[Shattered] Dreams 43

Chapter Forty-Three: Unexpected Happenings

The clang and clash of swords resounded through the air. It was a brilliant rhythm of mastery and skill, quick and successive with bold moves and even bolder returns. There was a slide of booted feet over the graveled arena, followed by manly grunts and quick pants of fatigue, and each unique sound was normal for the training center associated with the new ShinRa building.

There was another fierce clang and then the pounding of feet along the ground, and Zack couldn’t help but smile in satisfaction, though his brow streamed with sweat and his limbs had the good feeling of being used past their limits. It was an encouraging pain; one that as a soldier, he both craved and endured. Against an opponent as skilled as Tseng, a man whose moves were fluidic and precise, much like someone else he knew, the pain was a compliment.

Even Zack had to admit, straight as a rail though he was, that there was something to admire in the Wutaiian Turk. Every inch of Tseng commanded respect, from the way he presented himself to the no-shit-from-anyone look that was often gleaming in silver eyes. Born with the blood of a warrior, Zack could see that and more in Tseng with every swing of his twin katanas.

“It seems the more we practice, the more your skill improves,” Tseng remarked, not even the slightest of hitches in his voice. It was remarkable how the Turk barely looked winded as they had been mock dueling for a little over two hours. On the other hand, Zack’s legs ached, his arms screamed in agony, and his breath came in short pants. Yet, he enjoyed every minute of it.

He scoffed in return. “Maybe you are just getting worse?” Zack clamped down tighter on the Zanken sword (1) and started circling Tseng, looking very much like a hungry wolf.

The Turk raised a brow. “That is the same thing Reno says, right before I knock him on his ass again.” His own weapons hung at his side, as if dangling loosely from a slack hold. Tseng already knew that when Zack chose to attack, he was more than able to raise them and counter before the ex-SOLDIER could hurt him. The Gongagan was much like Cloud in that aspect.

He was strong, each blow something powerful, especially with the added weight of the large sword. Yet, as such, he couldn’t move quickly nor make intricate moves with the blade. Unlike the blond, however, Zack was tricky. He always had something clever up his sleeve, while Cloud would rather barge in and hope some idea came to him.

The spiky-haired man laughed. “Speaking of gay men… you wouldn’t happen to be single, would you?”

Tseng’s eyes widened in surprise at the unexpected question, and in the wake of such words, Zack decided to attack. He dug into the ground with his boots and rushed forward with the force of a speeding train.

(You are devious, my friend,) Fenrir chuckled in a low voice.

‘Perhaps, but it was a ploy that will hopefully succeed,’ the human responded.

He swung the Zanken in an upward arc, the tip of it scraping a furrow into the ground and throwing up a cloud of dust. He even managed to do this one-handed. Tseng blocked the attack with one of his katanas, easily bringing up the other for a counterstrike. However, Zack caught that blade with his glove, a slight grin on his face.

For a moment, neither man moved as they regarded each other coolly, faces like stone. That was until Zack’s eyebrow twitched just barely. Then, like a signal and in the blink of an eye, they twisted their bodies away from each other and attacked again.

The Zanken flashed in the sun light as Zack slashed with a fierce back swing. Tseng barely intercepted it before the ex-SOLDIER pivoted on his foot and swung out with a fist. The Wutaiian dodged the blow, pushing against Zack’s strength as he slashed the second katana in an upwards arc, only to meet a perfectly timed arm guard. The former SOLDIER grinned and swept out a foot, knocking Tseng off balance.

But before the spiky-haired man knew it, the Turk recovered and struck at him, giving a blow that was strong enough to send the other man reeling backwards by a few paces. The Gongagan took a moment to regain his balance before gripping the hilt tightly, raising his sword and charging Tseng again, a fierce cry falling from his lips.

Thus began a duel of speed, one large and heavy Zanken against the light and smooth dual blades, Tenken. Tseng’s movements were nearly a blur as he defended against Zack’s stronger attacks. Sweat dripped from their foreheads and dust clung to their clothing. The ex-SOLDIER grinned as he fought, while the Turk never lost his look of intense determination.

“You never… answered… my question,” panted out the spiky-haired man in between swings of his sword. Their blades met in a stand off, and the Gongagan looked Tseng in the eye over their joined weapons. “Are you?”

Silvery eyes narrowed. “You purposely attempted to put me off guard.”

Zack shrugged. “Maybe… or perhaps I really am just that curious. So,” he prodded again, “are you attached, my friend?”

“I do not see how my sexuality is important for this duel,” the Wutaiian retorted, a hard tone to his voice.

The crystalline-eyed man laughed. “I wasn’t questioning your sexuality, Tseng. I already know that much. I asked if you had a boyfriend… for research purposes, of course.”

The Wutaiian sighed, one eyebrow twitching. “Very well then if you are so interested… I am presently unattached.”

The ex-SOLDIER chuckled again, even as he grinned. “That’s good news,” he replied before suddenly breaking out of their stalemate and slashing forward. This time, Tseng was not taken by surprise and quickly blocked the attack. He took a step forward, flipping the second blade in his hand and swiftly cuffing Zack on the head with the flat of his katana.

The spiky-haired man cursed as he pulled back, the pain from the blow more annoying than actually painful. He thrust the Zanken into the ground with one hand and leaned upon it as he rubbed on his sore ear and face with the other. The Turk merely stood to the side, swords again dangling from a slightly loose grip as an impassive expression took over his features.

“That hurt,” complained Zack as he winced.

Tseng raised another eyebrow. “And this is a duel, or have you forgotten?”

The ex-SOLDIER shook his head. “I hadn’t,” he said with a grin. “But if you’re going to actually strike me, then I think I’ll return the favor.” With those words, he straightened and pulled his sword from the floor. He held the Zanken up, now perpendicular with the ground, both hands firmly on the hilt. His face was completely serious, all traces of the joker from before now gone and replaced with determination.

“Oh?” the Wutaiian commented, noticing the change in his demeanor. “You are only serious now? How disappointing,” he put in drolly, idly inspecting one of his katanas, as though he wasn’t the least bit impressed.

Unexpectedly, the Turk raised his swords and darted off at a great speed towards Zack. The ex-SOLDIER kept his gaze trained on the approaching man, a plan already forming in his mind. He watched Tseng’s footwork carefully, knowing from prior observation that the Wutaiian always attacked from the side opposite his last step forward.

The distance between them decreased quickly as Tseng’s speed was constant. Zack’s eyes locked on the Turk’s feet. A few more yards… one, two… there! From the right! Zack’s head snapped upwards, and he reacted.

Swiftly, he raised his blade and blocked the Wutaiian’s attack. Tseng’s eyes widened in surprise, but it was too late. Zack used the Turk’s forward momentum against him as he spun, transferring the Zanken to his opposite hand so that he ended up just behind Tseng. Before the silver-eyed man could whirl around, Zack flipped the sword and struck Tseng across the back with the flat of his blade.

“I’m always serious,” huffed the spiky-haired man.

A startled oomph escaped from the Turk’s mouth as he stumbled forward, one katana slicing into the ground in an attempt to keep himself upright as his knees buckled. Zack smiled victoriously as the man coughed and tried to regain his lost breath.

“I believe… you’ve been fooling me,” Tseng commented with a glare, though his eyes were faintly pleased. He looked over his shoulder at the gloating ex-SOLDIER. “How did you know which side?”

Zack winked as he lowered his blade. “You think I wouldn’t pick up on your little trick after fighting you this entire time. I was just waiting for the right moment to reveal my brilliance.”

Tseng shook his head as he straightened his body. “I should have known not to underestimate you.” With a slight cough, he angled his body to face the ex-SOLDIER. “You were, after all, Sephiroth’s second.”

The crystalline-eyed man grinned at hearing the former General’s name. “Never could beat that bastard,” he flippantly replied before peering slyly at Tseng, a glint of mischievousness in his eyes. “Though, I do know for a fact that he has a thing for dark-haired men,” Zack said nonchalantly, completely changing the subject. His words were punctuated with another distinct wink.

To his horror, Tseng could feel the heat of embarrassment spreading into his cheeks. He struggled to fight it down as he played up his ignorance, but secretly and if only to himself, he admitted he was also more than a bit curious. Now was the perfect opportunity to have some of his questions and internal ponderings laid to rest.

