I really appreciate the reviews guys! Nice to know that I'm doing decent on my first FFVII story! Thanks so much!
Angeal's eyes opened slowly, a groan escaping him as he reached back to rub his stiff neck. He had fallen asleep at Zack's bedside, perhaps a little more than an hour ago; he felt something slip from his shoulders and glanced at the floor where a blanket had pooled around his chair. More than likely Genesis' doing. He also noticed two plastic containers nearby, the smell of cheeseburgers and fries making his stomach grumble, but he wouldn't eat it yet. If Zack wanted it when he woke, Angeal would gladly give his portion away.
"Hey, you're awake," Zack murmured sleepily. His previously pale face was now slightly flushed with fever, but he looked a great deal healthier than he had previously. "I'm hungry. Can I eat something?" Angeal chuckled softly. He had figured as much.
"Commander Rhapsodos brought in something earlier. Hopefully it's still warm," Angeal said, handing off the plastic container. Zack stared at it in disbelief for a few moments, before tearing into the meal ravenously.
"I haven't had a cheeseburger since I left home," Zack explained around a mouthful of fries. "They only let us cadets eat that nasty slop in the cafeteria." Angeal had enough experience with that to pity the poor boy.
"That will change, once you make SOLDIER." Zack paused, swallowing slowly, and looked at Angeal hopefully.
"Do you think I can? Make SOLDIER, I mean," he asked tentatively. Angeal feigned thoughtfulness.
"Do you think you can?" he questioned. Zack looked unsure, but only for a minute. His fists clenched and he nodded.
"I have to if I want to make my dream a reality." Angeal raised an eyebrow at the determination the boy showed, something that was so rare to the young cadets nowadays. Honestly, the cadet kind of reminded him of himself.
"Oh? And what's your dream, if you don't mind me asking?" Zack blushed lightly in embarrassment.
"I want…to be a hero." The older man nodded; Zack's attempt to save Kunsel suddenly made more sense. Zack had known that their position had been a hopeless one, and if he had to die, he would've died a hero.
"Well, for what it's worth, I believe you've already become one." The younger boy blinked, momentarily confused, but then a bright smile lit up his face.
"So Kunsel made it?" Zack asked. This caught Angeal off guard, the raven haired youth having forgotten earlier, but he was quick to recover.
"He is, thanks to you. He told us everything. You saved his life, Zack." Zack's smile became impossibly brighter, Angeal unable to hold back one of his own.
"And you saved me, right, sir?" Zack smiled, already knowing the answer. Angeal himself felt a little embarrassed. He'd never liked being acknowledged for his heroic deeds like this. Helping people was a natural thing to do. At least it should be, he thought bitterly.
"Angeal," the older man corrected. He'd already given Zack permission to use his name, no point in taking it back now. "I suppose I may have. It is my job as a SOLDIER, to protect others."
"That's why I want to join SOLDIER. It's my best chance of becoming a hero." There was a sudden reminder of the current circumstances that made Angeal frown sadly. Zack had unknowingly killed an innocent man, though he thought he was protecting another. As tedious as it would be, it was time for him to get some answers.
"Zack," Angeal started in a kind voice. "I need to know who assigned you to that mission in Junon."
Zack cocked his head in confusion. "It was Director Lazard. Didn't he mention it?" Angeal leaned back in his chair, brow furrowed. Lazard had already denied any involvement in the false mission. "Is something wrong?"
"How did you receive your orders?" Angeal asked suddenly. He didn't think anyone would be naïve enough to accept orders through mail or phone, but he had to know.
"He called us into his office and spoke to us directly. Sir, Angeal, what's going on?" Angeal looked down into the boy's bright, blue eyes, not yet tainted with the glow of mako.
"The mission was a setup," Angeal said slowly, understanding already marring Zack's face with a frown. "The SOLDIERS you fought were recently promoted to Third Class and were sent there to take care of a group of cadets who went AWOL. Since they were new, Sephiroth, Genesis, and I didn't recognize them."
"S-So, that guy…and the other guys that were with me…there was no reason for anyone to die. I killed someone who didn't deserve to go." Zack pressed the heel of his palms against his eyes, teeth grinding angrily.
"You didn't know," the older man murmured quietly, laying a comforting hand on Zack's shoulder. "No one will put you at fault, and if they do, they'll have to answer to me."
"I'm pretty sure—no, I'm positive that it was Lazard. I just don't understand why he'd do this. What's the point?" Zack looked up at Angeal mournfully, hoping for an answer.
"Lazard told us he had no involvement, but we'll figure things out." Angeal's heart twisted painfully when a face full of remorse and distress looked up at him again. He felt the overwhelming need to reassure. "Sephiroth himself is looking into this. He'll figure out what's going on, so you can rest easy."
Zack looked like he wanted to protest, wanted to say something more, but he remained silent. Instead, he returned to his meal thoughtfully, occasionally cocking his head and furrowing his brow.
Twenty minutes had gone by when Genesis stepped into the room, sighing wearily.
"Sephiroth is worried that this mission was a setup to get rid of someone or a group of people. Considering the circumstances, we have to guess they were going after the cadets—"
"Or cadet," Angeal finished, smirking at the glare he received.
"OR cadet," Genesis muttered, shaking his head. "We have a couple of Seconds watching Kunsel; do I even have to ask whose going to watch Zack here?" It was asked in a sly sort of way that made Angeal turn to his friend, eyebrows raised. He didn't understand the point Genesis was trying to make.
Shrugging it off, he nodded dutifully. "I'll keep an eye on him. Has Sephiroth found anything yet?" Genesis sat himself next to Angeal, stretching out comfortably. The auburn haired male looked strangely exhausted.
"He's watching the security tapes. I can't pull him away from them," Genesis said wistfully.
Angeal chuckled. "So wonder you look so tired."
"Yes," Genesis sighed dramatically, throwing his head back to stare at the ceiling. "He finally kicked me out and locked the door, so here I am, stuck with you."
"You could go somewhere else." Genesis looked at his friend, momentarily considering how funny it was that he himself was the oldest, Sephiroth being the youngest, and Angeal the middle child. The order should've been different, he thought, amused.
"What, and leave you, the socially awkward General Hewley, to look after this poor boy on your own. Not happening, 'Geal."
"I am not socially awkward…"
"In comparison to Sephiroth, maybe." A snort caught the two generals attention. Zack was laughing quietly, though he tried to hide it behind his hand. "Is something funny, little Zack?"
The boy blushed at being caught, but shook his head quickly. "I just never imagined that any of you would act so…soooo…"
"Normal?" Angeal scowled, not angry with Zack, but angry at the rumors that made them all sound inhuman. Zack cringed at that anger on the First Class's face.
"I-I'm sorry," he murmured, looking away.
"Angeal was always so protective of Sephiroth and I. He never worried enough about himself," Genesis murmured, staring at the Buster Sword fondly. "He was truly an honorable man, until the very end."
"What was going on with Lazard?" the younger man questioned. Genesis ran a hand through his hair, chuckling quietly.
"Eager to hear, are we? Very well. As we all expected, Sephiroth was the one to discover what was happening…"
Sephiroth stepped into the infirmary room, pointedly ignoring the awkward silence that had prevailed over the room. "I believe I understand what is happening, or know, at least. I don't truly understand quite yet."
Just like that, the silence was lifted and all eyes were on the silver haired general. Sephiroth closed the door behind him.
"I was confused when I found Lazard on two different tapes at the time the cadets received their assignment, so I had to rewind a little. Lazard left his office to attend a meeting with President Shinra; at the same time, someone broke into Lazard's office." Angeal rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"An imposter?" he asked. Sephiroth shook his head.
"A Shape Shifter. I watched it transform on the tape," Sephiroth explained, closing his eyes.
Genesis shot up in his seat, surprise evident on his face. "A Shape Shifter in Midgar? Why in Gaia's name would one come here? They prefer quieter places, and cleaner too."
"More so, I know they're mischievous by nature, but they usually only pull harmless pranks. This one wanted those cadets dead." Angeal pondered this aloud, glancing at the silent raven-haired youth.
"At the same time, they are very unforgiving. I can only guess that one of those cadets did something to it, probably before coming here, and this Shape Shifter followed him so it could get its revenge." Zack glanced up, finally deciding to speak up.
"Um, what's a Shape Shifter, sirs?" he asked sheepishly. He'd guessed by what was said, but he wanted to be sure before he said something stupid.
"A Shape Shifter, young Zack, is a creature that is born much like us humans. They look like us and they talk like us, but they are able to change themselves to look like anyone that they have before seen. They normally prefer smaller places where their mischievous acts go noticed by all; they love to make people laugh. Normally, they are very kind beings, though I can't imagine what went wrong with this one," Genesis explained, humming thoughtfully at the end.
"I don't think I've ever seen one," the raven-haired boy seemed thoughtful and shrugged. "But if they look like us, I suppose I wouldn't know if I did or not. Chances are they got the one they were after though, right? I mean, there were twenty-one of us after all…"
"I wonder," Sephiroth murmured, looking up to the ceiling thoughtfully. "If one wished to get revenge on another, would they not leave them for last and make them watch their comrades die? And wouldn't they want the person to know it was their fault that the others died?"
"I think you're thinking too much, Seph." Genesis stood and wrapped his arms around Sephiroth's neck, leaning in to lightly press his lips against the silver-haired general's. Sephiroth returned the kiss briefly, pulling away reluctantly. He would love to get lost in the heat that was purely Genesis, but now was definitely not the time.
"Whether I am or not, it's still something we must think about," he whispered, pressing his forehead against the other man's. Genesis sighed softly, lifting his hands to play with the silver hair that made a half curtain around the two of them. "I'll have a lot to do tonight. I won't be home until late."
"I will wait up for you. Try to hurry, will you?" the auburn-haired man asked slyly, lowering a hand to stroke Sephiroth's inner thigh. He marveled in the slight shiver that only he noticed, before pulling away and straightening himself. "Better hurry and finish your work before Lazard throws a fit."
"I'm more worried about getting a report to Tseng. We will need his Turks to help keep watch out for that Shape Shifter." Sephiroth leaned down to kiss Genesis' cheek before leaving in a sweep of his coat.
"Abandoned again," Genesis muttered wistfully, sitting down once more. "Anyway, I wouldn't let any of this Shape Shifter stuff bother you, Zack. It won't be able to get away with something like this again, and if nothing else, you seem to have your own guard dog."
Angeal didn't seem to hear any of this, his gaze focused thoughtfully on the floor. Sephiroth's words rang out; of course he was right. If revenge were the motive, they would leave the true victim for last. The Shape Shifter would want its target to suffer as much as possible. Only two left, he thought bitterly, glancing up at Zack. Zack had never even heard of a Shape Shifter, so Kunsel seemed like he'd be the main target, but…something was just telling Angeal to keep the young boy close if he wanted him to stay safe…
Genesis and Cloud both jumped up instinctively when the church doors slammed open and then shut again on their own accord. "Gaia dammit," Genesis sighed, trying to calm his racing heart. "Maybe a storm is coming?"
Cloud shook his head, looking around. "There wasn't any wind. Someone else is here." Genesis huffed, glancing towards a corner of the church where the shadows seemed to move.
"Kind of like a ghost story, don't you think?" a cheery voice called out, followed by an exasperated sigh, though it sounded forced.
"I told you to leave them be, pup," a deeper voice answered back, though it sounded amused at the others antics. Cloud instantly relaxed at the sound of the first voice, though the second made him a little wary.
"Zack," Cloud sighed, but smiled slightly. He could never keep a smile from his face when the older man was around, alive or not. "You couldn't just tell us you were here." He supposed he had kind of felt the other there earlier, but he hadn't paid much mind to it.
"Hey Spiky!" Zack grinned, slinging a transparent arm around the blonde's shoulders. "So you finally get to meet the real Genesis. He's not so bad, is he?" Cloud offered no response, but snorted softly.
"Puppy," Genesis murmured, looking around for the second voice. "Angeal. Please come out. I want to see you." Angeal sighed from his spot against the corner, glancing at the white wing that settled against his back. He hated it, but at the same time, it was something that Genesis could understand and relate to. Sighing, he stepped out of the shadows to meet his old friend after so long. Zack was by his side in an instant, pulling his arm in Genesis' direction.
"Angeal. Puppy." Pale hands reached out, but touched only air. Genesis let out a shaky sigh and dropped his hands to his sides. "I don't know what to say. There is really nothing I can say."
"You don't have to say anything. I never blamed you for any of this. I suppose, in a way, this was all just fated to happen. We had no control over it, Gen," Angeal whispered, reaching out to caress his old friend's cheek soothingly. "I'm just glad to see you back to your old self. Now, please don't dwell on it anymore."
"Besides, you're alive and have a full life to live. Don't waste it." Genesis laughed softly, shaking his head slowly.
"Indeed I will not, puppy. Even now, you're so optimistic; how can I be upset with that attitude?" Though he said this, tears were threatening to fall from his glittering, blue eyes. They finally fell when he fully realized that Angeal couldn't hold him and comfort him as he used to when they were younger, and this, he still blamed himself for. "G-Gaia, I just can't help it. I'm so sorry."
Cloud watched on, sympathizing with the redhead. Knowing that he had lost everything by his own hands and apparently having no control over his actions…Cloud realized that maybe he could forgive the man who was ultimately at fault for Zack's death. After all, if Zack forgave him, so did he.
"Genesis, listen to me," Angeal sighed, watching his friend miserably. "Sephiroth's still around. If you find him and talk to him, there's a chance—"
"Forget it," Cloud snapped, turning away from the group. "There's no good in Sephiroth. The only thing he wants is to destroy everything, and if you try to talk to him, he'll do whatever he can to kill you. I know he may have been good before, but there's nothing of his old self left."
"On the other hand," Zack started, turning to Cloud. "Genesis was the final straw, the one who made Sephiroth lose his mind. Maybe he can bring him back. You never know, Spiky. He could be the one to fix everything. Don't you think it'd be nice for you and your friends to not have to worry about him coming back anymore? Aren't you tired of fighting?"
"Let me finish my story," Genesis interrupted, wiping his eyes. "This will be all of our stories; Angeal, Zack, Sephiroth, and I. When I finish, you can decide what you think of Sephiroth then."
"What business do I have in this anyway? My opinion doesn't matter; do what you want." Zack, Angeal, and Genesis shared a look.
"He'll need you help, Spiky. So listen to what Genesis has to say, please? For me?" Cloud flinched at those words, but lowered himself to the floor again. Zack grinned and plopped down next to him.
"Let's hurry this story along then."
Ugh, this chapter was hard to put together…I hope it turned out okay.