It's been a couple of years (or perhaps longer) since I've written any fanfiction. Playing Crisis Core and reading a few decent fanfictions really inspired me to start writing some more; however, I'm probably a bit rusty, so give me a chance to warm up a bit. Haha. Anyway, the usual disclaimer, I do not own any of the characters or FFVII: Crisis Core...obviously. Enjoy, and please, give me feedback! :D --'s represent a change in POV, and #'s represent a flashback/memory.

"The price of freedom is high..."

Zack supposed he should have expected that they would catch up to them eventually. It seemed so cruel, though, that they would come so far, only to be thwarted just outside of Midgar.

'At least Cloud's safe for now...' was Zack's consoling thought. With a grim smile, he adjusted the Buster sword on his back, scanning his opponents. His smile had a hint of smugness to it as he took it all in; of course, they would send the entire Shinra army to capture him – they knew who they were dealing with. The fact that it was the entire army probably explained the lateness of their arrival – moving such a large force would be quite the task...not to mention that the Shinra army lacked the finesse of SOLDIER, in Zack's personal opinion.

With a sigh only audible to himself, he hoisted the Buster sword off of his back and held it between two steady hands. If Shinra wanted a fight, he would give them a fight they would never forget – and by the looks of it, they definitely wanted a fight. With a loud battle cry, he rushed into a battle where he would be hopelessly outnumbered.

--

The air in Sector 5 was muggy – muggier than usual, that is. Since the slums were under the plates, the air generally had a sort of...suffocating feel to it, but this time it was definitely related to the weather. Though the sun was shining up above, the planet foretold of gloomier things.

The storm is gathering, the planet whispered to the flower girl in the church. A storm is coming, as well as the thing you dread. His blood will soak the soil and his soul will feed the Lifestream.It spoke sadly, knowing the pain the flower girl would feel. Aerith's eyes widened at the planet's solemn words, and she stepped back from the flowers she was tending.

'No...' she thought to herself, shaking her head, tears forming in her green eyes. "No!" she exclaimed out loud, refusing to believe the planet, though it had never lied to her before. As the last Cetra, the last Ancient, she knew that the planet would not lie to her...but she also knew that if she accepted what it were saying as true, she could not bear the pain. "He's coming back to me," she told the planet firmly, as if it would make it true. "He wouldn't...he'll make it back," she said more to herself this time. 'It's been four years though...' she thought silently. She wondered if he had ever gotten any of her letters...or if he even remembered her after all this time. Maybe he wasn't coming back.

--

As Zack grew weaker and more fatigued with every swing of his giant blade, his thoughts began to wander; his head became less clear, foggy, as though he were losing consciousness. He feebly attempted to dodge another bullet, but he was too slow, and it ripped through his shoulder, tearing muscle and crushing into bone. He staggered, his grip on his weapon limp; his breathing was heavy and uneven – every breath was an effort on his part.

'Only three left...three soldiers to go...then I can take Cloud to Midgar...and finally see Aerith...' Zack's thoughts wandered again, and he was left pondering what her letter had meant. Why was it her last letter to him? Had she moved on...had she forgotten about him?

'No...she wrote me 88 letters...she surely hasn't forgotten me...but maybe...maybe she's mad. I-I was gone for four years according to her last letter. But it feels like just yesterday that Nibelheim...' his thoughts trailed off as another bullet ripped into his chest, and he fell to one knee, cursing his unfocused mind. He coughed painfully, wincing and gritting his teeth; more shots, more bullets tearing through him. He fell backwards, his blue mako infused eyes suddenly gazing at the endless, cloudy sky. 'Aerith...' Zack blinked – it even hurt him to blink! - and smiled softly. 'Aerith...' A warmth spread through his body, though he can't tell if its from his burning wounds or because he couldn't seem to stop thinking about her...but the pain in his body seemed to be lessening, so he decided that thoughts of her were making it better. He closed his eyes and let memories wash over him.

#

Zack didn't know what to expect that day; certainly not Angeal having wings – or rather, wing – or the metal grate beneath him collapsing and sending him falling into oblivion. He didn't know when he blacked out, but suddenly he saw white feathers and heard a voice.

"Hello?"

"Mom?" he said groggily, trying to lift his arms but finding that they were like lead.

"Tell me what's wrong..."

"I...I want to help a friend. But I don't know how."

"Helloooo?"

Zack realized that his eyes were closed; then he realized that he was able to open them, albeit slowly. As his vision came into focus, he was surprised at what he saw – or rather, who he saw. A vision so breathtaking, he wondered if he were still dreaming. Leaning over him, green eyes open expectantly, brown, soft hair falling down past her shoulders and framing her face, and a small, curious smile on her lips, was an angel.

"Hurray!" she exclaimed when she saw that his eyes were open, and she clapped her hands together, her smile broadening. To Zack, it made her even more stunning.

"Heaven?" he asked dazedly, unable to believe that he could be anywhere else, and that his fall had killed him. He wouldn't have minded being dead though, not if he got to spend heaven with her.

"Not quite," she giggled. "Church in the slums," she explained, wondering just how hard he might have hit his head – especially if he thought the slums were heaven! He sat up, hardly aware of his surroundings, only focused on this vision of beauty who was now watching him expectantly again, her white cotton dress swaying softly.

"An angel?" he asked, still not totally convinced she couldn't be otherwise. She shook her head, still smiling.

"No, I'm Aerith!" she turned and pointed up at a hole in the ceiling. "You fell from the sky." Aerith turned her head back toward him and said simply, "Scared me."

#

Zack found he couldn't open his eyes. He could hear the rustle of the soldier's armor; the scuffle of worn boots on the gravel and dirt. He still had a smile on his face from the memory of their first meeting. Aerith had scolded him for nearly stepping on her flowers...amazing, yet he had never seen them anywhere else in Midgar. It was like life could thrive where she went. That was when he came up with "Operation Midgar Full of Flowers, Wallet Full Of Money."

She had told him that day, as she led him toward the market, that she was scared of the sky...afraid that it would swallow her. She was so innocent and pure...soft...everything he wasn't. He hadn't expected to fall through a church ceiling that day...but he definitely hadn't expected to fall in love, either.

#

Zack strolled casually into the park, watching as two children chased each other around the swings and the slide, playing SOLDIER with one another. He cast a glance at Aerith and smiled approvingly at her, admiring the pink bow he had bought and put in her hair for her. Having his wallet stolen was worth spending the extra time with her – and besides, he had gotten his wallet back in the end, and impressed her, to boot. At least, he thought he had impressed her.

"So," she broke the silence, "ever meet any SOLDIER members?"

"Maybe." Zack replied vaguely, following behind her.

"Do you think that they're happy?" she replied curiously.

"What do you mean?" Zack couldn't help sounding confused...it was a good question. Was he happy?

"Heroes to children, protectors of the peace. But, they're not normal. They get some kind of special surgery...don't they?" she asked, turning around to face him.

"So they say..." Zack replied with a sinking feeling.

"Normal is best. I think so at least." Aerith said in a matter of fact way. "Those SOLDIER people are kind of...weird." she finished, frowning at the thought of them.

"They're...weird, huh?" Zack said softly, crossing his arms and feeling his stomach churn uncomfortably.

"And they're...scary," she added sadly, looking down toward the sand. "They fight...and the love it." She finally looked back up at him, expecting a reply. He turned away, his arms still crossed as his stomach churned. Zack didn't know how to feel now. Here was this girl he really liked and...she thought SOLDIERs were weird and scary. He was torn between saying nothing and lying or...telling the truth. 'Normal is best.' Well, Zack knew he wasn't normal...but he wouldn't lie. He had his honor, after all.

"Actually...I'm in SOLDIER," he finally replied, turning back toward her. She gasped and looked down quickly, ashamed.

"I'm sorry..." she said hurriedly, but all Zack could do was shrug, still feeling a little hurt by all the things she had said. Still, he hoped his first 'date' with her wouldn't become one long, awkward moment. He looked around, wondering what to do next when she broke the silence again.

"So pretty..."

He grinned and turned back to her. "The face?" he asked cockily, smile growing wider. He felt his stomach flutter when she giggled once more and shook her head, smiling.

"The eyes!"

"You like them?" He strolled over, stopping in front of her. "Then take a closer look. Eyes infused with mako energy." He spoke while leaning closer to her face, adding, "A SOLDIER trademark." They both stood for a moment, faces close together as they looked into each other's eyes. Zack thought for a moment about kissing her – he certainly wanted to, and the air seemed to be charged with energy. But then, suddenly, she broke out into an embarrassed smile, blushing slightly.

"Oh you!" she laughed, pushing him away softly. He broke into laughter too, the sound of hers music to his ears.

"Color of the sky, right?"

She paused for a moment, then gave a small nod. "Mm-hmm. But not scary at all!" she exclaimed. Zack's stomach flipped in pleasure at her words. He turned around, embarrassed.

"I'll admit, things sure haven't been normal lately. What about you Aerith, how's your life going?" Zack turned back toward her, his embarrassment gone. She laughed softly again, turning her back to him, arms limp at her side.

"I thought it was going to be a normal day...then suddenly, some guy fell out of the sky." she replied teasingly.

"That's not all that bad!" he teased back. She turned back to face him, her face serious again.

"Mm-hmm," she nodded in agreement, smiling at him again. The moment was interrupted by a phone call – Zack was reluctant to go, but he knew he had to go take care of Genesis.

"I'm sorry, but, duty calls," he explained, shrugging. Aerith smiled sadly, then quickly tried to play it cool.

"Well, I guess I should get going then." She tried to walk away nonchalantly, but then stopped, backing up to look at him again. "Will I...see you again?" she asked uncertainly, the sad look still on her face.

"Of course!" Zack reassured her. How could he ever deny her something as simple as seeing him? He would make time for her, he knew.

"I hope that your friend's okay." she said softly.

"Huh?" Zack wondered, totally confused.

"You...talk in your sleep." she spoke apologetically.

"Oh...yeah. Everything will be fine...I know that now."

#

Zack was aware that the soldiers were still there. How long had they been standing there? Were they going to kill him, or were they taking him back to Hojo? His wounds were pouring blood, with every beat of his heart, though it grew more feeble with each minute. He knew he wasn't going to make it, either way. Each shuddering breath he drew was sharp and painful, and each exhale was ragged and harsh. He wished...that he could have said goodbye to her. He had been so close...he wanted to see her in pink, like he had asked. He wanted to see Midgar full of flowers. He had promised to make a better wagon for her, but then he had had to leave for Nibelheim. Was she still selling flowers, all these years later? He thought so...she wouldn't have given up on the flowers.

A movement distracted him from his thoughts. One of the soldiers was peering at him warily, in case Zack would have the strength to leap up and dismember him or perhaps decapitate him with a swing of his blade. If Zack had had the energy to laugh, he would have. When the soldier saw that Zack could hardly blink, he raised his gun, aimed, and fired. Zack's last thoughts before the bullet made contact were of Aerith.

--

It began to rain. Aerith had been trying to ignore what the planet had told her; she had been busy tending to her flowers. Suddenly, she felt droplets of rain, coming down from the hole in the church ceiling. She stood up cautiously, and looked up towards the gray sky.

He's gone. The planet's voice rang through her ears, and she gasped, clasping her hands together as she stared up at the sky. The planet was crying for her; it was crying for him. Zack Fair, SOLDIER 1st class, was dead. Aerith couldn't deny it – she felt him in the lifestream, through the planet. That boy who had fallen through her church, like a blessing from above, with eyes the color of the sky; the man he became with the death of his friends and the battles he fought – he was gone.

--

Well, folks, that's it for the first chapter. Took me about a year (or two hours) to write, and it feels like its as long as hell. But, whatev. This isn't a oneshot, by the way, and the next chapter will continue with Aerith. I've already got some of it planned, so it should be up soon. (: Sorry that a lot of this chapter was in the game, but, I really wanted to have Zack remember these scenes since they are so poignant. :3 Also, don't think I forgot about Cloud! Haha, bet you thought I did... okay, maybe just a little, but it's 4:30 a.m. I promise, Cloud will be around.

7.5.08, 2:11 p.m. - Okay, read through this again after sleeping. I fixed a few grammatical errors that I missed in my sleepy nature earlier. Thanks for the reviews guys, I plan to work on another chapter tonight (;

- Danielle