Author's Note: Thank Sephiroth Owa13 for all your hard work!
Disclaimer: I don't own any FFVII characters or places (super sadface guys!). All FFVII characters and places belong to Square Enix.
Chapter 11: I Still Believe
"Miss Lockhart, the ShinRa party is on its way right now," the innkeeper said with a smile as he put the phone down. "The mayor wants you to meet them by the water tower."
Tifa smiled at the innkeeper and nodded. "Thank you."
She took a deep breath and pushed the doors to the inn open. She made her way over to the water tower and waited for the party to arrive. She looked up sharply when she heard male voices coming from the entrance of the town. Her eyes widened and heart raced when she saw the familiar silver hair of Sephiroth. He was facing an infantryman and another SOLDIER. He appeared to laugh at something as he shook his head, and then continued into the town.
Tifa couldn't get over how different Sephiroth looked with a smile on his face. It was nothing like his appearance in her nightmare. In fact, looking at him right then, she started to doubt that her nightmare could ever come true. He may be intimidating, but he didn't look like a man who would slaughter families.
The dark-haired SOLDIER spotted her first and bounded over to her with a happy grin on his face. "Hi!" he said.
Tifa couldn't help but smile back at him and, giving him her best smile, offered him her hand. "Good afternoon and welcome to Nibelheim. My name is Tifa Lockhart and I'll be your guide through the mountains."
"Really? That's great!" the dark-haired SOLDIER said enthusiastically. "My name is Zack Fair, SOLDIER 1st Class. Obviously, this is General Sephiroth."
When she turned to face him, he was looking at her strangely. If she didn't know better, she'd say the look in his eyes was shocked recognition. But that was silly. Why would he recognize her?
She extended her hand and smiled. "It's a pleasure to meet you, General."
Sephiroth seemed to recover from his initial reaction. "Likewise, Miss Lockhart."
When he took her offered hand in his, she was surprised that his grip was firm, but gentle at the same time. She had expected him to be ignorant of his strength, but in contrast, he seemed very aware of it and had taken that into consideration when he took her hand. She found she enjoyed the feeling of his hand surrounding hers.
"Welcome to Nibelheim," she said after he released her hand. "You have rooms waiting for you at the inn if you would like to head over there and settle in. We can leave for the reactor today, or if you prefer we can wait until morning, just so you can all acclimatize yourselves to the thinner air up here."
"I believe we will settle in first," Sephiroth answered. "However, if you could meet us in one hour, Lieutenant Fair and I would like to go over our plans for the trek through the mountains."
"Sure thing," Tifa said easily. "I'll see you all in an hour."
An hour later, Tifa followed the mayor back to the inn, her father beside her. He held her back slightly when the mayor opened the door to the inn.
"I can't go in there with you, Tifa," he said. "But just remember: it was only a dream. The general has no reason to hurt you or me, and he has no reason to burn down Nibelheim. You'll be safe with them. You have nothing to be worried about."
Tifa smiled nervously. "Thanks, Papa. I'll do my best."
The mayor had left her with her father, and was already speaking to Sephiroth when she entered the inn.
"And, of course, there will be a short photo op before you go into the mountains," he said.
Tifa saw the hunted look in Sephiroth's eyes. She didn't blame him. He must get hounded for pictures all the time when he's in Midgar from fans, and the paparazzi. Now he was getting the same kind of treatment from a town official. Tifa shook her head and decided to save Sephiroth.
"Excuse me," she said, tapping the mayor on the arm. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but if you want us to be able to plan our path through the mountains, we have to get started soon."
The mayor's look of irritation melted away and he smiled. "Of course. Gentlemen, I'll leave you in Tifa's most capable hands."
Once the mayor was gone, Zack looked at Tifa and grinned. "He's a regular SOLDIER fan boy, huh?"
Tifa laughed softly. "We don't get many celebrities in Nibelheim."
"We're not celebrities," Sephiroth said.
Tifa's smile vanished and she blushed slightly. "I'm sorry, General."
