Hearts and Flowers

Zack and Aerith meet. Romance with Tickling, I-3, pre-game

Pairing(s): Aerith/Zack

“Oh, hey, wow. Are those real?”

Aerith looked up into bright eyes. A little too bright, and she tensed for a moment, but the SOLDIER’s face was open and smiling with none of the distance that Tseng’s had, when he came. “Yes, they are.” She lifted one of the bouquets from her basket and offered it.

The man leaned over it, inhaling deeply, and his eyes lidded with pleasure. Actually, he looked a lot like a cat in the middle of a catnip patch, and Aerith had to stifle a giggle.

He let out a dreamy sigh. “Those smell wonderful. How much for the bunch?”

“Five gil, for those.”

He pulled out his wallet and paid immediately, and stuck the bunch of flowers under his nose. “Mmmmm.”

Aerith couldn’t help laughing this time. “People like my flowers, but not usually that much.”

He gave her a slightly crooked smile over them. “Yeah, well. Sharp senses are no bed of roses in the middle of the city.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Aerith tipped her head, considering. So, other people were also hurt by the death and rot of this place. Immediately hurt, not just in the long term.

“Hey.” A light hand touched her arm. “No need to look upset. I knew what I was signing up for.” He waved the flowers. “And these will help tons. Brighten up, hm? It’s a real shame for a pretty girl like you to look sad.”

Aerith snorted. “Oh, honestly.” As if she didn’t get enough propositions, down here. Well, at least this one seemed cheerful enough to take a playful rejection, and she wouldn’t have to act all disgustingly demure, like she did with some. She shoved at him, meaning to connect with his arm, but he turned into it and she lost her balance and wound up grabbing his ribs, instead, to stay on her feet.


Aerith blinked. The SOLDIER was suddenly standing more than arm’s length from her, looking like someone trying to look casual. He cleared his throat. “Um. Sorry about that. Reflexes.”

She tipped her head. That couldn’t have been what it sounded like. This guy was so obviously a SOLDIER, enhanced strength and reflexes and everything. He couldn’t possibly be ticklish enough to squeak. Curious, she took a step toward him and poked experimentally at his ribs. He jumped back with a more muffled squeak this time, but it was definitely a squeak.

Aerith grinned with utter delight.

“Aw shit,” he muttered, and sidled around to put a light pole between them. “Look, Miss, I’m really sorry for anything I might have said that offended y—heek! Cut that out!”

“Nope.” Aerith dodged around the pole, chasing him. “You’re the big, bad SOLDIER. Why don’t you stop me? Shouldn’t you be faster than this?”

He batted at her hands. “Against a civilian? A civilian girl? Are you kidding?” He squawked at a particularly sharp jab and scrambled back around the post. “I’d never live it down!”

Her eyes narrowed. “Oh, so I’m just a girl, am I?” She dove after him, fingers crooked vengefully.

“Heek! Ack! No, really, cut it—Ah!” Finally he managed to grab one hand. “If you don’t stop it, I’ll, I’ll…” he sucked in his stomach to evade another pass. “I’ll kiss you!”

Aerith tossed her ponytail back, and gave him a challenging look. “Oh? Was that supposed to be a threat?”

He paused for a long, blank moment and then smiled, slowly. “It was supposed to be something,” he murmured, and stepped toward her.

Aerith let him because that smile did odd things to her stomach.

His kiss was light and respectful, and did more odd things to her knees; she was quietly grateful for the large, warm hand at the small of her back. When he lifted his head she could feel heat in her cheeks.

“Well,” she said, softly, determined not to sound breathless, “I suppose that was worth stopping.”

“Good.” He sounded entirely too smug, and Aerith’s sense of mischief perked up again.

“For a little while.” She wriggled her fingers in his, now quite close and handy, ribs, and grinned wickedly as he squeaked and grabbed for the attacking hand.

“All right, all right! Look.” He raked his free hand through his wild black hair. “If I buy you a drink, will you cut it out?” His expression turned a little pleading. “And not mention this to my buddies? Please?”

She considered this, and considered the humor in his eyes and the careful grip of his hand on hers, not crushing even in this extremity, and made a counter bid. “Buy me dinner, and I won’t tell a soul. And I won’t tickle you for the rest of the day.”

He opened his mouth, relief bright in his face, and then paused and took a longer look at her. That smile spread slowly over his lips again, ending with a charming quirk at one corner. Finally he sighed and declared, “All right, you win. Unconditional surrender, here.”

Accordingly she took her hands away from his ribs and clasped them in front of her, grinning up at him. He shook his head and took one hand again, settling it in the crook of his arm.

“I said you won, didn’t I?” He chuckled as she blushed again. “So? We have the flowers. Where’s a good place for a candle-lit dinner around here?”