Disclaimer: (scowl) Dang it. I tried to win the rights to Final Fantasy VII, but... let's just say poker never was my game.
A/N: Sorry about the long wait (again). I can't even claim Writer's Block as an excuse this time; it was laziness. I needed to plot out the route that they took from Nibelhiem to the estimated place where Zack was killed, and it was a pain to boot upthe gaming computer for that. Please accept my apologies.
On a cheerier note, I just got my hands on a copy of Last Order...
...Wow. I'm definitely going to be including some of the things that happened in there. The idea of Zack on a motorcycle is the coolest thing I've heard all day. (Fact: I'm a sucker for motorcycles.)
Anyway, without further ado, allow me to present the third chapter of Point Blank.
Zack leaned back against the wall, panting slightly. It had been hard work, getting this far. Cloud was damn heavy for someone who'd spent five years without proper nutrition. Or perhaps Zack himself had gotten weak.
He'd been lucky enough to find this cave in the mountains near Nibelhiem. It was close enough to the town that he'd had the energy to get them there, but far away enough that he felt it a reasonably safe place to rest. It offered decent shelter from the elements, and, in the likely event of pursuit, its high elevation gave the former SOLDIER a perfect lookout.
The black-haired young man rested his head on his hand, his elbow braced against his knee, and tried to figure out what in the name of President Shinra they were going to do.
He was sure that they would be followed. Not only would Hojo want his toys back, but Zack had been forced to kill one of their soldiers, and he wouldn't have bet a lot of money on the health of the lab technician who he had injured when escaping from the tank, either. That was enough to warrant an arrest, or at least it had been the last time Zack had checked up on the local law enforcement system, which, admittedly, had been five years ago.
There was also the town itself to consider. If it had been rebuilt – and Zack was sure that that was the only explanation – than Shinra had done it to cover up what Sephiroth had done. They certainly wouldn't want it to be known that the man who had once been their biggest hero had been behind such a slaughter. That being the case, Zack and Cloud knew too much information, and would be considered a danger to the organization.
Whichever way he looked at it, it spelled only one thing: F-U-G-I-T-I-V-E-S. That was all he and Cloud were now. They would have to go into hiding, take on new identities, forge new lives. That was assuming, of course, that Cloud would be able to recover from the Mako poisoning.
Zack ran a hand through his hair. Ironically, the best place to hide from Shinra was probably right under their noses. That made their best option one that Zack knew well, for he had dwelled in the booming metropolis for several years during his SOLDIER training. It would be easy to hide there, to become one of many faceless individuals in the downtrodden slums. Hopefully, there would be someone there with the medical skills to help Cloud, as well.
The city had many nicknames. The City on the Plate... the Floating Pizza... "that polluted scum hole..." Whatever you called it, one thing was undeniable. Midgar was a very good place to go if you didn't want to be found.
Zack set his jaw. They would stay here for a few days so that he could recover his strength, then follow the Nibel Mountain range southeast as far as possible. He wanted to stay off the plains until it was absolutely necessary to cross them, as they would be easy targets for any pursuit with nothing to take cover behind.
It would be a hard journey, made all the harder in his weakened state and with Cloud's dead weight to carry. There were mountains to climb, rivers to ford, an entire ocean to cross... Midgar was a continent and a half away, with every kind of terrain imaginable in between where they were now and where they wanted to go.
What he wouldn't give for a chocobo.
"This is gonna be tough, Cloud," he remarked out loud, turning to grimace at his silent companion. The blond youth looked slightly green; he had already been sick once on the way here. Zack hoped he would be all right.
He sat down next to his friend, putting a hand on his shoulder. "You okay, buddy?"
Zack sighed, leaning back. "Man... They really messed you up, didn't they? What did they do to us, Cloud?"
Zack bit his lip. He knew Cloud wasn't going to all of a sudden start responding to him. He was too sick for that. He'd read something once, though, about how talking to people who were ill could make them recover faster. He didn't know if there was any fact behind that... but could it hurt to try?
"So, I've decided we're going to head to Midgar, Cloud. How's that sound to you?"
"Do you think there'll be a doctor there who can help you, Cloud?"
"Say, Cloud, I don't s'pose you know a place where we can stay when we get there, eh? Or even somewhere along the way would be cool. I don't fancy camping out without a tent 'n' all."
"I'm starving Cloud, how 'bout you? You know of a town nearby where we can get some chow?"
"Wonder what my ol' mum and dad are doing right now. Heh, I haven't written to them in... years. Woops."
"Do you think we're the only ones who survived?"
"Say, about that girl, what's 'er name, Tifa... You liked her, right? Y'think she made it?"
"I wonder if Sephiroth really is dead... Dunno how you pulled it off, Cloud. Good job."
He kept talking long into the night, chattering aimlessly about whatever he could think of until his eyes felt as if someone had attached lead weights to them. Slowly, Zack drifted off to sleep, for a few hours able to forget about their troubles.
He awoke to the unpleasant sound of someone being violently sick. Sitting bolt upright, he glanced around, wincing as the resulting turn of his head aggravated his neck, stiff from sleeping sitting up against the stone wall of the cave.
Cloud was on his hands and knees a few feet away, his trembling form struggling to empty his stomach's contents. Zack hastily crawled over next to him, supporting him as green-tinted bile dribbled onto the floor. He wrinkled his nose; it looked – and smelled – strongly of Mako.
When Cloud had stopped retching, Zack helped him sit back. Cloud showed no sign of even knowing he was there; he returned to staring into space, his head lolling on his neck.
Zack forced a shrug, trying not to feel too worried. "Guess that means you're not going to be wanting breakfast, eh Cloud?" His stomach rumbled, and he grinned. "Well, I do. You gonna be okay here if I go catch something to eat?"
Zack stood. "I'll be right back, Cloud. You holler if you need anything, 'kay?" Grabbing his Buster Sword from where it leaned against the far wall, he slung it over his shoulder and strode out of the cave.
A half hour of foraging didn't turn up much. Zack grimaced down at what he had managed to scrounge, a grey, tasteless fungus that he remembered as being edible and a handful of wild roots. Really, he was lucky to have found that much. The Nibel Mountains were devoid of most plantlife, and most of the creatures were monsters, too strong for him to take on in his current condition.
Zack sighed. "Y'know, I never thought I'd ever miss field rations," he muttered to himself, before pocketing his "breakfast" to eat back at the cave.
He felt like a hunted animal as he slunk back to their temporary home, slinking from rock to rock with a white knuckled grip on his sword. Even a small skirmish could be lethal to him right now, especially if Shinra had dispatched soldiers after them already. Even before he'd undergone SOLDIER training, a half hour of scrambling over rocks wouldn't have drained his energy as this had. He hoped the effects were short-term; he would need all his strength to survive the trip to Midgar.
Zack had almost made it back to the cave when a blue blur cut right in front of him, making him fall over backward to avoid getting hit. With a few muffled curses, the ex-SOLDIER sprung to his feet, drawing his sword as he looked around for his attacker.
When no further assault came, the black-haired young man relaxed slightly, lowering the massive sword and loosening his stance. He was still searching for the whatever-it-was when a loud screech sounded from somewhere above him.
Glancing up, Zack saw a dark shape circling in the sky above. It was a Zuu, a large, temperamental, bird-like monster that dwelled on Mount Nibel and the surrounding area. Watching it circle once more and then descend to a rocky crag about fifty feet above his head, a faint idea tapped Zack on the shoulder. Grinning, he looked around for a way to make the Zuu leave its nest for a few minutes.
He was going to have eggs for breakfast.
It hadn't been easy. With no materia, he'd had to be extremely creative to find a distraction big enough to force the Zuu away from its nest. He had scaled the cliffs, careful to keep out of the creature's sight as he climbed to a point above it where he could see but not be seen. In the end, he'd had to create a small rockslide and pray that the noise wouldn't attract something unfriendly. The mini avalanche had slid down right next to the nest, causing the Zuu to leap shrieking into the air. Zack had then half run, half fell down to the nest, snatching one enormous egg from the messy pile of branches and hightailing it out of there.
He was whistling as he swaggered back to the cave, immensely pleased with himself. Cloud was sitting exactly has he had left him, the ragged rise and fall of his chest the only sign that he was a living human being instead of a corpse. Zack sat down next to him, setting his sword on the ground.
"Look at that, Cloud," he grinned, showing the other man his prize. "Wasn't easy to get. You want some?"
A gurgled moan.
Zack blinked. Was that a response, or just a coincidence?
"...Yeah, I guess you're right. You probably can't keep it down, eh? Y'know, you're gonna need to eat something eventually. Need to get your strength back." Zack grabbed his sword, puncturing the eggshell on its tip. A shame he couldn't cook it, but he didn't want a fire to catch the attention of anyone – or anything – they didn't want to meet... in other words, everyone and everything.
He sucked absently on the yellow liquid that seeped from the pale blue shell, thinking hard. "I guess..." he started, swallowing a mouthful of egg, "that we should wait a little while to see if you can get whatever's making you throw up out of your system." Nodding, he continued, "So you can miss this one meal, Cloud, but then you need to eat. We'll see how you handle lunch, okay?"
Zack waited anxiously, hoping for even another groan, but Cloud continued to gaze, unmoving, at the opposite wall. Sighing, Zack stood.
"We'll stay here for a few more days, Cloud. Then we'll go to Midgar. Okay?"
To the silence that answered him, Zack gave an angry shout and slammed his fist into the wall. Hojo... Shinra... it was all Shinra's fault. Everything was all Shinra's fault! With a despairing moan, the ex-SOLDIER turned renegade sank down to the floor and put his head in his hands, allowing himself to weep for all the evil that Shinra had done to the world.
Zack smiled into the sunlight that caressed his face. His strength had been returning rapidly ever since their escape, and though it would be awhile before his ability had come back in full, he felt sure that he would be able to handle a day of traveling.
He turned to look at Cloud. While Zack might be springing back like a chocobo on sylkis greens, Cloud's condition had remained the same. Silence broken only by a few garbled sounds, immobility save for the occasional twitch, the blond hadn't shown that he even knew he was free from the basement. At least he had stopped vomiting. That had to be something.
Zack forced his voice to be cheerful as he addressed his companion. "Today's the day, Cloud. We leave for Midgar today. You excited?"
"I am. I can't wait to get to get outta this place. I mean, 's nice cave for a visit, but I wouldn't want to live here, would you?"
"Oh, here!" Zack had almost forgotten the uniform that he had grabbed for the other man. There hadn't been a need to worry about such things until now, but they couldn't go around looking like Shinra grunts after this. "Put on this." Zack bent down and began to help his comrade into the uniform. "It smells a little, though. Don't complain," he continued to prattle on.
Stepping back to admire his handiwork, he nodded in satisfaction. "You look pretty good in with that. "Well..." He knelt down in front of the blond and pulled him onto his back. Now that he was stronger this was the best way to carry the other man. "Time to get going, pal."
Unable to stop a grin from spreading on his face at the excitement of being on the move, Zack whistled as common Shinra marching tune as he set out.
Their future lay in front of them, and he couldn't wait to face it.