Tifa stared, tight-lipped and cross-armed, out over the crater's expanse. She sat and let her legs dangle over the edge, kicking small pebbles down the steep, concave wall. In the flatlands that surrounded it, the circumference didn't look like anything but a strangely displaced hill. Only climbing to the top revealed the wide gash. Inside, a shimmering, calm, green pool had already gathered to heal the scar.
Honestly, she didn't remember much of anything about her arrival to this new world. Shortly before her flight from Sephiroth, she'd fallen unconscious. When she came to, she was resting in a bed. A rural household of humanoid creatures had been merciful enough to take her into their guardianship. Neither she nor they were too startled by each other to be civil. The differences between their respective appearances were understated; the most noticeable feature was the extra joint in their fingers. Privately, Tifa was relieved that they didn't treat her like the extraterrestrial she was. At worst, they regarded her as a suspicious, needy traveler at first.
But they had been kindly forthcoming. Her alien hosts told her that she was the one who'd created the crater, when she came crashing down from the sky. That was at least the gist of what they'd attempted to convey. A language barrier obstructed them from sharing much in the way of complex ideas.
As soon as she'd recovered enough strength to walk a few miles, one whom she perceived to be the family's matriarch brought her to this place. Laconically, using more gestures than words, she'd described how a large, emerald crystal had plunged from the night sky. She, her mate, and her daughter were drawn to the crash site by the scattered fragments of her materia vehicle, and had found her in the process.
Painstakingly, she'd somehow been able to ask Tifa where she came from. Tifa did her best to explain that Gaia was dead, that her world was no more. Having to rehash that fact until she understood hurt, but her mournful state wasn't lost on her caretakers. That evening, they'd allowed their child to try to talk and play with her. Grateful for their trust and compassion, she humored her. She only wished she had an easy way to tell them why that ultimately upset her even worse, or to reassure the young one she didn't hate her.
Enraged with herself in constant remembrance of Marlene, she'd returned to her crater this morning to be alone. In the few short weeks she'd been on the foreign planet, she'd deemed the little wound her fall had left on its surface a memorial. Aside from the sporadic, gentle whispers she heard in her head late at night when she couldn't sleep, it was the only proof left that her loved ones had existed.
Tifa was incurably homesick, because she no longer had a home. There were no familiar places to which she could run and reminisce; no grave sites where she could pay her respects and try to find closure.
Sitting and losing herself in the breezy silence wasn't distracting enough. But she had yet to explore the inside of the crater. Not that there was much to see; the bottom was visible from the top. It was truly a benign, accidental wound—nothing like the near-fatal gouge Jenova had left on Gaia so long ago, creating the Northern Crater. Her rescuers wouldn't have survived a hit like that, living so close to the impact site.
Nevertheless, Tifa turned, and began shimmying down the rocky wall. There was no harm in indulging an idle curiosity. Finding solid footing immediately proved difficult, but she wasn't in a hurry. Her hosts let her come and go as she pleased, and didn't seem to expect her to contribute anything yet. Normally, she would have already offered, but just convincing herself to get out of bed in the morning had turned into a grueling challenge.
Waking, sleeping, eating, breathing, living...she found she couldn't help but meet all the little everyday activities and transitions with one question: Why should I? And then, when she came up with an answer, she had to try to justify to herself why it was enough to go on, and for how long. The best Tifa could do was recognize her depression for what it was, and do her best not to act according to how she felt all the time.
Something about struggling not to fall to the bottom of a steep crater minimized those depressive inner conflicts, though. What sick, perverse irony it was; she had learned to thrive on her own fear. Without something awful and life threatening to push her along for once, Tifa had become…lost. After all she'd endured, something about living in safety felt…not wrong, but misplaced.
About a third of the way down, a light whirlwind grazed her back. Tifa half expected to run into some flying monsters, but again, this wasn't such a severe scar on the planet's surface. The shallow Lifestream pool in its bottom wouldn't attract anything big. Actually, from what she could tell so far, this world was very much at peace. There were hardly any monsters at all, and the one she'd encountered on the way here was quite weak.
Tifa decided that if she ever chose to tell her new companions about her ordeals, she'd do it when their daughter wasn't around to listen.
A ghost of a melancholy smile weaseled its way onto her face. So, she still had that protective, motherly streak after all. Eden hadn't completely ruined it. "I guess I'll never learn," she mumbled.
Soon, the curve of the wall grew shallow, eliminating the need to climb down. Carefully, Tifa flipped around, and stood. From here, she could increase her pace, jumping from rock to rock until she reached the bottom.
But a few steps out, she tripped over an uneven stone, and tumbled the rest of the way. Scrapes and bruises formed all over her body until she came to a stop, lying on her back. Tifa grimaced, and clenched her hands into frustrated fists. In response, her right hand oozed with slick moisture.
For a long while, she just lay still, inhaling deep, slow breaths. She gazed into the baby blue, partly cloudy sky, and listened to the little noises the creatures around her made. Some chirped like birds; others barked and whined. Insects still buzzed and whirred, like always. Absorbing the sights, sounds, and scents of nature around her, she staved off the oncoming flashback.
Her superficial cuts and scrapes were not the result of having to fight and kill a good friend, but from a clumsy fall. The dull, throbbing ache at the back of her head was there because she'd hit it, not because her brain was being stretched beyond its natural limits by a telepathic arch-nemesis. When she cried, it was because she was exhausted and wished she could simply forget, not because she felt like those things were happening again. At least, not this time.
Tifa rubbed her fingers together. Either she'd cut that hand pretty deep, or the moisture was gunk from the Mako pool. Involuntarily, she pictured Marlene, bathing in Jenova's remains, and shuddered. Coming down here hadn't been the greatest idea after all. It was fraught with all kinds of disjointed, random reminders. But it was so hard not to be reminded, no matter where she was. Through Eden, Sephiroth had tainted so many aspects of everyday life for her.
Reluctantly, she lifted the offending hand to see whether or not it was bleeding. Her heart rate slowed. Clear residue from the pool dripped from her fingers, and onto her face, absolutely harmless. Tifa stood and surveyed the area for a safer way to climb back up her crater's wall. She'd scared herself enough for one morning.
As she spotted a potentially gentler path, a large air pocket surfaced in the center of the pool, creating a huge bubble. Mildly peeved, Tifa picked up a small rock, and tossed it in to pop it.
When it burst, a thin, black outline formed around the spot where the bubble had risen. The Lifestream stirred, shifting slightly, and it was gone.
Tifa shook her head. She wouldn't be visiting this place again for a long while…
Very special thanks to:
-Danko Kaji. Without your help prior to the start of this story, I would have never been able to break free of my too-formal writing style, and I would have never written this.
-Telya. You followed this from the very start, and your reviews were the most thoughtful. I can honestly credit you with keeping me from developing writer's block on a number of occasions.
-Nyxitic Eclipse. Aside from the GA nomination, you were most supportive when I was...well, a bit emo in my doubts about this fic.
-Carrie88. From the time you started reading it, you've faithfully left encouraging reviews. You have no idea how much that means to a paranoid person like me, who too easily believes she's messed it all up.
And of course, thanks to all of my readers! I hoped you enjoyed this to the very end.