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Glass & Diamonds
For one brief moment, everything is serene.
Then the bell rings, and suddenly the halls are flooded with people. Laughing people, shouting people, shoving, rushing, smirking people, repugnant in their shallowness, magnetic in their assuredness.
I was like them once, and I do remember it -- the plastered expressions and gilded friendships, the complex etiquette and the overwhelming superiority. Yes, I was like them once. Now they are nearly abhorrent to me, these perfect liars, these diamonds of glass. Pushing through them all, as though afraid to be noticed, I again try and find some reason why I feel this way.
It could not just be him -- no, of course not. He's been gone for months, or years, perhaps -- I can't remember. There must be some other reason to my change of mind -- my revelation, than simply his absence. The stairs seem harder to climb than usual.
"Hey, Tifa!" Someone is calling me. I turn, part of me yearning for the constant, comforting presence of tittering friends, the other part seeking to escape the tangible feel of them.
It's Robby, the tall, dark-haired athlete with a debonair smile -- one of countless. "Hey," he creaks in an attempted sexy tone. "I just heard about that party tomorrow, and I thought to myself, 'You know who'd love to go? Tifa Lockheart.'" He smiles again, showing bright white teeth. "So what do you say?"
I try to grin the way I once did, flirty and teasing, but it comes out as a melancholy smile. "Thanks, Robby -- that's really sweet, but I'm afraid I can't go." Of course it's a lie. Why did I say that?
"Oh." He knows it's not true. I can hear it, a slight waver in his fundamentally rock-steady voice. His expression, however, never falters -- an apathetic shrug to an I-could-care-less eyebrow raise. "Too bad, then. See you around, I guess."
Then he's gone, swept away in the decreasing wave of students, leaving me there in suffocating silence. For a few moments, I stare at the dust-streaked, messily caulked window in front of me, thoughts sidling through my mind. The accusation arises, uninvited: You're waiting for him, aren't you?
I could shake my head in denial to my own revelation, but I don't. Instead I walk, numbly, to my class, feeling clumsy and foolish in this superficial red brick prison.
Yes, I am. I'm waiting for Cloud.
* * *
The piano is not very old. I can remember the day Papa bought it, years ago, for Mom's birthday. I remember how she laughed, her eyes reflecting the ribbons in my hair until they looked like far-away diamonds. I run my fingers over the white-shelled keys.
My room is small, but the southern wall is, unexpectedly, exactly wide enough to fit the upright piano. I silently slide into the bench, distantly aware of the after-school shouts of children outside, and unconsciously flicker my fingers on the polished keys. A melody nearly plays itself as my mind wanders. In his letter, he said he had made first-class SOLDIER -- the best you can be without being Sephiroth himself. Still -- I frown -- what dangers does a SOLDIER face? Injury, certainly, but · maybe death?
A shiver runs through me, like a blast of frigid wind. My fingers suddenly stop, an abrupt halt to the soothing music.
Why do I care so much about him? I try to assume the same indifferent façade that used to wash over my face effortlessly. After all, it wasn't as though we were the best of friends. Obviously, it must be irrational infatuation -- because it most certainly can't be love.
I walk carefully to the intricately carved mahogany trunk standing solemnly at the foot of my blue-quilted bed. It creaks as I open it, and pull out a well-worn piece of paper. His letter.
It says he'll come the twenty-third. Only two more weeks until Nibelheim welcomes the great Sephiroth. And only two more weeks until my questions will be answered.
I can't wait for that day...
* * *
The fire raged like a virus, cackling in Tifa's ears in a maddening crescendo. The burning breath of the flames scorched her skin like instant sunburn as she stumbled through the inferno of the streets, nearly tripping over the blackened bodies of the townspeople who hadn't escaped.
"Papa!" Tifa had to hear herself above the shrieking flames, as she ran across the cracking cobblestones of the main road. A heavy wooden beam, half-desecrated, suddenly clattered to the ground behind her, and red-hot embers flew from it like snow in a gale. Screeching, Tifa darted to the end of the road as fast as possible, terrifiedly imagining the agony of being burned to death.
Panting, she reached the outskirts of town, and began to sob almost hysterically, rocking back and forth as she gripped her heaving stomach. After a few seconds of bawling, Tifa tried to stop, gulping with effort. "No," she thought. "There's no time for this -- I have to find Papa --"
Forcing her soot-blackened legs forward, she started up the path to the Mako reactor, the blinding glare of the inferno backlighting the way.
The long metal corridors of the reactor were hot to the touch, but whether the heat was from the distant burning town or the friction of the machinery, Tifa didn't know. Her footfalls clanged metallically on the hollow-sounding metal platform, echoing along with her heavy panting in her ears. She turned a corner, running onto the dizzyingly high bridge above the deep pulsing pool of green mako, and gasped.
"Papa!" Tifa's voice rose to a scream as she ran to her father's still form, lying in a crumpled heap at the end of the platform. She threw herself down next to him, shaking him frantically. "Papa, wake up, please --" she whispered in a voice choked with sobs. She lifted her hand in shock, looking at the bright red blood smeared upon it.
