Shards - Chapter 2

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Chapter 2 - "The Hood"

Tifa was restless. She was alone in the apartment. That was nothing new, she spent most of her time alone. Garren worked in a bar, and he usually left for work around four in the afternoon, but he often went out after he got up late in the morning, or, more likely, early afternoon. He usually came back to the apartment around three to grab something to eat and get ready for work. Then wasn’t usually back until one or two in the morning.

Esella had come back with him twice already. Both times Tifa had pretended she was sleeping.

It had been four days now since Tifa had regained consciousness. The wound didn’t hurt her anymore, although the scab still looked pretty mean. Physically she felt perfectly fine, and this sitting around was starting to bore her. There wasn’t much for her to do in Garren’s apartment. You could only listen to the radio for so long, and she was tired of staring out the window. She wanted to go out, she wanted to do something, even if it was just a stroll down the street.

She had pleaded her case with Garren, telling him she felt fine now, that the wound no longer bothered her. He had told her it was too soon, the doctor had said seven days. But the look of disappointment on her face must have gotten to him, for he had eventually told her if she still felt well enough tomorrow, she could go outside with him for a little while. She could hardly wait.

Still, that meant she’d have to stay cooped up in his apartment one more day. It was only four thirty in the afternoon. Garren had just left for work. She had the whole evening ahead of her.

A car horn blared. She glanced out the window to see that traffic was tied up along the street below. She stepped closer to the window to get a better view. A delivery truck was unloading down the street, blocking traffic. The men unloading it seemed oblivious to the tie up they were causing. Tifa shrugged and turned away. She was getting so used to the sounds of traffic that it barely registered anymore.

What she really needed to do, she thought, was get some exercise. She hadn't practiced any of what Zangan had taught her since she arrived here. That was almost two weeks now, albeit during the first week she had been unconscious. Still, while in Nibelheim she had usually worked out or practiced her lessons five days a week. She knew she had to take it easy, after all, she had suffered a serious wound. The last thing she wanted to do was reinjure herself and be stuck in here even longer.

Still, as long as she took it easy, she didn't think it would do any harm. She could at least get some stretching done, and concentrate on her legs. It would give her something to do. She promised herself she would stop immediately if she felt any pain.

A half hour later she stopped, not because of any pain, but because she was tired. Her ordeal had apparently taken a lot out of her, and it was obvious it was going to take her a while to build up her strength again. The fact she had barely eating at all might have had something to do with it as well, she thought ruefully. Garren had continued to bug her about it, but had not forced her and she really hadn't sat down and eaten anything in quantity. But now her appetite finally seemed to be coming back.

But first she had to get cleaned up. She took a quick shower. As she emerged from it, her nose wrinkled at the faint smell of urine. She had noticed it before, but had never really paid it any attention. Now that she thought about it, the entire apartment wasn't exactly what she'd call clean.

Maybe she would do something about that.

She opened up on of the cabinets under the sink, but the only thing in it was a single dirty rag. She shook her head. He had to have some cleansers around here somewhere. She walked into the kitchen and looked under the sink there. She grunted in satisfaction when she spotted some powdered cleanser there, mixed in with several liquor bottles. She picked it up, then dropped it, startled, as a roach scurried away between two bottles further back. She sat there for a moment composing herself. She looked tentatively inside the cabinet again, but she could see no sign of the creature anymore. She picked up the cleanser once again and closed the cabinet. She wasn't about to attempt to hunt the insect down. That was above and beyond the call of duty. She set the cleanser on the counter, satisfied that she at least had something to work with. But right now her stomach was growling. She would eat first.

She heated up some lasagna that was left over from yesterday. It didn't take her long to finish it. She practically wolfed it down, she was so hungry. Garren would have been proud, she thought with a smile.

Her hunger satiated, she turned back to the chore of cleaning. Hunting around some more she turned up both a broom and mop shoved in the back of one kitchen cabinet. She started in the bathroom, since that was the room that seemed to need the most work. She had done chores at home, of course. I had never been something she would call enjoyable work, but she had never really minded either. It was just something that needed to be done. Now, as she started in, she almost found it pleasant. It as something to keep her occupied, at the very least, and it made her feel a little better to think she was actually doing something useful. Garren had taken her into his home, had fed and clothed her, even though it was obvious he was not the richest man in the world. She felt better finally doing something in return.

It was hard work though. It seemed as if the bathroom had never been properly cleaned. Years of dirt and grim had built up on the floor and the walls of the bathtub. Plus she still wasn't back to her old self. She had to stop every fifteen minutes or so to rest, but she was in no rush. Anything was better than sitting around staring at the walls.

When she was done in the bathroom, she moved out into the other rooms. The kitchen was pretty bad, although not as bad as the bathroom had been. After that the bedroom and living room were relatively easy, mostly just picking up and dusting. When she was finished she put her cleaning equipment away and sat down, tired but satisfied. She felt a lot better now than she had since she had arrived here. Just having something to do had taken her mind off her troubles. She realized that sitting around in this place these last few days had helped her recover physically, but it certainly hadn't done anything for her mental state. It had only given her time to sit and think about what had happened to her, when what she really needed was something to keep her mind off it. She couldn't wait to go out tomorrow.

She looked up at the clock. Almost eight thirty. She had been cleaning for hours. She looked around critically. For all her scrubbing, there were still some places that had refused to come clean. What must have been years of buildup couldn't all be removed in a day. Still, the place looked one hundred percent better. She couldn't expect miracles. She had done the best she could.

Suddenly the silence was broken by a rapping on the door.

Tifa's head lifted, startled. She stared at the door, feeling a sudden stab of fear. The whole time she had been here no one had disturbed her while Garren was gone.

She sat there, immobile, until the rapping came again. She looked around uncertainly. Garren had told her not to open the door for anyone, something she wholeheartedly agreed with. She noticed there was a peephole in the door, but she felt a strong reluctance to move. She figured the best thing to do was to ignore it and just let the person think there was no one here. If she got up to look, she was afraid the person outside would hear her. She didn't know what would happen then. He might stand out there banging on the door all night.

She didn't move. Each second seemed to pass by with excruciating slowness. Nothing happened for a long time, and she began to relax, thinking the person had given up and gone away. But then she heard another sound, the faint rattling of the lock. Whoever was out there was fiddling with it. Trying to pick it?

Tifa felt her throat go dry. Was it some kind of burglar? Had he just knocked on the door to see if anyone was there?

She looked around, nearly paralyzed with fear. What would she do if the door opened?

She stood up. It was a small apartment. There really wasn't anyplace to hide. She glanced over at the phone. Garren had not given her the number where he worked. She had no way to contact him, nor did she know anyone else in the apartment building. There was no one she could call but the police. She took a slow step toward the phone. She didn't think calling them was a good idea. What if it was a false alarm? What if whoever was out there just walked away? Wouldn't they be mad at her if she called them for nothing? And how long would it take for them to arrive anyway? How seriously did they take called from the slums of Midgar?

She heard the lock rattle again. She jumped even though it was no longer a surprise. She looked down and saw her hands were trembling. Whoever was out there was expecting to find an empty apartment. What would he do to her if he found her here?

Zangan had taught her how to fight, but she had never actually been in a real battle. She had fought against others during her training, but that wasn't a real test. She didn't know if she could do it at all. She was only fifteen years old. Even with her training, what chance would she have against an adult? What if he had a weapon? What if he had a gun?

"Please go away," she whispered.

She stood there, feeling her heart thudding in her chest, staring at the door.

For a long time nothing happened.

Again she wondered if the person had given up. She stood there in silence, listening for any sound, but all she heard was the low rumble of traffic. Eventually, with great reluctance, she walked slowly towards the door. She stared at the lock, ready to dart back at the slightest sign of movement.

Eventually she built up enough courage to step up to the door and look out the peephole.

The hallway was empty.

She turned away with a relieved sigh. Either the man (assuming it had been a man) had not been a burglar at all, or the lock had defeated him. She didn't know and she didn't care. She was just grateful he was gone.

She sat down on the couch, lying back and trying to get herself to relax. She had never thought before just how vulnerable she was here, alone every night. So much had changed for her in the last couple of weeks. She was in a whole other world now. There was so much here that she didn't know.

She wanted to turn on the radio, but she was still afraid to make any noise. She sat there for almost an hour. The possibility that whoever it had been might come back kept her from relaxing completely. Eventually, in spite of that, she felt her eyelids beginning to get heavy. Telling herself that it had been nothing to worry about, she went into the bedroom to get some sleep.

She had woke up every night when Garren came home, although he didn't know it. Tonight was no exception. In fact, because of what had happened earlier, she was particularly sensitive to any sounds inside the apartment. As soon as the key turned in the door, she was instantly awake. And with the wakefulness came fear, fear that it wasn't Garren at all, that whoever had been outside earlier had returned. She lay there, holding her breath, until the silence was broken by Garren's familiar voice.

"Pour me a drink, will ya?"

"Whaddya want?" Tifa heard Esella say.

"Something strong," Garren replied. "You know what I like. I've got to go to the can."

"So you need to make a public announcement?" Esella said sarcastically.

Tifa did not hear Garren reply. She heard footsteps, then a pause.

"What the hell?" she heard Garren mutter.

"What?" Esella inquired.

"Take a look at this," Garren called.

There were more footsteps, then another pause.


"Look at this place," Garren said. "It's clean."

"Clean? Whaddya mean, clean?"

"Clean," Garren replied. "As in, no dirt. Damn, she must have cleaned the whole place up."

There was a short silence.

"I know it was kinda dirty, but I've got a lot of work to do," Esella said suddenly. "You know, some of us have to work for a livin'."

"Now wait a minute," Garren began. "I didn't..."

"You know it's not easy draggin' my ass around all day and then have to come over hear and clean up after you," Esella continued defensively. "I do the best I can. You know, you could make things a lot easier if you weren't such a slob. The least you could do is pick up after yourself."

"What's your problem?" Garren snapped, getting angry. "I wasn't going to say anything at all."

"Yeah, but you were thinking it," she retorted. "I work my ass off around here, but do I get any thanks at all? No! But your little virgin princess decides to get up off her own ass and do something and you can't get over it."

"I told you not to call her that!" Garren snapped.

"Oh you don't like that?" Esella exclaimed. "Fine. Knowing you, it's probably not true anymore anyway. Maybe Garren's little whore would be a better description!"

"Esella, shut up!" Garren exclaimed, his voice much louder than before. "I told you it's not like that!"

"As if I believe that for a minute!" Esella retorted, her own voice rising as well. "I know you better than that. You must have been drooling the moment she walked through the door. You're very own innocent little country girl. I'll bet you couldn't wait to teach her the ways of the big city."

"You know, Esella, sometimes you can be a real asshole!" Garren shouted at her.

Tifa lay where she was, immobile, shocked as she listened to their argument escalate. She had hardly expected her cleaning to lead to this. They were both shouting now, both yelling curses at each other. Tifa just lay there, a cold knot of fear settling in the pit of her stomach. She didn't want them to fight. She brought her hands up to cover her ears, tears forming in her eyes. She prayed they would stop, she wished she hadn't done what she did. It seemed as if everything she did was wrong.

She heard something slam against the wall, and then Esella shouting at Garren, daring him to hit her. She heard Garren curse at Esella, who retorted with a string of curses with her own. She told him to drop dead. He told her to get out. Esella cursed at him again, and then Tifa heard the stomping of feet, and the door slamming shut.

Tifa lay there, staring at the wall, afraid to move. The sudden silence seemed deafening in it's own right. The way Esella had sounded when she left made Tifa believe she was gone for good. How would Garren feel about that? Would he blame Tifa for the breakup? Esella was his lover, but now she was gone, and it was Tifa's fault. She couldn't imagine him not being mad at her. Would he yell at her? Would he throw her out? She didn't know Garren that well, but she was beginning to trust him. She had no one else here. She had no place else to go. Garren was the only one here that she could trust. Now she was scared to death of what might happen.

She nearly jumped as the door to her bedroom suddenly opened. She shut her eyes, trying to remain completely still, trying to hold back the tears.

For a long time there was silence.

"Are you alright?" Garren finally asked.

She was too scared to answer. She just lay there, hardly daring to breathe.

She heard footsteps approach, then the side of the bed sank down as Garren sat down on it.

"I know you couldn't have slept through that," he said.

He sounded surprisingly calm.

"I'm sorry," she said thickly. "I was only trying to help."

There was another silence. Tifa felt tears running down her cheeks.

"Hey, it wasn't your fault," he said calmly. "Esella can be a real asshole sometimes."

Tifa turned to look at him. His face held no anger.

"So you're not mad at me?" she sniffed.

He waved his hand blithely in the air.

"Of course not," he replied. "You didn't do anything wrong. It's not your fault Esella is so jealous."

Tifa wiped the tears from her eyes.

"But..but she left. She hates you. And it's my fault."

"It's not your fault," Garren reassured her. "You did me a favor, actually, she was really start to get on my nerves."

Tifa just looked at him.

"But I thought you loved her," she said.

Garren snorted, then almost seemed to choke for a moment. Finally he burst out laughing. Tifa just looked at him in surprise.

"Whatever gave you that idea?" he blurted out.

"She comes back here with you practically every night," Tifa said, sounding confused.

Garren stopped laughing and looked at her sharply.

"How do you know that?" he questioned.

Tifa did not reply for a moment.

"You're not very quiet," she said finally.

Garren looked at her for a moment, then at the apartment around them.

"It appears I've been a bit indiscrete. I didn't mean to subject you to that. I apologize."

"You don't have to," she replied.

He shrugged.

"Anyway," he continued. "Now matter what you may have thought, I'm not in love with Esella."

"But...I don't understand," Tifa said slowly.

Garren sighed.

"You wouldn't," he said. He sat there looking at her for a moment. He started to speak, then changed his mind.

"It's like this," he said finally. "There aren't many pleasures here in the slums of Midgar. This isn't like that little town of yours. If you've got money, you can buy drugs. If you've got a little less, you get alcohol. But even if you don't have any money, if you're lucky, you can still have sex. Most of the people in the slums don't even know for sure where their next meal is coming from. Under those conditions, you grasp at any pleasure you can. You'll find when you meet people around here that sex is pretty much all that's on their minds. It had nothing to do with love, it's simply a way to survive."

Tifa was silent. She understood what Garren was saying, but she couldn't imagine people feeling like that. She couldn't ever picture herself doing something like that, having sex without loving someone.

"Don't worry about Esella," Garren continued. "We've had worse fights than that. She'll be back tomorrow, hangin' on me as if nothing happened."

Tifa just shook her head slowly. The way they had been fighting, she wouldn't have been surprised if they never spoke to one another again. She couldn't picture them getting together again at all, much less tomorrow. This really was a different world.

"I hope so," she said.

"You all right now?" he questioned.

Tifa managed a smile and nodded.

"All right then," he said, standing up. "I think you better get some sleep now. You're going to have a big day tomorrow, finally getting out of this dump. Get some rest."

Tifa nodded again.

Garren walked over to the door, then stopped and turned to look at her again.

"And thanks for cleaning up this hole," he said.

Tifa looked at him gratefully.

"You're welcome."

"You sure do seem to be interested in that paper," Garren observed.

Tifa was sitting opposite him at the breakfast table, their meal just finished. She had the paper splayed out in front of her, and was looking over the articles. She did not reply.

"Something in particular you're looking for?" Garren questioned.

Tifa shook her head slowly.

"Not really," she replied slowly. "Well, maybe," she changed her mind. "I'm looking to see if there's any mention of anyone from SOLDIER in here."

"Really," Garren said. "What for?"

She shrugged.

"It's really not important," she replied hesitantly.

He just looked at her expectantly.

"There was a boy I knew from Nibelheim," she confessed. "He went away to join SOLDIER. I just thought...that I might see his name someday."

Garren looked at her closely.

"Boy?" he said. "As in boyfriend?"

Tifa blushed and lowered her head.

"No," she said quickly. "No...not really. Actually, we hardly even knew each other."

Tifa feel silent. It had been three years now since Cloud went away. And in that whole time she had received no word about him. She had often looked in the paper, hoping to see something about him, hoping that he had attained his dream, that he had become a member of SOLDIER. But she had heard nothing. It was as if he had disappeared from the face of the earth.

She looked down at the floor. It didn't matter anyway. It had been so long now, he probably had forgotten completely about her. She still vividly recalled their last night together, out by the well, and the promise he had made. But nothing had come of it. Sephiroth had nearly killed her, and now she was alone. If ever she needed a knight to come save her, now would have been the time.

She shook her head slowly. She was being foolish. They had just been kids, that promise wasn't something she could hold him too. If they met on the street tomorrow, he probably wouldn't even remember her name.

"Well, maybe one day you'll run into him again," Garren interrupted her thoughts. "Besides Zangan, you two might be the only one's left from Nibelheim."

Tifa did not reply. That too, was something she didn't want to think about. Talking like that just reminded her that the town she grew up in, the only home she had ever know, was gone forever.

