Flicker of Empathy
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The 7th heaven bar was quite much to Vergil's liking. Tifa had informed him that she would be out for a while grocery shopping. The children were once again at school leaving the bar on his watch and caring much about his irritation. Vergil had to use the amount of time for his solitude as best he could. After all, it was only a matter of time before the bar would be filled with customers since Tifa once again had to work tonight.
 
The half-demon was currently standing in the living room, trying to search for something to keep him occupied. He examined the short but acceptable living room with a bored expression. A couch, a wooden table, a stand, and a television. Nothing in the room caught his interest so far and he was already on the verge of stepping outside and exploring more of the industrial city. Unfortunately, Tifa instructed that he remained inside the bar. She didn't want another incident like yesterday when he ran into those fools. He begrudgingly followed the woman's advice and remained inside.
 
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the sight of a shelf. Humming in interest Vergil headed over to it hoping to find something to alleviate his boredom.
 
 
 
The shelf was lined neatly with movies and books from what Vergil could see. He ignored the films and kept scrolling through the novels. One finally caught his attention as he pulled it from the shelf. It was a red-colored book with a fair amount of pages from what he could see.
 
 
 
"Loveless," Vergil murmured as he read the book's title.
 
Deciding to entertain himself for now Vergil sat on the couch and began reading.
 
So far to his surprise, this book was probably the only enjoyable thing for him in this strange world. Vergil turned a page leading into the next chapter of the novel he was currently reading. The book was written in poetic scriptures which of course he found simple to comprehend.
 
From what he could gather it was about a group of three men going on a journey together. He was far too early in the story to know what the reason for that was but he was curious to know what. Despite his aloof demeanor Vergil did have a rather soft spot for adventure fables. Reading tales of his father's exploits had always kept him disregarding this genre of storytelling. He remembered a time during his childhood when his mother would...
 
Vergil shook his head fervently preventing any type of memories from entering his mind. Delving into them will only constantly remind him of how weak he has become. His lips contorted into a frown as he started internally punching himself again. He hated feeling this way, so powerless. All it did was remind them of why he couldn't save her.
 
The sound of a loud motor broke him from his thoughts. Then the sound of someone unlocking the door, closing it, and locking it again. From what Vergil could remember Tifa didn't own any type of vehicle that he was aware of. Then he heard the unknown person enter the bar. Whoever it was had to be a resident of the place since he or she owned a key to the door. While Tifa appeared to be a kind woman Vergil knew that she wasn't dense enough to leave her door unlocked.
 
"Tifa, Marlene, Denzel! You here?" A voice that Vergil didn't know called out.
 
Vergil marked the chapter and closed the book knowing that his quality time of solitude was now over. The man entered the living room and his eyes instantly fell to Vergil who was still settled on the couch. The two men stared at each other as deafening silence followed throughout the room.
 
From what Vergil could see the man standing before him looked oddly familiar. Narrowing his eyes slightly the half demon's mind clicked as he finally recognized who this man was. He was the man who was in the photo with the children and Tifa that was in the room he slept in. If anything his spiky golden hair made it easier for him to remember.
 
 
 
The man blinked when he spotted the stranger on the couch. "Looks like your finally awake. I guess Tifa didn't waste any time in patching you up."
 
The platinum-haired stranger just stared back at him with a deadpanned gaze. The room was now filled with an awkward silence that made the spiky-haired man uncomfortable. Normally that was his element but this guy made the air thick for some reason. He could feel his body beginning to tense when he looked the man in the eyes.
 
Cloud relaxed and mentally shook away his thoughts. Perhaps it was just his imagination. He extended his hand to the stranger in an act of greeting.
 
"My name is Cloud. It's nice to finally meet you."
 
Cloud frowned when the man didn't accept his hand or greet him back. He just sat there staring back at him like he was nothing impressive to look at. The rude act made him want to throw him out of his house. After all, Tifa was the one who offered him to stay until his wounds healed. Retracting his hand Cloud returned to the 'staring contest' they were previously having. He narrowed his mako-colored eyes in a slightly heated glare.
 
