Shards - Chapter 1

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Chapter 1 - "The Babysitter"

"What's that?"

"It's a dreamcatcher, sweetheart," the man replied.

The young girl sat up in her bed.

"A dreamcatcher? What's it for?"

The man was concentrating on adjusting the device in the window.

"It catches dreams," he replied. "And it only let's the good one's through. It keeps all the nightmares out, so you only have pleasent dreams. I know you have bad dreams sometimes, ever since your mom...passed away. I just thought it might help."

The girl looked at her father for a moment mulling that over.

"That's silly daddy," she said finally.

The man turned toward her.


"I'm too old to believe that sort of thing."

The man hesitated, looking at her carefully.

" want me to take it down?" he finally asked.

She hesitated a moment, then slowly shook her head.

", you might as well leave it up. It looks pretty."

Flames. There were flames everywhere. She could feel the intense heat on her face, the acrid taste of smoke in her lungs. She ran, seeking desperately to escape, but there was no where to go. She was trapped.

A sword flashed through the flames. A man cried out and fell to the ground at her feet.

"Daddy!" she yelled, dropping down beside the man. The ground was hot, burning her knees. All around them embers smoldered, but she paid no heed. Blood pooled beneath him. He reached out feebly, clutching at her hand, then lay still. Tears ran down the girls face, falling on the still body.

"NO!" she screamed.

Sephiroth stood on the step above her, his masamune poised to strike. There was no time to dodge, barely any time to think at all. For a moment she looked in his eyes. There was no pity there, no feeling at all. She had let him take the sword away from her. Her anger had not been enough, she was not strong enough. She was too late to help her father, too weak of body to take revenge, too weak of will to keep fighting. She would be denied even that. It was all for nothing. Her head sank down in defeat, and a moment later the sword slashed down.

Her father had gotten her a dreamcatcher to protect her from nightmares. But a dreamcatcher only caught dreams. It didn't work when the nightmares were real.

Tifa found herself staring at a ceiling. The room was dark, but the glow of lights outside the window cast enough light for her to see dimly. The ceiling was a light color, with a single plain lamp fixture in the center. She was lying on her back, her hands at her sides. She turned her head and looked around the room. There was a small dresser, a table with another lamp on it, and the bed she was on. Nothing in the room looked familar.

Her gaze fell on the window. She could see another building through it, it's dull brick facade outlined in the glow of a streetlight. She didn't know where she was, but it was obvious she wasn't in Nibelheim anymore.

She sat up and immediately a wave of nausea swept over her. She remained immoble for a moment, until it passed. Her chest ached. A thin sheet had covered her, but had fallen down to her waist when she sat up. She saw she was wearing only panties, but her chest was covered by a large bandage that wrapped around her.

She reached up and lightly touched the bandage, as if confirming the reality of it.

It wasn't a dream, she thought.

Sephiroth had killed her father, had burned the town. He had destroyed her life, eveything she had ever known. Had done this...she felt the bandage again.. But somehow she was still alive. Where was this place?

A sound caught her attention. The low murmer of voices, coming from somewhere nearby. A door stood opposite the window, a narrow line of light slipping in underneath it. The voices were coming from the other room. She strained her ears, but she could not make out what they were saying.

She looked around, but saw no sign of any clothes. After a moment she wrapped the sheet around her. She pivoted and swung her legs onto the floor, even that simple movement making her whole body ache. Her chest wasn't the only part of her that was sore. She remembered it all now. Sephiroth's sword slashing across her, the tumble down the stairs. The realization of what it was like to die.

But she hadn't died. Somehow she was still alive. Against all odds, she had survived.

The wooden floor felt cold against her bare feet.

She stood up unsteadily, and again felt nausous for a moment. She felt so weak, barely able to stand. It almost seemed as if her body had forgotten how to do this. She wondered how long she had been unconcious.

She padded slowly over to the door. By the time she got there she found herself breathing heavily, as if even this simple exertion was too much for her. She had never felt so weak in her life.

She could hear the voices much more clearly now, enough to make out what they were saying. She recognized one immediately as Zangan, her sensei back in Nibelheim. The other man's voice was unfamilar.

"You can't just leave her here," the stranger was saying.

"I have no choice," Zangan replied. "I can't take her with me. You know that. It's too dangerous. What kind of life would that be?"

"What kind of life would she have here?" the other man replied. "The slums of Midgar is no place for a girl like her. You know that. If she wanders around here she'll be dead in a week, or worse..."

"I don't like it anymore than you do, but it's still better than where I'm going," Zangan replied. "I know this isn't going to be easy for either of you. I know I'm placing an impossible burden on you, but there's nothing else I can do. I have no place else to take her."

There was a momentary pause.

"She doesn't have any other relatives?" the other man said finally.

"No," Zangan replied. "Her mother died five years ago, her father and all her other relatives were killed in the fire at Nibelheim."

Tifa felt a lump form in her throat at these words.

"She has no one else," Zangan finished.

"And you're sure no one survived?" the stranger asked. "If it was so bad, how come I haven't heard about it? How come it wasn't in the papers?"

"Shinra's covering the whole thing up," Zangan replied. "They don't want anyone to know. They're afraid they'll be blamed. After all, Sephiroth was their creation."

She heard footsteps approach her door. She stepped back, suddenly afraid that they would find her there, that they would be mad at her for eavesdropping. She turned to rush back to the bed, but she still felt weak, and she was afraid she would not get back to it before the door opened. But the footsteps stopped suddenly, and the door remained closed. When the stranger spoke again, his voice was much louder.

"This whole thing is nuts," he said. "Don't you know any woman that can take her? I'm no babysitter. I've never had kids, much less a teenage girl. I wouldn't have the slightest idea what to do with her. Why'd you pick me?"

"I know," Zangan replied. "I know this won't be easy. I don't know any woman right now that I trust enough to leave her with. I know this is out of the blue, I know that taking care of a young girl is going to be difficult for you. But the bottem line is, you're the only one I trust."

"I'm flattered, " the stranger replied. "But I still think you're making a mistake. There's got to be someplace else you can take her. There's got to be someplace better than this!"

"Where?" Zangan replied. "I'm open to suggestions, you know. The only other choice is the orphanage. She might be too old to go there anyway, and do you seriously think she'd be better off there?"

"Midgar orphanage? God no," the other man replied immediately. "A girl like her? They'd have her out on the street in days."

"Well then?" Zangan said.

There was another pause. Tifa listened to the conversation with a cold feeling in the pit of her stomach. Her family was dead. She had no where to go, no one to turn to. Even this man, this stranger, didn't want her.

With sudden resolve she grabbed hold of the doorknob and pulled it open. Light flooded in, momentarly blinding her. When her eyes adjusted she saw Zangan and a tall blonde man staring at her.

"I don't want to stay here!" she exclaimed. "I want to come with you!"

Zangan said nothing for a moment. She had obviously caught them both by surprise. Zangan looked at her almost guiltily. It was obvious they hadn't expected her to hear any of their conversation.

Finally Zangan walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder.

"How are you feeling?" he asked kindly.

She shrugged.

"I'm okay," she replied. "I heard you mention Midgar. Is that where we are?"

Zangan nodded.

"Yes. I brought you here after I found you at the reactor."

Tifa nodded slowly.

"Sephiroth?' she questioned.

Zangan shook his head.

"I don't know."

Tifa turned away. She didn't want to believe that Sephiroth could get away with what he did. She didn't want to believe that he wouldn't be punished, wouldn't have to pay for what had happened.

Zangan's hand tightened on her shoulder.

"C'mon," he said. "Let's get you back to bed. You suffered a very serious wound. You're lucky to be alive. The doctor said you shouldn't get out of bed for at least another week."

Tifa allowed herself to be led back into the room.

"Another week?" she said. "How long have we been here?"

"You've been unconcious for seven days already," Zangan replied.

Tifa looked surprised. That long...

They reached the bed and she climbed back in. As she sat down she felt a sudden stabbing pain in her chest. She lay back and brought her hand up to feel it.

"Are you all right?" Zangan questioned.

She nodded.

"See, you need to rest," Zangan admonished.

"But you said you were going away," Tifa said, getting back to the original subject. "I don't want you to go."

Zangan sat down on the side of the bed and took hold of her hand.

"I don't want to go either," he said. "But we all have to do things we don't want to do. What I have to do is very important."

"And you can't take me with you?" Tifa asked pleadingly.

Zangan shook his head.

"I'm sorry. It's just not possible. But don't worry. You'll be safe here with Garren."

