Continuation of "Always". Please read that first, or this will not really make sense 8I

Sorry this took so LONG. I'm only releasing this part because it's been so long. Summer vacation is upon me, and I still haven't written very much. Keep nagging, people! It gets results.

Now, the pain was making him forget everything else.

His ragged breathing, his heart thundering in his chest, and the scraping of his massive sword behind him were the only things he could hear anymore. And it hurt, everywhere. He thought he had it bad before, but this took the cake. His hands trembled as he gripped his sword's hilt, dragging it along. He found he couldn't carry it on his back anymore. It pained him to let it fall, but he didn't give it a second thought when he felt every thread of his existence burning with exhaustion and pain.

He strained his neck with a generous amount of effort, and looked to see how far he had traveled, how much farther he had to go until he could stop and rest for a moment. The trademark black clouds of smog, as well as the large radius of bare and ruined landscape could be seen even from where he was standing. He still had a ways to go, it seemed. Then again, his judge of distance-of anything, for that matter-was severely impaired at the moment. The pain and the exhaustion were making it exceedingly difficult to concentrate on getting to Midgar.

Cloud… He was the only thing keeping Zack moving now. It's funny how an intangible idea could motivate one so… Cloud didn't exist anymore. He had been shot full of holes, and then he disappeared into the lifestream. He was gone.

And all Zack seemed to remember about him were the horrible parts. The parts where he was lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood, whimpering and crying in pain. Where he was begging to stay alive, afraid of dying. All Zack could remember was how hopeless the situation was. There was no possible way he could change anything that had happened. He was only one man, and Shinra had accounted for every conceivable factor that could lead to Zack's success. It was hopeless. Cruel. Despicable.

It was all he could think about amidst the absurd amount of pain he was in.

How the hell was he still alive? How many times had he been shot, fifty? Something like that. Well, probably not—that was a little too absurd. But it was still absurd. What's that kind of cheese with a bunch of holes in it? Swiss cheese? He probably looked like that from a viewer's standpoint. But then again, if there were any viewers, they would be virtuous to help him out, considering how he could barely stand. Was he even standing? It felt like he was crawling most of the time. He must have decided somewhere along the line that it would be a much better idea to crawl, because he was now on his face, in the dirt.

He didn't even moan. He was beyond that kind of exertion. So much for making it to Midgar, easily. Who was he kidding? If a monster came along, he was dead. So far, he had been lucky. Relatively. But if a monster came out of the rocks and weeds, and attacked him for some reason, he was dead. A Cactuar, even. He wouldn't even be able to survive a freaking Cactuar attack. The little spined thing would beat him to death and leave him to bake in the sun. He felt the dirt sting his face the longer he lay there, wondering if he should even get up. He still had no plan. Well, no specific plan. He wanted to blow up the Shinra headquarters, but he had no idea how he would do it. Especially when he could barely move. That usually made it hard to blow up things.

The army had it easy. They could all move just fine before he cut them all in half. They could throw grenades and blow shit up easily. Zack couldn't do that anymore. He stopped mid-thought, and laughed. It was a weak and incredibly painful laugh, but he needed it at the moment. The army couldn't do that anymore, either. Because he cut them in half. He struggled to push himself back up, his arms shaking. It would be even more amusing when Shinra fell victim to the wrath of a supposedly dead man. You know, considering he had been marked as killed in action five years ago. That kind of dead.

He didn't remember reaching the city. He remembered going through the movements of walking, but only vaguely. His exhaustion and pain had put him into an almost robotic state, where all he could think was, "move". But apparently he had finally made it. It was hard to believe, but he got over that thought quickly.

The first thing he noticed was the smell. It was the smell of a completely dead city—nothing grew there, ever. He smelled cars and factories, and most of all he smelled the reactors, churning away and contributing to the gigantic black cloud of smog that hung over the city. A faint memory of his early days resurfaced in his brain, and he remembered the first time he had come to the city, to join SOLDIER. He had to breathe through the top of his sweater to keep from gagging constantly, before he finally got used to it. Now, he would have to get used to it once again. The next thing he noticed was the thick, polluted air that was murder to his lungs. If he thought it had been hard to breathe before, it was almost impossible now.

The next thing he noticed was the noise. It was… overpowering. Like the planet itself was just yelling at him to lie down and die. But he couldn't. Not until Shinra fell. Even though it would be so much easier to just lie down and sleep through his last few breaths. Even though he could see Cloud again if he did. He had to live, just for a little while longer.

His thoughts were too slow. He only vaguely registered the train whistle, but it made him pry his eyes up from the ground. People were scurrying around him like he wasn't even there. Good for him. Shinra wouldn't find him if people weren't looking. He looked around with some difficulty, and recognized the Sector 7 train station. Sector 7. It was relatively close to Sector 5. Aerith lived there. Maybe she would help him…?

If she really did still live there. If she would forgive him for abandoning her for five years. For loving someone else. He still liked her, but was it the same as…? He shook his head to clear it. He didn't wanna think about it right now. His head was pounding, and someone was talking in his ear and it was annoying.

"Hello? Are you okay?"

It was a woman's voice. He couldn't see her though, because he was on his knees, holding himself up with his sword. Looking at the ground. The ground seemed more and more inviting the longer he looked at it.

"You look hurt… Do you need to go to the hospital?" She sounded concerned.

Then it finally clicked in his mind that someone was talking to him. That wasn't very good, since he was trying to stay hidden from Shinra. He raised his head, ready to face whoever it might be.

She had rich brown eyes, that almost looked red for a moment. And dark brown hair. He might have noticed those first because she was leaning over to speak to him. He blinked at the lights overhead, and then noticed the huge things that were rather close to his head. Were those… her boobs?

He stared for a few seconds, blinking. Seriously? There's no way that boobs could be so… Well, he supposed they could. There was this girl he met in Nibelheim who had a really nice rack, and she was only fifteen. He was getting delirious. He needed to sleep, or something. But lying here on the ground wasn't a good idea, he had to remind himself. But wait, wasn't this girl trying to help him? Wait, she had said "hospital", right? Nope. Can't go there.

"Wh-Why not? You look… horrible." Her voice shook as she looked him over. Had he said that out loud? "Are those… gunshot wounds? All of those?" She put a hand on his shoulder. "I really think you should get help. Here, let me help you." She put her hand around his waist to help him up.

Hadn't she heard him? He couldn't go to the stupid hospital…! He shoved her off with amazing strength—compared to someone who was almost dead, that is. She had to understand him before she did anything stupid. "I can't go to the hospital…" He found that he was sitting, now. He had fallen over on his rear when he shoved her. He had probably done himself more damage to himself than her. She just knelt there, frowning.

"Why? You need help—"

"They'll find me… I can't… go back there…"

He suddenly realized that he wasn't afraid to die. He just didn't want Shinra to win. And if they found him, they wouldn't kill him. They would keep him alive, maybe give him back to Hojo. He'd never be given the chance to escape again.

But he was so weak… He didn't even think he could pull himself up onto his feet anymore. He'd have to crawl. And how obvious would that look, him being a SOLDIER and all? How many wounded SOLDIER were outside, avoiding Shinra at all costs? He didn't know what to do anymore. He was stupid to think he could make it.

"Okay, uh… Let me get my friends, okay? They'll help me take you home, to my place. It's nowhere near the hospital, promise." She seemed to be calming down. Shy did she care so much? No one else did… "I'll be right back, okay?" She got up and ran off, almost faster than he could register it in his mind.

Was she going to help him? He didn't know. He didn't think he had the mental capacity to care, either. If she was going to help, then great. If she wasn't, then oh well. He had literally done everything he could. He had already given it his all. He didn't have anything left. So there really wasn't anything else he could do than just lie down and sleep for now. So he did.

Tifa Lockhart was really glad she had such dependable friends. They actually helped her carry this guy all the way back to the bar, and didn't ask many questions. Though it was a little surprising, since they were carrying a rather messed up SOLDIER, which just looked like trouble in so many ways. Where did he come from, and how did he get so messed up? And what was a SOLDIER doing out all alone, with no Shinra comrades to help him? It was all too shady for her taste, and surely for the others as well.

But there was something about him, something familiar. Oh, who was she kidding? He was a spitting image of that guy she met back in Nibelheim. At least she thought so… She'd never forget his hair, or his eyes. She frowned at having forgotten his name, though. She stared at him as he lay on her couch, while her friends went out to find a doctor—some shady underground doctor that wouldn't leave any information behind for Shinra to find. It was all she could offer, and hopefully it would at least keep him alive for a while longer.

She sat there, conflicted. She had grown to hate Shinra, for various reasons. And that included the SOLDIER who worked for Shinra. Living in Midgar had shown her just how many awful things the company let happen all the time. A great company like Shinra was supposed to protect its citizens, and help them to lead better lives. But all it did was con people into poverty, and use their forces to oppress those who would try to climb higher in life. And that man she had met, he was a SOLDIER. He was one of them. He had let her home burn to the ground, and let everyone in the village die.

But she couldn't help thinking that it wasn't all his fault, and that he was a good person. He seemed like it, back then. He'd gone to fight Sephiroth, right? He wanted to stop the madman from doing any more damage. He was trying to protect her. She frowned as she thought back, trying to remember every little detail—the complete opposite of what she had been doing for the last five years.

What had happened next?

She remembered waking up in the Midgar hospital, all alone, but nothing before that. She'd heard later that Sephiroth had been killed, along with that man. Maybe they'd killed each other. But then again, Shinra wasn't always reliable in their publishing of accurate information. That would explain this man's sudden appearance in Midgar. What if Shinra fired him, for some reason? Could SOLDIER even be fired conventionally, or were they just killed off? Suddenly her hypothesis was starting to make sense. She didn't have any more time to think about it though, before the door swung open to the bar, and in came Biggs.

The man breathed heavily as he held open the door for the other two that came through. There was a woman wearing a red band tied around her forehead, and a man with black hair and glasses. He looked considerably more cheerful than the others.

Biggs spoke first. "This guy is all we could find. He promises not to tell anyone, and he doesn't use paperwork." He frowned, as if he still weren't satisfied.

"Well, if he does end up causing trouble, we could easily get rid of him." The woman smirked, looking all too serious to any observers. The spectacled man brushed it off lightly.

"You won't have to worry about anything from me, promise! Now, where's the patient?" He smiled gleefully. Whoever this was, he was definitely shady. Tifa could only hope he was good at his job. He carried a small work box, so she assumed he at least had the tools for the job.

Biggs motioned inside the back room where she sat next to the SOLDIER. The shady doctor came in and leaned over the man on the couch. "This isn't the best of positions to be operating in… but I suppose it's all we have. Could I get a chair?" He looked expectantly at Tifa, not at all hiding his desire for her to move.

Tifa frowned. "A-Ah, yes… Do you need anything else?" She stood and got out of the way. She thought it best to keep him happy.

The doctor waved her off. "Just space is all. I won't lie; this guy is in horrible shape. And this is the first time I've worked on a living being, so I don't know if he'll still be living when I'm done!" He laughed. Tifa clenched her jaw together. She moved to the doorway and went to get a chair. Biggs and Jessie were at the bar, trying their best to ignore the situation. Tifa grabbed a chair from one of the tables, and brought it to the doctor. He was already pulling out tools and setting them on the small end table he'd taken the liberty of using. She took comfort in the sight of clean-looking utensils, and left herself to fret. Whatever happened next depended on the skills of this complete stranger.

I am so sorry for poking fun at Tifa's boobs. It was immature and tactless.


P.S. Kudos to whoever guesses where I got the doctor from. Tis an anime. I tried my best to match his personality |:D The irony hurts once you realize it. Also did I use the word "shady" enough? I think I did.