Balance of Power Chapter 15

By Frank Verderosa & Jen Bond

Tifa realized she was in trouble. She was hurt much worse than she had thought. The grenade's explosion had knocked her to the ground, jarring her whole body. She had thought the burning in her lungs and the pain in her back and legs was just a response to that. The adrenaline rushing through her body right afterward, the need to respond to the attack, had conspired to mask the pain. When Cid had looked back at her she had waved for him to go on, that she was alright, but with every step she took, she realized that wasn't true.

She had thought the pain in her chest and back would diminish with time, but that wasn't the case. At first she had tried to run, to keep up with the others, ignoring the pain, assuming it would soon subside. But instead it had slowly gotten worse. Every breath was a searing pain. Each step seemed more painful than the last. After only a short distance she was forced to slow to a walk.

The rain was still coming down, but she hardly felt it. The pain was so great that it was impossible to think about anything else, and the world seemed to have become a blur around her. She stumbled suddenly over something she didn't see. She righted herself, but the agony that shot through her back by doing so was so great she cried out in pain.

She stopped, her hand reaching around to touch her back. She winced, and when she drew her hand back she was it was covered with blood, at least before the rain washed it off.

She stood there a moment, breathing heavily, every breath so painful as to almost seem not worth the effort. She found herself gulping air, but still felt short of breath. And suddenly she was afraid. She had been in battles before, she had been hurt, but she had never felt like this. For the first time it occurred to her that she might not make it.

She looked up, staring into the darkness around her, realizing that she had been so focused on the pain and forcing one foot in front of the other that she hadn't really been paying attention to the others, or where she was going.

There was no on in sight.

She looked around wildly, panic welling up inside her. Where was she? Where had the others gone? Where was Cid?

For a moment she stood there, the fear almost overwhelming her. But then she slowly forced herself to calm down. Panic wasn't going to do any good. She had been in trouble before. She had to stop and think things through.

She stood still, trying to listen, but she heard nothing but the rain splattering in the puddles around her. Not even a gunshot sounded in the darkness.

She looked around, but she couldn't even tell at this point which direction she had come from.

Uphill. She knew the plane was up the ridge. If she went up, it was a good bet that was the right direction. She looked around again, and picked the direction that seemed to slope upwards, and started forward again.

She could barely walk now. Every step was tormenting. She felt as if her insides had been shredded. Her progress was agonizingly slow. She soon realized that at this rate it would take her hours to reach her destination.

And she didn't have hours. Already she might be out of time. The enemy was still out there. They had to have recovered from the blast by this time, and must be closing in. It was just a matter of time before they found her, and hobbled as she was, she'd have no chance.

Although it was an effort to lift her head, she did so every few minutes, hoping to see some sign of the others. Had they noticed she was gone? Would they come back and help? Surely Cid wouldn't leave her here...

She grit her teeth and pushed those thoughts out of her mind. They were on a mission. Cid had to get Dr. McKindle out of here. Thousands, perhaps millions of lives depended on it. They couldn't worry about her. She was expendable.

But would Cid go for that? If she were in his place, she didn't think she'd be able to leave him behind.

But she was weak. She would never be a leader. If she didn't make it to the plane soon, he had to leave her behind. She had told him once if he got the chance to save himself, even if it meant leaving her behind, that he should do it. She had meant it. It was the only choice.

If she was going to get out of this, she was going to have to do it herself.

She took a few more steps forward, then her left leg gave out suddenly, causing her to fall the ground with a cry.

She lay there for a moment, staring at the dirt, and a small puddle beside her, the rain hitting it causing drops to splash on her face. She tried to get up, but once on her hands and knees found she could force herself no higher. She started to slowly crawl forward, but moments later found herself sinking to the ground again.

She knew she had to get up. No one was going to come for her. She had to do this on her own if she was going to do it at all.

But she couldn't.

Cid wasn't going to come back for her. Was she going to die here, all alone?

She struggled feebly for a few moments, but made no progress. Her limbs felt as heavy as lead. She didn't have the strength to lift them. Finally she gave up.

She managed to lift her head, not really even sure why she was doing it, but the world was foggy. Was that rain in her eyes, or was it tears? She wasn't sure. Barret had given his life so they could escape. Aeris had died to save the world. Who would remember them? Had any good come of it at all? The world hadn't changed. It was still filled with death and sorrow. They had fought so long, and for what? For it to end like this? They all had suffered so much, and in the end it hadn't meant anything.