Tifa shook her head, turning away from him.

"He doesn't even want me here," she said softly. "No one wants me."

He didn't have to see the tears in her eyes to know they were there.

He reached out. She sat up again and he pulled her to him.

"I'm sorry," he said again, trying to keep his voice calm. She couldn't see the anguish on his face. "Sometimes life is cruel, Tifa. I know it's hard, I know what happened to you is unfair, I know life might not be turning out the way you planned. But things will get better. I promise."

Tifa did not reply, but he could here her sobbing softly. He squeezed her tighter for a moment.

"I have to go," he said gently.

She clung to him, her sobs increasing. He looked down at her helplessly. As gently as he could, he peeled her arms away and stood up.

"I'll don't know when I'll be back, but I will come back," he said.

"When?" she asked, looking up at him, the tears glistening on her cheeks from the light shining in from the other room.

"I don't know," he said, shaking his head slowly. "It's probably going to be some time. You'll be safe here. Garren will take care of you. It's not that he doesn't want you here. He just...never had kids or anything like that. He's afraid he might not know how to handle this."

"I don't know him," she said. "He's a stranger. I don't like it here."

Zangan looked down at her sympathetically.

"I'm sorry," he said again. "You're going to have to be brave, Tifa. There's nothing I want more in the world than to have this never have happened. But it did. You're going to have to be strong, stronger than you ever were. Remember the lessons I taught you. Mental strength is just as important, maybe more important, the physical strength. You were my best student, Tifa. I know you have what it takes. I know you can overcome this."

Tifa did not reply. She hoped he was right, she hoped she had the strength. But right now she didn't feel like it. Right now she felt as if there was nothing at all left in her life, nothing more to carry on for.

"Be strong," Zangan said. He stooped down and kissed her on the forehead, then turned and without another word walked out of the room, closing the door gently behind him. He looked up to see Garren standing where he had left him.

"Take care of her," Zangan said, then walked past Garren and out the door.

Tifa sat on the bed, once more in the dark, tears still falling, staining the bedsheet. She didn't want to let Zangan down, she didn't want to be weak, but it was all just so overwhelming. Everything she knew was gone, her father was dead, and probably everyone else she had known back in Nibelheim. Her life couldn't possibly have been more utterly destroyed.

She pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around them, her head sinking onto her knees. She had never before felt so utterly alone.

"Why didn't you just let me die?" she said softly.

"You have to eat."

Tifa just looked down at her plate.

"I'm not hungry," she said.

Garren leaned forward. She did not look up at him. She did not see the stern look on his face.

"You need to build up your strength," he said. "You're never going to get better if you don't eat."

Tifa just shrugged slighty but said nothing. Her hands remained at her sides.

Garren stared at her for a moment.

"You haven't eaten anything since you woke up yesterday. I told Zangan I'd take care of you, and that's what I'm going to do, whether you like it or not," he said angrily. "Now eat, dammit!"

She glanced up at him during this outburst, but immediately lowered her head again. For a moment she just sat there. Then her hand came up and she picked up her fork. Reluctantly she lifted some food with it and placed it in her mouth. She chewed mechanically, never once lifting her head to look at him.

He stared at her for a moment, his face softening.

"I'm sorry," he said abruptly. "I didn't mean to be harsh. I'm just not used to having someone like you around. You don't have to eat if you don't want to."

Tifa did not reply, but she put the fork back down beside the plate.

They sat there for some time in silence.

"So what did you like to do back in that town of yours?" Garren ventured.

Tifa still did not look up. Was he just trying to make conversation? What did he care anyway?

"Hello?" he prodded.

Even though she was not looking at him, she could feel his eyes upon her. She didn't want to think about what she did back in Nibelheim. She didn't want to think about Nibelheim at all.

"I...I used to like to walk in the woods," she said eventually.

Garren glanced out the window at the concrete edifices across the street.

"I'm afraid you're not going to be able to do that here," he stated. "No trees will grow under this plate."

Tifa did not feel the need to respond.

"What else did you like to do?" he asked.

Tifa had no desire to continue this conversation. She just shrugged.

"Surely there must have been something else you liked to do," Garren pressed. "You couldn't have wandered around in the woods twenty four hours a day."

Why was he pressing this issue? What difference did it make?

