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The Fifth Act, Chapter 10

Title: The Fifth Act

Rating:
T for violence.

Summary: FFVII Time-travel. Gen. Cloud has an accident with a Time Materia.

Author's Note: This chapter is a short one, so it comes out a day early. As a result, I suspect posting time will be out of whack for the rest of the week - you can probably expect the next chapter on Thursday, and the regular Sunday/Wednesday routine after that.

Previous Chapter



__________________

The Fifth Act

Chapter 10


__________________


The chocobo shuffled restlessly underfoot. With a sigh, Cloud dismounted and cancelled the Lure. The bird bolted immediately. Wild chocobos made for nervous mounts, even under the blond’s experienced hand.

Midgar loomed on the horizon, the haze of pollution robbing it of definition. Cloud scuffed the dirt with his boot. For many years, Buster Sword marked Zack’s grave at this very spot.

Maybe it was a little morbid to make this his stopping point on his return, but the reminder felt good. If all went according to plan, this point on the cliffs would remain nothing more than a boring cliff, indistinguishable among the kilometres of rock surrounding the basin.

Zack hadn’t even been able to turn his head in the end, to see the metropolis he’d worked so hard to return to. It took Cloud over a day to drag himself there, head awash with an influx of foreign memories, lugging Buster Sword behind him. It might have taken Zack only hours to make the same journey.

Another sigh, and Cloud began trudging towards the city gates. In the centre of that metropolis lay ShinRa headquarters, and thus Hojo and Sephiroth. He still didn’t know how to tackle that. Hojo was probably buried deep within the Science Department.

He’d have to find some way to infiltrate the building, and more importantly, the Science Department. He hadn’t decided how to do it yet, but figured he could pull off something similar to the plan Avalanche had adopted when they went to rescue Aeris. It would involve some steep bribes to get the necessary cards and disguise, but he had a little gil to his name now, thanks to a couple of days racing chocobos in the Gold Saucer. It was intended for room and board, but he could scrape together enough, and leave the city limits again to kill some monsters if he ran out. Anything to get to Hojo.

Then, once in, a certain head of the Science Department would find his career coming to an abrupt end.

ShinRa wasn’t going to know what hit them.

First though, there was a place he needed to see.


……………………………


Zack looked up at the newly repaired roof. “What do you think? Pretty good, right?”

Aeris tilted her head this way and that, finger on her chin. “Hmmm… it’ll do.”

“What? It’s way better than it was before!”

“The colours don’t match.”

“It’s more interesting that way though, right?”

She giggled. “I guess so.”

Zack grinned and flopped onto the ground, stretching out on the hardwood floor. Aeris knelt next to the flowers. “See, I told you I’m pretty handy with a hammer! I used to do all sorts of repairs on the house back in Gongaga. I’ll build you a flower wagon next, okay?”

“Midgar full of flowers, wallet full of money?” she quipped.

“You know it!”

She giggled again, tending the flowers quietly while Zack breathed in, taking a break after clambering all over the roof. The air in Midgar smelt foul compared to Gongaga, but inside the church, the fragrance of upturned earth and blooming flowers could almost fool him into thinking he was out in the countryside again, under the open skies and the warm sun.

After a while, you got used to the slums – they had a certain charm of their own, although in his case, the charm was called Aeris. He found himself wandering down to Sector 5 whenever he didn’t have a mission these days. Sometimes they’d go to the playground, or make a stop by Wall Market, but Zack liked the quiet moments where they sat around the church like this the best. He could never get tired of watching Aeris tend her flowers.

She paused, gaze going blank for a moment, as if she were listening to something Zack couldn’t hear. Aeris did that sometimes. "Oh..." She stood and dusted the soil from the hem of her white dress, looking towards the doors. "Someone interesting is coming."

"Interesting?" Zack asked curiously, still sprawled on the church floor.

"That's right. How do I put it?" She tapped a finger to her chin. "He's a puzzle."

“Hey, who are you talking about? You don’t have another boyfriend you’ve been hiding from me, right?” Zack teased.

She grinned impishly. “Maybe I have a hundred boyfriends.”

“You’re certainly pretty enough.”

Another giggle. “You’re sweet. That’s why I dumped them all for you.”

The door creaked open before Zack could reply. “Hello!” Aeris called out, voice echoing softly in the cavernous space. “I’ve never seen you around here before. Are you lost?”

The footsteps – heavy, booted – came to an abrupt stop.


"I forgot..." the stranger fumbled, and then quickly corrected, "I didn't think anyone would be here."


Zack laughed, leaping straight to his feet in a practiced move that never failed to impress his girl. At least, when he did it on sturdy ground. "The place is a bit run-down. It probably doesn’t help when people come crashing through the ceiling, either."


The stranger started at his voice, and Zack was similarly surprised by his appearance. The words were soft, so he'd expected some lost, nervous merchant. Instead, he faced a warrior. Covered in dust and grime, coiled power, quiet confidence, a sword on his back, and...

"Mako eyes," Zack breathed, hand reaching for his broadsword. "Get back, Aeris."


She tilted her head at him. "Hmmm? Why?"


The stranger appeared just as shocked. "...Zack?" he croaked.


Since Aeris didn't seem intent on moving, Zack put himself in front of her instead. "How do you know my name?"


He held up his hands, blue eyes wide. "Aren't you a SOLDIER?"


"I am, but I don't recall seeing you before." SOLDIER wasn't that large - after the losses in Wutai, there were maybe seventy across the three classes, and he knew most of them by sight.


"What? It's not- oh. I'm not in SOLDIER. I'm just..." Here the stranger actually looked embarrassed. "I'd heard of you, is all."


Zack wasn't convinced. "Heard of me?"


"…All good things?" The words were slow and uncertain.


“Zack, stop it, you’re scaring the poor man,” Aeris chided.

“He’s dangerous!”

“He’s not, silly, we haven’t even asked him who he is yet.” She stepped out from behind Zack and asked, “What’s your name?”

The blond had been staring at them in something of a daze as they argued, and jerked at the question. “Cloud.”

“Nice to meet you, Cloud. I’m Aeris, and it looks you already know this big silly Zack.”

“I’m not silly! Aeris, you should be more careful!” Zack complained.

“He’s right,” Cloud added, voice soft but somehow carrying effortlessly across the distance. “You should be careful. What if someone tries to kidnap you?”

Aeris latched on to Zack’s arm, giving him a winning smile. “You don’t see this big strong SOLDIER I’ve got here to protect me?”

Zack couldn’t help but swell up a little at that, but the look on Cloud’s face threw him for a loop. Such a sad, wistful expression…

Okay, so maybe the guy wasn’t dangerous after all. It really did seem like he’d just stumbled across the church by chance. “So what are you doing here? Are you new in town? And why are you dressed like SOLDIER?”

It took a long while for the blond to answer – he didn’t look like the sort talking came to naturally. “SOLDIER doesn’t have exclusive use of black jumpsuits. I’ve always worn this.”

Zack had to give him that. And it wasn’t like his uniform was an exact copy – only one shoulder guard, and the one he did sport wasn’t regulation. And SOLDIER jumpsuits didn’t zip up the front, either. Heck, there were imitation outfits sold for costume parties that were closer. But considering most of the Firsts flouted uniform regulations openly, he could be forgiven for making the assumption, right?

“It’s practical,” the blond added, with an air of having gone through the conversation many times already. Thinking on it, he probably had.

“Fine, fine, you’re not SOLDIER, even though you dress like one and have mako eyes. You still haven’t answered my first question.”

Cloud blinked, looking lost for a moment.

“What brings you here?” Aeris prompted.

They waited as the question processed. “…I just arrived in Midgar in today. I was looking for a place to rest for a while. Sorry. The church looked…” He trailed off, and the sentence hung in the air awkwardly.

“It’s okay,” Aeris assured him, all sunshine. “You can take a break here, so long as you don’t hurt the flowers.”

Cloud’s expression grew relaxed at the sight of the garden. “They’re beautiful,” he offered.

Her smile widened. “See? Midgar can be a nice place. I bet you’ll love it here. Do you have family or friends nearby?”

The blond shook his head, tensing again. “No, they’re… not around, anymore.”

Zack felt a stab of sympathy for the guy. From his uncomfortable manner, it didn’t look as though he were the type to have a long list of friends in the first place, and to lose what ties you had… Another case of some washed up mercenary coming to Midgar to make a fresh start, only to arrive here penniless and discover the city of dreams to be mostly lies. “Sorry to hear that, man. You have any work lined up?”

He shrugged, gesturing at his eyes. “It’ll be hard with these. Most people will think I’m ex-SOLDIER.”

“Yeah, about that… you sure you aren’t?” He agreed Cloud didn’t seem like a bad guy, but Zack couldn’t just ignore the mako eyes, or the great bit slab of metal on his back.

Aeris elbowed him. “Zack, stop pestering him!”

“Ow, ow, sorry! But aren’t you at least a little bit curious?”

Cloud smiled at their antics, though it was a tiny, tentative thing, and the SOLDIER Second Class was immediately beset by the urge to make it grow.

“Hey – oof - you know, ShinRa’s pretty much the only work in town,” Zack offered as Aeris finished bruising the last of his ribs. “You should apply to the army.”

It didn’t have the intended effect – the smile vanished as quickly as it came, replaced by the detached, cold mask of an indifferent warrior once more. Something felt familiar about it. Where had he seen that look before?

Oh yeah. General Sephiroth.

“…I’m not really sure if I’m cut out for the army.”

Zack wasn’t having a bar of that. “Are you kidding? You’ve got to be a decent fighter. Those materia look mastered.” He wanted to ask about those too, but Aeris kept giving him looks.

“I can fight fine,” Cloud defended. “It’s all the rest of it I don’t know about.”

Insecurity? On first glance he never would have imagined it from the guy, but then, appearances could be deceiving. “You’re worried about fitting in? Don’t sweat it so much! If Aeris likes you, you’ll do fine!” The pair shared a cheeky grin, and Zack nearly got derailed by how incredibly cute his girlfriend was! He’d landed the best girl on the planet, definitely. “You might even find some people you know! Everybody comes to Midgar these days. Where did you come from?”

“Nibelheim.” As soon as the word left his mouth, the blond’s eyes sparked with panic, and Zack figured he must have been embarrassed. But this, at least, he had experience in.

“Nibelheim! That sounds so backwater!”

Put-out, Cloud retorted, “Oh yeah, where did you come from then?”

Zack bounced on the balls of his feet. “Gongaga.”

“And that doesn’t sound backwater at all.”

He laughed, the sound echoing pleasantly off the church interior. “You got me there! Let me guess, there’s a reactor nearby and absolutely-”

Nothing else,” they finished in unison.

“Boys,” Aeris declared with a fond shake of her head.

Grinning, Zack couldn’t even remember when he’d put away his broadsword. It explained everything comfortably. Sometimes kids growing up near rural reactors would pick up a faint mako glow to their eyes, though it normally faded when they got older or moved away. And anybody who dared wander beyond the city limits these days risked encountering monsters, so the sword and mastered materia weren’t such a big deal. Content with these conjured explanations, he relaxed for a few minutes as they traded small town stories, with Aeris occasionally asking the odd question. Cloud took the surprise at her sheltered city view in stride better than the first time Zack had been exposed to it, but then, the guy had a mean poker face. Maybe he was just polite.

Aeris started suddenly, looking towards the windows. “It’s getting dark. My aunt will be getting worried. I should get back.”

She was right – what little natural light made its way under the plate was rapidly disappearing. “I’ll walk you,” Zack offered. “Oh, but hey, Cloud – just in case you change your mind-” And he certainly would as soon as he saw the lack of any other kind of work in Midgar. “-I’ve got a solo mission tomorrow morning to go clear out a monster infestation in a Sector 8 warehouse. Why don’t you tag along?”

The blond looked stunned at the offer, so the SOLDIER Second barrelled along before he could protest. “I wouldn’t mind some backup, and you could get a taste of the sort of work you might wind up doing! I mean, you’ve got to pass an exam and stuff to get into SOLDIER, but if you’re a sword specialist, that’s where you’ll be aiming for, am I right?”

“I-”

“Great!” Zack gave him a hearty slap on the shoulder. “I’ll meet you outside Wall Market at oh-nine-hundred hours, okay?”

“But-” Cloud tried again.

“Don’t worry about it,” Aeris whispered to him as they walked past. “He’s made his mind up. You never stood a chance.”




Next chapter



Comments

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
i_make_rain
Dec. 1st, 2009 12:07 pm (UTC)
Wow, you update really fast! I don't know how you do that!

I really like this version of back-in-time Cloud meeting Zack and Aeris. It's different to most other fics where Cloud's reaction (or internal monologue) are... extremely emotional.

And it's wonderful how you fit in little game elements. Like Treasure Princess and Chocobo races. Chocobos are just too darn adorable...

Thanks so much for your quick updates! =D
i_make_rain
Dec. 1st, 2009 12:10 pm (UTC)
Oh! Is there a reason for your fic title? =)
sinnatious
Dec. 1st, 2009 01:20 pm (UTC)
Haaaah, I was kind of uninspired when picking a title, but yes, there is a terribly pretentious reason for it.

The Cloud meeting Zack and Aeris melodrama was probably toned down by using Zack's POV more so than any effort on my part, but glad you liked it! :D

And game elements, you notice them! *__* I'm constantly driven by the urge to make meta game elements fit into a practical world somehow.

Thank you for commenting!
ixtey
Dec. 1st, 2009 12:14 pm (UTC)
hjashklsa these days, you seem to update so fast! *___* much, much much love for that. <3333

When I read the part about Cloud planning to visit Zack's future grave, Ayaka's "Why" suddenly played on my iTunes, as if on cue. I couldn't decide whether to be amused or to freak out. XD

AWW Repairmandad!Zack and Supportivewife!Aerith are just sooo cute. They remind me of local shows in our country where the wife and the husband are like that. And for some reason I don't like gay Zack in most fics I read, mainly because he's too much of a fathery guy. Dunno if it makes sense, but I don't know how to explain it further.

And Cloud going to the Church and seeing them there ;___; Cloud, seeing Zack and Zack not being at all Zack-ly with him like in the past... I can't imagine how sad Cloud was at that point. Oh, Cloud. I do feel for you.

And Zack. Being the usual friendly he is with strangers and new friends... and that's it. klahsdfas though I'm extremely happy that he invited Cloud over for a mission, even though it'll probably lead to something bad like Zack discovering him as the Strife mercenary dude.

Oh, and, when'll the next update be? :DDD looking forward to it.
sinnatious
Dec. 1st, 2009 01:27 pm (UTC)
*hidden code buried in the LJ entry controls your iTunes*

I hear you! I do enjoy slashy Zack, but he and Aeris are such a darn good couple I can't bear to break them up. Good het couples are so rare, you know?

Next update will be probably be Thursday. It's a bonus chapter week! *levels up*
ixtey
Dec. 1st, 2009 01:42 pm (UTC)
Lol so that's why it's as if my iTunes got wired into my brain or something! because it is!

I know right. Though many of them get effed up by badfics so I hardly notice some. D:

haha, I only noticed now that you've actually put info about the next updates on the author's note. but hey you can't blame me for skipping to the story XD
(Anonymous)
Dec. 1st, 2009 12:26 pm (UTC)
ZAAAAAAAACK! <3

He's the reason I read time travel fics. I just wuv him so much. I mean, who wouldn't?

Can I bribe you to update early and gimme more Zack? :3
sinnatious
Dec. 1st, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
*__* Only people who are cold and dead inside, that's who. Can never have too much Zack.

Ha ha, Thursday's not soon enough for you? XD This reminds me of when I was writing The World Begins With Tennis and updating every day but still people wanted it faster.
searisme
Dec. 1st, 2009 01:10 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's the second time you've surprised us.

Nice "Cloud introspection on arriving in Midgar". Zack's sword as a grave-marker on that lonely cliff always teared me up, so I find it very touching, the hope of it not happening this time over.

I love Zack. He's just this perfect combination of goofy, easygoing and lethal warrior. It's nice him and Cloud seem to have some kind of connection still/already. ..and, just, them bonding over being small-town boys!

Lastly - between ShinaRa machinations, Zack and his own need to infiltrate he really is going to end up Soldier, isn't he?
sinnatious
Dec. 1st, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC)
It's the will of the universe. Cloud has no choice. ^_^ The noose tightens.

'goofy, easygoing and lethal warrior' - that's maybe the most succint and descriptive summary I've seen of Zack yet. *__*

Thank you for commenting! You've been diligent, and I do not thank enough.
searisme
Dec. 2nd, 2009 01:09 am (UTC)
Mhm. That's at least what Zack should be - writers often forget that second part, which I find strange.

Meh. I figure I should take a shot at not!lurking. Usually I'm horrible at leaving reviews.
swyrel
Dec. 1st, 2009 06:36 pm (UTC)
OMG Zack and Aeris tag-teaming Cloud. Aeris was right, he never stood a chance. lol

Again, you lead up to a scene w/ Yuffie in the previous chapter, but didn't put it in the next chapter. Sin, that is so mean! You made me like Chibi!Yuffie, and then you don't put her in anymore. lol

Can't wait for the next chapter! <3
sinnatious
Dec. 2nd, 2009 11:28 am (UTC)
Yuffie's role in this story is like Yuffie herself - ninja-like, appearing and disappearing without warning! :D Sorry for disappointing you. ^_^
swyrel
Dec. 2nd, 2009 06:25 pm (UTC)
lol You're not disappointing me. No way you could disappoint me w/ a story like this. <3
firedraygon97
Dec. 2nd, 2009 07:27 am (UTC)
*flails* Zack and Aeris~~! ♥ They're so cute together, haha. I love how Cloud just can't win against the two of them teaming up on him. XP This is such a great chapter. I like how you incorporated conversations from CC into it -- it's surprising how Cloud knows the exact words to what he's said before; meeting Zack the first time must've left a huge impact on him.

Hahaha, oh man, I hope Angeal runs into Cloud when he's with Zack. :O He'll be all, "This is the guy who wants to kill Sephiroth?" and get attached. >D Or, y'know, Genesis can pop up and quote more poetry at his 'saviour'. ♥

Waiting on Vincent and Yuffie returning to the set~ They're such awesome side characters in this.

Looking forward to Thursday!!
sinnatious
Dec. 2nd, 2009 11:32 am (UTC)
Ahahaha, Angeal getting himself a Puppy AND a Chocobo? *__* Alas, Angeal's role is very different. Perhaps I should inoculate you against that particular fluffy idea now.

Also, you may need to wait a while for Vincent and Yuffie. They are side characters, after all. :P Hopefully Zack and Aeris are compensation enough.

♥ I'm happy that someone else has played CC and recognises all the little throwbacks to it. Fewer people appear to have played it than I thought!
firedraygon97
Dec. 2nd, 2009 02:36 pm (UTC)
Uh oh then. XP I hope at least Angeal will drink the spring water Genesis gets from Cloud, if he's going to be a paranoid bum.

...Anti-fluff antibodies? :O

With Aeris and Zack, I'm also looking forward to Cissnei and Reno and even Tseng. ♥ Turks = love~~
aschenhimmel
Sep. 2nd, 2010 03:42 pm (UTC)
I should be commenting on the previous chapter first, but heck this is ZACK we're talking about.

Even if it's Zack's POV, I felt sad for Cloud. I can imagine him seeing Zack and Aeris, so happy, and he was practically a stranger...and I couldn't help but AWWW when Zack finally warmed up to him.

Your fic is really, really stealing my sleep! But it's worth it~ XDD
caterfree10
Jan. 3rd, 2012 06:05 pm (UTC)
I love that Cloud stops where his journey began here. Maybe it is morbid as said in fic, but it fits, imho. It was a key event for him and something he wants to prevent in this timeline.

And the whole old conversation in a new setting thing is so wonderful omg. <3 I always liked the original conversation in the game and seeing it reborn for this timeline is so cute.

*insert required squeeing for Zerith adorableness here*
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )