Interrupted by Fireworks
An Alternate Scene in Dating at the Gold Saucer

Tifa wandered down the hall of the Gold Saucer's Ghost Hotel. To the casual observer, she must have looked like she was miles away, which was true to a point. She was lost in thought, but her lost wandering had a purpose. Thanks in part to the tram breaking down, Avalanche's current stay was all-expenses-paid and a much needed relaxing change of pace. Despite this, she had remained in her room staring at the wall and occasionally partaking in the liquid refreshments offered by the minibar. Gold Saucer wasn't fun when alone. Then again, neither was drinking.

There also was only so much "spookiness" one could take. Ghost Hotel? More like a cheap horror film without the film. She could see the flipping strings on the tiny ghostlings for Christ's sakes. The proximity-triggered screams were tinny and came from speakers hidden by a person who lacked skill in hiding things. The full-sized ghosts were people in bedsheets who had sold their souls to the hospitality industry. She could see it in their eyes every time one of them had jumped out at her.

Truth be told, she was bored and, now that she was filled with liquid courage, clambering to get out to do something. Anything. Even now, that Corel lager's yeasty hand guided her toward something she never thought she'd do of her own volition; seeking out the company of another human being.

She couldn't take it anymore! They were in an amusement park for Christ's sakes! Everything was on the house! She wanted to have fun, not sit around feeling sorry for herself and drinking herself stupid! Granted, there were far more entertaining places in the world she could think of, but considering they couldn't leave the Gold Saucer, those places were far, far out of reach. She was more than happy to make do.

Taking charge of a social situation was not one of Tifa's strong points unless she was the sober bartender kicking wayward drunks to the curb. The older she got, the more at home she felt with the company of herself, away from the company of people. But, in this instance, lonesome boredom had driven her to free alcohol and free alcohol, in turn, had driven her to seek out company in social activities. She even had the conversation planned out.

"Cloud…" she'd say with a purr and a shy look.

"What's wrong, Tifa?" Cloud would say in reply, his bright blue eyes highlighted with concern.

She'd adopt a shy look, head down, hands behind her back, and make a cute attempt to bury the toe of her boot into the floorboards and their manufactured creepy creaking. "I thought about what I was going to say, but it's kind of embarrassing," she'd say into her chest. "Why don't the two of us sneak out of here and spend some time together?"

Cloud would laugh, straighten a hair spike, and lead her off into the park by the hand.

Tifa paused outside Cloud's door and snorted with derisive laughter. No, he wouldn't. If only it were that easy. If only conversations ever went according to plan. Cloud was concerned with just one person, himself. She almost expected to find Aeris inside flirting with him and struggling to enact the same idea she had. Hell, she had half a mind to skip Cloud altogether and find Aeris instead. The two of them would probably have more fun without him, anyway.

Why couldn't life be freaking easy?

She downed the remainder of her bottled courage and, with an unladylike alcohol-fueled hiccup, shattered its remains on the wall behind her. With a deep breath, she then pushed open the door and prepared herself for whatever laid in wait on the other side. This was it! No turning back now!

What she found had been along the lines of what she had initially expected, but not quite. Aeris was in Cloud's room alright, but by herself, sitting in a chair and flirting with the boredom that was staring out the window. Where Cloud was, Tifa couldn't see, but she did know where he wasn't. Surprised, she could do nothing but stare into Aeris' comically large and equally surprised green eyes. In fact, surprise and awkwardness were so prevalent in the room that one could have been knocked out with a Beat Rush and the other Meteor Striked out the window.

An eternity had passed before either could say anything. The award for first went to Tifa when she stammered, "I should probably go." The 'hang out with Aeris' backup plan found itself tossed under a speeding train of intimidation. To enact the new plan of 'run away like a coward,' she curled her nonexistent tail between her legs, took a few steps back, and reached for the door to slam it on her way out.

"Tifa, wait!" Aeris called out, stopping her in her tracks. "Don't go!"

Tifa did as requested, but hesitated in letting go of the doorknob. Under normal circumstances, she probably would have kept right on walking and later pretended that she hadn't heard anything. She liked Aeris, but, at the same time, Aeris' outgoing personality and beauty overwhelmed her so much that she usually tried to keep her distance in social circumstances. In this instance, her boredom and loneliness, enhanced by alcohol, won out and kept her rooted in place.

The plan was safe, but, man, that speeding train had still wrecked in a glorious ball of fire.

