Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all you lovely, lovely reviewers. And to everyone who's added this to their favorites. I adore you all.
Sorry this chapter's a bit late; I had a giftfic to write and a speech to give and yadda yadda yadda, EXCUSES. ENJOY.
This chapter is dedicated to Miguel, even though there is a distinct lack of Snow butt. Happy birthday dearie, and I apologize for the bullshitted writing.
I pass out again, and this time it could've easily been a week before I awake. When I finally swim through the dark fog, drag myself back from the edge of unconsciousness, I am not alone.
There are two hands on me: one lingering against my forehead and the other cinched about my wrist. They feel nice, even if they make my bruises whimper in protest.
I can hear voices--the owners of the two hands--talking over me. Quietly, like they are worried they'll disturb me. It's…novel, to have someone care about me.
"Do you think he'll be okay?" asks a voice that rings with something familiar. The name twirls away, laughing, before I can pin it to the face my mind's conjured. Pale, pretty, framed by ragged blond spikes.
"I believe so," says a new voice. This one is soft, and slippery smooth like silk.
I try to open my eyes, and find them stuck shut, eyelashes glued together. I want to wrench them apart. I want to see. But most of all, I want to chase away the black lurking behind my eyelids and the memories that walk hand in hand with it.
Horrible, agonizing, bloody memories. Memories that make me want to scream until there's not a trickle of air left in my lungs and I pass out. Until I can't remember anymore.
"Thank God," the first voice breathes. The tattered bit of prayer rattles me to the core. I have this deep, unshakable feeling that such a word as God should not be uttered in such a place as this, where Satan takes his afternoon tea. It strikes me as wrong, unnatural even. It makes me sick.
Sicker than I already am, anyway.
"He just seems so fragile…" the first voice continues, trailing off at the tail end. Roxas? Was that his name? No…Roxas was the boy I saw that first day--the twin. This is someone else.
"This life has toughened him, I think," says that silky voice, closer than I expected it to be. Warm breath kisses the curve of my cheek, and I jolt, running on pure instinct.
Instinct screams at me to stop and lie still when just that tiny jump sends pain racking up and down my spine. The pain is sudden but nauseatingly familiar, like the first trickles of bile before you vomit.
"Is he coming to?" the Roxas-look-a-like asks, quickly, almost eagerly. That confuses me. Why would anyone be eager for me to wake up?
No, I want to say. No, I'm not "coming to." I can't outrun the black.
And it's true, I can't. That bolt of pain deepens spots of the darkness that I'm seeing until hazy, grayish shadow sinks into thick, impenetrable black.
I hear a few last words before unconsciousness reclaims me.
"Be patient." The sentiment is punctuated by a stark, weary laugh. "He'll wake up when he wakes up. Until then, he was hit over the head with a board."
I only remember the man's name as I fall asleep.
"Hope? Hope? Are you okay? Can you hear me?" The voice echoes inside the empty bowl that is my skull, my mind razed to ashes by horror and pain.
Sluggishly, my eyelids flickering slow as syrup, I wake, and watch as the blurs of color that make up the world sharpen into shaky lines. I can see a face ghosting overhead--white skin discolored by abuse and cheeks pressed inwards by starvation. Scraps of limp gold hair tickle my cheek. Cloud.
I groan, trying to clear the gunk from my throat. "I can hear you," I say, blinking once, and then once again. There's a deep ache gathered just behind my eyes. It just sits there, thick and heavy. I can't chase it away, just like I can't chase away the dull ache that covers me like a shroud. "Where am I?"
It isn't Cloud who answers my question, it's a voice I've heard before but cannot name. …like silk… "You're in the hospital," it says, off to my left. I see Cloud glance up at its owner, and follow his lead, even though the vertebrae in my neck crackle with indignation.
There's a young man standing there, who's nearly as short as I am, though the craggy, unforgiving lines feathering from about his eyes and lips give a misleading illusion of years he can't possibly have. He has ragged, shortish hair that flops in his eyes and changes color with the light. One second it's periwinkle blue, the next it's slate gray.
I've never seen him before in my life. "Who're you?"
He studies me with tawny eyes and nudges his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. "My name is Zexion," he says. "I am the doctor's assistant." He certainly looks it, with his pristine lab coat falling stiffly from his skinny shoulders.
Cloud chooses this moment to toss in his two cents. "Zexion fixed you up," he says, looking back to me. "And let you rest here. I'm Cloud." I know, I want to say, but I don't. He must figure I've forgotten, but that seems ridiculous to me. How in God's name could I ever forget? "I found you, and brought you here."
I want to nod, but know it will hurt, so I don't. "Yes, I remember." One thing is bugging me. "Why, though?"
Cloud shrugs, and I see that he's wearing a tattered navy shirt that's faded with carelessness and a scarf that seems too delicate a green for a place like this. It almost makes me laugh, for some strange reason. "I couldn't very well leave you there to die," Cloud tells me. "When I've fallen far enough that I'll abandon a broken, bleeding boy to his own fate, somebody had better just shoot me then and there."
This time I do nod, and it does hurt, but I suffer through it because I've known so much worse. "Th--thank you," I choke. The words taste new on my tongue, which disturbs me.
When the man smiles, something stirs inside me. I have no idea what it is and no clue how I could find out, but it's warm. It's nice. I want it to last. It feels almost like…compassion? "It's nothing. Now, I think you should probably rest," he tells me, glancing up at the doctor for confirmation. "Right, Zexion?"
The doctor nods, and though there's hardly a scrap of emotion in his gaze, I'm not frightened by him in any way, shape or form. He just…isn't threatening. "Right." When he turns that blank stare to me, I think I see the corner of his mouth licker with the slightest of smiles. "Don't worry, no one will be kicking you out anytime soon."
Another question bubbles to the forefront of my brain, and I don't push it aside because I fear the monster lurking behind it, hiding in the shadows of my memory. "Why are you helping me? Aren't you with the Nazis?"
A snort flees from his throat--humorless and cold. "'With' is an inaccurate word. 'Pressed-ganged' is probably more appropriate." He shrugs. "Besides, I owe Cloud a favor."
I turn to Cloud, not caring that I'm shamelessly fleeing the inevitable remembering. "You'd use a favor from a Nazi doctor to help me?"
More shrugs. I wonder how long I'll have to stay here before I answer every question asked me with a careless hike of my shoulders. "How else am I going to use it?"
"Don't you have any family that you could help?"
Cloud's head swings slowly, sadly from side to side, but it's saved from being too pitiable by the watery smile stretching his cheeks. "My parents are dead, and my younger brothers would approve, I'm sure."
This sparks a bit of memory that--luckily enough--doesn't bring everything else screaming forward. I'm so, so grateful for that. "They wouldn't happen to be twins, would they?" I ask, the faces bubbling about inside my head. "A blond and a brunette?"
I watch as Cloud's sadness crumbles to pieces and hope bursts forth like a ray of sun popping through a ceiling of clouds. "You've met them?" he asks, leaning so far forward that I nearly suffocate. "Where are they? How were they?"
I feel bad because the truth is awful, but I refuse to lie, so I cycle through the memory fragment and relate it as I see it happen. "They were with me when I was pulled from the ranks. The blond was taken by a soldier with red hair, and the brunette--one with silver." I lower my eyes and my voice, and whisper, "I'm sorry."
The hope withers just as quickly as it grew, but he smiles anyway and says, "Don't be. What could you have done?" A dry, bark of a laugh falls from his mouth. "Now, sleep. You won't heal any other way."
And I do, because I'm so, so tired.
:D Next bit be up pretty soon, since it was originally was supposed to be part of this chapter but I got lazy and had to study.