Authors Note: For once, it's not Aeris. ^_^ This is part one, with the mildest of yaoi warnings.
"I've wept for those who suffer long
But how I weep for those who've gone
Into rooms of grief and questioned wrong
But keep on killing
It's in the soul to feel such things
But weak to watch without speaking
Oh what mercy sadness brings
If god be willing
There is a train that's heading straight
To heaven's gate, to heaven's gate
And on the way, child and man
And woman wait, watch and wait
For redemption day"
"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." -Mark Twain
He stopped mid-step, looking around the crowded base until his eyes found the culprit, lolling out of the driver's side window and grinning.
"You on leave today?" the speaker had to shout over the choleric rumble of the Shinra army-issue jeep, hanging his head and one arm out the side.
Cloud knew speech would be useless, so he communicated his present off-duty status by a clever use of waving, nodding, and mostly by being out of uniform.
"Get yer spiky butt over here!"
Cloud jogged across the street, hopping the gatepost and swinging one leg over the jeep door. It would have been a perfect landing, except that his belt got hung on the rear-view and Zax had to haul him in the rest of the way via the scruff-of-neck and hand-on-backside method, dumping him in the passenger seat. "Geez, Strife. Am I gonna hafta watch your ass forever?"
The jeep squealed out of base as Cloud was still sorting out up from down in the passenger seat, Zax tossing a wave to the sentry on duty. It was all the guard needed; members of SOLDIER were not questioned. Zax turned up the stereo with his music, loud jolting urban Midgar rock. He was a city boy, fast and sharp in all the ways Cloud wanted to be.
"Well, not FOREVER." Cloud fumbled with the sun-visor, trying to keep from squinting. Zax, mako-eyes bright on the morning horizon, never even blinked. "Where're we going?"
"Someplace fun, punk." Zax took his one steering hand off the wheel to ruffle cloud's hair affectionately, letting his knee do the driving for a minute. "An' put your belt on. Don't wanna hafta scrape you off the glass."
I do not approve of this. Is he salvageable?
We don't know. We will see if he can be repaired.
Be quick about it. He is one of the few strong ones.
What about the other one?
Let the failure run away. He is weak. My son has no use for him. This one?
There are many holes. We are mending them.
Was the heart punctured?
We are looking... no. Repair status of lungs: complete. Drowning danger is nullified. Producing blood cells to compensate for loss.
Fools. They cannot even shoot a dead man. You see, children, how useless these humans are?
We see. We obey.
Will he survive?
He lives, however...
He is permanently damaged, FirstOne. He will not be able to come to the Reunion. He will be of little help to the SecondOne.
My son does not need broken toys. This one is of no use.
Shall we terminate?
...No. Remain there. He may yet be of use. Return to dormancy until called for.
We shall do so, FirstOne. We obey, Jenova.
It was raining in Midgar. A slow, cold, dirty city kind of rain that stank of dead worms and mold, cleaning little and nourishing even less. It made little wet spots in the red dirt, tiny muddy halos that multiplied until they touched, and the russet earth bleed freely around him and against him until it was all he knew, mud and oily rain and cold and the high, thin smell of his own copper blood. The older SOLDIERs, the ones who were nothing but bright eyed shadows, sometimes spoke wistfully of a green embrace waiting just beyond this world. Some of them, wet to the skin with battle and blood and near death, said they could smell it, or feel it, touching them and moving on, as if not ready to swallow them yet. But for Zax there was only the clammy embrace of the barren soil underneath him, and the unforgiving leaden sky. He thought, as he sank into unconsciousness, that he'd always had colossally bad luck.
Cloud wondered, socket wrench in hand, if he was going to spend his life in perpetual confusion or if it was just a stage he was going through. "Spin the guard placket back to the diameter recommended as per the instructors manual. Insert the flange component nullifier, ears first, until the first contact locks securely with the upper toggle modifier." Cloud frowned at the back of the generator, and the wrench in his hand. He stared very hard at the instruction sheet as if it might suddenly be written in a language he knew. "Perpetually confused." He decided grimly, and attacked the open panel with his socket wrench, hoping he wouldn't get electrocuted. That'd be a hell of a way to go-three months after saving the world.
"Cloud! What the #@%&* are you doin' with that?" Cid stomped over, chewing the end of his cigarette like it was a competition sport.
"I'm just tryin' to fix the-" Cloud waved his wrench vaguely at the generator.
"That's my lucky towel! It stays in the effing cockpit, got it?"
Cloud blinked at the mangled array of generator parts, the tools scattered across the ground, and the general chaos that had taken most of his morning to create. Somewhere under it, one end of a once blue towel poked out from between a pile of salvaged cables. He watched, mystified, as Cid retrieved the towel, muttering under his breath, and stalked back toward the Highwind.
"I'm the most sane person here."
"You got that right."
"Hi, Yuffie." Cloud grunted, trying to free a bolt. "What's up?"
"So like," Yuffie's elbows thunked on top of the generator's metal housing. "It's not MY fault about Vincent, right? How was -I- supposed to know that one eetsy teensy innocent comment was gonna send him off the deep end or whatever? Not that I CARE if he doesn't talk to me or anything, but he's just so CREEPY and-"
"Yuffie." Cloud gave up on the bolt, looking at the Ninja steadily even though she was framed against the sunlight-bright side of the Highwind. "You're talking to the wrong person about this."
"Oh!" She chewed her lip. "I thought you'd be the right person, I mean, since you two are, are well a THING and you'd probably know him better than anybody and-"
"I meant," Cloud said, hand tightening on the wrench. "That I've been working on this damn generator all morning and if you are not out of my sight in three seconds, I'm gonna see if the generator god will accept a Ninja sacrifice. Got it?"
"Gone!" Yuffie yelped, and scampered off to whine at Tifa instead. She was a lot less violent.
"I get no respect," Cloud grumbled. He was fidgeting with what he THOUGHT was the upper flange moderator when somebody above him gave the generator a resounding kick. Cloud jumped to avoid being squished as the ancient machinery gave a sickly wheeze, then began to thrum to life.
"What the HELL d'you think you're DOIN'?" Cloud shot to his feet, ready to send somebody to the lifestream via the scenic route through a nearby tree. "My HAND was in there I'll have you know and-" Cloud's voice died in his throat, the socket wrench slipped from his numb fingers to plop softly on the grass.
"Heya Punk. What the hell'd you do with my sword?"
And Cloud Strife passed out cold.