Authors Notes: This is not a new story. This story has been in progress for a couple of years, as my ability to write it has been hindered over the course of that time. Although my writing style has changed over this time, and is visible in the chapters following, the direction of this story has remained the same. I'm back to writing it and have been updating it consistently as of late. To celebrate that this story is no longer dead, I've decided to upload it here as well as my writing livejournal, (available in my profile), so that more people can read it, and hopefully enjoy it. Thank you for your interest and I hope you enjoy the story. :)
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Pairings: ZackxCloud, AngealxZack, AngealxCloud, AngealxZackxCloud
Warnings: ANGST. Slight AU. Gay things.
Rating: Hard R - NC-17 in future.
Summary: The Planet faces the verge of death, in the last effort to save itself, it sends Cloud back to when it all began.
Chapter 1 - A Sense of Finality
A sense of finality had spread through the hearts of everyone watching Edge's final struggle. The fighting spirit of Midgar lived on in Edge. The first attack had been a severe setback, but life went on. People used their strong will to continue and rebuilt what was lost. No one had expected the attacks to continue.
And as Edge sunk into the ground, joining the ruins of Midgar in the desolate waste that was left, everyone knew what it meant. The Planet could no longer heal where Midgar had fallen.
There weren't enough people left to rebuild a new town. There were not enough mothers, not enough children or intact families for the legacy to continue. Nobody knew a whole lot about what started the attacks, but they knew one thing.
The Darkness was strongest where The Planet was polluted. It was not safe to live in the shadow of Midgar's desolation.
It had been a year and a half since Edge had been abandoned, and there was no life at all in Midgar. Even the slum rats were gone, any natural life too unnerved to live anywhere where the lifestream was not present.
As Cloud stood on the cliffs overlooking Midgar's plane, he knew it had not been long enough since his last visit. Edge had at one time been his home, the hope of everyone trying to rebuild. Now it was impossible to see where the wreckage of Midgar ended, and the ruins of Edge began. This was not home to anything but The Darkness and its children.
The land was scarred and dry, blackened where The Darkness had pushed through the earth during the attacks. The air was stagnant and heavy, with the sun beating down as hard as it was, the climate was almost unbearable.
'So it's true, The Planet has given up on this place.'
The only shelter from the suns scorching rays was the amount of grime that coated Cloud's skin. They had been on the move for too long, fighting every step of the way in an attempt to make it to safety, and they were looking worse for wear. Sweat, dirt and blood caked into his skin, choking and suffocating. Residue from The Darkness, much resembling what geostigma had looked like, was caked on all of them as well, leftovers from the monsters that they had slain. It was hard to keep open wounds from becoming infected by The Darkness in these conditions.
Buster Sword still stood proud in the ground, a silent testament to what had once been. It seemed like forever ago when Cloud first put it here, even though only nine years had come and gone. He was sure that the sword would deteriorate first, eventually sinking into The Planet, returning to it's original owner. But at this rate, there wouldn't be much of a planet to return to.
The world had witnessed The Planets power to defend itself when it had aided Holy, effectively destroying Meteor and most of Midgar as well. But this area was proof that The Planet was nearing the end of it's power. Midgar was not the only place that had become too desolate to support human existence. It was a scary thought, but it was widely accepted now.
The Darkness was a combined force of everything contaminated in The Planet. Much as geostigma had once corrupted and choked off a body's natural function, this Darkness, horridly strong, had worked it's way deep into the lifestream.
It gathered at one place, empowered by the horrors of science and technology in the wrong hands. The Planet could no longer take the pain of this corruption, and tried to fight it. But it would overcompensate, and end up destroying everything, hurting itself more and giving The Darkness a new wound to sink itself into. Each of these attacks had the devastating effects of another Calamity. And there were too many of them happening too often, The Planet was doomed.
They had tried, god they had tried hard to stop the attacks from happening, tried to rid the world of The Darkness. But somewhere along the lines their fighting turned from trying to save the world, to just trying to stay alive.
Cloud closed his eyes tightly, resting his hand atop the hilt of Buster Sword, allowing himself a moment to let down his guard. The voices were quiet for now, and had been for a few days. Perhaps it was because they had come too close to the wreckage of Midgar. Or perhaps it was because The Planet wished to leave him alone after the last news that it had delivered.
