Disclaimer: I don't own any of the FFVII characters, places, etc.

Epilogue 2: Pair of Aces

Verdot got the call sometime in the wee hours of the morning. He rubbed his eyes and answered the phone, wary of the blocked number but knowing only a select few people had access to his location.

"Lyn's been killed."

"What?" Verdot was immediately awake.

"She died this afternoon trying to subdue Rosso the Crimson. Rosso, Nero, and Weiss have all been sealed up within Reactor 0. The President will not have them disposed of on Hojo's insistence a method of control can indeed be devised." Tseng sounded angry. His voice almost shook. Verdot fell back on his bed and lay staring at the ceiling as his heart ached. He'd known Lyn over thirty years. Just a day ago she was sitting on his back porch smoking and chortling about the old days and recent happenings over scotch. "Verdot?"

"I'm sorry. I was just thinking about her," he said. He'd lost comrades before. He'd lost friends before. But this hurt like family.

"I'm sending Reno and Rude to you with her ashes. You need to tell them about her. They need the closure," Tseng added before Verdot could open his mouth. "I don't know whatever her secrets were beyond a handful of reports I'm not even technically supposed to know about but they need to. She was extremely important to them."

"Yes, I know," Verdot nodded with a heavy sigh. "Send them along."

By mid morning his daughter Felicia came to get him from the porch watching the ocean. He followed her the the front door where he saw Reno and Rude dressed like tourists in shorts and islander t-shirts made of silk. But that's where the tourist ended. They trudged like pall bearers, both of them pale and under slept. Rude had their things slung over one big shoulder as Reno carried a wooden box, a spent cigarette hanging out of his teeth.

"I'll set out the scotch," Felicia remarked. Verdot shot her a crooked smile and brushed a hand through her auburn hair. He gave her forehead a kiss before she departed. Verdot held the door for the silent Turks.

"Nice digs yo," Reno mustered a pitiable smile. Verdot set a hand on the back of Reno's neck and pushed him further inside.

"Set your bags down and lets go to the porch," he instructed. They obeyed mutely and slumped into chairs Felicia provided in surprising thoughtfulness.

"Hey elf girl," Reno shot her another half smile. "Sun agrees with you." Dressed in a skirt and bare sleeves she made the perfect windswept island girl, all tan limbs with an easy stride.

"Sorry about your friend," she said, looking between the two of them. The duo looked sullenly at their drinks. Felicia took the butt of Reno's old cigarette out of his lips and set a lighter on the table. "I'll think about something for dinner dad."

"Thanks," he nodded. She went inside after throwing a worried glance at them again. The box of Lyn's ashes dominated everyone's concentration for a long time.

"Tseng sent you here so I could offer you answers," Verdot said at last. Reno and Rude looked up in mutual surprise.

"He said we were just delivering ashes," Reno rebutted in disbelief. Verdot touched the box with a crooked smile.

"If there was ever anyone that should handle her ashes it would be you two," he shook his head. Reno rubbed his forehead as Rude leaned forward to brace on his knees. "A drink to her first and I'll tell you what you want to know." They lifted their glasses and downed them. Verdot poured another round as he hunted for a starting place.

"The Corsiggs," Rude prompted.

"Ailynetta Endroth Corsigg," Verdot sighed the elaborate name, appreciating the feel of it again after all these years. "She was the fifth child, second daughter, of House Corsigg's head family. She outstripped her family in skill, leaving her brothers in the dust and winning honor for her house in the service of the Bjorns. She was a favorite of the Bjorns for both her skill and her beauty. Back then you see she had long, black curls and dressed to her figure in silk and velvet on formal occasions. She was young the first time I saw her, barely fourteen on the arm of King Bjorn at her coming of age ball and she laughed and danced and told...terrible jokes. They weren't funny but I remember people laughing because she thought they were funny."

"Lyn?" Reno asked. "We came about Lyn."

"That's who she was Reno," Verdot assured him. "She was beautiful and bright, just a fourteen year old girl. That was the same year a very young President took his wife from house Bjorn so his father, the previous president, could establish legitimacy and create the foundations of today's Shin-Ra Electric. That was the only time I ever saw Lyn that way. By the time we met again she was what she's been ever since."

"What happened?" Rude reminded him when Verdot seemed to get lost thinking of little Lyn all in purple with her hair bouncing around her shoulders as she spun and dipped in dance.

"She never said it directly but the King was very, very fond of her and the Corsiggs served without question any command given. The next time I saw Lyn was after Helen Bjorn deserted our President and fled with Cassilia into the slums with her lover. In order to resolve a dispute of Shin-Ra's legitemacy to its holdings on Bjorn assets the order was given to exterminate the Bjorns and the Corsiggs outright. When we came to complete the mission, all we found was Lyn. She had intercepted the orders and done the deed for us..."

Rude and Reno sat in silence absorbing this as Verdot thought of her sitting against the studded, high backed chair with her broad sword in the tatters of her rose colored gown. She looked like a war goddess in her hall of slaughter, waiting for them with a smile and a smoking cigar. Verdot remembered how beautiful and terrible she'd been, how chillingly magnetic as she invited them to look for survivors and asked him to sit.

"I asked her why and she answered that her need to kill them coincided with her own. I was young then, recently married with a very small daughter of my own so perhaps there was some need in me to offer her help, to look for the girl I'd seen four years ago. So I offered her a position within the Turks pending her ability to prove herself. I suspect she hadn't thought so far ahead and she agreed without much hesitation. As a junior Turk myself I had no authority and the pair of us cracked up a scheme that would beg forgiveness rather than permission. I took her to Hojo who was dabbling in genetic experiments for super soldiers, Sephiroth and the beginnings of SOLDIER."

