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"TAINTED TRIALS"

Written by Zephie-chan · Based on "Growth" by Enkida

CHAPTER 1

Yuffie softly padded through Cosmo Canyon. The skies were a clear blue, and the mid-afternoon breeze that gently flowed through the rocky canyons kept everyone remarkably cool despite the sun's oppressive heat.

It was still hard for her to believe that not even a full week ago, the world was within seconds of being destroyed. That she, considered just an immature child by her father and the others of Wutai -- something she began to believe herself before she met the Cloud -- was able to help prevent it by fighting alongside her friends.

That Aeris still existed within the Lifestream, and was able to help from beyond the veil of death to save the planet and destroy Sephiroth and end his reign of tyranny. It was time for everyone to return home to the peaceful life that they fought so hard to obtain; Cid even offered the Highwind for transportation services. Provided, of course, that it didn't delay him from getting home.

Tifa and Cloud opted to go to Midgar and help with Reeve's relief effort. Barret decided to return to Corel with Marlene and help them to rebuild the town, and possibly with reopening the coal mines as well. Vincent's first idea was to return to the Shinra Mansion in Nibelheim, but after a few words and stern looks from everyone, he amended his decision to traveling. Reeve decided to deactivate Cait Sith and leave it with Red-XIII, who insisted on being called Nanaki since deciding to stay in Cosmo Canyon as their spiritual leader Bugenhagen's stead.

Yuffie, however, was still unsure of what she wanted to do, and was able to convince Cid to return for her after dropping the others off. In the mean time, she had to decide whether or not to return to Wutai and face her father, or continue her original quest before meeting the others in the forests outside Fort Condor.

Her contemplations were interrupted as she noticed the people on the Canyon's lowest level scatter in a confused commotion. The wind suddenly picked up to that of a gale not long after, signaling Cid's arrival in the Highwind. He had come back after all.

"Have you decided on a course of action?" Came a deep and rhythmic voice from behind her.

Yuffie watched as Nanaki approached without any outward emotion, yet it never ceased to amaze her how majestic he looked; his red-orange fur seemed to shimmer like something materially precious under the sun's radiance. His one good eye was trained on her as his ears followed the Highwind's landing. She looked away from him to watch the airship settle. Even as she leaned against against a wooden railing on the Canyon's highest level, her favorite place, she knew what her decision was. There was no thinking about it anymore.

"Yes." She told him flatly as a moment of silence washed over them when the Highwind disengaged its engines. Cid jumped from the Highwind with all the grace of a old cat and started making his way up to where they were, having no doubt spotted them on his descent.

"Let's go meet him half way, shall we?" She told Nanaki, unwilling to fully give in to his questioning leer.

"Hey, guys! Cid's back!" He yelled to Yuffie and Nanaki as they came in hearing distance. "Took me a while, though. You finally figure out what you're gonna do or am I gonna have to decide for your ass?" He asked, giving her what he knew was an I'm-being-obnoxious-on-purpose grin.

"Oh?" Yuffie approached Cid carefully, a wide grin slowly widening across her face. "Does little Ciddie miss Ms. Shera that much?"

Cid stared at her for a long moment without any expression showing. Then, without a work, his face broke into a lop-sided half-grin, half-smile as he gently patted her head in an almost loving gesture.

"Kids... these... days..."

to be continued ...