Chapter Title: Empyrean

Summary: AU In another universe, Zack Fair died during the massacre and burning of Nibelheim. Cloud Strife died during Hojo's experiments and Calamity destroyed the Planet. So, Zack Fair is sent back in order to ensure Gaia's life.

Characters: Zack and Angeal is the main pairing. There will hints of others.

Warning: There will be mentions of torture from Hojo. It will not be nice or kind. It is a cruel, dehumanizing experience. With that said, be warned.

Empyrean

Empyrean: The highest heaven, supposed by the ancients to contain the pure element of fire.

xXxXxXxXxXxXxX

Warmth. Comfort. Understanding.

Zack woke up, feeling as if he hadn't been sliced and banged around. He felt...Well, he felt good. He was in his SOLDIER uniform and armor, and seemed to be lying down in a field of soft, silky dirt and…

'Flowers?'

Zack hefted his upper body up and sat crossed leg as he looked around in wonder as he sat in a never-ending field of yellow flowers. He marveled at the simple beauty but then wondered…

'Where am I…?'

Lifestream. One. Together. Soulstogethermakokintogether.

"Holy shit! There's a voice in my head!" Zack yelped as he felt a presence enter his mind and talk in a distinctly female voice. His head felt heavy, as if he was carrying something incredibly heavy inside it, yet at the same time his head felt light and full of air.

Yes.

The voice sounded amused and like an indulgent mother. Zack scowled and then frowned.

"Er, care to repeat what you just said?" Zack inquired sheepishly.

Lifestream. One. Together. Afterlife.

"Lifestream…Afterlife?" Zack mumbled questioningly, frowning. Then he froze and his eyes went wide.

"I'm fucking dead?" Zack screamed.

.

Zack gave a low groan of pain as words, emotions, and feelings seemed to over flood him. As abruptly as the voice weighed monstrously in his head, it left, leaving behind a thin, faint presence. He felt dizzy and clutched his head with his hands.

"Dead…" Zack chewed on his lip. "Shit, you mean to tell me all of this for fucking nothing?"

Zack felt numb. He felt cold and lifeless inside. He felt dead.

'No!' Zack thought frantically, panic setting in. 'No, no, no, no!'

Why did this happen to him? Why? How? And what about Cloud? Oh gods the poor kid!

'Hojo. Hojo's got him!'

Zack closed his eyes and clenched his fist, feeling a heavy despair fall over him. Regret, self-loathing, guilt…He felt tears sting his eyes and gather at the edges. So when he felt phantom tendrils soothing rub his temples and slide through his hair, he flinched in surprise.

Over. Done. Nomorefinisheddon'tworry. Accept.

'How? How can I?'

"How?" Zack yelled at the Lifestream, at Gaia, whoever was speaking in his head, echoing and tingling.

Death. Afterlife. Lifestream. Over.

Zack gave a defiant yell.

"I can't! I need to save Cloud! You saw how crazy Sephiroth was all because of that Hojo! What is going to happen to Cloud then?"

Death. Nibel's cloud-childjoinussoon.

"No! No, you can't!" Zack screamed.

'And Aerith. Seph.'

Calamitychildnotallowed!Notalloweddeathburningdisease! Jenova. Calamity. Calamitysonnotallowed!

"Shit! Stop it!" Zack clutched his head again as feelings of vehemence bombarded him. Zack gave a glare to the empty air. "Just because what, Hojo decided to insert in the blue-titty bitch's cell in Seph, he can't come? What the hell, I thought you allowed everyone!"

Calamity's son! Not allowed!

Zack gave another groan of pain as the heavy presence fell entirely upon his soul. In that instant, he felt so small and insignificant. He felt a hopeless despair fall upon him. What opinion, what voice, did he have against a whole planet? What did it even matter?

"Why…?" Zack whispered before he slumped to his knees and fell face-first into the soft dirt. He closed his eyes and stayed unconscious.

xXxXxXxXxXxXxX

Zack spent listless days pacing in the flower field. He had no idea why he was there, why he couldn't see anyone else who had…died –he would clench his fist and defiantly shake in denial whenever he thought himself dead- and why he never had to eat, drink, sleep, or even use the bathroom. A man was not supposed to at least take a piss, even if he was apparently in the mother-fucking Lifestream.

"Fucking Lifestream," he grumbled under his breath as he stalked about the flower field.

He felt like a feral animal under inspection. He felt listless and full of energy, frustrated and snappy at odd ends. He would pace on ends, sometimes just running for what seemed like days and the space from where he ran to where he ended never changed. The flowers were the same, the silky dirt the same, the subtle but firm presence of Gaia the same, and the overwhelming fact that he was mother-fucking dead was the same. Useless. Done. Over with.

Sometimes he would hear other voices. Snippets of conversations and of souls. Sometimes he could hear them like he was right next to them and sometimes the voices seemed to resonant in his head. And sometimes they were a buzz, continuous and streaming together to form an unsteady thrum of noise that made him go crazy.

He wondered if he really was crazy. Or turning crazy. Like Sephiroth. Like Genesis. Like…

He didn't want to think. He was just so…tired. Tired and worn out. His soul felt old.

Sometimes he would be brimming with frustrated energy, and screamed at whatever he could and ripped out the flowers. He would feel so trapped during those times. Nothing to fight against, no real physical proof, nothing to work his emotions on. And running through the endless flower field just made it worse. He would exhaust himself and wake feeling even worse and repeat the entire act. Pace, get frustrated, get angry, scream and thrash, and start running and running and running…

Then there were the days he just dropped. He didn't care. During these times he would sometimes wonder what his whole life was for. Why he was here, not seeing a single soul from the Lifestream -if he was even in the Lifestream- and he would just drop into the cushions of flowers and close his eyes. He just felt so old. Old, tired, jaded, overused, he felt as if life was the biggest bullshitting prank with him as the chosen target they needed to throw bombs and every fucking Summoning Materiaat.

Right now, was not one of those moments.

"What am I fucking supposed to do here?" He snarled, clenching and unclenching his fist. "There's nothing for me here! There's nothing! LET ME OUT!"

Zack screamed. He walked erratically, as if drunk, and just screamed out obscenities. Even when his voice felt raw and he felt the coppery tang of blood slip thickly down his throat, he screamed and roared. Nothing to hurt, nothing to do, nothing to take his frustrations on. Helpless, useless, nothing. Nothingnothingnothing. Empty and unsatisfying. There wasn't anything gratifying enough to satisfy his energy.

"Fuck you!" Zack screamed as his head tilted in an almost impossible angle. He screamed at the nothingness. "Fuck you! Fucking fuck you! I hate this!"

Zack unbuckled his armor with trembling fingers and threw them off his body. The heavy armor flew in an elegant quite an impressive length away before landing with a heavy, dull thud. It did not abate his anger though.

"Aaaaaaaagh!" Zack grabbed his hair and yanked, and thrashed about, not knowing what else to do. He couldn't do anything. He was in a field of fucking harmless flowers that never ended. There were voices that whispered and talked to him but never responded. And he was dead. Dead and he couldn't help any of the people that were still alive.

Zack down to his knees, drained.

"…I hate this." He whispered as his lips trembled, as his whole body shuddered and shook. "I hate this, I hate this place, I hate being dead, I hate myself."

Zack was crying. Salty tears ran down his cheeks and chin, and made his eyes burn. He clenched his hair even more tightly and he rammed his head to the harmless ground as he screamed.

There wasn't even an echo within the empty field.

xXxXxXxXxXxXxX

"Zack,"

Zack ignored the voice. He just ran, his breath coming out like the grate and rattle of broken rubble.

"Zack,"

He didn't want to acknowledge it. His situation, the voices, the fucking field of never-fucking-ending flowers, Gaia and her goddamn superiority, and especially not that pleading voice that sounded exactly like the person whom he had loved and respected so much…

He felt a hard, heavy weight settle in his throat and stomach. He kept on running, felt the burn of acid and mako in his muscles as they stung with fatigue. He ran and it felt like there was a deep, smoldering fire within him, full of such dark emotions that sometimes he would scare himself.

And Zack felt the sobs creep up to his throat and the tears sting his eyes but he kept on running. It wasn't real. The tears, the pathetic noises he was making, the burning in his muscles, and those dark, twisted, malicious emotions writhing low in his stomach dragging their foreboding claws within his body…None of it was real.

"Zack, please,"

Not real he voiced to himself mentally. Not real. None of this was real. Nothing, not one bit of this craziness was real.

"Zack!"

Zack stumbled and fell into the ground, his nose and mouth filled with dirt that tasted like real dirt, that felt like real dirt, that smelled like real dirt, that looked like real dirt, and the low, pleading, anguished voice sounded exactly like…

Zack pushed himself off, spat out the dirt that wasn't real, blew the dirt that wasn't real out of his nose, and just took off running. He ignored the stitch in his sides, the scrapes on his face and chin, and the tears that ran down his cheeks. Because none of it was real and he should never acknowledge it, and why…?

