Final Fantasy VII

How to Save a Life

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is. It was partially inspired by the prompts Death from 10 Hurt Comfort and Old friends from 30 Gens. The second part takes place during my Twilight and Dawn era following Dirge of Cerberus.

He could only lay where he was, helpless, listening to the sounds of the battle somewhere above him. Or was it to his side now? He had lost all sense of direction. The crimson generously emerging from the wound in his stomach dripped through his fingers, down his sides, and onto the thing he was laying on. He gritted his teeth against the pain. His chest was heaving, and not altogether from the physical hole below it. He wanted to scream, but the remnants of his shredded heart had lodged in his throat. Silently he cried.

It was two of his friends who were engaged in mortal combat. There could never be a happy ending for such a battle. Whoever won, the loser would be someone whom he had known and loved. This should have never happened in the first place. It should have never come to this.

Seph. . . . No, you can't be . . . you can't be . . . !

He could not even bear to think of the insane wretch as "Seph." It was not Seph; it was only a stranger that looked like him. Seph would never have set fire to the village, killing countless innocent people and wounding others. Seph never would have broken into the mako reactor chamber and taken the head of the Jenova creature. And Seph never would have fought Zack in such a vicious battle that had come to its current result.

Cloud was fighting him now. Of course they could not let him get away, not when he was in this state. Zack had wanted so badly for it to be different. He had tried to reason with the madman, but it had only taken a few minutes to realize that the Seph he had known was beyond his reach. He had not been the same after Genesis had came and taunted him, and he had only gotten worse after going into the basement and reading that abominable material on Jenova and the experiments. Zack had not been able to get through to him then, and when Seph had ran out of the room he had completely snapped. When Zack had chased him, he had found the town in flames.

Seph had always feared becoming a monster. And after Angeal and Genesis had both fallen, Zack had sensed that Seph had been afraid all the more that it would also be his fate.

Dear God, no. . . . NO!

It was too much like the mission of theirs when the other First Class SOLDIER they had been with had completely lost his mind, endangering all present. Seph had had no choice but to fight him to the death before anyone else could be hurt. And there had been such a weight on his shoulders when he had withdrawn his blade from the body some time later. Zack had barely been able to stand looking at him. And those words . . . those incomprehensible words . . . !

"If this ever happens to me . . . you will have to kill me, Zack."

It was the worst possible scenario, something Zack had feared for ages. He had never wanted to fight a friend. He had not known how he would bear fighting Seph. They had grown so close during the time they had been together, especially after Seph had appointed Zack his personal assistant and second-in-command. . . . They had gone on assignments together, battling everything from the very worst of humanity to the tragically misguided. They had talked together and ate together. Zack had even managed, at long last, to get Seph to give a genuine laugh.

And now this . . .

The scientists had been grooming Seph all this time to be the perfect monster. Hojo was probably somewhere, cackling in delight over the fact that Seph had finally lost his mind after being driven towards it for years. And Genesis . . . was Genesis happy too? Was he proud of his role in pushing his former friend over the edge of insanity? How could Genesis have come to this? . . . How had Seph come to this?

Oh God, we were all being used. . . . Angeal, too!

Shinra had manipulated their fates from the beginning. The deterioration had eaten away at Genesis's and Angeal's sanity until they had both become corrupted. Seph had not been affected by the degradation, having been unwillingly part of a different experiment, but other elements had conspired to break the man who had been SOLDIER's strongest.

Now someone cried out in pain, most likely Cloud. Seph did not cry out when he was wounded; he grunted in displeasure, if he audibly reacted at all. And there was no way Zack could rise and go to help. He had already tried countless times, but his wounds were too severe. And someone was going to die. Someone would die!

Please, if there's any way . . . anything at all . . . let it be a draw. Let Seph be saved. Let him come back to himself! If someone has to die, let it be me instead. Please . . . please. . . .

But that was not a fair request, either. If Seph did snap out of it, and he saw that Zack was laying dead with a wound that Seph had inflicted, that could send him into complete and uncorrectable despair. And what if the scientists got hold of him again? What would they do to him then?

Was there no way out? Was there no way to bring Seph back?

