Balance of Power Chapter 9

By Frank Verderosa & Jen Bond

The floor beneath them was hard, a fact which was not helped any by the unsteady movements of the truck. The road was ragged and uneven, filled with holes that caught the tires and jarred the passengers riding in the back. Dust rose up in massive clouds, slipping under the cracks in the canopy and filling the area around them. At this current moment in time, Cid Highwind needed a cigarette... badly. Unfortunately, the air circulating around them was already stale and filled with dust. They didn't need for him to add to it with cigarette smoke. It was just that his nerves were raw and exposed. He was worried like he had never been worried before, and lacked answers where questions loomed.

Glancing over at Tifa, he felt like such a fool. He never should have dragged her into this. It would have been better to find some way to get her to safety and then turn himself in so that they would have left her alone. He had actually thought they would escape, find some way to live where they wouldn't be shadowed by this war. He knew it was stupid, but he had thought it nonetheless. It was as if by combining his and Tifa's determination, they could get out of any scrape. They had... until now. Now, when he had gotten careless enough to walk into a refuge camp, plain as day, and not think there would be soldiers around.

"It's funny... I know we could die, and I keep thinking about something as trivial as the rust spots in the bed of this truck," Tifa interjected into the silence.

"We aren't goin' to die," Cid spat harshly.

Tifa turned to look at him. "I'd rather face my fears than run from them."

"I won't let you die," Cid persisted, his voice rough.

Tifa smiled slightly, reaching out to squeeze his arm. But Cid saw her fear and her doubt in the depths of her burgundy eyes. It produced a strange emotion in him, a tightening of his stomach, and a need to reach out and take away her worries. If only it were that easy. Looking away from her probing gaze, he wondered if this was what it felt like to care too much. You hurt when the other person hurt, and it was maddening when you could do nothing about it. It was why he avoided deep friendships and romantic relationships. Someone always ended up getting hurt, whether it was intentional or not.

"What happened to us gettin' out of this?" He asked, his eyes still elsewhere.

"I'd like to think we will. No," she added, shaking her head, "I want to believe we will."

"We will. One way or the other, we will," Cid said firmly, his eyes traveling back to her.

"You look like you've come to some kind of decision."

Cid shrugged. "Maybe. But whatever happens, I'll make sure you're safe."

"And you?" She asked, inclining her head.

"Don't worry about me."

"Cid, I don't want you doing something foolishly noble like trading your life for mine."

Cid laughed harshly. "Now there's a word that's never been applied to me. Noble."

"This isn't funny," Tifa replied, a bit of a bite to her tone.

Cid sighed wearily, his posture drooping somewhat. "I know. Believe me, I ain't amused."

Tifa fell silent, turning away from him. They could offer each other all the assurances they wanted to, but deep down, they both knew that it could end badly. Neither of them wanted to say it aloud.

Setting his jaw on edge, Cid's eyes bored into the wall of the canopy across from him. If he could help it, he wasn't going to let him and Tifa get separated. There was a good chance he would never see her again if it happened. Wutai could care less about either of their feelings. They only wanted him to build their damn weapons of destruction so that they could take more lives and destroy more land. Yet... if it meant keeping Tifa alive, he would do it. It was ridiculous to think he could save thousands of lives... and as heartless and selfish as it sounded, he would trade all of them for Tifa's. He couldn't save thousands, but he could save one.

The irony of it all caused him to smile bitterly. Once, he had been a part of a group that saved millions. Now, he couldn't even save his own hide, much less someone else's. But he would try. That was all he could do. That realization made him feel very old and very tired. He had stood his ground in the beginning of this, refusing to build their rockets and give up his town. Look where that had got him. Rocket Town was gone and they had been pursued like wild animals. Shera was dead... and heaven only knew what had happened to the others, the ones they had yet to find again.

It chaffed, knowing he had to put aside his ideals. But in the end, they were only morals. Just feelings, and words, that didn't save anyone, or stop anything from happening. His ethics weren't going to keep Tifa from dying or himself from being thrown in prison.

No doubt, they were being taken to Gongaga, where Wutai was stationed. It was the nearest military base, and Cid was fairly certain there was a high ranking officer waiting to convince him he needed to cooperate. He closed his eyes, wishing the simple act would silence his thoughts in the same way that it banished his vision. Cid had never been accused of being a man that thought too much, but it seemed lately that, that was all he was doing. He remembered, somewhat ruefully, the poor marks he had received in school. When others had been listening to lectures, he had been drawing the designs for planes in his notebook, and dreaming of flying. As a result, his teachers had pulled him aside many times and informed him that his actions were not going to ensure him a steady future. Maybe they had been right. His choices and his actions over the years had led him to where he was now.

Tifa drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. This was not how she had envisioned them ending up. Despite all the hardships and setbacks they had endured, Cid's talk of Cosmo Canyon and how they would be safe there had given her a small ray of hope. She didn't really want to think about what was to become of them. She and Cid would probably be separated. They couldn't take the chance that one would influence the other. She was not stupid either. She knew that Cid was the important one here. They only wanted her because she had aided Cid. Closing her eyes, she rested her cheek on her knee. When she opened them, she found Cid staring at her.

"Don't give up yet," he said reassuringly. "We've gotten out of worse crapes."

Tifa forced herself to smile, even if it was only to make him feel better. They were both trying to keep each others spirits up. And there was nothing wrong with that. And besides, it was true, that had both been in worse trouble than this, and managed to extricate themselves. That didn't mean it would happen this time, but at least it gave them a little hope.

They both lapsed into silence, each preoccupied with their own thoughts. They drove on for quite some time. Tifa wasn't sure how long, but what difference did it make anyway? She glanced over at Cid occasionally, but he was just staring pensively at the wall.

Eventually the truck stopped and they heard the driver get out. They sat there for a long time before the doors finally opened. Four guards stood outside waiting for them, guns ready.

One of them indicated that they disembark. Cid and Tifa got up and stepped out of the truck. They were in another parking area, a dirt field with half a dozen other vehicles spread across it. And beyond them, Tifa recognized the streets of Gongaga.

The guards led them away. Tifa saw Cid looking around slowly. He glanced at her for a moment, but his look did not convey any meaning. She kept an eye on the guards as they walked down the street, hoping to see some laxity in their vigilance, hoping for some chance to escape, but they were alert and well armed. She saw no opportunity to try anything. Nevertheless she walked with a heightened sense of awareness. They had been together long enough for her to know that Cid was thinking pretty much the same thing she was. If he made a move, she was going to be ready.

There were other people on the streets. Mostly soldiers, but occasionally Tifa spotted a civilian. She had only been in Gongaga a few times in her life. She knew that Zack’s parents lived here, but she hardly knew them. It seemed unlikely they could expect help from anyone here. Unless Reeve came through for them, they were on their own.

Apparently Tifa wasn’t going fast enough to please the guard behind her, for he suddenly gave her a shove forward. She stumbled and fell to her knees.

Cid stopped and glared at the guard, but the guns trained on him prevented any action. Tifa could see the frustration and anger in his face. She knew it was taking all his strength to control himself. She just hoped he didn’t do anything foolish.

Cid extended his hand and helped Tifa back up. The guard prodded him in the back with the barrel of his gun.

"Get a move on," he snapped.

Cid’s face turned red with rage. Tifa gripped his arm. He turned to look at her. She didn’t say anything, but the pleading look in her eyes seemed to calm him a bit. Now was not the time.

They walked on, faster now. The guard behind them seemed to take particular pleasure in keeping them moving as fast as possible, walking right behind them and jabbing them with his gun whenever either of them slowed down.

After a few minutes or walking they reached the center of town. There were quite a few civilians here, but they seemed to give all the soldiers a wide berth. A dozen soldiers stood in front of what Tifa remembered used to be City Hall. Now it appeared to have been taken over by the military. Their guards led them in that direction.

One of the men in front of the building stepped forward to meet them.

"What have we here?" he questioned.

"Prisoners from the refugee camp, Sergeant", one of the soldiers who had been escorting them replied.

The man nodded.

"More spies ferreted out by Reeve?" one of the other men questioned.

Tifa turned to look at the man. What had he said? Spies ferreted out by Reeve? Did that mean...

She looked at Cid. He just glanced at her and shook his head, his face expressionless.

"That’ll be all, private," the Sergeant said curtly.

"Ah c’mon Sarge," the Private continued. "Where they’re going, these two ain’t gonna be telling anybody any...."

"I said, that’ll be all!" the Sergeant snapped.

The Private shut his mouth.

"We’ll take em from here," the Sergeant said.

The soldiers who had taken them from the truck nodded and left. The Sergeant nodded for Cid and Tifa to follow him into the building. Two of the other soldiers trailed behind them. Tifa followed, feeling a tightening in her gut. Could it be that Reeve was the one who had given them away? It certainly seemed as if that was what the man had meant. She didn’t want to believe it, she kept trying to come up with some other explanation. How could Reeve have done something like that? Sure, he had been a spy once for Shinra, but his conscience had gotten the better of him, and in the end he had sided with them. How could he betray his friends? How could he turn against them now?

She looked at Cid again, but he was not looking at her. She wished they could talk, but she knew she couldn’t say anything here. She had to know what he thought of this. She had to know whether he had some reasonable explanation.

They were led inside the building. It was obviously some kind of military command post. There were soldiers all over the place. Immediately upon entering they turned right and passed through another door. Inside was a room with a large window overlooking the street out front. At the opposite end of it stood a desk with another soldier sitting at it, a pile of papers scattered across it. There was a small table not far from the desk with what looked like radio equipment on it. Another soldier sat in front of that. The soldier leading them walked up to the man behind the desk.

"Two prisoners for the Colonel to interrogate."

The man behind the desk looked Cid and Tifa over for a moment, then nodded.

"All right," he said. "The Colonel's very busy right now. Just have them wait over there."

The soldier that had been leading them saluted smartly. He pointed for Tifa and Cid to stand over in one corner of the room, then departed. Two guards remained by the door, their guns in their hands.

Tifa looked at the soldiers in the room. They were far enough away that they wouldn't hear whispered conversation.

"Did you hear what they said about Reeve?" Tifa asked Cid softly.

Cid nodded his head.

"Yeah, but I was hopin' I was hearing things," Cid replied bitterly.

"I can't believe he would betray us," Tifa said.

Cid shook his head.

"Neither can I. That little rat. After we thought he was a decent person. Looks like this war's brought out the truth about him. If I ever get my hands on him..."

Cid balled his fists in frustration.

Tifa said nothing more. She had never felt so helpless in her life. Reeve had told them he'd try to help them. He'd been her greatest hope for getting them out of this. Now what were they going to do? She looked at the guards again. They were still alert, and there were also the two other soldiers in the room. Plus dozens of others just a call away. There didn't seem to be any chance of escape. If they were going to try anything at all, she thought it would have to happen soon. She had a feeling they weren't going to be together much longer, and the truth was that thought scared her to death. Through this whole thing she had had Cid to lean on. He had been the one constant. She didn't know what she'd do without him now.

The radioman glanced over at them.

"More prisoners," he muttered to the other soldier. "Seems like we're getting more and more all the time. I guess everything is going well."

The man behind the desk shrugged.

"You never know," he replied. "Things might be going well here, but let's face it, this area isn't exactly known for it's strategic importance. The important battles are up north farther."

"Yeah, I know," the radioman replied. "And I'm stuck here at headquarters."

The soldier behind the desk looked over at the other man.

"You want to be in battle?"

"Of course," he replied. "What's the point of being a soldier, otherwise?"

The man behind the desk was silent for a moment.

"You volunteered, didn't you?" he said finally.

"You bet," the other man replied. "Signed up the day war broke out. Couldn't wait, actually. How bout you?"

"I was drafted. I've got a farm on the outskirts of Wutai. A wife and three young children. The place is a lot of work, and all the hired help is off to war as well. My kids are too young to help my wife with anything but the simplest things. I don't know how they're going to survive without me."

The radioman looked at him for a moment, then shrugged.

"I'm sure they'll be fine," he said.

The look on the other man's face made it obvious he wasn't so sure.

