Chapter 8 – Lies

The Turks were known as a group of cold-hearted killers, unfeeling, uncaring, the hunting dogs of Shinra. The infantry told stories to each other aimed to scare the new recruits, sharing in hushed whispers one tale or another of the cold efficiency of the elite assassins. Civilians kept their heads down, shying away from anyone in a black suit – be they male or female – since no one could be trusted not to be one of them. This was the reason that Midgar had the lowest crime rate on the whole East Continent.

The Turks, to those who know them, were as far from 'cold-hearted killers' as possible. They killed, but only under orders, they didn't pry where they were needed to, didn't target people on the street, weren't monsters brought straight out of Hojo's lair. The Turks were a close group, each member treated as family by the rest rather than as mere colleagues. They protected their own, even at the cost of themselves.

As the director of the Turks, Tseng knew their kindness more than anyone. As a Wutaian emigrate, and as a former assassin-for-hire, he never would have been able to make SOLDIER, no matter his skills with a gun or blade. To him, the Turks were a gift from the Goddess herself, more precious than his own biological family – even his own life – and more than worth protecting. But to hide something from them was hard, almost physically painful for Tseng, especially from his little red fox. However, there was no other option. To tell was to damn them too.

Tseng sighed, leaning back against the side of the elevator as it moved towards the Turk floor. He was exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally after his first examination with Hojo. The 'good doctor' had been in a less than pleasant mood, and as a result had taken it out on his unfortunate patient.

His body ached, his skin dyed black and blue under his dark suit. Blood was only just starting to clot over the deep knife wound in his arm, the red-stained bandage sticking uncomfortably to the skin. He walked with a semi-hidden limp, only just favouring his right leg, but he wasn't too worried, the newly added Mako would take care of the wounds in due time.

The elevator doors opened with a beep, baring the once plush blue carpet and white walls of the offices of the Department of Administrative Research. Tseng moved forward, sending greetings and waves at everyone he passed. He sighed as he entered his office, closing the door and leaning against it with a tired groan.

How much pain have those three endured? For how long did they suffer, alone and afraid, before the Turks took up the Shadowstalkers' case? Shinra had only been aware of the group for the past several months at the most, how long had they been under Hojo's control before that?

Tseng shook his head, trying to dispel the thoughts as he pushed himself away from the door and strode to his desk, dropping into his chair with a quiet grunt. A pile of reports sat innocently in the middle of the wooden table, almost three feet in height and Tseng wondered if it was worth the President's anger if he borrowed Genesis' fire materia.

"Hey, Bossman?" Tseng glanced up at the voice, smiling as he saw Reno leaning against the closed door. "What's up, yo? Where've you been for the last week?"

Tseng drew in a deep breath. "I've been on a mission. It's completely classified so I can' tell you anything about it. What have I missed?"

Reno's eyebrow was slowly lifted, the red-headed Turk picked up on Tseng's lie easily. "Oh, not much. Rude made some new explosives, Cissnei got a haircut, Rod's hair was somehowdyed purple, ya know, the usual."

Tseng sighed, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. "Do I want to know?"

"Not really. No"

"Well then, is there something you wanted?"

Reno sent him a strange look. "Boss, I know that I'm not the most observant of guys, but I'm not blind."

Tseng frowned. "What makes you think that I thought you were?"

"You're lying to me, hiding things. You just up and disappear for a week and come back injured and lying – don't try to hide it, I saw you limping."

Tseng looked away, refusing to meet the younger Turk's eyes. "Reno. I can't say. I'm sorry."

Reno sighed, uncrossing his arms. "Fine then. But please, be careful. You're one of us Tseng, and we care about you. We don't like seeing you hurt."

"I know. I'm sorry." The director stood and moved around the desk, drawing the red-head into his arms. "I'll be fine, don't worry."

"Yeah." Tseng felt Reno's fingers tighten in his shirt. "Alright." The Turk commander drew back, wiping teary eyes with his sleeve and coughing lightly to hide his hiccups. "Well, I should leave you to deal with the paperwork monster, yo!" Tseng smiled; glad to see Reno getting a hold of himself again.

"Yeah. Get back to work, Reno. I'll see you at lunch."

"You got it, Bossman!"

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Zack smirked, swinging his standard-issue broadsword above his head as the VR simulation dissolved around him, the remains of the 'dead' behemoth shattering into digital particles. He glanced over his shoulder, shooting a grin behind him at Angeal's approving nod.

"You're doing well." Angeal smiled, clapping the Second on the shoulder. "Still showing off a little too much but your definitely improving."

"Oh yeah!" Zack cheered, bouncing on the spot and fist-pumping triumphantly.

"Come on, Puppy." Angeal chuckled, leading his student out of the VR room. "I think you're improvement calls for a reward."

