In the darkness of devilish tunnels under the Shinra Mansion, three pairs of legs were sprinting towards with everything they had, not making a sound and sparing not so much a glare at each door they pass. They didn't even pay attention to the monsters jumping out of no where to stop them, they just lashed the obstacles.
"Seph, where are they?"
The man on the left, with reddish brown hair, cerulean eyes and dressed in a red coat, asked impatiently at his companion on the opposite side.
Said man grumbled under his breath and kept looking forward. His waist-length silver hair flew like a silver curtain behind his black trench coat. The red haired man continued his verbal assault.
"Well, you've been saying that for hours! And we've been running around like fools for more than hours!"
"Are you calling me a fool, Genesis?"
"I don't need to, since you're already one!" Genesis snapped, grinning smugly. Sephiroth shot him a glare with his cat-like green eyes.
"Idiot!" The General muttered.
"Fool!" Genesis retorted, seeming ready for another verbal fight.
"Stop bickering, you two!"
The man in the middle spoke for the first time since this little 'talk' had started. He reached out on each side and smacked his companions on their heads.
"Ow!" Sephiroth grumbled, wincing.
"Angeal! My hair!" Genesis dramatically whined like a spoiled child at his raven-haired friend. His gloved-hands were busy fixing his precious red hair in a soothing manner. Angeal sighed.
"Shut up, Genesis, we don't need anymore of your comments. And Sephiroth, where is their room? And don't you dare tell me 'near' again."
"So you don't know." Angeal bit back a sigh.
"Ha! I knew it! You…"
"Genesis, zip your mouth up and throw the key away or I'll do it for you."
"… Fine." Genesis grumbled and did a gesture of zipping his mouth shut and threw the key away. He was smart enough to know when to joke and when to not.
Suddenly, Sephiroth halted to a stop. Genesis stumbled slightly, trying his best not to collide into his friend's back (God knew how long Seph hadn't washed that coat!).
"What? What is it?" Angeal asked nervously.
"… (I threw the key away)" Genesis just waved his hands around.
"I sense something." Sephiroth obviously ignored the dancing redhead. He perked his head up and focused on his vision ahead. There. He could sense it. His cells, his body… being called.
"What is it?" Angeal asked, almost impatiently.
"… (I still threw the key away)" Genesis was still dancing like a very crazy red bird.
"Don't know… something… familiar…" Sephiroth frowned. Yes, something very familiar, but he couldn't make it out. And they said the General's memory never went wrong.
"… (I still, still threw the key away)" Now the redhead began to dance Swan Lake.
Angeal bit back a yell at his red-haired friend, who was doing a very good job at playing a madman – or mad bird. He sighed through clenched teeth.
"Genesis, unzip your mouth. I figure not hearing you talk is even more annoying than hearing you talk."
Genesis shouted triumphantly, his cerulean eyes glinted with a hint of smug.
"I knew it!... Then Seph, what are you feeling?"
"How the hell do I know?..." Sephiroth glared daggers at his friend. "But something in my body is… calling me…"
"Dude! I know you're a fool, Seph, now you develop voices in your head, too?"
"Genesis…" Angeal grumbled menacingly, 'third time's the charm', he prayed.
"I know, I shut my mouth now." Fortunately, the redhead understood his friend's anger underneath his calm face. Sephiroth, sensing it was safe to interfere, spoke.
"Anyway, something in my body is calling me… like my cells…"
"They are calling you? But… to where?"
"Let me concentrate." Sephiroth sighed and closed his eyes. A frown found its way to the man's forehead.
"Well? How is it?" Genesis' voice echoed in the tunnels. He was getting impatient, and his patience was infamous for its shortness, and a fireball attached to it later.
Fortunately, it seemed like Sephiroth didn't want to be roasted in the tunnels. He opened his cat-like eyes and narrowed them.
"This way!" He took off running at stop speed. The other two followed right after him.
They ran, ran and ran like they had done for hours ago. Passing more and more doors and turning more and more tunnels. Sephiroth kept opening and closing his eyes in concentration, his heart was beating like a drum in his chest.
"Left. Right. Right. Left… No, not this door. Right. Left. Left. Here!"
The three SOLDIERs stopped abruptly in front of a metal door. Genesis wasted no time in forming a fireball – his favorite – and slammed it to the door. The metal melted under the heat and they rushed in, carefully avoiding the sizzling piece of roasted steel.
"Yuck!" And the redhead stopped immediately when the distinctive smell of Mako in the labs rushed into his nostrils. He used one hand to cover his nose, his face crumbled in disgust.
"I know, Genesis, I want to vomit, too." Angeal was right next to him, not covering his nose but trying his best not to breathe so deeply. Sephiroth was the only one who didn't seem to be annoyed by the smell. He spent most of his childhood in the lab, after all.
"Seems like he didn't know we would come. He left everything here."
"All the more convenient." Forgetting his disgust for Mako for a short moment, Genesis grinned.
"Silent and search for them." Angeal scolded his fellow redhead, earning him a childish pout.
"Right, right. Hey! Puppy! Chocobo! Are you here?"
Sephiroth could not resist the urge to smack his friend upside the head. How could this idiot make his way to First Class, let alone Commander? Because he was an idiot, that's why.
"Are you that dense or are redheads all dense like that? How can they hear you?"
"Ooossh! Shut up, Sephiroth!" Genesis mumbled, fixing his hair. Angeal decided it was a good time to step in. He called out from a dark corner.
"Hey guys, there's a door here!"
His two fellows didn't put their mind in their little 'bickering' game anymore, and rushed over two his side. This metal door was much thicker than the last one, and Genesis didn't want to risk having the mansion collapsed on his head. So together, they pushed the door out of its hinge, earning a creepy sound of metal clashing that sent chill across their spines. Behind the door was another secret chamber, and it was as dark as hell. The only thing that provided light was a tub in the middle of the room. It was full of those disgusting light green Mako, and in the liquid, was a body. A naked body of an adult with spiky dark hair floating in Mako. Transparent plastic wires were attached to his head and muscle.
"Zack!" Sephiroth shouted, awakening the other two from their trances. Angeal rushed to the tube, pushing some buttons and the Mako inside the tube was slowly drained out.
"Come on, help me get him out there… Zack! Puppy! Hang in there! We got you!"
The glass cover slid open and Zack fell out, many of the wires were yanked out of his body, drawing blood. Genesis wasted no time in undressing his coat and wrapping it around Zack. The boy was pale, painfully pale, and thin.
"Ugh!..." One violet eye cracked open, revealing a small light of green. Zack doubled over and coughed heavily. Vomit came out along with green liquid. Angeal clapped the boy's back.
"Yeah, Zack, cough. Cough out those goddamn Mako."
"C… Cla…" Zack managed to speak between his cough. Genesis' eyes narrowed and he strained his ears.
"What is it, Puppy?"
"Cl… Cla… Cloud." Zack repeated before succumbed himself to another wave of coughing.
"Cloud? Where is he, Zack?" This time was Sephiroth's turn to worry. Zack bit his lips and lifted his arm, pointing to another dark corner of the chamber.
"Over… over there… He… help me walk."
Angeal lifted Zack into his arms and walked to the corner. Genesis unleashed another fireball and destroyed the metal door, not caring if the lab collapsed or not. They walked into the dark room, but there was no light. Zack tried his best to speak aloud, he pointed to the middle of the room.
"Seph… Seph, pull the cover."
Sephiroth walked to the middle and until he collided with something he hadn't seen before, he knew there was something hidden. Wasting no time, the General found a corner of fabric and yanked it over, revealing what was behind it.
"HOLY GODDESS MINERVA!" That was Genesis.
"FUCKING SHITTY HOJO!" This was Sephiroth.
"Shut up and help get him out of there!" Ah, Angeal, always the calmest.
The three SOLDIERs had been inside those Mako tube, yes. They had seen Zack trapped inside the tube with wires, yes. But the scene in front of them was what they hadn't seen, or thought about before.
The boy inside the tube was small, too small that he looked like a goldfish in an aquarium. Attached to him were wires, wires of all kind, small and big, red and blue with different colored liquid flowing inside them. There was too much wire that it seemed like the boy was in a cocoon. Lingering on the boy's bare arms and legs were scars, old and new, healed and unhealed, pus-oozing and scab-crusting, tainting the green liquid with a tinge of reddish brown.
