Notes: A prequel to 'The Mission', but it's not necessary to read that to understand this one.
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII is the property of Square-Enix. No profit is sought from this work.
The Mission: Prequel
"Here it is," Genesis said, "Château Rhapsodos!" He ushered the other two into the furnished apartment. "What do you think?"
Angeal walked into the living room and looked around. "Big place." He thought it a little bland, to tell the truth. Genesis had not put his signature on it yet.
"You could have had one too, Angeal," Genesis said, shutting the door behind Sephiroth. "The one across the hall is a mirror image to this. We could have been neighbors. Now who am I supposed to go to when I want to borrow a cup of sugar?"
"I'm sure you'll find someone to give you some sugar," Angeal said. "Besides, I'm right downstairs."
"I don't know how you could live in such a small space," Genesis said, working his gloves off. "They would have given you something bigger if you'd asked."
"We'll hardly be home to see it, Gen." Angeal did not mention that his apartment was still bigger than the house he had grown up in. "Besides, I don't need as much space as you do."
"Hmm." Genesis turned. "What do you think, Sephiroth?"
Sephiroth walked up very cautiously, eyes taking in every detail, brow furrowing as he tried to formulate a response. "It's adequate."
Genesis's arms dropped. "Is that all?"
"It's…," Sephiroth searched for something to say. "Nicer than camp."
"Oh, this boy," Genesis said with a playful roll of his eyes. He clasped one hand to Sephiroth's shoulder almost paternally, taking advantage of the two inches of height he still had on Shinra's prodigy. "Angeal, we have got to teach him how civilized people live."
"What for?" Angeal said. "What's the worst he could do?" Sephiroth turned an intent stare on Genesis, genuinely interested in the answer.
"Let's see." Genesis's smile was teasing. "Keep all his belongings in a foot locker instead of the closet? Have lights out on himself by eight at night? Try to furnish his apartment entirely from a Military Supply depot?"
None of that sounded particularly problematic to Sephiroth but there was something there that caught his attention. "I don't have an apartment."
Angeal looked up. "What?"
"I don't have an apartment," Sephiroth said. Genesis was frowning at him too.
"How did that happen?" Genesis asked. "Didn't they go through the housing specifications list with you once you made rank?"
Sephiroth shook his head, hair moving around his shoulders. "No. I know they did with some of the others but I have a place to stay already."
The other two relaxed. "Well, that's good," Angeal said.
Genesis nodded. "Where is it?"
"The lab." Sephiroth did not understand why they were so quiet.
Eventually Genesis spoke. "The lab? Hojo's lab?"
Sephiroth nodded. "It's where I've always lived. I have a bed there and my own sink and toilet."
Genesis's knees gave way and he slumped onto his bland company-issued couch. "So you just… go back there when you come home from the field?" Sephiroth nodded again.
"Is it for testing?" Angeal asked, and this time Sephiroth frowned.
"I report for a full screening and supplementary mako treatments every time I come back, but once those are done there usually isn't anything more. Unless Hojo comes up with something."
Genesis narrowed his eyes. "Of course. So nobody from the company housing division ever asked you about your preferences in living quarters?"
"No." Sephiroth was confused. Hadn't he said that already?
Angeal and Genesis shared a look. "You want to know what I think?" Genesis began and didn't wait for an answer. "I think the old professor just wants to keep you close by and under his thumb." Sephiroth nodded, not the least bit surprised. That was his life, give orders there, take orders here. He didn't know why it bothered the other two so much.
"Sit down, Seph," Genesis said. Sephiroth did, rather stiffly. He still was not used to having a nickname. Angeal assured him Genesis meant it well, so he would try to adjust. Plenty of people had nicknames, apparently. "Come with me, Angeal, our guest needs a drink."
"I don't need a drink," Sephiroth said.
"I'm getting you one anyway," Genesis said, "and a good guest accepts hospitality. Just… turn on the TV in the meantime or something." Genesis touched Angeal on the arm and hustled him towards the kitchen door.
"This is an outrage," Genesis said once they were out of sight.
"I know," Angeal said. "But what can we do? This is above us, Gen." He slumped down at the tacky little dinette set. Genesis made a note to get a better one as soon as he had the time.
"It's barbaric," he said, pulling out a chair for himself. Plastic and foldable. Atrocious. "There's no real reason he has to spend all his off-time in the labs, is there? Hollander doesn't keep us there if we don't have a work-up scheduled."
"But Hollander isn't Hojo," Angeal said, sighing. He had actually exchanged words with the man only once, and briefly. He had been a good head taller than Hojo already at the time, and a great deal larger otherwise and he still recalled feeling like a bug under glass, wings beating furiously while the pins came down. "And Sephiroth," he said, "isn't us."
Genesis made a dismissive sound. "He can't need more testing and monitoring than we get. He's supposed to be better, remember? What kind of better product needs that kind of round the clock care?" Belatedly he remembered his promise of a drink and got up to check his stock.
He had water, water, some Shinra-issued military grade protein shakes and more water. "Huh," he said, scanning his bare cupboards. "I suppose we're eating delivery of some sort tonight. Water?"
"Please," Angeal said.
Genesis pulled down three glasses and began testing out the water dispenser in the fridge. It kicked in after a two-second hum and a violent cough of water that Genesis narrowly avoided. He held the first glass up to the light and studied it. "Hmm." He took a sip. "Ick."
"Is it bad?" Angeal asked.
"No, just obviously tap," Genesis said, adding 'water filtration system' to his mental list. "We've had worse," he allowed. He set one glass down for Angeal and nursed his own.
Angeal crossed his arms and frowned at the water. "I don't like that they never even asked him. It's…."
"Dishonorable," Genesis finished, "bumping him up all the ranks and responsibility without any of the perks that are supposed to come with it." He set his glass down. "It's not good for him, Angeal. He doesn't know the first thing about anything that isn't war or the labs. Look at what it's cost him already."
"I know," Angeal said. Bitter regret sat like a small stone inside him. If they had known, maybe they could have helped more. And Sephiroth was still so young, younger than they were in more ways than just the numbers.
"There has to be something we can do," Genesis said.
"Maybe." Angeal straightened up. "But while we're thinking, maybe you should take Sephiroth his water?"
"I suppose." Genesis took the glass and left. Angeal followed after a moment, needing to see for himself that Sephiroth was okay.
There was a remote on the coffee table. Sephiroth picked it up. He found the power button, large and blue in the upper left corner. Turn on the TV, Genesis had said. Well, it was Genesis's place. Sephiroth turned the TV on.
The first channel appeared to be the weather listings. It was not very interesting or, at the moment, relevant. Sephiroth studied the remote and found the channel button. News channels were next and he flipped through them in disgust as they got it all wrong. There had been casualties. Negotiations were not proceeding smoothly. Where did the media get its information? Sephiroth continued searching the channels, more amazed at how many there were than what was actually on.
He had never really seen much regular television. There were monitors in the lab for instructional use and a wide selection of disks and recordings for him to access during tutorial hours and when Hojo wanted him kept out of the way. But much of it was educational in nature, documentaries about penguins and volcanoes, rockets and the like. They had kept him busy enough but it wasn't what other people considered entertainment.
He had caught glimpses here and there. Sometimes one of the assistants would bring in a mini-screen so they could all watch some sort of sporting match. In his very brief period of group training before he was shipped to the front, he had seen some of the recruits watching music videos in the rec room, strange things with people singing and sometimes dancing while disjointed things happened around them. And people talked about the 'stories' over coffee and at the water coolers. Things about people living lives that were apparently more interesting than real ones. Sephiroth knew these things existed but he had never sat down and watched.
He stopped clicking. There seemed to be one of those story-things on right then, but Sephiroth could not make sense of it. People watched these things for entertainment? This was as strange as those music videos and the laughter coming out of nowhere made it even stranger.
"Seph?" Genesis asked. "I brought your water." Sephiroth didn't answer, turning his head every which way to try to make sense of what was on the screen. "Sephiroth?"
"That man," Sephiroth said, "has a turkey on his head."
Genesis looked at the screen. "Yes, yes, he does. I'll set your water down here if you want it. Sorry I don't have any napkins yet." He looked around for coasters but then judged the coffee table too ugly to be worth the effort.
"Why does he have a turkey stuck on his head?" Sephiroth asked. The last thin waverings of his voice change were creeping back in.
"Because it's funny," Angeal said, taking a seat next to him. "Can you hear the laughter?"
Sephiroth frowned. "So the laughter is to tell you that something is funny?"
"It tells you something is supposed to be funny," Genesis said, sliding over the armrest to settle in on the other side. "Sometimes it's not as funny as the people who make these things want to think it is."
Sephiroth frowned at the screen. "Is this one funny?"
Genesis huffed. "It's not even trying."
"Oh, come on, now," Angeal said. "It may not be high art, but it's good for a giggle."
"I suppose," Genesis allowed, making a show of cleaning his nails, "if you turn your brain off beforehand."
"Suit yourself," Angeal said, knowing well enough where to end things.
Sephiroth watched the turkey-headed man on the screen some more. "Are all TV shows like this? All the story kind, I mean."
"Hardly," Genesis said. "There are plenty things more serious. This is just some silly sitcom."
Sephiroth blinked. "Sit… com?" He thought he might have heard the term somewhere.
"Situation comedy," Angeal explained. "It's about people finding themselves in funny situations."
Sephiroth actually looked a little alarmed. "How is someone getting his head stuck inside a turkey funny?"
Genesis groaned slightly behind Sephiroth's back, burying his face in one hand. "Jokes aren't funny if you have to explain them," he muttered. Then he remembered it was for Sephiroth's benefit. Poor kid didn't recognize a scary lot of normal social cues.
"It's funny because it's ridiculous," Angeal was saying. "Sometimes in life, ridiculous things happen. Sitcoms like to pretend that ridiculous things happen all the time."
"Ridiculous situations are funny?" Sephiroth was pretty certain now that he had never been in a ridiculous situation in his life.
"They can be," Genesis said, turning the volume up a smidge. "Usually if nobody's killed or suffers permanent injury." He ran a hand through his hair, scratching his head. How to describe humor's nuance to someone so impressionable? To expound on its many permutations? To explain what was and was not appropriate? And, more importantly what was perfectly appropriate so long as one was not in the company of stiffs, prudes, higher-ups, repressed individuals, goody two-shoeses, and other specimens of morose folk who could give one a hard time for upsetting their fragile sensibilities. It was a lifetime of gradual learning that thanks to a supremely sheltered upbringing, Sephiroth was now having to process like a machine. Genesis sighed. Without thinking, he reached out and rubbed Sephiroth's back.
Sephiroth jerked, still unused to these little gestures, but Angeal said Genesis meant no harm by it. Sephiroth made himself relax and focused on the turkey-man's antics. "What makes this really ridiculous?"
"Because it's very unlikely to happen, maybe," Genesis said. Sephiroth was so warm, probably from all the mako. "It's possible, I suppose, if we're dealing with someone who's just that big an idiot, but it's not the kind of thing that happens everyday."
"But Genesis, you say people are idiots all the time."
Genesis frowned. "Yes, I do, don't I? That's because they usually are. And yet somehow they've got the sense to keep on living!"
"While geniuses such as yourself run off to war," Angeal put in, sipping his water to hide his face.
"I- hmm." Genesis turned a pointy glare at Angeal, who deflected it with practiced ease. "Well," Genesis allowed, "I suppose there is some humor to be had in something like that."
Sephiroth looked from one to the other, certain the conversation was now beyond him. He gave it up as lost and turned back to the turkey-man. "I suppose it's a good thing it's a turkey he got his head stuck in," he said. "They're very big birds."
"They certainly are," Genesis said.
"It would be much harder for him to breathe if he got his head stuck in a goose."
"Yes," Angeal said, "it would be."
"And I don't suppose anyone would want to eat a bird that someone had died in."
"Not one bite," Genesis said.
Sephiroth cocked his head to one side, then the other. "This is ridiculous," he said.
"It is," Angeal confirmed.
"But it's funny because he's not injured by it."
"We'll hope not," Genesis said, smirking. "He could still get salmonella from uncooked poultry." Sephiroth looked confused.
"The humor here is in what's happening now," Angeal explained, glaring at Genesis over the top of Sephiroth's head for adding a confounding variable. "Don't worry about long-term consequences. In sitcoms there usually aren't any."
"Because if there were that would make it less funny?" Sephiroth asked.
Sephiroth watched the thing go to commercial with the most studious expression on his face. Then he sighed. "Nothing ridiculous happens around me." He was almost pouting, as if left out of one of life's little joys yet again. Genesis would have told him otherwise but for once, held his tongue. Some ridiculous things were funny. Some were just ridiculous.
It was Angeal who stepped in. "I'm sure there must have been something. Didn't Hojo ever have a spectacular lab accident?"
Sephiroth stared straight ahead. "Those have long-term consequences." Angeal blanched.
"How about at the front then?" Genesis asked, forcing his voice steady. "Military men do stupid things all the time, present company excepted, of course."
Sephiroth slouched a little, disheartened. "I can't think of anything."
"That's most certainly not true," Genesis insisted. "Weren't you there when that thing with Corporal Harrod happened?"
"Who?" Sephiroth asked.
"Harrod," Genesis repeated. "The one who went to the latrines one night and had a frog jump out on his ass."
Angeal smirked. "Remember? He came racing back and ran all over camp with his pants down, screaming that he'd been hit."
"Oh, him." Sephiroth made the little pout he was fast outgrowing. "He caused all that commotion in camp over a frog."
"Hey, now," Genesis said, "like Harrod said, and I quote, anybody'd flip their shit if they were trying to take a dump and something cold, wet and slimy started crawling up their nads."
Sephiroth did not particularly think that he would, but as Genesis said, other people were idiots. "So that was ridiculous then?"
"Ridiculous then and ridiculous now," Genesis said, not even hiding his grin. "It got even better when he tripped into the weapons stand by the fire."
"That wasn't so good, actually," Angeal said. "It landed on Coomer, remember?"
"I remember him screaming," Sephiroth said, eyes wide, brain replaying the image. "One of the swords got him in the foot."
"Comedy gold!" Genesis was rolling in his seat. "You can't make that stuff up!"
"He was hurt, Gen," Angeal said.
"It was a relatively minor wound, though," Sephiroth said, processing it all. "He screamed a lot but it was nothing that would cause permanent disability. And we did eventually find his toe."
"Yeah," Angeal grumbled. "In my soup."
Genesis shook so hard he rolled out of his seat. He stood, pretending to cough and clear his throat. "Excuse me, I believe I need a refill. Can I top you gentlemen up?"
"No thank you," Sephiroth said. Angeal, too, waved him off. Genesis retreated from the room with a most dignified silence. They heard him collapse in laughter once he got to the kitchen.
"Still in earshot, Gen," Angeal hollered. Genesis laughed even harder.
Sephiroth looked up at Angeal. "So was that ridiculous situation funny or not?"
Angeal pursed his lips and thought about it. "These things are usually funnier when they're happening to other people. Nothing happened to Gen, of course, so he thinks it's a blast."
"Hmm." Sephiroth settled into the cushions, hugging the remote to his chest. "I want to watch more TV."
"You do that, Seph," Angeal said. "Find something you like."
Sephiroth blinked at hearing Genesis's nickname for him coming from Angeal, but he dutifully started flipping through channels again. He paused for a moment on a documentary about ice caps but realized he had seen it already. Besides, he wanted to find something different. He didn't have a TV of his own and wasn't sure when he would get this chance again.
There were shows about gardening that got Angeal sitting up, but he declined the remote when offered. There was surgery on one channel that had them both turning away in distaste. Sephiroth stopped for a while at a show about a masked crime fighter skulking through the dark night, and at another about a vessel of space travellers exploring new worlds, but he did not stick to any for long. He wanted to try it all.
"That man looked like Lazard," he said absently, flipping past some sort of fashion contest.
"Hey, he did," Angeal said. "I wonder if Lazard has a brother."
Sephiroth found something Angeal said were 'crime dramas', but he could not make sense of them yet. Angeal told him it was no good coming in to these things in the middle so Sephiroth made a note to check them out from the start when he got a chance. "What's this?" he asked, finding a show that appeared to be about watching a pot boil.
"Looks like a cooking show," Angeal said.
Sephiroth's lips twisted. "People watch cooking?"
"If they want to learn how to cook."
Sephiroth kept changing channels. He was not interested in any of the sporting events being televised. The arts and crafts left him bored. There was a channel entirely devoted to classical music and drama. He thought Genesis might like that.
"I think I'll go see what's keeping Gen," Angeal said, getting cross-eyed from all the channel surfing. "We're in the kitchen if you need us."
"Mmhmm," Sephiroth said, eyes already glazing over.
Angeal found Genesis sitting at the table, staring at the wall. "You okay, Gen?"
"I was thinking."
"I think I can do something about Sephiroth's living arrangements," Genesis said, face lighting up. "He'll stay here with me!"
"It makes sense, Angeal. I've got space and he needs it, he's still on company turf if they need him and we don't have to worry about Housing turning him down because Hojo doesn't want him having his own place."
Angeal smiled. He felt, knew, it couldn't work out as smoothly as all that, but at least they could make the effort. "That's very kind of you, Genesis."
"Of course it is." Genesis took a victory sip of water and nearly spat it out.
"You should ask him first, you realize," Angeal said. "What if he says 'no'?"
"Why would he say 'no'? I have a TV. You see how he's stuck to the thing. I'll cut him some keys in the morning and I think the couch folds out into a bed. That will do until I get some furniture sorted out."
"Sounds like you've got it all worked out," Angeal said.
"Just about." Genesis stared down at his hands. "It would be good, you know, for us to keep an eye on him. We can teach him about sitcoms and reality TV and everything else so he won't be so clueless about anything that isn't war." Genesis wrung his fingers slightly. "Can't have anybody else luring him off to dark corners and all that." Angeal agreed wholeheartedly, except for one little thing.
"Gen, when I come over…"
Genesis waved it off. "He can watch TV with the volume up, though why you worry about him hearing when he's already-"
"Genesis!" Sephiroth cried out from the living room. "There's a channel with people having sex!" Genesis froze. "There's lots of channels with people having sex!"
Angeal sighed and took another sip of his water. "I see you got the full cable package."
Genesis raised his glass. "I'll have nothing but the best."