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.

Zack lay bathed in a void of barren darkness, bereft of everything that made him who he was. He had no identity, no purpose. No life. Still, he could feel his limp, heavy body as a manacle. Keeping him chained to the earth below. But that too was beginning to fade, the chain's links rusting and cracking slowly, inexorably, and he knew he was slipping away. No! He needed to stay, needed… what?

He didn't know. The weakest link snapped, severing all connection to the world of life, and the stillness of the void grew sharp, hungry. Zack faded, his spirit dispersing to become a whisper in the Life stream.

And then, a single, pulsing beat rippled through the void. A breath of air. Of life. It wasn't much, but it was enough to keep him drifting in the void between life and death, enough to give him back his identity, his name. Zack. Over time, he nursed the thin trickle of life that coiled through his mortal body, and as it grew, pieces of himself flickered through the void. Anger, fear. Bright blue eyes. Pain. And something else… there was something…

Cloud. With the name came a rushing torrent of strength and determination. And life. It surged through his mortal body and up the link to this place, repairing and rebuilding that which had been broken, bringing light into this place of darkness. And then the darkness was gone.

A cold, dirty light was glaring down upon him. Zack blinked. The ceiling. He was back in his cell. Zack groaned, closing his eyes against the glare of the dim light. Pain, exhaustion, emptiness- they assaulted him, overwhelming him after so long in the empty peace of death. He swallowed thickly, his throat dry and raw. Where was… Cloud?!

With a wrenching effort, Zack dragged his protesting body into a sitting position and looked around the cell. Cloud lay in a crumpled heap just inches away. Zack's arms were heavy and limp as he reached out, but he managed to pull the smaller man toward him, cradling his head in his lap. "Cloud?" He whispered brokenly. He placed his hand against those slack lips. Cloud was breathing, his shallow breaths few and far between. Zack just sat there hour after hour, tenderly caressing that beloved face and whispering Cloud's name again and again.

Cloud was floating. His body abandoned. He was dead. So why was he still here, trapped in this cursed cell? And then he felt it. Sephiroth. Somewhere, deep in the core of his being, the alien matter still thrived and it was keeping him attached to his body even though he was no longer in it. Whatever Shinra's scientists had done had merged them too closely. They were connected, which meant that somewhere deep inside himself, he was still alive. He could find a way to return. Only, he didn't want to. The pain and suffering he would have to endure upon awakening would overwhelm him. Zack was wrong. It would never end, and Cloud had no desire to go back to a life of never-ending pain.

Zack. The name coursed through him like a warm breeze. How could he leave him alone in this terrible place? But he couldn't go back. Being locked away… The brutal experiments… What if Sephiroth returned? What if they were all destroyed by his hatred and malice? It was too big a risk. And it was too much for him to bear. Zack would have to understand.

As if waiting for him to make a choice, a great pain washed over him in ripples. His spirit was being rent from his body, his lifeline severed, perhaps to final death, perhaps to allow Sephiroth to revive to complete control. Whatever was to happen, Cloud felt his mortal body seize up, his breathing cease, his heartbeat flutter to a stop. He was being crushed. Squeezed out of existence. He would return to the Life stream and it would be over at last. Cloud closed his eyes and welcomed the brutal force that would finally end his suffering.

"Cloud!" Zack screamed, heedless of the pain that ripped through his torn and swollen throat. His hands clenched and grasped at the too still body in his arms. "Don't you die on me!"

Pressing a frantic, desperate kiss to Cloud's cold, unresponsive lips, Zack reached inside him and fumbled for the ever-present link between them to give Cloud something, anything to hold onto. But it was broken, shriveled and snapped by the anger and the hatred he'd forced into it. "No!" A gut wrenching cry. "You can't die, damn it! I love you, you hear me? I love you, Cloud! So don't die on me!" Scrambling to his knees, Zack lay Cloud's head on the cold stone floor. Blood filled his mouth with its hot salt as he bit clean through his lip, but he didn't notice, didn't care. He pressed his lips to Cloud's, his blood hot and slick between them, and blew his own breath into Cloud's mouth, willing that chest to rise and fall of its own accord.

The Life stream welled up in Cloud's vision. It was so close. It was finally time for him to go. He was drifting his way towards peace. And then, he stopped. Cloud looked around in confusion. What had happened? The Life stream was right there! Why wasn't he moving toward it? He stretched out his incorporeal hand and hit a solid wall. He pounded a fist against the transparent block. "No!" Why couldn't he get through? He punched the wall again. "Let me in!" He cried. "Please!" An aching sadness filled him. He was locked out. Would he never find peace? "Why?" He sobbed. "Why won't you let me in?" The wall shimmered to life, filling with the colors of a distant reflection. Zack crying brokenly over his lifeless form. Zack's words rippled over the image with a hollow, echoey sound. I love you, Cloud.

Cloud clenched his teeth together. Zack had built this wall. Forged it with his love and his desperate pleas. It was strong and Cloud knew that there was not a force in existence that could penetrate it. He would never reach the Life stream. "Damn you, Zack." Cloud whispered. Taking a deep breath, he laid his palm against the image and closed his eyes...

Damn you, Zack. The words were felt, not heard. They drifted and trembled beneath Zack's skin, taking root in the small trickle of Cloud's life that ran through his veins. His eyes welled with tears that he refused to shed. They hurt, those words, more than any physical pain. But at the same time, he understood. He knew why Cloud didn't want to come back. And how could he blame him? All Cloud would find in this world were pain and grief. I'm sorry, Zack whispered, pulling back and running his tongue over his still bleeding lip. Gently, he ran trembling fingers across Cloud's pale, cold cheek. And his resolve shattered. I'll let you go, Cloud. If it's what you want, I'll let you go.

Cloud sighed with relief as the tension, the despair ebbed away. The wall began to crack around him, splintering into hundreds of tiny fragments as Zack slowly let him go. Shining shards of Zack's love rained down around him as he willed himself toward the Life stream. A broken fragment knocked against him, slicing into his arm, and Cloud grabbed the wound as the most intense agony he'd ever experienced bore down over him. Zack's pain had been bottled in the fragment, and now he could feel what Zack was feeling. The hopelessness, the despair, the horrific sadness, it all culminated into a lasting pain that Cloud could not endure. He couldn't leave Zack like that, not with that kind of hurt. Not even for his desperately craved peace. Zack was too important to him to brand with such crippling sorrow. He would have to go back... Cloud swallowed. I'll come back. He whispered. But...I'm afraid...

Me too, Zack breathed, gathering Cloud's limp body in his arms as the dark, faded impression of those words swirled inside him. I'm terrified of the pain you'll be in, that we'll never get out of this hell. I'm afraid he's not gone, Cloud, that he'll come back again. But I do love you, with everything I am.

He felt the tiny sliver of Cloud's life that beat in time with his own heart flare within him, and he focused on it, feeding it with all the strength that had revived in the last hours, kindling it until it burned brightly. Do you see the way home?

Cloud looked behind him. He could just make out a tiny speck of gold in the distance. Yes. With a final, longing look at the Life stream, Cloud put it behind him and willed himself towards the glimmer that was Zack. His fears threatened to consume him as he drew closer and closer to that hated cell. Don't think about it, he told himself. Concentrate on Zack. He's the reason you're going back. He focused his mind on the dark-haired man, his smile, his voice, his now seldom heard laugh. Zack. Zack. Zack...

As the blackness faded out, pain faded in like a volatile crescendo. It grew and grew and grew. He was back inside his body, but he was just a disjointed spirit haunting a lifeless husk. He slowly began to try and mesh his spiritual and physical beings back together. It hurt. An unnatural, aching agony. And his strength was failing. Zack... he sent out. I can't...I me.

I'm here, Cloud. Just relax. Shifting Cloud in his arms, Zack leaned down and met those lips in a searing kiss that held all his love, all his hopes and fears and insecurities. With a kiss that embodied everything he was, Zack once more breathed his own life into Cloud's dead flesh.

A cool, fiery tingle slithered over Cloud's consciousness. A soft, gentle pressure cut through the pain and Cloud relaxed into it, allowing it to possess him, consume him. It grew stronger and hotter, and Cloud was carried away on its current.

Cloud opened his eyes. They were bright blue and completely his own. He peered up into Zack's earnest face and a hint of a smile ghosted across his weary features. "I love you too," he whispered.

The End.