There were so many people in the lifestream, so many dead calling out to those still living that it had become a common occurrence for Cloud to hear the whispers of voices when no one was around. Everyone did, to a degree, but it seemed that The Planet only spoke to Cloud directly.
Sometimes Cloud wanted to peg it all as nerves and declare himself insane. Other days he was sure he was already around the bend. For so long now he had been putting a lot of effort into steering is thoughts away from what had happened, never allowing himself a chance to reflect. There was no place for weakness anymore, and his emotional state was far too delicate to be exposed.
'Friends found their peace in the lifestream today.' Cloud had given everything to gain nothing for The Planet, it was only appropriate that it would speak to him itself when something happened. It also caused Cloud to dread hearing the planets voice.
It was also the announcement that Cloud feared the worst. There were only two people left that he'd shed tears over. Despite the constant reports of new dead, there was not much that could be done for those who had fallen. There was too much riding on Cloud and his men for them to pause fighting for anything, and that included grieving. They were all building up a lot of grief inside, they were all looking forward to the peace when they joined their dead loved ones in the lifestream. That's when they would grieve.
Yuffie had been the last one that Cloud had heard of. She had been with Vincent and Tifa's forces, probably the largest of their forces in one place. She had died from poisoning, too stubborn to use restore materia that could be used to keep someone else alive, she had refused to heal the small flesh wound. But The Darkness had gotten into the wound, it was one of the more painful deaths that could be suffered.
That left only...
'Vincent says, he'll save a spot for you in the lifestream.' Cloud hung his head and shut his eyes tight to hold back the surge of emotion that washed over him. Vincent had always just wanted to be left alone, he hadn't wanted to get involved. When the war had reached it's peak, there hadn't been much of a choice, though. Yet Cloud felt guilty, he had been the one to convince Vincent to join the struggle.
'Tifa has much to tell you, but she wishes to tell you herself when she finds her voice.'
And that was the breaking point. No matter how tight Cloud shut his eyes, he couldn't stop the tears from falling.
Vincent and Tifa were to meet him in Kalm with what was left of their forces. There they would regroup and be better prepared to face the next wave. Yuffie had died on the way, but nobody had been expecting the onslaught of monsters and enemies that had been waiting for them in Kalm. The Darkness overwhelmed what was left of their dwindling forces, there were no survivors.
And that army of enemies was now sweeping over the plane to meet them and the few remaining soldiers left alive under his command. They had worn themselves to the bone and ran out of supplies making the hard run to Kalm from where they had been stationed in Mideel. They could no longer run away, they would have to make their final stand.
The mood when they had broke camp in the morning had been bleak, but these soldiers were worn to the bone, they were ready to face their end and receive their well deserved peace.
'Just a little longer, buy us a little more time.' Cloud wasn't sure what The Planet meant by that. They could have all the time in the world and it wouldn't do them any good. There were not enough new recruits, the WRO was nearly wiped out, there wasn't anything organized enough to train new fighters. The last pockets of resistance had been wiped out recently. As far as Cloud was aware, they were effectively the last ones standing.
There was nothing left to fight for. The WRO was in shambles, everyone he loved was dead, and The Planet was dying as well. There was no optimism left, just the hard reality that they were about to face death with no method of survival.
He heard footsteps in the distance, alerting him that the rest of his troops had caught up with him. All that was left out of hundreds of healthy, determined soldiers, was perhaps a dozen men and women, battle worn and callous to the world around them. Tired, wounded and underfed, it was out of pure spite that they would refuse to go down without a fight.
No words were spoken between him and his men as they started to set up a camp where he had stopped. They could see what was coming here, and it was better that way. The set up what was left of their tents, crawling into the shade and living out the last of their lives in silence.
There wasn't enough food to go around, only a few blankets and only three tents were still functional. The only thing everyone had their own of was a weapon and materia, but that wasn't enough to keep an army going.
What was left of the food was passed around. Cloud refused his, reaching into his diminishing supply of potions and finding the last hyper he had. Downing it, Cloud felt some of the sadness slip away, some energy returning to him. He'd been living off hypers for quite a while though, the effect was not as strong as it used to be.
He joined his men, sitting under the flap of a tent with the empty hyper bottle in his hand. His side was sore, and he noted dully that there might be something broken or bleeding. He didn't make any effort to take care of it though. Open wounds took priority, it was better to die of internal bleeding then let someone die of poisoning. He was still probably the healthiest out of the group, the cells that he had at one time cursed keeping him going. Whatever it was in his side would probably have mended itself before their final battle.
"I wonder what the promised land will be like." It was the first thing that had been said in a while. The soldier who said it was looking a little worse for wear, somehow the top part of his uniform had been ripped away, and the sun had been burning his skin for a while. Restore materias were in short enough supply that he didn't do anything about it, though.
"After all we've done for The Planet, it'd better be good." The woman who spoke was kneeling next to a stretcher with what was left of their medical supplies. The man had been jumped with his pants down when he had wandered away from the group to piss. An embarrassing situation as it was, but some of The Darkness had made it's way into an open wound. Alvio, the woman and their remaining medic, was doing her best to cleanse the wound and kill the pain that the poisoning was causing. It wasn't severe enough to kill the man, but it was enough to cause a lot of discomfort.
"Kinda seems like The Planet doesn't like us much, though. Keeps on rejecting us over and over." Cloud wasn't sure who spoke that time, and couldn't find it in himself to care. "These lives of ours have been a cursed existence. All this fighting with no hope of..."
The man trailed off and they all grew quiet and grim. They were looking forward to the peace that death would bring, but what would happen after that was anyone's guess. When they were gone there would be no one left to defend The Planet.
The remaining members of the cult who had started this whole mess would have free reign. They would strengthen and nurture The Darkness until it overpowered the lifestream. What would become of their peace? Would they even have a lifestream to return to?
Cloud ached to grieve for his friends properly, to say goodbye to all that he had lost and sort through his thoughts, his emotions, and his memories at least once before his end. Yet to remove that ache, he'd have to go through a pain far too intense. He wasn't sure his body could handle that pain anymore, so he'd deal with that ache. He'd wait until he reached the lifestream before he'd start to work things out.
In the lifestream, he wouldn't be alone anymore. Everything would be easier to handle with his friends beside him.
And that's what hurt the worst. Despite the fact that he tried hard not to get attached, Cloud depended on his friends for his strength. There were no friendships in this army, everyone knew better than to get attached to someone who might not be there the next day. They didn't plan futures with each other, because a future was unlikely.
But the friendships of his past had offered those things. The war had drawn them closer together before it had ripped them apart irreparably.
It was several hours later when the first howl was heard. It drew most of his men from their light slumber. The sun was at the highest point in the sky, and in the distance they could see the black streak that was their attackers moving across the plane. It was an agonizing howl that promised everything they expected and feared that woke them all up.
Their battle was fast approaching, and as Cloud stood and drew his sword, his men followed suit. They were looking forward to their last stand. The heat of battle dissolved all thoughts and pain.
And death just promised so much.
The sun was glaringly bright, so it didn't make sense that when Cloud's eyes opened he could barely see anything through the blackness in his vision. He couldn't focus on anything, and while not being able to see was worrisome, it was nothing compared to pain that his body was wracked with as soon as he tried to move.
As was per usual he tried to catalogue his injuries, but there were too many fatal wounds for him to tell one from the other. He didn't have the air in his lungs to curse, but he would have if he could. Just his luck that he would come to before he died, his body determined to cling to life, even though it's grip was loosening fast.
His chest was ripped open, that would explain why his gasps for breath were wet, why there was so much blood in his mouth. He was choking, but he wasn't able to even cough. He was drowning in his own blood and it was a horrible feeling.
They were outnumbered and easily overwhelmed. He had been the last to fall, fighting to his last despite the fact that his body was falling apart from the abuse. He had finally been knocked down, swallowed up by monsters that finally swarmed him. He was dragged to his death, greeted with claws, teeth, and the stagnant smell of death and darkness.
