Disclaimer – You know the drill.
So to recap – Rude's just come out of brain surgery, the surgeon just shot the hobo who brought him in, Reno, Cloud and Elena are waiting anxiously for the news and Tseng's gone back to Shinra HQ to meet with Rufus. Any questions?
Chapter 4 – The Truth Comes Out
The hallways of the Shinra building were oddly empty at this time of the morning, and although Tseng could have sworn he heard the faint whistle of the janitor at work, the old man was nowhere to be seen. The glass windows of the offices around him reflected the ceiling lights, and his footsteps echoed forlornly on the polished floor. He was suddenly reminded of the hospital - he shuddered slightly and quickened his pace as he carried on in the direction of the elevator, straightening the cuffs on his shirt as he went.
Rufus Shinra's back was turned towards the doorway when the Tseng stepped into his office. His gaze was instead directed towards the rear window, which overlooked the twisted remains of what was once Midgar – a constant reminder of what had befallen his father's empire.
"Sir." Tseng stood stiffly at attention. Rufus started, even though he had undoubtedly heard the TURK enter – Tseng wondered briefly what the president had been thinking so intently of, to have forgotten his surroundings so.
"Does the name 'Clyde' sound familiar to you, Tseng?" he said as he turned away from the window, brow still furrowed in concentration.
"The surgeon who performed Rude's surgery," came the passive reply. Rufus shook his blond head and approached his desk.
"No, I know. I can't help but think I've heard that name somewhere before, though. Not long ago, in fact."
"Maybe there has been a 'Clyde' working here at some point, sir," Tseng offered patiently, stepping further into the room, polished shoes sinking into the soft carpet underfoot.
"Yes, that's probably it. I suppose I'll have to look through the company records," Rufus gave a tired sigh and lowered himself into his chair. "Have a seat, Tseng. You look exhausted." Quite taken aback by this, Tseng gratefully nodded and sat down stiffly in the chair opposite his boss. Unsure what to do with his hands, he placed them neatly in his lap instead. His muscles twinged in protest, but he resisted the urge to slump back with a great sigh of relief as he would have liked, instead opting to remain straight-backed and sober as he had when he had been standing in the doorway. He was sure that, for a moment, he caught a ghost of an exasperated grimace tug at the President's face, but when he blinked and looked again, it had disappeared. He was so tired though, having been awake for nearly twenty-two hours straight, he was probably seeing things.
"He called me using your cell phone, you know," Rufus remarked mildly out of the blue, when the silence between them began to border on awkward. Tseng snapped back to attention, furious with himself for having forgotten this.
"Yes si–" he began, but Rufus cut him off with a wave of his hand, leaving the older man somewhat bewildered.
"Don't worry about that now. I have something important to tell you," he continued, unfazed.
And so the president repeated all that Doctor Clyde had told him, from his knowledge of the supposedly company-secret affairs of the TURKs to the threat he had made against Rude's survival. Throughout the tale, Tseng's face grew paler, and his lips drew together into a tight, hard line and his hands clenched into white-knuckled fists. He sat there, with rage simmering in the pit of his stomach, until Rufus had finished talking and looked at the Wutaian man expectantly, waiting for his response.
"Are you going to send the money?" Tseng forced out through gritted teeth.
"Of course not," declared Rufus, as if the idea were as preposterous as blackmailing the richest man on the planet. "Scum like that don't deserve a single gil. Still, you have a right to know exactly what is going on." He lowered his voice instinctively, although there was no way anyone could overhear the conversation. "I'd appreciate it if you could keep this between the two of us, especially while Rude is still hospitalized. The last thing I need now is for Reno to end up getting arrested for assault, or worse." Tseng nodded his understanding, although the movement was purely mechanical. "Very well. You're dismissed."
"Go home, Tseng. Get some rest. Or go back to the hospital – it's not really any of my business to tell you what to do when you're off-duty. Take tomorrow off and recuperate. I'll have Reno and Elena do the same." The blond man stood up slowly, and Tseng hastily followed suit.
"What will you do?" he enquired, allowing this lapse in formality since he was no longer technically at work. Rufus' lips twisted into a wry half-smile.
"I'm always on duty."
"Ya think he's asleep, or just out of it?" Reno's voice was hoarse from lack of sleep, but no-one commented on it. In the room Rude was being kept in, he wouldn't have been able to raise his voice anyway. With The TURKs and Cloud all cramped around the metal-framed bed, there was barely any room to move, and so they remained still and silent, save for occasional, disjointed fragments of conversation.
Rude looked oddly small with the bed sheets tucked tightly around him and his head all wound up with crisp white bandages. An alien-like mask covered most of his face, and if Reno listened closely, he could hear his friend's raspy breathing. The sound, though obviously Rude was in a bad way, was oddly reassuring. As long as he kept breathing, he would be ok – to Reno, at least, this seemed reasonable.
"I don't know." Elena's reply was automatic, even a little robotic. "…a bit of both, I guess," she added after a moment's thought. Reno said nothing more, instead returning to watching Rude's chest rising and falling under the bedcovers, unconsciously holding his own breath in order to listen. Minutes passed, and eventually it was Doctor Stoke who broke the silence next as she bustled through the door.
"Alright people, time to go. You need to rest – especially you, Red. You look awful," she informed them bluntly. Reno just scoffed half-heartedly.
"Pfft, what're you talking about? I always look good," he barely mustered enough energy to protest as Cloud placed a firm hand on his shoulder and propelled him from the room. Elena followed, close on their heels and carrying her high-heeled shoes in one hand, far too exhausted to walk properly with them on. The young doctor smiled kindly as she pushed the door to after them, careful not to let it slip until she was sure they had gone and she had turned back to the lifeless man lying a few feet away.
"Your friends miss you. You'd better wake up soon," she remarked mildly as she went about the room, first checking Rude's pulse and then the monitors around him, her movements practiced, almost mechanical from years of practice. "You know, if I had friends like yours I'd make damn sure I recovered from that coma," she went on, tongue between her teeth as she penned in the information on her clipboard in neat, loopy handwriting. "Honestly though – what could possibly be so important to Shinra that he'd send you people out in the middle of the night… especially to a place like that? I guess it's just one of those mysteries."
Distracted by her own rambling, she finished the word she was writing with a flourish, and then hastily reached for her correction pen.
The pocket of her lab coat suddenly buzzed, and without even pausing, she reached down and flipped it open.
"How is the patient?" Doctor Clyde's brusque voice demanded in her ear. Leila grimaced.
"He's stable, at least, though he hasn't moved at all since surgery ended." There was a long pause from the other end. Where most other doctors would say something reassuring for her to relay back to the patient's anxious friends and family, Cornelius Clyde preferred to 'not raise their hopes up', as he always said. "Er, so the man you found, how is he?" Leila enquired, to break the awkward silence, absently flipping her pen between her fingers.
"Dead," came the curt reply. "The shot to his head was fatal. There was nothing the medics could do." The pen flipped neatly over the table and landed with a clatter on the floor as Leila let go of it in shock.
"Gaia… what kind of monster would do something like that?" she wondered aloud as she bent over to retrieve it.
"Call me if the patient wakes up," was Clyde's only reply before hanging up.
Tseng strode determinedly towards the hospital entrance, wearier than ever, but spurred on by the deep-seated wrath boiling in the pit of his stomach. His car beeped as if in farewell when he reached over his shoulder to lock it with the button on his key. The shiny black company vehicle looked more than a little out of place alongside Cloud's abandoned fenrir, but just as the delivery boy had been in a hurry to find Reno, Tseng had no time to waste.
The receptionist – a different woman to the one who had had the misfortune of encountering Reno earlier, looked up with a polite smile at Tseng's approach, but it soon faded as the Wutaian man swept past her, through the double glass doors at the far end of the room and down the corridor to where he knew Clyde's office was.
The room was indistinguishable from the other rooms along the hallway unless you knew exactly where you were going. Someone had drawn the blinds over the windows, and when he reached out and sharply twisted the doorknob, the door remained obstinately shut. Refusing to be thwarted by something so trivial, Tseng scowled at his reflection and rapped on the glass. Still no reply came from within, and Tseng was about to try again when someone tapped him on the shoulder from behind.
"Can I help yo- oh, you're a friend of Rude's, aren't you?" behind him stood a blonde woman with a clipboard tucked under her arm.
"I need to find Clyde."
"Oh, maybe he's checking on Rude. The room's down that corridor and on your left. Uh, is everything ok?" Ignoring the question, Tseng just nodded curtly in thanks and stalked off in the direction the doctor had pointed out for him.
Leila frowned and pursed her lips as she watched the TURK's retreating back.
"Why do I never know what's going on?" she groaned, and jabbed her key into the office door. It swung open, the blinds over the glass window rattling as she pushed it roughly closed behind her.
'That's because you're just a doctor. Your job is to fix people, not poke your nose into other people's business,' she told herself, but the stern advice only served to conjure up images of Doctor Clyde scowling patronisingly down at her. "Alright, Leila, stop feeling sorry for yourself," she muttered out loud, and went to place her clipboard, along with its attached notes, onto the Doctor's desk so she could finally go home.
Clyde's lab coat, spattered with drying blood from his encounter with the dying man outside the hospital, had been draped limply over the back of his chair. Leila stuck her tongue out in revulsion – obviously the man had been too busy to even drop it down into the laundry. She hooked a finger under the collar and held it out at arms' length.
"I can take it down, I guess," she murmured with a shrug. She started towards the door, but a metallic 'clink' from the coat pocket made her pause and glance downwards. "Bullet cases?"She gasped, as she withdrew the metallic objects and held them up for closer inspection. They glinted wickedly under the electric ceiling lights.
A chill suddenly ran down the young doctor's spine as realisation dawned in the back of her mind. "No… he wouldn't…" her distorted reflection in Clyde's office door stared back at her, mouthing the words as she said them. Leila tossed the little metal cylinders aside, along with the soiled lab coat, and turned this way and that, eyes scanning the room until they finally fell upon what she was searching for.
