Author's Note: This story really needs a lot of TLC, oh my gosh.
Zack jingles his leg nervously. He looks around Angeal's living room for what feels like the millionth time. It's so weird to be in someone's house without them there too. Almost as weird as being in someone's house and only their parents being there, or like a single sibling or something. Maybe Zack should get out the silverware anyway. Maybe Zack should turn on the television and just wait for Angeal to get here. Maybe Zack should do something other than what he's doing right now.
Jumping to his feet, Zack beings pacing back and forth, wishing that he had taken Miranda up on her offer of staying with him for a bit until Angeal showed up. Now he has to walk around here completely lost on what he's suppose to do. Zack finally forces himself to stop and falls to his knees and then face down on the floor. He lays face down, humming to himself, trying to do anything but think about how alone he is in someone else's house.
"Chocobo buddies, that's who I want to be! Chocobo buddies, a spot for you and me!" Zack sings the theme song of his favorite childhood t.v show, voice muffled by the carpet. "I shouldn't be left alone," Zack sighs. "I just lose my mind."
"Trust me, it's obvious," Angeal says. Zack strains his neck to look up at Angeal standing in the doorway. He stares down at the Zack with a quirky half smile, holding the door open slightly. He closes it and walks over to Zack, looking amused. Zack rolls onto his back and grins up at his mentor.
"Oh Angeal, thank the Goddess you're home! You've been gone for so long!" Zack raises his arms up to Angeal, grinning widely.
Angeal shakes his head, grabbing both of Zack's hands and pulling the smaller boy up to his feet. "Zack, I think I've only been away for about fifteen minutes. At the most. Come on, Genesis will be here any minute."
Zack bounces on his feet. "This is so exciting! And a little nerve-wracking. Should I be scared? Because I am, like, really scared. What if he ends up hating me? I want to fit in with your friends and I want to be Genesis's friend too. I'm just not sure if him liking me originally was a fluke or not," Zack blabs, following Angeal into the kitchen. He takes the salt and pepper shakers that is handed to him and puts them in the center of the small wooden table. Capable of fitting up to six people.
"I think you're stressing over nothing, Pup," Angeal says smoothly.
Zack gasps, blue eyes buldging. "What if he hates county boys? Does my country slang show?"
Angeal looks at Zack thoughtfully. "A little."
Zack's hands fly to his face with a loud smack. "Angeal!" His words are muffled behind his hands. "Are you serious right now?"
The older man laughs, putting out napkins in three spots, grinning playfully at Zack. "Zack, I'm joking. Trust me, Gongaga may be a bit backwater but at least it's on the map compared to where Genesis and I come from."
"And where is that?" Zack asks, surprised that he never thought to ask before now. There wasn't a lot that about Angeal that Zack knew. He didn't think to ask him about that sort of thing. He probably could have looked it up, but he would rather have Angeal tell him rather than look it up. But he also didn't want to pry, he figured it would all come up in conversation, like now.
Angeal pauses for just a moment before staring off, like he's seeing his hometown in his mind's eye. A small, minute smile gracing his lips. "A sleepy little town called Banora."
"Never heard of it."
Angeal gives Zack a pointed look. "And my point has been proven. It's a small town. There's not much out there, probably a dozen houses with only about thirty people in total. I think the only thing we're known for is our Dumb Apples."
"Huh?" Zack raises an eyebrow.
Angeal smiles affectionately now, thinking back to the last time he had a Dumb Apple in his home town. "Banora White is their official name. They are white apples that grow at random times during the year and so the people affectionately call them Dumb Apples."
Zack tilts his head in confusion. "I don't think I get it."
"Then we'll have to take you out there sometime so you can see it," Genesis' voice is like silk in Zack's ear. The young boy jumps regardless of the low volume. Genesis snuck up on him like a ghost. "No one should ever have to trudge through life without trying one of Banora's famous Dumb Apples. I'll even let you have one from the tree that grows in my yard." Zack turns to look at Genesis in time to see the red haired man wink. "But only if you ask nicely."
Before Zack can respond, Angeal interjects, "Welcome Genesis. You're late, by the way."
Genesis smiles coyly. "Trust me, friend, I could be a lot later than I am. I've done it before."
"Genesis never was one for punctuation. I don't know how Sephiroth can even begin to deal with you. He gets annoyed when he has to add a few more minutes to the timer on the oven," Angeal says, shaking his head.
"If it was suppose to go in for 15 minutes instead of 13, it should have specified," another voice says, behind Genesis.
Angeal and Zack both peak around the red haired man to see a white haired man standing at the doorway, taking off his boots, staring blandly at Genesis's lack of courtesy. Angeal smiles warmly. "Welcome Seph, I didn't know you would be coming tonight," death glare at Genesis. "I'll set another place at the table."
"My apologies," the white haired man murmurs. "Genesis misinformed me. I should have known he would be negligent in notifying you that I would be joining you as well. Should I not have come?"
Angeal and Genesis share a look. Angeal a look of affectionate annoyance and Genesis of playful ignorance.
"No, Seph," Angeal says looking back to the silver haired man, "you are always welcome. Don't worry about it."
"My bad," Genesis says flippantly, not all that sorry despite his words. He puts an arm around Zack's shoulders, the boy staring blankly at the stranger walking gracefully into the dinning room, only stopping next to the table to stare back with a rivaled look of lack of emotion. Genesis grins to himself, a mischevious gleam in his eye. "Pup, do you have anything you want to say?"
"To him?" Zack nods to the stranger. The man tilts his head slightly at the words. A little bit of silver hair sliding over his shoulder.
"Yup," Genesis says simply, eyes watching the hairs movement for a moment before returning to Zack.
Angeal lays down plates and cups, giving the back of Genesis's head an annoyed look. "He has no idea who Seph is either, Gen." Then, as an after-thought, he adds, "And you know that." He seems a little confused by this.
Genesis waves for him to quiet down as Zack and Sephiroth stare at each other.
The first thing that Zack takes notice of is those shocking white-blue eyes. Nothing like the mako blue of Angeal and Genesis's eyes. The oblong shape of a pure black iris in the center of each of the cerulean pools. Long fringe hangs around his narrow face, hair long and glossy, like fine silk. Garbed in an assortment of black leathers and silver armor. His chest is bare save for a few belts criss-crossing over it and a single straining button on his flack jacket.
Zack blinks a few times, drawing the intense stare of those cerulean blues to the movement. "Um... No... I don't know..." He stares a moment longer before blinking from the strange daze that the white haired man had him under. "Can I ask you something?"
The white haired man nods. "You may."
"How do you manage such long hair?" Zack hears himself ask before he can really think about it.
Sephiroth tilts his head to the side, the question not what he expected. He stares at the innocent blue eyes of the younger man in front of him, wondering if perhaps this was merely a joke. "Pardon?"
Zack feels Genesis trembling with laughter next to him. He gapes awkwardly, fishing for words to somehow get him out of this embarrassing predicament. "No. I mean, um, sorry. I... I didn't mean for it to come out like that." Zack presses his lips together into a thin line for a moment. Sephiroth just stares at him with an unreadable expression. Zack wilts under the older man's stare. "This is embarrassing," he murmurs under his breath.
"It... It's fine," the white haired man says.
Angeal glares at Genesis, pulling Zack from his grip to lead him over to Sephiroth. "Pup, this is Sephiroth, another personal friend of mine. Sephiroth, my pupil, Zack Fair."
Sephiroth offers a hand. "Pleasure."
Zack takes it. "Nice to-" he pauses, blinking rapidly. He looks from Angeal to Sephiroth, then over his shoulder at a grinning Genesis realizing that he's being played right now. There's something that he's missing. Something that Genesis wanted him to pick up on. Something that Angeal already called that Zack wouldn't be able to figure it out. Wait, did Angeal say "Sephiroth"?
Zack snaps to a salute, stiff and wide-eyed. "Sorry, sir! I just..." Zack sighs. "I don't know why I am constantly making an ass of myself." Now Genesis is laughing out loud. Sephiroth merely stares at the younger man, looking at Zack with a tilted head, face expressionless, hand dropping to his side.
