Ah, I haven't been working on the second chapter to the Rufus story, I'm sorry T_T I guess here's something top tie you over until I get the creative juices flowing again =D

I'm starting to get obsessed with things we've never gotten to see during the whole FFVII story... or things we've only seen a little bit of. Yesterday, I was thinking about Cloud, and what exactly was going through his head after Zack died. I mean, what screwed his head up so much? And how exactly did he get to the bar in sector 7, aye? And so, I'm writing what happened =D I don't think it will be that long, but oh well. Here it goes. I hope the beginning isn't too chiche by now, so many people have described it in their own little way...


Confusion

Cold rain droplets fell all around him, covering the hard ground in puddles. As he stared at the sky, rain got in his eyes; it stung. But he didn't care one bit. It was nothing compared to the pain of his heart being torn and ripped apart inside his chest. He didn't dare look back down at what lay in front of him. He didn't want to see it, he didn't want his fears to be confirmed. This couldn't be happening, it was impossible.

And yet, he had seen it with his own eyes. He'd heard his best friend's voice, pained and weak, as he took his last breaths. He held Zack's sword in his limp arms, denying what he had seen in front of him. No, Zack wasn't dead. He couldn't be. But then, why was he lying there with his eyes closed? Why did he tell Cloud to live for him, on his behalf? All of Zack's hopes and dreams, they belonged to Cloud now. At least that's what he had said.

He'd said they were going to Midgar, to be mercenaries. He remembered that much. Did Zack want Cloud to take him along? Well, if Zack's life was also Cloud's, then that would be easy. The rain fell in lighter amounts now; the storm was almost over. It was as if the planet was telling him to get up and go, to go live his life, so that Zack might live too. The last small drops fell onto his face, making him blink for the first time in a long while. The sun shone brightly into his glowing, blue-green eyes. He didn't remember everything looking so clear before. He lowered his head, looking at the sword in his hands. This was the proof that his best friend once lived. His eyes moved to focus on the closed eyelids of Zack Fair, SOLDIER, First Class. He just looked so... unnatural. The energetic, carefree, lively Zack was nowhere to be seen. But his eyes, albeit closed, showed how peaceful he was. Maybe he truly believed that Cloud could live for him, that he would take care of everything.

Zack was smiling. At least that hadn't changed. He may have been dead, but his smile was still there, the same heartwarming and cheerful smile that Cloud remembered. Everything would be okay, he decided. He would go to Midgar, and become a mercenary, just like Zack said they would.. Hold onto your dreams; that's what you said, right? He thought. Zack had entrusted him with his life, his pride, his dreams. He would live for the both of them. I will not forget. He stood up, slowly, gradually becoming accustomed to using his legs after so long. He didn't want to accept it, but it was true. He had to go on, but he couldn't forget, either.

He looked at his best friend one last time, a pained look on his face. This would be the last time he saw Zack. But if he lived both of their lives from now on, wouldn't that mean that Zack was still with him, in a way? He closed his eyes, finally accepting what he had to do. "Thank you." He said. He was thankful for everything his friend had done for him, for fighting for both their lives. Now, he would take over; Zack could finally rest in peace.

"Good night, Zack." With one final word, he turned away, leaving the corpse of his best friend, but at the same time, taking Zack with him.


He never thought such a burden would be so heavy.

As he trudged through the desert towards Midgar, he dragged the huge Buster Sword behind him, struggling with every step. Before long he was panting, and had to stop every now and then. What on Gaia had made him so weak and tired? He tried to remember, why were they running? Why had Zack given his life for him, and told him to go to Midgar? He couldn't remember. All he remembered was the anger he felt towards someone he trusted, the person who had taken his mother and his entire village away from him.

Sephiroth.

