So life goes on. The streets of Midgard's Edge grow cleaner, its houses prettier, the desolate plains all around bloom; in a few years, there might be a forest. People learn to smile at each other on the streets. Babies are born. Denzel and Marlene grow up.
Cloud still does his deliveries. He's gone often -- he needs to feel the wind on his face too much -- but he always comes back to Tifa's bar. Tifa's house. Tifa's bed, eventually. It's like gravity.
She's happy, she thinks. They're happy. She doesn't miss their violent days too much. She doesn't miss the violence, at least; though she will always be glad for those days. They forged her will, her heart.
She doesn't miss the sense of unity, the common goal. She was often afraid, back then, that nothing they did would be enough; and besides nowadays she can still see her friends and work with them without having to be on the run. Rebuilding is hard, but it's still a lot less stressful a cause.
There is only one thing she misses from those days. It's an ache, she thinks, that will never go away. And perhaps she's jealous of Cloud, a little, a lot.
She wonders, if she died, would Aeris be there for her, too? Would she smile, and say, perhaps, "it's too early"?
... "Welcome," maybe?
It's a little unfair, she thinks, that Cloud got to see her, to say goodbye, and Tifa didn't. But then, she tells herself, Cloud needed Aeris's absolution a lot more than Tifa does.
(and even now she doesn't want to say goodbye, anyway. Perhaps it is better that Aeris doesn't visit her; she would refuse to let go.)
So then, there she is, and she's a little late -- Denzel was late for his shift at the bar, Marlene needed help getting ready for a date. She's late, but the flowers will forgive her the wait.
"There you are," Aeris says, and smiles, and Tifa's heart tears in two -- 'I missed you' and 'You'll leave again.' She doesn't move. Her feet are rooted in the ground. She wonders if she will be able to move before the ghost, the presence dissipates. Perhaps she shouldn't try.
But Aeris comes to her instead.
"Sorry I'm so late," she murmurs, and her eyes soften, compassionate; and then she grins. "Honestly, you wouldn't believe how busy it's been!"
Tifa sits. A bench catches her, though that's something of an accident.
"I'm glad it's all done now," Aeris continues, seating herself beside Tifa.
Their knees touch, and she's warm.
"Well, there might be need for some little adjustments, but--"
Tifa's hand finds Aeris' on the bench and squeezes.
She's thirty, she's a woman, she's leading a good life. But Aeris looks timeless.
Aeris squeezes back, and doesn't say anything about how much Tifa's white-knuckled grip must hurt. "... I'm here now."
Slowly, Tifa's head comes to rest on Aeris' shoulder. She can't believe how easily she believes it. And she cries and cries; and maybe she's laughing too.
When Aeris kisses her cheek, she kisses back. Cheek, jaw, temple, eyelids; she presses her lips against her skin, fast, desperate almost, desperate to feel how real she truly is. Aeris giggles softly; Tifa doesn't think when she throws her arms around her.
Aeris always looks so stable and self-assured, Tifa forgets she's physically so much stronger. They tumble in the flowerbed. Aeris makes a little "oof" of surprise, and laughs again -- and then she's not wise, benevolent, ageless, otherworldly; she's Tifa's best friend, just a girl with a tendency to play armchair psychoanalyst and a propensity to tease, and she's alive and she's back and Tifa is never letting go.
They cling. They caress each other's hair. Their legs tangle.
When one of Tifa's hurried kisses lands on Aeris' lips, Aeris kisses back, and despite her surprise, Tifa never thinks to pull away.
When Cloud gets worried and comes to find Tifa, he finds them cuddling tight at the edge of the pool, Aeris' button-up dress spread under them to ward off the humidity of the soil. Tifa's knee-length skirt is bunched up at her waist, and Aeris is wearing Tifa's jacket and a whole lot of nothing else.
Aeris doesn't wake, and this is what convinces him that she's real, and that she's here to stay.