Final Fantasy VII

A Simple Mission in Triplicate

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The FF7 characters are not mine, and the other characters and the story are! Here we have something I've been wanting to write for a while, with Sephiroth and Zack meeting Maryn again after the events of Twilight and Dawn and Sunrise and Midnight, and getting swept up in one more misadventure concerning her. I realize Twilight and Dawn and its follow-up are not yet complete, but with the basic premise of that timeline already established, as well as Zack filling in the blanks in his thoughts, I want to share some of the other stories I have been writing. If anyone wishes to read the scenes I have finished for both earlier stories (which are not already in the published chapters of Twilight and Dawn), they can be reached through my Livejournal link on my Profile page. They are listed under entry tags that feature the stories' titles. Thanks to Lisa and Kaze for plot help! If this story is well-received here, I will be adding the other stories I have written in this timeline.


Chapter One

Zack yawned, stretching his arms above his head while clutching the clipboard in one hand. Working at Jenova Corp definitely kept a guy busy, he decided to himself as he took a last look at the building which he and Seph were standing in front of. The plan was to buy the place as an investment, but Seph had wanted to look it over first to see if it was worth it. And since Cloud had needed to attend a meeting during the only available time for an appointment, Zack had decided to tag along with Seph.

"So," he said, looking over at his old friend, "what do you think, pal?"

Seph was writing something on his own clipboard, his reading glasses slipping down his nose as he leaned forward. "It should work," he grunted.

Zack grinned a bit, watching him. It had been some time since they had defeated Jenova at last. During the course of those battles, Cloud had finally managed to get over the hateful feelings he held for Seph. With no way of returning to Gaia, they had decided to keep the company in which they had been placed when Seph had sent them both and many others to this new planet. After all, when the occupation had been dropped into their laps, it would have seemed foolish to let it go---especially when it had been profitable for them.

And Zack and Aerith had been restored to join their old friends at long last. They had participated in the final battle with Jenova, though Cloud and Seph had not known of their presence until it had ended. Then Zack had found them both, injured and wounded but still alive, and he, Aerith, and Tifa had nursed them back to health.

It seemed strange, yet awesome---that they were all alive again, that Seph was sane, that they were working together. . . . Just like old times, and yet of course not quite. They were not the same people that they had been all those years before. A decade had passed since many of the missions that they had gone on for SOLDIER. Both of them were very sobered people by now, though their core personalities remained the same.

He was still cheerful, and still believed that life and most people were basically good. He still did not believe in destiny, choosing instead to hope that all were free to pick their own paths. Surely, he felt, the terrible things that happened in life could not have been foreordained to take place.

Seph was still a pessimist, certain that life was mainly filled with hardships and that most people were selfish and uncaring. And he felt that one's path was already picked out, unable to be deviated from. Though he had definitely altered that view a good deal since he had been freed from his years of drowning in insanity.

And they were still friends, which was the most important thing. In some ways, Zack felt, they were even closer, after everything they had come through.

A loud and joyous wark! startled him out of his thoughts. Before he could fully react to what was happening, he was sprawled on the ground, staring up at a yellow, feathery face that promptly nuzzled him. A cry of surprise and astonishment left his lips.

Sephiroth straightened up, lowering the clipboard as he studied the scene with a mixture of amusement and disbelief. What was a chocobo doing here? This was the first he had seen of any of Gaia's wildlife appearing on this planet, and they had been there for over half a year.

Sometimes he wondered how many random entities had been sent to this world, other than himself and those who had fought against him. He had never known that anyone else had ended up there, and from what he remembered of his mad intentions, he had not intended to send anyone else---but that did not mean that something could not have gone contrary to his wishes. He had not meant to send himself there, either. Yet when it had served to help him regain his sanity, he was grateful for it.

"It likes you," he commented now, half-tempted to make a not-so-subtle crack at Zack's hair. Though the style had changed in the last years, it was still wild and often untameable. Right now, as Zack sprawled in the grass, the black spikes were sticking in nearly every possible direction.

Zack made a muffled reply, finally freeing his mouth from the bird's loving nudges. "Hey," he exclaimed, petting the soft down as he looked to Seph, "don't you remember her, Seph? She was my chocobo back on Gaia, after she found us that time when we were on the Northern continent." Though taken completely by surprise at first, now it was obvious to him that this was somehow the same bird. She certainly remembered him. And chocobos could live for some time, so it was not impossible.

Sephiroth grunted. Zack would surely know. And it did make a strange kind of sense. Still, if that bird was here, then . . .

"Zack!"

Both men looked in the direction of the voice. A teenage girl, wearing a lavender dress and sporting flowing red hair, was running towards them. The thick curls bounced around her face, and as she drew nearer, the sheer joy in her eyes and smile radiated out to them.

Zack sat up, still idly petting the chocobo with one hand. This girl, not much older than Aerith had been when they had first met . . . did he know her? Red hair, bright green eyes. . . . "Couldn't be," he murmured, getting to his feet. "Maryn?"

