And here it is people.

After close to six months, I've finally finished this chapter. This one's gone through a lot of drama...a lot of changes. A lot of shit's gone down since I last updated this fic, and this chapter sat undone for waaaaay too long. I was a bit reluctant to keep going without the presence of a beta, since I have my doubts about my work, and my former beta seems to have left. But after joining a writing group, and meeting some new people, I found my drive to take this back up and work to finish it.

My thanks to DarkPatu. He was willing to proofread and give me some suggestions, even though he had a lot of projects himself to work on, he also gave me a pre-submission review that made me feel really good about this chapter XD. Also gotta thank the fantastic JenesisX for motivating me and dealing with my ramblings of slashy-slashness, even though it's not really her thing. I suggest checking both of them out; good reads will be in your future.

Now, onto the fic stuff.

Pairing(s): onesided Zack/Seph, Zack/(surprise), Zack/random SOLDIERs, mentions of Zack/random SOLDIERs, and failed Zack/Aerith flirting... Zack is a slut in this chapter.

Warnings: language, slash, sex. Expect these often.

As always, I greatly encourage reviews. I love hearing what you all think. The good, the bad I welcome it.

Happy reading, folks~


He couldn't sleep.

Lying on his back, arms crossed behind his head, he stared at the ceiling. His sensitive ears could pick up the sounds of the busy streets outside, the hour having no effect on the activity of Midgar's people. His enhanced vision easily cut through the darkness of his bedroom, and he traced imaginary patterns along the plaster as his mind reflected over how he'd gotten to this point. Even over the noise outside, he could hear the sound of his own even breathing... and the breathing of another next to him. The room was otherwise silent, the air still but heavy with the scent of sweat and... other bodily fluids.

The tingling in his nerves had long since faded. Even the phantom sensations he'd grown used to, the feel of ghostly hands upon his skin and the imaginary tremble of his muscles were nonexistent. It certainly had not been the best he'd had; sure it was a new body, and he'd gotten off, but it had been... lacking, leaving him mostly unsatisfied and wide awake with the thoughts he tried to rid himself of.

Zack chanced a glance to his left and took note of the sleeping form next to him, the pale face and hair that, in the light, was a dirty bond. His eyes were closed, pale lashes that were still dark enough to see fluttering every few moments. The word "cute" came to mind. The kid was cute, not bad looking at all... but cute had never been Zack's thing. He was too small, not enough muscle for his tastes, though Zack would admit that the younger SOLDIER made some pretty sexy noises when he was getting pounded into a mattress.

Perhaps under different circumstances, Zack would have enjoyed himself; there was no real reason why he shouldn't have. The kid was the perfect fuck—tight, virgin, and willing... more than willing. He'd moved in such an erotic display of submission, writhing and arching, his head thrown back against the pillows as he moaned and panted Zack's name. Zack hadn't been easy on him either. The younger man was a SOLDIER Second, his body perfectly capable of handling worse abuse. And Gods, he handled well.

His thoughts paused when Luxiere shifted, making a small noise in his sleep. Very briefly as he watched lips part to take a breath, he couldn't help but wonder what a certain First looked like when he slept. Did he look as peaceful as the Second next to him? Was he silent, or did he utter soft sounds in his sleep? Did he snore...? Probably not.

A sigh left Zack's lips, and he sat up leaning his back against the headboard. He couldn't bring himself to feel frustrated as the silver-haired man once again invaded his thoughts, though that didn't stop them from being quite the inconvenience. When he looked back down at his side, for a brief moment Luxiere was gone, and in his place was a larger, stronger body with long silver hair fanned out over the pillows and sheets. Gods, he bet the First was gorgeous stripped bare and fast asleep.

When he blinked, the silver-haired man was gone, and the Second's smaller body was once again at his side.

Zack had honestly enjoyed it at first; he hadn't had the chance to be with someone new in a while, and there was a certain thrill to getting acquainted with a new body. There had been no emotion, only raw lust and frustration, and he'd very nearly lost himself reveling in the way that body felt around him. That all faded the moment the Second looked up at him, fixing him with eyes that were still changing, the blue from the mako creeping slowly towards his pupils. In an instant those eyes turned cyan, and the short blond hair became long and silver. The image had disappeared just as quickly, but the damage had been done.

The thrill was gone and the pleasure became shallow. Looking back, Zack was surprised he even came at all. He was fairly sure that he wouldn't have had he not simply given up and allowed his thoughts to wander to his superior. He remembered the way Luxiere arched sharply and cried out his name when he came; in Zack's eyes, a body much larger thrashed under him, and the voice crying his name was much deeper. When Zack himself reached his peak, he kept silent; it had been for the better though, since he may have uttered the wrong name had he allowed himself to make a sound.

Even as he watched the kid lying breathless under him, there had been no smug satisfaction at his performance, at how he so easily made a man melt beneath him, no deep seated tingle in his spine that made his muscles shudder beneath his skin. There had been nothing, nothing but fleeting pleasure from an empty orgasm.

Still it wasn't like he could blame Luxiere. Despite the... anticlimactic finish, the thrill had still been there. He'd enjoyed the kid's company, and when he'd laid the proposition before him, it had been fun to watch the kid blush and sputter before accepting. Actually getting Luxiere to bed had been the most fun, especially when he practically tore that uniform off of him. The Second hadn't been so bothered by Zack seeing him naked, which was no surprise.

What did surprise him was when he himself stripped, and Luxiere's eyes immediately strayed downward. He laughed when the kid blushed and looked away. Hell, he'd likely seen enough cocks in communal showers that he should have been used it... but maybe there had been something else to it, perhaps similar to the way Zack blushed every time he imagined Sephiroth naked and splayed out over his bed.

