Zack didn’t even bother to watch as the truck sped off. Instead, he was focused on getting Cloud some cover by the rocky outcropping and breathed out slowly. “There’s gonna be a lot of guys over there,” he murmured as he leaned the other man against the rocks. “But you don’t have to be scared. ‘Cause you’ve got your big SOLDIER boyfriend to protect you, right?”
His grin felt forced as he ruffled Cloud’s hair then stood up. As he walked forward, he was very conscious of how his heart felt beating in his chest. The sensation of being alive. Him noticing that couldn’t be a good sign, could it? Then he heard something else and stopped. It sounded like the flex of leather and shifting dirt…
Spinning around, Zack had already drawn his sword before his eyes went wide. There was Cloud on the ground looking right at him and reaching for him. It looked like it was costing everything the younger had to do that much but his eyes were focused. He knew what was happening. Zack knew he had to know!
“Cloud,” he whispered. What had he been thinking? Going on a suicide run and hoping that the people waiting for him on the other side wouldn’t come hunting for Cloud either? Both of them were being hunted down and Zack knew how much Shinra hated loose ends. What good was he if he was dead?
“No use at all,” he muttered and quickly put his sword onto his back. As he turned his head a bit to do so, he caught a glance of a shadow on the rocks opposite where Cloud was. No, not a shadow. A cave? That was it!
Moving forward, Zack took the reaching hand between both of his own and smiled warmly. “Hey. Hey there, bright eyes. I’m not gonna leave you for anything, got it?” He bumped their foreheads together intimately and let his eyes close for a moment, squeezing Cloud’s hand. “It’s gonna be alright. I made a new plan that you’ll call me stupid for but you don’t even wanna hear the first one. I know I’ve been asking a lot from you but we’re both gonna have to be strong for a bit longer, okay?”
Did he just imagine the small nod? Before, Zack would have thought he was so desperate whenever a breeze blew that it might be Cloud sighing. How he’d been sure Cloud had called his name when they were on the motorcycle together but, when he switched it off, the man wasn’t even looking at him. But it was different now. Cloud was almost himself again.
“Okay. All aboard the Zack express,” he said quietly. Grinning, he slid his arms underneath Cloud and picked him up. He turned around just in time to hear several things whistling in the air towards them and down from the sky dropped four grenades. Of course the infantrymen wouldn’t wait for him and so decided to blast them out.
Time seemed to slow down as Zack leaped over the grenades and raced towards the cave. Behind him, he heard more hit the dirt and felt one clip his heel. “Not good, not good,” he chanted as they reached the cave. “Please be deeper, please be deeper then a den!”
The force of all the explosions behind them sent the two men rocketing forward even as he heard the front of the cave collapsing. It was then that Zack felt the ground begin to slope downwards and he did his best not to tumble as his momentum carried them down. His enhanced vision let him see a bit more in the dark than he might have otherwise but it hardly helped when he was still running as fast as he could.
“If we live through this, you can call me stupid for the rest of our lives, Cloud!”
The bottom of the decent came quickly after that and was so sudden that Zack did end up tripping and landed hard on his side. “If my arm’s broken, I’m gonna be so mad,” he moaned, reaching up with his other hand to pat the back of Cloud’s head. He didn’t know who benefited from the touch more but didn’t think too hard. It was easier to just let himself breathe hard and marvel at the glow that was shining in from before his closed eyes.
Slowly sitting upright, Cloud held to his chest, Zack looked around and felt his mouth fall open. “Whoa.”
It was a Mako spring. He vaguely remembered Angeal telling him about their rarity and what caused them and wished he’d paid more attention instead of taking a quick snooze behind his materia book. That had earned him a cuff to the head.
“And to think, Shinra almost blew all this sky high,” he mused, gently patting Cloud’s stomach reflexively as he looked around at the raw mineral. Zack had only ever seen a couple pictures of materia before it was put in a ball shape. “Looks like it’s mostly healing and support. Wow, think how rich we’re gonna be!”
Cloud shifted a bit against Zack’s chest and he looked to the other, breathing out slowly as he realized there were more pressing matters to attend to. “You’re right. First thing’s first, we gotta get outta here and get back to Midgar. Up we go.”