Vergil's eyes narrowed even further at the blonde. It seemed like he was challenging him. The air became thicker but neither of the two noticed nor cared. The only thing that concerned them was seeing who would break first.
 
"Cloud!" Two loud voices shouted in unison making Cloud turn his attention to the entrance of the living room.
 
Denzel and Marlene ran up to the man and wrapped their arms around his waist in a heartfelt hug. The spiky-haired blonde nearly lost his balance from the bum rush but managed to hold it. Kneeling Cloud returned the warm affection and allowed himself to crack a smile. It felt great to be home, at least for a little while.
 
Tifa watches the scene from afar with a bright smile. It was great to have her childhood friend home again. Not to mention seeing Denzel being joyful once again. It was hard having to see him walk around the bar in a depressive mood. While they all knew Cloud's stay was temporary it was nice to see him for a short while. The barmaid then saw Vergil getting up from the couch, obviously trying to go to his room. She assumed that he was feeling a little out of place.
 
"Uh...Cloud? I see you and Vergil have already had the chance to meet?"
 
Tifa's words caused the spiky blonde to look behind him at the blue-coated man who was doing the same. Vergil just stood there once again glaring coldly at Cloud who reciprocated the act. Denzel, Marlene, and Tifa just stared at the scene before them wondering why the two were looking at each other with such intensity.
 
Vergil snorted and went to his spare room where he could finally have a piece to himself. Cloud just kept his eyes on the man's back until he was out of his sight.
 
Tifa let out a relieved sigh as she felt the tension slowly leave the room. Glad that whatever had transpired between the two didn't evolve into anything physical.
 
"Well, that was a pleasant greeting," Cloud said with an obvious lace of sarcasm in his tone.
 
Tifa rubbed her forehead in an attempt to lessen the amount of stress she was currently feeling. She had to work later and didn't want her mind to be filled with anything else before she started her shift. She told Marlene and Denzel to head upstairs so they could get started on their homework.
 
Tifa headed into the bar area to set it up for tonight with Cloud in tow. The two began to organize the chairs and tables as they routinely did when Cloud was not off on a delivery.
 
As he was putting down one of the stacked chairs spiky-haired blonde noticed some red markings around Tifa's throat. Cloud could easily identify it as a bruise. The barmaid was standing at the opposite end of the table so it wasn't difficult to spot. He didn't remember seeing Tifa with this wound before he left.
 
Cloud knew that the bar could become rowdy from time to time, but he highly doubted any drunken idiot would easily lay a hand on her. That only left one culprit.
 
"Who left that bruise on your neck?"
 
Tifa blinked at the sudden question as she set the chair down. She saw that Cloud was gazing at her with a narrowed glare, most specifically on the area of her neck. It took her a second to figure out what he was talking about.
 
"Oh, this?" She rubbed the red mark causing Tifa to wince slightly. Cloud eyes narrowed further from that action. "I got bruised from Vergil when-"
 
 
 
That was all Cloud managed to hear as he was already storming out of the bar to the upper rooms. He's intent on teaching their visitor a hard lesson on not laying a hand on his friend. Tifa immediately stopped what she was doing and quickly ran up to him to block his path. Her hands were outstretched in front trying to keep him from proceeding any further.
 
 
 
"Cloud hold on! He only attacked me because he thought I was trying to hurt him." She tried to assure. Tifa already had an idea of where Cloud was going the moment he abruptly stopped setting one of the tables.
 
Cloud tried to take a deep breath and loosen the tense expression on his face. Hearing the full story did slightly ease his rising anger. He closed his eyes, took one more inhale of breath, and nodded. Tifa sighed in relief as the two went back to setting the tables. Comfortable silence filled the bar once again but a question was gnawing at the back of Cloud's mind.
 
"So when is he going to leave?" Cloud asked hoping it would be soon. Considering how he was already up and walking around.
 
Tifa knew that question was eventually coming and unfortunately, she wasn't prepared to answer it. So she took a deep breath and steeled her nerves. She didn't know how he would take the news but all she could do was give him a truthful answer. And considering the near confrontation that he and Vergil nearly had, not to mention another they would've had if she hadn't intervened, it was easy to see how he would respond.
 
"I offered him a chance to stay with us." Out of the corner of her eye, the barmaid saw Cloud whip his head around so fast she almost thought he would've dislocated his neck.
 
"What?!" He exclaimed, failing to keep the sound of his voice from reaching those who were upstairs.
 
Tifa turned to face him. "Cloud he has nowhere else to go! What do you expect me to do, dump him out in the street?!"
 
That made Cloud silent for a split second. True it would be immoral of them to just throw the man in an alleyway and leave him there. But still...
 
"You should've called and told me you were going to allow him to stay. We would've probably come to a mutual understanding."
 
Tifa opened her to make a counter statement but nothing came out. He had a point. She should've informed him of Vergil accepting her offer to stay. After all, they both live together being in the know of what affects their living arrangements shouldn't be a debate.
 
Tifa nodded in agreement. "Your right Cloud and I'm sorry."
 
"You don't have to be. And I'm sorry for flying off the handle like that."
 
The barmaid smiled accepting his apology. "Well how about this? Vergil can stay with us for now until we can find a place for him so he can situate himself. Does that sound good?"
 
Cloud mused about what was a fair compromise. While Vergil would remain at the bar it would be a temporary stay.
 
"Sounds reasonable to me."
 
Glad that her friend had come to terms with the agreement the two once again resumed setting up the bar. All the while engaging in small talk about Cloud's recent job. The two just stayed in the bar and simply talked until it was time for Tifa to start work. It was one of the few times that the two managed to relax. They always cherished the moment whenever the time presented itself.
 
The late evening rolled around along with the loud rowdy customers that came with it. Vergil stood in his room, arms crossed as he stared out the window looking at the people walking past or entering the bar below. He had managed to tune out the ramblings of the customers downstairs and lose himself in his thoughts.
 
Vergil went over many possible ways he could find a way out of this world and so far nothing came to mind. Not surprising given how he had no idea how this world operated. From what he had observed so far in his short time in Edge this world seemed pretty conventional. Which meant that searching for anything unnatural that could aid him in leaving this world was out of his reach. He could use the Yamato's portal travel ability but it had its limit.
 
While the blade could transport him from the human world to the demon world it couldn't transport him to realms that weren't tied to that plane of existence. Meaning he was stuck here for the time being. He recalled that Tifa had said that she found him at a church. So far it was the only clue Vergil could latch onto. It wasn't much but it was all he had. Starting tomorrow he would have to do a thorough investigation of this church, perhaps it could give him some answers.
 
A light knock was heard from his door breaking him out of his thoughts. Thinking it was Tifa he muttered an 'enter' loud enough to be heard from the other side. The half-demon heard the door creak open along with light footsteps walking over to him. Then the sound of the bed which made a slight creak due to the person's weight caused him to turn his head and glance at the barmaid that entered his room.
 
Who he saw however threw him for a loop. Who Vergil thought would be Tifa sitting on the bed adjacent to him was the little girl, Marlene he recalled smiling innocently at him.
 
"Hi!" She waved jovially at him, not at all bothered by his stunned expression.
 
After a few seconds of staring at the little girl like a fool, Vergil regained his composure and gazed back out the window.
 
"Leave."
 
Marlene pouted at the man's rude 'greeting' and silence then followed. While Vergil usually enjoyed the quiet atmosphere even if he was surrounded by people for some reason this single little girl made him feel like he was in a raucous crowd. He glanced at her again, watching as she still sat on his bed now kicking her feet back and forth along with constantly bobbing her head from side to side. She was humming a song that she was quite familiar with. Thankfully she wasn't loud to the point of annoying him.
 
That is until she continued humming to the point of giving him a headache. "If you aren't here for any particular reason then leave!"
 
