The door to the clinic slammed open and bounced off the wall. The shack shook and a brief rain of dust floated down from the ceiling as the door swung closed. It flew open a moment later with another thud, another dent in the wall and another rain of debris. "Aeris!"
Aeris Gainsborough sighed and put down the patient record. She leant out from the nook that served as her office and peered towards the door. "Yuffie; I keep asking you to just open the door, not try and kick it to death."
Yuffie struck a pose. "But how else will Great Ninja Yuffie practice her skills?"
"I'm not sure," Aeris admitted. "But does Great Ninja Yuffie really want to pay for my wall and my door out of her allowance?"
Yuffie sagged a tiny amount. "Great Ninja Yuffie would deeply regret that outcome," she intoned and grinned. "I won't do it again, sis."
Aeris resisted a smile. "I've heard that before..."
"I swear on my honor as a ninja!"
"Good." Aeris raised an eyebrow. "And?"
"And?" Yuffie echoed in apparent confusion.
"Aside from the need to practice your ninja skills, is there some reason why you were yelling my name?"
"Oh!" Yuffie clapped her hands together. "Mom said dinner will be ready in about ten minutes."
Aeris glanced at her watch. "Okay." She reached her arms over her head and stretched. "Give me five and we'll head back. Okay?" Yuffie did not move and grinned at her. Aeris rolled her eyes. "Fine. You can look, but don't move them." Yuffie whooped and ran past the three beds - the mismatched curtains around each swishing as ran - to the dented metal materia cabinet at the far end. She ran her fingers across the array of glowing orbs and with a chuckle Aeris turned back to the pile of patient notes. A full thirty seconds over the promised five minutes - something Yuffie persisted in reminding her every ten seconds - Aeris locked the door to the run-down shack constituting her medical practice. The pair wandered the sort distance across Sector Five and Mom's house.
Aeris first found Yuffie almost a year earlier near the abandoned church housing her garden. Never as much time to devote to the flowers as she would like, but at least the bright colours helped cheer up the clinic. Yuffie's age drew her attention and she trailed the Wutainese girl back to a nest in a nearby building. Yuffie was suspicious of Aeris, avoided conversation and bounced to higher vantage points accompanied by hissed Wutainese. Her whole demeanour changed when she caught sight of the materia in Aeris's bangle. She had forgotten to take it off when leaving work, intending to drop it in the clinic on the way home. Fortunate though; the mere sight of the glowing crystals had a hypnotising effect on Yuffie and Aeris found an in. It turned out she could speak languages other than Wutainese - and she had survived this long on petty theft all over the sector. But try as she might, Aeris could not get Yuffie to even begin explaining the circumstances or events leading to her presence within Midgar.
It was impossible for her to leave Yuffie to fend for herself now and thus a new routine began. Each day after work, Aeris forsook her check of the flowers to instead visit Yuffie's nest with some food and a new materia. Slow and steady progress; with each passing day Yuffie grew less defensive, less confrontational. Less fond of springing to somewhere near the ceiling upon her arrival. A week or so later and she trailed after Aeris as she headed for home; but the moment she noticed, Yuffie turned tail and ran. Despite her nerves, Yuffie did the same the next night and the night after. On the the third night, she chatted to Aeris as they walked and wound up invited to dinner. Slow and steady; little by little Yuffie opened up to both her and Mom. A few lapses in behaviour made clear there were still a few topics Yuffie would not discuss. Any mention of these would cause her to vanish into the night without another word. Chief amongst the problem topics was her past. Fortunately the severity soon lessened; Yuffie spent more and more time at Mom's house, and it took only a little persuading for her to move in. Mom gained another daughter, and for more than six months now they lived together as a family.
"Hi Mom!" Aeris pushed the door closed and stamped the mud from her boots as Yuffie took her place at the dinner table, offering little more than a 'Yo.'
Mom smiled at them both from the stove. "Welcome home." Perfect timing; she turned off the stove and dished up dinner. "How was work today?"
"Good," Aeris said between mouthfuls of stew. "Well. As good as it ever gets..."
The next day started like any other; Aeris left for work, mulling over the list of expected appointments and a wonder if there would be any emergencies today. She nodded to the figure in blue lurking in the doorway of the building opposite the clinic. Rude was on observation duty today. She grinned at him as she unlocked the door; he did not return the gesture and kept his face blank. The Turks had been a concern, but they seemed content to do did nothing more than observe. As such they soon almost faded into the background of her life. Not enough she would fail to take note of which one was lurking; there seemed to be some kind of rota since her refusal to return to Shinra's clutches. The Turks were nothing to worry about. No appointments this early; time to do some filing and a few chores around the clinic- The door slammed back against the wall not five minutes later. Yuffie was up early. "Yuffie-"
"I'm looking for Miss Gainsborough." Deep voice - not Yuffie. Aeris glanced towards the door; a bearded man pushed it closed behind him, a large bundle cradled in his arms. She stumbled to her feet as he approached. "Miss Gainsborough?" She nodded. "I hear you are the best doctor in the city."
"Not sure I quite deserve that," Aeris muttered. Rumours getting out of hand again. "You need treatment?"
The man shook his head. "No. But she does." He raised the bundle. "I have travelled a long way to find someone able to help." With a few nervous glances, Aeris shifted the cloth aside; underneath was an unconcious girl around her age with dark hair. Dried blood marred her face and arms, her breathing shallow and her eyes closed. There were bloody bandages wrapped around her head.
"Put her on the bed." Aeris hurried to the cabinet and withdrew two of the cure materia she had stored. Head injury? Deep breath. Aeris fished a bangle from the cabinet and clipped both spheres into place and fastened it around her upper arm. The bangle pressed the warm spheres against her skin and ancient knowledge flooded into her head. She crossed back to the bed. Her reputation was good, but best in the city? Exaggeration; others could work materia to at least heal, even if they seemed to lack the knack she exhibited. Something else brought the man and his patient here. Likely they were avoiding Shinra. And with a Turk right outside. Either Rude had not noticed or did not realize who this man or his companion was. "Her name?" Need to get rid of those clothes. How bad was the wound on her chest?
"Tifa Lockhart," the man replied.
"Tifa. What- What happened to her?" Aeris pushed one of Tifa's eyelids open; her pupil did not react.
"Long story." The man looked grave.
"No," Aeris said with a shake of her head as she peeled back Tifa's shirt. The wound on her torso did not look as bad here, but- "How was she injured?"
The man paused for a moment. "The chest wound is from a sword and she hit her head on a metal staircase."
He should not have moved her. Aeris was about to rebuke the man and stopped. He looked scared, near desperate. Something had forced him to move Tifa; she needed to cope with the situation as best she could. So; head injury, possible neck and spine. At best there would be some nasty bruises on her back, depending on how she fell. Start with the chest wound. Aeris cut away the girl's shirt - one far too big for her frame; presumably it belonged to the man. At least he had been changing her bandages; but then that meant more bleeding. The wound was not as bad as it sounded, but prior healing had met with only moderate success. There was some risk of infection, but the head injury was a more pressing concern. Still so much could go wrong.
Aeris moved higher, fingers brushing over Tifa's scalp. Might not be too bad. "Give me a sec." She closed her eyes and focused. The spell triggered without a thought; Tifa's body laid out behind her eyes. Startling; the sword wound was deep - a miracle it had not connected with her lungs or heart. Fortunate that the stranger was able to heal the wound as well as he could; Tifa should get through this with a scar or two and a long groove along her ribs. She could handle that. Tifa had survived this long somehow - she lost a lot of blood.
The head wound was far messier by comparison. A mass of cuts, bruises and fractures marred the back of her head, hidden for the most part by her hair. Closer- The cracks became canyons and more troubling sights were now clear. An impact had driven fragments of bone down into the soft-tissue beneath. She could deal with that, deal with it all, but it would not be quick or easy. No. She had to try. Aeris opened her eyes and cleared her throat. "I'll do what I can."
