"You must remember, Mr. Highwind, to disregard any claims he makes on the subject of his treatment," the doctor said, as he led Cid Highwind down the hallway. The walls were peeling, their paint clawing its way from the brick and looking as if it had been scratched at by hundreds of desparate hands. The doctor himself was unnerving; he had a head full of unkempt black hair, most of which was pulled into a greasy ponytail. His lab coat was smudged with red and brown and other colored stains of unclear origin, and his glasses were small and round. As they approached the last room in the hall, he turned back to Cid, fingers steepled and twitching.

Cid said, "Why would he?"

"Our patients confer amongst themselves during recreational periods, and many of them have the tendency to be a bit... creative. You mustn't be alarmed if he were to pick up on some of their ludicrous ideas."

"Now, if you don't mind me asking, Doctor... uh...?"

"Professor. Hojo is my name." A wide smirk.

Cid rested an arm on the cell-like door, looking it up and down as if nervous to see the state of the person inside. "Professor Hojo. Has he... improved? At all? The letters I get every week don't look like it. I didn't want to keep him here. You know I didn't. More importantly, he didn't. But you managed to convince me that it was for the best. If I'm not convinced of that today, I'm taking him back to Rocket Town with me, and hell if you'd like to try and stop me."

Hojo nodded keenly. "Yes... of course, I understand your thought process quite clearly. But I do believe you'll find a drastic change inside of this cell. A drastic change indeed." He unlocked the door and opened it. "I will stand outside, of course. Must give you your privacy. But when you are ready to leave, simply knock." He ushered Cid inside and closed the door behind him, stationing himself in front of the slim door like a guardsman.

Inside, Cid stopped abruptly as soon as Hojo had released him. The room wasn't just like a cell on the outside. The only items therein were a very small, plain cot, and Vincent himself. No vents for heating or cooling, no windows or anything that might provide distraction. The room was very clean, however blank, almost eerily so, for nothing marred the white surfaces of everything in sight other than the dark, huddled form in the far right corner of the room.

Cid took one step towards him, numbed by his appearance. Vincent looked at least twenty pounds lighter than when he'd last seen him three months prior, his hair tangled and matted from neglect. He wore nothing but the standard issue hospital gown, a light blue that looked darker against his white skin. When he looked up at Cid, his eyes were sunken and fearful.

"Cid...?" He reached a hand out towards the pilot, who immediately took it, kneeling next to Vincent and pulling him into an embrace. Vincent clung to him so tightly it hurt, but Cid wasn't about to let go. He felt Vincent trembling wantonly in his arms.

"What the hell are they doing to you in this shithole?"

Vincent shook his head, face buried in the crook of Cid's neck. "They want to force Chaos out, Cid, but they can't... they can't do it..."

Cid leaned back against the wall and let Vincent cling to him. "I brought you here so they could," he said wearily. "Cause they need to."

"No!" Vincent sat up suddenly, face distorted in panic. "You know they can't, Cid. You know he'll kill me if they try. He's inside of me; he can kill me from the inside out if he wanted! Cid, please get me out of here."

"Alright, alright, calm down." Cid drew Vincent closer to him once more, stroking his hair and trying to calm him. "Forget about Chaos. Just forget about him for a sec, alright?"

Vincent nodded, taking deep, hoarse breaths that seemed to rattle his body. "I don't forget about him, he's just quiet sometimes. He's always there, trying to convince me to do things."

"I know," Cid said. "But ignore him. How are..." He swallowed hard. "The other boys?"

"Galian is hungry..." Vincent said slowly. "Always. He thinks about tearing the guards limb from limb and eating them. Gigas and Hell Masker are angry. They don't like being in here any more than the others, but they yell, and scream, and their yells rattle my head..." He closed his eyes tightly.

Cid pursed his lips, the arm around Vincent's waist tightening. "Okay, okay. None of them anymore. Just you and me now, okay?"

"You... and me..." Vincent said slowly, his shaking ceasing. He closed his eyes again, trying to absorb Cid's warmth. "No one else."

"Yeah." Cid nodded, his chest feeling heavy. Hojo was right about one thing. There had been a change, alright. He was getting worse. Terrified of Chaos, whatever Chaos really was, and the rest of them, and what they was doing rummaging around in his head. And, from what it looked like, exhausted and malnourished. "How is it here?" he asked, trying to sound casual.

"Terrible," Vincent murmured into the warm skin of Cid's neck.

"Like how?"

"At night they tie me down so I can't move," Vincent explained, his voice shaky. "So I can't use the restroom or get a drink of water because the door's locked, too. And when they wake me up, they only let us out for ten minutes to eat and shower. Then we have to go for treatment..."

"What kind of treatment?" Cid lifted Vincent's emaciated form into his arms and carried him over to the pathetic cot.

"They make me vomit. They cut me and let me bleed into a bucket. They say they're trying to get them all out of me, but they're always still there. It doesn't work. When Chaos comes, they chain me and bleed me..."

Cid settled on the cot, leaning against the wall with Vincent still curled in his arms. "It's alright," he said softly, sensing Vincent's hysteria.

"It's not all right!" Vincent tore away from him, jerking his sleeve up to reveal an arm covered in deep cuts, some healed, and some still leaking deep red. The skin around them was bruised and scratched. Vincent displayed the arm with wide eyes, his breathing ragged. "This is not all right!" he shrieked.

Cid grabbed his shoulders and pulled him into a forced embrace, which Vincent quickly melted into, seeming to loose all strength. He felt his eyes burn, and in an instant, he had let go, pounding his fists on the door. It opened to reveal Hojo's smiling face. Cid slammed the door behind him for the time being, grabbing Hojo by the lapel and slammed him against the opposite wall. Hojo held up a hand to the guards that had immediately sprung into action.

"You think this is funny?" Cid growled, teeth gritted in rage. "Makin' him bleed? Makin' him try an' throw up all that shit he's got in his head!"

"A newer method, I admit, but purely experimental."

"Find another experiment. I'm takin' him home. Now." Cid let go of Hojo, who slid to the floor, cackling with his clipboard pressed to his chest.

"I'm afraid that's not possible."

"Like hell it's not! I brought him here, he don't wanna be here, I don't want him to be here. You goddamn freaks'll kill him! He's comin' back!"

"But my good man..." Hojo said breathlessly, standing. He held up the clipboard, with Cid's own scrawled signature at the bottom of the paper it held. Cid looked into Hojo's face, which was almost half occupied by a wolfish grin.

"You've signed a contract."