Vergil's sharp voice instantly ceased the girls singing. A startled expression formed on her face when he spoke those words. Vergil then slightly lessened the intensity of his glare when he saw giving him a frightful look. He felt a slight sense of regret afterward for raising his voice. The half-demon closed his eyes and tried to force the feeling down.
 
He heard the bed creak again and thought the girl was going to leave the room. He then glanced down when he felt something brush against his arm. The little girl was looking up at the tall man with a small smile. However, what truly got his attention was the flower she held up in her hand. He tentatively took it all the while confused as to why she would give this to him.
 
 
 
"I came in here so I can give you this," Marlene said finally revealing her reason for being in his room.
 
 
 
He wasn't a floral enthusiast but Vergil couldn't deny that something about the flower he was holding was mesmerizing. He didn't see any signs of wilt or chipped petals.
 
"You've been in this dark empty room by yourself all day. So I wanted it to have something that won't make you feel lonely and sad."
 
At that Vergil arched an eyebrow at the little girl's claim. He didn't know where she had gotten the idea of him being sad but it surprised him regardless. Something he now realized she managed to do twice in minutes. He wanted to ask what made her believe that but chose not to. Debating with a child about his emotional state wasn't worth the effort.
 
"Thank you."
 
"Your welcome!" She replied cheerfully. Her smile shifted into one of melancholy. "That flower belonged to a friend of mine."
 
The change in Marlene's mood didn't go unnoticed. And Vergil also took note of how the way she said 'belong' in the past tense. This friend she spoke of must've been someone very important to her and not just a mere acquaintance.
 
"Oh, I almost forgot!" She perked up suddenly as she ran out of his room. Vergil blinked at her unexpected action. She returned shortly with what appeared to be a small vase in her hands with fresh water inside. "This should keep the flower healthy and alive for a while."
 
Vergil just stared at Marlene silently as she held up the water-filled vase, waiting for him put the flower inside. He complied making the young girl giddy with joy as she placed the vase on the window sill. The moonlight shining through the window somehow gave the flower an ethereal glow. Vergil still couldn't figure out how such a small flower could have such an effect on him.
 
"I always like to believe that the flowers she planted were a part of her," Marlene said softly bringing Vergil's attention back to her. He saw that her solemn smile had returned to her face again. "When I and Tifa found you at the Sector 5 church I like to believe she was the reason what kept you alive until we saved you."
 
Vergil heard how earnest the little girl's words were. She truly believes that due to some form of divine intervention he was able to survive his travel to this world. Though how the way she spoke didn't come off like a blind religious zealot. Vergil remembered his short time on the island of Fortuna and how its citizens held his father regarded as being a god. He heard many of them speak of Sparda in a holy fashion that made them appear foolish in his eyes. Believing that praying would offer them protection despite how demons would infest the city occasionally.
 
Marlene however seemed to be speaking from a source of cherished memories. The flower was a memento to keep those memories of her friend alive. Vergil felt a feeling of relation, as he kept the jeweled trinket in memory of his mother.
 
He scowled as he was once again bombarded with reminders of his weakness. Those feelings of empathy were the traces of his humanity climbing to the surface. It happened once when he revealed Tifa his name. It was a small show of gratitude but that was it. It was a feeling that kept popping up ever since he arrived here and he hated it.
 
"What's wrong?" Vergil was brought out of his self-loathing thoughts when Marlene spoke.
 
Her tone and eyes were both mixed with concern. For some reason it made Vergil feel uncomfortable but he made sure to keep his expression neutral.
 
"I'm fine." His reply didn't seem to convince Marlene but she kept silent. He had to admit for a child she was very perceptive.
 
Comfortable silence once again followed as the two didn't know what else to say to each other. After a short moment, the sound of light breathing came to Vergil's ears, he turned to Marlene who was laying on the bed sleeping. The half-demon just stared at her wondering why she was so carefree around him. It was obvious that he frightened her a little but she was still making an effort to talk to him. He couldn't wrap his head around it.
 