"Uh oh," the radioman said suddenly.


The radioman pointed to the window.

"Here comes the Colonel's wife."

The other man looked out the window as well.

"Wonder what she wants this time?"

"Probably here to complain about something," the radioman observed. "Frankly I don't see how the Colonel can stand it. It's bad enough he's got a war to run here. To have to put up with her as well..."

"Hey, watch what you say," the man behind the desk warned. "The walls have ears."

"Yeah," the radioman replied. "That's what they say, isn't it. But it's not like I'm giving away any secrets here. Still, she is a looker. But even so, I don't think it's worth it."

The both stopped talking as the door opened. A woman entered the room, an infant in her arms. She walked over to the man at the desk without preamble.

"I need to see my husband," she said. It did not sound like a request.

"I'll tell him you're here, ma'am," the man said, getting up. He opened the door behind him.

"Colonel, your wife's here to see you," he called out.

Tifa looked at the guards by the door. She was hoping that the woman's entrance might distract them, giving her and Cid a chance to try something. Unfortunately, they must have been well trained, for they seemed as alert as ever, and were keeping their eyes on the two prisoners and not the woman.

Tifa glanced over at the window. The soldiers were guarding the door, but they didn't seem to be paying any attention to the window, as if they hadn't thought of it as a way of egress. She didn't see any other soldiers out on the street. There were plenty in the building, and she was sure there were others not far away outside. It was broad daylight. If they made a break their pursuers would not be far behind, and where did they have to run? Still, this might be there only chance to even make an attempt.

She turned to Cid, about to whisper to him, when the door to the office opened again and the Colonel stepped out, turning toward his wife.

"Rachel, I told you not to bother me when I'm..."

He stopped, looking at the prisoners behind her. There was utter silence in the room. Tifa stared at the blonde haired man, and suddenly she felt as if the breath had been squeezed out of her body. It couldn't be. It just couldn't be!

She heard Cid mutter an expletive behind her.

"Cloud," she whispered.

It must have only been seconds that they stood there in silence, but to Tifa it seemed like a hundred years passed in just a moment. She stood there, looking at Cloud and his...wife. His wife! Tifa felt her hands begin to tremble, felt her throat go dry. It couldn't be possible. This had to be some kind of dream, some kind of horrible, horrible nightmare.

Rachel looked at her husband, then over at the prisoners he was staring at.

"What's wrong?" she questioned.

Cloud did not answer for a long time. Finally he swallowed once, then turned toward Rachel.

"Nothing," he said. "I'll be with you in just a moment." He turned toward the man at the desk. "Corporal Deegan, take these prisoners to a holding cell. I don't have time to interrogate them now."

"Yessir," the man behind the desk said.

He stood up and walked over to Tifa and Cid, motioning for them to follow. Tifa didn't even notice him, she just stood there, staring at Cloud, who turned and without a glance back walked back into his office, Rachel right behind him.

"Let's go," the Corporal said.

Tifa acted as if she didn't hear.

The corporal reached out to grab her, but Cid came up beside her, taking her by the shoulders.

"We're comin'" he said gruffly.

The Corporal turned and walked toward the door. Cid followed, leading Tifa along as if she were blind.

Cid didn't waste time asking Tifa if she was alright. It was obvious she wasn't. What a kick in the gut that must have been, the thought angrily. The truth was he had always admired Cloud, a little bit. He had both great strength and courage, and had seemed like a good leader, if a little bit confused when it came to relationships. But Cid could certainly understand that, he had proven he wasn't exactly an expert in that particular subject himself. He knew the kid was mixed up, but still, he would never have expected Spike to do something like this, to hurt Tifa so badly. After all she'd been through, after all she'd done for him. He might as well just have stuck a knife in her and be done with it. He looked at Tifa, walking beside him like a zombie, and felt fury rising inside him. Goddam! First Reeve and now Cloud. What the hell had happened to all their so called friends?

The Corporal led them down the street and then entered another building. This one was full of military men as well. They walked down a long hall and then a flight of steps. A guard stood at the door to another room. The Corporal opened it up and motioned for them to enter. Cid led Tifa in and saw that it was obviously a prison cell. The room was completely empty, not even a cot to rest on. There were no windows, only the thick oak door behind them, which closed with a bang as soon as they were through it.

Tifa looked around for a moment, then slowly sank to the floor, her back against the wall. She had hardly paid attention to where they were going. She didn't care, it didn't matter anymore. All this time, all this time she had been hoping that she would somehow run into Cloud, somehow find him again. She had gotten her wish.

She almost laughed at that. At the irony of it. She had gotten her wish, just what she had asked for. She had found Cloud again, against all odds, for all the good it did her! She wanted to laugh, but she knew if she did, she wouldn't be able to hold back the tears.

She wasn't going to cry.

All this time she thought there was something between them. She thought that he felt something for her as well, maybe not quite as strong as how she felt for him, but something. When Aeris had been alive she had been jealous. She couldn't help herself. She had seen the attraction between the two of them. It would have hurt her to lose Cloud to Aeris, but she could understand.

She looked at the ceiling. No matter what happened, she wasn't going to cry.

Cid came over and sat down beside her. She felt him put his arm around her, trying to comfort her in his own clumsy way. She didn't want him to. She just wanted to be alone right now. For her there was no comfort.

"I'm sorry," she heard him whisper.

She didn't reply. She couldn't. She knew what would happen if she tried to speak.

She could have understood if Cloud loved Aeris, but this...she couldn't understand this. She had seen him last almost three months ago. They were married, they had a child! He must have already been married then. He had obviously been seeing this other woman for a long time, even before he left for good. And he'd never said a word! Did he hate her that much?

She had to be strong. No matter what, she wouldn't let herself cry.

All these years she thought that deep down inside he’d felt something for her, she’d thought she’d had a chance. What a fool she had been. She could live with the fact that he didn’t love her. It would hurt, but she would survive. But she had had no idea just how little he had cared. Even if he didn’t love her, she had thought they at least were friends. She thought at least he’d be honest with her. Instead he had hid what he was doing from her, hadn’t told her anything at all. It was obvious he had never cared for her at all.

She felt something wet strike her arm.

No, he hadn’t said a word. Hadn’t had the decency to even tell her the truth. After all they had been through, hadn’t she deserved at least that? If he didn’t want her why couldn’t he have just told her so so she could get on with her life?

She couldn't let herself cry.

Was it her fault? She had never opened up to him, never told him what was in her heart. Had he gotten tired of waiting? But he had never said anything either. And even if that were true, he still could have told her. No matter how he really felt about her, she didn’t deserve this.

Did she?

She reached up and wiped the tears from her eyes.

She couldn’t stop them. No matter how hard she tried. He didn’t deserve it. He didn’t deserve her tears. Yet she couldn’t stop herself from crying. She was so weak. She was pathetic!

She grit her teeth, but it didn’t help. She couldn’t stop them now. Her throat was constricted, her head spinning. She didn’t care anymore, she didn’t care if she cried, she didn’t care what happened to them. Nothing mattered anymore.

She felt Cid’s arm tighten around her. His other hand stroked her hair. She couldn’t see the look of anguish on his face.

Slowly all her strength seemed to drain from her body. She began to sob. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t hold back anymore. She turned toward Cid, burying her head in his chest, finally letting the tears flow freely, no longer able to restrain them.

Tifa wasn’t sure how long she sat there, crying in Cid’s arms. It seemed like hours. It seemed like her tears would never stop. But eventually they did, yet even after they had she sat there motionless, not wanting to speak, not wanting to even move. Cid never said a word. He seemed to realize there were no words that would be adequate, seemed to know that this was just something she had to do.

She had thought that deep down inside, Cloud had cared. She had seen the way Cid treated Shera, his apparent unconcern for her. All this time she had thought Cid was the callous one. But he really had cared for Shera. Tifa had seen that when they talked to Dalia, when they found out Shera was gone. How wrong she had been about both of them.

Cid had stuck with her, through everything that had happened. Even now, when both sides in this war needed him, when he could have anything he wanted from them, he was worried about her. He had abandoned Rocket Town, done everything in his power to try to keep her safe, and she had done nothing in return except be a burden to him.