Zack clapped his hand on Sephiroth's back and grinned. "Geez! Lighten up, Sephiroth. You're scaring our guide."
Sephiroth's eyes widened slightly when he looked at her. "My apolo – I'm sorry, Miss Lockhart."
Tifa was surprised by his apology. "Thank you."
For a moment, they both just stared at each other, as if they were trying to read the others' thoughts or emotions.
They were interrupted by Zack's chuckle. "Uh, Gaia to Sephiroth and Tifa! Do you want her to look at the pictures of all the monsters?"
Sephiroth shook his head slightly and looked at Zack before nodding. "Yes. Miss Lockhart, we've brought pictures of the monsters we've been coming across lately, and we want to try and ascertain what we'll be facing in the mountains."
Tifa nodded and sat down beside Zack. "I'll do my best, General."
After about an hour of going through pictures, Zack turned and looked at Sephiroth. "Hey Seph, I think we're just going to be coming across run-of-the-mill mako monsters."
Sephiroth sat beside Tifa and looked over the pictures. "Has anyone reported seeing anything that resembled a man in the area, possibly with one black wing on his left shoulder?"
Tifa frowned and thought for a moment. "Actually, the last victim killed in the mountains mentioned something about a dark angel who appeared in a flourish of red leather and cerulean eyes that seemed to burn with mako."
"Genesis," Sephiroth murmured. "Where was this 'angel' seen?"
"Close to the reactor," Tifa said. "It was the first time a victim had gotten close to the reactor and was able to escape, almost making it to the town."
"What do you think?" Zack asked. "Are we heading out there tonight?"
"How much sunlight do we have left?" Sephiroth asked Tifa.
She glanced out of the window. "Probably about an hour. The monster appearances increase at night."
Sephiroth nodded. "Then we will leave first thing in the morning."
Zack's phone rang and he looked at the caller ID before looking up at Sephiroth. "It's our little buddy, so I'll just be a sec."
When they were alone, Tifa felt it was time to broach a subject that she wasn't sure how Sephiroth would react to. "General, if we are attacked by monsters, I just want you to know that I am more than capable of contributing to our defense,"
Sephiroth frowned slightly. "My men and I are charged with keeping you safe on this journey,"
"I know," Tifa said before looking up to meet his gaze. "I just don't want to be treated as some kind of weak child. I can help, I swear."
Sephiroth watched her for a moment before nodding. "I'm sure you will prove most helpful, Miss Lockhart. If you are in no immediate danger, I promise we shall not interfere with your defense."
She was used to men laughing off any strength she might have as exaggerated pride, so to have a warrior like Sephiroth accept her request made her flush. She smiled slightly. "Thank you, General."
Tifa woke up with a cry on her lips, and tears running down her face. That damn nightmare again! She had been hoping that after meeting Sephiroth in person, she would finally get some relief from that nightmare. After all, he didn't seem like the same man from her dreams. Instead, it had made the whole thing even more vivid.
She wiped the tears from her eyes and looked at the clock. It was four o'clock in the morning. Damn. She needed her sleep. She didn't need to be up for another three and a half hours. She settled back on her pillows, but she couldn't get the cries of the dying townspeople out of her mind.
Screw this, she thought to herself. She flung the covers aside and got to her feet. She took off her pajamas and pulled on a pair of black yoga pants, a matching black shirt, and her purple hoodie. She quickly slipped her feet into a pair of socks and a pair running shoes before quietly slipping from her room and down the stairs.
When she was this upset, she needed to go to the water tower. Her father hated it when she left the house in the middle of the night, but she could take care of herself. They weren't that far out of the main town, and their house wasn't near the mountain path, so she probably wouldn't attract any monsters on the prowl.
The town was almost like a ghost town at night. If she didn't know better, she'd think the town was abandoned. As she climbed the ladder leading to the top of the water tower, she found herself wondering if Zack, Sephiroth, and the infantrymen with them found it difficult to sleep in a town that died after nine at night? Midgar was probably bustling, even in the wee hours of the morning. This quiet may be very jarring to them, or it may be very soothing.
