Series: FFVII/FFX fusion
Pairing: Cloud, Zack & Sephiroth
Warnings: violence, angst, swearing, the usual
Chapter length: 3880
Total length: 61,991
The summoner's journey is a long, hard path to walk. Having guardians you trust makes all the difference in the world.
Cloud didn't think he'd ever heard a sound louder than the two guns being cocked. Zack flinched and squeezed his eyes shut, probably anticipating the blow that would kill him.
All three guards turned to stare at him, and only then did Cloud realize the hysterical shout had come from his throat. Zack still had his eyes shut and shoulders hunched, but the shocked looks on the faces of the guards were rapidly turning to contempt and animosity.
Swallowing hard, Cloud scrambled to think of a way to salvage the situation. If they realized who he was, that he had come to rescue one of their stolen summoners, they'd shoot him just as fast as Zack. Maybe faster, for being a traitor.
"You can't kill him," he said, struggling to keep his voice firm. "He's doing his job, his duty. For all he knows, you kidnapped his summoner intending to hurt him. If you kill him for trying to protect his summoner, then you're no better than the ignorant, prejudiced Spirans."
Pakc sneered at him. "Showing your true colours already, halfblood?" Cloud bit his lip. The insult stung just as much coming from an Al Bhed as it had from the Spirans.
"No, he's right," Fatka said from behind him, startling Cloud. He turned to see the other man holding his rifle ready but aimed at the deck, looking at Zack thoughtfully. "This isn't some racist Spiran attacking us just because we're Al Bhed. If we kill him just because he's Spiran, what does that say about us?" There were uneasy murmurs of agreement from many of the others still on deck. Fatka raised his eyes and gave Pakc a challenging look.
Zack had opened his eyes as well, and was looking cautiously back and forth between Fatka and Pakc. It was clear from the blank, apprehensive expression on his face that he had no idea what was being said. His eyes passed right over Cloud without even hesitating.
Surprisingly, that hurt. Cloud realized he'd expected Zack not to be the sort of Spiran who couldn't tell one Al Bhed from another. So it had only been his Spiran clothing that made Cloud recognizable, and now that he was dressed like the others he was just part of the crowd? That meant Zack had never really looked past his race to see him, no matter what he said. The thought that Rufus had seen him better than Zack had was depressing.
"So you think we should let him go, to run home and tell everyone about the evil Al Bhed kidnapping their summoners?" Pakc said scornfully.
"Of course not. Put him in with the summoners." Fatka shrugged. "They'll probably be happier to have a guardian around, anyway, even if it's not their own." This time the cries of agreement from the others were louder.
Pakc looked around, and it was clear that he felt he was being forced to give way. "The captain is going to hear about this," he growled. "You're getting above yourself, Fatka."
"Fine with me," Fatka replied. "He'll agree with me and you know it. C'mon, kid, help me get him below with the others."
Startled at being called on, Cloud fumbled his rifle and nearly dropped it before he got it around to aim at Zack. He kept his finger well away from the trigger, but it still made him sweat. He jerked his head at the door, and Zack scrambled to his feet.
Cloud stayed back, covering Zack with his rifle and hoping the man wasn't going to try to break free. The last thing they needed was for Cloud to shoot him by accident, and he wasn't sure he could face the idea of Zack trying to hurt him, not realizing who he was.
Inside Fatka ducked through another door and down a set of stairs, heading for the summoner's holding room. Cloud tensed when he saw Zack glancing around, like the man was assessing his chances of escape.
Instead of attacking one of them, however, Zack waited until Fatka was facing away, then turned and look right at Cloud. There was a great deal of anger in his eyes, but there was also worry. You okay? he mouthed.
The hand that had been squeezing Cloud's heart let go so suddenly that he almost stumbled. Zack had recognized him. The lack of reaction earlier must have been for Cloud's protection, so the others wouldn't realize Zack knew him and wonder how. Dizzy with relief, Cloud nodded to say that he was fine. He should have known better. He should have trusted his guardian and friend.
Seph? Zack asked, but Cloud couldn't answer as they turned a corner and came in sight of the door guard. Well, they were probably about to see for themselves how Sephiroth was doing.
"Got another one," Fatka told the guard. "Kinda."
"We'd better head back soon, it's getting crowded in there," the guard replied, moving to punch in the combination. Cloud tried, but still couldn't see what the sequence was. There was a loud clunking sound, and then the guard spun the wheel set into the door and pulled it open.
Fatka gestured for Zack to enter. "Seph!" Zack exclaimed, heading straight for him. "Fuck, am I glad to see you in one piece. Thought I was out of a job for a while there. I mean, what good's a guardian with no summoner?"
Sephiroth frowned, and his gaze darted briefly to Cloud. Rufus was glaring at him from another corner, and the rest of the summoners were watching Zack with hopeful looks on their faces.