"Zack…"

Zack gave out a harsh sob and just ran. Running was all he could do.

xXxXxXxXxXxXxX

Today was one of Zack's quiet days. Or nights. Whatever time it was inside the happy field of smileys, happy faces, and fucking rainbows shooting out of everyone's gaily happy asses. Zack snorted. It seemed like the more time, and he was even reluctant to admit if time even existed at all in this place, he spent in the flower field, the more cynical he got. Of course, he always appreciated sarcastic humor, even indulged himself in a little bit of harmless cruelty whenever he fell into a depression-like state when he started to question why he joined ShinRa, but the constant state of helplessness he had been forced into made him feel anxious. Nervous. Twitchy and cynical.

It actually sort of scared him to be honest. During his moments of contemplative silence, his mind would start digging up painful memories, memories that would start to drag him into a dark chasm.

Zack sighed and lay down on his back and looked at the pale, never ending blue sky. He idly wondered how much time passed and wondered if he looked any different at all. It would make sense, or not, if he hadn't aged since he had gotten to…where ever the hell he was. He didn't get hungry or thirsty, and he never needed to use the bathroom for, well, everything, which sort of freaked him out really. He never smelled no matter how many times he ran; the sweat that covered his body on his frantic sprints and runs always left his body, as if they were they were never there to begin with. The dirt that would get underneath his fingernails and in uncomfortable places would disappear as if they were never there in the first place. His facial hair, the hair on his legs, arms, and chest even stopped showing. (Although, mako usually stunted or all together stopped hair from growing on those parts). The hair on his head had even stopped growing! Frankly, it creeped him out beyond anything.

He wriggled about into the dirt and even wondered why the sun here didn't sting his eye. He could look endlessly at the sky and even look directly into the sun without his mako-sensitive eyes stinging or burn out of his sockets. It was weird.

Zack let loose another sigh and closed his eyes. He usually felt restless and frustrated, but today he felt exhausted. Completely worn out. Zack idly wondered why even felt comfortable when he could feel the dirt cling to the nape of his neck and settle stubbornly in his hair. He didn't even wince when tiny, sharp rubble pieces and pebbles dug into his bare skin. It was as if he had no pain receptors here or something. Or, it felt as if they were highly muted.

But what could hurt the dead…?

He clamped tight on that thought.

He wasn't dead. And as soon as he found a way to get out of this delusional place he was going to find Cloud, whack Sephiroth a few times around the head, and hack Hojo into tiny pieces.

Zack gave a grated, slightly hysterical laugh. He never noticed the pair of glowing eyes stare at him in agonized sadness.

xXxXxXxXxXxXxX

Sometimes, Zack wondered if he was even human anymore. He seemed to have no humanly needs whatsoever in the flower field. No hunger, no thirst. None of his basic human needs needed to be sated or tended to. It was…disconcerting.

How much time has passed he wonders. How much has he spent here, not doing a thing but let his emotions control him. No company, no one to talk to but the blue sky, the sunlight that didn't act like sunlight, or space that didn't even act like, well, space. It was some of sci-fi geek's wet dream to be grossly honest. There was probably sort of tech-y, science-y, explanation why he was placed in a flower field of all place that never seemed to end. Like it was some sort of manifestation of his crazy brain signals. Or a subconscious dream where he always wanted to prance around like a princess pony on the rainbow road to the land of happiness. Whoop-de-do, he was the breakthrough of all neurotic scientific fields. Zack snorted in dry mirth before shifting around in the dirt restlessly.

To be honest, it scared the fuck out of him. The continuous monotone of perfect flowers, weather, and skies were driving him crazy. And he couldn't break the pattern because it never ended. He didn't need to take a piss, didn't need to eat or drink, and he even sometimes morbidly thought to stop breathing to see if he would survive or not. It was making him so numb. He tried to vainly close his eyes to fall into slumber to stave off the edge of insanity, but when he opened them, it was to see the same exact things. Pretty, delicate yellow flowers, continuous blue skies with perfect fluffy, white clouds, a bright sun that never stung his eyes, and nothing else but beside that. There was nothing to stimulate his sense.

Except for the voices.

