Balance of Power Chapter 1

By Frank Verderosa & Jen Bond

A gust of wind kicked up a cloud of dust as Tifa walked down the street. She paused and shaded her face with her hand until the wind faded away. She brushed her hand through her hair, trying to remove the soil that had settled there. If not for the annoying dust, the wind would be refreshing in the heat of the day.

Tifa sighed and continued walking, looking around at the quaint shops that lined the streets of Rocket Town. Many of the shops were just the same as she remembered them. A smile crossed her lips for just moment as she let her thoughts slip back to the first time she had set foot in the town, back when Avalanche had been together. She felt a pang of remorse thinking about her old friends. She hadn't seen them in so long. What a bunch of characters they had been.

She looked to the north, over the trees, but saw only blue sky. She remembered Cid's rocket, the first time she had seen it, it's tall shape pointed like an arrow at the sky. But that was long since gone. She shook her head and pushed the memories away. That had been a long time ago, almost two years now. Things had changed since then. A lot of things.

She came into the center of town, and looked to the northeast at Cid's house. It too looked the same as she remembered, even down to the white picket fence surrounding it.

She walked up to the door and hesitated, looking around as if unsure of herself. And for a moment she wondered why she was even here at all. What would Cid think of her showing up here after all this time, after not having been in contact with one another for so long? Rocket Town looked the same but how much must have changed, in the town and in his life? He had probably long ago settled down with Shera. They might even have kids by now. Would he even remember her?

With sudden resolve she stepped up to the door and rapped lightly on it. No sense in having second thoughts now. She was here, it would be idiotic to turn around after standing on his doorstep.

She waited patiently for some minutes, but the door did not open. She rapped again, this time with more authority. She looked around. There were some people down the street, but no else nearby.

She looked at the door again, but it refused to budge. He must not be home.

With one final look around she turned and started to walk away, thinking perhaps it was the best and that this had been a foolish idea to begin with. For all she knew, he might not even live there anymore. She walked along the picket fence until she could see the side of the house, then stopped again. She could just make out the wing of an aircraft peeking out from the back of the house.

Slowly, almost reluctantly, she found herself walking along the side of the house. She came around back and could see the plane clearly now. She recognized the Tiny Bronco immediately.

She could see the lower half of a man dressed in gray mechanic's clothing lying beneath the body of the plane.

She stood there for a long time just looking at him, memories of their adventure returning unbidden, and yet again she wondered what she was doing here. Those had been difficult dangerous times. They had all nearly been killed dozens of times, but she looked back on them now as some of the best times of her life. Yet that was over. Everyone had to have changed. Was what she was doing now just a vain attempt to return to the past?

Abruptly she heard a ringing clang followed by a string of curses.

That was the Cid she knew.

She hopped lightly over the fence and walked over to him. He was still engrossed in whatever he was doing beneath the small aircraft and did not see her. A wrench lay on the ground near him, and his hand probed the ground, searching for it.

She picked it up and handed it to him. Immediately he slid out from under the plane. He looked up at her in surprise, then his face immediately broke out into a broad grin.

"Tifa! Well, I'll be damned!"

He stood up, each of them looking the other over. His blond hair unkempt and pushed up behind a pair of flyers goggles perched on his forehead, the cigarette trailing from his mouth, uniform covered with grease. He hadn't changed at all.

Cid took the cigarette out of his mouth and blew a thin stream of smoke from his nose. He leaned against the white boards of the fence and let his eyes roam over her. Her long, chocolate brown hair still fell to the backs of her knees, secured by a think strap of tan leather. Obviously her white, sleeveless tank top and short, leather skirt were more comfortable than his itchy, greasy work overalls. And despite everything that may have happened, she still managed to smile like nothing in the world could ever take her happiness. It was one of the things that he had always admired about her, her unrelentless optimism. More than once it had kept the team going when they were ready to give up hope.

He felt a rush of nostalgia sweep over him as he thought back to the times when they had all been together. Had it really been that long ago? At the time, he realized he had not even considered they would grow so far apart as to rarely see each other. Now, out of the blue, Tifa showed up. Not that he was not happy to see her, more like surprised.

He squinted as a ray of sun shifted through the trees and found himself staring at the area where the rocket had once been. The Shinra No. 26, his most prized possession next to the Highwind, and not even it was left. Shinra had shot it off into space in an attempt to destroy meteor, and what a waste that had been. Even as rusted and old as it had become, he still missed it.

"What are you doing here?" he questioned.

Tifa shrugged, a smile forming on her lips at the sight the pilot.

"Just thought I'd drop in and see how some of my old friends were doing," she replied.

"Well, it's great to see you again," he said enthusiastically. "Is Cloud with you?"

Immediately he could tell by the look on her face that he had said the wrong thing.

"I haven't seen him in over two months," she said after a moment's hesitation. "I opened a new bar in Kalm. He used to come in all the time in the beginning. But he spent most of his time wandering. I don't know where. But after a while his visits became less and less frequent. I tried to talk to him about it a few times, but I couldn't get through to him."

She paused and looked at Cid, unable to hide the hurt in her eyes.

"It took me a long time, but I finally realized that whatever it was he was searching for, I couldn't give it to him."

Cid was silent, feeling bad about opening his big mouth. She hadn't been here more than five minutes and already he had managed to say the wrong thing.

She took a deep breath and forced a feeble smile.

"But enough about me," she said. "How have you been? Where's Shera?"

Shera. Dammit. He had managed to go dang near the whole day without thinking about that woman and then Tifa had to go and bring her up. He inhaled sharply on his cigarette and tried to keep all emotion from his face. He must have failed miserably, because Tifa stepped forward and lay a hand lightly on his arm.

Cid squinted again, but this time it had nothing to do with the sun,

"Shera's gone. She's been gone for a long time. Took off to her sister's in Mideel."

Tifa's face betrayed her remorse, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."

Cid shrugged, "No big deal. Guess you owe me one for my stupid remark earlier anyhow."

He sighed heavily and turned away from her. He could still see Shera's face when she left. No anger, no hurt, just sadness. She had told him that she was tired of living her life doing things for a man that never appreciated them.

"It's my fault anyhow, I should've treated her better," he said.

Tifa surprised him by coming to stand next to him, "Did you tell her how you felt about her?"

He nodded, "Yeah. But by then, it was too late in her mind. So she left and like a fool I let her. Shit. Enough of this, come on into the house with me and I'll get us somethin' to drink. Standin' out here in this heat is makin' me feel old."

Tifa followed him in through the back door and gratefully took a seat at the table. Cid pulled two beers out of the fridge and offered one to her. She looked at it dubiously, but was too thirsty to argue about drinking alcohol at this time of day.

"Seen anyone else yet?" Cid asked her.

She shook her head, "No. Has anyone stopped by?" Like Cloud, she thought, but did not add.

Cid's face took on a bitter twist, "Nah. No one comes by here unless they need a ride somewhere." And that pretty much summed up the way Cid felt the others thought of him. A pain in the rear old man who was no good for anything put a spin in the Highwind. "Is that what you came for Tifa, a ride?"

For some reason, she looked hurt, "No. I'm not like that, Cid."

Way to go Highwind, he thought. Strike number two.

"Sorry. Don't pay any attention to me," he replied, glancing down at his grease streaked hands and overhauls. Since he figured Tifa might want to visit for a few hours, he thought he would give up on the Tiny Bronco for awhile. "Listen, make yourself at home. I gotta go change out of these and take a shower."

"Sure," Tifa replied.

Cid disappeared into another room and Tifa took a sip of her beer, made a face, then put it down quickly. She looked around. The kitchen was spotlessly clean, which surprised her. She wondered if Cid kept it this way himself or whether he had someone come in to clean for him. She had a strong suspicion it was the latter.

She got up and walked slowly over to the stove. An empty teapot stood beside it. She picked it up, a smile coming to her face. Cid had always loved his tea...

Cid walked back into the room a short time later, a clean pair of overalls on and rubbing the last bit of moisture out of his hair with a towel. He tossed the towel on a kitchen chair and then stopped and looked up in surprise when the heard the whistle of the teapot.

Tifa looked at him hesitantly.

"I thought I'd make some," she said apologetically. "It's kind of early for beer. Hope you don't mind."

For a moment he did not reply.

For a split second, he saw Shera standing at the stove, offering him some tea and then adjusting her glasses in a way that betrayed her nervousness. He had gotten so used to having her around and using her for his punching bag, that he hadn't stopped to think about how it was affecting her. She was always so quiet and meek, never complaining about a single thing he said to her. But it had obviously begun to wear, because she had left him. Had it really been almost six months since she had last been here? It seemed like only yesterday.

What a moron I was, he thought. I had the chance to keep her here with me and I blew it.

But what had held him back from telling her to stay? Why didn't he just come right out and tell her that he cared for her and didn't want to live here without her?

He shook the thoughts from his head and realized that Tifa was standing where Shera would have been, and was awaiting an answer. Hell, she was right, tea was better than beer this early in the day.

Finally he shook his head.

"Of course not."

He sat down and Tifa served the tea. She joined him at the table and looked at him with an awkward smile. God, why did she feel so uncomfortable? This wasn't s stranger sitting across from her, it was Cid! Sure, they hadn't seen each other for a while, but he was obviously still the friend she had known back then. He hadn't forgotten her, not that she ever seriously thought he would. He had greeted her enthusiastically and invited her into his home, what more did she want, and engraved invitation?

