This chapter has been lost no less than three times. I have lost this chapter after my computer crashed… twice. Then through another computer crash. That is 5 computers in the span of 2 years. That isn't good. I am sorry I took so long. Please accept this as an apology.

Shit is going topsy-turvy as all hell. Things will happen in this chapter that will change things. For good. The chapter jumps around a bit because it took so fucking long to write. I really am sorry if this chapter is not as well-written as the others.

Disclaimer: I, Strange and Intoxicating -rsa-, do not own, think I own, or will ever own Final Fantasy VII or its compilations. I write this because it's fun and I have no life—the end.


Chapter: The Puppet Master

The air was thin. That was the best way to describe what it felt like. There wasn't something almost intolerable about it, how it seemed to choke the life straight out of him. But Zack kept moving, because Gaia-damn it all, he damn well needed to stop.

It wasn't easy to keep moving. In fact, Zack was sure that if he stopped he would never move again. His feet would give out below him and he would lay, useless like a newborn babe on the ground. Fuck moving, a little part of him whispered. Give up.

And then it was Cloud's face in front of him, urging him forward.

Zack was not a man who gave up easily. He was not weak, even at his most insecure, his most broken.

And that was how he presented himself to the others. Back straight, file tucked into his baggage, they were going north. According to Aeris, who knew better than any other, the Northern Crater was the place they needed to go. Zack couldn't understand why it had to be the Northern Crater; there was nothing up there but rock and dust. But if Jenova had to have landed somewhere, and by all accounts, where they had originally touched down... then it made a little bit of sense.

Zack tried to remember what he was told about the north, but could only remember the children's stories about the fearsome monsters and terrible beasts. What would he find there? What would be in the North, so terrifying that even the bravest explorers would be unable to return back to the south, or those who did survive who were never the same again?

Still.

Cloud. That was the important thing.

It was always Cloud. He felt like it was an almost naive hope, like a child. But still... He was a child. Barely eighteen, even if his body was now so much older and yet eternally youthful. He had that stolen from him. Cloud had it taken, too. But now wasn't the time to pity himself. This was the time for action, for movement. Move forward, not backward.

And so, Zack guided the others North.

Gaia help them all.


There was something disturbing about the forest between life and death. He could see the sparkle of the trees in his eyes, hear the whisper of the wind through the green foliage. He even felt the tinge of the north, the smell of the dead, blank space stretched out before him for his exploration. He could even tell that the others were marvelling at the beauty that was the forest, so aptly named.

The Sleeping Forest, quiet and yet so beautiful.

Zack didn't like it one fucking bit.

They had bribed one of the locals at Bone Village for information, and someone fitting Cloud's description had already passed through. He hadn't even bothered to try to find the Lunar Harp, saying with a cold voice that Gods nor Man would stop him.

And, of course, another had traveled the same way, with silver hair and dead green eyes.

Aeris had smiled a little smile when the man had suggested they dig for the lunar harp, in a way that Zack understood to mean she knew something that no one else did. It was the small play on her lips, after having been so downtrodden, that made Zack realize that something was different about this situation.

Aeris knew something.

"Let's rent a room in the local inn," she had suggested to the team. Zack was happy to see that the others had agreed wholeheartedly with her. There was still a smattering of uncomfortable quiet between the group; they had learned something about themselves and one another. It wasn't possible to put that back in the bottle, and as his mother always told him, there was no use crying over spilled milk. They had to make due with what they had.

Zack had originally wanted to fly right over Bone Village, but according to Cid, there was no damn way he was going to be able to fly the plane all the way to the Northern Crater. It was too far, and the plane was just too fucking volatile. According to Shera, the thing was also bugged, and even with Shinra no doubt knowing their intended target, Zack didn't want them following him any more than he needed another person in his head.

And now that Cloud was... inhabited by Genesis (and Zack still could not quite understand how he had let that go without questioning, without wondering harder, but he squished the thought like a bug beneath his boot before it corrupted too much for his thoughts) Minerva only knew what Shinra would want him to do. Genesis had already killed for Rufus-fucking-Shinra. What else would he be capable, when not in his right mind? Those nasty, mako eyes...

"Do you really think we need the harp?" Vincent questioned as they all entered the largest conjoined room the group had available. He had sat down on the corner of the bed, his red cape spanning across the top coverlets without actually touching. The man positioned his clawed hand on the bed, where Aeris joined him.

There was a small paisley-covered couch across, where Yuffie had thrown herself down the minute they had entered the room. Cait was trying to talk with her, but the young girl pointedly ignored him, at one point kicking him off the couch with the back of her foot.

"Aeris, what do you think?"

Zack didn't know anything about the Lunar Harp, or much of the north. All of his training had used planes to get into the mountains, and he had been to Icicle Village only once before, a long time ago. It had been via plane, though...

"I know the way." Aeris's eyes glimmered. "I can feel something," she said as she took a deep breath in and crossed her arms, leaning against Vincent on the bed. His cloak seemed to want to swallow her whole.

"I heard from Grandpa that there is a city to the north..." Red said. Zack looked down to see his red fur. "He said that it was the city of the Cetra, but... It has been deserted for a long time. I think you might be able to pass through the forest as a guide."

Barret and Tifa said nothing, but Zack knew that it was a sign of trust on Barret's part, and on Tifa's... who knew.

"The Forgotten City." It was Vincent. "I know of this city. I think it would be best to trust Aeris."

The woman pinked in her cheeks. "I can hear them, and I think they will lead the way."

"Then we better sit down, get our chocobos in a row, so that we can save Cloud."


It was like staring into glass. So beautiful, with shining lights and a golden shimmer that gave way to the stairs. Zack could see it every time he closed his eyes, like the sun and stars shone from the ground. What was there, and why had the Cetra chosen this place, so very far north to claim as their homeland? Especially since…

He thought back to the story Aeris had told him, so long ago in that cave, when they had still felt more than affection for one another, even if his love for Cloud was already beginning to sneak into his conscious.

The mother of the planet, Minerva, had sent her youngest daughter down to Gaia. She was beautiful, like the stars she had come from…

"Why did the Cetra build this city?" Zack asked Aeris. They had decided on breaking into small groups, to cover more ground. Thankfully, phone reception was fine and they were able to freely keep in contact from one group to another. Cid, Yuffie, and Barret had headed to the west, while Cait, Tifa and Red headed east. He, Aeris and Vincent headed north, into a small area with a beautiful lake, the house large and imposing and yet delicate. It made him thing of a flower budding in the snow.

Aeris hummed, her brown braid snaking its way down her side. "I don't know," she admitted as they stared at the beautiful interior of the house. The conche shelled homes, the old relics of times long gone, the crystal lights of mako were so ethereally beautiful it almost made Zack want to cry. "I always thought they were nomadic."

Zack frowned. "But this city is very old, and it seems… important."

Aeris mimicked his expression. "I can hear them, here," she admitted.

Zack didn't like the sound of that. The last time they had contacted her, she had put him to sleep after the spirits of the earth had scared the shit out of him. Still, there was some comfort in knowing that if nothing else, the Planet was watching them. It would protect them, in some small way.

Zack turned to Vincent, who rustled with a small lever, pulling the ancient wood down. it slid something on the floor, opening a small hole in the floor. Like the shining glass inside the home, he could see a spiralling staircase of the same material.

"I think it is this way?" Vincent said, and Zack could almost see the little smirk underneath his coat. He moved out of the way for Aeris, but Zack noted that he had so very gently touched her wrist as she passed. He pretended not to see her smile, her grassy eyes widening just a little.

It would have been cute if Vincent didn't have a psychopathic beast living in his head.

Yet, his gentleness with her, so soft and attentive… had there been other circumstances, had Vincent been a man, not a monster, then perhaps things could have been different. But it was never meant to be, for him and for Aeris. No matter how much Zack wanted his sweet friend to be happy. She had waited for so long for him, but that dress in her closet was still there. She still deserved her wedding day.

He knew there was something here, because the moment he ducked under the floorboards, he knew something was different about this place. It was like how the church felt, the bright sun on his cheek like he hadn't felt in years. Even deep under ground, the mako glass glittered. It was almost blindingly bright.

But someone was here, he could feel it.

"Be careful," he said to Aeris as they slowly descended the stairs. He nodded to Vincent, who had drawn his sword. Aeris held her staff in her hands, a fierce determination like a blush across her cheeks. Maybe it was flushed from the small touch of her hand against Vincent, so chaste and pure. That was the kind of girl she was.

She deserved better.

"Should we call the others?" Aeris asked, but Zack had already begun dialling the code. They would come, they would be there for whatever they were going to meet.

They would all be together through this, because they would need everyone to save Cloud from himself.

Zack, you just need to stop him. We can figure out what to do with Genesis, but I don't think you will need to kill him.

Zack would have smacked himself in the head to keep Angeal out, if it would have worked. But he knew better. Angeal, I really dont want to talk with you right now. Let me do what needs to be done.

He could feel the rustling inside his head, and Angeal went quiet.

Even though he didn't sweat like most people, Zack felt something prickling at his neck, a moisture from the clammy humidity of the room. The further down they went, the damper the air became. They were in some sort of cave, lit by the make crystals expertly carved into delicate towers. And, before them on the dias was Cloud.

But it wasn't Cloud, not the way Zack knew him.

He was dressed in a red leather jacket and SOLDIER pants, his hair much more relaxed from its usual unkept spiky mess that Zack remembered burying his nose in, feeling it tickle him like a feather. Gone was the smile and the blue eyes still filled with some child-like ignorance that Zack had loved. His cheeks seemed more hollowed, even the way he held his body was different. Gone was his dropped shoulders and boyish stature.

This was a puppet in the body of his lover.

It could have killed Zack right there to look at that face, those freckles he had kissed, memorising like constellations in the sky.

"Zack, don't."

He knew someone had said it outloud, but he also heard himself and Angeal saying it, like a prayer. Zack. Don't.

Don't what, he didn't know.

"You came," Genesis smirked, lifting his chin, pointedly. It was strange how that look didn't fit his face any more than a smile fit Vincent's. "I was worried you would take your time."

Zack, who had his unsheathed Buster at the yield, looked at Cloud, staring at the space between his eyes. It was so much easier that way. "Get out of Cloud."

Genesis barked laugher, the sound echoing through the cave, clinking against the glass. Thankfully, there was a small bridge of rocks between Zack and the dais, between Zack and Genesis. "Stupid, foolish puppy. I want to be in this body as much as you want me to be in this body." At that, Genesis ran his hand down the supple skin of his face, down to the leather of his jacket. With Cloud, such a move would have been sensual. With this… no.

There was nothing attractive about this.

"Where is Sephiroth?"

Zack was thankful that Vincent was here. If nothing else, Vincent would keep Zack clinging to reality. Nothing like a superhuman monster to keep him aware. And Vincent was desperate for Sephiroth.

"Around." Genesis smiled, unnervingly so.

"But, the truth of the matter is, sweet puppy, you should join me up here." Genesis made a sweeping motion to the dias. "I have much to talk about with my Angeal in your head."

Don't go up there, not yet. Angeal warned.

I am not a fucking idiot.

"I don't think Angeal wants to talk with you," Zack said, finally receiving a frown from Genesis. He could feel Aeris and Vincent at his back, and took courage from that small bit of comfort. The voice inside his head said nothing.

"Oh, I know. Not yet. He and I will have much to discuss when we arrive in the Northern Crater. You are welcome to join us, but we would prefer if your friends did not. Especially your pretty little friend."

There was something in what Genesis said that left a taste of metal in Zack's mouth, and Zack heard Vincent growl, a deep sound that showed what he kept locked inside, at the ready to spring free at any time.

"Oh, looks like I hit a sore spot," Genesis tutted, and he went to take a step off the dias, onto the rocky bridge. At the last moment, he set his foot back down against the crystal. "The Cetra girl is no importance to us. She is too weak, and mother does not favour weakness." It was then Zack noticed the sword next to Genesis, a beautiful black rapier he had never seen before. He wanted to question, but said nothing… with Orios gone, of course Genesis would look for another sword.

Aeris said nothing, but Zack could not look away from Genesis to see her face. He could only imagine the frustration she felt, but she bit it back. Smart girl.

"You want to end the world, and we will stop you." Her response was strong, and so very resolute.

"We shall see."

It was at that moment Zack realised that there was something wrong. The dampness, the feeling… he felt like he was drowning.

Zack looked up to see the wave of water dropping from the sky like a tidal wave, greeting him with whites and blues.

Genesis laughed as the water flushed forward, not even a drop on his as the water slammed into Zack, Aeris and Vincent.

Zack remembered the smell wafting through the cave, the smell of sludge and desiccation. This was Jenova, a small piece of the monster, the beast that had begun all of this. Their reunion was not one Zack had wanted.

"Get out of the way!" Zack yelled as he lifted his sword to strike against a swinging tentacle, lopping it off with the side of his sword. Out came a train of black and green sludge. The monster was as ugly as it had been the first time, a morphing of Kysen Strife the only thing that could have possibly made the situation worse. But it had played that trick once before, and now it held no sway. Cloud was not here, not right now.

Zack felt the strong water gushing at his feet again, and knelt down when Vincent began a volley of bullet. When would the others be there? He needed to find Sephiroth and stop Genesis. He didn't know how, but he damn well was going to try.


The battle had raged for a few minutes, though it very well could have been a few hours, before the others rushed down the stairs. Yuffie had taken to sending her shuriken down to slash and hack, as Leviathan had done nothing against Jenova. It seemed that water against water would not work, and there was too much collateral from the water splashing against everyone at the bottom.

Shiva, who Cloud had given to Barret in the temple, had not been pleased. Zack could tell she wanted to return to her master, but she knew there was soothing wrong with Cloud, as much as Zack knew it. Instead, she spent the battle haughtily freezing anything within a close distance to Jenova, allowing Vincent and Barret to shoot off frozen chunks of the body. Tifa, Red, and Cait Sith had taken to burning the pieces as they flew off so they could not return to the whole.

Cid had taken a closer-range approach with Aeris, but Zack had other things he needed to take care of.

He separated himself from the fight, inching forward toward Genesis. He was working on his feet, no plans. Shotgun the damn thing, whatever he could do. There was no talking to Genesis. It would be better to knock him unconscious and then deal with the consequences later, when they had time to think. Sephiroth was nothing but a bundle of anger and blood. He followed orders half the time, and the other half of the time stared listlessly into the sky.

But Genesis was smart, and in Cloud's body. It was a strong body, full of mako and Jenova. It wouldn't go down without a fight. And, the lingering reminder that in there, hidden deep under Genesis, Cloud was there… Nestled and hidden but there.

"Genesis, you need to think." Genesis was a smart man, and arrogant to a fault. Could Zack tap into that, reach into him and get him to listen? Maybe not. But, he needed to try. "Minerva is the Goddess you believe in, and all that crap, right? You and Sephiroth aren't thinking the same way. And you do not want to end the world."

Genesis scoffed. "Do not presume to tell me what I will or will not do, Fair. You are a fetus who can barely wipe the drool from your quivering lips." There was anger there, deep contempt.

"Cloud did nothing to you, you can leave him out of this. He is innocent here," Zack said, but knew it would do no good. Genesis did not care about what was right or good or innocent.

These words gained contempt from Genesis, and he spit into the water, putting his foot on the bridge. He reached for his black rapier and snarled, teeth showing. "Let me remind you, puppy, that you killed my lover. It would only be fair to do the same to yours." He unsheathed the rapier and ran the cold black metal against the inside of his wrist. Blood bloomed from the wound and Genesis held it up, letting the blood drip down onto his boots and into the watery grave below.

"You know I loved Angeal, too." Zack watched the blood drip down, each little rivulet reminding Zack that Genesis couldn't kill Cloud. Not yet. They weren't at the Northern Crater. They still had time.

"Did you want to fuck him, too?" Genesis spit. His green eyes were like a burning poison.

Zack shook his head. "Angeal is like a brother to me, a father even."

"Is." Genesis said the word, "I want to speak with him."

Zack tried to tell him no, that he damn well couldn't talk to Angeal right now, but he was suddenly overcome with a feeling of choking, of being under a spell where he could no longer breathe out of his mouth, where he felt his grip loosen on his sword, yet it never moved an inch.

It this was what Cloud felt, he would move the minute Angela let go to help him. If he had to tie Genesis to the fucking dias, so be it.

"Genesis."


Out of all the things Zack thought he would be doing today, he did not think that allowing Angeal to possess him and have a heart-to-heart with the man holding his lover hostage would be in the schedule.

Genesis walked down the step, each movement deliberate. He allowed the tip of rapier to drag against the rock, creating a squealing sound that reverberated through the chamber. The others were too busy to pay attention, hands and weapons too enthralled with Jenova to mind.

"You…" Genesis said, his eyes taking in every inch of Zack, green eyes staring deep as they could. "You would rather die than live."

"I was a monster, Genesis. We were monsters." It was strange, feeling his lips move and hearing his own voice, but having no control. "You know that. We needed to be stopped."

"But you said you would never leave my side, and then you abandoned me. You left this world, and left me with nothing."

In another time, long ago, he would have felt pity of Genesis. He had once had so much pity, two little boys who were used by science… no, three little boys.

But they had chosen their fates.

Better to die a human than live as a monster.

"Genesis, you need to stop this. This is foolish, and you know She can not help."

Genesis held up his hand as he stepped down another stone. "I have heard her voice, Angeal. You have not. You do not know what she has foretold. We are her warriors. The wanderer, the Hero, the Prisoner. We are parts of her masterpiece. Fate has held the world together, She has bestowed this honor to us. We are meant to bring about World's End. We are meant to give this planet back to the Goddess. She guides us to bliss, her gift everlasting."

"Yes, her gift is everlasting. The lifestream. Her gift is the lifestream. We are dead," Angeal said, his voice growing quiet. The super SOLDIER would still have no trouble hearing, even against the backdrop of a bloody war. "Our gift is there, in the lifestream. We can be with one another, with no fear or reprisal. We will be free."

Genesis shook his head, his blond hair whipping against his forehead. "Our story is not complete. We must finish the story, so that She may be free. We must free her from her dark cell. They have put her in chains, and we must break them."

"That is ridiculous, Genesis. You were always a hero, but there is no fate. Minerva may exist, but she is not Jenova. What you are chasing is a monster, and you are not allowing yourself to find peace. Please," Zack felt his throat tighten, his tears welling despite himself, "please. Just… please, stop this. Let us both be free."

Genesis's cold exterior seemed to crack, and the cold green eyes dulled. "Angeal, She needs us to protect Her. We are her sword and shield. You will join us, you must join us. We must break the chains of fate. We must free Her."

Genesis was close now, so close that if Zack reached out, he would be able to touch Genesis, touch Cloud. And it seemed Angeal was in agreement, because his hand raised to cup Genesis's cheek. The blond closed his eyes for only a moment, like giving into temptation, taking a bite of the sweet Banora apples. Zack could almost taste it on his tongue.

