A street performer was a rare occurrence in Midgar—especially one that looked so much like a SOLDIER that was so well-known in the city. He had elected to start his performance in front of a very specific flower cart. "It's gotta be the white one!" He had demanded in a flawless Gongagan accent. Gongagans in Midgar were nearly always SOLDIER because they were all natural swordsmen, so the businesspeople coming from work and students coming from the academy crowded around to see what the young raven-haired man was going to do.
"20 gil!" He shouted, swinging a worn katana overhead to catch the attention of the already captivated pack. "And I'll do anything!" Then he chuckled, rubbing his hand through his black spikes, revising his statement. "Within reason."
"Do a trick!" A young schoolboy commanded, tossing his coins at the cocky brunette. The man obeyed, letting his body ease forward, over, and then onto his hands so he could walk on them…and then the street performer began a long string of hand-springs. "I could catch 10 gil in my teeth doing this too," the man kept walking around the circle on his palms, making the challenge. "Of course, if I don't, whoever threw it gets 20 back."
A man threw in his 10 gil…and the brunette flipped over without missing a beat, caught it between his teeth so the whole coin was visible and then he grinned at the large, overly-impressed group.
He'd been aware the whole time that the flower-cart girl was watching. "Zack?" She said softly, tilting her head. It wasn't his right to respond, and no…he knew that she realized that he really wasn't the 1st Class SOLDIER, Zack Fair. Zack didn't have that many piercings in his left ear, and he didn't wear that many belts or that much leather, plus his hair wasn't this short anymore…the man performing knew that the flower-cart girl would notice these things. But anyone else would really think he was the real thing trying to impress this girl…as the real SOLDIER often did.
"Woo her, dumbass!" A businessman shouted, tossing 40 Gil into the circle. The performer gladly thanked the man for the extra 20 gil and grabbed the chick from the cart.
"Why do you look like my boyfriend?" She asked when he had pulled her close into his shoulder. The man simply chuckled, brushing his lips against her ear. "What?" He scoffed, "I didn't convince you that I'm Zack?"
"Of course not." A truly blunt response. Then she added, "Zack's coming home from a mission this evening. And he was complaining about his loss of bet last time he called." She giggled into the stranger's ear as if something really amused her, "…and loss of hair. Couldn't possibly be you by how depressed he sounded!"
"Should have researched more…" He sighed, taking both of her hands and kissing them as if he really was her real boyfriend. The audience certainly believed. "Anyway, please go with this." He whispered urgently, "They'll be more entertained the more you act like I'm him…then give 'em a big finish." He winked, "I'll direct them right to the flower-cart after." He held his hand up in a Boy Scout salute. "I promise."
"Fine." She smiled, "we'll start now." Her smile stayed plastered on her face until it slowly fell into a sneer.
"Fan service?" she snapped, giving him a shove hard enough to make the performer stagger off guard. "Really? Really! And you're trying to entertain others with our affections?" She whimpered but there was something entirely playful in her eyes that knew the fight was only a game. "I thought they were special…Our feelings are special." Her voice cracked. And the flower-cart girl began to start the waterworks.
"B-baby, please…!" The man found himself begging—there was no seeing how the crowd of onlookers would take tears but one look and he knew—they were absolutely eating it up. Damn upper plate Loveless fanatics… he tried to send a look her way that said, 'Keep it going.' Apparently, she understood, because then she began to sniffle and cough out dry sobs.
"Y-you think you can do that to me after how you've been treating me? Runnin' off into battle…leavin' me thinkin' that I was gonna have your little babies—"
The crowd gasped. And a surprised look crossed the usually prepared man's face. How the hell did she come up with that? "W-Why didn't you tell me that you thought you were pregnant…?" Then his voice got low so anyone listening would really have to strain. "Are you sure you want to talk about this now…?"
"Well, you want our private affairs public!" She sobbed, "So why not! You left me, Zack."
"I woulda stayed if you woulda told me…!" He yelled back, but then the performer got gentle. "Why didn't you tell me?" He asked, pulling her in as if she were a child herself.
"Because I love you…" it was nearly a whisper as she rubbed her palm in her eye, looking up at him while they were only inches apart. "Your dream is to be a hero…I won't ever ruin that for you…"
"But I want to stay with you…being in SOLDIER doesn't make you a hero." Looked like there was going to be a moral to this too—ahh…something for everyone. The performer allowed himself to get a little teary-eyed himself as he brought his mouth close to hers, turning the girl so it would appear to be the perfect stage-kiss. He kissed her somewhere near her ear actually, but it looked very real to the onlooker. "Who said you can't have your dreams and be happy too?"
"Oh…!" The girl looked at him with the eyes of a lover. Then they parted their hands together as if they never wanted to go—and they separated slowly, just until it was only their fingertips touching each other.
And their little play was over. And the street performer was stunned by warm applause.
It positively must have been his best work!
"Thank you!" With a quick bow, he allowed himself to bask in the ovation and smiled fully at the onlookers. "I appreciate your patronage! I'll be in sector 7 tomorrow, outside the train station if you want to see me, however, if you wish to see this pretty lovely again," he gestured to the flower-cart girl. "She will be selling lilies outside the theatre on Loveless Avenue in Sector 8!" He bowed again, "Thank y'all! Remember that I live off your small tips! Thank you, sir! Thank you, madam. Thanks. Thank you!" As they filled an outstretched hat, he grinned until every last bit of the audience had disappeared.
The performer had accepted the coins happily and the girl received her praise after the audience purchased her flowers. Most everyone had bought them to give them back to her. "Beautiful!" An old man cried, shoving the black-haired performer aside to get to the woman to hand her a small bouquet of her own flowers and his business card. "I want you in my theatre! Call this if you ever consider the idea madam!" Both she and the sly performer received a card just in case they proved to be partners…but the old man was only interested in the girl. The black-haired performer figured it was because the old man was a pedophile and it was best just to pocket the card for later reference…in case she ever needed a pedophile for something.
The flower-cart girl had sold every last lily and fern in the cart. Including the one white flower the performer had bought for her. She gently touched the milky petals and smiled at him. "Are you Gongagan too?" She asked, looking up. "What's your name?"
"Naw…" The performer laughed, spitting out a marble he had hidden under his tongue. "I'm from Junon. Marbles keep me speakin' like that guy. Great accent, huh?" The girl agreed, but still unbelieving. "Yo, this isn't my hair either. Can't believe it was completely inaccurate…" His fingers went to his hairline and pulled the spiky wig free, his red-brown hair fluffing out like a startled porcupine. "I'm Reno. Who're you?"
"I'm Aerith. It's nice to meet you."
Reno nodded, drawing his hand over one of his cheeks to reveal the fact that he even had scarification under his eyes, right on the cheekbone…and it had also been revealed that he was wearing a severe amount of makeup to look like Zack. "Why did you do that?" She asked cautiously, "Dressing like Zack, I mean."
"He's got a famous face now that he's the General's second-in-command. I can make a bit of money off that, I think." The redhead grinned playfully. "Everyone likes to watch him move…" Reno shrugged. "It's been awhile since Midgar has had someone so young to look up to…I mean, Zack's one of the youngest to get that high in class." Reno leaned against the cart, and winked. "Plus, I'm sure you know what he's known for!" The girl blushed. Zack always did get fangirls simply because he strutted around in very well-fitting pants.
"By the way, I hope I didn't piss him off too much." The man sighed, shoving his hands in the pockets of his hand-made SOLDIER uniform. "If it helps, you can always tell him we theatre boys are almost always gay."
Aerith looked at him, curious. His powder-turquoise eyes suggested he was feeling guilty about something…but he held his body as if he were highly amused by something. "Why would Zack be mad?"
"Well…you play-flirted with a doppelganger of his while you thought he was away. And he's pissed because he actually thought you were prego for a second. But then he realized that he used protection last time or something…blah, blah, blah…" Reno laughed as if he knew something she didn't, and leaned back with a stretch. "For the most part, Zack's confused and pretty upset that—"The man shot into a fit of giggles, unable to finish and immediately, Aerith looked around looking for the source of the joke. "H-he's confused and upset because…"
"Why!" She demanded, pounding on the handles of her flower-cart.
Reno grinned as if he were an older brother and patted her head, being as serious as death now. "He's upset because he's been standing there for at least ten minutes and you haven't said 'hi' or recognized him yet."
Immediately, Aerith's heart dropped into her stomach and she twisted around, looking for her real boyfriend. She looked for the spray of black spikes, scanning the street for that as it was Zack's most popular trait. When she found not a visible piece of evidence, she began to look for the Buster Sword…when she couldn't find that—
"For the love of Shiva, I'm against the light post…"
At the sound of the voice, the woman's head whipped around, her braid catching Reno in the face, and found a man in camouflage cargo pants, a black t-shirt, and a military cap, not at the closest lamppost but the one next to that. His foot was set up against the body of it so he could lean against it casually, his arms crossed. The cap was pulled down low across his brow so that his hair was covered—but there was a very distinct, bluish glow coming from beneath it, reflecting against a slightly raised cross-shaped scar. That glow was familiar enough—plenty of evidence to show that it was definitely…
"Zacky! You're home early!" She pounced on her man with the energy to put a lover in a Wutainese War film to shame. They pushed their mouths together while she wrapped her legs around his waist, and her arms over his shoulders. "How long were you standing there?"
The voice she had been waiting for months spoke in a joking falsetto, "'Runnin' off into battle, leavin' me thinkin' I was about to have your little—"
She kissed him again, cutting him off so she wouldn't have to hear a repeat of her accusation toward Reno-being-Zack. "Don't worry. I wasn't upset. I was just helping Reno out." Zack's spine was still stiff, so she insisted, "And I didn't get pregnant. You're careful enough." It was an ongoing joke between the two of them and Reno tipped his head feeling a bit like the third wheel.
Zack laughed, whispered something into her ear about maybe one day, he should be more dangerous and Reno officially felt awkward standing there and excused himself to leave. "We'll talk later then. Farewell, lovelies." Reno wiggled his gloved fingers in their direction and left, copying Zack Fair's arrogant strut. The brunette coughed, rolling his eyes.
"So," the girl giggled, slipping her fingers under the cap stifling the brunette's spikes. "Why the hat?" For some reason, she loved to tease him over this. It happened once or twice in their relationship before where Zack ended up cutting his hair to his chin, once because his mentor demanded it, and once because it had actually caught fire. He shooed her hands away from his head, embarrassed. "You know why I have the hat!" Zack accused, trying his best to keep a smile from creeping up on his lips.
"Angeal started it." The man explained, a groan escaping him as he trotted down the street. "I told him if I could get through the mission without having him have to use a phoenix down on me once, he would have to let me keep my hair the way I want to keep it." Angeal preferred that Zack kept his hair at his chin anyway because enemies often grabbed Zack's spikes and would beat him against rocks with that advantage. "If he had to use a phoenix down, I'd cut my hair the way he wanted me to have it."
"He had to use a phoenix down, huh?" Aerith giggled, running her fingers down his neck. Surprised by his reaction, she smiled. He may have tried to keep a straight face, but the goose bumps that raised along his skin pretty much gave the man away.
"Yeah, and he cheated me…" the man groaned, supporting her by her bottom and walking her towards one of the larger Sector 8 buildings. "Damn chocobos…" he grunted. "Pecked to frickin death…what a way to die, huh?"
"How'd he cheat you?" She asked, leaning over his shoulder to read the name written in Sharpie on the back of his brown cap. Aerith had never told him she was always fond of his military caps. It made Zack seem unique but uniform all at the same time! She didn't know why, but he did look handsome with it on. Inspecting the short hairs that came to a point at the nape of his neck, she had a good idea of how Zack got 'cheated.'
But still, his embarrassed noise came from his throat. "I'll show you when we get home," he murmured glumly, bouncing her in his arms.
Zack was oddly eager to get home, in fact. Something told Aerith that it was because maybe secretly, he wanted to show her what he looked like. Zack always did like watching people's reactions whether or not they were pleasant or not. Plus, she knew he had to have been eager because normally he took the elevator…but that day he carried her up the stairwell to quicken things up a bit.
"So, how did your mission go, by the way?" From the comfort of Zack's bed, she watched him kick off one of his boots and grab the other with his hands and pull it off, and drop it to the floor. Then he looked down at his clothes, considering. If he could have taken off his shirt without taking off the cap, he probably would have done it by now.
"The mission was…good, I guess." He was a bit uneasy, but still grinning down at her like the playful, overly happy man he normally was. "Got hit on by some guys, got harassed by children, kicked some monster butt." Zack shrugged, the cap's brim hiding the laughter in his eyes. "Usual SOLDIER duties. But I don't wanna talk about that now, Bunny…" He'd trapped her—one knee on either side—while he had bent his head to kiss her neck. It would have been easy to snatch the cap away but she knew he was only doing this to be a tease. No, no, the flirting game wouldn't be played like this today!
"We aren't doing a thing until you take that cap off yourself!" Aerith warned, putting both hands on his shoulders so he couldn't go any further without hurting her. "And you'll have to eventually," she sighed, stretching out on the bed. Aerith could be a tease too. "I'll even follow you into the shower if I have to."
"Is that a promise?" The man laughed, lifting the brim enough to show off the new mako glow to his eyes, the flecks of sky blue and lime green actually reflecting onto her own features.
"Zack, I wanna see you!" The girl whined, tossing her body against the bed so her braid fell off to one side. "All of you?" It was an innocent request but it made the male mind do back-flips with the possibilities. But…if he wanted to get some, he was gonna have to take off the hat. Because now it was fun. But later, he'd be sleeping on the couch for Gaia knows how long…
Over a stupid hat.
Zack's face turned the same shade of rosy pink as the dress his girlfriend wore. "Dammit!" And he took the cap by the bill and successfully threw it into something that made a loud sprong! somewhere across the room. Aerith guessed that it probably hit Zack's guitar right across the strings. But she wasn't paying much attention to where the cap had disappeared to…
Zack sat there in the middle of the bed, his shoulders hunched close to his head as if he were bracing himself for a hit. When Aerith touched him, the man actually squeaked. Freakin' squeaked! "Zacky, dear," she said softly, tugging at his arm. "Look at me."
He didn't quite look at her, but un-hunched his shoulders. Now Aerith could tell why Zack felt so cheated by the bet. Angeal had always allowed Zack to keep his hair at the chin. Now it was just a bit longer than his natural hairline. To long to be a buzz cut but short enough to be mistaken for one at a distance. Angeal knew Zack would only agree to do this willingly only once in a lifetime. The man probably wanted to make it last so he wouldn't have to worry about chasing Zack down to get a haircut for quite awhile. Aerith understood but wanted to also be on her Zacky's side too…
"I've never actually seen the back of your neck before," she giggled. It got him to look up.
"Seriously?" Snorting, he shook his head to either side. "…Figures."
"What?" While he crawled toward her on the bed, she moved backwards to keep a good look at him. Zack crossed his legs and pouted as if he were a boy in time out and said simply: "You like it, don't you?" Obviously, he didn't—and didn't want her to either because that meant by default, he had to keep his appearance just like that.
"Well, maybe I do like it a bit…" She admitted, tilting her head this way and that, putting her finger to her cheek and beaming. "Maybe if you grow it out just a teensy bit, it'll look great, actually." Zack rolled his eyes and let his body tip back on the bed in his teenage, depressed manner. "But," the girl continued, "I'm wondering how you got it to tame…I mean, it's not sticking up but it's not flat to your head either."
Lips jutting out, he sighed and laced his arms behind his head. "Like I know. It's natural."
She accepted that answer because where his bangs had once flipped out from his head, there was a place where instead of going back, the short hairs protruded forward.
Hanging over him, she whispered with a smirk, "You actually look like you belong in a boy band, Zacky…"
"Ya aren't making me feel any better!" The man joked loudly, tipping himself up once and pushing her back on the bed. "So!" His sky-colored eyes lit up, obviously forgetting what had happened earlier. "I saw Reno helped you with your sales while I was out. Turks are good with that stuff, eh?"
"Turk?" She blinked, looking up at his questioning face. "Reno's a Turk?"
Zack answered her with a blatant "Duh…" and then the young 1st Class proceeded with removing his shirt, leaving it at that. "You know, I missed you. I really don't wanna talk about these things…can we just…" He began to unbutton her dress before she stopped him with a slap on his hands.
Rolling his eyes once more, he left the dress with its current buttons undone and chomped down on the inside of his cheek. "Fine, fine, kissin's fine…" and with that, the raven-haired puppy kissed her on the cheek, stretched, and got up. "You want romance, I know, I know…" Zack had a bad habit of repeating works when he was disappointed.
"Thanks for pullin' me out of that, by the way," he said, with a pleasant sigh. "I hate feeling shy…"
"I can't believe you just admitted that you get shy from time to time!" Pointing an accusatory finger in his direction, Aerith propped herself up on her elbows. Zack moved into his kitchen and the banging of pans could be heard.
"Well, that was then, and this is now!" Zack opened the fridge, and then closed it with a bit more effort with his hip upon finding what he needed. "No more shy guy! I'm going to put everything out there—bam!" A cracked egg sizzled…and then the distinct smell of burning food filled the room. "First thing I admit: I suck at cooking." He turned around with a baby-like innocence. "Help me?"
"Shiva, Zack. That was on the pan for ten seconds!" She said with an amazed tone, getting up from his bed. "You've just managed a new record for burning something in your own home."
"Hooray." Delightful Sarcasm was another one of Zack's undeniable traits. Leaning against the kitchen counter, he gave off that undeniable boyfriend attitude where they sit and watch you do stuff for them because they-know-that-you-know-that-they-love-you. But Zack really did love her—he wasn't just taking advantage! He'd ached on his mission for her—and wanted nothing more than to have her to himself when he got back. But he had entirely forgotten the 'wooing' process where he magically makes up for being gone for a month with making an omelet with her and watching chick flicks until the sun came up.
And he didn't make that up in his mind on the spot either, it was tradition! Zack always messed up an omelet, she would fix it, and they'd talk about how terrible a cook he was over the Princess Bride. Happened nearly every three months. And it kept them in that almost-marriage-but-not-quite relationship for over two whole years. It was perfect like this.
"You know, you're an amazing actress."
Aerith had stopped adding the tomatoes and peppers to the omelet and looked at her boyfriend carefully. She'd never seen his whole face before—and it made her feel awkward being with someone so darn…cute. With his hair short, Zack looked about sixteen—his actual age. He wasn't entirely her boyfriend at the moment because Zack always kept a part of his face covered…and now, it took…a lot of getting used to. As if she was making eggs and flirting with someone that didn't belong to her! Zack always looked twenty next to Aerith, while she looked twelve next to him—they looked like a real couple now! That was good. Right?
Aerith wasn't fond of change; in fact, she separated herself from it as much as possible. But she liked Zack's change to an extent…but he really wasn't her Zack…and with him complimenting her, it was like meeting him all over again. And Aerith had let herself become shy.
"You're just saying that because you have to…" She sighed, not making eye-contact with his pretty blue-green irises.
"Why the hell would I say that?" The brunette scoffed, "I mean you had me believe I'd gotten you pregnant. Then I realized that I never really…y'know…did the Thing with you yet…" Even though she was in love with the man infamous for knocking girls up, Aerith Gainsborough was still a virgin. The woman couldn't help but let out a dry giggle.
The man chuckled again, taking the pan, "Lemmie flip it!" It was the one cooking thing Zack knew how to do right. The egg spun over itself in the air and doubled over in the pan, much to his amusement. Putting the pan back on the stove, he took a leftover red pepper from the bowl Aerith had mixed for the 'guts' of the omelet and put it in his mouth. "Plus you made me think Reno was me—that takes skill to fool the actual person. Plus, he and I are so, y'know, different! So that really takes skill!" He spit out the pepper, letting his tongue poke out of his mouth. "Hot!"
"How are you and Reno so different?" She'd asked, putting her hands on her hips while she added pepper to the egg.
"Because Reno is an ass."
"And you aren't?"
Zack had nothing to say, but boyishly flashed his best flirtatious grin and turned to get the plates from a high cabinet. His favorite was always the red one with an ugly chip off one side and she had always liked the white one that actually had something pretty on it at one time…but now it was just a boring white plate. Soon, the two of them were sitting in front of Ramen Girl, talking like they always had since Zack first made up the idea.
"But I'm serious! You're brilliant, Bunny." Affectionately, he hummed the nickname. "You should become an actress. You could travel all the time, help people, and be famous. I think you'd fit there…perfectly." It had been just a playful suggestion but he had spoken it at the wrong time. A scene in Ramen Girl flashed across the screen where a boy in Harajuku punk clothes smiled, hand out to the main character and invites her into the part of Japan where she isn't familiar—and people are happy, diverse, ecstatic. And it had all started in a shrine—a safe haven for people looking for guidance from the spirits. Zack knew how Aerith felt about symbolism from the Planet—little signs to show her where she was supposed to go…
And he wished he had swallowed the comment immediately and never said it in the first place—that dazed yet confident look blazed in her eyes as the scene shifted into the next. The acting seed had been planted and it was pointless to dig it up now!
The brunette frowned into his eggs—an expression he was sure Aerith didn't see. His appetite was gone. A sick feeling had filled his stomach—the young SOLDIER was certain that this would be the last egg-and-movie date they would have for a long time.
Aerith now had a dream.
A.N.: I hope more than anything this story goes over well with at least a few people! I'll be updating as much as I can so just be patient as I do plan on finishing this fic later.
Darn, there's a lot of symbolism in this story—it's actually meant to have a big moral about dreams and love and happiness and I got carried away by all the secret metaphors and stuff. I pay too much attention in English Lit…
To anyone offended by Zack's hair, I'm sorry but it had to be done. It's a symbol in itself by starting with a fresh start, plus I think it serves as a good clock to show how time passes. Don't worry! Zack's hair grows too fast in this story. He should be back to Early Crisis Core Style in the next few chapters. He'll just have to resemble Taylor Lautner for a bit—it's his fault for makin' dumb bets. By the way, Zack's nickname for Aerith is Bunny-the reason why will be explained in a later chapter.
If you haven't seen The Ramen Girl, you should definitely watch it. Don't just watch only the movie though! Watch the deleted scenes too—they're actually more meaningful, I think…The Harajuku scene was a deleted scene and it's my favorite.
I don't own the charries or movies mentioned, of course. I'm not repeating it again. I don't need to. (Yay!)
Sephiroth and Genesis are going to show up soon as important characters and we might get to see Reno being a bit Turk-ie.
Loveless Avenue is the equivalent to Broadway in Midgar. This is actually suggested in FF7. And here's hoping that this story makes it as a Loveless Avenue masterpiece! Thank you for reading!