Author's Note: Alright this is part two of working on old stories because I'm too clingy to let things go. I know that no one is still reading this, but I'm going to still try to finish it, if I can! Enjoy!
Zack felt Angeal keep changing the icepack on his forehead whenever it got too warm. That's probably the only thing that stopped him from burning alive. His muscles hurt from tossing and turning for who knows how long. There hasn't been a break-in time where he's conscious that he remembers. The flashes and images are coming so much faster than before but they are still burning him alive. He can't breathe. He's dying. He's dying. Pain radiating all over his body.
His muscles twitch painfully, even in the deepest depths of slumber. He knew he wasn't awake and in some ways, he could feel his consciousness shifting back and forth. He wasn't conscious enough again after that first time to wake up. But sometimes, at the edge of feeling, he would hear Angeal talking, or pacing around the room. He could hear talking and the sound of a television or a phone call.
And sometimes, faintly, he could feel Angeal's hand on his forehead or cheeks. Those were some of the moments that he was most lucid, yet no matter how much he would yell Angeal's name, all he could do was groan softly or yell into the silence of his mind. But even that level of consciousness would slip away from him before long until there was nothing but hazy flashes and images. That burning and pain always returned with full force once his mind was swallowed again by the darkness the mako inflicted upon him.
Cut, slice, bullet wound, bullet wound, explosion.
"Embrace your dreams..."
Slice, slice, cut, explosion, bullet wound, cut, bullet wound, bullet wound.
"And no matter what..."
"Explosion, slice, explosion, bullet wound, bullet wound, slice, cut, cut, explosion.
"Protect your honor..."
The smell of ash and blood and magic. The roar of helicopters firing at the ground around him and crashing into it too. The screams of men dying by his hand. The heat of the sun beating down on his neck, hair, and back. The sweat drenching his shirt and resting in a thin layer over all of his skin. His head is hurting from the heat and exertion. All of his muscles burn so bad and his heart is pounding so loud in his ears.
"As SOLDIER, to the death!"
She's walked down this hall about a hundred times a day since her initial internship. She was handpicked from hundreds of applicants for this job. She worked hard her entire life to finally be able to walk these halls, amongst these titanous men and have them step out of the way for her or tip their heads in acknowledgment to her because what she's doing matters. She wasn't short by any means, almost 5'9 but these men made her appear so small.
Yet she felt so powerful.
And in all her time here she made many friends in high places, one of those high standing friends texted her a message that she hadn't expected to see in her entire career.
"Come to my apartment ASAP, please." So polite when it's obvious that he doesn't want to be. He has to be on the verge of death to ask for her help like this, yet he's still trying to be polite.
Genesis met her outside the lab as soon as she set foot past the threshold. She gives him a sideways glance, somewhat surprised.
"If you were going to come to meet me at the lab, you didn't need to text me," she says, pushing up the edge of her glasses. She looks up at the tall redhead. His hair is like fire and her hair is more strawberry blond than red but when she was a kid it was bright red like her sister's. Sunlight has lightened it up over the years, which is surprising seeing as it is so rare for her to see the sunlight much anymore. She works long, unforgiving hours, but it's a job she loves. Okay, tolerates. With passion.
"I didn't text you, Angeal did. And I move so much faster than you do. I knew I would be able to make it here faster. Your legs are short and you never hurry for anything, either. So there's that."
She rolls her eyes. "If that's how you're going to treat me, I should just go back to work then, Genesis."
"You aren't going to do that, Shalua, because you are a good person and a better friend."
The complement isn't rebutted, especially since she knows that the darker redhead actually means it with sincerity. And it takes a lot for outsiders to get that sort of heartfelt compliment. And seeing as Shalua spends her daily life working with the enemy - both literally and figuratively - to get something like that from Genesis means she has to be doing something right.
"What's going on?" Shalua asks, reaching up to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "Why is General Hewley calling me to make house calls? I'm a very busy woman." Shalua shudders, not missing how much that made her sound like her disdainful boss. Thankfully Genesis forgives her with a pitied look as she shivers the words away.
Genesis nods slowly, turning his eyes forward again, but the worry shows on his face, which makes Shalua worry a bit too. It's unusual for them to be so open to getting help from the Science Department. Something truly has to be wrong for them to call her. She knows that her past with them offers a degree of endearment and respect that most, if not all, of the SOLDIERs seem to accept and capitalize on, which is nice, but she also knows that even though she is daring enough to consider them all friends, she is still low on the totem of people trusted.
She works with Hojo and the science team, she's both a begrudging friend and one of necessity. She doesn't so much mind, but it is curious as to why they were willing to reach out to her. If something really bad had happened, either they would ignore it and hope that the problem went away on its own, pretended it didn't exist until someone couldn't ignore it any longer, or swallow their pride and accept the need for help and seek it out.
"Angeal is in the mentoring program. Did you know that?" Genesis asks slowly. He gives her a sideways glance as they walk through the hall toward the man in question.
"I had heard something about it," Shalua admits. "Why? Is it about his apprentice?" She has to really think about where the Cadets would be in their training at this time in the year. Oh, she does remember something about the younger staff annoyed about having to do mako rounds for the Cadets. "So that's what this is all about? The injections? Is he having adverse effects?" She asks, giving the man a look. It's unusual that they would call her for something like this.
She has no idea why they would ask for her help in this seeing as she doesn't do the mako controlled studies on the Cadets anymore. She wouldn't say she's no longer rusty in dealing with unusual side effects. She is used to dealing with fully minted SOLDIERs who have recorded lists of side effects and precautions already put in place to deal with them as more mako being introduced into their systems than what they are used to, but those are usually limited to stuff that they have already experienced or signs have pointed to and noted in previous injections.
She's not necessarily under-qualified for this task if it is as she assumes, but she certainly is rusty from her time in performing this task. Still, they should know that, so why would they ask her to come help?
"I don't know," Genesis says slowly. "His apprentice is going through the second round of mako trials for Cadets and he's not performing... gracefully."
Slowly, carefully, Shalua says, "Perhaps he isn't cut out to be a SOLDIER. He may have the skill and ability but body chemistry has a lot to do with it too. Some people simply can't handle mako. It sucks, but that's how things work."
Genesis frowns at that. He glares at the floor in front of them as if it insulted him. "Not him. Not Zack. He's going to make it into SOLDIER. He's too good not to be." Genesis shakes his head slowly, turning his eyes forward as if determined for this boy's sake.
Shalua is surprised. She knows that she is a tentative friend and ally because of their past, but this boy has to be special if he's only a few months into his Cadet training and he's already gotten the attention of the cool and indifferent Genesis. It probably doesn't hurt that it sounds like they met through Angeal who joined the mentorship program. Then again, for the good guy that Angeal is, he isn't exactly the easiest to please. He can pretend to be placated but he doesn't get impressed easily.
So this boy must really be something.
"We don't get to decide that," Shalua says softly, trying to imagine how this kid managed to win two of the top three legendary SOLDIERs over. This boy definitely has to be something amazing.
"No, maybe we don't," Genesis begrudgingly agrees, "but we can do everything we can in order to help him."
"What can you tell me about what's going on with him?" Shalua asks, reluctantly, not sure what she can do to help. Side effects of Mako are often unpredictable and uncontrollable.
Genesis rubs at his forehead. Mako makes it hard for the untrained eyes to be able to see the imperfections. There weren't any dark circles under his eyes, but there were the beginnings of stress lines that Shalua knew a good night's sleep would easily wipe out. There wasn't a drain of color in their expressions or obvious signs of strain that is easily seen on other people. Mako just covers things like that up easily. Shalua knows people, especially SOLDIERs. She knows where to look for and how to catch the subtle changes that show the greatest levels of stress and strain.
"At the last mako trial, he had these horrible headaches that left him bedridden for the entirety of the trial. But other than that, he was okay. He had lost his appetite which was to be expected and while he was awake, he was exhausted. So really nothing out of the ordinary..."
"Except?" Shalua probes. She can hear the 'but' coming from a mile away. And it wasn't just the lilt in his voice that gave it away, but there was also just the way that he looked all around the hall at everything but her. She could tell there was something on his mind, and she could also tell it wasn't something that he was all that interested in talking about. Or perhaps he was worried about what she was going to say in regards to whatever is on his mind.
Genesis lets out a long-winded sigh as the two of them stop outside Angeal's door. He finally looks over at her through long dark lashes. "I don't know. Maybe it's nothing." Another sigh and he rubs at the back of his head. "Alright, let's just go inside before Angeal loses his mind."
