Balance of Power Chapter 10

By Frank Verderosa & Jen Bond

The night air wound its way softly through the trees, rustling the leaves and touching them briefly before moving on. The bright spattering of stars in the inky black sky above was only partially visible through the tree tops, but they comforted Cid all the same. His hands tucked away in his pants pockets, he lifted his eyes and watched as smoke rose, creating lazy gray circles that lingered and then faded altogether until only the thought of them remained. Expelling a thin stream from the corner of his mouth, he narrowed his eyes as the wind blew it back into his face. After being confined to hospitals and prison cells, he was getting to where he appreciated the outdoors and valued his freedom all the more.

Tifa wasn't sleep, and as a result, neither was Cid. He had a feeling that her mind was still racing, and that none of the thoughts were overly pleasant. They had been traveling for a some time now, working their way deeper into the woods to find a somewhat safe haven to sleep in the event that Cloud changed his mind. After everything that had happened, Cid would not be surprised. Truthfully, though he and Tifa had held onto Cosmo Canyon as their retreat, their escape, and perhaps, finally, their place of rest, a part of him was fearful of what they might find there. He had hardly recognized Cloud and Reeve, why would Red be any different?

Sighing, he rubbed at the back of his neck and glanced over at Tifa. She sat with her back against a tree, her arms draped carelessly in her lap, and her head slightly bowed. He'd made no attempt to talk with her. He didn't have any plans to try. Nothing he could say was going to lessen her pain, or change anything. Truth be told, with his gift for screwing up everything that came out of his mouth, he figured he would only make it worse. Her emotions had been stripped bare in front of him, she had shown him all that she felt inside, and he had been unable to give her what she wanted the most, comfort, and the knowledge that she was wanted.

Even now, thinking about the expression on her face, the desolation in her eyes, he grew uneasy. No one had ever allowed him to see so much of them all at once, and it scared him. Not the kind of fear that had a man running away screaming, but the kind that chilled to the bone, the kind that left you knowing you were forever going to be changed. He could have kissed her back, he could have stepped into the turbulence of her emotions, but he hadn't. He hadn't just done it for her either. Some of his reasons were selfish. If he allowed himself to admit it, he knew that keeping Tifa at arm's length and treating her like a friend was the best thing to do, no matter how he still remembered the feel of her pressed against him and the insistent, almost painful pressure of her lips.

Shoving a hand roughly through his hair in frustration, he was vaguely aware he had lost his flight goggles somewhere along the way. They had been his father's. They had meant something to him. But they were only goggles. Easily replaceable, even with the personal attachment he had felt to them.

Tifa shifted slightly, looking up at the sky, wishing that the position she was in wasn't so uncomfortable. She would have moved if the act wouldn't have drawn attention to herself. Cid wasn't looking at her right now, didn't even seem to be aware of her, and that was how she wanted it. She didn't think she could bear to face him directly now that nothing separated them but air. She still stung from his rejection, Cloud's rejection. Pressing her fingers to her eyes, she felt a sting not brought on by tears, but by a dryness that left her sockets feeling empty.

Oh God she hurt. She had not felt this sharp, hollow ache, this sense of loss so deep it cut into her soul, since her father had been struck down by Sephiroth and her hometown burned. She had promised herself that it would never happen again, that she would never again experience something that left her walking on the caustic side of ragged. But her need to slap life in the face, to show it that it couldn't beat her down, had invariably left her open for it to do just that.

She didn't want to think about it anymore. She didn't want to question her own self worth, or wonder if a single word, a simple gesture could have changed the outcome of everything. She hated herself for that weakness, that part of her that tried to explain away Cloud's actions as if he wasn't supposed to take responsibility for them. And she knew that she should be thinking about something else. She wasn't the only person that had ever been betrayed like this, and she really had worse thing to worry about, like the chances of their survival.

It was hard to silence the heart, however, and hers wouldn't let her ignore it. No matter where she led her mind, it always wound its way back to this. It left her feeling raw, exposed in a way that nothing could cover. She felt like everyone could see her pain, even knowing that the only other near her was Cid. But that knowledge was bad enough. He was the last person she wanted to see her desperately trying to gather in her emotions when they were spilling out all around her. She had already fallen apart on him once. She wasn't going to do it again.

