*Disclaimer: I own nothing but my original characters and ideas….and the plot bunnies in the corner. Please don't sue, I'm a poor college student that has no life and way too many video games.*

"Stamp: 44 cents. Fancy Paper: 2 dollars. Calligraphy Font online: 1 dollar. My 11 year old sister thinking she's been accepted to Hogwarts: Priceless."

Of Hope and Understanding

Confusion swam in Zack's already muddled mind. He just didn't understand. The person before him…Angel, no…Angeal, he was kind. Zack wasn't used to kind, didn't even know such a thing existed before. He didn't strike at him when Zack flinched, didn't raise his voice when he couldn't answer simple questions. He just didn't understand.

The strange man had removed the blindfold and bit with gentle fingers. His fingers didn't bite into his skin and make him bleed; they didn't tear at his clothes, at his flesh, at his soul. They were gentle and yet strong as the pushed into just the right spot, easing the pressure his jaw was under. They took away the pain and hurt, and it left Zack confused. What did this man want?

Others had been like him, coming in with kind words but cruel eyes. They made him believe, just briefly, when he was younger, that they wanted to help. They lied, it was all lies. They tore him apart and left him to suffer in the dark, alone, forgotten. But Zack had learned, learned that kind words were always laced with poison, hands were always cruel, and eyes never lied. He would not let them make him believe, make him hope.

This man before him was filled with nothing but lies, Zack knew, because hands were always cruel, no matter how gentle they felt. He would play along…for now, let them believe he was broken, make them think he was weak. But he would be waiting, waiting for one of them to slip up, to become careless, and then he would strike.

The guards knew better, knew not to untie him, not to remove his bit, not to give him any foothold no matter how small because Zack would find a way to exploit it. He had been bitted for a long time now, having it removed only for feeding time, once a week. A guard had once thought him broken, thought him cowed, thought his mouth was pretty. Removing the bit was the last thing he ever did.

Zack could still remember the taste of the other's blood as his teeth tore through skin and muscle. Felt his heart give out as his throat collapsed from the pressure, heard his last gurgling gasp before death stole the light in his eyes. Mako violet eyes glanced upon the pale neck of the man behind him. He wondered how long it would take to strangle him, tear out his larynx, watch him die. Would the others make it to him in time? Probably…they didn't look weak.

He glanced back at the other two; he had never seen anyone with red hair before. Then again he never saw much of anybody. Those that retrieved him always wore helmets and balaclava that covered their faces. The scientist usually wore face masks, except Hojo, he liked his experiments to see who was torturing them. He had never seen anyone like the other as well.

The red head…Genesis, was still standing guard at the door, but the other…the other. Sephiroth, the name sounded vaguely familiar, like a half forgotten dream, was watching him intently. Zack's eyes narrowed dangerously and he barely resisted snarling at the man, he wondered if the other knew what he was thinking.

Zack couldn't risk letting them know what he was thinking, couldn't risk letting them know he wasn't broken. They were releasing him, and he needed to get to Cloud. Seconds later the last buckle was finally undone and he felt sweet relief as his shoulders were back into the original place.

Strong, gentle hands gripped either shoulder and Zack couldn't have stopped his body from reacting even if he wanted too. He flinched and snarled, head whirling around, teeth bared. He tried to jerk out of the other's grip but it was futile. The gloveless hands pushed his shoulders down, forcing him back into his seated position and then pushed right there.

The fight left him in seconds, muscles relaxing, tension easing…bliss. Zack moaned in pleasure as the man, Angeal, dug his fingers into sore abused muscles and he just melted into the sensation. Zack knew he couldn't be trusted, nobody could. It was just him and Cloud, against the world…but the world could wait. Right now, Zack was floating, and he let euphoria take him.


Genesis observed the young man before them. Long dexterous fingers were digging into tender and abused muscles and he barely suppressed the chuckle that was attempting to burst forth. The boy practically melted into the ministrations of his dear friend. Angeal was right when he called him Puppy, because the young man was just like one…and just as easily distracted.

He hadn't missed the way the boy, Zack, reacted to their very presence. The kid was just waiting for them to turn on him; he could see it in the violet Mako eyes. They practically bled suspicion, pupils still dilated in fear, eyes darting around frantically. He was looking for the other shoe to drop. And he couldn't really be blamed, not with the way he had been treated.

Blue eyes glanced over to his superior. Sephiroth's green ones met his, a thought seemed to pass between them, and the silver head inclined just slightly. He noticed it too. Most likely, the Puppy would wait for their backs to be turned, their guard to be off, and then the kid was going to make a break for it…it was what he would have done.

He brought his focus back to the brightly lit hallway. A knot settled in his stomach as words voiced in apathy replayed in his mind. Just how many people, how many kids did Hojo have down here? Normally the red headed SOLDIER was all up for tormenting those weaker than him, but not like this…never like this.

Whispered words of reassurance met his ears before the sound of shuffling. Angeal was promising the kid freedom while helping him to stand. Zack looked as if he didn't want the help, but clearly he needed it. His legs shook unsteadily beneath him as cramped limbs tried to function after a long time of immobility. Not even Mako could completely fix that; he would need some sort of therapy to get his muscles back into shape.

Angeal had his hand clamped gently, but firmly around the boy's bicep, assisting him while making sure he didn't do anything rash. His dark haired friend noticed too. A look of anger crossed the boy's face before it settled on apathy once again. So the kid was aware of his position.

With Angeal still 'supporting' him, the Puppy took a few unsteady steps before his body seemed to remember the act of walking. Genesis shifted back, allowing Sephiroth to pass him and walk back out into the hall. They still had another to save…this Cloud person. A Mako blue eye twitched as Genesis could feel the headache starting to get worse. By the Goddess he hated this place.


Angeal gently pulled Zack out of the room, Genesis bringing up the rear. He felt the boy pull lightly at his arm, testing the Lieutenants strength as inconspicuously as possible. Tightening his grip just briefly, he warned the Puppy from doing it again. He didn't look at the one that he held captive, didn't want to see the accusing eyes filled with hatred and betrayal.

He had promised to set the young male free, and he would, but first they had another to rescue and he would not allow the boy to wonder on his own. Once this whole thing was over, he would let the boy go, but for now, he wasn't going anywhere.

Hand still grasped upon the surprisingly muscular bicep, he felt the other one turn just slightly. He was probably looking behind them, at Genesis. With Sephiroth leading and the Lieutenant behind, the boy had no chance of escaping them. He felt the body he was practically dragging slouch a little. The Pup knew there was no way for him to get loose.

Glancing at the Puppy's crest fallen face, Angeal tried to ignore the way his chest tightened. The boy didn't look disappointed, just accepting, like he knew better than to expect help. Had the boy been broken so completely he no longer understood the concept of hope?

Anger was bubbling inside of him, and he could tell the way that Sephiroth carried himself that he too was furious. Hojo's treachery had gone even further than any had thought. He wondered briefly if President Shinra was aware of just how twisted his head scientist truly was. Probably not; but even if he did, would he truly even care?

Angeal forced the emotions away; they wouldn't do any good right now. They went down one flight of stairs and three hallways, passing many nondescript doors before they finally ran into a guard. He didn't even have time to process what was happening before the Masamune pinned him to the wall and his life came to an abrupt end. It seemed Sephiroth couldn't push past his anger as easily as his Lieutenant.

Two hallways later, the strange boy they were dragging with them suddenly stopped and tugged harshly at his captive arm. If Angeal hadn't been prepared for a reaction such as that, he would have most likely stumbled, as it was he still had to adjust his balance to keep from doing so. The Puppy was stronger than he thought.

Violet eyes were latched onto another nondescript door that looked just like the dozens they had seen before. The three First Class Elites would have just passed it by if Zack hadn't had such a strong reaction. Something behind it was important.

Angeal glanced at his two companions, Genesis was watching them intently, fist gripped almost painfully around his Rapier. Sephiroth was still walking further down the hall, having not noticed that the rest of the group had stopped. "Seph, hold up a minute," Angeal called after him. The General turned towards him, raising an elegant silver eyebrow in inquiry. Nodding his head to the right, he gestured to the door that Zack was still starring at with rapt attention. Sephiroth quickly made his way back over to his Lieutenants and Angeal had to apply more pressure to his grip as the boy tried to wiggle away even harder. It seemed that even without his reputation, the General was still a very intimidating man. A high pitched whine filled the air as Sephiroth approached and Angeal shushed the young man gently when he started to struggle even more.

"Easy Puppy, easy," Angeal's voice was low and gentle as he sent his Commanding Officer a reproachful look. Sephiroth didn't look even slightly apologetic at erasing his friend's limited progress, but he did slow his approach. A slightly tanned and scarred hand grabbed his wrist, trying to tug himself free and Angeal bit back a grimace as long sharp nails dug into his skin.

Still maintaining his hold, Hewley pried the other's grip off his wrist with gentle patience. The young man's hand came away covered slightly in blood and he watched in poorly concealed interest as the Mako in Angeal's blood activated, healing the small wounds instantly.

Sephiroth stopped just out of reach giving Angeal and his new 'charge' giving them plenty of space. Genesis seemed to have the same idea, as he was even further away. "What is the problem?" Sephiroth's tone was only slightly impatient, effectively hiding his annoyance.

Angeal gave him a grateful look before answering, "The Puppy seems to have found something," both the General and Genesis turned to the door in interest. There was no viewing port and only a keypad. Genesis glanced at the keypad, then to the General before going back to the keypad. Pulling the reluctant Zack away from the door, Angeal rolled his eyes in fond annoyance as his friend performed a very theatrical bow.

Sephiroth raised an eyebrow and they both knew he would have also rolled his eyes if he didn't think it beneath him. The General stepped up in front of the keypad and proceeded to tear it apart just as elegantly as he had the previous one. The Puppy nearly jumped a foot at the loud thud the silver haired man's fist made before the door opened.

The next moment Angeal found himself with his hands full, trying to keep the younger male from bolting into the room. Genesis unsheathed his Rapier and stepped into the dimly lit room as his dark haired friend grabbed both of the boy's wrists and pulled him even further down the hall.

"Zack," he called, trying to get the struggling boy to pay attention. It didn't work. "Zack…Puppy, listen to me," Angeal tightened his hold, one hand gripping both of the smaller wrists, his other darting out and taking a firm hold on his chin. The Lieutenant made Zack look at him, and once he was sure he had his full attention, he eased the pressure.

"Genesis and Sephiroth are going to clear the room. Once they are done, then and only then will we go in," Zack seemed to struggle a little harder, trying to pull his face away from the older male's grip. A half snarl left his lips and Angeal was once again able to see his unusually sharp canines. "I need you to calm down, can you do that?"

It took several minutes, but with kind patience he was finally rewarded. It seemed the Puppy learned that he was not going to be able to win this battle. Angeal watched with barely concealed interest as the other drooped in acceptance. His ears, which had been pressed to his head were hanging low and submissive, his tail no longer bristled and slightly curled under.

Once he was positive that the boy was done acting out, Angeal released his chin and one of his wrists. Seconds later Sephiroth's clear deep voice trailed out into the hall. "The room is clear," an unknown emotion escaping in his tone.

Angeal waited a second longer before he made his way into the room, the Puppy barely restraining himself from bolting inside. As they crossed the threshold the Lieutenant was stopped in his tracks by the sight before him. "Sweet Merciful Goddess…"