Final Fantasy VII
Notes: The characters are not mine,
and the story is! A few short lines of dialogue have been lifted from
chapter 2 of Crisis Core, but nothing really
spoilery. I was watching Sephiroth's entrance scene again and got the
idea for this ficlit. I'm not sure when it takes place. He and Zack
might still be in SOLDIER at the time Sephiroth is musing, or it
could be in my Twilight and Dawn timeline. It
doesn't really matter for this piece.
I was so angry that night.
I hadn't been able to find Angeal, when I arrived to take part in our mission. No one else had seen him, either. In my heart I knew what had happened, but I still denied it. Angeal was honorable. He would never join forces with Genesis. He would never abandon his comrades, especially not when they needed him most. And what about the young Second Class SOLDIER he was training? He wouldn't have taken him along. Though, if he was like I had been told, and he realized Angeal had left, maybe he would decide to follow.
No, such concerns were foolish. Just because no one else had seen Angeal didn't mean he had deserted. He, and his pupil, were probably out somewhere in the surrounding area. I would journey out there myself and see what there was to find. Maybe they needed my help.
I was such a fool. And I realized it as soon as I stumbled onto that fateful scene some time later. A boy, a SOLDIER, was battling Ifrit. He was very skilled, impressive for any age, but for one so young it was particularly so. I lingered for a moment, watching in the shadows to determine whether my presence was needed. Was this his first battle against something that dangerous, when it wasn't virtual reality? I couldn't tell at first. He attacked the beast with everything he had, using well the power of materia combined with the strength of his sword. He dodged when he should, and lashed with his blade when it was imperative, until Ifrit was collapsing to the earth. He turned away from it, triumphant.
It was then that I determined he had not had much experience in such hands-on battle. Either that, or he had not paid attention when Angeal had taught him to make sure the opponent was dead before turning his back. Ifrit was not defeated. It began to rise again, its heavy claws digging into the dirt. It would kill him in an instant. The boy turned at the noise, his visage changing to obvious surprise and alarm. He would not have time for another attack. And I ran forward, into the inferno that surrounded the creature. As I delivered the final strikes, the youthful SOLDIER stared in awe.
He was you.
Zack Fair, "the puppy", as Angeal so affectionately called you the few times he spoke to me about his trainee. Young, impulsive, hyperactive, almost always happy and cheerful towards everyone, but especially his mentor. Angeal had assured me you had amazing promise and potential, but before I saw you in action, I did not believe it in any strong way. At times I wondered if you were even fit for SOLDIER. Under my command, I determined, you would never get away with as much as you had under Angeal's guidance.
Angeal was more lenient than I. Oh, he tried to be stern. Sometimes he truly was. But it never lasted long, especially with you. I used to think he was much too gentle for a line of work that often involved killing. Not to mention that he had gotten too fond of you. I was sure that would only turn ill for him in the end.
I considered myself to be cold and hard when it came to my duty. I did what needed to be done, whether it was leading my men to victory over the rebellious Wutaian people or punishing a SOLDIER for insubordination. And yet I knew I truly cared about the men. I did not care for the glory I was given, but I liked my position of power. I had the freedom to do almost anything I wanted, as long as it did not go against Shinra. And the men grew to trust me. They came to me for advice when they were having problems, knowing that I would be honest with them. But they also knew I would be distant. I did not want to become personally attached.
In the present, I had half a mind to scold you for turning away before making certain Ifrit was dead. But I didn't. There were other matters on my mind then. Most importantly, I wondered why you had been fighting alone. If anyone needed to save you, it should not have been me. And the anger burned again, mixed with hurt.
When I found the two Genesis clones, I could no longer deny the truth. "Where is Angeal?" I demanded of you.
You shook your head, looking bewildered. "He was supposed to be fighting here," you told me. "But . . ." And you hesitated. You didn't know what to say.
I looked back to the clones' bodies, giving a deep and frustrated sigh. "So he went with him as well." The betrayal that had been cracking open for months had at last split apart altogether. Genesis had already turned against me. And he had finally gotten to Angeal. Angeal had broken his duty to the military, as well as his loyalty to me. If he had had any remaining loyalty to begin with, and I somewhat doubted it. But he should have been loyal to you, if nothing else.
I don't know all of what you felt at that moment. Shock, probably. Outrage, anger. . . . You told me later how much you had idolized me, and how your heart was pierced when I spoke those words. You thought I was so cold, and you even wondered if you had made a mistake in thinking I was worth admiring. You were furious that I would speak against your mentor, especially when you thought it was uncalled for. And you were not afraid to defy me because of that. Or maybe you didn't consciously think about it at the time.
"Just now, what did you mean?" you cried. The absence of a respectful "sir" was very glaring. I don't know why I ignored it. Normally, I wouldn't have.
"Angeal has also betrayed us," I told you instead, my voice hard. "That's what it means."
And even I was surprised by what you did next.
"That's impossible!" you retorted, your voice climbing. "I know Angeal very well! He's not the type of person who would do something like that!"
I could feel your eyes boring into my back. And indignant anger surged through my veins. You were talking back to me, the General. No one dared to commit such a breach of conduct! Already you had not stopped to address me as "sir", or "General", and now you were raising your voice. You were yelling at a man who could have had you court-martialed for that, or at least thrown into the brig. Hadn't you been taught any better than that?
I turned, my expression dark as I came to face you again. I don't know what I planned to do or say, but what I saw gave me pause. I did not see a puppy, idolizing and cheerful. I did not see a SOLDIER determined to show deliberate disrespect. I saw an angry and worried friend. That was something I could understand, and even relate to.
"Angeal would never betray me!" you cried.
You trusted Angeal. You trusted him with all of your heart. And you had the right. He had violated that trust, but you did not know it. Even if you did, you would not have been able to comprehend it, just as I had not been able to. I had ignored the signs right up to that critical point. It was my own fault that this had happened.
I don't know why I sensed that splinter of kinship with you that night, as we stood staring each other down in all firmness of heart. I had already made my vow to never open my heart to anyone again. I knew it would only bring pain and betrayal. And I tried to ignore what I felt. It was a foolish fancy, brought on by my pity for you over your trust of Angeal.
That explanation didn't work for long. I came to respect you before that mission was completed. And then slowly, I came to care for you.
You are not Commander Fair, SOLDIER First Class, to me---formal and unreachable. You are not the puppy, forever childish and playful---though you still behave that way at times.
You are Zack, my closest friend.