But with the fun over he was left sitting in the dark, watching his latest conquest sleep. He almost chuckled at the thought of the Second not being able to sit or walk right for a while. Kunsel would most surely have something to say about it. Zack was pretty certain his friend would somehow know that he'd brought Luxiere back to his apartment, and seeing the kid trying to hide an awkward limp would definitely pique his friend's interest. It would give Kunsel a chance to ask some awkward questions, if for no other reason than to see Zack sputter.

He turned and looked at the digital clock at his bedside, but his brain didn't register the numbers on the display. He was restless, completely unable to fall asleep but at a loss of what to do about it. There was brief consideration at going into the living room and doing squats while watching TV. Then Zack considered venturing to the training room, or perhaps he'd wander the city or even call Kunsel, knowing his friend was up at odd hours as it was. As if of its own accord, his body had risen out of bed before he realized it. He went to his closet and threw on whatever clothes his fingers touched first, and then glanced at the SOLDIER in his bed before quietly leaving.

o0o

Despite the ideas in his head, Zack did not go to the training room, nor did he go to Kunsel's place or even leave the building entirely. Somehow, he found himself back at the data room staring at the door as if trying to see through it. He hadn't intended to come here... but he'd had no real destination in mind, only a need to get out. Perhaps the data room had been his intended destination; with the recent crazy nature of his thoughts, he couldn't be sure... and there was no sense in thinking about it.

Zack's hand went to his handset, but he paused as his fingers wrapped around it. It was pretty late—almost early morning. If Sephiroth was not in the data room he was likely sleeping, and he didn't want to disturb his superior for some late night idle conversation. Briefly, he considered just going in, but without the proper clearance a reprimand would be the best he'd get. The last thing Zack wanted was to risk his job further by breaking protocol. He only had the one option, and after a few moments of thought he finally raised his hand and rapped on the door.

It didn't open, and he heard nothing. Of course, that didn't mean Sephiroth wasn't in there—though Zack couldn't see why he would be—but if he was, he clearly had no desire to be in the company of another. The only other place was the First's office, but Zack very much doubted he'd be there, not at this hour.

He didn't stop the frustrated noise that came from his lips as he backed away from the door. All he wanted was to talk to the man, but it seemed that something was dead set on preventing that. Eventually, he was going to have to get this problem dealt with; it was becoming much too distracting, and eventually it would affect his performance on assignments. Perhaps with his job at stake, he'd be a bit more willing to confront Sephiroth... but he really did not want to drag this on long enough for that to happen.

With no other ideas in mind, he sighed and trudged back to his apartment. Maybe he could wake Luxiere and fuck him again.

o0o

By the time he made it back he was actually thankful that he'd gotten no response from the data room. When he looked over himself, Zack was actually a bit disappointed at his intention to face his superior officer while looking so sloppy. His clothes were rumpled and wrinkled—and what was that stain on his pants anyway? He knew his hair had to have been a horrible mess since he hadn't bothered to even try and smooth it down much less comb it, and now that he thought about it... having neglected to shower, he must have reeked of sweat and sex.

Even if Sephiroth had appeared from behind that door, he would have likely wrinkled his nose and turned him away. Why bother with someone who didn't even bother to look halfway presentable?

Upon entering his bedroom, he noticed his bed empty. A noise made him turn towards his bathroom, and there he saw the door wide open, light on and shower running. Zack silently ventured closer and stared into the room watching the silhouette of who he knew to be the Second he brought to bed behind the shower glass. Immediately, his mind went to Sephiroth, and he could so plainly see him behind the glass, rivers of water flowing down his body, silver hair soaked and plastered to his skin.

That thought alone made something wake in him, and he shivered with arousal.

Without a word, he removed his clothes, leaving them in a forgotten pile on his floor. He'd pick them up later when he decided to actually clean. But cleaning was not on his mind at the moment. He was once again agitated, frustrated, and hard, and as long as Luxiere remained willing, Zack was going make use of him.

He strode into the bathroom silently, shutting the door behind him.

o0o

Inevitably things returned to normal, and Zack was once again thrown into the dull repetition that was his routine. There were a few minor differences; after the attack, there were frequent reports of monsters and straggling copies that had somehow managed to hide out in the city and the slums. Even though they were far too simple for his skills, Zack gladly volunteered to go on several extermination missions, often requesting to investigate sightings in the slums. While he would not be able to necessarily visit, he made sure to keep constant check on Aerith's church to make sure that it remained safe... or as safe as it could be down there.

Extermination missions never lasted long though, and they were much too easy. Not to mention that the novelty quickly wore off once he got reacquainted with mission reports... Gods, he hated reports. It didn't take long for him to become bored, and he'd only request to be assigned for missions in the slums, particularly Sector 5 or the neighboring areas. Without the missions occupying his time, he turned to his near constant training which wasn't much better of an alternative.

It wasn't until he decided to forego the holograms and train with other SOLDIERs again that things began to get interesting again.

He'd actually begun to divert his focus from Angeal and Sephiroth after a few days. His mentor was a First and could handle himself, and after what Zack had seen between him and Genesis, he was much more confident in the man's decisions being the right ones. The silver-haired man began slowly sinking back into the recesses of his mind, only showing up whenever he was caught with nothing to keep his attention.

At first, Zack had been unsure of training with other SOLDIERs again, worried that the cause of his distraction would only become more prevalent. Fortunately, that had not been the case, and he was reacquainted with the excitement of sparring with living humans.

