Zack untangled himself then, and swore a little bit for not having the brains to stash an armlet with a cure materia in his cargo pants, because having to walk all the way over to the motorcycle was a bitch. At least it let him grab a couple extra materia while he was at it, though; he cast ice on the still-heat-shimmering fused glass a few yards away, and it melted down nicely. He hobbled over to the pool and washed out the worst of the grit and grime before he cast cure on himself, then sighed deeply.
He hadn't brought a travel mug or anything -- he hadn't been figuring on finding a coffeeshop out in the middle of nowhere, of course -- so the next best thing was the cleanest piece of what was left of his shirt; he soaked it thoroughly, tossed it over his shoulder, and cupped some water in his palms to coax into Sephiroth before he set about cleaning him up. It was a little awkward having someone drink over his thumb, and his nose was in the wrong spot, and the tip of his tongue tickled against the hollow of his palms. Zack bit down hard on his lip to keep from laughing and spilling the rest of the water, then set about cleaning the shards and debris from Sephiroth's pale skin.
His hair was filthy, dulled and streaked with blood and dirt and carbon-char; Zack looked at it for a minute, and then at the pool, and he sighed and carefully picked him up. Between the lingering heat of the fused earth and the chill of the ice, the water itself actually wasn't too bad a temperature; he cradled the back of Sephiroth's head in a careful palm, and dipped water out of the pool to let it trickle through the roots of his hair, and Sephiroth finally looked up at him with something other than blank, numb self-disgust in his eyes.
"You," he murmured, his voice cracking with exhaustion, "are such a goddamned mother hen, Zack."
"Somebody's got to take care of you, boss," Zack agreed, and brushed wet fingers through a snarl of mud caught in his hair. "Unless you're telling me you've got the energy to wash all this mess yourself?"
"...that's what I have you for, isn't it?"
Surprised by even such an oblique and tentative gesture toward acceptance, Zack found himself grinning broadly.
"That and certain other things, of course," he said, with an insinuating waggle of the eyebrows; but Sephiroth's face tightened, and he looked away.
"I'm sorry," he murmured. "I have no excuse -- you shouldn't have had to--"
The rest of it was cut off by a gargle when Zack shoved his whole head under the surface of the pool. He came up spitting like a wet cat, drenched and shocked into outrage.
"Don't make me have to try to scrub that idea out of your head too," Zack told him. "I didn't bring soap to wash your mouth out with."
"...Soap?" He'd stumbled from outrage to simple bewilderment. "Don't you mean toothpaste?"
"No, I mean soap," Zack said, deciding it wasn't the time to try to explain about mothers and children and words that mothers didn't want to hear their children say. "Because soap tastes nastier."
He still looked too damn much like the kid that manicured blonde ran her hands over like a piece of meat, his eyes wide and inhuman and uncomprehending.
"Dammit, Seph," Zack said, "I'm fucking sick of this."
"I understand," he said, low-voiced, scraping his control back together raggedly. "I am sorry. It is hardly your responsibility to--"
"No, asshole, you don't understand," Zack said, and kissed him hard enough to bruise, and then took him by the shoulders and struggled over whether to hug him or shake him or both. "Don't you ever apologize to me for being human. Don't you ever apologize for feeling things, for losing your temper like every other grunt in the force--"
"That," he said, "is hardly how every other grunt in the force loses his temper."
"That's just because you haven't had enough practice," Zack said impatiently.
"I am fairly certain there are not many places where it would be safe to 'practice'--"
"Well, I'm one of 'em," Zack growled. "Got it?"
"...I hurt you. Deliberately." The pain in his voice was raw enough to make him flinch from the emotion again; Zack caught him by the chin and hung on, meeting his eyes with a good solid glare.
"Yeah, you did," he snapped. "And I'm tough enough to survive, you got that? And I hurt you too. Sometimes people do that. They lose their tempers and then they get over it, and they don't hate themselves for the rest of their lives."
"I should have sent you away," Sephiroth said, his eyes dull and shadowed. "Such mindless, selfish, filthy rage-- no one should ever need to see that, no one should feel it--"
"Bullshit," Zack said. "Emotions aren't a should or a shouldn't. They're just an are. People deal with them and get them out of the road and then feel better afterwards."
"You don't do this," Sephiroth said, glancing up at him with something sharp in his eyes, as though he thought he was catching Zack in a lie. "You don't hate, you don't use me as a bleeding placeholder for--"
"I damn well do hate," Zack growled. "I fantasize about ripping Hojo's greasy little neck off his spine and using his skull as a floor mop for acid spills. I could kill that bastard for what he's done to you. I just beat the shit out of a training dummy instead. Nobody ever built a training dummy that could stand up to you like I can, that's all."
"...You are not a training dummy."
"Yeah I am," Zack said, with a dark grin. "I'm your training dummy. Because I've got to be some kind of dummy to throw myself into this voluntarily, and I keep on doing it, so obviously I'm yours." He tried the eyebrow waggle again. "Besides, you've got to admit I'm lots more flexible and adaptable than the dummies with the poles up their asses back at the armory..."
"I'm sorry," Sephiroth said again, and Zack bit back hard on the urge to knock their heads together until something transferred from one to the other, even if it was just a concussion.
"Don't be sorry," he snarled.
"I should never let myself use you like this. I shouldn't allow you to let me use you like this--"
"Dammit, Seph, don't you EVER apologize for wanting me! For anything!"
Zack could actually feel himself shaking with rage. Sephiroth's eyes were completely blank, everything far too carefully shuttered away. It made him sick.
"You can't fucking get rid of me, you got that?" he shouted. "You want to fight, you want to fuck, you want to watch a goddamn chick flick and snivel all over a fucking gallon of ice cream, whatever, you cannot get rid of me because I am your best friend, you asshole, and friends do shit like this because they want to! Because I care what the hell happens to you, because I love your fucked-up emo-retard ass, and I'm damn well not apologizing for that, and I am not sitting here and letting you apologize for it either! You hear me?"
"Do you fucking HEAR me, General Sephiroth SIR?"
Somewhere in the middle of the tirade, he'd gotten a fistful of Sephiroth's leathers, and damn if the things didn't rip nicely after all.
Behind the dripping silver curtain of his hair, Sephiroth was actually smiling, faint but real.
"So you can lose your temper after all," he breathed, marveling. "How... extraordinary."
Zack's righteous outrage was getting itself elbowed in the ribs by a sizable dose of wary confusion. "...Not that extraordinary, you prick."
"You've never let me see it before," Sephiroth said, still dangling from his fist by a handful of slowly tearing leather.
Zack was pretty sure that couldn't be true. "I lose my temper all the damn time."
"Not at me," he said. "Never at me. I was..." He hesitated a moment, choosing his words with excruciating care. "I feared that, perhaps, you might begin to hate me if you did. That you held your control despite what you tell me, because I was supposed to emulate your actions, not your words -- friends don't argue, friends don't ever hurt each other; and I have hurt you, I still hurt you, and so--"
"Wait up, who the fuck told you that one?" Zack groaned, digging a hand through his hair as he set him down.
"No one," Sephiroth said. "It seemed apparent by watching you. You never lose your temper with anyone you care for, and... I have, with you, and... and so I knew that I was flawed, but I couldn't -- I can't seem to be rid of you long enough when I start losing my hold, you know me too damnably well, and..."
"...Shit." Zack briefly wished there was a piece of rock that wasn't hot enough to fry eggs that he could beat his head against for a while. "Friends can yell at each other too, I swear. That's not why I never yelled at you, boss."
"You tell me that it's all right to lose one's temper, but you never show me," Sephiroth said, and for once he was actually letting the edge of his frustration color his voice. "I feared that... you might simply tire of struggling to endure me, and walk away. I've struck at you for reasons that weren't your fault, because I can't strike at those who are to blame. You've never done the same. Rationally, you should grow weary of my abuse--"
"It's not abuse, you moron, not when you need to pound the shit out of something that badly and I throw myself in your road and fight right back. It's called getting frustrated. Happens all the damn time to perfectly normal people. --Look. I'm still sitting here. And seething," he added, feeling the corner of his lips curl up despite himself. "And yes, you can be pissed off and laughing at the same time, just so you know."
Sephiroth considered this for a long moment. "Good?"
"Yeah," Zack agreed with a snort. "Fuckin' peachy."
Sephiroth's gloves were a tattered, bloody mess. He peeled the remnant of one off gingerly, and dipped his hand in the pool. "Should I try to make you angry again, or should I ask for your forgiveness now?" he murmured. "Or will another apology simply make you angry as well? I'm... not sure what I should do next."
"Oh, dammit -- it's not like this is the first time you've ever pissed me off. You piss me off a lot, you know?" Zack said, almost conversationally. "The hell of it is it's almost never your own fault when you do, and I know that. If you weren't always so goddamn close to perfect despite how fucked up you are in the head, it'd be a lot easier to have shouting matches with you. You should try fucking things up more if you want me to yell at you like everybody else."
Sephiroth thought about that for a lot too long. "I believe this is more fucked up than I'd care to repeat."
Zack reached over and cuffed him across the back of the head lightly. "That was just a convoluted way of apologizing. Try again."
"...When will I be allowed to ask your forgiveness?"
"When you understand what it is I'm pissed off about in the first place," Zack grumbled. "And here's a hint, since you're all new at this and stuff. I'm not pissed that you kicked my ass in what I'm considering just a friskier-than-usual practice session."
Sephiroth's gaze wavered toward the far side of the pool, where the lingering heat in the ceramic-fused earth made the edges of the water steam. But he was a genius, after all; he'd clearly figured out enough to keep his mouth shut about any possibly excessive definitions of 'frisky' for a while.
"I think," he murmured, "based upon your response earlier, that I should not have apologized to you for accepting what you have chosen to offer me freely."
"Good," Zack said, nodding. "Very good. Right answer. You get a lollipop when we get back."
"...A lollipop?" That one arched silver brow was just devastatingly sardonic.
"Unless I've got something else you'd rather lick and suck on, of course."
"...Mmm." He wasn't taking the bait, though, which wasn't so good. "I believe I am still angry with you."
If it had been anyone else, Zack would have laughed. It took a fair amount of willpower to swallow it back, reminding himself firmly that this was progress. "That's fine," he said, careful not to grin too much. "Do I get a hint too?"
"You expected me to know." That was actually a sulk in his voice. Zack was delighted.
"But I gave you a hint!" he teased.
"I could have killed you," Sephiroth said, flatly. "I would never forgive you if you die over something so damnably pathetic."
"I know that, boss," Zack replied, and settled his head against Sephiroth's shoulder lightly. "One of these days I'm going to convince you that I'm too stubborn a bastard to kill. You're not about to get rid of me that easily."
"If I say that I am convinced already, will you have the decency, if not the sanity, to stand aside next time?" Sephiroth said, with a green-eyed glare at the pool.
"It depends," Zack said, and realized he was still a little angry too, because he could feel how many teeth his grin was showing off. "Are you planning on walking into any lightning bolts next time?"
"...Planning has very little to do with these kinds of events."
"So we'll play it by ear," Zack offered. "Deal?"
"I tend to avoid making bargains with idiots. Don't make me regret accepting this." Which was, of course, just a careful way of saying don't you dare die on me.
"No worries, boss," Zack said, smug as sin. "After all, I'm not the moron who went and totaled his bike out in the middle of godforsaken nowhere. I think that puts me a couple notches up on the local idiot scale."
"I," Sephiroth replied, "am not the one planning to ride a motorcycle through Midgar wearing nothing but army boots."
"And whose fault is that exactly?" Zack teased.
"...You were tempting me."
"Yeah I was, wasn't I," Zack agreed with an illustrative stretch, quite pleased with himself. "Tell you what. Loan me your coat and I'll share the wheels."
"You've already torn my coat, and I can walk."
"Two lollipops?" he offered, batting his eyelashes, and it was worth it to hear the little half-strangled sound that might have been the cut-off beginning of a laugh. "Two lollipops and I'll fix your coat."
"I can fix my coat," Sephiroth said, and took the materia from him, and cast a low-level restore upon his gloves as well. "Leather was once whole, you realize, and once living. Cloth was never a single piece to begin with; you can mend fibers, but not yarn, and not the weave itself..."
"So that's really why you let Scarlet deck you out in a uniform that came straight out of some bondage-mag pinup!" Zack exclaimed. "I always wondered about that--"
Sephiroth actually dropped the materia. "...Out of a what?"
The specs said those bikes could do zero to two-fifty in under a minute, Zack remembered. He wondered if he was going to need to find out how much the manufacturers fudged the numbers. "Er. Ahahaha. I think I'll just go check on the bike--"
"I'll show you a bondage-mag pinup," Sephiroth growled, deep in his throat where the sound came out as much a purr as a rumble.
Zack quickly gave up his plans of flight, because he was pretty sure this was going to work out much better anyway. Besides, even if he ended up too sore to sit on the motorcycle, there was still the restore materia. And Sephiroth was clearly good with leather. Zack would never have thought about casting restore on it, for example, and Sephiroth had just pulled one of those straps clean off, and er. Um. Right.
"I'm pretty sure this is going to be against regulations," Zack said, because he just couldn't help himself.
He was delighted to learn that Sephiroth's personal definition of what could be best done with the regulations in question included not only a flagpole but also several polearms, some unpleasantly personal restraining devices, and the sheath of a buster sword.
But then, as Zack had always maintained, people followed this man's orders for a reason. Several reasons, in fact. Very convincing ones too. He was a certifiable genius, after all.