Honestly, I decided to write this story after reading Once More, With Feeling by Illusor Meneald (great story). This takes the concept of Cloud going back in time, but replaces it with Zack after his death.

I've never played FFVII, only Crisis Core, so apologies if any characters are ya know, not right (please let me know if they're not).

Also, I would love to hear what you think of this story!

Erm, nothing else except I don't own Final Fantasy VII, though I sure wish I did.

--

This . . . wasn't what Zack thought dying would be like. He was expecting a nice and peaceful return to the Lifestream. What he got . . . was something a lot different, something a lot scarier.

Zack was standing . . . somewhere, surrounded by white. It was disorienting feeling, staring down at your feet and looking downward, the floor seemingly continuing forever. It was bright, but there was no light. A gentle breeze came through, but there was no characteristic whistle of the wind.

He stood in front of Minerva, he shield and spear standing upright. Light from an unknown source reflected off the crescent shaped metal that wrapped around her neck. Wings extended from each shoulder, swaying ever so slightly in time with the wind that defied the laws of physics to be there.

"Zackary Fair," her voice boomed, leaving an echo in the wide open space.

"Uh, hi?" Zack said, his palms sweating underneath his gloves. His sweater was still ripped open in the multiple places where he was shot, but each bullet wound was gone. In fact, every scar he ever received was gone except for the x-shaped one that adorned his left cheek.

"You have not fulfilled your destiny on the Planet," Minerva said.

Zack's eye twitched slightly at that remark. Well duh, he wasn't planning on dying literally three miles from Midgar. He was planning on becoming a mercenary, and spending the rest of his life with Aerith, if she even remembered him. His heart suddenly ached with the thought of Aerith, but he pushed it aside. He couldn't have any weakness while he was being judged by the Goddess of the Planet.

Minerva continued before Zack managed to get anything out. "You were meant to keep Angeal alive, keep Genesis from deserting, keep Sephiroth from going crazy. You managed to keep your friend Cloud Strife alive, for he will save the planet, but not without a price. The last Ancient, Aerith Gainsborough, will die in the process," her voice was emotionless, it seemed she either did not know or did not care about Aerith's relationship with Zack.

"NO!" Zack yelled, not caring about his outburst at the Goddess. "Aerith can't die! Please! Send me back! Kill me again! I don't care! Just please!" Zack's eyes were tearing up, but he refused to tear up.

"Hmm." The Goddess's voice now took on one of amusement. "I think I'll go with your first idea."

Zack's head exploded in pain, and as he gripped it to stifle it, black dots erupted across his vision, and eventually he gave up and fell to the ground, unconcious.

--

"Hey ya maggots! Better get yer ass outta' bed! 'Less ya wanna stay Third Class!" Zack opened his bleary eyes at the loud, southern drawl that poured into his ears. Light flooded into his eyes, and he had to blink multiple times before he could look around.

Teenagers who couldn't be older than fifteen or sixteen were scrambling out of bed, jerking open the footlockers that stood at the end of their beds, and throwing on teal SOLDIER outfits.

Where am I? Zack wondered as he rubbed his right eye with his palm. That's when it hit him like a freight time. Minerva was being serious! Zack was sent back in time to fix his mistakes, and apparently she sent him as far back as to when he was only a Third Class.

Okay Zack said to himself, trying to remember. Today must be the SOLDIER exam. Angeal notices me today, and he asks me if I want to be his student.

He slid out of bed and instinctively grabbed his SOLDIER outfit as he headed to the showers. He wasn't feeling hungry, he was still in too much shock, so he decided to enjoy his shower.

Zack froze when he looked into the mirror that hanged on the bathroom wall. The skin on his face was flawless, and when he ran a bare hand over his jaw his noticed the scar wasn't there anymore. Figures. His hair was also back to how it was when he was younger. Black bangs hung on either side of his head, giving the image of a frame around his face. The rest was still spiky, giving him the appearance of a black hedgehog.

Zack flexed in front of the mirror, and saw that his muscles were no where near as pronounced as they were before. Well, gotta work on that He decided.

He climbed into one of the many shower stalls and turned the water on high. He hissed as cold water streamed down his back. Crap, forgot these showers aren't as nice as the Firsts. The water quickly got hot however, and Zack let the water pour over him, calming him. He stood there as he heard other showers turn off and boys laughing and joking as they headed to breakfast. He spent his time thinking. Should I try extra hard to impress Angeal? Should I do what I did before? What did I do before? Crap. What am I gonna do? Just roll with it? Who am I sparring? What did we even do today? I don't remember the specifics! Zack was slowly beginning to freak out, but then calmed himself. All this worrying was ruining his shower, and Zack reminded himself that the reason Angeal noticed him was because he was the best in his class.

He finally turned the shower off a few minutes later and stepped out, the drip drip drip of the water hanging from Zack's hair following him to the towel rack. He grabbed a towel and dried off, and slipped into his SOLDIER outfit. Staring into the mirror, he thought he looked weird in teal, and frowned at the roughness the outfit was made of. Again, Shinra was cheap and didn't put as much money into the Thirds as they did the Firsts.

"Hey," an armored head peeked itself into the bathroom. Zack instantly recognized the voice as Kunsel's. "Zack, the test is going to start in a minute, let's go."

"Right, I'll be there in a sec'." Giving the mirror one last glance, he followed Kunsel out of the bathroom and down the hall. He knew the hallways perfectly now, and he even had to correct Kunsel a few times.

"Since when did you become an expert of the layout of Shinra?" Kunsel asked, chuckling.

"Um, ya know, I'm just attentive."

"Attentive, right," Kunsel let out a full laugh this time.

"Hey!"

