"Tifa! Tifa, look! I see it."

Tifa smiled softly at the boy's excitement, her gaze casually scanning the view ahead for the first glimpse of their destination.

"Where?" Marlene leaned forward on her seat with an eager gaze. "I don't see anything."

"There, look at all the lights! How can you miss it?" Denzel grinned triumphantly as he pointed a finger up towards the glimmering sight that was 'Golden Saucer'.

Marlene squealed as she finally saw the amusement park, giggling excitedly as the intercom announced their imminent arrival. Denzel bounced restlessly from his seat, getting a quick reprimand from Tifa as the cable car rocked in response. He sat down hastily, the grin never leaving his face.

Tifa laughed at his enthusiasm. "It'll only be another few minutes. Just be patient." The boy nodded but his body remained electric and his hands fidgeted restlessly along the window's edge.

Tifa considered him for a moment, then hid a knowing grin and glanced casually out the window. "I wonder if you can see the inn we're staying at? It's usually really obvious from here!"

Marlene and Denzel shoved for a view out the window, smiling eagerly in childish competition. As they became absorbed in their newfound game, Tifa felt her smile diminish. She looked on, her mind receding into deeper thoughts.

Nearly there, minutes to go and still she doubted. Was this really such a good idea? Cloud seemed to think so, in fact, he seemed almost adamant that it would happen. Not that he'd take a part in it himself, oh no, god forbid he actually join them for a weekend away!

She took a breath, annoyed at her own sarcasm. Lately she'd been feeling more and more sceptical towards the blond, but how could she not? He was so wrapped up in himself, never thinking about how his brooding and pessimism affected others, how it affected her. After all, the suggestion to take a break, to take the kids away for a day, to show them some of the world, it was all his idea. It was only logic that he would go too! Then again, Tifa should have known better than to think he would actually include himself in anything to do with her or the kids or any form of family-...but of course, that subject was totally off limits to Cloud. But why? Why was he so stubborn to even enjoy spending time with his friends? It didn't have to mean anything more than that!

A sudden squeal pulled Tifa back to the present. Marlene was grinning excitedly, her small hand raised eagerly in the direction of Golden Saucer's 'Ghost Square' where the spire of the haunted inn peaked clearly from between the other buildings. A bickering match quickly ensued over who had seen it first and Tifa listened in silent amazement as the winner was decided by a simple game of 'rock, paper, scissors'. She smiled to herself, a brief wave of regret washing across her features; if only her own problems could be resolved so easily.

There was a loud screech as the cable cars suddenly eased to a halt under the blazing lights of the station. Tifa felt a genuine grin lift on her face. No, she had to ignore him. She couldn't let Cloud's problems get her down. She was going to enjoy this, just her and the kids. It would be fun; in fact it may even do her some good to get away from the man's constant pessimism. Perhaps that was all she really needed, a break from her old life, a fresh outlook, new ideals and who knows, maybe by tomorrow, she could look at those problems from a completely different perspective.


A strange feeling was overwhelming Tifa's mind; both nostalgia and yet unfamiliarity waving through her thoughts. She turned full circle in the room, eyes taking in every detail.

Memories. Everything was so familiar, so unchanged. And yet not so...When last she was here, Tifa had been a completely different person. So young, so naive. She had learnt from then. But still, the feeling of love, the feeling of loss, it all mingled. That night, it was the first time her and Cloud had really...connected. He had taken her out onto the Gondola Ride for a...well, it wasn't 'much' of a date, but it was still something.

Only now, everything was different. Those feelings weren't the same, that electricity that had flowed through her, the butterflies in her stomach. No, Cloud had changed. And so had she.

Giggling resounded from across the hall, the sound of excitement and anticipation distracting her thoughts. The kids had seemed more than a little impressed; they were elated. They had only just arrived and already they had inspected every floor of the inn from the bedrooms to the bar. Tifa laughed. The look on Denzel's face when they had entered the resort had been one of utter glee. And their room; Tifa had made a point of booking the best she could afford. The kids had never had the luxury of such a grand bedroom, never mind their own four poster bed each!

It had cost quite a bit extra than needed but still, they deserved a treat. After all, they hardly ever got out and about like this. In fact, now that she thought about it, Tifa couldn't remember the last time she herself had gotten out of Midgar.

The thought put an instant shadow over her mind. Why? Why hadn't she gone out and seen the world, visited her friends? For a moment the answer seemed so obvious she almost doubted it. Cloud. She had spent so much time trying to be there for him, to help him out of this rut he'd gotten himself into. And really, she did want to help him, but so far all it had seemed to do was pull her into the rut as well. If she didn't change something now, who knows, she may end up getting stuck there longer than she'd ever thought possible.

A tired sigh escaped the girl's throat and she felt her body sink onto the edge of her bed. Whatever was happening with Cloud, whatever she was bringing upon herself through him, it had to stop. She was going to change it. She would change it. But she couldn't do anything about it now, so there was really no use worrying. She had to enjoy this. Tomorrow, the minute she got home she would confront him about everything, and like it or not they would work things through.

"Tifa?"

Startled, the young woman turned to see Denzel's head poking curiously around the side of the door. His eyes were bright and inquisitive and a grin seemed to be glued permanently to his face. She couldn't help but be infected by his joy. As she smiled, the boy half skipped into the room, Marlene following close behind. The small girl quickly ran to the window, a gasp of amazement brushing her lips.

"Denzel, look! You can see the chocobo track from here." The boy grinned and rushed to her side.

"Aw cool! Tifa, look, do you see it?"

Tifa didn't need to look to know it was there. She could remember it all so clearly. She smiled, listening to their awestruck voices. "Hey, Tifa," Denzel was suddenly back at her side, eager anticipation plastered across his face. "Can we go out now?"

Marlene was quickly beside him, pulling on Tifa's hand with an imploring smile. "Can we go to 'Event Square'?"

"We still need to get some 'Gold Points' first!"

"And a map!"

Tifa felt herself tugged helplessly to her feet, her hands now gripped in each of the kid's. They were so eager, saying no would have been useless. After another few minutes of this, Tifa finally managed to get her hands free to reach into her pocket. "Alright, okay! But if you want to go anywhere, you'll need to go to 'Wonder Square' first. So..." Shuffling through her wallet, Tifa handed Denzel three hundred gil, smiling to herself as his eyes widened with disbelief. It wasn't a lot but to the boy, it was more than he'd ever handled before. His grin doubled in size.

