It had been five years since their escape, and while Zack had been fine after the numerous experiments done by Hojo on his body, Cloud had not faired as well. They had survived that ambush sent by Shinra, and they kept moving to Midgar. Over time, however, Cloud had recovered as Zack had been deteriorating.
First, his memory failed, disintegrating like old film strips burned away in light. His memories in SOLDIER were the first to go. Tseng and Cissnei—who had been his friends in the Turks—disappeared. His memories of Genesis also vanished. Then his memories of Angeal, Aerith, and finally Cloud. And soon, Zack stopped talking to him.
Cloud had taken it upon himself to find a doctor in Junon, where he nursed Zack back to health save for his memory. He fed him and washed him, but there was something that hurt his heart. Was it the emptiness in his eyes? Or how placid his face was now because his mind was somewhere far away?
“Zack, can you hear me?” Cloud gently asked him.
“C…lou…d?” Zack drawled.
Stooping down to look into the dulling blue-green eyes that were the mark of a SOLDIER, he offered him a smile. “Yeah, it’s Cloud,” he gently replied to him.
That’s how the days went. Sometimes Zack would try to say more, other days he wouldn’t even say as much. When they went to the doctor next for a check-up, Cloud had noticed that there was a new radio playing in the cramped office. It wasn’t new as in shiny and polished, but it had simply not been there before. It filled the office with a soft piano song that made the mind fall into a dreamlike state, comforting the soul and easing the heart. After hearing the song, Zack was more responsive. He slowly turned his head to the source of the sound with a half-smile—it was all he could manage in his deteriorating self.
Cloud had used to play piano when he was younger, and every once in a while during his time in Shin-Ra, he would play a little bit. He never realized it until later, but Zack would listen secretly outside of whatever room or area had a small piano. Infantrymen weren’t necessarily allowed to go to the guest floor and mingle, but Cloud had found his way to do it.
“What’s the name of this song?” Cloud asked the doctor.
“It’s called ‘Reverie’, a dreamlike memory,” the doctor replied.
After the visit, Cloud brought Zack back to where they were staying for the while in Junon then went out to find if anyone had a piano. A small dilapidated café on the edge of town had one, and though out of tune since the people in Lower Junon weren’t exactly rich, Cloud thought it would work.
The next day, he brought Zack to the café, set him beside the piano, and took a breath. He looked at him pitifully before taking a seat. “I hope you like it,” Cloud quietly told him. He remembered the tune of the music playing at the doctor’s office, his fingers gliding over the yellowed keys and plunking. A few keys had no sound at all, and it broke the melody into jarring and disjointed pieces. Still, he kept playing for Zack.
After a few seconds short of a minute playing, he glanced at Zack, who had fallen asleep with a smile on his lips. At first, Cloud worried if he had fallen into a coma. He was breathing deeply and evenly, his head bobbing with each breath. It had been a long time since he had seen his smile.
The café owner approached Cloud during a short break from playing. “He seems to enjoy the music,” she said. “How long have you been playing?”
“I don’t really remember…” Cloud sheepishly admitted. “We went to the doctor’s and heard this song, so I wanted to play it for him.”
“Such a sweet gesture. Well, you’re welcome to come and play for him whenever you want when the café is open.”
Cloud thanked her. He noticed that it had gotten dark outside—not deep into the night, but the sun had gone down, and since Lower Junon was far below the upper level, it seemed pitch dark. He excused himself to take Zack home to their hostel. As he washed him in a small bathtub and prepared something simple for them to eat, he stared at him.
“Zack, I wish you could talk to me like you used to,” Cloud said. “I miss the way you laughed at everything.” He lowered his head onto his arms. “And how…we looked forward to going out for dinner together…” His eyes were fluttering. “And…how happy you were…”
Zack sat in his wheelchair, eyes empty and face plain. Listening to Cloud’s gentle snores as he drifted off unknowingly to slumber, the former SOLDIER 1st Class uttered tiny sounds.