Chapter One

Tifa slammed her fist into her punching bag with as much force as she could muster. There was a part of her mind that kept insisting that if she could just hit the bag hard enough, her problem would go away, that everything would go back to the way it was meant to be.

But Tifa knew that she had to face reality at some point. And the sooner she did, the better.

She stepped back to avoid the bag as it swung back towards her and watched it swing from its attachment to the ceiling. As the bag's motion began to still she heaved an annoyed sigh and entertained the urge to take her frustrations out on the inanimate object once again.

Instead of giving in Tifa backed away and pushed her hands through her hair, grimacing as they became coated in moisture. "Joy, now I'm all sweaty." As she uttered the words she became hyper aware of the sweat dripping down the curve of her spine.

She sighed again and started towards the bathroom, un-wrapping the cloth she'd covered her knuckles with to avoid rubbing the skin raw. As she began to undress she heard the shrill ringing of the phone and groaned.

For a moment she debated draping her towel around herself and running to answer the phone but the idea was quickly dismissed. She wasn't too keen on getting the towel she'd have to use to dry off with sweaty. It would defeat the purpose of showering. On top of that there was the fact that she didn't really feel like talking. She just wanted to stand under the shower's hot spray and pretend the world was a perfect place.

And that was what she did. Within seconds she had finished undressing and turned on the facet. She waited a few seconds for the water to warm before turning on the shower and ducking under the heated stream.

She grabbed her shampoo bottle and began to work her hair into a lather as she watched the steam begin to float around her. As she continued the easy routine of cleaning herself her mind began to wander once more.

Brilliant green eyes, long reddish brown hair, the legs of a goddess…Tifa groaned in frustration and threw her loofah at the wall. "No no no. No. Bad Tifa. You will not think dirty thoughts about your best friend. That is…it's just…it's just bad!"

"What's bad?"

Tifa yelped and nearly slipped on the slick floor. She quickly grabbed the shower curtain and pulled it towards her body as she peeked out into the washroom. She was filled with an odd mixture of dread and joy as she saw the woman standing in the doorway.

"A-Aerith! How did you get in here?"

Aerith smiled easily and pranced into the small room. "I used the front door."

Tifa rolled her eyes as the brunette took a seat on the counter. "But of course. Why didn't I think of that?" She stepped back into the privacy of the shower and finished rinsing off her body as she tried to refrain from freaking out. She wasn't sure how much Aerith had heard but a rational part of her mind insisted that if Aerith had heard the 'best friend' part she would have immediately asked about that. Tifa quickly decided that her best plan of action would be to pretend she'd forgotten about Aerith's first question and wait to see if the other woman asked it again.

"So what is it that's so bad Tifa?"

Tifa mentally cursed and began to frantically think of a response. "Um…what do you mean Aerith?" Tifa rolled her eyes at her own words as she shut off the water. What kind of bullshit answer was that? At the rate she was going, Aerith was going to become even more determined to get an honest answer out of her.

The shower curtain shifted and Tifa saw her towel appear. She dried off as much as she could in the small space before wrapping it around herself and throwing back the curtain.

She nearly jumped back as she came face to face with the brunette woman. "Uhh, you're bordering on creepy here Aerith."

The green-eyed woman merely laughed. "Nope. You're just imagining that. But you know what would be creepy? This!" And with that she threw her arms around Tifa and laughed when her friend yelped.

"Okay. Okay. You win." Tifa groaned. Not only did she admit defeat, but she wasn't even sure what she was admitting defeat for. She rolled her eyes and fixed the other woman with a curious look. "I just realized that I have no idea why you're even here."

Aerith stepped back and took Tifa's hand in her own, pulling her gently towards her room. "There isn't a particular reason per se. I just wanted to see you." She looked over her shoulder and gave Tifa a bright smile.

Tifa nearly stumbled as she felt her knees give. There was no way it was fair for anyone to have that gorgeous of a smile. As they reached her room she clued into the fact that Aerith was waiting for her to say something, but she couldn't manage to think past how pretty the other woman was to remember if they'd still been talking or not. "Uh…yeah?"

Aerith's eyebrows shot up and she looked surprised for a moment before she burst into laughter. "You have no idea what I said at all do you?"

A light blush rose to Tifa's cheeks and she shook her head. "Not really. I was a bit…distracted by my thoughts? What were you saying?"

