"You want what?"
"I want you and Shera to come up with a power source for a computer in the basement laboratory of the Shinra Mansion," Tifa said again.
Cid released a long sentence solely comprised of expletives as he threw his cigarette to the ground. "And how the hell am I supposed to do that when I still haven't come up with a #%$ power source for the farming equipment Barret wants so &%$#@$# bad."
"I don't care how you do it, Cid. It's for Vincent, okay?"
"Vincent? That spook? What the hell does he need it for?"
"There's a professor who might be able to cure him." Cid stared at her in shock. Then he lit another cigarette. "I'm serious, Cid. She has an idea and wants to give it a try."
"She? Damned if a woman would be able to cure anything," he scoffed after a deep drag.
Tifa frowned as she crossed her arms. "Cid, you and Shera are the only hope--"
"Well then I guess you won't get your #$%@*&! power source."
"Fine. I'll ask the professor. She seems to have more brains than you right now."
Cid gave a snort and turned to stride away. Shera stepped up a few minutes later. "I'll come, Tifa, if you think that would help."
"I'm sure Natalie will appreciate all the help she can get."
Shera looked after Cid with a slight smile. "He's frustrated. It hasn't been going so well."
Tifa sighed, throwing up her hands in exasperation. "Fine. That doesn't mean he has to be a jerk, does it?"
Shera smirked. "It's Cid, Tifa."
"I know. I know."
Shera gnawed her lower lip. "Tifa, is it true this professor has a cure for Vincent?"
"That's what she was trying to do on the computer at the Shinra Mansion in Nibelheim. Only problem is, our dear Cloud wrecked the computer before she could do anything other than get her hopes up. It was hooked up to a Mako generator, you see."
"Oh." Shera wrinkled her nose in concentration. "A Mako generator, hm? How small was it?"
"I'm not sure exactly. All I know is that it wasn't very big. If Shinra can do it, why can't we? I figured that with the three of you working together you'd be able to come up with a safe alternative to Mako. Don't you think?"
Shera nodded absently. "I better go get packed."
She turned and walked away. Tifa stared after her with a smile and a shake of her head.
Shera stepped into Cid's house and immediately set to work fixing him tea. It didn't matter whether he wanted some or not because that was one of her duties. She made tea, kept his house clean, his laundry current, and helped him with his research and experiments regarding environmentally safe alternatives for the equipment that would be so desperately needed. It was the least she could do to repay him for saving her life at the cost of his own dreams.
Cid slammed into the house with a few extra expletives as he tossed himself into a chair at the table. She set a teacup in front of him, the teapot beside him, and the sugar within easy reach before she turned to go.
"Shera, what do you think?"
Shera turned back toward him. "What do I think about what?"
"About what Tifa said. About the whole idea of going to Nibelheim to help some broad with nary a thought in her head."
"I was going to go." He glared at her for a long moment before tossing a couple sugar cubes into his teacup. Shera thought the cup would crack. "It seemed you had some better ideas once you'd gotten back from your short trip to Nibelheim. What's to say that working with someone other than me might break loose your block?"
"Damned if you aren't right. Shit. I hate it when you're right." He jerked the hat from his head and threw it to the table. "Pour the damn tea, woman. Then we'll pack. I have a feeling we're going to be there for awhile."
Shera hurried forward and grabbed for the teapot, nearly dumping it into his lap in her excitement. He leaped clear and snorted with a shake of his head.
Cloud reigned in the gold chocobo outside a tent he recognized as Tifa's. He took off the saddle and bridle, set it off to graze with Tifa's blue one, and then ducked inside the tent. She was tucked into her sleeping bag reading a book. He set his sword and scabbard by the door and then sat on the ground beside her.
Tifa lowered the book to give him a smile. "Hey, you. What's with the face? Couldn't find Yuffie?"
Cloud laid back to rest his head against her stomach. She immediately began playing with his spiked hair, just as she always did. "Nah. Nobody's seen her for weeks. She never disappears until someone actually needs something."
"It can't be that bad. Don't you think Shera and Cid can handle it? They've done a good job so far."
Cloud shrugged. "I guess, but this is going to be different. This time they have to actually come up with something that works."
Tifa gave him a playful knock on the head. "Give them a break, Cloud. It's hard to work under pressure with someone like Barret constantly looking over your shoulder. Don't you remember?"
"I know, I know. I guess I'm just getting a little frustrated with the slow progress. I mean, it's been a month. We should have some kind of idea for a power supply by now. The people are getting nervous."
"So are you, it sounds like." Tifa sat up, carefully adjusting Cloud's head into her lap. She smiled down at him. "You know, you don't have to be the savior all the time. Take a vacation. Let someone else worry about the planet and everyone on it."
One side of his lips tilted upward. "Sounds like a good idea, but..."
Tifa smiled wider. "But you like being the good guy."
Tifa sighed with a slight shake of her head. She kissed his forehead. "That's what I like about you." She raised her head to look down at him expectantly. "Okay, Mr. Good Guy, what's the plan? You can't find Yuffie, I can't get a definite answer from Mr. Pain-In-Everyone's-Ass, and we have a shy professor in love with a distant and closemouthed ex-Turk. What do you suggest we do?"
Cloud was quiet for a long time before he let out a quick breath and looked away from Tifa's face. "Go on vacation?"
Tifa chuckled. "Hey, you started it. You can't back out now."
"Why not? We've got the tent, the girl, the boy--"
Tifa flushed. "Hold it right there, Mister."
Cloud laughed up at her. "You're too easy." He sat up before she could clobber him, rolling to a standing position. "I'm going to go get my bedroll and tent and start setting up. If you want to help..."
He ducked outside. Tifa put her hands on her hips with a shake of her head and a slow smile. Then she slipped free of the sleeping bag and put on her shoes. She stepped outside to help Cloud.
"So are you going back to Nibelheim to help Natalie?"
Cloud nodded. "Yeah. I've got to. I feel like a jerk for what I did before."
"I'm sure she'll appreciate the gesture. I don't think she feels all that great about how she acted either."
"I deserved it."
Tifa nodded with a laugh. "Yes, you did. And she gave it to you squarely between the eyes. It was great fun to watch."
"Ha ha. Very funny."
They secured the tent, and then Cloud disappeared inside to set up his bedroll. Tifa waited outside until he emerged again. "Say, Cloud, let's go for a walk. We need to get firewood anyway."
"Sure. Let me get my sword." He slipped into the massive scabbard, adjusted the sword on his back, and then grabbed her hand. "Just don't ask me what I'm going to do about Natalie and the whole Vincent thing. I haven't any idea, and I don't want to think about it either."
Tifa tightened her grip on his hand with a smile. "Okay."
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