While the programs in the training room were constantly changed and updated, their AI refined to make them less predictable, after fighting them enough times, one began to see a pattern. Even the smallest consistency could prove fatal in a battle against a skilled opponent, and once a pattern could be picked up in the programs, they were easily defeated, the fun gone. A living opponent however could not be predicted in most cases. Even new recruits who repeated moves to smooth out technique were prone to unexpected error.

Admittedly, it was also pretty cool to see the way the new Thirds looked up to him as a First. Zack also found it a bit funny to be present in training sessions and see the new kids amp things up the slightest bit in an effort to show off, in an effort to please... an effort to please him.

He tended to keep with Seconds when he did actively spar. He knew them, knew most of their strengths, their limits. Thirds were new, most of them not even fully enhanced. He tended to simply watch the Thirds, give pointers wherever needed, but mostly watch which often proved more entertaining.

A particular day though, found Zack sparring with one of the more advanced Seconds. Their match must have been pretty intense, since when it was finished—Zack coming out on top of course— he noticed that several of the Thirds present in the room had stopped their own training to watch. It had been fun, more fun than he'd had training with someone in a while, and he felt some of that pent up restless energy leave him when it was over.

Afterwards he found himself in the locker room showers, somewhere he hadn't been in a while either. He'd had the option of simply gathering his things and heading back to his own apartment, but he was in the mood for some nostalgia, for reliving his days as a cadet and SOLDIER Third, showering in a large room with a bunch of other men... it was pretty hot, admittedly.

Somehow Zack ended up showering next to his sparring partner, and even after they were both finished they lingered until after every other SOLDIER had left. It was then that the Second turned and gave him a look... one that he hadn't been faced with in a while. Before Zack really knew it, he was on his knees, his mouth around the Second's cock.

It wasn't terribly common, but it also wasn't the rarest occurrence for operatives to proposition one another. The job often kept them from returning to their own partners, or going out into the city and satisfying themselves with one-night-stands. Sometimes, one of the few female operatives would be willing to engage in casual relations with a male comrade... but female SOLDIERs tended to be just as butch as most of the men or kept to themselves. So the men often turned to each other for sexual gratification—the women likely doing the same with one another.

Once Zack had become familiar with sex in general—thanks to Kunsel of course—he'd quite often find himself in the showers or half dressed in the locker rooms, going down on a fellow operative or, less often, letting them go down on him. Maybe it was because he got used to it as a Third... or maybe it was a minor kink of his to be somewhat dominated; really he never thought about, nor did he care.

The Second who had him on his knees this time around was clearly one of the straight ones. He could tell by the things he heard the man mutter under his breath—and Gods were they dirty. He was obviously used to just shoving his cock down his girl's throat if the way he yanked at Zack's head and thrust into his mouth was any indication, and it took a lot of will to keep from gagging on him.

It didn't last very long. It never did. It was a short and to the point encounter that served no more purpose than for a sexually frustrated man to get off and then return to his duties. Zack knew the Second was about to come when he was suddenly pulled off his man's cock, and before he could react, his face was covered in cum.

He grimaced in disgust. Zack couldn't count how many times higher ranking operatives would come on his face when he was a Third, leaving him to clean it off and try to scrub it out of his hair; it was a show of superiority, of dominance. Though, while that was bad, he honestly couldn't decide if it were worse for it to wind up on his face... or on his tongue. He'd had a fair share of temporary partners hold him there and release into his mouth, some even going so far as to try and make him swallow—which he refused to do. It was was disgusting to say the least and was only made worse by the lingering taste of mako.

The Second must have realized his mistake and abruptly let him go. When he glanced up, the man's eyes were wide in fear, but Zack only sucked his teeth and stood; it wasn't like anyone would know. No straight man would brag to his buddies about how he jizzed on some other man's face, and Zack had proven to enough people out in the open that the Second was anything but superior to him.

So he let it go. They cleaned off, redressed, and left without a word. It wasn't awkward, and it was likely that he'd see the Second again, spar with him again, and it would be as if nothing happened.

o0o

Another couple of days passed, Zack alternating between training, sleeping, and more training. He did manage to make time for visiting Aerith after another mission in to the slums, but his visit had been short, much to his discontent and her dismay. He'd left with the promise of them building a wagon for her flowers, an idea that had made her eyes light up in a way that made him feel so pleasantly warm. Zack was confident that his next visit would not be so far off; the stray copies were rapidly dwindling in numbers, and with no foreseeable threats, he wouldn't be duty bound to remain at the Shinra building should he have to be abruptly sent on a mission.

Until that day came, though, Zack would go about his monotonous routine, still making time to at least call and talk to the girl.

It was no surprise when he wound up training again with the Seconds and Thirds. Though instead of sparring, Zack found himself helping a new recruit who just couldn't get a grip on his weapon or a proper stance. He wondered who the hell even allowed the kid to join when he couldn't even hold a sword the right way, but Zack had met several SOLDIERS that were not the absolute best with blades. While the majority of them used swords, others excelled with materia. Still, it was required that a new recruit know the basics of handling a sword, and this kid must have gotten through by the skin of his teeth.

Another thing Zack couldn't help but notice was the way the kid looked at him, or how his cheeks would become pink whenever Zack would physically correct his stance. To give the Third credit, he could hide it pretty well... from someone who was physically blind. But Zack said nothing, pretended he didn't notice, not wanting to make the kid any more uncomfortable than he might have already been. It went that way for the rest of the session before everyone either left to their rooms or went to the showers; Zack chose the latter... again.

It was there that he was approached by the kid he'd been assisting, whose face was an almost adorable shade of pink. The kid stammered quietly, as if trying to say something but too embarrassed to get it out. Zack just stood quietly and waited until the kid's gaze went downward then hesitantly upward to meet his own, that blush all the darker. He had to resist the urge to smirk, but he nodded and watched the kid sink to his knees.

The Third barely knew how to handle a sword, and it seemed he knew almost nothing about how to suck someone off. Once again, Zack found himself coaching the kid while trying to at least get something out of it. Honestly, were it not for the fact that raging teenage hormones often made so much as touching his cock enough to get him hard, he probably wouldn't have even been aroused. The kid was cute, yeah, and he reminded Zack of Luxiere with his willingness, but as Zack found himself looking down, his mind went to someone else. The thought of cyan eyes looking up at him from the kid's place on the shower floor had been enough to make him shudder and finally come.

When the Third got to his feet, blush still on his face, Zack finally did smirk. He was much too obvious, so much so that he may as well have asked to suck Zack's cock in front of every operative in the training room. One thing SOLDIERs learned was how to communicate to each other with little words and few gestures. It only took a certain look for SOLDIERs to proposition each other, and the kid would need to learn that... it looked like Zack was going to be sending a new pupil Kunsel's way.

o0o

That night, Zack once again found himself plagued by the bothersome thoughts that would likely keep him wide awake until morning. Of course, he tried everything to get the man out of his head, failing as always. He found himself on his floor doing squats until he ran himself ragged, when there was a quiet knock on his door. He was surprised to opened the door and be greeted by a head of dirty blond hair and a pale face.

Zack didn't even bother to hide the grin that spread on his face.

"Hey there, Lux!"

o0o

It didn't take long for the sudden spike in sex drive to wane. Perhaps the novelty of casual relations with comrades had worn off... maybe he'd become aware again of those additional nasty things said relations could leave him with. More than likely, though, it was that head of silver hair, that increasingly bothersome but no less arousing invader that returned and refused to leave him in peace.

When he could no longer look at the face of whoever it was he'd decided to fuck and not see his superior, he knew it was time to find another outlet. It was more trouble than it was worth when getting off became a chore by the end of each encounter. Sometimes he wouldn't even come, forcing him to make up some bullshit excuse about stress from nonexistent missions so he could return to his apartment and finish on his own.

Over the span of fifteen long days, he accepted Sephiroth into his mind, no longer fighting off the images and thoughts his mind would conjure up, no matter how vulgar.

Eventually, the focus of those thoughts moved past sex and into the very mundane aspects of life. Shinra was a huge part of the lives of all SOLDIERs, but every operative had a personal life as well. Some of his comrades had girlfriends—a few had boyfriends, many loved to visit home on leave to see families and old friends. The younger ones loved the nightlife, the clubs, and the bars. Still, some just enjoyed meeting in groups at one's apartment to drink booze and watch movies... or the occasional porn flick. So what was Sephiroth's life like?

He wondered what sorts of things the First did in his free time, how he functioned from day to day. What was his routine like? Was he a morning person, or did he take a while to get out of bed? What did he eat for breakfast—hell, what did he eat in general? Did he have a favorite food?

Thanks to one of his earliest conversations with the man, Zack knew of Sephiroth's typical work day... but did that bore him? Surely there was no way a trained SOLDIER would not become overwhelmingly bored with a load of paperwork, but did he work diligently nonetheless? How long did he usually stay in that office? Would he come out for a lunch break, maybe to train for a while just to move around, or did all of that wait until he was done with his daily workload?

What did he do after work? Would he head straight home? Where was home for Sephiroth? Did he live outside in the city, in an apartment or house? Perhaps he lived in the SOLDIER barracks, and home was a place outside of Midgar, maybe even on another continent. Perhaps he ventured out into the city for some space or went home for peace and quiet.

Zack would sit sprawled on his couch, staring at his TV and wonder if Sephiroth ever did the same. Did he watch TV? What did he watch? Did he care enough to watch the dull Midgar news? Was he curious of the weather over Sector 8 and possibly as far as the next continent over? Did he watch those dramas? Maybe he liked comedies, or maybe he didn't even watch TV and preferred to read or something.

Thoughts like these eventually consumed Zack's mind, and he wouldn't be able to go about his day without a thought of Sephiroth surfacing.

As he'd expected, it caused him to become very distracted, and it was fortunate that he'd not been hit with that realization in the middle of a mission. Instead, it took sparring with a Third class—one just shy of being promoted to Second—and making a rookie mistake that caused him to get a chunk cut out of his shoulder. It was quite a blow to his pride, and very embarrassing.

The poor kid had stared in a mixture of fear, confusion, and awe. Zack doubted anyone in that gym expected to see a Third land that solid of a hit on him... The kid probably thought he was going to be reprimanded, or worse, kicked out of Shinra for what he'd done, but Zack gave him a lopsided grin and chalked it up to an off day. It wasn't like that was far from the truth.

The spar, of course, ended there, and Zack gathered his things and made his way back to his apartment after wrapping the wound. He didn't make such a big deal out of it, hell it was halfway healed by the time he reached his apartment door. What did bother him was that he'd made the slip that caused him to be injured. He couldn't afford a repeat of such an incident, especially if he were to be put on active duty again in the future. He'd worked his ass off to get to where he was, and he couldn't risk getting himself killed because he was too distracted with fantasies of his superior.

This had gone on long enough. He had to resolve this... he just had no idea how.

o0o

Zack had no idea what made him choose to come to the decaying church. He had not visited Aerith in a while; with so much going on in his mind he'd been oblivious to the opportunity. Visiting the flower girl seemed like a refreshing change to his painfully monotonous routine, so he couldn't bring himself to regret the decision, much less turn around and wander off somewhere else. If anything, spending time with her might take his mind off of... other problems, even if for a short while.

