The monster wore a bored frown in a white labcoat, jotting down notes as Sephiroth suffered, and Cloud did not. The monster was light reflecting off gleaming glasses, unreadable when he wished, which wasn't often. The monster was the director of this gleaming, sterile, hellish lab.
The monster was Cloud's father, and Cloud couldn't just watch any longer. He tugged his arm away from Sephiroth's mindless grasp, and pounded on the glass.
"Nothing's changing," he shouted, in order to be loud, in order to be heard, "and you're wasting everyone's time."
"Three," came Hojo's voice through the microphone, crackled and static-filled in the misty air.
"It's been four hours," Cloud all but snarled, now that the connection was open.
Hojo's voice sounded as bored as he had looked. "I'm glad my years of tutelage have given you the ability to count. We'll wait another three hours, until the goal is achieved."
Behind him, Sephiroth let out a faint hiss of discomfort, which was more than he had shown during his checkups since he turned eleven. Cloud pretended not to notice. His dignity was all he could give Sephiroth in this place. They'd faced down monsters of all shapes and sizes during SOLDIER training, but this place was where Sephiroth had been helpless. It was where Cloud went night after night in dreams. And he couldn't offer anything else.
Sephiroth quieted again, until all Cloud could hear was his ragged breathing, and the scratch of Hojo making notes. He took inhaled, ignoring the pungent sweetness in the air, and turned to face Sephiroth once again.
He'd seen Sephiroth in every possible condition, in their childhood and then teenage years together: cold and shivering, bound and bruised, awake and sharp, free and deadly with his sword. He had even seen Sephiroth as he was now, flushed, pulse racing, trembling with barely supressed energy after overdosing on hypers. Cloud knelt and took Sephiroth's hand; a grounding sensation was the most difficult to find, in the throes of mako poisoning. A constant to hold onto, even if this was something different.
"Tactical retreat," Sephiroth said unexpectedly. His eyes were slits, turned sideways to look at Cloud. Impossible to see with Hojo's cameras, even as his fingers clutched Cloud's hand until they were bone-white.
"What do you mean?" Cloud said. Then: oh.
Father had mentioned something about basic instinct and procreation. Sephiroth meant give him what he wants, but Cloud couldn't see how he could do that.
Until Sephiroth's hand wandered to his trousers, brushing the elastic. Long, pale fingers traced a path across his abdomen, from one hipbone to the other. Sephiroth's face hardly changed, but he paused before going further.
"Is this worse?" Cloud wondered, and Sephiroth murmured, "Yes."
He shifted so he hid most of Sephiroth's body from the cameras. This didn't belong to ShinRa.
Sephiroth's throat fluttered. As though in a trance, Cloud's hand rose to press against skin that was too hot, too smoothly perfect to be natural, and relished the pulse beating beneath his fingers. A moan tore its way out of Sephiroth's throat. His hand moved.
"Procreation takes more than one person," Father--Hojo--said, almost too quietly to be meant for them, within the observation room. A chill ran down Cloud's spine, but he set the words aside for later.
Hojo's eyes burned into Cloud's back. Cloud didn't flatter himself imagining that he was the experiment of interest, son or not, except as a counterpoint to how Sephiroth reacted--it was why they were always tested, if not together, then soon after each other. Similar genetics; tests held in similar conditions.
Cloud threw Sephiroth's coat over him. He could still hear the scratch of a pen in the background, constant and irritating. Determinedly, he didn't look at the coat shuffling, or acknowledge Sephorth's grunts, feeling a little sick at the warmth curling in his belly in this place, but he kept his hand on Sephiroth's throat, and stayed where he was.
Hojo let them out. Cloud hadn't expected that. After so many years under the microscope, Cloud could tell that Hojo had turned his attention to him, part way through--however uninteresting Cloud was, against the finely honed perfection that Sephiroth presented to the world--though Cloud did little except hold onto Sephiroth's hand, unable to look away from Sephiroth's flushed face. The laboratory's inner door opened first. The sweet scent from the air drained away, and when it was finally gone, the second opened too.
"Don't stay with him," Hojo warned, handing his clipboard to an assistant.
Cloud ignored him, swinging the weight of Sephiroth's arm around his shoulders. It was more for guidance really, and Sephiroth would probably pull away once he could stand again. Fingers dug into his shoulder, hard enough to bruise.
"Cloud," said Hojo, louder this time. "Go home. I know several people who can take care of him."
His vision tinged red with fury. Take care of Sephiroth. Right.
"No," he said, and the fingers on his shoulder relaxed.
His father's eyes burned into his back as they left. There would be retribution for his disobedience, but with the exit in sight, Sephiroth's laboured breaths in his ear, Cloud found he didn't care. No one stopped them.
He wasted no time getting them back to Sephiroth's quarters, newly assigned by ShinRa now that the war barred any SOLDIER from permanent laboratory confinement, even for scientific advancement. He pushed Sephiroth towards his bathroom, tossing a towel and change of clothes in after him. There was always something unsettling, something dirty, in going back to the laboratory, no matter how clean it seemed on the surface.
Sephiroth took a long time in the shower. Cloud pretended he couldn't hear the choked-off groan, right before the water turned off. When he came out, he didn't look much better, but at least he stood straight under his own power. He was shirtless, and there was just a touch of red on Sephiroth's cheeks, which Cloud stared at--he had never seen Sephiroth embarrassed before.
"You should get some sleep," said Cloud, gesturing at Sephiroth's bed, against which he leaned. Sephiroth's low hum of acknowledgement seemed to resonate through his very bones.
"As should you. I was not in the chambers alone," said Sephiroth. He took a step closer, then stopped in his tracks, hands forming fists as his eyes landed on Cloud.
"Yeah, well, you were definitely much worse," Cloud pointed out, and Sephiroth acknowledged that with a slow nod.
Sephiroth wasn't actually blushing, Cloud realized. The flush was creeping down his neck and to the muscles of his chest, the nearer he came. Cloud had hoped that escaping the gas would erase whatever effect it had had before, but from the way Sephiroth's pupils dilated as their gazes met, it wasn't the case. Warmth curled low and urgent, which Cloud ignored.
Sephiroth's hand touching his shoulder too hard and too long, even for a SOLDIER without peer, just reinforced Cloud's conviction. His knuckle brushed against Cloud's cheek, nearly careless, but the way he froze and moved away was much more deliberate.
Cloud thought of the needles and the mako, how alone Sephiroth had looked curled up on his bed in the laboratory, and said, "I'll stay."
Those mako-green eyes narrowed, deadly body stiff with tension, but after a moment, Sephiroth just nodded once.
"You have seen worse," was all he said.
Nevertheless, when Sephiroth slipped into bed, instead of his usual habit of laying on his back and falling asleep at once, he turned to his left, back to Cloud. Cloud watched the deliberate, slow rise and fall of his chest, the slide of spartan gray sheets, and closed his eyes. He wasn't going to get any sleep--not when the memory of Sephiroth's slack mouth was still so fresh, chasing away careful blankness--but Cloud was exhausted. If this were five days ago he might have climbed up the bed too. Not right now.
Ten minutes in, Sephiroth's breath hitched. Cloud couldn't stop himself from peering over his shoulder, and froze at the sight of Sephiroth's elbow moving rhythmically against the cover of his ShinRa-issued blankets. It jerked, faster and faster. Cloud's mako-enhanced hearing meant he couldn't miss any of Sephiroth's sharp inhales, or the low, cut-off noises that escaped his throat after that first breath. He moved until his back arched more gracefully than twisting in an airborne battle, tensed with a low moan, and stilled.
The smell of sex filled the air. Cloud closed his eyes, ears burning. Part of him wanted to leave, and the rest urged him to go much closer.
Then it started again, barely half an hour later, when Cloud had half-drifted off, silver hair floating across his vision even in sleep. A grunt that would have escaped notice without Cloud's enhanced hearing, then the slick sounds of rhythmic movements. His shadow had shifted in his time asleep, inky black against the soft glow of mako-powered lights from outside.
"This fucking drug," said Cloud, tilting his head back against the edge of the bed. "How long is this drug supposed to last?"
Sephiroth's made a small noise. It sounded more like pain than pleasure. "It depends on -- absorption -- body tissues. Maybe a day."
"Sephiroth," said Cloud, exasperated, but that wasn't right, that wasn't his voice, low and warm instead of the impatience he wanted to project.
A hiss tore through the apartment. Even as Sephiroth cut it off, Cloud could still hear it echoing in the spaces of his mind, the parts that insisted that he climb in to join Sephiroth, so that neither of them would be alone. Hojo had said it was about procreation, after all; not one person. His face heated. Unbidden, the image came again of warm, broad shoulders, skin smooth and scars healed over by years of mako treatment. But Cloud knew the precise points of agony and relief, torture and comfort, and the marks that had lasted for hours and days across Sephiroth's body.
Sephiroth's breaths were shallow, rapid, movements growing faster with a hint of desperation.
He had seemed calmer when his hand gripped Cloud's, in the lab.
Decision made, Cloud shuffled onto Sephiroth's bed, knees pressing into the mattress, touching Sephiroth's back--bare, his blanket slipping off with each movement--and tugging him until he lay flat, gasping, staring at the ceiling. It had been the right decision. The moment Cloud's hand gripped one uncovered shoulder, his entire body relaxed, and Sephiroth drew in a deep breath.
Cloud took advantage of the brief stillness to straddle Sephiroth's torso, trapping Sephiroth's arms outside his thighs. His other hand drifted up to tangle in Sephiroth's hair.
"Better?" he breathed, burying his face against a burning hot cheek and inhaling. Sex, and under it, the familiar hint of iron and heat, welcome in its familiarity. He rubbed his nose harder against the feverish hot skin.
Sephiroth made a choked noise. He still hadn't moved but for the death grip on his sheets. Cloud was close enough to hear him swallow.
When Sephiroth exhaled, it brushed almost gently against Cloud's cheek. His hands rose to close around Cloud's thighs, ten burning marks even through Cloud's regulation trousers, hard enough to bruise. Pulling back and meeting Sephiroth's gaze was like staring into pure mako, luminous and scorching.
And to see Sephiroth bare and flushed, the muscles so defined he could trace their borders, jaw clenched, eyes burning, made something twist in Cloud's belly where fire had already built. The light was dim, every contour of Sephiroth's body shaped by vague shadows. All that coiled power beneath him, waiting to spring. Sweat glistened in the dip between Sephiroth's collarbones, gathering into a drop that traced a crooked path down his neck.
"Yes. Temporarily," Sephiroth managed, voice almost even. "And then I need -- relief. Hojo might be insane, but he understands experiments. We can continue until the goal has been achieved."
Cloud couldn't stop a huff of laughter. "So you mean you can just keep going no matter what?"
There was a beat. Cloud realized what he'd said, and flushed, this time from embarrassment.
"I didn't exactly foresee this," said Sephiroth with a faint smile, even as the grip around Cloud's thighs grew tighter. Sweat was pouring down Sephiroth's throat. Cloud traced the path one drop took with a knuckle, and then fanned out his fingers against the knotted muscle of Sephiroth's neck. His thumb traced a gentle circle.
But it didn't seem to be working any longer. Even as Cloud pressed closer until their breaths mingled, he could feel Sephiroth shifting restlessly underneath him. There were so many points of contact rubbing together, Cloud's thighs against Sephiroth's waist, one hand in Sephiroth's hair, the other against his neck, their foreheads pressed together, and Sephiroth's death-grip against Cloud's thighs, and it wasn't enough.
Sephiroth let go of one of Cloud's thighs, and from his sudden hiss, he had taken hold of himself again.
Cloud tried to ignore what was going on behind him, focusing on all the touches that had comforted Sephiroth, in their years together. His lips brushed against Sephiroth's cheek. His hand raked through Sephiroth's hair, grazing his skull.
The moan that tore out of Sephiroth's throat was full and low, far too loud to be ignored. Cloud did his best not to grind down. The wet sounds of Sephiroth touching himself grew faster. This wasn't the graceful, powerful swordsman Cloud fought and lost against; this was rough, half-frenzied desperation. It wasn't helping, and with a chill of memory, Cloud knew why.
"I don't think this is working," Cloud murmured, a rasp against fevered skin.
A scoff, between increasingly fast breaths. "Noted."
"More than one person," said Cloud, pulling back just enough to see Sephiroth's face twisting into desperation. "I think it has to be someone else."
Sephiroth's eyes flew open, and there it was again, the burn of mako glowing in the dark. His voice grated like sandpaper. "Like you said, I can do this all night."
"You shouldn't have to."
Cloud waited until he received a tiny, almost imperceptible nod, the most Sephiroth would ever allow himself. He untangled himself to shift down Sephiroth's body. When he tugged gently out of Sephiroth's grip, Sephiroth made a small, stifled sound of protest, but only touched his fingertips against Cloud's cheek. Ah.
"Sorry," said Cloud, his left hand grasping Sephiroth's free one again, once he had straddled his legs. A thumb pressed against his palm, grounding. He brushed away Sephiroth's occupied hand with little resistance, and took its place, curling around hard flesh.
Sephiroth bucked up into his touch, nearly throwing him off. Almost.
He gave an experimental stroke, prepared this time when Sephiroth arched again into the touch, pressing down with his position on Sephiroth's legs to keep him trapped. It felt better than Cloud had expected. Sephiroth was hotter there than anywhere else, and already slicked from his earlier... activities.
"Sephiroth," he said, and hardness jerked in his grip, leaving a matching pulse in his body. And that felt better than Cloud had expected, too.
Their eyes met over Cloud's fist. Cloud licked his suddenly dry lips with an equally dry tongue, and heard a small fuck come from the other side of the bed. The thrill made him tighten his grip. Sephiroth's moan in response thrummed through Cloud's entire body. His skin felt like it had stretched too tight over his bones, hot and sensitive everywhere.
"Don't laugh," said Cloud, trying to instil more confidence through the tightness in his throat, "but you have to tell me what you need." In his grip, Sephiroth only seemed to grow harder, pulse beating beneath soft skin.
"I -- " said Sephiroth. He bucked up again, gaze flicking between Cloud's face and where he was slowly stroking Sephiroth, smooth and steady. "That's very -- distracting."
"That's the idea," Cloud said. He stopped, eliciting a muffled protest that escaped before Sephiroth could stop it. "Tell me," he prompted.
Sephiroth's mouth parted, but all he did was let his head thump back with a sigh. "Very well. Can you--"
Affirmation in hand, Cloud started to move again, trying his hardest to keep his eyes on Sephiroth's face. It helped that Sephiroth was no longer trying to suppress every restless movement. He found a rhythm that seemed to work, stroking down with each thrust. Heat crept up Cloud's neck, the room closing in around them, but it was nothing to the heat or hardness under his fingers, the shiver each time Sephiroth twitched. He ground his hips into the bed between Sephiroth's legs for relief, hoping Sephiroth didn't notice.
It was becoming too much to keep his eyes on where they joined. It was too much to look anywhere else, the clench and release of hard abdominal muscle with each jerk of Sephiroth's hips, the flush across his chest, the bobbing of his throat as he swallowed.
At some point, Sephiroth had leaned up against his elbow again, free hand tangled in his own hair, pulling in a way that looked painful. Strands of hair were still wrapped around his wrist when that hand closed around Cloud's, guiding him, firmer, tighter, with a twist of the wrist that Cloud hadn't tried before. They were joined at two points again, fingers tangled together on one side, the other stroking Sephiroth together. But Sephiroth wasn't paying attention to their hands.
Watching Sephiroth's face and the familiar green eyes focused so intently on him, pupils huge, was the worst, most impossible of all. The entire time, every smooth stroke, Sephiroth never looked away from Cloud's face, eyes hungry. He couldn't stop grinding his hips against the bed, Sephiroth's heat beneath him nearly unbearable. All of a sudden, the image came of their roles reversed: the coiled strength looming overhead, one hand pinning both his wrists no matter how he writhed and bucked, their legs tangled, a touch where he wanted it most--
"Cloud," said Sephiroth, and overwhelmed, Cloud buried his face into Sephiroth's torso. Sephiroth's stiffened with a moan and came.
Cloud worked him through it, tight and hot and slicker now, but slowing. His body pulsed with heat, and he ached, but Sephiroth's grip around his hand relaxed, and he sank back in the bed. After a moment, Cloud let go.
Cloud felt Sephiroth tug on his shoulder, and let himself be guided up, until they lay side by side on stiff sheets. Sephiroth's breaths were slowing, the sweat cooling on his skin, but more than anything, he seemed truly relaxed at last. Reclined on his back, even languid, after his hours of discomfort alone.
"Thanks," said Sephiroth eventually, from somewhere to his left.
Cloud shrugged. He pulled the blankets up for Sephiroth, but couldn't look into his face. Heat and want still pulsed through him, aching.
"Do you think you can sleep now?" he asked, to distract himself.
Hmmm came the low sound again. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that silvery head rub against the pillow, turning to brush Cloud's shoulder. At least that closeness was familiar. So, a yes.
And that was -- good. That was fine. Cloud had achieved what he'd wanted, Sephiroth no longer in discomfort, and just because it wasn't all he wanted now, it didn't mean lack of success. The task was over, as Hojo had said.
Picturing his father helped cool down the fire in his veins.
He thought for a moment about the laboratory again, the dispassionate eyes and uncaring hands dialling up mako concentrations. Hojo's unspoken promise of retribution for disobedience in the laboratory. There was very little Hojo hadn't done yet, but the war in Wutai raged on, and Sephiroth and Cloud had been fine-tuned for battle. What if, in the midst of the fighting, Hojo deemed it dangerous that they were together? If he took Sephiroth away?
Beside him, Sephiroth's breathing had evened out, tension wrung out and relaxed in the familiar environment. He was asleep.
Cloud stayed awake and stared at nothing.