A Final Fantasy VII Fic
by Krista Perry
Summary: A short time after the events of Advent Children, Jenova sets events in motion that will once again draw Cloud and all of his friends and former enemies into battle - not just for survival, but for body, mind and soul.
Later that day, when the implications of the tremors that Vincent felt shortly after leaving the Bone Village were made clear, he would recall walking through the Sleeping Forest, feeling the quake briefly shifting the world beneath his feet, and then shrugging off its significance.
Now, though, the mild tremors were the furthest thing from Vincent's mind as he knelt at the edge of the lake. The still waters reflected shimmering white trees, luminescent with the old power that still lingered in this place even after all this time, and the great organic shell structure that hid a sacred altar beneath.
The waters appeared clear, free of the black taint spread by the Sephiroth remnant Kadaj when he had entered its depths just a few months ago. But appearances could be deceiving, Vincent knew, and he wanted to be sure. Just in case, he had a vial of water from Aeris' church. He had no intention of inadvertently infecting himself with Geostigma without having the cure on hand.
He reached out, cupped the water in his gloved hand, brought it to his lips, and drank.
Pure again. Free of the taint of "Jenova's memetic legacy," it seemed. Whether someone came before him to repair the damage or whether Aeris somehow did the job herself from within the Lifestream, he had no way of knowing.
Not that it mattered how it happened. He was glad. Over the past two years since Meteor, Vincent found himself returning to the Forgotten City again and again. It was one of the few places on the planet where he felt a measure of peace; where the restless monsters within him eased away from the forefront of his mind and he could almost remember what it felt to be wholly human.
When the Remnants came, they, like Sephiroth before them, brought death and ruination to this place. Instead of peace, the beasts within stirred to the surface as Vincent found himself playing rescuer; first to Tseng and Elena, and later, to Cloud, much to his consternation.
But now... no one to rescue this time. No catastrophes to overcome. No company, however well-meaning, to remind him of just how other he had become. All was as it should be.
He was sitting against a tree by the shore of the lake, deeply absorbed in the task of cleaning and oiling his three-barreled handgun, Cerberus, when his cell phone rang. Barely suppressing a sigh of irritation, he ignored it, wishing once again that he had forgone purchasing the annoyance at all. Yuffie had started calling to check on him every so often until, in a moment borne as much from desperation as irritation, he had finally contacted Cloud and asked him to relay a message to the exuberant ninja girl: She was not allowed to call his phone any more. Cloud had agreed to let Yuffie know, although the barest hint of amusement in his voice had been disconcerting.
Cloud was true to his word and had indeed relayed the message. And now, instead of every once in a while, Yuffie's calls came at least once a day. "If you think for one minute that I'm going to let you push your friends away and vanish off into the night, you've got another think coming," she often righteously proclaimed in the voice mails she inevitably left in lieu of conversation. As his phone continued to ring, Vincent glanced at the mirror surface of the lake and pondered sending it to the bottom to keep Cloud's old phone company.
Finally the ringing stopped. Still, Vincent hesitated in resuming his task, knowing that any moment now...
And there it was - the chime that announced he had yet another voice mail.
The daily interruption safely behind him, Vincent resumed cleaning Cerberus. When he finished, he decided to do maintenance on his rifle, Hydra and his machine gun, Griffon, just for good measure.
It wasn't until Cerberus was back in its holster, and his other firearms were safely packed away into his few belongings, that he finally glanced at his phone.
He blinked in surprise. Not Yuffie, but Reeve? What could he possibly want? Surely nothing good, since Vincent was relatively sure that the former Shinra/current head of the WRO wouldn't call unless something was wrong.
Vincent grimaced slightly, realizing that he would have to wade through at least a week of voice mails from Yuffie before getting to Reeve's message, so instead he flipped open his phone and returned Reeve's call.
Reeve answered on the first ring. "Vincent? Did you get my message?" The urgency in his tone was unsettling.
"No," Vincent replied, inwardly steeling himself. "I saw that you had called. What's going on?"
As Reeve filled him in on the strange earthquake and the location of its epicenter, Vincent felt his skin go cold. Fear, and a terrible burning hope warred within him.
"Thank you for contacting me," Vincent said. "I will go to the cave immediately, and I will let you know what action needs to be taken. If any," he added.
"I appreciate it, Vincent," Reeve said.
Vincent ended the call, musing that, for once, his phone was serving its intended purpose. He hesitated only a moment before dialing another number programed into his contacts.