"You two go on ahead, I'll get a map at the reception. Sound fair?"

With a mass of 'thank you's, Denzel took Marlene's hand and the pair were gone, bouncing down the stairs as they raced to be the first to the square.

She didn't doubt their safety. Golden Saucer had employees at every corner and the chances of them getting lost were slim. Neon lights and flashing signs practically threw directions in your face round here; the map was just an excuse to keep the kids happy, and to let her move at a slightly more relaxed pace!

The girl's hand ran absently through her dark hair and, with a final nostalgic look around the room, Tifa began to follow.


Laughter, squealing, music and madness!

Everything that encompassed the amusement park washed over the young woman as she made her way through the crowded squares. She had to admit, Shinra really knew how to do it! On all sides children were laughing and crying, swinging from their parents arms as they begged for more rides. It made the girl really appreciate having two kids as kind and grateful as Denzel and Marlene.

As she squeezed her way through the winding streets, Tifa suddenly felt a strange chill run down her spine. At first it seemed like nothing, but after another few minutes, the girl slowly began to notice it more and more. She stopped. The street was packed, the smell of candied food and stale sweat enhancing the heat of the crowds. So what was this...feeling? It was a familiar sense, tingling at her instincts, telling her to stop. Was she just being presumptuous, or was it...no, it was too real; her mind was too practiced to mistake her now.

She was being followed.

Withholding her alarm, Tifa took a deep breath and continued to walk forward, hoping her senses were mistaking her. But after years of fine tuning her skills, the chances were slim. So now what? Should she act like nothing had happened; just feign ignorance to this presence? Or would she lure it out; to confront this pursuer in a less populated location? Was it someone she knew? Or possibly some deluded thief seeking her out as an easy victim? If that was the case, then they were seriously mistaken; Tifa had never taken kindly to petty thieves. Strangely, the young woman found herself itching for a fight! It had been some time since she'd affectively used her skills, and if the opportunity was presented, she wouldn't hesitate to do a little 'stress relieving' exercise. But now she really was getting ahead of herself. And whoever it was, she couldn't risk an open confrontation. Maybe if she had been on her own, but it wasn't that simple. She wasn't alone, she had the kids to take care of. For a moment the girl considered the truth of her instincts. Was this pursuer a threat? If so, would it be wise to lead them to the kids? But then, whether it was a threat or not, she couldn't protect Denzel and Marlene from here. And if her senses were telling her there were risks lying within the crowd, she wanted to be no where else but by their side. Pushing her worries down for the moment, Tifa continued on. After all, maybe she was just being paranoid, perhaps a little bit over protective. For all she knew it could be a friend watching her, maybe an old acquaintance or someone from Shinra who recognized her face. But that sense, the feeling that still lingered...it was too cold.

Tifa pressed on, turning the final corner into Wonder Square. As she made the bend, she hastened her steps, a sense of relief flowing through her as she disappeared amongst the crowd. The fear in her instincts began to diminish as she moved deeper into the throng of people, the sense of being watched quietly fading away. Had she lost them? Or had they simply lost interest? She could think on it later, right now her only concern should be regrouping with Denzel and Marlene. But so many voices, so many kids! Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to let them go on alone. Nervously, Tifa pushed forward, scanning the faces of the surrounding crowd as she searched. And then she heard them, the familiar, happy tones of Marlene's voice carrying above the noise. She followed quickly, looking and listening until she finally spotted the two at the far end of the square. They were smiling contentedly, soothing Tifa's worried thoughts as she approached. Marlene spotted her and ran giggling to her side. "Tifa! Guess what, Denzel's gonna' fall in love!"

"Am not!"

"Are too, the fortune teller doesn't lie!"

The boy was blushing and his hand was clenched around a small pink slip of paper. Tifa smiled at his embarrassment, happy to see them having fun. "What about you Marlene, did you have your fortune told?" The girl shook her head, eyes sparkling with innocence.

"Nope. I want to keep it a surprise!"

"You're just scared of what it'll say!"

"Am not!"

The two quickly delved into another playful argument, halted temporarily by Tifa as she casually surveyed the area, its cramped space heaving with people. "So have you tried any other games yet? You'll need to if you want to rack up some Gold Points!"

"We don't have to anymore! Look." Tifa's puzzled expression doubled as Denzel pulled a long reel of tickets from his pocket. He handed them triumphantly to the girl, his face beaming in pleasure.

"There's so many." Tifa stared at the reel in confusion, then her face abruptly changed. "Denzel, there has to be at least one thousand points here! How did you get these?"

Without realising, Tifa's voice had dropped its joyous tone, causing the boy's expression to sink slightly. Had he done something wrong? "Someone gave them to us!"

Tifa felt a weight begin to grow in her stomach, her mind instantly assuming conclusions. "Who did?"

Marlene looked curiously at Denzel, both of the kids easily picking up on Tifa's concern. "They...didn't say. But he insisted that we could have them."

Tifa stared down to the tickets in her hand. No one gave this many points away for free, especially considering the prizes that could be bought with such a number. No, this hadn't been an act of genuine kindness. Something didn't feel right.

No, stop it Tifa, you're being paranoid. It was still possible for someone to be that generous...

But then her fear began to grow. Was there a link, could it be that her sense of being followed, this 'person' who met with the kids...who? What did they want?

Again with the accusations! No, she was being too hasty, she wasn't thinking with a calm head. She closed her eyes and breathed, hoping to ease her nerves, then slowly lowered herself to Denzel's eye level.

Only now did Tifa see the worried looks on the children's faces. She placed a hand gently onto the boy's shoulder, hoping to ease his concern. Her annoyance turned on herself as she saw the worry in Denzel's wide eyes. She clearly wasn't handling this the way she should have been.

"Tifa, we're sorry. We can give them back."

"No, you don't need to be sorry, it's just... Denzel, did this person give a reason for these?" She held the tickets up pointedly. "Was he going home or...? What did he look like?" Without moving her gaze, Tifa gestured silently for the boy to look around the room. "Can you see him now?"

"No, he's not..." The boy wondered for a moment, glancing to Marlene as if for confirmation of what he was about to say. "He was tall and...we didn't really see his face."

"He didn't say much either." Marlene added. "We met him on the way here. Just outside 'Ghost Square'."

Tifa felt a chill run through her body. Did that mean he knew they were staying at the inn?

Wait, she couldn't be so negative about this, she had to think logically. It could easily be a friend, someone who knew the kids through her or Cloud. But then, surely the children would have recognised him.

What was going on? Was this just a coincidental meeting? A kind stranger? Or was it someone with a motive? The same person who had watched her through the main street? All her life Tifa had experienced trials and troubles and throughout, she had always trusted her instincts. Not once had they ever failed her. And right now, her instincts were urging her towards the negative. This couldn't be coincidence. This was definitely not a chance encounter; she had to put Marlene and Denzel first.

Silently Tifa rose, taking each of the kid's hands in hers. She needed a plan, but what? She had no idea who the kids had met, nor whether there was a hundred percent chance that his intent was malicious, again she was solely relying on her gut instinct. But she would rather be wrong and misjudged than wager putting Denzel and Marlene at risk.

Without a word of explanation, Tifa calmly but quickly hurried the kids through the crowds of people, both following obediently without question. Both had grown up facing hard experiences and both knew to trust Tifa's judgement when needed. Despite a little bewilderment, the children walked quickly to the main street and waited patiently as Tifa stopped. The young woman scanned the crowds, subtly searching every face.

What was she going to do? Would it be wise to try and leave? Could she take the kids to the inn? Or maybe go to North Corel and just head home? No, that wouldn't solve anything, except temporarily ease her fear. She had to confront this. But how? Not with the children so close.

A sudden urge of panic hit her, stunning the girl from her train of thought. The sense of being watched had returned, sharper, more intense than before. As if the perpetrator was...

Abruptly Tifa swung round, searching every face, the buildings, the dark alleys and corners. This was too much. Seeing nothing, Tifa made an abrupt decision. She knew where she was going to go.


Ten minutes later, Marlene and Denzel were standing at the station of the Gondola Ride. Their eyes were wide with awe, staring mesmerized at the infinite lights and numerous cable car circuits that traversed the sky above the resort.

Tifa was back at their side in minutes, quietly handing them passes onto the ride. She had tried to remain as calm and collected as possible, but the edginess and concern emanating from her every pore was all too clear to the children. Denzel cast a wary glance at the two passes, staring questioningly up at the woman. "Aren't you coming with us?"

Tifa's smile was feigned but the apology was sincere. "Sorry, I'm not good with heights. But the view is fantastic, you're really going to love it."

Denzel looked at her in silence, his childish gaze falling into a surprisingly mature stare. "You're a bad liar Tifa. What's going on?" At his side, Marlene suddenly gripped his hand, her brown eyes reflecting her concern.

"Look, you don't need to worry about it. I just-..."

"I know you're trying to protect us from something. But we can help, you know we can. Just tell us what to do. We're not just little kids, we can-"

"Denzel." Tifa's voice was sharp, but it faded as a sense of pride welled up in her heart. He was right, they had really matured over the last few years. But still, they weren't there yet, they still had a long way to go. And until then, she would keep them safe. "I appreciate it, but you're still young. And I need you, both of you to look out for each other. Besides, this may not even be as bad as it seems. I just need to check something out. Do you understand?"

Denzel cast his gaze to the ground, slightly crestfallen at her words. But his grip tightened protectively around Marlene's and he nodded silently. "Thank you. Now listen, I want you to get in the next car and I need you to stay in it, okay? Please, don't get off the ride until I get back."

The kids looked around to the cables behind them, then back at Tifa. She smiled encouragingly and urged them away as a car pulled into the station. "I won't be long, I promise." Denzel gave her one last worried look, before suddenly forcing his old childish self and, with a feigned grin, pulled Marlene away. The young girl attempted a smile, then waved to Tifa before following the boy onto the ride. Tifa watched them go, her concern easing as the car pulled away. She hoped they'd be safe here, at least until she returned.

She needed to know who was following them. Since leaving the main street, the girl had felt eyes piercing her back right up until they had entered the Gondola Station. And now, as the girl passed back onto the streets, she would know if the children were still at risk.

The young woman felt a strange mix of relief and fear as the eyes abruptly returned, its presence stronger than ever. She felt unusually happier though, knowing the object of her fear was still with her and no longer near Denzel and Marlene. But now she had to source it out.

The doubt over whether this was a potential threat or casual encounter was gone, every instinct screaming a warning through her head. Cold. This...feeling, like ice sliding down her skin. And the more she focused on it, the more unnerved she felt about its source. Was this...familiar? No, it wasn't important. All that mattered right now was confronting this presence, this stalker causing her so much agitation.

Determinedly, Tifa picked her path carefully through the swarming crowds, slowly heading back in the direction of the inn. Marlene had said they met the stranger there, if nothing else it would be a place to start. Continuing on, the young woman forced her way through the streets, finally turning the corner into Ghost Square. Towering high, the inn's eerie demeanour was only emphasised by the night's growing dark, but it didn't even faze the girl compared to the nerves now rolling in her stomach. She approached slowly, her eyes always searching the shadows. But the further she moved, the more intense her fear became. They were here, she could feel it. So close, but where? Their gaze was burning, the direction so obvious yet so empty. The girl almost screamed with the frustration. And the sheer coldness, the intensity... Tifa looked up to the inn, suddenly finding the light of the porch so inviting. She felt nervous, vulnerable standing alone in the empty driveway.

Her fear soon became stronger, turning into a need. She had to get out of the dark. Her walk became a stride, her stride a run and suddenly she was racing for the door, fingers reaching for the handle.

Her feet crashed across the wooden porch, swinging her body round as she gripped her safeguard, waiting to behold a certain pursuer.

But there was nothing.

Tifa breathed heavily, head light from the sudden exertion. This was insane, she really was becoming paranoid, blowing this whole thing out of proportion. But she was so sure someone was...

No, it was just adrenaline kicking in. Things were always worse in the dark, she just had to stay calm. She would work this out. But how she wished she wasn't alone.

