Disclaimer: Square-Enix has the copyright for all characters and settings, and I poor little me only have this story's plot! Any resemblance to any other stories in this universe is merely coincidence.


Pairing: CloudxZack, ZackxAerith, TifaxCloud (Tifa one-sided. Oh yeah, Tifa always had crush on Cloud)


I think I need to make proper announcement, though it affected (and involved) mostly (or maybe 'only') me. TsumeLover666 can't be my beta anymore due to school and life problems, so, sadly, I have to release her from beta-ing my story.

Then, I have a new beta, namely Neko Ninja Hezza!!! Well, through this announcement I would like to thank her for her willingness to take the job.

Lastly, I would like to thank everyone for supporting me so far although I'm easily bored and tend to drop stories! But I will never drop it as long as I know that there are people waiting and reading my story!! I know it sounds like I indirectly force the reader to drop review, but I honestly relieved and happy when there are reviews. After all, what's the point of writing if no one's expecting it...right?

Again, I'm so sorry for being late. I was moving out from old house & job. Plus with new stuff to buy & arrange, and then I needed time to adapt...the total is like...a month or so? Sooo sorryyyy -deep bow-

And so, I was feeling blue when writing this, so please pardon the angsty-ness

EDITED: SeireiNightlord05 pointed out I make mistakes in Red's name. It's supposed to be Nanaki and I write it Nanase. My fault. Sorry. And fixed! Candies to SeireiNightlord05

Story 23:Blank

Zack's POV

"Aerith!" I run toward the girl as I saw her came out from the ruin. The girl gave a small wave and grin. "You alright?" I asked while checking for any physical damage. When I found none, I sighed in relief.

"Calm down, Nanaki isn't going to hurt me, right, Nanaki?" The Ancient girl turned around.

From the entrance of the ruin, a red lion-like beast came out, walking gracefully as it evaded the piles of rubble. "You can call me Red XIII, if you want to," The beast said. It was sitting non-nonchalantly beside the auburn haired girl.

"No way, your real name is Nanaki, so, I will call you that! Besides, Red XIII is hard to spell," The Ancient girl replied casually.

Aerith had always been better than me when it came to befriending people, but the extent of her social skills simply amazes me. Who would have thought 'that' creature was going to be so overly-friendly with her. Correction, Aerith was being over-friendly with 'that' and 'that' didn't mind her intrusion. I could only shook my head as the beast called 'Nanaki', according to Aerith, or 'Red XIII', according to the owner of the name, replied the last Ancient's question.

"...your choice," Nanaki's tone was low and kind of like a 30 or 40 years old man's voice. I wondered how old is...'he'? Nanaki should be a 'he' since his voice was heavy.

"Okay...Nanaki; I'm Zack, nice to meet'cha."

"I have known all of you. Besides, I needed to go back now or grandpa will start worrying," the red beast walked away coolly, leaving us staring wonder at him.

"What did Nanaki want with you?" I purposely walked slower and asked the auburn haired girl on our way back to the village. I had a feeling they were talking something important and definitely didn't want the others to know.

After Nanaki left, some of us, excluding me and Cloud, tried to get anything out from the Ancient girl, but, so far, none succeeded. Asking her for answer was like testing your luck. Her lips were sealed, tight. I just hope she wouldn't threw me the 'do-not-bother-to-ask' smile cause that was what made the others fell silent and refrained from asking.

"Hmm...Just stuff," she shrugged non-nonchalantly.

Following her from the corner of my eyes, I just realized, the girl wasn't simply evading the question or refusing to answer. She seemed to be deeply thinking. Possibly, she didn't want the others to ask because she, herself, wasn't sure of the answer. She hadn't understood everything yet and considering her personality, she didn't want her lack of understanding caused misunderstanding in the future.

"What are you thinking?" I decided to voice my thought.

The benevolent girl didn't turn to look at me immediately. Instead, she looked forward and made sure everyone else didn't aware of our conversation. I did the same. When I was sure, it was safe to talk again; I turned slightly and met her gaze. Her jade eyes held the most alien expression ever since I knew her.

We were staring at each other for a few seconds and in that moments, we stopped walking. No one seemed to notice us.