"Well…" Aerith faltered for a second as she stifled a giggle. "I'd said I'd leave you be so you could get changed. Unless you wanted me to stay and watch."

Tifa was fairly sure her jaw dropped as Aerith gave her a playful wink. Then she was bombarded by a slew of very dirty thoughts. More heat rose to her cheeks and she was fairly certain she was coming close to resembling a tomato. She rubbed her hand across her face. "Jeez Aerith, when did you get so pervy?"

Aerith grinned then gave Tifa a serene smile. As she blinked innocently at her friend she spoke again. "Whatever do you mean Tifa? I've never had a perverted thought in my life. It's not my fault you twist everything I say into something dirty in that lewd mind of yours."

"Uh huh. Put this all on me why don't you?" Tifa rolled her eyes and made shooing motions. "Now out. This new side of you has me fearing for my virtue."

The other woman snorted but did as she was bade and gave Tifa a saucy wink as she went, closing the door behind her.

The instant the door closed Tifa let herself sink against the wall and groan. At this rate she would be willing to swear that Aerith knew all about the feelings she was struggling with and was attempting to push her into finalizing her decision on them. In fact, that's exactly what she would assume if she wasn't sure that Aerith was very straight and completely head over heels for Cloud.

And even if she tried to, Tifa couldn't begrudge the other woman for that. For years Tifa had also thought herself to be in love with the stoic blond man. Unfortunately for her sanity it had turned out that her feelings for Cloud had been completely platonic and she hadn't even realized what lust truly was until Aerith had tripped and fallen against her in a drunken haze one night, allowing her to feel every inch of the other woman's body.

Tifa wouldn't wish that moment of life-changing realization on anyone.

But things were what they were and Tifa had learned to deal with them. And she'd been doing a damned good job of it too. She'd made it clear to Cloud that she did love him as a friend and he no longer had to worry about her pursuing him. He'd seemed relieved and since then they'd only become closer.

Not long after she'd made her romantic disinterest in Cloud clear something had started to change with Aerith. Their relationship also began to grow and alter. It was to be expected since they were no longer rivals in regards to Cloud's affections. And that was what Tifa had taken all of the oddness for…at first.

Now that something was becoming more prominent and Tifa was fairly sure she knew what it was. Every time she saw Aerith her feelings grew stronger and bubbled closer to the surface. What had been lust was now becoming affection and something else that was terrifying.

Something that Tifa was pretty damn sure may or not be love, the kind that encouraged her to throw the other woman onto the nearest flat surface and show her exactly what she thought about her gorgeous figure. But it was also the kind that made her want to hold her close in the aftermath of her first urge and promise to cherish her for the rest of their lives. All in all, it was a feeling that normally shouldn't be directed at your best friend, especially not when they were of the same gender.

Lust she could handle. Hell, Tifa could handle having a bit of a crush. But being heads over heels in love with the brunette? That Tifa could not handle. And not handling it was exactly what she was doing. But more than anything Tifa was afraid that her feelings would be discovered and ruin the amazing friendship that had begun to develop between her and Aerith.

She'd be able to withstand rejection. Honestly, Cloud had rejected her time and time again and Tifa was pretty sure she'd proven that simple rejection didn't faze her. But this wasn't a simple heterosexual crush. Not in the slightest. This was an 'oh hey you know how you thought I liked guys and figured that undressing in front of me was all good because we're both straight, well not really, I totally dig you' homosexual thing. If Aerith found out, the chances were highly in favour of the other woman turning tail and running away from her as fast as possible.

Knowing this Tifa had initially thought that she could try to restrain her feelings. It wasn't the most ideal solution but it was all she had. But just now, seeing Aerith, having her so close to her in such an intimate situation…it had proved to Tifa beyond a doubt that subduing her newly discovered libido on top of her romantic inclination for her best friend wasn't going to fly.

And that left her stranded in the middle of the fucking ocean with no goddamn paddle.

She groaned again and knocked her head against the wall gently enough that sound wouldn't draw Aerith back. As she remembered her friend's proximity and her still naked state Tifa jumped up and began pulling on some clothing as quickly as she could.

Once she was dressed she realized she probably should have paid attention to what she'd put herself in. She took a quick look in the mirror and was relieved to see she'd grabbed one of her favorite white t-shirts and a pair of black jeans that were clean.

She quickly towel-dried her hair then ran a brush through it until all the tangles were out. Once she was done her usual after shower routine, which truly wasn't all that complex, she found herself looking for things to do that would allow her to delay leaving the room and seeing Aerith.

