one passing night

the evening is spread out against the sky

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☄ dissecting dreams
the earth so fragile
auncyenhalig wrote in onepassingnight
[ Aerith writhes on the operating table against the bonds that hold her down, squinting at the harsh glare of the light above her. She's scared.

She's ... so ... scared. And she can't remember when reality ended for her, or if she's still in it. Tseng was going to take her to the labs, so maybe this is her new reality. She wants to scream Why?, but she already knows. It's only been his mission, and her nightmare, for the last fifteen years.

At least he let her go this long. He let her save Marlene.

Please, someone save me! Cloud!

No one is coming. She's heard the sniggering and all too giddy explanation of how the Ancient could finally be "properly examined". She was ready, as much as anyone could be, for the clinical undressing and observation, the cold and callous fingers on her skin, and she'd kept up protests even though he only ever listened to hypotheses and results.

She had not been prepared for the scalpel. When it cuts into her, she doesn't scream but cry silently --

I'm scared

-- and she hates it. She isn't supposed to be here. She isn't supposed to be so afraid. She'd promised herself she'd never be that helpless little girl from the labs again.

I can't do anything ... I can't move ... If this isn't real ... why can't I wake up?

The hand holding the scalpel applies more pressure, sinking the blade further in, and Aerith jolts, wide-eyed --

I'm not helpless! You're not the one in charge here!

-- and makes herself stop feeling fear or pain or really, much of anything at all. ]

The funny thing about dreaming is that you can be anyone you want and a few you don't, and sometimes your subconscious simply isn't on your side.

[ The crying stops.

Aerith eyes the deep incision from the scalpel, then calmly pulls it out. Turning from the body on the table, she washes the instrument off before setting it aside ... it's now that the dream enters Passing. ]

Hello ~

[ There is an operating table. You are on it, faced up to a harsh white light. A similarly harsh smell of chemicals lingers nearby.

You may struggle. The straps are tight enough to make it useless. ]

Don't be scared, please. [ It is a calm voice; it comes from the same direction as a figure in a lab coat, pink popping out in contrast to the plain white. Aerith steps forward and rests a scalpel to the side, smiling down at the new subject, though the gesture seems a little sad. The old one just didn't last ... ] It doesn't help.

[ But why should she be scared? She's the one in charge here. ]

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[his breathing is harsh in his own ears and somewhere in the back of his mind is a litany of 'please no, please no, please no' running too fast for him to draw breath. If it runs fast enough it will keep him from being able to scream when the time comes.

His wrists are strapped in place as well as his elbows, his arms outstretched and his legs are bound in three different places just to keep them down. He knows they'll hold - because they always hold - but he jerks at them anyway and the metal and thick leather grinds and protests. He's already broken out into a cold sweat and he's shivering the smallest bit, muscles already too tense and strained. The air is full of the scent of sharp, biting chemicals and thick cloying, smothering ones and there's the unmistakable lightning strike scent of mako somewhere hidden under it all.

please no, please no, pleaseno, pleaseno, pleasenopleasenopleaseno...

His pupils are dilated and huge in his mako eyes as they flick toward the sound of a voice. His throat is bone dry and his teeth ache in his jaw it's clenched so tightly. He has no intention of speaking. It's one of his small defiances that he clings to, pointless but at least something.

Until he sees the familiar face above him and his stomach drops right out of him as his heart beats, just once in a hollow pound in his chest - ]


as okay as absolute wrongness can be XD

"Professor Aerith" to SOLDIER boys.

[ Aerith leaves over Cloud. She sees him; she sees through him. She doesn't see him except as a mish-mash of features. Only the musculature of a SOLDIER body lies on her table, and the trademark mako glow stares at her. There are no skies in the labs, nor are there bodyguards willing to do embarrass themselves for a childhood friend -- and in the process endear themselves to a new one.

Her tone is playful. It's not a tone Aerith would take with Cloud. There's no warmth in it. ]

You wanted to be SOLDIER. Well, you got it! But there are strings attached. There always are. You understand, right?

[ Agreeing to surgery. Throwing their lot in with Shinra. Why don't they realize something will happen?

She knows a SOLDIER can take it, so there is no point in deliberating. The scalpel rises to the exposed forearm and finds its target with just the slightest pressure, ready to cut into the flesh. ]

absolute wrongness is our speciality!

[his eyes stare, huge and horrified in his frozen face, until she speaks. And then he blinks, just once, as her words slowly penetrate his terrified mind.


strings attached. There always are. You understand, right?...

Minutely, he nods, more a brief tipping down of his chin that barely moves him or the spikes of his hair.

Right. He understands. He understands that Aerith would only do this to him if he deserved it.

And he does. Gaia, he knows he does. He'd promised to protect her, he was supposed to be her bodyguard. She'd counted on him. Even though there's no liquid, he swallows thickly, huge eyes still fixed on her.

He deserves this for failing her. For failing her so many, many times. And it should be her hand to do it to him too. It's her right. He pulls a breath in through his teeth and if it shakes, he can't help that. He deserves this and he trusts her. The blade presses down and before he can stop himself, he blurts:]


[his heart is pounding in his ears so loud he can hardly hear himself but he does his best to keep his voice level for her. His eyes never once leave her face even as the skin around them tightens in anticipation of what's coming. He doesn't want to upset her.]

That's an artery. I'll bleed out. Cut higher or to the side if you want to make this last.

[because Aerith wouldn't know where the veins are close to the surface and she deserves to make this last as long as she deems is necessary.]

Edited at 2011-05-23 05:05 am (UTC)

I'm trying to take "absolute lateness" off my menu XD;

[ The scalpel eases at "don't", a knee-jerk reaction -- one that's out of place for a scientist. She isn't supposed to be affected by the pleas, it just gets in the way of work ... but his is different. ]

... That's strange. You want it drawn out? But you're not hoping to escape. I can see it in your eyes. Are you trying to prove how tough you are? [ She shakes her head strongly, disapprovingly. ... Not that she should really care. ]

as long as you still show up - that's what counts

[he watches her ease up and pause on the scalpel and the little bolt of hope goes through him before he crushes it down. Hard. He doesn't get to escape the pain and the experiments. And... this is Aerith doing what she knows he deserves. He doesn't get to want to dodge away from that. He still has to wet his lips because his mouth is as dry as the desert around Edge and his teeth shiver against each other for just a minute when he goes from the locked jaw to letting his tongue shift against his lips.]


[he doesn't buy that 'proving you're tough'. Not anymore. Hasn't for... for a while now. Bragging is a sign of stupidity but more than that - he's not that tough. Everyone's got their breaking point and it doesn't matter who they are. He knows better than anyone that he shatters too easily. He's let people down and done it often enough. He still tries to keep his voice steady for her even if the tremble works it's way in toward the end.]

I just - you deserve this. If it - if it means I can show you I'm sorry, I'll do it. For as long as I can.

[he means it too. But the muscles on his arms still twitch sporadically despite himself, weakly resisting the bindings and he knows that he's not a hero. He won't be able to last as long as she deserves. He knows. It's not as if this is a new experience for him, even if the face above him is. All he can do is last as long as he can for her - and try not to scream. For as long as he can. Screaming will upset her.]

aww, you're a sweetheart

[ "I'm sorry." Why was he saying that? Guilt, that was the only thing it could be. ]

This won't fix anything. [ She was doing this for science, her own curiosity, not misplaced penance.

This will hurt him --

But that was fine. He'd given himself up for this. For a moment, she smiles at him, in a way that could be pleasant if not for the circumstances -- ]

Thanks for the tip.

[ -- And then that smile disappears into a furrowed look of concentration as the scalpel once more touches skin, higher and away from the artery.

This time, there is no hesitation to pierce his arm, slowly cutting to expose the layers beneath.

It might not even be a desire to learn now, but a determination to prove she can do it. ]


[he makes the quiet, cut off sound when the metal tip breaks his skin and his brows come down hard as he locks his jaw. It hurts. But no where near as badly as it's going to. Whether it's that she'll move on to enough of his body that the small pains will multiple and become unbearable or if she'll just keep sawing and peeling until she hits bone and the metal scrapes - eventually it's going to be too much for him. His blood runs down his arm, red and alive, puddling on the stainless metal of the table. It taints the air with it's copper and ozone smell, and he knows it will congeal by the time she's done, sticky and dark the same way he knows by the time that happens he'll be too far gone to care.

Tifa's going to be pissed if he comes home filthy again.

...won't fix anything...

He knows that. She doesn't have to tell him but he takes the blow to his heart that she feels as if she needs to say so as another cut he deserves. Of course it won't fix anything. There's no 'fixing' someone's murder. All the places she'll never get to see. All the things she'll never get to do.

All the people she's been torn away from. The life she would have had...

This isn't about fixing. It's about giving her what she deserves. Or at least a little of it. She deserves more and as he grits his teeth hard and his lips pull back from them at the way too familiar metal slides too easily into him, he silently promises himself that he'll do better this time. Last longer.

Be stronger...]


[his eyes stay fixed on her face because even in pain - and frankly, at the moment, the terror at what's coming is still much stronger than the relative pain of her blade - he needs to see her. Needs to know that she's okay. She's not hurt, she's here, and even if things are different, her eyes are still green with life and the color of being alive is still over her skin.]

[ Blood.

She knew it would be there, and it still makes her wince when it oozes out. He's bleeding. On a distant level she thinks stop, heal him, but that thought never reaches the dream's reality because she isn't a healer. She's --

-- sawing in steadily, her fingers turning red, when did she forget gloves? How careless. She lets go of the scalpel for the moment, letting it rest where it is in his arm and feeling a very slight sense of nausea (this is silly, she is a scientist, she has done biopsies before!)

She looks at him, her expression guarded, but trepidation still shows through. He is looking at her. His blood is on her hands. Somehow, for all the pain and terror in them, his eyes don't reflect that fact, and -- ]

Stop it.

[ She's torn between frustration, hurt, and guilt, and that last one especially has no place in the laboratory. But when she turns away from him to the sink to clean her hands, there isn't even a single drop of water in its faucet. Turn on, turn off, turn on: nothing. ]

[ Shouldn't be so easy to forget hurting someone. ]

[ But this is what goes on in a lab, so when she comes back she tries to choke those out-of-place feelings down. The scalpel is removed with a slight pull and she moves on, above one of the bands holding him down, closer to the shoulder. Once more there's blood running over her fingers, trailing to puddle on the table. ]

I feel sick. [ Very, very quietly, it's said without meaning to. ]

[she's sawing, a untrained, messy way to get to the meat and bone of him, using an instrument too small for the damage she wants to do. Without potions or materia, she'll cripple him in that arm, cutting against the grain of the muscle. He's been cut apart and open enough to know the difference and he pants between his clenched teeth in the brief moments when there's a pause, sweat leaping out against his skin as his arm instinctively tries to escape from the torture. He's locked down fast though and when she moves to the sink briefly, he's left sucking air into his tight lungs, the sound shaking.

Something's wrong.

He can see it in her face, in her eyes. She's not at peace. He's seen her lost and uncertain before and he sees it in her eyes now when she's not paying attention and it tears at his heart just as messily as what she's doing to ruin his arm does. She's not... this isn't right.

She comes back and moves on to another part of his arm, butchering it and the sound of pain grunts out of him to the point that he has to close his eyes briefly against it. He's had worse. Will have worse. But there's no belittling the feel of that alien metal digging messy grooves into him. His blue eyes, pain tinted, fly open at her whisper though and it focuses him entirely on her.

This is wrong. She shouldn't - be doing this. Not because he doesn't deserve it, because he knows he does - but because it's not her. This... isn't her. His voice is raw at its edges, the screaming he's swallowed instead of letting loose but he fights for control of it and so it stays quiet and steady.]

Then stop. Aerith... please. It's okay. You can stop.

I'm sorry if this is a letdown D: Aerith did NOT take to science well

[ ooc: not a surprise, pfft, but it was tougher than I thought it'd be. ]

[ It's the second time he's said her name. Not a code or number. Not a title. It reminds her that there are places outside the labs where people are treated as more than vats of knowledge or slabs of meat, and the scalpel stops its brutal sawing. She's been out there. How could she forget? ]

[ She shakes her head, her left hand brushing bangs back out of habit and shaking more than her head is. The blood spreads. ]
No, it's not okay. I hurt you ... [ She looks at him again, at glowing blue eyes like skies seen secondhand, and finally sees the person. ] Cloud?

[ It wasn't a shock of horror she felt, because it was already horrifying that she was hurting someone like this. But it was a cold twist in the guts to realize that Cloud had seen her, recognized the girl he'd protected now cutting him open, and given her permission.

There were so many things wrong here. This place wasn't good for him either. It made everyone sick. ]

[ ... need to wake up ... ]

You're getting out of here. [ The distress is still evident in her voice, but controlled by a focus now. She just has to open the restraints for him. ]

nonsense. I wasn't sure how much more vulnerable!Cloud/cold!Aerith I could handle myself - lol

(ooc. but danged was it fun!)

[she's upset and he's so much more concerned with that than the fact he's still leaking pain and blood. He winces when she wipes at her bangs and smears herself with the red of his pulse, not wanting her to end up fouled even more because of him. He's... confused. Lost. Should he have stopped her from cutting into him? He'd known it wasn't her but it had been her right. Had he made things worse for her thinking to earn a measure of penance for himself?

He'd been selfish again and paid more attention to what he thought instead of what she needed.

No matter what he does, he can't seem to do right by her. But he'll try. Gaia, help him, he'll keep trying.

And that means getting her out of here and away from all of this.]

Under the table.

[his voice comes out throaty and he clears it dryly to try to fix the sound. He tries to flex the fingers of his mutilated hand and they twitch sporadically. But he can use his swords with his other hand just as well...]

They usually put the switch for the restraints under the table at the edge.

it was fun! I'm glad I tried it.

[ Disturbingly enough, he's right. She hadn't even remembered. Maybe she'd never known. Children weren't encouraged to watch the operations, even if they still heard enough by living on the same floor and sometimes caught glimpses. ]

What a smart bo ... [ Can she still call him bodyguard? ] I mean, I didn't think SOLDIERs would know about this. [ Her hand finds the switch, fingers pushing it down without reservation, but she's already frowning at her words. She's rambling out of her own confusion, because there are so many strange things about Cloud already and this dream is piling on another (and she was terrible to him, but he's not even a little angry). ] It doesn't matter. You can move around now!

Your arm ... [ It needs to be cared for, even if she feels a frisson of anxiety looking at it. Then there's the flimsy and hateful lab coat on her. It's not hard to decide. She shucks the coat and begins ripping off two long strips of cloth to cover the wounds she inflicted, though she'll try healing them too.

But that's not enough. Her eyes find his face. ]

I'm sorry, Cloud. Really, really ... You didn't deserve that. No one does. [ A tiny bit of her is afraid he'll finally realize this and get mad at her at last.

... She'd figure out how to deal with it, though. And it would be better than him believing he deserves to be hurt, or that anyone deserves to dish out pain and terror like that. ]

Edited at 2011-06-10 02:55 pm (UTC)

me too! I never would have thought of this on my own

[he feels the pressure from the bands loosen and he jerks upright with something akin to panic, leftover from being so helpless. With his good arm he rips the bands the rest of the way off and then proceeds to, with deadly calm and control, rip each one out of its slot. The metal edges cut into his good palm but it's worth it. For a minute - just a minute - he lets himself pretend he doesn't hear Aerith's suspicion.

Yeah. She wouldn't know about his illusionary world. She was - gone by the time it had all come crashing down...

Her worry about his arm though has him looking down at it himself. It's throbbing with the low thudding throb of severed muscle and exposed bone and he tries to be a man and look critically at it but it just makes him a little sick to his stomach and his eyes skid to the side, focusing on her now that she's free of that misfit coat. It helps. It helps more than anything and he focuses all his attention on her face while she bandages him. It calms the quiet panic that's been screaming in the back of his skull, mindless and animalistic, this entire time.

She's here. She's safe. She's alive. She's... her.

He feels the flickers of her healing moving through his arm but he's too concerned with what he hears in her too brittle voice and sees in the glints of her green eyes to notice how much it works and how much is left raw.

She hurting. And, for the first time, he understands exactly how she feels. So when she looks at him with all that pain and her beautiful heart in her eyes, his lips twitch upward at their very edges and he lifts his good hand to soothe a hand tenderly over her hair, brushing the side of her head and unintentionally leaving streaks of red from where the iron bands cut his palm. His throat feels a little raw with all the screaming he wouldn't do and so he whispers the words to keep them soft for her.]

It's okay, Aerith. I'm okay.

[he's awkward about touch, still even after everything, but he thinks she's been more traumatized than he has and his hand slips around to the back of her shoulder, nudging her closer to him and the way he's now sitting on the lab table with his legs over the side. He lowers his head, offering her the shelter of his body if she wants it - just for a minute. He knows she's strong - but he also knows how much simply having someone else to lean on for a few seconds can mean.]

It's okay. We're okay.

[ He's certainly exercising his ability to move around. The ferocity of the gesture startles Aerith at first, but she doesn't show it besides paying a little more attention to him as she rips the bandages. Because to be honest, if she were strong enough, she wouldn't think twice about doing the same.

She's barely finished healing when he smooths down her hair; she tilts her head, easing into the gesture. There's the slight stickiness of liquid as he moves his hand, which is then felt at the edge of her ear lobe. They're all a mess and it's his blood but he says he's okay. ]

Cloud ... [ His name is murmured wonderingly as she looks up at him.

He's comforting her, even though he's the one who got hurt. Even though he has to whisper the words because she upset him so much. In Aerith's view they just met a couple nights ago, so even though she knows he's a good person, the seemingly unconditional kindness and warmth are baffling because they don't match up to what she's seen of him so far, and her face makes that evident. Then she realizes: he understands how she feels. He understands.

... She always thought it would be wonderful to find someone who understood. At a moment like this, it's scary and worrying. It makes her think of how he knew about the restraints release again. That ...

She steps forward and slips her arms around him, careful not to move his hurt arm. She briefly bows her head against his offered shelter and hopes her gesture offers something in return too. Comfort. Gratitude. These labs may try to trap her, but there is a whole world outside of them. She's connected to that world now. She doesn't have to be a scared little girl, and she doesn't have to turn into something warped. She'll be herself, as strong as she can be, and that will find a way to be enough. Because there are good people like Cloud.

She steps back and gives him space again with a slight smile. ]
We will be. ... Don't worry about me, Cloud. I feel better now! And you have to take care of yourself.

Edited at 2011-06-11 12:09 am (UTC)

[his hand comes up and cups the back of her head as she hugs him and - for just a moment - the entire world is right again. He lets his eyes shut and tries to soak the passing moment in. But then she's letting go and stepping back and he's aware that just because he's free doesn't mean they're safe. He slips off the table gingerly, already bracing himself with his good hand when the vertigo hits. He has to fight back the urge to throw up. He's been through this too many times, come off a table like that one too many times, and it never gets easier. This time he's doing it under his own power though and there's no one restraining him or drugs coursing sick and poison through his blood. So he doesn't vomit and he raises his head even though the memories and the motion have the sweat breaking out across his skin again.

He ignores her remand to take care of himself. He's not here to take care of himself. He's here to take care of her. His eyes search the lab.]

I need my sword.

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