Tifa settled on the top of the water tower and gazed up at the stars. They were so bright and the full moon lit the town square with a brightness almost equal to the sun, but she preferred the cool moonlight as opposed to the hot sun. It was just more…soothing to her.
She was pulled from her thoughts when she thought she heard footsteps on the ground behind her. When she peaked over the edge, she saw nothing. She jumped when she heard the sound of someone coming up the ladder. Monsters had come into the town at night before when she was on the tower, but none of them had crawled up the tower before, so it was unlikely it was a monster, but still…
She was relieved when she saw Sephiroth appear at the other side of the tower. The moonlight made his hair appear like liquid silver. Observations aside, she had to ask: "General Sephiroth? What are you doing out here?"
"I came to ask you the same question." He crossed the top of the water tower and sat down beside her.
She looked down at her hands in her lap; they were shaking slightly. "I had a nightmare."
He nodded slightly. "Nightmares plague the best of us sometimes."
"It was about you," she blurted out.
He turned suddenly and looked down at her. "Me?"
"I…I shouldn't have said anything." She blushed and turned away. How could she just blurt something out like that to him?
He frowned slightly. "I had a nightmare tonight, too. In fact, I have been having this nightmare for quite some time. My nightmare was about me as well."
"Really?" She chanced a glance up at him. Maybe she hadn't offended him.
"In my dreams…I'm not the man I think I am. I am truly a monster with a man's face." He turned and looked down at her. "Would you tell me about your dream?"
"It's always the same," she said quietly. "I wake to find my town in flames. There are bodies everywhere…men, women, and children, slashed to death. I find my martial arts teacher and he always says the same thing. My father has gone after the murderer. I always follow and find my father dying. I hold him in my arms until he's gone, and then I go after the man who killed him. I run into the reactor and attack my father's murder, only to be slashed across the chest and thrown down the stairs."
Sephiroth watched her closely. "Who killed him?"
Tifa raised her eyes and looked up at him. "You. It's always you who did it all."
Sephiroth turned away from her. "I'm sure this will not help anything, but that is very similar to my nightmares."
Tifa frowned slightly. "What? We have the same dream? But that's impossible."
"Unless it's a warning, and not a dream," he said. "Maybe we need to know the content of our dreams in order to prevent it from happening."
"But, I never know why you do it," she said softly. "I ask you why you did it and all you do is smile at me and slash me across my chest before throwing me down the stairs."
"In my dreams, I'm talking to 'mother'," Sephiroth said with a frown. "I never knew my mother, so why would I be searching for her, and in a reactor, no less?"
Tifa shrugged. "I don't know. What do you think it all means?"
Sephiroth shook his head. "I really don't know."
Tifa nodded and was silent for a moment. "Would you really…I mean, you wouldn't do that would you? Kill all those people and burn down my town, I mean."
Sephiroth looked the stars for a moment. "I like to think, that even though I'm cold and don't surround myself with friends, that I would never view any life as carelessly as I do in my nightmares."
Tifa considered him for a moment before speaking again. "A person really can't blame you for feeling that way, General. You know, all isolated and cut off from others. It's not really a secret that you were friends with the two SOLDIERs who defected so it's only natural to withdraw a bit."
A small smile curled around his lips before he turned and looked at Tifa. "I've always been that way, but yes…they were my friends."
"My dream scares me, General Sephiroth," she said, her voice quiet. "Because you're the most powerful man I know of. You really could kill everyone here if you wanted to."
He nodded. "I know." He was silent for a moment and again turned to look at her. "You really should get some sleep, Miss Lockhart."
She nodded and got to her feet. She wanted to tell him that no matter what their dreams might be trying to tell them, she still trusted him. Instead she just smiled and saluted him. "Yes, sir!" She crossed the water tower to the waiting ladder, but stopped before disappearing over the side. "Thanks for talking to me."
"You're welcome," he said quietly.
She climbed to the bottom of the ladder and hurried along the path that would lead her home, a happy bounce in her step. She still believed in him, and that meant there was still hope.