A/N: I apologize a great deal for how long (two months????) it's taken me to get this next part up. I think it's a little sub-par, but I really wanted to update and get this out to you all. Life's just been kicking me in the face, but I'll try to keep this updated a lot more regularly. Also, I haven't been very inspired, so if anyone has any suggestions for future drabbles, or even prompt words, I think that would help get things moving. Either way, thanks for sticking with me!
Thank you to everyone who reviewed! Please review again! It means such a great deal.
Aerith couldn't help but smile as Zack played with the motley group of boys and girls, screaming and cheering as they raced around the playground. They seemed automatically drawn to him every time he managed to hoard enough free time to spend in a visit, the filthy children from the slums' underbelly crawling towards the light in Zack's smiles and cheerful laughter. Once they had perhaps been fearful of him, kept away by the threat in his title of SOLDIER, frightened by the massive sword slung over his back. Now though, one glimpse into his eyes showed anyone that Zack was the farthest thing from dangerous, at least to them, and now every child loved him. Just the mention of his name could bring forth excited squeals and pitifully crooked grins.
They were playing in the park now, shrieking down the dilapidated slides and swinging along the rusty jungle gym. Zack would sometimes stand at the bottom of the slide, catching a girl as she raced down apprehensively, only to vanquish her fear in the comfort of his strong arms. At the moment, he was lifting a small boy towards the bars, bringing him up with a whoop so he could take the metal in his hands.
People under the plate didn't get to have moments like this often. Children usually had busy parents who were scrounging for any funds they could, leaving no free time to play. Outsiders rarely ventured into the horrible world of the slums, so someone like Zack so willingly giving up his time to the children meant the entire world to them.
Aerith had listened to Zack talk about his (their) future many times. They had painted fantasies together in the form of a successful flower shop and a rewarding career. Aerith was going to help spread beauty to every house, hope to every heart, and Zack was going to become the kind of legend that people told around campfires, voices filled with undisguised awe.
Zack was going to be a hero, and every time he announced the phrase, subconsciously stepping into the light twinkling down from a broken ceiling, blue eyes glowing, Aerith believed him. There was no doubt that Zack would one day change the world.
But in moments like this, moments where Zack was tumbling to the ground, five little bodies jumping atop him with laughter and shouts of joy, Aerith thought that he was already there. Zack was a hero without vanquishing monsters or by traveling to the darkest depths of the universe, only to come back unscathed.
Even without that, Aerith knew that Zack was already something special. Zack was the spark of playfulness these kids would otherwise never have gotten to know. He was the arms that would lift a small body and teach it to fly. Zack was the kiss that caused a blush on Aerith's cheek, the light in the darkness that could pierce every shadow hiding in the alleys of the slums.
To everyone under the plate, to these children, to her, Zack was already a hero.
Broken out of her thoughts, Aerith turned her head at the sound of her name. Zack was now at the bottom of the slide, children circling him with glowing faces, and when she walked over, he gestured her towards the creaking steps that led to the top. Laughing lightly, Aerith climbed upwards, looking down to be blinded by a sea of grinning faces alight with happiness.
Pressing on despite the fluttering in her stomach, Aerith slid down into the arms that she knew would always catch her.