Call of Duty
note: fic prior to 2005ish uses Zax Darklighter rather than Zack Fair.
"Merry Christmas," Zax said, his laughter a low hitch in his chest. "Not how I guess you'd want to spend it." It was the end of the rainy season in Wutai, according to the last calendar Zax had looked at days ago, but apparently Wutai wasn't interested in letting up anytime soon. Water streamed from the broad leaves outside the mouth of the cave; a small muddy rivulet ran just beyond his boots. It was less of a cave and more of a hole, but Zax was disinclined to be picky. "Be better off back at camp? Or maybe in Midgar. It's probably covered in snow, right now. Don't you think, sir?" Zax paused, his fingers worrying at the knots tied in muddy bandages. "Sir?"
The general took a breath, opened one eye partway. Zax watched the slit pupil open and close, his commander looking at him without recognition. "Branford?"
The knot gave in Zax's hands. "Darklighter, Sir. Lt. Branford is dead."
Sephiroth closed his eyes, air hissing between his teeth. "My apologies. I seem to be... slipping."
Zax looked down without comprehension at the mass of lacerations under his hands. "Me too, sir."
"The helicopter crashed, didn't it." Sephiroth tried to sit up, and blood welled between Zax's fingers. "There was anti-aircraft fire... from the ground."
"You should stay still," Zax said, adding belatedly, "sir." He told himself his fingers were shaking because of blood loss and two days without food, not fear and memory. The bandages were makeshift, torn out of the sleeves of his jacket; there had been no time to retrieve anything better. Wutai guerrilla fighters were not known for their leniency, but at least they hadn't known how many passengers the chopper had been carrying. Four bodies must have been enough to content them; Zax didn't think they had been followed.
"Leave it," Sephiroth said, as Zax ripped the stitches out of his other sleeve, trying to wring the fabric dry.
Zax tore the camouflage fabric into strips anyway, fumbling them tied with his fingers. "It's Christmas Eve, did you know?" Sephiroth made a vague noise, his head tilted back against the rock face. Water trickled down his arm, tinged pink as it left his fingers. Zax could not think about what he didn't know how to fix, broken bones grating under his hands, injuries that would have killed a normal man three times over. Instead he tied up his commander's ribs and shoulder again, willed the pale skin to knit. "I wonder if Ma sent me a card. She does, you know, every year. Once she found out where I was."
The white general blinked at him bemusedly, a far cry from the man Zax had met less than a week ago. Sephiroth looked truly defeated, his long hair matted and no longer white, the fingers of his right hand refusing to even close, much less grip the hilt of the great black sword strapped to his back. Zax could not let himself even wonder at what kind of cosmic injustice would leave him alive and Sephiroth dying. "Did you run away from home, Darklighter?"
Zax grinned. "Yeah, I guess I did." Zax tried to find a relatively dry patch to sit on, gave up, and squidged over to the wall. "I didn't know anything about entrance exams or the time limitations for SOLDIER, so I turned up two weeks too late for the fall slot, and had to spend the winter in a drain pipe under sector two." Zax waved a hand at the muddy cave. "Feels just like the good old days."
Sephiroth began to make a noise, rasping and thick, and Zax was panicking for a full thirty seconds before he realized his commander wasn't having a seizure, he was laughing. "You don't strike me as the kind to hold back on an impulse." He went still, and opened both his eyes. They showed pain, but were unclouded for the first time since the helicopter crash. "How long have you been carrying me through the brush?"
Zax ran a hand through his hair, shrugging. "Two days? I knew we weren't supposed to stay at the wreck site, because of the damage of capture, so I've been trying to point us back towards camp..."
"I know the protocol, Darklighter."
Zax shut up abruptly.
"Well?" Sephiroth said, without opening his eyes. "You're a SOLDIER third class, aren't you? Your commander is incapacitated, and you are deep in enemy territory. What are your options?"
Zax considered. "Even if we stayed here, there is no real chance of us being found. We hid our tracks from the Wutai guerrillas, and HQ would be justified in marking us missing in action. So it would be best to move on if we want to survive."
"You didn't sleep though your classes, at least." Sephiroth ran a hand down his thigh, over the shredded black tatters of his pants. "It's taken you twice as long, carrying me. You know the book, don't you, Darklighter? Ones who can't keep up should be left behind."
Zax stared. "...I can't leave you, sir."
"Don't be an idiot. Of course you can. I am no use to either of us." Sephiroth struggled to grasp the hilt of Masamune, and failed. "Take my sword with you. I won't need it, and Central Command will want some proof." He smiled, bitterly. "I'm sure I will be a splendid martyr. That should please them." Sephiroth looked sharply at Zax, still hesitating. "Well? What are you waiting for? You can walk well enough. You want it an order? Fine." Slit irises narrowed. "Move out, Soldier."
Zax paused only a moment longer, then nodded. He leaned forward and pulled Sephiroth's good arm over his, slinging the general ungracefully across his shoulders and standing, grunting with exertion.
"What," Sephiroth said, in utterly bland tones, "in the name of hell are you doing?"
"Disobeying a direct order, Sir," Zax said, bearing his commander up, and beginning the long journey back to camp.
To Central Command, Admiral Heidegger, Midgar
From Gen. Sephiroth, Field Encampment 435-B, Wutai Frontier
Enclosed are forms for promotion of SOLDIER #7607, Darklighter, Zax.
Field promotion, SOLDIER, first class. Silver commendation.
That is all.