DISCLAIMER: We don't own the FFVII Compilation, but you can bet if we did, things would have gone a whole lot different.
Shoutout goes to our beta, LadyoftheDrow, for all her work reading our story, to get it ready for all of you.
Mother Gaia, at the calling of the young Cetra flower-girl, once lent the force of the Lifestream to fight Meteor, summoned by the Calamity's Son. From beyond the grave, that same young Cetra offered the healing rain to cleanse the last taint of the Calamity herself and yet, in the end there was nothing to be done to fight the inevitable.
The Planet... was dying.
Its death was a slow thing, occurring not all at once, but a surety in and of itself. The planet's very life had been being drained steadily by the Mako reactors for decades, the surface pummeled by war- the crimes of humanity wrought from greed and the need for power- and the coming of meteor.
Oh, not all at once. It was a slow thing. But it was also a surety. The planet's very life had been drained badly by the Mako reactors for decades, the surface pummeled by war and the coming of meteor. The Calamity's taint had been erased, yes, and her Son was finally the memory he swore he would never be – but the WEAPONs were gone. Omega was defeated, and it seemed there was no way for the Lifestream to start anew.
But, Mother Gaia was never one to give up easily. She had a plan to save herself and her children. To turn back time. Just a little over a decade – she no longer had the power to make an enormous change – but she could do this. She could send someone back, just far enough to make a difference.
Zackary Fair stepped out of the swirling green of the Lifestream with a sigh. This meeting had been inevitable but he was still apprehensive. He settled into a relaxed stance at the edge of the small flower field, feeling extremely exposed in the white light. His gaze traveled down to the pool of water in the center, finally landing on the familiar face of Cloud Strife, his once friend and living legacy.
He winced at the thought. "I'm sorry Spike."
"Zack." His mentor's deep voice interrupted the quiet, the big man somehow managing to sneak up on him while he was preoccupied. "You're not blaming yourself for something you had no way of predicting, are you?"
He jumped slightly and groaned, reaching up to rub the back of his neck as he turned to face the other man. "I can't help it 'Geal, it's still my fault," he mumbled, avoiding eye contact. He knew it was stupid to think such a thing. He knew that wasn't what he'd meant to have happen. It did happen though, and in all honesty, in he'd never said those words it most likely would have saved Cloud a lot of grief. "I know I shouldn't worry about it but it's not going to change how I feel about it."
Zack dropped his hand and tossed his mentor a weak smile. "At least he got a healthy dose of extra dreams and honor though."
Generally speaking, Angeal Hewley was not a manipulative man. That did not mean, however, he was incapable of it. All true tacticians were masters of manipulating situations to their advantage. And he wasn't a SOLDIER for show.
"So." He rumbled thoughtfully, expression bland. "It's your fault for putting him in a situation he wasn't ready to handle, but took under obligation, because he looked up to you, trusted you - and you were, after all, dying?"
Zack scowled at Angeal. "Do you have to ruin every point I try to make?" He swatted at the man playfully, taking on a more affectionate smile instead. His mentor had always been able to step all over his mood and then pick it back up in seconds; there were few people that could make Zack smile like that. Even if the man was an overly large mother-hen, he'd still protect him anyway he could. He pursed his lips. Did that...make him a mother hen too?
A single step back neatly dodged the swat, a little smirk tugging at the older man's lips, his hand descending to ruffle unruly dark spikes. "Try not to worry so much, pup. It sounds like, soon, things will be on a better path."
A loud breath of air escaped his lips. "Yeah, yeah. I know 'Geal." Zack rolled his shoulders trying to ease some of the tension he was feeling. Taking a smooth step, he moved closer to Angeal's side and his comforting presence. "Now we just gotta wait for the others I guess."
"You weren't waiting on me, were you?" Aerith rose from where she'd been sitting, a ways off amidst her flowers, wide green eyes blinking at the pair of SOLDIERs with their characteristic innocent wisdom.
His signature grin was once again in place when he grabbed Aerith and hugged her tightly. "Of course we were. Can't have a party without you." He let her go with a kiss to the cheek and waved at the pool. "He needs a hobby," Zack said, sticking out his tongue at the blond who couldn't retaliate.
"Cloud-watching isn't the most impressive of hobbies either." Angeal teased softly.
The young First sniffed, titling his nose up in a mock look of superiority. "It is quite the noble profession, I assure you, sir." He winked at Aerith, hoping to coax a smile out of her.
Aerith covered her mouth with her hand, giggling at his antics. "Oh, naturally!"
"The Planet itself is very interested in the doings of Cloud Strife." The dulcet tones of the Goddess preceded her appearance on the plane, a slim brunette at her side to represent the voice of Mother Gaia and the Cetra people - Ifalna, Aerith's mother.
Zack dropped his nose back to its normal level and turned to smile at the Goddess Genesis had praised so heavily. When he first arrived in the Lifestream he'd had to bite back the urge to groan upon seeing her. Really, he was in no shape to fight a divine being once more. He'd only survived on a whim the first time. "My lady," he inclined his head. For some reason Minerva always made him think of shining knights and dragon slaying heroes; despite the previous battle.
He blamed Genesis for the fanciful thoughts.
Beside him, Angeal inclined his head politely, and Aerith smiled her special, warm smile at them. In turn, Minerva's lips curved fondly, even Angeal - once contaminated by the Calamity - had earned his place. These were the ones who would see the end, as it were, and usher in a new beginning. "As you know, the Planet is in a critical state. The Calamity has left wounds, and her Son wrought damage even upon the Lifestream. The Weapons are defeated, and Omega, too, is no more. There is no way for Mother Gaia to move forward."
Ifalna spoke next, softly, her warm voice echoing with the tones of the Cetra. "And so it is, that we gather our reserves, and are looking to the past. That is why we have gathered today. It is time. With no way to salvage our future, we must go back, and try to stop things before they begin."
A frown quickly replaced Zack's smile. "And why are you interested in Cloud?"
Ifalna spoke calmly. "Cloud Strife is Gaia's Chosen hero. He is her Golden Weapon, defeater of the Calamity and thus the one most suited to be returned to the past and save Gaia once more."
"No. Absolutely not!" Zack snapped, fist clenching at his sides. "You can't be serious, wanting to send him back? Him? After everything that's happened? No."
Large sage eyes blinked, the Cetra voices overshadowing Ifalna's as they spoke through her. "Cloud Strife is the Chosen. He is most suited -"
"Suited or not, if you make him go back, after everything he's already done for you, for us, he's going to break." He glanced at Aerith, "He was so close to breaking once before. This will kill him. Maybe not physically, but mentally he'll be gone. There won't be any Cloud left to save the planet if it comes to that."
Aerith nodded firmly, her soft voice pleading. "Isn't there another way?"
Minerva raised a slim golden brow. "It would be difficult to find another warrior to replace him. Such strength, of body and character, is not easy to come by."
"Send one of us," Zack waved a hand around at the people in the field of flowers. "Or someone else that isn't here yet. Hell, send me, just don't put Cloud through that."
"I'll do it." Angeal spoke up gravely. "I'll go. I'd be in a better position than Cloud, anyway. I could talk to Sephiroth and Genesis... reason with them..."
"And how would you destroy Jenova?" Minerva wondered, not quite unkindly, but to the point. "You have her cells. The call for Reunion is strong."
Slate blue eyes regarded her levelly. "You are the Goddess. Surely you could alter my gene structure before sending me back?"
Minerva chuckled softly, inclining her head. "Touché. I could indeed. But what, I wonder, would Hollander do when he found out during one of your checkups?"
Angeal paled subtly. Hollander wasn't as bad as Hojo was reputed to be... but, it still wouldn't be pleasant to suddenly become a scientific curiosity to the man. At best. At the worst, he'd be considered a 'failure' - and discarded.
