Character(s)/Pairings: Aerith, Zack/Aerith
Summary: She's always lonely, but never alone.
Note: I was completely dissatisfied with Crisis Core's depiction of Aerith and Zerith, so I took it upon myself to rewrite it.
Early moments in her life are like old worn out movie reels. White rooms, missing scene, needles, kicking, screaming, missing scene, missing scene. The clearest memory she has from back then is her clinging to her mother's bloodstained clothes as if she could keep her there, until a stranger takes her away when she's too tired to fight.
There's not much thinking of her life before. Her new caretaker, mother, lets her spend her time in the barren backyard where she can hear soft whispers offering comfort. She hears her mother, her real mother, clear as day, words wrapping around her in the warm sunlight, telling her secrets.
Of course, children are bad at keeping secrets. Elmyra dismisses them as flights of fancy, an overactive imagination by a lonely child.
When she receives notice of her husbands death her child informed her of days before, everything shifts. Men in black suits are part of their lives now, and an unassuming former housewife deals with things like government men chasing after fairy tales in her daughter. Promised Land and Ancient are now a part of her vocabulary.
In an unspoke truce they agree not to talk about it. They agree everything should be normal.
(The flowers sprouting in the once barren yard, in a city with no sky, is one of those things they don't talk about.)
At 17, Aerith settles into her second home. The abandoned church is her haven now; forgotten by all but her. She wonders what they worshiped here, if people forgot the names of their gods as easily as the cities they lived in.
Most of her days are spent here, in the quiet of the church, her pull towards the planet strongest here. The voices comfort her, like always, so she's never lonely. No, no, never alone.
She's giving away flowers when she meets him. She does this sometimes: gathers her flowers and hands them out to those in the slums. Maybe they cheer people up; she hopes so.
The problem happens when she meets him, all dark hair and bright blue eyes -- brighter than natural -- casually strolling up to her. Flirting, even. Any other man, and Aerith might have been flattered. Any other man but a SOLDIER, a dog of Shinra, who wore his sword and uniform so proudly she took it as a personal offense, and no you may not have a flower.
She took pride in his dumbfounded look as she walked off. It seemed rejection was new for him.
...In fact, it must have been brand new, because he didn't seem to take no for an answer. Every day he was there on leave, he would beg her for a flower, her name, her favorite color, anything. It was getting harder to treat him with the same coldness she gave the Turks; something about this boy seemed more genuine, innocent. And maybe it was nice to talk to someone on a daily basis who wasn't a ghost.
She starts with her name.
She supposes she likes him.
She's never really liked someone before, never really gotten close enough to tell if she did. Zack was real in front of her, all smiles and wonder, hanging on her every word. He seemed so naive about Shinra Aerith almost felt bad about her initial coldness.
Things are bad now, but we can still do good, he would say, never understanding her sad smile.
He suggests she start selling her flowers rather than giving them away. It wasn't something she considered before -- it seemed natural the flowers should be free, and for everyone. The poor were struggling.
You're poor, he points out. No arguing that, she agrees.
She sees him one last time before he leaves on a routine mission, but he carries less of the boyish charm she saw when they met. He seems lost. So she invites him to the place she goes when she's lost.
For a long while it's unusually quiet with the two of them in the church, Zack sitting cross legged with his head hung, Aerith laying half on the flower bed, whispers licking at her ear. His voice cuts through them like a knife.
Wherever you are right now, think I could join you?
She's no good at consoling with words, so she simply walks over to him, palms against his cheeks, lips to his, and gently falls to the church floor with him.
The first few days, she's not worried. Missions take a while, and there's no accounting for the journey he has to take back and forth.
It becomes a week, then two, then she starts to get worried. Hurt in action, maybe? Missing? Wouldn't he call?
Her gut twists for two months as she tries to go about her daily life. Suddenly it's much harder; sitting alone in her lovely church just doesn't feel the same. Voices reach her but she wants nothing to do with them.
The third month she thinks it was all a mistake: maybe he had just become bored of her, or thought better of them seeing each other or -- and her gut twists when she thinks about it -- he found out who she was.
Aerith had never said anything; it wasn't a part of her life she even discussed with Elmyra. Something like that was just too personal, too private, and she didn't want him trying to protect her from the Turks or anyone else when she'd gotten along just fine for years. He'd have only made himself a target, like her.
This is how she deals with it: first, she starts writing letters. Casual, initially, then increasingly desperate, and where there's still no word, she continues out of pure spite.
Attempting to call has become a moot point, but she dutifully keeps the battery charged and next to her bed, so she's available at all hours of the night.
When months become years she finally accepts that he's not coming back. She creates scenarios in her head, but not grim ones. The phone by her bed has no more life in it, and she sees no point in keeping it on when there's no one else to call.
She writes one final letter; a testament to what they might have been, and a fond farewell she knows now she'll never be able to give him.
Life then goes on as it always does. Another year passes and the pain is nothing but a dull ache she pokes at from time to time. The flowers sell well, especially outside the theater house, when lovers arm and arm are still on the high from a romantic play.
She finds places even outside the church where small patches of the lifestream break through metal and stone and concrete; Aerith feels as though an old friend is reaching out to her.
Another routine year passes when she's in the church, tending to her flowers, and suddenly she feels it -- like a knife in her gut, she feels the familiar tug of a soul into the lifestream and knows exactly who it is.
The moment passes almost as quickly as it came, leaving her in the silence of her church where she suddenly feels very small, and very alone.
She's standing on the corner when it happens; quicker than she can react, her balance fails her and she's on the ground, looking at someone's boots. It takes only a minute to gather her bearing when she looks up into bright blue eyes -- brighter than normal.