Shards Chapter 6

The Rat's Nest

By Frank Verderosa

Tifa couldn't avoid seeing Drake every once in a while on the streets of the neighborhood. They both lived in the same area, so some contact was unavoidable. She was tempted each time she saw him to go up to him and tell him what a jerk he was, but she never did. It would just be a waste of effort anyway, he wasn't going to listen.

No, it was best to put it behind her. Another hard lesson she had to learn. But one she was glad she had. She wouldn't be so naive next time, and the price hadn't been that steep. Things could have turned out a lot worse.

Even so, Drake had been just about the only person she had met that she had started to consider a friend. Now she was as lonely as she had been when she had first arrived.

But she tried not to let that bother her. She kept telling herself this was only temporary, that she wasn't going to be here long, that she didn't have to make friends. She wasn't one of these people. She wasn't going to be trapped here for the rest of her life. As soon as she was able, she was going to get the hell out of here as fast as she could. Making friends here would just be a waste of effort.

At least, that's what she told herself. But each time she thought about it, she realized that there was no way she was going to get out of here in the foreseeable future. Sure, she could promise herself she was going to leave as soon as she was able, but just when would that be? She kept telling herself that when Zangan got back he'd get her out of here, but who knows when he would return? And even if he did, he had never promised her that he'd take her away. He wasn't obligated to do anything for her. And without his help, she could be here for a very long time. That thought disturbed her greatly, but she could think of no alternatives, so for the most part, she just tried not to think about it at all.

She was only working at the bar four days a week. Since it was her first job, and she still wasn't back to full strength from her wounds (or so Garren said, even though she kept telling him that she felt fine) he didn't want her to overdo it. The truth was she would have preferred to work more. At least at the bar there were other people to talk to when she wanted to. Home alone, with no friends in the neighborhood, her life seemed incredibly boring.

She was sitting on the steps in front of the apartment. It was nearly dusk. She had been there for the better part of an hour, just sitting watching the people go by. She had been reading a book earlier, for most of the day in fact, but every once in a while she had to get out and take a break. It was as cold as ever out, but she had a warm coat now, and at least there was no wind today.

The sidewalks weren't as crowded as usual either. They hadn't been lately. Perhaps the cold was finally starting to keep people indoors.

But not everyone. She looked down the street and spotted Dulane walking down the sidewalk with two other men.

This wasn't a surprise, she had seen him nearly every day since she had been here, strolling the streets, almost dressed exquisitely, smiling and waving to everyone, as if he was a politician running for office, or a benevolent king amongst his subjects.

When he was almost in front of her he looked up and seemed to notice her for the first time. He stopped and spoke a few words to the two men with him. One of them nodded and they continued on past. Dulane himself walked over to her.

"How you doing?" he asked.

Although he had talked to her a few times since she had met him, he had never approached her like this before. For a moment she was too surprised to answer.

"Fine," she said slowly.

He nodded agreeably.

"How's things at the bar?" he said. "Must be hard work for you."

Tifa shrugged, still a bit puzzled and yes, nervous, that he was talking to her like this. Although he was polite and appeared like a perfect gentleman, she couldn't help but remember Garren's warning and what Drake had told her about him. To think that she could standing next to a killer sent a chill down her spine.

"It's not bad," she replied noncommitingly.

"I'm still kind of shocked that Zangan would leave a girl like you here in the slums, with Garren and all," Dulane continued. "You'd think he could have found someplace a little nicer."

Tifa did not show her surprise, but she was surprised nevertheless. She had no idea Dulane knew so much about her. The fact that he did just made her even more nervous.

"Well, it's not like he really had any choice," she replied.

"I suppose," Dulane replied. "Still, it must be difficult for you. I'm sure you miss your home town."

More than he could possibly imagine, she thought. But talking about it just made it worse. What was it he wanted from her anyway?

When she did not reply, he continued.

"It's really a shame what happened to you. Such a pretty girl too. So tell me the truth, if you had a chance to get out of here, would you take it?"