Tifa trembled uncontrollably. "God -- no --"
She let out an agonized shriek and buried her face in her hands. "Sephiroth did this to you -- didn't he?" Tifa sobbed, and clenched her fists in rage. "Didn't he?!" Her voice rose, sharp as a knife and disturbingly screeching, as she stood.
"He did this to you -- and he will pay."
Tifa grabbed the hilt of the bloodstained sword nearby, its blade reflecting the bright green mako pool. She held it awkwardly, the blade jutting out dangerously at her side, tears streaming unnoticed through the soot on her cheeks. Turning, nearly slipping in the pool of blood at her feet, she walked, trembling, through the door to her right -- into the red-lit "collection room."
Sephiroth stood at the head of the stairs, his back to her, black cloak fluttering slightly, ominously, in the breezes of the broken circulation system. The creature pods stood as silent worshippers to this avenging deity, their cold metal shining bright as the luminescent hair draped around him-- the downy feathers of a one-winged angel.
"Mother," he whispered, his voice filled with sorrow, reverberating emptily through the deathly silent chamber. "Mother, I'm here. I won't let anyone hurt you again." He placed one black-gloved hand lightly on the door with the label JENOVA, running his hands over the brass identification plaque gently, lovingly.
Tifa stared at him, shaking, the sword vibrating in her hand. She was terrified -- she had never been so terrified.
No. Remember what Zangan told you. Fear is an illusion. Realize the danger, but ignore the fear.
Instead, white-hot rage blinded her vision. Tifa leapt up the stairs, three at a time, the six-foot-long sword shining crimson under the hot red lights. At the last moment, Sephiroth turned on his heel, calmly grasping the dull side of the blade with his right hand. Tifa's hand jarred painfully.
Sephiroth looked at her emotionlessly, ignoring the choked sobs that traitorously escaped her throat. His mako eyes were beautiful: shining green and clear as glass; innocent.
Time seemed to stand still for a moment, and then something twisted in the face of the man. He wrenched the sword from Tifa's hands, the sudden movement causing her to lose her balance and fall into him, like a gross parody of a swooning lover. Sephiroth's left hand swiftly closed around the front of Tifa's shirt and lifted her high in the air. With his right, he shifted the sword, sliding the hilt into his grasp with inhuman speed.
The glass in Sephiroth's eyes shattered.
The Masamune swiftly sliced across Tifa, blade running through her from breast to hip. She screamed, once, as though she couldn't believe anything could hurt so much. Sephiroth relaxed his left hand, that simple motion throwing her forward, and indifferently watched her hit the stairs, tumbling helplessly until she hit the floor with a choked cry of pain.
Not even trying to move, Tifa lay there with tears running down her face, as warm as the sticky blood pouring from the vicious legacy of the Masamune.
A flesh wound -- it has to be just a flesh wound -- you have to get up...
She struggled to sit, faltered, and moaned, her head knocking back against the textured metal floor as the world grew dim. Tifa was distantly aware of Sephiroth opening a door somewhere -- but there was no room left for hatred, no room left for anything, only animalistic panic for survival.
I'm dying, Tifa realized, as slow, steady spasms rippled through her body. Blood filled her mouth, and she tried to cough, tried to retch, with weak results. Then, even the convulsions stopped, and her eyes closed of their own accord as she took in soft, frantic breaths.
Oh God, please-- I don't want to die, please God, I don't want to die...
The frigid cold of the floor seeped into Tifa as she felt herself drain away, her breath faint, quiet, so hard to hear. The tears still rolled down her face, dropping solemnly into the pool of blood around her -- glittering shards of broken glass.
Suddenly, blinding light flashed, glaring orange behind Tifa's closed eyelids. The light seemed to saturate her entire broken body, wrapping around her, as though she was being dipped into pure warmth -- and then it faded away.
The voice was so familiar.
"Tifa, wake up. Please, let her wake up..."
Slowly, achingly slowly, she forced her eyelids open, struggling to focus the blurry, red-lit images before her. Deep blue eyes stared into hers, and she instantly knew whose they were.
"Cloud?" Tifa whispered weakly, reaching her hand towards his face.
"I'm here, Tifa. Just relax, you're gonna be fine." He smiled once, but his hand -- the one holding hers -- was shaking uncontrollably. Tifa's eyes were drawn to a shining object next to him.
FullCure materia, nearly depleted. Rarer than diamonds -- Cloud's most precious possession.
Tifa's eyes suddenly stung with fresh tears, as she began to laugh softly. "I knew you'd come." She was delirious. "I knew you'd come -- you promised you'd come when I..." A tiny sob rolled over her. "And now I know... I wasn't sure, but I know now," she finished, whispering dreamily.
"Shh. Everything will be all right. Just rest ... I promise I'll be back." Cloud lifted the FullCure and held it over her, his voice quavering slightly as he whispered a spell. Tifa tried to tell him, to let him know what he was to her -- but then the materia flashed. Through blurry vision, she saw the bright light reflected in his blue diamond eyes.
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