Author's Note: Gomen'ne, min'na-san! This chapter took for-bloody-ever to get written, and then I mulled over it for weeks before it was up to my standards for posting. There's some little Vin/Luc interaction here, though, as well as yet another mention of little Lucrecia's friend, Haishin. If any of you don't know who this is by now, I'm very sorry. He'll be in the next chapter.

This chapter will also reintroduce you to the Turks, and go a little bit deeper into their characters before doing something very mean to all three of them. I hope you all like Rourke, he goes through some serious hell in this chapter.

O – O – O

O – O – O

Chapter Three: What It Means To Be a Turk

Lucrecia walked through the shopping arcade, checking the little notebook in her hand periodically to make sure she was heading the right direction. She had turned down a ride to Vincent's apartment from David Gast—who, while being perfectly amiable, made her a bit nervous—with the insistence that she knew where the youth lived and would have no trouble getting there on foot after school.

Of course this meant she had to look up his address—which required getting Haishin to hack into the academy files and print off the young Valentine's record—and figure out how to get there from the school without looking too lost. She hoped David didn't decide to drive past while she was still in plain sight, obviously uncertain of where to go from here. "Alexandria Street…" she murmured, stopping at a crossroads. The sign on either side bore the name she was looking for, which meant that it was the Alexandria Street—the one that ran through the whole of Sector Three, cutting it in half down the middle. She was supposed to turn left, if her calculations were correct.

She glanced down that direction and found herself viewing a large pink-and-yellow building that even a child as young as herself recognized as a bad place for a girl to pass by unaccompanied. She wished that she had asked Haishin to come with her, for what felt like the hundredth time in as many seconds. He was smaller than her, yes, but he was a boy; as long as she was accompanied by someone of the opposite sex she wouldn't even get a backward glance from the keepers of that building.

A boy rushed past, inexplicably catching the girl's eye, and she watched with confusion as he disappeared into the crowd. "Vincent?" she murmured, unable to stop herself. She turned swiftly away, shaking her head and rapping herself soundly on the forehead with one knuckle. That boy had been too tall and his hair too long to be Vincent. But there was something unmistakably familiar about his gait, the way he walked so certainly and so quickly, always a heartbeat away from a sprint. She wondered if it was because he was training to become a Turk that he moved like that, but had no basis for comparison—she had never seen a Turk before, after all.

But that boy had looked so much like the Turk Cadet that the girl found herself drawn to face the direction he had gone, unable to move for several long seconds. He had been injected with condensed Mako, so there was no telling what could have happened to him. That might very well have been the young Valentine she had compared notes with so many times in the last year.

The girl realized that she would never find out if she was right or not unless she followed after him soon, and decided to hurry along in the youth's wake. She broke into a run, accidentally bumping into three people—she hated this place, it was always so crowded—and stepping on four feet before breaking free and reaching the shop she assumed the boy had rushed into.

She tried to look through the window, but found the glass to be tinted. She would have to go inside. Glancing up and reading the sign she let out a sigh of relief—this was the same place she had purchased her school uniform over the summer, a nice little tailor's shop run by a husband and wife, both of whom went only by their last names. The realization, however, brought a surge of confusion to her already-addled thoughts. What was he doing in a tailor's?

O – O – O

"Weren't you in here a couple months ago?" the woman inquired, pulling the length of measuring tape from one shoulder to the other and marking the distance down on the palm-sized notepad she held.

"Mm-hm," Vincent replied blankly.

She arched both pale eyebrows, eyes widening slightly. "You certainly grow quickly, don't you?" She measured from his neck to his waist, pausing to brush at a loose lock of ebon hair against his shoulder. "And your hair is so much longer, too, almost past your shoulders…"

"Mm-hm," he replied again, deadpan.

"What is that Turk feeding you?"

Now the boy let out a sigh. "Mrs. Markham, I can promise that this has nothing to do with how Rourke takes care of me." He let out a sigh and lowered his eyes, brow furrowing. He would have to cut his hair later—only the third time since he came to Midgar—before it drove his insane. It was, indeed, quiet a bit longer than it had been; uneven in cut for reasons the Cadet didn't bother to care about, at the longest point it brushed his shoulders. The length was unfamiliar and annoying, making him reach up and scratch the back of his neck every few minutes.

