Final Fantasy VII

The Strange Case of Lights and Ladders

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine, and this nonsense is! The title has been altered due to Aubrie's amusing suggestion. I've been wanting to do some pre-Nibelheim stories for a while, but while I'm still trying to get together the details of the serious, angsty piece, this humourous piece decided it needed to be written! And it sounded like too much fun to ignore.

Neither Sephiroth or Zack thought that an action as innocent as changing a lightbulb could result in them discovering just how little they actually knew about the other SOLDIERs' opinions of them and their relationship.

The incident occured on an otherwise lazy, rainy Wednesday afternoon, as the two were going through some files that had needed to be sorted for several weeks. Zack had always put it off, saying it could wait until there was a day such as today happened to be. Upon discovering the storm, Sephiroth had reminded him of what he had said, and they had begun the long and as Zack said, "dull" job.

At least until the lightbulb had other ideas, and picked that moment to give up the ghost.

Sephiroth grunted, leaning back in his chair as the room plunged into darkness. "It must be a blackout," he muttered, listening to the thunder booming overhead. Wonderful. As if the day could not get any more frustrating.

Zack got up, walking to the window and looking out at the other buildings. "Nope," he reported. "They've still got electricity. The bulb here must've just decided to conk out." He stretched. "I'll go get the old stepladder, and you can get a new bulb, and we'll be all set."

Sephiroth watched as he headed for the storage room in the back. "That stepladder isn't even fit to use anymore," he called after the other. He stood up, following after his comrade with the flashlight he kept in his desk drawer. Clicking it on, he looked over the shelves until he found where the lightbulbs were kept. "When I was on it the last time, I fell off and almost broke my neck." He opened the box, taking out one of the smooth, round objects inside.

Zack shrugged, getting the ladder out from where it had been leaned against the back wall. "So why's it still here?" he asked.

"You insisted it could be fixed, and you wanted to give it a try," Sephiroth told him flatly. "But you haven't done anything with it yet, have you?"

Zack chuckled, following Sephiroth back out into the main room. "Nope," he said again. "I was saving it for another rainy day project. Maybe I can fix it after we see about the light." He set the wooden ladder on the floor, spreading out its legs and then shaking it. "Seems sturdy enough to me," he announced. "Here, Seph, shine the flashlight up here." He took the bulb from the other, holding it carefully as he ascended the crying and moaning planks.

Sephiroth stood by, doing as requested as he observed the younger man. Zack unscrewed the old bulb, laying it on the top of the device, then reached up with the new one. He frowned as it decided to be stubborn, refusing to go in no matter which way he turned it. He leaned forward, throwing all of his weight into the ladder as he tried to force the bulb to get into place.

"Be careful!" Sephiroth snapped, as the object swayed dangerously. He reached out, trying to steady it.

His efforts were fruitless. Even as the room was suddenly bathed in light, the lightbulb finally cooperating, the ladder gave one last wail before giving in to the throes of death. Zack yelped as it broke underneath him, sending him flying. All Sephiroth could do was abandon the flashlight and grab for him. Zack immediately slammed into the silver-haired man, and Sephiroth fell backwards to crash on the floor, the brunet on top of him.

It took them both a dazed moment to realize that during the fall, their lips had met. But it was a moment much too long. They stared at each other in wide-eyed disbelief, Zack abruptly pulling away with Sephiroth only too happy to help.

"Oh man," Zack gasped, immediately wiping his mouth.

Sephiroth rose up on an elbow, unable to move further because of the other still sitting atop his legs. "And that's why you should have let me throw away the ladder," he declared.

Amid the calamity, and their own revolted feelings, they suddenly became aware of another voice---a confused, quavering, embarrassed voice. "S-sirs?"

Immediately they both started and looked over at the doorway. A third class SOLDIER was standing there, awkwardly holding an umbrella and flaming red as he stared at the scene. He looked as though with all his heart he wanted to run away, but still feel obligated to remain.

Zack blinked at his expression. "What is it?" he asked, still running his hand over his mouth.

The poor boy only turned a deeper crimson. "Well, I . . . I don't want to be interrupting something," he squeaked.

Zack shrugged, finally standing up and walking away from Sephiroth. "Interrupting? Naw. We were changing the lightbulb." Glass crunched under his boots and he grinned sheepishly. "Whoops. . . . That must be the old one. . . . It must've fallen off the ladder when it gave out."

Sephiroth frowned, pushing himself into a sitting position. "What would you be interrupting?" he demanded, running his hands through his hair to make certain it was free of glass fragments. Somehow, he did not like the way the lower-ranked SOLDIER was shifting his weight and blushing. He was making too big of a deal over finding his superiors sprawled on the floor . . .

Now the young warrior looked like a deer caught in the headlights. "Well, I . . . er, that is . . . I mean, I never believed the rumors. . . ." He gripped the umbrella's handle tightly, his knuckles going white.

Sephiroth got to his feet, walking over to him. "What rumors?" Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Zack coming over as well. The brunet looked baffled, but there was also the hint of suspicion in his expression. It seemed that they both were coming to the same conclusion.

The third class SOLDIER suddenly found the floor extremely fascinating. "Actually . . . some of the others, they . . . well, sirs . . . they wonder about all the time the both of you spend together when you're off-duty. . . ."

Zack raised an eyebrow. "Haven't they heard of friends?"

The boy blushed more. "Y-yes, sir . . . but some of them don't think it's that. . . ."

Zack stared at him for a long moment. And he could not help it. He started to snicker, then chuckle, until he was outright laughing. Sephiroth stood by, his arms crossed, not looking extremely amused or impressed at all.

Slowly the lower-ranked SOLDIER dared to look up. Well, at least neither of them was outright furious, he supposed. He was somewhat surprised that they did not even know of the rumors that had been circulating for the past several months, but then again, it always seemed as though the ones being spoken of were the last to know. He hoped he had not done something wrong by telling them.

At last Zack managed to calm himself down enough to speak again. "Seph and me . . . like that?" He shook his head. "Wow. I can't even imagine it. I don't wanna try to, either."

Sephiroth looked to the boy. "Tell your associates that they have too much time on their hands," he said in a flat tone. Then his voice turned businesslike. "Now, what was it you wanted to see us about?"

Relieved to have the subject changed, the young SOLDIER quickly came to attention. "I was sent to deliver these files to you, sirs," he said, and drew them out from where he had placed them inside his rain coat. "They want your signatures on them right away."

Sephiroth accepted the folders, looking through them before turning and setting them on his desk. "Alright," he said, reaching for a pen. "We'll sign them now. You might as well wait here to take them back. The rain's still coming down heavy."

"Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!" the boy smiled, his gratitude obvious at being able to stay indoors and not having to journey here a second time in the downpour. He stayed near the doorway, watching as Sephiroth looked over the documents, signed them, and then gave them to Zack to do likewise. When they were done, Sephiroth gathered them together again and brought them over.

"Here," he said.

The third class SOLDIER accepted them, placing them under his rain coat again. "Thank you, sir," he said again, saluting. Sephiroth nodded in reply, returning the salute and stepping back as the other opened his umbrella and hurried out into the storm again. The silver-haired man shut the door behind him.

Zack, by now, had gotten the broom and dustpan and was sweeping up the shards of glass. "So," he said, glancing up at the older man, "what do you think of that, Seph?"

Sephiroth grunted, walking around him to get the pieces of the ladder. "Think of what?" he retorted.

"Oh come on. You know what." Zack held the dustpan over the trashcan, dumping in the fragments of glass.

The silver-haired man bent over, gathering up the broken and splintered wood. "I said that they had too much time on their hands, to even be thinking such things about us," he replied.

"Yeah, I know, but . . . man, that just gives me the chills." Zack took the broom and dustpan to the floor again, getting several sharp pieces of wood that had fallen from the object. "I love ya, Seph, but not like that!"

"I would be very afraid if you did." Sephiroth straightened up, heading to the door in determination. "And I'm throwing this thing away, whether you object or not."

Zack smirked, straightening up. "Aww, give it some credit. If it hadn't been for that old ladder, we might never have even found out what people think about us."

"I'm not feeling sentimental today." Sephiroth balanced the pieces with one hand, opening the door with the other. Swiftly he dumped the trash outside in a pile, where he would have it taken to the dumpster later.

Zack followed him to the door, giving a mock salute. "Goodbye, old ladder," he said, and crossed his arms, looking back to his friend. "Hey, Seph, do you think that kid believed us?" he asked curiously.

Sephiroth shrugged. "It's hard to say." He stepped back into the room, pulling the door closed. "It doesn't really matter. In any case, there'll always be those who would rather listen to rumors than facts." He walked over to his desk, sinking down into the chair and observing the stack of files that were still in need of being sorted. "Let's get back to work." He picked up the top folder, opening it and glancing at the contents before setting it aside in a new pile.

Zack nodded in agreement, pulling up a chair again to assist. "Hey," he said then, a new thought occuring to him, "I wonder if Cloud knew about this."

Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think that?" he asked.

Zack shrugged. "I dunno. . . . Last time we both saw him, he looked us up and down and then looked away really fast, snickering. I didn't really think much of it at the time, but maybe word of our 'recreational activities' got down to him, too."

"Ask him about it," Sephiroth said, his tone saying that he did not care a great deal about it one way or the other. The rumors were all foolishness anyway. It did not matter a great deal to him who had heard them and who had not.

Zack nodded. "I think I will," he mused.