Tifa snorted, slightly disgusted with herself. It didn't matter if her life seemed to be revolting against everything she'd been comfortable with. She was still Tifa Lockhart and Tifa Lockhart was no coward.

With that in mind Tifa forced herself out of her room to search out her friend. To her surprise she found Aerith in the kitchen making…well she wasn't quite sure what Aerith was making. But the smell in the air was delicious and vaguely familiar.

Curious, Tifa moved up behind the brunette to view her creation over her shoulder. Upon seeing what Aerith had been working on Tifa couldn't restrain a gleeful shout. "Apple tarts!"

Tifa's voice startled Aerith and caused her to whirl around frantically, slipping and falling in the process. With a yelp she grabbed onto Tifa shirt and clung to it. Her attempts would have ultimately failed if Tifa hadn't managed to snake her arms around the other girl just in time. "Oh my goodness. Tifa you frightened me!"

Tifa gave her an apologetic smile and set her back on her feet. "Sorry Aerith. I forgot to announce that I was done. And then I was curious about what you were doing."

Aerith pursed her lips and looked at Tifa closely, as if trying to determine whether or not the other woman was lying to her. She found whatever it was she was trying to determine then smiled once again. "Alright, you're off the hook this time. But next time, I swear to god I will make you suffer."

Tifa nearly laughed aloud at the thought of the gentle woman attempting to beat the hell out of her. There was no way Aerith would ever be willing to do physical damage to another living person. But just as that thought crossed her mind another followed. If someone were to truly anger Aerith, she wouldn't have to lay a hand on them to make them suffer. She'd rage psychological warfare that could bring even the toughest man to his knees and make him sob like a small child. She shuddered at the thought and made her mind up to never get on the brunette's bad side.

For a moment Tifa just stood there and watched Aerith as she continued to roll out small circles of dough for the tarts. She glimpsed a bowl nearby that contained the apple cinnamon mixture and recognized the bowl as one of her own. And though she hadn't really looked around to determine if there was a recipe card, Tifa was sure the tarts had been made from memory. "Want to tell me why you decided to use my kitchen to make my favorite dessert?"

Aerith rolled her shoulders lightly then proceeded to gently place the circle she'd just rolled out into one of the tart pans. Nearby to the pan Aerith was filling sat two more pans that had already been filled with tarts that were ready to be put in the oven. A quick glance told Tifa that there was already at least one other pan already cooking as well. "This morning I developed an intense craving for something home-made so I decided on apple tarts. And while I was waiting for the dough to be ready I remembered that you like them. So I decided to finish making them here."

Tifa made a sound of understanding then found herself confused again by something Aerith had said, prompting her to ask yet another question. "You had to wait for the dough?"

Aerith turned her head to stare at Tifa in shock for a moment before laughing. "Oh my. How is it that you can own a successful bar that is supposed to serve some of the best food in town and yet you don't know how to make your favorite dessert?"

"Hey now, I have a chef to do most of the cooking. And on top of that, I serve food, not dessert. I'm better at cooking than I am at baking. Besides, why would I bother learning to make apple tarts when you make the best ones I've ever tasted? So long as I keep you around, I'll be set for life on the apple tart front." Tifa lightly tugged the brunette's braid and grinned as the other woman rolled her eyes.

"But of course. So what, does this make me your baking slave or something?" Aerith rolled her eyes. "Perhaps I should just move in. Then I'll be at your beck and call. Got a cupboard under the stairs I can live in?"

Tifa laughed at her friend's sarcastic tone. "Sure. Why not? I don't have a cupboard under the stairs but I do have an extra room."

Aerith's head turned quickly as she looked at Tifa with an unreadable expression. "Well then…" She paused for a moment, her words even and said with care. "When should I bring over my things?"

Tifa froze, unsure as to whether the green-eyed woman was serious or merely playing along. But the thought of having Aerith living with her, seeing her every morning and every night…it was incredibly appealing. And even though she knew it would make her life harder in some ways, she couldn't help the response that came forth. "Whenever you want to."

This time Aerith's feelings were clear in her features and her astonishment was obvious. "I'm not sure if we're joking about this anymore…"

Tifa's cheeks flushed and she swallowed with some difficulty. "I don't know about you…but I'm not. It would make sense you know. You're here most of the time anyway and you're always bringing me food. You'd be able to save money on rent. And on top of all that, I don't really like the thought of you living alone in that area. It's not entirely safe."

