Shards Chapter 8

The Infiltration

By Frank Verderosa

"You’re awfully quiet today."

Tifa gave a small shrug of her shoulders and continued eating her breakfast.

Garren leaned back in his chair, looking at her thoughtfully.

"How’d you get that scratch on your arm?" he questioned.

Tifa glanced down at the red scrape on her right forearm.

"Me and some friends were goofing around," she replied.

"Looks like some serious goofing to me," Garren observed.

Again Tifa did not respond. For a long time they sat there in silence.

"It’s been a long time since you’ve been this quiet," Garren finally commented. "Not since you first got here. Something on your mind?"

Tifa turned toward him, tapping her fork softly on the plate. She knew she should keep her mouth shut, she knew it was none of her business, but she couldn’t help herself.

"Who was that woman last night?" she asked hesitantly.

Garren looked at her for a moment, obviously surprised by this question. But he recovered quickly.

"Where did you get those ears?" he questioned. "I thought we were quiet."

Tifa didn’t reply, and he got no trace of a smile.

Garren’s face grew serious. He got up and walked over to the kitchen counter, opening it up and pulling out a bottle of liquor. Tifa waited patiently

"I don’t remember her name," he admitted as the poured some scotch into a glass.

He turned and looked at her, lifting the drink and downing it quickly.

Tifa returned his gaze for a moment, then her eyes fell to the table in front of her. She speared some eggs and lifted them to her mouth.

Garren poured himself another drink. Tifa bit back a comment about what she thought of him drinking so early in the day. She looked up at him again.

"I know you told me you don’t love Esella," she finally said, with the distinct feeling she was going to regret this, but she had to say it anyway. "But...I just don’t understand. Don’t you feel anything at all for her?"

Garren didn't reply for a moment, but he didn't look all that pleased.

"I thought I explained this to you already," he said.

"You did," she replied. "Sort of. You live in the slums. You try to wring as much pleasure out of life as you can, while you can. But...does that you just do whatever you like, no matter what the consequences, not matter who else it might hurt..."

She went silent as she saw Garren's brow furrow. He put down his glass and walked over to stand beside her. For a moment he just stood there looking at her.

"Just who the hell do you think you are?" he finally said coldly. "You think you can just come in here and tell me how to run my life?"

"No Garren I..." she started to say. She had had a feeling he wasn't going to take what she said to well. She hadn't meant to get him mad. But he cut her off.

"You don't know anything at all. You're just a kid, for chrissake. You come from your little town with this dream of a perfect world, where everyone gets along and no one hurts anyone else. Well that's all bullshit kid, and the sooner you learn that the better off you'll be. Do you know what Esella does for a livin?"

Tifa bit her lip and looked down at the ground. She hadn't wanted to get him angry. Why did she have to open her big mouth? She hadn't really thought about what Esella did. Maybe because she didn't want to know.

"No...I..." she stammered.

"She's a hooker," he snapped. "She's on her back all day underneath other men. So don't give me any crap about hurting her feelings. The truth is that no one gives a damn about anyone else. And that was probably true in that little town of yours too, although you may not have realized it. Your parents might have protected you then, but they're not here to help you anymore. Here you either use people or get used yourself. There's no other choice."

Tifa looked up at him, summoning what little defiance she still had.

"I don't believe that," she said.

"And that's what's going to get you killed one of these days," he growled. "Wake up, Tifa. Stop living in your fantasy world before it's too late. No one here is looking out for you, no one here cares about you, not even me. Not because I want to anyway. I'm just repaying a favor to an old friend of mine."

He stopped as Tifa's face went pale. She looked at him as if he'd struck her. She turned away and stared down at the floor, feeling tears welling up in her eyes. She pushed her chair back and got up, walking toward the door, not looking back at him. She kept telling herself that he had just said that to get back at her, to hurt her for saying what she had said. He was right, she had no business telling him how to run his life, she had no business applying her morals to him. But even so, that didn't excuse what he had said. Even if it wasn't true, even if he had said it out of spite, she hadn't thought he would be so cruel.

She glanced back at him once as she opened the door. He was just looking at her. Perhaps there was a hint of regret on his face, perhaps not. She didn't care.

"How can you be so bitter?" she said softly, then walked out the door.

"Where’s Biggs?"