He strode up to the massive doors and pushed them open, hearing the ancient hinges groan with the movement, and stepped into the old building.

Being there never failed to make him feel so... at peace, the very energy within so calm and serene. Looking to the front of the church, he smiled at the sight of Aerith hard at work, tending to the beautiful white and yellow flowers that surrounded her. She did not wear her little white dress on this day but instead wore one of similar design in a soft pink, similar in color to the ribbon he'd bought her the day they met.

Her back was to him, so he was quiet as he approached, mindful of the wooden boards beneath his feet. Perhaps he could sneak up on her; no doubt he would be able to keep dead silent until he was right beside her; she seemed so engrossed in her flowers that she likely wouldn't notice him for a while. However, as he neared the flower bed, she paused as if she could sense someone there and raised her head, making him pause as well. Turning to peer over her shoulder, the curious look on her face became one of joy when she realized it was him.

"Zack!" she cried, getting to her feet and rushing to him.

He chuckled and held out his arms just as she practically pounced on him, jumping up and wrapping her small arms around his neck. He returned the hug gently and couldn't help but smile as she squeezed him.

"Here I was beginning to think you'd never come back," she teased.

He played along, pretending to scoff. "Please. Nothing is more fun than coming down here to bother you."

Gently, Zack set her on her feet and fixed her with a broad grin, to which she shook her head. Without another word, she returned to her flower bed while he found a spot at the edge to sit and make himself comfortable. They remained in an easy silence for a while, Aerith hard at work with her flowers, Zack simply watching and daydreaming.

It was odd that he could lose himself in thought around her without his mind straying into undesired territory. Sometimes he would glance about the old church and try to picture what it looked like when it was newer, intact. He would picture the heavy pews filled with people, and he would wonder what it was they worshipped. The Planet? Perhaps deities like the one Wutai worshipped?

Other times he would watch Aerith.

She seemed to concentrate heavily on her flowers, but her face was always so relaxed, lips always set in a soft smile. It was contagious too, and before he knew it he would smile himself if she hadn't managed to get him to already. Part of him wanted so much to make her his own, for the two of them to be together... but that part of him was admittedly small, a sad reality he hated facing. He often hoped that if he persisted, he could grow to replace the man that plagued his dreams with her. At least a relationship with the flower girl was a realistic venture...

While he was lost in thought and staring into space, Aerith was slowly working her way outward as she tended to the flowers, and eventually she worked her way to the outer edge and finally right next to Zack. He didn't notice the way she peered up at him, curiously taking in the way his expression shifted.

"Boy, you must have a lot to think about," she said, and giggled when he jumped at her voice.

"E-excuse me?" he replied.

Aerith just shook her head, turning back to her flowers. "You get this look on your face when you're thinking... and you seem to think a lot."

Immediately Zack felt slightly guilty. Did she feel like he was ignoring her? Was he ignoring her? He scratched at the back of his head sheepishly.

"Sorry," he said. "Things have been really weird lately." Understatement...

She didn't turn to look at him, but shook her head. "Don't worry about it. I'm not upset."

He smiled slightly at her answer... then found his eyes straying over her form. She had such a nice body...for a girl. She was small, so easy to wrap in his arms and hold, with nice curves. Nothing about her was exaggerated, everything fitting together and making her look perfect. She was... endowed, he would admit, but on certain days—days like this one—she'd wear dresses that seemed to accentuate her chest in way that was just noticeable enough to catch his eye. He didn't want to be crude... but the view was a nice one.

Once again, Zack was lost in his own head and didn't notice Aerith pause and glance at him... nor did he seem to realize when she noticed where he was staring. She cleared her throat.

"You know, it's rude to stare like that."

And once again, he was startled out of his thoughts, nearly falling over, and this time making her laugh a little louder.

"H-huh?" he said dumbly.

Aerith shook her head and this time turned to him. "I said, it's rude to stare like that."

"Stare...?"

Emerald green eyes turned upward. "Yes, Zack. You were staring..."

"Oh... sorry," he said, flushing with embarrassment.

He glanced upward just in time to see a curious look come over Aerith's face, and he blinked in bemusement when she suddenly came closer. She seemed to be looking him over, searching his face, and he couldn't bring himself to look away. He took in every detail of her face, her complexion, her eyes, the way her bangs framed her face... It was when he focused on her face that those thoughts all came flying back, and he would be met with the image of a face framed by silver hair. It was easy to look at Aerith's body without seeing him. She was a woman, and her body was in no way similar to the powerful one possessed by the object of his lust, but when he focused on her face... on her eyes...

Somehow, he was able to force that train of thought down before it went too far, but the abrupt shift made him flinch just slightly, a move that Aerith caught sight of.

"What do you think about?"

The question was so sudden that it left him fumbling for a response.

"Wh-what?"

Aerith sighed before speaking again. "You get lost in thought so much... what is it that you think about?"

How you look so much like a gorgeous man that I can never have... "I... uhm..."

She just tilted her head curiously.

Nearly desperate, Zack tried to think of any way he could derail the subject... He really was not comfortable with the idea of admitting exactly what was keeping him so distracted.

"I-I've just been... really preoccupied," he stammered. "Things at Shinra haven't really settled down and I've had a lot on my mind for a while..."

Aerith nodded but had an expectant look on her face as if beckoning him to continue. Don't panic, don't panic. He gave her a sheepish smile, scratching the back of his head again.

"I'm really sorry, Aerith. I shouldn't space out so much and end up ignoring you." Suddenly, his eyes narrowed, and his smile morphed into the most charming one he could muster. "How can I make it up to you?"

Aerith scoffed lightly, and Zack just chuckled. Even when she looked away, he could still see that slightly entertained smile on her face. He moved closer to her, the smile still on his face, a hand coming to rest at her knee. They stayed that way for a few moments, both silent until...

"So, tell me about the girl you like."

Huh!

It took everything he had to keep from reeling at that question. He had to give her props for being direct, but how exactly did they go from talking about work problems to talking about a girlfriend... or what Aerith perceived as a girlfriend?

"The... wh-what?"

"The girl. That you like."

"B-but... there is no gi—"

"Zack, you shouldn't lie," Aerith said sternly.

"Aerith, really..." He may as well be honest. "There is no girl."

"Oh," Aerith replied, looking thoughtful. "Then it is a guy?"

Yes. "I-I... What? No!"

"It's okay if you like a guy, Zack. I would never judge," she said with a giggle.

"I-I-... There isn't..." He trailed off, having no idea what else to say.

The girl was perceptive... but he was also obvious. Hiding things was not a strong suit of his, and sometimes when he did it only became more obvious. It didn't help that Aerith already seemed suspicious of him having his eyes on someone else, and any time she seemed suspicious, what was Zack's approach? Flirting... because if he could flirt with her enough that would really throw her off...

All Zack could do was sigh in resignation and look to her guiltily, afraid she would be upset. He was somewhat surprised to see her trembling with repressed mirth, shaking her head in a way Angeal used to whenever he did something silly.

"Well, Zack," she began as soon as she was able, "whoever they may be... I think you should talk to them."

He tilted his head puzzled. "Why do you say that?"

"Well, you've clearly been trying to hide the fact that you like someone else from me since we've met, so I think it's safe to say that you've been hiding it from them too... Unless you're being unfaithful..." She gave him a mock look of suspicion and he could only sputter.

Sure, he'd been with a lot of people... a lot of guys, but he'd never cheat on someone if he were in a relationship with them. That was such a horrible thing to do! That little giggle sounded again and he felt a small hand come to rest on his shoulder. He looked up and back into her eyes.

"You should talk to them," she said.

"Well... they're kind of...way out of my league."

"You never know, Zack. They may feel the same way about you."

Yeah, I doubt that, he thought. She seemed to notice his slightly incredulous look.

"You should still give it a try. What can it hurt?"

My whole career...

He sighed. She was right, though... Avoiding him had proven to be the wrong course of action, but the fear of his superior's reaction to his confession had kept him from confronting him about it. But was it really the fear of losing his position or the fear of being rejected? The man had throngs of admirers. Who was to say he hadn't taken a few one night stands? Who was to say he didn't already have a lover, a partner, hell for all Zack knew the man could have been married. While the last possibility seemed unlikely with how busy the First always seemed... it was still a possibility.

At the rate he was going, his performance was going to suffer greatly if he didn't make a decision. He couldn't just skirt around it and avoid it anymore... something had to be done.

With a resolute nod to himself, he turned to Aerith, giving her a soft smile.

"You're right. I'll talk to him."

o0o

He wasn't sure what made him tell Aerith that he had feelings for another man. Admitting that he was into someone else had been inevitable, but to go so far as to say that someone else was male after he'd been trying so hard to flirt with her, he was surprised that she had not been angry. Instead the girl had been curious, asking a lot of questions... questions he couldn't answer. It made him feel like some weird stalker to have feelings for someone, to think about them so often but know nothing about them. Aerith thought it was cute.

Throughout the rest of his visit, she insisted that he talk to the man he had feelings for. It was easy for her to offer that sort of advice; she had no idea who it was he lusted after, and he had no intention of telling her. He couldn't think of a good reason, but he had the feeling that telling her that his... crush was the legendary hero Sephiroth would not have been the best idea. It wasn't as if he were the only one... or the only man for that matter.

When Zack returned to the Shinra building, he went straight to his apartment.

It wasn't until he flopped into bed and looked at his clock that he realized just how late it was, not that he was tired. There was too much on his mind, so much to think about. How was he going to confront Sephiroth? When? How would the man react? Would he be angry? Would he just not care? The silver-haired man likely got a lot of love confessions, so he was likely desensitized to it.

But that made Zack question further. How did he feel about Sephiroth? Was it just lust? Was he like so many others and just drawn to his power, to his fame? He couldn't help but think his feelings went so much deeper than that. He didn't think about the man in the same sexual ways he had at the start. Sure, he still did, but he also wanted to talk to him, to know him as more than Shinra's hero.

The thought of being rejected actually hurt, despite the fact that it was the most likely outcome.

...But what if Sephiroth didn't reject him? It seemed so unlikely that the rational part of his mind wouldn't even entertain the idea. But there was a part of him that wondered what would happen. Could he see himself with Sephiroth? What sort of partner was he? What sort of partner would he be looking for, if he were even looking?

Such thoughts and questions kept Zack up for most of the night. He hadn't even realized when he went to sleep until his alarm woke him the next morning.

o0o

He hoped this was the last time he'd ever find himself in front of this damned office door.

He wasn't sure exactly when Sephiroth began his work day but chose to venture to the office floor about two hours after most other employees would have arrived. He wanted to be sure that when he knocked he'd get an answer, afraid that he wouldn't be able to work up the nerve to try again. It was hard enough trying to bring himself to merely knock. He just hoped that he wouldn't be bothering the man either.

There was no way Zack was going to let himself falter and return to his apartment. Not this time. He was going to go through with this... even if it took him a while...

