Fatal Beatings

All characters and events are fictious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright ©Micheal Lee and Square Enix. All rights reserved. No portion of this work of fiction may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission from the author.

The cool and pleasant air wafting from two air conditioners that were placed on either side of the ornate room did very little to lower his burgeoning anxiety as the burly, bespectacled chap with butter brown hair and startling helio blue eyes sat in an armchair that was much too large for him. His forehead was crowned with diamonds of sweat, and occasionally, he would bring forth a dainty silk handkerchief to dab them away before loosening his necktie slightly more. This middle-aged man was dressed plainly, but formally, for he was anticipating an audience with the Great General Sephiroth, about a matter regarding his son. A stolen glance at the analogue clock nailed to the wall told him that many minutes had passed since his arrival here.

This morning, he had received a call from the high-ranking man, requesting him to be present at his son's Academy to discuss some matters. The General did not mention what, but the blue-eyed man suspected it could be serious. For someone so stoic and cold-hearted (and by far the best warrior in the world) to be calling him, it seemed that trouble had rose to a certain level. In a way, he himself feared the legendary fighter of SOLDIER, and almost dreaded the four-hour drive from Nibelheim to Midgar. Haughty and proud, he was, and as frigid as an icicle.

His eyes, sparkling even though they did without the aid of Mako energy, danced skittishly around the room, from the smooth mahogany desk before him, to the brass handle of the doorknob that lay unturned behind his back. Tapered fingers, slender but not elegant, entwined themselves and nestled comfortably upon one kneecap, whilst his feet tapped in an artless dance. When all the other objects around the room bore him, he switched his attention to the General's working desk. The fair-haired man was beyond impressed. Each item lay in its respective receptacle and there was not a mote of dust to be seen adorning the impeccably polished surface of the table, nor amidst the materials. Several battered books lay stacked neatly at one corner of the table, musty pages preserving a world of knowledge waiting to be read, wearing thin from years of being fondled by hundreds of scholars. They came from one of the several locked cupboards east of whence he sat, and he was quite keen on inspecting them when something else caught his eye.

A pale hand surreptiously crept towards a leather-bound book that he spied and slowly turned it around so that the title of it was more readable to him. 'Recent Developments in Mako Energy by Adelbert E. Steiner,' he mouthed the words imperceptibly, brow furrowing in thought while a frown tugged at the corners of his lips. He would not know a great deal about this energy they sucked from the earth and the miracles it could do, but he did know that its sources were depleting drastically, and it would not be too soon that the planet would be left with nothing. Barren. Unable to thrive. Dry.

Footfalls, as silent as settling dust, descended around his ears. Shutting the book and returning it to its original position by the other stationary, the blond stranger assumed his former pose in his seat. The sound of booted feet came as a warning to him after such a long wait; his host probably deemed it polite to hark his entrance, lest his guest was caught sticking his fingers in places he oughtn't.

With barely more than a creak, the door to the Great General's office opened to reveal a tall and handsome man with perfectly chiselled features. His eyes were god-touched – a remarkable shade of aquamarine, and his hair cascaded in silver waterfalls below his shoulder guards and came to rest just above his rear. Sephiroth gave a curt nod at his golden-haired guest and sauntered in gracefully, his black leather outfit squeaking in complaint as he did so. It was only then did the bespectacled man notice that the General was balancing what seemed to be a tea tray in his arms, complete with two china cups, a teapot, a bowl of sugar and a cup of cream.

'Good morning, Mr. Strife. It was good of you to come,' said Sephiroth in a gratifying tone as he set the tray down between himself and his guest. Apparently too stunned for words, the latter merely nodded mutely as he watched the imposing SOLDIER legend pour cream and tea into their separate cups, before stirring it gently with a silver spoon. Mr. Strife resisted the overwhelming urge to raise a shaggy brown eyebrow in the silver-haired man's direction. He certainly had heard nothing about him being temperate off the battlefield!

Once finished, the black-clad man seated himself and folded his hands together in a business-like manner in one fluid motion. Leaning forward slightly, he continued, 'I realise that you're a busy man, but I did not think this matter could be discussed over the electric telephone.'

'Oh, no. Absolutely, General,' Mr. Strife blathered nervously. 'But if my Cloud is in some sort of trouble, then I'd like to know about it right away.' Tentatively, he extended an arm to draw his teacup towards him. The brew was a little hot, but the tendrils of steam it gave off that assailed the blond man's nose promised a rich taste.

Sephiroth's eyes never once left his gaze as he nodded in understanding. 'Well, quite frankly, Cloud is in trouble.' Only when he sense a little uncertainty on the parent's part did he take it as an indication to resume, 'Recently, his behaviour has left a great deal to be desired. He seems to take no interest in school life whatsoever.' Mr. Strife shot him a puzzled look. 'He refuses to participate in the sports feud, and it's been a week since his instructors have received any written work from him.'

'Oh dear …' He watched as the shorter man's mouth scrunched up in a poor imitation of an "O", of which he covered with one hand. Even after slumping against the chair, his bushy eyebrows remained adamantly crossed.

Calm, aloof and composed as he had always been, General Sephiroth folded his long legs and sat languidly with his cup in the cushion of his leather gloves, ready to take another sip. 'Quite frankly, Mr. Strife, if he wasn't dead, I'd have him expelled.'

Mr. Strife was quite positive he had misheard the man who continued savouring his nettled brew even as the person he addressed gawked stupidly at him.

'Beg your pardon?'

Green eyes appraised him. 'Yes, expelled!' their owner laughed derisively. 'If I wasn't making allowances for the fact that your son is dead, he'd be out on his rear!' he added, thumbing in the other direction.

Cloud's father was downright incredulous. There must have been some slight error. 'Cloud is dead?'

'Yes! He's lying up there in Sick Bay now, stiff as a board and brrright grrreen.' The silver-haired General put down his cup in the saucer and stood up so he could walk around the fair bloke. Placing his hands behind his back, he said, 'And this is rather typical of his current attitude. You see, the boy has no sense of moderation. One moment he's flying around like a paper kite, and the next he's completely immovable!' He paused to glance at the other man. 'And beginning to smell.'

'But how did he die?' cried Mr. Strife, wringing his hands in his messy hair.

Raising a slender eyebrow at him, Sephiroth enquired, 'Well, is that important?'

'Well, yes, I think so!' said Mr. Strife indignantly.

'It's all got to do with the library, you see. We had a lot of trouble recently, with boys taking out library books without library cards,' he elaborated, gesturing to illustrate his point. 'Your son was caught, and I administered a beating during which he died. If it is any consolation to you, the ring leader – Zack Fair – was caught, so I don't think we'd be having anymore trouble with library discipline. You see, the Library Card System –'

Mr. Strife quickly held up a palm to stop the General from speaking any further. 'I – I'm sorry …' he stated in disbelief. 'You … beat my son to death?'

'Yes, yes, so it would seem,' the soldier replied far too cheerfully, exhibiting a perfect set of white teeth as he smiled. 'But, please, I'm not used to being interrupted. You see, the Library Card System –'

'Exactly what happened?' the blond inquired testily, his worry creasing his forehead tenfold.

'Well, apparently, the boys were slipping into the library and taking the books!'

'No, during the beating!'

'Oh, that!' Sephiroth said patiently. 'Well, one moment he was bending over and the next, he was lying down … I mean, uh …'

'… dead?' the forlorn man fearfully supplied.

'Hmm … dead-ish.' The SOLDIER warrior then pointedly studied his guest for a few moments with unguarded emotions. 'Mr. Strife … I find this … morbid fascination of yours with your son's death quite disturbing. What I'm talking about is his attitude – and rather frankly, I can see where he gets it from.' He sent him a sharp look.

'What do you mean? You beat him to death!' Mr. Strife's face was now ashen and devoid of colour. His eyes, only moments ago were clear like the sky, were now swimming in tears.

'I wondered then as I wonder now if he would have been a very different boy if you had administered a few … fatal beatings earlier.'

Standing up with his ears turning pink, the middle-aged man bellowed, 'Are you mad?'

'No, I'm furious!' Sephiroth's temper was starting to flare dangerously. 'In order to accommodate the funeral, I've had to cancel all afternoon classes on Wednesday!'

'Isn't it preposterous?'

'Or at least it would be …' said Sephiroth in a soft tone, the corner of his mouth twitching noticeably. ' … if it were true …' He peeked through silver lashes at Mr. Strife's reaction, who had deftly caught a wisp of the smile and was looking at him as though he had grown two heads.

'What …?'

Finally, the General smiled a rare smile. 'I'd been joking, Mr. Strife.' He checked his clock, just to be sure that he would be punctual for his next meeting in five minutes. 'Pardon me; it's my strange academic sense of humour. I've been pulling your leg.'

Laughing in utter relief to what seemed like a hoax all along, Mr. Strife clapped a hand to his forehead and sank into his chair. For a moment he thought his little boy had really died! And to think that this serious man would pull such a stunt; it seemed most out of character, indeed. 'Oh, thank Gaia!'

'Of course!' Sephiroth nodded and straightened his coat just before leaving the office once more. 'I wouldn't cancel afternoon classes to bury that little shit.'