Final Fantasy VII
Notes: The characters from the games are not mine. The other characters and the story are mine! This is the third part of my pre-Nibelheim Wutai "Shine" trilogy. Unlike the other two, it will focus more on natural disasters instead of man-made disasters. I set up the situation at the end of When the Stars Shine Brightest and have planned ever since then to write it. The prompt Blizzard from 10 Hurt Comfort encouraged and inspired me, too. Many thanks to Lisa, Kaze, and anyone else who offers plot help!
Far From Home
Sephiroth moved his last necessary gamepiece into position, successfully trapping his opponent's king.
Zack leaned back, throwing his hands in the air as he stared at the board. "That's the third time in a row!" he exclaimed, stretching to get the cricks out of his muscles. "Maybe I'm just not cut out for this game."
"It takes a lot of methodical planning and strategizing," Sephiroth said. "That's difficult for someone as focused on action as you."
"Yeah, I guess." Zack yawned. "Oh well. It's something to do."
To the side of the table, snow was visible blowing past the window. It was almost completely sideways, evidence that the blizzard had not calmed in the least. There were moments when it waned, only to come back in full force once again. And though the Wutaian palace retreat was shielded from some of the very worst of Nature's storm, it had still been attacked. Snow was packing on many of the outside walls.
Sephiroth and Zack were safe and warm inside, but Zack was growing restless after two days of being stuck inside. He had already tried roasting marshmallows, which Seph had agreed to participate in, and telling spooky stories--which Seph had not agreed to participate in. Today, having discovered a chessboard belonging to one of the advisers, he had taken it to Seph and suggested that they play. But due to Zack's desire to charge forward and attack instead of making preparations, games were short.
Sephiroth leaned back, crossing his arms. He would be lying if he said he did not want a bigger challenge from his opponent. He rarely played chess anymore, as it was difficult to find good opposition. In the past, he had played against Angeal, and now and then Genesis--who had been quite good at it because of his cunning. Sometimes, one game had lasted for an hour or more.
But Sephiroth was infinitely thankful that Zack was here to play against, even if the games did not last long. For endless weeks he had believed Zack had been killed in an explosion by a terrorist group. It had only been several days since Sephiroth had been led to the people who had been nursing Zack back to health. Miraculously, Zack had plunged into the ocean and had been carried to the stream outside their home. Zack was still recovering, but he had greatly improved--though he needed to stay off his leg after all the overexertion of the days before they had become confined here in the retreat.
Sephiroth looked to him. "What."
Zack gave him an innocent look. "Can we make a snow fort?"
Sephiroth continued to stare. ". . . A snow fort," he repeated.
Zack nodded. "Yuffie said the kids around here like to build things with the snow," he said. "Snowmen, snow forts. . . . It sounds fun!" He gestured with his arms over his head.
"You want me to go outside, get on my hands and knees, and begin constructing an edifice made of ice crystals?"
Zack shrugged. "Well . . . yeah," he said. "I figured you'd like that better than making a snowman. A snow fort would be a challenge! We could put it up near the back patio. The snow's not blowing so hard over there." He grinned. "Then we could have a snowball war with Yuffie or something."
"A war with pieces of snow," Sephiroth remarked. "Am I supposed to find that impressive?"
"No . . ." Zack said slowly. "But you could find it fun!"
"And why are you so eager to get out into the cold?" Sephiroth asked, even though he really knew the reason.
"Because I'm going out of my head!" Zack cried. "Oh please, Seph, let's go outside! I wanna make some pleasant memories with snow!" And he looked at his best friend with mournful lavender eyes.
Sephiroth looked back, unimpressed. "Don't give me that look," he said.
Zack blinked. "Why?" he said. "'Cause you can't resist?"
"No," Sephiroth retorted. "Because you look like a sad puppy."
Zack grinned. "Can we go?"
Sephiroth's expression was stern. "You might overexert yourself again," he said.
"I'll be careful!" Zack chirped. Seph was relenting. After all their time together, he could tell.
Sephiroth grunted. "You'd better be," he said, pushing back the chair as he stood up.
At the same time, he had to wonder what on earth he was doing. He was going to humor Zack and play in the snow? He, the great General of SOLDIER? What was his willpower coming to, that this boy could break down all of his resolve? And worse still, that he really did not mind? Ah, if Hojo could see him now. He would mock and berate his former charge. Sephiroth was going soft. He would not make a good General if his heart was like a marshmallow.
