Balance of Power Chapter 8

By Frank Verderosa & Jen Bond

Cid awoke from dreams of death and decay, the faint stench of decomposition lingering in his nostrils. A quick glance around the cave reminded him of where he was and why. In the light of early morning, their passing through the field and forest littered with bodies seemed unreal, almost as if the journey itself had been a dream. But it was not. It was very real, and though they may have put it behind them physically, the horror of it would never quite leave their minds. You couldn't look at something like that and forget easily.

He had seen a lot of things in his time that would have broken a lesser man, but last night's experience was certainly the worst. It had been difficult to look at and accept that they were just bodies, not people. The most important part, the part that gave a person life, was gone. Knowing that, however, did not make it any easier to look at. As a matter of fact, it angered him greatly that Wutai and Junon would think nothing of tossing away so many lives in their race for power. It was so frustrating to wish that he could have done something, could have kept so many people from dying uselessly. But he couldn't. Death was forever. And the only thing he was accomplishing by thinking this way, was making himself feel worse.

Shifting slightly, he realized that Tifa was still in his arms, her head against his chest as she slept. He was surprised at how natural it felt to hold her like this. At the moment, he wondered which of them needed comfort more, and which of them was the anchor. He would have never believed it had someone told him, being one that wasn't big on affection, but just holding her, and being near her made him feel slightly better. It didn't change a damn thing, the war still raged on outside, and they were still running, but inside, in some place he had thought didn't exist, he felt a small amount of peace.

In the time since they had been together, he had come to admire Tifa even more than he had before. She was a tough woman. Where most would have refused to walk through the field, or crumbled under the strain, she had held herself together and made it through by sheer will. His own stomach had been slightly queasy, and the way the moon had cast light across the field left one feeling eerie and shaken inside. It had not helped to see Vincent weaving his way among the dead as if he belonged there with them.His behavior, stopping every so often to pick the belongings from the people, had only made the situation worse. It seemed wrong, somehow, to be taking the things these people had cherished in life. Admittedly, they weren't going to need them anymore... but still, he could not bring himself to be so unfeeling.

Vincent wasn't anywhere around that Cid could see, and his guess was that the man was out looking for better things in the daylight. The thought sickened him. It was one thing to see them in the night, some partially hidden by shadows, but to see them in the light of day, would be something he would not have willingly done. Vincent had always been distant from them, keeping his own thoughts and forming his own opinions. After he told them about Hojo, it seemed understandable. Nevertheless, Cid would have thought he would want to put the past behind him and make the best of his life. It just seemed stupid to him to wallow in self-pity and regret. That wasn't going to change anything.

He would be glad to get out of this place and as far away from the battle field as possible. Hopefully, Reeve could give them the help they needed and get them safely to Cosmo Canyon. There, they at least knew Red would give them refuge. It would be nice to be able to relax for at least a little while without the threat of being caught hanging over their heads.That, however, would never go away; not until either Junon or Wutai won the war. Cid rather hoped that they battered at each other until there was nothing left. The last thing everyone needed was to have a country policing them much in the same way Shinra had, except with far reaching influence. The outcome of this war could very well steal away their freedom and their basic rights. Either way he looked at it, Junon and Wutai held all the power while those left over were sandwiched in between. He was beginning to fear that there was going to be nothing left to preserve their way of life when the war finally did end.

Sighing wearily, Cid closed his eyes and leaned his head back until it was supported by the rocky wall behind him. At times, he felt so old and so tired. It seemed like everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong. In a way though, this was not so different from two years before when they had all been chasing Sephiroth. They had suffered set backs then, had been lost and confused at times, and had experienced their share of devastating occurrences. The only difference was, they had been together. This time, it was only him and Tifa. And that time before seemed like it was worlds away.

Opening his eyes, he found Tifa staring back up at him.

"I thought you were still asleep," she said softly.

"Nope. I'm as about as awake as I can get."

They stared at one another in silence for a moment, neither wanting to move away from the comfort of the other's embrace. With the world outside having gone to hell, their friendship was the only thing they could count on. Sometimes, it was all that held the other together. Both were strong, life having forced them to adapt or be broken in the struggle, but even the strong had their limits. They drew solace and hope from each other, neither realizing just how much they were helping the other.

"Where's Vincent?" Tifa asked in the silence.

Disdain crossed his face, before he answered, "I dunno. Probably out gathering more valuables."

Tifa ducked her head at that. She couldn't see how Vincent could stand to do something like that, to look at all of those poor people and not feel a thing. They had once been people just like they were. They had once been living and breathing, having hopes and dreams for a future that would never come.

"Do you think Reeve will be able to help us?"

Cid shrugged. "I hope so. But I can't say for sure, 'cause that'd be lyin'. I have to wonder what forced him out of business in Midgar. Of course," he added, his expression bitter, "a hell of a lot can happen in a few days."

Tifa gently extracted herself from his arms and smiled wryly. "Don't we know it. Are you hungry?"

Cid grinned. "Do you really need to ask me that?"

Glancing around, she said, "I don't really think there's much to work with..."

"You're a hell of a good cook. Improvise."

She wrinkled up her nose. "Well... we have something in our bags, I'm sure."

Cid pulled a cigarette from his nearly empty pack and lit it. "Damn. No pancakes or eggs."

"Afraid not."

Though she was not sitting within the circle of his arms, she was still next to him, her side pressed against his. Cid was getting the impression that she was reluctant to explore Vincent's humble abode. He didn't blame her. As weird as Vincent was acting, Cid had to admit he didn't want to chance coming across anything questionable.

Piercing Tifa with a searching glance, Cid asked, "How're you doin' this mornin'?"

Tifa's brows pushed together and she seemed a bit uncomfortable with his question. Things certainly looked different in the light of day, when the sun came out to chase away the shadows and revealed the things one strived to ignore in the night.

"I'm... fine."

"Just wonderin'. You didn't look too good last night."

Pushing her hair behind her, Tifa rose to her feet and stared down at him. "Don't you know that is the ultimate insult to a woman?"

Cid looked at her for a moment.

"I though sayin' you were fat was," he stated.

Tifa glared at him.

"Are you saying I'm fat?" she accused.

"Of course not!" he exclaimed. "Sheesh. Just like a woman to twist around everything ya say."

"Well, either one is bad," she conceded.

"I never pretended to be an expert on women," Cid continued.

"Keep insulting me, and I won't fix you anything to eat."

Cid hadn't realized it before, but Tifa was just as artful at hiding herself away as he and Cloud were. She had easily skirted around the conversation of her health and turned his words back on him. Just like a woman. It was one of the reasons why he avoided relationships. Sometimes a man simply couldn't win.

"So," he asked, as she rifled through their bags, "what's on the menu?"

"Soup... soup... and more soup."

"What choices. Wonder how the hell I'll ever decide," Cid responded sarcastically.

"Sorry," Tifa's voice floated over to him.

"Soup isn't exactly a breakfast food, but it's better than starving."

While Tifa made them soup, Cid found his thoughts wandering to the Tiny Bronco. In all likelihood, he was probably never going to see it again.That soured his mood considerably. He had built that plane with his own two hands nearly from scratch. She had been with him through a lot. Hell, she had even had a brief stint as a boat, of all things. He didn't like to think about who might stumble across her and tear her apart. Wincing, he smashed his cigarette into the moss covered ground. With the war going on, trade between towns was tightly monitored. Metals of all kinds were precious, and someone might find that the Bronco was too big of a pain to fix, and would rather use her for parts.

Tifa's question interrupted his thoughts. "What are you thinking about? You look like you just lost your best friend."

Well meaning thought the comment was, it invoked a different vision in him than that of the Bronco. It made him think of Shera. In a way, she had been his best friend. She had known him better than anyone else... hell, sometimes she had known him better than he himself had. But he wasn't going to say that to Tifa. She had enough to think about without mothering him. And chances were, if she knew he was hurting over Shera, she would try to find some way to make him feel better.

"Yeah, the Bronco," he finally said.

Tifa sighed. "I'm sorry about that."

"Why? It wasn't your fault."

"Well I know... I just know how much that plane means to you."

"Yeah. I built'er with my own two hands. There wasn't much to her when I found her in the Shinra scrap yard."

Tifa crossed the small distance between them and offered him one cup. Settling in next to him, she blew gently on her own to cool it. They both knew that this conversation they were having was just an attempt to achieve normalcy and put off talking about all that had happened. Tifa just hoped that Vincent returned soon so that they could leave. She appreciated his hospitality, if it could actually be called that, but she would be glad to leave his company. Feeling mildly guilty for thinking that, she lowered her head and sipped her soup.

Vincent returned while they were in the middle of eating their breakfast. As he stood silently in the doorway, his crimson eyes slid over them impassively. Shifting his bag so that it dangled at his side, he crossed the cave without making a sound and settled his bundle down upon his small table. They might as well not have been in the room for all the attention he paid them. He seemed far too absorbed in his latest finds to even greet them.

"Have a good hunt?" Cid asked, a sardonic edge to his tone.

Vincent did not reply. Instead, he dumped the bag upside down. The contents spilled all over the table, and even onto the floor, the sound echoing throughout the cave. Tifa pursed her lips and looked away. She didn't want look at the things he had stolen from the dead.

Cid, after glancing at Tifa, turned his attention back to Vincent, and snapped, "Do you have to do that now?"

Vincent stared at him, ignoring the question. "Are you ready to leave?"

"Hell yes," Cid replied, rising to his feet to stretch the stiffness from his back.

Vincent picked something from the pile and secreted it inside of his cape. Walking to a corner, he retrieved a spear he had picked up the night before after Cid and Tifa had gone to sleep. As his guests met him halfway, he reached out and handed it to Cid.

"You really should not travel without a weapon. It is dangerous. The war has driven people to do many things."

Cid held it gingerly in his hands, not at all surprised that it was the spear he had used the night before. Vincent had always had sharp eyes and a excellent memory. He was right too. People did desperate things when they were hurting and felt they had nothing to lose. They had already been attacked once, and with them traveling on foot, it would be safer to have a weapon. It bothered him slightly that it belonged to one of the slain, but he did need it. Perhaps that was the case with Vincent. Yet, he still couldn't see roaming among them for hours, taking whatever caught his eye.

Taking his fair share of their baggage, while Tifa settled the rest onto her back, they followed Vincent from the cave. The air outside was fresher, and without the hint of mildew. But the wind was strong, and it brought with it the stench of death. His eyes touched on the hills in the distance once, before they walked on.

Tifa followed Cid, looking around nervously. She was glad to get out of that cave, but she was not anxious to continue the journey if it meant more walking through the battlefield. They had come here at night, and it had concealed some of the horrors around them. Even so she had seen enough to make her ill. She didn't think she could stand walking through that in the light of day.

As they continued, however, she became hopeful that it wouldn't come to that. They headed west, continuing in the direction they had been following last night, and it soon became obvious that they had left the worst behind them. She did see a few bodies on the ground among the trees as they walked, but they were few and far between. And it wasn't long before they disappeared completely and they were surrounded by what appeared to be virgin wood. Tifa sighed inwardly with relief.

Vincent strode ahead of them purposefully, his long strides difficult for them to keep up with at times. In the end, they decided to give up trying to stay close to him and simply keep him in sight instead.

"How's your leg?" Tifa asked.

"What? Oh, it's doin' okay. All this walkin' keeps it from getting weak."

Tifa glanced up at the unmistakable form of Vincent. "He sure seems to be in a hurry."

"Maybe he wants to get rid of us," Cid replied, smiling. "We haven't exactly been the best of guests."

"Somehow, my feelings aren't hurt."

Cid did not reply and Tifa fell silent. The forest around them was quiet now, peaceful. One would never suspect that the devestation they had just passed through was so close at hand. Tifa wondered how close they were to Gongaga, and how long it would take the to find Reeve. Vincent seemed to know exactly he was going, and walked on quickly without any hesitation. And though he had to stop often to wait for them to catch up, he always did so, and never showed any sign of impatience.

They reached the crest of a hill. Ahead of them the ground slopped downward into a wide shallow valley. The trees fell away there to reveal an open plain, in the middle of which they could see a large encampment.

Vincent stopped and pointed down toward it.

"There's the refugee camp," he said. "We've come through the woods to avoid any Wutai patrols, but no one should bother you from here on. Reeve should be there somewhere. Now I must get back to my own business."

Without waiting for them to reply, he strode past them towards the forest they had just emerged from. Cid and Tifa turned to look at him.

"Thank you," Tifa called out.

Vincent did not reply. A moment later he was gone.

"Damn weirdest guy I've ever met in my life," Cid muttered.

Tifa couldn't argue with that.

"At least he helped us," she said.

Cid turned and looked back down at the camp below them.

"Yeah, I suppose," he muttered. "All right, I guess we better get down there and see about finding Reeve. I suppose we should be grateful. I'm sure this place can't be any worse than that cave we stayed in last night."

They made their way down the hill. As they approached they realized the place was bigger than it had first looked.

"This place is huge," Cid stated. "Might take us a while to even find Reeve."

Tifa did not reply.

They walked on until they entered the camp itself. It was made up of what looked hundreds of tents lined up in rather neat rows. The tents were very close together, barely allowing enough room for two people to walk between them. Which made it very difficult considering that the camp seemed to be bursting with people. Everywhere they looked they could see them milling about. Many of the tent flaps were open, and Tifa could see that even the tents themselves were crowded with people. The place seemed to have enough people in it to populate a small city.

And not just any people, she noticed. The inhabitants seemed to be almost exclusively woman and small children. Interspersed here and there she saw an elderly man occasionally. Young men were conspicuously absent. Tifa had a feeling that she had passed quite a few of the young men that were part of these families last night.

As they walked through the camp Tifa began to become depressed again. They were ignored as they walked through the camp. No one challenged them No one paid any attention to them at all. The faces of the people around them were vacant. Some of them were obviously ill. All of them looked malnourished. For the amount of people that were here, there was surprisingly little talk, and what there was seemed to be in hushed tones. There were plenty of children, in fact, they seemed to make up the bulk of the inhabitants, but they too were strangely subdued. Most of them were huddled in or around their tents. She heard no shouting, there was no one playing games. No one having fun.

In it’s own way this was as bad as the battlefield they had just passed through. It wasn’t just the men who went off to battle who suffered. These people were victims too. How many were here, hundreds, thousands? How many others besides the soldiers were affected by this war? All these people that one didn’t even think about, these women, these children. They might have all had happy families once, lived in nice homes. Now they had nothing. What could justify this?

Tifa looked at Cid, walking slowly ahead of her.

"Where should we go?" she questioned.

Cid shrugged.

"It looks like there’s some larger tents over there," he said, pointing to the left. "Let’s check them out."

They walked silently through the camp. As they approached the larger tents Tifa could see some activity. There were trucks parked in front, and there were men unloading them. The first males she saw here that weren’t children or elderly. They passed a long line of people standing beside the tent, waiting patiently. Up at the entrance to the tent stood more men. They appeared to be giving out supplies or food of some kind.

A man carrying a large crate walked by.

"Hey," Cid called out. "Do you know where Reeve Owens is?"

The man nodded with his head past the tent.

"Over in the administration tent," he replied without pausing to stop.

Cid nodded. He led Tifa in the direction the man had indicated. They came to a large open area, a few trucks in one corner seemed to indicate it was a parking area. A dirt road lead away, out of the camp, another truck driving slowly up it.

Cid stopped and looked around. There were several tents in the area. He wasn’t sure which one the man was talking about.

"Where to now?" Tifa asked, seeing him hesitate.

"Which one did he point to?" Cid asked uncertainly.

"I’m not sure," Tifa replied.

The truck they had seen pulled into the parking area beside the others. It stopped and two Wutai soldiers stepped out.

"Let’s go to that one," Cid said immediately, pointing to the closest tent. He quickly led her over to it, all the time keeping a close eye on the soldiers. They glanced over at him once, but showed no sign of recognition. Cid hoped he and Tifa were just another couple of faceless refugees to them.

They stepped into the tent. Luck had apparently been with them. In one corner stood a small table with three men gathered around it. One of them was Reeve.

"Reeve!" Tifa exclaimed.

Reeve looked up, his eyes opening in surprise when he recognized who it was. He dropped what he was doing and came over to them.

"Tifa, Cid.! I can’t believe it. What the hell are you two doing here?"

"It’s a long story," Cid replied.

"We’re trying to get to Cosmo Canyon," Tifa stated. "Vincent said you might be able to help us."

"Vincent eh?" Reeve replied. "How did you run into him?"

"Like I said, it’s a long story," Cid said.

"Yes, I suppose it would be. But I’m forgetting my manners," Reeve replied. He turned to look at the other men. "We’ll talk about this later."

The other men nodded and walked out.

"Come on in," Reeve said when they were gone. There were folding chairs along one wall of the tent, as well as some around the table. "Have a seat," he invited. He sat down in a chair by the table. Cid and Tifa followed suit.

"So, tell me the whole story," Reeve said.

Cid and Tifa obliged. They didn’t go into great detail, just filled Reeve in on what had happened to them since they had met again. When they were done Reeve sat back in his chair, looking at them thoughtfully.

"That’s quite a tale," he stated. "Looks like you’ve gotten on the bad side of both sides in this war. Not a good position to be in."

Cid shrugged.

"Believe me, it wasn’t our idea."

"It’s not going to be easy for you to get to Cosmo Canyon," Reeve continued. "You’re more popular than you might think. I heard that Wutai was looking for you. In fact, there’s a substantial reward for your capture. You’ve made quite a name for yourselves."

"That wasn’t our idea either," Cid muttered.

"Can you get us through?" Tifa said. "Vincent seemed to think you could help."

Reeve studied them for a moment, then nodded.

"Like I said, it won’t be easy, but it may be possible. There’s a lot of traffic going by Cosmo Canyon. A lot of supplies running from Gongaga to Wutai, and vice versa. Wutai can’t keep an eye on every one of them. But are you sure that’s what you want to do?"

"Whaddya mean?" Cid questioned.

Reeve hesitated a moment.

"You’re a talented man Cid. Your knowledge of rockets is invaluable, to either side in this war. What you know might just possibly decide who wins this war. Neither side wants to see you dead, they’d only kill you as a last resort, rather than have you working for the other side. Do you realize how much either side would pay to have you working for them? You could dictate your own terms. You could be as rich as you wanted."

Cid and Tifa both just stared at Reeve. There was a long silence.

"You want me to sell my skills to the highest bidder?" Cid said finally.

"Why not?" Reeve replied. "Is that such a horrible thing? War is hell, but if something good can come out of it why not take advantage? This is an opportunity of a lifetime for you. You’re one of the few men in the world, hell, maybe the only man in the world, that the strongest powers in existence would give anything to have on their side. It would be foolish of you not to take advantage of that."

"And I could help you," Reeve continued. "I have contacts on both sides. I know just who to talk to to get you the best deal. You’d be set for life, Cid, and you wouldn’t have to worry about running anymore. You wouldn’t have to be constantly looking behind you. Whichever side you chose could guarantee your safety."

Again there was silence while Reeve sat there looking at Cid expectantly. Tifa had know Cid long enough by now to see from the look on his face that he was not happy with what he was hearing.

"Haven’t you been listening to anything we’ve told you?" Cid finally blurted out. "Wutai invaded Rocket Town, they and Junon destroyed my home, my friends, everything I’ve ever know. All because o’ this stinkin’ war. And you want me to help them? You want me to build more weapons so they can kill more people. Tifa and I just took a little walk through a battlefield with hundreds of dead and maimed bodies lying in it. You want me to help develop missiles so that carnage can happen even more easily?"

Cid’s voice rose as he spoke, until at the end he was nearly shouting. Reeve just sat there, obviously taken aback.

"I heard it was Junon that destroyed Rocket Town," he said defensively.