"How much do you know about Cloud, Zack?" She turned her head elegantly and continued walking. Following her, I found myself walking slowly beside her again.

"Not much. He refused to tell me anything," I sighed. "But, he promised to tell me after this."

The girl stopped again, but this time instead of turning her head, she just stared at her feet, hand raised to her chin. Again, she fell into deep thought. "What did you find in that lab?" This time, her eyes were fixed strongly at me. "I'll tell you what Nanaki told me if you show me those papers you took," Mischievous grin had replaced the serious look she previously had. I couldn't help myself but chuckle at her quick transformation. She was simply amazing.

"Deal." I took out the crumpled papers hidden in my pocket and handed them to her.

The papers were even more crumpled than before. Some of the writing was illegible, but overall, it wasn't that hard to read and understand what was written down. The last Ancient quickly scanned through the papers without properly reading it, and when she reached the last paper, she looked at me for confirmation. I immediately caught what she wanted to ask, so I just nodded my head. With my agreement, she folded the papers neatly and placed them inside her pocket.

"Thanks. About my deal," She started walking again. "We talked about Cloud, of course."

"...Elaboration, please?"

"Em...well, honestly, I can't tell you much if Cloud hasn't told you anything yet," the Ancient sighed. "But, you can ask me again after that, and I promise I will spill everything."

Nodding absentmindedly, we continued to walk, slow, but faster than before. We were falling quite far from the others, but currently, none of that matters. Both of us were so immersed in our own world of tangled strings. I was thinking so hard to entangle our strings of problems, yet, no solution was found. I got a feeling that this mess would get very ugly soon.

Putting all the available facts weren't all that difficult. The pieces had been arranged, but so many missing pieces had caused this whole mess. First of all, why has all of this happened? Thinking back about the past, maybe it started because of me. I was weak. I couldn't protect myself, let alone others. Yet, I forced myself to protect the one I held precious in my heart. It was worth the sacrifice, of course, but that feeling was selfish. I was thinking in my own point of view. I did that for my own satisfaction. I said I was happy to be able to protect him, but I didn't care about his feelings. I saw him crying before my consciousness fade, I noted the grief in those blue orbs. I regretted ever making him sad, yet, at the same time, I was happy. I knew he cared for me, that was why he cried and that also why I felt warm. Selfish, I know, but if I didn't follow my selfishness at that time, what would become of us? The boy would survive, maybe bearing guilt throughout his life because that was how he was. Reality was cruel. I didn't die. I knew survival was thin at that time, so I wasn't hoping much, but then, how in the world did I survive?

Putting two and two together wasn't all that hard. The answer to the question was 'Cloud'. I didn't know how, I just knew. Whatever he did, that brought me back from hell. Consequences followed definitely. The price for a life is another life. This world wasn't fair, but the law of equivalent trade applied whenever you wish for something. My life was exchanged with his. That was all I could think of. Everything was for me.

"I wonder how his life is being without me." I mused aloud.



"Living hell, I guess."

At that moment, with that answer, I fully understood. He chose to let me live in exchange of his life. We were thinking the same thing all along. I wouldn't want to live without him, so I allow myself to be claimed by death, and he did the same. Rather than living without me, he'd rather die. Though, that wish went awry because not only he didn't die; now he had to endure torture.

Was it wrong for me to do everything to release him from his pain? It was selfish, yes, but it wasn't wrong. I wasn't wrong. I only need to find a way to free him from all his pain.

"Did Nanaki say anything about how to save Cloud?" I asked all too suddenly, surprising the Ancient.

She was silent, but I could see she was considering my question, musing, whether it was okay to answer. I waited patiently until she nodded doubtfully. "Yes, he did say something about that, but I'm still not sure whether it can be done. That's why, please, give me time to think," she pleaded. Of course, I didn't hesitant to give the nod. After all, Aerith would think of something so that everybody could live happily.

After that, we walked silently to Gongaga. Night approached faster than I noticed. I decided not to confront Cloud today since we were all so tired today. So we all, in silent agreement, went to rest. I nervously waited for the morning to come. Indeed, it came, but for the younger blonde, morning never came again. He went to sleep and never awoke and then, a week passed uneventfully.

Cloud's POV

It was evening when I awoke. Evening sun was burning and the light glowed red, mixed with orange. Eerie, yet beautiful, that was my thought when I looked at the fiery sun setting from beyond wall of trees. When I woke up, I just stared blankly at the ceiling, not knowing what to think. My mind was just blank, void from emotion and thought. But then, I saw the reddish light passed through the thin curtain of the window. Following my feet, I found myself mesmerized by the red. I felt curiosity, but mostly, ecstatic. The color reminded me of blood, and that made my body trembled with excitement. I felt like I needed to see blood. The thirst was so unbearable that I instinctively gripped my wrist. Fingers dug deep into tender flesh as nails easily cut and made the blood flowed. 'Adrenaline rush', perfect statement to illustrate my feeling. The pain gave me pleasure and I carved for more. I carved for more blood. When a drop of the red liquid dropped on my thigh, I felt as if my eyes had turned red. The droplet looked so beautiful on the white flesh. I wanted to tear the flesh, then maybe more blood would flow.

"Cloud?" A soft voice called from behind me. I heard the voice, but for some reason, I just felt like ignoring whoever calling me.

I stared intensively at the droplet of blood dripping slowly from my wrist to my thigh. I just didn't know what went on my head. I was fully aware that I was doing something extremely bad, but the feeling of strong curiosity got the best of me, and so, I began scratching my thigh. Blood began to wet, first the flesh and then the fabric. I felt pain and pleasure at the same time and I just couldn't get enough of those. I wanted more pain. Like a man who just lost his mind, I continuously scratched the flesh, and each time, I dug deeper and deeper. I laughed, hard.

"Cloud? Stop it!!" The person shrieked in horror. Blood had made its way to the floor. The sound of the dripping liquid was loud in my ears, like there was several drum played at the same time beside my ears. It was painful for my ears. It was hurting my head.

"Make it stop!! Make the sound stop!!!" I screamed. I stopped scratching and covered my ears. The red that smeared my fingers now painted my face. I didn't care for that. The sound grew louder and louder. My head felt like being split opened with a big axe.

I was sitting when I hurt myself, so when the sound grew unbearable; I instinctively drew my knees to my chest. I buried my head in my knees, arms raised protectively around my head. It worked. The sound stopped. I raised my head timidly, unsure whether the sound had really stopped.

"Cloud? Are you okay?" said the person again, but this time softly and worriedly.

I looked up the person, noting familiar wavy brown hair that fell beside the face. She had a soft expression, tainted by frown of worried, but the beauty was intact. She was so familiar. I knew her but the memory just slipped away.

I stared blankly at the girl. My brain was forced to think, but nothing came. I felt blank and void.

"Aerith...?" I whispered dryly. 'Aerith', that name rings a bell. I knew that name. I knew the girl with that name, but I didn't know who she exactly was. What was her relationship with me? Deciding to ask, I opened my mouth, but immediately closed it again. What was I about to ask?

Right in that moment, a knock pulled my attention. I turned toward the door to find a man, big, tanned man walked to our direction. His face was scary and tired, but he looked kind enough. I stared at him in wonder. Why did he look so tired? Why did he look so cautious? Did something happen? I didn't care. I was tired. So, very tired. I needed sleep. Hopefully, the sound wouldn't come back.

Slowly, I drifted back to sleep, but I had a dream. In there, I saw the girl and tanned man, waving at me. Then behind the two of them, another man with jet black hair extended his hand to me. His mouth was moving, as if he was talking to me. I read the lips and it was true, after all. The man WAS talking to me. 'Come here, Spike' he said. But who was Spike? My name is not Spike. No, wait, who am I?

The second part doesn't make any sense, does it? Don't worry though, it'll all be explained in the next chappie. Anyway...

I am so, so screwed...I just re-read my first outline (draft) and I've drifted a bit too far from the main-intended-storyline -sobs- and worse, I've gotten writer's block again...this chapter is short (and kinda off, I guess), but I just dunno what to write...and my head is so full of 'server', 'query', 'sql', blah blah blah...so please, just forgive me this time. I need a break for a while...I'm seriously stuck. I appreciate opinion/advice/critique/etc, but please don't flame...