The First Champion @wingedladycolette
First Mako enstallment

Author's note: So sorry for the wait! I've been hit with inspiration for other stories and had to get them out of my head before I could continue. So, sorry about that again. So, this chapter is to my friend Zimmy, or Zimithrus1, who has been have a rough time recently. May the following days be loads better than the ones before. Let me know what you think! Enjoy, everyone!

Warnings: None. Well, maybe language.

Disclaimer: I don't own anything but the story idea and OCs.

Word count: 6,369

Saturday, the fifth of January, two nights before the mako trials, Zack and his friends went to Shade again. It appeared as though they didn't have a fixed date for their teen night. And much like the first time, they all dress up in civilian clothes and head out around seven o'clock. Gabe had already gotten them in again and Zack was less nervous now that he was fifteen, but like last time, the bouncer didn't even check their ID's to ensure they ages. Just a hard look and then a jerk of the chin toward the door to signify that they could pass.

Zack feels kind of bad considering that he was unable to make it to the club in November. The end of the month teen night in November, after Zack had turned fifteen was on a Wednesday night and they couldn't risk being tired for training the next day. While in December, they got ready to go but the club shut down for some reason and they had to cancel the teen night. Shade is steadily growing in popularity, which Gabe seemed so proud of, as if it was something that he had predicted.

James just rolled his eyes, knowing his best friend well enough to know what he's thinking, and shake his head at other's antics. Zack smiles a little at them as they head inside the club, hoping that Tanner was here so that he could apologize for not coming the next month as he promised. Like last time, they got glowing wrist bands and stickers, this time Zack put the chocobo on his forehead, and his friends abandoned him. Zack didn't mind as he skirted the crowd once more to the bar to see that a different man was behind the bar. This one had multiple tattoos over his entire body and a bunch of piercings around his face and ears.

Zack was a little disappointed about Tanner not being there so that he could apologize, but Zack figured he has to just come the next time and hope to catch him then. Until then, Zack munches on the food, enjoying the taste because Zack truly was an endless pit, and turned around to watch everyone dance. About an hour into the night, Kunsel materialized from the crowd and plops down next to Zack, breathless.

"What's up?" Zack asks, tilting his head at his friend.

Between labored breaths, Kunsel manages, "Too much base." At Zack's confused look, he says, with a tad bit more breath, "The beat is fast, I'm running out of breath."

A mischievous grin crosses Zack's face. "Well, you wouldn't have that problem if you... oh, I don't know, worked your butt off everyday training to become a SOLDIER you spineless jellyfish."

Kunsel rolls his eyes. "Shut up, Zack!" He rubs the back of his neck, working out a kink. "I don't get James and Gabe, they are like this really strange..." he waves his hand around, trying to find the world. His loud sigh makes his chest sink as he tilts his head back. "They dance with each other as if they are the only two people in the world. It's weird."

Zack raises his eyebrows. "What does that mean?"

Kunsel leans back against the bar, resting his elbows back against it. "They go out there and dance together. Then, like two minutes later, there is a flock of girls surrounding them, rubbing themselves all over them. It's weird. They focus on each other and then the girls just come running to them. It's crazy and let's be honest, they talk a lot of shit about being into girls, but I'm unsure." Kunsel stares out at the crowd, breath evening out, but not really seeing anything.

Zack shakes his head, tilting his head into Kunsel's line of sight. He waits until the dark haired boy blinks out of his thoughts before asking, "What do you mean about that?"

Kunsel laughs, giving a single shake of his head. "Nothing, man, I'm just messing with you. Gabe is addicted to anything with a pair of-" he glances at Zack and makes a face. "-Um, socks... with a pair of socks..." Zack looks confused by that so Kunsel just shakes his head again. "Never mind. The point is, I'm just messing with you."

Zack stares at him for a moment before leaning back against the bar and staring at the fluid motion of the crowd. He didn't really understand what Kunsel was trying to joke about, but for some reason it seemed to stick with him. Like a constant nagging at the back of his mind. About ten minutes later, Kunsel grabbed Zack by the hand and dragged him off to the dance floor despite his protests and while dancing with Kunsel was nothing like dancing with Tanner. Kunsel didn't touch him like Tanner did and when he did, it was to pull him back over so that he wouldn't run.