An always never-ending stream of tiny whispers would carry through the field and Zack already perfected the art of filtering it through one ear and letting it out the other. He learned early on if he continued listening to all the voices, it literally made his head hurt and made him fall into a frenzied state of frustration. All those voices whispering in his ear, in his head. Inside of him all the time. He snapped more than once and he had to learn how to ignore them before he was driven into the jumbled edge of a crazy man's mind.

Sometimes though, the voices would be too much. Sometimes there would be a voice louder than the others that would punctuate his wall of purposeful ignorance. During those times he would be forced to listen to the chatter.

"Never meant to hurt her…Never, never, never…! Oh gods, why did I do it? I'm sorry, I'm sorry…"

Usually those voices were full of anguish. "Why did you do it? You said you loved me…you were gonna marry me…" "Mama, I'm sorry I wasn't good enough for you…"

"Everything, everything! Didn't you know?"

"SorryI'msorry…Nevemeantsorrymybadallmyfault!"

Zack hated those days. The first it happened, he cried so much. It was cruel. Humanity was just so cruel.

"Why did you do it? For money, for power? You said you didn't need it!"

How greedy humans were. How selfish and abusive. An abusive mother, a jealous lover, the voices of heartbroken men and women unable to let go. It was so jumbled up and inside of him. In his head, in his body and mind.

In his soul.

"I'm sorry Zack,"

Zack sobbed and wished it would just stop.

xXxXxXxXxXxXxX

There was something wrong with him.

That was his first thought of the day as he opened his eyes. There was something wrong with him.

He was supposed to be with Aerith, with Cloud, with Sephiroth. He should be laughing and fighting and trying to be a hero. He should be with Kunsel and training his ass off and laughing it over with other First SOLDIERs. He and Tseng would not get along but still have that air of camaraderie because they had history together with missions and Ang-… He wonders if this is what insanity feels like. And it feels like, for the first time in a very long time, that he can't breathe and everything inside him hurts. He's not with the people he knows he loves he lived with. He has entered Death. And he's spiraling down into insanity, into a broken state of mind because why is he here? There was something wrong with him.

xXxXxXxXxXxXxX

Everything's blank. Except for the humming and the buzzing, everything is blank. He doesn't know what to think, what to do, and he doesn't care. Irrelevant. Numb. Cold. It didn't matter anymore. If only the screams in the background, the edges of black in his cool, blank white, would leave him alone. If only the voices would leave him.

xXxXxXxXxXxXxX

The screams are getting louder everyday and his head, his mind, and even his body hurts with the continuous pressure of those screams. He feels sick. He can not longer escape to the blankness because instead of a white dumb, an oily, oozing black confronts him and sickens him. Calamity! Calamity! SonofCalamity! ! If he ignores it it'll go away. If he ignores it it'll go away. Ifheignoresitit'llgoaway… CALAMITY DEATH

xXxXxXxXxXxXxX

"Zack," Ignore everything. Ignore everything. The voices, the pain, the dying flowers within the field and the dark sky and the oil that creeps into him and makes him sick. Ignore it. "Zack, please…!" Ignore that he's dead, that he died, that he's no longer alive. Ignore the voice in the corner that had always known, that had always knew. Ignore everything. Ignore it. "Zack, you need to listen to me!" Ignore sad, understanding green eyes on a face that's haggard and thin but so ethereally beautiful anyway that he thought about trying to grab for the thinning chestnut hair. Ignore it. Ignore sharp, glowing blue eyes full of pain and torture on a young face mottled blue and black. Ignore the cuts over his body, the incisions and the stitches and the stench of despair and self-loathing. Ignore it. Ignore the broken child in the corner and the malevolent Darkness that creeps in closer towards the child, towards him, and will soon devour them both. Ignore it. "Zack… Zack, I love you," Ignore the knowledge of his death, of everyone's death and demise. Ignore it.. Ignore the man in the background. Ignore the man with the anguished voice and despairing eyes. Ignore the man he wants to hold and cry over. Ignore the man who combs his hair when he thinks he's asleep. Ignore the man who whispers sorrowful, guilt-laden apologies and tells of love and happiness and innocence. Ignore it. Ignore everything. Ignore everything and everyone and every situation. Ignoreignoreignore. But how could he ignore it all? "…Goodbye Angeal," Ignore it and everything will be alright.

xXxXxXxXxXxXxX

There's a burst of life, of light, of a dying thing's desperation to live and it envelops Zack. And everything unravels. Time, space, dimensions, the nothing and everything. And it's before everything and after nothing again. All the things in the world are right again. Zack wakes up with tears in his eyes and the knowledge of what to do. He's not allowed to ignore anything anymore.