Was he the reason they were running? Would Zack run from Sephiroth, after what he had done to Nibelheim? No, he would stand and fight, wouldn't he? And Cloud would have helped, he knew that much. Then, what was he doing, while Zack fought? Cloud dug deep into his memories, desperate to find an answer. The only one he could think of was that he did indeed fight, he was the one who confronted Sephiroth. But then, what happened after that? Did they actually fight? What had happened to Tifa? And ultimately, why were He and Zack running?

Why did everything look so... different?

Not only did everything look different, but also sounded different. It was as if all of his senses were enhanced exponentially. He could see the individual grains of sand under his feet, and insects scurrying past his boots. The scraping of the Buster Sword behind him was deafening, yet it did no damage to his hearing. He heard his own heartbeat, pounding loud and fast in his ears. It was amazing all the different things he noticed now that he wouldn't have before. But only SOLDIERs had special treatments that gave them enhanced abilities. So why did he, a mere grunt, have such amazing abilities? He looked down at his uniform, covered in dirt and grime. Even he could see that it was the uniform of a SOLDIER, First Class. Why was he wearing it? He pieced everything together in his head—He had the super enhanced abilities that only SOLDIER had, and he was wearing the uniform of a First Class. Did that mean that he had actually made it into SOLDIER, after all?

Did it mean he wasn't a total failure, and he might actually deserve to live his life, along with that of his best friend's?

He liked the idea. It seemed that at every point in his life, he was put down by everybody, looked down on by everyone. And not without good reason. He didn't know how to talk to people, he couldn't fight, and his rifle skills were simply atrocious. But between then and now, did he suddenly wake up, and show everyone who they were messing with? Was he really, finally a SOLDIER? He was really starting to like that idea.

When you meet Aerith, I'm counting on you.

What was that? He looked around for a voice, a body to go with that voice, anything that might be able to form words and speak. There was nothing, no one. Was he going insane? No... how could he, when he saw everything so clearly?

Who was Aerith? Who was counting on him after he found her? It was all too confusing. He had to focus on his mission, his dream. He had to get to Midgar. He was almost there, it was so close to him now. He could see individual buildings on the outer parts of the city. The sky was beginning to darken because of the smog that lay like a blanket over the entire area. He recognized the city , it had been his home for the last two years.

Home. He thought of Nibelheim, and everything he had left behind. Everything that was probably all but rubble and ashes by now. His mother, who had died in the flames of her own home. Tifa, oh God, Tifa! What had happened to her after Sephiroth hurt her? Was she alive? Did he get there in time to save her? No, he didn't remember doing anything to save her, just running after Sephiroth and confronting him. Then, he was too late, too late to keep his promise.

Was she dead, because he wasn't there to protect her, like he said he would be?

The thought made him want to cry. He stopped, and sank to his knees, weak and unnerved. The only thing keeping him from collapsing was his sword, which he held on to with half-hearted motivation. What was he doing here, why was he running? He looked at the ground in front of him, little specks of dirt growing damp from the falling of his tears. Look at him, a First Class SOLDIER, on his knees, crying in the desert. It must have looked pathetic. Soon, his vision blurred slightly. That was only expected, because of the tears in his eyes obstructing his vision. He shook his head and quickly wiped them away, trying to get a hold of himself. There was nothing he could do except what he set out to do—to go to Midgar, and become a mercenary. However, after he was certain his eyes were dry, his vision was still blurred by something. He knelt there, confused. That's when the pain started. First, his head throbbed behind his right eye, causing him to wince. Then a sharp pain in the front of his head made him let go of the sword, and fall forward onto the hard ground. Then it seemed like everything in his whole body hurt—it practically hurt to breathe. What was happening to him? He felt nauseous, and the pain in the back of his head was killing him. He knelt on his knees and elbows, holding his head, as if the pressure would get rid of the pain. He cried out as his head throbbed, pounding in his ears. He couldn't hear or see anything he could before. All he heard was his head throbbing and his own pained yelps.


