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"Zack, open your eyes."
The familiar voice was quiet yet powerful—commanding yet pleading. And there was so much exhaustion in the tones.
He had been starting to wake up right before Seph had spoken. Before that, there was not anything that could be remembered. He must have been having a nice, dreamless sleep. But now he was coming back to the conscious world, and Seph sounded so tired. . . .
Again his eyes opened. He blinked, trying to push away the bleariness. There was Seph leaning over the bed, his eyes bloodshot and sporting dark circles, his bangs tangled, his shoulder armor askew. When he saw the lavender eyes trying to focus on him, indescribable relief washed over his heart and soul. He had been longing to see those eyes open, to find recognition once more in his dear friend's visage—to know that the worst had passed.
"Hey, Seph," Zack grinned a sleepy grin. "Wow, you look awful."
"And I owe it all to you," Seph grunted, not in an unkind way. "Do you remember what happened at all?"
Zack gave a slight frown. There was pain . . . illness . . . something about a train and a wound. . . . And they had been coming back from a mission. . . . And what was that he was remembering about Angeal?
"I . . . I think I passed out on the train," he recollected, his tone slow. Again with the weak grin. "Kinda embarrassing. What'd I do, eat some bad food?"
"Hardly." But Seph gave a slight smirk at that comment before sinking into a chair. "I almost wish it had only been that."
Zack watched him, his glassy eyes filled with confusion and curiosity. "Well . . . what did happen?" Seph looked like he had aged a couple years in what was surely only a couple days, if that. He had only looked that way one other time in Zack's presence—when he had revealed his one wing and the truth behind how he had acquired it.
"You were poisoned on our mission."
Poisoned?! . . . That's right, he remembered now—the sword had cut him during that fight. Poor Seph . . . ! No wonder he looked like he did. He must have just been panic-stricken.
"How long's it been?"
"This is the ending of the second day," was the answer. "You haven't been an easy patient." Seph crossed his arms over his open coat. "Though it did get less complicated when the antidote started to work."
"Antidote?" From Seph's expression, something else was obvious. And again came the remembrance of Angeal's words. Zack began to smile. "Hey . . . you found it, didn't you, Seph?"
"I did." Now Seph leaned back, looking thoughtful.
So, he mused silently, the strange recollection of the words from the train had meant something important after all. They had led to the antidote, and now Zack was getting better. But was it a coincidence that he had remembered right then in the church or not? He had not quite decided yet.
He smirked a bit to himself. What a strange subject, one he had never thought he would be pondering over.
"What is it, Seph?"
He came back to the present, seeing his friend watching him with bewilderment in his eyes.
"Come on . . ." A smirk of his own. "Let me in on the joke."
"Heh." Sephiroth leaned back. "There isn't a joke."
At any rate, he certainly had something else to think about. Maybe, just maybe, there were real miracles after all.
No. . . . Watching Zack, seeing him awake and alert, knowing that he was recovering and that he would be fine . . . there were not any maybes about it.
A "maybe", in this case, was illogical.
"Seph . . ."
He looked back over, his eyes questioning. Now Zack had sobered.
"I'm sorry for worrying you, pal."
Sephiroth grunted. "I wasn't worried. I knew you would make it."
Zack grinned. "Good deal." But from his still-tired eyes, Sephiroth knew that Zack realized the truth. His own haggard appearance probably made it obvious.
Zack himself was pondering on something as well. How could he think that he had spoken with Angeal? That was impossible. It must have been some delirious fantasy. It sure was a nice one, though. Yet how could he know about Seph getting the antidote from something made up? Something was really weird. Maybe he had just mixed into his delusions some stuff he had heard the doctors and Seph saying when he was out of it. Yeah, that was probably it.
He leaned back, frowning at the tubes and wires sticking out of his arm. "Man . . . this is crazy," he said, poking at one of them. "I feel like a scientist's experiment or something."
Guilt flooded over him as soon as the words left his mouth. He had not even been thinking about what he was saying. How could he joke about being a laboratory experiment? He looked up at Seph, regret and apologies in his eyes. But Seph shook his head. He was not bothered.
"At least some of those should be able to be taken away soon," Seph told him. "Is it painful?"
Zack shrugged. "Just feels kinda weird, I guess."
Sephiroth nodded. "It does," he agreed. As well as highly vexing.
Zack bit his lip. "They fixed you up like this before, Seph?" he asked.
