Final Fantasy VII
I've Gone Nowhere
Notes: The characters are not mine and this ficlit is. It's the second one I've done with the song I'll Be There by the Escape Club as inspiration, and it also utilizes the 18Coda prompt Elegy. It takes place shortly before the beginning of the original game. Many thanks to Kaze and Lisa for plot help!
No one ever knew that she was torn apart inside.
That was the way she wanted it.
She smiled and greeted them, asking them if they wanted to buy any flowers. Many of them did. And she continued to smile and be friendly as she bundled up the precious plants and handed them to her customers. But all the while her heart was aching.
He had been the one to think of the idea of selling flowers. And he had built her the flower wagon. Several different ones, actually. She still had all of them, though she preferred the cute one that she was using. But they all reminded her of him, and of many happy hours spent together. They had talked and teased and laughed while he had been making the wagons. She had helped wherever she could, holding boards and nails in place while he hammered, and assisting in adjusting and oiling the wheels.
"You're quite a handyman," she had observed.
He had grinned. "I built stuff all the time in Gongaga."
She had called him, when he had gone on that fateful mission. He had been happy to hear from her, and she had heard the reluctance in his voice when he had told her it was a bad time to talk. But he would come back soon and see her, he had promised.
Five years later, she was still waiting.
Of course something was wrong. But whenever those thoughts entered her mind, she had to push them away. He had probably just found someone he liked better. Or several by now. It was not fair to him, to think such things. But it was better than the alternative. At least if he had gone back to his flirting ways . . . if he was no longer hers . . . he would still be alive.
And that was the most important thing.
"Excuse me? Miss?"
She snapped back to the present. The man in front of her was blinking in confusion. In his hand he held his wallet.
"I asked for twelve of your flowers, six of each color."
She drew her breath in sharply. The turquoise hint to his eyes was unmistakable. He was a SOLDIER.
"Of course," she smiled, rolling the price off her tongue as she collected the wanted amount. "Twelve, hmm? They must be for someone special."
"Yes, Miss. For my wife." The SOLDIER smiled himself, obviously bursting with pride. "We've been married five years." He reached into his wallet, taking out his gil and counting it.
Her hands shook as she passed the bouquet to him. "Oh . . . that's wonderful," she said. Though she was still trying to smile, her voice had grown taut. She accepted the gil from him, slipping the coins into her money pouch. "Give her my congratulations."
"I will. Thank you, Miss." The SOLDIER grinned. "This will make her so happy. She hasn't seen flowers since we moved to Midgar." He waved, jogging past with his prized bundle.
She watched until he was out of sight. A definite lump had entered her throat. It was time to close shop for the day. Night was coming on, after all, and her mother would be worried. . . . There weren't that many flowers left, anyway. She could take them home for a centerpiece.
Mrs. Gainsborough was the only person aware of her daughter's anguish. And as far as she was concerned, that SOLDIER boy Zack Fair was nothing but trouble. She had always feared that he did not truly love Aerith and that it was only a passing fling. And now that he had been gone for five years and counting, it seemed all the more likely to her. After all, if he was really dead, they surely would have heard something. There had been no news.
Aerith could not bear it the few times when her mother had voiced her concerns. Even though Aerith herself had been considering the possibility as a way of denying what must be the truth, she did not want to hear anyone else believing such things about Zack. He would not have abandoned her if he had had any say in the matter. She knew he would never do such a thing to her.
She pushed the flower cart through the lonely streets. A mild wind was blowing, sending old papers and trash somersaulting and cartwheeling across the road and onto the sidewalk. A stray cat meowed, chasing a crumpled fast food bag until it was close enough for pouncing. Normally Aerith would have been amused at the sight. Now her heart was heavy.
Seeing that SOLDIER had not helped. She had rarely met any since Zack's departure. She had wanted to ask this one if he knew anything. But a poor flower girl asking about a SOLDIER First Class would have seemed so strange. The last thing she wanted to do was something suspicious. If Zack was still alive somewhere, and SOLDIER learned that he had been dating the last remaining Ancient, it would not go well for him. And she might bring trouble to her mother, as well.
So she had kept silent.
But was that the full reason? Or had she been afraid of what she might have learned? Did she prefer to be left in the dark instead of knowing for certain that he was dead? . . . Or that he had also gotten married?
She smiled weakly to herself. Was Zack the type who could settle down at all? If he had stayed, would he have ever married her when they were older? She wanted to believe that.
"You seem like someone who'd want to be free," she had commented one day when they had been in a meadow at Kalm. She had turned two tiny flowers between her fingers as she had spoken, watching their gentle spinning motions.
Zack had yawned, stretching out in the grass and placing his hands behind his head. "Yeah, I guess," he had said. "But I like having somewhere to come home to, you know? Wouldn't feel much like freedom if life was just wandering everywhere."
"Oh?" She had leaned into his line of vision. "And what would you be doing while you were wandering?"
"Missions, of course," he had grinned. "And meeting a beautiful woman."
Her look had turned stern. "And showing her a good time, I suppose?"
He had given an innocent blink. "Well . . . if it didn't mess up the mission, why not?" he had said after pretending to think about it.
"And what would I be doing while you were off having a good time?" she had mock frowned. In retrospect, maybe it had only been half-mocking.
"Having a good time, too," Zack had answered, his grin mischievous, "with some good-looking guy." He had reached to pull her close. "Some good-looking guy who'd just happened to take her with him on his mission."
She had cried out in surprise as he had drawn her to him, pulling her down so that he could kiss her. But she had found herself returning it. And then they had simply relaxed in the grass for a while, watching the cloud formations drift past in the sky. . . .
A wretched growl brought her out of her reverie. With widened eyes she came to attention, staring as two nondescript beasts stalked into view. Monsters had roamed Midgar off and on for years. They had been around seven years ago, when she and Zack had first met. He had defeated them then with ease, using his sword.
As for herself, she was still honing her magic. And she needed her staff to make it the most powerful. She never took it with her when selling flowers, and so far she had been lucky to have not had much trouble with the monsters. But she would have to try casting a spell now. It might be possible to conjure one strong enough to stun them while she got away. If she couldn't . . .
The magic flowed, traveling the space between them. And hit an invisible wall. The creatures had cast Magic Barrier. And they were still advancing. The only other option was to run.
She gripped the handle of the flower cart, her knuckles turning white as she began to steer it in the opposite direction. There was no choice but to take the long way around. She would be late, but at least she would get home.
Then she was flying down the pavement, the creatures snarling as they gave chase. Her heart was pounding in her ears. It would be hard enough to outrun them on her own, but now she had to keep pushing the wagon ahead of her. It was her livelihood. But it was more than that, so much more.
She tore around the corner. Maybe she could take refuge in an alley. This was part of the shopping district. Maybe one of the shop merchants would still be around to let her come into the store. But what if the beasts would know it and keep coming anyway? She could not put anyone else in danger. She would have to find another way.
Was there an escape? They were still coming. And they were louder and closer. She fled around the next corner.
Just as quickly, she skidded to a halt. Here were two more, sneering in a wretched way. It had been a trap. Desperation began to overwhelm her as she backed up from their advance. The others were right behind. There was no escape. To her side was a brick wall. To her other was a vacant house. And the monsters were swiftly encircling her.
Was there anything at all to use for a weapon? She could thrust the wagon at one of them, but it would not do much damage. Maybe it would be enough to stun the creature, and then she could try to get away. But the other three would be upon her in an instant. There was nothing in their eyes except ravenous hunger.
They stopped. She frowned, staring at them in confusion. What was going on? They all acted like they could see something that she could not. Every one of them was beginning to back away from her. They retreated for several yards, never taking their eyes from her direction. Then they turned and fled, their frightened yips echoing down the lonely street.
Her hands dropped from the handle of the cart. Only now was it dawning just how tight she had gripped at it. But what had the creatures run from? They had certainly not found her frightening. And nothing about her had changed in that moment.
A chill breeze tousled her bangs, the ends of her ribbon fluttering slightly. It almost felt like the wind was caressing her face, gently kissing her cheek and lips.
Tears began to fill her eyes.
She knew why they had run away.
"Zack . . ." she whispered.