Ch 1: Seventeen

If he had to sum up Shinra's legendary city in one word, Angeal would have to choose huge. There was probably a better word that would communicate the staggering size of Midgar, but Angeal didn't have it. He'd have to ask Genesis later for a more fitting way to express his awe.

The city was huge! When they first approached it, it had looked like some sort of dark mechanical forest slowly growing until it seemed to encompass the entire horizon. The huge Shinra Building jutted up into the air from the center of the famous plate, reigning king over hundreds of other towers, buildings, and scaffoldings vying for the skyline.

Even country boys knew about Midgar. Angeal knew that the city was the center of Shinra activity. He knew that it had been under construction for more than a decade, and that it was the most technologically advanced city in the world. He knew that Shinra ruled from hundreds of feet in the air, high above the ground, on top of their plate.

But he hadn't understood the size of it. As they chugged closer, the plate reached out into the sky, casting a huge shadow until it was big enough to block out the sun. As the train passed into its shadow, it seemed like there was mountain floating above their heads, suspended in the sky by some unknown force. It was almost frightening.

"We're going up there...?" he whispered, not sure why it awed him so much.

"Yeah," Genesis replied quietly. For once, even he seemed at a loss for words, staring up at the darkened underside of the huge metal structure. They were going to be standing on that within an hour, hundreds of feet above solid ground.

The train flew along its tracks, bringing them into the lower city. Angeal couldn't stop staring at the huge pillars that held the plate high above their heads. They passed swiftly through areas darkened by the plate's shadow, then were blinded passing through places where the sunlight still reached. Looking up, he could see the edges of the huge metal city, scaffolding of immense steel bars sticking out, causing the edges of the construction to look like huge, high flying pincushions. Every so often, he caught sight of yet another crane, or metal plate in motion, or some other evidence of the city's growth.

It was only a short time after entering the city that their transport reached the massive central column. It was impossible to judge it's thickness, but the way it loomed in front of the train hinted at its huge size. When the train turned and began to run parallel to its surface, beginning the long spiral to the top of the plate, Angeal found himself staring at the endless rounds of sheet metal, millions of steel rivets in perfectly uniform lines.

"Angeal, look..." At Genesis' quiet words, Angeal turned. His friend was looking out the window on the other side of the train. Angeal did the same.

And stared.

The train had been spiraling upwards for a few minutes now; he had felt it in the spinning and the slight force driving him back into his seat. But he hadn't seen it.

They were in the air. He could see the city stretching out below them, hundreds of small houses. He could see tiny forms of people moving about in the lower city. Every so often, when they were facing the right direction, sunlight flooded in from where it could breach the plate, lighting up a thousand different things too small to distinguish. Angeal caught sight of houses, playgrounds, statues, and many other shapes he couldn't make out. Above that, the plate was drawing ever closer, becoming bigger and bigger as the train climbed steadily towards its destination. Every so often, trains would pass them headed downwards on thin tracks, long flashes of metal that moved faster than he would have thought safe. Maybe he just didn't notice the speed of their own train because it was going upwards.

Genesis seemed enchanted most by the view. He stared at the sky as they gradually ascended, an almost childlike wonder in his eyes.

Angeal was leaning forward to ask about it, wondering what was on his friend's mind, when he heard Genesis murmuring excitedly under his breath.

Genesis' eyes were alight with excitement. Angeal managed to catch some of the words. "We seek it thus, and take to the sky..."

Genesis glanced at him, a wide smile on his face. "Angeal...we're in Midgar!"

Before he could answer, there was a voice over the PA system. "We are now passing through the plate. Next stop: Sector 0 station, Shinra Headquarters."

Angeal met Genesis' excited gaze, and broke into a wide smile. We're here...

Arrival was so routine by now that the time between sighting the massive circle of Midgar's plate and landing on the helicopter pad was like clockwork. As soon as the door opened, Sephiroth was disembarking, hearing more sighs of relief from the infantrymen he was leaving behind.

Midgar did not feel welcoming, no matter how many times he returned. Perhaps it was because he had grown up here, in this maze of steel and at this unnatural altitude, and within these walls certain memories were hidden away but refused to disappear. Perhaps it was something as simple as the lack of plant life. Whatever the case, the moment his boots touched harsh metal, he didn't want to think about the happiness of the infantry soldiers anymore. He actually didn't want to think about much of anything, though that was of course impossible.

Lazard was waiting for him. He stood at the entrance to the helicopter pad, looking professionally unaffected even as the wind whipped blond hair across his glasses.

