Well, here's my (partial) answer. ::runs away::
Beta: none, very rough draft
Fandom: FF7 AU (COIverse)
Pairing/Characters: Zack, President Shinra
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII and all related prequels and sequels belong to Square-Enix.
Summary: Zack gets an interesting offer from President Shinra.
"I'd like to congratulate you on your promotion to First Lieutenant, Zack."
"Thank you, Mr. President."
Shinra leaned back in his massive chair and eyed the young man -- although technically still a teenager -- standing in front of his desk. Although attentive and respectful, the SOLDIER was calm, apparently unintimidated by an unexpected private meeting with the most powerful man in Midgar. Or on the Planet, for that matter.
The boy had guts. Good, good. He'd need it for his new assignment.
"Your performance has been impressive. I've been informed that you're one of the best candidates for SOLDIER that the evaluators have seen in the history of the program. And you're up for promotion to Second Class in record time."
"Thank you, sir," Zack said with a small grin.
The grin was nicely done -- appreciative, but not presuming. He was starting to like the Lieutenant more and more. Yes, Zack might be the right man for the job.
"Tell me. Do you like being in SOLDIER?"
"Yes, sir. I've always had a taste for adventure and excitement."
"So you like challenges, hm?"
"Hungering after new and interesting challenges is all well and good, but persistence, loyalty, commitment, and dedication to a goal are equally important." He stared hard at Zack. "Do you think that you have those types of qualities in you?"
"I believe so, sir."
"I see. From your records, you've already worked directly with General Sephiroth a few times."
"That's right, sir."
"What do you think of him?"
"Just what I said. What do you think of Sephiroth?"
Zack paused to gather his thoughts. "He's an amazing commander, sir. Absolute hell-on-wheels in field, of course, but he's also a brilliant strategist and tactician. You don't see that combination often."
"I'm quite well aware of that. No, I was more interested in what you think of him as an individual."
For the first time, he saw surprise and consternation on Zack's face. The SOLDIER hesitated for a moment, then said, "Uh, permission to speak freely?"
"Personally, he's demanding, meticulous, intimidating, and aloof. Like a lot of brilliant people, he doesn't make allowances for ordinary people."
"Did he frighten you?"
Zack didn't answer immediately, but Shinra didn't mind. He didn't want the sort of quick pat answer so many subordinates used to suck up to their superiors.
"I certainly have a very healthy respect his abilities, sir. But no, he doesn't scare me."
"Excellent! Just what I wanted to hear. Allow me to congratulate you on your new assignment as Sephiroth's personal aide."
"Sir!?" Zack blurted, his lightly glowing eyes wide with shock and surprise.
Shinra uttered a loud booming laugh. "I see you've already heard a few horror stories about that job, eh?"
"I've heard rumors, yes," Zack replied with a wry smile.
Shinra rose from his desk and began walking around his office.
"Tell me, Zack. Have you been to Midgar Zoo recently?"
"Once or twice in the last year, sir."
"Well, perhaps you haven't noticed. Most people don't. But at the zoo, the keepers do this thing they like to call 'environmental enrichment'. The basic principle is that if you improve an animal's quality of life by providing environmental stimuli, increasing physical activity, stimulating natural behaviors, etc., you can prevent or reduce problem behaviors."
Zack cocked his head and looked clearly interested.
Shinra smiled. Ah yes, he was a sharp one. Zack knew that this seemingly trivial information was leading to something important.
"I have an unique and extremely valuable specimen who is unfortunately starting to exhibit problem behaviors." He glanced over at Zack. "Yes, I'm talking about General Sephiroth."
Folding his hands behind his back, he continued, "Dr. Hojo is a brilliant scientist and he knows how to manipulate people. However, he's lousy at -handling- people, if you get my drift. And he's got an absolutely vile personality."
"I'm quite aware of that, sir," Zack said in a unnaturally neutral tone of voice.
"Sephiroth grew up under Hojo's care... no, better to say 'control'. As you can readily imagine, this sort of upbringing has had a rather detrimental effect on Sephiroth's personality. Although he performs superbly in a military capacity, he can be very difficult to deal with in other settings. And recently, his behavior has become increasingly problematic. A fighting machine, no matter how powerful, is of no value to me if it's impossible to handle. If things continue to escalate at their present rate, I may end up having to return him to Hojo. Frankly, I consider that to be an appalling waste of talent. Sephiroth is a valuable and productive asset to this company and I'd like to keep him that way."
Shinra pivoted suddenly to face Zack. "And that's where you come in."
"Excuse me, President, but I'm not entirely sure what you're getting at."
"I've heard from various sources that you have quite a talent for taming difficult, even vicious animals. Perhaps you haven't had an opportunity to discover it for yourself, but there are distinct similarities between Sephiroth and a purebred warbird -- they're both bred and hardwired for combat, not for sweetness of disposition."
After a brief pause, Zack said, "Forgive me for saying so, but General Sephiroth isn't exactly an ornery chocobo to be wrangled with a pat on the head and a few treats, sir."
Shinra waved his hand dismissively, "No, no. I don't expect you to keep Sephiroth in line. The general's perfectly aware who's in charge around here. All I want you do to is make him more... manageable. Oh, and teach him some social manners, if you can. I want to be able to present him at various PR and formal events. The last reception was an utter fiasco, as I am persistently reminded by my wife."
Zack uttered a vaguely sympathetic sound.
"Anyway, as far as I can tell from the surveillance reports, all Sephiroth ever seems to do is read military papers and practice combat skills. Now, I'm all in favor of focusing intensely on one's job, but not if it negatively affects performance."
"So you want me to... um, enrich his environment, so to speak?" Zack said cautiously.
"That's right. Sephiroth needs to loosen up a bit or he's going to be useless to me." Shinra frowned sternly. "But don't go overboard with it. The point of the whole exercise is to keep Sephiroth -productive-. Got it?"
"Absolutely, sir," Zack murmured, his back straightening.
"I don't care what you do, or what you use. Food, hobbies, shiny things, sex, whatever."
Zack blinked and said, "Ah... sex? You want me to play.... em, procurer?"
"Does the idea offend you?" Shinra gave the SOLDIER a sly, sidelong glance and saw Zack thinking about the question, instead of snapping out a quick placating answer.
"No, sir. I'm pretty good at doing whatever has to be done," Zack finally replied with a shrug.
"Pragmatic. I like that. You know, the Turks really lost out when you signed up with SOLDIER," Shinra said with a wry chuckle. "I don't care if you fuck Sephiroth yourself or find someone that interests him. I just want results."
"Let me understand your expectations, sir. You basically want me to keep General Sephiroth reasonably content, cooperative, and easier for people to deal with, but without dulling his edge. And you don't care how I do it," Zack stated, his voice calm and steady.
"That's basically it. You said you liked challenges, Zack, so I'm giving you one." Returning to his desk and seating himself, Shinra continued, "You respect his capabilities, but you're not afraid of them, which makes you better suited for coping with him than practically anyone else in Shinra. And you're a SOLDIER, which means you have a decent chance of keeping up with him. If you succeed, I assure you that you'll be amply compensated for your efforts."
Shinra leaned back in his chair and assessed Zack's reaction. The SOLDIER didn't appear outraged or offended, which was good. But it was equally pleasing to see that he wasn't overly eager, either. Instead, Zack merely looked... thoughtful.
"I'm not asking you to betray the general in any way, Zack. If this arrangement works out, everyone benefits, Sephiroth included. Well, everyone except for Hojo, but I think we can both live with that."
Shinra folded his hands on his stomach.
"So what will it be, Lieutenant Faelen? Yes, or no?"
For a moment, Zack said nothing, then slowly grinned, his white teeth gleaming.
"Sure. Why not?"
Cross-posted to soldiersmut and zackfans and ffvii_yaoi