Why am I starting a new thread? I don't know, it seemed like the thing to do.It was Sephiroth who noticed. It was always Sephiroth who noticed. Other people had their on and off switches, mission mode on and they were all professional, all die hard trained killing machine, mission mode off and they were as normal as they make themselves with bad jokes and alcohol. The White General had no off switch for his instincts. It wasn’t training, because they’d all gone through training and even Zack didn’t always wake up from a sound sleep with a gun in one hand and a blade in the other. Pure carnal instinct. Predator instinct, and it never went away. Zack had finally resorted to unloading all the accessible firearms before they slept, because even a twitch in dreaming, or a moth fluttering against the tent canvas, would result in a cold metal barrel against Zack’s temple and cat slit eyes reflecting moonlight and absolutely no humanity.The great general Sephiroth, he harrumphed when Cloud started in on his idol worshipping. You try sharing a tent with him in the jungle. Couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve tripped over that silly sword of his because he won’t let it out of hand. He snores, too. And whines like a girl about his coffee.And Cloud would give him that ‘are you making this up’ look, and Zack would end up trying to look innocent and failing, and Cloud would get his exasperated expression, and so on and so forth.“It isn’t going to work.” Sephiroth was specifically not looking at him, his coolly distant gaze directed out at the milling execs in a deliberate Do Not Disturb warning.Zack shrugged, brushing at his uniform. Twittering Priscilla, useful though she might have been in chastising superior officers who tried to skip out on boring social functions when their XOs were in forced attendance, had left an awful lot of glitter in her wake when she’d finally flounced off. “Oh I don’t know. I think Beatrix is definitely due for another advancement, no one would oppose the motion with her record…”“I’m not talking about that.” There was ice underneath the words; Sephiroth was notorious for his frigid neutrality in the political maelstrom of Shinra and he did not care to have that truth challenged.“Oh ye of little faith,” the other SOLDIER muttered. He’d been expecting this, Auron had all but hit him over the head with it. “You want me to stand by and watch him get killed?”“He is Veld’s problem.”“Veld isn’t doing shit about it.”“To your knowledge.”Zack rolled his eyes. “Conspiracy and whatever the hell little underhanded spy games Veld has running aren’t the same as giving the kid a bulletproof vest and some decent guards. You’ve heard the rumors flying around about assassination. It’s too hot for the Turks to pussyfoot around executive egos.” Or Presidential ones, he added mentally.“Then it is far too hot for SOLDIER to even be involved.” Oh, and Seph was mad now, he’d finally deigned to glance Zack’s way, and there was nothing cool or distant about his snapping gaze.Zack didn’t flinch. Zack was the only one who never flinched, and the only one who ever saw past the professional irritation to the friend who was, in his own twisted way, concerned.“He’ll die, Seph.”“You don’t know that.”“We both know it. It’ll all be very convenient and he’ll get shot and he’ll die.”The General remained unmoved. “People die.”“He’s just a kid.”“Those die too.” By your hands. By mine. Stop playing hero to lost causes.But someone had to. “Begging your pardon, General asshole sir,” he retorted, “but this isn’t the bloody jungle and we’re not at war. It’s called ‘murder’ here in civilization and where I come from we don’t stand for it.”The words in reply were nothing more than a hiss of breath. One black gloved hand was hard on his shoulder, forcing him into the wall, and anything but a genetically enhanced superhuman, or Zack On A Mission, would have winced at the grip that had crushed human skulls before. “Regicide is also murder, you fool, and that’s where this is headed. If that boy tries and fails, anyone supporting him will…”“..be there to make sure he doesn’t fail.” Sephiroth went still, and for a moment Zack wondered if he had gone too far. Auron had been watching them from across the room, but now he pushed off from the wall, doubtless wondering if he’d be needed to cart out a body in about three seconds.Too late to take it back, and it was the truth anyway. “That man dropped a bomb on a city full of refugees, Seph,” Zack reminded his commander softly. “A target of no military value. It killed a few rebels. It killed sympathetic resistance cells. It killed sick and dying people who didn’t care which way the war went any longer. It killed some of our own troops who were trying to help with the wounded. Are you honestly telling me that you would prefer him to his son at the helm when we go off to the next jungle?”The pressure decreased slightly. Zack had already won, just as he knew he would, but it didn’t make him feel any better wringing the admission of it out of a friend.Sephiroth stepped back, once again cold and remote and his voice a study in clinical disinterest. “You could burn for this.”“We all burn for something.” I’d rather it be me than you. It was obvious, at least to Zack, which one of them had less to lose.A ripple went through the fall of silver hair, indicating something that might have been a sigh. Zack seemed to inspire those. “You might have at least said something.”The SOLDIER rubbed at his bruised shoulder, thankful the mark wouldn’t show under his shoulder armor. “Why ask permission when you already know the answer and are planning to ignore it anyway?”“You were a sergeant for entirely too long,” Sephiroth muttered. A pause. “Dincht and Kinneas? I thought you were trying to keep him alive.”Zack grinned. “That’s the trick of it, isn’t it? I can’t try too hard or someone might get suspicious about my ulterior motives. Of course, I could always just say I’m recruiting him for my harem.” He cast a sideways look at his General.Sephiroth didn’t bat an eyelash. “I pity that boy.”“I pity him as well,” Auron remarked, materializing at Sephiroth’s side. “He just reeled out looking like someone hit him with Poison. Punch was a little harder this year.”Shit. Zack whipped around, seeking blond spikes and a red ponytail amidst the sea of heads….…and found one, the wrong one. Zell was trapped in a press of people and looking frantically for escape without resorting to shoving bodies aside. Irvine he couldn’t see, but somehow Zack doubted that he’d left for anything resembling his mission, if he’d left at all. Probably was drowning in sequined evening gowns and diamond decorated bosoms as usual.Shit.Sephiroth being Sephiroth and having just lost an argument felt the need to comment. “Your ruse of questionable concern seems to be working,” he said blandly. “I’m having trouble believing it at all.”“Not helping,” Zack growled. “Looks like Tseng beat you to it anyway.” Auron nodded at a closing door, but he was talking to empty air. Zack was already wading through bodies.Sephiroth sipped his champagne and waited, watching his XO’s progress. Right on cue, a secretary latched onto the dark haired SOLDIER’s arm. His determined expression faltered into one of pure horror as she dragged him over to her friends, including some of Zack’s more avid admirers, and he realized that there was no way he was going to be able to escape gracefully, if at all.“This is why I don’t come to parties,” the General remarked in irritation, handing off his glass to Auron. “Someone gets drunk, Zack attempts to take responsibility, and I end up cleaning up the mess anyway.” He set off purposefully through the crowd towards the cornered Zell, and people melted from his advance like prairie grass in the wind. It was a gift.Auron watched as Seph reached a terrified looking Zell and set off on a new course with the blond SOLDIER in tow, heading for the doors Tseng had disappeared through. Then Zack caught his eye, winked with a manic grin, and mouthed ‘Told you.’ Auron rolled his eyes behind his glasses. He was too old for this.
"Absolutely in love," Zack declared, daringly capturing her hand in his and kissing it theatrically. "From the very first moment I saw you. Your lovely golden hair, your gorgeous ..uh," he checked quickly—"your gorgeous green eyes, your absolutely stunning collection of hidden weaponry that you're contemplating using on me this very second…"Oops. Withdrawal. He'd miscalculated, she was one of those. Too studious for her own good during the academy, he'd bet. The type that didn't take compliments well if they weren't about her grades or her martial skills. As defensive and skittish as Cloud."I can't help my honesty, miss Rosalind. Wasn't trying to be too forward. I'm from Gongaga, you see, and we country boys have a reputation as being a little too free with the truth for the likes of Midgar's finest and most sophisticated." The manic grin softened into something a little more real. "But it is the truth, that you're a very beautiful lady. Every man in this room stares when you walk by." A lot of envy in those stares, too, he wasn't making that part up at all. It wasn't every suit at this party that had a lady Turk as his conversation partner.But she was right about the lateness of the hour. If they were going to leave, they ought to do it now.He offered to drive, wincing a little as his bruised shoulder complained loudly when he fished out his keys. The other option was taking one of the trains down, but that wasn't hardly so classy as having a private vehicle, even if it was a functional, military issue all terrain type. The place he had in mind was in Sector 3, a quiet little business district with mostly family owned shops, and people who ran the Jade Dragon were one of the many native Wutai families who'd left their homeland to look for better jobs on the continent. The waitresses were the oldest daughters, the cooks their father and brothers, and food as authentic as you could get without a trip across the ocean. "Zack-han!" Zack almost but not quite flinched as a familiar figure detached itself from one of the tables and flounced over. A pretty faced young man in SOLDIER casual uniform, short silver hair slicked back from his temples. Wide blue eyes, cheeks flushed and a little tipsy. "I thought you said you were busy at some corporate thing all night and couldn't join us." He was actually pouting. "Past tense, Angel," Zack returned. "I managed to slip away." "Not alone, I see," someone called from the table 'Angel' had vacated. Zack good naturedly flipped them all off, prompting a round of slightly inebriated laughter. "Can't a man have a nice quiet date without his petty officers giving him ten kinds of crap?""Absolutely not, sir. Against regulations," one of the younger SOLDIERs piped up, grinning at the sour look his superior gave him. Angel sighed melodramatically, looking put upon. "Well if you're going to be that way….""Drinks on me tomorrow night," Zack promised. The others broke out into a cheer and Angel flounced back their way, satisfied. "And bring your girl!""Like hell I want her associating with the riffraff, you drunken excuses for government weapons." He ignored their jeers and glanced apologetically at Rosalind, a little embarrassed. "There's quieter tables in the back, if you don't mind not having a window seat. Otherwise this lot will be pestering us all night until they get thrown out."
Well, that was a surprise. She hadn't expected Zack to have a car, let alone one of his own. Perhaps it was General Sephiroth's?The place he had in mind took her by surprise too. She'd been thinking of something along the lines of a hole in the wall that nevertheless served good food -- there were a lot of them in the Slums, if you just knew where to look. At the very least, she'd been expecting... oh, some kind of place that served that fake stuff that people called Wutai food, that Wutainese would poke at with a look of vague suspicion and say that they didn't do it this way at home. Which, translated, meant: What crap.SOLDIERs would be SOLDIERs, she reflected ruefully. Although the one Zack called Angel was rakishly good looking in his own way, if just a tad too flouncy for her taste. And evidently the type who couldn't hold his liquor. What someone like that was doing in SOLDIER... well..."A table at the back will be fine," she replied. After all, she wanted to talk, not to just to eat and get sloshed. In fact, she didn't want to get sloshed. Not after seeing the effects of all that spiked punch tonight. The place served chopsticks by default. This was a good sign. She was no connoisseur in Wutai food, but her father had brought her to Wutai once, long before the dreadful war and real Wutai fod, once sampled, was never forgotten."I see this place is a well known SOLDIER secret," she said, smiling slightly.