Balance of Power Chapter 12
By Frank Verderosa & Jen Bond
Cid woke slowly, rubbing a hand across his face as he tried to remember where he was exactly. His other arm lay dangling a good two feet off the end, and he was fairly certain that the entire right side of his face bore the imprint of a rather rough seam running along the same edge his arm hung over. His eyes felt like someone had thrown sand in them, and his lower back ached. With a cross between a groan and a curse, he lifted his head to take in his surroundings.
His unsteady gaze met four barren walls of stone enclosing a cramped space filled with one other cot. It didn't take him long to recall that the drab little room he was in was actually a small room in Cosmo Canyon, one he found right after Tifa had walked out, or that if the state of his body was any indication, he hadn't been asleep for very long. No, not nearly long enough to make up for the long day that had come before this, and the one that was still ahead.
Flinging his body over haphazardly, he gazed up at the cobweb infested ceiling with mild detachment. As was the usual case when he opened his mouth, he had made a royal mess of things with Tifa. He had thought he had worked it all out so that it made the most logical sense, and was so certain she would understand. But she hadn't. And he was damned if he could figure out why.
He hated doubting Red, but with the way things had gone with their other so-called friends, he didn't want to take any chances. It seemed a bit too convenient to him for Red to propose a plan of action requiring his help so soon after their arrival. It was almost as if they had organized it a long time ago and were only waiting on him to show up. To his way of thinking, Red's nervous, almost apologetic attitude as he related the details only supported that. Or maybe that was just the cynical, weary side of him that was long past suspending belief or trusting that things would eventually work themselves out.
Right now, however, he needed to find Tifa. He had been too tired to follow after her and try to straighten out their misunderstanding earlier. After the shortest shower of his life, he had immediately collapsed onto the first available cot, not even caring that his clothes were the same grubby ones he had worn earlier. He was clean, and that was what counted. Sleep had been so pressing anyhow, that everything plaguing him had ceased to exist for a small amount of time.
Closing his eyes, he tried to block out the face of the angry kid and Zane's near-wild expression as he expended all his rage onto the man he felt responsible for his pain . He couldn't turn back time, couldn't erase what had happened. And he couldn't say, for sure, that if given the chance, he would have done things differently.
With a sigh, he flung his legs over the side of the cot and forced himself to sit up. Balancing his elbows on his knees, he gave his face another brisk rub to relieve some of the numbness in his cheek. Finally, after one last cursory glance around the room, almost as if to make certain he hadn't forgotten anything, he made it to his feet, noting as he did, that the leg that had been shot only a few short weeks before protested with a slight quiver. Smacking it in irritation, he strode out the door more forceful than was necessary, as if he needed to punish himself for the weakness.
With some relief, he found that the guard outside the door was not the kid from Rocket Town. He wasn't a coward, he told himself, he just didn't need to be on the receiving end of any more venomous glares tinged with more than a side of barely suppressed hatred.
"Do y'know where Tifa went?" He asked, as the man looked up in apparent boredom.
"She hasn't been back this way since she last left, Mr. Highwind."
"Thanks." Cid mumbled, wishing the man had given him a bit more than nothing to go on. He wasn't exactly in the mood to go hiking all over Cosmo Canyon in search of her.
As he continued on down the hall, and then up jagged, stone steps, he wondered what he would say to Tifa once he found her. Apologize? The problem was, he didn't know what he was apologizing for. It was obvious he had hurt her feelings. He just didn't understand how telling her he trusted her enough to stay behind could cause that.
Yes, there was an ulterior motive behind his reason. He thought that by leaving her here, that she might have some chance for the peace she deserved. Not being dragged all over creation while Junon and Wutai searched for him. She deserved better than that. She had never asked to get caught up in all of this. And if he had his way, she would soon be out of it.
When his search took him past the open doorway of a restaurant, his stomach rumbled in protest of his walking on by. With a half-sigh, he told himself he would eat later. Food wasn't as important as his friendship with Tifa was. Besides, by now, he hoped that she was more receptive to listening to him. He didn't want to give her too much time to think, however. For some reason, the thought of Tifa being angry with him for any length of time bothered him greatly. It also left him feeling vaguely uncomfortable...
By-passing the ladder that would take him up to Bugenhagen's observatory, he instead chose to take the stone steps rounding up the Canyon and leading to the very top of it. He didn't presume to know Tifa well enough to predict her actions, but if he was her, and he wanted some place alone to think, he would go there. Every other place was likely to be crawling with people.
Cid climbed the last of the steps and paused when his eyes fell on the form of Tifa, her arms wrapped tightly around herself as she gazed up at the night sky. The moon took up half of it, washing over her with a soft, ethereal light. Stars were spattered everywhere that the Planet's night-light was not, and it filled him with a peace and a calm that he hadn't been able to find for days. Perhaps, in a way, he had been wrong. For seeing Cosmo Canyon like this, its rich, earthy-red soil bathed in moonlight, caused him to nearly forget that there was a war raging outside of this scholarly haven.
A mild, warm breeze ruffled the tips of his mussed hair, and caressed his face, interrupting his admiration of the scenery. With some reluctance, he centered his attention on Tifa again. She looked so tiny and lost standing there. It was almost enough to make him forget that she was a tough kid, used to taking care of herself and managing her own life. But right now, she was hurting from something he had said. It didn't matter that it was unintentional. He had promised himself the day that Shera had left, and again when he had learned of her death, that he was never going to mistreat someone that way again. Especially not Tifa, who had been through so much with him and never once complained or lost her faith in him, even when he had lost faith in himself.
Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he began walking toward her slowly, his eyes more on the rocky ground beneath his feet than her. He could understand why Bugenhagen had liked it up here so much. It was almost like standing at the edge of the world, looking out across the land that stretched for miles, and then looking up at the sky that stretched endlessly. There was a quiet here, a beauty, not often found elsewhere. A part of him wanted to hide out here forever, to pretend the war didn't exist. But he couldn't do that, not and expect to live with himself.
At the soft thud of footfalls on the ground, Tifa swung around, her hair fanning out behind her like a massive chocolate cloud. Her arms loosened from around her waist, and were nearly raised into a defensive position until she saw that it was only Cid. Relaxing, she eyed him with some apprehension, somewhat embarrassed at her earlier behavior, though she still couldn't let go of her hurt at the thought of him wanting to leave her behind.
Returning her eyes to the scenery, she felt, rather than saw him approaching further. It was lovely here, so peaceful. For a few moments, she was able to forget about the war and the things troubling her. She wasn't naive enough to think this short trip was going to rejuvenate her fully, but it was still soothing. You couldn't be in the thick of something like this an expect to escape unchanged, or unscathed. Compared to some, however, her internal wounds were nothing.
He settled next to her, and she caught a whiff of soap mixed with the unmistakable scent of his cigarettes. He couldn't have slept much longer than she had, and she knew that he must be beyond tired. They all were. Even in their sleep, they remained on guard. Junon and Wutai had taken over the lives of everyone, even those not directly involved in the war. There was always that fear that your town was going to be next... She was certain that it was on the minds of the people in Cosmo Canyon. Citizens, refugees alike.
Finally, Cid broke the silence. "I'm sorry, Tifa. I thought that you'd want to stay here. I wasn't tryin' to get rid of you, if that's what you thought. I thought that maybe you'd had enough of living on the edge."
She glanced over at him, irritation stirring in her. Why hadn't he asked her what she wanted instead of just assuming?
"Cid, did it ever occur to you that maybe I wanted to go along?"
Surprised crossed his face and his lips stretched into a doubtful frown, but he didn't say anything in return.
"I thought that you wanted to get rid of me, but were too polite to tell me," she admitted.
Cid had to laugh at that. "Tifa, when have you ever known me to be polite?"
She shot him a look that clearly said she wasn't amused.
His smile faded. "Listen Tifa, if I'd wanted to get rid of you, I would have came right out and told ya. I don't put up with the people if I don't like'm."
She bowed her head, her dark hair falling around her face and hiding her expression. Was he telling the truth? Had he really not been trying to get rid of her?
Oh stop it, Tifa, she berated herself. When has Cid ever lied to you? He's been up front about everything. Even the things that were better kept to himself.
Cid lifted his head, craning his neck so that he could look at the sky. It really was something else at night, the dark sky filled with so many bright stars. In the last few weeks he had nearly forgotten that it had been his dream to visit those stars. Funny, how real life had made that seem not so important anymore. His only concerns now were keeping Tifa alive and dodging Wutai and Junon. Just the basics, if you could call that normal. Big dreams lost their shine when you were trying to hold on to you freedom and your life.