"Of course I.." she started to say, then looked at him. "It depends."

"Depends on what?" he asked, looking at her closely.

"On what I'd have to do," she answered. Was he saying that he had a way? And if he did, it certainly wouldn't be out of the goodness of his heart. She had a pretty good idea on what price he had in mind.

"Not really very much," he said. "Just work for me for awhile."

Tifa looked around for a moment. No one else was paying any attention to them. Dulane's two friends were down at the corner, not even looking in their direction. She felt very uncomfortable sitting here alone with Dulane. This was the first time he had ever shown any interest in having her work for him, but she supposed he had been thinking about it for some time. He probably thought about it for all the girls he met.

"I don't think so," she said.

"What if I told you it wouldn't involve any sex," he said.

Tifa just looked at him for a moment. She couldn't prevent herself from blushing.

"What do you mean?" she said.

"Just what I said," he replied. "Midgar is a big city. A lot happens here. There's always businessmen coming in from other cities, from all over the world. A lot of them want to have a nice night out with a pretty woman while they're here. You know, take some of the stress away after all those killer business deals during the day. Your job would be to escort them out. Dinner, maybe the theater. They pay for it all. And it wouldn't be down here in the slums. No, you'd be up on the top, on the upper plate. And on top of all that you get 200 gil from me. Just show them around, no sex involved."

Tifa just sat there.

"Are you serious?" she said finally.

"Absolutely," he replied. "I give you my word. You won't have to do anything you don't want to. I deal in all kinds of business. Some of it is on the level. To tell you the truth, not everyone can do what I'm asking you to. It takes a certain kind of girl, one with something special. I think you've got that. I noticed it from the moment I saw you. You're too good to be sitting around on the doorstep of some broken down apartment. You deserve better, Tifa. Give yourself a chance."

Again she did not reply. She didn't know what to say. He made the offer sound very tempting. She looked at his face, and it almost oozed sincerity. It was pretty obvious that he was very anxious for her to agree.

But she knew too much about Dulane to take the offer seriously. If it was on the level, it was almost tempting, but she didn't believe that for a minute. She didn't believe that he would keep his word. She had a feeling he had done this before, probably many times. He probably knew just what to say to get the girls to go along with him.

She looked down and shook her head.

"I couldn't," she said.

"Why not?" Dulane asked. He bent down on the step beside her. "Look at yourself. Is this how you want to spend the rest of your life? You've got no relatives, you've got no one to help you. You're going to have to pull yourself out of this on your own, Tifa. And that's going to take gil. You think you're going to be able to do that working part time at Garren's bar? It's not going to happen. If you don't do something, you're going to spend the rest of your life living in poverty. Is that what you want?"

"That's not true," she countered. "Garren will help me. And Zangan's going to come back."

Dulane shook his head.

"Garren can't even help himself," he replied. "He doesn't know the first thing about finances. Why do you think he owns a bar and still lives here? Why do you think he has such a hellhole for an apartment? The guy bleeds all his gil away on women and booze, and it's not going to change. As for Zangan, do you really think he's going to come back over some kid he had a passing acquaintance with while you both lived in Nibelheim? And even if he does, what do you think he's going to do, whisk you away to some beautiful town in the mountains? If he could do that, why did he dump you here in the first place?"

"He didn't dump me here!" Tifa said sharply.

Dulane was silent for a moment.

"Yeah, whatever," he said finally. "All I'm saying is, you deserve better than this, but you're going to have to learn to help yourself. Whether you like it or not, you're going to have to make some grown up decisions. You don't have to tell me yes or no right now. All I ask is that you think about it."

Tifa did not reply, nor did she meet his gaze. She just continued to look broodingly at the ground.

Dulane was about to say more, then something caught his eye. He looked up to see the flashing lights of a Shinra government vehicle turn the corner down the street.

He stood up.

"Just tell me you'll think about it," he said again.

Tifa hesitated a bit more, than finally nodded.