"Where's Cloud?" Tifa forced out hoarsely. If Cloud had been an extrovert, which he wasn't, she'd have assumed that he'd be out with Barret and Cid drinking the night away. But both older men had called it a night, their snoring heard from several rooms away. And Cloud, being a withdrawn and reclusive individual like Tifa, would not venture out on his own into the public unless he absolutely had no choice. So, if she was here and Aeris was here, and Cloud wasn't…

This made her head hurt.

Aeris stood and promptly shrugged. "I dunno. I thought this would be the perfect time to take him on the date I owed him. So, I thought I'd wait." The shrug quickly melted into a defeated slouch and an exasperated whine. "I've been waiting for nearly two hours."

Owed him a date? Of course, she did. With the amount of flirting Aeris threw at Cloud, this did not come as a surprise. But, then again, Aeris flirted with everyone.

God, Tifa's head now hurt even more. With a scoff, she promptly walked to Cloud's minibar and helped herself to a drink—this time one with a stronger alcoholic content. She popped the cap with the practiced flick of a bartender's wrist and eagerly awaited the burn that was Vodka del Sol. Before she could drown herself, a foreign hand forced the bottle back to the counter.

"Tifa, have you been drinking?"

"What are you? My mother?" Snide comments were usually not her thing or style unless Barret and Cloud were being retarded. But she was feeling particularly saucy at the moment. Intimidation and feeling cornered seemed to bring it out of her. Alcohol didn't help either.

"Concerned, I think, better suits me."

Tifa snorted with some amusement. "Well, I'm bored. And it just so happens that booze helps with the boredom." She switched the bottle to her free hand and slammed back a large amount of burn with a cough. "Also, you owe Cloud a 'date?' Seriously, who comes up with an arrangement like that?"

Aeris' green eyes bored into her, generating an uncomfortable itch. It wasn't very often that woman wore a frown, but good lord when she did, it could be felt. "I'm from the slums. How else am I supposed to recruit somebody to be my bodyguard?"

"You pay them like any normal person." All Tifa had been able to focus on had been Aeris' soft, warm hands on her own despite the drink no longer being there, so not much thought had gone into her response. However, those eyes, as well as the tightening grip, brought her around to consider revising that statement. Of course, Aeris would offer her body in lieu of payment; it was all she practically had. No Midgar man would protect a woman for promises of conversation, especially not from someone as stunning as her. And she knew it. "Wait. Midgar. Slums. …Sorry." A foot seemed rather tasty at this moment.

Aeris sighed and released her vice grip. "Oh, who am I kidding? It'd be a waste of time anyway. I can tell you how it'd go. He'd either pretend I didn't exist or treat me like some helpless little girl." She cutely pouted. "I'm not entirely helpless."

So, the true colors had finally come out. Aeris was just as frustrated with Cloud as she was. And for nearly the same reasons! Tifa laughed and downed another portion of her liquid fire. "Try being stranded on the highway into the childhood friend zone," she said. "Even worse, I can suplex a damn train, and I still have to listen to him talk to me like I don't know how to kick ass." She scoffed before allowing a grin to surface. "And for the record, you're mostly helpless. I know, 'cause I'm always the one saving your butt."

Aeris took a moment to tap her chin and hum in thought, all the while her evil-villain-like grin snapping up more and more valuable real estate. "You know, I probably should spend my time with someone more deserving of it," she said. After more humming and rocking from side to side, she leaned much closer than Tifa would have liked, and, of all things, giggled. "You want to go on a date then…bodyguard?"

Well, that was unexpected. The backup plan was not only safe but was now pulling the damn train back onto the tracks! Tifa nearly spat out her drink from the surprise, especially from the way that last word had been emphasized. That had been way too much slyness for her personal liking. "I… What?"

"A date! Dee-ay-tee-ee! Surely you've been on one before?"

Tifa took another swig from her bottle in hopes that it'd mask her burning cheeks. She didn't exactly hide the fact that she was an introvert, awkward with most people at worst, and not with herself at best. Of course, this led one to wonder how and why she got into the bartending business to begin with—something she had asked herself numerous times. As far as relationships, there had been some drunken catcallers of both genders over the years. The more recent ones had managed to secure dates with her fist. Unfortunately, those didn't count due to a lack of a happy ending for all parties involved.

Aeris' grin fell into a frown. "This is a touchy subject, isn't it?"

Tifa pinched a bit of air between her fingers and reluctantly allowed a shy grin to surface. "Just a little bit," she said.

"So, you've never been on a date before?"

"Almost once, but the jerk hadn't been around for me to ask him."

Aeris made a noise of interest behind a cunning smile. She could really be creepy when she wanted to be. "Poor Cloud…" She bounced in place while humming to herself, the gears in her head obviously churning up something devious. The shit-eating grin that she was wearing was a tell-all. "Well, his loss. You're here. I'm here. It must be fate!" Before Tifa had a full grasp on the situation, a foreign hand was linked with her own, forcing the temperature of the room upwards by several degrees. "Let's go have some fun…bodyguard!" Aeris said with a cheerful, determined edge, the slyness dripping from the final word again making Tifa uneasy.

"I don't know, Aeris. What if people, you know, get the wrong idea?"

"Why should we care what people think? What's wrong with two girls going out and having fun?"

"I'm just sayin'."

"Hey, you said yourself that you were bored! Well, so am I! And I'm not taking no for an answer!"

"So…what? I don't get a say in this?"

"Nope. And you don't get to hide in your shell tonight, either. I want to meet the real Tifa Lockhart!"

Tifa sighed in defeat and downed the remainder of her drink. The main plan had wrecked, and the backup plan was running wild. But she had to wonder, just how bad would a night out with Aeris be?

According to the flyers posted everywhere in Event Square, there was a play of some kind happening, and two lucky patrons could net the chance to play the leading roles. Of course, this was where Aeris wanted to go first and, of course, was frothing at the mouth to win. Tifa crossed her fingers and prayed that some other set of schmucks would "win" before they got there. It was embarrassing enough walking around with another woman hanging off her like a love-starved twit, despite the warm fuzzy feelings it generated – or maybe it had been from the alcohol – but acting in front of people was asking too much.

Aeris giggled. "Aw, someone's got stage fright," she cooed.

"This is stage fright's bigger, older cousin," Tifa said. "I'd rather be somewhere a lot of people aren't going to be."

"You're so cute when you're scared." The hug Aeris had on Tifa's arm increased in pressure, almost pinching off the blood flow, and the grin she wore was incredibly cheeky. It was the kind of grin that Marlene, and even adorably annoying Yuffie, wore to deflect anger when they had knowingly done something naughty. So, what was Aeris doing that she knew she shouldn't? "Actually, I take that back. You're cute all of the time."

Tifa's cheeks stung like she had been clocked in the face with a scalding hot frying pan. Had Aeris just…? Had she just been hit on? Maybe the booze had warped her sense of reality. She couldn't be sure. She tried to ignore it and soldier on, but a part of her deep inside reveled in the perceived attention. "I'm not scared, and I'm far from cute. Average, maybe. I think even that's pushing it."

Aeris laughed. It was a beautiful sound, reminiscent of a lovely piano melody and certainly much more pleasant to the ears than that accursed evil villain-like giggling she had cackled out not even a minute earlier. "Well, someone's modest! But that's okay. A little modesty never hurt anyone."

Tifa silently sighed in frustration. She hated being the topic of a conversation, especially when looks and level of attractiveness were involved. What did it matter? Life wasn't a competition and, if it was, she sure as hell didn't want to compete. It held no candle to her flame. But then, why did Aeris intimidate her? And speaking of, Aeris seemed especially fixated on and was quite vocal about appearances so far tonight. Tifa's cheeks had never been so blazing hot for such a lengthy amount of time.

Aeris continued, "Honestly, I was never really a fan of excessive bravado. I mean, it's cute at first, but it gets old so fast." She made eye contact with Tifa from her shoulder. "You know what I really find attractive? Strength, empathy, humility. Shyness is an adorable bonus! What about you?"

Tifa shrugged. She had never really thought about it. Vincent was cute in a mysterious, vampire sort of way, but she liked her blood in her veins, thank-you-very-much. And that metallic claw for a hand always gave her an empathy shudder. Not to mention he was emotionally distant, practically as dead as he looked.

As for Cloud… Strong, hard muscles everywhere they were supposed to be. Beautiful blue eyes to get lost in. But physicality just wasn't enough. He drove her nuts to the point of punching him in frustration more often than not. His arrogance rivaled that of Barret's. His constant random switching between a wisecracking, irrelevant airhead and a cold, indifferent asshole did not help either. If anything, she had latched on to him because of- "Familiarity," she said softly.