Vergil shook his head and sighed. Sees no point in thinking about it. It was getting late and he needed some sleep himself. Though with the sleeping child still in his bed that proved to be a little difficult. However, something compelled him to this remedy this even though he was unaware as to why. Vergil gently lifted the little girl in his arms cradling her head on his chest making sure it didn't dangle. He walked towards her room and placed her on one of the two separate beds the other was occupied by a brown-haired boy.
 
Managing to tuck her in Vergil quietly left whilst closing the door. He stood at the entrance of his room. His eyes were on the flower that was placed on the window sill. He recalled the words Marlene said about how the flower could help lift the spirits of those who were in the darkest of places. A slight upward tug at the corner of lips appeared for a split second before settling back into their neutral positions. Vergil walked into his room preparing for himself in bed.
 
Unbeknown to him was a raven-haired woman witnessing everything from down the hall. Tifa had just gotten done tending the bar and headed upstairs to make sure that both Marlene and Denzel were already asleep. She was surprised to see Vergil walking out of his room carrying Marlene in his arms. Seconds later he walked out, closed the door, and just stood there. What caused her eyes to widen was the sight of a genuine smile on his face. It appeared for a split second but she caught it.
 
Tifa smiled softly at the man's kind act. For the short period, she had known him he seemed to stand offish, always brushing away anyone who got close. But it seemed there was more to him than he was willing to show. Or perhaps just doesn't know how to show it. Vergil and Cloud had a lot in common in that area it seemed.
 
The barmaid shook her head in amusement. She could only imagine what would happen if the ever two found some common ground.
 
The morning rolled around the corner as the sun shined brightly as it could through Midgar's upper plates. Tifa of course was up bright and early driving her truck on the newly rebuilt highway. Why she was is because of the passenger who was seated next to her. Vegil had rather rudely insisted that he needed to go to the church she had found him in. Natural curiosity told her to ask him why...so she did. And a natural response or at least Vergil's version of what one would be was 'It's none of your concern, I just need you to take me there.'
 
Tifa wanted to argue but decided not to and grant him his request. She had been doing a lot of that with him lately.
 
Before they had set out Tifa informed Vergil that he could only stay with them temporarily until he can find a place of his own. She expected Vergil to be livid about this news but he had taken it surprisingly well. He might've been standoffish but he didn't seem like the type that would take advantage of someone's kindness. He seemed to value his independence more than anything if him going out on his own and taking his sword back without her permission was any indication. It was just another layer that she was just learning about him.
 
Aside from that, the ride was relatively quiet aside from the vehicle's engine and some small speed bumps. It took a while mainly due to the truck's obvious lack of use for speedy travel but eventually, they made it to the sector 5 slums in front of the church.
 
Vergil stepped out of the truck and examined the area. Everywhere he saw nothing but piles of rubble surrounding the church. And the latter didn't seem to be in the best condition either. He recalled that Tifa had told him that the city was demolished but didn't go into detail at what was the cause. Previously he didn't care but now as he stood as a witness to all of this wreckage his curiosity spiked a little.
 
"Well, this is it." Vergil glanced to his right when he heard the raven-haired woman speak next to him. He noticed the distant look in her eyes as she gazed at the wrecked building.
 
Vergil didn't comment as he walked towards the church. Hearing his boots scrape against the concrete broke Tifa out of her daze as she followed him.
 
Both entered and just like from the outside the interior was also a little worse for wear. One of the support beams had fallen and managed to destroy a small portion of the roof. A hole that stretched very wide on the wooden floorboards at the far end of the church was difficult to miss. Some glass windows were cracked or broken.
 
Despite some areas being wrecked by the church, some managed to keep a sense of...purity. The sun's rays shining through the ruined windows and the damaged roof still somehow gave everything a welcoming vibe. A bed of flowers was beautifully spread next to the hole in the floor.
 
Vergil couldn't describe it but he got the sense that something beyond his comprehension was somehow keeping this church alive.
 
'Or maybe...someone.'
 
