A/N: This story is greatly influenced by Photograph by Scribbler. Read Photograph. It's a great piece by a great author.
This was originally meant to be a long 15,000-word oneshot, but VulcanElf convinced me to split it into chapters, and so I've decided to simply separate each scene instead of trying to "mix and match." So keep that in mind if you find yourself reading a ridiculously brief 400-word chapter.
And speaking of VulcanElf, thanks go to her for proofreading this big honking work of mine not once but twice and while dealing with my idiotic questions and constant pestering. And to Evernia, likewise for putting up with me throughout the Beta process.
Final Fantasy VII is the sole property of Square Enix Co., Ltd. I use this property without permission for free entertainment purposes only.
He thought a lot about Zack in the days following the destruction of Deepground. He didn't know why; there was no reason for it. The dark-haired man simply wove in and out of his thoughts like a friendly ghost. Not that that was particularly odd – Zack was one of the few important people in his life, and he had been impersonating him as recently as three years ago.
But it had never been anything like this. He found himself dreaming of Zack, of things they did together – practicing at the shooting range, going out for a night on the town, revisiting Nibelheim. The dreams were always so vivid, so lifelike, that he nearly mistook them for memories. Even his dreams of Nibelheim only ever had one oddity or another – a misplaced barrel here, an overturned pillow there... a SOLDIER Cloud here, an infantryman Zack there.
But one dream always stood out from the rest. One nightmare unlike all the others he had.
He dreamt of the suspended Mako chamber, the one that no doubt still existed today, the hallucinogenic green Mako that surrounded him. He dreamt of intolerable pain, intolerable... shifting, as if his bones were melting away and rematerializing. In this nightmare, Cloud scratched feebly at the chamber walls, scratched something to the man in the other chamber. The man who, to Cloud, existed an entire green mist-world apart.
"Let's get out of here." Cloud's fingernail tore and broke and bled in the dream, just like it had in his memories. Even now, his right index finger had an unnatural configuration to it.
In his memories, he knew that Zack had replied. He knew because he had seen it once before. "Feeding time, that's our chance." He knew that that was what Zack had written.
But in his dream, no such response came. Instead, in that distorted, watery prison, Cloud heard, coming from far out in the realm of reality, a cry. A baby's cry, a screeching cry that made him whirl around to pinpoint the source. And when it disappeared and Cloud returned to Zack...
There was nobody. Cloud pounded and pounded and pounded, but Zack never appeared in that other chamber, no Zack to free him, no Zack to help him in this dark Underworld.
The baby's wail seemed to echo Cloud's desperation, reaching a crescendo as his hysteria did, and through the misty world of half-solid objects, he heard something, the sound of something sharp clawing at something hard.
Cloud looked around and began to notice grains of glass swirling past him. They floated on down, down... down...
When he looked up, half-mad with Jenova poisoning and half-mad with hysteria, Cloud was met with these jagged, misshapen words:
YOU ARE MY LEGACY
Each time, he woke up in a numb freeze, a perturbing sensation that hesitatingly escaped his body, receding slowly from his head to his feet.
Even after the eerie feeling went away and he washed away the horror-induced sweat, though, he could still hear. He heard the cry of the poor child, and within it, he heard the bone-chilling traces of his own voice.
You Are and She Is
Water sluiced up his face, then down the surfaces of his skin before petering off and back into the sink.
He watched the droplets as they fell. They splashed against the porcelain sink bowl and flickered into emptiness.
He paused briefly, his eyes dilating as he looked at nothing in general. He thought he had done this before, he thought this might've been a habit of his, but he wasn't sure. It could've been Cloud, or it could've been Zack.
Without a thought, he reached down and turned off the faucet with his right hand while pawing for a towel on the wall with his left. When his hand met air, he frowned and tilted his head ever so slightly. The towel rack was right there along the wall-
Sighing, he turned around and pulled the towel on the back wall to his face. That part just now, he realized, had been Zack. After toweling off the excess tap water, he turned back to examine himself in the mirror.
The eyes flickered for a moment, as if confused between a cloudy blue and a fair blue.
Tifa entered through the batwing doors to his right, and he listened to their gentle swinging as she stopped next to him.
She placed a calming hand on his bicep and squeezed – not so much a squeeze as a confirmation of his existence. Then she removed her hand, her fingers just brushing the skin of his arm. He enjoyed the way she always seemed to know just what to do with him; of all the things Tifa had done to help him, making him feel more like himself was what he was most grateful for.
"Fourth time," he explained before turning to her and smiling. "Thanks again."
She smiled back, and their proximity to each other was deafening. "You want to talk about it?" she asked, but it was clear from the look in her eyes that she wanted to do much more than just talk.
He saw the desire in her eyes – he was sure it was in his own – but he shook his head. "I'm fine. You should go back to sleep."
"Only if you do."
"Yeah..." He looked back at the mirror. He saw himself standing next to Tifa. "Yeah, let's get some sleep."