Disclaimer: I don't own FFVII, or Zack, or Sephiroth, or anything. I'm just borrowing the ideas from Square. Oh, and Alice in Wonderland isn't mine either.
Summary: Pre-Meteor. What if the friendship between Sephiroth and Zack was not what it seemed? What does a man do when his personal life threatens to interfere with his job?
A Word From the Author: An idea that suddenly occurred to me, and I just had to write it out in a story. Hope you like it. I think I'm crazy for starting a new story when I still have two more in the works (albeit one that is nearly finished). But I couldn't resist.
FINAL FANTASY VII:
YOU DON'T HAVE TO WALK ALONE
THE FIRST MOVE
"Sir?" the dark-haired man looked up, a startled look materializing on his face. Despite the dreary weather, he was outdoors, clad only in worn blue trousers, an enormous sword gleaming in his hands as he swung it expertly through several maneuvers. His spiky hair stood up in clumps around his face, and his breathing was labored, but he was otherwise quite collected as he slid the sword back into its sheath and moved to join the Turk under the shelter.
"The President has been asking for you." Tseng's voice and face were, as ever, evenly emotionless. Donovan, toweling his hair dry with his shirt, wondered with the man ever smiled. Probably not. Olive eyes surveying the SOLDIER with a hint of disapproval, the Turk added dispassionately, "I have been ordered to escort you to Headquarters and get you clearance."
Gee, I'm so excited too. "Why?"
Tseng crossed his arms, and Donovan was suddenly, uncomfortably made aware of his unkempt appearance while the Turk was immaculate in his coat and tie. Hard to believe what he truly was… "Do you have a problem with the President's wishes, Donovan?" the Turk said blandly.
"I can't go the way I look," Donovan began awkwardly, gesturing at his mud-splattered boots and pants.
The Turk just stared. Donovan sighed, and raking his fingers through his hair in a vain attempt to get it to obey the laws of gravity for once (but actually making it worse-his hair now resembled a deranged angry cat rather than just an angry cat), he followed the Turk to the sleek black limo waiting at the entrance to the compound.
Zack Donovan had been born in Gongaga, and since then he had known what he wanted to be. It wasn't too obvious at first; after all, all boys play at battle when young, and he whacked his fellows with sticks and yelled horrible war cries with his friends. But as they grew up, and began drifting off to the business of living their lives. Not him. He bought a sword, practiced with it, until his poor, long-suffering parents despaired of him. Begged him to get a job, get settled down, but he wouldn't let go of his dreams. Thus, when he was eighteen, he bid goodbye to his parents, and set off for Midgar.
And now, two years later, he was comfortably secure in his position as SOLDIER, second class. It was cushy and he got to meet plenty of girls. He didn't even dare dream of making first class; that was where all the truly elite, and truth be told, and spoilt kids with filthy rich fathers willing to make large donations to Shinra went. Hey, nothing was perfect, least of all Shinra.
It had been a reasonable life; when he'd come to the army, the war with Wutai was already closing to an end, due largely to the efforts of one General Sephiroth. Zack secretly thought that he was the coldest bastard he'd ever laid eyes on, war efforts or not. He was glad that it was the first-class SOLDIERs who got stuck with the General, and along with everyone else, did his best to steer clear of Sephiroth, especially when he was in one of his moods. The story was still whispered in the bunkers about Lieutenant Cole's untimely end when he had inadvertently pissed off the white-haired man.
He had no idea what the President wanted with him—he, a lowly SOLDIER in the army, second-class or not. Zack frantically ran through his mind anything he might have done to anger his boss. Perhaps it had been the time in the bar involving several girls, a lot of drinks and their angry boyfriends, but he hadn't done anything permanent to them, surely…? Or maybe a week ago when he had spiked Gregory's drink (a truly vile specimen of the male species, that—Gregory, not the drink), resulting in Gregory running around clad only in boxers in the women's camp singing, "You gotta gimme some' by Loveless? Though why would the President care if some trooper gallivanted around in his underwear was beyond Zack.