Water had pooled around her, forming a puddle. If she still had the ability to notice, she would have seen that it was stained red.

She hoped that Cid escaped. He had wanted to find someplace far away, someplace where no one would bother him, where he didn't have to deal with moronic politicians and blood thirsty warlords out to conquer the world. She hoped he'd find that place. Life hadn't turned out the way any of them had wanted it to. But if there were any gods at all, give her that one last request, that he at least would find some peace in the world. She would be content with just that one simple wish.

She couldn't see anything anymore, not even the rain. The world was a blur. For the first time the pain seemed to have diminished. For a fleeting moment, she thought this was somehow a bad thing, but the thought didn't last. She couldn't seem to think much at all right now for some reason.

She wondered if she would find peace where she was going, before everything slowly faded away.

I'm going back!"

Cid flipped a switch, killing the engines. He pulled himself out of his seat and stepped toward the door. The commando who had closed the door didn't move.

"Sir, you can't," he said.

"Don't tell me what I can or can't do," Cid growled. "I'm not going to leave her here."

The man still didn't move.

"Sir, think about what you're doing. The enemy can't be far behind us. They could be here any second. We don't have any time to waste. You know we can't fight them. We have to get out of here before they discover us or it's over. You don't have time."

"Get the hell out of my way!" Cid snarled. He wasn't leaving her behind. Nothing they could say could tell him otherwise.

The man pulled up his gun, holding it between them but not aiming it at Cid.

"Sir! I can't let you do that," he said, reluctantly but firmly. "Our mission is to get Dr. McKindle out of here. He's on board the plane, and there's nothing to stop us from leaving. We lost plenty of men back there. Some of them were my friends too. But they all knew the score. They all knew how important this is, including your friend. If she's still alive at all, she'll want you to go. The mission is more important than any one person."

Some of the other commando's had come up beside them. They nodded in agreement, imploring Cid with their eyes to realize what the man was saying was the truth.

But Cid would have none of it.

"I don't give a damn about the mission!" Cid shouted. "I don't give a damn about you, or Dr. McKindle, or this stinking war. All I know is that Tifa is back there somewhere and I'm not going to leave without her. Now get the hell out of the way before I kick your ass out of the way!"

And he didn't, he realized. He didn't care about them. Barret was dead. Barret sacrificed his life for something bigger than he was. People lay wounded and bleeding everywhere, a trail of blood leading up to here. All to get Dr. Kindle out and away from Wutai. But he would be damned if he left Tifa to become one of those who were less important than this mission. As far as he was concerned, it had all gone to pot, and the only thing worth saving was her.

The man lowered the gun until it was pointed at Cid.

"I can't let you do that," he repeated slowly.

Cid stepped forward until the gun barrel was pressing against his chest, fury welling up inside him, churning with anxiety and creating a lethal mix. A part of him realized that the man was being rational, was probably even right. The only reasonable choice was to leave Tifa behind. But he refused to listen to reason. He didn't care how logical it was, or how stupid his own actions were. It didn't matter. Only she did.

"Then go ahead and shoot!" he snapped. "You might as well do it. But that will ruin your mission just as well, won't it? I'm the only one who can fly the plane. I'm the only one who can get you out of here."

He stared straight into the man's eyes.

"You can stop me. There's enough of you here. You can gang up on me and prevent me from leaving. You can drag me over to that pilots seat. You can force me to sit in it, but no matter what you do, there's one thing you can't force me to do, and that's fly this thing. There's nothing you can do to make me leave without her, and in the meantime you're wasting time you don't have!"

The man didn't move. He looked over at the other commando's, apparently hoping for some kind of support, but though the other rebel's seemed to agree with him, they all knew what Cid was saying was true.

Dr. McKindle suddenly stepped forward.

"Cid, we all admire your loyalty, but think about it for a minute." he said calmly. He knew their only chance was to reason with the pilot. "You don't have time to go back, and you know it. If we don't leave now we'll all be caught or killed. I'll be recaptured, and Wutai will have it's huge materia bomb, and you know what'll happen then. I know you don't want to believe it, but Tifa is probably already dead. Even if she is alive, what purpose could it serve for you to go back for her? You're only going to get yourself killed or captured, and for what? Do you really think that's what she wants? Barret died to give us a chance to escape. Did he make that sacrifice in vain?"

Cid just stood there for a moment. In spite of his anger, he knew Dr. McKindle was right. If he went back for Tifa, the chances that they would still be able to escape were slim. The argument made perfect sense.

And yet...all this time together Tifa had stood by his side. He knew she would never abandon him. Never.

"I'm through talkin'," he said.

He suddenly grabbed hold of the man's gun and jerked it from his hands. He lifted it up then slammed it down on the floor of the plane. Before they could recover he grabbed hold of the man and threw him roughly aside.

He gripped the door handle, pulling it open. Two of the other men started forward, but Dr. McKindle held up his hand. A moment later Cid was out the door.

Cid ran back toward the complex as fast as he could. It was still raining, harder than ever. The drops, feeling cold as ice, smacked his face as he ran, but he paid them no heed. He looked around wildly, hoping to see some sign of her.

It was crazy. He knew it. He knew the others were right. He was screwing everything up. He was blantanly jeopardizing the mission, putting all those men and women's lives at risk, all because he was too stubborn to leave a friend behind.

He wished he could have come up with some brilliant plan to save them all. But he wasn't a genius strategist, some cagey general, he was just an old pilot. Barret should have picked someone else to be leader. He couldn't cut it. He couldn't make the hard decisions. He wouldn't have been able to kill Dr. McKindle, and he couldn't leave Tifa behind.

But he didn't care. He couldn't leave her. Not like this. They had been together for so long. They were a team. They had been through so much. She was a part of him now, and he couldn't imagine living without her. He didn't stop to think what that really meant.

He should have left her at Cosmo Canyon. She hadn't wanted to, but he should have insisted. No matter how much it might have hurt her feelings. Damn, why did she have to be so stubborn?

But it was too late for that now.

It was too late for everything. He realized he was probably going back just to die with her. But that didn't slow his step. If that was what fate had in store for them, then so be it. He was going to go back, he was going to find her, even if it meant all they had done was in vain. Even if it meant dying along side her, even if it just meant being there at the end. They owed that to each other, not matter what else happened.

They'd really made a mess of it this time.

He stopped suddenly, looking around. He wasn't sure how far he had run. He was pretty sure he was near where he had last seen her. Where the grenade had gone off. He cursed himself for not going back then to see if she was alright. He should have known she wouldn't tell him if she was hurt. Had he reached that point? Had he even passed it perhaps? He wasn't sure. What if he had missed her somehow? What if she had only been slowed down for some unexpected reason. They could easily miss each other in the dark. For all he knew she might be at the plane by now, wondering what had happened to him.

Enemy soldiers had to be nearby. He realized in his haste he hadn't even taken his gun. If he ran into them he wouldn't stand a chance. What an idiot he was. This whole thing was insane.

He shook his head, then ran on. Doubts knawed at him, but he forced himself to ignore them. Something had to have happened to her. If she was alright, she would have made it to the plane by the time he left. He was going to find her, no matter what the odds or how difficult it might be. He just knew he would.

He nearly ran right past the dark shape lying on the ground.

He stopped suddenly, staring in the dark. It took him a moment to positively identify it as a person. He walked slowly forward, his throat suddenly dry, his mind in turmoil, half of it hoping he had found her, the other half scared to death at the sight of the unmoving body.

It was her.

He suddenly ran forward, falling to his knees beside the still body. She was lying on her side, her eyes closed, her hair tangled about her face, the rain pelting down on her. Even in the rain, he could see her back was covered with blood, the rivulets of water dripping off her into a crimson pool.

"Tifa!" And that one word, name, conveyed all the anguish so perfectly, the air almost seemed to shrink back in understanding sympathy.

Cid hated blood. He was a man, and he was a pilot. Those two things combined were supposed to have made him immune to anything. He shouldn't have this queasy feeling, this sudden rush of fear that stole up his throat and coated it slick with terror. But he did. And because there was not a damn thing he could do about it now, he let it wash over him in great waves, stealing the strength from his legs, so that he fell beside her, mud and water splashing up and spraying him in equal fury.

Hands, scarred, rough hands, shook slightly as they hovered over her, uncertain at first what to do. There was so much blood. It swirled around him, mixing in with the rain and mud, staining it an earthy red that should have been ugly. How much of it was hers, and how much of it belonged to those lying nearby he couldn't tell, didn't want to think about it. All he knew, with mind numbing certainty, that Tifa was not alright. She might never be again, and the sudden kick of loss that seared through his gut told him what he had been scared to face before.

"Jesus," he bit out, not recognizing the voice as his own.

Unmindful of the blood, he curled his hands around her shoulders and pulled her closer to him, not wanting to turn her so that her wounded back lay in the dirt. Unfolding himself, not caring how his muscles protested the unwelcome movement, he stretched his legs out and cradled her in his arms, wishing to hell she wasn't so lifeless, so pale, so small against the enormity of her wounds. They had made it this far. She could not leave him now. He wouldn't let her.

"C'mon Tifa..." He muttered, hands slick with her blood pushing through her tangled hair to find the expanse of skin at her neck.

He felt there, searched desperately for a pulse, and prayed to a God he had all but ignored since the day his father died for some signs of life. As the hunt became more bleak, he tried to ignore the ragged jerk of his own pulse, the painful burst of his own breath trapped somewhere between his lungs and his throat, and the way his heart pounded against is chest, as if determined to break free. He wouldn't have cared if it did. Not if she was... gone. He couldn't even bring himself to think the word. Because thinking of it somehow made it final, and he didn't want it to be final.

Cid had only felt this helpless sense of loss twice. It had happened when his father died. That had been his first taste of death. He had no memories of his mother. She had been a distant thought at the back of his mind, a slight, blurred figure with no real features, that came to visit him in his thoughts sometimes as he lay awake at night looking at the ceiling. But his father had been the one constant of his boyhood. A buddy, a man who seemed to know everything there was to know about machines, who brought with him the smell of cigarettes and grease wherever he went. Losing him had been a sharp blow, a rough thrust into manhood, and one of the few things to make him cry.

Shera's death had been the second. The loss of her had ached more than the loss of his father, because he had taken her for granted, had never stopped to see what part of his life she filled. To have her suddenly, violently be gone went against the comfortable notion that she would always be there. And this death had brought with it the all consuming guilt. If he had not driven her away... if he had treated her better... if, if, if... But 'if' wouldn't bring her back, and this time, he had been lucky enough to have someone there with him. Tifa. Who may even now be giving him the most crippling loss of all.

It hardly seemed to matter anymore that he was drenched with rain, dirtied with blood and soil, or that there were soldiers all around them. He could only think of her, and how she didn't deserve this. She still had so much ahead of her. It would have been better had it been him. She would have been tough enough to keep going, and to find some place for herself. Not like him, who had come to depend on her too much, and didn't want to face this weary, nasty war without her beside him.

War. It took so many lives. He knew he was selfish for putting this live above all the others, but he didn't give a damn. He hadn't killed all those people. Someone else had. He had only gotten caught in the middle because of this stupid talent of his. This stupid, hateful talent that had only brought him pain for as long as he could remember. Who gave a damn if he could build rockets? He didn't get any pleasure out of it anymore. He didn't want outer space or any other achievement at the expense of Tifa's life. He would rather die here, or anywhere than give them what they wanted.

He would, he realized. If Tifa died, that last part of him that mattered would die with her. And then physical death would just be a confirmation.

Had anything ever meant this much to him before? Besides flying? The sky had his heart, the wind filled his soul, and flying was in his blood. Passed down to him from his old man, and his father's old man before him. It had once been all he ever needed. A few women had come and gone, but he was never very good with them the same way he was with his planes. But Tifa surpassed them all. Whether it had been born in strife or was just a gentle hum that had always been there but never noticed before hardly mattered. In the end, it was all the same. He cared for her enough that she had his heart, she filled his soul, and she was in his blood.

"So you can't leave me now..." he whispered, not certain whether it was he rain stinging his eyes or the burn of tears when he found her pulse, a faint throb beneath her skin.

She was still with him. But just barely. Whatever it was that kept her hanging on by such a thin thread, he hoped that it was enough until he could get her help. Even if he did get her back to the plane, however, he knew there was a chance she might not make it. There was no one on board that could treat her, and it was quite a distance to fly before they did find someone. It would take hours to get back to Cosmo Canyon. Hours he hoped they had. Hope, however flimsy, was all he had right now.

Tugging her up further, he tried to keep her on her side, not wanting to cause her anymore pain to her back. The clothing she wore was shredded and so dark red, it was almost as if the fabric had been stained with dye. His only one thought was that he had to staunch the flow of blood first before he moved her further. Brows slamming together in a mix of concentration, fear, and anger, he jerked his jacket off and covered her with it, pressing the flat of his palms to her back, wincing for the pain it would cause her should she awaken, and kept moving his hands every so often in an attempt to cover the entire scope of her wound.

The thick fabric of his jacket was soaked clear through almost immediately, and he tried to ignore the panic that stirred in him. He was no doctor, but he knew that if she lost too much blood and didn't get a transfusion quickly, she would die from it. Yes, die. He finally admitted to himself that she could die. There was no use dancing around the word. No matter how he felt that by acknowledging it, he was increasing the chances of it happening. That was foolish. And Cid had never been one to believe in superstitions. But right now, he would settle for a miracle.

Her head lolled against his shoulder, rolled back down his arm, where it lay slack, her hair trailing in the mud. His face a misery of emotion, he took one hand away from her back to pull her head up and her hair from the dirt. It seemed a shame to let it stay there. Ridiculous, he knew, when it was already wet with blood. But her hair was one of the things he found beautiful about her, and he couldn't see letting her suffer any further indignity. He had gotten so soft... The war should have made him harder, bitter, but instead, he had changed in ways he hadn't thought possible. All because of the woman that lay near lifeless in his arms.

"Shit." It came out on a savage blast of air, as the full weight of this settled onto his shoulders.

He suddenly felt so old. Too old to be fighting this war, too old to be running, too old to have finally woken up and realized what life really was, only to have it slip through his fingertips as easily as water. Maybe it was a sign. He had lost everything that ever meant anything to him. Maybe he wasn't meant to having anything. Maybe he was poison. Selfish, uncaring, blind poison. How many things had he ruined because of his impatience, because of his pride? And Tifa, she was just another in a long line of casualties.

"Tifa... just quit bleedin'... please just quit bleedin'..." and over and over in his head like a litany, pounding against the insides of his skull until it rang in his ears, drowning out the rain and the distant sound of gunfire.

Gritting his teeth, he lowered his forehead until it pressed against hers, and squeezed his eyes shut. If he could just get the bleeding to stop, then he could move her back to the plane. She might stand a chance then. She had to.

He was so caught up in his thoughts and getting the bleeding to stop, that he almost didn't notice when her hand curled around his arm, squeezing weakly.

His head snapped up, eyes frantically searching her face for signs of consciousness.

She stirred in his arms, her face wrinkling up in discomfort before her eyes slowly opened and blinked rapidly, trying to focus on the image of him. Her body felt almost as if it were a separate entity from her mind, floating on a sea of pain that was a combination of hot and cold. She thought she must be imagining things. Cid couldn't be here. Cid had left, like he should have. He wasn't here, holding her in his arms and urging her to wake up. She didn't want to wake up. Feeling nothing had been so much more pleasant...

Cid shook her gently. "Dammit, Tifa, don't go out on me again."

"Cid..." she said faintly, so that he barely heard her.

"Yeah," he answered grimly, anxiety like a tight fist in him, "it's me. Now wake up."

Amazingly, her lips stretched into a gaunt, mirthless smile. "Still... the same... old Cid. Ordering... me around. Even when... I'm dead."

Shock arched through him, snapping his head forward at her. "No! You aren't dead, goddammit! I won't let you die!"

Tifa's head jerked back, and she felt a sharp pain lance through her skull. She... wasn't dead? Then, Cid really was here? Relief and guilt warred within her, each fighting for the right to be the predominant emotion. He shouldn't have come back for her. Now he would die too. But she was glad in a way. She would rather not be alone when she went. She was certain she was. Half of her felt numb, cold. The other half felt hot, stinging. And her head felt like it was stuffed full of cotton and rocks at the same time.

She struggled to right her vision. "Cid... you shouldn't have come back..."

Cid felt his eyes sweep shut, and he fought to reign in his emotions, so that she wouldn't see them reflected on his face. He hated how tiny she sounded, how defeated. Even the fact that the bleeding had slowed down was not helping him to feel any better. Tifa obviously thought she was going to die. It was evident in dull, blank depths of her eyes. A place where fire and verve has once resided.

Blue eyes swirling with a grief he prayed she couldn't see focused on her face again.

"Tifa, I had to come back to get you."

She shook her head, face spasming as a fresh wave of pain tore through her. "No... now you'll... die too... I don't... I didn't want that."

"Is that why you told me to go on, you stupid woman?" He bit out, his words lacking any real bite.

Her lips curved again. They were so pale...

"You didn't need me... holding you down anymore."

He shocked her by suddenly pulling her tight against him, and burying his face in her hair, not caring whether it was dirty or smelled frighteningly of her blood.

"You were never holding me down, Tifa. Don't ever say that again. I wanted you with me. I wanted you with me as much as you wanted to go, and look where it got you."

He pulled his face away, so that only inches separated them. Tifa could feel the warmth of his breath fanning across her cheeks, and it took away some of the chill that had seeped into her bones.

"This isn't your fault, Cid," she disagreed, and he was relieved to hear more life in her tone.

What could he say to her? How could he tell her that the thought of going on without her left him panicked, afraid? Somewhere along the way, she had come to be more than a friend to him. Much more. And where Cid had once gotten along fine without female companionship of a different nature than the kind he had shared with Shera, he didn't want to now. A lot had been crushed in the last few weeks; friends had turned out to be enemies, friends had lost their lives, and others had suffered. So Wutai and Junon could be damned. The only thing of importance to him now was in his arms.


The sound of gunfire drew closer, cutting off his words.

Face tight with worry, he looked away from her, around them, trying to see something, anything in the downpour. They were running out of time. Tifa having woken up, and shifted around, had exacerbated her wound again. It was bleeding steadily, though he wanted to ignore it, and didn't want to draw her attention to it. She couldn't have much time left.

"Cid... go. Leave me. You have to fly Dr. McKindle out of here."

He looked sharply down at her. "No."

Tifa flinched under the force of that one word, but she persisted.

"You... have to. You know you do. I'll only hold you down."

She hated the thought of it, of being left behind in the cold and rain. But he needed to go, and she didn't want him to die with her. One life wasn't more important than the many that would be threatened if Wutai got their hands on Dr. McKindle. She needed to make Cid see that before it was too late.

His face was pinched, his words clipped. "I said no, dammit. I'm not leavin' you."

There were shouts now, the distant sounds of voices reaching their ears. They weren't able to make out words, but it wouldn't be long before they were found.

Tifa's eyes were pleading. "Cid, go."

"To hell with Dr. McKindle!" He snapped.

"You know he can't afford to get caught, we can't afford him to," she said gently, the effort of speaking finally taking its toll on her as her words tapered off into a mere whisper.

Why wouldn't he listen? Why was he being so difficult to get through to? If he was caught, or killed, then so many people were going to die...

"Cid! Why can't... you... see... I'm not worth millions... of people dying..." she was gasping now, the pain coming more readily.

"You are to me," he countered laconically. "And I don't give a damn how selfish that sounds..."

Her eyes widened.

The voices were closer. She could understand them now. They were not far away. Already it might be too late.

She felt her body jerk as the darkness threatened to claim her again. Not yet. She had to know something first. She fought against the blur, her limbs feeling lethargic, her mouth feeling almost as if it were sewn shut, and her head feeling so heavy and full.

"Tifa!" Cid shook her.

"Cid... w-why... did you come back?"

For one startling second, they were staring into each others eyes, held by the agony in one and the dimness in the other.


Gunshots. More voices.

Cid swore softly. It was too late now. The only way was a route he didn't want to have to take. But maybe... the gamble would pay off. At least this way, maybe she wouldn't die out in the mud as if she were worth nothing. And if fate was kind, just this once, she would live even if he died.


Her expression was pleading, and he could see she was fighting to hold on to consciousness.

A voice whispered inside. It told him to tell her now before he was never given the chance. So he wouldn't leave her, regretting what he left unsaid. That had happened once too often in his life.

"Because... I... I love you," he managed, jerking his face away from her so he wouldn't have to see her reaction.

"Enough to do this..." he murmured, and lifted his head suddenly and raised his hands.

"We're over here! Here! We need help!" he shouted as loud as he could.


He placed his fingers on her lips, and waited.

She struggled feebly, but the pain in her back burned through her, and she felt back in exhaustion, barely conscious. What was he doing? Why was he calling them? Had he lost his mind? Had he really said what she thought he said. Had he really...really...

Cid sat there, looking down at the girl in his arms, still once again. He didn't have time. He didn't have time to get back to the plane. Didn't have time to get back to Cosmo Canyon. She needed medical assistance, and she needed it now. This was her only chance, and damn the consequences.

Suddenly shadows appeared in the darkness. He heard shouts, and the pounding of feet. Abruptly rough hands were pulling him up, pulling him away from Tifa. He didn't resist. He watched them take her.

"Help her," he said. "Please help her. I'll do anything you want me to do. Just make sure she doesn't die."

Hands jerked him around, shoving a gun in his back, and he was forced to walk away from her, not knowing if she would live, or if he would see her again, and never knowing what she might have said in return.

"Just make sure she doesn't die," he whispered.


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