Disclaimer:I don't own FFVII or any of it's characters.
It's well past midnight and he's still sitting on the steps outside. He can't go in. Not after what he just said. And he can't really leave, since that would just prove her right about him. So there he sits, keys held limply in one hand, the other pressed under his chin, elbow on knee. He's thinking again, and trying to do it here. It's easier on the road, where there's nothing but the wind and the trees and the sky... but he can't leave. He can't. If he did, he knows that would only make it worse. Hell, it might end it altogether.
He tries to think concisely, tries to figure out how to fix this, but he can't... it's hard. It's hard to think because his mind is so jumbled and his life is so messed up and he's so messed up and he's trying, he really is, but it's hard and... but it doesn't make it okay, does it? The things he said to her, the things he didn't say to her. This should never have happened.
They say the first big fight is always the worst, and in a way maybe it's good that it took them so long to even get to such a fight. Or maybe it's just testament to their lack of communication, his lack of communication, and maybe to her fear of saying anything that would make him leave.
"Go on, leave! That's what you're going to do eventually isn't it? So just get it over with! Just get it the fuck over with!!!"
The screams reverberate in his mind, her sobs echoing, the look on her face...
No, he has to fix this. Somehow, he'll find a way to fix this.
He tries flowers the next morning, but they're from the church and that only serves to make her somber and a little acidic in tone. In the afternoon he brings bright yellow flowers gathered during a pit stop, but he has brought those in so many times before and she knows there wasn't much thought behind them.
Well, that's what she assumes anyway, and he doesn't do anything to dissuade her. You see, he thought about it all night, how he'd bring her flowers and it would spark a conversation. She'd say "thank you," he'd say "I'm sorry," she'd forgive him, they'd kiss and all would be well. Then he thought about it all day, how the conversation would be the same only he'd add in "I thought you might like these better" after she said "thank you." No matter what, she'd have to speak first. She'd always have to be the one to start, to lead him.
He's so weak. He hates it.
He goes to bed exhausted and alone, listening to her cleaning up downstairs and all the while feeling guilty that he isn't down there helping her.
But that would make him have to talk, or make him silently urge her to talk, and it would be awful on both of them.
She still hasn't looked him in the eyes. Not since the argument. That damn, stupid argument...
The answer comes to him in a dream, a collection of memories if you will. Zack's smile and encouraging words (did he even say those?) and Sephiroth's malevolent grin (did he really look like that?) and the tank, oh God that damn giant test tube where he spent half his teenage years. He fucking hates that tank.
Upon awakening his mind shifts and reveals the path he must follow.
And he resists, not because he doesn't want to fix this but because he is a coward on the inside and while he can handle being pierced by a six foot long katana, the thought of... of that... of that little...
He cringes. He can't even think of the word without bile rising up in his throat and his mind flashing back to the tank...
He was going to bury it, going to simply ignore the thought, focus on another way because there has got to be another way...
But there she is, setting the table for breakfast, eyes puffy and red from a night of crying and bad sleep, and she's still not looking at him. She made pancakes. She barely touches them. She looks so, so miserable and he still hasn't said it, still can't tell her...
And that's when he knows, this is it. This is what he must do. For her he'd take on the world. He can do this.
He can do this...
He cancels his deliveries. There were only a couple anyway. Reeve hears the urgency in his voice over the phone line and instantly sets up an appointment.
Even if he hates Shinra it's still nice to have a direct contact with someone who knew its inner workings.
By ten o'clock he's in the office, sweating bullets and trying to keep the pancakes down. The receptionist smiles politely and he tries to smile back but even that makes his stomach shift.
I can do this, I must do this...
He leafs through the magazines, some old and some new, is even mildly interested in a two year old vacation planner for Costa Del Sol.
Maybe when all this is over with... she'd be so happy to swim in the sea again...
The doctor comes out to greet him personally. He doesn't take in many clients, mostly does research now while teaching the younger physicians, but he's still probably the best man to see. Reeve thought so anyway.
He sits down in the waiting room, realizing instantly Cloud's reluctance and fear. He says he's seen it before. Says that Cloud must know why his help is necessary.
He can only nod as his mind wanders to that day several months ago, speaking briefly with a psychologist to whom he'd delivered a package. Yes, he could be helped by sitting in a chair and talking about his mother and his biggest fears and his lack of father figure and all the trauma he's seen. But the real problem was the Mako. It would get in the way, would make his mind fuzzy, his actions compulsive, his nightmares vivid. It had altered him, and would continue to alter him, and while he could be helped without trying to fix that... well, there'd been others who had endured Mako testing. Some did okay. Many more did not. Not without help. Physical help.
"I can't. I'm not going through that again! No doctors poking me with... with..."
After a long silence the doctor begins to tell him of his background and credentials. Cloud doesn't know what it all means but he's still impressed with his education and test scores. Then the doctor becomes more quiet and starts to speak about Shinra. Cloud's eyes flick to the receptionist, still there and pretending she's not listening. In his mind this is still a big secret, but he understands that she must know already what Shinra did to people. Especially if those people are coming here for help.
The doctor wasn't involved in putting Cloud in a tube, and in fact had left far earlier over objections to the unethical practices of Shinra. He'd even hidden out for several years, taken a different name, moved around to spare him and his family the certain fate Shinra had planned for him after he left. A couple years ago he joined up with the WRO and began to help those who Shinra had hurt. He had studied every bit of paper he could get his hands on when it came to Shinra's actions and while he didn't have first hand experience with the "doing" so to speak, he was more than willing to take a stab at the "undoing."
Cloud flinched. Stab. It was such a brutal word... Even when used with a tiny, little object it could still be so cruel.
The doctor goes on a bit, tells Cloud a bit of his research, puts him at ease by telling him that this is all today and that he wants him in again tomorrow, but won't be doing anything physical for at least a week. Says he needs Cloud's actual paperwork, which has been found and kept safe and just needs to be delivered (Cloud almost laughs at this). He tells him a bit of his success rate with other patients, men and women with horrible physical or emotional side effects now living at least a semblance of a normal life. He even praises Cloud for doing as well as he is.
Cloud leaves with a packet full of information, carefully copied and organized, as well as a set list of everything he's going to go through. A few speaking sessions, a review of pertinent information in his case file from Shinra, a couple of scans and x-rays, and then... blood work. Nothing awful, the doctor, promises. Enough for them to test the levels of Mako and anything else in his system that really shouldn't be there.
The doctor was kind enough to let him know that this isn't the worst part.
"It's when we inject you with the Mako thinning agent. You'll be very weak for awhile, will probably even have to put your life on hold while your body adjusts to the treatment, and there's a possibility that you may even need to stay in the hospital if you have a very negative reaction."
The doctor had continued on, speaking of dropping immune systems and constant exhaustion, all the while reminding him that it's only temporary, only while the body finds its new normal and realigns, and that most patients come out of it far better than they go in.
He focuses on that, on the hope. He needs to. If he doesn't focus on the thought of what will be, what could be and should be and hopefully will be, then he'll think about the word "inject" and all it means to him and he'll think of Hojo and the experiments and the tube and that thing... filled with whatever they put in him...
Somehow he gets through the day happier. He even helps out at the bar. But he doesn't say he's sorry, even though he really, truly is, and she still doesn't look him in the eye.
The doctor mentioned that the treatments would be easier with a "buddy," a person who had been through something similar and who understood his fear. He even offered to call in former patients who'd agreed to help out.
Cloud can't do that. He's too private. It was hard enough to call Vincent to meet him, and harder still to tell him what he needed.
He doesn't know the full extent of what Shinra did to Vincent but he understands that it isn't good. He can see Vincent's eyes widen a bit when he mentions the treatments, see the sweat being on his brow. He catches when Vincent's eyes become slightly glazed, when the older man delves into his own past and memories.
He hates that he's making his friend face his own harrowing past but he can't help it. Tifa comes first, and he needs to fix himself for her. He needs to do this, and he knows he can't do it with her there, or even with her knowing, because she might just try to stop him. Or she'd feel guilty and then he'd feel guilty, and really where would that get him? No, as much as he wants to communicate with her, now is not the time to start.
He needs to get through this. And if he can't do it alone, and he admits that he can't, then he'll ask the best person he can. Someone who has been through something similar, and someone who knows how to keep quiet about it.
Vincent only nods and agrees to meet Cloud at the building at a set time.
That night when Cloud arrives home he actually smiles when he sees Tifa, and she smiles back. She looks him in the eyes. Seems she's forgiven him without him doing anything. Again.
Guilt hits him like a two ton brick.
She deserves better. She deserves to hear him appologize and deserves to know where he's going all day and deserves to know what he's going through.
He's troubled all night and rationally he doesn't understand it because he's taking steps forward, the biggest steps he can possibly fathom at this point. But it's still hard to have her smile at him. It's hard to hear her speak to him gently. It's hard to have her love him...
Always wanted to be with her, just her... thought she was a goner... years in a tank and she's dead and I couldn't stop it and Oh God to just get out and find her, maybe she's still bleeding, maybe I can save her if I can just... how long have I been... is she really gone?... I failed... I failed....
The thoughts that nightly assault his mind come on with vigor and it's all he can do to act naturally around her and the children, to eat dinner without choking, to lay his head down and close his eyes knowing that this is what he'll probably see and hear all night long...
The next few days are easier. The nightmares are there but he's used to them. The dark thoughts are a little easier to take now that the doctor has told him how common they are to all the other Shinra test subjects. He's a little better at home. He passes a small stand on the road one day only to find flowers for sale. Nothing special, but they aren't the type from the church (lilies was it?) nor the type he passes along the road. Tifa was so delighted to find a vase of blue flowers on her nightstand the following morning, and even more delighted to find a vase of red flowers there the next.
Cloud isn't sure that he should be giving her flowers daily. What if one day he doesn't deliver them? Will she be upset? Or will she become sick of the flowers and want some actual conversation?
She tells him he's silly, blushes, says "Thank you, I love them."
He still doesn't say he's sorry. He really is, though.
The full body scan was attended by Vincent. It wasn't that bad actually. The doctor has a nice attitude and was actually able to get Cloud laughing, though his jittery state had a lot to do with it.
He returns the next day for the results. Nothing too abnormal other than being impaled a rather bizarre number of times. They go over his medical history. Cloud even takes some things home to read. He knows that there are pages missing, pictures covered, whole paragraphs blocked out. The doctor admits this before Cloud can even question it, says the full file is safe and complete, that it will be his once the treatment is over and that they've seen in the past that it would only be detrimental if he saw it in whole at this point.
Cloud agrees. He hates to admit he's that weak and that he needs to be babied, but there's something about this doctor, a certain fatherly kindness. Cloud trusts him, which he supposes is good since there's no way in hell he'd let someone he didn't trust run experiments on him.
And that's what they are really. Cloud knows this, as does Vincent. Yes, they're experiments done in Cloud's favor, to help him recover from what he's been through. But it's still a big experiment.
He tries not to think that way when he arrives at the office for the first day of bloodwork. Vincent is already waiting for him, leaning against a wall but half in a corner. Most people would think he looked calm and collected. Cloud can tell he's scared.
He even mentions to Cloud, while descending the hallway, that Cerberus is loaded and if that doctor tries anything... Cloud almost laughs but instead thanks his friend. He knows if their positions were reversed he'd have the First Tsurugi strapped on, sharpened and ready to go.
The doctor is wise about the ways of Mako patients. He takes Cloud to a room with huge, open windows. An escape. He leaves the door open. He lets Cloud know the whole procedure. For a second Cloud feels like an idiot. How many times did he have his blood drawn as a child? How many times has he been wounded and seen his own blood splattered on the floor?
But this is different and he knows it, and the doctor knows it, and Vincent knows it too which is why he's here. Cloud is surrounded by people who understand his fear and accept it and will work with it, and this knowledge alone calms him.
The prick was hard at first, and Cloud has to ball his fists tight and focus on... on anything else. The doctor is speaking softly and kindly to him. Vincent is standing near the window, his eyes wider than normal, focussed on the needle, on the blood escaping his friend and going into the hands of a doctor, a scientist....
It's over quickly but it still feels like eons. Soon the needle is out. Cloud waits for a bandage but realizes he's already healed, at least enough to close up that small hole. The doctor leaves with his equipment and lets them sit for a few minutes. After several moments of silence he returns and lets Cloud know what tests will be run (again), what they might find, and when he'll expect answers. He doesn't talk about the actual treatment process. Worrying about today was enough, and he knows that.
He spends a few days just doing deliveries and waiting for results. He's getting worried, though, not about what the doctor might find but about his homelife.
Tifa found out how many deliveries he'd cancelled. She had tried to get out of him exactly where he was. Was he brooding again? Had there been more monster attacks lately? Was it maybe that he just... wanted to be somewhere else?
Cloud stopped it then. As much as he had trouble communicating, he knew better than to let her think he wanted to be with someone else. He didn't tell her much, just "no, that's not it. That's just... no."
She smiles a little but they both know he didn't answer her question. She doesn't make eye contact again that night and he doesn't know what to do.
He'll have to tell her about the treatments. He'll be too weak for her not to notice. He may even need her to help take care of him... again.
He shivers at the thought, brief glimpses of that week in Mideel running through his mind, how food wouldn't stay down and how he couldn't talk to her during his moments of clarity and how she cried, so hard, at his bedside but promised to never leave, to always help, to always love him....
He hated to ask it of her again. Hated it enough that he had in turn left her when he became sick with Geostigma. And again she'd forgiven him without so much as an apology.
The results come in and he goes to see the doctor. Vincent comes along unasked but not unwanted. Cloud almost wonders if he might be considering something similar. How much alteration must his body have gone thought? What might that do to him in the long term?
Those thoughts are pushed out of his head as soon as the doctor greets them. His face is somewhat grim, though he's obviously trying to be jovial. Cloud is worried.
The doctor has several other physicians and researchers with him. He explains the results of what they found in his blood. They explain what treatment they'd recommend and why. They explain the likely results, the possible side effects, the weekly regimen, everything. They're prepared.
Cloud begins to sweat. A group of physicians... asking to do things with him... to inject him... to...
The doctor notices it and with only a quick hand signal the other physicians leave, exiting to a back room. He gathers his papers, takes a deep breath, and leans forward.
That's when he reveals it, that what they found was far bigger than what they'd thought they would find. That levels this high not only "can be" but are detrimental to the body. That it could kill him at a very young age, could run his heart out. That it's destroying his immune system, running it too hard too fast. That his organs will weaken first, then bones. That without treatments... well, they really, really recommended treatments.
Cloud is quiet. He takes it all in.
Then, he acts. He agrees. It will be hard to submit himself for that. For months and months of weakness and neediness and injections and bloodwork and tests...
But if those months mean a lifetime of keeping her safe, of making her happy, of telling her "I'm sorry" and "I love you" and "I'll always be here" and actually having sincerity behind it...
And then he goes home and gets drunk.
Tifa is worried about him.
She's been watching him these past few weeks and he's very off, even more so than normal. She knows something is wrong and doesn't know what. She doesn't want to push him, because Lord knows what that might do. He's coming home every night, bringing flowers just about every day, saying a few nice things here and there... and he seems more connected somehow.
In a way she can feel that he wants to be here, that he wants this to be home and for them to be family. She doesn't doesn't know how to communicate to him that this is already fact, that he doesn't have to work for it, that he has already won and he can just relax and enjoy the rest of his life.
When he came home and night and drank himself silly she became even more worried. It's rare for him to do that. It's even rarer for him to actually be in a very good mood while drinking. She's still wondering if she should ask him about it the next morning when he comes downstairs, hangover already abated due to the Mako in his system.
She chooses not to ask for awhile, but something about his presence, about the way he slowly eats his breakfast and lingers around the bar, tells her that he might actually want her to ask about it.
So she does.
She can see both relief and fear in his eyes. He sits down, looks squarely at the bar top, and tells her that last night was his last night to drink for a long, long time. Tells her he's starting treatments tomorrow. Tells her it's necessary to get the Mako out of his system. Tells her it's killing him, inside and out. Tells her he's been seeing a doctor, for weeks. He doesn't say he's sorry for not telling her, not exactly, but she gets the hint that he is.
In broken phrases he tells her his treatment plan, tells her how much help he'll need. She would smack him for not telling her this sooner but the look on his face... They both know that she could never say no to him, and that she would truly always be there to help.
She can tell it hurts him to say all this, that he's scared but set on it, and that he's certain this is what must be done.
And she's proud of him, really. He sought help on his own.
She doesn't know it was that horrid argument that started it all, doesn't know he's seeking the help not for his benefit, but for hers. It doesn't matter to her anyway. She's just happy he's trying.
And she agrees to be there for everything.
Vincent doesn't come to his first treatment, and Cloud can't blame him. Tifa's there, though. She smiles warmly at the receptionist, and greets the doctor with a smile. She listens patiently to everything the doctor says and lets Cloud ask all the questions. Cloud feels like Tifa is stepping back a bit, and he's worried that she might be just as nervous as he is.
They have agreed it would be best if Cloud was sedated for treatment since his blood pressure will spike from the stress if he's awake, and this could be detrimental given the fast acting nature of the Mako thinner. This scares him even more but he tries not to show it. He gives Tifa a small grin, says something dumb about not running off while he's asleep, and lays down on the table trying to calm his fears.
She pulls up a chair beside him and he takes her hand before she can take his. She smiles. She wonders if she should point out how many little changes he's made over the past few weeks but decides that now is not the time. They have months ahead of them where he'll be stuck at home and she can save it for that. For now she'll just be here for him, in this moment, when he needs her.
He's glad he doesn't see it, but even unconscious he feels it.
The prick of the needle.
His nightmares explode in front of him. At the back of his mind he prays he isn't freaking out in real life, hopes desperately that he's not really thrashing his arms and that Tifa didn't have to see him like that.
Scenes of the horrors from his past play and replay in front of him. The death, the experiments, the fear, the confusion, the sorrow... everything so vivid.
And then... a weakness. An exhaustion. Everything feels so heavy. The scenes become grey and dark. They fade into an eternal darkness.
Then he awakens.
He's more confused than ever at first. He feels like he's being strapped down, but after coaxing heavy eyes to open and focus he can tell that he isn't. He thinks he's alone too, but soon his ears start to work and his eyes move up and he can tell the room is full of people. Everything sounds distant. Everything looks disjointed.
He feels... calm. Placid.
He notices a needle on the tray nearby, along with other implements. It's empty. Whatever was in it is now in him. For some reason that doesn't bother him in the least.
He can hear Tifa calling and after a very long struggle to turn his head to the left he sees her there, talking to him, asking him questions, and trying to reassure him.
After a few minutes his mind becomes more clear, but only slightly. The noise in the room still seems distant, and his eyes really want to close again. The doctor comes over and explains everything to him, how it all went perfectly and the results they're getting from him are exactly what they want.
He wants to smile. Some inner part of him feels jubilant, that at last he's a good little experiment that's making his experimenter proud.
The doctor can tell that his mind is off somewhere now and gives him the basics: he'll be able to go home in a few hours, and no not on that giant motorcycle he brought. He's already briefed Tifa on all his physical needs and is sending her home with instructions. He should eat soon but only soup for a couple of days. He should be able to think easier by the end of the day.
He gets up to do something, but then turns back and smiles. He adds that he's proud of Cloud. He also says this will be the hardest one, that it only gets easier from here.
Somehow in his fuzzy mind he knows this is good, even more good than the thought of soup or Tifa's warm hand or the fact that he can feel his feet. But right now he doesn't care. He puts all his effort into giving Tifa a reassuring squeeze then lays back, exhausted, and falls back into darkness.
Everything changed with that fight. Everything. He had changed and she had changed. She was more scared, frightened that she'd said too much. He was more afraid than ever that all he did was hurt her.
But as bad as it was, it had started this journey. And for that he was glad.
He thought about it as he sat in his bed sipping chicken broth. He glanced at the silly little needle on the bedside table. After a few months they taught Tifa how to administer the shots he'd need and sent them home with her. It was scary, the first time he was awake for one, but as time passed he became better about them. He still couldn't actually watch when the little thing pierced his skin, but he didn't feel sick just looking at them anymore.
Physically he was recovering faster each time, just as they'd predicted. His bloodwork was coming back better and better, and he was actually feeling, well, normal. Sure he couldn't take on a whole fleet of enemies now, but it was worth it for a clear head.
As she came into the room he smiled. Really smiled. She sat beside him, careful not to tip his tray of food. The spoke a bit about her day, a bit about the delivery business which he managed from bed using other workers, about the kids, about the soup, about everything.
After awhile she got up to leave. There was a bar that needed tending after all. He didn't notice that he was clinging to her hem until she tripped. They both laughed.
"Silly, you need me in bed with you that badly?" she joked.
"I'm sorry," he said quickly, naturally. His blush was enough of an answer.
After a quick kiss she departed again. Cloud smiled.
It was a hard journey. Every journey he took was a hard journey. But oh, was it worth it.