Disclaimer - Not mine. Phooey.

A/N - This fic exists only because of an old pic by Vulpine Ninja that I discovered on DevArt last night. The image was so enchanting it begged to be written, hence this. Just Aerith and Zack being sweet and couply. Set during Crisis Core.

Inspirational fanart can be found at vulpineninja. deviantart. com / art / FFVII – AerisXZack – 19663554

Breakfast of Champions

© Scribbler, March 2008.

Zack shifted and became aware of a warm weight on his chest in the same moment he also realised his left arm was asleep. Slowly he cracked his eyes open, only to shut them again when light stabbed into his retinas like one of those miserable mako-filled hypodermics he was due to take next week.

Nope, not thinking about the shots right now. Not thinking about the shots or Hojo or Shinra because Zack could smell flowers and feel hair tickling his nose, which could mean only one thing, and none of those had right place invading his enjoyment of that thing.

He cracked his eyes again to see a familiar ponytail. It was about all he could see. Little bits of hair stuck to his tongue when he opened his mouth. He didn't spit them out, though. That would have totally ruined the moment. "Hey."

Aerith twisted her head to peer up at him. Her cheek was waffled from being pressed against his vest and her eyes were still half-lidded with sleep, but she smiled and murmured, "I can hear your heartbeat."

"What time is it?"

"Not sure." She turned her face away to nestle against him again.

In that moment Zack wanted nothing more than to just stay where he was, absorbing her warmth and breathing the air's flower-scent, but he knew he couldn't. His internal chronometer, like all his senses, was mako-sharpened and telling him he'd been asleep more than a few hours. Morning was here and piggybacking on it came a work schedule that would have a lesser man crying into his coffee. Training new recruits was gruelling for both them and their teacher. Nobody had ever explained just how demanding when they signed Zack up for it, and at times like this he longed for another war in some far-distant country where no greenhorn could find him and ask him questions about Shinra-approved ways of tying his shoes.

Zack tipped his head back, tracing the contours of the church ceiling with his eyes and sternly reminding himself it wasn't okay for a First Class to skip training just because he wanted extra time with his girlfriend. Never mind that overseeing last night's camouflage manoeuvres meant he arrived late and exhausted for their date, then fell asleep and missed the whole thing. He had duties. He had responsibilities.

He had no blood in his arm anymore.

"Hey, Aerith, can I just-" Zack eased her sideways, edging her further onto his chest so he could flex his arm out from under her. It started to tingle as circulation returned. "Ahhh…"

Aerith pushed hair from her eyes and rested her chin on the backs of her hands, pressing her palms flush against him. "Feel better?"

He wasn't sure whether she meant his arm or the whole exhaustion thing, but the answer was the same for both. "Much. Look, I'm sorry I messed up our date."

"You couldn't help it. You could barely keep your eyes open. How many recruits did you lose?"

"Three. They got lost in the dark and panicked. Not used to being in the wilderness after hours, I guess. All city-boys. They forgot everything I told them and stumbled about falling over rocks and each other, went totally off course and had nearly reached the mountains when they were supposed to be back at base. I had to go rescue them from themselves, and then the idiots tried to shoot me."

"They didn't hurt you, did they?" A note of concern crept into Aerith's voice.

"Nah. Pissed me off, but the only injuries last night were theirs when I knocked their thick heads together for showing me up, singeing my hair and making me late. You're not offended?"

"I kind of knew the can of worms I was opening when I got into this relationship. You're a SOLDIER. You have a tough job that takes a lot out of you." Her little shrug put extra pressure on her fingertips, which inspired a reaction in Zack that didn't bear thinking about when he knew should already be on his way back to barracks. "Besides, you make a really comfortable bed."

It was awkward, but Zack managed to crane his neck enough to plant a kiss on her forehead. "I don't deserve you."

"I know." She yawned, but hid it behind a hand. "I'm just sorry I don't have any breakfast for you before you rush off. Although…" She made the requirement to leave easier by rolling off him, thereby depriving Zack of her warmth and touch.

Aerith stood, smoothing her skirt, and picked up her wicker basket. It was covered with a small cloth, which she pulled back to reveal several oddly shaped parcels wrapped in greaseproof paper. She extracted one and passed it to Zack, who pulled himself into a sitting position to accept it.

"What's this?"

"A not-very-nutritious way to start the day." She smiled nervously. "I, uh, baked something. For our date. When you said you were running night manoeuvres I suspected we wouldn't go out out, so I made provisions." She replaced the cloth, but not before Zack spotted a candle in a brass holder and a book of matches. "Go on, open it."

Zack did so, eyes widening with delight. He grinned up at her with unabashed glee. "I love you."

Aerith blushed. "It's just Castella Cake."

"Correction, it's Castella Cake you made for me. Plus it just happens to be my most favourite food ever. Ever ever."

Her cheeks flushed an even brighter red. "I-I remembered you saying you liked it."

Zack removed his gloves and took a bite. The cake wasn't a regular shape, and under the icing the edges were a little burned, but it still tasted good; light and sweet like good Castella Cake should. He couldn't remember the last time he'd enjoyed his much-loved sweet. He thought it might've been the last time he went home and his mother laid out a spread. Of course, she'd also invited Mieko-the-neighbour's-daughter as a potential wife for him to look at, which had made the cake stick in his throat like he'd swallowed glue. Now, however, there was no bug-eyed Mieko watching him eat and making comments about how she'd like to have a big family. There was just him and Aerith, who was unwrapping her own breakfast and not even looking at him.

In no time at all Zack had finished and was licking the last of the icing from his fingers. "That," he said firmly, "was the best breakfast I've ever eaten."

"Silly," Aerith murmured, nibbling a cake that looked like a chocobo had been sitting on it.

"No, really. From here on I'm swearing off coffee and starting each day with dessert." Zack grinned at her, enjoying the way it made her blush and study the floorboards like the meaning of life was written in the grain. Aerith could sleep practically on top of him, no problem, but turned the colour of holly berries when paid a compliment. It was cute and played right into Zack's teasing hands.

Except for this morning, when those hands were due at the gym for hand-to-hand combat practise with twenty-eight new recruits. Sighing, Zack got to his feet, brushed off his pants and realised he wasn't wearing any shoes. His toes wiggled in their military-issue blue socks. "Um..."

"Over there," Aerith informed him, pointing to his neatly arranged boots.

Zack frowned. He always kicked off his boots at when he came in and then had to search for them the next day, hopping around while pulling one on and scanning his room for the other. "Did I take those off last night?"

"No, I did. You were so tired you didn't even feel me."

"I was? Wow." He shoved his feet in and laced them up, by which time Aerith had finished her cake and was picking up her own things. "Will I see you tonight?"

"Maybe," she replied. "That depends on whether you can keep hold of your recruits for more than five minutes."

"Point." Zack stepped forward and swept her up into a kiss. She tasted like Castella Cake, just like him, and when they broke apart he licked his lips appreciatively. "Mmm, I could get used to that."

"Silly," she laughed, pushing him away. "Go. Get back before they miss you. And take this with you," she added, pushing another wrapped-up piece of cake into his hands.

"I knew I loved you for a reason," Zack beamed, pocketing the gift and kissing her again. She smacked the back of his head. "Hey, ow!"

"Go to work before you get in trouble."

"All right, all right. But I'll be back for more cake. Oh, and to see you again, of course."

Aerith watched him go with her own small smile. "Silly," she murmured again, knowing she wouldn't want him any other way.


A/N -

Castella Cake is a type of sponge cake, sometimes flavoured with honey, which is hugely popular in Japan. Sometimes it's also referred to as Kasutera, or Kasutera Cake, but I've opted for 'Castella' here in tribute to the snack's initial Portuguese/Spanish origins.