Alright guys so this is an idea that I have thought of for a while but had forgotten about, but then my friend Riku Kingdom Hearts brought it up and so we are here to bring you this one-shot of a different course of events in FF7 AC. So big thanks to Riku Kingdom Hearts for writing this with me and having this idea as well.
Also, we were inspired by kvgua on Twitter with some art they had done of Zack and Cloud. Link is below to their art, which they have given us permission to use as the image of the story. Big thanks to them!
The blood was already spattered across Cloud's face as he hit the ground with a heavy groan. But upon impact he could feel a new cut on his face open up and trickle down his cheeks. His body was burning as he tried to push himself up back up. Every joint and muscle felt like it was on fire and begged Cloud to stop. But he knew he couldn't. Sephiroth was still above him, floating high in the sky with his one long wing.
As Cloud tried to at least get up into a kneeling position he thought one thing; he hadn't expected it to turn this way.
He knew that he was too late to stop Kadaj from using the remaining bits of Jenova to bring back Sephiroth. That much was obvious as Sephiroth used the remnant's body as a vessel to bring through his full form. And then from there the true battle had ensured. And Cloud knew it was the real Sephiroth, as each hit Sephiroth gave him felt like he was getting pummeled by a train. Every time he hit, it felt stronger and faster than the last.
Every hit, every cut from his sword, nearly every single attack hurt deeply and Cloud could barely react to most of them. Now he was crumpled on the ground, blood pouring from the multiple stab wounds that the Masamune had made upon his upper body. Cloud was sure that at least one of his ribs had broken by now, as well as many other appendages, as deep breaths made him wince with pain.
Cloud leaned forward as he tried to push pressure onto his legs so he could push himself up. But instead he felt more pain surge and he hacked up blood. He staggered there as he tried to wipe away the blood, but he only managed to smear it across his face more.
Finally Cloud was able to find enough strength to properly push himself to his knees. He leaned on his sword, trying to get to his feet as he shook from his injuries. But he knew it wasn't enough. Sephiroth was still there, waiting to strike again. He had to get up. He had to keep going, even if it was going to break him.
"Tell me what you cherish most…" Sephiroth muttered, sounding like he didn't have a care in the world. Yet at the same time he sounded intimidating and so very serious by his words. "Give me the pleasure of taking it away."
Cloud heard the sound of Sephiroth's wing and knew he was approaching. In a brief flash, every single person Cloud ever cared about ran through his mind. The last person that came flowing through his memories… was none other than Zack.
Just as he thought it was all over, the world around him flashed white. The air felt different as he tried to keep taking steady breaths, much to the pain that still burned in him. There was nothing around him except the building he was laying on. Nothing but endless white light all around him. Though now… he could feel a presence behind him. One different than Sephiroth… one that felt familiar, but in a good way.
"So what if it looks hopeless," the all too familiar voice said to him. "If it were me, I still wouldn't give up.
Cloud's eyes widened as he heard the voice. The kind and friendly, yet also serious and determined voice. The voice of the one who cared for him in the year that he was left catatonic. The very one who had an optimistic outlook all the way through, even until the very end. The one who was… is his best friend.
Cloud never thought he would ever Zack's voice again. Never until the day would come where he would join the Lifestream at least. At least that was what he hoped as he had no idea what would happen when that day would come. But now… hearing Zack's voice again. He felt his heart ache.
Cloud wanted to look behind him. He wanted to see Zack. But aside from his want of seeing his best friend, there was another side in his heart. The side of fear and regret. There was still plenty of lingering thoughts about Zack's death. There was hardly a day that went by where Cloud didn't think of how that day could have gone differently. How he wished it could have gone differently.
Cloud breathed heavily as he could only stay there, kneeling on the ground, still not strong enough to bring himself back up. He almost felt like he wanted to cry. He wanted to tear up and cry that he was hearing Zack talk again. He wasn't even sure if this was real or not. He didn't know if he could believe Zack was really there, or if Sephiroth had already killed him and he was having an illusion or hallucination before his death.
"Embrace your dreams. And… whatever happens, protect your honor as SOLDIER," Zack stated before given a slight chuckle.
That small friendly chuckle was a little more fuel to lead Cloud to believe that this was real, but he was still uncertain.
"Well okay, you never made SOLDIER. But it's what's in here that counts," Zack finished.
Cloud could only figure that Zack was pointing to his chest when he said that last part. But Cloud still couldn't find the confidence to turn around to look and see for himself. He wanted to say something though. He had to say something… anything.
"Z-Zack…" Cloud choked out weakly before coughing up another fit up blood.
There was a pause before Zack spoke again. "Well? Do you need a hand with him?"
Cloud wanted to tell him that he didn't. He wanted to be able to do it on his own. He was supposed to be a strong hero, so why would he have to need help? But Sephiroth was far stronger than before and it was really taking a toll on Cloud. Instead Cloud just tried to push himself to his feet quickly. But the surging pains made his knees buckle and he dropped back to the ground.
"You already beat him once, didn't you?" Zack asked.
This was where Cloud felt his heart hurting even more. He wished he could give the answer that was expected. He knew that he should say that he could manage this. That he could do it all on his own. He didn't want to seem foolish or weak for saying what he was really thinking, but as much as he wanted to give Zack the answer he seemed to be expecting, he knew he had to tell the truth. "N-No… I couldn't…"
"Now what do you mean by that?"
"I… I… d-didn't do it all on m-my own…" Cloud managed between raspy breaths.
It was true that he had finished off Sephiroth originally all by himself. He had gone one on one with the crazed man and struck him down. But that was after he had fought Sephiroth with his friends alongside him. He had worked with all of his new friends to get to that point to fight him and wore him down. Cloud was just the one who went solo for the final blow. If it wasn't for his friends standing by his side throughout most of the battles, he never would have ever beaten Sephiroth.
"M-My friends… I had… th-their… he… help…" Cloud muttered as he started at the ground behind him. He watched as the blood from his face slowly dropped off and splattered beneath him. There was already a small pool of blood that was most likely a mix of the blood he had coughed up as well as the blood leaking out from all of his wounds. "C-Can't… do it… all a-alone…"
"So," Zack started as he started to move. Cloud at first only heard his footsteps until he saw the familiar black SOLDIER boots in front of it. "You want a little help then?"
Cloud's whole body shook as he found his answer. He moved his head carefully up and down, still not able to raise it high enough to see Zack. "Yes… Please. Zack… please help."
He could hear Zack chuckle before holding out a hand to Cloud. With a shaking hand Cloud reached out and placed his hand in Zack's. His hand felt warm, and real. He just knew that it was, as that simple touch. It was all he needed to prove to him that moment… was real. With a now firm grip and a bit of a pull, Zack helped Cloud back onto his feet. Finally, only now could he look up. He wanted to see with his best friend with his own eyes. When Cloud finally managed to look, he fought back hard from actually crying.
Seeing Zack in front of him was hard, he expected that much. But right now Zack looked in perfect condition. No blood on him, no cuts or bullet holes. The only thing that was there was the faint scar on his left cheek that he already had prior to that fateful day. In his other arm though to Cloud's surprise, was the buster sword. It did look rusted… which was of course his fault for letting it get like that. But it didn't look as rusted as before, maybe due to the fact that Zack was holding it now.
Zack smiled at him as he readied the buster sword. "You ready then?"
Cloud nodded, now feeling more confident than before. Now that he had a friend by his side he felt stronger. And it was not just any friend… it was Zack. Cloud couldn't help but return a smile to his friend. "Yeah."
The whiteness around them started to fade out, and Cloud realized that time would resume and Sephiroth would be striking down on an attack. Cloud prepared himself next to Zack as they were ready to head into the fight.
The next thing Cloud saw was Sephiroth coming out him with his Masamune drawn back, ready to stab again. He knew he didn't have time to react, as he was still trying to recover from his deep wounds. He blinked once, but that was all the time that it took for there to suddenly be a shadow in front of him. Metal was heard clanging as Cloud blinked a few times to make certain of what he had seen.
Zack was directly in front of him, buster sword drawn and fighting Sephiroth for control. Their swords grinded on each other, sparks flying in either direction. Cloud could only look on as his shaky legs were barely helping him to stand. Before he could say anything, however, a cold voice rang out.
"Hmm? Zack. Well, this is unexpected. It's nice to see you after all this time," the silver-haired devil coldly stated.
"Yeah? Just about as unexpected as you here. You just don't know when to give up do you? I won't let you have your way anymore," Zack replied as he narrowed his eyes at his former friend and idol.
Sephiroth chuckled. "We'll just have to see about that." He then broke the deadlock and jumped back quite a bit.
Zack stayed steady with his buster sword read in hand, waiting for when Sephiroth would try to strike again.
Cloud still almost could not believe what he was seeing. He was really here with him. "Z-Zack?"
The spiky blackhead glanced back slightly and gave a grin. "Yeah. I told you I'd help. You need to get your strength back, so let me hold him off for now. Then we do this together, all right?"
Cloud stared and wanted to tell Zack no, that he would help; however, his body was denying that request, so all he could do was stay propped up on his sword for the moment. "O-Okay then. J-Just… be careful."
"Careful? I mean, I'm already dead. I don't' think I can double die," Zack chuckled, until he saw Cloud's face unmoving with a slightly worried expression. He then stopped himself and sighed. "All right. I'll be careful. Now, rest easy for now Spike."
He began to walk off as Cloud was barely standing there, as he was using his sword for support. As Zack was marching forward towards Sephiroth, he remembered. A vision of long ago. Zack telling him to rest and walking off into battle. That was how he died. Cloud tried to move to get him to come back, or at least to say something. "W-Wait. Zack, I'll help… this time."
His words fell on empty air as he was not quit loud enough to be heard as he helplessly watched his best friend charge into the battle alone. Being with Zack again took him back, but he also knew the time he had was short. Amidst all his worrying, he realized that he had not actually seen Zack fight since before they were locked away for four years. Nearly all of his memories of them traveling to Midgar were still hazy, so any fighting Zack had done then was just a blur in Cloud's mind.
"Maybe he ended up being stronger? I mean, it made me stronger eventually. Maybe I shouldn't be too worried about him though." Cloud thought to himself as he finally decided to relax for a bit and be an onlooker for the time being.
As Zack was marching forward, Sephiroth began to taunt him from afar. "Oh Zack. I've already beaten you once. But if you feel you must try again, then by all means…"
"Hey you know what they say. When at first you don't succeed, try, try again."
Sephiroth raised his longsword and smiled. "Then come. Let's see how much you can take."
The two finally encroached upon each other, swords colliding once again as more sparks jutted out in each direction. Each of them were deadlocked for the moment, neither one giving in.
Sephiroth was surprised. "This strength. It's new."
"You want strength? Then let me show you," Zack started as he bared down harder upon Sephiroth, who seemed to not budge as he just grinned.
"You'll have to do better than that," Sephiroth snidely remarked before leaning in and throwing Zack backwards with just the force of his sword.
Zack rolled back and landed on his feet. He lifted his head up to see Sephiroth beginning to levitate off the ground as he extended his wing. The barely visible light from the darkened sky illuminated behind his back. He almost looked as though he would have been an angel floating up there, but Zack knew that a man like that, the way he was now, was nothing more than a demon.
Just as Zack began to move, he saw the Masamune coming towards him quickly and was barely able to dodge out of the way. He instinctively swung the buster sword around in his hand towards his back to parry the blow from behind. The two were not locked long before Zack slid his sword down the Masamune to break free and then made a large cutting motion towards Sephiroth. However, the silver-haired man easily jumped up and over the attempted strike and landed back on his feet.
As Zack pivoted once again, Sephiroth lunged his sword at him. He brought his sword up, flat side out to block the stab, but it was not enough though. The force from Sephiroth's attack impacted upon the buster sword so hard that it sent Zack flying backwards.
His body impacted on a broken wall, knocking the breath out of him. He exhaled deeply before finally being able to breathe properly again. Zack knew it wasn't over yet as he eased up and then prepared himself and lifted off of the ground as he rushed Sephiroth.
The two collided once again and continued to trade sword strikes blow for blow. Then ascended into the sky, their strikes becoming more rapid. It was hard to tell who really had the upper hand as the fight went on and on without stopping.
Cloud looked on, watching the fight unfold before him. He kept track of every step, every move, every strike. He gritted his teeth, "This is my battle. I should be doing the work. Zack's… done enough." He struggled with shaky legs but was finally able to make it to his feet while using his fusion sword as a prop. Most of the blood had stopped falling for now, but there was still evidence of having been injured, which caused Cloud to wince in pain frequently.
Meanwhile, the two former friends' battle waged on, but it was beginning to take a toll on Zack. Sephiroth had been toying with him most of the time, and soon he began to find Zack's openings, causing fresh cuts all upon his body. The wounds caused Zack to meet the ground again as he fell.
Cloud watched in pain as it happened. "Zack!"
Sephiroth found his way to the ground and almost looked over Zack, smiling at what had happened. "Seems like you're about at your limit, Zack. I guess you're not the SOLDIER I thought you were."
"Hmph. You know, if those words came from someone else, I might have been a bit hurt," he paused as he sat up and gave a side glance back at Cloud before turning back to Sephiroth. "So what? Even if it seems hopeless, I still won't give up."
Sephiroth's face became emotionless. "Then I'll send you back to the grave where I'll absorb your essence from the Lifestream along with the rest of the planet." He once again readied his Masamune and proceeded to drive it straight towards Zack.
"Sephiroth!" a sharp yell came from behind Zack. In a flash, Cloud was in front of the black-haired man, fusion sword in hand as he parried Sephiroth's blow, sending the latter back a few feet.
Cloud turned his attention to Zack. "You all right?"
Zack staggered to his feet once again. "Oh of course, don't even feel it." He chuckled, passing it off as if it were nothing. "Though I should be the one asking you that," he teased his younger friend.
As he looked on, Sephiroth spoke up. "My my, seems you each li-"
"Sephiroth." Cloud stated the name firmly as he interrupted the man whose name had been called. "What you said before… you just don't get it do you?"
Zack then walked up and stood beside Cloud, as the two of them briefly shared a look. Then their attention turned back to the man in front of them. Thinking the same thoughts they spoke in unison.
"There's not a thing we don't cherish!"
They each knew what to do, having fought by each other before, it was as if each of them knew the other's moves. Though, Cloud more so possibly because of his past identity crisis. But Zack always was able to adapt quickly to any situation, which is one reason that he had made a good SOLDIER.
They both looked up at Sephiroth, and he just smirked at their reply to him, as if almost begging them to come.
Zack and Cloud jumped high towards Sephiroth, as he casually floated in the air and waited for them. The two decided to each take a side of him, thinking they would be able to have at least one of them connect.
Cloud was the first to reach him as he swung his fusion sword quite hard. Sephiroth easily parried the blow, their swords locked and grinding against each other in a struggle for control. Now Zack saw an opening since Sephiroth was busy with Cloud, so he dashed in from the other side with buster sword raised and struck against him. However, his blow was caught by Sephiroth's Masamune too, as the latter slightly twisted his sword at an angle to raise part of it towards his back to shield himself.
They all struggled in a conflict for a few seconds, with not one of them giving in as they moved down towards the ground. It seemed as though Sephiroth was not having any trouble holding off the two of them. Suddenly, the Masamune sailed upward in a striking motion, knocking back the blades of Zack and Cloud. As the two men attempted to retaliate, Sephiroth quickly raised his sword and delivered a slashing blow downward; though, they were each barely able to move out of the way as they felt the force of the strike pass them by. Upon looking behind them towards where the strike was directed, their eyes widened as the ground was cracked open below from the the sheer power of Sephiroth's swing.
They both stood there for a second. "Cloud, we need to finish this somehow and protect the planet. Come on, I know you can do it," Zack said as he placed his hand on Cloud's shoulder.
Cloud didn't look back at him as his eyes were fixed forward. He was still flustered about everything, even Zack still being there. But, his best friend was right. It was time to finish things, and he knew what needed to be done. "Yeah, I know. Let's do this then, Zack."
They rushed. Cloud dashed forward before Zack as he stepped within Sephiroth's range and proceeded to swing vertically down his blade. But, Sephiroth was ready. He once again blocked Cloud's swing with relative ease as he stood there, unmoving from where he was.
As the two were locked, Sephiroth smirked. "How disappointing. Seems this is the extent of your power."
Cloud gave a slight huff as he returned the smirk in kind, which drew out a subtle curiosity in Sephiroth's face. That single moment was all Cloud needed though as he summoned magical energy within him. His fusion sword then began to emit a blue aura all around it. Then, with a sudden clang of metal, it scattered into pieces.
It was as though everything that happened after was in slow motion.
Sephiroth's own force from his upward parry acted against him as there was nothing to hold him there as his Masamune quickly shot upward as he held onto it. His eyes widened for a moment, having not expected such a tactic to be used. He used his eyes to see where the sword pieces had gone but he did not have the time.
Within that split second, Zack had appeared from behind Cloud and darted towards where Sephiroth was. He angled his buster sword down and began to swing up with the reverse side of it as he was face to face now with his former friend. His blow connected with Sephiroth, who, unable to defer the strike, was sent traveling upward with a tremendous force.
Finally after a few seconds, Sephiroth was able to stop himself in the air as his wing extended wide to halt his ascension. Though, as his eyes adjusted to his surroundings, they once again possessed a more shocked expression. All around him in a circular pattern looked to be glowing blue swords of various shapes and sizes.
It was the parts of the fusion sword.
Cloud then appeared in front of Sephiroth quickly, emitting the same blue aura as his own swords, indicating that he was using some form of magic. Within the blink of an eye, Cloud was upon Sephiroth as he had quickly dashed towards him, faster than the silver-haired man, who was still slightly surprised, could see. Cloud slashed into Sephiroth with the primary blade of his weapon still in hand as the winged man gasped.
With blue aura still surrounding his body, he disappeared and moved directly across to the next sword and quickly swiped at Sephiroth once again. It almost seemed as though he was teleporting, but his movements were happening so quickly that they could not be seem.
Just as Cloud started to move to the next sword, Zack swept in from behind, right where Cloud had first began his attack. He had the buster sword draped over his back, leaving him his other arm free. Sephiroth was too focused on Cloud and getting hit by him that he seldom noticed Zack… but it was too late. He latched onto the sword while it was still imbued with power and proceeded to attack Sephiroth in the same fashion as Cloud as he darted forward rapidly and struck Sephiroth.
After he had cut through Sephiroth with that blade, he quickly moved on to the next just as Cloud did and slashed at the man again. As he was getting in his second swing, Cloud was starting on his fourth blade. The two of them each continued to accelerate themselves with high velocity, moving from sword to sword and landing each blow to the silver-haired menace. The stikes were all true as with each one, Sephiroth could be heard gasping or grunting.
Just as Cloud had finished up the circle, Zack was right there with him and also finished. Sephiroth was frozen in the air, seemingly in some kind of pain, if he could feel it even with his current existing state. However, something was definitely wrong as he was doing nothing. The spiky-headed guys glanced at each other and nodded as if knowing what to do with a look on their faces that read, "Let's finish this."
Zack gripped his buster sword tighter and pulled it from out behind his back, holding it firmly in his hands above his head.
Cloud readied himself with the base blade of his sword in his hand, ready to strike.
The two of them each summoned up their remaining strength and held their weapons up side by side above their heads. The two weapons glowed with blue aura just as the fusion sword had been doing. They had begun to fall slowly from where they were, the momentum having carried them as far as they could go. As they did, they brought their swords downward in a slicing motion.
"Haaaaaaah!" The two hummed in unison as the weight of the swords came crashing down fully upon Sephiroth as he let out one more final gasp. The sword pieces then fell towards the surface and each stuck in the ground all around as all of them returned to the ground as well, Zack and Cloud landing firmly on the surface.
Sephiroth however, hit the ground with a thud. He struggled to get up, legs shaking and wobbly. He had never really felt like that before, but he attributed his exhaustion with the limitations of the vessel he was using, as Kadaj was not strong enough to fully manifest and maintain Sephiroth's true power for long.
As Zack and Cloud looked on, seeing the darkened skies now clear up above, the former turned to his best friend. "See, I knew we could do it."
"Yeah, it's finally over now. Thanks to you," Cloud replied to him before turning his attention to the man lying in a heap. "Now, stay where you belong; in my memories."
Sephiroth had finally managed to make it back to his feet with some time as he glanced towards Cloud after having heard the comment. The man simply smirked and blinked his eyes slightly. "I… will never be a memory."
He wrapped himself in his large, black wing as it slowly then began to fade away. The feathers crumbled into nothingness as the wing dissolved. After that, the only thing left was now a weakened Kadaj that collapsed to the ground upon having regained control of himself.
Kadaj huffed as he lay on the ground gasping for air, and most likely feeling the wounds that were inflicted by the tag team of Cloud and Zack. He tried to get up, placing his hands on the ground to summon whatever strength he had to will himself to a standing position. However, his body refused as he tumbled and fell over onto his back.
Cloud walked over to him, with Zack right behind him. The former knelt down in front of the remnant. He stared down with conflicted eyes as he saw Kadaj struggling to breathe. He knew the remnant had made some bad choices throughout all of this, but Cloud figured that Kadaj most likely did not choose to be vessel for Sephiroth. Now in the end his body was nearly destroyed because of it.
Kadaj slowly turned his head to the side as he noticed that Cloud was now next to him. His face was filled with tiredness as well as pain as he finally looked up at the blond. "B-Brother…" His one single word was horse and dry as it was even hard for him to speak now.
Cloud continued to look at him, still wondering about the man laying before him. Wondering if it was truly right for Kadaj to have such a painful end. He didn't know the full extent of everything for Kadaj, but seeing his lay there, hardly able to move, it gave his heart the slightest ache.
"Kadaj…?" a kind, sweet, and familiar voice asked quietly.
Cloud stiffened slightly at hearing her voice, but did not move or say anything. For a moment he glanced back at Zack, who thankfully was still standing behind him. Zack gave a small smile and a nod, giving further indication that they all were really hearing her voice.
Cloud then focused his eyes back on Kadaj to see what would happen. Kadaj on the other hand gasp slightly as he tried to look around a little for the source of the voice. A single drop of water fell from the skies above and hit his cheek, causing a slight bit of surprise. Soon more and more drops of rain started to fall from the few clouds that were scattered above.
"You don't have to hold on any longer," the voice said.
Slowly Kadaj's hand curled into a fist as he stared up at the sun shower that had begun. "Mother… is that…" he trailed off, trying to still catch his breath. His eyes began to water alongside the rain drops hitting against his face.
"Everyone's waiting… If you're ready…" her voice echoed again.
Kadaj breathed heavily for a moment as he heard her words, thinking it over deeply. Then he nodded slightly, letting a single tear escape his eye and drip down his face along with the rain. With a shaky breath, filled with pain, but also a little bit of relief, Kadaj raised his hand up into the air. He reached out towards the sky, showing he was ready. He was ready to see mother finally after all of this time.
Cloud watched as Kadaj held his hand up, smiling slightly now. Only a few seconds past before Kadaj's hand started to dissolve into green light. The Lifestream light. And with one last breath his body started to be pulled up into the sky as every part of him turned into that green light.
Cloud stood back up and stepped back to be by Zack's side as he watched the green wisps of light head up into the sky, faded away after a few moments. He still watched though, wondering and not knowing exactly what to feel for Kadaj. Was the small ache in his heart pity? Pity for the poor remnant who had hardly any life to beginning with? Cloud wasn't sure as he let out a sigh. Though he stiffened momentarily as he felt a hand on his shoulder. He relaxed though once he realized it was Zack.
"It's okay. Even people like him do deserve a peaceful rest," Zack said as he looked over to Cloud.
"Yeah, I guess you're right. He did seem to be misguided. I'm just glad that it's over…" Cloud trailed off as he lowered his head slightly.
Over head Cloud could the engines of Cid's ship flying above. He glanced back up and smiled. Even though he knew he could not see anyone on the ship from the distance he was standing, he knew they were all there. All of this other friends were there watching him and looked down at him to see that it was over. He closed his eyes as he tilted his head back, letting the rain wash the blood slowly off his face and arms. The drops of rain were warm and relaxing as they hit his skin. He could only assume it was a special rain created by Aerith all the way from the Lifestream.
He was immediately shoved down to the ground by Zack without any sort of explanation. Before Cloud could even think of what was happening, something whizzed by his head quickly, but he had no idea what it was. Zack released the pressure then from Cloud's shoulders, allowing the latter to raise up slightly. Once Cloud looked up, he looked around until he finally had made a complete turnaround; then, he laid eyes on the reason for Zack's sudden action.
Yazoo was standing a few feet behind him, with Loz right beside him. Yazoo dropped the weapon he was hold, as he had just tried to shoot Cloud with his back turned apparently. He had no idea that those two were still there, as he was caught up in trying to relax, thinking that Sephiroth/Kadaj was the only real issue.
He stared up at Zack for a moment, realizing that his best friend was there for him again. "Thanks Zack. You somehow always end up saving me."
"Don't mention it. I mean, it's why I'm here right. After all, you did say you needed help," he chuckled as Cloud then looked away.
Once Cloud looked at the two remaining remnant brothers, he then noticed what was in their arms. In Yazoo's right arm and Loz's left were five or six different materials, glowing brightly and easy visible through their arms. Cloud knew they needed to get the materia from them though, as their plans with it were nothing that could be good.
Once Zack and Cloud stood up properly and kept their gazed locked with Yazoo and Loz. The two remnants stumbled forward slightly, their eyes fixed on Cloud, not even seeming to notice Zack standing there.
"We'll… go together…" Yazoo muttered.
"Together we'll… play…" Loz added.
Cloud could tell that the two were at their ends though. Not only did they look exhausted, but the rain was dropped down on them and their bodies were slowly dissipating. It almost looked like they could barely stand anymore on their feet, but they kept standing as the glow in their arms grew stronger.
Tired of the constant struggle and of their attempt to kill him, Cloud gritted his teeth and began to charge towards the two weary men, his sword scraping the ground as he angrily shouted.
"Cloud no stay back!" Zack yelled as he started to chase after the blond.
Cloud had just about reached them as the glow in their arms became brighter and brighter. Several different colors illuminated the area. Cloud was finally bringing up his sword in an upward sweep. Just before it got any closer, Zack just did reach Cloud and erected a small magic barrier quickly. However, it was not strong enough to be able to stop the explosion.
The only sound that was heard was a sudden boom. Bright lights flashed everywhere as the sound echoed through the entire area, alerting anyone that was near it. The structure upon which they had been standing had collapsed from the immense force that had been generated. Cloud and Zack, along with Yazoo and Loz, were nowhere to be seen amid the bright flash.
After a few minutes and having the debris to settle some, it was apparent that the structure was all crumpled onto the ground below, mangled metal and rock lying everywhere that could be seen. Dust had been rising from the collapse, but was starting to clear up a bit more now. Everything was still after that, not a sound to be heard in the area.
Just then though, some of the rubble began to move slowly as a black-haired man raised himself up from the ground. It was Zack. He dusted himself off and immediately knew what he had to do.
"Cloud!" he yelled, in a desperate attempt to locate his friend among all the mess.
He started to look around the area, trying to see if he could spot the familiar spiky blond hair of Cloud. At first he didn't see anything but debris. There was piece of the build scattered everywhere, all broken into different size chunks and shards. Zack didn't even see the two last remnants bodies anywhere, though he figured with the rain still coming down gently they could have been called into the Lifestream already.
Zack knew that his heart would have been pounding against his chest if he were still alive, but that didn't mean he didn't imagine that it was happening. He still was panicking and worried where Cloud was and if he was okay or not. The explosion had been large, but it still could not have knocked Cloud very far.
"Cloud! Are you over here!" Zack shouted loudly as he continued to walk through the debris.
With no response Zack continued to walk around the area, gritting his teeth as he hissed in frustration. "I should have just gone for the remnants first…"
As Zack moved a little more he suddenly came to a halt. He swore that he heard a faint sound from somewhere. Zack remained still as he closed his eyes and focused his hearing as carefully as he could. It was faint, but he could hear a moan nearby.
"Cloud! I'm coming. Just hold on!" Zack shouted as he ran in the direction of the faint moan.
Within a few seconds his eyes locked onto Cloud's bright blond hair and he ran over to him. He could feel his stomach twisting as he looked down at what had happened to Cloud. While the explosion had not completely destroyed the building they were on, it did knock them off it to the ground below. And the ground was scattered with tons of debris from various buildings in the area. Zack had found himself to be relatively fine, aside from feeling sore from falling from that height. Though maybe he was just imagining again that he felt that way. But Cloud… he was a different story.
