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Balancing the Equation

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You're not surprised when you get the letter from the Captain.

You never expected him to come back after the rocket was gone; that was all that had kept him there. The house is yours, it said. If he needs anything, he'll come back for it later. But right now, there's a lot of work to be done.

You look up from the letter and take a hard, dispassionate look at the house around you. There might need to be a few changes, you decide. You want to get some new furniture. Maybe a cat, too. The Captain was allergic, but you always loved cats.

---

You spend some of your time travelling. The letter was right; there's an awful lot to do. Still, you pay a young lady to keep the house for you while you're away. You've never liked coming home to a place that feels empty, the way it had felt when you'd come home from the launch.

Sometimes you go and meet with Reeve and the few hand-picked former employees he's chosen to try to keep an eye on things. You like Reeve well enough; he's a competent man who never talks down to you, even when you stumble over terms you should've remembered. He says there's a place for you at the new headquarters if you want one, but you always refuse. You already have a home, and it isn't as if you can't telecommute if you want. He has the technology for that.

You spend some time in New Corel, where the miners are rallying themselves and bit-by-bit starting to rebuild something like the home they had. Barret and Tifa and little Marlene are usually there too, and let you stay with them. Even Marlene helps as much as she can, picking up trash with her oversized gloves and helping to plant anti-erosion greenery. You can see the pride in both Barret's face and Tifa's as they all walk home in dirty coveralls. You only get your own hands dirty sometimes. Mostly you sit with the town leaders and fellow engineers, helping them plan for the future.

Once you come home from Corel with a cat that one of the miners found in an old borehole, no more than a year old and dark as coal dust. A scared little thing, the miner had said - she'd managed to coax the little creature out after her colleagues had left, and she'd clung to her the entire way home. She's skittish when the other men are around, but she likes to climb and jump and play when it's just you and her. You watch the tricks she does with her tail as she jumps from high places, always righting herself in midair, and decide to call her Torque. You pay the young lady a little extra after you take her home.

Those aren't your only destinations - you even spend some time resting in Cosmo Canyon and studying old Doctor Bugenhagen's books. But you never stay away for long. You like coming home, at least once you make a few changes - new furniture, for one, including a few new pieces for Torque. (Reeve and the new Mayor of Corel both offer you enough for your help that you don't have to worry about money for long, if you're careful.) You find a few young people to help you repaint the walls, while Torque stays outside and climbs trees and jumps back down again.

Even at home you're always busy, always studying old textbooks and new journals, trying to catch up on everything that you missed in the past few years. You never had the energy or the drive to study, not while Cid was there, but now it's starting to seep back into your body. Your brain takes a while to catch up. It's a slow process, waking up again; at first it feels as though you're wading through mud, but soon it feels like swimming again, and you find that you're moving faster and faster. You have the highest degree that Shinra's universities could reward to anyone, and it's incredibly refreshing to feel like it's true again.

---

Cid does come back to Rocket Town once in a while for his old things, although he's hardly ever alone. Once he flies back with Cloud, who mostly sits and drinks his tea as though he's desperate for it and casts strange looks at Torque as she hides under a cabinet. Most of the time, though, it's Yuffie that comes back with him.

You're honestly curious about her, over the months. She's no child anymore, and you wonder what it is she's doing there. She's not bad company - she'll rattle off long lists of jobs and troubles and accomplishments, but she'll always break off just before her breath runs off and ask how you're doing, and she always listens, even if it's just to catch her breath. And she coos over Torque as much as you do, when Torque comes out to rub her forehead against the young ninja's leg.

She jokes like Cid and pokes him in the ribs and he responds with low-key laughter, not with swearing and anger. You notice that, too. You wonder if Yuffie knows that you spent your intern years assisting in the design weapons that would've been used against Wutai, if Sephiroth and his SOLDIERs hadn't been enough. You wonder if she knows that the Captain would've been the one to deploy them.

In the end, you decide that it's none of your business.

---

Once, a year and a half later, Cid comes by to pick up a few old tools, and he's alone. He stands at your door and knocks, looking thinner and blonder than before, his skin wind- and sun-burnt. He stays there until you invite him in for tea. You think that he's starting to understand.

You've started drinking your tea with ice and honey and blueberries, a twist on a habit you picked up from Barret on one of your visits to New Corel. It's soothing, after all of those years of drinking it scalding hot. Cid raises an eyebrow as he watches you pull your pitcher out of the refrigerator and pour it over ice in your tall tumblr, but he doesn't say anything, just sips his own hot tea.

"Sometimes I wonder," you start as you turn to face him. You pause as you catch his eye, half because you aren't sure you should finish the sentence and half because you wonder if he'll ask.

He takes another long sip. How does he even taste it? You've wondered over and over, but you don't think you want to ask. "Wondered what?" he finally says, after draining half of the teacup and putting it down.

"You were willing to die for your dream," you say. "You wanted to get to space, back then, and after that you were okay if the rocket didn't make it back."

He coughed. "I told you all that," he said. "Why's there any question about it?"

"I hadn't finished." You sit down at the table and take a sip of your own tea. It's a bit too sweet; you'll have to be more careful with the honey next time. "Did you ever know I felt the same way? That I would've been all right if I'd died, just knowing that I'd helped build something capable of flying into space?"

He stares at you for a moment. "Damn it," he swears quietly. It's nothing like the things he used to say to you before; the anger is gone. "You want me to apologize for what I did? Because I am sorry. I was an asshole and I admit it and I never wanna hurt you or anybody else like that again. But don't ask me to apologize for savin' your life, Shera. I ain't sorry for that, not one bit."

"I know," you say. "Neither am I. Besides, we both accomplished what we set out to do, in the end." You stare out of the window, looking at the empty field where the rocket used to be. They've long since cleaned up the launch site. You wonder when Reeve will decide to come here and work on some of those new projects. You're looking forward to it. "But I spent a lot of time asking myself. Is it better to die for a dream or to live with knowing it would never come true?"

Cid doesn't answer that time. He picks up his tea and keeps drinking, and when he puts it down you quietly put the kettle down next to him. He blinks - you're sure he expected you to fill it for him, the way you always did before - but in the end he picks it up and pours another cup.

"For what little it's worth," he says as he pours, "I am sorry for how I treated you. I was wrong."

You pour yourself another glass. "I know." And you do know - you spent so many years in Cid's orbit that you didn't know, at first, how you'd get used to being on your own. You accepted what he did out of guilt, to the point that the only way you could think to live without it was just to jump into living for yourself and see what would happen. It's good, hearing him say he was wrong, but it's not the amazing thing that you think that he thought it would be. You've long since flown away from all of this.

He doesn't stay much longer after that. He grabs the things from his room - you've mostly kept it like a storage closet, full of the old pieces you haven't gotten rid of yet and the things he left behind. It's easier that way. You hold the door open for him as he leaves, his hands full.

"Goodbye, Captain," you say as he walks away.

He stops, then looks over his shoulder at you. He doesn't look as cocky as you remember. Maybe that's reserved for Yuffie now, or maybe he had some of the wind knocked out of his sails by the sheer enormity of space. You don't know. You might never know, and you're all right with that. "'Bye, Doc," he says, before walking away.

You smile as you turn back into your (your!) house. Little Torque jumps up on the table and cries as you close the door, and you're still smiling as you give her the ear-scratching that she's meowing for.

It's not that much, and you know that things will never be square between you, not really. But it's something.