The sound of bells heralded the arrival of another patron, and both Mrs. Markham and Vincent turned to the doorway. "So it is you," said the girl standing there, crystal blue eyes wide.

"Sorrenson," Vincent said quietly, surprised to see the young brunette. What was she doing here? Her uniform, which she still wore, fit just fine, meaning that she wasn't here for that. Vincent could only suppose that she had followed him in from the street, but that didn't explain how she took so long to come in. She was certainly an odd one.

She took a step forward, looking him up and down. "Are you okay?" she inquired.

"Aside from having to get a new uniform," he replied, "I'm fine. Not even sore."

Lucrecia's expression softened and she let out a relieved sigh. "Thank Gaea! The whole class was pretty worried about you—I told my friend Haishin what happened and he was worried, and he doesn't even know you. He wants to major in Mako Sciences, so he knows about this sort of thing. He said that you might have some dizzy spells, maybe even faint a couple times—"

The seamstress marked down the final measurement she needed to complete his uniform and ushered him off the dais, handing him a slip with the pick-up date on it. "I don't faint," Vincent replied shortly as Mrs. Markham, silent, left the room. The brunette flinched slightly at his voice, as though he had struck her, and the boy let out a sigh. He straightened out his oversized t-shirt and took a step toward the door, stopping when he came even with Lucrecia. "Why are you here, anyway?" he inquired at last.

"I told you, everyone was worried. I got your address and decided to check on you. The Professor said that the Turks are out of town right now, so you're all alone in your apartment; I was afraid something bad might have happened and no one was there to help."

Vincent looked her up and down, scrutinizing her carefully. "You were worried?"

She flushed slightly, lowering her eyes, and nodded shakily. "I-I just…Mirac and…I couldn't stop thinking about that stupid mouse, you know? The thought of you—of anyone—like that…it was just too much." She lifted her sapphire gaze to meet Vincent's earthy eyes. "Professor Lynden said your group had the full dose, twelve parts Mako. He used a lighter dose on his mouse, so…"

"You were afraid I was going to go insane and kill myself."

She chuckled nervously. "Something like that."

They stood in silence for a long moment. Vincent cleared his throat self-consciously. "You're the one who called for Lynden, right? The one who helped bring me back?" Lucrecia's face turned a deeper shade of pink as she nodded, but Vincent didn't see it with his eyes cast sideways. "Well, I guess I should thank you. Are you hungry?"

She started, letting out a short "Eh?" but couldn't force out another word.

Vincent faced her again, seeming perfectly at-ease. "I asked if you're hungry. There's a little restaurant around here that…" he paused, biting his bottom lip. He had always been careful not to mention his Shinra acquaintances in public, but Lynden had already let the entire class know he was a Cadet. He supposed there was no point in hiding it now. "…That the Turks and I go to sometimes, when they aren't on a mission somewhere. I was wondering if you wanted to get something to eat." He smiled nervously, though he knew that he appeared collected and easygoing. Turk training was a wonderful thing—it let one pretend that they were at-ease, the one thing a real Turk could never be. "To pay you back for helping me."

"The Professor did all the work," she mumbled.

"But Lynden isn't here. Are you coming or not?"

She lifted her head swiftly, a smile lighting her features. "I'm coming."

O – O – O

"Dammit, why does Wutai always have to be so fucking wet?" Valyend hissed, throwing open the tent flap and storming in. "Makes me wish Shinra'd give us somethin' besides these stupid suits to wear."

Mirialle rolled her eyes. "Your pants are waterproof, idiot," she spat.

"My jacket isn't."

"I offered you a waterproof, thermal-lined coat, Val," the Leader retorted easily. "You said real men don't need jackets.

"You should've forced me to put it on," the redhead breathed, teeth chattering. "I'da hated you for about an hour, but I'd sure be lovin' you now."

Rourke straightened out his own jacket, wondering when Mirialle would decide Valyend had suffered enough and pull his lined jacket out of the pack sitting at her feet. She had brought it, well aware of what the weather was like in Wutai, and kept it concealed in her emergency pack in place of the blanket. If any of them came to a point that they needed an emergency blanket they were as good as dead anyway. Hell, the copper-haired Turk thought with a sigh, shouldering his rifle, if any of us get that bad, Mir will kill him anyway. As Turk Leader, the mousy-haired young woman called Mirialle had to be prepared to do and face the worst. If her own condition degraded to the point of needing an emergency blanket she would order Rourke to kill her and take command.

He had been trained for just such a situation, but still wasn't sure if he'd be able to do it. Mirialle was more than his superior, she was his friend. Even though he knew they would never be anything more than that—Valyend had destroyed any of the gunner's hopes for that ever happening—he couldn't even think of hurting her.

The chattering of Valyend's teeth stopped, and Rourke turned to see Mirialle tear off his soaked jacket and replace it with the waterproof, thermal-lined one. The fiery-haired Turk gave her an appreciative smile, but said nothing. She smiled in return.

Rourke turned his interest back on the bushes just outside their tent. "I'm going to go stand guard while Val dries off," he said. Mirialle gave a monosyllabic sound of affirmation but said nothing more. Rourke sighed and rolled his pale eyes as he stepped out, letting the tent flap close behind him.

He would most likely be left out here all night; Valyend and Mirialle kept each other's nightmares away, so Rourke was stationed as night-guard under most circumstances. The older man envied Valyend that, but knew better than to stand up against him. Mirialle had made her choice, and Rourke would stand by it regardless. She was his Leader, he her second. Her word was his law; if that word happened to be a declaration of her relationship with Rourke's subordinate, so be it. Her word was his law.

But this particular word was one law he wouldn't mind breaking.

The gunner's thoughts were cut off by a flash of light in the bushes. He started, eyes narrowing, and attempted to see through the haze of rain obscuring his vision. Unless he was mistaken, that was the glimmer of Materia being activated. From such a distance he couldn't quite tell what type—though the vaguely orange tint hinted at the possibility of Fire—but it didn't matter. What mattered that someone was out there in the bushes, and they were apparently preparing to attack.

Rourke lifted his rifle, taking aim on the faint glow. "Put down the crystal," he ordered, "or I shoot it out of your hand."

The faint sound of laughter, high and wheezy even through the rain, reached the Turk's trained ears. "But even Shinra dogs cannot shoot what they cannot see…"

He ground his teeth and squeezed lightly on the trigger. "I can damn well shoot you," he growled, stepping slowly forward. He couldn't see the warrior, but he could see the Materia. As long as he trained off that he would be able to hit whoever it was out there in the dark. "You're right there, plain as day. Now drop the Materia and step out of the brush before I decide I don't want you ever moving again."

A long moment passed in silence. "Sir assassin," the high voice called again, apparently female, "I am afraid you are facing the wrong way."

Rourke's heart seemed to stop as a low sound cut the air, and he spun around just in time to see three orbs glowing with the brightest fiery light he had ever seen fly out of the bushes on either side of the tent. Before the Materia orbs collided with the tent, the barest sliver of a heartbeat before they hit, the sound of wind being torn, rain being detoured, air being sliced, reached the Turk's attention. Out of the darkness came three slivers of shimmering silver.

Darts? He wondered, bewildered for the split-second it took for the needles to reach their marks.

As one the darts hit the orbs, and all at once the Materia exploded. The charge they had been forced to withhold was simply too great, and any sharp pressure on the surface would cause them to detonate like the most powerful of bombs. It was dangerous practice, one that not even Shinra dared to meddle in. In an instant, the tent imploded.

Rourke, shoved away from the force of the blast, spun around to face the burning mess that had been his temporary base with wide eyes. No, no, no…! He surged forward, only to be halted by the sudden explosion of something inside the pyre. Probably him ammo supply, ignited by the flames. Shards of twisted metal flew out all around what remained of the tent, biting into Rourke's skin and suit, staining him with blood and burning him with such impossible heat he could barely even feel it at first. Another explosion followed, and another and another, making the Turk realize that this could not simply be his ammo supply.

They had been sabotaged.

The metal frame of the tent blew outward, poles and fragments flying out in every direction as the explosion continued, and Rourke barely ducked as one came careening over his head. As he ducked, however, glancing up to make sure the beam missed him, he did not see the arm-length fragment that came barreling toward him. He cried out when he collided with his leg, the force easily snapping his femur in two, and crumpled on the wet earth, blood mixing with sodden dirt until all around him was the color of rust.

Rourke laid there, breathing heavily, unable to move and unable to think, staring up at the cloudy sky without really seeing it, for what seemed like an eternity before another thunderous beat alerted him that something else had been detonated. One of the main beams, still bearing on it a scrap of canvas the size of the Turk's torso, came slamming down beside him, effectively crushing his right arm.

The rust-haired Turk, filled with pain in every facet of his being, was nothing less than grateful when darkness clouded his vision and the roar of the fire dulled to a pleasant hum. Everything went dark, and Rourke Nicolai, Turk Second, knew no more.

O – O – O

Vincent allowed himself to hum quietly as he looked through the papers Lucrecia had given him—make-up work for the next week in their shared Science Class, as well as documents Lynden had gathered from his other classes to allow him to stay on track during his extended absence. He was under direct orders from everyone at the school, as well as Moribe Shinra, the President himself, not to return to his classes until the Mako had been entirely metabolized into his system.

It had been nearly four hours since the Turk Cadet walked the young scientist-in-training to the bus stop and saw her off, and Vincent had to admit that their little foray had gone well. There had been a spurt of uncomfortable conversation, but the half-Wutaian could overlook that rather easily. Lucrecia was a pleasant person to be around, the kind who demanded forgiveness without ever saying a word. It was impossible to find fault in her. Vincent, having had four friends in his entire life—or only one, if the Turks didn't count—was somewhat uneasy around the girl, but she had a relaxing effect that he enjoyed immensely.

It was strange, he found, to feel so relaxed. If he was going to be a Turk, he couldn't relax. Ever. In all the time he had spent in Midgar he had never felt so relaxed—not even in his own home. There was always some chance of something going wrong, some terrorist finding the Turk's apartment and attempting something stupid, so Vincent, like Rourke, was constantly on his toes.

Perhaps hanging around with the little Sorrenson girl wasn't such a good idea.

'You could actually kill people just because someone told you to?'

Vincent flinched at the memory and shook his head slowly. So maybe she wasn't entirely calming. She was training to be a doctor, someone who studied new healing methods and ways to protect people from illness. Vincent was training to kill. They were opposites in every respect—her respect for life was so great it was almost stifling, and Vincent's disregard was practically blasphemous.

But still, it was nice to sit and talk with someone as though he was a normal boy for once. He had never been normal, and this recent injection and revelation that he was enrolled in the Turk training program was enough to alienate him completely from the rest of the students in his class. To have one suddenly treat him as though he was just like practically every student at the academy was a pleasant change.

He chuckled, raking a hand through his hair and shaking his head slowly. "Oh, Valyend would have a fit. He'd try to give me some sort of adult talk and tell Rourke to start planning my wedding." He smiled, sitting back in his chair and setting the papers down in the desk. The youth heaved a sigh, eyes darkening. How long would it be before the Turks came home? He missed Rourke's company terribly, wanting nothing more than to have someone to talk to about the bizarreness caused by his impromptu injection.

Everything was in perfect focus, and it made Vincent feel as though he should have needed glasses before. Sounds were loud, even the subtle hiss of expelled breath seeming almost unbearably loud. It hadn't been bad at first, but it grew more pronounced with each passing hour. By the time he said his farewells to Lucrecia he wanted to hold both hands to his head and scream for the universe to be quiet. Was this what it was like in SOLDIER? If so, the youth was very glad that he had chosen to join the Turks.

Sighing, he brushed his hair over his shoulder, annoyed with its sudden increase in length. Where this morning it had barely been to the base of neck, now that it was dark out it was down to the top of his shoulderblades. "Gaea!" he growled, pulling it back and making a vain attempt to tie it into a knot. He held it back, jerking open one of the drawers in his desk and pulling out a pair of scissors. He snapped them open and closed several times before reaching back and cutting off the failed knot, letting the silky strands fall to the floor when he released.

He cocked his head to one side, then the other, testing the length, and decided it would do for now. It was still chin-length in the front, but he could deal with that, at least for the moment. He would trim it properly once he was done with his homework.

"Homework, right." The Cadet lifted the first page off the stack and read it over carefully before clicking his mechanical pencil several times and placing it to the page. He finished the assignment and moved on to the next, then the next, then the next…

Vincent reached out for the next page in the stack, and felt an unpleasant lurch in his stomach when his fingers brushed only the bare metal of the desk. He lifted his gaze and blinked confusedly at the blank space where his assignments had been. He turned to his right to view the stack of complete assignments, and checked them over for accuracy. That was it? He was done?

The Cadet turned his eyes on the clock to his left and blinked once more in confusion. It had, apparently, been barely an hour and a half since he sat down. He had thought that it would take him at least a day to complete the assignments he had been given, but he knew he often didn't give himself enough credit. He was fast, but to complete—he counted hurriedly—twenty-two sheets in an hour and a half was seriously pushing even the slight limits he thought he had.

He rose to his feet and went to his bed, pulling over his backpack and rifling through it. Lucrecia had bought him a book on the way to bus stop in the hopes that it would give him something to do while he was out of school and assure him of his own returning health. He had put it in the bag to be certain he would be able to find it when he wanted it—for a boy who had so little, he was surprisingly adept at losing things.

"Ah!" he breathed, pulling out the small text hurriedly. The book was black and bore on the front, in neat turquoise lettering, Mako. He opened it to the index and referenced 'Mako effects' looking for subheadings under 'brain,' 'intelligence,' and finally 'mental.' The final word brought up 'mental acuity,' and Vincent hurriedly turned to the page noted, keeping his finger in the back in case he needed to turn back.

Mako Effects on Mental Acuity, the book read. Mako has been known to accelerate and enhance, variably, every process of the human body. Not the least of these is mental processes, the ability to think and solve problems using abstract thought. Numerous cases of mental Mako enhancements have been documented, the majority of which included a sudden rise in mental clarity and a quickening of mental processes.

Vincent sighed and let the books drop, grinding his teeth and holding his head. "Damn it all!" he shouted, clenching his eyes shut and digging his fingers into his thick hair. "Is there anything that shit didn't completely screw up!"

O – O – O

Rourke's first sensation as he returned to consciousness was that of pain, all over his body. The second was the realization that the rain had stopped. He smelled smoke in the air and tasted ash in his mouth, and it was these that jolted him to complete wakefulness. His eyes snapped open, stinging in the pale light of the early morning, and he attempted to prop himself up. He screamed when his right arm, pinned under a mass of metal and canvas, sent burning pain through his entire right side.

Gritting his teeth and turning teary eyes on the weight, Rourke used his left arm to shove the pole away, causing it to dig into the mud so deeply he knew he would never be able to pull it out. His right arm was free now, though, and his left appeared in working order, so he was able to haphazardly push himself up. His left leg protested horribly as he rose, but the scraping of bone on bone wasn't enough to cause the Turk to fall back to the bloody mire.

He was, after all, a Turk. He had trained for this. He was a member of the most elite, better even than SOLDIER and without a flicker of enhancement. He was a Turk; this was easy.

He let out a long breath, cradling his wounded arm, and scanned the area. There was the tent, sopping and smoking all at once, twisted metal bars shining dimly in the early-morning light. It was still fairly dark, the sky a deep shade of grayed cobalt, so seeing was a little more difficult than Rourke would have preferred, but any light was better than the complete darkness of last night. The canvas was mostly destroyed, though some sheets still lay in charred testament to their former use, and even as Rourke moved forward he could see that quite a bit of the metal had melted in the blaze.

Magic-induced, he reminded himself. It burned a lot hotter than fire should.

A faint groan reached his hearing, and the gunner started. He lurched forward, almost falling over again, toward the rubble and tore at the metal and fabric that had been his temporary base. If they were still alive, even one of them…! He realized that he had been too stunned a moment ago to even think about his companion's wellbeing, and internally kicked himself. The team comes first, he thought. Without them, I'm alone.

Rourke tore through the debris, scrambling to find some trace of his companions—his friends. As he pulled back a sopping sheet of canvas, the Turk's breath hitched, brown eyes widening. "Oh, Gaea…"

The wet canvas must have protected her upper body from the flames, because Rourke could find little to no charring on her face and arms, though her jacket was torn and her shirt stained scarlet in several places. From the waist down, however… The rust-haired Turk shuddered as he tugged away the heap of contorted metal, revealing a mass of burned blood and bone that made him sick to his stomach. He knelt down beside her—though halfway it turned into a fall because of his broken leg—and placed a hand on either of the mousy-haired woman's shoulders. He bit back a cry as pain lanced through his broken right arm, biting his tongue to redirect his attention.

Balance pain with pain. It was rather stupid. But then, he was a Turk. He had trained for this. He was a Turk; this was easy.

"Mirialle," he hissed. "Mir, come on…!" Tears stung his eyes and just as he had slumped in defeat the battered, bruised, and all-too-pale woman took a raspy breath. It was constricted and dry, bearing the distinct wheeze of dried blood in her airway, but Rourke didn't care. If she was breathing, she was alive. The canvas, soaked and oiled, must have been smothering her and blocking off her mouth, making her unable to breathe. In removing it, Rourke had jump-started her weak lungs and allowed her at least a moment more of life.

"Mir!" he cried.

She opened her eyes weakly, dull and lacking entirely their former spark of daring, and the Turk winced when he saw them. "R-Rourke?" she wheezed, squinting. She reached out with one shaking, bloody hand and he took it into his unbroken left. Her skin was so cold Rourke started when he touched her, but didn't dare to let go. She might have been suffering from hypothermia—if that was the case then he could really use that discarded emergency blanket right now. "F-Funny," she breathed weakly, brow furrowing, "I c-can't…see you…"

"The fire must have damaged your eyes," Rourke said with a weak smile. "That's no big deal—the guys back in Midgar can fix that right up!" He chuckled, holding her hand to his cheek to let her feel his smile. "You're going to be just fine, Mir."

She was silent for a moment. "V-Valyend…"

Rourke flinched, and didn't manage to move her hand away from his face quickly enough for her not to notice. Her eyes narrowed slightly in curiosity as Rourke spoke. "I-I didn't find him."

She shook her head. "No, Val…he cast a shield a-around me when th-the…tent…" She coughed, and it evolved into a wet gurgle that made Rourke's stomach lurch. "It caved," she continued, blood trailing out the corner of her mouth, "and h-he was…" She shook her head. "You…You won't find h-him…"

Rourke slumped slightly. Valyend—his best friend—dead. Crushed and burned and weakened by a spell that couldn't possibly have saved anyone. He shook his head determinedly to rid it of such thoughts. Mirialle was alive, and she was going to stay that way. The woman's left hand, fingers still curled about the grip of her chain-and-sickle, began to shake as shivers wracked through her. Rourke leaned forward to calm her, but her eyes widened and she froze suddenly in place. "Rourke?" He arched both eyebrows and, even though she couldn't see him, Mirialle continued. "I-I can't feel…my legs."

"A-A chunk of the tent pinned you," he said, trying with all his might to sound calm. "They're…They're pretty badly damaged." He smiled, but in spite of his attempt to keep it real it felt terribly forced. "Nothing irreplaceable, though. We'll get you a couple prosthetics and you'll be turning cartwheels in no time."

Her brow furrowed in thought as shivers overtook her again, bloodstained teeth chattering. "Y-You?" she inquired at last, voice a weak choke. "H-H-Hurt?"

Rourke bit his bottom lip. Judging from the dizziness and blurred vision he had at the very least a mild concussion; his right arm was broken in at least three places; his left leg was snapped; his right eye fell more and more out of focus every time he blinked, meaning he might very well need a replacement. "I must have hit my head," he replied quietly. "I think I have a concussion."

"Rourke." Even without her sight she could read him like an open book. Rourke had been trained in espionage, so lying should have come as second nature, but he could never lie to her. She turned her unseeing eyes on him, expression stern, and her subordinate sighed in defeat.

