A/N: Some spoilers for Crisis Core. Special thanks to the game script translation by SilentTweak, found on GameFAQs, and to M for pointing me to it.
Flowers from the River Styx
On a good day, these memories only occur half as frequently.
There's laughter dancing in his eyes as he steps through the Church door, the wide smile on his lips melting into her name, echoing around the arched ceiling. He has a picnic basket in one hand, and the other he sweeps towards his chest in what is the stiffest bow ever, and she hates the way she giggles when he's around but she can't help it. "I would have brought you flowers, Madam, but you seem to have enough of those already." She takes his hand after a mock curtsy, and they go adventuring to find someplace in these slums where the smog isn't too thick – the playground in the outskirts is the best candidate, but when they arrive they are instantly mobbed by children with cootie-filled ideas of love.
Sometimes they attack her as soon as she wakes up. Sometimes they drift into her thoughts right before she goes to sleep, and she can't help her mind replaying them, like some bizarre new propaganda movie from ShinRa.
"We haven't given them anything to talk about yet," he teases.
"I don't intend to!" She turns as pink as her ribbon, and tries to strike a good balance between flustered and stern. Then she realizes he's just joking, and twists her face up.
"Of course not!"
Sometimes she whispers his words back to herself, in a low tone, embarrassed with her childishness and afraid that someone might hear. Sometimes she whispers to him, but after a while her voice trembles so much, she has to shush herself by covering her face with her hands.
No matter how gently he cradles her hand in his, she can't help but notice how rough his fingers are, almost like gravel at the base. It's because of that giant sword, nearly too big even for someone as strong as Zack – but he wields it for the good of others, so she doesn't worry over it too much. They finish their lunch without incident and the children go away, bored. They sit in silence for a long moment, contemplating the lack of sky, and she's about to mention something – probably the flowers – when she feels his hand, his rough fingers, gliding through her hair.
"You're still wearing it," he murmurs.
His hand drops back to the railing of the slide they're sitting on, and she leans her head against his shoulder. That hint of scarlet on his cheeks is probably just her imagination.
She sits beside the flower-wagon they made with an open-for-business smile, and on days when she is preoccupied with other things she gives them away for free, but on days when she remembers, she charges exactly one gil. "For your beautiful wife," she tells a man who does not even look married; "And for your grandmother, I'm sure she'll love it," but perhaps that grandmother has already gone and died – no, no, she didn't just think that.
She is a hopeful girl, as far as hope goes these times. Besides, these bitter thoughts only surface on days when she feels she must take a little payment for all the hope she has to keep believing in.
"It can't be very fancy, right? After all, the flowers will liven it up!"
"Actually, I came today because I don't think I'll be able to come again for a while. There seems to be a pretty tough assignment coming up." She lifts her head from his shoulder, unable to hold back one anxious look, then she catches herself and looks at her feet.
After a moment, she feels his hand patting her head. "Hey, I'm going to be with some pretty strong guys, so it'll be fine."
"Of course," she offers him a smile to mask her worry. "You take care of yourself. And I'll pray that you have a safe mission."
He chuckles at that, and she grins a little shyly because she knows how silly it is to wish a first-class Soldier safety, but she's just like that; and suddenly there's fear clutching at her heart and she doesn't know why but something inside her is saying that this – could be – the last time – and then he stands to leave (why is there a burning sensation behind her eyes?)
"Call me anytime," he says.
He could have been a little more helpful with the flowers.
That's the least of the things she could resent him for, but that's the only one she dares think of, smiling to herself when she thinks of the only sale he ever attempted. He could have let the man have it for five gil. He could have let the man have it for free.
Dearest Zack, she begins, careful with her script. Even paper is hard to come by these days. This is my 70th letter to you now. I hope you'll be able to read this.
(He never did call back, although he said he would.)
And then he waves. And she smiles at him and waves back.
He might actually be more of her best friend than her boyfriend, no matter what the townspeople say, but does it even really matter? All she knows is that he is the one person in the world who can make her feel safe and happy and hopeful like this, as if everything is certain, as if everything is all right, like some strange golden ray of light from the sky that he dropped so conveniently out of.
"Won't you say goodbye?"
"I was waiting for you to say it first. You're the one that's leaving."
There's his laugh again, so ready to spring out from his mouth. This time, she laughs with him, but while she's doing so he reaches for her hand – the kids are watching again – and he pulls her towards him so that their faces meet. (And that's the first and the last and the longest kiss they'll ever share, but of course she doesn't know it yet, how could she know it? It's only noise in her heart now –)
The flower cart has been doing pretty well. I really miss you.
She has grown less selfish over these years, a little less needy, a little more independent. Luxury isn't something she even considers, nowadays. When she thinks about it, there's only one wish on that list that she still wants granted. She seals the letter with a pressed flower petal and some glue, then stands to deliver it.
It doesn't come out quite right when he says "I love you" (or maybe she's just trying to collect herself and not cry at the same time) but she takes it anyway, takes it even if she doesn't need it because she knew it all along, and does he really have to go? Does this man, out of all the other Soldiers, really have to go? And he holds her hands in his big, calloused ones. "Were you waiting for me to say that first, too?"
"No." She smiles through the tears that have started to fall. "You surprised me there."
If she prays hard enough, maybe another miracle will descend from the sky. She doesn't know if she's done anything to deserve such a blessing, but she keeps praying for it anyway. In the meantime she plants her flowers, and when they've grown she plucks them and puts them in her flower wagon and sits in the middle of town waiting for people to pass by, waiting for the sky to clear, waiting for a reply. Someday, the memories won't pierce her heart so much anymore. And someday, because of those memories, maybe she can be that light for others – like he was, for her.
But today, she still goes to bed with a half-smile and tears in her eyes, in a church that offers little sanctuary, sleeping with the ghost of her past on a bed of sweet-smelling flowers.
A/N: Written for Necca. Comments would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading. :D