Whenever Cid thought of Tifa, he thought of Cloud. Those two had seemed so inseparable and it was odd to him to think of her alone. What was the crazy kid thinking, leaving a woman as wonderful as her behind? Hell, he was one to talk! He hadn't treated Shera any better. Sometimes he wondered why women put up with men.

He glanced at Tifa and saw that she was looking at him expectantly. He scratched his head and felt a little embarrassed at being caught drifting, especially considering it was thoughts of her.

He was about to speak, when Tifa spoke up.

"So what have you been up to?"

"This and that," he replied. "Mostly odd jobs around town. Nothin' fancy but it keeps me occupied. Lately I've been busy trying to avoid all those damn suits from Junon and Wutai."

Tifa leaned forward, sipped her tea, a questioning look in her brown eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"Some shitass bigshots from both Junon and Wutai have been by in the last month trying to get me to build a rocket for them."

Tifa looked at him in surprise.

"And you don't want to do it?" she questioned. Shinra 26 had been Cid's pride and joy. She thought he would jump at the chance to build another one.

"Hell no!" he replied emphatically. "They want to use the rockets as military weapons, turn them into missiles, not shoot them into space. They're even worse than Shinra, at least for a while, Shinra had a real interest in research. This guys don't give a damn about that. They just want to kill each other."

What a waste. Turning something he would sweat and labor over like it was his own child into a weapon to take life. There was no way in hell he wanted any part of that. He still longed for space, that was true. Sometimes he would stand in the back yard and stare up at the stars, wondering what was going on at that particular moment in time. But this was no way to achieve it.

"It does seem that way, doesn't it?" Tifa observed bitterly. "It's funny, don't you think? When we fought and defeated Shinra, I thought we were doing what was right. I thought we were making the world a better place. And now look at it. The poor are still poor, the one's in power just as uncaring. The one's at the top are new, but they haven't changed. It's as if everything we did was a waste of time. We might have even made it worse. At least then, there was no threat of war."

Cid sat there in silence for some time. He had to admit he felt much the same. But the sadness in her eyes forced him to try to rebuke her statement. Was this the girl who had always been so optimistic?

"I wouldn't have changed anything we did," he replied slowly. "Our intentions were good, and at least those damn Mako reactors are gone."

"What is it they say?" she replied. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions? And how do you know the Mako reactors are gone for good? Having a power source like that could give either city an enormous leg up in this spat. I've heard rumors..."

Cid lowered his gaze. He had heard them too. Covert building of Mako reactors, far from prying civilian eyes. But no one had ever shown any proof. Abruptly he decided it was time to change the subject. This was only going to drag them down the wrong path. Eventually, it would lead to the problems the others may be having and Cloud...and Shera...he didn't want to think about her anymore. He had done enough of that for the past six months to last a lifetime.

He took out a cigarette and lit it, inhaling the smoke like it was chocolate. What in the hell could he talk about that wouldn't lead to Cloud? He had already inadvertently hurt her before and he didn't want to step in another mine field.

"I've been workin' on the Tiny Bronco some. Put it off for the past few years 'cause I've been workin' on the Highwind," his face lit up at the mention of his pride and joy, the enormous airship.

"The Highwind? It took quite a beating after the Northern Crater."

"Yeah. I've still got some parts missin'. I'm havin' a hell of a hard time findin' them too. This damn economic war is wearin' on all the towns. Thought I'd work on my airplane a little while I wait for the guy over at the weapons shop to get'em in. He's the only one that has some kind of inside contact."

"But enough about me, how've you been doin'?"

Tifa shrugged, "Pretty good, I suppose."

But that wasn't true. Ever since Junon had annexed Kalm there had been soldiers crawling around the once peaceful little town like ants. Young and arrogant, they swaggered around doing pretty much whatever they pleased. They were constantly in the bar, annoying her, and almost all her regular customers had long since stopped coming in. They were rowdy too, more than once starting fights that had resulted in damage to the bar that they of course had never offered to reimburse her for. But the worse part was the looks and the constant come ons. She deflected them all, of course, and had taught a lesson to a few who had taken it too far, but the unceasing pressure had started to wear her down.

"Other than the problems in Kalm and the customers that have been coming to the bar lately. They've all been so rowdy and looking to cause trouble," she finished more honestly.

Cid nodded slowly.

"What brought you out this way?" he asked, taking a sip of his tea.

Tifa had always been known for her good cooking, but she made one hell of a cup of tea too. At the thought of food, Cid's stomach growled. He realized he hadn't had any breakfast, but had gotten straight up and headed for the Tiny Bronco.

"I thought I'd stop by and see how you were doing. I needed to get out of Kalm for a few days."

She had kind of surprised herself. She had never thought of herself as a particularly spontaneous person, but she had left Kalm two hours after the idea had occurred to her, just enough time to close up the bar and gather her meager belongings together. She had even taken all her gil along, almost as if she wasn't planning on going back. But that was nonsense. Of course she was going back.

Cid swung his hand out and replied, "You're welcome to stay here. I have plenty of room and there's no reason why you'd have to waste your money at that damn inn."

Tifa suddenly felt embarrassed, even though she had been hoping he would offer. The last thing she wanted to do was stay at some Inn with a bunch of strangers. She had come here to see her friends again, not to sit alone in some hotel room. She'd been alone for too long.

"Thank you. I'd like that."

Cid's stomach let out another growl and he grinned at Tifa sheepishly.

She eyed him, "You look thinner. Have you been eating well?"

Cid rubbed at his beard speckled chin, "Well...I can't cook too well. Guess I should've learned how. Shera ain't here to do it no more."

"I'm sorry," she said softly.

He waved his hand at her, "Don't be."

"Well then, maybe I could fix us some lunch?"

Cid grinned, "I was hopin' you'd say that."

"It would be my pleasure," she replied. She got up and opened the refrigerator, eyeing the contents critically. Then she looked back at Cid.

"Not much to choose from is there?"

Cid shrugged.

"There's plenty of beer," he pointed out.

"Great," she muttered. She rummaged around for a few moments.

"Looks like there's enough to make some omelets.

"Sounds good to me," Cid agreed immediately.

He finished off his tea, listening to the omelets sizzling in the frying pan. He started to ask her for more, but suddenly shut his mouth and got up. Since Shera left, he had to learn to take care of himself. It was a lot harder than he thought, but he had managed it. In fact, now he even felt a little bit of pride in his ability to fend for himself. A year ago he would have sat in his chair and demanded Shera bring him more tea, but he had promised himself when Shera left that the would never treat a woman like that again. Tifa was a guest, and was already doing more for him than he could honestly expect. The least he could do was get his own God damn tea.

He walked over and refilled his cup, inhaling the smell of the omelets on the stove beside him. Damn! He had forgotten how good home cooking could smell. Almost better than cigarettes...almost.

"I really appreciate this," he said.

She tossed her hand in a wave of dismissal.

"Forget it," she said. The truth was she enjoyed cooking. And it felt good to actually be doing it for someone who was appreciative. She did plenty of cooking at the bar, but all the soldiers there ever did was complain if something was wrong, and often at nothing at all.

Cid sat back down and a few minutes later Tifa served the omelets and joined him at the table. He eagerly dug in, and at first bite his face lit up. He knew Tifa was a good cook, but he had forgotten just how good.

"Damn, Tifa, this is delicious," he said while rapidly filling his mouth. "If Shera could cook like this I never woulda' let her go."

Tifa blushed slightly and did not reply.

"How long ya think ya gonna be stayin'?" he questioned.

Tifa hesitated. She wasn't really sure herself what her plans were. She wanted to get away from Kalm, and see her old friends again, but she really hadn't thought much further beyond that.

"A few days, at least," she replied slowly. "If you don't mind."

"Hell, of course I don't mind," he answered, finishing off the last scrap of food on his plate. "With cookin' like this you can stay as long as you want!"

She looked down at his plate.

"Would you like some more?"

He pushed the plate away and sat back contentedly.

"No thanks," he replied, pulling out a cigarette. "You've done more than enough already."

He sat there puffing thoughtfully while Tifa finished her food. When she was done he stood up.

"C'mon," he said, motioning for her to join him. "It's too nice outside to be sitting cooped up in the damn house. Let's go outside and get some sun."

Tifa got up and followed him out back. In spite of his suggestion that they get some sun, he plopped himself down in the cool grass beneath the wing of the Tiny Bronco. Tifa sat down beside him.

"So have you seen any of the others lately," Cid questioned. "I mean, besides Cloud?"

He thought he might be taking a chance bringing up Cloud again, but there just seemed no way to avoid it.

Tifa gave no hint that it troubled her.

"Barret was the last one I saw, but that was over a year ago," she replied. "He came to Kalm to get some supplies that he couldn't find in Corel. That was before things got so bad between Junon and Wutai, but even then it was difficult to travel. He had such big plans for Corel. But I haven't heard from him since."

Cid nodded, taking a long slow drag from his cigarette and blowing out half a dozen small smoke rings, slowly rising and enlarging over his head until they were chased away by a sudden breeze.

"How 'bout you?" she asked.

"Damn, it's been so long since I've seen any of them," he replied. "Believe it or not, Yuffie was the last one I saw. She and a couple of friends were on their way to Costa Del Sol for a little vacation. And I suspect on the hunt for some easy materia to lift from all the tourists there. I'm not even sure how long ago that was. Had to be at least a year. Yeah, a year, easy."

He stubbed out his cigarette in the grass beside him.

"You heard what happened in Wutai?"

Tifa nodded slowly.

"I heard Godo was tossed out of office," she replied.

"Yeah," Cid spate out. "Seems he wasn't militant enough for the council. They seemed to think that now that Midgar was no longer the power it once was, Wutai should step up and take it's place. Now they got some new head honcho over there who seems set on antagonizing every God damn other city on the planet, especially Junon. Last I heard Godo had disappeared and Yuffie was in hiding."

Tifa shook her head slowly. She had heard of Godo's troubles but hadn't known the details. Poor Yuffie. She had been an annoying brat, but she had always had a soft spot for her hometown. It must be tearing her apart to see what was happening to it.

But Yuffie wasn't the only one with problems. They were all having their difficulties. Reeve in Midgar, Barret in Corel, and she in Kalm all now working under the control of a government that had taken over by threat of force. Red and his people completely cut off in Cosmo Canyon. Cloud God knows where...

The breeze blew by again, blowing a lock of hair across her face. She hastily pushed it aside.

She looked up abruptly at the aircraft above them. She didn't want to think about that anymore.

"Can it fly?"


"The Tiny Bronco," she said. "Can it fly? I saw you working underneath it."

He had been leaning back on his elbows, looking up at the sky to the east, but now he sat up.

"Sure," he replied. "It's ready to go. Kinda hard to get fuel these days but I've got some hoarded away. I was just doing a little tweaking."

"Tweaking," she said, and nodded slowly. "I should have known."

Cid got to his knees and pointed to the plane.

"You want to go for a little ride?"

She sat there looking at him. She could almost hear the youthful exuberance in his voice. The man was only truly happy around his machines. He showed the same pride in them another man would when showing off pictures of his family. The small aircraft above their heads, and his huge airship, were his true loves, and probably always would be. Shera had never stood a chance.

"I'd like that," she replied.

Cid jumped up and wiped the blades of grass from his pants. Walking over to the side of the plane, he knelt down and made sure that all he had been working on earlier was in good shape. Then he stood up and grinned at Tifa.

"Well, what're we waitin' for? Let's get this baby in the air!"

Tifa headed for the wing of the plane, a slight spring in her step since she had caught some of Cid's enthusiasm. She gazed up at it, realizing that it seemed a whole lot higher up than she remembered.

"Here, let me give ya a boost," Cid said, lacing his hands together so that she could stand in them.

Tifa reached back to grasp Cid's shoulder and put one foot in the stirrup he had created. She was surprised to feel that he was quite a bit more solid than even Cloud. Everyone had always teased him about his age so much, she had forgotten that he wasn't actually all that old.

"Here ya go...grab onto the wing now..." he told her, pushing up when she had gotten a good grip on the wing.

Tifa swung herself easily over the side and stood waiting for Cid. He hefted himself up and stood for a moment, gazing up at the sky. Even from here the skies were beautiful, but in the air...they were simply stunning.

"You know," Tifa informed him, "you should really consider putting some foot holds on the side to climb up on."

Cid turned his attention back to her and grinned, "Never was a problem before."

Tifa crossed her arms and leveled him with a look.

"What, is there some sort of macho pilot code that prevents that?"

He just grinned at her.

"Hop on in the back there. Make sure to strap yourself in."

"Of course," she replied. "Remember, I've flown with you before."

Cid raised an eyebrow and returned, "What's that supposed to mean?"

It was Tifa's turn to simply grin.

Tifa did as he said and watched while he hopped in front and flipped the switch to close the top. He fastened the belt and shot her a look over his shoulder, "Ready to go?"

"Ready as I'll ever be."

"This time, since the damn Shinra won't be here to blast it outta the sky, you can see how she handles."

"Well, with you at the controls, I'm not worried."

Cid hit the necessary switches to start the plane up and said, "Thanks."

The propellers started up, kicking up dust, grass, and anything else that was in their path. The plane began to roll slowly across the grass and as soon as it had gained enough speed, Cid began to take it up. He brought it around in a circle a few times above his house to make sure it handled all right, and then began to fly farther up and away.

Tifa felt a thrill of excitement as the plane lifted into the air. She hadn't flown since the last time she had been on the Highwind. She had forgotten how exhilarating it could be, especially with Cid at the controls.

"Damn. This feels good. Haven't been able to do much flyin' lately" Cid commented, apparently feeling much the same.

Tifa looked out and saw the Nibel Mountains in the distance, "The view is really something."

"Ain't it though?" Cid said, suddenly doing a few barrel rolls across the sky.

Tifa laughed, "Lucky for you I don't airsick like Yuffie!"

For as long as Cid could remember, flying had fascinated him. It was in his blood even, considering his old man had been a fighter pilot for Shinra. And even though flying had cost his father his life in the war against Wutai, it hadn't deterred Cid. Not much could once he had made up his mind. It was that way for him in all things, though. There was no halfway as far as Cid was concerned, it was all or nothing. That mind set had labeled him difficult and stubborn, but Cid had never been one to care what others thought.

Flying in the Tiny Bronco was much different to Tifa than the times spent in the Highwind. It seemed like she was closer to the plane and the air, almost a part of it. It felt exhilarating and frightening all at once. She wasn't sure she would ever want to be the one in control of that power. But by now, she figured that flying was second nature to Cid. She wouldn't even be surprised if he had been born knowing how to fly.

Suddenly, there was a snap of static and the radio came to life, interrupting their thoughts.

"Unknown aircraft, this is Lieutenant Adams. I request that you land immediately. You are violating foreign airspace."

Cid immediately snatched up the receiver and snapped, "This is Captain," making sure to emphasize his higher rank, "Highwind, and I don't know what the hell you've been told, but this is Rocket Town airspace."

"Sir, I repeat. You are violating Wutai airspace. Please land."

Cid was about to reply, when he noticed two fighters appear just in front of him. He glanced down at the radar and saw that there was only two of them, no more. Would they cause trouble?

"Listen, I ain't landin'. Wutai doesn't own the goddamned air around my goddamned town!"

Tifa placed a hand on Cid's shoulder, "Cid..."

"I ain't landin'," he repeated.

Tifa grinned devilishly, and replied, "I wouldn't dream of telling you to land. If they give you trouble, show them why you're one of the best damn pilots around."

Cid laughed out loud, unaware that he had accidentally pushed the button to the receiver, "That's my girl!"

"Sir! This is a serious matter. Land now or we will have to use force," came the Lieutenant's voice over the radio.

Cid grunted, "You want a fight boys? Then ya got one!"

With that said, he suddenly jerked the nose up and shot above them. They immediately countered by bringing their planes around so that they were on either side of him.

"Thanks boys...but I don't need an escort!"

Cid brought the plane down swiftly and rolled it underneath the fighter on his left. Then he shot forward, knowing that they would give chase.

Sure enough, they did and one managed to get a lock on him.

"Son of a bitch! These damn loonies wanna shoot me down! Well...hate to break it to ya boys, but I ain't plannin' on surrenderin' that easily!"

Cid pulled the plane hard right and rolled once again across the sky. He managed to shake the one who had its guns trained on him, but the other one had gotten closer.

"All right, time to end their fun..."

Cid slowed the plane down and when the fighter on his tail got close enough, he pulled the Tiny Bronco down and let them both fly over. Once they were past, he jerked the plane around and headed in the opposite direction.

Tifa's head turned to follow the other planes, as they slowly banked around toward them again.

Suddenly Cid sent the Bronco into a gut wrenching turn. Tifa found herself pressed against the back of her seat, barely able to lift her head. When he leveled out again he was heading right for one of the planes.

"What are you doing?" Tifa questioned.

"Just gonna give them a little flying lesson," Cid replied.

The pilots of the other planes must have detected him, for they turned toward him. The aircraft were flying straight toward one another now, and in spite of Tifa's faith in Cid's flying ability, she watched nervously as the other aircraft approached with frightening speed.

Cid was slightly below his opponents, heading straight for one. As they lowered their noses to dive toward him he suddenly pulled up, flying almost vertically for a moment, then the nose of the plane suddenly dropped until they were plummeting straight toward the earth below. Then they were past vertical, the nose slowly coming up until they were horizontal again, only upside down. A quick barrel roll remedied that, and Tifa could see that Cid was now directly behind the other planes.

Cid glanced back to see that Tifa's eyes were wide.

"Wow," she muttered. "That was better than a rollercoaster."

His opponents split up, and Cid turned to follow one. He easily stayed right on it's tail as it maneuvered wildly to shake him. After a few minutes he keyed the mike.

"Bang, bang, you're dead."

The other plane twisted to the side and Cid suddenly turned away, for the second plane was now coming up on his tail.

"Those are Shinra F11 fighters," Cid explained. "A little faster than us, but the Bronco is much more maneuverable. If they had any brains they'd get above us and dive down to attack, which would let them take advantage of their superior speed. Flying around like this I could avoid them all day. If this is the best Wutai has to offer then I feel sorry for them. What did they do, put an ad in the paper saying, fighter pilot wanted, no experience necessary?"

Tifa just shook her head, suitably impressed by his near encyclopedic knowledge of just about every flying machine currently in production.

The other plane was closing in on them when Cid started a tight turn. The fighter tried to follow, but it's much larger turning radius soon left it falling behind. Cid suddenly dropped the nose of the Bronco again, and dove down beneath the other plane. He pulled the aircraft into another turn, until he was behind his opponent, then suddenly gunned the engine and rose up toward it.

"Watch this," he stated. "I saw this once in a movie."

The Tiny Bronco shot up directly behind the other plane. Cid leveled off above the Shinra fighter, then suddenly inverted the Tiny Bronco again.

Tifa looked through the canopy at the cockpit of the other plane just a few feet below them. She could plainly make the pilot looking around frantically, apparently trying to figure out where the Bronco had gone. Eventually he happened to glance up. Cid gave him a friendly wave.

"God damn," he muttered. "It's just a kid."

Tifa could see the pilot's face and had to agree, the boy looked no older than seventeen or eighteen. He looked at them for a moment with a shocked expression on his face, then jerked the stick to the side and his plane dived away from them.

Cid turned in the other direction. When he leveled off again, they could both see the other planes roaring off into the distance.

"Looks like they've had enough fun," Cid commented smugly.

"They've given up?" Tifa questioned. They had seemed determined to force them down earlier.

"We're not at war with Wutai just yet," Cid replied. "And I had a feeling they didn't want to start one today. That was all just bluster. They know damn well this is Rocket Town airspace. They were just testing us."

Tifa was silent for a moment as she digested this information.

"In that case," she replied finally. "I'd say you passed with flying colors."

Cid made no response as he headed back toward his house in Rocket Town. He still couldn't get over the fact that a kid had been flying that plane. Hell, he hadn't actually got to go up in the air for the Shinra Air Force until he was 21.

And even then, he thought with a grin, I had a lot of learnin' to do.

His house came into view and the then the massive form of the dormant Highwind. He brought the Tiny Bronco down easily and landed it smoothly. Even as he touched the switch to open the top, he wished to be back up in the air. It was a humbling experience, being the one in control of an enormous piece of machinery.

Cid climbed out of the pilot's seat and immediately launched himself off the wing. Tifa climbed out after him and he reached up to help her down.

She dropped down beside him, and he saw she was laughing.

"What's so funny?" he said suspiciously.

"Sorry," she replied. "I just can't get the look that pilot gave us out of my head. I thought he was going to piss in his pants."

"Couldn't have said it better myself," Cid replied, grinning. This was the first time he had seen Tifa laugh since she had arrived, and he had to admit it made her look so much better. This was the girl he remembered.

Once she was safely on the ground, he turned to look at his garage.

"I've been thinkin'. With Wutai gettin' so territorial and so goddamned rude about it, I might just install those 50 caliber machine guns I got in the garage."

Tifa gave him a look.

"You've got 50 caliber machines guns in your garage?"

He glanced over at her with a grin.

"Doesn't everybody?"

"Do you really think that's necessary?"

He lit a cigarette and inhaled before answering, "Yeah. A whole hell of a lot of things are gonna be necessary pretty soon. I have a feelin' that this so-called 'peace' ain't gonna last very long."

"These machines guns will at least give the Bronco some teeth," he continued. "Not as good as missiles, but they'll do, especially if the other pilots are as poorly trained as the two we met today. Besides, even I don't have sidewinders sitting in my garage."

"Sidewinders?" Tifa questioned.

"Air to air missiles," Cid explained.

Tifa nodded. He was probably right. Before long, a war was likely to erupt and then she would understand what those who were caught in between Shinra and Wutai had felt all those years ago.

It scared her, thinking about war. She felt like she had been fighting for nearly her whole life, but she had never been in a war before. She kept telling herself it wouldn't be much different from their battle against Shinra, but she knew that was not true. She had heard stories about the war between Midgar and Wutai, stories that made her blood run cold.

"You still plannin' on hangin' around for a few days?" Cid asked.

Doubt clouded her face, "Well...not if I'm going to be in the way-"

Cid silenced her with a swipe of his hand, "Hell no. I was just gonna ask ya if ya minded helpin' me put'em in."

Tifa stared at Cid for a moment. She didn't have the slightest idea what she would have to do to help him install machine guns on his plane. Not that she would mind helping him, she just felt she wouldn't be of much use.

"Oh. Well I don't know very much about that sort of thing, but I would be glad to help. But wouldn't you rather have someone that knows what they're doing?"

"It's hard to find good help these days," he replied. "Most of the best men have taken off to find jobs in Junon or Wutai. I can't pay them the wages they'll make in those cities, and that's where the action is. Besides, I'd rather work with someone I can trust."

Tifa nodded slowly, grateful for his faith in her.

"Well, then just tell me what to do."

He smacked his hands together, "Great! Let's get started then."

"Right now?"

He glanced back at her, "Why not?"

Tifa shrugged, "Okay then. But let's have something to drink first."

"And maybe lunch?" Cid added, hopefully.

"Lunch? You just ate breakfast a little while ago!"

Cid disappeared into the garage and started tugging on this enormous gun. Tifa came over to give him a hand and together lugged the gun over to the plane.

"Well, I'm hungry again."

"How about I fix you a snack while you're getting set up?"

"Like a sandwich?"

Tifa rested her hands on her hips, "A sandwich is not a snack."

"You're no fun. Won't even let me eat what I want to."

Tifa fixed him with a stare. "Nobodies stopping you from getting something yourself."

"Ooh, touche," Cid said, putting his hand over his chest as if run through.

"Well, you're going to put back on those pounds you lost and then some if you eat like that."

They carried the other gun out of the garage and laid it to rest by the first one.

"All right, all right. What'd you have in mind?" Cid asked

Tifa smiled, "How about some carrots?"

Cid scratched his head, "Goddamned rabbit food? I ain't even got any of those."

"Then you'll just have to see what I can come up with."

Sometime later, after Cid and Tifa had enjoyed their lemonade and the apples she had found in the kitchen, they started to work on installing the machine guns. They had managed to get one of them mounted with a minimal amount of cursing, but Cid was having trouble with the wiring.

"Damn. It was times like this when Reeve'd come in handy. That guy's a whiz with the wires. Heard anything outta him lately?"

Tifa, who sat under the comfortable shade of the wing, shook her head, "No. The last I knew, he was staying in Midgar with the intention of cleaning it up."

"Hmm. Damned near as impossible as this wiring is..."

Tifa plucked a blade of grass from the lawn and twirled it absently between her thumb and forefinger. After all the time she and the others had spent together on their journey, she really hadn't expected them to lose touch so easily and so completely. They had almost become like family to her and of all of them, she expected to at least see Barret and...Cloud.


The corner of her mouth lifted slightly as Cid spewed forth another interesting mix of curse words. He must have blistered Shera's ears more than once with that vocabulary of his. She glanced at his boot, poking out from the cockpit of the Tiny Bronco and wondered what it was he had really felt for Shera. If he had cared for her as she had so obviously cared for him, would he have let her go like he did? Maybe not. After all, Cloud had obviously not cared for her like she for him or he would never have left. But a part of her still wanted to hold on to the hope that deep down, he cared.

" it..."

"Cid, did you ever think we would grow so far apart?" she suddenly asked.

"Huh? What, you and me?" came his voice from the plane.

"No, I mean all of us. In the two years that have passed since we split up, we've hardly seen each other, not to mention we've never been all together."

"Happens I guess. Damn. This is startin’' to piss me off."

Tifa wished she could help, but this was an area she knew nothing about. She was beginning to think maybe Cid's faith in her had been misplaced.

Cid's head suddenly popped up in the cockpit. He pulled himself out and dropped to the ground.

"Damn, I'm going to need some parts," he muttered. "C'mon, let's take a walk over to the item shop."

Tifa followed as he strode rapidly across town to the store. Cid cursed some more when he found out that one of the parts he needed would have to be ordered. By now it was late afternoon, and the sun was dipping toward the horizon as they headed back. Tifa asked to stop at a food store on the way back to pick up some groceries for them, and Cid was more than happy to oblige. When they returned to Cid's house they continued working until night fell, Tifa turning out to be an eager if unskilled helper. But any complaints he may have had about her assistance were more than made up for by the meal she cooked for dinner that evening. They were both pretty tired from working on the plane, and not long after that decided to retire. Cid led Tifa to Shera's old room.

"Haven't really done much too it," Cid commented, looking around slowly as he led her in. "Tell you the truth, haven't really had the heart to come in here very often."

Tifa came up beside him.

"I don't have to stay in this room if it bothers you," she offered.

"No," he replied. "I wouldn't have brought you in here if I didn't want you to use it. Damn. She's been gone a long time now. Bout time I faced up to the fact that she ain't comin' back."

"But no use cryin' over it," he continued before Tifa could say anything. "What's done is done, and nothin' I can do is gonna change it now. If anyone had to come in here after her, I'm glad it's you."

Tifa smiled.

"Thank you Cid."

"There's no need to be thankin' me," he grumbled. "Just get some rest. We've got a hard day in front of us tomorrow. Those guns aren't gonna install themselves, you know."

"Yes sir," she replied smartly.

He walked over to the door, then turned towards her once more.

"Pleasant dreams."

"You too," she replied.

He closed the door and she eased herself down on the bed, her mind running over the days events. She had been up in a plane playing chicken with two fighter planes, then spent most of the day sweating underneath the Tiny Bronco, but she still found a smile on her face at the thought of it. Except for bar brawls, something she could definitely do without, nothing exciting had happened to her in months. Her initial nervousness gone, she now felt perfectly comfortable in Cid's house. She was glad she had come, and suddenly realized she was happier than she had been in a long, long time.


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