The first man who fell into the Church had asked if she was an angel, and Aerith simply laughed it off. However, if this second man was to ask her the very same thing, she'd be curiously willing to agree, because she did not believe that two people would fall from the sky and into her life purely by chance.
And she had been waiting for this; waiting five years and barely realising she was doing so, hoping against hope and reason that the dark haired, dark eyed SOLDIER would come crashing down once more. It was like thunder. One moment she was sitting peacefully in the pews, eyes resting on the white light that filtered through and drowned her flowers, and the next thing she knew he was falling, falling, and there was barely time to register it all before he landed with a worryingly loud thud in the soft earth.
Fate was either too cruel or too kind to let Zack break through the rafters, and Aerith felt an overwhelming tangle of fear grip at her throat. Her breath hitched under invisible fingers, and slowly—ever so slowly, in case her eyes were deceiving her—she began to to walk down the aisle. By now the Church was in such a deadly silence that each step she took felt like gunshots ricocheting through her.
The stranger was on his side, back towards her and chest not rising as it should be. Her eyes flickered across him and froze; she had seen this before. A chill brushed across back of her neck as her eyes watered. These dark-purple clothes had belonged to someone else, once upon a time.
Falling to her knees where wood met earth, Aerith felt like crying, and not because the body in front of her was probably dead. Aerith felt like crying because the body in front of her wasn't Zack. It made her head ache and eyes sting just looking at his back, and with a shaking hand she reached forward and pulled him by his shoulder.
The body didn't resist as it should, and quietly slumped onto its back. Aerith pressed her palm against her lips to stop a gasp. The eyes were closed but the lips were twisted, and with a single glance she could read the pain etched into them. He was laying on his back, but his left shoulder was thrust up, and the angle of his arm made her stomach turn; that must have been where he took the impact of the fall. The bone was probably shattered. His head too was turned, and Aerith did not like the way his neck was twisted.
Reaching out fingertips Aerith rested her hands on the side of his face and took a deep breath. Closing her eyes she began to move his head ever so slightly; it was stiff; it didn't fall limp, and Aerith felt relief rush over her. Moving one hand slightly she felt his shallow breath, and her lips instinctively tugged into a smile.
He looked just like Zack, she realised dully, and the thought neither made her happy or sad. A little younger than he would be now, perhaps, and his skin did not feel quite so worn or rough in her hands. Even through the dirt and blood she could see light blonde hair, but despite all this there was just something laced in the air around him that felt like Zack. It was the kind of simplicity that meant Spring mornings were worth waking up to, even in the dead of the slums.
She wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands and laughed a little for the benefit of the stranger. It had been five years—five long, hollow years—and she had not found a reason to cry for Zack; she certainly wasn't going to start now. She looked at his face, and wondered if his eyes echoed as much life as Zack's had.
There was a sword on his back, and oh god, it was Zack's because she had seen it before. She remembered touching the cool steel once, and then quickly withdrawing her fingers when Zack's panic made her jump. It had slipped from its sheath and as a result dug into his side on impact, and was now staining her flowers crimson. He was probably just another young SOLDIER boy, but his shiny eyes would try to capture her, not charm her. Aerith bit her lip, and for a split-second considered letting him bleed to death. But there was a great pull, something more desperate and forceful than her selfish desire for safety; maybe, just maybe, if she sewed him up and washed away the blood, then he might smile like Zack. Talk like Zack. Take her hand and make her feel like she wasn't so alone in this rotting world, just like Zack.
"Mother..." she whispered softly, bringing one hand up to the ribbon in her hand and touching the small materia.
It never did anything, and it was on the whole useless, but when she pulled her fingers away they felt warm. Closing her eyes and pressing her hands together, almost as if she was praying, a gentle wind crept into the Church, wrapping itself all around her. She could feel her heart beating louder than ever, and it was drowning everything out, everything until she couldn't take it anymore and pushed the palms of her hands against his chest.
The winds died down and silence reigned once more. She watched wide-eyed as the fresh blood dried itself up until the stains looked like nothing more than earth. There was a sickly crack as his shoulder lodged itself back into place, and his whole body shook violently as ribs repaired themselves, and thick black bruises faded away like ink.
Aerith climbed to her feet and took a step back. What was she going to do with him now? She wasn't so foolish as to believe that Zack's spirit had returned to the planet and had been cheaply recycled into the blond boy's body, no matter how much her mind ached for it. She knew what Elmyra would say, and being reminded of all the sleepless nights and gloomy days was the last thing she needed.
And when the boy who wasn't Zack opened his eyes, this time it was Aerith falling. The picture he sketched between blinks didn't belong to Zack at all; his eyes weren't full of life. They were blank, rusting around the edges and burning with a light that wasn't his.
The planet hadn't brought Zack back to her at all.
Fate was never that kind.