Balance of Power Chapter 11

By Frank Verderosa & Jen Bond

Hardly paying the armed man guiding him through Cosmo Canyon any attention other than a minor glance now and then to make certain he was still within sight, Cid weaved his way through the paths and people, noting that a lot seemed to have taken refuge here. There were women, who clutched their small children to them warily, eying him with disinterested eyes,and men who looked weary and defeated, but stood as tall as they could hold themselves, grasping the last shred of dignity they had left after having their homes ravaged and their lives stolen from them. They too watched him with a small amount of mistrust. He supposed he didn't exactly look his best. Hell, who would after traveling what felt like halfway across the countryside by foot?

What Red was doing here, was selfless and kind, but then, he supposed he shouldn't have expected any less. Feeling mildly guilty for doubting him, he rubbed at the back of his neck, wishing the simple act would work out some of the knots there. The one constant companion he had, had these past few days besides Tifa was tension. As much as his body screamed for relaxation, a part of him remained as wary as the war survivors he had passed in the dimly lit halls, the glowing lanterns gleaming from them, making the rocks an oddly orange-red. Maybe he felt bad for doubting Red, but that didn't change the fact that the war was raging on outside.

Cosmo Canyon wasn't safe. No place was. It was foolish to think otherwise.

"How much farther?" He asked, tired of walking. Like Tifa, he would rather be sleeping.

"Not much," came the short reply.

Sighing audibly, Cid settled his hands into the pockets of his flight jacket. A sudden, unpleasant thought occured to him. What if the survivors from Rocket Town were less than pleased to see him? After all, he had essentially abandoned them, taking off in the Tiny Bronco with Tifa to ensure she didn't get caught up in the mess. But what did they expect? They had made him their unofficial mayor simply because the town was built up around his failed project. They hadn't asked him if he wanted it. Hell, how did they even know he was cut out to be a leader? He was content to work on his planes in peace, or at least he had before the town had blown up and taken his half-repaired Highwind with it. Besides, the lot of them hadn't thought twice about handing him over to the enemy to save their asses. Why should he show them any loyalty?

Because he was a pilot, because he wasn't about to stoop to their level. In the end, however, that hadn't mattered. What could he have done to save the town? He was only one man, and part of him had hoped they would leave Rocket Town alone and chase after him when he left. It was a small gamble, and like most ill-played hands, it had failed. They still destroyed the only home he had known for the past seven years. And all those deaths... he hated more than anything having that on his conscience. But what the hell could he have done? Stayed and died with them? Yeah, there was a lot of bravery in that, wasn't there.

If he hadn't had Tifa to think about, maybe he would have. He was hardly going to resign her to that fate, however. He had no right to decide when she would die and for a cause she only supported because she had been thrown into the middle of it. So he had left for her because he had wanted to give her the chance to live. She had a lot of years a head of her, plenty of time to find someone else and settle down to make a family of her own once this war ended. She wasn't a grouchy old pilot, set in his ways and past his prime. She didn't deserve to go down with a town that wouldn't even be if it hadn't been for him.

He thought of her lying on the cot, curled up like a kid, dirty and worn to a frazzle. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, stretching his skin and feeling as foreign as an ill-used muscle. When was the last time he had genuinely smiled, and meant it? He could hardly remember anymore. But he wished Tifa would smile, because everytime he looked at her, he saw that banked pain in her eyes, and a near sense of defeat that didn't belong with someone so young. Yes, she was young, a hell of a lot younger than he was. Even if that kiss had meant something, she wasn't meant for him. She was too good, and hadn't screwed up her life the same way he had. He was carrying around a lot of baggage, and someone as young as her ought to be looking for someone equally young and infinitely less messed up.

Dragging a hand through his unkempt hair, he tried to forget about Tifa and focus on meeting people from Rocket Town. The more he thought about things, the less excited he became. For all he knew, they could hate him. After all, wasn't it his fault the town had been attacked to begin with? It would have been simpler if he had just gone with them, and built their damn rockets. Then he wouldn't be running like a scaret rabbit, hungry, tired, and sick to death of life. He had been in some tight situations before, some of which he hadn't expected to get out from alive, but this one certainly beat all.

