Title: There and Back Again
A/N: Hello! The next chapter came pretty fast, huh? I kind of enjoyed writing this one (heck, I enjoy writing this whole story. I have the ending all planned out already!) (Its just the middle stuff I need to worry about... haha) ANYWAY! Next chapter is here and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! I am aware I have some large issues to work through but yeah, I'll fix whatever's wrong with this story when its complete (haha like the second chapter for example, that one was a disaster!)
I don't own anything, enjoy!
"He stumbled into faith and thought
"God this is all there is?"
The pictures in his mind arose
And began to breathe"
-Regina Spektor "Blue Lips"
The next couple of days were spent creating, experimenting, and all together failing on Cloud's part. Everything he came up with let him down in the testing department, and at this rate it was looking like he'd have to use a ShinRa issued sword. It was now Friday and he'd pretty much given up on coming up with something as good as First Tsurugi. His training had been coming along nicely, at least. If anything, Cloud had pretty much perfected his technique with the daggers he tended to keep on him (at least he thought so anyway). He couldn't rely on them for fighting Sephiroth though; he really needed a sword or two.
He'd also need to get in contact with Zack soon to help him train. Cloud, as it were, didn't have access to the VR Rooms for some serious, realistic training. He had no idea how to get into contact with the excitable second though. He assumed he'd have to go through Zack's mentor, Angeal.
Cloud hadn't spoken with Angeal at all outside of their first meeting. The man seemed to be a workaholic of sorts, and if Cloud had to bet, he'd bet Angeal was always either in his office or down in the work out rooms giving pointers to the cadets and lower classed SOLDIER. He would check the man's office first, not wanting to have to make the extra trip to the next building over where the SOLDIER and Cadets were trained.
It was lucky that he had made that decision, because it turned out that the man was indeed in his office. It made Cloud sigh in relief, knowing he wouldn't have to waste time searching for the big First. Angeal's secretary had buzzed that he was there, and thank god the man wasn't too busy. Cloud was let in almost instantaneously, and much to his surprise, Zack was already there.
Cloud supposed he should've known, but he couldn't remember anything of Angeal's and Zack's relationship; not even Zack's scattered memories had helped him there. It seemed they were extremely close though, as both mentor/student, and friends.
It seemed he had been expected for some reason though, because as soon as he entered, he found himself under Zack's arm and being given a noogie. Cloud gave a noise of annoyance at that and jabbed Zack in the side with his hand, feeling satisfied when Zack made an 'oomph' noise in return. After he was released, Cloud straightened up, his face burning with slight embarrassment at being subjected to something so childish in front of someone he hardly knew.
The blond was just about to salute when he realized he didn't have to anymore, not being part of the SOLDIER department anymore. Settling for a respectful nod, Cloud shuffled uncomfortably from foot to foot until Angeal sat back in his chair with his arms crossed. His left eyebrow was lifted in question, and Cloud suddenly felt like he was being scrutinized like an experiment again. "I… was looking for Zack and thought I'd come and ask you. I guess it's not needed now."
Angeal nodded in acceptance. "I assume this is about your duel with Sephiroth?"
Cloud nodded, a nervous look coming upon his face. Turning to Zack he asked, "Zack, could you train with me for a few days? I want to be at least slightly prepared." At Zack's enthusiastic nodding, Cloud relaxed, though he wasn't prepared for Zack to whistle lowly and give a comment,
"Spike, we got our work cut out for us! Do you even know how to wield a sword properly? You weren't doing so great when you were a cadet." Cloud grimaced, unprepared to answer the question. He supposed he had to defend himself though, because in some roundabout way, Zack had just insulted him.
"I'll be fine if you help me out. I've been practicing, and I think you'll be surprised." Zack must have looked at his profile to find out that information, or at least asked Sephiroth about him. He knew the silver haired man had definitely researched him. That fact set him on edge, but he was willing to ignore it to prove…
Well, Cloud didn't know what he wanted to prove; in fact, he didn't even have to prove anything. Sephiroth just wanted to test his skill, that was all. If he failed it didn't matter.
Perhaps Cloud wanted to prove to himself that he was strong in this body. He knew he wasn't up to the strength he had been before coming back. His body was weak, despite having some of the mako come with him. He wanted to show himself that he couldhelp these people, despite his disadvantage. That was the whole reason he had even opened up like that in the beginning, hadn't it? He had promised himself he would save them.
But how could he save someone who felt so far away…? He knew he could help Zack, and maybe even Sephiroth, but how was he to rescue the other two from their fates? He wasn't even completely sure of their situation. He barely remembered the state Genesis had been in Modeoheim back in the future, since he had been busy with Hollander. The best thing Cloud could even come up with at that moment was—
"—oud? Cloud?" He was snapped out of his thoughts by Zack calling his name and shaking his shoulder lightly. Cloud cursed himself inwardly, knowing he should have been paying more attention.
"Sorry, I was thinking…"
"I thought we'd lost you for a minute there! Anyway, I'm not busy now, so do you want to go to the training fields? We can get lunch after, if you want. I want to see your moves!" Cloud was grateful they hadn't asked what he'd been thinking about, and he was happy to see that Zack was so enthusiastic about helping him out despite his previous insult.
Smiling just slightly, Cloud nodded. "Zack, don't forget you have a mission later."
They both turned to Angeal, who was watching the two of them with interest. Cloud wondered what was so interesting; it was just Zack and him after all.
Zack, being the calm, happy person he was, waved off Angeal with a nod, "I know, I know, monster elimination in the slums at nine sharp!" as he spoke, he started pushing Cloud out the door, and before the door closed, Zack shouted a quick good bye. Behind the door, neither Cloud nor Zack saw Angeal smile gently and sigh, going back to his paperwork that Zack had disturbed.
On their way to the training grounds, there were few words spoken. It was mostly Zack rambling about how his morning had been and how excited he was about his mission. Apparently he'd not been on many missions recently, much to his disappointment.
At one point on their journey, Zack had asked Cloud about his morning, and there really hadn't been much to say on his part. He'd mentioned his nerves at having to fight the general, but that was about it. His morning had been rather uneventful, and he wasn't quite as open about his feelings as Zack was.
Once they'd entered the large grounds on which SOLDIER's trained, Zack lead Cloud over to the weapons' shed, and he held it open for the blond as Cloud examined the weapons that were available. Cloud personally didn't know what he should choose. He thought of going with a dual blade, but one that didn't click together like his old sword just didn't seem right to him and in the end, he ended up going with the buster, much like the one Angeal carried around (and the one that looked suspiciously like the one Zack had carried before his death. Cloud wondered how he'd gotten it).
"A buster, really Cloud? I'm surprised you can lift it…" Cloud turned to Zack and found his dark haired friend to be looking doubtful. Lifting the buster and moving to an area where he could swing it around, he showed Zack just how well he could handle it, even though it did feel uncharacteristically heavy in his hands. He should have practiced with one before, he realized. Today he guessed he would just be testing his endurance with the large blade.
"I'll be fine, Zack. We should warm up."
Placing the blade gently on the ground, Cloud followed his words and started stretching, warming himself up for a real spar. It had been so long since he'd actually fought against someone; he forgot what it felt like. He was almost looking forward to it, though he made sure to remind himself to hold back. He wasn't supposed to be so strong…
Zack, thankfully, just shrugged his shoulders and followed Cloud's example. Cloud didn't know what was up with him today; Zack had been acting strangely serious. It almost made Cloud unsettled, considering he was used to the man being happy and playful.
Sighing and shaking himself out of his thoughts once more, Cloud turned his serious blue eyes to meet Zack's own bright ones, and picking up his sword, he got ready to go on the defensive.
It turned out to be the right decision. Zack rushed at him, the buster sword he had chosen held tightly, yet strangely relaxed in his grip. The two large swords clashed, and Cloud could feel the force behind the hit.
Pushing against Zack's weight was hard for Cloud's smaller body, but he managed somehow. He even managed to give a swing, which was expertly dodged by Zack.
After that, they went back and forth for almost twenty minutes before Cloud let himself feel the exhaustion that was consuming him. Yielding, Cloud sat on the dirt, sword lying motionlessly beside him. Zack didn't even look very out of breath, and Cloud found himself jealous of that fact; Cloud himself was breathing heavily and sweating like nobody's business. If he'd known he'd be so weak, Cloud would have asked to do this long ago.
"Man, you lasted pretty long! I'm surprised." Cloud nodded while regaining his breath, and when he looked up at Zack, he found himself being stared at.
"Is something wrong?" Cloud couldn't help but ask the question. Zack just looked so serious and… concerned? It was like he was worried about something. Cloud couldn't even fathom what it was. He hoped Zack wouldn't ignore him.
Zack shrugged, doing exactly what Cloud had feared he would do; brush it off. "It's nothing. I was just thinking about something. How 'bout we get some lunch? I'm starving!" as if on cue, Cloud's own stomach made a rumbling noise, and he flushed slightly when Zack laughed.
Once Cloud was standing again and after they'd put away their weapons, they made their way inside. Cloud was pretty sure he stank like sweat and dirt, and he couldn't wait to get clean. After all that Hojo had done to him in the past (future?), Cloud hadn't broken into a sweat unless fighting Sephiroth, and even then it hadn't been in the slightest bit smelly. While he didn't like the means in which those things came about, he had been grateful for them in the long run. If he had the choice though, he wouldn't go through all that again; if he caught Hojo's interest this time, he would kill the man before getting captured.
On their way to the cafeteria, it was almost silent, save for a couple of comments here and there. Zack seemed preoccupied with something, and Cloud prayed to god that his friend wouldn't ask him anything he couldn't answer.
Thankfully, Zack didn't say anything, but his actions spoke loud enough to Cloud. It was too late though; they had trained together and Zack knew to some extent how strong he was, and what he could do. Zack was suspicious, Cloud knew it. It seemed liked Cloud couldn't hide anything as hard as he tried. He just made mistake after mistake; his first being the one he had made when he arrived, which was catch the attention of Sephiroth and the other Firsts. Cloud should have just laid low and returned to the cadet program.
With a slightly heavier than usual heart, Cloud had lunch with Zack, and gradually their conversation became less scattered and they were talking about how Cloud's job was going. Cloud told Zack all about how much he hated Scarlet and how he spent a lot of his time educating the new mechanics. It seemed the department didn't have much need for sword designers at the moment. The company must have thought the standard use swords they made were good enough, when in reality they weren't; everyone had different styles and different weight limits.
Cloud went on a little longer about how he'd accumulated a few new sword sketches and notes on materia usage in battles and the like when paired with weapons. Zack looked eager to learn these things, and Cloud was glad he wasn't being boring. It was soon after that that he asked Zack how he was and what exactly he did. Cloud didn't really know a lot about Zack from either timelines.
So Cloud absorbed the information Zack told him. He was told of the missions, the bad ones and the good, and how he did a lot with Angeal in and out of work. Cloud even found out that the two shared an apartment, though Zack mentioned that was more because Angeal was his mentor. Cloud was… happy for the information about his friend. After the incident in Nibelheim, Cloud had a hard time remembering anything in the previous years before it had happened, and only if he focused really, really hard would he be able to remember things briefly. It usually left him with a headache.
They chatted for a while more before Zack had to go. Apparently he would've been late for something Angeal had in mind for them if he didn't go. Cloud accepted it and stood himself, and he felt incredibly happy with that day despite realizing his mistakes. He would just have to work around them as best as he could.
"Today was fun Cloud; we should hang out more often! And, uh, keep practicing your sword stuff!" Cloud ducked his head when Zack moved to ruffle his hair, though he didn't avoid it. It was an awkward goodbye, he noted.
"Yeah, I'll see you around, Zack." Cloud was smiling as they went their separate ways, waving quietly before returning to his apartment. He needed a stronger sword, something big but light… or maybe just light. If he got rid of the weight and size that would undoubtedly come with a buster, he might just end up doing better against Sephiroth than he had that day against Zack. A lighter sword meant exhausting his energy more slowly, which would give him more time against Sephiroth, to test his true limits in this timeline.
But… if he lasted longer against Sephiroth, or lasted against him for any amount of time at all, that was boost their suspicions without a doubt. Cloud, now back in his apartment and sitting at his table, placed his head in his hands; he was making everything so much more complicated for himself. It was giving him a headache, and he was half convinced that he should just throw caution to the wind and attack at full force. It would gain him attention, mostly bad, but then at least all he would have to worry about was gaining Hojo's interest.
After all, there were some perks to being a designer. Because of where Cloud was in ShinRa, they could only do so much. There was a lack of sword and weapon designers, so every single one was needed, and he thanked the planet for that. If he was safe from Hojo's clutches because of his status, it would make him feel infinitely better. He was still worried though, and his head still hurt. Standing from his seat at the table, Cloud went over to his desk in the next room, settling himself there so he could work on a new design.
He needed make something as soon as possible, and he was already running out of time. If he wanted a sword done on time, he would have to start that day, no matter what. Cloud believed he would find the ideal materials in ShinRa's storage if he looked.
Settling his pencil against the paper, Cloud began to sketch well into the afternoon. The only thing that stopped him from continuing was when his stomach rumbled in hunger. Blinking, Cloud took that time to look out the window. He noticed it was dark and he sighed from the exhaustion of the day. Cloud wrinkled his nose in disgust when he realized he had never taken a shower. He must have really been preoccupied to not have done something he had previously planning to do…
The day was ending, but at least he had what he wanted; a good sword sketch that he could definitely use against Sephiroth. It was only a matter of getting it done now…
It looked like it would be a sleepless night for him.