DISCLAIMER: Still don't own, but I'm having a ball with it.

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Stupid dare is stupid, yo.

Seriously. If Reno had known that sending Zack to kiss Sephiroth would have devolved into this, he never would have dared him. Seriously. Oh, first the puppy had been all sunshine and roses about it but… soon it became very clear that something was very wrong. He didn't… sparkle… the way he used to. He was quieter. More prone to brooding.

And it was seriously pissing Reno off.

"Zack." Reno flagged his friend down at the end of the day, fairly sure that the Third was done. "Zack Fair! Yo!"

"Huh?" Dark spikes swayed as he tilted his head, smiling. "Hey Reno, what's up?"

"We're going to my place for pizza and pop. C'mon." Flinging an arm about the Gongaga native's shoulders, he steered him toward the elevator.


Damn, but Fair was strong when he wanted to be. And there was that Gaia-damned smile again, all soft and apologetic, and it didn't count because it didn't light up those Mako blues of his at all this time. "Not tonight, Reno. I've got some practice work I need to do."

"Dude, that's just not right!" The Turk protested. "You been swingin' that sword all damn day –"

"Everyone does the intro missions, Reno. They're standard. I don't want to be a 'standard' SOLDIER." He smiled, a flash of his usual fire showing in his eyes. "Someday, I'm going to become a hero."

A fiery brow arched. "And heroes don't do pop and pizza?"

"They pay their dues first." Zack touched the handle of his blade, fire fading, and Reno could have cried for it. What the hell had happened? "Maybe later, this weekend, ok, Reno?"

Nodding dumbly, the red head watched his friend walk toward the training rooms.

What. The. Hell?


Zack made his way to the training hall, where he easily whiled away the next three hours, only stopping thanks to a sudden, fierce pang in his stomach. He'd not been so interested in food, really not interested in much. His mind had had one occupation.


Holy, but if those weren't the softest lips he'd ever had the luxury to kiss! He wanted to touch them. With his hands. With his tongue. Wanted to taste the rich blend of herb and spice that he hadn't expected – the silver haired man must drink tea – and that extra sweetness that nothing in nature could begin to provide. And he wanted to hear that soft, surprised sound again. It was so… so… natural, and almost innocent. He'd never expected it. And maybe, maybe if that had been all he wanted… he would have been ok. They were fine, normal things to want, but also things that he would be all right finding another source for.

But when he'd kissed the General, he'd filled his senses to the brim. He'd taken in those curious, warm, catslit green eyes, framed by long sooty lashes, and felt part of him melt; he'd heard the phrase that eyes were windows to the soul, but never had he believed it more than then, and what he had seen had made him wish he knew him. Something told him there was so much more to the man than everyone else saw. Than what even he had seen until that moment; innocence balanced by wisdom, curiosity balanced by wariness, warmth behind his cool demeanor and kindness behind his curtness. Amazing combinations, speculations of course, but he counted himself a good judge of character. This was someone worthy of more than just an idle lusting after. Which was just as well, because he'd fallen.


He wouldn't call it 'love' – he didn't know the silver haired man well enough. But, there was a special spark there. A fascination. A longing to get to know him. To be somebody to him.

But, what was one little Third Class? No, he'd have to excel if he wanted to catch those green eyes attention.

And so he trained.

Out of the Triad, Commander Hewley was the one most personally connected to the lower classes. He took an interest in their training, in their development as SOLDIERs and individuals, and the quality of their lives. He was no fool. He knew Shinra was using them all. But, to the greatest extent that he could, he looked after them. People knew they could come to him if there was a problem.

And there was a problem.

It seemed that, roughly since that Third had kissed Sephiroth, there had been a more subdued, even tense atmosphere amongst the Thirds and Seconds. At first, he thought it was some sort of jealousy, and sought out the teen, watching him to make sure no one was going after him. But no, he was fine.

Well, if you could call 'working yourself to death' fine. SOLDIER Fair was snapping up and finishing missions with professional performances that would do a First proud. He was also training solo in the mean time, working out his flaws with a certain ruthless efficiency Angeal hadn't seen in the lower classes before. He would occasionally ask for help from a supervisor, and would soak up the instruction like a sponge, blue eyes sharp and eager. They were always willing to help him. In fact, it seemed everyone liked the hard working Third.

And that was how it came to him. It wasn't jealousy. Or some sort of pettiness. No, they were subdued and tense because they were worried about one of their own. ~Could that be it? So much worry over just one SOLDIER?~

He had to ask.

There was a young, newly minted Second Class named Kunsel, who was known for his strange, Turklike ability to know things. He was, fortunately, usually willing to share what he knew with the compassionate commander, and this was no exception. When asked, he gave him a strange, sad smile and sighed, shaking his head. "Zack is SOLDIER's sunshine. Always grinning. Always laughing. Friendly. Joking. Playful. The kind of guy you want to be your friend and have your back. Everyone feels it when he's not 'shining' anymore."

"Not… shining?" Slate blue eyes looked at Fair's profile and compared the beaming grin in the picture, the passionate fire in his eyes, with the subdued, serious SOLDIER he'd seen lately. "I see. Thank you for the insight, Kunsel."

"I'd do anything to help him, sir." Kunsel sighed, running a hand over his helmet. "But, I don't have that kind of power."

"Pardon?" Hewley frowned, getting the sense that this was another of the enigmatic Second's half-answers.

"Hopefully, you'll figure it out. I've told you all I can tell you." He tipped his head respectfully. "Send my regards to the Commander and General."

Lost in thought, Angeal barely heard him go.