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She'll never know

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He watches over her himself whenever he is stationed at Midgar.

On the outside nothing seems to have changed. She is her usual happy and friendly self. She helps her mother, goes out to run errands, tends to the flowers and sells them in the upper city. Although she lives in the slums and sees unbelievable poverty and witnesses crimes and violence nearly every other day, she glows with happiness.

Her smile may be the most precious flower of all.

But Tseng can see that something is wrong. Something has been wrong for a very long while now. And he knows what it is, too.

“Tseng,” Cissnei says, stepping up to him and looking down to where Aerith is standing. She is gazing into the distance, clutching something to her chest, like she's in prayer. With one hand she straitens the pink bow in her hair and Tseng can see that she’s clutching her cell phone to her chest. Cissnei follows his gaze and tells him: “You have to return. President Shinra has a special mission for you.”

He nods and turns to go.

“Someone should tell her,” Cissnei says. Thoughtful. A little sad.

“No. She needs to be kept out of this. Let her wait and decide what to do on her own.” As far as people inside Shinra are concerned Zack Fair has died in the fires of Nibelheim. Even if nobody is allowed to know - and even if it isn’t the truth at all: He wouldn’t ever return. And Tseng admits to himself that he doesn’t feel that is a bad thing. And the girl would learn the truth of it, too, one day, and go on living sooner or later. Zack would only be a far away memory.

“Maybe she’s right to have hope, too,” he hears Cissnei say and Tseng keeps himself from shouting his disagreement right back at her. There are more important things to do after all.

***

To his sorrow Aerith never stops waiting, but manages to go on living her life with a smile on her face.

Tseng thinks about letting her know that it’s time to stop hoping beyond hope. Maybe there is even a possibility to do so without letting her find out the truth.

Five years have passed since Nibelheim has burned to the ground and Sephiroth has died. Sometimes Tseng wonders what has happened to Zack and the boy. Maybe they are dead already and the lie has become a true fact long ago without him knowing the details. Nobody in his right mind would even want to know what was going on in Hojo’s private playground beneath the restored village of Nibelheim.

He’d see to it that Aerith never ends up there.

There’s a call a few hours later and he isn’t sure he should be happy or sad that it has come to this. But it’s dangerous for Zack to come to Midgar. He’ll want to meet her. And Tseng finds himself thinking that it’s best for all of them if Zack never reaches Midgar, because then Aerith will never have to know.

***

She still hasn’t stopped waiting.

In fact it seems she is waiting for something new to begin soon.

Or is she waiting for something to end?

Tseng doesn’t know and he will never ask her either. He’ll go on to watch from the sidelines.