By Alek

Cid lit up on the way to his truck, calming down slightly as the first drag made the cigarette’s tip glow orange against the foggy night and the nicotine eased into his blood. The accident at the engine foundry hadn’t been much, just a bunch of spilled hydraulic fluid caused by a garden-variety fuck-up. The chief mechanic on-duty had gotten it mostly cleaned up by the time Cid had pulled in, and for that he had received the brunt of a tirade laced with curses and vague threats. In the end, he was left standing in a puddle of the stuff, pink splotches on his grease suit, as the door slammed in Cid’s wake.

And Cid said to himself as he stalked off, “Motherfucking incompetent!”, but the oath didn’t have a particular vileness to it, just a mild distaste at having to drop his television remote and put on his shoes and jacket and drive to the foundry at an odd hour. Try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to feel any measure of wrath towards the mechanic, and the magnificent display of shouting and cursing had been more for show, because his people would have thought it odd if he’d simply accepted the fact that it was an accident. They’d expected a mad fury, like always.

Like always?

Like always.

He was the first to admit, albeit only to himself, that he harbored his lighter emotions behind a film of wrath. Being perpetually angry meant not having to go through with all the niceties that a civilized society expects from you. Being perpetually angry was easier.

“Calm down, you old fuckstick,” he said as he opened his door and slid behind the wheel, then scoffed at himself as he realized the contradiction. He twisted the key in the ignition and the engine turned over and he left the foundry in his dust.

His headlamps didn’t do much more than throw twin columns of light into the fog, and his visibility was made worse by the forest that encroached on the slight road and snuffed out the moon and stars. Fuckin’ lovely weather, he thought to himself and he gradually began to regret ever leaving his couch and coming down to the foundry. He took in one more lungful of smoke, and then he saw that his cigarette had spent itself. Huh. He cracked the window, tossed the butt out, and reached over to the passenger side, feeling around the heap that was his jacket and trying to fish out the crumpled package of cigarettes.

In the left pocket, in the left...Christ, where’s the left pock—


Cid swerved the wheel to the right, missing the embankment by a scant foot. He let off the accelerator, and the truck coasted along into the fog.

It took a few seconds for his senses to return to normal, and when he had his wits about him again he knew that he’d turned right at the fork instead of left, and he’d have to backtrack in order to get home. He also knew that the only place to turn around was the clearing around Shera’s house. He put his foot back on the accelerator and pushed.

Yeah, Shera’s house. Gonna look fuckin’ comical when I come barreling out of the woods and turn around without stopping.

She’d moved out. Cid had returned from the far north, they’d gotten along for a few weeks, and then she’d packed and moved. She didn’t want to encroach on his breathing space, she’d explained against the screech of boxing tape.

He knew it was an empty explanation, but he didn’t bother pushing it. He thought he knew. In the weeks after his return, he’d noticed a certain expectant air around her, as if she were waiting for him to say something. And he knew that he hadn’t said that something, so she’d brought out the boxing tape.

He winced, mouth pulling tight in a grimace as he watched the road. He’d fucked up, bad. He’d let something go, let something special just pack up and jet. He knew not to do that. He’d seen this kind of stuff get taken away before, listened to men warn him not to let it go. He’d watched and shifted his feet uncomfortably as Cloud waded out of the ancient lake and looked at him with bleary, red-rimmed eyes. And Vincent...

Well, Vincent was another story entirely.

I should stop and say hello. No, she’s not even gonna be up. Well…

And suddenly he could make out porch lights beaming through the fog and the trees were gone and he was there.

Just turn around, she might not be awake, but fuck it you owe it to her and what the hell.

And so he brought the truck to a stop, the old brakes squeaking a little and making him wince because he knew that if she was awake she’d hear him. He turned off the engine and squinted through the fog.

“Can’t see shit,” he muttered to no one. The house lights were on, yeah, but that didn’t necessarily mean that—


Oh, fuck. She’d seen him, or at least the truck, and maybe now his decision had been made for him but maybe he could just turn around like nothing had happened. His hand hovered next to the ignition, and the jumble of keys dangling from the steering column brushed against the tips of his fingers as he thought about just starting the engine and getting the fuck out of there. Yeah, he’d—



He didn’t have a choice now, which brought him an awkward bit of relief. He pulled his jacket off the passenger seat and opened the door and stuck a foot out, hesitated, and then stepped out all the way.

“Yeah.” Say something to her, tell her why you’re here—Why am I here?—No no no, just make up an excuse, make something up—“Thought I’d check up on you, see how you’re doing, y’know.”

Lame, lame.

“Oh.” He thought he could see Shera standing on the front porch, wearing what looked like a nightgown. Had she been asleep? If she had, and he’d just woken her up…

“Well, come inside, then.”

And at once Cid found himself treading up the gravel path that led to her front door. He reached into his jacket pocket and found a cigarette and lit up, getting in two good drags before he got inside.

There was a fire going in the hearth, and Cid could see a coffee table flanked by a couch and a couple of armchairs. A hardcover book lay opened and face down on the table. Evidently, she’d been reading, which was good; He hadn’t woken her up. She moved around him and closed the door, ushered him over to an armchair, and beckoned him to sit.


“No tha…Um, yeah, actually.”

She turned and padded softly into the kitchen.