"I used to talk to my friends,"he said, finally looking up at him, suddenly, defiantly. "But they're all dead now!"

Garren looked at her for a moment. He frowned, but when he spoke, there was no anger in his voice.

"You're not helping me here, kid," he said.

Tifa just looked at him without replying.

"All right," he finally said. "I'll give you some time. You've been through hell, but you're not the first person that's happened to. Eventually you've gonna have to join the real world again, whether you like it or not. I'm willing to wait."

Tifa was silent. Part of her felt guilty for acting like this. Part of her realized he was probably right. But she didn't care. She wasn't ready to listen to reason. She wasn't ready to let go of her anger, her rage at the unfariness of it all. Why did this have to happen to her? What had she done to deserve it?

A knock at the door interrupted the silence.

Garren got up. He walked over to the door and opened it to reveal a woman standing in the hallway outside. She had dirty blond hair and was wearing a tight floral print dress. Garren looked at her in surprise.


She stepped up to him and planted a kiss on his cheek.

"What'sa matter, ain'tcha happy to see me?" she said.

"Yeah sure," he said, quickly recovering from his surprise. "What are you doing back here though? What happened in Junon?"

"It didn't work out," she said casually. "The guy was a jerk. The job didn't pay anymore than I'd get here to start out. It was all bullshit."

She strolled past him and stopped when she saw Tifa.

"Who's the kid?" she questioned sharply.

"Her names Tifa," Garren replied.

Esella looked at her apraisingly, the smile she had been wearing suddenly absent.

"I'm gone two weeks and you've already got someone to take my place?" she said. "I didn't know you liked them so young."

"Nobody could replace you, Ez," he replied with a smirk. "It's not like that. I'm just looking after her for a friend."

Esella looked at him curiously.

"Yeah, right," she said skeptically. "You expect me to believe someone would leave a young girl like her with you?"

"It was a last resort," Garren replied.

"I'll bet."

"What do you want?"

"Is that any way to talk to your main squeeze?"

She stepped over to him again and wrapped her arms around him.

"I am still your main squeeze, ain't I?"

He looked at her for a moment.

"Yeah sure," he replied, peeling her off him.

"Whatsamatter?" she questioned. "You told me you'd love me forever, remember?."

"That was before you walked out on me," he replied.

She stepped back and gave him a stern look.

"Hey, that was business," she responded. "I'm just tryin' to better myself. You think everyone's like you, happy livin' in this hellhole?"

"Yeah, whatever," he replied. He walked over to the table and sat down again.

"Anyway," she said, walking over and squeezing down onto his lap. "I'm back now, just like old times."

She slipped her arms around him and kissed him again.

He pushed her away, nearly toppling her off his lap.

"What's with you?" she said angrily.

"Not in front of the kid," he replied.

She looked at Tifa and frowned.

"What, suddenly you're becoming sensitive?" she snapped at him. "How old is she anyway?"

Garren didn't reply, just looked at Tifa.

"I'm almost sixteen," Tifa said slowly.

Esella's eyebrows rose in surprise.

"You're only fifteen?" she said. "You don't look that young to me honey. You ever been laid?"

"Ez!" Garren said sharply.

Tifa turned crimson.

"What?" Esella said innocently.

"She's only a kid!" Garren said.

"Fifteen ain't no kid around here," Esella replied. "Most of us started walkin' the street when we were thirteen. With a body like that I figured she'd be a pro by now. Are you telling me she's a virgin?"

"Shut up Ez," Garren said.

Esella ignored him, looking at Tifa, who just turned a deeper shade of red.

"Holy smokes," Esella blurted out. "She really is a virgin! Damn. She can get five hundred gil for two hours in the right place. And honey, I know all the right places. Whatdya say kid, five hundred big ones to get rid of somethin' you never wanted in the first place."

"I said shut up!" Garren said angrily.

Esella looked at him with her mouth open, surprised by his anger.

"What's your problem?" she questioned. Then she frowned.

"Oh I get it. You want her all to yourself."

Garren stood up abruptly, nearly tossing Esella over a second time. She stumbled to her feet without falling.

"I told you it's not like that!" Garren said. "I'm taking care of her for a friend, and that's all there is to it. Nothing like that is going to happen to her!"

Esella just stared at him for a moment. For a second Tifa thought she was going to shout back, but then her face softened.