The work was agonising and slow; Aeris refused to dare hurry the process. Despite her skill, her reputation and experience, in the end she knew so little about actual physiology and even less about the human brain. But she had to do this. This man, this girl; they were both counting on her. The spell work was awkward; tiny sparks of spells, almost too little to heal anything focused on the tissue as she drew the slivers of bone out. The process took much of the day; on and off between other patients. The stranger vanished into the back room whenever anyone approached the door, emerging after to watch her patient nervously. As the evening drew on she began to regrow the broken bone.
Aeris rested when she could between bouts of healing, working at that kind of scale and delicacy exhausting. Too many things to juggle in the day. When she got a chance - in gaps between other patients and as she fought the intense headaches prolonged materia use induced - she asked the stranger questions. His name was Zangan and he was a martial arts expert. With each question the precise time-frame and circumstances of Tifa's injury became clear. But the alleged culprit was a shock; Sephiroth, the star of Shinra's SOLDIER program recently reported dead. Zangan regretted he had only been able to help one victim in the aftermath. Others had not been so lucky, left behind to face Shinra as he fled the town.
Yuffie crashed through the door on time around dinner, but she froze immediately, her eyes narrowing as she caught sight of Zangan. He said nothing and returned her stare; Aeris hid a smile behind her hand and did her best to defuse the situation. Zangan had nowhere to stay and as a result it made sense he stay in the clinic to keep an eye on Tifa while Aeris got dinner. Yuffie gave him a final suspicious look before bowing; Zangan returned the gesture. Even this was not much of a break; so much focus on Tifa's treatment distracted her from Mom's excellent cooking. She went back after dinner with some left-overs; the man needed to keep his strength up given his tireless guarding of Tifa.
Zangan melted out of the shadows when she closed the clinic door behind her; moments ago the room seemed to contain no one save but the unconscious Tifa. The man looked tense and ready for combat; he relaxed as he recognised her but the tension in his limbs remained. Zangan thanked her for the food and devoured it. Aeris took the opportunity to check on her patient; more of a strain to keep on going now after casting so many spells today. A few more minutes of regrowing and rebuilding Tifa's skull. Physically she would be fine, but mentally?
Most people who handled materia at least knew of the existence of sleep spells and a few had the relevant spheres, but no one else seemed aware of the other magics; including one that allowed her to view dreams. Unheard of. Discovered by chance while treating another head injury - and as she attempted to ensure the mind she was saving was still sound. Not something she felt comfortable doing, but she had to know. A sea of flames burst into existence around her. Tifa's dreams churned and swirled at a frantic pace; fire, blood and death the major themes. And at the core of it all, at the peak of the nightmare was a tall, unmistakable figure with silver hair. Sephiroth. He towered over her, all mocking smile as she stared up at him in terror. The sword hilt was sticky in her hands; she lost her hold on it somehow as she swung the blade towards him. Then he held it and the sword swished down with agonising slowness, but equal swiftness. Pain blossomed and burst in her chest-
Aeris snapped her eyes open with a jerk, her heart pounding, lungs gasping for air. She panted as her pulse settled. Tifa was in the grip of a nightmare, but at least not lost to the world. With luck and the completion of the treatment, she might yet awaken. It was all up to her. Another quick spell and Aeris headed for home and whatever rest she could manage. She kept on, day after day, always returning to Tifa between other patients to send a surge of magical energy at the girl. Zangan relaxed as time pass, but he remained steadfast beside Tifa. Until he was gone. Aeris had brought him food as always one morning, but he was not in the clinic. No word, no note. No sign of forced entry or any kind of struggle inside. Even the Turk's rotation did not change. He was no longer here, but his disappearance changed little; Tifa remained her patient and she would continue to care for her.