For some reason, it was just as nice, after Zack got used to it, to dance with Kunsel. He wasn't a horrible dancer, but he wasn't anything too amazing. In fact, his dancing got progressively worse, seemingly for Zack's sake. Which the raven haired boy appreciated. And sure enough, they blended into the crowd as if they belonged, even if they were two of the worst dancers there. But Zack had fun.

Much more lively this time around, at the end of the night when Zack and his friends and fellow cadets that went to the club as well, two Midgar born boys, Freddie and Dev, all headed back to Shinra together. About half way there, Gabe suggested a race and off they all went. Racing back to the building more for fun than for competition.

Zack was so excited the night before the first mako trials. He just bounced in his seat, staring at Angeal with huge eyes, occasionally letting out a clenched tooth squeal. Angeal, who was working on some paperwork he didn't finish because Zack texted him as soon as class was over that he was going to break into his apartment, so he finished some work and came home soon after with more work with him. Then about an hour later, Angeal went to his apartment to see Zack rolled up like a worm in a blanket outside his front door, inch worming his way up and down the hall while the SOLDIERs on the floor watched both confused and amused.

Angeal raises an eyebrow, then squints in confusion. "What...are you doing?"

"Wasting time until Angeal comes home," Zack says inching his way closer to Angeal, not even looking up to see who was talking. He stops in front of Angeal's feet and tries really hard to turn around while still all wrapped up.

"Uh, Zack?" one of the SOLDIERs call out.

Zack grunts with the strain, trying to turn around in his new form. "Yeah?"

"Why do you feel the need to waste you time this way, pup?" Angeal asks, crossing his arms over his chest, holding a manilla folder with some work he brought home with him.

Zack gasps, rolling out of his self made cocoon to hold his arms out to Angeal, a huge grin on his face. "Oh Angeal, thank goodness you're home! It was getting really hot in there and I think I've worked up a sweat." He laughs, pushing himself up onto his feet in a single fluid motion. He spins around and swiftly folds the blanket before turning around and laughing at Angeal, who was shaking his head amused. "By the way, I noticed a really awesome welcome mat outside your door. Somebody truly awesome must have given you the punny piece of home accessory."

Angeal shakes his head lightly, rolling his eyes. "Must have been." He nods toward his apartment. "Come on, leave the SOLDIERs alone, I'm sure they've got more important things to do then watch you inch-worm your way up and down the hall leading to my room."

"You'd be surprised. They've been watching me for almost an hour," Zack says, grinning over at the crowd that has gathered.

One of the SOLDIERs, among the bunch chuckling says, "Well, I heard you are getting mako injections tomorrow."

Zack pauses mid-step toward Angeal's house to turn and look over at the SOLDIER. "Yeah! I'm so excited! How is it? The instructors all said that it was 'an experience'," he says, putting air quotes around the words. "Is that true?"

The SOLDIER smirks, nudging his friend next to him. He nods. "Yeah," he says, smiling when the others laugh softly. "It's uh, got quite the..." he pauses, scrunching his face up, trying to find the right word, then he grins like a madman, "...kick." The surrounding SOLDIERs rumble with laughter while Angeal shakes his head and opens his door.

"Come on, pup, best not to focus on the ramblings of your hazing seniors. You come to learn all about what mako is capable of doing tomorrow. Going in depth about it now will only serve to freak you out," Angeal says, shaking his head as the rest of the SOLDIERs dispersed. Which brings them to now, Zack staring, wide eyed with a huge grin on his face at his mentor, not really seeing him.

Angeal feels bad for not disclosing that mako injections aren't exactly a walk in the park or something that should be excitable to the stable minded. He smiles ruefully but sticks with his decision. It wouldn't do Zack any good to know that mako injections weren't exactly all they were cracked up to be. After a long moment of debate, Angeal pushes his paperwork away for a moment.

"So, lets talk about the next couple of days," he says, then waits until Zack has zoned into the conversation with a "huh?" before continuing, "As my charge, you'll be staying here for the next few days so I can monitor your transition. Mako injections have... different side effects depending on the person. These are to judge when you get the real full dose, how your body may react to it."

Zack tilts his head to the side. "So what kind of side effects are there?"

