"Are you sure it's not too low cut?" Aeris questioned, anxiously.
Tifa sighed and rolled her eyes in exasperation as she tied the straps to her friend's backless halter-top. This argument had been on going since they'd bought the top from one of Costa Del Sol's street vendors earlier that day. The flower girl stood there, being anything but still. She'd tied the same strap around about ten times because of her endless fidgeting and Tifa was about at the end of her rope.
"For the fiftieth time, NO!" She said, finality in her voice, "You look great!"
"But..." Aeris replied with a little frustrated grunt, her voice dipping into a low whisper, "You can see everything..."
Tifa tilted back her head and made a sound somewhere between a grunt and a sigh, "That's kind of the point, 'Ris."
Aeris turned and scowled at her, a funny little pout on her face. She looked like a baby with severe gas and Tifa laughed at her. It didn't improve the flower girl's mood and she glared at her friend darkly. Tifa smiled and wiggled her eyebrows as she finished tying the halter's straps.
"You look GORGOUS."
Aeris half smiled, half grimaced and stuck her tongue out before turning back to examine herself in the mirror. The childishness of the gesture added to that strange aura of innocence that seemed to be the natural core of the flower girl's personality. Tifa had at first wondered how much of that innocence was real, if it was a put on. Getting to know Aeris over the last few weeks, she realized it was most certainly not a put on. The girl was really that naive and sometimes it was hard for her to remember that Aeris was two years older than her. She wondered how Aeris escaped Midgar unspoiled, how had she evaded the inevitable pitfalls of life underneath that sinful city? From the moment Tifa had set foot in Midgar she knew it for what it was. It was a soul sucking miasma, draining all who entered it of their love and emotion. Leaving behind lifeless husks. It tainted people; knowing this, it had even affected her somewhat. Hardening her heart even more than the scars of her past had. Yet here Aeris was, living her whole life in that city, seemingly untouched, untainted. Inexplicably sweet and gentle, so sheltered that the thought of exposing a little skin set her to blushing bright crimson.
Yuffie ducked in at that precise moment, her eyes bugging out when she saw Aeris. "HOLY SHIT! AERIS?!! ZAT YOU?"
The flower girl spun around, a look of worry plastered on her delicate features, "I TOLD YOU IT WAS TOO LOW CUT!!"
Tifa's lips tightened into a thin line and she shot Yuffie a nasty look before replying, "It is NOT! You look beautiful."
Aeris opened her mouth to object but Yuffie cut her off, "Oh, quit bein' such a prude! You look hot...with two T's and a silent Q." She said it with a grin, and the flower girl gave her a look of annoyed befuddlement. She shrugged, leaving Aeris to unravel the meaning behind her comment on her own before turning to Tifa. "Hey, Teef..Got any hair gel I can borrow? Spike's all out..."
"No. Alls I got is mousse."
Tifa thought to make her ask for the magic word, but she didn't feel like playing mind games with the young ninja at the moment. She grabbed the mousse off the dresser and tossed it at her. Yuffie caught it one handed, twirling it with a flourish to demonstrate her skill.
"Thanks, blizzitch!" she said, with a wink and a nod.
Tifa shook her head and gave her an oh-god-three-sixty as the young ninja hopped out of the room. She watched Yuffie head towards the closed bathroom door, still very obviously half dressed. The young girl had her battle worn shorts on, still smudged and torn from travel but she'd changed into the shirt she'd bought earlier today. It was a brightly patterned short-sleeved peasant shirt that fit the girl's youthful character without being overly revealing. With the fuss Aeris had made, Tifa was glad she wouldn't have to argue with Yuffie over what to wear. Tifa hadn't even began to get ready beyond the initial shower she took in-between the times when Barrett was hogging it. Aeris was still staring at herself in the mirror, moving back and forth as if considering the possibilities of her new look. The frown of worry was gone, she noted, replaced by a slight smile of appreciation. Tifa grinned, as the flower girl seemed to come to some kind of positive decision and began to brush her hair. Satisfied that the halter-top situation was resolved, Tifa decided to get herself ready. FINALLY.