Soon, the pain subsided, and he gasped for air. He was exhausted. What the hell had made that happen? He wasn't an expert in health, but he may have been dehydrated. He decided he needed to get to Midgar as fast as possible, or he might lose everything he fought so hard to accomplish. He might lose his freedom, and his beloved dream, the dream that lay just a little ahead, in Midgar.

Why was he going to Midgar, again?

He sat up, grabbing the hilt of the sword once again. What... was his dream, exactly? He thought for a moment. That was it, he was going to become a mercenary, and do all kinds of odd jobs, depending on what people paid for them. He was a First Class SOLDIER, so they'd have to pay big for him to do anything. He had fought hard to gain his rank, and he wanted a load of compensation for his skills. Troublesome things, dangerous things, he was going to do everything depending on the reward. He nodded, making up his mind. He pulled himself up, using the sword as a balance, then pulled it out of the ground. It was still heavy to carry, so he continued to drag it behind him. Geez, if this was his sword, shouldn't he be used to its weight? He'd have to train a bit after he got to Midgar, to get his strength back up. No one was going to hire a weak SOLDIER.

No, he wasn't a SOLDIER. Whatever had happened, it had resulted in him leaving the force. Therefore he was an ex-SOLDIER, right? This definitely wasn't a mission brought on by Shinra; it was one he decided on himself. He was free of any burden, he could do as he chose. He could see the entrance to Midgar now, it was so close. Shinra headquarters towered above him, looming ominously over the city. He realized he would never again set foot in that building, unless someone paid him to, of course. He was panting again, what would people think if they saw him in that state? Well, he'd figure that out later, after he actually got into the city. It was getting harder and harder to walk straight. He had almost collapsed a few times, and was starting to lose the weak grip he had on the sword. After a while, he was trudging along, almost unconsciously. At this point, he didn't care what people thought, he had to get into the city. He had to get farther into it, where all the people were. He looked up from where he had been staring at the ground, confused. There were a bunch of people now, rushing past him to their own unknown destination. He observed his surroundings more, and saw a train to his right. People were getting on and off like they usually do at such a train station; everything was normal. It seemed no one even took a second glance at him as they rushed by.

Was he finally in the city? It looked like it. He remembered the old train station, it hadn't changed a bit. And if he was there, that must mean he had made it to Midgar, finally. He panted, and tried to take another step, and failed. He once again used the sword as a brace so he wouldn't fall facefirst and get trampled.

"Hey, are you doing okay?"

Something clicked in his mind; he'd heard that same phrase recently. Although the voice sounded different. He looked up, panting some more; he just wanted to sleep right now, more than anything else.

He squinted so see who the hell might give a crap about him Ah, it seemed that the train conductor did, at least. There weren't as many people now; many had been getting on or off the train, which was about to leave.

"Hey man, seriously, are you going to be okay? I've gotta go, people are waiting on me..."

Heh, figured. He didn't want to deal with any problems today, just wanted to drive his train around like he always did, with no complications. Well, Cloud didn't give a crap anymore. The guy could do what he wanted, but Cloud had just finished a long journey, and wanted a well-deserved nap. And so he obliged himself by promptly falling to his knees, and just let go.


"Hey, hey!" The man yelled as the young SOLDIER fell to his knees, and proceeded to collapse onto the rough pavement. The man ran forward to catch him before he hit, but someone got in the way. So poor Cloud hit his head. "Excuse me, sorry." The man said to the rather rude person. Man, this day was already rough without people collapsing in front of him on his shift. His boss would kill him if he found out that he'd delayed an entire train just to help one guy. He reached the youth and knelt beside him. "Hey, seriously, you can't do this. Hey, does anybody know this guy?!" The second part he yelled out to anyone who might be listening. "Come on, don't do this to me! Urgh..." He shook the youth a little bit, seeing if he would respond—nothing. The conductor was getting worried; he had to go, but he couldn't just leave this guy here. Wait a second... he thought. Holey SHIT! This guy looks like a SOLDIER! Now he looked panicked. He really hated those guys; they were insanely strong, and even this scrawny-looking one could probably rip him in half. He looked up, at anyone who might help, but to no avail.

