I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.13

The telephone rang into Tifa's ears, dispersing all sweet sleep from her eyes.

She mechanically pulled the blankets over her face in hopes the ringing may cease. Cloud snored soundly by her side, with one leg dangling outside the bed. He scratched his nose once at the rude disturbance, then shifted lazily to his side.

The ringing persisted.

"Tifa," he mumbled, "Answer that, will ya..?"

Tifa rolled onto her back, grumbling under her breath about the laziness of the male gender (and not so politely, either). As she reached for the troublesome phone, she forced herself to sit up. It took her a great deal of strength just to keep her eyes open.

"Hello...?" she yawned, "...Aeris?!"

Tifa's face instantly grew alarmed. She tore off the warm blankets, and sprang out of bed.

"Whoa! Whoa! Slow down!" she cried with increasing anxiety, "What's wrong with Vincent??"

Cloud had fallen back to sleep, only half listening. But Tifa shook his shoulder so forcefully, he woke up with a sharp snort. Judging from her tense voice and shining eyes, Cloud immediately guessed something bad had happened. He sat up.

"Oh, my God!!" Tifa exclaimed, "Okay! Okay! Um..don't panic!"

She fidgeted anxiously, shushing Cloud whenever he tried to ask a question. She pressed her forehead to gather all her fluttering thoughts.

"Now, Aeris! Aeris!" Tifa cried as she pushed back her messy hair, "Just calm down! Can he breathe??...okay... all right...yeah, I'll be there in fifteen minutes!"

She slammed the phone shut, looked around, then flew to the closet at once. Cloud stared blankly at her fumble for her clothes, completely in a panic. He still could not understand any of the commotion.

"What's the matter? What's going on?" he asked apprehensively. He hopped out of the bed and walked over to her.

"Vincent's really sick," Tifa answered as she turned to face him. Her eyes showed great alarm. She looked very pale.

"Aeris rang us at two a.m in the morning to tell us that?"

Tifa frowned at his slightly mocking tone, but replied with restraint, "Aeris says she heard him raving all night long..and then he threw up..blood in the bathroom. He's unconscious now."

Cloud stared blankly at her face, not sure whether he had heard her correctly. Tifa did not wait for him to recover. She grabbed any pair of jeans from the closet, a sweater, and rushed out of the room to change. Cloud scratched the back of his head in confusion, then cried after her, "But I was with him just yesterday! He didn't look THAT sick to me! Oh sure, he looked a tad paler than usual, but.."

"I think he has a fever," she shouted as a reply.

"Hell of a fever," he mumbled to himself, then answered determinately, "Hang on! I'm coming too!"

The black night shrouded all of Midgar in the darkness, grudging it any form of light. It held the city in the palm of its hand, and stared sternly down at it. The hapless city, not wishing to disobey, had immediately succumbed to night's decree: the streets were deserted; every sound hushed; and all the lights effectively killed.

Silence crept through every alley, peeked through every window in search of anyone brave enough to defy its authority. None dared, except for a sudden roar zooming through the night.

Cloud, with Tifa perched behind him on the motorbike, rudely ignored the stillness. Instead, he blasted through the dark streets at full throttle.

He occasionally ran over the sidewalk to take a short-cut, or skidded around a curb so sharply, Tifa nearly lost her balance. He had great difficulty seeing, even with the headlight turned on, but he drove on regardless. They passed so many endless streets and alleyways, Tifa thought they'd never make it. Her heart grew unbearably sick with worry. Hundreds of anxious questions streamed into her head at once. She just wanted to reach the apartment...

The motorbike suddenly skidded to a halt. When Tifa realized they had reached the apartment buildings, she sprang off the motorbike and rushed inside without even waiting for Cloud. He propped up the heavy vehicle, then followed her as fast as his feet could carry him.

Tifa flew up the stairs, skipping over several steps at a time. Her heart pounded loudly in her ears. The staircase seemed to stretch on forever no matter how fast she ran. Much to her relief, she finally reached the landing.

She raced down the familiar corridor until she stopped at Vincent's door. But before she could knock, the door suddenly swung open and Aeris emerged.

Tifa stared mutely at the petrified girl: her messy hair was carelessly heaped into a tight bun, with several curly strands dangling about her head. Aeris' pale face expressed unmistakable fear, if not utter horror. Her body trembled constantly, but her green, bright eyes shone with strange composure. She could not speak a word.

"Aeris, sweetheart, it's okay," Tifa whispered, gripping the girl's shoulders, "Now, where is he?"

Cloud had reached the two girls by this time, but stood hesitantly a few steps away; he did not want to interrupt them.

Aeris took Tifa's hand and pulled her into the apartment, beckoning for Cloud to enter as well. She silently pointed her shaking finger at something in the dark hallway. It was Vincent's body.

He lay outstretched on his stomach, his face buried in the ground. One hand rested infront of his head, but his magnificent black hair greedily covered it. He appeared to be dead.

"Aw, crap!!" exclaimed Cloud in alarm. He immediately bolted towards the unconscious man. Tifa rushed to him too, leaving Aeris to linger by the doorway. Though the girl fully understood what had happened, she could not form one single thought in her stunned mind.

"Vincent!! Hey! Vincent!!" Tifa called, rolling him onto his back. His sickly, bloody face shocked her at once. Cloud crouched by the man, and stared intently at him. Vincent did not wince a muscle.

"Damn, he's out cold," Cloud muttered to her. He pressed his hand against the man's forehead, then added, "Geez, Tifa! He's burning up!"

Tifa looked all around herself in despair. Aeris clasped both hands over her chest to control her wild emotions.

"Right! Right!" Tifa decided nervously, "Let's just get him back to bed."

The order was immediately carried out. Cloud, with certain difficulty, managed to drag Vincent all the way back to the bedroom while Tifa raced ahead of them. She tore off the blankets, begging Cloud to be careful. Cloud gently placed the lifeless man on the bed; at the same time, he patted Vincent's cheeks and called his name several times. Vincent did not respond.

Tifa sat on the bed as she tried to loosen his collar. Blood soon smeared her fumbling fingertips. Nevertheless, she stubbornly persisted to unbutton the bloody shirt.

"Cloud, get me a clean shirt. Quick!" she ordered when she had taken off the shirt.

Cloud skipped over to the closet in a flash. He savagely rummaged through the neat stacks of clothes, swearing whenever he tossed some article on the floor.

"Here!" he cried. Cloud flung a black, sleeveless shirt to Tifa. No sooner had she caught it than she began to dress the unconscious man. Cloud helped too: leaning Vincent against his strong shoulder, he pulled the shirt over his head with the greatest care.

"Careful! His claw!" Tifa warned.

"Yeah, yeah, I got it," he answered, "Okay...there."

Tifa leaned the man back against the pillow again when the task was completed. They both stared at the man's face in silence, hoping he may somehow wake up. He did not.

Tifa gently flicked a stray hair strand out of his face. Her heart sunk in anguish; she had never seen Vincent look so pitiful.

"We need to wash his face,"she suggested after a pause, "That's the best way to beat the fever."

Cloud nodded his head in agreement. So without another word, he darted out of the bedroom to fetch some water. Meanwhile, Tifa stroked Vincent's burning forehead, even called his name once or twice. Nothing. His eyes seemed to be sealed forever.

Hearing a faint scuffle near by, Tifa turned her head to the source. She wasn't surprised to find Aeris lingering at the foot of the bed, with her anxious eyes riveted on Vincent's ghastly face. Her hands trembled though they gripped the end of the bed firmly. She tried to say something.

"Tifa..," she whispered finally, "Is he..is he going to die?"

Tifa fidgeted uncomfortably at the blunt question.

"Of course not, Aeris," she replied, trying to appear calm, "Vincent's a strong man. He'll be back on his feet soon enough."

However, Aeris merely shook her head in disbelief.

"I know he's very ill, Tifa," she cried angrily," I heard him raving all night long, like he was talking to someone he knew, but I..I was too scared to go near him."

Aeris buried her face in both hands, obviously much agitated with her feebleness. She fought vigorously to restrain her tears. Tifa touched the girl's shoulder very gently.

She did not interrupt Aeris as she recounted the whole episode amidst stifled sobs and broken sentences. She described every detail, omitting nothing. Tifa's eyes tensed in alarm when Aeris mentioned Vincent's transformation, and all his strange questions before he lost consciousness.