'We need you alive for a few minutes more.' Clouds eyes fluttered closed, still struggling to breathe though he was only succeeding in sucking more blood into what was left of his lungs. The only reason he was alive, was because of The Planet's intervention. He could feel the lifestream wrapping around him, even though he couldn't see it. What could they need him for in this state?
Suddenly he felt something cold and chilled circle his hands and arms. Weakly he opened his eyes, but this time the light was so bright that it blinded him. He could only make out bright colors, and then the green shimmer that was the lifestream as it started to envelope him.
When it forced itself into the wounds in his chest, he let out an agonized scream. It was choking him, smothering him and tightening around his body, choking it. He could hear The Planet speaking to him, telling him something about preservation, but he couldn't hear it over the sound of his own screams.
Finally the lifestream hit his organs. It didn't take much pressure for his flooded lungs to collapse, and his heart froze as the mako started to solidify in his body. Death was reaching for him, and Cloud knew he wasn't screaming any longer, that his life was finally being pulled away from him.
They said that when you died your entire life flashed before your eyes, but the only thing Cloud saw was the haunting image of friends who had met their end this way.
There was nothing left living in Midgar.
'This is the last thing we will ever ask of you, Cloud. I promise.' Cloud heard the voice echo through his mind. He tried to open his eyes to see where it was coming from, but when nothing happened he sluggishly realized he didn't have eyes to open.
'You'll wake up soon. Please listen Cloud, remember as much of this conversation as you can.' The voice seemed familiar, but when he tried to think to place it a pain wracked through his entire existence. 'Don't think. You're separated from the rest of yourself right now, but I needed to speak with you before you left. I needed...I needed to say goodbye.'
Cloud knew something was wrong, knew that something wasn't as it should be, but he couldn't think to figure out just what it was.
'The lifestream is in danger. The Darkness is going to reach it soon and destroy it. The memories, the lives, the souls of everyone here will be lost. There will be no resting place for anyone soon, we can't let that happen. But we can't fight against The Darkness, not now, it's just too strong. We have to...back when it's...before...'
The voice was breaking up, losing touch with his mind and Cloud wasn't able to process what was running through his head, unable to put together the words to understand what the voice was trying to communicate.
'Running out of time...don't forget...goodbye.'
He wanted to ask the voice to stay, wanted to ask for, no, demand an explanation. But he was being dragged away, deeper into the chasm he was in. And soon he couldn't hear the voice at all anymore.
The unexpected ringing of a bell awoke Cloud suddenly. "SOLDIER candidates group C and B please proceed to training center #29. Your exams will start shortly. Group A is to proceed to the #4 loading dock for departure in 30 minutes."
Cloud heard someone yell "Shit I'm late!" faintly as he sat up, dazed and unsteady.
Cloud was somewhat stunned by what he had just heard, and the room he was greeted with when he gathered his bearings. He wasn't sure how to react when he looked around and saw the regulation style dorm that he had lived in when he had been a Shinra cadet. He wasn't sure how to react to the class bell or the voice over the PA system.
It seemed to take far too long for his brain to start working and process the situation. But the more he thought about it, the more confused he became. This wasn't right. Memories were starting to flicker in his mind.
He had fought his last battle. He had fallen next to the last of his troops to an enemy that they knew they couldn't defeat. He had died his painful death, and he was taken into the lifestream. He should be waking up next to his friends, he should be in the promised land. He most definitely shouldn't be waking up to the sound of everyday Shinra announcements as if he was still a cadet, as if nothing had happened. Or had that all been a dream? Had none of it really happened?
'Stay calm, Cloud. There's a lot to explain, but we have some time now.'
The planets voice creeping into his thoughts was the last thing Cloud needed. No, it wasn't a dream. Somehow he was in his past.
Stumbling out of bed, he untangled himself from sheets. His body was smaller, he noticed that immediately, and he knew he was shaking as he stumbled into the bathroom and flipped on the lights, staring at himself in the mirror.
Sheer blue eyes untouched by mako stared back at him. He looked bewildered, afraid, and most importantly, fifteen.
"Oh...Shiva, please no."
'Don't panic. Calm down Cloud.'
The Planet was trying to soothe him, trying to urge him to stay calm so that the transition could be explained.
But it didn't work. With a whimper Cloud's eyes crossed and he fainted dead away.