Author's Note: Disclaimer and Extended Author's Note found below.
The wood of the pew was so old that it was nearly black, except where the varnish had been worn away by decades of worshippers - and even there, the grime of disuse worked to darken the wood again. Tifa picked at the decaying surface, gazing absently at the way the morning light coming through the stained glass windows painted her skin. Dark on her arms, as though the Geostigma was still there, and red on her hands, like the blood hadn't washed away...
She realized that there were others sitting on the pew with her. She felt the seat creak as they sat, felt the warmth of someone far too close to her. She raised her head and looked.
There was no one there - only the vague impression of green at eye level, and darkness beyond. She blinked, and it was gone - only her own shadow on the wood, outlined by the stained light.
The air must've shifted; the scent of the lilies that grew here seemed stronger.
She finally noticed the excited voices, and that some of the others were looking at her, and glanced up, toward the Mako-infused water.
And there, surrounded by some of the children who'd had Geostigma, stood Cloud.
Her eyes widened slightly; she sat up straighter, and then she smiled a little - as much as she could bring herself to. He was alive. He'd been given back. This was right - he deserved this mercy so much. That she'd been spared was simply an accident; he'd been completely resurrected.
Of course he had been. Aeris wouldn't let him rest until all was right with the world, or close enough. And he loved her for it.
Barret fairly pushed Denzel into the water. The boy stood nervously while Cloud anointed him with the diluted Lifestream, as though performing some ritual.
Tifa looked away, feeling far too tainted to witness this purification. It was nothing that she could be a part of. She wondered, if she touched the water, would it turn black? Had the healing rain truly wiped every trace of darkness from her? It didn't feel like it. Her chest tightened with the certainty that she would be forever as Cloud was, or at least had been before this rebirth - forever carrying the last remnants of the evil they'd fought.
The seat creaked again, but again, it was empty but for her shadow stretching out from her.
When she looked toward Cloud again, everyone cheering now and some splashing into the new pond, he wasn't looking at her. He was looking toward the door of the church, his face relaxed into the softest smile she'd seen him wear in years.
And it was not for her, and never would be.
Seventh Heaven was crowded, full of friends and neighbors and the families of the children who'd been healed and the children themselves. Tifa had simply nodded when Barret had suggested that they return there for food, and he and Yuffie had promptly raided the kitchen upon arrival, making quite a party of it. They'd been at it for so long that the light outside was fading.
Tifa scanned the room as she came down the stairs, having bathed and changed clothes. Vincent had suggested that she might want to rest, but Yuffie had been adamant that she come down and join them. Tifa had agreed for the sake of quieting her - trying to take some of that anxious undertone from the girl's voice.
Cloud turned and saw her, and smiled, but was quickly pulled away by some of the parents. A man in a cap whom she remembered seeing in the square slapped him so hard on the back that he stumbled forward. From his expression, Cloud was only slightly more comfortable with this party than she was.
She sat at the end of the bar, next to the wall, where she felt shielded from most of the room. She turned so as to watch - mostly to keep an eye out for anyone approaching her. Mercifully, she was left alone, for the most part.
Cid was mixing drinks, trying to twirl the bottles the way she did. He needed a lot of practice; he'd already broken two just since she'd come downstairs.
There came the sound of a third bottle smashing, and a string of completely uncensored curses from Cid that made several of the parents in the room blanch. Tifa couldn't help but smirk.
"That's better," Cid said instantly, slamming a glass down in front of her. Whatever was in it was brown and slopped when the glass hit the bar, and smelled like it might just be a bit of every bit of liquor available.
Tifa's smile faded, but she accepted the drink. She decided that she didn't care what it was.
Cloud had made his way toward them, pacing behind the bar with his cellphone to his ear, covering his other ear with his hand. He had to shout to be heard over the noise of the crowd. "What? No, not talking work today, sorry!" He glanced up at her and smiled again, then turned and wandered into the kitchen, still listening to whoever had called him.
She turned her back on the room, sipping at the drink. It tasted horrible, but at least it was strong.
She felt the air next to her stir, the sound of rustling fabric just barely discernable over the din. She looked, half expecting it to be only her shadow.
"Noisy," Vincent commented, only briefly meeting her eyes as he settled onto the barstool next to her.
It was like having another wall on her other side - he wouldn't speak to her unless she spoke first, and most others would decline to approach with him there.
And for that, Tifa was thankful.
It was dark outside when Shinra and his entourage showed up, and even though some of the families had left, the noise level increased again. It didn't take long for most of the children and parents to clear out with the addition of the Turks to the party.
Vincent disappeared somewhere, possibly the kitchen. Tifa turned, watching Rufus waving away help as he walked stiffly to an empty seat across the room, his Turks fluttering around him like moths to flame. He sat at the same table as Reeve, who was talking to Nanaki and doing something with his robotic Cait Sith puppet that involved a screwdriver and a sewing kit.
Reno promptly took a running jump and vaulted over the bar, snatching up bottles so quickly that he couldn't possibly have had time to note the contents. He tossed several across to his partner, then glanced at Tifa as though he expected her to object. Cid sure was, though he was making an effort to curb his tongue this time, all too aware of the kids still in the room after having been reprimanded by one of their mothers. It was making him creative.
It didn't matter.
At the far end of the bar, Marlene was sitting in her father's lap. They smiled and laughed, but Marlene kept looking over at Tifa, worry crossing her round features.
Tifa looked away from her, staring at an indeterminate patch of air on the other side of the bar. Where she had stood countless times, tending or cleaning...
That had been someone else. Some other lifetime. Not something meant for her.
Of course Marlene was worried. Barret had left her in Tifa's care, and they'd grown close, and she'd trusted her. And the little girl had seen Tifa beaten unconscious and separated from her, and if nothing else, knew that something bad had happened to her after that.
Tifa hoped that Marlene knew no more than that.
The girl had to be worried that something like that might happen again. Tifa had failed. There was no way that she could protect Marlene now.
She'd just decided that she must be drinking too slowly - the drinks didn't seem to be having any effect yet - when someone sat down next to her again. "I'll have what she's having."
Tifa's head jerked up in surprise. The female Turk, Elena, swiveled the barstool so as to face her. "Been a long couple of days, and that smells strong enough to help."
The corner of Tifa's mouth crept upward, but it couldn't quite be classified as a smile. "Not really. This is my third."
Cid visibly startled at hearing her speak, but didn't disturb them, other than to hand Elena a glass full of something he'd hastily slopped together. It was a different shade of amber than what was in Tifa's glass, but the concept was obviously the same.
They were silent for a few minutes, but not uncomfortably so. Elena eventually spoke again. "I wanted to... Ah, I don't know the right words." She took a sip from her glass, making a face. "I don't know if there are right words. But I... They got a hold of Tseng and I for a while there. I know what they could do." She took a gulp this time. "I feel sorry for you."
Tifa did not flinch; she only stared into her glass, running her finger around the wet rim. The faintest of hums came from the glass edge.
She'd been sure that words like these would break her. She'd been waiting for them. But... the silence of her friends, as they tried to draw cheer out of her - their furrowed brows and rushed whispers to each other - that was worse. Having sympathy offered so bluntly was a relief.
"Vincent mentioned getting you out of there," she responded, still staring at her drink. The damp at the edge on the glass wore away, the hum abruptly ceasing as her fingertip caught. She took the glass in hand again and drank deeply.
Elena nodded. "Yeah. Need to do something to thank him. Tseng was... fading, by that point. They stopped healing him in between..."
She glanced up as the Turk trailed off, and watched Elena set down her drink and fold her hands in her lap. She would've been the very image of control, had Tifa not seen the way her hands were shaking.
Tifa set her own drink down again, wrapping her hands around the glass. "Did they -"
"No," Elena answered a little too quickly. She swallowed, then looked Tifa in the eye. "I've never been so glad to be just beaten senseless in my entire life."
The corner of Tifa's mouth twitched again, and this time, it was definitely a smile. "Thanks," she said quietly, almost hoping that nobody else would hear.
Elena nodded, half-smiling as well. "By the way? Highwind is a horrible bartender. This is the worst drink I've ever had."
It must've been going on midnight by the time the room cleared entirely. Shinra left first, still deep in conversation with Reeve. The Turks followed closely, with Rude dragging his now bruised and unmistakably drunk partner along by the collar of his jacket. Yuffie waved cheerily after them - she was the one who'd given Reno his bruises - before helping Cid and Vincent tidy up. The three of them went upstairs soon after, heading for the guest rooms. Barret excused himself to take Marlene up to bed; she'd fallen asleep in his lap. Nanaki had been dozing by the table that he and Reeve had occupied, and roused enough to head upstairs himself when Reeve left.
Cait Sith remained sitting on the table, slumped and still without Reeve's control.
Denzel came over and sat next to Tifa, hugging one knee to his chest, the other leg dangling from the barstool. He joined her in staring at her empty glass. "Tifa?"
The boy took a deep breath, started to speak, stopped, and sighed. Then took another breath, his voice low. "What... What he did to you..."
Tifa raised her eyes, brow furrowing. She hadn't been sure how much Denzel had known of what had happened to her, but it seemed that he knew enough. "Denzel -"
"I know what he did, and it's not right," the boy said quietly, resolutely keeping his eyes - beautiful and blue and round as they should be - from meeting hers.
"I know, and..." He swallowed uncomfortably. "I want to learn to fight. Both from you and Cloud. I want to learn to fight better than they could, so that whenever they or anyone else like them comes around again, they won't be able to hurt anyone at all. I couldn't... I couldn't do anything to stop them, but I want to be able to..."
"We'll see," Tifa murmured, gaze sliding away from the boy. It didn't make sense that he wanted to learn to fight from her when she'd been beaten so badly. He'd probably forget the request anyway. He had time to forget.
"I'll teach you."
Cloud was standing behind them; the corner of his mouth twitched upward. "We'll talk about it later. Go on upstairs now, Denzel. It's late."
Denzel returned Cloud's smile and rushed to comply, barely ducking away when Cloud ruffled his hair.
Cloud watched him go, waiting until he was out of sight before letting the small smile fade. He took Denzel's place next to Tifa, even as she looked away again.
For a long time, neither of them spoke.
Cloud finally cleared his throat. "When I... realized that I had Geostigma," he whispered, "I... I thought I deserved it, after everything that I'd messed up. I thought that if I left, it'd be easier for everybody to get over it, when it killed me. If I wasn't there to be mourned."
Tifa said nothing. He wasn't even sure if she'd heard him, but he continued anyway. "But you... all of you were still here for me. I was just too stupid to notice..."
"Do you have a point?" Tifa muttered, uncomfortably sure that she knew what he was getting at.
Cloud winced - he could fight for hours on end, but one sharp word from her could cut him to the core. "I know it hurts." He looked at her, turning slightly on the barstool. "All of it. Some things you don't think should hurt at all are the worst, too."
Tifa lowered her head, her hair hiding her face.
He took a deep breath. "If you need... If you need to go, we'll be here waiting for you. All of us." He leaned, tilting his head, inviting her to look him in the face. "I'll be waiting for you."
She didn't look. "I'm not worth it."
"Doesn't matter," Cloud murmured. "I'll still wait. You waited for me, even when I failed you."
They were silent for a long time.
She finally raised her head. "I need space."
He nodded, standing and moving away from her. "I..." he trailed off, staring at her back, then shook his head. "Good night, Tifa," he said, his voice filling the words with every emotion he had for her. He turned and headed for the stairs, looking back at her only once.
In the morning, Tifa was gone, and Cloud knew that just like him, she hadn't looked back. That just like him, she knew herself to be broken and worthless.
And that just like him, she was wrong.
End Author's Note:
This bit of explaining is dedicated to a friend, without whose grilling on the subject I probably never would've bothered to document this. It is thanks to her that I am reminded that some explanation is in order, as the subject matter here ain't exactly sweetness and light.
This is not a love story.
No, seriously. It's not. If this version of Loz had a clue as to what actual love was, he never would've done this (Yay Canon!), and nobody, much less someone as strong-willed as Tifa, is going to fall in love with someone who rapes them. Just, no. Not without a great deal more mental instability beforehand and a significantly more liberal application of Stockholm Syndrome, as far as I'm concerned.
Allow me to reiterate: This is not a love story.
Angst, Drama, even Horror, but not Love.
Why write in the rape, then?
The plot wouldn't work without it, and it's not even purely for the sake of infecting her in the first place. In her "On the Way to a Smile" story, it's shown that Tifa, of all people, does indeed have doubts and angst post-game. However, Cloud wants her to forget these feelings, instead of dealing with them. Tifa being the sort to bottle things up and do just about anything if she thinks it'll help someone she cares about, she likely buries these doubts for Cloud's sake. I suspect that these feelings are still there in Advent Children, where she's thrown herself wholeheartedly into supporting Denzel and Marlene and Cloud - she's living for them, not herself. She is strong enough to bolster Cloud; even losing badly to Loz isn't enough to break her. Alone, being taken away from everything she cares about and shown how powerless she is mightn't even be enough to break her. But that, in conjunction with the buried angst, is enough for her to break herself - thus leaving Jenova a way in to begin to take control.
Also, rape is such a badly used and horribly mangled plot device that I think I kinda wanted to redeem it a bit. Say, hey, this isn't something fluffy to be played with like that; cut it out with the Magical Healing Sex and Rape Love stuff, eh? It's ridiculous to the point of disrespectful. If you're going to write that, note that you at least know it's fantasy... I really worry about a lot of fanfic authors and what they're going to get themselves into, writing on the subject at chronically young ages.
So what's with Sephiroth in Chapter 10?
The stronger the Jenova cells within her become, the more of their own voice they grow to have. At first this shows as a lack of anger toward Loz for his actions (which could just be part of the shock/depression setting in). It progresses to outright physical attraction (her mind is still her own, but her body has other ideas). Finally, it manifests as her hallucinations of Sephiroth. In all cases, the intent of the Jenova cells is the same: keep her broken enough to stay with, or angry enough to go to, the Remnants. The intent of her waking mind is inconsequential so long as that goal is achieved, and the schism of two utterly different wills in one mind drives her fairly mad by the end. The will of Jenova within her appears to her as Sephiroth because he is, to her, the representation of all evil and opposition. It's she herself who fills in his personality and actions, just as it was he that filled in Jenova's personality as his Mother.
In Chapter 10, Sephiroth is a combination of the will of the Jenova cells - break her and keep her from fighting rescue - and Tifa's own fears and memories. As someone who had already faced death many times, the scene conjured to break her was drawn from those memories, and changed to hurt her with the powerlessness that frightens her more than death (which her subconscious readily admits, though her conscious self refuses to acknowledge this, as a survival tactic).
If this is so traumatic, why is Tifa being so detached?
The short answer: Survival. There's a planet to save; she'll break down on her own time.
The long answer: It seems from the game that she'll hold everything inside if she thinks it'll accomplish something, be that keeping her childhood friend near her, or keeping him sane. She's also exceptionally strong, physically and mentally (she could fall into the Lifestream and come out just fine, whereas other people - like Cloud - would lose their minds in the liquid memory). Her tendency to bottle things up is her weakness. In this case, she's hiding her hurt away to deal with later out of necessity - it's her only option for dealing with it. Either she removes herself from it so that she can function, or she becomes useless broken deadweight (which she's too strong to do, whether she likes it or not, in my opinion).
Did Loz ever love Tifa or not?
Does it matter? Either he does and he's just that clueless/twisted, or his fascination with Tifa is driven by Jenova attempting to secure a suitable host, in which case he's doing his Mother's will and he'd be happy anyway.
I'm never writing him quite like this again. I like him too much.
Anyway. While I'd read materials before (so I wasn't going into this totally clueless), I did not at first find anything specific on rape that didn't involve direct personal stories. As I was doing a fictional portrayal of rape after-effects - specifically, the effects of the Jenova cells - I really, really was not comfortable with utilizing anyone's true personal story. I felt that this would be highly disrespectful of a serious subject. So, I gave up and drew on what I already knew and how I thought things would work with the given characterizations.
The friend that inspired this note, however, has stronger google-foo than I, and found some links that weren't as personal-sounding as what my own searches had turned up. I tried one, which, while it includes personal information, also includes helpful clinical information. So, I can recommend
dancinginthedarkness dot com
as a useful resource. However, please remember that this is a real site, with information on real problems and real people, and be respectful of these peoples' privacy and the gravity of the problem.
If I hear of anyone harassing them with hypothetical fic questions,
I Will Make That Someone Regret It.
I'd say I hope that you enjoyed what is likely to be one of my few forays into angst, but... I'm not that certain that that's the right thing to say. :-P
And why did I have to write it? I DON'T KNOW. I'll add it here if I ever figure it out. ¬¬
I learned in writing this that I'll never do anything like this for any of my original fic. (Yes, I know that saying "never" pretty much ensures that it'll happen eventually... but not for a long time.) I also learned that I like writing action a lot more than writing angst, so I'm going to go work on some of my other current fic here on in particular the post-apocalyptic AU Noir de la Lune, where Tifa is still broken (but less so, and for different reasons) and far more harsh, and will doubtless kick Loz's ass repeatedly. Lots of action, lots of destruction, less angst. :-)
I have some fluffier stuff to post here, too - soon I hope. Angst kicks my ass. So... see you later...
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII, its story, and characters are the property, copyright and trademark of Square Electronic Arts L.L.C., and no ownership or claim on said property, copyright or trademark is made or implied by their use in the work(s) of fan fiction presented here. This fan fiction constitutes a personal comment on the aforesaid properties pursuant to doctrines of fair use and fair comment. This fan fiction is non-commercial, not for sale or profit, and may not be sold or reproduced for commercial purposes.