"Wutai invaded first," Cid snapped. "They started the killin’. When Junon saw they couldn’t take Rocket Town back, they finished the job. They’re both to blame."

"That’s not what I heard," Reeve said, slowly shaking his head.

"Reeve, we were there," Tifa said. Didn’t he believe them?

Reeve pondered this for a minute, then nodded his head.

"Of course," he said. "It must have just been propaganda. You never know what to believe these days. All right, forget I mentioned it. It just seemed like a reasonable way to solve the situation to the benefit of us all. But don’t worry, I can see your point of view. Cosmo canyon it is."

He stood up abruptly.

"It’ll take me a little while to make arrangements. You can relax here. No one will bother you. It shouldn’t be too difficult to get you in a caravan going by Cosmo Canyon. You’ll probably be out of here by tomorrow. I’ll stop by later to let you know exactly. I’ll get right on it."

He started for the door.

"Reeve," Tifa said. "Thank you."

Reeve brushed it off.

"Think nothing of it," he replied. "It’s the least I can do for my old friends."

He walked out the door.

Cid leaned back in his chair, lifted up his booted feet and dropping them with a thump on the table.

"Looks like we might actually be making some progress," he said.

"I hope so," Tifa said slowly.

Cid pulled out a cigarette, deftly slipping it between his lips and lighting it.

"That conversation was a surprise," he observed. "For a minute there..."

Tifa looked at him curiously. She had been a bit surprised at what Reeve had suggested as well.

"What?" she said.

Cid shook his head.

"Nothing," he said with a shrug. "I just thought we might have made a mistake."

"His attitude kind of surprised me too," Tifa acknowledged. "But I guess that was just the bureaucrat in him, always trying to come up with some sort of compromise. But he agreed when you made it plain how you felt, now didn’t he?"

Cid grunted an acknowledgement.

Tifa feel silent. She felt better than she had since they left Mideel. At least they seemed to have an obtainable goal. She looked around. The accommodations were spartan, only the small table and chairs, and a pile of miscellaneous supplies filling up one corner of the tent. Not exactly luxury suites, and still no place to clean up. Nevertheless, it was a thousand times better than that awful cave they had been forced to spend the night before in.

Cid did not take well to sitting around waiting. Tifa noticed him constantly fidgeting. She couldn’t really blame him. She was anxious to get going herself. Even with Reeve’s reassurances, she still felt nervous about being discovered. She glanced out of the tent flap every once in while, looking around to see if she could spot any unusual activity, but all was quiet. She kept an eye on the truck that had brought the military personnel, but she saw no sign of them.

Eventually Cid suggested they eat something, which didn’t surprise her in the least. She was beginning to realize that he prized food almost as much as flying and smoking. She shook her head as she lifted off her backpack. She wondered where woman fit in on his list. Probably a distant fourth, she thought with a smile.

She opened her pack and sorted through it, looking at the contents critically. They were getting low on supplies. They would have to replenish what they had soon or they would run out. Maybe Reeve could help them with that too.

They ate quietly. Tifa didn’t eat much, partially because she just wasn’t very hungry, and partially because she thought it best to conserve what they had. Reeve still hadn’t returned by the time they were finished. Cid leaned back in his chair again, lighting up another cigarette and drumming his fingers on the table. Tifa just sat there staring at nothing in particular. She didn’t consider herself a particularly impatient person, but she didn’t like waiting anymore than anyone else.

But they didn’t have to wait much longer. Abruptly the tent flap was flung back and Reeve rushed in.

"You’ve got to get out of here!" he exclaimed.

"What?" Cid said, sitting up in the chair.

"Did you see any Wutai soldiers on the way in here?" Reeve questioned sharply.

"Yeah," Cid replied."We saw two of them coming out of a truck."

"I think they might have..." Reeve began.

He was interrupted as the tent flap was pulled back again. Seven Wutai soldiers rushed in, guns in their hands.

"Cid Highwind," one of them called out, looking at the pilot. "Stay where you are. Lay down your weapon. You are a prisoner of the Wutai army!"

Cid sat there in stunned silence, his hand wrapped around the weapon Vincent had given him. Tifa saw his grip on it tighten. She looked around, a stab of cold fear and shock driving through her body. The men had their guns trained on them. They were too late, they had been taken by surprise. They couldn’t beat them all.

Cid," she said softly, resignedly.

He did not reply, just sat there, looking at the men around them, as if sizing up his chances. The men could see his uncertainty as well, and brought their weapons up, ready to fire in an instant.

"Put the weapon down," the man in front repeated.

For a moment more Cid hesitated. Then he let the spear fall from his grasp with a curse.

"Now both of you come with us," the man said.

Where are you taking them?" Reeve questioned.

"None of your business," the soldier replied. "You shouldn’t be asking questions. You’re in enough trouble as it is. You’ll have to answer to the Colonel for harboring fugitives."

Reeve started to say something, then shut his mouth.

"Let’s go!" the soldier commanded.

Cid stood up and started for the door. Tifa followed, the cold knot of fear seeming to settle permanently in her stomach. After all they had been through, after getting this close to Cosmo Canyon, this close to getting away, was it all going to end here? Had it all been for nothing?

Reeve slowly eased himself down in a chair as the guards led Cid and Tifa out.

"Don’t worry!" he called. "I’ll do everything I can for you. I’ll get you out of this, somehow!"

Tifa turned to look at him, but the guards pushed her ahead, out of the tent, before she could say anything, if that was her intention.

The soldier who had spoken stood there for a moment, then walked over to Reeve after Cid and Tifa had been taken out.

"Good work," he said. "Wutai’s been looking for Captain Highwind for a long time. I’ll personally tell the Colonel of your cooperation in this matter. You’ll probably get the reward some time next week."

Reeve said nothing. He looked down at the table for a moment, then nodded his head.

"Thanks," he said. "Now send my men back in. We’ve got a lot of work to go over."

"Damn," Cid muttered.

Tifa didn’t reply. She could still hardly believe this was happening. The soldiers had put them in the back of the truck. They were sitting of the floor of it now. It was empty except for them. Now they were on their way to...God knew where. Probably Gongaga. And what would happen then? She had no idea. But nothing good, that was for sure. How could they have let this happen to themselves?

Cid suddenly slammed his fist down on the floor of the truck, making Tifa jump.

"Cid," she said.

He looked up at her, his face an expressionless mask. She could tell he was seething inside. She realized she didn’t really have anything to say to him.

"That’s not going to help," she said softly.

Cid nodded, but did not look any happier.

"It’s my fault," he said.

"Don’t say that," she told him.

"No, it’s true," he continued. "I should have been more careful. I knew we were in danger. I should have kept a better eye on things."

Tifa slid over beside him, her own worries temporarily pushed aside over concern for her friend.

"It’s alright Cid. It’s not your fault. It’s not anybodies fault. You did the best you could. There wasn’t really much hope from the start, now was there?"

Cid just shook his head, not replying. He couldn’t believe he had fallen into that trap. After all this time, you would think he would have learned by now to be extra cautious. Now they were caught, and he wasn’t going to say it out loud, but he was deathly afraid of what was going to happen. Afraid for the woman beside him. Wutai needed him, they needed his skills. He didn’t think they would do anything to hurt him. At least he had that card to play. But Tifa...

She was expendable. She didn’t have any skills they needed. And she had opposed them. She was fighting against them. She was a citizen of Kalm, one of their enemies. What would they do to her?

He didn’t have any illusions. He knew what could happen to women captured during a war, especially one as attractive as Tifa. No one would care what they did to her, no one would object.

He grit his teeth, trying to push those thoughts out of head. Somehow he would find a way. He didn’t know how, but no matter what it took, even if he had to give up everything he believed in, even if he had to built their damn rockets for them, no matter what he had to sacrifice, he wasn’t going to let anything happen to her.

"I’m sorry Teef, I letcha down," he said.

"No," she said. She tried to muster all the assurance she could into her words, even though she didn’t feel it. "You couldn’t have done anything. Don’t worry. We’ll get out of this, somehow."

She took his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. He smiled ruefully.

"Now that’s the optimistic girl I used to know," he said.


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