Shards Chapter 10

The Church

By Frank Verderosa

Tifa walked for a long time. Slowly the shadows grew long around her, until the sun sank below the horizon. In one part of her mind, she was aware it was getting dark. In one part of her mind, she knew she shouldn't be doing this, shouldn't be walking the streets, far from home, as the night came on. The slums of Midgar were a dangerous place, no place for a girl like her to be wandering around aimlessly, especially after nightfall.

No, she should be heading home, but where was home? She lived with Garren, but was that really home? She had been beginning to think so. But now...

Her hand came up, touching the cheek he had struck, and she winced. It still throbbed, and was painful to the touch. She felt like crying, but her eyes were strangely dry. No tears would come. She thought she should be angry, or scared, but she wasn't. She didn't seem to feel anything at all, just a deep aching emptiness inside her.

She kept telling herself it wasn't his fault. It had been the alcohol. Even after what he had done, she couldn't bring herself to hate him. In fact, she was worried about him, scared that he would do something foolish, that he would get himself hurt, or killed. She felt like she should get back as quickly as possible, to find out if he was okay, to keep him from doing anything stupid.

And yet, no matter how much she told herself she should be going back, she found her feet reluctant to obey. She was afraid for him, but she was afraid for herself as well. She didn't know how long his drunken stupor was going to last. She didn't know when he might come to his senses. What would she find if she went back? Would he recognize her now, or would he still think she was Maralee? Would he try to hurt her again?

She had no idea where she was, or where she was going. She wasn't paying attention. She had thought to go to the Rat's Nest. It was the logical place, the only other relatively safe place she knew. But she didn't. In her present state they couldn't help but see how upset she was. She didn't want to have to explain to the others what had happened, why she was there. She didn't want to talk about it at all. She didn't even want to think about it. Not now, anyway.

But she couldn't help but think about it. She was willing to forgive Garren, but it had still happened. She couldn't forget it. No matter how much she might say to herself that it wasn't his fault, she knew deep down that it was. No matter what Dulane might have done to drive him to it, it was still Garren's decision to drink as much as he did. No matter what the extenuating circumstances, he had to be accountable for his own actions.

No, a bond had been broken. No matter what happened now, she would never see Garren in the same light. Home was a place where you felt safe, where you could go when you had no place else to go. But after this...if she couldn't trust him, if she didn't know what he would do, if he could turn against her like this, would she ever be able to feel safe there again?

And the thought of that made her sick to her stomach. If not there, then where could she go? She didn't know anyone else here. She had nowhere else. Well, maybe that wasn't entirely true anymore. She still had the Rat's Nest. Jessie, Wedge and Biggs all lived there, on their own with no else to help them. If worst came to worst, if she went there with no place else to go, she didn't think they'd turn her away.

But she didn't WANT to do that. She didn't want to leave Garren. When she had first come here, after she had first met him, all she could think about was how much she wanted to get away, to be with someone else, anyone else. But she didn't think that now. In spite of what he had done tonight, he still had done a lot of good for her. He had taken her in, he had watched over her, she knew in his own crude way he really cared for her. She wished there were some way to go back to the way it had been, to forget all about this. With all her heart she wished that tonight had just never happened.

But of course that was impossible. She couldn't change what had happened. She had trusted him, and he had broken that trust. And what was she going to do now?

She stopped. That was the real question, now wasn't it? She didn't want to leave Garren. The thought of it scared her to death. But the thought of what he had done tonight, the idea that perhaps he could do it again, or worse, scared her as well. If only she could get him some help, if only she could make him see what he was doing to her, and himself. If only there were a way to make sure this wouldn't happen again.

But there was no way. She knew that. Garren wasn't the type to look for help. She couldn't make him stop drinking, and she certainly couldn't make him get counselling. She didn't have that much influence over him. She knew him well enough to realize that. At least, she didn't think so.

Perhaps...perhaps when he came to his senses again, when he realized what he had done, perhaps that might make him realize just what a fool he was being. Perhaps maybe her running out might be enough.

She sighed. She didn't know. There was just no way to tell. Not until she went back.

She looked up. It was dark now. She should be getting back. No matter what happened after this, no matter whether she stayed with him or not, she was still going to have to go back there. There was just no way around that. Hopefully by the time she returned he'll have come to his senses. And even if he hadn't, she was still afraid he would do something to hurt himself. She didn't want that to happen.

She peered at the buildings around her. She didn't recognize any of them. She had no idea where she was, or how far she had traveled. The only thing she remembered was that she had headed mostly eastward.

She lifted her hand to her head. Her cheek still ached, but she felt dizzy as well. For the first time she realized how exhausted she was. She had been tired when she reached Garren's' apartment. Using the materia had worn her out. The adrenaline rush of what had happened in Garren's apartment had revived her, but that was long gone, and now she felt totally spent, barely able to remain on her feet. She needed to rest, if only for a little while, before she headed back.

She looked down the street. On either side the road was lined with small shops and private homes. A sign above one of the shops proclaimed it the Sector Five Deli. So that was where she was. She had traveled much farther than she intended. The streets were quiet, not many people about, and now that she noticed the area seemed cleaner and more well kept than any she had seen beneath the plate to date, although even this didn't compare to what was up on top of the plate.

She walked slowly down the street. Most of the shops were open, but it didn't seem likely she would find a place to rest inside any of them. And, being as she didn't know anyone here, she certainly wouldn't be welcome in any of the homes. She didn't need much time. She didn't want to be long. She had to get back to the apartment, had to find out if Garren was alright. A simple bench along the sidewalk would do. Just someplace to sit down for a few minutes so she could regain her strength.

But there were no benches here. She could barely put one foot in front of the other now, and was seriously beginning to consider just dropping down on the sidewalk right where she was, when she noticed the church at the end of the block.

It was taller than any of the other buildings around, but since none of the buildings around here were very large, that wasn't saying much. What stood out about it most were the large stained glass windows, their colors lit faintly from within. They almost seemed to beckon to her, promising comfort.

She immediately walked toward it, struggling just to stay on her feet. She thought she had never been so tired in her entire life. But she couldn't rest for long. Just a few minutes, and then she had to be on her way back.

She pulled open the large door that fronted the church and peered timidly inside, not sure what she was going to say if confronted. The huge room was lit by a row of candles along either wall. The room was big enough that even the light from so many candles still only lit it dimly. It was enough to see by, but looking up, she could see the rafters above were bathed in darkness. She stepped in, finding herself standing behind the rows of pews. She looked around, but the place seemed deserted.

She was about to seat herself in the nearest pew when a patch of color caught he attention. For a moment she just stood there staring, at first not recognizing what she was seeing, and then not believing it. Up in front of the pews, where the alter would normal stand, was a large patch of flowers.

In spite of her exhaustion she found herself walking forward, up the rows of pews until she stood right beside the flower bed. It was circular, perhaps twenty feet in diameter. Dozens of plants grew there, in perfect health, most of them in full bloom. Plants growing here, beneath the plate! She had never seen anything like this.

She stooped down, her hand folding around a beautiful pink orchard. It certainly felt real enough. She leaned forward, cupping the flower in her hand and breathing deeply, inhaling it's fragrance. She smiled, it reminded her of the wildflowers in the forests around Nibelheim. She dropped to her knees, too tired to remain on her feet. What kind of wonderful place was this?

For a long time she remained motionless, breathing in the scent. With her eyes closed, she could almost believe she really was back in Nibelheim, on the sloping hill behind her house, with the cool grass beneath her and a canopy of stars above.

But eventually she roused herself. Exhaustion hung over her like a shroud, and she felt if she stayed there any longer she would keel over right there. She wearily got to her feet and walked over to the front pew, almost collapsing upon it. She needed to get back to Garren. She couldn't fall asleep now. She would just sit there for a little while, just long enough to regain her strength. She could only spare a minute or two. It was already dark, and she didn't want to be out on the streets any later than necessary. No matter what happened, she couldn't let herself fall asleep.

And that was the last thing she remembered thinking before she did just that.

Tifa’s eyes opened slowly. She had been having the most peaceful dream. She couldn’t remember much, just being in a sunlit field, not far from her hometown. She didn’t know why she was there, or what she had been doing. All she knew was that she felt safe.

But now she was looking up into the darkness.

She leapt up, suddenly realizing that she had fallen asleep. She looked around, taking a moment to get her bearings. She hadn’t meant for that to happen. How long had she been out? She had to get back to the apartment!

The church was still deserted, just the same as it had been when she had arrived. She looked over at the candles. They looked unchanged. She didn’t remember exactly how many were lit when she came in.

She walked over to the door. She wasn’t tired now. Whether she had slept for a few minutes or for hours, she couldn’t tell, but however long it had been, there was no doubt she had needed it. She felt refreshed, better than she had in a long time, actually. But she didn’t have time to dwell on that now. She had to get back to the apartment. She had to see if Garren was alright.

She stepped outside. The night air was chill, and she shivered. She was wearing only her thin blouse and skirt. She hadn't had time to grab a jacket, or anything else, when she left. Her breath came out in white puffs. For moment she hesitated. It had been so comfortable inside, so warm. It was so much nicer than the cold outside, she was almost tempted to stay. She was safe here. Somehow she knew that. She could rest here and return to the apartment in the morning.