Glancing at the guide's stiffly set shoulders, he bit back irriation and smothered another urge to ask him when they were going to get there. Patience had never been one of his strong suits. Though, admittedly, he had cultivated a bit more over the years. There was a time when his reckless nature had nearly had the Captain stripes torn from his flight suit. Damn, that was a long time ago. Why was it time seemed to go so much faster the older you got? He wouldn't have been surprised to wake up tomorrow and find out that he was 40 already.

Abruptly, the guard stopped, leaving Cid to hastily slow himself down before he rammed right into the man. Biting back a retort, he settled for grinding his teeth. He was getting the impression that this man didn't like him. Well, he was in no mood to deal with that right now. The man was just going to have to go on not liking him.

"We're here."

"Great," Cid replied sarcastically. "'Bout time."

The man swung around to regard him in stony silence.

Cid stared back, his expression equally hard. He was no pushover, and if this young pup expected him to be intimidated, he had another thing coming.

Deliberately raising his hand, the man pointed behind him, "Over there, you'll find survivors from Rocket Town, Captain Highwind."

"Listen kid," Cid snapped in return, finally having had enough, "I don't know what's bitin' your ass, but I suggest you get is all straightened out because I'm in no mood to deal with your shit."

If it was at all possible, the guide's expression became even cooler. "I had family in Rocket Town. They're dead now."

Cid felt another stab of guilt, but held it in check, keeping the expression he reserved for people that had pushed him past his limit. "I'm sorry to hear that, but I don't know what you expect me to do about it. I can't change what happened back there."

"You could have prevented it!" The kid shot back, his voice breaking. "You could've just went with them. I know they're after you. You're probably going to bring them here now, and they're going to destroy Cosmo Canyon just like they did Rocket Town, and it'll be all your fault!"

That was hitting below the belt.

Without thinking, Cid darted forward and grabbed the kid by the front of his shirt, lifting him from the ground until they were eye level. "Listen here you miserable bastard," he snarled, "I gave a damn about that town! I didn't start this goddamned war, I didn't bring it into Rocket Town! And I wasn't about to go with them and make them more rockets so they could kill more people! I wasn't going to have blood on my hands!"

"You already have," the boy replied softly, though his pupils were dialated and he was shaking with fear.

"Cid! Captain, stop it!" A voice called, slicing through his rage.

Mildly dazed, Cid slowly set the kid down and moved away from him, feeling vaguely ashamed and not unlike someone had taken a whip to him. No matter how much he wanted to deny it, the boy's words had found their way into his heart, pricking him with their sharp blades, and leaving him bleeding.

Blinking, he focused, and found himself staring into the face of Jed. The old man glanced closely at him, full of concern. Cid looked blindly past him, seeing a few familiar faces scattered amongst the crowd of people. People who had all witnessed him falling apart and scaring the hell out of some grieving kid. ... and it'll be all your fault! His fault. Maybe it was. He hadn't wanted to be their leader, but they had looked to him anyway. He should have tried to do more for them.

"Jed..." he said numbly, the word feeling odd on his lips.

Jed reached up and clamped his hand on Cid's shoulder. "Captain, you look like you need to sit down."

Cid shook his head. "No. I'm fine."

"I'm just glad you're alive. We don't get much news here, and I thought they might have shot you down. Shoulda known better. Lady Luck's always been with you."

He shook his head again. "No... not this time."

Jed looked puzzled at that, but he didn't question it. Instead, he lead Cid toward the throng of onlookers, some who backed away from him or watched on in wary silence. Cid wanted to turn around and walk away, but that would have been cowardly. Besides, he owed it to those left to face them. Their leader, who had abandoned them.

"Captain! We're so glad you're alive."

"Captain, we thought we'd never see you again."