"I’m sorry," she whispered.

Cid’s head lifted up, a bit surprised to hear her finally speak.

"There’s nothing you have to apologize for," he muttered.

She was silent again for a long time.

"Cid?" she said finally.


"I want you to promise me something."

"What would that be?"

For the first time she turned to look at him.

"I want you to promise me that if you get a chance to get out here, that you take it. Even...even if it means leaving me behind."

His face pinched into a frown.

"What are you talking about?"

"I mean it Cid," she continued. "You’re important to them. They need your cooperation. I don’t want them to use me to get it. It doesn’t matter what happens to me, you can’t do what they say. I’m just one person. If you build those missiles for them, they could kill thousands."

"Tifa, stop talking nonsense," Cid cut in. "Nothing’s going to happen to you. They’re not going to make me build those damn rockets. We’ll find a way out of this somehow."

Tifa went on as if she hadn’t heard him. The tears were running down her cheeks once more.

"Please Cid! You have to do as I say. I don’t care what they do to me. This whole time, I’ve just been a burden to you. We’d both be better off if I died. I..."

Suddenly he grabbed hold of her arms.

"Tifa, stop it!"

She did stop, staring up at him. Her lip quivered. She knew she was talking nonsense, she knew she was just feeling sorry for herself, but she couldn’t help it. She knew Cid wasn’t going to listen, she knew because, unlike Cloud, he really did care for her. All this time he had been the only one to look out for her, the only one who really cared. She looked at him, staring at her, and could see the lines of concern on his face, the tears he was trying to hide, tears for her pain, tears she would never have seen in Cloud’s eyes.

For a moment more they sat there, motionless, just looking at one another. Then she suddenly pulled herself up and kissed him.

Before he could move, before he could even respond, her arms came up and slipped around his neck, pulling her closer to him, pressing her lips more forcefully against his. She could feel the tears still on her cheeks, but she didn’t care, didn’t think about them, didn’t think about anything. All she wanted was for Cid to hold her. All she wanted was to be with someone who cared.

She lifted herself up to her knees, pressing against him, forcing their lips together so hard it was almost painful. It didn't matter. She wasn’t even sure why she was doing it. She just wanted the hurt inside her to go away.

Cid had done nothing at first, too stunned to respond. He had been stiff when she first kissed him, but then his body had relaxed. She couldn’t help but wonder if this was something he had been thinking about as well. She couldn’t help wonder if all this time, he felt as lonely as she did. But slowly his arms came up, gripping her shoulders and forcing her as gently as he could away from him.

Their lips parted. Tifa stared at him, her eyes pleading, and looking into them nearly broke his heart.

But even so he shook his head.

" can’t..." he stammered.

She stared at him, looking into his eyes. He quickly turned away, mumbling something incoherent.

His body taunt with tension, Cid pushed himself to his feet and turned away from Tifa, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his pants. A wild mixture of emotions coursed through him; confusion, concern for Tifa, anger at Cloud... and yes, desire. But this was wrong. He knew that she was hurting unbelievably, bleeding from a million invisible wounds. She was reaching out for comfort, wanting a reassurance he could not give her. Not like this. He was only a man, after all, and he wanted her to want him because he was him, not because she needed an anchor. It would have been so easy to kiss her back, and the temptation had been strong... but he could never take advantage of her when she was so vulnerable.

Bowing his head slightly, he cursed Cloud Strife. Cursed him for being the biggest ass to walk the face of the Planet, and cursed him for breaking Tifa's heart. They had all seen how much she cared for Cloud, how she had stuck by his side while he was weak and suffering from Mako poisoning. They couldn't get her away from him, not even when the lifestream was destroying the ground beneath her feet. What kind of fool threw away something like that? But then, he wasn't really one to talk. Shera has stood beside him for years, putting up with all kinds of abuse. He and Cloud then, were in a class of idiots all their own. And there were others suffering because of it.

Even if this hadn't happened and Tifa had kissed him under other circumstances, it would have still been a mistake. She didn't deserve to get mixed up with him. She deserved to find someone who would treat her like she should be. He didn't know the first thing about what a woman needed. Why did the thought bother him then? Why did the thought of another man holding her cause such a panic in him?