Zack's eyes grew large and excited, following behind Angeal with an energetic hop in his step. "Really?"

"Yep."

"What is it!?"

"You'll see, Pup."

"ANGEAL! Don't leave me in suspense!"

"But Puppy, half the fun is in the surprise." Angeal smirked, thankful for his developed immunity to the Puppy-Eyes-of-Doom.

"Fine." Zack pouted, but the excitement in his eyes didn't fade.

The SOLDIERs rode up to the 1st Class apartments, Angeal unlocking his door and allowing Zack inside.

"Shoes off Puppy."

"Yeah, yeah."

Angeal left Zack to slump on his couch, entering his room and rummaging around in his closet. He wasn't sure if Zack would like his gift, but one could always hope. When he came back out, Zack was sprawled haphazardly across the couch, one leg on the cushions and the other resting on the floor.

"Tired?" Angeal asked, a soft smile playing on his face.

"Yeah, well. You're a hard taskmaster." Zack groaned, stretching his arms above his head. "I ache in places that I didn't know could ache. Stupid behemoth…"

Angeal chuckled, laying the wrapped object on the coffee table. "Too tired for your reward?"

"Definitely not!" Zack sat up quickly, reaching for the large cloth package. He pulled the red material aside, staring in awe at the sword before him.

It was a beautiful blade, with an ornate black hilt and a long white blade made out of some sort of strong, creamy crystal. It has three pairs of linked material slots, with two of the slots already filled with a quake, paired with an all. Wrapped with the blade were a crystal bangle and a pair of gloves inlayed with the same crystal as the sword and bangle.

Zack looked up at his mentor, his eyes filled with disbelief. "Y… you're giving this to me?" he stammered, at a loss for words.

Angeal nodded, folding the red cloth and putting it aside. "It's called the Crystal Sword. I got it in Mideel along with the bangle and gloves some time ago. So, I take it that you like it?"

"Of course!" Zack lunged, grabbing his mentor in a tight hug. "Thank you!"

"It's alright Pup." Angeal smiled, patting his student's back. "Why don't you go leave that in my room for now and I'll make us dinner? It's almost 1800 hours."

Zack pulled back, a huge grin splitting his face. "Okay!"

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Hojo's called came at 2000 hours, just as Cloud was finally able to settle down for the night, he was startled awake by static in his ears, followed by Hojo's nasally voice demanding his presence in the lab. The cadet groaned, slipping out of bed and into the bathroom, grabbing his Shadowstalkers outfit as he went.

He met up with the others at the elevators leading down to the labs, the four of them trooping inside with an exhausted glance at each other.

"Remind me why we don't just kill Hojo again?" Tseng groaned, leaning off his injured leg. It was taking longer than usual to head for some reason and was still a bit painful to walk on.

"Because if we even try he zaps us. Somehow. I honestly have no idea how he does it but it hurts like crazy." Zack answered, playing with the crystal bangle hidden in one of his pants pockets.

"It was something in the injections he gave us at the beginning. Some sort of microscopic machines injected into our bloodstream that he can activate when he wants. They can shock us, take scans of our body and I'm pretty sure they act as a GPS too." Genesis explained, massaging his temples as if he had a headache. "They run on mako too so they don't just die. Can't get rid of the things without a major blood transfusion."

Cloud just grunted, pulling one of his revolver out from under his half-skirt to heck the barrels. They may be unable to harm Hojo, but one could always dream. If only, if only…

The door opened with an annoying ping, the four Shadowstalkers quickly moving forward and into the lab. Hojo was waiting with a scowl on his face, his fingers visibly twitching towards one of his scalpels.

"The whole reason I got you to start leaving messages was to threaten my rivals and to put Shinra into a state of panic that I could take advantage of, without them knowing that it was me." Hojo's oily voice was cold and angry. "You were not supposed to leave evidence, ever."

The Shadowstalkers glanced at each other. Evidence?

"On the last mission, one of Phoenix's feathers was found near Hart's lab, nearby to where the message was carved. The Turks brought it in and the SOLDIERs had it identified. I managed to destroy the report, but not before a certain few may have seen it. I want you to interrogate them. Find out how much they know and, if they know too much, kill them. But one will be left alive for me. You'll know which. Is that understood?"

"Yes sir." The four murmured, looking at the floor. Genesis had a guilty look on his face, shooting apologetic glances at his teammates.

"If you mess this up, you will live to regret it, understand?"

"Yes sir."

"Sir, who do we need to interrogate?" Cloud asked quietly, hoping and praying that it wasn't someone they knew.

"Reno of the Turks, SOLDIER 1st Angeal Hewley and General Sephiroth."

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And that chapter is done. It's been sorta lying around for a while just waiting to be edited, I only just got around to doing it.

Look forward to the next chapter and review please!