"I'm not the one who dubbed you 'Puppy'. Remember Angeal's report on you?"

"Oh yea," Zack said, chuckling nervously. Oh yea, he already knows me! Zack mentally smacked himself in the head. Angeal already had taken an interest to him, and today was when he announced he was taking a student. It was all coming back to Zack.

"Well, here's your room. Good luck Zack," Kunsel said, giving Zack a quick fist bump before heading off towards his own test room.

He opened the door to the small gym, and didn't flinch when he saw Angeal standing there, arms crossed, Buster Sword strapped to his back. He was expecting this.

"Heya!" Zack grinned, waving to the older man. Angeal looked a little taken back by Zack's cheerfulness, but quickly recomposed himself. Zack, you idiot, you and Angeal aren't friends yet! But wait, did your cheerfulness make you stand out? Zack was at a dilemma, and decided to go with his cheerful demeanor, it had helped him out before.

"Zack Fair. SOLDIER Third Class. How are you?" Angeal asked. Zack remembered how he almost crapped his pants before at this question. Now he just took it in stride.

"Good, how about yourself sir?"

"Fine. All right Zack, are you ready for your test?" Angeal's arms lowered and his knees bent into a fighting stance.

"Oh yea!" Zack said, raising two fingers to his brow in a salute. He raised his fists, ready to defend. Angeal gave a quick jab, and it was much harder than Zack remembered. Zack waved his arm around, trying to shake the feeling of it being broken away. Angeal punched again, and this time his fist hit Zack straight across the jaw.

"Focus," Angeal commanded. Focus, at least I can do that now. My body may not be strong yet, but my mind is! Zack thought. He resorted to dodging each attack Angeal threw at him, and attacking when he saw an opening.

He got in about two hits on Angeal, and weak ones at that. Although he knew how to fight, his body wasn't ready for his mind. He had multiple bruises at places where Angeal had hit him. Zack was sure he failed which would not be good for what Minerva had told him, because he missed multiple easy punches that he saw and should have blocked, but his body was not quick enough yet.

However, history took its course and Angeal said to him, without marking any papers, "Congratulations. You are now SOLDIER Second Class."

"For real?!" Zack was genuinely surprised and excited, even though he knew this would happen.

"Yes. For real," Angeal said, a slight smirk on his face. "Also, report to this room at nine a.m. Tomorrow morning for personal training."

Zack was grinning. Back to the old days, when he was training under Angeal. He was sure he'd be able to make it to First Class before Genesis deserted as long as he worked out hard and managed to bulk up even more.

Zack remembered that Angeal always told him he had the talent and skill, but not the focus. That would be about five months from now. Zack had plenty of time to become strong enough to make it to First Class, and his once greatest weakness of being like a restless puppy would now be his greatest asset.

Angeal now headed out of the room, pausing before exiting, to say, "Zack, your now Second Class. Remember, if you want to make First, you must embrace your dreams, and protect your honor."

This time, Zack didn't even roll his eyes. He was just glad to hear that lame lecture Angeal always gave again.

Make it to Second Class: Check. Now I just need to make it to First, talk to Genesis, prevent him from deserting, which will stop Angeal from leaving and Sephiroth going crazy. Cloud is still in Nibelheim, he told me he arrived about two months from now, or back then, or I don't know! This whole time paradox thing is hurting my head . . . and Aerith!

Zack knew Aerith didn't have any previous relationships before him, but he still couldn't help but feel a little antsy knowing that his former girlfriend was down there in the slums, all by herself. He debated going to see her early or not, but he decided against it. Although he desperately wanted to see her, who knows if her mind at this time would accept him?

"Hey Zack, you make it to Second?" Kunsel asked, standing outside the room.

"Yup! You?" Zack said as he headed out to meet his friend.

"Yea, just barely though. Man, you're lucky. Being the best in our class, you'll have no problem getting to First."

Zack laughed, ruffling his mane of black hair with his hand. "Thanks, yea, thanks."

--

Zack, Kunsel, and two other new SOLDIER Second Classes sat at a table in the Shinra cafeteria, talking about their tests.

"You know, Genesis actually asked me if I could analyze a line of Loveless. I think he graded me on that . . ." a teen named John groaned.

"Yea, well at least you didn't have Sephiroth," another named Anthony told John. "He's freakin' crazy! I mean, not Loveless obsessive crazy, but he had to use Curaga on me four times! He showed no mercy!"

Kunsel turned to Zack, informing him, "He's lying. Sephiroth just used the training program. I had him. He just stood there, and stared, and just said 'You're Second.' That's it."

Anthony grinned at Zack when an eyebrow was raised at his questionable statement about Sephiroth. I've dueled with Sephiroth. He shows mercy. But he didn't, that one night . . . Zack shuddered. He didn't want to remember that night in Nibelheim.

"What's wrong?" Kunsel asked, noticing Zack's shiver.

"Huh? Oh nothin' just hungry!" Zack said nonchalantly as he shoved a burger in his mouth. His cheeks stuffed, he looked up to see all three boys staring at him, eyes wide. I guess my eating habits haven't changed at all, Zack thought, then grinned before quickly shutting his mouth, realizing food was still in there.

--

Zack laid there in bed, his left arm curled around his head. His bright mako eyes stared up at the ceiling, seeing nothing.

Tomorrow, when I see Angeal, I need to ask about Genesis, but how . . .

--

Well, that's the Prologue/Chapter 1. I hope everyone who reads this enjoyed the story.

Also, any constructive criticism, praise, flames, I'll read 'em all!

I marked Cloud as a main character because in a couple chapters he will play a MAJOR role in this story.

And, I'll try to update soon!

-The Lone Wanderer (I'm a Fallout 3 fan)