A/N: For the 'Drawn from a Basket' challenge on /wm/.
Once you decide to participate I will delve into this magical basket and draw one or more names. You can pick how many, and you have to create something involving that character. Wild cards can be anyone.
The draw: Elmyra, Tifa's Dad, Dyne, Wild Card (Tseng), Veld, President Shinra, Fuhito
Minor spoilers/references for Before Crisis and On The Way To A Smile. Rating for some harsh language.
Six Degrees of Separation
Six degrees of separation (also referred to as the "Human Web") refers to the idea that, if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth.
The metal was rusted, the paint faded, but the words 'LOCKHART INDUSTRIES' were still visible if the light hit the side of the truck just right.
The tailgate closed with a bang, and Dyne wiped his dirty hands on his already dirty pants.
"Always good doing business with you, Mr. Lockhart," he said, sticking out his (still dirty) hand.
The dark haired man grinned, shaking the proffered hand firmly, his own clothes and skin dark with the dust from the coal.
"Hopefully we'll keep doing business for a long time yet. Some other people might be excited for the new reactor, but coal's always been my first choice. I don't trust those Shinra bastards farther than I can throw 'em."
Dyne nodded in agreement, scowling. "Bastards are taking away our business."
Lockhart gave him a sympathetic look, but they both knew there was nothing either of them could do about it. "Well, see ya next month, Dyne."
As the truck exited the quarry, thick, Corel dust obscuring everything in its wake, Dyne turned back for the darkness of the mines.
The dark dirt fell through her fingers as she paused. The tranquility of her garden had been interrupted by slow footsteps, alerting Elmyra that she was not alone.
She looked up cautiously, immediately spotting the intruder – a man, dirty and ragged, one of his sleeves pinned up at the elbow. She stood slowly, still holding her trowel loosely in her hand.
"Can I help you?" she called out, and the man jolted around in obvious surprise. He stared at her for several seconds – there was something off about his gaze, as if he wasn't all there, and Elmyra's grip on her trowel tightened slightly.
It took her a moment to realize he was talking about the flowers that surrounded them.
He nodded, seemingly more to himself than to her, and lapsed back into silence, staring at the myriad of colours around them.
She swallowed. It wasn't the first time she'd had people wander in from the slums; most of them harmless, but there were plenty of people down below the plate who could get very dangerous very quickly, and she didn't like the emptiness in the man's gaze.
"Can I help you?" she asked again, more forcefully. The man didn't even look at her this time.
"My wife liked flowers."
The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. There was a madness in that tone, madness and grief, and she was suddenly thankful Aerith was out selling flowers.
"My daughter, too. She liked the colours." The man turned to stare at her once more, and this time he looked feverish, unwell. "Are you with Shinra?"
Her husband had been, but something told her it would be very unwise to say that.
For several moments the man continued to stare at her, his one hand clenched in a fist. Then, abruptly, he turned and walked away.
The trowel slid from Elmyra's fingers, landing with a soft thud in the dirt.
It was amazing how pervasive something like dirt could be.
Shinra didn't like travelling to the slums. It stank. Filth always stuck to his shoes. And no matter how hard he tried, dirt always got on his suit, in his hair, in his eyes. But this was one trip he had to make in person.
If he could just convince her to hand the stupid child over, he was sure it would be the answer to all his problems. AVALANCHE, that damn traitor Veld, the depleting mako source – if he could just get his hands on the girl it would all just go away, and he would be rich enough to buy the entire Planet.
But he couldn't take her by force – he could not risk damaging her. And his Turks had failed convincing the step-mother, so now here he was, in this smelly, stinking cesspit that was Sector 5, doing the damn work himself.
He scowled. He had built his whole damn company from the ground up with his own sweat and blood, and here he was whining because he had to leave the office for once. Maybe he was going soft.
Before he had a chance to dwell on it, the air abruptly lightened, and he blinked at the sudden brightness around him. His eyes landed on the flowers, and his nose wrinkled in distaste.
The cottage was what some would call quaint – as far as he was concerned, it looked like a hovel, but he was not here to pass judgement. He knocked briskly on the door, and was rewarded a few moments later with it opening, revealing a middle-aged woman, once brown hair now dominated by grey.
Her initial friendly smile immediately vanished once she realized who was at her door.
"You can't have her."
He had to take several deep breaths before he responded. He wasn't used to having people defy him.
"May I come in, Elmyra?" he asked, his tone all forced politeness. Tseng better have had the name right.
"No. I won't tell you people again, stay away from my daughter." The woman looked furious – and scared. He grinned. Scared was something he was certainly used to.
Dropping all pretence – clearly persuasion wasn't going to work here – he got down to it.
"Your husband fought for Shinra in the Wutai war, correct?" Without giving her a chance to respond, he continued. "I believe Shinra – that is, I – sends you a pension cheque every month. It's probably your main source of income, isn't it? It must be hard, after all, supporting yourself and your daughter."