He raised a brow, trying and barely succeeding in not seeming keenly interested. “You?” the Turk inquired calmly, but the other man wasn’t fooled.

Zack laughed. “Everyone seems to think that. Do I really set off gaydar that badly?” He shook his head. “Nah, Seph’s just my best buddy. I watch his back; he watches mine. That’s how it’s always been as long as I’ve known him. Though, I admit it was a bit tough getting through that hard-as-fucking-ice shell.”

Tseng blinked. “Gaydar?” he questioned before shaking his head. This was after all, Zack he was talking to, and the ex-SOLDIER made about as much sense as Reno. “Nevermind, I do not want to know.”

“If it’s coming from the mouth of that one, it’s probably best not to ask,” came another voice from the other side of the arena. Both men immediately recognized the smooth tone as belonging to Sephiroth.

They looked up to see the former General approaching them, his borrowed sword belted at his side. His hair had remained dyed black since it was simpler that way, and he had kept his present style of dress.

Belatedly, Tseng was surprised that he had not heard the man approach.

“Most thoughts that fly from his head are of a distinctly perverted nature,” Sephiroth continued as he joined them.

Zack grinned. “Well, Sleeping Beauty, so nice of you to join us. I had thought you would be asleep all day… late night?”

The former ShinRa shook his head and sighed. “Some things never change. I suppose I can assume that you’ve been spending the past few hours with your face in the dirt, knowing the Commander’s skill and your own.”

Tseng smiled faintly, the tips of his mouth twitching. “That is a fairly accurate depiction of what occurred.”

“Hey!” denied Zack. “I won that last one!”

The Turk snorted lightly. “I think it was pure luck.”

“Hmph,” responded the spiky-haired man as he lifted his sword and placed it back in its sheath. “I don’t have to take this. Seph, why don’t you show him the power of SOLDIER. I’m going to go find something more entertaining.” He flashed a grin at Tseng. “We’ll see how powerful you are when Seph’s got you on your back.”

Tseng’s eyes widened in momentary surprise, even as Sephiroth groaned and covered his face with one gloved hand. “You never stop… do you, Loire?” the General asked.

“Nope!” replied Zack cheerily as he turned away from them with a farewell wave and began heading out of the arena. “It’s why you all love me so damn much.”

“Or merely tolerate,” Sephiroth muttered under his breath.

“I heard that!” called back the spiky-haired man. “Now, you two play nice and remember kiddies…” He paused and winked before continuing, “Don’t forget the lube!” Zack’s laughter filled the air, the sound fading as he disappeared around a corner.

The former General groaned again, refusing to remove the glove from his face for fear that he had reddened with embarrassment. “He is such a child,” Sephiroth uttered from behind the glove.

Another smile tugged at the corner of Tseng’s mouth. “Yes, but… I cannot really see him as being the serious type, can you?” He glanced at Sephiroth from the corner of his eye.

The former General really was a handsome man, some might say beautiful, even with his changed looks. Black leather suited him well, and although he rarely smiled, Tseng was sure that when he did it was well worth the wait. Sephiroth was slightly taller than the Turk, but without his old shoulder guards, they were about the same size physically. They would look good together, and Tseng quietly admitted it to himself. His own slightly darker skin next to Sephiroth’s pale skin that was just this side of white…

The Turk gritted his teeth and took a deep breath, determined to wipe the inappropriate and altogether arousing thoughts from his mind.

Sephiroth sighed, drawing Tseng’s attention. “Perhaps not, but a little hint of seriousness might improve his swordsmanship.” He frowned before exhaling softly again, turning towards Tseng as he did so and gesturing to his sword. “Well… shall we?”

Tseng blinked for a moment in confusion before sudden understanding struck him, and a third smile tugged at his lips. “You are going to defend the honor of your unfortunate friend?”

The former General scoffed, “What honor? I am interested in seeing how much your skill has improved.”

Tseng raised a brow. “Oh? Well, I am afraid that unless I rest, you will not get to see my full strength. I have been fighting your subordinate all morning.”

“Will fifteen minutes be long enough?” Sephiroth questioned, a strange expression on his face.

The Wutaiian resisted the urge to laugh as Sephiroth was quite serious; SOLDIERs were certainly of a different caliber. “It will be enough to catch my breath and finish off a bottle of water,” he supplied before finally sheathing his blades and turning towards the set of benches off to one side of the arena.

“Very well,” the other man allowed as he followed Tseng. “It’s not as if I have more pressing matters to attend to. Until the others find Balaam and his hideout, I am to keep a low profile.”

“How frustrating,” Tseng commented as he walked, and he truly meant it. If it had been himself, he would have been going rather crazy with boredom, not to mention the general feeling of uselessness that would plague his every thought. The Turk sat on one of the benches, grabbing bottled water from the stack he had brought earlier and wiped at his sweaty forehead.

“You have no idea,” responded the former General, his voice somewhat bitter as he took a seat on the bench, a respectable distance between them. His arms crossed over his chest, and he focused his attention on the ground. “Though, I can understand why Cloud would choose to act that way. He still does not trust me.”

Tseng shook his head faintly as he took a drink of the water. Somehow, he didn’t think that was the case. He remembered well Cloud’s anger at Sephiroth’s appearance and the subsequent interrogation. The entire time it seemed that the blond was fighting something within himself, not to mention that Tseng knew that Cloud had once looked up to Sephiroth as his idol. Perhaps it wasn’t that the blond didn’t trust Sephiroth… but more that he didn’t trust himself to make the right decisions concerning the former General.

“Did you know all those years ago how much Cloud admired you?” Tseng asked softly, his gaze trained on some random object far off the distance. He had the feeling that if he were to watch Sephiroth as he spoke, the man would clam up immediately.

Sephiroth exhaled very slowly. “I was aware that many cadets looked to me as their hero, though I didn’t comprehend why the shedding of blood was something to be proud of, something noble.” He paused, never once looking up from his intent contemplation of the dirt. “But I was too unlearned in human emotion to understand the true depth of some admiration.”

The Turk nodded in understanding; though in reality, he wasn’t sure of what Sephiroth spoke. The former General had been raised as a ward of ShinRa, the details of his life and birth unknown to the general populace. It wasn’t until the Nibelheim incident that Tseng even learned Hojo was Sephiroth’s father and that some creature by the name of Jenova had a hand in his genetics. The Wutaiian couldn’t even imagine what ills Sephiroth had suffered due to Hojo’s twisted and sadistic mind.

And judging by the look on the other man’s face, Tseng decided it was high time he changed the subject. On that matter, he was mildly shocked that Sephiroth was even carrying on a conversation. Was it possible that Zack spoke the truth and the former General had a… crush, for lack of a better word, on him? No, that was impossible. Improbable.

Tseng blinked, trying to clear his thoughts as he realized he had been staring off into space. He searched for another topic, silvery gaze finally landing on the sword sheathed at Sephiroth’s hip. At least there, they had something in common.

“That is Gilgamesh’s sword,” he commented. “It looks remarkably like the Masamune.”

Sephiroth nodded as he unfolded his arms, one falling to rest lightly on the hilt of his weapon. He opened his mouth to reply but another voice interrupted.

“Yes, and with the way he carelessly swings it about, you would think it was a toy rather than the weapon of an immortal being,” came the reprimanding tone.

Tseng glanced up in surprise to see Gilgamesh standing over them, but Sephiroth did not bother to raise his head. The sudden appearance of the demi-god startled the Turk somewhat, but he managed to hide it well. He still wasn’t used to the idea of the demi-deities or the fact that he had one trying to speak to him. In fact, he had blocked out the voice for the day, giving him a headache in the process. Perhaps one day he could accept it, but for the moment, Tseng had enough troubles.

“It is a substandard blade,” Sephiroth remarked, his tone somewhat icy. “You would do well to replace it.”

Gilgamesh laughed heartily. “Sleeping Beauty is irritated, I take it. Did I interrupt something?”

Mossy eyes narrowed. “Don’t you have something better to do than annoy me today? Such as… duties or anything important?”

The demi-god shrugged. “Not really. I was actually looking forward to observing the duel between you two.”

Sephiroth shook his head. “You show up out of nowhere so you could watch a fight between mortals?” he questioned somewhat disbelievingly.

Gilgamesh inclined his head as he crossed his arms over his chest, red robe billowing about him. “Only as I believe that Mr. Wutai here can knock you on your over-confident ass.”

Tseng’s eyes widened in surprise.

Him? Defeat the Great Sephiroth? He was certainly a good swordsman, perhaps better than Zack, but was he skilled enough to take on the former General one-on-one and come out victorious?

The demi-god noted his expression and regarded him evenly. “You do not believe you can.” It was a statement and not a question, but Gilgamesh smirked. “There is only way to find out. Who knows, dare I say, you may even have fun.”

He certainly had a point, and Tseng was not the type to back down from a challenge as interesting as such. He took one more sip from his water before recapping the bottle and standing.

“Fifteen minutes are up,” he responded in answer to the challenge. “Do you still want to duel?”

Sephiroth smiled faintly. “For the honor of my comrade I will.”

The demi-god grinned. “Good. Now go work out your frustrations!”

The former General shot him a warning glare as the two men made their way to the center of the arena. Gilgamesh remained by the benches, plopping down comfortably upon one as he leaned forward with an elbow resting on a knee. Tseng and Sephiroth drew their blades, finding in their attack stances, and serious expressions of equal swordsman’s spirit covered their faces.

They bowed slightly to each other, intent on beginning the duel in the next second when the sound of booted feet approaching forced them to look up in surprise. Vincent was coming towards them.

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” spoke the gunman softly.

Tseng gazed at him evenly. “We were about to practice and duel, but that can wait a moment. Did you come here for a reason?”

Vincent inclined his head as his grey gaze fell on Sephiroth. “I was wondering if I might speak with you a moment?”

A minute passed as something flickered in mossy eyes before Sephiroth sheathed his blade. “My apologies, Tseng, but Mr. Valentine and I have… unfinished business. I’ll have to postpone my duel.”

Within his mind, Gilgamesh sighed. (It would have been entertaining at least. Oh well, another time.) Sephiroth, however, ignored his anima.

Tseng kept his face neutral, though inside he was frowning. “That is quite alright. I can practice fine on my own.” He wondered what sort of business the two had. As far as he knew, Vincent had not known Sephiroth until recently. The ex-Turk had disappeared right around the time that the former General was born.

“Thank you,” Sephiroth responded, something flashing across his face, but it was gone in an instant. He and Vincent exchanged glances, and the two men walked away, heading out of the training area. Gilgamesh disappeared as well once it was clear that the two men were no longer going to duel.

The Wutaiian watched them for a moment, brow furrowed in thought, before deciding that there was nothing he could understand at the present moment. Perhaps Cid knew something; he could ask the pilot later. With that thought in mind, he raised his blades and began practicing.

Zack smirked to himself as he strode from the training arena. It was amusing to tease his friend. Plus, it was about time Sephiroth got himself some loving. He had been alone for far too long. Zack had always known that the former General liked men, even before Sephiroth himself knew, and it didn’t bother him. Zack was perfectly comfortable in his sexuality, which was why he could easily admit to himself that both Tseng and Sephiroth were very attractive.

Besides, he had the feeling that they would be good for each other. Tseng was experienced enough to treat Sephiroth well, and the General might be the only one who could understand the Turk’s mental plight. The only stumbling blocks would be Sephiroth’s naiveté and shyness and Tseng’s detached way of handling things. Still, Zack had the feeling that it would all come together in the end.

The sound of faint gunfire in the distance caught his attention, reminding him that there was a shooting range nearby. Curious as to who would be indoors on such a fine day, Zack followed the noise until he found his way to the range.

Once he opened the door, the rhythmic gunfire became even louder. There was only one person inside, mufflers covering her ears as she continued to fire one bullet after another into the far target. He immediately recognized the golden and downy blonde hair as belonging to Elena.

Zack stood behind her, watching for a moment as she struck the bull’s eye more often than not. Even without a center hit, every bullet still struck a vital area with astounding accuracy.

When the echoes of the last shot faded, and Elena began loading another clip into her handgun, Zack chose to make his presence known. He took a step forward but paused when she suddenly spoke.

“Don’t even think about trying to startle me, Loire. You are not exactly stealthy,” she warned without turning around.

Zack grinned as he moved to stand beside her. “You heard me? Even through the gunshots and those mufflers?”

“I was taught to always be aware of my surroundings, even when it appears to my enemy that I am not,” the blonde retorted simply. “I’m surprised that Sephiroth did not think to educate you.”

Zack raised an eyebrow as he picked up one of the handgun’s that she had laid out in front of her, idly checking to see if it was loading and testing the weight of it. “I’m an enemy, am I? And Sephiroth did teach me, thank you very much.” He raised the gun, aiming it at the far target.

She scoffed. “What does a swordsman know of gunmanship? Put it down before you accidentally shoot something important.”

Zack merely grinned again as he aimed and fired, a quick succession of eight bullets straight into the target at the far end of the range, directly next to the one Elena had successfully pummeled. When he lowered his arms, she was gaping at the skill he had displayed, nearly as good if not exactly on her level. He hadn’t missed the target at all and had only gotten one less bull’s eye than her.

“My father loved guns,” explained Zack casually as he picked up a clip and began reloading his weapon. “He tried to instill that passion in me as well, but I was more fascinated by swords. Still, that type of teaching never goes away. He always said that it was such a pity I had all that talent and turned to something else.”

“Indeed,” she commented as she took off her mufflers and turned to face him. She stuck out a hand. “Very well, I believe I can respect you now, Zack. You’ve proven your mettle.”

The ex-SOLDIER chuckled as he shook her hand. “That’s what it takes to get you off, eh? You’re much easier to understand than your boss.”

The blonde sighed as she shook her head. “You have no idea. Seems we both have our hands full with our superiors, even though technically Sephiroth is no longer ‘the General’.”

Zack shrugged. “Seph will always be the General to me.” A mischievous glint appeared in his eye. “Besides, if it all works out, soon they’ll have their hands full of each other, and we’ll be off Scott free!”

“So you’ve noticed it, too?” the female Turk questioned, not surprised at all. “Those two fools will take forever to do anything if we don’t help them.”

“To speak so ill of your superior, Elena; I’m appalled,” joked Zack.

She rolled her eyes. “And you are as childish as Reno. However, he has nothing of your skill in gun accuracy. Luckily for him, he has that Electro Rod.” She smirked, as though recalling something amusing. “So tell me more about your father, was he in ShinRa?”

Zack nodded, casually examining the gun that he held. “Up until he retired. He was a Captain, pretty famous somewhat in the Wutai war. You might have heard of him, Lexas Loire? But he got wounded in the front lines and was sent home. He had been retired since then. He was a good man, the kind that was easy to trust and proved it over and over.”

“I would have liked to meet this Lexas,” Elena stated, looking at him. “We could have shared our interest in guns since his son turned away from the tradition,” she teased.

The ex-SOLDIER smiled. “Yeah,” he responded. He was about to say more, but suddenly, he began to hear them.

Out of nowhere, there were faint whispers across the edge of his subconscious, like an echo in his ear of many voices all speaking a language. And for the moment, they made no sense. The sound grew louder with each passing moment as the words became clearer until they were pounding in his head with the force of a crowd and sending a shooting pain through the back of his eyes.

Zack winced, holding one hand up to his head.

Death Loss warning

The words came in no certain order, and he knew immediately that the Planet was speaking to him, working through him as it had claimed it would.

Elena’s eyes were wide with worry. “Zack, are you alright?”

He waved her off. “Yeah… I… I think that I’ve worked myself too hard today.” He managed a faint smile. “Hasn’t been that long since I came back to life. I think I’ll just go lie down for a bit.” The ex-SOLDIER took a step away from her. “Say, Tseng and Sephiroth are dueling in the arena. Can I rely on you to go make sure they are at least speaking to each other?”

The blonde nodded, though she was still concerned for him. It was rare to not see a smile on Zack’s face, but now, he seemed pained. “Yeah, I’ll do that.”

“Thanks. Well, see you later,” he replied, laying the gun down on the table and promptly walking from the room, idly rubbing on his head. The voices were louder, like a roar in his ears, and he needed to be alone if he was going to try and make sense of them.

Elena frowned in concern before removing her mufflers completely and getting ready to go the arena. Perhaps Sephiroth would know what was wrong with his subordinate.

She tucked one of the handguns into the hollow of her back, two more into the holsters at her sides, and the last and smallest one into the holster on her thigh before heading for the arena. The female Turk was surprised by the quiet as she approached it, thinking that she should have been able to hear the clashing of swords. As she rounded the bend, she saw that Tseng was alone, practicing his maneuvers. She waited until he stopped for a breather before she made her presence known.

“Boss!” she called out. “How’s it going?”

He angled his body to face her, sweat dotting his forehead and chest heaving somewhat with exertion. “Elena, I presume you hit all the targets?”

She nodded as she walked up to him. “Of course. Where’s Sephiroth?”

Tseng blinked as he sheathed his blades. “How did you know he was here?”

“A little spiky-headed child came by and showed me his marksmanship,” the blonde drawled.

The Wutaiian had to fight back a grin. “Ah, I see. Well, the General is gone. He left with Vincent not but ten minutes ago.” He walked towards the benches, again grabbing a bottle of water and this time, also taking a cleaning cloth for his katanas. “Unfortunately, I did not get to duel him, though I rather enjoyed defeating Zack every time. He is good with a gun?”

“Surprisingly, yes,” admitted the woman as she took a seat next to him. Her eyes roamed over her boss, noticing he was still haggard. Dark circles were under his eyes, though he managed to look as if he wasn’t tired at all. “But he left to get some rest; he was acting oddly.”

“Oddly? How so?” the Turk Commander inquired as he unsheathed one katana and started wiping off the blade, removing dust and such from it.

Elena shook her head. “I can’t really say. All of the sudden, he started to wince and hold his head, but he didn’t say he had a headache, just that he was tired.” She sighed. “I dunno. I can’t really understand what goes on around here with dead people coming back to life and all.”

Tseng scowled in thought. “I see.”

“You know, that’s not such a bad idea… getting some rest,” she said softly. “You should consider the same.”

Again, the Turk raised a brow. “I am fine, Elena. I have still got some work to do before the day is over.”

Nevermind that his head was beginning to ache or that his shoulder’s sagged, no matter how much he struggled to hold them up. Nevermind that just the day before he had suffered a nervous breakdown… in front of everyone no less. Tseng was fighting to regain his dignity from his loss of control, and the blonde knew that.

Elena glowered as she narrowed her eyes. “Are you planning on working yourself to death?” she snapped angrily. “Between you and Reeve, I don’t know who is going to die first! The way you two put everything on your own shoulders and take all the responsibility, it irritates me!” She huffed and glared at him even more. “Frankly, I wasn’t surprised at all yesterday. Above everyone else, I knew it had to come sooner or later, and I won’t be shocked at all if Reeve breaks within the next week.” She huffed before softening. “Everyone breaks Tseng.”

He didn’t even flinch as she spoke. Of all his Turks, in the past few months, Elena had been the one to be closest to him. They were both single, and perhaps the most alike in some ways. She was trying to live up to the expectations of her sister, and he was out to prove that nothing could bring him down.

He opened his mouth to reply to her when she suddenly sighed. “I’m sorry, Tseng. That was uncalled for.”

He shook his head. “No, you are right. It appears that my health has upset you.”

Elena regarded him with exasperation. “Upset me? You are my friend, Tseng, not just the boss. I’m not the only one worried either. Poor dumbass got his hands full concerned with both you and his lover. The same goes for Rude, though he finally can breathe easy knowing his son will be alright. Give us all a break, ne?”

Tseng smiled faintly. “I will try, if that will suffice.”

The blonde grinned. “It’s better than nothing. And while you’re at it, why not go after some leather-clad stud?”

“Elena!”

She snickered. “It’s just a thought, Tseng. Relax.”

The Wutaiian shook his head at his subordinate and sighed, returning to polishing the second katana. Perhaps Elena was right, and he should go rest as well; it wasn’t as if he had been given any difficult tasks either. Elena said nothing more, and the two sat in a companionable silence.

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