Okay, the multi-chapter I've been hinting at? This is it. Now, I'm MAYBE halfway through writing it, and I didn't want to risk starting to put it up yet, especially since it keeps getting longer in my head, but I figure if I can keep myself from updating too often, I should be able to catch up.

Yeah, I'm dead. I of course want to hear what you think, but don't encourage me too much, okay? I adore my readers and don't want to inflict a long wait on anyone. :) I won't be updating as often as usual, but I'll try to be regular.

Okay, this story begins before "Crisis Core" and will probably go straight through it. I'm changing a lot (largely because I don't have the CC story figured out yet), but there will likely be minor spoilers. If you don't like that, out you go. This story contains yaoi and situations that might offend those who squick easily. SquareEnix owns all the incredibly hot CGI and all that's canon, I own the rest.

What follows is the reason Zack is no longer speaking to me.

Part One - A Perfect Circle

Chapter 1 - Safe From Pain

"I shall be telling this with a sigh." I read that once, in a poem I've forgotten the rest of, but that line has always stuck with me. By the time anyone finds and reads this notebook I'll be dead and silent - I know this somehow - but maybe with my last breath I'll expel a sigh and it will remain to haunt these pages.

I left my home in Gongaga and my parents at age 15, and I joined SOLDIER because I wanted to be a hero. I don't know what I am now. A girl I knew in my village claimed she could read palms, and she told me she saw both glory and tragedy in mine. I hope the tragedy is all behind us now, that I can keep any more from touching the boy I have with me. He's in the bed beside this desk, in this abandoned house in the middle of nowhere, and I'm writing this now to force my mind and my hands away from him.

Cloud. I guess it's okay to write his name. I nicknamed him "Spiky" when we first met, and during the years we spent in Hojo's lab I called him "Baby" and held him whenever that fucking mad scientist would let me. It was innocent at first (on his own Cloud could be nothing else) but the way Hojo watched him began to change, the way he would watch us together. I protested the first time he put my hand between Cloud's legs, but Hojo said, "Your hands or mine", and there was no choice.

There's choice now. I can't pretend there isn't. I try to handle him as though he were the child he is in all but age, try to look at that sweet face and see something only to protect. I try to hate Angeal for what he made of me and for telling me this would someday happen. The story I'm about to tell will feature a lot of Angeal, the fractured angel who started falling, I think, long before I ever knew him.

My name is Zack Fair, and it indicates nothing about me. I only ever had one nickname.


Training to enter SOLDIER as a full member lasts two years. My first year as a cadet, nothing of importance happened. I got along well enough with my classmates but made no close friends, and there was little variety in the endless circle of sleep, train, classes, train, sleep. I did well, so well in fact that no one wanted to run against me over the obstacle courses or be my sparring partner. I could feel myself moving further and further away from the other first-years, but I told myself it didn't matter. Heroes are supposed to be alone.

My instructors said I was ideal for the second-year mentorship program, that the only uncertainty was who the mentor would be. It was a rare honor to be separated from the cadet corps. and apprenticed to a 1st Class, and years might pass with no one being chosen. I had assumed it would be one of the friendly SOLDIERs who observed our training now and then and teased us like I suppose older brothers might. There was one among them who came often and never said anything, and I couldn't shake the feeling that he was staring only at me. I must not have been the only one to find him creepy; the other 1st Classes kept their distance from him and pretended he wasn't there.

No, this was not Angeal, as you might be thinking, but he came to play a part in my story as well.

Instructor Finn pulled me out of sword drills one early afternoon to tell me the identity of my mentor had been confirmed. He was wide-eyed and appeared agitated, and I felt terrified all of a sudden. Whoever this mysterious SOLDIER was, I would live with him and spend nearly every moment by his side for at least a year. Was I about to be delivered into the hands of some sort of sadist?

Finn must have picked up on my fear, because he laughed and clapped his hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry, Fair, Commander Hewley is a good man and very patient. I'm just a bit shocked. It's rare for such a highly ranked officer to give his time for mentorship, and I've never known Angeal to show interest in doing so before."

I knew the name, the cadets and lower-class SOLDIERs whispered it with nearly as much awe and reverence as they gave to Sephiroth. Angeal Hewley had been one of the first 1st Classes; he wielded a sword that weighed more than the average cadet; he never smiled or cried or showed any emotion, even in battle; he participated in the experiments of ShinRa's Dr. Hollander that gave him inhuman strength; he had been raised by ShinRa as Sephiroth had been, bred into a killing machine. Rumor is always a mix of facts and fiction - I wondered how much of each made up Angeal's legend.

There was hardly time to lie and say I wasn't afraid. The door to Finn's office opened behind me, and I turned to see a tall, broad man enter more quietly than you'd expect from one of his build. He had dark hair, longer in the back than in the front, a plain but well-sculpted face, and serious, thoughtful eyes. He wore no sign of rank, the 1st Classes never did. Not sparring Finn a glance, he quickly looked me up and down.

"Sir, Cadet Zack Fair. Fair, Commander Angeal Hewley."

I saluted in the SOLDIER way, standing rigidly straight with my arms tightly at my sides, and looked straight ahead. I came up to about Angeal's shoulders. Unable to resist, I snuck a glance back up to his face. To my astonishment, he was smiling.

"At ease, Cadet." His voice was very deep, and strangely gentle.

"I think you'll be very pleased with Fair, Commander," Finn was saying, sounding amused. "He's one of the best I've ever trained. I feel I should warn you, though, he's a bit boisterous."

I couldn't keep from wincing. Yeah, I was always the bouncy, optimistic type, laughing at everything. That part of my personality was good for charming people and making friends, but I didn't think Angeal would consider it a plus. And yet, he continued to smile. One rumor down, I thought.

"Perhaps you will balance me," he said kindly. "Many complain that I am too serious. Instructor, would you mind excusing Fair from class now?"

"Not at all, sir. Good luck, Zack," Finn whispered, using my given name as he occasionally did.

"Follow me, Cadet."

I did, feeling nervous and ridiculously small as I walked behind him. Everyone we passed in the corridors respectfully stepped aside as Angeal went by, and I traveled in his wake like a rowboat after a barge. I had never been inside what everyone called the White Building (though it was more of a gray) where the 1st Class quarters and offices were. It was beautiful inside, like the lobby of a fancy hotel, but Angeal didn't seem to notice. I supposed he must be used to it.

I must have looked nervous as we rode the elevator; it took me a long time to feel at ease in tall buildings. Angeal patted my arm, and I just barely kept from jumping.

"This is new for both of us, Cadet," he said, and I wondered if that meant he was nervous too. "But try to relax. I don't bite."

"Yes, sir. I just, um..."

"Don't like heights?" Angeal nodded. "You're from Gongaga, right?"

I was about to ask how he knew, but it occurred to me that he must have read my file. "Yes, sir."

"Midgar must seem very strange to you. I grew up in a small village myself, and city life was quite jarring for me at first."

So he wasn't raised by ShinRa - another rumor disproved already. I swayed a little on my feet as the elevator came to an abrupt halt, and he grabbed my arm and steadied me. Any of my instructors would have made me ride the elevator again and again until it no longer had any effect, and Angeal would do this later, but for now he only looked at me with concern.

"You'll get used to it. People can get used to almost anything."

He gestured for me to follow again, and we stopped at a door marked with a brass '3'. Angeal took a keycard out of his pocket and handed me an identical one.

"This accesses this building, this floor and this apartment. As time goes on, if you prove yourself worthy, I will program it to open other places as well."

The apartment was what I had expected - comfortable but plain and soberly decorated. He indicated the couch and I sat down (it was very cushy, that surprised me) and Angeal disappeared for a moment into the kitchen. He returned with a good-sized bottle of cold water and tossed it to me.

"Before we begin, drink this down."

I looked at him, wondering if it was a joke I didn't get. He seemed to realize I was hesitating, not refusing.

"The mentor-student relationship only works if there is trust. In most situations, for civilians at least, trust must be earned before it can be given. In a military setting, we do not have that luxury. We must put our lives in the hands of our superiors in order to be properly taught. There will be times when I ask you to do something and give no reason for the order. There will be times when I do something and tell you not to question it, or even to speak at all. Can you trust that I know what is best for you, better than you do? Can you follow my orders without regard to your own feelings?"

His voice was so pleasant and reasonable, I wondered for a second how I could ever have been frightened of him. I uncapped the bottle and emptied it in a few large gulps.

"Very good."

For the next thirty minutes or so, he paced slowly back and forth in front of the couch and coffee table, laying out the details of how our new relationship was going to work. Angeal would now be my primary teacher, though he said I would still be attending some of my classes because some subjects are better absorbed in a classroom setting. He would bring me on as many missions as possible, though now and then there may be one that would be too dangerous for me; should that be the case, he would leave instructions as to how I should spend my time which I was not to deviate from. I was not to discuss our training in any detail with the other cadets, because we would be doing advanced work on a 3rd Class level and it would be inconsiderate to make my peers jealous. I was encouraged to ask questions (except when specifically forbidden), to request more information if I didn't understand something, and to be honest about my own limits. And so on and so on.