Without another word Dulane walked off. He quickly joined his friends at the end of the block, and they disappeared around the corner. Tifa noticed it was the opposite corner from which the Shinra vehicle was approaching. She looked at in curiously. Since she had been here, she had never before seen a Shinra presence in the slums. She wondered what brought them here now.

The vehicle stopped in front of an apartment building on the other side of the street and about twenty yards down it. As she watched three uniformed Shinra guards got out and rushed into the building.

Again she wondered what was going on. She sat there motionless for a few moments, torn between the desire to investigate more closely and the very rational thought that it was none of her business, and she'd be better off going back into the apartment and leaving well enough alone.

She stood up, still unsure in which direction she was going to go, when she noticed someone walking up to the Shinra vehicle.

Even thought Drake was one of the people she knew best, that didn't mean she didn't know anyone else. A lot of the kids who lived nearby were out on the street everyday. She couldn't help but begin to recognize some of them, even if she didn't get to know them personally. The person standing by the Shinra car was one of those people. A young man, not much older than her, by the name of Wedge.

Two things about this struck her as odd. Number one, the way he approached the car. His step had been hesitant, and he kept looking up at the building, as if expecting the guards to come out at any moment. The way he was acting made him appear nervous, as if he was trying to do something he knew he shouldn't. The second thing was that whenever she had seen him previously, he had always been in the company of two other people, a girl named Jessie and another guy whose name she couldn't remember at the moment. All three of them must live somewhere in the neighborhood, though she didn't know where, and all three seemed inseparable, but now he was alone.

Wedge reached the car. He stood there for a moment, looking at the door to the building the guards had entered, then he quickly bent down and did something to the tire.

Tifa starting walking in his direction, curious as to exactly what he was doing, but she hadn’t taken more than a few steps when an alarm inside the car suddenly started blaring.

Wedge jumped up, the look on his face making it obvious he had not been expecting that. He looked around quickly, then turned and ran.

A moment later the guards ran out of the building. They spotted Wedge almost immediately and took off in pursuit. Wedge was a little bit overweight, and not the fastest runner on the block. It was obvious they were going to catch him very quickly.

Tifa trotted over to the car, not sure herself what she had in mind. She looked down and saw that one of the tires had been slashed. She looked up again and saw that Wedge was almost at the end of the block, but the guards were right behind him now. It would only be moments before they caught him.

She had no idea why Wedge had slashed the car’s tires. She really didn’t even know him, but she had no love of Shinra herself. She considered them responsible for what had happened at Nibelheim. All this time she had been telling herself that someday she was going to get back at them somehow. She didn’t care what Wedge’s reasons were for what he had done, all she knew was he had struck a blow against Shinra. She wasn’t going to let him get caught if she could help it.

She looked around for a moment. There were some chunks of concrete torn off one the nearby buildings in the gutter beside the car. She quickly stooped down and picked up a softball sized piece. Then she took aim and flung it at the car window as hard as she could.

There was a very loud and satisfying crack, and the glass shattered. She turned to look down the street and saw that the noise had caught the guards attention, just as she had hoped. They stopped, looking back at her. She smiled and waved, then turned and ran like hell.

She looked back a few moments later to see if they had taken the bait. Two of them were indeed following her. She couldn’t see the third one, nor could she see Wedge anymore. She assumed the third one was still after him. She had hoped to get them all to come after her. She hoped he could get away, but that was no longer a primary concern. Now she had to worry about herself.

She hadn’t really thought this thing through before she had acted, and now she realized she didn’t have any plan in mind. She was sure she was faster than Wedge, and she had more of a head start. She had just assumed she could get away. But after a few blocks of running she wasn’t so sure. She kept glancing back, and everytime she did she could see the pursuit was still behind her. One of the men had disappeared, and she assumed he had given up, but the other was following doggedly, and after a while she could see that he was slowly catching up.

She turned a corner, looking around as she ran for someplace to duck into, someplace to hide. There were some shops along the street here, and she considered ducking in one, but she didn’t want to be trapped. There were plenty of people on the street, and she had to constantly dodge to get around them all, but it wasn’t quite crowded enough for her pursuer to lose sight of her. She was beginning to think perhaps she had been a bit hasty in her decision. The was a good possibility now that she was going to get caught. And what would Garren think about this?

She turned another corner, feeling herself breathing hard. She knew she couldn’t keep up this pace much longer. She looked back and saw the guard was much closer now. Just her luck to be chased by a marathon runner.

She headed for the next corner, out of desperation putting on a final burst of speed. She knew it was only minutes now before she would have to stop.

"This way!"

She looked up and saw someone on the other side of the street beckoning to her. It took her a moment to recognize him as the other guy she had always seen with Wedge and Jessie, the guy who’s name she couldn’t remember. Instantly she changed direction and dashed across the street. She heard a car horn blare, but made it across unscathed. The boy was standing in front of an alley. When he saw that she had made it across he turned and ran into it.

Tifa glanced back one more time. The guard had had a little trouble getting across the street, and the gap between them had opened up, but only a little bit. She knew it wouldn’t take him long to make up the distance. She barreled into the alley. She didn’t know what this kid was up to, but she knew she had no choice but to follow. Whatever Wedge had been up to, it was obvious his friend was involved. She had no choice at this point but to trust him.

The alley was narrow and filled with refuse. It stank, but she wasn’t really paying any attention to that. She looked up and saw the boy near the back of the alley, standing near a concrete wall that the alley dead ended at. For a moment she felt doubt welling up in her. Had he led her into some sort of trap?

But that was foolish. If this was a dead end, he was trapped in here with her. As she came closer, however, she saw there was a sewer entrance at his feet. He had pulled the cover off and was stooped beside it, looking at her expectantly. She raced over and looked down, hesitating a moment. It was dark inside, and the smell was even worse than the alley. But only a moment, then she scrambled down. Anything was better than getting caught.

She reached the bottom, stepping off the ladder and into ankle deep water. She looked up as the boy followed her down. The light suddenly vanished as he pulled the sewer cover back into place. It wasn’t completely dark, there were small holes in the cover that let in a little light. But it was eerily dim. The boy dropped down beside her.

"Follow me," he said urgently.

Tifa followed as he splashed down the tunnel. He was going so fast, she had to trot to keep up. Other tunnels branched off almost immediately. The boy turned down some of them, seemingly at random. They hadn’t been walking for more then a few minutes before Tifa lost all track of their direction. He made another turn, and then stopped abruptly.

"Where are we..." she began.

"Shush!" he warned, holding up his hand.

She shut her mouth. They stood there for a long time. It seemed to her in the dim light that he was listening for something. She strained her ears, but except for the slow dripping of water off in the distance somewhere, she heard nothing out of the ordinary.

"Alright, I think we lost them," the boy said. "C’mon."

He started down the tunnel once again.

"Where are we going?" Tifa asked.

"A safe place," he replied.

Tifa fell silent again. She had a lot of questions, but somehow she felt this was not the time or place to discuss them. The boy led them through a maze of passageways, even in the dim light appearing to know exactly where he was going. Finally they stopped in the middle of one corridor. A large corrugated sheet of metal leaned against one wall. He pulled it aside to reveal a narrow passageway in the wall.

"In here," he said.

Tifa could see that the passageway opened up into a room a few paces in. And she could see light coming from inside it. She went in. The room inside was rectangular, perhaps ten by twenty, with plain concrete walls. Wires hung down from a pipe that ran along the ceiling. They were connected to a lamp which was the source of light in the room. There was also a beat up couch, a television set, and a small desk with a computer on top. There was a small fridge in one corner of the room, and shelves stocked with a number of food items. The room was disorderly but not dirty. There was a large map on the wall behind the couch, very complicated with markings in various colors on it. Tifa thought it was a map of the sewers, but she couldn't make heads or tails out of it. The room also contained Jessie and Wedge.

Jessie stood up when she saw them enter.

