Rating: R for language and the horror stuff
Summary: What happened to Zack (and Cloud) in Hojo's care.
Blood On The Walls
By Lena ban Obsidian
He doesn't take it seriously when Hojo says things. It's a mistake, but when you're rolling along the edge of sanity like a 10-gil piece about to land heads or tails and the future's dependent on which side it turns out to be, some mistakes are worth it. Being able to laugh in Hojo's face is worth it, being able to give Cloud a reassuring grin, that's worth it.
Being able to pretend that everything is okay. Because Zack isn't actually all that dumb, he knows just as much about psychology from experience and study as Hojo does from books and torturing his fellow human beings. If you repeat a truth often enough, if you keep saying it, eventually it begins to become true. So he gets mad when Cloud starts crying, those few, precious times when they're both free and they're left in that little prison cell of a room (the one with the coffin at the center that makes Cloud go white when he looks at it) and Cloud is cradled, trembling, in Zack's arms for reassurance, for warmth, he gets so /mad/ when Cloud says Zack should just escape without him because he's useless anyway. He gets mad and he's really just terrified, worried, so he shakes Cloud by the shoulders when the kid won't stop saying that, until Cloud looks up at him.
And Zack, because he knows he needs to make this a truth for Cloud, even if he's the only one who's repeating it, smiles gently and tells Cloud "You aren't useless. And I won't leave you behind." He doesn't ever even let the slightest hint of doubt that Zack /will/ find a way to escape enter his tone, or Cloud's head-- because Cloud needs that hope, Cloud needs to believe in something, Cloud has absolutely nothing else anymore.
And if Cloud stops believing, Zack doesn't know what he'll do. Cloud's safety is his anchor. As long as he can convince himself he's doing something, /anything/ to protect Cloud, then there's hope that he can actually do what he needs to do, can actually get them out. If that isn't there, for him, then...
Things start slipping at the 'then', and that's when Zack can actually feel what the mako is doing to him, the over-over-over-exposure and, oh Ancients, he thinks there's been heavy injections of Jenova cells too, and...
That cannot. NOT. Be allowed to happen. So he focuses on Cloud. Cloud is counting on him. This is what he tells himself and will keep telling himself for the sake of both their lives.
But Hojo knows that this is what he is doing, and says things, threatening things that later manifest into real danger and trauma when Zack ignores them. Everything is distorted, everything, even when he's not scrabbling his hands uselessly over the slick inner walls of his prison-chamber, that fucking tube which his weaksick body can't break. When he's on the table, things are distorted and kind of green, and they waver, twist, spin. When Hojo is shocking him, burning him, freezing him to see how much more damage he can take before it really starts to hurt, thanks to the enhancements-- when that happens, he can feel the mako pulsing in his skin, his blood, burning up his nerves, and it's never the actual effect that hurts him. It's the magic. And he knows, he knows that's what hurts Cloud too.
After the first two weeks, forever ago, they'd had to be saved from the tanks, Hojo had had to change his plan, because the direct injections of mako-- he shuddered to remember it-- they'd solidified from liquid magic energy into misshapen magic materia, bursting bloodvessels, arteries...he remembered waking first, he remembered watching in a vague, nauseously slow kind of horror as Cloud writhed and screamed and started choking to death, lumps of materia bursting from his wrists, his knees, the back of his neck. He'd never shake the sight of the vicious stab-wound along Cloud's stomach and spine reopening as he struggled with the restraints and the useless, totally useless sedatives, bursting open from the inside; he'd never shake the sound, either, raw and pleading, like a dying animal, of Cloud screaming, Cloud screaming, and Cloud had been screaming /his/ name.
Zack, please. Please.
He didn't need anyone to tell him that the rest of the sentence, too incoherent to understand normally, had been 'help me'. But now they both hurt whenever there was magic of any kind, and Hojo used that against them, Hojo used Cloud's own head against him, Hojo was starting to figure out how to use Cloud against Zack.
Because Ancients help him if he didn't try to protect Cloud. Fuck no. First Class SOLDIER Zackary fucking Donovan was not going to let himself be the kind of guy to think of himself first while they were in this together. And Cloud needed someone to give a damn about him, because he didn't even have family anymore to worry about his disappearance.
...not like Hojo didn't try to rub that in and break what little will Cloud had left, the bastard, but as long as Zack stayed strong, as long as Zack was there he knew he had a chance of saving Cloud from losing that last, desperately important piece of himself. It was necessary, it was overwhelmingly necessary that Cloud not break all the way, because Zack was afraid.
Zack was afraid of what would happen if he did.
So when Hojo said, "Give this to him," Zack said "Fuck yourself."
But then he had to watch, he had to watch and scratch at the glass and bust his fingernails and curl his toes while Hojo drew it out, drew it out too long, making Cloud scared, making him cry and struggle while his heart beat impossibly fast and the monitor shrilled warning of his fear. And it was too much, even with their sky-high tolerance for the drugs, it was too much and it made the beebeebeebeeeeep of Cloud's heart slow down suddenly to a breath-stealing beep. ...beep. ...and he shuddered and his eyes, his eyes with those pupils that were always tiny with fear and trying to block out all the extra light, they were wide and they were dark and Zack just watched in utter horror while Hojo took his blood samples and cut Cloud open and sewed him shut and played with him like a puppet, talking to him about how he would become the new Sephiroth, that would be his punishment for killing Hojo's son.
All this happening. All of it happened. While still he swam in a world of disoriented disjointed verdant tingling mako and all he could do was observe, and think very meekly in a far-away place in his mind that at least Hojo couldn't see his tears, didn't notice his anger and frustration while he cried into the mako.
"Give this to him."
The next time Hojo said it, Zack was sitting alone, huddled in that dark room where the secrets of all the evils of Hojo's past hovered in the air like choked-off whispers, and from the corner he could see the way that Hojo ran his hand almost lovingly over the wood of the coffin. Was that what it contained? A dead lover? Hojo claimed to be Sephiroth's biological father, but he'd never, to Zack's knowledge, had a wife. Maybe she was down here? ...maybe it was someone else.
But because of the tightness in his throat, and because he was alone and it was /this/ room he was in, Zack didn't say 'fuck yourself' like he wanted to. He said, "...why do you want me to do it?"
He didn't have to look to know that Hojo was smirking over the shine of his glasses. "You know why."
It was so dark in here. And musty. Like the dead, only thicker. Dirt and the cloying smell of something sweet rotting away-- flowers, on the coffin, Zack rememered seeing them-- and the pressure in the air of all those things that he would never know, and didn't want to know in the first place.
"...I don't want to do it," He hadn't meant to say, but did. His voice, always steady when Cloud was around, trembled on the words. 10 gil piece. If it's heads, you go scot free. If it's tails, there's gonna be a price you're gonna wish you didn't pay. "Why can't you just leave him alone? ...never mind. I know that too."
Hojo's smile was like blood on walls. It was a thing Zack wished with all his heart he'd never had the misfortune to see, even before this nightmare-life when Sephiroth had been as normal as Sephiroth got, and Zack had gone to see Aerith every thursday for a movie date, and Cloud had been safe from dangers like this.
His stomach twisted. "...I hate you."
"But I knew that already. What is destroying you is that..." Zack threw a fist into the brick wall behind him. Dust rose like oily smoke from what he'd crushed, and blood pooled, coagulating in the dust, a scant few drops escaping his hand before the skin healed over. That smile, that godawful all-knowing fucking-with-his-head smile, it was still there, and Zack dug his fingers in his hair and tugged, scraping his nails over his skull, trying to block the memory of seeing it out forever.
Hojo waited for him to finish the sentence.
He waited for himself to give in.
"...that I respect you. Because." His throat closed, and the sound that came out, it was so tiny and broken that he couldn't believe he'd made it. "...because there's nothing I can do to stop you. There's just /nothing/. I /hate/ you. I /hate/ you." Another choked something, another breath, and what was worst about it was that even with this happening, even while he could feel himself breaking down under the pressure, things didn't stop. There wasn't an end to it.
Belatedly Zack noticed that Hojo had his hand (filthy) his hand resting in Zack's hair. Was murmuring false reassurances and smirking down at him. And said, "Don't worry. Don't worry, I'll give you anything you want, once you do this for me."
"I want it to be /over/," he hated that he sounded like a little kid, sobbing, breathless, some weak little toy of Hojo's. "I want everything to /stop/."
"I'll give you what you want."
Promises, Zack thought sometime later with a great sense of ethereal clarity, while he watched the sky storming broodily overhead, promises were like contracts, sacred and dangerous to break. Dangerous to agree to, dangerous to renege on. Promises, he thought, promises were dangerous.
Cloud was holding him and crying. It seemed so natural. These days, whenever Cloud was holding him, he was crying. Only Zack couldn't really move anything; and he could barely hear the throb of his heartbeat in his own ears. He wanted to tell Cloud to stop crying, but he didn't think he could. Or that Cloud would listen. There was the dullest sensation of cold, too, on other parts of him; cold wet, like raindrops. Was it raining? Was that the reason the sky was dark?
Or was it just dark?
Mixed with the cold there were splashes of hot that he knew were Cloud, and he wanted, oh, he wanted so bad to say something and make Cloud feel better, but he couldn't make his body work, and it was frustrating, but he just couldn't do it.
Promises are dangerous, he wanted to say, because he thought it was something rather clever, and kind of interesting to think about, to realize, to know. He wanted to share it with Cloud, he wanted to do anything to make Cloud stop crying. He couldn't see very clearly. Was Cloud holding him closer? His neck felt stretched, like his head had fallen back, and the electric hot sting of wounds in his body, millions of little wounds that even he couldn't heal, it was all so dim and unreal. Was he asleep?
Cloud was saying something. Wake up, wake up. Zack, please. Please wake up. Zack. Zack.
He was idly glad that Cloud was coherent enough to even say that much. Cloud had been so deeply out of it lately. Wake up.
Hey, he wanted to say, my eyes are open. I just can't see anything. See? I'm awake. It's okay, It'll be okay. Everything will be okay. The trouble was, he just couldn't get anything to respond enough to tell Cloud so. The most he managed was a brief, spasmodic squeeze of the hand holding his. Don't worry, it'll all be okay.
It would have been a promise he'd kept with his life, but the words just never came.
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