But right now he was not on duty. He was spending time with Zack as a friend, not as the military commander. And if he thought Zack absolutely should not go outside, of course he would not encourage it. But Zack could likely stand it, even though he was not completely healed. If he started to move too much, then Sephiroth would put his foot down.
"You'll need to find appropriate clothing," he said.
Zack gave an eager nod. "'Course!" he said. "And you'll need to close your coat."
Sephiroth made a sound of displeasure. Though of course he knew it was true. He reached up, beginning to pull the edges of the dark cloth together.
And that was how the great General of SOLDIER found himself packing snow together in a wall formation twenty minutes later. Zack was beside him, gleefully making a corner.
"We'll be all secure in here!" he chirped. "And protected from Yuffie's attacks."
Sephiroth grunted. "I draw the line at a battle of snow," he said.
"Aww, Seph!" Zack shifted position in the powder, starting the second wall. "Just a little one?"
"No," Sephiroth retorted. "I really don't know why I'm out here at all."
Zack grinned. "Because you wanna spend time with your best buddy," he said. "And maybe you're ungodly bored, too."
"I'm sure I could find other ways to amuse myself if I was that bored," Sephiroth said.
Secretly he was amused by Zack's interest in the snow, especially considering the jungle village where Zack had been raised. Zack had not experienced snow very much other than the time he and Sephiroth had been stranded on the Northern Continent, but instead of having an aversion to it because of that, he was still fascinated.
Then again, Zack's phobia was floods, not snow--and even then, he loved water and he loved to swim.
Sephiroth himself was fairly indifferent to snow. It looked nice enough, as long as one did not have to travel in it. The sight of snow that had already been well-traveled was repulsive. And he was usually annoyed by children's snow games, particularly throwing snowballs.
Even so, Genesis had once tried to lure him into a snowball fight. But when Sephiroth had responded by cutting the snowball in half with the Masamune, the "battle" had turned into a competition of how many snowballs each could slice with his sword as they were being thrown by Angeal.
Foolish games. They had used to engage in such ridiculous and random activities. Another one had been placing apples on each other's heads and spearing the fruit. With their heightened abilities, it had not been as dangerous as it would have been for other people. Though of course an accident could have always happened, even with SOLDIERs. But it hadn't; Sephiroth was derisive now mainly because it seemed a complete waste of time.
He came back to the present. By now they had a good-sized wall on two sides and it was almost time to start the third.
"Did you ever play in the snow? I mean . . . when you were a kid."
"Midgar snow isn't fit for anyone to play in," Sephiroth responded. "Nevertheless, I did try it once. Gast was the scientist with me at the time, and he didn't mind if I occasionally reveled in my youth."
"Didn't you like it?" Zack asked, blinking at him.
Sephiroth shrugged. "For a short while," he admitted. He had really liked it a great deal, but he had trained himself to not care--once he had realized that it would not likely ever happen again. Gast had vanished and Hojo had kept a much closer watch on Sephiroth. Playing in the snow--or playing at all, for that matter--had not been allowed.
"As I grew older, I immersed myself in my training and my studies," he continued now. "I didn't have time for children's games."
"And that was the only time you were in the snow?" Zack exclaimed in disbelief.
Sephiroth made a grunting sound in his throat. "Much later, Genesis and I used to engage in silly competitions," he said. "They involved slicing airborne snowballs with our swords."
"Sounds fun!" Zack chirped.
Sephiroth shook his head. "It was pointless," he said.
Zack shrugged. "It wasn't hurting anything," he said. "Did you like it?"
"At the time," Sephiroth replied, "but mostly because I enjoyed the competition. It was an innocent test of skills and a game to me; I didn't know Genesis felt any different. Maybe at that point, he didn't."
"It would be a game to me!" Zack said.
Sephiroth allowed a vague smile. "I know."
"So why couldn't we do this more?" Zack asked, patting down the snow wall.
Sephiroth grunted. "I don't have the time, or the interest," he said.
"You have the time right now," Zack said. "Don't you have at least some interest?"
Sephiroth shrugged. "I'm interested because you're interested."
"Well, that's a start!" Zack grinned. "Don't worry, I'm gonna make sure you get connected with your second childhood!"
". . . That's a very frightening proposition," Sephiroth said, and meant it. Images of him swinging on swings and going down slippery slides danced through his mind. Immediately he resolved to block them out. "I'm content to remain who and what I already am."
"There wouldn't be anything different about you!" Zack protested. "We'd just be drawing out the you that hides all the time."
"There's a reason why he seems to hide," Sephiroth grunted. "He doesn't exist. There is no secret me, as you are hoping to find--a me who would play in the snow and do all manner of ridiculous things." Not only was it unacceptable for the General to do such activities, but he himself did not have the least bit of desire to engage in most of them. Building a snow fort was as far as his patience for snow games would go, and Zack realized it. He might want Seph to do more, but he would not keep pushing unless he knew it was something Seph would agree to try sooner or later.
"We could make snow angels!" Zack chirped.
"You actually think I would lay on the ground and wave my arms and legs like an idiot?"
Zack smirked. "Nope," he said. "Doesn't hurt to ask, though."
"Even as a child, I thought that seemed ridiculous," Sephiroth said.
"You're helping with the snow fort," Zack pointed out.
"Which is also ridiculous, really, unless you're in a situation where you have to live in one," Sephiroth said.
"Then it's educational," Zack grinned. "Learning how to make them, I mean."
"Except a necessary snow fort would be small, to conserve heat," Sephiroth remarked.
"And don't expect me to like the idea of snowball wars," he went on. "There is not any situation where that kind of knowledge would be needed." It was completely pointless, and he doubted that he would ever enjoy the concept.
"What about fresh snowballs?" Zack said, and promptly plopped pure white powder on Seph's head.
No one else would have dared to do such a thing, let alone do it and expect to not be reprimanded. Sephiroth sat very still for a moment, pondering on this action. Then he gathered some more clean snow in his hands. In a perfectly calm and deadpan way, he deposited it among Zack's spikes.
Zack yelped in shock as the snow journeyed over his face. Other ice crystals made their way down the back of his neck and into his shirt.
"That," Sephiroth said, his voice matter-of-fact, "is what I think."
Zack brushed the flakes out of his raven spikes. "Aww, you're just a big softie!" he declared.
"I'm returning an eye for an eye," Sephiroth said. "There's nothing soft about that."
Zack poked him on the arm. "Admit it, Seph!" he said. "You're having a good time."
Sephiroth crossed his arms. "Alright," he said. "You're having a good time." And he smirked.
Yes, he was enjoying himself.
But that had more to do with his present company than the snow.
Both Sephiroth and Zack started and looked up at the emperor's concerned voice. Godo Kisaragi had stepped onto the far side of the patio without either of them hearing. His expression was grave.
Sephiroth rose in an instant. Zack tried to follow suit, going more slowly because of his bad leg. He grabbed for his cane, which he had propped against the snow wall.
"What is it?" Sephiroth asked.
"We are receiving a distress call on your SOLDIER radio," Godo said, "but the signal is very weak."
Immediately Sephiroth was crossing the patio to the sliding door leading inside. Zack hobbled after him, worried.
"Can anything they're saying be made out?" he exclaimed.
Godo turned to walk back inside the retreat. "There is a great deal of static," he said, "but it sounds as though they're saying they are trapped somewhere."
Sephiroth and Zack followed after him, pausing only to remove their snow-covered boots at the door before proceeding down the long hall. This was most serious. If someone was in need, SOLDIER would have to answer the call. And in a storm of this magnitude, there were so many things that could go wrong--particularly when a large number of villages and towns were close to the mountains. Those areas would get much more snow than in the valleys, and of course avalanches were a greater danger.
Soon they were at the room that housed the communications system, which overlooked a village at the bottom of the mountain. Two Second Class SOLDIERs were sitting at a table, adjusting the radio's controls as the static crackled throughout the space. Every now and then, part of a word slipped through, but the rest was drowned in the static.
Sephiroth came forward to the table. "What's the situation?" he asked.
The first SOLDIER looked up as he continued to shift the aeriel's position. "Sir, all we've been able to learn is that they're stranded somewhere," he said. "I think an avalanche may have hit part of their village."
The noise lessened. Sephiroth picked up the complaining microphone. "Come in!" he called. "This is General Sephiroth.of SOLDIER. Are you there?"
The static crackled once more. A heavily-accented voice struggled to be heard.
". . . Trapped! . . . Wife . . . baby . . ."
