Rain and the Dirty Years
by sydney sama
"if i just stay here,
close my eyes can you still see me?
very nearly something to see,
still see me,
i can't wake up for sleeping,
very nearly something to me,
there's a punishment needed,
very nearly something to be
you can keep trying,
drown in sleep to be flying,
see for miles;
something that i wanted to be,
i can't wake this dream,
prototype ends up has been,
the consequence of something to be..."
--"becoming x", the sneaker pimps
She ran as fast as her feet could carry her. Wind rushed through her hair, lifting up and carrying the long brown colored strands. Her steps echoed through the dank air while the world blurred past her vision. She was alone...
Except for three young men chasing after her, struggling to catch up.
"Come back here! Stupid bitch!"
Their shouts rang out in the emptiness, and she pushed herself to run faster. She gripped her partially torn, gray sweatshirt with a trembling hand. It was ripped across her front, revealing a bit of her pale stomach and chest. Trails of salt water were streaked down her cheeks, but were quickly drying due to the cold wind that breezed through her.
She continued to run, trying to seek sanctuary in any open building, any building. The lights were all off in the homes, bars, and restaurants; their dirty, streaked windows darkened, doors clamped shut. As she scurried along, she didn't notice the whores on the streets, cigarettes hanging loosely from their grotesquely painted lips; the addicts fumbling blindly in the dark, scratching erratically at themselves to draw blood from imaginary itches; and the no-name figures who had fallen asleep up against the grimy, stained walls of unfamiliar buildings. They did not help her, nor did they really notice her. They were much too busy with helping themselves, or so it seemed.
Her vision was nearly obstructed due to her watered down eyes, so she clamped them shut, as if trying to will her tears away. They refused to listen.
Another structure came into her clouded range of view.
One that caught her eye amidst the discomfiting darkness. A small church, much like one she had used to go to, back in her hometown. Her nonexistent hometown.
There seemed to be a dim light radiating from it, from within the stained glass windows. It was intact, much unlike any other structure in the slums. She had never seen it before... then again, she had never been this deep into the slums.
She threw open the tall mahogany double doors, flinging herself inside the church. Pushing with all her might, she slammed the doors shut with a heavy resounding bang, keeping the thugs outside. To her utter amazement, she didn't feel any resistance or pressure exerted from the outside of the doors. They weren't coming in.
She heard the distinct voices mutter outside, the sound of their voices muffled behind the heavy, wooden doors. Snippets of "I ain't doin' nothing inside a goddamned church" and "I don't wanna do nothin' to a bitch in a church" and whatnot was what she could barely make out. The words stung her ears, penetrating into her mind and remaining there, constantly echoing, tormenting her. She heard their footsteps diminish in sound, and thanked God, or whoever was up there, for the millionth time in her life for watching out for her.
The young girl slid to her knees, her back against the doors, and sobbed into her dusty, dirty hands. She cried silently, her light-wine eyes closed tight, even though she knew no one was there to hear her.
"Excuse me, may I help you?"
She jerked her head up, searching for the source of the voice that had called out to her. Odd, she thought, that she hadn't even gotten a good look inside the church, her newly found sanctuary. In front of her was a small grassy patch of colorful flowers, in lieu of an altar. Sunlight poured in from the broken roof above, which was the first time she had seen real, genuine sunlight in Midgar. There must have been a hole in the upper plate to let in the air from the outside world to this particular part of the slums.
A figure clad in pink addressed her again.
"Are you okay?" The figure had light brown hair, unbound and loose against her shoulders. She wore a long pink dress with a long-sleeved white jacket. She almost looked... too serene and pure for the likes of where she lived.
"Um, yeah, I'm sorry I-I didn't mean to-barge in..." She stood up, still sniffling slightly and still clutching her torn sweatshirt to herself, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
"No, I don't mind. But, are you sure you're all right? You seem to be in some sort of trouble."
"Yes, I was... some thugs were chasing me, and they..." her voice trailed off. She didn't want to continue.
"They didn't hurt you did they?"
"No, they didn't..." She averted the other person's eyes.
The figure stopped talking, and then approached her, going away from the flowers she was tending to. "Forgive me, I'm Aeris."
"My name's Tifa."
Aeris smiled. "Nice to meet you Tifa." She noticed that Tifa was shivering, and that her sweatshirt was ripped to pieces. "Oh God, they didn't-"
Tifa shook her head a bit too quickly, blushing a little at her own expense. "No, they didn't. But they were close to it, if I--if I hadn't found your church."
Aeris nodded, processing the newly discovered information. She looked over the petite, brown haired girl and found that she was quite pretty despite her ragged condition. It was obvious why those men had been after her in the first place. Her glowing eyes observed the sullen looking girl and saw that she was shivering.
"Here, take my jacket, you look a little cold," she offered gently, removing her warm jacket from herself.
Tifa shook her head, "No, I'm fine, thank you."
"Don't be silly, you're shivering like crazy, just take it," she urged, her arm outstretched towards Tifa, the piece of clothing dangling from her hand.
She silently took it from her grasp, and put it on, avoiding her gaze. She whispered a barely audible "thank you".
The girl in the pink dress continued to look her over. "How old are you?" she queried.
She nodded slowly, her brows furrowing together.
"I'm eighteen, and I know this place pretty well..." She hesitated, frowning out of concern, "listen, you shouldn't really be wandering out there at this time, or any time for that matter. It's not safe," she advised, frowning slightly.
"I know, but it's just that I got a job, and I was on my way there..." she paused, "I don't know this place too well, I just got here a year ago. My hometown-" she stopped abruptly. Why was she telling some complete stranger this?
Aeris sensed her discomfort and started speaking again, trying to rid the atmosphere of any uneasiness.
"Anyway, Tifa, you can stay here as long as you like. I don't think you'd really want to go out there. Just be careful next time you walk around in the slums, okay?"
Tifa nodded her head mutely.
Aeris smiled warmly at her."Be strong, okay? I know it's hard getting used to, but you'll survive the slums if you have the strength."
She could feel the raised and twisted surface of her scar that ran across the front of her chest, starting underneath the right collarbone, and stretching down to above her left hip.
Tifa leaned her head into her pillow, entrenching it further in the rough fabric. The tips of her fingers were lacerated. She had broken a mug today, and the edges of the glass had cut into her fingers. She blamed it on her clumsiness, but still damned the drunks for hassling her while she was carrying her tray. She had learned to ignore their remarks that occasionally made her blush in shame, and the grabs about her body that constantly unnerved her.
They meant nothing anyway.
She was still thankful that she had someplace to go back to, although she would never in her life call it home. Home was gone, and she felt as if she would never have one again. Especially since everyone she had truly known was either dead or... gone.
Where was her soldier boy? She hadn't heard from him since the day he left. As he left the rusted gates of sleepy Nibelheim, she had watched. Behind the trees she stood, concealing herself from him as he trudged on, a saddened tinge to each step he took. There was no one for him to really say good-bye to, and no one there to really, truly miss him. Maybe except for her, the one who had hesitated till the very end. She sensed that his sad, ice blue eyes could see her, but she had made no attempt to come out. She couldn't, she wouldn't... even though she wanted to so badly. He waved to no one, bidding an empty farewell to the place he thought was "home". She didn't wave back.
He could be dead anyhow, she thought bitterly. Maybe he had found someone to look after, to protect, and had died in the process of it. She just wished that if he had ever died for someone, it would be her. Too late now. She was already dead. But he wasn't. Was he?
Tifa had thought about him a lot recently. From the day he left, she had thought about him. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. She smiled bitterly at the old saying. She hated it. Risk wasn't worth it, she had learned. She might have been better off if she hadn't swung at the silver-haired man like a blind imbecile.
