Last Exit for the Lost Chapter 28

Time's Running Out

By Damodred

Sephiroth considered the captive nearest him, and moved to release her. Serious blue eyes regarded him curiously from under the blonde mane, her face tightening only a little as he rapidly burned through the ropes. The releasing of the bonds brought circulation back to her limbs, and she opened her mouth to scream in pain. Then she felt a hand on her chest, and from that hand emanated a soothing cooling, rushing through her body and rapidly taking the pain away. After a few seconds, only the sweat beading on her forehead indicated that she had been in extreme pain moments before. Elena opened her eyes as he removed his hand, offering it to her. She grasped it unhesitatingly and was pulled to her feet, finding with amazement that she could easily walk. The pain and the places where her wrists were rubbed raw from the ropes were healed without a trace. She looked up at Sephiroth and very quietly said "Thank you." Without a word, but with a slight change in his expression which could have been a smile, he nodded and walked off towards Aerith who was now releasing and healing Yuffie. Tifa was already walking the kinks out of her system, something Elena imitated, falling in step beside her. They stopped at the edge of the cliff, looking down at the speck below that was Heidegger's broken body. Tifa broke the silence, saying blandly "Cid will need a new spear." Elena grunted, still looking down. She finally said, "Yeah. Scum don't wash off." Tifa pursed her lips and turned around. She said quietly, "Maybe Shera will let him use hers." Elena heard, turning around as well, and spat out a defiant, "Ha!" Tifa looked at her momentarily, then her lips curved in a slight smile and she corrected in a fair imitation of Heidegger's horse laugh. "Gya ha ha." Elena stared at the tall woman expressionlessly for a moment, but finally her mouth curved of its own accord. She fought it briefly, her face turning red with the effort, but finally she made a strangling noise and snorted noisily with laughter. Tifa made a small, satisfied noise and walked off to rejoin the group, Elena trailing close behind her, hiccupping helplessly with erratic, semi-hysterical giggles.

"Heidegger went insane and captured Elena, thinking she wanted to steal the credit for catching Avalanche. As we tried to talk some sense into him, the remaining members of Avalanche attacked and killed him, managing to free their captives as well. Some secret weapon of Heidegger's went off, possibly something from the Weapons labs and in the ensuing confusion Avalanche vanished, perhaps destroyed by the weapon. We haven't seen any sign of them...WHAT'S SO GODDAMNED FUNNY, ELENA?" Tseng twitched as Cid yelled right by him. Elena answered, still racked by the occasional hiccup, and her mouth wouldn't stay still but kept quirking, "You had to be there, sir." A change came over her during the ordeal, one she was only beginning to be aware of; perhaps there was something in the air. Cid harrumphed and continued, still glaring suspiciously at Elena. "Where was I? Oh yes. We couldn't see any sign of them and came back for further orders." His voice softened as he looked at Shera, "This should give you enough time to do..." he waved his hand and shrugged, "...whatever. But I think it's only fair to warn you that the next time we meet, we might have all of ShinRa's forces with us." With this gloomy pronouncement he walked to the edge of the cliff and said, looking towards Wutai, "Right now, I could really use a drink. Since I don't see Avalanche anywhere around here, and we can't leave until tomorrow since the stores are all closed, I figure I'm off duty for now. Elena, get Rude. He'd never forgive me if I made him miss out on a drink. Oh yeah, I'm buyin'." As Elena threw him a mock salute and left, trailed closely by Tseng, he turned to Shera and said, "Ma'am, I'd be honored if you joined me for a drink." She smiled prettily, dimples showing and nodded. Cid took her hand, turned to Tifa and said, "Of course, the rest of you 'strangers' are welcome too." He looked up briefly, and added "'specially as it looks like it's gonna rain." The tall woman glanced back uncertainly at Aerith, Sephiroth and Reno, shrugged and followed.

