Chapter 1: And Darkness Comes Again
All right. This story is for my 50 Episodes: Zack Fair prompt on Insanejournal. Three AU story lines involved here. First is Axel-Zack, a KH fusion fic. In that verse, the Kingdom Hearts world happened many years ago, and people like Aeris, Cloud, Sephiroth, Cid, Yuffie were all reborn here. As well as some of the Nobodies. Just because they thought they vanished after death doesn’t mean they are right.
Second set/chapter is a gender switch fic, not entirely willingly, with the Zack/Sephiroth pairing. Be warned.
Chapter three is Turk Zack. Basically how it sounds, with the benefit of having twin brother Aaron around for fun. Zack/Sephiroth, Sephiroth/Cloud, and Sephiroth/Zack/Cloud slash there as well. Aaron/Aeris.
I don’t own FFVII, and I hope you enjoy these.
And that was freaking him out.
Resting a hand over his heart absently, he felt it racing, beating hard and fast against his fingers. It was slowing, which was good, and a soothing sound. When the sound of his own heartbeat had started being calming, he wasn’t sure, but he just accepted it.
He didn’t understand what was going on, but Zack was sure that something was happening. The hair on the back of his neck was always on end anymore, and he worried. Whatever was going to be big. And bad.
Cloud was getting better at using the sword, and Zack leaned against the wall, watching the younger man go through his routine. It was part of his day now to go and watch his friend, helping correct where he saw the other going wrong, and basically play coach. Occasionally he was also the practice dummy, and that was happening more and more often.
Which was good. Zack knew Cloud would be great in SOLDIER, if the kid just got the practice and the self-confidence for it.
Then, as Cloud spun, Zack felt everything to hazy for a moment. Then it wasn’t just Cloud, but another person as well, the faintest of overlays. Another blond, same focus and concentration in his eyes, wearing a black cloak. He had the strangest swords.
Cloud stumbled to a stop, blade dropping some, looking at Zack. The moment he stopped, the vision was gone, and Zack rubbed his eyes. “Sorry, Spike. Just a bit of dozing on my feet. That’s all.”
The dreams shouldn’t be showing up in reality, and he pushed that thought back. Would worry about that later, after he convinced Cloud that, no, he was fine, really.
All the blonds in his life were stubborn.
Whatever was going on, it seemed Zack was having a blast.
For a moment, when the black things had appeared, Sephiroth had paused, unsure of what they were.
Zack hadn’t even done that.
Instead, he had plunged in, a sound that was almost a laugh escaping him. The dark things had focused on him, scattering and reforming, attempting to circle around the black haired man. Sephiroth had stepped in then, not willing to let Zack get hurt.
Something was wrong, though. Zack never acted like that, and the way the man was still laughing was something he would have expected from Genesis more than Zack.
And, eerily, Sephiroth wondered if he really did see what he thought he did. Just for a moment, during one turn to take out the dark monsters, he could have sworn Zack’s eyes were green.
“You aren’t welcomed here.”
The shadow paused, head tilting as it looked at him, and Zack remained in his easy crouch, looking down at the creature.
“I know what you are, and I know what you can do. I don’t know how I know, but I can fight.”
Fire flickered on his fingertips, and yellow eyes focused on that for a moment before looking to meet Zack’s eyes again.
“We didn’t die.” His eyes flickered green, and red threaded through his hair, and Zack ignored all of it. “I know what you want. These are my people. Touch them, and we will destroy you all.”
It wasn’t him, and it wasn’t the one who he had been before. It was both of them, and they were deadly serious.
Couldn’t save Roxas, but this time, they wouldn’t lose anyone.
Well, this was them up shit creek with no paddle.
Seph on one side, and even the famous general was getting tired. Not that Zack was any better, and Cloud and Aeris were lagging. Badly.
It was only sheer luck that let him get all his people into one area, and this was bad. Really bad.
He didn’t want to do this. He hated the fact that he knew so much, and the others…didn’t seem to remember -anything-. That just wasn’t right. The fact that he hadn’t remember till recently didn’t mean anything.
But for now, he had to do it.
Well, might as well have fun with it.
Letting his sword drop, Zack ignored Seph’s curse, and Cloud’s startled sound. “So you guys want to play,” he all but purred at the shadows. He reached out, a move well practiced by now, and let the weapons come. Ignoring the sharp hiss from his side, as well as the sudden pulling back from Aeris and Cloud, he moved forward.
“Told you to leave us alone,” Zack said, fire erupting to life in his hands.
You know, it's really odd being a good guy this time around. How do you stand it?
"Look, crazy voice in my head," Zack muttered, ducking beneath a set of claws, lashing out with the sharp edge of his weapons, flames crackling as it burned the creature. "I really am trying to concentrate, which is kinda hard when you keep talking to me."
You're the one who's talking back. Zack could almost feel the voice smile. Anyone watches us, who do you think is going to be called the crazy one?
"Seph -is- watching us. He is very capable of killing these things and watching what I'm doing at the same time. He's not a General for nothing, you know."
The voice chuckled. There isn't an us. Just you. I'm just what you used to be. Betcha that, if this part of me got reincarnated, then my Heart did, too. The feeling of a smile grew. Red hair, green eyes. Spectacularly messy sense of humor. That would be my heart. Got it memorized?
Growling at what that voice just told him, Zack took it out on the Heartless around him.
This was just not fair.
Something seemed to have irritated Zack. He was tearing through them faster than he had to before.
Sephiroth was already making a note to sit the man down and ask what was going on. He seemed to be the only one who knew what these things were, and those weapons....
If Hojo knew about this strange ability that Zack just showed by pulled weapons and fire from nowhere, well, Sephiroth would most likely never see Zack again.
Though he did feel a dull anger that the man had never shared the fact he could do such things. After telling Sephiroth that being different was fine, that there was nothing wrong with it. After hearing how Sephiroth felt about being different, he still pretended like he was like everyone else.
Still, it was somewhat interesting to see Zack destroy them with such ease. And it let Sephiroth know that fire did destroy these creatures well.
Still would have to have a talk with Zack.
After he was done, as Zack would have put it, spanking the creatures flat.
Perched up in a tree, keeping an eye out over camp, Zack decided he had never felt more lonely in his life.
Midgar had been a ghost town. The place was swarming with Heartless, and it had taken a bit to get to where he had wanted to go. He had never felt so relieved as to find Aeris was okay. And he had seen signs that a lot of the SOLDIERs and troops had gotten out. Still, it had felt good to get back out of Midgar intact, with his people there as well.
Then there had been the talk with Seph. Who seemed angry at him, and Zack couldn't figure out why. It wasn't like he knew this was going to happen, or why he knew what he did. Not really.
And Cloud and Aeris kept giving him these looks. Some of the others who had joined them were doing the same, and he had finally said something about watch and retreated upwards.
He had always liked trees. Been climbing them since he was tall enough to start snagging the branches.
Maybe, if he kept back, they wouldn't look at him like that.
Still, it hurt. He was still him. They didn't need to look at him like he had suddenly changed.
Even if he had.
Wasn't his fault.
This was familiar.
It tickled at the back of her mind, like the voices did at times. Only, with this, she tried to grab it.
Nothing was so frustrating when something was just out of her grasp. Like this almost-familiar feel.
It didn't help that Zack had gone off like a kicked puppy. Oh, he had given a smile and said something about keeping watch, but she wasn't fooled one bit. He was different, and that was strangely familiar as well.
Ooh, how she wanted to go kick those things. Or at least go after Zack and talk to him.
But every time she took a step to go outside of the group, someone snagged her back. Usually Cloud. It was sweet, but it made it very hard to go talk to Zack.
"Aeris, he won't go anywhere, but it'll be really hard to explain to him that I let you get eaten by the black things. Plus, how can you make him feel better if you are trying to eat him in a bad way?"
She gave Cloud a look, which just made him blush, then sighed.
Shadows everywhere, and not one made sense.
The night seemed to take forever, and Cloud couldn't help but twitch every time that yellow eyes got spotted in the bushes. It took a lot to kill those things, and he really was tired. Unlike some of the others, he was just a regular trooper. And the regulars were all started to get a bit ragged.
Not to mention they had a group of people who had no clue on how to fight.
Every time someone fell, it made his stomach knot a little more.
And now Zack was acting weird.
Well, weird for Zack.
The man had almost fled everyone, hiding away. Now and then, Cloud would see flames explode in the woods, but he wasn't sure if that was Zack and those things fighting, or if someone else had been using a fire materia.
And...Cloud was sure he hadn't imagined the faint flickers of red in Zack's hair. Or that his eyes weren't always purple.
What was going on here?
The sunrise, though, was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Why the hell am I the bad guy here, Seph? Tell me, huh? It’s not like I asked to know what the fuck was going on, and it would have been nice to have been able to sleep during the last few months without waking up freaking out because I’m seeing things that weren’t real.
And I didn’t. Don’t look at me like that, I didn’t. I thought I was finally losing it. There, happy now? Now you know why I didn’t tell you anything, Seph. I was afraid. Afraid that, if it got out, you’d end up not seeing me anymore. That I would just vanish, like all those other people vanished when Hojo found something interesting about them.
Guess what? I’m still freaked out. People don’t -do- things like I’m doing. Everyone is looking at me like I’m just as bad as the shadow things, and it’s frustrating as hell.
You know what. Fine. Fuck it. You got that look in your eye that says you aren’t going to listen to me. I figured if anyone would stand with me, it’d be you. Guess I was wrong about that, too.
I thought you were my friend. Thought you’d stick around me when I needed someone there.
Guess I was wrong. About a lot of thing.
I’m tired, Seph. I’m going to see if I can’t see if I can get a few hours of sleep.
Maybe, this time, I can get it without the voices.
Whatever it was, it was big, it had claws, and it was targeting Zack.
The black haired man was doing his best to keep away from those sharp teeth and claws that oozed blackness, but Sephiroth wasn’t the only one who had tensed when the creature rose up, then crashed down, almost burying Zack from view. With a laugh, the man dodged, fire flaring up in his wake.
It was getting incredibly frustrating, Sephiroth decided. Ever since Zack had walked away from him after that short attempt to actually talk, he had not gotten the chance to confront the man again.
And now this.
His own attention mostly diverted keeping the smaller shadows off people, those with materia equipped doing the same, but, still, he kept an eye on Zack.
Nor was he along in this effort.
So, when Zack vanished under a wave of black, he wasn’t the only one who made a sound of denial.
That…was not allowed. Zack would never let himself be taken down by something so foolish.
Now the man just had to prove it.
For a moment, Cloud’s breath froze in his chest. Beside him, Aeris had gone pale, and Sephiroth had faltered. Just for a moment, but Cloud knew what to look for now.
Zack was gone.
There was something so fundamentally wrong with that phrase that Cloud thought it again, poking at it like a child with a bug. It was just surreal, and he couldn’t quite make it fit with how reality was supposed to work.
Zack wasn’t gone. Any second now, he would pop up, grinning that manic grin and dicing the monster to pieces.
It was nice with faith was rewarded.
The creature popped with a sound that surprised Cloud with the bloodthirsty pleasure it gave him to hear.
That had been a long, long moment, waiting, though.
It was amazing the words the ever so calm General could spit out when he was in the mood to.
Sephiroth was certainly in the mood to.
Watching him stalk towards Zack as the last of the monsters finally died, Aeris felt something in her chest tighten. There was something about Sephiroth that drew Zack, drew in all of the SOLDIERs, and she was always afraid that, one day, it would draw Zack away from her.
The fact she kept seeing Sephiroth with translucent wings in the oddest places didn’t help.
Though Cloud had one as well.
Shaking her head, she watched as Zack grinned up at Sephiroth from where he sat, panting from exertion, looking as cheerful as he always did.
It didn’t take an Ancient to know that he was hiding hurt in his eyes.
Though that hurt seemed to ease as Sephiroth continued to curse Zack out, calling him every name in the book.
She really didn’t get men at times.
Happy? It was knowing everything was going to be okay.
Oh, he wasn’t sure if they were going to be able to keep outrunning these things. He didn’t know what affects the flames and dreams and shadows of a place long gone were having on him besides changes in hair color and a rather sly sense of humor. He didn’t even know if he was even going to survive the next night, or if anyone else was going to.
But he did know that, in his own way, Seph did care, and he already knew how Cloud and Aeris felt about them.
As he sat there, Cloud rolling his eyes at him, Seph muttering about idiot people who didn’t know their own limits, and Aeris fixing up the clawmarks on his arm, Zack did know one thing.
This? This was him happy.
Chapter 2: Dark Side of Gender Switching
When Zack had been ordered to the lab, Sephiroth had not really been worried. They were SOLDIERs, and all SOLDIERs spent far too much of their time in the labs. Hojo seemed to enjoy examining them, always trying out some sort of test to make them better.
Didn’t mean he liked it, though, and he was sure to listen for news from Zack. He doubted much that his friend would come back to the office, but he did expect a phone call when the other had been released to go back to his apartment.
So it was something of a surprise when he hadn’t heard from Zack, at all, when the gossip drifted his way that a SOLDIER had gone nuts in the lab.
It couldn’t have been Zack, no, but now Sephiroth was…curious about why he had not heard from the other. Not worried. Zack was strong enough that Sephiroth didn’t have to worry over him. That was why he let Zack as close as he had.
That thought, though, vanished the moment he stepped into Zack’s apartment. The man had given him a key months ago, but this was the first time he had come in without Zack being right there beside him.
Silence for a moment, then a strange…giggle? came from Zack’s bedroom.
Sephiroth -liked- Zack’s bedroom. Interesting things happened there. Things he liked. So there didn’t need to be any strange sounds coming from it. Sounds that were rather Zack like, if Zack was capable of something that high-pitched.
Moving for the room, wary, just in case, Sephiroth tried again. “Zack?”
Another of the half-giggles, and he frowned. That was Zack, even if the tone was wrong. And the laugh itself. Zack didn’t laugh like that at all. It reminded him of people who had gone wild in Wutai, usually killing allies and enemies alike. Definitely not a Zack laugh.
What had Hojo done to the man?
The word was weak and rough. Zack sounded more than a little panicked as well.
That wasn’t to be allowed. Sephiroth moved, and then, just as quickly, stopped.
Zack was huddled in one corner of the room, curled up in a blanket as he almost hid in the darkness. Still, Sephiroth didn’t need light to see, and he blinked, noticing something…off about Zack.
“Seph, I’m gonna murder Hojo.”
The voice was all wrong, and now that he noticed that, so was the scent. Zack had always smelled a lot like him. Now…there was something different in that. Something about Zack’s features was also strange.
“Hojo hurt you. How.”
That was easy enough to figure out. Zack wasn’t violent to people unless they deserved it.
Letting the blanket slide, Zack looked up at Sephiroth with slightly wild eyes.
Sephiroth stared for a moment.
“Zack, you have breasts.”
Another not fully sane laugh. “Yeah, Seph, I noticed.”
The strain in his…her…Zack’s voice was clear. “How?”
“Hojo. And materia.”
A sharp nod. “I will return,” Sephiroth said, turning and stalking out of the room.
He and Hojo needed to have a talk.
Sitting calmly next on the bed, Sephiroth watched as Zack continued to stalk about the room. He hadn’t meant to, but had long ago tuned out her…his…Zack’s actual words.
He hadn’t meant to, but Zack was ranting. The novelty of the act proved to be a good focus, but he could only listen to the other man go on about how he was going to kill Hojo for a half hour or so. After that, Sephiroth had simply pasted on the “yes, I’m listening, continue” look he used for meetings.
It was a point of how distracted Zack was when the other hadn’t even noticed. Instead, Zack continued to stalk around the room, threatening to tie Hojo’s ears around parts they would never come close to reaching.
Not that Sephiroth could blame the man. Hojo -had- used some sort of experimental material on him, and caused a gender change. Without permission. Of any sort.
From the sound of it, Zack hadn’t been the only one to be exposed. So if his friend wanted to really shove Hojo’s knees down his own throat, then he had better be the first to catch him when Hojo came back to Midgar.
And Sephiroth really did want to listen to the man’s threats. They were starting to get more imaginative, but….
Zack was bouncing. In all sorts of places.
And Sephiroth was pretty sure he had never seen Zack’s hips move like that.
Zack really was nice to look at when he was angry. Even if he was a girl at the moment.
Zack was tired. He was. It had been a long day. Drills, a class he had to help teach, practicing with some of the younger SOLDIERs, lunch in the mess hall, which was its own type of training given the mass of guys mostly in their teens and twenties. Then helping Seph for a while before the call to the labs.
When he caught Hojo, he was going to murder the man.
Not before he got the materia back, though. He -needed- that material back.
Zack was not meant to have boobs. He was sure of it. They already hurt, and his hand did now from slugging Seph hard in the shoulder.
The man had been starting at Zack’s butt.
Not that the idea of Seph staring at his butt bothered Zack. Hells, they had finally just gotten to the point that they were sleeping together, and he encouraged Seph to look at his butt. It was a nice butt.
But, right now, it wasn’t really his butt.
None of this was really his. He was a guy, not some girl person. And it was distracting when he went to move, and his balance was all out of whack, and it didn’t help with those…things on his chest.
Zack liked boobs. He just appreciated them better when they were on girls. Where they belonged.
Flopping down on the bed next to Seph, who eyed him warily, Zack leaned on the man.
“I’m tired,” he said finally.
Strangely, that got the most worried look he had gotten so far from Seph.
He hated this situation.
Closing his eyes, Zack just leaned against Seph. They could plan on how they were going to find Hojo later. And preferably kill him. After Zack got changed back.
Right now, though, he just wanted to rest.
He didn’t like being tired.
It had been over two weeks since Hojo had tossed experimental magic at several SOLDIERs, and Zack was adjusting.
Still didn’t mean he wasn’t going to kill Hojo, but at least he could move without feeling as if he was going to fall over.
Seph was still giving him funny looks at times, though. And that was frustrating.
It wasn’t like Seph was the only one. Now, when he walked down the halls, he was well aware of the double takes and whispers that followed. Most of the time, it was all ‘glad it wasn’t me’ type stuff. But, occasionally, Zack got to hear comments on how pretty he looked.
He didn’t want to look pretty. He was a guy. Just because he looked like a girl now didn’t mean he was one.
One guy had already learned that Zack was not some delicate little flower now. A grope during a spar had ended up with him put through a wall.
Zack liked that he was faster now. Not quite as strong in the upper body, but the ability to kick that hard was worth it. Plus, after that nice little situation, and the fact he had warned everyone else that the same fate awaited anyone else who thought they might be able to get a little grabby.
Though it was a bit irritating. He and Seph had finally started getting the fun parts of a relationship, and now this.
Other than the stare from the first day, Seph hadn’t shown any signs of interest.
Zack was starting to get very frustrated.
Sex was fun. And now he wasn’t getting any.
Fine, time to fix this.
Hunting Seph down was the easiest part of this. Then Zack had hesitated, looking at the man. Seph was working on papers of some type, though Zack knew his schedule was clear for the day really.
After a few minutes of quiet, Seph looked up.
Hells, might as well do it.
Leaning over the desk, Zack snagged the collar of Seph’s coat and dragged him forward for a kiss.
Hmm, not so different on this end, really, though when Seph finally broke free of his surprise and kissed back, Zack realized the man’s hand felt larger on his shoulder.
It was a good kiss, and Zack was happy that he was getting a reaction from Seph at all. Okay, he could work with this.
When Seph finally pulled back, Zack gave him a small grin. “Finally decided to see what this form could do. Plus, I miss sex.” He gave the man a bright grin. “So, want to help me find out?”
The answer, he found, was most definitely yes.
Impatiently, Zack paced around. He should have gone with Seph, but it was still a really embarrassing problem. He didn’t really know anything about being a girl, and after a few months, he had freaked out of the whole bleeding thing. Some of the others who had been changed had also done the same, but Zack was just too happy that he hadn’t been the only one changed.
Selfish, yes, but it was nice having others who understood why he was freaked out.
He was calmer about it now, yes, but…yeah, there were a lot of things about being female he didn’t like or didn’t get, and he would only be too happy when Hojo had been found. The man had dropped off the face of the planet, it seemed, and everyday, Zack thought up of a new torture he was going to inflict on the man.
Right now, though, Seph was off asking his secretary something for Zack.
The last week or so, he had been getting sick every evening. It was starting to worry him, and neither of them really had any idea of what it might be. So, given that was one of the only women Sephiroth trusted, his lover had gone to ask her if it was a girl thing.
Being a girl sucked. Especially the bleeding. The bleeding -really- sucked. In Zack’s mind, every woman should be given some type of reward for not slaughtering every man on the planet for the simple fact that guys didn’t have to go through that.
The door clicked open, and Zack paused, looking at it. When Seph slide in, he paused. The man looked confused.
“So, what did she say?” he asked, really wanting to know so they could stop it.
Seph carefully shut the door, and then looked at Zack. “I’m…not sure if you will care to hear this.”
That didn’t sound good. “That sounds disturbing, Seph. What knew reason do I have to kill Hojo this time?”
A slow fidget. Definitely not good. Seph didn’t fidget unless he was really, really uncomfortable. “Seph, you’re making me worry here.”
Green eyes met his, and Seph gave a helpless gesture. “She says you are pregnant.”
Zack just blinked. “No, really, what was it she said?”
“She says you were pregnant, and that being sick was morning sickness.”
“But I’m not getting sick in the mornings.”
Seph just gave him a look. “I am aware of that. When I told her such, she said that it comes during a set time during the day, not just in the mornings.” He held a bag out to Zack. “Then she made me go buy this. The clerk kept giving me odd looks.”
Taking the back, Zack looked inside, and went pale. “A pregnancy test? But I’m a guy, Seph. I’m not supposed to get pregnant.”
The look the other man gave him made him twitch. “Zack, you have all the parts of a girl. Which has been limiting our options lately.”
Zack growled at him, hand gripping the box tightening a bit. “Fine. I’m going to do this, we’ll see that I’m -not- pregnant, and then we can go ask your secretary what she really thinks it might be.”
Opening the box, he quickly read the directions, then turned and stalked off towards the bathroom. Great, more embarrassing stuff. How did girls stand it? Why had they not killed all men yet?
Not wanting to, but wanting to prove that it just wasn’t possible, Zack followed the directions of the test, then, growling, stalked back out to Seph. “Now we have to wait.”
It was not the most comfortable silence as they waited, and then the thing started to show markings. Picking it up, Zack looked at it, and then glared at Seph. “Two lines. Negative, right?”
Collecting the instructions, Sephiroth looked at them, then slowly looked at Zack. He shook his head. “According to this, two lines mean positive. Or….” He looked at the paper again, reading from it. “Congratulations, you are expecting your own bundle of joy.” He looked at Zack again, and Zack saw the confusion on his face. “Why are children considered bundles of joy?”
A very Seph question. Unfortunately, he was going to have to wait a moment, Zack thought fuzzily as everything went grey. Seemed like he was going to pass out now.
He felt Seph grab him even as everything faded away.
Head aching, Zack slowly blinked open his eyes. What had he been doing last night? He didn’t think he had gone out drinking at all. When he realized how bright it was around him, he shut his eyes again with a groan, hand coming up to press against the aching spot.
“You hit your head when you passed out.”
Oh, and there was Seph. Now why would Zack pass out? It wasn’t as if….
Eyes opening again, Zack blinked up at Seph, who was looking at him slightly concerned. “Tell me I just had the strangest dream.”
“You just had the strangest dream,” Seph said obediently, and moved to press his fingers against the sore spot on Zack’s skull. “I used a cure on you, and you bled on my carpet.” A pause. “And you are pregnant.”
“No, no, that was part of the dream. How can I deny stuff like that if you remind me of it?” Zack scowled faintly at Seph. “And sorry about your carpet.”
“Are you all right?”
Zack laughed. “No, Seph, I’m really not. I’m a girl who apparently is more functional than I thought.” He was starting to panic, too, breathing speeding up as he struggled to not hyper ventilate. Then he registered something.
“You’re gonna be a dad, Seph.”
Seph nodded, but something in that blank expression told Zack that his friend wasn’t quite registering what the words meant. “A you kid, Seph. You helped make…this….” A vague gesture at his stomach. Oh, he was going to be sick.
And, look, still no real comprehension on Seph’s face. Fine then.
“A you kid, Seph. With -Hojo- around.”
Ah, there we go. A horrified realization suddenly dawned on Seph’s face.
“He can’t have you.”
Okay, maybe not what Zack was going for, but a step in the right direction. “He’s not going to get me, Seph. But we need to make sure of that.” He gave a bitter laugh. “Hell, for all we know, this was his plan since the beginning. Me and the others have been talking, and the only things we really have in common is we’re all SOLDIERs, and we all have partners who are SOLDIERs.”
“He can’t -have- you.”
The tone of fierce possessive protection in Seph’s voice actually did help Zack calm down a bit.
Well, enough that, when the regular burst of being sick hit, he didn’t break down into tears.
Stupid girl body.
It had been hard to adjust to the new body, and the hardest time of all was when he was trying to sleep. Given all his new agitations, it wasn’t surprising that Zack found it difficult over the last few days to get some kind of rest.
So when he finally got himself to drop off, the sudden shake was not expected.
Making a low, grumbling sound, he ignored Seph’s second shake to figure out what time it was. Early. Far too early in the morning to be up.
Batting a bit at the man’s hand, he rolled over, and blinked sleepy eyes at Seph. “What’s wrong?”
Look, that was almost concerned. He loved Seph dearly, but, really, the man should know by now not to mess with Zack’s sleep.
“I can’t be a parent.”
Blinking at the man, Zack tried to run that through his brain again. What? “Huh?”
Seph looked almost panicked. “I can’t be a parent. I'm not able.”
Okay, Seph totally could not mean that like he sounded like he meant it. “What do you mean, Seph?”
The man looked at him with wide eyes. “I don’t know how.”
See? There. Much better.
Zack still punched him hard in the arm. “You are not allowed to wander off on my over this, Seph. I don’t know, either. I don’t care if you have the ideas of a chocobo when it comes to parenting. If I’m really…you know, then you are staying here and helping me. Got it?”
He -reeeeally- wasn’t his best when he just got woken up. But the snarl had Seph nodding, so Zack could go with it. “Now go back to sleep, Seph. I love you, but we will talk in the morning. Or I’m going to murder you. Okay?”
Another wide eyed nod, and Zack shifted to use Seph’s chest for a pillow. Mmm, nice comfy muscles to lay on. And he was warm.
Seph was an excellent pillow.
He didn’t like this.
Zack was too exposed like this, too easy to take if needed.
Sephiroth had been there when Zack had been relearning his balance when this had first happened. It hadn’t taken long. Zack had always been talented in situations like this. But apparently the difference between male and female balance and the ways the body would move had been enough that Zack had almost pitched himself down stairs a few times.
And now, after doing some reading, he knew that being pregnant threw female bodies even more off balance.
This worrying about someone thing was new, and he wasn’t sure he cared for it.
He didn’t let Zack know, though. The man would be irritated that Sephiroth was so worried about him, especially as it had something to do with his current form.
Still, even if Zack didn’t want to realize it, Sephiroth made it a point to learn what he could.
Hojo would not make this easy for them.
When the time came, Sephiroth would be ready to defend what was his.
Waking up alone didn’t happen so often anymore. Confused, hand moving over the cooling sheets next to him, Sephiroth tried to put together what was going on. And where Zack had gone.
It only took a few moments to pick the man out, standing next to the window, looking out it quietly, arms curled around himself.
Was still odd to see the new form that Zack was in, no matter that it had been months since he had been changed. Still no sign of Hojo, either.
Sephiroth hoped they found the man soon. Zack seemed to be getting more and more quiet the longer this went on, and Sephiroth didn’t like it. Zack was many things, but quiet wasn’t normally one of them.
Silent, Zack just looked out the window, huddled in on himself some, the ever-present Midgar glow bleaching out his skin. He looked tired, and Sephiroth dearly wanted to collect the man and bring him back to bed. But if Zack had gotten up, didn’t that mean he didn’t want to be in bed?
Still, he couldn’t leave Zack just standing there. It just seemed wrong.
Rising himself, he moved to the other and just hugged him, wrapping the blanket around them both. Hugging he had learned from Zack, and the quiet sigh and the way his friend leaned back on him told Sephiroth he had done the right thing.
And so he stood there, letting Zack lean on him for as long as the other needed.
Turnabout was only fair play, after all.
Leaning against Seph, Zack realized that he had a choice.
He could continue to let this wear at him, tearing him up a little at a time, let it upset Seph and worry the people who cared about him.
Or, he could simply let go and accept it.
He was a guy. Yes. But, for the moment, he was very, very much female. He didn’t know if he -could- be turned back. Especially after doing something like this, which was very much a change to this form.
But…he did know that this was happening, and that this was something that, hopefully, wouldn’t ever be repeated.
He could choose to let this break him.
Or he could be happy.
Leaning against Seph, feeling the other man warm against his back, arms tight around him, there was really no choice at all.
It had been a long day. Still trying to do everything that he had been up to -before- the incident with Hojo, Zack discovered that having to deal with over concerned and well meaning co-workers had him ready to tear someone’s head off.
No, he didn’t need to sit down. No, he wasn’t hungry. Okay, well, maybe he was, but no worse than he had been before this happened. No, if they didn’t want to spar, he’d find someone else. And they had better not hold back.
Part of it, he knew, was they were more afraid of Seph than anything if they managed to damage him while treating him like normal.
Today had been even longer than most. Zack wasn’t the only one who had ended up in this situation, and one of the others had decided that he wasn’t going to do this. So, after doing some research, Lammer had asked Zack to go with him. Moral support. That, and, really, who else would -get- why he was doing this? Zack was the first of them to have found out what was wrong, and he was also the one who had gone to talk to each of the other SOLDIERs.
Zack had been the only First Class who had gotten changed, and he had taken it on himself to help the others as best he could. Even if it was holding someone’s hand while they had a child they never expected removed.
It was a good solution, really. Zack half considered taking that route himself. Hadn’t ever really researched it before, but he had been sleeping with Seph, and both of them were male. Not too big a chance of either of them getting pregnant.
It was a good option, and Zack contemplating talking to Seph about it as he leaned against the elevator wall, heading up after dropping Lammer off with his boyfriend. Both of them had agreed it was good, and Jacs would watch the other man carefully.
Tired as he pushed off the wall when the car finally reached his room, Zack headed for the door. He thought he might suggest it to Seph, just to see how the man reacted. He wasn’t sure what he thought about it, but maybe talking about it would help.
Letting himself in, Zack paused, blinking at the sight before him.
There was Seph, sitting on the couch, focused on a book. Zack couldn’t see what that particular one was, but given the trend of books around Seph, he could guess.
Looking at the various books on what people should expect during pregnancy, Zack paused.
Seph was researching. On what to expect with a child.
Seph, who hadn’t had a normal childhood himself, was working to make sure he could give his child a better one.
The idea of getting rid of the baby evaporated just like that.
Smiling to himself, Zack moved and kissed the top of Seph’s head, settling down next to his lover as the man continued to read.
They didn’t have a normal relationship. Even if he had been raised in a more normal situation when he was younger, Sephiroth doubted that he and Zack would have been anything that could potentially be considered normal then, either.
They were simply who they were. Sometimes, they still received odd looks, as if they simply couldn’t understand how Zack put up with Sephiroth, or Sephiroth with Zack.
That was fine. He could ignore them, and, honestly, Sephiroth was not sure how they had come into this relationship, either. It hadn’t been fast, but, one day he had despised the man, the next, he would have killed anyone who had harmed Zack.
From there, it had been quick for Zack to go from someone Sephiroth called friend to someone he was bedding.
A month later, Hojo had hurt the man in a way none of them got yet. When Sephiroth caught Hojo, he was going to enjoy making the scientist tell him.
They were not a traditional couple, but Sephiroth did know what Zack enjoyed.
“I have a free hour,” he said to the dark haired man, who still didn’t show any sign that he was carrying a child. “Would you care to spar?”
Zack smiled brightly at him.
He would not treat Zack any different for this. It wasn’t much, but it was the only way he could show that he understood without really understanding.
An odd love letter, true, but one none the less.
Months and months of being fat, hormonal, and Seph.
Glaring down at his stomach, Zack grumbled to himself. Wasn’t even showing yet, and his balance was already fucked. Again.
And it wasn’t as if he didn’t have issues with a female body anyway. It was full of confusing signals and things he didn’t want to think about. To make it even more hormonal seemed insane. How had mankind survived so long?
Plus, he swore, if Seph mentioned one more thing about the “joy” of motherhood, Zack was going to forcefeed him one of those books. A page at a time.
Months of this to look forward too.
He was going to gut Hojo like a fish. Then strangle him with said guts.
Then he was really going to start on the man.
Some days, they got slightly snarly at each other. No worse than before, but they also were sharing the same bed.
Zack’s quarters had been given to a new SOLDIER, and Sephiroth was just as pleased to have his lover staying in the same rooms as him, not that Zack had spent all that much time in his rooms to start with.
Most of the time, though, they never went to bed mad. Zack wouldn’t let them, even if Sephiroth was inclined to do so during the worse of the fights.
It was nice that Zack did that, though, because otherwise, Sephiroth couldn’t enjoy moments like this. Quiet, Zack asleep beside him, just enough light in the room for Sephiroth to see him. Fingers light, he brushed them over the curve that was quickly starting to form.
Resting his hand on Zack’s stomach, Sephiroth resettled against Zack’s back, pressing a kiss against his shoulder before shutting his eyes to sleep for another half hour or so.
Zack sighed, and ran through the kata again.
He wasn’t carrying his Buster. No, much to his disgust, that was just too bulky a weapon at the moment. He was going to be -worthless- when he went back to being a boy. Or even after he had this kid. Going to have to relearn his balance, the muscles that were needed to heft something like his sword. He liked that sword, it had been a present….
At the moment, he was using one of the smaller practice blades, much like he had when he first hit SOLDIER. Lighter, thinner, he could run through his normal routine without having to worry about knocking himself over. And as he got rounder, that became a more valid concern.
Then he dropped the blade.
Instantly, he had about five other SOLDIERs surrounding him, looking at him with worried eyes, all of them wanting to make sure he was okay.
How he had become the mascot and personal worry for everyone in SOLDIER, Zack didn’t know. He’d growl about it later. At the moment, he was focused on something else.
Though he must have been more distracted than he had thought, attention focused inward, hands resting on his stomach. Because Seph was suddenly there, worry clear in his eyes. Zack didn’t say anything, just grabbed Seph’s hand and set it on his belly.
“Your kid, all right,” he said dryly. “Trying to kick out my liver.”
The look on Sephiroth’s face when he felt the baby kick against his hand was worth every night of insomnia that Zack had had since this started.
She was trying so hard to intimidate him. Hojo ignored the woman and continued to unpack the bag he had brought to Sephiroth’s rooms.
He knew the boy wasn’t in residence, trapped in some meeting with Shinra. Which was exactly why he had chosen now to examine the best case scenario of his project.
It was well known that Sephiroth had been sleeping with his SiC, and while Hojo had disapproved, he was also well aware of how Sephiroth would take that disapproval. So he had simply looked for a way to turn the situation to his advantage.
That materia had been a wonderful discovery.
Now, the woman was close to…seven months, if he calculated correctly. Well past time for him to do a checkup.
“Stop your foolishness and strip. I have quite a few tests that should have been run months ago.”
The sudden pain in his shoulder made him pay attention to her again.
“I am not your well trained lap pet, Hojo.”
The growl and look in her eye, well, that did help him ignore the fact she was ill-balanced and fairly round.
“Only the fact you still have the materia kept this,” a gesture of the dagger in her hands, “from being in your throat.”
Then the door slammed open, and Sephiroth was there, and Hojo couldn’t help but admire how well he had put the boy together, even when that perfect anger was focused on him.
He glanced back at the woman, who smirked and held up a phone, panic button pressed on it.
“We will do this sooner or later. I had been trying to make you comfortable.” He put his things away, unhurried, under the gaze of two angry sets of eyes. “I’ll see you in the lab soon enough.”
And he would.
After all, Shinra was his.
Holding Zack as the other slept against him, Sephiroth’s thoughts were dark as he thought about the situation that had happened earlier. It had taken longer than he had expected for Hojo to make his move, and the fact he had let his guard down disturbed him. Thankfully, Zack was still Zack, and had been able to deal with the scientist long enough for Sephiroth to get there.
If Zack was still in his male form, or even early in the pregnancy in his female, he had no doubt in the other’s ability to deal with Hojo. But with his balance issues, and the fact that Zack couldn’t move nearly as easily as he had once been able to, it was a much more dangerous prospect. Especially if Hojo came back with reinforcements.
And then, there was later. Eventually, in theory, the child in Zack’s stomach would actually be born. It would be outside of Zack, and a much easier target for Hojo than a trained and lethal SOLDIER.
He would have to do something about this. And do it in a way where he could look for and find the materia of Hojo’s later.
Then things would be safe. For all of them.
Of all the things that could go wrong in this situation, Sephiroth knew that most of them could end up with him strapped to a lab table. Permanently.
And if that happened, it wouldn’t be long before Zack was the same, though Sephiroth was sure that he would never see the man again if that situation occurred.
When he had left their rooms, Zack had just given him a look of understanding, then went to the bedroom, still wearing his blade on his hip.
Poisons were not Sephiroth’s preferred way of killing. The honestly of at least stabbing a man seemed cleaner to him, at least mentally.
Still, he was a lab child, and he had learned early on what was and wasn’t lethal. He knew Hojo’s habits, and he knew the man would never expect this route.
It was not hard to find the mug he was looking for, or the chemicals.
Nobody would look too hard into Hojo’s death. The man had too many enemies.
Sephiroth’s family would be safe.
Seph was up to something.
Zack had had plenty of time to learn to read the man by now, and he was sure the man was up to something interesting. Probably not healthy for someone, but interesting none the less.
Leaning on the wall of their bedroom, watching the sunset outside, he rested a hand on his belly, feeling the baby there move.
The sunsets in Midgar were always interesting, light gleaming through the haze left by the sheer amount of Mako used there, plus the filth that always gathered when a large number of people lived together.
Maybe, if he asked nice, Seph would consider moving. There were lots of places that could use a SOLDIER year round.
Ha, it was a nice pipe dream. Still, standing there, looking at nothing in particular, Zack had to do something, or else he was going to go stab something in frustration at this feeling of waiting.
He had never been the most patient of people, but this whole pregnancy thing had made him even more short tempered. Something else he could blame on Seph for no other reason than it was fun. And got him footrubs.
Seph was up to something, and until the man came back, Zack was going to sit here and paint amusing pictures in his mind as he waited for the sun to set.
When the door opened, Zack didn’t say anything. Instead, he just went out, ignoring the fact that he was waddling, and just went to hug his lover.
Sephiroth seemed just as happy to keep the silence, arms tight around Zack, nose pressed against his temple, focusing on the feel of the other in his arms.
Even with the strange body shapes and eerie silence, it was a good feeling, this hug, for both of them. Something safe, familiar.
Life was about change, yes, but, this, this moment right here felt like it was balanced on an edge.
Just like the rest of their lives.
It was a familiar, and comfortable, feeling.
Chapter 3: Suits of Blue
It had been a very odd last few weeks. Sephiroth was honestly starting to wonder if he was starting to hallucinate, though he did not share that idea. Last thing he wanted was to give Hojo and excuse to drag him back into the labs.
But he was sure he was seeing his Second in more than one place at a time. For instance, when he had just left the man in the office, he would go down, and see him getting into an elevator. Or pulling into the garage after speaking with the man on his phone, and seeing him driving off on a motorcycle.
There were things that seemed off about him, but Sephiroth could never get close enough to find out what was going on.
Silently shifting the puzzle around in his brain, Sephiroth walked into his office.
And then he paused.
After a moment, he looked at the man in the SOLDIER uniform. “Aaron, what is that?” he asked, pointing at the other person in the room, and sounding displeased.
Aaron smiled, violet eyes glowing with more than mako. “I -knew- you never listened when I talked about my family, Seph. “
Sephiroth arched a brow at him. The SOLDIER laughed.
“This is my baby brother, Seph. His name is Zack.”
The man, dressed in Turk blues, pulled down his glasses a bit, and grinned. “Baby by five minutes, anyway. I’ve seen you around, General, but this is the first time I’ve actually gotten to say hello.”
Looking at the man, Sephiroth realized what the pair had been doing. “Aaron….” His tone was a growl.
“Actually, I was curious if I might borrow my twin here for an assignment,” Zack cut in smoothly, grinning a bit more. “And I told him you’d figure it out fast enough.”
The fact that his friend had been playing switch around on him made Seph glower at the man. He didn’t like being fooled like that.
Zack held up his hands. “Sorry. Zack Fair, Turk, as you no doubt have guessed. If you ever wonder which of us you see, look at the hair.”
So Sephiroth did just that. While Aaron’s was shorter, his and Zack’s had the same issue with it standing on end. While most of Zack’s was gathered into a tail of sorts, enough still escaped to make the distinctive shape. And that was what had fooled Sephiroth for so long.
“Take him. Try to return him in one piece. He’s got paperwork to do.”
Sephiroth watched, pleased, as Aaron grimaced.
Show him to have family and to use them against him.
He didn’t tend to stick around at these events too much. Too full of young people who didn’t seem to respect him. Or who thought they could take him for a fool.
Sometimes, though, these events did bring such interesting party favors.
For instance, the set of twins in the corner. Lovely little things they were, just at the right age to catch his attention. From the way they were dressed, he would have to guess that they were society brats out slumming.
And they were aware of the fact that they were pretty. Both of them slender and dark haired, brothers. Ones who got along well, he wondered just how well they played together. And he was sure they played together. The way they touched screamed that they were far closer than most brothers, but given they looked like twins, it was too be expected.
The one had the eyes and faint twitch of a Glow addict, and from the tiny jerks, he was coasting down off his last hit. Hmm, maybe he might be able to help the poor boy out. Maybe find out if that mouth was as fuckable as it looked.
The other one was whispering something into his brother’s ear, hand petting his belly in a soothing motion. Obviously trying to keep him from doing anything dumb, but he still made his way towards them. He hadn’t been imagining those bedroom eyes focusing on him, he was sure of it.
It was something of a blur on how he had gotten into one of the back rooms with them, hot mouth on his, leg between his own as one of the twins rubbed against his thigh. A blur, but a nice one. Seems that the Glow addict was harder up for his hit than he had expected.
Right now, the Glow kid was sitting on the bed, watching them hungrily, packet of the drug almost forgotten in his fingers. Nice to know that he could still keep a couple of kids focused. It was a nice feeling.
The one against him pulled away from the kiss, breath hot on his face, and fingers pressed a pill against his lips. “Come on,” the boy purred, a second pill already melting on his tongue. “It’ll make it last that much longer. Wouldn’t want to disappoint my brother, right?”
He shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t. Didn’t like touching the stuff he sold.
Then the leg pressed up, rubbing against him as the one he had pinned against the wall rocked against him again. Growling faintly, turned on and wanting to see just how that lean body felt without the clothes on, he let the boy press the pill into his mouth.
Seconds later, he was on the ground, arching as pain racked his body.
The boy he had been holding was standing there, the all the reckless abandon gone, wiping his mouth with his arm. “Fat lot of help you are, brother dear.”
The other boy, cheerfully grinning as he sat on the bed, packet of Glow being twirled lazily between his fingers. “Hey, I got what I came for. They can test this and see where it’s coming from and find the source that way. You’re the Turk.”
The thought was driven from his mind as he thrashed again in pain, and the Turk crouched next to him. “Lazy SOLDIER,” he said to the other first, then looked down at him. “Hey there. Look, sorry about this, but you made a mistake trying to blackmail Rufus. He doesn’t like things like that, especially when the person doing it is a Glow-pusher. It’ll just hurt a bit longer, then it won’t hurt anymore. Okay?”
No, not okay.
But he couldn’t get the words out, only a low, gurgling sound.
“I’ll wait here until you sleep, all right? Even if you did this to yourself, nobody should die alone.”
And so the Turk sat there, purple eyes sad as everything finally went black.
“Uncle Zack! Lookit what we found!”
Grinning, Zack crouched down, looking at what his oldest nieces had to show him. Visiting Gongaga was always fun, especially when he got to Kaniya and Lalani. They were getting big, and it was always fun to visit them.
Though Aaron was the one who had to deal with their mother, who was very -not- happy to hear about the fact that her daughters had some half-siblings. Not that she and Aaron were together anymore. Hadn’t been since just after she had had the twins. She had decided she didn’t want a military man, and found someone who was staying in Gongaga.
Aaron did love his kids, though, and Zack was just as fond of them. He sometimes wondered how many other nephews and nieces he might have running around in Wutai, but didn’t go looking. Instead, he enjoyed the time with the ones in Midgar and in Gongaga.
Zack was very glad he had a preference for boys. He loved his brother’s kids, but he didn’t want any himself right now. And watching Aaron have to deal with all the responsibility made for very good teasing material.
So, right now, aware that his brother and these girl’s mom was talking about if there needed to be more money sent from Midgar for care and such, he got to look at the butterfly crawling out of it’s cocoon with two very adorable girls.
It was a basic fact of nature. Like would call to like. Gongaga had been the home of some of the last Cetra alive, before Shin-Ra had found the one guarding Jenova. Zack had heard all the stories about the Cetra, though the last of the full-blooded ones had died a few generations back in his home town. Still, a few thousand years of interbreeding with humans had left its mark on the population.
So he could empathize some with the girl that the Turk’s watched, really. He had always been careful, and now that he was actually a Turk, he could relax some. Tseng was protective of those under his command, and he wouldn’t let Hojo make off with one of his people without a fight. And if he was losing that fight, he would make sure that Zack and Aaron knew so they could run for it.
It had been a risk coming here, but they had their eyes on lives that could only be obtained through Shin-Ra.
Still, the girl that his brother had dragged him down to meet was not the most expected of people.
“Hello, Aeris,” he said dryly, making a mental note to kick Aaron’s ass when he got a chance.
“Hello,” she said back. “It’s nice to finally meet one of my stalkers. Aaron’s told me a lot about you.”
The tone of her voice made him sigh, then grin at her.
He liked her. She had snark.
Still was going to kick his brother’s ass.
All the Turks seemed to find their way into specializations. It wasn’t anything intentional. Tseng was just very good at seeing where the talents of his people were and put them to use. Rude was an absolute genius at building bombs, Reno could torture with the best of them.
Zack found himself used most on undercover and interrogation.
It helped that he did have access to his brother, and SOLDIERs were amazingly useful when it came to going into a tricky situation. And that they were both excellent actors, if Zack said so himself. Though he did have to tease and ask Tseng what the man was going to do when Zack’s jail-bait days were over.
His real talents, though, were not ones that Tseng shared.
Zack didn’t interrogate anyone who was going to survive. He didn’t like it, but it was true.
Tseng, as well as Zack himself, didn’t want anyone to know that Zack could reach in and pull the information right out of someone’s minds. Not prettily, either. Well, not on their side. He just didn’t have enough Cetra in him to keep that from being painful.
For him, though, when he pulled their thoughts and secrets into his brain, they danced behind his eyes like fireflies. Little sparks of knowledge and information that he filtered through and found what was useful.
Sometimes, he got more than he wanted, and he would always feel sick afterwards.
But this was his job, and he was good at what he did.
Playing bodyguard was probably the best part of the job. Sometimes boring, sometimes not, it was one of those spots you either loved or hated.
The best part when you played bodyguard was you got a spot at all the nice parties.
Zack liked that. It was fun, and he got to see his brother a lot, who was invited as Seph’s SiC. The two of them could trade looks and have their own non-verbal conversations while the people around them droned on and on.
The drinks were nice, too.
And, once, Zack even got to punch someone out.
Fun times for everyone.
Funny, Zack thought a bit dazed, he thought spikes like that only came from Gongaga. But he was damn sure that he’d remember that color of hair. Especially when it went with those blue eyes.
“Hey,” he wheezed, picking himself up off the floor with the help of the boy. Who knew someone who looked so little could hit so -hard-?
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, but I was having to….”
The boy’s words were cut off when Zack put his hand over it. Bringing out his best smile, he grinned at him. “Hey, I’m Zack, and no hard done. Takes a lot more than a body slam to take a Turk out.”
Those blue eyes were huge. Hmmm, Zack was going to have to bring out the big guns for this one.
Smiling, he started to flirt as if his life depended on it.
Or maybe it was just he liked pretty pale haired people.
Humming to himself, Zack bouncing into Sephiroth’s office with a nod to Aaron. His brother rolled his eyes, but didn’t stop Zack. Which was good, because Zack really didn’t want to start a prank war at the moment. Though dumping ice water on Aaron’s head wasn’t really a prank. Just a brother thing to do.
“Heya, Seph,” he said cheerfully, ignoring the paperwork on the man’s desk. “How’s it going?”
Green eyes were narrowed as Seph was obviously not ignoring the paperwork. However, that did mean he was ignoring Zack. Which was no fun at all. “Seriously considering taking your brother’s suggestion on burning these things.”
Zack grimaced a bit. “Well, I can’t really help you with the paperwork, but I bring you a present.” He tossed the disc on Seph’s desk.
Picking it up, the silver haired man turned it over, looking for marks. Finally, he looked up at Zack, confusion clear in his expression. “Information?”
“Music. I heard it the other day while out with Spike, and thought you might like it.”
“You bought me…a cd of music?”
It was a confused voice, and Zack just gave him a smile. “You’ll like it. Just give it a listen and let me know what you think.”
He slid out before Seph could ask anymore questions.
Yeah, courting Seph was going to be a sloooow process.
It had been something of a surprise. Seph had given him a call, inviting him over, and Zack had been pleased. It had been months of hard work to convince the man that it was okay to ask for Zack to come to him for the sole purpose of spending time together. Now that he was pretty sure Seph had the concept of friendship down, maybe they could work up to more.
Using the key he had been given, Zack had frozen.
Or maybe he wouldn’t have to do that at all.
For a long, bizarre moment, he wondered if this was something unwilling, but given the way Cloud moved closer to Seph, though Zack wasn’t sure how he had managed that act, it was completely consensual.
And something they had been enjoying, given the way their lips looked.
“I…. Sorry. Let you get back to what you were doing.”
He thought he heard something as he hastily shut the door behind him, but he ignored it. Probably them saying something about his random appearance. Even if Seph had invited him. Just as well he took his leave. Who wanted a third wheel there when you were involved in something else, hmm?
Hitting the stairs, which were faster than waiting for the elevator, Zack took a deep breath. They were both friends, and while he had his hopes, well, he couldn’t really blame either of them. After all, just look at Seph and Cloud. It would be good for both of them and he….
Really needed to talk to his brother.
Family was a treasure. They were the one thing someone should always be able to depend on, to go to.
Family should…not want to strangle you.
Aaron wasn’t sure who he wanted to kick, but at the moment, Zack was his only target. He had felt it when Zack had taken the emotional equivalent of a kick in the gut, and had things ready when the man popped up, looking like he really had taken a kick to the gut.
And now he was moping.
Not that Aaron really blamed him. He had seen how his twin had looked at Seph, and at that little blond kid, Cloud. He figured it would be good if his brother got a steady lover, as Zack always did do better when he had someone to watch over.
For both of his prospective interests to go to each other like that, it must have hurt.
Which was why they were sitting here, watching really, really horrible movies, making fun of them and eating horribly unhealthy snacks. Aeris would smack him upside the head for what he was eating, and at the moment, it was really just him making the jokes. Zack was trying, but he was hurting.
After a bit, Aaron just shifted to lean against Zack’s shoulder, feeling the other lean back.
Zack wouldn’t cry, but the shakes he was having was the closest he would let himself have to it.
Okay, so he didn’t want to strangle his brother.
But Seph had better have a -damn- good explanation, or else his office was going to turn into a no-go zone really fast.
Tired and just back from a mission from hell, Zack dragged himself into his apartment. He had brushed off an invite to Aaron’s, because he knew his brother had plans with Aeris already. No reason for his bad excuse for a love life to smear off on his twin.
It took two steps before he realized there was something wrong, and that more than anything told Zack just how out of it he was. Even as he went for a weapon, a hand wrapped tight around his wrist, and his other arm was trapped by a pin.
“You are incredibly hard to track down,” came a dry voice. It was familiar, but that didn’t make him relax.
“Hey, Seph. What do you expect? I’m a Turk. If we were easy to track down, we’d be dead.” He tried for a cheerful voice, though he was pretty sure he was failing. “What are you and Cloud doing here?”
“We’ve been trying to talk to you,” Cloud said from where he had his arms wrapped around Zack, pinning his own arm. “You are just being stubborn over it.”
He shrugged, as best he could at the moment. “I figured you and Seph would want your alone time.”
Cloud growled, and looked at Seph. “Told you he’d be dumb over it,” he said to the older man.
“So you did,” was the response. After a moment, during which Zack and Seph just looked at each other, Seph dipped down and kissed the slightly smaller man.
That got a muffled yelp, and Zack almost jerked away.
After a few moments, when he could breathe again, he was a bit stunned to hear Cloud speaking again. “Idiot. We didn’t want to be alone. We wanted you there, too. Just had to run before we could say anything though. Idiot.”
Well, that made things much easier, didn’t it?
It hit him like a train, and Zack remembered everything sliding sideways, including the startled looks of Reno and Rude as he fell.
After what seemed like forever, he dragged himself out of the pit of darkness, head aching, and something feeling very, very wrong.
The feeling didn’t go away when he saw Tseng sitting next to him.
“What happened?” he asked, voice slurred.
“There was a…situation, in Nibelheim. The entire team is gone.”
That had the bitter, bitter taste of a lie. “No.”
Tseng shifted and sighed. “Zack, Hojo has Aaron’s body.”
“No,” Zack snarled. Aaron wasn’t dead, because he would feel it if Aaron was dead. And he wasn’t.
Whatever had hit him, it wasn’t Aaron dying, it was something else.
And he wasn’t about to sit back and let Hojo do who knew what to his twin.
It had taken a while for Zack to get back up, and Tseng had helped by keeping him hidden, dummying up reports of him being on a mission when asked.
It didn’t matter how much he did, though. Zack was not going to stay.
“Zack, please. You won’t do him any good like this. We can keep you safe. Hojo would never touch a Turk.”
Tseng felt silent when Zack looked at him. It had been a long time since he had seen eyes like that. “Tseng, it’s not just Aaron. They aren’t dead. I know it.”
So the rumors were true, it seemed. Fair had been getting a little more cozy with Strife and the General than he had let on.
“You are going to go with permission or without, aren’t you?” he asked finally.
The nod was no surprise.
“I suggest you take Aeris as well. She’s in danger from Hojo, and….”
“She and Aaron are engaged.”
Not surprising news. Not welcomed, but not surprising.
“You should go soon, then. Hojo is distracted in Nibelheim at the moment, but who knows how long that will last. He is good at breaking his toys.”
A growl, and he stood, leaving the room.
Fair would do what he had to do.
And so would Tseng.
Having Aeris along helped. A lot.
It was good to have the confirmation that he wasn’t hallucinating, that at least Aaron was still alive. Zack was well aware he’d be in even worse shape if his twin was dead, but Aeris was good at reminding him that his brother was alive.
She was smart, and a clever little con-artist when she wanted to be. When they needed it, she could sweet talk anyone into doing what she wanted. Of course, that included him. But that was okay.
They were going to save the others.
He just wished he was as positive about Seph and Cloud as he was about Aaron.
She watches him cut through the guards with ease.
Shin-Ra did a bad thing when they did this, more to Zack than to her. She could tell Aaron was still alive, and there was some comfort to that. Zack, though, while he could feel his twin, and that helped him a lot, he couldn’t feel either of his lovers, who had gone on this trip as well.
She hoped for all their sakes that at least one was still alive.
The planet was humming uneasily, and growing more so the closer they got to Nibelheim.
And now Shin-Ra troops tried to stop them.
Foolish, but it didn’t mean she enjoyed watching them die.
Zack, though, relished it.
He was the opposite of her in so many ways.
Their goal was the same, though.
Get their people from Nibelhiem and run.