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I can't explain it.

[I'll listen. Just talk.]

Umm... okay. It's just I don't understand what they want, you know? I mean, I know intellectually, but... inside, it just doesn't work. Nothing connects.

[Nothing connects?]

It's like I can see the thought processes, but there's nothing else. It's something I've been told about, something I should be able to feel, but all I can do is see it. Like when the guys in the bar comment about Tifa's umm, chest, I know there's supposed to be a reason, but I don't feel it. When Reno gropes my arse, I know the theory behind it, but I don't feel like it applies to me.

I dunno.

[Have you ever felt like it could apply to you?]

I'm... I'm not sure. There's so much missing.

Look, I was sixteen when I went into that tube. I'm missing five years out of my life, and quite frankly I don't want them back. Five years as an experimental subject for a mad scientist? I think I get bits of them in nightmares, but when I'm awake, I really don't want 'em.

But some of the others. Yeah, I'd like those back.

I sorta remember my first dream about it. I think it must've happened about what, six months before... before. I don't remember what I might have dreamed about, or who. I just woke up with... stuff on me.

[Do those dreams still happen?]

Sometimes. But before you ask, I don't remember any of them. I've never remembered any of them.

[Okay.]

But yeah. It's like, at one end, I'm this scrawny kid who didn't make it through the exams, and everything goes to hell. And then there's this blank, and at the other end I'm jumping off trains, cutting down MPs and blowing up reactors for AVALANCHE, and there's nothing in between the kid and the terrorist.

It's scary, you know? Sometimes I wake up at night and I'm wondering whether the body I'm in is my own body, or whether the real me is dead, long dead, and I'm just living on in some cloned mock-up that Hojo made.

People look at me, and I don't know what they're seeing. I look at them, and I can't see anything.

[You can't see anything?]

Look, I know I'm supposed to be turned on by stuff, right? But I'm not. Trust me, I've looked, I've tried to get there. But it never happens. Tits don't do it - and trust me, I live with Tifa Lockhart, I know tits. But they're just tits. They don't mean anything. Like a guy's chest or someone's arse or whatever - it's a body part. It doesn't mean anything.

[Do you ever masturbate?]

Why would I do that? Why would I need to?

[Good point.]

And before you ask, I've had both girls and guys come on to me, try to get me interested. Gods, I had Reno doing everything short of a full-on strip and public blowjob for a while there, because he couldn't believe I wasn't just "being shy" or something. Nothing happens.

Sometimes I wish it would, just so they wouldn't get so damn disappointed, you know? I mean, it's not their fault I'm not interested.

It's not a personal thing. Gods, if it were a personal thing, I'd at least be able to explain why or something. It's not them. It's me. But they can't understand that - actually, in Reno's case, I think it's more that he won't understand it - and they keep acting as though I'm being nasty, or if they just hit the right combination of things they'll ring the jackpot.

Yeah, actually, that last one is pretty accurate - it's like I'm some kind of game machine, like at the Golden Saucer - put in your gil, spin the rollers, and maybe they'll get lucky and win big.

[I gather you're rather sick of being treated as a slot machine.]

Oh gods, you have no idea. Heh. *soft laugh*

Or maybe you do. I dunno. It might be the same sorta thing, having guys come on to you when you're not interested and all.

[I think the cases might be a bit different. But I do understand what you mean about Reno. He doesn't tend to give up easily.]

*sigh* The sad thing is, if he'd only accept it isn't him, it isn't something he's doing or not doing that makes me feel this way, or not feel that way or whatever, I'd probably be okay with him hanging around. He's fun to be around. He makes me laugh at stuff, and suddenly it's not such a big deal, you know?

So, I'm crazy, right?

[I wouldn't say you're crazy.]

Yeah, but nobody's saying I'm normal, are they.

[You haven't exactly had a normal life up to this point. Why should you be normal now?]

Well, when you put it like that... Do you think you can maybe explain it to Tifa and Reno and the others that way?

[I can try, if you want me to. But you know by now that if people are told things they don't want to hear, they tend not to listen.]

Oh yeah. So you're saying this won't go away?

[It depends what you're meaning. The side of things which is other people might, if they start paying a bit more attention to what their eyes and ears are saying rather than their hurt feelings. The side of things which is you? I couldn't say.]

Figures.

[One thing I would suggest, though: start accepting the hugs people close to you are offering. One of the things people need is touch, because we're social animals - if you miss out on touch for long enough, you start feeling disconnected from the rest of the world. If it goes on for long enough after that, people start seeing you as disconnected from the world, too.]

But -

[I know it feels uncomfortable. I know you feel like you'll be taking a big, scary risk. But, Cloud, one of the things I'm certain the General was missing all the time, even if he didn't know it, was touch - just friendly touch, from people who didn't want anything except to let you be human for them. He didn't trust anyone to offer it, toward the end. That's one thing I'll always hate that bastard Rhapsodos for - him and Angeal both - they broke the General's trust in other people. Zack did his best, but there was no way of getting it back. And I think that was some of what broke him at Nibelheim.

I don't want to see it happen to you, Cloud.]

But -

*pause*

*sigh*

Yeah. Okay.

[*reaches across, squeezes hand* If it's any help at all, you're not crazy, and you're not broken for not wanting anyone sexually. It's a legit sexual preference; it's called asexuality. It's never been common, I'll grant you - and if you stop and think about it, I'm sure you'll see why. But it's always been there in the background. I'll have a word with your friends about it. In return, I want you to have a word with a mutual friend of ours, and tell Mr Fair to stop sending me the dreams about the frogs, okay?]

Oh gods. *laughs* Yeah, okay, I'll do that.