Wedge and Jessie were standing beside the table when Tifa entered the Rat’s Nest. They looked over at her.

"He’s working," Wedge replied. "He’s going to meet us later at the rondezvous point."

All of them worked. Everyone needed some gil to survive. Tifa knew Biggs worked at a construction site. Wedge made his living on an assembly line manufacturing medical supplies, and Jessie worked part time as a computer engineer. None of them made much gil, but it was enough to keep them alive and get them the supplies they needed to further their goals.

Tifa walked over to them. She could see a map splayed out on the table in front of them. She glanced down at it. A map of some part of the city, she assumed, though she wasn’t sure where.

"What rondezvous point?" she asked.

"Right here," Wedge said, pointing to the map.

Tifa looked down at it blankly.

"I have no idea where that is," she stated bluntly. "I’m not very good with maps."

"It’s a factory on the upper plate," Jessie replied. "Shinra uses it to manufacture parts for their mako reactors."

Tifa looked at them both.

"Okay," she agreed. "And we’re going there because...?"

"To reconnoiter," Wedge replied. "Now that we know Jessie’s bombs work, we need a target to use one on."

Tifa glanced at the map uncertainly. She still wasn’t too comfortable with this whole bomb idea.

"So we’re just going to look?" she asked. "No blowing anything up today?"

"No blowing anything up," Jessie agreed. "I haven’t even had a chance to build a new bomb. But we think it would be a good idea to have a target picked out by the time we make one."

Tifa had to agree that was reasonable.

"Looking is good," she said. "I can be very happy with looking."

"Even so, it’s not completely safe," Jessie warned her. "We’re going to be entering restricted areas. We have to be careful we don’t get caught."

Tifa didn’t hesitate. She felt she could handle anything they did as long as there were no explosives involved.

"I can live with that."

Jessie nodded.

"All right then, I guess we’re ready to go."

They left their headquarters, making for the nearest exit from the tunnels, the one Tifa always came down. They could have come out closer to their goal, but without Biggs reliable sense of direction, none of them wanted to chance getting lost. When they pulled themselves up on the street they headed north, farther into sector seven. Tifa was surprised they weren’t going south toward sector six. There must be more than one way to get up to the plate above.

Wedge took the lead, as they continued north, into an area of sector seven that Tifa was not familiar with. Eventfully they came to one of the huge pillars that supported the plate above them. It was surrounded by a fence topped with barbwire. There was a gate in the fence, but it was chained closed. Wedge led them around the enclosure until they came to a spot where a hole had been cut in the chain link fence. They had to crawl through the hole, and Wedge barely fit, but they managed to get through.

A spiral metal staircase led up the column, seeming to go up forever as they stood beneath it. The other two unhesitantly began the ascent, and Tifa followed. They plodded up the steps. Tifa kept looking up. She could see the bottom of the plate above them coming closer, but it seemed to be doing so agonizingly slowly. Up and up they went, and still the staircase continued. They had to stop three times to catch their breath. Each time Tifa looked out at the city below them, marveling at the view.

Eventually they did reach the top. The staircase led right into the metal flooring of the plate, and suddenly they were in an enclosed stairway. They forced themselves up the last few steps, and came out in a small room, empty except for a single door. Jessie pulled it open and they all blinked as bright sunlight flowed in.

They stepped out into a small courtyard. A concrete wall almost ten feet high surrounded them. A single gated archway the only entrance. Jessie and Wedge walked over to the wall, Tifa not far behind. Wedge cupped his hands and boosted Jessie up. She grabbed hold of the top of the wall and pulled herself over. Wedge looked at Tifa, nodding toward his hands. Tifa stepped onto them and half jumped, and half was tossed upward. She grabbed hold of the top of the wall too, and a moment later dropped down on the other side beside Jessie. A narrow street confronted them. Tifa saw Jessie looking around, but there was no one nearby. Jessie slipped off the backpack she wore and pulled out a long rope. Holding onto one end she tossed it over the wall. She braced herself, holding onto the rope, and motioning Tifa to help her. Tifa grabbed hold of the rope as well.

"All right," Jessie called out.

The rope went taut as Wedge used it to climb over himself. A short time later they were all together again.

"Let's go," Jessie said, curling the rope up and putting it back in her backpack.

They walked down the street and turned the corner, out into a much wider and more populated road. Tifa looked around, feeling just as uncomfortable as she had the first time she had visited the upper plate. But no one paid any attention to them, and eventually she found herself relaxing a bit. Off in the distance, much further away then her first trip, she could see the towering edifice that was the Shinra building. She supposed it could be seen from anywhere in the city.

She wasn't sure how long they walked, but it didn't take them long before they turned down another street and saw a fence closing off the street in front of them. There was an open gate with a manned guard post beside it. On the fence beside the guard post was a sign that read: Property of Shinra Inc. No Trespassing.

They stopped and stood there looking at it.

"So how are we supposed to get past that?" Tifa asked.

"That's what we're here to find out," Jessie replied. "Let's just look around."

"So which direction do we go in?" Wedge questioned.

Jessie's head turned from side to side.

"Why don't we split up?" she suggested. "We're not in any danger out here. Tifa, you and wedge go that way." She pointed. "I'll go the other. We'll meet on the other side of plant."

Wedge just looked at her. Tifa hesitated. She really didn't like the idea of separating. But Jessie was right. It would go a lot quicker that way, and they were in no danger until they entered the factory grounds proper.

"All right," she said. "You sure you're going to be okay alone?"

"I'll be fine," Jessie said. "See you on the other side."

"Wait," Wedge said. "Just what exactly are we looking for?"

"An unguarded way in," Jessie replied sharply. "What do you think?"

Wedge did not reply. Jessie walked away. Tifa turned and led Wedge off in the other direction.

They followed a wandering course. The buildings stood off the fence, at least at first, leaving a path perhaps ten feet wide beside the fence for them to follow. It was another chain link fence, similar to the one that had guarded the pillar below, but this one was unbroken, obviously kept in good repair. Barbwire topped this fence to. There was a road that ran along the inside of the fence, and beyond them a number of buildings that formed the factory complex. As they walked a jeep appeared on the road, curling around a corner toward them. As it approached they saw it held two Shinra guards. The jeep slowed down and the men took a good look at them as it drove past. Tifa felt the hair on the back of her head rise, while both she and Wedge just looked straight ahead as they walked, trying to appear nonchalant. But inside they didn't relax until the jeep disappeared once again down the road.

"I don't think we're going to find a way in," Wedge said, after the jeep was gone. Tifa couldn't help but suspect he found this a good thing.

"You may be right," she replied. "What if we don't? Do we have another target?"

"You bet," Wedge replied. "We've already picked out half a dozen Shinra installations that are potential targets."

Tifa nodded. So even if they couldn't get in here, it wouldn't really be any big deal. She found herself kind of hoping they couldn't get in either. She still wasn't sure she was really comfortable with this whole situation. She was beginning to think she would never be.

Still, her reluctance wasn't going to stop her from trying. This was the course of action she had decided on, and she wasn't going to change her mind now. Even if they didn't get in here, they would eventually find someplace that they could. It would be best to just get it over with.

They continued walking beside the fence. Every once in awhile they would come to a turn, but always the fence ran on in an unbroken line. Only once did anything change, when they came across another gate, this one smaller than the main entrance, but just as closely guarded. They walked by as quickly as they could, but the guards paid no attention to them.

Eventually they turned another corner and saw Jessie and Biggs coming toward them. Biggs waved when he spotted them, and a few minutes later they were reunited.

"When did you get here?" Wedge asked, looking at Biggs.

"About ten minutes ago," he replied. "I started looking around, and ran into Jessie."

"We didn't see any way in," Tifa declared.

"I found something," Jessie declared. "It might be a way in, or it might be nothing. We'll have to go back and take a closer look."

The others nodded, not sure what she meant. But they followed without protest. Jessie led them along the fence until they came to another road. This one dead ended at the fence. As they walked across the road they saw that the building on the other side of the street, instead of being separated from the fence by the alleyway, were instead build right up against it.

Jessie turned to look at them and pointed up at the building.

"If we could get in that building, we might be able to climb out one of the windows facing the factory and get inside that way."

They all stared at the building. It appeared to be an apartment building, two stories high, made of washed concrete.

"Or perhaps climb down from the roof," Biggs suggested.

"That could work too," Jessie replied.

They walked across the street until they stood before the door of the building.

"Biggs, you look around to see if there's any way to get on the roof from out here," Jessie said. "I'll take a look inside."

"Right," Biggs replied and immediately set off.

Jessie looked at the other two, then turned and walked up to the door, disappearing inside. Wedge looked at Tifa, obviously not too thrilled to be left standing there, but Tifa was perfectly happy to let the others investigate. She sat down on the steps beside the front door and patiently waited.

She didn't have to wait long. A few moments later Jessie came out again, walking over to them and shaking her head.

"No good," she said. "They have a guard standing right in the main lobby. And there were other employees right there too. I don't think we could get by them. But the place is gorgeous!"

"Well, that's good to know," Wedge said sarcastically.

Jessie just gave him a dark look.

"So should we go find Biggs?" Tifa questioned.

"Might as well," Jessie agreed.

They walked around the building. It was large, covering almost half a block. On the other side they found Biggs, heading back in their direction.

"Find anything?" Jessie asked.

"Yeah, I think so," Biggs replied, waving them forward. "C'mon."

He turned and walked back the way he had come. The others trotted after him until they caught up. By the time they did, they could see the fence once again ahead of them.

"There," Biggs said, pointing to the building.

"A lattice of white wooden boards had been built against the side of the building, stretching up nearly to the roof. Ivy curled it's way partially up the woodwork.

"We should be able to climb that up onto the roof," he said.

They walked over to the side of the building. Tifa eyed the latticework dubiously. She wasn't sure it was going to support their weight.

Without waiting to discuss the idea Biggs grabbed hold of the wood and started climbing. Tifa watched the whole time, waiting for the structure to give way and Biggs come tumbling down, but he made it up without incident. He pulled himself onto the roof and waved for them to follow.

"Wedge, you go next," Jessie said.

Wedge hesitated a moment. He grabbed hold of the lattice and gave it a careful pull. Reassured when it held he started up, much more cautiously than Biggs. Again Tifa waited for the worst to happen, and again, she was surprised to see that the woodwork held.

"You're next," Jessie said when Wedge made it safely to the top.

Tifa nodded and started up, confident that she wouldn't have any problems. If it would hold Wedge, it would hold any of them.

She scrambled up easily ,and Jessie quickly followed. When they were all at the top they walked over to the side facing the factory and looked down.

The fence was right below them. If they dropped a rope down, they would be inside it.

"Looks like we got a winner," Jessie said with satisfaction. She pulled off her pack and once again removed the rope, dropping one end down to the ground below. She looked around for something to attach it to, but the roof was bare.

"Someone is going to have to hold the rope while the rest of us climb down," she said. "And whoever does is going to have to stay behind."

They all just looked at one another for a moment. Tifa almost volunteered, but she didn't think she had the strength to hold the rope while the others used it.

"I'll do it," Wedge volunteered. "I'm the best choice. I'm the heaviest and would be the hardest to hold the rope for."

"You're not that heavy," Tifa found herself saying.

Wedge looked at her and smiled.

"Thanks," he replied. "But I know you're just being nice. It's all right. I'll stay. I'll be more useful this way."

"You sure?" Jessie asked.

Wedge nodded.

"You better get going," he said. "The longer we hang around, the more likely we'll be spotted."

He walked over and took the rope from Jessie.

"All right," Biggs said. "Haul the rope up after we get down. It's a dead giveaway if anyone sees it. Just stay low and wait for us to come back. If we're not back in two hours, we probably aren't coming back."

"I couldn't just leave you here!" Wedge exclaimed.

"You wouldn't have much choice," Jessie stated. "You can't get down there by yourself."

"I know but..." Wedge said, then fell silent, looking down at the factory below them. "Just come back, okay?"

"We will," Tifa said reassuringly.

Biggs grabbed hold of the rope and started down, the others keeping watch for any activity below. When he reached the bottom is was Tifa's turn, then Jessie. When she dropped to the ground beside them they looked up as the rope snaked back up and disappeared over the top. Wedge peeked over and gave them a thumbs up.

Biggs returned the gesture, then the started forward. Jessie followed, with Tifa bringing up the rear. Now that they were inside her nervousness had returned. They could be spotted at any moment, and what would happen then? She wasn't sure, but she knew that trespassing on a Shinra installation was a serious offense.

"Wouldn't it have been better to do this at night?" she suggested.

Jessie turned to glance back at her.

"A little late to think of that now, eh?" she said.

Tifa looked behind them.

"We could still turn back," she suggested.

"Getting cold feet?" Biggs asked.

"Had them the whole time," Tifa replied. "I'm not used to this kind of stuff."

"Neither are any of us," Biggs replied. "But you have to admit, it's kind of exciting."

Tifa fell silent. It was true, along with her nervousness she felt a rush of adrenaline. It was exciting, in a way. But that feeling could quickly change if they got caught.

They reached one of the buildings. There were no windows. In one direction they could hear the sound of heavy vehicles, moving slowly, and faintly the shouts of men. They walked in the other direction.

After a few minutes they came to a closed door. Biggs walked up to it. He put his ear to the door for a moment. He looked at the others and shook his head, then grabbed hold of the latch. With one more look at his companions, he pulled it open.

It led into a hallway lit by fluorescent lights. There was no one in view.

Tifa let out a silent sigh of relief. She found her heart beating rapidly in her chest. It was scary, but Biggs was right, it was exciting too.

They followed Biggs into the hall. The rumble of machinery made the floor vibrate below them. They appeared to be on the second floor. Ahead the hallway ended in a balcony which looked out upon what must have been one of the main rooms in the factory. Even what little they could see of it made it appear huge. They could make out part of what looked like a large crane.

They walked slowly down the hall, passing two closed doors. As they approached they saw that the hallway did not end at the balcony, but merely turned in either direction onto a metal catwalk. They reached the end and saw that the room below them was indeed huge, the floor filled with machinery and men busily working. For a moment they all just stood there staring, almost not believing they had made it this far.

Jessie looked around with a critical eye.

"If we could put a bomb underneath that support beam over there," she said, pointing to a huge beam near the center of the room, "we could probably bring the whole place down."

"And how are we supposed to get out there," Biggs said skeptically. "Look at all those people."

"The factory isn't open twenty four hours a day," Jessie replied sharply. "We can come back in the middle of the night, when it's empty."

Tifa stood slightly behind the other two. The place seemed huge to her. She couldn't see how one bomb would be enough to destroy the whole place.

"But even if you blew it up at night," she said slowly. "There's still going to be guards here."

"They shouldn't be difficult to avoid," Biggs said dismissively. "After all, we got in here in broad daylight."

"That wasn't what I meant," Tifa replied. "If you bring down the whole place, you're going to bring it down on their heads."

Neither of the two spoke for a moment.

"Are you telling me you feel sorry for Shinra guards?" Biggs questioned.

"Well...yeah," Tifa replied. "They're just trying to make a living. They've got nothing to do with what Shinra is doing to the planet. It's not their fault."

"They're helping Shinra," Biggs objected. "Whether they're responsible or not, they're still our enemy. What do you want us to do, ask them politely to leave?"

", I just thought," Tifa began, but she couldn't finish. She didn't know what to say. She hadn't really thought about this at all before. If they were going to hurt Shinra, then sooner or later they were going to have to hurt Shinra employees. They couldn't just knock out the people at the top, the people they had no access to. They had to start somewhere near the bottom, and wherever that was, someone was going to suffer. The thought of that left a very unpleasant taste in her mouth.

Jessie was still looking around while they talked. Suddenly she turned toward them.

"I think one of the guards saw us!" she hissed.

Instantly she had their attention.

"Where?" Biggs questioned sharply.

"Over on the other side," she said. "I saw him look right at me. C'mon, let's get out of here. I've seen enough."

No one needed to be persuaded. They followed Jessie as she quickly led them back down the hall. She pulled open the door and walked back outside. Tifa, who was last in line, turned and looked back before she exited the building, but the hall was empty.

"See anyone?" Biggs questioned as the door closed behind her.

"No," Tifa stated, shaking her head.

"Probably just a false alarm," Biggs said, looking at Jessie.

"I hope so," she replied dubiously.

"So is this going to be the target?" Tifa questioned.

"Probably," Jessie replied. "We got a good look around. We know approximately where to put a bomb to do the most amount of damage, and we got in relatively easily. I'd say it's a prime candidate."

They were walking away from the door as the talked, thinking that they were safe. Thus they all jumped in surprise when the door banged open and a man in a Shinra uniform stepped out it, seeing them immediately.

"Halt!" he shouted.

"Shit!" Biggs exclaimed.

They all broke into a run.

They raced along the side of the building, heading back the way they had come. Tifa looked back to see the man was pursuing, and catching up rapidly. She redoubled her effort, passing Jessie by. Biggs was in the lead. He disappeared ahead of them around a corner. The building was on their left, a loading dock on their right, a concrete wall dropping down to an area where trucks dropped off their goods. They had no where to run but forward.

Tifa glanced back again when she was almost at the corner. Jessie was not far behind her, but the man was now alarmingly close, and obviously catching up. He was just a few feet behind Jessie and would surely catch her in moments.

Tifa slammed on the brakes. There was no use in running. They weren't going to get away. Perhaps if she did the unexpected, she could catch the man off guard.

Jessie ran past her. The guard, seeing that Tifa had stopped, turned toward her. He barreled down on her. Just as he was about to reach her her foot shot up, catching the man squarely in the midriff. He let out a huge gasp of air. But Tifa had underestimated the man's size. He was nearly twice as large as her, and his momentum continued to carry him forward, in spite of her blow. He barreled into her like a locomotive, knocking them both over. She felt her back scrape against the concrete. Behind them was the loading dock, and before Tifa or the man could stop themselves they both fell over the wall.

Tifa flung her arms out, trying to break her fall, but there was nothing to latch onto. She came down hard, hitting her shoulder and head on a wooden crate, causing her to see sparks. She heard a sharp crack and then hit the ground. The blow knocked the wind out of her. For a moment she was completely disoriented. Then she found herself lying flat on her back looking up at the sky.

She pulled herself up, then brought her hand to up to her face as her head swam. She forced her eyes to focus. The guard was lying right beside her. For a moment she felt panic, thinking she was caught for sure, but then she saw he wasn't moving.

She looked up to see Jessie and Biggs looking down at her. Jessie's face was white.

"Oh my god," she said.

Biggs spun around and lowered himself down. He ran over to Tifa, helping her up.

"Are you all right?" he questioned.

Tifa put her hand to her head again. She had an ache in her temple where she had hit the crate, but she seemed to be recovering.

"Yeah, I'm okay," she said slowly. "I..."

She looked at the guard again. He hadn't moved since she had noticed him. She could see his face now. He seemed to be staring up at the sky blankly.

"Is he..." she said softly.

Biggs nodded.

"I think he's dead," he said slowly.

Tifa looked at the man again, a knot forming in her stomach. She had seen death before. When Sephiroth had destroyed Nibelheim, she had seen more death than she ever wanted to again. But this was different. At Nibelheim she had been a bystander, had had nothing to do with the carnage. But not this time. This time she had played a role in a man's death. She might even have caused it...

She turned away, feeling suddenly nauseated.

"C'mon, let's get out of here!" she heard Jessie say above them, her voice carrying a hint of hysteria.

Tifa couldn't agree more. She started to walk away, but turned when she saw Biggs was not following. Instead he had walked closer to the body, stood right beside it now.

"Biggs, what are you doing?" Jessie said sharply. "We have to get out of here now!"

Biggs did not reply, but bent down and picked something up beside the man. Then he turned and walked away, his face grim.

They broke into a run. None of them spoke the entire way back to the fence. Jessie kept looking back, as if expecting a hoard of guards to come rushing out after them at any moment. Biggs didn't look back at all, just ran forward, a grave look on his face. Tifa herself felt near tears. She hadn't meant to do it, she hadn't meant to kill anyone.

In spite of Jessie's fears, they reached the fence without incident. Wedge threw them down the rope, and the quickly climbed up. It was only after they had reached the top and pulled the rope back up that Jessie seemed to relax.

"So, how'd it go?" Wedge asked, seeing the odd expressions on their faces.

"You won't believe it," Biggs said. "We got caught by a guard. He chased us and Tifa killed him."

"I didn't kill him!" Tifa blurted out. "It was an accident."

He looked over at her and saw tears in her eyes.

To her surprise Jessie came over and put a hand on her shoulder.

"Just leave it alone, Biggs," she said sharply. She gave Tifa a sympathetic look. "It wasn't your fault, Tifa. You're right, it was an accident. I know it's kind of hard to take, but you're going to have to learn to live with this. We're fighting Shinra, remember? Did you think we'd be able to do that without anyone getting hurt? They will, but if we succeed, we'll be saving a lot more from Shinra than we lose. It was an accident this time, but in the future you may have to do something like that for real. There's no getting around that. Just remember what happened to your hometown. And if that's not enough, if you can't handle that, then maybe you shouldn't be doing this at all."

Tifa just stood there for a long time. She never wanted to hurt anyone. And yet, she realized that what Jessie was saying was true. There was no way they could fight Shinra without someone getting hurt. She would be naive to think otherwise. If she was going to be one of them, if she truly wanted to get revenge for what had happened at Nibelheim, she was going to have to harden her heart. She was going to have to face the prospect that other people, perhaps innocent people, were going to get hurt. Still, no matter how true Jessie's words were, no matter how much she knew that people would have to get hurt, that this was part of the job, it didn't make the pain she was feeling any less. Perhaps she really wasn't cut out to do this.

"I don't know," she said softly. "I really don't know."

The others were silent for a long time. Jessie patted her on the back, then turned to look at Biggs.

"What were you doing back there? What did you take from the guard?"

Biggs looked at her for a moment, then slowly lifted his hand. He was clutching something in it. He uncurled his fingers to reveal a round stone, shining with a green inner light.

Tifa had to work later that day. Fortunately Garren didn't ask her any questions when she got back to the apartment. She couldn't hide how upset she was, but he probably thought she was still mad about the argument they had had that morning, an arguement that seemed suddenly extremely trivial.

The bar was crowded that night. Tifa thought it was a good thing. It kept her mind off what had happened, and prevented the others, especially DB, who seemed to like to talk an awful lot, from seeing how upset she was.

With DB so busy Tifa had to help bring the clean glasses out to the bar. She took the tray of mugs and carried them over to the door. Deftly banging it open with her hip, she walked out behind the bar.

The room was crowded, but most of the people were at tables, only a few sitting at the bar proper. Kantrel stood not far away, mixing a drink. Past him she could see Garren and DB. She knelt down, not looking his way, and started stacking the mugs under the bar. Though the background noise was always loud, she could still hear Garren plainly.

"It was the guy at table eleven that wanted the gin and tonic, not table ten. Would you pay attention to what you're doing for once?"

"I'm sorry, okay?" DB shot back. "It's been a busy night. They both look alike. It was an honest mistake."

"You wouldn't have made a mistake if you were thinking about what you were doing," Garren replied.

Tifa looked up to see the two of them glaring at each other.

"I said I was sorry!" DB said sharply.

"Yeah, whatever," Garren said. "Just be more careful. Table six is waving for service."

DB turned and walked past Tifa, muttering something under her breath. Garren stared at her for a moment, then noticed Tifa looking at him. He shifted his head and glared at her for, but she quickly turned away. She finished putting the mugs away. When she stood up again, Garren had walked away.

"He seems to be in a particularly unpleasent mood today."

Tifa turned to see Kantrel standing beside her. For a moment she didn't reply. Out of everyone in the bar, Kantrel was by far the quietest. She didn't think they had said more than two words to one another in the entire time she had worked here.

She looked at him unhappily.

"I'm afraid it's my fault," she said wearily.

Kantrel's face remained expressionless.

"How so?"

Tifa took a deep breath.

"We got into an argument this morning. doesn't really matter what it was about. But he said such nasty things to me. I guess I deserved it, but still. I don't understand how he can be so cynical."

Kantrel finished mixing the drinks and put them down on a tray for DB to pick up.

"He's got a lot to be cynical for," he said.

Tifa looked at him, but his expression gave away nothing.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

Kantrel leaned against the counter.

"I’ve known him almost all my life. We grew up together in Mideel. Me, him and Maralee, we all used to be inseparable."

"Maralee?" Tifa said slowly, immediately interested. "The person the bar is named after?"

"That would be her," Kantrel replied.

Kantrel picked some dirty glasses off the counter and placed them on the tray Tifa had brought out. For a moment she thought with exasperation that he wasn’t going to tell her anything more, but then he continued.

"Yeah, we all lived in the same neighborhood in Mideel. We had a lot of fun in those days, when we were kids. Even after we got older, and Garren and Maralee got married, times were still good."

"They were married?" Tifa couldn’t help but interrupt.

"Oh yeah," Kantrel replied. "There was never any doubt, really. They’d been close all their lives. Everyone knew evetually they were going to get together. We thought we had it all then, that the world was just waiting to be conquered. But Mideel is a small town, not really the place for people with big ideas and ambitions. Sure, there’s business there, but if you really wanted to succeed, you had to go where the action was. And that meant Midgar."

"They moved there a year after they got married, opening up the bar. I heard from them once in a while. Seemed like they were doing well. At least, that’s what they told me. About six months later I moved to Midgar as well. Not really by choice, but that’s another story. Well, when I got there I found out things weren’t so rosy. They were’t doing well financially. The bar was struggling. They lived in a dumpy little apartment, right on the edge of poverty. That caused a lot of friction between them. But even so they were trying. They might have been able to work it out if it wasn’t for Dulane."

Tifa felt a chill run down her back at the mention of that name.

"Yeah, he was around then too. Not nearly as big as he is now. Just a two bit pimp, just looking to start out, and always looking for pretty women, and Maralee definitely fit that description."

Tifa had a feeling she wasn't going to like what was coming.

"Even then though, he had talent. He knew how to sweet talk women. He filled Maralee’s head with all kinds of ideas, how she could do so much better, how she could be finacially secure for the rest of her life. Eventually she bought into it. She left Garren and became a prostitute for Dulane."

"Oh god," Tifa said softly.

"It was almost fifteen years ago," Kantrel continued. "But he’s never been the same. You have no idea how much he loved that woman. The bar almost went under then. He didn’t care what happened, but we managed to keep it going, just barely. He didn’t even want to be here. It just reminded him of her. When war broke out between Wutai and Midgar he left to go fight. I think he was hoping to get himself killed. When Midgar wouldn’t accept him, he joined the Wutai army. Me and the others, we kept the bar going for him. It was the only thing we had, and he didn’t care either way. Anyway, during the war things actually started to pick up. A lot of GI’s needed someplace to blow off steam. By the time the war ended the place was doing okay. Garren came back changed again. I don’t think the hurt of what Maralee had done was any less painful, but he seemed to be able to hide it a lot better. He kept it all inside now, and he never opened again, to anyone."

Kantrel fell silent. Tifa didn’t know what to say. Now at least she understood how Garren must feel. No wonder he was so bitter.

DB came by and picked up the tray that Kantrel had put the mixed drinks on. A moment later she was gone into the crowd.

"I had no idea," Tifa said slowly. "Now I feel bad for arguing with him."

"I wouldn’t worry too much about it," Kantrel replied. "He’s a tough bastard. He’s shown that no matter what happens, he’ll find a way to survive."

Survive yes, but was that all there was to it? What good was survival when he lived like this? Now she knew the answer, now she knew why he was here. He was just like the rest of them, like everyone in the slums, it seemed. Another life gone wrong. What a waste.

Kantrel handed her the tray he had put the dirty glasses on.

"At any rate," he said. "I’ve probably told you more than Garren would want me to. Do me a favor and don’t tell him I told you all this. I usually wouldn’t mention it, but I thought you should know, seeing as how you’re staying with him, and he does seem to have grown attached to you."

"He has?" she questioned. She didn’t think that at all, and even if he had, she certainly wouldn’t have thought Kantrel would notice.

"I’ve known him all my life," he replied. "I can see it. No matter how hard he tries to hide it. No matter how hard he struggles against it himself, I can see you’ve had an effect on him. I think that’s part of the reason he keeps such a close eye on you. He doesn’t want anything to happen to you."

Tifa nodded. She was grateful that Kantrel was telling her all this. It just made her feel worse about what she had said, but she was grateful anyway. She felt better now that she could understand, could see that he had good reason to be the way he was, even if she didn’t agree.

"Thank you," she said.

Kantrel nodded.

"Like I said, I just thought you should know. Now you better get back in the kitchen with these glasses, before Dygus comes out here and threatens me with one of his frying pans for distracting his helper."

Chapter 9

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic