day/theme: September 04 : the great bewildering city that you live in
series: final fantasy vii
character/pairing: aerith, tifa, aerith/tifa
In Midgar, Aerith learned to breathe.
She was seven when she left the research facility, and to some, seven is old enough. Seven whole years, at least three of memories that stuck, leaving scars that never faded like so many bright red dots, needles that punctured. Seven years of white walls and white coats and dark, clean, waxed floors. Eighty-four months of rubber gloves and paper gowns and the look in her mother’s eyes when she could see her mother, that sad, drifting, unbroken center.
Her life began sometime in her seventh year. She had not known or understood much about time before, her age a loose guess garnered from her mother’s nibbled lips. Her life began. In even exchange, her mother’s ended. Her life began in Midgar.
Aerith wasted no time with terror. The bustling, congested filth of the slums, the towering buildings of the plate, the women with brown teeth and torn fishnet and dresses that ended where thigh began, the men with dirt crusted hands cupped for coin their teeth could crack on. Elmyra told her careful, be careful, but Elmyra couldn’t be sure how to handle the child who had burst into her life, heels skidding in the red puddle of that woman’s blood.
The rainbowed graffiti was too different from white walls and stainless steel, and she hopped over fear and into euphoria. For a small time, for enough time, Aerith loved Midgar. Pollution and hollow eyes hungry in a way that had nothing to do with her – Midgar was the rotting, decrepit refuge. At seven, Aerith raced through the streets ahead of her new mother, tripping over broken pipes and skinning her knees blood red over bottle shards; she laughed before she ever cried.
When she found the Church her old mother spoke to her again. The smog made her sneeze and sometimes sick; sometimes she heard voices near the furnaces. A man in a blue suit told her it made her special and after she ran away, she cried behind the crumbled pews. Elymra gave her books. She read about green leaves and clean air and a sky that looked blue all of the time.
When Aerith tried to imagine it, shutting her eyes and closing her hands, it made her dizzy. It made her dizzy.
Tifa understood death, though she could never pinpoint when it was she had died. Sometimes she thought it was with her mother, tiptoeing into the bedroom to look at the skeleton that wore her mother’s skin, gone yellow, purple under her once bright eyes. Tifa had squeezed her smaller hand around the bones and skin and waited for her mother to squeeze back, she waited for hours and hours until her Papa, his eyes rimmed as red as blood, took her into his arms and left her in her room. She waited there for the tears, but she never cried, and maybe only the living cry.
Sometimes, she wondered if it wasn’t in the time she knew had passed but could not remember, what she thought made Papa look at Cloud Strife in that hard way. It made her curious, like the dead determined burning look in his eyes, like the way he looked one way at the other boys and another way at her, a way like how the other boys looked at her, but different, intense, like looking at her was like breathing and living and looking at the other boys was like remembering how it felt to be dead. She wanted to know, but Cloud Strife was weird.
Other times, she knew: when the flames licked Nibelheim, when they swallowed home and friend like her lungs swallowed the smoke and later the blood. Faltering, when she found her Papa rimmed red with blood and soaked through, Tifa died, and the General hadn’t done anything that wasn’t already so.
Tifa had lived in mountains, sucking in thin air and learning every crevice. She had lived in plains and kept a garden of flowers keen on cold, thin air, and lived in wide lanes and amicable general stores that gave her a free glass of soda pop, not just because she was the mayor’s daughter. When she woke up in Midgar, after travel and closing scars and oceans and the way Zangan had tried to save her without knowing that she was already dead, Tifa fumbled with labels. Less than twenty, less than eighteen, the girl approached the City with cold hands and stiff muscles, because she was not dead but not yet alive.
In Midgar, Tifa learned to hold her breath.
I can take care of myself, the flower girl told the barmaid. The barmaid wasn’t sure she believed it of the girl with thumbs dyed plant green that clashed like a bad Christmas card with her sleek red dress, bought for this gaudy occasion.
Don’t worry, she went on with a smile that told absolutely nothing but the shape of her mouth, I grew up in the slums. I’m used to danger.
Midgar was a dead city and the slums the rot. The barmaid searched the flowergirl’s face, the smile that deceived only in how much it promised to tell and how little it did. This hope felt like a flutter. Hope in Cloud was a constant, a crutch, something she began to lean against long before she realized it, the moment she spotted him crumpled and sopping in the polluted rain. Hope in Aerith was teasing. The flowergirl searched the barmaid’s face and saw skies that were blue all the time, memories of air and of grass.
After Midgar and its dead soil were miles behind, the flowergirl leaned over the dirt path and took the barmaid’s gloved hand, she smiled and squeezed. We’re alive, you know, she said. I think a place like that, it really makes you feel it. Don’t you think?
The barmaid didn’t. Sometimes she thought the flowergirl was crazy, like when she was talking about ancient fairy tales that had never been very interesting to begin with, like how Cloud could be strange and there but not, like the way sometimes the barmaid hated her, too, because the flowergirl looked at Cloud the way she was too afraid to look and didn’t care at all that it was obvious.
Tifa didn’t think. Aerith told her it was good to be alive, and a place like that could really make you feel it, in a way, she wanted to laugh, but she wanted to believe it more. Aerith squeezed her hand and she squeezed back and Tifa felt dizzy. She didn’t think of dark streets and darker alleys and the way Midgar went on and on in numbered sequence, trains that had no choice but to go where their rails took them. Tifa held Aerith’s hand and the breeze was clean and soft and warm and inhaling made her think of trains skidding in a shower of squealing sparks off their tracks, of relief.
When Aerith kissed her, she exhaled into her mouth and Tifa breathed.
(When Aerith died, her pink rimmed and skinned red in blood, Tifa exhaled into her mouth, but.)