Title: Three SOLDIERs and a Lady

Author: CrisisChild

Summary: AU Angeal always considered himself to be quite responsible and honourable and his mettle is put to the test when an unexpected turn of events leaves him a father. And Genesis and Sephiroth as unwitting 'uncles'.

Rated: T, character death, some violence

Prompt: Sacrifice

Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Final Fantasy series. Crisis Core or Dissidia.

Author's Note: Yet another Dissidia-filled chapter. And the reason for the existence of the AU side stories involving Persephone as she would have been, had she lived through all the events of the Compilation and not altered its course. You might want to re-read all of 89 Messages and the Original Crisis side stories to have a better idea of how this chapter goes. This is the first of a two-parter or even a three-parter.

020 - a. Sacrifice

"Love is more than a noun – it is a verb; it is more than a feeling – it is caring, sharing, helping, sacrificing."

Angeal had found himself feeling completely exhausted by the time he returned home with Persephone. His day had been emotionally and the burly SOLDIER was more than happy to be back in his apartment with his daughter sleeping securely in his arms. Twenty past ten at night; well past the small girl's bed time and Angeal doubted he could get her back up to brush her teeth and wash her face before tucking her in properly. Getting Persephone into her PJ's.'s was going to be a feat in and of itself, but Angeal managed all the same.

The half-Wutai girl mumbled in her sleep as her father dressed her for bed, words he didn't quite catch. Her hands found his shirt and they gripped the fabric tightly. Persephone snuggled close to him, burying her face into his chest. Unable to stop the small ache that filled his chest from the innocent action, Angeal decided that he'd let Persephone sleep in his room - not that he was afraid of suddenly waking up without her in his life and finding out that he had been in some kind of elaborate dream, but because the girl didn't want to let him go. That was what he kept telling himself. He just felt that he needed to be closer to Persephone.

Still murmuring nonsense in her sleep, Persephone was cradled protectively in Angeal's arms as they went to bed together. Stroking her hair, sleep eluded the SOLDIER First for a while as thoughts about his daughter and her true parentage plagued his mind. There was no point in stressing himself over it until he received the paternity test results from Hollander, but Angeal was nothing, if a pathological worrier. Angeal had come to the decision not to tell Sephiroth or Persephone until it was time, but not knowing the real truth made him feel really out of his depth. Angeal had come to never doubt or regret his decisions - he would live with them with his head held high - but the uncertainty of what tomorrow held...

It was a tormenting feeling.

Persephone started whimpering in her sleep. Shushing her gently, Angeal rubbed her back soothingly, whispering to her that everything was going to be fine. She was fine. He was fine.

He hoped.

He placed a kiss on the top of her head and closed his eyes, hoping that morning would come soon...

- a-

Angeal could not sleep. He ached all over. It was to be expected, since he had taken quite the pummelling the other day alongside his comrades. But they just kept coming and coming without end, never tiring, never needing to rest. They were monsters; they were manikins. They had been ambushed by them.

Like sharks excited by the scent of blood, once the battle began, others joined them until they became overwhelming in numbers, causing the warriors they fought to turn around and run - to regroup, lest their dwindling numbers lessened even more. The group that had gone scouting ahead had already been wiped out and his own team, well, the original group of twenty-five were now only ten and they had been split off from each other because of the latest manikin attack. It would take some time to find their way back to their comrades at Sanctuary.

"Angeal...you awake?"

"Yes, I am, Denzel."

Denzel; he was supposedly from the same world that Angeal was, though they never met. In the younger man's case, he had never even heard of the SOLDIER before, but that was all right. Titles and fame did not matter in the thick of war, only after it and Angeal was stuck in the biggest war of all. Harmony against Discord...Cosmos versus Chaos. A fine and noble cause to be fighting, for sure, though it was lasting...he wasn't certain of the length of time that had passed, but it was long.

Angeal and Denzel were together somewhere in the Lunar Subterrane, resting after the events of the other day. The younger man was spry and looking ready to take on more opponents, while Angeal himself looked worse for the wear, since he had been covering the younger gunfighter from the worst of the attacks. He even drew out his precious Buster Sword out for the occasion.

"Sorry for making you use your sword," Denzel stated out of the blue, drawing Angeal out of his reverie. "I heard from the others that it's something important. Like an heirloom or somethin'."

Angeal chuckled softly at that. Slowly, he stood up, using an outcropping of rock to help him stand on his booted feet. His back was stiff as hell, but that was what you get for sleeping on something made of rock. He said, "You're a little bit more important than my sword, Denzel. But only just a bit." To emphasize this, he held his thumb a teeny, tiny distance away from his forefinger - they were practically touching.

"Gee, thanks," deadpanned Denzel, who frowned as he slung his rifle on his shoulder. The younger soldier grumbled something about 'weird older guys', starting to walk off back towards their base in Order's Sanctuary. Angeal joined him, keeping in step with the young infantryman as they marched back 'home'.

"Say, Denzel...do you have any dreams?" Angeal enquired all of a sudden.

The brunet was caught by surprise at the question, staring up at Angeal with a somewhat slack jawed expression. "Huh?" was his answer.

"Do you have any dreams?" reiterated the dark haired man. "Do you dream of becoming a hero? To protect someone? What drives you to fight? I am...a bit curious, you might say, and would like to get to know you since I am new to this war and you're the most familiar in all of...this." He gestured towards the austere scenery around them, which bore some evidence of many battles held before, although not always by the same individuals. Angeal truly was curious about Denzel, because the boy had taken to Angeal quickly after he joined the ranks of Cosmos' warriors and he thought it better to know about his allies and their motivations. In his book, it made for stronger bonds and better trust.

Denzel answered almost immediately. "To save someone very dear."

"Oh? Must be someone really special then."

"I guess you could say that," said Denzel, as they crossed the 'border' and entered the disorienting Planet's Core.

"Girlfriend?" prodded Angeal, who smirked teasingly.

The boy reacted as expected, looking completely scandalized at the older warrior. "Angeal!"

The SOLDIER First laughed, and then clapped the kid on his back telling him not to get worked up so easily. After allowing the younger man to sputter for a while, they resumed their trek back 'home', doing their best to navigate through the floating isles and debris within the Planet's Core.

It was hard to tell where was up and what was down, since the flow of green energy went anywhere and everywhere. It was never defined and an unwary person could find themselves lost in there. Angeal and Denzel both got turned around more than once within the core trying to get out; it was their least favourite place to be. Seeing as they were going to be stuck in the Lifestream for a while, Denzel decided to strike up some conversation.

"What about you? What are you fighting for, Angeal?"

Angeal paused in his step.

Denzel looked at him inquisitively.

"...Honour...pride...and my dreams," came the SOLDIER's answer, at long last. He didn't know why he hesitated in replying, but the answer came longer than it should have. His goals were simple, were they not? Fight against the darkness within this world to bring back the light that was Harmony's and then go home. But go home to what? He felt like he was forgetting something important here. Something vital...

"Sounds grand."

"I suppose."

"Also sounds a lot like something someone I know would say..."

"Hm? That someone you want to save?"

The boy nodded. "Yeah. I know they've been lost to darkness for a while now, but I know I can save them..."

Before their conversation could go further on the subject of dreams, the two of them were split apart by a flying fireball that crashed at their feet, cracking the floating isle they had been standing on. It crumbled and fell deeper into the Planet's Core. Now Angeal and Denzel were apart on different floating bits of debris, staring up at their attacker. Denzel gasped softly, while Angeal simply stared at their assailant as she floated down, landing gently on another small tract of land not so far away from them.

There was nothing extraordinary about her (especially when you put their mystery attacker beside people like Kefka and Kuja), except for the fact that she carried three swords with her, all different and harnessed carefully behind her upon her waist. She stood at the ready, hand on the hilt of her rapier as she stared them down with mako-blue eyes. Yes, there was no mistaking the telltale glow in them. Not a SOLDIER, but she was definitely from the same world as him and Denzel. And from the gasp the boy had let out earlier (coupled with the woman's intent stare at the boy) he assumed they knew each other.

"And what exactly are you doing here, Denzel?" the woman drawled as she tucked a long lock of black hair behind an ear. "Boys don't belong on the battlefield all alone."

Her voice was cold and devoid of any emotion other than disdain. Though they glowed, the woman's eyes were icy and unforgiving as they bore down Denzel, completely ignoring Angeal's presence. Seemed to him like these two had a lot of history between them.

Denzel bristled, clenching his hands and gritted his teeth. "I'm not just some kid! And I'm not alone."

"So it would seem," replied the mystery attacker as she flipped from dark hair over her shoulder. The woman turned her gaze over to Angeal, taking him in a moment before something that should not have been there flashed in her expression: recognition. She looked like she wanted to say something, but thought better of it and kept her lips sealed, schooling her expression blank.

"So it has come to this..." she said softly, with a shake of her head. "Listen up, Denzel. Fall back, if you know what's good for you. The way ahead will only lead to despair."

"Can't do that Commander Redfield. I got a job to do and a promise to keep."

And again, Angeal saw a flicker of something in her face; a turn of her eyes and a flash of regret aimed at both of them. Her stoic air was just that – airs. Insubstantial. And then it dawned on the SOLDIER that, perhaps, this woman who attempted to do them harm was the one that Denzel wished to save. The one that had been mired in darkness; a soldier in Chaos' fold.

"You're a fool," was all the warning they got before a flurry of sword strikes came at them simultaneously. No. Energy waves from the simple, focused slash of one of her three blades. The rapier was in use and she was quick with it. Denzel and Angeal dodged just fast enough to avoid becoming mincemeat, speedily moving in separate directions, hoping to force her hand. She couldn't possibly be able to attack the two of them with such a wide distance between all of three of them.

"You're a crazy lady, Commander Redfield!" Denzel had recomposed himself, readying his rifle as he was free-falling towards the centre of the Planet's Core.

Angeal himself was moving upward, higher and higher as the commander in white flew past him, rapier drawn out and ready to take on Denzel and completely ignoring him once more. As is, in the grander scheme of things, his presence did not matter. A memory niggled at the back of his mind, of another time and another place, where two similar people went at it while he was left in the dust, unable to get in between them. And he watched again, as the two engaged below him with flashes of steel and rapidly flying bullets. Angeal wondered what had caused the rift he saw between these two that would cause one of Denzel's (former, it would seem) friends to attack him so viciously. Mind control? Brainwashing? Or, perhaps, that friendship had never been there to begin with? Whatever the reason, he would not allow the boy to face this threat alone. An old friendship or no, he and the young soldier were comrades now and he would have his back!

Drawing his broadsword, he came at Redfield – some friend, they weren't even on a first name basis, mused the burly SOLDIER as he bore down on the woman. To her credit, she saw him coming and dodged the attack, jumping from floating stone to floating stone looking fay as she moved away. No hurried retreat; they posed no real threat to her. The way she turned to coolly looked at them – long dark hair floating around her form as her white long coat billowed about – was perplexing and infuriating, in respective turns to her opponents.

Denzel had no problem unleashing a hail of bullets upon the woman he wished to save.

Or maybe Angeal had been reading their entire relationship wrong...

On top of this, as lethal and impressive as her attacks looked, none of them connected. Scared, shocked and blown them away, yes. But it was just a show. A phantom menace. A mental war game? Looking to Denzel, he was reloading, taking the threat of Redfield's presence seriously. Casting a glance back up at the woman coming at them again and her blank expression, Angeal didn't know what to think. So he didn't and just acted.

He got in between them.

Redfield's rapier had hit the juncture of the hand guard and the hilt of the Buster Sword, the metal making a rather unpleasant scrapping sound as they met and rubbed. Before the man, was his plain broadsword, in the blade reflected Denzel's astonished face.

"This is twice now," Angeal grunted out. Pulling the Buster Sword out of its magnetic harness, the weapon swung up behind himself to shove the Chaos warrior away. She flew off as anticipated, allowing the younger man time to finally reload his assault rifle for another round. "Mind telling me her problem with you?" It'd be nice to be not out of the loop in such potentially dangerous situations. As it was, she seemed to be just playing or herding them somewhere, but the tide of battle could be turned quickly.

Denzel let loose a spray of bullets at Redfield who dipped and ducked with great grace, the red hot hailing pieces of metal really only penetrating her white long coat.

"All you need to know –" The two of them moved in tandem as they surrounded her on both sides, making her dance as she gave back as good as she got. "– is that the lady and I have loads of unfinished business and I promised I'd save her."

Upon hearing what was spoken of her, Redfield's emotions finally came out into the fray, displaying themselves clearly upon her normally blank countenance. "I don't need saving from the likes of you!" were the words cried out. And Angeal was struck by how pained each word sounded.

What a confusing person she was! And here Angeal thought he had brothers in arms who were confounding.

Brothers in arms...?

A boy who sullenly stared back at him in the darkness of a mine shaft, trapped with him on a ledge-

-a teen who didn't smile and who acted so awkwardly towards him and his childhood friend-

-sitting on a facsimile of a cannon created in virtual space, listening to the recitation of an unfinished epic poem, all three of them...

An explosion occurred in the Planet's Core. Denzel had tossed up a grenade, but had fumbled with the device and it went off too close to the large chunk of rocky platform they were now on. Close to Redfield and near to the two of them. They were all caught in the blast, friend and foe alike, the explosion stronger than it should have been under these conditions. Denzel flew off who knew where and Angeal had been slammed right into the female Chaos warrior in their midst. His broadsword had snapped in half from the initial bang, a single piece flying when he hadn't been paying attention.

The scream he heard when broken metal sliced through cloth and flesh did catch his attention, however, if only momentarily.

He had crashed into Redfield after all and they were flung fast and far, together.

Author's Note Part 2: TO BE CONTINUED