I made one, and it’s very gooey. I spitefully ate the unbaked meringue (made from scratch) just to listen to the girls at work tell me I’m gonna get salmonelladeath. XD Bahahaha.
Title: Fate’s Final Gift
Rating: PG13 - NC17
There Will Probably Be: Sex, HurtComfort, Angst, Baind-aids, Air-ships, Chocobo References, Cuddling, and Slash (Because ‘YAOI’ is a term I have so many issues with as a gay person. Seme and Uke? Grow the hell up.) . Deal with it and suck our Epeens.
This Is Set: Two years after Dirge of Cerberus.
My Partner Is: LoxieMightPossibly.
Our Style Is: Lengthy, Multiparagraph, and more like a co-written short story.
We Don’t: Care how dorky and awful you think we are! HAHAHA! >:D
Cold and Bright; there had been so many things at once, too many to take in, but cold and bright were the first that registered through the pounding storm of sensations, sights, sounds. Cold, Bright, Painful. The entirety of existence was dulled and sharpened both to those three things, and it was all that kept him going. This wasn’t what he’d had, and his mind desperately screamed that it wasn’t what he wanted; he wanted back, he wanted to go back, and he couldn’t, and it hurt. It wasn’t warm and soothing, here- the energy was gone, the embrace of white noise, and all that was left was this startling pulse…this irregularity; brightness and coldness and noise, and it wouldn’t stop for him.
He didn’t remember how to breathe- lungs hadn’t been something he’d thought of in so long, and he wasn’t sure he was thinking, yet; it shouldn’t have been so hard, something automatic, but there was something inside- something clogging, and he was filled with the first emotion he recognized as anything more than shock. Terror. It rose strong in his throat and rang in his brain in the bright and the cold, and he clawed toward the light because it was all that was left to go toward….and the air was where it was warmer, but still cold, and the first gasp wasn’t a gasp, didn’t work…Terror turned to Horror, and hands that he wasn’t sure were his, naked and pale, grasped and scraped at the ground and rubble, pulling,climbing…
…when there was more ground than liquid, hot and hard and painful, breathing turned to coughs and soon to wretching; the dirt turned green and his lips and throat and eyes stung. Tears. Why was he here? Where was here?
…What was this? He remembered her- she had been so kind. It was a gift, she’d said. Going back. Going home. Going home to him. Him…but he wasn’t here and he wasn’t sure who ‘him’ was, anymore, when it had been so clear in the white noise before. A gift for the broken hearted…for healed fate, saved Planets… … …planets? Planet? Was that it…? Here…?
It was all he’d wanted. All he’d asked for. Every day, every night, every minute, second; his body and soul, his heart and his eyes…they’d cried for him from that scream onward, and it had tortured him…he remembered that pain, different from this but the same, and it kept him going, because he wanted so badly to fix it…but it was so hard. He wasn’t as strong; that thought came and went,ephemeral and drifting on the broken breeze…broken, he crawled toward the darkest place left in the sun and broken metal, dripping mako.
The basin was a shield when it had been a cage, before; he pulled himself inside, curling up like a lost puppy, and finally…finally, there came sound. A cough, a sob, a half-human wail, full of indescribable loss and inexplicable agony. Heartbreak, Homesickness, Hysteria….Reincarnation.
The tears cut through the mako, leaving pure trails of saline, human and innocent……and Zach couldn’t think past the crying. The strange feeling of being home but not being home; of being torn away from a warm womb living man and beast had never felt before….thrust into brightness, loudness, distortion, and chaos.
Home but not- Reborn. Lost. He Squeezed his eyes shut, focusing on the erratic in-and-out of air in wet lungs, and tried not to be more frightened when the shivering started. He didn’t remember if it was normal- he didn’t remember anything.
He only wanted to be found by him, and be warm, and be safe…and he was none of those things…so he hid in black hair and burnt metal, and the tears came swift, hot, and endlessly…a newborn alone in a forgotten tomb- an eerie womb of non-nature.
“…Cloud…” he choked out, and again, and once more. It was the only word he knew.
Gongaga. The town was just as small and isolated as it had always been, and the villagers only a little less weary than they’d been the last time he’d been there - back when his life still wasn’t quite his own. He’d avoided it as much as he could the moment he got even the slightest grasp on sanity, too ashamed to even try and face his hometown and family again, too unsure of what he could say even if he did. ‘I’m the person your son died saving’? It…didn’t seem like a good way to introduce yourself to someone, and Cloud had never been brave when it came to things like that.
There had been a few visits, though - deliveries and small jobs, enough that he was familiar enough with the town while still keeping his distance. The jungle was on the far side of ‘chilly’ this time of year, and the sun set earlier in the day - and, apparently, the monster problem was up. Tifa had called him while he was somewhere between the Gold Saucer and Cosmo Canyon with the job, and Cloud could have declined it up until the point that she mentioned how desperate the caller had seemed. The monsters weren’t as terrible a problem as they had been back when Shinra was still around, but they still presented an issue in certain places. There hadn’t been any recent attacks, according to his employer, but the monsters around the town had seemed restless and agitated - they wanted it taken care of before there were any attacks.
So he’d turned Fenrir around and headed towards the jungle-town. He’d go, he’d get the job done, rest a night in the Inn, collect the payment, and then head off again in whatever direction took him away. It was par the course, lately, if only because being on the road and moving kept him from feeling as if he were being crushed under some invisible, unmanageable weight, stifled and trapped. It was near evening when he arrived, but it didn’t deter him - he pulled Fenrir to a stop just outside of the area where the trees began to get dense, stashing Fenrir behind some brush, and then he took First Tsurugi and holstered it.
Fiend Population Management 101 - always check anything Shinra had ever touched first. Chances were it was some lingering fault of theirs, and it was usually a waste of time to look anywhere else first. He’d barely even step foot in the general vicinity of the busted Gongaga mako reactor when a scream curdled his blood and startled him into high-alert, bright blue eyes darting in and out of the shadows and his heart already pounding in adrenaline - he set his pace faster, but not so much so that he wouldn’t notice something, should it jump out at him and followed that scream, hoping he wasn’t too late to help whoever that wail had belonged too (he tried not to think about how he usually was). The shelled out building, highlighted by the setting sun and it’s hollowed metal arms glinting in lingering malice, was incredibly ominous for an abandoned building. The next time he saw Reeve, he would have to ask the man why he hadn’t had the wreckage cleared out yet; it was a looming bad memory for the people of Gongaga, and Cloud himself would be glad if he never had to go back, himself, after this. The first steps he took into the wreckage were slow and halting as something struck at lost and half-buried chords in his chest, pulling painfully. He’d been about to head down the main hallways of the old plant, but the metal around his was ringing with the sounds of fear and pain, an echoing sobbing that had him turning towards the direction of the reactor room.
He’d yet to come across any fiends, which was suspicious to begin with, but Cloud didn’t waver even if he stepped with more caution - his first thought was of tales he remembered hearing of beasts that could mimic the sounds of a infant’s crying, but he pushed it away near-immediately. This…it didn’t sound like a child, for as overwhelmingly heart-broken and pained as it seemed - and the sound of it made the pulling in his chest worse somehow.
He tightened his grip on his fused sword, his footsteps a bare thud against the ruined floor, and he nudged past crumpled, fallen doors into a room opened to the sky, it’s obliterated ceiling blown open to the sky like metal claws reaching towards the evening stars. If it was the reactor room, it didn’t look like any he remembered seeing, before, and it took Cloud a moment to remember how long the reactor had been defunct. The basin was filled with water, and - no. Cloud stopped short, tilting his head at the innocently gurgling pool in the center of the room; it was still too clear and pure looking to be still-water, and he could already see the faint glow in the fading light. It was yet another pool of Lifestream, either left over from Holy or created when the Planet purged Geostigma from her lands. He spent a moment considering it, wondering if perhaps it had something to do with the so-called restless monsters (moving away from the source of purity, or perhaps drawn to it’s perceived power), before movement in the shadows caught his eye. Cloud turned towards it just as the sun hit the horizon and cast it’s glare across the metal, illuminating the shadowed hide-away until it revealed what it hid.
Tsurugi hit the floor with a ringing clatter, and Cloud took a half-conscious, half-step away, because he knew that face, no matter how hazy and blurred the memories or ruined the few pictures he’d found had been. Even covered in mako and tears and in agony, he knew that face, and his heart stuttered and failed even as his mind railed in denial and shock.
“….z-zack….?” No - no, it couldn’t be Zack. He’d watched Zack die. He’d been Zack’s death, had felt the life float out of him, had taken his dreams and hopes upon his own shoulders, and there had been nothing that could have saved the man, back then. Not even the strongest of cures could have stemmed that many injuries, healed a body so torn asunder. But Cloud knew a clone when he saw one, and…and nothing about this man screamed Clone. He couldn’t feel even the slightest pull of Jenova, and he wavered where he stood, too shocked to act. Cloud didn’t even really register the ephemeral nudge to his shoulder - warm, kind, sweet, and barely there at all - aside from the fact that it managed to jar him out of his frozen shock and into action. “…Zack!”
He rushed forward to kneel beside the man, unmindful of the substance covering him - in fact, he pushed the ex-Soldiers’ hair out of his face and wiped the remnants of Lifestream from his face - his touch was still hesitant and unsure and awed, but it was steady as he handled him. There was a mantra of questions repeating in his head, but Cloud bit them off and shoved them away because it was easier to move when he was working off the need to heal and save, and what he needed to do, rather than ask questions at the universe, was check on the couldn’t-be-real man; and then get him cleaned up and somewhere safe. His gaze strayed, once, towards that pool of Lifestream, questioning, but Zack drew his gaze again and Cloud was used to having too many questions unanswered and walking forward anyway.
He was still too fixated on the reality, to worry very hard about the how and why, in any case - the thin grasp of control he had on the situation was already thin and trembling without thinking too hard about it.
The harsh, broken skeleton of the reactor was unforgiving to Cloud’s shadow, the sound of his footsteps; Zack’s eyes forced themselves open to a spectre, at first. The distorted shadow-men in the dark of his mind- for a moment, the crazed grin of a ghost that time had allowed him to leave behind in death…and his back blossomed in pain as he hitched back against a sharp wall; he laid panting shallowy, in and out and still wet with Mako and new life….and the voice was what calmed him, in the end. That voice was nothing wrong and everything right, and he didn’t feel that he had the strength to open his eyes again…not yet. He waited, and he listened, trying vainly to sort out sounds into human speech when speech and sound had been put behind him. It was just noise, at first, crooning and crying like a sad bird’s song…
…violet eyes opened slowly, blearily, and they didn’t-quite-focus on Cloud, at first; a blur of black, yellow, bluegreen…yellow…? His brows knit vainly and the muscles in his face twitched against a hand grown far rougher and more bleak than he remembered. The trail of glowing, pearly liquid shone from the pool to his resting place, and it absolutely covered him; even eyelashes, every strand of hair, fingers, toes…his lips parted for another weak coughing fit, upending Mako to the ground like a drowning victim. Even Zack had a glow as faint as a luna-moth’s in the growing dark…he was naked, newborn, and his skin was near moon-white…save for the starbursts covering his hairless back and chest, scattered up one leg and down one arm. Buckshot, rifle-fire…bullet-holes as plain as day, healed to pale rose marks that almost looked intentional; smooth and un-gnarled, Birth-mark-stains.
The only injuries he seemed to have were from struggling across the ground…gravel left scrapes on legs and arms; he’d gashed his temple against a sharp piece of steel. The blood splashing down his face in thin rivers was horrifyingly familiar, but its meaning was temporarily lost on him. That hand in his hair, on his face…it was so warm, and the terror and the agony inside of him began to wail more and more softly…it grew quiet and confused, and bade that one word he knew up his throat and to his lips, choked and harsh and yet alive.