This time his call was answered on the fifth ring, with a distinct lack of urgency. "Vincent? That you? I'll be damned! Didn't think I'd be hearing from you for a while yet. How the hell are ya?"
"Cid," Vincent said. "I need a ride. How soon can you get to the Forgotten City?"
As Cloud sped away from 7th Heaven, contemplating the disturbing 3 a.m. flower delivery, he couldn't help but notice how down-to-the-bone exhausted he felt.
Sleep deprivation was definitely starting to take its toll, he reluctantly acknowledged. He was starting to feel hyper-aware of his own inner workings, and when it was really bad, he would start hearing fragments of voices - all his own – murmuring in the back of his mind. And let's face it, he thought grimly. It doesn't take a genius to know that's not a good thing.
Someone had once told him - probably Zack - that sanity was only the ability to ignore the voices in your head, or at least the ability to channel them into something productive. That, however, was before Hojo and his experiments made the voices real.
Cloud knew that, even on his best days, his memory of his own past was fractured and full of holes. Over two years ago in the Lifestream, Tifa had helped him gather the shattered fragments of his mind, each fragment having taken on a life of its own, and together they had pieced him back into a semblance of his real self – whole enough, at least, to be able to stand against Sephiroth's lies and illusions.
There were still quite a few pieces of his life missing, but he now knew better than to actively try to remedy the situation. Whenever he had gone poking around in his own mind, trying to make the random pieces fit, he had always, without fail, resurrected a memory - cold and bright as the edge of a scalpel - from his five year stint as Hojo's lab rat. The headaches, shaking, cold sweats, retching and phantom pains that always accompanied such a memory were just an added bonus.
So he just left his memory alone. If a memory surfaced on its own, he would deal with it, but he wasn't about to poke his sleeping demons with a stick unless he absolutely had to.
In the meantime, whenever Cloud started feeling the gaps in his memory a bit too keenly, he fell back onto the few things that he knew for sure: He was Cloud Strife, of Nibelheim. Not Zack, not a failed lab experiment created by Hojo. He had real friends, and a real life that he was living in the here-and-now that mattered far more than a nightmarish past best forgotten. And, most of all, he sure as hell wasn't anyone's puppet.
As Cloud sped through the streets of the city on his bike, repeating that mantra of sanity in his head, he noticed that there were quite a few lights on inside the buildings he passed. Apparently he wasn't the only one awake because of the tremors. With this in mind, he settled on a course of action.
At the edge of the city, not far from the ruins of Midgar, a group of street kids had bonded together to form their own makeshift family. These were the kids who refused to go to any of the WRO sponsored orphanages, determined to make their own way in the world. Cloud had learned of them from Denzel; apparently Denzel had once been friends with the group's leader, a boy named Rix. All of the kids were quite clever and self-sufficient. They had made their own surprisingly sturdy homes from the scrap they salvaged from the ruins, including a massive section of steel pipe that looked like it had once been a part of a Mako reactor drainage system. It was about fifteen feet in diameter, and the kids had transformed it into a makeshift common room for them to share.
Since the quake had managed to rattle even him a bit, Cloud figured he would check on them and make sure they were all okay. And then afterward, perhaps he should drag his sorry ass over to Aeris' church and rest – at least until his head felt screwed on straight again. The voices in his mind would quiet, as they always did in that particular spot, and maybe then he would be able to sleep without dreams, without nightmarish memories. Then he could go back home.
And since Tifa was out of town, she didn't have to know about any of it. Just as well. He didn't think he could face her disappointment if she discovered that he wasn't as together as he pretended to be.
Apparently the kids were awake, or the sound of his bike alerted them to his approach, because Rix was already outside to meet him as he pulled up.
"Cloud!" Rix waved him over as he parked the bike. "Man, it's the middle of the night. What are you doing here?"
Oh, just running away from myself, Cloud didn't say. He glanced around, checking for any immediate signs of structural damage in the little community. "Did you feel that quake earlier?" he asked, glad, at least, that the kids' homes seemed intact.
Rix smirked. "Yeah, we did. That's why everyone's hanging out in there." He pointed at the pipe. "Come on, we heard you coming and they're all waiting for you."
A sturdy water-proof tarp draped over the pipe opening served as a makeshift door. Cloud pulled the tarp back and peered into the pipe's innards. Strings of lights attached to the ceiling served as an adequate source of illumination, and as he looked around, Cloud saw a couple of new faces he didn't recognize - two boys, probably brothers from their appearance, looked back at him with undisguised awe. The rest of the kids were, thankfully, suitably jaded to his presence.