Genesis stepped off the final stone, reaching his own hand to touch Angeal. Even with their weapons drawn, their hands touched, traced, like lovers who had not touched in so long. But Zack did not want this, he wanted his Cloud, warm and honest and funny Cloud. Genesis was standing in his way, preventing him from what he needed to do, who he needed to protect.

"Not yet," Genesis purred. "We haven't seen the best part."

Zack did not understand what Genesis meant.

It was then he heard it, the shattering of the glass.

Angeal turned his head, and Zack watched as Jenova burned, the last life leaving it as the black sludge seeped into the glass. It was cracking like a spiderweb under their feet, filling with her mako-tinged blood.

And then he saw it, or him. Gliding down the stairs, his sword dragging against the beautiful mako glass. His long hair seemed to glow in the pale light.

The others were transfixed to their spots, unable to move. Zack did not understand—why were they not moving? It seemed they were barely even breathing. Even the summons seemed lulled into a trance, as though the glass beneath their feet was both shattering and splintering, as though even the world stopped turning.

Zack realized then the only person still moving was Aeris. She should have been panting, breathing heavily from the exertion of her fight, but it was like before in the Temple of the Ancients, when Zack had watched the wind pick up her hair, when the others had opened her mouth and spoken through her, to him.

She said nothing as Sephiroth stepped forward, though her hair twined around and around, her eyes growing even brighter. Aeris looked like the Goddess herself, and in that moment, Zack feared her.

"You have no business here. You are a shallow mimicry of Mother." Sephiroth did not smile, he did not anger.

"You do not know what I am, or what you are," she spit. Aeris looked angry, no… righteous. Was there something in her, too? "You will not win."

Zack felt Genesis drop his hand and move, but he could do nothing to stop him as Sephiroth continued to walk, Aeris continued to stare, as her hand moved to her hair. She pulled out her bow, and Zack saw the flash of glowing green, the pink bow he had given her so long ago tied in her hand. He noticed something else there, a red ribbon of lace, but he could only give it a short glance, as Angeal forced him to follow Genesis.

Genesis smiled wide and dropped his sword at her feet. "Oh, Dear Cetra. I will not stab you today."

It seemed for a moment he would bow a knee to her, but Zack watched with horror as he reached forward and grabbed her by the hair. Aeris began to scream, and it seemed that whatever spell the others were under was beginning to break.

But it was too late.

Genesis smiled in the middle of the cracking ground, hand entwined in Aeris's hair. In a swift movement, a small, thin knife slipped into his hand. Zack watched with horror as Genesis lifted her head, pale neck glimmering in the light.

"Don't, Cloud!" Zack realized his mouth was working, he was able to move his body again, his feet felt firm below him, but he could only watch as Genesis drew the knife against Aeris's throat, her pink dress blotting with blood. Out like a crimson gush, like a river of life. Her blood splashed against Cloud's face, and in that moment, it was Cloud again, holding the knife against Aeris's throat, the warm blood splattered against his cheeks, and it was his blue eyes that widened in horror as Aeris thrashed against him.

Vincent let out a guttural sound, a sound that was of death and pain and such sorrow, and Zack could only drop to his knees and watch as Aeris and Cloud went down, Cloud dropping the knife and holding on to Aeris, eyes wide and the blood dripping down his pale cheeks.

"No, no, no."

Zack reached for his cure, for his potions. He dropped his sword, cast his strongest spell toward Aeris, her limp body shuddering against the ground. He could see the others doing the same, all except Cloud, who sat stiller than a corpse (oh Gaia, please don't let her be dead, please don't let her be dead) and Vincent, who had allowed his demon free. Zack couldn't even tell which one it was. He couldn't look away from her, the blood spurting out of her neck. Her hands curling as she tried to grab for something.

