"You've dealt with SOLDIERs before, right Tseng?" On the roof of a slum's church, one brief conversation between Aerith and Tseng. Some things are better left unsaid.
"It's been a while."
Her voice pierced through soft summer winds, almost pleasant if not for that aged trash smell. Tseng wasn't entirely sure if she had heard him coming up those creaky wooden ladder rungs or sensed him somehow. Aerith had always been somewhat magical like that. A sixth sense or perhaps something carried over from her heritage. Either seemed plausible with this girl, standing on the church's roof, soft waves of hair unbridled in the wind; playful wisdom shining in her emerald green eyes.
But that was beside the point.
"I came to see if you have changed your mind." His voice was serious, formal, and so different in contrast to the girl who stood before him, unmoving. They were always in contrast to one another, it seemed. For that Tseng was eternally grateful.
She smiled gently, a girlish charm showing through that said, "protect me... but don't underestimate me." And then she shook her head, and the Turk wasn't at all surprised. He knew this girl and she knew him and it was all almost a game, this standoff. Certainly Aerith was used to it all. "You know as well as I do that there's no way on Gaia I'm going to do that."
"Just making sure. It is part of the job." And Aerith had to have known by now just how duty bound he was. The fact that he still hadn't turned her in? That was another story entirely. Duty demanded he try to bring her peacefully back to Shinra. Personal feelings demanded he let her come to that decision on her own. Which she never would, Tseng knew. And he wasn't at all disappointed. Especially not after what had happened... that kid. The one he remembered from more youthful days. The one with eyes that glowed not so much from Mako, but from boundless energy. Life.
Best not to dwell on that. At least not here. Not now.
He stepped across wooden beams and terra cotta shingles with the grace of a sleek black cat, stopping just to her left to glance over her form. Something vaguely sorrowful seemed present on her features and Tseng found himself unable to ignore it. "How have you been?"
Aerith nodded and in one swift motion she was sitting, not preoccupied with whether or not she would dirty the pink folds of that dress she loved. And it occurred to Tseng that it was probably just as dainty yet surprisingly tough as she was.
He followed suit beside her, but didn't bother sitting.
"You've dealt with SOLDIERs before, right Tseng?" She turned to him, questions unasked yet being worked toward.
"On occasion, when the job is big enough. Important enough." Deadly enough.
"Ah." She rocked back a little, hugging her knees before letting go and settling back. "So risking your life. Big important missions. You'd probably become familiar with a SOLDIER that you worked with, right?"
She was leading him -- trying to ferret out an answer and Tseng partly wanted to tell her come out with it. Had she been someone else, he would have. Instead he went along with it. "Somewhat." And it was the truth. It all came down to how memorable the person was - for better or worse. What kind of an impact they made.
It had only been a week, really. Since the paperwork filtered its way through the channels that that SOLDIER - the one he had worked with prior had been apprehended. Silenced. the kid had been a character. That was the only way to put it. If ever there was an opportunity to tell him off, show him up, reprimand him, Tseng took it.
He was a good kid, really.
Of all the kills Tseng felt guilty over, it was funny the worst would be a kill he hadn't even technically staged.
He looked up, startled toward the girl in pink, something hollow and unnameable yet distinctly there panging in the deepest recesses of his stomach. His heart felt as if it were clambering to escape. He wanted to escape. But surely there could be other Zacks...
She stood up and moved beside him. "SOLDIER 1st class. Tall, but not taller than you. Big spiky black hair." She beamed up at the Turk and it occurred to Tseng that just speaking about Zack seemed to brighten her demeanor. If only a little. "He's not someone you can meet and then forget."
He wasn't sure how well he had feigned disinterest -- pretended that this all meant nothing. Something vaguely taciturn. An exercise in reticence. He cleared his throat. "I believe I worked with such a SOLDIER a few years ago. Big case. Very confidential."
"You'd have to kill me, right?" She laughed and shook her head again. Aerith's laugh was always melodious, like some song Tseng could have sworn he heard as a child, lost in the expanse of time. This laugh, however... there was something else there. Something hidden within the background, no more evident than white noise in a silent room. And then it was gone, as quickly and silently as it had seemingly came to existence. "Right. Have you heard from him at all or am I going to have to beat this information out of you?" He would have found the threat a little more amusing in any other situation. But now...
"No." He thought hard and quick a moment. How best to word this? "No, I haven't heard from him" And it wasn't a lie. Tseng couldn't have lied then and there to pleading green eyes. He hadn't. Especially not in the past week. Of. But not from. He'd never hear from Zack again, but if he did, surely he would tell Aerith.
"Oh." The abject dejection in her voice was like a knife wound to the gut and Tseng found himself suddenly, outwardly concerned more with a peculiar rustling through the streets than the girl beside him. He couldn't look at her knowing what he knew. Keeping it from her. "He was... is someone.... special to me. He's just too stupid to understand."
"I seem to recall..." Tseng scrambled at memories -- things brought up seemingly eons ago by a kid who had never learned to shut up, talking about his girlie ad infinitum. "He'd go on and on about his girl who was a real, earth-bound angel and yet unfortunately lived with her mother." And that wasn't a lie either. It was a truth that Zack had often been mocked over. Such a melodramatic poet.
She chuckled quietly, more musical than before. "That'd be him." And then she was walking past the Turk, hands clasped behind her as she forged a path across shingles and planks and toward the opening that would lead her from roof to church-beams to land. He watched her move, unsure what to do next, but not wanting to leave. Not at that moment. Something still felt strange. Unfinished. And then she turned back and stared him straight in the eye, added, "Well... If you happen to see him again, tell him I miss him and that I'll be sure to see him again, sometime. Not some flimsy little angel. Aerith. "
And then she was gone, down the ladder. Down from the attic. Out of view. And Tseng found himself unable to move. Blinking and standing in place and breathing and existing, whereas Zack was not. He had seen something in her eyes. Something frighteningly intuitive. Some knowledge she shouldn't have been able to have tapped into. Almost as if she had resigned herself to never seeing Zack again.
It was acceptance, pure and simple.
On some level she had known he was dead.
She had known all along.