Well, this was inspired by Crisis Core and my love of a 'true hero' who should have never died. First, I would like to note that, because this is AU, many things will be different such as: Zack, obviously, has never died and because of that, Cloud never had his "Zack Persona." I'm not going to ignore Zack in FFVII missions/events, nor am I going to have him do everything. Everything'll be nice and divided! I would also like to remind people that I have two currently active stories, so, please do not complain about lack of updates.

I will not update unless I want to. I will not update out of obligation. The first chapter, this, is gonna be kinda choppy because I'm practically pulling things out of a hat to explain how Zack doesn't die... and I threw in some medical terms to make it seem legit. After this, everything should run more smoothly.

Review, review, review! I wanna know how people'll take this! (PS: There will be unmarked spoilers for Crisis Core.)

Disclaimer: Really, it is obvious I own nothing. Square-Enix/Soft owns everything. Except this written text/plot.

"Boy, oh boy. The price of freedom is really steep."
Zack Fair, Crisis Core.

- - - - -

The sky had been darkening for the better part of the entire day. Grey, heavy looking clouds hung on the horizon and rain seemed likely. The wind rose, sweeping warm, moist air onto the battlefield. Thunder crashed and lightning flickered across the sky. Then, at long last, the first few rain drops fell, mingling with the blood on the soldier's face.

Zack Fair winced as a rain drop struck his wounds. Sprawled out on the hard dirt of the cliff top with more than his fair share of bullet wounds in his chest and legs, he began to bleed to death. The sky finally opened, releasing several large drops a millisecond. He grunted in pain and gripped the hilt of the Buster Sword tightly in his hand. He heard shuffling and dragging and for a brief, terror filled moment, he was sure a soldier had stayed behind and was dragging the corpse of his friend to him. His fears faded when he saw the blond head of a very alive Cloud Strife.

Cloud seemed to have woken up from his coma-like state—barely. His eyes were still unfocused as he crawled on his hands and knees towards Zack. He knelt beside him, staring down at him uncomprehendingly.

"You're okay," Zack whispered, teeth clenched in pain. "That's good. I'm glad." The only response from Cloud was a slight inclination of the head. He forced a smile even as he tasted blood in his mouth.

"Zack..." Realization began to break through the haze of the mako poisoning as he said the name. Cloud began to focus on Zack's face.

Giving a short, mirthless laugh, Zack shut his eyes tightly for a brief moment. "My part... until now," he said, hissing as his ribs brushed against a bullet still lodged in his chest.

Cloud blinked and tried to push the fog away from his mind. "Your part?" He repeated.

He smiled. "That's right." Good, he thought. Cloud would be okay. He was waking up. "You are..." The black haired SOLDIER stopped, the pain wracking his body. He drew in several short, quick breaths to force the panic to pass.

"You are...?" Cloud's face screwed up slightly. This man, Zack, was important and something was happening. What, though?!

Slowly, Zack reached up and placed his hand on the back of Cloud's neck. He forced the blond to bend over in a final embrace. "Live," he commanded. "You are the evidence that I lived," he explained. As Cloud pulled back, his blood on his cheek, Zack pulled the Buster Sword over and handed the sword to Cloud by the hilt. "My pride and my dreams..." He smiled. "I'm giving them to you." His eyes closed.

"The evidence that you..." Cloud's eyes widened, "lived." The evidence that you lived! No! The haze was gone and forgotten as was the Buster Sword as he gasped and leaned over Zack. "No," he gasped. "No, no, Zack!" He cried and shook the fallen SOLDIER. No response. Almost fearfully, he pulled his glove off and pressed the index and middle fingers against Zack's neck, checking his main artery for a pulse. Weak, fading, but there. Good, but, he had no time to waste.

Tearing Zack's jacket and shirt off, he stared wide eyed at the massive damaged. It looked like at least twenty bullets penetrated Zack's chest and torso. Cloud felt his mouth grow dry, but, he ignored it and practically dove into Zack's pant pockets for restore materia or some x-potions. He fished around for several painful moments before his bare fingers came in contact with a small rock. Cloud uttered a quick, thankful prayer to whomever would listen and pulled it out, examining it. Shit, he thought. Zack grabbed a new born materia. The thing barely has level one!

Cloud inhaled, focused, and aimed directly at the bullet wounds. He casted the spell and watched as the blood flow slowed. Okay, so, the bullets were still in, but, they can't cause any more damage unless one managed to get into the arteries which, hopefully, wouldn't happen. Cloud was extremely thankful for the medical training he received in Shinra's Soldier program—one of the things he actually passed with flying colours!