"Lyn didn't have any kind of Mako treatment though..." Reno frowned.

"It took me three years to clear her. Hojo ran unchecked then, the President's favorite. For three years Lyn was at his mercy and I have no real knowledge of exactly what he did to her. She's not much for explaining the dark chapters."

Reno and Rude both slumped back with ironic smiles. They looked between each other.

"She said once she had Hojo in a 'vice'. In the Deep Ground facility Rosso referred to her as Nero's mother," Reno ran a hand through his hair and looked towards the sea. Verdot leaned over the table as his guts twisted. He stared at his scotch as the implications sunk in.

"Weiss is Nero's elder brother..." he rubbed the back of his neck. For a long time it was only the waves the crashed on the shore and gulls that made conversation. "That was when she truly changed. The trauma of those events bleached her hair and I never saw kindness in her face again. I've heard tell that Nero's powers manifested and submerged his mother in darkness after birth. Of course it was Lyn. Of course she clawed her way back out of the void."

"And the rest as they say is history," Reno stood up. He paced into the sand and buried his feet in it. Rude threw back his drink before crossing his arms and losing himself to the horizon, somewhere out where the sea and sky blurred.

After a long time Verdot lifted the box of ashes. Reno and Rude silently flanked him as they made for the shore. They had a moment of silence before Verdot peeled the lid open and Lyn's pale ashes leaped up into the sky. They scattered almost instantly, three men in shorts and tropical silk shirts bidding silent farewell.

Reno and Rude stayed two days on sabbatical as some of their temperament returned. They went shopping with tacit Felicia for the sake of activity and came to dinner and cards with Verdot in the evenings with leather skinned fishermen and sugar farmers. Sometime on the third day Rude got a call from Tseng about an attack on one of the Mako Reactors in Midgar. They packed their things without much fuss and thanked Verdot and Felicia for their hospitality.

"Just a moment," Verdot halted them. He went into his study and pulled aside the book case. He only kept a handful of items that could ever tie him to the Shin-Ra in a safe. Spinning the dusty dial for the second time since it had been installed the safe swung open silently and he sifted through photographs with curled edges. He returned with one of them after closing and concealing the safe once more.

"Its not her the way you knew her," he extended the page sized photo of a living room taken during surveillance of the Corsigg house. Reno jammed his hands in his pockets like he was terrified he'd break it so Rude accepted and held it so they could both see.

There were a number of people gathered, some of them playing cards, a woman at a piano, but there in the center was a girl in a Turk blue gown with wild black curls falling around her. She was sprawled across a rug with her head propped in her hands and her ankles up and crossed exposing her calves. Spread before her was an over sized atlas but her face was turned to look at the camera, staring directly into the lens, and she was smiling. Nobody else seemed to be paying attention but Lyn knew about the Turk hiding in the air ducts photographing them. It was zoomed in enough to make out her features, to definitely see young Lyn with her sharp cheeks and razor edged jaw, the amber color of her eyes and the glint of cunning.

"She was a babe!" Reno shattered the silence, grasping Rude's wrist the closest he came to touching it. "Our Lyn was a babe yo!"

"Take it," Verdot insisted. Rude looked up like he hadn't heard right. "All she'll do is fade in my safe. You two have desks now don't you? Put her there. It would amuse her." Rude put down his suit case and carefully packed the photograph like the most valuable thing they possessed.

"Thanks boss," Reno smiled. Verdot could see Reno at sixteen again, lean and full of fight, enough of him left to laugh.

"Thank you," Rude agreed as his face eased. "It was good to see you."

"Livin' the sweet life while we sweat and grunt," Reno complained. Verdot smiled.

"Isn't there a Reactor explosion you need to look into?" he reminded them.

"A reactor's blown?" Felicia stuck her head out of the kitchen.

"Its not our concern now," Verdot reminded her sharply. "Look after yourselves."

The pair of them departed with Reno full of chatter again and Rude's strides loosening. Verdot shook his head and closed the door. He returned to the back porch and sat facing the sea.

"How did you know?" Verdot demanded later that night after issuing Reno and Rude a promotion. "How did you know those two could do it? I wouldn't have picked them out of any lineup in the slums." It was getting late and Lyn was smoking thoughtfully at the edge of camp.

"Gut instinct," Lyn shrugged dismissively. Verdot sat down next to her in disbelief. By all odds these two should have wound up dead years ago.

"It has to be something more. You've gambled everything on them, your life, your career, your very credibility with the President. If you'd been wrong even once he'd have ordered your execution immediately. He barely tolerates you no matter your record."

"Barring the fact that they won't ever fail you Verdot, I suppose it just boiled down to wantin' to believe in 'em. I dunno. Somethin' in me said they were mine when they were small. Somethin' said their lives were the only good I could ever do." Lyn sat a few minutes as Verdot was silent out of sheer awe. "Don't get me wrong Verdot. I know better than to think about something like redemption. That's not what Corsiggs or Turks or Shin-Ra or Bjorns are about. Its not something any of us could do. Hell, all I did was take 'em out of the slums and tell them to kill Woots for a good salary. Its the only thing I could give those boys, the only way I knew to give them a chance outside of chokin' to death in the slums. Does that even make sense?"

Lyn laughed and scratched the back of her head. She looked over at him with a trace of bashfulness because they were old friends and had done terrible things together. Verdot recognized love in her expression, the beautiful, damning love of the fallen. He laid a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it. Her fingers slid over his and they gave it a few minutes before she stood up with a stretch.

"They're my pair of aces Verdot. It makes me so proud sometimes I could die."

Dedicated to Joe and Licoriceallsorts

A/N: This is my homage to Final Fantasy VII, the story line that made me want to write. Thank you for your time and patience since 2007!