A/N: DX Soooooo sorry for such a late update, guys! DX As for this chapter, it's the first with a named OC (the rest of my OC's so far had no proper names) and for the first time, Lazard and Hollander make an appearance! XD
As for this chapter, it's the first with a named OC (the rest of my OC's so far had no proper names) and for the first time, Lazard and Hollander make an appearance! XD
I've also written a shot fic, 'All That I Have', that ties in to this story. It's set between this chapter and the previous one, so go check it out if you're interested. :D
Anyways, Happy Chinese New Year to all Chinese readers! Enjoy and please review!
The meeting room was filled with quiet chatter as the people within made small talk while awaiting the arrival of General Eisenerfaust.
Sephiroth stood in the corner with his arms crossed as he watched the other military officials from under his long dark lashes, ignoring their discomfort at his silence. Even here, it seemed as though there was an invisible pane of glass separating him from the rest of them, though he felt no inclination to join in their conversation.
He was deep in thought, wondering what could have prompted the General to summon all the top military officials in SOLDIER for an urgent meeting on such a short notice.
Idly glancing out of a nearby window, he found his thoughts drifting to Angeal. The dark-haired man was still not exactly himself, but he was getting there, albeit slowly.
Sephiroth had made an effort to spend time with the Major, though at first, he had been worried that he would not know what to say or do. Having become so used to keeping to himself for most of his solitary life, he did not really know how to interact with other people.
But he need not have worried. Though Angeal too was a man of few words, Sephiroth had never felt so much at ease with anyone else. It was probably because Angeal never saw him as a cold, arrogant and withdrawn person like most of the other people made him out to be.
Sometimes, he would join Angeal for walks in the evenings. Other times they would spar or play chess. Sephiroth had never really liked playing chess with anyone, largely due to the fact that they did not really pose much of a challenge and he always ended up winning.
But Angeal was different. He was actually good at it. In fact, Sephiroth mused, he had already been beaten by the Major no less than five times. Sephiroth would be absorbed in the game, firmly advancing his win when Angeal would suddenly pull a checkmate out of nowhere when he least expected it. Sephiroth liked it. It was refreshing and made playing chess a lot more exciting.
In short, Sephiroth enjoyed Angeal's company and always found himself looking forward to time spent with the Major. However, despite the best of his efforts, there was still a part of Angeal that remained unhappy.
Sephiroth saw it during their conversations, when Angeal would fall silent inexplicably and gaze out at the horizon. He could not fail to notice the sadness in those glaseous eyes during those instances and knew that Angeal still missed Genesis.
Sephiroth had tried his level best to find out what had happened to Angeal's childhood friend. However, all his endeavours to access the details of the Major's mission on the SOLDIER network were met with a huge blinking "CLASSIFIED" in bright red letters.
All efforts he had made to speak to Lazard were politely but firmly brushed off.
"The Major's mission is confidential," Lazard had said, smiling smugly as he peered at Sephiroth over his glasses, casually sipping a cup of tea. "You don't have the authority to access the details of his mission."
These repeated thwarts of his attempts had led Sephiroth to confess dolefully to Angeal that he could not locate Genesis. His heavy words were met with a brief tightening of the lips before Angeal changed the subject.
Angeal had always made it clear that he does not blame me, Sephiroth thought, yet I feel so bad that I cannot do anything more to help him track Genesis.
The door banged open suddenly, silencing all conversation. Sephiroth's head came up with a start as General Theodore Eisenerfaust strode briskly in.
The other lesser Generals began to rise but he waved them back down, marching to his seat at the head of the table and setting the files in his hand down. He did not sit down, but his icy blue eyes scanned all the expectant faces turned towards him.
"Gentlemen, it is regrettable that this meeting has to be called upon such short notice, but it is indeed urgent." He paused. "The settlement of Wutai has officially declared war on us."
There was some muttering as the seated Generals sat up straighter. Sephiroth did not react. At the rate the Company's relationship with the province was deteriorating, he had suspected that it would come to this sooner or later.
"Therefore," said the General and the muttering died at once, "I want every First, Second and Third Class who are able to be drafted for this war. I expect a full report on our numbers by sixteen hundred hours."
"But sir," one of the Generals stood, wearing a worried expression, "That's far too soon! Some of our men are still out on their missions-"
"My dear sir," the General interrupted, turning to him. "In war, time is everything. The sooner we can dispatch troops, the better."
"If I may, sir," said another with an air of barely-restrained patience, "there are far too few Generals in SOLDIER for us to launch a full-scale attack."
"Which is why I have decided to promote Major General Sephiroth to Lieutenant General." His eyes flickered to Sephiroth. "I trust you are agreeable?"
Sephiroth blinked in surprise. He had not seen that coming. Nevertheless, he gave a small bow. "I would be honoured to serve."
General Eisenerfaust nodded briskly. "Indeed. It is unfortunate that we have no time for an official ceremony for your promotion." He clapped his hands. 'Now, this meeting is over. I expect you back with your reports at the appointed time."
The other officers rose as one and saluted before leaving. Sephiroth, however, stayed behind.
Eisenerfaust, who was busy laying out maps on the table, glanced up. "Yes, Lieutenant General?"
"Sir," Sephiroth stated formally, "I would like to request more knowledge on the whereabouts and mission of the one Major Genesis Rhapsodos."
Eisenerfaust frowned. "That information is classed as strictly confidential. Why do you want to know?"
"Since war is upon us," Sephiroth said, thinking quickly as he spoke, "it would be more practical to recall all First-Class SOLDIERS to Midgar. Their current missions should be temporarily put on hold as the war is a much more pressing matter."
Sephiroth found himself holding his breath as Eisenerfaust's brow furrowed in thought.
Finally, the general nodded in acquiescence. "Your idea does have merit. And after all, you are now the Lieutenant General, so... "
He drew a small thumb drive from his breast pocket. "The access codes to all classified information on the Shinra network are inside." He tossed it to Sephiroth, who caught it deftly.
"Kindly ensure this does not fall into wrong hands."
"Yes, sir!" Sephiroth snapped a crisp salute. "Permission to leave, sir!"
"Granted." Eisenerfaust looked back down at the sprawling maps on the table.
Sephiroth saluted again. He was just turning to go, but the sound of the General's voice made him pause.
"Oh, and Sephiroth? Exercise discretion when retrieving that particular officer."
"Of course, sir." Sephiroth inclined his head before spinning smartly on his heel and striding out of the office.
As he exited the room, he glanced down at the precious thumb drive clutched in his fist, feeling a triumphant sense of accomplishment.
How long had he been here? Weeks? Months?
Genesis had no idea. He had been kept here for so long that he had lost track of time. Every day that passed was like a lifetime since he had come.
He was staring idly at the cuffs encircling his wrists, wondering why anyone would feel compelled to bind him so. After all, if he did escape, where would he go? Who would help him, a man who was not normal... a man with an ebony wing? He would never be welcome anywhere. Besides, the ties of his contract bound him more firmly than any chains of iron could.
His huge wing twitched and he threw it a weary look of resignation. It was not surprising that they would do to him what had been done to Angeal. He did not like it, but he forced himself to tolerate its presence on his back.
Well, he mused, if I'm going to stay here for the rest of my life, it doesn't matter if I have a wing or not. In fact, all the 'residents' in the cells beside his did not care.
Drawing the appendage closer, he ran his fingers through the ebony feathers, ignoring the sound of his manacles clinking. He winced when he brushed something sticky and lifted his hand to gaze at the blood on his fingertips before sighing heavily.
Hojo had gone over every meticulous detail in the contract. That demented scientist had made it practically impossible for Genesis to extricate himself from this continuous torture without pulling Angeal back in his stead. Even worse, if Genesis tried to escape, they would hunt down his family.
Of course, Genesis thought grimly, he's done it before, no doubt. So it's no wonder he's very familiar with all these legal niceties…
Disgust flitted across his expression. Hojo was supposed to take charge of him, but for some reason, he had been handed over to another scientist by the name of Hollander. It angered him; the way they treated him like an inanimate thing, tossing him from one person to another.
Hollander was no less sick than Hojo, though. He delighted in trying to draw a cry of pain from Genesis's lips. That was why Genesis had taken to gritting his teeth whenever he dealt with pain, just to deprive that lunatic of his twisted pleasure.
Genesis glanced up, at the soft light filtering through the bars of the small opening near the ceiling of his cell. Small soft white flakes were drifting down from it. Suddenly seized with a painful yearning to see the outside world, he spread his wing and flapped up to hover in front of the tiny window.
The chilly air that caressed his skin was so refreshing. The chains that encircled his wrists clinked softly as he reached a hand through the bars to catch a falling snowflake, marvelling at how cold it felt on his bare skin.
And yet, as he looked out at the swirling mass of white, he found himself growing more melancholic. This was the world he had left behind... the world he could no longer call his own.
The sound of approaching footsteps drew his attention. At once, Genesis swooped down, landing lightly on his feet. He drew his wing close, his eyes fixed unblinkingly on the door of the cell as he waited.
A moment later, he perceived the short, somewhat rounded form of Hollander bending over to unlock the door. The scientist pushed it open with an ear-shattering crash and strode in as if he owned the place.
He glanced in Genesis's direction and shook his head, chuckling. "I see you're up and about."
Genesis blinked, wondering how Hollander was able to see him in the shadows of his cell... until he remembered the fact that his eyes were glowing brightly. Too brightly... even for a SOLDIER.
Hollander drew a flashlight, switched it on and shone it rudely into Genesis's eyes, forcing him to throw up a hand to shield them from the glare.
"You're doing fine, I see," Hollander murmured approvingly. "Your wing has grown very well indeed."
"What do you want, Hollander?" Genesis asked flatly. "I don't think you came all the way down here to have a little chat with me."
Hollander smirked. "Yes, you're quite right. I want you for another experiment."
Genesis sighed softly before speaking in a tone of resignation. "What'll this one be about?"
"You'll see," was the cryptic reply.
Genesis hated it when the man got cryptic. It always meant something bad. But still, however bad it was, he had to go.
Genesis followed Hollander through the narrow twisting corridors but kept his eyes downcast the whole way. He did not like looking at his surroundings any more than he had to. Memories of pain and torture flitted through his mind as he tried hard not to imagine what twisted horror he had in store. Instead, his thoughts returned to his contract.
It was cruel really. Hojo must certainly have had this in mind when he drew up the damn thing. Genesis, simply by virtue of what they had done to him, would always be forced to stay here because there was no place in the world outside for someone like him now.
A moment later, he was startled from his gloomy thoughts by a sharp click as Hollander unlocked a door. Genesis peeked over the scientist's shoulder, realising with a stab of bewilderment that it led to an empty room.
Hollander scuttled in, beckoning for him to follow. Genesis stepped in cautiously. Looking around, he realised the room was not as empty as he had first assumed. A single wooden chair stood in the middle of the room and a box filled with colourful glowing materia sat in the corner.
Genesis frowned when he saw that there were cuffs on the arms and legs of the chair. An image of Angeal drugged and strapped to a similar chair with scientists hovering around him caressing his wings leapt unbidden to Genesis's mind. Was that what Hollander had in store for him?
"Please, sit." Hollander gestured to the chair, smiling unpleasantly.
Genesis hesitated. Surely Hollander would not have brought him all the way here just to examine his wing?
Hollander's mocking smile disappeared. "I said sit!" he barked.
Genesis shot him a glare but grudgingly lowered himself into the chair and allowed Hollander to strap him in. His wing hung down, long feathers brushing the cold floor.
"Now," said Hollander, clapping his hands, "Your demonstration of your ability to wield magic without materia yesterday was formidable indeed, but I am most curious as to how you would perform using materia."
Genesis snorted. "Is that why you dragged me all the way here and strapped me up? For me to perform... magic tricks?"
Anger flashed in Hollander's eyes at the jibe. Genesis gave him a sarcastic smirk. Since he had nothing better to do while trapped here, annoying Hollander was fast becoming a viciously gratifying pastime.
Hollander smoothed his expression with an obvious effort and grinned insolently. "Laugh all you want, Major. You won't be laughing at the end of this."
He strode over to the box brimming with materia. "Now, we've wasted enough time as is. Let's start, shall we?"
Hollander picked up a single glowing orb and, leering, began to advance menacingly on Genesis. As he came closer and closer, the materia began to vibrate in his hand, faster and faster with each step. "Oh, and Genesis?" he called, "Be sure to brace yourself. It might be a little... painful."
Genesis's skin prickled at those words. He had the feeling that he was about to see just why he needed strapping down.
An hour later, an exhausted and thoroughly spent Genesis was dragged and ruthlessly thrown back into his cell. The door banged shut, plunging him into the now-familiar darkness of his confined world.
He was so drained of energy that he could hardly lift his head. His entire being ached badly. Slowly, painfully, he dragged his wing around him as he struggled to sit up. He gazed down at his chained hands. They were trembling uncontrollably.
Gingerly examining his right arm, he bit his lip to stifle a gasp of pain. There was a bruise where the materia had made contact with his skin. He could still feel the blinding pain when the magic in the glowing orb clashed furiously with the magic in his blood. It had been excruciating, as though his veins were filled with acid. Materia had never affected him like this before and he had had no idea it would have injured him like this.
He vaguely recalled the sound of Hollander's laughter over his torment.
He must have known that materia would have affected him like this. He must have done this just for the pleasure of hearing Genesis's screaming and seeing him writhing in that chair, unable to escape.
Genesis slumped back down onto the cold stone floor, trying to stop himself from shivering. He could not recall a time when he had ever felt more alone and forsaken in his life. Here he was, hurting and all by himself, hidden from the rest of the world in the shadows of a tiny cell in a far-flung secret location on Gaia.
His fingers rested lightly on the ebony feathers of his wing. He turned his head towards it, sapphire eyes unfocused.
He knew now that he would never be able to wield materia again. Somehow, that felt like a punch in the gut. It was another mark of how much they had changed him.
A single thought surfaced in his mind. I wonder if Mom's okay... His wing trembled as a shudder wracked his body. I hope she still isn't mad at me for running off like that.
His mother had never wanted him to join SOLDIER. He should have followed her advice. He should have stayed home in Banora with Angeal, should never have convinced his best friend to join SOLDIER with him.
Then none of this would have come to pass. They would probably still be at home, leading a normal, happy life surrounded by family.
This was all his fault. Everything that had happened to him... to Angeal... was his fault.
Pained sapphire eyes squeezed shut, tears dripping from the corners. Mom, what would you say if you saw what I've turned into now?
A single snowflake wafted in from the window, blown by a stray draft. It drifted downwards slowly before landing on the wing. Genesis sensed it twitch slightly in reflex though he hardly stirred from his position.
At that moment, lying down on the cold stone floor of his cell, Genesis could not help hating, with a fevered passion, what he had become.
A small sob of wretched despair escaped his lips.
I'm sorry, Mom. I'm so sorry...