The buttons became useless when Sephiroth himself unsheathed Masamune and lashed out at the tube. The glass shattered, some pinned into the General's face and drew blood, but he didn't care, Mako would take care of it. All he cared about now was the boy inside the tube.
The Mako drain out quickly, and the wires suffered the same fate as the glass tube. Sephiroth dropped Masamune and scooped the blond-haired boy out.
The boy was even paler than Zack, and he was so thin that his ribs were visible. His blond spikes were dampened, sticking to his scalp like glue.
"Cloud?... Cloud! Wake up, baby! Please wake up!"
If it weren't for the movement of Cloud's chest, they would think the boy had died. Sephiroth's fingers brushed blond pangs out of the boy's face. No response. The General clenched his teeth and tapped the boy slightly on his cheek.
"Cloud, please… wake up."
Even Genesis was silent, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder to calm him down. But Sephiroth would not, could not calm down until he was sure that Cloud was… fine.
There was a rumble sound in the boy's chest. And before Sephiroth knew it, Cloud had doubled over and began coughing heavily like Zack had. There was vomit, Mako, and… blood? Yes, those dark brown spots were definitely blood. Hojo was so going to die.
Sephiroth moved his hands in circles on the boy's back, soothing him when he saw tears pricking at the corner of his closed eyes. The General lowered his head and whispered comforting words to Cloud's ears.
Fortunately, with a small whimper, one sky blue eye cracked open before clenched shut. Genesis ran his gloved hand in golden spikes, soothing the boy. Slowly, Cloud opened his eyes again and took in his surroundings.
"He opens his eyes, thanks Minerva." Genesis whispered in relief. None of the SOLDIERs realized that beside the green tinge of Mako in the boy's blue eyes, there was also a small tinge of yellow, and his pupils were narrower than normal people's.
"Ugh…" Cloud whimpered, bringing one hand to cover his face. Sephiroth passed Cloud to Genesis so he could unbuckle his trench coat and wrap it around the slim boy. Genesis lifted Cloud in bridal style, pressing the boy's head to his chest.
"Easy, Chocobo, we're here. We're going home."
Skinny fingers traced along Genesis' jaw, Cloud whispered in disbelief, his voice hoarse and cracked. Tears were pricking in the corner of those blue eyes again.
"Ge.. Gen? Seph? 'Geal?..."
"Yes, Cloud. We're here. You're safe." Sephiroth reached out and patted the boy's head, wincing slightly when his hand was sticky with Mako. When they got home, he would bathe Cloud himself.
Cloud turned his neck slowly and looked around. His next sentence was so low that the SOLDIERs barely caught it.
Zack's head perked up from where he was, in Angeal's arm. He waved the blond and flashed him a grin.
"Here, Spiky. Sorry I can't go there, too tired."
Cloud slowly nodded, as if his brain was taking time to analyze the information. Then in one blink, tears were streaming down his pale cheeks. He buried his face in Genesis' broad chest, shoulders shaking violently with strangle sobs. Genesis gently rocked the boy, patted his head.
"Ssh… Cloud, it's okay. We're here. Ssh, you're safe, baby. Sleep now, sleep. We're going home."
Cloud made no sound of response, but the tight grip on his shirt let Genesis know the boy had understood. Angeal spoke up from where he was holding Zack,
"Seph, you may want to take Hojo's notes about their experiments."
Sephiroth snapped out of his trance and went to the experiment table nearby, where he spotted papers of records and some notebooks. He gathered them into his arms and let out a snort as he spotted dark spots of dried blood on the table. Cloud's blood or Zack's, or both's.
Nodding to his friends, the General walked out of the chamber and back to the tunnels. There, he paused and frowned. Genesis seemed to notice. The redhead narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
"Seph?.. Do you know the way out?"
There was silence, and suddenly there was shouting with colorful language and explosion from fireballs and metal clashing from Masamune and Rapier that shook the whole mansion. But unbeknownst to the SOLDIERs, inside the chamber where Cloud was found, a small note laid under the experiment table, pages sticky with Mako. Under the faint light of green liquid, it read:
"ANIMA Project. Specimen C. SUCCESS."