With that, Genesis unlocks the door and holds it open for Shalua to come inside. She walks in, her eyes finding the table in front of her first. Then moves over to the small kitchen to her right, the living room in front of her, and a closet to her left. A little bit further down the left wall leads to the hallway where the bathroom, Angeal's bedroom, and two guestrooms were located. She only knows that because Genesis and Sephiroth's were the same. They got special apartments to go with their special treatment.
Angeal rounds the corner a moment later, definitely looking worse than Genesis. It looks like the General hasn't slept in days. Shalua knew that with mako in their systems SOLDIERs could go a few days without adequate sleep and be okay. They would simply need to schedule a mako injection earlier than normal to compensate for it, seeing as if the body doesn't have any energy, it'll burn the mako away too. So she knows that for him to look as bad as he does, he would have to of gone days without sleep, coupled with a lot of stress.
It doesn't surprise Shalua that Angeal and Genesis waited so long to ask for help, seeing as they have such a wonderful, colorful history with the Science Department, but Angeal is the sensible one. If something was going on beyond his control, he would usually be the first to ask for help. He's really responsible when it comes to things like that, especially when it comes to others. Angeal is so sensitive to others that he would always put their safety and comfort before his own. He may not be completely open and honest with people, but he is usually quick to offer kindness, even if he is mistrusting of them.
Shalua, admittedly, really liked Angeal. He is a very nice man.
His bright blue eyes fall on her, and the relief almost hurts her. She loves that she is able to help, but she knows how it almost chips away at pieces of them to have to ask for it.
"Shalua," Angeal says, sighing. The relief in his voice is palpable. "Thank you so much for coming. I'm sorry for calling for you unexpectantly."
Shalua shakes her head. "No, don't worry about that," she says, her voice light. "I'm happy to help. Tell me what's going on."
"The boy I'm apprenticing needs some help that I can't provide," Angeal admits and Shalua can see how much that hurts him. Men like Angeal don't tend to ask others for help. Men like Angeal are larger than life, somehow above the problems of mere mortals. Shalua knows that isn't true, but she also knows that sometimes people don't let SOLDIERs believe otherwise. The media and even Shinra makes them believe that they are unstoppable, and if they don't then they aren't good SOLDIERs or they aren't living up to their dream.
And that makes Shalua sad for them.
That's why Shalua likes being in the Science Department. Everything there is so clinical and precise. Not a lot of emotion or human interaction is involved. Shalua prefers it that way. It's a lot easier.
"Angeal," Shalua says slowly, pulling herself out of her own mind, "what do you need?" She takes a few steps into the apartment to give Genesis enough room to come in behind her and shut the door behind the two of them.
Angeal looks back toward the bedrooms for a moment, as if listening for something that Shalua can't hear without super-enhanced senses. She strains her own hearing and can faintly make out what sounds like a low moan of pain, but it's too soft for her to really be able to make it out.
"My apprentice, Zack, he's in a bad way. I... need you to take a look at him," Angeal says, still staring off down the hall.
Shalua's thin eyebrows pull together tightly. She sucks in a deep breath, wondering how she could say this to Angeal. She could easily say it to Genesis, she liked him and all, but Angeal is just like a kicked dog. He's so good and honorable that hurting him, even if it is with the truth, well, it hurts a lot more than anyone else. Shalua can see Shelke in him. Similar expressions, that is.
And oddly enough it's shared between a grown-ass man and her baby sister. So that's a little weird. She just can't help when he gets that look on his face that her mind just bundles them together.
"Angeal if his reaction is so bad that not even you know how to deal with it, I don't think that he..." She hesitates when he turns those pretty mako blue eyes on her, surrounded by long, dark lashes. He looks worn down and sad. But also hopeful that she might somehow be able to tell him something he doesn't already know. Like she will see a solution that he doesn't.
And she wasn't about to say to him anything that hasn't already thought of. But that is the last option. He's hoping that somehow Shalua will be able to help him.
Shalua swallows her words and nods slowly. She looks down at her heels, knowing that she should take them off but the clasp is too complex for her to want to attempt to finagle her way out of it unless she was going to be out of it for the day. Figuring that since she was doing Angeal a favor, he can forgive her for not spending the next ten minutes working her way out of her shoes.
Her heels clack against the hard wooden floor as she makes her way toward the First Class, then turn and head down the hall, following the sound of soft moans until she reaches one of the guest rooms. As soon as she opens the door she can feel the heat in it.
Her eyes find the boy laying on the bed. His skin is ashen and his eyes are surrounded by dark circles and sunken in. He's sweating like crazy and his breaths are so deep and labored, that his entire chest is filled with air and then sinks into the bed with each exhale. His entire body is shaking. The muscles along his arms and neck ripple with each tiny movement.
His face, gaunt and pale, shows signs of youth. It seems like the Cadets are getting younger and younger each year. It hurts Shalua's heart. The innocent face of the boy lying prone on the bed really reminds her of her baby sister, Shelke. She was probably about the same age as this boy. Now Shalua feels even worse than before. But she does want to try and help if she can, but once again, it's been long enough that she's not sure about what all she can do for this boy, although she does feel pity for him.
She lets out a slow sigh, walking into the room and over to the boy. She presses her fingers against the pulse point on his wrist and feels his heart rate thumping like crazy. Shalua stares down at his young face for a moment longer, unable to help herself from imagining if this was Shelke. How Shalua would want whoever was looking after her sister to do so with care.
"What's his name?" Shalua asks softly.
"Zack Fair," Angeal says standing at the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest.
"And his age?"
She lets out a low whoosh of breath. "How long has he been like this, Angeal?"
A moment of silence. Shalua glances over her shoulder to see the SOLDIER staring back at her worried and ashamed. "A while."
A part of Shalua wants to blame him for waiting so long and letting it get this bad, but at the same time, she knows why. The Science Department has been a source of fear and worry for the Legendary Trinity for as long as she's known them - probably their entire lives if she had to guess - but she knows that they know mako well enough to see that this was a bad reaction.
Shalua looks back down at Zack and forces her pity for him deep into her heart so that she can look at this situation impartially. "Erratic heartbeat, excess sweating, shakes, loss of color, labored breathing," she starts to probe gently at his abdomen. The boy whines in pain, twisting a bit away from her hands before laying flat once more, "distended abdomen from anasarca. Probably from mako infusion in the organs." She leans up to his face, pealing his eyes open to look at them.
Shalua pulls back, shocked. Genesis and Angeal jump at her sudden movement.
"What's wrong?" Genesis asks.
"His eyes..." Shalua says slowly.
"What's wrong with them?" Angeal asks, stepping closer to Shalua and his unconscious student but not close enough to get in her way if she needed to move around.
Shalua leans in again and peals his eyelid open on the left eye, then the right then alternates between the two. "Which Mako trial did you say that they are on right now?"
"Second..." Angeal says slowly. "Why?"
"There shouldn't be enough mako to..." She shakes her head.
"Shalua," Angeal says, his voice holding a touch of strain, "what is happening?"
"Have mercy on him, for the Goddess's sake," Genesis pleads.
Shalua looks over at the two SOLDIERs. "Your boy isn't dying, calm down. He is going through mako withdraw. And poisoning. Somehow simultaneously." She leans back on her hips and rubs at her forehead. "His symptoms are a sign of withdrawing, but his eyes are showing poisoning." She shakes her head slowly trying to wrap her mind around how this was possible.
"Wait," Genesis says slowly, "both withdraw and poisoning? How is that possible?"
"Forget that for a moment," Angeal says slowly. "There shouldn't be enough mako, even in the second dose, there isn't enough mako between the two shots for there to be withdraws. And even then, the Science Department oversees the mako doses. He couldn't have been given enough to overdoes on it." He shakes his head in disbelief. "I was there in the room when he was given the mako. It was regular for a second round. That doesn't make any sense."
"That's the problem, Angeal..." Genesis says, still drawing out his words as he wraps his mind around the information offered to him, "this is unusual." He turns his blue eyes from his childhood friend to the young professor in front of him. "Are you certain that it's both poisoning and withdraw?"
Shalua considers carefully. She doesn't want to provide any incorrect information but he is exibiting unusual symptoms that align neatly with both. Could such an odd case really be before her? Technically, anything too crazy should be brought before Professor Hojo's attention, but if this turns out to be one case or the other than she will get in trouble for wasting his time. And even if it was one or the other, that wouldn't be interesting enough for him anyway. She wasn't doing anything wrong by helping this boy out.
And besides, his life is more important than procedures like that. Besides, she could handle it. She could help him.
It has been a while since she was in charge of mako trials, but even she knew that this wasn't normal at all. Something very interesting was going on and she was going to get to the bottom of this.
She turns her dark eyes toward the confused men standing in the doorway. "Alright, I'm going to need one of you to be my errand boy and run to the lab to get some things for me."