It was actually somewhat unusual for the SOLDIER director to come out and meet him so soon after a mission. Usually they didn't see each other until debriefing. Sephiroth headed over to him.

Lazard acknowledged him with a nod. He appeared to be halfway through a cellphone conversation he was not enjoying, judging by the look on his face.

"I am telling you the facts," Lazard sighed, obviously frustrated with the other speaker. "That's not enough time..." He paused briefly, listening to the earpiece with a scowl. "No, it can't. One week is completely insufficient... Heidigger, my men are SOLDIERs, not microwave dinners! Training. takes. time."

There was an angry sounding voice that shook Lazard's phone. Sephiroth couldn't make out the words, but it was unnecessary. The leader of the Peace Preservation Department had not taken the statement well.

Lazard sighed through his teeth. "We can argue this further later. Right now I have other things to do." As there was the angry buzzing of a retort, he hung up on Heidigger.

Sephiroth stood still, waiting to be addressed. Despite his attempt at professionalism, it was very satisfying to hear someone tell Heidigger off. Sephiroth did not have the authority to do so himself when he was in Midgar. It was good to know he wasn't the only person who thought the head of Shinra's military was a waste of valuable oxygen.

Lazard put his phone away with a low grumble, something about bacterial brain sizes. Then, swiftly replacing his scowl with a more politically correct smile of approval, he turned to Sephiroth.

"It's good to see you again, General." Lazard pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, a sign that he was significantly irritated with whatever Heidigger's demand was. The action, however, was the only evidence of his emotions. Lazard was almost as good at hiding himself as Sephiroth was. During their first time together years ago, it had taken Sephiroth months to learn the man's subtle cues.

"I'm sorry to require you so soon after your return, but there's a SOLDIER recruit orientation in a half-hour," Lazard explained, looking into green eyes. That was another thing. Lazard was one of the few people who weren't afraid to look Sephiroth in the eye when speaking to him. It was nice every once in a while. Perhaps it was part of the reason Lazard was one of the few people that Sephiroth found himself respecting.

"They've ordered your attendance," Lazard sighed, his eyes flashing slightly at the mention of the ever-exasperating "they."

Ah, so that was it. New recruits. No wonder he had been brought back to Midgar. Shinra could never resist an opportunity to parade their war hero about in front of newcomers. Sephiroth restrained a sigh. "I understand, sir."

Lazard nodded. "Good. Meet me at the side entrance of Assembly Hall 3R in fifteen minutes, please. That should give you enough time to drop off your things." An annoyingly high pitched ringtone sounded as he finished the statement. Flipping the phone out of his pocket, Lazard glanced at the display.

He sighed. "I'll see you there. Dismissed." Waving his hand absently, he quickly brought the phone to his ear. "Reeve. The housing assignments, do you have them?"

Sephiroth nodded to acknowledge the order. Fifteen minutes. Without a word, he slung his bag over his shoulder and walked purposefully towards the door, leaving Lazard to his call. He had promised himself the first thing he would do after landing was finish cleaning his sword. Lazard's order stood now, too, and he could not be late.

Strange that a minute after arriving in Midgar, he always felt like he'd never left at all.

The Sector 0 station was packed. As the train slowed smoothly to a stop, Angeal stared at the sheer number of people who were moving about on the platform. The crowd was too full of motion to comprehend. But every person on the platform had one thing in common. It was clear that their main attention was focused on the huge Shinra Building that towered only a few short blocks away, dominating the skyline and casting an imposing shadow against the bright sky.

The headquarters of all Shinra activity on the planet. And the home of SOLDIER.

A friendly punch against his shoulder snapped him out of his shock. "Come on, Angeal!" Genesis practically sang, tossing Angeal his bag. He had already gotten his out from under the seat, and clutched his Loveless book in his hand. "Let's go!"

Angeal laughed and untangled his arms from the bag. The voice over the PA system announced quietly that they had arrived at Sector 0 station. Everyone already knew that, of course, as was evident by the buzz of activity and expectation that filled the train car. When the train finally halted, it was all Genesis could do to keep from jumping to his feet. A look at Angeal told him that his friend was having similar feelings, though of course not to the same uncontrollable extent. Angeal never lost his cool that easily, even when excited.

When finally the doors were opened, the passengers spilled out of the train onto the Sector 0 station. The two SOLDIER recruits had to struggle not to be dragged off in the flood. Genesis had to use his small stature to duck around people, lugging his bags. It always ended up like that. People parted slightly for Angeal, what with his taller stature and the large sword attached to his bags, but Angeal by nature would never cut anyone off.