Glancing at the hall behind him, Cloud confirmed it was empty. The only Al Bhed present were Fatka and the door guard. He was never going to have a better chance - once that door closed, he'd have no way of getting it open again, and it was only a matter of time before Rufus gave him away.
Taking a deep breath, he steadied his hands. Then he swung his rifle around to aim at the guard outside the door. "Zack," he shouted, hoping his guardian would catch on and react quickly. If Fatka realized what was happening and turned his gun on Cloud, or on one of the helpless summoners, this would end badly.
He needn't have worried. Before the name was even out of his mouth, Zack had spun and grabbed for Fatka's rifle, forcing the barrel up towards the ceiling. Startled, Fatka struggled, but Zack was bigger and better muscled.
"Fatka, give him the gun," Cloud ordered in Al Bhed. "You, drop yours on the floor and kick it away from you," he added to the guard.
After a moment, Fatka released the weapon and raised his hands in surrender. He stared at Cloud, his eyes full of betrayal and accusation. "Cloud, what are you doing?"
"I'm sorry, I really am," Cloud apologized miserably. "I can't even say that I disagree with what you're all doing. Maybe the Spirans do need to be forced to act. You kidnapped the wrong person, though. I can't just stand by and let you lock Seph away."
"Pakc was right after all," Fatka said bitterly. "You might look like us, but you're one of them. Spiran."
"Never," Cloud insisted. "Everything I said about the way they treated me was true. But I was also telling the truth when I said that if I had a way to make a difference, I'd have to take it."
Fatka's eyes widened. Cloud thought it was in response to his words until Zack shouted, "Behind you!". Before he could react, the guard he'd foolishly forgotten about grabbed him and pinned his arms to his sides.
Something cold and metallic pressed against Cloud's neck, and he felt a stinging sensation followed by a trickle of warmth. "Drop the guns," the guard said in heavily accented Spiran. "Do it now, both of you, or he dies."
Cursing under his breath at his own stupidity, Cloud obediently let his gun clatter to the floor. But Zack held his steady, aimed just over Cloud's shoulder. "You really think you can kill him before I can shoot you?" he asked, his voice calm. "Last I checked, a bullet at this range is a lot faster than a knife."
"As if a Spiran would even know how to use our weapons," the guard scoffed.
Zack did something and the gun made the same clunking noise Cloud had heard before, then raised it to his shoulder so he could sight along it better. The guard went tense. "You think?" Zack said, smiling. It wasn't at all his normal friendly grin. "Wanna bet your life on it?"
"You could not be good enough to hit me and not him," the guard said, but he sounded much less certain this time.
"So let's say I miss, and you do kill him," Zack countered. "Then what? You've lost your hostage and really, really pissed off the guardian with the gun. Not to mention the half a dozen summoners in here, and I know for a fact at least one of them can summon without a ritual. Only reason he hasn't yet is 'cause he doesn't like killing people, but believe me when I say you do not want to see how he'll react to you killing Cloud."
There was a long pause, during which Cloud thought the guard might be struggling to understand the threats. "He will shoot," Sephiroth said in Al Bhed. "And if you kill Cloud he will have no reason to hold back. We don't wish anyone to be hurt, but we will take action if we must. Put down the knife."
Slowly the guard released Cloud, dropping the knife to clatter on the floor as he raised his hands. "Good choice," Zack said, lowering the rifle from his shoulder but still aiming the barrel at the guard. "I have really got to learn Al Bhed one of these days, this is getting silly. Now we just have to... hey, where'd the other one go?"
Too late Cloud realized that Fatka had sidled over to the door, unnoticed during the tension. Before anyone could stop him, the Al Bhed slapped his hand down on the wall outside and the harsh wail of the alarm rang through the ship, in a different rhythm than before.
"Shit. So much for sneaking out," Zack said. "You just made sure people are going to get hurt, thanks a lot. Let's move!"
Zack darted into the corridor and took up a position near the stairs, sighting upwards along his rifle. Sephiroth followed as Cloud scooped up the gun he'd dropped.
Rufus was right on Sephiroth's heels, but Cloud swung the gun around and blocked him from leaving. "What is the meaning of this?" the Spiran demanded, drawing himself up and staring down at Cloud.
There was a shout from the stairwell, followed by a burst of gunfire and a scream. "Move it, guys, I can't hold them for long," Zack called.
"Not you," Cloud told Rufus. He turned to look at the rest of the summoners. "Not any of you. I'm sorry, but none of us will get out if we try to take a big group. On my life, I swear the Al Bhed are not going to hurt you. They're trying to protect you."
Another burst of gunfire, longer this time, drowned out whatever Rufus might have said. "I'm sorry," Cloud repeated, shouting to be heard. He looked at Fatka, hoping the other Al Bhed would forgive him someday. "Really, I'm sorry."