Thankfully, his arm hadn’t been broken in the fall and so Zack was able to pick Cloud up again. “No point going back up there,” he mused, turning to inspect the way they came. He couldn’t see any light from the top so it had all most likely collapsed. “All we can do is go forward.”
Getting through the cave posed another challenge as Zack really didn’t want to have to step on anything but the materia had grown in such a way that it was tricky to find an actual path that would get them to where he could see another tunnel leading out of the cave. It also didn’t help that he was worried prolonged exposure to non-artificial materia might end up giving Cloud more Mako poisoning. He didn’t want that at all.
Finally, he managed to get them through without much incident and left the glow behind them. Too bad. He was sort of fond of it. But finding an exit was more important than that.
“Did I ever tell you that I’m an excellent whistler?” he asked Cloud, hugging him just a bit closer as the world around them grew darker and his footsteps echoed almost frighteningly around them. Zack had been walking for so long that he just had to fill up the space with chatter. “Well, I’m actually not that great. It’s loud, sure, but I can’t really hold a tune. I did scare the crap out of Angeal once when he was in his super secret garden he thought no one knew about. Maybe doing it when he had his shears was a dumb idea but I got away! It just goes to show that-”
As he’d been rambling, Zack hadn’t really had an end point to that sentence. Which turned out for the better since he suddenly felt a flow of air followed by the sound of water. Very quickly after that, he smelled something terrible and yet all too familiar. “Sewer,” he said, gagging and then grinning. “Not exactly the most glamorous homecoming but hey, I’ll buy us a cake when we’ve got some money to spare.”
Taking new heart that they were back in Midgar, he rushed forward and came upon a rusted grate that was standing in-between them and the lighted walkway along the sewer line. “No problem!” Standing back a bit, Zack kicked it down then started jogging forward. There was no telling what sort of creeper crawlers were waiting to pounce down here.
He had to double back once he realized he was supposed to jump down the hole that appeared in front of them but was relieved to see a ladder shortly after that. Putting Cloud over his shoulder and gripping one of his thighs, Zack scaled it with only minor difficulty. Soon enough, they were in Sector 7.
The Train Graveyard was a bit of a blur to Zack as he was more focused on getting out and away. “Wonder what they did to my wallet,” he commented at one point. “Could’ve taken the train right to Sector 8. But two handsome guys like us in uniform? Bet we’d have the whole place on lock down.”
Which was why the first thing he did when getting them into the next part of the city was drag a couple guys into an alleyway and apologize profusely before knocking them out and taking their clothes. Zack wrinkled his nose at the expensive material but he shucked his clothes off and got him and Cloud redressed. “Don’t look at me like that,” he said to Cloud, pouting as he pulled out their wallets and took the bills from them. “They won’t miss it if they’re wandering around here. C’mon, this’ll cheer you up!”
From the pocket of his borrowed jacket, Zack produced a cellphone and grinned. “I’m not gonna keep it,” he assured the other, sitting down next to Cloud and sighing, moving the blond’s head to rest on his shoulder and looking at the Buster Sword leaning on the wall beside them. “Just gotta make a phone call to an old friend. D’you think Turks ever change their phone numbers?”
Laughing quietly at the thought, he carefully dialed in the number and held it up to his ear, closing his eyes as he listened to the ringing. Night had already started to fall by the time they’d gotten out of the sewers and it looked like it had rained a bit since their adventure below ground. Who knew if anyone was still around to answer his call?
But luck seemed to be on their side today as the phone was picked up and Zack heard the voice he second most wanted to hear in the world. “Well hi there, Mr. Tseng,” he greeted, grinning up towards the sky above. “Me and my good buddy here are a couple of blue eyed boys that are looking for a place to stay in this fine city of yours. Mind giving us a little hand?”
Beyond the alleyway, he could hear the sound of people talking and laughing as a thousand city smells rushed back to him again. Beside him, Cloud shifted a bit and nuzzled his face to Zack’s neck with a wordless mumble. Zack breathed in and out, smiling as he felt his heart thud steadily in his chest.
Maybe they’d get that cake sooner than he thought.