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Picking Up The Pieces

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Protect your honor, always.

He sat with Angeal for a long time, crying quietly and clinging to the handle of the Buster Sword. The rain helped, a little. It took the smell of blood out of the air. If he closed his eyes, he could almost pretend, for a moment, that this wasn’t real. That he hadn’t... hadn’t...

Oh Gaia, I killed him...

He stayed there, until, slowly, Angeal began to join the Lifestream. He couldn’t watch that. Fumbling with what to do with the Buster Sword, he removed his SI sword. The sword that had killed his mentor. His friend.

He took it over to the wall and shoved it in with all his strength, melting the nearby piping to it with a blast of fire, so no one could ever take it out again.

With trembling hands, he placed the Buster on his back in its place. It was heavy, like his heart.

 

No one spoke on the ride back. Perhaps they could sense his mood. Or maybe he just didn’t hear them over the roaring in his ears.

He had to report to Director Lazard, and made his way to the executive’s office silently. He was soaked with rain, blood, sweat, and tears. He wasn’t sure if he was numb because he was cold, or if he was cold because he was numb. He’d killed Genesis. He’d killed Angeal.

Who’s the monster, now?

The Director was waiting for him, regardless of the late hour, and he could see something soften in the man’s gentle blue eyes. “Zack –”

“Mission complete.” He was amazed his voice was steady. Maybe this was a dream....

But no, the weight of the Buster on his back told him it wasn’t. This was real.

“You don’t have to give your report now, Zack.”

The soft words meant nothing. It wasn’t a report. It was a confession.

“I killed them both.” It didn’t matter that they’d attacked him. He’d killed them. Drove Genesis to suicide, and drove his sword through Angeal’s heart. “They’re gone now. They were in Modeoheim. Genesis had a base there. I beat him in combat, and he threw himself over the railing. I found Angeal in Modeoheim proper, with Hollander. Hollander escaped. I killed Angeal.”

“Zack –”

“He died smiling.” His hand moved to the Buster’s hilt of its own accord.

Protect your honor, always.

What happened to honor?

I killed Angeal.

 

He wasn’t sure how he made it back to his room, or when. He should have showered. Changed clothes, at least. Maybe eaten something. He hadn’t eaten anything since the morning he left. Angeal would –

Angeal’s dead.

Slowly, he took the Buster Sword off his back, and stared at it. It was a beautiful, impeccable blade, glistening with rain that hadn’t dried yet.

Use brings about wear, tear, and rust.

Suddenly, it was very important that he clean the sword. This... this was Angeal’s pride - his honor. It was all that was left...

Setting it down at the table, he got his sword care kit and hurried back, peeling off his soiled gloves and cleaning the blade reverently. His hands shook, but he didn’t realize it until he’d cut himself, and blood was pooling in his palm. All he could think as he watched himself bleed was ‘how fitting.’

An abrupt smack snapped him out of his daze, and he blinked up stupidly at the blond that he was – fairly – sure he hadn’t let into his apartment. “Kunsel?”

“I’ve only been calling your name for like, five minutes before I got in here.” The Second looked down at his hand, and sighed. “Zack...

He felt a tug on the sword and made a soft sound of protest. “No. It’s mine.”

“Zack, let the sword go. We need to clean you up, and get a potion in you.” He insisted.

No.” He hissed. “Angeal gave it to me! He-he gave me his honor. It’s mine now. I can’t lose it.”

“Zack, it’ll be right here when you get back. Just let it go.” Kunsel placed a hand on his, trying to urge him to release the hilt.

“I’m not letting it go.” He insisted, tightening his grip. “I let Angeal go, and he never came back! I had to go find him, and I-I-I...”

“Oh...” The older teen moved awkwardly around the chair and blade, and hugged Zack to him. He couldn’t tell him it was all right. He couldn’t tell him it would be ok. Or stop hurting. But, he held him, and listened to him sob brokenly, free hand clutching his uniform like a lifeline, hand cut open and raw like his heart.

They stayed frozen like that long enough for Kunsel’s back to start aching at the position. Still, he held him; it was all he could do.

“I killed him.” Zack whispered hoarsely, once the sobbing had turned to silent tears. “I killed Angeal. He fought me. Said he was a... a monster... and he fought me, and I killed him. He’s gone, and it’s my fault.

What was he supposed to say to that? Really? How could you comfort someone, who had not only been forced to take a life, but had taken the life of a man who was more than a comrade – more than a mentor? He’d been the cornerstone of Zack’s world for years.

“He was wrong, Kunsel.” Mako blues looked up, red around the rims and desperate. “He wasn’t a monster. Those weren’t the wings of a monster. He was a hero... an angel... why did he... why...?”

“I... I don’t know, Zack.” Kunsel admitted softly.

“He said he created his own suffering... that he was the enemy, and a monster and... and he fought me.” His breath hitched in a sob. “And I killed him. I killed him, and he thanked me, and gave me his sword... he’s gone, Kunsel. I was going to bring them back. I told Tseng, if I could just talk to them... but, they’re dead, and it’s my fault.

“Genesis, too?” He could’ve hit himself when he’d asked that.

“Yes. He fell back off the railing, I-I wasn’t fast enough and he just...” Zack made a small, mournful noise. “They’re both gone, now. What... what am I supposed to tell Sephiroth? Oh Gaia, Kuns, I killed his friends. I killed them.

“You’re his friend, too, Zack.” The Second reassured him. “He’ll understand – you didn’t have a choice.”

“Yes I did.”

“Zack, they attacked you. It was kill or...” He balked, staring at the young First in horror. No.

“I could’ve let them kill me.” Zack whispered softly. “Then... maybe... they would have listened to Sephiroth.”

No. Death was not an option. Don’t even go there!” Kunsel hissed. “They were set on their paths. If you couldn’t talk sense into Angeal, no one could, ok?”

“I killed an angel, Kunsel.” It was debatable if Zack had heard him. “I’m... a monster.”

 

Sephiroth was in his quarters, just lying on his bed and staring at the ceiling blankly, when the call came. He didn’t recognize the name, but answered it regardless; it was someone with his phone number – regardless of what they had to say, he wanted to know who it was. “Sephiroth.”

“General, sir, I’m SOLDIER Second Class Kunsel.” The caller informed him. “I’m in SOLDIER First Class Zack Fair’s room, and he’s currently in hysterics. Would you please come to his quarters? Maybe with a tranquilizer? He’s armed – no danger to me, but might be a danger to himself.”

His first thought was that this was a prank call. Then, he heard the sobbing in the background. Zack?

He was out of his room and heading down the hall before he even thought to confirm that he was coming. Letting himself into Zack’s quarters with his override code, he was hit by the sharp scent of fresh blood. Immediately, he crossed further into the space, looking around carefully. There.

A blond Second was hunched by the table, where the Buster Sword lay, embracing a shuddering figure that could only be Zack. There was blood all over the Second’s shirt, but it looked like it was dribbling down from where Zack’s hand was clutching the fabric. “What’s going on?”

Sephiroth?” That weak rasp of a voice had no business coming from Zack. The first thing he’d noticed about Zack was how passionate and full of life and energy and optimism he was. This... this didn’t work.

“Zack, look at me.” The despairing look in those brilliant blue eyes took his breath away. He was utterly broken, defeated in a way nothing had ever accomplished. And he knew why. Angeal, how could you?

“I’m sorry.” He whispered, taking in a shuddering breath and bringing his hand away from the Second’s side to rub at his eyes. Blood smeared over too-pale skin, and Sephiroth reached out, capturing the hand to examine the palm. The cut wasn’t something a Restore wouldn’t fix – even a potion would have worked – but it was deep enough that it had kept bleeding.

He’d get on the Second’s case for not tending to it immediately, but not until he’d calmed Zack down. Casting a Curaga – who knows if Zack had bothered to since his mission, if he hadn’t even changed out of his bloodied uniform? – he held on to the hand a moment. Normally, he didn’t reach out and touch people, but he’d seen how free Zack was with contact, and had a feeling it would help ground him. “Why are you sorry?”

“I failed.” The tears were still coming, only now they were streaking through the blood smeared on his face. Normally, blood didn’t bother him. Somehow, though, in some unidentifiable way, this was different.

“Get me something to get the blood off him with.” A quick look sent the Second further into the quarters, and he centered himself in Zack’s line of vision. “You accomplished the mission -”

I killed them!” He choked, tears streaming down his cheeks. “I couldn’t... I said I’d bring them back... and... and now they’re dead.

“They chose their fate when they left.” Harsh, perhaps, but true nonetheless. “If it wasn’t you, now, it would have been someone, later. Probably me.”

“They would’ve listened to you, though.” Zack protested weakly.

“Not likely.” The General shook his head, accepting the damp cloth from the Second as he returned, and wiping the hand clean, only to pause when Fair gave a choked, mildly hysterical laugh. “Zack?”

“You can’t get them clean. I’ve tried.” Another one of those disturbing laughs. “They’ll never be clean again.”

Green eyes narrowed, reassessing the situation. Clearly, Zack was traumatized by the mission - to the point where most SOLDIERs would be sent for therapy. However, there was no therapy that would suit this situation. No ShinRa doctor was going to help him ‘make peace’ – if that was possible – with having to kill his mentor/friend/father figure, when said man had been declared an enemy of the company. They wouldn’t understand.

But... he did.

“SOLDIER Kunsel, you are dismissed for now.” The Second paused a moment, but finally left them alone. Sephiroth resumed cleaning the blood off the younger First, trying to find the words to reach out to him. Angeal was always the one who handled this sort of thing. But, this was Angeal’s fault. “Zack, did you do everything you could, to bring them back?”

“No.”

He looked up sharply, eyes widening. “No?”

“No.” He repeated.

“What...” He frowned deeply. “Explain.”

“I didn’t have to kill them.” Zack’s gaze was distant. “I didn’t... I didn’t have to.”

“Tell me what happened, then. What happened to them both. What you could have done differently.” Was there more to this?

“Genesis fell backwards off the railing... just... dropped all the way down. If I’d been paying attention –”

“You couldn’t have anticipated that. Predicting Genesis is like predicting which way a flame will flicker – there’s a chance you’ll get it right, based on outside influences, but if it’s just the fire, you’ll never guess.” His words didn’t sink in, so he pressed on. “And Angeal?”

“We fought.”

“And you won, obviously.” Sephiroth eyed the Buster Sword briefly.

“I didn’t have to.”

And suddenly, his words made a sick sort of sense. He knew what Zack was getting at. He hadn’t had to kill Angeal... he could have let himself die, instead.

Some sort of sickening mix of rage and horror gripped him, and he grabbed the teen’s chin, forcing him to look at him. “That was not an option.”

“I –”

“It would have been a waste. You would have died for what? The slim chance that your death would convince Angeal to return?” He scoffed. “It wouldn’t have. It would have driven him mad, and he probably would have killed himself.”

“Angeal would never –

“If he was coward enough to force you to kill him rather than fight ShinRa for his survival, then yes, he’d kill himself.” Sephiroth hissed. “Get him off that pedestal. He was a man, a man who was unable to cope with reality and, in the end, consumed with despair and self-hate. The Angeal we knew died long before you put his body to rest.”

“But...” Zack stared at him, wide eyed, trying to come to terms with what he was being told.

“He was broken, Zack.” He sighed, still firm, but gentler. “He and Genesis were broken, and barely alive under the chains of pain and sorrow. At least now, they’re free.”

“... free?” He blinked, looking up at the General uncertainly.

“Yes. What they’d been calling ‘living’ was no life, Zack.” He looked at him seriously. “They were constantly on the run, being hunted by ShinRa. Genesis, at least, was degrading and slipping into insanity. Angeal’s trust in all he’d ever believed was shattered irreparably.  They were miserable – afraid, frantic, despairing. You put an end to that.”

“It wasn’t right.” He insisted, though with less conviction.

“What wasn’t right was that they forced you to do it.” He sighed. “But, at least now, it’s over. They’re at peace.”

Zack was silent for so long, Sephiroth was surprised when he finally answered. “Angeal... smiled... when he died. Thanked me.

“You ended his pain.”

Another long silence.

“Sephiroth?”

“Yes, Zack?”

“It... it hurts.

“I know.” He hurt, too; but, it wasn’t as bad – he’d been expecting this, one way or another.

Zack sniffled, biting his lip, barely looking his sixteen years. “I feel so alone now...”

“You’re not.” Slowly, a black gloved hand raised to settle on the teen’s messy hair, tentatively ruffling, like he’d seen Angeal do. “You have me.”

Zack made a soft whining sound and launched himself out of the chair at him, hugging him fiercely.

And this once, he let him, taking comfort in the fact that he was reaching out, now, instead of curling in on himself miserably.

It would be a while, but, eventually, he’d be ok. They would be ok.