"Captain Highwind, I'm sorry about your airship. We couldn't save it in time."

"Captain, a lot of us are still here..."

And on and on it went, until Cid wanted to scream. He didn't deserve their kindness. He found he much prefered their anger, because he had a defense against that.

Finally, one man stepped from the crowd, his expression dark. He glanced at Cid, his look measured and full of spite. "So, the great war hero has come to seek refuge in Cosmo Canyon. Where were you, Captain when we needed you?"

Cid thought he remembered his name as being Zane or something.

"Knock it off, Zane," Jed scolded, his tone reproachful.

"Stay out of this, old man." Then, to Cid, "Think you're a big man, pushing around some scrawny kid?"

Cid grit his teeth and held his ground, his eyes distant and his face devoid of all emotion. He wasn't going to let this one get to him. He'd already made an ass out of himself. He wasn't going to do it again.

Zane stepped toward him, and Jed tried to block his way, only to get shoved roughly aside. Reaching out, Zane jabbed him in the chest hard. Cid's body moved with the assualt, but he showed no reaction beyond that. His silence and his lack of response only seemed to anger the man more. Zane shoved him again.

"C'mon, Captain. Why don't you try picking on me? I don't think you'll find me so easy to terrorize."

"Zane," Jed tried again, "this isn't going to bring Aimee back."

"Shut up, old man!" Zane snapped, throwing an angry glance over his shoulder. "You don't know shit! They only attacked because they wanted the big hot shot pilot here to build them another rocket. Bet that one would have just went to pot like his first attempt," he added, swinging around to pin Cid with a malicious smirk.

Cid said nothing still, the only outward sign of his inner emotions the clenched fists pressed tightly against his thighs.

"Don't think we don't know how you killed Shera."

The world seemed to freeze, and Cid ceased breathing.

"Zane! You fool!" Jed snapped.

"You drove her away, and she died," Zane continued relentlessly,ignoring Jed.

Cid felt ice travel down his spine, and Zane's words reverberated around inside of his skull as the roaring in his ears increased until it became almost painful. He was wrong to come here. He had brought so much pain to so many people. He didn't deserve to be here. Slowly, jerkily, he turned and began walking away, ignoring Zane's taunts. Maybe he was a coward, maybe he was responsible for all of this, but he couldn't listen to Zane any longer. If he did, he was afraid the last tenous thread of his control would snap and he would do more than just hit the man.

All he knew, as he rushed past people, not seeing faces, only colorful blurs, was that he had to get away. He needed to be alone, where there was no one and nothing. He needed some air.

Pushing blindly, he walked until he found himself on a narrow ledge, stairs leading down from it. Taking greedy gulps of air, he reached into his flight jacket and withdrew a cigarette, lighting it with shaking hands and inhaling deeply, the thin stream of smoke he exhaled coming out in short, quick blasts.

What had he expected? What had he expected...

Tifa woke up and looked around, bleary eyed. It took her a moment to remember where she was. She had been having some kind of dream, but for the life of here she couldn’t remember what it was about. She had been calling someone’s name, someone she couldn’t find.

She noticed Cid was gone and the cell door was open.

She got to her feet, rubbing her eyes. She saw one of the guards standing in the doorway.

"Nanaki has been here and vouched for you," the man said politely. "You are free to go as you wish. If you like, we can have food brought to you."

"Thank you," Tifa replied. It seems she had missed seeing Red. Oh well, she was certain to get another opportunity. "How long have I been asleep?"

"Three hours," the man replied.

Tifa nodded. She hadn't meant to fall asleep at all.

"Where’s Cid?" she questioned.

"I believe he's up in the observatory with Nanaki.. Would you like me to take you to him?"

Tifa thought about it for a moment. For the first time today she realized just how hungry she was.

"No, I'd like to have a bite to eat first," she replied.

"As you wish," the man said.

The man lead her to a small room off the holding cells and bade her to sit down at a small table. She did and a short time later a meal was brought in for her.