"I definitely have a concussion," he admitted, "one of my eyes isn't working right, my right arm is broken, and so is my left leg."

She took a wheezing breath. "…Bad?"

He nodded slowly, eyes downcast. "Y-Yeah, Mir, it's pretty bad."

The woman sighed and pulled her hand away, reaching into her jacket to clumsily pull out her Shinra-issue sidearm. A black pistol, definitely of Valentine make, was thrust at Rourke with a shaking hand a tenuous grip. A part of him registered numbly that it was an Ayako, named after Gabrael's dead wife, Vincent's mother, but the rust-haired man didn't care. He stared at the gun, then lifted wide eyes to Mirialle's face, finding her jaw set and expression determined.

"Do it," she commanded.

His mouth worked wordlessly. "B-But—"

"This is what it means to be a Turk!" she screamed, eyes clenched tightly shut. "Do it, Rourke!"

"I can't!" he hollered shakily.

She gave a weak chuckle, and Rourke saw tears caught in her eyelashes. "Idiot," she spat. "If I stay here…the W-Wutaians will find me…and pick my mind apart. Th-Th-They'll keep me alive just long enough…to pump me for all the information…I've got, then they'll let me…let me l-l-linger for days…even weeks." She swallowed heavily. "U-Unless…you're going to carry me…to Midgar? On a b-broken l-leg…?"

"I could try," he replied, fully aware that she had already won this argument. She always won. New tears stung his eyes as he took the gun, Mirialle's hand lingering on his own for a heartbeat more than necessary, just enough to make his chest seize, before sliding listlessly to the mess that had once been her lap.

They were Turks. They had trained for this. They were the most elite, better even than SOLDIER and without a flicker of enhancement. They were Turks…

This should have been easy.

Rourke's hand shook as he took aim, vision blurry by both injury and tears, and the Leader smiled. "Y-You can…do this…Rourke…" she assured him.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he hissed frantically, clenching his eyes shut and squeezing the trigger. Tears streaked down his ash-stained cheeks, trailing a line of clean down his dirty skin. "I'm sorry!" A shot rang out, after which there was a long moment of silence.

Rourke screamed.

O – O – O

O – O – O

Another Author's Note: Uh…actually, I have nothing to say here. Just keeping up tradition. Sorry. Oh, wait! I do have something to say! Massive thanks to anyone who's been reading this so far, to anyone who has it favorited and anyone who's reviewed. I don't have the list saved this time so I can't give a proper thanks, but I would like to say that you all are some of the best people there are out there. Period. Thank you all so much!

O – O – O

Next Time on Raveled

Had Valyend been the one to greet him at the door of Shinra Headquarters, Rourke would have been told that he looked like shit. As it was, the woman at the desk gave a high-pitched 'meep' and recoiled at the sight of him. The rust-haired Turk didn't blame her.

It had been a scant three days since the attack at Wutai, since Valyend died and Rourke learned what it truly meant to be a Turk, and the gunner had scarcely stopped moving since then. He had limped back to their helicopter, alone; flown it to the shore and boarded their boat, alone; piloted the boat back to the mainland, alone; boarded the buggy and driven it across the wasteland, alone. When the buggy ran out of fuel he had walked the remaining eight miles, across the black fields, to Midgar, entered the slums, taken the train all the way up to the Plate and walked to Headquarters from the station.

All with a concussion, half blind—his wounded eye had finally simply given out on him, turning half his vision into a great dark void in his universe—a shattered arm and a broken leg.

To put it bluntly, had Valyend been there to describe the only living Turk's current state, Rourke would only have nodded in agreement.

He lurched forward, leaving a bloodstained trail—he had lost his right shoe on the walk to the city sometime, and so his foot was a bloody mess—on the silvery floor. Looking up at the elevator he almost cried out at the hastily-scrawled sign it bore: Out Of Order

The Turk sighed and rolled his brown eyes, limping toward the stairway. What was another mile of stairs in comparison to the several-hundred-mile trek he had already endured? He let out a sigh, pulled open the door and stumbled onto the first set of stairs. "One foot…after the other, Rourke," he told himself. "One foot after the other…"

O – O – O

Please look forward to it!