Author's Note: There is possible trigger warnings in here for child abuse so please be cautious.
It was that time of year again.
That time when hopefuls from all over the lands flock to Midgar in hopes of making it big. In hopes of becoming powerful businessmen with the good graces of the Shinra Electric Power Company or having a stab at being an infamous SOLDIER in the Shinra Army. So many hopes and dreams come to Midgar only to be crushed by bloodthirsty and power-hungry individuals that already take up residence there. And the youngest and weakest of the hopefuls get weeded out by the rough and grueling training to become a candidate of SOLDIER.
The city is lively, always welcoming new blood on the surface, but the looming threat of the city beneath the plates is always present. Even though no tangible evidence of the degrading civilian life beneath the plates is present above it, it is widely known that it could be them one day. A part of it is the thrill, the constant worry that every day could be the last one you have on the surface. That one wrong move and men in black suits will be busting down your door, ready to drag you down into the bowels of Midgar to spend the rest of your days amongst the destitute and the downtrodden.
Another part of it is pride. Being able to climb to the top and be recognized while so many others are crushed beneath the soles of one's metaphorical boot. To be where so many strive to be but only a select few are able to achieve.
The trains, while always bustling, is moreso this time of year than any other. Mostly filled with young boys willing and eager to join the SOLDIER program. All cramped together, packed in like sardines. Most everyone is from out of town going to Midgar with high hopes, while those that lived there, bowed their heads, wishing luck and fortune upon the hopefuls.
Pretty sky blue eyes widen in awe as the train draws closer to Midgar. He grins down at his cupped hands, ignoring the pain in the knuckles of his right middle and forefinger. And the middle knuckle on his left hand is bruised too. Purple marks up and down his arms and the gentle throbbing around his body is easy to ignore. He's no stranger to pain. He's no stranger to sore muscles and tired limbs. All of this is easily ignored.
The woman next to him, old enough to almost be his grandmother, stares slightly mortified at the young boy beside her. Other then his knuckles and wrists, she can see shadows under his left eye - it's black and in the stages of healing - and from the way he sits leaning more on his right side she can only assume that he is hurt somewhere on the ribs or hip on the left side.
When his blue eyes flicker over to her, she expects a haunted, drained look on his face. A clear cut sign of abuse. Poor baby. But she is shocked when he smiles brilliantly at her. Two pearly white rows of teeth flash brightly.
"Hi there, how are you?" the boy asks, startling her further.
The woman jumps slightly, surprised at just how happy he sounds. "Oh, well, I'm fine, dear. And you?" He looks hurt. Nothing dangerously life-threatening, but it had to of hurt. Badly. Yet he doesn't seem to let it faze him. Not in the slightest.
The boy practically bounces in his seat. "I am so excited! I'm going to be joining Shinra today. I can't wait. Oh, uh, do you live here? In Midgar, I mean."
She nods. "Over in Sector 4." Normally, she would be cautious of telling a complete stranger anything about her, but the words just drifted from her mouth before she really had a chance to think about them. Something about this boy is very disarming. He could have gotten the bruises in some kind of gang fight. Although she can't seem to see this boy with his big blue eyes and a face filled with childish wonder as being part of anything remotely bad.
"Ooh, that's so cool! You see SOLDIERs often? You know, because you live in Midgar?" The boy asks, his eyes turning back to the window across from him. Even though the train is packed full of people, he can still see Midgar just over another kid's head.
"I see them often," the old woman says, amused. "They're very impressive, aren't they?" Now she understands. He's a hopeful. Just like a lot of the people on this train. He's hoping to be in SOLDIER.
The boy continues to bounce up and down in the seat, expressing limitless energy. "Definitely! SOLDIERs are so cool and powerful. They are like peacekeepers. The guys who do the right thing when the time comes. The one people look to." He sighs, looking off dreamily, finally settling down in his seat as he adapts a faraway look in his eye. "Goddess, I'm going to be just like them. The best kind of SOLDIER there is. You just wait, alright? When I become a hero, I'll come to visit." He smiles brilliantly at her, eyes focusing again.
The smile that crosses the old woman's lips is a sad but hopeful one. She's heard something like this multiple times every year for as long as she has been in Midgar and each time she looks upon the hopeful faces it leaves her a little cold and sad. These poor boys come from far and wide to have their dreams crushed by Shinra and it's just sad to hear about.
"I'm Zack, by the way," Zack says, holding his hand out for her.
She takes his hand. "Ruby. It's a pleasure to meet you, Zack."
"Welcome to Midgar. Security checkpoint ahead. Please have your identification prepared. We thank you for your co-operation."
Zack is practically vibrating in excitement again. "I'm almost in Midgar! This is so exciting."
"Please, Zack, whilst in Midgar, take care of yourself." Ruby looks at the younger boy, thinking about her own son when he was Zack's age. She hoped that he looked after himself. Midgar wasn't forgiving in the slightest.
Zack takes her hands, surprising her a bit by how gentle he holds them. It's almost enough for her to forget that he has bruises... probably all over his body from who knows what.
"I will. Thank you so much, Ruby. You too, okay?" Zack blinks charmingly, long dark eyelashes brushing the top of his cheekbones. Ruby smiles thinly, squeezing Zack's hands back. She hopes to one day have a grandson as sweet as this boy before her.
"I will, thank you, Zack."
The security checkpoint took place at the train station. Zack helped Ruby off and she was let passed the Infantry when she showed them her Midgar I.D. Multiple others pass by as well, but Zack, like all of the other newbies in town, had to go through the checkpoint.
"Name," an Infantryman with a gruff voice asks. Holds up a clipboard, pen poised over the lined paper. There is like ten of them, probably a squad or part of a squad is in charge of the checkpoint, Zack supposes. People are lined up in front of them, getting their information written down before they can pass through and walk the final stretch to the Shinra Tower.
The Infantryman jolts something down. "Age?"
The Infantryman's lips quirk slightly. "Nine months from Valentine's day."
Zack rolls his eyes. "Trust me, buddy. You are not the first to point that out." The Infantryman chuckles, shaking his head. He jots something else down.
"You do realize that you have to be at least fifteen to be allowed into the program. SOLDIER or Infantry." His chin tilts up toward Zack, giving the boy the impression that he was looking at him but it's hard to tell for certain with the way the Infantry's helmet is designed.
Zack tilts his head slightly. "I never said I was going to join Shinra," he says, smiling.
The Infantryman grunts, shaking his head again. "Every boy your age is here only to join SOLDIER or Infantry. It wasn't that hard to guess. Now, am I wrong?" Zack shakes his head. "Good, still have to be fifteen."
Zack digs around in his pocket and pulls out a note from the recruiter and hands it to the older man. It's then that he notices the bruises on Zack's knuckles. He looks at them, then to his wrists, then his black eye.
Zack smiles lightly, practically feeling the older man's eyes going from one bruise to the next. He was expecting this. "You should see the other guy."
Mutely, the Infantryman takes the note and looks at it. His birthday is coming up and it has been approved by Shinra hierarchy to let him in for the month before he turned fifteen. It's been signed off and it looks official. But it's not his job to analyze it. He hands it back to Zack.
"Make sure to give this to the Cadet registry officer for the record. You can go."
Zack stuffs the note back in his pocket, nodding. A brilliant smile nearly splitting his face. "Thanks a lot. Have a good day!" Without waiting for a response, Zack jogs past, picking up speed when he reaches the street. Glad to leave the platform and the din of too many people gathered together, Zack breaks into a full-on sprint when the main road that leads straight to the Shinra tower comes into view. He holds his left side. Pain searing from his ribs, but he's too excited to worry about caution.
This was it. He was going to get into SOLDIER and become a Hero. It's been his dream ever since he was young. The recruiter from Gongaga even wrote him a note so that he could get in before his birthday so he wouldn't have to wait another year. "You've got amazing potential," he had said and Zack practically glowed. It took Zack days to convince his parents to let him go. He had to promise to write for his mom and come home every chance he got for his dad. And even then his dad insisted on sending him an allowance.
Zack had outwardly scoffed at it, saying that he was going to start making his own money and didn't need handouts, but inwardly he was glad that he would have a leg up at least to take care of himself until he actually made it into SOLDIER. It was commonly known that Cadets get paid practically nothing but provided almost everything to make up for it. While Thirds get paid slightly more, the majority of their income derives from missions.
SOLDIER is actually paid very poorly, but because they are able to take missions and get paid that extra bit, it almost makes up for it. It encourages taking missions. It also encourages taking on other jobs in the company. Like his instructors, for example, they are probably SOLDIERs that take missions according to their rank and also have a teaching job on the side and get paid a salary for both. Admittedly, Zack was so ecstatic when he learned he would be able to go that he read everything and anything about Shinra that he could get his hands on.
Zack didn't take any time to look at the sights of Midgar. It didn't much matter to him. He was going to make it into SOLDIER and he would get the opportunity to look around then. Right now, it's all about the dream. Unfortunately, everything Zack read about the Cadet program all had one thing in common: It was brutal. They were going to weed out everyone they could before allowing anyone into SOLDIER.
And Zack couldn't wait.
Once Zack was at the steps of Shinra, he doubled over breathing heavily. His ribs aching at every breath. There was also a stitch at his side that he barely noticed under the strain of aching ribs. But his blood was humming. It was like music to his ears. He always enjoyed doing physical stuff; running, jumping, climbing, etc. Anything to get him moving and he loved it. Zack wasn't Zack if he wasn't running around all day doing errands for people or playing games with the younger kids in town. Zack didn't have any friends his age. They were either older than him by three or four years or younger by six or seven.
So hanging out with boys closer to his age was going to be so much fun too.
Someone steps onto the step next to him. Zack straightens up, flinching at the pain at his side. A Wutaian man stands in front of him in a finely pressed black suit. His black hair pulled back into a ponytail. A tattoo of a jewel on his forehead and dark brown eyes stare down at him, studying him closely.
Zack smiles breathlessly. "Hi, sorry. I'm not loitering, just catching my breath."
"You're fine," the man says. "Did you run all the way from the station?"
Zack laughs, flinching at the pain at his side. "Yeah, I kinda got over-excited." He rubs the back of his head sheepishly, wild spiky hair sticking up in all directions. He's finally starting to catch his breath. "Unfortunately, that happens more than I'd like to admit." His breathless laughs hurt.
"I see." The man tilts his head slightly, taking in the boy's wounds.
Zack notices his eyes and sheepishly says, "Yeah, I'm a little hurt."
A black eyebrow raises at that. "How astute of you to notice."
Zack rubs his shoulder, then stretches, loosening up his muscles. He probably should have stretched before he sprinted across town, considering he spent the last few hours cramped moving from train to train to get to Midgar. Too late now. 20-20 vision in hindsight.
There is an awkward silence. Zack looks around uncomfortably while the man in the suit stares at him, studying him still. Unable to stand the silence any longer Zack points to himself. "I'm Zack."
The man's head tilts again, curiously this time. "Tseng." A pause. "How did you get those bruises, Zack?"
Zack's demeanor suddenly changes. He shifts uncomfortably, looking everywhere but at Tseng, blue eyes practically dark blue in the limited light that breaches the smog covering Midgar flicker about in thought, his mind going back to that moment. Stiffly and extremely uncomfortable, Zack shifts. The friendly atmosphere that started to form around them turns ice cold in moments. It's obvious by his shifting that he didn't want to talk about it.
Finally, Zack looks up and Tseng and smiles. It's tight and forced but not unkind. "I didn't do anything bad."
Tseng's eyes sharpened. "That wasn't what I asked."
Zack shrugs. "I... did what had to be done." His hands clenched tight, the bruised knuckles discoloring from the strain. His eyes flicker up to Tseng's. Blue on brown. "I made sure that a disgusting someone didn't get his way anymore. That's all." Zack's eyes flicker up to the Shinra logo hanging over the glass doors of the main entrance. His smile returns, more naturally. "I got to go. Thanks so much for the talk."
Tseng's face returns neutral, not at all bothered about being brushed off with a half answer. Or if he was, it didn't show on his face. "I see."
Practically bouncing in excitement, Zack darts up the stairs pausing at the top, he turns to look down at Tseng. "Do you work here?" A single curt nod. "Is the Cadet... sign up guy in there?"
Tseng's face is unchanged. "The registry officer?"
"Yeah! I'm signing up for SOLDIER!" Zack beams, previous dark atmosphere is completely forgotten.
"He should be on the second level in the main lobby, by the elevator. A desk is set up."
Zack is shaking in excitement. "Awesome. Thanks a ton, Tseng! See you around!" Zack spins around and runs inside. It's so bright and clean in the lobby. The room is bustling, people going from room to room, coming off the elevator and getting on one. People loitering around in the lobby. Two women behind a large desk are filtering calls throughout the company. So much is going on. It's exciting. Zack's not even sure where to look first or even if his eyes can take in everything or not.
His eyes hone in on the elevators behind the front desk. Zack makes his way over to the stairs and climbs up them, vibrating in excitement. There are two men dressed in Second Class SOLDIER purple outfits. They were talking quietly to one another when Zack got close, they stopped. Immediately, they seize him up but the bubbly raven-haired boy doesn't notice.
"Hi! Do I sign up here?"
The one on the left nods. The one on the right asks, "Exactly how old are you?"
Zack picks up the pen, about to sign his name, when he remembers the note he's supposed to give to the Registry Officer. He pulls the crinkled note from his pocket and hands it over, leaning over at the waist to scribble his name down. Both Instructors read over the note and look to the boy. It's not exactly uncommon to have a boy sign up that's younger than the specified age, but it is rare enough to make note of.
"Cadet Zackary Fair," the one on the right says, folding the note and putting it in his pocket, probably to put into Zack's file later. "Welcome to the Cadet program. You are the first to arrive. I'm Third Class Instructor William Torin. I'll be in charge of your hand to hand combat training."
Zack tenses to stop himself from jumping up and yelling out, "Ya-hoo!"
"And I'm Third Class Instructor Gavin Taylor. I'll be your War History and strategy teacher," says the other Instructor, taking Zack's hand once he finishes shaking Instructor Torin's hand.
Zack claps his hands together in an attempt to keep them from shaking. "This is so exciting, thanks so much!"
"Tell me," Instructor Taylor says, shifting his stance wide. A very strong military stance, one Zack can't wait to learn. So official! "Why do you want to be in SOLDIER?"
"It's my dream," Zack says simply, stepping aside as more boys begin to show up, filtering into the lobby. They look around in awe much like Zack did. "I'm going to become a hero!" Zack is glowing with pride and passion.
"Sign here," Instructor Torin says to the boy in line before turning his attention to Zack. "You and just about every other boy. What makes you so special?"
Any other person would feel a little put out by his words, but Zack didn't see them like that. In his head, all he heard was an honest question because the truth was right in those words. Lots of other boys wanted to be heroes just like him and each of them has to see themselves as more special than the others in order to get that goal, right? But not Zack. He's not dumb, he knows there really isn't anything special about the fourteen-year-old boy from Gongaga.
"Nothing yet," he admits, smiling lightly. "But I'm going to try my absolute hardest and be the best hero there ever was!"
With their masks in place, Zack couldn't tell their reaction, but the boy next to Zack gave him a withering look. Zack didn't notice it, his eyes glazed over thinking about the glory and fun that is yet to come.
"Good luck," Instructor Taylor says genuinely. He said it every year to all of the hopefuls. And meant it every time.
The first few days of training were easy. It wasn't even really training, just learning the very simple basics before being thrown into the deep end and hoping that some of them know how to swim. The Cadets learned how to properly hold themselves while they salute and when they are at ease. Teaching them the difference between "at ease" and "as you were". Which Zack thought was really simple to understand but they had to explain for a reason, Zack supposes.
They also delve into where they were going to bunk, who they were going to stand by in formation and how to make their beds. The hardest was probably remembering the strange schedule. Get up at five. Breakfast and showers until seven. Classes until two. Lunch till three. More classes until five. Then lights out at ten. And for the first couple of weeks, free time for the rest of the day. But once specialty abilities appear, more classes will be added. Sapping their five-hour free time's life force until it's a shriveled up to a two-hour time span.
The first actual day of training was so exciting. Zack's first class of the day was conditioning. Just to build up stamina and muscle. Zack and the rest of the cadets, a group of thirty in this class, stand in line. Zack is grinning so wide it almost looks like his face is going to split in half. His cheeks were already hurting from days of displaying this silly smile on his face constantly.
"Zack," Kunsel, his bunkmate and newly appointed best friend, says quietly as Instructor Kalegrin drones on and on about safety while working out, "Can you please stop that?"
"Stop what?" Zack asks back just as quietly, excitement twisting at his gut.
"You're about to vibrate through the floor."
"No way! I'm just... excited shaking."
"So... vibrating through the floor?"
Zack clenches the cloth at his thighs to stop his frighteningly fast shifting. His hips do actually hurt a little from his swaying. Oh... oh no, Zack can feel his leg jiggling now. When he thinks of trying to calm down, adrenaline slingshots through his body. He's never had to stay still like this for so long.
"Dude, Zack, chill," Kunsel says, barely tilting his head in the other boy's direction. "Your overabundance of energy is sucking the life out of me."
"Something the matter, Cadets?" Instructor Kalegrin asks, stepping up in front of Zack and Kunsel.
Zack freezes, willing his body to cease all forms of unnecessary movement, but against his will, his toes start bobbing up and down in his boots and the adrenaline is like fire in his veins. He has way too much energy for all this standing around and talking.
"Sir, no, sir!" Zack and Kunsel chorus, but the Instructor's keen eyes are staring down at Zack's wiggling feet, watching as it works its way up to his body and soon he's shifting again. Almost faster than before.
"Doesn't quite look like nothing, Cadet...?" He trails off, raising an eyebrow.
After a moment's hesitation, Zack realizes what he's waiting for. "Oh, uh, Zack Fair, sir!"
Kunsel blinks really slowly in Zack peripheral. Instructor Kalegrin sounds amused as he asks, "Something in your pants, son? Ants perhaps?"
Zack looks confused. "No, sir. Why would I have ants in my pants, sir?"
Instructor Kalegrin twists around to look back at a bunch of figures standing in an observation room. Well, he knew they were there behind a large piece of a mirror. And he knew they could probably hear this. He shakes his head and looks back at Zack. "You tell me, Cadet Fair. Is there a particular reason why you're so uncomfortable?"
"I'm not uncomfortable, sir." Zack laughs, eyes twinkling. "I'm excited."
Kalegrin steps closer. "For what, Fair?"
Zack smiles. "To begin training."
"Hm, from where do you hail?"
Zack makes a face, tilting his head to look up. Instructor Kalegrin and Kunsel, along with all of the other Cadets watching the exchange follow his gaze upward to the ceiling, confused. There was nothing on the ceiling of any particular interest.
"Cadet, the hell are you looking at?" Kalegrin asks, now looking back at Zack.
"For the hail, sir," Zack says, looking equally as perplexed.
Kalegrin blinks. "What hail?" His face falls bland when he realizes. "Cadet, look at me." Zack obeys. "There is no hail. I asked where you came from."
"Oh!" Zack looks relieved by that. "I come from Gongaga."
"And it shows," Kalegrin says, shaking his head. There is some light laughter around him. But Zack doesn't look put off.
"It's really beautiful this time of year and I bet you'd like all the sun," Zack says, then hastily adds, "sir."
Taking another step closer, Kalegrin asks, "What makes you think I enjoy the sun? Living in a place like Midgar, the sun doesn't like to show itself."
Zack looks thoughtful. "I suppose that's true. I guess since you come from somewhere other than Midgar, you probably do. There is, sadly, a lot less sun here than anywhere else, though, as you said. Well, except under the plates." A pause. "I'm thinking Junon."
Suddenly intrigued, Kalegrin asks, "And what makes you think I'm not from Midgar but Junon, of all the other places?"
"Your tan," Zack says. Then as an afterthought, "and I guess it's the way you talk too. My dad once took us up to Junon. All the people there talk the same. All real nice people from what I met but most had this tough exterior to them too."
Instructor Kalegrin just stares at Zack for a long moment, really looking at him, before he barks out a laugh. "Good deduction there, Fair, you sure you ain't here to try out for the Turks?"
"Turks?" Zack looks confused by that name. "No, I want to be a SOLDIER. First Class, especially."
Kalegrin shakes his head turning on his heel to head back away from them. "Well, this should be an interesting batch," he says more to himself than to the boys collected in front of him. "Now, I'm going take you through some stretches to warm you up, once you're done you have free reign to work on whatever you want. The last half hour of the class is going to be for drills, clear?"
"Sir, yes, sir!" The cadets sound.
After the strenuously slow stretching, they are given free reign to go about their training and totally out of his control, Zack jumps up with a loud cheer and ran for the track that stretches around the perimeter of the room. Kunsel follows behind him, arms above his head, trying to stretch them out a bit more as he walks.
The raven-haired boy starts jogging around the room, laughing to himself, occasionally speeding up and then cartwheeling. Kunsel laughs every single time, learning quickly to maintain a safe distance to avoid getting kicked in the face by a cartwheeling Gongaga native. Zack grins back at him, having the time of his life. He keeps jogging, but after a while, he starts slowing down a bit so that Kunsel can catch up.
"Dude, you're like an energizer bunny with a little too much juice," Kunsel laughs breathlessly, jogging next to Zack. "Just, let me know when you decide to spin around like that again so I can get the hell out of the way."
"It's called a cartwheel, Kunsel."
"And, how exactly do you know how to do one, Fair?"
"A girl from Gongaga taught me." Zack halts in front of the mirror, tilting his head slightly. The grin falls from his face. "Hey Kunsel, why is this here?"
Kunsel stops next to Zack, also tilting his head. "You know, I don't know. Maybe to make sure we're moving right?" At Zack's confused look he adds, "Like when working out, to make sure that we aren't twisting something weird maybe. That's what I was told."
Zack steps away from it, shaking his head. "Man, Kunsel, everything here is so weird in comparison to home. We never had work-out rooms there. The great outdoors was your work out." Zack began to do squats, Kunsel laughs again at the sight of him. "What? These are good for you."
"Looks like you're preparing to jump really high."
Zack rolls his eyes and continues to do squats, his mind wandering as the other boy laughs. In the mirror, he can see the reflection behind him. He can see Instructor Kalegrin walking around, talking with other cadets, showing them the proper way to do things or give them advice. At one point he even moves them so that they were moving exactly how the exercise required without unnecessary strain. He's was curt and a little rough with them, but Zack couldn't doubt that not only was he a good teacher, but he was a kind one.
This is it. His training has begun. He's going to work harder than anyone and impress all the people that he needs to, go on all the difficult missions and make his dream come true. And should he have made some awesome new friends along the way, that's only a perk. And even though he just met Kunsel, he really likes him. The guy is as goofy as Zack and not at all bothered by the fact that Zack is almost two years younger than him.
On impulse, he goes to pull off his shirt, getting it halfway off, only to stop. He gingerly touches the bruise on his ribs before he drops his shirt and continues squats, plucking at the bottom of his shirt, trying to air it out. It's bad enough that people can see the bruises on his face and arms, but the ones on his main body are the worst looking. He doesn't want people thinking he can't handle this life, because that's not the case. Not at all.
"Zack, can you tell me why you're all covered in bruises?" Kunsel asks next to him, doing identical squats as Zack, but at a slower pace. Zack looks at him through the reflection of the mirror. He still didn't want to talk about it. He hoped that his injuries would heal up soon so that people wouldn't be able to keep asking him about them. He wasn't mad and he did expect this, but he wanted to be in SOLDIER so bad, he didn't want to wait for them to heal up before he left his hometown to come to Midgar.
"It's nothing all that interesting. I just got into a fight with a really bad guy. No biggy." Zack looks away from his reflection, cheeks darkening slightly.
Kunsel slows a little more. "No way, Zack. It's a big deal. You're just a kid with a bunch of bruises all over you. Did someone back home do it? Like... a parent or... you know... someone?" Kunsel's eyebrows are pulled together in concern. Zack twists his head around to stare wide-eyed at him.
"You think my dad did this? No way, man, my dad is way too nice and wouldn't hurt a fly. It was just some guy from out of town," Zack says, looking down at his feet. Feeling uncomfortable, he adds, "He was doing something bad and I stepped in. He was a lot stronger than I thought but I got a few good hits in. The only part that matters is that he's probably going to think twice from now on." Zack forces a laugh, hoping this would be the end of it for now. "He must have been embarrassed to have been caught off guard by a kid."
Kunsel doesn't crack a smile. "Was this guy... like a SOLDIER?" His voice is quiet, a whisper. He doesn't want to broadcast their conversation to the world.
"No!" Zack says quickly, smiling thinly at Kunsel as the older boy stares back alarmed. "But wouldn't that just add to the embarrassment? I mean, a grown man getting beat up by a kid is one thing, but if that grown man was a SOLDIER? Awkward!" Zack laughs weird and forces himself to stop. "Come on, man, would I want to be in a program while running the risk of running into him again?"
Kunsel relaxes, letting out a little laugh. "Yeah, that would be really silly."
"Yeah," Zack says, gazing at his black eye in the mirror. "Silly."