"We should definitely decorate this year," Marlene declared as she walked along beside Tifa.
"We'll have to get some decorations," Tifa replied with a smile. They'd been out doing a bit of shopping and both were carrying bags, but that didn't stop Marlene from at least trying to point out some of the obviously-scavenged and newly made things that she liked that people had been decorating with.
There was a cool bite in the air, but not cold enough for snow yet. If they wanted snow, they'd have to go north and business had come back to the bar, and to Cloud, which didn't leave a lot of time for a vacation. There would be time for snowboarding later, Tifa knew. Perhaps plans could be made for midwinter.
"I'll ask Denzel if he knows where to find some," Marlene said as they turned the last corner before the bar.
Tifa was sure that that Denzel would have a good idea, yes. He'd been able to find other things, and in surprising amounts. Though finding holiday decorations, likely normally kept tucked away in closets or attics, might be a challenge.
They went in through the back with Tifa juggling her bags to hold the door for Marlene.
Tifa gasped and then smiled. Cloud was sitting there, papers scattered on the table. He was smiling too.
"You're home early," Tifa managed. She hadn't been expecting Cloud, but oh, he was a welcome surprise. They'd been doing better. They'd been talking and... well, everything was better. Not perfect, but Tifa knew not to expect that. She'd take better, and improving, and moments like these where Cloud's smile said everything.
"You can help too, then!" Marlene declared as she darted over to set her bags on the counter and then darted back to get the first hug from Cloud.
"Help with what?" he asked as he gave her a quick squeeze. Tifa carefully set down her own bags. There were a few things that needed to put away quickly, but nothing that couldn't wait for another minute.
Cloud was on his feet by the time she'd turned and apparently he'd been home for long enough to wash. He smelled clean and not of dust and the road. Tifa leaned against him and held him close.
"I'm glad you're home," she said softly. He kissed her hair before letting go.
"I think I have a couple of days off." Cloud started sorting the bags before Tifa could. Mostly it was food- half for the bar, half for them, and then some other necessities. Prices had been decent; everything was doing fairly well. She would have waited to send Cloud if she'd known... No, it was good she'd gone and he'd gotten to relax.
"Then you can definitely help. We're going to decorate the whole bar," Marlene explained as she reached for the bag to go out to the bar's bathroom. "I'm going to ask Denzel if he can find some decorations, okay?"
"He's doing maintenance on my bike," Cloud replied. "Be careful."
She was gone a moment later, leaving Cloud and Tifa alone with a few bags of produce that were the last thing left to stow. Carefully, Cloud named them all as he put them away, almost as if he expected them to have changed. Tifa didn't say anything; she just watched him. They'd both changed, again. They both felt a little more free, though neither of them would ever forget...
"I don't remember the last time I decorated for anything," Cloud admitted. Tifa helped him fold all the cloth bags up and pile them in a single one to hang beside the door.
"It always used to feel so magical when we were kids," Tifa replied. "But I don't remember, either. Maybe a little tree at the end of the bar in Midgar, for Marlene the one year?"
"I wonder if they'll be able to find any lights."
"Do you remember that one shop that would do a big display in the window?"
"It was pretty fancy for Nibelheim."
They stood there, in the kitchen, sharing memories until Denzel poked his head in to tell them that he and Marlene were heading out to scavenge. Tifa was almost tempted to go with them, but the few times she had, she'd found more than she'd bargained for. After the last handful of years, she thought she might've gotten a little more used to death. But perhaps it was better that she hadn't.
Many of the places safe to scavenge had been marked, now. Tifa knew that Denzel wouldn't take Marlene anywhere too dangerous or upsetting.
"Maybe next year we can do a big display," Cloud said. Tifa blinked. She had gotten lost in her own thoughts and hadn't quite been listening.
"I think it's too late for this year, especially since we don't know what Denzel might find. I'll probably be able to buy a few things, too. I should have thought about it, since I did see people putting their decorations up..."
"Are you worried about celebrating?" Tifa asked.
"I might've been," Cloud replied. He reached to put an arm around her again. Tifa didn't pull away. "I guess I just didn't know how you'd feel, or anyone..."
"Maybe we can have a party." Tifa leaned and, after a moment, sighed. "For everyone else who is a little unsure, maybe. A way to say it's okay to celebrate again, and that things are going to be okay."
"You'll have to be sure to be home for it," she teased. She knew he wouldn't miss it. Not now. Not if he didn't want a few little nudges from beyond, because she knew he still got them from time to time. She got them too, even if they were probably just her imagination. Perhaps, in a way, it was how she remembered Aerith. There would be just the right scent in the breeze, or a soft nudge on a hard day, or...
"I will. I promise." Cloud smiled at her.
"I'll hold you to that."
"I know. But hey, we should see about moving a few tables if there's going to be a tree."
"If they find one."
"Knowing Denzel, it'll be too tall for the ceiling and made out of something near-impossible to cut," Cloud replied with a soft laugh. Tifa laughed, too.
Soon they were both in the quiet bar, pushing things around and dreaming bigger and brighter. Everything would be artificial, of course, but it would still be green and festive. Lights could twinkle on every wall and bows could be tied on every pipe and chair. It wouldn't be quite what they remembered from their youth, but it felt good anyway.
There would always be a bit of sadness. But there would be so much more joy--
And that was what Tifa knew their family needed.