A week later sudden panicked breathing drew Aeris's attention from updating a medical chart. Tifa Lockhart was sat up in her bed and staring around the room in a panic, her hands hands clutched at her shirt. She shrank back as Aeris approached. "It's okay." Aeris kept her voice soft and held her hands up.
"Where I am?" Tifa stuttered as she stared past her and around the room.
"Midgar. Sector Five."
"Midgar?" Tifa exclaimed. But-" A frown. "I was-" She shook her head. "Nibelheim, what happened to Nibelheim?"
Aeris licked her lips; how best to tell her? "Officially, nothing. Unofficially, I can't imagine anything survived-"
Tifa let out a strangled sob. Aeris reached out to touch her back, sobs racking Tifa's body. Comfort. She needed someone right now; Zangan was gone - she was all Tifa had left and she had known her about a minute now. "What about him?" Voice full of malice now. "What about Sephiroth?"
Tifa nodded even as a new shiver wracked her body. She was silent for a long moment and squirmed, moving away from Aeris's hand. "Who are you? How did I even get here?" Suspicious, inquisitive; pretty much ready to bolt.
Aeris stood up and took a step back. "My name is Aeris Gainsborough and this is my clinic." She gestured to the rest of the building. "I've been looking after you since a man named Zangan-"
"Sensei saved me," Tifa murmured. "Where is he?" She glanced around as if expecting to find him lurking nearby.
Aeris shook her head. "I don't know. Sorry. He left a week ago."
"No note?" Aeris shook her head. "I need to find him." Tifa flung the blanket to one side and swung her legs over the edge of the bed.
"Woah!" Aeris warned and grabbed for Tifa as she stood; her legs gave out, her eyelids fluttering. Far too soon. "You can't just get up like that; you're still hurt. You need bed rest."
"What-" Tifa curled in on herself after Aeris got her say back on the mattress. "What happened to me? Why can't I-"
"You had some major head trauma." Soothing tone. Tifa's hands darted to her head and paused as she encountered the bandages. "The process isn't quite finished." Tifa sighed in frustration but put up no resistance as Aeris laid her back on the bed. "And if I might ask, just where were you trying to go?" Aeris re-tucked the blankets.
"I-" Tifa stopped. "I don't know. Is... is Nibelheim really gone? I remember the fire. Everything was on fire, but maybe-" She grimaced and closed her eyes. "Dad..." Tifa swallowed. "How long?"
"You've been here a month. Zangan mentioned it took him something like a week to get you here." Aeris crossed the room to retrieve the bangle and materia.
"Over a month." Fresh tears welled up in Tifa's eyes. Aeris remained silent as she perched on the edge of the bed and reached for Tifa's shoulder again. "I couldn't do anything," Tifa muttered between sobs. Aeris's hand itched to do something; stroke her hair, make her feel a little comforted but- Too risky with the wound and too intimate besides. Aeris settled for laying her hand on Tifa's shoulder. After a moment, Tifa moved to grasp her fingers. "Thank you." She opened bleary eyes and gazed up at her. "Thank you for taking care of me."
Aeris smiled. "Zangan is the one who got you out of there. I did what I could when you got here." She took the opportunity to heal Tifa again, mixing latent ability with the spells from the materia. Tifa's stomach gurgled provoking a choking giggle from her. She must be starving; Aeris broke away to run home and ask Yuffie to bring some food. It was only when she turned to head back that the leaving Tifa alone might have been a mistake. She moved even faster for the return, dripping sweat and panting; very glad to find Tifa had not taken the opportunity to try and head off on her own. Yuffie's inquisitiveness got the better of her when she arrived and bombarded Tifa with questions until Aeris shooed her away. One more favour; a message to Mom informing her Aeris would be staying at the clinic - for tonight at least.
Tifa grew stronger with each passing day and each session of healing. She remained upright for longer the next day despite frustrating dizziness. Aeris did what she could to keep her distracted; she brought Tifa books to read and in lulls with other patients sat at her bedside to chat. "At some point I need to meet your Mom and say thanks," Tifa said later in the week. Aeris switched the lights off and rechecking the door lock. One night had become two, and soon every night. As if she could leave her alone; a stranger in a strange city after so much trauma. She settled into the bed beside Tifa.