"Hey," he said by way of greeting, and he was met with waves and smiles, while the youngest one, a feisty seven year old girl named Jen, jumped up, ran to him, and threw her arms around his legs. Cloud grunted from the impact, but smiled and put his hand on her head. "Is everyone okay?" he asked.
"The quake didn't do anything except wake everyone up," Rix answered, coming in behind him. "Everyone is fine. Except for Shyla, who sprained her ankle yesterday."
Cloud looked over at the girl, who was sitting against the curved inner wall of the pipe, a book in her lap, her bandaged foot elevated on a pillow.
Cloud gently extricated himself from Jen's greeting hug, and went and knelt next to Shyla. "So," he said. "How did this happen?"
Shyla shrugged. "You know that big wall over by the road to the ruins?"
Cloud frowned. "You didn't," he said.
"I did," she said, grinning. "I jumped off okay, but I kind of stuck the landing."
Cloud snorted, shaking his head as he reached inside himself for that warm, tingling connection with his slotted materia, then cast a mild Cure spell.
Warm, shimmering green light filled the pipe, and then faded away. "There," said Cloud. "How do you feel?"
Shyla wiggled her bandaged foot, rotating her ankle, and smiled. "Hungry," she said.
Cloud got to his feet. "Well, you're in luck then," he said, "'cause I happen to know of a food shipment that just came in from Wutai. I can drop some off for breakfast." But first, he thought, the church. He was undeniably weary, and the faint, unintelligible whispers in his mind were starting to make him feel like he had a head full of loose gravel. He turned to go, when he felt a tug on his pant leg. Looking down, he was surprised to see Jen holding him back.
"Don't leave," she said.
Cloud blinked. "Well, um..." He trailed off as the sentiment was repeated by the other children. "I, uh... can't really stay," he said. "The food..."
"We've got food," said Rix. "We've still got cases of nutrition bars from last time, and lots of bottled water."
That took Cloud by surprise. He hadn't realized he had overstocked the kids. "Um... well, I still need to check on some friends of mine to make sure they're okay."
"Your friends, they were AVALANCHE like you, right? They can handle themselves for a little while, can't they?" Rix's gaze was full of challenge.
Cloud was floored. "Uh..." He had never really talked about his past with the kids, but then again, there was all too much of it that was public knowledge these days.
"Just stay, okay?" Rix asked. "Just for a little while?"
A mixed chorus of child voices asking "Please?" echoed in the pipe, and Cloud slumped, defeated.
"Okay. I'll stay. But just for a little while, and then I need to take off." His announcement was met by cheers and hugs and, as Cloud slid to the pipe floor under a dogpile of enthusiastic children, he wondered what the hell he had gotten himself into.
Tifa hunched herself over Marlene and Denzel, pulling them close and shielding them from falling debris as best she could as Gold Saucer shivered and rocked with the earthquake. All around them, she could hear the sounds of creaking metal, shattering glass, and above all that, the terrified screams of Gold Saucer employees and tourists alike. To their credit, Marlene and Denzel weren't screaming, but they both clutched at her like a lifeline all the same.
This whole crazy structure is going to tip over, she thought. We're going to tip and crash into the desert below.
Who the hell had designed this place, anyway? From a distance, Gold Saucer looked like a gaudy alien tree, its various attractions, "squares" and hotels attached like malformed branches to the central pillar. Tifa grit her teeth as she felt that pillar swaying with the quake, and briefly thought about how she'd like to have a few words with the architect, perhaps punctuated with her fists. With everything else that she had gone through over the years, from Sephiroth to Meteor to the Remnants, being crushed in a falling amusement park seemed a particularly stupid way to die...
And then, as suddenly as it started, it was over. The rumbling of the quake died away, and with it the unsettling feeling of being tossed around like a boat in a storm. The sounds of confusion and panic, however, were not so quick to disperse.
"Is it over?" Marlene asked, still pressed against her, though Tifa noticed that the girl didn't sound nearly as frightened as she rightfully should.
"I think so," she answered, not feeling all that certain.
"Great," said Denzel. "Then, do you mind letting go of my shoulder, Tifa? You're kind of squeezing it a little hard."
"Oh, I'm sorry!" she said, straightening and releasing both children from her protective grip. She took a deep, stabilizing breath. "Are you two okay?"
Marlene nodded, and Denzel grinned. "We're fine," he said. "That was even better than the roller coaster! I wonder if there are going to be any aftershocks."
"Wow," said Marlene, "aftershocks? Do you think they might be as big as the first one?"
Tifa shook her head, perplexed at how well the kids were handling things. "One can only hope," she said, her voice dry. Apparently they had not shared in her fears of death-by-amusement park. "Come on," she said, "I think we should head back to our hotel room and make sure everything is okay."
Marlene stopped in her tracks. "We're not leaving, are we?" she asked.
"No way," Denzel protested. "We've still got a whole week left of vacation! We're not going to let a little earthquake scare us off, right, Tifa?"
Well, yes, actually, Tifa wanted to say, but the piteous look on Denzel's face made her bite her tongue. She sighed, looking around. She really wanted to get the hell out of Gold Saucer... but apparently that thought had crossed the minds of quite a few other people as well if the crowds headed for the Station were any indication. She didn't want to get caught up in a crush of panicked people all trying to leave on the tram.
"No, we're not leaving," she said, and the kids cheered. "Yet," she clarified. "I still want to make sure that the ceiling hasn't caved in on our accommodations."
"Fine, fine," Denzel said, mollified. Tifa pretended not to notice as Denzel gave Marlene a gleeful thumbs-up that Marlene happily returned.
Sheesh, Tifa thought, unable to help the fond smile on her face. Kids.
As they headed back to Ghost Square, the PA system crackled to life, and man who identified himself as the manager of Gold Saucer spoke to the crowds, informing everyone that anyone attempting to leave should do so in a calm, orderly fashion, and that all rides and attractions were suspended until a thorough safety inspection could be completed, and that he already had the best experts handling any repairs and cleanup. Also, free buffet dinners and breakfasts would be available to patrons choosing to stay until inspections were complete.
Well, that was something, Tifa supposed, as they passed several Gold Saucer employees who were already hard at work sweeping up glass and debris. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to stay just a little bit longer after all.
Unless another quake hit. Then they were so out of there.
Tifa thought about calling Cloud to let him know what had happened, but a glance at a nearby wall clock, the flashing neon orange numbers visually screaming the time, changed her mind. She hadn't realized it was already after 8 pm. Midgar was seven hours ahead of Corel Standard Time, which meant it would be after three in the morning there. If by some chance Cloud was sleeping, she didn't want to wake him.
He gets little enough sleep as it is. She frowned, trying to push away the little knot of worry in the pit of her stomach that always accompanied that particular thought. It was hard not to notice Cloud's irregular sleeping habits when they lived under the same roof. Or the fact that when he did sleep, his rest seemed anything but restful. He never wanted to talk about it, of course, and that would have bothered her more if it weren't so obvious that he was making a genuine effort to leave the past in the past and not let it drag him down. At least during his waking hours...
Well, the emergency seemed to have passed with no harm done, so she could wait until morning to let Cloud know about their earthquake adventure.
When they made it back to their room, Tifa was relieved to see that there was no apparent damage, so at least they had a little sanctuary where they could hang out until Gold Saucer was back up and running again. As Denzel and Marlene immediately ran to their beds to make use of them as trampolines, she noticed that she had left her PHS on the night stand next to her bed, and that the message light was blinking.
Cloud had apparently called a little while ago. She listened to the voice mail, silently chiding herself over how pleased she felt just hearing his recorded voice. But there had been such a long time when he not only wouldn't call, but he wouldn't answer either. Now he not only called, but he left voice mail. This was huge.
"We got a message from Cloud," she said, laughing as that managed to halt both Denzel and Marlene's abuse of the hotel furniture.
"What did he say?" asked Marlene.
"Just that he was back from his delivery, and that if no jobs come in, he'll be joining us in a day or so."
Denzel jumped off the bed with a whoop, and Tifa couldn't help smiling. Earthquake or no, apparently sticking around Gold Saucer for a while wouldn't be so bad after all.
"Okay," said Cloud, gazing at his opponent with what he hoped was a composed expression. "Let's see what you've got."
Shyla, grinning up at Cloud with a decidedly triumphant look in her eyes, spread out her cards, revealing a Full House. She giggled and scooped up the small pile of gil as Cloud groaned and put his Three of a Kind back into the deck. "You sure you've never played poker before this?"
"Nope! Not until today."
Cloud sighed, and glanced around to see who all had witnessed his latest defeat. Fortunately, aside from Shyla, Rix, and the ever-attentive Jen, most of the other kids were occupied, playing their own games deeper in the pipe.
Cloud had been rather pleased, at first, that Shyla and Rix had picked up on poker rather quickly, since he had discovered that the only thing worse than hanging out in a drainage pipe with a bunch of excited kids was hanging out in a drainage pipe with a bunch of bored kids. However, the fact that they were now beating him approximately four out of five games wasn't doing wonders for his self-esteem. He had vague memories of losing a lot in poker when he was playing against a few cadets back when he was in Shinra, but he had always harbored the suspicion that they were somehow cheating; stacking the deck somehow, and playing him for a sucker. So much for that theory. Somehow he doubted that children who had learned the game only a few hours before – and from his own instruction – could develop a cheating system so quickly.
"I suck at this game," he announced, resigned.
"Yeah," Rix agreed, taking the cards and shuffling, "but that's 'cause you give everything away."
Cloud blinked. "What?"
Rix nodded. "We can practically tell what kind of hand you got, just from your expression."
Shyla reached over and smacked Rix upside the head. "Ya moron, don't tell him that! Now he'll be thinking about it."
Cloud looked back and forth between the two kids. "You're saying I've got a lousy poker face."
His tone was so despondent, that even card-shark Shyla couldn't help but give him a sheepish grin. "Yep, pretty much."
Sighing, Cloud looked at the deck in Rix's hands. "Well, I suppose that's better than just having really bad luck," he said, then held up a hand as Rix prepared to deal. "I really need to get going," he said getting to his feet. "But you can keep the cards."
For a moment it looked like Rix was going to argue, but then he shrugged. "Okay," he said, "but come back soon, and be sure to bring some of that Wutai food you mentioned."
Cloud raised an eyebrow. "I thought you said you had plenty of food."
"Yeah, ration bars," Rix said, dismissive, but he was smiling. "Bring us some good stuff for breakfast like you said and I'll even trade you for some good bike parts I found in the ruins by the auto manufacturing factory."
"All right," Cloud conceded, not all that reluctantly. He had planned on dropping off some of the "good stuff" later anyway, but he had mentioned getting the kids some breakfast in his earlier escape attempt.
Pushing back the pipe's tarp door, he stepped out into pale, pre-dawn sunlight, and held back a sigh. If the sun was coming up already, that meant going to the church before retrieving breakfast was right out. The kids took priority. Tightening the loose screws in his head would just have to wait.
As she stepped out of the cave and into the fading light of day, there was little struggle from Lucrecia - far less than she was expecting. But then, she had been preparing for this moment from the first time Hojo had given the woman an injection of her vibrant cells over half a century ago.
She was not content to remain as the cursed Cetra had left her. She had deceived them at first, changing herself to look line one of them, but then they had discovered her ability to infest them with her cells and twist them, change them, kill them. And when they realized her desires to use the energy that manifested in the midst of death and destruction to achieve even greater power, they didn't kill her, foolish pacifists that they were. Rather, they dismembered her, cutting off her arms and legs, mangling her wings and burying her in the frozen wastes, where she lay for two thousand years... waiting.
And then the humans came.
She felt them come, and she reached out to lead them to her. It was delightfully easy. The Cetra were virtually extinct at that point, with only one living female remaining, and even though the woman held the oral tradition of the old warnings that had kept those susceptible to her influence away for so long, her threat had faded into legend. And so those that found her - extracted her from stone and ice - thought her not only dead, but one of her old enemies.
It was Professor Gast who first realized that she was exerting control over him and his fellow researchers. Ifalna, the last Cetra, helped him break free. And then he created that cursed metal headpiece that dampened her power to the point where she was only able to reach out and influence those who had her cells within them already.
Like Hojo - a human who, remarkably, shared her vision of ultimate destruction. She used him, urged him gently, guided him to that very first injection of her cells into his body before Gast realized the extent of the danger they were in and sealed most of her power away. And Hojo served her so very well, spreading her cells among many hosts. Especially this woman, Lucrecia, who gave birth to her son.
Even so, it wasn't until a short while before his death at the hands of Cloud and Vincent that she recognized that Hojo's devotion to her was genuine, borne of his own will, and did not require the manipulation she pressed on her other physical hosts. And so it was that, when her efforts to revive Sephiroth through the creation of Remnants was ultimately thwarted once again by Cloud and his companions; when her Geostigma taint, created from Sephiroth's genes, was destroyed by that wretched Cetra decedent who refused to diffuse into the Lifestream, she decided that enough was enough.
She revived Hojo instead.
The body was simple enough. While he was alive, he was flesh of her flesh, and it was a simple enough matter to rebuild him cell by cell. His mind was a different matter. Unlike Sephiroth, who was constantly under the watchful eye of undiffused Ancients within the Lifestream, Hojo was unguarded. Still, it was with great effort that she wrested him forcefully from the Lifestream while her memetic legacy was still strong enough to disrupt its flow.
And now, as she stepped from the cave, he was there waiting for her. When she emerged, he knelt before her, worshiping her as the god she would soon become.
Nothing would stop her this time. And she would never allow anyone to dampen her power again, as Gast had.
Everything is ready, he said.
Yes, she replied.
His helicopter had two human pilots who were not of her flesh, but were there because of what she offered. They gazed at her in awe and terror.
So very easy to manipulate, these humans. Give them a pretty promise of power, of immortality, and they would trade away their own souls for the honor of groveling at her feet. Two such humans here, but there were more elsewhere, acting in her behalf.
And as for the ones who fought her, rejected her... well, there were ways of dealing with them.
The breakfast delivery to the kids was mercifully short. None of the kids insisted that he stay and play with them this time, and Cloud wondered if it was because he was starting to look as haggard as he felt.
Finally, he could go to the church and get some rest.
Or not, he thought dismally, looking at the fuel gauge on his bike. The refined petroleum fuel that Barret and his Corel buddies were concocting might be easier on the Planet than a Mako-fueled engine, but it sure didn't seem to last very long. Okay, he thought, rubbing his forehead in the hopes that it might ease the ache building behind his eyes. So back to 7th Heaven to refuel, then to the church.
The crushed flowers were still on the pavement by the delivery entrance when he pulled up. He deliberately ignored them, and was about to head into the garage to retrieve one of his fuel cans when he saw that a large, flat white envelope had been taped to the back door.
"Great," he muttered as he walked up the stairs and pulled the envelope off the door, feeling decidedly irritable. "What now?" He knew that it was too much to hope for, that this latest anonymous delivery was completely innocuous. Maybe whoever had sent the revenge flowers had graduated to writing angry letters. Well, if so, maybe he'd get a clue about who was behind this.
Exasperated, he unlocked the back door and went in, tearing open the envelope. He paused to close and lock the door behind him. If this was hate mail, and if whoever was behind it was still nearby, he didn't want to read it outside and let his apparently-lousy poker face give the guy any satisfaction. Scowling, he reached in the envelope and pulled out the paper inside, prepared to dump the whole thing in the trash.
It wasn't a letter. It was a photo.
Cloud blinked at it, trying to process what he was seeing.
The small part of him that already understood was screaming at the rest of him to drop it, burn it, destroy it, because that great black well of untouched memory was rising up within him, gaping open...
The Shinra mansion basement. Hojo's lab. A metal table. Strapped to the table, a boy, maybe sixteen or seventeen, Mako blue eyes wide, alert, in agony, because there were knives, and blood, so much blood, and pain and...
A cry wrenched from Cloud's throat as he threw the photo away from him...
... and it hit the wall before falling on the floor, but it was too late, because he could hear screams... bloodcurdling screams, and he recognized those screams as his own voice...
...and he was falling, his vision greying as the black abyss of memory swallowed him whole, and there was
pain, pain, and it lasted forever. He couldn't seem to remember a time without pain. His voice was dead, his throat raw. He would have tasted his own blood, if only Hojo had not cut out his tongue.
It would grow back eventually. It always did.
And of course Hojo was not through cutting. In small bursts of agony, he lost his fingers, a little at a time, bit by bit, joint by joint, one by one, until his hands were mere stumps of bloody flesh. His hands would go next, then his arms to the elbow, to the shoulder...
...or did that come later? This was the first time Hojo had done this, and yet, he remembered. He knew what was coming.
But no, not this time. Hojo stopped with the fingers, called an end to the experiment session. How odd. Then, through the red madness of endless pain that filled him, he felt rough hands unclamp the steel restraints and lift his body from the table, only to roughly dump him back into his cylinder prison. He lay, limp and unmoving as the green Mako gas hissed in through the vents in the floor. Too weak to try to hold his breath, the mist burned through his lungs, and he had felt this so many times before. Soon he was once again adrift and floating, and it was almost a relief...