Title: The Fighter and the Faerie Queen

Chapter: 1-Just a Flower Girl

Game: Final Fantasy VII

Rating: T

Author: Death Mountain

Disclaimer: I don't own anything from Final Fantasy VII. The plot is to Square Enix, but this little romp of Tifa/Aerith is mine!

(An angel.)

(An angel had offered its hand to her. Why couldn't she breathe?)

(In the angel's hand, a shining point of light. An airy fragrance loosened her lungs. The shimmering point fell into her cupped hands—not like water for it kept its shape—and it was as light as a feather.)

(A blessing from an angel . . .)

"Wake up!"

Those words dragged her like a fish on a hook back to consciousness. An unfamiliar face swam into view above her, with soft, blurry edges. She blinked several times and gradually focused, making out the distinctly feminine features and the concerned expression. For a moment she just lay dazed, trying to figure out if that face was one she knew.

Tifa shook her head to clear it. Her entire body ached, a reminder of the disaster at the reactor. Crap! I have to get back. As she tried the pull herself up the other girl moved forward and gently grasped her shoulders. "Don't sit up too fast," she warned in a light, warm lilt. She sounded like a child, though she was at least Tifa's age, possibly older. It was hard to tell by just looking at her. A long brown braid lay down her back, tied with a red ribbon. A strange, calm glow seemed to permeate her youthful face.

(If she could see the girl's eyes, she was sure . . .)

"You took me by surprise," the girl commented softly.

"Yeah? Me, too," Tifa groaned, as the ringing in her head died away. Over her head she could see a high ceiling with a splintered, caved-in hole; her fault, admittedly. To her bewilderment, a bed of flowers cushioned her body with surprising firmness. The light fragrance wafted over her, blanketing the usual stench of smog and metal that seemed to spread evenly throughout Midgar. The flowerbed itself was in a rather unusual place, between several rows of wooden pews and a small altar. Light streamed through the front door more than the boarded windows, creating mesmerizing swirls of dust and pollen.

"You seem to be all right." The girl reached down to help her up, to Tifa's chagrin. "Do you know where you are?"

She didn't answer. She was lingering on the brink of some important unknown realization. The scent of the flowers made her feel a little dizzy and seemed to be trying to creep into her mind like a whisper of something . . . something she couldn't remember.

The girl tapped her and she jumped. "Um, what?" she stammered.

"You sure you're all right? I asked if you know where you are."

"Er . . ." She was coming up short, so she shrugged.

"That's okay; you must have taken quite a fall, so it's lucky you landed here. This is a church in Sector 5."

"And who are you?" Lockheart asked suspiciously.

"Me? I'm just a flower girl from the Sector 6 slums." She shook her head wearily. "I come here often." As she spoke she spread her arms wide and breathed deeply, as if to take the air of the unusually calm church into her body in purification. "I love it here. They say flowers won't bloom in Midgar, but for some reason, they grow fine here."

"Is that so . . ." Tifa brushed herself off and finger-combed her long hair, having mussed it in the fall. The fall . . . Cloud . . . Barret . . . Should she wait for Cloud to come get her, or try to find her way back to Sector 7? She had heard Sector 6 was a pretty rough-and-tumble place.

Before she could ask, her younger companion was speaking again earnestly. "Excuse me, but do you have any Materia?"

She relied more on her fists, particularly the Boxing Gloves, and her Limit, than on Materia or magic the way some people did. "Some."

"Me, too. It can't do anything, though."

Huh? "What do you mean? Maybe you just don't know how to use it."

"No, I do, but it's useless. It was my mother's, and she gave it to me. Hey, you must be pretty strong, right?" she asked hopefully. "What do you do?"

"I own a bar in Sector 7. It's called 7th Heaven."

"Oh." Somehow, it seemed to be less than the answer she expected. "But if you have Materia, you must be able to fight, huh?"

Tifa sighed, thinking of the numerous missions AVALANCHE had taken her on. "Yeah, I suppose. I was taught martial arts by Zangan, this teacher who goes around looking for students. But that was after . . ." She trailed off and shook her head. "That was years ago,"

Three years ago . . . Papa . . .

"You can't make much money from a bar down in the slums. Have you ever thought of being, say, a bodyguard?" The girl's voice rose, and she gazed imploringly at Tifa.

The brunette sighed. "Do you need a bodyguard?"

"Just someone who's willing to accompany me home. It's not far."

Her eyes held Tifa in place, piercing her. "I guess so. I need to get back to Sector 7 myself, and if it's on the way . . ."

The young woman beamed, lighting up the rundown little sanctuary with an ambience no lantern could achieve. "Thank you! Wait here, I just need to finish tending the flowers." She moved away and knelt, picking up a watering can, which for some reason made that distant realization tickle at the back of Tifa's mind.

Footsteps and a brief shadow in the doorway announced the presence of another visitor. Tifa glanced at him, a brown-haired man wearing an expensive-looking dark suit, and decided she and her new charge had better leave quietly while it was still possible. Whoever the guy was, it did not look like he was here to take confession.

Taking care to step around the patches of flowers, she hurried to the girl, who looked up. "I'm almost finished. What is it?"

"We'd better hurry." Tifa motioned to the man in the door.

"Okay. Now that I think of it, we don't know each other's names, do we?"

"I guess not. I'm Tifa Lockheart."

"What a nice name. I'm Aerith Gainsborough. Pleased to meet you, Ms. Tifa." Aerith happily clasped her hand.

"Please, just Tifa. We'd better go."

That guy in the door was watching them, and she got increasingly nervous. She started to go to him but Aerith called, "Just ignore him, Tifa," sounding annoyed and a little nervous. Tifa shrugged and turned back, just as several more people in blue uniforms bustled in behind the first.

She frowned, assessing the situation. Aerith looked frightened, but also strangely weary, as though she knew what was happening. She would only be a problem if she got in the way of a fight, so the best plan was the keep the girl behind her.

Do they know I was with Cloud and Barret? Did they follow me? But how? It should have taken them a lot longer.

"Aerith, stay behind me," she whispered.

The suited man stuck his hands in his pockets and waited until Tifa had reached him at a safe distance. "Who are you?"

"Who are you?" he echoed.

"I asked you first. It's only polite to answer," she said in the voice she reserved for when Cloud was being less than sensible.

The blue-clad soldiers snickered. "Hey, sis, this one's kinda weird!" One of them jeered at the girls, though Tifa couldn't tell if he was talking to her or Aerith.

The man gave her a snide look. "I've no obligation to answer to you, little girl. But if you must know, I'm Reno. Reno of the Turks."

Tifa started and her stomach clenched. "The Turks?" Cloud told me about them—ShinRa's personal mob organization. "What do you want here? Isn't kidnapping and bullying more up your alley?"

"I prefer to think of it as appropriating." Reno smirked.

The soldiers behind him were getting antsy. "Reno! Want her taken out?"

A thoughtful expression passed over his face. "I haven't decided yet," he replied lazily.

"Don't fight here! You'll ruin the flowers!" Aerith burst out. She scrambled past her flowerbed to the back of the church. "Tifa! The exit's back here!" Without waiting for an answer she disappeared into the back room.

Tifa groaned as she realized how much of a problem Aerith could be. But escape was the only option right now, so she turned away from Reno, flashing him a dirty look as she followed Aerith behind the altar.

Reno calmly watched her go before stepping through the flowerbed, unhurried and completely unconcerned. "So, we've finally found you," he muttered. He turned to the soldiers, who were chuckling at nudging each other. "Yeah, all right. Back to work, back to work." He started to follow the girls but paused thoughtfully. "Oh! And don't step on the flowers."

Immediately the soldiers burst into loud protest. "Hey, Reno! You just stepped on them!"

"They're all ruined!"

"You're gonna catch holy hell!"

Tifa flopped down on her back on the roof of the church after a long fight with their pursuers. The soldiers with Reno were surprisingly weak, meaning they were little more than messengers and errand-boys. From what Cloud said, she mused, I hadn't expected such pushovers. Even Aerith had little trouble beating them with her Guard Stick and an Ice Materia that Tifa gave her.

Aerith crouched over the hole in the roof, hugging her knees. "Haha," she chuckled wryly. "They're looking for me again."

"Again?" Tifa sat up. "This happened before?"

"Yeah . . ."

Tifa palmed her forehead. "You know who they are, don't you?"

Aerith shrugged.

"They're the Turks." She recalled grimly what Cloud had told her back in Sector 7. "ShinRa employs them to scout for possible candidates for SOLDIER, but they're involved in a lot of dirty stuff on the side."

"They look like it."

She scratched her head, surveying her companion. "But why would they be after you?" What about this mild-mannered flower girl could have attracted a bunch of thugs from the Turks? Tifa stared hard at her, as though she might suddenly reveal something unexpected, like a rabbit out of a hat.

Aerith shook her head in thought. "I think they believe I have what it takes to be in SOLDIER."

Tifa thought of Cloud, how cold he had become, and the creepy glow of Makou in his eyes. Who seemed suddenly desensitized to death and murder, and uninterested in who was innocence or guilty. Who lately bore an uncanny resemblance to a certain long-dead young member of SOLDIER.

Ignoring the phantom pain in her chest, she turned to Aerith. "We should go before they catch up."

The smaller woman nodded. "You're right. C'mon, we can get home this way," she suggested, pointing across the roofs of trashed houses and pileup of junk.

The girls set off at a brisk pace hopping from one roof to another. Very soon Tifa found herself working to breathe, and was surprised; she'd thought being in AVALANCHE had conditioned her to exercise, but apparently running back and forth through Makou Reactors wasn't enough of a work-out. Zangan would have been disappointed to find out that his star pupil had gone soft.

Not that Aerith was doing much better. Her steps were tentative, and she took a long time to jump. Now that she was winding down, things moved more slowly. Tifa still managed to stay ahead of her, stopping every now and then to let them catch their breath.

"Wait . . . wait, I said!"

Lockheart stopped to watch Aerith coming up to her as fast as she could manage. "Slow . . . down . . ." the girl puffed. "Don't leave me . . ." She stumbled forward and tripped, but Tifa reached back and caught her by the arms. "Thank . . . you . . ."

"I thought you were cut out to be in SOLDIER?" Tifa teased, getting a breathless laugh from her smaller companion.

Gainsborough shook her head and brushed stray hair out of her eyes. "We're almost there! Let's go, Tifa!" With a new burst of energy she took off across the roof, leaving Tifa to catch up with somewhat less vigor.

Sector 6 was a sad place, even worse off than Sector 7. Lines of makeshift, rickety huts seemed to dominate this Sector. It was disturbingly empty, like a ghost town. Its market was a little livelier, though not by much.

Aerith's house was the sole flower in a field of dead thistles. As the only building standing up on its own, it was a picture of stability. It practically radiated warmth. Nearby were a carefully tended little garden and a waterfall. It all seemed so appropriate somehow, as if Aerith could not have lived in anything but such a house, like this one which shared her luminescent aura.

The surreality of it did not escape Tifa, who could not imagine growing up in this house and realizing that for all the home's welcome beauty, it was still surrounded by a plague of poverty and the spread of industry.

Aerith's face lit up and she practically skipped up to the door, throwing it open and calling into it, "Mom, I'm home!"

Tifa trailed behind her hesitantly, marveling at this rare pocket of tranquility. Though small, the inside spoke clearly of family and comfort. The little table in the middle of the room was set for two and Tifa filed that away in her memory. By the stove Aerith was hugging a small woman in an apron. Their body language spoke volumes, and the love between them was obvious. Tifa waited awkwardly by the door, straightening her clothes and hoping she didn't look like she'd recently raided a Makou Reactor, or run from a gang of Turks.

"Are you all right, Aerith?" Mrs. Gainsborough asked anxiously, pulling back and holding her daughter's face in her hands.

"I'm fine, Mom." Aerith looked a little guilty, like a child who just got caught breaking an expensive piece of china. "My bodyguard kept me safe."

"Bodyguard? You mean you were followed again?" Alarmed, her mother looked past her.

Aerith nodded to Tifa, who took this as her invitation to speak. She came over to shake Mrs. Gainsborough's hand. "Hello, ma'am. I'm Tifa Lockheart. I own a bar in Sector 7, but I don't think anyone will say anything about a bit of moonlighting."

Mrs. Gainsborough smiled warmly. "My name is Elmyra Gainsborough. Thank you, Ms. Lockheart, for taking care of my daughter." She looked her up and down, a curious expression on her face.

Uh-oh, Tifa thought. She shuffled uncomfortably, realizing that, compared to Aerith, she looked just a little butch dressed like this. These were the clothes she normally wore on missions, chosen for comfort and practicality, but . . . Great, now she's going to think I'm playing the "White Knight" routine for her daughter.

But the older woman didn't say anything. Aerith, seemingly oblivious to the discomfort of both her "bodyguard" and her mother, smiled at Tifa gratefully. "Mom, Tifa needs to go to Sector 7. I'm taking her there, okay?"

"Aerith, don't you think you should wait until tomorrow? It's getting late and I don't want you going back out again."

Aerith sighed. "You're right, Mom."

"Now, why don't you go make up the guest bed for Ms. Lockheart?"

"Yes, ma'am." At the foot of the stairs, Aerith paused. "Thank you for taking me home, Tifa." The glow of her smile washed over Tifa like a wave of warmth. "We'll go to Sector 7 tomorrow."

Mrs. Gainsborough watched her run up the stairs before turning to Tifa. "So, they were looking for her again," she sighed.

Tifa looked at the ground. "Yes."

She looked troubled. "Thank you, Ms. Lockheart, for protecting her, but . . ."

Tifa quickly moved to explain. "Ma'am, Aerith actually saved me. I was lost and she offered to help me find my way home. Then the Turks came along, so I—"

"Don't worry, Ms. Lockheart, I have no doubt of your good intentions. I just worry about my daughter going out everyday. It's so dangerous." She took a deep breath. "Could you please leave tonight, without telling Aerith? I'm sorry," she added. "But it's what's best for her."

Tifa glanced at the stairs. As easily and as guiltily as could imagine the betrayal and sadness in those green eyes, she could only agree.

"You're up bright and early."

Tifa froze, turning with a guilty look in her eye. "Uh, Aerith."

Aerith stuck her hands on her hips. "Well? Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

Lockheart scratched her head and glanced down. "I'm sorry, Aerith. I, well . . .I couldn't ask you to go with me, and . . ."

(. . . dangerous. I don't think I can . . .)

(. . . no problem if you protect . . .)

The flashback was over as quickly as it played through her mind. Tifa shook the memory away uncomfortably. This was no time to be thinking about what happened.

"I'm sorry, Aerith," she admitted. "I, well . . . I couldn't ask you to go with me. Besides . . ." She didn't want to lay blame on Elmyra, who really had the right idea. There was no reason to put Aerith in danger, and the sooner the two of them parted ways, the better.

You're as bad as . . . She brushed the thought away.

To her surprise, Aerith smiled. "That's okay. My mother was just trying to protect me." She waved a hand at the enormous brick wall at the end of the rows of houses. There was a hole just large enough for one person to crawl through at the base of it. "I promised I'd take you to Sector 7. This way."

AN: When I get bored in PreCalculus, who knows what may happen. This came about when I wondered what would have happened if Tifa had fallen off the bridge at the reactor instead of Cloud, and so met Aerith first.

Everybody will probably be a bit OOC, seeing as I've never written a Final Fantasy fic before, and it will take a little tweaking to do a Tifa/Aerith.

AN2: Second version. Added some stuff in to accommodate some additions I'm making to the back-story.

Next, the Wall Market, Don Corneo, and Cloud as a girl!