Cid stared into space, sleep not even conceivable. Who the hell was he kidding? Something had changed between him and Tifa. He wasn't sure if that pissed him off, scared him, or pleased him, or if it was a combination of all three. Cid had never been labeled a coward, but when it came to things that happened between a man and a woman, he admitted he felt the need to run, to fly, and it was more than just a little itch. It was just wrong, he and Tifa. They were in the middle of a tense situation, and it had simply been her reaction to that dolt Cloud having gone and married without giving her a second thought. Just thinking about it made him wish he had done more than sting the kid's jaw.

Willing himself to relax, willing the tension to drain from him, he let his shoulders drop and his hands unclench. He also wasn't a man that controlled his emotions regularly. He expressed them as freely as a bird took to flight. He cursed when the feeling grabbed him, yelled when words strained at his vocal chords, and hit when his fist itched to. As satisfying as pounding Cloud would have been, as pleasing as grabbing the scrawny kid by the scruff of his neck and shouting in his face would have been, he had resisted the urge as much as he could, had tempered the wild need as best as he could. And he had done it for Tifa.

It seemed lately, he was doing a lot of things for Tifa, things he had never even done for himself. The part that bothered him the most, was that he wasn't exactly certain why. Sure, she was a friend, a comrade he had fought alongside before. She had never struck him in any particular way, however. He had always seen her as Cloud's biggest supporter, the one that tried to hold things together when it seemed they were falling apart down around their ankles. But now... now, he didn't know what the hell to think. All he knew, was that he was tired and wished profoundly for things to go back to the way they were, to go back just a few hours ago, when they had been comfortable with each other, when there hadn't been this strained, unfathomable silence.

He didn't know how to span the gap that separated them, to knock down the barrier that had been erected. Yet, he had to ask himself, did he want to? Did he want to touch on that nerve that pulsed beneath it all, to risk it snapping? Not tonight. Sighing wearily, he realized he did not want to broach the subject tonight. No, not tonight, not tomorrow, maybe not even at all. Even as a part of him knew it was ridiculous, he tried to tell himself that by ignoring it, the situation would simply cease to exist. A realist by nature, and a cynic at heart, however, Cid knew it wasn't that easy, not that easy at all.

"Nothing's easy," he muttered.

"What?" Came Tifa's soft, hesitant reply. "Did you say something?"

Startled to hear her voice for the first time in over a half an hour, Cid turned before he remembered he didn't want to look closely at her.

Damn it, but she looked so small sitting there, so dejected and lost, her face pinched and pale. Something worked its way loose inside of him and tore away, to leave him feeling a warmth he did not want. To keep himself from going to her and pulling her into his arms as he had done so many times with ease over the last few weeks, he jammed his hands back into his pockets and ignored the ever growing ash- tipped end of is cigarette.

He had to keep reminding himself that things weren't the same anymore. What had once been a simple gesture of friendship would no longer be looked at that way.

"Nothing." He said, more shortly than he had intended. Then, frustrated with himself, with her, he added abruptly, "We need to get some sleep if we want to start for Cosmo Canyon by daybreak."

She blinked and lowered her eyes again. What had she expected? Hadn't she wanted him to stay where he was, to preserve the silence that existed between them like a solid concrete wall? She couldn't help but feel that it was her fault they were here. But that was foolish. Cid wasn't a man that relied on others to make his decisions. He did what he did because he wanted to, and no one could change that. And she could no longer deny that she wasn't feeling that easy camaraderie with him any longer. Things between them were awkward, and all because she had given in to a moment of weakness and kissed him.

Closing her eyes, she tried to forget about that for now. She wanted to block it all out, to forget that she had made a fool out of herself. She was so tired, and so drained. All at once, her limbs felt heavy, and her head began to ache. She just wanted to sleep, to give into the weariness that pulled at her, to lose herself in the oblivion of slumber where no thought was required, no effort. But as tired a she was, her mind simply would not quiet, would not leave her alone. With effort, she forced herself to relax enough to at least attempt it.

