By: Phoenix Dayze and S.J. Kohl

Rating: R

Author's Notes: Unless scenes of experimentaion squicks you... you should be fine.

Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy, nor its characters. I am not getting paid for this. This is purely for fun… recalls story …I think.

"So, Cloud, how're you feeling today, friend?" Zack murmured, cradling Cloud's head in his lap. He'd been like this for a while now, nearly comatose in his unresponsiveness. Zack frowned, his brows furrowing together in worry. Cloud was pale and drawn, his face lined with pain and his eyes dazed and empty. What if he never got any better?

Zack's eyes narrowed and hardened. Then he would take care of him, damn it! Cloud was his friend, and you didn't fail your friends. Looking down into those tortured blue eyes, Zack ran his hand across that chilled skin and smoothed the lank blond hair from Cloud's face. "Don't worry, Cloud. It's all going to be all right."

Pain was like an addiction now. A rich, vibrant, searing proof that he was alive. Still breathing when he should have been dead. He swallowed harshly around his parched throat and blinked slowly. The faded shards of his surroundings bled back into his vision. Still here. Still locked away in a vicious reality. He should be dead. He prayed for death. But Zack... unfailing, devoted Zack... he wouldn't let him go.

He felt a flush on his skin as a chill racked his body. Trying to inhale, he turned his feverish eyes towards the man sitting nearby. "Zack?" He whispered.

"I'm here, Cloud," Zack murmured, painstakingly cradling Cloud's body and pulling him tightly up against him. Wrapping his arms tightly around the smaller man, Zack tried to will the warmth of his skin into Cloud's chill-wracked form. "I'm here."

"Zack?" Cloud could just barely make out the blurred edges of warmth, which he assumed must be contributed to Zack's flesh that appeared to be pressed to his. "Please, Zack..." It was no more than a ghosted plea, but he wanted nothing more than to leave this cursed place, even so far as death.

Zack sighed. He knew what Cloud wanted. And he would do almost anything for Cloud. Almost. But this was the one thing he was not willing to do. Softly, he ran his fingers across his young friend's cheek in a gentle caress. "No, Cloud. I won't let you go. I can't let you die, my friend." He took a deep breath, and then he said something he was not at all sure of. "We'll get out of here, Cloud. The pain will stop. Soon."

And since Cloud was more or less awake--or, more accurately, aware--there was one more thing Zack could do for him. They shared a link through the Jenova cells implanted within both of them, and that link allowed Zack to follow paths that would normally have been barred to him. Running his fingers over Cloud's face to press his hand flat against the younger man's forehead, Zack closed his eyes.

And entered the surface of Cloud's mind. He didn't intrude, didn't try to sift through any of those memories, he just called out to Cloud's pain and gathered it to himself. And he shared it, took it into himself so that he could take half the burden from Cloud. At least for a little while. Zack hissed and let out a soft moan as pain flooded his senses, searing his mind and body alike. And unbidden the thought crossed his mind, And this is only half of it...No wonder he wants to die. Opening his eyes, he looked down to see some of the pain lines on that too young face slacken and fade. For the moment. "Better?"

Cloud let out a heavy breath. He could feel Zack on the edges of his mind, feel his strong aura gleaming against the darkness of the hated void his mind had become. Could feel the knowing hands of Zack's inner self sifting through the threads, calling out for the agony that plagued him.

The pain lessened. Cloud nearly found the strength for a ghost of a smile, so great was his relief for any levity. He was dimly aware of Zack's moan of pain. His pain. He peered at Zack through clouded eyes as Zack withdrew and focused back on the outer world. "Better?" He could hear the fatigue in his friend's voice and he knew it was his fault. Zack always cared for him, he should at least find the strength to answer him. Licking his lips he searched again for his voice. "Enough." He rasped. "But you shouldn't... One of us needs to be strong... Just in case..."

"No one's going to come back, Cloud, not for a while, at least." He licked his lips and stifled a grunt at a particularly sharp stab of pain. Cloud didn't need to know how much this hurt. The boy took too much guilt on himself as it was. "But if someone does come in, just be prepared to have this all thrown back at you all at once. For now, just try to stay awake. You know I can't share pain while you're unconscious."

Cloud nodded weakly. He tried not to let on just how much those prospects terrified him. He wanted to be a SOLDIER. SOLDIERs were not afraid. Zack was not afraid. He was strong. He was smart. He was... Zack.

Cloud was silent for a while, then, after a few minutes had passed, he found himself able to speak with less strain. He knew it was because the other man was still absorbing some of his pain into himself and he could tell that he was getting worn down by it. "Zack?" He moved a shaky hand to brush against Zack's arm. "You don't have to keep holding it back." He said lowly. "Just let it go. I can handle it."

Zack smiled softly as the feathery, chill touch of those fingers sent a tingle of pleasure coursing through his veins. "I know you can, Cloud. You're strong. But you don't have to do this alone, not while I'm here. I can't keep the bastards away from you, and I can't get you out of here, so at least let me do this much." He blinked furiously to hold back the tears that threatened to fall. "Please, Cloud."

"Alright." Cloud agreed hesitantly. "But will you do something for me?" He took a few short gasps, struggling for air. "Touch me. I feel so alone in here." Cloud's voice trembled. "Like nothing is real except for what's in my head." He coughed, his chest spasming in pain and he bit his lip to keep from crying out. "The fear may be easier to control than the pain."

Zack's breath caught in his throat. He wasn't strong enough for this. He wanted...well, what he wanted was not what Cloud needed right now. Or could handle, in as much pain as he was. But Zack nodded anyway. He would have to be strong enough to hold back, because Clouded needed this, needed him. Cloud had asked for something from him, and that was a treasure the young man rarely granted to anyone. Sparing a glance around their dimly lit cell--bare stone walls, reinforced steel door with its miniscule window, rough floor pallets, and rudimentary slop bucket--as if to make sure they were truly alone, Zack nodded.

He didn't pull his left hand up from Cloud's forehead, needing the contact of flesh to flesh to maintain the mental connection, he simply slid that hand along his tormented companion's pale flesh, caressing him, melding their flesh together with the warmth of his skin. Holding Cloud tighter against him with his right arm, Zack allowed his left to travel where it would--tracing the alabaster column of Cloud's throat, exploring the contours of his bared chest and the muscle definition of his arms and shoulders, traveling down to ghost just beneath the waistband of the thin cotton trousers that were his only covering. Zack's senses were overwhelmed by the sheer wonder of what he was doing, and he allowed a whisper of that pleasure to coil along the link between them. If he could give Cloud but a moment of joy in this hellish place...

Cloud shivered as he tried to relax. Zack's touch was so close, so personal that Cloud's eyes burned with unsung tears. He needed to feel, needed that affirmation that life still existed, that he wasn't lost in darkness. He needed to know he wasn't alone. And most of all, he needed something to make him want to live.

A warm tendril of arousal curled around his consciousness and a momentary surprise flooded through him as he realized that it was Zack's. Zack is turned on by this. It wasn't as stunning a revelation as it should have been. Zack wants me. His mind flashed back to random pieces of what they'd been through. Zack loves me. Cloud smiled softly in the dark room. He reached down and stilled Zack's hand, which was questing dangerously near certain untouched regions. "Zack, no." His chest seized up in another fit of coughing. When it had passed he said. "I can't give you anything in return. Not right now."

"Shh." Zack whispered, twining his fingers around Cloud's long, cool digits, their hands resting just beneath Cloud's prominent hipbone. He leant down and placed a gentle kiss to the corner of one exhausted blue eye, where a salt-seared tear was threatening to escape its fringed bonds. "I know. And I don't need anything, Cloud. Just to hold you." He allowed more of himself, more of his emotions and his sensations to slip through Jenova's bond, seeking to fade out Cloud's fear and pain and sorrow as well as he could.

Zack's love poured through, clean and strong, his protectiveness, his desire... it was all there, a clear vision of pure light cutting through the damnable darkness of Cloud's soul. The unbidden tears found their birth and streamed down his pale cheeks. Hope crawled out of the corner of his beliefs, no longer cowering in dejection as it had been the last few years. But it seemed out of place amidst a seemingly endless nightmare.

Sympathy and grief flooding his mind and his eyes, Zack slid his hand back up Cloud's body, ignoring the weariness that was beginning its assault against his tired body. This link he held between them wasn't natural; it was possible only through the presence of alien matter in their tissue, and, even apart from the effort involved in taking Cloud's pain upon himself, keeping any kind of contact between him and Cloud took a lot of Zack's energy. His energy, because he wouldn't allow Cloud to share in the price of the connection. Cloud had nothing to spare, after all.

"We'll get out of this nightmare one day, Cloud. I promise you that." Cupping Cloud's tear-streaked cheek, Zack took a chance and pressed a kiss against those slightly parted lips.

Something deep within the recesses of Cloud's fractured existence flared to life. A small flame against the emptiness, but warm and true. Cloud's lip quivered as Zack pressed against him and he inhaled a quick breath. This wasn't an area Cloud was experienced in and despite their current circumstances, the pain, and the fatigue, Cloud was afraid. Not afraid of Zack, but of disappointing him, of not knowing what was happening, of not being capable of giving his friend everything he needed. What, he realized with a small thrill, he wanted to give him. Opening his mouth a bit more, he gave Zack the option of taking more, if that was what he wanted.

As Cloud's lips gave way beneath his touch, Zack deepened their kiss, allowing his tongue to slip delicately into his partner's mouth, seeking both to tease Cloud's tongue into a throbbing dance and to ease some of the nervousness that held the body beneath his in thrall. Arousal stiffened Zack's body and enflamed his veins and he reveled in it, gloried in the feelings of life and love that suffused him.

A shriek of metal as the bar that locked their door was lifted out of place. A flood of cold, clinical light as the portal was thrust open. Sending a last surge of support and love--and regret--flying down the link between them, Zack severed the connection. He needed all his strength for this. Looking up, he could see the harsh gleam in the guard's eye as bulked against the door.

The guard sneered and shifted, and Zack felt defeat scoring him with its ragged claws as he saw three more looming behind the one in the door. No doubt there were more behind them as well. Meeting Zack's eyes, the guard muttered. "Your turn."

Zack met the vivid blue eyes in the fragile body in his arms for what could very possibly be the last time. No one was ever really certain they would return from Shinra's experiments. Some didn't, after all. Swallowing his grief, he murmured, "I'll be back soon."

Cloud screamed as Zack's connection dissipated and all the anguish that Zack had been holding at bay sliced through him with monumental force. For a moment he went swirling off into the cosmos of his thoughts before being brought back briefly by Zack's voice. I'll be back soon. Be back? That meant they were taking him. Dragging him away to that horrible room... No. Cloud's mind was adamant. They mustn't take him! Why was this happening? Cloud tried to raise himself up, to attempt to help his friend, who seemed to be going all too willingly, but he was too sick from the experiments to stand. He stretched out his hand towards the retreating figure. "Zack." He whispered. "Zack." The door slammed shut and Cloud was left to the torture of his own making.