Aeris looked over at the other girl in the gloom. "How about tomorrow night?"
"She coming to visit?"
"No. But I think you should be okay for a longer stroll."
"Really?" Tifa sat up and Aeris grinned back at her. "But I have no clothes-"
"Already taken care of. My ninja delivery service is helpful at times." And a way of keeping Yuffie from getting under her feet half the time.
"Well, you're the doctor..."
Tifa had difficulty sitting still through most of the next day and Aeris took every chance she could to keep her entertained until at long last she locked the door after the last patient. Time to take her new friend to meet her Mom. "Sorry if these aren't quite your thing," Aeris said taking a bundle of clothes from one of the lockers. "My clothes aren't going to fit you and we don't have a lot of money and-"
"It's fine." Tifa was grinning and grabbed for the clothes. "I'll wear anything to get out of here."
Aeris retreated and drew the curtain around the bed; minutes later a tousled haired Tifa emerged wearing a two-sizes too big hoodie and sweatpants she had to keep held up with one hand. "Mom..." Aeris moaned.
"It's still okay. Just nice to be on my feet and going somewhere." Her eyes widened. "Oh. Not that it hasn't been fun here. I just..."
"Cabin fever, right?" Aeris smirked.
"Yeah. Used to be when I got antsy at home I could go climb Mount Nibel. But-"
Aeris intervened. "Can't offer you something quite like that. But there's plenty of space in the city to walk. Miles and miles. But not far to Mom's."
Tifa moved into Mom's house two days later at her express insistence. Maybe some of it was concern that Aeris was spending all those nights in the clinic. Maybe more was the concern of Tifa spending her nights there. She insisted and dismissed Tifa's protests and concerns about where she would even sleep. In the end she took Aeris's bed while Aeris settled for a camping mat on the bedroom floor. "Please," Tifa insisted the first night. "You take the bed and I'll take the floor. You need to be up early and-"
"And I'm the doctor here." Aeris paused and fluffed her pillow. "Well, sort of. In any case, you need rest and you're not going to get enough down here. And I'm perfectly comfortable"
"It's still unfair," Tifa said biting her lip. She fidgeted and cleared her throat. "We could share." Her cheeks reddened even as Aeris's breath caught in her throat.
The bed looked wide enough to try and the thought was tempting. "We could. But I don't want to risk catching you in the night and-"
"Please? I'll feel better, I bet you'd sleep better and-"
Aeris sighed. "Okay, okay. Just for tonight." Tifa's expression brightened as she squirmed closer to the wall leaving a warm indentation in the mattress. Aeris shuffled the pillows across. "Let me know if you want more room." Not the best situation; on her back it felt like she was right on the edge of the mattress. Rolling away from Tifa onto her side helped a little. The other girl was so warm so close behind her. She brushed against her at intervals, minute touches against her pyjamas as Tifa fidgeted and scratched at itches. It was different sleeping with someone like this. Different but not undesirable.
Despite Aeris's insistence, their arrangement of sharing the single bed continued even as Tifa went from strength to strength. As she did in the clinic, Aeris was there ready to comfort Tifa whenever she awoke in the dead of the night with a scream and drenched with sweat. Aeris embraced and murmured comforting words until Tifa's eyes grew heavy again and she dozed off into a hopefully more restful sleep. After the first week in Mom's, Tifa insisted on helping Aeris at the clinic. Her family - and Aeris in particular - had done far too much for her and she needed some way to repay them. It would take time to teach her materia use and whatever diagnosis ability Aeris was able to impart to another, but Tifa seemed content to be a secretary of sorts; she greeted the patients on arrival, sorted files and helped around the clinic. Tifa kept insisting this was only the start until she regained more of her strength. "This isn't enough," Tifa blurted one day, paused mid-filing beside the cabinets.
