There is remarkably little between these two characters that I can find. A dialogue piece that is longer than I intended it to be, but still not too long. Canon-base for this is pretty much me cutting-and-pasting from the compilation until I got a somewhat continuous story--the compilation contradicts itself too much.

Many pairings referenced, though if you've read anything else of mine it should not be a surprise who the focal point of their conversation is. Either way, however, this story is more about the two men in the immediate moment.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure SE was listening to Loreena McKennitt when they came up with Tseng, because I swear her music is perfect for him. Or at least, her song titles work well for my Tseng-stories XD

Summary quote is from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, by of course J.R.R. Tolkien


"Tifa said you'd be here," his voice sounded strange, caught in the wind over the cliffs.

Cloud turned. His face never betrayed it, but shock ran through him at the sight of the intruder. "You..."

"Yes. It's been awhile, hasn't it?"

"Go away. I've got enough ghosts to deal with," and he turned away, letting the wind sting his face. There were ghosts everywhere after all, though this was the first time one had been so real.

"I'm not a ghost," Tseng started, then his voiced dropped, just as it always did when faced with his own existence. "I could never have been that lucky."

Cloud made a small grunt of annoyance, though he bought the man's plea. What reason did he have to haunt him anyway? "When did you see Tifa?"

"I stopped by the bar."

It wasn't a bar yet, and Tifa kept a very close eye on who was allowed inside during construction. "She let you in?"

"We...met a few days ago. She didn't tell you?"

"I haven't see her." Hadn't seen her in over a week, actually. The fact she knew where he'd be told him she didn't buy his excuses of finding supplies or making contacts. Maybe it should have encouraged him to stop by more often, but he found it only made him more determined to stay away. She couldn't keep concerning herself over him.

"Cloud..."

"It's none of your business."

The Turk leader clasped his hands behind his back and nodded his head just slightly towards his former enemy. "You're right."

They paused. The strong winds dropped a bit, exposing the ring and crash of the construction in the distance.

"So is this common knowledge now?" Cloud didn't bother looking away from the fallen city.

"I'm sorry?" Though as he spoke, he realized what Cloud was asking.

"Your old lackeys."

"They...know I made it out."

"How'd you do it?"

"Reno and Rude."

"They never told Elena." A slight smirk flickered across his lips as Cloud recalled that day at Icicle Village. His cheek had been bruised for a week.

"I asked them not to." He hadn't gone to Healin with the others, making it a point to only stop by when Elena was gone. Still, he thought she knew. He'd left a cuff link there on accident once, and found it replaced by one of her earrings. Maybe he'd left it on purpose, maybe he wanted her to know. He was going to have to see her eventually.

"She still doesn't know. Why?"

"And that, is none of your business."

Cloud scoffed at the echo of his own words. Rufus was gone and the Turks were estranged. Maybe it really was the end of Shinra.

Tseng took a step closer to the edge of the cliff, sliding a scuffed shoe back and forth across the dust. "Do you blame yourself?"

Cloud felt his jaw lock. "Why are you here." He demanded, he did not ask.

"Cloud..."

"I asked you why you were here." In less than ten minutes this man who was supposed to be dead had now brought up the two topics he refused to speak of.

He inhaled, though he knew he couldn't blame Cloud for his rigidity. Was it really his place to speak to him at all? "To apologize," he finally stated.

"Apologize?"

"You shouldn't take credit for my mistakes."

Cloud finally looked again to the man beside him, expecting sarcasm or mockery or anything but the earnest, pained expression on his face. "Your mistakes. Hmph. Just leave."

Tseng watched as the younger man turned not just his face, but his whole body this time to face away from him. He'd known this wouldn't be easy. "Soldier never got along with the Turks. I'm sure you remember."

"You know what I remember."

"I was on the phone with Reno. We thought he could reach you before...it is possible to outrun the Turks. You aren't the only Soldier who knew that."

"Don't refer to me as Soldier."

"I don't know if I was trying to be noble, or if it was just the easiest way of still obeying orders without getting my own hands bloody. It was never how I wanted things to turn out, for either of you. I considered him a friend as well."

"Funny. You feel guilty, but it didn't stop you from kidnapping his girlfriend."

He could feel the malice in the words as the wind carried them from over Cloud's shoulder. "That..." He cleared his throat, unsure of how to continue.

"Don't tell me that isn't my business. Because it damn well is." For the first time since Tseng approached him, Cloud could feel his pulse beginning to quicken. Make that three subjects.

"I knew Elena's sister even before I joined the Turks--"

"--Don't change the subject. You wanted to talk about this, now I'm listening. If there's anything you need to apologize for--"

"--Let me finish. Elena's sister--I was infatuated with her. She was older than me, and I was always impressed with her. She was cold and unyielding--the memory of that is largely why I wanted her in the Turks years later. After I joined...my first mission, was to bring the last Ancient...the last Cetra, back to Shinra." He paused, realizing that this was the first time he'd actually told this story. He watched Cloud; he was still facing away from him, but his muscles had relaxed enough to show he was listening.