"It ranges," Angeal says, "and it's different depending on the person. Each person is different. Some of the side effects are mild. Overly sensitive skin and/or slight change in skin color, and some have unquenchable thirst. I've even heard of someone being unable to stop feeling a tickling sensation."

"Oh," Zack says innocently, eyes wide. "That doesn't sound too bad."

Angeal raises an eyebrow, looking slightly amused for a moment, before his face turns serious. "But then there are others. People who get side effects a lot worse than that."

Zack's innocent look doesn't leave, he just keeps staring. "Like what?"

Angeal hesitates, wondering just how much he should say. It couldn't do Zack any harm to just be aware, Angeal's not so sure he's comfortable letting Zack walk into this thinking that it might be a walk in the park, seeing as it's far from that.

"Burning sensations, throughout the entire body," Angeal says, watching Zack closely. "Sometimes people experience temporary blindness, fits of heightened aggression, pains along the joins and down the spine, insistent scratching urges on a particular part of the body even past the point of breaking skin. Any number of side effects can occur. Some get one, some get two, some are sever others are not, and some, and that's a very very few some, get none."

Zack stared back at Angeal with wide, intrigued eyes, yet somehow, Angeal feared that nothing was really computing with the young man. Not really. Angeal let out a long winded sigh. It seems like the young man will just have to figure it out tomorrow. Angeal just hopes that whatever Zack's side effects end up being, that they aren't too bad.

After a long moment, Angeal returned back to his work while Zack sat there processing this new information. He leans back into the couch, tapping his foot on the floor in front of him. He finally sits back up and stares at Angeal. "Are you sure it's okay that I stay here?"

Angeal doesn't look up. "Yes. I have a spare room and besides, it's my responsibility to look after you as my student. Thirds will be cycling through the barracks to look after your friends, if that's what you are worried about."

Zack makes a face and shrugs his shoulders. "That's good. So... it's kind of bad? I mean, they wouldn't have Third Class SOLDIERs looking in on us if it didn't get bad, huh?"

Angeal pauses in his work to look up at Zack with unreadable mako enhanced blue eyes. "Don't worry, Zack. The doses aren't dangerous and just short of a very bad reaction, your friends will be fine. And so will you. That's why you have people who have been through it looking out for you and the rest of the cadets. We know the signs of bad reactions. In the last few years we've been able to go through the trials without any fatalities."

"'Fatalities'?" Zack echoes, eyes wide.

Angeal nods grimly. "Out understanding of mako is a lot more extensive now than it was when I was your age. So don't worry too much, okay?"

Zack stares at him for a long moment before looking away, an uneasy feeling settling in his gut. He wanted to believe in Angeal. Not that he thinks Angeal would intentionally lie to him. In fact, if anything, Angeal has been nothing but straight-up honest with Zack since the beginning and it did make Zack feel a bit better that Angeal was confident that even if something did go wrong, whomever would get all the help that they would need. But still, Zack is feeling a bit nervous.

Once Angeal finished up his work, he suggests that they clean and air out the usually unused room. It's simple. A bed, desk, clothes chest, a closet and a window meant to let in light but never open, other than that it's empty. So they change the sheets on the bed and wash the pillow cases and blanket, and dust off the flat surfaces and plug in some air fresheners.

Afterward, Zack managed to convince Angeal to watch a movie with him. So after dinner, Zack makes popcorn and curls up onto the couch. Zack sits down, pulling Angeal down next to him and they watch. It was some kind of action movie that had little plot but a lot of explosions. Nearing the end, Angeal looks down to see Zack leaning his head on Angeal's shoulder, eyes drooping closed. A moment later he forces his eyes open, watches for a few more minutes before his eyes start to fall again.

"We can finish it tomorrow, if you like, Zack?" Angeal says softly. Zack's eyelids flutter a little. Long dark eyelashes touch the tops of his pale cheekbones. After a long moment of no response, Angeal opens his mouth about to say it again when Zack's eyes open and he blinks rapidly.

"Sorry..." he murmurs, straightening up a bit to focus on the television. "I was so anxious about my mako testing tomorrow that I figured I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight, but now I'm tired. But no, I want to see the end of this movie. I bullied you into it so I should be able to stay awake long enough to finish it." He reaches up and roughly rubs his eyes, then gives himself a little shake to wake himself up more. "Okay, sorry."

