Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII is the property of Square-Enix. No profit is sought from this work.


There's not a whole lot in this life like having a woman. A really good woman, if you know what I mean. I've been loving the ladies almost as soon as I could stand, so you know I know what I'm talking about. When you get your hands on a fine piece of ass, there's nothing, nothing that can top that feeling.

I like all kinds. Tall and willowy, short and stacked, soft and curvy, tight and toned. Blond, brunette, redhead or hair that's dyed some funky color. Short hair, long hair, curly, straight. Hell, I even dated a bald chick once. There was just something about her. She didn't care about the rules or what people said. She had spunk, but then for some reason she decided to grow her hair out again and I guess the novelty wore off. But she was fun while I had her, like all my ladies are. I figure why limit yourself to one type when there's so many different kinds of beautiful out there.

Yeah, I know, it's gotten me a reputation. That Zachary, his head'll turn for any attractive thing in a ten mile radius. Miles of leg, a well-rounded behind, cleavage a man could lose himself in for days or just a pretty little mouth, if it's around, he'll find it and bed it and send it on its way.

Well, what can I say? I like pretty girls.

It's not like that kind of rep is doing me any harm in the barracks. And although the new Shinra secretaries might get a warning from their coworkers about the hound dog of SOLDIER, I still get more digits than I can keep track of. Hey, I'm hot stuff! The ladies want a piece of me.

I don't date the secretaries that much though. I flirt now and then. Okay, I flirt a lot, but I don't actually date them. Don't get me wrong, they're a fine-looking pool of women. Shinra likes having something young and pretty to look at while he's in meetings. It's just that… they're not really my type.

Surprised you there, didn't I? Thought I was all about the booty? I'm not going to pretend it doesn't matter. Like I said, I like pretty girls. The woman on my arm should at least be as good-looking as I am. I want to wake up to something pleasant in the morning.

But 'pretty', it's just not enough, you know. 'Pretty' gets old kinda quick if that's all there is. One pretty girl is just like the next and she's just like the one after that. Sure, they've all got their little somethings that catch the eye. Nice voice, cute toes, a little jiggle when they wiggle.

Two weeks tops, that's as long as my relationships could ever hope to last, if you could call what I had 'relationships'. I don't know why, really. The magic wears off. It's all the same. I stop calling. I don't drop by. I don't bother much anymore.

Sometimes, I feel like I've only ever been with one woman in my entire life. The numbers don't mean anything. I can easily think of a dozen of the more memorable ones, the ones who manage to stand out a bit from the crowd of my former lovers. They're as many different kinds of pretty as there are women. But somehow, it's like it's just one woman, like she's some kind of body snatcher, taking a new form to reel me in but underneath, she's the same pale shadow of a real woman.

I want a real woman. A real good woman. A woman I can take care of and worship forever. I worship my girls. I do. I put them on pedestals when hardly a one of them deserved it. I guess women must be made of the same stuff all over. The chassis might be different but the engine is the same.

I do love my girls, early on. I love how they flirt and they tease and they pretend not to give in. I love how they go about their lives doing what they have to do. I love seeing what gets them going, what they really feel for. I love seeing their passion. I love how they play the game. The chase is half the fun.

Except the chase is all the fun there is, sometimes.

Give them a week and the old Zack charm does its job. Being this good is a curse. It's the little things, you know, the little changes they make that add up and pile up and overflow and before I know it, everything I liked about them has come to a complete stop. They're all the same. And they do it to themselves to. I never asked them to.

You want to know why the bald girl started growing her hair out? She said she wanted to look pretty. I told her I thought she was pretty as she was but she wanted conventional pretty. Okay, maybe fussing over my girl's lack of hair might seem petty and even weird, but it was why she was growing it out that got me. She was doing it for me. For me. I never asked her to. I never asked her not to, but damn… you know, she wasn't doing it because it's what she really wanted. She was doing it because she thought I would like her more that way.

I've had women start cooking and cleaning when they were all about their careers before. Some of my cute little tomboys turned girly, fussing over makeup and skirts. The pretty ones tried to toughen up. Girls who didn't care what they looked like started putting so much effort into being some strange idea of 'perfect'. Asking me the dumbest shit questions. Should I lose weight? Do I look good in this? What should I wear tomorrow?

Fuck. It's annoying. I mean, hell, sure they look good. I wouldn't be with them if they didn't. I just wish they wouldn't… hell.

It's scary, you know. Watching people change like that. Putting all that effort into being something they're not. All trying to be somebody else's idea of perfect. It's a nasty surprise, finding out that the one you've been dating isn't a whole person after all. I don't want a half-woman. I don't want somebody who doesn't know who she is, somebody who's willing to change everything about herself at the drop of a hat just to keep somebody around. I sure as hell won't be doing that for anyone and I don't expect it from anyone else.

Most of my old girls, they handled themselves well enough at first, but only because they had to. The minute I'm in the picture, hell, the minute any man's in the picture, it's a whole different game. It's not 'make it on my own'. It's 'Keep This One Around'.

I hate that. Like they can't stand on their own for half a second. Like they'd die and the world would end if I weren't there. Having somebody cater to your every need despite what it costs them, it's kind of creepy.

I want a real woman. I think I've kind of halfway found her. I'm not sure.

She's pretty. Beautiful, actually. A real catch. Young though. Not obscenely young, but younger than I've been bothering with for a while.

I had a good look at her at first but I wasn't in a rush to approach. She's the real delicate, pretty type and after two of my delicate little exes landed themselves in the hospital doing dumb shit they thought would impress my SOLDIER sensibilities, I've been a little wary of the delicate type.

She's really sweet. Easygoing, nice smile, nice laugh. All round, a perfect little package and she'll be even better looking once she's done filling out. Hey, I like eye candy and I got a good imagination.

She sells flowers. I got to talking to her a couple times when I went to buy some. She didn't seem all that impressed with me. I guess that was what piqued my interest. It was like she had her own life's work to handle and my presence was only incidental. I love that stage of my relationships.

For some reason, I kept going down to buy flowers even after I was through with the flavor of the week. She let me escort her to her garden once. Nice place. A little weird, being in a broken down church and all. She got straight to work weeding and watering, never paying me much mind. I got a good look at her rear end, but if you ever meet her, don't tell her I told you that.

I started visiting the church pretty often after that. I think she just tolerated me at first. She always had this little smile, as if everything I said was amusing. I think she liked having me around after a while. She's beautiful, I said, and that's not a good thing down in the slums. I don't mind being her muscle.

Before I knew it, over a month had passed and I had been celibate for my longest stretch since puberty. So I asked her out. I think it surprised her even though we'd been literally seeing each other nearly every day for a while. She didn't know what to say. She actually said she'd have to ask her mother.

Now that was a real change for me. I'm used to grown women who can do what they want, or at least look like they can for a while. This was like moving from one kind of half-woman to another.

Turns out that instead of taking the sweet young thing out for dinner, I got an invitation to tea at her house. Let me tell you, Mother dearest was not impressed. I guess she could see my type coming a mile away.

I like different. I like new. And dating Aeris – yeah, that's her name. Pretty, isn't it? – dating her was going to be a definite change of pace for me. I figured a little more work than usual and we could still have a good time.

Her mother laid down a strict curfew and I bet she gave Aeris a good talking about the rules before she let Aeris go. Aeris looked cute for our date. Nothing revealing. I doubt her mother would have let her out of the house looking less than decent. She looked pretty though. I took her to a nice little restaurant topside. Poor thing was nervous the whole time. I don't think she'd ever been above the plate before that. She kept looking around like somebody would try to challenge her right to be there.

Call me a sucker, but that shy look got me right there. I like bold women who know what they're after and aren't afraid to take it. Aeris didn't seem like that at first but I couldn't step away.

Our first date ended in a chaste little peck of a kiss. Been a while since I'd had one of those. It was kind of nice. Left me wanting more. We made plans to meet again. I was happy. She was happy. I don't think Mother Dearest was.

So I've been dating Aeris for a while now and my relationship with my right hand is steadily improving. She won't put out and I won't push it. It just doesn't seem right with her. Funny how the one thing that gets me to stick around is not giving me what I want.

And I do want her. I want her so bad I call out her name at night. She's the hazy image in my head in the morning when my brain's not running on all cylinders yet and my hand's already taking care of business. I keep picturing what she would look like with her hair all undone and spilling over the sheets, with that pretty mouth gasping for air and those eyes looking up at me like I'm everything to her, because I know I'd be looking back the same way.

It's a little strange, I guess. In the time I've been seeing her, she's still who she was when I first saw her. A flower girl. A little shy, but growing out of it. Sweet girl, but feisty when I tick her off, which I try really hard not to do. And sad.

I don't know why, but sometimes when she's rooting around in her garden and I'm sitting on a pew enjoying the view, she stares off into the distance with a sad little look on her face. I asked her about it once before, but she said it wasn't anything I could understand. This is the really weird part about it. I want to understand. I wish she'd let me at least try.

I've done some pretty stupid things in the time we've been dating. Like taking her to a café where one of my exes works as a waitress. The woman made some really lewd comments and told Aeris not to be surprised when I stop calling. The scene didn't get as big as it could have, but that was the first time I've ever been ashamed of my studly past. Aeris didn't make a big deal out of it, but she was really quiet for a long time. She told me later that she wouldn't be surprised if I did stop calling.

That stung. As if I would do that to her, even if I'd done it to so many before. She's not like the others. I don't think she sees it yet, that I actually want to be a better person for her. Maybe this was why my old girlfriends tried so hard to be 'better'. Maybe they thought they should be the kind of person I deserve.

Well, I do deserve half-women like them. Brainless, spineless half-women with no thoughts of their own and no strength and no grace. That's what I deserve. How the hell exactly I'm dating Aeris now, I still can't understand.

She is who she is. I can't explain it any better. I can make her smile and laugh but all the patented Zack charm in the world can't make her do anything she doesn't want to do. She won't go along and give in to the pressure. She's a tough little lady behind that basket of flowers. She's not beyond smacking some sense into me if she thinks I'm acting up. I should know. I've got the lumpy head to prove it.

I got to remember this: For the time being, her rump is for viewing pleasure only, and only when she won't catch me looking.

It's scary. I want to be good for her and I'm trying so hard to be the man she deserves. It's really difficult too. While I'm still blundering around it, she might realize she deserves better and I'd be all out of luck.

Maybe I'd been doing it wrong, going after the older girls all the time. It's like when they hit a certain stage, they think there's only one way to keep a man. They think there's only one way to play the game.

Aeris doesn't know any of that nonsense. She didn't even know how to kiss till I taught her and I'm not saying that to brag. It's just a fact. She's young and hasn't had the experience. I'm being really careful with her in a way I haven't been with anyone else. I want to take care of her. I don't want to be the one to give her the kind of experience that takes whole people and makes halves out of them. I'm not going to be the one who tells her she's not pretty enough just to get her off my back, who stops calling with no excuse, who tells her she'd be better if she'd just do this or do that. I'm not going to cut her to pieces just to fit my agenda.

I want Aeris to finish growing and still know who she is, same as she does now. I want her to be as strong as she is now, to not compromise herself for anyone, not even me. I want her complete and beautiful and sure, so that when we're finally together like I want us to be, she'll put her whole self into it, no holding back.

I've been dating half-women and broken women and sometimes even outright fragments of women. Women with experience, jaded women who don't require the kind of care a brand new whole woman does. I'm no good at putting people back together. I'm no good at sealing up the cracks. But I'm doing all I can to keep my little half-grown woman in one piece. I'll take care of her and protect her as long as I can, forever if she'll let me. I only hope I can be good enough for a woman who knows her worth.