Sorry for the long wait! I'm really sorry! I hope you can forgive me. I've been busy for awhile and life can be so complicated sometimes (or most of the time). I'm taking an English course right now in college. Hoping that will help me improve my writing skills and make my chapters better than ever and become perfect…Anyways, hope you'll enjoy the chapter. This is the last chapter of the flashback-arch!


CHAPTER 017: HERO'S COME BACK

"You were shot to death?" asked Aerith, completely shocked as she covered her mouth with her hand.

Zack gave a weak nod and scratched the back of his head, "Yeah. Of course, I don't remember anything after that…Cloud?"

Cloud nodded lightly, "I'll continue it from here. My vision was blurry and I was still weak, but I could hear everything else, clear as day…"


One of the grunts noticed Cloud resting against a nearby rock and walked up to him. He pointed his rifle at Cloud's head, but saw he wasn't responding. He was just sitting there doing nothing. He poked Cloud's head with a light tap of his rifle and still got no response from him. The only thing he saw from him was his chest slowing rising and falling, demonstrating he was alive.

"Sir! Over here!" yelled the grunt.

The red uniformed commander walked up to where one of his men was and noticed him pointing his rifle down at Cloud. He kneeled down next to him and examined him, checking his condition.

"What should we do with him?" asked the grunt as he lowered his weapon.

The commander grabbed hold of Cloud's chin and checked around his face. As he released his grip, he spat on his face, and kicked him hard onto the ground. Cloud still remained motionless and didn't even made a sound when he got hit. He examined the blond one more time and gave out a soft chuckle.

"He looks dead to me. Let him rot with his friend."

The commander and the two grunts soon strolled away, leaving Cloud alone. Once the three troops were gone and everything went quiet, Cloud slowly pushed himself up and dragged himself next to Zack's body. He was surrounded by a puddle of his own blood and his hand was gripping tightly onto the handle of his sword. He lowered his head as he tried to fight back the tears in his eyes. Zack tried so hard to protect him, he ended up losing his own life, and now Cloud was alone. Then he felt something hitting from above him. He looked up to see that it was raining hard, almost like the sky was crying for Zack's death after the events that had just been unfold. He stared at the rainy sky above him and gave out a loud scream of pain, despair,...sadness. The only time he stopped was when he ran out of air in his lungs and couldn't any longer.

As Cloud lowered his head back down, he heard a weak gasping sound. He quickly raised his head around and scouted the area around him, wondering where it was coming from. The only sound he could hear was the rain pouring down hard and onto the ground. A second later, he heard the gasping again. He looked down and could have sworn he saw Zack's chest slowly rising and falling. He pressed his ear closer to his friend's mouth and placed a finger on his neck to feel for his pulse. There was a pulse and he could hear the sound of him gasping for air. Zack was still alive! Though Zack barely hanging on and it seemed he didn't have that much time left.

Cloud made Zack release his grip on his sword and lifted him up, letting him rest on his back, which caused Cloud to lean slightly forward. He was struggling and groaning in pain as he tried to stand on his two feet with Zack's weight pushing him down, but he choose to ignore it. Right now he was more focused on getting Zack out of here and finding some help. He placed his right arm behind his back underneath Zack to support him while he used his free hand to carry Zack's Buster Sword, dragging the tip of the blade against the dirt. He stared at Midgar that stood in front of him and began trudging off towards the city...


"I carried Zack on my back as I made my journey to Midgar. It was difficult trying to protect him and defending myself when we were attacked by a few monsters, but I kept pushing on. I wasn't going to give up…I was fighting to survive. I was fighting…for the both of us," explained Cloud, "I then manage to sneak inside of Midgar, but I was getting worse. I was becoming more tired, weaker, and ready to collapse...I wasn't too sure how long I could keep on going."


Cloud grunted in pain with Zack on his back, still unconscious. He couldn't take another step. His strength was nearly drained and his vision was becoming more blurry to the point where he couldn't see where he was going or where he was at. Next thing he knew, he collapsed onto the wet ground below him, dropping the Buster Sword and Zack onto the ground. It was difficult to breath and everything was growing dark. Was it really going to end like this? His eyes were half-way closed until he heard a voice, calling out towards him, sounding worried.

"Are you okay?"

Cloud could tell it was a woman's voice, but he wasn't too sure whose voice was it. Yet, that voice sounded so familiar like he heard it from somewhere. He could see a shadowy blurry figure in his vision, but he was so weak, he couldn't focus. He gave out a grunt towards the person, his voice sounding like a whisper, "Please…save him." After that, everything grew dark and silent.


"After that point on...I don't know what happened," mumbled Cloud softly, but made sure everyone could still hear him.

"I do. I was waiting for Barret and the others in Sector 7 to return from their mission at the train station," mumbled Tifa softly as she lowered her head, "It was then I found you and Zack in terrible conditions…"


Tifa gave a sigh as she held an umbrella over her head as she waited for the train to come. The rain drops were getting through the cracks and holes from the plate above and reaching down to the slums. There were days when it did rain, but she never saw it raining this hard before. First time for anything, she guessed. She looked at the clock at the lamp post in front of her and it was getting late. Barret should have been here by now along with the others.

"I guess I'll just wait for them back in the bar," said Tifa to herself.

As she was about to leave, she heard grunting. She turned her head to the side to see a man struggling while he was walking out of the train graveyard in the abandon section of Sector 7. He was holding onto a huge sword with his left hand while he was carrying another man on his back. He had spiky blond hair and Tifa had a feeling she met him somewhere before. He then collapsed onto the ground, dropping the sword and the man off of his back.

Tifa quickly rushed towards the man's side, "Are you okay?"

The blond gave out a grunt and his voice sounding like he was whispering to her, "Please…save him." After that, he was out cold.

"Hey! Stay with me!" yelled Tifa, but it was no use. She bit her lip and then focused her attention towards the second man the blond man was carrying. She went to his side and rolled him to make him lay on his back. She gasped in shock and covered her mouth with her hand as she recognized the man. He had long black hair, an x-shaped scar on his cheek, and wore a SOLDIER uniform.

"Zack?"

She examined the bullet holes that were in his uniform and the blood stain all over it. She focused her attention back to the blond male and brushed a piece of his hair to get a better look of him and gave out another gasp as she couldn't believe what she saw.

"Cloud!"

She turned her head to the right to face Zack and then to the left back to Cloud, then back to Zack, then to Cloud, and so on and so forth. She kept turning her head from side to side, thoughts and questions racing into her mind. What happened to these two? Where have they been after all these years? She didn't know what to do or what she WAS supposed to do. No, she knew the first thing she had to do was to take care of them and the only way to do that was to take them to her bar. Tifa then raised her head up as she heard a train coming and blowing its whistle as it came into complete stop at the station. As the door opened, she saw a tall dark skinned man with a gun-arm coming out along with three other figures coming out of the door behind him, two males and one female.

The gun-armed man saw Tifa with two males lying on the ground and quickly ran up to her, "Tifa! What's going on? Who are these two?"

"Barret! Help me get these two to the bar now!" ordered Tifa.

Barret was confused on what was going on, but decided to do what he was told. Jessie went to help Tifa carry Cloud, Biggs carried Zack by making him lay against his back, and both Wedge and Barret carried the Buster Sword to the bar.

x*x*x

"How are they?" asked Tifa worriedly.

"The blond male will be all right," said Jessie. She then focused her attention towards the black haired male and gave out a weak sigh, "This guy, however, is in terrible condition and barely hanging on. It's a miracle though. Usually one would never survive from these kinds of wounds."

Jessie gave out another sigh and went back on removing the bullets from Zack's chest and placing them in a silver bowl while Wedge placed a sponge on her forehead once in awhile to remove the sweat. Biggs just stood at the side, watching Jessie operate and Barret had his arms crossed as he stared at Tifa.

