Chapter 14 -Next Morning-

Alexia awoke the next morning to the sound of Sephiroth moving about his apartment, which was currently a disaster area. Four empty pizza boxes, two dozen empty cola cans, and several paper plates, napkins and plastic-ware lay scattered all over the coffee table and around it on the floor. She lifted her head from where it had been resting on Zack's thigh, and blushed, sitting up quickly. Apparently, she wasn't the only one who'd crashed on the couch last night.
Zack had fallen asleep sitting upright on the couch, but now leaned precariously to one side. He was snoring lightly, and, Alexia noticed with no small amusement, drooling. She eased herself off the couch, and found a clean napkin, wiping his face off carefully. He didn't wake, and she looked up to see Sephiroth standing nearby, smirking at her attempt at saving Zack's grace. She made a face at the General, and wadded up the Zack-slobber soaked napkin and lobbed it at Sephiroth. He dodged it with so little as a tilt of his head, and wandered off again. Alexia shrugged it off, and went into the bathroom to clean herself up.
When she came out, Alexia found Sephiroth poised over Zack with a pitcher of ice water, apparently preparing to dump it over his friend's head. The silver-haired man froze and looked up at her in surprise, vivid green eyes wide in an unusual display of candid mischief and feigned innocence.
"Do I have time for breakfast?" She asked him flatly, before he could go on with waking Zack up. Zack, having heard her voice, woke up with a yawn, and looked directly up at Sephiroth, still standing with the pitcher of half-frozen water, ice cubes clunking lightly against its sides, and seemed completely nonplussed, rising with a grunt and staggering off towards the bathroom. Sephiroth looked childishly disappointed, lowering the pitcher and setting it on the coffee table. He glanced back over his shoulder at a clock he could see from there, in his kitchen, and shrugged.
"You have an hour." He said, voice flat as always. Alexia blinked.
"I'm up that early?" She asked to no one in particular. Sephiroth opened his mouth to answer, but Zack burst back out of the bathroom, the door slamming against the wall, bouncing, and hitting him again. Zack grunted a little at being hit by the hardwood door, but mostly ignored it, throwing his hands out into the air.
"GOOOOOD MORNING MIDGAR!" He bellowed cheerfully. Sephiroth and Alexia shared a groan.
"How can you be so /happy!" Alexia demanded, staring wide-eyed up at the SOLDIER First. Zack grinned crookedly.
"Somebody's gotta smile around here!" Alexia smiled at that, and Zack's face lit up even more. "Heey! That's pretty good! We could be a team, Sis!" Alexia gave a weak laugh, shaking her head. "I don't think I'm ready for /that/ challenge, yet…" She admitted. Zack laughed heartily "Don't blame ya there… Gawd, puttin' up with Seph had got to be hard enough…!" Zack mused, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. Sephiroth rolled his eyes.
"Actually…yeah." Alexia ventured. "One minute, he's the Ice God from hell, and the next he's all Mr. Nice guy." She looked over at Sephiroth. "I don't know what to think!" Zack looked over his shoulder at Sephiroth, who was standing, stunned, eyes wide.
"Yeah…" Zack went over to throw an arm around Sephiroth's shoulder, and the slightly taller man winced. "That's just how Seph here is. Dun let him get to ya-" Sephiroth shot Zack a glare which was completely ignored "-He's a good guy. He just doesn't want anyone to think that." Sephiroth blinked again, startled, and Zack dropped his arm, moving away and toward the door. "Come on, guys. Lets get some grub before all the cadets get up…" He said, slipping out and waving for the other two to follow.
Alexia looked over at Sephiroth, trying to read his face, while shooting him an open look, but he just stared back until she shrugged and followed Zack out.
Chapter 15 -Unwanted-

Sephiroth was still standing where he stood, watching the other two leave, jaw slack. Damn Zack for being so damned cheerful…and smart. Or telepathic, Sephiroth didn't know. He snorted, making a mental note to kill Zack later. Or take him out for a drink. Sephiroth hadn't decided yet. Damn. He was confused as hell, now. Shaking his head, he walked out of his apartment following the dark haired commander. He'd sort it all out later.

Alexia was still stunned by Zack's outburst and reassurances that Sephiroth was, as he said it, 'a good guy'. She didn't really believe that, but she hoped that he was right. Well…Zack would know, wouldn't he…?
"…Zack…?" "I wasn't pulling your chain, kiddo." Zack said casually, throwing a grin over his shoulder at the girl. Alexia blinked, face blanching.
"What are you, telepathic!" She squeaked.
"I was about to ask the same thing." Sephiroth said suddenly, somehow appearing right behind Alexia, startling her. She swung around in mid step, wings flared out in an expressive display of surprise.
"The hell did YOU get here!" She barked with a yelp. Sephiroth only smirked.

Zack, suddenly forgotten, only smiled and quickened his pace. Behind him, Sephiroth and Alexia were sharing potent glares.

Sephiroth had just opened his mouth to spit out some quick, venom-dripping retort at Alexia when his PHS rang. He jumped. Someone had turned on the vibration on the little phone. Sephiroth's eyes narrowed. That spiky-headed someone had also changed the ring tone to some obnoxious, pansy-assed little jingle that ground against Sephiroth's nerves like crushed glass. One silver eyebrow twitched as Alexia began to snigger and Zack turned to watch for Sephiroth's reaction. He got one. Sephiroth shot the younger man a malicious glare before straightening up and, holding up a hand for silence, finally answered the phone.
"What?" Alexia opened her mouth to protest the rudeness of Sephiroth's method of answering the phone, but Zack was suddenly at her side, large hand clamped firmly over her mouth. She gasped, but took the hint, nodding, and he moved his hand, eyes fixed on Sephiroth.
"What about it?" Sephiroth said, voice tense. Fierce green eyes flashed to meet Zack's for a moment, and the younger SOLDIER stepped away, taking Alexia with him.
"I don't know." Sephiroth answered again, apparently being interrogated at the other end of the line.

Professor Hojo huffed as Sephiroth finally answered his call. The boy could be so irritating sometimes.
"Is my latest project still in your midsts?" He asked, playing with an empty syringe as he spoke. Sephiroth grunted a vague answer.
"What about it?" "What has it been eating, General?" "I don't know." Sephiroth answered, voice dark. Hojo's eyes narrowed as he prepared to chastise the young man.

Alexia listened, breath bated, as Sephiroth spoke in short, three-word sentences into the phone. He was tense, even for Sephiroth, and his eyes were sharp and cold like stone. Zack's hand was warm on her shoulder, and she folded her wings instinctively. Living leather brushed Zack's wrist and his hand snapped away, the touch startling him. Alexia spared a glance in his direction before looking back at Sephiroth.

"I don't know. That's not my problem. What do kids her age eat? All I was ever fed were carefully-designed meals designed for growth, not pleasure." Sephiroth ground out through bared teeth. "Has it eaten today?" Hojo went on.
Sephiroth glanced at Alexia for a moment, and she froze, crimson eyes going wide.
"Not that I know of." He answered.

Everyone could sense the smirk, even over the phone, as Hojo smiled. "Good, change of plans, I want it in here first thing this morning. Don't give it anything to eat or drink, got it?" Sephiroth frowned.
"What time?" "Is it awake yet?" Hojo pressed.
"No." "In a few hours then. No need for training this morning." Hojo finished. All he got was a half-word grunt from Sephiroth before the General snapped the phone off, pocketing it again.
Chapter 16 -Not A Good Morning-

Sephiroth turned to face Alexia, who had backed up against Zack as if she might hide inside of him, eyes wide and worried. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to know what that conversation had been about, even if she had only heard half of it.
Sephiroth mentally cringed as he caught the wave of fear pass through the girl's eyes. He didn't blame her, knew what that fear was like.
"Hojo wants you in his lab in a couple of hours." Sephiroth said, voice empty. "You're not to eat or drink anything before hand." Alexia's eyes widened, watering suddenly. Sephiroth glanced around the empty hall and spared the faintest of grimaces.
"No… He can't know-" Sephiroth cut her off, striding foreword in two steps and grabbing her arm, steering her back towards his apartment. "Not out here." Sephiroth said curtly. Alexia winced at the bruising grip on her upper arm, but didn't say anything, jogging to keep up with the considerably taller man's stride. Zack fell into step silently behind them, his sparkle from earlier that morning gone.

By the time they'd reached Sephiroth's apartment again, tears were streaming steadily down Alexia's face as she cried silently, terrified. As soon as the door shut firmly behind them, she let the first gasping sob escape her.
"Don't make me go back!" She twisted from Sephiroth's grip and was making to lock herself in his bathroom when Zack caught her in mid-stride, lifting her clean off the floor.
"Please don't. It'll only be worse that way. Believe me." He said softly, waiting until the girl had stopped struggling before he set her down gently on the couch. "Hojo has made it a sick hobby of his to torture anyone who resists his orders…" "He's torturing me anyway!" Alexia cried. Zack sighed, searching for words.
"So, if you think its bad now, why risk making it worse?" Sephiroth reasoned. Alexia went quiet, wings twitching in agitation, half unfolded from her body. In the silence, Zack moved, placing both hands on either of her wings and pushing them back toward her body in a sort of embrace. Alexia gasped, jumping back, wings spread as fresh fear went through her.
"He doesn't know! He can't!" Wild red eyes darted around the room as she folded her wings tightly against her back, almost willing them to go back into her body. Her eyes flashed to the two men watching her in concern. "Rip them off, anything! He can't see them!" She screeched, voice cracking with her fear. She was slowly backing herself towards a wall, mindless terror setting in.
"Alex…" Sephiroth warned, stepping toward her.
"PLEASE!" "Alexia… don't-" "/SEPHIROTH!" Alexia crouched, moving as if she might either attack him or fly right over his head if he got too close. Sephiroth grit his teeth, ready for anything.
"Stop." "It'll heal, just DO IT!" She finished with a yell. Sephiroth snarled, hand snapping out lightning-quick, grabbing both of her wrists and yanking her foreword. He held the girls arms over her head, nearly lifting her clean off the floor, and let his own livid green eyes bore down into hers.
"Stop this." He said quietly. "I understand your fear." He glanced at Zack. The younger man was better at this than he was, tenfold, but Zack wasn't moving to help him, this time. The dark haired SOLDIER was unusually silent, face stern. "We both do. There's nothing you can do. Anything you do to fight it will only make it worse. Live through today. That's all you can do, got it?" Sephiroth's voice had dropped to something almost gentle, and Alexia watched him, wide eyed and startled. He lowered her arms, letting go of her. She stood still before him, head hung, shoulders shaking slightly. "I'm scared…" She breathed after a moment.
"No shit." Sephiroth commented. "Rest up for a while and then I'll take you down there myself. With any luck, he'll go easier on you if there's witnesses…" Sephiroth finished, straightening up and giving Alexia a gentle shove toward the couch.
"Seph…" Sephiroth looked up to see Zack still hovering, eyes dark and worried. Sephiroth sighed.
"Can you stay for a while?" He said softly, feeling oddly drained. "You don't have to follow us to Hojo's lab, but you're better with…this type of thing… than I am…" Zack nodded, moving to seat himself next to Alexia on the couch so that she could lean on him. Blue eyes remained distant and stony as Alexia slowly cried herself to sleep over the next half hour. The room finally silent, Sephiroth let out a long breath, rubbing his eyes in a signal of stress. Zack couldn't say he blamed the older man.
Chapter 17 -Feels Like Doom-

"Hey, wake up, Kiddo." Alexia blinked blearily. Her eyes were sore and wouldn't open or focus quite right. /
Kiddo…? Mom used to call me that…That wasn't Mom, though. It was a male voice. Dad…?Could she really be home? A warm hand on her shoulder shook her again, and Alexia was pulled further around into the land of the waking. She blinked up at sad blue eyes shrouded in black spikes and her world came crashing back with a jolt. She choked. Not mom, or dad. Not home. She hiccupped and almost began to cry again.
"Heeeey… Don't cry. You'll be fine…" Zack said softly, giving the girl a gentle, playful shake.
"Thought I was home…" Alexia murmured, rubbing her eyes. Zack's face softened.
"I'm sorry… Maybe some day we'll get you home…okay? Don't loose hope." Alexia snorted.
"Pretty tall request, you know…" She muttered bitterly. Zack sighed sadly.
"I know." "Alexia." Both looked up to Sephiroth who stood over the couch, arms folded. "Come on. We gave you every minute we could for you to sleep. We have to go now." He tried to soften his voice, but couldn't loose that authoritarian edge. Alexia bit her lip, sitting up fully, and glanced at Zack.
The dark-haired soldier leaned in close to the girl.
"Hey, he's trying to be nice…." He whispered. Alexia nodded, understanding, and sat back.
"Okay." She rose, took a step, and paused, before lunging back and giving Zack a fierce, though brief, hug. She gave him a brave smile and stepped away.
Both men's jaws dropped.
"What was that for?" Zack questioned, stunned. Alexia turned to him, smiling sadly.
"I haven't had a hug in forever. You know, a lack of physical contact from others will actually cause brain damage… You're the first person I've met here who didn't prickle." Zack blinked. "Thanks." Alexia added, before moving to where Sephiroth now stood near the door. Zack blinked again, then grinned toothily, scratching his head. "My pleasure! That's what I'm here for. Makin' people feel good!" Alexia waved after him as she followed Sephiroth out of the apartment yet again. She followed the tall man in silence, walking in his shadow, and briefly wondering, if she turned and ran now, would he be able to catch her. His legs seemed to be almost as long as she was, though, and she figured that he'd have her in two steps. "Be brave." Sephiroth said suddenly, without turning. Alexia picked up her pace until she could see his face, sharply in profile from a foot above her. His features were, if possible, harder than usual, and it occurred to Alexia that perhaps he was as upset about returning to Hojo's lab as she was.
"You've had to grow up with this, haven't you?" She asked, daring herself to go out on a limb. Cold green eyes shifted down to her, and Sephiroth visibly stiffened.
"Yes." "I'm sorry. Nobody deserves that." "I wouldn't say that." Sephiroth argued darkly. Alexia blinked, falling silent. There was a finality in his tone of voice that warned her not to trod any further down that avenue. They traveled through the compound in silence, Sephiroth carefully schooling his pace so that the would-be soldier behind him could keep up. It was a fairly long walk past barracks offices, and out into the gray day before finally entering a separate, quieter building. Alexia closed her eyes against the sight of the ShinRa Tower not too far off, looming over the military compound as they crossed open space.

Hojo's Lab appeared to be little more than a hole in the wall at the back of the last building. Entering through the first of double, reinforced doors, however, Alexia quickly realized that the building was far larger than it had looked. Sephiroth led her through several separate labs and offices, into a final, back room filled with both eerily glowing computer equipment, and darkness broken by the occasional spotlight. She hung back behind the General, forcing back her fear, which settled like a brick somewhere at the base of her throat. She wanted to cry, kick, scream, run the hell away, but she held her ground, wings folded against her tightly, fingers curled into fists, jaw locked.
So did Sephiroth, for that manner. She could see the muscles at the back of his neck and jaw taught as bridge cables, his face carefully schooled into emptiness. She felt a certain amount of guilt in dragging him back here when he didn't need to be.
"My my my, a personal delivery, eh?" Hojo sneered, stepping out from a side room, rubbing his hands together.
"She is not to be trusted alone." Sephiroth ground out. A jolt of anger shot through Alexia for a moment, but she then began to wonder if it was an act. Sephiroth was impossible to read. Hojo burst into a low chuckle.
"Haha. Got what was coming for you then." Sephiroth grunted softly in response to Hojo's remark. "Well, bring it here, then." Alexia mentally frowned at his refusal to at least call her by a proper pronoun if nothing else. She had been reduced to an 'it.' Sephiroth grabbed her roughly from behind him and shoved her foreword. She yelped, staggering out into the center of the lab, regaining her balance only feet from Hojo. She shot a glare back at Sephiroth who simply stared back emptily. Hojo chuckled again. "Behave yourself now. I'd hate to see you get yourself killed before I'm finished with you." Alexia spun back around to face Hojo, eyes wide with fear. "Now come here." That, of course, was the last thing Alexia wanted to do. Hojo was standing near a metal table, holding an incredibly large syringe up in his hand, smiling.
OoOoOoOoO AN: Yeah, I'm back to this. For those of you that are regular readers of mine, you might realize that this means I'm experiencing total writer's block. Yeah, I know I'm neglecting Lesson Learned... I've been thinking on it, I really have, but I just CAN'T seem to find the inspiration to keep going on it right now. I'm trying, I promise. It won't be abandoned and it wont' be forgotten. Hopefully this rather shameless self-indulgence will help me get my mojo back, as it were.

...Heh, excuse the cliffhanger, but it really shouldn't be that important, lol.

Mood Swings abound!

What is this? Sephiroth lieing through his teeth left and right to Hojo? REJOICE! ; )
...I'm done