Disclaimer: Definitely not mine. If I owned these characters, Aerith would not have died and she would have been exceptionally gay for Tifa.

Gutter

With her legs pulled up to her chest and her mouth anxiously pressed to her bony knee, her calloused fingers picked at the cracks in her leather boots. Her pale skin was drenched in the orange glow of fire as the flames reached toward the stars. She pressed her foot into the soft soil beneath her, then lifted it up to stare at the geometrical shapes in the indent of her footprint left in the dirt.

She could feel Aerith's eyes on the opposite end of the fire asking her to look and she was beginning to wish she'd retreated to the inn with the rest of them, but the blanket of stars was particularly thick that night and Cosmo Canyon was more inviting than Midgar had ever been, Mako reactors or not. It was nice to be outside and breathe natural air rather than the industrial exhaust of a wasted, parasitic city such as Midgar.

It was nice to be alone with her, even if she had nothing to say.

Nothing important, anyway. Nothing that would change her mind.

"I don't get it," Tifa sighed, her voice hardly a whisper as she readjusted to rest her chin on her knees. Wine colored eyes still digging holes in the dirt. "Why you? That's not fair," she murmured, her words barely carrying over through the wall of fire separating them.

The flower girl raised her gaze wistfully to the sky, so many stars bundled together and spread apart, like a salt shaker had been knocked over on a black tablecloth, and she found it impossible to fix her eyes upon a single one. So, she traced the constellations instead.

"I don't look at it that way," Aerith answered, dainty hands clasped together in her lap. Her small, delicate smile was there as always and Tifa heard it without needing to look. "I get to do something incredible. Tifa, I get to save the world. Don't you think that's amazing? A girl raised in the slums selling flowers gets to save the entire planet. She gets to feel special, like she's supposed to be here."

Tifa shook her head, lips sealed.

"She's supposed to stay here," she began picking a little more frantically at the crumbling pieces of her boots. "She's done so much already to prove to the planet that she should be here, so why can't it just shut up and leave her alone? Why can't anyone leave her alone?" She finally lifted her head to make eye contact, but the only thing staring back at her were the flames that seemed to be giving up hope of grabbing any stars as they slowly began falling back to the earth. "Always running," she whispered, closing her eyes with a sigh as she felt a soft hand gliding down from her shoulder, pausing at the inside of her elbow for a moment before continuing to her gloved hand and extracting her fingers away from the small holes Tifa was beginning to dig into her boots. Their hands lay woven together on Tifa's thigh.

Aerith's other hand curved around Tifa's hip from behind as she leaned her forehead between the fighter's shoulder blades, eyes closed as she whispered "We still have time."

Tifa shook her head, recoiling away from Aerith's touch against her instincts, testing what it would feel like to need her around when she couldn't be, and she shook her head more violently, trapping her tears behind her closed eyes.

"It's not enough, forever wouldn't be enough," she felt Aerith's arms arrest her waist from behind, and she wondered if she was imagining what it would be like if she wasn't born an Ancient. If things would have been any easier, if Cloud would have ever fallen through the roof of her church and landed on the only flowers that had managed to bloom in all of Sector Five. If Jesse and Biggs were alive.

Aerith leaned back, sliding her arms away from Tifa's waist as she kneeled in the dirt behind her, inspecting her supposedly pure hands that had been the very source of destruction to Midgar and its people. They suddenly seemed marred and dirty, and she had a powerful urge to plunge them deep into the mouth of the fire until it burned away her sins. She scrunched them into the fabric of her dress at the top of her thighs as the festering guilt began to rot its way up her throat. Her soul was a gutter to catch all of the decaying debris that she left behind both within herself and on the face of the planet and she felt as though it was becoming increasingly corrupted by the garbage it had collected.

Ultimately, this was her fault, and the sacrifice she was prompted to make by the horrific, shrill cries of the planet beneath her feet wasn't enough to pay the debt she felt she'd accumulated.

She began to rise to her feet in respect for the woman she loved, to give her the space to grieve, as Aerith no longer felt worthy enough to console her because of a future death that she felt was appropriate. Aerith's only regret was her inability to die without regret. She otherwise welcomed the idea completely, and it was the only source of hope she had to restore any sort of peace to a planet so deeply scarred and bleeding. Just as she stood, Tifa's hand reached backwards and clasped firmly around Aerith's wrist, pulling her gently back down to kneel on the ground.

The Ancient rested her chin upon Tifa's shoulder, green eyes downcast and concerned.

"We don't have forever," Tifa finally spoke, and Aerith could feel the decomposing shame inside of her throat begin to choke her. "And that's not fair. Because I get to be here to see your next birthday without watching you age another year, and you don't get to see us take down ShinRa, and you don't get to watch me kill that bastard Hojo for caging you like some kind of animal and experimenting on you like you aren't human -" Aerith squeezed her hip lightly to calm her, and Tifa took a breath before she continued. "It's not fair at all, and I'll be angry about it for a long time, but…" she turned her head, red greeting green, as she turned her back to the fire and touched her rough fingertips to a snowy white cheek, her gloved palm curving around the angle of Aerith's jaw. "We still have time, and I'm not going to ruin it. We'll celebrate your birthday every new minute until you'd be so old you wouldn't even remember my face."

Aerith's lips pulled into a small smile as she leaned into Tifa's hand, that guilt manifesting inside of her every vein as she imagined their roles being reversed. She wouldn't be able to survive.

But Tifa was strong. Much stronger than her.

"I could never forget it," she answered, drawing the fighter forward into a kiss that cast rain clouds over everything around them, but left them dry. Washing away the rest of the world for that moment, just for the chance to imagine a life together that went beyond the next twenty days.

She wouldn't live until her next birthday, but she would float aimlessly in the Lifestream for a hundred lifetimes if it led to Tifa's hand finding hers in the current.