Zack placed a hand on Angeal's shoulder. "I'll go." He turned to the Goddess with a determined look. "There shouldn't be anything that would cause any problems. I was pretty normal."
Minerva raised a slim brow, looking at the single mortal to ever face her in combat. "You are brave, Zackary Fair, I give you that. And a powerful warrior. Are you up for the task of becoming the last line of defense of the Planet, Guardian of the Goddess, the hand of fate itself?"
Zack gave his characteristic grin, pumping an arm in the air. "I'm Zack Fair! Of course I am." Hopefully his smile looked a little more solid than it felt. He didn't doubt his abilities but being nervous was to be expected. This was for Cloud though, it was always for Cloud.
Pale eyes likely saw through him, but Minerva only smiled. "Very well. Say your goodbyes. Mother Gaia and I will prepare the way for you." She turned to Ifalna, inclining her head, and the two stepped a bit away to begin their work in preparing to send Zack back in time.
Green eyes watched the group with a touch of apprehension. Even without his past enhancements it was easy enough to figure out what they were speaking of. He settled down in the flowers, legs stretched out, one hand touching the soft surfaces of the petals.
A part of him wanted to join the group, to have some say in the matter. However, he was well aware that he was lucky just to be sitting in the clearing. He tossed his long length of silver hair over his shoulder and sighed, deciding to wait to give Zack a send off.
Angeal regarded his student with a soft wistfulness. "I was so afraid… when Gen and I found out about the experiments… about the degradation. He was dying before my eyes and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Nothing I could do to save him." He sighed, sobering. "Zack, start with Hollander. Hojo is the bigger threat, and needs to be taken down, but Genesis' defection is what started everything. I truly believe, had we been there for Sephiroth, he never would have succumbed to Jenova's manipulations.
"Be careful, even more so now than ever before. Make friends like you fight a war - with your eye on victory. Don't let your anger win. It... is easy, I know, to let your emotions rule you when faced with some of the documents about us. But you can't give in. We'll need you this time, more than ever."
"I understand, 'Geal," Zack said, his tone quiet. He knew his mentor blamed himself; it still hit home to hear it though. Much like his namesake, Zack jumped at the older man, hoping to lighten the mood. He threw his arms around Angeal's neck and wiggled. "It'll be okay this time, I promise, Angeal. I'll make you proud."
He filed the information on Hojo into his mind. He would need to find a way to get some more detailed information on those experiments at some point.
A figure in the distance caught his eye and he frowned, stepping back from Angeal. "Seph's sad again," he stated softly.
A battle hardened hand dropped onto dark spikes and ruffled them affectionately. "You always make me proud, pup." At his last remark, though, Angeal found himself looking at the last bit of the silver general, frowning softly. "Maybe you should talk to him. In the least, tell him goodbye."
Zack nodded, "I will. I wish he'd have just come over there. It probably wouldn't do any good though." He sighed, "I think it hurts him to talk to us."
Angeal nodded, sighing. "You won't be able to go back far enough to prevent the bulk of Hojo's crimes against him, but I hope… I hope you can stop the end. Give him what he never really had – a chance. "
He smiled sadly at Angeal. "I will. I'm gonna be his friend even if he stabs me." Zack watched as Sephiroth flinched. "Shit, I didn't mean to say it like that..."
Angeal sighed, smiling wryly and giving him a little nudge in Sephiroth's direction. "Go. Let him know he's not alone. Doesn't have to be. I'd talk to him but..." He doesn't trust me anymore went unspoken.
Zack nodded and bounced off looking guilty. A few minutes of quiet talking and a rather forceful hug later, he came back to stand with Angeal, a quiet Sephiroth in tow. "Are we waiting for anyone else?"
Angeal tried not to look too surprised that his old friend had allowed himself to be brought over, simply shaking his head. "No. They're just waiting on you now. Though, I think Aerith might get a little upset if you don't say goodbye..."