"Damnit, please, someone, help me over here, this guy needs help!"


The young woman could hardly wait any longer; how much longer would they make her wait? They were late, way too late. They all had a meeting in an hour, and Barett would kill them if they were late. They all had their own things to do before they went to the bar, so they had all agreed to go early, but it looked like those plans would have to be ditched if they didn't get here soon. She looked around the crowd for a redhead and her companion, and found nothing. She was starting to give up, as many of the people who had gotten off the train had already left. She groaned, and turned around, still looking.

And then she saw them both, standing next to one of the streetlights. Oh, was she going to reprimand them. She fumed, and started off towards them.

"Biggs! Jessie!!! I'm gonna kill you both!" With that, they both jumped. Jessie was swinging around the pole, and fell off.

"Uh oh..." She said with wide eyes. She then turned a sheepish grin to her companion, who returned it with a shrug.

The woman practically stomped over to them, steaming. " I got here half an hour ago, and looked all over for you! What were you doing?!"

The duo looked at her guiltily. The young man answered, "Well, we were waiting for you..."

The woman just stared at him in disbelief. Then she gave up and shook her head, sighing. "Well, we've still got an hour. Just don't do that again, okay? Seriously, don't tell me to come so early if you want some time alone."

The two blushed, and looked away from each other. The woman just shook her head even more; this proved her speculations. "Let's go, you two lovebirds." This caused two faces to become even more red as she walked away.

"Hey, seriously, you can't do this. Hey, does anybody know this guy?!"

She stopped. Was someone in trouble? She looked back at her companions, who just shrugged. She looked back at where the voice came from, worriedly. Then her mind made up, she called back to her friends, "Hey, I'm gonna go find out what's going on over there, okay?" She ran off into the crowd, which was growing smaller, luckily. It would be easier to find who was yelling.

"Damnit, please, someone, help me over here, this guy needs help!"

She walked faster; someone definitely needed help. "I'm coming, just stay right where you are!" She called. She dodged a few people carrying a rather long package, and broke out of the dissipating crowd. It seemed her destination was a little off to the side, where there were no people. Then she spotted the train conductor, knelt beside a young man with bright blond hair.

"Okay, I'm here. What happen—" She stopped in her tracks. Were those blond spikes coming out of the man's head?

"Oh, thank god someone actually gives a crap about people, can you help me with this guy?" The conductor asked. Then he noticed she wasn't moving toward him anymore, and looked up at her. "Uh, are you going to help, or not?"

The young woman just stared at the blond, not believing what lay before her. Thee was only one person on this whole planet who had hair as crazy at that, and he had left for Midgar seven years ago. This could not be a coincidence.

"C-Cloud?!"

When she started running again, the conductor relaxed a little. It looked like she would help, after all. "Hey, do you know him?" She reached them, and knelt beside the blond.

"He's... h-he's a friend. What happened?"

"Man, I was just standing here, doing my work, when all of a sudden, here comes this guy, with a sword bigger than he is. I didn't know what to think. Then I saw he was sorta tired-looking, so I asked if he was okay. Then he collapsed! That's all I know, lady. Sorry if I can't help you."

The woman looked worried, extremely worried. She touched the blond's shoulder, and looked at his face. From what she could tell, this was indeed Cloud, her childhood friend. Well, not really friend, but, they were neighbors.

"Cloud... can you hear me? Are you alright?" No answer. He just lay there with his eyes half open, staring at nothing. It scared her to see him like that. She looked at his clothes; it looked like he was wearing a SOLDIER's uniform. Did that mean he had actually succeeded, and become a SOLDIER like he said he would? Then she saw how dirty it was, and snapped back to reality. What had he been through to put him in this state? Had he escaped from a battle, with his life barely intact?

Was he dying right in front of her, while she sat here and did nothing?