The black box was inconspicuously placed next to the waste paper basket. Before she even realised what she was doing, she had fallen to her knees in front of it. It was locked, but Clyde had left the key in the padlock. Leila's pale hands trembled as she pushed open the lid, and she felt the blood drain from her face when she recognised the unmistakeable outline of a gun in the padding inside.
"Tut tut, Miss Stoke." The young doctor jumped as the office door swung open to reveal Clyde, sans lab coat and not looking particularly surprised to see his junior colleague hunched over his gun case. "Snooping through my belongings, and," he glanced down to where his stained lab coat lay rumpled on the floor, "not taking very good care with them at all. How unprofessional." He stepped further into the office, taking care to shut the door firmly behind him.
"What have you done?" Doctor Stoke's voice wavered - the dangerous glint in the older man's eyes made her swallow nervously. "Did you kill him?" There was no need to state who. Clyde's eyes narrowed.
"Yes." Taken aback by Clyde's blunt answer, Doctor Stoke fell quiet, shuffling her feet and finding herself not quite able to look her superior in the eyes.
"Are you going to kill me?" she mumbled, and Clyde barked a bitter, harsh laugh that sent a chill down her spine.
"Not if you do as you're told. In a couple of hours this will all be over, and you can go back to handing out potions and bandaging up drunks," he answered coldly. "Keep quiet about our little discussion, and make sure you give this to our bald TURK friend, before he wakes up." He produced an ampoule of something clear from the drawer of his desk and pressed it into her hand. She stared down at it in dismay. Though there was no label, she had a feeling it was not simply tap water.
"This could kill him," she said flatly, as though she were a medical student reciting from a textbook. "And what if I refuse?" she added, emboldened by the thought of putting her patient in danger. She abruptly drew back as the older man casually withdrew his gun from the desk drawer.
"I'm afraid that's not an option, Miss Stoke."
"But he's just come out of surgery!" Leila protested, but was cut off as Clyde slammed his fist down upon the polished surface of his desk, sending several papers wafting, unheeded, onto the floor.
"Then I suggest you do your job and keep an eye on him!" he snarled. Behind his grey eyes and tightly clenched jaw, he seemed more beast than man. 'Like a Nibel Wolf,' Doctor Stoke thought with a shudder. Then, 'Gods, I should have just gone home while I had the chance.'
Suddenly, more than anything in the world, all she wanted to do was to put as much space between her and the furious surgeon as possible.
When Leila finally reached Rude's room, despite the feeling that she had just stepped through into a nightmare, she had almost managed to steel herself for the task Clyde had given her.
To her relief and dismay, Tseng was still there, leaning against the windowsill and obviously fighting to stay alert despite his drooping eyelids. When she saw Rude, still unconscious and trapped under a layer of blankets, her resolve nearly crumbled altogether. Even so, she forced herself onwards, wearing a smile that felt more like a grimace and probably looked more like some kind of muscle spasm.
"Clyde did not turn up," remarked the Wutaian man curtly, and she inwardly winced with guilt.
"Yes, he has to, ah, attend to something." An awkward silence filled the room. "Uhm, was it something important?" she enquired tentatively.
"It can wait," came the sullen reply, and she nodded, biting her tongue. There was more to Doctor Clyde's wrongdoing than just a dead homeless man, but somehow it involved Rude and the TURKs too. Guns and TURKs were definitely a dangerous combination, especially when they were not necessarily on your side.
Doctor Stoke mulled this over as she prepared a syringe. With each passing second, her hands grew sweatier and shakier, until she could barely hold the syringe steady. Though her back was turned to the TURK by the window, her face burned with shame. Was he watching her every move? Maybe wondering what she was doing? What if Rude reacted badly to the shot? Leila flinched. The idea of being killed by one of Shinra's employees was just as unappealing as being killed by Clyde himself.
'I should just come clean now.' She decided, staring dully at the assembled needle. So lost in thought she was, it took a moment for her to realise that her cell phone was buzzing in the pocket of her lab coat. Someone had left her a voicemail – she had no doubts as to who it was.
"Miss Stoke, I may or may not have forgotten to inform you that if you intend on revealing our little transgressions to anyone, I doubt anyone would believe you." Clyde'svoice sneered through the receiver. "I also have a letter from your psychiatrist friend – what's his name? Doctor Rowan? – detailing your recent therapy sessions. I'd so hate to have to pronounce you unfit for work on the grounds of simple paranoia. All it needs is my signature, Miss Stoke. Bear that in mind."
While the intention of the message was to terrorise her into silence, instead Leila, who had never been to a therapy session in her life, felt something inside her snap. Shards of glass skittered across the tiled floor as she tossed the syringe aside – she would worry about malpractice charges later – and Tseng turned to her in surprise. Before he could speak, the young doctor was standing before him, jaw clenched in determination.
"Sir, there's something you need to know," she began quietly.
Damn OCs and their squabbles. God forbid any of the canon characters get a few pages to themselves.