* Yeah, it's been done. A lot. But I wanted to try my hand at it. So sue me. Or rather, please don't. I can't afford it. Disclaimer: Don't own nuthin', etc.

Lifestream, Converge

There were so many souls. She knew that even with the other Cetra aiding her, it was only a matter of time before the Lifestream was overwhelm with the taint. The knowledge pained her, but she knew that everything rested in his hands, now.

She was so busy tending to the souls that wouldn't join the Lifestream that she didn't sense the presence until it was almost on top of her.


That voice, even without a body to go with it, was one she couldn't forget, even though she had tried.

"Zack? What are you..." What are you doing here? What a stupid question. There was only one reason why he would be in the Lifestream. And she knew he was dead. She had heard Cloud's explanation to everyone after he recovered from mako poisoning. She knew, and yet the reality hadn't sunk in until just then.

"I was going to ask the same thing. Aerith. I'm so sorry. I... I wasn't there to protect you. I couldn't even say goodbye or..." The regret pouring out of him nearly overwhelmed her. If she had eyes, she would have cried. It reminded her of Cloud, much the way Cloud used to remind her of him.

"Don't, please. There's nothing you could have done. Cloud already blames himself, I don't want to see you do the same thing."

"Cloud?" His mood lifted slightly. "You met him? How is he? Wait, why would he blame himself for your death?"

Interesting, even as just a soul, it was possible to sigh. "I left to summon Holy. He and the others followed me, but just as he reached me..." There hadn't been any pain. Just a feeling of letting go. "Sephiroth came, too."

"Sephiroth? No way! Cloud killed him five years ago!"

Cloud did? He had left that out of his explanation on the Highwind. "He must have survived somehow, because he came back and tried to destroy the planet."

"He did, huh? That would explain why everything was in a panic a few... months?... ago. Sounds like we have a lot of catching up to do."

She really felt like crying then. It sounded like he expected everything to go back to the way it was, but it couldn't. She couldn't.

"Aerith? What's wrong?"

"Zack! I'm so sorry! You were gone for so long, almost five years, and I tried to forget you but I couldn't. I tried to tell myself that you had forgotten me and found some other girl, but I wore pink every day, just in case. And Cloud... he, he reminded me so much of you. He even had some of your mannerisms. I... Zack?"

Zack was laughing. "When I told him to be my living legacy, I didn't think he'd take it literally? Oh man. But at least he found you so he could tell you what happened."

Aerith would have shook her head if she still had one. "He didn't know you, Zack. He says that it was just a delusion, but I think something happened to him when you died. The Jenova cells in him copied your memories and personality so that he thought you and him were the same person."

"Oh no. When I told him to live for the both of us, I just wanted to give him a reason to go on. I didn't mean... Aerith, you said that he says that now, does that mean you can see what happens on the surface? Is there some way to communicate? I have to tell him to stop blaming himself."

"I don't know. I think so, but I haven't figured out how yet."

"You'll find a way. I know you will. But, um, when Cloud was acting like me, you didn't happen to... fall in love with him, did you?"

She didn't want to answer that question. It was one of the things she had been trying to tell him, but she didn't want to come out and say it.

Turned out, she didn't have to.

"Don't worry about it. Like you said, it was gone for five years, and dead. If I were going to pick someone for you to move on with, he'd be at the top of the list." She felt him smile. "And since you fell for him while he was me, that means I still have a chance."

"A chance? But, we're dead."

"So all the time in the world, right?"

For the first time since her death, she laughed. "Of course."

Yes, I think Aerith fell in love with Cloud, if only a little. I mean, she knew him for less than a month, it couldn't have been all that serious. But she definitely had a thing for him. Her, and just about every female character in the game (and one or two males, I think Cloud might want to consider a restraining order against Mukki). Seriously, I see the appeal, but do SOLDIERs come with some super pheromones or something? It's like he's the only good looking guy on the planet.

That said, I'm also a rather devoted Zerith shipper. Any guy who goes through what Zack went though to get back to his girl deserves a second chance. And that last scene in Advent Children with them together seems rather telling to me. So, here they are, in the Lifestream, picking up the pieces of their relationship. And figuring out how to help Cloud.