((A/N – It's the end of 'Love Not Often' and I want to thank everyone who has read this, everyone who bothered to comment and everyone who spilled a tear, not to mention Squaresoft for making such an incredible, moving and timeless game. May you all enjoy this epilogue.))
Epilogue: Love Not Often... But Forever
Cause you are my forever love
Watching me from up above
And I believe that angels breathe
And that love will live on and never leave
Fly me up to where you are
Beyond the distant star
I wish upon tonight
To see you smile
If only for awhile
To know you're there
A breath away is not far
To where you are
- Josh Groban
--two years or so later --
Fingers fell idle on the ivory keys, the notes hanging on for a moment longer then fading back into the silence of her room.
Today was a day that she didn't spend with people. Today was a special day that she kept for herself alone and usually sobbed like a lonely ghost into the pillow of her bedroom, fooling herself that when she woke, there would be no 'now', only the phantasm of yesterday when everything had been perfect, had been her life. So it was that Marlene was with her father, taking Denzel along for a visit. The bar was closed and Cloud was across the continent in Junon, doing a delivery mission for Reno who had finally talked him into it.
The home she made for herself above the bar of the new Seventh Heaven was enough. It was just enough. That was all she had ever wanted, to be just enough, to have just enough, to be happy. The bedroom was large enough for a three quarter bed, on the bed stand beside it was a cracked vase with pictures of flowers painted around the base and neck, hand crafted some time distant but carrying the precious life of water and flowers within the proud stature of it.
Without thinking, she pressed her fingers to the keys again, starting the melody over and over that played forever in her heart - a lonely and melancholy tune that did nothing to assuage her feelings of loss, her own feelings of guilt.
It had been a month or so since Cloud had fought the trio, Kadaj, Loz and Yazoo - a real bunch of weirdoes if ever she had seen them, and believe her, she had seen plenty of weird freaks in her time with Avalanche. He had told her that in his dreams, sometimes even waking, Aerith had been reaching out to him. She remembered his expression as he said it and knew that he was still as much in love with the flower girl as Tifa was.
She could not fault him, nor in her compassion, could she take that away from him.
But almost hypocritically she demanded that he get his head from the clouds and get on with life - no amount of sighing would bring Aerith magically back.
She had realised this that very night when the sky had rained down the magic of Holy, when her heart hadn't precisely healed, but had found the strength to go on, being Aerith's hero even when the Cetra had passed on. Cloud had to realise too that the one thing Aerith wanted most from those she cared about was for them to live for her, to take the futures she had given up her own for. She wasn't selfish, so she didn't expect them to be surly and petty little children, throwing away this precious gift, back into her face to make her weep for such self pity.
So Tifa lived, whilst Cloud immersed himself in angst.
She worked hard by day being a surrogate mother to the child Denzel - even if fancy sometimes told her that Aerith would have been better, so she tried hard to emulate exactly what Aerith would have done - being kind and considerate, loving and caring, nurturing their interests and helping them to be expressive about themselves. So far she assumed she was managing fairly well, because Denzel was growing up to be a bright and intelligent child, despite his odd obsession with the 'coolness' of the angst ridden Cloud. By evening she worked harder in her bar, building up a business and serving drinks, cleaning and even helping people with problems. On the days she had off unlike this one day, she spent her time at Edge committee meetings, trying to give something back to the Planet which she had fought so hard to save.
She'd even managed to get a botanical garden opened in the name of Aerith. It was called the 'Radiant Garden' where every sort of flower and grass, tree or shrub was nurtured. It was a place where wildlife was encouraged. She could almost imagine seeing the flower girl gasp in surprise and embarrassment, knowing the 'Gainsborough Table Committee' that looked after the running of was named for her.
So it was that she took today for herself and the music, this very special day that no one else could have.
The music she played she had composed not long after the light in the sky had died - putting to use the talents she had at playing the piano. It was sad and sweet by turns, echoing delightfully over the area of her bedroom and across the box she had brought out from storage as she did on this day.
Because today was the anniversary of Aerith's birthday.
