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By Heather Rogerson
I do have one small thing that I'd like to share with you. I thought that you should know...I'm not the Elena I used to be. I'm a changed woman now. Maybe I'm weaker for the change, maybe I'm stronger. I leave that for others to decide. I can almost hear your voice, asking me to kindly explain myself and get to the point. Well, it's kinda like this. I never told you about my time in Midgar, after we learned that Rufus was dead, or so we were told. I always worried about how you would have thought of me for doing the things I'm about to share with you. I always wondered if you would have disapproved of me for it. I guess I'll never know. But what I do know, is that I did what I thought was right at that time. And isn't it always the duty of a Turk to adjust to any situation? Have you ever had a time in your life when all material things seem to blend into the background and it feels as if you're walking in a daze? Where nothing seems real, and only the pain in you heart tells you that you aren't just some mindless ghost parading amongst the living, unseen, unheard, a shade of what you used to be? If you haven't experienced a great loss, then you wouldn't know what this feels like. And believe me, you're luckier then I am at this present moment.
"Hey guys? Wanna stop and....uh, maybe get a drink?" Rude and I turned to look at Reno who attempted a laugh and failed miserably. It sounded almost like a strangled sob rising from his throat. He blinked rapidly and shrugged.
"I guess that's a 'no', huh?"
"What was your first clue?," Rude murmured quietly. He was always quiet, I realize now. No matter what the situation, he never raised his voice. You never raised your voice either. You were always the best of friends. I think...I think maybe you and Rude understood each other. You didn't talk much, but you always knew what the other was thinking. I hear that good friends can do that to each other. You worked well together. We all did.
"So, what are we going to do now? I mean, now that Shinra is gone," Reno piped up, yet again. He fell into step beside me and brushed back a strand of disheveled red hair from his face. Reno always looked a mess, with his open shirt and loosened tie. Not like you. You always dressed so professional. Nothing was ever out of place on you. You were, after all, representing the Company.
"Don't know," Rude replied, pausing to light up a cigarette. "Meteor is due to fall almost any second now. Rufus is gone, Shinra is gone, and now, so is our job." He took a deep drag off of it and looked up at the...well, he looked up. I guess you couldn't really call the smog-laden clouds overhead the sky. Streaks of red smeared the black expanse over the skyscrapers and the demolished Shinra building. It's craggy blackened peaks stretched like a pleading hand into the air. The Diamond Weapon really made short work of that place. Poor President Rufus. I heard he never had a chance. They never recovered a body, though. Either he was incinerated by that laser blast or he somehow managed to get away. Either way, he was nowhere to be found. And since people were blaming Shinra for Meteor, maybe it was for the best if he laid low for now. That is, if he was still alive. The air was hot and shimmered with heat all around us. People always asked if we never got hot in our suits. When you are as cool headed and cold blooded as we are, we would always joke, you don't feel the heat quite the same way.
"Damn that Cloud Strife!," Reno cried, swinging his nightstick at an abandoned vendor's booth. "He could have let us die with some honor, some last shred of dignity as a Turk! But no! His stupid sense of fair play wouldn't let him finish off such weak opponents!"
"What glory is there in defeating the already defeated?," Rude asked softly tossing the cigarette butt down onto the street and grinding it under his shoe. I wish I could have seen his eyes but they were covered, as always, by the ever present sunglasses. Still, I knew this was hurting him. I didn't have to be a psychic to know that. Reno grunted and swung again. The metal rod connected with the flimsy wood. There was a cracking sound as the bar went straight through, leaving a ragged, gaping hole. I felt a twinge of pain in my chest, though it wasn't any sort of physical pain. It was more of an emotional nature.
"Reno, that wasn't very bright. Remember the Company image," I said absently. That's what you always used to tell me. Reno looked at me strangely, then looked at Rude. They both stopped. Rude stepped in front of me and placed his hands on my shoulders.
"Elena, don't go into shock on us. The Company is gone," he said.
"Yeah, Elena. Don't be so weak," Reno added. But there wasn't any spirit behind his words, not like the other times he always said it. Still, I told him to shut up anyway. A girl has to have a little self-esteem, doesn't she?
"Don't worry, guys. I'm not going into shock. It's just that...well...old habits die hard, I guess." I reached up and patted Rude's hand, then gently squeezed Reno's arm. For a second, we stood there, thinking about how hard it would be to let go of the past and move on. But then we shook off the moment and continued unhurriedly down the street.
People rushed past us. It was the panic we had come to ignore. They were all fleeing Midgar, fleeing the Meteor, fleeing the destruction and chaos that it would cause when it fell. And in the midst of this tidal wave, we were strolling down the avenue as if it were any ordinary day and not the end of life as we had known it.
"Help me! Help me, please!" A woman came running up to us and grabbed Rude by the lapels of his jacket. Like I said, old habits die hard. He had his hand back, ready to punch her off of him before I grabbed his arm. Realizing what he was about to do, he lowered his hand and gently pushed the distraught woman away from him.
"What's wrong, lady? Can't you see that we have our own troubles to worry about?," Reno snapped. This seemed to penetrate through the hysterical woman's sobbing.
"I'm lost! Please help me! I'm so lost! I don't know which way to go! All the streets look the same! How do I get out of here? Meteor is coming and I have two children. I don't know which way takes us out of this city," she whimpered.
"Lady, we're all lost. We've all lost our way." Rude took her hands in his as he said this and looked into her tear-filled eyes. "There is no escaping our destiny. You can run from it for a little while, but it's always there waiting for you at the end of the line." Letting go of her, he stepped around the woman and motioned to Reno and I.
"I'm really sorry, lady," Reno told her gently as he passed her. "C'mon Elena. Don't lag behind."
"No, please! Please don't leave us here to die!," the woman wailed, clutching at my arm as I began to follow my friends.
"I'm sorry," I said, firmly prying her fingers from my wrist. "There is nothing I can do to help." I felt sick as she crumpled to her knees and laid her forehead against the dirty pavement, crying her heart out. It tore me up inside to see it. I turned my back on her and started slowly after my companions. I could hear her wailing over the din as I left her there in the middle of the street, surrounded by the helpless and the hopeless people of Midgar. Her people, the ones that felt exactly the way she did. Exactly the way I did. And yet, it gnawed at me like a starving dog on a bone. I could have done something to help her. We all could have helped her, and even though we knew this, we were choosing to walk away and do nothing.
It's none of our business, the cynical part of me reasoned. Watch out for yourself and yours and leave the rest up to them. After all, it's not our fault that Meteor is falling. But that wasn't right at all. It was our fault. It was all our fault! It was the old president's dream that had caused these events to transpire. It was Rufus' fault for following in his father's footsteps. It was Hojo's fault for creating that monster known as Sephiroth and that puppet called Cloud.
Tears threatened to blur my vision and try as I might, all the blinking in the world wouldn't hold them back. It was Shinra that killed you, Tseng. I had been trying to pin the blame on Cloud and Sephiroth, and even that Ancient they called Aeris. But when it all boiled down, it was really Shinra who had committed the crime. Sephiroth may have delivered the injury, Cloud and that Ancient may have left you there to die, but it was Shinra that had sent us there in the first place.
I hadn't been watching where I was going, and so when Reno stopped suddenly in front of me, I walked right into his back. "I'm sorry," I mumbled. He rubbed the back of his head and looked at me with...I couldn't tell. It may have been pity, it may have been sympathy, it may have been an odd mixture of both, as he took in my tear-streaked face. Pulling out a surprisingly clean white linen hanky, he handed it to me. I gratefully accepted it, using a corner to wipe my eyes. Elena, don't be so weak. Elena, remember the company image...
"I'm fine," I told him. "The dust and heat is making my eyes water." It was lame excuse, and I know Reno didn't buy it, but he nodded wordlessly anyway. I looked up, and found that we were somewhere near the ruined Sector Seven. "What are we going to do, guys? We can't just keep wandering around like this?"
"What do you suggest, Elena? We're always open to ideas," Rude remarked. I chose to ignore the sarcasm.
"Well, we could maybe help these people get out of the city." Now why did I say that?
Reno managed an incredulous laugh. "What? Are you serious?"
"Yes, I'm serious! Who knows Midgar better then we do? We can stop the panic and help get people out of here."
"But, why? It's not our problem. We know the way out, so why bother helping them? We have our own worries."
"The only thing we're worried about right now is ourselves. Look at us! We used to be the coolest, most level headed organization in all of Shinra. And yet, here we are, wallowing in grief-" My voice cracked. I cleared my throat. "In grief and self pity. During all our time with Shinra, we have hurt people. We have killed them and abused them, and yes, I know it was our job to do so. We were feared and hated by everyone, even those we worked with. But maybe it's time to do something good for a change, to help people."
"Elena, what's come over you? I thought you were proud to be a Turk!" Reno protested to me. He looked at Rude who shook his head as if he couldn't believe his own ears.
"I was, Reno. In a way, I still am. But I have to rectify all the wrong that we...that I have done by tempering it with mercy and compassion. I have to find a new meaning for my life. And I think this is it." I looked at the two men who stood silently in the harsh glow of the city lights. "I was thinking, maybe the helicopter could be used as a means of transportation. But for that, I need your help." I looked at Rude. He was stoically avoiding my eyes. "Elena, you're just postponing the inevitable. We all have to go sometime," he said. Looking at me, he lightly touched my cheek. His fingers were warm and dry and calloused from years of working out.
I nodded to what he said, but I reached up and took off his glasses. He squinted and blinked as the lights glared into his eyes. He looked at me curiously. I smiled sadly at him. "Sorry, it's something I always wanted to do. I always wanted to look into your eyes." Gently, I replaced his shades on the bridge of his nose and he pushed them up. To Reno, I threw my arms around him and gave him a tight hug. I didn't have to see the surprised look on his face, I could feel it in him as he gingerly moved his arms around my back.
"Take care of yourself," I whispered. Letting go, I pulled away and turned my back on them. With steady, measured steps, I began walking away from the life I had known for as long as I could remember, from the comrades who had saved my skin and covered my back a hundred-thousand times. I was leaving behind all that I had thought was important to do what always should have been important.
"This way everyone. Just follow the line. Please, sir, don't push. You'll get there soon enough." With my knowledge of the city, it was rather easy for me to locate a usable cargo lift from the Upper Plate to the slums. As a Turk, we were forced to carry around a small black booklet that contained passwords and access codes to half a dozen buildings, Mako reactors, cargo lifts, and more.
The lift I had found was surprisingly large. It could hold at least twenty people, plus their belongings. It was slow going, of course. With so many people living in the Upper Plate, it would take days to evacuate everyone, and unfortunately, there wasn't enough time. With Meteor growing ever closer by the minute, it was extremely unlikely that even half of the people would manage to escape.
It had been easy for me to round up groups of people to use the lifts. Once the panic-stricken citizens of Midgar realized what I was talking about, a clump started forming around the elevator. Soon the clump became a mob, everyone pushing and fighting to get onto the lift. I knew that if they kept it up, people would get hurt. I used my hand gun to keep order. A few shots fired into the air got me their attention. I forced them to make a line, women and children first, and I personally monitored how many people were let through at a time. A few people attempted to bribe me, but they quickly put away their money when they found themselves staring down the barrel of my gun.
It made me mad to think that these silly people actually listened to Shinra when they had blamed AVALANCHE for bringing about Meteor. They swallowed the tripe Rufus fed them about Shinra taking care of the problem. As I helped load another twenty people onto the lift, I was forced to admit that they did try that rocket launch, but Cloud messed it up, as usual.
Wearily, I pushed aside these bitter thoughts. It was too late to hate him now. To late... I closed my eyes and leaned my head back against the warm metal of the lift, waiting for it to return for it's next batch of passengers. I noticed the wind was picking up a little. In fact, it was almost getting windy. My eyes popped open with a start. But that was impossible! Midgar almost never had wind! I shaded my eyes with my hand and looked up. The helicopter! It was our very own Shinra helicopter! Several people screamed and backed away as they saw it circling and preparing to land. The machine lightly touched down to the pavement, the roar of the engine drowning out almost everything. Out hopped Reno.
He jogged over to me and gave his cocky grin. "Could you use a hand?" he shouted. I nodded, too moved to say anything. They had came through for me, my friends.
And now I stand here, my dearest one, looking down at the place where you died, where I thought my heart had died too. It's kinda funny, you know. I walked away from my old life to enter this new phase of it. I'm no longer controlled by a twisted dream to create a better world. I can see now that this world is all we need, all that I need. I will never be truly happy, because you aren't here with me. But I know, in some strange way, that you always will be. Somehow, I know...
In case you're wondering, we managed to get quiet a few people out of Midgar before Meteor came. We kept working, right until the end. Reno, of all people, refused to leave until he was able to help this one family to escape. The family was saved, but Reno gave his life doing it. The Mako energy converging to stop Meteor was flooding the area. You never knew what happened to Cloud when he fell into the Lifestream, but a similar fate befell our friend. The power was just too much for him to handle. Rude and I couldn't bear to watch him live the rest of his life on machines. So, we signed the release and he was allowed to slip quietly away from us. I held his hand, as I knew you would want me to. I comforted him, like I couldn't do for you when you left me. Rude...he couldn't take it. He left the hospital and I haven't seen him since. He'll be back, I know he will, as soon as he comes to grips with the loss.
And so I'm alone in this new world. It's one of wild beauty that I never noticed in all our travels. I wish you could have lived to see it with me. I'm crying again, and I can almost hear your voice telling me to straighten up. What will this do for the Company image? Or Reno laughing at me and telling me not to be so weak. That always makes me smile.
Well, my boat is leaving soon. We're trying to build Neo Midgar, though this time, we're staying Mako free. We're tearing down the reactors. Cloud Strife and Tifa Lockheart have been organizing that. Reeve was made the new Mayor of Neo Midgar, and I must say, he's taking his role seriously. I can almost hear you sneering at that, demanding to know who that sniveling traitor bribed to get that position. Well, he was elected, though not by my vote. As for the rest of AVALANCHE and their cronies...I can't say that I have kept up on where they are and what they are doing.
There's the whistle. Time to leave. Every time I visit this place, it feels like the first, though I've memorized every detail. It's engraved on my heart. I'll never let that memory leave me, nor the charm of your smile, that last smile...I'm learning to let go, Tseng. I'm learning to move on with my life. It's still hard, so very hard, but I'll deal with it. I'm a survivor. I leave these roses here, in memory of you and of my love for you. Good-bye for now. Until we meet again...
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