Stay With Me Chapter 16
By Lucrecia Marionette
Tifa stared at herself numbly in the full-length dress mirror that was propped up against one of the crumbling walls in her room. Or was it the other way around? The mirror looked so firm and solid in comparison to the dilapidated barrier that it wasnt too hard to believe that the mirror was little more than a reflective support.
Shed ceased thinking of such things long before however. Now she saw only herself, or the grim spectre which claimed to be her. Tifa stared into the mirror and a skeleton donned in a shimmering, pale blue dress stared back. The dress was beautiful; Cloud had helped her choose it as, in one of her shopping frenzies, hed become her trolley. A vague smile played on her painted lips as she remembered how much shed laughed when he stumbled along behind her like an ever-faithful puppy, trying to watch the top of the pile of shoe boxes and his feet at the same time. This had been one of his favourites; she herself hadnt been too sure at first, but his enthusiasm won her over.
She felt a little angry with herself as she considered that perhaps she hadnt bought the garment for herself, but for him.
There was something wonderfully gorgeous about it; it was a shimmering, icy satin with a fine lace over the top like spider webs. The front cut down into a tasteful v ringed with fake gems, blue-glass sapphires and shards of diamond. It flicked out halfway down her calves in a figure-hugging fashion.
Or at least, in the past it had hugged her once perfect figure with a hungry zealous but now it looked baggy and ill-fitting. She was little more than a coat hanger- if her bony shoulders didnt stick out so much then it would slip straight down to the floor in tiny waves of glacial-blue cloth.
She pulled a face and ran a hand back through her unbound hair. At least the lengthy ripples of brown would help to disguise her emaciated frame. Perhaps she should just try something else. Who was she trying to impress?
Tifa started to move over to her clothes, hung up neatly in the dusty old wardrobe in one corner of the room when there was a loud knocking. She muttered to herself wearily and hustled out of the room, her steps awkward due to the unyielding style of the dress and clipped down the bare floorboards on strappy sandals.
Will Hicks stood at the door with his cheerful grin. It slipped off his face however as he looked her up and down.
"God, you look amazing," he gasped, suddenly going bright red as he realised what his mouth had said.
Tifa blushed furiously and tilted her head downwards in a bashful gesture. "I was about to get changed," she revealed hesitantly.
"No, no!" he cried quickly. "Youd be mad to- youll outshine even the Winter Princess in a dress like that!
Tifa couldnt help but allow a smile to pull up her lips in grateful acceptance of the compliment. "Thank you. I think I needed that."
"No problem," he smiled genuinely. "Do you still want to get changed?"
Tifa faltered for a moment before slowly shaking her head. "No, but only if youre sure I look okay."
"Really. You look beautiful." He paused. "And I say that as a friend of course."
She nodded both in satisfaction of his approval and final comment.
"Would you like to come in for a while; I promised to show you around, remember? You can have a drink before we move off if you like- just something to warm us up while I grab my coat."
He nodded and she stood to one side as he walked in and looked around himself with a fascinated demeanour.
"There really isnt much to see," she began as she followed his eyes. "The whole place is just like this hall; crumbling and mouldy." She stopped as she watched him quietly turn his head from side to side. He gave the impression of a man overcome by new surroundings and yet his eyes seemed to search for just one thing.
"Is there anything in particular youd like to look at?" she ventured.
"No," he replied eventually. "Im just in amazement of it all. For so many years I used to run past this place with my eyes closed because I thought that monsters would leap out and eat me if they thought I saw them." He chuckled to himself. "Its just a bit humbling, thats all."
She smiled a little. "I think I felt a little bit like that when I came back to Nibelheim three years ago."
Will tilted his head down in mute reflection before turning his face to hers. "What brought you back?"
She let out a deep sigh as she leant back against the now closed door. "Many reasons. No, just the truth I suppose."
He continued to gaze at her evenly. "The truth of what?"
"All kinds of things. Of my past, my emotions. And of course it was for Cloud " Her voice trailed off as she realised that it was the first time shed uttered His name for far too long. "For Cloud."
"Was he your I mean, were you and he ?"
Tifa pulled her lips out in a dour smile. "We were just good friends. He needed to know the truth about his past and while half of me screamed just let it go! my other half wanted him to know what had really happened. But, I suppose that after all that pain; I was missing a few facts too.
"Besides," she shrugged as she pushed off from the door. "It was the next stop from Cosmo Canyon and we couldnt avoid it."
"What happened when you came back?"
"Nothing much," she answered numbly as her mind drifted sullenly back to that time which now felt like a hundred years ago. "I just wanted to carry on past this place. Heh, I suppose that I was afraid of monsters jumping out and eating me if I went in. A few almost did to be completely honest. But Cloud felt drawn here somehow so we dared to enter."
She stopped suddenly and smiled up at Will. "Tea or coffee?"
He blinked in surprise at the unexpected mood and topic of conversation. "Tea," he stammered as she started to walk across the hall. She lit a candle and motioning for him to follow, walked down one of many doorways.
When he stepped into the kitchen, she had already pulled up a chair for him so he sat down and watched her busily prepare two drinks. When shed finished, she turned back and sat down opposite him.
He took a sip. "Have you got any sugar?"
She made a move to stand but he held her arm and pulled her back. "Its not important- dont worry yourself."
They sat in awkward silence for a while and in the deep chill and unstimulating atmosphere, quickly finished their beverages. Tifa picked up his mug and rinsed them both out in the sink.
"I must admit," she started. "You puzzle me."
"Yesterday when I mentioned that I was staying here I thought you were going to collapse. You seem quite at home now."
A slow smile hung on his lips. She noted however that it was not reflected in his eyes. "I suppose everyone has to confront their fears at some point. A kid cant walk around scared of the dark forever. Im 21- I cant keep on believing ghost stories for the rest of my life, can I?"
"I guess not," she responded hesitantly as she watched him curiously.
He cleared his throat. "You were telling me about your history here," he reminded her suddenly.
She inhaled deeply. "I suppose I was."
He beamed pleasantly at her like a prompt and watched her with the expression fixed on his face. She stared back at him evenly and said nothing for a while as she considered his youthful visage. There was something a little odd about it she decided- something not quite as warm as she had initially thought it to be.
It was such a fracture in an otherwise perfect complexion that she shrugged it off and glanced away with a faint smile. The moon hung limpid and soft as though cradled in the bony fingers of the barren tree outside. Through the thick layers of dirt though it still seemed like a white smudge against a black canvas. She mused on this for a little while before regaining her train of thought.
"I imagine you know more about the Meteor Crisis than I do," she said with a distant tone as she fixed her eyes on a gently shimmering cobweb. "Its terrifying the amount of people out there who can quote the heights, favourite foods and first childhood loves of the people in AVALANCHE. We never thought of ourselves as anything special; we just fought for our right to live. When we did that, we didnt realise that wed be helping everyone else on this planet until the very end. By then, it was too late to turn back."
She halted and turned back to him. "Sorry Im ranting."
"No, no!" he objected emphatically. "Please continue. I enjoy listening to you speak."
She smiled wanly. "You wanted to know why I came here? Its like an accident on a roadside. You know that you shouldnt look, every fibre of your being tells you to walk straight ahead and ignore the smell of blood. And yet, against your own desires, something darker calls and you glance for a second if only to catch the merest shadow of the horror. Call it morbid fascination if you like.
"I felt a bit like that. Cloud said that he felt Sephiroth calling him and I followed. Of course." She shrugged numbly. "He gave us yet another cryptic monologue and flew away to God-knows-where. And then, as the news stories and tabloids gladly dictate and glorify, we found another member of AVALANCHE in the basement."
From the corner of her eye, Tifa mutely observed Will tilt his head to one side curiously and intensify his stare on her.
"But thats not a tale for me to tell," she ended. "Some things are best left unsaid."
"Naturally," he murmured contemplatively although there was a note of disappointment in his muttering.
Tifas eyes suddenly flicked down and she gasped as her mind acknowledged the time on Wills wrist watch. "Oh God," she exclaimed as she leapt to her feet. Will started at the unexpected movement and could only gape in bafflement as she grabbed his arm and tried to pull him to his feet. "Were going to be late! Its already seven oclock and I told Cid and Shera that Id meet them down there."
He allowed her to drag him into the hall.
"Im sorry that we ran out of time- Ill have to show you around at some other point."
Although the initial disappointment was obvious on his face, he brightened a little as she suggested a future meeting.
"Dont worry about it," he dismissed. "I have a feeling this wont be the last time we meet."
She gave him a puzzled smile as she pulled a heavy, white fake-fur jacket from the coat hook beside Vincents cape. Tucking it under her arm, she began to step out before pulling a face. "Maybe I should leave a note," she murmured.
"What did you say?"
"I should leave a note otherwise hell wonder where I am. There was no point in even asking him if he wanted to come."
Will said nothing in response to her mutterings and if she had placed her full attention on him, she probably would have thought it a little peculiar. Nonetheless she passed him his jacket and grudgingly picked up a mouldy coil of wallpaper from the floor. "Have you got a pen?"
He fished around in his pockets for a few moments before passing her one.
"Vincent, have gone into town to see the Winter Fair for a few hours. Dont wait up, Tifa," she signed it with a wry chuckle; the dark figure would be awake all night whether she liked it or not she realised with grim humour.
"Thank you," she said as she absently passed the pen back to Will and put the scribbled note on the staircase. He observed her mutely but returned her smiles automatically as she started to chatter about, he presumed, the Winter Fair.
They walked outside, closing the door behind them and started to walk down the gravel path with a final glance behind them.
" I mean, its really not so bad once you get used to it. But I suppose the same could be said for a lot of things," Tifa ended as she turned her attention to the shopkeeper expectantly.
"Uh, yes. I suppose so," he stuttered.
She laughed and shook her head. "Youve no idea what I was talking about, do you?"
He blushed furiously. "Im sorry," he apologised sincerely. "Im just so taken aback by the fact that Ive just walked in and out of that place alive."
"Yeah, I shouldve realised. Ill stop talking your ear off now."
He scooped her arm so that her hand rested in the crook of his own. He patted it reassuringly. "Dont give it a second thought," he said warmly.
Tifas muscles flinched as she started to pull away. At the last second however she realised that she actually enjoyed the contact. It certainly wasnt the overpowering, icy darkness of Vincents claw nor Cids reassuring familiarity, but it was appreciated.
They moved in comfortable silence as each of the pair sank into their individual musings. The journey seemed relatively brief as they were suddenly cast into the hot orange glow of the large bonfire, recently lit, to one side of the village well. Even from the very edge of the settlement they felt its heat penetrate their heavy coats and warm their skins.
"Tifa!" called a voice to one side, and she turned her head to see a frantically waving Shera standing beside the casual outline of Cid.
"Come on!" Tifa urged excitedly as she once more began to drag Will, this time towards the couple.
They had already rooted themselves on one of the large benches that had been set up around the fire so that inhabitants and visitors could sit and bask in the heat. Cid was slouched back with a cigarette between his lips but Shera stood, clasping her hands before her chest with suppressed eagerness. Her lips split into a broad grin beneath her large glasses that flashed like owl eyes in the firelight.
"Youre late!" she berated breathlessly although not unkindly. "I thought you were going to miss it."
Tifa laughed. "Of course we wouldnt. Shera, Cid- this is Will Hicks. He runs the grocery store."
Will gave a bashful wave as Shera beamed pleasantly at him and Cid nodded in flippant response without removing his eyes from the dancing flames. He flicked his half-smoked butt to the floor and watched it glow and die with distant fascination.
"Hey Will," he said as he turned his head up. "Do me a favour and show Shera around, will ya? Shes been bugging me about it all day but Ive no idea what everything means."
"Sure I will," he dropped Tifas arm and offered his to Shera who took it with rolled eyes and an arched eyebrow directed at Cid. "Men," she muttered. "Always eager to delegate the most simple tasks."
"Love you too," Cid replied as she was lead off to the other side of the square.
"That was rather curt of you, Cid," Tifa frowned as she sat down next to him. "Weve only just got here."
"Tch, you know me, Teef. Since when have I gone for all the pleasantries? May as well give the guy whats what up-front."
She shook her head. "That was rude even for you."
He pulled a face. "Sorry. Coulda been more subtle I guess."
She frowned deeply as she watched his face for any sign of what was flitting through the old pilots mind. He betrayed nothing, but the sheer presence of what Cait Sith had always fondly referred to as Cids poker face said a lot more.
"Whats troubling you, Cid?" she pressed gently.
He opened his mouth quickly but closed it as though realising that he hadnt considered a suitable answer. He lit another cigarette and took a drag on it before answering. "Im worried," he revealed hesitantly.
"You are? About what?"
"What do you think?"
She faltered. "Me?"
He inhaled another lungful of smoke but pulled away his cigarette absently, fixing his eyes on the glowing tip like a man who had never seen one before. "I should give these up."
Tifa remained silent in fear that if she tried to forcefully turn him back to the subject, hed forget it altogether out of sheer stubbornness. They stayed in a state of unpleasant hush as the townspeople filtered around them, chatting and laughing amongst themselves, sharing a, unspoken joke at her expense.
She fidgeted awkwardly and pulled her coat a little tighter around her shoulders.
"Why are you worried?" she relented.
He froze and very slowly turned to look at her. "Because you havent told him yet." Tifa averted her eyes from him guiltily but he fixed his stare on the back of her head. "You promised us that you would. Where was the sense in coming here if youre not going to confront whats been reducing you to a sobbing heap for the past few months?"
"But I feel better already!" she cried, more loudly than shed intended and a few puzzled faces in the crowds glanced in her direction. She sank into her coat and bit her bottom lip.
He sighed. "Teef, Im not denying that. But what you feel at the moment is superficial, itll die and go away the second something happens to rock your world. You went for two and a half years feeling better and not giving a damn about what had happened. Then, all of a sudden it caught up with you.
"How you feel now is worth shit. Youre getting a buzz off being independent again but how long will it be before that all shatters and youre left with nothing again? Whatll you do then? Just up and leave to another town so you can drown your sorrows in grocery shopping and fetes?"
Tears brimmed in her eyes and glittered wickedly in the firelight. It felt as though they burnt her eyes with a mixture of shame and fallacious pride. She tried to turn away but a leather gloved hand grabbed her shoulder roughly and turned her back to face the pilot.
"Youre being so unfair," she hissed tearfully. "I asked you to bring me out here so I could deal with this in my own way. I don't need baby sitters any more."
A twinge of remorse stabbed at Cids heart and he flinched. His grip on her increased both mentally and physically however as his resolve firmed. "Listen to me, damnit. After tomorrow, Shera and I arent going to be here any more. You probably hate me now more than anything else in the world because you know Im right. Youre strong Tifa, and thats whats helped you get this far but its also stoppin you from letting down some of these barriers and getting help. It took you four months to gather the courage to come here, seeking aid from another person. Dont let it be another four months before you finally get up the courage to asked for what you need."
Her lips pressed together in a furious white line and her eyes narrowed fiercely. Cid braced himself for an onslaught of objections and could only gape in surprise as she suddenly broke down and threw her arms around his neck. He returned the embrace cautiously and relaxed as she wept quietly into the lapels of his jacket.
"Sheras been so worried about you, Teef. We all have. Every single night you were up in that room, someone called to find out if you were okay. Everyone, Red, Barret, Reeve, even Sick Bag were all gob smacked when I told em what youd planned to do. They didnt believe it was gonna work out and that someone would have to dive in and rescue you. But I told them all to have a bit more faith than that because they hadnt seen you like I have over the past few months. I know that although this pain is killing you inside, youre still alive. Youre not like Vincent- the ache in him killed him a long time ago but youve got the strength to get through this. You just need to see what could happen to get the final push out of this slump youre in.
"But you need to open up."
He felt her nod and her sobs faded into occasional shudders as he spoke. As his speech ended, she lifted herself from him and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "I know youre right Cid. I just need a bit more time."
Cid gave her a forced smile as he ruffled her hair.
"Whatever, kiddo. Its your life- make sure you do something with it."
A dark shape observed them from the roof of a nearby house. As the figures of Will and Shera returned, he narrowed his eyes darkly and walked silently away.
Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic