Stay With Me Chapter 9
By Lucrecia Marionette
Tifa stepped with as much confidence as she could muster through the Inn doorway. The warm, cosy atmosphere hit her like a physical force in such an incredibly strong contrast to the Mansion. The warm, orange walls emanated heat into the thick carpet and lushly furnished reception; it enveloped her like some kind of liquid. Her breath faltered for a moment as her lungs adjusted to the warm air from the bitter coldness outside and she cleared her throat somewhat anxiously. There was a soft shuffling before her, and she looked up to see an old woman, her face crumpled by wrinkles, beam happily at her. Tifa could only find a weak smile in response, but her eyes revealed the sorrow and indecision in her soul.
"Now then, Deary," he old woman cooed comfortingly. "You look like a girl who could use a good bed to sleep in. All of our rooms are beautifully decorated with en-suite bathrooms. A lovely looking girl like you wont be travelling alone I expect; we have double beds too!"
Tifa squirmed uncomfortably and she walked with a degree of trepidation towards the counter that separated her from the Innkeeper. "Uh Im not actually looking for a room," she confided hesitantly. "Im looking for some people. Um, theyre guests here. Can you help me?"
"Oh well," the old lady sighed. She seemed disappointed but lost none of her homely front as she reached down from below the counter and somehow pulled up a huge book from a hidden shelf. "Names, Deary?"
"Oh, Cid and Shera Highwind?"
"Ah! The Highwinds!" The lady exclaimed brightly. "I know them; theyre over there in the dining area. We have all day meals if youd like to get something to eat; you look far too skinny for a girl your age."
Tifa gave a genuine smile of warmth as she thanked the Innkeeper and moved quietly towards a door which branched off from the reception. Peering around the frame it didnt take long to spot the couple seated a few metres away with their backs to her.
" And I say we go up there now. She said she was going to come down and see us last night. Something mustve happened."
"Damnit Shera! She probably found him and theyre talkin about old times even as you sit there panicking. No wonder youve got such a high blood pressure," Cid contended with a hint of anger in his voice. It was apparent that the conversation had been going on for quite some time now.
"Cid! Dont you dare take that tone of voice with me! Im just worried!"
"I know that youre worried and Im tellin you not to be."
The subject of their argument moved awkwardly at the doorway, chewing her bottom lip with a deep frown on her forehead. Running a hand through her hair with a drawn out sigh, she walked into the dining room.
" This place isnt safe for a young lady walking around at night. Especially not that big house! It sent shivers down my spine just looking at it," Shera continued testily.
"As soon as Vince moved in, those monsters probably moved out-"
"Wait a moment Cid Highwind!" Shera exclaimed in pure horror. "Monsters?? You never said anything to me about monsters!"
Tifa coughed subtly and the reaction was immediate. Both of the couple snapped back to look straight at her and their angry frowns collapsed into ambiguous mixtures of relief and shock. Cid leapt up and physically forced Tifa down into his seat as Shera grabbed her hands worriedly as though to make sure that the figure she beheld wasnt an illusion.
"Tifa! Youre alright!"
"Y-Yes," she stammered in amazement at their response. "Im fine."
"See!" Cid grinned happily as he swung around to the opposite side of the table and pulled up a new chair. "I told you that shed be fine. There was no need for you to worry after all."
Shera shot an angry look in her husbands direction, but smothered it as she turned back to Tifa with an overjoyed expression. "We were so worried," she breathed unnecessarily. "We sat up all night waiting for you."
Tifa looked down at her lap guiltily. "I had a feeling that you wouldve," she replied apologetically. "I was so tired after the flight yesterday, that as soon as I found a bed I just collapsed onto it. When I woke up it was far too late to come and disturb you."
"Oh it can never be too late," Shera frowned as she squeezed the young womans hands. "But now we know youre safe and thats a huge weight off my mind!"
Tifa smiled gently back at the technician and there was a comforting pause as their minds re-adjusted to the situation.
"So," Cid coughed eventually as he and Shera exchanged glances. "Were you uh, were you alone last night then?"
Tifa shifted her vision to the pilot. "I thought I was at first. The whole place is still so derelict and ruined. I was looking around when I found the bed and I couldnt help but fall asleep immediately. I woke up a few hours later and Vincent was there," she ended shortly and their eyebrows shot up high on their foreheads.
"Vincent??" Cid exclaimed. "He was actually there?"
Shera gasped in wonder. "Thats incredible. So hes remained here for all this time? What on earth does he do?"
Tifa faltered as their eyes pressed her silently for information. "I actually didnt ask him much," she began slowly. "Not much at all in fact." She sniffed a little and her stomach gave a large, unexpected growl as she caught scent of the leftovers from the couples breakfast. She quickly crossed her arms over her stomach with bright red cheeks. "Sorry," she mumbled in humiliation. "I havent eaten yet.
Shera smiled warmly. "Its good to see that youve got some appetite back at least."
Without even consulting with the young woman, Shera stood up and walked over to the breakfast bar on the other side of the room clutching a menu. Cid gave a chuckle and Tifa turned to him.
"Has she gone to get me something?"
Cid grinned and nodded. "Shell probably bring you back a pile of food to rival Nibel. If you just eat a bit then youll put her in a good mood for the rest of the day."
Tifa nodded quite seriously and was momentarily taken aback to watch as Cid turned back to her, his expression completely pensive and devoid of any joviality. He leant across the table towards her with a look of concern.
"Hows Vincent?" he asked quickly in a subdued fashion.
"He seems " she struggled in thought for a second. "He seems alright. The same as hes always been really."
"He didnt try to hurt you or anything did he?"
"Cid!" Tifa exclaimed in horror, a little more loudly than shed intended. "Vincent would never hurt me!"
The pilot cringed a little. "I know that. I know hed never hurt you in the past but hes been on his own for so long that " his voice trailed off and he glanced up in idle interest as a figure mumbled an excuse me and brushed past Tifas chair.
Following her companions line of vision, she turned back and only saw the back of the figure move out of the doorway and into the reception.
"If hes the same Vince then hed never harm you, but I was just worried in case he went a bit yknow mad after being alone for so long. You know what isolation can do to a guy "
Cid continued to chatter in a manner which completely exposed his inner joy over Tifas safety. Although her ears took in his words, they didnt seem to reach her brain and she was only thankful for the sound of his voice and the warm familiarity it brought with it.
Her eyes gradually drifted from his own steely-blue gaze to a corner opposite her shrouded in shadow. For the first time since her entry into the dining room she realised that there was more than herself and her friends in the eating area.
From the direction of the person who had brushed past her a minute before there sat a solitary man who stared at her unabated and without any desire whatsoever to disguise his interest in her. She could see only one of his eyes; the other was obscured behind a black eye-patch which cut down his forehead from the right to conceal his left eye. He blinked slowly as her stare locked onto his and she found herself unable to turn away from him.
He had the most beautifully coloured hair; it reminded her vaguely of Renos vivid red shade, and yet it was much darker like a rich mahogany with tints of deep purple. It was very straight, the tips settling on his shoulders and curling under his chin neatly. His face was masculine and yet feminine at the same time; the jaw was broad and angular but he had very prominent cheekbones running down to thin lips pressed into an impassive line.
But that eye that beautiful, beautiful eye seemed to hypnotise her and haunt her with memories that she knew she would not forget for as long as she lived.
It was blue, but not just blue. It was a vivid sapphire; wide and elegant and it literally glowed from the darkness that the man sat within. He blinked again, obscuring the gorgeous cobalt and leaving her with an intense longing until it fell upon her once more. Her heart pounded and her blood raced as that cerulean point continued to stare at her with an intensity which blocked out everything around her until not even the meaningless murmurs of Cids voice could penetrate her senses.
Her mouth opened slightly and her lips moved tentatively as though she wanted to speak but could find no words to vociferate the words which screamed through her soul. She licked her lips as her eyes widened a little and a strange murmur came up from her throat before she could stop it.
Tifa gave a violent jerk as her head snapped around sightlessly attempting to find the source of the interruption. Cid grabbed her hands roughly and forced her to look at him. "Whats with you?" he cried in alarm. "It looked like someone had turned you to stone!"
"Oh God, Im sorry Cid," she apologised uncertainly. "I-Im not sure what happened then."
He perked an eyebrow, but a smile quickly turned up the corners of his lips. "Looks like some of Vincent has rubbed off onto you already, huh?" he laughed quietly.
Her gaze remained disturbingly thoughtful as she gazed back at him. Her lips parting slightly in a desire to speak, she instantly turned her head back to the corner.
But the man had gone.
Her frown deepened as she stood up from her seat and began to scan the room with almost panicked movements. Cid squeezed her hands worriedly and with a reluctant sigh she slumped back into her seat. "Cid, did you just see someone leave this room?" she asked him eventually. "He had an eye-patch."
He looked up reflectively. "There was that guy a few minutes ago, but no one with an eye-patch. Why?"
"Because I couldve sworn " her words lost their momentum but Cids curiosity was interrupted as Shera placed a plate laden high with food on the table between them, almost crushing their hands. She panted heavily from the sheer weight of the object and Cid burst out in raucous laughter.
"Shit, Shera!" he bellowed. "Are you hoping shell store this up and still eat it long after weve gone??"
Shera gave him a blank, unamused stare but wearily dropped into her chair, wiping her face with a handkerchief. "I just dont want you leaving hungry," she justified haughtily as she turned to the younger woman. "May as well overdo things than underdo them."
Tifa nodded in agreement although in truth she had no opinion on the subject. She idly reached down and picked up a slice of toast. She rested her left elbow upon the table and pressed her chin on the palm lazily. She nibbled the bread absently as she eyed the water tower outside the bay window at the head of the room, perhaps in some distant hope that the stranger would walk past.
People were already beginning to calm down from the morning rush and now the occasional family strolled past her vision at a leisurely rate. However, it puzzled her to notice that despite their cheerful front in the crisp day air, the eyes of the adults tended to be drawn inexplicably towards the huge, jagged peak of Mt Nibel. It was as though they expected some enormous demon to spring forth from the myriad of black crags and devour the village in the blink of an eye. Was that why the whole place had given such an air of desertion when the Highwind had arrived yesterday afternoon?
Had the roar of the powerful engines given such an impression of the thunderous snarl of some gigantic beast that they had hidden themselves away in their feeble shelter?
Vincent had mentioned something briefly the previous evening concerning the rumours of creatures living up on the peak and picking off travellers who passed that way. He had also suggested the possibility of said monsters finding their way down to Nibelheim and carrying out the worst fears of the inhabitants. As she pondered on his words it gradually became less of a surprise to her that they would be so edgy.
Shaking her head to dismiss the peculiar musings which invaded the conversation mid-flow, Tifa took another feeble bite of her dry toast.
"So anyway," Cid continued as Shera poured out a cup of coffee for herself and her husband as he helped himself to a sausage from the plate. "I was asking you about Vince before you zoned out on me."
Tifa merely nodded.
He took a bite from the sausage. "How is he? Is he well?"
Tifa shrugged. "He seemed a little distant, but I guess thats nothing too new. A bit fidgety it was like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders and needed to deal with it all last night."
Cid grinned. "So there really is nothing new then, huh?"
"I mean it was more than I ever remembered. I know that his vampirism used to bother him a lot, but most of the time you could forget about it." Tifa took a bite out of her toast. "But from the second I saw him it it was like I could feel it, you know?"
"Well, he only used to have to do what he had to every few days or so, right?" She nodded. "And after those few days he used to get really cranky if he didnt get what he needed. Maybe you just happened to catch him at a bad time. Maybe its been a while?"
Tifa nodded as she reached for another piece of toast under the watchful gaze of Shera who smiled quietly to herself. The proprietress simply held it between her hands however and diverted her stare to it contemplatively. "Perhaps. He must really be trying to hold himself back then if thats the case because it was really obvious. Id only seen him that anxious when we hadnt stopped by at any towns for almost a week."
"Pretty desperate then?"
Tifa nodded as she put the toast back on the plate. She leant back in her chair and held her hands over her stomach leisurely. "I dont know. Its been so long since Ive been around him that I guess I just need to get used to it all again. I suppose that anyone who didnt know him like we used to would pick up on things like that. Im just not sure if I feel well, comfortable around him."
"But, he felt as ease with you? He doesnt mind helping you?" Shera inquired softly and Tifa shrank back a little.
"Uh, I actually didnt mention why Im here," she confided hesitantly and the couple stared at her with arched brows. She met their eyes defensively. "He was desperate to get away and I was too tired to start explaining anything. I didnt want to hold him back any more."
"Youll tell him tonight though?"
Tifa gave half a forced nod and redirected her attention elsewhere in a non-committing answer. Cid just sighed and shook his head whilst Shera repressed the urge to force a more promising answer from the younger woman. She cleared her throat to break the stillness and gestured back at the plate.
"Have something more to eat," she said and Tifa shook her head.
"No thank you," she answered politely. "Im not hungry any more."
And that was the truth. The stare of that bizarre stranger had utterly dispelled any physical troubles which ailed her at that moment in time leaving only the hollow reminder that eye had given her. The colour was so similar in fact no, it was exactly the same -as the colour of His eyes. The sign of SOLDIER testing; the glow of Mako hung around that sapphire eye just as it had done on Clouds.
But all those that had been exposed to Mako had died long ago after Sephiroths demise. Mako meant Jenova and only those who had overcome the irresistible lure of the Reunion had survived the urge to kill themselves. Cloud had done so, but at what a cost! So who was this strange figure that had transfixed her so greatly?
She exhaled deeply. Shed broken away from Kalm to stop thinking and starting acting; already she was fighting against such a simple aim. The only thing she had discovered since her arrival were more things to fuel her ever contemplative fire rather than the energy and dismissal of heartache she needed so greatly.
She sullenly poured out a cup of coffee and sipped it in a hollow action. It was tasteless and burnt her tongue viciously as she swallowed far too quickly. Wincing a little, she put it down on the table before her and held her hands on her lap moodily.
Cid did likewise, and reached for another sausage from the plate. He took a large bite and chewed it as he stared at her. "I think well stick around for another few days," he announced carefully. "Just to make sure that youre settling in and everything. If you have second thoughts then it wont be so hard to break away."
Tifa nodded gratefully. "Thanks, Cid," she acknowledged gratefully. "I forgot about that I meant to ask you how long youd be staying for."
"As long as you need us to," Shera intervened with a degree of predictability.
A clock chimed unintrusively in the reception and Tifa counted the strokes silently. "Its one oclock," she said. "I really should go into town; Vincent gave me some money to buy food and things. The town seems to deserted by afternoon that Id hate to trouble anyone later."
"Does that mean youll be staying?"
Tifa shook her head. "I dont know. Im not sure I feel comfortable enough around him yet, but Id feel kinda rude if I turned down his Gil."
Shera nodded understandingly. "I can sympathise with that, but if you want to leave then you know where we are. Dont do something to please anyone else if it goes against your own wishes."
Tifa gave a slight laugh and placed a hand over Sheras arm. "Please dont worry so much. You know that I can take care of myself if I have to."
"See," Cid interjected as he pointed half a sausage at his wife in an I told you so gesture.
Shera rolled her eyes. "Dont listen to him. Dont be afraid to ask for help."
"Im not," Tifa reassured.
Shera gave a mildly satisfied gesture as she sipped her coffee quietly.
Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic