The Name of the Game
Two Man Bluff.
It starts out like this:
Two revolvers, eight bullets, two Turks, one room, one exit.
It's the Shinra Corp. rock-scissors-paper.
You can win, you can lose, you can tie.
Translate the rules: You can live, you can die, you can die.
Pow. One steel bullet through the skull, that's all it takes.
Except across the room Elena's smiling at me, too busy aiming at my head to protest the sexism inherent in the name of the game.
The game is off to a start.
It didn't always work this way.
Once upon a time, I called the shots, I said go. You know, that time long ago
when this rookie redhead hotshot could afford enough time in the mornings to
shave every day for the ladies. When'd you stop, buddy? When did the blood get
too thick, the nights too short, the booze too sweet?
"Come on Reno. Is this the best you can do?" Elena sneers at me. I
dodge the left hook, don't look down for the uppercut.
Her fist, bone hard, smacks into my jaw. I hear something crack; I feel something split or splinter.
No Elena. No. This isn't the best I can do, alright?
As I keel over backwards, I catch a whiff of something sweet in the air, emanating off of her. Ambrosia maybe.
Or, I dunno. Hell. Maybe she's just knocked me batty.
Ah, Costa del sol, your sea breeze, your sun rolling like golden molasses.
For your air, your sticky touch, for your cheap booze and late nights-- I would
do anything. You wouldn't think me a poetic man, and indeed I'm not, but for the
girls! Girls with wet lips upon skin, whispers raising goosebumps, the girls who
laugh and hide behind waterfalls of falling hair, who taste like sunset and who
leave their mysterious musk wherever they go. For them, I'd write a sonnet. I'd outrhyme Shakespeare. I'd steal the moon.
And in Costa Del Sol awaits me a girl, soul as pure and naked as the day she was born. What a joke. I caught her in my arms walking out of a bar. "Elena," I said, into her fine blonde hair. "God-damn, girl, but do you smell good." She'd never been snatched up by a satyr like me before, was intrigued by my nocturnal world. And though she pulled her slim form away, I could feel her falling for me like a thunderclap.
Then she shrank into herself. "Don't."
Her soft blue gaze glanced quickly upwards towards my eyes, but unable to contain their stare, roved down to the safer grounds of my lips, too-red lips, stained with tequila. "What's your..." She took a breath. "What's your name again?"
The lips parted in a smile. "Reno, babe. Reno."
"And what do you do, Reno?" Polite little thing.
I put on my sunglasses, already started walking away. "I'm a Turk," I said over my shoulder.
I stayed silent, let myself slip down some dark alley; Let her follow me.
Shadowboxing, that's what it is. I feint to the left and she feints with me. I raise my knee up to my chin and kick out. It catches her square in her tight little stomach with a loud oomph. She dodges the followup, leaning backwards while I get to my feet. Then she kicks out at me, and I fall back on one hand, like she did. A-ssa-si-na-ting-a-cro-ba-tics, weaving words in the trails of gun-pow-der... Disembodied movement, every motion detached from the next, synapses disowning the reflexes of the body; I grin sadistically and laugh as I slam an elbow into her teeth. Crash. She learned long ago not to howl in the midst of the pain.
Jeezus, How was I supposed to know? When she pointed to a dust speck
of a star in the horizon and said that she'd follow me there and beyond, I
thought she was drunk. I thought she was kidding. I should've known better...
hyperbole is the first sign of a good Turk, when followed up by hyperbolic
action. There, Reno. And there. And there. And anywhere. It wasn't
just me, I knew. It was the suit, and the sunglasses, and the way people moved
away and whispered when I walked by. She wanted me, yes. Shut the hell
But when she couldn't have me, she wanted everything I had.
"Reno? Do you love me?"
A bed in a room in some hotel. A beach in Costa. Her apartment. Never mine.
I blew eloquent plumes of smoke in her face and laughed openly, heartily. God. I'd never had a better kick in my life. She got offended.
"Aha. Ahaha. Elena, my sweet. You have a lot to learn."
She propped herself up on an elbow, blue eyes more brilliant in the darkness than I could've thought them. "Explain."
I flopped backwards, shut my eyes to the world. "I'm a Turk." I didn't have to open my eyes to know she was leaning over me, eager to hear my words. The education of Elena the bimbo.
"And." A smug, quiet smile. "Turks don't love."
"Why?" Her whisper was a tickle at a nonexistant conscience.
"Because my little one, my naive one, my pathetic and sadly stupid one. The very definition of a Turk rests on this."
I opened my eyes and laughed again at how shocked she was at the bleakness of my eyes. Graveyards and corpse-freezers of irises. She had on that same expression when she traced the million scars upon this wasteland of a body. Hah. I was Waste. I liked that.
Her mouth breathed warm, awoke alcohol within my veins as sickly sweet addictive as the sun in Costa.
I pulled her small blonde head down and kissed her to feel alive.
Was it she, or me, or the wind that whispered?
"A Turk is a person who forgot how to love a long, long time ago."
Not a howl of pain but a howl of rage. The howl does not come alone; it tugs
along on a leash a barrage of hits to the head with the blunt end of the gun.
Hit, after hit, after hit.
Merciless beating of flesh, such vicious disrespect for the human temple. Turks pillage the temple of the body, they steal the gold, they drink whiskey and piss on the gods.
Blood, I see blood, I see... Oopsy-Daisy, Reno's got red in his eyes, he cannot see he cannot walk he cannot... I take the gun in my fist and force it back into her own head. It connects against skull with a pleasant smack. "Ahh....now that's the sound..." I grin toothily at her. She responds with a *click* BLAM!
Pants. Heavy breaths and bodies locked stiff.
Death hanging impatient over the flourescent lights.
"Elena," I growl, biceps straining against her to keep the gun pointed away from me. "How many times do I have to tell you never to fire a gun unless you've got complete control of your weapon?"
"I had you," she insists, gritting her teeth. Her compact strength flows through the gun. "I had you, dammit."
She had me? She had me? Self-loathing as I may be, the suggestion brings an amusement from the deepest pits of my cocky self. "Oh yeah, Elena," I say, a sloshing bucketful of sarcasm. "You had me at hello."
Hello foot. Hello shoe. Hello face.
She heaves her leg high up into the air, beautifully arcs (perfect form, I observe distantly), and smashes my face in.
I hit the ground and see the remnants of once dazzling wannabe-stars.
When people ask me when I became bad I laugh at them. "I was always
bad, baby. There ain't no beginning or end to a legend like me."
His name was Kade. He had brown hair, a scar on his forehead, and was the ugliest, biggest, toughest SOB I've ever met to this day, myself, perhaps, excluded. Words 'round the cafeteria went that he'd kill his own father for Shinra. I didn't doubt it.
I hated him, with a passion that could be rooted to either adolescence or the innate knowledge that I was superior to him. Kade was my first Turk mentor. He taught me how to hold a gun, how to reload the quickest, how to take out a target with minimal sound, with minimal blood. He was the master of hit and run. It wasn't my style.
Because beneath all that knife-sharp Shinra training, all that obnoxious discipline, Kade, I felt, was an idiot. Dull as sobriety. A rottweiler demeaned to be a Shinra lapdog.
He taught me pretty well, though, I have to hand it to him. But it wasn't too soon until I started to make a name for myself. See, I was different: I was the most merciless, cold-blooded cutthroat on the team. I did the dirty work and bragged about it. I didn't clean up the blood- I smeared it all over myself for effect.
Then one day, Shinra gave a call for a new head of Turks. The old one had been taken out in some meaningless scuffle with a Midgar resistance group. The announcement brought a grin to my face. I was sure I'd be brought into the white room for my trial. But when the day came, it wasn't me in there with Kade. No, strutting my stuff expecting to be promoted any day, I saw the long-haired kid, the pale one from Special Op enter the white room with Kade. And surprise to my eyes, he was the one who walked out, composedly unloading his revolver to reveal two extra bullets. One hand on the man's shoulder, like an overshadowing pervy father, Pres. Shinra chortled at my bitter-set jaw. "Ah, Reno, just the man I was looking for. Here's your new division leader: Tseng. Say hello, son..."
Later I found out that they were looking for someone solid, loyal, dependable. Not Reno with his vodka bottles and gangster strut. Not Reno with eyes so cold he'd kill every suit-toting old fogey on the Shinra board without thinking twice. No, not me. Never me. A Turk should be dangerous, but this...this was too threatening. When I fixed someone with my favorite stare, even the highest ranking Shinra official looked away. They hunched their shoulders, pretending not to see me. I laughed.
But this, this is a new era. President Shinra? That loser was a being of warmth, of lard, and blood, and sickening humanity. His son is a wad of set clay as cold and hard as limestone. Rufus Shinra likes me. If I were to fix him with a stare, threaten him, he'd probably cheerfully put a bullet between my eyes hisself. He chuckles when I sneer and give him lip. He rolls his eyes when I patronizingly kiss up. He slammed a summons order on my locker the very day we stuck Tseng in the ground.
Too bad he liked Elena, too. Too bad he didn't know how we were like fighting mirrors in blue suits, ice echoing ice. Or too bad he did.
Before my swollen eyes can fully open, her knee's in the back of my neck,
she's pulling my head ferociously backwards by my hair; I grunt to keep from
crying out. And suddenly, the pressure's off my neck, my head falls mercifully
back onto the ground. Behind me, she's silent. "What?" I say to the
ground. She says nothing. "WHAT?!?"
She flips me around, hand on my neck, and shoves a fistful of blazing red hair in my face.
She opens her palm.
In the nest of fiery crimson is a single gray hair.
Once upon a time there was a young blonde Turk who was still antsy about
torture. She squirmed in the face of murder. Her finger trembled on the trigger.
I caught her hesitating on the job one time, snorted at her inexperience. Kicking the victim aside, I smacked her across her sniveling mug and reveled in the sound of her stinging flesh. "What're you afraid of, huh?" I sneered into her face, our foreheads touching over the gagged and crying man. "Death? Pain? Your immortal soul?" I laughed and shoved her roughly away from me. "You're a Turk now, Elena. Fear only old age and incompetence."
Her face hold something years ago and human in it. Then, like a parched man
pawing through a mirage, she opens her mouth and laughs in my face.
"Oh-" she gasps through bouts of mirth. "Oh, Reno. You pathetic
old man. So this is what you've come to." She pounds my chest
"Oh yeah," I say, staring at the blank white wall on the other side of the room. "I'm real funny. Such a joke. Haha."
I take her disgusting beautiful head and slam it into the hard wall behind my shoulder. She crumples to the ground. I knee her in the stomach. I kick her in the kidneys. I step on her throat and twist my boot heel into her esophagus.
This takes about 10 seconds.
"You can't shoot me," she says haughtily.
"I can't think of a reason why not."
She's about to argue, then looks at me. How could a dead man have a conscience? She looks away.
"You couldn't hit the broad side of Heidegger."
I grin. Every side's the broad side of Heidegger. "I have 4 special bullets just for you, hon." I raise an eyebrow. "How many you got?"
She's sulky. Tseng and Rude and I always ragged her about wasting ammo. I raised my index and middle fingers, a taunting derogatory peace sign.
"Two," I mouth.
Her hand closes on my ankle.
"You couldn't hit the broad side of Heidegger." I don't have to see her face to know the expression it holds. It's a little girl's expression, moping and resonating with an inner ache. It's that little voice that says, helplessly, "No. Nono. No!
... I lost."
Her attempt at a joke is a subconscious plea. Remind me that we have a relationship outside of this room. Remind me of laughing at Shinra authority together, of getting drunk together, of teasing Rude together, of burying Tseng together. "I have 4 special bullets just for you, hon. How many you got?"
I know, Elena. I know we got history. I remember.
I shoved my fingers in her face. But it doesn't matter here.
A telltale shake of her shoulders. I know her too well.
"Two," I mouth.
I move my foot a bit to my side, subtly nudge her wrist.
Sea bass will bite at anything.
Her hand closes on my ankle.
I try not to smile as the world falls with me.
You and me, Elena. Two of us. That's all that's here, in this room. Maybe in a way, that's all it ever was.
She started out as a receptionist.
Good afternoon, Reno, sir.
Insignificant, ludicrous, another lovestruck young girl who thought she could hold my attention more than a half hour at a time. Then she started moving up. Passing me in the hallways looking smug with her sharp little dress suit. Then a briefcase. The next day I see her in the high security area. The next, the lockers.
Nice to see you, again, Reno.
Oh yeah. Just swell.
If this chick thought being a Turk was as easy as the pretty idea that bloomed in her mind, she had another thing coming. Tseng handed her over to me and Rude to train. Every time she shouted some peppy slogan or inspirational "deep thought", Rude and I had our own little private chortling party behind her back. "Oh no! They're here!" Every time she thought she'd mastered something, Rude or I did it better, showed her how shallow her knowledge was. "Elena, you're a Turk, don't act so weak." We smacked her around, gave it to her dirty, shoved her ruthlessly into the grit and gore of the Turk's life and didn't turn around to hand her a towel.
The thing was, though, every time we upped her one, she rose to the challenge. Every time we mocked her or smacked her, she set her jaw and took it. When we first got her, she'd been an innocent blond girl from Costa with a dream in her heart and a song in her lips. A few weeks with me and she was a walking disaster.
In a way, I was triumphant. I'd defeated her silly idealism, shattered her sunny view of the world. But this triumph was tainted by a doubt: Was I the one that conquered her or did she conquer me?
Feet falling out from under me, my fingers make the decision to open.
Klunk. Tchhhh. It's the most beautiful sound in the world to a Turk. Your opponent's gun hitting the ground and sliding away.
By the time I hit the floor, she's already rolling, moving to her knees to straddle my waist. She shifts them upwards to place all her weight painfully on the hollows between my shoulders and arms.
"Ahh- ah. ah. That hurts." C'mon Elena, what're you waiting for...
She squints at me for a long time. Come on! I gave you this. You better...
Suddenly, as if stabbed, her eyes widen to pale nebulas. "Why? Why didn't you try to avoid it?" she asks silently.
"What're you doing, 'Lena?" Will you just hurry it up...
"You!" she hisses at me, hatefully. She spits her words in my face.
"I can't believe-" Do it! "I can't believe you'd do something like this." Do it!
"You pretentious..." She's shaking with rage. For the love of- " She smashes her knuckles several times brutally into the front of my face. Flesh tears. Cartilage crunches noisily.
"You think I can't take this?" she screams in my face. "You think I can't do this myself?" Her shrieks ring in my ears until my brain goes happily numb. "What is this? Pity? Condescending-...you'll see!"
Jesus. She's friggin' hyperventilating.
She stands up and kicks my gun to me. "Get up. Pick up your gun. Play the game."
I stand up, blood dripping about my feet, sliding down my chest in silken streams.
I twist a smile, ignoring the pain. "Back to back?"
There's no answer.
"Just don't cheat."
There'll never be an answer any more.
It starts like this:
Two revolvers, two bullets, two Turks, back to back.
I empty my gun in a meaningful shower. She sneers at my chin. Hah. Still can't look at my eyes.
Ah, well. A break for a break.
I press my sweatstained waist to her slim back. I'm a good head taller than her. I hold still a moment, and feel her tensed muscles twitching in anticipation behind me.
The difference between her and me has always been that she's always wanted it.
I was only doing it to kill two birds with one stone. The birds being time and people.
But this time...
I'll want it...
"If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be?"
I took a swig from my tequila bottle, dipped my feet under the cool water below the dock. "Nobody. That's who I'd want to be. A plain ol' nobody."
She smiled at her soft bare knees thoughtfully. "I think," she said. "I'd want to be you." She played with the hair on the nape of my neck. "Invincible," she whispered into my ear. "Nobody could hurt me."
I shrugged her off irritably, pinned her with a heavy look. "Trust me on this one, sweetheart. If there's anything in the world you don't want to be, it's me." But she just smiled, smug with some inner secret, and tried to skip a stone across the water. It sank horribly.
I nibbled on a lime, tried to rid myself of the bitter taste that washed through my mouth.
I knew she didn't believe me.
A knee in the groin is worth 3 in the face.
If I squint my eyes enough, everything blurs out to swinging limbs and white space and the buzzing of the lights and the sound of fists, like hitting a bag of wet gravel and cement. Halfway between a crunch and a thud.
The sock to the stomach crunches.
The roundhouse to the liver thuds.
We bite our teeth until they throb, spit out mouthfuls of blood like chewing tobacco.
The room buzzes.
I smack her head backwards and kick it back sideways, sock her in the stomach, and follow with an uppercut.
The room buzzes louder.
"Aha!" I say, as she propels herself forwards in a cloud of fists. She bruises my cheeks purple and black while I shake it off casually. I laugh hysterically, my ears flooding with the buzzing. "Ahahaha!"
My eyelids resonate with the buzzing- the whole world shakes, a charging nightstick, crackling for action.
WHY IS EVERYTHING SO GODDAMN BRIGHT/WHITE/COLD IN HERE?
She staggers backwards, ragged, and I bring my knee to my chin for the final kick.
At the last moment, my head whips back towards her, our eyes lock, something screams my name on the face of a white-hot Shinra brand. Stamped. Owned.
Was it she, or me, or the wind that whispered?
She catches my foot.
The buzzing stops.
Then her foot lands where my ribs and heart join, and the air is ripped out of me, a child torn from the womb, a girl stripped naked and shoved in the snow, a swiftly decomposing fish out of water.
I hit the ground with a shock that resonates up my spinal column and tickles my cerebrum with licks of electric synapse pain. Quick as a flash, as a bullet, as a fading girl, she's at my neck, she's jammed her revolver viciously into the flesh of my soft upper pallate. I restrain a gag. Our eyes make contact. Click. Clickclick.
Oopsy-daisy, the great Reno's had an accident, he's tripped and fallen, he's made a mistake...
She rattles the steel barrel against my molars and laughs. "How's it
feel now, Reno?" she asks. Her voice is disembodied. Her eyes stare
straight into mine.
I slip my tongue over to the other side of the muzzle of the gun. I taste the acidic feel of iron, like a frozen column of blood.
"Elena," I try to say, but it comes out all garbled. "Elena baby..." And now I've got tears running down my cheeks, not because I'm scared to die, but because I'm sorry....
Because when I look up, her eyes are blue, barren blue, cold as mine.
And I have 5 seconds to start a prayer before my teeth are blown into the back of my head and it all disappears in a flash of searing white.