Final Fantasy VII

What Makes a Friendship

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine, and this ficlit is! I was watching this random part in chapter 5 of Crisis Core where Hojo quizzes Zack and boosts his SOLDIER Points, and then the screen comes up saying that Zack feels closer to Sephiroth. My inner friendship fangirl went Squee, and this happened.

Zack was tense.

That was quite obvious, from the way he was shifting in every direction in his chair and barely looking over the documents before signing them. He was rushing through them almost as fast as humanly possible. Sephiroth winced as he heard one begin to tear.

"Be careful," he said, feeling somewhat irritated. "I'm sure you'll still have time to do whatever else you need to do, even if you stop to make sure that all the papers are intact."

Zack looked up, guilt flashing through his eyes. "Sorry," he mumbled. "I could tape it. . . ."

Sephiroth massaged his eyes. "Do that," he said. "It's not regulation, but it would be worse to submit a torn document."

Zack nodded. He averted his gaze, scrawling his name a fraction slower.

Sephiroth frowned. "Is something wrong?" he asked. He had thought that Zack was just bored with the paperwork and wanted to do something else. But maybe that was not it at all. He did act as though something could be bothering him. And for Zack to show it at all, it must be serious. Usually he could hide behind a smile and a happy voice.

"Nah . . . nothing." But then Zack let the pen slip to the desk. He leaned back, rubbing his eyes. "Just a long day, I guess."

Sephiroth opened a drawer and took out a roll of invisible tape. "You're not usually like this," he said, peeling off a piece and taking up the injured sheet of paper. It only took a moment to mend it. Of course the tape was quite visible, too, in spite of the manufacturer's claims. But that would have to be acceptable.

Zack crossed his arms, turning the chair so that he was staring out the window at the rain. He heaved a sigh. Seph would let it go if Zack did not talk about it. Part of him did not want to. And yet another part desperately wanted an answer. And . . . well, if what he had been told was true, then Seph deserved to know.

". . . I saw Hojo on my way over here," he said at last.

Sephiroth's eyes narrowed. "What did he want?" He could not keep the disgust out of his voice.

Zack gripped his arms. "He wondered how things were coming along with you. I asked what he meant." His voice dropped. "He . . . he said he'd heard about our friendship. He started mocking it, saying it was only for the weak and he'd hoped you were stronger than that."

"He says that all the time." Sephiroth studied Zack's vague reflection in the window. This was not what was bothering him. There was something else.

Zack nodded. "He . . . he said that I was weak, too, that he'd manipulated me so well." His expression darkened. "I got mad, demanded to know what he was talking about."

He looked down. "Hojo reminded me about when he'd tricked me into getting into this weird glass chamber thing and then started quizzing me . . . about what I thought SOLDIER needed most and stuff, and what kind of SOLDIER I looked up to the most, people like you or like Angeal. . . ." He shook his head. "It was so weird! I answered a few questions, and then he said I had a lot of potential and he was going to boost my strength or something. Then I got this really weird tingly feeling and it felt like energy rushed into me."

Finally he turned the chair, looking back to the stunned Sephiroth. "I remember," he cried, "I also felt closer to you after that! Hojo said today that's why I got wanting to be friends with you so bad, because of what he did. And . . ." His shoulders slumped. "I told him he was nuts and that wasn't true, but when I was walking away I got worrying. What if . . . what if it is true?"

Sephiroth frowned, gazing at the boy. He sounded and looked so lost. Undoubtedly that was what Hojo had wanted. And Hojo was so arrogant that he probably believed what he had told Zack was true. That was infuriating.

"When did this . . . experiment of Hojo's happen?" he asked.

Zack shrugged. "It was during that big attack, when we thought they were going to go after Hojo," he said. "After I left you and Angeal, I'd gone to check on him and started poking all around in his lab."

Sephiroth shook his head. What a foolish thing to do. Of course Zack would have been curious, heedless of the danger. Hojo must have been so sickeningly amused by it.

"Didn't you want to be friends with me before that?" he said. "During the Wutai war, you acted like I was more than just someone you idolized."

"Yeah . . ." Zack bit his lip. "I really wanted to be good enough to get your respect and stuff, since you're the best SOLDIER. But I also started thinking you were pretty great as a person, too, after I started seeing past all that cold stern act you put on. I couldn't imagine you'd really want me for a friend, but I got wanting to try."

"Then Hojo wasn't responsible for that," Sephiroth said.

Zack looked at him. "But what if he did something to me that made you like me more? It wasn't that long after that when we started getting really close. . . ."

"He didn't do anything to you." Sephiroth's voice was firm. He stood, walking over to stand in front of Zack. "I already liked you and felt close to you during the attack. Do you think I would have confided in just anyone about what happened between Angeal, Genesis, and myself?"

Zack stared up at him. "No . . ." he said, shaking his head. "I remember I was so worried that I didn't really get what was going on at first, but then I realized you were finally opening up to me."

"And you gave me that ridiculous nickname."

Zack smirked a bit. "Aww, you like it," he said.

Sephiroth grunted. "My point is, Hojo may think he manipulated us into a friendship, but he didn't."

Zack bit his lip, then gave a slow nod. Seph was right, of course. He had just let himself get carried away being silly. Neither Hojo or anyone else had the power to force them to be friends. It had happened on its own, because it was just meant to happen.

". . . He'll probably get a kick out of watching us, though," he said, a hint of bitterness slipping back into his voice.

"Of course. And we'll just have to deal with it."

"We'll show him what a real friendship is all about!" Zack cheered, leaping up from the chair.

"He won't care," Sephiroth pointed out.

"Well, I don't care what he thinks!" Zack grinned. "This is the way it's going to be!"

Sephiroth allowed a slight smile. Zack was becoming happy again. This was what he wanted to see. Hojo would not keep Zack in doubt.

He crossed his arms, giving his friend a mock stern look. "You haven't finished signing the documents," he said.

"Oh yeah!" Zack plopped back in the chair, grabbing up the pen. It flew across each of the remaining pages.

"Just don't tear anything again," Sephiroth said, shaking his head.

"I won't!" Zack chirped.

"And it would help if you would read what you're signing." Sephiroth's voice was dry.

Zack looked up at him. "I read it!" he said.

"In five seconds?" Sephiroth raised an eyebrow.

"I'm a speed reader!"

"This is the first I've heard of it. Usually you don't want to read at all."

Zack gave him an innocent look. Sephiroth only returned it, his own expression deadpan.

Abruptly Zack frowned again, reverting his gaze to the paper. Perhaps he had not been as satisfied and happy as Sephiroth had thought. "But Seph . . ." He tapped the pen on the desk. "Why did I feel closer to you after Hojo did that thing? I mean, doesn't that sound like he made that happen at least?"

Sephiroth watched him. On the surface, yes, it could sound like that. But he was not willing to consent to that possibility. Hojo would not have the last laugh here.

"You said you answered questions about what kind of SOLDIER you admired most, for one thing," he said. "It was your answers on that and the other questions that made you feel closer to me. Maybe speaking them aloud made you think of them more and realize all the more how you felt."

"Yeah. . . . 'Course, Hojo's the one who asked the questions in the first place . . ." Zack remarked.

Sephiroth nodded. "The only thing Hojo may have done is to cause you to think about your feelings. He did not give you anything . . . other than an energy boost," he amended.

Zack nodded too. "You're right, Seph," he said. "I mean, Hojo's just a creepy scientist. He doesn't even get what friendship is, so how could he ever go about doing something that'd directly make it happen?" He stretched his arms over the top of the chair, leaning backward to look at Seph. "Man, I hope if they ever really get science to go like that, I won't be around to see it."

Sephiroth allowed himself a bit of amusement at Zack's position. "They couldn't ever do it. At least, not for anyone other than the weak." He paused. "And you're one of the strongest men I know."

Zack grinned. "Yeah?"

"Yes." Sephiroth walked around to his chair and sat down again, his hair sweeping around to hang on his left side.

"I'll make you proud, Seph!" Zack said, setting aside the last of the documents.

"Proud?" Sephiroth raised an eyebrow.

Zack gave an enthusiastic nod. "That I'm your pal!"

Sephiroth looked down, collecting the papers together in a folder. "It's a little late for that," he said, his softened expression hidden by his bangs.