Title: A Hung Up Confession
Written by: Eleamaya
Pairing: Err, what I have to say? It contains Zerith, Cloti, Clack, Fack, and even Clerith XD. I tell you I don't have problem with the Zack/Aerith/Cloud/Tifa foursome. Alright, you must be guess Clack and Fack here is just friendship thing but I have to warn you it also mentions Clerith JUST A LITTLE BIT. And the main is Cloti paralelly with Zerith in some occasions, and how Zack and Aerith ship them. (What?! No AerTi?)
Universe: Canon-Crisis Core with hints of Original Game.
Timeline: It's my headcanon about Zack teased Cloud and Tifa and wanted to unify them before Nibelheim incident plus an adding story of Cloti Lifestream Sequence, with my version of Zerith talking within it (that I don't accept MoTP is a part of the canon compilation).
Summary: I think it has been summarized above. Well, it's oneshot, so the adding story is just a short bonus.
NOTE: Thanks for Danseru-kun for helping me a lot in betaing this translation fic. Well, both of us are none of English native. So, there might be still vocabulary mispelling and grammar mistake.
Disclaimer: Compilation of Final Fantasy VII is owned by Square Enix
Nibelheim, September 2001
He stared at the sun coming through the window of his room in Nibelheim small inn. By the brightness, Zack guessed he woke up daylight enough. Actually, he could have continued his sleep again. There was no Kunsel bothered with ringing incoming email. There was no Angeal willing to wake him and forced to attend a morning assembly (but he missed him).And today, there was still no Sephiroth telling him to investigate reactor back. The third-most corner bed in the room was still empty and immaculate. Zack thought , did he still languishing in the library? Hey, today is the fourth day!
But there was still one more person who made Zack didn't hug his pillow back.
"Zack," Cloud shook, his call seemed lazy. "Today, what is our agenda?"
Zack sat down. "Sorry Cloud, I can only wait for Sephiroth's instructions," he replied with a shrug.
Cloud sighed disappointed then he went to the window to look at the scenery outside. Occasionally, Zack could see him keep sighing. He was increasingly being observed more clearly that it seems Cloud was daydreaming as if what he wanted was not be there in front of him.
Zack then burst out, "Are you missing Tifa?"
Hearing that, Cloud then acted a little awkwardly. "What do you mean, Zack?"
"Well, if we don't have an agenda that could have her help guiding us to the reactor again, you can't see her, right?"
"I had visited her house."
"She's not home."
"Not waiting for her back home in there?"
"I played piano in her room."
"You entered her room?" Zack is a bit surprised. Then, he said in perverted tone. "As a man, take an opportunity to open her drawer and feel a woman's underwear in your hands." 
"Zack!" Cloud's face also began to redden.
"Whoa!" Zack yelled. "So, was I right about that 'an issue' I sensed some days ago? Man, you're even worse than me."
Zack couldn't help getting to tease his buddy more.
He still remembered very well when he had told Cloud to guard Tifa outside the reactor while he was with Sephiroth who encountered Genesis. Then, he heard the roar of the monster outside and bolted to immediate help Cloud and Tifa. He found Cloud has collapsed while Tifa then braced to defend him and herself. After Zack defeated the monster, Tifa told him how the the infantryman had tried to protect her. Zack then decided to bring injured Cloud back to the inn while Tifa carrying him until water tower.
Once Cloud was conscious in Inn, Zack immediately said that Tifa was safe but Cloud's expressions were rather glum instead of relief. It seemed to him that Cloud feel down because he felt not able to protect Tifa by himself, that if he could be as strong as first-class SOLDIER, he didn't need to be assisted by Zack. Zack was reluctant to talk about SOLDIER to Cloud, especially after hearing the debate between Sephiroth and Genesis. Therefore, he changed the conversation on whether Cloud knew Tifa as well as their entire village. Zack could see the shy answer from Cloud that he could sense 'an issue' between them. When he woke up the next day, something confirmed his suspicions- he got an email from Tifa!
Subject: Is he okay? From: Tifa Message Body: Are the infantryman okay? I'm worried about him because he seemed hurt pretty badly. I'm glad you were there at the time, thank you, Zack. Anyway, I heard the news about SOLDIER and how difficult to take it. I hope we can talk a little more about SOLDIER. There's something I wanted to ask you.
