And, chapter four!

I'll admit, I took an assload of liberties with Sephiroth here. That was the only thing that kinda annoyed me in the game. They say Zack and Seph were buddies, but they never ACT like it. So...liberties. I like what I did.

Also, does anyone agree with me that Hollander was never all that evil/intimidating, at least compared to Hojo?


Attacked

Well, the war's over. We won. Yay. There's been celebrating for days. But I...

Where are you…?

My phone rings. I almost dread it now.

"Hello?"

"Zack. It's been a while."

Wh- am I hallucinating? Is that-

"Sephiroth?"

"Come to Lazard's office."

"O-okay…"

What the hell?

I haul my ass up there as fast as I can. I mean, Sephiroth called me! Freaking Sephiroth! It HAS to be important.

I get up there. Lazard's sitting at his desk, and Sephiroth is leaning against a wall. Whoah…he really is here.

I walk up to Lazard's desk. Sephiroth's holding some papers, pretending to be interested. He glances up at me when I pass him. He looks…preoccupied.

Sorry, man. I tried.

Lazard smiles at me when I stop in front of him. "Zack, congratulations. As of now, you are officially a SOLDIER, 1st class."

What? I'm…what? Oh…oh, man…I…

"I…weird. I thought I'd be happier."

It really is weird. I'm not all that excited now. You'd think I'd be bouncing off the walls, but…maybe it's because Angeal's not here.

Lazard nods.

"Understandable. A lot has happened recently."

No, shit.

He sighs and continues. "I'm afraid I have to ask for your assistance again."

I glare at Mr. Spoiled Brat. "Pushing yet another mission on me?"

He sighs and looks up, but not at me. "I apologize."

I don't buy it.

"Whatever."

"Zack." Lazard speaks up again. "Go and change into your First uniform. Then I'll brief you."

"Got it."

Changing doesn't take long. Not much difference in the uniforms, except for the color. Boy, am I glad to be out of the purple.

I head back upstairs, kind of uncomfortable.

Back to Lazard's.

Sephiroth's still there. Now I'm a little worried.

"The company has decided to…dispose of Genesis and his group. This includes Angeal."

Oh, hell no.

"You…you want me to-"

"No, the army will handle that."

"What about me?"

"They don't trust you." Sephiroth stands and walks behind me. "They believe…your emotions will cloud your judgment."

"No shit, really?" I snap.

"That's why…I'm going with you."

I'm dead silent.

You've got to be kidding me.

I stand from leaning on the desk and turn around slowly.

"To kill them?"

He doesn't say a word, doesn't even look at me.

That son of a bitch.

Suddenly, the building alarms go off, klaxons blaring.

"An intruder?" Lazard's freaked.

"Where?" So am I, actually.

"Close." Apparently, Mr. High-and-Mighty isn't. He's ice cold, as always.

Lazard motions at us. "Sephiroth, the president. Zack, secure the entrance."

We nod and head off- me at a run, that stupid jerk walking calmly.

At the entrance, the front doors have been blown apart, and Sweeper bots and copies are swarming the place.

It takes a while, but I take them all out.

As I'm breathing heavily, that jerk comes up behind me and coughs to get my attention, making me jump.

"Se- Sephiroth! Uh…the intruders are all copies- Genesis copies."

Way to go, Zack, make yourself look like an idiot in front of this bastard.

He looks around, wrinkling his nose in distaste. Most human expression I've ever seen on him.

"Hollander."

"Who?"

"A Shinra scientist." He spits out the word 'scientist' like it's physically painful. Huh.

"He vanished after stealing the copy technology."

"Are you saying he and Genesis teamed up?"

He turns away from me. "Maybe."

"What are they after…?"

I'm just talking to myself, but the damn showoff answers anyway.

"Hollander was passed over for Head of the Science Department. He's held a grudge ever since. He's probably out for revenge."

Seriously?

"That's pretty lame…would Genesis really help him with something that petty?"

Sephiroth sighs. When he speaks again, the pain in his voice he's been trying to hide comes out loud and clear.

"I don't want to believe it at all, but…"

He…he really is upset about this after all…then why…? I try to reassure him.

"Then don't." I wouldn't.

He looks over at me, genuinely surprised. Then he manages a small smile. "In that case, I won't."

Am I actually starting to like him…?

He looks away quickly, and he's back to business.

"Copies have been sighted in Sector 8. Let's go, Zack."

"You got it."

The Sector's teeming with Sweepers and copies and Red Saucer drones, civilians running everywhere.

"Holy crap!"

Sephiroth smirks at me. Prick.

"We should split up."

"Right."

We head off in opposite directions. I'm running past the fountain when I see a pretty redhead cornered by two copies.

Ooh, boy, a damsel in distress!

"I'm a-coming, ma'am!"

I take two steps forwards, and there's an EMR blocking my path.

"Huh?"

I look over and see a scrawny redhead teen in a rumpled suit grinning at me.

Wait…suit?

Aw, hell.

"Sector 8 is the Turks' turf," he drawls, and waggles his baton at my nose. Another one, this guy tall, bald and intimidating, comes up behind me.

Suddenly, someone else's there. Hey, Tseng!

I look over at him, pleading. "Do something, man!"

"Don't concern yourself." Baldy says slowly.

"Huh?"

I turn around, and the cutie's already taken the copies out. Oh.

"How are the other areas?" I start to answer, but Tseng's not asking me.

"Midgar's just crawlin' with the guys," Red drawls, tapping his shoulder with his baton.

Baldy puts in: "Even SOLDIER's having trouble."

Tseng nods all business-like. "Reno," Red grins wider, "Rude," Baldy nods.

"Say the word."

"Go."

Reno cheers and pumps a fist, and the two guys dash off. You know, maybe Turks aren't so bad.

"So, Tseng…SOLDIER's outsourcing to the Turks now, or what?"

"Well, they say SOLDIER's been short."

"Yeah, well that does- huh?" Okay, that wasn't Tseng.

I turn around. The cute girl?

She giggles and waves.

"You- you're a Turk?"

"Cissnei." She smiles.

"Zack. Nice to meet ya."

Tseng chooses then to rudely interrupt my flirting.

"Aren't you on an assignment, Zack?"

Oh. Right. Oops.

"Uhhh….same one, right? Need help here?" Oh, man, was that pathetic.

Tseng shakes his head. "Thank you, but-"

Cissnei cuts him off. "That's so nice of you!" she laughs. "Well, gotta go. See you around, Tseng, Zack." She runs off.

I like her.

You know what, screw it. I follow her onto LOVELESS Avenue- I mean, how much trouble could there be here?

A lot, actually. When I get to the main road, Cissnei's fighting someone. Hey, she's limping!

She catches her weapon- a giant shuriken- and leaps back from a spray of bullets. It knocks the shuriken away, and she stumbles.

I run over, and see-

Genesis?

No, a copy; a more accurate one. It's just as weak as its buddies, though, so I take it down in a couple of hits. It makes its wing appear and tries to fly away, but falls.

Cissnei walks over to it, crouching down to look more closely.

"A wing…how pretty." She smiles. "When I was little, I always wanted to have wings. Like an angel."

I remember burning apples, and I can't look at her.

"If people had wings…they'd be monsters."

If that weren't true, then why would he…

Cissnei shakes her head. "Wings symbolize freedom for those who have none. Not monsters."

I wish I could believe that…but, wait, didn't I just tell…

No. I will believe that.

I smile at her, and she smiles back.

"Thanks for the help, Zack. I have to get going…don't you?"

"Oh, yeah…"

She waves quickly and runs off.

My phone rings. As soon as I answer, Sephiroth starts speaking.

"Come to the Sector 5 reactor as soon as possible."

"You…found something?"

"Angeal is here." He actually sounds hopeful. But…

"So, what? We find him and kill him?"

"The army is already en route, but we have time. We have to find them before they do, and-"

"And WHAT?"

I don't know why I'm so pissed. Maybe because after all this, Sephiroth is still going to follow those stupid orders and kill a friend.

He sounds…amused?

"…And fail to kill them."

No way! He's not- Is he-?

"Really?"

He's quiet for a second, then laughs quietly.

Holy shit, did I just make Sephiroth laugh?

"Yes, Zack. Really."

"AWESOME! ...I hope!"


You know, until now, I don't think I've ever been in a reactor.

I'd remember the smell.

Mako smells like a cross between ozone, sewage, and, weirdly enough, fresh cut grass.

It's overpowering. Ugh.

I head down the catwalks, sauntering along casually 'cause the place is empty, when I hear a clang behind me.

I spin around and see a weird-looking sahagin jump onto the catwalk behind me.

It's pretty easy to handle, and I kill it easy. But when it's lying there, I notice…

"Wh- what the- is that- is that Angeal's face?"

Footsteps behind me, and Sephiroth is there. When he speaks, he sounds…I don't know. Upset?

"Apparently Genesis isn't the only one…who can be copied." He walks past me, and stops. He's quiet for a long time, then turns to look out across the catwalks.

"The SOLDIER training room…"

Is he talking to himself?

"Hm?"

Now he looks at me. But he's not really looking. I can tell his head's somewhere else, lost in a memory.

He smiles. "When the 2nds were all away, we would always sneak in there for fun…Genesis, Angeal, and I."

Boy…he really misses them. You can hear it in his voice. He's really kind of a different person when he's away from the Shinra building.

"You guys were real close." I can't help but be a little jealous. Angeal had never mentioned he knew Sephiroth.

He sighs sadly. "I wonder…"

I wait.

He leans against the railing, crossing his arms. "One day, the three of us were there, sparring as usual, when Genesis…got out of hand. I don't know what started it. He started fighting for real, I…I took his bait. I think we ended up actively trying to kill each other. Before we could do serious damage to ourselves or the training room, Angeal stepped between us. In doing so, however…Genesis was injured. A cut, on his left shoulder."

"Was everything okay?" I asked, really interested. So that's why the training room was closed for two weeks like last year or something…

Sephiroth shrugged. "As far as Genesis was concerned, yes. But Angeal…" He shook his head, covering his mouth with a hand.

"What happened?"

Sephiroth sounded like he was trying not to laugh at the memory. "Later that day, I received one of his famous lectures."

Oh, no way.

"About…what?" It couldn't be. Seriously, Angeal didn't. Did he?

"Always the same thing. Dreams, honor, pride…et cetera. That one."

He did. He really did. Angeal gave Sephiroth the same lecture he always gave me. I thought that was a Zack-only.

"One of those? I got those all the time, too! I thought it was just me. Man, those just go on forever, don't they!"

I mimicked Angeal's voice. "'Blah blah blah, never forget your SOLDIER pride, blah blah dreams, blah blah honor, blah blah I have a freaking huge sword I never use because of HONOR, blah blah long-winded blah.'"

Sephiroth stared at me for a minute, struggling not to smile. "That…sounded just like him."

I grinned. "Sad, isn't it? He's practically beaten it into our heads."

That did it. We looked at each other for a second, and then both of us doubled over laughing.

After a few minutes, we both managed to calm down, and I grinned at him. He smiled back, looking pretty genuinely happy, for once.

I guess we're friends now.

After another second he apparently remembers he's supposed to be Mr. Serious-Badass-SOLDIER-Guy, and retreats back into his stoic mask. Damn, so close!

He went back over to the Angeal-sahagin, and glared at it like the entire mess was its fault.

"So…they really are in league with Hollander."

No…I was wrong. He didn't sound upset. He sounded…betrayed.

Believe me, I know the feeling.

"How did this happen?" I slam my hand into the railing.

The two of us share a look, and suddenly, I feel like I understand him a lot better. We nod at each other, and head off to find Angeal.

As we're walking, Sephiroth's suddenly a lot more talkative. He tells me we're looking for Hollander's lab. Apparently, we might be able to find clues to where Angeal is there.

Sounds good to me.

We spend about an hour or two of walking around aimlessly in an awkward silence punctuated by short bursts of even more awkward attempts at conversation which die almost immediately. Y'know, for two guys who're supposed to be friends now, we're…really bad at it.

After all that time, we find it. Sephiroth heaves the heavy steel door open, and we head down the stairs.

Sephiroth goes over to the desk, while I poke around by one of those pod-things.

After a few minutes, I'm bored stiff. "Sephiroth, you find anything?"

He looks over at me, and his mask drops again. He looks genuinely amused. "More than you, most likely."

While I'm really glad he's decided to be himself around me again, I resent that remark.

He continues, sitting on the desk and flipping through some papers in his hand.

"Apparently, Hollander was involved in some experiment called 'Project G', which was supposed to create a child with the abilities of an Ancient."

"A…what?"

He shrugs at me. "I have no idea. To continue, the result of the experiment was…a normal child. That means…?" He looks at me, eyebrow raised. Oh, so that's how he wants to play, huh?

"A failure."

He chuckles. "Oh, so you are paying attention. Good. However…"

He sighs.

"There is a paper here…on 'SOLDIER Degradation'. It supposedly occurs in people with 'type G' cells."

"Like Project G? But you said…"

"I did. But…" his mind's far away again. "There was an incident. Soon after Genesis was injured. It was only a minor injury, but…it wasn't healing. The one who treated him was…Hollander. He told us that he wasn't due to Mako energy that had seeped in through the wound. Then, he told us Genesis needed a blood transfusion. I volunteered, but…Angeal stopped me. Hollander said I wasn't 'viable'."

He slammed a fist on the table, hard.

"Why wasn't I allowed to be the donor…?"

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair in frustration, and glanced over at the pod-thingy.

"SOLDIER…type G."

He put all the papers down and got up, looking over at me.

"Project G gave birth to Genesis. Project G…"

"Project Genesis." See, Sephiroth, I'm not an idiot.

He nods. "Right. Unlike this report says, though, Genesis did show signs of change."

"He…was degrading?"

"Not just that."

"…The copies?"

He smiles slightly. "Exactly."

He walks over to where I am, next to the pod-thingy. All of a sudden, he looks furious. It's actually less intimidating then when he's dead serious. I guess because it makes him look more human.

"Abominations…" He pretty much hisses the word at the thing in the tank. I have to admit, it's weird to see him so worked up.

"Se-Sephiroth?"

We spin around. It's an older guy, unshaven and kinda pudgy, in a t-shirt, jeans, sandals, and a lab coat haphazardly thrown over it all.

"Hollander."

Wait, this guy's Hollander? I was expecting someone more…evil-looking. This guy looks like that loud, friendly, beer-swilling uncle everyone's got.

Sephiroth's glaring at the guy like he can make him burst into flames with a look. "I thought you would be here."

Hollander laughs. "Well, only I can stop the degradation process."

Sephiroth starts towards Mr. Pudgy-Uncle, still looking furious, but Genesis swoops down and lands in between them.

Wait, what the freakin'- HOW ARE THINGS ALWAYS IN THE CEILING THAT CAN'T POSSIBLY BE THERE?

"Genesis."

That smarmy bastard points his sword at Sephiroth's throat.

"You won't be taking Hollander."

The guy in question takes the opportunity to run like hell.

"Zack, go. I'll handle Genesis."

"On it!"

As I run out of the room, I hear that bastard spout more poetry.

Ugh. Sephiroth, kick his ass.

I'm running through hallways and up stairs and holy SHIT this guy is fast!

I mean, I'm a freaking young, handsome, and fit SOLDIER First, and this guy's a pudgy, middle-aged science geek, and he's running faster than me!

Am I the only one that sees something seriously wrong with this?

I chase him out onto a balcony on the reactor's edge. I can see the sky behind the Shinra building. Looks like rain.

He stops at the balcony's edge, and I approach him.

"Hollander, do you know what you're doing?"

He backs away past a pillar, and before I can follow, a sword blocks my path from behind it.

The Buster sword.

Oh, now I'm mad.

"Working for Hollander now, Angeal? What are you after?"

"World domination."

Wha- wait, is he- oh, god.

"Not even remotely funny, man."

"Then…revenge."

"Why?"

He walks away. I follow.

"Angeal!"

A wing.

A white wing bursts out of his right shoulder.

A wing. Angeal's got a wing. Oh, my god.

"I've become…a monster."

He tries to smile, but it's obvious he's faking it.

"A monster's objective is usually world domination or revenge."

The joke drops like a rock.

"No, Angeal. You're wrong. Those aren't the wings of a monster."

"Then…what are they?"

Thank you, Cissnei.

"Angel's wings." I catch a feather and smile.

He doesn't react. "I see."

But…then suddenly he's angry.

"Then what should an angel fight for, Zack? What do angels dream of?"

He slams the Buster sword down and heads towards me. Is he…?

"Angeal…"

He's still angry. But not at me. I think…he's angry at himself.

"Angels dream of one thing, Zack."

"Tell me…please."

He almost whispers it. "To be…human."

Then he punches me in the stomach, hard. I go flying backwards, bounce a few times, and roll onto a grating.

I stagger to my feet and start to get ready to fight, but then I stop.

I'm not gonna fight him.

I drop my fists and give him the biggest grin I can muster up at the moment.

I can't. Not Angeal. At least…not like this.

"Defend yourself!"

I shake my head at him, still grinning.

He doesn't hesitate. Charging a Fire in his fist, he slams it against the floor.

I brace myself for the shockwave and stagger back with the impact. I'm mostly okay.

The grating I'm on…not so much.

It shatters under me, and I fall.

The last thing I hear is footsteps above me, and Sephiroth calling my name.

Well, shit, I think to myself.

Then I black out.