So Tifa played the only present that she could give her, the sweet melody she had called in a fit of lacking inspiration 'Aerith's Theme' because to her, it captured everything about the sweet Ancient that she could ever hope to understand, everything she had loved seeing and hearing from her - from the gentle laugh to the sparkle in her eyes. As she played, tears she kept inside the entire year around fled down her cheeks.
But again, her fingers fell lax on the ivories and she bent her head, lifting one hand to wipe the tears away.
With a sigh, Tifa turned to the box sat on the edge of her quilt covered bed, the rain drizzled morning giving barely any light inside - after all, February in Midgar was usually a dull affair - but today the very world seemed to weep. The Planet seemed to mourn with her. Comforted in knowing that at least the Planet spent it's time remembering that special somebody, she moved to the bedside and lifted the corners of the box - expecting to look in and see the precious things she had put into the box two years or so ago - the red jacket, the ribbon, the materia that she had kept (Titan) and the various bits and bobs that had been left in Aerith's backpack.
Instead, nestled neatly atop them all as if placed there, was a purple bound diary.
Surprise in her eyes, Tifa took the book out and turned it over in her hands slowly. She hadn't put any book inside the box last year and no one knew where she kept the special belongings of her flower girl, her secret heart and locked up wish. The front cover came to face her and she breathed in slowly, recognising the gilt lettering stamped into the leatherette.
"Your diary," she said in wavering tones. Tifa pushed a chunk of hair behind an ear and she placed the book on her lap, conflicted feelings running riot inside her, a river of molten regret and grief, mixed with fond memories of the flower girl, hunched over her beloved diary, writing away little secrets.
How had it found its way to her?
Looking about she guiltily opened the book and squirmed back a little so she was resting a little more comfortably on the bed, eyes falling to the first page and what was written there.
This is the Diary of Aerith Gainsborough! No Peeking!
Heehee... okay well, I guess it doesn't really matter if you've gotten this far into my secret little journal. But that's alright. I wanted to try and keep some record of what will be happening, a record of my memories. Why?
Well, I know I'm not very strong, and all I can do is heal or use materia, but I can also speak to the Planet. I am the last Cetra descendant left living, and I feel it's my duty, my obligation to put down my feelings and thoughts for future generations.
I hope to discover more about my life as we go along. I can tell you this much; about two weeks ago I was struck by the sensation of destiny, Fate if you will, pulling on my heartstrings. With that, I have started on a journey that will be dangerous beyond par of anything I have done before. But that's okay. Because I have good friends with me.
So I know, no matter what comes, I'll be okay.
Tifa smiled sadly and cradled the book like a treasure house of knowledge. She had always wondered what Aerith was writing, and each entry was documented here with pictures. There were some that were hand drawn and some that were not.
The first real photograph was stuck in from their visit to Junon; Tifa was trying to fit her expanse of hair under her soldier hat and Barrett was tugging on his sailor collar so hard that there was a big tear in it already. In neat writing underneath, Aerith's handwriting, it read: "Time to diet, Barrett! Looking good, Teef!"
She laughed and turned the pages. The next account was a little darker than the others, but recalling the date at the top pencilled in, she knew that this was the day after the horrors had assaulted Aerith on the ship to Costa del Sol. She wrote:
Tonight I dreamed of horrible things.
Sephiroth chased me down as though I were a caged animal. He frightens me - he is not Cetra, I know that much. He's a monster, he's Jenova. A sickness on the land, wrought through the sickness in his mind. And yet, I pity him. Isn't that strange?
He called me his 'little angel'. His voice makes my skin crawl. When I look at him, I can see death.
But then Tifa was there, smiling at me. When I woke up, Tifa was sleeping right next to me. Does she know how adorable she looks when she is asleep, even when drooling on the pillow?
Today we are thinking about finding our way west, but Tifa seemed to be a little preoccupied with blushing. She looks cute even when she's doing that too! Teehee!
Even now that brought a bright red bloom to her cheeks and she laughed nervously, especially at the connected photographs: the first one of Yuffie who had fallen face down in the sand because her sock tripped her up, the next of Tifa trying on a bikini and a third of Aerith sat next to Tifa as they ate ice cream together.
"You did like sweet things," she murmured and kept reading.
Some of the things that were listed seemed to be standard fare: the business at the Corel town and the Gold Saucer. Aerith's depression over finding that Zack was no longer alive. The time they'd spent in the buggy arguing and bickering as the heat grew worse when delving on into Cosmo Canyon territory - her experiences with the ghosts there and Red meeting his father for the first time as fallacy gave way to truth.
There were pictures of course. Aerith loved to draw little pictures with a fair artistic hand, sometimes cartoon in style, and her humorous observations about the group which made Tifa's lip twitch - that perky attitude came through even in her writing, gently poking fun at them all and herself.
Today I am going to list what makes me laugh about my friends.
Cloud spends so much time on his hair each morning that I am surprised we don't spend all our gil in salons, he's worse than a woman!
Cait seems completely incapable of sitting still - he's always bouncing around. Has he got ants in his...um... mog body?
Tifa loves to make bad puns. I discovered this completely by accident - she tried to hide it, but she was whispering under her breath several of them in a stream. I mean, really bad. She would never be allowed on a comedy circuit!
Red can burp! Okay, maybe not so silly, but it amazed me (and ashamed him, I think).
Yuffie doesn't have any brothers or sisters, so she's taken to calling Barrett 'big brother'. She also cheats at cards - I saw her setting the deck for an evening swipe at Cloud and Barrett's gil.
I seem to wear nothing but pink or red. I'm starting to rethink my wardrobe - I used to like green. Maybe I'll look good in green?
Barrett sings! I caught him in the shower, wailing his heart out, teehee! I haven't told anyone else, but it was pretty funny!
Aren't we a misfit crew?
But I wouldn't swap them for the whole world...
After Nibelheim, the entries became sadder. Then Tifa found the one on the night where they'd crashed into the water. It read, a simple passage and nothing more:
It won't be long now. I know I am to do something, but I am unsure what. I know that only I can do it, alone, and they cannot help me. I am frightened... I don't want to go. But I must.
"It wasn't long at all really, was it," she sighed.
There on it documented the night at gold saucer, Cait's treachery and their temple adventures. It sank deeper into the misery and darkness in the month they'd spent at Gongaga, hovering over Cloud and his bad dreams. It spoke of her insecurity, with a whole double page given over to a delicate rendition of a night sky where two girls who looked very much like herself and Aerith stared up at the sky, hands held.
On the page over, it read in simple words scrolled around with painstaking inks, "Tifa Lockhart and Aerith Gainsborough".
She paused to wipe her eyes, and then put the open book down on that line of their names. Aerith had left them after this last entry, dated to the night when they'd spent it picnicking under the beautiful night sky, winding their hearts together ad inextricably linking their souls in some way that Tifa couldn't even begin to imagine. That fateful day afterward when she was going to propose and...
Without anything to touch it, the page suddenly turned over and there was a scene on the next page. It was a diary entry with a drawn scene in Aerith's delicate hand of realism, it was a picture of her, standing in the water and waving to the group as they walked from the shell building. The words next to it read, in the same delicate hand but glowing a little;
Today I was put into the water, but that's alright. I'm not afraid of the water anymore. It was a bit childish to be afraid, don't you think so? Everyone looked so sad, Tifa most of all. I know she'd been waiting to ask me a question, her locked up secret wish as Cait called it I think. But that's alright, I can wait for her to say it. They all left, as if trying to leave me behind in the water there. Well, I waved goodbye to them, but I think I'll be seeing them soon. I wish they would really be a bit more grown up about this!
But they'll understand, one day.
Tifa stared, dumbstruck. There... how?
"Aerith?" She exclaimed and flicked on a few pages. The diary was filled up with images, with images she didn't even think could possibly be there and the usual perky commentary on what they were doing.
Image; Tifa in the small house, a little series of pictures with her laughing, crying and watching the video, then a final image of the faces she had seen on the video, of Ifalna and the Professor Gast. Underneath was neatly written, "I took Tifa to visit my Parents..."
Image; Tifa on the cannon and then a series, much like a comic book vision of Tifa falling, reaching out for the rope as it burned through her hands. Then another set of hands, pencilled in green were there, pulling her hands to the rope, holding onto her. Again, words read, "Tifa's not so great at playing catch, so I gave her a helping hand!"
Image; Tifa and Cloud in the life stream, with the images in Cloud's head. A previous little section of sketches over the top showed Tifa holding her head and trying to run away. "Tifa couldn't hear my voice - I guess I'm new to this life stream voice over stuff. I'll get the hang of it. But she understood enough that I could help Cloud now and nudge him with her help into being well. It took longer than I expected, but never mind! So when they were done, I helped them out of the water."
Image; Tifa on the ground next to Cloud on the last night before the big battle. Tifa's eyes shed tears and in a close up sketch of a tear, Aerith had pencilled herself in, in green outlines, smiling. "Tifa cries still for me. But she doesn't realise I'm always there with her."
Image; Tifa reaches for Cloud. Aerith's hand overshadows her as Cloud looks up. "I helped Cloud come to his senses after ending Sephiroth, he needs a hand now and I'm too far away to do it. So they'll help each other, as friends should. She almost stopped and came back for me, but I'm glad she didn't."
Image; Tifa looks up. Above her head is a thought bubble reading:
"-This world is such a crazy place. I have gone... so far. Zangan would be proud. I think my parents would be proud too, of everything I have tried to accomplish. I might not have always been successful, but I did well enough. I did enough.
Now if only you had stayed, instead of having to go, then life would be perfect.
But I'll soldier on for you, my flower. I'll find my way without your light to guide me.
...my hero, Aerith."
Underneath the bubble was a boxed in picture of Aerith in the blackness, bubbles of green overlaying the picture painted in with acrylic thickness and over it was the outstanding, the lovely smile which Tifa had held in her heart forever.
Unable to put names to her emotions, Tifa stared hungrily at the diary, aware the light was fading outside from how long she had pored over it; the words, the experiences - had she really been there with her? Had she been so blind in her heart to think she was alone?
"To someone," she read aloud, and then gave a sob as the diary lurched and turned a page. Suddenly words were appearing before her eyes, written there in the same neat hand, glowing as they were put onto the paper.
"Tifa," it read, "You once said, you wanted to be someone, to somebody. You're my someone, Tifa Lockhart, and you always will be. I loved the music - you were playing for me, weren't you? How sweet, how sad. And I never told you this, but I should. I should tell you now. I love you. I really love you. I didn't know how to say it, because I was afraid I would leave, I was unsure of everything. But I am sure of this. Sure enough to say 'yes' to your locked up, secret wish. You know what they say..."
A picture was flooded in next to it: Tifa on the bed in her room, reading the exact selfsame page of the purple clad diary and over her shoulder, tongue sticking out and wearing only the pink dress and those horrible chunky boots for gardening, Aerith leaning over and was writing in what she was reading. Tifa closed the book after reading the last line, tears of joy streaming down her cheeks as her heart finally healed over the worst hurt in her life, sure enough now that no matter what may come, no matter what tomorrow might hold, that sometime, she and Aerith would be together again. Because that was Fate, and she wasn't just someone who got in the way.
She was finally someone to somebody.
On the back cover of the diary were printed the words to a prayer, or a poem and she laughed softly, touching them: the final prayer of the Ancient to her love:
I know the constellations I know the leaves on the trees I know the place I finally lie Perhaps with every moment we are dying
Each name and pattern bright,
Born with every summer dawning
Fading into each autumn night.
Perhaps shining, perhaps crying
Perhaps every moment we are dying
But even with this, denying
I must go. I am sorry, so you know.
By the dappled shadows on the pathway.
Your laughter breaks the silence
And I fold it to my heart every missed day.
Perhaps sharing, perhaps caring
Perhaps every moment spent faring
And riding out the days left with bearing
I must go. I am sorry, so you know.
Water in the hues of the green fields waver,
And when we are gone they'll have stories
Or the war, the glories and their saviour.
Perhaps the broken swings, perhaps be kings
Perhaps they'll make us anything
But what we were, saving it for nothing.
I must go. I am sorry, so you know.
Perhaps every moment spent faring,
Perhaps they'll make us anything...
...I am sorry, so you know. I must go.
I know the leaves on the trees
I know the place I finally lie
Perhaps with every moment we are dying
So she whispered Aerith's last words aloud:
"Love not often, but forever."