(Disclaimer: I do not own FFVII or any of its characters, nor am I making money from writing fanfiction about them. Square-Enix owns all.)


"Do you think we aren't strong enough without Cloud? Do you think we can't save the Planet alone?"


Cloud stinks. He stinks of Mako. It drenches him. His hair is bleached with it, his eyes are saturated with it and even his skin is soaked with it. I think he might glow in the dark.

No wonder. After being injected with Jenova cells, undergoing the SOLDIER process and falling into the Lifestream itself, I'm surprised he's still human. Maybe he isn't. I wonder, as I look at him now, his head lolling, body limp in the wheelchair, if there's anything of the real, human Cloud left. Poor Tifa, wasting her time with a mindless puppet. She wants to stay with him, of course she does. The glimmer of a chance spurs her on: that Cloud's mind is buried there somewhere, that the Mako poisoning hasn't destroyed it – as long as he is alive, hope remains.


I'm afraid. I perceive Hojo in my mind's eye: his greasy black hair, his rotting, clinical stench, his awful cackle.

See what I did to Cloud? Remember what I did to you?

I remember.


I fear the blood gushing around his body is more than half composed of the Lifestream. The smell is too powerful, too overbearing. I can't detect the scent of the flesh beneath it.

"Are you sure?" I ask.

"I'm sure." She clasps Cloud's hands. "I'm staying until he gets better."

Until he's better… Until what, Tifa? Where is the real Cloud you thought you knew? Not the Cloud who gave the Black Materia to Sephiroth. Not the Cloud who almost killed Aerith himself. Not the puppet begging to be given a number.


A failed experiment.


Mako, Jenova cells, metal, plastic. A constructed organism. Cloud and laboratories go together. He matches them perfectly, from his abnormal appearance to his artificial smell.

I recall the way he moved was jerky, unnatural.

But he's human, isn't he? Isn't he? Who am I to say?


I shake my head and say nothing.

Tifa wants to be left alone. We respect her wishes, leave. I glance over my shoulder and get one last glimpse of the man I've been following on our journey to save the Planet. His expression is blank, mouth open, drooling. Tifa picks up a cloth and gently wipes his face.


A mindless puppet…


I can't tell if he's a child or an adult.


Just like you… Beast!


It's painful. I can't face that stench, hanging like poison in the air. It seeps into my fur, my head. All this time, I've been following a madman.


Beast! Beast!

No!


I am shaken. Who is Cloud? Who is he? I don't know what's happening any more. Doubts gnaw at me like a plague. My fur quivers. I want to scratch the tattoo on my haunch, bite it, tear it off.

Outside, the soil is sticky with Mako. My paws… my paws, they hurt. I lick them clean, but to no avail; there is still the tainted ground to cross. I run in a circle, chasing my tail, trying to leap away. The smell fills my nostrils. I am dizzy. I stop, shaking.


Losing your mind, beast! Remember, remember?


His mind is lost. I don't want to think about it. I shake my mane, clear my head, cough. No, I won't lose mine. I am stronger than that. I am Nanaki, the son of Seto. I am not an experiment.


You're number thirteen. Red XIII. Red.


"Red! Red!"

It's Cid. He wants me to hurry up and board the airship. I need to get away from this smell, these memories. The pool of Lifestream glows, like radioactive vomit. I bound away from it, my breath becoming easier with each step.

I am Nanaki, the son of Seto. I will not go mad. I know who I am.


The airship takes off. We leave Tifa in the village of the sick. She's clinging on still, clinging on to Cloud. Poor Tifa. What is she holding on to? Disjointed memories, a split personality. Nothing.

I remember it all. That is my curse. He remembers nothing. That is his.


(A/N: This is one of the stranger pieces I've written. I'd be interested to know what you make of it. Reviews are much appreciated, and thanks for reading.)