"All right, all right," she said in a concilitory tone. "I get the picture. I'm sorry, Garren. I didn't mean to get you angry."

Garren looked at her for a moment, as if he was unsure whether she was sincere, then he shrugged.

She stepped closer to him and slipped her arms around him yet again.

"Forget about the girl," Esella said. "I'm sorry I left ya too. How can I...make it up to you?"

She rubbed her body up against him. Tifa turned away.

He pried her arms off him one more time.

"You want to make it up to me?" he said. "Go get her some clothes."


"Get her some clothes," Garren repeated. "She's got nothing but the clothes she came here with, and the blouse is ruined. She can hang around my apartment wearing my shirts, but she can't go out like that. And she's gonna have to go out eventually. She needs some new stuff, and I'm not really up on the latest fashions for teenage girls."

Esella looked at them both for a moment, frowning.

"What do I look like, your personal servant?" she questioned.

"Just do it," he replied curtly. "You asked how you could make it up to me. As a favor, okay?"

She hesitated a moment. She glanced at Tifa and gave her a withering look. Finally she nodded.

"Fine," she said. "But I'm gonna need money for cigarettes too."

"Whatever," Garren said, digging into his pocket. He took out a wad of gil and peeled off some bills, handing them to her. He stopped, but she just continued to look at him.

"Clothes don't come cheap, you know," she said, her hand still extended.

He gave her a skeptical look, then peeled off a few more bills.

Satisfied she pocketed the money and turned to the door.

"I'll be back soon," she said, glancing back and smiling at Garren.

"Yeah," he replied. "And don't spend any of that gil on booze."

She frowned, stuck her tongue out at him, then turned and walked out the door, slamming it shut behind her. Garren looked at Tifa.

"Sorry about that," he said. "She has a bit of a foul mouth. Most of my friends are like that, actually. Just ignore her."

"She doesn't like me," Tifa said.

Garren shrugged off her concern.

"You're a pretty young girl. She's just jealous. She'll get over it."

Tifa did not reply, but she had a feeling this new development wasn't going to make the situation any better.

Garren got up and picked up his plate. He looked at hers.

"Are you sure you don't want anymore of that?" he asked.

Tifa shook her head.

Garren cleared off the table and put the dishes in the sink. He sat down again. They were both silent for quite some time.

"How long have you known Zangan?" he finally asked.

Tifa hesitated a moment. She still wasn't in much of a mood for conversation.

"Almost three years," Tifa replied.

Garren nodded slowly.

"He told me you were one of his best students. You must really like doing that martial arts stuff."

Tifa shrugged.

"I could never get into that," Garren kept of the conversation, shaking his head slowly. "Zangan tried to teach me a couple of times."

Tifa nodded slowly. Then she looked up at him.

"How long did you know him?" she asked.

Garren smiled.

"Zangan and I go way back," he said. "We fought in the war together."

"The Wutai Midgar war?"

"That would be the one," he replied. "I don't know how many times he saved my ass. But I have to admit I did the same for him a few times. One time our entire regiment was wiped out. Only the two of us survived."

His hand slolwy tapped the table idley in front of him.

"But we had some good times too. Especially in the begining, when things were going well for Wutai. Before Midgar started the SOLDIER program."

She looked at him and frowned.

"You fought for Wutai?"

He met her gaze suddenly.

"Hey, looks like you can hold a conversation after all," he observed.

Tifa just looked at him.

"Yes, we fought for Wutai," he confirmed.

"But you live here in Midgar," she pointed out.

"I do now," he said. "But that didn't matter anyway. I was a mercenary. I fought for whoever paid me the most. Where I lived made no difference."

Tifa thought this over. She couldn't imagine doing that. She couldn't see herself fighting just for money, not caring about the cause.

"Was Zangan a mercenary too?" she asked.

"Hell no," Garren replied. "He was too high minded for that. He fought to stop Midgar's oppressive polocies from spreading to other countries. He was an idealist. We couldn't have been more different from one another. But out on the battlefield something clicked between us. Our views on life or poilitics didn't matter out there, all that mattered was knowing how to survive, and we were both very good at that. But even so, Wutai was no match for Midgar after the SOLDIER program began, and especially after Sephiroth took command of Midgar forces."

The blood drained from Tifa's face at the mention of that name. Garren looked at her, realizing he had made a mistake.

"But that's water under the brigde," he said quickly. "Zangan went on to teach martial arts all over the country. I came to Midgar after the war. They were undergoing a major rebuilding at that time, and it seemed to offer the most opportunity."

He looked at her, but she did not reply. Her gaze had dropped back down to the table again.

He sighed.

"I better clean up those dishes," he muttered.

He got up and walked over to the sink. He started washing off the dishes, not looking at her anymore. But then he was surprised as she came up beside him. Silently she picked up a dishtowel and wiped off the dish he had just cleaned. She looked at the cabinets above the sink, then at him.

He pointed.

"The second one there," he said.

She opened the cabinet and placed the plate inside. Then looked at him again.

He smiled.

"I'll wash, you rinse?" he suggested.

She did nor reply, only gave the barest nod of her head.

They cleaned the dishes quickly. Garren kept looking at Tifa, but she still said nothing. It only took them a few minutes to clean them all.

"Thanks," Garren said.

He walked over by the window. There was a radio there. He turned it on. Country music blared from the speaker.

"I love this stuff," he muttered, glancing over at her, but she did not offer an opinion.

He sat down at the table again, opening a paper and perusing it. She sat down again as well, staring off into space. After a while he made a few more attempts to start a conversation, but she didn't take the bait.

Eventually there was a rap on the door. He got up and opened it and Esella came in again. She gave him a peck on the cheek, then overturned the bag she was carrying down on the table. Half a dozen garments fell out, and a carton of cigarettes. She snatched up the carton.

"I can't believe how expensive girls clothes are getting," she stated. "I barely had enough to buy this."

Garren picked through the clothing with a frown on his face.

"Leather miniskirt, halter tops?" he said. "Ez, these are hooker clothes!"

Esella glared at him.

"Well shit, that's what all the girls wear around here," she snapped. "You want her to fit in, doncha?"

"Not with that crowd," he retorted.

"This is the slums of Midgar, remember? There ain't no other crowd around here," she responded. "You want your little virgin princess to go walking around here in some pretty little sun dress? She wouldn't last five minutes in something like that."

"Ez, this isn't..." he began angrily.

"It's all right," Tifa said.

They both looked at her.

"You sure?" Garren said in surprise.

Tifa nodded.

"It doesn't matter," she said. "This is fine. I don't care."

Esella smirked.

"See," she said. "She thinks it's fine."

Garren just shook his head.

"Whatever," he muttered.

"So now that I'm back, why don't we go out and celebrate?" Esella said.

Garren looked at Tifa.

"I don't know whether that's such a good idea," he said slowly.

"Aww c'mon," Esella cajoled. Noticing his look, she glanced at Tifa too. "She's old enough to take care of herself." She ran her hand down his arm. "You haven't forgottten how much fun we have when we go out, now have you?"

Garren shook his head, still looking at Tifa.

"Don't worry about me," Tifa said.

Garren heistated.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," Tifa replied.

Garren looked around the apartment.

"All right," he gave in. "There's food in the fridge, in case you decide you want to eat anything. I don't have a television, but you can listen to the radio all you want. If anyone comes calling, just ignore them. Don't open the door for anyone, understand?"

Tifa nodded. Letting someone into the apartment was the last thing she would think of doing.

"I'm sure she'll be fine," Esella said, practically dragging Garren toward the door.

"I'm not sure how long we're going to be. I'll call you if we're going to be late," Garren said.

Esella opened the door and waited for Garren to walk through. She turned to look at Tifa and winked.

"Don't wait up," she said, then banged the door closed.

Tifa sat there in silence for some time. She didn't really mind being alone. In fact, she prefered it. She didn't like Esella at all, and though Garren seemed a decent sort, they really didn't have much in common. It wasn't like she felt the need to talk to anyone anyway.

She picked up the clothes the Esella had dumped on the table and carried them into the bedroom, laying them out on the bed. She surveyed them for a moment, then chose a white t shirt and bra and a black skirt. She took them into the bathroom. She slipped off Garrens shirt, which was large enough that it almost came down to her knees. She felt her bandages until she found the edge, then slowly stripped them off, letting them fall to the floor at her feet. When she was done she looked down at herself in silence for a moment. Her hand came up, and she touched the ugly scab that ran across her chest. The wound had closed, but it was still sore to the touch. Although she was not particularly vain, she had always had a sense of pride in her looks. Now she was disfigured, and in a way that could not be hidden by a little makeup. She hoped it wouldn't leave a scar, but somehow she had a feeling that what Sephiroth had done would remain with her for the rest of her life. She was marred, in body and soul.