Tifa moved, drawing his attention to her. Her face was still hidden in the shadows. Shifting uncomfortably, he wished he knew what was going through her mind.
Tifa darted Cid a glance out of the corner of her eye, finding him staring up at the stars. The expression on his face was ambiguous, and she wished that there was some hint there as to what he was thinking.
Drawing in her breath, she gathered up her nerve, and decided she was going to explain how she felt before this moment passed by and there wasn't another chance. She didn't want to be left behind. Too often, she had remained quiet and kept her feelings to herself where Cloud was concerned. It wasn't the first time she had wondered if the way things were now was partly her fault. If she didn't speak up now, Cid would leave her here, alone.
His head whipped around. "Yeah?"
She clasped her hands together to keep from fidgeting. "I... I thought you wanted to leave me here because I've been nothing but trouble for you. I'm just holding you down and giving you responsibility you don't need."
"That's not true" He snapped, the vehemence of his reply startling them both.
She turned to face him. "But if it hadn't been for me, you never would have had to leave Rocket Town."
"Yeah," he spat bitterly, "and then we'd both be dead."
She shook her head. "They might have had a chance."
Cid stared at her in silence for a few moments. "Your... your faith in my abilities is... well appreciated, Tifa. But I'm just one man. They would have died whether I stayed or not. If Wutai could destroy it that easily without a second thought, they probably would have done it even if I had went with'em."
"But don't you see? You left because of me.!" She replied, pressing her hands to her chest.
"That was my decision. I don't regret it, and I sure as hell don't hold it against you for us leavin'." He said firmly, wanting to dispel any notions she might have had as far as that was concerned.
Dropping her arms, she sighed. "I just... I'm just in the way. So I'd understand if you wanted me to stay here." But it would still hurt.
"Dammit woman," he shot back, closing the distance between them to take her shoulders in his hands and force her to look at him, "you aren't listenin' to me! I don't want to leave you behind. You aren't some burden, or responsibility, or whatever you call it. You're my friend. If it hadn't been for you, I'd have fallen apart! I only thought to leave you here because I wanted you to have a chance to live in peace instead of running with me. Because until this war ends, I'm a wanted man. That could take years, Tifa."
She blinked, not knowing what to say.
Cid sighed, and stepped away from her.
"When Shera... when we found out Shera died, "he began, shifting himself so that only his profile was visible, "you were the only thing that kept me goin'. I knew I couldn't crack and leave you stranded like that. If you hadn't been there... well I don't know. All I know is that I never once regretted havin' you with me."
Tifa felt a strange sort of warmth chase away the cold that had lingered from their earlier argument. He hadn't wanted to abandon her. Yet...despite how relieved that made her feel, she knew that she was avoiding the one subject that could change his mind. Her behavior still embarrassed her, but she knew she had to apologize for it.
"Not even.. after what happened... after Cloud..." She blew her breath out in frustration after that, thinking that she sounded like a simpleton.
Cid stiffened, and anxiety pooled instantly in his gut, leaving his muscles tense. This he didn't know how to talk about. Tifa had been hurting then, and he knew that pain had driven her to kiss him. It was obvious that this topic made them both extremely uncomfortable. But Cid knew Tifa well enough by now to know that she couldn't leave it until she apologized to him. He didn't want her to though. There was nothing to apologize for.
"Tifa... you don't have to... the only reason I didn't..." he trailed off, dragging a hand through his hair in frustration.
Here they were, two adults, and they couldn't even discuss something as simple as this without getting all flustered. His own stomach was twisted in knots and it suddenly felt warm enough out here to take his jacket off.
"I just wanted to say that I'm sorry," Tifa breathed in one great rush, relief coursing through her as soon as he words let her mouth.
He turned to look at her then, his expression softening. "You don't have to apologize. I don't pretend to know how you feel, but I understand why..." He had been close to bad mouthing Cloud there, but for her sake, he left it at that.
She smiled slightly. For some reason, however, Cid had the feeling that miles still separated them. He wanted to reach out and reassure her, but instead he used his raised arm to scratch the back of his neck. Wasn't this how it was supposed to be anyway? No matter what he may have began to feel, it was better this way.
He supposed it was time to quit denying he cared for Tifa far more than he had when they had first set out. He had known her for some time now, but had never looked at her before the way that a man looked at a woman. Maybe, deep down, that had been another reason for him wanting her to stay in Cosmo Canyon. By putting some distance between them, he had hoped to forget his attraction to her and give her a chance to find someone else.
It never occurred to him, of course, to ask Tifa how she felt.
Tifa wasn't sure why she had the feeling that though this conversation had cleared the air between them, Cid still hadn't changed his mind. Didn't it matter that she wanted to go with him? Cosmo Canyon, as gracious as everyone was, didn't feel like home. Home... maybe there would never be such a place for her again. But at least with Cid, she felt safe and alive.
She didn't want to leave him. Red was her friend too, and despite what Cid had said, she didn't believe Red was like... the others. But Cid... She looked over at him, taking in his worn clothing, his face with all of its lines put there by worry and time, and his hands, scratched and calloused from hard work. He often looked like a mess, but there was more to Cid than his appearance. Sometimes, he even surprised her.
Seeing Cloud with his wife and child had hurt her deeply. It had crushed that last, small amount of hope that she had clung to. But being left in Cosmo Canyon, facing the possibility of never seeing Cid again, filled her with panic. She would have liked to hope they had forged some kind of strong friendship out of this. Perhaps she was hoping for something more. Only, she had no idea how to say that without further embarrassing them both and ruining what they did have.
She had asked herself if Barret had been with her in the prison cell when she fell apart, would she have kissed him? Somehow, she didn't think so.
"You're still going to leave me behind, aren't you?" She asked, cutting through the silence.
Cid shrugged. "You don't think it's for the better? You'd rather be dragged around by some broken down old man instead of staying here and having a chance to make a new life?"
She rounded on him, her eyes flashing. "Don't say things like that! There isn't going to be a chance for anyone to have a better life until this war ends. Don't you think I'm capable of making my own decisions? Well, I've decided to go with you. And I don't think there's anything you can do to stop me."
Cid gave a short bark of laughter. "There's the girl I know!"
Tifa surprised him by advancing on him, her expression tight with anger. "Is that how you see me? As some little girl who can't handle herself and who needs to be taken care of?"
"No! Where'd the hell you get that idea from?"
She jabbed her finger at him. "Is that the real reason you want me to stay here?"
"Oh for God's sake!" Cid exploded. "A man would have to be blind not to see what a beautiful woman you are. I may be old, but I'm not so old I hadn't noticed!"
"Why do you keep calling yourself old?" Tifa asked quietly, trying to ignore the pleasure his words brought her.
"Compared to you, I am."
"I hadn't noticed," she replied, swinging away from him to cross her arms and stare out across the darkened landscape.
The silence again stretched out between them, both of them thinking their own thoughts, and both still too wary to take a hold of the feelings stirring the air.
"You're coming with me then," Cid remarked, effectively chasing away the moment.
"Yes I am."
He looked at her. "I want to be wrong about Red, Tifa."
She met his gaze with her own steady one. "I want you to be too."
"We'll do it."
Nanaki nodded his head, looking at them both gravely. They stood once more in the lower room of the observatory. Tifa said nothing, noting to herself how confident Cid sounded. In spite of his trepidations about the mission, about Red's motives, and about bringing her along, once the decision had been made, he was gung ho to go forward.
"The plane has already been serviced. Supplies are on board and it's ready to go. We just have to make final arrangements with the underground in Wutai. Everything should be in place by tomorrow night."
"So soon?" Tifa questioned. She had been hoping that their stay in Cosmo Canyon would last a little bit longer.
"I'm afraid so," Nanaki replied. "As I said, your target could be moved at any time without warning. We need to get this done as soon as possible."
"So where exactly do we have to go?" Cid questioned.
"All the information you need is stored on the airplane," Nanaki replied. "The exact landing point and times will be supplied before you take off. They will schedule the assault to take place as soon as you arrive. If all goes well, they'll have your man and the huge materia for you inside an hour."
"If all goes well," Tifa said slowly.
"Why don't they start the assault before we get there?" Cid questioned. "This way they can have him waiting when we arrive."
Nanaki paused for a moment before replying.
"That was suggested," he said. "But the rebels didn't agree. They wanted to be sure the escape plane was there before they started the assault."
"What, they don't trust us?" Cid stated.
"No more than we trust them," Nanaki replied. "They're afraid something might go wrong on the trip over there. Obviously, it would be a disaster to stage the assault and then find that the escape plan cannot make it."
"I'll make it all right," Cid said disdainfully.
"I'm sure you will," Nananki agreed. "But the rebels are concerned. After all, it's their lives that are on the line. Besides, even if you do make it, there is always a possibility you could be delayed. The timing of doing it that was is just too risky."
Cid did not reply, but Tifa could tell that he was a bit put off that anyone would doubt his ability when it came to flying, even if the rebels had no idea who he was.
"So how many of these jokers are they going to have for this assault?" Cid questioned. He obviously had as much faith in the rebels as they had in him. "And how large is the force protecting the research center?"
"I don't have any information about that," Nanaki replied. "The rebels have not told us their numbers, nor to we have any intelligence about the strength of enemy forces at the research center. We were lucky just to find out where they had the huge materia."
Cid's face pinched up into a frown.
"I'm not too comfortable going in in the dark like this," he mused. "I've got a bad feeling about it."
Cid looked at Nanaki, as if expecting more from him. The lionlike beast returned his gaze for a moment, then turned away.
"I wish I had more for you," Nanaki said resignedly. "But unfortunately that's all we have. You already know everything we do. Unless the rebels tell us anything else when we contact them to make final arrangements, this is all you're going to have to go on. I realize it's a desperate gamble. I realize the odds of success are slime. But I don't know what else we can do."
He looked at them helplessly, his expression so apologetic that Tifa felt the need to reassure him.
"I'm sure you've done the best you could," she said. "This is a difficult situation for all of us. I'm sure we'll manage."
Nanaki just looked at her for a moment. He seemed about to say something, but again he turned away.
"Something on your mind, Red?" Cid questioned.
Nanaki shook his head slowly without looking at them. For a long time he said nothing at all.
"It's going to be a dangerous mission," he finally spoke. "I wish I could go with you."
It struck Tifa at that moment that Red was really worried about them. He had seemed to be acting a bit strange...no, strange wasn't the word, just not like himself, since they had met him. Maybe that was part of the reason Cid was so suspicious. But it seemed to her now that it might be worry, worry and frustration. Now that Bugenhagen was gone, he was the leader of Cosmo Canyon. He was responsible for all the people here. There was a war raging, a war that could engulf Cosmo Canyon at any time. He couldn't just run off with his friends anymore, he had too many responsibilities. Instead he had to stand by while they took the risks. It must be difficult for him.
Tifa walked up to Nanaki and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
"We'll be fine, Red," she said. "We've been in tight spots before. We've always managed to get out of them."
Nanaki just looked down at the floor.
"That is true," he said. "But you've also had the rest of us there in time of need. Now we are scattered to the four winds, and from what you've told me, even on opposite sides. The world has changed, and I...I don't know."
He shook his head sadly. Tifa felt her heart go out to him. It almost reminded her of the time they had been at the Ghost Hotel, when Cloud had been explaining what was going on, and Red had thought he was going to go mad. Tifa smiled to herself when she remembered what she had told him then.
"Be strong Red," she said softly. "Be strong."
Nanaki took a deep breath then nodded. When he looked up at them again his eyes were clear.
"Be careful," he said.
"We will," Cid replied.
Nanaki nodded yet again.
"Very well. It's late and I'm sure you are both tired. I won't keep you any longer. Get some rest. At least you'll have tomorrow to relax before you have to be off again. Let us hope that you can return here someday under better circumstances."
"I'm sure we will," Tifa said with as much conviction as she could muster.
Nanaki did not reply to that. Cid nodded to Tifa and they both left the room. A moment after they were gone a man dressed in the traditional robes of an Elder stepped out of a shadowed alcove.
"You did very well, Nanaki."
Nanaki turned to look at the man, a flicker of anger flaring in his eyes.
"It is against my nature, not to mention my better judgement, to lie to my friends, Elder Hargo" he said bitterly.
"Perfectly understandable," Hargo replied. "We know this goes against everything you've ever been taught. We know this is difficult for you. You are still so young. Leadership has been forced upon you long before your training for it was complete. You are not ready, but you must be. You are the last of your kind Nanaki, and whether you are ready or not you must lead us. Though you may find it personally distasteful, I'm sure you see the necessity of what we are doing."