Cloud's body was mostly visible, at least his upper body was. Though what Zack saw made him wish that Cloud was covered anyways.
There was a large pile of rubble where Cloud's legs should have been, and not a single thing below the blond's waist was uncovered. One could only assume that Cloud must have been in immense pain, though his face did not ever change to show it. Shards of metal lied scattered all around his chest, some of them appearing to stop at his vestment, but others had gone into the skin as signs of blood came from behind the garment.
Then, Zack noticed a small metal beam that was sprouted up from the debris already on the ground. He followed it all the way as he could see it had entered into Cloud's back, breaking through to his torso area between his shoulder and chest. Blood had begun to pool around the wound rather quickly as Zack moved his hand towards Cloud's chest to make sure that he was still breathing.
"Well… that's a relief at least," Zack uttered softly as he felt a heartbeat.
Cloud apparently finally noticed that Zack was with him as he tilted his head to the side and noticed Zack standing over him. He coughed weakly, blood trailing out of his mouth as he tried to speak. "Z-Za… Zack…" His voice was extremely raspy and far weaker than it had sounded before.
Zack grimace as he kneeled down next to Cloud. "Hey buddy… Um… Uh…" Zack tried to think of what he could say at the moment. Instinctively he almost asked if Cloud was all right, but he knew full well that would have been a horribly stupid question to ask. He couldn't even find a way to make a joke to try and lighten the situation.
Zack felt sickened to see Cloud in such a state. He never wanted to eve see something like this befall upon his friend. Yet Cloud still did not look phased by it. Though even if Cloud was crying from the pain, Zack couldn't tell for the rain had droplets covering over Cloud's face.
With a shaking hand, Cloud slowly tried to reach up to Zack. His eyes tried to focus on him, but Zack could see the haziness in them. Quickly Zack took hold of Cloud's hand and brought to his face. "Cloud… I'm sorry. I should have protected you better. I know you're holding on as best as you can. And I know you are probably in a lot of pain, but don't worry, we're going to get you healed up. You're going to be all right."
Cloud looked like he tried to nod, but his head was hardly able to move. He closed his eyes though as a faint smile turned up on his lips. "T-Than… Thanks… Z-Zack…"
Zack gave Cloud a gentle reassuring squeeze to his hand, trying not to press that tightly for he feared that it would only cause more pain to Cloud. There was another weak cough and more blood trailed down Cloud's face. With Zack's other hand he went to wipe it away.
He waited then patiently for the gentleness of the Lifestream to bring them in. He knew it was not Cloud's time yet, but even with that, Cloud needed to heal quickly if he was to go on, and within the Lifestream was the best spot for that to happen. Aerith's light healing rain could only do so much as just a light rain after all. Soon enough he could feel the Lifestream surrounding them and all of the debris that had injured Cloud faded away with that.
Complete whiteness eventually encompassed him as he felt himself falling gently. Cloud's eyes closed as he thought that was it for him, not actually knowing it was the Lifestream surrounding him. Slowly, his wounds started to heal up as the energy surrounding him cleared any blemish that he had suffered. Cloud felt his pain alleviate and wondered if he was finally passing on, or what was happening.
Cloud shifted slightly as he opened his eyes and saw Zack hovering above him. Zack sighed with relief as he stood back up and extended a hand out to Cloud. Without a word Cloud reached for it and once again had Zack pull him up to his feet.
Cloud stared directly at Zack hardly paying attention to where they were. Though he did seem to notice something about their location. He knew the battle was over now. That they had finally defeated Sephiroth and the remnants. Now only Zack stood before him.
"Am… am I-"
"No you're not. But you are in the Lifestream right now," a gentle voice spoke, obviously belonging to Aerith. Though, Cloud did not see her.
"But, if I'm here then that means-"
"Just listen to her, Cloud. You know it's true. It's all right now though," Zack said softly to him.
Cloud looked over and eyed Zack. He tried to hold it together, but he had finally had it with trying to remain calm.
His face broke as he could no longer hold back his feelings anymore. He stumbled over to Zack, tears truly streaming down his face now and leaned towards him. Before he could actually fall against Zack, he was grabbed by his friend and pulled into a hug instead.
As soon as Cloud was pressed against Zack's shoulder and he could feel Zack's arms wrap around him, he whimpered. Seeing Zack was one thing. Fighting alongside him was another. But to be embraced by him after seeing him die two years ago? That was completely different.
"Shh… It's okay Spike," Zack spoke softly as he whispered into Cloud's ear.
"Zack…" Cloud whispered back, his voice weak and soft, but this time because of his crying.
"I'm right here for you. Just take deep breaths okay?" Zack asked as he started to move his hands up and down Cloud's back, hoping that the gently back rub would further relax the blond.
"I… I'm sorry… Zack…" Cloud started to say, but in between his pause Zack decided to quickly cut him off.
He didn't need to wait for Cloud to finish talking. He knew full well what Cloud was trying to be sorry for. "No Cloud, you do not have to be sorry for that. It isn't and wasn't ever your fault."
"B-But... if I just could have done something... I could have..."
"Cloud. What happened that day was neither of our choices. Neither of us wanted that to happen. But neither of us are to blame for it," Zack said as his hug on Cloud tighten slightly.
He knew that Cloud was still feeling guilty about that day. No matter what, that day was something Cloud could never shake from his mind. Zack couldn't blame him though. He knew full well if it was the other way around he would feel the same.
If Cloud had died that day and Zack had still lived, he would have struggled with that for the longest time. He too would have felt guilt over the situation if he wasn't able to do anything. It was understandable, but Zack knew that Cloud had to work through it. And the best way seemed to be talking to each other right now.
"I just wish you didn't have to die… I wish I could have…"
"I know Cloud. But it's all right. I never once blamed you for it. I was just glad that you were safe," Zack replied as he moved one hand up to Cloud's head and started to stroke it gently.
"But… I f-failed…I couldn't be the hero everyone expects me to be…" Cloud muttered as he tried to bury his face into Zack's shoulder.
All of his worries and insecurities were starting to show. These were things he never thought to tell anybody. He never thought he would tell anyone how he truly felt about certain things. But with Zack it was different. Zack… he could tell Zack about things. Zack was his only friend he didn't mind opening up to. Though their journey to Midgar was still hazy in his memories, he remembered that Zack always was talking to him. Always telling him about how he was feeling about the situations he had been through. So Cloud felt like he could do the same.
"Cloud. You did not. Stop beating yourself up over it. It's not-" But Zack could not finish as he was cut off.
"But I did Zack. I should be able to do it on my own. Not have to keep bothering other people. I couldn't defeat Sephiroth alone… either time. I just feel, weak," Cloud admitted with emotion heavy in his voice.
Zack softly answered him. "You're not weak. You're one of the strongest people out there. Besides… just because you ask others for help doesn't make you weak. And they help you because they want to, it's not like you forced them. Sometimes, when your own strength isn't enough, a hero needs his friends to be that strength for him."
That last part was a lesson Zack had to learn the hard way. Always trying to do things by himself to not bother anyone else, because he thought it was his duty. It had not gotten him anywhere. At least in this moment though, those decisions were paying off since he was able to help Cloud with his similar issues.
Cloud let out a quiet sob as he continued to not move from resting against Zack. Though he was starting to feel a little better about it now. Zack's kind and wise words were getting through to him and he was glad to have heard them.
But even though he knew all of this was real, he still almost couldn't believe it. After two very long years, he was getting to be with Zack again. After two years he was here with Zack and was talking with him again. But then he remembered, he wasn't actually death. He just somehow was in the Lifestream for the time being. It wasn't going to last forever.
Or could it? Cloud didn't really have to go back now that he was on the brink. Maybe he could just stay with Zack, and Aerith. Two of his closest friends… the ones that he couldn't protect, the ones that he could not save. Part of him still felt guilt for not being able to stop it, and part of him wanted desperately to just stay with them again. Most of his mind was made up.
"Hey, Zack do you-"
"Sorry, Cloud," Zack started. "No can do there buddy. I know what you're thinking. You wanna stay here right?"
"W-Wha-... that's not… okay, yeah you're right. But, why not?"
"Well, the Lifestream allowed me to come to help you, which partly has to do with Aerith being able to have some control with it. At least that's what she told me. It was something like that, didn't quite understand all of it. But think about it… why would I have come back to help you if it was only going to end the same way?"
Cloud pondered for a moment, though he really did not know the answer to that. Or at least, he did not want to admit the answer to himself or to Zack. "Yeah, I think I know what you're saying. But… still. I want to be with you guys again. I miss you…"
"I know Cloud. But, it's not your time yet. Besides… don't you have a family that you have to protect now?"
Cloud's mind fluttered to thoughts of Tifa, of Marlene and Denzel, along with all of the other kids they had been helping that had been impacted. Barrett, Yuffie, Cid, Vincent, and all of the others that had been with him along the way… it was true that they all counted on him. He knew Zack was right, but it didn't mean that he was okay with this. Why couldn't he have both? He started to say something to Zack but he could not find the words.
Zack, however, knew what must be on his mind. "Hey. I know you know I'm right. So look, don't worry about it. When it comes your time, I promise that we will be right here waiting for you," Zack said as he held out his hand to the side.
Cloud glanced over and saw Aerith standing there, looking on with the sweetest smile. She too looked like she had never even died, with no blood staining her pretty pink dress or anything else. However, she decided to not say anything to the two of them, allowing them to have their moment together as best of friends. It was more than Cloud could take though. He understood, but he knew that nobody could see him right now either, so he didn't care how he appeared.
"I-I…" he started but could not find the words.
Cloud reached up slowly and placed his hands on Zack's back and gripped his shirt tightly. "Zack… p-please don't let go." He knew it was a selfish thing to probably say after what they had just talked about, but he didn't want this moment to end. There was so much more he wanted to talk about with Zack, so much more he wanted to say.
Zack heart's ached as he went back to just holding Cloud in his arms. He rested his head against Cloud's 'chocobo' hair and let out a long sigh. "I'll hold on for as long as I can. It may only be for a moment more, but I'll stay right here with you."
Zack's eyes now started to blur up with tears. He knew how much he meant to Cloud. He was Cloud's first best friend according to what he learned from him. So he knew that this moment right now was something special. The one last moment they would have together before Cloud would go back to the living world. But Cloud also meant a lot to him, they were best friends after all. Just two backwater boys.
"Thank you Zack..." Cloud whispered as neither of the two loosened their grips on one another.
"Of course, Cloud. And thank you."
"Huh? Why are you thanking me?" Cloud asked.
"For always being my friend. I never got to tell you before."
Cloud tried to stifle his next sob, but it was hard to do so. He moved his head back slightly so he could now finally look at Zack. The tears were streaming down his face, but he could still clearly see Zack right in front of him. His heart ached once more, but this time it was not just the feeling of sadness that was inside it. It was also a bittersweet heartfelt feeling from hearing those words from Zack.
"Also, before you have to go back… make sure you find my sword and clean it up. You weren't taking very good care of it. Besides… I think a certain someone might come looking for my head if it's not taken care of soon…" Zack trailed off briefly before chuckling. "And then I will probably be double dead."
Cloud managed a small laugh as he nodded. "All right. I can do that."
As Cloud stood there with tears in his eyes, he saw something come closer out of the corner of his eye. Aerith had finally walked up to the two of them, smiling gently at the both of them as they stepped back from each other for a moment.
"My my. My two boys just can't hold back the waterworks can they," she said as he reach a hand up to each Cloud and Zack and wiped away their tears.
"Aerith…" Cloud said as he looked at her with sorrow filled eyes.
"Hey now, don't look so sad. I know Zack told you it's all right. You always listened to me before, so believe me when I say that everything is good," Aerith replied with the warmest smile that she always wore when speaking to them. "And we told you, neither of us blame you. We only are happy to see that you are doing all right."
"Exactly Cloud," Zack said as he threw his arm around Aerith. "Listen to the woman. She's right you know."
With a small nod Cloud dropped his arms from Zack and moved where he was standing, so he was now between both Zack and Aerith. He the placed one arm behind each of them and sighed. "Yeah… I know. Thanks for not giving up on reminding me. It… It helps." Though he had stopped sobbing, there was still a few tears escaping from his eyes. But he didn't care to wipe them away, he only wanted to stay there and hold his friends in his arms.
Zack and Aerith both returned his affection and embraced him as the three stood there in a tight hug. It was nice, to be reunited with his old friends again. This moment seemed to slow down, and Cloud did not mind that at all as he wanted it to last as long as possible. That single thought kept crossing his mind of wanting to be with them as much as he could. But he knew that at some point, he would have to go back to reality. None of them said anything for quite some time, each enjoying just being there with each other once again.
Soon though, Cloud began to feel a bit lighter per say. As he looked, he could see that the whiteness was encroaching upon all of them, meaning that the Lifestream was most likely getting ready to push him out of it. He felt the weight from his shoulders alleviate as Zack and Aerith stepped back and looked upon him.
"Well, times up. You have to go back now," Aerith spoke gently, informing cloud of the inevitable.
Cloud first stared down at the ground. He started to feel a bit afraid to look back up to them. It would be his last time seeing them for a long time. After this that would be it. He would go back to living his life, with only his moment forever in his memories. He wanted to make it last though. Finally with a deep breath he looked up to meet them in the eyes. He saw them there, standing right in from of him. Zack's arm around Aerith and holding her close, with both of them smiling at Cloud.
"I'm… I'm going to miss you guys… But I won't forget what you've told me. Thank you both, for all your help again."
Aerith smiled sweetly at Cloud, knowing that he was finally going to be okay with things.
Zack stayed right by her side as he smiled as well, but he had something else he wanted to say. "Cloud. You remember what I told you right? Way back then?"
Cloud looked directly at Zack and read his face. He knew exactly what Zack was thinking, so he nodded. "Yeah, I haven't forgotten. Your living legacy… but…" for a moment doubt set back in within Cloud as he thought over each thing. "Am I really…"
"No buts," Zack interrupted. "Cloud, you are my living legacy. I know you know that. There is no doubt about it. But, you're much more than that."
Zack stopped as he reached his hand out and placed it on Cloud's shoulders as he smiled. "You are a true hero."
Cloud smiled as a few happy tears decided to trail down his face this time. Actually hearing those words from Zack brought great reassurance to him. He had doubted himself for so long. He thought he had messed up carrying on Zack's legacy and honor. But Zack didn't see it as that, he saw that Cloud had succeeded and went above and beyond. And that simple praise made all the difference.
"Thanks again Zack," Cloud replied as he kept smiling.
"Sure thing," Zack replied as he moved his hand up to Cloud's head and ruffled his hair. "Take care of yourself Spike, okay?"
Cloud smiled at the two of them before they were faded into white. Soon after that, everything went white for him as well for a few moments. It felt as though he was falling again, but he had no idea where. He closed his eyes and thought that it would be over soon.
After what seemed like only a few seconds, Cloud opened his eyes to see where he was. The light upon opening them was quite bright, which caused him to blink a few times in order to adjust. Once he finally was able to see clearly, he saw that he was surrounded by several small kids that were jumping for joy upon seeing him. He then realized that his clothes felt slightly damp as he found himself lying in shallow water. When he glanced up to see where he was, that is when he noticed: he was in Aerith's church.
Everyone cheered to see him back and alive and Cloud found himself glad of that too. He looked to each of his friends and saw them happily smiling at him. All of them relieved to see that Cloud had returned safely. He then realized the water he was in was the same water that had cured him of the Geostigma and all of the children in the water were being cured as well. But there was still plenty of others that still needed the water; one of them being Denzel.
Once Denzel was brought into the water and Cloud dripped the water on his forehead, all the other children with the stigma soon followed into the water. Cloud watched as everyone looked happy and was having a good time. Though then he caught something in the corner of his eye. He looked over towards the doors of the church… and saw them again.
Aerith was talking to a child as Zack leaned up against the door frame. Aside from the child talking to Aerith, Cloud seemed to be the only other one that could see the two of them. He watched as Aerith said goodbye to the child and walked back over to Zack. She then turned around and smiled sweetly at Cloud.
"You see? Everything's all right," her voice echoed in Cloud's head.
Zack turned his head more towards Cloud and offered him a small smile, as Aerith did the same. She then turned around and started to walk through the door of the church. Zack soon followed, but not before raising his hand and giving Cloud a small wave. The two of them then were envelopes in a white light and disappeared.
Feeling more relieved than ever before, Cloud returned with a small grin of his own. "Yeah, I know. I'm not alone. Not anymore. Goodbye guys, thank you once again."
So yeah, that was a really long idea that we had there, but we just wanted to do it as a one-shot. But having Zack to help out Cloud in that moment when he temporarily sees Zack again during the battle was something I had always thought about. And finally with help, was able to get it written out. Again, big thanks to Riku Kingdom Hearts for doing this with me, and another big thanks once again to kvgua for the inspiration and ability to use their art. Hope you guys enjoyed the story and let us know what you think of it. Until next time!