Eventually Garren stood up.

"So, you ready to get out of this dump?" he asked.

Tifa nodded eagerly and stood up. She was more than ready to get out of here. She'd been looking forward to it since the moment she'd woken up this morning.

Garren walked over to the closet and put on a jacket. He pulled another one out and handed it to Tifa.

"Ez didn't get you a coat, but it's pretty cold out. This will have to do for now, until we can get you something else. It's a little big."

Tifa took the coat and put it on. Garren was right, but she wasn't about to complain. She wouldn't have complained if she had to go out naked, well, maybe she would have a little, she was just glad to get out of here.

Garren led her out of the apartment. He closed and locked the door. They walked down the hallway. There were no windows, the hall was dark and dirty, even in broad daylight. The paint was peeled and someone had scribbled something along the wall to her right. Tifa looked around sadly. There wasn't anyplace like this in Nibelheim, in such disrepair. She wondered why someone didn't clean it up.

They walked down a narrow set of stairs and then out the front door. The cold wind hit her immediately, taking her breath away for a moment. Garren had warned her it was cold, but the wind was like ice. It was early September. In Nibelheim is wasn't this cold this time of year.

They stepped out onto the street. The first thing that Tifa did was look up at the building around them. For a moment she stopped, just staring. The buildings went up and up, like nothing she had seen before. And far above, looming over them all, the iron plate that the higher level of the city was built on. Never before had she seen such a massive human construction. Never had she imagined it was possible. Even without the plate above them the slums themselves would have dwarfed all the structures in Nibelheim. She had seen pictures sometimes of Midgar on television, but that hadn't done it justice, hadn't made one realize the enormity of it. If she wasn't seeing it with her own eyes, she would never have believed it.

"You comin'?" Garren questioned, looking at her.

"Uh, yeah," she said. He started off again, with her right beside him, still looking around with awe on her face.

They walked down the block. People passed by them on all sides. Tifa glanced at them, forced to look where she was going so she didn't run into anyone. She had seen the people through the window, but there seemed to be even more of them when you were standing in the middle of them. At the corner Garren turned right and they walked slowly downhill. This street was a little less crowded.

"Where are we going?" Tifa questioned.

"Not far," Garren replied. "You wanted to get out. Now's your chance to see a little of the neighborhood."

Tifa nodded. Ahead of them she saw another corner, with the street turning left and right. Beyond that she could see the dark waters of a narrow slow moving river. As they approached another corner Tifa frowned as she detected a foul odor.

"What's that smell?" she questioned.

Garren pointed ahead of them.

"The river,"he said, matter of factly. "It's polluted. Actually, it's not that bad now. It's much worse in the summer."

Tifa said nothing but shook her head. Again, there was nothing like that in Nibelheim. All the streams ran clean down out of the mountains. It just made her miss her hometown even more. She couldn't understand how people could live like this.

They continued down the street, walking along the river. The smell gradually faded into the background, just like everything else. Eventually they came to a train trestle that crossed the river. They turned and followed that, leaving the river behind.

The buildings had been dirty and ill kept from the moment they left Garren's apartment, but Tifa noticed as they walked that their condition gradually deteriorated even more. The streets were narrower and littered with trash. The concrete and brick of the structures around them was faded and cracked, covered with years of built up grim, turning them all into a uniform shade of grey. Many of the windows were broken, and it was apparent that quite a few of them were completely abandoned.

Yet even so, it was obvious that there were still people who lived here. The streets were far less crowded than they had been outside Garren's apartment, but they were far from empty. Even in the cold there were people sitting on the steps in front of some doors, talking or watching the street around them. A group of kids were playing stickball in the middle of the street. None of them seemed to notice the poor conditions in which they lived.

"Is all of Midagar like this?" she questioned.

"You mean a dump?" Garren replied. He looked up at the huge structure above their heads. "Under here it is. It's a whole other world up there."

Tifa thought about that for a moment.

"So why do these people live here?" she asked. "Why don't they move up on top of the plate too?"

Garren smiled wanely.

"It's all a matter of gil," he replied. "Those up top have it, those down where don't. Nobody lives down here because they want to."

Tifa still looked puzzled.

"I can understand them not being able to afford to live up there," she said. "But why stay in Midgar at all?"

"They've got no place else to go," he replied.

She looked around slowly.