"Huh?" Aeris glanced up from her notes, wondering if she had zoned out during a conversation.
"This, just doing this." She scowled. "You've done so much and I need to repay you and all I'm doing is this easy stuff and-"
"You don't need to repay us," Aeris said firmly. "You've been a huge help; without you, I wouldn't be done until after eight in the evening." She eyed the donation box; some of it should go to Tifa for her efforts. "I should be paying you actually. We have enough to get you started somewhere."
"I can't take your money." Tifa sighed. "Not- I need to do something... more."
"How about a date?" The words were out of her mouth before she knew it and Aeris clapped her hand over her lips almost wanting to take them back. Almost. Tifa did not seem troubled. She nodded to herself and looked back at her without judgement.
"Would that really be enough?"
Aeris grinned, her heart skipping a beat. "It's just a silly thought. Don't worry."
"How about tonight?" Tifa said leaning towards her. "It sounds- I've never been on a date - a real date. I'd like to try. With you. Please?"
"I haven't either so I'm not sure I would know what to do-" Tifa was smiling at her; Aeris could not say no.
Things were a little awkward at first; Aeris got Yuffie to take a message to Mom that neither of them would be home for dinner that night. No mention of the date. Hard not to think about it as the day wore on, as the last patient left and for the first time in years, Aeris headed away from Mom's house, away from the church after work. "Any preference about where we go?"
Tifa shook her head. "I don't even know what you have here. Nibelheim was not huge on restaurants and the like."
Aeris nodded. "Do you like pizza?"
"Never had a chance to try it. Is it good?"
"It's good," Aeris said. "Well. I like it. We can see how you like pizza? They have other stuff on the menu too - in case you end up hating it." Tifa nodded and Aeris lead her through the streets still not quite sure on what she should do. People in movies had bunches of flowers or chocolates before these kind of events. At least Tifa seemed unconcerned and was busy staring around at Sector Five as they ventured into newer territory. Rush hour was over and they reached the pizza parlour in the lull before it got busy again. Aeris talked Tifa through the menu and recommended her the best option to try. A few vague attempts to start a conversation went nowhere until the waitress came for their order.
"How did you get into being a doctor?" Tifa asked abruptly once they were alone again. "I never thought to ask before."
Aeris smiled. "Not that interesting a story." Well, the one she would admit to was not. And not best to blurt the whole thing out in public; no sign of any Turks in here, but you never could tell. "This was before we met Yuffie. I just turned fourteen and I was helping Mom out in the garden-"
"In the garden?" Tifa frowned. "Oh the flowers? You keep bringing fresh each day. Are you growing them yourself?"
"Yep." No need to grimace or wince. Another subject for a more private discussion; by now Tifa must have noticed the lack of flowers elsewhere. "But I don't want to take them from Mom's garden, so I grow those ones specially in a church nearby."
"Wow." Tifa stared at her in awe. "Can I see them? I mean, if it's not a secret or anything?"
"At some point," Aeris replied. "Not really a secret, but the less people who know the better." Tifa nodded. She seemed to accept her explanation; no need to tell her how Aeris could coax flowers from barren soil, bewildering Mom who tried with the same seeds and same soil for years. Another reminder of the past and quite how she wound up with Mom. "Anyway, so me and Mom were in the garden doing some gardening." Aeris paid little attention at the time; she encouraged the plants to grow - though her ability did not seem to distinguish between flowers and weeds. Anything green seemed to flourish under her fingertips. The weeds had been part of the problem. "And Mom was doing a bit of weeding." A lot of it. "And she slipped."
"Oh no!" Tifa gasped. "Was she hurt?"
"Big scratch." Aeris traced a line down her forearm. "Not too bad." The cut had been deep, ragged and bleeding everywhere. Mom froze and stared at her arm. She came to her senses after a moment and asked Aeris to bring her the cure materia. "Nothing a cure spell couldn't fix."
"So you went and got her materia and used it yourself?" Tifa asked as the waitress brought their drinks. She took a long sip of her fizzy drink.