The expression that Aeris wore said what Tifa didn't have to hear; she wasn't wholly convinced with that answer. The skepticism couldn't be blamed as Tifa wasn't all that convinced herself. Regardless, Cloud was her friend, a tie to her childhood, despite how often he aggravated her. Unless he started drowning puppies and small children for fun that was unlikely to change. But… What she knew she wanted in love were niches that Cloud would never and could never fill without some serious personality reconstruction.

"Actually, forget that," she said after a moment's silence. "I want someone who'll pick me up when I fall, when I'm doubting life, and say to me, 'It's alright, Tifa. Don't be scared. I'm here for you.' I want someone who'll bring me flowers, hug me, and see me for who I am beyond a pair of boobs. …Stupid things." She tried to punch her own chest but was stopped by a single slender hand, a touch that once again filled her with warmth. They had stopped walking at this point and were now facing each other, despite a lack of eye contact.

"Don't insult yourself like that," Aeris said with more softness than sternness. "It's beneath you."

"I wasn't insulting myself," Tifa said lamely before poking one of her breasts with her free hand. "I was insulting these. They're big, stupid, and always in the way."

A second hand joined the first on Tifa's fist. "They're still a part of who you are; big because they have to fit over your big, selfless heart," Aeris said with a smile, finally making eye contact. "And no part of you is stupid or ever in the way. At least, that's what I think." After a moment of searching in her travel bag, she produced a single stem housing multiple small flowers arranged in the shape of a tapered rod; each flower a deep and vibrant red. She placed it in Tifa's hair, just above her ear, and secured it with a hairpin matching the dark color of her hair.

Tifa tried looking at it from the corner of her eye, but could only see a small smudge of crimson. She could smell it plain as day, and its sweetness briefly triggered a memory of a perfume her mother used to wear. It was a smell she'd never forget and would always cherish. "Snapdragon," she said with a smile tugging at the corners of her lips.

Aeris beamed brightly at her handiwork before meeting Tifa's gaze. "It's a symbol of beauty and strength," she said as she reached up and cupped Tifa's cheek with a hand, her thumb gently massaging where it rested. "One quite fitting for you. You just… You just need to learn to see it for yourself. But I guess it's hard for someone to see how beautiful they are when they're too graciously focused on the wellbeing of others."

Tifa could only stare into Aeris' eyes and twinkling smile. Was that how she saw her? As a beautiful person? As a selfless person? Did anyone else see her that way, too? Granted, that was how she tried to be, but if anything, she had always thought of herself as quite the opposite, a failure in that regard; selfish. She diverted her face when shame suddenly reared its ugly head.

As if sensing her mild distress, Aeris took her into a hug. It was warm, comforting, and distilled a sense of safety, like laying in a field of flowers in a meadow under the sun. No hug Tifa had ever experienced before felt quite like this. It enveloped her and washed her clean of worries, like a summer storm in the night. "There's nothing wrong with that, of course," Aeris whispered. "But sometimes you need to focus on you, on what you want in life, and ignore the rest of the noisy rabble. And I want you to know that if you ever need a shoulder, I'll be here for you. So, don't ever be scared, okay?"

Tifa nodded in response despite knowing that Aeris couldn't see it. Up to this point, she had seen this woman through a cloud of domineering cuteness and had thought of her as some kind of… Well, she didn't know, but it had certainly been enough to push her away. Now she regretted not seeing her for who she really was. In fact, based on the where this conversation was heading, Aeris was the first person besides Barret to be concerned for her personal well-being, something her supposed best friend Cloud was guilty of forgetting about entirely. Aeris had always been the first to offer first-aid in fights, always the first to offer magical backup, always the first to let Tifa have the distance she needed when she needed it, and the first besides her father to give her a flower. Why was she just now realizing this?

"I'm sorry," she blurted out.

Aeris broke the embrace and, again, showered her with that intoxicating smile and warmed her cheek with a hand. "What are you apologizing for?"

Tifa muttered, "All this time, you've seen me as a friend, and I've been…less than a good one."