Tifa's escort stood patiently by the door. When she was finished she stood up, feeling much better. She looked down at herself. Not for the first time she noticed how filthy she was. She really wanted to see Red again, but right now a bath sounded like the most wonderful thing in the world.

"Is there someplace I can go where I can clean up?" she asked.

The made nodded and bade her to follow. Just down the hall there were some private rooms.

"These rooms are reserved for travelers like yourself. At least, they were before the war. We don't get many travelers here now, mostly just refugees. They're all empty, use whichever one you wish."

"Thank you," Tifa said politely.

Almost an hour later she emerged from the room, feeling a thousand times better. It was amazing what a little hot water could do for a person. Her escort stood waiting in the hallway where she had left him.

"You didn't have to wait for me," she said apologetically when she saw him. "I know how to get to the observatory."

The man looked at her hesitantly.

"Captain Highwind told me to make sure you were well taken care of," he said.

Tifa looked at the man knowingly.

"Captain Highwind has a tendency to be a little gruff," she said. "Don't worry, in spite of his threats, I'll make sure you don't get into any trouble. I'm sure you have more important things to do than follow me around. I can make it to the observatory by myself."

The man hesitated a moment more, then nodded.

"Very well ma'am," he said.

He turned and walked down the corridor, quickly disappearing from view. Tifa smiled ruefully, then walked down the corridor herself. She wondered if Red and Cid were waiting for her, and if they were getting impatient. She felt a little guilty taking so long, but she had been so hungry and tired and dirty. She just had to pamper herself a little bit, after all that had happened. She had needed it.

She made her way up the steps that led to the observatory. Looking around she could see that the canyon hadn't changed much since the last time she had been here. A few new tunnels may have been cut in the canyon walls, and she could see a line of tents farther down the canyon that had never been there before, but other than that it looked pretty much the same. She found that comforting. With the war and all she had been through, it seemed that everyplace she had been to had changed, and all for the worse. It was nice to know that there was at least one place that didn't seem much affected by the war.

But she knew that wasn't true. Not really. Though the actual fighting had not come to the canyon, that didn't mean it hadn't had an effect. Tifa knew that Wutai forces were not far from here, had even threatened to attack the canyon. The only reason Cosmo Canyon was still intact was because it just not important enough for anyone to want.

She didn't know how long that would last.

She reached the top step. She stopped and turned around, looking out over the town below.

Maybe it would never seem important enough. Maybe, just maybe, here was one place on the planet that could avoid being dragged into the war that now engulfed the rest of the world. Maybe here, she could find peace.

And with that bit of wishful thinking, she turned and walked into the observatory.

Red and Cid were standing in front of a table in the center of the room. They both looked up when she walked in, Cid motioning her over. She could see he hadn't had a chance to clean himself up yet, which only made her feel more guilty.

"Nanaki, it's so good to see you," she said, walking over to Red and rubbing the fur under his neck. He looked up at her, a purr of contentment passing his lips, although his face retained it's serious look.

"I'm glad you are feeling better," he said. "I'm sorry for the way you were treated when you arrived. I'm afraid that due to circumstances our hospitality is somewhat lacking these days."

Tifa waved it off with a shake of her head.

"It's alright," she said. "We understand."

She glanced at Cid when she said this, but his face was expressionless. If anything, he looked more tired and grim than he had during their travel the last few days. Hadn't finally making it to Cosmo canyon made him feel any better at all? She glanced at the table the two were standing in front of. She could see it was strewn with maps of various regions. What had they been talking about? More bad news? Was this why Cid looked so grim?

"I'm glad you're here," Red stated, as if reading her mind. "We have some important things that need to be discussed. I know you are both tired, and the war is probably the last thing you want to think about, but I'm afraid this is important."

"Of course, Red," Tifa said, though inwardly she sighed to herself. Red was exactly right. She had been hoping to forget about the war and the outside world now that she was here. At least for just a little while. She should have known better. "Go on."

