OK, so this is another venture into the realm of my own world. I.e. NORMAL rules do not apply. I'm so sorry for not finishing stories/updating as often as I would like, but for those of my readers who are also writers, you'll sympathise, right? It's hard once you've got a newamazingomg idea in your head to hold onto the old ones. I do apologise, and I'll do my best.
End chapter of Caffé Azzuro in the works, check it out!
A Monday morning as usual. The sun was shining brightly through her barely adequate curtains, waking her only an hour after dawn. At the sound of her feet on the bare wooden floors, Scout came trotting to her side from his place by the radiator, his black ears flopping around as he walked. She reached out for the morning's customary scratch under the collar, before she stood and stretched, her faithful sheep dog walking a few circles around her ankles.
The ladies were already up and gaggling away it seemed; as she tugged back the curtains and cast open the window, the babble of chatter from the chicken coup, and duck pond drifted into the room. She inhaled the scent of still-damp grass, clinging to the evening's dew.
Tugging on her rubber wellies and her husband's old, oversized rain Mac over her pyjama's, Tifa stepped outside her front door into the glorious morning light, laughing as her resident ducks waddled over to her. She trudged through the mud-ridden path towards the chicken coup, apologising to them over their screeching; she was only borrowing one egg. She would allow this clutch to hatch perhaps. New life was always an exciting thing to experience, at this time of year.
Retreating back into the warmth of her house, for the night had not yet relinquished it's cold grip on the morning, she set the kettle onto the stove to boil. Waiting for it to begin its impertinent whistling, she stood over by the window, arranging the few trinkets that adorned the sill.
The farm was located miles out from anywhere, in the quiet of the Kalm grasslands. While her husband had been alive, he hadn't always been at home. In that sense, this morning wasn't unlike one before his death. He worked in the mines, so many miles south of here, in the mountains. An unexpected landslide had claimed his life, as well as two others. That was four years before.
Now, she lived alone with their black and white sheep dog, Scout, as well as a wealth of adopted animals she had since taken into her care; several cats, named Confucius, Newton, Florence, and Aristotle (after famous persons from the books she had read,) a fox, she liked to call Twitch, and also her pride and joy, the black Chocobo, Troy.
Since her husband's death, she had busied herself with the house, undertaking jobs that he had never thought to complete, let alone start. She'd painted the whole building a lemon yellow, the doors and window frames a fresh spring green, and the white picket fence, remained so. She grew roses, tulips, her own vegetables in a large patch out the back, as well as having her own orchard, for apples, pears and plums. It was pretty idyllic, though if she ever cared to look upon the face of another living person, she would need to take Troy and ride for a half hour to Kalm. Though often, with her surrounding company, she did not require such very often.
Satisfied with her boiled egg, toast, and mug of tea, she offered a left over crust to a hopeful Scout, before retreating upstairs to dress properly for the day ahead. She didn't have that many jobs to do today, so she was quite looking forward to a long rambling walk with Scout, and also with Twitch, if he cared to accompany her. She'd reached an agreement with the little fox; no killing her chickens, and she would feed him. He'd been abandoned as a cub, and unable to resist his flame-coloured fur, big amber eyes, and his mew-like bark, she had adopted him. The cats were always there to keep him in line, were he to start trouble, she thought with a chuckle.
She twisted the squeaking valve that set off the burst of hot water, stepping under the refreshing stream to rinse away any residual aches from her night's slumber. She had not slept particularly well; the moon was high, filtering in through her curtains, keeping her awake. Suitably washed, she shut off the stream of water, and rubbed at her body roughly with a towel, padding across the small hall space between the bathroom and her bedroom, Scout at her heels. He accompanied her everywhere, and she had been lonely enough four years ago to not wish to discourage him.
Selecting a knee length dress striped with pastels, to go with her rather unorthodox wellington boots, feeling that perhaps it would be good to get some sun to her legs at least, she combed out her hair then swiftly braided it, hoping that the sun would dry it out by the afternoon. A cotton jacket covering her shoulders, her door keys in hand, as well as Scout's favourite tennis ball, she shot a glance at the clock before she locked her back door leading out of the kitchen and out into the yard. It was just past lunch time. She didn't plan on returning until late afternoon. If she was lucky, Scout would catch her a rabbit; that way she could make a pie, or a stew to last her a few days. With said companion yapping at her heels, she clapped her hands together and set off at a trot down the muddy path, towards the open pastures of the Kalm grasslands.
The birds were all atwitter, dancing mad circles in the open skies above her. Heading east, towards the coast, she had been walking for two hours, her limbs aching in a way that made her long for her armchair by the fire, and a good book. Her arm was tiring from the continual action of flinging the ball for Scout as far as she could. Aforementioned dog had his tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth, his ear pricked and alert. Tifa smiled; He had caught the scent of something, that was for sure, and she laughed as the sheep dog shot off, his legs working tirelessly beneath him.
Tifa turned around, back in the direction of her farm, Scout now just a black and white blue in the expanse of green. Though the day had been filled with promise of good weather, a frown crossed her face at the sight of grey clouds gathering ahead of her. If it were to rain, she'd be walking right into it.
Picking up her pace, she made after Scout. The dog returned to her side a good while later, his flanks heaving, though not without reason; clutched in his jaws was a rather fat brown rabbit, which he then proceeded to drop at his owner's feet.
"Good boy!" She fussed, mussing the dog's fur. Picking the poor creature up, she fastened a small length of rope about its feet, and carried it by her side. She loved animals, that was certain, but Scout was a natural hunter; to not eat it would be a waste of good meat. And her favourite thing to eat, was rabbit stew.
They continued on happily for a time, the sky ever darkening as it passed over her head. She could make out her farm in the distance now; another mile perhaps, though she doubted they would escape the rain.
Suddenly, Scout started to bark, his teeth bared, a distressed whine emitting from his throat. "What is it Scout?" Perhaps, she thought, he could sense the imminent storm. But of course he should be used to them by now… The dog whimpered, his nose raised to the air, twitching rapidly. Then he bounded off, stopping to sniff at various points on his way. The ground was unlevel around this area; thick tussocks of grass, rabbit holes, and even Badger sets dotted the grasslands, making walking a little precarious for those with a careless step. Though when she saw what Scout had found, she disregarded them, breaking into a clumsy run.
Her dog was currently sniffing at a lifeless shape, partially obscured by the trunk of a tree, from her point of view. She could make out legs, and now closer, hands… The clouds were breaking now, and she could hear the faint patter-patter of rain drops hitting the leaves of the oak tree ahead. She dropped the rabbit to the ground, ceasing in her running underneath the cover of the tree. A man lay with his back up against the tree's trunk, his shirt soaked through with what she knew was blood. It looked dark, old, as though he had been wounded for some time. He defiantly had not been there when she had set out that afternoon.
"Oh my god!--Can you hear me?" She fell into a crouch, unsure of what to do. The man was clutching at a place on his chest, his fingers stained with fresh blood. "Sir?"
His eyes opened slowly revealing dark irises, struggling to focus on the source of the voice, though she was not a foot from him. "Help…me…" He whispered from cracked lips, the pained expression on his face evidence that it hurt him to even speak.
"Oh shit…" She swore, reaching for his shirt, lifting the fabric aside. Definitely a gunshot, close range… maybe even a shotgun. The nearest hospital was not for miles, and he did not look good… She had no choice. "I'm going to need you to help me out. My house is not far from here." She spoke loudly and clearly, pointing with on hand into the distance, where she could see her house, and its surrounding out buildings. He acknowledged her faintly with a nod, dark hair plastered to his clammy skin.
Gripping him under the arms, she managed to haul him to his feet. Thank god for manual labour, she thought, as the task was not as much of a strain as perhaps it would have been four years ago. One arm holding one of his draped about her neck, the other hooked around his waist, they set off together, one slow step at a time, out of the cover of the tree and out under the broken sky.
With each step, she was certain she was losing him; so it was with immense relief that she sighed on reaching the threshold of her house. Balancing some of his weight on her hip as she struggled to find her keys in her pocket, she nudged the door open and they sidled inside, like an odd crab. Getting him up the stairs seemed like the hardest part, struggling to overcome gravity. From the hallway they almost fell towards the spare room, and with her last ounce of strength she struggled to lower him with some amount of gentleness to the mattress. He was barely conscious; she didn't doubt that he had struggled to remain so for their entire arduous journey. Pressing her fingers to his forehead, she found him burning up a fever. Nibbling on her lip and she battled with indecision, she felt that the best course of action would be to get him into dry clothes. Or at least out of his wet ones.
She tossed his coat, shirt and pants out into the hallway after removing his muddy boots, not allowing herself to despair about the state of her floors just yet. Rushing downstairs to heat the kettle once more, she shut the still-open door of the kitchen to the elements, trapped in the silence of her kitchen. God, what was she doing? He could be dangerous-- what was she doing bringing a strange, near-dead man into her house? Of course, she told herself, she couldn't have left him to die…
Ignoring her moral battle for the moment, she rummaged around in her medicine cupboard. Antibiotics-- for a Chocobo yes, but still the same thing. Surely it would help to stave of infection… that is if the wound weren't already septic; she hadn't looked at it yet. Aspirin for the fever, and perhaps a less conventional medicine, Whiskey. If she could get him to drink it. If it were a shotgun wound, there would no doubt be shrapnel in that wound. All of these things gathered into her arms, she deposited them at the top of the stairs, returning to the kitchen at the sound of the kettle's insistent whistle.
Armed with hot water, clothes, bandages and whatever else she felt would be useful, she set to work. It had started to heal at least, and from what she could tell, it looked as though he had removed some of the parts himself, if the tiny cuts on his fingertips were anything to go by. Using a pair of tweezers, she painstakingly removed a few more pieces, her nose wrinkled at the scent of his blood; earthy, metallic, and reminding her all too vividly of how fragile life was. She rubbed his skin down with the hot cloth, cleaning around the wound, glad at least that he was not awake to feel any pain. Working quickly, she set about dressing his wound, winding a length of bandage around him as many times as she could whilst, holding his heavy, lifeless torso upright.
She still had a lot of her husband's old clothes in a disused dresser in the hall; they were useful for farm work, and sometimes, they still held his scent, she couldn't bring herself to throw them out-- and they seemed to fit well enough for their purpose. She worked him into a cotton shirt, and some loose pants, before she positioned the pillows behind his head and tucked many blankets about his body, feeling at his forehead worriedly. It was the fever she was troubled most about.
Ensuring the curtains were closed, she collected the now bloodstained water and cloths and exited the room, closing the door softly behind her. After disposing of these things, she cast a look at herself; covered in mud, and not to mentioned blood, she peeled away her clothes and tossed them into the washing machine in her pantry along with the clothes she had found him in, before taking her second shower of the day. Only then, as she unbolted the bathroom door, peering out warily in her hall wrapped in only a towel, did she realise she had not seen Scout in a while.
After dressing, a small-scale search of the house found him huddled by the front door, the rabbit she had abandoned earlier lying at his side. She reached down to fuss him, kissing the tip of his snout. "I'm sorry Scout. After all the effort you went to, to get this for me." He gave a small bark, his tongue flicking out to wet her cheek.
Suddenly painfully aware of her rumbling stomach, she felt that perhaps she should get to cooking something. It was dark for five o' clock, but it would take a while to skin the rabbit… Twisting her hair into a rough braid, and fastening an apron about her waist, she set to work.
Burning. Burning heat and blinding light. He had been trying so hard to find evidence. But they had tried harder to hide it. They didn't want him to know, didn't want him to reveal their secret. He was in the right place, at the right time. But it was all wrong. All wrong.
He'd managed to get away from them, but they'd laughed, told the shadows that he would not last the night, and had given up looking for him. But he'd lived, made it so far, until the heat, the burning had been too much.
And he'd given up.
She returned upstairs periodically to check on her unusual house guest; sweating, mumbling incoherently as he fought his fever. It was frustrating and agonising to realise that she could do nothing for him. She needed to keep him warm, he'd been out in the rain. It was all she could do to soothe his forehead with a cold flannel. Once, she had been sure he had looked at her, fixed her with his unusual eyes, but then the moment had passed, his lips still, suddenly silent. Leaving a glass of water by his bed should he wake, she shut the guest bedroom door softly for the last time that night, retreated to her own bed, Scout at her heels. The dog curled up by the door this time, his nose never far from the crack underneath it.
The rain had been battering her house for some time now, and she wondered if she would need to make some repairs to the roof tomorrow. She would certainly have to work hard to complete the jobs she had neglected to do today; she had been rather occupied to say the least. The house was filled with the scent of stew, and she wondered if that was the reason for Scout's nose twitching at the door.
She should have been used to the strange noises her house made in the night; it was an old farmhouse, made from wooden timbers, with wood floors and ancient, though recently repaired plumbing. It had always made noises. Though where once it had been a comfort to her, now it served to keep her ill at ease. The rain lashing at her windows were fingertips, grasping to reach inside, the wind was laughter, screams; the floorboards creaking and shifting were the footsteps of her acquired guest, crossing the hall to her bedroom…
No, Tifa! She chastised herself. You don't have anything to worry about. She was the one with the shotgun, leant against the wall by her bed. Her husband had used it for hunting, and had kept it for security. Never once though, had she had to use it for that reason. Under her pillow, too, was an old fashioned silver revolver, though it was anything but hers. She had taken it from the pocket of her patient's jacket, and had thought it best to hold onto it for safekeeping. At least until the time came when she would discharge him from her home.
Well into the night, when her exhaustion finally caught up with her, her fingers buried in her cat Aristotle's fur, she fell asleep. Scout, however, stayed awake. Watchful, listening.
She jerked awake rather abruptly the following morning, staring suspiciously around her room as though something had woken her, though only her cat and her dog were there to give her curious stares. Nudging Aristotle from her bed so she could shake out her sheets, she tossed open her window to let in the fresh, rain-scented air from the night before. The duck pond looked a little swollen from what she could tell, and the muddy path was now more like a lake-path. She tied a thin cotton dressing-gown around herself and shuffled into her slippers before tearing a brush through her long brown hair, in an attempt to bring order to it.
The hallway was eerily still, and she found herself holding her breath as she crossed it, praying that the man she had left sleeping yesterday had survived the night. The air in the room was still, filled with a scent she associated with illness. She checked his temperature; cooler, and he was still breathing. Satisfied, she opened a window before retreating once more.
At the front door, she slipped out of her slippers and struggled into her mud-caked wellingtons in the hope of retrieving an egg or two from the Chickens. She left the back door open as she stumbled out, surveying the damage of last night's weather. No roof tiles seemed to be out of place; that was good at least; no trapeze-like antics for her, and comedy moments featuring hammers and enlarged thumbs, thanks very much.
She apologized to the gabbling chickens as she plucked out two freshly laid eggs, returning to the kitchen at the side of the house, filled with a sudden sense of satisfaction. The sun was shining, there wasn't a dead man upstairs, and there was no roof to repair. Triple win, as far as she was concerned.
She was struggling to tug off her boots again at the door, her long curtain of hair falling in her face when she saw him.
"Shit!" She screamed, dropping one of the eggs rather unceremoniously on the doorstep, which Scout proceeded to clean up for her. All this, on one leg, clutching a single egg.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-" He raised his hands in defence, squinting in the rays of sunlight bursting in through the windows.
"Don't-worry-about-IT!" With one last furious kick, she freed her feet again. "How are you feeling?" She placed the egg down on the counter, approaching him tentatively.
"Alive." He was a little wan-looking, his eyes sunken, though that was at least an improvement on yesterday, when she had found him. "How did I… Where am I?"
"You are in my farmhouse, in the Kalm Grasslands." He frowned, mouthing her words with disbelief. "I found you about a mile away. I had to carry you here."
"Thank you. I… I owe you my life, it seems," He bowed his head slightly, watching her as she turned to address the kettle. "Miss…"
"Mrs Tifa Wallace-was-Lockheart," She smiled, getting two mugs from the cupboard for the first time in four years, almost.
"Mrs Wallace, I cannot thank you and your husband--"
"He's dead. I'm a widow." She corrected, folding her arms as she leant against the counter. "But no need to feel guilty, it's been four years, and I've managed on my own." She chuckled at his sudden loss for words.
"My name is Vincent."
"Right, well Vincent, breakfast will be in about half an hour, so…" She gestured for him to follow her. He did so, at a respectful distance. "The shower is here, I've left you some clean towels, shaving things if you wish, and some clothes-- though they may dwarf you-" she chuckled, eyeing the gaping arms of the T-shirt he was currently wearing. "My husband was six foot tall and almost as wide, and I haven't had the chance to wash yours yet."
"I… thank you."
"Don't worry about it. Get a move on, or Scout will end up eating your other egg, too."
With that she turned and headed back downstairs, leaving a dazed Vincent behind, clutching a towel and a stack of clothes.
The heat of the water had never felt so good, even permeating his fresh bandages, soothing the healing wound beneath. So he'd survived. Not died. Survived. He could continue with his work, with his quest for justice. A shotgun bullet at point blank range couldn't stop him. So why should anything else?
He scrubbed and scrubbed at his dead skin, until it was pink again, bringing back life to it. Drying himself down briskly, he changed into the set of clothes that Tifa had provided him with. When he'd woken in a strange room, in a strange house, he had listened out for movement, voices. Heading downstairs, he had heard a woman mumbling to herself, and found her battling to remove her boots at the front door of her kitchen, a cascade of chocolate hair lit amber by the early morning sun. He'd noted her nightdress, her bare legs beneath it, before she had seen him.
This woman, this widow, had saved him. Though she looked small, not strong enough to carry him. Nor did she look old enough to have been married, and to have lost her husband; not a day over thirty, he would like to wager. Then again, some said he didn't look old enough to have gone through what he had. Not a widower, but close enough. She had been a victim, just like the others. They had all deserved another chance. But were not given one.
Washed and dressed, Vincent exited the bathroom, stepping over something furry lying in his way; a cat, that fixed him with a single, golden eye before darting down the stairs ahead of him, tail raised.
"Ah, Confucius!" She addressed the cat, now sat mewling at her ankles. "I was just wondering where you'd got to. For a cat with one eye, you do enough spying for one with two."
"Confucius?" Vincent asked aloud, stepping into the warm, sunny kitchen. He noted that it was orderly, clean, painted lemon yellow, dominated by a scrubbed oak table and sturdy chairs.
"He looks like a scholar, don't you think?" Tifa asked him, smiling softly as she placed a mug of steaming tea down on the table's surface. "Please sit down. I'd hate for you to lose anymore colour from your face."
"This is a farm?" He asked, peering out of the open door. He could see a collection of white feathered ducks waddling around in the yard, and he swore that he'd heard the call of a chocobo, from somewhere.
"Yes. It used to be bigger, but I couldn't manage it alone." She set a plate of scrambled eggs and toast down in front of him, before joining him at the table. "Are you feeling well?"
"Oh, yes. I took the pills you left for me. How… how long was I asleep?"
"Since around 5pm yesterday evening, and it is now…" She craned her neck to better view the clock, "Ten in the morning."
"Wow. I don't think I've ever slept that long."
"If I may ask, why were you… what happened to you?" At her words, his expression became more solemn, regarding her carefully as he chewed.
"I was… I was caught off guard, let's just say. I should not have been so careless. But I'm sorry-- It wouldn't be a good idea to say anymore."
"Oh. Well, as you wish." She sipped tentatively at her too-hot tea, blowing out over the surface. "It's funny you should say that to me. That's what my husband used to tell me, before he went away to work." She shook her head gently from side to side, her soft brown locks falling into her face.
"His job being…?"
"A miner. Not far south from here."
"Hm." He sealed his lips mentally. Not those mines again. Another life ruined by lies, by deceit. Why couldn't things be easier?
"You look a little pale… " She leant closer to scrutinise him. "Perhaps you should go back to bed?"
"No, no. Actually, I shouldn't intrude on your hospitality any longer, I-" He scraped his chair back, his plate only partially cleared, his knuckles whitening. "I should probably leave."
"You can't leave! Not after that wound!" She protested, rising also. "I think it might be--"
"Please, it would be best if-" He could see the open door to his right, the only thing between him and running for it being the woman he owed his life to, currently frowning, her hands on her hips. Then his vision started to blur. He swore, clutching for any surface, trying to steady himself.
"I don't think you should be going anywhere," She said softly, her arm at his waist. "Come on, I'll take you back to bed."
Unable to fight it, to shift his nausea and his sudden weakness, he complied, finding himself returning to sleep as he became settled back amongst the sheets. Tifa watched from the doorway, chewing her lip. "Keep your eye on him, Confucius." She told the grey cat, still loitering at her heels. He gave a deep meow, before hopping up onto the bed and settling himself there, his single golden eye fixed on the bed's only other occupant, before it slid shut.
-Fin Episode 1-
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I've planned on this being three parts, perhaps four. Let me know what you think.