Stay With Me Chapter 3
By Lucrecia Marionette
Tifa flung herself onto her cot, her feet barely making contact with the creaky floorboards as she flew up the stairs and through the landing. Shed torn open her door with a vehement anguish and collapsed onto her double bed, entwining her fingers in the sheets and pressing her face into the mountain of pillows.
Her face shoved up against the soft, muffling furnishings she let out a heart-breaking wail and no longer fought back the tears which had threatened to tear her apart downstairs.
Why couldnt they understand? Why were they holding her back like this?
She continued to sob violently, pouring out her total misery in an action she knew was pointless. It was pointless because shed been doing it for the past four months and it had done nothing. Cloud hadnt come back; her life still lay in tatters like forgotten riches of a once great realm and her heart still swelled with sorrow at so much as a single word. Tears had returned none of those things to her so why should it be any different now?
The morose musings only furthered her grief and she pushed herself deeper into the sheets to let out another wracking sob. So consumed in her grieving she didnt hear the soft click and gentle groan of her bedroom door as it was pushed open. In fact, it wasnt until she felt a soothing hand brush upon her shoulders did she start.
Bending back suddenly with a gasp, she twisted around; her arms still buried beneath the pillows. Her blurred gaze fell upon Shera and she scowled.
"Why did you come up here?" she demanded fiercely. Her long hair sticking dishevelled in every direction and glowering expression made her seem like some kind of wild thing tearing itself to pieces as an animal would chew off its leg to escape a snare.
Brushing off the analogy but unable to dismiss it completely Shera drew back slightly and resigned herself to sitting on the very end of the bed. She clasped her hands together loosely and stared down at them for a few moments before even attempting to speak.
"Tifa," she began gently. "Cid doesnt want to stop you doing what you wish and nor do I. We simply want you to see the whole picture. Vincent will help you deal with your circumstances; if hes ever been a friend to you he will. But Cids right too, think of how little you know about the man you seek advice from. We cant even be sure that he truly lives in Nibelheim because he hasnt contacted us."
She looked up and dared to meet the gaze of the distraught young woman. Noticing the attention of the female technician, Tifa quickly rubbed her face to rid the signs of her emotion and assumed an impassive expression; inwardly ashamed of how she appeared.
"We only want you to be safe. Mr Valentine was a Turk and that is not something you forget in a hurry. The things he mustve done in the past will haunt the man he has become and destroy him from the inside out. If you spend too much time with him, those worries may spread to you until youre little more than a shadow of Tifa Lockheart who carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. Everyone can, in some way, link themselves to events which have happened in the present and in the past. With the state youre in, youre perfect to start doing this. Before you even realise it youll believe that the all the evil in the world stemmed from yourself!" Shera exclaimed in a very serious tone. "Youll be just like him and I couldnt bear to watch that happen to anyone. Least of all you my dear."
Tifa sniffed and rubbed her eyes once more. "I know you care," she responded quietly. "But this is something I have to do. Maybe it really is because Im selfish and I want to feel even more depressed so that my problems with Cloud are little more than drops in the ocean. Perhaps I just want to make my peace with a person Ive never even had a conversation with before." She pulled herself up and shook her head wearily. "Whatever the reason, I know youll support me and I thank you for it. I dont ask anything more from you, only that you take me to him. You can contact me all you like and phone every night if you wish!
"But," she ended wearily as she tilted her head back and gestured to the cosy and yet cold room around herself. "I have to get out of here. Nibelheim perhaps isnt the best place to go in order to forget about my childhood sweetheart, but I have to start somewhere."
Her speech over, Tifa shuffled to the edge of the bed and swung her legs over into a sitting position, the tips of her toes brushing against the lukewarm floor. She held her chin in her hands gloomily. Her eyes stared into the fire and her mind ran blank as she inwardly realised her decision had been made regardless of what anyone else said. Perhaps it was this defiant streak which had led her to this dilemma in the first place? She was maybe too stubborn to forgive and forget; ignore the presence that had once been a part of her life called Cloud Strife and deny he was ever with her.
That certainly would be the easy route, wouldnt it?
But she never had been one to take the easy route. Why couldnt she have settled down with that boy from her town; the one whose parents owned the Inn? Why did she have to start travelling all the way across the world and fight a ghost from her past?
She sighed and ran a hand through her hair, holding a lock before her face. Shera was right; where it has once been so smooth and silky, like satin in her hands, now it was drab and dull without so much as a glimmer of light reflected from the fire. The orange glow bathed all part of being except the tumble of chocolate strands which absorbed the light with a hungry fervour. What a mess shed become. What a personification of self-absorption.
She suddenly felt very open and ashamed. Shed behaved like a child and expected them to stop treating her as one. It wasnt as easy as that and as she felt Shera moved cautiously up to her, she knew it. Its a wonder shes still willing to be in the same room as me. Ive been like nothing more than a spoilt brat .
To her deep astonishment she felt a hand lightly rest upon her shoulder. She looked up.
"You have to understand that we dont want to hold you back. Weve never tried to and I can only apologise from the depths of my heart if you feel we have and resent us for doing so. I talked to Cid before I came up he and I both agree that we cant step in and attempt to control what you do any more. Youre a fully-grown woman and have been through as much, if not more than either of us. Part of me feels that I should hold you back for precisely that reason. But then my mind forces me to let go and allow you to make your own choices.
"Cids a passionate man, you know that as well as I do. He always listens to his heart and never his head which has got him into more trouble than I could ever account for. Fortunately I forced him to calm down and I talked some sense into that thick skull of his."
Tifa blinked to wash away the tears as she noticed a new emotion come over the womans voice.
"You can go if you want to." Shera ended and Tifa stopped breathing through utter disbelief for a fraction of a second. As the words seeped slowly in tendrils of truth into her soul she suddenly sprang forward and threw her arms around Shera. The technicians glasses almost fell off due to the unexpectedness of the motion, but giving a slight laugh, she embraced the member of AVALANCHE in return.
"Oh thank you, Shera. Thank you!" Tifa wept as she pressed her face into Sheras shoulder. "I wanted to go, I want to leave so badly, but I couldnt do it if I didnt have your blessing."
"I know dear, I know," Shera confided as she stroked her back comfortingly. "But, you know yourself better than Cid or I ever could. If you feel that this is what you should do-"
Tifa drew back and held her at arm's length. "It isnt what I feel," she responded with a burning sense of rightness which seemed to spring from the months and years of anxiety shed accumulated over her time alone. "Its what I know. Vincent will help me; if anyone can, its him. If hes not there, or even if he refuses me Ill come away with the realisation that I tried. If I sit here uselessly without another option Ill hate myself even more than I do."
"Oh Tifa. You dont hate yourself do you ?"
She gave a single nod in return and her posture slumped a little as she stood and wrapped her arms around one of the bedposts. She pressed her cheek up against it and looked out of the dark, frosty window she had sat at for so many months. The coarse, brown blanket which had served as her shroud for so much time now lay discarded and useless in a sorry heap on the floorboards. The plump cushions which had been her seat sat empty and beckoning.
Out of the dark portal to the world outside, she knew every contour and dip of the rolling, white hills. She knew every blade of grass and patch of earth where spring flowers would shoot up from when the frosts subsided. She and Cloud had gone out to pick those wonderful blooms at the same time every year. They had done earlier that year too before he left.
She gritted her teeth and turned away. "When can we leave ?" She asked quietly in a voice riddled with restrained anguish.
"Well have to wait for the snow to lessen so that the Highwind can fly. Cid believes that it may clear up a little by tomorrow morning; hes worried about the ice in those clouds freezing up the fans."
Tifa nodded and swallowed. "Thanks," she whispered. "For everything. I know Ive been like a child at times, always taking and never giving but youve always known that I appreciate it. Everything youve done."
Shera pursed her lips together and gave a single, simple nod. If she refused the gratitude then there was always the chance that the young woman would be insulted and fly into yet another fit. She was far too emotional and open. Shera only prayed that she wasnt yet vulnerable enough to succumb to the darkness of the very thing she sought aid from.
Standing, Shera brushed down her long, blue and white checked skirt and straightened her thick, blue woollen sweater. Pushing her glasses higher on the bridge of her nose, she took a final glance around the dark chamber. The fire was dying down in the grate and had reduced to a safe but hot orange glow which bathed half the room in light and the other half in he blackest shadows. Tifa still stood possessively hugging the twisted wooden post but her gaze looked into the glowing embers. Her once delicate and now withered looking visage with skin stretched tautly over fleshless cheekbones and haunted brown eyes observed the only source of heat with a fixed stare.
Shera wondered to herself whether or not to take the lack of shadows hanging around the slight figure to be a good omen.
Coughing out of need to create noise and dismiss her idle musings, she took a few steps back towards the doorway. She put her hand on the knob and gazed back at the rooms solitary inhabitant. "You should get some sleep now," she said kindly. "Cidll be wanting to get an early start tomorrow to avoid spectators; you know how much he hates having to shoo back people that stand too close to the engines." Shera paused momentarily; the mental image of Cid asking onlookers to shoo was almost too much for her and she allowed a slight smile to play on her lips. Cids language tended to be considerably more colourful when warning back the ignorant public and his actions didnt tend to be much better either.
"Anyway," she continued despite thoughtful distractions. "Youll need to pack in the morning too. Ill wake you at around seven. Will that be alright?"
Tifa looked up at her and smiled brightly in return. "Thats wonderful, Shera. Thanks."
The older woman beamed back happily in response and excused herself.
"Well? What did she say? Shes not really pissed off with me is she??"
Sheras eyes widened alarmingly at the sudden barrage of questions as she stepped into the kitchen. Cid had grasped her shoulders and gave her a hard shake as though it would somehow inspire her to speak faster. Mildly irritated, his wife gave him a shove in the centre of his chest to push him back. "Cid, really!" She exclaimed as she sat down beside the table once more.
Cid shut the door quietly and then excitedly lowered himself onto a stool next to her; her hands grasped between his own. "Well?"
Shera smiled back at him. "She was upset," she begun. "And a little hurt, but I told her what wed discussed and she was overjoyed."
Cids grin lessened slightly. "So she still wants to go then?"
Shera nodded. "It appears as though shes more determined than before. I think our permission means a lot to her, you know. We must mean more to her than I could have ever thought."
Cid gave a quiet, thoughtful nod and stubbed out his final cigarette of the night into a conveniently placed ashtray. Shera gave a quiet cough and looked at him, taking off her glasses nervously and wiping them on the sleeve of her thick sweater. Blinking a few times, she pushed them back on and stared at the worn pilot intently. Eventually noticing her gaze upon him, he looked up.
She tilted her head to one side slightly in an oddly curious gesture. "What do you know of this Mr Valentine?" she asked unexpectedly.
His eyes narrowed and blonde brows knitted in thought. "Vince? Yeah, hes a weird one alright, but I cant say much of a bad word against him. Never did anything to make me lose trust in him; never did anything to annoy me . Other than lurk in shadows all the time and creep up on me. I dont think he did that on purpose though; I guess thats just the way he is."
"Yes, but what is he like? As a person? Deep inside, do you think its safe to let Tifa go to him?"
Cid paused for a considerably greater length of time. His forehead furrowed even deeper and his eyes seemed to take on a much more intense daze of thought. Eventually he exhaled deeply and looked into the fire opposite him. "I dunno," he replied truthfully, a little to his wifes disappointment. Noticing her reaction, he dredged up the words to vocalise his doubts. "As a person, hes depressed, isolated and just mournful I guess. Right down underneath that cold exterior he puts up I couldnt possibly tell you what its like; hes never shown any of us. A few words now and then and a twitch of an eyelid are the only indications he ever gave us that there was some kind of emotion under that entire gothic front. Apart from " Cids voice trailed off as he gave an involuntary shudder. "Apart from one time that is
"I can remember being with Cloud and him in sector eight before we fought Hojo. Id never seen Vincent so much as blanche in the face of danger. But at that time, if hed just stopped blinking for a minute, I wouldve thought hed died.
"He went as white as a sheet; no, whiter like every drop of blood had drained out of his body. But he wasnt scared; he was mad. He was absolutely furious like I didnt think it was possible to be. And then when he found out that Sephiroth had never been his child all along and it was actually Hojos, I realised that Id never been so terrified around a single person before. Looking back, Sephiroth was awe-inspiring, you know? I didnt get the chance to feel worried for my life because I was too busy trying to keep conscious. Just standing next to Vince though, at that moment in time, it was like It was like standing next to a bomb and knowing that it was going to kill you but not knowing when.
"And yet, although hed just found out that everything hed atoned for, everything hed suffered because of was a lie he didnt take it out on us. He was just as broody afterwards, sitting in the shadows with that dazed, other-worldy kinda expression on his face. I dont know what he was trying to make amends for then if hed found out that the danger to the planet was nothing to do with him. He just seems to be one of these people that doesnt have meaning to his life. He has no family, were his only friends and he hasnt got a job or place he can feel comfortable with. He helped us kill Sephiroth and he helped to save the planet."
Cid leaned back on his chair and turned his head to meet the stare of his wife who had hung upon every word with a rapt interest. Giving him a subtle nod to urge him on, she leant slightly towards him.
He cleared his throat anxiously as though perhaps fearing he would be overheard and scratched the back of his head. "It was like mourning for his sins was the only thing hed learnt how to do and remembered if that makes any kind of sense. He didnt have anything to do with himself so he carried on doing the only thing which came naturally to him; thats trying to punish himself. He didnt have anything more to atone for but he didnt have anything else to do with his time either so he continued.
"It was like some kind of ritual or routine which let him know he was still alive."
Shera looked down at her hands and rubbed them absently as she pondered. Noticing her unconscious gesture of worry, Cid gently reached out and placed a hand over hers. She forced a reassuring smile and entwined her fingers among his own.
"Whats wrong?" he asked her. "Youve been bugging me for the past few minutes to let her go, and now youre having regrets?"
"Its not that " Shera replied uncertainly. "Its just that part of me knows shes a mature woman who can take care of herself in a fight. But its the part of me which sees how shes taken this whole trouble with Cloud that worries. I know she spent a year with Mr Valentine but then she had other friends around her too. What if she learns off him exactly the kind of behaviour you described to me? What if she feels that theres no meaning to her life any more and that she can only continue in this spiral of depression?"
Cid shook his head and gave a quiet chuckle. "You worry too much, love," he murmured to her. "You worried when I left Rocket Town all those years ago and I came back a hero! If we let her go, by the same token of luck she might come back a stronger woman.
"I know Teef. Youve seen her for the weak and depressed woman that she is inside; Ive seen her fighters spirit and courage. If anything, shell come back even better than the old Tifa and Vincent mightve learnt a thing or two. This will be a good learning experience for her and if we want to start getting her back to normal life then Vincents the perfect trial.
"If we sent her off to Nanaki, hed have her reading tomes and scripting out books for the rest of her life! Shed die of boredom by the time she was thirty! And as for Barret, hed be so determined to get her back to her old self that he wouldnt want to spend the time and patience that this situation needs. With Vincent though she has the time to be herself bit by bit and seeing what a depressed and lonely guy he is might make her want to avoid that. She might see aspects of himself in her actions and realise that she has to stop."
Shera gave a drawn out sigh and eventually nodded. "Yeah," she responded hesitantly. "I suppose youre right."
"Im always right!"
"I have four words for you, Cid Highwind," Shera contended with a sly tone. "Oxygen. Tank. Number. Eight."
Cid rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah," he dismissed as he stood up and stretched languidly. "One time then, one time I was wrong." Shera opened her mouth but Cid hastily held up his hand. "One time," he growled again.
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