Disclaimer: The Final Fantasy VII Compilation belongs rightfully to Square-Enix. This amateur effort at fan-based fiction is in no way making profit off of the licensed characters described therein, nor is it associating any new original characters to Square-Enix either.
Occasionally there were times like this… when he was able to recall various moments in his lifetime all at once with perfect clarity. He supposed most people would consider it an oddity, but to him it was yet another one of his many talents. Who else could so easily and simultaneously reflect upon the past, consider the present, and extrapolate on the future? For instance, Godo's quill was presently scratching along the parchment with a hesitant scrawl. The sound reminded him of the way Genesis would unconsciously pick at the worn binding of Loveless when he was bored. Bored… When all of this was through, he would be standing before a crowd of reporters, pretending to be interested in their questions. Flashing lights from cameras already made his mako-sensitive eyes burn before any pictures were even taken. He had been there when Angeal was accepted into SOLDIER, and the man's whining then after the showering had been intolerable. They were just kids back then. Godo finally finished signing the damn thing.
One of the Wutaian generals crossed his thick arms over his chest, his face appearing unamused. Staniv was his name; a towering mass slightly taller than himself, and packed tightly with pure hard muscle. He was usually an intimidating sight to behold, but truthfully Sephiroth thought little of him.
Godo passed a hand over his weary face, and then handed the parchment to the man standing behind him. Staniv took it and handed it to Sephiroth, saying, "Are you satisfied now, Shin-Ra man?"
"Good question," Sephiroth muttered. "To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure." He stared at the signed sheet in his hand, Wutai's surrender to Shin-Ra. He supposed any other man in his position would feel great elation over the victory, but Sephiroth felt nothing at all.
One of the other Wutaian generals, a short leaner man in comparison to Staniv, asked, "Why do they not just send one of their bureaucrats to retrieve the treaty? Or is that what will become of you now? A great warrior such as yourself reduced to a weakling's status behind a desk… it's disgraceful to say the least. And pathetic."
Sephiroth glared, but Godo spoke, sounding tired. "Give thought to this moment, Sephiroth," said the leader of Wutai. "History tends to repeat itself through the ages. Loyalty or no loyalty to Shin-Ra; it makes no difference. They do not honor the warriors. They will not honor you, even as they print tabloid headlines and shout your name from the crowds tomorrow. Today Shin-Ra kills Wutai. Tomorrow: SOLDIER."
One of the others in B-group spent the next ten minutes trying to reassure him, even though he hadn't asked for it. They were more disturbed by Godo's prediction and needed to reassure themselves by pretending to console him. One of the 2nd's – Posada was her name – interrupted the exchange out in Fort Tamblin's main courtyard.
"Sir, the director just made contact with a distress call." The tan-skinned woman shouldered her sniper rifle and brought her mobile out from under her dark layered hair. "He was assaulted by forces outside of the fort."
Sephiroth stopped walking and abruptly turned to her. "Who's with him?"
"Just a group of infantrymen. A-group went to settle the situation, but Director Lazard thinks it might be more than just leftover Wutaian remnants."
Sephiroth went on ahead without waiting for the team's other two members. Angeal was in A-group. He was supposed to have contacted Sephiroth's team when they were out of Fort Tamblin, regardless of the situation.
It's not like him to disregard procedure, he thought. With that thought, Sephiroth began to consider the worst-case scenario as the most likely explanation.
And he hated being right all the time.
The man currently in possession of the Wutaian nation's surrender to the Shin-Ra conglomerate was publicly thought to be the most dangerous man in the world. No, he wasn't a criminal, or a hitman. Sephiroth was Shin-Ra's hero, their poster boy. Almost everyone knew that he was capable of physical feats no other member of SOLDIER had been able to accomplish. Everyone knew of his abilities as a swordsman. What most people didn't know was that he also had an I.Q level that would have earned him a top position in the Science Department had he been born as someone else; someone who wasn't 6' 1", possessed acute killer instincts, and for all nature's intents and purposes, set completely and utterly apart from any human being he had ever known. What place for him was there, other than SOLDIER?
If I do not yet feel out of place here, why should you?
