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The Fifth Act, Chapter 33

Title: The Fifth Act

Rating:
T for violence.

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

Author's Note:  We must be getting close to the end, because the average length of chapters is slowly creeping upward!  Not such a bad cliffhanger this time, since you should see it coming.  This chapter and the next one have been giving me no end of grief, so please don't hesitate to point out any inconsistencies or mistakes you might find.  <3

Previous Chapter  

 

 

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The Fifth Act
Chapter 33


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Kunsel stumbled blindly along the rocky mountain trail, heartbeat thudding in his ears, so loud he started to get paranoid someone else might hear it. No pursuers yet, but it wouldn’t last. He needed some kind of cover or shelter; ride out the night to get his strength back. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this exhausted. Not since he’d made it to SOLDIER, at least.

 

He clenched his fists and pressed on. Reminded himself that he could still take out a couple of troopers, if necessary. Hojo had a handful of staff at the mansion, maybe even a Turk if he was unlucky, but he wouldn’t want to risk sending them all out after one escaped specimen. Reinforcements would take at least twelve hours to arrive, and that was assuming they came in on helicopter instead of truck. He calculated out the remaining possible formations in his head. The terrain would make it tough, but he could escape that net. If he made it a little further without getting detected, he had a real chance.

 

Where to go after, though? Cloud was still back at the mansion. He needed help, but his options were severely limited. Couldn’t go to ShinRa – he’d be killed, or more likely, tossed right back into the lab where he’d be as good as dead anyway. How had Cloud lasted that long? 

 

Maybe if he contacted Zack directly. He wasn’t too sure about the General or Commander, but Zack would try to help. 

 

No, couldn’t do that either. The Turks would be notified he’d escaped – they’d be watching his friends and contacts. No chance he’d endanger Zack, not after hearing Cloud’s story. That lovable moron had probably made First Class by now. There had been a good chance of it happening while he was away. Which meant at any time here on in…

 

Best not to think about it right now.

 

Except Kunsel was the guy who never stopped thinking about things. He couldn’t help it. People were always overlooking details staring them in the face, things they would easily uncover if they stopped and considered, and maybe asked a couple of obvious questions. He felt sure there was something important he was missing.

 

Not enough information. It felt crippling. He needed a PHS. His PHS, preferably, but the Turks probably had that, too. 

 

Stumbling drunkenly, he eventually came to a rest beside a boulder, bracing himself while he caught his breath. Where the hell was he going? He needed to focus, gather his runaway thoughts, but it felt like trying to herd cactuars into an office cubicle.

 

“Damn, what’s wrong with me?” he muttered. Hazy vision, loss of balance, muscle weakness, difficulty focusing?

 

Ifrit, he knew these symptoms. Classic signs of a budding mako addiction. He grimaced as the path blurred in front of him. Wasn’t a severe case, but in his current condition, he ran the risk of slipping into shock. 

 

Had to keep moving. He lurched away from the rock and continued along the path, hoping to skirt the edges of town.

 

Nearby, a wolf howled.

 

Kunsel stilled, and swore under his breath.

 

He’d looked into Nibelheim when Zack first mentioned it as Cloud’s hometown. Like most remote towns with reactors, it didn’t have much else of note. No exports of any financial significance. Far too remote and inhospitable to be a tourist spot. It was a subsistence economy, with the only outside funding coming from ShinRa. A lot like Banora, really.

 

The one thing it was known for was the vicious wildlife. Specifically, Nibel dragons and Nibel wolves.

 

This was not his lucky day. 

 

Kunsel fumbled for the dagger he’d liberated from the guard. Materia would be better, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. He took stance, senses as alert as he could get them through his mental haze.

 

He didn’t have to wait long – mere moments later a lithe grey shape came loping down the mountainside towards him. He faintly registered shuffling and growling in the undergrowth on either side of him. A small hunting party, by the looks of it, but in his state, even one wolf would give him trouble.

 

The beast slowed as it approached, snarling and circling him warily, his fighting stance combined with the scent of mako probably making it think twice. It was a magnificent brute – thick grey coat, wide shoulders, and a set of jaws large enough wrap around his head whole. 

 

The moment stretched as the pair faced off. Kunsel remained peripherally aware of another two wolves emerging from the brush nearby, but kept his eyes firmly fixed on the one facing him.

 

Then suddenly, movement.

 

The wolf on the left leapt towards him, snarling. He turned and slashed, but it twisted aside at the last moment. The blade tore a shallow cut on its right flank, and the snarl became a yelp.

 

The growling rose in pitch. Blood had been drawn. The two other wolves were on him in an instant, a whirl of grey fur and snapping jaws. Kunsel fought as best he could, hacking and jabbing at anything that came close enough, never getting anything more than a shallow cut for his efforts and barely keeping them at bay. Desperately, he spun in place, lashing out with his foot. His boot connected, and with a crunch of bone, finally knocked one of the wolves away. 

 

Too little, too late. “Damn it!” Teeth sank into his left arm, and the wolf hung off it stubbornly, growling and dragging him towards the ground. Dangerous. The shoulder guards and helmet made it tough for them to get at his neck, but once he hit the dirt it would be over. The first one he’d slashed was already coming back for another go. 

 

Too slow. Too busy thinking his strategy through instead of just reacting

 

The wolf growled, teeth stained red from the blood pouring down his arm.

 

Kunsel shoved the dagger into its throat.

 

The jaw suddenly slackened, and the monster fell away, blade still embedded in its neck. The bite wound it left behind looked ugly, crimson bubbling from the puncture wounds. He ignored it. There were more immediate problems.

 

He wavered on his feet. Just two left. And the one he’d kicked earlier was limping.

 

“C’mon, I might not be First Class, but I can handle this much, right?” he muttered.

 

Hand-to-hand wasn’t one of his strengths, but Cloud hadn’t got him out of that place only for him to get taken down by a pack of monsters!

 

They ran at him again, eyes wild and slobber flying. Kunsel leaned to the side, dodging the first one, and barrelled into the second with his shoulder. They rolled in a tangle, and somewhere in the melee, he managed to wrap his arm around its neck.

 

Nibel wolves were strong. But a desperate SOLDIER was stronger.

 

The neck cracked. The wolf went limp. 

 

He shoved the body aside and lurched to his feet, head spinning. Not good. Still one remaining – the big one that first came running down the mountain at him. And to make matters worse, the adrenaline had started wearing off, and his injured left arm was flaring with agony after that last tussle. He probably couldn’t use it anymore.

 

He managed a weak grin. “Heh. Is this as far as a Second Class can go?”

 

The wolf snarled. Kunsel grit his teeth, and braced himself.

 

The attack never came. All of a sudden, a blur of white and black blocked his vision. The wolf yelped, then went suddenly quiet. There was a prolonged shuffle of feathers and a crunch of bone, until finally the black blur moved away. He blinked. The wolf had changed. Its fur had darkened, its tail turned serpent-like, and most confusing of all, it now bore a pair of majestic white wings.

 

Kunsel spent a moment staring in disbelief, then stumbled and dropped to his knees.

 

Someone spoke. “Hey. Are you okay?”

 

He retched, spitting out a mouthful of bile and mako. A warm grip caught his shoulder.

 

“Hang in there, SOLDIER.” The voice sounded far away, like it was underwater.

 

How was it they hadn’t drowned in the mako, anyway? He and Cloud had been submerged for hours at a time, possibly even days. Maybe it was the same reason why SOLDIERs could hold their breath for so long. Civilians would normally suffocate after three minutes – SOLDIERs could go for twenty.

 

Damn, his thoughts were drifting again. This must’ve been how Zack felt all the time.

 

Blearily, he tried to focus on the speaker. Big, black shape. He couldn’t make out the details, but his gaze was drawn to the white blur stretched out behind him. Some kind of wing? An angel?

 

“Hallucinations,” he mumbled, closing his eyes. “Must have a worse case than I thought.”

 

“That’s a new one. Nobody’s called me a hallucination before.”

 

Kunsel didn’t reply. Even if your hallucinations talked to you, you were still okay so long as you didn’t talk back.

 

He had a weird feeling he’d forgotten something big, though. Something important… but the thought slipped through his fingers like smoke. Great. Forgetfulness setting in too. 

 

Distantly, he heard footsteps. A single set. He tensed, but it didn’t sound like a monster, or even heavy enough for a trooper. 

 

“Hey-” he started to say, but then realised the presence at his side had suddenly vanished. Just a dream?

 

Kunsel frowned at the white feathers scattered across the ground. 

 

With a heavy groan, he dropped and rolled over on to his back. His arm blazed with pain, the skin around the bite tingling as mako worked on healing the wounds.

 

Lying down probably wasn’t a good idea right now, but his body didn’t want to cooperate anymore. How was he supposed to get off the mountain like this? And he really needed to look into those footsteps. Did the fight with the wolves attract someone’s attention?

 

With the last of his strength, he craned to his head to see who was approaching. Huh, a chocobo?

 

Too small for the distance. Running, now. Had to be human. No red lights from a trooper helmet. Just blond spiky hair.

 

“…Cloud?” he slurred.

 

The little blue-and-blond blob stooped over him. Saying something.

 

A kid, he soon realised, managing to focus enough to make out his features. Too short to be Cloud. Hair was spikier, too. Must have been a local. 

 

Didn’t Cloud say he grew up in Nibelheim?

 

“…know my name?”

 

He peered at the kid with renewed interest. Without the mako eyes and the scary expression, he reminded him a little bit of the new Vice President. If he wore glasses and slicked down the spikes, he could have passed as a mini-Director, too.

 

Huh. He’d have to look into that.

 

“Mister?” 

 

The kid said something else, but Kunsel was already drifting away.

 

 

…………………….

 

 

The naked light bulb buzzed and flickered, casting an eerie light on the mako-stained tiles. Nearby, a lonely monitor beeped, and beeped, and beeped.

 

“I appear to have underestimated you, Specimen C.”

 

Cloud stared at the ceiling, refusing to meet Hojo’s assessing gaze. He’d woken up here, bound to the cold table, with the scientist pacing by his side. The mako and the glass from the broken tank had already been cleared away, and his hand, though still aching fiercely, appeared to have more than halfway healed.

 

“Not even the Chaos Project in its fully transformed state could break out of this tank design. Quite impressive,” he commented, patting his knee in a parody of affection.  "You truly are one of my creations."

 

“That’s funny. I remember being called a failure,” he remarked coldly.

 

“Is that so? In that case, I must say I’m rather embarrassed at the lack of scientific sense my future self must have displayed.” He adjusted his glasses. “And you even managed to incapacitate twelve of the guards before the sedative could take hold.” At last he started to sound annoyed.

 

In the remaining seconds before the tranquilliser had finally won its battle, Cloud had done a lot of damage, breaking noses and ribs and arms without care or discrimination. He might have even killed a couple of guards. At this stage, he honestly didn’t care. Zack had slain hundreds of ShinRa troops throughout the course of their escape. During his days in Avalanche, Cloud had probably killed just as many. That was the price of freedom, these days.

