And One Flew
Summary: Timetravel. Fix it fic. Cloud actually succeeded in making SOLDIER the first time. Unfortunately, it has unintended consequences. One-shot.
Warnings: References to Human experimentation, death of monsters, end of the world, Cloud's language.
Disclaimer: Square Enix has Final Fantasy, not me. Also, please note that my knowledge of canon FFVII comes from Advent Children, the cut scenes from Crisis Core, and whatever else I have pieced together through the various fics that I've read. If something does not fit with canon, please feel free to KINDLY point it out, but don't expect me to change all that much because this is a one-shot. If it's something major, of course I'll change it, but please be reasonable when pointing out any fallacies.
With that out of the way, please enjoy!
He makes it through basic training on shear determination alone.
(Because yeah, he's used to the bumps and bruises of the local bullies, and knows how to pack a punch because he totally stalked Tifa's lessons with Zangan if he had the time…and maybe Zangan took some pity on him and showed him the proper technique once so he didn't have to keep hitting below the belt, and he occasionally took on monsters around the mountains back home and on the road to Midgar, and he knows how to tough things out, but there are certain advantages to having a older, larger body. Cloud lacks all of them with his skinny, petit, frame that's all lines that have just begun to stretch into something longer and taller. He's all bones and joints and hair and that doesn't endear him to the other boys as anything other than a punching bag or something worse.
And if they're not put off by his looks – Gods he loves his mother, but does he have to look like her spitting image – then his lack of social skills and aloof demeanor make him no friends. That's ok though, he tries to convince himself, because he's never had a friend before and wouldn't know the first thing to do with one.
He keeps working instead, always practicing, always moving forward, because if he learned one thing in Nibelheim it's that moving targets are harder to hit. So, he pushes himself and moves forward.)
And fuck if he doesn't almost break down crying right then and there when they announce those who are moving forward as regular recruits. Because he succeeded in something, and that's more than what most of the townsfolk would say of him.
The actual training, as a cadet or whatever they're calling it these days, is both easier and harder than basic.
On one hand, he's still high off the success of making it as a cadet. He's another step closer to his goal of being a SOLDIER. The classes are also slightly more interesting, and he has access to a few more books than he did in basic, which also helps some.
(Because there was only a one room school house in Nibelheim, and as soon as he could do arithmetic, he left the torture chamber that could resemble a certain island in a book about a Lord of flies.)
Still, the physical aspect – most of the work they do – is grueling, and it's an odd day when he isn't cursing himself for having such a crazy dream.
But he doesn't doubt his dream. If he did, then every sit up, push up, plank, lap, obstacle course, spar, bruise, cut, scrape, and concussion – they would lose meaning, and he knows that if they lose meaning, then there's no way in Ifrit's Hellfire is he going to be getting into SOLDIER.
So he spits curses under his breath in common and in the Old Language his mother uses and taught him. He might even take to mimicking some of the more interesting monster sounds for variety – they have to mean something, right?
He ignores the shoves, the bruises that don't come from practicing, the isolation.
He trains instead of going beneath the Plate, or relaxing around somewhere in one of the few places the cadets are allowed to go without direct supervision that isn't the gym.
Cloud begins to gain definition to otherwise thin arms and legs, and feels the difference from the workouts of basic, back in the beginning to now. They're still hard, but he feels less like he's going to die as a spot of muscle agony and puke, and more like he's just worn out.
It's a nice change.
It also keeps the black doubt safely in its box, far away from tarnishing his silvery dream.
Progress is good; progress is amazing.
And if a tiny, tiny voice in his mind whispers that it wouldn't be so bad if he had someone to congratulate him on his successes and point out areas he could improve on, well, it's always been there so it's nothing new.
(He once thought Tifa might be able to silence it with her chatter and her interests, but her constant daylight spurning always allowed that little voice to remain.)
He just about dies during the SOLDIER exams.
It's not because anything's any harder than it was before – the physical demands are the same, as are the mental. (The insanity that is drills actually prepares those who survive quite well for the exams.)
The thing is, though, is that he's so close. He's so, so close. And it might just kill him if he doesn't make it because it will be like everything he was ever told by anyone other than his mother will be true and he wouldn't be able to take that.
So it's the emotional demands – the tension of being so close but so far away – that makes him collapse in his poor (but standardized by ShinRa and perfect in every other way!) excuse for a bed every night of that insane week.
He totally doesn't cry when he sees the results for the SOLDIER exam.
After all, who cries when they achieve their dream?
So even if he is a SOLDIER now, apparently there's still more training to get in before they're even allowed close to the scientists who are armed with long silver needles that contain a toxic, glowing green sludge.
That's fine with Cloud. Before getting to Midgar, the closest he had gotten to a needle had been when helping his mother patch clothes, or sew quilts. The idea of an injection, while he knows what it is, isn't something with which he's overly familiar. (He'd be the first to tell anyone that Nibelheim is an ass-backwards reactor hick town with prejudges twice the size of the region's dragons.
Although, no one would fault him for being wary of Mako. Everyone knew at least a dozen horror stories about it – more when they were like him and from a reactor town.)
Still, that meant that he continued to experience the muscle agony that had plagued him since the first day of drills. But this was a new kind of muscle agony because HE ACTUALLY MADE SOLDIER!
Fuck those townsfolk; his mother had been right.
The only thing that can truly prevent you from achieving a dream is yourself.
(When he had cheekily asked, "but what if my dream is to fly?" She'd swatted his head and smartly replied, "the distinction between flying and falling is but a small one. It's all perception anyways.")
He hears the whispers about the science department all throughout his time at ShinRa, but puts them from his mind.
However, when waiting for the first injections, those whispers come back with full force.
It's always the loners that disappear.
It's shapes (is that a human? what are humans? is that a circle?) and colors (so green, so much green and white and all the same color) and pain filled thoughts that run together to not make sense (they're opening me upandit'sallisredand whyarehteydoingthisssssssssss).
The next time Cloud wakes up, he's disoriented and being carried by a black blob and this makes complete sense to him. The rocking motion is comfortable, so he decides against doing anything besides going back to sleep.
He's not nearly as calm when he finally achieves awareness to intense conversation in low voices and a face that's very nearly atop his own.
"Wha?" Cloud blinks blearily at this phenomenon that is yet another colored blob but looks so much kinder than the other ones he had seen. When had he seen blobs?
The face bobs up and down, while a white crescent spits the bottom.
"Hey, lookit, you're awake, Spiky! Glad you're back to the land of the living – we were worried that you might not come back for a loooooong time because Hojo is a fucking rat bastard but you're awake and even saying things this time that make sense!"
The white on the blob persists.
"Whu?" Cloud asks again.
"Oh, I'm Zack Fair! Currently assigned to watch you and a SOLDIER Second."
The name sounds familiar to Cloud – like it should mean something more than this blob in front of him, but he feels like he needs a shower and some time to process before realizing that connection that's trying to make itself in his brain.
"…k." He says, before adding, "Sho'er."
There seems to be some rearrangement of the black blobs on the larger tan blob, before the blob – Zack – says, "Oh, shower! Yeah, uh, a bath's gonna be all you're getting, sorry, because I'm not sure you can stand by yourself, so…"
Cloud really doesn't care; he just wants to be clean.
The Zack blob picks him up and takes him to another white room but the water running makes sure he knows it's not like the other white rooms.
He promptly falls asleep to someone washing his hair.
The next time he wakes up, someone is trickling water into his mouth.
"Shh…" a deeper voice says, "go back to sleep."
The third time, he actually manages to stay awake for enough time to find out what had him in such a state – because Mako injections weren't supposed to do that.
(And if he nearly hyperventilates because By Holy, Sephiroth is right in front of him – what the Hel had Cloud done? well, no one has to know.)
Still, the presence of his hero/idol doesn't exactly do anything to make the situation better.
"So, sirs, to recap, I went missing after going for my first Mako injection. It is now a year and a half later and during the time period from which I remember nothing, the head scientist experimented upon me. General Sephiroth found me in a no-longer-secret lab and brought me here so that I could recover without being recaptured, and it has been two weeks since I was brought here."
"That is correct."
And all Cloud could think, torn between joy, relief, irony, despair, and some deep amount of black bitter hatred, was, Hel, I'm an official SOLDIER!
Because he reached his dream – but it's shattered at his feet and he's not sure what to do anymore.
What do you do when you reach your dream, but it's been cheapened until it's not worth what you paid?
Cloud avoids asking, "What now?"
It eats away at him, burrows deep and makes those insecurities he always hid shift under his defenses because he has too much time to think while recovering and trying to find something he can do besides think and read.
(He's not allowed to send a letter to his mother, or housework, or clean. The first time he had tried to get out of bed had nearly made him puke from the dizziness and he'd been seriously concerned that he'd be tied to the bed.)
But he wants to know: what can he do now?
He doesn't know anything about what's happening outside of the apartment beyond the whispers he can overhear now, thanks to Hojo.
These words don't make much sense to him.
Cloud is finally allowed to move around about three weeks later, though he still feels like it should have been sooner. This freedom makes his life better for all of five minutes until he realizes that he still can't go anywhere and the cabin fever is made worse by his ability to walk.
(It doesn't help that it reminds him of Nibelheim winters spent with his mother and now there's usually no one here with which to share the prison.)
Still, he finds ways to entertain himself for a few days, gaining some control over his enhancements so he no longer immediately resembles a dragon in a tavern, because accidently crushing a dozen doorknobs is not exactly a way to endear oneself to ones host or idol in general.
Clutching his knees and staring at the sky through the functional white curtains – that is the only time he allows his mind to wander beyond the walls. It separates him from the overlap of the indigo-black streak that can just be seen through the gap between the snow and the top of the window on those winter days where the snow is too deep to wade through and the wind capable of blowing you away.
He can escape in these moments, into the sky.
("But what if my dream is to fly?"
"The distinction between flying and falling is but a small one. It's all perception anyways.")
Somewhere, a man asks, "My friend, do you fly away now?"
He leaves a note that says:
"Dear General and Zack,
I apologize for the inconvenience of my stay. I know I have not been an easy person to live with, and you both have my eternal gratitude for helping me recover. However, I'm leaving. To my understanding, everyone believes me to be dead and I cannot live the rest of my life in General Sephiroth's quarters.
I promise not to be found.
When he slips from the building, he's carrying a change of clothes, a broadsword, and a new dream.
(He might not be able to fly, but he's fine with just seeing the world.)
Cloud spends the next few years hunting monsters and staying as far away from humans as he physically can, only stopping in towns to gather supplies like potions, ethers, clothes, and material (which he's finally figured out how to use, sort of) before moving on again.
It's a simple, hard, and usually boring lifestyle, but he's not looking for anything more complex or interesting. Parts of his first dream taught him against looking for that.
He doesn't write to his mother to assure her that he's actually still alive (he's not sure she was ever told he was dead for one, and he has no idea if anyone would actually be watching for him to contact her since his escape for another. His time in Sephiroth's apartment trained him in paranoia as well as patience.)
Cloud doesn't look at the news or the papers, either. There's no point, he feels, because if ShinRa finds him and wants him dead, well, they have to find him first and he's yet to see any infamous blue suits on his tail out in the middle of nowhere with nothing besides a (his) Chocobo.
As a result, he doesn't know about the bad cover up at Modeoheim, or the oddly similar red headed men that are wandering around, terrorizing towns. He doesn't know any more about this AVALANCHE or any other terrorist group. Cloud doesn't know when Nibelheim burns, or when his idol falls, or when the oddly friendly SOLDIER breaks.
These don't affect his world.
He does notice when ShinRa falls, but only because potions and ethers become harder to buy and everyone's expressions become more drawn and gloom seems to catch on every face, like a macabre imitation of a mask.
Cloud doesn't really bother with it all, though.
When the world begins to burn, Cloud is hunting monsters in the most remote part of the continent. (The world is ending and he doesn't know it).
The monsters have become increasingly grotesque over the past few months for reasons he doesn't know. One day, they just started to become more vicious, smarter, and dumber. The monsters gained abilities in group tactics, but lost most sense of self-preservation. It takes a few tries for Cloud to understand the change, earning him a few more cuts that quickly turn to silvery scars, but he adapts.
That day the monsters change is also one on which Cloud wakes with a splitting headache. It incapacitates him for a day, but it seems to decrease slightly on the next so he hauls himself up and just pushes through it. (Still, it never goes away, and he starts to forget what it is like to live without someone mining in your skull.)
He ignores everything going down in all the villages, towns, and cities, and keeps scraping out his living in the dying land, decreasing the number of already infrequent visits to towns. The people are tenser, warier, angrier and there's no point in making himself a scapegoat for the horrors of the world.
(He's realized there's something going wrong, now.)
On the horizon, there's a presence that's calling to him to go to war. It's calling him to be a WEAPON, it calls for him to be a puppet.
He moves further from the voices, running further and further away.
That thing – that presence – doesn't care, though. It tries to catch on his heels to trip him until he's facing the right direction and running towards it.
There's a red star in the sky that gets larger everyday.
When he dreams of his mother on a beautiful mountain that's floating in green mists, reaching out her hand to him, he takes it with a smile.
He doesn't expect her face to morph, her dress to change to armor, her basket to a spear.
Cloud tries to release the hand, but the woman has a firm grasp on his hand and he, for all his augmented strength, can't break her hold.
Her grey eyes (that shimmer silver in this odd place) bore into his own and she asks, "Will you change the fate of the world?"
And he thinks back on the parts of his memory that still, thankfully, aren't clear, the problems that seemed to plague the General, his life these past few years. No, he wouldn't do it again, because there's not all that much that he thinks he can change. But the part of him that did stupid things that he later regretted out of curiosity wants answers and the part that always assumes the guilt of the world agree, and he knows it's those parts that come out and say, "yes."
When he gains awareness, he's just outside the barracks for basic training and he almost breaks down right then and there because it was horrible the first time, but he had his dream to keep him going.
Only one thing can change his path, or so he thinks with despair.
So with squared shoulders, Cloud takes the final steps into the barracks to kill his first dream and save the world.
Thank you very much for reading! Reviews are always appreciated!