Miko no da (miko_no_da) wrote,
Miko no da

[Fic] A Long Road to Destiny - FFVII/FFX - Zack, Cloud & Sephiroth - 13/26?

Gah, I hate this chapter pretty much from start to finish. I kept getting stuck in exposition and skipping ahead to the next interesting bit, and then I had to fill in the connections. orz Hopefully it turned out well enough, but it's definitely not my favourite in the story. ;p

Title: A Long Road to Destiny
Series: FFVII/FFX fusion
Pairing: Cloud, Zack & Sephiroth
Rating: R
Warnings: violence, angst, swearing, the usual
Chapter length: 5718
Total length: 67,709

The summoner's journey is a long, hard path to walk. Having guardians you trust makes all the difference in the world.

Halfway through a cure spell, Sephiroth tripped over the next word and the magic rising around him dissolved. He stared at Zack, looking as startled as Cloud felt. That didn't help Cloud convince himself that he'd misunderstood. "Explain yourself," Sephiroth demanded.

Zack shrugged, wringing out the bottom of his shirt, not looking either of them in the eyes. "You heard me."

"When did you decide this?" Cloud asked, heartbroken. Zack was leaving him? Had he finally decided that Cloud was more trouble than he was worth? Cloud wouldn't blame him, not after everything that had happened, but the thought of continuing without Zack by his side was devastating.

"You decided it," Zack retorted. "When you ran off on me like that, you made it clear you don't want me."

"But that's not what I..."

"You deliberately made it impossible for me to do my job," Zack interrupted him. "You forced my hand, Cloud."

Shrinking back, his shoulders hunched, Cloud looked from Zack to Sephiroth. His other guardian - his only guardian - was standing with his arms crossed, frowning. He didn't look happy, but he also didn't seem inclined to scold Zack about abandoning his duty as Cloud had hoped.

"But you came after us," Cloud said in a small voice, hating how childish he sounded but unable to make himself stop.

"Of course I did," Zack exclaimed, waving his hands. "You're my friends. Like hell I'd leave you alone in that situation. Not once I didn't have a duty forcing me to." He glared at Cloud. "You think it didn't damn near kill me to turn my back on Seph like that? I would never, never have done it if protecting you hadn't been more important!"

Cloud hung his head. "I couldn't just leave him there," he repeated for what felt like the hundredth time. "I don't care if it was the right thing to do, or my duty or whatever. I couldn't, not and live with myself afterwards."

"I told you before, you must be prepared to make sacrifices if necessary," Sephiroth said. His brow was furrowed and Cloud might have thought he was angry, but his eyes were dark with grief.

"Just because nobody has ever done it doesn't mean it can't be done," Cloud insisted.

Sephiroth opened his mouth as if to argue, but appeared to reconsider. He shook his head, looking away.

"Are you going to leave me, too?" Cloud asked, cursing silently when his voice broke on the question. He'd continue on alone if he had to, but he'd never be able to get into the temples at Macalania and Bevelle without Sephiroth backing him. Fayth, at the rate he was going, he wouldn't survive long enough to need to worry about it without his guardians.

Sephiroth sighed. "No. I have committed myself to your cause, and I will see it to the end." Cloud tried not to show how desperately relieved he was to hear those words.

"Don't make me into the bad guy here, damn it," Zack said. "I'm not abandoning you. I just can't take the responsibility to protect your life if you won't let me do my job."

"It should perhaps be noted that refusing to heed the counsel of his or her guardian is a common trait among summoners," Sephiroth said dryly. "It takes a high level of both stubborn will and selfless compassion to be a summoner, and I think it is not unrelated that guardians frequently suffer from ulcers and migraines."

Zack stared at him. "You're not saying you gave your guardians a hard time. You're like, the source of all lectures on duty and responsibility."

"I find myself with a rather different perspective on the situation now that I am seeing it from the guardian's point of view," Sephiroth said, his eyes distant and dark. "The fact is that Genesis and I crossed wills and sometimes even blades frequently. Perhaps I should say, 'constantly'. Angeal was caught quite firmly in the middle, trying to be the voice of reason."

Cloud tried to picture Sephiroth as a summoner, refusing to let his guardians protect him. It wasn't that difficult, actually, despite the older man's innate reserve and focus on duty. Sephiroth seemed like the sort of person who was much better at giving orders than taking them.

Zack looked from him to Sephiroth and back again, raking a hand through his drying hair. Finally he blew out an explosive breath. "All right. All right! I'm still your guardian. It's not like I wanted to leave in the first place. But I swear to Yevon, Cloud," he shook one finger at Cloud. "If you ever again pull a stunt like that, I'll kill you myself and save Sin the trouble. My heart damn near stopped when you jumped out and drew their attention. I've never been so scared in my life."

Cloud nodded vigorously. He had no idea if he would actually be able to keep the promise, but he'd have agreed to just about anything if it meant Zack wouldn't leave.

"Now that the matter is settled, we have other pressing concerns," Sephiroth said. "I do not believe the Al Bhed will continue to pursue us..."

"I really doubt it," Zack said, a touch smugly. "I'm pretty sure I put the fear of me into their swimmers, and they won't risk losing the ship or all those other summoners by coming in close to shore. For all they know we'll have raised the Spirans and be waiting for them with an army. Speaking of, why didn't we let the others out? I mean, obviously we couldn't have taken responsibility for all of them, but at least if you hadn't locked them in they'd have stood a chance of pulling their own escapes."

"Because they'd have raised the Spirans and be waiting with an army," Cloud repeated his words back to him. "And the further the story spread, the less the Spirans would care whether the Al Bhed they attack are actually involved in the kidnapping or not."

"Yeah, but... we have to warn people," Zack argued, frowning. "The other summoners need to know to watch out. And all those poor guardians need to know their summoners aren't dead."

"In this, I am forced to agree with Cloud," Sephiroth said reluctantly. "Tensions between the Spirans and the Al Bhed are already too high. If the summoners were coming to harm I would say the warning must be given, but the Al Bhed were quite careful not to hurt or mistreat any of us." Sephiroth shook his head. "My main concern at the moment is the state of our supplies. We have no gil, no items, and most importantly no weapons."

"Ugh, yeah." Zack grimaced. "Not that we're helpless. I can fight with my fists if I have to, you can use magic, and Cloud can summon."

"Can you summon?" Sephiroth asked, studying Cloud. "You were having trouble calling Eqeuh on the ship."

Cloud set his jaw. "I wasn't having trouble, I just refused to do it. I wasn't sure I could control him. Why is it horrible for me to summon on a Spiran mob that's trying to kill me, but okay for me to do it to a bunch of Al Bhed?"

"It's not the same thing," Zack said, though he had the grace to wince.

"Why not? Because the Al Bhed were better armed? They still had no chance against an aeon," Cloud argued.

"The objection was not that you were willing to summon against Spirans, but that you would have summoned in anger," Sephiroth said.

"Maybe that was your concern, but not Zack's," Cloud said. "He was shocked that I would set an aeon loose against helpless people. Helpless Spirans."

"But it's not..." Zack trailed off, brows knitted as he thought hard. Finally he sighed and looked sheepish. "No, I guess it is the same thing, isn't it? You're right, the Spirans were attacking you too. Even if they were less organized and less equipped to do it, they were still a threat. Forgive me?"

Cloud nodded wearily. He knew the apology was sincere, but he didn't think Zack had looked beyond the specific situation to grasp the deeper problem. He also didn't feel like arguing about it right now, though, so he let it go.

"There is still the issue of trust," Sephiroth said. "You must be able to trust your aeons implicitly. I thought the issue with Eqeuh was resolved, since he gave you his name?"

"Yeah, I thought so too until he summoned himself after I told him not to come," Cloud said.

"When was this?" Sephiroth asked, frowning.

"Right after you left us at the Moonflow," Zack told him. "A river fiend grabbed Cloud and yanked him under, and much as it grates me to admit it, the fiend was a faster swimmer than I am. I couldn't reach him until Eqeuh came along and shocked it."

