Disclaimer Haiku –
Is not mine. Though you could have
Guessed that for yourself.
A/N – Because I cannot be the only one who thought this when I saw what Tseng had for Zack in the final cutsceness of Crisis Core. This is my first attempt at any incarnation of Final Fantasy fanfics, so please be gentle. I did research and everything! Many thanks to Chocolinx for putting the cutscenes on YouTube. Reviews appreciated.
Continuity –Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. Spoilers for the end of the game (though no more than FFVII itself is one giant spoiler for this bit of CC).
Love and Kisses, Aerith
© Scribbler, March 2008.
Where there's life, there's hope. – Terence (195-159 BC)
Aerith wrote him letters for a long time. She wasn't regular; didn't mark out a time each week to scribe some missive detailing the ins and outs of life in Sector Five. Still, she kept her handwriting neat and included more than just the bare facts because he never liked to just talk facts. He'd tell her what she asked about, but he didn't volunteer too much. A lot was because of military secrecy, and she understood that, but she suspected even more was because the first confession she ever made to him was how much she feared SOLDIERs. I think being normal is the greatest happiness, she said, so he tried to give her that even if 'normal' for him was worlds away from her little life.
She told him about the flowers, because he'd always shown such an interest, and about her burgeoning business, but she also told him other things. She told him about people he'd never met but who had become precious to her while he was away. She wrote about the weather, realised that was boring, but didn't scribble it out. She apologised for babbling more than once. A lot more than once. The days that seemed longest, greyest, hardest still had bright spots when she took up her pen. It wasn't quite the same as having him there, poking fun, saying stupid things while trying to impress her, but it would suffice until she saw him again. She couldn't seem to stop the words once she'd started and sometimes imagined him rolling his mako-blue eyes at her chatter.
(How did she not notice how blue they were at first? How did she embarrass herself so thoroughly when, as always, so much of who he was had been on show for all to see? That was the thing; he never left anything out, never hid anything from the world. He laid himself bare because keeping secrets was as alien to him as altruism was to cats, but foolishly expected the world to do the same in return).
Years crept by. Her body changed, but only a bit. She kept the small chest she'd delighted in when it first developed. Evidently her church couldn't make everything grow. In the end she had to accept she wasn't going to be a buxom beauty, though her face wasn't quite as thin as some girls she passed while selling her flowers. Her hair thickened and she tied it back, telling herself it was practical for gardening and because the style made her look older, but put her ribbon under her pillow at night like it might chase bad spirits away. She kept an eye out for pretty stationary, though she never went so far as to spray the paper with perfume. In high Summer the church was such a riot of colour that she didn't need to.
Her flowers sold better than expected, proving people's longing for some scrap of brightness in their lives – daffodils in Spring, vivid dahlias in Summer, lilacs when the changing seasons made everything ever greyer than concrete, even blood-red holly berries with their spiky leaves in Winter and pale gypsophila all year round. Her church was never bare and she wrote her letters there, surrounded by the scents and swish of plants thriving where nothing was supposed to thrive. She tried cultivating bluebells and delphiniums too, and once got hold of some ancient hydrangea seeds that nevertheless flourished, but nothing was ever blue enough and she sold them without keeping any back.
She wondered what he'd think of her when she saw him again. She never asked in her letters, though. It was like a rule she'd laid down for herself: if she had to ask then the answer wasn't worth hearing. Likewise asking when he'd return to Midgar. That felt too much like tempting fate.
Instead she asked him what he was doing, whether he was keeping well, how life as a SOLDIER suited him. She assumed it suited him well for the first year he didn't reply, and then thought it might be treating him badly after the second. She imagined him recuperating in a military hospital, pictured him dragging himself off some godforsaken battlefield and laying in a coma while her letters piled up by his bedside. Sometimes she dreamt of drowning and thumped gloved hands bigger than her own against the smooth surface between her and air (I don't need such a pathetic soldier). Those nights she awoke in a cold sweat, eyes wide in the darkness until she could make out the vague but reassuringly solid shapes of furniture. Bad things happened in her own life, but those dreams were what she feared most.
(She liked the good dreams better; the ones that comforted her when a lucky ribbon wasn't enough. His smile, that tip of his head when he was being a smart aleck, the way he rubbed the back of his neck when he was embarrassed, or thinking, or both. She liked it when dream-him turned his thousand-gigawatt grin on her and slapped his palms together, announcing that all her flowers were sold and he was taking her out to dinner so she wouldn't have to eat rehydrated noodles again).
Certain memories she kept close and unwrapped only when she was in the right frame of mind, handling them delicately, like they might break if she was too rough. Memories of being pinned against a wall when someone discovered her sanctuary and tried to bring Midgar's grubbiness inside; of him appearing as if from nowhere to yank the guy off her, anger twisting his face into something she'd never seen before. That scared her into noticing the sword on his back, the armour plates, the regulation ShinRa boots that were usually just ugly black boots – for a second he was a SOLDIER instead of himself and that frightened her more than pulling her ripped shirt closed and trying to find buttons that'd popped off. Memories of wrapping her arms around him from behind, feeling grief course through him and make him judder more than the station when a train roared through. The smell of the oil he used on his sword handle, some kind of acrid dust and a feather falling from his hair onto her cheek when he buried his face in her neck. Hard floorboards against her back that didn't seemed so hard and strong hands made clumsy by heartache he couldn't articulate because the wounds were still too fresh.
By the third year she'd been told he was dead, but she kept on writing her letters because something inside her refused to believe it. She couldn't explain it, but she felt it; knew it like she knew the sun would rise in the morning behind the tangle of pipes and pall of smog. Just because you couldn't see it didn't mean it wasn't there. The flowers still grew towards its light and she still wrote her letters and handed them to Tseng when he showed up.
Tseng accepted them politely, never raising an eyebrow or questioning her tenacity in writing to a dead man. Something very close to an emotion slithered down his face that one time she leaned forward to study the colour of his eyes, and it was very strange to see. His movements were crisp as the folds in his suit as he tucked each sealed envelope under his arm and nodded at her, a quick up-and-down, like acknowledging a superior or at least an officer of equal rank. She never once thought they'd dislodge and fall in the dirt, or be lost amidst the paperwork the head of the Turks was sure to be inundated with. She never once doubted Tseng would do everything he could to deliver them.
She never once doubted he'd come back, either. She never thought he'd abandon her. She recalled too well the burning in his eyes, the fierce determination to keep his pride and his promises because he didn't realise it was enough to just be himself (Those wings of yours, lend them to me as well). He was too engraved into the fabric of her to just vanish without trace. She'd notice that like she'd notice someone cutting off her arm.
(Dreams of blood, dreams of pain, dreams of lies and treachery and betrayal by those most trusted. Dreams of leather gloves creaking against rock faces, around sword handles, against the blade itself when touching it to remember pride and honour, meaningful sacrifices and twenty-three luxuries. Dreams of a dried out wasteland, of hauling another body that breathed but didn't respond, of hiding in caves and starving and putting one weary foot in front of another in front of another in front of another – excruciating but there and real and he. Wasn't. Dead)
She could feel him imprinted around her church, a displacement of air behind her shoulder, as though without looking she could reach out and feel the uneven surface of body armour that wasn't just worn for show.
And then one day, just short of the newest anniversary since their last hasty date, she was in the church tending a new crop of lobelia she didn't even remember planting. They'd appeared in the very centre of the 'garden', like the pupil of a hawkweed-yellow eye, right where the thin sun hit when it broke through the clouds. Today threatened rain, so there were a lot of clouds. Usually she liked the rain; it helped her flowers grow, left everything feeling new and fresh and for a while she could forget the walk home would smell of exhaust fumes and garbage. The lobelia petals were blue as the sky she couldn't see.
The feeling started slow, like the suspicion you've forgotten to close a window or left a light on when you go out, but gradually growing more insistent. When the first raindrops fell through the hole he made in her ceiling, they seemed to water the feeling the same as they watered the plants. For a moment the dream of drowning in coloured water flashed unbidden into her mind and she blinked, confused, and turned to face the rain. It'd been a while since she had that dream.
And then suddenly it blossomed inside her like a stalagmite bursting from the pit of her stomach straight into her heart. She gasped. When her hands started to cramp she loosened their clasp and took a deep breath to ease the burning in her lungs. She breathed slowly, in through the nose, out through the mouth, willing her pulse to quieten in her ears.
She picked her way amongst the dry spots and broken floorboards (mostly him; the place was derelict when she found it but not devastated) to where she'd left her small pile of things and sat with her back pressed against a pew, notebook open on her lap. She chewed her pen for a moment before starting to write.
It's me again. The sun came out today. I saw the sky. It's getting warmer all the time, which can only be a good sign, right? The flowers drink it up faster than water. They've spread even more since I wrote last. I'm thinking I'd like to have honeysuckle over the pews, or maybe some clematis. Some days I think someone else must be sneaking in here and planting new seeds, because more and more I have to look up the names of each kind. I don't mind, though. It's nice to learn about something you love and it's not like anyone else in Midgar needs books on gardening.
Zack, when are you coming back? I promised myself I'd never ask, but it's been so long since I saw you. I'd say I'm starting to forget your face, but I don't think I could ever do that – or forget that ridiculous haircut of yours. Don't let your head swell. It already looks like a porcupine and one of you spikes might burst it. I hope you haven't forgotten me. I hope you're all right. I hope you're not
She stopped because the last word was suddenly unreadable. It slid off the page, a smudge of ink that made an ugly stain on her dress. She rubbed the heel of one hand against her eye. It came back wet, and the sight shattered something inside her she'd thought was unbreakable.
Aerith put the lid back on her pen, closed the eighty-ninth letter that would never be finished, set her notebook carefully aside and sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed.
Where there's life, there's hope. – Terence (195-159 BC)