Vergil lightly shook his head dismissing the thought. It sounded ridiculous. Though he could've sworn he heard a feminine giggle somewhere in the distance.
 
Stopping in front of what caught his attention the most which was the hole in the floor that he could now see was filled with a pool of clear water Vergil kneeled near it. His eyes narrowed at a pool of liquid that was strangely clean despite being inside a hole of a nearly crumbling church. His reflection was clear to the point where he couldn't detect any signs of any murky residue in the water. Vergil couldn't help but feel that something was rather odd about the pool in front of him. He never doubted his keen intuition and wasn't starting now.
 
The sound of a long sigh snapped him out of his musings. Looking over his shoulder he saw Tifa standing over the bed of flowers. Vergil also saw the same distant look in her eyes from before. If he had to venture a guess the cause for her sudden gloomy mood was the flowers.
 
That same feeling from last night was creeping its way back into him. And just like the previous night, he tried ignoring it. He needed to focus on whatever this water was as it could help him put some clues together about his current predicament.
 
He sighed in annoyance as he couldn't. "What's wrong?" Vergil asked while mentally chiding himself for concerning himself with the barmaid's issues.
 
Tifa almost jumped when she turned toward the silver-haired man who was staring at her with his usual casual glance. She was so deep in her thoughts that she almost forgot she was the one who brought him here. But she could also see that there was a small trace of curiosity and...worry?
 
She shook her head trying to dissuade his concern for her. If that's what she was making out from the blunt way he expressed that question.
 
"Nothing just...remembering things." She murmured under her breath, knowing that he would drop the conversation.
 
"About?"
 
...Or not? Tifa blinked in surprise as Vergil stood from his crouch, his interest squarely on her. She blinked again to regain her focus and get out what was on her mind.
 
"This church...belonged to a friend of mine." The apprehension in her voice made it easy to deduce that the fate of her friend wasn't a happy one. "But...she's gone now. When I come here with Marlene I try not to let it show so she won't have to worry about me."
 
Vergil listened to every word that Tifa had just spoken. He recalled that this friend she spoke of was possibly the same one that Marlene told him about.
 
"She was very outspoken, always allowing whatever was on her mind to be said no matter how good or bad it was." She smiled as wonderful memories of the past washed over her. "Honestly it's what I admired her for."
 
The same distant expression returned to her face. "That was until..."
 
Whatever she was going to continue saying was immediately stopped by her apprehensive feelings on the subject. The very sight of Aerith's lifeless body laying in Cloud's arms was an image that wasn't easy to forget. While the two managed to work through it the pain would creep back in from time to time.
 
Vergil remained silent, allowing her half-finished words to remain in the air. Though Vergil understood her feelings he didn't empathize with them. Since his childhood, he had spent the entirety of his life alone. Friends and companionship were a foreign concept to him.
 
Tifa shook her head, ridding her mind of the sullen memory. "But I know she's watching me and everyone from the Lifestream."
 
The half-demon couldn't help but blink at that. What in the world was this woman talking about?
 
"I know from there she doesn't want all of us to spend the rest of our lives mourning her." She continued, her sorrowful face replaced with a slight undertone of happiness. Walking over to the edge of the pool Tifa kneeled in front of it and slowly ran her slender hand along the surface of the water. "It's like every ounce of her being is within the planet looking out for everyone."
 
Vergil felt the gravity of her words hit him and he didn't know what to make of them. He had a sense of deja vu when he remembered the little girl Marlene told him that this friend of hers had passed on in some form of heaven. Natural judgment came of course but the earnest way she spoke made him believe what she was talking about was true. Just like how Tifa was describing was now.
 
"Did you find what you were looking for here?" Tifa's sudden question brought the blue-coated man out of his musings as she stared at him.
 
The half-demon shook his head. "Unfortunately no, this was a waste of time." He turned striding toward the church's door.
 
The barmaid sighed and stood, following after the silver-haired man. Hopefully, tonight will be more eventful.
 
Neither of the two was able to witness the water give off an ethereal glow as they stepped out.
 
 
(To Be Continued)
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