He thought this as he stood over a corpse, looking down at a familiar face. Genesis Rhapsodos lay still in the Mount Tamblin forest, among a group of other dead Genesis Rhapsodos'. The sword wounds on their armor suggested Angeal's handi-work, or at least that of his latest protégé's, that kid Angeal had always sworn was puppy-eyed. A closer look at the identification tags of the corpses proved them to be the defectors that had followed Rhapsodos to his anti-Shinra rebellion, his facial likeness somehow copied onto their own.
Sephiroth continued onwards, following only an instinct that pulled him north. Soon enough he smelled the faint scent of something burning. As he ran the woods seemed to blur together against the sides of his path, no longer resembling trees. When he reached a clearing, a glint of silver caught his eye… a SOLDIER's blade twirling in the air to a 2nd classes' silent victory tune. Sephiroth imagined that the tune as being short, but like a mini fanfare…
…the kid had been celebrating too soon.
An inferno burst through the trees, and Zack Fair, his back turned to the horned demon he thought he had defeated, did not have the time to evade or counterattack. The heat searing the young swordsman's back, Zack collapsed, attempting to duck under the flames. Sephiroth was already in front of them.
His long blade found Zack's opponent, and upon making contact, the summoning exploded into streams of fire. Sephiroth swiped the Masamune at now empty air, once again impressed by the long katana's vitality, even against extreme heat. His vision wavered for a moment… what had been plain-forested ground was for a split second a desolate volcanic wasteland. Only Zack seemed to have been completely fooled by Ifrit's illusion. It took Sephiroth only one guess to know who had summoned it, as he only knew one person who possessed the materia.
Zack shook the ashes from his disorderly black hair and stood, gaping at his superior. "Awesome…" he breathed. Sephiroth walked past Angeal Hewley's protégé, to another gathering of motionless bodies. Without caution he tossed aside one of the dead soldier's helmets, revealing yet another pale face and brunette head.
"Genesis," Sephiroth muttered. Zack gasped.
"The missing SOLDIER 1st class?" the younger man exclaimed, his glowing blue eyes growing wide in disbelief as Sephiroth pulled the other infantryman's helmet off to show him another face that looked like Genesis'. "Why do they have the same face?"
"Genesis copies," was the 1st's only explanation. Sephiroth studied his contemporary's lifeless expression for any sign of another clue.
"Copies? You mean like… clones?" Taking a step back, Zack ran a gloved hand through his dark spiky hair. "Human copies?"
Sephiroth turned his head towards him, his thin silver eyebrows knitted together. "Where is Angeal?" he demanded. It hadn't been like him to disregard standard procedure, and it certainly wasn't like him to leave a 2nd class alone to fend for himself against a summon.
Zack began pacing nervously back and forth. "He was supposed to be fighting here, but…" Sephiroth looked back at the ground. Zack was just a kid, confused and uninformed.
"So Angeal went with him as well…" Damn it, he hated being right all the time.
"Huh?" Zack stepped forward as Sephiroth stood. "Hey, what do you mean by that?" Sephiroth detected a slight hint of panic in Zack's voice.
"Angeal has betrayed us," answered Sephiroth, his tone devoid of doubt, "that's what it means."
Zack's reaction was completely expected. Predictably the boy exclaimed, "Impossible! I know Angeal! He wouldn't betray his SOLDIER honor! He cared about that more than anything else!"
His jade eyes narrowed, Sephiroth turned around to look at Zack again, considering what he had said. Under his superior's piercing gaze, Zack seemed to falter, but only for a moment.
"Angeal would never betray me!" Zack insisted, looking outraged that Sephiroth would even suggest such a notion. Sephiroth crossed his arms, studying the 2nd class. Zack's expression had instantly transformed from being unsure to absolutely confident in his convictions.
I hope you're right kid, Sephiroth thought but didn't say. He led the way back to the Shin-Ra camp, saying nothing else to him. Director Lazard, with Wutai's surrender in his hands, seemed to barely register the victory as Sephiroth relayed the news about Angeal to him.
The blonde man did not become as flustered as Zack, but Sephiroth could perceive that he was at least solemn about it. Fiddling with the rolled up parchment, Lazard asked, "You know what Shinra will ask of you now, right? We can't keep delaying the inevitable with Genesis."
Sephiroth glanced over at another tent, where Zack was retelling his side of the story to the other 2nd classes, Kunsel and Naomi Posada. His animated gestures seemed to suggest that he was describing what he thought was the most exciting part: when Sephiroth stepped in to deal with Ifrit. Kunsel seemed impressed and Posada complimented Zack. Angeal's student beamed, countering with a compliment of his own regarding Posada's aesthetics.
"Well…" Sephiroth answered Lazard with a murmur. "The company will need more than one 1st class to track down two, I think."
"Angeal had nominated him," Lazard replied, his gaze now on the oblivious Zack also.
Sephiroth eyed Lazard. "Fine, then I'll nominate Posada. Zack Fair was close to Angeal, and considering the current situation, I don't think it'd be wise to-,"
Lazard tilted his head in a curious manner. "You think perhaps that Zack is a little too loyal to Angeal, and that he'll defect as well?"
"It's a possibility," Sephiroth answered. "If we risk it, we'll have three 1st class defectors on our hands."
"Zack has never met Genesis," Lazard pointed out, "it'd be presumptuous to say that he would join his cause simply because Angeal did so. Besides, is Naomi even ready?"
"Are any of them?" Sephiroth countered. "Either way it doesn't matter. This is about preserving the SOLDIER program."
Lazard folded his hands under his chin in thought, looking up once only to readjust the glasses on the bridge of his nose. He seemed concentrated on a map of Wutai on the table, but Sephiroth imagined that he was actually weighing Zack Fair and Naomi Posada as 1st classes while wondering what he could say to convince the executives on the board that an increase in budget for SOLDIER would be crucial to keeping Wutai under Shin-Ra's submission.
The director cleared his throat. "If you're serious about nominating Naomi then, I'm going to need a better reason than that you're merely using her to prevent Zack from defecting when he becomes a 1st." Lazard stood to close the tent flaps, cutting off Sephiroth's view of the three 2nd's.
Sephiroth frowned. Posada had been present for most of the Wutai assignments, but her skill as a swordsman was average to say the least. She was valued as a marksman, as it wasn't usually common for a member of SOLDIER to use firearms as their primary weapons. Posada mostly served as a long-distance sniper, covering for the men that were caught in the sudden ambushes at the frontlines.
"She's often shown leadership qualities on missions," he admitted. "That will be invaluable now that we're without Genesis and Angeal. Posada is also a decent tactician, though with marksmanship as her specialty, how couldn't she be?"
Lazard jotted something down on the margins of a week-old Midgarian Chronicle article. "Very well. Anything else?"
Honestly, it was too soon to tell. Naomi Posada had been a 2nd for a while, but Sephiroth felt that she still had some ways to go, as did Zack, to becoming a SOLDIER 1st class. He could describe to Lazard some of her other positive qualities and talents, but in truth, any other SOLDIER hoping to be promoted to 1st could learn those things as well. Nothing else currently set her apart from her peer, Kunsel.
"Give it some time then, Sephiroth," Lazard suggested when the silver-haired man did not answer immediately. "Right now you're not really comparing two 2nd's, are you?"
Lazard's eyes appeared inquisitive and curious. He peered at Sephiroth over the thin lenses set on his nose, as if trying to read the man. However, one could not read a book that was not open. Without answering him, Sephiroth turned away and left the tent. Outside, the 2nds were gathered quietly around a bon fire with some infantrymen.
Sephiroth tried to imagine which one of them would be more capable of chasing his old friends. It was easier to imagine than Sephiroth doing it himself.
Author's Note: I've always felt that Crisis Core was one of the best insights provided in canon to Sephiroth's character. Not only does it give neat little details to the Nibelheim incident, it also shows us Jenova's favorite son before Jenova, and while it's quite satisfying to behold as a fan, as a fan you also find yourself wanting more. That's the purpose of this story. While Zack is running around doing squats in Banora and such, you'll now get to see Crisis Core, according to Sephiroth.
On another note: Naomi also appeared in another fic of mine, Silver Mercury, which was a crossover between Star Wars and FFVII. You won't need to read it to catch up with her character, as she'll be a minor one in this story anyhow. I intend to keep her in the realm of the other 2nd's like Kunsel.
Thanks to those who've read and reviewed.