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A Farewell to Tseng
Dedicated to Jessica, without whom I wouldn't have written this: you probably won't ever read this, but anyway... It was nice knowing you, even if it was just for a short while. >>->> (Man, do I feel stupid writing this...)
Rude, Reno and Elena made their way through the ruins of Midgar. The great city, once home of millions, was now almost empty. There was nothing left for anyone there now, except for the rats. Rude, walking first, almost stepped on one of the boldest rodents, but did not seem to notice it. Neither did the rat.
Rude looked as cool as always. His suit was a bit rumpled, but that was not very surprising considering what they had been through. Reno and Elena looked worse, mainly because in addition to suits, they also had hair. Even Elena's relatively short, blond hair was tangled, and Reno's was a disaster. They were all dirty and tired, but kept walking.
When the Meteor almost struck the planet, Midgar had been irreparably destroyed. The tall buildings had been blown down, and the lower ones had been buried under the rubble. There were few casualties, considering the level of destruction - Reeve's intervention had saved countless lives. Still, the stench of decay lay heavy over this part of town. The three battle-hardened companions tried not to see the mangled corpses scattered in the rubble.
Over eighty percent of Midgar's population had survived, thanks to Reeve. Still, the twenty percent that had not...
"This place..." Elena said.
"The flies..." Reno muttered.
Rude did not speak. He seldom did. But it was clear from the pained look on his face that he, too, would have wanted to be somewhere else at that moment.
"What are we doing here?" Reno asked. "We shouldn't be here."
"Shut up," Rude muttered. "Shut up and walk."
"What's so important about this anyway?" Elena asked him. Rude glared at her from behind his expensive sunshades.
"You should know."
"Know what?" she pressed. He glared again, but did not speak.
"We have been thinking... well..." Reno sighed. "Never mind. You will see when we arrive."
"Why do I always have to be the last to know?" Elena asked irately. The heat, the flies, the stench and the rats were all starting to get to her. "I'm as good as any of you!"
"That's because you have the least seniority. Now shut up," Rude said.
"Yeah, shut up," Reno agreed. "We'll be there soon enough."
The two men started walking. Elena remained, standing where she was. After a few seconds, however, she followed them. Given a choice between staying there or following Reno and Rude, she had to chose the latter. To be left alone... with the dead... Shivering, she ran to catch up.
Rude led them past the destroyed seventh sector slums - this part was completely demolished, a monument of Rufus' folly. Lowering his head in shame, Reno cursed the day when he, loyal to the President, had been part of this hideous crime. If only he had...
"Look, Reno..." Elena tried.
"Don't," he snapped. "It's... the past now. Don't want to talk about it."
"Alright... I see."
"Do you?" he wondered coolly. "I wonder."
Elena closed her mouth. No, she realised, I don't.
And Rude led them further into the ruins.
"You... think this is safe?" Reno asked.
"Alright, alright," Reno sighed. "Eh... ladies first." He shoved Elena towards the wire.
"Hey!" she protested.
"I will go first." Rude's statement surprised them, but not so much as to prevent them from moving away. Rude grabbed the coarse wire in his strong hands and silently began climbing. Elena followed him, after casting a murderous glance at Reno, who followed once she was on her way.
It was a long climb. But they couldn't very well turn back now, now that they were so close - so they kept climbing. They didn't have to rely on the thick wire all the way, though, as the assorted rubble in their way provided better hand- and footholds. Nevertheless, it took them half an hour to reach the top.
"There it is..." Reno sighed as he finally climbed up on safer ground.
The Shinra building was a lot shorter than it had been - the top forty floors had been taken off, and now only thirty remained. It was still impressive, but much less so than it had once been. The marble statue of Rufus Shinra, the President, still stood outside, by some twist of fate unscathed by the catastrophe, twice the height of a normal man.
"Close..." Rude said, producing a keycard. "I will open the doors." He slid the card into a slot in the wall. A green light flashed over the door, which opened, almost without a sound. Rude ushered his companions through, then closed the door behind them.
The first floor was not untouched by the destruction. Panicking Shinra employees had torn it apart as they tried to flee the building. Robot guards lay strewn about on the floor, along with the odd human corpse. Rude shook his head. Coming from him, it was not a small thing.
"Let's get it over with," Reno sighed. "Are the lifts still operational?"
"Up to the fifteenth floor." Rude pointed to the nearby lift. "Get in."
Rude's keycard would have granted him access up to the seventieth floor, had it still been there - the highest level of security clearance. However, this time, it needed only take them to the fifteenth floor. As Rude had predicted, the lift shaft was broken above this floor; going further would be dangerous, if not suicidal.
"The stairs," Reno sighed. "They're over here, if I'm not mistaken..."
"No. This way," Rude said, pointing. Reno and Elena followed him to a door. Rude opened it with his keycard, revealing a narrow spiral staircase. Taking the lead, the bald man led the others up past the sixteenth and seventeenth floors, stopping at the eighteenth. "Stay here," he said, opening the door.
"No," Reno said unexpectedly. "I'll come, too."
"Me too," Elena said, not knowing quite what to expect, but not wanting to be left alone in this metropolis-turned-ghost town.
And Rude, surprisingly, nodded, just once.
They entered the eighteenth floor. For a moment, they just looked around, then Reno spoke:
"It's the same as always..."
"I thought they would have ruined it too..." Elena said.
"No. This was our special floor. Our equipment... too dangerous to let other personnel in." Rude strode up to a row of lockers, looking at every one of them as he passed. "Elena..." he muttered as he passed one with her name on it. "Reno..." He suddenly stopped in front of a locker with no name plate on it; where it had been, there was a twenty by four centimetres rectangular spot where the blue paint was somewhat brighter. "Tseng..." he said softly, taking hold of the lock. There had never been enough time to empty Tseng's locker; they had just removed the nameplate.
Rude gave the small padlock a yank, utilising all his knowledge of martial arts - and it broke. Rude tossed the lock over his shoulder, and reached into the locker. He stood still for a second, then recovered a small, white object - a piece of paper, by the looks of it - and put it in his pocket. Then he reached inside the locker again, this time removing a brown cardboard box, about fifteen times fifteen centimetres wide and twice that in height. The box was plain and nondescript; it could contain anything, and Elena could not guess what. From the way Rude held it, however, it would have to be something valuable, and fragile. "Reno," Rude commanded.
"On it," Reno said, disappearing in the direction of the old cafeteria.
"What's he -" Elena started.
"Not now," Rude interrupted. Reno re-emerged, holding a small bag, which tinkled as he moved.
"Got it," he said.
"Good." Rude headed for the door, then turned and walked back to the lockers. Carefully setting the packet down, he walked up to the one bearing his own name, and expertly struck the padlock with the edge of his hand, sending it flying to his left. Then he opened the door and reached in, grabbing something and placing it inside of his jacket. Neither Reno nor Elena saw what it was; and none of them asked.
"Let's go." Rude picked the box up again, and once more headed for the door.
They headed down the stairs again, very slowly - Rude would not walk fast, apparently out of fear of dropping the cardboard box. Upon reaching the fifteenth floor, he handed the keycard to Reno, who accessed the lift. Elena, the last to enter the lift, pressed the button marked 1.
A minute later, Reno used Rude's keycard to open the last door, and they walked outside. Stopping by a large heap of scrap metal, Rude carefully placed the cardboard box on a reasonably level surface, where it would not slide down, and turned to face the others.
"Tseng... said he was saving this for something special..." he said. "He never said what. I don't think he knew, either... Elena... I found this... in Tseng's locker." He reached into his pocket, pulling out the white object he had taken, handing it to Elena.
It was a small white envelope, sealed shut, bearing no marks... except for the one word Elena, written in Tseng's smooth, elegant handwriting.
Elena's breath seemed to get stuck in her throat. A letter to her... from Tseng? With trembling hands, she took it from Rude, started to open it... but hesitated. No, she decided. I will not open it. Not yet, anyway. Shaking her head, letting her hair fall down and hide her face, she pocketed the letter without even opening it. "Thank you... Rude."
Rude simply nodded. Then he pulled something out from inside his jacket - a gun!
But he did not point it at either of his friends. Raising his had, he took aim - and pulled the trigger. A flaming projectile shot from the weapon in his hand, striking the snowy white statue straight in the chest. Never meant to take that kind of abuse, the statue exploded in flames, causing little pieces of blackened marble to fly in all directions. Reno and Elena dropped to the ground, thereby avoiding most of the splinters, but Rude remained standing, shielding the little brown box behind him.
Once the explosion died down, and Elena and Reno got up, he brushed the dust from his suit, which no longer seemed blue, but a strange kind of grey. Of Rufus' statue, only the legs remained, up to the knees.
Elena watched the slowly dying fire for a moment, then walked up to them, pulling out Tseng's letter, and, after one last look at it, dropped it in one of the largest flames. She turned her back as the fire hungrily consumed it, slowly walking back to the others.
"I... know what it said..." she said as a way of explanation. "And even if... if it... if it did not, I... would still like to think..."
"I understand," Reno said grimly, with a passion that surprised her. "Believe me, I do understand."
Elena was about to tell him no, he couldn't possibly understand... but then she saw the look in his eyes. Nodding, she mumbled, "I know..."
"It is time," Rude said, taking off his shades and dropping them on the ground, stepping forcefully on them. "Reno."
"Got it." Reno had somehow managed to hold the small bag out of harm's way. Now he opened it, producing three glasses. Rude turned and opened the cardboard box, taking out a bottle of old, expensive brandy.
"This is for Tseng," he said, pouring for the three of them. Each member of the group took a glass, and raised it to the blazing statue.
"For Tseng," Reno and Elena echoed.
The three of them emptied their glasses.
"Yes..." Elena whispered into her glass. "For Tseng. Farewell... beloved."
Yes, I made up the statue of Rufus. It isn't there in the game, but it fit in this story. It would be just like him anyway, and maybe it was placed a bit to the right so Cloud and company never saw it...