In spite of Tifa's prompting, Red hesitated, looking at them both, then turning away.

"Actually, I'm not quite sure how to begin," Red said. "It's a little embarrassing, actually. It's been a long time since the canyon was involved in any type of war. Even during the Midgar Wutai war we were neutral. We haven't been involved in any battles at all in over a hundred years. We're a peaceful society. We weren't prepared."

"Just get on with it!" Cid said impatiently.

Red stopped for a moment, then nodded.

"Yes, of course," he said. "Sorry. In a nutshell, Wutai spies have stolen the huge materia."

They both looked at Red in surprise.

"To what purpose?" Tifa asked.

"We believe they have plans to use it to make a bomb," Red said, looking very unhappy. "It happened about a month ago, just after the war started. They must have been waiting for war to break out. As I said, we weren't prepared. Security here was lax. I take full responsibility."

"Never mind that," Cid cut him off. He didn't really think it was Red's fault. Hell, none of them had been prepared for this. If Red wanted to blame himself, fine, but placing blame didn't seem very important right now. "What kind of bomb?"

Red nodded again.

"As you may suspect, using the huge materia they could make a bomb much more powerful than could be manufactured using ordinary techniques, or even normal mako, for that matter. Something more powerful than has even been seen before. Theoretically, they could create a bomb so powerful that a single one of them could destroy an entire city."

Tifa's face clouded at the prospect. And she had thought that Cid building missiles for them would be bad.

"Theoretically?" Cid homed in on.

"Yes," Red stated. "It's possible to do, but we don't know if anyone has the technical knowledge to actually build one. Fortunately, even if we are not good at spying, or preventing same, we are well acquainted with the scientific communities and figures in the world today. I've discussed this with the Elders here at the canyon, and we have determined that Dr. Danner McKindle is the only scientist presently working for the Wutai government with the ability and knowledge to succeed in actually creating a huge mako bomb."

Red padded over to the table and nodded for them to join him. He placed his paw on one of the maps.

"In spite of our lack of preparedness, we do have spies of our own," he said. "We believe that both Dr. McKindle and the huge materia are at a research site in the central portion of the Wutai continent. We have been in contact with rebel forces in Wutai..."

Tifa looked at Red hopefully.

"Yuffie?" she questioned.

Red shook his head.

"We have not heard from her since the Wutai government was overthrown." He turned his concentration back to the map. "At any rate, we have contacted rebel forces in Wutai, and they have agreed to stage a raid on the facility. Our intentions are to recapture the huge materia and Dr. McKindle and bring them back to Cosmo Canyon. This will ensure that the huge materia can never be used to make a bomb."

Cid stepped closer and looked down at the map.

"Sounds reasonable," he stated. "But if the huge materia is really there and Dr. McKindle is really the only one who can create the bomb, I would imagine the research facility would be heavily guarded. Do you think these Wutai rebels would stand a chance?"

"I don't know," Red replied. "I don't know how strong the Wutai rebel forces are. I don't even know exactly what there plan is, whether they plan on entering through stealth or brute force. But the sad truth is there is no other option. Cosmo canyon cannot fight Wutai directly. We cannot take the huge materia back by force. We don't have a military, we have no agents capable of attempting what the Wutai rebels wish to attempt. I'm afraid they're our only chance."

Cid didn't reply for a moment, staring at the map in front of them. Tifa wondered just what he was thinking. Finally Cid turned his gaze to Red again.

"I suppose you're right," he conceded. "But I notice you haven't mentioned why you're telling us about this. Are you asking us to join the raid?"

Red looked at them both slowly before answering.

"Not exactly," he replied. "The Wutai rebels can stage the raid, but they have no way of getting Dr. McKindle and the huge materia off the Wutai continent. Once the attack succeeds, you know the Wutai government will do everything in it's power to recover the Doctor and the materia. It's too risky to leave them in hiding there. There's no doubt Wutai will restrict travel once the raid takes place. They'll close the harbors and the airports. The only way to get him out will be by small aircraft."