"Biggs!" she said. "Thank god you’re alright. We were..."

Her voice froze when she saw Tifa.

"You brought her here?" she exclaimed. "Have you lost your mind!"

Biggs frowned.

Jessie turned to look at Tifa.

"Just what the hell do you think you were doing?" she snapped.

"Huh?" Tifa said, surprised by the anger in Jessie’s voice.

"We had everything planned out. We had a rat hole for Wedge to enter. What’s the big idea of butting in? Because of you Biggs had to take a chance on getting caught, we had to change our whole plan. And I don’t like unexpected changes. You endangered all of us. Do you realize what a stupid thing that was to do?"

Tifa just stood there, taken aback by Jessie’s accusations and not really sure how to respond. She hadn’t thought about how Wedge or any of his friends would feel about what she was doing, but if anything she had expected them to be grateful.

"Geez, give her a break, Jes," Biggs spoke up. "She was only trying to help."

Jessie didn’t seem much appeased by Bigg’s words.

"I don’t care," she replied. "We had everything under control. She just should have minded her own business. We don’t need any loose cannons running around. It’ll get us all in trouble."

"I..I’m sorry," Tifa said.

"I don’t want you to be sorry, I want you to stay out of our business," Jessie snapped.

"That’s enough, Jes," Biggs said, more forcefully. "Christ, she didn’t know what we were doing. She risked being captured by Shinra to help Wedge."

He looked at Tifa.

"What’d you do that for, anyway?"

Tifa hesitated a moment, her mind still trying to take in all they were saying.

"I’m not really sure," she said finally. "He was doing something to hurt Shinra. I didn't want him to get caught."

"Why? Biggs asked.

"They destroyed my hometown," she replied.

Biggs raised and eyebrow.

"Huh?" he said.

"Nibelheim, my hometown was burned to the ground by Sephiroth."

Wedge came closer so he could hear. Jessie just turned away.

"There was something wrong with the reactors," Tifa continued. "Sephiroth was sent to fix it. But instead he went nuts and destroyed the town. He killed almost everyone there, including my father and all my family..."

Tifa fell silent. She had forgotten how difficult it was to think about that.

"I’m sorry," Biggs said slowly.

Tifa shook her head.

"It doesn’t matter now," she said. "It’s over and done with. But I promised myself that someday I’d get back at them. When I saw Wedge do what he did to that car, I couldn’t help but do something to help him get away. I didn’t think about what I was doing. I just acted. I’m sorry."

The others were silent. Biggs and Wedge looked at Jessie, who had turned back toward them as Tifa told her story. Her face still looked stern.

"What was wrong with the reactor?" she asked.

"Huh?" Tifa said.

"You said they sent Sephiroth to fix the reactor. What was wrong with it?"

It took Tifa a moment to reply.

"No one knows for sure," she said. "It was said that it was somehow spawning monsters. I don’t know for sure, but there was something wrong."

"Are you sure?" Jessie pressed, stepping forward suddenly. "Are they sure it was the reactor that was causing it?"

Tifa shrugged.

"I...don’t know," she said hesitantly. "I think so. I just didn’t know that much about it."

Jessie looked at the other two. They were all silent for a long moment.

"I told you," Jessie said finally. "I told you no one could predict how that radiation would affect people. I told you they don’t know what they’re doing."

"Did either of us ever argue with you?" Wedge questioned.

"No, but I could tell you had your doubts," she said. "Do you believe me now?"

"If we didn’t believe you, we wouldn’t be here in the first place," Biggs stated.

"Where is here?" Tifa ventured to ask.

"This is the Rat’s Nest," Biggs said with a sweep of his hand. "It’s our secret headquarters."

"It’s bad enough you brought her here, now you have to tell her everything," Jessie said, an edge in her voice once again. "How do you know she isn’t some sort of spy?"

Biggs gave her a skeptical look.

"You think Shinra’s going to send spies after us?" he asked. "I’m sure they have better things to do."

"You can’t be sure," Jessie replied. "Do you really want to take the chance?"

