Last request fic for Zelda 6. She wanted some Zack/Tifa. I think I fulfilled that even if the plot of it and the content are a little different then the request ran. What can I say. I don't control my muses. Now I just have the Naruto request fic and I'm done and done!

I think, since it said somewhere in a FAQ I read that the whole Sephiroth slashing episode was five years before the start of FF7. That would make Tifa 15. I don't know how old Zack was, but considering how young Cloud was when he ran off to join to Shinra, I didn't think 18 was too young for a SOLDIER. So Zack is 18.

Everything is canon, pretty much, except that Zack survived. And thus we lay our scene.

Probably still have some stylistic problems with tenses. . . but meh. I'm ok with that.

Disclaimer: I don't own FF7 or anything Final Fantasy except for a few games for my PS2. I be poor! I also seem to be fond of alt pairings.

Who was he kidding. In another year or two she would be the kind of girl who was two dates away from a shotgun wedding to any guy lucky enough to trap her. She didn't seem like the type who could be tied down for any other reason.

Three years was all the difference between them, but it was easy to remember how the one between his own parents was five. And his father was the younger one. It wasn't like they had set him a good precedent. He heard boys mature slower. What had his mother been thinking? The way his mind was reasoning, he would be on the same mental plane as this bit of a girl. Bad thoughts. Unworthy. You've got a girlfriend back in town. Yeah, a needy, clingy one. One of many in a long line stretching back to his first day as a SOLDIER. Put on a monkey suit, any kind, and there was always a girl ready to fall over herself to talk to you. Sage advice from some crazy uncle. There was always a crazy uncle. It would be him if his parents had had the decency to have more kids and take the pressure off of him.

He wouldn't even be arguing himself in circles in his mind if it weren't for the fact that he'd been in the presence of that girl for days now. Days. It wasn't just the way she was obviously turning into a pretty (don't forget curvy, buddy) girl. She was fifteen, damn it! A dangerous age where she was not quite too young to ignore and not quite old enough to pay attention to without traces of guilt. Mostly it was the way she seemed to be able to ignore her own pain to try to help him. The selflessness is what did him in.

"What the f—NO!" Zack saw Sephiroth's sword come down on the girl. Tifa, not "the girl", if she got killed because of this then she deserved a name like every other fallen soldier in battle.

There was a remarkable lack of blood for such a wide slash, and he figured her ribs might have blocked some of the impact of the slim blade. But what chance could an unarmed, unarmored teenage girl have against Sephiroth? She was probably already dead, dying at the very least. If she wasn't dead then he hoped she was passed out because even if she survived she was going to be in a lot of pain.

"Guess what I found. . ." Tifa moved a little, then leaned against a chair to huff and puff after her trip up the stairs. The robe around her body opened a little at the top to reveal the swell of her more than budding breasts covered only by layer upon layer of bandages. Most of her ribs were cracked and one of her lungs had been severely hurt. Materia had saved both of their lives, but it was a quick fix for emergencies and most doctors didn't recommend it if patients had the time to heal themselves. Most people didn't have enough energy to even work a materia without putting their own life at risk. The body always did a better job, anyway, if slowly. Tifa's lungs were still recovering, but at least her internal organs weren't leaking anything anymore.

"What did you find?" Zack waited for her to catch her breath and push back that bushel of hair that kept escaping the loose ponytail the nurse had put it in.

"Apples!" She lifted up a brown paper bag clutched in one hand. "I know we're not supposed to have solids or whatever, but if you chew them enough then they barely count. I think we've suffered through that gruel they serve us long enough!"

"Hear hear!" Zack, who would have been happier if she had discovered steak instead of fruit was still glad her illicit foray down to the main floor kitchen of the small makeshift hospital had proved victorious. His broken leg made it hard to be stealthy. And his broken arm hard to sneak much of anything anywhere.

He went running in her direction, rage, betrayal, fear. . . all of it superceded by the thing he was trained to do which was clear his mind and fight. So when he leaped over her fallen body without a second thought he didn't even register how inhuman it was to lose all concern for Tifa.

But that's what a SOLDIER was, to some degree: inhuman. It was kill or be killed and you needed that focus to keep your own hide in one piece. Even as he went his brain was working the odds and realizing he was doomed. This was a suicide mission and he knew it. Maybe if he had two other SOLDIERs as backup. No, at least four. This was Sephiroth after all. Make it three. He was Zack, after all.

"Not one more step, you bastard." Zack would usually taunt his opponent at this point, but he saved his breath. The man was a machine, and he had a crazy look in his eye.

Sephiroth didn't even supply him with a word before their swords met. It was lucky for him that his silver haired boss wasn't entirely with it because he managed to put up more of a fight than he thought he would be able to do. There was no help coming and Zack knew it. He was fighting for his life. What was Sephiroth fighting for?

Tifa smiled. It was her usual smile, the one that spread her full lips wide across her face and parted them just enough to catch a glimpse of teeth. Zack loved that one. It was way better then the quirk she gave to humor his bad jokes, or the tight one she used when the doctor came in to scold her for moving around too much and putting herself in danger. Only he saw that one for the better part of a week, and he was starting to like that. . . not just the smile but that he was the only one who could cause it besides her close friends.

"Oh darn," She grimaced as she settled herself onto the bed across from him. They shared a room because the out of town clinic was small and all the beds were kept in the same room upstairs. They were currently residing in half of them. "I don't have anything to cut them with."

Zack remembered how he used to keep a knife in his pocket. It was his favorite one, and was probably sitting in some bin downstairs along with his other personal affects. That was for the best since he couldn't reach it himself and having her put on of those pretty little hands in his pocket would only make him feel more guilty and dirty than he already did.

"Don't worry about it, Tif', I like my apples raw anyway. No one's cut an apple for me since my mom when I was twelve."

"Oh yeah, because that was sooo long ago." Tifa rolled her eyes at him. She seemed to find his attempts to make himself sound older and more mature laughable ever since she found out there was only three years between them. He enjoyed her spunk. What he didn't point out was how even if he wasn't much older in age he was far older in experience. He'd seen things and done things that no one should have to face before the age of twenty. Hell, the process of becoming a SOLDIER alone was enough to induce terror in even some of the hardened men he worked with.

"Damn straight, so listen to your elders and pass that apple over here before I have to come over and take it from you." It was an empty threat. He was one step away from being in traction. Him forcing her to do anything was more bravado than anything. He had to keep things light between them, funny even, because the second he stopped being aware then other things might start leaking through his defenses.

Adrenaline helped him ignore the pain at first. When he finally went down he knew that his arm really wasn't supposed to bend that way and that the odd thing jutting against the inside of his pant leg was where the bone had snapped and protruded against the fabric. Blood was turning his blue uniform black. He felt the natural painkillers in his body wearing off and slowly pain was making itself known. Sephiroth wasn't interested in him anymore, but that just angered Zack even more.

With the way his body was twisted, in a few moments any death would be a mercy killing.

His breathing is slow. For all intents he looks dead, and he doesn't even bother to open his eyes when he hears someone pick up his sword with a metallic scrape from where it dropped and make fast clanking tracks after Sephiroth. He doesn't know which guard is daring to finish what Zack started, but he hopes that the wounded Sephiroth doesn't get away with what he's done.

Zack opens unfocused eyes in pain as he coughs up some blood. That can't be good. Once he is able to focus on something his world is swallowed up by cinnamon eyes wide and feverish. It's the girl, Tifa, she's still alive and she's looking right at him. They make quite the pair, bleeding silently together on the metal floor of the reactor.

It looks like she's trying to mouth something and he tries to read her lips since she obviously has no breath to speak.

'Help'. . . . 'we'? No. The first letter is an 'n', maybe 'need'. 'need help'? No shit, sugar. We're both dying. Wait, there was more.

It takes a while to figure it out, but she has it stuck on repeat until she passes out from her own pain so he works it out in his brain and wonders at it a moment or too before he finds his own oblivion.

'I'm here. Don't worry.'

While she lay, certainly knowing she was dying, all she had thought to do was offer him some comfort while he was engaged in shuffling off his own mortal coil. Not one person in a thousand could be that selfless. Who was this girl?

"What are you doing?" He didn't like it when she was near him. There were bad thoughts that happened when her odor overshadowed the disinfectant and lingering food smells.

"If you think I'm going to throw an apple at you then you're nuts."

Zack didn't like how he had suddenly become the weak one here. "I'll show you who's nuts. . ." It was another spontaneous decision gone wrong when he started to tickle her with his unhurt hand when she got close enough. It was a normal action for him, he liked being physical with people, but with her it got awkward fast. Not that that stopped him. He was smart enough to keep his awkwardness locked up where she couldn't see it.

"Stop! Stop!" She gasped a little painfully after each laugh and he remembered with more than a little remorse that she couldn't breathe so well. This was probably actually painful for her.

He stilled his hand but it lingered at her hip, feeling the curve of it and wondering how someone shaped like that could be fifteen still. It wasn't fair to the entire male population that she couldn't magically add two or three years on in an instant. Most of all it wasn't fair to this particular male who was halfway to wrapping an arm around her waist. Three years wasn't all that big of an age difference, was it?

It was when he opened his mouth to apologize and she stuffed an apple in it that he realized a few things. 1. He couldn't spit out the apple. 2. Getting back at her by pinching her bum was an excellent idea. 3. He didn't want to get better any time soon.

"Ouch! Lech!" She jetted away from him, but not before giving his hand a solid slap that left him smarting. He pulled the apple out of his mouth and gave her that grin he knew girls loved. Or they used to. The effect might have been spoiled by all those stitches on his eyebrow, or the bruising on his jaw which was looking more greenish than purple lately.

"You're going to get it some day. As soon as you're better I won't hold back." Tifa picked up her own apple and sat back down on her bed. She turned the apple around in her hands, her smile faded a little.

"You're doing it again." Zack said, oddly aware of her changes of mood. And Tifa looked up at him, biting her lip before she laid down on her back and ignored him. "You're thinkin' about it again. You know there wasn't anything you could have done. It was just a stupid. . . thing. Sometimes random bad shit happens!"

The apple hit the ground as she lost interest in it altogether. "It's easy for you to say, isn't it?"

They were both silent for a while before Zack bothered to answer her.

"No, no it isn't."

It was understandable that he comes before her. They work on him harder and faster since his wounds were more serious. It's a close thing, but someone had found the strength to use one of his cure materia and only collapsed into exhaustion once his internal bleeding has been controlled. He didn't know what they did to help Tifa, but she is screaming when he wakes up. It would have been great if he had the voice to scream too, since he is in a damn lot of pain.

But her screams cut him, made him forget his own pain and lock his eyes onto the girl across from him in the small doctor's office.

She must have been a strong little thing because one of her fits actually throws a nurse away from the bed and Zack catches a glimpse of her arched body. Bloody and naked down to the waist, he sees the slash mark and hears the doctor scream to hold her still and put her under so he can stitch her up. At this point she isn't in danger of dying, but she seems to think she is.

Mercifully, after the nurse attends to putting the girl under they wander over to him with a similar injection. Tifa's leg twitching as she is rendered unconscious is the last thing he sees before he finds that peaceful blackness again.

"We talked about this before, Tif'."

"Stop calling me that. It sounds like a kid's name." She sounded a little choked up, but he knew she wouldn't admit to crying. Sure, she had cried in front of him before since they had started sharing this room together, but she had always tried to hide it.

Zack didn't feel hungry for that apple anymore, that's for sure. "C'mon on, sweetheart, you don't need to keep doing this to yourself." Sometimes trauma did this to people. He had seen soldiers come back from fighting monsters with the kind of shakes that didn't go away for days. Some stopped talking. No one knew why. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with their bodies. Their brains just snapped a little.

"You don't understand, Zack, you don't understand that it isn't Sephiroth. . ." She had insisted on using his name ever since she woke up when they talked about the incident. Zack couldn't bring himself to, though. It was too hateful on his lips. It was just as bad as a curse word in his mind.

"What is it then, huh?"

"It's Cloud. . ." Oh god, no, he wanted to avoid that conversation if at all possible. "He wasn't there. He didn't come. . . it's like. . ." She finally turned her face towards him and away from the wall. Suddenly Zack wished that she hadn't. He couldn't lie to her if she asked him now. But why would she ask? There was no reason for her to know that Cloud was there that day. "It's like my dreams have died."

He was watching her grow up, he realized, just like he had wished. Careful what you wish for, right? Sheesh.

Not all the guards have been killed by Sephiroth. Not all the guards had even gone up the mountain to check on the reactor. So when some of his buddies come to visit him after a day or so he is glad for the attention. Tifa hadn't said hardly a word since she came too, preferring to stare out the window.

No one has their helmets on and he looks around for who is missing even as he greets who is there. That familiar shock of blond hair, Cloud, is conspicuously missing. He hears that Hojo had come to pick up the injured and dead Shinra employees right away. Not even the people of his own town would know if one of their sons was dead or alive or part of some monstrous creation of the "good doctor". He wasn't sure at first why he had looked for Cloud in particular.

It was halfway through that first visit, when one of the friendlier guys tries to talk to Tifa too, that she asks if they knew a boy named Cloud. The guy clams up and stutters out a no and then makes a quick retreat back downstairs.

That's when Zack remembers. Cloud was her friend. How could he tell her that this person who obviously meant a lot to her had probably died up there while she was still alive? No way. He will remain ignorant and silent.

Unfortunately he hasn't planned on feeling so guilty about that because he hadn't thought he would know or like some random girl who up until now he would have dismissed as a kid back in Midgar. It especially doesn't help that he finds out in a letter that the person who had taken care of Sephiroth and no doubt died himself in the process was Cloud. He had come through for both Zack and Tifa and only Zack knew about it.

"C'mere." Tifa looked at him, sniffling with difficulty as her weak lungs fought to supply her with oxygen. "Really, get over here, Tifa."

She decided to humor him and when she got in range he pulled her down to him and wrapped her in a hug right around that trim little waist.

"It can't be as bad as you think." Zack spoke gruffly to hide the fact that he was getting a little choked up too in empathy. "You know. . . if you fall all apart like this then that white haired bastard wins. You have to pick yourself up and get twice as strong as before."

Did all girls smell this good up close? He had been with a lot of them, but Midgar wasn't someplace with air clean enough to pick up much besides exhaust and cigarette smoke. Dammit, he was supposed to be comforting her, not finding excuses to move his hands away from her waist and into squishier areas.

"How 'bout we make a deal?" Zack could feel the tremors in her body subsiding. Her crying jags never lasted long. She usually was back to being her sunny self after a quick outlet of the sadder stuff. She already had the stuff to be strong, she just needed some incentive. "I have a long way to go before I've got enough energy to use my cure materia on either of us, but once I do then you have to pay me back for it by beating me in a fight. It's the only way I'll know you're all better."

She laughed a little at that. "Even when I was healthy I could never beat a SOLDIER."

"Well, that's the whole point. You get strong enough to beat me. . ." He took a deep breath. "And then I wouldn't have to worry about you so much."

"Why would you worry?" She had sat down on the edge of his bed, leaning into him, but his arm was still around her waist. She wasn't trying to remove it, and for his peace of mind he kind of wished she had.

"Well, we're friends, aren't we?"

Once he gets over the fact that every little movement brought some kind of pain, Zack realizes he is bored. Really really bored. The girl, except when someone she knew visited, seems to lapse into something kind of like a waking coma.

Eventually Zack has to talk to her. She is the only other person in the room, for god sakes. At first she doesn't responded to his friendly overtures. But he can only talk to air and makes jokes for so long before she feels compelled to tell him to be quiet.

"Oh, interrupting your sulking?" He rolls his eyes. "So sorry. I'll just go back to being miserable and alone and in pain. That was workin' for me before real great."

"You can't possibly hurt more than I do right now." It isn't the kind of conversation he wants, but it is something at least.

"Oh yeah?"


He won't say that what followed isn't childish. There is the sticking out of tongues involved after all. But at least he can ask her how she is a few hours later, and eventually suggest they play a card game.

So he teaches her poker, and she teaches him old maid and together they manage to pass a day in slightly less mental pain than it began. It is easy to talk over cards, over meals, and after a while it seems like he has always been here. And ya know, it isn't a horrible feeling.

"Yeah, we're friends Zack."

"Then as your friend, I think you should know. . ."


"You're damn heavy for looking so small. Ouch." She gave him a dirty look and picked herself up from where she had been leaning against him. He tried not to look relieved. Her proximity was causing him to have. . . certain reactions. . . which he was not in a position to easily hide from her. Fifteen fifteen fifteen! He chanted in his head.

"It's my birthday soon, you know. May 3rd." Tifa said. "We'll be out by then I imagine, maybe even fixed up thanks to your materia. But I'd like you to be there if you can." She took a bite out of his apple, a big one, and then plopped it back into his hands. "I bet you by the time I'm seventeen I can give you a run for your money in that fight."

She sniffed, her eyes still red, and laughed. It was cut short by her lungs, but Zack knew that she had taken his new promise to heart. Maybe on the surface it seemed like a light decision, but he could already tell she was walking a little straighter, shoulders back, on the way back to her bed. She was just a girl who needed a dream, and he was the kind of guy who didn't play the rescuing knight so much so this was actually sort of fun for him.

He liked Tifa, really liked her. He wanted her to do well. And maybe helping her would help him get back the confidence he needed to go back to a job and a company that had almost just gotten him killed. He couldn't die yet, he had to wait for the beautiful Miss Lockhart to kick his ass before he could go and shove off. Their deal had sort of given him a new lease on life too. Zack wasn't the sort who was used to a lack of confidence, and he was already feeling much better, but a little shove in a noble direction was good. Maybe there was something to be said for living for more than just yourself.

Tifa shot him a shy smile, slightly sad, but more natural than he had seen from her for a while. It was a brand new smile. Just for him. Then he realized. . .


He was in so much trouble.