Author: Guede Mazaka
The inside of his mouth tasted like oil. For all he knew, that’d been what he’d been living off of for…he didn’t know how long. He scrabbled for the wall, scraping his fingers against the series of parallel grooves he’d cut into it, but he couldn’t concentrate enough to count above ten. She wouldn’t let him.
Time dislocation, sensory disorientation, it was all part of a systematic attempt to break down his mind. He remembered that well enough from boot camp, from the later training by—
She really hated that name. Wouldn’t even let him think it without making his nerves seize up and scream. He’d cried out his throat ages ago, so all he heard as his body whipped back and forth on the ground was the harsh stutter of his breathing. He no longer tried to fight because it exhausted him too much, and the last time, the last time he’d lost control and he’d hurt…
“Zack,” Cloud hissed. The sound that actually came out didn’t match the sound in his head, but it didn’t matter. He still remembered. Remembered who he was, remembered Zack and Tifa and maybe it got her screaming at him, but he remembered.
He’d beaten Shinra’s training. When the instructors had been grinding his face into the dirt and raising electric burns on his skin, he’d learned not to fight back but that wasn’t the same as resisting. He hadn’t cracked then, and…and…
You’ll crack before they come. And when they do come, it’ll be to kill you. They won’t save you. They don’t want you. But I do. I do.
You’re lying, Cloud thought back. She didn’t want him; she wanted his body. Nobody ever did want him, after all. Zack wanted somebody to take Aeris’ place, and Tifa wanted a Cloud that was years gone. And maybe sometimes it sounded good, having somebody at least want him to do something for them, but he wasn’t going that way yet.
Why not? It was a small, curious query, a far cry from her usual ringing voice.
Suddenly everything was quiet. He hurt, but it was the dull, throbbing hurt of the aftermath, and not of ongoing torture. He could hear. His eyes could focus and for the first time he could see where he was. She was still in him, in his head, but she’d backed away and was simply…waiting for an answer.
Cloud worked his jaw a few times, getting the hang of having control over his body again. His head hurt. His thoughts weren’t—coming—weren’t—
Do you know—
“Because I always was all I had, and if you take that, I have nothing,” Cloud desperately said.
She punished him for that, but he rolled with it, trying to scream through a raw throat. He knew and she knew she didn’t have him. Not yet.
Zack, Cloud desperately thought. Zack.
* * *
“Son of a bitch…” Zack jerked as he woke, but didn’t flop around or leap out of his chair like normal people would’ve.
He slowly lifted his head, scrubbing at his eyes. That scar Cloud had given him was itching like mad, and something, some ugly formless thought he’d been having while asleep, was still niggling at his brain. He concentrated for a moment on the off-chance that it’d been a nightmare about a task he’d forgotten to do or a crucial social detail he’d missed that was going to fuck up Sephiroth’s mood later…but no, nothing. Just him and the big glowing green grid that was the control center of Shinra’s defenses floating around him.
If it was important, he’d remember later, he finally decided. But in the meantime, he’d fallen asleep on the damn job. He hadn’t done that in…Zack reached down and fiddled around till he’d gotten up a biochem jack, then plugged in. Sephiroth wasn’t all that certain that that was safe, but at the moment Zack figured better take that risk than miss something because he was nodding off.