Where the heck is she? Zack wondered to himself as he stood outside the church. His delivery route crossed paths with Aeris' flower-selling route that day, so they had decided to meet at the church around noon and go grab lunch somewhere. But it was almost two o'clock and she still hadn't showed. Zack sighed impatiently, remembering that he couldn't call her to see what was up. That girl really needs to get a phone, he thought. It then occurred to him that perhaps she had been waiting inside, and so he entered.
"Aeris? You here?" he called, glancing around as he walked in. Zack stopped in his tracks at the sight of the flower wagon in one corner of the room. It was normal for Aeris to come in once or twice during the day to reload; what was not normal was for the wagon to be turned on its side with its contents spilled on the floor and its owner nowhere to be seen. Zack hurried over to it to have a look. The first thing he spotted was a hair ribbon hanging off of the handle—the pink one that he had given her. He picked it up and stared at it in his hand; he knew that Aeris always kept it tied securely and would never take it off on purpose. Something wasn't right. His eyes widened further as he noticed a tiny bit of blood on one corner of the wagon. Something definitely wasn't right. Then he saw a white rag hanging off of one of the wheels; he picked it up out of curiosity. As he looked at it closely he caught a whiff of something and recoiled. He recognized the scent from his training days—chloroform. Shit… He looked up and stared off into space, closing his hand around the ribbon and the rag. Then he turned and hurried out of the church, and back to Seventh Heaven.
* * *
Tifa saw Zack come in the door out of the corner of her eye as she finished a long clean-up from the previous night's bar fight. "Hi Zack," she greeted him cheerfully. "How'd lunch go?"
"The only lunch I want is behind that bar," Zack grumbled, eying the bottles. Tifa looked up at him with a questioning look. He slapped the two items down on the counter. "Aeris never showed." He told Tifa what had happened.
"Oh man…" said Tifa.
"Yeah," said Zack, sitting on one of the stools. "So do you think you could open the bar early for me?
Tifa stepped behind the bar and looked him in the eye, saying, "Don't you think you should be out looking for Aeris rather than sitting here getting drunk? What's gotten into you?"
"I know…it's just that when we first came back I said I'd protect her and since then she's gotten kidnapped twice. Hell of a job I've done."
"Don't blame yourself…Oh what the hell am I saying? I told Cloud the same thing for two years and he never listened." Tifa put a small glass down in front of Zack. "All right, one drink, but that's it."
"Thanks… Tifa, do you think Aeris—" Zack was interrupted by the slam of the door swinging shut as Cloud entered.
"Done early today," he said as he came over. By the looks on Zack and Tifa's faces he could tell that something was wrong. "What's up?" he asked, looking from one to the other.
"Have a seat, Cloud," Tifa said. Cloud did so, and his friends filled him in on the situation.
"Damn…" said Cloud. "So…what's our plan?" He looked up at Tifa, as did Zack; they hadn't particularly thought of one yet.
"Well, I guess we'll start from the beginning," Tifa replied, keeping her voice calm. "Zack and I can go back to the church and see if we can find any more clues. Cloud, maybe you can scout out the surrounding area." The men nodded as she spoke to them.
"It's a start," said Zack. He finished his drink and the three friends headed out.
When they reached the church they split up as planned. Cloud went off elsewhere and Zack and Tifa entered, the plan being for him to start at one end of the room and her to start at the other. But before they could go anywhere, they saw another strange sight. There was a third person in the church. A short woman with reddish hair was kneeling in amongst the flowers with her back to Zack and Tifa. Zack took a step forward and opened his mouth to speak, but Tifa stopped him with her arm, seeing as how the stranger seemed to pose no threat. Then they both quietly moved forward, peering at the woman with curiosity. They saw that her hands were folded and she seemed deep in thought, as she did not seem to notice them. As they came around either side of her, Zack couldn't believe his eyes. He recognized the face plainly—a face that he never thought he would see again.