Kingdom Hearts II
Deadly Sin, Heavenly Virtue
Notes: The characters are not mine and the ficlit is! This was directly inspired by the prompt "Sin - Pride" at KH is Love, and then I realized that "Virtue - Hope" would fit right in as well. It takes place shortly before KH2. Thanks to Kaze for the plot help!
My nerves are frayed by the time I teleport to Zack's quarters. You often have that effect upon me, albeit today was particularly exasperating. You always believe that if you triumph over me, your problems will be over, but then you sink even deeper into the darkness. "Your darkness keeps calling me back," I've told you a multitude of times—and it's true, even if not in the way you choose to believe. It will continue to bring me to you until you have learned the actual way to overcome its pull. I am bound to you until your death, but if you succeed in fighting your inner dark side, I at least won't have to keep such a close watch over you.
Zack promised me a backrub if he was still awake when I arrived. Though at the time I raised an eyebrow, it sounds highly relaxing by now. He used to do such things before I ever died on the battlefield, but it hasn't happened much since my restoration. Neither of us have had the time, it seems—and I wonder if he isn't sure how to rub around my wings. That wouldn't be a surprise. I'm still trying to get used to them myself.
He is reclining on his bed when I appear. "Hey, pal," he greets. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he leaps up and stretches. "Long day?"
"To put it mildly."
He smiles in his usual, friendly way. "Well, my offer still stands," he declares.
I grunt in reply, but do not object. Instead I remove my gloves and then proceed to undo the belt holding my coat at the waist. I slide it off of my shoulders and over the upper wing. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a feather come loose and float to the floor.
"You can lay down here," Zack says, indicating the bed. "It'd probably be better for your wings than the couch."
"Probably." I take off my boots as well before lowering myself onto the somewhat soft mattress. Zack, having unwillingly taken my old position in the military, has the best quarters that can be provided, but at an isolated locale in the wilderness, it isn't anywhere as good as the base in the city.
He hopes to be able to return there soon, largely because of you. He's always concerned about how you are faring, and hopes that someday he or I will get through to you. I don't have much, if any, confidence in the matter.
After a moment I feel Zack's capable hands lower onto my back as he begins to massage my tired muscles. "So let me guess," he says. "Cloud's being thick-headed again."
"Of course." I lay against the recently vacated pillow. "As Hollow Bastion's former leading general, I never would have imagined that someday this would be my fate." A wing twitches in my irritation. "I am meant for strategical thinking and fierce battles, not a farce of this magnitude."
"So you figure it's below you then?" Zack's hands move farther down, closer to my aching lower back.
I grunt in reply to that. Maybe I do. Why should I be assigned to you, when you won't even take heed of anything I try to tell you? Everything I say goes over your head. There once would have been more productive ways to spend my time. But when the military considers General Sephiroth to be dead, and myself to be a fraud, there isn't much I am able to do. And if I don't try to help you, I will probably be struck down by lightning.
"You know, Seph," Zack muses, "you've always been a great guy. I couldn't love a biological brother any more than I care about you. But one thing you've struggled with as long as I've known you is your pride."
It doesn't offend me. I know it quite well. "Sometimes a man's pride is all that gets him through the day," I answer.
"What about friendship?" Zack chirps.
I have to allow myself a slight smirk at that comment. It's so typical of Zack. "What if even that is taken from him?" I counter. I am thinking, of course, of the year I wandered aimlessly, with no one able to see or recognize me. It may have been just and fair punishment for my sins, but that doesn't mean it was easy to endure. As far as I knew, it would be never-ending. I had no idea that Zack would break the curse on the anniversary of my death.
"Then that'd be an awful existence," Zack murmurs.
"If all is lost," I say, "and he is stripped of everything that made his life meaningful, what remains is his dignity and pride. If he loses that as well, then he is a worthless shell."
I can sense Zack smiling sadly. "He could always have hope," he replies.
His hands rub the flesh under which my lower wings are connected to my body. They twitch against my will, responding to the calming movements.
"His hope died long ago," I tell him. Condemned to roam for what I believed to be an eternity, how would any hope possibly remain? I believed that I was in Hell, with no possibility of redemption. Even now, though I am visible and recognizable to all who will accept me, I have to wonder if that will someday be taken from me again. It wouldn't surprise me in the least.
"Man . . . to live without hope . . . I can't even imagine trying." The massage journeys upward again, taking residence near my upper wing.
"Did you have hope during the time I was considered dead?" I ask.
"Had to," Zack answers. "About the only things that got me through were thinking that you would have gone to Heaven and that maybe I could still save Cloud from himself."
It isn't surprising, and yet in another way, it is—at least what he is saying about myself. "You were the only one who knew the full extent of my own descent into darkness," I point out. "You were aware that I killed innocents in my rage. And you would still think that I would be allowed to go to Heaven?"
"Hey . . . you were always fighting for our people." Zack has sobered now, his voice having lowered. "Underneath all that fury was still Seph, and Seph was in a lot of pain because of what was being done to the people we were trying to protect. I had to hope that whatever kind of God is up there would pardon you somehow."
"And do you think I've been pardoned?" My voice is dry as I ask this.
Zack is silent for a moment as he gathers his thoughts. "I don't know," he says in earnest, "but you've been given a chance to try again. I think that shows that you're cared about up there. And to try to help someone not make the same mistakes you did . . . isn't that the best way to make up for the past?"
"If the other person would listen, it wouldn't be so frustrating."
"And I guess it wouldn't hurt as much, either," Zack muses.
It strikes me then. My position—struggling to get a stubborn fool to come to his senses and find reason was exactly what Zack suffered with me. Only it was far worse for him, because of his caring for me. I have no right to complain.
Though I still wish you would not insist on treading this path, for Zack's sake as much as your own. Why should Zack have to go through this a second time? What is the matter with you? Don't you have any knowledge of how you are hurting him?
Why are you so much like I was?
This is not the time to be thinking of it. For once, I should try to relax, focusing only on the current moment. Zack's skilled work doesn't make that difficult.
A comfortable silence falls for a time. The almost rhythmic massage has sent me into a semi-aware state, but I force myself to focus enough in order to pick up on our banter.
"Do you believe that pride will be my downfall?" I ask, somehow sounding wry even though I am half-asleep.
"Nope!" Zack says, almost instantaneously. He grows serious again. "It already was, Seph. Pride and hatred. But you've got yourself under control now." I can sense his smirk. "Besides, you wouldn't be Seph if you didn't have some pride."
Now he pauses for a moment. "Sometimes, Seph, I wonder if you really do have some hope left, too."
What? "Why . . . would you think that?" My response comes out in a mumble, though I am stunned.
"Just a feeling, I guess." He's smiling broadly again. I can hear it in the way he speaks. "Maybe . . . maybe dignity's a form of hope, sometimes. You keep pressing on no matter what's thrown at you, and you never give up. I don't know how you could do that if you didn't have any kind of hope."
". . . And that's why you're the optimist, and I'm the pessimist."
"And never the twain shall meet?" Zack supplies easily.
"In most cases." I look up at him from the pillow. "Though you aren't 'most cases.' And sometimes I still wonder why you aren't."
Zack smirks down at me. "I just get under people's skin after a while!"
Now I can feel Zack's fingers lightly petting my upper wing. No one else would be allowed to touch them, but Zack is a special case. I know how he enjoys my additional appendages, and I let him pat them when he wants. He, in turn, knows I don't like a lot of attention concerning them and generally leaves them alone—unless he's about to make a point.
"Actually, Seph . . . these wings that you can't stand are a symbol of hope."
That was unexpected. I look over my shoulder at him. "How so?"
"Well, completely aside from the fact that they look like angel wings, you use them for good!" he insists. "And seeing you up there flying free . . . it just makes me feel hopeful. Kinda awed, too."
I am amused. "Most people believe I am a monster because of these wings."
"They just don't understand." Zack smiles a bit. "But somewhere out there, some people do. Maybe they're envious of you."
Now I am incredulous. "Envious?" I retort.
"Sure! It's always been one of mankind's dreams, to be able to fly." He returns his attention to the backrub. "I'm kinda envious of you myself. I wonder what it'd be like, to be soaring up there with the clouds, looking down over the towns and the people. . . ."
"It isn't as exciting as all that," I grunt. "Wings are useful, but beyond that, I see little point in humans possessing them."
"Maybe," Zack muses. "I dunno, Seph, I can't help but think that you were given a gift, not a curse."
I smirk. "We'll probably never know."
"Then I can think of them any way I like!" he declares.
"Likewise for myself." I sink back into the pillow. This is a strange revelation, that Zack is envious of what I loathe. I never would have considered that, even though I've always known that he likes my feathery acquisitions. After all these years, he can still surprise me.
"It can't make you happy to think of them like you do," Zack objects.
"If I don't regard them as positive, then I won't be disappointed if I find out that they are not."
"But if you find out that they are, then maybe you'd regret not appreciating them sooner."
". . . You have an answer for everything."
"Of course!" Zack leans down. "It wouldn't be any fun to talk to me if I didn't!"
I give him a deadpan look. "You think I have fun with these discussions?"
"If you didn't, you'd get out of them!" Zack points out. "Like how you always avoid subjects when Cloud brings them up."
We fall silent again, and I begin to slip into another doze. Tomorrow will likely bring new irritation to the table, but at least for tonight, I can rest.
Vaguely I feel the quilt being pulled up around my shoulders. The wings begin to twitch again, not accustomed to be completely under the covers. Normally, when I'm sleeping on Zack's couch, I'm not using a form of bedding at all, but only my coat. And my wings then have to hang over the edge of the furniture.
Somewhere in my mind, it registers that Zack is saying he will take the couch tonight. Probably I'm so far into sleep that he doesn't want to have to rout me away. I hear the light going out before the relief of slumber overtakes me at last.