A/N: A drabble of sorts...

...

This And That

Feathers clouded his dreams. They slowly floated downward in a swaying motion. He never dreamt of the feathers belonging to him—they weren't his to claim. He reached out and grabbed one only for it to shatter in his grasp.

He heard a faint shout but it was so far away he could barely tell what it was. He looked down to the water below. The feathers crowded the water's surface, making it impossible to see his reflection.

As he reached down and plucked a feather from the bunch, he heard a distant shout again. It was louder this time—short and pained. He shot back up to a stand and looked around. There was no one there.

He then returned to picking a feather up from the rippling water. The feather, just as before, shattered in his grasp. He would have thought more into it if a full-out scream hadn't echoed all around. Only this time, he knew where it was coming from: beneath him. He hurried and picked up one feather in each hand and let them shatter to his touch until he could finally see his reflection on the surface.

Only it wasn't his reflection. It followed his movements like a reflection, shared the same confused expression like a reflection, but it wasn't his face that was staring back at him. Instead of purple eyes fused with mako, they were a bright blue. Instead of black hair on his head, it was blonde.

Zack stared down at Cloud, not understanding or believing what he saw. Cloud's expression darkened with exhaustion and fear. "Zack?"

Zack offered a smile, the only think he could think to do. "It's okay, man. I'm right here."

Cloud shook his head. "Zack, I—" His face grimaced in pain.

Then, Zack's dream shattered and he awoke inside his class cage. His vision was filtered in a green hue and his lungs burned as the mako flowed through his system. A loud scream penetrated through the thick glass, drawing Zack's immediate attention. Through the bubbling mako in his vision, he could see an operating table in the middle of the room in front of him. On that table, was an infantryman, screaming as the doctors probed at him.

Zack narrowed his eyes as he tried to get a better look and try to better understand what exactly he saw. With a heavy pit in his stomach, Zack recognized one of the doctors to be the one and only Hojo—the head of the science department. He held in one hand a red scalpel and in the other a long, thin metal rod. Zack's eyes trailed the rod all the way down to the open abdominal cavity of the infantryman.

The doctors chatted amongst themselves as they circled the table, eying their patient with a hungry interest. "Interesting," he could barely hear Hojo mutter, "the cells are mutating quickly but..."

There was a spark on the probing end of the metal rod and the body convulsed dramatically as another scream punctured Zack's eardrums.

Hojo laughed. "Amazing!" He began to ramble on, but Zack couldn't catch a single word he was saying. Hojo was smiling and Zack's stomach felt heavy. The rod was removed, the tip covered in an amazingly dark red that contrasted to that of the scalpel's. Hojo deposited in on a metallic tray with a clatter before snapping off his bloodied gloves. "Patch him up," he said to one of the younger scientists. He continued to say more but stopped, his cold gaze falling on Zack.

Zack tried to sum up some energy to break free, but his limbs were lead. All he could muster was a hard glare.

Hojo gave a dismissive gesture then started up a conversation with a young lady as they walked out of the room. Zack was only able to catch the sound of a curse and the mention of the SOLDIER program. "Such potential," Hojo complained, disappointed. He left the room, leaving the closing procedure to the younger scientists.

After a pass in conversation, another young scientist came over and began to tap something into the keybad of Zack's glass container. A twinge of anxiety ran through him when Zack realized it was his turn on the table. But, after seeing the infantryman being helped off the table, he grew courage. If he was on the table, at least the other guy wasn't.

He could feel his body go numb almost instantly and his mind grew clouded. Whatever the scientist had typed into the interface of his containment pod, it was acting quickly in knocking him out. Darkness was clawing at the edges of his vision and he merely stared blankly at the poor infantryman in front of him. The young man was being dragged across the room towards the mako pod next to Zack. Then he saw the man's face.

Zack watched in absolute fear as he watched Cloud, his friend, being aggressively moved from the table to the pod. Cloud? No! No, no, no! Dread filled Zack's body as Cloud's lowered head lifted at something the scientist said and the two boys locked eyes. Their eyes mirrored shock at the other's presence, until rage filled Cloud's eyes.

At that moment, Cloud thrashed and sent him and the doctor with him down to the floor. The two hit the ground in a heavy thumb and Cloud let out a shout. The doctor tried to move, get hold of the situation, but Cloud seemed desperate to keep him grounded. His gloved hands had a hard grip on the doctor's coat. When a second doctor rushed onto the scene, Cloud began to punch.

Zack wanted to help. He wanted to break free from his confinement and get the both of them out of there. In the end, he couldn't even rally enough strength to bang on the glass or shout. He couldn't even hear what Cloud was saying as the blonde shouted. He was helpless to support his friend. His mind surrendered unwillingly to the darkness.

Mako eyes blinked open as Zack awoke from his dreamless slumber only to be greeted by a bright light. Zack shut his eyes again to allow them to adjust before looking around in a grog. He didn't remember how he got on top of the operating table and he sure as Hell didn't like it.

Memories were beyond him. His last memory was at the ShinRa building but even that was foggy. As he focused on the present, he realized a doctor staring at him, the other's nose only inches away from his.

"Who...?" Zack muttered. He tried to say more but the one partial word was tiring enough and his tongue felt heavy. He then remembered he had limbs but, for some reason, lacked the ability to move them.

The doctor grunted in Zack's face before looking at the other doctors that Zack just noticed were standing around the table. With a voice that scratched Zack's ears, the doctor said, "How do you plan on taking notes based off reaction if our subject is too drugged to even twitch?"

"Professor, after the commotion the other sample caused, we found it assuring to double our dosage so we don't get attacked again," said a younger doctor.

The greasy professor quirked a brow. "Attacked?"

"Yes, professor," spoke another as he walked up to the table. There was a bruise on his face. "He tackled me down and was able to even strike me. It was all barely an effort, though."

"Fools!" The older professor grimaced at the two. "When did this transpire? Why wasn't I informed?" Just as one of the men was about to speak, the older waved his hand to excuse him. "Bah! I don't want to hear excuses. Go put it on report."

Zack watched one of the younger men nod and walk towards one of the large computers on the wall. He wasn't expecting the sudden prick in his arm nor the the burning he felt in his veins immediately afterwards. He sluggishly turned his head to look at the long needle embedded in the fold of his right arm. He watched in morbid fascination as a green substance was dispensed into his veins.

His eyes dragged from staring at his arm to staring at a cyllindrical tank in the background. A young man was floating in the tank, his blonde hair fluttering around his pale face. A red flag was rising in a part of Zack's brain as he struggled to recognize the young man. His vision began to face but he stayed fixated on the floating lad. In his trance, he could hear voices echoing in the distance.

"Did the subject say anything?"

"Yes. It demanded that I release the other subject. It even threatened my life to leave them both alone."

"Interesting... Very interesting! I want you to update his file, record it word for word in great detail. To be so responsive so quickly... Curious. We'll have to keep a special eye on that subject."

"What was the name again?"

"Imbecile. Sample number—"

Zack stopped listening. The boy wasn't a subject; he had a name.

Cloud..

Zack was dreaming again of the liquid plane littered with feathers. There were less now, making the water's surface more evident. He could see the water beneath his boots roll in small waves away from him. His body felt light but his head felt heavy. His world was spinning and he closed his eyes to try and center himself.

"Zack...?"

Upon hearing Cloud's voice, Zack opened his eyes, his gaze downward. He could see Cloud on the opposite side of the water. Surprisingly, he wasn't surprised to see him there. He crouched down, hoping to reach through the floor to touch the blonde, but his fingers couldn't break the surface. "How you doing, Cloud?" he asked, voice soft.

The poor boy was sitting in the fetal position with his arms tightly wrapped around his chest with his head hidden in his knees. "...It hurts..."

Zack frowned as Cloud folded further into himself. He wished he could comfort his friend, to reach out and touch him. "I know, man," Zack said as he sat down—mirroring Cloud with his own knees brought up to his chest. He wrapped his arms around his legs and pulled them close. "I'll get us out of here," he said with a determined gaze. He offered a wan smile down to his companion, but Cloud wasn't looking at him. "I promise."

And he meant it.

He tried to lose himself in the silence ,but pained whimpers could be heard beneath him. "Angeal..." Zack whispered as he buried his head in his knees. The guilt made his body heavy, crushing. "What should I do...?"

...

His world was green. Green and constricting. His body felt heavy. So heavy he couldn't move. He needed to scream but no sound came. Not from him anyway.

In his view he saw a poor boy under the knife in an open room. He only screamed once or twice. Not as much as he used to. Zack felt he knew the kid on the table but he couldn't think much into it before sleeping again.

Zack was alone as he stood on the water's surface. There was a prickling at his skin, the sensation he got when he could feel someone he could not see. The presence around him was needing, scared. Someone needed Zack's help, but he couldn't find them.

He looked around him, behind him, but saw no one. He began to run aimlessly, searching frantically for the young man that needed his help. "Where are you?!" he called out. "Cloud!"

Mako eyes opened slowly, wearily looking up. Above him, he could see Hojo's—was that his name—face, looking down at him impassively.

Zack glared up at the older man, a rage building in his chest. "Damn you," he croaked out.

The scientist glared back, discontented. "This one is becoming quite the nuisance," he said in that annoying, shrill voice. Zack hated that voice. Hojo leaned back and began to pace the table around Zack as he muttered, "With the already mutated cells..."

His voice faded in and out. Zack tried to concentrate on what he was saying, but his hearing couldn't keep up. His vision was blurring again.

"...the new...like a mere flu...a new approach."

In his clouded awareness, Zack barely caught sight of a scalpel in the man's hand. He knew he should do something, but as soon as the thought entered his mind, his conscience slipped away.

Zack sat cross-legged in the water with his arms wrapped tightly around himself. He felt that, if he let go, his whole body was going to fall apart. Even in his dreams his body hurt. He grunted when his fingers touched a tender spot under his ribs. He grit his teeth and hugged himself tighter.

"Zack?"

Zack looked for Cloud once he heard the concerned voice. He looked down but only saw his reflection—his true reflection without the paled skin and spiked blonde hair. He was surprised by his disappointment. He looked around for his friend but couldn't see him.

"Cloud?"

Looking back down, he saw his reflection again. Cloud was standing behind him, looking at him with worry etched on his face. "Zack, you okay?"

Zack looked up, behind him—

"Cloud..."

His eyes opened, awakened by his own voice. He was in his tank again, looking out at the steel table in his view, Cloud lying on top of it. Zack stomach twisted as he watched scientists hover over his friend, prodding at his shuddering form. The oldest of the scientists reared his head back in a laugh when Cloud let out a small cry of pain.

"Amazing! Simply amazing! I'm a genius. Genius!"

Zack's hands balled into fists. He thought back to when he first met Hojo—how he had been warned to stay away from from. He had done so much for the man, from undergoing field tests to actually protecting him when the ShinRa building was attacked. If only he had headed the warning and stayed away from the demented bastard; maybe then he wouldn't be under his knife now. Or would that even matter at this point? For some reason, he doubted it.

"... Where's Tifa?"

Zack snapped out of his thoughts to see a practically empty room. He didn't remember seeing everyone leave but the only occupant in the room now was Cloud. He was looked around, slowly pushing himself to a sitting position. The effort was obviously straining, but he didn't stop. "Tifa?"

Zack couldn't believe what he was seeing. He couldn't comprehend how Cloud could find the strength to move. He wanted to praise his young friend for the feat, but a fear was overwhelming the forefront of his mind. If Cloud was looking for Tifa, things could get messy.

This is not good.

"Tifa?!" With a heavy groan, Cloud pushed himself off the table and fell onto the floor.

Zack banged on the glass. He wanted to scream for Cloud to run. The room was empty. With Cloud able to move, this was their best chance. His continuous banging on the glass caught Cloud's attention and Zack pointed to the door in a drastic gesture. Get out of here!

Cloud's usually blue eyes were filled with a green haze. His brows furrowed in thought as he stared at Zack. "Zack...?" He gripped the table with one hand as he pulled himself onto shaking legs. "Zack...!" He tried to walk but, as soon as he let go of the table, he was falling back onto the floor. His whole body cringed when he hit the floor. After a few seconds to recover himself, he was already trying to push himself back up.