She gasped, her eyes watering. She had to do something, he needed help right away. Could she take him to the bar? That seemed like the most immediate source of treatment at the moment. If he needed more, she would find more. But how would she...

"Look lady, I've gotta go, or my boss is gonna kill me. Sorry I couldn't be of any help." The conductor stood, and started walking away. The woman looked up worriedly. Damn, there's just no justice in the world... she thought.

"Hope he's alright, if that's any consolation!" The man called before disappearing on the train. The woman looked back down at her old neighbor, and winced. Maybe the man just wanted to protect his livelihood. Maybe he had a family that couldn't afford him losing his job. She sighed. There really was no justice in the world today.

"Hey, Tifa, where'd you go?!" Cried the voice of a young woman. It sounded like Jessie. Were they coming to help? That would be... helpful at the moment.

"I'm over here, next to the train!" She waved, in case they didn't hear her over the train's squealing engine.

"Ah, look, there she is!" Yelled Biggs. He started running in her direction, dragging Jessie along with him.

Tifa gave a sigh of relief. She thought they had left. "I thought you guys were already gone..." She said.

Biggs answered, "Well, at first we were just going to wait for you, but then we figured you might need help." Jessie nodded, looking down at the blond lying at her feet.

"It looks like we were right." She said. "What happened? Do you know him?"

Tifa tried to explain quickly, as Cloud needed immediate treatment. "It looks like he just collapsed here, and now he won't do anything or say anything. It's like he's in a coma or something. Can you help me carry him?"

Biggs raised an eyebrow. "To where? Does he need a hospital?"

Tifa looked worried. "I don't know... but I figured the bar would be closest, then we could find out what's wrong with him."

Jessie frowned. "Also, I don't think we could pay the hospital fee, no offense." That was true, all of them were short on income at the moment.

That worried Tifa even more. What if they couldn't help Cloud, and he did indeed need more than they could do for him? The thought scared her. "... Do you think... that Barret would mind?"

Both Jessie and Biggs frowned this time. Biggs answered, "Well, he looks like a SOLDIER... I don't think he'd like it at all."

Tifa winced; she knew that answer was coming. "I don't think Cloud would hurt us. He's a really shy person, and he joined SOLDIER to help others." She said, determined. "And now, it our turn to help him."

Biggs and Jessie looked at each other, trying to decide what to say. What could they do? Here was a man that needed their help; were they just going to leave him here to die?

Jessie looked at the blond, thinking. She bit her lip as Tifa looked up at her, pleading. Biggs sighed and smirked, "So... you do know him."

Tifa blushed. "We were... neighbors. He was really nice, but extremely shy. At least that's how I remember him... But really, I don't think he'll do anything to jeopardize our mission."

Jessie and Biggs looked at her, and sighed. "Alright, I'll carry him, you guys can get his sword." Said Biggs. Tifa's face brightened.

"Thank you so much, I won't let you down. You'll see that I'm right!" She said with a determined smile.

"Yeah yeah, just make sure he doesn't die, or there will be hell to pay." As the young man picked up the blond. He slung Cloud's arm over his shoulder and carried him in a piggy-back. Jessie grabbed the hilt of his sword and tried to lift it. She got it off the ground, but stumbled backward. The force she needed to lift it had flung it over her head, knocking her backward.

"Holey crap, this thing is heavy! How can a guy like him carry this thing?!" She said as Tifa steadied her.

Biggs chickled. "Yeah, no kidding. I swear, this guy's like a sack of potatoes, he weighs nothing. Do you remember him like this, Tifa?"

Tifa blushed again. "Well, he always was kind of short for his age... You sure you got that, Jessie?"

Jessie nodded. She had the hilt of the sword balanced on her shoulder, and was steadily making her way forward. "Yeah, it's not like I've never carried anything this heavy before." She grinned.

Tifa sighed, gratefully. She was glad to have met these two when she came here. Otherwise, she might have gone insane from all the stress and chaos of this city. Thank you, I really owe you guys one.