Final Fantasy VII

Cloudy Skies

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters from the games are not mine, and the Fragmented Triangle crew and this ficlit are. It does support a couple of other recent fics, but they are not required reading to understand this. This is first and foremost a Seph and Zack fic. Thanks to Kaze and Lisa for plot help!

The office was so quiet.

Not that it was not usually so, but this was a different kind of quiet. The silence hung in the air, thick and stifling. Zack almost had the urge to place a hand over his nose and mouth, or to gasp for oxygen. His throat was tightening. But he knew it had very little to do with anything in the air.

He gripped the doorknob, his knuckles turning white. There had been noise in here, not that long ago. He knew it. In his mind he could almost hear the gunshots---the explosions as the bullets left the revolvers, the sound of the lead drilling into the wooden desk or shattering a pot . . . grunts of pain as human bodies were hit. . . . The final battle had played out, and now, as he stood in the doorway, he could see the results of what had happened. He had not come soon enough.

Dalton was laying on his back, his glasses slipping down his nose. Blood was everywhere, originating from the fatal wounds in his chest. A gun lay next to him, where it had fallen after he had fired it. He was dead---Zack knew that immediately. And from the sick smirk gracing his features, Dalton had not cared about his fate. Not as long as he had been able to drag someone else down with him.

Horror slammed into Zack's soul. Seph . . . where was Seph?! He was not across from Dalton, or anywhere visible in the room. But blood was splattered on his desk. Was he over there? Was Seph behind the desk? The chair was out of place, having been knocked back near the plate glass window. Luckily, that had not shattered. And there was blood on the chair, too.

Zack took a shaking step forward, then another. Silver locks . . . he could see thick silvery hair spread out on the floor as he got closer. If he turned and ran, would this go away? Would he find it was just a dream and Seph was safe? Or . . . or what if it was not Seph? Maybe his hair had been damaged, cut off somehow, but he himself was alive.

Now he was just sounding ridiculous. Zack inched closer. "Seph?"

His voice was quiet, wavering, as if to raise it would be to acknowledge the full truth of what could not be. Oh, what he would give to hear breathing, even if it was pained!

Seph's body came into view. He was crumpled behind the desk, turned away from Zack on his right side. Blood was emerging from somewhere, probably his chest---even though Zack denied it with all of his heart. The limp left hand was laying on top of another gun. Seph had always hated them. . . . But he had been forced to use one in the office, where the Masamune was not practical. . . .

"Seph!" Zack screamed now, dropping to his knees. He reached out, his hands shaking as he touched the stilled shoulder. No response. And it was not rising and falling. He could feel it.

"Seph . . ." With care he began to turn his friend onto his back. Now the wounds were visible. They were in his chest, as Zack had feared. Seph's eyes were closed, the long lashes brushing against his cheekbones. He was limp. There was no life left in his battered body.

The tears began to gather in Zack's eyes. Suddenly he was so dizzy. He brought Seph closer to him, letting Seph's head rest against Zack's chest. Zack lowered his own head, his cheek brushing against Seph's hair. His shoulders began to convulse. He was holding Seph, and yet the real Seph was not there; he was beyond Zack's reach. Seph was dead.

Zack's eyes flew open. He was breathing heavily, gripping the quilt. His skin was clammy, his hair and clothes clinging to his body. The room was dark and silent, the only light coming from the moon outside. Out in the hall, the nightlight gleamed orange-red. There was no body, no blood . . . no office. Just Zack's own room, at his own home.

He sat up, running his hands through his hair and over his face. "Oh God . . ." he murmured, his voice trembling. "Seph. . . ."

He knew what had brought on this nightmare. He had read about Miles Edgeworth being shot earlier that night. He had seen some of the news footage too. Police did not have any better of an idea as to why it had happened. But he knew. Seph knew, too. It had been because of them. Oh, there was no proof, but it made clear and perfect sense. Fragmented Triangle must have retaliated against the investigation.

Phoenix suspected it, as well. He and Seph had talked over the possibility on the telephone. They were all going to see what they could find.

And as horrifying as it was, Zack could picture his nightmare coming true. If they continued to go after Dalton and the others, he would stirke back again. And the next time he probably would not stop with their lawyer. It would probably be one of them.

Throwing back the covers, Zack placed his feet on the floor and began to walk across the still-warm carpet towards the half-open door. Maybe Seph was still up. He always worked too hard, even in the middle of the night. But even if he was asleep, Zack could check on him. It was so ridiculous to let himself be shaken up by a dream, but when it was so vivid and really could happen, Zack could not control his agonized feelings.

Seph's door was still open. Zack crept closer to the room, peering inside. The table lamp was on. Seph was sitting on the bed, going over some Internet printouts. His hair, spread out behind him, lay across the mattress in carefully brushed tresses. His bangs slipped forward, falling across his face and half-concealing it. The light from the lamp gave his face added shadows, as well, but the concern in his eyes could not be masked.

Zack walked in. "Seph?" he said with hesitance.

Seph looked up, brushing his hair out of his eyes. He instantly took in Zack's anxiety, a frown gracing his features. "What's wrong?" he asked, setting down the papers. Removing his glasses as well, he set them on the nightstand.

Zack shuffled to the bed, easing himself onto the edge of the mattress. He reached up, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck. "Kinda had a bad dream," he confessed. "I think all this commotion about Mr. Edgeworth getting shot really got to me."

Sephiroth grunted. "It wasn't exactly what I wanted to find out, either."

Zack bit his lip. "Does Phoenix know anything yet?" he asked. "I mean, it's really weird that the hospital people won't tell him anything!" He clenched a fist. "If that was you or Cloud or Aerith or Angeal in there, and they weren't letting me know if you guys were okay, man . . . I don't know what I'd do. It wouldn't be polite, I can tell you that."

Sephiroth gave a tired shake of his head. "He doesn't know. They won't tell him. He tried to act calm on the phone, but I could tell he was anything but calm."

"But why won't they tell him?!" Zack burst out.

"They said something about only immediate family being able to know." Sephiroth frowned. "And he has none, since he wasn't officially adopted by von Karma."

Zack shifted. This was only making him more furious. Did that mean, that if Seph was ever hurt and taken to that hospital, no one would be allowed to know his condition? Or was it just because of the strange circumstances surrounding the act of violence against Mr. Edgeworth that things were being kept secret? If it was the latter, maybe that was somewhat understandable. But that did not mean Zack thought it was right to keep the news secret from everyone, including his loved ones.

"What about that girl lawyer he was raised with?" he asked.

"They haven't been able to contact her. Mr. Wright has been trying." Sephiroth frowned. "I don't like this. If Dalton's behind it, there's no telling how far he'll go."

And that brought Zack right to what he wanted to say. He ran his tongue over his lips.

". . . In my dream, I was coming up to the office, and I knew something had gone really wrong. You and Dalton'd gotten into some shootout," he said in low tones. "Dalton was dead, and well . . . when I looked around for you, Seph . . . you were, too."

Sephiroth studied his friend, his eyes narrowed. "Dead," he repeated. To say that it would be a horrible thing to see seemed trite. They both knew it was; they had been in the position of seeing the other gravely wounded more than once.

Zack nodded. "It was awful. . . . Blood was everywhere, and you were just . . . laying on the floor, so still. . . ." His voice broke. "It could happen, Seph. After what was done to Mr. Edgeworth, it makes me worry all the more. Maybe Dalton wouldn't come to fight you himself, but he might send someone after you. And . . ." He picked up the news articles, giving them a cursory glance before setting them aside. "We know we're not invincible, Seph. . . ."

Sephiroth reached out, laying his hand on Zack's shoulder. "We've made it this far," he said.

What a strange conversation they were having---worrying over whether they would be attacked by a coward who had been their enemy for over ten years now. Not that there had not been such things to think about in SOLDIER, but it had not seemed like such an active concern then. Somehow, being out of the army and into such a vastly different occupation changed a lot about their viewpoints. Possibly because now they were on their own and not as part of a global monopoly such as Shinra. But Sephiroth was not afraid of Dalton now any more than he had ever been. Of course he knew Zack was not afraid of the man, per se; he was afraid of what Dalton would do.

And that was one of Sephiroth's concerns as well. He feared for Zack's safety, and Cloud's, and that of everyone else. Dalton was ruthless.

Zack gave a weak smirk. "In some ways, it seemed like life was so simple in Shinra," he remarked, voicing some of Sephiroth's thoughts. "I mean, we had higher positions then and we were able to do a lot more. We got Dalton landed in jail, and Broken Circle busted up." He frowned. "And here, we can't do much at all. We've gotta be really careful not to let anyone even know what's up with us, since we're from another planet and all that.

"But to tell you the truth, Seph . . . Gaia seems like a faraway dream now. Something that we know happened, and yet . . . it was so long ago that it almost doesn't seem real anymore."

"Two years ago, we were both dead and I was insane," Sephiroth frowned. "Now we've been given second chances . . . second lives." He looked into Zack's eyes. "And we aren't giving up. Yes, it's going to be much harder to do anything about Dalton here. We'll have to be even more careful. But we can't let him intimidate us. Then he's already won, and Edgeworth was shot for nothing."

Zack bit his lip. Seph was right, of course. Zack had never considered stopping the fight against Dalton. But that did not mean he was not agonized by it all.

"I don't want anything to happen to you, Seph . . ." he said at last. "And what tears me up the most is knowing that I can't stop it. I can do everything I can to try, but it could still happen."

Sephiroth's look was kind and sympathetic. "That's life," he said, his voice quiet.

"Yeah, well . . . life's awful sometimes." Zack leaned forward, gripping at his knees. "I don't want my dream to come true! I don't want to ever come in and find you like that . . . !" His shoulders slumped.

Sephiroth could not promise it would not happen. He and Zack both knew it. It would be pointless to say it aloud. Especially since Zack had already acknowledged that fact.

Zack looked up at Seph again. "Are we even the same people we were on Gaia?" he wondered. "I mean . . . usually I just think I'm still me and I haven't changed, but if I really stop to remember how I used to be and some of the things I did before . . ." He shrugged helplessly. "Then I know I really am different. Sometimes I look back and wonder how I could've ever been so blind."

Sephiroth frowned. "There were so many things that you didn't know. There were things that I didn't know." He looked away. "And maybe some of them we never should have known."

What would have happened if he had never believed that he had been created to be the perfect monster? Would he have never lost his mind? Would Nibelheim not have been burned? Maybe it would have been destroyed in some other way, perhaps from the mako reactor exploding. But he would not have those people's blood on his hands. Maybe he would have eventually turned against Shinra as he and Zack had learned more and grown more suspicious, and maybe they would have been part of the movement to bring down the corporation.

There were things that might never have happened, but then again, if they were meant to happen they might have anyway. The members of AVALANCHE might have still met. If Cloud had betrayed Shinra too, Sephiroth and Zack would have trained him and helped him become stronger. Maybe they would have toppled Shinra and restored peace to the planet.

Or maybe Sephiroth would have lost his mind anyway, somewhere on the journey. Maybe Zack and Cloud still would have been taken by Hojo and used as experiments. Zack still might have died. And Sephiroth might still have killed Aerith in his madness. There was no way of knowing. It was pointless to even focus on such thoughts.

". . . I kinda wonder sometimes if we'd even be the same people we are now if stuff hadn't happened," Zack said at last. "But that's not really any kind of comfort. I mean, sure, we're wiser and stuff, but couldn't we have learned in other ways? Why did so many people have to get hurt? Why did so many of 'em have to die?"

"I don't know." Sephiroth shook his head. It bothered him as well. He did not want lives to be sacrificed in order for himself and those around him to grow. Without tribulations, there would not be a full understanding of happiness, since there would not be anything to compare it to. But that did not make it easier for him or Zack, knowing that loved ones and allies were gone.

"It isn't fair!" Zack exclaimed. "It's not fair at all, if this was the only way . . ." He sighed, running a hand through his hair.

"I know it doesn't do much good to talk about it now," he said. "There isn't much point to it or anything. Still . . . I just kinda wonder. And I wish it could've been different."

Sephiroth nodded. "I do, too." He paused. "But all we can do is to live the lives that we've been given."

"Yeah . . ." Zack gave Seph a pleading look. "Just . . . promise you'll be careful, okay?"

"We'll both be as careful as possible," Sephiroth answered. "We already know that. Promising won't make it any more so."

"I know . . ." Zack shifted. "But it'd make me feel better anyway."

Sephiroth gave his friend a fond look. Of course, in many ways they had changed, but in others they were still the same as ever. Zack would never not worry, and Sephiroth would never not be aloof. Yet he still opened up to Zack. Even after all these years, Zack still had a way of drawing out the part of Sephiroth that he normally kept locked in his soul.

"Fine, then," he said, deciding to humor Zack. "I promise."

Zack gave a happy grin. "Me too!" he chirped.

Sephiroth's look turned stern. "Now you should try to get some sleep," he said.

Zack poked him. "So should you!" he returned. "Looking over this stuff this late at night can't be good for your health."

Sephiroth grunted. "I don't think I'll have nightmares, too," he said.

Zack gathered up the papers and placed them on the nightstand beside Seph's glasses. "Just staying up to look at them at all!" he protested. "It's gotta be exhausting, after the day we've had." He pushed gently on Seph's shoulders. "Come on, lay down, pal!"

Sephiroth shook his head. "I can't lay on top of the covers," he objected.

"Well, get under them then!" Zack said.

Sephiroth was amused in spite of himself. "I'm not a child," he said. Slowly he pushed himself off the bed, turning back the quilt before beginning to ease his weary body into the softness. It did feel good. Only now was he fully realizing how tired he was. And it must be so much worse for those who knew Edgeworth. He brought the pillow closer to him.

Zack pulled the quilt back around Seph, making sure to bring it over all the way. "There!" he proclaimed. "Comfortable?"

"Yes," Sephiroth mumbled.

"Good!" Zack turned off the light. "Now you can go to sleep." A yawn tore free from his lips. "I'd better do that myself," he observed.

"You do that," Sephiroth agreed, turning onto his side.

"I'll call Phoenix first thing in the morning," Zack declared. He had considered calling now, despite the late hour, but had opted not to. Phoenix might be awake, but on the other hand he might have just finally dozed after being awake since the shooting. And Zack did not want to disturb such very necessary slumber. Everyone needed their rest.

"Alright," Sephiroth agreed. From his tone, he was already half-asleep.

Zack grinned. "Night, old pal," he said.

"Goodnight," Sephiroth mumbled.

Zack headed for the door, stepping into the hall and pulling the door closed after him. Seph was fine. And he had better stay that way. So help him, if Dalton attacked one of them again, and got somebody hurt---or worse, Heaven forbid!---then Dalton would be the one in need of being careful. There was only so much Zack could take. And he was nearing the breaking point.

But they were safe for tonight. And he could only pray that those waiting to hear about Mr. Edgeworth's condition would receive good news, and soon.