Put Your Lights On
This is a FFVII fic by kleptomaniac0. I own no characters except those you haven't heard of, meaning the ones I've made. Normally I'm adverse to posting something new while I have multiple works in progress, but this OC, the first OC I ever created, has been banging against the walls of my head ever since Advent Children came in out Japan. So I'm letting her out before she drives me crazy.
This will be a lot more unguarded than my other works, meaning it'll be sloppier. I'm writing this to get it out of my head and though I always appreciate reviews and constructive criticism, I probably won't be looking at them until the story's done. Or as done as it's going to get, anyway. Yep. :imagines a mailbox full of flames: Oh well.
Wutaiese whorehouses smelled weird. That was Rude's first impression as he and Tseng stepped into the Blue Lotus, one of the seedier brothels that clung at the outskirts of Wutai like a dingleberry. The air was thick with opium, a drug Rude had never particularly cared for, and for a moment, Rude wished he smoked—the stench of nicotine and tar was infinitely preferable to the cloying sweetness that was clouding his eyes. Tseng, the newest to the Turks, seemed unaffected. "Maybe it's a Wutaiese thing," Rude mused as Tseng talked with the Blue Lotus madam in their flowing language.
Rude looked around, the surroundings tinted by his dark glasses. Like nearly everything in post-war Wutai, the Blue Lotus catered to foreign tastes. Religious icons and generic calligraphy were gaudily splashed everywhere, losing the allure of the foreign exotic by their too-shiny finishes and overabundance of gold. Though Rude was just as patriotic as the next guy, seeing the once-feared Wutai on its knees—or on its back, considering the circumstances—made him feel vaguely ill. He could only imagine how Tseng felt: as far as Rude knew, he was a native.
The madam bustled off, her layers of kimonos leaving clouds of heavy perfume in their wake. Rude sneezed, earning a coolly amused look from Tseng.
"She's going to get them now," he said, turning around and putting his hands in his pockets. Though barely twenty-five years old, he stood with the peculiar ease of a trained killer and looked every inch the part in his immaculate blue suit. With his fine-featured face and an expression of cool inscrutability that made Rude turn green with envy, it was no wonder that most people thought Tseng was the senior Turk instead of the other way around. In fact, Tseng had been handling everything during this mission; Rude was with him only to examine his performance in the field.
"Good," Rude said, glancing at the narrow stairway the madam had disappeared into. "The sooner we're out of here, the better. I don't think they like foreigners."
Realizing his blunder, Rude looked at Tseng to see if the svelte Wutaiese man was offended, but Tseng had a faintly sardonic smile of agreement on his face. "No," he said, and glanced up as footsteps echoed above them. "They don't."
Upstairs Rude could hear female voices gabbling. One of them belonged to the madam, her formerly unctuous tones now shrill and whining. The other was harsh, almost a bark, and a third—Rude frowned. It sounded like a very young girl.
"That's them," Tseng said, as if reading Rude's mind. "That's our boss's mistress and their love child."
Rude snorted. He was still getting used to the fact that Sephiroth, Shinra's Head of Peace Enforcement, had a love child at all. He supposed it was possible: Sephiroth was one hell of a chick magnet back in Midgar and there was a chance that the Wutaiese women might have felt the same. Rude, however, doubted it. From what he knew of the Wutaiese, they were crazy loyal to the concept of racial purity and probably saw sleeping with a foreigner as treason. That, Rude realized, aptly explained why Sephiroth's mistress had ended up in a whorehouse. Amazing she wasn't dead.
The hard thump of a walking stick on the stairs made Rude look up, and he suppressed the urge to sneeze as the heavily perfumed madam of the Blue Lotus sashayed down the stairs, her low-tied kimono perfunctorily displaying her flabby attributes. She smiled insincerely at him and Tseng as she stepped off the stairs and spoke to Tseng, motioning behind her. Rude and Tseng glanced up, and behind his dark glasses Rude's eyes widened as he saw the bandaged and crippled woman limping her way down the narrow steps, her hand on the shoulder of a girl no more than seven years old. What the hell had Sephiroth seen in this woman? Rude had to wonder as the woman stepped laboriously off the stairs, and the sick-sweet smell of rotting flesh hit him like a sledgehammer. He resisted the overwhelming impulse to cover his nose, though he sourly noted that the madam had raised one perfumed sleeve to half-cover her face. Tseng, again, seemed unaffected.
The woman glanced first at Tseng and then at Rude. She had been pretty once, Rude realized; now, a smoky blue-black bruise covered nearly all her face and raised the fine veins of it in a grotesque filigree that fluttered in time with her heartbeat. One of her eyes was covered by a bandage, as was her neck, and her drab, loosely tied kimono revealed a well-shaped body that was covered almost entirely in layers of winding gauze. The woman's now dull hair was chopped at her shoulders, fanning into oddly shaped spikes. Her slanted eyes were foxlike instead of feline, and though she was obviously sick and crippled, she held herself as straight as any queen. Rude found himself becoming uncomfortable the longer she looked at him.
"You've come for my girl," she said in a harsh voice, and Rude jumped when he realized that she'd spoken in accentless Continental. What had she been before Sephiroth had gotten to her? Rude had his money on a noblewoman.
"Yes," Tseng said, politely inclining his head. Rude looked at the girl child, who looked back at him with wide, solemn eyes the color of clouded jade. He felt a chill go down his spine as he noted her vertically scored pupils and the absolute lack of emotion in her face; this was the General's child all right.
"Take her," the woman said, squeezing the girl's shoulder briefly before pushing her forward. "The life of a prostitute is not for any daughter of mine."
Tseng held out his hand and the girl walked to him silently, her face still expressionless. Rude was surprised; wasn't she going to put up a fight? Wasn't she going to cry and scream? Where was the "Mommy, what's happening?" Weren't there going to be any tears?
"What's your name?" Tseng asked, looking down at the girl as she slipped her small hand into his.
"Shusaku no Toriko," was the reply. The madam snorted, but the bandaged woman nodded, a smile touching her bruised lips.
"May I call you Tori-chan?" Tseng asked, just as solemn as she.
"No," Toriko said. Rude glanced at her mother, who was smiling still. "Where is my father?" She asked, and Tseng glanced at Rude.
"What should I tell her?" His look clearly said. "Sephiroth didn't send us."
Rude gave him the faintest of shrugs. Tseng looked back at Toriko, whose unnerving jade eyes were still fixed on him.
"He's in Midgar," Tseng said.
"Did he send you?" Toriko asked.
"Yes." Tseng lied.
Toriko studied him for a long moment and Rude had the eeriest sensation that she could tell Tseng was lying. It surprised him, then, that she looked back at her mother and said a single word. "Sayonara."
"Sayonara," the woman said solemnly, and turned to go back up the stairs.
"Wait," Rude said before he could stop himself. The woman stopped, though she did not turn to look at him. "Aren't you going to hug her goodbye?"
Rude saw the woman's hand tighten on the head of her walking stick. "My illness," she said calmly, "makes any physical contact extremely painful. I've not held Toriko since she was three years old."
Rude looked at Toriko, wondering if that was where her strange coldness came from.
"The General would be more than pleased to send you medicines," Tseng said, and Rude stopped from looking at him, which would have revealed the lie.
"I much doubt that," the woman said, and took a slow, creaking step up the stairs. "He gave no thought to my welfare seven years ago, else he would not have crippled me."
"He crippled you?" Rude asked, frowning.
The woman laughed bitterly. "SOLDIERS don't know their own strength. He broke my hips, and I haven't been able to walk well since." The woman turned slightly on the steps and looked at Toriko, her harsh voice softening. "Tori-chan was a blessing, however. I will...miss you."
Rude looked at Toriko to see her reaction to this reticent confession, but to his surprise, there wasn't one. The tap of a walking cane caught his attention and Rude turned to see the woman limping up the stairs, suddenly deflated. Belatedly he realized he had never caught her name.
"Let's go, Toriko." Tseng said, tugging lightly on Toriko's hand. "Do you have anything you want to carry?"
Toriko shook her head once, an oddly abrupt gesture for so young a child. Then she turned to the perfumed madam and said something that made the woman gasp. To Rude's surprise, Tseng blushed and coughed uncomfortably.
"What did she say?" Rude asked the younger Turk.
"Some extremely unsavory things," Tseng said, tugging again on Toriko's hand. Toriko ignored him and spoke again to the madam, drawing a finger across her neck in a gesture that needed no translation. The madam went as pale as a fish and gabbled in Wutaiese. Apparently she said what Toriko wanted to hear, because the uncanny girl nodded her abrupt nod and turned away, looking up at Tseng through her lashes. Rather than looking cute, Toriko suddenly looked ominous.
"Let us leave this place," she said, and later, Rude could have sworn that she was the one who had led them out of the Blue Lotus, the red-lantern district, and Wutai. The Shin-Ra 'copter he and Tseng had taken from Midgar was waiting for them on the grassy fields a short distance away from the city, and the pilot saluted them as they approached.
"Everything OK, sir?" He asked Tseng, his voice tinged metallic though the air hose as the three of them boarded.
"Yes," Tseng said, picking up Toriko to put her in the helicopter. "No problems."
"Let's go home," Rude said as he pulled himself into the chopper. "Seatbelts," he said automatically as he slid into the co-pilot's seat and strapped himself in. He could hear Tseng and Toriko talking quietly as the chopper doors closed, filling the vehicle with the sound of the rotors warming up. Even in Wutaiese, Toriko sounded too old for her age and Tseng sounded a little rattled: Rude wondered what they were talking about as the chopper lifted off. One word he did catch, however, was the word for 'liar'.
Prologue is done. Chapter One will be forthcoming. Just to warn you, Sephiroth will be much less than perfect in this story, and some characters will be surprisingly human.
About Toriko, the choice of name was very deliberate. Depending on the way you write her name in kanji, it comes out as "bird girl" or "prisoner of war".
You can guess what Toriko's mother has, but you'll find out in the story anyway.