"So what's the story with these two?" asked Barret.

"The blond male's name is Cloud…a childhood friend," whispered Tifa softly. She then pointed a finger towards Zack, "The blacked hair guy that Jessie is operating on is Zack, SOLDIER 1st Class."

Biggs, Jessie, and Wedge stared at Tifa with their eyes wide opened while Barret was choking on his air and stared angrily at her, "Did you say SOLDIER?"

"That's what I said," said Tifa, giving out a soft glare towards Barret, not liking to repeat herself.

"SOLDIER? Aren't they the enemy?" asked Jessie.

"Damn straight they are the enemy!" yelled Barret as he stomped his foot on the wooden floor, "Da hell are we doin' lettin' them stay in our hideout!"

"And what was I suppose to Barret? Leave them in the rain to suffer in the conditions they were in?" replied Tifa, yelling back in equal tone with Barret.

"YES!"

Tifa crossed her arms and gave out a dark cold glare at him, then simply turned her head away to ignore Barret and focused her attention to Jessie, "Please do what you can, Jessie. I have questions I want to ask them."

Jessie gave out a weak nod and went back on removing the bullets out of Zack's body and stitching his wounds shut. Barret gave out a curse and walked out of the room while the others just stayed in the room. As Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie were focused on the two males, Tifa turned her head away, hiding her single tear so the three won't it.

'Oh Cloud…what happened to you…'

x*x*x

Six days had passed since Tifa had found Cloud and Zack, yet they still haven't woken up yet from their coma-like state. She always came into the room and sat next to Cloud, checking to see how he was doing and would occasionally clean his face with a wet towel. The last time she saw him was before he left Nibelheim to become SOLDIER when they were sitting on top of the well in the center of town. She couldn't believe how much he grown and wondered how much he, himself, changed. After losing her father and hometown, she felt like she lost everything, but seeing Cloud right here in front of her, she now felt he was all what she had left.

Tifa then stared at Zack, his chest wrapped around with white bandages. Jessie had stitched his wounds closed and cleaned his body, telling her that Zack would be fine as long as he got plenty of rest so she didn't have to worry. But she was thinking differently about him. She felt angry, her lips tightening, her eyes burning, her blood boiling when she stared him. She knew though it wasn't Zack's fault for what happened to Nibelheim and what happened to the townsfolk, for that was all Sephiroth's doing, but she couldn't help herself. Seeing him again reminded her of the pain of losing her hometown, her father, her friends, and her neighbors. She tried so hard to suppress the pain after that incident and now seeing Zack again, all that pain was coming back to her. Though, when she stared at Cloud, all that pain inside of her disappeared and for some odd reason, she could feel her lips trying to form a smile. She placed her hand lightly on Cloud's cheek and then felt her face turning red. She quickly got up and tried to cover her face up so Cloud wouldn't notice it, despite him still being unconscious. As her face returned color, she stared at Cloud one last time and gave out a weak smile.

'Please get well, Cloud.'

x*x*x

The next day, Tifa was carrying a bag of food and as she walked into the room where Cloud and Zack were sleeping in, she saw Cloud sitting at the edge of his bed, his arms resting against his legs as he watched Zack resting. Tifa dropped her bag, ignoring the food falling out as she just stood there staring at the blond.

"Cloud!"

Cloud snapped out of his thoughts and stared at Tifa and as he saw her, he couldn't believe his own eyes, "Ti-Tifa?"

Tifa quickly ran towards Cloud and hugged him as tightly as she could. She couldn't help herself but burst into tears as she saw him awake and as he placed a hand on her back, she was filled with pure joy, happy to feel his touch.

"Were…you the one that saved us?" asked Cloud, still surprised that he was reunited with Tifa.

She slowly pulled herself off of Cloud and wiped the last tear away from her eye and smiled softly at him, "Yes. I saw you coming out of the train graveyard at the abandon section of Sector 7."

"Zack…is he-"

"Don't worry, he'll be fine," said Tifa as she knew what Cloud was going to ask. She had so many questions to ask, but she tried her best to ask only a few and the important ones for the time being, "What happened to you?"

"I…can't remember much…head hurts," groaned Cloud as he placed the palm of his head against his forehead, "How long has it been?"

"…Seven years…"

'She doesn't know I was there when Nibelheim was burning...but have I really been gone for five years?' thought Cloud. He lowered his head and mumbled softly, "Seven years huh..."

Tifa gave a weak nod and then turned her head away from Cloud, focusing her attention straight ahead, "A lot has happened you know."

Before Tifa could say another word, she heard a soft grunt. Cloud also heard it and saw Zack regaining his conscious back. He tried to sit himself upright, but Cloud quickly moved next to him and gently laid his back down against the bed.

"Easy now Zack," said Cloud.

Zack opened his eyes and was gently rubbing them as he was trying to adjust them to the light in the room, "Ugh…what…happened? Where am I?"

"You're in a friend's place," replied Cloud.

"Cloud? Cloud!" yelled Zack happily, pushing himself up. He gave out a painful groan as he tried to sit up, but did his best to fight it, "Are you okay? Did they hurt you?"

"I told you to be easy. Anyways, I'm fine. I should be asking if you are all right. You were shot multiple times and I got worried that I might have lost you," mumbled Cloud.

"Heh…I told you an average grunt couldn't take me on hahaha-OW! Argh…it hurts when I laugh," groaned Zack.

"Then don't laugh punk," said a new voice.

Everyone in the room turned to see Barret who had just entered the room. He first stared at Cloud then focused his attention towards Zack.

"Tifa who is he?" asked Cloud as he got up, staring angrily towards Barret.

"Relax Cloud," smiled Tifa softly as she stood up and blocked Cloud from doing anything drastic, "This is Barret, the leader of AVALANCHE."

"Wait a minute…your name is Tifa? And did you also say AVALANCHE?" asked Zack.

"At least I don't have to reintroduce myself to you," replied Tifa as she gave a light glare towards Zack.

"Teh. Yeah, she said AVALANCHE. Though we are nothing like the first group. We are a small team and less ruthless. Our main goal is to help the people of the Midgar slums," explained Barret as he also gave out a glare towards Zack, "Tifa told us you were a SOLDIER 1st Class. Personally I would've left you to rot, but Tifa said she had questions for you."

"What kind of questions?" asked Zack.

"I actually have many I want to ask, but for now I'll ask the most important one…are you still loyal to Shinra?" asked Tifa angrily.

Zack remained silent for a minute and gave out a soft chuckle, "No…I'm not. You can just call me ex-SOLDIER."

"You in SOLDIER and expect us to believe your word?" asked Barret.

"See this?" asked Zack as he pointed a finger towards his chest, "I got this from the Shinra . Why else would I have multiple bullet wounds on me?"

"Ya could've gotten that from anywhere," grunted Barret, "Fine, whatever. But I'm keeping my eye on both of you so you better not do anything stupid or else."

"Heh, I got nothing to hide," said Zack as he gave out a grin.

"Why would Shinra shoot at you though?" asked Tifa.

Zack lowered his head and his voice could barely be heard, "Let's just say they don't like the idea of people leaving their 'post'…"

Tifa had more questions to ask, but saw Cloud staring at her. By the looks of his eyes, she could have sworn she saw sadness in them and telling her to trust him and Zack. Tifa gave out a sigh as she decided not to push her luck and walked out of the room. Before she left, she turned her head to look over her shoulder at the two.

"You two rest. We have a mission were planning on and if your interested your free to join in," explained Tifa.

"What kind of mission?" asked Zack.

"Just wait till tomorrow. But are you up for it, SOLDIER? Don't worry, you'll be paid for your 'cooperation' if you do take the job," replied Barret and after that, closed the room on them.

Zack sighed and laid himself back down on his bed. He just stared at the ceiling in front of him and turned his head to see his Buster Sword resting against the wall next to him with his shirt hanging on top of a chair. He could tell that it was cleaned and stitched up, seeing the holes closed up.

"You all right Zack?" asked Cloud.

"I'm fine," replied Zack. He turned his head to face the blond and saw him sitting back down on his bed, "I was just thinking about the mission they have in store for us."

"You shouldn't be taking on a mission Zack. Just look at the condition your in."

"I'm fine…I heal fast," laughed Zack weakly, "Besides. This has been my dream…to be mercenary. I'll gladly take on any job as long as the reward is good."

Cloud laid his back against his bed and stared at the ceiling above him, "Typical Zack..."

Zack smiled and closed his eyes, whispering softly to Cloud, "Rest up. This is going to be our moment to shine."


"Yeah…that does sound about right," replied Zack, "The next day, Barret introduced us to the gang and we went over the plans on bombing the first mako reactor. I'm sure by now, you all know the rest on what happened after that. It all soon lead to one another and now, here we are."

Aerith, Tifa, and Cloud remained silent while Barret looked completely tired, almost like he ran a marathon, "Damn…one hell of a story if you ask me."

"It's getting late, we should rest up," suggested Cloud.

Zack nodded in agreement, "Right. After all, we need to leave early as possible so we can get a good start."

"You don't need to tell me twice. I'm going, going, going, gone!" yelled Barret as he got up from his seat and dashed off into his room. The gang laughed softly together and before Zack could leave as well, Tifa stopped him.

"Wait, Zack." The ex-SOLDIER froze in place and turned his head to face Tifa, tilting his head at her. "I want to apologize."

"For what?" asked Zack in confusion.

"I blamed you for the incident on Nibelheim and everything else. I didn't mean to do," whispered Tifa softly, "I was just so angry...I just...I know it was selfish of to pin all the problems on you and I'm really sorry."

Zack just gave out a chuckle and smiled towards Tifa, "It's all right. It's understandable. Though, it is my fault in a way. If only I had stayed with Sephiroth in the basement, none of those things could have happened. You would...still have your father and your home..."

Tifa remained silent and nodded her head weakly at him and then it was Aerith's turn to stand up and speak, "Uh…Zack…"

"Hey…come on. It's late you. You two ladies need to rest. Tomorrow, we can all talk as much as we want," smiled Zack.

Aerith wanted to protest, but knew Zack was right and nodded in agreement," Okay…"

Tifa placed a hand on Cloud's shoulder and smiled softly at him. Cloud returned the smile with one of his own and watched as Tifa left the lounge with Aerith walking behind her as they headed to their room. Zack then placed a light grip on Cloud's shoulder, suggesting they should get a good rest themselves. Cloud nodded and followed Zack as they headed towards their own room upstairs. The only one that was left in lounge area was Red, but he seemed like he was enjoying where he was at.

"What a fascinating story…" whispered Red to himself as he wagged his tail.

END OF: HERO'S COME BACK


DONE! Finally! Argh! Haha, sorry everyone for the late update. Well, next chapter, the gang is heading out! Hopefully the next update won't take as long. I just want to make a few points:

I know in the timeline, it was late September when Zack and Cloud arrived just the outskirts of Midgar and also when Zack died in the original story. Also, Tifa doesn't meet Cloud until somewhere around early October. So in other words, because of Zack's state, he should have been dead while being carried to Midgar because his wounds weren't treated right away and that even though Zack is 'enhanced,' he is still human. Just trust me on this okay people? Pwease? Pwease? Anyways, please leave your a review. Good, bad, yatta yatta, you know the rest.

P.S. Thank you to Irish-Brigid and Riku Uzumaki for leaving a review on the previous two chapters. I really appreciate it and I got worried if I was even going to get any reviews at all. I will update just as long I at least get one review in a chapter. Better than nothing ya know? So again, arigatou gozaimasu to the both of you!