Stay With Me Chapter 14
By Lucrecia Marionette
Tifa rocked back and forth as she sat on her heels, her arms were locked out before her clasping a ragged wet cloth in the fingers. She rubbed it hard against the bloody carpet before her, limbs aching with exertion.
Over two hours had passed since Vincent had disappeared into Nibelheim to to feed.
She didnt care how long she had known about his vampirism, it still made her guilty stomach recoil. She hated the effect he had upon her, not just because it emphasised her own weakness, but because he was a friend.
Hed never hurt her or anyone else in AVALANCHE for that matter. Hed always used his abilities for their own wellbeing no matter what consequence it had on his mind and body. She admired his inner strength at the same time she found herself shying from it; it so easily overpowered her like some hypnotic force. It was what held her in such great thrall whenever he was in the same room as her or happened to brush past. It shot up her arm like an electric shock which stunned her body with mixed messages.
And yet, it amazed her how safe she felt within his presence; she couldnt forget how powerful and effective he had been in his protection of his friends three and a half years ago. Yet its very source and infinite potency terrified her. Anything she couldnt understand tended to, she realised numbly.
Sephiroth had just gone mad when hed razed Nibelheim to the ground. She was scared, not just because hed killed everything shed ever known, but it was he who cursed her with unfamiliarity. Her life had been so simple before, there was a lazy routine that everyone followed and her niche was one of contentment. With him, came strangeness. With his destruction of her world came the horror of confusion. Why did he do it? What had driven the General to murder so many hundreds of people?
Even now she knew he had gone insane. Even now the overwhelming bewilderment of having your entire past re-written struck a sympathetic chord in her. After all, was it even his fault?
But hed hurt her so much. Despite her limited understanding she still hated him, reviled him and everything hed done.
It was the foreignness of his motives and sharp exposure to the real world which she knew she had resented. Her fists were strong, but only to an extent. She tried to be strong to fight him and have her revenge for what hed done to her both physically and emotionally.
But around Vincent, she became suddenly useless.
Not just because of his abilities and outer strength, but the fact that it came from something she couldnt hit. She couldnt even start to imagine where he stored the remaining shreds of sanity which he had somehow retained after Hojos period of torture. They emanated from deep, deep inside him with an intense vigour that left her drained and weak.
It gleamed in his crimson eyes every time he froze her to the spot in fear and glinted off his claw whenever it twitched as the result of some unspoken cause. It was all around him and the unfamiliarity and lack of understanding struck her with terror in echo of eight years before when a silver-haired murderer had sliced her down inside a reactor.
Even as she was hurled back through the air, blood pouring so dangerously from the slit in her chest, she had stared at him. Her eyes had burned with the tears of her fathers death and a single question, "why?". His cool aqua gaze had met the fire of her accusation without reward as he turned from her plummet.
Jenova had polluted his mind it seemed. The very nature of his past being decimated and re-written before his eyes had driven him mad.
And now Cloud .
Tifa continued to scrub the carpet, her fingers gripped the rag so hard now that her knuckles almost seemed to glow white in the dim flickering of a candle place to one side of her work. She was both horrified and sorrowful to feel the trail of a sly tear trace down the side of her face. It was followed quickly by others and she found herself unwilling to stop them. She deserved a break; her emotions had been pent up since she had laid eyes upon her vampiric companion barely two days ago.
Cloud had gone, hed left her behind. They had always been so close both in body and soul. He had loved her until the end so why had he gone? She had struggled for some answer over the last three years without avail. There was that confusion again.
It only brought pain nothing more.
And with understanding came a numb satisfaction; the hollow ringing of the agony before remained and burnt on with vehemence. There was no release it seemed.
But she still had to understand. It was a goal ever-distancing itself from her grasp and whenever her fingers brushed against it, it slipped out of reach again. She would be allowed no answer just yet. But what did she have to do? How was she to earn this salvation?
Tifa gave a snort as she wiped off her tears somewhat angrily with the back her hand.
So many people wanted answers; why was she special? Shed have to seek them out like everyone else and do the work. Sitting in a corner and sulking day after night would find no reward. It had been a hard lesson to learn, but now she had it she would follow it with every shard of passion left digging into her heart. Shed go on her own journey first and find her own way forward.
She just needed a friend to point her in the right direction. Was it her fault if she was terrified of him ?
More questions more answers
There was a soft rustling ahead of her, and she looked up quickly. She found herself staring fixedly towards the door of the chamber and the figure standing there. His bloody eyes stared at her, slightly widened in display of an emotion she found herself unable to discern.
"What are you doing?"
Tifa stared at him blankly, too numb from thought to shiver in fear. "Im cleaning," she replied obviously. "Sorry if it doesnt look like Ive done too much, but its soaked into the carpets. I tried to hand-wash the sheets, but bloodstains are pretty stubborn."
Vincent blinked slowly, his ruby eyes unwaveringly intense. "I know youre cleaning," he replied somewhat testily. "But it also looks as though youre trying to force your way into my business. I dont appreciate you being in here."
Tifa wasnt sure what happened, but from the second his pure ingratitude sank into her weary mind, she felt an unexpected rush of resentment flutter through her veins. It was the first emotion to course through her body other than fear around the dark figure and with it came a hesitant anger. Hed interrupted her meditations so rudely without so much as an apology. Shed worn her muscles away with persistent scrubbing to rid the floor of his own blood without even a smile nor nod of appreciation.
She sat back on her heels and brushed back a strand of hair with her wrist; her bloody hands were far too soiled. "Well Im sorry if it seems that way," she replied tersely, meeting his crimson stare with an unhindered frown. "But I thought Id just help you a little. Im not trying to force my way anywhere, Vincent." She sniffed somewhat haughtily as she stood. "Ill stop it if it annoys you that much."
Her muscles had barely bunched in preparation for a step towards the door when he spoke.
"No," he said hastily. She blinked at him, momentarily taken aback by the manner he turned away from her angry stare and tilted his face downwards a fraction. "I did not mean to speak so harshly. Please, accept my apology."
His words were quiet and subdued; almost forced. She detected none of his apparent sorrow within them, yet stood fast of her own resolve. Scrutinising him carefully, her resentment faded gradually as she noted his almost mournful stature. He held onto the doorframe, his hands pressed into it on either side of himself. He stared down at his claw absently as though immersed in vehement meditation and didnt even seem to breathe in the dim candlelight.
Swallowing and clearing her throat to create a little animation in the coldly static chamber, Vincent lethargically turned to her. Now that her fiery temper had been so easily smothered by the man before her, she no longer felt quite as determined to appear as anything but the shadow of a once strong woman.
"I, uh," she faltered under his bloody stare, gathering together her tatters of courage under that demonic gaze. His eyes seemed so deeply preoccupied that even from the distance between them she was astonished at their depth and intensity. Although they were directed in her direction, they seemed to look straight through her and into the night beyond. "Its alright. Ill go now."
Vincent said nothing as she began to walk towards the doorway, veering to one side of him to squeeze past and into the landing beyond. She lifted the candelabra and held it before her, forcing a feeble smile which did little more than make her already awkward face seem that little more obviously uncomfortable.
Her short walk came to a halt as she stopped barely a metre from him; he did not shift from his vigil at the doorway. For a brief, panicking second she wondered whether he was purposefully trapping her there, his frame filling the rectangle of shadow which gave birth to the passage outside. Yet his face showed nothing of such demonic intentions. In fact, he did not even look at her. His eyes had drifted back down to his claw and locked there immovably in an abstract pondering. He didnt even seem to notice her stood there, patiently waiting for a glimmer of recognition.
The candlelight flickered across his face; its parchment white skin was the perfect canvas for the flames to paint images of bronze and gold through the spidery shadows of his ebony hair. They danced eerily with an otherworldly elegance across his fine features, only emphasising his sunken cheeks and shadowed eye sockets.
And yet, Tifa thought as she persisted to scan his visage so carefully, he seemed to look even more weary than usual. His face more contemplative and distant than it had been before.
"It doesnt make any difference, you know," he spoke suddenly. Tifa was so startled that she dropped the candle. Her stance shifted back in alarm as her muscles leapt; the candelabra in her grip was jarred so greatly that the stick of wax slipped easily from its precarious restraint and tumbled wick over base towards the dry carpet.
Her wide, burgundy stare followed it with nothing short of horror. Her mind blazed with images of flames as she braced herself for the all-consuming fire to hit the dry fuel under her feet. Yet she was left graciously unrewarded.
There was a flash of gold, as all of a sudden Vincent snapped back and plucked it from its graceful plummet. The dagger tips of his gauntlet closed around it, slicing into the malleable wax and pulling it so cruelly from its target.
She was still staring down, following an invisible path as she became aware of movement near to her. Her lips were still parted in an astonished o as the sight of the candle held close to her became clear.
Vincent said nothing, he didnt need to. His blank expression met her own as he stood up slowly, the lit candle held between his hands. He almost appeared to be some dark preacher before a shadowy congregation; the yellowy light of the flickering flame danced across his features in a hypnotising manner. His eyes looked down and focused on the candle and Tifa found her own gaze doing likewise, they both stared fixedly at the light like a pair of stagnant moths.
Tifa wasnt sure exactly how long they stood so frozen for, but it was Vincent giving a sudden shudder which jerked her back to reality. He seemed to swallow hard before handing it over to her.
"Im sorry," she breathed. "I didnt mean to drop it. Y, You startled me."
She looked up as she took the candle, their previous roles reversed. His bloody stare met her soft burgundy but for a moment she wasnt scared. The light almost flooded her with some inner strength and she looked at him unwaveringly.
"You " his verbal thoughts trailed off.
He frowned a little. "You shouldnt be doing this."
A kindly expression touched her face illuminated by the soft light as she looked upon his suddenly haggard visage. From under his chin, the candle seemed to suddenly expose every shadow and hollow on his worn face with a shocking clarity, even more so that before. He once more became the weak, battered figure who had perched on the edge of her bed, the scars of both his physical and emotional wars weighing heavily on his shoulders. Her face broke a little with a deep pity as she suddenly found herself longing to soothe the trauma that disturbed this most morose and stoic man.
"Of course I should. Youre a friend and this is what friends do for each other."
"You dont understand," he responded in an unusually soft and remorseful tone. "Theres no point."
Her brows furrowed in puzzlement as she titled her head to one side and stared into his eyes. "I dont understand."
He blinked a few times, his face hardening as he seemed to compose himself a little. "Perhaps that is for the best."
He started to turn away, but before she even knew what she was doing Tifa suddenly shot her hand forward and grabbed onto his shoulder. Her fingers entwined amongst the soft folds of the velvety cloth and she gave him an obvious tug backwards, her face contorted in an ambivalent mixture of frustration and surprise at herself. It remained that way as Vincent spun back, a frown marring his marble-like mask.
"Dont walk away, Vincent," she said in an uncharacteristically low tone. "Speak to me. Tell me whats happening."
His frown deepened as he shrugged off her grip and smoothed out the shoulder of his cape somewhat arrogantly. "I have no desire to share my concerns," he answered, his sickeningly familiar emotionless and easily irritated timbre creeping into the words. "I was content here. Perhaps you should begin by explaining why you have come so far to intrude upon my affairs."
Tifa opened her mouth to snap back but found words which hadnt even formed in her mind sticking in her throat. Her entire composure slipped away as his own reformed in an ever-darkening aura of secrecy and bitterness. She found herself helpless beneath its power and looked down at the floor, tucking back a bang of hair in discomfort.
Staring at her impassively, Vincent narrowed his eyes. "Very well, then." He gave a curt nod and folded toned arms across his bare chest, the sides of his cape falling over his front and completely obliterating his exposed skin. He was hidden once more. His ruby eyes flickered over the room as the candlelight did likewise, scanning over the now-dried patches of blood and torn wallpaper. The shattered furniture had been heaped up in one corner so carefully by the woman huddled before him; piled on top of it was the torn shreds and tatters of ancient curtains.
His stare lowered with a tinge of guilt as he allowed his eyes to run carefully over her long chocolate hair, bound back messily so save it from drooping into his own blood. Her forearms were a faint pink, stained so hideously by her cleaning. For a fraction of a second he almost spoke again, but would it be wrong to thank her? Would it make him even more of a demon to reward her verbally for involving herself further in events which could only bring her harm?
"Get some sleep," he muttered eventually as he stepped towards the door, his back only facing her to hide the indecision on his features. "Sleep in your original room if I didnt get any blood in it that is. If so, then there are other places. I could give you money to stay at the inn. You should have done that in the first place though.. "
"No," she intervened quickly and his head turned slightly. "I didnt want to stay where Shera and Cid are." She faltered. "You saw the Highwind, right?"
"I could hardly miss it."
She nodded. There was that same imperturbable tone again. "They brought me here." She gave a forced laugh. "You know what Cids like. Good in small doses but I dont think I wouldve liked to stay in the inn with him. Id be smoked out of my room!"
He doesnt believe me, she hissed mentally. Oh god, even if he wasnt an ex-Turk, even if he was a five year old he couldve seen straight through this. Oh god, Tifa what the hell are you doing? Just tell him why resist?
"And this is a big place." She bunched her fists. "Vincent," she said quickly before he even had chance to draw breath. "I didnt mean to barge in on you. Im sorry if Ive upset you, but Ill go if you want. Just say so. Dont put up with me just because it means you dont have to speak."
He held himself perfectly still, the air in the room seemed to suddenly rush towards him as he inhaled in thought, seemingly gathering the courage to speak.
Could she know? Is it possible that someone has said, or heard something about what is happening here? His eyes bored suddenly into hers as he spun back with an unexpectedly fierce intensity; she went silently pale and one of her feet scraped back along the carpet warily. Yet her reaction was one of fear, not guilt. Why should I expect anything more? Or less for that matter.. . Shes terrified of me Ive caused enough fear this night alone to last a lifetime.
She knows nothing and can expect to find nothing. It must have been dreadful for her to return to this place after everything that has happened. And yet she says nothing. Sorrow bleeds from her from a vicious wound and even her body is plagued with fatigue. Asking her what is wrong would require speech. Words say more than I ever could ever intend; I no longer trust my voice any more.
"It is a big place," he answered softly, his expression softening drastically. "It is not mine, I have no right to stop you or give you permission either way."
"Its as good as yours, Vincent. Ive spoken to locals, and theyre scared out of their wits of this Mansion. Everything you own is here; I dont want to be where Im not wanted."
He sighed a little, perhaps in exasperation, perhaps in weariness. "Stay if you like, Tifa. It is of little consequence to me," he lied with a shrug, his words tight.
She sensed otherwise; his voice was normally so incredibly barren of emotion that their brief talk had rung several bells of both alarm and curiosity in her mind. Emotion appeared where it never had before and it sounded so wrong and yet right in his lulling tone. However, he seemed so incredibly dispassionate despite the crack in his solitary bubble that she realised there was little point in pushing the matter. His body was succumbing to some outward force invisible to her, but its core was as glacial as ever. Some things were never to change.
"Ill be in my room then," she ended with slight trepidation, attempting to carefully gauge his reaction beneath the even thickening shadows around him as he seemed to shrink back with every heartbeat into the doorway and darkness behind him. The candlelight barely illuminated him now, only the vague outline of his pale face and claw hung ethereally in the black. Of course his eyes still pierced through and held her in thrall.
He eventually nodded and stepped completely away as he turned and started to walk down the corridor. She followed him with the candle to show her route and only stopped as she found herself in the main hall. Vincent had already walked down the stairway and was moving towards the hook by the door, sliding his cape from his shoulders as he did so. In the wan moonlight she could see his bare skin ripple slightly with the movement and she found herself momentarily transfixed by the unnaturally fluidic way he performed the menial task.
The sheet of crimson flowed like blood from his shoulders as he drew it before him with an elegant flick. His claw plunged itself into the cape and the skeletal fingers held it a while as though marvelling in their ability to drape the blood-like sheet with such dignity. They slipped it so lightly onto the hook and he smoothed it out almost fondly with his good hand, running his gloved fingers through the fabric curls and whorls. He turned around and began to walk into a doorway on the left before she suddenly called out.
He froze instantly, his head snapping back with an almost feral quality as his eyes perforated the night and found immediate purchase on her own. Her heart fluttered in a mixture of panic and some other, undefinable thought before she calmed herself.
"Yes, Tifa?" he enquired, his voice carrying so perfectly it was as though his dark messengers carried it themselves, flowing through oblivion and whispering it to her so delicately.
"What did you mean before?"
He frowned a fraction. "Im sorry?"
"You said that theres no point when I was cleaning up your room for you," she clarified hesitantly.
He ran his claw back through his raven locks in a moment of deliberation, his eyes moving thoughtfully over the stairs near him. "The house is already a ruin. What are a few bloodstains in my room compared to the blood which has been spilt elsewhere here?"
His reluctance to speak or reveal anything but the truth reached Tifa clearly however she found herself unable to question further as he met her gaze once more. Although her lips twitched, the restraint of his stare silenced her and she swallowed.
"Is that all?"
She nodded. "Yeah, sorry. G-Goodnight, Vincent."
She watched him walk through the door, her sight lingering on the spot where he had stood before she returned to the moonlit world around her. Inhaling deeply, she walked towards her room.
Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic