Finally! This shit is COMPLETE!
I kept the word document for this part up on my toolbar forever, working on it little by little. I may have gotten it done sooner had it not been for a series of emotional breakdowns that occurred, one after the other, shortly after I submitted the last chapter of Onward to Ruin. My inspiration and drive were just flickering in and out repeatedly for the past while, but I think I've managed to get them both back. So last night/this morning, I finally buckled down, put on some good music, and finished this!
As always, I appreciate the reviews! And I'm still lookin' for some other ideas for what else can happen. If anybody has an idea they'd like to pitch, I am more than happy to listen!
Well, let's get to it! Enjoy, peeps!
Eventually, the time came where the President needed his warrior back in commission.
There had originally been debate amongst the highest executives of Shinra as to what should be done about the First. Hojo had readily proposed taking him out of SOLDIER until he could find a way to rectify the problem of his impediment. Of course Shinra had seen through him and denied the proposal without hesitation, much to the Hojo's chagrin.
Neither Heidegger nor Scarlet were able to provide any real alternatives either; both had proposed similar ideas of replacing the SOLDIER with another weapon of some sort, Heidegger with the general army and Scarlet with her machines. The problem was that there was just no real way that Sephiroth could be effectively replaced. The man was highly trained, intelligent, and could fight with the power of an army and with the precision of a machine.
There was also the crucial matter of what effect the Sephiroth's overall appearance would have on Shinra's esteem. The man was the very face of the company's greatest fighting force. He inspired youth planet-wide to join with the company and add to its already immense power. The man had fought battle after battle and never once returned with so much as a bruise; such a thing was unheard of, impossible, yet the powerful SOLDIER had done so time after time. He was living perfection.
Now, their perfect being was marred, weakened, imperfect. Worst, still, the damage done had left the man permanently damaged, and he would likely no longer be able to fight with the same power, grace, and precision that had made him a world renowned hero.
Still, too much time, money, and training had gone into creating Shinra's prized warrior, and there was no way that the mere loss of a limb would make it go to waste; after all, the SOLDIER still had a second, perfectly useable arm. The issue with publicity was one that could be dealt with at a later time; first Sephiroth would have to be brought back to combat ready condition, ready to fight at a moment's notice as he'd once been. They may have lost their hero, their perfect face, but President Shinra refused to lose his greatest weapon.
Upon hearing the orders that he would have to participate in rehabilitation, Sephiroth had been discontent to say the least. However, upon hearing that said rehabilitation was essentially retraining, he became very cross.
Of course he'd known that because he'd lost an arm he would have to relearn a great deal of his technique; his method with the Masamune had required the use of both of his hands, and with the loss of his right, he would have to learn how to balance and wield the large blade single handed. This alone had not bothered him. While he didn't like the idea of essentially re-teaching himself everything he had learned, it was necessary if he were to ever be combat-able again. However, he would not be the one doing the teaching.
What bothered Sephiroth was the "trainer" that Shinra had assigned to him. While he'd required a trainer when he was young, it had only been necessary to teach him the very basics of swordsmanship, everything else, he had learned on his own. He'd wanted very much to protest; he had no need for someone else to teach him how to use his sword, he was perfectly able to relearn on his own. However, it was likely that Shinra had foreseen his protesting, and refused to hear any of it. He was ordered to comply.
Even Zack had questioned old man Shinra's judgment, especially when it finally came time for Sephiroth to begin his training. The man who was to be his trainer clearly knew what he was doing—Zack had hoped Shinra had sense enough to at least hire the best trainer they could find for their best warrior—but Sephiroth had no interest in what the man had to "teach" him. The silver haired man knew it all, and had practiced these techniques extensively. In his mind, all he needed was to regain his balance and condition himself to wield Masamune with a single hand. Once reconditioned, he would be able to alter his previous techniques to accommodate his needs.
However, because Sephiroth was one to always obey direct orders, he reluctantly complied… for about a week.
Zack tended to stay at the apartment whenever Sephiroth went for his training sessions. He always wanted to go just for support, but he had the sneaking suspicion that the man did not want him to see his struggle, his agitation. He usually spent the time alone just watching television, doing squats, or thinking of ways to take Sephiroth's mind off of his… situation, having become familiar with the usual mood the other would be in when he returned.
