Final Fantasy VII
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! It was inspired by theme #31 at 30 Quills on Livejournal, which reads, Every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not; and oftentimes we call a man cold when he is only sad. Many thanks to Kaze for plot help!
Zack was deep in thought as he walked to Sephiroth's office. It had been a long day for him, but he was sure it had been even longer for Seph. After a morning of training the men and dealing with several problems that Seph had billed as "absurd" and "ridiculous", Sephiroth had been forced to attend a press conference at noon. He had been dreading it for weeks, but Shinra had arranged it to develop more good press for SOLDIER and, of course, their famed general had to be a part of it.
And it had been more frustrating than he had imagined. Before it had even begun, there had been an incident with the men that Sephiroth had needed to handle. One of the reporters had witnessed it, and judging from her line of questioning in the subsequent interview, she felt that Sephiroth was too strict with the men. Both she and the other reporters had overstepped their boundaries several times, even asking highly personal questions, to which Sephiroth had always responded in a cool, evasive tone. And for the rest of the day, debates had sprung up over who was right. Some sided with Sephiroth, finding the reporters' conduct inappropriate. Others aligned themselves more with the reporters, or at least against Sephiroth, and word had been going around in various circles about how cold General Sephiroth was.
Zack was annoyed with all of them. They just did not understand. Even some of Sephiroth's own men were talking about him behind his back. That had happened off and on for years, of course, but after the disastrous interview they seemed to take it as a signal to talk about it even more.
And Sephiroth knew about it; he had developed quite a reputation for himself as being stern and no-nonsense. In Angeal and Genesis's time, they had been the more relaxed First Class SOLDIERs, those one went to when one did not want to deal with the strict General. Now, in Zack's time, he seemed to have picked up the threads of those reputations. One reporter had even tried to ask him what it was like to work with General Sephiroth, but if she had been hoping to dig up any dirt by reading between the lines, she had failed. Zack had praised Sephiroth, admitting that they did not always see eye-to-eye when it came to discipline but that Sephiroth was a good man who handled situations the way he found best.
Seph always said that the SOLDIERs might not appreciate his harshness now, or even years from now, but someday they would realize what they had learned from it. Zack had seen that become true on many occasions. So many naive kids, not so unlike himself, came into SOLDIER all the time. And he had seen them grow and prosper under their mentors' tutelage. Sephiroth had helped guide them into becoming men.
Of course, that did not mean Seph's people skills were not lacking. Zack rubbed the back of his neck. There was still a lot he had to teach his best buddy about loosening up. But they were getting there. Seph had been making a lot of progress himself. And hey, Zack had to cut the poor guy some slack. After all, he had grown up with Hojo as a guardian. Anyone would have bad people skills under those circumstances!
He came to Seph's office door, but then hesitated. Someone else was in there. And Seph did not sound happy about the meeting.
"You made complete fools of the rest of the unit as well as yourself," he was saying. "This isn't only about you, SOLDIER. As part of Shinra's military organization, you are expected to serve as part of a team. When you do good, your entire unit will look good. When you do bad, your entire unit will look bad."
A slight pause. Then a younger, subdued voice replied, "Yes, sir. I realize my conduct was inappropriate."
"See that it doesn't happen again." Seph's voice had grown more stern, if that was possible. "And get Karl and Jensen in here."
"You are dismissed."
Zack hurried out of sight around a corner as the Third Class SOLDIER left Sephiroth's office. About that same time, the kid's phone rang. He pulled it out and unfolded it, holding it up to his ear. "Yeah? . . . Yeah, I'm coming now. . . . The General had me in his office. . . . Yeah, the General. He really is cold, just like you said. I wonder how he lives like that." He turned the corner opposite to Zack, his words mixing with his footfalls and fading.
Zack frowned. Coming out from where he was concealed, he turned the knob on Seph's office door and pushed it open.
The silver-haired man stiffened. "Jensen, your place is to knock first," he said.
Zack shut the door behind him as he entered. "Sorry, Seph," he said. "I'm not Jensen."
Sephiroth started, looking up from the evening newspaper. He lowered his glasses, relieved to see Zack standing there instead of the other two wayward SOLDIERs.
"Never apologize for that," he said, folding the paper to set aside. "If you ever become Jensen's twin, that's when you should apologize."
