Author's Note: I am starting a collection and it's not about Cloud and Tifa! …Okay, maybe it was going to be about CloTi in the beginning but it's Zaerith now. My main objectives of this would be to improve my writing and most importantly, improve my fluff. I admit, I can't write fluff. My previous stories are pretty fluff-less. I am going to try my absolute best so give me a break guys! :P

Now, let me introduce the new fruit of my labour, Hourglass. This is a year's collection of stories, meaning that there will be twelve chapters, one for every month. That does not however, mean that every story will be during the same year. It just won't workout that way, sorry. I previously planned the stories to have nothing to do with each other but I decided otherwise. It will just be light references to other months, though. I am planning to write the stories in a way that you can read them in whatever order pleases you. And lastly, some of the stories will have something to do with their month while some will just be placed where they are to keep to the order of events.

With that said, I have actually been writing this chapter for a very long time. I finished it some time in August and have been editing and fixing it ever since. I wanted it to be perfect and some days I would like it while some days I would hate it. I am pretty pleased with it right now so I am posting it before I change my mind again. :)

Please keep in mind that I am still not entirely convinced with my portrayal of Aerith but I tried to do it as well as possible. I would love to hear all and any kind of feedback. Reviews make me smile, even if it's constructive criticism. In other words: REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW!


Final Fantasy and all related themes and characters, © Square Enix, Ltd.
Hourglass, © Vanilla Raindrops, 2009-2010.


January

Snow.

It was nothing short of a miracle, Aerith thought as she watched the snowflakes spiral down from above in a mad dance and land in front of her, in the same place where her colourful flowers would bloom once again in a few months. Snow was extremely uncommon in Midgar due to the pollution and constant smog. It was even more so in the Slums that were covered by the Plate, a roof which also served as the foundations for the city above. Most people under the Plate had never even seen rain although it was plentiful in Midgar (courtesy of the dark clouds that always hung above the city). Aerith was one of those people. And the only reason she had the opportunity to witness the white wonder was because of the Church.

The building in question was ancient and ruined. However, when Aerith had found the abandoned structure she instantly fell in love with it and began to call the Church her own. She loved every part of it, even the huge missing chunk of the roof. The said missing part of the building was a gaping hole that extended all the way up to the great sky, a vast blanket of space which frightened Aerith. Looking so far up made her feel small and vulnerable, so at first Aerith avoided the area under the opening altogether. But the flowers seemed to like the access to the sky, so eventually, although cautious at first, the flower girl also came to appreciate the rare glimpses of blue and those wonderful uncommon rays of the sun on her skin.

Apart from giving her viewing access to the world above, the roof was also responsible for other great marvels. Not so long ago, a curious man fell out of the sky, through the ceiling and right into her flowerbed. Never had Aerith been more startled in her life. A mark of all SOLDIERs, his eyes were like the sky Aerith avoided so much. So in the beginning, she was scared of him too.

But the girl soon came to realize that Zack wasn't scary at all. He was full of laughter and optimism and always made her smile. He was different from others, different from everything she expected him to be. He couldn't have been the monster that everyone depicted him to be; monsters didn't have hearts, she reasoned, while he had one of the purest hearts imaginable. And that was enough to allow Aerith to love Zack in every way possible.

Feeling brave and foolish at the same time, Aerith rose halfway from her safe spot on one of the pews and reached out a hand to touch the falling flecks of white. She withdrew her hand instantly with a gasp, as though the snowflakes had bitten her, and slumped back down.

"It's cold!" she exclaimed softly to herself, her voice full of awe and surprise, as she stared with wide eyes at the drops of moisture that had once been tiny snowflakes on her hand.

"What did you expect?" A husky male voice came from behind her. The flower girl whipped her head back to see Zack, her Zack, leaning against a door and smiling in amusement at her discovery, his hands folded around his chest in a relaxed manner. Her face broke into a wide grin that made Zack smile more as he made his way towards the pews and sat down next to Aerith. He hadn't seen her for nearly a month, being sent on missions for SOLDIER to every damned corner of the planet. But she didn't mention a single thing about his prolonged absence. Instead, she seemed just as happy to be with him as he was with her.

"I don't know," Aerith admitted sheepishly, looking away in embarrassment. Next to Zack, she always felt a bit foolish and inexperienced about the real world, "I just thought that maybe they would be soft and gentle and warm…like feathers." She managed to look up to see Zack smile at her and then noticed his hair.

"Zack! Your hair is all white!" she said, giggling as she ran her gentle hands through his wild black spikes to brush off the snow. When she was done he grinned crookedly and thrashed his head from side to side like a wet dog. Aerith laughed and traced his jaw, letting her fingers linger on his X-shaped scar. She had missed his face, his presence, his smile. But not a single trace of her loneliness remained anymore as he was with her. Aerith smiled about that before turning back to the falling snow before her.

Zack Fair hated snow. He had been on too many missions atop high mountains in the middle of nowhere while caught in roaring blizzards. And he certainly did not appreciate the wind whipping snowflakes into his eyes to the point where even he, with his Mako enhanced vision, could not see a single thing. Zack hated how snow happened to get into his hair and melt, making his scalp wet and cold. Although his hair always remained perfect, wet or dry, the sensation of having an unwanted cool wetness on your head was not necessarily pleasant. And of course, what was probably the most annoying part of it all would be when the tiny crystal whipped his face at extreme speeds. It hurt. So when Zack saw the snow fall that morning, on his one day off in possibly forever, he couldn't help but groan.

Having no snow was one of the very few things (perhaps even the only thing) he liked about Midgar. Rain was so common that locals like him could plan around it. But snow was different. Zack had intended to surprise Aerith by taking her above the Plate that day. But he knew well enough that as pretty as the white snow was while falling down, it would soon turn brown, watery and disgusting. And wet and muddy streets mixed with Midgar's natural busyness and insanity was not what Zack wanted the flower girl's first impression of the world above to be like.

But seeing Aerith in so much amazement over a minor snowfall, Zack began to wonder if snow was really all that bad.

Ever since the first time he saw her, Zack noticed how Aerith was so beautifully delicate, just like a china doll. He may have been somewhat delirious after the fall of however many stories through the Church roof all those months ago, but Zack meant it when he called Aerith an angel. She was nothing but.

Her long brown hair was always put into a neat braid at the back and tied up by the ribbon that he bought for her. It was beginning to fade but Aerith still wore it religiously and Zack couldn't help but smile every time he noticed it in her hair. And whenever he smiled, Aerith would smile too, her green eyes sparkling, the way they always did whenever she smiled and laughed. But Zack's favorite charming little quality if hers was how Aerith's ivory cheeks seemed to slightly darken to a pale shade of pink whenever she was around him. She was so sweet and pure and innocent. And some days, when Zack would compare a perfect creature like her to the monster that Shinra had made him, he couldn't help but wonder that if by loving her, he happened to be tainting her purity at the same time.

"Look at it fall," Aerith's gentle voice brought him back from his thoughts. Two shining emeralds were now locked on him instead of the white wonder. "What does the snow remind you of, Zack?" Her eyes were full of innocence and youth that he could not possess and Zack found himself not wanting to look away. Then he realized that she was awaiting his answer.

"It reminds me of…" he trailed away, rubbing his neck while trying to come up with something legit, "It reminds me of feathers." He said finally, recalling what Aerith said earlier. The SOLDIER paused once more, finding the words that weren't there before. "But not really. Feathers remind me of pain, betrayal, and lost hopes." He added in a much quieter tone, with a note of sadness in his otherwise happy demeanor. Aerith let the silence linger, knowing that he had more to say, until Zack began again with a small sad smile on his face.

"But…Feathers also remind me of purity, honour, grace that I can never have, and…"

"And freedom." Aerith finished for him. His eyes found hers once more and he smiled wider, nodding. Aerith had an uncanny gift of understanding him in ways no one else could. Zack took her hand and together they sat in compassionate silence, watching the falling snow.

"Why do you think it snows?" Aerith finally asked again, breaking the soundless state of peace. Zack turned to her, surprised, not fully understanding her question. The corners of her pink lips curved up a little at his state of confusion.

"I mean that when the Planet is happy, it's sunny. When the Planet is sad, it rains. What do you think the Planet feels when it snows?"

Zack was stumped. He had never before even thought about the Planet being sad or happy or whatever other emotions planets felt. Aerith's ability to see the world from such a different angle was one of the things he admired about her. Unfortunately, he didn't share the skill. Sure, little by little he was learning to understand and see what Aerith saw but that still wasn't enough to answer some of her questions.

"Maybe the Planet is confused?" he said hopefully.

"Confused?" Aerith replied with a raised eyebrow.

"Well, yeah. I mean, it's kind of sparkly like the sun and cold like rain so maybe it's not really sure of what it's feeling or–" but he was cut of by Aerith's giggles. Realizing how stupid his answer sounded, Zack joined in the laughter.

"You remind me of snow Zack." The flower girl said after the two of them had calmed down enough to talk. He rolled his eyes in response. "No, not the confused part, though I am sure that you are a lot of the times," she added teasingly and dodged a mock punch, "You are just so…pure and carefree. Just like feathers or snow. I want to be like that."

Zack looked at Aerith who had turned away from him to look at the snowflakes once more and wondered if she really knew just how captive he was. Shinra would never let him be free and he was stuck in their clutches until the day he died, like a helpless fly caught in a spider web. But Aerith didn't need to know that. He wouldn't let her worry or suffer over him. So bravely, not knowing if it was really the right thing to do or not, Zack hid his thoughts away from her as she continued.

"I know how silly it sounds, but I feel so jealous of snow because it's so beautiful and delicate and free. I wish I was free.

"Some nights I dream of flying. Not like a bird, but like a feather, just floating and in the sky and gently descending down. And for once, I am not afraid. That's why I want to be a bird, or snow, or a feather. So I could fly and be free and have no fear of anything. How I wish…" Zack squeezed her hand gently and Aerith smiled. She never finished but she didn't need to. He knew already knew.

And although he hated snow before, Zack was more than happy to spend the rest of the day silently watching the miraculous snowfall with Aerith near him. Her presence was everything he ever wanted. And he vowed that no matter what, he would make Aerith's wish come true. He would do everything in his power to see her fly.

Because, as Zack Fair learned that day, angels without wings dreamt of flying too.