Author: Guede Mazaka
“Touch it and your head will fly.”
Zack frowned, then swung himself off the table where he’d been waiting—fine, more like hiding—and padded over to the wall panel that controlled the privacy screens. He easily overrode his, but after it dematerialized, there still were the other cubicle’s fields. If he’d been willing to tackle it for fifteen minutes, he could’ve taken care of them, but that was way too long.
All the doctors spoke in low, flat voices. Probably once upon a time they’d run a test for what modulation was least disturbing and had completely missed the point about being soothing in order to come up with that. In contrast, Sephiroth’s baritone cut through like a laser. “I have a shrapnel wound. I need you to remove the piece of metal and put on sealer. I don’t need you to put more metal in me—no, I don’t care what my records say—”
“And he ranks,” Zack called out.
The conversation in the other cubicle ceased. They must have had noise-dampeners on, since Zack didn’t hear anything else, but when their privacy screens dissolved, the doc was turning away with a bloody, wicked-looking scrap of metal in his extractor. Sephiroth had one arm over his head, trying to gingerly feel if the sealer had dried yet. The wound was a three-inch, jagged tear over his shoulderblade—not too serious, but in one hell of an awkward place.
He didn’t turn around to look, so Zack had to walk to where he could see Sephiroth’s eyes. “Hey. I heard you were back up. Should I congratulate you or commiserate?”
Sephiroth stared at him in grave confusion. “Are you joking?” he finally said.
“Well, I don’t really know. But—but I am glad you’re back.” Zack reached over to clap Sephiroth’s arm, like he’d done a thousand times before. And Sephiroth being a stiff bastard was normal; what wasn’t was how awkward Zack felt. He grimaced and backed up, racking his brains for something else to say.
The doc had sensibly left, but they were still in Shinra Tower so they could count on somebody listening in to this. For some reason, the idea of it really bugged the hell out of Zack so every topic he came up with, he kept nixing because it might be too private. Though why he’d start caring now when before—
“Because Aeris has closed off her House and Strife apparently has gone renegade?” Sephiroth said. A trace of a humorless smile touched his mouth. “But I’m recoverable, it seems. I hope you don’t take that as a synonym for available.”
Goddamn. Just…goddamn. Zack rocked back on his heels and closed his mouth. He thought about—but no, he was just too fucking tired right now. Tired and lonely and he didn’t know a damn thing about what was going on, apparently, but he knew he didn’t have to put up with this shit. “You know what, forget I came over here. You’re back, so I’ll just slide back to my place behind—”
And Sephiroth actually winced. He ducked his head, then lifted it again, but he was looking off to the side. His odd expression of regret still was visible. “Zack. I’ve been mentally unstable for the past few weeks, and now that I am stable, I’m acutely aware that it’s only because of someone else’s will. My social skills were never that good to begin with, as you’ve told me.”
After a long, stunned moment, Zack hesitantly settled back in place. “Wow. I mean…I’ve known you for seven years and that’s the first apology I’ve ever gotten from you. I think.”
Sephiroth occasionally showed flashes of real personality, like now when he almost made a face at Zack. “Don’t push. I’m not—”
“Yeah. Yeah…Valentine, huh? He any better than the undearly departed Head?” Zack snorted.
It took a moment for Sephiroth to answer, and when he did, he spoke very carefully and slowly. “He’s…the better alternative to others. He could be more than that, but he prefers not to.”
“Well, at least there’s the chance he’ll change his mind.” Zack absently lifted his hand, but when he realized he was doing that, he didn’t pull it down. He brushed his fingers over the scar on the side of his face, then curled them into a fist and pressed it against his cheekbone. He didn’t even know if Cloud still had a mind. “I just…never mind. The docs wanted to fuck with this too—two of my ocular implants got knocked out—but Rufus said no. And now I don’t have infrared.”
“Get an external,” Sephiroth abruptly remarked. He glanced over just as Zack lifted his head. “The less implants, the better. You can’t run, Zack. Strife already did.”
Which was about as close as Sephiroth had ever gotten to saying he needed Zack for anything, so chalk up two shocks in one day. Though Zack decided he was better off not pointing this one out. “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.”
After all, he thought grimly to himself, somebody had to stay and keep the light on. And maybe…maybe it’d help show the way home.