The only way to keep himself from utterly breaking was to keep telling himself that it was not Seph. It was a monster that had taken over Seph's body. The real Seph was still in there, somewhere. . . . He was probably trying to fight to get out again. Yet . . . the grip of the insanity was too strong.

Zack's voice had gone completely taut when he had given that final, horrible order to Cloud: "Finish him off." Now, as the remainder of the battle crashed around him, he squeezed his eyes shut.

How could this have happened? Why had he not been able to save Seph? Why had he not been able to prevent this from happening? Why was he never able to protect the ones he cared about? He was always helpless as treacherous fates befell them. He could never stop it. The world was cruel, and wicked, and the good always fell before the evil forces.

It's all just fairy tales, isn't it? The good don't win. Not when it really counts.

A sickening crash brought his attention to the present. His eyes flew open. Cloud had collapsed near him, clutching his abdomen. He coughed, blood coming to his lips. Zack could hardly stand to look at the sight.

"He's . . . he's dead. I threw him in the reactor." Cloud choked, but the words were very clear. He would not meet Zack's eyes.

"Oh God . . ." Zack could only stare at Cloud's battered form. The wound had gone all the way through his body. Would he even survive? Would they both die here, as Nibelheim burned around them?

And Seph . . . Seph was already gone. . . .

Zack turned away, the sob he had been bottling up bursting free of his lips.

"Zack! Wake up!"

The strong hand came down on Zack's shoulder, tightly gripping as its owner gave the younger man a firm shake.

"Wake up, Zack."

Zack moaned, tensing under the grasp. His hands flew out, batting at the one interrupting his sleep. But the hand did not let go. And the voice was growing very insistent.

Lavender eyes flew open. A concerned Seph was looking down at him. His white shirt was unbuttoned almost all the way down, his bangs brushing against his bare chest. He was older now. The cares of the years were etched into his tired and worn features. And his skin was still flushed from the fever he had borne the past couple of days.

Zack was older too. He slumped into the pillows, a pained gasp issuing from his lips. His face felt damp. But that was not a surprise; he had probably been sweating buckets with a nightmare like that.

"You shouldn't be up, Seph," he exclaimed. Seph had been very sick since yesterday; he had continued to work after gaining the fever and he had paid for it. Cloud and Zack had been tending to him since then, and after Seph had finally fallen asleep, Zack had dozed into the troubled slumber from which he had just awakened.

Seph gave a slow nod. ". . . I was awake and heard you calling for me, so I came and opened your door," he said. "You were clutching your stomach and crying in your sleep."

Zack blinked. Raising a hand, he touched the fingers to his eye. The lashes were wet.

". . . It was Nibelheim," he said, his voice strained. "I was listening to Cloud fight you. I couldn't do anything . . ."

Pain and anguish flashed through Seph's eyes. There was nothing he could say that would be good enough. And Zack knew it; he did not expect words.

But Sephiroth knew Zack did not want to be alone right now. He sank onto the edge of the bed, crossing his arms. Zack pushed himself into a sitting position, leaning forward as his spikes fell into his face. For an indeterminable amount of time they stayed there in the dark, the only light coming from the hallway. The shadows fell across their faces, hiding some of their emotions from view.

At last Zack looked up. "I remembered something I was thinking back then," he said at last.

Sephiroth looked to him. "What was that?" he asked.

"That the good guys never could win when it really counted." Zack gripped his legs. "I mean . . . we'd been manipulated by Shinra and the scientists all along the way. You were good, and you cracked up. Me and Cloud were good, and we had to fight you." He swallowed. "Cloud had to kill you. . . ."

A weak grin struggled to make its way over his features. "But now we're alive again. You're you again, with your mind back and everything. I was thinking . . . maybe we finally did win."

Sephiroth gave a slow nod. "Maybe."

Zack grinned more, throwing his arms around Seph's shoulders. "I missed you so much, old pal," he said, "and now I don't have to anymore!"

A vague smile passed over Sephiroth's features. The past could never be erased. But it did not have to be the end. Whatever power had let them come to Earth had seen to that.

Two old friends had been reunited. They had a future.