Author's note: I'm sorry for the long wait! I have no excuse, life and other stories just caught up with me. I have not given up on this story, believe me, it's just the fire isn't here right now. I hate that I'm not as motivated in this story as some of the others and I hate that the chapter isn't very long. I will continue this story and see it all the way to the end, so don't worry! I will keep going! Now, please enjoy! Let me know what you think!
Warnings: None. Well, maybe language.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything but the story idea and OCs.
Word count: 5,271
Zack remembers when he was struck with Gongaga fever. He remembered the aches and pains. The inability to move. The lapses of time where Zack was either asleep or was staring around the room and was unable to recall any of it. He was far from the worse case but he was out of it for over a week, both burning up and shivering in the natural tropical heat of Gongaga.
Sometimes Zack would open his bleary eyes and see his mother sitting beside him, gently sopping up the sweat that accumulated on his brow. Or she would whispering to him, telling him to stay strong, that this pain would pass. Zack only remembered snippets and he knew that he wasn't dying or anything so dramatic, but he often wondered if this was the sort of fate that people from long ago suffered.
It was stupid really, but something that Zack remembered hearing as a kid, before he got the Fever. Some kids at school told a story about where the Fever came from. That is was a fever that the Goddess spread across the world to kill the wicked. It was suppose to burn away the evil. If you survived the fever then you were pure of heart, if not, you were evil. Zack knew it was just a story, but every couple of years the Fever would return to Gongaga and only certain people would be stricken with it.
Now, Zack is smart enough to know that there was no divine intervention that saved him. It was modern medicine, but still this pain, this heat. It was familiar to what Zack had been going through with his mako injection.
Zack woke up the next morning, feeling slightly better than the night before. His body was a little more rested and his head wasn't horribly throbbing like the previous night. It still hurt, but was a lot more manageable. Zack sits up slowly, feeling light headed and tired. He runs a hand through his hair, touching his rough finger tips on his cheek, feeling the cold on his skin. He stands up sluggishly and turns the fan off before walking back to the bed and sitting down, rolling onto his back to stare at the ceiling. He throws an arm over his eyes, feeling like he wants to sink into the bed and never get up again.
He feels like he's being held down by cement blocks. He strains his hearing, wondering if he could tell if Angeal was up and about. He can hear the sound of water running. Someone is taking a shower. Zack leans over to look at the clock next to the bed. It's only five in the morning. Zack climbs to his feet, running a hand lazily through his hair and heading for the door that was only left open a crack.
He can hear someone walking around in the kitchen, hear the sound of soft voices and smell coffee. Zack heads there. Stepping into the doorway to the living room, to the right, he can see Sephiroth sitting at the peninsula and Angeal walking around in the kitchen, pouring coffee into a mug and handing it to the long silver haired man before spotting Zack.
"Zack," Angeal says, sounding slightly surprised. Sephiroth glances over his shoulder to see Zack, rubbing the back of his messy raven colored haired head. "How are you feeling?" Angeal asks.
"I feel relatively better today," Zack says. "I'm happy. That was pretty fast."
"Unusually fast," Sephiroth murmurs, glancing at Zack over the top of his coffee mug. Unique cat-like eyes look Zack up and down, curiously. Zack scratches the back of his head sheepishly.
"Sorry," he says, not sure what else to say to that. Then to Angeal, "Do you think we can have pancakes? I'm starved!" As if to further prove his point, his stomach growls loudly, making the boy blush even more, bouncing over to the island and sitting down next to Sephiroth.
Angeal seems mildly pleased. "We may. I'm glad to see you appetite returning."
Zack nods, huffing under his breath. "I know. It was strange to not be hungry. I don't remember a time when I wasn't hungry. So that was an experience." Sephiroth stares at him blankly, sipping his coffee slowly while Angeal's amused smiles spreads a bit more as he looks around for pancake materials. "Do you want some help making the pancakes, Angeal? I feel bad for you having to take care of me."
Angeal shakes his head. "No, it's fine. You just try and relax, okay? Even if you fell okay right now, it doesn't mean that your system has worked through the adverse Mako affects yet. Take it easy."
Zack nods, still feeling slightly bad for basically bumming off of Angeal. He's such a nice guy that Zack wants to do anything and everything he can to make this easier on his mentor. "Okay..."
