' stupid again."
"Do you really care that much, Mr. Highwind?" Vincent asked tiredly.
"It's Cid to you, I've said so a fuckin' thousand times by now! And of course I care, we're friends, Vince." And as Vincent didn't answer him, he stopped momentarily and grabbed into Vincent's arm, stopping him as well. They watched the back of the others in the team as they walked away, not noticing the two who lagged behind.
"Vince…" Cid said. "I may not always act like it, but I do care 'bout ya." he continued, a bit awkwardly.
Vincent gazed on him. "You said so." he replied simply.
Cid swallowed nervously. "Yeah but… I like you, Vince."
"Don't." Vincent replied shortly with a soft tone.
Cid's voice grew stronger. "But I fuckin' do, awright?" he said grumpily. "I just want one damn chance, ya know."
Vincent stared at him with tired eyes. "It's not a good idea, Cid." After that, Vincent pulled himself from Cid's grasp and hurried away to catch up with the others.
"Ya just keep telling yerself that, sweetie." Cid said with a grin as he jogged after Vincent. He liked challenges after all. And everything pointed to that this would be one. But he knew that the reward would be worth any crap Vincent could throw in his direction. He was a Highwind, dammit, and Highwinds didn't give up, ever.
Vincent couldn't help but to feel a little flattered at Highwind's confession. But he still felt unsure about the whole ordeal. But as he gazed into Cid's determined blue eyes as the man walked beside him, he felt as if a small weight had left from his heart. One day maybe… Maybe he could heal. One day...