Aeris stared for longer than what would normally be a reasonable amount of time, soothing the hair around Tifa's ear, each touch adding to the buildup of hazy warmth. With a soft chuckle, she finally said, "Says the daisy who's saved me from monsters and Shrina on more than one occasion. I won't lie, you're a much better bodyguard than Cloud and certainly much more pleasing to the eye." She winked, sending a cold shiver up and down Tifa's spine. "And if I had known that alcohol made you come out of your shell, I'd have gotten you drunk sooner!"

Tifa turned away to hide her red cheeks, a fleeting gesture since they had been burning since the very beginning of this outing. Aeris was flirting with her. Granted, Aeris flirted with everyone; that was just how she was. But what she couldn't shake was the notion that Aeris was flirting with her. Did Aeris prefer the company of women? And if so, did Aeris prefer Tifa's company over anyone else? Or was this Tifa's loneliness, desperation for attention, lack of social understandings, and blood-alcohol level wrapped into one big misunderstanding burrito? Regardless of the reasoning, it made things uncomfortably warm and slightly confusing.

She nearly had a heart attack when Aeris took her by the hand and said, "Come on, bodyguard! Let's get in line, or we'll miss the play entirely!"

So, they did. Tifa spent the entire wait time focusing on strange things she had never noticed before. Aeris had multiple ribbons in her auburn hair that, not only held her long, graceful ponytail in place but a glimmering white materia that added warmth to her aura. She had high rosy cheekbones that complimented her slightly upturned button nose and thin, heart-shaped lips. She wore no make-up or, if she did, it was too little to detect. Everything about her appearance was pleasant to look at. She even smelled like a bouquet of flowers.

Aeris was a natural beauty. It was easy to see why men and women alike were always so eager for her attention. Strangely, Tifa couldn't stop herself from falling into that trap. She couldn't stop staring and, every once in a while, Aeris would grace her with a smile from the corner of her eye. It was a look that filled her with… Well, she didn't know what it was, but it was akin to glee or giddiness or both. It made her heart stop and beat faster at the same time. This was metaphorical of course as, realistically, such a contradiction could never occur. It was just as confusing as the thought of Aeris being her ideal woman, an idea she couldn't believe that she was even excitedly toying with.

"Is it just me or is it warm out tonight?" Aeris said from behind a self-fanning motion.

That was when Tifa noticed several top buttons of Aeris' dress had mysteriously become unbuttoned at some point, allowing an ample amount of her cleavage exposure to the outside world. "It is a bit warm out, yeah," she managed to stammer out. The problem though was that she couldn't tell if the weather was genuinely muggy, if it was the combined body heat of the crowd, or if the situation was making it so. Why would Aeris do something like that? And now that she had seen it, why did it keep drawing her eye? Why did she now know just how much Aeris loved the color pink? Why did knowing that make her head swim upriver in a torrent of confusing emotions?

It hadn't been long before they entered the auditorium and, much to Aeris' disappointment and Tifa's joy, discovered they had missed the grand prize. Surprisingly, Aeris just shrugged and, hand in hand, led Tifa to a dark corner at the back of the seating area. From their faraway vantage point, the stage was small and a struggle to hear, but they were away from the crowds, and that was all that mattered. At first, she had assumed that Aeris had chosen this spot with her dislike of crowds in mind.

The play began with its simple premise of a princess in distress and the knightly hero who would save her. Tifa knew this story; Alfred and the Dragon Who Despised Love, one that she had read over and over as a child. The green-haired woman playing the normally male lead, which had been an odd casting choice, clearly had no acting talent to speak of. It soon became apparent that she knew the story by heart and soldiered on regardless. It was endearing as it was entertaining and cringe-worthy.

Not long after the Legendary Hero had been tasked with her quest to save the buxom blonde princess, Aeris buried herself into Tifa's side, head leaning on her own, hands resting on her thigh, bare legs touching below the knees. The act forced the surprised Tifa to rest her arm on Aeris' shoulders, lest it be crushed. It dawned on her that this was why they were so far removed from the action on the stage. This wasn't a date in which two friends were out on a night on the town. This was the type of date that usually ended with a kiss and/or coffee's other implied definition.

Tifa lost track of the events of the play and could only focus on what was happening immediately around her. Every sigh of content. Every nuzzle. Every brush and teasing feathery touch of Aeris' hands. The smell of her hair. The warm, comforting weight on her shoulder. Her head went numb, forcing her body to overcompensate and amplify every single amazing touch. Aeris wasn't even looking at her; her focus was on the play happening at the front of the room. It didn't even appear that she was aware that what she was doing was making Tifa melt like butter.