"Essentially," Angeal said with a wry smile, "I will be patient with you if you are patient with me."

Some of the rules struck me as very odd. I was not to go near the science labs unless Angeal was with me. I was not to visit the eighteenth floor of this building for any reason. I was not to wander alone even within the grounds of the ShinRa Compound. I was not to be outside the apartment after 8 p.m. unless accompanied by Angeal, and if anyone sent for me after that hour I was to explain that Commander Hewley's order forbid it. I found this especially strange, since the cadet curfew is 9 p.m., but I supposed Angeal was just strict, or maybe trying to make me seem less lucky to the other cadets. I wondered if he knew that most of them didn't like me anyway.

I listened carefully and tried to remember everything, but the need to pee crept up after awhile - big surprise, after all that water - and it became hard to sit still. The obvious thing to do was to ask to be excused for a minute, but I worried that Angeal would think me undisciplined, or be annoyed at having to stop his lecture.

"One of the downsides to the mentor program is that it tends to set a student apart from his classmates," Angeal was saying. "I will try to minimize the separation as much as possible, but - Cadet, you're squirming. Is this the hyper energy Instructor Finn warned me about?"

"No, sir. May I be excused for a moment?"

"Bathroom, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"Come with me."

Weirdly, he brought me into the kitchen. At first I thought he was going to make me drink more and tell me not to be distracted by biological necessities - that seemed like the sort of semi-cruel thing SOLDIERs were known for - but he smiled at me as I shifted urgently, putting my weight on one foot and then the other.

"Always in motion, just like a puppy. It's a miracle that you can concentrate on anything," he laughed.

I pouted, and he laughed again. "Time for our first lesson."

"Um, sir, shouldn't I...first..."

"No questions right now. No objections. Understood?" He waited until I nodded. "Very good."

Angeal stepped behind me and gently nudged me across the tile, stopping when I heard the crinkle of something beneath my boots. I looked down. A few large pages of the Midgar Herald had been placed in layers on the floor. I stared, puzzled - I remember the headline "Mayor to Join President Shinra For Slum Fundraiser" - and stiffened when I felt Angeal's enormous hands on my waist.

"It's all right. Trust, remember? Kneel down."

I did, my knees coming to rest on the edge of the paper, and Angeal sank down behind me. He took hold of my wrists and pulled me forward, placing my hands palm-down against the newspaper so I was on all fours. I darted forward instinctively when his fingers went to my zipper, but his hands held me back, moving over my sides like the way you pet a cat or dog. When I became still he tried it again, and I froze as he took my dick out and pointed it at the paper.

"I want you to go now," he said calmly, like this was an everyday thing.


"If you can't, I will only make you drink until you can. Try."

I closed my eyes. Was this some sort of haze or initiation? Was it like so many other aspects of SOLDIER, designed to break a man down and build him up without hesitation, without questioning? I was sixteen, not really a man yet, and being a gay sixteen-year-old, especially, I knew I was going to have a whole new set of problems if I spent much more time on my knees with a guy's hand on my dick. I tried to pretend I was back home in Gongaga, exploring the woods and pausing to relieve myself into the leaf-covered grass. I heard the muted sound of urine hitting paper before I even realized it was coming out.

"Very good." He shook me off gently, stood up and headed out of sight, calling back, "You can get up now."

Easier said than done. He was gone for a full minute, and it took me nearly that long to stand up and refasten my pants. What just happened? I kept asking myself, because I knew I couldn't ask him. I hoped Angeal might explain when he came back, but he acted like nothing strange had happened. He showed me my room - simple but comfortable like everywhere else, and with my own bathroom attached, a luxury I had not expected. My belongings had already been brought up, and he suggested I unpack and get settled.

I began to obey as soon as he left, moving as though underwater. I didn't know how to feel, not even in such basic terms as good or bad. You learn not to question superior officers in SOLDIER, that's how you survive. It didn't really bother me that I had let Angeal do that confusing, embarassing thing to me. What bothered me was how still and quiet I felt inside. Like I couldn't even question myself.

To be continued...

The poem Zack quotes is "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.

I probably shouldn't even try to defend this, huh?

Zack: "Hate. You."
Me: "He's just a bit grumpy about my characterization of Angeal. Let me know which of us you agree with!"