"Reno, stop that."
The red haired Turk—who was currently trying to fit bubble tea straws in his nose at rapid succession—paused in mid action and stared absurdly at his superior. Tseng shot him a look reserved for the pinnacle of idiocy, one eyebrow raised as if to suggest his irritation. Reno took the straws out of his nose with a dejected sigh.
"With all due respect, sir" Elena shifted her strawberry tea around, mushing up a few yogurt balls in the process. "Why exactly did you bring us here?" She slapped Reno's hand away as he attempted to pollute her tea with one of his nose straws; he was trying to be stealthy by reaching one of his long arms around her chair in a womanizing manner while looking in the opposite direction, but despite being a junior member, Elena had already mastered her Sense materia and evaded his attack. Reno pouted and cradled his damaged fingers as if he'd been bitten. Elena continued to ignore the gesture.
Tseng glanced away from them, silently stirring his coffee with a little wooden stick. Despite bringing them out for bubble tea, he wasn't too fond of the drink himself. Tseng didn't like much else besides coffee. When he looked back he focused all his attention on Rude, who was silent and stoic as usual. Tseng decided that the large man looked oddly placed holding a bright blue bubble tea cup decorated with adorable children's mascots and chocobos. Shaking the image from his mind, he cleared his throat softly. "I wanted to remind you all of why you are Turks."
"So you brought us to a boba shop?" Reno exclaimed vibrantly, his voice dripping with mockery. "We're Turks because we're good at being badasses." To emphasize the statement, he slurped loudly on his drink which, oddly enough, was bright red like his hair.
Tseng shifted his gaze to Reno and vaguely wondered how worth it it would be to pour coffee down his pants. "Some of our less obnoxious members like this place," Elena beamed a little at the remark. "Though its choice is hardly anything to do with why we are Turks."
Rude nudged Reno harshly with an elbow as he sensed the seriousness Tseng was emitting; unfortunately, the jab to the ribs made Reno splutter bubble tea everywhere, and as he asphyxiated, Elena shook her head and Rude commenced to savagely beat Reno's back like a drum. Tseng sighed. "When you two are done with the comedy routine, do shut up and pay attention."
Reno stopped coughing on his tea and Rude handed him a rather frighteningly cute napkin to wipe the tears from his eyes. When all was silent and the three of them had settled down, Tseng took a sip of coffee and began. "A long time ago, when I was a child,"
Reno compelled himself not to yawn…and failed. Elena kicked him in the shins from under the table to ensure his eyes would stay open. He glared in response at the back of her prim blonde head, sticking his tongue out childishly for a moment when Tseng wasn't looking. Elena smirked lightly while their boss talked.
"We were from a middle class family, so I was luckier than most below the plate, but it was still next to the slums." Tseng straightened in his chair, noting with some mild disgust that Reno seemed to perk an eyebrow at the thought of Tseng living near the slums. "My parents broke their backs to keep us in the best condition possible. This meant that they were not often around to watch us, and my siblings had a knack for inviting trouble."
Elena was glued to Tseng's words like they were pieces of candy falling from his mouth. Even Rude, who usually remained blank, was bent slightly forward in his chair, straining to extract meaning from his boss's words. Reno chewed his straw, eyes wide and kitten-like as he waited; he then realized that the end he was chewing on had been in his nose, and stopped for a second to extract the mauled plastic from his canines. He held the offending instrument by two fingers and set it down on the table, slowly moving a napkin to his face to wipe his tongue. Tseng seemed unphased.
"I was a good student—all of us were—but we grew bored easily when our schoolwork was done and there were no chores to finish. Sometimes when we knew no one would notice, we'd sneak out into Wall Market or Sector 7 to fool around." Tseng's lips curved in a half-amused fashion, and the mahogany eyes were slightly mischievous. "We could be very bad when we wanted to be. My brothers behaved like little devils, and if times were desperate, we would occasionally steal food from the open street vendors. It's very easy to get away with such a thing when you're a young child, but it is a pitiless world we live in, and it is often fraught with danger." Tseng's smile faded a little, and he took another sip of coffee.
"And so?" Rude was the one who had spoken for the first time that day, and he eagerly addressed the matter in a tone of voice that suggested mild urgency. This, in itself, was one of the rarest moments in the universe.