An especially rude bit of static interrupted. The Second Class SOLDIER again wrestled with the dials.
"Where are you?" Sephiroth demanded.
"Fu . . . y . . . ki!"
Sephiroth narrowed his eyes. The static was getting worse. He could barely understand what had gotten through, and he still needed to put the rest of it together.
"Is anyone hurt?" he asked.
"My wife! . . . The house . . ." It was hopeless. The signal faded altogether, swallowed up in the static.
Sephiroth thrust the microphone back to the table. Taking a pad of paper, he scribbled down what he had been able to hear. Then he frowned, picking up the pad.
"When I asked where they were, I heard 'Fu y ki'," he said, looking over to Zack. "That could be 'Fuyaki', but it seemed longer than that."
"Fumiyaki," Godo mused. "A village thirty to forty minutes from here by car." His eyes narrowed. "In this storm cars could never make it."
Zack gripped the cane in horror. "But those people!" he exclaimed. "We've gotta get to them! That guy sounded like he was at his wit's end! He said his wife was hurt! And something about a baby!"
Sephiroth set the pad down. "A chocobo could make the journey," he said. "I'm going."
"You can't go alone!" Zack declared. "I'm coming with you!"
Sephiroth whirled back, his expression a mixture of stern anger and worry. "You are staying here," he retorted. "Ever since I found you, you haven't been able to recover in peace." Part of him wondered if he should have left Zack at the Motos' home, instead of bringing him along. But at the time he had feared that the terrorists would attack the Motos and Zack would be in more danger there. Perhaps he would have been; there was no way to know.
"So I'd be able to be at peace if you go off somewhere?!" Zack cried. "I'll be worried sick the whole time! Besides, Seph . . ." He stepped closer. "I didn't remember who I was for over a month! It was only when you found me that it all started coming back. And I'm not letting you go off into something else dangerous without me! What if there's an avalanche or something?"
"What if there is," Sephiroth returned, "and you can't outrun it because of your leg?"
"What if there's one here?" Zack exclaimed, throwing his arms out in emphasis. "There's other mountains higher than this one."
Sephiroth grunted. That, unfortunately, was true. Avalanche-wise, Zack would not necessarily be more safe staying behind.
The other SOLDIERs remained quiet as they watched, not wanting to interfere. This was personal between the General and his second-in-command.
Zack looked up at his best friend, both pleading and determined. "We're a team, you and me," he said, lowering his voice. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Sephiroth looked back. ". . . I wasn't going to go alone," he said at last. "I was going to take some of the other SOLDIERs with me. And I still am." With that he started to walk past, his long hair swishing with the motion.
Zack grabbed for him in desperation. "Seph . . . !" He did not want to be left behind. That would be the worst possible Hell for him in these circumstances. He had to go with Seph. He would not be useless; he had helped a great deal during the terrorist problems. He would be able to help now, too--tending to injuries, keeping people calm . . . heck, entertaining scared kids! He was good at that. And he would be able to assure himself of Seph's safety, instead of worrying wondering if he was okay.
Sephiroth grunted, never looking back. "Pack whatever you think you might need," he said. "We're leaving as soon as we gather supplies and chocobos." With that he walked on.
Zack stood still for a moment, gawking after him. Then he brightened. "You're the best!" he exclaimed, hurrying out the door to head for their quarters.
The Second Class SOLDIERs observed, shaking their heads. They were not surprised by this result.
Neither was Sephiroth. He watched the brunet go, massaging his eyes with a tired sigh.
He had better not regret this.
He could not bear for Zack to be hurt any more.
"General?" He could hear Godo's voice behind him. "Are you certain this is wise?"
"No," Sephiroth retorted. "I'm not certain at all." He stepped into the corridor. "But what Zack said is true--he would not be able to sit still the entire time I'd be gone in this blizzard, and that could be more than a day. I doubt he would sleep, and he might not even eat. All of that might be more destructive for him than if he comes with me now."
"Yes," Godo agreed, "I can understand your logic. But that does not change that something drastic could happen if he goes with you, as well."
"If it does," Sephiroth said, "then that's the last time I'll ever give in to his pleas if he should be resting." With that he walked ahead, leaving no room for arguments.
Godo sighed to himself. "I believe you, my friend," he said, his gaze following Sephiroth's retreating back. "And I know that your decisions are always based upon what you feel would be best.
"I pray that you are not wrong this time."