 

At least Kunsel made it away.

 

Hojo peered at him, oily black strands of hair slipping free from his ponytail to hang over his shoulders. “Hmph. Don’t be feeling pleased just because one of you escaped. He was an inferior specimen. I doubt he made it far in his state. You won’t be lonely for long, Specimen C.”

 

Cloud inwardly seethed, but didn’t comment. Kunsel hadn’t looked great, true, but he was sure he’d escape, and he had every intention of following. Hojo would slip up eventually – at some point he would get called away to Midgar and trust an assistant to deal with them instead, and the assistant would eventually grow lax and overconfident, and then he could break out again. As many times as it took. 

 

“Of course, this has interrupted the multiple-subject transferral testing.” Hojo scowled, and cast a glance at the empty tanks. “And temporarily delayed the mako factor testing as well. A shame. We won’t be able to resume until either the other specimen is recaptured, or a new batch of mako has been processed.” His glasses had slipped down his nose again, and he pushed them back up with a bony, crooked finger. “But what to do with you in the meantime, Specimen C? What to do.”

 

His skin crawled as Hojo leaned over him, staring him up and down as one might inspect a prize chocobo. “You are a unique specimen. In progressing the technology to leverage the hidden potential of Time materia, I have not had much opportunity to properly investigate your genetic makeup beyond the presence of S-cells. Your case is rather fascinating. I have of course experimented in the past, but introducing active alien matter to an already developed organism has only ever resulted in runaway mutation, eventually resulting in death.” His eyes narrowed. “How did I solve the conundrum of rejection? Perhaps it lies in your mako enhancements – I haven’t seen a specimen survive with these levels since Sephiroth.” He prodded his healing hand. Cloud flinched, and closed it into a fist.

 

“Don’t touch me,” he hissed.

 

Hojo indulged him with a thin-lipped smile. “Your battle with Sephiroth in Wutai has become quite famous, you know, even though the company never mentioned it in any official capacity. I wonder… could you truly defeat him, Specimen C? My greatest work?” He chuckled to himself. “Though if you were to defeat him, that would then logically make you my greatest work. Yes, I do wonder…”

 

Cloud’s stomach churned at the reverence in Hojo’s voice. It was a tone the scientist normally reserved for talking about Jenova. 

 

At the height of his identity crisis, he’d yearned for such acknowledgement. Begged for it.

 

“Professor… please give me a number… Please, Professor…”

 

Now, the very memory made him sick. How incredibly wrong he’d been. How terribly misguided.

 

He now knew, with chilling certainty, that being one of Hojo’s failures was a far kinder fate than being a success.

 

 

…………………….

 

 

Zack disembarked from the train with hunched shoulders and a heavy heart.

 

Two weeks. Two weeks since he’d received his promotion. Two weeks since the notice of Kunsel’s death had been posted.

 

Two weeks, and they hadn’t been able to do a thing.

 

Lazard had been blocking them at every turn. Now, none of them could so much as get out of Midgar, much less all the way to the West Continent. It was absurd. Three of the highest-ranking SOLDIERs, stuck to internal duties and the occasional low-level monster hunt in the area? As far as he was concerned, that was proof something was up.

 

Not that he didn’t understand the General’s viewpoint. Going against the Turks – against Tseng, and Cissnei, and Reno and Rude – wasn’t something he was eager to do. He’d worked with them enough to know how ruthless they could be. Nowhere in the world would be safe. And, as Sephiroth already pointed out, they wouldn’t be able to help anyone from inside a cell. But he was going insane, just sitting around waiting for something to give! Genesis was noticeably antsy as well – though he preached patience and caution, he was downright terrible at it. Worse than Zack, even.

 

Which was why he had come to the slums to visit Aeris. She always seemed to have the answers, and when she didn’t, she still never failed to make him feel better.

 

Forcing his shoulders up and his eyes forward, Zack headed off towards the church. The people nearby didn’t pay as much mind to him anymore, having become used to the sight of him in the area. For his part, the SOLDIER First had learned not to stare either, depressing as the place could be. Sometimes it seemed like everything in the slums came in various shades of brown. To the right, brown. To the front, brown. To the left… blond?

 

Zack’s head whipped around faster than Don Corneo’s eyes at the Honeybee Inn.

 

He wasn’t imagining it. No way to mistake that spiky blond hair!

 

Cloud?”

 

To his surprise, the person jerked, whirling around to look at him. A pair of bright, blue, mako-less eyes took in his uniform in one glance, and grew wide as dinner plates.

 

Then he bolted.

 

“Hey!” Zack called out, dashing after him. “Oof, sorry miss, excuse me, coming through-” He fumbled his way out of the crowd and took chase.

 

The blond was spry and agile, but he didn’t have a hope of matching the speed of a SOLDIER. He didn’t get more than two blocks before Zack snagged the back of his shirt. “Gotcha!”

 

Then the little hellion kicked him in the shins

 

“Ow, what was that for!”

 

“Help!” the kid hollered.

 

“Hey, I just want to-” Zack barely got to finish the sentence before having to dive to the side, dragging the boy with him. “Watch out!” A gust of air from flapping wings whooshed overhead. Monsters?! He pushed the kid behind him and drew his Buster Sword. “Don’t worry, I got this!”

 

To his shock, though, the blond dashed from his side over to the monster. “Run, he’s SOLDIER!”

 

Zack felt his grip on the Buster Sword weaken as he stopped to properly look at their mystery attacker. “Wait – I’ve seen that kind of monster before.” The chimera-like appearance. The black fur. The crooked white wings.

 

The kid was already edging away, trying to urge the monster with him, but the beast regarded the SOLDIER for a moment, then tossed its head and sat on its haunches.

 

It was so surreal.

 

Zack lowered his sword, and approached the chimera. Before he could reach it, though, he suddenly found himself staring down at a pair of angry blue eyes. “Don’t hurt him! He didn’t do anything to you!”

 

The kid was scared, Zack observed. Terrified. And yet, still glaring at him.

 

“I’m not going to!” he protested. “I was just going to pet him, see?” He reached around and ruffled the fur just behind the monster’s ears. It titled its head slightly at the action, showing off more of its neck and chest as it did so.

 

There it was. He hadn’t imagined it before. A pattern in the fur that looked eerily like Angeal’s face.

 

Zack withdrew carefully. “More importantly… Cloud, did you shrink?” He looked, what, barely fourteen? Not exactly a child like he’d first thought – must have been short for his age. 

 

“How do you know my name?” The blond asked suspiciously.

 

“You’re kidding. It is you?! Did someone cast Mini?” But then, why would Cloud not remember him? “And then Confuse? Was it a marlboro?! Those things are vicious.” He paused. “Hey, no mako eyes though. And I thought you were immune to status materia!”

 

Finally, a bit of the fear and suspicion receded, to be replaced with cautious hope. “Could it be, maybe, you know my uncle?” he ventured.

 

Zack’s mouth dropped open. 

 

Cloud Strife, an uncle?

 

“Oh man, I can’t believe this! You look so much like him! What brings you to Midgar?” His brain worked furiously behind the scenes. Another clue to Cloud’s situation?

 

Hesitation. Then, with visible reluctance, he confessed, “I’m looking for him. My uncle, I mean.”

 

Zack’s shoulders sagged. So much for that hope. “You don’t know where he is either, huh?”

 

His only reply was a confused expression. Great. If the kid had come all the way to Midgar, Zack really didn’t want to be the one to break the news, but he had a right to know. “Your uncle’s been missing for a while now. I’ve been looking for him too, but I haven’t had much luck. For a second I thought you were him – that’s why I chased you. Sorry if I scared you.”

 

He felt even worse watching the whole range of emotions play out across the guy’s face. Shock, disappointment, worry, panic, before finally settling on something close to despair.

 

“Don’t worry,” he tried to reassure him. “Your uncle’s tough. No matter how bad a situation he’s got himself into, he’ll probably be okay.” Even if he didn’t really believe his own assurances anymore, he couldn’t bear to leave the kid looking so heartbroken. “We’ll find him. The General himself is looking into it!” That didn’t appear to lift the blond’s spirits much, so next he tried, “What did you come to find your uncle for? I know I’m not family, but maybe I can still help! I owe him one, you know.”

 

There was a pause – the awkward sort where you could see the other party wavering between a variety of responses in their head, trying to gauge the safest one. Zack rode it out like a pro. This Cloud didn’t have a bar on his uncle’s uncomfortable silences. 

 

Eventually, the blond asked, “Do you promise to keep it a secret?”

 

Zack thumped his chest. “Cross my heart! On my honour as a SOLDIER!” The kid still looked unsure, so he prodded him by asking, “What’s the problem?”

 

More hesitation. The finally, “Maybe it would be better if I showed you.”

 

Zack shrugged. “Sure. I probably do better with that kind of explanation anyhow. Where are we going?”

 

“This way.” Cloud Junior headed in the opposite direction to the train station. Zack followed at an easy pace. He kept an eye on the Angeal-like chimera, which followed them for a few steps before taking off to glide above the rooftops.

 

“What’s with the monster?” He already had his suspicions, but it couldn’t hurt to ask.

 

The blond glanced up towards where the silhouette of the chimera soared overhead, barely discernable against the grey underside of the plate. “It’s kind of a guard dog.”

 

“A guard dog,” Zack repeated, dubious.

 

“It’s not mine. It’s a stray that just kind of… helps out. I found it with…” He trailed off, seemingly lost as how to proceed.

 

The topic appeared to be making the kid nervous, so he quickly changed the subject. “I guess this is your first time to Midgar, huh?” Zack asked with a grin.

 

Cloud jerked. “How did you know?”

 

The kid was too tense. “I can tell. You’re a country boy!”

 

He flushed. So easy to tease! Zack laughed. “Hey, don’t be embarrassed! I’m a country boy too, you know. How else would I know?”

 

“Oh yeah? Where did you come from?”

 

“Gongaga.”

 

A muffled cough. “Hey, don’t laugh!”

 

“Sorry.” The brat didn’t sound sorry at all.

 

“Ha! As though you’re any better off. What about you?”

 

“Nibelheim.”

 

Zack fell abruptly silent.

 

He shouldn’t have needed to ask. It made sense that Cloud’s nephew would come from Nibelheim too. But just the name of the place… it gave him a bad feeling now.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

He shook himself, and flashed a bright smile. “Sorry, just got distracted.” Only then did he realise they’d reached the boundaries of Sector 5. “We’re going through Sector 6?”

 

“Yeah. I’m staying at a hotel there.”

 

At a hotel? In Sector 6? “Is it safe?” he asked.  “You know, on your own?” He got a frown for that, so swiftly amended, “I mean, even troopers move in squads in the slums.”

 

Cloud glanced up at the sky in response. “Oh, right, the ‘guard dog’,” Zack conceded. The shock of being dive-bombed by a chimera would be enough to drive off any group of thugs.

 

The newly-minted First hadn’t visited Sector 6 much before, though it didn’t look that different to the Sector 5 slums. It had the same overpowering stink, too, underlaid with the taint of mako. 

 

For once, he wasn’t the only one wrinkling his nose in disgust. “Bet you’re missing the country air now, huh?” Zack commented. “Don’t let the locals see you making faces. Nothing makes a tourist stand out more.”

 

“You’re doing it too,” the kid pointed out.  

 

“Hey, I’m a SOLDIER! Our noses are a lot more sensitive, I’ll have you know.”

 

The blond went quiet again at that. Strangest things made him clam up. Definitely Cloud’s nephew. 

 

Zack filled the silence by chatting aimlessly about inane Midgar trivia, trying to get his companion to loosen up. It helped, but it seemed the closer and closer they got to their destination, the more and more nervous the kid became. Second-guessing himself? Or did a trap lie in wait?

 

He doubted it, but he checked he had his PHS handy to call for backup. Just in case. 

 

They had to stop and pause a few times for the kid to get his bearings, but eventually they arrived at a modest four-story building. “This is it.”

 

The hotel wasn’t that bad, really, considering the location. No broken windows or bullet holes in the doors, and hardly any rust to speak of. Relatively tidy, too – rubbish had a way of accumulating below plate. In gutters, under eaves, anywhere people didn’t walk. Nobody had anywhere else to throw it.

 

Cloud’s nephew hesitated at the entrance, however. 

 

“What’s the matter?” Zack asked.

 

He bit his lip, staring up at him with wide blue eyes. “Can I really trust you?”

 

Definitely the super-cautious type. “You said your name is Cloud too, right? Same as your uncle?” The blond nodded. “I don’t think I introduced myself properly. Zack Fair, SOLDIER First Class. And Cloud, you can trust me. I swear it.”

 

The kid still looked uncertain, so for good measure, he added, “You know, I’m kind of trusting you here too. For all I know you could be leading me here just to knock me out and rob me blind.”

 

Cloud almost tripped over in his disbelief. “What? Me? Mug a SOLDIER?”

 

Zack put his hands on his hips, looking him up and down suspiciously. “I don’t know. You might look innocent, all dressed up like a civilian, but I can’t forget who you’re related to. I’ll be walking along, not worried at all, and BAM, you’ll pull out a Neo Bahamut summon and it’ll eat my sword!”

 

It was at that point the blond appeared to cotton on to the fact that he was being teased. He scowled. “Eat that big thing? It would even give a summon indigestion.”

 

Zack laughed and grabbed Cloud in a headlock, ruffling his hair. Oh, he liked this kid. He looked all timid and nervous, but when the chips were down he talked back, even though he was only a civilian and Zack was a SOLDIER First Class. “Don’t make fun of the sword!”

 

Cloud smiled – a soft, cautious kind of grin, and when he saw it Zack was struck by an overpowering sense of familiarity. “We should get inside.”

 

The interior was dark and musty. Cloud picked up the key from the front desk - the clerk didn't even bat an eye at the sight of a kid accompanied by a SOLDIER - and led the way up a dim, narrow staircase, stained with coffee and smelling of smoke.  Zack winced as the steps creaked under his weight, but they held, and besides, if he could survive being blown off the expressway into a church roof, a measly little fall through a half-rotten staircase wouldn't kill him.

 

They climbed all the way to the top floor, and headed to the room down the very end.  It took some manoeuvring with the bent and dented handle, but eventually the blond managed to get the lock undone, and then had to put his shoulder into it to unstick the door from the frame.  Zack stood back, waiting patiently, even though he could have probably done it lot quicker.  The kid looked like the fiercely independent type.  Probably came from a poor family.  He seemed pretty comfortable in the slums for a country boy.

 

All of those thoughts fled the instant Zack saw what was in the room.


”Holy shit.”

 

He rushed to the bed, scarcely believing his eyes.

 

"Kunsel?!"



Next chapter


Comments

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kaorismash
Mar. 28th, 2010 09:53 am (UTC)
ASHFKJAJSGKLHASJHGAKJSKGHJASJGKASHGJAKSHKJGASHGJJAKSGBRBFLAILING.
kaorismash
Mar. 28th, 2010 10:35 am (UTC)
Okay, in all coherency. Or well, more than previously.

The part I really really truuuuuly adore is YOU CAN PRETTY MUCH GUESS WITHOUT ME SAYING SO. *_* Butbut, oh i should start from the beginning.

I'm not sure if you did this on purpose, or if it's like this hte entire way through, but I was attempting to pay conscious attention for the second reread through. Kunsel's part's full of very short sentences, and it mimics his disorientation so nicely. Some parts required rereading over a few times before I stopped stumbling over it, but I'm pretty sure that's my lack of sleep talking. D: I really like how you labeled the wolves as "monsters" when they're the natural, unmodified (or are they) creatures. jasg ;_; The entire scene was very nice, I could imagine it clearly *_* and then ANGEAL. I may or may not have a tiny little bit of grudging... appreciation? for him. Though not a lot, given all the things we don't know about how he's spending all this time doing. :| So I won't comment on that just yet. LOVED CLOUD STREAKING TOWARDS KUNSEL. CHOCOBOOO~ Hee! *_* ♥

I don't have much personal interest invested in Kunsel besides indifference, but pretty much loved his last few lines of thought. :D Also also that line about him keeping the wolves in his peripheral, so ironic with that gigantic helmet over his head. Even if it did save him from tranquilizers. :|

THE PRICE OF FREEDOM, THESE DAYS. Q__________Q Stop channeling Hojo. You are eerily too good at it. All those times where he touches cloud or leans in and ashjnasg. SUCH A MAN SHOULD NOT HAVE SO MUCH POWEEEER ;__; Numbers, oh god asjgkasjkasgj.