He looked up at Zack from his crumpled position on the floor, a frenzied expression on his face. "Zack, what happened...? Where's Tifa?!"

Zack didn't know what to say. Last he remembered, Tifa was lying on the reactor floor, probably bleeding to death. He didn't want to think that she was dead, but that would be much better than her being someone's guinea pig. He hoped beyond hope that she was neither. As he looked down at Cloud's terrified face, his heart broke. He shook his head.

Cloud's eyes cast downward, utterly defeated. Zack knocked on the glass to get his attention again, but Cloud didn't look back up—didn't even try to stand anymore.

Come on, Cloud, get up.

The door to the library opened and a young man groaned as he stomped his way over to Cloud. "Not you again," he was saying as he scooped Cloud up from under his arms. "I swear you're more trouble than you're worth." Cloud didn't fight back as he was placed back onto the operating table. "If it were up to me, you'd be without sedatives during your surgeries." Once Cloud was set down, the man wrote something on a clipboard then made his way to Zack's containment pod.

Zack was glaring daggers at the man. He immediately recognized him as the scientist Cloud had punched. The bruise on his jawbone was completely gone, healed as if it never happened. Zack banged on the glass, coming off as threatening as possible. He eyed the badge hanging on the man's coat, burning the name into his memory.

Dr. Shini was unfazed by the glare or threat. He began to input a code into the tank's interface and Zack could immediately feel the effects of whatever drug was pumped into the mako. "Think you scare me?" said the doctor with a sneer. "You're next."

Good, thought Zack as he glowered. When the doctor moved back into the library, Zack's eyes hovered back over to Cloud's prone form. His eyes softened at the sight. Let him rest.

Zack was alone, but not completely. He could feel Cloud somewhere. He looked down first but only saw himself looking back at him. He then looked behind him. Nope, nothing. He put his fists on his hips and closed his eyes. Gaia, his chest was burning! Zack tried concentrating on his breathing but even that hurt.

"...Z-Zack...?"

Zack opened his eyes at the call of his name. There, in the distance, was Cloud—on the same side of the water! "Cloud!" Zack started running towards him, ecstatic to finally be on the same side.

As he got closer, he noticed that Cloud was staggering, stumbling over his feet. His arms were wrapped around his middle and his face was pained. He was staring at Zack as he slowly made his way towards him. He looked so tired.

Zack pushed his legs to move faster. "Cloud!"

"...ack..."

Cloud went top heavy and fell. He hit the water with a splash and immediately began to sink.

"Cloud! Hold on!" Cloud didn't react to Zack's words. He kept sinking deeper into the water. "No! No-no-no-no-no-NO!" He skid across the water's surface and reached out, but he was too late. Cloud was completely submerged underwater and, no matter how hard he tried, his fingers couldn't penetrate the watery surface. He could only watch helplessly as Cloud kept sinking further and further down, beyond the light's reach, until he was no longer visible.

"Damn it!" Zack punched the surface, letting droplets of water splash up his arm. He stayed crouched on his knees with his head resting on the water as he feebly clawed at the surface. "Damn it...!"

The next time Zack saw Coud was on the steel table, only he wasn't moving. Not even a twitch. It was as if he was nothing but an empty puppet now.

"You can't do this to me!"

"It's already been done. Now off to your duties."

"Hojo! Hojo!"

"Oh wow, look at that, everything's the same as usual. Who saw that coming? I sure didn't."

...

"Can you believe this? To think after all this time I'd speak to you so casually... it's a shocking realization."

Zack was able to open his eyes this time and see a young man tending to the number pad to his containment pod. He immediately recognized the young man as Dr. Shini. His hair was notably longer than Zack could recall.

"Honestly, I don't understand why Professor Hojo doesn't just pull the plug on you two," he said as he walked to the other pod. "I'm sick of this place and these clones. I just want to go home, but no-o-o, I'm stuck here watching over you two. Hojo has already given up on you."

Zack watched with a glare as Dr. Shini practically growled at Cloud. Cloud only stared blindly back as he floated in his tank. The doctor then grew bored and left for the library.

"I can't believe her! Calling me up like that! I explain, explain, explain, and all she does is nag!" Dr. Shini shook his head. "Honestly! She just doesn't understand my duties. I mean, there was a time when I would rush home after work. It wouldn't be too hard these days, but that woman just—" He sighed and stood up from his chair, snapping his book shut.

BANG!

"...stupid, senile, old lunatic of a man!"

He was throwing books now. Grabbing them by the armful and hurling them off the bookshelf. "This is not what I signed up for!"

BANG!

Zack was too tired to flinch when a book bounced off the front of his tank with a BANG!

The books were back in their places, all nice and neat except for a few strays on the ground. Dr. Shini was currently sitting on the operating table with his arms crossed, a scowl on his face.

"...and she blames me? After she practically forces me to sleep on these dirty floors?!"

He was smiling today. And whistling as he made his way to Cloud's pod. He pressed the familiar pattern on the keypad and didn't once glare at Cloud for the very first time.

"At first I felt guilty. She didn't move much but she was warm. And quiet! So much better than that wench," he said with a spit.

"...so freaky but now I don't know how I lived here without her. And she's just a clone..."

DUNK! DUNK! DUNK!

Zack blearily opened his eyes at the noise. He was groggy and had difficulty keeping his eyes open, but the noise was disturbing his dreamless slumber. He somehow managed to look over to see Cloud still in his tank. He showed no sign of life as Dr. Shini punched and kicked at his tank. The doctor's hair was much shorter than when Zack last saw him. His face was clean of facial hair too, but it was red in a growing rage.

"It's all your fault! ALL YOUR FAULT! She'd still be here—! If you had died I wouldn't be here and she wouldn't have left! I should kill you!"

Zack felt a sudden surge of adrenaline that allowed him to clench his fist. Don't you dare touch him. You've hurt him enough.

Miraculously, Zack was able to stay wake until the doctor cooled down enough to stomp out of the room. After watching him leave, Zack was looking back at Cloud, a great concern forming for his friend. Cloud was just floating in his tank, staring blankly and showing no sign of his formal self. Zack wanted to cry. In his heart he knew—Cloud was gone.

Zack was alone again. This time, he was completely alone. He had only his own reflection for company. He couldn't remember the last time he heard Cloud's voice or felt his presence. He felt so lonely and defeated. Cloud was gone and he didn't know what to do.

There were no more feathers on the water's surface, a cold reminder of Zack's loneliness. Even traces of Angeal were gone now. Zack looked down at his reflection, not recognizing the downtrodden version of himself staring back. All sense of cheer and hope were gone from his eyes—there was nothing to be hopeful for, nothing to smile at. All that was left was despair. If he couldn't save Cloud, he couldn't save anybody. He couldn't even save himself.

The ground beneath him felt soft and he could feel himself being pulled down. The world was going to swallow him, drown him, and Zack didn't give a damn.

A voice called out to him from above. Zack was again standing on solid ground, like he had never been sinking. He couldn't recognize the voice or what it said—it was unworldly and somehow smelt of flowers. When he looked up, he watched in fascination as a single feather slowly fluttered down. His eyes followed it as it landed on the water's surface.

Zack looked up at the blue sky. He didn't recall it looking so clear and bright. He wanted so much to fly through that beautiful sky. "Those wings," he said, voice soft, "I want them too."

In that statement, portions of himself started to piece his soul back together in a painful way. He remembered his friends and family. He remembered Aerith and Angeal. He remembered Cloud, and the promises he made to all of them. He couldn't give up here—there were still things he needed to do. The realization and resolve struck him so hard he could feel his world shatter around him.

To be continued in Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core

...

A/N: My first drabble. I guess it's too long to really be considered a drabble but I refuse to call it anything else. This is intended to be read like a stream of consciousness. Those four years are probably a blur of sensations more than memories and this fic is meant to be confusing and jumping all over the place. It may have been difficult to read, but I hope it was enjoyable. Thanks for reading!