Stay With Me Chapter 4
By Lucrecia Marionette
As she stood on the deck of the Highwind, Tifa knew that she should have felt the familiar rush of adrenaline which surged through her veins as the wind whipped through her hair. She loved the way it tugged at her clothing and fought with every ounce of its will to push her back over the railings. And every time the vast airship landed shed smile smugly to herself knowing that she had triumphed over the elements once more. Only now she stood with her back pressed up against huge support pillar, her arms folded sulkily across her chest and her hair bound into a tight plait which sat heavily on her back in an unfamiliar way. Normally it was bound loosely at the base with a leather band so that she could feel the river of chocolate slide across her shoulders whenever she moved. Now it pulled down the back of her head and thrust into her spine like a rough, coarse rope. She fidgeted every few minutes to lay it over her shoulder, but as the wild gale caught it and flung it up at her face, shed push it back behind with a snarl.
But she didnt bother moving. As much as the speedy wind aggravated her and stung her face to the point of tears, she didnt want to move. Shed resolved herself to standing sentient for the entire twelve-hour journey and had not moved yet. With only another hour to go, it would be weak to shrug off her troubles and slink into the warm, sheltered cockpit.
Damnit she swore mentally as the vast plait of hair snapped up and whipped her across the face again. Before it had been irritating, now it was painful and she tugged it back so hard that it ripped at her scalp and made her cry out in agony.
Pursing her lips until they were whiter than her skin, she strode angrily to the edge of the deck and tore the band from the base of the organic rope and allowed the tears of pain to fly from her face at the push of the wind. For a moment it stung, but eventually her nerves were numbed and now she only felt the almost playful force of the air as it nudged her and begged her in its wordless way to play as she had done so many years before.
"There!" she cried as she felt the eddies finger their way through the plait and pull the brown strands in the haphazard directions it loved so much. "Happy now??"
She screamed out the words; her eyes were still closed, but the tears still persisted in streaming down faded-tan cheeks. The wind gave no answer; not even in its cryptic way no matter how hard she trained her ears and soul to it. So she stood back eventually, alone and unsatiated with two red streaks burning down the ivory skin of her face. Her eyes felt puffy and obvious, her head pounded.
The colour slowly returned to her lips and after many minutes of standing still, the raw-crimson of tears faded from beneath her eyes. Her lashes were still wet however and every now and then her vision blurred as she blinked with an almost painful slowness over the seascape splayed before her. A barely audible creak behind her jolted Tifa sharply from her bizarre meditations. She turned hastily to face the source of the disturbance and her gaze met with the steely-blue eyes of Cid. The pilot shuffled a little under her attention and quickly averted his vision to find sudden interest in the wooden deck.
"Sorry, Tifa," he mumbled somewhat sheepishly. "Didn't mean to disturb you. I'll be out of your way in a minute."
Cid carried a rather large metal toolbox before him, both hands gripping the handle tightly beneath his leather flying gloves. He shuffled awkwardly to one side, the box banging against his knees, bumping loudly with a series of loud clangs and thuds whenever the two made contact. He cringed every time it hit him, both through pain and the indelicate clattering it made with every collision.
"Sorry," he mumbled again, wincing deeply as he placed it heavily on the floor beside the doorway he had entered through.
Tifa watched him with unrestrained curiosity as he swivelled to face the sheer, steel-plated wall and knelt down on the deck. Rolling up the sleeves of his bomber jacket over the elbow length leather gloves he wore, he opened the toolbox and began to search gingerly through it. Carefully lifting out numerous spanners, screwdrivers and other, long, thing objects that Tifa could only dream of, he found happiness in a rather feeble wrench which appeared dwarfed in comparison to the other objects
Sitting back on his heels, he began to bob and weave his head, searching intensely along the wall for something. He gave a grunt of mild satisfaction as he reached up and pressed one of the smaller metal panels. Tifa's eyebrows raised in surprise as the square sheet came off his hands and rested against his bent knees. He leant a little closer to the hole now exposed and peered in with an expression of focused concentration.
"What is it Cid?" Tifa asked suddenly to dispel his conscious state and the pilot glanced over his shoulder.
"Nothing for you to worry about," he answered simply. "Just something I forgot to do before we lifted off."
Tifa paused for a moment before hesitantly walking over to stand by the kneeled figure. It took a little less thought before she bent down beside him and peeped into the rather un-important looking hole. It had fine gauze over it, but it appeared as though half of the tiny pores had been clogged up with some undefined material which could only be described as 'slime'. Tifa made a noise of disgust and Cid flashed her an amused smile.
"Not too nice, huh?" he said with a light chuckle.
"What on earth is it?"
To Tifa's disgust, Cid slid one of the gloves from his hand and ran a finger through the mess. Holding up to his nose, he inhaled deeply and looked skyward in thought. "Oil and dirt," he reported eventually. As he idly wiped the finger on his heavily smudged trousers, he stared at the covering again.
"What's this hole for anyway?" Tifa pressed. "Is it important?"
"Yeah, it's what takes air into the ship. As we fly along, clean air goes in here," Cid explained, demonstrating the draught with his hand. He held it flat and pressed it toward the mesh like a plane. "And the stale air gets pushed out through whatever gaps and holes happen to be around the place. The Highwind isn't airtight, but at the front where aerodynamics mean everything, holes can be a bad thing. At the back though where the bad air leaks out, it doesn't matter at all."
Tifa nodded thoughtfully. "So this is a ventilation shaft?" she questioned and Cid nodded.
"In layman's terms, yeah."
Tifa frowned. "Well.... why was it covered then?"
Cid chuckled as he reached up with his wrench and began to work on the bolts which held the four corners of the gauze in place. "When the 'ship is stationary, there's not much point in having this open. While the airship ain't air proof, it's pretty much vermin-proof and leaving a shaft like this open when we've landed is as good as inviting the little bastards to come and set up home in the cockpit. I was in such a damned hurry to get away this mornin' that I forget to check it."
"And the slimy stuff?"
"The frosts affect the engine above us," Cid pointed upwards to the ceiling of the deck with the wrench before continuing. "The pipes and stuff aren't exactly clean with oil and dirty water everywhere. The frost and snow freeze all that shit up, and when it melts, it all leaks down this pillar here and gets stuck on things like this gauze."
Cid yanked the square piece of metal mesh from its place causing it to flick back in his face, spraying the foul substance over his visage.
"Shit!!" he swore loudly as he leapt to his feet and flung the object to one side. He promptly wiped himself down with his otherwise clean white scarf and expelled numerous other volatile curses into the once clean material.
"Stupid damned fucking grate should go and fuck off to hell where it can fucking die and burn....BASTARD!!"
But there he stopped. Because somehow, over the sound of his profuse exclamations and the roaring wind in his ears, there was another sound. It was so much more beautiful than anything he had heard for many years and as it rang delicately in his mind like the chiming of silver bells on a crystal morning. His heart swelled with an unfounded joy as he paused to fully appreciate the noise. Slowly lowering the scarf from his face, he peeked over it and blinked in shock.
Tifa was laughing.
But she wasn't just laughing, the frail woman was in hysterics. She was doubled over in her already kneeling position, her forehead almost brushing against the wooden planks of the decking. Her tear streaked eyes were screwed up in mirth and she was desperately gasping for air as she let out another howl of laughter which resounded off the surfaces around her.
At the sight, Cid couldn't help but allow a smile tug at his own face and it quickly broadened into a grin. As Tifa managed to regain some of her composure and glance up at him from her ridiculous position, another giggle escaped her throat until she rolled onto her side, clutching her stomach in hilarity. Watching his companion dissolve in a manner so uncharacteristic of her demeanour over the past months was far too much and Cid soon sank down beside her, covering his face with his hands and laughing into them. Unfortunately, this only served to smear more of the hideous, foul smelling gunge all over his features and every time the two made eye contact it only served to worsen matters
As the couple gained their breaths for the final time, Cid rolled onto his behind and dragged himself into a sitting position with his back pressed up against metal covered column he had been working on before. The door set into it was closed to the world outside, shielding them from the almost painfully tempting warmth it had to offer. For the time being, they were comfortable out there.
The pilot reached into the pocket on the breast of his navy-blue bomber jacket and pulled out a small box. He looked over at Tifa who had shuffled beside him and now had her chin resting on her knees wearily. He held the box towards her.
"Cigarette?" he asked with a wry grin.
She blinked at the object in his hand before giving him an odd look. "No thank you," she answered politely and he chuckled quietly to himself.
"Just bein courteous an all," he excused as he flipped the lid off it and drew out a cylindrical object. Putting it between his lips, he pulled out a lighter and with a click, the cigarette was lit. "It was my last one anyway," he told her for no apparent reason as he inhaled and exhaled the smoke deeply, a stream of tarry vapour pouring from his lips and swept away by the wind. He rested the back of his head lazily on the metallic pillar.
"So what are you doing up here all on your own?" he asked her eventually once a few minutes of blissful silence had elapsed.
At first, Tifa made no move to answer and Cid found himself presuming that she hadnt even heard him. As her lips pursed very slightly and a frown found its way onto her features however, he was given the impression of intense consideration. He fell silent and watched her, taking occasional, casual drags from his cigarette as he did so.
"The wind feels alive," she shrugged cryptically and he perked an eyebrow.
She looked at him and already he wondered if he could see that familiar, adventurous sparkle in the burgundy depths of her eyes. There was a slight smile on her lips as she met his gaze with an almost playfully challenging nod of her head. "Alive," she repeated emphatically as if those syllables themselves contained the key to her cure. She looked to one side over the railing which ran around the edge of the deck and towards the vast plain of blue sea which stretched eternally either side of the suddenly insignificant airship.
"Stuck in that room it was so easy to think that I was the only person in the universe. Out here though, I have no choice but to accept what comes to me and realise that it happens under the influence of something else. Maybe thats just another person like me, or maybe its a higher power. I dont know, but it just tells me that theres something more than me out there which feels so humbling and yet so wonderful at the same time."
She sighed deeply out of her nose and a smile played upon her lips.
Cid shook his head with a silent laugh as he flicked the butt of his cigarette nonchalantly into the sea. "Youve had way too much time to think about these things," he said not unkindly. "Something tells me that you an Vince are going to get on just fine."
She shoved him playfully in a manner which seemed almost depressing. Her pale hand, the skin drawn over the fragile bones beneath pressed ever so lightly against his jacket. Despite himself, Cid pulled a face in some horrible notion that she would break with the feeble gesture like an injured bird. However, she didnt seem to notice and turned back to look at the ocean thoughtfully. Again silence weighed cosily upon the pair.
This time however, it was Tifa who broke the wordless vow as a number of thoughts found themselves unexpectedly leaping around in her mind since the arrival of her friend. Her brain had been so empty over the past few months that it was startling for her to recall just how cluttered the human head could be at times. And yet, as uncoordinated and unorganised as it was, she felt an odd sense of tranquillity follow with it.
Regrettably, the entertainment value faded quickly to leave her with the hollow shells of what had once symbolised something so momentarily great. She remembered how much she hated thinking when there was a lot to think about.
"Mm?" the pilot answered in a grunt as he twisted back onto his knees and began work once more on the coverless hole hed revealed only half an hour earlier. He clamped the wrench between his teeth and frowned as only a mechanic could, staring into the seemingly bottomless shaft.
"You know " she began, but her voice trailed off. He cast her a glance but said nothing so she cleared her throat and started once more, pushing her back up against the wall in an effort to find some physical comfort. "You know you said all that stuff to Shera about Vincent?"
"Well did you mean it?" she blurted out. "I mean, were you just saying it because you didn't want me to leave, or do you honestly think that Vincent's that messed up? Do you truly believe that we nothing about him?"
Cid sat back on his heels and slipped the tool from his mouth, holding it between his hands as he rested them on his thighs. His brow furrowed as he stared at her intently. "What does it matter?" he asked and she gave him an un-amused glare.
"Dont answer a question with a question," she reprimanded seriously. "Youre trying to avoid the subject. I dont want you to justify yourself or give me a speech, I just want the simplest answer you can give."
"Youll find in your life Teef," Cid sighed deeply as he scratched the back of his head. "That the most difficult problems have the most obvious answers. Most people cant see the wood for the trees, yknow? I never used to really understand that saying, but now I know for certain that its right.
"I know I said that we dont know much about Vincent, but thats not entirely true. I bet that if we just sat around and thought about it for a few minutes, wed suddenly have the answer to solving that guy. Unfortunately, no ones prepared to do that. And do you know why? In all honesty, I think wed all be scared. Not of him, not at all," Cid shook his head firmly to emphasise his point. "Vincents a good guy. Life just took a bad deal with him; he played the game and lost spectacularly. Thats not his fault, he just likes to think that it is. The reason why none of us want to sit down and really try to figure what makes that guy tick is because we all know that wed find a part of ourselves in him. We all feel sorry for what hes been through and some part of us feels plain glad that we dont have to sulk around all day like he does. But, if we looked at our own lives then wed see that we were just as pitiable. The only difference is that hes had it on a grander scale.
"Itll turn out that were all just as depressing as he is. And Id hate to have that hanging over me. Its all very well thinking that I have a great life and great future, but deep inside, were all the same. People just dont want to know that. If they see theres a problem then theyll feel like they have to sort it out. If they ignore it though, then theres always the hope itll piss off and leave them alone. Vincent just doesnt have that choice," the pilot ended as he produced a new sheet of gauze from his copious toolbox and proceeded to clip it down to size using a pair of pliers.
Tifa looked down at her hands with a glazed expression as her brain mulled over the uncharacteristically philosophical speech given to her by the stereo-typically jovial member of AVALANCHE. She looked up at him after a minute.
"And why do you feel like that?" she questioned him. "Why is it that youre not afraid to admit what no one else dares to?"
A slow grin found its way onto Cids face. "You know me Teef. I dont give much of a shit what happens in life so long as I can just get on with whatever Im doing. Meteor and Sephiroth really fucked up my flight-plans so I had to run away with all of you to kick some ass. Philosophy?" He snorted. "Not a pastime of mine, but the way I see it is that if you truly want to live life then you have to try and understand it and understand yourself. I havent got too much to be depressed about which is why Im not scared to say; Hey! Look at me! Big smiles and grins all round, but inside I can hurt like the next guy. Everyone else can too so what the hells the point in covering that up?."
Tifa gave a quiet laugh and nodded. "Yeah, I guess so."
He stopped and waved the now perfectly cut, clean piece of gauze towards her. "And youre just starting to do that now, but youve chosen a pretty fucked up time to do it. With that bastard running off and leaving you to deal with life on your own just when you were ready to start looking back and reflecting on things, you couldnt stop it. Now its caught up with you and without me an Shera you havent got someone to help you get through that."
Tifa bit her bottom lip as her vision misted and she looked to one side coyly.
Cid put a hand over her shoulder and drew her near to him, rubbing her arm comfortingly. "Hey, cmon. Dont cry on me now. I just want you to see what Im so stressed out about, okay? I just need you to understand that I feel youre better off with people who have already thrown their worries to the wind and can help you do the same. With Vincent, Im just worried that youll both end up sleeping in coffins and sitting in shadowy corners whenever someone tries to talk to ya!"
Tifa failed to suppress a giggle and she rubbed her eyes. "Thanks Cid," she breathed emotionally and he gave her a last squeeze before turning back to his work.
"No problem, kid," he told her. "But at the end of the day, I know that you can be stronger than that. Vincents a strange one, but youre as stubborn as Palmer is about diets when you have to be! You go and show that vamp whos boss, huh?"
Tifa grinned and nodded quite pensively as she pushed off the floor into a standing position. Stretching precariously on unsteady legs, she wandered over to the railings at the very head of the airship. Bending and resting her crossed arms on the thin white bar, she surveyed the landscape which had appeared during the time of their conversation and blinked slowly in weary thought. The large airship had lifted off at six oclock that morning after shed had only eight hours of restless sleep and it was resting heavily on her already weak muscles. She yawned widely and slumped a little, weighing heavily on the white metal rail. Her hands fingers the bars idly and her eyelids drooped a little as she scanned the horizon for any sign of their destination. Minutes turned to half an hour as Cid finally stood and brushed down his knees.
"My work here is done," he announced in a voice reminiscent of movies about superheroes with a lopsided smirk. "Im gonna go inside now. You comin?"
Tifa shook her head but didnt turn. "No, were almost there arent we? I mean whats the point if-"
She stopped suddenly.
In the distance, on the very edge of her clear vision there was a smattering of white against the frosty-green of the fields below. Brown fences criss-crossed the muted greenery, sectioning off nature in mans typically artificial way. At first the stripes of dead wood were abstract and far between, but as the Highwind raced across the plains there was a noticeably more patterned method to the lines. They became more parallel and closer together the nearer the vast airship came to the peculiar cropping of white and as they came ever closer to it, shapes came out of the formless mass.
It was Nibelheim.
"Whats wrong, Teef?"
"Th-thats Nibelheim, isnt it?" she asked falteringly as she extended a feeble hand in a vague gesture.
Cid frowned a little as he looked to the distance. His eyes falling upon the now clearer collection of houses he gave a single nod. "Yeah, there arent any other towns or villages for miles around. It has to be."
Tifa gave an involuntary shudder as she swallowed hard. "Thought so," she said hoarsely.
He looked at her. "Youve gone pale," he proclaimed softly. "Are you sure youre okay with this? At least come inside and get some rest. Its been a long journey."
She shook her head firmly. "No. Im staying right here. Im not going to help myself by running away."
"Standing up and fighting isnt always the way, yknow. If theres one thing Ive learnt with being a pilot is that theres a time for everything. Pushing yourself isnt always the best thing to do when you can come back and tackle something another day. Ive had a few friends die in the past because they thought they could go that one step further."
Tifa pulled a face. "Youre getting too old Cid," was all she replied and he burst out laughing.
"Damn," he exclaimed. "Time to pull out the pipe and slippers!"
"Im sure that Shera already has them warming by the fire for you."
He chuckled. "Just remember what I said. Youre too headfast for your own good sometimes. Id better go inside; them damned rookies still need me to do the simplest things "
He left the deck, closing the door behind him with a bang which was swallowed by the steadily decreasing air currents. Her gaze still fixed on the village quickly approaching them, she didnt even seem to notice when the vast airship came to a halt only five-hundred metres away from one of the houses. She held her attention on one thing and one thing only.
The water tower.
The place where Cloud and I once sat she murmured mentally. When he became my hero. He said that hed always come back for me whenever I needed help but now
"I need help now Cloud. Now more than ever but youre not here. Where are you ? Why did you have to go ?"
Tears misted her vision but she didnt even bother to flick them back and allowed them to spill over and run down her pallid cheeks unhindered. They dripped off the edge of her chin and landed on the silvery-grass many metres below where she stood. She followed their path for a few seconds as they seemed to descend through the air almost ethereally with a graceful stillness before fading from her view completely.
A door opened behind her once more and this time she moved.
"Hello, Tifa," greeted Shera warmly. "Good Gracious, its freezing out here! Shall I get you a coat?"
It was indeed very cold and it was only then that Tifa actually realised so. She wore a pastel-pink T-shirt beneath a tan leather jacket, but over her legs donned a pair of figure hugging blue jeans which felt suddenly transparent to the elements. She gave a visible shiver and pulled the collar of her jacket up. "Ill be alright," she replied through gritted teeth. "Winters used to be worse than this when I was a kid. Im sure Ill get used to it in no time."
Shera nodded with a degree of uncertainty but eventually threw her worries away as the younger woman flashed her a weak, yet comforting smile.
"Its a lovely place," the technician praised to change the subject as she walked over to the railings and stood beside Tifa. "It must have been wonderful growing up here."
"Oh it was," the proprietress answered and she smiled genuinely as her breath made beautiful, silver clouds in the air when she spoke. "My friends and I used to go out and play in the fields around here. Sometimes wed even go up to the mansion, but I was too terrified to actually go in. Cloud once-"
She stopped abruptly and sighed.
"Carry on," Shera urged supportively as she placed a hand on her arm.
"Cloud was the only one who dared to go in. He didnt have many friends, but he overheard us talking about wanting to play hide-and-seek in there once. But none of us had the courage. That night, he went and had a look around and told us all about it the next day. None of the boys believed him, but I always did.
We were talking about that a few years ago when we were setting up the bar," she continued with a wistful smile. "He said that he only did it to impress me, but he was heartbroken when I didnt seem to care."
"But you did?"
Tifa nodded. "Yeah, I thought he was really brave for going ahead and doing something like that when not even adults went in the gardens. I think thats when I really started to notice him. Before hed just been some guy that hung around on his own, getting in fights with some of my friends whenever they teased him. I knew it was wrong, but I never bothered stopping them. After he did that though, I used to say hi whenever we walked past one-another or happened to be in the same room. There was only once we properly talked, and that was the night before he left to join SOLDIER." She pointed to the water tower. "We sat out under the stars on the well that night. It was really beautiful."
Then she fell silent and looked down with an almost embarrassed stance at her feet. Shera beamed brightly at her. "Thats beautiful," she said. "Im glad that you havent forgotten things like that. Maybe it truly was a good idea to bring you back here."
"But ." Tifa whispered beneath her breath. "This is the place where I lost my parents . This is where Sephiroth killed hundreds of people and went mad. Cloud rescued me that day and I never even realised; he risked his life for mine. And now now hes left me for something so much greater. I-I always used to think I thought that love was the most powerful thing in the universe. But how can it be if its so fickle ?"
She gave a sob, but put her hand over her mouth as Shera embraced her tightly. "Easy now " she pacified softly. "Dont hold it in. Youve come here to get better; dont be afraid to say what you think."
She felt Tifa nod as she buried her head in the technicians shoulder. "Thanks Shera," she whispered gratefully. "I dont think I ever couldve got this far without you."
The older woman said nothing in reply and merely held the weeping girl with a quiet concern as she ran her hand lightly down the dull hair of her companion. "Come on," she murmured softly. "Lets get our things together. The sooner we get off this airship, the better youll feel."
Tifa nodded again as she wiped her eyes on the back of her jacket. She gave a slight laugh. "Im going to have to sort myself out," she said with a mixture of joviality and sadness. "Im sure Vincent wont appreciate me flooding the place out with tears."
Shera gave a snort of laughter and smiled. "If he stops you doing what you want to, then you just get me around. Hes meant to help you, not make you suppress your emotions."
"Even still," Tifa shuddered suddenly as she looked over the rooftops towards the old Shinra Mansion which seemed to dwell in a permanent shadow, watched over by the oppressive Mount Nibel behind it. "Hes not expecting me is he? I dont want to make him regret my presence."
"Im sure he wont," Shera beamed. "Youll add a bit of life to that place in no time."
The proprietress shrugged. "Id imagine that life is the last thing hed want. It seems to be what hes tried to escape from."
Shera cast a worried look in the direction of the suddenly melancholy woman by her side. Clearing her throat to shatter the depressed atmosphere, she made a motion to enter the Highwind and the two women left the deck in favour of the warmth inside.
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