Tifa remained where she was, staring. How could he turn his back on her now? She had opened up to him in a way she had never opened to anyone before, not even Cloud. Yet he had forced her away from him. What was wrong with her? Even Cid, who had stood by her all this time, even he was rejecting her.

She sank back down, until her back rested against the wall once more. She pulled her knees up, wrapping her arms around them, her head sinking down. She had thought she had no tears left. She had been wrong.

After a moment Cid turned back toward her. She didn’t look at him, didn’t look up at all. He reached out his hand, but when it made contact she flinched away from his touch.

He started to say something, then changed his mind. He had never been very good at this sort of thing. He figured anything he said now would just make things worse, and he had already done enough damage. Sometimes it was better just to keep your mouth shut.

Hours passed. Tifa sat silently in the corner, barely moving the whole time, never saying a word or even looking up at him. He tried a few times to pull her out of it, tried to get her to talk, but she never responded. He wished like hell he was better at this sort of thing, could find the words to make her feel better, but he knew he didn't. Hard as it was on both of them, it would be better if he just left her alone.

In the meantime he paced. He had never been very good at waiting. He had always hated it. The room was completely empty, there was nothing here to occupy him. He couldn't talk to Tifa. All he could do was pace, and when he did that, he thought. And the more he thought, the angrier he became.

Reeve had betrayed them. He was sure of it. That was the only explanation for what the guards had said. He would have been furious with him if he wasn't even more furious with Cloud. He was so worked up he couldn't think clearly. He knew he should be concentrating on trying to escape, trying to come up with some kind of plan. But the only that filled his mind were thoughts of getting a hold of Cloud and tearing him apart with his bare hands. The mood he was in now, he would've given up any chance to escape just to spend five minutes alone with the blonde haired mercenary they had thought was their friend.

The door suddenly opened. Cid looked up to see Cloud standing in the entranceway.

"What the hell do you want?" Cid snapped.

Cloud just looked at them both for a moment. Tifa didn't even look up.

"Come with me," Cloud said.

"Where are you taking us?" Cid demanded.

Cloud did not reply, just motioned toward the door.

Cid had been fighting with himself since the door opened, trying vainly to temper the need to knock the cool expression from the blonde kid's face. He looked as if he didn't care at all, as if Tifa had been nothing more than another person in his life that was easily discardable after he had no use for her anymore. He didn't know why he was so surprised. Cloud had always been distant and guarded. And in the end, when he had shown the most emotion, it had been for Aeris.

His eyes slid to Tifa, and he saw the misery in the depths of her eyes. Couldn't Cloud see that? Was he so blind? There was hurt in the proud tilt of her head, the way her shoulders slanted as though carrying some enormous, invisible burden, and most of all, in the expression on her face. She was dying inside, and Cloud didn't even care.

A hot flash of anger sparked through him, and he swung around, moving past Cloud's guard and hitting him forcefully in the face. Cloud was thrown backward, his hands splaying out on either side of him to partially break his fall. The ex-SOLDIER had not been prepared, but he was still fast enough to avoid a direct hit, and instead took the brunt of the blow against the edge of his jaw.

Cid saw a brief spark in the depths of his Mako enhanced eyes, but Cloud did not move. The small display of anger fled as quickly as it had flared up, leaving it its place the usual icy mask. Part of him was disappointed that Cloud wasn't going to fight him, and part of him was relieved now that he had gotten a small handle on his temper. It wasn't exactly going to help the situation any if they fought in front of Tifa. But it sure as hell made him feel better.

Looming over Cloud, he bent over slightly, his eyes hard with the intensity of his distaste, and said lowly, "That's for Tifa."

For one brief moment, their eyes locked and Cid felt some small satisfaction when Cloud ducked his head and looked away. Maybe the man had some feelings after all.

For a moment they all stood there looking at one another.

"Let's go," Cloud said.

He turned and walked out into the hallway. Cid stubbornly stood there, still not willing to do anything Cloud asked them. Tifa got to her feet and looked at him.

"C'mon Cid," she said softly.

She walked out the door. Cid stood there for a moment more, then, frowning irritably, followed.

There were no guards outside. Cloud was the only soldier there, as if he didn't think he would need any help, as if he thought he could handle them himself. Cid looked around darkly. Maybe he'd end up regretting that decision.

Cloud led them down the hall and up the stairs, then out of the building. It was dark outside. Cid looked up and saw the faint glow of stars thought the haze of the town's lights. A truck stood in front of the building, surrounded in shadows. Cloud walked to the back and opened it up, motioning them to enter.

Cid hesitated, looking around. Still there was no sign of anyone else. He couldn't see a single soldier on the streets. Were they nearby, waiting for Cloud to call, or did Cloud really think that they weren't necessary?

"Where are we going?" Cid demanded once again.

Cloud did not say anything, just stood there looking at him impatiently.

"I"m not getting in until you tell me where the hell you're taking us!" Cid snapped.

Cloud looked around for a moment. Finally his gaze returned to stare at Cid.

"If you want Tifa to live, get in the damn truck!" he snapped.

They both just stared at Cloud for a moment. Then Tifa came up beside Cid and took him by the arm. Slowly she walked passed Cloud, being very careful not to look at him, and entered the truck.

Tifa slowly sank down on the floor of the truck. Cid remained standing. A moment later the truck started up and they were on their way, the truck lurching ahead, nearly knocking Cid off his feet. He grabbed hold of the handle to steady himself and make sure it didn't happen again.

This ride lasted at least as long as the one they had taken to get here. Cid stood by the door the whole time, feeling more and more frustrated. What the hell was Cloud up to now? Whatever it was, he had a feeling he wasn't going to like it. Earlier he had wanted nothing more than to get a piece of Cloud. Against all odds he had gotten his wish. Now that it was over, that he had gotten some satisfaction, little though it may have been, he could think about what was going to happen to them now. And he had to admit, things looked bleaker than ever.

The truck came to a stop. Cid heard the driver door open and slam shut. He let go of the handle, anticipating it opening. A moment later his anticipation was satisfied. The door was pulled open, and Cloud motioned for them to come out.

They stepped out of the truck. Cid looked around curiously in the darkness. There were on a dark road surrounded by forest. There seemed to be nothing around here at all. For a moment Cid felt a stab of fear. Was Cloud planning on killing them?

Cid looked at Cloud, waiting for him to explain. He tried to get himself to relax, to be prepared for anything. Cloud was still alone. If worst came to worst, he would do his best to see that Tifa had a chance to escape.

But Cloud made no move to draw his weapon. Instead he pointed to the trees surrounding them.

"Go," he said.

For a moment there was silence. Cid looked at Cloud suspiciously.

"You're letting us go?"

Cloud just looked at them.

"Yes," he said finally.

"Why?" Cid asked, his voice filled with skepticism.

Cloud shrugged.

"What difference does it make?" he asked. "For old times sake. For whatever reason you like. Who knows, who cares. Now hurry up. If we get caught here even I won't be able to help you. Cosmo canyon is a couple of days march to the north. This is as far as I can take you. This time I'm letting you go. Make the best of it. It won't happen if we meet again."

Cid bit back a bitter reply. Tifa said nothing. Finally Cid shook his head in disgust.

"Don't expect us to say thanks," he growled.

Cloud didn't even reply to that.

Cid shook his head again, then turned, and taking hold of Tifa's arm, walked quickly toward the woods. He half expected to hear the sound of shots and to feel a bullet in his back at any moment, but they reached the trees without incident, and a few minutes later the road was lost behind them.

Cid looked around, as if to make sure they were not being followed, but he saw nothing.

"Well if that don't beat all," he muttered.

He looked at Tifa, but she just looked down at the ground. He wished she'd say something. He wished she'd snap out of this. But he knew it was going to take time. He knew it was going to take a long time.

"Well, he may be a snake, but he's given us a chance," Cid stated. "C'mon, let's see if we can find a somewhat comfortable place in this woods and try to get some sleep. I've got a feelin' it's gonna be a long night."


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