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Prey and Predator
~It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Sephiroth in possession of a friend-with-benefits must be in want of a love. ~
" ...'geal's hurt… exit route's blocked … trapped in..." The recording trailed off into a whine and static. Lazard stopped it and took a deep breath.
"That was our last transmission from them," he said.
"Seven hours ago, you said?" Sephiroth leaned in. "Where?"
"The last clear word we had from them had them heading towards Gaea's Cliffs. They could be anywhere in the caverns right now." Lazard watched Sephiroth over his steepled fingers, seeking some sign of distress.
"Assuming they're still alive." Sephiroth gave nothing away.
"We have no idea what was after them. The monsters up there can be…"
"Ferocious," Lazard said, "although they are big too. And with Angeal apparently wounded…."
"I don't know."
Sephiroth was silent a moment. Only the barest flicker of his lashes hinted at the process going on inside. "Ready a transport. I'll leave within the hour."
"You're certain?" Lazard asked. The look Sephiroth shot back almost made him wish he hadn't. "Don't go alone. Whatever they ran into was enough to neutralize three SOLDIERs. Take some backup."
"I don't need backup." There. The first hint of tension in the General's voice.
"Take some anyway," Lazard insisted. Sephiroth was in too much of a hurry to argue long.
"Fine. I'll pick up somebody on the way."
Sephiroth strode out. The door slid closed, missing the tip of his hair by a breath. Lazard leaned back in his chair and sighed. He stared at the control panel, thumbing it again to replay the static and broken words. Was he throwing his last, best man into a hopeless situation? "Goddess go with you, General."
Sephiroth strode out onto the SOLDIER floor. He paid no mind to the wide berth people were leaving around him. He was almost at the elevator when he remembered his promise to Lazard. No matter. He would be doing all the work that mattered himself. The tagalong didn't matter. He could carry supplies. Anyone would do.
"You!" Sephiroth barked before the door had even fully opened.
"Sir, yes, Sir!" It was a trooper springing to attention in there, a skinny little grunt from the army regulars. Sephiroth didn't care.
"I need somebody to haul gear on a mission. Come with me."
"Sir?" The trooper recovered quickly before Sephiroth could even glare for questioning superiors. "Yes, Sir!"
Sephiroth nodded at the young man and hit the button for the helipad. "I'll clear it with whoever it needs clearing with when we get back. Do what I say and you'll be fine."
"Sir, yes, Sir!" The trooper saluted hard enough to hurt his hand on his helmet. Sephiroth snorted. Fanboys. The mission was bound to be ugly. The reality of the kind of action he was capable of on the field was often enough to disabuse the worst of the lot of their heroic illusions.
The door opened to a waiting chopper. Two SOLDIER Thirds were waiting at the door with premade utility packages, everything Sephiroth might need for a Search and Rescue in snow country. "Hand them to him," Sephiroth said, waving at the trooper. He heard the man grunt behind him from the weight. It might have made more sense to grab one of the Thirds for the rescue instead, but if anyone was going to be expendable in the course of saving the lives of three fine SOLDIERs, better a nobody from the army than one of his own.
"This is just dandy." Genesis scowled at the cave mouth. "It's snowing again."
"Looks like it's really coming down." Angeal's voice was cracked and tired.
"It'll be a complete whiteout in another minute." Genesis turned away from the sight and pulled his coat closed.
"Angeal?" Zack "You want some more water?"
Angeal reached out and ruffled Zack's head. "I'm fine, pup. The mako's kicking in already, see?" He shifted the mylar-lined casualty blanket to reveal the deep scratch on one thigh. The edges looked painful and tender, but the wound as a whole did look less angry than it had the day before.
Zack put a hand to Angeal's forehead. "Fever's still there. Are you sure it's not infected?"
"If it is, it's not bad, pup." Angeal pulled Zack in closer. "Besides, this cold will kill anything."
"It will kill us if we don't get out of here," Genesis grumbled.
"Another day, Gen," Angeal said. "One more and I'll be able to stand on it, I think. Then we can try to find a way down from here."
"You're talking about standing on it when we need to climb down from here?" Genesis turned towards the snow again, shaking his head.
Zack eyed the wall of ice at the back of the cave. Dark shapes passed on the other side, distorted by the cold crystal. It had taken frantic work from all three of them to make the ice wall thick enough to hide their scent and disguise their presence. "You know, if we melt a bit of the wall…." Genesis turned back and gave him bitter glare. "Not the whole thing," Zack said quickly, "just a corner, a little hole. I could climb down there and get the cure materia back."
"No, puppy!" Angeal said.
"We could heal Angeal up and then we climb down away from everything and…"
"I said no, Zack!" Angeal straightened up. "They're big, they're fast, they're hungry and they're deadly. I won't risk you getting hurt too."
"Maybe they won't go for me. I can't taste that good."
Genesis snorted. "Angeal tells me different."
Angeal gave Genesis a look. "Zack, you are not going down there."
"But nothing, puppy." Angeal held Zack in place. "Let the mako do its work. I've made it out of worse spots before." The argument had tired him. He leaned back against the cold cave wall. "Just rest and save your strength, okay? We'll have enough work to do getting out of here once the storm clears."
"Okay." Even Zack's spikes seemed to droop. Angeal lifted the covers clear again and shifted to make room on his sleeping bag.
"Come here, puppy, let's get some rest."
Zack hesitated, despair on his face. Angeal beckoned again with one hand and Zack dove in, pulling his own sleeping bag closer to them for the warmth. Angeal took a moment to soothe and pet Zack and get him settled comfortably in a warm cocoon. "You too, Gen," Angeal said. "Don't stand there freezing all night."
Genesis took one more look into the flurries and sighed. "Guess I'd be no good frozen to death." He pulled his sleeping bag over and added his own mylar blanket to the pile.
Angeal kissed Genesis on the head. "You'll see him again. Don't worry."
"I'm not worrying," Genesis said. No one believed it.
There was no sound for some time but the rustle of bodies trying to get close and comfortable on cold ground and thin bedding. "Hey," Zack said. "Doesn't this work better if we're all naked?"
Genesis smirked. "You picked a good student, Angeal. Very good student."