Beneath the light of the porch, Tifa felt a sense of security wash over her, reinforcing her logic. Why was this becoming so out of hand? Since when had she ever let her fears and paranoia control her like this? Was it just because of the kids? Did her responsibility to them mean her survival instincts were going into overdrive?

A sigh quivered from her throat. It didn't make sense to her, but then neither did the idea that she was being stalked like this. The girl's confusion only fuelled her desire to figure it out. Tifa allowed one final search of the darkness before her, then reluctantly, edged her way through the door into the hallway of the reception.

An icy chill enveloped her skin instantly, seizing the breath from her lungs as she froze in place. It was like hitting a brick wall. Wide eyed, Tifa stared around the room, suddenly dreading what she might see. The inn remained unchanged, the staff continuing about their business as usual. Nothing was out of place. But this feeling...how could they not feel it?

Cautiously, the young woman edged her way into the room, each step carrying her further into the oppressive wave. What was going on here?

Her feet moved of their own accord, taking her deeper into the building. Before she realized what was happening, Tifa was climbing the stairs to her floor, her instincts urging her to find security. But would it be safe in her room? And this ominous sense...it was almost like it itself was leading her, not her own mind.

No. She had to stop, this was too strange, too out of control. She didn't like this.

Turning on the landing, Tifa watched as the door to her room grew larger with each helpless step. Her feet approached quickly, almost with a needy urgency of their own. Hands quivering, Tifa's fingers slid around the cold handle. Get away from here, run, you can't go in. But helpless to her own mind, Tifa's body leaned into the frame and her feet followed into the room.

Darkness enveloped the woman's form, swallowing her whole as the door swung shut behind her. Like a puppet released from its strings, the urgency to be here fell away, suddenly abandoning the girl to fear. Her protective instincts forced her to the wall, pushing her back defensively into a corner as she searched the room with a frantic gaze. What had called her here, what was this overwhelming sense, this ominous presence?

Tifa's thoughts went into overdrive. She recognized this, she was certain of it. But who was...

Slowly, the blood began to drain from her face. This feeling was so familiar, but why? Where had she experienced it before? From the corner of her eye, Tifa thought she caught a flicker of movement, a sudden twist in the shadows in the darkest corner of the room.

She was not alone.

Tifa crouched into a defensive stance, her gaze trained to the darkness. Whoever they were, whatever feelings they had conjured in her mind, she was about to find out why.

But despite her brief moment of courage, the nerves only continued to grow. Somewhere in the depths of her mind, something was screaming for her to run, to get as far away from this place as she could. The woman pushed it aside. She was a fighter, she could handle herself. She knew how to deal with this.

Slowly, the shadows began to darken, solidifying into a form. Tifa waited, breathing slowly, calming the turmoil in her gut. But as she relaxed her body, her thoughts became more efficient. Her stomach suddenly knotted, a knife wedging into her throat. She remembered. She knew... But it was too late to run.

Tifa felt frozen, her body riveted to the spot. How could she not have realized? A mix of disbelief and fear flooded through her mind as she watched the figure materialize from the shadows, her breath catching painfully as he stepped into view.

Silver hair glinted in the moon's light, cascading elegantly behind broad shoulders. The solid muscles of his body rippled with every move he made, emanating with strength and control. And his eyes...

Tifa wanted to look away, to scream her fear and anger, but she couldn't bring her gaze to leave, frozen with horror and disbelief. The man's lips curled into a vicious smile, distracting her attention as a deep, predatory laugh rippled from his throat.

Tifa shivered at the sound. She still couldn't move, too paralyzed at the sight of her most dreaded nightmare taking shape before her eyes. This wasn't happening, this couldn't be happening. He was dead, he couldn't be here. Sephiroth could not exist.

She could hear the blood rushing through her head, the need to throw up intensifying every time she looked to his face. He began to advance, slow and silent, each step closing the distance between them. Too fast, everything was too fast, too much to take in. Move. She had to move.

Too late.

With a sickening awareness, Tifa realized she was cornered, a few metres all that separated her and the man now bearing down upon her.

Sephiroth watched with growing amusement as the young woman's legs began to tremble, how her breathing became more erratic with each passing second. Possessively, he reached out.

All hell broke loose.

Tifa surged to life, lashing out with vicious accuracy. Sephiroth, despite anticipating her retaliation, only just avoided the initial attack. But as he stepped away from a kick, a fierce strike from her hand caught him in the shoulder, knocking his balance. Her confidence rising, Tifa moved to take advantage of this, but nearly threw her own stability as Sephiroth lunged away. She didn't follow, breathing deeply in an effort to calm the adrenaline coursing through her muscles. Her eyes never left him.

He watched her silently, his stare calculating, almost assessing the girl. It made her nervous. This couldn't be happening. It was too surreal, yet too dangerous to waste time even considering why? And the presence in the streets, the coldness, the familiarity...now she understood. And the man the kids had met...with the thought came instant fury. How dare he come so close to them, how could she have let that happen?

And why? Why did it happen, why was he here? She had to know, she needed an answer, not only to ease her confusion but at the very least, to hear her own voice, to prove this was reality. Yet the sound of Sephiroth's voice interrupted her thoughts and her throat choked in response. Her skin writhed at the melodious tone.

"Impressive. You haven't lost your touch."

His smile sickened her. Tifa felt her teeth grinding as he spoke, her mind reeling with pure hate for the man. "Why are you here?" Her voice was almost feral, nearly growling in tone.

Sephiroth didn't seem to notice. "You shouldn't be concerned for my existence, Miss Lockhart. But more for the purpose of your own."

"Shut up! I don't want to hear your riddles, I asked you a question-"

"I gave you an answer."

Tifa felt rage begin to overflow. She wanted to scream, to unleash her anger. And suddenly her legs were lunging forward, her body poised to strike. Adrenaline soared through her veins, carrying her on, filling her with confidence. She had been taken off guard before, but now she was ready, she could see exactly how to take him on.

And then he smiled.

The next few seconds became a blur of motion. For a moment Tifa thought she had the upper hand, the next thing she felt was the cold surface of the wall crashing into her skull, blasting the wind from her lungs. Dazed and in pain, Tifa struggled to regain composure. She could hear Sephiroth's mocking laughter closing in, and in desperation the girl unleashed a second barrage of attacks. There was a muffled grunt as her fist collided successfully into a body, the feeling of triumph as a kick met the solid flesh of another leg. And then a sick nausea as something caught her wrist, the wrenching pain as Sephiroth turned her own momentum against her, carrying her body past his own and throwing the girl with brutal ease. Tifa saw the ground racing up to meet her, and she gasped in agony as her body crashed against its surface. She couldn't breathe.

Panic began to set in as her body spasmed, her throat working convulsively yet receiving no air in return. Her vision blurred with hot tears, distorting the shape of the man now towering over her helpless form. His mocking amusement was maddening, but she couldn't feel the rage, too overpowered by the fear swamping her mind.

Strong fingers were suddenly enclosing her throat, pulling her up with terrifying ease. Tifa's hands clawed frantically, searching for something to grab, to help pull her away. She felt the edge of the bed slide beneath her touch and she instinctively wrapped a hand around its leg. But it was useless. Realising the hold was only helping to choke her faster, Tifa released it, twisting to claw futilely at the iron grip at her neck.

Sephiroth allowed her to struggle, his face expressionless as she fought to breathe. Then finally, as the last of her strength began to fade, Tifa felt her weight crash back to the ground, her body falling limply to one side as she gulped down a lungful of air.

When she felt the quivering in her limbs begin to steady, her vision slowly focussing, Tifa realized her face was wet with tears. Trembling, the girl tried to push herself into a crouch, but there was no strength left to assist her.

"Get up."

Tifa refused to obey. A violent kick found her stomach, forcing an agonized gasp to leave her mouth. She rolled pitifully away, desperate to create some distance between them.

He sneered, but despite the antagonism, the girl did not look up, knowing Sephiroth's gaze would be waiting, leering down at her weakness. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction. But then the choice was stolen from her as the man crouched to her level, forcefully taking her chin and pulling her gaze to his.

"You always were difficult. Always meddling with business that was not yours to know."

Tifa struggled to withhold her anger. She couldn't fight like this, so why bring down his wrath when she could be gaining her strength. Could she buy herself some time? She took a deep breath. "When you put Cloud's life on your sick strings then you made it my business."

Sephiroth scowled. "That pawn was worthless to the very end. He walked into my grasp without a single sliver of encouragement." Then a grin began to lift the corner of Sephiroth's mouth, his eyes suddenly burning with a different fire. "But you...you always were different to him. Stronger, more experienced to the pains of this world."

Tifa felt her body stiffen as the hand on her chin slowly crept to lie across the pulse at her throat. She waited, wondering if he was about to take hold once more, but a sense of shock and confusion took her mind as his thumb suddenly began to stroke against her skin, almost soothing in its rhythm.

"Yes...even now, you continue to amaze me. So unpredictable." A laugh, deep and haunting reverberated from Sephiroth's chest. Tifa suddenly felt sick, staring horror-struck as she began to realize his intentions. He was close now, so close she could feel the heat of his breath burning against her skin. Sephiroth closed the few inches between them, his hold pulling her face to his.

"My little enigma." Fierce lips suddenly pressed to hers, dragging a shocked gasp from her throat. Tifa's body instinctively pulled away, stiffening reflexively but he refused to give her the chance. Possessively, the man's arms encaged her waist and dragged her tightly into his own, laughing in amusement as she squealed in disgust. Tifa writhed and bucked against the floor, desperate for release. She felt him rise to his feet, pulling her up. With every twist and kick, the man grew more enthralled. His lips began to trail across her neck, heatedly tasting her skin as she threw her head back in revulsion.

"Get...off...me." With every passing second, Tifa felt her arms grow heavier. The pain in her body began to intensify, draining her efforts to fight. She felt so weak, so pathetic. What was happening here? This couldn't be real.

Suddenly, Tifa felt the world rush past. The hands around her waist fell away and her back abruptly hit the surface of the bed, stunning her from her train of thought. When the young woman finally realized what was happening, Sephiroth was already on top of her, pinning her body to the mattress.

His laughter was maddening. "Don't fight me, Tifa. You will only make things harder for yourself." The amusement and anticipation seeping from his voice made the girl's stomach churn. This wasn't happening. God, please say it wasn't happening.

A tug at her hips drained the blood from Tifa's face and with a final burst of energy, the girl lashed out with all she could. The weight on her body lifted temporarily, and her hands clawed and crawled to get away. For a few quick seconds, Tifa managed to pull herself up the bed, distancing herself from the man, but her hope was short lived as a hand caught her ankle and wrenched her back into his grasp.

She shrieked in protest as his legs straddled her waist, his fingers taking an iron grip around her wrists, pinning them above her head. Despite her helplessness, the young woman still fought against his hold. Her body twisted and turned, desperate to escape. But then she froze as the sound of her shirt tearing away brought a fresher realization to mind.

Tifa's face blazed as she felt Sephiroth's touch travel along her bare flesh, slowly smoothing down across her stomach to slide beneath her belt.

Fear and desperation began to override all other emotions. This was too terrifying to understand, too fast to stop. Hot tears began to prick the corner of her eyes and her breathing quickly started to quiver. She had to do something, anything, anyway to stop this.

"Please..."

Sephiroth's gaze fell to the young woman's, causing her body to tremble as she met the cruel lust in his eyes. "Please, I don't care what else you do to me, just..." The plea died in her throat as Sephiroth's hand fell across her lips.

"I wouldn't waste your breath." His mouth became a sly smirk and his face was lowered, inches from her own. "You're going to need it." Tifa tossed her head to the side in rejection, not bearing to look at him anymore.

His lips brushed the surface of her neck, sending shivers coursing through her body. "You should really try to relax. You may even enjoy this."

A whimper escaped the girl's throat, a mixture of disgust and terror seeping out with the sound. How had it come to this? How could she have fallen into such a trap? And the kids...how could she help them once this...after he...?

She fell into sobs, her mind not even aware of the leather belt now binding her wrists to the headboard, freeing Sephiroth's hands to other uses. She shut her eyes, trying to block him out, but even then she could still sense his gaze upon her, the physical caress of his fingers sliding along her bare chest, pulling the remains of her shirt away.

And then his hands were at her hips, slipping beneath the buckles of her trousers. A predatory laugh rippled from his throat as the girl's remaining clothes were removed, her final protection from his onslaught falling away, accompanied quickly with her last few shreds of hope.

His eyes roved her skin, devouring every inch. Tifa shuddered violently, repulsed as the man explored her intimately. His hands cupped the swell of her breasts, smoothing over her skin teasingly. Fingertips brushed lightly across her abdomen, slowly drifting lower, the touch pressing harder until it came to rest between her legs. The young woman gave a muffled whimper and she stiffened noticeably beneath him.

Her mind was in turmoil, her thoughts and fears overwhelming in their intensity, yet slowly the tears were beginning to cease. Tifa's throat worked reflexively, swallowing a painful lump that was choking her voice. Already she could feel a strange sense of indifference kicking in, like her body was pulling out a final defence against her antagonist. The light was dimming in her eyes, the chaos in her mind slowly falling away into a void. She couldn't sense him just as clearly, she couldn't feel his weight on her hips, his touch on her skin. Perhaps she could just fall away. Sink into the void and let everything be done with her. Yes, this was it. This was her final protection, her final mercy.

An almost blissful melancholy settled along Tifa's features. She didn't feel Sephiroth shift above her, she couldn't hear the sound of undoing zips or leather sliding over skin. She could simply fade away; hide in the deepest corner of her mind. Nothing would touch her.

Something cracked in her ears and Tifa's head swung to one side. She reeled and suddenly her consciousness was back in reality. And with it came a blinding pain. The girl's cheek stung viciously, blazing with heat from where Sephiroth's hand had struck. She gasped wordlessly, too shocked to even cry. Her eyes flickered fearfully up at the man, her throat tightening as she took in his naked form. His chest was sculpted marble in the moon's faint light, his entire body rippling with muscle. The sight both terrified yet awed the young girl, her mind once again falling into chaos.

A cruel smile lifted the corner of Sephiroth's mouth, enhancing the power that emanated from his every pore. His voice was predatory, seeping heatedly to her ears.

"You can't hide from me, my pet." He took a hold of her chin, forcing the girl to meet his gaze. "Not even in your own head." His grip tightened painfully, heightening Tifa's anguish. She tore her eyes away, twisting her head to the side, but Sephiroth didn't relent. His body lowered to hers, driving a shiver down the girl's spine as his lips trailed along her collar bone, rising slowly till they rested just beneath her ear.

"Tell me, my sweet, what is it you dread the most?"

Tifa withheld her urge to cry, wishing he would just get on with it and stop torturing her. But her body betrayed her anguish and she winced helplessly at the question. Sephiroth smiled against her skin.

"Is it fear for your own life perhaps? The fear of pain and death..." His fingers trailed absently down her throat, savouring the shiver in her skin as he lightly pressed against her bruised windpipe.

"Maybe...you fear for those children you brought with you." At this, Tifa couldn't hide the flash of alarm in her eyes. Her muscles tensed at the mere thought of what Sephiroth might do...what he could do if he found the kids. Without thought, the girl suddenly found her voice.

"Don't...don't you dare..." Despite her defiance, she refused to look at him, certain if she met his gaze she would fall into tears. She couldn't give him that satisfaction. Sephiroth's laughter was low and mocking in response, making the girl fill with nausea. What had he planned? Had she just confirmed her feelings for the kids? Did that mean Sephiroth would take them to spite her wishes? She felt the concern for herself drain away, the pain at what she may have done becoming unbearable. Desperate, Tifa twisted to face him.

"You can't touch them. Please...I'll do anything-"

"I have no interest in your street orphans." His voice was low, serious, uncaring. It wasn't a lie. Tifa felt a slight sense of relief wash over her, but it was short lived. Immediately, the pain of her circumstances returned, and there was nothing good left in her world.

A silence began to stretch between them, unsettling yet gratefully accepted. Tifa didn't move, desperate not to create any unneeded disturbance. But her decision was quickly regretted as Sephiroth found his attention wandering with his hands. The girl tensed uneasily as his touch stroked down along her hips, her resolve threatened with oncoming tears as he caressed her outer thigh. When his hand moved inwards, Tifa felt her panic break.

"Why are you doing this? What is it you want from me?" The words flooded out with her tears and she regretted them instantly. He didn't need a reason for this, he was a cold blooded monster and she knew it better than most. All she'd done now was give him the pleasure of her pain. But as she waited for his laughter to rip through her emotions, Tifa suddenly realized he was silent. Through the blur of tears, the girl forced herself to look at him, her heart shuddering to a stop as she met his gaze. His eyes were mesmerising, starved of emotion yet devouring all others. She fell into their depths, her body drowning in the hunger and lust he craved, and for the briefest of seconds, Tifa thought she felt it too.

She turned away, suddenly feeling sick at herself. She felt nothing for this man. He was everything she despised about the world, everything she had always been taught to reject. She felt empty.

The girl's nerves wracked as his silence persisted, but when at last he answered, Tifa felt her world crumble to despair.

"What I want, Tifa, is my name dragged from your very lips. I want you to relish every minute you feel my touch and revile every second you cannot." Sephiroth's hand lifted possessively to Tifa's face, the cool touch stroking soothingly across the burning mark on her cheek. Despite the instant fear she felt at his words, the girl couldn't help but feel pleasure at the touch. But the gratification dwindled to nothing as she remembered what he was doing to her and her mind was submerged once again in fear.

A deep throated laugh was reverberating through his chest, trembling from his body into hers. "I want you to enjoy this, Tifa. I want you to realise just how lost you are in this world, and how much of your life you have wasted." The words struck a painful chord in Tifa's heart and the girl felt her fear and anger suddenly turn on herself. Sephiroth watched with growing amusement, his smile twisting cruelly. "It's pitiful-"

"You're wrong."

"Am I? Are you so far gone you can't even realise how much you've needed this release? How much you crave another's attention?" He didn't miss the sudden look of alarm on Tifa's pale face, his eyes glinting knowingly as she tried to hide the sight. "How long has it been since you felt desire, artificial or not? What about your hopes for the future, of a family with that shred of a man you seem so infatuated with?"