"We're here." Tseng's smooth voice slid into his consciousness, regaining his attention. Zack snapped back to reality and saw that the car had parked itself directly outside the HQ, its lights creating a burnished halo around the towering building through the tinted glass. Zack offered a weak smile in response to the ever-so-slight look of condescension in Tseng's eyes and clambered out, leaving some muddy stains on the Turk's plush leather seats. Shivering from the air-con, Zack couldn't resist a startled yelp as Tseng grabbed his shoulder and marched him, not to the front doors, but to a flight of stairs placed discreetly at the left. Zack got the impression that Tseng wanted this quiet.
About ten minutes later, ascending every step was like climbing a mountain. The muscles in Zack's legs groaned in protest as he jogged up what seemed to be a never-ending nightmare. He glanced enviously at the slight form of the Turk beside him, barely winded at all despite his slender build. Tseng returned his glance with a flat, unreadable look and at last reached out a hand, brushing his fingers against Zack's arm. The dark-haired man stopped as Tseng opened the door and pointed Zack through it. The door opened into a wide, spacious room, bedecked with potted plants in the corners. It was also empty. Without further ado, Tseng led him into the lift and pushed a keycard into an awaiting slot. He spoke something quietly and the lift shot up like a bullet.
There was a dead silence. Normally Zack would have filled it with inane chatter, but the, as everybody was well aware of, you don't make small talk with a Turk. Anything you said might be used against you sometime or other, no matter how innocent. Zack endured the tension as best as he could, nervously raking his fingers through his hair and staring over the Turk's shoulder so he wouldn't have to meet his eyes. He was glad when the lift dinged and the doors slid open. "Make yourself presentable," Tseng hissed into his ear as he brushed past.
Zack stared at Tseng's blue-clad back and aimed a few ill-intentioned thoughts towards him. He looked around, to be confronted with another large room, filled with several plush sofas, computer terminals and paintings probably worth more than Zack's yearly salary. The carpet was soft, springy and a delicate shade of tan; Zack winced as he left several unbecoming smears of darker brown behind. Settling gingerly on the edge of a sofa, he flipped idly through a mag or two while Tseng, in a far corner, whispered tersely into his cellphone. At last, the Turk snapped the cell shut and strode towards Zack. "The President will see you now, Donovan," he said monotonously.
"Um, okay." Zack replaced the magazine on the coffee table and stood up. Tseng barred his way. "The sword," he said simply, lifting an eyebrow.
"Huh?" Zack asked, bemused.
"No weapons anywhere the President's vicinity, and that includes you, Donovan," the Turk returned. "It will be well taken care of during the length of the meeting."
"Trust is a virtue, you know," Zack muttered before he could stop himself as he slid the Buster Sword over. He could have kicked himself. Who the hell lectured the Turks on virtue? It was like preaching Christianity to the Devil. Tseng remained expressionless. "The Turks do not make the rules, Donovan." He grasped the Buster Sword and held it out behind him. Almost instantly, an attendant materialized seemingly out of nowhere and took it before hurrying off again, nearly bent double with the weight.
Tseng and Zack boarded the lift again. It rose only one more storey before it admitted the two of them into the President's office. Zack suddenly felt nervous. He'd never been this close to his President before…only far away, over the heads of a million people, in a high balcony, waving from a limousine… He swallowed a bit. In less than a minute he would be face-to-face with the most powerful man in the world…and he had no idea for what darned reason. He just hoped it wasn't a bad one.
Zack walked in front, Tseng trailing a few steps behind, but Zack could feel the man's dark eyes probing watchfully into his back. A huge desk of steel dominated the end of the enormous room, behind which a wall-length window offered a view of Midgar which would have been breathtaking were it not for the fact that there was little in Midgar which was beautiful. Much that was practical, maybe, since beauty did not fill Shinra's coffers. Most plants sickened and died within a short period of time due to the perpetual smog that clogged the air. Flowers only grew in one place in Shinra's city.
The President sat at his desk in a high-backed swivel chair; a man of middling years and average height, his hair like a flaming orange beacon upon his head. Once powerfully built, with piercing blue eyes and an intimidating aura, Shinra had single-handedly, almost overnight, built an empire that had prospered and expanded since the day of its founding. Now he had the look of a man gone to seed, with a bulging belly that strained the seams of his presidential suit, and his eyes had become rheumy from too much tobacco and drink. He reminded Zack of nothing more than a rather smug-looking toad squeezed into overtight clothes, but he maintained his silence on his views on his President's appearance. He really didn't want to lose his head. After all, Tseng wasn't too happy with him already…
To his surprise, Hojo was standing at the President's side, looking insufferably pleased about something. As usual, his hair looked like it hadn't been washed since the day he was born—long, and lank and greasy, it dangled in and around Hojo's angular face, as though someone had dumped a bowl of oily noodles around his head. His lab coat looked as though it could have been white a while ago—it was hard to tell beneath the layers of dubious substances staining it. Compared to the scientist, who could have won the award for 'Slimiest Git in the World', Zack felt brushed, scrubbed, and sparkling clean. Zack detested him heartily and wondered how the President could stand having him around. Hojo had certainly done his best to add to the ranks of denizens of nut houses around the globe.
"Leave us, Tseng," Shinra said, waving a plump hand at the Turk, as though he was dismissing a dog, albeit a dog with very long and dangerous teeth. The Turk saluted, spun on his heel, and departed via the lift, leaving Zack alone with Shinra and his least favorite person in the whole world. He was starting to get a very bad feeling about this.
The President smoothed a few documents lying in a folder in front of him and steepled his fingers. "How well do you know your General, soldier?"
Zack fidgeted, unable to hide his surprise at the odd question, which, frankly, had come straight out of left field. "Not very well, I'm sorry, uh…Mr. President." Glancing at the papers on Shinra's desk, he was able to identify the photo clipped to the first sheet as Sephiroth's—the long, white hair and green eyes were unmistakable. "If I may ask…"
"What's going on around here?" Zack asked rather bluntly. "What am I doing here?" That's so secret even Tseng isn't privy to it? He added to himself silently.
"Oh, you'll find out." Hojo spoke for the first time, obsidian eyes squinting at Zack unpleasantly. Any unfortunate recipient of Hojo's look subsequently felt as though they were being dissected and examined underneath a microscope. Zack was no exception. He squirmed uncomfortably and pretended to be very interested in Shinra's ashtray (inlaid with mother-of-pearl and engraved with the Shin-Ra logo).
"We've received some very positive reports about you, Donovan," the President continued as though Hojo hadn't said anything. "We believe that you possess the qualities needed for you to complete a job I had in mind." The President smiled comfortably, as though expecting Zack to feel complimented. The dark-haired SOLDIER just felt confused, and increasingly impatient. What 'qualities' did he have that any other SOLDIER didn't? "I doubt that, Mr. President." Why didn't Shinra just come to the point, for the Planet's sake?
"It's not just military skills we're discussing here, Donovan," the President elaborated, "though you certainly have those in abundance. No, from your file, you're charismatic, social, and of course it doesn't hurt that you're a good soldier. All these will certainly help in the long run…"
"For what, sir?" Zack asked, agitated. It was starting to smell very fishy to him. And Hojo had that look in his eye that usually signaled nothing good. He shifted again and willed his fingers to stop fidgeting.
The President leaned forward slightly, almost unconsciously, Zack noted, as though to draw the SOLDIER deeper into his confidence. The buttons of his waistcoat trembled precariously as his chest swelled, preparing to send a blast of air to his lungs to fuel whatever he was going to divulge. Zack just wished that Shinra would hurry up so that he could return to his barracks and pretend none of this had ever happened.
"We want to hire you to do something for us…something that will pay very well." Shinra dropped another folder on top of Sephiroth's; it fell open and Zack stared back into his own face on the first page, directly below the green-eyed General's. Hojo was grinning sinisterly now, a twisted parody of the Cheshire Cat's from Alice In Wonderland, and the smirk only widened further when the President concluded, "We would like you to befriend General Sephiroth, and in return, we'll make you SOLDIER First-Class.
Author's Ending Note: Please review. I'll sincerely like your opinion on what seems to me a rather unorthodox premise. Is it too unbelievable, weird, anything? Flames will not be welcomed if they don't tell me anything useful (NOTE: Telling me what a lousy writer I am/ what a lousy story this is does NOT count as useful information.) Next chapter will be longer, I promise.
NEXT: CHAPTER TWO, A CURE FOR LONELINESS