She picked up the bra and put it on, but it just made the wound hurt more. It was see through anyway, and too large for her. Esella had apparently overestimated in that department. She tossed it aside. She slipped on the t shirt and skirt. They were a little tight, but fit well enough. There was a mirror above the sink, but she didn't look in it. Two weeks ago she would have been very interested in her appearence. Two weeks ago she would have never even considered putting on what she was now wearing. But that seemed a lifetime away now. Now she just didn't care. She took the clothes off again and put Garren's shirt back on. At least she knew they fit, but she wasn't going anywhere right this minute.

She walked back into the other room. She shut the radio off. She wasn't in the mood to listen to music. She walked over to the window, sat down on the counter beside it and looked down at the street below.

It was so different from Nibelheim. Even in the day, the streets of her home town had been quiet. There were never many vehicles on them. There were people out and about during the day, but none of them ever seemed to be in a hurry. Here the streets were filled with traffic, the constant sound of it a never ending backdrop. The sidewalks too, were crowded with people, and it seemed that every one of them was in a rush. A constant river of people ran along the sidewalk down below her. Old, young, every variety, businessmen, tourists, streetwalkers, and even more bizarre types. She saw one man walking by with flaming blue hair dressed in an outlandish costume. In Nibelheim he would have been the center of attention, here no one seemed to even spare him a glance, as if it happened every day, which it probably did. It was like another world, and one she had to admit she found fascinating to observe.

She wasn't sure how long she sat there, looking at the sea of humanity flow by below her. But gradually the sun sank in the sky, the dimming of light the only clue it was happening here below the plate. She thought things would start to quiet down then, as night fell, but she couldn't have been more wrong. If anything, as the lights came on the streets appeared to get even more crowded. She looked down at the throng below her and wondered where they could all be going. Didn't anyone in this town stay home?

Eventually she stood up and stretched. Though she hadn't turned on any lights, the glow from the streets outside cast more than enough light for her to see. She picked up a glass and poured herself some water. She looked up at the clock on the wall. It was only nine, but she was tired. Although she felt stronger, she still hadn't fully recovered from her injury. She drank the water, then walked into the bedroom and slipped under the covers. She could still hear the sounds of traffic, and the light through the bedroom window was annoying, but even so she quickly fell asleep.

She lifted her head, startled. She heard voices, much louder than the sounds from outside. For a moment she didn't realize where she was, then she identified the voices as that of Garren and Esella.

They were laughing. Tifa realized that their entrance must have been what had awakened her. She lay there in bed, not moving, wondering what time it was. The sounds of traffic had died down outside, but had not disappeared completely. Although there was no clock in the room, she had the feeling it was very late.

The laughter came again. Then Esella's voice.

"Oh you are so bad," she said. "But you're so much fun that way. Did you have a good time?"

Garren said something Tifa couldn't hear.

"Good," Esella replied. "Cause it's about to get even better."

She heard someone's footsteps across the floor, then Esella burst out laughing.

"For Chirssake, Ez, keep it down!" Garren said distinctly. "You'll wake up the kid."

"Don't worry about her," Esella replied. "I'm sure she's sound asleep."

"I better go check."

Tifa turned away from the door, shutting her eyes. She heard the door open. There was a pause, then the sound of Esella giggling.

"I told you," she said. "Your virgin princess is safe and sound in dreamland."

"I really wish you wouldn't call her that," Garren muttered.

"Aww, are you still being sensitive about her?" Esella questioned sarcastically.

"I'm just worried about her, that's all. And I don't think you're helping the situation."

Esella was silent for a moment.

"Well, as you can see, she's fine," she said finally. "Now why don't you come into the other room with me and I'll make you forget all about her."

Tifa did not hear Garren reply, but the door closed once more, and she heard footsteps going off into the other room. The walls were thin, she could still hear their voices, although she could no longer make out what they were saying. Later on she heard other sounds, and cries of passion from Esella. It went on for a long time. Tifa drew up her knees under the covers and stared blankly at the wall, wishing she were a thousand miles away.

End of Chapter 01

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