"Can...I talk to Cloud before I go?" Even asking Angeal he knew they all heard. He felt Sephiroth tense at his side and squeezed the hand he had his fingers firmly wrapped around. "I just want to let him know why we won't be around anymore. And say I'm sorry..."
"Of course you can." Aerith smiled, speaking up gently, knowing that even though Minerva outranked her, she wouldn't deny her new champion this. Crossing the flower patch to his side, she sighed softly. "But, Zack... once you go into the past... none of us will be here anymore. You'll be making a new future. The only ones to remain aware of it all will be the Goddess and Mother Gaia... and you."
Zack sighed even as he nodded. He'd figured that; confirming it was still a shock though. "I just want to say I'm sorry. At least see him once."
He felt Sephiroth take a step back and gripped his hand tighter. "Cloud's not gonna care if you're here, Seph. Hide behind Angeal if you want, just don't leave." His only reply was silence and he forced down the urge to hug the man again.
Aerith smiled reassuringly at the silver haired man, and set about the process of summoning the blond swordsman she and Zack had watched over for so long. "Cloud..."
Unlike most times, when Cloud simply appeared or stumbled into the white, endlessness of her meadow, this time there was a rippling in the pool, bubbles rising before a wild set of spikes, undaunted by the ethereal waters, crested and shook, the summoned blond swimming to the edge and looking about. "Aerith? Zack?"
"Hey, Spike," Zack gave a two fingered salute to the blond man as Sephiroth seemed to shrink behind Angeal. Evidently he would be taking up Zack's offer. "It's good to see you."
"Hey." Cloud offered a small smile to his well-missed friends, pulling himself out of the water and shaking himself, blue eyes looking around in wonder at the extra people. It had always just been he and Aerith, or he and Zack - or those few, special times, the three of them together - but never more. He searched both his and the memories he'd 'borrowed' to identify the faces, and came up blank on the women, only noting that one held a great resemblance to Aerith, and the other to an enemy Zack had once faced. The well muscled man beside Zack was identified quickly as Angeal, his beloved mentor and original owner of the buster sword, and he gave him a tentative smile only to pause curiously at a flicker of silver and black. Was that... Sephiroth? What was he...? Surely he wasn't hiding behind Angeal? Blue eyes blinked in consternation. No, that couldn't be right... and yet... "Zack? What's going on?"
He scratched the back of his head and chuckled nervously, squeezing the hand in his once more just for self assurance. "Well, Spike. I wanted to see you once before I took a trip. I'm uh...going to go fix everything that happened. That's why there are other people here today." He waved a hand in the direction of the women. "Minerva and Ifalna are sorta sending me back in time."
"Back in time?" Cloud asked softly, a bit incredulously
"To stop everything from the beginning. You okay, Spike? I know it's a lot of handle but it'll be okay. I promise."
"From the beginning..." That was an awful lot to wrap his head around. "You mean..." Everything could be different, then, couldn't it?
"I think so, bud. The Goddess didn't tell me exactly when but I'm thinking it's somewhere before Genesis leaves. Nibelheim isn't going to happen. I won't let it." With his free hand he ruffled the golden spikes, forcing a grin to his face. "This time things are gonna work out. For all of us. I swear."
Cloud chuckled softly, ducking and giving his friend a half-hearted swat before his words registered. "Then... this is goodbye, isn't it? That's why you called me."
"Yeah, it is." Zack said. He turned his head back to glance at Sephiroth; still hidden behind Angeal. "I'm letting go. Stay here, please?" He carefully untangled his fingers and then promptly threw himself at Cloud, squeezing him tight and lifting him off his feet.
Behind Angeal, Sephiroth straightened up a bit, his back pressed against broad shoulders.
Cloud 'oofed' in surprise, despite the fact that he was enhanced enough that Zack's exuberance couldn't really hurt him. But, once he got over the shock, he hugged him back fiercely, murmuring into the wild black spikes. "I'm going to miss you, Zack. There's never been anyone like you... you... take care of yourself, all right?"
He dropped Cloud, grinning down at him. "I'll be fine! Besides, second I get the chance I'm gonna go find you." He ruffled the spikes once more before reaching and taking Sephiroth's hand once again. "Thanks for not running off."
He received a nod in reply and a quiet, "Of course, Zackary."
Cloud grinned softly, blue eyes softening a moment before he slowly - very slowly, so as not to trigger the reflexes of his former idol and enemy - which was he here? - reached behind him and removed his Fusion Swords, the six blades all in one solid piece. "Here, then. For me."
"Damn, alright." Zack reached out for the swords, admiring them once again. "I'll keep it safe until you're ready for it."
Aerith came to Zack's side, gently touching his arm. "Zack. It's almost time." She smiled apologetically at the gathered men.
He nodded, doing a nervous little wiggle. "Okay. One sec."
With a few gentle tugs, he pulled Sephiroth out from behind his Angeal shaped shield and promptly tugged him into another bone crushing hug. "I'll see you so, you won't remember but oh well."
The silver haired man awkwardly patted his shoulders, nodding in response. "Please be careful, Zackary. I give you permission to knock some sense into me whenever is necessary," the words were quiet but Zack couldn't help but grin at his former superior.
"Deal." He let go of the man, playfully tugging at the long locks of hair and turned back to Cloud. "It's okay, Seph. Go ahead." He watched as the man shifted uncomfortably.
"I...apologize...Cloud. I am truly sorry for any pain I caused you. I was not myself."
Cloud stared at him for a moment, head tilted slightly in contemplation, before a small, tentative smile touched his lips. No, this certainly wasn't the same man. Thinking he'd have to contemplate the significance of that later, he simply replied, "Apology accepted."
Sephiroth dipped in a slight bow, hair falling down to hide his face. "Thank you." That said, he touched a hand to Zack's cheek and started to fade back into the Lifestream. "Be careful." A moment later he was gone and Zack was holding onto nothing. With a sigh he looked to Aerith. "Okay, I'm ready now."
Angeal saluted and Cloud waved as Aerith took Zack's free hand and led him over to where the Goddess and Gaia's avatar waited. Minerva was watching them approach with a pleased smile. "You always wanted to be a hero, Zackary Fair. Now, you will get the chance to be one, to all your friends - and, indeed, the entire Planet."
Ifalna, avatar of Mother Gaia, voice of the Cetra, smiled at her daughter and the young SOLDIER who had come to mean so much to her. He had proven himself a man of great character and integrity, and was going even further now, to make this sacrifice of himself, to burden himself with the memories of a lifetime and take on the hand of fate.
It would not be easy. But, she would try to make it easier. "Zack, the Planet has a gift for you."
"Ma'am?" Zack questioned.
Holding out her hands, beckoned him closer, first touching the Fusion Swords with a fingertip. Green mist encircled the combined blades, shrinking it smaller and smaller until it was the size of a pen, threaded onto a chain necklace. "Here, first, this should be easier..."
Zack blinked down at the sword; wondering what Cloud thought of his massive sword turning into a play toy... "Oh. Wow, uh. Yeah, that's...that's great?"
Aerith giggled at his dismay. "Well, how else were you going to hide it, silly?"
"Right. How do I unhide it?"
Ifalna smiled softly. "All you must do is reunite the blade with its proper owner. In his hands - and his hands alone - it will return to a usable weapon."
Zack's grin returned once again. "Nifty."
While Aerith slipped the necklace on him so he wouldn't lose it, Ifalna placed her hands overtop his, the mist of the Lifestream swirling between them, before coalescing into a solid blade of the same, mako-green shade, with a pearly white hilt and a black leather wrapped handle - double bladed, and colored 'wrong' - nonetheless, looking at it, it was practically a twin to Angeal's Buster Sword in every other aspect.