Angeal doesn't respond and turns his attention back to the movie. But he's no longer watching it. Angeal is amazed at the innocence displayed to him. Zack was very much a trusting child and never had a reason not to be. Victoria gave Angeal, even in their very short time knowing each other, the impression that Zack truly was a very kind and trusting child. Which Angeal sort of already knew, but it was nice to see that there was absolutely no airs about it. It was genuinely the boy that is currently adamant about finishing a movie he 'bullied' Angeal into watching.

Zack is turning out to be far better than Angeal could have imagined. Truly a pure being.

Zack manages to stay awake through to the end of the movie. Once the credits start to roll, Zack finally pulls himself to his feet and stretches. "Okay, I'm going to go back to the barracks."

"Alright," Angeal says, getting up and turning the movie off. "Make sure you have a few days of clothes packed before you come over tomorrow. I'll try and be there but I've got a bunch of meetings tomorrow. If I don't end up coming, just make your way here as soon as you're let go from the labs. You are welcome into my apartment or you can spent your time at the end of the hall where the SOLDIERs hang out, either way is fine. I'm be back as soon as I can."

Zack nods, scratching the back of his head, mussing up his already messy hair. "No problem, Angeal. Take your time. Goodnight."

Angeal smiles faintly, nodding his goodbye and watching his student go.

The next morning, the cadets had to get up and eat breakfast before getting called out by barracks. First was the one with the least number of people, there was ten cadets. Next was Zack's barracks, which had about thirty and the last one had almost fifty cadets. Zack sits around in the waiting room outside of the science lab on the thirty-ninth floor. Kunsel, Gabe and James were taken to the one up on the SOLIDER floor so at least Zack had Chase for company.

"Are you nervous?" The lightly darker skinned boy says, running a hand through his hair,

Zack shrugs his shoulders, leaning back against his uncomfortable plastic chair. Assistants are walking around with clip boards, handing out forms for them to fill out before they can get their mako injections. Zack hasn't gotten his yet and neither has Chase.

"Sort of," Zack says, twisting in his seat again. "What about you? Nervous?"

Chase smiles faintly, but that doesn't obscured the obvious loss of color on his face. "A bit..."

Zack reaches out and pats his shoulder in what he hopes is a comforting action. "It'll be okay, dude. Just make sure you let someone know if you feel bad." He squeezes his shoulder one more time before pulling back. "Okay?"

Chase nods slowly, not looking all that good. He looks to be physically sickened by all that's going on. Everyone that walks out of the room looks a little worse for wear but nothing overly horrible. Zack takes the clipboard and pen offered to him from one of the science division interns, thanking him, before looking around at the crowded room filled with hopeful and nervous cadets.

His eyes scan the crowd, looking for Angeal. He knows that the older man said that he probably wouldn't be able to be there, but Zack would feel a lot better if he was, regardless of how childish it seemed. Zack filled out his form and waited patiently for his name to be called. He listens as the names get called one by one alphabetically. He would occasionally glance over at his friend, who only seems to be getting paler as the names get closer and closer to his.

A female intern steps out of the lab, looking around with thick rimmed glasses. "Zackary Fair?"

Zack stands up right as Chase grabs hold of his arm, somewhat painfully. Zack looks at the tight grip, cutting off circulation to his hand, to the paling face of his friend. "Chase?"

"Um... be careful..." he mumbles, pulling his hand away, curling it into a tight fist on his lap. Zack stares at him for a long moment, wondering what could be his friend's problem. Yes, mako testing seems to have upped the level of stress that's already been piled on since the training regiment got harder, but Chase has just been acting really weird.

"Mr. Fair?" The intern says, staring at him with raised eyebrows.

"Yeah, sorry." Zack follows her into the lab, immediately getting hit with the smell of chemicals and the bright sterile white of the room. Cots are set up in rows along the length of the room on two sides, creating a walkway in-between the rows. Most of the cots are filled up with cadets with IV drips all looking mixtures of anxious and excited. There is a bunch of standard privacy stalls between everyone.

About halfway down the walkway the intern opens one of the privacy curtains and gestures for Zack to go inside. He obeys and sits down onto the bed set up. She takes his paperwork and looks it over with a blank expression. She chews on the bottom of her pen, walking over to a cooler on the ground and pulling out a bag of light blue liquid. Half the size of a blood bag, Zack remembered Angeal telling him earlier that morning during conditioning.

She hangs the back up and double checks to make sure Zack filled everything out before setting it down on the table and then walking over to hang the bag on the IV rack and then takes Zack's arm. She cleans the area at the crook of his elbow and it's at this moment that he looks away and feels the pinch of the needle. She inspects it for a moment before stepping back.

"Okay, don't touch it. Let me know if you need anything. I'll be out there helping others. I'm Linda, by the way," she says, half looking at Zack before she steps out passed the barrier of the privacy curtain. She looks back at Zack. "Do you want this opened or closed?"

Zack shakes his head. "It doesn't matter."

She nods, reaching out to the table to grab Zack's clipboard, and turns to leave, keeping the curtain open. Zack bounces his leg up and down. It doesn't take long for Zack to lose interest in everything around him; blank walls - if they can even be called 'walls' - minimal things in the little sectioned off space. A medium sized table with box of some needles and tubes, a couple of pens and some forms. The cooler next to it and another box with the hazardous material sign on it. Looking past the curtain, Zack can see the cadet on the other side. Not someone he knows personally, but has seen around the halls. Maybe he has a class with him, Zack doesn't remember.

He awkwardly waves a hand at the other cadet when their eyes meet. The other cadet awkwardly waves back before closing his eyes and rubbing his forehead. He runs his fingers over the smooth blue plastic over the chair/bed thing that they have him sitting in. The type of sterile thing that can be easily wiped down after each person.

Zack sighs and focuses on the mako bag, it's cold pouring into him. Not unbearably so, just weirdly. Zack shakes a little from it before he takes his free hand and runs it up and down a portion of his other arm, being mindful of the needle to not touch it. After about a minute, the chill settles over his whole body from head to toes, making him shiver again.

Then, Zack's entire body relaxes, beyond his command and his eyelids fall closed.

Flashes. Images he doesn't understand. There is a small hamlet village. There can't be more than a handful of houses. Smells. He can smell nature. And something sweet. Crooked trees with dangling fruit and-

Mountains. Looking up at a large, snow covered mountain to the left. And to the right: another mountain, smaller, with lots of trees and billowing smoke from beyond. A town. A building, large and fenced off. A mansion of sorts.

A man, dark brown hair, slicked back. Square shaped glasses, white coat. Looking up at him, had to be someone short. He reaches forward, smiles kindly, pats the top of the head, opens his mouth-

Gongaga. Everything as he remembers. All the buildings and the ocean. The people too. All smiling and kind. A slight distortion, everything seems a bit more aged. The rock and stone is worn down a bit. People he remembers are older. His ma, her face lined. She's smiling. Oblivious. But to what?

A girl. A beautiful girl with long brown hair. There is rows of pews. A hole in the roof with light pouring in over a large bed of flowers. She stands before them, tending them. Smiling. And then it shifts and the girl is gone and the light now pours in from both the top and the windows around. A pool of water where the flowers once were. No, the flowers are beneath the surface, as if unaffected. A very familiar sword standing guard over the building.

A large stairway leading up. An unfamiliar weight in his hands. A sword, larger than he. It doesn't drag the ground. It's familiar. The hand tightens around it. Looking up at the where the stairway leads. A metal door. Mako tubes on either side. Over the door, a single word: Jenova-

Zack gasps, shooting up in his seat, heart pounding.

"Sorry," Linda says, not sounding too apologetic to Zack. "Didn't mean to scare you. But I have to say, this is the first time anyone has ever fallen asleep while getting a mako treatment." She raises her eyebrows and pulls the needle from Zack's arm, wrapping it up neatly. "At least not since I got here. Okay," she looks up at Zack. "Everything clears on the paper work. Just stay here for about ten minutes and then your free to go. Call me if you need anything." And then she's gone as quickly as she reappeared.

Zack sits there, looking down at his arm, making a face. He bends it experimentally and there is a pinch of pain at it. He lays it back down gently and stares out the curtain and sees that the guy across the walkway is gone and replaced with another boy. The intern is putting the needle into his arm so Zack has to look away again. It's not that he hates needles, it's just weird to Zack for someone to voluntarily stick themselves with something. Zack would never be able to donate blood. Maybe he would donate his body to science or something, if he hasn't already sold it to the Company after he dies.

After a few more minutes and Linda peaks her head in to tell Zack that he can leave. So Zack jumps at the chance and gets out of there as quickly as possible, noting that he doesn't see Chase out in the waiting room and makes his way to the elevator. He's still shivering a little bit as he gets into the elevator and hits the button for the SOLDIER floor. There is still a few cadets up there, waiting their turn, keeping away from the SOLDIER First Class and talking amongst each other and some of the Thirds that were up there.

Zack walks over to the lounging area where a handful of the SOLDIER Firsts were. He finds the blond First and goes over to him. "Hi!" He waves his hand in greeting, catching the older man's attention.

"Zack," he says in greeting, glancing at the crook of Zack's arm. "How did the test go?"

Angeal's apprentice shrugs his shoulders. "It's okay. I'm like freezing though. They put the mako into these coolers and it's like ice in the veins." Zack rubs up and down his arms, a tinge of pain in his elbow that he ignores. "Is it suppose to be like that?"

The blond First shrugs his shoulders. "It wasn't when I first came here. But that wasn't long after Angeal, Genesis and Sephiroth showed up. They probably changed it over the years, but I wouldn't be the one to know."

"It was when I got here," a Second overhearing the conversation says. "It was like a new thing when I as a cadet. They had just started doing it, so I guess they decided to keep it."

The blond First shrugs. "Well, there you go."

"How do you feel?" One of the other Firsts asks, eyebrow raised. "Feeling any side effects?"

Zack shakes his head. "Not that I know of, but while taking the test I had a wicked dream of a bunch of images that I didn't understand."

Everyone stares at him, curiously. There are exchanged looks around the room, communicating with their eyes. Zack follows the looks around the room, wondering if it's some kind of ritual amongst SOLDIERs to be able to understand each other without words. He sure hopes so. Because soon, that'll be him. And his buddies. They will all be like that one day. Hopefully.

"Can I be let in on the secret SOLDIER no-words communication?" Zack asks, eyes wide. He looks amongst the faces of mostly Firsts with the occasional Second mixed in. "Or, is that like... a no?"

More shared looks. Then, one of the other Firsts looks at Zack. "A superstition, if you want to call it that, amongst SOLDIERs. Only a select few every couple of years see the visions in their first mako injection. They are said to be shoo-ins for First."

Zack just stares at him blankly, trying to process the words. When he does, he blinks a few times, just in time for Kunsel to round the corner from the science lab on this floor, rubbing his sore arm. Zack makes a wild gesture with his hands and runs over to the couch and grabs one of the pillows off of it and runs over to his best friend and starts hitting him with it.

Already annoyed from the injection, grabs the pillow from Zack and starts hitting him back. "The hell do you want, Zack?" He stops hitting Zack to hear the answer, eyes narrowed.

"I'm so happy!" Zack exclaims, smiling at his best friend. Kunsel stares back at him blankly for a moment before he whacks Zack in the back of the head with the pillow.

"I don't have the energy to deal with you right now, dude," Kunsel says, rubbing his wounded arm again.

Zack takes the pillow back and grabs his friend's hand, leading him back over to the collected bunch of SOLDIERs. Kunsel immediately looks intimidated, staying close to Zack as he treads into unfamiliar territory.

"I'm back," Zack says, pulling his friend along. "This is my friend Kunsel."

"Sirs," Kunsel says and snaps at attention and Zack just smiles at him.

"Don't be so tense, dude. Just treat them like people. They're just like us," Zack says, patting his shoulder encouragingly. "They're just stronger and faster and more skilled, have more life experience, are superhuman and don't look uncomfortable in their uniforms. Other than that," Zack gestures between himself and one of the Firsts, "we are the same." Zack stops and makes a face. "Wait..."

Kunsel looks at him, exasperated. "There is no way to recover from that one," he says. That earns him some chuckles.

Zack rubs the back of his head sheepishly, looking at the SOLDIER he was gesturing too. "I'm sorry. I'm sure you have a better personality than me. I forgot that in the listing."