There was only so much Cloud could do for the man, so long as they stayed in the bombed out reactor. He’d only brought Tsurugi with him and a few key materia, but it wasn’t enough to get his friend clean and bandaged up, and he’d seen so many other terrible things in his life that he really didn’t seem bothered by the goo that covered the ex-Soldier - and it was hard to be scared of a liquid that he’d been covered in more than once, himself. He should have worried about it, but Zack seemed…responsive in a certain way, which was still more than he’d been when he’d managed to pull through it. Still, it would be best to get it off of him as soon as they were back at Fenrir, and…and -
Cloud had to let out a slow, shallow breath when his mind finally stopped having a fit just long enough to really taken in the man’s appearance; blood on his face, bullet-holes in his body, and for a moment, Zack wasn’t the only one seeing a spectre. Goddess - this was Zack, wasn’t it. It wasn’t another hopeless dream, or baseless hallucination, another desperate attempt of his mind trying to fix everything itno something that hurt less - this was Zack, bleeding from wounds he’d never deserved, dying for something he shouldn’t have had to die for, being someone that Cloud had always admired.
The shock finally took his balance, and he found himself sitting hard on the floor next to the man, feeling suddenly to weak to stand or crouch as he looked him over and tried, desperately, to come to terms with what he was seeing before him. He’d experienced too much since that moment on the cliffs to cry, despite the despair that suddenly welled up and threatened to take him over, and he did lift a shaky hand to press against his eyes for a moment, as if checking to make sure it wasn’t all a hallucination. He didn’t know what to do, because suddenly he was that inexperienced cadet caught in something too big to fight against, lost and confused and unsure, and Zack was in front of him, dying and living all over again. He began to think ‘should i…’ only for it to trail off into nothingness and disbelief, and he could think of nothing he could say before he realized that it probably wouldn’t matter anyway.
He took a sharp, wavering breath of air when the violet-eyed man said his name, and it shook the ghosts and past away enough that he finally saw only the present again, and he looked over the man. Zack. Mako-poisoning. Camp. Clothes. Things needed to get done, and they needed to get done in that order, and all of this…everything else could be taken care of later, the soldier part of Cloud insisted. He could sit and stare and flounder all he wanted, but what good would it all do if Zack died (again. Died again, because somehow, he was alive. Again.) from hypothermia, or exposure, in the meanwhile? It took a few moments, but Cloud found the determination and stubbornness that had gotten him to Midgar, and he pushed himself to his feet - he retreated for a moment to pick his sword up and re-sheath it, but he was back at Zack’s side in an instant, crouching in front him.
“….Zack….” He had to pause after he said the name, wholly unused to both it and the feeling that using it conjured, but he managed to give a small shake of his head and get a hold of himself. “…I’m going to move you, now - we shouldn’t stay here. It’ll probably hurt a little bit, but I’ll be quick about it. When camp is set up, we’ll get you cleaned up.” And this was something he remembered, although a little bit different. He’d never been quite coherent, during that year that they’d traveled together after Hojo, but there had been moments - pieces of his memory that he’d learned to both cherish and mourn - where he’d been conscious enough to understand that Zack had always been talking to him - he hadn’t known or cared if Cloud could hear him, because he’d spoken to him anyway - Cloud felt he should return that kindness, now that he…had the chance to.
“…You’ll be okay. I’ll keep you safe, this time.”
Zack’s eyes jerked as they tried to follow the rising and falling form moving around him, but his eyes were as new as his body, and even as the darkness began to fall everything was still so blurry…the only things he could clearly follow were shifting bright yellow and that heaven-sent voice- that voice that he remembered…that he had so much trouble trying to understand, and when the Man got up and seemed to be backing away….something jolted inside of him, something painful and terrified, and adrenaline pushed haunting movements to the surface; the mirror was reversed as Zack hitched forward, barely able to move, and stretched his arm and hand from the ground, reaching desperately for Cloud with a hopeless sob on the edge of his lips.
No, no, no! Nonononohewasntsupposedtoleave! His throat locked and his rib-cage felt like it was collapsing into itself until he turned around and was coming back; his taut fingers trembled and his arm wavered before it fell, hitting the ground sharply enough to make his breath shudder out of his nose. His eyes were heavy and they closed, for a while; they didn’t open until he recognized his name, and even then they were glowing slits, pupils dilated and unfocused, still lost in floating light and haze.
Cloud was here, though. Cloud had come- Cloud had found him. He should have been frightened, scared of this old newness, this strange weakness, the inability to comprehend…but there was warmth and blond and he was being hauled up in arms that were so much stronger than the boy that was a distant maybe-thought imprinted on his soul…he turned his head limply against a shoulder and relief finally evened his shaken breaths…his fingers caught by chance against a metal buckle, and they curled weakly into it, holding them together.
They wouldn’t be separated, this time. Not ever. She’d promised and it was all he had asked. Never again.
His eyes didn’t open again, and his world was blackness and swaying movement…but his heart beat and his lashes shivered. Zach was alive, and he wasn’t leaving, this time.
Cloud had faltered, on his return, when he’d turned around only to see Zack reaching out for him, looking as heart-broken as a delirious man could - he didn’t know why the motion hurt so much to see, on his friend, but it made his approach quicker if only so that Zack could put his arm down again. It took a little bit of shifting and maneuvering, but years and mako made his friend lighter and easier to carry than he’d been when Cloud had been fifteen and flimsily-built. He was still on automatic alert as he trekked through the forest at a much slower pace on the return trip, but even still there were no signs of the supposed monsters; it was suspicious, but Cloud wasn’t willing to leave Zack and investigate - the fingers caught in the buckles of his clothes implied that Zack wasn’t willing to allow it, either.
There was a brief moment where he considered how it would be easier to take care of his friend if he took him to Gongaga where there was an Inn, and the man’s parents, but he doubted his ability to navigate Fenrir while keeping a fully grown man upright - he settled for dragging out his camping supplies from one of Fenrir’s many compartments, and setting it up, and starting a small fire to keep the chill away. Then he sat next to where he’d laid his friend against a fallen tree branch and spread out sleeping bag, frowning at the state of him. The scratches wouldn’t pose a problem, but the mako and the blood wouldn’t be comfortable, especially if they let it dry, so Cloud found a water bottle and up-ended it on a thick piece of cloth.
When he’d been sixteen, tending to his friend in this state would have embarrassed him into stillness, but logic and necessity said that embarrassment was useless and it wouldn’t help his friend, so he set the cloth against skin and began the task of clearing gunk and blood away, and afterwards he found an extra pair of pants - they wouldn’t quite fit his six-foot-three friend, but it would provide the man with at least some cover and dignity until they could find somewhere that conveniently sold clothes.
But Zack looked as if he’d been sleeping for a while now, so when Cloud was finished he finally allowed himself to sink to the ground in tense repose, close enough to check on his friend in case something went wrong but far enough away that he could try and gather his scattered thoughts - an attempt that wasn’t quite working, but his mind and his heart appreciated the effort nonetheless. His chest and his eyes aches, and his hands trembled, just ever so slightly, and Cloud finally took comfort in the fact that there was no one else around but a delirious man to witness him as he drew into himself and let his head hang low as shudders shook his shoulders and his breath un-evened itself. He was already waiting for the other shoe to drop, because nothing so terrific had ever happened to him without turning horrific, but this time he had the ability to fight for things to stay right.
Zack didn’t awaken again as he was carried, or even as he was laid out and cared for; rebirth was a tiring, fraying process, and it tended to break as much as it fixed. Human beings were not machines that could be flawlessly turned off and back on again- Sephiroth and Vincent both had proven the damages that time and degradation, natural entropy, had on the soul and the mind…and Zack may have retained all of the former, but it was scattered, confused…and the latter was little more than white noise, yet. The planet, for as good as her intentions were, was not one of her children; she could never be them, and what existed of her ‘consciousness’ had no idea how they were structured, inside. A few pieces were missing…they would be. Their owners would put them back in time, she’d hoped.
Cloud had, Sephiroth hadn’t…Zack…he had help. The reverse of the help that Cloud had gotten, and that made the outlook better than it could have been. The body at rest remained at rest; the blond would fall apart alone, but later that night when the wind was howling and the clouds gathering over what was left of the fragile moon above…violet eyes opened again, still foggy…and it was still so cold. Lips parted but words weren’t quite formed; a moan broke through the midnight and trembles soon followed.
Cold. Colder than it had been…the warm womb and the embrace of the light, the endless liquid…there was none of that here, and it was dark, and there was a crushing sense of anonymity that clenched up inside of Zack and flashed panic across his healing psyche. Where was he? Where was cloud…?! His head swiveled, but his arms felt so heavy and tired…he spotted yellow and only calmed somewhat, even if the shivers wouldn’t stop. Too cold……it was still hard regulating temperature, breathing, thinking….it had been years since any of those things had even been an automated impulse.
“…cloud…” he rasped half-helplessly, even if he wasn’t sure it would wake the kid up. He’d always been a heavy sleeper, back when…….it left, again, but that image was reassuring in so many ways. blond, spiky hair and a guileless smile, tucked into a quilted inn bed. Blow out the lantern and say good-night…pretend to ignore the chocobo doll that he always pulled out of his duffel-bags.
Pretend to ignore the ache when he realized how much closer he wished he was…near enough to hold. Near enough for warmth. He pushed weakly at the heavy sleeping bag, struggling as best as he could, and the frustrated sob he let out was near animal- feral, confused, wanting. Closer.
They were supposed to be closer.
Somehow, the shell-shocked, twice-shy Planet’s savior had managed to close his eyes and find some rare peace in oblivion. It wasn’t the most comfortable of slumbers, considering he hadn’t quite managed to unfold himself from where he’d had his short moment of grief and disbelief, but it was about for-the-par when it came to the quality of sleep he got in the last few years. He wasn’t aware of the problems the Planet had bringing Zack back - or even that she had done it for them - only that it had left him grasping at straws and unsure of what to do with either himself or his emotions. He felt more misplaced than usual, but there was a part of him screaming that there was nowhere else he wanted to be, now.
For as much as he still looked like the teenager he’d once been, Cloud wasn’t quite so guileless or easily soothed, anymore. He twitched at the rasped sound of his name, his head lifting up from his knees and his eyes opening - the first thing he looked at was the fire, to make sure it was still strong and contained, giving off heat, and then he tilted his head towards the sick man he’d found. For a long moment, he could only stare and blink.
It was hard not to notice that the only thing that Zack had managed to say, so far, was his name - the blonde didn’t know what it meant, or even if it meant anything at all, but it was both encouraging and terrifying. He couldn’t ignore either the sound of his name said so desperately by that voice, or the sob that followed it, though, and Cloud climbed to his feet so he could reposition himself next to the injured man, and it took a moment of hesitation, but he finally moved Zack, too.
He tugged the Soldier against him, wrapping his arms around the man’s ribcage and letting him fall against him to rest. He wasn’t sure what the man wanted, exactly, but this was as close as he could figure - he might have been hungry, but Cloud didn’t have anything easy to feed him. He was probably scared, though - Cloud thought he could remember that, a little. Not having control of your mind or your body, not understanding what was going on, feeling like you were alone - that was terrifying. Zack had…that year, Zack had curled up around him at night, either to protect him or for both their comforts, and it had helped. It had helped more than Cloud had ever been able to say.
“….I’m here, Zack. You’ll be okay. I won’t leave you.”
Zack’s body was a loose, dead weight against Cloud, but that shivering lessened and those sobs softened, when the blond was close, again. Finally against him…finally holding, and he jerked his face toward yellow hair, trying to re-remember the scent. It was different than he knew it, but it was still so soft. Now there was sweat and earth, the lingering copper of spillt blood…and his heart mourned having been away so very long…long enough for Cloud to change, and to feel so much harder and more tense, so much less new and so much more angry and frightened. His vision swam and his eyes closed…he focused on his breathing, and slowly it seemed to even.
Close enough to touch…he’d looked, he’d wanted, and that year had been torture as much as it had been a gift, to him. He remembered this in reverse; holding the prone form to him, petting hair and whispering, promising and comforting in the crushing darkness…and even when there were no threats rising behind them, no soldiers at their back…the darkness still felt so strong. It was inside of Cloud, blocking up his heart and spilling out of his eyes, and Zach would have given anything to stop it, had he the strength to do so.
It took more strength than he thought he had in him, but in the end he felt it worth it….it was worth it when his leaden arm shifted, twitching degrees at a time. When his creaky joints obeyed him and his trembling fingers found spiky, silk-soft hair…when he buried his fingers deep beneath gold and rustled it weakly. There was barely any force to it, but the force behind it was familiar, and it lent the reality that the situation hadn’t had yet, shattering the air of a dreamy spell around them.
“….Shh….” he hushed in a near-breath, as if he were the one comforting and Cloud the one broken…and maybe he was, for now. Maybe they both needed the same hold against the shadows…and maybe Cloud had needed permission, before he let himself feel and see and be shaken when he wasn’t alone. If he understood nothing else, Zach understood that.
They were here for each-other, now, and neither of them were leaving.
Despite it having been his hope, he was surprised when pulling Zack against him actually had a positive effect - that worrisome shivering eased away and the heart-wrenching sobs didn’t echo quite so harshly - and it made it even better that Zack managed movement, like this. It gave Cloud hope, because he knew it meant that Zack was already trying to fight his way back, that he wasn’t happy in the state of in-between he’d been left in. Cloud hadn’t been nearly so strong, content to hide away in green so he wouldn’t be confronted with pain and experiments, but Zack had always had a near indomitable will. If Cloud had managed to pull himself up, eventually, he had no doubt that Zack would do both a better, and quicker, job of it.
And he would think that it was just like Zack, to still worry about him even while he was like this, if he were able to read minds; neither Jenova cells or Mako gave a person those sorts of abilities, though, so Cloud’s gaze flickered towards that arm and hand, tracking it’s progress, and he still managed to be shocked into quiet stillness when that hand was in his hair. It was just such a familiar gesture, and Cloud felt shaken to the core as his mind skipped back through the years to all the other various occasions Zack had felt the need to ruffle his hair.
It was just so…so ridiculous, and so Zack, and Cloud paused a moment before he drew the man even closer against him and ducked his hand against the other soldier’s shoulders; he wondered, for a vague moment where his mind wasn’t quite working right, if Zack would be able to feel the first few drops of tears where they fell against him or if the mako-poisoning was still too strong for that sort of coherency; he didn’t know, anymore.
“….you ‘shh’…” Came the quiet, weak response, but Cloud didn’t honestly give a damn how he sounded, at the moment. It was only him, and Zach, and the night - what harm could come of it. “…my hair does not resemble a Chocobo, Zack…”
Zach’s response, at first, was little to nothing; a note of sound on the edge of his breath as Cloud drew closer to him, as he shocked and reacted and ducked into him- he remembered that. The few times the boy had hidden in him in the dark, frightened and awkward and alone against the backdrop of the other SOLDIER…so small and quiet, unsure of himself. He’d held the boy and Cloud had hidden in his strength, and that wetness….it took Zach long moments to realize that they were tears, but when the hazy knowledge hit he couldn’t let it continue. His fingers curled and his hand didn’t move, at first…no part of him seemed to move. his eyes remained closed and his throat worked around a heavy swallow as he fought to find something.
Something to let Cloud know that it was okay. That it was okay to cry…to be frightened…to be shocked. He was still so shocked, and half-sure he was dreaming, because people didn’t just come back, and he wasn’t even half as deserving as she was, but he was still here…he was here, and Cloud was here…and Cloud was crying. Even in his state, Zach couldn’t stand it.
The first soft sounds were almost inaudible- they could have been the wind, or the howl of a distant beast….but they weren’t, and they stayed, and as they grew stronger……they were a melody. A hoarse hum muffled into blond hair, caught in chapped lips and a newborn throat…but Zach still followed it, as best he could, and his hand pressed the barest bit closer, skimming against the edge of Cloud’s neck.
He hoped a lullaby would suffice, because it was all he knew from the warmth and glow he’d drifted in for so long. Her lullabies and his own memories, distant and tarnished, slipping to the light again.
It was hard not to cry, anymore. There were so many things that had built up over the years, clogging his throat into silence and weighing heavily on his gaze until he could barely even look straight ahead - Cloud couldn’t honestly tell if Zack’s presence was an Esuna or a Poison, right now, only that the hurt suddenly seemed sharper than it had in years. He’d spent a year without the ability to grieve, thanks to his own special brand of amnesia, and at no point afterwards had he ever felt he’d the right to. Grief, it seemed, wouldn’t be held back by him any longer, though - not when the source of a good lot of it was in his arms and alive and breathing, and Cloud still couldn’t shake the paranoia that they’d only been reunited because something was going to go wrong.
That humming didn’t occur to him at all, for a long time, while he sat and held Zack and cried. The only sounds he made came in the form of ragged, unsure sounding breaths, but he was too busy hurting to notice much except the heartbeat he could feel in the body against his. When he did notice it, though, it stilled him and soothed him more than he’d ever thought it would; the tune was familiar, although he was fairly certain he’d never heard Zack hum it before. It didn’t matter, though, because it did it’s job well enough; Cloud slowly calmed until the unseen tear-tracks actually had time to dry against his cheeks and he no longer clung quite so desperately…though, he didn’t let go either, even if he tried to convince himself that it was as much for Zack’s sake as it was his own.
Already in his late twenties and still being soothed like a babe with lullabies. Cloud found himself distantly bemused by that, though he shook his head and finally reached out for the sleeping bag he’d put Zack in earlier - he unrolled it into a blanket so he could pull it over the both of them, and then he let out a slow sigh against Zack’s hair.
“…thanks.” It seemed a woefully inadequate thing to say, but Cloud had lost all the skills for conversation he’d had when he’d been fifteen. “…tomorrow, I’ll try and find some food you can eat, and maybe better clothes.” Another long, awkward pause, and then he shook his head.
“I’ll figure out some way to move us. The only town close enough to carry you to is a mile away, but I’m not sure I should take you back to Gongaga, in this state. …not when it’s been so long, for them. …I’ll figure it out - you should sleep more, for now. You’ve…had a busy day.”
That crying silently broke Zack’s heart, but there was little he could gather up to say to stop it; his strength felt drained already, and he couldn’t even begin to convince his eyes to open…he simply hummed and held Cloud as close as his weakened body would allow him until the flow of water ebbed and little hiccups left nothing behind but relief and exhaustion. Sometimes it was good- being too tired to see straight, collapsing, sinking into healing sleep…and Cloud had never been good at finding that place without him; he didn’t even want to imagine how the poor boy had slept in the years he’d been gone, because what he’d seen and what he remembered were full of nightmares and screaming into darkened camps…pacing and waiting and never trusting.
He heard the blond’s words better, now; they made some small amount of sense, and he managed the weakest response in the form of another soft hum, when his lullaby died away to nothing, as well. The boy had one of those sophisticated damn phones, now- they were the size of lead bricks, when he’d been alive…he was sure that there was some way they’d move….some way things would work out. He trusted Cloud- he always had. He trusted him and cared for him in a way he’d never fully been able to express.
Not this time, though. He proved that in the way his body inched closer and he curled over his friend- still short, he mused hazily. Still short and small, but stronger, now. Stronger and so Fragile…
…and the last gesture he bestowed upon the blond was almost too gentle to feel. The chapped lips pursed and pressed, lingered, fell away with a soft sigh of contentment. A kiss he’d never been brave enough to give him…he hoped that he could manage to give him more, this time…but he sank into sleep and his world was lost; he needed rest to grant him strength.
Cloud almost didn’t want to admit that he was tired - he’d managed a surprisingly uninterrupted bit of sleep, before Zack had called out for him, and he was reluctant to close his eyes again, the fear that he would wake up and realize this had been another elaborate damned hallucination forced on him by the corruption in his blood or the depression plaguing his heart. But it was hard to be quite so scared of that when he had Zack Fair in his arms, when he could feel his warmth, hear his breathing, knew all too well how solid a presence he made in his arms. And he wanted to be alert, tomorrow - things needed to be done, and he’d been in no state to do them, tonight; maybe a good nights sleep and a clear morning would do well for him. It was a rare enough thing for him to think that he was willing to give it a try; Zack had always had the oddest effect on how he thought, anyway.
Zack was calmer now, too, he realized, and he seemed to be close to drifting off himself - he even seemed a bit better off than he’d been when Cloud had found him, which was a…vast improvement. He hadn’t expected much to happen, in a day, but he’d also been going off his own experiences. Then again, to come back to life like this - it was either the work of the Planet or her, and neither would let Zack linger like Cloud had, though perhaps they would have different reasons for helping.
He could call someone, in the morning, he decided. He wasn’t without connections, though he neglected them most of the time - Cid would come, and if he was busy he would send someone else. If not Cid, then Reeve, though Cloud was reluctant to use his comrade’s organization so flippantly…besides, part of him cowered at the idea of letting any organization that employed scientists know that Zack was back from the dead, just yet. No, he would hope for Cid, and then he would make for Tifa’s bar - she wouldn’t object, and it would be a good place to help Zack get batter, at.
It was the only time he’d found a disadvantage to not having a home of his own. There was the church, but ever since the triplets and Sephiroth’s near-return, and the cleansing of Geostigma, the church wasn’t quite as isolated or empty as it had once been. No, the Seventh Heaven would suffice, and - Cloud’s thoughts found themselves abruptly interrupted at the press of skin against skin, though Zack’s was slightly rougher and -
-And Cloud couldn’t analyze it, past that. Zack was kissing him; or had kissed him, really, since it already seemed to have past and Zack’s breathing had evened into sleep. Still, he couldn’t be sure it was ever something the man had done before. He could remember hands ruffling his hair, an arm thrown around his shoulders, a general sense of touchy-feeliness that Cloud had always just equated to Zack, but never…never kissing. It…hadn’t been much of one, truthfully - Zack was sitll weak, so all he’d really been able to reach was the edge of Cloud’s jaw and it had been brief ghost of a touch. Not enough to invoke as emotion in him as it had, but…but it was the icing on the cake, and not necessarily the good kind even if it definitely wasn’t the bad kind. There had just been…too much to process tonight, and Cloud felt himself shut down and insist to himself that it was probably just a fluke - Zack was delirious, and who knew it was he was seeing, right? Or even what he was thinking…Cloud was better off not thinking too hard on it, and following his friend’s lead into slumber.
It still took him too long, after that, to drift into ‘dreamland’ himself, but by the time the sun was rising again, both men had slept a good handful of hours, at the very least. Cloud usually rose with the sun, but it was apparently soothing to be as tangled up in Zack as he’d managed to become because this time the rays didn’t do much except stir him enough to turn his face away. Though, he didn’t sleep in for very long, because that sophisticated damn phone of his decided to ring an hour into dawn, jarring the savior rather rudely from his sleep with it’s oddly jaunty ringtone - it sounded a lot like victory, somehow.
Startled, but not alarmed, Cloud snatched the device from it’s place on the ground, flipped it open, and brought it to his ear. “…yeah?”
“Cloud? You answered…! I was just calling to check in - did you find anything…?” Tifa - Cloud didn’t find himself surprised to hear her voice over the line, nor to hear the worry in her voice. She always worried, though they both knew she needn’t - it was one of the many ways in which she was like a sister to him. Still, he sighed and shifted up on his elbows a little, doing his best not to move Zack too much as he glanced around camp - it had been stupid to fall asleep last night with those reports, now that he thought about it, but there was little to be done about it now. Camp didn’t appear to be disturbed, just like the area had been strangely devoid of these supposedly ‘restless animals’. He paused, and glanced down at the man pulled against him, and when he heard a hesitant call of his name from the phone he knew he’d been quiet too long.
“….Yes. Tifa…could you air out my room?”
“What? Why….? I mean, sure, but is something wrong? Did you get hurt?” Cloud shifted his phone to his other hand and let his hand drift to run through Zack’s hair, checking that he was still there, before he settled out a soft hum.
“I’m fine. Let the employer know that it should be taken care of, but to keep an eye out and call if things are still strange. I have to go now, Tifa.” Cloud hung up the phone in the middle of her objection, but he knew he’d pay for it when they got there. That was fine - he needed to get up and pull camp together. He wasn’t sure if Zack would wake up anytime soon, and…they really shouldn’t dally.
By the time Cloud was off the phone and running around camp, a pair of less-hazy eyes opened into the sun, blinking blearily against the less-harsh light of morning and the unfamiliar sounds of life around him. The birds sang their soft song and he heard the howl of wolves, from somewhere; it actually cheered him to hear the call of regular animals, albeit distantly. When he’d been a child, there had still been some, but by the time he’d grown the monsters had almost overtaken the wild-life save for the birds (who could, obviously, fly)…and he remembered badly missing the calls of wild-cats and wolves, foxes…there was something so much more natural, now…save for the sound of tentpoles snapping and texts ringing…iron pans clanging together.
It reminded him of SOLDIER- their outdoor assignments, their camp-training missions. Cloud had been so terrible at camping, for a country kid. His sleeping bag had gotten stuck and he’d twisted his ankle in a catfish hole when they were learning to fish without rods…he’d had to carry the little bird back and wrap him up, and he’d promised to keep the crying bit from their CO….but he’d not forgotten, and it surprised him again to feel the memories returning, little by little.
He coughed into the pillows and cleared his throat; he forced himself closer to the edge to watch the yellow-black blur try to fix things around them. Had he been on the phone, earlier? They were going, then. Good. He didn’t quite remember why, yet, but he knew that it would have panicked him to stay in this place. There was a town, here….he could smell the smoke and hear the disruption in the natural flow of energy…but he couldn’t remember why he didn’t want to go back, yet. He just remembered Cloud.
“…nngh…Cl-cloud,” he stuttered hoarsely, but his voice was neither a whisper or a murmur, this time, and that was the most reassuring thing any fate could give the poor blond- the sound of a strengthened voice.
The second most reassuring was, perhaps, when the poor SOLDIER reborn actually struggled weakly with his sleeping-bag-blanket. He forced it down enough to wriggle out of it, and his hands found the ground and pushed; he managed to get mostly off the ground before his weakened, mako-logged limbs gave out again, sending him back into the dust with a cross between a growl and a whine of frustration. He wanted to be closer to Cloud!
The brief conversation with Tifa had apparently used up Cloud’s admittedly short patience for telephones - which might explain why Yuffie liked to complain that he was getting to be too much like Vincent whenever he spoke to her - because he finally settled for sending off a few texts to Cid to request transport, accounting for the text-chimes that Zack woke to. The good thing about Cid was that the man, despite his gruff attitude and penchant for cursing, actually had very little patience for technology that wasn’t engineering. His texts were about as short and to the point as Cloud’s were, and he didn’t bother to ask any questions - he demanded Cloud’s general coordinates and then demanded to be left alone with the promise that he’d have someone there in two hours. It took some of the weight off the quieter blonde’s shoulders - there would be food and extra clothes on whatever airship Cid sent to pick them up.
He was relieved that it didn’t sound as if Cid were coming - and he must have been alone when he got the text, because Yuffie would have jumped at the chance for more ‘adventure’, and Vincent would have followed the young ninja just to keep a silent eye on her. Cloud still wasn’t sure how he was going to explain this to Tifa, much less to people who only even knew who Zack was because of his…short break from self-identity, when he’d first met them. He just. He needed to get Zack somewhere safe, first, and then get Zack better, and then he could…probably deal with everything that came after.
He’d just finished bundling the last of the tent that they hadn’t even used together when he heard Zack using his name - he set everything down on the ground and turned to face him, brows raising in surprise when he turned to see Zack pushing himself up…or attempting to. He was at Zack’s side nearly the minute he hit the ground again, holding his arm to carefully sit him up and steady him with a soft sigh of his own. The puppy-like soldier really was amazing, if he was already able to gather even just that small bit of strength.
“…You should take it easy, Zack. More than a half-decade of being…I don’t expect you to be on your feet, just yet.” He glanced over his shoulder at the remains of their campsite - bundled together and set down at Fenrir’s wheels, and the fire put out and covered…the only thing not put up was the sleeping bag, but that hardly seemed like a problem - he’d send someone from the ship that picked them up to come and gather everything while he settled his friend in, anyway.
“…we should be in Edge sometime tonight - the city the survivors from Midgar built. Tifa’s going to let us stay with her, until you’re better.” He was almost sure that Zack could at least hear and understand some of what he was saying now; if he could move that much already, he should have been able to do that much, at least. He pulled the man’s arm around his shoulders and stood slowly, pulling the other warrior to his feet as well as he offered himself as support, and then he began to lead them towards the edge of the forest. “We’ll need to get out of the thicket, if we want to flag the airship down. It’s not far to walk, so I think we’ll be fine…by the way - your buster sword. I kept it safe, while you were gone. We’ll go and get it when you’re well again.”
Another soft whine rose up in Zach’s throat in protest to Cloud’s mother-henning, but he seemed to allow it; he knew that the boy needed it and he knew that he needed his help. He may have been barely half-coherent, but he wasn’t retarded- he knew that he’d been dead for at near to ten years…fuck all if he’d be at his best anytime soon. He listened absently, forcing himself to try and grant the strange syllables and fast-flowing sentences more meaning than his mind would allow at first, and half of it filtered through the haze and overbearing light….he just focused on leaning against Cloud as he was hefted up to his feet; his body shook with the effort but he forced it and locked his wobbly knees, fighting like a newborn fawn.
His hand curled into Cloud’s clothing, jerky but firmer, and his head lolled against his warmth. His eyes closed as he gathered himself up, and he worked his best toward any sort of sign of his consciousness- that he was trying, listening to Cloud somehow…and when he nodded, he felt distantly proud of himself. He knew they were going somewhere, even if he couldn’t connect it, but…he trusted Cloud; he always had. He ghosted another kiss to his clothing, a brush that had the barest pressure to it, and he nudged against him, trying his hardest to convince him to move. Walking would help, he somehow distantly thought.
Anything better than standing here. Baby Steps. Baby Steps for a new life- he had to relearn so many things, now, so he could be there for Cloud like he’d never been able to, these long years passed. He was aware of his feet moving, shuffling like the undead across gravel- of stumbling, leaning against the Blond….of stopping once or twice…and then there came the distant, familiar hum of an airship, and he blinked his eyes open and toward the noise. Maybe they would fly- it had been so long since he’d seen the Clouds.
Fly, Heal, and fetch his sword. Stay with Cloud….he would try, even if he felt far past exhausted, by now. He nudged his forehead against the not-quite-SOLDIER, this time, and his voice was nearly lost in mechanical noise, but it was more than anyone could have expected. Zack Fair had always been a man who liked to make the people he loved proud.
“…Nnh…Ck…Carry me,” He ground out, because he knew that stairs would be the death of him- he remembered stairs, and he’d not been the best at him when he’d been alive. He was a clumsy puppy!
At the very least, the blonde warrior didn’t seem to realize that he was mother-henning the man that had been his superior when he’d last been alive - but in his defense, Zack had never been very good at taking care of himself or minding his own limits. At least at twenty-six years old Cloud seemed more able to bear Zack’s weight than he had been at fifteen, when helping an exhausted Zack back to his quarters had been a spectacle that had drawn people of all ranks and statuses. The flood of warmth that came over him when he felt Zack nodding, though…it could probably be distantly attributed to pride for the other man, but mostly it was affection; even newly reborn and Zack was still that fiercely independent, stubborn man that he’d always been.
He heard the whirr of engines before he actually saw the airship, but as he cast his gaze towards the sky it wasn’t hard to see the glint of metal off of it - it looked as if they’d arrived just in time to be seen, and for that Cloud was grateful. The sooner they could get somewhere, the better it would be for Zack, and Cloud needed things to be better for Zack. The airship that landed in front of them was smaller than the Shera but still just as sleek - Cid changed and upgraded his machines that Cloud could barely keep up with it and barely even tried to, now.
The crew that came out to greet them were young and curious, obviously a new crew-in-training that had been given a simple ‘retrieval’ assignment, so he didn’t feel too bad about sending them just into the tree-line to collect his things; though, he was still feeling a little too protective and he shooed away any of them who came to try and help him with Zack…
Not that Zack seemed to have wanted the help, either. Cloud paused, for a moment, processing the fact that the black-haired man had managed something other than his name, but there was little hesitation after that. He shifted him to get a better grip on him, and then hoisted the man up with only a very quiet grunt. One particularly nervous crewman led them to the spare quarters on the airship, and then scampered off after hearing Cloud’s request that soup be brought for them, and when they were alone again he deposited Zack on the bed.
“…home sweet home, I guess. For the next few days, at least.” He stood silently for a moment before he took a seat on the edge of the bed and then rubbed a hand across his eyes. “I’ll find clothes for you, later. There should be a storeroom with extra clothes around. I’d forgotten how tall you are.” He was running out of things to talk about, and he had a feeling that she was probably laughing at the both of them, from the life-stream. Zack unable to talk, and Cloud feeling like he had to - it was quite a reversal. There were…just very few things he could think to say to his friend that weren’t apologies or self-recriminations, and Zackary Fair had never been fond of hearing those things from Cloud Strife. What did you say to a man reborn, anyway…? One that didn’t want to kill you and your friends and use the planet as a vessel? “…I guess…you…must have gotten pretty bored in the Lifestream, huh?”
Zach seemed silently glad that no one had tried to carry him but Cloud; the boy was definitely stronger than he had been, and maybe an inch or two taller…and he felt safe, in Cloud’s arms. He felt like he could rest while he was being carried, even as the ground lurched unsteadily and he became aware of the sway of the suspended floors and walkways around them. Airships felt the same, no matter how old or new they were- he tried to ignore the beginnings of nausea, because he knew it had just been too long, and he’d always, always preferred boats…but Cloud was here, so at least he would be able to rest with him.
He was quiet until they were somewhere safe; when he was still and somewhere soft and warm he opened his eyes and shifted his head slowly. He forced his will, even if he was tired, and his expression shifted slowly….at first it was almost unnoticeable- the tremble of his mouth and the way his brows drew…the soft breath he expelled for effort before he finally felt something change.
And…the small curve of his lips was just as beautiful and bright as it had been before, even if it was weak and small. It shone like the sun and the puppy’s raspy voice was welcome, in the quiet of the sky and clouds.
Mako poisoning makes conversation a little bit tricky- you well know this. Mako Poisoning on top of a decade-later reincarnation? You’re damn lucky Zack can say Cloud’s name and kiss his jaw (because they totally HAD to kissu! OMGYAOI WAI WAI *Retarded Stereotype).
So They can try. XD It just may not get anywhere.
Totally just joined the marrow registry- did my cheek swabs. You know who you are, you buttmunches; give back and give up your sweet, sweet marrowy goodness to Cthulhu- I mean, little kids with Cancer and stuff.
You see that baby? BAM- saved by your marrow. They really need mixed race peeps, Native Americans…so C’mon- do it! I’m terrified of needles and I’m gonna do this. You may save a lot of people, and everything is reimbursed and paid for- and you get to feel like good little Heathens! You’ll be reincarnated as some kind of….awesome thing.
Maybe like, an espresso machine, or a dictator…OR AN ASTRONAUT! OH YEAH! WHOOO!
((Pee-Ess: have a link. Please, Please consider it.))