Cloud suddenly walked in with a basin of water, but stopped short on seeing the two girls together. He made some meaningful signal to Tifa, who immediately nodded her head.

Tifa took the basin from Cloud, and turned to Aeris.

"Aeris," she smiled kindly, "would you please wash Vincent's face? I'll be back in a minute."

Without another word, Tifa handed the basin over to Aeris. After one solemn nod of the head, the girl began her task, only too glad busy herself. Tifa glanced at her for a minute, then slipped out of the bedroom quietly. Cloud, who had retreated again into the hallway, shut the bedroom door behind Tifa.

Both stood in the dark hallway, completely engrossed in silence. Cloud seemed particularly pale, but his eyes gleamed excitedly. He obviously had some important news.

"Tifa," he began finally, "the whole bathroom's dripping in Vincent's blood. He must've spewed out at least a liter of blood."

Tifa was silent.

"He's gonna die unless we get him to a hospital," Cloud continued, "it's a miracle he's still alive at all."

"He's too weak for us to move him," Tifa protested. Her voice sounded very dry.

"Then we'll call an ambulance. Anything! He needs a doctor!"

Much to his astonishment, Tifa shook her head in disagreement.

"If he needed a doctor, he would've went to one by himself," she stated composedly.

Cloud blinked at her in surprise, then scowled, "Tifa, go look at the toilet he puked in, then tell me if still doesn't need a doctor!"

"Yes, yes..but I..think I know why he has avoided going all this time."

He crossed his arms sullenly, waiting for an explanation to the mystery.

"You know he's...'different' from other people," she began after a brief pause, "What would happen if they become too interested in him? Or maybe even make a study-case out of him? Cloud, he'd hate that!"

Cloud made no reply.

"And there's something else," Tifa muttered cautiously, "I think Vincent's having some kind of mental breakdown. He may..lose control, and harm himself, not to mention other people."

Both remained silent for a moment until Cloud suddenly broke away, rubbing his forehead in annoyance. Tifa had won the argument.

"All right," he sighed, "You're the nurse here."

Tifa smiled lovingly at him, then said, "Listen. I need to go to the pharmacy. Maybe they have something for Vincent's fever."

"Wha?! No way!!" Cloud exclaimed in alarm, "I won't have you wandering around Midgar THIS late!! It's too dangerous! I'll go!"

Tifa gave him her "don't-act-macho-with-me-buster" look, but did not reply. Nevertheless, Cloud could see she *would* have it her way.

"Well, you have to stay here with Aeris," he explained, feeling very uncomfortable, "I don't think it's a good idea to leave her alone..with Vincent unconscious.."

Tifa looked at him fidget nervously and try to argue his point more effectively. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her.

"Cloud," she asked slyly, "are you jealous of Vincent?"

"What?!" he cried indignantly, "Now why would I be jealous of HIM?!!"

"Oh..maybe because Aeris seems to care a *great* deal about him.."

His cheeks flushed with outrage, much to Tifa's amusement.

"Fah! Women!" Cloud spluttered without restraint, "Think you know everything there is to know! Of course it's only natural she'd care for him so much."

Tifa only raised one eyebrow suspiciously.

"Well, he has been taking care of her for about a month now," Cloud scoffed at her impertinent look, "And I suppose he likes her too..in his own weird way. But I don't think it's like *that*...Vincent's too much on the 'doom and gloom' side.."

"Then again, Cloud," she murmured to herself, "you tend to be a bit blind at times.."

Luckily, Cloud did not hear the comment, but insisted Tifa at least let him accompany her. Too fatigued to argue any further, she finally consented.

At that moment, Aeris stepped out of the bedroom, flicking the lights off as she emerged. She left the door slightly ajar.

"I..I cleaned his face," she muttered softly.

Aeris, in fact, held the basin and towel between her hands. The towel floated pitifully in the red, murky water, with patches of blood staining it.

"We're going to get some medicine for Vincent's fever," Cloud answered in a low voice, "We'll only be gone for half an hour."

Aeris nodded her head.

"You take care of him, okay?" added Tifa, "Keep on soaking his forehead until we come back."

So, without further argument, Tifa and Cloud hastily prepared to leave. Aeris saw them to the door, waving feebly and trying to appear comforted.

Tifa, with a kind pat on her friend's shoulder, promised to back soon. They were gone.

-End of Chp.13