Cid gave Tifa a knowing glace. It was pretty obvious where Red was going at this point.

"We have an aircraft available," Red continued. "It's not really designed for this sort of thing, but it will do. The problem is we don't have any qualified pilots."

Red paused, looking straight at Cid, apparently trying to gauge his reaction, but Cid's face was expressionless.

"I know this really doesn't involve you," Red continued after a moment. "From what you've told me you're probably sick of all this. I'm sure you thought that once you reached here you would find a safe haven, somewhere you could finally rest and forget about the war. You have no idea how much I wish that was true. But I'm afraid there's no escape. I have no right to ask you, but I must. If Wutai builds this weapon, no one will be safe. They could wipe out Cosmo Canyon or any other city on the planet at their whim. It's not necessary for you to participate in the raid itself. You're only job will be to fly in, get Dr. McKindle and the huge materia, and bring them back here. The rest will be up to the Wutai rebels."

Cid rested his hands on the map, looking at it closely for far longer than seemed necessary to Tifa. For a moment she almost thought he was going to fall asleep on his feet. He looked exhausted.

"How soon do you need a decision on this?"

"As soon as possible, I'm afraid," Red replied. "We were lucky to get this information about the research center. We don't know when Wutai might decide to move the Doctor."

Cid reached up and rubbed his temples.

"I can't think right now, Red," he said indecisively. "Just give me a little time."

Red nodded.

"Of course," he replied. "I can see you are exhausted. Get some rest. I'm sure any decision you make can wait at least until tomorrow. I'll have someone escort you to a room."

"Thanks," Cid replied. He walked over to a nearby chair and sat down heavily. Tifa looked at him with some concern. It seemed like it had been a long time since he had gotten a decent nights sleep. At least she had had a chance to nap earlier. Some sleep would do him good.

Tifa leaned down and pondered the map herself. She wasn't an expert on such things, but she could read it well enough. The research center was a small red dot on the map of the Wutai continent. It was near the west coast almost halfway between Wutai and the southern end of the land mass.

She sighed inwardly. It had been naive of her to think they could find peace here. It was naive to think they could find peace anywhere. All she wanted was for her and her friends to be left alone. Was that such a hard thing? Was that too much to ask?

She glanced over at Cid. He was leaning back in the chair, his eyes closed. He looked like he was already asleep.

It wasn't her they wanted. It was him. He was the pilot, he was the important one. She was a nobody. She didn't have to go with him. No one would care if she stayed behind. In fact, after the way they had been getting along lately, he might even prefer it that way. Did he even want her to come? She couldn't blame him if he didn't. It would just be one less thing for him to worry about.

A man entered the room, nodding deferentially to Red. Tifa had thought Cid was asleep, but his eyes immediately opened at the entrance of the newcomer.

"Please come with me," the man said.

Cid got up. Tifa turned back to look at the map. What the hell, she had thought it might be better if they parted here anyway. Wasn't that what she had been thinking about before they got here? She should be grateful...

So then why did the thought of being left behind bother her so much?

"You comin'?"

Tifa turned to see Cid standing by the door, looking at her expectantly.

She was about to reply in the negative, but something in the way he was looking at her made her change her mind. Just the slightest nod of his head, as if he wanted her to tell her something.

"Yeah...sure," she replied.

She followed him out the door and down the narrow corridor. Cid didn't say a word. She had a feeling the reason was the escort accompanying them. The man led them to a room identical to the one she had cleaned herself up in earlier.

There the guard left them alone. Cid made sure the door was closed and then sank down on the bed.

"So what do you think of all this?" he questioned.

Tifa just looked at him for a moment. Did it matter what she thought?

"I...I don't know," she said hesitantly. "It doesn't seem like you have much choice. Red was right, if Wutai manages to build that bomb, no place will be safe."

"Assuming Red's telling us the truth," Cid pointed out.

Tifa had not expected that.

