Balance of Power Chapter 6

By Frank Verderosa & Jen Bond

Cid stared at Dalia, wave upon wave of emotion slamming into him. First numbness, because he could hardly believe that what she had just said was true. How could Shera, who has stood so steadfastly by his side for five years of his life, be gone? Shera, with her quiet strength and unrelenting optimism. She had put up with him for five years, only to have her life ended like this?

Then guilt. God, he should have treated her so much better. He should have known that she would lie to him, even when leaving him, to preserve his dignity and his own wishes. If he hadn't been so horrible to her, she would have never left Rocket Town and never came to Mideel. She would be alive and with them now, instead of gone. He had caused her so much pain while alive, and now, he was the cause of her death. It wasn't that he was thought that highly of himself, rather, it was the opposite.

He felt pain too, because no matter how much he had tried to hide it behind rough treatment, and even rougher words, he had cared for her. More than once, he had thought she was better off somewhere else, where someone could appreciate her like she deserved. But he had been selfish, and hadn't wanted to tell her that. He couldn't bear the thought of losing her, no matter how difficult he made her life. Instead, he continued to treat her badly and yet never once asked her what she wanted out of it all. And in the end, he drove her to leave him, and made her far unhappier than she had been before. That led to her death in a stupid, meaningless war that was killing so many and tearing the lives of those who survived apart.

He looked away from Dalia to Tifa, and saw only sympathy where he thought he should see anger, or at least disgust. As much as they had stung, Dalia's words were true. He had treated Shera so badly, battered at her self esteem because he couldn't face the fact that it was really himself that he blamed, really himself that he felt was weak. And wasn't that the way of the bully? To knock down those that were smaller, those that were weaker in physical strength to make oneself feel better? She had taken it all; when he deserved to have her hit him, or at least yell at him, she had simply bore it in silence and then went about her life as though it didn't hurt her at all.

He had killed her, as sure as if he had been the one that pulled the trigger. He had killed her in a far worse way, from the inside out. And there really was no excuse for it; no way for him to ever make it up to her now. She was gone, and death meant forever.

Cid closed his eyes and felt the sting of tears. He was burning up and he was cold all at once. The sensations worked their way through his body until they became one. All at once, there was a rushing sound in his ears, and if either Tifa or Dalia had spoken, he wouldn't have been able to hear them. Turning blindly away, he stumbled over to the nearest chair and sat down. Disbelief was fast wearing off, and shock was setting in. His hands trembled, his knees knocked together, and his vision blurred as the drops of salty tears fell down his weathered cheeks to splash onto his worn pant leg below.

He bowed his head slightly, the company in the living room forgotten at least for the moment. Right now, he was reliving ever harsh word he had ever spoken to Shera, and every moment they had shared that had been good, no matter how small. He didn't know how long he sat like this, it could have been five minutes, or only one, before someone came to stand next to him.

Cid looked up to see Tifa, and for the first time in his life, felt unashamed at expressing his emotions. Shera had deserved so much in life that he hadn't given her, the least he could do was openly mourn her in death.

Sighing deeply, he wiped away the dampness from his cheeks and turned to look at Dalia. "I'm...I'm real sorry Dalia...I know there's nothin', nothin' I can say now to change anything..."

Dalia remained silent, and he couldn't read the expression on her face beyond the fact that grief still remained etched in the fine lines around her eyes and her mouth. He didn't blame her. Shera was her sister, and he had treated Shera horribly. If he were in her shoes, he would hate himself too.

Then, ever so quietly, "Cid...I don't blame you, not for Shera's death. It was because of this war, this stupid war," she added a bit louder, anger warring with her grief. "But I can't forgive you for the way you treated her. Ever."

Cid winced slightly, and found he had to look away from the hardness of her eyes.

Dalia sighed. "You two look like hell. If you want to get cleaned up, go ahead. Just don't make too much of a mess."

Tifa offered her a tentative smile. "Thanks. I know we both appreciate it."

"You go first," Cid said. "I got some stuff I want to talk to Dalia about."

"Bathrooms down the hall and to your left. Towels are right inside the cupboard, and I'll see if I can't find you something clean to wear."

"Thanks." Tifa said again.

Cid watched her walk down the hallway, and then turned back to Dalia. She was staring over his head, her arms crossed, and her expression distant. He didn't have to guess what it was she was thinking about; he could tell by the flashing of her eyes.

"Your bein' real nice Dalia, you don't hafta."

Her eyes snapped back to him. "I know that. I'm not doing it for you. I'm doing it for Shera, because that's what she would have done, would have wanted. And I'm doing it for your friend there. She looks like she could use something decent to eat and a change of clothes."

Cid almost let a smile slip at Dalia's mention of Tifa's weight. Both Dalia and Shera had a bit more to them than Tifa.

"We need parts to get the Bronco outta here, and we can't do it ourselves. Junon has control of Mideel as you know, and we're wanted by them now. If we show our faces, there's a good chance they'll take us again. So what I'm sayin' is, would ya help us? If I give you a list of the parts, would you go get'em for us?"

He watched a myriad of emotions cross her face, and knew that she was considering it. There was a good chance she would turn them down, and he could understand why. That very reason caused pain to flood through him as he was once again reminded that Shera was gone.

"I'll think about it. Let me get dinner fixed first. We'll talk about it later. But you aren't coming to my table filthy. You aren't eating until you clean up."

When her back was turned, he saluted her. Sometimes, he had wished for Shera to be more like Dalia. But then, that was really just a way for him to escape the responsibility of his treatment of her. Regardless of her personality, Cid knew he had had no right to treat her as he did. There was no excuse.

He sat alone in the living room, while Tifa showered and Dalia fixed them something to eat. The smell of something good wafted out of the kitchen and caused his stomach to rumble. Dalia had always been a good cook; though, not as good as Shera. His thoughts raced from one thing to the next; the war, Shera, Tifa.


He looked up to see Dalia again. She reached her hand out and indicated for him to open his palm. When he did, she dropped something in it and then stepped back. It was his lighter. The one that he had called his lucky lighter. It was his father's; and it had been one of the things to go to Cid after his death. He had noticed it was missing, but had never thought Shera would have taken it.

"She carried that stupid thing with her wherever she went. Sometimes, I would find her sitting out on the front porch, just opening and closing the lid."

He swallowed a lump that had formed in his throat and stared up at her. "Are you tryin' to make me feel worse, Dalia? 'Cause there's no way in hell I can."

"No, I'm not, though I ought to. I just thought you might want to have it back now. And anything that Shera left behind at your house, you can keep too."

Dividing up her things. It was all so final, and just another step toward forcing himself to realize she was gone. It also brought about something no less painful, the destruction of Rocket Town. Dalia didn't know, of course, and he wanted it that way. Especially now, with the news of Shera's death.

Dalia left for the kitchen, and Tifa wandered into the hallway, wearing the clothing Dalia had loaned her. He looked her over for a moment. He had never seen Tifa wear jeans before. But the tank top looked like something right out of her wardrobe, even though it was grey. The jeans were a bit big on her, but he knew that she was probably grateful for anything besides what she had been wearing. If they stayed long enough, he knew that Dalia woud wash her own clothes for her so that she could wear them when they left.

Tifa seemed to hesitate slightly, as though she wasn't overly sure of what to say to him. But after a few more seconds passed, she walked over next to him and sat down. She fiddled with the end of her wet, braided hair, and stared everywhere but at him. He wanted to say something, but he didn't know what. He knew that Shera's death had touched Tifa too; he had seen tears in her eyes as Dalia was telling them, and as she had witnessed his own grief. Tifa was a good person though, and regardless of whether or not she had known Shera well, she would still grieve for her. It was one of the things that he most admired about her. She was everything he wasn't, and never would be. She was like Shera had been, only a bit tougher.

"Cid, I'm sorry."

Cid glanced down at the worn, silver lighter in his hand. "Don't be sorry for me Tifa, be sorry for Dalia. She's Shera's sister."

She reached out and rested her hand on his knee. "I know you...I know her death hurt you. I can't really say anything, because I didn't live with you two, but I know you cared for her more than you let on."

Cid stared down at her hand for a few moments before looking up at her. She was now staring at him, her soft, wine-colored eyes shining earnestly. For a few moments, he found he couldn't answer. Not because he didn't know what to say, but because the he couldn't force the words past his lips. Why hadn't he noticed what beautiful eyes she had before now?


"What? Oh yeah, uh...sorry. Look Tifa, if I cared for her so much, then I wouldn't have treated her like I did," he added, disgust coloring his tone and his expression.

"Pain makes us do a lot of things we can't justify."

He snorted. "Five years. Five years of her life wasted on me. There isn't anything that justifies that."

He stood up, feeling restless and uncomfortable sharing his faults with her.

"I'll be in the shower. Dalia's in the kitchen. You're a whiz there, maybe she'd welcome the help."

He turned and walked away, but stopped just inside the hallway, turning to say, "Thanks, Tifa."

Cid wandered into the bathroom, his eyes falling on the mirror over the sink. Though he didn't want to, he forced himself to walk over to it and look in. What he saw disgusted him. His face was dirty and grimy with the past days time spent stranded, but there were also tear stains there and lines that the passing of time could not erase. Mostly though, he saw a man that had thrown away five years of his life on a worthless, useless dream. What was outer space to him if it meant Shera was dead? Hadn't he given up that dream at one time to save her? He had, and made her life miserable for it. Her life; one that was worth so much more than his ever would be.

He looked deeper and saw an old pilot, fast passing his prime. His father hadn't been a man to accomplish all that much, but Jay Highwind had been happy fixing and tinkering with anything mechanical. And he had loved one woman for the rest of his life, even in death. There had been no one else after Cid's mother, and his father had been content that way. Cid couldn't even say he had had that. He had been given the chance, and threw it away for pipe dreams, castles in the sky, and something that wasn't real or even tangible. Shera had been both, and he hadn't even been smart enough to realize that when she was right in front of him.

Cid pulled his hands down his face roughly, as though that one act could erase all the mistakes he had ever made. Then, turning away from the mirror, he walked over to the shower and started it up. The smell of lilacs lingered in the air, and he knew that it was from the soap Tifa had used. Oddly enough, that smell was comforting. It was Shera's smell. Both Dalia and Shera had been fond of that scent. Still, it wasn't even that. It was the fact that it was Tifa, and that whether or not he accepted it, she was there for him and he wouldn't have to be alone in his fight.

Tifa glanced toward the bathroom, where Cid had disappeared to. She wished that there was some way for her to ease his pain. But even as his friend, she really didn't know what to say. Then there was Dalia, who was mourning the loss of her sister perhaps even more than Cid was. From the sounds coming from the kitchen, she appeared to be fixing dinner. Tifa was comfortable in the kitchen, and if Dalia was anything like Shera, then she was too. Since she felt restless, and wasn't used to inactivity, she thought she might offer her help.

Rising from the couch, she made her way into the kitchen and paused in the doorway. Dalia was standing over the stove, a kettle in her hand as she waited for the burner to heat. She noticed Tifa was there right away, and looked up quickly, a small smile settling onto her lips when she saw who was standing there.

"I'm making tea. Shera said Cid liked that a lot." Tifa must have looked puzzled, for Dalia added, "I don't hate him. He didn't kill my sister. Shera was a grown woman, and she made her own decisions. I told her to leave him a long time ago, but she wouldn't go. She always talked about how he needed her, even if he didn't admit it."

Dalia sighed heavily and set the kettle on the stove. "I know he cared about her. If he didn't, then her death wouldn't have hurt him like it did. As mean as it sounds, I wanted it to hurt him."

Tifa remained silent, knowing that Dalia simply needed to talk. She had probably been holding all of her feelings inside since Shera's death. Them showing up at her door all of the sudden must have been a great shock to her. Laying eyes on Cid probably brought everything back in a rush, and her only thoughts had been to make him hurt as much as she was.

Running a hand through her damp hair, Tifa sighed slightly. What little she knew of Shera, she had liked. Her death saddened her, just as the deaths of all those in Rocket Town, that she had grown to know over the past few weeks did. It was hard to imagine that she was really gone. It seemed this war was taking so many casualties, and it was all so uncessesary.

"Can I help you with anything?" Tifa asked.

Dalia shook her head. "Shera said you were a really good cook, but I'm kind of possesive where my kitchen is concerened. I appreciate the offer though."

Tifa smiled. "That's all right. I feel the same way. I don't always want to do the cooking, but it's kind of hard to let anyone else do it for me."

A look of understanding passed between them, and Dalia patted the table, taking a seat. Tifa took a seat across from her and said, "Thanks for the clothes."

Dalia waved her gratitude away. "Don't mention it. I don't mind helping at all."

Silence descended, and to replace it, Tifa asked, "What are you cooking? It smells good."

"Oh, there's chicken in the oven. Out of habit, I make more than I need for myself. My husband, he used to be fond of it, and he could eat enough for two people all by himself," she added, smiling.

"Where is your husband?" Tifa asked politely.

"He's gone. Passed away three years ago."

"Oh I'm sorry...I didn't mean-"

"Dont worry about it. I'm long over it. Do you know what's funny? Cid reminds me a lot of him. Jim was fascinated with airplanes too, though not as gifted toward them as Cid. It was more of a hobby for him."

"Cid is a good man," Tifa offered quietly. "He just doesn't know how to express himself very well." Oddly, that reminded her of Cloud. For all their differences in personalities, Cloud was no better at sharing himself than Cid.

Dalia fixed her with a sharp look that made her feel vaguely uncomfortable. "How well do you know Cid?"

Tifa frowned. "Well enough. We're friends."

Dalia laughed. "You don't have to sound so defensive. I was just making conversation."

Tifa shook her head. "No. You want to know if Cid and I are involved."

" don't beat around the bush, do you?"

Tifa crossed her arms. "I believe in being direct. And in answer to your question, unspoken or not, Cid and I are just friends. All of us, that helped defeat Sephiroth are. In a way...we're kind of like family."

The kettle whistled on the stove, and Dalia rose from the table to retrieve it. As she did, Cid appeared in the doorway. His gaze fell on Tifa, and then shifted to Dalia. If he noticed that she was making tea, he said nothing and his facial expression didn't change. Dalia looked up, taking in his clothing.

"You can't wear that."

Cid looked down at his clothing. "I ain't got nothin' else, Dalia. I ain't in the habit of walkin' around naked."

After his shower, where he had pushed away the outside world and his thoughts, Cid had felt slightly better. It wasn't like him to give into depression or melencholy. Shera was gone now; he felt partially responsible and thinking about it hurt, but there was nothing that could be done about it. He and Tifa were alive, and wanted by Junon. His first priority had to be getting them out of here and somewhere safe. They couldn't stay here with Dalia; everything reminded him too much of Shera. Even the towels in the bathroom, had been hers. Besides that, being around Shera's sister made him uncomfortable.

Dalia raised an eyebrow. "I have something that might fit you. It belonged to Jim, and it runs along your tastes. I'll be right back."

"We're gonna need to ask Dalia to get the parts for the Bronco," Cid said after Dalia had left the room. "I'd like to leave as soon as we can."

"Of course," Tifa said softly. She could understand how Cid could be uncomfortable. She felt that way herself, even though she hadn't been involved in any of this and had really hardly known Shera. Cid seemed to be taking it well, or was well as could be expected. She didn't think she'd be nearly so calm herself. She could tell he was hurting, but she knew he was the kind of guy who wouldn't want it to show. She didn't think she had to say anything, there really wasn't anything she could say. She hoped that her just being there, knowing that he wasn't alone, would ease the burden for him, if only a little.

Dalia soon returned, carrying some clothes. She plopped them down in Cid's lap.

"Dinner should be ready in a minute," she said, turning back to the stove. "Get changed."

Cid did not protest at this rather brusque dismissal, but instead walked silently out of the room. Tifa looked at Dalia but said nothing. No matter how much she felt for Cid, she could understand Dalia's grief as well. She hadn't known any of them well enough to pass any judgements, even though she wasn't the type to do that, even if she had.

They set the meal out on the table, and Cid returned just as they were finishing up. They all sat down and started eating. Cid kept his eyes on his plate. Tifa saw Dalia looking at him every once in a while. She felt some tension from the two, but mostly sadness. Now matter how Dalia might feel about Cid, they shared a bond in their feelings for Shera. No matter how he had hid them, it was obvious that Cid had cared very much for her, and had never really wanted to see her get hurt.

When the meal was done, with no one having spoken a single word, Dalia stood up and she and Tifa quickly cleared the table.

"You're welcome to stay the night," Dalia said as she placed the plates in the dishwasher. "It's much too late now to try to get your parts for you. It'll have to be in the morning. I would appreciate it if you would leave after that." She looked appologitically at Tifa. "I'm sorry, but it's dangerous to keep you here, especially with Junon soldiers looking for you. I don't want anymore trouble."

"Of course," Tifa said. After all that had happened, the last thing either of them wanted was to cause more trouble. She wished now that they had never decided to come here at all.

"I'm sorry," Cid said, obviously feeling the same. "You have to believe me when I tell you we didn't mean for this to happen. Any of it."

Dalia just nodded and said nothing.

Cid paused and took a breath, still looking at Dalia.

"So," he said hesitantly. "Does this mean you'll get us the parts? I'm sorry," he said again quickly. "But we gottan know. And the sooner we have them, the sooner we'll be out of your hair."

Tifa glanced at Cid, not sure this was a good time to bring that up. Cid had always been direct, sometimes more than was good for him. But in this case, he was right, this was something they had to get straightened out.

Dalia just stood there for a moment, her face expressionless. Then she nodded slowly, and when she spoke there was no anger.

"Yes. I'll go there first thing in the morning."

She placed the last of the dishes in the dishwasher and closed it up.

"It's getting late," she said. "I'm going to go to bed. I have a guest room. One of you can use the bed in there. I'm afraid the other one is going to have to get stuck with the couch."

"I'll take the couch," Cid immediately volunteered.

Tifa did not object, but she didn't think it would be much of a hardship for him. After sleeping the last two days in the jungle, almost anything would feel like heaven.

Dalia brought out some sheets and a pillow, and left them on the couch before retiring to her room. Cid adjusted them on the couch and sat down. Tifa just watched him, going about his business, trying hard to make it appear that nothing was wrong. But she could tell by the thin line his mouth formed, by the pauses where he just seemed to stop suddenly and stare off into space, that all was not well, that he was suffering inside. It *was* late. They had arrived well after dark, and now she thought nothing would feel better than to lie down on a comfortable bed, even if sleep might be a long way off. But she did not move. Somehow, the thought of leaving Cid out here, all alone, almost brought tears to her eyes.

Cid glanced over at her, seeing her standing there just looking at him.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" he said evenly. "It's late, and we've got to be up early tomorrow so we can get going as soon as possible. Go get some rest."

She hesitated a moment, then walked slowly over to him. He looked at her with what he might have thought was a steady gaze, but she could see the flicker in his eyes, betraying his aching heart.

She reached out her hand and placed it reassuringly on his shoulder.

"Are you sure you'll be alright?" she asked. "I'm not that tired. I can stay with you for a while, if you want."

Cid paused for a moment and looked at her carefully, and for a moment she thought he would take her up on her offer, but then he shook his head.

"Naw," he said. "I'm fine. I don't need no nursemaid. I'm a big boy, I can handle it."

Tifa nodded, a smile almost appearing on her lips. That was just the response she would have expected from him. Again she was struck by the fact of how similar in so many ways he and Cloud were.

"Are you sure?" she said, letting her arm drop to her side.

"Yeah, I'm sure," he said, sitting down on the couch. "I'll be fine. I'm looking forward to getting a good nights sleep, and I think you ought to do the same."

Tifa paused, then nodded slowly. She turned and walked toward the doorway, turning as she reached it.

"If you need anything, just let me know," she said.

"I will," he replied. "But it's not likely. I intend to be in a sound sleep very shortly."

Tifa nodded.

"Goodnight then," she said.


She turned to walk away.


She looked back to see him staring at her. She raised an eyebrow in question.

"Thanks," he said.

"You don't have to thank me," she said. "I haven't done anything."

"Yes you have," he replied. "More than you know. It may be too late, but I'm not going to treat anyone like I treated Shera ever again. For all the good she did me, I never thanked her once. I've made a promise to myself, Tifa, I'm not going to let that happen again. I don't know what I would have done tonight if you hadn't been with me."

Tifa just stood there in silence, somewhat embarrassed and abashed by Cid's words. She really didn't think she had done anything special, and yet Cid's words made her feel better than she had in a long time.

"You've helped me too Cid," she said. "We help each other. That's what friends are for."

She paused for a moment more, long enough to see the attempt at a smile on his face. Then she turned and walked out of the room, down the hall and into the guest room. It was dark inside, but she didn't turn on the light. Faint moonlight streamed through the window, illuminating the room around her after her eyes had had a moment to adjust. She laid down on the bad, turning to look out the window. She could see a few stars in the sky, above the dim forms of the houses outside. She laid her head on the pillow. The bed was as comfortable as she had imagined. She hadn't gotten much sleep the last few days, and she should have been bone tired, but even so after the events of today she knew sleep would not be easy to obtain.

She stared out the window a long time, wondering if Cid was doing the same thing in the other room.

Cid woke up feeling as though he hadn't slept at all. It wasn't that the couch was uncomfortable, rather that he was just weary, and feeling his age in every muscle and bone of his body for the first time in as long as he could remember. When they others had first come to Rocket Town and he had ended up going with them, all the fighting had awakened in his body every ache and pain imaginable. He had never complained of course, because it was matter of pride. But this sort of weariness, it seemed to eminate from the soul. It was the kind that didn't die so easily.

He lay on the couch, looking up at the ceiling and wondering what time it was. Though he didn't want to wake Dalia, he had been hoping to leave as early as possible. Dawn being the best time, but he thought it might be better if he and Tifa at least got a decents night sleep, if that was possible. He had slept fitfully, awakening every so often to find himself in strange, dark surroundings. It only took a minute to remind him where he was and what had happened though.

The Planet torn apart by war...what had they even bothered to save it for if this was what people were going to do to it? Had Aeris given her life only to have it end like this? She had believed so much in mankind, had so much faith, that she had been willing to sacrifice her life to save them. Did she see something in them that others didn't? Or was it simply her innocence, her need to believe that everyone held a bit of good inside them.

Whatever good those that wanted war had possessed, had either dissapated long ago, or it was never there. They didn't care about the value of life, or that their war was destroying the Planet, they only cared about assuaging their hunger for power.

Cid stared down at his hands, calloused and lined with age. Once, nine people had banded together, each with their own seperate miseries and reasons, but with one common goal, preserving the Planet. They had been strong, those nine, in their beliefs and their trust of one another. But they weren't together now, and Cid wondered just what he and Tifa were doing. Running. They were running. Because what could they do? They were simply two people, and one of them, he, was beginning to feel the limitations of his physical body. And he wondered, if this time, Lady Luck would fail.

Didn't they have to have a reason to fight? Something that they were reaching toward, that made them push harder, even when it seemed unreachable. But Cid wasn't certain he had that drive anymore. His home town, built up around the failure of his life's dream was gone. Shera was gone, a casulty of a war she had wanted nothing to do with. His friends, scattered everywhere, each living their own lives and never looking back. And he and Tifa, running. But running for what? The places they once called home were gone, and they had no where to go now. No where to belong to.

Pushing the blankets roughly aside, he flung his legs over the side of the couch and sat up. He stared down at his aching knees, his eyes blurring as his mind focused elsewhere. Doubts where always there, no matter what the situation. His father had told him that a strong man recognized that he was fallible, that he could be scared, and that he might not know where he was going next. But he kept putting one foot in front of the other, moving along and living because that was what life was all about. People didn't simply give up when things got too difficult, they fought harder. And when the reason was gone, they found another.

His home was gone, Shera was gone, but Tifa was still here. He couldn't simply give up and abandon her because he was having doubts. Despite all the obstacles they had faced over the past weeks, she had steadfastly stood beside him, her strength and determination sometimes the only thing that held him together. So for her sake, he would put on a tough front and pretend like he knew where they were going and what it took to get there. He had found his reason.

Ignoring the ache in his leg as he stood, he stretched his arms above his head and popped the stiffness out of his back. Quickly, he folded the blankets he had used and set them at the end of the couch, his pillow resting atop them. Sitting back down on the couch, he let his mind focus soley on tying his boot laces and then on gathering up his other things. To his surprise, Dalia suddenly came in from the other room, a pile of clothing in her hands.

Upon seeing him, she stopped and seemed unsure of whether or not to speak.

But after a moments hesitation, she said, "These are your things. I've washed them, and thought you might want to take them with."

He nodded and said gruffly in return, "Thanks."

She set them down on the chair next to the couch and then said, "Do you have the list of parts?"

Reaching into his pocket, Cid produced a crumpled piece of paper that she hand furnished him with the night before. Smoothing it out as best he could, he handed it over to her and watched as she read it, his face carefully blank. In that first moment, when she had rounded the corner, she had looked so much like Shera, his heart had stopped. As much as he was grateful to her for helping them, he knew he had to get out of this house.

"Well...I'll go see what I can do then," she said finally.

"Here," Cid answered, handing her a pouch of gil. "That ought to take care of it."

She shoved it away from her. "No. You'll need it. Something tells me this journey of yours won't be easy."

"I won't accept charity," he snapped.

"And what do you think I've been doing since you got here?" She bit back with just as much venom.

Cid stared at her for a few moments before a small grin surfaced. Dalia glared at him a few minutes longer, and then to his surprise, joined him.

"All right then, I'll be back as soon as I can. There's eggs in the fridge. Since I know Tifa can cook, you two can help yourselves."

Cid watched her leave, and then glanced in the direction of Tifa's room, wondering if she was awake yet. Deciding that he ought to at least attempt to do something until she did get up, he wandered into the kitchen and pulled the eggs out of the fridge. Glancing at the stove, he finally settled for the back burner because it was larger. It took a bit of searching, but he finally found a good sized pan and dropped a bit of butter in it. While it heated, he cracked eggs into a bowl that had also taken a bit of work to find. As he was mixing, Tifa came into the kitchen.

"Where's Dalia?" She asked, watching him mix.

"She went to get the parts."

"Does she think she can get them all?"

He shrugged, walking across the room to dump the eggs into the pan. "She said she'd give it a shot."

"I saw our clothes out on the chair. That was nice of her to get them done so soon."

He nodded absently, moving the eggs around the pan with a spatulla.

"You're pretty handy with that."

He turned around, the spatulla raised in one hand. "Almost like usin' tools."

Tifa tilted her head to the side. "I hope there's no grease in those eggs."

It occured to Cid that she was trying to lighten the heavy atmosphere by joking. Crossing his arms, he said, "Are you insultin' my cookin'? I know I ain't as good as you, but I can at least make eggs."

"Let's just say you'd better stick to airplanes, while I stick to cooking," she replied, pointing to his shirt, which was now stained with egg yolk, and then indicating the smell that was coming from the pan.

Cid whirled around to find that he had turned the burner up too high, and as a result, had burned the eggs. With a sigh, he stepped aside and let Tifa scrape the mess into the garbage and start anew.

They ate breakfast in silence, each thinking heavy thoughts that weighed upon their minds more than they would have liked them too. Both knew the risk they were taking by getting the Bronco back into flying condition, and then attempting to set out once again. This time, they were wanted by both Junon and Wutai. But even that threat didn't change the fact that they had to leave. They had no choice.

Dalia arrived shortly after they finished eating, her face grim, though she wouldn't say why. Cid and Tifa figured though, that it had something to do with the war and the state of Mideel now that troops occupied it.

Dumping the contents of her bag onto the table, she said, "I wasn't able to get everything you needed. It was difficult enough getting this much."

Cid's eyes quickly scanned the parts. "All but one...well, I can make do. Thanks for this much."

Dalia nodded.

"Thanks for everything," Tifa added, placing her hand on the other woman's shoulder. Dalia patted the hand that rested there and then nodded.

After that, nothing was left to do but gather up their things and leave. Dalia walked them to the back door, telling them to be careful and wishing them luck. Cid was pretty certain what he saw on her face as they left was relief. He could hardly blame her though; not only where they reminders of Shera, but also fugitives of a sort. She was harboring them, and if anyone had discovered, it would not only have meant trouble for them, but also for her.

They trudged along in the sand, neither daring to breath loudly, much less speak. Once, they had to duck behind another house as a small group of soldiers walked by. Regardless of whether the troops knew who they were, Cid didn't want to risk them getting seen and being questioned. He only hoped that the Bronco would be where they had left it, and that the soldiers had no need to carry their patrol so far out.

It appeared luck was with them for now though, because the Bronco sat where they had last seen it, its body still riddled with bullets. A quick scan of the engine told him that it was undamaged by the fire, and that with a little rigging, he could get his baby to believe that she had all the necessary parts to fly.

"Do you need any help?" Tifa asked, her arms folded across her middle and her eyes darting every so often to the mess of trees behind them.

"Nope. Got it covered. Just keep an eye out for us while I work."

She nodded, walking farther away to lean against a tree while she watched him work, part of her attention focused on him, the other on her surroundings. Cid worked as quickly as he could, cursing only a few times when the wiring got in his way and shocked him. The parts weren't all that difficult to replace, and it wasn't nothing that he hadn't already done before. The true test, however, would be if they would actually work when it was all put together. The missing part wasn't going to hinder their take off, but he wondered just how far they would get before they were forced to land. He wouldn't mention that to Tifa though. For now, he would let her worry about one thing at a time.

Finally, after what seemed like too long to him, but in reality was only a span of twenty or so minutes, he crawled out from under the airplane and dusted himself off the best he could. He would take dirt and grease over sand anyday. Motioning for Tifa, he indicated that they get inside the plane and attempt to leave. She came gladly, quickly, and took her place in the back. Cid climbed in up the front of the cockpit and stared at the controls, wiping his sweaty hands on his soiled pants.

"Lady Luck, if you've ever given a shit, don't fail me now," he muttered.

The Bronco coughed, sputtered, and for one small second, Cid was certain she wasn't going to catch. And then, like the trooper that she was, she tossed a bit of smoke out of her rear and then started up. With a grin, and small exclamation of relief, Cid prepared to begin ascent.

They flew low over the water at first, which made Tifa a little nervous. If they had any failures now, there would be precious little time of Cid to make any corrections before they plunged into the sea. Was there still some kind of problem?

"Can't we go any higher?" she questioned.

"Sure," Cid replied. "But we're still close to Mideel, and I don't want anyone there to spot a mysterious plane and raise an alarm. We'll keep low for a while, until we're a little farther along."

Tifa nodded, even though Cid couldn't see her behind him.

"So where are we going?" she asked, wondering if their plans had changed since the crash.

"I don't know whether we're going to be able to get to Fort Conder," he said candidly. "Junon seems to have it bottled up pretty well. But I don't know where else to go. What do you think?"

Tifa hesitated, surprised he had even asked for her opinion. As far as she was concerned it was his decision, and she would stand by whatever choice he made. Right now all she wanted to do was get as far away from both Junon and Wutai as she possibly could.

"I don't know," she said. "Whatever you think is best."

"Tifa, I want your opinion here," Cid insisted, surprising her again. "Whatever we do now could decide what happens to us for the rest of our lives, whether we live of die. I need to know what you think about it."

Tifa hesitated again. In a way, she was pleased that he thought enough of her to want her opinion. But she also felt this was a decision he was much more qualified to make than her.

"Well, what are the choices?" she questioned.

"Try to get to Fort Condor," Cid replied. Tifa waited patienly for the next choice. It seemed a long time coming.

"Join Red XIII in Cosmo Canyon. Find a nice secluded island somewhere and hide out. Slip into an occupied city and try to forment a revolt. I can't think of anything else, at least, not at the moment."

Tifa had to admit that the secluded island idea sounded very appealing. They had made enemies of both Wutai and Junon, the two strongest powers on the planet. With those kind of opponents maybe the best thing to do, maybe the only thing to do, would be to disappear for a very long time. Neither of them had any ties here anymore. Both had pretty much lost eveything they had. Cid his precious rocket town and his friends there, his dreams of returning to space, and she...

Tifa paused, wondering just what she had lost. The bar in Kalm, yes, but that had never really meant all that much to her. It wsa just someplace to make a living, just like the one before that in Midgar. It had been special because it was her's, but there wasn't really any sentiment attached to it. It wasn't much of a hardship to leave it behind.

No, she hadn't really lost much, but that was only because she had never really had much to begin with. She supposed in a way she should consider herslef lucky. She could walk away without looking back, with no regrets.

But she didn't feel lucky. She felt jealous. Although Cid had lost everything, at least he had had a chance to experience it. He had had Shera and his friends in Rocket Town, had gone up into space. He had gottten a chance at happiness, no matter how brief. For all she had done, for all she had gone through, she had never had that opportunity. She had always tried to do the right thing, always believed that in the end she would get her turn, her chance at happiness. But it had never worked out that way. But she had no one to blame but herself. She had always been too much of a dreamer. How could she expect to find happiness when all her hopes had rested with one wayward ex soldier?

Cid must have decided that they were a safe distance from Mideel, for the plane suddenly began to climb. Below the ocean dropped away beneath them, but Tifa wasn't paying attention.

Not for the first time, she wondered where he was now. He was a mercenary, and the world was at war. There would be ample opportunity for him to ply his skills. It might even be the best thing for him. She wondered if he was out there right now, fighting someplace far away. Who's side would it be, she reflected. Probably the highest bidder. After all, that's what a mercenary did, wasn't it? Right or wrong didn't matter. Like so much else in the world, it was all based on who had the most gil.

She sighed. There was no point in feeling bitter about it. That was the way Cloud was. He could no more change it than the sun could rise in the west. It was foolish of her to have ever thought otherwise. She wondered if he even ever thought about her.

She looked up at the seat in front of her. She could see a shock of blond hair on the top of Cid's head above the seat. She hadn't known Cid all that long, but the truth was that right now there was no one else she would rather be with, including Cloud. When she had first met Cid, she hadn't really liked him all that much. She had not approved of his gruff attitude, foul mouth, and treatment of Shera. But soon she had seen that there was a lot more to him than that. In spite of his attitude, he really had seemed to care. Not only about what they were doing, but about her too. In spite of all that had happened to him, everything he had done had been in her best interest. When Wutai invaded he had fled Rocket Town, practically without a fight. In spite of the odds, there was no doubt in her mind that if she hadn't been with him he would have never have left so quickly. Even now, he had asked her where she thought they should go. Cloud would never have done that.

No, Cid wasn't near as bad as he had seemed. And he had changed too, in the time since she had last seen him. Right or wrong, maybe it had been good for him for Shera to leave him. Not that she ever wanted anything to happen to Shera, of course. It just seemed like Cid had been so comfortable with her, so set in his ways, that nothing would have ever changed if they had gone on like that.

She shook her head, smiling suddenly. What was she thinking? Who was she to judge how Cid acted, or what he did with his life? From the thoughts she was having, you would think there was something between them.

She shifted restlessly in her seat, glancing forward again. Cid turned to look out the window, and he caught a glimpse of her looking at him. He met her gaze and winked, then turned forward again.

It was funny, she thought. They had spent a lot of time together, but she had never really thought of Cid in that way before. But looking at it now, was it really that far fetched? When they had first met he had seemed more like a father figure than anything else. But he wasn't really THAT much older than her. And the more time they had spent together the less important the age difference seemed to be. One thing was for sure, she could do a lot worse.

She turned away to look out the window, the smile still on her face. She shook her head once more, hardly believe the thoughts that were entering it.

Tifa Lockeheart, she thought, you're really losing it now.

"So?" Cid questioned.


He turned and glanced back at her again.

"I asked where you thought we should go," he said. "What, are you daydreaming?"

"Uh," Tifa stuttered, feeling slightly embarrassed for some reason. "No, I'm not sure."

Cid frowned.

"Not sure you were daydreaming or not sure where we should go?"

"Where we should go," she replied.

She had let her mind wander. She still had no answer for him. The deserted island was good, but she didn't want to run away completely. And even if they got to Fort Condor, what could they do then? It seemed that even now Junon was tightening it's grip around the Fort, and how could it stand for long against the full might of Junon? Would they get there just in time to have the same thing happen that happened at Rocket Town?

And what of Cosmo Canyon? Wasn't that in the same situation as Fort Condor, only with Wutai as the antagonist? The only advantage there was the defensive nature of the terrain surrounding the canyon. It would be a very difficult place for even a determined foe to successfully attack.

And besides that, Cosmo Canyon had one other thing going for it. Another one of their friends lived there. She and Cid had been fighting alone all this time. It would really feel good to see a familar face.

"I think it might be best to go to Cosmo Canyon," she said hesitantly. "I don't know what to do anymore than you do Cid. Maybe Red will be able to give us some advice."

Cid pondered this in silence for a while. Then he nodded.

"Makes sense to me," he said. "The big cat always did seem to have a level head. Seems kinda silly to go back to Cosmo Canyon now, seeing as how we were just an hour away in Rocket Town, but hey, who said any of this had to make sense? Cosmo Canyon it is."


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