"This is the Reiki Blade. It's a blade forged with the power of the Lifestream, with two joined materia slots. It will be housed within you, waiting to be summoned like you use your magic." When she drew her hands away, the power slowly drained from the sword into Zack himself, making the green glow fade and the blade return to a soft silver shine, the hilt the same burnished gold as the Buster's. "The sword will come to life again in times of need, when you call out to it, but will by and large appear to be a relatively 'ordinary' blade."
Zack's eyes widened, flicking between the blade and Ifalna. "Wow." He gripped it, giving it an experimental swing; somewhat wary of the double edge but finding it to move almost exactly like Angeal's Buster. "Thank you."
"You are welcome, champion." Ifalna smiled, raising a dark brow. "Or should I say... Onyx Weapon?"
A cool green light washed over him. It was refreshing; reminding him of a stream he used to play in as a child, the only water for miles in Gongaga. He blinked as he felt liquid bead on his eyes lashes and in his hair. A moment passed and he let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. He was...warm. His chest felt heavier somehow and a heat was radiating out. Zack raised a hand to place over his heart, finding his heartbeat more solid, stronger. He looked up Ifalna, mouth open to comment and then froze. "Hold it." He shook his head violently, shaking off all the green water that was weighing his hair down. An accusing finger was pointed, "Why do I gotta be black! Cloud was the 'golden' weapon and I get stuck with black? Black isn't even a color! It's a shade! I'm not a shade."
Aerith twined her fingers in his thick, dark spikes with a chuckle. "It's a gem just like all the others. And yes, it's black - just like your hair."
He thought about that for a moment. "It's still not a real color," he said with a slight pout. "I like Zack better anyway."
Aerith chuckled, smiling wistfully. "Oh Zack..."
Minerva and Ifalna chuckled as well, amused by the SOLDIER's comment. "You will always be Zack Fair. But, there will come a day you will be thankful you are the Onyx Weapon."
"Alright, but I'm Zack, none of this calling me 'Weapon whatever' stuff. SOLDIER First Class Zack Fair at your service!" Doing his best impression of Angeal, he looked to the Goddess. "When am I leaving?"
Minerva smiled gently, extending a hand. "If you are ready, I will take you now."
He cast a quick glance around his friends and loved ones. With a last two fingered salute and a grin, he took the Goddess' hand and then... he was falling.
Newly promoted SOLDIER Third Class Zack Fair was having fun. Far too much fun than one should be having with a Thunder materia in a rainstorm. His boots were discarded somewhere near the young man standing under an awning. Zack held the little orb out and with a gleeful squeal, leapt into the closest puddle of brown, mucky water. He sighed, feeling the mystery goo squish between his toes. He really missed Gongaga some days. He shook his head. ~Concentrate! This is gonna be fucking amazing!~ With another grin, he glanced over his shoulder. "Kunsel! Kunsel, watch this!" A small push later, bolts of lightning were spewing forth into the storm.
Kunsel stared in disbelief through the rain at the newly minted Third out in the rain. "Zack! Get back here, man. That's not safe!"
"Don't worry, I'll be fi-" Zack's words were cut short when a flash of lightning, from the sky this time, not the materia, struck the outstretched hand. A warbling squeal was heard as Zack collapsed; the small green orb still clenched firmly in his hand, his face perilously close to a rapidly filling murky pool of water.
One thing that could be said for Kunsel - he didn't panic. Giving a shout to raise the alarm, he rushed off to get Zack out of the mud and water, hefting him into a fireman's carry and rushing to the infirmary.
A/N: For those of you who don't know, this account is held by KittenFair and Shades of Imagination. Lovers of timetravel fics, fanfixes and AUs. You will be seeing all of the above here, as this is a timetravel/fanfix and slightly AU as we fly in the face of canon on a few details. Also, there will be several heaping helpings of boy!love, so if you don't like that, turn away now.
Still here? Good! Leave a review, if you have the time. Comments, questions, constructive criticism will all be taken happily. This is going to be a long ride, so settle in and enjoy.