A/N: Again apologies for how long this has taken. But thank you again to those who reviewed, alerted and added this story to their favourites. I'll try to update quicker for you guys.
Never Let Me Go
The crash of glass was what woke Cloud. It happened once, then again and again and again. Until it stopped suddenly, the crash came back in one sudden burst, louder than ever before. Cloud felt himself fall forwards, like gravity had suddenly hit and threw him down. He hit something cold and hard and it made him gasp for breath. The sudden intake of oxygen burnt his insides and he choked. His breathing finally returned to normal and the few other coughs around him signalled he was not alone. Cloud shivered from the sudden cold, his naked body trembling against the cold floor. He tried to move but his entire body ached and his muscles did not want to respond, like he'd been running for miles and miles and had collapsed here on the floor in exhaustion.
He suddenly could hear people talking, their accents strong of somewhere Cloud couldn't remember. They were laughing, but their laughter seemed menacing and foreboding. He slowly moved his hands, feeling his senses slowly returning to him. He felt the bump and dips of tiles and the crumbling cement that held them together under his finger nails. Cloud's thoughts were jumbled together and he couldn't seem to focus on anything, just on where he could be.
Slowly and cautiously he opened his eyes, only just realising they were still closed. The light was dim and there were no windows, making him assume he was underground. He stared at the dark grey tiles beneath him that were wet, there were a few metal tables ahead of him that were lined with dust and there was a horrific stench.
Mako. That was all he could smell, his fingers touched his hair, his blonde spikes were soaked in the liquid and was pooled all around him. He'd been in mako?
He lay silently, letting exhaustion take him. The idea of sleep seemed comforting and he let his eyes close.
Cloud's memories were slowly trickling back to him as he lay on the cold floor, some he'd rather forget and some he cherished more than others. Images of his hometown burning, the smile of a flower girl in Midgar, a new built city in the distance as he stood next to his old sword and somewhere he used to call home and the woman who lived there. That said woman seemed to suddenly appear in all his memories, like every single second he'd ever spent with her were whizzing before his eyes. Where was Tifa? Was she here?
But the memory of an escaping Zack slowly came to the fore front of his mind, remembering dragging the black haired soldier away, with a final glance at his unconscious younger self. He hadn't thought about the consequences of his actions, he hadn't thought for a single second what would happen if Zack had left him behind. At the time it felt like a bizarre dream and making sure Zack had escaped was the only thing that mattered. Zack had escaped Hojo's clutches, yet his younger self had not. So it hadn't been some dream, or maybe it had, but all the same how had he ended up on a tiled cold floor?
He daren't move his head just yet but moved his arm just far enough for him to see a little further, hoping to see Tifa's smiling face above him. He let out a gasp when instead, he was met with a pair of dead brown eyes that stared blankly back at him. He stared at the body of a young man. Their skin was a luminous blue that had been preserved in mako. Their body did not move, not even to draw breath. Ignoring their skin he reached forwards, his muscles protesting as every fibre stretched. He placed his fingers against the man's neck, searching for a pulse, but found nothing.
He moved his hand away when people's voices broke his reverie. He looked up at the nearest person who was looking at the blue male with disgust. The man had a tattoo on his face that went from the corner of his eye to his ear and back down to his jaw, it was poorly done and the lines were wonky. The man didn't look any older than twenty five but there was weariness in his dark brown eyes. The man's skin was tanned and his nose and cheeks sunburnt, he had a dark brown thin scarf wrapped around his neck and all of his clothes were worn with several patches in his denim jeans and the light green jacket thinning around the shoulders and sleeves. Another person came to stand beside him, bearing the same tattoo design on his face except the skin surrounding it was raw and red. A teenager, perhaps about seventeen and Cloud instantly thought of Denzel, that he was back at the Seventh Heaven, safe and sound.
The boy looked malnourished, his arms were skinny and long bony fingers clutched onto the rifle in his hands. He had a thin jacket on and a pair of worn combats. Cloud eyed the tattoo again, assuming it must be some type of symbol to them, maybe like a gang symbol. A woman's cry suddenly pierces the silence and Cloud watched the two men glance away from the dead person besides him. Someone shouted at the woman but it didn't quell her screams, there was another shout followed by a slap of skin against skin and the woman's cries stop. Anger built up inside of Cloud, who were these people?
He wanted to leap to his feet and throw whoever hit the woman away, but his legs didn't want to respond. Memories of lying mako poisoned with Zack came to his mind and it made him feel so weak.
He'd hoped these people had maybe come as some sort of rescuers, but they clearly were the opposite. Should he run? Should he tackle the kid with the gun and shoot his way out? He wasn't even sure how many of this gang there were, let alone his body was not ready to move yet. Suddenly without warning he felt a boot at his side and was rolled onto his back. He couldn't help but groan when his back hit the floor and stared blankly up at the ceiling.
"Looks like we've got a live one." The man's accent is strong and it reminds Cloud of Barret. The burly man with his adoptive daughter, maybe he was looking for him. How long had he been gone?
Cloud almost lost himself in his thoughts until someone else began speaking. "He looks infected." Infected? Cloud wanted to lift his head and move to see what they can see. "The mark of a Soldier!" The same voice shouts out. He hears the click of rifles being trained on him. Mark of a Soldier? He assumes it must be his eyes, a mako tinge.
"He looks like he's got mako poisoning." The first voice calls out. Cloud keeps his eyes trained on the ceiling as someone waves a hand in front of his face. He didn't move, deciding to follow the life line they threw him accidentally. He'd risked a glance at another person and saw the same tattoo design. These people clearly were hostile as they had not rushed to anyone's aid yet and he wasn't going to be fighting his way out any time soon. "What we gonna do with it?" Another voice calls out. Cloud listens to them mumble, some saying they should shoot him others saying they should leave him here to die.
He waited as these people discussed between themselves. How had he got here? He remembered Yuffie's materia, the fight with the horrific monster that burnt Aerith's church and his bizarre dream. He couldn't have altered time…Maybe someone had found him unconscious after the fight. That must be why he was here, maybe as some twisted experiment…
"We should take him to the boss." The first voice answers, breaking Cloud's train of thoughts again. "He might want it as a guard dog." He man chuckles to himself along with others. A guard dog? Without warning he feels a pair of hands grab under his arms and drag him upright. His arms are thrown over two men and they clutch his wrists and slowly drag him forwards. Cloud allows them to take his entire weight, letting them believe he is mako poisoned.
A flash of a past memory echoes in his mind. That he's being carried in this similar way and in the sky he'd seen meteor falling. He'd been below the meteor, so that meant he'd been in Midgar. His heart felt like it stopped. Had that been a dream? But that dream had felt so vivid; he could recall the screams in the distance, the whirls of the wind around him right down to the dirt that scratched against his heel.
That can't be possible… He thought to himself. Cloud remembered his vague conversation with Aerith and her sudden urgency for him to hide that materia. Had he summoned Meteor…? He felt his stomach churn and felt the bile with the distinct taste of mako crawl up his throat. He coughed and threw up before he could even think. He heard the groans of the two men besides him and they instantly let him go. He dropped onto the floor, the smell of his own bile causing him to heave.
But the 'dream'… maybe that did happen…
He was lifted back upright and continued to be dragged forwards. Had Cloud changed the future? By making Zack leave him behind change the future? His heart began to race and he could feel sweat running down his face.
Was that why he was here? In some kind of mako tanks like he had been when he was sixteen? Despite its strangeness it made sense.
Why hadn't Zack come back for him? Everything seemed bizarre. Had Zack just taken his place instead, that he'd joined Avalanche and saved the planet and defeated Sephiroth? His thoughts took a sombre turn, as he wondered if Zack had ever made it to Midgar. Had meteor fallen and struck the planet?
He needed answers desperately, but right now was not the time to start asking.
Slowly he saw a light in the distance and is hit with a slow breeze, the stench of mako is left behind and as his eyes adjusts he expects to see maybe Nibelheim or Midgar but instead is met with a wasteland, a desert. He searches his mind as he tries to work out where he was but nothing came to mind.
This certainly wasn't the world he knew.
Cloud had been pushed into the back of a truck with a few others and eventually the truck had started. The truck was filled with the stench of mako and vomit and the bumpy ride across the desolate landscape certainly didn't help.
He'd been lost in his thoughts, wondering if his friends were alive and well. If this twisted idea of altering time had somehow happened, had Zack saved Aerith? Had he done what he could not? The image of the two being together, alive and well brought a smile to Cloud's face. But… he'd seen meteor fall, did it hit the planet? Had the city been evacuated? What about Denzel and Marlene? Did Zack find Vincent in Nibelheim? What about Cid and Yuffie? Did Zack even get to Midgar? Did he find Tifa like he asked? Did he help Barret? Did he rescue Nanaki?
Did he destroy Sephiroth?
The thought of the silver haired madman still being alive made Cloud shiver.
All these questions and no one to answer them.
But his thoughts slowly trailed back to what someone had said. That he was infected. Whilst he had been sat in the back of a truck, with the wailing woman and a few others who seemed lost in their own thoughts he'd caught sight of what they had seen.
There was a blue mark in the middle of his torso, it shone in the light and looked like glass. He'd carefully touched it and it felt like skin. His mind went back to the dead man who had been besides him and he wondered if it was some sort of experiment that Hojo had conducted. However, these few gang members seemed to know what it was.
Was this Hojo's doing?
Would he survive?
The day had faded quickly and he heard some people state how they need to find somewhere safe. Since then it hadn't been long till he'd been dragged from the truck and dumped next to some cliffs with the others. The land was still a desert and there was not a blade of grass to be seen. The air was humid and stale and in the distance there was a rumbling, like an approaching storm. There were about ten members of this gang Cloud guessed and they had all taken refuge further away from the cliffs and into a small cave.
They had a fire going whilst one person remained on guard. Cloud wanted to ask why they needed to keep on guard, as what could possibly live in a land like this. But the memories of monsters came back to him and he assumed it was that.
His strength had returned and his legs ached from all the sitting he'd been doing. That he longed to run as fast as he could and for as long. He tried to guess his age but wasn't sure where to begin. How long had he been in that mako pod? He'd seen meteor fall and he'd been twenty one then so he hoped he was still that age. He'd been in Hojo's clutches for six years maybe. He couldn't remember any of the man's experiments and wondered if he'd ever been coherent when he'd performed them. But the mark on his torso suggested that he had not been lucky enough to escape the man's torments.
He'd taken a chance to glance at the woman across from him. They hadn't bothered to cloth any of them so Cloud had seen the horrific scar across the woman's belly and from the way she was repeatedly touching the mark and whimpering he assumed she had been pregnant. There was a teenage boy next to her whose eyes were vacant and green, a tell-tale sign of mako poisoning. The kid would more likely die out here, without someone to feed him he wouldn't have a chance and so far none of their 'rescuers' had come to check on them.
In count there were five of them, Cloud, the woman, the teenager, a man and another woman who too was lost to mako poisoning. The other man sat a bit away from Cloud and looked conscious but his eyes were staring off into the distance. He hadn't said a word and on occasion he would writhe in pain and then fall into a deep unsettling sleep. But it was the man's arm that Cloud couldn't look away from. The man's arm was the same blue as the blue mark on Cloud's torso. The man's fingers were now crystal talons that twitched on occasion, the blue covered his entire arm and half of his chest and sparkled in the night. But the way the man clutched his chest as if reaching for his heart and then sometimes clutching his head Cloud doubted the man was sane. With a small touch on the mark on his chest Cloud wondered if he was resigned to the same fate as this man.
The blonde instantly thought of the monster that had burnt Aerith's church down and the way its arm resembled the man's before him. Had that ever happened…? If he'd changed the future, surely that hasn't happened. His mind wanted to explode from all these questions and knew he needed answers.
Would this man become a monster like he'd seen in Nibelheim and Midgar?
A small squawk broke his thoughts and he turned to look at the yellow birds that he hadn't paid any attention to before. They brought a smile to his face, simply because it reminded him of his past. He could still remember teaching Barret how to ride one all those years ago… Did that ever happen?
There was a horrendous screech that filled the silence. The camp woke with a start and the three chocobos that were tied down started to squawk and violently tugged at their bonds.
Cloud watched as the scrawny kid stood nervously, his hand gripping his rifle like it was his life line as he peered into the darkness. "Anything?" Someone shouted from the camp and the kid shook his head. Cloud wanted to shout at the man to keep his voice down.
There was another screech followed by another and then many others. The noise made the hairs on the back of Cloud's neck stand on end. His fingers itched for his blade to at least defend himself against this faceless enemy. The rest of the camp had finally gotten on their feet and started to make their way forwards as they stared into the darkness, armed with whatever weapon they had.
That was when Cloud spotted the faceless enemy. He doubted the others could see and assumed it was thanks to his mako eyes. There were two of these creatures. They were on all fours and resembled a Nibel wolf except its fur was now a blue colour that made Cloud touch the mark on his torso. Along the spine of the animal were spikes that ran from its head to the base of its tail. Its tail ended in a ferocious spike that waved in the air around them.
The chocobos were clawing desperately at the stake that held their binds and Cloud could only watch as the mutated wolves watched them all. Cloud couldn't stand it any longer. "Give me your weapon." He ordered to the scrawny teen that almost jumped at the sound of Cloud's voice. The teen spun around and stared at him with fearful eyes. Cloud jumped to his feet, ignoring his nudity and staring at the wolves.
"You're not…poisoned…?" The kid mumbled. Cloud stared blankly his hand outstretched.
He sighed loudly and rolled his eyes when the boy kept his firm grim on his weapon. None of the other camp members seemed to have noticed Cloud's movement. "I can see them." Cloud began, moving his eyes from the creatures to the boy. "More will come." The boy glanced from Cloud to his camp mates.
There was a sudden scream and Cloud looked to the camp, some wolves had descended from the cliffs and pounced on an unaware man. A few ran towards him to help, whilst others raced towards the trucks ready to leave their friends to the wolves. Cloud turned back to the kid whose eyes were wide with horror. The blonde snatched the rifle from him, the feeling of a weapon being in his hands was comforting. His mind ran through his old cadet training, the feeling of holding a rifle seemed alien. He quickly placed the butt of the rifle into his shoulder and spun round; he watched the wolves descend and took aim. He fired quickly and sharply, wishing Vincent was here and doing the firing and not himself.
There was a scream behind him and he watched in horror as the woman who'd been near him tried to scramble away from the wolves that had raced behind them. Cloud leapt towards her aiming a blow to the wolf's side with a kick that he knew even Tifa would be proud.
Another wolf had taken a chance and sunk its jaws into the mako poisoned teenager. The boy let out a strangled scream despite his previous comatose state. Before Cloud could reach him a wolf leapt from the cliff edge and pounced on him. His back hit the dirt hard and the rifle fell out of his hands and instead latched onto the animal's neck as its teeth gnashed before him, desperately trying to sink its teeth into anything. It's breath stank of death and Cloud wanted to choke, its saliva dropped from its gnashing jaws. With all his strength Cloud threw the monster away from him and reached for the rifle he'd dropped only to see it had disappeared. He spun round and saw the teenager he'd taken the rifle from and raced into the night and Cloud cursed.
The wolf he'd been fighting had disappeared. The two mako induced prisoners too had vanished and the woman and the infected man had run off too. The few wolves that were still in the camp spun around and disappeared into the darkness, howling as they ran.
Some of the camp mates began to run and some of the remaining wolves chased them down. There were screams in the distance as Cloud spun, checking none of the wolves were ready to pounce on himself. There were bodies scattered around the camp and Cloud hesitated, guessing these wolves would return.
Cloud stared at the startled chocobos that were still tied down. There were gashes along their sides and blood marked their yellow feathers but they had clearly put up a fight.
Cloud jogged over to one of the camp mates that had been left behind. It was another teen, probably not much older than the other boy. There were puncture wounds at the kid's neck and blood ran down his neck and pooled about him. The blonde took the rifle from his lifeless fingers and the small knife that was attached at the boy's hip before pulling at the kid's shoes. Everything that Cloud was doing right now wasn't right, he knew that, but there wasn't time to bury these people. And he was not about to run through a wasteland naked.
He pulled the pants on quickly, scanning the area in case any wolves had returned. They were a little long in the leg but Cloud hastily tucked them into boots. The kid's shirt was far too small so Cloud snatched up the jacket and quickly grabbed the knife to slice off the arms to the jacket. He pulled the blood stained canvas jacket on before jumping to his feet. He stared at the boy for a moment, wondering where his parents were and who he was. He muttered a small thanks and wished he could at least bury him before knowing he couldn't waste time.
Cloud raced to the chocobos, he snatched a set of reins up and untied the remaining chocobos that raced away the second they got. The bird squawked nervously and Cloud slowly ran his fingers along it's feathered neck. He swung the rifle across his back and leapt up onto the bird, slowly remembering racing at the Gold Saucer and the chocobo farm.
Then knowing he wasted too much time already he urged the bird on, wishing he could have done more to save these people.