Title: Easier

Summary: 'But it's still so hard to think of you, and how you left the church five years ago and just never came back.' Aerith's thoughts in Gongaga. Zack x Aerith. Contains some Crisis Core references; no real spoilers for it, though.

Notes: Never actually written from Aerith's POV before. So this'll be interesting. The Cloud/Aerith/Zack triangle is pretty much my favorite plot-related thing about this game; it's just so marvelously beautiful and tragic anyway you slice it.

I took some artistic liberties with Aerith and Cloud's dialogue in Gongaga; hope no one seriously objects. : )


Gongaga. I kept repeating it over and over in my head, trying to figure out why it sounded so familiar; it's a pretty distinctive name, after all. But when we were standing in that little room, and I was looking at the old woman with your eyes...well, it hit me like a Comet spell.

They asked about you and it really bothered me how Cloud didn't know anything. I kept trying to tell myself it's just because you two are awfully similar; but no, Cloud is Cloud and you are Zack.

Zack...

They turned to look at me and I realized I must've spoken aloud.

"Young lady, you know him?" they asked. "I remember he wrote us six or seven years ago saying that he had a girlfriend. Could that have been you?"

Then Cloud was staring at me too with a bewildered look, and I wished he'd stop. It kind of made it seem like the room was closing in on me.

"I...that can't..." I stammered.

I couldn't stand looking at the old man's face, because it was so like yours, just more sad and full of years. And what could I tell them, honestly? How could I tell them the thing I've feared for months now?

...It's hard enough to tell that thing to myself...

So I bolted. Tifa came out a minute later, but she could tell I didn't want to talk and wandered off somewhere else. I walked around a little bit and ended up outside the little house where we bought items just a little while ago. Already I felt incredibly silly about how I had acted back there, but it's still so hard to think of you, and how you left the church five years ago and just never came back.

I guess you walked these paths once. What did you think when you were leaving here? Did you think that you might never walk them again?

We were just barely sixteen years old when we met. And Mom hated the idea of me hanging around with a SOLDIER; I guess I can't blame her, though.

I remember one night you walked me home and it was really late, much later than I'd wanted to get home, and Mom stood there grilling you on where we'd been. You kept stuttering and contradicting yourself (actually, it was pretty cute) and Mom just shook her head and smiled and said, "You're a horrible liar, aren't you, Zack?" She wasn't so wary of you after that.

We had two years together before you went away. I'm not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way I started to fall for you. I wondered if you felt the same, but I didn't want to assume anything; after all, girls were always fawning over you, and you were always flirting with them. But things were always different between you and me. You were always looking out for me.

You were so sweet and I trusted you deeply. Nobody could have hurt me like you could have. And I think you must have known it, too.

I didn't want to fall for you, you know? It just happened. Do you remember the day you left for that mission? You were walking out of the church, and I just got this overwhelming feeling of sadness and...and finality at the sight of the sword you carried on your shoulders, so I grabbed your hand and kissed you when you turned back. Really, it made sense at the time...

When I called you, it was honestly the most awkward phone conversation I've ever had. But you didn't seem to hate me for kissing you. On the contrary, you even promised you'd come see me when you got back to Midgar. Only, when I never heard from you again I was afraid that I'd scared you off.

It's been five years since that kiss and that phone call.

I heard heavy footsteps behind me and didn't even need to turn around to know it was Cloud. "Aerith...?"

I could tell he wanted to know what was wrong, and it was sweet, really. "What a shock," I said softly. "I'd forgotten Zack was from this town."

"You know that guy?"

"Didn't I tell you?" I asked, even though I knew I didn't. "He was my first love."

I turned to face Cloud, and there was such a strange look on his face I sort of wished I hadn't.

"...He was a SOLDIER, First Class. Same as you, Cloud."

"Funny, because there aren't that many that make it to First and I've never heard of him."

I couldn't stand looking at his blank eyes any longer, so I turned back the other way.

I took Cloud to the playground when I first met him – do you remember that playground? I took you there, too. That was when it hit me – he was so like you in a way. Not so much in personality, but he has so many little quirks that remind me of things you used to do. And the sword – it is the one you got from Angeal, isn't it?

But, more than anything else, there was something in his eyes that reminded me so much of you. Not just the mako thing, but when I look at his eyes, I get this feeling that somehow, everything will work out for the best, just like when I looked at yours.

"Mm...it is funny, isn't it." I turned to glance back at Cloud, who was wearing a pretty big frown on his face.

"Are you...jealous?" I asked suddenly. I was trying hard to be nonchalant and probably failing miserably. "Hmm? Are you, Cloud?" He didn't reply. I just smiled and shook my head. "I'm sorry. I'm only kidding, Cloud."

...Except sometimes when I'm around Cloud, I get this horrible feeling that I'm falling for your ghost.

"And anyway, it's alright," I said, before I could stop myself. "It's all in the past. He went missing a long time ago."

"Missing?"

"Yeah. It was five years ago. He went away on a mission and just...never came back. You know, he really loved women; he was a real ladies' man. He probably just found someone else."

Even as I said it I felt my heart break, because I know you would never do something like that. I'm so sorry I said that, Zack. But it's just so much easier to think of you as having forgotten all about me than it is to think of you dead in a ditch outside of Midgar.