Cloud stopped just inside the door, his eyes going immediately to the far corner. The mako tubes were empty, long dead-- but for all that his memories of their time in Hojo's clutches were mercifully fuzzy, the sight of those glass cages still made him shiver.
The entire mansion made his skin crawl, actually. From the moment he'd come through the doors, and especially while walking down that hidden staircase, he'd had to fight the urge to look over his shoulder, to walk with one hand resting on his sword. Ghosts and hints of memories, walking behind him, chasing at his heels.
He and Zack had spent nearly five years of their lives in this place, and some part of him remembered that.
Warm arms curled around him from behind, followed a second later by a sharp chin that settled comfortably on his shoulder. "Never thought we'd end up back here again," Zack said quietly in his ear.
Cloud sighed out a soundless breath and nodded. Zack hummed faintly, rocking them both from foot to foot as he tightened his grip in a quick squeeze. "We could just go?" he suggested.
Cloud shook his head. "No. We need to look around." The clues to whatever had happened to Sephiroth were here, they had to be-- this was where it had all started, after all. All of Hojo's books, his notes, they were still scattered around the floor from when Sephiroth himself had gone through them, before. Giving himself a stern mental shake, Cloud started for the back room and its rows of bookshelves, reluctantly letting Zack's warmth fall away from his back.
It was more than a little eerie, how similar it all was. How unchanged. The desk was a little dustier, perhaps, and several mice had apparently started scavenging some of the loose pages for nest materials, but otherwise-- the intervening time might as well not have happened, for all the evidence that showed.
Cloud found his eyes drifting back to the desk, lingering there for reasons he didn't quite understand at first-- and the tiny mental Zack that lived in his head and made stupid comments like it's just a Hell House, no problem and that Turk probably didn't need his wallet, anyway said: you know, that's a very sturdy-looking desk. That voice was irresponsible, and usually got him into trouble, and was something he tried very hard to ignore most of the time.
... even if, on occasion, it was absolutely right.
Cloud swallowed hard, his damnable thoughts jumping on the distraction and suddenly becoming unwilling to think about anything else. Though-- that would certainly drive out the chill that just wouldn't leave him, that had lodged between his chest and his throat the moment they'd walked through Nibelheim's gates, and had only grown worse since. And, really, there would be no better way to give a great big fuck you to Hojo--
He turned on his heel and Zack, walking just pace behind, stumbled at the sudden stop. He was standing very close, then, when Cloud looked up into his eyes, and something in his face made Zack's eyebrows go shooting up towards his hair. A second later, though, Zack's own eyes skipped sideways to the desk, and Cloud could see the moment when the Zack in his head and the actual Zack finally got on the same page.
Zack grinned, wicked and slow and-- relieved, which Cloud thought was the best way to know that this was a good idea. Already breathing a little easier, Cloud took one step back and then another, and Zack followed as surely as if he'd been leashed, leaning forward to brace both hands on the desk when Cloud's hips finally bumped against it. And it wasn't long after that that the startling sound of laughter echoed through the previously-silent hallways of the former laboratory.