( sephiroth & aerith )

Disclaimer: I do not own anything -- Square does, to their greatest benefit and my greatest displeasure. But not really. It would take to much effort that I would never be able to give. Damn.

"I'm sorry about the mess!" Aerith squeaked after she shut the door, beyond embarrassed. Sephiroth was here, in her kitchen -- Zack's kitchen -- and it was a complete mess. Looking down at her clothes, she could feel the heat rushing to her cheeks; nevermind the kitchen, she was a mess! Gently brushing herself off, though it didn't do very much for her, she tried to think of a way to make this better and... less awkward, which was exactly the tone of the atmosphere at this particular moment.

Sephiroth said nothing in response, only serving to make her more self-conscious. He no doubt felt he couldn't be bothered to deign her with a response because she was such a sight.

All the while such thoughts were spinning through Aerith's mind, Sephiroth was disconcerted to find that the slip of a girl who'd opened the door, all smiles, could now no longer meet his eyes with her own. Perhaps it was the fact that he was being so quiet. Or perhaps it was the fact that he was indeed Sephiroth. He nearly sighed. He should have known, being that she was of the female variety. Although... he'd had yet to ever meet someone who wouldn't look him in the eyes. Much to his dismay, his presence demanded the action or else risk coming off as disrespectful and offensive -- or so they believed.

He decided that would be his icebreaker question. "Why do you stare at the floor so much in my company? However short of company we've ever been to each other anyway."

Her head snapped up and she looked stricken and panicked for a moment, before he caught the slight turning up of her lips. "Do you know who you are?"

"Clearly. But I've never commanded any sort of--"

"I know, I'm sorry... I just... I'm not used to you and to... this." She interrupted, gesturing to him and the room respectively. "You make me nervous. And I'm sorry about that." She added quickly, fidgeting and she gave him an apologetic smile as she turned to walk back into the kitchen. "I'll try to work on that."

"There is no need to be nervous. I pose no threat to you."

She looked down at the floor, gathering herself, before sucking in a deep breath and investing all her enthusiasm into a wide grin, clapping her hands together and nodding her head. "Okay!"

He was nothing less than amused. He didn't let it show.

She faltered only slightly. Well, she thought, she was going to have to work hard to crack him a little bit -- he probably had a lovely smile! Unaccustomed to long, tense silences, she felt she was more than welcome to break the one that ensued between them. "So you came here to see Zack?"

"Yes. And no."

"Oh?" She asked and he cursed the nervousness that appeared once again in her voice. He wasn't sure why.

"I needed to relay something to him. However, I was also interested in asking you a few questions. Nothing personal, but nothing terribly airy either."

"Oh." Her tone changed instantly and he could almost see the muscles tense beneath her porcelain skin, even from where he was sitting on the other side of the room. "What did you want to know?"

"What do you mean there's none left!?" Zack yelled at Kunsei, only slightly gasping for breath. He and Cloud had just finished his first training session, which had gone on longer than they had intended and now they'd found they had missed out on the main portions of dinner. Zack was especially upset by this. "I love those little green balls!"

"I took what was left..." Kunsei explained, shrugging and eyeing Zack as if he were crazy -- which was certainly how he was acting. "I was the last one to grab food. Where were you?"

"Busy!" Zack offered, plunking himself down onto the bench opposite Kunsei. Grabbing his friends fork -- "hey!" -- he started shovelling his peas down before Kunsei could react.


Cloud shook his head at the raven haired man's antics.

"I gotta eat fast, damn it!" He spoke with his mouth full, making it just a little hard to understand, but both Cloud and Kunsei got the idea.

"Why? You usually put it off as long as possible cause you're always bored." Kunsei said.

"Er..." Zack stopped eating, his mind racing to catch up with his mouth. Did he just say that!? "I want a shower! Cloud made me all sweaty!"

The moment of silence spoke volumes.

"I'm leaving!"

"I want the Ancient and I want her now!" Hojo fumed, pounding his fist on the heavily structured steel table. Tseng looked back at him with a calm and composed expression, completely unaffected by the older man's outburst. He was used to it.

"We have not been able to locate her as of late... Odd, because she has never eluded us like this before."

"Did you give her any sign of your following her more than usual? Did you scare her off? I swear to you, Tseng, if you gave her warning of my request I will have your title stripped from you so fast you won't know what hit you." He snarled nastily, fixing cold, hard brown eyes on the Wutain Turk in front of him. Hojo wasn't quite sure that threat held any kind of power, but he would damn well try if he didn't get what he wanted.

What he needed.

"And you know what happens when a Turk is stripped of their title."

"I don't know why you would think--"

"I know of your close relationship with her. You watched over her for many years at Shinra's request and you may have grown... too attached, shall we say."

"I can assure you," Tseng retorted, his tone finally carrying a semblance of defense within it, "that I have done nothing to alert her to you. However, if you believe me ill-suited for the job, I would welcome you to any number of less than capable alternatives."

"See that you find her." Hojo whispered. "See that you find her quickly. My patience is wearing thin -- I have waited in the shadows for too long to get the go ahead for this project. It could bring us great things, you know."

"That is a matter of opinion."

"You Turks need to learn your place, Tseng. Mouthy comments like that will get you nowhere with some people." Hojo said, shaking his head in disapproval. "You may even end up next on my list."


"Of experiments. There is always a shortage of subjects, you know..."

Tseng couldn't believe what he was hearing and he was beyond disgusted. Hojo had always had a screw loose, but he was sure that their inability to capture Aerith was starting to pull a few more.

He'd be damned if he ever intentionally found that girl.

"You can stuff your threats down your test tubes for someone else, Hojo. Turks do not respond well to them, especially not me. You will have the girl when I find her -- if I find her."

Hojo turned his back on the man without another word and started pulling various columns of tubes from his shelves, filled with what looked to be various concoctions of mako and other unpleasant liquids. Tseng did the same and turned his own back on the scientist.

Mad scientist, Tseng amended as he left the laboratory. He had no desire to spend any more time in the room with that particular company.

"I mean no disrespect to you. I am simply curious." Sephiroth tried to rectify what had obviously been a mistake of sorts; the subject was a touchy one, which he'd had no doubts about from the beginning, but the last thing he felt like doing was upsetting her. Emotional females of any kind were not people he would willingly submit himself to.

She sighed. "It's just a fairly... important subject to some. I never know what people are asking for and why."

He nodded. Understandable. "You are of the Cetran race. The last, for certain?"

"Yes. If there were others, I would be able to feel it." She smiled sadly. "It's pretty lonely sometimes, knowing I'm different and having nobody to share my... uniqueness with."

"I can imagine."

She eyed him in a startlingly uncomfortable way. He felt like she could see right through him and it was ruffling. Those eyes held a phenomenal amount of untapped power and he could see it swirling within her. He waited for the question he knew she was debating to ask all the while trying to relax under her gaze; he'd never been comfortable being a subject of study. Sure enough, "Zack said you felt similar to how I feel, or something like that. In what way? If it's not too much to ask, of course!" She blushed, flustered as she once again realized just who it was she was talking to. Getting over that fact was clearly going to be difficult for her!

He made a small shrugging motion. "I suppose in the way that I am, being different from all of the other Soldiers in power and intellect of battle sets me apart." He said nothing more and she felt satisfied enough with the answer, not wanting to pry when she knew exactly how that felt.

"But yes, I am the last Cetra."

"That is cause enough for questions and speculation." He said, referring to her earlier comment of never knowing why people asked her some questions. "Be them good or bad intentions."

"Right," she agreed. "But some could use more tact."

"But... being that you're here, there must have been someone alive before you." Damn, this was a personal question, he thought. So much for not asking them.

She seemed more troubled by this question than the first and he decided this entire venture was a bad idea. He could do research through books and Shinra's computers -- he had access to everything he could possibly need. But before he could retract the question and the proposition of questions, she answered him.

"My mother died after getting me out of this building when I was younger. They took us captive when I was just born and we were kept here for... god knows how long, I can't remember and I never asked. But she was injured from what they did to her here and like I said, she died. She was the last full Cetra." Her voice was level even as she finished. Memories were resurfacing in her mind however, of her mother's face. If she went on any more she would only start to get upset.

"Full Cetra?"

"My father was human. I do know that much, though I don't know who he is." She explained. "Making me a--"

"Half Cetra." He finished for her. "Interesting." And he certainly sounded interested. Though not in a psycho way like he was used to and that made her feel a little better about him being here, asking these things.

The lock in the door turned suddenly which made Aerith's head spin around to watch the door. Sephiroth didn't make any kind of motion to indicate he even heard anything, though she knew he had.

"Home sweet home!" Zack cried, walking in and slamming the door behind him, just barely forgetting to lock it. "Woah!" He exclaimed at seeing the mess of his kitchen, but Aerith smiled with giddy happiness when his eyes widened to the size of one-hundred-gil coins in amazement and wonder at the sight of cupcakes and cookies. "NO WAY!" He said, running over.

She giggled. "Yes way!" He was just an overgrown child sometimes.

"You're awesome!" He said, pecking her on the cheek before stuffing two cookies into his mouth.

"Zack!" Aerith scolded, placing her hands on her hips. "Offer some to our visitor first!"

Zack spun around in bewilderment. "Visi-- Sephiroth!" He grabbed another cookie and threw it at the general. "Have some happiness!"

The silver-haired warrior caught it deftly. "I do no--"

"Eat it!"



"Is it always like this when you walk through the door?"

"Hey!" Zack retorted, indignation apparent through his body movement. "I had a good day."

"We can tell." Aerith smiled, getting back to work on making those cookies and cupcakes. Sephiroth had distracted her, because she had meant to have more done for Zack. He would go through the bunch she'd made far too quickly.

"So, whatcha doing here, Seph?" Zack asked, sitting down across from Sephiroth and laying back to relax. "Chattin' up my girl here?"

"Zack--" Aerith tried to interject, but he moved on like she hadn't spoken.

"Kidding, she's not my girl, but maybe she can be yours, who knows--"

"Zack!" Aerith tried again, firmer this time.

"I was here simply to ask her a few questions about her background." Sephiroth replied, brushing off Zack's continual hints towards his love life or lack thereof. "And I was actually here to tell you that I will help you."

"Seriously?" Zack grinned, sitting up straight. "Thanks Sephiroth, you have no idea how much this means to me -- us." He launched himself at Sephiroth for a friendly hug at which Sephiroth stiffened until he let go. "You'll be getting more of those, man, so get used to it!"

Sephiroth sighed inaudibly and stood. "I should be leaving now. Some may begin to wonder why I spend periods of time in this room."

"Some people are so uptight here." Zack agreed, clapping the taller man on the shoulder.

"This is a military academy, Zack." Sephiroth reminded, raising an eyebrow at him. "They are usually uptight for good reason in military academies."

"Fine, but who would believe you would be like that anyway? You're such a ladies' man!"


"Bye Sephiroth!" Aerith chirped from behind them, the first words she'd said since he'd mentioned his decision to help them. He was a little shaken by the tears sitting in her eyes, though she was wiping them away... Sephiroth nodded his acknowledgement and return of the sentiment before opening the door and stepping out with Zack. When Zack had closed the door behind them, Sephiroth nodded back towards the room.

"Be careful with how loud you two get. These walls are supposed to be perfectly soundproof, but there are no guarantees."

"Heheh... loud, huh?"

"You know perfectly well what I mean." Sephiroth responded dryly, conjuring up different ways of shutting Zack's perverted mind off.

"Yeah, yeah. Stop worrying. And seriously Seph, thank you."

He nodded once more and Zack scratched the back of his head. "We need to work on those communication skills, my friend. And by the way... do you think you can keep coming to visit Aerith every so often? She wants to get to know you more, I think and from what I could gather from you, you're pretty interested yourself. Not that way," Zack added when Sephiroth shot him a look, "but I mean, knowing her background and stuff. You seem pretty interested. If you can become friends, she'd be comfortable around you and you would have the pleasure or retrieving some more information. Though... I'd like to see you two interact over more than that."

"Are you finished?"

"No." Zack grinned.

"I see." Sephiroth turned and started walking away. "I told you I'd help you and I suppose part of that includes getting her to trust me. I will visit here, though I will not be conforming to your unspoken thoughts."

"Damn, are you a general of battle and reading thoughts now, too?"

"No, but I fear I already know you too well."

And Zack liked how he really sounded to fear that.

"You know, I thought he was cold and terse his last visit... but he was so much more... open. Not open open, but you know, better." Aerith said quietly to Zack as they laid beside each other in Zack's bed. It was late in the night now and the kitchen was clean, as well as the baker herself. "I liked that he came to see me today. It was enjoyable, though I was uncomfortable in the beginning. I hate being asked questions about my heritage, but he seemed genuinely sincere about not wanting to pry."

"He was probably feeling better being around you because he'd decided he would help." Zack ventured. "As for the questions... he's just interested in the Cetra like everybody else, but he respects boundaries."

"You think he'll befriend me? I tried to get some sort of friendly reaction from him today, but nothing worked..." She frowned.

"It'll take a bit. Don't worry, he'll come around." He reassured.

"I'm relieved he's going to help us."


"So what did you do today when you left?" Aerith switched the subject, feeling a little drowsy, but deciding she wanted to focus on Zack and his day before she really called the day quits. He'd looked so happy when he walked through the door today. She made mention of that.

"My best friend, Cloud, is an infantryman in Shinra right now. I told him today I'd train with him to help him in rising through the ranks of Soldier til' he hit First Class. We'd have a blast on missions. He was in such awe and he surprised me when we finished our first session today... he has a lot of potential and I think he'll start to realize it with my help and start to feel less shy and awkward. Maybe he'll let himself shine and the higher ups will finally see it."

"Cloud, huh? What a cute name. Does he look as cute as he sounds?"

"You'd probably love his hair. It's bright, bright blond and spiky. Looks just like a chocobo!" He laughed and Aerith laughed with him as an image invaded her mind's eye.

"I wish I could meet him." She smiled.

"Me too." He sighed, turning on his side to face her. "Maybe when this is all over... you can meet him. He'd instantly like you."

"I think I'd like him, too. He sounds sweet." She smiled.

He nodded and stretched. "Tired?" He asked as she yawned. She nodded.

"Making cookies and cupcakes for you took all the energy out of me!"

"Yeah right!"

"We're such cases..."

"Yeah, but it works." He smirked.

"You're right!" She acquiesced and she didn't feel much like talking anymore. Zack obviously felt the same as he followed her lead. He quickly fell asleep and as he snored, she continued to think, suddenly unable to sleep. Thoughts about Sephiroth kept popping up in her mind, distracting her from everything else.

Sephiroth pulled something inside of her, she admitted. When he had talked to her today, she found herself mesmerized. Probably all boiling down to the usual celebrity-feel he had, but she liked to think it was something else. They had things in common, being outcasts of a sort. He'd made a good point saying his power set him apart. He was very much different from any other Soldier the world ever had and no doubt ever would come across. He was unique.

Just like her.

And now she wanted to get under that hard shell and see the real man underneath it all. Zack had no clue how much his encouragement was working.

Mostly, she wanted to see him smile. She had gotten the impression very quickly that it was something he rarely ever did and it seemed so wrong.

She would get him to smile, she decided. And she would make this situation work the best it possibly could.