HQ16: A promise is a promise. I'm not dead. Work. Social life. College. RolePlaying. Babysitting. League. Those are the things I do. I'm lame and I suck. Just kill me.

Words: 3,549

(Day 4 in Nibelheim)

I woke up the next morning peacefully, easily. The thoughts that had always nagged my conscious had faded, but only a little. I stood and showered, getting ready for the day at a gentle pace. Today was the day Zack and I would do publicity with the small town. Which meant the one man with a camera and the townspeople. The children we had saved the other day would get our autographs and we would chat with them for a little while.

I brushed through my lengthy and wavy black hair. As it got longer it got wavier, I noticed. I smiled at my reflection, for once I felt like someone else, someone beautiful. I threw the rest of my outfit on. Some pants and my SOLDIER top. My shoes were just black ones instead of boots.

I left my room with a smile on my features and my hands playing with my earrings, my thoughts of course, turning to Zack.

Then there he was standing in the lobby talking with Cloud quietly, as I saw their faces it seemed as if they were fighting under their breaths to each other. I giggled softly, and very uncharacteristically. His attention was turn to me and I smiled, everything about him stealing my breath away as he gave me a smile.

Those bright Mako infused blue eyes. That perfectly pointed nose. His pink lips curved into a smile, with his row of straight white teeth flashed at me. His jaw line was angled and strong. His ears ranged on the larger end but his earrings reminded me of the very ones I was playing with. I smiled as my thoughts finally came back together. I knew I couldn't just let this keep happening. I could feel it, it was going to be the end of me.

"Ready?" I asked with a small smile, trying to keep my thoughts tucked away. The two boys exchanged a glance as if silently acknowledging something and Cloud turned away from him to nod at me. I nudged him and led the way outside. It was crowded like the streets of Midgar could be, but for a town as small as Nibelheim, everyone was here. A few people cheered and others clapped, instinctively my chest swelled with pride and a grin was plastered on my face. I smiled to the camera man ignoring whatever Zack was doing in hopes that I wouldn't give away my nagging thoughts about him.

My knees bent low as I chatted with the group of children we had saved. The talk, even with the children, was easy. Laughs ,smiles and jokes were well placed with the little ones/ Quickly many of the little girls and boys wanted my signature. At one point I turned to look for Zack to see him mimicking my position but with a clustered group of boys. He looked like he was giving them a tough speech about being safe. I shook my head before quickly returning my attention to the kids fighting for my signature. I soothed them with the reassurance that everyone would get one.

An hour or so, a couple hundred unnecessary photos and some thirty or forty signatures later the crowd was thinning out to return to their work, or the children to their play. A breeze flickered through the town and I took a deep breath, standing as it brought the scent of the countryside with it. Mako blue eyes locked with mine as I saw the old couple from the day before easily chatting with Zack who glanced at me during their chat. I froze unsure for a moment of how I should react or respond. A tugging at my pants brought my attention down to a smiling face.

It was a little boy with a tooth missing. I bent down to talk with him on his eye level. He grinned wider if that was all possible. "Hello, and who are you?"

"Hugo, that's my grandma and grandpa," He said pointing to the couple.

"Oh," I muttered softly, "You're very lucky then. I wish I had Grandparents like yours Hugo." He nodded and smiled, but said nothing else for a couple of moments. I opened my mouth to ask him if he wanted something.

"They said that you care for him a lot, like the way they care about each other," blurted out the doe-eyed jaw slacked and I tried to compose myself. "They said if you two are lucky you could be as happy as they are with a grandson like me one day." I couldn't help but chuckle softly at this remark. Momentarily I glanced at Zack to see him with a hand rubbing the back of his head sheepishly.

Faintly my thoughts snapped back, "I doubt we would ever be so fortunate Hugo. We both have huge responsibilities; ones that keep us away from such happiness. We also have very dangerous jobs…" Hugo brushed his eyes back to mine.

"Then why not be happy now?" my eyebrows furrowed softly and my lips parted softly before my composure returned.

"It's not that easy," I mumbled simply. He didn't seem to buy that excuse. Hugo pouted little, possibly at my stubborn nature. I stood slowly gazing after him as he walked away from me without so much as a good bye. I chuckled softly and shook my head a little.

There was always something about children that really made you open your eyes. Everything in their world was so easy, but everything doesn't stay that way. That innocence never lasts long. The firm belief that things in life were so easy. I almost found myself wishing I could have that back, but with little to no memory of my life before 10 years old it made it difficult to think I ever had that sort of innocence.

A searing hot pain flashed through me; instinctively, I hissed. One memory floated into my thoughts. A little boy trying to soothe me even as I was being pulled from him and his arms. His eyes were bloodshot as tears spilled from them. He was trying to comfort me with words and his hand was reached out towards me, but I was out of reach. I in turn was trying to reach towards him my hands tiny and pale.

I inhaled quickly, confused. I was in Nibelheim and it was fairly quiet around me. I looked up to find Zack with his hands on my elbows, his head ducked to try and get my eyes to lock with his. When I finally did he sighed with relief.

"You scared m- us." He corrected as I noticed the elderly couple with their grandson between them.

"I'm fine," I said thickly. He, thankfully, didn't argue but instead let go of me. "I'm gonna go for a patrol." Blue green eyes searched my matching pair but only a nod was my response. I smiled tightly at the couple before walking away to get myself dressed in armor.

The hell was that? I asked myself, rubbing my temples as I patroled around the mansion. My thoughts flickered to Sephiroth and how he was doing, but I decided against going in and checking up on him. If he had been alone for this long, likelihood was that he wouldn't want company unless he asked for it, or searched for it.

Fortunately it was quiet as usual in Nibelheim, with little to no fiends running around. I finished a round of patrolling without more than a couple of fiend attacks. Cloud reported to me on his patrol and I asked him why he hadn't reported it to Zack. His face was quizzical as he replied that I was Zack's superior. I gulped having forgotten this fact in my whirlwind of emotions over the last couple of days.

I nodded quickly and thanked him for reporting to me. This was probably the first time in my career that I had fallen apart so easily. I couldn't remember basic facts from my thoughts being so far into the clouds. I was growing frustrated with myself. It had never happened before. Not with anyone. I ran a gloved hand through my hair raggedly. I wasn't sure how much more of this abuse I could take.

Trying to occupy the rest of my day became exceedingly difficult to do as the hours dragged on. What could I do? I thought it over and turned to the one thing that had always kept me calm: Training. Physical training of any kind; the feeling of blood pumping violently through my body and pushing myself. I nodded to myself eager to get to work.

It was some hours later, in front of the Shinra mansion, that Zack and Cloud found me. I was full force into my sword techniques when I heard them stop. It was my enhanced hearing having heard their voices, my sight having noticed the two heads of hair without needing to truly look at them. My thoughts remained where they needed to be, on the burning in my arms. The feeling of my muscles fibers trying to heal themselves are I rebuilt them. I stopped, my final slash leaving an invisible opponent clearly dead.

I spun the heavy deadly weapon in my wrist narrowly missing slicing my own ear off before standing straight and turning to the two, my expression professional.

"Can I help you boys?" They were silent a moment longer.

"Nope," said Zack confidently.

"Brilliant. So why are you here?" I asked my gaze, for once unimpressed with his presence.

"The locals mentioned you've baiting fiends towards the mansion I figured I should check it out. I hadn't thought you'd be training. Need a partner?" I chuckled, almost darkly but shook my head.

"Why not train Cloud?" I said pointing to the blonde with Harpenger. Zack was silent and I swung the blade again turning my back to him. There was movement and I glanced back to see that Zack had decided to do just that. I smirked a little but put the sword in the ground to relax my arms for a little.

I watched as Cloud had some trouble lifting the heavy thing. However, I found myself smiling amiably at his determination. The smell of sweat hit my nose easily and I knew that it was my own. I pushed my sticky hair back and took a few deep breaths before another scent hit my nose and sent my stomach fluttering. I froze.

Zack. Gaia, he smells good. No amount of praying to keep me from looking at him and mentally undressing his body. My fists clenched tightly and I stood abruptly to go for a run while they trained. Anything to get away from him. On my run I asked myself what they hell I was doing.

There were no words, no explanations. I had finally come to the realization that I was probably in love with him but I was too scared to deal with it. I seemed alright about it yesterday, but not anymore. The pounding of my feet was faster as I realized I had run the same lap at least three times without feeling tired. I could feel my body almost waken up and liven at the physical activity. My senses were heightening as if suddenly someone turned the on switch in my body.

This was easy. Fighting and listening to orders was engraved into my and it was comfortable knowing that I was great at it too. Arguably one of the best in Shinra too. I didn't like the thought of being in love with Zack. I didn't like the thought of feeling anything towards him and I resented myself for feeling the way I did. I resolved to stop feeling this way.

The words from the couple splashed around and I popped those thoughts like bubbles. I didn't need to make things in my life complicated with feelings. I was a SOLDIER. A SOLDIER 1st Class. I stopped running finally happy with my decision. When I stopped, Zack and Cloud watched me cool down with some stretches. When I locked eyes with them and quirked a questioning eyebrow it was Zack's husky voice that answered me.

"Had a good run?"

"Brilliant one… thanks." His attention was focused purely on me and the pounding I felt in my chest I knew was from my run, not from him; or at least I was telling myself that. He laughed and his eyes twinkled in the fading light of the day. I ignored him quickly and returned to my cool down.

Cloud was a quick learner as luck would have it. I managed to spar him a little by the end of the day. It was easy for me to find faults in his stance, in his movements, in the way he held the Buster sword, but he was accepting of the things he did wrong and tried to learn from them.

I chuckled at him as we decided to head back to town, "You can't expect to be a master swordsman by the end of a few hours. It takes a year or two, kiddo." He was silent in his brooding from the easy defeat against me. I had opted to walk with Cloud in the middle so I wasn't so close to Zack. The two offered to bring me to eat with them and I hastily declined. When I was asked why I tried to look to Tifa as an excuse.

The said girl was working at the local bar. Apparently she was a bartender in training or something of the sort. Everyone in town found her easy to talk to and friendly. I found it hard to disagree with that. I sat with a mere glass of water at hand while she worked. Occasionally she would say a few words and I'd mumble a reply.

My thoughts were racing, my heart was pounding, and my stomach felt like it was eating itself away. Something was bothering me, and no amount of running was going to change that. I groaned at this realization. It was painful to admit, but I'd be stupid to think anything otherwise. I walked outside just as fast as I had walked in. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs. There was nothing more aggravated then how inexplicably tormented I was with this feeling. I paced outside almost frantically, but the town was too small for three SOLDIERs.

"Hey… are you feeling okay?" I heard his voice ask me in the darkening town and my stomach dropped painfully. I refrained from moving any muscle and I had condemned myself further as I felt his gloved hand touch me. "Evie… You've been acting… weird lately. Is something bothering you?" He turned me and I made no move to resist him.

Wasn't I saying not even two hours ago about how I wouldn't let this feeling happen? What happen to my resolve? I shook my head slowly hoping to get him to drop it, but this was Zack Fair. My best friend.

"Evie, you and I both know you're lying. You've been acting funny. What's wrong?"

I stumbled to come up with a lie. I locked eyes with him, how could I lie to that face? "I…. nothing. I saw you talking to that couple this morning? Was it something important?" Fortunately for me the subject took a quick change of pace and Zack seemed to pause in his words.

"No, not really." My stomach dropped to my feet.

"How's Cloud?"

"Evie, I asked about you. Stop trying to change the subject." I prayed to every heaven there was that the said Chocobo would come running around the corner wanting to show us some hole in the ground where fiends were erupting from.

"I'm not," I replied indignantly. He sighed a furrowed brow revealing to me more than I'm sure he would ever say. "Something seems to be bothering you too I see." His eyes rose to meet mine and I sent him the softest of smiles.

"I've been thinking a lot lately. That's all," My heart swelled from his expression. I wanted to crush him in my arms, he looked so unsure and so innocent. It was cuter than his confused face. I rose my hand towards his face and abruptly changed it's course for his one bang. I was going to put it on his cheek, that would have made being friends with him awkward. I tugged on it gently.

"Nothing important or you don't want to say?" he was silent long enough for me to know the answer. We were alike like that, always keeping things to ourselves to keep others from worrying about it. I smiled tightly and shoved my hands into my pockets.

Turning to walk away- "It's Aerith." I stopped my back still to him. I turned to face him wondering what it was.

I chuckled in what I hoped was a gentle tone, "The old couple told you that you should get married when you see her? Or was it Hugo who tried to get you to buy her a ring made of sticks?" My teasing was light hearted to the ears but heavy on my own heart.

His jaw tightened painfully, "No." My eyebrows rose in surprise but the look on his face made me think that it was the truth. Slowly I felt my hands playing with my earrings. I consciously stopped myself and was silent if he wanted to tell me then I'd listen. If not, then I'd be content with standing here because he needed the company. "Something is changing, like I kind of told you before. I don't know if things are going to work out between us." I furrowed my brow unsure of the meaning behind his words.

"Did something happen?" My worry turned to silent fury. "Did she do something?" I tried to keep my voice level and I was fortunate enough that Zack didn't notice my temper flare.

"No, no…" muttered the SOLDIER. My temper calmed quickly, but worry rose again. I took a deep breath to calm myself. I had never experienced so many emotions in a ten minute time frame.

"Remember how I said there was someone else?"

"And remember how I said to give it time and wait before you make a decision you might regret?" He paused, seemingly unsure of how to piece his words together or maybe there was a conflict. I don't know what I was planning on saying but his hands moved towards me and I was immobilized.

He pulled me into a hug fiercely and I returned it awkwardly. My eyes wouldn't stop blinking even as Zack pulled away from me. It wasn't until I turned to saw Josh standing nearby that he walked away silently. I smiled warmly to Josh looking after Zack only once before turning my attention back to him.

"Hey, I haven't seen you in a couple of days," He returned the smile and reached towards me.

I walked towards him with confident ease, "Busy, busy." His handsome smile widened and I wondered briefly why couldn't love him. What made Zack so special? Then as if to spite me my mind practically blinded me with a list of reasons. Ignoring the images seemed to be the only logical thing to do and I tried to be friendly to this guy despite me mentally comparing everything about him with Zack.

He gestured for us to walk and talk, without pause I led the way. Most of the conversation turned to be a blur for me because of my occupied thoughts. We ended up away from the center of the town and more towards the mansion. It was quiet, secluded and the moon provided little light. It was pretty if nothing else.

Josh sat down, looking at me expectantly. I was curious about his behavior, it baffled me. He was very forward, always the sweet one and he certain did enjoy being in my personal space. Tifa's words came to mind as I sat with this handsome teen.

"What's it like?" he rose a silent eyebrow at my outburst. "Being normal, having a normal life of a teen?" He paused a sad understanding in his features.

"Quiet I suppose. Much less violence. Here in Nibelheim it's very often quiet here. I was planning on leaving to Midgar soon. Try and see where life takes me there," he said softly.

"If you're not careful you could end up in the worst of the slums, which is not much of a place to be taken too." He stared at me.

"What's it like then? To be rich." I opened my mouth to respond. I wouldn't consider myself rich but after some years and no use for all the gil I was making, it truly did pile up.

"I can't say I know. I don't notice it really. I had no need for it so it just piles up. Maybe it'll come in use for when I retire from SOLDIER at the end of my usefulness."

He nodded slowly, ripping at the grass.

Ten seconds later I was betraying myself, "You ever been in love?"