When they finally managed to maneuver over to a wall, to re-grip their bags and get their bearings, Genesis was already looking wildly to all sides, taking in everything. The whirl of colors and people was something he was used to, having come in to other cities a few times with his father on business, but it didn't matter. This was Midgar, and everything seemed new and exciting. People were all rushing back and forth, dressed in formal attire and even some in infantry uniforms. The pitter-patter of shoes on the platform never ceased. At the edges, brightly colored buildings were lit with mako-powered light. Some were small vendors, hoping to catch people with change in their pockets, while others were more official, bearing the Shinra symbol proudly on the doors.

"Angeal, look!" Genesis whirled excitedly, pointing with one hand. Angeal looked up and followed his wild gesturing with his eyes, then broke into a wide grin when he realized Genesis was pointing to a large, brightly flashing Loveless sign, off at one side.

"My father told me about it," Genesis babbled excitedly, nearly bouncing on his feet. "Loveless Avenue. They put on plays of Loveless at least every other week!"

Angeal chuckled, shaking his head slightly. "I won't come with you that often," he teased softly, hefting his bags and trying to determine their destination through the crowd.

Genesis laughed out loud as he readjusted his grip on his duffel bag. "I'm not that crazy, Angeal!" he protested with mock indignity. "After all, we would have to get paid first."

Angeal smiled, not looking at all perturbed at the implication that once handy money was acquired, they would attend the show every week. Instead, he still looked out at the crowd, brow furrowed as he tried to decide where they were supposed to go. If Genesis was left to his own devices, they wouldn't get through the station for hours.

"Do you think we should go up to the building...?" he asked after a moment.

Genesis was shrugging, with a wide grin still on his face, when a loud, gruff voice boomed over the milling crowds. "SOLDIER recruits, come this way!"

Angeal perked up, flashing Genesis a relived smile, and the pair carefully waded and dodged through the mass of people towards the voice.

Once they got to the exit to the platform complex and into the administrative area, Angeal could make out a man in the SOLDIER uniform standing off to one side. He was tall, black haired, heavyset, and stood firmly on the biggest pair of boots Angeal had ever seen in his life.

"Come this way, SOLDIER recruits!" he bellowed again, directing intimidating eyes out over the milling crowd. He was so loud that several people standing near him jumped in fright.

Expectantly, Genesis close behind him, Angeal approached the man, swallowing nervously. He'd never actually met a SOLDIER before, and he hoped he wouldn't say anything stupid.

"Hello," he began, looking up at the man with a friendly smile, then remembered Runen's advice and hastily added, "Sir. My friend and I came from Banora, and we're here-"

"To try to get into SOLDIER," the big man cut him off loudly, though his voice wasn't too harsh. "I know, kid, I know. Now, I'm not the one you actually need to talk to, alright?" He gestured to the side, where there were a group of other young men standing around another man in similar uniform. "Joss here'll take you boys up to Shinra. Go over and stay near him. Don't get lost."

Angeal blinked, startled by the abrupt cutoff, but then smiled happily and nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you."

The man seemed struck by Angeal's politeness. He smiled affably as he waved them along. "Off you go. Good luck." Then he turned back to the milling crowd in front of him. "SOLDIER recruits, this way!" Genesis and Angeal winced at the volume as they made their way over to the small group.

The other SOLDIER saw them coming and waved for them to hurry with a quick gesture of his hand. Obediently, they picked up speed, coming to a quick stop before him. The man was slightly smaller in stature than his loud companion, but the strength in his arms and the sword positioned prominently on his back left it without doubt that he, too, was more powerful than any of the young men who stood awkwardly around him.

He gave the two boys who approached him a sharp look, measuring them. One small, redheaded, with a wildly gleeful look in his eyes. Misty-eyed, obviously. The other stood steadily on both feet, a large sword attached to his luggage, and looked the SOLDIER in the eye. They hesitated together, standing closer to each other than strangers. Instead, the proximity was friendly, as was the way the redhead stayed close to the taller one even in his excitement.

Good. Two more made enough for his group, and then they could get going. "You two, come on. Group, we're heading towards the Shinra building. Walk into the lobby, take a left, then wait for me while I check you in. Do not wander off. Is that understood?"

There was a mixture of mumbles and nods from the men gathered around, who began gathering up various articles of luggage. In the conspicuous quiet, Angeal nodded and hefted his bag. "Yes, sir."

The SOLDIER gave him a slightly surprised look, which caused Genesis to smile. Shaking the surprise off, the man led them out of the station and into a crowded avenue. A large flight of stairs, several more roads, and then the grand entryway of the Shinra building loomed before them.

The sheer number of doorways at the top of the stairs was overwhelming in and of itself, let alone the height of the building and the magical logo that appeared everywhere. The number of people passing in and out of the huge center of Shinra defied count, and Angeal was for a moment at a loss for how they were going to manage to get through that crowd with all of their luggage.

Then the SOLDIER led them off to one side, where a section of the staircase was blocked off by a small partition. Entering with a nod to an infantryman who stood on duty by the gate, he nodded for them to follow him and led the way up to a much less crowded doorway.

The glass doorway withdrew silently without a touch, revealing air-conditioned coolness behind. Angeal felt Genesis walk close behind him as they both glanced back and forth furiously, trying to take in everything.

A normal looking lobby, but for the huge Shinra symbol brightly emblazoned on the carpet. Several young women sat behind a very, very long desk, covered with papers, phones, computers, and other things that he didn't have a chance to look at, because they were following directions and turning left into a hallway.

The SOLDIER took another left and they found themselves in what looked like a waiting room, plush chairs in rows and a neat rectangle in the middle of the room. Pamphlets about mako energy and Shinra technology littered the counters.

"Alright, boys, set your bags down here," the man ordered with an authoritative voice. "They'll be picked up and sent to the SOLDIER assignment center from here. You'll get them back in an hour."

There were various sounds of relief as heavy bags were deposited about the room. Angeal set down his with reluctance, making sure that the sword as securely attached.

"Don't worry, kid." He jumped, looking up to see the SOLDIER watching him. "They'll take good care of your things, and you'll only miss them for the presentation."

He smiled and nodded. "Thank you, sir."

Genesis had to smile as the SOLDIER drew back towards the front. It really was impossible not to be drawn to Angeal. He knew that well enough, but he always seemed to forget it.

Once he got back to the front of the room, the SOLDIER's smile faded into a serious look. His voice was much more authoritative when he spoke. "Alright, listen up. When I point to you, give me your name and registration number." He had procured a laptop from somewhere, and was looking at the screen.

"Alright," came from the crowd somewhere among other nods and murmurs of understanding.

The man sighed. "You're trying to get into SOLDIER, start sounding like it. You should address your superiors as sir, if at all!"

"Yes, sir," they chorused loudly after a minute of surprised silence.

"Much better," he muttered before staring to point around the room. "Quick, we have a schedule to keep."

They stood side by side, waiting for their turn. Angeal knew both their registration numbers by now; Genesis had gone over his own out loud so often, almost as if it were poetry for him to read back. It had even superseded Loveless for a time...

The finger turned in his general direction, to his left.

"Genesis Rhapsodos, registration HF-22019." Genesis was smiling, his voice just below loud. As always, he seemed to take a certain pride in his unusual name.

A nod from their guide, and he turned to Angeal. He didn't point so much as look before Angeal answered. "Angeal Hewley, HG-22853."

The SOLDIER clicked something on his computer, then snapped the laptop shut, putting it on a counter. "Good, then. You are all officially present." At the somewhat confused looks the statement garnered, he half-smirked. "Now the real fun can begin."

A head ducked into the door. "Joss, five minutes. Get a move on, you're the last group!"

"Oh, get out of here," the SOLDIER replied with a smile, so that the intruding head smiled in response and nodded.

"I'll tell them you'll be right there, then."

Joss turned towards them and spoke with a clipped, businesslike tone. "Alright, we're going to your orientation meeting. Be quiet, listen, don't fidget. You are being judged on everything you do today. If you want to get in, make a good impression." There was an almost unison gasp from around the room. Everyone tensed. Angeal breathed out slowly. They could do this. He knew he and Genesis could.

The SOLDIER seemed amused by the tension in the room. "Now, form up a line, ladies. If you can do that, you'll survive the first five minutes."

Obediently and somewhat uncertainly, the group of twenty or so young men moved away from their bags and formed up scraggly ranks. Joss watched with half-amused, half-pitying look, before laughing under his breath. "If that's the best you can do..." Trailing off with a chuckle, he shook his head. "Ah, well, that'll work itself out. Move out."

Angeal found himself somewhere in the middle, with Genesis behind him, and a stranger walking in front. He looked around, fascinated, at everything they passed.

It appeared that there were several elevators in the Shinra building, seeing as there was some sort of guard on duty at the one they used. Joss waved at him and entered the elevator, and the man waved back, but the infantry man standing by the elevator looked at them with almost jealousy as they walked by. Angeal started and quickly broke eye-contact.

A long elevator ride and several hallways later, they reached a large set of double doors. Another SOLDIER, this time an older, black haired man in a black uniform, met them at the door. Genesis started. He tapped Angeal's shoulder very lightly. Angeal understood.

That was a SOLDIER 1st.

Joss nodded respectfully to the man, who in his turn stepped aside and allowed them entrance. "Welcome, youngsters," he said with a solemn expression. "Good luck."

Genesis stared, and Angeal managed to smile as much as he could as they walked past.

The room that greeted them on the other side was filled with other young men, all seated in rows of forty or so. At the end and in the middle of each row there was a uniformed SOLDIER, the leader of a group. There was the buzz of hundreds of conversations, washing over them, too tangled to discern any one voice. However, the excitement and apprehension in all the recruits' eyes was clear enough to see.

Joss led them to a row in the middle, where there was a line of empty seats waiting for them. As he paused to take a head count, he muttered to them, "Welcome to Shinra."

Angeal settled down uneasily into his chair, glancing at Genesis. They really were here...

Genesis grinned, leaning forward to whisper to Angeal. "We made it!" The glee in his voice was overwhelming for such quiet words.

Angeal grinned in response, but shook his head. "Not yet. Almost."

Genesis resisted the urge to stick out his tongue. Logical Angeal, as always. But he didn't want to acknowledge that right now, not when he could almost taste it! He shook his head, pretending to glare at Angeal, who smiled and gestured for him to stay quiet. Genesis would have responded, but a video began to play, and distracted him long enough to spare his friend the playful banter. Angeal smiled as he watched the images on the wide projection screen with rapt attention.

It was a promotional video, like the posters that were on the wall of every recruitment office the world over. Various facts about Shinra's power and importance were presented over images of young men gallantly defeating monsters, protecting the stability of the company and the world. Men who looked barely older than they did stood in crisp lines, swinging shining swords and saluting the camera. Everywhere was strength and glory, surrounded by the knowledge that they were fighting for Shinra, for the maintenance of order and stability in the world, for the company that improved their lives so much.

Genesis grinned, drinking it in. This was why they had come here, this was it!

Though there were wonderful images and information, the organizers of the introductory lecture seemed to understand that 400 young men in high hopes of being inducted into SOLDIER would not have the attention span for a very long informational video, especially not now. The video ended with a proud narrator telling them through the training program their greatest talents would be brought to light, with a slowly panning shot of the training fields on some plain, where young men like themselves practiced and worked to gain the privilege to call themselves SOLDIER.

There was a rather loud background of conversation after the video screen went black. Everyone was excited now, and the air hummed with energy. Angeal could hear many different voices nearby, most of them repeating his own thoughts.

"Angeal, how can you stay quiet!" Genesis demanded, this time humoring Angeal and keeping his voice low. "Don't you know where we are? What we're doing?"

Angeal looked at him and grinned, nodding, and Genesis had to smile in response, since it was obvious that Angeal knew exactly what they were doing.

"I want to see what next," Angeal answered, eyes searching the crowd. The SOLDIERs interspersed among them seemed to be communicating through hand gestures and looks across the oblivious cadets. Angeal saw one of the men seated on the far edge, where they had entered, leave his seat and walk out of sight, towards the door. They were obviously preparing for something.

Suddenly a strange murmuring swept through the assembled cadets, following by a swift quiet. Angeal blinked at Genesis before they both looked around, trying to see what had caused it.

"Up and at attention, kiddies. The director's coming. Show some respect," a low voice muttered from several rows behind them, and Joss whispered along the line "On your feet, ladies."

Automatically, the entire line of SOLDIER recruits clumsily rose and ordered itself into something relatively standardized and crisp, each of them standing as straight as they could. All sounds stopped, and you could hear the crisp footsteps from the doorway. Someone was walking across the line, coming closer to where he stood.

"There." A reverent whisper in his left ear, barely even a breath. "Do you see him there?" A stranger's voice.

Angeal didn't dare shake his head, his eyes searching wildly for the source of that tone. There. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw two figures walking along the line. One was thin, official looking, with short blonde hair, glasses, and white shoes that were quiet against the floor. He walked with quick, businesslike strides, eyes running along the line of cadets in a practiced fashion. Angeal tried to remember not to blink as blue eyes moved across his face, momentarily forming eye contact, but clearly not registering his face.

SOLDIER Director Lazard Deuriscus. The man who, in the end, would decide their futures. Angeal had never seen him before, but it had to be. He was somewhat different than expected, not as harsh looking as Angeal would have predicted for the man in charge of the most powerful operatives in Shinra's army.

But it wasn't Lazard who inspired the collective shudder of anticipation and awe along the line of recruits. Someone else was walking behind the SOLDIER director, someone who everyone could recognize.

Black boots against the floor. His steps were longer than Lazard's, and somehow graceful, lithe, like a lion or a panther or some huge cat. Shifting silver, flashing, glowing green. Black leather. And a single harsh line of sharp metal.

Angeal could hear the silent shiver of excitement run down the line. Not a sound, no one dared, but it rang in the air nonetheless, a silent hum of 400 men thinking the exact same name.


Angeal took a deep breath and forced himself to look, really look, as the general of Shinra passed. It was a terrifying proposition, but he wanted so badly to see him, to see what he really looked like. If he let this chance go by because he was afraid, he'd never forgive himself. He hadn't come to SOLIDER to be afraid.

Black boots. Then up, the jacket, black leather. The cold blade of the legendary sword Masamune, almost as famous as its master. Long strands of silver hair, shifting rhythmically with each powerful stride. Gods, he walked like a warrior, that much was obvious, even to those who knew nothing.

Then Angeal managed to raise his eyes farther and he saw glowing green eyes framed by long silver bangs.

The moment he looked up, Sephiroth's eyes just happened to be moving to him in their trip down the line. For an instant sword-sharp eyes met his, and he couldn't breathe. Angeal gazed frozen at Shinra's general.

It felt like forever. Green eyes he couldn't even fathom in their strangeness regarded him, their glow making them impossible to read. Pupils like a cat's, narrowed as if in light. Such overpowering eyes...he couldn't even think, only stare and wonder numbly at what they saw.

The second passed and Sephiroth continued on, letting him go. Angeal just managed to keep from heaving a sigh of relief. Something inside him was shaking with a combination of fear and exhilaration. Sephiroth, Shinra's general, a war hero and universally feared warrior, had met his eyes. And Angeal hadn't flinched.

His eyes automatically followed the general as he stepped away. And, now that those eyes weren't pinning him down, Angeal could see Sephiroth's face. Angeal blinked, startled. He hadn't seen, hadn't known, but...Sephiroth looked younger than Lazard. He looked...

The pair reached their destination and it was as if a chokehold released the cadets. The entire auditorium breathed again after Sephiroth was no longer looking at them. "That there is the most dangerous man on the planet," the voice whispered, barely a breath as the director reached his station at the front of the assembled group, and Sephiroth followed, standing a little bit behind him.

Angeal was looking out of the corner of his eye, trying to keep that face that so shocked him in view. Eyes that were a thousand times stronger than him, could crush him completely with seemingly no effort, even almost as if by accident, and yet... Embarrassing as it was, the first thing that managed to get out of his mouth was, "How old is he?"

The voice apparently forgave him, though. There was a soft laugh in his ear. "The General? You poor country boys always think he's so old. He's only 17, maybe 18."

Angeal's eyes went wide. 17? That was only his age...how could such a man be only as old as he was? Something caught in the workings of his brain, forcing a restart of that line of thought, but it only led to the same grinding halt, stuck repeating questions. It wasn't possible...

Director Deuriscus stood on a podium in front of them, giving a speech. He talked about SOLDIER and the opportunity they had been given, of the process they were entering, of the strength they would have and what Shinra was trying to do. Angeal tried to listen; he was eagerly drinking in the words, the dreams, the images that the director presented to them. It wasn't that he was uninterested. This was going to be his life, his dreams, his world, and he was eager to know and feel it all.

But he was constantly distracted, his gaze pulled to the side. Sephiroth stood behind Lazard, not speaking, not looking at them, but still there, a presence that no one in their right mind could possibly ignore. Angeal couldn't seem to keep his eyes away from the general, and he couldn't keep out of his head how young the man looked if he could ignore the glowing eyes that were impossibly stronger than his. He had a build that reminded Angeal distinctly of Genesis, thin, mostly bones, though slightly less of a walking skeleton than Angeal's friend. Still, the teenage resemblance was there. Beneath all that silver hair, fame, and armor, Sephiroth did look...well, almost like them...

Angeal didn't really know why that bugged him so much. He couldn't keep from thinking it. 17 years. That was how long he had lived on this planet. Somehow, that number drew him towards the general, even though as a lowly SOLDIER cadet he had no right to feel that way. Something made him curious, made him watch and wonder what the general was thinking about.

He had two separate, simultaneous reactions to the man. One was the usual awe and respect that had completely blanked his mind when Sephiroth looked at him. But the other was this strange curiosity. What was it like to be a war hero at 17? How...what sort of person... Angeal wanted to know. He really, honestly wanted to know, wanted to see the personality hidden underneath all that, who he was irrationally certain was there.

All of this made him startled when Lazard's speech finished. He tuned in to the words just in time to hear, "Good luck to you and may you carry on the glory of Shinra." Then the director smiled and stepped back from the podium, walking off to the side towards the door. There was the sound of orders around the room as group leaders signaled their assigned groups of cadets. If Joss spoke he didn't hear him.

Angeal was looking at Sephiroth. The general had been staring slightly above the heads of the cadets with a blank expression during the speech. He didn't seem to be listening to Lazard, and Angeal wondered how many times he'd heard this same introduction. It seemed like Shinra had brought out their general to show him off to the incoming cadets.

As there was the general low buzz of renewed conversations, Lazard walked by Sephiroth. The general's eyes refocused in the time Lazard was in front of him and he stirred, moving to follow the director away. In doing so, his eyes swept the crowd again, in passing, seemingly by accident.

And Angeal had been looking right at him again. Something panicked inside him as glowing green eyes caught him staring straight at them. That wasn't polite! Time seemed to stubbornly slow again, so that the moment that he was staring at the general was much longer than it should have been.

Sephiroth's eyes glowed, from mako Angeal had heard, but it didn't seem like it. It seemed natural that those eyes glowed simply from the power of the man, of his own will. Angeal felt that same power for a long instant, overwhelming any of his thoughts, only able to stare into shimmering green and black triangles.

But then inexplicably, absurdly, he felt the urge to cock his head, to ask some question, though he couldn't say a word. It was a foolish, incredibly stupid idea; it made him embarrassed just to think of it. He had no right, to either feel this way or ask any sort of question. He should only feel respect and awe, what was this?

What was wrong with him? He wanted to talk to him, to ask him something, anything, to hear an answer, to hear him say something. And despite the fact that he was staring, and it was terribly rude, and he really had no right, and...he still couldn't look away, didn't want to.

Something flickered in Sephiroth's eyes, almost too fast to register, but Angeal saw it there. Then the general turned his eyes from Angeal's and disappeared after the director.

Angeal stared for a long moment afterwards, feeling his heart beat wildly in his chest. He only awoke from somewhere deep inside himself when Genesis shoved his shoulder and whispered hotly in his ear. "Angeal, move! We're going."

Obediently, automatically, he turned with his column and marched out of the room, trying to ignore the thought of those strange green eyes and his stupidly contrary mind and focus on where they were going.

"We're going to orientation, now." Joss was saying with a smile. "Hang on tight." Angeal followed the voice, head already reeling before the day even started.

Lazard paused at the entrance to his office. It was standard procedure to bring the young general with him see the new recruits. Sephiroth's presence, however, was strictly for appearances. The general could address troops, he had the ability, but most of the newcomers would be far too dazzled by his presence to hear his words at all, and Sephiroth preferred not saying a word to anyone. Lazard didn't have the heart to force him to make a speech every time. Still, the awe factor was useful, and so every time he wasn't available Lazard was instructed to drag the general along. Apparently "just in" did not count as "busy."

The well known routine wasn't particularly fun for either of them. Sometimes, in good recruitment periods, they did this twice a day for a week. Lazard knew that there were other things Sephiroth would rather do, even if he didn't know exactly what they were. Not that the 1st ever mentioned it, or even spoke at all when he reported for his duty. But Lazard had been working with him for a few years now, and had started understanding the nonverbal cues the general used. This was not Sephiroth's idea of a good day.

He felt a little guilty for dragging the general out today. With pressures from Wutai building, there was all the more expectation for Shinra's general to be training or out in the field. This was taking away from his short period of downtime between Wutai tours. He had just flown in from the frontlines 15 minutes ago, for goodness sake! Didn't the man merit at least some sleep after all he had done over there?

Apparently not. There was no helping it, however. Sephiroth was as tightly bound to his duty as Lazard was. Neither of them would complain.

"What do you think of them? Anything catch your eye?" Lazard asked at the door to his office. The words were throwaways, he knew the answer he always received weeks in advance. But that wasn't the point. It was a way to express some apology on his part, and it was also a dismissal, meaning that the general was free to go.

Sephiroth shook his head. "No." His voice was flat and neutral, as if his mind was elsewhere. He bowed his head slightly and walked past Lazard. As always, it was impossible to tell if he accepted, dismissed, or even understood Lazard's apology.

The SOLDIER director shrugged. It didn't really matter. The majority of these recruits wouldn't make it into SOLDIER, not worth registering before they dropped out, back into the infantry to become a faceless soldiers again. He had a feeling that Sephiroth understood this well, having already spent nearly a year and a half in Wutai since he turned 14. It wasn't healthy to get attached to newbies.