Zack gave a mock salute. "Message received, General Seph!" he chirped.
Sephiroth shook his head, a trace of a smile creeping over his features. But then he sighed, leaning back in the chair. He obviously had something on his mind.
Zack crossed his arms and waited. He had learned that Seph would tell him when he was good and ready. Sometimes Zack needed to prompt him to speak, but not this time.
"Tell me something, Zack."
The brunet came to attention. "Yeah?"
Sephiroth looked to him. "You were at the press conference. You saw what those fools did. Do you think I was too hard on them?"
Zack pondered the question. "Well," he mused at last, "you were harder than I would've been, but that's always the case. Those guys usually do end up causing trouble. They need to have something told to them."
Sephiroth gestured to the paper. "Apparently now it's circulating across Midgar that I'm too cold," he said in an indifferent tone. "I don't believe that was the kind of publicity Shinra was hoping for."
"Those reporters had no right to ask some of the things they did," Zack frowned, walking over near Seph's desk. "And you're not cold, Seph!"
"Really." Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. "Then what would you call it?"
Zack realized then that Sephiroth himself felt that he was cold. He frowned more.
"Well . . . I know that once upon a time I probably would've agreed with those reporters," he said, lowering himself onto the edge of Sephiroth's desk. "When I first met you, I didn't have a good impression of you at all. But I figured out more and more things about you as we got to know each other better."
"Such as?" Sephiroth did not bat an eye at Zack's choice of a seating arrangement. Zack, however, was the only person who could get away with it.
"Like you built this wall around yourself," Zack said, "and you don't like anyone to see through it. But at the same time, you're hoping someone will."
"You really care about the men and want to help them, but there's still a part of you that's afraid to care," Zack said. "So you close yourself off and just let them see the rough, tough, General."
"That's all they need to see." Sephiroth crossed his arms over his open coat.
But Zack hurried on, "Sometimes you let them see a little more. A lot of the guys say it's like talking to their dads, when they come to you for advice."
Sephiroth just looked at him. Never having had someone he could call a father, he did not know what that was like. And he certainly never thought of himself as behaving like one.
"They do," Zack said. "It's a good thing," he added, seeing Seph's perplexity.
". . . I see," Sephiroth said, though he actually did not.
Zack smirked. "And of course, there's the part of you that just can't stand people acting like idiots," he said.
Sephiroth smirked too. "Which is what the reporters saw," he said.
"Yep." Zack nodded. "And what they'll probably never see is how warm you are deep down. You'll never let them see that, because you still feel like it's a weakness and that you'll be vulnerable or something."
Sephiroth looked away. Sometimes Zack knew him too well. Angeal had possessed the same sort of insights. Genesis, on the other hand, barely seemed to understand Sephiroth at all. Though, to be fair, Sephiroth was not sure he understood the jealous man very well, either.
"No, you're not cold, Seph." Zack leaned across Sephiroth's desk to make sure Seph looked at him. "You know what? You're sad."
Sephiroth raised an eyebrow. "Sad," he repeated.
Zack nodded. "You're the saddest man I know." He straightened up. "And that makes me sad!"
Sephiroth shook his head. "I'm not sad."
"Sure you are." Zack laid a hand on Sephiroth's shoulder as he eased himself off the desk. "Why do you think you built that wall in the first place?"
Sephiroth opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by a quick knock on the door.
Sephiroth looked to the door in annoyance. "Jensen," he muttered.
"Hoo boy," Zack sighed. He glanced back to his friend. "I could stay here if you want, Seph," he said. "As moral support. . . ."
Sephiroth shook his head. "No. I spoke to Martin alone and I'll speak to Jensen and Karl alone."
"Okay." Zack crossed to the door. "Then I'll come back later!"
Now Sephiroth was amused. Only Zack.
But . . . only Zack what? Only Zack would say that, or Sephiroth would let only Zack follow through? Or both?
He watched as Zack strolled out, passing Jensen and Karl on the way. The two renegades entered, Karl half-heartedly shutting the door after them.
Zack's words continued to play through Sephiroth's mind as he began to question the duo on their earlier actions.
Bah, he was not sad. That was ridiculous.
How could he be sad, when he was around someone as cheerful as Zack?
Or was Zack the sole bright spot in his otherwise cold existence?