I didn’t feel stupid after what we did together. Not even for a single second. Most people in our situation would have, especially given the situation. Cloud never did wake up, and a part of me figured that if Genesis couldn’t wake him, then no one could. I wasn’t the sort to lose hope so easily, so I simply let him sleep. I wasn’t keeping track of time, so it wouldn’t have surprised me if we ended up spending the entire day under the Banora caverns. Then again, nothing surprised me anymore. After crawling off of Genesis, I sat next to Cloud and thought of Aeris. I wondered what she would think of all this. She spent four years writing letters to me, never giving up, always believing that I would return. How would she feel if she found out that I did a circle jerk with my former ambivalent enemy? I considered her a friend, but I can’t imagine her approving of this. I did what I did, no getting around that, so I decided to let the chips fall where they may. Hopefully, she would never know.
Genesis remained on his back. rubbing his face with his gloved hands. He didn’t have to worry about any significant others because the two that functioned as both friends are lovers are either dead or missing in action. Even if they weren’t, Sephiroth wouldn’t have cared if Genesis had sex with dogs, but Angeal? Hard to say with him, but it didn’t matter now because--I didn’t need to be reminded and neither did Genesis.
“Are you okay?” I asked. I knew he was, but I wanted to hear something more than breathing mixed with a distant waterfall.
He nodded before sitting up. “Yes.”
“Do you feel stupid?” I don’t know I asked that, but I did.
Genesis frowned. “No, of course not. Is something wrong?”
“Nah. Not even for a second. I have no regrets.”
“Me neither.” He cracked his usual arrogant grin. “We have no reason to, unless there’s something you’re not telling me?”
“Uh, well, no. I mean, I guess I just worry too much.” I glanced over at Cloud. He still slept.
“I see,” Genesis looked towards the bright glitter path that led back to the prisons. “We should get moving.”
“You’re right.” I stood up to stretch before slinging Cloud back over my shoulder.
“When I did something like this with Angeal, I’d look past the safe zone and imagine monsters watching us.” He snickered a bit, and I did the same. I couldn’t help myself. “I told him that and he’d just shake his head. I knew he found it funny.”
“It’d be interesting, that’s for sure. What if it were Shinra soldiers?”
Genesis shrugged. “Obviously they’d be able to get through, but they wouldn’t live to tell the tale. I don’t like anyone crashing parties. ” He folded his arms over his head. “Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that right now.”
“Right now...” I echoed. I held Cloud close to me.
“Feel stupid now?” Genesis asked, one eyebrow raised.
“No. W-we needed the rest, and--”
“Yes, I know. It was worth the risk.”
I didn’t have anything to say to that, so I simply followed him out of the safe zone and over the bright, shining bridge. I really didn’t want to go back there, but my choices were slim to none with slim running far away. All I could think was how pretty the bridge was before Genesis stopped at the prison entrance.
“Zack, do you have anyone?”
I blinked, a little put off by the sudden question. I wanted to mention Aeris, but I just shook my head. “Why?”
“You’re a shitty liar.”
Oh fuck. He nailed me...again. “Aeris...”
Genesis raised his eyebrows. “Who?”
I asked. “Do you know her?”
“Her...” Genesis shook his head. He didn’t seem upset, but why would he? “No, I don’t, actually.”
“She’s a good friend of mine.” Why was I explaining this to him? Just a day ago, we were about to kill each other. Not that I stopped running my mouth. “We did date, but I never considered it serious. She wrote letters to me, but I never got any, except for one. I just got it right after carrying you out of this cave. Lezard gave it to me, and why am I even telling you this?”
“It’s okay. She doesn’t have to know. No one has to, in fact.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t blackmail you.” He smiled. “Even if she did find out, I’m sure she’d understand.” He waved his gloved hands. “I mean, look at me. Could anyone blame you?”
I groaned. Some things never changed. I brushed past him and went straight into the place I really didn’t want to go. Genesis followed me, trying to his damndnest not to laugh. He fell silent when we went deeper into the prison and I knew that it wasn’t because of any monsters. I killed most, if not all of them, and a lot of them were machines, so their remains littered the floor. Must be the general feeling of this area. I hated it more than any part of the cave because I knew that there were people here, imprisoned for whatever reason, and I doubt any of them escaped. I tried not to look at the messages written in blood. I made sure to forget what they said. Or tried to forget.
“Experimenting,” Genesis replied. “That’s what this place was for.”
He shook his head. “Not just those. Other kinds of experiments. Believe it or not, people who learned of this place came willingly. Some knew Hollander and wanted his help to grow stronger, so they submitted to his experiments. Others should have just thought more carefully before coming anywhere near these caves.” He took the keys from his coat and jangled them. “This place was kept secret for a reason, and I wanted it to stay that way.”
“That would explain all the monsters.”
Genesis grunted. “Yes, it would, but they were always there. The stronger clones appeared later.”
“I can see people getting a little curious, but coming here to grow stronger? I mean, I don’t mind being a better SOLDIER by training and using materia, but come on, this stuff? No way!” I just couldn’t understand. Yea, sure I have Mako and stuff, I worked my ass off too. This just seemed different. Like, people wanted to grow stronger the easy way.
“You’d be surprised the lengths some people would go through.”
“But, they weren’t degrading, were they?”
“It’s not just about that. Some people just don’t like the way they are or weren’t able to join SOLDIER. So, they chose an alternate route. The desire for power, power, and more power is a strong motive for some people. Then, there are those who simply didn’t want to be perpetual victims anymore, but wanted a ‘quick fix’. There’s a lot of reasons, Zack. Some did it because they want to be even bigger assholes than Sephiroth.” We both broke out laughing.
“I don’t think anyone would be able to manage that!” I practically shouted after regaining some control.
“You never know.”
I sobered up a bit as we approached a large jail cell. This was where I fought Bahamut King. Blood sprayed the whole area, and I could see remnants of green lifestream. Genesis’s jaw could have fallen on the floor.
“You killed the Bahamut King?”
Now it was my turn to be all smug. “Yup.”
“You bastard.” Genesis half-smiled, his blue eyes shined with amusement.
“Was he an experiment?”
“No, he was the monster that killed the curious group.” He showed me the keys again. “Not a pretty sight. To be frank with you, I didn’t sympathize much.” He walked over to the wall behind Bahamut King’s remnants. “I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.”
I didn’t dare say anything about that, but I remembered one of the messages written in one of the nearby cells. “Someone wrote something in blood. Somewhere nearby.”
Genesis followed my gaze as he stood beside me. “Some people did that. Their way of saying, ‘I was here.’
“Just one stood out. Something about ending up ‘weaker than a grunt’.”
“Why that one?”
I wrapped my arms around Cloud. “He considered himself weak. I can honestly see someone like him coming here just wanting to be strong, wanting to prove themselves.”
“Zack, he’s with you. He doesn’t need a place like this if he has you around. Just because someone considers themselves weak, doesn’t mean they are.” Genesis lowered his head. “I don’t know who wrote that message, but if it’s any consolation, it might have been written by someone who got a little too greedy and had to live with the consequences.” He walked back to the wall with me following him.
My heart almost stopped when I saw an opening that led to some sort of passage. I saw light at the end, so I figured that it was either daylight or a train. “Huh?”
“Shhhh”. Genesis winked, pressing his finger against his lips. “It’s a secret.” He disappeared into the hallway and I followed.
I could tell that it was still morning, not too early since all the morning dew vaporized, but far from noon. I felt relieved. The vehicle turned out to be a black van that could carry at least five people and whatever baggage they had with them. In fact, some of the bags contained useful things, like food. They must have been killed recently because nothing looked rotting or old. We tossed everything we didn’t need, like cheap clothing that didn’t fit, and kept anything that could sell for gil. I didn’t find any weapons. I looked at Genesis. He must have been thinking the same thing.
“Tourists.” I felt a little sad as I strapped Cloud in the seat behind me. I laid the Buster Sword down in the very back seat, making damn sure that it wouldn’t become a torpedo should anything happen. Genesis climbed behind the driver’s seat, kicking it into gear before putting the key in the ignition. “If there is any fairness in this world, this van will start.” I didn’t even think of the possibility that it wouldn’t, but when he mentioned it, I tensed up before relaxing when the engine roared to life.
“Just a couple of warnings,” he began after I sat beside him. “One, I brake for no one and two, slow is a concept I never heard of .“
Yea, I got that early on. “I’ve gone one for you!” I pointed back at Cloud. “He gets motion sick.”
Genesis groaned. “Nice...” He rolled down the window and I did the same. “Hopefully the crisp Banora air will help him.”
“If you drive like a demon...” I braced myself when he released the clutch. He accelerated like we were shot out of a cannon.
Okay, he didn’t drive like a maniac, but he reminded me of myself, really. Neither one of us had light feet and we tended to shift fairly quickly and as smoothly as the vehicle allowed. This van? It didn’t. Sure, it worked, but if it wasn’t enough by my standards, then Genesis couldn’t possibly have been pleased. What was left of Banora sped past me and the air felt like cool water. I smelt sweet apples and leaves. Cloud didn’t do anything except bob his head a bit. Thankfully, he didn’t throw up. I munched on a bag of nuts I took from one of the useful bags, feeling a bit generous because I allowed Genesis to grab some too.
I decided to be an asshole to liven things up a bit. I knew damned well that it’d be a bunch of land, a long bridge, and more land before being anywhere near the Shinra capital. “Are we in Midgar yet?”
Genesis narrowed his eyes. “Shut up. You’re lucky you’re even getting a ride.”
I laughed. Even now, I still liked annoying him. I did it as often as I could when I was younger and I sure wasn’t about to stop now. “What are you going to do when we get to Midgar?”
“I-I don’t know.” Genesis frowned. “I mean, everyone thinks I’m dead. I never even considered it. To be honest, if it were just me, Midgar would be the last place I’d go.”
“I wonder what Cloud will do?” I looked over at Cloud. The kid didn’t say anything. His head just lolled around a bit. He didn’t look sick, he just looked asleep. Before Genesis could say anything, I swallowed a mouthful of nuts and folded my arms across my chest. “I know what I’m going to do!” Obviously, it’d have to be something to do with fighting since I knew I was great at it. Course, I needed a place to stay though. Genesis was out. He was bearable now, but I knew it wouldn’t last long. Aeris. Yes, of course her. “I got a place I could crash for awhile.”
Genesis’s eyes widened. “You do?”
“No. I can take you back there, but I wouldn’t stay. I can’t.” Genesis looked kind of bitter. “Think about it. Even if I managed to sneak into the Shinra building, it would only be to take some of my things, get as much gil as possible, and go elsewhere.”
“Oh, yea. You’re right...” I had to be real. Genesis was a traitor to Shinra, but then again, so was I. We were on the same boat, but Genesis did more, behaved worse. I, at least, might be forgiven, but Genesis? No way. “I’ll be staying--”
“Yup!” I grinned before realizing that she lived with her mother. My smile faded as fast at it appeared. “Actually, no. The mother lives there too.”
“Oh no!” Genesis gasped, obviously mocking me. Bastard. “She might rip your nuts off!”
I agreed, even though I never met Aeris’ mother. I couldn’t risk my balls though. “Guess that’s out...” I sighed. The scenery changed a little bit. Less trees, more plains. The sky looked like someone sprayed white paint on a blue easel pad. “Gotta change my plans. No matter what I do, I’ll need some money first.”
“Ugh, thanks for reminding me, Zack.”
“You don’t have any?”
“Gee, what do you think?” Genesis pushed himself against the seat. “Once upon a time, I had more money than the Goddess. Now? I’m lucky I have anything. Shinra had to have taken it all.”
“True, and it didn’t have the decency to swallow.”
We laughed. Cloud remained silent. I looked back at him. “Hey, want to start a business?”
Genesis snorted. “But, what could we do?” He asked. He sounded really curious and a little lost. I didn’t blame him. “Everyone thinks I’m dead, so I could always start over or make a grand comeback and be the hero I always wanted to be. Think of the shock when people discover that I was never killed in action like Shinra wants everyone to believe.”
I perked up. “You know, you could do that. Use some kind of code name, disguise yourself, and then when you’re ready, reveal yourself. Something like that. I could do the same.”
“Of course. You’re still young. You should try everything. Simply go out and look for what you really want. You have that luxury.” Genesis chuckled. He kept his eyes on the road. “Goddess, I sound like I’m a hundred and nine. I should follow my own advice.”
Then it hit me like Genesis throwing me out and running me over. “That’s it! Of course! We’re SOLDIER! I’ve got the brains and the skill! I’m going to become a mercenary!”
Genesis raised his eyebrows. “You’re going to be the one who travels?”
“Yea!” I blinked when I realized just what he was referring too. I humored him. “Yup. That means you get to be the hero!”
“Heh, I still want to, but I have a lot of work to do before even thinking about it. So, you want Cloud to be captured?”
“Why not? He’d get the girl.”
“Not necessarily. Some other girl.” I quickly changed the subject back to the mercenary idea. “I'm gonna become a mercenary and that's that. Boring stuff, dangerous stuff, anything for money. I'm gonna be rich!"
“Great idea!” Genesis looked genuinely happy. He tapped on the steering wheel. “I should consider that. I’d be expensive though because I’m worth it!” He briefly looked at me. “So are you, so don’t sell yourself short.”
“I don’t plan on doing that.” Cloud still didn’t stir. I wanted to say something to him, but I decided to save it for when he woke up Right now, he was still asleep, so I didn’t see the point in asking him anything.
Looking in the review mirror, Genesis asked, “What about your friend?”
“He could work with me.” I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll ask him when he can actually answer.” I chomped on the last of my snack, just wishing I could be in Midgar right now. Genesis was right, it’d take a awhile to get back ‘home’ and yes, he did drive like a demon, a skilled one, but a van never compared to the cars I knew he drove. If only those poor tourists had a helicopter instead of a van. They’d have gotten to Banora faster, that’s for sure. Not that it mattered now. I leaned against the window because I could have sworn I heard the very thing I was thinking about. Genesis must have heard it too because he slowed down a bit and looked carefully into the review mirror. He tilted his head toward the window, then glanced upward. I felt my skin crawl.
“Shinra...” I whispered. “It’s got to be.” I wanted to puke. Just what I needed, and to make matters even worse, I heard only one helicopter which meant that we weren’t dealing with regular grunts since they traveled in large packs. “Turks, maybe?” I really hoped it was the Turks because they would least listen to me, but Genesis? What about him? He didn’t say anything. He just kept his hand on the gear stick, as if waiting for a reason to just gun it. All I knew was that the Turks would be more reasonable before trying to do anything, especially if the right ones were trying to get us. Whoever they turned out to be, I hoped the ‘copter was full of people I knew. I didn’t feel like fighting.