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.
Well, that answered that. Dead end. He spared a moment to wonder if she was lying, but it really was far more likely that no one had told her anything. Veld was a cagey old bastard after all and doubtless not in the habit of chattering away to his brand new subordinates about any grand schemes for the future of the company he might have planned out. Zack wondered if he might have had more luck asking Tseng to dinner, except for the fact that Tseng currently hated his guts. Oh well. At this point he’d would settle for what he’d gotten so far, which was Rosalind’s status of not-really-involved-so-far-non-threat. He could deal with that.“Of course SOLDIER wanted you,” he said absently. “Physical strength is something the enhancements can give no matter what your natural abilities were in the first place. It’s the rest of the package that we were interested in. A word from Seph or myself would have secured you a place.”As to why Zack was telling her all this, simple. It was useful to know. None of it was really confidential information, anyone could take a look at the Wutai records to find the paper war laid out in all of its lunatic glory, it was just …embarrassing. People didn’t talk about embarrassing things. And it was hardly a secret that Sephiroth’s sometimes violent independence disconcerted the rest of Shinra, and it was hardly a secret that there wasn’t a whole lot any of them could do about it. The President in particular had always seemed completely confident that Sephiroth would never push that line further than could be justified by the results. Zack had his suspicions about the reason for that confidence. Suspicions about things that Seph refused to discuss, things involving a smirking psychotic named Hojo, but he certainly wasn’t going to bring that up. He did wince when she took the bait and asked about Gagazet. His own fault, he had tossed it out there. “Well. Uh. Gagazet. Right.” He fidgeted uncomfortably. “Seph got fed up with the whole stealing his people thing. Because. Um.” Might as well get it over with, no doubt his impression of embarrassed schoolboy was marvelous entertainment for the fascinated Turk. “They arrested me, you see. Court martial for falsifying orders during the war, since half of those transfers came through to me and they were all bullshit and if I hadn’t overridden them we’d have lost ..I don’t know how many more lives in Wutai. So they showed up with paperwork and handcuffs while I was out on assignment, and I got to spend a nice couple of days in a military prison at Junon while the boys in charge pranced around and gloated about how this was going to jumpstart their careers.”
“Then word got back that the General had, upon receiving his invitation to the proceedings, up and disappeared. No one knew what had happened or where he’d gone.” Zack couldn’t help the stupid grin. “He used to pull that all the time in Wutai. Pissed off the brass like nothing else, he’d just walk into the jungle with some men and vanish for weeks on end, usually when Midgar Command had been getting a little too pushy. Worse, he’d take half a regiment with him and they’d all just be gone. Then he’d show up four weeks later on the other side of the country with two or three or eight more cities taken. The right people could always find him if needed, of course, but Midgar Command just went nuts.”“So naturally, they postponed my trial and started a manhunt, because I was small fry compared to Seph. Predictably the search turned up squat. For all they knew he’d walked out for good. About a week and a half went by and I was starting to get kinda sick of the cell, so I uh, kinda broke out and went for a walk. Listened to a few rumors in town.”“The President was waiting for me when I got caught....I mean, when I was escorted back. Said he’d had enough bullshit and I was free to go. He was more worried about the General, see. Every day Sephiroth stayed gone was costing him thousands of gil, he said, because of Mount Gagazet.”“You probably haven’t heard of it. It’s way out in the boonies, infested with monsters. Supposed to be haunted, too. Anyway, there was supposed to be a reactor built there, because monsters usually means mako, but the crews had taken awful casualties from all the crawlies and were too terrified to finish. They wanted military security. They wanted Seph himself, actually, and swore construction wasn’t going to go any further until he showed up. The President was besides himself trying to deliver the goods so he could get his precious reactor finished on schedule.”“So I got turned loose, all charges cleared, and I hopped a chocobo and headed out to the wild. Seph being gone was all hush hush, so there wasn’t any scuttlebutt in the villages, but there was talk of monster frenzies in various places that were leaving corpses left and right in these really remote areas. Might as well have been a neon sign. Shinra rarely granted us the opportunity to go bug hunting in places that weren’t essential, but Seph always paid attention to the complaints being brought, in and the bastard was using his impromptu vacation to work on his To Do list.”“I caught up to him….I don’t even remember where. Some mountain lake that didn’t have a name, but I think we eventually ended up naming it after my chocobo after we’d been there two weeks. When I rode up on him he was standing on the shore fishing. Can you believe it? And then he turns around and asks what the hell took me so long, he’d already used up half of his planned leave.”He laced his hands behind his head and looked up at the ceiling innocently. “And you know, for some strange reason, after we got back and the reactor project was underway? No one said a word about any of it. Never brought up my court martial or Seph taking off or anything at all.” He winked. "Weird collective amnesia, huh?"