Aerith's face light up and she beamed at the taller girl. "Really? You're sure you wouldn't mind me moving in with you?"

Tifa nodded, slightly surprised by Aerith's enthusiastic reaction. "I'm sure. And besides, I live closer to your shop. And isn't your rent renewal coming up this month?" She waited for confirmation then grinned. "So why not? There's really nothing to lose."

"Well, I could end up driving you nuts. Then you'd never want to see me again." Aerith gave Tifa a teasing look and giggled.

Once again Tifa found herself speaking without thinking first. "There's nothing in the world that you could ever accomplish that would make me never want to see you again Aerith."

The sincerity in her tone brought a barely visible blush to Aerith's pale cheeks. She quickly looked away in hopes that her blush would go unnoticed. "Should I call Cloud then? Get him to help us move things?"

Tifa nodded then noticed that Aerith wouldn't be able to see her do so. "Yeah. How about I go call him while you finish up? I'd offer to finish but…it would probably go badly." She waited until Aerith hummed in agreement then turned to leave the room. Just as she was about to pass through the doorway she heard Aerith's voice. She turned back and found herself gazing into warm pools of emerald green.

"Just so you know Tifa, there's nothing you could ever do to make me leave you either." She gave her friend a dazzling smile before turning back to her baking.

With that sentence Tifa was left entirely speechless. But there wasn't really anything wrong with her saying nothing. Both women knew that they really didn't need to say anything else.

With that, Tifa continued off to find her phone and call Cloud to inform him of his new duties as Aerith's mover.

A couple weeks later found Tifa, Aerith, and Cloud all standing over Aerith's large mattress puzzling over the best way to get it down four flights of stairs.

Cloud spoke first. "Do you really need a bed? I mean, doesn't Tifa have an extra one?"

Tifa shook her head. "I used to. But then someone just had to do the nasty in it. Now the stupid thing is a pile of ashes."

"Uh…do I even want to know who this someone is?"

"Nope. You really don't."

"Right then. So what do we do?"

It was then that Aerith decided to add in her two cents. "Well…I could always just get a new bed. This one is actually pretty old and it really isn't all that comfortable. And it would save us a lot of effort."

Cloud snorted. "And by 'us' you mean me right?" Cloud yelped in surprise as a pillow made contact with the side of his head. A glance to his side showed him an overly innocent looking Tifa and a very amused Aerith. "Why don't you two just share a bed?"

Tifa looked away as her cheeks reddened. She looked around for something that would give her a good reason to keep her face turned until her blush died down. Her best option was the window. She walked over to it quickly and looked down onto the street below. Aerith's room overlooked a dirty alleyway that tended to house drug deals and Tifa was instantly reminded about the many reasons why she hated Aerith living alone in such an area.

The well of worry that had always plagued her when she thought of Aerith alone in her apartment flooded her mind and she quickly tried to think of something else. Unfortunately that led her right back to the idea of sharing a bed with her best friend. And though the thought of sharing a bed with a woman she was insanely attracted to wasn't an unpleasant one, Tifa knew it wasn't exactly the best move to make. If Aerith was irresistible outside of the bedroom she'd be even more so in a bed. But if suffering through a couple of near sleepless nights would get her friend out of her shitty apartment, Tifa was more than willing.

Suddenly another option occurred to her and Tifa whirled around with a grin. "I know! Aerith can take my bed and I'll use the couch. That way we can ditch this nasty thing."

While Cloud nodded Aerith began shaking her head emphatically. "No way Tifa. You're already doing more than enough for me by letting me move in with you. I can't take your bed away from you as well. We either share it or I take the couch."

Tifa pursed her lips. There was no way she was going to let Aerith sleep on her couch. She knew from experience that the damn thing was insanely uncomfortable. She let out an inaudible sigh and smiled slightly. "Alright Aerith, you win, we'll share."

Aerith grinned and clapped her hands together excitedly. "Perfect! Now we can just grab the rest of the boxes and we'll be done here. The bed was really the only large thing left. We got the rest moved yesterday."

A quick look around the apartment told Tifa that Aerith was indeed correct. They'd already moved out the small amount of furniture Aerith had and the rest of her stuff had been moved very efficiently that morning. All that was really left to do was move out the few remaining boxes and do a quick clean-up to ensure that Aerith got her deposit back. Not that there was much cleaning up to do. Aerith kept her living space nearly spotless.

Aerith's voice pulled her out of her musings. "Hey Cloud? If you can take two of those boxes down I'm sure Tifa and I will have no problem with the rest. I know you said you had a date tonight."

Cloud gave her a thankful smile and took the boxes she indicated. Once he had left Tifa whirled on the cheerful brunette. "He has a date? Cloud Strife has a date? Oh my good Jesus I don't even…" Tifa's eyes were wide with shock and it was all she could do to keep her jaw from slackening. "I can't believe it."

"I couldn't either at first. But once he explained who it was and told me how they met it and it all made a lot more sense." Aerith laughed as Tifa shook her head disbelievingly.

"Nuh uh. Cloud going on a date, willingly might I add, is not something I'll ever come to terms with. I'm starting to worry that something horrible is on the horizon. Maybe there's a coming apocalypse and Cloud knows about it? Is that why he's suddenly willing to put up with some ditzy bimbo that will just make him want to kill himself?"

Aerith snorted. "Leon is far from ditzy. In fact, Leon nearly rivals Cloud in how stoic a human being can be. Also, I'm sure there's no pending apocalypse. Cloud has merely finally met his match."

"Met his match?" Tifa snorted, and shook her head emphatically. "And what kind of a name is Leon for a girl? I mean, yeah, it's close to Leah but they are by no means the same name. And Leon sounds way more masculine. She probably hates her parents. Or is it a nickname? Oh god…she's not a biker is she? You wouldn't let our innocent little Cloudy go on a date with an ex-con would you!?"

There was a pronounced silence as Aerith continued to stare at her friend. When Tifa had first begun her rant Aerith had stayed silent to be polite, then she'd remained silent because it was entertaining. But by the time Tifa had brought bikers into it, Aerith was unable to respond. It was partially that she had no idea what to say in response, but more importantly, she was becoming increasingly worried about Tifa's mental state. Finally she figured out how to calm the other woman quickly and competently. She smiled warmly and laid a gentle hand on the taller woman's forearm. "Tifa, Leon is a man."

At that moment, Tifa wished she was the kind of girl who could faint. It would have made that information a lot easier to deal with. Instead she was left to flounder as she tried to fit the unbelievable into her reality. "A…man…? Wait…what? Cloud is…" She trailed off as her mind finally over-loaded completely.

For the first time in their long friendship, a spark of anger entered the gentler woman's vivid green eyes. "Gay? Yes Tifa, Cloud's gay. Do you have some sort of problem with it?" As her anger began to build Aerith looked away, unable to look at her friend as the possibility filled her mind that the other woman might reject their best friend over something as simple as his sexual orientation.

Tifa responded instantly, grabbing Aerith's shoulders and waiting until the other woman met her gaze. "Aerith, please don't misunderstand. I'm just surprised. I thought I was the only one but Cloud is too and it's just…it's a lot to take in."

The anger faded out of her eyes and Aerith's frown was replaced with her usual gentle smile. "Thank goodness. I was having a hard time believing that the Tifa I knew could be close minded about something so natural and-" Aerith cut herself off as her features flooded with a mixture of comprehension and confusion. "Wait, you thought you were the only what?"

The blood drained from Tifa's face as she had her words repeated to her. She hadn't meant to say the words out loud but she'd been so focused on setting Aerith straight that she'd just blurted everything that flooded into her head. "I…I meant…I mean…" She trailed off and bit her lip as she desperately avoided the other woman's green gaze.

There was a long silence as the two women immersed themselves in their own thoughts. Finally, Aerith spoke up. "Tifa…do you prefer women?"

When faced with such a direct question Tifa found she could do nothing but answer honestly. "As far as I'm aware…yeah. Women are my preference."

Aerith made a soft hum of understanding. "What about the feelings you had for Cloud? Does this mean you're interested in both genders or…?"

Tifa snorted softly and finally met curious green eyes. It was hard to try and pretend the conversation wasn't happening when Aerith sounded so genuinely curious. "I guess you could say I'm interested in both. But I think I feel more comfortable with women." Tifa shrugged her shoulders, finding that to be the best way she could describe it. "As for the Cloud thing, well, I realized that I had been forcing it all along. I mean yes, I love Cloud, but I don't feel a romantic or sexual inclination towards him. I just thought since he was my best friend and I loved him, I must be in love with him."

Aerith nodded. "I think I understand. I was the same way to an extent. I felt I should love Cloud and want to be with him since he reminded me of Zack. But in the end, I found that I saw him as a big brother of sorts."

Her smile took on a hint of sadness at the mention of her lost love's name and Tifa immediately started forward to wrap her in a warm hug only to stop. What if Aerith would no longer be comfortable with physical contact? How did she even feel about homosexual women? Tifa was sure Aerith wouldn't hold her orientation against her or see her differently but that didn't mean she would be as comfortable with her either.

As Tifa mulled all that had happened over and tried to decide on her next move, Aerith noticed what her friend had been about to do and came to the correct conclusion about Tifa's thoughts. She shook her head and laughed gently, gaining the other woman's attention. "You can still hug me Tifa. I won't be uncomfortable or grossed out. As far as I'm concerned, this doesn't change anything. You're still my best friend and we're still going to share a bed. I could care less."

Tifa snorted. She should have known that Aerith would say something like that, that she would easily accept the new found information just as easily as she accepted everything else. She sighed as she wrapped her friend in a warm hug. "You really are one of a kind Aerith."

Aerith giggled and hugged her back tightly. "I know. And that's why you love me."

Tifa laughed weakly. "Don't I know it."

That night found Tifa flopping down on the couch with a groan. "Jesus Aerith, when did you get so much stuff?"

Aerith scoffed and gave her a reproving glance. "I do not have that much stuff. You're just lazy."

"Lazy? Come on Aerith, name calling isn't very nice." Tifa rolled onto her stomach and gave the other woman a woeful stare. "Now you've hurt my feelings."

Aerith rolled her eyes and planted her hands on her hips. "Well how about I take you out to dinner to make it up to you?"

Tifa pursued her lips and considered the offer. "I don't know. I don't really feel like going out. But on the other hand… I want Chinese food."

"And that is why there is such a thing as ordering take out." Aerith started towards the kitchen where Tifa kept a list of all the usual places they ordered from and called out over her shoulder. "Same place as usual?"

"Sounds good." In truth, Tifa hadn't really needed to answer. Aerith was well aware of which restaurants Tifa liked and loathed. In fact, Tifa was fairly sure that Aerith knew her likes and dislikes better than she knew them herself.

She sat up and shifted her shoulders in an attempt to loosen the muscles. They'd been moving Aerith's stuff all day and despite Aerith's impressive cleaning routine, they'd still both ended up pretty dusty by the end of it all. Surveying her dirty jeans and taking into account the sweat that was still drying on her body she stood and wandered into the kitchen to tell Aerith that she was going to take a shower.

When she reached the kitchen she found Aerith leaning against the counter, staring off into the distance as she listened intently to the person on the other end of the line. "Yes. Can I get two orders of chicken chow mein, two orders of…"

Tifa tuned out what the brunette was saying and leaned against the door frame. She couldn't help but watch in fascination as the other woman's brow wrinkled and her lips pursed in an adorable frown. Tifa was pretty sure there was nothing Aerith could do that she wouldn't be able to find cute. Which was unfortunate because Tifa would really prefer it if she found her friend to be the opposite of cute, and beautiful, especially the opposite of drop dead sexy. Hell she kind of wished Aerith resembled a hag sometimes. It would definitely make her life easier.

Tifa sighed and closed her eyes. She knew she had to get over the other woman, and fast. At the rate she was going she was going to drive herself nuts with merely wanting the other woman.

A sudden pressure on her arm drew her out of her thoughts with a bit of a jolt and she found herself looking into curious green eyes. "Sorry, what did you say Aer?"

Aerith smiled. "I'd asked if you were going to take a shower. They said it would only take about fifteen or so minutes for the food to get here, so I thought that I'd wait for it while you showered."

Tifa tilted her head. "I was planning on it. Are you sure you don't want to go first though?"

"Nope. I'm not too dirty and I barely sweat at all." Aerith chuckled. "That's probably because someone did all the hard work."

Tifa rolled her eyes. "I didn't do all of it." She paused as she thought it over then gave the other woman a quick wink. "Or maybe I did. And as a reward, I plan on claiming that shower."

Aerith laughed and pushed at her arm lightly. "You go do that you strange, strange woman. I'll call you when the food gets here."

"Alright, thanks Aerith." Tifa grinned and headed off to shower. It didn't take her very long, as per usual and she was out and dressed just in time to hear Aerith call her name.

She entered the entry way just in time to help Aerith grab the take out containers and carry them in. As they laid the food out on the table she surveyed it all with amusement. "I think you got enough to feed an entire family Aerith."

Aerith blushed. "Don't be mean. I was just really hungry and I thought you would be too. Besides, left overs never hurt anyone."

Tifa laughed and took her usual seat. "Okay, okay, I'll be nice. But only because you have a point. And because Chinese left overs are the best kind."

They ate in silence, something that rarely happened. Normally at least one of them would have something to say or share. But they had been spending so much time together that there wasn't anything of import for them to divulge and they seemed to have wordlessly agreed to enjoy once another's company in a soothing silence.

Though they didn't rush it wasn't long before they'd finished eating. And without even thinking about it Tifa began to put away the leftovers as Aerith began loading the dishes into the dishwasher.

Tifa couldn't help but stand still for a moment, almost feeling as though she were at a loss as to what she needed to do next. Aerith noticed this immediately and gave the other woman a concerned look. "Is there something wrong Tifa?"

After a brief pause Tifa shook her head. "No. Not really at least. I guess I just feel like that should have taken a lot longer than it did."

Aerith laughed lightly. "That's probably because you're slower than a snail when it comes to any kind of cleaning."

Tifa opened her mouth to retort then found she had no actual defense. Instead she pouted and quickly stuck her tongue out at her friend. "That's why I have you."

With a soft giggle Aerith nodded. "But of course. You may use and abuse my abilities as you please."

Tifa blinked and nearly stuttered as she tried to think of something to say. "I…will definitely take you up on that. Now I don't know about you, but I'm ready to relax. Hell, I think I'm ready to just go to bed."

"I think I'm ready for bed too actually. I didn't realize how exhausting all of that would be. And besides, we have more to do tomorrow." Aerith's mouth pursed slightly and she sighed. "I don't know about you, but I'd rather deal with all that unpacking after a good night's rest."

Tifa peeked into the living room where the boxes still sat, all untouched and barely restrained a groan. There was no way she was going to be even remotely willing to touch that task without at least eight hours of sleep. "I'm completely with you on that one." She looked over at the other woman then grinned as she noticed a smudge of dirt just under her jawline. "Though there's something you might want to deal with before we head to bed."

Aerith blinked and gave the brunette a curious glance. As she saw the mischievous glint in the other woman's eyes she rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Oh my. Do I even want to know what it is?"

With a soft snickered Tifa stepped forward and lifted her hand to gently wipe at the smudge. "You've got some dirt here. So I'm thinking a shower might be on your list of things to do."

Aerith's eyes widened and her hand flew up to cover the area that Tifa's hand had touched. "How long has that been there?"

Tifa's grin widened. "Don't worry. It's not that noticeable. And it gives a cute, rugged look to you."

Aerith rolled her eyes at her friend's teasing tone. "While I disagree with that I do feel you're right about the shower. Would you mind?"

It was Tifa's turn to roll her eyes. "Aerith. You live here now. Which means you're not allowed to ask if you can do things. You just do them. Got it?" Once the other woman had given her a meek nod of agreement she smiled once more. "There are towels in the hallway closet. Take whichever one you like the most."

With a warm smiled Aerith caught her friend's hand, and in the process her attention. "Thank you Tifa. For everything."

Tifa grinned shakily as her heart rate hit the roof and spoke without thinking. "No need to thank me Aerith. This makes things easier for me too. Now I don't have to stay up late worrying about you making it home safe or getting attacked in the middle of the night."

The instant Aerith's features melded into a look of concern Tifa cursed inwardly. "Don't worry about it Aerith. You're my best friend, worrying about you is naturally a part of that. Now go shower. I'll wait for you in the living room."

There was a slight pause as Aerith looked at the crowded space and then back at Tifa. "I'd recommend you wait somewhere else. I don't think there's really any room for you in there. Unless you enjoy sitting on the floor."

Tifa followed her gaze and laughed. "Good point. Well then, I guess I'll get ready for bed and wait for you in there."

Aerith nodded and headed off to the washroom leaving Tifa to slowly make her way towards the bedroom.

End of Chapter One

This is going to be a very short story. I'd started it, intending it to be a one-shot. But somehow it morphed into a two-shot. Regardless, I hope you've enjoyed reading this at least half as much as I've loved writing it.