"We’ve got to trust someone somewhere along the line," Wedge said tentatively. "Or else we’ll never expand."

"Expand what?" Tifa asked. "Could someone please tell me what’s going on?"

They fell silent again, Biggs and Wedge once more looking at Jessie, but she said nothing.

"C’mon Jessie," Wedge said finally. "She’s been hurt by Shinra too."

"If we can believe her story," Jessie countered.

"I don’t think she’s lying," Biggs said slowly.

Jessie stood there for a moment, then finally gave a curt nod of her head.

"We’re a secret group dedicated to fighting Shinra," Biggs said. "This is our headquarters."

"Fighting Shinra?" Tifa said.

"Yes," Wedge said. "We’ve all seen the way they operate. It’s obvious to everyone that all they care about is making profit, not matter what harm they do, no matter what happens to the citizens of Midgar. The government can’t stop them. Hell, the government is run by them. No one has the courage to stand up to them."

"So you think you’re going to do it?" Tifa said, looking at the three of them.

"Why not?" Biggs said defiantly. "Why not us? No one else is going to do it. We may not be very strong yet, but there are a lot of people out there dissatisfied with Shinra. All they need is a leader."

Tifa couldn’t help but feel skeptical about this. These three weren’t much older than she was. What did they expect to do against the most powerful company in the world?

"And you’re going to lead them?" she said.

"Maybe not yet," Biggs conceded. "But it has to start somewhere. We may be young, we may not be able to do much damage yet. But we’ll grow, we’ll learn. And someday, Shinra is going to find that we’re a force to be reckoned with."

Tifa pondered this for a few moments. It seemed hard to believe that these three were trying to fight Shinra. But she had to admit to feeling a bit of admiration for them. Here she was saying that someday she was going to get back at Shinra. While she was walking around thinking about it, these people were actually doing something.

"Why?" she questioned. "Why do you dislike Shinra so much?"

"My father died working in the Mako mines," Biggs said immediately. "From lung disease. Fifteen years he worked there, doing back breaking work. Getting up and dawn and sometimes not getting home till after dusk. Never heard a word of complaint from him. After he died my mom tried to collect death benefits, but they were denied. Shinra claimed that my father’s smoking had been what killed him. Hell, he barely smoked at all, and he had given it up five years before he died. Without the death benefits my mom had to get a second job, working at nights at a convienience store. One night it was robbed, and they shot and killed my mom. I’d say that’s reason enough, wouldn’t you?"

"I’m sorry," Tifa said softly. Ever since she had been brought here, she had only been thinking about what had happened to her, feeling sorry for herself about what Shinra had done. She hadn’t thought that others might have problems just as bad as hers, or worse.

Biggs shook his head but said nothing further.

"My father left my mom when I was just a kid," Wedge began. "He works for Shinra, and all he cares about is money. He’s a big shot there now, but I haven’t seen him in years. He’s got a new wife, a new life. He probably doesn’t even know I exist anymore. My mom was killed in a car accident last year. She was in a coma for a month before she died. He never even came to see her once."

Wedge fell silent, the memories obviously still painful. They both turned to look at Jessie once more. She looked annoyed for a moment, but then gave in.

"My father used to work for Shinra too," she said. "He was a scientist. He was doing some kind of research for them on the mako reactors. I don’t know exactly what happened, but he found out something, something that made him tell the company they couldn’t continue. That’s why I was so interested in what you had to say about Nibelheim. I think he was going to go public, but one night Shinra guards showed up at our house and took both my parents away. I never saw either one of them again."

They all fell silent. Biggs and Wedge looked troubled, while Jessie face held a determined look. Tifa had had no idea that there were others who had suffered as much as she had from Shinra’s transgressions.

"So you can see we’ve all got good reason to hate Shinra," Biggs said finally. "From what you said, you do to. How would you like to join us?"

"Biggs!" Jessie snapped.

"What?" Biggs shot back. "She knows everything about us now."

"Thanks to you!" Jessie grumbled.

