This was supposed to be Sephiroth/Zack/Cloud and hurt/comfort, only I'm kind of h/c-impaired like I'm lemon-impaired, though not quite as badly. Except that I'm already going to write the Mako-messed-up stuff for the Fever prompt for thirtyforthree, and aside from Mako-messed-up-ness, there's really not a heck of a lot else that can go wrong with these guys.
ChibiCloud: (walking along whistling) (whoops!) (tripped on a tree branch and did a faceplant) (sitting up with an owie)
ChibiZack: Awww you're so cute! ♥♥♥ (breaks out the Cure materia)
ChibiCloud: yay! ♥♥♥
ChibiZack: (drunk out of his mind) eheheee... (chibi groping!)
ChibiCloud: you know, you DESERVE the headache you're going to get tomorrow.
ChibiZack: ...well shit. (one hand over eyes, gropes for the Heal materia) yay! ♥♥♥
ChibiSephiroth: ...You have GOT to be kidding me.
ChibiZack and ChibiCloud: ....(sweatdrop!)
ChibiSephiroth: Now that we have that settled, get back to work.
ChibiZack and ChibiCloud: Yessir!
ChibiZack: So now what am I going to do with that nurse's outfit I bought for you?
ChibiCloud: BURN IT.
ChibiZack: (puppy eyes)
er, yeah. So this is what I came up with instead of your standard h/c scenario, because the inside of Cloud's head ought to count as the h part of just about any h/c equation, particularly after Zack's died and he's had to kill Sephiroth a couple times, in my book... I planted this after Advent Children just because I could.
For Icedark_elf's challenge #21 of the 25 drabblets
yes I know it was supposed to be comment-length and turned out ten pages. At least it wasn't 24 this time?
He'd braced himself for it, really. He of all people knew what Mako poisoning did to a man's mind, to his very soul; he'd known before it even started what he'd be facing. But he wasn't about to give up, because he of all people knew that Mako poisoning didn't have to be the end of anything.
He just had to give him a good enough reason to come back, to face the reality that had driven him into a deep corner of his own mind as the only place to hide.
The irony wasn't lost at all, really, he thought, doing for another what had been done for him so many years ago, when he'd been in the same kind of state. Feeding a numb, unresponsive body; bathing him; dressing him; speaking to him for hours, so that there might be something outside worth waking to.
Nobody knew for certain whether or not his nerves even worked, whether he'd ever be able to move a fingertip of his own will, let alone walk. Pain didn't produce any reactions. But he wasn't brain-dead, either -- scents, of all things, could sometimes send his brain activity spiking in what looked like panic and rage. Specifically, hospital scents -- more specifically, laboratory scents. Alcohol for sterilizations, the bleached fabric of the hospital beds, the particular cleanser that had been used in Hojo's lab... scents certainly soaked through his Mako-nightmares into what remained of his subconscious, even if he was too out of touch with his own body to flinch when pricked with a scalpel.
Some of the doctors said it would be kinder to let him die.
Cloud said that he wasn't about to let the man get away that easily.
The doctors knew enough of the outlines of their history that they didn't protest aloud, though they wondered whether what Cloud was doing could be considered cruel and inhumane even in the name of vengeance. He'd been suspended in raw Mako at the core of the Nibelheim reactor for nearly a decade, after all.
Cloud didn't bother trying to correct them, because he wasn't sure they were wrong. Even after all the months of fruitless attempts at drawing Sephiroth back from the Mako-nightmares, he still wasn't sure whether he was doing it for love or for vengeance.
The only thing he did know was that he wasn't going to let Sephiroth get away again, whether or not he could put a name to his reasons. So he brought sheets he washed at the laundromat rather than use the hospital's supplies, and he bought a bottle of Zack's favorite brandy to use in place of the standard sterilization methods, and every time he came to visit he brought one of Aeris' fragrant lilies to try to counteract the lingering hospital-smells and the stench of Midgar.
And he wondered how Zack had had the patience and the strength to keep on believing, all those years ago. It had been eight months since Cloud had forced a confession out of Rufus, eight months since they'd acknowledged that Jenova's head wasn't the only thing they'd fished out of the Nibelheim reactor core, since they'd drained the Mako tank they'd been holding his body in like a sick duplicate of Jenova, and Cloud had literally dragged his body out of the building.
Oddly, the part that had hurt the most was when Cloud had had to cut off all his hair. It had fossilized in the Mako, along with the bloodstained leathers, into some sort of not-quite-materia-crystalline latticework. He'd had to take everything, even the man's hair, to a Mako-radiation decontamination facility to be disposed of safely.
His hair had grown out a little since then, still silver-bleached as ever; the doctors had a private wager going on as to whether Sephiroth could ever regain whatever his natural pigmentation would have been, without the artificial near-albinism produced by the Mako and Jenova. The tips of his hair brushed the ridge of his cheekbones, not quite thick enough yet to block out the vacant, still slit-pupilled eyes.
Zack, Cloud thought in quiet despair, was stronger than he'd ever been. Zack had kept doing this for Cloud, day after day, still Mako-sick and shaky with the atrophy of his own years in a tank, and he'd never given up, and he'd never stopped smiling, and he'd never stopped believing that Cloud was still in there and could be brought back.
Of course, Cloud had never tried to warp the Lifestream to his own will or to destroy the planet, so Zack had had no particular reason to wonder what was going to be still in there.
But still, Zack had always held on. Cloud wished he'd managed to cling to that part of Zack, when his Mako-lost consciousness had clawed pieces of him away from the Lifestream on that mountaintop and used fragments of his best friend's soul to fill the voids in himself.
The one thing Cloud did believe in anymore, aside from the inevitability of pain, was his dreams. Not the dreams he wanted to happen, but the dreams he saw when he slept, because Zack was still there when his conscious mind wasn't getting in the way, and so was Aeris sometimes. He never had the courage to ask whether Zack had begrudged him the pieces of his soul that Cloud had stolen for his own, or whether it ached like a phantom limb, or an old not-healed wound. He was fairly sure Zack would laugh and tell him it didn't matter, because that was the sort of thing Zack did, regardless of what the truth might be.
Sometimes he wondered if Jenova had devoured too much of Sephiroth's soul for there to be enough of him to bring back -- if Sephiroth needed the pieces of someone else's life to replace how much he'd lost of himself, the same way Cloud had. Hojo had been trying to turn him into a clone of Sephiroth, after all, and it made a grim sort of sense to think that what Cloud had experienced at Hojo's hands, Sephiroth would likely have suffered a dozen times over.
Sometimes he thought he wouldn't mind dying and letting Sephiroth fill those holes with Cloud's soul, except that he wasn't sure if he had enough of himself left to do any good.
Sometimes he thought that it was his own lack of faith that kept Sephiroth trapped in the nightmares, that he wasn't strong enough or solid enough to give what remained of his soul a beacon to fix upon, the way Zack had always been there shining for Cloud.
You ever think, kiddo, Zack had asked him one night, smiling, that maybe there might be some things in the world that aren't all your fault?
But really, it didn't matter whose fault it had been, if Cloud was the one who had the responsibility of having to make things right again and he couldn't manage to do it. There might have been a more reasonable debate left about whose responsibility it was, if Cloud hadn't been the last one still alive. That made a lot of things his responsibility by default, pretty much.
He'd been dreaming of a hill outside Kalm for the past week solid, with a big old oak tree covered in autumn leaves, and wild morning-glories twining up its trunk. He could smell the leaf-must as clearly as though he were a child again, raking them all together to leap in and roll around.
But Sephiroth had never been a country child, to play in the fallen leaves and know the way they smelled when the sun warmed them through and there was just a nip of coming frost in the crisp air. He'd barely been a child at all, and the scents of his childhood terrified what was left of him, with too many good reasons.
On the other hand, Cloud didn't have any better ideas, and just pacing the room mumbling whatever came into his head in an attempt at mimicking Zack-chatter obviously hadn't worked for the past almost-a-year.
He couldn't be Zack -- couldn't be bright and warm and vivid as a hearthfire, couldn't always be there, couldn't always keep believing. But he could be meticulous about coming as close to being Zack as he could manage, trying to get all the details right, imagining how Zack would have done it instead.
He took out Sephiroth's IV before they left, because he didn't want to have to juggle the equipment in a motorcycle's sidecar. He didn't bother bringing a helmet for either of them, because if this didn't work, he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to bother bringing either of them back in one piece. And the helmet would have stifled the motorcycle's familiar sounds and smells and vibrations, the purr of the engine, the sharpness of hot chrome and motor grease.
He'd worn an old, long-faded uniform of Zack's for much the same reason, and carried a buster sword he'd just sharpened, so the smell of the steel edge would be crisp and clear. He'd dyed his hair dark, so that if Sephiroth was in any way aware of what passed before his vacant eyes, the illusion would be a little closer to right. He'd even tracked down a bottle of Zack's shampoo the night before, and couldn't see the shower's faucet around the blur of his tears at the familiarity of that fragrance.
The tree he'd dreamed was there at the end of the road he'd turned down on an impulse, even though he'd never taken that particular side road before, and Cloud sighed and thought some unfairly grouchy things about subliminal kicks in the head from dead people.
Soldier-strength or not, he simply wasn't tall enough to carry Sephiroth in any kind of dignified fashion; he'd had to drape the man's arms around his shoulders and let his feet drag, wearing him almost like a cape.
Of course, Sephiroth wasn't protesting. Cloud would have been glad to be cuffed across the head for taking liberties, really.
I'm Zack, he thought to himself, stubborn and stupid and determined despite it all. I'm Zack, I'm Zack, I'm Zack, as he arranged Sephiroth's limp body under the tree as though he was simply enjoying the autumn sunshine. It's Zack sitting here with you, as he sat at Sephiroth's side and tipped the man's head sideways to rest against the crown of his head, so that he could smell the lingering fragrance of Zack's shampoo in his hair even if Cloud was still too short to have a shoulder at the right height to be leaned on.
You wouldn't come back for me, but maybe you'll come back for Zack. Anybody would.
Because if even Zack can't bring you out of this, maybe there's not enough left of you after all.
I'm not enough of Zack for anything else, not enough to save Aeris from you, or Midgar, or even to save you from yourself while there was still enough of you for her to control. But maybe I can be enough of Zack for what she's left of you.
I'm Zack. I'm Zack. I'm supposed to be smiling, not sniveling like a baby, goddamnit... Cloud scrubbed the back of his hand across tear-streaked cheeks and forced a strained, shaky smile onto his face, because even Zack's voice had always been smiling, and he tried to warm his voice into an imitation of that familiar pitch and timbre.
I'm Zack, and Zack never shuts the hell up unless he's sleeping or d-... I'm Zack. What would Zack be chattering about right now...?
"Hey, boss," Cloud said, and coughed to clear the tears from his throat and tried again. "Gonna wake up any time soon? I've heard about sleeping beauties needing their beauty rest, but this is getting ridiculous..."
He should have brought blankets; Sephiroth's hospital scrubs were only thin cotton, and the wind was nipping at them both. He huddled closer to the limp, vacant-eyed body, cradling those slender, long-fingered hands against his heart to try to warm them.
"Come on, boss, say something. Or blink, even. Twitching is good too. Zack's -- I mean, I'm good at making people twitch. Always have been, remember? Just give me something, boss, and we'll go home and wrap you up warm in blankets and I'll see if the nurses will let me give you some nice warm cider or something."
Wait. No nurses. Nurses are too much like lab techs. Something else...
"Would you rather have hot cider or hot tea? Or maybe cocoa, or coffee -- I think I know where Z-... where I used to get that hazelnut mocha stuff I drank all the time. Smelled good enough you could forget it was coffee. Remember that stuff? --Want some? Come on, boss, work with me here, just a little bit..."
I'm Zack, dammit, and Zack doesn't give up. No matter what. Zack doesn't give up. I'm not giving up. I'm just... regrouping...
Cloud tucked his head against Sephiroth's shoulder, and then had to balance the man's body to keep them both from toppling over, because he had no more volition than a puppet with cut strings. He bit down hard to keep from following that line of thought anywhere, and found a balance point with Sephiroth's cheek against the crown of his head, his faint breath stirring his dyed-dark hair.
"Okay, so it's a sunbeam," Cloud said, in his best Zack-voice. "It's probably unfair to ask anybody sitting in a sunbeam to have to go and wake up, right? So let's both take a nap for a little while, and then let's both wake up and go home. Think you can do that for me, boss?"
There wasn't an answer; Cloud closed his eyes, and murmured, "Let me know if you change your mind on that one, okay?"
He was fairly sure the sound he was hearing wasn't falling leaves rustling in the breeze; it sounded more like water. Like a waterfall pattering gently and inexorably against stone. The thick twilight-dim mist almost made sense that way; he took a step forward, and then realized that the hair falling in his eyes was golden again, and he stopped and clutched at it in a completely irrational panic.
No. Nononono -- dark, it has to be dark, Zack's hair was dark, I have to be Zack for him, he doesn't care enough about me, I can't save anyone, but Zack can -- I'm Zack I have to be Zack for him I have to be--
It was a woman's voice, and Cloud spun on his heel in panic, searching for the source of that sound.
Jenova?! Dammit -- dammit, the bitch was supposed to be GONE, supposed to be--
Where are you? What are you? Damn it, if you want a piece of me show yourself-- Cloud wished briefly and violently that a buster sword had any place in the lifestream, because he certainly felt like using it.
Go away, noisy little boy, the woman murmured, barely louder than the hushed patter of the waterfall. You'll wake my child.
Listen, you psychotic space bitch, Cloud started, I kicked your ass once and I'll do it again if you just show yourself-- give him back to me! Give him back--
I am not Jenova, noisy little one. I am his mother. Go away and let him rest.
Jenova said she was his mother--
Only half, the woman said, and sounded faintly amused. I was the other half. My name was Lucrecia once, I think.
I don't care what you call yourself, Cloud flung into the mist, stumbling around half-blind, because the waterfall seemed to be coming from everywhere. He's had enough of other things ruling his life, destroying his mind, destroying my world-- give him BACK.
To what? she asked. To loneliness, and sorrow, and shame, and to punishment for what he was made to do? Life is pain, struggle, filth, misery... but here I can give him what he always longed for. I can give him peace, for the first time in his tragic existence. If you truly loved him, you would leave him here with me.
That one stung, because Cloud didn't know whether it was love or rage or pity or thwarted justice driving him; but then, it wasn't Cloud facing off against this undead shade of the past, because Cloud couldn't save anyone, and Zack could laugh at her, and so he did.
Sure, you can give him 'peace,' lady, he said. Or rather, you can give him second-best. You can give him nothingness. That's probably as close to peace as you ever came, too; I can't blame you for getting confused, really. But I bet he's getting chilly out there and I want to get him back to a hot drink before he forgets what tasting is. Because what you can't ever give him again is happiness, or teasing, or laughter, or warmth, or the smell of hot coffee, or anything.
He can have nothingness later on, but for right now he still has another chance at the life you stole from him before he was even born, the life you handed to that sadist to experiment on. So don't go all righteous at me about your motherly love, because both of us can play the guilt game; and trust me, lady, I've got a full house.
I was mistaken, she said. I wronged him. I give him peace now in poor substitute for the peace I stole from him; that I acknowledge. You have given him pain as well, and you would take him back to give him more pain. At least I regret my mistakes.
Has he ever smiled for you? he asked.
He is weary, he is resting, leave him be--
Have you ever seen him smile here?
After a moment's silence, Lucrecia said, I love him. He's my son. Can't that be enough?
I loved him too, Cloud said, and look where that took all of us.
Then where you take him will be no better for him--
He smiled, Cloud said, for Zack. You could see it in his eyes even when he was trying to be stern and sober and dignified, because nobody could really be dignified around Zack. And sometimes, when nobody else was around but us, he would let himself smile and not try to hide it.
Your Zack is dead. You are not he. Can you make him smile?
I don't know, lady. I'm just all I have left to give him, Cloud said. What would you give to see him smile? Would you give him back to the world where Zack taught him about laughter?
I am not that strong, she said.
You don't have to be, Cloud said. He does. It should be his choice, not yours.
Then it shall be his choice, Lucrecia said softly. Call to him, and see which of us he answers. I will not hold him back if he chooses to go with you.
All right, Cloud said, and tried to concentrate hard on what he needed to be, in order to be someone worth coming back to: dark hair, taller, stronger, brighter, more -- more everything -- dark hair and those brilliant laughing eyes and the confidence to know that everything would be all right when he said it, because he always made it all right for us--
No, Lucrecia said. You call to him as yourself, not as a lie. It is no more fair to lie than it would be to hold him against his will.
It was fair, of course -- it was just as damnably fair as his demand that she let her son choose for himself -- but that didn't stop the clawing panic in the back of his mind: but why would he come back for me? I'm nothing like what Zack was, I'm nothing worth holding on to --
That is his to choose, Lucrecia said. Call to him, as yourself, or leave him with me, because you know that I will love him.
Cloud closed his eyes, and reached out, and found the waterfall; the water was chilled, numbing, and there were sharp harsh shapes beneath it: stone and crystal, dead and empty, and then his fingertips found a ripple that didn't fall through his grasp like tears.
Sephiroth was cold as the stone, numb, silent, still as death itself. It was peace, but it wasn't the sort of peace Cloud would ever have wished upon him, even if it was all his poor Jenova-hollowed mother could give.
He stepped into the stinging spatter of the waterfall, and found Sephiroth's shoulder by touch alone, and rested his head there softly; then he reached up to touch his cheek, cold as marble.
"I bet even army coffee sounds good right now, doesn't it?" Cloud murmured, shivering. "I know where Zack got his coffee from. Or we could get you some warm spiced cider, if you'd like. Just tell me, okay? If you're having a hard time deciding, I can wait."
Child, Lucrecia said, you should not stay long. Your body cannot do without you.
"I'm not going back without him," Cloud said, and wondered if it was a bad sign that his teeth weren't chattering.
You said that it would be his choice--
"It will be," Cloud said. "I'm just not going back without him. If he stays, so do I. I don't care if it kills me, really. I'm just tired of being the last one."
After a silent moment, Lucrecia said, You foolish, obstinate boy.
"I'm not Zack," Cloud said tiredly. "I can't be brilliant or funny or charming or brave. I never could be a hero, not really. All I can be is stubborn."
He was starting to shiver again; it surprised him vaguely. He blinked at the droplets caught in his eyelashes, and realized that the mist he was seeing had nothing to do with the waterfall, just a late autumn drizzle through the tree's foliage.
"...Shit!" He clung tightly to Sephiroth's body, trying to warm him with his own too-slight frame. "Dammit, I didn't haul you out here to die of pneumonia -- I told her I wasn't going to go without you, dammit!"
The mist was still clinging to the outer strands of Sephiroth's hair, rather than soaking through, and only the shoulder Cloud hadn't claimed for a pillow had gotten damp. It must not have been drizzling for very long, but Cloud cursed himself for the dozenth time for not having thought to bring blankets.
"I'm sorry," he said frantically, rubbing at Sephiroth's hands. "I'm sorry, this sure as hell isn't a great publicity piece for the wonders of a lifelong trip back here in rain-and-mucksville, I -- damn it, I know I'm not enough to come back for, and this sure isn't helping, but I'll get you blankets. And a warm fireplace to sit beside, and I'll read to you -- I'll read anything you want to hear -- and there'll be milk and homemade pie and I'll find a puppy, even, or a kitten, there are lots of them running around-- anything you want, anything at all-- I'm sorry-- just, please, don't go and die because I can't be Zack for you, it's not your fault I'm not, I'm so sorry--"
Sephiroth's fingers had curled around his hand; Cloud suspected it was a reaction to the chill, and blew on his hands to warm them, cupping them against his cheek, praying he wasn't going to end up with frostbite atop everything else.
"Coffee, okay?" Cloud said, losing the battle with his own tears, but he couldn't even pretend to Zack's voice. "Can you come back for something warm? Coffee as soon as we get back, except for blankets. Blankets and then coffee as soon as we get back. And I'll brush your hair for you until it shines, and I'll tell you all the stories my mother told me, and..."
Sephiroth's thumb brushed against his cheek, streaking the tears across his face.
"Oh," Cloud breathed. "Oh. Oh, Holy. Oh sweet mother of all..." With shaking hands, he took one of Sephiroth's hands between his own, and squeezed tight, and whispered, "Oh, Holy, please..."
Sephiroth couldn't squeeze back, but his fingertips curled around Cloud's hand unsteadily.
Shaking all over, Cloud said a little wildly, "Oh, damn. I should have brought the helmets too, shouldn't I? I'm going to scare the shit out of both of us, riding like this--"
Sephiroth's fingertips twitched again, and Cloud glared up at him through
mist-drooping bangs. "Is that a yes? You didn't have to agree that fast,
you know-- all right, all right, stop panicking and think, I can still
think, I've got my PHS, we're halfway to Junon, somebody there is going to
have -- stuff. Blankets and helmets and stuff. And something hot. Coffee?
The drop of rain that had trickled its way to the tips of Sephiroth's hair slipped down his cheek, and caught for a moment in the faint quirk of an almost-smile at the corner of his lips.