"Pretty much," Aeris said sipping hers. Except she had not run to the house or retrieved any materia. Aeris instead directed all her attention on the wound and before Mom could react, she touched it, healing the gash in a heartbeat. Mom stared at the unbroken skin, blood mapping the edges of a wound no longer visible. "Did a really good job too." When Mom asked, Aeris admitted she felt drawn to the cure materia on many occasions and stared into its depths.
"Lucky for her. But the clinic-?"
Aeris grinned. "Well, the next day one of our neighbours asked to borrow the materia. I took it round and did it for them. They moved away not long after." Hurried addition. Not the time or place to talk about Mom taking a second day off work and how exhausted she looked. How she asked if Aeris was feeling brave and lead her deep into the slums. How Mom talked about how expensive doctors were, and how much good someone could do here if they only had the skill. "But it proved that I had an affinity, so-"
"You became a doctor." Tifa smiled.
"Right." Mom took her to the sick and dying; she reached out to each and everyone. Not possible to cure or save everyone. But if nothing else she could give them some comfort in their last hours. "After that we looked for somewhere to set up shop." Her fame spread through the slums and everyone wanted her help. They could not keep trailing around everywhere. The one-story shack sat abandoned as long as Mom lived in Midgar. Easy to fit a new lock after they broke it open. "We scavenged some beds and the other stuff you saw in there."
"You're doing a lot of good."
"Just the best I can," Aeris replied. Little she could not treat; no matter how much pain and misery crossed her threshold. "The materia probably deserves more credit." At least it must be the source of some of her medical knowledge; there for her use without a second thought. "And as you know; I only charge them what they can afford." To be technical they were donations, but many insisted on paying her far more than she needed. Aeris insisted on payment in some cases; the leerers and those who insisted on wasting her time.
"I'm so glad you were there for me." Tifa flushed a little. "And I'm still not sure this is enough of a payment."
Aeris giggled. "It definitely is. Everything else goes on supplies. Anything left over gets saved."
"Oh? For anything in particular?"
"I want to see the world; just go travelling one day. There's all these places I've only read about and-" She broke off as the waitress arrived with their food. They chatted through the meal and seeing as it was not that late, headed for the movies.
"Thank you," Tifa was still smiling as they wandered home from the cinema. The evening had flown by; time to go home came far too soon. Aeris glanced up at the house as they reached the front door. Not late, but the lights were off; Mom and Yuffie must be in bed. "I know we've been doing it for ages-" Tifa flushed and Aeris blinked at her. "But I do wonder if it isn't a bit fast to go to bed with someone right after the first date?"
"Depends." Aeris giggled. "Some people do that. Some people don't even get to the date part and-" She broke off and coughed at Tifa's wide-eyed reaction. "But it depends on the person I think. I mean, I personally, was going to be a perfectly well-behaved lady about such matters. Until we're more comfortable with... this." Deep breath. "If you liked the date." Tifa nodded. "And wanted to go out again?" Another nod. "And, you know, like me- Like that?" Tifa smiled and nodded. "So. That's good. Though I mean, I'm curious, and if you'd like to just skip to something more I don't mind?" She let the question hang as she curled a ringlet around her finger.
Tifa started giggling even as her face flushed a deeper red. "Stop that. Bedtime is going to get super awkward if I'm thinking about that."
"But-" Tifa grinned. "I do like you. Like that. And while that would be far too forward, I think I'd quite like to cuddle with you."
"Sounds good to me. And we can take things as slow as you'd like."
"Thank you." They both fell silent, but now it was comfortable.
Aeris bit her lip. "Tifa?"
"I was wondering if we should rethink the bed though."
Tifa looked wary. "Oh?"
"I was thinking we could get a double bed for my- Our room. Be a bit more comfortable, give us some more room." She looked at Tifa with as much hope as she dared.
"I think I'd like that." Tifa smiled and Aeris smiled back as they linked arms and opened the front door to their home.