Message Body: Are the infantryman okay? I'm worried about him because he seemed hurt pretty badly. I'm glad you were there at the time, thank you, Zack. Anyway, I heard the news about SOLDIER and how difficult to take it. I hope we can talk a little more about SOLDIER. There's something I wanted to ask you.[2a]
Last time, it was Cloud who mentioned something about SOLDIER first, then now, Tifa. Yet he hadn't recently met Tifa again until she sent a second email yesterday while he was walking toward the Shinra Manor to see Sephiroth.
Subject: I can fight! From: Tifa Contents Message: Sephiroth –I really don't understand him. Are all SOLDIERs like that? Anyway, is there a blond guy in SOLDIER unit? Eh, it's just a dream. Every girl would definitely be happy if there was a blond SOLDIER who protected her when she was in danger. Well, it's not good if I'm just quietly waiting the blond knight in shinning armor appeared. So, I started to learn how to fight for myself. My teacher said I had talent.
Contents Message: Sephiroth –I really don't understand him. Are all SOLDIERs like that? Anyway, is there a blond guy in SOLDIER unit? Eh, it's just a dream. Every girl would definitely be happy if there was a blond SOLDIER who protected her when she was in danger. Well, it's not good if I'm just quietly waiting the blond knight in shinning armor appeared. So, I started to learn how to fight for myself. My teacher said I had talent.[2b]
Blonde knight in shining armor? Zack couldn't help to laughing while reading it. What if I painted my hair like Chochobo's feather color, would I get many more fangirls? Oops, kidding. I already have Aerith, he thought.A minute later, he received another email.
Subject: Don't tell anyone! From: Tifa Contents Message: I almost forgot. Please do not tell anyone in the unit that I had asked about the blonde SOLDIER, huh?
Contents Message: I almost forgot. Please do not tell anyone in the unit that I had asked about the blonde SOLDIER, huh?[2c]
Zack was beginning to pick up the bits and pieces. Cloud who wants to be a SOLDIER and Tifa who are asking about SOLDIER, it's too coincidental. The blond SOLDIER she was thinking couldn't be just a randomness person , it's definitely one of the villagers whom she had known well. And who is the blond if it's not referring to Cloud's hair?
After remembering, Zack stared back at his buddy, seemed he wanted to tease Cloud more. Now!
"Come on, Cloud," he continued. "Do you think I forgot when we were walking to your house that night and passed the water tower, I heard you were muttering about 'promise'? Is there a connection?" 
"Stop it, Zack!"
"Did you and Tifa have a date there? I heard from her, the tower is a popular dating spot in this village."
"It wasn't a date! It was just …"
"AHA! So, you have it?" Zack pieces. "Tell me that you had asked her out to meet there before."
"Aaaargh, damn," said Cloud realized he was trapped. He was becoming more unable to cover how red his face now.
"Promise to home, hmm?" Zack asked in guessing because he also promised Aerith to come home by telephone while he was passing through the same place days ago. 
"Umm, yeah, something like that," said Cloud didn't want to tell all the truth to Zack.
"You should tell her how you feel since you have a chance to meet her now. You like her, right?" Zack pushed. "I'm willing to help you, buddy. You just have to believe she also has the same feeling of you, take me a bet."
Cloud was silent. His embarrassed expression suddenly changed. "I can't ..," he said softly. "I don't deserve her."
"Why do you feel like that?"
"No, not before … before I …" Cloud then stepped toward the door. "Sorry, I can't tell you."
Looking at him, then Zack didn't continue to push him. "It's okay, Cloud. I won't insist."
Cloud smiled slightly before opening the door. "I will ask Sephiroth about our agenda today. You better take a bath."
"Uh, wait, Cloud," Zack called. Too late, Cloud was out of the room and shut the door again. "I was going to say Sephiroth didn't want to be disturbed," he sighed, scratching his head.
Zack continued his activities, today he would be around Nibelheim again. There could be more monsters coming up to the village like yesterday. Monster, he minded, remembering Sephiroth had said in a reactor that monsters were once humanwho is mutagenized by overdose mako. And the mako mutation process was also the same procedure to make normal SOLDIER, that was Genesis told about. So, Shin-Ra produced monsters; Zack knew Angeal and Genesis also derived from the monster project called G-Project. They're specimens. Now, Sephiroth was wondering if he himself was also the same.
"If I were a SOLDIER …," Cloud said it.
It might have been the promise Cloud made in the water tower, Zack thought. Connecting Tifa's dreaming about SOLDIER to her message and Cloud's disappointment of failing to fulfill her wish seemed reasonable. Talking about the desire to be SOLDIER, Zack used to aspire being able to enter the SOLDIER unit and left the village at the age of fourteen. At that time he was still naive, innocent, young, and restless; it was what made Angeal called him 'puppy.' Because of this, he fully understood Cloud's feeling so he never stopped encouraging his buddy (including occasional sparring to kill the time.) But after learning secret projects behind SOLDIER, he realized he didn't want to throw Cloud into something terrible like den of monsters. Never.
So Zack replied an email to Tifa. He wanted to make sure about something from her.
"Hey, Zack," said Tifa came shortly afterwards. "So, you guys want me to guide again?"
"No, Sephiroth is still languishing in the Shin-Ra Manor," Zack answered.
"So what? Are there anything needed to call me?"
"I think you still want to talk about SOLDIER."
"Oh, Oh, that's …" Tifa said awkwardly. She didn't expect Zack would respond to the request in her message. If only the talking happened through the email, she would be brave to do it. "Ew, forget it."
"Hey, I can help to find a blond SOLDIER you mean it."
Oh, right on target, she thought with her inner face of the red.
"Calm down. I won't tell anyone. I just wanted to let you know, okay?"
"You have my words," said Zack hold his amusement of remembering her faces as red as Cloud in order to made she was still willing to continue talking to him. "May I know his name? SOLDIER consists of three classes. Sephiroth and I are in the highest class. There are more members in the lower classes, but despite that we're still a unit of elite with a few number of members. There is new SOLDIER selection every year, so I might not be aware of a specific name. Moreover, most of us wear a helmet so I don't know the color of his hair."
"Umm …" Tifa hesitated to say it. But finally she told him, "Cloud … Cloud Strife."
Gotcha! Zack shouted in his heart. Actually he had guessed from earlier.
"Then? Do you know him?"
Oh sure, thought Zack. I know him well. But that's not what he would reply. "Well, how old is he?"
"Last August, I think he's 16 now."
I missed it, Zack thought. He hadn't met Cloud yet in months and recently saw him just as he needed some infantrymen whom Sephiroth to accompany him to the mission in Nibelheim. And incidentally, the name of the villager was Cloud. "He's still too young, huh? Not much SOLDIERs are appointed at that age," said Zack rather to stressing the fact that it's too hard to enter SOLDIER or to making Tifa realize that she must lower her expectations.
"But you did right?" asked Tifa feeling Zack's age was also in teen.
"I am special one."
"Hmph," joked Tifa. "You're really so much confident at all, huh? You know, Zack? I'm most annoyed to a guy like that."
"I see, I see," Zack nodded. "The one and only special guy in your eyes is the blonde."
"Oh, you!" Tifa sent a shot on Zack.
"Waow, mercy!" Zack exclaimed while away. He was reminded once let a Wutai nobleman's little daughter who is materia maniac punching his stomach. "Your teacher was true, Teef. Even you've got the talent to beat SOLDIER."
"Stop tease me, Zack," Tifa snorted irritably.
"I'm serious praising you."
"So, you're gonna help me or not?" asked Tifa returning the subject of talking.
"Yeah, like I said, I'll let you know as soon as possible to find it. Fact if necessary, I would wrap him in a big box then I handed it to you."
Tifa laughed. "You're abnormal, Zack."
"It's a lot to say," said Zack also laugh with his crazy idea, imagining Cloud will actually be wrapped.
"Umm, Zack," Tifa seemed want to asking another question, "Is it hard to be a SOLDIER? What are the tests like? Are you often sent to war?"
Zack's expression then turned serious. Just as he wanted to avoid Cloud's question, he didn't want to answer it. Moreover, Tifa was outside Shin-Ra business. But out of the question, Zack got how she was just worried about Cloud.
Seeing Zack's reaction, Tifa sighed. She should remind herself that she was speaking to a Shinra SOLDIER, it's not like he's going to get her involved in their activities just like when he stopped her from entering the reactor. It's not like he would tell her what Sephiroth was doing in the Shinra Manor.
"If …," Zack finally talked back. "If I found he is not a SOLDIER, if he is just ordinary infantryman that not correspond to your ideal figure of knight, are you still going to wait for him? Are you gonna accept it?"
Tifa was silent. She stared at Zack, the mako blue eyes that reminded her of Cloud's original eye color, sensing the seriousness of the question. Then she turned back off him as she gazed into the sky and began to say, "To me, Cloud remained Cloud. Though he is not a SOLDIER, as long as he has kept his promise to do his best, he's still a hero."
"Hero?" Zack felt his ears flipped by the single word.
"Yes, the hero who would help me whenever I am in trouble. He could come running, that's enough," said Tifa holding her cheeks flushed , whereas in fact she was avoiding eye contact to Zack's. "Ew, why can I say all of this to you?"
Tifa's sentence was not sounded strange to Zack. It's not exactly the same, but somehow suddenly, Aerith's face appeared in his mind.
"SOLDIER is scary." "I feel so safe with you, Zack." "I'm happy because you're here with me."
"I feel so safe with you, Zack."
"I'm happy because you're here with me."
Zack remembered, he obsessed to be a hero just like what Sephiroth holds by a victory in the war. He did manage a first-class SOLDIER but he was disappointed the war was over. As a result, he enrolleded in all missions instead. Tifa's phrase awared him that being a hero was not as hard as it seemed. Once again, he remembered what Angeal once said, that to be a hero, he must embrace the dream. Wanting his parents to be proud, wanting the girl he loved to be happy, isn't those part of a dream? Though Aerith and him never talked about it, she understood his job that he was always busy and had a responsibility as a SOLDIER. But only in this time, it came feel that he is so workaholic. He even hadn't been an ideal hero can be for his girl. Smiling, Zack swore he would make it after coming back later.
No receiving a response from Zack yet, Tifa bravely faced him again. "What's that smile?"
"Uh, no," Zack said in evasion. "I was just thinking how lucky the blonde guy, he has a girl who genuinely loves him."
"What did you say about?" Tifa was furious. "We're just childhood friends, nothing more."
"That could have changed," said Zack kept pushing. "Listen, Tifa. If you've met him, find the right time for both of you, and speak the words you're aiming at. If he turned you down, I'd give him a lesson how to treat ladies." Well, no need to beat Cloud heck, he thought amusingly.
"If you're not, then another girl would steal his heart quickly. I know there are a lot of beautiful women in Midgar," said Zack just for the sake of having something to say. Afterall, he already knew Cloud's nature was far from that.
"I know Cloud a little. I believe he's not like that," said Tifa in defense. "For your case, it must be different story."
"Hey, I'm so-so faithful man," Zack protested though he admitted he was once a ladiesman. "Me and my girlfriend have been in a relationship for over two years and I'm serious with her."
"Guy like you? Never thought."
"Talking about you and your man make me miss her more."
"How many times I have to say he's not my boyfriend."
"Alright, Teef, this is just last question," said Zack thought neither Cloud nor Tifa were smart enough to hide their feelings obvious from their faces and words tone. "If he was here now and I carried him to your face, what would you do?"
"You're just kidding, right?"
"I said what I said if." But I'm not kidding that Cloud was here, he thought.
"Umm …," Tifa thought for a moment before finally answering. "Honestly, I'm not ready for your idea, Zack. But I miss him a lot. I really want to meet him. And I'll say to him, 'Welcome back home.'"
Zack smiled hearing that. All of the information he wanted to obtain from Tifa was enough. "Okay, Teef. Just wait for the report from me."
"I talked about it to no one but you. Thank you for the time, Zack, I'm really glad you're here. If you guys need me for guiding, just call me, okay?"
Zack and Tifa finished their brief meeting. Back around, Zack whistled lightly. Truthfully, he was amused seeing Cloud and Tifa's behavior when it is clear that they seemed to be having a big crush on each other. He and Aerith were not this complicated when they were the same age as Cloud and Tifa. They met and dated, and shared the same dreams and wishes as goes on. Anyway, Zack thought. No need to rush. Human beings are unpredictable, you cannot know if someone would do the exact same thing as you thought they should do. He should knew the extent of helping them. He believed humans are given the ability to overcome the any problem on their own. Cloud and Tifa just need a little courage to express their feelings. Maybe right before returning to Midgar is the most appropriate moment for it. Zack then planned a bit of a surprise to unify the two.
Arriving at the inn, Cloud greeted him nonchalantly about Sephiroth's attitude  and Zack wasn't surprised. However, no one could guess what would happen two days later. The incident would change the fate of Zack, Cloud, and Tifa in the future. And, Zack's good intentions for Cloud and Tifa have to hung up…
Lifestream, underground of Mideel, January 2008.
"I think if I get stronger by becoming a SOLDIER, I would make someone notice me."
"Notice? By who?"
Tifa was surprised.
After that, she kept talking to Cloud for revealing all of the memories. He told her from the beginning he noticed her through the bedroom window, then about a fall bridge in Nibel mountain where she lied in a coma for days, about where he suddenly changed and picked fights with anyone, about how he invited her to the water tower, and finally about the core part of the story as the turning point in finding his true self. Yes, the incident when Sephiroth was burning their lovely village, Nibelheim.
"Cloud, you're there. You are watching over me. You came. You keep your promise."
"But, I have never been a SOLDIER. I failed. I …"
Tifa reached Cloud's hand. "It's okay, Cloud. It's okay."
Thus, Cloud and Tifa then floated in the Lifestream and headed to the surface. At that time, Tifa wanted to say something to Cloud but she lost her consciousness. They didn't know that deep down there, there were two spirits who watched all of what had been happened.
"Good, Spikey. Finally …," said Zack relief. "I was amused to see them like that but after this, I'm sure they could manage it better. You know, I had planned a little surprise for them. Unfortunately, it had to hung up for five years."
"So, you already know a lot, huh?" Aerith said. "I feel cheated."
"You're the one who played a major role to unite them, Aerith. You lead Tifa to reach Cloud's lock memory, his real self. Ultimately, I did not do anything." Zack said soothingly. "By the way, they are cute, aren't they?"
"Cute? Trying desperately to be a SOLDIER for his loved ones, in order to be strong, to be able to protect her, even created fake personality based on you for wanting to be an ideal figure for her caused by mako overdose…," said Aerith commenting on what she had seen, "aren't they so romantic? I'm jealous to Tifa."
"So, is that made you fall in love with Cloud?" Zack teased.
"Zack, I didn't mean …"
Zack interrupted, "Hey, it's natural. I had been left for five years without any news. I couldn't keep my promise to go home. I deserved to be slapped if we had met earlier. I was even ready for it when I read your last letter four months ago. You know? I had told Tifa to confess her feeling soon before she regret that someone else might came to steal Cloud's heart. I just didn't expect it would be you. But, then, that's all reasonable now."
Aerith shook her head. "I won't slap you, I even don't blame you at all, you left not because you want to. All I know, life must go on and I thought you'd be sad to see me constantly crying of you never coming back. It was so hard at first but then slowly I could find my rhythm back and that's all because I met Cloud. I thought I saw you in him, but then I learned things are different. So, yes, Zack. I admit I love him."
"Well, that's good," Zack replied, trying to sounded cheerful in tone.
"Anyway," Aerith continued as she could feel what Zack feel, "what can I do with my feeling he even not aware while I was alive and he's not himself? I can't continue this girl love rivalry; he has Tifa for the rest of his life. Besides, you were the one and only boyfriend I ever had in my entire life. I'm very happy to see you again. I knew I wouldn't be alone here. We're together now, that's all the matters."
"So, Does it mean you're still willing to spend more time with me?" Zack asked remembering a paper listing her twenty three tiny little wishes.
"No," Aerith replied shortly.
"No?" Zack asked again.
"No," she repeated firmly.
Zack was bowed sluggish, felt he had should known the answer as she had moved on. But, it wasn't wrong to hold a little hope, right?
Aerith suddenly burst into laughter. "I mean not more time, Zack. But all the times we have in this Lifestream. Of course, I'm always willing."
"Hey, that succeeded in breaking my heart before," Zack cried. But a moment later, his hand stretched out as if to hug her. "You know how much I missed your joke, babe."
"Save it, Zack," she said pushing his shoulder. "We still have to help Cloud and Tifa stop the meteor."
"Yeah, you're right," said Zack's sight went up far to the surface. Then, he stared at Aerith again. "We'll make it together."
Aerith nodded and smiled.
Footnote:  Original Game:
 Crisis Core: Just paste the original Tifa's emails to Zack.
 Crisis Core: This event only can be watched in Cloud DMW.
 Crisis Core: Just watch cutscene chapter 13 - I Promise
 Original Game: Still in Kalm, based on what Cloud told everyone when he acted as Zack, seemed Zack said it to cadet Cloud on military truck.
 Original Game: I don't have an idea how Cloud replace Zack visit Sephiroth in manor as in Crisis Core scene so he could tell everyone. (Hell, even how did Cloud know what happened inside the reactor when Sephiroth was talking about monster to Zack!)
 Original Game:In Kalm, when Cloud told the story of Nibelheim Incident to everyone, there is an option that he could find Tifa's orthopedic underwear.