The woman looked beyond furious. The hand holding the door open was trembling slightly, and he smirked.
"It would be such a shame if that money stopped coming, wouldn't it?"
"Give us the girl and you'll never need to worry about money ever again."
"Get out!" The woman took a step forward, but froze as his two escorting SOLDIERs stepped in front of him, hands on their weapons. She settled with spitting at his feet.
"You'll never have her."
He just smiled.
"Oh, we will. It's just a matter of time. Give her my regards, won't you?"
He turned and started walking away, his escort falling into step behind him. There was no point lingering; he knew a lost cause when he saw one.
"Do you even know her name, you greedy pig?!"
He stopped. He glanced over his shoulder – the woman had stepped outside, and there were distinct traces of tears on her cheeks.
"I don't care what her name is," he replied, checking his watch. He had to be back soon or he'd miss his dinner party. "Just as long as she pays."
Without another backwards glance he walked away, the open air of the cottage giving way to the stagnant fumes of the slums. The stench didn't seem so bad this time, or the filth quite so filthy.
It was his filth, after all.
All around him, he saw nothing but disgusting, cancer-like filth.
They would all die. Every last man, woman, and child – every living thing would burn.
Zirconiade was inside him now – was him, his mind, soul, body, everything, and the absolute amount of power surging in him brought tears to his eyes. He tasted flames, heard chaos, and everywhere he looked he saw destruction and rebirth.
He remembered he had had a name, once. Fuhito. He had had a mind, too, but it wasn't his any longer, not really, not with the summon there, expanding and filling him. His hatred mixed with it, fuelling it.
They would all die.
Starting with Shinra.
The very thought made him want to scream. Those bastards, those filth, he would slaughter them all like the dogs they were. How dare they take from him – his Planet, their planet, where was their respect? Where was their fear?
He – Zirconiade – laughed. It didn't matter. He couldn't teach them respect, but oh, how they would fear in the end. That pompous bastard Shinra in his red suit would be pissing himself before he granted him the mercy of death.
Shinra. Shinra. His lapdogs tried to stop him, even now, but he wouldn't allow it.
They would all die.
It was strange being dead.
Especially since he wasn't, really. He was only dead according to the books – according to a file, somewhere, locked in a cabinet, the only proof he ever existed.
He looked at his sleeping daughter, and found he couldn't really give a shit.
The cigarette tasted sweeter than he remembered. A rare indulgence for him, a special treat for a special night. In the distance, he could still see the fires, see the massive, smouldering corpse that is all that remains of Zirconiade, Fuhito, and all the madness that came with the two.
The smoke reminded him of Kalm. Of Nibelheim.
Veld shook his head, taking another drag on the cig. A dead man shouldn't be thinking so much. He should just be thankful.
He was free now. Free to do whatever he liked. Free from Shinra, free from orders and counter-orders and that fucking idiot Heidegger. His dead daughter was alive again. He could go live out the rest of his life with her, peaceful and calm.
His prosthesis itched just thinking about it. He was a fighter, always had been. Violence would be with him until the day he really died. And he still had a duty to his Turks, his other family, and he would never abandon them. Abandoning them would be a failure on his part, and god dammit he despised failures. He'd made enough of them in his life time, and he was sick of it.
Maybe he would just observe, he mused. Step in if his Turks needed it – or maybe just to piss off Heidegger. But that might get him – and Elfé – unwanted attention.
He sighed, dropping the cigarette and grinding it under his heel.
It was fucking complicated being alive.
Tseng still wasn't used to being alive.
He had resigned himself to death in that temple. Had welcomed it, almost. His sins had been starting to catch up with him – in his dreams sometimes he could still see Aerith, bright-eyed and young and then simply vanished. But no, Veld of all people came and whisked him away in the nick of time, and now he was here, very definitely still breathing.
He leaned heavily on his cane. It was the only sign of weakness he allowed himself to show, here in the rubble of the Shinra building with Reno, Rude, and Elena, even though his chest felt like it was on fire. They had enough on their minds right now as it was.
Shinra had been their home. Had made them into who they were, for better or for worse – largely worse, in Tseng's opinion, but they had been a family, and now it was all gone.
"Whadya think they'll use for power with the mako gone?"
Reno's voice was unusually quiet. Tseng wondered if his question was nothing but a metaphor for what the fuck do we do now.
Neither Rude or Elena answer. They probably didn't have one, and were just as lost as Reno was.
"There're other sources of power," Tseng responded, because he refused to let them fall apart now after everything. All they had left now was each other, and maybe Rufus, if he didn't die. "Oil, wind." He leaned down and picked up a dented, scorched piece of steel.
Rust was already flaking the edges, the paint was charred, but if he tilted it just right, he could still see the Shinra logo through the burn marks.