Was she falling for Aeris? Was the alcohol making her do so? Or was her cold loneliness latching on to the first warm spot that it had come across?

Aeris' pink lips soon dominated her gaze and her desires, both growing in intensity. She wanted – no, needed to know what they felt like. But instead of giving in, she focused on getting her hand lost in the silkiness and smoothness of her hair. It felt like a safer alternative just in case the situation wasn't what she thought it to be.

Aeris stiffened briefly with her touch as if it had been unexpected. She slowly turned her gaze, lascivious in nature, towards Tifa and whispered, "I see someone's coming out of her shell." A moment of silence passed. "…I like it."

Tifa was elated, but being out of her element and her fear of the unknown kept her silent. She was afraid that if she spoke, she'd make herself look foolish. She was also afraid that her sudden desire to kiss Aeris would be found out, so she held a steady gaze with the eyes opposite hers. This close and in the dim light, they were a beautiful shade of green, the same beautiful color of materia and full of just as much powerful magic. If she died staring into those eyes, she'd die happy. She'd be even happier if she could give in to her desires for once.

The end of the play came and went before Tifa even realized it. Aeris had them out the door and speeding along the footpath, away from crowds, within moments and with intent. It was as if Aeris was purposefully leading them to an area that had little lighting. Why would she do that?

Dread and excitement littered the atmosphere as did the immediate sounds of silence. Tifa's swollen, ready-to-burst heart had made itself at home in her throat while her stomach had decided that a total rearrangement was in order. If she hadn't been dragged along by the hand, her legs would have collapsed on her. She wanted to say something about the oddity of Aeris' sudden change in behavior, but couldn't. It was hard to speak with a vital organ metaphorically in one's throat.

They aimlessly, yet studiously, wandered the lesser traveled backend of Gold Saucer. Only when they were finally and truly alone did their pace slow and the silence shatter. "Aeris," Tifa choked out, "where are we going?"

That sly grin was back and shining brighter than ever. "The only place we can go for alone time after a romantic show," Aeris said. She raised her hand to an unlit sign above a nearby lit rundown shack. "A romantic gondola ride!" Sure enough, as soon as the words had left her lips creaky pulleys brought attention to the empty gondola coming to a stop nearby.

Romantic show? Romantic gondola ride? Alone time? As Aeris procured tickets, Tifa absent-mindedly touched at the flower in her hair and stared ahead with a mix of awe and horror. There was no mistaking it now.

"I want you to know that I'll be here for you anytime. So, don't be scared, okay?"

Nobody had ever offered themselves to her like that before, not even any of the friends she had collected and lost over the years. Exception lied with Master Zangan, but even then, his offer had purely been one of master to student. Yes, Cloud had promised to save her if she were ever in trouble and needed a hero, but that didn't count either; they had been dumb kids and, besides, she had practically forced him to make that promise. Aeris' offer was different. It had been a genuine thing from the heart that made her tingle on the inside.

The ride operator winked at them and said, "Look out for the fireworks while you're up there, ladies." She sighed with an over-exaggerated swoon. "That's when the real magic happens here in the Gold Saucer!"

Tifa could only imagine what the Gold Saucer considered as real magic. Surely, it wasn't the energy that manifested from materia. And there was no way in hell that it could be an atmosphere that could influence two people to fall in love. This place was too loud, full of people, and…tacky.

Tifa grumbled to herself, Says the dumbass falling for Aeris regardless.

Aeris' eyes sparkled with excitement as she clapped her hands. "Oooh!" she cooed. "I can hardly wait! Let's go, Tifa!"

Not wanting her arm ripped from its socket, Tifa followed Aeris into the gondola. Before tonight, she would have expected Aeris to sit on the bench opposite her and dance sitting like she had ants in her panties. But on this night, the dynamic between them had changed. She was now expecting the opposite and Aeris delivered that expectation. They were sitting so close together that, in a surprise twist, she had to stifle a moan every time Aeris' dancing hips and shoulders brushed up against her own, creating pleasurable friction.

To remain focused, Tifa asked, "Have you ever been on a gondola before?"

Aeris shook her head. "Nope! Have you?"

The closest thing had been Barret's Wild Wire Ride out of Sector Seven; something Tifa never wanted to repeat.

A warm whisper tickled her ear, and a hand warmed her leg. "Well, if it's not fun, we'll just have to make it fun, won't we?" At any other time, Tifa would have taken that statement at face value. With everything that had been said and done tonight - the hidden meanings and double entendres – she could now tell just what the underlying message was. She froze, but not before taking Aeris' hand in her own and squeezing it. It was the only way she could pass along a message before she burst into a million pieces.

The trolley lurched forward as the cables and pulleys guided it along the track. Before long, they were soaring high above the Round Square and even the Gold Saucer itself, but neither of them was paying it any mind. The fireworks they had been warned about soon filled the darkened sky and the inside of the gondola with explosions of color, each burst more beautiful than the last. From this high up, they could have had the best seats in the house, if either of them had bothered to pay attention to the show for more than a quick glance. Tifa couldn't stop staring into Aeris' eyes, her new safe-haven. Why Aeris was staring her, she didn't know, but she could take an excited guess.

"I think they're lighting off fireworks," Tifa murmured. She grinned with nervousness and suddenly felt the need to rub the back of her neck. "We should probably take a look before it stops."

Aeris returned the smile and whispered, "I don't need to. I've got the best view on the Planet."

At first, Tifa thought she had misheard or perhaps that Aeris had misspoken, but there was no denying that look. That comment had been meant for her. She tried to ignore it, but it set her cheeks ablaze regardless.

Aeris continued, "The way you walk, the brightness of your smile, the fire in your eyes, the music your laughter makes…" Tifa couldn't help but lean into the hand that lovingly cradled her. "From the moment I met you, in a Sector Six sex dungeon of all places, I knew that the Planet had taken great care to sculpt someone as beautiful as you."

They were now close enough that their lips were practically touching. Tifa's heart raced. Her hands trembled. Her stomach decided that it wanted to practice its gymnastics. Was this even happening? Was it a dream? Had she drunk too much? Had she hit her head at some point? Been abducted by space aliens? She would never have guessed that Aeris swung in this direction, let alone had a thing for her. She wanted to rebuke her for calling her beautiful again, but words failed her. All she could mutter was, "Aeris…"

"Actually, the Planet's envious of just how beautiful you are."

"It is…?"

A faint noise of confirmation. "So am I."

And then it happened like a sudden unexpected explosion, initially leading Tifa to believe that a bottle rocket had flown in through the window and that Aeris had shielded her from the blast. But that hadn't been the case.

Aeris had kissed her. Her soft lips felt like silk. The hand tangled in her hair kept her steady. The hand squeezing her thigh sent shivers down her back. In the span of a metaphorical second, the open-air gondola had gone from chilly to sweatingly hot. It probably hadn't helped that a fire had broken out in the vicinity of Tifa's all over, numbing her with sensory overload and nearly causing hyperventilation.

Tifa became lost in the flood of kisses, each one accented by the sound of exploding fireworks. The sensation of falling became overwhelming, so much so that she threw her arms around Aeris to keep herself upright. In the heat of the moment, the attempt failed, and they both fell from grace, tumbling to the floor in a mess of loose hair. As she caught her breath, she stared down at the splayed form beneath her and basked in the innocence and loveliness that radiated forth. In the heat of the moment, the emotions shining in those verdant eyes showed her the meaning of what was in her heart or, rather, what was bursting out of it. "Are you okay?" was said by both in a harmony of soprano and contralto which then led to giggling, a tightened embrace, and loving nuzzling.

Her first kiss had been lost to another girl. And she liked it.

Cloud walked the Ghost Hotel hallways with a sigh and a heavy heart. He wasn't looking forward to giving Aeris and Barret the bad news about what Cait Sith had done with Elmyra and Marlene. He had considered not telling them anything, Barret especially with his predictable shoot-everyone-dead-first response. Yuffie, of all people, had argued against it.

"Don't be such a dick. Jesus," she had said, "if Tifa'd got herself kidnapped, they'd tell your stupid sexy spikey ass. And then you'd go all macho and play hero or something."

She was right, of course. Except for the 'sexy'; he was still trying to figure out what the hell she had meant by that. And he especially didn't want to relive having a handful of shuriken thrown at him. Barret could wait until the morning. He was already snoring like a freight train and, as much as Cloud wanted to tell him now, it was better to wait until the rest of group was with him to help in restraining the big guy. Tifa, especially, had a way of getting under his skin and backing him down quickly.