Cid stood there silently for a moment. There you go, Highwind, he chastised internally, that really worked.

Spinning on his heel, he found the nearest tree and lowered himself without care, pretending not to notice when the bark bit into his back through his jacket. With a partially angry gesture, he crushed his cigarette into the dirt. Sleep was a long time in coming, but he closed his eyes nonetheless, trying to block out the night, his feelings, and Tifa, only a scant few feet away.

He should have known, like everything else, he was going to have to fight for it.

Cid awoke with a violent jerk, his hands pressing against the damp ground as his eyes scanned his surroundings. When he saw Tifa, lying with the small of her back pressed against a tree and her arms wrapped around herself, her body moving with the gentle rhythm of sleep, he relaxed and settled back against the tree. He was surprised he had woken up before her. But then, though he could have sworn he spent a dreamless night, the ascent from sleep left him feeling vaguely empty and left a bitter taste in his mouth. Something had driven him to awaken, and as the answer eluded his grasp, faded further into the reaches of his mind, he let it go, not wanting to remember.

Lighting up a cigarette, his eyes fell on Tifa again. She shivered in her sleep. Whether from her own dreams, or the cold, he did not know. Without thinking, he rose and stripped off his flight jacket. Crossing the distance between them, he bent down and covered her with it. Stirring slightly, one of her hands came up to pull it tightly around her. Rising to his feet, he backed away and frowned slightly. He should have given that to her last night. Cid had never been accused of being chivalrous, but had he not been so focused on himself, he would have noticed how chilly it got when night fell.

Going on the notion that late was better than never, he settled down against his own tree again and ignored the faint ache in his back. Stretching his legs out in front of him, he narrowed his eyes and watched her. It was safe to do so while she was sleeping. With her like this, he could think about other things. Like, just how good the odds were of them making it into Cosmo Canyon without getting noticed. He had no idea how close troops were stationed near there. He also had no way of knowing if there was another battle field close by. He didn't think he or Tifa could stand something like that again. Thinking about it reminded him of Vincent, standing among the dead like some kind of ghoul. Well, ghoul or not, the man had helped them in his own limited way.

Vincent had helped them when Reeve had betrayed them and Cloud had shattered Tifa's heart, only to let them go as if he deserved to have the right to control their fate. Cid would be damned if he would feel grateful or be indebted to him in any way. His only concern now was that Cloud kept his word and let them go. Maybe somewhere inside the kid was some small shred of decency. But that didn't make up for the large chunk of perversity.

With effort, he shoved Cloud from his mind and concentrated on what they would do once they got to Cosmo Canyon. He hoped that another disappointment wasn't awaiting them, but he couldn't deny it was a possibility. Holding his cigarette in one hand, he realized things were no more clearer this morning than last night. Running a hand down his face, he wished to hell he was back under the Tiny Bronco, in his back yard, knowing nothing about war, loss, and pain. But that was cowardly, and impossible.

They were just going to have to pick their way carefully, avoiding anything that could spell out trouble, and getting into Cosmo Canyon as quickly as they could. That was as far as he was allowing himself to take it. They would deal with what happened once they got there, when they got there. There was no sense in stressing about it before it happened. Lord knew, they had enough of that to deal with as it was.

Sighing, he rolled his neck and tried to rid himself of the knot that had worked its way between his shoulder blades. When he lifted his cigarette to his lips again to take a long drag, Tifa shook awake and rose, his jacket dropping from her to fall into her lap. She stared down at it before lifting her eyes to focus on him. She looked better, but not much.

"We should get going as soon as you're ready," Cid intoned, the sound of his own voice odd as it broke the silence.

When his stomach rumbled, he tried to ignore the insistent gnawing and the growing hunger. At least Cloud had let them keep their packs and the things Delia had given to them. It was't much, just a few basics and some morsels to eat. Other than that they had nothing but what they wore... and each other.