"Of course you can use my spear! I have an extra one stashed in the Pride somewhere, it's not a problem," Shera exclaimed, loud enough for Tifa to hear. She nudged the blonde woman sitting next to her in the ribs, "See, I told you she would," she hissed quietly. Elena made a mock disgusted noise, rubbing her side, "Ouch." Raising her voice to be heard in the suddenly rowdy bar, she leaned back from the bar and yelled, "It's only a ruse, right Shera?" Shera turned her head, dimpling again and winked at them, taking another drag on her cigarette and passing it to Cid. They were apparently engrossed in a highly technical conversation, each trying to outdo each other on the modifications they had done to their planes. Occasionally Tifa would catch a heated, "...titanium bolts on the left wing like hell! I don't think..." or an equally outraged, "You what?!? A novice pilot will tell you that's not the way..." In other words, they seemed to be having a great time. Tifa sighed a little and took another sip on her martini, lost in her thoughts for a moment. At her side, Elena was regarding her curiously and apparently steeling herself to ask something. After a minute, Tifa broke out of her reverie, looking around, and noticed Elena's intent look. "What?" she asked with a faint smile. Elena opened her mouth, thought a bit again, then finally tried, "Is it just me, or does this seem weird to you too?" Tifa sized her up briefly. They were both a bit tipsy, but Tifa forbore too much drinking, knowing that they'd be leaving soon. Elena probably had more, and thus was more open to talking candidly. She looked around, taking in the entire bar at a glance. She could see Cid and Shera, still arguing companionably at the bar. There was Yuffie, looking determined to outdrink Reno and well on her way as he seemed to be about to fall off his chair. Tseng was sitting on the other side of Elena, talking quietly to Rude; both seemed to be at peace. Aerith sat in one of the dimmer corners, a faint smile visible on her delicate, elven face. By her, seemingly drawing the darkness toward himself, sat Sephiroth, looking horribly out of place but not at all uncomfortable. He replaced his shredded clothes with the outfit the locals seemed to favor; simple loose black pants and black, buttoned jacket over a white shirt. It looked much like the fighting robes he used to spar with Zack in, except higher quality. A nonstandard black cloak was his own addition to the outfit. The cloak was currently off in the warm Inn, and his long silver hair was loose, falling gently down his back, contrasting starkly against his black shirt. Tifa shook her head, wondering what he was thinking, but the icy mask was impenetrable at the moment. Looking back to Elena, she admitted, "Maybe a little." She thought about it a bit more and added, quietly, "But it also seems right." Elena nodded emphatically, with a triumphant smile, "And that's what's weird. Don't get me wrong, we'll be back on the job as soon as we get back to Midgar and will follow any orders we're given, but for now..." she hesitated, running a hand through her hair, "Well, I never liked politics anyway," she finished, laughing. Tifa nodded, understanding. Without having an interest in the politics of the situation, Elena was only interested in doing her duty for ShinRa and all obstacles were to be eliminated, no matter the consequences. But now, being immersed in the lives of those that she was ordered to persecute, she was beginning to wonder. Tifa opened her mouth, but a loud thump coming from her right made her turn her head.