Yuffie had left their bedroom door wide open and she padded over to close it. Her hand still on the door, she paused as she heard a commotion from across the way. Coming from the general vicinity of the bathroom. Across the hall, brand new drama was unfolding as a potential bathroom related fracas brewed. Tifa lifted her eyebrows and craned her neck, taking a moment to watch as Yuffie banged on the bathroom door. Thumping the hard wood with her tiny, balled fist. Tifa sniggered when the little ninja pulled her hand back and shook it. The door having bested her, she fell back on her old standby. Shouting very loudly. Tifa clamped a hand over her mouth to prevent herself from laughing and revealing her amusement at the girl's predicament. The last thing she heard before shutting the door was Yuffie's high voice hollering with her usual tact.
"OPEN THE DOOR, YA OLD BASTARD! OTHER PEOPLE GOTTA USE THE BATHROOM TOO!!"
Shaking her head and wiping away a few laughter related tears, Tifa turned her back on the closed door, still chuckling. Aeris had apparently ignored the harsh shouts from outside the room Finally she had stopped merely admiring and had accepted, graduating to putting on her makeup. The location was less than ideal. The old-fashioned stand up mirror in their bedroom was unstable and the light in the room was bad. Especially for putting on makeup but there was little choice in the matter, seeing as how the bathroom drama was continuing unabated from the noise that could be heard from outside.
She stared at the door for a moment before turning to Aeris, who was still oblivious to all around her. So wrapped up in her own fastidious routine that she hardly paid any attention to the loud shouts and banging that could be heard just outside their door. Again, she wondered where this girl came from and why in the world she'd come on such a journey. She was delicate and frail, a girly-girl. All makeup and neatly trimmed nails, hardly the type for an arduous cross-country adventure that called for living out in the wild, half the time roughing it. But here she was. Tifa shook her head and turned away. Aeris was too involved with her makeup rituals to notice anything else. Something Tifa was glad of. She was by no means ashamed of her body and she was used to undressing in front of other girls. Having spent the better part of her youth in an all girls' school. But there were things now that she wanted no one too see, that she'd taken care to make sure no one would see. Carefully, she stripped off her worn cotton wife beater and reached into the bag that held her new clothes.
Indeed, Aeris didn't notice at first but the mirror's reflection caught what she didn't. It saw what Tifa sought to hide. Aeris had wondered why Tifa had insisted she buy such a revealing shirt, while she herself had bough a rather conservative top that nearly reached her neck. Now she could see why. As the brunette fighter bent down, her hair parted to reveal an ugly scar that traveled down her back. It was long, thin and very pale in comparison with the rest of her skin, the exact size and shape of the thin blade of a Wutanese katana--if that katana had been plunged through her back and dragged...Aeris paused, the image was too much for her and she stifled a sob. Tifa sensed her attention and turned slightly, clipping on her bra as fast as humanly possible. Pulling on her shirt even faster.
Aeris had stopped all activity, her makeup brush frozen in mid-air, "Is that from...?"
"Yes." Tifa replied, her voice tersely quiet, indicating clearly to the flower girl that she DID NOT want to talk about it.
Aeris respected her wishes, hoping that someday Tifa would trust her enough to open up. But for now, she let it drop. "I'm sorry..."
"Don't be..." the fighter answered, just barely keeping tears at bay and it was only by sheer force of will that she didn't break down. Breathlessly, she shook her head and spoke, "Can I borrow your brush? Yuffie stole mine..."
"Sure. Yeah." Aeris said, her voice very soft as she held out her hair brush.
Tifa took it, shrugging off the uncomfortable silence with a smile that told Aeris that there was no harm done. She returned it with one of her own. The flower girl went back to her makeup and Tifa turned to the busy work of dressing herself. She'd bought a rather simple dark blue tank top, with little rhinestones encrusted on it...reminding her of the night sky. It was cut so that it showed off her well-toned stomach, rather than her ample bosom. To go with it, she bought a short jean skirt that hugged her hips; a small gold chain for a belt completed the overall effect of the outfit. At least, that's the way she felt about it. The final touch were a pair of fuck-me pumps. Which was her playful way of referring to a pair of strappy high heels that drew attention to her legs. She just got done tying one shoe when Yuffie burst in and flopped on the bed, still half dressed.
Aeris and Tifa exchanged knowing looks. The flower girl mouthed, "Should I ask?" Tifa shook her head, holding her hands up indicating she didn't really want to know.
Aeris did, tilting her head with a sympathetic smile, she asked, "Barrett still in the bathroom?"
"Yes." she replied, tonelessly. Her voice muffled by a pillow, "That must be some monster crap he's taking...It's been--like--four hours already. You two done yet?"
"Almost." Aeris replied, too chipperly and very obviously trying not to laugh as she tried to nonchalantly apply her mascara without smudging it.
Yuffie turned to Tifa, looking up from the pillow as she asked, "What about you?"
Tifa paused, glowering at the young ninja with the bored annoyance of an older sister. Yuffie was still very young and apparently nervous about dressing in the same room with two older women. She couldn't figure out the motivation for such embarrassed squeamishness and she didn't care. It was annoying and pointless.
"OH! For crying out loud! Just change in here!" She snapped, a bemused smile on her face to let the girl know she wasn't seriously angry.
"But I gots to do my hair...and your mirror sucks ass."
Aeris walked around the bed, mussing the young girl's hair, "Excuses, excuses. Use the mirror, I'll be right back."
"Where you goin'?"
"To liberate the bathroom."
Aeris left and the only two people in the room were Tifa and Yuffie. The flower girl's words were true. Yuffie would use the mirror and the bedroom but only if everyone else was gone, leaving her alone. The ninja stared at Tifa's back and slowly she turned her head to meet her gaze.
"You gonna leave?"
With a loud sigh, Tifa braced her arms against the bed and rose with a huff. She walked towards the door, stopping to glance at the younger girl, her hand still on the knob.
"I've memorized everything that's in here...and if I find one thing missing, I swear to GOD I'll--"
"Yeah, yeah...tear my arms off and beat me to death with them. You threaten with the best.."
"Good. Just so we're on the same page then."
Tifa left the little ninja alone, deciding to help Aeris in the mighty battle for bathroom liberation. When she arrived, it seemed Aeris had things firmly in hand. The door was open and Aeris was in the bathroom, preparing to brush her teeth. Tifa padded over and gave the flower girl a questioning look.
"What did you do?"
Aeris shrugged, "I just asked him."
"Huh." Tifa paused, thinking a minute before asking, "What was he doing in here anyway?"
Aeris gave on of her patented mysterious smiles, which meant she wasn't going to answer. Moments later, it was revealed why. Barrett walked past the doorway, smelling like he'd poured a gallon and a half of aftershave on. Tifa gapped in open surprise at what he was wearing. She had no idea where he'd gotten it, how or even why. It was a full formal naval uniform. Complete with decorate epaulettes. It was almost worse than the sailor suit he'd worn on the trip over here. Almost. Tifa could only guess that he'd been in the bathroom all this time preening and the thought disturbed her, mostly because she knew the man to be gruff, hardly the type to pay much attention to physical appearance. He entered the boy's room, exiting moments later with cap in hand. Tifa smacked a hand to her forehead for her curiosity, but she had to know. As he sauntered past the bathroom, she stopped him with a hand.
"Barrett, what's with the get up?"
He smiled broadly, "Got a hot date!"
Tifa's eyebrow's lifted in surprise. Okay, that was a good sign; despite the trauma the uniform caused her, "Yes. That doesn't explain this.." She said, her hand waving up and down to indicate his outfit.
"Women like a man in uniform." He replied with another grin before waltzing away on cloud nine.
She couldn't help but be happy for him, not like he'd had the best luck with women. But still...the doorbell rang and Tifa could only assume that was his date. She smiled softly and whispered to herself, "You go on with your bad self, Barrett." Tifa turned her attention back to Aeris, who was still going at her teeth. It was amazing, but somehow she made even spitting out toothpaste graceful and refined. The thought amused her but she kept her peace. The flower girl looked up, and wiped her face off, gazing into the mirror again. She pulled off one a rubber band she'd secured on her wrist and began to pull her long hair into its familiar ponytail.
"Oh, no you don't!"
"What? I can't leave it down...it tickles my back."
"Fine. But let's do something a little more...elegant...than a ponytail."
"But I like my ponytail."
"Yes, but this is girl's night out."
"Meaning we aren't gonna play by the rules of the man. And the man wants you to wear a ponytail..." Tifa said, nodding her head as if to emphasize her point.
Aeris turned to stare at her, humored and confused at the same time, "What?!"
"I mean, you're young...unattached...and fricking HOT! Ponytails are for little girls...It's girl's night out...anything goes."
"Well if it's GIRL'S night out. Then a ponytail would be..."
"You talk too much, talking cat. Shut up and give me the brush."
Aeris obliged her friend and handed her the brush and her hair band, "....and the talking cat would be Red. Not me."
Red's voice rang out to them from the living room of the rented villa, "I'm not a cat!"
"He could hear that?" Aeris said, surprised.
Both girls burst into a small bout of hushed laughter, which no doubt Red could hear. All the same, they tried to keep themselves from giggling outright. Not wanting to offend their friend. Once they got themselves under control, Tifa set about brushing and arranging Aeris's hair into a bun that was perched slightly to one side of her head. The flower girl gazed at her reflection in the mirror. She smiled, setting down the toilet's cover so that she could sit and keep her friend company while she finished getting ready. They chitchatted while Tifa put on her makeup and flat ironed her hair. Aeris teased her about not doing much of anything different to her hair. But Tifa pointed out quickly that she too usually wore it in a ponytail and leaving it long like this was a change from the norm. Minutes later Yuffie appeared, fully dressed and ready to go.
"ALL MY BITCHES READY TO ROCK?!" She shouted, giving them rock sign with both hands and sticking out her tongue between her teeth.
"Yer funny. You'll be even funnier when I crack you in the head with a pipe." Tifa lifted an eyebrow, enunciating the last word very slowly.
Yuffie narrowed her eyes, turning away from Tifa to glare at Aeris. Doing a passable impression of an imperiously disinterested robot, she spoke to the giggling flower girl, "Your friend is a nerd. On the moon, nerds have their pants pulled down and are spanked with moon rocks."
Tifa had to give that one to her. "Good one. Everyone ready?"
The question was rhetorical and two girls exited the bathroom and got halfway to the living room before noticing their third party member was not with them. Tifa and Yuffie shared a look, each staring at each other hard to determine who would bite the bullet and drag Aeris out. Yuffie won. With a deep sigh, Tifa trudged back to the bathroom where Aeris stood, her hands clasped tightly together with a look of terror on her face.
"I can't go out."
"I have to change..."
Tifa rubbed her forehead and winced, "Oh god....No, no you don't..."
And they argued. Aeris gave forty different reasons why she needed to change. It was pointed out that all she had to wear was the one dress she'd brought from Midgar, and that was in the wash with the rest of the clothes. She suggested going and buying a different top, some shops were still open. Tifa nixed this as well. They were taking too long, as evidenced by Yuffie stomping over and joining the fray. Both girls pleaded with Aeris and when she wouldn't budge, they grabbed her by the arms and forcibly removed the flower girl from the bathroom, whining all the way.
As she stumbled into the living room, she wailed, "But I look like a hootchie!!" And the way she said it was so stilted and childlike that Tifa and Yuffie had no real choice but to burst into simultaneous laughter. The flower girl blushed a deep, dark crimson as Cloud took notice of the girls from his seat in the living room. He got up, sauntering over with a look of confusion.
"You all look...nice. What's the occasion?"
Tifa and Yuffie shot each other a look. They'd hoped to sneak out without his notice but Aeris's sudden outburst had alerted him.
It was Yuffie who spoke up first, which was a bad idea, considering her reputation, "No reason. I mean, does a girl really NEED a reason to get dolled up? I don't think so. I mean, you act like we're up to something. And we're not. We're just girls, being girls...doing girly things. Can't you just leave it at that? Must you continue to push and push..."
"Tifa?" Cloud asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Nice job, twit." Tifa hissed, smacking the ninja in the arm before turning to Cloud with a bright, conspiracy free smile, "We're having a girl's night out, you know...to blow off steam."
"Out?" He repeated, as if he didn't understand.
"Yes, out. It's that thing you do when you don't want to be in."
"I know what you mean. I meant, why?"
The room quieted and a dull mist of tension hung over the room. Cloud had been jumpy and stressed out since they'd gotten off the boat that morning. Albeit, he had reason but to Tifa the events of their oversea voyage was enough cause for a break. They hadn't seen eye to eye on the issue all day.
"I think you know..." She answered, crossing her arms as she dug in for a fight.
"Teef. We talked about this.."
"No. You talked. I listened and I've had it up to here with your bullshit. We've been at this non-stop for weeks, Cloud. Chasing that man from town to town without a moment's rest. Look at everyone. We need a break."
"Sephiroth's still out there he could..."
"Could what? Catch up on his tan? Fuck, Cloud. Don't be an ass. He's moved on, we're safe...Or are you worried we can't take care of ourselves?"
Cloud recognized the trap he'd fallen into and began to stammer dumbly. Inwardly, Tifa grinned because she knew that she'd gotten him. She loved him with all her heart and his concern was sweet but misplaced. And what really made her mad was that it wasn't her he doubted...wasn't her he was worried about. It's not like she didn't see the way he kept looking over at Aeris. The girl wouldn't break for god's sake!
"It's not that, Teef...it's just...I'd feel more comfortable if I went with."
This was too much for Yuffie to remain quiet, "Oh HELL no! Do you understand the concept of girl's night out? We girls." She said, pointing at herself and her companions, "You, boy." She pointed at Cloud, "We go. You stay. See how that works?"
Cloud scowled at her, "Ha, ha. Real funny. I'm serious."
"So am I, blondie." Yuffie said, stepping up to Cloud and drawing up to her full height. An unimpressive and highly non-threatening five foot two.
"I don't see why Cloud can't come with."
Tifa, Cloud and Yuffie all turned to stare gap mouthed at the flower girl. Cloud grinned, Tifa frowned and Yuffie immediately began to berate her. She pinched the bridge of her nose and gathering all the strength she could, she shouted.
"LET ME FINISH!" the sound was enough to startle everyone into silence, "As I was saying, I don't see why you can't come with. I mean, you're practically one of the girls after that incident at Don Corneo's."
It was said in her normal sweet, dulcet tone but a with a wicked grin that seemed completely out of character, but in Tifa's opinion was very welcome. His eyes widened and slowly Tifa's frown turned into a small smile. Yuffie looked confused and gazed at the three faces in front of her. They were hiding things from her again. She hated that.
"What incident?" no one answered her, and she pouted, "How come nobody ever tells me stuff?"
Meanwhile, Cloud had gone pale, his eyes were wide and staring as he gritted his teeth. The look on his face was meant to silence any further discussion, but Tifa wasn't about ready to stop. All the while, Yuffie rocked back and forth on her feet, whining about not knowing what was going on. Tifa ignored the young ninja, deciding to extend Aeris's little joke.
"You know, you're absolutely right. But you'll have to change because you're really not dressed for the occasion. I saw this cute little pink number down the street that is SO you!"
Aeris shook her head in agreement, her eyes sparkling with mischief, "It'd really bring out the blue in your eyes. We could just pop right over there and..."
Cloud quickly sputtered, hitching his voice deeper to sound more masculine, "N-n-o, no...I...have....things....."
Tifa smiled and patted him on the arm, "Well, you go do...things..."
Slowly the girls filtered out the door without a backward glance, leaving the stunned former SOLDIER alone to pout. He stood there with a scowl for a moment or two, staring at the door as if they'd reconsider and suddenly walk back in. The soft clicking of nails on hard wood jarred him out of his interior thoughts. He turned his head slightly to see Red padding over to him. The fire beast walked languidly, still shaking away the remnants of the afternoon heat. Sidling up next to Cloud, he stretched his front paws out, arching his back before sitting down. With a headshake, he turned his lone eye to Cloud and stared at him. Cloud stared back, giving him a game glare that was supposed to make the animal back away and leave him alone. Red was nonplussed and merely blinked, yawning so widely that his ears flattened back.
"So what happened at Don Corneo's?" the beast asked curiously, with a small snuffle as he became more awake.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"So what did she mean by you being one of the girls?"
Cloud's eye twitched and something in him snapped, "IT WAS JUST ONCE! I WAS UNDERCOVER, GOD DAMMIT! I HAD TO! AND THEY JUST WON'T LET IT DROP! GAAAAAAAAH!" And with that, the beleaguered leader ran his hands through his hair in sheer frustration before attempting to storm off.
"HEY!" Red barked.
"WHAT?!" Cloud snarled, his voice squeaking horribly like a prepubescent boy.
"Could you let me out?"
Cloud's face pinched into a scowl and his eyes narrowed before walking back slowly and letting him out. His eye twitched again and he closed the door. Being the leader had its definite disadvantages and going to bed earlier sounded like a better idea than it had an hour ago.
A/N--This actually started as a short story for Vignettes. It was supposed to be short but somehow it grew. So here it is. There'll only be one more chapter. But I had to write this down. It amused me. I hope it amuses you.