"Pup, your naivete is adorable," Genesis says through his joyous bouts of mirth, he leans against the back of one of the chairs to keep himself upright. "I just had to see if it went all the way."
The younger man makes a face at that, not at all sure if he should feel insulted or bashful that someone as important as Genesis Rhapsodos, who is important regardless of whether or not Zack knows the extent of that fame, to take notice of him and want to tease him. Regardless of how slightly cruel it may seem, it's also a bit flattering. Zack just at least wished that he had a little more tact or better yet, awareness, of what is going on around him.
"Okay, Gen, the joke has gone on for too long," Angeal says smoothly. "Apologize."
"Sorry, puppy. I just wanted Sephiroth to see what I saw," Genesis shrugs, not all that bent out of shape about what happened.
"Sorry, Seph, the pup's a little slow on the uptake," Angeal says.
Zack nods next to his mentor. "Yeah, I'm-" he pauses, thinking about what Angeal said. He gives his mentor a dry look. "Angeal, not cool."
Angeal shrugs, walking back to the kitchen while Zack eases out of his salute at Sephiroth's blank look. The two stare at each other for a long, drawn-out moment before Sephiroth finally says, "No disrespect taken, Zack. We are not on the clock. This is our personal time, feel free to address me casually."
Zack blinks a few times, wondering if he was hearing all of this correctly. "And what exactly is casual, sir?"
Zack, immediately dropping the formalities, bounces over to Sephiroth, beaming. "Nice to meet you, Sephiroth. My ma always said that you can never have enough friends in your life. The people that mean the most to you should be told and shown how much they mean to you. So, let's be friends, okay?"
Sephiroth's eyes lower slightly in thought before rising to lock with Zack's big blues. "We shall see."
Genesis pats Sephiroth on the back, giving him a knowing look when Zack turned away to sit at the table, foot-tapping loudly on the floor. Sephiroth, Genesis, and Angeal sit around him and they talk about light topics. The weather, how Zack's training is going, some interesting missions that the three went on. Nothing too heavy and when food from some Wutaian restaurant that Genesis likes comes, they start out eating in silence.
Zack jabs at some weird green thing he didn't recognize with his fork, it's jelly-like and wiggles, trying to get away from Zack and he's half tempted to let it after the ninth try at stabbing it. Finally, harpooning it, Zack slowly, tentatively bringing it to his lips.
He opens his mouth to take a bite of the strange green jelly when Genesis asks flippantly, "Do you know what that is, Puppy?"
Mouth still hanging open, he shakes his head.
Zack's fork clanks against his dinner plate. Genesis smiles, taking a bite of some noodles. Zack stares at Genesis, mouth still open, wondering if he can believe what Genesis is saying. He looks around at the other patrons, wondering if perhaps they will just tell him, "oh no, Zack, Genesis is just playing you. It's really not" or "don't lie to him Genesis, what sane person cooks chocobo liver and feeds it to other sane people?" But no. Neither said a damn word, still occupied with the food on their own plates to even look up at him, and Zack felt his face draining of color. He tentatively lowers his hands onto his lap and clears his throat.
"Pup, don't let Genesis scare you," Angeal says.
"Yeah," Genesis says simply, "they haven't had many fatalities recently."
Zack falls back against his chair, blinking rapidly. He interlaces his fingers on his lap and relaxes in his chair, eyes closing. He listens to the sounds of chewing, the clanking of silverware against the plates. Everything is so relaxing. It's not like Zack is in the room with three of the most powerful SOLDIERs in the world, one being his mentor, one being his mentor's fiery best friend and the last being the greatest SOLDIER, both hero and demon.
But somehow, Zack feels like he's floating. Like he's not completely overwhelmed with everything that's going on. He's having dinner with legends and yet he feels like he's by himself in a room with the t.v on, listening to someone else eating in silence. The atmosphere between the trio is that of serenity and calmness. Friendly and Zack would even dare to say, love. They have this understanding amongst them, some kind of silent agreement that no words really need to be said.
Zack opens his eyes, blinking a few times to get the spots from his vision. "Huh? No. Just relaxing." He looks over at Angeal and smiles lightly. He sits forward once more and picks at the chocobo liver, scooting it to the end of the plate and looking to grab something else to eat.
"Long day?" Genesis inquires, looking at Zack through long eyelashes.
The youngest of the group smiles tiredly. "A little. Training is really kicking my ass." He laughs, eyes crinkling. "But totally worth it."
Angeal smiles lightly, nodding. "And you're doing fine. You're a natural with a sword and you're doing great in your hand-to-hand. It's going to be fine."
Zack spins noodles around his fork for a few long moments before looking up at Angeal. "I'll be okay."
Angeal pauses for a moment before nodding slowly. "You will be, Zack. I believe in you."
Zack beams. "I know. And thank you so much for that. I'm so lucky to have you as a mentor, Angeal, and I don't think I ever adequately thanked you for that. I need you to know that I do appreciate it." Zack reaches over and puts a hand on Angeal's arm. "Thank you, Angeal. Really, thank you."
Angeal smiles back, softly. "You're welcome, pup. Keep up the good work."
A few long moments of silence before Genesis speaks up, "So, Zack, I hear your birthday is in a few days." Zack opens his mouth, blinking rapidly, then waves his hands around, trying to find the words to that but coming up with nothing. Genesis takes pity on the poor confused boy by saying, "I read your file."
"Yeah, four days. November 8th."
Genesis grins now. "So I did the math..."
Zack shakes his head, knowing where the redhead is going with it. "I don't know why but yes, I know, I am a February 14th conception baby. Trust me, my ma isn't much for keeping secrets. I'm just going to save you the gory details and leave you with that."
Genesis raises an eyebrow while Angeal has a mixed look of thoughtfulness and confusion and maybe a bit of repulsion. Sephiroth, on the other hand, looks completely neutral. Like everything said today is absolutely normal to him. Especially the fact that a near fifteen-year-old boy just admitted to his newly made mentor and mentor's friends that his mom has told him about the day of his conception. The only remaining question is, aside from why she would share such information, how such a topic was even brought up.
It's no secret, especially to Zack, that he has an unhealthy attachment and bond with his mother. They share just about everything with each other. Zack's dad is friendly enough and Zack never doubts that he is loved, but his mom is the one that knows everything about him. Is like his best friend. So maybe Zack did have a best friend back in Gongaga, he just didn't even realize it.
"I had heard of them talking about letting fourteen years olds in so long as they turn fifteen within a few weeks after they start their training. I think you're the first they've implemented for the cadet program. I've seen it in the Infantry," Genesis muses. "So, what made you so special, pup?"
Zack's eyes grow distant, pupils expanding dazedly. His mind is drawn back to that day. He didn't even attempt to go near the recruiter, knowing that he wouldn't be able to sign up anyway and there weren't all that many boys in Gongaga to begin with. Sure there was a few that wanted to sign up, that hadn't the years before but there wouldn't be more than a handful this year.
Most of the town was quiet. Almost everyone had made their way over to the recruiter. It's rare for the people of Gongaga to get new faces around there. Even being a coastal city, it wasn't very well known. That didn't matter to Zack or the rest of the Gongagians. They enjoyed the solitude. Sure, there was a single mako reactor out there, and that was probably one of the primary reasons that Gongaga stayed afloat. Most of the people who didn't work on their farms, worked at the reactor for Shinra.
Zack walked through the quiet town, smiling under the beating sun. Zack spun around, skipping around on the dirt road. He stops, raising his arms up and closing his eyes. The warm rays soaking into his sun-kissed skin, pulsating through him when he hears something. Something coming up behind him. Rushing toward him.
The young cadet jolts away from the memory filling his mind's eye and his ears. A scream in his ear, which thankfully is just from the memory. His lips are pressed so close together forming a thin, straight line.
"Zack?" Angeal says softly, reaching out to touch him, but his hand hovers over Zack's arm.
Shaking out of the daze, Zack smiles thinly. "I'm sorry. Um, I got into a fight... while the recruiter was there and he happened to oversee. He gave me the recommendation." Zack shrugs like it's no big deal. Ghost pain flares over his face and ribs. He shivers at the memory. He hides it behind a smile. "And, here I am!"
Angeal pulls his hand back and nods, face falling neutral, but there is a slight crease between his eyes, belying his thoughts. "Yes, well, I'm thankful that you are. Do you have any plans for your birthday?"
Zack shakes his head, thankful for the topic change. "Um, no. I was considering not celebrating this year."
Angeal blinks a few times fast, probably trying to see if he heard right. "Did you say you aren't going to celebrate this year?"
Zack shrugs, pushing his plate away. "Yeah. I mean, in Gongaga, birthdays were celebrated by all of the people in town. There was so few of us that everyone was allowed to come to every birthday but... well, there's a lot more people here in Midgar and not everyone knows everyone so... I guess I don't want to make my new friends think they have to buy me something for my birthday. Maybe next year." Zack pulls his knees up to his chest, balancing on the chair. "It's no big deal."
Angeal opens his mouth but a different voice speaks instead. "I don't think you should skip this year."
Three sets of eyes fly to the most stoic of the group. The silver-haired man slowly lowers his fork and knife and looks up slowly at each of the individual faces evenly. He interlaces his fingers onto the table and stares pointedly at Zack.
"You are young, Fair. The last thing you should be thinking about is not having a birthday," Sephiroth says simply.
Angeal nods. "Sephiroth is right. You should go out and celebrate it. There is one day each year that's dedicated to you. You should enjoy it while you can."
Zack purses his lips, shrugging his shoulders a little. "I'll think about it. It does fall on a Saturday, after all. Maybe I can convince the guys to go out and do something that night."
Angeal smiles lightly. "Good boy."
And with that, the foursome return to their dinner. Or at least the older three do. The youngest of them looks around the room, really taking in the quiet murmuring of the other patrons in the room as they talk about their day, more specifically, the mission Genesis just returned from.
"They are sure getting audacious," Genesis murmurs, pushing his plate away and leaning back in his chair. He sighs contently, having had his fill.
Zack blinks out of his listless staring and into the conversation. "Who?"
Genesis looks at Zack with half-lidded eyes. "A group in Wutai and Arcan religious nuts. I mean, I believe whole-heartedly in the Goddess but these guys are completely out of this world."
Zack lays his feet back on the ground and leans close, interested. "Like, what? What's with these guys?"
"These guys believe in the Goddess, they do, but they don't worship her, they worship her Champion," Genesis explains, pushing his plate further away. Almost like if it's too close he won't be able to help himself and will just keep eating. Zack can get that wholeheartedly.
Zack glances around at Angeal and Sephiroth, both watching Genesis. Zack looks back at Genesis, eyes wide like saucers. "Well? Who's the Champion? What are they like?"
Genesis smiles lightly, pleased at being the center of attention. "No one knows who the Champion is. At least not yet. One of their... leaders, an old, blind man claims to be able to see people's spirits. I was strictly told spirits when I originally said auras. Anyway, they believe that the Champion is the will of the Goddess. That he - or she, I suppose - is the voice and the spear of the Goddess, eliminating the darkness and evil in the world with her purifying light. These people are crazy believers. They have spread their belief all around the world," Genesis says, shaking his head. "I had to go out there to mediate down south because of them rallying."
"They're known for peaceful protests of the churches of the Goddess, though, aren't they?" Angeal asks, he leans forward and interlaces his fingers on the table in front of him, looking mildly troubled.
Sephiroth nods. "They do peaceful protests against the churches every few years, angry at their lack of knowledge about the Champion and their lack of faith. All of their protests have been peaceful but over the years they have become more and more radical, going so far as to steal people off the streets for their leader to look at in hopes of them being the Champion."
Zack blinks rapidly. "What will they do when they find this Champion?"
All three men in the room share looks, none knowing what to say. Finally, Angeal shifts to face Zack and says, "Not sure, but you have to listen to me now, pup, do not mess around with those guys. I'm not sure whether or not they are dangerous, but I do know that I don't trust them. They may be peaceful now, but who knows what would happen when they get their hands on the Champion if that person even exists."
"I agree with Angeal," Genesis says simply. "I don't trust them either. Religious nuts like that are only going to escalate. It's best to just leave them alone and let this entire thing blow over."
Zack rubs his shoulder uncomfortably. "I've heard of the Goddess, but this is the first I've ever heard of a Champion."
"Their religious leader- the one that can see spirits- was said to have a dream of the Champion being born years and years ago. Ever since he has gained a following and has scoured the world looking for this Champion."
"But why? What would make him think it was any more than a simple dream?" Zack asks.
Sephiroth turns his beautiful eyes toward the youngest of them. "The day that followed the dream, he was said to be able to see people's spirits. He believed he was gifted by the Goddess."
They sit in silence for a long time, all stuck in their own thoughts. Zack tries to imagine this Champion. Thinking of all of the stereotypes in the world. A strong, impossibly wise man, fighting for the innocent and for the weak. Some people would say that's Sephiroth, some would say he's the opposite. But that leads Zack to wonder if being a hero and being a champion is the same thing. They both save people and are really strong. They do what they can to keep order and justice, beat the bad guy in the end and get the girl. They're practically the same.
Zack's front right pocket vibrates, snapping the younger man from his thoughts.
He pulls it out and stares at the caller ID for a long moment until it clicks on, revealing the person's number on the other end.
"Can I, Angeal?" Zack asks, standing up.
Angeal nods, waving his hand vaguely.
Zack puts the phone to his ear. "Hello? Ma?"
"Zack, hello! I'm so sorry for calling you so late, I was just thinking about you and I wanted to say this in case I forgot. Happy birthday, baby boy! I miss you so much! It's been forever since I've even heard anything from you? Why don't you write your poor mother? I'm not getting any younger, you know. What about your dad? He misses you terribly. Have you met a girl yet? Is she pretty? Why don't you write? Do you not love me anymore? I went through hours of labor to get your big head through my birth canal and this is how you thank me?"
Zack, eyes wide, shakes his free hand wildly. "Ma! Ma! Stop that! I don't hate you. Thank you for the birthday wishes and oh my goddess, can we not talk about you giving birth to me? This is really awkward!" Zack's eyes flicker up to the three men in the room, no doubt able to hear her loud voice. He turns away, hoping vainly that it will somehow contain his mother's overbearing voice.
"Awkward?" Zack's mom snorts indignantly. "I am your mother. And besides, we've already discussed me giving birth to you before."
The raven-haired boy groans. "I know! Good goddess, do I know! Don't you think there is anything remotely wrong with that statement?"
"No," Mrs. Fair says calmly, "I think that every boy should know all about sex and birth. It will help you make better choices. You know, for later on in life."
Zack rolls his eyes. "Yeah, but not my own!"
"Well, I didn't very well see my own birth and how many children do you think I've had?" His mom says indignantly. A moment of pause before her voice returns, this time softer. "But, besides that, I want you to write me, okay? I miss you. Write and call, just to let me know you're okay."
Zack smiles faintly. "I will. I'd love to talk but I'm in the middle of dinner with some friends. I have to go. I love you, ma. "
"I love you too, Zacky."
"Give pop my love."
"I will," his mother says softly, a hint of a smile in her voice.
Zack wraps one arm around himself. "And the rest of Gongaga?"
"Alright. Take care of yourself. Call me again soon. Or write. Either is fine. Next time, we will talk longer, you hear?"
Zack smiles. "Yes, ma'am."
The other line cuts off and Zack hesitates before finally pulling the phone from his ear. With a sharp snap of it closing, he stuffs it into his pocket. He takes a moment to relish in his mother's voice. Even though he's been away from her for a few weeks, he's missed her terribly but also didn't think of her much. So busy with everything that is going on, it's hard to think too much of life back home.
"Your ma sounds nice," Angeal says. "A very... pleasant woman, from the sounds of it."
Zack turns, smiling at his mentor. "She is. A little eccentric, but I love her, regardless."
Angeal looks thoughtful. "Good boy, pup. Always gain whatever knowledge and wisdom but most of all - love - from your elders."
Zack pauses for a moment, considering those words. He nods, walking back over to his seat and sitting down. "I will, thanks Angeal."
Angeal nods. "You're welcome, pup."