By Frank Verderosa
The sun filtering through the trees cast dappled shadows around Tifa. She sat on the grass amid rows of sterile white tombstones in the small graveyard on the outskirts of Midgar. It was cold. That was nothing new. Yet she could feel the suns warmth. Under the plate every day was just like the rest. You couldn't see the change in seasons. It often had seemed to her that the winter would never end. But out here the trees were sprouting buds. New seed had shot up. Out here you could feel the spring coming.
To Tifa's left the huge plates of the city loomed, not too far away. It seemed strange to her. All their lives, the people in the slums labored below that plate, most of them never even thinking about the sun, the stars, the grass that lay outside the city. Only after they died were they laid to rest in the sunlight. There was something backwards about the whole thing. But then again, there seemed to be something backwards about everything in Midgar.
She sat with her arms wrapped around her knees, staring off into space, almost but not quite touching the plain white tombstone beside her. It had been two weeks since Dulane had met his end. Tifa's life had changed once again, and she supposed it was for the better. She no longer had to hide, she no longer had to worry about looking over her shoulder. She was working at the bar again. DB had disappeared. No one had seen her in over a week. Kantrel thought the most likely scenario was she had overdosed and her body would turn up eventually, but no one knew for sure. The bar was still busy, and as the only waitress now it was hard to keep up, but she was learning.
She remained at the Rat's Nest. At least for now. Perhaps sometime in the future she would get her own place, if she made enough gil. But for now she was content where she was. It made her feel a little better now that she had a job and was contributing her share. And the others seemed to want her to stay.
It was something. Her life wasn't great, but it could be a lot worse.
She came to the graveyard as often as she could. At least once a week to put flowers on the grave. It seemed a shame that so many of the graves were unadorned, seemed uncared for. She supposed it was not unusual. People didn't want to dwell on the past. People didn't want to think about death.
But she wasn't going to forget. Dulane was dead, she had gotten her revenge. She hadn't know what to expect when Dulane died. She hadn't even expected her plan to work, actually. She supposed she should have been happy. Dulane had been slime. If anyone deserved to die it had been him. He had preyed on the weak and the innocent probably all his life. She had done Midgar a public service by getting rid of him. She should be proud of herself.
But she wasn't. Instead it had left her with a hollow feeling inside. Dulane's death hadn't brought Garren back. Nothing could do that. All she had done was contribute to the death and perversity that was an everyday fact of life for the people of the slums. Sure, Dulane was gone, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. There were plenty of other people just like him in Midgar. There were plenty of others that would jump at the chance to fill his shoes. It wouldn't be long before someone else stepped up to take his place. That was the way it was in Midgar. And nothing could really change until someone broke that cycle. And it would take more than one girl from the slums to do that.
She turned her eyes to the omnipresent city in the distance. She could see some of the upper plate from here, like a crown of thorns standing on the slums below. And at the very top, capable of being seen even from here, the dark spike of the Shinra building towering over all.
No, nothing was going to change, not as long as the people who ran the city didn't give a damn. Shinra had built the plate. Shinra ran the government. Shinra knew what was going on, had the power to change things, but didn't.
One girl from the slums couldn't change things. But maybe someday, if she had a little help, maybe someday something could be done.
A shadow fell across her. She turned her head to see a man standing right beside her. For a moment she was startled. She hadn't heard anyone approach, but then her surprise turned to elation as she recognized the figure.
"Zangan!" she exclaimed.
She jumped to her feet and leaped into his arms.
"Zangan!" she said again, squeezing him tightly. He had no idea how glad she was to see him.
For a moment he looked down at her with a bemused expression on his face, then he smiled.
She disengaged and looked up at him.
"You're back," she stated the obvious. "For good?"
"My business elsewhere is finished."
"I'm so glad!" Tifa said. "I thought I might never see you again."
"I told you I'd come back," he said.
Tifa nodded. She was so happy to see him again. Yes she had made new friends now in Midgar, but it still wasn't the same. Zangan was like a father to her. But remembering where she was her elation quickly faded. She glanced over at the tombstone beside her.
"Zangan, I..." she began. "Garren..Garren is dead. I'm sorry."
He laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"I know," he said gravely. "I heard. I got back as quick as I could."
She shook her head.
"But you don't understand. It...it was my fault. I had a chance to help him and I didn't."
Suddenly she felt tears begin to form in her eyes.
"No," Zangan said. "You can't blame yourself. Garren was on this path for a long time. Ever since Maralee left him. He would have destroyed himself in the end, no matter what anyone did. I just didn't expect it to happen this quickly. If I'd have known I would never have left you with him. I'm the one who should be sorry."
"No," Tifa said. "I don't regret one moment that we spent together. I never thought I'd say it, but in spite of all that happened, I'm glad you brought me here Zangan. If you hadn't I'd have never met Garren..."
Tifa's tears fell freely now, but she didn't try to fight it. There was no shame in grieving for a friend.
"His life was truly tragic," Zangan said softly. "He was a good man, once upon a time."
For a long time they both stood there, paying silent tribune to the man whose grave the stood by. Eventually Zangan broke the silence.
"It must have been hard for you," he said. "I wish I could have been here to help."
"I know," Zangan replied. "Garren's death wasn't the only story I heard. There was also one about a man named Dulane."
Tifa just shrugged again and said nothing. Zangan looked at her with an appraising eye.
"I'm proud of you," he said. "When I went away I left behind a frightened little girl. Youv'e grown up."
"Not much," Tifa replied. "I'm still frightened. I'm frightened by the slums, I'm frightened by Midgar, I'm frightened by Shinra, I'm frightened by noises in the dark. Nothing has changed."
"Yes it has," Zangan contradicted. "Everyone is frightened. It's how you handle your fear that makes the difference. You may have been afraid of Dulane, but you did what you had to do."
Tifa turned away, vaguely embarrassed.
"You also seem to have become adept at deflecting praise," he observed wryly. "I have some time on my hands. How would you like to continue your training?"
She looked up at him again.
"I'd love to," she said eagerly.
Zangan nodded and turned to look at Midgar. Tifa came up beside him. The city gleamed in the sunlight, but the slums were still as dark as ever, and they still held great dangers. Yet even so there was comfort there, comfort Tifa never thought she would feel. In spite of all the dangers she had friends there. After all she had been through she could live with the fear, she could live with the danger. For, in spite of how it looked at first sight, hidden deep in the slums there were some good people. She took hold of Zangan's arm, and found herself saying something she never thought she would say again for the rest of her life.
"Let's go home."
AUTHORS NOTE: Well, that about wraps it up for this story. I must say, I enjoyed writing it immensely, and hoped you enjoyed reading it even half as much. Some of you had the impression at the start that I was going to take this story up to the begining of the game, where Tifa reunites with Cloud. Obviously that didn't happen. I still see plenty more material here, so the possibility of a sequel is there, depending of course, and how you people feel about it as well as myself.
One other thing some people mentioned. Shards does not seem to mesh very well with Tifa's bio and her discussions with Zangan in The Red Fist. Of course, at the time people mentioned it, they didn't know that Zangan would return at the end of Shards. I can clarify now that there is no conflict. What is mentioned in the bio and in the Internet Series takes place after Shards ends.
Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic