Title: Maze of Words

Summary: Cloud wakes up. Yaoi. Slight non-con.

Warning & Disclaimer: Angst. Allusion to nonconsensual sexual activity. Profanity. All characters belong to Squaresoft.

Notes: Catt and Twig helped scrub this up, all remaining errors are mine. And much thanks to both of you.

I can hear the echo

In a maze of words

A lonely voice behind a door

Can you hear me calling

From a world away

A lonely voice behind a door

~october project, a lonely voice

(Listing the present, or what passes for it, in order to get used to it. This is a sky heavy with dust, this is a dull red shiver of light that manages to bleed through. Not everything heals the same way. This is the sky and these are the fragments of buildings that remain standing against the sky. These are the buildings and these are the scraps that show how humanity once thought they overcame nature. These are real things, things to accept.)

(This is a dream.)

(This is waking up alone to the light that is not red only because of the dawn. This is two feet on the floor and this is the musty smell of a foraged blanket. This is water, cold and rusty from the tap, spilling wet all over hands and face.)

(This is being alive. This is not being alive. This is a dream.)

I had a dream about you last night.

(This is waking up.)

But I didn't write it down.

I never know I'm dreaming when I am. I mean, everything seems all right, then. Natural. Unless it's a nightmare, then I guess it's not all right but it still feels real and when I wake up, I'm always surprised. Sometimes I think I'll wake up next to you again but whenever I roll over, that half of the bed is empty.

Midgar is a fucking mess.

Midgar is always a fucking mess, so I guess I should be used to that.

I'm not.

The air smells like all sorts of different things, smoke and rain and this raw kind of smell, as though the debris and metal is rotting instead of just rusting. There's bodies trapped under the girders and cement, so maybe that's why. I feel like I can almost touch the smell, it covers up everything and it settles into your skin. I can't scrub it off in the shower no matter how hard I try.

This is how I stay alive, you know? This is how I try to stay sane, talking to you in my mind as though you're right here listening. This is what I do. Dream about you. Make up messages that never get written down or sent, letters that only you could see the ink on. Sometimes I didn't even know who you were when I was talking, only that there was someone out there who used to listen to me.

I'm more tired now than ever before. I think it's because I never expected to live through this, I guess. It's more like being numb than anything else. We all thought the world was over but it isn't. But things aren't right yet, either.

I want to rest. But I can't sleep because I'll dream about the wrong things. I want to dream about you. Are you awake or are you dreaming right now? I wake myself up saying the names of people I don't know and places I've never been.

There's too much to be done these days; clean-up crews all over the place and they think there might be problems with diseases from the corpses; hospitals overflowing and every time I turn around something else is catching fire or on fire or was just put out from being on fire. Reconstruction, they call it, rebuilding, renewal, rebirth and who gives a fuck.

They have lists of things to do. They have lists of things they want me to do. I'm not sure how to tell them that I don't want to do any of them. I just want to sit down and close my eyes and try to breathe without tasting ashes in my mouth.

Lists aren't bad. They probably think I don't like them. That's not true. Lists are all right because you can predict what's coming when you have them. Lists only go in one direction; not like my memories, unraveling and twisting and snarling into tangles.

I make lists of things to do with you. They're orderly and I like that, long straight lines of words and images marching away into the dark. They keep me company when it's too quiet. I'd like to ride with you in a car on a warm afternoon down a road we've never taken before. I'd like to let you drive and watch your profile as we go, clean and sharp against the sunlight, with a cold bottle of something wedged between my thighs, something that we wipe the condensation off and we take turns drinking from it. I want to argue with you over who gets the last swallow of it and who gets to lick the remainder off the other's lips and who stops that car first so we don't drive off the road. I want to ride a motorcycle with you, shouting to be heard over the roar of engine, feeling the thrum beneath us. I want to race you on a 'bo, galloping over the grasslands until the birds refuse to run anymore and we jump off and I tackle you or you tackle me and run your hands all over while I get grass stains on my clothes.

Lists are solid and you can add things to the ends of them if you need to. In those parts of my mind, in those ideas and wishes, we're always going somewhere. We always have somewhere to be. It doesn't get cut short like that time you went somewhere that I couldn't go.

But I don't want to think about that.

What are you thinking of right now, Zack?

Sometimes, what I want is something quieter and we've already gotten to where we're going. Sometimes it's things we've already done, like watch the rain come down from the inside of a barracks window or get silly-drunk on cheap Midgar beer, watching stupid movies in broken air conditioning and laughing so hard that we prickle with tears. Sometimes it's you holding me while we stare into a fire, smelling smoke that doesn't carry the scent of people burning or chemicals exploding.

I want to lick shower-water off your shoulder blades and trace the scars with my fingers, wondering and asking how you came by each one. I want to work on your tangled hair for you and bitch over how you must never comb it on your missions, listening to you swear and fidget and squirm and finally lose patience. I want you to jerk me down into a welter of wet towels and sheets and laughter, demanding a kiss for each yank.

We did do those things, didn't we? Sometimes, I have a hard time remembering. I'm pretty sure you were the one I came home to, day after day, but I don't want to trust my memories. They've let me down too often. But they're all I have, I guess, even if they're not always right.

Back then, we didn't show it as much as we could've. We didn't have to. You knew, I knew, and if everyone else knew, that was okay but we didn't have to tell them. It wasn't something we discussed, was it? It wasn't one of those midnight conversations when it seems like the entire world was asleep except for us, was it? I didn't mind, I never did. I wanted you all for me. Everyone thought we were sleeping together right from the start and maybe they were right, but that's not the point. It was never the point. It was just you and me.

I used to want you inside my skin. When you were inside me, the kind of inside that's a mechanics of hands and skin, heat and wet, it was having you by letting you have me. That was the closest I could get to being like you. Everyone wanted that, not just me, you know? They looked at Sephiroth and they knew they couldn't be perfection like that but they saw you and just wanted to be you, you know? They just wanted to be you.

Want. Wanted. I wanted things back then and I want these things still. I want a lot of things. I don't think I'm going to get them. That's all right. It's all right because sometimes I'm not sure if I don't have you here after all, ghosting along the motions I make, nestled right beneath my skin.

(Listing the past, the best of it, in order to remember. This is a familiar hand, a grip that guides and extends a chance. This is a light so bright that nothing but the chance is visible, and this is that chance falling away again, just as fast. Time passes and nothing can stop it. This is trying to ignore that anyway. This is the future, or maybe the present, or maybe just a wrinkle in time.)

(This is the closest intimacy possible, closer even than anything that involves bed-sheets and kisses, this is knowing each beat of a pulse and being safe inside someone else's skin. This is a strange progression, eyes to eyes, a smile, a footstep, a hand. This is a whisper of clothing falling and a whisper of voice promising. This is something so purely perfect that it can't possibly be real, can't possibly be meant for who it seems.)

(This is your hand.)

(This is what you gave me, this is what I took. This is you and me, Zack, Cloud, ZackandCloud, the two of us overlapping. This is where the lines blur and blend until it's hard to tell.)

Are you thinking about me? Now? Right now?

(This is a wish.)

I write my wishes down.

Sometimes I look in the mirror and I'm confused. I'm twenty-one but I'm sixteen. How can I be twenty-one? Five years have passed and I still look like I'm sixteen and feel like I'm sixteen, trapped in the wrong body, the wrong mind, the wrong world. Sometimes I just stare at my eyes without turning on the light. How can they look like that? It's not right the way I'm not me anymore. I mean, if I wasn't going to be me, then I'd rather be you. But since I'm someone else entirely, it doesn't seem fair.

I like to think you're here right now. You're in the way I walk, the way I talk, the way I hold a weapon. Everything used to be a part of you. I could be your legacy. I'm you, you're in me, I've got you safe inside where you won't disappear.

But you always do, somehow. Like waking up from a dream.

It's like an itch I can't quite reach or a ghost of a feeling in a limb that isn't there. I've seen Barret touch where his arm used to be, looking surprised when he drums his fingers on the gun's surface. Even Vincent does it to himself when he thinks no one is watching, absently rubbing at the metal like he expects it to respond, to magically be skin and bone and muscle again. It's the kind of feeling that makes me squirm and think about things. I don't like it. I don't like thinking about this at all.

There are things I've done that you wouldn't have thought I could do. I could talk about some of them; some of the others I don't know why, or I don't remember, or they never actually happened. But there are things you don't know about, things that happened before I met you and after… after you left and I don't want to talk about them. You've done just as much as me, probably even more, all for your own reasons or because you were following orders. But I'm afraid you might not understand or accept the reasons why I've done what I did.

That's all right. I don't want you to know about them. I hoped you wouldn't ever know. But you probably did. You knew everything. And you knew a hell of a lot more than I did.

Things have happened to me too, and you might not understand those. Maybe you would, but I think that scares me more.

I wanted you inside me because I could get lost in you, more lost than I am now, stumbling through pieces of Midgar and pieces of people who lived in Midgar. I could be a whole new person. I loved you and everything about you, even the little things, you know? You laughed when I tried to tell you that. You used to say it was all or nothing, you would smile and wink and spin your sword--- I could barely lift it back then-- and say, but we have everything anyway so it doesn't matter. We had everything.

All or nothing. That's not true. It's not anything. It's just… nothing. You're dead. Except you're not. Are you?

Do you remember me?

Sometimes I think I forgot you because it was better than hating you. You left, Zack, you left and I know it was because you died and you couldn't help it but you left me. How could you be perfect when you left me? You promised, you knew I needed you but you left anyway.

I would've died for you. You shouldn't have been the one lying there in the mud and the rain and the red everywhere, screaming in the background, screaming Zack, I'm sorry, Zack, don't leave me, Zack, no, don't, please don't go, Zack, I love you, don't go, Zack I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry.

Sometimes I think that was the only thing you ever did that wasn't perfect. Making an exit at the wrong time. Being the wrong person to leave. It's that same itch, the feeling that something's not where it should be. You're not here with me.

I've been in the wrong place before. I've gone around the wrong corner, opened the wrong door, said the wrong words. What do you know of that? Did you ever get lost when you first joined up? Talk to me, you'd say when we were done but we weren't asleep yet, tell me about yourself.

But I didn't have anything to tell you, I just had questions. I have questions.

What did you want me to tell you? Did you want to know about the things I know now? How you have to hold a sword just right if you want to get enough force to decapitate someone and how blood makes your skin itch when it dries and you don't have time to wash it off? Especially your own? Especially blood that has mako in it?

You must have known a lot of it already. You must have known that you can pass out if you cast too many summon spells with materia and that you'll wake up with blackened skin on your palms and an aching feeling right behind your eyes. You must have known about waking up after a jolt from a revive materia and feeling how the mako burns inside you like you're being boiled from the inside out. You must have known how you feel so strange after waking up in a tent, like you know you're supposed to be tired and your mind still feels that way but your body decided to go change things without you. You must have known a lot about waking up except for the one time when you didn't.

Or did you want to know about the things from before I knew you, the things I wouldn't tell you? How it feels to be invisible? How it feels to know that just because you're short and can't do ten pull-ups when they say to and get lost easily, people can do whatever they want to you?

(Listing the past, or what shouldn't have been, in order to forget. This is a memory prickling with pain around the edges, with sensations more real than waking life, this is the sharp biting smell of chlorine, this is steam rising from warm water on a cold floor. This is an icy knot of fear inside and this is a sweat breaking out over the skin that has nothing to do with the spray of hot water. This is laughter, this is silence that goes on too long, this is the wrong thing to break the silence with. This is the past played out in the mind.)

(This is pain.)

(This is hands and knees on a tile floor, this is hands and eyes touching all over, this is a memory that holds the past, or maybe the past holding a memory. This is the sodden feel of wet clothes, this is the heavy sound of clothes being pulled off and thrown across the room. This is slipping and struggling against a tile floor and no, no, no.)

(This is what you did not know and I would not say.)

I told them no, Zack, I said it over and over again but no one listened to me. They all just laughed and someone turned all the showers on and someone else stood in front of the door. And then there were hands everywhere and I couldn't breathe and I couldn't move and I couldn't do anything except close my eyes and think of things that were far away and not the taste or the noise or the smell.

(This is shame.)

So I try not to think of it now.

Not too much to it, though. Lie there until they're gone, wait for the water to go cold. Get up and walk. Find your clothes if they haven't ripped them all to hell or tossed them in the sink or whatever. Get dressed, get out. Don't cry—not ever, especially not while they're doing it because then the snot bubbles up in your nose and throat and you can't breathe at all.

When I went for the physical that they make you take, I think the doctor knew. But he must have seen it too many times for it to really dig at him anymore. You just agree and wait until he lets you leave like they let you. It's all about waiting. It's all about saying the right things.

(Yes, sir, I know how brushing your teeth so hard makes the enamel comes off. Yes, I know that flossing that much really isn't necessary. And I didn't tell him how I had to because otherwise I could still taste it coating my mouth, like the cheap stuff they call butter that they give you in the cafeteria.)

(Yes, sir, I know eating enough to fulfill the daily caloric intake is necessary for top performance. I guess it's because the rations aren't that great, sir. And I didn't tell him that I don't like my mouth to be so full, that I don't like swallowing things, that it sticks in my throat and makes me want to throw up but I can't because then you get in worse trouble.)

(Yes, sir, I know about getting enough sleep at night. No, sir, I'm not sneaking out to go on the town or getting drunk. Yes sir, I know staying awake causes fatigue and stress and tension and fuckall else. And I didn't tell him that I was too afraid to sleep because that would mean dreaming, and I didn't tell him that sometimes they wouldn't let me sleep and it's another late night in the shower room with the sound of water all around but it's not enough to block everything else out, never.)

It just gets to the point where it's all kind of ridiculous, you know? It's just… stupid. Stupid to think you can say it in words and tell someone, even just a doctor who just asked you to turn your head and cough and doesn't want anything more than to slap his signature on the sheet, verify that another body can go on marching, and go home himself. I didn't want to talk about it, he didn't want to hear it. It's all just about waiting it out.

So, it only happened a few times after I met you. I thought of you when they were doing it, how after it was all over, I could go find you or wait for you to come home so I could hold your hand and smile and say I missed you. It pretty much stopped after I met you but I thought of you when it did happen. I thought of you.

What about you, though?

But what would you have done, Zack? What if you were me or I was you or one of us was perfect and knew what to do?

What would you have said to them to make them stop? How hard would you have hit them to make them back away? Did you want to know what it felt like to lie on the tiles with someone's cock up your ass and someone's cock in your mouth and nothing beneath your fingers to hold onto except for water that you know you're bleeding into?

I have questions, Zack. I need you to tell me if I'm sane or not.

Did you want to know what it felt like to lie awake and know that those things were your life and you'd have to put up with them because there wasn't anything else you could do? How it felt to learn to try and get used to it because otherwise you'd go crazy? It hurt, but it wasn't even about the pain after a while. They have materia for that.

I don't think so. I can't ever imagine you wanting to know because I can't imagine you being able to understand something like that in the first place. Why should you? It never happened to you.

I wouldn't want you to feel you had to understand it. I wouldn't want you to feel you had to know about it. You knew something about it, I wouldn't have met you otherwise, but it wasn't your life. I wouldn't want you to feel you had to know about it. I wouldn't.

I think maybe you just asked because you always knew the right thing to do. You knew the right thing to say. When it was with you, it was something that was okay to do, although that doesn't make sense. It was different and I know it's messed up, I know. I know it shows how fucked up my mind probably is because it's not hard for me to separate what they did to me and what you did with me. You do things differently, you act differently, you never said, "Swallow it all or I'll break both your arms."

Everything was just different. Maybe you just wanted to know things because you were just nice that way; you knew how to get people to talk to you. Maybe you just cared enough to sit still and nod at all the right places and smile or frown when you were supposed to. You liked to talk but you liked to listen. You liked to fix things.

You were the best thing I could have found and I think that's why everything turned out the way it did. You only get that lucky once. I knew things were real with you. I knew how perfect it was. I know you cared enough to hold me when I couldn't sleep or when I woke up and I couldn't talk about what I was dreaming about.

Everyone says I need to talk about things to get over them and to remember them. But I just want people to leave me alone.

It doesn't really matter, I guess. By that point, they were just happening in dreams and I was safe with you. They're just dreams now, even if you're not here anymore. Just dreams. I just don't like to let people touch me.

I told you I make lists of things that I want to do with you. But I also make lists of things I don't want to forget. Your name. My name. How old I am. How old you would be. Sephiroth. His face, your face, everyone's face except my own.

I make lists of things I want to forget, too. You wouldn't think that would work. You're right. It doesn't. You're always right.

When I look at the mirror, I wonder what I should be seeing. I wonder what other people see when they look at me. I wonder if they see all the faces, people I've killed with my own hands and people that have died around me, blank faces looking surprised with the news of their own death, draining, slackening, going, going, gone. I wonder if you used to see the faces too. I wouldn't have asked you. I don't think I could have dared.

I dream about them at night and I dream of you.

I dream about waking up. Isn't that stupid? To dream about doing something that's the opposite of what you're really doing? I think I dream about it so much because I've had to do it so much. Once you start doing something it gets to be a habit and then it gets to be normal and then you can't picture not doing it anymore.

Sephiroth made me wake up. I miss him, sometimes. I can't help it. You can't just let go of something, you know? If it's part of your life? And he's been part of my life so long, it's hard to remember when he wasn't. Even if most of it was when he wasn't Sephiroth and everything he did hurt or destroyed or something like that.

That doesn't make sense, does it?

Lots of things don't. It's okay.

But I can't help missing him, or at least, feeling the fact he's not here. You can't help noticing something important is gone. You'd notice that your hand was gone if you woke up without one, wouldn't you? He was… something, anyway. But I think about you more, these days. I have to, otherwise I might forget who you were. And I don't want to hate you because you left.

I killed him, Zack. I killed him and it still hurts. Would you hate me for doing it?

Sephiroth was everything for a long time, before and after. But now I have you in my mind again and Sephiroth was perfect and I guess I did love him too, even if he never knew, but you…

You were my best friend. Part of me knows that you were my only friend. But you were my best friend, first and forever, always and only, world without end, a-fucking-men and I don't know why I feel so sad when I think of that. Maybe because you're not here. Maybe because I miss you.

Maybe you've missed me as much as I've missed you. Well, maybe almost as much.

Sometimes I wonder if I dreamed everything before this. I've woken up in someone else's life but maybe it really is my own and maybe I'm just going crazy. If it was a dream I want to get back in. Things made more sense there. You were there.

Did you ever turn a corner and expect to find yourself somewhere else? In another place, maybe even in another time? It's like waking up, weird déjà vu.

But I'm here. You're not here and I've gotten used to that. I've gotten used to a lot of things, after all. I've gotten used to seeing my eyes and my face in the mirror each morning, the sound of Sephiroth in my mind, the feel of the scars, and the taste of wanting what isn't here. I put them in my lists.

I don't think I'll ever get used to the dreams. I had a dream about you last night. I had a dream where it was summer and it was somewhere I've never been and we weren't going anywhere, and there was a beach and it was all quiet except for us and the ocean. There were birds somewhere, but I couldn't see them, just hear them. And the sand was warm and my feet were bare, and that stupid picnic basket with the bottom that collapses unless you hold it the right way, you know, the one that I kept telling you to get rid of but you wouldn't, was sitting nearby and there was nothing except blue and gold, ocean and sky and sand and us and I was so damn happy that I thought I would die. And then I woke up saying your name and crying and I did want to die.

If this is a dream and I wake up, where will I be? If before was a dream and I'm awake now, is it any better? How long have I been asleep? Why didn't you wake me before you left?

I want to ask you these things but I'm afraid of not hearing anything back more than any answers you could ever had said.

So getting ready for bed is easy because there's not much to do. I sleep the way I slept with you, Zack, and it's okay, it's all okay because I've got you here, in my clothes that I wear in the day and the shadow that the buster sword casts where it leans on the wall and in the glow of my eyes in the bathroom mirror and the way the water tastes like rust, the same way your apartment water tasted and Zack, it's all the same and I don't know if I'm here or with you five years ago and Zack, I don't know what the hell I'm doing without you and Zack, I'm afraid I'll forget your face or your name if I don't say it enough, Zack, Zack, Zack, I miss you, Zack, you were always stronger, faster, better, at this and everything…

I don't cry anymore. I just sleep. I'm not going to cry. I'm going to bed and I'm going to think about things I want, things I loved, things that are gone---

Things I'm not going to get.

I just want to see you again.

I'm going to sleep. And then I'll dream. Everything will be right again, everything will be natural and things will be as happy as they ever were in real life. All the boundaries blur; who gives a fuck about reality and it doesn't matter which is the real world after all, it doesn't matter when the comfort is there because that's the only real thing that matters. You're there, I'm there, there's warmth and laughter and love and if I'm lucky, I won't ever wake up but the important thing is that's enough. It has to be enough.

Everyone says that it's such a relief waking up from a dream, like when you're falling and you see the ground coming closer and you can't breath and all you know is that it'll all be over in a second but then you wake up.

Everyone says so. New beginnings and all that. They say it's good to wake up and know you're alive.

I could have told them I hate it.