He casted another spell and the blood flow stopped entirely. The blond flinched as his energy was sapped, but pushed it away and casted another one. The wounds began to slowly close. "Okay," he said to himself, casting a final spell before shoving the materia into his pants pocket. Reaching over, he grabbed Zack's bag of items and searched through it for a High-Potion or an ether. Luckily, he found both, though, the ether was only half full. "Cheapskate," he mumbled to Zack before downing the liquid and unscrewed the potion. He threw the cap to the side and carefully opened Zack's mouth, upturning the bottle and spilling the liquid in.

Zack's throat automatically tried to force it out of him before he drowned, but, with Cloud's coaxing, eventually swallowed it. The Potion went to work immediately as the body absorbed it, swimming through Zack's veins and healing some of the internal wounds as it made its way to Zack's heart. The potion wrapped itself around the organ, relieving the stress and helped it produce more blood than it normally would. After several long, almost agonizing minutes, Zack's colour darkened.

Cloud gave a sharp sigh of relief. Despite the fact that he stabilized him, Zack was still in critical condition. He turned his gaze towards the edge of the cliff and beyond. Through the haze of the down pour, Midgar loomed on the horizon only about a mile and a half away. He winced outwardly. Great. Zack was gonna die if he didn't get him to a proper doctor soon and he was still weakened from both the mako poisoning and the multi-casting.

He turned to Zack and pulled the materia out. He casted a quick cure to help the blood producing process out and dropped it back into his pocket. Cloud stood, wincing as the blood rushed to his feet and bent down, grabbing Zack by the arm and hoisting him up. Startled by the weight and his weakness, Cloud swore profusely as for a split second he was sure he was going to fall over onto Zack. He fear was unneeded as he remained upright, wrapping Zack's around around his shoulders securely with one of his gripping the arm and another wrapped around Zack's waist.

A pause. He shifted his gaze to the sword he had forgotten. No, he couldn't just leave it. Zack had told him it was a gift from someone important and, thus, it was important enough to take with. Cloud shifted Zack's weight and carefully bent down, grabbing the sword by the hilt and fitted it into the harness behind his back. All Soldier uniforms had a harness for weapons and, thankfully, his was no exception.

He took a couple seconds to get used to the weight before he nodded faintly and turned around, practically dragging the soldier and himself across the cliff top. Cloud paused for a second as he passed the large bolder that had kept him hidden from view, blue eyes widening. Holy... The bodies of at least a hundred soldiers lay sprawled out on the hard dirt, some slashed with a sword, other probably caught in the cross fire. Some lay on their fallen comrades, others out in the open or propped up against the rocks as they bled to death. The falling rain caused the blood and dirt to mingle in a giant puddle of death and earth.

Cloud frowned as he felt himself give some sort of pity for them. No, if they hadn't come after Zack and himself, they would have never had died. In this sort of situation, it's fight or fall. Them or you. Zack chose to go down fighting. He chose to die—

But, Zack wasn't dead. Not if Cloud had anything to say about it.

Swallowing hard, Cloud walked right on by the corpses.

- - - - -

He had been walking for an hour. It must have been and he had covered 3/4th the distance. The cliff top and the blood and the bodies and the fear had faded from his mind as he approached the massive city. Cloud Strife's boots had taken quite a bit of damage from the sharp rocks across the wasteland as did his pant legs, but, that was it. He, however, felt the strain of his own weakness and the added weight of Zack and the Buster Sword. Sooner or later, he'd have to take a break and Zack couldn't afford it.

Every now and then, Cloud allowed himself to spare a glance for the land. It was completely barren save for the few almost dead shrubs that refused to die from the mako pollution in the air and ground. He found himself, amusingly, hoping that Zack was like that shrub. Dying, but, still holding on. God, please, Zack, Cloud found himself praying, please don't die.

After at least an hour and a half, Cloud found himself mercifully at the entrance of Sector Seven's slum. Thankfully, the gate was open halfway and he only had to kick it to open it completely, pushing it aside with his shoulder when it bounced against the wall and came back. He stepped into the outskirt of the slums and looked up. The massive plate above him loomed ominously and he coughed from the sudden smog from the city. Cloud shook his head, blond spikes falling pathetically and he continued on.

He had been in the slums once before for a small mission—something to small he had forgotten about it almost right after. If memory served, it must have been in sector four... or three. Whatever. He wasn't familiar with this sector. Cloud glanced to his left at Zack's pained, pale face. Yea, he wasn't familiar, but, it didn't matter as long as he could get to a hospital for Zack. The rain must not have helped with the recovery because it seemed that Zack's temperature and colour had dimmed under the hour and a half long assault from the rain. It seemed a miracle that he was alive at all!

As he entered the proper area of the slums, right beside the train station according to a sign at his right, he felt exhaustion grip him. Cloud winced visibly at each step, but forced himself to continue. He could not—would not—stop. Zack had brought his comatose ass from half way across the world, he would be damned if he couldn't be the one to make it the last few steps!

Since the Midgar Slums were below the plate, rain didn't soak him and he was grateful for that reprieve. His and Zack's clothes seemed to be drying in the protection. Zack's temperature seemed to be raising, almost too quickly and Cloud was worried he would catch a fever or if he had gotten an infection already. The restore materia had stopped the blood loss and closed the wound some, but, some bacteria could have gotten in and potions only helped with internal damage and help replenish blood. Speaking of—

Once Cloud got well into the train station, he practically dropped Zack at the bottom of the stairs. He started when he realized he never put Zack's shirt back on! He sighed, rubbing his glove-free hand through his spikes. "Shit," he swore softly and removed his own jacket. His lips almost quirked into a smile at a memory that flickered across his mind. "It smells weird, and it has blood on it, but don't complain," he teased to his friend as he shoved Zack's arms through the holes. He lifted Zack up and made sure the jacket was on correctly.

For the third time that day, he pulled the restore materia out of the pocket in his pants and activated it, aiming for the more serious wounds on Zack. He yawned when the faint light covered Zack, seeping into the bullet wounds. "Right," he said through another yawn and searched for another high potion. He unscrewed it and dumped the contents in Zack's mouth again, repeating the same process as he did on the cliff top. Zack's cheeks darkened again and his temperature leveled out to somewhere between normal and fever.

When a hand fell on Cloud's shoulder, he half reached for the Buster Sword before he turned around, startling the train conductor with his almost feral glare.

"Jeez, kid!" The man gasped, stepped back and placing a hand on his chest. "Don't scare me like that," he said, laughing nervously. Cloud blinked, dropping his hand to his lap. "He okay?" He asked, gesturing towards Zack with his flashlight.

"No," Cloud began, turning away from the man and leaning down, zipping the zipper of Zack's jacket up. "No, he's really hurt. I need to get him to a doctor. One who'll keep quiet about things." He tried to stand but fell right back to the stairs in surprise. He could barely lift himself let alone another man! He groaned loudly. "Shit!"

The man paused. "Okay, hold on! I have a friend who'll take care of you and keep it private. No need to—oh! Speaking of! There she is!" The man turned his flash light on and waved frantically in the air. "Tifa!" He cried. "Tifa, over here! I have some people who need help!"

Tifa? Cloud blinked in surprise as the busty teenager—no, woman, Cloud. You and Zack were locked up for almost five years—came into view. "Tifa?" He murmured. Good. She hated Shinra almost more than he did, so, she was safe to be around. "Tifa," he repeated.

The woman blinked in surprise and recognition. She knew that hair anywhere! "Cloud!" She gasped, dropping her grocery bag onto the pavement and dropped to her knees beside him. "Cloud?! What are you doing here!? Wha—" She trailed off as her eyes met Zack's limp body. "What happened?" She gasped, leaning over to Zack. Two healing bullet wounds shoved above the jacket's neck. "Cloud, what..." She stopped. Cloud's eyes were closed. "Cloud?" Panic swam in her. He was barely moving.

"Nn, doctor... Secret... Zack needs... help..." Cloud yawned. "Please, Tifa... help him..."

She nodded. "Okay. Martin," she turned to the conductor, "please hurry and get Barret and Biggs!" When he nodded and rushed off towards Seventh Heaven, she turned back to Cloud and brushed the spikes of blond hair from his face. "Cloud," she whispered, "what on earth happened to you two?"

- - - - -

Zack faded in and out of consciousness. He was barely aware of the pain in his chest and arms. He could barely breathe, but he did catch little pieces of conversations that were taking place above him.

"...The... fucking SOLDIER..."

"...what the hell happened?"

"...internal injuries... massive blood loss..."

"...field treatment. Shocked... alive..."

"...let 'im die!"

"...doctor, don't care 'bout who patients... are..."

"He's waking up!"

He winced and groaned loudly. Feeling came back and he forced an eye open. Blinding white light assaulted his senses and he cried out. He felt weightless and, if he wasn't for the horrible pain in his body, he would have been sure he had died. The light faded into blurry images that, too, eventually faded into faces. An older man, roughly 50ish with graying hair and a mustache stared down at him from behind glasses.

"Glad to see you're awake," the man said.

"Uh, wha?" Zack said oh-so-very-eloquently.

The man smirked. "Don't rush things. Do you know where you are?"

Zack winced as he looked around. A bed, a machine that seemed older than he was, a saline bag and two blood bags, one full and the other 3/4th's empty. He blinked and looked at both of his arms. One was hooked up to the saline and the other was hooked up to the blood. He groaned softly. "Assumin' hospital." He slowly sat up with some help from the doctor. "Which brings me to the question, how am I alive?"

"You know what," the doctor began, eyes sparkling in excitement, "I'm not really sure. It's obvious you are, or were, a SOLDIER, so, I'm assuming from the high tolerance of pain and all of the training and mako your body has been through." He sighed wistfully. "Wish I knew exactly why. Oh, right. Anyway. The young man with the weird hair brought you in and—"

"Weird hair?" Zack cut in, alarmed. "Blond? Cloud? Cloud's here? Is he okay—?"

The doctor threw his head back and laughed. "Yes, yes. Cloud, that's what the young lady said. Yes, he's here. He's in the shower. You two have been in here for a week! He slept for about three days—uninjured but exhausted," he added at Zack's alarmed expression. "He should be getting out soon, so... Might I ask you a couple questions?"

The black haired SOLDIER winced. "No, please... I just want to, I dunno... I need to sort it out myself," he sighed, running his hands through his oily hair. He paused and glanced down. Several squares of gauze was taped to his chest. He blinked and looked up at the doctor. "Er... so, how's my condition?"

With a sigh, the doctor sat down on a stool beside the bed. "Well, let's see... You were brought to me with about ten bullets in your chest and even more that went through you. I removed them all and treated your internal and external wounds. If it wasn't for, er, Cloud, you would have died. He used a lot of cure spells on you and a couple high potions. Poor guy collapsed at the train station."

"Wait, train station? Where are we?"

"Oh, right. This is the Sector Seven Slum hospital and I am doctor Henry Walker. Pleased to meet you...?" He paused politely for Zack's name.

Zack blinked. "Oh, um. Zack Fair. Nice to meet ya, I guess... Bad circumstances." He smiled.

Dr. Walker blinked in surprise. It wasn't as though Zack's eyes grew brighter, but it seemed like his facial expressions caused them to seem that. He chuckled softly. Mako and SOLDIER's were odd. "You can say that again."

Both Dr. Walker and Zack jumped in surprise when a fist pounded on the door. "Yo! Open the fuck up!"

With a groan, Dr. Walker gave Zack an apologetic smile. "Warning: this man is always angry. Hold onto your bed." He walked over and unlocked the door, turning the handle and opened it. "Hello, Barret, how are you?" He asked sarcastically.

Barret, a large black man with a grafted gun on his arm, glared down at the man. "Big bad SOLDIER man awake yet?"

"Er, yes, of course. Who wouldn't be awake when you punch the door?" Dr. Walker smiled sweetly, almost sadistically from the sheer force of will it took to keep a scowl off his face. He stepped aside and allowed Barret to walk in.

He walked straight over to Zack and glared down at him. "So, what do ya hafta say for yourself?" He snarled and Zack had a flashback to his boot camp instructor.

"Uh... hi?" Zack blinked.

Barret blinked as well before covering his surprise up with a glare. "You, are you here to infiltrate AVALANCHE for Shinra?"

Zack groaned, doubling over and covering his head with his hands. "I don't even know what AVALANCHE is, I haven't been a SOLDIER in five years. I'd love to give you a grand explanation, but, I think I'm gonna hurl all over your boots."

Dr. Walker seemed to notice that he wasn't bluffing and snatched a basin from a shelf in the corner of the room and shoved it in Zack's hands right before the now ex-SOLDIER vomited. Thankfully, it landed neatly into the basin.

"Ugh," Zack groaned after he heaved every single drop of bile out of his system into the round metal bowl. "Oh, how depressing, there's nothing in me..."

The doctor smiled. "How about I get you something to eat, hm?" At Zack's nod, he turned and left the room, dragging Barret behind him when he heard Zack dry heaving. He liked that man and figured he deserved some privacy.

"Is he awake?" A voice to his right asked. Dr. Walker blinked and turned to see Cloud Strife in a pair of sweat pants and a white shirt drying his hair with a towel.

"Yes, but, he's currently trying to turn his stomach inside out," the doctor said, smirking at Cloud's expression of disgust. "As soon as we get some food into him, I'll let you talk to him. Okay?"

Cloud nodded and turned back around, disappearing into his own hospital room.

With a deep sigh, Dr. Walker marched down the stairs and, startling a couple patients out of the way with the intent of physical harm if they didn't move, began to prepare some food for his new patient.