Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII is the property of Square-Enix. No profit is sought from this work.

Bright-Eyed Boys

SOLDIER First Class. It's really something. They were really something. Don't find too many of them around these days, but trust me, if you saw one you'd know. They're magnificent.

I saw one up close once. It's been years now. I was still in the army then. You might think us Military types would get to see SOLDIERs more often than other folk but that's not the way it worked. They were there, of course, always around. We could spot them at a distance and some lucky few even got missions with them from time to time. But for the most part they were unreachable, you know. That far-off amazing dream the rest of us lesser mortals could only aspire to.

Yeah, I gave the entrance exam a shot or three. Failed outright every time. SOLDIER wasn't for me. Turns out it wasn't for a lot of us. That 'Join SOLDIER' thing was just a convenient story for the recruiting posters. Let me tell you, finding that out the hard way never went down well. There's some guys I knew ran themselves ragged over the entrance exams, over and over and over till they crapped out entirely. Most of the rest of us just took to getting drunk and grousing.

I think that was part of why things went down the way they did. After a while, you just couldn't help hating SOLDIER a little. That great something you just weren't good enough for. Tell me a guy's not supposed to resent that.

That SOLDIER I saw, god, I remember... He was young and that just made it worse, you know. On one hand there was us, busting our chops for half our lives trying to get in and on the other hand, there's this fresh-faced boy. Rosy cheeks and everything, I tell you. But God, he was magnificent. First Class, no less. The speed, the force, that goddamned grin. Cocky little fucker.

He'd gone rogue, or at least that's what our orders said at the time. They also said we were supposed to bring him in alive, him and his little friend, and maybe we would have if he hadn't pissed us off so damned much.

Hm, who am I kidding? Even if he hadn't cut down half of us while he ran, we would've done what we did. We couldn't even catch the kid alive, much less hold him.

He took Jake and Finn out in the woods. Sanchez got hit later down the road. Good men, all of them. We'd seen a lot together and that SOLDIER boy just came through with his fancy flips and a big sword, knocking bullets right out of the air and not caring where they might land.

Maybe you could say he was doing it for that friend of his, but what the fuck? Did that make it okay for him to take my friends out while he was at it? Just so that little piece of catatonic jailbait could live? What made that runt worth more than Patrick or Grayner or Hughes?

The Captain and the rest of us were pretty damned PO'd by the time we got him cornered up on that ridge. We had to do it real quick, get him by surprise while he was busy with his friend and before the Turks showed up. They were right behind us. Shinra thought we were taking too long to round up one weighted-down rogue SOLDIER, but no way were we letting that glorified bunch of suited-up thugs come in and steal our thunder. We were the ones who'd been standing in that SOLDIER boy's line of fire. He was ours.

Funny thing, really. Up to the point the first bullet hit him, I don't think any of us really meant to kill him. It just happened. Heat of the moment. Rush of battle. Wounded, he might have been easier to handle. Who knows?

I can't tell you who fired the first shot, only that the rest of us didn't waste any time joining in. Felt damn good at the time. I shot him for Jake, I shot him for Finn, two rounds for Sanchez. I shot him because he was a fucking SOLDIER and showed him that it didn't make him any better than me at the end.

We got up close to finish the job. He was still breathing a little and those eyes... Hell of a color, blue, but not really. Don't ask me, I'm no fucking artist. But the glow was still there. I'd never seen it that close before or that bright. That's the part I can't forget.

He didn't even look at us. It was like even then we were beneath his notice. He was looking at the little blond runt he'd been lugging around. We should have just taken them both in then, but all I remember thinking was Goddamn bastard, we got you, fucking SOLDIER First Class, we got you, look up here and admit it, you fucker.

But he didn't. Maybe that's why I shot him again. Like I said, I don't know whose gun fired the first shot but the final volley came from mine. Next thing I know, Captain's pulling me back saying let the Turks handle it.

We left the blond boy there on the rocks. At least there'd be one left alive for the Turks to collect, right? He had glowing blue eyes too. He looked right at me, but I got the feeling he didn't see a thing.

On the trip back I should have been worrying about the whole mission fuck-up but I kept seeing those eyes and wondering why the fuck those two wouldn't so much as see us there. That loud First Class with his eyes fading in and out in time with the blood pumping out onto the rocks or that little one who was staring right at us and didn't see us at all. Heh, yeah, eyes only for each other, maybe. Who knows?

I saw him again, you know. The blond one. A couple months ago. He ain't sick no more, that's for sure. I think he might have even grown some. Walking around straight and tall. He's even got a big sword of his own now.

Yeah, I'm sure it was him. I can't forget the eyes, I told you. That glow. He looked over in my direction but he didn't see me at all.