And then she was rushing to him, leaping up to throw her arms around his neck. "It's you!" she cried, hugging him close as tears of happiness sprang to her eyes. Her next words tumbled out in a blur.

"Pala . . . she just showed up at my house one day, about eight years ago. . . . I knew something was wrong, I just didn't know what. . . . But I was always afraid something had happened to you. . . . I've taken care of her, like I knew you'd want, and we've both missed you so much!"

She shut her eyes tightly. "Your friend Cloud came to see me about two years ago. He . . . he told me you were dead, that he knew because he saw it, he saw you get killed for him. I'd thought it for a long time, but . . . it was so horrible to actually hear it . . . !"

She pulled away, staring up into the amazed lavender eyes. "And then it was so weird how we were suddenly on this other planet . . . and I saw you on TV. . . ." Her voice had quieted now. "I couldn't believe it. . . . But there you were, alive and happy, and . . . Mr. Sephiroth, too. . . ." She glanced to him, her expression shy, before looking back to Zack.

A soft smile made its way over Zack's features. "You still recognized me, after all these years?"

"Of course," she exclaimed. "You still look the same, Zack."

He grinned. "And you've grown even prettier!" he chirped. "I bet the guys are busting down your aunt's door wanting to make dates with you." He winked. "I'd ask you myself, if I was about ten years younger."

She giggled. "Same old Zack."

Again she glanced to Sephiroth, who was slowly coming over now. She shifted, the shy and uncomfortable expression returning. "Are . . . are you okay now, Mr. Sephiroth?" she asked.

He stopped, reaching up to remove his glasses. "'Okay'?" he repeated.

She nodded slowly. "Cloud said . . . he said that you got really sick, and that's why you tried to cause Meteor." She bit her lip. "I didn't understand at all . . . but I knew that you wouldn't have ever done something like that if you were like you were before." She smiled a bit. "And you look like you feel better now."

Sephiroth placed the folded glasses in his pocket. "I'm fine," he answered.

Sometimes he wondered if he could ever be fully fine or okay again. It wasn't as if his madness was something he could shove into a closet and never deal with. It still flared up at times. Looking in the mirror, there were always traces of the him who stood in the cruel inferno, smirking darkly at anyone who would happen by. But all he could do was make sure that there were only traces. He could never succumb to that side of himself. Now he had to be stronger than that. And Zack, of course, was around to help ensure that he could be.

He had to admit, he was somewhat surprised by the news that Cloud had acknowledged his mental illness, instead of having simply said something such as that he had betrayed them all and turned bad. Cloud was unpredictable much of the time, and two years ago he must have still been deeply reeling from Meteor and Sephiroth's actions, as well as the revelations that he had learned concerning himself.

"How . . . how are you both alive?" Maryn wanted to know, the awe slipping back into her voice as she looked from one to the other.

Zack smiled in a quiet way. "Sometimes I still wonder that myself," he admitted. "It's a new world and all . . . guess they figured we deserved second chances. Aerith's here, too. You remember Aerith, right?"

Maryn gave an eager nod. "She was always really nice to me, and I thought that you and she were just perfect for each other!"

Zack grinned. "I have to agree with that." His immense love and devotion for the flower girl shone in his lavender eyes. Though he had once been somewhat of a ladies' man, Aerith had tamed him so that he did not have a desire to be with any other woman. She had been different, and he had been intrigued by that. They complemented each other so well, even right from the start, with his flirting and her shooting it down in her clever, yet sweet way. Seph had once said that, though he had become jaded concerning romance from things he had witnessed, he felt that Zack and Aerith were a couple who would endure and always love each other. That had meant a lot to Zack all through the years.

Sephiroth was content to stay silent while they conversed. Maryn had always been closer to Zack anyway, and he could sense that she was still somewhat uneasy around the one who had nearly caused an irreversible calamity on Gaia. The last thing he would ever try to do would be to force a conversation between them. If she wanted to talk to him, she would probably approach him herself, in time.

"So!" Zack said, changing the subject, "What have you been doing here on Earth?"

Maryn shrugged a bit. "I've needed to go to school here, so it won't look weird," she said, "and because Aunt Trista thought I should get more used to life here and learn about this world." She frowned. "But it's really weird anyway. Dalton's my Geography teacher."

Both men stared at her. For once, Zack was speechless and Sephiroth was not blasé. Dalton . . . as a teacher? The image was alarming and horrifying. And preposterous.

"I'm assuming he doesn't have his memories," Sephiroth spoke at last, his voice dry.

Maryn shook her head. "I couldn't believe it when I walked in the classroom that first day," she said. "But he looked right at me and his eyes were blank. After class was over, I went up to him and asked if he remembered me, but he said he didn't and asked if he should." She bit her lip. "I didn't want to tell him and maybe get him to remember, so I just kinda shrugged and said No. And I guess it was true; I don't think he should remember."

Zack nodded slowly in agreement. "You haven't seen anyone else we knew, have you?" he asked. Maybe he did not want to hear the answer. What if either of the Rakesh brothers had been brought back to life and were running around as piano teachers or professional tenors? Now that was seriously disturbing.

But she shook her head again. "No," she said. "Not yet, anyway."

"And hopefully it will stay that way." Sephiroth doubted that any of them wanted to see their old enemies back for another round. Dalton being there was bad enough, but at least without his memories, he surely would not be much of a threat.

"Where are you guys staying?" Zack asked.

"It's right around the corner," Maryn smiled, turning to point in the direction. "I heard Jenova Corp wanted this building, and I was hoping to see you, so I've been watching while I'm doing my homework."

Zack grinned. "Glad you were!" he chirped.

Pala warked, reminding everyone of her presence. Zack reached over, petting her again. "Yeah, I missed you too," he said, still grinning fondly.

To tell the truth, he was not sure at all if he had processed any of this yet. He had thought about Maryn often, and Pala, wondering what had happened to them. At times he had thought of Dalton as well, hoping that he was not anyplace where he could cause heartache for Maryn. Usually he had decided that Dalton would either still be in the prison or else killed during Meteor. He had never once dreamed that Dalton would be here. And though he had hoped to see Maryn again (and Pala, if she was still alive), he had not imagined that either of them would be on Earth.

And this was a bit of an awkward place to be visiting, right out on the lawn like this. It would be nice if Maryn could come back to the house for a bit. Aerith would be happy to see her, too.

He exchanged a quick look with Seph, who gave a slow nod.

"Hey," he said now, "how about you and your aunt Trista and Pala all coming to dinner tonight?"

Maryn looked at him in awe. "Really?" she said.

"Pala?" Seph said at the same time, in disbelief.

"Sure!" Zack answered both questions, and looked to Seph. "She wouldn't like to be left out of things. She could stay in the yard, by the kitchen window, couldn't she?"

Sephiroth grunted, seeing Zack's expression turn pleading. Zack had always loved that bird, when it had been around. Of course he would not want to exclude it.

Zack grinned, taking the grunt to mean Yes. "How about it?" he said, looking to Maryn.

She nodded with enthusiasm. "I'm sure Aunt Trista will say we can come!" she said.

"Let's say seven, then?" Zack suggested.

Maryn nodded again. "Yeah!" She beamed at them. "Why don't you come back with me and say hi to her now?"

Again Zack looked to Seph. Their reason for being here was supposed to be over, but they were not needed back at the company this very moment . . . not that he knew of, anyway. They could surely spare a few minutes to greet Trista and extend the invitation to her in person.

Sephiroth inwardly sighed. He was not that anxious to see Trista again, especially since they had always just tolerated each other. And now, when she would have knowledge of Meteor, she might not be as forgiving as Maryn. Even if she was, she might not trust him. He was not sure that even Maryn trusted him now. The meeting could prove disastrous, especially if Trista was not warned beforehand that Sephiroth would be there, and that he was sane. He was not sure at all that she would agree to the idea of dinner.

Zack, seeing the debate in his friend's green eyes, laid a hand firmly on the strong shoulder. He should have thought of this problem before suggesting the idea of dinner to Maryn, but now it could not be undone. Still, he would figure out how to solve this, without any hurt feelings.

"Well," he said, looking back to Maryn, "Seph needs to get back to the company for now. But I'd be happy to hang around a while longer and see your aunt!"

Maryn blinked a bit but then smiled happily. "Okay!" she said. Looking to Sephiroth, she said, "We'll see you at dinner, then, Mr. Sephiroth."

Sephiroth gave a brief nod of acknowledgment. Zack's solution was the best way to handle things. And had he imagined it, or had Maryn relaxed at the news that Sephiroth could not stay? No . . . he likely had not created the idea of her unease in his mind. She probably did not want to be around him until she could collect her thoughts and emotions. Or maybe she never would want to again. She had tried to stay polite, but the worry in her eyes could not be concealed.

He turned to Zack. "I'll call you if you're needed," he said.

Zack nodded. "Sure thing." Hopefully, he would be able to convince Trista that there would not be any danger in her and Maryn coming over for dinner. Some concern on her part would definitely be understandable, and Seph might need to talk to her in private before she would agree. But that would be preferable to the possibility of her just ordering Seph away if he appeared without warning.

Sephiroth was also thinking of those aspects, though he was not sure that even speaking to Trista alone would be good enough. She might not believe him. Though, surely she would believe Zack, with his personable nature and Maryn's adoration of him.

"I'll see you later," he said, and told Maryn Goodbye as well, to which she responded politely.

Zack grinned, giving Seph a mock salute. "Aye aye, Sir!"

Sephiroth turned away, walking back to the limousine and hiding a smirk of amusement. Same old Zack.