"But...anyplace would be better than here," she commented. "Surely there must be somewhere else they can go. There's other towns around here, aren't there?"

"Sure. Kalm's less than a day's travel away."

"Well, then why don't they go there? It can't be as bad as this, can it?"

Garren looked at her for a moment, then shook his head.

"No, Kalm is a very nice town. Quaint, I think is the word you would use. Probably quite similar to the town you grew up in."

"So..." Tifa prodded.

"It's not that simple," Garren replied. "This is all most of these people have ever known. They grew up here, they have families and jobs here, some of them, anyway. This is the only home they've ever know, no matter how imperfect. Most of them think they're happy here, or as happy as they're ever going to get."

This time it was Tifa's turn to shake her head. She couldn't comprehend anyone being happy living here.

"Besides, what would they do in Kalm?" Garren continued. "Most of them have no gil, no marketable skills, No one would know them in Kalm. They'd have no place to stay. They wouldn't be welcome."

Tifa did not reply. She understood what he was saying, but somehow it didn't make sense to her. She couldn't see how these people could live like this, no matter what their reasons. One thing was for sure, she wasn't going to stay here a minute longer than was absolutely necessary.

They reached another corner. As they came around it the building blocked out the cold wind that had been blowing, funneled down the streets under the plate. Tifa felt better, but she was still very cold. The jacket Garren had given her was too big and loose fitting, allowing the wind to slip in underneath it.

Just how long was she going to be here, she wondered. It was a question that had been on her mind for some time now. Until this point she had been content to just not think about it, to push it out of her mind. But their conversation brought her face to face with some unpleasant facts. She had no gil, no marketable skills. No one outside of Garren and Zangan knew her. She was just like everyone else here, and wouldn't be anymore welcome in Kalm than any of them. What was she going to do?

Garren couldn't watch out for her forever. He had his own life to live. They weren't related. Zangan had said he would come back, but she had no idea how long that would be. He had made it sound when he left like it might be quite some time, but how long was that? Weeks? Months? Years? And even when he did come back, he wasn't her relative either. She couldn't expect him to look out for her forever anymore than she expected Garren to.

She shivered. Ever since she had awakened in Garren's apartment, ever since she had realized what had happened, she had felt a vague feeling of foreboding. A feeling that somewhere along the line, life was going to take yet another turn for the worse. She had survived the destruction of Nibelheim, she had escaped somehow. But it seemed a temporary reprieve, an accident, and life would eventually catch up with her again and finish what it had started. Everytime she thought about the future, all she could see was bleak. This was the reason she didn't want to think about it, didn't want to look ahead beyond the next day. It was the only way she could keep herself functioning at all.

The buildings disappeared suddenly on the right, replaced by a concrete wall. Tifa looked up and saw it appeared to reach right up to the plate above them. It was covered with graffiti, and chipped away in places, as if someone had tried to burrow through it for some unknown reason. Though it had been penetrated in what looked like a couple of feet in some spots, no one had succeeded. Tifa looked around and saw the wall went on for as far as she could see ahead of them.

"What's behind here?" she asked.

"Sector six," Garren replied. "That's where we're going."

A little farther down the road they came to an enormous gate, it's doors flung wide. They passed through and found themselves standing before a playground. It was obviously old, and like everything else here, in a state of disrepair. Nevertheless, there were still quite a few kids playing on it.

Garren turned to the left.

"This way," he said.

She followed silently. Up to now they had been passing through residential districts, but now she looked ahead and saw the bright lights of storefronts flashing in the distance.

As they approached the street widened. Tifa slowed down a little, once again filled with awe. The streets ahead of them were lined with stores, the fronts of each and every one of them covered with lights and signs, flashing, blinking, even moving. A bedazzling array that she couldn't take her eyes off of. It seemed as if the entire street were alive with motion. She had never seen so many stores in her life.

"What is this place?" she said slowly.

Garren looked at her staring around them. From the look on her face, it wasn't difficult for him to read her thoughts.

"Wall Market," he replied.

Garren led her slowly down the street. Tifa remained silent, looking around, trying to take in everything even though it was impossible. There were no cars here, but the streets were once again filled with people. Quite a few of the stores had men out front, barking about the impressive wares that could be found inside. She could also hear the staccato beat of drums and the sounds of music coming from several directions at once. All of it contributed to the carnivallike atmosphere of the place.

They walked around for hours. The place was so fascinating Tifa quickly lost all track of time. She wandered in and out of the shops, content just to look at all the things they had, items from all over the world. It seemed to her that every type of store she could ever imagine could be found here.

Garren seemed content just to watch her. He didn't follow her everywhere. He had seen it all before anyway, and often he found a place to sit and relax while she was roaming through the stores. But she noticed he was never far away, and if she moved out of his sight he was quick to follow. Back in Nibelheim she would have resented the fact he was keeping such a close eye on her, but here she didn't really mind. Though she would never admit it openly, after all that had happened to her she found it comforting.

Garren had started out leading the way, but soon it was Tifa who was dictating their direction. She couldn't get enough of it. Every shop seemed to have more interesting things than the last. She felt like she could spends days, even weeks here without getting bored.

Later on Tifa noticed a crowd drawn up on the street in front of one of the buildings ahead of them. She started toward it, curious, but Garren suddenly put his hand on her shoulder. When she looked up at him he nodded his head in another direction.

"Let's go this way," he suggested.

Tifa hesitated.

"What is that place there?" she asked, deciding to be direct. "The one with the crowd out front."

"That's the Honey Bee Inn," he replied. "There's nothing there that would interest you."

"It seems to have interested a lot of people," Tifa observed.

"A lot of men," Garren countered. "It's a brothel."

"A brothel?"

"Yes," he replied. He stopped when he noticed the blank look on her face.

"A whorehouse," he rephrased.

"Oh," Tifa said softly.

"C'mon," he said.

Before they could leave the crowd suddenly parted, and Tifa saw a man with black hair tied back in a pony tail. He was walking in their direction with a slow easy stride. He wore a dark blue suit that immediately attracted the eye, for the simple reason that it was obviously well made and well kept, cleanly pressed and perfectly fit. It made him stand out like a beacon among the scruffily dressed people around him. As he approached older people bowed in deference and drew back, while youngsters scrambled out of his way. This and the way he held himself made it obvious he was someone important.

"Who's that?" Tifa asked.

Her companion did not reply for a moment, just looked at the man thoughtfully. For a second Tifa thought he wasn't going to answer her.

"That's Tseng of the Turks," Garren said finally.

"The Turks?" she questioned.

"Yeah," he continued. "Shinra enforcers. In other words, high class gangsters. They take care of all Shinra's dirty business. Extorting gil. robbery, kidnapping, murder, you name it. They've got quite a reputation around here. Very nasty people. Stay away from them."

It seemed to her there were an awful lot of people and places she was going to have to stay away from here.

As Tseng passed them he turned and looked casually in Tifa's direction. For a moment their eyes met, and Tifa found herself staring into two black pits. There was no feeling in those eyes, no sense that she was even looking at a human being. All she saw was the cold calculating look of a natural born predator. She quickly lowered her gaze.

Garren put a hand on her shoulder again.

"C'mon," he repeated.

They turned away, down another street of the seemingly endless shops. By now it was late afternoon. Garren suggested they grab something to eat. Tifa did not object. Garren led them to a small bar and grill near the middle of the block. Inside the air was hazy, the sounds of meat sizzling on the grill mingling with the murmur of voices. Even here, inside this small diner, the place was abuzz with activity.

They ate quickly. The food was too greasy, but Tifa didn't mind. She was happy just to be here, to get away from the apartment. For the first time since she had arrived here, she was enjoying herself.

"I think it's time we headed back," Garren stated when they were finished. "I've got to go to work soon."

Tifa didn't try to hide her disappointment.

"Can't we stay just a little while longer?" she pleaded.

He sat there for a moment, looking at her with a thoughtful expression.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

"Fine," she replied immediately.

He nodded slowly.

"You know, we're a little short of help right now down at the bar," he said. "Business had been pretty good. We could use an extra hand cleaning up and doing the dishes. I know it's not a particularly exciting job but..."

"I can do that!" Tifa interrupted excitedly. She had been shooting for a few more minutes out of the apartment, and here he was offering her the whole evening!

"Are you sure?" he asked. "It's drudge work, but we really do need some help. And you'll not only get to stay out of the apartment, you'll get paid some gil as well."

"I'll do it, I'll do it," she said enthusiastically. "You don't have to try to convince me."

Garren smiled.

"All right then. Let's head over there."

End of Chapter 02

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