Final Fantasy VII
Notes: The characters are not mine,
and this ficlit is! It was directly inspired by the prompt The
rope to the ivory tower at 31 Days. Many thanks to Kaze
for plot help!
Zack always seemed to manage to do the impossible.
He was one of the best SOLDIERs that Shinra had ever seen. In spite of his love of being silly and light-hearted at times, he was a serious fighter. Many enemies had fallen by his sword. Many others had been captured. When possible, Zack preferred to leave his opponents alive. He abhorred killing, and yet he was a First Class SOLDIER. He was among the elite.
He had been naive and blind to many of the horrors of the world when he had first joined SOLDIER. But he had quickly learned. Yet he had not lost his love of life and of people. And he still wanted to be a hero. It seemed a naive dream, really. But he was sincere in his desire, and unlike certain others, he was not jealous of his comrades.
He could even get into locked and sealed towers with ease. If there was a key, he would search until he found it. If not, he would find the longest rope possible and climb up the side. If there was not a window, he would cling to the rope and call until whoever inside the tower answered. And if no one answered, he would sit on the roof and wait.
Zack was such an impatient person, but sometimes that just would not do. The tower that locked a human heart was not always ready to open at a moment's notice. If the heart had been hurt, repeatedly and deeply, then it was often not willing to open at all. Zack had learned that lesson many times over the past few months.
Sephiroth had come to trust and respect Zack during their very first mission together, in Wutai. It had been a bittersweet time, since that had been when Angeal had deserted. Zack had been angry at Sephiroth, for saying that Angeal had betrayed them, and yet he had seemed to find comfort in Sephiroth's presence. As time had gone on, Zack had tried to win Sephiroth's approval. And he had gotten it. Sephiroth had found it almost impossible to not be fond of the determined and loyal Second Class SOLDIER, even though Zack's cheeriness had been frustrating at first. But Sephiroth had started to adjust, and to tolerate it as part of who Zack was. He knew, however, that he did not merely tolerate Zack.
He had brushed the feeling away as merely the same affection he felt for all of his men, but over the next weeks he had thought about Zack much more than any other SOLDIERs. He had wanted another assignment with Zack, to try to uncover what it was about the boy that made him so endearing to Sephiroth. And at the same time, he had not wanted it. He had not wanted to risk coming to care so deeply about someone ever again. But the next time he had seen Zack, he had realized it had already started to happen.
He had already been struggling with the mission they had been assigned. Not that he had ever planned to go through with it; when Lazard had briefed him in private on the nature of the task, he had been sick with horror inside. But he had agreed. Lazard had asked him if he was sure, peering at him in suspicious concern. After Sephiroth had refused the assignment to find and kill Genesis, Lazard had not been certain whether to trust Sephiroth's agreement on this matter.
"You want to test me, don't you?" Sephiroth had responded, his tone never wavering from the ice. "It's to see if I'm capable of killing a friend. To see whether I will obey whatever order I am given."
Lazard had said it was those higher up in Shinra who were concerned.
"I said I will accept the mission," Sephiroth had said again.
Lazard had nodded. Maybe he had really known what Sephiroth would do.
Sephiroth had smirked grimly when Zack had demanded to know if Sephiroth was going to kill Angeal. But he had not answered at that point.
The reason why he had accepted the mission was because he could control Angeal's fate that way. He could ensure that Angeal escaped, which would have been much more difficult with someone else in charge. The only times he had ever defied Shinra were when it had involved his friends. Zack's question had brought to light all of Sephiroth's thoughts---what he was agreeing to do, what he was going to do instead, and what he was risking in order to do it. His smirk had been one of irony.
The past had been weighing heavy on his mind during the ensuing search, as it had been for some time prior to that day. Maybe that was why he had opened up to Zack when they had been alone. Or maybe he had just wanted someone to talk to. Even the great Sephiroth, notorious for his aloof nature, could not always keep his feelings inside.
Yet he knew that if he had not felt close to Zack, he would have continued to do exactly that. No matter how much he was aching, he would not suddenly speak of his past and reminisce with anyone whom he did not trust and feel comfortable being around. Sometimes not even then. Sometimes,especially not then. He did not want to bother his loved ones or make them worry.
Why did Zack have the ability to make him want to talk?
Sephiroth had once heard himself described as an ivory tower, which had certainly made him raise an eyebrow. According to the SOLDIERs' reasoning, he could be hardened and cold, unwilling to let any obstacle stand in the way of his goals and missions. Nor would he allow a wayward SOLDIER to go unpunished. But he was also strong, and untainted by the blood he had spilled. He had only ever shed blood in the defense of others. He did not crave power or a high position. He did not even consider himself a hero.
He did not know what he thought of being called "untainted", either. He did not feel that was so. He had killed out of hate before, despite the fact that it had not happened more than a handful of times, and only ever when there was a gross injustice being committed. But he did not think of it as an excuse. And he knew that he could be prideful. He was greatly pleased with his physical appearance and his strength, though he did not try to flaunt either attribute. Only in training or in battle would anyone see him fight.
Someone else had added that, just as something as magnificent as an ivory tower would be, General Sephiroth was a symbol of perfection and ideals. He was the epitome of what a good SOLDIER should be. And he was the reason so many young boys were determined to become SOLDIERs themselves. But at the same time, he was so distant and unreachable. Once, only two people had seen beyond his mask. Even they, however, had not seen all.
Angeal had always been better at reading Sephiroth's moods and feelings. Maybe because he was quiet and serious as well. Genesis had always been so emotional, often not thinking before speaking or reacting. He and Sephiroth had usually communicated through their competitions to be the best. And it was so easy to send the wrong signals during something like that.
Sephiroth had been angry and bitter when they had betrayed SOLDIER. But those feelings were mainly the product of his hurt. And even now, he had not given up on them. He was at a loss to know what to do, but that did not mean he would forget or abandon them.
It did mean that he had wanted to lock his heart again. It was hard to know whether trusting them, especially Genesis with his intense jealousy, would be possible. And though Zack had been confused and angry by Sephiroth's enigmatic personality at first, he had come to see through it. He had begun to understand the aching General, as Sephiroth had started to comprehend him. Zack was not always cheerful and naive, nor was Sephiroth only cold and untouchable.
Those who wore masks over their true feelings felt just as deeply as those who were often willing to show their souls. Perhaps even moreso, in some cases. Or did everyone wear some kind of mask?
Maybe it was because Zack had been trained by Angeal that he had come to be able to read Sephiroth so well. Maybe that explained why Sephiroth was willing to let him. But no, that did not satisfy him at all. Zack was not the ghost of Angeal. Zack was, and always would be, Zack.
And somehow, it seemed that Zack always would have understood people. Maybe Angeal had helped to refine that understanding, but it had already been an integral part of Zack's personality.
Zack had taken a key and a rope, along with his boundless enthusiasm and zest, and had ascended the ivory tower. He had unlocked Sephiroth's heart again, reawakening his hope. And though Zack had not seen all of Sephiroth's secrets, either---and likely would not---he had seen more than anyone else.
There was no such thing as an unreachable tower. Some just required more perseverance than others.
Sephiroth frowned, shaking his head. Now he sounded like Zack.
He bent over the military document, his glasses slipping down his nose as he signed his name.