This one wasn't anyone's request, but Gabe's other father knocked at the door and said he wanted to say his piece anyway.

Forgiveness and Permission

Ulweiss and Galevik were both dead. He knew nothing about Ulweiss's family, the man cut down in Wutai when Zack was still just a barely-promoted Second Class newbie, but he knew about Galevik, because he hadn't died in action. He'd died at home, in his bed, asphyxiated along with his lovely wife of two months by a faulty heater. Turned out even a SOLDIER couldn't magically shake off carbon monoxide poisoning.

(A few higher-ups had bitched about the waste of a First Class and how perhaps they should have denied his application to go and live off the premises, if this was what came from allowing their SOLDIERs to have a life outside Shinra. Unknown individuals had thoroughly vandalized their very expensive, very well-guarded cars. Everyone agreed to say it was the work of anti-Shinra extremists. No one mentioned the imprint of fists on the metal.)

Tanner was one of the most efficient fighters he knew, and not a bad soldier to have at your side in battle. Zack also knew that if he handed him the little boy who was half his, he'd go straight to the labs to hand the kid back, and probably tell them if they were going to experiment with his genes he wanted to renegotiate his contract, because he wasn't getting compensated enough.

Only one left to ask, then.

(only two, whispered a voice in the back of his mind, but it didn't sound very enthusiastic. He fucking hated having to do this alone, but he'd rather do it alone than be betrayed and not get to do it at all.)

"Hey, Kegarr." He smiled as he walked up to him.

(There was a time to take chances, and a time to cut his losses, and he had to balance the two.)

"Hey, Fair," Kegarr replied, and took another drag of his cigarette.

They'd had a discussion about smoking before, at that very same bar, about the pointlessness of a SOLDIER attempting it, and the wasted money, and the clinging smell, but even though he agreed placidly with every single argument Kegarr kept smoking anyway.

(Zack liked him.)

(He liked him less than Sephiroth. That was the reason he hadn't told Sephiroth. Less of a wrenching loss if he didn't get the answer he wanted.)

It was cold outside the bar. Zack ducked his head and pulled up his turtleneck collar up to his chin, and kept smiling. Kegarr chuckled, quiet and deep in his chest. He was an imposing man -- not huge, but strong, and he looked it. About Zack's size but with wider shoulders, thicker arms. His frizzy hair was growing out of his usual buzz-cut.

"Want a drag?"

Zack chuckled back; it was quickly becoming their own private joke. "I'm good, thanks," he said, and leaned against the wall beside him. He let silence fall as he looked out of the mouth of the alley into the street, watching the ebb and flow of passersby.

And then, because Kegarr wasn't stupid, "So what did you want to talk about?"

Zack considered how to best open the conversation. Oh well, in doubt go straight to the point.

"What if you had a kid you didn't know about?"

Kegarr twitched in surprise and stared at him. "Shit, Zack, what did you do."

He couldn't help laughing, though it wasn't the immediate assumption itself he found amusing. It was the sheer black irony of it.

He hadn't done anything, but he sure was going to.

"It's not for me! No, seriously." He prodded Kegarr with his elbow. "What would you do?"

Kegarr gave him an unconvinced look and took another drag. "I wouldn't have a kid I didn't know about, because I'd have used a condom."

"What if the condom broke?"

"The condom wouldn't break because I pay attention to that shit," Kegarr said, very patiently, but not as amused anymore.

"Are you familiar with the concept of 'what if' at all?" Zack retorted. "Did you have a deprived childhood or something?"

Kegarr's purple eyes narrowed and turned away from his.

Zack let out a long sigh. He was too stressed out, he was getting bitchy. Couldn't afford that. "Sorry," he said, nudging him with his elbow again.

"I'd pay for the abortion," Kegarr said, abrupt and to the point.

Zack nodded, thoughtful.

"What if she didn't want to abort?"

"That's her choice," he replied, in a way that meant the result of that was also her problem. "I've got a career and it comes first, always has, always will. Also I don't like kids. And don't tell me 'it's different when it's your own', I've heard that from all my family, and the neighbors on top. It's a stupid argument. I'm not gonna make a kid just on the off-chance that I really might feel different once it's born, when I don't even want one in the first place. It's not a requirement, goddamnit!"

"... So... Lemme guess, recurring family argument, huh?"

"Shit yeah," Kegarr replied, letting out a rueful laugh. "Sorry. It's not as if I hate kids or anything, and if there's one in a burning house I'll go and get 'em before they're crisped, but. I just don't have any interest, and I've got other stuff to do with my time, that I actually want to do. So I don't think I'm the right guy for you to ask that kind of question to."

"No, no," Zack replied, disappointed but... no, he got where Kegarr was coming from. It wouldn't be fair to the guy. "I'm kind of like that, too -- love my job, love my life, don't wanna drop things to settle down, it's such a huge responsibility -- only I guess I'm alright with the idea of settling down eventually. Like... in thirty years, maybe."

Kegarr snorted and smirked at him. "Good plan. By then you should have reached adulthood... Well, hopefully."

"Oh, fuck you," Zack replied, though he'd handed him the opening fully knowing what he'd do with it.

Kegarr finished his cigarette and lit up a second one. Zack stared at the other wall of the darkened alley. There were less and less passersby in the street, though from time to time a trooper would stumble out to be sick in the gutter.

"What if the kid is in danger?" he asked softly. "Like, I dunno, the mother's a druggie who plans to sell it to pedophiles to pay for her habit." A pause, as he considered loopholes for Kegarr to slip through. "And she's got no other family."

The man let out a long sigh, though the look he turned on Zack was worried once again, not buying the rhetorical angle anymore. ".... It's a pain in the ass but I guess in that case I'd sue for guardianship, and then ask one of my cousins to raise it with their own, if they can. Though they've got a lot of children already and money gets kind of tight..." A second sigh. "I'd look for someone I could trust with the kid. Someone who'd care. 'cause, you know, I can't, but that's no reason to stuff them with the first money-grubbing neglectful asshole who comes along. That'd be my responsibility. Find 'em someone who'd care, and then I guess everyone's happy."


"Yeah," he replied, scratching his neck, embarrassed.

"Thank you," Zack whispered.

He was ready to catch Kegarr when he pitched forward, caught entirely unprepared by the heavy blow Zack had just landed on the back of his head.

Alone it was, then.

He'd seen just about everyone in his platoon at the bar tonight. Said his goodbyes, though none of them had realized. It gutted him that he couldn't spare the time to make a detour by Sector Six, couldn't risk the negative attention a letter would bring to Aeris, or even that little trooper he'd been sort of mentoring in secret, who was going to come back from the field to find him long gone. They didn't need that shit.

He arranged Kegarr's long limbs comfortably, made sure he'd be visible in the morning, and then he strolled out of the alley, hands in his pockets. First stop, the labs' security room. Lots of expensive equipment to break and underpaid guards to dispatch.