When the door finally opened revealing the tall silver haired man, Zack could already tell that the man was pissed. He strode into the apartment smoothly and shut the door softly, but Zack could just somehow feel the anger and frustration radiating from him despite the fact that there were no outward indications to clue him in.
He was on his feet and at the man's side in almost an instant, laying a comforting hand on his shoulder, his right shoulder. Once the burn wounds and the sutures healed, Zack would touch his side without the slightest hesitation just to show the older man that the healed wounds, the scars, his missing arm did not bother him. He gently rubbed along Sephiroth's shoulder blade, feeling the coiled muscle wound so tight and said nothing. It was likely that the trainer had stepped on his last frayed nerve.
Zack had honestly felt bad for the guy Shinra had hired—more likely coerced—to retrain Sephiroth. The SOLDIER likely knew just as much, if not more than the trainer himself, and might have felt somewhat humiliated. However, the trainer was just doing his job, and probably had no idea how to deal with someone like Sephiroth, who already knew how to fight on a level far superior than most of his fellow warriors yet was being forced to relearn everything as if he were just a novice.
Zack knew from his experiences with the older man, that he was likely not rude during the sessions; however, there was an arrogance in him that surfaced from time to time, and Sephiroth knew how to resist with subtlety.
But it seemed that the trainer had not taken a hint, or simply ignored it, and Sephiroth had finally had enough.
"You're early," Zack said softly, hand still rubbing in comforting circles.
"Indeed." There was no anger in his tone, no hitch, no clipped words, nothing. Zack could not even see the slightest emotion in those cyan eyes that were being kept downcast.
He inwardly wracked his brain for some way to ease Sephiroth's tension. He could tell by the overwhelming calm in Sephiroth's features that he was repressing it all, keeping it locked inside. Zack hated it when he did that, and he needed to find a way to either take his mind off it, or find something that would somehow let him vent his frustration.
Getting Sephiroth to take his mind off of something was difficult, but Zack knew plenty of potential ways it could be done. Typically, though, finding an outlet for him to vent his frustrations was much more effective but harder to actually do. Sephiroth's frustration and anger tended to manifest in one of two ways: violence, or passion, so the best ways to get him to vent were either through battle, or sex.
Sparring with Sephiroth was difficult. His strength made it where he had to consciously hold back to prevent injuries, but when agitated, his restraint waned. However, in the VR room, Sephiroth was mostly free to let go and fight with less reserve, but there was the risk of his going overboard and damaging the equipment; After the first occurrence in which he and his fellow Firsts damaged the room, Zack was sure Shinra would not appreciate a repeat offence.
Sex was typically what Zack fell back on when all else failed. Both benefited from it and Zack especially got the satisfaction of seeing his lover in a relaxed and content state. It was always interesting to see how Sephiroth's anger could be so easily converted into raw passion and lust especially when he could practically turn himself on and off at any time. However, since the incident, Zack had been reluctant to suggest sex at all and not because of discomfort brought on by the other's wounds. On the contrary, the injuries had not detracted from Sephiroth's looks at all in his opinion; the man could still so easily—and inadvertently—excite the brunette the same as always. Zack had honestly felt a little shame for a while at becoming aroused by the man while he was still recovering. He still felt a little guilt at considering it, feeling like he was trying to take advantage of Sephiroth's emotions.
Nearly immediately, Zack made his decision and lightly squeezed the others shoulder to get his attention.
"Let's go to the training room," he said.
At that, Sephiroth gave him a perplexed look, and he could see the question in those eyes. Zack just shook his head then nodded towards the door.
"C'mon. You're agitated, and you need to vent; I'm sure a little while of hacking and slashing fake monsters could do you some good."
The taller man looked as if he wanted to refuse. His nerves were frayed, he was frustrated with Shinra, the trainer, and most of all he was very likely frustrated with himself. He probably didn't want to spend any more time struggling with someone watching him; in fact, Zack was quite sure of that.
"This isn't training, babe," he reassured upon seeing his expression. "I'm not going to be critiquing you, hell I won't even watch if you don't want me to, but this has been eating at you for the past week, and you can't keep holding it in—"
"I would appreciate you not telling me what I can and cannot do," Sephiroth snapped.
