The chocobo's a purple so dark it almost looks black, and it was the first of our birds to make it to the S class in racing. A gift from Cloud. She can get me from Kalm to Midgar in fifteen minutes. There's no wall or gate here, anymore, so I just ride her up to the church, tether her outside. I don't really need to, of course. She'd stay put, but the tether's meant to warn someone from stealing her. No need to get some idiot pecked to death. Not that it would stop a determined thief, but I figure they deserve her reaction.
The flowers are still growing here, wild, flourishing more than they did the last time I was here, when Meteor still loomed. I remember seeing her – just the briefest glimpse – and starting, and looking over to find tears streaming down Cloud's face. We didn't stay long, then, but I remembered the place. I can see why she'd love it here. It's so beautiful, and so peaceful. I wasn't raised religious, but there's something about a place like this that draws me. And something about the idea of religion.
I kneel by the tangle of flowers, pulling out weeds where I can. Trying to keep her work going, make up to the flowers for taking her away and getting her killed. It wasn't just me, of course. I know that. But it was our group, our mission, and I was a part of it.
The idea of atoning has been tugging at me, in the years since we fought Sephiroth. Redemption. Penance. To try to make up for acts of terrorism, I helped in the aid effort in the slums of Midgar, digging through the rubble with my bare hands and curing the injured when I could. I donate blood every other month at the medical center in Kalm, and feed strays. I became a vegetarian. To make up for being a human, and for using coal-powered electricity, I buy organic food and recycle. I ride a chocobo or walk wherever I need to go. I do what I can, in little things here and there.
But how do you make up for loving the same man your best friend loved, and living after her death?
It wasn't a friendship you would have expected. But thrown together like we were, we didn't have much choice. For one thing, it was hard to fight off the sheer power of her wish to be friends with the whole world. As the only other girl, I was her special target. And we had a few things in common from the start – being female, of course, and loving Cloud. Who else would run out in the middle of the night to buy feminine hygeine products for me in Costa del Sol? I did the same for her once we got to Cosmo Canyon. Don't ask me why we weren't able to keep a supply, because I don't know. Maybe Yuffie stole them.
And there's Cloud, of course. We agreed, that first night in Kalm, that there would be no hard feelings. We'd just be ourselves – "Because seriously, it's hard to be all flirty and fake when you're covered in monster slime," she'd said, and I laughed in spite of myself – and may the best woman win. It wasn't as simple as all that in practice, and I won't deny I'd sometimes get my feelings hurt when he'd talk to her first, and probably vice versa. But we agreed, and it was a lot better than fighting over him or just giving up. I don't think he ever realized he was expected to choose.
I guess Sephiroth chose for us, or Jenova. I couldn't care what he thought about me after she died. We were all like that, wrapped up in the grief and shock. I wonder if to some degree I still am. I lost touch with almost everyone, after it was over. I still talk to Barret and Marlene sometimes, but none of the others. It's not that I'm completely alone. I have friends in Kalm. But they're all people I met after I moved there.
I hear a footstep and look up. A tall, bearded man in a suit. He looks vaguely familiar, but I can't place him. Then he says my name, and I get it. "Reeve? What brings you here?"
"I come here every week. Sunday."
"I wouldn't have figured you for the religious type."
"I wasn't, for a long time... what about you? I haven't seen you here before."
"The, uh, the anniversary."
"Oh." He actually winces. "I should have remembered."
I shake my head. "You had a lot going on back then. Well, and now. I don't blame you for forgetting the exact date."
The slightest of shrugs. "I know the date of the anniversary, I just... forgot. Overwork, I guess."
I should just leave him some privacy to do whatever he does, pray or whatever, but he seems to feel obligated to make conversation. "Is Cloud...?" He lets the question trail off, willing to let me fill in wherever necessary.
"We... broke up a few years back." My penance for outliving her, I guess. For loving him. I couldn't just let it go, accept that he loved me. I needed proof, needed to feel that he would have chosen me anyway. He didn't understand, couldn't smother me in as much affection as I felt I needed, and I punished him for it. Anger, tears, constant reasonless jealousy. I drove him away. Looking back, I think he really did love me, but I had my chance and wasted it.
He winces again. "I'm sorry. I had no idea."
I shake my head. "It's hardly your fault. Should I leave you alone...?"
"It's all right. I should leave, you were here first."
"No, I... all I do is weed the flowers, then pick a few for the monument." Not hers; it's a monument to all of those who died in Meteor, but it's a lovely, quiet place with a reflecting pool that reminds me of her burial spot. I kneel by the flowers and realize he's next to me, gathering them as well. I normally just take one or two, but he helps me make up a bouquet.
"Ordinarily I'd buy a flower arrangement, but this is the first time it's fallen on a Sunday. I think most of the shops would be closed." He smiles ruefully. "Say hello to her for me, would you?" I nod, try to smile back. I'm oddly shy around him; we travelled with Cait, not with this man. I've only seen him in person a few times, and one of those was when we broke into the Shinra building.
"Thank you," I say, softly, not even sure what I'm thanking him for.
I guess he has his own idea of what I meant. "We all remember her, Tifa. Different people show it in different ways."
"I know." I shift my hands on the flowers, turn to go.
"Do you still have that bar in Kalm?" he asks, and I find myself smiling even before I turn back to look at him.
"Yeah. I do. You should come by sometime."
The monument actually looks a bit like the ancient city; all white, delicate and as curving and organic as marble can look. I always try to approach it properly so I'll see the pool, centered in the big arched gate, and the tomb behind it. Inside the gate, a park spreads out on either side. It's small, by the standards of the outside world, but large for Midgar, especially when you consider that it has real grass and trees. Almost no one's here, right now. One man is slumped on a bench under a weeping willow. I can make out three or four human forms inside the tomb building, and one woman up near the other end of the reflecting pool. On the anniversary of Meteor, it's always packed. I came, once, on the second anniversary, but I didn't like it. People were talking, laughing, making friends with strangers. I guess it's good, in a way, that something positive can come out of it all, that it can bring people closer, but at the time I thought it was disrespectful to the dead. Any other day, it's like this. Private, the way I prefer it.
I hold the flowers in front of my face. I did promise to say hello to her, after all. "Aerith? I don't really know what to say... You know. Ordinarily I just think at you. I feel a bit stupid right now. Reeve says hi. Your flowers are still doing fine. I think he waters them every Sunday. I hadn't even thought of that, but it explains why they're still going. You know the rest, I guess. We miss you." I drop two flowers on the reflecting pool, watch them float, marring the clear unrippled surface, then walk up to the tomb itself. The people inside look like a family – a balding man and two red-haired children. They're by the wall of names. I put the rest of the flowers against the wall, bite my lip, and walk back out. I hate myself for it, but everytime I walk into the memorial, I think I'll see Cloud, Vincent, someone I knew. Someone who knew her. I walk out along the length of the pool, mount my chocobo, and turn toward home.