Aeris on the other hand…

Cloud rounded the corner and immediately took a step back to hide himself from view. Had he just seen Aeris and Tifa holding hands outside Aeris' room? He slowly, and as inconspicuously as a man with golden traffic cones for hair could, peeked around like a little kid watching something he knew he shouldn't.

Tifa was acting shy, head down, hands behind her back, one boot with its toes buried in the floor. Typical of Tifa with new people, which was odd as they'd known Aeris for a few months now. Aeris, on the other hand, was red-faced and wore a strange look that Cloud had never seen on her before, but immediately recognized. The chatterbox in pink was at a loss for words. What the hell happened between the two of them? And since when did Tifa not spend her free time alone?

"I had fun tonight, Tifa," Aeris said. "Thanks for coming with me."

Tifa rubbed the back of her neck and mumbled, "I had fun, too. And… If anyone should be thanking anyone it should be me."

If taken just at their words, it would have seemed that they had spent the night roaming the Gold Saucer in the company of one another. This was a good sign and one less thing about Tifa he had to worry about. Ever since Nibelheim a few weeks ago, her introversion had taken a turn for the worse, to the point that he had given up trying to break through it.

Cloud was silly, but he wasn't stupid. More happened between those two than just a night on the town. The heavy, awkward silence spoke of it in volumes, like a loud-mouthed Shinra executive at the Honey Bee Inn. He considered interrupting and saving them the embarrassment but weighed up that whatever happened needed to be discussed.

Also, he was curious as all hell. He'd never seen either of them act like this before.

Finally, after several tense moments, Tifa shattered the silence like a broken bottle in a bar fight. "Aeris," she said, "I know this is probably a silly question, but… Where do we go from here? You- You and me, I mean." When she stumbled over her words, a sympathetic frown came into being. He'd never heard her stutter like that. It brought back memories of what he'd sounded like trying to talk to her as a kid. Er, well, him trying to talk to anyone, actually.

Aeris laughed a nervous laugh that did nothing to relieve the tension in the air. "I have a confession to make," she said slowly. "I was kind of hoping that you'd tell me. I've never…dated another woman before. At least, not one I liked."

The tethers holding Cloud's eyebrows to his jaw snapped, allowing said brows to soar sky high and said jaw to fall to the depths below. Aeris…and Tifa? He couldn't believe what he had just heard. When in the hell did this happen? In fact, from the tenseness of Tifa's body language and what little he could see of her face, she was just as surprised as him.

Aeris closed the gap between them with a smile and took Tifa's hands in hers. "I'd like to give it a try if you would," she said before kissing Tifa's knuckles with a gentleness that only Aeris could do.

Tifa loosened and sluggishly nodded. "I'd like that, too," she said with a slight slur.

Cloud pulled himself back around the corner, the guilt of spying on his two friends during their intimate moment becoming too much to bear. He needed to leave, but couldn't at the same time. He flattened against the wall and focused on keeping his breathing steady. He couldn't believe that this was even happening.

"Well, I guess this means that my bodyguard is going to have to share a room with me from now on."


He was Aeris' bodyguard. When had Tifa taken over that role? Said a small voice in his head, The moment you became focused solely on Sephiroth, you retard.

"Really," Aeris said. "You never know. Someone might try to attack me in the dead of night."

Tifa giggled. "Well, I guess I'll have to kick their asses then."

Cloud decided against breaking the bad news to Aeris tonight. Everyone deserved a happy memory unspoiled by the selfishness of lesser people. He'd bear that weight, alone, until the morning. He'd tell her then. It was the least he could do for her breaking though his best friend's defensive shell. But…

"I guess you will. And then I guess I'll have to reward you with a kiss afterwards."

"I think… I think I'd like that." The door clicked shut and, afterward, the sounds of silence ran rampant in the hallway like a group of rambunctious children. It was easy to guess that Tifa and Aeris were no longer in the hallway.

Cloud sighed and, letting his shoulders slump, made the trek back to his room. He was happy for the both of them, truly he was. But there was this dark nagging feeling in the back of his mind that he couldn't shake, a tiny, scared voice crying out in anguish and despair. Everyone deserved someone special to hold, but he couldn't help realizing that he may have missed the chance to grab ahold of his.

More stories in the Alternate Scenes FFVII Universe:
Arguments in an Elevator (An Alternate Scene in Storming the Shinra Building)
Interrupted by Fireworks (An Alternate Scene in Dating at the Gold Saucer)