Tseng put the mug between the palms of his hands, absorbing the heat and feeling very much like a happy cat as he savored the taste of the bitter coffee. Coffee made him want to nap. "One day, our luck ran out. My brother Zhan was caught attempting to make off with a pocketful of Banora white apples, and the vendor wasn't happy about it." Tseng knew he had them now, and he looked directly at Reno when he spoke. "The man cornered Zhan and demanded retribution for the theft. My brother gave him back the apples, but he was so furious that he wouldn't take them. Instead, he began to shout that he would cut off my brother's hand."
Elena gasped audibly and Reno jerked slightly. "No way, man," the redhead whispered. "That's sick."
Tseng nodded solemnly, eyes closing. "It is also sick to think that because of our actions, that man and his family could have starved. Money is important to those who have none."
"But you were only children! Even we Turks couldn't sink so low…"
"If it was your mission, empathy takes the backseat. I know it's cold, but that is our duty." Tseng studied Elena, a hint of praise barely hiding beneath his eyes. She was staring at her shoes, and eventually she nodded. "In our situation however, it was a bit extreme. This man was convinced that the only way we could pay him back was with blood.
"Zhan was terrified, and he had more than enough reason to be. We knew the moment that he got cornered that no one was coming to our aid. There are no heroes in the slums, and all of us combined certainly couldn't have prayed well enough to summon an angel.
"The whole time, the only thing I could see was my poor brother's screaming face and a bloody stump where his hand had been. I knew I had to intervene to change that, so as the oldest brother, I did exactly that." Tseng rubbed his forehead absently with a stray hand as he went over and over the scene in his head again. "The man lunged for Zhan, grabbed him firmly by the arm and commenced to drag him away to a wooden vegetable chopping board on one of the counters. I was frozen with terror until the last second, and before he could plunge a knife down, I lunged into the backs of his knees at full force. For an eight year old, I was a little on the vicious side; he went down with relatively no difficulty, but his knife hand was swinging blindly and it must have grazed my shoulder while I was off guard.
"I didn't even realize how bad I was hurt until I'd dragged my crying little brother to his feet and screamed at the other two to run. I remember hearing the vendor shrieking as we vaulted out into the back alleyways of the slums, and hearing the sound of rushing air and a thump against wood. I dared myself to look back only once; where my head had been several seconds ago was his knife embedded in the door frame, and the sight sent my legs pumping harder than I ever thought possible."
Reno's mouth hung open a little as he listened to Tseng calmly relating his past. "What happened after that?"
"We ran. I was concentrating on shepherding my brothers and putting as much distance between us and the shopkeeper as possible. When we stopped, we had run into one of the Sector 4 slums, in some remote byway. All of us were out of breath, and once my adrenaline had run out, the pain hit me. My shoulder was bleeding freshly, and my shirt was caked in a dark stain. To make matters worse, we were lost and it was getting darker and colder as evening approached. We knew our parents would be getting off of work, and we were terrified that they would discover us missing and punish us upon our return. I suppose it was the least of our worries, because on the road back to Sector 5, we got ambushed by a few monsters."
"What kind?" Reno had now completely stopped fidgeting with his straw and napkin. Rude was almost all the way on the edge of his seat, and Elena had her thumb crammed into her mouth and was rapidly stripping off bits of stray fingernail. They all were behaving like they were watching a remastered version of Loveless.
"Sahagins. They are somewhat of a problem in that area because that is where Shinra's central water lines lead in. There are massive sewers under the slums, and the city is in such poor maintenance condition that some of the manhole covers rust and decay. Sahagins are good climbers, and can easily escape through them, though they probably do so more because they are lost or hungry.
"I can only assume they smelled my blood, and perhaps out of desperation attacked us. I tried to shield my brothers, but I was afraid. I knew that I didn't stand a fighting chance against them, but I'd stood my ground and won against the street merchant, so I was somewhat confident in myself. I had no materia and no weapons, but Father had allowed me some personal martial arts lessons with him on the times he was away from work, and I knew more than enough for a boy. Still, I had no idea what I was fighting, and Sahagin are much faster than humans. One of the beasts lunged straight for me without a moment's hesitation, and as I readied my body for the impact, a gunshot seemingly out of nowhere dropped it to the ground instantly."
"Who?!" All three Turks demanded at once. A few people in the tea shop stared casually.
Tseng paused. "I'm getting to that." He put his empty mug down, silently hoping the waitress would return to offer a refill. "The second Sahagin was a bit more nimble than the first, and perhaps sensing danger, it decided to act quickly. It almost took me by the throat were it not cut down like its brethren by yet another bullet. I was stunned, and my brothers all ran to me, partially out of fear and to see if I was still okay.
"What happened after is etched into my memory. I will not forget the man that came out of the shadows, nor the way he looked at us. He was tall and lanky, with a piercing gaze, perhaps even a cold one. He had an air to him that sent chills over my skin, and I felt my neck prickling as he approached us. For a moment, I seriously believed that the angry shopkeeper had sent him after us, and I stepped forward, ready for him to take my hand, perhaps even my life. I closed my eyes and waited for the echo of the bullet, but all that was heard were the tapping sounds of his polished shoes on the street.
"What a pitiful sight we must have been; Zhan was whimpering and clutching at my bloodied clothes while Kai and Jiao burst into tears all over each other. I was the only one collected but that was due to the fact that I was convinced in my young foolish mind that I was doing an honorable thing and I would spare Zhan the pain of torture or death." Tseng's smile crept back into his face a little bit. "But the man didn't harm us. He bent down to my level, and when I had the nerve to open my eyes again, he was smiling at me and saying things to calm me as he looked over the wound on my shoulder. We were lucky we ran into him. He simply told us in a very calm tone that he had been passing through the Sector on his way to the train station and happened to notice our footprints. He had a few materia on his person, and he used a high-level Cure spell that I'd never witnessed before. It was only when he was finishing tending to me that I noticed how finely he was dressed for a man simply passing through the slums, and so I asked him if he was from above the plate."
A waitress in what appeared to be a frilly apron and fake moogle ears approached and poured Tseng another cup of coffee, and while he searched around and began to attempt to rip open a cream and sugar packet for it, Tseng shook his head and shooed her away. He brought the mug to his lips and inhaled the scent of the brew, his eyes half-lidded with pleasure.
"Oh come on, boss! You can't leave us hanging now!" Reno barked in a frenzy, nearly spilling his tea as he stood up out of his chair.
Tseng smirked a little bit. "Actually, I can." Reno elicited a moan of defeat and buried his face in his palms. Tseng set the cup down slowly. "But that would be rather immature." Reno immediately squealed with joy and sat back in his chair intently. "The man would not tell me where he was from, actually.
"I was disappointed. I wanted to know why he was so secretive now when he had just been passing through and saved our lives from a pair of moderately tough monsters, and after I pestered him, he eventually laughed somewhat and conceded that his name was V."
"Mysterious!" Elena remarked softly. "What next?"
"He was very good to us. He escorted us back to our Sector, and when we got home we discovered that we had not been late at all because our parents hadn't arrived home yet. We were so grateful to him for bringing us home, and I wanted badly to do something for him, but he kindly refused. When all my brothers had crowded themselves back inside to wash the slum smells and dirt off of themselves, I was the only one still watching the man leave. I thought he was very cryptic and interesting, and before he could vanish from memory again, I yelled after him."
The twilight that fell over the plate of the above world only managed to seep slowly into the slums and the Sectors below, and even though it was not quite dark, the street lamps were already flickering on. Tseng rushed after the man fading into the shadows, his boyish limbs wildly scurrying until he was within speaking distance. "Hey Mister V!" he called out into the end of the lane.
V turned around. "Yes?"
Tseng mustered all the courage his young mind would allow him, and in the darkness he blushed a little out of embarrassment as he asked, "What do you do for a living?"
Even though he knew the boy couldn't see it, V smiled. "I'm a ShinRa Turk."
The answer hit Tseng like a lump of cold iron in the chest, and his eyes widened in the darkness in amazement. A Turk. So they did exist, and they lived up to the rumors about them. Beneath the veil of fading light, Tseng was speechless and rooted to the stones of the street. Then, a sudden burning passion took him square by the heart, and he called back, "Well V of the ShinRa Turks, my name is Tseng, and don't you forget it! Some day, I'll be a Turk just like you! I swear it on my family's honor!"
"Is that so? Then I look forward to meeting you again when you finally join, Tseng of the Turks."
Tseng didn't know what else to say to the man then, for just the simple recognition that V had given him had impressed upon him his first true aspiration in life. Instead he waved after V, grinning into the darkness and laughing aloud when the shadow of the Turk had gone and there was no one in the alley but Tseng. Just you wait, V. I'm right behind you.
"By the time I had joined the Turks, I inquired formally to the company about any former or current Turks who had every gone by the nickname 'V' but I found nothing. I went to the company President even, but no records ever indicate a man like him. I regret having never met him again, but I am grateful for our chance meeting so long ago. He was the one who gave my life purpose. He taught me what it was to want something higher than you normally can reach. It is because of V that I am a Turk."
The three at the table before him were struck silent in contemplation over the matter, and for the first time in a long while, Reno looked befuddled in a serious way. Rude grimly stirred his tea once before lacing both hands together and thinking to himself. Tseng sipped his coffee. "Perhaps now you will consider the reasons why you became members of the Turks. There is purpose in your choice." He casually drank the rest of his coffee while the three pondered his words of wisdom, and when they turned to each other to consult their purposes, Tseng feigned a phone call and left the tea house with minor urgency inherent in his walk. When he had traveled a block down the street, he closed the phone and smiled to himself. "That should teach them to annoy their boss with drivel." Without further care, Tseng hailed a cab and casually directed the driver in the direction of the ShinRa building.
Elsewhere, the waitress wearing the fake moogle ears returned, curtseyed politely, and placed a slip of hideously cute paper on a sickeningly adorable tray down on the table. While Elena and Reno argued over who had a better reason for joining the Turks, Rude eyed the paper and picked it up curiously.
There was a sudden choking noise that silenced both Reno and Elena, and Rude became a very unhealthy shade of pale. Reno frowned. "What, man? What are you looking at?" He plucked the paper from Rude's stiff fingertips and glanced at it curiously. For a moment, there was an eerie silence, and then an exclamation of defeat and anger. "That bastard!" screamed Reno as he realized what he was holding. "He left us with the bill!"
Elena scoffed at his antics and waved her hand in an unimportant gesture. "Relax, cheapskate, this place doesn't charge that much for boba."
Reno puffed up comically, clawing at the paper in his hands and threatening to tear it apart. "Oh really!" He gestured crudely, jabbing his fingers into the printed ink maniacally. "Then WHAT is THIS?!"
Elena leaned over his shoulder and her eyes bulged when she saw where he was pointing. "What the hell?!" An unfortunate passing waitress happened to come too close to the vicinity and Elena promptly snatched the bill away from Reno and shoved it into the girl's face. "What is THIS?! What cup of coffee costs 10,000 gil?!"
The poor serving girl's fake moogle ball spun violently as she tried to avoid Elena's invasion of her personal space. "Actually ma'am, that bill is for two cups of coffee—"
"SO?!" Elena was near the point of a Limit Break, and her blonde hair was beginning to frizz.
"And, uhm, it's a special kind. We can only get it in from Gongaga, and it costs a lot to import. It's a rare brew from a plant that—"
There was an angry shriek from the bubble tea house, and many crashing noises and explosions. Needless to say, after much physical debate and EMR abuse, the bubble tea house looked less like a tea house and more like a part of the Sector 4 slums.
Tseng was not amused to find that the insurance didn't cover the damage but then again, he could always pass the expense on to someone else, because that was the simple beauty of working for a large organization like ShinRa. He opened his email account and forwarded the message to Reeve with a look of smug amusement on his face, making sure to re-title the attachment and the message line to something that Tuesti would pay attention to and not simply toss into his junk folder.
Reeve's day was going marvelously. He'd escaped another pointlessly totalitarian meeting with Scarlet and Heidegger, and Palmer was lunching with somebody else and didn't have the time to bother him over trivial company matters. Best of all, according to the secretary downstairs, the Turks were out on a particularly difficult mission and wouldn't be in his office rearranging his files to confuse him and set him back five more years. With a whistle and a flash of typing fingers, he guided his mouse to his email inbox and commenced to sift through them all.
"Oh, what's this? Happy Birthday Reeve! from Tseng? I wonder what it could be…"