Stay With Me Chapter 15
By Lucrecia Marionette
The following day passed with an expectedly fast pace as Tifa stood by her bedroom window and watched the Winter Fair preparations consume the town of her birth.
It had started as any normal day, but soon the laughter and chatter of children and their parents filled the air, quickly followed by the mouth watering scent of cakes and spiced fruits. It flooded through the valley and washed over the tiny hill that the Mansion sat on. The cracks in the wooden floorboards and old plaster walls allowed the delicious noises and odours to seep into the previously inert place and fill it with a ghost of life.
Tifa allowed a wan smile to play on her lips as she observed it all with a suppressed excitement; childhood memories rushed towards her and filled her mind with music and dance.
It was early afternoon when she noticed two shadows move through the skeletal orchard that smothered the Mansion hill, up the path which ran like a stony river up one side. She squinted greatly to make sense of the blurred people without avail and lost sight of them as they moved across her vision around the front of the house.
She frowned to herself, but as a stunningly loud knocking boomed through the house she felt her muscles tense in a mixture of excitement and curiosity.
Pushing away from the window, she ran down the corridor and swung down the stairs eagerly. She almost overtook herself as she tripped a little, but succeeded in regaining her balance before she rolled down the steps and slowed with a grim expression. She certainly wasn't as agile as she had been before.
Taking it once step at a time in the grim realisation of her own fragility, Tifa walked across the open floor of the main hall and opened the main door.
"Tifa!" Shera exclaimed as she rushed forward to embrace the young woman.
Cid grinned from behind his wife as Tifas surprised face was pressed into the fur collar of the technician. She almost suffocated in the warmness of the winter-coat lapel but managed to pull back and gasp for air, overcome by surprise.
"Hey kid," Cid beamed happily. "Howre you feeling?"
Tifa blushed from the unexpected fervour of her greeting and smoothed back her hair coyly. "Im alright, howre you two?"
"Were great," Shera smiled happily, it was the first time Tifa had seen her genuinely pleased since their arrival and it warmed her with a pleasant comfort. "Have you been watching the Fair preparations?" she continued chattily. "It looks like its going to be beautiful. We never have anything like this at Rocket Town; its such a shame too."
Cid rolled his eyes comically. "Youve been saying that all morning. Rocket Town doesnt have time for this kind of thing anyway. Its a new Town, hasnt had the chance to start any traditions."
Shera clasped her hands excitedly. "When we go back, we should start one then. A Spring Fair!"
Tifa gave a slight laugh and stood to one side. "Do you want to come in and talk about it, or stay out in the freezing cold?"
"Oh, uh, is it okay for us to come in?" Cid asked warily and Tifa nodded.
"Its fine, I dont think Vincent cares either way. Hes in bed now."
"He is?" Cid asked with a degree of surprise. "Ah, I suppose it makes sense if hes out all night. Where does he sleep? Not down in that damned coffin I hope."
Tifa shook her head again, this time more definitely as she watched the couple step through into the hall. She closed the door behind them and took their coats and hats as they stared around themselves in wonder. "No, he sleeps up in the East Wing. Third door on the right or something like that," she shrugged. "Why?"
Cid grinned slowly. "Wouldnt want him to start making you think that you have to get in a box too."
Tifa pulled a face. "Cid, please. Dont even joke about things like that."
"Have you spoken to him about it yet, dear?" Shera inquired as she turned her gaze from the vast stained window to look at the proprietress.
Tifa cleared her throat and started to walk towards the kitchen hastily. "Im getting round to it," she mumbled. "Want tea?" she asked quickly before they could speak again.
His mind only taking in one word, Cid brushed past his wife with wide, eager eyes. "Damn straight. Whatever the hell they serve in that inn isnt fit to be called dishwater."
Tifa smiled a little to herself, the expression somewhat hollow as she heard the soft muttering of the couple following her.
"Hasnt told him yet..?"
"Did you not hear that? She hasnt told him yet !
Maybe shes gathering her courage. Its bad enough chatting to him about the time of day "
"We cant leave her here if he doesnt know "
"Well have to talk to her about it "
"Dont worry about it "
"What do you mean ?"
"I mean, dont worry about it "
"I dont like it when you say things like that "
"Shera, shut up. If I dont get any damned tea in the next five minutes Im gonna go nuts," Cid snapped suddenly as the couple walked into the kitchen. Tifa busied herself with the kettle and pretended to ignore the hushed argument of her guardians.
They did likewise, holding the firm pretence that they hadnt uttered a word to one-another since her offer. They made themselves at home by sitting down on the chairs drawn up beside the table pushed to one side in the room. Exchanging only a single solitary glance behind Tifas back, they said nothing more and watched her silently.
"Here you go," she said finally as she turned around with two mugs. Cid and Shera took them with thanks and sipped them numbly as Tifa sat next to them, cradling her own drink. She savoured the wisps of steam as they twirled up through the cold air and tickled her skin fondly with a short-lived warmness.
As she took a drink, she looked up over the rim and met Sheras gaze, the wide brown eyes of her carer looking owl-like from behind her large round glasses. A few strands of greying-brown hair flopped over the lenses obscuring her gaze from complete clarity and she flicked them back idly.
"So," she started pleasantly, she folded her arms and rested them on the table. "How did you sleep last night?"
"Oh, very well thank you," Tifa answered lightly. She wasnt about to tell them that it was two oclock that morning shed slid into bed, adrenaline surging through her veins in anxiety and intense thought. She couldnt possibly tell them about how shed spent two hours on her hands and knees attempting to cleanse an already tortured room of Vincents blood.
The way hed been lying there so helpless and shattered after she returned from her shopping; a dark island in an ocean of crimson. How shed run practically screaming from the sight as flashbacks of her own harrowing past tore at her mind and seeped into her very soul. She was certain that it would only seal her fate if she dared to speak of how she had dragged Vincents limp body, lubricated by his own blood through the landing and onto her bed.
Theyd pull her away so fast her feet wouldnt even brush the floor.
Her throat burned with a desire to share her nightmarish tale, and yet reason sewed her lips shut with bitter thread. She took a gulp of her drink, louder and more obvious than shed intended and winced a little as it seared her tongue for the second time in two days. She was going to have to work on concealing her feelings she realised grimly.
"So those noises didnt keep you awake, huh?" Cid asked and Tifa looked at him with a frown?
"Noises? What noises?"
"Well, there werent any last night. But I was talkin to some of the locals in the bar yesterday evenin and they said that thered been some pretty freaky shit coming from this area. Screams and wails that sort of thing."
Tifa eyebrows shot up. "Wh-What time was this?" she stammered.
"Oh, bout two, mebbe three oclock in the afternoon they said," he shrugged detachedly. "They said whatever the hell made the sounds wasnt human. They came from this direction, so they figured it must just be the monsters up in the mountains exercising their vocal chords."
Tifa swallowed forcefully. That was when shed been in the store talking to Will. And when she came back to the Mansion, Vincent had been lying there in apparent agony without a single mark on his skin. So much blood
"Just monsters, huh?" she laughed somewhat nervously. "So long as they stay up on Mt Nibel I dont mind."
"We just thought that maybe youd be scared in case they came down to the town. After all, the Mansion is in between the two places," Shera answered with a tinge of admiration. "Youre very brave for coming back here."
Tifas cheeks flushed a little. Im sure I wouldnt have been so brave if Id heard them myself . But, if I hadnt, would I have come back here? Vincent might still be lying in his room, all alone
"Im not, really Im not," Tifa mumbled. "I just never heard them myself, thats all."
Cid sat back with a contended sigh as he kicked back his chair and put his feet on the table to Sheras disgust. She merely rolled her eyes however as Tifa grinned and shook her head, previous thoughts forgotten in the cheerful presence of her friends.
"Still though," Cid continued. "Youve got a lot of balls to stay here any night if you ask me." He stopped and looked over at his wife. "You know, I think she might be ready to face the big bad world on her own. Seems to me like she dont need us any more."
Shera arched her eyebrows a little. "Im not sure if Im that certain " she responded hesitantly. She looked to Tifa whose face had suddenly brightened with an obvious eagerness. Her expression melting a little with the expectation she was met with, Shera pulled a face. "I still think another few nights would be of benefit."
Shera paused in further thought, however Cid intervened quickly. "Well stay tonight for this Fair thing and go the day after tomorrow or something. Sound good to you?"
Shera glanced at him with a deep frown but Tifa nodded hastily. "Thats perfect. I cant wait for you to see tonight. If its anything like as wonderful as it was when I was a child, then Ill be on top of the world."
She beamed at them happily, and although Shera upheld her ambiguity, Cid squeezed her hand fondly. "Dont worry, love. Ill leave a phone behind so she can call us any time she needs us."
Sheras face relaxed a fraction in minor suspicion. "We have an extra phone..?"
"Of course! Its just an emergency one on board the Highwind. I can take it out in two secs and have it brought down here." He looked to Tifa. "You just have to press a single button and youll get through to us. Rocket Town is only a couple of hours flight from here as the crow flies."
"Well, I wouldnt want to trouble you " she ventured warily and Cid grinned. Shera pulled her mouth into a forced smile and managed a weary nod.
"So long as youre sure," she said as she looked to her husband. "Then Ill believe you."
"Thank you," Tifa breathed tearfully. "Ill tell Vincent soon, I promise. I just need time to be with him and get used to him again. As soon as Ive done that then hes bound to help me."
"Okay then, Tifa," Shera relented. "You know him better then Id ever hope to, and you both seem adamant that this is the right course of action "
"Of course it is!" Cid exclaimed. "Damnit woman, just leave the thinking to me! That way, you can stick to all the worrying."
Tifa relaxed into a grin as she cradled her drink again, taking a sip from the now tepid liquid.
"So tell us a bit about this Fair thing then," Cid asked to fill the space of the hollow silence which settled comfortably upon them like a warm blanket despite the chill outside. "What actually happens? I mean, its not people in white throwing hankies around or anything is it?"
Tifa gave him a mocking frown. "No," she tutted. "It just the whole town gathering to celebrate winter really. It starts off as something for the kids with the Winter Princess, games and things like that. Then, as I remember when all the children go back to the inn for story telling, the adults drink into the early morning.
Cid grinned so much that Tifa wondered his face might split in two. Shera flashed him a dirty look. "Is that why you dont want to leave tomorrow? Youll be too hungover to get out of bed Id imagine."
"Cmon Shera!" Cid exclaimed, his joy fixed in place. "You want to take in the culture so much, dont you? We may as well try to blend in, huh?"
Shera made a noise in objection but struggled in finding the words to support her pitiful argument. She stared at Tifa desperately for help.
"Woah," Tifa laughed as she held up her hands. "Dont drag me into this. Ill let you argue this amongst yourselves."
She stood up and cleared the mugs from the table, the couple engaging in a battle of wills behind her back as they stared one-another out. Tifa presumed that Cids sheer desire to drink himself stupid that night overtook Sheras to have a pleasant, cultural event. There was a female moan of annoyance.
"Cid Highwind, youre unbelievable sometimes."
"That good, huh?"
Shera tutted loudly and folded her arms in an exaggerated irritance as she leant back. "I suppose Id rather stay for another day anyway," she added eventually. "I mean, regardless of your health in a week it would make no difference."
"So nice to know you care, dear."
Tifa turned just as Shera shot her husband a look of suppressed rage. In all truth, Tifa didnt blame her for a second. The years of verbal abuse and guilt bestowed on her by her Captain had gone with peaceful silence. It was only when Cid had finally admitted his gratitude for her diligent loyalty and faith for so long that she dared to come out of her shell. The housemaid and personal waitress became an attractively intelligent woman with a warm sense of humour and nothing but kindness for others regardless of her occasional berating. But even when she chastised her husband it was with good reason or his best interests held in her heart.
It was such a beautiful relationship that they shared. Cid had acted as the one to open out the beautiful flower that had been a grubby, dizzy technician whilst Shera had soothed the violent temper and lack of commitment to anything but machinery of the Captain. They were so perfect together that even then, as Tifa watched, Sheras glare softened into a look of incredulous fondness. It was as though she was asking herself why on earth she put up with the man in her midsts before realising that it was futile to question. Why seek to explain what makes you happy?
Who was to know what the truth would hold? Not her, not then, that was for sure.
She leant back on the worktop and watched the silent messages of love pass between the couple with an unintrusive sorrow and joy. The happiness couldnt have happened to two nicer people, and yet she found herself hating the stab of envy which bit at her own heart as she observed them. Fairness was something that happened to other people it seemed. Or maybe she just wasnt worthy of the honour bestowed on them. Perhaps she had to work that little bit harder .
A melancholy sigh passed her lips; Cid and Shera looked at her.
"Whats wrong, Teef?"
She looked up. "Nothing, sorry. Just . Lost in my thoughts for a moment then."
Cid stared at her for a while before touching his wifes arm. "Cmon, Shera. Lets go back to the town; you said you wanted to buy a new dress for tonight."
Shera nodded and they stood. "Would you like to come with us Tifa? Or would you like to catch up with us later?"
Tifa blinked. "What time is it?"
"Its about four oclock now."
"Is it okay if I meet you later?" Tifa apologised. "Only I already have what I want to wear and Im actually hoping to meet with someone here first."
"Really?" Shera asked with arched eyebrows. "Are you bringing Vincent down with you?"
Tifa shook her head with an overly zealous energy. "No," she almost laughed. "Someone who works in the grocery store. He seemed really nice and asked if I had anyone else in mind."
"A date?" Cid exclaimed and again Tifa shook her head.
"Of course not. I might be laughing and smiling a bit more, but do you seriously think I could move on that quickly in my heart?"
Cid nodded remorsefully. "Yeah sorry, I didnt think."
Tifa scratched her forearm. "No, its alright. I made sure he knows that were going as friends. He doesnt seem the kind of guy whod betray me like that. He seems really genuine."
"Well Im glad youve found a friend. That makes me feel a little better," Shera confided as she and Cid walked to the exit. "Well see you tonight then."
Tifa gave a slight wave and continued to lean thoughtfully against the sink as her companions left.
Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic