Final Fantasy VII
Tears of the Soul
Notes: The characters are not mine and this ficlit is. It was directly inspired by the prompts Shower and Wound at FF Love, and hopefully it won't seem disjointed. Originally the idea was mostly the fanservice, and I had to figure out some kind of plot to go with it. Consider it a snapshot in the lives of these two SOLDIERs. There is not one specific event that triggered Zack's outburst; but countless events leading up to it. Many thanks to Kaze for plot help and the title!
The hot water beat down on the well-built body, a relief from the long and frustrating day. In some ways it was as relaxing as a massage; slowly the tense nerves and muscles were loosening. But a headache was still pounding in the man's temples. From past experience, he knew that would not be alleviated until he had slept. And it made him all the more eager to complete what he was doing and leave the tub.
Strong hands held out the lathered silver locks, allowing the steady stream from above him to begin washing away the shampoo. Suds and water trailed over the mostly healthy flesh, mingling with two sewn gashes on the right forearm. Green eyes narrowed in annoyance at the sudden stinging sensation.
The injuries had been gained earlier that evening. Monsters had been terrorizing Midgar again, and SOLDIER had been called to deal with it. Of course the beasts had been defeated; none of the SOLDIERs would have allowed it to be otherwise. But more than one of the men had not escaped unscathed. At least none of the wounds were serious; the SOLDIERs had previously been vaccinated against the diseases some of the monsters carried, and their cuts and lacerations had been checked for infections.
But Zack . . .
A deep frown graced the man's features. Zack was suffering from wounds of a different sort. When the call had come in about the attack on Midgar, he had not responded with enthusiastic determination as usual. He had let out a rare curse directed at the beasts before taking up the buster sword and heading for the door. When his friend had tried to talk to him about his outburst, Zack had snapped that he was tired.
"It's nothing getting some sleep'll cure," he had continued. "I'm tired of this--the fighting, the killing. I'm sick of seeing people get hurt. What can any of us really do to stop it? There's always something new after a while. And someday, we're not going to be good enough to stop it. What's gonna happen then? Are we gonna have to watch as everyone and everything gets destroyed?"
There had been no answers for him. And Zack had known that.
The General was physically tired more than anything else; the long battles combined with waiting and then receiving treatment for his arm had wearied him. He had long ago experienced what Zack was feeling now--that sense of hopelessness and despair, the frustration and agony knowing nothing would ever truly be over. Now, deep inside, he was often just burned out. He fought because he had to, because that was what he was good at . . . and because there would not be anything for him to do otherwise.
He wanted to help Zack, but he knew that was beyond his abilities. Zack would have to find his own solution. But the silver-haired man would check on him once this was done.
Despite his exhaustion, he also had had no intention of going to sleep without a shower. And so here he was, rinsing out his long hair as the water fell over him. Sometimes having a shower could wake him up. Now it was only making him more tired. But he still had to use the conditioner before he could leave.
Sleepily he groped for the bottle on the shelf to his right. Flipping the top, he turned the container upsidedown and began to squeeze the contents onto his hair. Then he set the bottle back, clawing with his fingers to evenly spread the conditioner through the silver tresses.
It needed to set for a minute or longer. He turned around, letting the downpour rinse the soap from his torso and limbs while he waited. An unacceptable yawn was building in his throat. He was the General. He arguably had the strongest willpower of anyone in SOLDIER. He could force himself to stay awake. Gathering his hair, he turned around again, letting the water hit his back. Closing his eyes for just a moment would be so inviting. But if he did that, his body might take it as the signal to shut down for the night. Then he could end up falling, which might result in another trip to the infirmary and further lack of sleep.
Maybe if he tried thinking about something again, he would stay awake.
Instead of the shower stinging tonight's wounds, it was now touching the various scars on his back. They had once stung too. Now he felt nothing other than the water. The incision where his wing was hiding stayed dry too, luckily. The skin hugged itself closed, though it had not actually knitted together and likely never would. Whatever Hojo had done, it had been effective. The fold could open in an instant if he needed to use his wing.
After he had first gained the new limb, he had not been able to fold it into his body without feeling the pain of the new muscles and joints. So he had left it out for a while, which had made showering an even more interesting--and frustrating--experience. To shower at all, he had needed to spread the wing along whichever wall was on his right. And drying the feathery appendage had been a nightmare. Once he had been able to successfully keep it folded in his body, he had never showered with it out again.
He turned to the side, holding out his hair again to begin the rinsing process. Then he shifted position another way, leaning his head back to cleanse the conditioner from the top of his head and his bangs. Water splashed in his eyes. Irritated, he closed them. The sound of the pounding drops filled his ears. If he could just remain there with his eyes closed, resting them . . . or better yet, go to bed . . . with the soft pillow and mattress to rest his body. . . .
He swayed. His eyes snapped open. This would not do. He had to concentrate and focus.
A knock came at the bathroom door, startling him. A frown graced his features as the full realization hit. He must have neglected to lock the front door. But who would walk right into his quarters and over to the bathroom? Especially in the middle of the night?
Zack, of course. And he sounded as though he had calmed himself, which was good. Sephiroth grunted, opening the glass door halfway in order to communicate. "What," he called.
"You okay? You've been in there forever!" Zack exclaimed.
"I'm fine," Sephiroth retorted. "I'm almost done."
"That's good!" Zack chirped. "I was worried maybe you fell asleep in there."
It would be ridiculous to reply to that, since it had already been confirmed that he was somehow awake. And he wanted to ask Zack how he was feeling, but it would be awkward to do so with the door between them. It could wait a few minutes. He shut the shower door again, returning to the rinsing procedure. To get his bangs properly rinsed, he would need to face the shower head-on.
Turning off the water and opening the glass door a couple of minutes later was an immense relief. He stepped out onto the rug, water dripping from his body and hair as he reached for a towel. He dried vigorously at his hair before wrapping it in the cloth. Then he took out a second one to go over his torso and limbs.
The air conditioning vent under the cupboard blew the cool air against his ankles. Though the weather rarely bothered him, today had been extraordinarily hot, even for Midgar. It had been refreshing to arrive back on base and turn on the air conditioning in his private quarters. Having a shower always steamed the bathroom, so enabling the cool air to circulate in that closed room kept the space from becoming stifling.
He slipped into a pair of shorts and a dark robe before opening the door. Zack was not in the hallway, but it was not likely that he had left. Sephiroth shuffled into the living room. Zack was stretched out on the couch, his hands behind his head. As soon as Sephiroth entered, the brunet sat up with a grin.
"Hey pal!" he greeted.
"I thought you would have gone back to your quarters by now," Sephiroth said, half in amusement. Zack did not resemble the living dead just yet, but he was obviously tired. His eyes sported dark lines underneath and red lines throughout, not to mention they were half-closed. Unsuccessfully he struggled to hold back a yawn.
"I wanted to check up on you first," Zack said through the intake of oxygen. "I didn't get to see you after we were at the infirmary."
Sephiroth walked over to the couch, sinking down into it. "I didn't receive serious wounds," he grunted. "I left after they were stitched."
Zack pushed up the right sleeve, studying the spot where the gashes were. "Looks bad enough," he shuddered. "You're just lucky, Seph. When that thing came at you, it looked like it wanted to take your arm right off."
"It was laying dead in the next instant," Sephiroth said.
"Yeah . . ." Zack let go of the sleeve, stretching his arms and legs before slumping into the couch. "You sure gave it to him!" He frowned. "And shouldn't you have a bandage on your arm?"
"Probably." Sephiroth looked to him. "How are you feeling?"
There was no mistake about what he meant. Zack sobered, shaking his head.
"I don't know," he admitted. "I dunno what really happened to me today. Usually I can go along just fine. I want to fight because I want to protect people . . . but . . ." He sighed. "Sometimes it just seems like there's no point."
Sephiroth nodded. "I've gone through that, too," he said. "I used to be a young and foolish SOLDIER. As the General, I believed that I could right all that was wrong. Nothing would be impossible for me with the power I held. But . . . I learned that wasn't how the world worked." No amount of power could change some things, no matter how much he wanted it to.
"No kidding." The bitterness slipping into Zack's tone was obvious. "What'd you do, pal?"
"I was bitter for a while," Sephiroth told him. "And I was angry. People can say that good has been done, and you know it has been, but it sounds so hollow when you see those who don't make it . . . and those who are scarred for life . . . because you couldn't save them."
"Yeah," Zack nodded. "But on the other hand . . . you start thinking about everyone you do save, and you start wondering what would've happened to them, if you'd never came along. Maybe everyone would've died then." He looked up with sad lavender eyes. "So you have to choose to save some . . . or not save any at all. Why does it have to be that unfair? Why can't you save everyone?"
"I don't know. I doubt anyone really does." Sephiroth shook his head. "I gave up trying to figure it out; I accepted what is."
"But you've still gotta try to save everyone," Zack said.
"I didn't say I don't try," Sephiroth said. "I still do everything I can to save as many people as possible. I know you do as well. But I don't live under the illusion that in every case it can be done. True, sometimes every person can be rescued. But oftentimes, there's a much more bittersweet result."
"And I hate that." Zack slumped back into the couch. For a long moment he was silent, staring off at the other wall. Was he thinking about Angeal? That would not be a surprise, especially after what he had revealed about what had actually happened in Modeoheim. It haunted him every day.
". . . Well," he said at last, "I'll help you get a bandage on your arm, and then I'd better let you get to sleep."
Sephiroth grunted. "I can manage," he said.
"Wrapping it around your arm is hard!" Zack insisted, leaping up. "You really need three arms--one for the stuff to be wrapped around, and two to fix it in place!"
Sephiroth smirked in amusement. "Fine," he said. But he had to wonder if he was agreeing mostly to humor Zack. It made Zack feel useful, to have something to do for someone, and after his experience today it was all the more important for him to have that sense of being needed. Perhaps he even felt sorry for snapping at Sephiroth earlier--though Sephiroth was not upset about that, knowing the circumstances.
Zack hastened to the bathroom, returning holding the first aid kit. He promptly plopped on the couch, popping the box open and taking out the gauze. Sephiroth pushed back his sleeve again, allowing Zack easy access. Carefully Zack wound the gauze around Seph's arm until the sewn gashes were covered. He added a slight bit more for good measure before cutting and taping the bandaging in place.
"There!" he chirped. "How's that?"
Sephiroth raised his arm, testing the fit. "It's fine," he said.
"Great!" Zack snapped the case shut, setting it on the table next to the couch.
Sephiroth crossed his arms, his damp bangs hanging into his face. After the hectic day, it was calming to sit here with his best friend. But now that he knew Zack was relatively alright, he wanted most of all to get to sleep. His eyes were already threatening to close again, and falling asleep on the couch while Zack watched would be most unacceptable.
"Well . . . I guess I'd better let you get to sleep," Zack said again, and yawned. "I'd better get there myself . . . if I can ever get off the couch."
"You'll manage," Sephiroth said. "You stood up a few minutes ago."
"Yeah, but that just makes it even harder to get up now!" Zack said.
They sat together for a while longer. Then Zack gathered his final burst of strength to suddenly leap onto his feet. "There!" he said in triumph. He waved to Seph as he headed for the door. "See you tomorrow, pal!"
Sephiroth eased himself off the couch. "Goodnight," he said.
Zack was yawning again as he shuffled out the door. He seemed to be his usual self. Or at least, he felt better enough that he could hide his conflicted feelings. He mumbled something through the yawn as he pulled the door shut behind him.
Amused, Sephiroth crossed to the door and turned the lock before heading to the bedroom. When he arrived, he turned back the covers and sank into the mattress, pulling the quilt back over him. He was asleep before he had even completed the task.