Final Fantasy VII

I Don't Know How to Say Goodbye

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine, and the story is! It was directly inspired by the prompt "30 ways to say a single 'Farewell'" at 30 Gens on Livejournal. The title was taken from a Linda Eder song. Thanks to Kaze for the plot help! This takes place before any of my other pre-Nibelheim fics, and it is the first fic I've done since Crisis Core came out wherein the disalignment with canon is glaringly apparent. In my timeline, Zack and Sephiroth have been friends for some time before he meets Aerith and Cloud, yet at the same time, certain other events in Chapter 6 have already come to pass. (Zack met Aerith in Chapter 5 and Cloud at the beginning of 6.) That is what I crafted before the release of the game. Now I must find a way to make my timeline agree with canon. But for now, this story really worked best with my old timeline. So, let's just pretend the conflict with canon doesn't exist, yes?

He had been staring at that piece of paper for he didn't know how long. The large and boring stack of documents that he was supposed to be going through was now suffering neglect. And they were the farthest thing from his mind.

What he wanted was to evaporate this leaf into nothingness. Or for it to have never come into existence in the first place. It was weird, how something so small and defenseless could change someone's life so completely. He was no longer even reading its contents, but the words had been seared into his mind's eye.

SOLDIER First Class Zack Fair---

As of a week from today's date, you will report for duty at the Rocket Town SOLDIER base . . .

It said much more, giving more detailed instructions on what he was to do, but that first line was what it all came down to. And that was all he cared about. He was being transferred out, away from the base at Midgar, from Midgar itself . . . even from the continent.

Most importantly, away from Seph. Their friendship was still very new, but it was deepening, and he had grown very fond of the reserved General. Seph had a warm and compassionate nature, and the men under his command admired and looked up to him. He also had a stern and serious side, and all knew it was never a good idea to vex him. But whenever someone had a problem, and went to him, he would do his best to counsel and advise on the solution. His status as a hero was well-deserved, as far as Zack was concerned.

Seph . . .

He gave a weak smirk. Seph had just stared in disbelief when he had first been addressed as such. "What did you call me?" he had demanded. And Zack had shrugged and grinned and repeated it.

"'Sephiroth' sounds so formal," he had replied. "I feel a lot closer to you than that!"

And Seph had just frowned and shook his head. But somehow the name had stuck.

Though it was not often, he had opened up to Zack on more than one occasion. And Zack always had the feeling that it was not something that had happened much---if at all---with anyone else. Seph had even admitted once that he did not know how Zack managed to have such an influence on him, and that he found himself wanting to talk about things that he had not spoken of before.

And Zack would have to leave all that behind?

Rocket Town was so far away. There was only a small military base, and mostly it watched over the progress of the space program. Not that Zack did not think outer space was cool . . . but to have to leave everyone here . . . Seph. . . . They would both be busy like crazy. They would not have much time for email, phone calls, or anything like that. And what if they fell out of touch?

Neither Seph or Angeal had said much about their own friendship, but they had drifted apart over the years. Of course, that was probably mostly because of Angeal's increasing ill feelings towards Shinra, and because of how Genesis had kept prodding him to join forces. Seph had eventually come to not trust Angeal. Zack and Seph would still have the same goals, even if they were apart.

Zack slumped into the chair, staring up at the ceiling. Did Seph know about the transfer order yet? How would Zack tell him? And how would he say goodbye? That was something he had never been good at doing. "Hello" was much better.

"Farewell" was much too depressing. So was "goodbye" itself. And "adieu" was out. That was not like him at all. "See ya" or even a mock salute were more in keeping with his kinds of so longs, but they did not seem appropriate. Though, maybe when he did not feel the least bit cheery was when such light-hearted actions would be needed most.

Maybe he should go see Seph.

He began to push himself out of the chair, grabbing up the hated paper to take with him. It did not physically burn him, yet it still felt as acid to his soul.

Seph was going over documents of his own when Zack pushed open the door and stepped into the well-furnished office. He was bent over the desk, his glasses slipping down his nose and his bangs half-falling over his face. Behind him, the Masamune was mounted on the wall---ready and waiting for whenever it would be needed.

He looked up when the other entered, frowning at Zack's downcast stance and face. "What's wrong?" he asked.

Zack held out the leaf. "Got this today," he said.

Seph took it, scanning it over as his eyebrows knitted. He stayed silent as he laid it on the desk, instead reaching up to remove his glasses. He placed them on top of the offending paper.

At last he spoke. "What do you think about it?" His voice betrayed none of his inner feelings.

Zack shook his head. "I don't want to go," he said. And suddenly he could not stop the rush of confused and even angry emotions breaking forth. "Why me?" he exclaimed. "Why there? Don't they think I'm doing alright here?" Then he stopped, frowning more as something he had not previously considered leaped into his mind. It would not have occured to him now, if it were not for Seph's reaction.

Seph was over all the armies, wasn't he? Only Lazard was ranked higher. But . . . Seph would not have suggested Zack for transfer, would he? At least, not without talking to him about it first! A fist clenched. He was letting his imagination run away with him. Seph would not try to get rid of him. The only reason Seph would recommend Zack for transfer would be if he thought Zack could do a better job somewhere else. But if that was so, why Rocket Town? Zack was a man of action. There would not be much for him to do there, besides tons of paperwork.

Seph was still watching him with that guarded look. He could be altogether indifferent, if he was to be taken at face value. "Maybe they think you need a new experience," he said.

"Doing paperwork is an old experience!" Zack exclaimed, spreading his hands. "And I mean really old! Come on, Seph, you know I'd be climbing the walls before the first week was out!"

"That's true." Seph looked down at the paper again.

This was agonizing! Did Seph care at all? Zack's world was being torn apart, and Seph did not act upset or unhappy. Maybe . . . if it really meant that little to him, Zack should leave and not regret it.

Zack slammed his hands down on the desk, causing Seph to start. "Do you think this is really about the paperwork?" he cried. "If it was just that, I'd grin and bear it. I don't wanna leave you, Seph!" His shoulders slumped and he looked down at the smooth wood without really seeing it. "I thought we were coming to understand each other. . . . That we were friends. But you don't act like this bothers you at all." And even though Seph usually did stay calm, Zack had thought there would be more of a response than this. Seph was behaving in a really noncommittal way, as if Zack was just a passing acquaintance. And it pierced deep into his heart.

Sephiroth frowned. "Yes, it bothers me." He half-turned in his chair, away from the other. "But nothing lasts forever, Zack. You knew we wouldn't always be stationed at the same base."

Zack reached out, curling his hand around Seph's upper arm. "You could do something about it!" he pleaded. "If you wanted me to stay, you could see Lazard about it. . . ." He trailed off as Seph shook his head.

"Would that be what's best for you?"

Zack froze. In an instant the hurt and confusion melted onto the floor of his mind, reshaping into understanding. Seph thought that to interfere would be selfish. He thought that he should allow Zack to go other places, to have other experiences, and to not do what he himself would like best---or what even Zack might think he would prefer at the current time.

Slowly the arm was released. Zack ran his tongue over his lips. "Seph . . . I really don't think I could stand it there," he said, his voice having quieted. "If it was someplace where a lot of stuff would be happening, and I'd be needed to protect people, maybe that'd be different. I mean . . . that's what I've always wanted to do. But Rocket Town's pretty peaceful. It'd just be day after day of paperwork . . . stacks of it! And inspections and stuff. I can take that in small doses, but if that was all that ever happened . . ."

"You'd go stir-crazy."


Seph was still not facing him. "So, if the transfer had been someplace where a lot is always going on, such as Wutai, you would be more willing to go through with it?" From the tone of his voice, he sounded as though he already knew what Zack would say.

Zack gave a weak smirk. "Probably not." He grabbed a chair, hauling it over before slumping into it. "I mean . . . we'd be so far away. When would we ever get to see each other? And we'd never go on assignments any more. Well . . . except maybe in really rare cases." He stared up at the ceiling. "It hurts, Seph."

At last Sephiroth turned his chair enough to face the younger man. "A lot of things in life hurt," he said. "And it wouldn't be the first time you've had to leave people behind. You have family and friends back in Gongaga." There were other examples he could give, things that had pierced both Zack and himself . . . but he would not speak of those. Not now. The knowledge of his thoughts' contents hung in the air as thick humidity, immersing them both in the past. Zack was aware of what was left unsaid.

"I guess . . ." Zack's voice caught in his throat. "After everything, I really don't want to be pulled up again. I'm . . . I'm tired of saying goodbye."

He started when a firm hand was laid on his shoulder. Seph was not fond of physical contact, for the most part. For him to enact it now, he was either trying to do something that he knew might comfort Zack, or else desiring it himself for once, under the circumstances. Or both.

"Then don't say it. Don't say anything at all."

Zack swallowed, giving a slow nod. He closed his eyes, willing his body to relax. He wanted to savor this time with his dear friend.

Sephiroth was awake long into the wee hours of the morning.

He was in his quarters, the bedcovers thrown back on the mattress and revealing the rumpled sheets and pillows. He had positioned himself on the edge of the bed, his hair spilling down his bare back and meeting with the unclasped suspenders hanging from his trousers. He had sank into the mattress not that long ago, actually. There was always so much work to be done, though Zack often worried that "Seph" needlessly overworked himself. And now that he could sleep, his mind was not at peace.

He had learned of Zack's transfer orders only shortly before Zack himself had received the document. It had bothered him greatly, even to the point of being furious that Lazard had taken it upon himself to make such a decision without even speaking to Sephiroth first. After all, why shouldn't he know of who was up for transfer at the base he commanded? Most of the time he was aware of it.

Actually, this entire thing seemed strange, now that he thought of it. When he had tried to contact Lazard, he had been told that the other was in a meeting and would not be available for the rest of the day. And so he had busied himself with paperwork to calm the fury building in his heart. During that time, he had thought everything over and had determined that maybe it would be in Zack's best good to leave. Now, deep in the night, he was unsure again.

Why would they send him away? Why would they not speak of it with the General? Were they trying on purpose to separate the two of them? Was Hojo's influence even extending here and now? He had never wanted Sephiroth to become close to anyone. Sephiroth had sensed his disapproval when Sephiroth had begun to stay around Genesis and Angeal. If he was aware that Zack had been insisting on becoming Sephiroth's friend, and that he had been let in at last . . .

How dare Hojo, or Lazard, or anyone, interfere in such ways with his life! He did not want to let Zack go. Zack did not want to go. And when he thought of it, why would they pick Rocket Town? That would be the worst place for someone such as Zack. There was rarely trouble back there. Was there something they did not want Zack to see or know, which he would learn if he stayed here? Or did they just want him as far away from Sephiroth as possible? Zack was right, Sephiroth would hardly ever be able to go to Rocket Town. Only lesser First Class SOLDIERs were sent there on inspection. Never the General of the Armies. His concern was possible wars and uprisings, not outer space.

He could be being paranoid. But that seemed less likely than what was in his mind right now.

. . . If there were not these concerns, would he still be willing and able to let Zack go?

A grim smirk came over his features as he recalled Zack's comment from earlier that evening.Probably not. Yet that could not be. As a general, he had to push personal feelings aside and think about the greater good. He could not keep Zack under his wing forever.

Still . . . Zack already had so many responsibilities upon him since certain events had taken place. Though he had been cheerful and happy, he was also weighed down by heavy burdens. If he was sent out on his own right now, would he be able to handle the added pressure? Or would he simply cave under the load? Would this really be what would be best for him?

Maybe he was just making excuses in an attempt to justify his own selfish thoughts.

But Zack was one of his best men. He could always argue that he did not want to lose him for that reason. And it wastrue, after all. Just not the entire truth.

It was strange, how his whole attitude had been changed. Even on their early missions, he had found himself telling Zack things he had never imagined he would. He had berated himself for it, wondering why on earth he had done such a thing. And yet it had seemed so natural . . . so right. Zack would say they were meant to find each other. It was possible, he supposed, but he had not often entertained such thoughts. That almost sounded like Angeal, with his preaching about having dreams and whatnot.

Somehow he had found himself growing attached to the young SOLDIER. Oh, they were not so different in age, but Zack seemed so much younger. He had not seen so many of the horrors that Sephiroth had, though in the past few weeks Zack's endurance had been tried almost to the point of shattering. And Sephiroth had hated to see Zack experience what he had! For himself to suffer was one matter. For it to be Zack was eons apart in difference.

Maybe he was being selfish. Yet, if the situation was different and Zack wanted to go, by all means Sephiroth would let him.

All of his arguments were paling now. His eyes narrowed in determination. He knew what he would do.

The cry of joy could probably be heard all over the base. At least from here to the Third Class barracks.

The door to Sephiroth's office flew open as a dark-clothed blur rushed in, a paper waving in one hand. And then the tornado was enveloping him, laughing and exclaiming something currently unintelligible.

Sephiroth had never known pure, unbridled enthusiasm until he had been glomped by an ecstatic Zack Fair.

At last words became clear as Zack pulled back, grinning broadly at Sephiroth.

"I'm staying!" he exclaimed, holding out the paper. "I'm really staying!"

Sephiroth glanced over the new document, even though he was already well acquainted with what it said.

SOLDIER First Class Zack Fair---

Disregard previous orders. You will report to General Sephiroth's office. He has requested you as his second-in-command. You will work alongside him until further notice.

"You did it, Seph!" Zack cried in joy. "You went and fixed it up with Lazard!"

Sephiroth turned away, hiding a smile that was tugging on his mouth. "I didn't want to lose one of my best men," he grunted. "No one else was good enough for the job. I told Lazard it would be a waste to send you away, especially to somewhere such as Rocket Town."

"You want me to stay!" Zack exclaimed. He knew that Sephiroth was not telling the whole truth of the matter.

"Of course I do." Sephiroth was still not looking at him, instead pretending to search through some of the folders stacked on his desk. "Now get to work."

Zack walked around the desk, leaning over the files and draping his arm across the top one. Conceding defeat, Sephiroth looked up.

And was met by a mock salute from his happy second-in-command. "Yes, sir!"

Sephiroth attempted a stern look. He honestly did. But it failed.

This was going to be interesting.

In a well-furnished office, a telephone rang. It was immediately lifted by the one seated at the desk. As it was placed to his ear, a voice began to speak. A voice dripping with danger and flecked by insanity. Behind the figure's spectacles, eyes narrowed.

"So . . . is it done?"

"Yes." His own voice was taut and stiff, betraying none of his thoughts on the matter. "The General requested Commander Fair as his second-in-command." Actually, request was a mild word. The General had been furious when he had came in. His cold tone and eyes had said that very clearly. He had demanded to know the reasons behind what had happened, but of course he had not been given a straight answer. And then he had made his "request", in a tone just barely short of an order. Of course, he would not have had the power to make it an actual order.

And the "request" had been agreed to because it was part of the plan. He had never intended, or wanted, to send one of the best SOLDIERs away from Midgar in the first place. But it had been set up to see what, if anything, the General would do about it. It was a ridiculous, pointless game that was being played.

"Oh, and that will keep Commander Fair here for some time, won't it?"

"It should." A pause, as the eyes narrowed further. "I have a right to know what you're planning." When the order had come down for him to cooperate with whatever the caller wished, it had bewildered as well as angered him. This was not a department in which the scientists should have any interest. Yet here this one was, blissfully manipulating the fates of two of the strongest SOLDIERs.

Now a sickening chuckle came from the other end of the line. "Not to worry. We're just going to . . . watch them for a while. The General is becoming quite attached to that boy, isn't he?"

"I don't see how that's any of your business."

"But it is! The General doesn't form friendships easily. I have a . . . special interest in what he does."

The eyes were narrowed as far as they could go. If he could see his reflection, he would see that he looked revolted. "Just because I have to cooperate with you doesn't mean I have to like it," he said. "And I don't share your interest. This conversation is over."

With that the receiver was placed in its cradle. The figure leaned forward, lacing his gloved fingers as he rested his chin.