Finally, he found the will to lift his fist to the door, but just before he could knock, he was suddenly greeted with the sight of a tall, black clad figure.

Well, this was familiar...

"Fair."

Slowly, almost meekly, Zack looked up into those piercing eyes, his fist still in the air, poised to knock.

"Uhm... good afternoon... sir," he said carefully.

The taller man did not appear to be agitated or annoyed this time, which made Zack feel better about approaching him. But those eyes were still easy to get lost in, and seeing the man in person made all those thoughts and dreams creep along his mind. Gods, he hoped he didn't spring an erection while talking... that would be in really bad taste.

"I must admit that I was not expecting you," that deep voice said.

"Uh, yeah," Zack began, a hand going to the back of his head. "I've... wanted to talk to you... I just never got up the nerve until now."

"I see."

Without another word, Sephiroth moved aside to allow Zack to enter. With some hesitation, Zack stepped into the spacious office and made his way to the black couch he sat in previously; he couldn't bring himself to look at Sephiroth for fear that he would end up staring. He could hear the door close with a quiet click, but he could barely pick up the tall man's footsteps as he returned to his desk. The only notable sound was the slightest creak as his superior settled back into his office chair.

For a few tense moments after that, everything was silent.

Inwardly, Zack fumbled to find the right words to say to start off. This time around, he knew what needed to be said, but he had no idea how to say it or where to even begin. Should he just be straightforward? Admit how he feels and go from there? Or should he work his way up to that? It was likely that Sephiroth did have work he needed to do, so it wouldn't be right to keep him waiting... maybe he should have just waited until after Sephiroth was done working for the day...

"Fair." That voice jarred him right out of his thoughts, and he immediately looked up to face the speaker.

"Yes, sir?"

"You said you wished to speak with me," Sephiroth said. "I would rather this not be a repeat of the last time I allowed you in my office. What is it that you are you here to speak with me about?"

I can't stop fucking thinking about you.

"U-uhm... well..." Shit, don't stutter, whatever you do, don't stutter!

Those eyes felt like they were searing through to his soul, as if they were drilling a hole into Zack's head to search through his brain. For a moment, Zack was mystified as he stared right back into that gaze. He almost thought he could see the wheels turning behind them, the mako pulsing through them. And the one time, Sephiroth blinked, he could see the way those slit pupils narrowed when once again exposed to the light.

He was pulled slightly back into reality when he noticed just the slightest tilt of Sephiroth's head and the slight shift of his bangs. Zack also noticed those piercing eyes widen just slightly.

He almost looked... curious. However, after a moment or two his expression hardened.

"Fair, if you have nothing to say then I'd like to ask you to leav—"

"N-no!" he said suddenly, and then bit his lips at how rude it sounded. "I mean, no, I... do have something to say, I just..."

Sephiroth said nothing, and Zack had to look away after a moment. This was turning out to be way too difficult.

"I just... I really wanted—no, I felt like I needed to talk to you," Zack said sheepishly. "The thing is... I have no idea how to even say what I want to say..."

"I am afraid I don't understand."

"I just... wonder if I really have any business bringing it up..."

There was another tense silence before, "Is this about Angeal?"

Zack's head snapped up again. He had not expected to hear that.

"Wh-why would you think that, sir?"

"Well you were his student... and you seemed to be very fond of him," Sephiroth said. "I can understand if his desertion causes you distress."

"Well... I..." Zack fell silent. What could he say?

No, that's not it! I like you! I can't stop thinking about you! I want to get to know you, date you, be with you!

After a moment, he scratched at his head. "Yeah..." No!

"Yes? It is Angeal's absence that bothers you?" Sephiroth asked.

No! I mean, yeah, him being gone does bother me, but that isn't why I came here!

"Yeah... I just miss him being around, ya know?"

Fuck!

o0o

For the next few days, Zack continuously berated himself for his cowardice. The conversation with Sephiroth had been brief, and not once did he even try to bring up the real reason he'd come to the man's office. The thought of confessing still worried him, still scared him, and he hadn't been sure if he were ready to face whatever outcome awaited him.

He'd made a couple more attempts at talking with the man, hoping eventually, if he tried enough, it would just... come out. Though, he did wonder whether it would look really suspicious showing up wanting to make small talk again once he was able to get the First to answer. He was sure that Sephiroth was just as perceptive as Aerith, if not more so and would catch on to the fact that Zack was hiding something.

At any rate, he knew he still had no choice. He'd have to admit how he felt at some point, preferably before he botched an assignment due to being distracted. He just had no idea at all how to go about it. Common sense told him to be direct; he'd get it out, and he'd get his answer and could move on from there, but for some reason that approach just didn't sit well with him. Then again, no approach seemed to.

Maybe that was why he found himself on the train, heading down to the slums.

He'd wracked his brain and could not come up with any solution... so maybe he could get help from Aerith. She already knew he liked someone, already knew he was having trouble admitting it, maybe she could give him some advice.

At first the idea sounded absurd, and it still did when he really thought about it; however, it was either her or Kunsel... and there was no way he was going to Kunsel about his fixation on their superior. He could just imagine the things his friend would have to say. But he still have one problem: what the hell was he going to say to her?

Hey, Aerith, remember the guy I said I like? Yeah, he's my superior, and I can't seem to admit to him that I dream about fucking him every night.

Yeah, that sure wouldn't make him sound like a deviant...

Zack continued to ponder a way to introduce his dilemma to the flower girl until the train reached its destination. Even as he trudged into the central marketplace, the wheels in his mind continued to turn.

He almost thought it was his imagination when he heard the sound of strong wing beats and the thump of heavy boots landing on the dirty ground. Curious, he turned, and he nearly did a double take when he saw the broad figure of his mentor standing before him those brilliant white wings stretched behind him.

"Angeal!"

His reaction earned him a chuckle from the larger man.

"Surprised?"

That was an understatement.

Zack snorted. "It's pretty hard not to be when I watched you disappear into the sky," he said. "Where the hell have you been?"

"Apologies," Angeal said with a sigh, "But I am busy man."

Zack scoffed. "C'mon, Angeal, don't give me that. You disappear after an attack on Shinra and you say you were busy?"

His mentor just glanced away, a dark look passing over his face.

"It is complicated, Zack. I cannot expect you to underst—"

"Bullshit!" Zack exclaimed. "You said back at the Shinra building that you would explain. You promised!"

Angeal winced. It seemed he remembered the promise he'd made...

"You promised Sephiroth too, you know," Zack reminded.

There was a long silence between them. He could see the look on his mentor's face, how conflicted he looked. It almost made him feel bad for pushing it, but surely Angeal knew the pain he was causing. Zack had seen the look on Sephiroth's face the moment he laid eyes on Angeal. He'd seen the surprise, the confusion, the doubt... even the distress at the sight of the wings. Sephiroth was just as worried as he was... He just knew it.

"How is he?" Angeal asked.

The question took Zack off guard. "Sephiroth? ...Well I haven't been able to get a hold of him for a couple days... He seemed okay though..."

A deep and quiet chuckle silenced him.

"Don't take that at face value, Zack..."

He tilted his head in confusion. "What do you mean?"

There was another pause before Angeal spoke again, as if he'd needed a moment to contemplate what to say next.

"I did make a promise... to the both of you. I intend to keep it," the First said, in no way answering Zack's question. "However, there are more pressing matters at hand, matters that are of a higher priority."

"But, Angea—" Angeal brought a hand up, preventing him from speaking further.

"Genesis and Hollander are in Modeoheim."

That made Zack stop and blink. Did Angeal show up just to tell him that? Why? First he leaves Shinra, and then he returns in order to help...without really returning?

"...Why are you telling me this?"

There was another chuckle from the older man as he turned away.

"Still a SOLDIER at heart, I suppose," he said. "I've informed Lazard as well. They'll come to pick you up soon."

Zack watched as the wings stretched out, and he got a sinking feeling that Angeal was leaving again. Overcome with some strange sense of panic, he almost ran for him. He didn't want his mentor leaving again.

"W-wai—"

"Zack."

He stopped, staring at Angeal's back with wide eyes, that ball of dread resurfacing and settling deep in his stomach. He watched as the First turned his head and gave him a sidelong glance, a slight smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

"Keep an eye on Seph, alright?"

"Wh-what?"

"Just trust me, Zack..."

And with that, Angeal lifted off the ground, Zack watching him until he could no longer be seen. The young First stood there for a while longer, eyes on the white feathers that floated to the ground.

Seph? Did he mean Sephiroth?

Why would he need to look after Sephiroth? The man wasn't in any danger... at least not in any that he couldn't easily get out of himself. Gods, nothing Angeal said or did made sense anymore!

With a growl, he turned around and continued on through the marketplace. He had a mission, so talking with Aerith would have to wait... but while he was down here, he could at least let her know he was going to be away.

Chancing a glance around, he noticed the people browsing as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

How the hell did no one notice the man with the wings?

o0o

He made quick work of climbing the church steps; the quicker he got in there, the quicker he could see Aerith and perhaps lag a bit to spend just a bit more time with her.

When he made it to the large doors, he paused. He could feel someone behind him, watching him, and he could hear the footsteps in the dirt. For some reason, though, he didn't feel all that tense. The presence felt oddly familiar.

"Zack, I need you in Modeoheim."

Tseng.

He wasn't all that surprised by Tseng's presence. The man was a Turk; no doubt he'd been able to track Zack down for the mission. Perhaps he would be joining in on this assignment...

"I know, just give me a minute," he said, pressing against one of the doors.

"Aerith isn't there."

Zack froze. How the hell did Tseng know Aerith? He turned around to face the Turk and gave him a suspicious look.

"How is it you know Aerith?"

Tseng glanced away and paused briefly. "It's complicated."

Okay, that did not make him feel any better. Was Aerith somehow involved with the Turks? If so, how? Why? ...Or perhaps it was more personal than that. Was Aerith involved with Tseng? Maybe that was why she never responded to Zack's advances, but if that were the case, why didn't she say anything? She'd at least tell him she was with someone else... right?

"Really..." Zack said, not bothering to hide the suspicion in his voice.

The thought of the two being together made an odd flare of jealousy rise in his chest... but he couldn't help but also feel a bit protective of her. He knew well that anything involving the Turks was bad news, and he did not want Aerith to be placed in any sort of danger.

"Did she tell you anything?" Tseng asked, unaffected by his tone.

Zack shrugged. "Not a thing."

The Turk made a noise, but it was nearly drowned out by the sound of an approaching helicopter.

"Then I won't either."

The two stared each other down evenly as the aircraft came closer. Neither man moved as it made a slow descent, or even as its rotor kicked up clouds of dirt. Once it touched the ground, Tseng turned away silently. Zack didn't need to be prompted to follow; he knew this was the "pick up" his mentor had been referring to. However, despite the roar of the helicopter he heaved a loud sigh. As if he didn't have enough to dwell about on what was going to be a long flight...

"Well whatever, I guess," he said to himself as he descended the church steps. "Whaaaaatever."


Pretty long, yeah? :D Long and awesome?