Final Fantasy - All Series Fan Fiction ❯ Post Mortem ❯ Chapter 1: Birth ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Title: Post Mortem
Author: Shadow Rebirth
Rating: T
Warnings: violence, language, spoilers
Chapter WC: 3,537
Story WC: 3,537
First Written: March 20, 2009
Last Edited: April 16, 2009
Posted: April 16, 2009
Summary: [If death was freedom, then what was life?] It wasn't the first time Zack had gotten himself into some serious trouble, but it was the first time he'd died and woken up as a wolf. Now if only that had been the end of his predicament, instead of the start…AU story.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. This work has not been endorsed by Square Enix or any of the others holding copyright or license to the Final Fantasy games, movies, and products. No connection is implied or should be inferred. Other names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author receives no financial gain from its production or distribution.
----------------------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------
Post Mortem
Chapter 1
----------------------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------
Zackary Fair had never once wondered what it was like to die. The thought to do so had simply never crossed his mind; after all, he was young and had his whole life before him. It didn't matter that he'd been involved in a war or that he put his life on the line almost every day. If he died, he died, Zack thought. Until then, he was untouchable.
Even once he'd been captured by Hojo, Zack's thoughts had never lingered on death for long. The times when he was fully coherent and aware of his situation were few and far between, so usually his mind was focused on escaping.
He'd never been very philosophical anyway. What need was there for philosophy in his line of work? To Zack, it was the present, the here and now, that mattered. Anything before or after that was irrelevant and unnecessary.
Sephiroth had been philosophical enough for the both of them and Genesis had been even worse.
Despite all of this—or perhaps because of it—Zack found himself marveling at the sensation of death. Or rather at post-death, for the dying itself had been utter agony. But once his body had completely shut down, he'd found himself floating in a sea of green, surrounded by utter peace. It couldn't even really be called floating though, for he had no body. Rather, it was as though he was both a part of and separate from the green at the same time. It was an odd, but delightful feeling.
For a fleeting moment Zack wondered if this was how birds felt. To be completely free and unbound, drifting through the world…It was incredible. He had no ties, no responsibilities, nothing to do, no need to even think if he didn't want to.
Pure, untainted freedom.
After what seemed like an eternity—or a split second; there was no difference between them in the end—Zack suddenly began to feel as though the green was fading. Though he had no corporal form, he felt his very essence cry out in protest, screaming for the return of his peace. It did no good. He slowly grew colder and colder until all that was left was darkness.
Zack shuddered, both from sorrow for what he'd lost and from the sudden fear weighing down on him. He felt as though he was being pressed in on all sides, confined and chained down. He cried out again and struggled against the sensation, but as he didn't actually have a form, such resistance was completely futile.
Then he woke up.
----------------------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------
Zack gasped for breath. It felt as though couldn't get enough of it, as though his lungs were being constricted. The air itself burned in his throat and he coughed and wheezed again and again. Panicked, he tried to push himself up off the ground, but his body didn't respond correctly and he crashed down onto the ground.
Zack's eyes rolled around wildly in his head as all of his muscled seized up and relaxed repeatedly. He couldn't clearly see anything around him, even though his eyes were fine. His vision was too sharp, too distorted, too different. He shut his eyes tightly against the world, unable to handle it.
Again and again, Zack tried to stand, only to fail. He was thrashing around now, surrounded by a haze of panic. He didn't know what was going on, and indeed couldn't understand. Was he dead? Was he alive?
Was this hell?
Several minutes later, Zack lay silently on the ground, his heart beating wildly and panting with exhaustion. Slowly, the fear began to slip from his mind as rationality took over. It took another couple of minutes before he calmed down completely and he was able to actually think about his situation.
Hadn't he died? He'd certainly felt death, that he knew, but the pain that he now felt told him that “death” was no longer the case. For a brief moment he grieved over the loss of the lack of pain that death had brought him, but it took no more than a second for his thoughts to return to the present.
Hesitantly Zack opened his eyes again. He squinted at the sunlight that shined into his eyes, noting that it seemed much stronger than usual. But perhaps death had just skewed his perception? It was difficult to tell. He'd never heard of death doing such a thing to the mind, but then, he'd never heard of anyone dying and coming back to life either.
Zack squinted at the ground for a couple of minutes, allowing his eyes to gradually get used to the harsh sunlight. His vision was still disorienting, but at least now he could clearly make out the dirt beneath him.
But of course, even that dirt was disorienting.
Well, not disorienting, per se, just…different. He could see all the little grains that made up the ground beneath him with a startling clarity. Everything was so much sharper now and it felt as though he'd been walking through a fog his entire life and was only now realizing it.
Zack watched, entranced, as a small ant struggled to climb over a clump of dirt. He'd never noticed before just how many little parts made up such a small creature. It was utterly fascinating. How could he not have noticed before though? Had he been so wrapped up in his life, in his career, that he'd never taken the time to pay attention to the little details around him? Just how much of the world had he missed?
Had death had lifted a veil from his eyes?
Eventually Zack began to lift his head from the ground in yet another attempt to get up. After only a second however, he paused. Even his head felt…heavier…than usual. Heavier wasn't entirely the correct description though. It was just…off. Different.
Different. There was that word again. It seemed to be the only word he could use to describe his current situation. He'd never had a very big vocabulary because he'd never had much use for words before—his blade was perfectly sufficient to solve arguments with—but now his lack of terminology was getting on his nerves.
Zack heaved a heavy, frustrated sigh, only to start as it came out as more of a growl. Surprised, he tried to clear his throat, but his muscles seized up again, refusing to react as he wanted them to. Zack purposefully growled this time, letting out some of his building irritation. His entire body wasn't reacting the way it was supposed to. It was like he'd had muscles reattached to different places.
The entire world had been turned on its head and left to sort itself out.
Maybe…Maybe Hojo had done something to him? But why would it be taking affect so late—after his freaking death. He'd been perfectly fine before, when he'd been escaping with Cloud. So what had changed?
…Other than dying and coming back to life, that was.
Zack slowly managed to stumble onto his hands and knees, where he stood shakily. It took him a moment to realize that he was actually standing on his feet, even though he was hunched over, and he immediately fell back down from the shock. What the hell was going on?!
Heaven was playing a prank on him. It was the only explanation.
Utterly confused, Zack finally looked down to see what was wrong with him, even though he had to twist his neck at an odd angle to do so. As soon as he had however, he almost died again—from shock this time. His entire body was covered thick, black fur. His body wasn't his own either. Gone was the human bipedal shape and instead there was only a four-legged animal. A bloody animal!
Zack shook his head wildly as though to displace the image. He tried to grip the ground beneath him, as though expecting the entire world to tilt, sending him sliding off, and the claws on his paws sliced into ground like it was made of butter. Surprised by the sensation, he retracted his claws—or at least attempted to. He found that now that he was actually thinking about it, his body once again refused to react the way he was expecting.
The man-turned-animal breathed out heavily—once again creating a growl instead of a sigh—and forced his mind not to think about what he was doing. He relaxed his hand—no, his paw—and was delighted to see the claws pull back. Though it was such a simple thing, a delighted laugh bubbled up in his throat at the accomplishment. Unfortunately, it came out of his mouth as a hacking cough, as though he was chocking on the air.
Instantly the joy drained away and Zack suddenly felt like crying.
He couldn't even laugh anymore?
----------------------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------
Zack would never know just how long it took him to get adjusted to his “new body”. It felt like eternity, and might as well have been from the way the sun moved overhead. What he did know was that once he'd finally gotten over the shock of his situation, he'd been filled with raw determination. This was his present, his here and now, and there was no way that he was going to let death and rebirth get in the way of living.
Learning to adjust was really just a process of standing up and falling down. He'd had to learn what responded to what and how to do even the simplest of things. Again and again he wondered if this was what babies went through when they were first getting used the world. It certainly felt like he'd just been born.
He'd never realized just how similar birth and death were.
Zack didn't have the time to slowly get used to his body like babies did though. He needed to be able to move around now, or he'd surely die again. He could tell from the terrain around him that he was in the wasteland around Midgar, probably near where he'd died. Though he hadn't seen any yet, there were undoubtedly monsters nearby and he was in no condition to defend himself just yet.
He never questioned how he'd gotten into the situation that he was in. It was unimportant; all that mattered was that he was alive and had a second chance at life.
Before too long Zack was able to move around with relative ease. He still stumbled quite often, but at least he was able to stand and walk around, even if it was on shaky legs. In his exploration of his body, Zack was able to figure out that he was a wolf of a breed he'd never encountered before. He couldn't tell how large he was because his sense of proportion and distance was completely skewed, but he was hopeful that he was rather large—it would suck to be stuck as a scrawny little runt.
Was life better than death? Or had death been better than life?
Once he was fully aware of and accustomed to his new body, Zack was able to realize that Midgar was standing clearly in the distance, probably only a few miles away. He trembled with rage and sorrow to know that he and Cloud had been so close and yet so far from their freedom.
If only, if only…
Immediately Zack set off at an easy lope towards the city. It was surprising to him how quick of a pace he was able to move at; he'd been much slower as a human. Not to mention that he probably wasn't even moving as fast as he could since he was still stumbling often. Perhaps…Perhaps there were perks to be in this new canine body.
Including being alive, of course.
By the time the sun was touching the horizon, Zack had finally reached the outskirts of Midgar. The city walls cast massive shadows over the wasteland, giving him more than enough darkness to move in. He ghosted noiselessly over the ground as he ran alongside the road leading into the city. Slinking along close to the ground was easier than he'd thought it would be, but he supposed wolves' bodies were just made for it. His dark fur helped him blend in as well, rendering him all but invisible.
At the part of the wall where the road entered the city, there were several toll booths that were manned 24/7 by Shinra employs so that the company could keep track of who entered and left the city. On top of these “guards”, there were also numerous security cameras that covered every angle of the entrance to make sure that no one slipped by unnoticed. As usual, Shinra didn't skimp on security, not even at night.
Because Zack doubted that the guards would let a wolf just waltz into Midgar, continuing to follow alongside the road was no longer an option. Fortunately for him, however, he had been a Shinra employee and as such knew of a way to get in unnoticed…Assuming things hadn't changed too drastically in the past five years, that was.
Time had slipped by like grains of sand dribbling down an hourglass, lost to eternity.
Near the entrance to the city there was an unassuming door. Since it was the same color as the wall, it blended in perfectly, rendering it almost invisible to those who didn't know it was already there. For Zack, it was his heaven, his only chance: Because it was an emergency security door, it was out of the view of the guards and the cameras.
As Zack stopped in front of this door, he noticed that he was more than eyelevel with the handle—which had been painted, just like the door itself; Shinra didn't skimp on the details, not when it mattered—which confirmed his suspicions about his size. He was certainly larger than the average dog, and perhaps even the average wolf. Enjoying the revelation, he beamed as best as he could with his canine features.
Then the moment passed and a serious air settled around Zack once more. Opening the door turned out to be a bit of a problem, considering his lack of opposable thumbs. He was forced to throw his body at it again and again until the door finally opened under his weight. He stood silently in the doorway for several seconds in case he'd been heard, but when no one came running he decided that it was safe and slipped inside.
----------------------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------
Zack slunk through the dark alley of the slums, careful to avoid any signs of life. His newly heightened senses helped him in that respect, warning of approaching monsters and humans long before they came into sight.
Navigating through the slums was a bit difficult with his new, canine perspective, but the major landmarks hadn't changed within the last five years so it didn't take him more than a couple of hours to get to Sector 7. There, surrounded by broken buildings and heaps of trash, was his one and only hope: Aerith's church. He figured that if he could just get to her, everything would be alright. She'd be able to help him somehow.
Zack breathed a deep sigh of relief when the church came into view. Although somewhere in the back of his mind he'd been half expecting it to be gone or something, it was standing there, just as brilliant and out of place as ever. The door was half closed and he had to scratch at it briefly to nudge it open. Zack squeezed his body through the opening and then proceeded to pick his way across the stone floor.
It took him only a moment to realize that Aerith was in the middle of the church, kneeling before her flowerbed. Her back was to Zack and he froze for a moment, suddenly uncertain. Did he really want to drag her into this? What if Hojo got his hands on her?
And he wondered when he'd become so terrified of hurting others.
The choice was taken out of his hands when Aerith glanced over her shoulder back at him. Surprise flashed across her features briefly, but there was no fear there. Instead she smiled softly, stood while brushing the dirt off her dress, and walked over. Zack stood frozen in place as she crouched down in front of him, still smiling.
“Why hello there,” she said softly. She reached out to gently pat him on the head and he unconsciously leaned into the touch. “Who are you?”
Zack's world shattered. For some irrational, inane reason he'd been expecting her to recognize him, even though he had been presumed dead for the past five years and was now a wolf. He'd thought that if he could just get to her that everything would somehow suddenly be okay and things would go back to how they'd been before. Now he was harshly reminded that everything wasn't okay, that Sephiroth was dead, Cloud was only Gaia knew where, and he was a fucking animal. Maybe it'd been shock that had clouded his mind, but now the delusion had faded back into reality.
He couldn't help it then: He turned and ran.
----------------------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------
Zack spent Gaia only knew how long wandering through the slums, lost to depression. He didn't know what to do, didn't know what he could do. He was lost both to himself and to the world. He was starting to think that death had been so much better than this.
Then he remembered that he was the Zack Fair, SOLDIER First-Class. He'd fought in a war, been forced to kill his own mentor, watched a man he greatly respected go insane, and been used as a lab rat for five fucking years.
There was no way in hell a little thing like death was going to keep him down.
Though he never approached Aerith again, Zack did hang around her church, silently watching her from the shadows. He guarded over her as best he could, sleeping in cardboard boxes and stealing scraps of food whenever he could. He got into a couple of fights with the monsters in the area, but fortunately he was large enough to be able to defend himself after a bit of practice.
And he wondered when blood and fighting and death had become so engrained into his very soul.
One day, however, Aerith stopped suddenly while she was on her way back home and turned to stare directly at where he was hiding as though she'd known that he was there all along. Caught by surprise, Zack fled back into the shadows once more.
----------------------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------
The next time Aerith caught him, Zack didn't run.
He stood there quietly as she walked up. He flinched once when she touched his muzzle, but still didn't move, as much as he wanted to. He was utterly terrified, though for the life of him he didn't know why. As if sensing this, Aerith just smiled gently, patted the top of his head, and then walked away.
Zack watched her go with eyes filled with regret.
----------------------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------
Next time Zack was the one to approach Aerith. At first he just watched her quietly from the back of the church as she tended to her flowers. When she stood and began to pack up however, he finally stepped forward into the light. After hesitating for a split second, he padded forward, picked up the handle of her flower basket in his mouth, and glanced up at her, waiting.
Aerith just smiled.
----------------------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------
Zack had finally managed to settle into an easy routine with Aerith. He was always by her side had officially become her “pet” and guard dog. He had a color around his neck now, which found rather encaging, but it was better than being mistaken for a wild wolf.
“You're like my shadow, aren't you?” Aerith had mused at one point. “I think I'll name you Kage then; it's Wutanese for `shadow'. Do you like that?”
Zack had just barked happily, unable to relay his real name. Sometimes he wondered if he should be sad that he'd become nothing more than a domestic dog, but then the moment passed and he was happy again. If nothing else, he was still alive. He had a second chance to save those that the cared about.
Birth had given him a chance that death had taken away.
Aerith's mother was always wary of him, as though expecting him to turn on them at any moment. He dealt with it with amused patience, glad to at least be allowed to stay at their house. Aerith always defended him from her mother, pointing out how much he'd helped them. Her mother grudgingly agreed, but still glared at him whenever her back was turned.
Zack had to admit that he was rather content. Sure, he still wanted to get back at Shinra, but…At least he still had the here and now to live in, even if Aerith didn't know who he really was.
Then one day a blond haired angel fell from the sky.
----------------------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------
A/N: I feel like some of the style from Reality's Illusion is bleeding over into this story (and, admittedly, I started writing this only a month or so after RI). Not that that's a bad thing, obviously; just interesting. Anyway, this is an idea that's been on my mind for a little while that I wanted to try out. I know I should be working on my other stories, but things like this help to clear my mind.
This story will actually only be three or four chapters long. Admittedly, some of those chapters might be a little long, but I'd like to keep this relatively short. I'll post the next chapter as soon as I finish it.
If you can't figure out where I got the idea for this story from, then I fear for your intelligence, I really do…Well, that or you've just never seen Advent Children. Either one works.
Let me know what you think!
"This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A lifetime is a flash of lightning in the sky. Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain." - Buddha