The First Champion @wingedladycolette
Method

Author's Note: Okay, so this is proof I can bullshit my way through an entire chapter, so you're welcome! XD Sorry for the long wait, I really do love hearing from everyone. I hope you're all staying safe and healthy and I hope you like the chapter! Honestly, I had to read through this story a bit - and it still needs a lot of TLC but I am surprised by how different my writing is. But maybe that's just me. XD Enjoy!

Emerson Cole, a First Class SOLDIER particularly close with the Trinity and one of the oldest amongst the Firsts in terms of being in the program came at the perfect time, offering to go to the labs in Angeal and Genesis's stead, knowing how they feel about it while he doesn't necessarily have the same worries. He's impressive and has had his fair share of run-ins with the Science Department hat he would rather forget, but nothing like they experienced. So, he'll swallow his unease and do it.

He returns with a few devices, one of which is a heart monitor, and another is a handheld device that she sets aside for now, as well as a stand to hang an I.V banana bag before sticking it into Zack's arm to ensure he's getting enough fluids, seeing as he's sweat out all the moisture in his body, as well as an assistant that Shalua trusted would be able to assist without alerting Hojo or any other nosey person that may want to stick their nose into her business.

Her assistant, Tyler, quickly moves around the room, keeping his head down as to not directly look at any of the SOLDIERs. A mousey boy who is interested enough in science to want to work in Shinra's labs but not ambitious enough to go beyond that. At least, not yet. Perhaps in the future, but not now. Now he's going to be useful for Shalua's needs.

Shalua takes some time to monitor Zack's vitals as Tyler pulls up Zack's medical files, then takes some blood samples and run them off to the lab before Shalua picks up the handheld device, larger than her hand, tinkering with it before running it across his skin and looking at the screen. She clicks her tongue a few times, shaking her head, trying to understand why it's not reading out like she thinks that it should.

Shalua sighs, rubbing at her forehead. "Okay..."

"What's wrong?" Angeal asks, standing off to the side with Genesis to stay out of the way, but can't bring himself to leave the room of his own free will. At this point, he just wants Zack to be okay. Shalua said that he wasn't dying, which is a relief, but that doesn't mean that he's going to be okay. Unfortunately, Angeal has seen plenty of cases in which something happens to someone and while they survive, they aren't okay when all is said and done. Angeal doesn't want that to be Zack.

Please, not Zack.

Shalua chews on her bottom lip for a moment, considered. "With mako poisoning, one should be sweating out the mako in their system. It's the human body's safety mechanism. But he isn't. He's not sweating out the mako and I don't understand why." She runs the device against his skin again, studying the screen again with her eyebrows pulling together.

Angeal looks over at Genesis, rubbing tiredly at his face. He looks like he needs to have a good long rest, but he doesn't want to leave Zack alone. Angeal closes his eyes, feeling them burn and he tries not to think about the last time he got a good night's sleep. Not since the mako injection, that's for sure, but even then he spent many countless hours staring at the ceiling in his bedroom unable to will himself to sleep.

He knew it had to be bad when late one night he heard the sound of someone entering his apartment and made their way right to him. Of course, there were only two people who would be so bold as to do that. Angeal scooted over to the right side of the bed, where he likes to sleep whenever he has someone in his bed with him, putting himself closer to the door than them. The person kicks off their boots, strips their jacket and armor, dropping them half-hazardously onto the ground and Angeal couldn't help but muse that had this been Sephiroth's bedroom, he would have either refused them enter his bed, get up and lay the armor off to the side or stare at them until they moved it themself.

Angeal, though, had he the energy to care, still wouldn't have stopped him. Angeal removes his hands from beneath his pillow and down to his side as Genesis crawls into bed next to him, laying down flat on his back and scooting close enough for their shoulders and arms press against each other. They sit in silence for a few moments and Angeal isn't surprised in the slightest that Genesis would have been so sensitive to his worry.

"You didn't have to come, Gen," Angeal whispered softly into the night.

"Shut up," Genesis said easily, raising his arm to place his hand over Angeal's eyes. "Sleep. I'll make sure the ceiling doesn't get up and walk away."

Angeal blinks back into the present, staring into Genesis's eyes, letting out a slow sigh that he knows reaches his eyes. Genesis nods slightly, not reaching out to touch him, but not needing to. Despite being the most physically affectionate of the three of them, they don't show that in front of people. Not usually. And only in front of the Firsts that they trust do Angeal and Genesis let loose and offer a bit of affection in front of others, but Sephiroth doesn't. In front of people he can relax around - like those aforementioned Firsts - he will allow them to touch him, but he won't be physically affectionate unless it's just the three of them.

