A/N: How the hell did I end up here?
Honestly, the plot of this fic has gotten so much more convoluted! The way this story was originally going is so astronomically different than this that they don't even compare. This is now a complete AU, sans the timeline for stuff because I'm meticulous. All of this is sprung up by the thought that Zack is the only one who has limit breaks from different characters and one lame-ass one for himself. He's like a limit-break absorber! So I was like, 'methinkies this needs a background' and VOILA! Something so strange that it required me to give Zack his own birthday and research copious amounts of Chinese mythology! Whoo-HOO!
Chapter length is random, mostly dependent on my mood and how much free time I have.
Updates will be when updates will be.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Like an army, falling
One by one by one
-Linkin Park, In My Remains
In My Remains
One by One by One
The reactor had been a source of endless intrigue in the otherwise boring town of Gongaga ever since Zack had first dared to venture there. The boy had nobody close to him in age to play with (unless you counted Rachel, the baker's daughter, except she was an icky girl, so she didn't really count), so he often found himself exploring. It was not long before the young boy had exhausted the safe places he could explore. By the age of five, Zack had become a bright, daring young boy, his green eyes often gleaming with mischief and energy, and he was determined to break into the town's Mako Reactor.
Despite the wishes of his parents, Zack had no desire to become a farmer. No; he wanted to become a hero, just like Captain ShinRa and his trusty chocobo, Rufus. He had overheard Kade speaking to Faistlyn that the Shin-Ra Electric Power Company had just started a new training program that gave the soldiers special powers through mako injections, and he wanted in. So, one day, he snuck away from his parents and stealthily made his way over to the reactor.
The first time he went was a disappointment. ShinRa troops stood at the gate steadfastly, while others made daily patrol routes. The second time was no better. Zack smartened up and tried to learn as much as he could about the reactor.
The soldiers stationed at the Gongaga Reactor were posted for three months a rotation and, from what he could gather from stolen conversations, were commonly sent here as punishment for some sort of infraction. Zack, a Gongagan at heart, had no big scruples with the weather, but the muggy climate was hell to the urban Midgarians. Three months of no action, surrounded by jungle and illiterate hicks, usually gave the soldiers a healthy appreciation for their normal jobs. Zack had never seen a trooper return. The only recurring face was one of a scrappy old man who inspected the reactor once a year. He was creepy though, and Zack tried to steer clear of him whenever possible. He'd only come face-to-face with him once, in passing, and had promptly screamed and ran. Not one of his prouder moments, though if asked later, he would claim the man had been possessed by the devil and threatened him with a screwdriver.
Zack took to going to the local pub, the Frog's Tounge, as a way of collecting information. It was a common hangout for off-duty troops, where they often complained about their jobs or life in general, and usually had interesting tidbits of information he could use. More often then not though, he was kicked out due to his young age.
Two months after he first set sight on the Reactor, he was ready. Had his mother known what he was up to, she would have been surprised at the patience he had displayed; rarely was he ever able to focus on a task for more than a few hours, let alone months. But it was the golden, chalice, the promise of entering the hall of heroes that drove him, his green eyes alight with passion.
He packed a bag the night before, and the next morning told his mother he would spend the entire day helping Captain Shinra and chocobo Rufus on their quest to capture the mysterious power of 'm'.
"Mmhmm, that great hon. Be back by seven for dinner." She continued to chop vegetables, dismissing her wild son.
Taking that as a go-ahead, he set off, humming a jaunty tune. The summer air was muggy, and with it came the smells of the forest that Zack enjoyed. If there were anything he would miss about living in Gongaga after going off to become a hero, it would be the forest. Oh well. Who says heroes can't visit their families? He thought.
As he got closer to the reactor, he slowed down, and began to be more wary of his surroundings. It would do no good for him to be caught by a patrol, or worse- a frog. It would be embarrassing to be caught in need of a Maiden's Kiss. Kissing is gross. He thought with conviction.
He entered through the side of the reactor through the hole in the chain-link fence he had heard Perry-the-soldier tell Molly-the-waitress had torn a hole in his best pair of pants. It was a tight squeeze, but Zack, being abnormally small for his age, got through with only minor scratches. Quickly, he darted behind a box, waiting for the next patrol to pass. He'd timed the routes, and found that their rounds took around ten minutes per rotation. After they passed this area, they would head inside, typing in a pass code that changed bi-weekly in order to open the door to the inside. Zack needed to tail the guards quietly, and see what the code was.
He heard footsteps approaching, and held his breath, trying to shrink deeper into the niche he had claimed for himself. Zack found that he was shaking, but not from fear, but from adrenaline and excitement. A sharp grin slowly took over his face.
The blood in his veins seemed to roar as the guards passed. There were two of them, Jerry Atkins and Gerard Wilder, and they could almost pass for twins had he not known one of them had a tattoo of a rat on the back of his neck and the other a strangely-shaped birthmark on his chin. The two of them were best friends, and Zack oftentimes found himself hanging around the fun-loving duo as partners-in-crime to various pranking stunts around the village. According to Jerry, the rat tattoo was a symbol of his year, whatever that meant. Zack hadn't really spent too much time thinking about it past admiring it for its coolness. It wouldn't be long before he would regret not asking him about it- and by then it would be too late.
For now though, he followed the two troopers towards his destiny.
His plan went off without a hitch. Jerry and Gerard didn't encounter any other soldiers, much to his relief, and he mentally noted the combination. After they had went through the door, he mentally counted out a minute in his head before entering the code himself and slipping through the door as quietly as he could, guiding the door so that it didn't so much as click. It was then that the reality of his situation reached him. He had just snuck into ShinRa property. If he were caught, he probably would not get off with a scolding. Maybe, he would be shot. He shivered.
C'mon, Zack! I'm already here, let's do this! He gave himself a mini pump-up, nodding in agreement with himself and beginning to make his way through the reactor. His wanderings were aimless, and thrice he was almost caught by a pair of troopers. It was around midday that he found the mako pool. (He knew it was midday because his stomach had started to grumble, and he had to eat his sandwich.) It glowed eerily, casting a green light onto his face. He smiled, and slowly walked across the thin metal walkway that stretched out into the middle of the pool. He set his bag down so that the weight wouldn't knock him off balance, and bent over the pool. This is it, he thought, I'm gonna have superpowers!
There was a thunk! of boots behind him. Surprised, he turned around, to see Jerry Atkins at the entrance of the room, staring at him in unabashed horror. Unconsciously, he took a step back, forgetting he was at the end of the walkway. He let out a yelp as he fell into the pit of green.
It was a surreal feeling. As soon as he hit the mako, he heard thousands of voices-whispers, shouts- surrounding him. ("WhoWhatWHY you're herethereGONE there's a girl a ratBLOOD") They rang in his ears, and he put his hands around his ears in an attempt to block out the sound. (Spinandspinandspinandspin and there's an army and they're falling one by one by one and ah feels so GOOD. ) The voices made his head hurt, so much information at once breaking his ability to comprehend what they were saying. (Listen to my words YOU MUST LISTENdon't forget the snow)The liquid felt strange, like he was surrounded by gel. (Who am I? What am I? You Don't Belong. You will be the One.)He unconsciously took a breath, he lungs screaming in protest. (FIND HER. There are twelve. DIEDIEDIEDIEDIE.) He tried to spit it out, but instead the substance slipped traitorously down his throat. (Leaveleaveleaveleaveleaveleaveleave WHY ARE YOU HERE?) He wanted to live, he wanted to go home, and this was such a stupid idea-
Suddenly, he was yanked out of the mako. He choked, hacking out as much of the vile green substance as he could. He found himself crying, tears and snot and mako running down his face. His eyes itched horribly, he couldn't see, he almost died and where was mommy and daddy? He let forth a giant sob and clung to his savior, unable to speak coherently, his throat raw.
His savior gently moved off of the walkway, placed the pitiful boy on the ground, and rubbed his back in small circles, murmuring nonsensical, comforting words. Zack took in deep, greedy breaths, and eventually calmed down. He blinked rapidly, his vision returning slowly. He could see the blurry figure of Jerry Atkins over him, his brown eyes compassionate.
"T-th-tha-" He fought to speak, but Jerry shushed him.
"Don't speak. You've just been exposed to a lot of mako, your body will not recover for a while." The word mako triggered another panic attack (What are youWhy are youLeave now My beloved child why don't you sleep?), and he began hyperventilating. "Zack, calm down. You've got to calm down." Jerry's voice brought him back to the present, and Zack shuddered, rocking back and forth.
"H-ho-me." He stuttered. He felt himself slipping into unconsciousness, the ordeal draining him physically and mentally.
Jerry nodded sympathetically. "Yes, I'll take you back home, after you see a doctor. We're gonna see a doctor, okay? Zack, you've got to stay with-" He was cut off by the reactor alarm going off. Jerry's head snapped towards the intercom.
"INTRUDER, INTRUDER. ALL FORCES TO THE FRONT ENTRANCE."
"Shit!" Jerry cursed, "They're already here!" He turned once again to the broken boy in front of him. He evaluated Zack, brown eyes looking for some indicator that this boy would do what he had failed so miserably at doing.
"Zack. Zack," he said urgently, bringing Zack forward into his conscious again. "I need you to do something for me." Cloudily, Zack wondered what was going on. Groggily, he voiced his confusion. "Zack, I need you to hold onto this for me. And I need you to remember a message for me, okay buddy? I need you to remember. Swear you will remember." Jerry pressed a wooden carving into the boy's hand, closing Zack's fingers around the foreign object. Zack struggled into wakefulness, a new sense of urgency upon him. Why were the alarms ringing? What was going on with Jerry?
"Zack. You need to promise. Promise me." Jerry was earnest, holding the boy's attention with his eyes. Zack slowly regained some control over his motor functions. He nodded.
"I s-swe-ar… I'll r-r-eme-mb-er." He said seriously.
Jerry smiled sadly. "I know you will buddy, I know you will. Remember this, for me. 'I, Jerry Atkins, Leader of the Rat, hereby name Zack Fair as my successor in the Council of Twelve. All of my rights and provisions as first are to be bestowed upon him on his return. May the circle be whole once more.'" Zack imprinted the words into his memory. They didn't make much sense, but he felt the gravity of the situation through Jerry's tone. He swore then and there he would find a way to repay his savior in any way possible.
Jerry picked him up again and placed Zack behind a nearby crate, hiding him from view. "Do not speak." He ordered, and walked back into the center of the room to wait for the intruders.
It wasn't long before a group of strangely dressed men ran into the room. They all wielded thin swords, and made no sound, even as they ran towards Jerry. Jerry slipped into a strange stance. "I am Jerry Atkins! I am the Former Leader of the Rat! On my honor as a warrior, you will all fall." He ran towards them as well, and engaged in a deadly dance with his opponents. Zack, whose eyesight was still recovering, couldn't see much, but even he could tell that Jerry was outnumbered.
Despite the severity of the situation, Zack couldn't help but feel awed at the battle prowess Jerry had. He slipped in between attackers, taking down men in seconds. Despite the sheer amount of opponents, Jerry showed no fear; even when he began to flag.
It seemed like an eternity before the fighting stopped. Cautiously, Zack crawled out from the hiding spot, and slowly made his way towards the center of the room, where Jerry had collapsed, surrounded by a ring of corpses. Fighting his nausea, and crying once again, the dirty child maneuvered his way around the dead to his savior.
Jerry's eyes stared up at the ceiling, at something Zack couldn't fathom. He shook the dying man, urging him to loose that glassy look, to help him get home and forget this had happened. Jerry only shook his head, giving him a sad smile. He turned his head slightly, refocusing his eyes on the living for one last time.
"Hold up my legacy, Zack. I'm sorry… Thank you." He took one last, shuddering breath before lying still.
Next Chapter: In which Zack and Sephiroth somehow manage to meet in the middle of nowhere. Also, tons of exposition.