Her hand finally met Cloud's, and her grip was so weak, Zack could see it was no stronger than a kitten.

When he had lived in Gongaga, Zack had been taught how to hunt. How to slit a throat properly and efficiently. There was a method to it, to draw down deep and long enough to cut through the jugular and the carotid artery. It was a fast death, and the animal bled out quickly.

The same principle applied for humans. When you wanted to kill quickly, you had to cut through both. Otherwise, the death wound be from loss of oxygen, rather than loss of blood.

It could take minutes to fade away, for the heart to stop and for the body to begin to cool. The body would pump out so much blood, a pool of blood that one could so easily drown in. But that blood was on Cloud, dripping down his cheeks, down his red jacket.. Cloud sat there in her blood as she bled out in his arms.

She looked like Kysen Strife, like a nightmare from so long ago.

Zack had rushed forward with an Elixir, pouring the entire contents down her throat. He watched some of the sickly blue liquid poured out of the wound in her throat, and spells… so many spells. The blood was so thick, so red. And she was so pale, her face while, her lips turning so blue. It wasn't the pretty blue of the sky he promised to show her. This was the icy blue of death. This was winter, and he had fucking promised her spring.

There was a commotion in the background, but Zack couldn't spare a glance. He had cast his second spell, then third, casting with so much power the ball cracked in his hand. He knew not to overdo it, but fuck overdoing it. This was Aeris.

This was Aeris.

Zack wiped a little of the blood from her throat and stared into her eyes, glassy and dull, so much duller than they ever should have been. She was breathing in small, shuddering breaths, but Zack didn't know. He didn't know.

Sound had gone fuzzy, but he could see Cloud's lips moving. He couldn't even look at Cloud, he needed to get Cloud away from Aeris. He needed to take her away from him, move him somewhere safe. Genesis was not safe. Cloud was not safe.

"Help me," Zack said, hoping someone would hear him. It was all a blur, someone had grabbed Cloud and pulled him up and away the minute Zack extracted Aeris from his grasp.

"You… you can't die on me, Aer," Zack said, though his voice cracked. What a big, bad SOLDIER. He could only hold her and her bleeding wound, her pink dress dyed with blood. "You need to get married. You need to have babies and live your happily ever after." Zack tried to keep the tears from slipping from his eyes as he cast another spell, the materia beginning to turn to powder in his hand. She was still grasping something in one hand, the other feebly grabbing for something. He had taken away Cloud, but he couldn't give her his own hand.

"Someone… hold her hand." He needed to pour more Elixir. He needed more fucking Elixir.

"Elixir," Zack managed, but did no one have another fucking Elixir? He needed the wound to close.

Zack dropped the empty Elixir bottle and put his hand over the wound in her neck. The blood was starting to stop, but he wasn't sure if it was because it was beginning to heal or because she was…

I need more fucking Elixir.

This was his job, he was a good SOLDIER. He had done triage. He could do this. but it was so deep and it was Aeris, and her brown hair seemed duller now than before and —

"Zack, Zack."

He wasn't going to stop. No one could tell him to stop.

Someone opened his materia hand and put something else inside, but he couldn't look. He just cast. Again, and again, and again. Aeris was better at healing spells, but he was the strongest. He needed to fix this. "Elixir. I need a fucking ELIXIR."

Someone rummaged through their bag—was it Yuffie? He didn't know. But there was something in his hand and it was warm and blue and he poured it on her so blue lips and against her throat, and he could see the jagged pink tissues as they slowly knitted themselves back together. The veins and the arteries and whatever else was there, they were coming back together, slowly. The blood was stopping, and Aeris closed her eyes and sighed.

"She… she…"

"She's sleeping… she is only sleeping."

Zack watched the wound, the skin meeting and growing, her air flow increasing. He watched as she took a deep breath, and then another, and another. Her entire body shook, but…

It was the shaking of life.


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