But they don't need to touch for Angeal to feel the depth of companionship that Genesis is offering with just his eyes alone. It's a relief that Genesis is here, Angeal isn't sure if he would have been able to be alone in this. He's never been this wound up over someone who wasn't Genesis or Sephiroth. Zack has definitely done something to him.

Genesis pulls his eyes away from Angeal to look at the red-headed scientist. "So what does this mean, Shalua? Does he not have mako poisoning?"

"No," Shalua says adamantly, standing by her earlier assessment. "I've seen his eyes, he definitely is suffering from poisoning, but maybe he just got a bad batch of mako. Our blood analysis will be able to tell us more. Unfortunately, we will just have to wait until it comes back from the lab."

Shalua places the device on the bedside table, pulling up a pad to look at Zack's file again, trying to figure out what she missed. "Fifteen. Type-O blood. Born to Victoria and Lucas Fair. Born in..." Her eyebrows pull together slightly. "Gongaga?" She drags her eyes up from the screen to stare out the window next to her with her eyebrows pulling together. "Where have I heard of that town?" She looks over at Angeal and Genesis. "Ever been?"

Both shake their heads.

"It's a little seaside hamlet," Angeal offers, wondering why that meant anything. He wasn't sure what the importance was for her to know where Zack was born, but he hoped that it would help her in whatever she needed to figure out.

Shalua makes a face at that. "That can't be how I know of it."

"Well, there's not a lot out there," Genesis says, shrugging. "It has a reactor out there, which means there really isn't much else."

"Oh," Shalua says, blue eyes widening. "A reactor?" Her eyes skim the record. "There we go!" She pulls out her phone, pressing a button and bringing it up to her ear. After a moment, she says, "Tyler, I need you to go and grab me a mako bag. Yeah. No, no. I don't want the synthesized one. Get me a reactor regulation bag. I know, I know. Just get it. It's done? Bring the blood analysis too, then, just to be sure."

"What do you think?" Genesis asks softly. "Do you have some idea of what's going on?"

"It's not in his record," Shalua says, hanging up her phone and turning to the two SOLDIERs.

Angeal's eyebrows pull together in confusion. "I don't understand. What's not in his record?"

"That he was raised next to a reactor," Shalua says as if it's completely obvious.

Angeal and Genesis share identical looks of confusion, neither of them understand what that has to do with anything.

"It means he needs a specialized dose of mako." Angeal, Genesis, and Shalua look over at the doorway to see Sephiroth stepping into the room, Emerson, who had been standing by quietly, steps out into the hall to give them a bit more space.

"Sephiroth," Angeal says, surprised, although knowing that he shouldn't be. Sephiroth just got out of his last meeting of the day. There is unrest amongst the Champion Worshippers. They are getting into a bit of heat in the surrounding cities and Shinra is getting anxious that it's going to make it's way to Midgar even though there hasn't been anything outside of protests and a bit of public nuisance, Shinra doesn't like people making waves.

Shalua nods at Sephiroth. "He's right. I'm sure that boy has spent his entire life being bombarded with residual mako from the reactor that us filtering synthesized mako into his body has been making him sick - hence the poisoning."

"I'm sure you also deduced that with natural mako in his bloodstream coupled with the synthetic variant given in these trials also causes degradation of the natural mako," Sephiroth says.

Shalua nods. She turns her eyes toward the other two SOLDIERs. "The mako we give in these trials breaks down normal mako, it's how we dilute it. This boy has already adapted to a level of mako in his system as SOLDIERs do, and this is physically destroying it inside his body, which is why he's both suffering from poisoning - as it's turning into a toxic fume in his body, making him sick, while in breaking it down, his mako levels have dropped below what they should be at. Get it?"

"That's it?" Genesis asks, astounded. "Someone didn't make one little note in his file and that's why he's in such a terrible state?"

"I guess it's safe to assume that his normal reaction to mako is probably the headaches and the drowsiness, which is tame, but understandable seeing as he's been exposed to mako his whole life." Shalua crosses her arms over her chest, nodding to herself pleased. "But yes, something as simple as one missed note and this was all caused, if my assumption is correct."

"So, he's going to be okay?" Angeal asks softly.

"If I'm right, that'll be an easy fix," Shalua says, nodding to herself, assured and Angeal sighs in relief, praying that this would all be over. He could deal with the headaches and the drowsiness. Those were manageable, being basically catatonic, is not.

A few minutes later, Tyler slinks past Sephiroth, dark eyes blown wide at the sight of the legendary SOLDIER hero. With his head ducked down, he first passes the blood analysis over to Shalua and all she needs is one quick glance at it before she nods, handing it back and taking the bag of mako from him. She walks over to hang it up with the banana bag before pausing, doing math in her head. She glances at his blood analysis sheet before pulling out her phone and quickly types in a series of numbers before nodding and attaching that bag to Zack too.

"As I thought," She says easily.

"Who are you?"

All the occupants in the room jump, looking down at the bed to see Zack staring up at her, bleary-eyed. Shalua blinks a few times rapidly in surprise.

"Uh..?" Shalua looks between Zack and the mako bag, touching the plastic tubing, tracing it down to the boy's arm to see that the drip isn't open yet, feeding mako into his system. She knows that he needs it to stabilize himself, but he's suddenly doing better when he showed no signs of it a few minutes ago. Even looking at the heart monitor, she sees that it has slowed down dramatically. It's elevated from a normal heart rate, but not like it was before.

"Zack," Angeal says, moving closer to the bed, sitting down and looking at him. "Hey, how do you feel?"

"Tired," Zack mumbles, shifting uncomfortably. "And my head really hurts."

Angeal nods slowly in understanding, taking in his sweaty and flushed face. "You've been asleep for a long time. We're going to give you something that will hopefully start to make you feel better."

Zack mumbles something incoherent, going to move one hand but then Shalua grabs his arm to keep it in place, not wanting him to jar the tubes in his arm. He looks down at her hand on his blinking a few times before moving his other hand, rubbing his face a few times before rubbing his eyes rougher than necessary.

Shalua sits down slowly. "Mr. Fair, can you look at me?" Zack pulls his hand away from his tired eyes.

"Hm?"

"My name is Shalua Rui. I work as a scientist and I'm a friend of your mentor. He asked me to come to help you. Can you tell me your name?" She couldn't help using her soft voice. Something she had only reserved for Shelke. But looking at this boy, watery blue eyes, pale baby face and flushed. He looks so small, so innocent, she couldn't help himself. His file says he's only fifteen-years-old.

Zack looks at the woman in front of him, trying to blink a few times and clear his eyes. "Zack," he says softly. "Zack Fair."

"How old are you?"

"Fifteen."

"Good," Shalua says, nodding toward Angeal sitting on the other side of the bed, "and do you know who this is?"

Zack smiles goofily, rubbing at his eyes. "Angeal."

Shalua nods. "Good, Zack. I'm going to give you something that should start to make you feel better. It won't hat first, and may worsen a bit from now, but if it gets too bad you have to let me know, alright?" A pause, where Zack doesn't respond, before she says again, "Alright, Zack?"

"Yes, ma'am," he mumbles.

Shalua opens the line and stands as undiluted mako makes its way into the boy's body. She counts until his heart rate jumps up slightly at being reintroduced to mako, speeding up and slowing down a bit until it finds its new balance, which isn't as low as she was hoping, but she was expecting that. Hopefully he'll start getting better soon.

She waits a few moments before standing up, walking toward Sephiroth and Genesis, looking over at Angeal as she makes her way over. Angeal pets down Zack's sweaty locks as the boy closes his eyes tiredly, before standing up and walking over to them. Even Emerson takes this time to step in to see if he could offer any assistance while Tyler keeps watching on Zack, monitoring him for any warning signs.

"Okay," Genesis says as soon as their little circle forms, crossing his arms over his chest, "so was that weird to anyone else?"

"Yes," Shalua says, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "That was definitely not normal. How he just got better for no reason."

"He couldn't have for no reason," Emerson says. "There had to be a reason why he got better."

"Not necessarily," Genesis offers. "Not to go against what I said before, but he did get better, randomly, his first mako trial too. It's about the same amount of time through this second time."

Angeal frowns unhappily. "Is his levels bottoming out or something? Something to explain the sudden vitality he seems to get back?"

"A common denominator," Sephiroth offers, casing a look easily over the top of Shalua's head at the boy lying in the bed, probably falling back to sleep, if he hasn't already. "Something similar happened last time which means similar criteria were met."

"He's right," Shalua says, mimicking Angeal and crossing her arms over her chest, furrowing her brow, "so tell me again what happened around the time he got better last time?"

"Nothing," Angeal admits. "He just got better out of nowhere, we had some breakfast in the morning, went for a little walk and then he collapsed in the SOLDIER hall."

Sephiroth pulls his eyes away from Zack to look over at Angeal. "To be more precise, he got better the night before. He woke up shortly after I came into the apartment and set up to work while the two of you were already asleep. He already seemed more lucid by then. Like he is now."

"So, what does that mean?" Genesis asks, letting out a long sigh. "Does that mean that he's going to be okay for a little bit and then crash hard like last time? Because he was bad, got better and then was three times worse. I feel I don't need to put into words what could be worse than near-catatonic." He catches the stricken look across Angeal's face as he looks down at all of their shoes. "I'm sorry."

"He would probably die," Sephiroth says evenly. "Or perhaps fall into a coma and never awaken from it."

"I believe we understand, General," Emerson says delicately, face screwing up in shared pain as Angeal closes his eyes tightly and Genesis snaps almost immediately after, "Alright, thanks, big-mouth. Next time, keep that shit to yourself."

Sephiroth blinks a few times, confused before casting a look over at Angeal, studying his face for a moment before his eyebrows pull together tightly. "I'm sorry, Angeal. I... perhaps I should step out. I clearly lack the bedside manner necessary for something like this."

"No," Angeal grinds out before sighing, rubbing at his forehead. "It sucks, but you're not wrong. Don't leave." Sephiroth closes his mouth, looking away as if resigned to stay silent for as long as he remains, no doubt feeling bad about speaking so bluntly. Angeal frowns a bit and looks over at Shalua again, who was chewing at her lower lip in thought. "So what's the common denominator? What are we not seeing? I mean, a lot is the same, so how do we figure out what was important?"

"Well, it would have to be something that changed suddenly, sometime within a few minutes of him waking up. If we can craft parallels between the two times, then we can learn more. So," she looks around the room at the four hulking Firsts around her, looking absolutely tiny in comparison, "what changed right before he woke up?"

Silence. It stretches on for almost a minute before Emerson points out, "Mako. You said he would need it, and it was brought into the room just before he got better." It's a long shot and he kind of shrugs at the pointed look that Genesis gives him but the red-head wasn't coming up with anything.

"Okay..." Shalua says doubtfully, "but that would mean somehow the boy was sensitive to mako by proximity, but that's a trait developed by SOlDIERs with extraordinarily high levels of mako, like Firsts."

"He has been around mako his whole life," Genesis offers, reaching out to pat Sephiroth's arm in a form of apology before dropping it back to his side. "I mean, you said so yourself."

Shalua looks unconvinced. "I don't know. I feel like there's got to be something. His mako levels shouldn't be high enough for that unless the boy bathed in mako for a year or so. And I'm talking inside of the actual reactor. Swimming around in the deadly green stuff."

"Okay," Genesis says, waving his hand around, "the probability is low. So what else is there?" He raises mako blue eyes toward the ceiling. "He's sick, Angeal and I fret. He gets better, we all have breakfast. We walk Sephiroth to the elevator and fresh air takes him out. I just don't understand."

"What did that look like?" Shalua asks. "His crashing? Was it fast, like his fever came back after thirty minutes and he was down for the count or what?"

"No, it was sudden," Angeal says. "We hadn't even turned around from watching Sephiroth get into the elevator, sort of sudden."

Shalua blinks slowly. "Wait, so he's sick, then in the middle of the night he suddenly gets better after Sephiroth shows up, then once he leaves, he gets sick again?"

Silence. All four men stare down at her as she pulls her eyes to meet Sephiroth's.

"The sudden change that occurred both times," Shalua says, raising her eyebrows. "It's you." She tilts her head to the side, puzzled. "But... why?"

Sephiroth stares back at her, perplexed. "I am not doing anything. I haven't been near him since I got here. Nor did I get particularly close last time either. At least, not until he got better."

"Well, he does see visions like you do, General," Emerson offers, making everyone turn to look at him.

"Visions?" Shalua gasps. "He's... he's hearing the mako in his blood?" How did no one think to say something? She looks over at Angeal. "Did you know?"

"Know what?" Angeal asks eyebrows pulled together tightly. "That he was having visions as Sephiroth did? No. I didn't know. It's such a rare reaction. I think only one other person had such a reaction other than Sephiroth and that was Lindsey. I didn't know anything about it."

"Is it something we are supposed to report?" Emerson asks, blue eyes wide. "He mentioned seeing things while he was waiting in the lounge during his first trial and I knew that it was very rare, but I didn't think it was something that needed to be reported to someone. I'm sorry, generals."

Angeal turns compassionate blue eyes toward Emerson. "It's not your fault. I didn't know it was something to report. I can't exactly be mad at you for not knowing." That doesn't look like it makes Emerson feel any better.

Shalua turns her eyes toward Sephiroth, shaking her head, obviously impressed. Sephiroth stares back at her equally perplexed, still not sure what he's done that is helping Zack. It was a rumor that she wasn't sure was true, seeing as Sephiroth's file was locked and only with someone of very high clearance would have access to it so she didn't know for certain, but now was her chance to test something out.

Shalua grabs Sephiroth's hand, walking over to the boy lying prone on the bed, thankful that Sephiroth didn't dig his heels in because she definitely wouldn't be able to move him the few feet across the room if he had. She looks down at Sephiroth's bare hand, thankful for one of the rare times that he isn't wearing his gloves before lightly laying it on top of Zack's.

She looks up and to her utter astonishment, watches as his heart rate lowers until it's normal for someone who's in a deep sleep like she suspected that he was in.

Sephiroth straightens up, pulling his hand back as if burned and Zack's heart jumps, steadily picking back up again before he hesitates, casting a slow, unsure look over his shoulder at Angeal and Genesis before looking back over at the monitor and resting his hand on top of Zack's as it once again slows down to normal.

He pulls his hand away a few times, experimentally, and each time the cadet's heart would jump up to that erratic middle ground that it was before he touched him. Shalua steps back a bit to give him some space, eyes wide in interest as Sephiroth slowly sits down, no doubt because he's just tall enough that standing in that hunched over position was hurting his neck, back and shoulders rather than anything more than perhaps the barest hint of compassion.

"Why is his heart doing that?" Emerson asks.

"It's me..." Sephiroth says softly, tilting his head a bit as cat-like blue eyes widen in intrigue. "It must be that trick. If Zack is like me and can hear the memories within mako, then..." Sephiroth tilts his head a bit, a soft look crossing over his face as he whispers, "Ifalna."

"Ifalna?" Shalua asks. "Who is that?"

Too busy, staring in awe, Sephiroth doesn't answer, so Angeal does for him. "Ifalna was a scientist in our childhood. She was one of the few that looked after Sephiroth. If I recall correctly, she was the one that taught him how to get the visions to stop. Unlike Lindsey, who's visions stopped as the mako in his blood settled, it didn't for Sephiroth. Ifalna had to teach him how to make it stop."

"It's a baby method," Sephiroth says softly. His face is pulled in a way of remembering something that makes him happy, but also something that cuts him deeply. "I was... supposed to learn how to filter through what I was hearing. How to further understand, but she... she left before she could teach me more. She taught me the equivalent of covering my ears, like a child, to block out the noise I didn't want to hear. It became so natural that I don't think about it anymore."

"You must project it around you, somehow," Shalua says fascinated, shaking her head in wonder. "So when in proximity to Zack, you ease the symptoms and by touching him, you block them out. Amazing."

"So he's going to be okay?" Angeal asks. "The mako will settle in his system and he'll be fine?"

Shalua nods, trying hard to pull herself out of her surprise and wonder. "I don't see why not." She looks over at Angeal. "Proper mako for his situation should clear up the poisoning. The proper amount of mako should clear up the withdraw and just by stay within proximity of Sephiroth, the boy's symptoms should ease up nicely. And by staying in physical contact, they should become almost nonexistent."

Angeal leans against the wall, slumping in relief. "Thank the Goddess." That's all he wanted. Just for Zack to be okay. Thankfully Sephiroth is too lost in his thoughts and intrigue to even thing about being uncomfortable with touching Zack. And even if Sephiroth realizes and doesn't want to touch him anymore - which is well within his right, Angeal would never force him to, knowing how Sephiroth is - then just by staying close, Zack will get better, which is good enough for Angeal.

"Angeal..?"

The raven-haired first perks up at the sound of his name, pushing away from the wall and walking over to the bed. "Yes, Zack?"

The teen opens his eyes and Angeal is physically relieved to see them more alert even if it is only marginally than before. Anything better than before is okay in his book. Zack offers that same, beautiful smile that caught Angeal's attention the first time he ever saw the boy. Soft, kind, a bit pained, but very gentle, making all the tense muscles in Angeal's shoulder relax and he sees Genesis smile in his peripheral.

"I'm pretty hungry," Zack says, clearing his throat. "Do you think I could eat now?"

Angeal lets out a relieved laugh that almost hurts, dropping his chin toward his chest as he shakes his hanging head before looking back up at the teen. "Yes, Zack. I think you can."

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