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.
He kept the sigh purely mental and his smile in place. Of course she was going to be suspicious. She had every reason to be, an inexperienced recruit finding herself the recipient of so much attention from SOLDIER’s resident skirt-chasing screwball. Zack was well aware of his own reputation. Half the gossips in Shinra wouldn’t be left bereft of anything to talk about if they didn’t have the stories of his exploits, some which were actually true. Given what she’d said about the academy and what Zack definitely remembered happening to the few girls that made it, it was more than likely that she’d been bracing herself for just this kind of insincerity (whether it was or not) within Shinra since her graduation, and not looking to appreciate it in any form from anyone.Bah. Stiff-necked Turks and their professionalism.“You’re taking all the fun out of this, you know,” he accused, his expression wounded. “Can’t we pretend that it really was a case of destined attraction? The reality is going to sound so very un-romantic, and I have got a certain reputation to uphold. I’d never get a date again if word got around that I’d treated a pretty girl like yourself to boring political commentary rather than compliments over dinner.”It really was unfair. Most of the girls he went out with didn’t want anything except compliments over dinner, even when he did happen to be trying to steer the conversation towards more serious subjects. Secretaries tended to be a fairly vapid lot the further up on the food chain one went. He sometimes wondered if they weren’t hired specifically for it, because in all honesty it would have to take a truly empty headed skirt to want to stay employed with Shinra after a few days working under someone like Palmer or Scarlet.Or maybe he was just getting lazy. After all Aeris had called him on his bullshit before. So had the dancer from the Triple K whose real name he still didn’t know, the girl with wings inked on her back. And the various military personnel. Maybe he was a little too used to handling the bubblebrains that he was missing his cues with the intelligent, potential ally types.If a potential ally the girl was, he reminded himself grimly.“Alright. You’re a Turk, so I guess you’re entitled to ask that kind of question and receive an honest answer.” He poured sake for himself and, smiling only a little bit like a bastard, for her as well. Give and take, m’dear.“The reason your file caught my eye that day was not precisely for your looks, although I will admit a certain fascination on that count. I actually recognized your name from a report that came up a month or so ago, the standard review for candidates in the academy being considered for SOLDIER. Seph is supposed to go over them periodically as some kind of nod to the whole ‘handpicked by the General for specialized training’ crap, so we don’t have to tell parents that their kids have been selected for painful genetic experimentation and enhancement just cos they have the correct lack of allergies to withstand the chemicals that are gonna get pumped through their systems all day long.” He grimaced and drained his glass. “So anyway, I usually end up being the one doing the reviewing. It’s nice to get a look at the people about to join up, actually, even if most of them will wash out during the first week. Lets us…you know, nudge a few in the right direction. Make sure the right type of person gets where he/she is really going to be needed. So imagine my surprise when I see one of the SOLDIER candidate profiles I spent several days cackling over because of the best damn marks I’d seen out of the academy for a long time showing up on an identical handpick review for the Turks.”
A glance around proved that they were indeed, quite alone, save for the help, who Zack more or less trusted to not eavesdrop on account that they all spoke Wutainese and only the youngest understood more than rudimentary Midgardian. Still, he lowered his voice slightly. “Now I’ve got a bit of a story to tell you. See, once upon a time in a far away land called Wutai, there was a great sodding war and a bunch of people that fought in it and another bunch of people that stayed safe at home here and tried to pretend they were in charge of running said war. Long story short, they weren’t. Frontline commanders own the war and they own the soldiers. That’s how it’s always been.”“The people that stayed home and pretended they were in charge decided that they didn’t particularly like not truly being in charge. They also decided that certain frontline commanders were getting too uppity and independent, and took what they felt were subtle steps to limit his influence.” If Rosalind didn’t know who Zack was referring to..well, no, there probably wasn’t any way she couldn’t know who Zack was referring to. “Their favorite tactic was to transfer his officers away, hoping that decreasing his loyal little band of followers would bring him back to heel like a good dog. Course all this really did was spread out the people who were loyal throughout the military, but it did cause certain problems when suddenly, the soldiers serving directly under him were all administration spies and not very focused on actually fighting a war. Most of them ended up dying from their own carelessness, too worried about subversion and reporting secretly back to their superiors to think about the guerillas that walked out of the jungle and cut their throats. Then it got personal. Obviously the folks back in Midgar didn’t want to hear that their tale carriers had been erased through their own idiocy. They immediately jumped to the conclusion that there was a Plot Against Them. So it became a ridiculous back and forth thing, a paper war, with Midgar ordering everyone they thought had suspicious loyalties away from the front, even though the General had put those people up with him because they were competent and needed in the posts he had given them, so the transfer orders would get lost or creatively misinterpreted or accidentally destroyed by firebombs or even simply countermanded by people of higher ranking. It more or less evened out when the President finally bowed to expediency and told everyone to back the hell off so they could finish the damn war and have done with it. But then, after the surrender treaty had been officially signed, probably right around the tail end of the Occupation, the General got fed up with the paper war constantly depriving him of decent personnel and ..took steps. The Mt. Gagazet fishing trip incident happened.” He paused here. That whole mess wasn’t common knowledge, given how embarrassing the details were to Shinra brass even now, but he supposed there was no real harm in sharing if she wanted to hear the whole story. He wouldn’t volunteer. If she wanted to know, she was more than welcome to ask. “Anyway, after that things quieted down. The President was quick to come down hard on anyone who even remotely appeared to be starting up the old rivalries. So it just took me by surprise that a name that had been in a batch of SOLDIER candidates that I happened to have very high hopes for, would show up on a list of Turk recruits. It just seems a little suspicious, you see, that Veld would pick up this vendetta of meddling in SOLDIER business or even appear to pick it up when he’d been one of the few who’d denounced and stayed out of it in the first place.”He leaned forward. “So I have a question for you, Rosalind. Just what is it that Veld or Tseng told you about your new job, and why you specifically were needed to take the position? What’s Veld pulling talent from our pool for?”