She knew she was an imbecile, a weak one at that. She could break a solid concrete wall with her bare hands, but her heart was susceptible to crumbling like a piece of burnt charcoal, falling to tiny ashes at the merest touch, push, tug. Protection was what she really needed, all this time, but had refused it every time
She wondered why she hadn't been killed yet. She wasn't unwilling to go because it would make her more whole anyway. Her mind, her spirit was already dead, waiting for her body to join it. The only reason she hadn't killed herself already, was because she felt obliged to survive. She feared that she was letting someone down if she didn't.
Tifa ran her fingers hardly against her scar, traveling the whole length of it. Her scar tissue was tough and hard, and seemed not to have any feeling anymore. She winced suddenly, her feminine eyebrows knitting together, causing her rose-mauve tinted eyes to squint.
She removed her hand from her chest, seeing that the tips of her fingers were bleeding again. She had forgotten about them while running them across the scar.
She almost laughed aloud as she saw the crimson liquid running down her hand, flowing through the small indented lines in her palm. One scar closes, and a new one is opened.
Funny, she thought.
Sweet laughter filled the dank, musty bar. Tifa laughed along with Marlene as she tossed her over her shoulder, hauling her towards the retractable pinball machine.
"Come on Marlene, it's time for bed!" she said cheerfully to the little girl on her shoulder.
"But I'm not tired, Aunt Tifa!"
Both were quite out of breath, due to Marlene's running around the closed bar, Tifa at her heels. Her little legs dangled and kicked in Tifa's grip.
"Your Daddy's going to be mad at me if I don't take good care of you, sweetie." Tifa stood on the wooden plank as it lowered to the secret hideout. Artificial light splayed across their faces, highlighting them in pale shades of yellow.
"But you don't hafta worry about that, Aunt Tifa," Marlene said sweetly, looking into the older girl's stained-berry eyes with her own clear brown ones, "because you already take g'care of me!"
Tifa smiled and said nothing, carrying her across the cramped under level. She managed to turn the handle of the door to Marlene's room and open it without dropping the little girl. She tossed back the semi-clean and thin sheets on the rusty bed, gently setting Marlene down onto the less than comfortable mattress. With a maternal touch, she stroked back the tiny girl's hair from her smiling face and pulled the cold covers back on her.
"Good night, sweets," she said, before leaving the room.
She almost felt wistful then, closing the door behind her. Her Daddy had called her that many times before... and her mother too, before she died.
"Hey Teef," a voice called from behind. She recognized it immediately.
"Hi Jesse," she replied, smiling at the girl with short chestnut colored hair. She was the same age as herself, yet, seemed to carry a sort of strength Tifa thought she could never have.
Jesse approached her. "I'm telling you, we're getting real close," her voice was excited, "in no time, I tell you, we're going to be showing Shinra the hard way. They're gonna learn that they can't keep playing like God."
Tifa smiled again, "That's good to hear, when are we going to get started?"
Jesse grinned widely, beaming with happiness. "Oh, I just need to finish off the map of all the underground routes and the schedules of all the subways. And that's it, then we can start!"
Tifa felt something rising in her, like a burning, a burning desire. Everything she felt she had lost, the feeling of being a walking zombie, the regret of untaken risks, was all dissipating. The rush, the euphoric high, flowed through her body, lighting up her cheeks with a warm glow.
"I'm really happy to hear that, Jess."
That night, as she was lying in bed, the skin on her chest felt smooth. Her scar didn't even seem to be there. And she slept, without a dream, without a nightmare. That night, she didn't wake up in a cold sweat.
She woke up the next morning, feeling oddly tired, the sleep seemingly fleeting. Her scar still burned.
She missed the feeling of cool rain on her face, the sunlight on her skin, and the chill snow sent through her body. Outside, it was dark. It was always dark in the slums.
Tifa wondered if the pupils in her dark red eyes were permanently dilated. She also wondered if she ever saw the sun again, if it would blind her.
"Hey bartender, get me the damn drink, will ya?" a gruff, inebriated voice yelled to her.
She silently obeyed, turning around to the array of bottles stacked on the shelves. The different colored liquids sparkled in the dim light of the bar. She skillfully mixed two different bottles, adding a bit of some other substances into the cracked glass cup.
"Here you go," she pleasantly said as she slid over the filled glass to the man sitting two seats away from the center. "And next time you ask, be a little more polite, unless you want my dainty foot up your ass," she added in a saccharin-filled voice. The man said nothing, nodding mutely.
"What's this shit called?" he asked, in a genuinely curious, but horribly vulgar tone.
"It's called a Silver Jubilee."
The drunken man looked horribly confused, his face distorting into a twisted mass of ugly flesh. "What the hell is that?" he spat, twirling the clear liquid in its cracked glass cup.
Tifa leaned forward menacingly, looking into his eyes, trying to ignore the alcohol laced smell that came from his slow breaths. "Drink it or leave it," she said, enunciating each individual word a little too histrionically. There were no more complaints from him that night.
Tifa found herself walking in the filthy streets of Sector Seven, aimlessly wandering. The putrid smells of alcohol, vomit, piss, garbage, and twisted metal filled her nostrils. She couldn't really smell them anymore, to her, it was the smell of air. She had stopped plugging her nose, and had stopped imagining that it smelled of the wild flowers, cedar, and crisp leaves of Nibelheim.
She had learned to live with reality, and to begin ignoring fantasy. Life wasn't a stupid fairytale anymore, but it wasn't complete hell either. She smiled unconsciously to herself, remembering the hate she had once held for the world. Back then, she had forgotten that the world hated too. Its reason to hatewas more viable than hers. It was dying, and she wasn't.
Selfishness wasn't an option, when viewed in a general scope, although it had become the only thing that kept her alive. The irony of it almost made her laugh. Hate was selfishness, selfishness was survival, and survival seemed... a fantasy. But what was the reality of life, without the fantasy of it? Realism is what kills people, and fantasy is what ruins them.
Light exists to chase away darkness, but the darkness' only purpose is to engulf it.
She shook her head. Maybe stupid thoughts were what were holding her down.
Tifa's thoughts were abruptly interrupted as she felt a rough hand grip her thin arm like a vice.
"Hey babycakes, how 'bout I give you a personal escort home?"
Her lip curled in disgust.
"Looks like we got lucky t'night fellas!"
The combined breaths of the four men who had managed to surround her caused her to crinkle her nose.
She felt one of them grab her arms, twisting them back painfully.
Swiftly, she lunged them forward, using the power of her biceps to flip the man behind her onto his back. He landed with a thud, his eyes rolling back.
"Hey, bitch, what the hell do you think you're doin'?" One of them pushed her roughly, causing her to nearly lose her balance.
Her teeth ground together, and she felt a burning sensation. She slammed a fist into one of the assaulter's face, making it pop backwards with a spray of blood coming forth from his nose. She hit him again, knocking him fully backwards.
She turned violently, kicking one in the gut, causing him to keel forwards. She used this to her advantage, bringing her elbow down on his neck with a sickening crack.
Suddenly, Tifa felt a stinging sensation rip across her back. The fourth man had swiped her on the small of her back with a switchblade. Not minding the thin streams of blood soaking into her white tank top, she avoided another feeble jab. She deftly kicked the knife out of his hand, the blade clanging on the ground. With the lightning speed, she reached her arms forward on his thick neck, jerking to one side in one smooth movement. Saliva dribbled from the man's mouth as the bone crunched in his neck. He fell to the cement in a clumsy heap.