"And nearly fried you again in the process," Cloud said, rubbing a hand over his face. His eyes were burning, his limbs were trembling with exhaustion, and his lungs were still threatening to start another coughing fit. More than anything he wanted to lie down and go to sleep, right where he stood.

"I have never heard of an aeon appearing with no summons at all," Sephiroth said slowly. "However, we have already seen that you can call them simply by wishing their presence. Though you may not have consciously desired it, fear of drowning most likely spurred your subconscious to draw on them for help."

"But I still couldn't control him," Cloud said miserably. "Not either of the times I've summoned him. I can't risk him hurting someone else."

Sephiroth still looked troubled, but before he could respond Zack broke in. "Guys, I know this is really important, but we're all done in. If I'm still your guardian, kid, then my next duty is to make sure you get some rest before you collapse."

"Look who's talking, you can hardly stay on your feet," Cloud retorted. "What happened, anyway?" He reached out to touch Zack's shoulder gingerly, and winced when his fingers came away sticky with fresh blood.

Sephiroth bit off a curse, startling both Cloud and Zack. "Forgive me, I'm more wearied than I thought," he murmured, and magic gathered around him again. The spell formed more slowly than Cloud was used to, as if the magic was sluggish in responding. Or as if Sephiroth was having trouble calling on it.

"No worries, even you've gotta be just about tapped out after all that casting today," Zack said. His expression of relief as the magic settled over him put the lie to his brave words. "Some bright bunny got the idea to just start shooting randomly into the water. I dove deep as soon as I realized what was happening, but they nicked me a couple of times."

The magic faded, but though the wounds were no longer bleeding they were still raw and painful-looking. "Seph?" Cloud looked sharply at the older man. Even Cura should have been enough to heal Zack completely.

Sephiroth shook his head. "I must rest," he admitted. "I can do no more."

Cloud reached for his own magical reserves, and cursed when he realized he was tapped out as well. "I can't cast either. I'm sorry, Zack."

"I told you, no worries," Zack insisted. "Just a few more scars to show off to the girls. Do we try to reach Guadosalam tonight? On the bright side, we got carried so far downriver we must be close."

"Quite frankly I think we may be best off to move just enough not to be visible from the water, and no further," Sephiroth said. "As it stands we can barely defend ourselves from any fiends we might encounter, and we have no gil to spend at the inn. Uncomfortable as it may be..."

"Sleeping with no shelter, not even a blanket, injured and totally helpless? Nah, it'll be like old times," Zack said, grinning at him. "All we're missing is the squad of bitching Crusaders and the sergeant trying to make things worse."

Sephiroth chuckled wearily. Cloud watched them and tried not to feel left out. There was so much about them he still didn't know, he realized, and so much they'd been through together that he had been no part of.

And that was part of why he couldn't leave one of them behind, no matter what. They would need each other all the more at the end, when he was gone.

"So, much as I hate to say it, I've been thinking," Zack said as they fought their way along the riverbank the next morning. Judging by the sun it was actually closer to afternoon, but they'd all been so exhausted they'd slept long past dawn.

"You hate to admit you've been thinking?" Cloud dared to tease him, and was delighted when Zack mimed a swipe at him and grinned.

"It is rather a remarkable occurance," Sephiroth murmured, a smile lighting his eyes.

"Hush, you. It happens occasionally," Zack protested. His playful expression faded too quickly, though, and the darkness in his eyes worried Cloud. "We might wanna reconsider resting in Guadosalam. Especially with Cloud dressed like that." He nodded at the Al Bhed wetsuit Cloud still wore, the only clothes he now owned.

"Why? The Guado have nothing against the Al Bhed, do they?" Cloud asked, surprised. He'd rather been looking forward to being in a city where nobody hated him just on principle.

"Not as such, no," Zack said. "But the Guado as a whole converted to Yevon just a few years ago, and the ones I've talked to about it are pretty fanatic. They haven't had enough time to pick up the dislike of the Al Bhed because of the machina issue, but I don't think they're gonna take to the idea of an Al Bhed summoner so well."

"The Guado are generally peaceful, and perhaps the most tolerant of the races of Spira, if a touch arrogant," Sephiroth said, frowning. "However, it is true that they now tend towards fanaticism. On the other hand, we must have some supplies, or we will not make it to the Travel Agency in the Thunder Plains."

"And we have to go through Guadosalam to reach the Thunder Plains at all, don't we?" Cloud said.

"Well, I don't think passing through quickly will cause any problems," Zack said. "But if we stay at the inn they'll start asking questions about why we're travelling with Sin on the loose. As for getting supplies, if I go in alone I think I can handle it. I know some of the Glories pretty well, and even if they're still in Luca for the tournament I'm sure their families will help me out."

"You have friends in every race on Spira, don't you?" Cloud asked, shaking his head. Zack was amazing that way. He just seemed to draw people to him. Maybe it was the way he treated everyone as people, with no care for what race they happened to be.

"Well, I'm not on friendly terms with any fiends," Zack said, laughing. "And I've never spoken to a fayth, though Jymavun seems kinda fond of me. Does that count?"

"Some days I think you could even befriend a fiend, given time enough," Sephiroth said. "Very well. We will travel through, and wait for you on the other side. Unfortunately weapons will be costly, but our highest priority must be a sword for you at the very least. We may not have enough left over to purchase new clothes for Cloud."

Cloud looked down at the wetsuit, playing with the zipper. He still felt alien and exposed in it, but he'd been thinking about it all night. "I don't want different clothes," he said finally. "I'm going to stay like this." Lifting his head, he gave his guardians a challenging look. "If I'm going to be an Al Bhed summoner, I might as well look like one. The only thing dressing like a Spiran does is make it seem like I'm hiding or ashamed."

"You sure?" Zack asked, raising an eyebrow. "You're gonna draw a lot more attention dressed like that. Not that I'm trying to argue you out of it, just pointing out the problems. Anyway, you're a Calm Lander," he added, recovering his grin. "Never did meet one of you lot that didn't think anything less than three layers was 'practically naked'."

"I do feel naked," Cloud mumbled, blushing. "And I know it will cause problems, especially if people find out what the Al Bhed are doing to the summoners. I just feel like maybe the Spirans really need to have their noses rubbed in the fact that an Al Bhed is trying to help them. That way if I do succeed, they won't be able to pretend later that I was really a Spiran all along."

"A valid point," Sephiroth said. "The temples would be forced to recognize you and include you in the list of High Summoners, but it would be very like the priests to focus on your Spiran heritage to the exclusion of all else. The difference in your eyes will not be as visible on a statue or a sphere image, but if you are wearing Al Bhed clothing they will not be able to forget that part of you."

"Admit it, you just wanna see the sour looks on their faces when they're forced to put a statue of someone in Al Bhed gear up in the temples," Zack teased. "I know I sure do. It is gonna make our job a little harder, but I think it'll be worth it for the end result."

Cloud nodded, grateful they were both willing to back him. Considering how much trouble he'd already caused them, he wouldn't have blamed them if they hadn't wanted to take on even more.

"Aha, here's the road," Zack exclaimed as he pushed between a couple of heavily-leafed trees. "And there's Guadosalam, hardly the length of the Blitzdome away. I told you we had to be close."

Breaking free onto the clear space of the road made travelling much easier, and they ran into fewer fiends as well. "Thank the fayth for whoever built the roads," Cloud said as they approached the entrance to the city. "Can you imagine if we had to slog through unbroken country like that to get anywhere?"

"They are leftover from before the war that created Sin, so the fayth may be exactly who you should be thanking," Sephiroth told him. "The Crusaders maintain them as best they can, so they are not as deteriorated as the rest of the ruins, but that they are still useful at all is a sign of the remarkable engineering the ancients were capable of."

"Wow, I hadn't realized they were that old," Zack said, looking down at the road as if surprised to see it beneath his feet. "I mean, I knew the Crusaders maintained them, but I sorta figured they'd built them as well. Damn."

"You should go ahead without us from here," Sephiroth said, surveying the branching roads that led past Guadosalam and deeper into it. "We'll wait at the entrance to the Thunder Plains for you."

"Gotcha," Zack saluted quickly. "It shouldn't take too long, and it might not even cost us much. Quite a few of the Glories owe me money."

"Just how much do you gamble?" Cloud wanted to know.

Zack winked at him. "Funny thing about Blitzers, we all seem to be addicted to Coins. Maybe 'cause we're not allowed to bet on the Blitz games. Also funny thing, most Blitzers suck at Coins."

"Go," Sephiroth shooed him. He rolled his eyes, surprising Cloud, who would have thought the gesture was too undignified for him. Then again, perhaps it was just a symptom of dealing with Zack for so long.

Zack turned to take the path that led into the city, while Sephiroth and Cloud continued along the main road that skirted the edge. "Have you been to the Farplane in Guadosalam?" Sephiroth asked as they passed by the bridge that led to it.

"No, I didn't stop on my way through the first time," Cloud said. "I thought about it - I wanted to see my dad. But now I have a picture of him, and he's the only one I'd want to look for. It seems kind of creepy, really." It made him shiver just to think about it. How horrible would it be to be one of the spirits called back, only able to look at your loved ones but not say anything to them?

"The Al Bhed believe the images we see in the Farplane are only reflections of our own memories," Sephiroth told him. "Most of them refuse to enter it. You might not even be able to see him at all, since he died before you were born."

"I think I like that theory better, actually. The dead should be able to stay at rest," Cloud said firmly. "And that means there's really no point to me going there. Have you?"

"Yes, several times," Sephiroth said, his eyes distant again. "I have seen my mother there, but I have not gone since before the last Calm began. There are some ghosts I would rather not face, even if they are only reflections."

Cloud wondered who it was that Sephiroth didn't want to see. He knew Angeal was still alive, or at least he had been when he'd introduced Zack to Sephiroth. Had Genesis died in a way Sephiroth regretted, and that was why Sephiroth was so adamant that Cloud needed to be prepared to make sacrifices?

It didn't seem right to ask. It was such a private question, and Cloud didn't want to pry. When all was said and done, he hadn't even known Sephiroth that long and he was still a little in awe of the man.

They reached the sloping path that led down to the Thunder Plains. Even before he saw the cave exit, Cloud could hear the thunder. By the time they reached level ground and the mouth of the cave, the rumbling was loud enough that it vibrated deep in Cloud's bones.

Cloud stared out over the expanse of the Thunder Plain, a little in awe. He'd seen it before, crossing in the opposite direction on his way to Besaid, but it was no less stunning for repeated exposure. "Oh, Zack isn't going to like this at all," he said, lifting a hand to protect his eyes from the bright flashes. "I think it's worse than last time I was here."

"The storm does ebb and flow, much like the tides," Sephiroth said. "Though I must admit I do believe this is the worst I've ever seen it as well."

"Just our luck," Cloud sighed. "Can't we ever get a break?"

"We are still alive, relatively uninjured, and moving forward," Sephiroth said. "At this point, I count that as a victory."

They stood in silence for a while, just watching the fury of the storm. Cloud thought he saw a few vague shapes drifting through the mist and the rain, often accompanied by smaller flashes of lightning. The fiends of the Thunder Plains were literally in their element, and happiest when the storm was worst.

"How long do you suppose Zack will take?" he asked after a while.

"It depends on how much difficulty he has gathering the items we require," Sephiroth replied. "We may be waiting quite a while."

"Or maybe not," Zack called from behind them. Cloud turned to see his guardian hurrying down the tunnel at a pace that was one short step from a run, his face drawn and tight. Cloud thought it was fear of the storm until he realized Zack was still too high up the path to be able to see it.

"That was fast," Cloud said, not sure that was a good sign.

"We need to get out of here, and we need to warn every Al Bhed on the way to do the same," Zack said. "Some of the guardians of the kidnapped summoners must've put their heads together and figured out what was going on. You were right, Cloud. They've raised all of Spira against the Al Bhed, and they're not... whoa!" Finally low enough to be able to see the Thunder Plains, Zack skidded to a halt and turned white. "Oh, you have got to be kidding me. We're going through that?"

"You must have found some supplies, you're wearing a sword," Sephiroth said, ignoring Zack's reaction.

With a visible effort Zack shook himself free of the fascination of the storm, swallowing hard. "Uh. Yeah. One of my buddies on the Glories is benched with an injury, and he gave me his own sword and what food and potions he had on hand. Had to forgive him a pretty sizable IOU, but it was worth it. I didn't dare stick around any longer, there's a Crusader unit gearing up to march this way and if they see Cloud we're in deep shit."

"Crap. We'd better get moving." Cloud turned back towards the Plains, and winced as a lightning bolt struck not a hundred feet away. "If we can."

"Aren't those tower things supposed to be drawing the lightning away from the path?" Zack asked, gingerly approaching the tunnel mouth. "I mean, I'm no expert or anything, but I thought that was the theory."

"Yeah, they are," Cloud said, scanning the horizon. He could just barely make out the dark bulk of the nearest tower, occasionally backlit by a flash of lightning beyond. "I don't understand. They worked just fine when I passed through here. It was a little freaky, but there was a clear corridor all the way from one side to the other. Is it because the storm is so bad?"

"Perhaps," Sephiroth said, frowning as he shaded his eyes and peered through the rain as well. "Though I can't say it seems they are being struck more often than can be accounted for by their greater height. It must be an illusion. The towers have been working for hundreds of years."

"Doesn't that mean they're overdue for a breakdown?" Zack muttered, and Cloud could see the sweat on his brow. Even so, he hitched his sword higher on his back and stepped forward, taking point. "We'll just have to be careful, I guess."

The moment they moved out from under the overhang the rain pounded down on them relentlessly, and in seconds they were all soaked. Cloud was the best off, his Al Bhed wetsuit shedding the rain as easily as any other kind of water, but his hair was still plastered into his eyes, making it difficult to see.

They all jumped when a lightning bolt crashed to the ground just a few feet away. Cloud might not have had any particular fear of lightning, but it was hard not to be afraid when it was all around him like this. Oddly, Zack seemed to have lost the worst symptoms of his fear and was forging forward with a grimly determined look on his face, jaw clenched and eyes narrowed.

The first tower seemed miles away, though from what Cloud remembered they were scattered perhaps a hundred feet apart. At least the rain didn't hit them as hard once they reached its shadow, but from its foot Cloud could clearly tell that it wasn't being struck any more often than other high points in the Plains.

Sephiroth stepped forward and traced a hand over the control panel on the tower, frowning. "It's definitely not operational. I can't feel any vibration, and there are no lights. I learned a few things about machina while living with the Al Bhed, but this is far beyond my limited abilities."

Cloud studied the controls, but they meant nothing to him. "I suppose just poking at buttons and pulling levers at random is likely to make it worse, not better. So they are broken - or sabotaged?"

"Sabotaged?" Zack gave him a startled look. "Who in their right mind would break the towers? Half of Spira has to pass through here on a regular basis."

"Who normally maintains the towers?" Cloud asked pointedly.

"Huh? The Al Bhed, of course," Zack said, shrugging. He clearly hadn't made the obvious connection. "They've got a pretty strong presence in this area."

"And who is trying to stop any summoner from reaching Zanarkand?" Cloud persisted, exasperated. "What better way to do it than by making sure nobody can cross the Thunder Plains?"

"Oh. Oh!" Dismayed, Zack stared first at the tower, then out at the raging storm. "Crap, yeah, that makes sense. Uh. How far across is it?"

"Roughly two days travel, under normal circumstances," Sephiroth said grimly. "It may take rather longer, if we must dodge lightning strikes the whole way."

"Great. That's what I was afraid you were gonna say." Zack sighed and shoved his dripping bangs out of his eyes, looking out over the storm. "And we have to deal with the fiends. This is gonna be fun."

"We could turn back," Cloud suggested reluctantly. "We can still make it back to the entrance to Guadosalam easily enough, and from there we could circle around the Plains."

"No, we can't," Zack said, shaking his head. "The Crusaders are moving out, remember? If we don't get out of here soon, they'll catch up to us."

"On the positive side, they will have a much more difficult time crossing the Plains," Sephiroth said. "Metal armour does tend to attract the lightning. They may even decide to go around, which should give us plenty of time to get ahead of them. Besides, we must warn the Al Bhed settlement in the middle. That may even be the Crusaders' target."

"Well, standing here isn't getting us anything but soaked. More soaked," Zack corrected himself. "On second thought, I don't think that's possible."

"Sure it is," Cloud said. "We're not actually underwater."

"I'd rather be underwater," Zack retorted. "At least there the lightning wouldn't be aiming at us. Let's go."

Twice they had extremely close calls, once when fiends ambushed them and kept them in one place for too long, and once when Cloud tripped on a rock and fell flat on his face just in time to not be standing in the place where the lightning would have struck him. After that Zack stuck to his side like a burr, joking that the lightning would be drawn to him instead because he was taller. Considering he was still pale and tight-lipped, Cloud could only admire his bravery.

They were almost to the second tower when a series of lightning strikes blasted down around them in quick succession. Zack shouted and tackled Cloud to the ground, sheltering him with his own body, and Cloud heard Sephiroth cry out as well.

When nothing had struck them after a long moment, Zack cautiously pushed himself up again, allowing Cloud to sit up. "You okay?" Zack asked him, and Cloud nodded. "Shit, that was a close one. Seph?"

There was no answer. Zack and Cloud traded startled looks, then scanned the area around them hastily. It was hard to see past his own nose in the heavy rain and mists, but Cloud spotted Sephiroth first, a dark shadow crumpled on the ground a few feet away. "There!"

"Oh, fuck," Zack said, and scrambled over to the older man. Cloud was right on his heels, so he saw the singed line tracing its way down the back of Sephiroth's jacket before Zack turned him over.

From the front there was no visible damage, no apparent reason why Sephiroth didn't so much as twitch at the movement. Hastily Cloud cast Cure, wishing he knew the stronger spells. When nothing happened he tried again, but there was still no result. Zack's raised hand prevented him from trying a third time.

"Save your strength, he's out cold," Zack shouted over the rumble of thunder. "Cure's not gonna help, he needs a Life spell or a phoenix down. We don't have any. Have you learned...?" Cloud shook his head, and Zack cursed. "Damn it. Then we'll have to wait until he wakes up on his own. His breathing is fine and his heartbeat's steady, but if we don't get moving soon we're gonna get hit again. Here, grab his arm."

With each of them dragging the bigger man by one shoulder, they managed to haul him over the uneven ground to the base of the tower. That at least meant they wouldn't be struck again, but it left them completely stranded. "Should we just wait here until he wakes up?" Cloud asked. "We can't cross the whole distance dragging him like that. If the lightning doesn't get us, the fiends will."

Looking frustrated, Zack shook his head. "We don't dare stay put. The Crusaders could be right behind us. They'll probably be slowed down by the storm, but there's no guarantee they won't send a couple of fast-moving scouts ahead. The chocobo knights could probably barrel through here fast enough not to need to worry about the lightning, if they have any with them."

They both looked back the way they'd come, but there was no sign of anything but a few fiends in the distant mists. With visibility as bad as it was, they likely wouldn't see anything until the Crusaders were right on top of them. Cloud checked Sephiroth again, but the man showed no signs of waking.

"We have to carry him," Zack said, rather helplessly. "It's bad odds, but it's our only chance."

Lightning crashed again just ahead of them on the path, and it might as well have been a solid wall. Cloud shivered. There was no way they'd make it through.
Tags: !story: long road to destiny, character: cloud strife, character: sephiroth, character: zack fair, fandom: final fantasy vii, fandom: final fantasy x
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