Zack recoiled very slightly at the sharpness of his tone, mainly out of surprise; his lover did not snap often, but his voice could be as sharp as his blade when he wanted it to be. However, he was quite familiar with this side of his lover, and knew that the best way to deal with him was to simply yield.
"Okay, Seph, okay," he said, resuming lightly rubbing his shoulder. "I'm sorry."
Sephiroth sighed and looked away.
"No," he said quietly. "I am sorry, Zack. I had no right to speak to you that way."
Zack just smiled and moved to kiss his jaw. Sephiroth didn't often apologize, but then again, when he flew off the handle he almost always had a reason. Gently, he turned the taller man's face toward him and pressed their lips together, and he got that familiar, blissful feeling when Sephiroth kissed back. After a moment, he pulled away and looked into a face that was just slightly calmer. He smiled.
"C'mon. It'll do some good, and if it doesn't," he paused for a moment, thinking of what he could use to bargain with the man, "…well, I can let you do whatever you want with me for a month."
He punctuated his statement with a shrug. There wasn't much he could entice Sephiroth with; as he'd always said, the man had a shit ton of money but lived like a monk; he never had many wants—hell the man believed that he no right to want. Hopefully, however, letting Sephiroth decide what he wanted in exchange would encourage him to comply.
Sephiroth just sighed and shook his head, lips upturned just the slightest.
"All right, we will do things your way."
Upon reaching the Training room, Zack had since gone over every single training technique Angeal had taught him. While he couldn't be sure if he'd be a better alternative than the trainer as far as teaching went, he understood Sephiroth much more than anyone in Shinra, and he knew how to approach him. All Sephiroth really needed was help in regaining his balance and some exercise in strengthening his remaining arm.
Zack was confident he'd be able to help him—not teach him—and do so in a way Sephiroth would likely be more receptive to. He understood the man's pride, knew when to push him and how hard; most importantly, he knew when to simply back off, something very few even bothered to do.
As he entered the room, he performed his typical warm up stretches, the same as every time he trained. Zack didn't want this particular training session to come off as any different from all the previous ones he'd spent with Sephiroth, and he hoped that his lover would automatically follow suit, being the stickler for routine that he was. Glancing briefly behind him, he noticed in slight dismay that Sephiroth was not doing anything. Instead, he stood stock still near the doorway.
This was going to be much harder than he presumed.
"C'mon, Seph, you too," Zack coaxed.
Sephiroth only looked at him, and upon meeting his eyes, Zack smiled and attempted to coax him again. He had to resist an urge to sigh when all he got was a growl of warning for his efforts.
"None of that, Seph," he said. "You know the routine, and I'm right here doing it with you."
This didn't seem to help much, Sephiroth staying as he was, unmoving. Finally, Zack did sigh and slowly approached him, laying a hand on his shoulder.
He shook his head just the slightest.
"Why not?" he asked. "It's just me, and you know I'd never judge you."
Sephiroth said nothing, but the slightest tilt of his head let Zack know that he was getting through. It wasn't that the silver-haired man didn't want to train; things were different this time. To him, he would not be the superior fighter, someone else taking that role from him. Zack was sure that the trainer had done this, treating Sephiroth as any normal trainee, and that was his biggest mistake. Sephiroth was likely no normal trainee even when he was a trainee; the man certainly wasn't now. He was the greatest warrior Shinra had, likely the greatest on the planet, and that had to be taken into account if anything was to be accomplished. However, it seemed that even old man Shinra didn't realize this, and even if Sephiroth was supposed to follow his orders, there was only so much he could do to threaten the man. All Shinra had over Sephiroth was his sense of duty, and that could only go so far.
Zack squeezed his shoulder reassuringly.
"You can do this, Seph," he said softly. "You and I both know it."
A slow raise of his head, and Sephiroth was peering at him through silver bangs. Zack gave him a smile and a determined nod, hoping he'd finally get through to him. He got his answer when Sephiroth finally sighed in resignation and nodded himself.
Zack was able to gradually coax Sephiroth through their normal warm up routine, and to keep with him when it came to focusing on their arms, Zack would only used his left. A round of pushups came next, since he knew the other was able to do them one handed with no difficulty. After a couple hundred Zack could see that the other was fairly bored, not the best sign, but it was unavoidable. Even he wasn't thoroughly entertained every time he trained with Angeal, so there was no doubt in his mind that he wouldn't be able to keep Sephiroth entertained. However, he knew the other was mature enough to understand that, so it didn't exactly worry him. They did a few more exercises just for the sake of doing them until Zack deemed the other man ready to start with their swords.
"I bet you're eager to take up your ol' girl again," Zack said grinning, hoping to lighten the mood.
The soft chuckle that came from Sephiroth's lips was proof enough that his words had done their job. When Sephiroth lifted Masamune, Zack followed suit, gripping the Buster Sword in only his right hand. He wasn't exactly familiar with the way one handled a katana, and unlike Sephiroth, he was not left-handed, but he was sure the other understood that that. They would only be practicing handling after all, and even Zack would be fairly challenged by the exercises given the size of his own sword.
It was boring, he knew, for Sephiroth, and it had taken just a little bit more coaxing to get him to play along. They went through several basic motions, establishing patterns, repeating, and then changing. Zack did this to force the silver-haired man to reestablish his balance. Each new pattern they went through, Sephiroth would stumble just the slightest; however, Zack would pretend not to notice and continue with the motions, stopping and changing once he saw that Sephiroth was able to orient himself. Even Zack stumbled a few times, the sheer weight of the Buster Sword and the imbalance brought on by only using one hand to swing it forcing him to almost constantly readjust his stance.
They did this until Zack began to see Sephiroth move with a semblance of his original confidence. His movement regained fluidity, his footing more steady, and when Zack glanced at his face, he saw it set in concentration rather than frustration. He could detect the smallest twitch of the man's eye whenever he voiced a command, but he knew that was simply the way Sephiroth was. He wasn't exactly duty-bound to follow the orders of anyone else other than Shinra's highest executives and Hojo; having another tell him what to do was likely quite grating, but he was clearly taking it in stride.
Zack had Sephiroth move to actual targets next. First, he'd work through stationary targets then he'd fight animated simulations. He chose a program creating inanimate mannequins, the targets forming a circle around the other, one for each sword motion they practiced. He'd be able to practice combinations, and the positioning of the mannequins would force him to actually move while he slashed.
This was where things began to fall apart.
It appeared to be a bit harder for Sephiroth to reestablish his balance when actually moving in and direction. After several rounds without much noticeable change, he grew frustrated and it was evident in his movements. He moved with less calculation, brought his sword down harder than needed, and his balance only suffered more.
"Don't get frustrated, Seph," Zack told him, but it only earned him a snarl from the man, to which he only sighed in slight irritation.
After another few rounds, Sephiroth showed little sign of improvement.
"Shape up, Seph, c'mon," Zack called. Sephiroth only growled in response. "I know you can do this."
After another couple of rounds, there was little improvement. The man was simply unable to steady himself, his movements much too stiff. He wasn't allowing his body to justmove naturally.
"Don't over think," Zack called again. "You need to let yourself move naturally."
Upon hearing that, Sephiroth paused, and seemed to be trying to relax. Zack nodded to himself, glad to see that he appeared to be listening finally. However, Zack had no intention of letting him stop for long.
"Let's go; we're gonna keep going until this is second nature to you."
Sephiroth just paused, and slowly turned to face him. His gaze was intense, and to most it would have been intimidating. However, Zack was not fazed, and he met the gaze with an even one of his own. He was sure that Sephiroth was only acting this way out of instinct; there was little he could to intimidate Zack anymore, and he knew this.
"Keep going, Sephiroth," he ordered. A bold move, but it had to be done.
The silver-haired man only stood his ground. It was likely that he'd had almost enough, or he was simply testing Zack to see what he'd do next. There were no other men in Shinra that would follow through with giving Sephiroth an order once he blatantly refused. He couldn't be threatened by much, and no one could physically make him do anything, Zack included. While he couldn't make Sephiroth return to the program, Zack was pretty sure he knew how to make the man continue to practice. It was a gamble, but at this point it was one he was more than willing to take if it meant helping his lover.
Suddenly, Zack lunged forward, sword drawn and poised to strike. He could tell by Sephiroth's face that he had not been expecting it, but just as Zack brought the Buster Sword down, the Masamune was raised to deflect the blow. Inwardly, Zack was glad to see this; it meant that the other's reflexes were still there, and judging by the way their blades ground together, his strength had not waned either.
Quickly, he pulled back and performed a quick series of blows, all of them focused on Sephioth's now vulnerable right side. The man would have to learn to realign himself in order to make up for this new weak point, and Zack planned to all but force him into it. If he didn't want to be ordered to do anything, Zack would give him to opportunity to decide for himself what he believed he needed to do, but he wouldn't make it easy for him, that would have been a greater insult to the man.
While Sephiroth was able to deflect Zack's blows, he still had some difficulty balancing. Although his quick reflexes made up for the blunders, he was clearly not satisfied with this, judging by the irritated growls he let out every time he lost his footing. Zack, however, didn't let up.
Eventually, Sephiroth began to go on the offensive, pushing Zack back with blows of his own. While his balance was still a little off, the youth was glad that his lover was actively fighting back. Upon blocking a particularly strong blow, Zack almost trembled in excitement as the shriek of metal on metal filled his ears. The sparks from their blades illuminated Sephiroth's face, and he grinned when he saw that familiar spark behind cyan eyes.
"That's more like it," he all but purred.
Sephiroth only huffed and pulled back, bringing his sword down again. Zack moved to the side, twisting and swinging the Buster Sword only to be swiftly blocked yet again.
This same pattern occurred over and over, both of them attacking, dodging, and countering one another. Gradually though, Sephiroth began to get the upper hand as his body slowly realigned itself. Zack grinned widely as he watched that powerful body move in what was close to its former fluid grace, and that nice shiver of joy and arousal traveled up his spine.
Finally, Sephiroth used his blade and pushed Zack backward with all of his power, and the youth stumbled back several feet from the sheer force. Once he regained his footing, he positioned his blade and looked up just in time to see Sephiroth rushing at him. He brought his sword up in defense, but the blow never came. At the same time, he felt the familiar feeling of his PHS vibrating in his pocket. Glancing up at Sephiroth, he noticed the man, still halfway in his stance, looking down at his own handset in confusion.
Zack straightened, and wordlessly pulled out his PHS, flipping it open and finding that he'd been sent a mail. He just managed to open it when Sephiroth spoke up.
"The President wants to speak with… both of us."
Zack looked up and made a confused noise, then immediately looked down at his own message; it was indeed a message requesting that both he and Sephiroth report to the President's office.
"Huh," Zack said, "wonder what old man Shinra wants with little ol' me."
Looking back up at Sephiroth, he was able to note the slightest tension on his brow. While he couldn't think of a reason for why the President wanted to see him, the look on his lover's face was not very reassuring. He just hoped he wasn't getting reprimanded for anything.
"Well, may as well see what the Prez wants." He shrugged and placed his sword back on his back, heading towards the VR room door.
Zack had never been in the President's office, but he was sure Sephiroth had seen the place plenty of times. He couldn't help but gawk at how spacious the place was—it was practically its own floor—and how one whole wall was nothing but massive windows, no doubt providing quite a view of the city below. He didn't glance around long though; he was going to be facing the President, and he had to be attentive.
He followed Sephiroth and stood beside him before President Shinra's large desk. He stood straight, face devoid of any emotion, but inwardly his stomach fluttered in a mix of curiosity and nervousness. Zack focused on the large blond man and noticed that he had his attention completely on Sephiroth; he couldn't read the man's expression, but he had his head turned up just slightly in a gesture of superiority.
"You wished to speak with us, Mr. President?" Sephiroth asked.
Shinra leaned forward onto his desk and peered at the both of them, and Zack noticed a narrowing of his eyes when he gaze settled back on Sephiroth.
Both of them were silent, waiting for the man to continue.
"It has come to my attention that you have not been… cooperative with the trainer we assigned to you."
Zack glanced over at the silver-haired man and noticed that his gaze had lowered. It was likely that Sephiroth had been expecting this to happen.
"Need I remind you, Sephiroth, that you were under direct orders to partake in training in order to recondition you for combat?" Shinra asked his voice hardened.
"No, sir," Sephiroth answered.
Zack noticed a dark look come over Shinra's face, and he shuddered slightly.
"Then would you kindly explain to me why you have continuously disobeyed your trainer?" Shinra responded. "By disobeying the man who was to recondition you, you have thus failed to obey my orders; I will hear an explanation."
Sephiroth stayed silent.
After a moment, the President leaned forward further, turning his head as if her were trying to hear something.
"I am not hearing anything, Sephiroth. Shall I, then, assume that you do not have an answer for me?"
Zack glanced again at Sephiroth, and noticed the tension on his brow, his lips pressed in a thin line. He uttered no sound at all, and Shinra scowled when he failed to reply. Zack almost jumped when a fist collided hard with the surface of President Shinra's desk.
"Answer me, Sephiroth," he snarled. "I will not tolerate this insubordination from you."
There was a long pause before Sephiroth finally spoke. "No," he said quietly.
""No,'" Shinra repeated. "No, you will not give me an explanation?"
Sephiroth promptly shook his head. "That is not what I meant, Sir."
"…I am unable to provide you with an explanation for my behavior."
"Oh?" Shinra said as he leaned back into his chair. "And why is that?"
Zack could see the tension pouring off of his lover in waves, and he wanted so much to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder. He watched Sephiroth gloved fist tremble at his side. He hoped this would be over soon, but most importantly, he wondered why the President had asked that he be present was well when it seemed like all he was doing was reprimanding Sephiroth.
"I cannot justify my behavior, Mr. President," Sephiroth answered. "I had no just cause to disobey the trainer you assigned to me."
"Then why have you?"
Sephiroth said nothing. After a few tense moments, the President growled.
"Whatever your reasons may have been to behave as you have, I will not accept any further problems out of you. Do you understand?"
The silver-haired man nodded.
"Good," Shinra said with a nod, then he paused briefly before continuing. "However, seeing as how you have refused to cooperate with your current trainer, we will have to assign you a new one.
Sephiroth looked up at that. "Sir?"
Shinra did not bother to elaborate, instead he finally turned his gaze to Zack, and he almost jumped when the President spoke to him.
"I suppose you are wondering why you are here Mr…?"
"Indeed," said Shinra with a wave of his hand. "I take you know of the surveillance systems within the company training room, yes?"
"Well, I had the pleasure of watching your little coaching routine with our Sephiroth, here." He gestured to the taller man whose gaze remained downcast.
Zack wasn't sure how to respond to the blond man's words. He just nodded almost dumbly at him, showing that he at least acknowledged this. Shinra simply snorted at him.
"Clearly, you are not trainer material," the President said with slight displeasure. "However, it would seem that Sephiroth has responded to your methods well enough. There is no sense in the man having a superior teacher if he refuses to be taught, so…"
Zack waited for him to continue. When he didn't, he was left hanging and confused.
"Sir, I don't understand. What does this have to do with me?"
Shinra snorted louder this time and shook his head. "Quite a shame, you are not to sharp either."
Inwardly, Zack bristled, but he did not let anything show.
"Because Sephiroth refuses to obey the trainer we assigned to him, yet he has cooperated with your methods, I will be giving you the duty of retraining our 'Genral' here."
Oh, fuck. Even Sephiroth quickly raised his head upon hearing this. He looked very close to protesting not that Zack wasn't as well.
" Sir, I'm not so sure I'm fit to handle that responsibility."
"Regardless of what you may think, Mr. Fair, because Sephiroth has seemed willing to listen to you, you will handle this responsibility."
Sephiroth stepped forward, intent on protesting; however, Shinra silenced him.
"I will hear nothing further from either of you," he said with finality. "Mr. Fair, you will be overseeing Sephiroth's reconditioning from here on out until we deem him fit to return to active duty. You are both dismissed."
There was nothing either of them could do or say. The two SOLDIER's simply looked at each other before turning and exiting the President's office. They headed back to Sephiroth's apartment in a tense silence. Zack himself was almost approaching a panic; he'd never had any intentions of training Sephiroth, only helping him in a manner he hoped the other would be more comfortable with. He'd hoped that by increasing Sephiroth own confidence—which had likely been dealt a huge blow—he'd be able to return to his training sessions much more at ease, and he'd be much more willing to cooperate.
Now Zack was assigned to be Sephiroth's trainer. He'd have to ensure that Sephiroth was able to return to combat as the efficient warrior he had been before the incident. Sephiroth would have to obey him… and Zack knew perfectly well that the man would never obey him.
This would not end well.