Tifa reached a hand behind her, cringing slightly as she felt the cut burn and sting. It wasn't deep, thankfully, and she had felt worse than that. Now she would have two scars, front and back, seemingly corresponding to each other. It almost seemed fitting. She held in a laugh; at least now she would match.
She looked up in the direction in front, realizing that she had wandered back to the same church she had seen three years ago... except she didn't remember it.
It had become a little dirtied since then, but the stained glass was still intact and shimmering its menagerie of colors onto her face.
She didn't remember the incident that had happened there, nor did she remember ever seeing it before. But she felt a familiar sensation deep inside her, spreading its intangible wings inside her, heating and cooling her whole body with transparent satin. It wasn't transient as the other feelings she remembered, but felt is course through her veins like warm ice. It was like being possessed by a diaphanous angel, haunting familiarity ringing in her ears.
There was no absolute way to describe it. Perhaps a pair of water-clear invisible eyes watching over her, hovering above her, observing her every move... but not in a violating way. Maybe she hadn't really acknowledged the fact that there was someone... something that was watching her and thinking about her. But then again, it could have been herself that was doing it. Maybe finally, she realized that she was overseeing herself, and that since there was no one÷absolutely no one who looking after her, she had to learn to get rid of her dependence. She wasn't the little girl she once thought she was. Innocence died the day everyone else did.
She trudged forward towards the grassy patch of flowers in the front of the unfamiliar, but all too familiar church. She saw that the blood from her back dabbled a white lily's petals in drops of crimson. The bright red, illuminated, against the pale white, tainting the flower with each tiny drop.
She felt something damp on her face.
Light no longer poured in from the broken roof, but instead, rain drops.
And for the first time in three years, she cried. She cried in that exact same place, but the tears came for a different reason.
Her weakness that had ruled over her for so long did not seem to be there anymore. She hadn't willed it to disappear, nor had she even acknowledged it being there. She had never intended to be dead, but it had consumer her while she was seemingly sleeping in life. She couldn't be dead anymore, there was no way to be deader than she already was.
She had bound herself up willingly with her own hands. She had watched herself being stabbed to death by her, and she watched as her own hands had choked her throat.
But she was still there, and for once, she let go of herself. The helpless binding, stabbing and suffocating ceased, and she felt she could breathe once more. It came steadily, and once more she ran her hand down her chest, feeling the scar underneath the material of her shirt. It had stopped burning unlike every night she had touched it. It was too tired to, and she was too strong now to continue.
Tifa continued to look up at the hole up above, and cried strong, strong tears.
author's notes: this story was derived from the idea given to me by Mystic Moogle, the winner of the "clear as fog" contest. i'm surprised to say that i'm pretty satisfied with the result. i hope MM is too... ^_^but the reason i think is pleases me is because of the way i wrote it... (no, this is not a conceited statement). i originally had no idea what i was to do with the general idea handed to me. i was clueless when i started off, but i guess the story wrote itself. it was loosely planned out, but as i started to write it, it sort of unwinded on its on and kind of flowed out... i don't know how to describe it... ! >_<anyway, i hope you caught some of the symbolism and the chronological order it was set in, even if it was a little jerky... if it was too loose-ended for you well, um... just go sit on a fork! O_o sorry, i'm just too tired and i need my damn sleep... oh, and i hope you liked Aeris' brief cameo, i just felt the need to put her in somewhere!
PS: again, comments and criticism are welcome (::cough::cough::WANTED!::cough::cough::) at sybersquid@aol. com
PPS: i've been getting more feedback lately, and i have to say thanks to all the readers... you guys are truly appreciated, and sincerely i mean it.
PPPS (it's that last one, i promise!): does anyone know what a silver jubilee is, just to amuse me? ... and NO, i'm not an alcoholic, i'm a sober girl. i just read about this drink somewhere in a book that was in a Restoration store... the pretty name drew me to it... by the way, i feel really tired... sleepy... zzznggg... . die teeny bopper pop bands, die... . . media whores... . . zznnngg... . .