Tempting as it was, she couldn’t do that. She wanted to get back as quickly as possible, even though she had no idea what she was going to face once she got there.

Taking a deep breath she plunged out into the darkness.

The streets were quiet. The stores were closed now, their lights extinguished, although Tifa could still see lights burning inside some of the private homes. She saw no one on the street, and she thought that was probably a good thing.

She walked swiftly down the road, keeping her eyes open for any movement, but she saw no one. She knew she had to go west to get back to sector seven, but she wasn’t exactly sure of the route. She just hoped she didn’t get lost.

Fortunately, she didn’t have much choice in which direction to go. To the west loomed the wall between sector five and six. The road she was walking converged with others at the only gateway into the sector. She could hardly go wrong here.

She stopped when she reached the entranceway to sector six. Beyond was inky blackness. She could see the dim forms of some buildings beyond, but nothing else. There was no light there at all. No one lived here. This was near the area where Jessie had set off the bomb. It was completely abandoned, at least, by humans. She remembered the stories of the monsters that the others had mentioned, and their run in with that creature.

She looked back the way she had come. It wasn’t paradise, but right now the slums of sector five looked pretty appealing. There was still time for her to go back. She could still find shelter in the church for the night. To continue on, into that darkness, would be nuts.

She stood there for some time, unsure of what to do. It seemed crazy to continue, but she had to get back. She had already been gone too long.

Steeling herself, she walked forward. At first she could barely see her hand in front of her face, but after a while her eyes began to adjust. It wasn’t completely dark. Whether it was moonlight filtering in under the plate, or the afterglow from the lights in sector five, whatever the case, there was enough light to see, if only dimly.

Tifa walked quickly down the road, stopping at each intersection she came to to look ahead. At first, she saw nothing, as if the entire sector was deserted. But gradually, as she moved deeper in, she began to see furtive movements on occasion. She never got a good look. Whatever it was would scramble away anytime she approached. She assumed this was a good thing. But even so it made her nervous.

She went on like this for some time, but it was exceedingly nerve wracking. She wanted to get it over with, she wanted to just break into a run and dash through the sector as quickly as she could. In fact, she might even be better off that way. She might get by anything she didn’t want to run into before it had a chance to react. On the other hand, she could end up running right into something she’d rather avoid.

In the end, her caution won out. She took her time, trying to be as silent as possible, trying not be noticed.

Eventually, as she was nearing the end of yet another block, she looked up and saw a flickering light cast upon the buildings ahead. It was the first real light she had seen since she entered the sector.

She reached the corner and peered around cautiously. A fire was burning brightly down the street. It seemed to be contained in some sort of barrel. And she could see the shadows of at least two figures standing around it.

So this area of the sector wasn’t completely abandoned. From where she was, she was pretty sure whoever was there couldn’t see her. She stood there for a while watching. It looked like two men. One was sitting near the barrel, the other standing beside him. They didn’t seem to be doing much of anything. Occasionally she saw one gesture absently. They appeared to be talking, but she couldn’t hear anything from this far away. She noticed both of them carried wooden or metal rods, probably to be used as weapons.

She didn’t know what to make of this, but she was too cautious to show herself. She had no idea how they would react if they saw her, but she had to assume the worst. Slowly she turned and retreated around the corner. It woudln’t be difficult to avoid them by going around the block.

Shrouded in darkness once again, she proceeded to do just that. But it wasn’t long before the sounds she had heard before returned. She slowed down, looking around carefully. She could see shapes in the darkness, moving along in the deeper shadows of the buildings around her.

She quickened her step. She couldn’t see them clearly, but she was pretty certain that she was looking at rats.

She remembered the stories about the bones that had been picked clean. Looking around this seemed to be a perfect spot for that to happen. If they attacked, she certainly couldn’t expect anyone to come to her aid. She couldn’t tell how many of them there were, but it seemed like a lot.

She looked behind her. She could see some there, too. Small dark bodies darting across the road. She couldn’t see them clearly. She couldn’t tell whether there were more behind her or in front of her.

She didn’t know whether to keep walking, to turn around, or to run like hell. She didn’t know how fast rats could travel. With those little legs, she didn’t see how they could outrun her. But then again, maybe running would just let them see how scared she was. You weren’t supposed to show them you were afraid, were you?

A rat appeared out of the darkness to her right. She could see others, a lot of them, not far behind it. It rose up on it’s hind legs and bared it’s teeth at her, grinning like some miniature maniac.

This was too much for her. The flight instinct became too great to suppress. She turned and ran down the road as fast as she could go.