Another nod. "Several times," was the reply. "Once was when they were monitoring my body's acceptance of the wing."
Zack frowned. That was so horrible to think about. It always made him want to just go and punch Hojo out, or something. And to think that once he had believed that Hojo was an upright and amazing scientist!
"Don't think about it," Sephiroth spoke.
Zack started, looking over at him. "It's pretty hard not to, Seph," he said. "I mean, my best buddy being treated like that . . ."
"It's over now." Seph's voice was firm. "We're safe."
Zack gave a slow nod. "Hey, you must've had a pretty big adventure trying to save me," he said, changing the subject.
"You could say that." Sephiroth leaned back, crossing his arms. "I may tell you about it, when you're more recovered." Right now he could see that Zack was still exhausted. He had probably talked far too much. He should just settle back and rest.
"Aww." Zack mock pouted. "But I'd like to hear about it now!"
"Later." Sephiroth's voice was firm and unshakable.
When Zack was well, they would both need to become involved in the investigation. Gaia Electronics seemed to be a normal business, save for the vice-president's actions. But that could not be trusted. The entire company was under suspicion. Right now, it was their sole lead. And in a case of this magnitude, that could mean everything.
Zack gave a resigned sigh. "Okay, then," he said. "But you'd better make good on that promise!"
Now Zack grinned. "So! What's to eat around here, anyway?"
Sephiroth was amused. "I know you're feeling better when you're asking for food," he commented. "And unfortunately, there isn't anything except what the infirmary has to offer."
"Hey, I'll take anything at this point," Zack declared.
"You are desperate."
"Never said I wasn't!"
Sephiroth began to ease his body up again. "I'll ask the doctor what he thinks you can have," he said. "Maybe some applesauce."
A mock groan. "The applesauce here is awful. What about some peaches?"
Sephiroth smirked to himself as he started to walk away. "What happened to taking anything?"
"I still have preferences!"
"Alright. I'll see what I can do."
"And don't forget, you need to get some sleep, Seph!"
"Once your needs are seen to, I will."
"I'll hold you to that!" Zack waved a forefinger at Seph in a mock scolding way.
"I'm sure you will."
The few times he had been asleep, he had been on the empty bed in the room. It would be wonderful, to just be able to lay down and slumber without fear of being awakened and told that a new complication had arisen and that Zack had passed away, or was close to it. The panic he had felt over that, as well as his desire to just be there for Zack, had kept him mostly awake even when he had felt as though his body would simply give out. But now that he knew Zack truly was alright, the weariness was probably going to overcome him before long.
Reaching the door, Sephiroth pushed it open and stepped into the hall to find the physician. For the past two days, it had been as if he had been carrying a large burden on his shoulders. Now it had finally been lifted. He and Zack would not have to part ways. And it seemed too incredible to be true. They had slipped into their familiar banter with such ease. That was a definite sign that Zack was starting to feel better.
The smirk gave way to a genuine, quiet smile of relief.
"General? General, sir?"
He froze, looking over his shoulder. A confused nurse was hurrying up to him, a small piece of paper in her hands.
"Did you find that other man who was here?"
He raised an eyebrow. "What other man?" he demanded. He had not heard anything about someone else's presence. Other than himself and the doctors and nurses, there should not have been anyone else.
She shook her head. "I caught a glimpse of him when I was going past the room to find the doctor," she said, "when Commander Fair was getting worse. Just a glimpse, but he looked around your age, with dark hair. But when we came back, no one else was in here. She held out the paper. "This was in the room, on the table. We needed to set some things there, so I just absently put it in my pocket. It must be meant for Commander Fair."
Sephiroth took the crinkled leaf, but did not make a move to open it. Whatever it said, it was not the nurse's business. He would look at it in a moment.
"It's not a matter for your concern," he said, and promptly changed the subject.
"Commander Fair is awake, and hungry," he reported. "I was looking for the doctor before I gave him anything."
The nurse brightened at this information, seeming to forget altogether about the odd note. "This is wonderful news! I'll get him right away, Sir!" she exclaimed, scurrying down the hall. "We'll be right there!"
Sephiroth was left alone for the moment.
Now he held up the note, unfolding it as he squinted at the handwritten contents. He did not feel like getting out his glasses at the moment. Maybe he would be able to read it, anyway . . .
The color drained from his face.
Never give up on your dreams,
Or your pride as a SOLDIER.