"You think he might not be?" she asked.

Cid shrugged.

"I don't know," he replied. "But look at the track record of our so called friends. Vincent could care less, Reeve betrayed us, and Cloud..."

He stopped, looking at her face, but she managed to hide the pain that stabbed through her gut at the mention of his name. She had to admit he had a point. Their encounters with their other friends had turned out disappointing, to say the least. Still, that didn't necessarily mean Red would be the same way. She just couldn't see the huge red cat being anything but honest with them.

"That doesn't mean they're all going to treat us like that," she protested. "I don't think Red would lie to us."

Cid looked unconvinced.

"I just don't like the whole idea," he stated. "Red seems to be putting all his trust in these mysterious Wutai rebels, yet he seems to know almost nothing about them. How do we know it's not some kind of trap?"

"So you're saying Red is leading us into a trap?" Tifa said. "To what purpose."

"How should I know?" Cid replied defensively. "We know there were Wutai spies here. Who's to say there aren't still? I'd say it's a safe bet that both Wutai and Junon have spies all over the place. If so, it's likely they know we're here, and I don't have to remind you that they're looking for me. Maybe Red's afraid that my being here will give one or the other an excuse to attack the canyon. Maybe he's just trying to get rid of us."

Tifa was taken aback for a moment. She wondered how he could be so cynical.

"You think Red is just trying to get rid of us to save the canyon?" she asked.

"You have to admit it's a possibility," Cid replied calmly. "We both know how important Cosmo Canyon is to Red. Hell, he's the leader here. It's his responsibility to do anything he can to protect the place. Looking at it that way, it would be his obligation to get rid of us if we posed a threat."

Tifa was silent for a moment. She could hardly believe Cid would say such things. Cid had always been a little rough edged, but he had never spoken so harshly about their friends before.

"I can't believe you would say something like that," she said.

"Why not?" Cid countered. "You've seen for yourself what this war has done to people. Why should Red be immune? Even if the story is true, Red still might be hiding something. I found it odd that he wanted us to bring back this Dr. McKindle person as well as the huge materia. Why do we need to get both? If we bring back the huge materia, then they can't make a bomb, now can they?"

Tifa was puzzled by this sudden turn in his logic.

"Maybe he's afraid they'll find some more someplace. It's possible there's still some out there, undiscovered."

"Yeah, maybe," Cid replied skeptically. "Or just maybe Red thinks it might be handy to have one of those bombs for himself."

Again Tifa was taken by surprise.

"Cid, what are you talking about?" she questioned. "Are you now going to tell me that you think Red will build one of those bombs to use on another city?"

"No," Cid responded. "But he might build one to be able to threaten to. Just think about it for a minute. Cosmo Canyon's in a dubious position here. Both Wutai and Junon are much stronger then Red's forces. If it came down to a struggle I don't think Cosmo Canyon could beat either one. But with the threat of one of those bombs hanging over their head, who would dare attack?"

"Cid..." Tifa started to protest again, but then shut her mouth. Much as she disliked the idea, she had to admit that what Cid was saying made a lot of sense. With Wutai pressing on it's doorstep, Red might be desperate enough to do anything to save the canyon. This was his home, he was the protector. Wouldn't he do anything in his power to keep the canyon safe? Wasn't his obligation to this place more important than any friendship?

Was she a fool to believe otherwise?

No. She just couldn't believe it. Red would do what he could to protect the canyon, but he wouldn't betray his friends either. From everything she knew about him, he was too honorable for that. "I'm sorry," she continued. "I just don't believe Red would do that."

Cid frowned.

"I'd like to believe that," Cid replied, looking at her closely. "I value your opinion. That's why I wanted to have this little talk before I gave Red my answer. But in this case, I'm not sure I agree with you. We both know how trusting you can be. I was hoping that after what happened you could...well...put that trust aside and look at things logically."

She looked at him sharply. Logically? Was that what he really thought of her? That she just made decisions based solely on her emotions? Did he just think she was some ditzy woman?

