Chapter 11: The Origins of Cait
As it happened, she didn't get a chance to speak to Reeve as soon as she would have liked. She suspected that he was getting involved in making preparations for Vincent's return, and she herself was guilty of getting swept up in that, too. The venue was of course going to be the Seventh Heaven, and it demanded all of her effort to get the place up to scratch and ready for the impromptu gathering. Her phone didn't stop ringing, though to her evident disappointment, it was never Reeve's caller ID that lit up the screen.
Cait Sith on the other hand seemed unfazed by all the action- he had followed her to the bar, and had curled up into a ball in one of the booths once he seemed satisfied that she wasn't going to leave here for some time.
Truth be told, the little fur ball had been her saving grace. Whenever she had allowed herself the luxury of sitting down to catch her breath, the cat would climb into her lap, purring at her touch and pressing his wet little nose to her face. He showed her ultimate adoration, and it delighted her.
Soon though, all was in place; chairs, tables and drinks at the ready. She was closing the bar to the public again tonight, though business would not be slow, by any means. Vincent had made many acquaintances during his short time in the WRO, and many wanted to attend the celebration for his return. She had asked a few of her barmaids to work tonight so she could fully let herself enjoy the party, too.
She wasn't surprised that Reeve was one of the last to arrive of her friends, slipping in the front door looking wearier than ever. She had almost not spotted him; he wore a slate grey jumper and dark pants and not, for once, his WRO uniform. Her fingers twitched around the neck of a bottle of whiskey, circumnavigating tables until she reached his side.
"Tifa…" His sigh was weary, voice barely audible over the rabble in the bar.
"Reeve," She raised a hand to quiet him. "First off, you are going to have a drink with me."
He ran a hand through his hair slowly, following her obediently to a vacant table. At her insistence, they downed three shots, one after the other. "Gods! You don't mess around do you?" He laughed, tension dissipating from him as he soaked in her presence. The scores of people in the room were observant of them at their table, though none saw fit to disturb them. For that, she was grateful. "Where is Cait?" He glanced about the room expectantly, though his search could hardly penetrate the sea of bodies.
"He doesn't much like the noise," She told him, standing up. "Come—he is in the back, sleeping no doubt."
She left the whiskey and their drained glasses atop the table, easing her way through the throngs of people to reach the door that lead into the back. The swell of noise abated, and she stepped into the cooler seating area gratefully. This room was usually used as a break room for staff, though at the moment, no-one was really working. She had allowed the girls to drink too, to get into the spirit a little. All were friends, and she trusted them all.
As she had suspected, the cat had retreated to this quiet space once people hard started to arrive and make noise, curling himself into a tight ball on one of the armchairs. At Tifa and Reeve's entrance he lifted his head, green eyes taking them in before he gave a luxurious stretch, pink mouth gaping in a yawn. He slinked into place on Tifa's lap once she had seated herself, though upon catching Reeve's scent, he immediately forced himself into Reeve's personal space, purring contently.
"This is remarkable…" Reeve muttered, running his hand over the soft fur. The cat seemed happy enough to be made such a fuss of. "And he has shown no signs of speaking? Of any higher intelligence?"
"Not a peep." Tifa shrugged a little, watching them both carefully.
"I may have achieved something that I never thought possible," He muttered, more to himself than to her. She had a feeling that she was about to embark on a very long conversation, and she was conscious that Vincent was yet to arrive. Still, she was burning with curiosity.
Emboldened by the three shots of whiskey, she shifted a little closer to him on the sofa, close enough that he couldn't well ignore her presence. "Tell me Reeve. Tell me what's going on."
He hesitated for a moment, clearly at war with himself. Could she ever understand? Would it drive a wedge between them? He almost snorted; as if he wasn't doing enough to that end already. He was fooling himself, really.
He took a slow, deep breath. "I first realised I had this… ability if you will, when I… When I was very young. I had a cat. He was my best friend," A small smile crept onto his face at the recollection, though it was tinged with pain also. "I didn't have the most stable of upbringings, yet he was a warmth at the foot of my bed at night, he was always there at the reach of my hand, should I need him. He followed me everywhere… until that one day. I could see it was going to happen, and I was so powerless to stop it."
He swallowed and exhaled through his nose before continuing. "I saw the car coming; it wasn't going particularly fast, but Leo thought he would be able to make it. He was hit, and he fell to the dirt, unmoving and silent. What I saw next, I assumed everyone could see. As I knelt by his lifeless form, I saw a light, so faint at first, yet as it twisted lazily from his body I began to see more lights. So intricate and delicate; a million harp strings, intertwined with one another to form a web so complex, that it stretched from me, to him; to everything. I sensed that his threads were coming loose from this weave, and that somehow I could put it all back together. Yet when I tried… I heard his scream of pain in my head. I knew then that his body was too broken to send a soul back to. I was thrown backwards, blocked out by an angry red swell of pain that emanated from my hands, where I had touched him.
"I returned home with his body. I told my mother what I had seen. I assumed it was… natural. That everyone could see the lights. Yet as I registered the horror in her expression I realised I was not… normal… We never spoke if it again, and I vowed never to try to use my ability on another living creature again."
She opened her mouth, yet no sound came out on her first attempt. "But… Cait sith?"
"Yes, I was getting to that." He cleared his throat. "My mother was never one for gardening. She was hopeless, too distracted to devote her time to keeping something alive. Plants need the right balance of light, water and nutrients to survive. I noticed that they were connected to the same web of light that I had seen that day; when my Leo had died. I… taught myself to not only just manipulate them, but to read them. What did they want? What did they need? I gave them that. My mother's garden was the pride of the village.
"Cait sith was… an accident. Electronics became an obsession of mine in my teens. The same principles applied to electronics, as the lifestream did to the plants; they needed certain criteria to be met before they would work. It all made sense to me; circuitry, current, resistance. I built clockwork robots, wind-up mechanical mice… Sometimes bigger animal models, if the mood took me.
"Over the years I began to notice that my… perception of the lifestream all around me peaked when in periods of extreme emotion; when angry, upset, or even happy, everything burst into clarity."
"Can you see it now?" She leans a little closer, captivated. Warm brown eyes met hers, though she sensed he was searching for something beyond her physical form.
"Yes. Faintly. It is… our connection is very strong."
"Connection?" She frowns gently, pupils dancing about, as if searching for a physical linkage between herself and Reeve.
"All living things are connected to each other, in some way, by the Lifestream. But you and I… when you used Life a while back, you used Materia as a conduit, if you will, to delve into the Lifestream and reclaim the essence of me, to bring it back to my body—"
"—Like you tried to do with Leo?"
"Yes, exactly." He nodded, impressed that she had made the connection. "When a person uses an ability like that, it takes a lot of your energy. You get it back, eventually, though some parts are… exchanged. Some of the energy you spent trying to bring me back is now a part of me. That's the cost, I suppose. Thankfully you had the sense to heal my body first, otherwise you would have brought me back to an already damaged body. I would have died over again."
"So you somehow used this ability to animate a robot?"
"Like I said—I began to make animal models. And in periods of high stress, my ability to tune into, and thus manipulate the lifestream heightens. It was pure chance that in one of these fits of emotion, I accidentally channelled some energy into one of my mechanical mice. It began to move on its own! I was so astonished, that the reaction in the robot was mirror to my own, and it fled beneath my bed! I began to experiment with it, and over the years, Cait Sith was born."
"So somehow you have the innate ability to manipulate Lifestream… as if you had the materia… That's… astonishing! But how can you animate something, and give it its own personality? I thought you didn't want to mess with living things?"
"Like I said before; some parts are exchanged. Into each of my… creations, I put aspects of myself, and fuel them with raw energy. With Cait Sith back in Avalanche, I relied on my cunning, and my skills in subterfuge and secrecy."
"But what about this little guy? You didn't seem to think you had anything to do with this?"
"Actually, I did." His had found the back of his head, and if she wasn't mistaken, Tifa saw his cheeks redden. "Shortly before you came by last night, I was trying to fix him. I think in my sheer exhaustion, I couldn't… muster the energy to instil any part of myself in him. Yet I must have left a link between him and myself, something that drained from both you and I; remember how tired you suddenly felt? Even as I slept, I must have been inadvertently siphoning parts of myself; my emotions, thoughts and feelings into him, all stimulated by a sudden surge of emotion…"
"What emotion?" She struggled to recall if he had been angry, or indeed stressed that night. "I thought it was when you were upset…?"
He faltered a little. "Not… not exactly." Here, he glanced over at the cat. It mewed in response, slinking over to rub itself against his outstretched hand. "I've never been able to channel like this before. He is unlike anything I have created. He is a reflection of my compassion, and my desire to protect those that I care about the most. He is in that sense, the strongest soul I have created. It really took it out of me. In fact, it still is. It's draining me."
"How do we stop it?"
"I can't. Not without… ending him." One look into Reeve's face confirmed that he wasn't about to do that. "I will just need to learn to adapt. Keeping him nearby helps, although he doesn't seem to want to leave your side." He chuckled softly, albeit a little nervous at the implications of his words.
"I see…" She shifted a little closer to him on the sofa, inching her fingers into his palm. His strong hand closed around hers. "Well that's as good an excuse as any not to let you leave me tonight."
"Reeve, don't tell me you're so dense." Her punch ached long after the contact had ceased.
"No, Tifa…You deserve better than… than what I can give you." He lowered his head, hair falling into his eyes. It didn't matter, though, for he had screwed them shut.
"Life isn't about what we deserve, Reeve," She sounded a little angry, to his dismay. "You deserve more rest, a vacation and—" She sighed heavily. "—and someone to look after you, when you can't."
"Hm. You deserve someone who can give you one hundred percent. Tifa… I'm barely even whole to begin with, and I can't see how I can give you the time you deserve."
"Reeve for god's sake!" Her rant was interrupted by a sudden outcry from the room next door. It was apparent from the shouting and the applause that Vincent had finally arrived at Seventh Heaven. As much as she felt she needed to finish this conversation with Reeve, Vincent deserved the attention tonight. She shot Reeve a look that said 'this isn't over', before stepping around him and re-entering the bar, swallowed once again by the noise and energy of the people around her.
She tried. She tried so hard to forget about it, but it ate away at her slowly. She had embraced Vincent, forced some whiskey down him, as well as taking a good few shots herself, before stepping outside to get some air. She knew she wouldn't find the answer to her problems at the bottom of a shot glass, yet still, she figured it was worth a try.
The night was cool and still without. She felt oddly removed from the situation, the hubbub of the celebrations from within distorted. She heard the door open, then close again, shutting off the swell of noise that escaped. She didn't turn to find out who it was, though at the sound of Vincent's voice, she relaxed a little.
"You shouldn't be angry with Reeve." Vincent told her softly. She almost started at the touch of his cool fingers at the curve of her elbow.
"Don't tell me how to feel," She almost spat, hunching in on herself on the doorstep. "He's running from me. Men have a knack of doing that. Tell me, am I that fucking scary?"
"Normally—No. Right now?" She caught a glimmer in his eye and a twitch at the corner of his mouth. Was Vincent trying to make her… laugh?
"Seriously, what is wrong with all the men in Avalanche?" She huffed, though with good humour intended. "You're all emotional hermits." She knew her observation wouldn't offend him. Nothing ever did.
"I suppose we all have our reasons." He replied. She turned her head sharply at hearing a metallic click, and at the acrid scent of cigarette smoke. "I can only speak for myself, though." He exhaled away from her, silver smoke sucked into the cold night air.
"It's not worth me telling you that smoking's bad for you, is it?" His irises caught the angry orange glare from the end of the cigarette as he inhaled again. "Figures. Though I admit it's quite an attractive concept at this moment in time—got a spare?"
They shared the front step and smoked their cigarettes in the moonlight, her arm threaded through his as they revelled in the companionable silence.
So that's what I've been working on for some time, though I must admit I'm a bit stuck now.