Tifa ran a hand through her tangled hair. She must look a horror, she thought absently. Not that she cared. She stretched to try to get the kinks out. She had not slept well. The ground had been uneven and uncomfortable, and both her left shoulder and back ached. She was surprised she had slept at all, actually.

Her hands passed over the rough fabric of his jacket again, and she resisted the urge to pull it tighter around her. It was cold, but this belonged to Cid, and somehow, accepting it seemed wrong. She wished she could tell what he was thinking. By all accounts, he looked calm and collected, sitting against the tree, smoking leisurely. If she hadn't known him better, she would have thought him relaxed. But she knew Cid kept his emotions on a short leash, settled just beneath the surface, where they escaped at will.

She didn't know when he had given her his jacket, but the unselfish act left her feeling uncomfortable.

She glanced over at Cid and saw him looking at her. She turned away immediately, her face reddening. She still couldn't believe what she had done yesterday. She had never, ever done anything like that before. Looking at it now, in the cold light of day, it was abundantly clear just how embarrassing her actions had been.

It had been bad enough what Cloud had done, but she had just compounded the problem. She had kissed Cid, had practically begged him to take her like some...some...God! She didn't even want to think about it. She never would have thought she was capable of doing something like that. Even now she could hardly believe it. Would she ever be able to look him in the eye again? She didn't want Cid to see her now, she didn't want to be with him at all. She knew too, that she had only turned to him blindly, burning with a need to feel cared for, wanted, after Cloud had trampled on her heart as if it meant nothing to him. But that didn't make it any easier to accept.

Cloud. She closed her eyes, trying to stave off the fresh onslaught of hurt. It dug into her with sharp needles, drawing blood and leaving her feeling so foolish, so naive. She had hoped sleep would clear her thoughts some, but it had only left them feeling as muddled as before, and reminded her that you could only escape for so long. She did know one thing, however, and that was that she had to apologize to Cid before anymore time passed.

"We had better get a move on," she heard him say. "It's a long way to Cosmo Canyon."

Tifa nodded absently, not looking his way. She needed to apologize, but she couldn't. The words just wouldn't come out. Not now. She sighed and gathered her belongings together. She glanced over at him again, but he was looking at the forest ahead of them. His face was drawn, his brow furrowed, the lines of worry on his face more pronounced. He looked tired. More so than she had ever seen him.

She hadn't been the only one to suffer. This had taken it's toll on him as well. She couldn't help but think she had had a hand in that. All she had done the whole time they had been together was try to help, but what had she really accomplished? All this time she had just been something else for him to worry about. As if he needed any more of that! And now, because of her own selfish need to feel wanted, she might very well have permanently damaged their friendship.

He had enough of his own problems. He didn't have to worry about her as well. Maybe it would be better if they just parted ways.

He turned toward her.


For a moment she just looked at him, then she nodded.

He gave her a puzzled look, but then shrugged and started off.

The sun slowly rose in the sky, burning off the morning chill. The forest was thick around them, the ground rugged and uneven. Progress was slow. They were traveling in a more or less straight line, northwest, directly towards Cosmo Canyon, near as Cid could figure. They stayed far away from the road. An occasional bird calling out or flying overhead was all that disturbed them. Around noon they stopped to eat.

Tifa sat down in the shade of a tree, now uncomfortably warm. She pulled off her pack and dropped it on the ground beside her. Cid plopped down as well, not very close. They hadn't spoken a word all morning, not since they had started off. The silence weighed down on her like a massive stone. It was obvious Cid felt the same way. Tifa knew she should say something, that she should apologize for acting like such a fool. She should tell him she hadn't meant what she did.

But would that really help any? She didn't want him to take it the wrong way. She didn't want him to think she didn't care about him at all. And besides, he had brushed her aside. She was grateful for that now. No matter how she felt at the time it wouldn't have been right, not like that. Even so, in spite of that, it still stung a little. And now if she told him she hadn' meant it, wouldn't it just sound like sour grapes? Like she was trying to save face?

No, it was better to say nothing. She hated this silence, but she didn't know what she could say to end it, didn't know what she could say to make everything right again. She wished with all her heart that last night had never happened, that they could just go on the way they had, but that wasn't the case. No matter what happened now, they couldn't turn back the clock. They couldn't pretend it never happened. She wanted to say something, but there were no words. She didn't want to go on like this, but what choice did they have? She had little idea of where they were. They had no place to go but Cosmo Canyon. They had to stay together, whether they liked it or not.

But soon they would be at Cosmo Canyon. She wanted to ask Cid how long it would take, but even that simple question died on her lips. Soon they would be there, and then perhaps...perhaps if they wanted to, they could separate.

"Aren't you going to eat?"

She jumped at the questioned, startled to hear words spoken after such a long silence. She looked down and realized she hadn't even attempted to eat anything.

" I..I'm not hungry," she replied, the words seeming thick in her throat.

Cid just looked at her. She returned his gaze for a moment, then turned away again, looking down at the ground. She couldn't face him.

Cid continued to look at her, his face a mask. They needed to keep up their strength. She hadn't eaten a bite all day long. He was tempted to scold her, but he kept his mouth shut. He had a feeling it wouldn't do any good, and they way things were going, would probably just make things worse. He couldn't stand the silence, but he was handcuffed. No matter how he approached this, anything he said could just make things worse. Tifa was as fragile as glass right now, and he was the proverbial bull in the china shop.

Not that he blamed her. He would have expected it from anyone after what she had gone through. But that didn't make it any easier, or make him less wishful that she would just get over it. He knew that was going to take some time. A long time. He just didn't know if he could be patient enough. It had only been one day and already he was ready to crawl up the wall. He didn't know if he could stand this silence much longer.

He wolfed down his own food, finishing in minutes. Not because he was hungry, although he was, but because he was anxious to move on. He hated walking in silence like this, and wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. If they were lucky, they might be able to reach Cosmo Canyon by nightfall. Perhaps Red would know the right words to say to her. At the very least she might feel more comfortable in the familiar surroundings of the canyon. Surroundings that didn't include him, he thought ruefully. As much as he cared for her, he suspected that a little time apart right now might be best for both of them.

But that wasn't an option right now. He stood up and looked at her. She took the hint, coming to her feet as well. A moment later they were on their way once more.

All day long they kept moving. It grew hot in the late afternoon. The land around them started to rise up as they approached the foothills of the mountains around Cosmo Canyon. The uphill climb made the going even more difficult. Cid found himself breathing heavily at times as they climbed the pine covered slopes. By late afternoon they had been going for hours. Cid was tired and his stomach was starting to complain once again, but he wasn't anxious to stop. He glanced back to see Tifa was right behind, not looking up, concentrating on her footing. She hadn't even eaten, and he could see sweat beading on her brow, but she walked on without complaint. He had a feeling she would go on like that, without saying a word, until he told her to stop or she collapsed from exhaustion.

And eventually, when his stomach started to rumble so audibly that he thought she might hear it, he did call a halt. They found a sheltered grove of trees on the face of the slope and sat down again, for one last meal. all they had left. This time Tifa at least took out some food. Cid had a feeling, however, that she was only doing it for his benefit, for he noticed that she hardly took more than a bite or two, most of the time just fiddling with it. She did, however, drink her fill of water. At least there was that. Even if she didn't eat, she wasn't going to starve to death in the time it took to get to Cosmo Canyon.

Cid ate his fill, again finishing quickly, this time because their had been so little left. Their packs were empty of food now. If they were going to eat again, they would have to get to Cosmo Canyon, or forage for something in the brush, which wasn't really something he wanted to do. They had made their way high up into the foothills by this time, and could see the forest they had traveled through to get here far below them. The trees on the slopes now had thinned, and the first signs of the red rock that was the trademark of the Cosmo Canyon region where starting to poke through. Cid thought it was a hopeful sign that they were nearing their goal.

He turned and looked to the north, but the crest of the hill blocked his view in that direction. They struggled up and when he reached the top he looked ahead, hoping to see the familiar silhouette of the observatory in front of them. But all he saw was another hill, even higher than this one. With a silent sigh, he trudged onward.

The sun slowly sank towards the horizon. As it fell Cid began to become more and more concerned that they hadn't reached the canyon yet. Whenever they crested a hill, he would look around for some sign that they were nearing their goal, or at least some landmark to tell them they were on the right track. He had never approached the canyon before through the hills. He had always come here on the plain along the coast. He knew the general direction, but he could not say for sure where it was. He figured that when they got close they would spot it, but now he wasn't so sure. He was almost certain they would have reached it by now, and as the sun faded he kept looking back as well, worried that they had passed it by. It wouldn't be a disaster. They couldn't get completely lost. If they passed it they would eventually reach the plains south of Nibelheim. They'd have to come back, and spend another night outside, but nothing worse than that. Of course, considering the mood they were both in, that would be bad enough. He really thought they both needed to get to Cosmo Canyon tonight.

The sun had slipped below the horizen and Cid was about to suggest they turn back, sure they had passed it, when they came over a rise and finally saw the observatory etched against the darkening sky ahead of them. Greatly relieved, and with renewed spring in their step, they made their way to the canyon. The stars were just appearing overhead when they started up the carved steps.

As they approached the top a voice rang out.

"Who goes there?"

The tone of voice was not friendly, but neither one of them were concerned. They looked up to see a guard with a long pike standing at the top of the steps. He held it in front of him as they came forward. Cid could see he was looking beyond them, as if to make sure there were no others with them.

"I'm Cid Highwind," Cid said as they reached the top. "We're friends of Nanaki. We've traveled a long way and would like to stay and rest for a while and talk to our old friend."

The guard eyed them suspiciously.

"Who did you say you were?" he questioned.

"Cid Highwind," the pilot replied, annoyed at having to repeat himself. "And this is Tifa Lockheart. We're friends of Nanaki. Could you tell him we're here?"

Before the guard could respond Cid saw movement in the shadows behind the man. A moment later three other guards materialized out of the twilight.

"What's going on?" one of them questioned.

"Two strangers captain," the man replied, turning to the newcomers and snapping to attention. "They claim to be friends of Nanaki. The girl is Tifa Lockheart and the man says he's...."

The guard looked at Cid again.

"Cid!" the pilot snapped. "Cid Highwind!"

"All right, no reason to get excited," the captain said gruffly. He stepped forward and took a closer look at them. The two men with him had pikes as well, just like the first guard, but the captain appeared unarmed.

"Well, you look harmless enough," he proclaimed. "Still, can't be too careful these days. You may be spies."

"We're not spies!" Cid growled. "I told you, we're friends of Nanaki. We've been traveling all day and we're hot, sweaty, tired and hungry. All we want to do is have a chat with Nanaki, eat and get some sleep."

"Perhaps," the captain replied. "Probably just what a spy would say."

"I told ya, we're not spies!" Cid snapped. The whole situation for the last two days had put him on a short fuse. Now he thought if he didn't get some rest soon he was going to snap. The last thing he needed was to get the third degree from these clowns. "Who the hell would want to spy on Cosmo Canyon anyway? There's nothing here but a bunch of bookworm scholars. There's nothing here either Junon or Wutai would want, or anybody else for that matter! In fact, it if wasn't for the fact that Nanaki is our friend, we wouldn't be here either!"

The captain did not reply for a moment, but frowned in displeasure.

"Cid," Tifa said, stepping forward. The last thing she needed now was to get into an argument.

Cid turned toward her, about to say something, but then thought better of it.

"He's right," Tifa said, turning to the man in charge. "We're tired and hungry. We escaped from Gongaga and made our way through the forests to get here. It was a long and grueling trip, and we didn't have much food. I'm afraid it hasn't put us in a very good mood. But if you just get Nanaki, he'll be able to tell you that we are telling the truth."

The man said nothing for a moment, but his frown faded away.

"Everything you say may be true, ma'am," he said stiffly. "But I'm sure you can understand if we can't just take your word for it. The world is at war, and Cosmo Canyon can be attacked at any time. We have to look out for ourselves. I'm afraid that Nanaki is very busy right now making plans for the defense of the canyon. He can't drop everything to check out two stranger who claim to be his friends. You'll have to come with us. We'll put you in a safe place until he can be alerted to your presence."

"A safe place?" Cid questioned. "What do you mean by that? You going to lock us up?"

"Just come with us," the captain replied.

He nodded to the guards and started off. Cid glowered at him, then at the other guards. They immediately lowered their pikes in front of them, as if afraid he would attack them right then and there. And perhaps he would have, if Tifa hadn't taken his arm and pulled him after her as she followed the captain.

As it turned out, Cid's guess was absolutely correct. The captain led them into the honeycomb of caverns hollowed out by nature and man in the canyon walls. After many twists and turns they came to what looked like a holding area for prisoners. There were more guards here, and the wall was lined with half a dozen barred doors that led into small cells. The captain opened one door and motioned for them to enter.

"You're going to put us in a cell?" Cid growled, looking at the captain angrily. "I told ya we ain't spies. We ain't done nothing wrong."

"It's where we keep all strangers until we have verified their story," the captain replied.

"What kind of bull is that?" Cid questioned caustically. "Used to be that travelers were welcomed here at Cosmo Canyon, not thrown in jail. The hospitality of this place sure had gone to hell."

"Times have changed," the captain replied. "The world's at war. We may not like it, but we have to take precautions."

"Yeah, well, I think your precautions suck," Cid said bluntly.

The guards, who had seemed nervous before, looked even more worried. Even the captain shifted his weight nervously as Cid scowled at him.

Again Tifa intervened.

"C'mon Cid," she said resignedly. "Let's just do as they say. We didn't come all this way just to get in a fight with these people. Besides, I don't want to get thrown out of Cosmo Canyon. We've got no place else to go."

Cid turned toward her, still very much annoyed.

"Red's not going to throw us out," he said. He stabbed a finger at the captain. "In fact, it's more likely he's going to toss this guy once he finds out how shabbily his friends have been treated."

The captain paled slightly, but said nothing.

Tifa sighed.

"All right, I'm comin'" Cid muttered.

He followed Tifa into the cell, much to the relief of the guards. The captain looked at them for a moment. Cid saw him just standing there.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" he snapped. "Go tell Nanaki we're here. If we don't have to wait all day, we may not demand your head when he gets here."

The captain hesitated a moment, looking flustered, then he hurried away. Cid watched him until he was gone, then turned away. Tifa could see a hint of a smile on his face.

"You shouldn't bait them like that," she said wearily, as she eased herself down on the small cot that was the only piece of furniture in the room.

Cid looked down at her for a moment, but said nothing. Once he would have snapped at her too. He wasn't in the mood for any of this, but he wasn't going to take it out on her. He wasn't going to treat her like he had Shera. He had learned that lesson, at least.

Instead, he rested his hands on the bars of the door, gripping them as if he wanted to pull them out, and glared at the guards outside, who did their best to ignore him.

"Red's not going to be happy about this," he said, loud enough for all to hear.

Eventually he turned away angrily. He looked at Tifa, who's eyes were fixed on the wall, a sad look in them. Damn, how he wished there were some way to cheer her up! He had thought that maybe she would feel better once they reached the canyon, but he hadn't expected them to get tossed in a jail cell. He felt like he was back in Gongaga again, and that was probably the last thing she needed.

Feeling helpless and frustrated, he resorted to doing one of the things he did best. He paced. He hated being cooped up, and he especially hated it when he was tired and hungry. He hoped Red would hurry up and show up. He thought if he was stuck in here much longer, he really was gong to go ballistic.

He glanced outside every once in awhile, glaring at the guards if they happened to be looking his way. He had no way to tell how much time passed, but each minute seemed to drag on forever. Tifa lay on the cot, motionless. She seemed completely resigned to whatever was going to happen. Cid didn't like that at all. He wanted the girl back that he used to know, the optimist who always had the spunk to keep everyone else going. Now when he looked in her eyes all he saw was emptiness. Every time he looked it caused a knot to form in his stomach.

So he didn't look. Just kept on pacing. There was nothing he could do anyway. It seemed there was nothing he could do about anything anymore. Events seemed to have swept them up, dragging them along as if down a raging river, with no choice in the matter where they going to go, even if it was straight over a waterfall.

He looked out through the bars again.

Where was that dratted Red?

He wondered if they were going to be here all night. Surely the captain must have told Red they were here by now. Unless he didn't believe them. Unless he really did think they were just spies and hadn't even bothered to inform Red that they were here.

Cid let out a puff of air in frustration. He had to stop this. Thinking things like that was just making him angrier.

No, Red would be here soon, and then they could get out of here.

Of could they?

They had assumed Red would welcome them, but could they be sure that would be the case? Already they had met a few of their so called friends and hadn't exactly been welcomed with open arms. Vincent had helped them, in his own fashion, yet it almost seemed to have been a chore for him. Reeve has sold them out. And Cloud...he didn't even want to think about that. How could they be sure Red wouldn't just think they were spies too. It had been a long time. Almost two years since they had seen him. There had been no war then. How much had he changed?

Cid turned and leaned his back against the iron bars of the door, then slowly sank down until he was sitting on the floor, finally too tired to even pace. Was he worrying too much now? Thinking about it, about all they had been through, about how their own friends had treated them, could he blame the people of Cosmo Canyon if they were suspicious?

He rubbed his eyes, realizing just how tired he was. He couldn't think anymore right now.


He turned around, startled, to see Red standing a few paces away. Cid lifted himself wearily to his feet.

"Bout time you got here," he commented.

"Sorry," Red replied. "I had important business to attend to. I didn't find out they had you in a cell until a short time ago. My apologies."

The red beast turned toward the guards.

"Release them," he commended.

The guards scrambled to obey. A moment later the door was open. Cid noticed that there was no sign of the captain who had incarcerated them in the first place.

"I'm glad to see you, my friend," Red said. "I thought you might have been killed. We heard about what happened at Rocket Town. In fact, some of the survivors have made there way here."

"Some of the survivors are here?" Cid questioned with a look of surprise.

Red nodded.

"I'm afraid their tale is not a happy one," he said. "But I'm sure you already know that. Perhaps you would like to see them."

"I certainly would," Cid replied. After all that had happened, he hadn't given much thought to what happened to Rocket Town lately. Though meeting survivors might bring that back to him, it would still be good to see some of them, to know that at least there were others from his town that were still alive.

Red nodded.

"Very well," he said. "You may go see them anytime you wish. I will have someone escort you. I have heard that you had an difficult journey, and that you are tired and hungry. That can be solved as well."

Red turned toward the guards.

"See that my friends are well taken care of," he stated.

"Yessir!" the men replied.

"You hear that Tifa?" Cid asked, spinning around. "We can get the hell out..."

He stopped. Tifa was sound asleep on the cot.

He walked over to her, just looking down at her face. Even through the dirt and grime, for the first time in a long time, she looked peaceful. He reached down and lightly stoked her hair.

"Poor kid," he muttered. "She's exhausted."

He felt Red come up beside him.

"Do you wish to wake her?"

Cid shook his head.

"No, leave her alone. She needs the rest. A lot has happened."

More than you can imagine, the thought to himself. But Red would find out soon enough.

"I have matters to attend to," Red said. "Take your time and rest if you must, but I would like to have a talk with you and Tifa. When you feel up to it, come see me in the Observatory."

"Sure," Cid replied. "We'll do that."

Red looked down at Tifa once more, then turned and quickly padded away. Cid finally looked up as well. He was exhausted too, but the news that there were people here from Rocket Town rejuvenated him. He would go see them first. He had forgotten just how much he missed his home town.

He stepped out of the cell, looking at the guards. He still wasn't ready to forgive them for putting him in there in the first place.

"Take me to the other people from Rocket Town," he commanded. He pointed a finger at Tifa. "And you better take good care of her while I'm gone, or they'll be hell to pay!"


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