|天の龍 ~ 「俺の運が変われると思う…」 (kiraya) wrote in drops_n_ripples,|
@ 2011-08-31 11:19:00
|Entry tags:||butterfly effect|
Butterfly Effect: Chapter 46
Authors: Bard Linn and Kiraya
Pairings: Zack x Sephiroth, assorted past pairings
Rating (Overall): PG-13
Summary: “I guess that means you and I gotta fight.”
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII and all associated characters and symbols are the exclusive property of Square Enix and its associates. We’re just borrowing them for a while.
Barret had never pictured himself here.
Bad enough to have lost to ShinRa, but to work for them? Unthinkable. He hated it, hated having lost to that slimy bastard Rufus Shinra, hated that he’d gone soft and allowed ShinRa to use him. He shouldn’t be here, working for the enemy. He should be out fighting to get revenge for everything that had happened at Corel.
“I’m off to school, Daddy! I’ll see you later — I have choir today, so I’ll be back right before dinner.” Marlene left with a smile, skipping out the door of their shared quarters in the ShinRa Tower. He had never seen his adopted daughter so happy. Marlene had grown comfortable with their new situation in the last two and a half years, ever since they had been allowed to live together again. Yes, they were smack dab in the middle of ShinRa territory. Yes, there was a trooper who walked her to school, and kept an eye on her movements. Yes, her father had to work for a company that had nearly destroyed the planet. But she seemed happy and content. She wasn’t worrying anymore.
Barret had to wonder if she hadn’t known more about what he’d been doing with AVALANCHE than he’d wanted to admit.
He had tried to come up with plans for escape, but never managed anything that would actually work in the long term. He wished he could talk to Jessie about it; she had always been better at that sort of intricate planning… but she was happy as a clam. Long an advocate for environmentalism, her work on the MMG Project suited her perfectly. It had taken Barrett longer than he liked to admit before he realized that his primary goal in targeting ShinRa had very little to do with hippy green planet-friendly stuff and everything to do with settling an old score.
Glancing at the clock, he left their quarters himself. He had a meeting to attend today, an annual report about the MMG Project’s progress. Personally, he didn’t understand half of what was said. In fact, he often felt like he was only there to keep busy — or to see for himself the company was making progress toward their supposed goal. He snorted. ShinRa’s goal was to make money — nothing would ever convince him otherwise. Barret swiped his keycard and entered the science wing, running into the current head of the department before he was ten steps in the door.
“Wallace, check the staircase, please.” Dr. Matheson nodded towards the far side of the lab. Barret grunted in response and exited, moving towards the door that blocked the seldom-used staircase. Matheson liked to have it checked at least once a day, to make sure no one was using it to sneak things out of the department. Barret had found himself in the odd position of one that Matheson trusted, more than some of his own underlings, even though he was assigned to Reeve Tuesti.
And damned if he didn’t find himself liking both men. Matheson could get downright mystifying when he went off on one of his rambles about this processor or that cell-something or other, but he seemed really dedicated to getting things done right. And Tuesti was even better. He liked to stop down, make sure Barret and Marlene didn’t need anything… and slip Marlene treats while Barret pretended not to watch.
Barrett undid the security lock cover and slid in the connecting cable on the device. A few seconds later it lit up green — the door hadn’t been opened since it was last checked. Barret typed in the code anyway, heaving the door aside. It certainly wasn’t easy to move, as it was just as important to keep creatures in as it was to keep others out.
He had expected to seen an empty staircase.
Instead he barely had the door partially open when it was shoved backwards, making him stumble. He ducked, just in time as a knife came flying over his head to clatter against the wall. A red-haired woman with some sort of equipment slipped out the door and took off down the hallway. Cursing, Barret raised his arm and readied his gun.
“Well, I’ll be damned. Never thought I’d see your ugly mug in a place like this…”
Barret turned back to stare at the doorway, aware now of several people coming through it — though he barely noticed as they passed him, his eyes fixed on the man at the top of the stairs. A man he had long thought dead. A man with an arm like his.
Tifa relaxed slightly as Barret left to check on the security. She wondered if it really needed to be done, or if Matheson had merely come up with an excuse to get him out of the room. He had arrived early for the monthly joint MMG-Science meeting, which made their other reason for meeting a bit difficult to discuss…
“Any progress?” she asked, settling back in her chair. Tifa was not officially a part of the MMG Project, but during her ‘stay’ with ShinRa she had been helping out — it kept her from going completely stir-crazy. She really hoped that she’d be allowed to return to her job soon. Between leaving to search for Cloud and being cooped up here for over a month, she’d almost lost an entire year.
Assuming she even had a job to go back to, that was. Reeve had offered her a job full time with the MMG, but frankly Tifa wasn’t interested in long-term gardening careers. She didn’t have the background to become a member of the science team, either, and she didn't want to go to school for years to get it. Sitting still for that long did not appeal to her at all.
“Morgan is drawing the most recent samples as we speak,” Matheson assured her. “The good thing is that Cloud seems to have successfully integrated the Mako into his system. His body has stabilized.”
“But his mind still hasn’t reacted?” Reeve frowned, not looking up from the… whatever it was he was tinkering with. Tifa had been a bit uncertain about letting him in on the secret of Cloud’s return, but Aeris insisted she trusted him. He had mostly kept out of their way; even now that they were discussing the subject, he seemed to have most of his attention focused on the machine in his lap. Tifa didn’t doubt for a minute that he was following the entire conversation, though; she’d long since learned that few people at ShinRa were what they appeared.
“I’ve had some luck with the techniques described in the notes Professor Gast left behind,” Aeris said. “It’s difficult, but I think I’ve got it. Cloud is probably in there, but he’s buried so deeply I’m not sure I can get to him.”
“I have been speaking to Grandfather,” Nanaki interjected. “He said that he has seen people who have been traumatized enter a state similar to Cloud’s. When medicine was unable to help, they sometimes tried immersing the person in nature.”
“Getting Cloud out without someone seeing him is going to be impossible,” Tifa pointed out. Too many people knew about him already, in her opinion. Like Reeve, Nanaki had found out after the fact — though in his case, he had identified the scent on Aeris after she visited their comatose friend. Tifa felt better about sharing the secret with him than most; Nanaki believed himself indebted to Cloud because he helped free him from Hojo’s control. He considered it important to protect Aeris and had, apparently, even stood up to Sephiroth at one point. Anyone who could challenge the General of SOLDIER without backing down was worth having on their side, at least in Tifa’s book.
“Do you— what’s that?” Aeris rose to her seat, looking out the door. Tifa felt more than saw what was coming and tackled the other woman, shoving her to the ground. Around her she noticed others do the same.
Bullets slammed into the thick glass separating the conference room from the hall. Tifa noticed first a woman and then several others following her, head down, shooting at anything that moved. The woman was making regular stops, placing something on the walls—
“Robert, is Ms. Brown in today?” Reeve asked very quietly.
“Yes, why?” Matheson whispered back, just as quietly.
“Those look like bombs to me. She may be able to dismantle them.” In a less serious situation, Tifa would be hard-pressed to not laugh at the expression on Matheson’s face. “She did make bombs for AVALANCHE, after all…”
Tifa made a mental note not to piss Jessie Brown off.
“I’ll call her.” Matheson reached for his PHS. Reeve followed suit, typing a series of codes into it.
“What’s that?” Aeris asked.
“Emergency codes. It should go right to Tseng, who’ll mobilize things. For now we’ll stay here — hopefully they won’t see us.”
“Stay here?” Tifa snapped, outraged. “People are going to get killed!”
“We don’t have any weapons,” Matheson pointed out. “This is a conference room, not an armory.”
“I don’t need any weapons,” Tifa replied, and bolted for the door before anyone could try to stop her, Nanaki moving to follow her seconds later. Aeris, she suspected, would be right behind them.
Yuffie demonstrated how to properly throw the shuriken, and then stepped back to watch Flavian make his own attempt. She did her best to hide her amusement as he missed the target completely. It wouldn’t do to make him mad enough at her that he decided to stop seeking out her company.
Over the last month and a half, the ShinRa secretary, who had introduced himself after her first and only run in with the company’s president, had sought her out from time to time. They had been all over the complex — at least the parts Flavian had access to, which included better rec facilities and a decent restaurant — and talked about a lot of things. Wutai. The company. What the current Shinra was doing.
Flavian’s Wutaian really wasn’t all that bad, everything considered, she had to admit. Even if his accent was horrible. It was improving, under her instruction — if one could consider condescending corrections instruction, anyway. They had even done a bit of the writing, though Flavian felt it was “unnecessarily complicated.”
Yuffie just needled him more about it.
She didn’t even begin to assume Flavian was looking out for her best interests, however. It seemed strange to her that a secretary would know as much about some of the projects going on in the building as he seemed to. Constantly seeking out her presence to just talk, or treat her to dinner? Suspicious in the extreme.
The way she looked at it, there were a few options. One, he was interested in her. She had been watching him carefully, but as far as she could tell, he hadn’t tried to slip her anything to make her more… pliable. One jerk had tried to pull that over on her back when she was sixteen. (Too bad he hadn’t expected her reflexes to be good enough to still knife him even when he’d drugged her — he’d bear an interesting scar on his leg for life. She had been trying to castrate him; her teachers would have been upset with her aim.) She wasn’t sure if she was interested in Flavian as more than an idle amusement right now, but he did, at least, break up the mind-numbing boredom of being stuck here.
Her second thought was he was some sort of agent trying to get information about Wutai from her. Seeing as she hadn’t been back in years, though, she wouldn’t have been able to give much in terms of any new information. She was sure ShinRa could find someone better to hassle for it. Still, Flavian wouldn’t make a very good spy; his accent would give him away the moment he opened his mouth to speak Wutaian, though he knew enough about the language that she wasn’t really correcting much of his usage. Unfortunately. She’d always enjoyed steering Easterners’ grammar wrong and watching the results.
There was also the possibility that Flavian was some sort of plant to make her like the company. Which was, quite frankly, absurd. Why would they bother? Yeah, she was next in line to rule Wutai, but the position probably wouldn’t fall to her at all by this point. Her long-term absence would make it even more unlikely that any of the clan chiefs would listen to her.
The worst part of it all was it was working. She had already heard about the reforms Rufus Shinra had made during his term as company president. The people she had talked to — beyond Flavian, even — seemed content and optimistic about the future. Those who weren’t were complaining about shifts that she thought were pretty good ideas — like moving away from Mako energy. That was huge. Wutai had been invaded for their Mako-rich areas, and if they didn’t need it anymore… well, once they rid themselves of the invaders there wouldn’t be any reason (besides revenge) for them to come back.
Too bad I can’t think of something to convince them to leave us alone for good… Yuffie retrieved her shuriken and handed it to Flavian. “You won’t get any better unless you practice,” she chided
He didn’t respond, lifting the weapon and throwing it — only to miss even worse than before as the floor shook beneath them. Ignoring her companion, Yuffie turned toward the wall, the source of the disturbance. A good portion of it was missing, and people were pouring through the opening. A bomb — and it looks like they’re putting up more. Shit, why don’t I have my materia at a time like this? Because ShinRa ‘appropriated’ it. Feh. Levianthan save me from corporations. She had a few shuriken, if not her largest. She could probably relieve someone of a gun as well; it wasn’t her favorite weapon, but she knew how to use it. She did have a Restore she had liberated from someone, but that wouldn’t help offensively…
Yuffie noted Flavian was typing something into his PHS. Well, hopefully he’d get some help, because there were an awful lot of people coming in, and if she was right, it looked like they were attaching bombs to the support columns. If we don’t stop them, they’re going to bring down the whole damned building. Knock out enough levels and the building would collapse straight down—
It wouldn’t be the end of ShinRa. It would probably be a major setback, but it wouldn’t stop them, even if their precious Rufus Shinra were in residence. They had too many footholds around the world for the destruction of their headquarters to stop them.
But in any case, she didn’t expect to be an offering to ShinRa Company’s smoldering remains.
Yuffie ran towards the intruders, sending a blade flickering through the air. It landed precisely where she wanted it, in the back of the hand one of the intruders setting a charge. Her target turned, and his eyes widened in surprise.
Yuffie nearly skidded to a stop herself. Wutaian… no, a mixed-blood!
“Dyne…” Barret cleared his throat, everything else fading in importance next to the man in front of him. “Is it really you?” The years hadn’t been kind to him, but he could still see his old friend behind the stubble and unkempt hair. “I always hoped we’d see each other again. Knew you had to be alive somewhere, with the operation…”
Dyne said nothing, his face expressionless. Unfazed, Barret moved closer. “Listen, Dyne. I wanna—”
He stopped short, biting off a curse as a bullet ricocheted off the floor right in front of his feet.
The other man lowered his left arm and the gun grafted into it. “All I hear right now… is her voice. Eleanor’s voice. Begging me not to hate your fucking guts.” He spat, looking away. “That’s why I didn’t hunt you down…”
Barret lowered his own gaze. “I know,” he sighed. “I was stupid. I’m not… asking you to forgive me. I haven’t forgiven me.” He looked up again. “But… What’re you doin’ here? Why—”
Dyne clenched his fist. “Why? I could ask the same goddamn thing of you! The hell you doin’ here?” He pointed accusingly at Barret. “Are all the people who’ve died gonna understand why? Are the people of Corel just supposed to accept Shinra’s false apologies and promises of change?”
Barret frowned, holding out his hands helplessly. “I—”
“You know what? I don’t really give a damn about the reason.” The other man sighed and started pacing the width of the corridor. “All they give us are their stupid excuses. And what do we have to show for it? Despair and emptiness…”
Barret didn’t really know what to say to that. This wasn’t the Dyne he remembered at all…
Dyne stopped pacing, turning away. “You really still wanna hear why? Fine, then, I’ll tell you.” He took a deep breath. “‘Cause I want to destroy everything.”
Dyne shot at the ‘Exit’ sign over the door. “The people of this city.” He turned and shot at a nearby mechanism next to one of the floor-to-ceiling windows—
The glass shattered, the force of the explosion sending Barret staggering back, arms in front of his face to shield himself.
But Dyne ignored it. “This city itself,” he spoke loudly over the noise.
Barret lowered his scratched arms to stare at him in surprise. He’d really and truly gone and lost it, hadn’t he?
“The whole. Damn. World!” Dyne snarled, punctuating each word with another bullet aimed at Barret’s feet, making him cringe. He turned away. “I got nothing left. Corel, Eleanor… Marlene…”
Barret finally found his voice. “…That’s not true, Dyne. Marlene… She’s still alive.”
His old friend looked back over his shoulder at him warily, skeptical.
“I went back into town,” Barret explained. “I thought she was gone for sure… I wanted to be by her side till the end. But I found her… Marlene. Alive.” This earned him no response, so he continued, “She’s here, in Midgar. She’s got school right now, but after… we can see her together, all right?”
Dyne looked thoughtful. “So… she’s still alive.” Squaring his shoulders, he straightened. “All right, Barret. I guess that means you and I gotta fight.”
Barret gaped at him. “What?”
“Eleanor’s alone all by herself. I’ve got to take Marlene to her,” he explained, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
“Dyne, are you insane?”
“Marlene wants to see her Mom, don’t she!?” he roared, and started shooting at Barret.
“Stop, Dyne! I can’t die yet!”
“Oh yeah?” he snarled, pausing in his barrage only long enough to speak. “Well, my life’s been over ever since the day Corel burned!”
“Stop it! I don’t wanna fight you!” Barret yelled.
Dyne didn’t listen.
Barret couldn’t have said how long they stood there, shooting at each other, paying no heed to anything around them as Dyne focused on riddling him with bullets and Barret desperately tried to stay alive.
In the end, he was fortunate: Dyne ran out of ammo. With a curse, he fell to his knees, bleeding heavily from a number of wounds. Individually, none of them would have been fatal, but together… Barret grabbed a nearby first aid kit from its wall station and hurried toward him.
“Don’t touch me!” Dyne snarled, and Barret hesitated. With the greatest effort, Dyne picked himself up, limping over to the shattered window and leaning on one of the building’s support beams. “…It wasn’t just my arm… back then,” he managed, his breathing labored. “I lost something irreplaceable…” He shook his head. “I don’t know where I went wrong…”
“Dyne…” Barret sighed. “I don’t know either, man. Is this… the only way we can resolve this?”
“I told you,” his friend rasped, “I… I want to destroy everything… Everything. This crazy world… even myself…”
“An’ what about Marlene?” Barret shot back, suddenly angry. “What’s gonna happen to her?”
Dyne shook his head again. “Think about it, Barret… How old was Marlene back then? Even if I did go to see her now… she wouldn’t even know me. And what’s more…” He looked at his hands. “These hands are a little too stained to carry Marlene anymore…”
Barret lowered his head.
He straightened, looking up — just in time to catch what Dyne threw at him. A small pendant, simple and worn. It looked familiar, somehow…
“Give that to Marlene, would you? It was… Eleanors’s… memento…”
Barret carefully closed his good hand around it. “Yeah,” he managed, choked up. “All right…”
“I can’t believe… she’s… already… seven…” Dyne shifted. “Barret… Don’t… make… Don’t ever make Marlene… cry…”
“What—” Befuddlement turned to horrified understanding, and Barret bolted for the window. “Dyne, no!”
The other man smiled crookedly, stretched out his arms, and let gravity do the rest of the work his push had started.
“Dyne!” He fell to his knees. “Dammit, Dyne, me an’ you were the same… My hands ain’t any cleaner than yours… and I’ve already made her cry.”
The wind howled past the window. “I shouldn’t be able to carry Marlene either…”
Aeris ran out the door, only a little behind Nanaki and Tifa. She was more than a little angry at Reeve; how could he suggest they just stay there and hide out? She was strong, and Tifa was too. They had traveled much of the world, and fought more than their share of monsters. They were not letting someone just barge in here to attack their colleagues and their friends.
Only as she ran out the door, barely missing getting shot did Aeris remember two very important things. One: she was currently without materia or her staff. She knew a few things about hand-to-hand combat, things Tifa had taught her to escape a single assailant intent on rape, but those wouldn’t be as effective if she was attacking others. And two: she had never fought against a human being with intent to kill. Aeris hesitated; corrupted beasts were one thing, but to deliberately kill another person… that was something else entirely. It brought to mind memories of Professor Gast’s research, notes on her birth mother’s stories — and some of those who could speak to the Planet lost their abilities when they turned against their fellow men and women—
“Get down! Nanaki, disarm if you can!”
Reeve barreled into her, driving her onto the cold floor as another series of shots rang out where her head had been. He drew back his arm and threw. Aeris blinked as she recognized the device he had been working on, his robotic cat Cait Sith—
A horrible sound echoed through the hall as the adorable cat lifted his… megaphone? Yes, a megaphone to his lips. The cacophony defied imagination, clawing at Aeris’s mind; if she hadn’t already been on the ground her knees would have buckled, as she saw happening to others all around them. As it was, she desperately wished she had a pillow to hold over her head.
And just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. Cait came bounding back. Aeris lifted her head to see Nanaki sinking his teeth into the wrist of one of the intruders. He screamed, and his gun clattered to the ground as Tifa picked herself back up and knocked the man out. “What the hell, was that, Reeve?” she snapped.
“Sorry!” he replied. “Give me the gun!”
“What, you can shoot, too? You sure you aren’t really a Turk or somethin’?” Tifa did as requested, then whirled to tackle another enemy, even as Nanaki did the same.
“Quite sure,” Tseng put in, stepping over a body and into the hallway. “SOLDIERs are on their way, and the bomb specialists are mobilizing. However, it appears this is a multi-level attack. This may take a while.”
“You’re here to help?” Aeris looked relieved.
“Indeed.” He offered her a small smile. “Ms. Gainsborough, may I suggest you work on first aid? Reeve, you and I will do rear support.”
“And we’ll take the front,” Tifa said, sounding confident. “All right, Nanaki, let’s go.”
Aeris grabbed one of the white boxes off of the wall. After the devastation following Hojo’s escape, Matheson had had basic first aid kits installed in every hallway. Taking out the bronze bangle and the Restore materia contained therein, she knelt next to the man Nanaki had disarmed — almost literally.
“Ms. Gainsborough, leave him be. We’ll deal with him later—”
"He may lose his hand. I can't let that happen." Aeris dropped to her knees, heedless of the blood that stained her green skirt, and held her hand out over the figure.
In an instant, the man’s eyes flickered open. He twisted his arm, revealing a knife, and before she could say anything he plunged it deep into her stomach. She gasped, only barely aware of the sound of a gun firing and her assailant falling back dead. Warm hands on her, pressing on the wound, another taking the bracer from her—
“I’ll do it. I’ve got more magic—”
“Aeris, hang on. Don’t close your eyes!”
“Matheson, get a Life—”
She was so cold. So very cold. And scared. She didn’t want to leave them — leave any of them. She couldn’t die before she taught others. She couldn’t leave the Planet alone, without a voice. She had to try—
The Planet screamed.
“Who are you?” Yuffie demanded, waving a shuriken, heedless of the gun pointed her way.
“Who are you?” the man asked in return.
“Yuffie Kisaragi, daughter of Lord Godo,” she replied coolly.
The man’s eyes narrowed. “Then why are you working with Shinra, the great betrayer?”
“I’m not working with him,” she retorted. “I’m just stuck in this damned tower of his. Trust me, if I could get my hands on him…” Pleasant visions of ancient Wutaian torture techniques danced before her eyes.
Her assailant gave her a skeptical look. “You were right next to him!”
“What?” Yuffie whirled, only to see ‘Flavian’ calmly shoot down another one of attackers. “Oh, we are so going to have Words About This.” Turning back to the intruder, she gave him a friendly smile. “I don’t suppose I could convince you to surrender?”
“It is a matter of honor,” the man replied firmly, straightening and reaching for a short blade at his belt. “I will fight you with our nation’s arts.”
Double damn. It had to be honor, didn’t it? Dad’s always spouting off the same crap, and he never changes his mind. Glad I dropped most of that stuff. Or at least her honor had gotten a lot more flexible; came with the territory of being a thief. She readied the rest of her weapons. Better go for an eye; anything else would probably not be fatal, and she didn’t have any close-combat weapons—
A large clang interrupted their standoff. Almost before Yuffie could react to it, a bullet blew past her, striking right between her opponent’s eyes. “Ha! I knew it would work.”
“Shut up and move, woman!” came a muffled voice.
Yuffie blinked as a blonde jumped out of a ventilation shaft, followed by a red-haired man and a bald guy. “It always works in the movies.”
“You really oughta know better by now, Elena,” said the redhead. “We’re damn lucky they didn’t put more than one man up there.” He straightened. “Sorry we’re late, Boss.”
“Reno. Rude. Elena.” ‘Flavian’-who-was-apparently-Rufus-Shinr
“You’re an ass, Shinra,” Yuffie snarled, stalking over him. She determinedly ignored the trio in their navy blue suits as they went to town on the terrorists. “Care to explain why the hell you set up this elaborate charade, ‘Flavian’?”
He shrugged. “Intelligence.”
“Bullshit.” She gestured at him with her shuriken. “If that was the case you’d be having a trained professional do the job, not handling it yourself.” She saw respect in his eyes and that calmed her temper — just a little. “I want an explanation.”
She could practically see him thinking. “Not here.”
“Fine, not here. But later. Soon.” She glared again, noting the blood seeping through his coat. “When did that happen?”
“It would appear you aren’t the only one here today who’s proficient with your chosen weapon,” he commented dryly, and Yuffie’s gaze followed his to a shuriken embedded in the wall. It must have sliced his arm.
She tsked. What a sloppy throw; she would have taken the arm off, at least. “Here, use this.” She tossed him a Restore.
“Hey!” the redhead shouted. They’d apparently finished their cleanup job. “That’s mine! I told you I didn’t lose it, Rude!”
“Finders keepers,” Yuffie shot back. “People who can’t mount their materia correctly don’t deserve to keep it.”
“Indeed,” Rufus concurred, causing the suit to fume. “Take care of this. Ms. Kisaragi, I believe we have business to conduct. This way?”
She followed him out, but palmed a few weapons on her way. He’d better be damned convincing, or she’d take negotiations into her own hands. Briefly she wondered how many fingers she would need to slice off before he decided to let her go. A smile tugged at her lips; trained interrogator she might not be, but she was fairly certain she’d be able to get what she wanted. One way or another.
Sephiroth raised his hand and let off the Thundara spell, knocking more of the invading forces to the ground. He silently cursed the tightness of the hallway — the Masamune was more of a hindrance than a help here, and many of the SOLDIERS with him were in the same boat. That was the problem with having large weapons; they worked well in the field, but not so much in the confines of a building. Thankfully, they didn’t really need their weapons at this point; the ability to outrun bullets and crush a man’s skull unarmed did occasionally come in handy.
“General, sir!” a young Third called as he jogged up to them. “We’ve received confirmation of a parallel attack in the science wing, and also the recreational facilities. There appear to be bombs on both levels. The Turk Leader thinks they’re going after the structural integrity of the building.”
“Keep your eyes open for bombs on this level as well,” Sephiroth ordered as he scanned the walls himself. This portion of the fighting force seemed to be more focused on fighting his SOLDIERs than planting devices, but who knew? They might have missed something.
Painangerhurt— save her.
“Stallens!” he yelled, much to his surprise.
“You have a mastered Life, don’t you?”
“Ah, yes, sir, right here. I don’t have it equipped—”
“Head up to the science wing. They need you.” Sephiroth blinked, feeling off balance, both due to the emotional overload and the decidedly odd feeling of someone else using his mouth to speak. …Cloud?
Sephiroth seized onto the feeling, not letting go. You’re safe — you’re back in Midgar. We rescued you from Hojo. You can wake up. He ‘thought’ as hard and he could, focused on getting that message back to Cloud.
“Um, sir? Are you all right?”
Sephiroth blinked. Several of his men were giving him concerned looks. “I’m fine. Just a thought.” Time to change the subject. “Status of the intruders?”
“They seem to have retreated past the elevators, sir.”
“Follow them. If they drop something down the elevator shaft—”
No sooner said than done. Several of the fastest SOLDIERs went speeding off down the corridor. Sephiroth quickly followed, resolutely putting Cloud out of his thoughts. He would check on him later; right now he had more important things to worry about.
Later, they would call it a miracle.
Aeris Gainsborough, unofficial spokeswoman of the MMG Project, had been fatally injured. Though her companions had done their best to heal her, their regular Restore had succeeded in only prolonging her agony, keeping her from passing over. Suddenly, with the speed only a SOLDIER had, Second Class Stallens had appeared, bringing with him one of the few mastered Life materia held by ShinRa. He had cast the spell with uncommon skill, saving her from certain death.
The SOLDIER’s timing had been impeccable. Had he come even a few minutes later, it would have been too late. It was certain that only someone with enhanced speed could have made it in time; as it was, all were amazed Sephiroth had somehow intuited the need for it in the first place.
More than a few odd glances had been thrown Sephiroth’s way when the news of his miraculous life-saving order had gotten out. With skill perfected by long practice, the General ignored them. He wasn’t sure how Cloud had known, nor exactly how he had gotten in contact with Sephiroth — though he suspected it was the same way he’d been visiting his and Zack’s minds all these years — but in truth the credit belonged to someone most of the company didn’t even know was alive.
The aftermath of the terrorist attack has been messy. There were bodies to bury (thankfully no SOLDIERs and relatively few persons of other departments), levels to seal off until they could be repaired, and suspects to interrogate. SOLDIER found themselves serving as the backbone of the building-centered efforts, moving large pieces of rubble and prying doors open. Not all of the bombs had been safely disarmed, either. Sephiroth had barely had the chance to send Zack a quick message via PHS to return to Midgar as soon as possible.
Thankfully, figuring out what had caused the entire disaster to happen in the first place wouldn’t be his problem. The Turks were in charge of internal security (and had made a serious blunder in not picking up on this during its planning stages, in his opinion, but again, not his concern).
All in all, it was a crazy afternoon. He sincerely wished Zack had been here to help; his ability to manipulate people into what he wanted them to do, making them also want to do it, would have been terribly useful — Sephiroth could freely admit that, even if he didn’t particularly enjoy being on the receiving end of it. To be honest, he wasn’t very good at that sort of thing himself. Intimidation, on the other hand…
Sephiroth entered his office, glancing at the paperwork in his inbox. Quickly flipping through it, he decided that none of it was important enough to warrant staying late, considering it was long past dinner. He’d handle it tomorrow. Though he’d spent hardly any time in the office today, but he had more than covered his shift. There is more to being leader of SOLDIER than paperwork, no matter what the board thinks. The thought was uncharacteristically rebellious of him; Zack would’ve been proud.
Needless to say, he wasn’t happy when he heard a knock on the door. “Who is it?”
“Specialist Dennett, sir.”
On the very short list of people he would have actually answered the door for at that moment, Dennett was pretty high up. Sephiroth opened the door to look at him. Dennett didn’t appear to be worried, which was promising. “Yes?”
“I didn’t want to put it on the system, but I think you should come down to Zack’s quarters as soon as possible, sir.” Arthur smiled brilliantly. “Cloud’s awake.”