"I was disappointed in the mission. I wasn't allowed to use force or threats...I was supposed to convince her to return willingly. I couldn't take her unless she agreed to go. Finally a Turk, and I was given a passive assignment.

"She remembered Shinra, of course. It had only been a few years since she escaped...I doubt she ever forgot her time there. Seven years, and for someone so young..." He trailed off. Just thinking about a child living since infancy in a laboratory still gave him chills. "I talked about it with Helen--Elena's sister--after a time. I was always more emotional than she was, always took failure harder. She told me...she said as long as the girl...as long as Aerith remembered her time in Shinra, I would have a hard time convincing her to go back. So instead, I should try to convince her to go to me. We were...only a few years apart. The perfect age difference to try and inspire idolatry, to take advantage of the need all girls her age had for male attention.

"I tried. And I suppose it worked, in its own way. We became close...but I was the one who fell for her. I thought she only ever saw me as a big brother, but I...I loved her."

"It was more than that."

He paused, caught off guard by the interjection. "I'm sorry?"

Now it was Cloud's turn to take in a deep breath. He couldn't bring himself to turn around, but for some reason he found himself interested in the man's story even if it seemed more than anything to contradict his actions the day the plate fell. "She...talked about you. Never in detail. She tried to talk about her past sometimes, but I never listened the way I should have. I always thought I'd have time to learn about her after we found Sephiroth. But I could tell you were important to her. Never made much sense to me." He paused. Maybe it wasn't about learning about Tseng's past, as just understanding pieces of the story she'd tried to tell him so many times. "She cried a lot, when you...when we thought you died, until Barret yelled at her for getting so upset when you were the enemy. I think she still talked to Tifa about it, but we...didn't have much time, after that."

He nodded. Tifa had mentioned something similar when he saw her, but it was entirely different hearing Cloud confirm it. "We all thought we had more time..." He let the words hang on the air for a moment before continuing.

"Hojo never forgot about her, though President Shinra did for a time. Not long after you joined Soldier, actually. But I kept seeing her. I claimed it was to make sure she remained safe until we could resume what Shinra was calling the "collection assignment," but really, I just wanted to see her.

"I met Zack before she did. I think if it had been the other way around I would have hated him. She really liked him...or at least, she wanted to. He was no one like she'd ever met before."

"He was hard to resist," the faintest trace of a smile twitched in his lips before the reality of past-tense chased it away. "I was a shy country boy when we met...he even got me to laugh."

"He was rare in Shinra, especially in the upper ranks. Most of us, if we weren't jaded and bitter before, became so the higher we climbed. He wasn't in it for the money and prestige, and he wasn't trying to run from his past...he just wanted to help people. I think she saw that in him...saw in him the good she wanted to believe was in all people. He was crazy about her, though. I was...relieved, in a way. He would have died before he let anything happen to her."

"Turns out he did."

Tseng ignored the comment, unsure of any implications of accusation. "Afterwards, it was hard for me to see her. She knew I knew where he was, but never pressed too hard for answers; her intuition probably told her she was better off not knowing. But, he asked me to keep her safe. Made me promise. Hojo was so busy during those five years...she was probably the safest she had ever been."

"So you just waited until he died to break your promise." The bitterness had returned to his voice. This story was going nowhere...he didn't need to hear about the other men who had loved her.

"After that day...after hearing the shots from a damn cell phone...I couldn't see her. Hojo was furious over your escape, and demanded we bring him 'the Ancient' immediately as retribution; he blamed the Turks for failure whenever he could. I waited a week, and then I sent Reno after her."

"The day I met her."

"The day you met her. When Reno told me...I snapped. I don't ask for forgiveness, Cloud. Trying to explain it...it only makes what I did sound more abominable. There are no excuses. Zack was my friend, and I lost him over my own inaction. Helen was killed along with most of the other Turks that same week, on a mission I was in charge of. When I heard she was with you, it was too much. I knew she would go with you, because of Zack. Because she would be able to sense his presence on you and would hope she could finally get answers. Then Rude told me about Tifa's little side mission to Don Corneo's...it was easy to see what was going to happen. She couldn't get involved with Avalanche. If she was going to end up with Shinra anyway, it was damn well going to be on my terms."

"And she just went with you?"

"She did...after I threatened to kill Marlene if she didn't."

"All this for love."

"Possession, Cloud. I told you, there is no excuse. Her freedom, her happiness, became secondary. The only thing that mattered was keeping her close...even if it meant she would hate me."