He slammed the door shut, cutting off the babble of protests from the Spirans and Al Bhed alike. A quick spin of the wheel and they were locked inside. Cloud hurried to join Zack and Sephiroth at the end of the hall.
"They've got us pinned," Zack told him. "But they can't get down the stairs to us, either. It's gonna come to who runs out of bullets first."
"Which will be us, as we have only three guns and no way to replenish our supply," Sephiroth said. "I don't suppose there's a hidden exit?"
"I don't exactly have the ship memorized, but I think if there was they'd have used it to hit us from behind by now," Cloud said. Had it all been for nothing? Now all three of them would be caught, and this time the Al Bhed probably would kill them.
"Couldn't an aeon barrel through them and open a path for us?" Zack asked. Cloud winced at the thought.
"We cannot summon in such close quarters, there is nowhere for the aeon to go," Sephiroth said. "However, there is nothing preventing us from using magic. Stand well back, both of you."
Cloud felt the hair on his arms rise, a sensation he was becoming distressingly familiar with. Zack cursed and turned pale, scrambling back so fast he nearly tripped over his own feet. A moment later a bright light came from the top of the stairs and thunder crashed, echoing back and forth from the metal walls. There was a chorus of screams and shouts from the Al Bhed above, and then silence.
"Al Bhed machina are invariably weak to lightning," Sephiroth noted. "The Al Bhed themselves don't tend to fare well against it, either."
"Can't imagine why," Zack muttered, wiping sweat off his brow. "Let's move, there'll be more."
They pelted up the steps and past the bodies littering the corridor. Zack was in the lead with his rifle at the ready and Sephiroth held the rear with another lightning spell on his lips. Cloud kept a tight grip on his own rifle, though he thought he was likely to miss more targets than he hit.
Two more small groups tried to ambush them, but Sephiroth and Zack made short work of them. At the door that led out onto the deck Zack paused, holding up one hand to hush them as he leaned in and tried to listen through the door.
"Well, something is out there," he said, grimacing. "I hear a machina, and it sounds big. Really big."
"Lightning," Sephiroth reiterated. "I will cast the spell, while Cloud can summon Eqeuh. Zack, you keep any individual Al Bhed pinned down with your rifle."
Cloud's stomach lurched at the thought of loosing his deadly aeon again, on a group of Al Bhed who were only doing their honest best to protect the summoners. "I'm not..."
"Get down," Zack cried, shoving himself away from the door. Sephiroth grabbed Cloud by the shoulders and pulled him back as well, just as something exploded against the door. The metal shrieked a protest and gave way, bowing inwards as if a huge fist had punched through it. A noise like vibrating thunder rang in the small space, and a hail of massive bullets bounced off the walls in all directions. Cloud ducked his head and shielded himself with his arm, though he was sure it wouldn't save him.
"Thundaga," Sephiroth shouted, and real thunder created a counterpoint to the gunfire. There were a few stunned cries from outside, and then Zack was running through the door, firing wildly.
Sephiroth followed him out, with Cloud close behind him. For a moment Cloud's view was blocked by Sephiroth's broad back, and then the man moved aside and Cloud got his first look at a true Al Bhed machina weapon.
It was huge, big enough to dwarf the gunners standing on the deck to either side of it. Perched on a seat in the middle of the contraption was another Al Bhed, who manipulated levers to make the machina work. It had two wide 'arms' that seemed to have a great many round objects in slots, as well as oversized guns in front.
It fired a brief burst at Zack, and then Cloud found out what the slots on the arms were for. Two of the round objects came flying out of each side, jets of flame propelling them through the air. They missed by a wide margin but exploded on impact, rocking the boat and knocking Cloud off his feet.
Sephiroth cast again, and the thunder spell seemed to short-circuit the machina briefly. While its operator swore and fought with the sparking controls, Zack took the opportunity to expertly pick off the other Al Bhed.
"Summon," Sephiroth commanded Cloud.
Eqeuh was close to the surface, eager to be released, but that very enthusiasm made Cloud wary. He looked at Zack, still grimly firing away despite the fact that he jumped every time thunder boomed. "No," Cloud replied, lifting his hands and casting a cure spell instead. He wasn't much of a mage, especially compared to Sephiroth, but at least if he could keep them healed then Sephiroth could concentrate on offensive magic.
"Cloud, what are you doing? Summon the damned thing," Zack shouted, dodging another missile. This one exploded against a pile of wooden crates, sending splinters flying everywhere.
Shaking his head stubbornly, Cloud cast cure again. Then to his dismay a strident neigh rang through the gunfire, and storm clouds abruptly blocked the stars above the ship. Panicked, Cloud reached for Eqeuh, but the aeon was no longer in his mind. This was the second time it had appeared even though he'd ordered it not to come. How could he ever hope to control it if he couldn't stop it from summoning itself?
But when the unicorn touched the deck, it was Sephiroth that he moved to stand beside. "Binah, if you please," Sephiroth said, as calmly as if he was inviting the aeon to tea.
Binah reared and lashed out with his hooves, power building at the tip of his horn. "No," Cloud cried, and threw himself forward. He had to stop it, had to save the Al Bhed.
Zack lunged and caught him by the shoulders, holding him back. "Are you crazy?" he shouted in Cloud's ear. "Trust me, you do not want to get between that thing and his targets!" Cloud couldn't have answered if he'd wanted to, as the aeon's attack came crashing down. Cloud felt Zack flinch, and the Al Bhed screamed.
As the brilliant light faded, Cloud saw the machina smoking and sparking madly, while the Al Bhed were lying sprawled on the deck. He didn't know if they were dead or just unconscious, but he wasn't sure it really mattered.
"Get him out of here," Zack said, shoving Cloud at Sephiroth. "Head for the far shore, I'll keep them from following you as long as I can." He took a few quick breaths that were more exhale than inhale, and then drew in more air than Cloud had ever seen anyone take at one time. He dropped the rifle and dove over the side, cutting the water cleanly.
"Can you swim?" Sephiroth asked, and Cloud nodded. "Good. Stay beneath the surface as long as you can. I'll be right behind you. Go!"
He pushed Cloud to the railing. Taking a deep gulp of air, Cloud scrambled up over the side and entered the river much less gracefully than Zack.
The water was clear enough that he quickly spotted Zack treading water a few feet away. Zack jerked a thumb over his shoulder, and then Cloud's view was obscured by a riot of bubbles as Sephiroth dove in. Cloud started swimming as hard as he could, fighting the current. The memory of the fiend that had nearly drowned him had him looking warily around, but there was no sign of it.
It seemed like only seconds before his lungs started to burn. The damage done by the water earlier flared up, and he had to fight the urge to cough. Reluctantly Cloud kicked his way back to the surface, half expecting to find himself facing an Al Bhed rifle.
Instead he was astonished to find he was well out of range, the ship growing tiny in the distance. Unfortunately most of that distance was because he'd been swept down the river, and he was going further with every moment. He swam a little harder, staying on the surface this time. After a moment Sephiroth surfaced as well, a few feet upstream and ahead of Cloud.
The shore seemed miles away, though when Cloud glanced back he saw the other side was further still. How wide was the Moonflow, anyway? Cloud had learned to swim in a placid little mountain pond that took no more than a few minutes to swim across, and he'd never had to deal with a current before. He was rapidly tiring, and the exhaustion of the day's events was telling.
At least this water wasn't a short step above ice. Gasping, trying not to swallow water every time he inhaled, Cloud struggled to keep going.
"Here," Sephiroth said, and shoved something at him. Cloud grabbed for it, and discovered it was a piece of a tree branch. It was large enough to keep him afloat, which meant he could concentrate on moving forward.
"Thanks," he said, embarrassed to need the help after he'd told Sephiroth he could swim. Then he realized the other man had a wood chunk of his own, and felt better. "What about Zack?" He looked around, but there was no sign of his other guardian.
"Zack will be fine," Sephiroth assured him. "There are several Blitzball techniques that allow one to poison or knock out an opponent, and I imagine they will work just as well against an enemy instead of a rival. I doubt we'll see him before we reach land, but it won't take him long to catch up. He swims much faster if he stays beneath the surface."
Cloud felt silly. Of course Zack would stay underwater. As a Blitzer he could hold his breath and swim hard for more than five minutes at a time. Unless some of those aboard the ship happened to be Psyches, the Al Bhed didn't stand a chance in the water against Zack.
He wasn't sure how long it took them to reach the shore. It felt like days, but there wasn't even a hint of dawn on the horizon when they wearily dragged themselves out of the water.
Immediately Sephiroth rounded on him. "What in the name of Yevon were you thinking? You cannot risk yourself like that. If they had realized who you were..."
"They didn't," Cloud argued. "And I couldn't just leave you there."
"Yes, you could and should have done exactly that," Sephiroth said grimly. "My only thought when they took me was gratitude that their error of identity would allow the two of you to get away safely. I am particularly disappointed that you were involved in such an absurd rescue attempt," he added, looking over Cloud's shoulder.
Cloud turned to see Zack just emerging from the water. The Blitzer was panting for air and nearly staggering with exhaustion - and with pain, Cloud realized in horror as he saw the dark stains spreading over Zack's clothes from his hip and shoulder.
Steadying himself against a tree, Zack looked back at Sephiroth with a blank expression and dead eyes. "You're lecturing the wrong guy, Seph. I'm not his guardian anymore."