Author's Note: I've had this idea floating around in my head for awhile. For those of you who don't know me, I'm always and forever a AeriSepher, but I decided to try something different (with Aerith, of course). And so, instead of one love interest for the dear girl, we have two (neither of them being Cloud ).

This story is sort of AU, meaning it will follow the game somewhat, but I will have altered some things. Consider yourselves warned.


From lashes to ashes, and from lust to dust – in your sweetest torment I'm lost, and no heaven can help us ...

Heartache Every Moment – HIM


She was working diligently, buried to her wrists in rich, damp earth, when she became aware of his presence. He said made no effort to announce himself, he seldom did, and so with a small smile she continued planting. With gentle, dirt caked fingers she set the small seedling within the hole she had made; carefully she then surrounded it with soil and tamped it down. Finished, she sat back on her heels, and wiped with the back of her hand a stray tendril of chestnut hair that had fallen into her eyes. She surveyed then with pride the fruits of her labor; all around her blossomed a myriad of flora in every imaginable color. Their scent rose on the air within the somewhat stuffy confines of this abandoned church, and every time she breathed she delighted in their heady perfume.

Behind her came a sound, a footstep made deliberately heavy. Her smile widened; he had decided to let her know he was here. She rose to her feet, and when she turned to face him, her expression was decidedly blank. He was standing in front of the broken, battered double doors, one hand lightly settled upon the back of a once polished pew. He looked solemn, as he always did; clad impeccably in a suit of dark blue, his long, fine dark hair pulled away from his face in a severe style to fall to a point in the middle of his back. She could see he was here on work time; a shoulder holster of black leather was just visible over the lapels of his jacket, and she knew instinctively he carried more than just a gun. His dark, intense eyes studied her intently, waiting, as usual, for her to make the first move.

"Hello, Tseng." She said softly, trying without success to brush the dried dirt from her hands.

"Aerith," He greeted in turn. His voice suited the rest of him, quiet and intense.

Giving up on the dirt, she attempted to straighten her dress, wrinkled as it was from hours of kneeling while she gardened. She asked then, with a hint of mischievousness in her tone, "To what do I owe the honor of this visit?"

A hint of a smile graced his face, and he let fall his hand from the pew before walking to stand before her. "No honor. I simply came to check up on you."

"You," she said, bending down to pick a white, long petal flower with an indigo inflorescence, "check up on me entirely too often."

"I can't help it," he replied, "I worry about you."

She smiled. "I know." She took one step to close the distance between them, and with deft hands slid the flower through a vacant button hole on his jacket. Caught off guard, he watched mutely as she arranged the bloom to a certain angle before stepping back with a scrutinizing eye.

"Much better," she declared, "It brings out your eyes."

The look on his face was of such indignation that she erupted into laughter. After a moment his expression relaxed, and then his laughter joined hers; a deep, husky timbre that echoed clearly within the confines of the church.

Their laughter trailed away, and they were left staring at each other in awkward silence. She knew what he wanted – how could she not? – and though the thought made her weak in the knees she wasn't entirely certain if she felt the same he did. She'd known Tseng as a reserved and stoic child, and he had grown, metamorphosing into the reserved and stoic man that stood before her. More had changed than just his age, though, and it was that part of him that made her a little wary and a little afraid ...

He was a Turk.

As if to emphasis her thoughts, the doors behind them swung open with an abrasive screeching sound. Her eyes darted past Tseng to see a familiar head of blistering, spiky red hair, and her heart sank in her chest.

"Reno," she whispered. Tseng whirled around.

"You found her before I did, Tseng. I thought she might be here." Reno approached them both with long, aggressive strides. He was dressed much the same as Tseng, but with a casual air; his suit was lined in places, his jacket loose and the shirt beneath it undone. Dark sunglasses were pushed up high on his forehead, and he carried in one hand his long metal asp.

Reno's words filled Aerith with dismay. Tseng turned back to her, and his face had hardened into an impassive mask. Something slid behind his dark eyes, however, and reading them she knew he was sorry, that he was asking for her understanding. She nodded imperceptibly, but couldn't help the disappointment flooding her now. How long would things continue thus? For Tseng was always one person with her, and a completely different person as a Turk ...

And, she acknowledged with some sorrow, he was before anything else a Turk.

"Nice flowers," Reno remarked, having reached where they stood and casting an idle glance around the place. A cigarette, unlit, dangled from his lips, and Aerith marvelled that he could speak clearly without dislodging it.

"Thank you," Aerith replied, a little curtly. Reno, knowing her dislike of him, flashed her his cocky, trademark grin.

"I was just bringing her in," Tseng said, and his tone was now cold and authoritative.

"I'll come with," Reno said, and was about to say more when his eyes alit on the flower adorning Tseng's suit. "Tseng ... nice flower."

Aerith expected Tseng to cast it away, grind it under his heel to save face, but what he said instead astonished her. "I like it." And he winked at her, quickly and before Reno could see.

"So, we going or what?" Reno strode back towards the doors, twirling his asp in one hand.

"We'll be right behind you." Tseng waited another moment before offering his arm to Aerith. "I'm sorry. Hojo wants only to ask you some questions." He whispered.

At the name of the doctor, Aerith's eyes narrowed. "So you say," she whispered back, and hurt in her tone was undisguised, "So you always say."

She didn't take his arm; she brushed past him to follow Reno. Tseng hesitated another moment before going after her. As he passed through the doors to the church, he lifted the flower from his jacket and brushed it swiftly, lightly against his lips before letting it fall to the floor.


TBC