"And like I said, she’s been hurt by Shinra too. You’ve always said we need to recruit new people."

"But not like this," Jessie countered. "I was talking about doing it carefully, finding out who they were first, not just asking the first person to come along."

"It’s not like we just picked her out of a crowd," Biggs countered. "She tried to help us."

"And probably made matters worse," Jessie said.

"Would you stop it," Biggs replied. "We’re all here, we’re safe, right? Maybe this was just how we were supposed to meet. What's gotten into you anyway? I've never seen you like this before. Why are you so suspicious of her?"

Jessie opened her mouth to reply, then shut it again. She stood there for a moment in silence.

"We've never made this important a decision before. I just trying to be cautious," she said finally.

Tifa had a feeling she had been going to say something else before she changed her mind.

"Just what is it that you do?" Tifa asked.

"We told you, we fight Shinra, anyway we can," Wedge said enthusiastically. "Whatever we can do we can, even if it’s just to be a nuisance right now. But we’ve got bigger plans. Jessie’s already broken into their computer system. We know how to get into the reactors, and the times the guards do their patrols. Jessie’s leaned how to make a bomb and..."

"Wedge, shut up!" Jessie exclaimed.

Wedge’s mouth snapped shut.

Jessie stood there for a moment, shaking her head.

"You two are unbelievable," she said. "We don’t know anything about this girl..."

"Yeah," Biggs cut in. "What’s your name, anyway?"


"We don’t know anything about her," Jessie repeated. "And here you are giving all our secrets away. What are you both insane? Do you have any idea how much trouble what you just told her could get us in if Shinra found out about it?"

Neither Biggs nor Wedge had any response to that.

"I can’t believe how irresponsible you’re both being," Jessie continued. "I thought we were supposed to be smart, I though you knew better than this. Doing something like this makes me question whether this whole thing is a good idea. I thought we were supposed to decide these sort of things as a team. But no, you just bring her right into our home as if you’ve known her your whole life."

"Your home?" Tifa questioned.

"Yeah," Biggs admitted. "This isn’t just our headquarters. We live here."

Tifa looked around, surprised.

"You mean you don’t have any real homes to go to?" she said in disbelief.

"We told you all our parents are dead, or worse," Biggs said. "This is where we live. It’s the only home we have."

Tifa didn’t reply. All this new information was just overwhelming her. She found it hard to believe they could survive like this. Everything they had been telling her just seemed so ridiculous. These people weren’t much older than she was, yet here they were, living down here on their own, with some strange ideas about being superheros or something and saving the world from Shinra. It seemed almost silly. Yet was it really? As she had reminded herself already, they were doing something. Perhaps they were the only one’s who were. And to survive here, without any adults to rely on, she had to admit that took a lot of initiative. Besides, who’s to say that other movements hadn’t started the same way? Just because they were young didn’t mean they were helpless.

And yet, she could see that Jessie was dead set against her joining them, and she didn’t understand why. Yes, she understood the other girls argument. They had hardly met her, they didn’t know anything about her. But still, it seemed to Tifa as if there was more to it, as if Jessie had other reasons for not wanting her around.

Either way, it was also obvious that Biggs and Wedge were not of like mind. They obviously did want her to join them. Their ideas might seem foolish, but even so they were taking the first steps toward doing something she had wanted to do from the day Sephiroth destroyed her hometown. Did she want to get left behind?

"I’d like to join you," she said.

Biggs and Wedge looked hopeful.

"See, she wants to join, Jessie," Biggs said. "I’m sure we can trust her. Whattya say?"

Jessie stood there for a long time. Tifa could see that she was not happy with the way things were going. Finally she turned away.

"Very well," she said icily. "She might as well, you’ve told her our life stories anyway. But I swear, if she causes any trouble..."

"I’m sure you have nothing to worry about," Biggs said, obviously relieved. He stepped over to Tifa and slapped her on the back, nearly knocking her off balance. "Congratulations, you’re in!"

Tifa looked at him, then brought her hand up to rub her back.

"Great," she muttered. "Just great."

Tifa woke that night when Garren entered the apartment, just as she always did. She laid in her bed listening for a moment, until she was sure he was alone. It did't take long for her to decide he was. Esella wasn't the quietest person in the world. She turned onto her side and closed her eyes again, but then sat up as there was a soft knock on the door.

Garren stuck his head in and looked at her.

"Awake I see," he said.

Tifa just nodded. Garren stepped into the room, coming over beside her bed. Tifa looked at him with a puzzled expression. He had never come into her room like this before, except that first night he had come with Esella.

"How was your day?" he asked.

"Okay," she replied.

"Anything exciting happen?"

Tifa wondered why he was asking this. He obviously had something in mind.

"Not really," she replied noncommittingly.

Garren looked at her for a moment, then sat down on the side of the bed.

"What did Dulane have to say to you?" he asked.

Tifa's eyes widened in surprise, then she suddenly frowned.

"What, were you spying on me?" she accused.

Garren sighed.

"No, it's not like that," he said. "I just asked some of the neighbors to keep an eye out for you."

That explanation did not suit her much.

"So you're having other people spy on me?" she said sullenly.

"They're not spying," he said. "It's not like I have them following you around everywhere. I just told them to make sure nothing happened to you. Dammit Tifa, I'm worried about you. You're new around her. You still don't know everything that goes on here. I was worried that you might fall in with some people you shouldn't. If you had grown up living here, it would be different. But even you've got to admit there's a lot out there that you have to look out for, there's a lot you have to learn."

Tifa was silent for a moment. She had to admit what he was saying was true, but she still wasn't comfortable with the idea that he had people watching her without her knowledge. She looked at him suddenly, wondering if he knew about her excursion onto the upper plate, but he had never mentioned anything about it.

"All right, I guess I understand," she said softly. "But I really wish you had said something to me."

"I guess I should have," he replied. "I'm sorry. I told you before I don't know much about teenage girls. But this is important. What did you talk to Dulane about?"

"He offered me a job," Tifa said.

Garren did not reply, but she could see his body stiffen at that.

"He told me it wouldn't involve any sex," she said quickly. "He just wanted me to act as some kind of escort. A date I guess, for some businessmen, or something. He made it sound very tempting."

"You told him no, of course," Garren said, his holding a menacing edge.

"Yes," Tifa replied. "But he seemed to think I'd change my mind. He told me to think about it."

Garren was silent for a long time. She could see he was staring off into the darkness. She wondered what was going through his head.

"Tifa," he said finally. "You can't trust anything Dulane tells you. I've seen plenty of girls that he made the same offer to, and the same thing happened to all of them. Eventually they end up doing whatever he says. No matter what he tells you, you can't believe it, you can't go along."

"I know, I know," Tifa said quickly, trying to sound as reassuring as possible. "I've heard things about him too. Things that would make me stay away from him no matter what he offered me. Believe me, Garren, if he told me he could take me away from here tomorrow and all I had to do was smile for him, I wouldn't do it. I don't want to have anything to do with him."

Garren looked down at her in silence for a long time, then he nodded.

"Good," he said. "I knew he had his eye on you, but I thought he would leave you alone as long as you stayed away from him. But it seems I was wrong. The truth is, I don't even want to have him near you. I was hoping it wouldn't come to this, but I think deep down inside I knew it would. Looks like he and I are going to have to have a little talk."

Without another word Garren got up and started for the door. And suddenly Tifa was afraid. She had already found out that Dulane was a dangerous guy. Probably to men as well as women. She didn't want Garren to do anything foolish, especially because of her.

"Garren, please don't," she said. "He didn't...he didn't try to pressure me. Not really. He wasn't nasty or anything like that. Please don't overreact. Maybe he'll just take no for an answer."

Garren stopped at the door and looked back at her in the darkness. She wished she could make out his features, but it was too dark.

"Yeah, maybe," he said slowly, and exited the room.

Chapter 7

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic