Time has moved on, as it has a habit of doing. Life is continuing on this Planet, with no small thanks to the most courageous of flower girls. My companions and I witnessed the end of days, somehow managing to grant the inhabitants of the world safety after risking our lives for a second time against an evil I hope never to see again. Yes, we are all rebuilding. Myself included, as shocking as that sounds.
I was somehow convinced to remain in the slowly re-populating Edge with Barret, Cloud, Tifa, and the children Denzel and Marlene. As anxious as I was to return to my dwelling in the Nibleheim mansion, I realized with some relief that I was in no hurry. There would be quite enough time for roaming in my quiet solitude. Therefore, I put myself up in a small apartment. It was modest and cozy, not entirely suitable for having company… Though some people didn't seem to notice.
Cloud had a habit of dropping in from time to time, but not as often as Tifa. I'm sure not long ago I'd have inwardly grumbled at the interruption, but allowed them their visit with sparse yet polite conversation. However, I feel myself drawn… or more accurately tied to this group of people. More and more, this notion began to bother me less. It was pleasant to feel wanted in one way or another, if only as company. Living this way, I realized, was preferable.
It was no small surprise then when I found a visitor knocking at my door one rainy evening. What was odd was the time in which she came to call, and the evident distress in her merlot colored eyes. She stood in the doorway, still wearing her apron, and rubbing her arms in the chilly nocturnal shower. The woman looked as if she weren't sure she should have come. Though it was late, I noted that I didn't truly mind.
"I'm s-sorry, Vincent… Can… Can I come in?" Her teeth were chattering quietly, concealed behind tightly drawn lips.
I sighed inwardly, but gestured for the sopping woman to come in. "Please do."
She nodded her thanks and stepped in meekly, trying not to drip on anything aside from the simple doormat she stood on. "Oh, uh…"
"Wait here." I requested, and quickly made for my almost uncomfortably small bathroom for a towel. When I returned to the main room, she was staring sullenly at the floor, eyes vacant. It was then I began to believe perhaps something happened at the bar that night. Whatever it was, it wasn't just an unruly patron, for I have seen first hand that Tifa can most assuredly quell any trouble in her establishment. It must have been something more…
"Here," I offered quietly, almost gently. This surprised me, and it may have surprised her as well because her eyes flickered for but a moment with an emotion I couldn't place. It was gone with a nod of her head though, and she took it gratefully.
"I'm really sorry about the mess… And the time… I can go if you-"
"That's not necessary." I cut her off smoothly before she could have time to finish the thought. She blinked, and nodded again.
"It is not a problem." I intoned politely. She took this as a signal to sit down on one end of my couch, leaving me to seat myself in the armchair to her left. Tifa wrapped the towel tightly around herself, no longer trying to dry her clothes and hair, but trying to retain heat. Upon noticing this, I stood and silently retrieved the thick blanket draped across the back of the couch. She simply watched my movements, as if she were not sure what it was I was going to do with the large throw.
I may have been a bit distant, but I was never rude to guests if I could help it. I'm fairly sure letting her sit there and shiver would constitute a bad host and a poor friend. Friend… the use of the word was coming much more easily these days. I was even able to associate the word with Yuffie, despite her obvious pleasure when teasing myself in particular these days. Perhaps I was acting out of character by being so polite, but I was raised as a gentleman.
Tifa gave a weak smile when I draped the blanket over her shoulders, and looked up at me from where she sat. "You don't have to, Vincent…" She was referring to my fussing over her. Since it was to my house she came, she would just have to endure my hospitable fussing, and that was that.
"I am aware. But it wouldn't do to have you catch cold." Before she could even respond, I headed over towards the kitchen in the corner. "May I offer you some tea? Or coffee perhaps?"
I imagine she caught my meaning, as she nodded after a moment. "Tea, please… Thank you…" Just as I expected.
"It will be ready in a moment."
"Mm…" Was her answer as I pulled the tea from the cupboard and filled the kettle with water to boil. "I… I really don't want to bother you…" She began again. "I know how you like your peace and quiet."
"Truly, Tifa, I do not mind…" She smiled at that, while I wondered at her strange, halting statements.
"Maybe…" The tea pot began to whistle then, and I reached into the cupboard once more for two mugs. Tifa drew the blanket closer around herself as I poured the steaming water in with the tea bags. "You've always been kind that way." I raised an unseen eyebrow at that one. I'm not entirely sure it was pure kindness all the time. But part of me was glad that was the way I came across to her. She had come to me for comfort, or at least that was what I was led to believe by her fidgety and distracted behavior.
"Tell me Miss Lockheart…" I began as I set her tea down in front of her on the coffee table. "What brings you here this dreary evening?" The key was now turned in the lock of Pandora's Box. Her eyes reflected understanding. She knew I was very observant.
"… A man came into the Seventh Heaven tonight… I'd never seen him before, but he made it very apparent that he'd seen me before." I settled myself back into the armchair, holding the warm mug between my hands as I paid close attention. It was certainly one of my strong points.
She continued after a sip of her tea. "I don't know if any of us ever mentioned the other members of AVALANCHE… You never met them. They died… before you could." Tifa seemed to choke on the word. "Wedge, Biggs… and Jessie. They were like family, Barret's and mine… They were killed while trying to defend the Plate above Sector 7 in Midgar."
As she spoke, I noticed how she averted her eyes. She was right however. This was the first I'd heard of these three fallen comrades. This was likely due to the commotion after the event. Tifa drew in a shaky breath, bringing my attention back to her story.
"Anyways… This man came in tonight, and slammed his fist down on the counter…Maybe he was drunk, or just very angry… I was about to ask him to quiet down or leave, when he pinned me with this look." Her eyes softened and became unfocused. "Like he'd never hated someone so much in his entire life… As if I was the one cause of everything that ever went wrong in his life… Now that I think about it, maybe I was…"
To this I raised an eyebrow. "I do not understand. I highly doubt that-"
"He was Jessie's fiancé, Vincent." Her eyes caught mine, and I couldn't help but stare. This time, I could definitely understand the emotion dancing in her distraught eyes. It was guilt. Something I knew far too much about. Finally, she dropped her gaze back into the depths of her tea cup. "She was like a sister to me… How could I not have known she had someone waiting for her at home…?"
I sat slowly forward in my chair, mostly in an attempt to let her know I was still listening carefully. The other part of me realized suddenly that the close proximity didn't bother me the way it always had before. Before I could ponder this more, I happened to glance at her fingers turning white from gripping the mug so tightly.
"He began throwing accusations at me… The whole room went silent as he yelled, and for the first time I was powerless to stop it…" Her brows knitted together as she stared hard into the unoffending liquid. "He said, 'You terrorists should have just stayed put. Jessie's dead because of you', 'We'd have been married by now', 'You people shouldn't have encouraged her, and now she's gone while you're free to set up a new bar'…" With each comment, her voice rose and became stronger, fuller. Yet it trembled…
"Then he asked what we were plotting this time… Like Seventh Heaven would serve as another base… As if we were common criminals, trying to spread violence even now…" Tifa bowed her head then, and I placed a firm hand on her shoulder.
"Tifa…" Her shoulders began to quake under my touch, but she refused to look at me. It may have had to do with her pride, and her refusal to break down and make me uncomfortable. Though I couldn't see myself feeling that way at this point.
"I could have stopped them… Could have saved them… If I'd just put an end to it sooner…" She barely whispered. My intense hearing picked it up easily, and I surprised myself by lifting her chin to look her in the eyes.
"All things happen for a reason, Tifa… They chose their path as you chose yours. Without AVALANCHE, events may not have unfolded the way they did, and meteor may have crashed into the Planet without opposition." She continued to stare up at me, even as she blinked away some silent tears. However, she seemed to have calmed herself.
"I know you're right… What you say is logical, but… I don't know if I'll forgive myself…" The full timbre in her voice was still there, but the volume had faded, and she sounded resigned. Now I understood why she came to me… She sounded much like myself, many years ago.
"It is something I understand all too well." My hand dropped from under her chin and I rested my elbows on my knees, still leaning forward. Tifa continued to gaze forlornly into my own eyes, which I assumed to be empty of any emotion. It was how they usually were, at this point. But she nodded, as if she connected with me for just a moment then… Simply looking into my eyes. It made me peer closer into her own burgundy pair in confusion. Just what was it she saw?
"It wasn't just Jessie, Wedge, and Biggs… I was involved in the Plate fall that killed… God, I don't even want to think about how many…" Her face went into her hand then, as if she were trying to block the images. "All those lives returned to the Lifestream that night… But the people who caused it are still alive, moving on with life. Or so people think…"
"You should not anchor yourself in the past. It does not serve anyone to bury themselves in guilt." I was just now coming to terms with this myself. People grow tired of the melancholy of such a long ago tragedy, just as I have. Perhaps she was not ready however.
This is an experiment of sorts, and may become the prequal to 'Rain Washes It All Away'. Let me know what you think please. Thank you!