Tifa shook her head violently, trying to block him out.

"You can't even deny it. You're entire life has been a waste-"

"SHUT UP!"

"Can you prove me wrong?" Tifa didn't reply. The smile on Sephiroth's face fell to a satisfied smirk, his fingers stroking almost caringly against the girl's neck. He didn't speak, allowing the girl to take in his words, nothing but the sound of her quivering breaths unsettling the silence. Then his expression became blank, his eyes once more taking on a penetrating gaze. "I won't kill you Tifa, but you will enjoy this before the end. I promise you that."

"You're insane." Tifa's lips were trembling and her voice was barely above a whisper. She couldn't understand this. He was lying, playing mind games, twisting her thoughts so she was left in utter despair.

Above her, the man's lips had lifted into a cold smirk. But what terrified her now more than anything, was the sudden sense of need the young woman felt for his desires. Tifa reeled at the thought. It wasn't possible, she couldn't feel anything but disgust at his words, yet despite her refusal to believe it, the feeling was still there.

Desire. Hope. Anticipation and disbelief. She wanted it to be true. No, it wasn't possible. Maybe because he intended to spare her life, surely it was the hope that she would live. But the more Tifa thought about it, the more she began to sense the depth of her own desires. It was true. For years she had gone on ignoring a basic need, hopeless for the compulsion toward another's touch, that hunger that slept within everyone, the emotions that made them human. She had been denied Cloud's love for so long, it almost seemed like Tifa would never feel them again. And despite her revulsion, despite her anger and hatred, the young girl couldn't help but feel a spark flare to life at the hope of such a possibility. A chance she could feel human again.

No, it couldn't be, it wasn't right, Sephiroth was everything she... Everything she what? Hated, despised? Of course he was, all the pain he had caused her, all the people he'd killed. So why now, why did it suddenly feel like none of that could be used as an excuse? But what about Cloud? What about all the pain he'd caused her? What about all the trouble and anguish she put herself through for him? It may not be the same to some, but it still hurt none the less!

Wait, this was insane, why was she considering this? She shouldn't even be thinking about-...

Suddenly a firm hand was forced between her legs and the girl jerked in shock. But Sephiroth had waited long enough. Tifa bucked her hips in rejection as she felt his fingers smooth across her skin, the touch sending waves of panic through the girl. Tifa's thoughts went into meltdown. She couldn't stop him, she knew that, but worst of all was not even knowing whether she wanted him to stop. Did she want the inevitable?

The intimate fondling suddenly brought a squeal from Tifa's lips as she felt a digit slide in, her shock bringing a satisfied smile to Sephiroth's lips. The abrupt discomfort continued to pull a helpless whimper from Tifa's throat and she writhed beneath him, but the motion only enhanced the sensation of his touch and she tensed visibly in response.

Sephiroth watched her silently, noting her changing expressions. A second digit glided in and Tifa couldn't withhold her cry. He probed her roughly, his lust heightened at the sound of her keening moans. The man's eyes sparked with desire, his need reflected in the urgency to which he suddenly forced his lips to hers. The sound of Tifa's rejection died in a muffled whimper, the girl too torn in her own thoughts to force him off.

His free hand drifted up her skin, gentle, almost tenderly caressing her body as it lifted to her face. He cupped her cheek and without realising, Tifa found herself suddenly leaning into the touch.

A strange, heated sensation was beginning to pool in her loins, making her shiver with an unknown need. Sephiroth's fingers pulsed gently, his thumb stroking languidly, teasingly caressing the sensitive nerves between her legs. The girl shuddered, too aware of how good the feeling had become. The digits curled within her and heat sparked around her body. Her face flushed and pleasure coursed through her limbs.

This was it, the need, the urges, the compulsion for another's touch. As the thought rose in her mind, Tifa finally realised just how much she truly wanted this. Never would she have imagined it would be Sephiroth doing the providing, but it was, and even if her morals refused it, even if reality screamed at how wrong she was, how she would be betraying everything her whole life had taught her, she didn't care anymore.

No one had cared to give her what she needed; Cloud had never put her before his own wants. He couldn't even put his own problems aside for one meagre day, not even for Denzel or Marlene. And she had waited long enough.

With the abrupt change in thought, Tifa felt her pleasure double, her body relaxing quickly beneath her captor's. Sephiroth grinned knowingly as Tifa's lips pushed up against his own, hungrily moving to taste him. His tongue delved into the moist interior, lapping encouragingly across her own as he explored. She indulged without hesitation, her hips bucking feverishly with his pleasuring, demanding for more. He was happy to oblige.

With a subtle nudge, Sephiroth parted Tifa's knees, the solid contours of his body sliding between her thighs with eager anticipation. His lips smiled against hers, his own mind taken aback by how quickly the young girl had given in to him.

Tifa moaned as he retracted his fingers, her sheath wet with desire. But the need for his touch was replaced with a hungry trepidation as the hard length of his arousal graced along her inner leg. The girl tensed as he pressed up against her, his abdomen lowering for accommodation.

Sephiroth's body rippled with lust as he met the warmth of moist flesh. His hands groped up the girl's body, playing feverishly along her skin, smoothing and kneading her full breasts as he felt her stiffen with discomfort. Her body tensed and suddenly a cry was escaping the girl's lips as she felt his full length penetrate her core. She struggled visibly to accommodate his size, beads of sweat glistening along her skin as he grinded against her.

Tifa trembled, desperate to withhold the choked sounds wedged in her throat. The pain was unreal. A sharp, burning sensation that seemed to drive throughout her entire body.

She gritted her teeth, hoping she could bear with it, but Sephiroth thrust abruptly and the air burst from her lungs in an agonised cry.

He waited again, his hands still working to distract her from the pain. Skilled fingers brushed across the sensitive flesh of her breasts, massaging her intimately, dragging her attention to the more pleasant sensations. As her pained expression began to soften, the man tentatively yet firmly moved his hips. Tifa held back her gasp, the affliction blissfully diminished by a surprising pulse of pleasure. Again the man moved, and her discomfort was lowered more so, the heat in her loins once again coming to the front.

Sephiroth quickly picked up on the change, his own needs gratefully taking charge as he began to move to his own demands.

The pleasure was worth the pain. Tifa quickly found her body burning from jarring shocks to molten flames. Her cheeks blazed with heat as Sephiroth picked up a rhythm, the musky scent of his body quickly intensifying her arousal.

She would enjoy this, he said. God knows, he was right. A pleasured groan seeped from Tifa's lips, her eyes fluttering; rolling to the ceiling as Sephiroth thrust deeper, stroking against tender areas.

Foreign emotions and longed for desires were surfacing in the young woman's thoughts. It scared her how quickly everything had suddenly changed, how this man had suddenly gone from the being of her nightmares, to the hope for a new start, the key release she craved. He was dominating her mind and body, twisting everything she had ever believed to suit his endeavours, and she had no desire to prove him wrong. His every word seemed a cruel yet needed truth, the pleasure he forced upon the girl making her own thoughts work against her morals. She needed this, she needed him. He was going to change her life for the better, she believed it, felt its promise swell in her heart.

Tifa squealed with rapture as her abdomen flared with ecstasy. She locked her lips to his, gratified moans seeping from her throat, encouraging his actions, demanding for more. Sephiroth's hips were driving fiercely against hers now, his pace rapidly increasing as his arousal came to its peak. His luminescent eyes seemed to blaze with his lust, ensnaring the girl, pulling her deeper into his grasp. Tifa lifted her chin, her lips parting invitingly. The man obliged, claiming her greedily as she wrapped her legs behind him, pulling her lithe body further onto his hips. The room began to spin, lights dancing mesmerizingly in her gaze. The bed quaked threateningly beneath her, the headboard cracking threateningly against the wall.

Tifa's muscles trembled, shivering with bated delight as Sephiroth brought her to climax. Her body tightened around him, moans of pleasure whimpering out against his insistent lips. The sensations were overwhelming, pure euphoria washing across her senses as she hit her peak. Tifa screamed his name, her body spasming with pleasure as he came within her.

Sephiroth's body arched and tensed from the release, his motions jerking, coming to a gradual stop. His breathing was harsh and abrupt, his expression sated as the girl writhed and swooned beneath him. A deep throated laugh seeped from his chest as he took in the flushed features of the girl, her eyelids falling heavily as she floated in bliss.

Tifa lay in a euphoric daze, barely conscious of her surroundings. Tingles of fragmented pleasure seeped away, leaving her panting and drained, pinned beneath the weight at her hips. A hushed moan whispered from her throat as he pulled away from her thighs, his body sliding off of hers without a sound.

She felt exhausted, the sudden anticlimactic moment bringing all the consequences of the last hour crashing down at once. She needed to rest. But her thoughts refused her that mercy.

What now? Was this it? Was he going to leave her like this, or would he finish the girl off now that his own desires were sated?

A tingling pain rose at her wrists where the leather had rubbed her skin raw. Pins and needles riveted her arms as the belt was suddenly undone and the limbs slumped where they lay. She could feel Sephiroth's hands smoothing down her skin, brushing through the strands of matted hair that clung to her forehead. With difficulty, Tifa opened her eyes, lifting her gaze to the man towering above her. His body radiated dominance, his smirk one of utter satisfaction. Delicately, the girl felt his thumb trace along her lower lip, rekindling the sense of his mouth pressed to hers. It dragged a deep feeling of desire from the pit of her heart and this time, she couldn't refute the emotions.

Sephiroth leaned down, his eyes roving her naked body for a final time. His breath felt unbearably hot against her skin, the girl's throat catching as he whispered against her cheek.

"We have an understanding now." His lips brushed her ear, driving a tremble through her body as he lifted his head, his body suddenly moving away. "I advise you to think very carefully on this...little lesson. Perhaps then when we meet again it will be on more agreeable terms."

His voice was low, but the tone had risen and she knew he was smiling at the thought. Tifa swallowed the lump in her throat, a mix of fear and anticipation welling up with the words. Around her the room seemed suddenly warmer, less oppressive, the ominous presence quietly lifting without another sound. The air felt easier to breathe, the world much more at peace and she knew he was gone.

But his words remained, his voice dripping with promise and expectation. Tifa reeled, too tired to even comprehend what he could be planning. But she couldn't rest, too much had happened, too little had been done. Gritting her teeth against the pain and cold, the girl managed to swing her legs from the bed. For a while she sat, nervous and unmoving, waiting for some horrific death to rush out of the shadows. But nothing came. The girl stared around the room, wondering if everything she had just endured truly happened. It felt so surreal, the very idea of what she'd done, what Sephiroth had done... Her temples throbbed with an ensuing headache and she forced the thoughts aside, too confused and dazed to really take them in.

Her fingers subconsciously moved to rub her wrists, her eyes awkwardly attempting to focus in the dark as she searched for her ruined clothes. Something hard nudged against her foot, startling the girl as she bent down to see better. Her phone slowly came into view, a muttered sigh easing from Tifa's throat as she noted the cracked screen. The thought amused her. Thirty minutes ago, the girl didn't expect to be alive, now she was annoyed at a broken machine. She clicked a dial, the light of the device almost blinding as it flickered to life. Tifa cringed, her eyes roving down a list of missed calls and alerts on the mobile's face.

She had to get to the kids. But what would she tell them? How could she explain this? How in hell's name could she cover this up? The questions terrified her more than ever. What would she tell Cloud?

Nothing.

The answer hit her before she'd even considered it. Cloud didn't need to know anything, he hardly deserved worrying about. And the children wouldn't be that difficult. It would only take a few tentative stories about a thieving attempt gone wrong or a resentful Shinra associate from years past.

Tifa felt a strange wave settle over her mind, a foreign confidence, unsettling yet gratefully accepted falling onto her shoulders. What had she become? The question wasn't as accusatory as it should have been, the thought only helping to reinforce the new resolution in her head. This was the start of it, the start of a new beginning, and the end of her 'wasted' life. Tifa turned her gaze, her wine-red eyes staring distantly out towards the world. Everything was going to change. It happened all the time, life changed, people changed and she could change. She didn't need a reason to explain it; she decided her own course in life. She was volatile, unpredictable.

She was 'his' little enigma.