Not that he had to worry about Sephiroth getting attached to anyone. Thus far, he'd never seen the general react positively to anyone. Sephiroth just didn't seem to form personal attachments, and that appeared unlikely to change.

Sephiroth walked away from the director, automatically going to his office. He didn't pay attention to where he was going, occupied with other thoughts, memories, images. Everything ordinary, a sea of faceless forms, only possessing averted eyes and shifting breaths that he could hear. But then there had been that one. A pair of blue eyes under black hair, somewhere in the middle, two rows back.

He'd looked, passing along as he always did, even if just to make them feel as though he saw them. They'd all shudder soundlessly with awe and wonder, he'd feel it, and then they'd falter, wanting to look at him but always looking away at the last second, at somewhere on his face, not his eyes. He'd grown used to the power of his eyes.

But then, straight at him, presented as if for inspection, blue eyes, a shade darker than the sky, little lights blurring the line between the whites and the irises. Dark pupils from under black lashes and eyebrows, looking at him.

Looking straight at him. A shocked, dumb, awed look, but a look sent directly into his eyes nonetheless.

It momentarily stopped his smooth registry and dismissal of images. And so the blue eyes stuck in his mind even as the others disappeared, tagged with a little flickering of confusion and uncertainty. They hadn't looked away...but everyone did. So why?

He'd suppressed the confusion and taken his post behind the director, phasing out the speech that he had heard far too many times, just as he was phasing out everything else. In a well practiced, carefully timed gesture, he tuned out the world and stared in a non-committal direction slightly above the cadets' heads, waiting. Gods, he was tired. It was good to have a break.

As he waited, feeling time pass more than hearing the words, he grew bored and so poked around different thoughts. He was slated to return to the war in about three weeks. That was an unpleasant thought, and another replaced it. He had a choice of training simulations today. He could decide what he worked on and why. A luxury after months true combat. He was wound so tight right now it would be wonderful to let loose in such a harmless environment. He wondered idly what he should do.

But after the speech, while leaving, the thought of those blue eyes resurfaced, and against his will his eyes moved to the audience again. It would have been a fluke, he was sure, but still. It was such a rare occurrence...

And there again, stopping his thoughts. Mid-ranged blue eyes, looking straight at him. Not flinching, not moving, just staring at him. Not at his general regalia, not at Masamune, not at his hair or his hands or anything else, but at his eyes, at where he was and where he hid himself.

It was not allowed by protocol or procedure for him to stop, to stare back into those eyes that didn't look away from him. But there was the sudden, illogical, frightening desire to do just that. To stop, look and try to understand what thoughts were behind that blue to make those eyes in all these hundred not look away from him.

And then, to top it all off, something stirred in the expression of those deep blue circles. Emotion, befuddled and confused, afraid even, but impossibly there. The look of shocked awe that was the only thing typical disappeared and became something questioning, curious, alive. He even thought the expression had looked a little embarrassed, as if the cadet had realized he was staring. The eyes registered him, and reacted, as he had been trained as a child to overcome the instinctive, heart-stopping reflex to a gunshot and move.

It didn't make sense. Every cadet, usually even most of the thirds couldn't overcome the deer-caught-in-headlights shock even if they were able to meet his eyes. How could any in their first briefing look at him? It didn't make sense.

He had no answers. This was something he didn't understand at all. The curiosity that caused him was somewhat disturbing. He didn't understand people as a rule, but that didn't mean he felt the desire to understand. He'd always assumed it was beyond his reach, something he was better off not trying, with all its confusing and frightening complexities. After all, there was so much he didn't understand...

But this...why did he feel something strange about this...? The idea that maybe someone saw him...by accident surely, but still saw him...maybe...as...?

As what?

There was a blank there, a word he couldn't form, didn't know, and he didn't understand. He didn't understand anything.

He thankfully entered his office, carefully placing Masamune on its stand. The feeling of the hilt in his hand was reassuring. Masamune, at least, he understood entirely. It enabled him to push away the image of those blue eyes for the time being and focus on his daunting pile of paperwork.

Planning kicked in. He was off to Wutai again in three weeks. This pile was just going to get bigger during his absence, and had already grown substantially since he had last been here. He was going to get as much done of it now as feasibly possible, before heading down to the VR room for his simulation.

By the time Sephiroth had settled at his desk, the image of blue eyes that so baffled him was gone from his mind.

A/N: Sorry this took so long guys. Hope you like it, though. We have all three of our boys in the same room for the first time! Oooh, excitement! More next chapter :) Let's get Angeal and Gen through day one. :P