A/N: *gasp* Another chapter?! Ohmai. Thanks again to Tomoyo-chan284 for betaing! Also, thank you for all the follows, faves, reviews, and alerts guys!
Cloud paused for a break, his arm dangling carefully by his side. A bead of sweat rolled down his face as he eyed the hastily fashioned field dressing he'd made for where the bullet had passed through him. The torn blue fabric from the tail end of his uniform had been placed beneath his green scarf to help conceal the blood but it was clear the effort had been in vain from the deep red stains soaking through the sides of the fabric.
Every step sent a painful jolt through his side and aching arm, but luckily, the blood had long since slowed. His brush with the hidden Turk had been an eye-opening experience for sure. The suited bastard had ambushed him with a gunshot to the back while he was climbing a tree. The resulting drop had most likely broken Cloud's arm, but the idiot had thought the cadet was dead or incapacitated.
The blond smiled grimly to himself as he tried to keep himself out of view of any stragglers. As if a tiny drop like that would be enough to kill a SOLDIER candidate—even a failed one like Cloud. The Turk had obviously been a new recruit or novice, because he'd approached Cloud carelessly and when he'd tried to turn him over, he'd gotten a solid fist to the face before they had tussled over possession of the gun.
He knew Turks were enhanced as soldiers were, albeit for speed and agility rather than power, but Cloud was pretty sure that they couldn't survive a snapped neck after falling down a steep mountain ravine.
The other Turks would find the body and be looking for him soon enough, he supposed.
But that wasn't his main concern right now. Now he was more worried about Zack. He knew his friend wasn't totally recovered from the whole Jenova fiasco, and with the faint marks on the ground, it was obvious that the two SOLDIERs had not left voluntarily. They had expected something like the Turks being sent to apprehend or kill them; now it had been confirmed.
When he had recovered, he had gone back to the area he'd last seen his travelling companions in, only to see the telltale signs of disturbed earth where people had walked upon it. He had followed their tracks only to realize that tire tracks had been there. Cloud was far from stupid; he was almost certain that Zack and the general had not left under their own will. The question was why hadn't they fought harder or tried to get Cloud's attention?
Could both SOLDIERs really be that damaged from the incident?
In theory, he should be more concerned with himself; he was far more expendable than a SOLDIER and easily written off in the system. Cloud had seen many of his comrades abandoned or lost during a mission and the message they received on their PHS would all be the same copy and paste response.
...was a fine member of ShinRa. They executed their duty as expected of them. Do not treat their death as a loss but rather as an advancement in the peace Shinra is striving towards. In order to honor their memories and continue the struggle for world peace, we will continue the fight with our full might.
Needless to say, he had expected to be gunned down as swiftly as possible—the Turk simply hadn't expected him to fight back.
Still...Zack was in danger. Not to say that the SOLDIER couldn't handle himself—Zack was First Class after all—but that didn't mean that Cloud wasn't allowed to worry.
What really bothered him was the fact that Zack was alone with Sephiroth and in Turk custody. Mostly likely the ShinRa enforcers would have incapacitated both SOLDIERs and would keep them alive, but what if Sephiroth went insane again? In his weakened state, and likely only made worse by their captors, Zack most likely wouldn't have the strength to resist the general just yet.
Or even worse, they could decide to lock the general away-he stubbornly ignored the pang of dismay at the thought—and that Zack was expendable. Then Zack would be executed like a common criminal while Cloud was sitting here wandering around.
No, no, Zack is probably fine, he thought, frowning at his own pessimism. He should be focusing more on keeping an eye out for those damned Turks as he was the one stumbling around with a busted arm and bloody side. They were most likely looking to find him and finish the job.
"Everything will be alright, Cloud," he murmured in determination, continuing his stumbling with wavering vision.
He'd learned that from Zack, right?
A particularly hard stumble over the ground made him lurch a bit to catch his balance. The force of it jolted his arm, causing him to hiss in pain. Gods it hurt; it hurt worse than anything he'd ever experienced before. There had been plenty of scares, yes, but no assignment that he'd ever been on had ever resulted in him actually being injured.
It was his first time and not something he planned to repeat anytime soon.
A small snort escaped his lips as he continued to shuffle forward. Of course, he'd never have to do missions after this. He was no longer a part of ShinRa. He wondered what exactly they had listed him under. MIA? KIA? Or maybe desertion?
Cloud shook his head and immediately regretted it as his sight began to blur once more. A hard blink cleared most of the spots dancing across his vision, but the woozy sensation remained. He wanted nothing more than to sit and rest but he had to search for clues to Sephiroth and Zack's whereabouts.
'Dead dead dead, they're dead,' his inner voice whispered. 'Don't you get it? They're gone and they're never coming back and it's all your fault.'
The trooper stumbled his way to a nearby tree, where he turned his back to the trunk in order to lean back against it and carefully slid himself into a seated position. His legs, which had been pretty much overworked in the last few hours, were screaming for a break. His injuries were throbbing in time with his heartbeat and the spots dancing across his vision were growing worse.
Against his will, Cloud could feel his eyelids beginning to droop with exhaustion even as he tried his hardest to fight against it. Even though he knew it was a losing battle.
Am I...going to die here? he wondered blearily.
There was the sudden crisp sound of footsteps crunching on the detritus of the forest and Cloud managed to lift his head. The effort cost him what little strength he had remaining, but he managed to catch a glimpse of a short male in a dark suit approaching his position before he allowed his eyes to close and his head dropped onto his chest.
I guess I really wasn't cut out to be a SOLDIER, he thought before falling into blissful unconsciousness.
Pebbles and woodland debris scraped across the ground as the Turk approached the prone boy on the ground. He had tracked the trooper for some time now, and had been watching his increasingly weakening struggles to stay awake and felt a sharp thread of admiration and sympathy for this boy. Someone who was profiled as weak and unimportant had somehow beaten the odds and had a will of steel hidden under his rather unremarkable records.
'Unfortunately for Cloud Strife,' the Turk thought as he finally reached the unconscious boy's side, 'Hojo has taken an interest in him.'
The Turk crouched down in front of the boy and carefully prodded at the heavy wound in his side. In his slumber, the trooper gave a low moan and squirmed slightly in pain. The Turk eased off a bit and contemplated his next course of action. He hadn't really been expecting the Strife kid to still be alive, truth be told. Most Turks were a deadly force in the most relaxed of circumstances, but to have this boy not only kill a Turk but manage to walk this far with such a wound...
Well, it was safe to say that Cloud Strife was far from weak.
Still...he had a job to do. The Turk used his PHS to radio in his position to the waiting helicopter before returning to his silent scrutiny of the boy.
He'd been unpleasantly surprised when he'd found Silencer's body broken and bleeding at the bottom of the ravine a few miles back, but it had certainly explained the other man's failure to report in. Even if they worked under Hojo more than their own department, they still had to give some kind of status update at regular intervals.
Against his will, the Turk found himself staring at the dark red stain covering nearly half of Strife's right side. Apparently, the bullet had missed anything vital, but it had still done enough damage for Strife's body to feel the strain. If the Turk wanted to be fair...it probably would have been kinder if the boy had died.
The Turk shook his head at his own thoughts and listened to the roar of the chopper approaching in the distance.
"Sorry kid," he murmured, rising to his feet. "But I'm a Turk first and a sympathizer second. And orders are orders."
A/N: Don't hate me. :D