The only thing that threw me off in this chapter is the transition between that scene and Zack. Not the transition itself, but the amount of time that would've passed--assuming they were floooown there I imagine it'd take about the same time, or maybe slightly less, than the helicopter? Mostly I was tripped out with ickle cloudy's appearance in Midgar. DID NOT EXPECT THAT. BUT IT WAS A WONDERFUL SURPRISE. I WAS BOUNCING ABOUT AT THE BROWN BROWN BLOOOND PART. *_* There's too much about this part that I love too much to tell you all about. Zack's impatience (lololol Genesis getting all antsy), Aerith making everything feel better, DON CORNEO SIMILE, chasing after cloud because CLOOOUD, dinner plates and bolting and shirt snagging and kicking Zack in the shins ajshgjkasklg.

On and the only thing of Angeal's that I like. (And hte buster sword, of course, but y'know.) AND CLOUD GETTING ALL DEFENSIVE AND ANGRY AT HIM IN CASE HE HURTS HIS NEW FRIEND BECAUSE CLOUD DOESN'T HAVE MANY FRIENDS BUT. ;_;

ZACK'S HONOR AS A SOLDIER ;___; ajhsg and and and their classic country boy bonding time. That was too too cute asjgka. Their bantering and Zack advising him while failing to take his own advice and and the snark and the headlock and ajshgjkagashgjaksg

PRETTY MUCH DON'T REALLY CARE FOR THE CLIFFHANGER (Though yay! progression! :3) BECAUSE OH GOSH THEY ARE SO ADORABLE SIN WHY ARE THEY SO ADORABLLLLEE AHSGJK ;_______;


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reighost
Mar. 28th, 2010 10:23 am (UTC)
OMG!!! I LOVE IT!!! LITTLECLOUDISADORABLEGHO:AHEOHNIGENGKDIEAUHRBT
reighost
Mar. 28th, 2010 10:37 am (UTC)
Ok now that i have most of the incoherent flailing out of the way... Zacks reaction to mini-cloud was priceless, and adorable and ... yeah... you know... and i can't WAIT for Sephiroth and Genesis's reactions! Waiting for this update was totally worth it, even though it felt like it was too short it was a great read!
sinnatious
Mar. 28th, 2010 11:00 am (UTC)
XD I deliver one of the longest chapter since the start and it's still too short! You guys are insatiable. ;)
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skedaddle_san
Mar. 28th, 2010 10:46 am (UTC)
Hey guys, what's u--HFFHLARGHHHFLYJJKHJDBKLHSAKLDIODIFNDSJFH.


SEIZURES. EVERYWHERE.
skedaddle_san
Mar. 28th, 2010 10:49 am (UTC)
Oh, hey... I see there isn't an edit button. ;D

Incredible job in writing this up. *COUGHbiasCOUGH* ... *hides face in shame* The cuteness was overwhelming.
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(Anonymous)
Mar. 28th, 2010 01:01 pm (UTC)
Joining the AKDGOAENGIOEHGUOIAIDGIOADG party as well.

Hell Yeah, it's KUNSEL!!!!! He MADE IT! With Mini-Cloud and his fierce Chocobo!!!!! I thought it was Angeal that found him, but an Angeal-clone is close enough... Awww, it's watching over Cloud.

But AAAAHHHH what about the potential mako poisoning?! It makes me worry ever so much about Kunsel, too, getting to Midgar but completely out of it. He's not going to end up like that guy that lived in the pipes in the game, is he? But even with the disorientation, he's smart enough to at least notice the biological connection between Cloud and Shinra. Awesome.

And Zack managing to win Cloud over with their shared country-boy statuses, awwww. Some things won't change, eh?
sinnatious
Mar. 28th, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
Angeal did indeed find him... then left a clone behind to take care of things.

Oh wow, random NPC in the pipes, second time playing through FFVII I felt so horrible for him - THAT COULD HAVE BEEN CLOUD. o__o

It could never change. <3 Doesn't matter which Cloud, country boys have to stick together.
lunarfirefox
Mar. 28th, 2010 01:15 pm (UTC)
My mind throughout this chapter: YESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYE-oh darn it's the end NOOOOOOO ;o;

Oh Cloud and Hojo, one of my favorite plots in the FF7 fandom is when Hojo does Jenova-related testing on Cloud and Cloud turns slightly more insane than usual (Have you ever read Requiem?) *___*

Gah, and child!Cloud is so adorable, I want to hug him. I should have bought a plushie at the convention but I guess everyone stole all the Cloud/Sephiroth plushies. They were all gone by Sunday guh :(

And the Angeal-chimera-dog-thing, is it the same one that was in the cutscene of Lazard's death?
sinnatious
Mar. 28th, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC)
Requiem? I'm not sure! I'm not so good at remembering titles (unless they're really unusual). Possibly? Link, just in case? :D

Unlucky with the plushie draw! FFVII is still in a popular phase, that merch vanishes so quickly.

Visually, it's the same one! What I based it off of. I'm sure it was made differently.
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(Anonymous)
Mar. 28th, 2010 01:16 pm (UTC)
HOLY CRAP, DID ANGEAL BECOME A CHIMERA? D: D: D: /still loves him
i hope aeris' holy gospel water thing can cure that. if that chimera is angeal i mean. DDD:

lovely chapter, though. awieushdgjasdymxn little cloud, you're so cute~ ...now that he's in midgar i'll have to discard my incredibly small hopes of little tifa appearing too, huh. :(

anyway, can't wait for next sunday and hopefully lots and lots of zack+cloud interaction asjfhjkad tease him more, zack! it's not only easy but fun, too! :D :D :D
sinnatious
Mar. 28th, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC)
NOT QUITE, don't panic yet. :D In Crisis Core, Angeal (same as Genesis) could infect creatures/people with his cells during degradation and make them into 'copies' which then took on elements of his appearance and did his bidding (insert evil laugh in your choice of spelling here). Regular Angeal is still flying around.

I wanted to write in little Tifa, but given that she's just at her town princess stage of life still, she's not that relevant, so there isn't much reason to include her. :(
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ixtey
Mar. 28th, 2010 01:29 pm (UTC)
Waah, so close to the end! I guess I'll just have to enjoy this fic while it lasts, then. and keep on rereading it after... :PP

Kunsel's awesome. Makes me wonder how the hell he can keep his head on and plan and kill stuff, even while suffering from mako addiction. I was a bit puzzled about the wolf becoming snakey, but when you mentioned the wings I was all 'asjkdhjsad ANGEAL! ♥♥♥' Oh, and Kunsel's reaction was priceless.

> "Kunsel didn’t reply. Even if your hallucinations talked to you, you were still okay so long as you didn’t talk back."

AND OH MY GOSH CHIBI!CLOUD TO THE RESCUE! *flails for a good ten minutes* And what the hell, Kunsel managing to take a stab into nearly guessing Cloud's lineage. While still suffering from mako addiction. Kunsel, you really are awesome. *u*

> "Professor… please give me a number… Please, Professor…"
I am getting very very bad dub-con Hojo/Cloud thinkings from this sentence. UNTHINK IT, MIND, UNTHINK IT. .___.

I really hope that Cloud'll get a rest out of all the experimenting so that he can have time to get stronger again. But knowing Hojo, he'll probably just sedate Cloud until the next experiment. :/

LOL WAIT WHAT MAKO-LESS MINI CLOUD IN MIDGAR WASN'T HE AT NIBELHEIM A WHILE AGO what what what oh wait I think I get it -- does this mean that because Cloud funked up things from the past, things are going to happen differently? Ahhh, so much pseudo-science doing on. @___@

ajdkhaskhfjksdf Zack/Shota!Clouuuuuuuud. what the hell slash goggles, what the hell.

OH WAIT WHAT OHAI KUNSEL -- so I guess this means that mini Cloud just moved from Nibelheim to Midgar, and the chimaera's Angeal? Ahh, so much mindfcuk.

This is by far the best chapter of TFA, imho. Awesomeness. Really looking forward to the next chapter! *w*
sinnatious
Mar. 28th, 2010 01:53 pm (UTC)
Kunsel IS awesome! He was fun but difficult to write. *_*

D: At your Hojo/Cloud scenario, that's the most fascinating twisted thing I've imagined today. Thing is, that line is taken word-for-word from the original game script. .__. It was creepy stuff. I'm kind of glad there were no voices in the original game now! *shivers*

I thought a week or so was a decent time window to get from Nibelheim to Midgar by regular transport methods, not so? Obviously it takes months when you travel off the beaten track Avalanche or lab escapee style... probably didn't handle that transition so well, will have to look at it more closely.

XD Your slash goggles are awesome.

Best one so far, really? O__o Wow, little!Cloud really is so beloved. Thanks!
mickeytheblue
Mar. 28th, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC)
I'm speechless. Or more appropriately, there's just so much things going on in my mind that everything's all jumbled up and anything that I say would make no sense at all due to all the awesomeness and excitement of this chapter. XD XD XD

OH!! I just love the fact that Mini Cloud and Zack had their conversation again about the hometown thing. THEY'RE MEANT TO BE FRIENDS NO MATTER WHAT ALTERNATE DIMENSION THEY'RE IN, YEAAAH!!!

And Yay for Kunsel for a successful escape! NOW GO SAVE CLOUD ALREADY!!!

sinnatious
Mar. 29th, 2010 10:35 am (UTC)
IT'S DESTINY! *_*
(no subject) - demon_vampirate - Mar. 30th, 2010 01:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
ashoakandthorn
Mar. 28th, 2010 03:44 pm (UTC)
Kunsel's now really reminding me of Hughes from FMA. He would absolutely fit in if there was a SOLDIER Military Police or Intelligence division.

And I think everyone else has covered everything else.
sinnatious
Mar. 29th, 2010 10:36 am (UTC)
XD Interesting comparison! Strangely apt, although Kunsel hasn't started showing everyone pictures of his daughter on his PHS yet. Could imagine him showing off pictures of his girlfriend, though. XD
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fateofshadow
Mar. 28th, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
I WAS RIGHT ABOUT MINI!CLOUD! I WAS RIGHT ABOUT MINI!CLOUD! OMFG I WAS RIGHT ABOUT MINI!CLOUD! *Foams at the mouth and falls into a fic induced coma*
(Anonymous)
Mar. 28th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC)
The End is Nigh!
Close to the end?! Nuuuuu! *shoves cloud back into the tank*

Okay, I AM relieved that the Cloud-torture will soon come to an end, but--but.... the END? It's so daunting, I hope this is a joke, but....

*sigh* As much as I had been looking forward to the Great Escape, I feel horrible for wanting to draw this all out now. Like... like... there are so many things that could still happen, yanno? We gotta have a--a sequel or something! (okay, it's probably too early to be pushing for something like that, but...

Hearing the word "end" used in *any* sort of context is just kind of daunting, you know? Looks like I'm going to have to enjoy this story as much as possible while it's still fresh. It's in for plenty of rereads.

Thanks for another excellent chapter!
sinnatious
Mar. 29th, 2010 10:40 am (UTC)
Re: The End is Nigh!
We have a couple more chapters yet! I think my new predicted end target is about 38? Kind of fluid at the moment. Scenes are taking a lot longer than I want. So your wish for drawing it out has partially come true?

No sequels! I never follow through with them. So this is all you get. ^_^ Don't even try asking.

Glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting. <3
phamalama
Mar. 28th, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC)
Oh my goodness... the story is coming to an end soon?! This never happens for epic time travel fics! But I've really enjoyed how much you've written so far and your brilliant divergence ideas. Plus, little Cloud is back and saves the day! I always can't wait for your updates since your story is so good.

When do you think there will be another big battle scene? And are you going to upload this fic to ff.net eventually?

Keep up the good work!
sinnatious
Mar. 29th, 2010 10:43 am (UTC)
Time travel fics just go forever, right? And then stop getting updated right after someone's found out the 'truth' and you're getting to the juicy bits. :D *is not bitter about all the amazing wonderful abandoned fic on ffnet, nooooo* On a related topic, yeah, I really need to get to adding this to ffnet, don't I? Should probably start that sometime soon. Maybe over Easter I will kickstart the slow and painful upload process.

Next big battle scene? Nothing next chapter... chapter after, maybe? We just had wolves! Don't want to play all of my action cards at once.

Thanks! *_*
swyrel
Mar. 28th, 2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
GAH AND YOU LEAVE IT THERE! WHY?!

So, there is an appearance of Angeal (that is who the Chimera thing is, right? I mean, Angeal face shape in the wings, etc., all mean Angeal?)and chibi!Cloud (who I adore). And now Zack meets Kunsel again. And oh God, I hope the Turks aren't following Zack. And Hojo's talking about another specimen already...who the hell could he find? I'm just glad he hasn't gotten his hands on chibi!Cloud. I could see him trying to recreate his experiment...

I like having half the chapter done in Kunsel's POV. I have really grown to like him.

“I don’t know. You might look innocent, all dressed up like a civilian, but I can’t forget who you’re related to. I’ll be walking along, not worried at all, and BAM, you’ll pull out a Neo Bahamut summon and it’ll eat my sword!”

Favorite lines from this chapter. I'm glad to see a bit of Zack's personality coming through again. I hate to see him all mopey. And the whole scenerio of Chimera!Angeal swooping in and fighting off potential thugs is hilarious~ But I'm glad chibi!Cloud (and Kunsel) have a bodyguard.

I should have stayed behind in the chapters...now I have to wait for more. T_T
swyrel
Mar. 29th, 2010 12:04 am (UTC)
Well, from reading other replies, I now know that Angeal is not the Chimera. Well, not completely. I've never played CC, so I didn't know anything about the clones.

“Professor… please give me a number… Please, Professor…”

Did that really happen in the game? In addition to never playing CC, I never made it through more than half of the first FFVII disc...I got distracted by college, and I just sold them on Ebay so I could by Christmas presents, so I will probably never get to finish. T_T

Also, I was confused by the time change between Kunsel's part and Zack's part. At first, I was like 'OMG There's ANOTHER Cloud?! Is Hojo messing with the time lines that badly?!' lol
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teekoness
Mar. 29th, 2010 06:14 am (UTC)
Oh $&@$! %#@*! @^$#!

You're driving me nuts here! I'm starting to wish I could use Hojo's time machine so I can jump forward a few months and see how this will end, side effects be damned.

I'm totally theorizing here, but has Kunsel fallen into a Mako-coma thus mini!Cloud had to drag Kunsel to Midgar? Or did Kunsel guess that Hojo might be interested in mini!Cloud and brought him to relative safety?

There's a nice balance between humour and drama is this chapter. The bit with Zack meeting mini!Cloud is utterly hilarious.

Meanwhile the parts with Kunsel are disjointed and a little confusing which works nicely considering he's not quite there. I love he slips from being totally out of it (not realising that it's Angeal who rescued him) to be as sharp as a tack (mini!Cloud being related to Lazard and Rufus).

The Hojo/Cloud scene was brilliant. The only thing worse than Hojo treating you like a bug is him treating you as something to admire. The bastard seems fond of Cloud like a proud papa. *goes and rereads for sixth time*

In other news, I've got a zillion AUs buzzing around my head due to you. The whole Cloud is a Shinra concept (while I have seen it before) is ripe with potential. An AU where either Lazard or Rufus find out and try to drag a cadet Strife to their sides. Another where President Shinra knew about Cloud and wanted Hojo to experiment on him so he could have his own personal Sephiroth.

*wishes she was a better writer*
sinnatious
Mar. 29th, 2010 11:13 am (UTC)
Your first theory is sound. ^_^ Glad you liked the chapter.

Hojo is just all kinds of creepy and so much fun to write. Maybe it's an artist thing. His greatest experiments are like his children. *shivers*

Those are all wonderful AU plot bunnies! I've seen the Cloud as a ShinRa idea bandied about too (hence its use here), but there's still a lot of exploration to be had! If you do wind up writing any of them, please send me the link! *__*
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Maybe eventually - teekoness - Mar. 31st, 2010 04:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Maybe eventually - sinnatious - Apr. 1st, 2010 09:29 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Maybe eventually - demon_vampirate - Apr. 5th, 2010 11:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
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