The causes a snort from the crowd and Kunsel sighs. "I don't think..." he slips slowly from his salute slowly. "Never mind."

"It fine," the First says, sounding amused.

"How about you, cadet?" the blond First says, crossing his arms over his chest. "How are you feeling after your first injection?"

Kunsel rubs the crook of his arm again. "Okay. Cold. Now I'm just really tired."

"Ahh, mako's working as a depressant for you. I can hear your heart beat slowing down. It's no wonder you're tired."

Kunsel looks slightly alarmed. "Is that bad?"

The blond First shakes his head, smiling. "Not at all. I was the same way. It's hell when you get the real mako and not the watered down version. Feels like your walking and thinking through syrup for a few days after, but you'll be fine."

Kunsel relaxes a little at that. "Thank you, sir.

"Coleson," The blond First says. "Emeric Coleson."

Kunsel nods. "Mr. Coleson." He smiles faintly before turning to look at Zack. "I have to go, dude. I don't want to pass out walking back to the barracks."

"I feel fine right now," Zack says. "You want me to come with you?"

Kunsel smiles more broadly, patting Zack on the shoulder. "No way. Because the last thing I need is for you to pass out on your way back. So, I'm going to slip in with the flow and hope that if I do pass out... nobody steps on my head as they trudge by," he trails off there at the end, reaching up and mussing his hair a bit more before saluting again and then patting Zack on the back. "Later, dude. Good luck."

"Yeah..." Zack says, eyebrows pulling together. "You too." He watches his friend go and looks uncomfortable. "Maybe I should go with, you think?" He looks over at the blond First - Emeric - with wide doe eyes.

Emeric shakes his head, jerking his chin over to two other cadets and a Third getting onto the elevator with Kunsel, who gives him a little wave before the doors close. "Your friend will be fine."

Zack nods slowly, hugging the pillow to his chest. He looks up at Emeric, eyes wide and eyebrows pulled together. "Is Angeal still in his meetings?"

Emeric nods. "As far as I know, yes. Why? Do you need to talk to him?"

Zack shakes his head. "No, he just told me that when I got here I could go to his apartment, but I don't feel good about being in his home without him being there so I was wondering if I could stay out here with you guys until he shows up?"

A look around the room and all the nods and shrugs was all he needed. Zack sits down on the couch next to the Second and waves at him. The Second waves back a little. Or more like just wiggles his fingers a little in greeting. Zack leans back in the couch and listens to everyone talk about one thing or another. After a while, Zack realizes that he's rubbing his temples. A steady pulsing all over his head.

His eyes start to droop closed. His temples hurt from him constantly rubbing at them and he hold the pillow even closer, curling up even more. His knees pulled up to his chest with the pillow in-between, his arms wrapped around his legs and cheek resting against his knee. Not moving helped settle the pounding in his head. He just hopes no one gets mad at him for having his shoe on the couch.

It's either his shoes on the couch or he takes them off and everyone has to deal with the smell of his feet. And no one would voluntarily chose that. It's the lesser of two evils, if anyone were to ask him. So technically, he was doing them a favor so, they owe him. But, he's not going to be picky about it.

Something warm and soothing settles on top of his head. Zack opens an eye, staring blearily up at his mentor. He mumbled the older man's name but he's not sure Angeal understood it.

"How do you feel?" Angeal asks quietly, bright blue eyes even brighter than Zack remembers.

Zack reaches up and roughly rubs one of his eyes. "Tired. My head really hurts, Angeal..."

Angeal nods slowly, the warmth of his hand seeping into Zack's head, making him feel a little better. "I know. Are you hungry at all?"

Zack shakes his head and immediately regrets it. "No..."

Angeal stands up from where he was knelt in front of Zack, grabbing his buster sword and putting it back onto his back. He holds a hand out for Zack to take, after a long painful moment of silence, he does and lets Angeal pull him off the couch and onto his feet. Angeal puts an arm around him and holds him up, taking all of his body weight.

"Okay, let's get you to bed. Thanks, guys," Angeal says over his shoulder. Zack could hear some replies but he couldn't focus on them. Each step was like a bomb going off in his head. And he had to take every painful one of them before he could finally fall back to sleep in the comfort of the bed in Angeal's spare room. The next few days were truly hell.

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