"I'm not being trusting," she responded coldly. "I'm...well, maybe I am. But in this case I think it's warranted. Red hasn't done anything to make us think he's not telling the truth. We've known him before and I don't think he would lie. You say I'm too trusting, well, maybe it's the other way around. How do you know you're not the one who's overreacting? How do we know that the betrayal we've met so far hasn't made you so cynical you can no longer trust anyone, no matter how honest they may be?"

I trust you, Cid thought.

But he said; "I don't. But it seems to me we'll be better off being suspicious than having blind trust in someone."

Tifa no longer wanted to argue the point.

"So what are you saying?" she stated. "That you're going to refuse the mission? Can you really take that chance, knowing what might happen if Red is telling the truth?"

Cid pulled out a cigarette, hastily lighting it and slipping it between his lips, trying to hide his frustration. She didn't seem to understand what he was trying to say at all. He just didn't want her to suffer another let down. He wanted her to be prepared in case Red really was trying to use them. God knows the girl had suffered enough. He didn't want to see her get hurt anymore. He didn't think she could take having another friend betray them. But in his usual fumbling way, he only seemed to be making matters worse. All he seemed to be doing was getting her angry.

"No, it doesn't look like I have much choice," he responded.

Something in the way he emphasized the word 'I' made her stop and look at him.

"But that doesn't mean we both have to go," he finished.

Tifa's face went pale. After all this time, was the truth finally coming out? He didn't want her with him. All this time they had been together, she had just gotten in the way, been nothing but a burden to him. After all, what had she done to help him? Nothing. He would have been better off without her, without having to worry about her. It was funny, on the way here she had been thinking about them parting, about how they both might be better off. But now she realized she had just been kidding herself. If Cid was going, she didn't want to be left behind. All her friends had left her, was he going to abandon her too?

"I don't know if we can trust Red," Cid continued quickly, seeing the look on her face. "And I don't have time to find out for myself. So I need someone I can trust to find out for me. I'd like you to stay here, Tifa. Ask questions, find out if Red is on the level. Find out all you can. Even if he's lying to us, at least we'll have someone here keeping an eye on him..."

Cid feel silent, his sentence ending lamely, hoping she wouldn't see the lie in it. She'd been through so much. She deserved a chance to live in peace. He realized she'd never get that if she stayed with him. No matter what happened, Wutai and Junon would always be after him. He would always be hunted, as long as the war lasted. But it didn't have to be that way for her. She had a chance to stay here, to find some semblance of a normal life. She wasn't important to them. They wouldn't bother her if she wasn't with him, but he knew she wouldn't leave him on her own. But maybe if he gave her a good reason to stay, she'd do the sensible thing.

But the look on her face made it obvious this wasn't turning out the way he had planned.

"No," she said, her voice suddenly choked with emotion. "You can't mean that."

"Tifa, be reasonable..." he started, but she cut him off with a shake of her head.

"No!" she snapped. Then she stood there for a moment, trying to compose herself, but she found she couldn't. Instead she found herself biting back tears. She wasn't going to cry. Not this time. Not again. She should have known better. After all she had been through she should have realized. She couldn't depend on anyone. Not any of her friends.

Cid wasn't sure exactly what he had said that made her so upset, but it was obvious he had something wrong. He stepped toward her, reaching out to reassure her, but she pulled away.

"Tifa," he said again.

She turned to look at him, and it was obvious she was having a difficult time holding back tears.

"Just leave me alone!" she exclaimed, then turned and walked toward the door.

Cid stood there motionless, his mouth open. By the time he recovered she had already left the room. He took a step toward the door, thinking maybe to follow her, but then stopped, his hand's dropping to his sides in defeat. He could barely think, he was so tired. Whatever he said to her now would probably just make it worse. He needed to get some rest. Then maybe he could untangle this whole mess. At least, he hoped he could.

He looked down at the ground.

"Highwind, what the hell have you done now?" he muttered.


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