“Thanks,” he said to her as an afterthought, but she didn’t reply. There was a clink of metal kitchenware and then the sound of water coming out of the tap.

He looked around the room and shifted his weight and tried to find something to do with his hands. His eyes fell to the coffee table at his knees, where there was a wide plate of delicate sugar cookies. He took one, turned it over in his hands a few times, and stared hard at it, as if looking for something to talk about.

Say something, you clumsy shit. Don’t just sit there.

It was Shera who started talking, her voice coming across calm and disturbingly empty from the kitchen, and she said, “How’s that new airframe specialist coming along?”

Ah. “He’s fine, I guess. A little wet around the ears, but he’s got a knack for metallurgy. He’s gonna turn out just fine.” There wasn’t a reply from the kitchen. “…Just fine,” he said again.

It was then that he realized that his cigarette had burned halfway to the butt since he’d last drawn on it outside, and as he looked around for an ashtray to flick it over he thought, Oh, shit, I’ve been smoking in her house. The smell of tobacco was already starting to mask the scented candles Shera had sitting everywhere.

Son of a bitch—

He tossed the cookie back onto the plate, half-rose from the armchair, and threw his cigarette into the fire as Shera came in with the tea.

“Here we are,” she said and set the tray delicately on the coffee table. She offered a cup to him, and he accepted it with a forced gracefulness.

“Thanks. Smells good.”

She sat down on one end of the couch but made no move to pick up her cup, instead demurely folding her hands in her lap. But Cid thought he saw the ghost of a smile on her face.

Think of something to talk about. Think of something. Ah.

“So, I just got back from the foundry.”

“Oh?” He thought he heard interest in her voice.

“Yeah. You’ll never guess what happened. Dobbs, he—Get this—He spills a little hydraulic fluid, and he thinks the world’s gonna end. So he calls me up.”

“Yes?” Her eyebrows were raised a hair, peeking out from above the rims of her reading glasses. Good, she’s interested, he thought, and it made him relax just a little, just enough to revert back to his old self, and so he said:

“Yeah, the little fucker calls me up giving me some kinda bullshit sob story, and so I gotta get off my ass and head down there, and I say to him, “You goddamned little weasel, I’m gonna stick my—“

STOP STOP STOP! What the fuck are you telling her? You’re fucking cursing in front of her already, you dumb shitsack!

He wanted to erase the words, wanted to grab them and put them back in his mouth and swallow them but he’d already said them and what the hell was he going to do now? What was he going to say, now that the clumsy roughneck in him had shown itself?

“…So I…so we cleaned everything up and I came here.”

“I see.” Shera picked up her teacup with both hands and blew imaginary steam from it.

Great going, jizzhead.

He stared down at his boots, studying the crisscrossing laces because he had nothing else to say, nothing that would come across as refined or civil or fuck why can’t I just talk to her, why can’t I just say what’s on my mind? I lived with her for four years without having to go through this. Why the hell am I coming off like a complete ass now?

But he knew the answer even as he posed the question to himself. He’d always acted like this, always cussed and threatened and been a ruffian, and at the end of it all he’d ignored his one chance to make up for it and there was no way in hell Shera was going to let him come back to her. Not now, not ever.

“Yeah, so I guess that’s that. A little unexpected, but nothing I can’t handle.” He smiled, and she smiled, but her smile was polite and came from somewhere distant. He set his teacup down and grabbed a sugar cookie, stuffed it in his mouth, and chewed on it without really tasting it. He wiped his hands on his lap, and the crumbs fell onto the cushion beneath him and started to work their way into the creases of the upholstery. Shera winced.

Fuck. You know what? Leave. Just fucking leave. You’re being a nuisance, and she probably wants to just go to bed but you’re keeping her up because she wants to be polite, and—

“Well, I think that about does it for me.” He stood up, made a show of yawning, and stretched. Shera didn’t move. “I think I’m gonna head back for the night.” He hesitated. “Sorry about the crumbs.”

“That’s okay.”

“And the smell.”

“Don’t worry about it, Captain.”

He pulled open the door, paused in the doorway, and turned his head.

Tell her you want her back. Tell her.

“Thanks for the tea.”

“You’re welcome.”

Standing in the doorway looking down at her, he knew what he wanted. He wanted to apologize for more than the crumbs and tobacco. He’d walk around her side of the couch and sweep her up in his arms, and she’d shriek with surprised mirth as if saying What were you waiting for?, and he’d carry her off to her bedroom and say he was sorry, he was sorry, he was incredibly sorry. And she’d say, I know, and she’d hold his head to her chest and run her delicate fingers through his hair and say, I know, I know.

But instead he walked out the door, and he heard Shera clearing away the barely drunken tea and sweeping the crumbs from the seat cushion.

He paused under the porch light and lit up, then stalked off to his truck, gravel shifting and crunching under his feet.

Get in the truck. Get in the truck. Don’t go back inside, don’t—What are you doing?

And he found himself paused next to the open door of his vehicle, looking back at the front porch and contemplating walking back inside.

You’re not fooling anyone. It’s not your decision to make anymore and you know it. Get in the truck.

He twisted the key in the ignition and the engine was coaxed to life. There was a silhouette in the doorway now, watching him.


He put the truck into gear and tapped on the accelerator, rumbling off into the fog.

All That Glitters Is Cold Fanfic Competition

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