Final Fantasy VII
The Weight of Battle
Notes: The characters are not mine and this story is. It's an idea I've had for a while, and the 31 Days prompt Rest easy, soldier accentuated it. It takes place shortly after Sephiroth first met Genesis and Angeal, so their friendships are still developing. Thanks to Kaze for plot help!
He could not recall a time of late when he had been more furious.
There had been so much carnage, so much suffering, as a result of their combat. It had been a long and bloody battle against the Wutai, and even though they had finally won, many had perished to bring them to that point. The auburn-haired man had been distraught, unable to stand the sight of the wounded and torn bodies surrounding him on the plains. So many lives of people he had known, seriously damaged or ripped away, in such a short amount of time. . . .
And Sephiroth, the great General, had acted so cold and unaffected by it. So of course the red-cloaked man had demanded to know why he was not reacting.
"There isn't anything to say," had been the answer.
"Nothing to say?" the first had cried in indignation and bewilderment.
"What were you expecting?" Sephiroth had asked. "Did you think it would be like one of your poems and we would ride to glory in the sunset of the battle? War is glamorized by the media. It isn't glamorous at all."
The other had clenched a red-gloved fist. "Don't you even care?" he had demanded. "Is this the truth about SOLDIER's great General--he cares nothing for his men, even though he trained them and taught them? He leads them into battle, calloused and indifferent? He watches their lifeless forms shot to pieces without batting an eye?"
Something unreadable had briefly flickered in the green eyes before being replaced by that same cold look. Then Sephiroth had turned away from him. "You'll learn before long," he had said, his voice taut. "It's the only way you'll survive in this Hell."
"Then I would rather be dead!" was the outraged retort.
Sephiroth had only continued to walk to the tents where the wounded were being taken. The other had remained where he was, staring after the departing General.
"I expected more of you!" he had cried at last. "I held you in the highest esteem!"
Sephiroth had paused. "You shouldn't idolize anyone," he had answered. "You will only be let down." And with that he had vanished inside the tent, his windblown silver hair swishing behind him. If he had felt the mako-infused eyes boring into his back, he had given no indication of it.
By now the red-cloaked man had circled the area of their field hospital several times. He could not recall whether it was three or four. And he was standing in front of Sephiroth's tent. No one was inside; he was able to tell that immediately. Sephiroth was probably at the makeshift showers, trying to clean up as best as he could under these conditions and preening over his precious hair, as usual. He took such pride in it. And during the short time they had known each other, the auburn-haired man normally had not been bothered by that. But tonight he could not stand the thought of the General's vanity.
He froze, surprised by the familiar, concerned voice. Slowly he turned to meet the approaching Angeal. The broad-shouldered brunet who was Genesis's best friend looked exhausted. He had received a minor injury that Genesis had not known about. But now he could see the gauze around Angeal's right upper arm. And the weight in the turquoise eyes was not likely to be equaled. Yet even though he looked ready to drop, Angeal was not thinking of himself at all.
"Are you alright?" he asked, peering at his auburn-haired friend.
Genesis looked away, crossing his arms. "Yes. Of course."
Angeal sighed. "Today was a mess," he said. "It's been hard on all of us."
"Not on the great Sephiroth, apparently." Genesis stared at the flaps of the tent in front of him without fully seeing them. "He's so cold and efficient."
". . . He has to be that way." Angeal did not sound surprised. Perhaps he had overheard their argument.
"Has to?!" Genesis whirled, staring at the man who was two years his senior.
Angeal's look was steady. "He's the general. He's got to keep himself composed, for everyone's sakes."
Genesis shook his head, his sole earring jangling with the motion. "He could say something, about how terrible it is or how it shouldn't have come to this. Instead he says it's to be expected!"
Angeal fell silent. For a long moment he did not speak. Genesis began to turn away again.
"If he let himself openly feel, he might break. That's what he's afraid of."
"Break?!" Genesis seemed to be becoming Angeal's echo. Again he whirled back to face his friend. While Genesis had always been very emotional, Angeal was more quiet. He was likely able to better relate to someone such as Sephiroth than Genesis could. But this insight was still shocking to him. Or incomprehensible might be a more accurate word.
"Sephiroth feels things deep in his soul," Angeal said. "The casualties today are paining him more than either of us could imagine. Especially because he wonders if he did everything he could to prevent so many deaths. He has a heavy burden, being responsible for all of these lives. But he'll never talk about any of it. For him, the best way to deal with it is to make himself act like he did." He paused. "He doesn't mean to hurt you or anyone else. He tries to tell himself the same things he told you."
Genesis frowned. "What makes you think you know this?" he asked.
". . . I just do." A sad smile graced Angeal's features. "I lay awake some nights, thinking about the battles we've fought here in Wutai. I try to get the faces of the dead bodies out of my head, but they just keep staying, haunting me. I've tried to tell myself those things, too--that it's what happens in war, that I have to accept it, that I can't let myself get caught up in my horror. And it's true. But it doesn't take away the pain."
"But you don't act like Sephiroth does," Genesis pointed out. "You don't appear frozen. He acts as if nothing will faze him again."
"The better the wall, the more pain that's being concealed behind it." Angeal turned to stare out at the vast sea of stars in the dark Wutaian sky. "Sometimes I wonder if Sephiroth is really the most sensitive of all of us."
". . . Sensitive and Sephiroth should not be used in the same sentence," Genesis objected. But Angeal's words had sunk into his heart. Was such a thing possible? If it was anyone other than Angeal saying it, he would not likely even consider it. Angeal would never speak on such a subject unless he was sure.
Angeal could also sense the shift in Genesis's attitude. "If you try talking to him calmly, you never know," he said. "He might surprise you."
"Maybe." Genesis walked past him. He was going to check on the wounded. Then, perhaps, he would go looking for Sephiroth. Maybe by that time, he would be done washing his hair, or whatever it was he was doing.
Angeal watched him walk past, a trace of a smile on his features. He turned, heading for his own tent.
Genesis had gotten as far as the back of the infirmary tent when a weakened SOLDIER's voice stopped him.
"Sir? What time is it?"
There was a hesitation, probably as a clock was checked. "It's after midnight."
Mako eyes widened. That was . . . but it could not be.
He reached out, pulling the canvas back just enough that he could peer inside. Across from him, one of the most critically wounded Third Class SOLDIERs was laying on a cot. Blood stained the bandage that covered half of his face, including his left eye. His right arm was laying limp on top of the thin blanket, his left in a sling around his neck. Sitting on a crate by his side was a black-cloaked man, the tangled silver hair spilling down his back. He lowered his right arm, having checked his wrist watch.
". . . Mom will be worrying about me." The young SOLDIER gave a weak grin. "She always worries. . . ." He could not be older than sixteen.
". . . She has good reason," Sephiroth answered.
"Yeah. . . ." With a shaking hand the boy reached out, trying to grab at Sephiroth's wrist. "Will . . . will you tell her that I fought to the end?"
Sephiroth took hold of the trembling hand. "I will," he said.
The fingers clasped around Sephiroth's hand with as much strength as could be mustered. "And . . . that I'm sorry?"
"Yes." Sephiroth's voice was firm.
A relieved smile began to spread across the weary features. His grip loosened as he slumped further into the cot. "Thank you, sir," he breathed.
Sephiroth reached to pull the blanket up higher, not that it offered much warmth. "Rest easy, SOLDIER."
The eyes slipped closed. From where Genesis was standing, it was soon obvious that the boy had passed into a sleep from which he would not awaken. He gripped the tent flap tighter.
Sephiroth had came to the same realization. Still holding the blanket, he pulled it over the SOLDIER's head. He stood up, turning to find a nurse and report the death. He did not see Genesis.
But for one moment, a look had flashed through his eyes. And before it was replaced by cold efficiency, Genesis saw it. He turned away, letting the flap fall back into place. He was shaken.
. . . And he had thought Sephiroth had been fussing over his hair. From the looks of it, Sephiroth had not done anything with it yet.
There was no way he would try to speak with Sephiroth now. Tomorrow he would find a way to make amends for what he had said. Tonight he could not.
He passed Angeal on the way to his own tent.
"Did you talk to Sephiroth?" he heard the other ask.
Vaguely he was aware of his own response. "No," he said. "But I saw him."
He walked by, entering his quarters.
No one had much sleep that night. Nurses were preparing the dead to be sent back to their homes. Personal effects had been collected and placed in manilla envelopes. Other nurses tended the wounded, and the SOLDIERs who had not been hurt, or who had minor injuries, came to visit. Some SOLDIERs, angry and frustrated over the turnout of the battle, kept to themselves. For them it did not feel like a victory, even though they had beaten back the Wutai and they were grateful for that. But some had lost close comrades and friends. They could not feel like celebrating.
Sephiroth, his hair freshly washed and his arms crossed, was standing by the area where the coffins had been placed. He was an enigma to who all passed him, his eyes veiled and his visage impassive. But the men seemed grateful that he was there.
He had not seen Genesis since they had talked last night. But he had assumed that Angeal would have talked to him.
Genesis had felt that Sephiroth had spoken harshly. That had been obvious from his reaction. But Sephiroth would not have spoken at all if Genesis had not appeared and demanded to know why he was being so silent. Sephiroth had said that there was nothing to say, and he still felt like that. Of course what had happened had been terrible and tragic. They all knew it. But he had not realized that the only way to ache over the men's suffering was to talk about it.
He did not want to discuss it. But if Genesis had come to him solely wanting to express his own feelings and horror, Sephiroth would have been willing to listen and he would have extended support and sympathy. He simply did not find it fair for his own, personal views to be placed on trial. How he handled the combat's aftermath was his own business.
He hated the image in his mind of that young SOLDIER, fatally wounded, pleading with him to get a last message to his mother. Of course he would see that it was delivered. He would go personally, if possible.
And there were so many cases such as that--boys he had instructed for some time, strong and healthy . . . and then suddenly they were dying. He wanted to hide from even himself how that affected him. He did not want to know that it was tearing his soul to shreds. But of course he knew. During some quiet moments, he always knew.
He hated that, too.
He turned at the familiar voice. Genesis was approaching him, his expression sober and his eyes regretful.
"My friend, I was out of line last night," he said as he stopped in front of the General. "I am sorry."
Sephiroth blinked in surprise. But as quickly as the look had appeared, it had vanished again. The surprise in his heart, however, lingered.
"You were hurting," he said.
"So were you," Genesis returned. "I should not have spoken so rashly. I was blind to the truth."
Sephiroth half-turned. "What brought this on?" he asked, gazing out at the pre-dawn light on the horizon.
"I had time to think," Genesis said, then paused. "'There is no hate, only joy--for you are beloved by the Goddess. Hero of the dawn, healer of worlds.'"
Again Sephiroth was surprised. He raised an eyebrow as he turned back.
His expression said it all. "Loveless," Genesis explained.
Sephiroth gave a slow nod. ". . . I see. And you are relating this to me, how?"
Genesis smiled. "How would you interpret it?"
Sephiroth grunted. Debating the meaning of poetry, especially when it apparently concerned himself, was not something he had ever done. But it seemed to be part of Genesis's attempt to make amends, so it was only polite to humor him.
". . . It sounds as though you're saying you don't despise me, and that I'm favored by deity." Sephiroth crossed his arms. "I don't know that I would describe myself in such glowing terms as 'hero of the dawn' or 'healer of worlds.' Or even a healer of one world." He frowned. "There isn't a mortal who could heal a world."
"So modest. But you are Shinra's hero," Genesis said.
"It's not a title I wanted." Sephiroth looked to him.
Genesis smiled again. "You will need to get used to it."
"I suppose so." Sephiroth stared out at the increasing light. There was no tension now. In spite of the odd turn the conversation had taken, he was quite relaxed. He had been hurt, but that had faded. What he had said was true; he knew that Genesis had been devastated and had spoken thoughtlessly because of it. And it touched and still surprised him that Genesis had realized that his accusations were unkind. He had wondered if it would drive a wedge between them and their recent attempt at a friendship. That it would not cause permanent damage was a weight removed from his shoulders. And judging from Genesis's docile demeanor, he felt the same.
"Loveless is a fascinating piece of work," Genesis said now. "I could share it with you, if you would like."
Sephiroth shrugged. "I've never been much into poetry."
"Ah, but this one is especially intriguing for us," Genesis said. "It concerns three friends and their fates."
"I see." Sephiroth watched him. "How does it end?"
"No one knows." Genesis held up the treasured volume. "The final act is missing. But that has not stopped others from crafting their own."
"Including you," Sephiroth commented.
Genesis nodded. "I'm quite fond of my interpretation, if I may say so."
Sephiroth was amused in spite of himself. "Fine," he said. "If you want to read some of the poem to me, I'll listen."
Genesis's eyes lit up. He opened the book to the first page. "'Infinite in mystery is the gift of the Goddess,'" he began.
Sephiroth watched him at first. But then he looked out at the coming sun, allowing the images in the poem to paint the scenes in his mind. For now, the feeling of calm was continuing. It was welcome, especially after the night they had all experienced. Strange, how at this moment it felt as if all would be well. Last night there had been such devastation and despair.
Angeal, observing them quietly from around a corner, smiled to himself. Sephiroth might regret this once Genesis would start quoting Loveless to him every day. But at least the disagreement was mended.
The sensation of unity extended to Angeal as well.