She had no idea how long she ran. She just kept going until she couldn’t run anymore. When she finally did stop, panting from exhaustion, she turned fearfully to look behind her, but all she could see was darkness.

It took her a few minutes to catch her breath. She was just about to start on her way again when she heard a chittering sound coming from the darkness to her left.

Her head snapped up. Something darted out of the darkness nearby. She jerked her leg back just as teeth snapped where it had been a moment ago. She kicked out, but didn’t hit anything. She could hear them all around her now. With a gasp she turned and ran again.

She put on a burst of speed, but it didn’t last long. She had already worn herself out. After just seconds she found her breath coming in labored gasps. She didn’t know if these the same rats she had met before or a whole new group. It didn’t really matter. For all she knew the entire area could be infested with them. Again she thought what a stupid idea this had been, but there wasn’t a hell of a lot she could do about it now.

She looked around as she ran, desperately seeking for some kind of shelter, though she couldn’t imagine what could provide it. The only thing around her were the broken shells of the buildings, the streets littered with debris from them. She certainly couldn’t hide inside one of them. The rats were certain to be able to get in, and then she’d be trapped.

Rat’s couldn’t climb, but there was no where for her to climb to either. Any building she went up the rats could get inside and follow. If there had been telephone poles here once, they were long gone, though she doubted she could have climbed one anyway. She thought about screaming for help, but would anyone hear her? Those men back by that barrel were the only people she had seen here. She was probably too far away now for them to hear her, and even if they did, would they bother to come to her aid? She had to do something fast. She felt her strength ebbing, she could only run for a few more minutes. It would be better to stop now, when she still had a little strength left.

A huge pile of debris caught her attention. The wall of one of the buildings had collapsed, spilling a pile of bricks and concrete onto the street. The rubble stood against a corner of the building that was still standing. Wedged in at the top of the pile, with two sides sheltered by walls, she couldn’t be attacked from behind.

She scrambled up the pile, slipping once and banging her knee painfully. When she reached the top she turned, her back to the wall. Some of the rats had already mounted the bricks behind her. She could see them climbing toward her.

She stooped down, picking up a large chunk of concrete, so big she had to hold it with both hands. She tossed it toward the nearest rat. It struck the beast right in the head. She heard a squeal, and then it was silent.

But there were plenty more where that came from, and the demise of one of them did not seem to deter the others. They chittering filled the air around her, as more and more appeared out of the shadows. It was as if they knew they had her trapped.

Trapped, but not helpless. On this large pile of debris, she did not lack for weapons. Quickly she reached down to grab more rocks, bricks, slabs of concrete, anything she could get her hands on. She started flinging them down the pile, as quickly as she could. Not really aiming, she had spent some time playing ball when she lived in Nibelheim, but not much, she definitely wouldn't classify herself as a good thrower, but in this case she didn't need to be. The pile of rocks wasn't very wide, and there were dozens of rats coming toward her. She was going to hit some pretty much no matter where she tossed her projectiles.

For a few minutes this worked very well, and she managed to hold them off. But she was still exhausted, and though most of the debris that she picked up was not heavy, it still demanded some expenditure of energy. Her arms soon felt like lead. And in spite of her barrage, some of the rats were managing to get closer. A few made it close enough to lunge at her, but she was lucky enough to kick away the few that made it that far. At least, so far she had. But she knew she couldn't keep this up much longer.

During a momentary lull she looked around wildly. The pile of rocks offered a good defensive position, but it also left her with no place to go should she need to retreat. The rats swirled around the base of the pile like an ocean breaking on the shore. Behind her the brick wall prevented any attack from behind, but at the same time left her no place to go. There were no windows within reach of where she was, only a sheer brick wall that she could not climb. She had no place to go.

She looked down again. She had killed quite a few rats, she could see their bodies near the base of the pile, but even so she didn't seem to have made much of a dent in the one's that were still alive. There still seemed to be dozens of them.

They surged forward again. Tifa frantically began throwing more stones, but she couldn't keep up. She didn't have time to think anymore of how foolish she had been to try to make it through the sector, she didn't have time to think about how they might never find her remains. Her mind was fully occupied, staring into the dark, deciding which rat was the closest one, and then trying to crack it's skull open with a rock.

She was throwing the stones practically at her feet now. The rats were all around her. She kicked out again, sending another one tumbling down the pile, but it was quickly replaced by another one. With a cry she felt something tear into her ankle. She kicked out again, savagely. They were all around her!

A savage growl pierced the darkness. She saw something moving at the base of the pile, something much larger than a rat. It looked like the dog creature she had seen when she and the others had tested the bomb. She couldn't see it very clearly in the darkness, but she could see well enough to see it's jaws snap down on one of the rats.