Cloud did not respond. The anger from before had returned, his arm twitching towards the sudden weight of his sword...it would be easy. He could finish what Sephiroth had once tried to do...what he should have completed. He went as far as lifting his right arm from where it lay crossed over his chest, before stopping suddenly. "I let her leave Midgar."

Tseng had braced himself for an attack, and started at Cloud's words. "..."

"She said she wanted to find out about herself. She thought following Sephiroth would help. I didn't want her to go, but she and Tifa teamed up on me. They thought I was just trying to be chivalrous. So I agreed...I didn't want to upset her. We'd just met. If I left her behind, I didn't know if I would see her again. I wasn't ready to say goodbye...I wasn't ready to not see her again.

"I knew what was going to happen in that City. After everything in the Temple, she left. I dreamt of her...or rather, she came to me in a dream. She told me where she was going and what she was going to do. Then Sephiroth told me we had to kill her. We. Not just him.

"I knew he was with us, somewhere. He tried to take over my mind, made me draw my own sword on her. I knew. But then she smiled at me, and I couldn't find the words to warn her. I couldn't do anything but look at her smile. And then we were both covered in blood...her blood. And that damn smile was still there.

"I let her leave Midgar. I was too distracted by a smile to warn her that Sephiroth was there. And I was so weak-minded that I couldn't even stand on my own two feet and had to be carried from Nibelheim. You may have started it, but I finished it."

The two men stared at each other now, understanding passing through them for the first time. They would not try to comfort each other, and had perhaps found the one other person who could understand why they carried the guilt they did.

Tseng finally broke the silence. "Tifa misses you."

In another moment he may have locked up, shut the other man out, but instead stared blankly before finally speaking the words he'd held inside so long. "She's almost been killed three times because of me. My best friend and her best friend were killed because of me, right in front of my eyes. I can't watch her die like that too."

"Then you at least owe her a goodbye." Tseng refused to let his stare falter despite the boundary he knew he had crossed.

For once, Cloud did not turn away. "At least she knows I'm alive. When are you going to tell Elena?"

"Her sister...I killed her sister. Or at least, I may as well have. And I allowed the one person I would have died for to become mixed up in something that eventually killed her anyway. Elena was always trying to impress me. She's less reckless, like this."

There was an unspoken fear of betrayal in the words of both men. It had grown darker since their conversation started: the wind still tore at their clothes, but the melody of cranes and jackhammers was drawing to a close as the grey sky shifted towards black.

"She and Tifa...they were so close. It wouldn't be fair to either of them."

Tseng nodded. "Helen and Elena never got along. But she met them both, at different times. Elena...has no idea, about any of it. I can't tell her. And I can't base everything on a lie."

Cloud felt a light buzz in his pocket as the ring from his phone cut through the air. It would be Tifa. He didn't even have to look to know.

Tseng watched the younger man take a hesitant step forward, as though to extend an arm for a handshake, and they stood inches apart for an awkward moment before moving together towards an embrace. Two men who could barely speak to others for fear of forming another connection they would one day have to lose, and they clung to each other in a physical connection more intimate than either had experienced. Neither knew who started crying first but their tears blended together in an almost poetic expression of fear, guilt, and love.

Time stopped in those moments, and when they finally broke away, drying their tears and exhausted from the catharsis, the construction sounds from below had grown silent, the rising moon breaking cracks into the black clouds.

"Give Tifa my regards." The starting roar of a motorcycle broke through the muggy silence at the end of his words.

"Only if you tell Elena she's got a strong punch."

Tseng walked slowly down the hill following the tracks of the bike until they veered towards Edge, and stared between the road and the distant lights of the mountain lodge. He gave a small nod to Midgar whose ruins lay in between the paths, and turned towards Healin. He could be there in an hour.


And now for the probably unnecessary author's notes that I include anyway because I always feel the need to explain myself.

I know I am not the first writer to do so, but in my mind Tseng has a history with Elena's sister. I was actually trying to write a full-length Tseng piece at one point and had created a lot of backstory between those two, so while that work never came to fruition, that plot element is now stuck in my head. I named her Helen because I wanted a name that had to do with untouchable beauty and desire, but that would make sense beside her sister's name. I would have used Freya, but...Elena is a relatively common girl's name in the west so it would make sense her sister's name would be as well. Thus...Helen.

Last Order and Crisis Core show different events of where Tseng was at the end of Zack's story. I went with the version from Crisis Core because it fit better for this story.

I actually am not really sure what happened to the rest of the Turks during that time between Zack's story and the beginning of FFVII...I think someone told me once they weren't killed but actually captured or something, but here I am assuming Tseng at least believed them to be dead. If anyone knows for certain, please tell me!

I absolutely hate Cloud's last line in this. So, I'm blaming the ineloquence on the fact that it's Cloud, who was emotional and isn't exactly known for his linguistic prowess in the first place. XD