A woozy Yuffie stood over Reno's prone form, grinning maniacally. Swaying a little, she stammered out, "Thish ish good shtuff...I win!" With those words, her eyes rolled up in her head and she began to fall to the floor. It was quite a graceful swoon as those go, but never saw its completion as Tifa's strong arms caught her before she hit the floor. From her stool, Elena congratulated her, "Nice catch. Now what?" "Now I think we must resume our journey," said Aerith, standing by Tifa's side. Tifa nodded decisively, unsurprised by her sudden appearance. After her experience in the LifeStream and after being enfolded in Aerith's presence, she became attuned to the Ancient. Pinpointing her location inside the Inn was quite simple. Tifa pointed her chin at Reno, her arms full of Yuffie, "What about him?" Elena squatted down by him, poking him with a stiff finger. She sighed softly, shaking her head, "Poor Reno. Always getting outdrunk by girls..." She froze, then looked up into Tifa's suddenly puzzled expression, slowly turning into one of hurt and betrayal. "Er..." There was an awkward silence, which ended with Tifa spinning around on her heel and heading towards the door, still carrying Yuffie. Elena could only look helplessly after the raven-haired woman as she shouldered the door open and stepped out into the driving rain. Aerith was speaking to Shera quietly, and the pilot reluctantly nodded, getting up. Of Sephiroth there was no sign, an impression in the cushion of the chair where he'd been sitting the only clue that he was ever here. The noise continued unabated in the tavern, everyone seeking to affirm their own existence, but Elena suddenly felt empty. Shivering, she stood up, rubbing her shoulders as Rude picked up Reno, slung him over his shoulder and walked outside. Cid's face was hard, but not accusatory. As she peered uncertainly into his eyes, she thought she saw....regret? She started a bit as Tseng walked up behind her and put his jacket over her. Mutely, they sat at the bar.

Tifa sensed Sephiroth coming up behind her rapidly, but she didn't care. The stinging rain felt good on her face, her hair lashing her face repeatedly in the harsh wind a self-imposed penitence for allowing herself to be fooled. She could still see the image that Elena flashed while looking at Reno; him slumped over a bar in a Turk suit. The image was too strong and carried too much familiarity to be anything but the truth. Elena's guilty look only confirmed Tifa's immediate suspicion. It was a pity, really; Reno had been a good companion, willing to take risks for them even though he barely knew them. The fact that he was a Turk, spying on them, didn't detract from his accomplishments; in fact, it only added to them. Nevertheless, the thought of a spy in the midst of their closely knit group was enough to make Tifa's teeth grind in anger. She stopped her stalking as a dark form overtook her and turned, standing in her way, his long, silver hair and the cloak he'd replaced the jacket with whipping around him. His green, glowing eyes looked into hers intently, revealing nothing. After a few seconds his gaze dropped to the burden in her arms and her eyes followed. She gasped slightly as she realized she'd been carrying Yuffie all along. The girl was so light and she was so consumed by fury that she'd never noticed. A faint blush appeared on her neck, rising to her face as she looked back into his eyes, mutely. Something that might have been a smirk - but couldn't possibly be, thought Tifa - flickered on his face, disappearing as quickly as it had appeared, as he stepped closer. The rain kept falling with a soft hiss, indifferent to the comings and goings of humans, even as unorthodox ones as this.

They rematerialized within the Pride; Shera and Aerith were already here, prepping the plane for takeoff. Shera grumbled a little about the conditions as she removed the wheel chocks, but was not really worried. Tifa muttered a quiet "Thank you," to Sephiroth as he stepped away, reaching for a towel. For a change, everyone looked sodden and bedraggled, from the rain and the recent events. Tifa rubbed her head briskly with the offered towel, shaking herself out of her funk. She carefully dried as much of the ninja as she could, raising her head for a second to ask Aerith, "Is she coming with us?" Her question had another meaning, as Yuffie had accompanied Reno for a while and was also under suspicion. The Ancient answered, her voice dry, "Well, I don't think she's a Turk." In a more normal tone, she continued, "And I spoke to her before she mmmmm...became one with her inner self, and she expressed a strong desire to continue with us." She shrugged, laughing softly "I didn't sense any duplicity, only an overwhelming need for more Materia." Tifa's mouth curved involuntarily into a small grin. A shout came from the front, "I need a copilot!" "Coming!" shouted back Aerith without turning her head. She studied Tifa for a moment longer then, satisfied, clambered to the front of the small plane, brushing back the stray hair that the rain plastered to her face. Soon, the plane's engine rumbled into life and the machine lurched forward, jolted out of the ruts it had made in the soft, wet ground by Shera's deft handling of the throttle. Within minutes they were airborne, heading southwest.


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