"It's alright, puppy," Genesis's silky voice whispers in Zack's ear, arms wrapping around his mid-section. Genesis's chin rests on Zack's shoulder, making the younger boy shiver a bit before turning his face toward Genesis. He looks at Zack in the corner of his eyes, half lidded, as if greatly amused. He smelled nice and his hair was drying.
Zack takes a deep breath, smiling when Genesis's eye crinkles with his own smile. Zack's nose bumps Genesis's cheek. "You smell really good. It's different from Angeal's shampoo, isn't it? It smells different."
Genesis hums, blinking slowly. "I leave some things here for the nights I stay the night. It's the same as Sephiroth's apartment. They both do the same."
"You guys are so close," Zack says softly, eyes wide in amazement.
Genesis's mako blue eye turns to him again. "As close as three men like ourselves can be," he says slyly, showing two rows of straight white teeth. "You could say we know each other very... intimately."
"Genesis," Angeal says warningly, not looking up from his mixing of the pancake batter. Sephiroth sips at his coffee for a moment more before turning to look at Genesis with half lidded cat-like blue eyes.
"Are you trying to get Angeal to throw you out?" He asks simply, sounding more for curiosity rather than accusatory.
Genesis pouts, looking between Sephiroth and Angeal. "No, I was just saying. Zack is going to be spending a lot of time with us. He should get to know us better. Don't you think, Angeal?"
"Not especially," Sephiroth says.
Genesis scoffs, finally pulling back from Zack, rubbing the towel that was resting around his neck through his hair again, drying it further before letting it settle back around his neck. "I know about you. Your probably the most pessimistic person I've ever met. That's why I asked Angeal. He's a little more open minded about things like this."
Now it's Angeal's time to scoff. "No, actually I'm not. Come on, he's not like that."
Genesis sighs, leaning against Sephiroth's chair, pushing some long silver hair over one shoulder. "You didn't sleep at all last night, did you?"
Sephiroth didn't seem to mind the touches from the red head, which seemed a bit strange to Zack, the white haired general seemed so reserved that he wouldn't appear to be comfortable with too much physical interaction. Sephiroth sips his coffee one more time before putting it down and looking up at Genesis with smooth, expressionless look on his face.
"You can't keep doing that," Genesis says evenly, resting his arm on the very back of the chair, leaning over the otherwise slightly taller man. "You are just going to burn yourself out."
"You worry too much," Sephiroth says gruffly, closing his eyes and rubbing his face with his left hand, giving away the fact that he truly does appear to be tired.
Angeal finally looks up from his pancakes, putting one soft looking pancake onto a plate. He pauses to look at Sephiroth, staring at him until the other man finally turns his attention to him before saying, "I agree with Genesis, Sephiroth. Thank you for coming to see us last night, but don't ever jeopardize your health for our sake, alright? After we finish breakfast, you are going to bed. Even if you have to sleep in my bed."
"I'm fine," Sephiroth says simply. "I'll eat then head home. Happy?"
"I will," Angeal says, looking at Sephiroth knowingly, "but that's only if he go home to sleep and not just continue working."
"Ye of so little faith," Sephiroth mutters, picking up his coffee and taking a drink. Zack grins, looking between the three before Genesis spins around, flipping his hair in the process before heading back toward Angeal's room.
"It's not for a lack of faith, my severely misguided Sephiroth," Genesis calls. "It's because we know you. We love you, yes, but we know you."
Sephiroth rolls his eyes.
After Genesis throws on the rest of his clothes, they all sit around and eat. It was only about a half hour later before Sephiroth stood up, taking his dishes into the kitchen, rinsing them off and storing them in the dish washer. He comes back over to the table and sits back at his seat, watching everyone else eat in silence. Genesis, once again, is off on a tangent about himself, talking about whether he should switch up his diet and if he does, how should he do it. He wants to be strong like Angeal, but not as bulky.
"I have too thin of a face for that," he said off handedly, ignoring the bland look Angeal sends his way. "Don't you think so, Zack?"
Zack pauses with the fork full of pancake half way to his lips. "Uhh..." he looks around at the three men. "What do I think about what? About Genesis's face?"
"Well, I was thinking more my diet, but my face works too," Genesis says, pushing his plate away and leaning back in his seat.
Zack looks at Genesis closely, studying his features with an intent look on his face. He hums under his breath for a moment, mentally debating. Genesis was by no means a plain looking man. There was a boy back in Gongaga who had red hair similar to Genesis's but his face was almost completely covered in freckles whereas Genesis didn't have any and his skin was unblemished in any way. He was undoubtedly a handsome man. Though, Zack wouldn't really be the one that would be able to known any of that for sure.
Zack smiles, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't know. I mean, I think you look pretty handsome. But, I'm not exactly the sort of person that would know that sort of thing, but I think so."
Genesis reaches out and ruffles Zack's messy dark hair, looking pleased, but with a soft expression. "And that's all that matters, pup." Zack smiles, happy that he gave the right answer. After a few minutes, Sephiroth pulls his phone from his pocket and looks down at it, eyebrows pulling together slightly as the screen lights up.
His bright, cat slitted blue eyes read what's on the screen before he closes the phone with a distinct snap of plastic on plastic before wiggling it back into his pocket again. He relaxes back into his seat and when Angeal and Genesis both stare at him, both silently asking what was going on, he just shakes his head and brings the fingers of his right hand to his lips, running the pads of his pointer and middle finger against them. His mind seems elsewhere now.
Genesis and Angeal both share a look, but don't speak in front of Zack. After everyone is finished eating, Angeal and Zack, who was significantly more tired than before, does the dishes, even when Angeal kindly tells Zack that he can do it.
"I want to help," Zack says stubbornly. "Shut up..."
Angeal rolls his eyes. "Okay, but don't push yourself. I'm still a little surprised that you're up and about right now. It's usually at it's absolute worst right before it gets better."
"I felt a little bit better last night," Zack says, carrying in the plates from the table and laying them into the sink as Angeal runs hot water, filling it up.
Angeal raises an eyebrow at that. "Oh? When was that?"
Zack shrugs. "I don't remember. I got up to use the bathroom last night and you and Genesis were already asleep on the couch, Sephiroth was up, though. He told me to be quiet and head back to bed, that you two were really tired. I did and felt okay this morning too. My head kinda hurts right now and as you saw from my half eaten food, I still don't have much of an appetite, but I don't feel too bad."
Angeal nods slowly, cleaning off a few of the dishes and putting them in the dish washer to dry, before turning to Zack, resting a hand against the counter and really look at him. Taking in his slightly pale face and the fact that he's leaning heavily against the counter, but the boy smiles playfully, having a bit of the usual Zack spark that Angeal didn't know he missed until that moment.
"I'll be heading out now, Angeal," Sephiroth says, walking over to the door and slipping his boots on. He leans down to quickly lace the boots up before straightening up. Genesis follows suit.
"I'll walk you," Genesis says, sending Angeal, who was drying his hands on a towel, a knowing look.
Sephiroth pauses for a brief moment, before turning to the red head and admitting, "I need to drop something off at the President's office." Genesis waggles his eyebrows at Angeal and Zack before looking back over at the long white haired general.
"I knew you were going to try and get out of going home, come, I'll walk you to the elevator. I'll break into your apartment at some point during the day," Genesis says, straightening up. "If I don't find you in there. I'll hunt for you." He smiles charmingly. "And something tells me you don't want that."
Sephiroth lets out a small huff, probably knowing that there was no way that he would be able to shake the tenacious red head, and nods. "Very well," he says, "let us go then."
"Can we go too?" Zack asks, looking up at Angeal. "I really need some fresh air. Don't get me wrong, I love your apartment and it's very cozy in here, but I just want to get out and move. I've been still for too long."
Angeal looks down at Zack's puppy-dog eyes with a look of hesitance. "Very well, but you have to take it easy. As I said, I'm surprised that you are even able to be up and about. The last thing we need is for something to happen. Stay close to me, alright? And don't push yourself."
"Aww," Genesis says, leaning against the doorway into the kitchen. "It's so nice for you to come visit us, Gillian." Angeal rolls his eyes at that. "But truly, this is between Angeal, Sephiroth, myself," Genesis grins wickedly, "and the Goddess." Zack tilts his head to the side, not understanding, but Angeal does and he's glaring angrily at the red leather wearing man from over the top of Zack's head. He shakes his head and mouths a warning to the red head which is waved off with a, "He's oblivious. He doesn't understand anything."
"Who doesn't understand anything?" Zack asks.
"No one," Angeal answers immediately, glaring more when the red head opened his mouth. "Shut up, Genesis."
The red head laughs, holding his hands up in mock-surrender. "I didn't say anything!"
"Good," Angeal says firmly. "How about we keep it that way for now?"
"So hurtful," Genesis pouts. "What would your dear ol' mama think? Her boy, Angeal Hewley, being mean to his best of all friends? You know, people like me are hard to come by, and you are squandering my friendship with all your negativity." He shakes his head. "Gillian would be unhappy with you, my friend, when she hears about this from me later."
Angeal sighs, shaking his head again, previous annoyance gone. "Please stop calling my mother, Genesis. It's creepy." Genesis barks a laugh at that, while Sephiroth finally joins their conversation.
"I do not believe so," he says diplomatically. "Gillian makes periodic inquires about you, Angeal, to Gensis and myself. She worries about you."
Angeal sighs again, like this is the last thing he wants to talk about. "Understandable. That is the type of woman she is, after all. But it would be the same as if Hojo were to ask us about you, Sephiroth."
Sephiroth makes an actual repulsed face at that. It smooths out after a moment with the exception of a crease between his eyebrows. "I see..." he trails off for a moment, thinking, before shaking his head, forcing some troubling thought away before continuing, "Very well. I redact what I said."
"Fun hater," Genesis says to Angeal.
Angeal rolls his eyes. "Let's go. Sephiroth needs to get some rest and I'd rather not have Zack out and about for too long in case something happens."
Genesis raises an eyebrow. "Like what? What could happen? Look at him, he said he's fine!"
"I do feel okay..." Zack says, eyes wide. He offers Angeal a sweet smile. Sure, he was tired and he did have a bit of a headache returning, he was still feeling well enough to function properly. He just has to move around a bit. It's not in Zack's nature not to be moving around. It just feels wrong sitting around, sleeping his days away.
"Alright," Angeal says, putting a hand on Zack's shoulder. "Alright, pup, just for a bit. We're only walking Sephiroth to the elevator and coming back, okay?"
Zack nods, gets his shoes on, along with Angeal and follows the tall silver haired man to the elevator. He waves happily at all the SOLIDERs they pass. They call out to Zack, asking how he was and why he was up.
"I feel good!" Zack calls back, letting out a laugh that lacked a bit of the luster it usually has, a tell for his small white lie. Angeal is sure to stay close to Zack as they walk, half listening to Zack greet the SOLDIERs and half watching Genesis and Sephiroth in front of them. Genesis is grinning knowingly at Sephiroth, who seemed to be contemplating something the red head had said.
They stop outside the elevator, the three top SOLIDERs take a moment to exchange some words amongst each other while Zack turns to one of the SOLDIERs next to him.
"Hi," he says, "how are you?"
"Fine," the Second Class says. "How about yourself? I heard you just had a mako injection. Are you sure you should be up and about right now?"
Zack shrugs his shoulders. "I don't know. I mean, I feel fine enough to be up and about right now, but I'm starting to get my headache back. I'll probably have to lay down when we get back to the apartment." He smiles. "But yeah, those injections suck."
The SOLDIER laughs. "Well, it'll only get worse the higher the doses you get."
Zack groans. "That's so my luck."
"Alright, see you later, Sephiroth," Angeal was saying, pulling Zack's attention back over to the trio.
"Remember, one hour and I'm hunting you down," Genesis says, grinning playfully.
Sephiroth nods, dismissively. "I understand. I'll be off now. Gentlemen," he says in farewell to Angeal and Genesis, then looks over at all the other SOLDIERs, even Zack, to let them know that that farewell was for them as well.
A chorus of, "Goodbye General," and "Sir!" could be heard as Sephiroth spins on his heel, white hair fluttering behind him, as he steps onto the elevator and turns to face them, hitting a few buttons before it dings and the door closes. Zack's eyes rise up toward the numbers above the door, watching the numbers escalate. As soon as it moves the first floor, Zack's head is hit was searing pain. So bad and so sudden that Zack cries out, hands flying over his head.
"Zack?" Angeal spins around, taking two large, quick steps to Zack before gripping his shoulders. "Are you okay? What's wrong?"
Zack can't respond, it's like his entire body is frozen in pain. His eyes, as if of their own accord, look back up at the red numbers above the elevator door, seeing that Sephiroth has moved up four floors before the pain becomes too much and Zack's eyes roll into the back of his head.
Zack had a dream about a beautiful girl. She was familiar. Zack is almost sure he has seen her in his mako-induced haze of images. She's familiar with long dark brown hair pulled up into a ponytail at the top of her head, held there by a bright pink ribbon with long bangs framing her thin, pale face and long curly strands of hair resting against her collarbones.
Her outfit is shimmering between a long blue dress that goes just past the knees with heeled blue and pink shoes and an ankle length pink dress with white buttons all the way up the front with brown ankle boots and a red coat over her shoulders with metal bracelets around bother her wrists.
It was strange. It was like, while standing under a beam of light that shined in through a whole in the ceiling, that he had seen her before. She was so familiar with her gentle, kind smile, that makes the corners of her bright green eyes crinkle. Surrounded by a run down church, pews is random conditions - some are fine, just slightly worn, some are completely destroyed and the rest are somewhere in between - and a pocket of water behind her with flower; somehow still alive while submerged, glittering underneath.
As she stood there, it was like a dream sequence where everything around the walls on the other side of the pews are hazy, as if they aren't really there, or were badly damaged somehow. But it didn't matter. Zack returns his attention to the beautiful girl at the front of the broken church, just a few inches in front of the submerged flowers.
The beautiful girl waited for Zack to really get a look at his surroundings before saying anything. Once his attention was turned to her, she speaks, "Hi, Zack. I'm so glad to see you again."
"How do you know my name?" Zack asks, walking down the isle toward the green eyed girl, her gentle smile never leaving her face as he draws near. She looks up at him, fondly, and waits until he's stopped a few feet in front of her before she answers.
"This isn't the first time we've met, huh?" She lets out a soft laugh at Zack's confused noise. "No, perhaps it is. But I feel like I've known you forever even though we've never spoken." She brings her dainty hands forward and lightly touch all her fingertips together. She blinks slowly, long, thick lashes touching the top of her pale cheek bones.
"So..." Zack says slowly, tilting his head to the side. "We haven't spoken before, right? That's what I got from this?"
The beautiful girl laughs. "Yes, sir." A moment of silence before she continues, "I see you sometimes."
Zack blushes, wondering when such a beautiful girl had managed to watch him long enough to learn his name. He's almost certain that he would be able to remember seeing this girl. She had this... this beauty about her that was so... ethereal. Zack isn't one for the romantics, but there was just something about her that was so pure and wonderful. Zack had only just met her, yet it feels like he's known her for eternity. There was something so familiar about her that he just couldn't place.
"Where?" Zack asks. "On the streets?"
The girl taps her chin in thought for a moment before putting her finger tips together again. "Sometimes," she says evasively.
"You do seem familiar to me," Zack says, taking a step closer, "yet I know we've never met. I'm sure of it. I would have remembered you. I'm a little out of it sometimes, but something tells me I would have remembered you."
The girl smiles sweetly, swaying back and forth a bit, her two ghost dresses swaying back and forth with her. "That's so sweet of you to say, Zack." Another moment, before, "But no. I've seen you, you haven't seen me. Until you got mako in your system, huh?"
Zack blinks a few times in surprise. "Wait, what? How do you know that? Do you work for Shinra?"
The girl shakes her head, long brown bangs swaying with the movement. "Nope. I've never worked a day in my life." She smiles sheepishly at that, as if it were a strange thing to admit. "I suppose that sounded awfully childish of me to say, huh?" She runs those thin fingers through her fringe.
Zack smiles sheepishly back. "Perhaps a bit," he laughs. He stares at her for a few moments, looking at her as if she was patiently waiting for something. On a limb, he asks, "What is your name? You seem to know mine, but I don't know yours."
"Oh!" the girl gasps softly, as if she couldn't believe she forgot. She lays her right hand against her chest softly, smiling. "Sorry about that. I'm Aerith." She laughs, it's soft and musical.
Zack looks around the run down church again before turning to Aerith again. "Say, Aerith?"
"Where are we? I mean, I know we're in a church, but where?" He looks around again, probably hoping to see something to alert him of where they were, but he doesn't see anything and turns his gaze back toward the ethereal girl.
Aerith looks up at the holes in the ceiling, the light making her skin golden. She smiles, as if enjoying the warmth, like it was foreign to her before lowering her head to lock eyes with Zack, still smiling kindly. "We are in Midgar. Somewhere where not a lot of light sees."
Both of Zack's eyebrows quirk upward sharply. "Is that like one of those trick questions things?"
Aerith tilts her head to the side, curiously. "No. Why?"
"Can't you just say where?" Zack asks, then pauses, making a face, "Or, is that weird to ask?"
Aerith smiles again. "All of the answers will come with time, I think. Just be patient and Zack?" She trails off, smiling more tenderly now. A smile Zack immediately recognized, but on his own mother's face. It was so loving and gentle, it made Zack miss his own mother terribly.
"Yes...?" Zack asks, trying to fight the urge to go see his mother.
"Be happy," Aerith says softly. "Smile, have fun and no matter what..." She sucks in a deep breath, before smiling blindingly, eyes crinkling. "No matter what, don't let the ones you love go. Until we see each other again."
Zack blinks rapidly in confusion. "Wait, where are you going?"
"Me?" Aerith says, giggling softly. "I'm not going anywhere. I'll be here when you come to visit. And you will, Zack, okay? Promise me," she puts her hands on her hips and playfully up at him, pouting but she can't hold the pose for long, her smile breaks through. "Promise me," she says, softer this time. She sounded a little different now. Almost... lonely.
Zack couldn't do it, he couldn't not make this promise. There was just something about her that he couldn't deny. So he nodded his head slowly, blinking slowly. "Okay," he says softly. "Okay, I will. Promise."
Aerith smiles, almost more relaxed. "Thank you." The light around her brightens more and more until it blinds Zack. He has to bring up his hand to cover his eyes, half turning away. "Zack?" Aerith calls out to Zack, from what sounds like the end of a tunnel. "Can you say hello to my protector for me too? It's been so long since I've seen him. He's stuffy, but very kind."
"What's his name?" Zack asks, opening his eyes for a moment only to screw them shut again, the light hurting the blue orbs. "Aerith?" He calls out after a long silence. "What is his name?"
Zack opens his eyes slowly, it feels like he's peeling them apart with a crowbar. He looks around blearily, unable to make out the strange blurry figure in front of him. He blinks a few times, reaching up with heavy arms and rubs his eyes roughly, groaning. Once his vision clears up, he can see Angeal leaning over him slightly. Twin raven colored eyebrows pull together tightly in a pensive look.
"Zack, are you okay?" Angeal asks softly, helping Zack sit up a bit, leaning his back against the headboard of the bed. "Do you know where you are right now?"
Zack looks around the room for a moment, taking in his surroundings before turning his gaze back to his mentor and croaking, "The guest room in your apartment..." his voice was raw and he flinched at the pain in his dry throat. Angeal grabs the glass of water off of the nightstand next to Zack and helps him drink from it, and greedily, did he drink, draining the glass empty. When Zack was done, he took a few deep, desperate breaths as Angeal pulled the empty glass away and put it back on the desk.
"How are you feeling, Zack?" Angeal asks softly, turning back to the teen.
"Tired," Zack admits, "and weak..." He sits up a bit more, feeling a bit of his strength return to him. He clears his throat. "What happened? All I remember was us walking Sephiroth to the elevator..." Zack squints his eyes. "I remember numbers... and then... a lot of pain in my head. Then nothing. Did I pass out?"
Angeal nods, looking slightly relieved. "Yes. I'm glad you remembered all of that. You did pass out after Sephiroth got onto the elevator. You nearly gave me a heart attack," he lets out a long whoosh of breath, "I thought something horrible had happened to you, but your symptoms just returned, is all. Although, that was almost two days ago."