There was a mass of chittering, and then the other rats broke and scurried away. But they were not fast enough. Another of the doglike creatures appeared, and it's jaws closed on yet another of the rats.

Mass confusion broke out. Tifa could see more of the dog creatures, chasing after the rats as they scurried in every direction. For a moment she just stood there, stunned by her sudden reprieve. The rats were no longer after her, they were concerned now only with their own preservation. The predator had turned into prey.

But she realized her reprieve might only be temporary. So far none of the dog creatures had paid any attention to her. In their current confused state, the rats were an easy target. With as many of them as their were, the rats were plentiful and easy to catch. She was a lot bigger than a rat, and as such would probably be a much more formidable foe. Why attack her when they had such easy pickings elsewhere?

But Tifa knew that wasn't going to last forever. The rats were running away, slipping into crevices in the building and the debris around them, places the larger dog creatures couldn't follow. It wouldn't be long before the rats were gone, and then the larger beasts might turn their attention to her.

She wasn't going to give them the chance, if she could help it. The rats were no longer an impediment. She looked down. There were no dog creatures at the base of the rubble to her left. Without hesitating, she scrambled down to the bottom.

A moment later she was running yet again. She knew she wouldn't be able to go very far, but it was her only chance. She could see that most of the dog creatures had at least one rat to feed upon. Perhaps they would be satiated enough to lose interest in pursuing her.

She only ran for a couple of blocks before she had to slow to a walk. She wanted to stop altogether, to sit down and catch her breath, but she forced herself to continue, even at a walk. She kept looking behind her, expecting any minute to see vague shadows moving in the darkness, but she saw nothing.

She wasn't sure how long she kept on like that, but eventually she came upon a broken down gate, and beyond it she saw the playground and the wall to sector seven looming up behind it.

She almost cried out in relief. Forcing herself to a slow trot, the best she could do, she made her way across the playground. A moment later she was through the gate and back in sector seven.

She slowed to a walk again as soon as she passed through. She wasn't home yet, but she felt better now that she knew the area, knew what was ahead of her. There might not be as many rats in sector seven as in sector six, but that still didn't mean there weren't a hell of a lot of them. And besides that, there were things here even worse than rats. The rats only wanted to kill her and eat her, there were people here, somewhere out there in the night, who might very well want to do worse things to her, if they found her.

Still, she felt better knowing where she was, and how close she was to home now. Garren had given her a pretty good idea of what areas she should avoid in sector seven. She was going to make sure she gave them a wide berth. That didn't guarantee she'd be safe, but it at least gave her a small advantage.

As it turned out, she made it the rest of the way without incident. Whether by luck, divine providence, or some other method, she was not accosted, though several times she was afraid she might be. Most of the people she passed ignored her, but a few followed with their eyes, and one group even followed her for real, for a while. But she managed to lose them eventually. When she finally stood at the steps to Garren's apartment she let out a huge sigh of relief.

She quickly entered and walked up the steps. Yet when she reached the door she hesitated once again. For a long time she just stood there, afraid to enter, and afraid not to. But standing around wasn’t going to do her any good. Whatever was in there, she was going to have to face it sooner or later. Best to just get it over with.

She reached down and wrapped her hand around the doorknob. Hesitating a moment more, she pulled it open.

The apartment was dark. The only light filtering in from the streets outside. Still, that was enough for her to see that the place seemed to be deserted.

She walked in, hesitantly switching on the light. She listened for any sign of Garren, but all she heard was the occasional rumble of a passing car. She looked up at the clock. A little after midnight.

She looked in the bathroom, then in Garren’s room, but he was not there. She didn’t know whether to be worried or relieved. At least she wouldn’t have to confront him now. On the other hand, she was going to have to eventually. Half of her wanted to wait as long as possible to see him again, the other half wanted to get it over with.

Where could he have gone? That worried her even more than seeing him again. When she left he had been in no condition to go anywhere. Had he tried to follow her? Was he out there even now, walking the streets, looking for her? Or had he made good on his promise to go after Dulane? That thought almost made her frantic. He wouldn’t have stood a chance, not in the condition he was in. Was he lying dead somewhere on the side of the street?

What could she do? She thought about going out looking for him, but that was insane. She had no idea where he had gone. She knew how dangerous it was, she had already pushed her luck just getting back here tonight.

No, the fact of the matter was there wasn’t anything she could do but wait, no matter how much she disliked the idea.

She went into her bedroom and pulled off her clothes, slipping on her nightshirt. She wasn’t tired. She knew there was no way she was going to sleep before Garren got back. But the nightshirt was a lot more comfortable than the clothes she had been in.