"Yes, yes," Nananki replied. "I understand the reasons behind it. If I didn't agree I wouldn't have gone along this far. I understand that sometimes as a leader of a country you have to lie to others, to mislead other head's of state, or their representatives, or spies, that it's necessary to protect MY people. But this isn't some head of state here, this isn't some foreign ambassador, these are my FRIENDS!"
"It is unfortunate," Hargo said sympathetically. "But being the leader comes with great obligation, greater even than to your friends. The welfare of Cosmo Canyon must be your primary concern. All else is secondary. I wish times would have made it possible for us to ease you into this, but that is just not the case. I know this is difficult, I know this goes against what you feel is right, but as the leader of Cosmo Canyon you have a higher calling. You must be willing to sacrifice anyone, your friends, me, even yourself, if necessary, to guarantee the safety of the canyon."
Nanaki looked down at the floor once again. Since Cid had arrived here and the plan had been hatched, he had been struggling with this. They had needed a pilot, and through sheer luck Cid had shown up out of the blue, as if sent here by divine providence. The Elders had taken it as a sign, and the rest of the plan had been formulated quickly. Nanaki had tried to oppose it, had tried to find another way, but he couldn't, and his arguments had not swayed the Elders. Hargo was right, this plan went against everything he had ever been taught. And yet is was the Elders who had taught him, and they were the one's who were now telling him to forget everything he had ever learned. He could see their point of view. Wutai had a large army camped just on the outskirts of the canyon. Nanaki had little doubt that the canyon would fall if they decided to attack. But it wouldn't be an easy battle. The people of Cosmo Canyon could inflict some severe losses on the Wutai army before they perished, losses Wutai might not be able to afford right now. Especially since the canyon held no strategic value. But they all knew that in a war circumstances could change in a hurry. They couldn't depend on either their strategic insignificance or their defensive position to save them indefinitely.
"Yes, I understand," Nanaki said with a sigh. "But couldn't I just warn them of the danger they are getting into? That's not going to give anything away."
Hargo shook his head slowly.
"You know you can't. The success of the plan depends on no one divining our true intention. The fewer people who know, the better. Yes, I know you think you can trust your friends, but it's just too great a risk. There are too many spies about. Your friends are already suspicious. I'm afraid you are not a very good at misleading people. They could tell something was wrong. For a moment there I thought you had given it away. But to your credit you recovered well. The story about you're wanting to go with them was very...logical."
"That was no story, that was the truth," Nanaki stated.
"So much the better," Hargo replied.
Nanaki looked away in disgust.
"I always thought a leader had to be brave and strong. Someone true to his word, who everyone would look up to. Someone who could be proud of himself. Someone with honor!" he said bitterly.
He shook his head.
"Honor! I realize now how foolish I was. Is this what politics really is all about? Doing anything to save your people? I would be happy to give my own life, it that's what it took to save the canyon. But betraying my friends? If I had know I would never have wished for the job. It all makes me sick to my stomach!"
Elder Hargo did not move.
"I realize how difficult it must be for you," he said. "No matter how you feel, you did what you had to do. That is the true mark of a leader."
Nanaki made a sound of disgust.
"I don't feel like much of a leader at this moment. I can't help but think that Grandfather would have come up with a better way."
"Perhaps," Hargo replied. "Unfortunately, we no longer have the luxury of his advice. So we must go on as best we can. You have done well Nanaki. The hardest part is past. Now it would be best to finish this. Are you ready to see the Wutai Ambassador?"
Nanaki looked at Hargo. Not being human, his expressions were normally hard to read, but not this time. He was clearly fed up with the entire process. Nevertheless he nodded.
"Let's get this over with."
Elder Hargo nodded and walked swiftly out of the room, leaving Nanaki too brood. He didn't have much time to do so however, when another man entered the room. Nanaki sighed and quickly composed his face into an expressionless mask.
"Good evening, Ambassador Yoshida," he said pleasantly.
"Good evening, Mr. Nanaki," Mr. Yoshida returned. "I know we have spoken about this before, but I must insist on being informed of what your intentions are with regard to Mr. Highwind. It is a matter of some importance, and the Wutai government is rather anxious to have this settled. As I mentioned last time we spoke, we would consider it a significant sign of friendship between our two peoples if you were to hand him over to us."
"Yes," Nanaki replied. The Ambassador had come to him to talk about Cid shortly after he had found out himself that the pilot was in Cosmo Canyon. The canyon must be overflowing with spies, but that wasn't really something Nanaki didn't know anyway. "Actually that was just the matter I wished to discuss when I called you here."
"Oh?" the Ambassador replied, his tone sounding instantly more conciliatory.
"Yes, I have discussed this with the Elders, and they agree that handing him over to you would be the best thing for all of us. However, you may not wish to be so hasty."
The Ambassador looked at him for a moment.
"And why might that be?" he questioned slowly.
"Because Mr. Highwind has informed me of a plan he has. A plan that, if he's allowed to continue, could end up bagging you not only him, but most of the Wutai underground as well."
The Ambassador's eyebrows raised just a moment to give away his surprise.
"Everything comes at a price, Mr. Ambassador, you know that," Nanaki said. "I'll give you all the information you need. I'll tell you exactly what he's doing and where he's going. I'll guarantee that not only will you capture him, but you will destroy the heart of the Wutai underground at the same time. But the information is not free."
The Ambassador looked at him for a moment. Nanaki could see his face hardening.
"What is it that you want?" he asked.
"Not much," Nananki replied. "Just for you to remove the army you have camped at the canyon entrance and a guarantee from your government that the canyon will not be attacked."
"That army is there for defensive purposes only," Mr. Yoshida replied immediately. "If the Junon army breaks through on either the northern or southern front, that army can provide support."
"The army moves or you don't get the information," Nanaki said.
"Just how good is your information?" the Ambassador inquired.
"It's beyond dispute," Nanaki replied. "Mr. Highwind told me the plan himself."
"And how do we know he will actually carry it out?"
"If for some reason you don't get Mr. Highwind and the rebels, then your guarantee that the canyon will not be attacked would be void," Nanaki replied.
The Ambassador stood there for quite some time before replying.
"It would take some time for us to move that army. It's not a simple thing."
"I had the Elders write up a non aggression pact for you to sign. If you do that and give me your word the troops will be withdrawn, I will give you the information. If it turns out to be false, the pact is nullified."
Again the Ambassador hesitated.
"Very well," he said finally. "But if we do not get Mr. Highwind, for any reason, and if the Wutai underground is not destroyed, the pact will be meaningless."
This time it was Nanaki's turn to hesitate, but just for a moment.
"I agree," he said.
"Bring in the contract," Mr. Yoshida said.
Nanaki called out, and Hargo and two other Elders came in. They all sat down and the Ambassador read over the contract. They haggled a bit on some minor points, but eventually all was in order and the man signed it. Elder Hargo thanked him and he and the other Elders left once more. Mr. Yoshida looked at Nananki.
Nanaki took a deep breath.
"Mr. Highwind had been in contact with the Wutai underground. He's planning on teaming up with them to break into your research center, steal the huge materia, and kidnap Dr. McKindle. Apparently the Wutai underground thinks they can use the huge materia themselves to make a bomb they can use against you."
"How foolish of them," Mr. Yoshida replied. "Where would they get the resources for something like that?"
"I don't know," Nanaki replied. "I'm only speculating. Anyway, the attack is supposed to take place tomorrow night. Mr. Highwind is going to fly in there and spirit the man out once the Wutai underground has got him. All you have to do is wait for him there and you can capture both Mr. Highwind and the Wutai underground."
Mr. Yoshida drummed his fingers on the table.
"That is very valuable news indeed, if it is true," he said.
"It's true," Nanaki replied. "Mr. Highwind told me the plan himself. He came here looking for an aircraft to use."
They both looked at each other for a moment. Nanaki knew the man was searching his eyes for some hint of whether he was telling the truth. Finally he nodded.
"Very good," he said. "We owe you a debt of gratitude. The army will be withdrawn as soon as Mr. Highwind is safely in our hands. May this be the first step of many that signify the goodwill between our two peoples."
The Ambassador stood up.
"I must inform my government. We don't have very much time, we'll have to act on this immediately. If you'll excuse me."
"By all means," Nanaki replied.
The Ambassador turned and strode quickly out of the room. For a long time Nanaki just stood there, looking at the paper in front of him. He had done it, might have saved the canyon from certain doom. But he did not feel good about it. The cost was high, and it would not even be paid by him. No, this paper was paid for not with his own blood, but with the blood of his friends, and he didn't know whether he'd ever be able to forgive himself.
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