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Zack looked around in the jungle. And around. And around. The jungle was better termed a wasteland by then.

“Sephiroth--”

* * *

“Zack.” Aeris nudged his shoulder, waking him up.

* * *

“The fireworks remind me of bombs too,” Zack said from one folding chair to another.

“You don’t have to be here. Go see your girlfriend.”

“Yes I do. Let’s go get some beer as soon as we escape from this.”

“Drunkenness is not the answer to anything. And you have a mako round tomorrow, since you were promoted to First Class.”

“It’d be bad PR to kill a war hero in the lab.”

* * *

“Still wanna be a hero, boy?”

“Always,” Zack said, his darker smile darker but stronger and surer for it.

Angeal whistled, wiping his sweaty forehead and spreading more mud and blood. He was just about as pessimistic as they came and had been sure poster boy Zack Fair was just like every other dumb kid who would find out in Wutai’s jungles there was no such things as heroes in war.

People said General Sephiroth wasn’t human, wasn’t SOLDIER, was some damn monster, but they hadn’t seen Zack, who had been standing beside three men who’d died today, still had their blood and the single of a Bolt spell on him and could still smile like that. That made him more or less than human and anyone else he’d have said the latter, but Zack, Zack…

* * *

“You fought in Wutai?” Cloud looked down, embarrassed. “I mean, I know you did. I had just started my training when it ended, so I never…”

“Eh, you didn’t miss anything,” Zack said, ruffling his hair. “Let’s go down to the church after you get off duty. I hear there will be good, homey apple pie to be had.”

* * *

“Oh gods.” Zack’s hand clutched at his hair, his other barely keeping him upright by holding onto a bamboo support in the captured foxhole behind his head. “Shit,” he gasped as Angeal deep-throated him further, his eyes glazed over.

* * *

Only Zack’s SOLDIER reflexes allowed him to move faster than the bullet, his body barreling Sephiroth over while his mind was still not to “What the fuck?”

The man who had been standing behind them fell on top of him, not even screaming. Zack rolled him over, feeling hot liquid gushing against his skin. “Hey, it’s alright man. It’s not so bad. Just keep breathing. Medic! Medic!”

Sephiroth pulled him back down as he equipped a mastered Fire materia.

* * *

“Hey, hey, look at this!”

“The Wuts went to Costa del Sol for Yule?” None of the others in the command tent looked anywhere near as interested as Zack sounded.

Sephiroth stepped out to where white flakes were falling from the sky. Ash?

“It never snows in Wutai,” someone else was saying. “What is this, the Northern Crater?”

“Look, Sephiroth, it’s snow,” Zack said with such childlike joy. He had never used his name before, but he didn’t correct him.

* * *

“Come quick! Look, look.”

Cloud ran over to the window, Zack following more sedately, though less clothedly, behind.

“Look,” Aeris said again. “It’s snowing.”

It must have been a blizzard for snow to be blowing under the Plate. Aeris looked at it fascinatedly and even Cloud who must have had tons of it up in the mountains looked appreciative.

Zack put his arms over their shoulders, tilting his head back to look out the window at the sky and coincidentally hiding his expression. “That it is.”