She walked into the bathroom. She went to open the cabinet above the sink but stopped when she saw herself in the mirror. Her hand slowly came up to the welt on her left cheek, lightly running it along the deep purple bruise. It didn’t hurt anymore, not as long as she didn't touch it. It hadn’t since she had fallen asleep at the church. She hadn’t realized what a mark it had made.

She looked down at the ground. He had no right to do that to her. She should be angry. She didn’t have much in the way of possessions. It would only take her a few minutes to gather her belongings and clear out of here. He wasn't here. He couldn't do anything to stop her.

Maybe she should do that, but she knew she couldn’t. She couldn’t just leave him like that. Right or wrong, she knew she was going to stay. Somehow they’d straighten this all out.

She brushed her teeth then returned to her bedroom. She grabbed a book and slipped under the covers. She was worried about Garren, about what would happen, but there was nothing she could do. There was no point in dwelling on it. It would be best to just push it from her mind.

But she found that was impossible. She made a valiant effort to read the book, but after trying for almost an hour she gave up in frustration. She just couldn't concentrate. She'd read a sentence and almost immediately forget it, as if it were passing right through her head. All she could think about was Garren out there somewhere in the dark, alone, possibly hurt, or worse.

Was this somehow all her fault? Could she have done something to prevent it? Could she have been forceful in rejecting Dulane? Could she have avoided him? Thinking about it rationally, it seemed silly to blame herself. But sometimes she wasn't a very rational person. Now matter how much she told herself there was nothing she could have done to prevent this, she still couldn't help but feel a bit guilty. She didn't know what she would do if anything happened to Garren.

She let the book drop onto the bed. She wasn't going to be able to read. She turned out the light and just lay there, staring up at the ceiling. It was torture not knowing what was going to happen. After she had finally thought things were getting a little better, after she finally thought she was starting to fit in. She had been afraid to look to the future, afraid of what she might see. But now she had no choice. Her future had caught up with her, and it seemed as bad as she had imagined.

Abruptly she sat up. She swung her legs out from under the covers and stood up. This was all so pointless! All she was doing was tying her stomach up in knots. There was a very good chance that Garren was fine, that he had just gone out to collect his thoughts, to sober up. There was no reason to think he wouldn't be fine when he returned. There was no reason to think this would ever happen again.

Or was that just wishful thinking?

She stood beside the bed, her foot tapping idly on the floor. She couldn't sleep, she couldn't read, and just standing here was driving her crazy. She wished she had a little switch that she could use to just turn her brain off.

She took a deep breath. She had to get herself to relax somehow, but that seemed impossible. No matter what his condition, she wished Garren would get home. Anything would be better than just waiting like this.

Her hand came up to her stomach. She felt nauseous. All this worry was tearing her apart.

She walked out of the bedroom and returned to the bathroom, opening the cabinet again to see if Garren had anything for an upset stomach. You never knew what you could find in Garren's apartment. He seemed to buy whatever struck his fancy, with little logic to it sometimes. At least, that's how it seemed to her. Her eyes ranged over the items inside. Shaving equipment, toothpaste and brushes, sore throat medicine, a box of bandaids, some face cream. Face cream? Probably Esella's, Tifa thought. Beside that was a bottle of pills. She reached in and turned it to see the label. They were sleeping pills. She hesitated a moment, then lifted them out of the cabinet, looking at them thoughtfully. There was nothing she could do until Garren got home. She couldn't sleep, and staying awake and waiting was driving her nuts. Perhaps a little help was all she needed.

She had never taken sleeping pills before. She had never felt the need. She knew it wasn't really something that you did just on a whim. She glanced around the room, feeling guilty for even thinking about it. She didn't even know how many she needed to take.

She rattled them in her hand. She screwed off the top and looked inside. She teased one out of the bottle and looked at it. They were plain white ovals, with no distinctive markings. It would be just like taking aspirin.

Her musings were interrupted by the rattling of the front door.

She jumped, the bottle dropping from her hands, the contents spilling out on the bathroom floor. She muttered a curse, then quickly stooped down and gathered up the wayward pills, quickly dropping them back inside the bottle. She replaced it in the cabinet and closed it even as she heard the front door swing open.

She stood there, listening, suddenly afraid once more. For a moment she heard nothing, then slow footsteps, hesitantly crossing the floor in the room outside. She wanted to call out Garren's name, but the words died in her throat. She was relieved that at least he was alive, but what kind of condition was he in?

The footsteps stopped, and she heard a muffled sound, as if he had sat down, then a soft grown.

She hesitated a moment more, looking at the bathroom door in front of her. She had left it partially open, but all she could see through it was the far wall and the window to the street outside. She didn't have a view of the front door or the couch from here.

But she couldn't stand here forever.

Steeling herself, she stepped through the door.

Garren was sitting on the couch, his head laying back, his eyes closed, his chest rising and falling slowly. She couldn't tell if he was still drunk.

"Garren," she said, the words sounding strangly harsh in the silence around them.

There was no response.

"Garren," she repeated, more forcefully.

His head came up, his eyes opening. For a moment he just looked around as if he didn't know where he was, then his gaze fell on her. His head sank back down.

"Tifa," he said softly.

Tifa slowly walked over to him. He hadn't had that wild look in his eye of earlier. At least he had recognized her! He might not be completely sober, but he seemed to have come to his senses. As she came closer she saw that his clothes were filthy, his shirt torn. Where had he been?

"Garren, are you alright?" she asked.

She came up beside him. He still stank of alcohol, but there was another smell just as strong. The smell of smoke permeated his clothes. Not the smoke of cigarettes, but the smoke of fire. His face and limbs were covered with soot. He looked exhausted.

"Garren, where were you?" she said, the fear growing inside her again. "What did you do?"

Garren opened his eyes again.

"I'm sorry," was all he said.

He leaned forward, as if attempting to get up, but then grimaced, clutching at his side, and slipped back again.

"Garren," Tifa said, her voice filled with concern. She reached forward, prying his arm away from his side, as he feebly tried to resist.

"It's nothing," he muttered.

Tifa gave a gasp as she saw the blood covering the side of Garren's shirt.

"You've been hurt!" she cried out.

Garren shook his head, but said nothing, apparently too spent to protest.

"What happened to you?" Tifa questioned. But again Garren did not reply. He didn't seem drunk anymore, or at least, not too drunk. Whether is was just exhaustion, or the wound, or a combination of both, Tifa didn't know, but she was afraid for him. How badly was he hurt?

She managed to pull his shirt out of his pants, but he was laying back, the shirt pinned between him and the couch. She couldn't pull it up any higher. When she tried to move him to get a better angle, he was like a dead weight.

"Garren, you have to help me here," she pleaded. "We've got to get you to stop bleeding."

He shook his head wearily, but still did not speak.

Tifa leaned forward, looking right in his face.

"Garren!" she shouted.

That at least got his attention. His eyes focused on her.

"I'm sorry," he said again.

"I don't care about that now!" she said angrily. "You have to get up. I need you to take off your shirt so I can tend to your wound. Do you understand me?"

She had grabbed his arms, tugging as she spoke, but she couldn't pick him up without his help.

He closed his eyes, and for a moment she thought she wasn't getting through to him. But then he opened them again and nodded.

He sat there for a moment, as if gathering his thoughts, then with a grimace pushed himself to his feet. Tifa felt her fears worsening as she looked at him. The entire back of his shirt was soaked with blood.

"Oh my god," she muttered softly.

As he stumbled toward the bedroom she managed to pull the shirt off him, dropping it carelessly on the floor. There was a deep cut in his side, just above his pants. It looked like a knife wound. It was still bleeding freely. Tifa could see that Garren's pants were stained with blood from it as well.

Tifa managed to lead him into the bedroom, practically frantic with fear. How long had he been like this? How much blood had he lost?

Garren collapsed onto the bed. Tifa ran into the bathroom and grabbed a towel. She returned to Garren and pressed it against the wound. She had to make it stop, somehow. She looked at his face. It seemed pale, but it was hard to tell with all the soot that covered it. He just lay there on his stomach looking at her, his face impassive.

She lifted the towel, but the bleeding hadn't diminished. She had no idea how much blood he had already lost. She had no idea what to do to treat this wound. She was afraid Garren was going to die.

"Garren," she said, trying hard to keep her voice from becoming hysterical. "I can't stop the bleeding. I...I don't know what to do for you. You need a doctor. You need to go to the hospital."

She turned and started to walk into the living room with the intention of calling an ambulance.

"No!" Garren exclaimed, lifting his head.

She turned to look back at him.

"No hospital," he said through clenched teeth.

"But Garren," she began, her voice strained to the breaking point. "You're hurt badly. I can't stop the bleeding. We've got to do something. I'm afraid you might die."

"No hospital," he said again, his head sinking back down.

For a moment Tifa just stood there, uncertain of what to do. But in spite of his protest, she had to get him help. She was about to turn around again, to make the call, when he spoke again.

"In my dresser," he said softly. "Bottom right draw."

She looked at him for a moment.


With an effort his arm came up and he pointed.

"Bottom right draw," he repeated.

She didn't move. She didn't need to waste any time. There was blood all over the place. Every second might count. Already it might be too late.

"Garren..." she began.

"Do it!" he said.

She hesitated yet again, then abruptly stepped over to the dresser. She opened the indicated draw. All she saw was some clothing.

"In the back," he muttered.

She pushed the clothing aside. There was a small wooden box in the back. She lifted it out. She set it down on the dresser and opened it up.

A green orb glowed inside it.

She lifted it out. Garren held out his hand. She turned and gave it to him. He closed his eyes again, his brow furrowing in concentration. For a long time he remained motionless. Then suddenly he coughed violently, the orb nearly slipping from his hands. He opened his eyes and shook his head.

"I don't have the strength," he muttered.

Tifa reached out and took the orb. It was still warm from Garren's attempt. He did not protest. She closed her own eyes, concentrating her mind on the wound in Garren's side. Almost at once she felt the warmth increase, much quicker than it had with the fire materia. She didn't know why, perhaps she was more attuned to a cure materia, or perhaps it was just the urgency she felt. For whatever reason, this spell released almost immediately.

She opened her eyes. The wound was still there, but she saw to her immense relief that the bleeding had stopped.

Garren looked at her and nodded.

"Thank you," he said, his voice sounding a bit stronger.

She didn't reply, just happy that she could help, that she was confident now that he was going to live. She turned to put the materia back in the box, but he reached out for her.

"Wait," he said.

She turned back and looked at him. He was staring at her face. His hand reached out, and he touched her cheek. She flinched back. The injury was still sensitive. His eyes dropped to the floor.

"I did that."

It wasn't even a question. She didn't reply.

His head lifted again, looking at the materia. He opened his hand.

She gave it to him once again.

"Come closer," he said.

She knelt down beside him.

"Garren, you don't have to," she said. "You're exhausted. You couldn't even use it on yourself. It doesn't hurt, you don't..."

He cut her off with a wave of his hand. He looked at her cheek once more, then closed his eyes again.

She could see him struggling to concentrate. The materia glowed once again. But for a long time that's all that happened. Sweat formed on his brow as he struggled to focus his concentration.

"Garren.." Tifa said again, but a swift jerk of his head cut her off. His brow furrowed, and he almost visibly forced himself to clear his mind, to focus. A moment later the materia glowed brighter still. Suddenly she felt a strange tingling sensation in her cheek, and then the glow of the materia faded.

She reached up her hand. When she touched her cheek there was no pain.

Garren opened his eyes.

"Thank you," she said.

He shook his head.

"It doesn't make up for what I did," he said wearily.

She turned away, not knowing what to say. She reached for the box.

"No," Garren said.

She looked back at him.

"You keep it," he stated.


"No buts," he insisted. "I'd like you to have it. Maybe it can make up, in some small way, for what I've done to you."

"It's okay, Garren," Tifa reassured him. "You didn't know what you were doing. It's Dulane's fault for pushing you like that. After all that happened to you."

Garren shook his head.

"No, it's my fault," he contradicted. "I'm sorry Tifa. The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt you. Zangan made a mistake entrusting you to me. I'm not capable. You don't deserve this Tifa. You don't deserve to be with a man like me after all that's happened to you. You don't deserve to be here in Midgar. I don't know how, but I'll get you out of here somehow. I'll find someplace where you can be happy. I promise."

"Garren, no!" Tifa replied. In spite of all that had happened, in spite of the conditions she had to live in here, in spite of all the times she had wished she were anywhere but here, she didn't want to leave. "It's all right. We can get through this. I don't want to go."

Garren just closed his eyes. He was exhausted, and the strain of using the materia had sapped what little strength he had left.

"I'll get you out of here," he muttered. "Somehow..."

He fell silent. Tifa remained by his side, motionless, for a long time, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest. The rest would do him good.

She felt suddenly tired herself. She got up and started for her room, turning one last time to look back at him before she turned out the light. There was blood on the sheets, and the floor. He was still filthy from whatever it was he had done. But even so he seemed to be resting comfortably.

She returned to her room, feeling just a little bit better as she slipped under the covers once more. At least he was alive, but there were still many unanswered questions. Where had he been? What had he done? And what was going to happen now? He wanted to get her out of here, but would he feel the same in the morning? Would he even remember this?

She thought perhaps sleep would still elude her, but that was not the case. Even though her mind was still in turmoil, her lids soon became heavy, and her mind began to slip off to oblivion. She didn't fight it, for it was what she wanted now. She gratefully welcomed the blissful forgetfulness, at least for a little while, of sleep.

Chapter 11

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic