Chapter Three: Someplace to Belong
So Edge. Not really my scene. I'd gone on a few missions in the city before leaving the Turks. The city never impressed me much. It used to be high class, a place for the rich and privileged of Midgar to vacation. Now it was more like Neo-Midgar with dirty streets, litter strewn alleys, and homeless bums wandering around with either the gonna-cut-your-throat look or the don't-have-nothing-so-don't-cut-my-throat look.
Shinra HQ wasn't as grand as it was in Midgar either. The building didn't stretch into the sky. The outside wasn't highly polished steel and glass. The security cameras were all first rate though, and a quick evaluation with Turk-trained eyes told me that Shinra wasn't the decrepit and failing company most people thought it was.
I strolled through the doors on the main floor, pace confident, head held high. There was a security station with a young man in a blue uniform on guard. I walked right past without stopping.
"Excuse me," he said. "Do you –"
I gave him a really, really cold look. Then kept going. I pressed the button for the elevator. He fidgeted beside me, mumbling about how I had to show my ID Badge and could I please step to the side for retina scanning and he was so sorry, but policy was policy and all. When the elevator arrived I stepped on and finally responded to him. "Do you know which floor I'm going to?"
"Level 19?" he asked, a frown descending on his brow.
"Do you know why I'm going to Level 19?"
"B-because you're a Turk," he stammered.
"Because I'm a Turk," I agreed. I pushed the button for the 19th floor and maintained eye contact until the door shut with a quiet thump. The elevator ride was smooth and uninterrupted. I stepped off the floor on Level 19. The glass door between the elevator and the main hallways had bright gold letters proclaiming this to be the Department of Administrative Research. It required a passkey to get in.
Zack appeared. "Go back, Cissnei," Zack pleaded. "Don't give your life to Tseng."
"You heard Valentine," I said. "Genesis has an army. Why should we have to wait for him to attack before we take steps to stop him?" I opened up a keypad hidden behind a light panel. The blue keys glowed at me, daring me to input the wrong code. Something you should know, more often than not, Turks don't carry ID. That includes passkeys. In our line of work, getting captured is often expected. Reporting in without adequate time to get our ID is also expected. We all have an emergency code associated with our records that will allow us entry at any time.
My old code was WINGS. I punched in Rude's instead: RUDE. The door whooshed open. Now I was on the clock. Tseng's PHS no doubt was just notified that 'Rude' had entered using his code.
Zack fidgeted beside me. "Not cool. I thought I'd have more time to stop you."
I stepped into the main hallway. I'd never been on this floor of this building, but so far everything was exactly the same as it was in the old Shinra building. I headed to the corner office facing the ocean. That would probably be Tseng's.
When I reached the door, I slowed. The floor was awfully quiet, which was too be expected. With the exception of Reno, most Turks were quiet. Every office door was locked with both a physical key and a keypad. Again, the keypad code was enough to gain entry, but it would trigger an automated PHS message to Tseng.
There were voices inside Tseng's office. I'm not proud, but I eavesdropped for a few minutes on a private conversation between Tseng and Elena. I knew it was Tseng because I could never forget his voice. I knew it was Elena because he called her Elena.
Elena's voice caught my attention – she was why I didn't just open the door and stroll in with my report like I had been planning all along. She said "I'm pregnant." Tseng swore. She said "The baby's yours." Tseng swore again. She said "I don't want it." Tseng swore some more. She said "I can't be pregnant and a Turk at the same time. I'd rather be a Turk."
"Elena," Tseng said, voice low. "You – no, we – have to deal with the consequences of our actions."
"I am dealing," she said. "I'm making plans for the future, sir."
"Not what I meant," he said. "What I meant is that if you're pregnant you have responsibilities to your – our – child."
"Tseng," she said. "I don't want to be a mother. That was never in my game plan. I have other goals for my life. And it's not like you want to be a father either. I won't believe you if you say that you want that."
"Why is that?" His voice sounded dangerous. I wondered if Elena knew he was angry at her. With Tseng it was hard to read emotions.
"Are you kidding? You've been a Turk long enough to have enemies both within and outside the Company. And as the President's number one advisor and bodyguard, any kid of yours would be born with a big ole target on his head." She paused. "Sir, don't shake your head, you know it's true."
"True?" Tseng asked, voice cold. Actually he sounded livid to me. I was going to die when I waltzed in there. Bad timing on my part, but I didn't care at the moment. Tseng had an elicit relationship with one of his Turks. What was the world coming to?
"So, you agree then?" Elena asked. Her voice sounded small, startled even.
"No," Tseng said. "You're relieved of your duties as a Turk starting now. I'm . . . I'm not comfortable with a Turk getting an abortion. The president is in a delicate public relations position right now. The last thing he needs is a Shinra that doesn't allow its employees to have babies. That's what it will sound like if you don't keep the baby."
"Excuse me?" Elena said. "Who will even know I'm pregnant? I told no one except you."
She had a point, but Tseng apparently didn't care. "You're keeping the baby. After it is born, you'll return to the Turks. If you don't want the child, I'll see to it that the child is placed somewhere appropriate." I heard his chair scuff back. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to speak to Rude. He's no doubt lingering outside my office."
"Rude?" Elena said, sounding alarmed. "He'll tell Reno." She crashed into the hall. I don't know what I was expecting: maybe a Turk-version of Aeris. I mean she was the only girl I ever knew Tseng to be attracted to. Elena didn't fit that image though. She had electric blond hair in a bob cut. Bright blue eyes. Pale skin. She wore her suit to regulation perfection. "Who are you?"
"Cissnei," I said. "I'm here to see Tseng."
I heard Tseng hear me speak. I know that sounds strange. But as I spoke, he inhaled sharply. His hand hit his desk. "Enter, Cissnei," he said. "Elena, close the door. You know my orders. You would do best not to defy me on this."
Elena stepped aside, glowering at me. I stepped through the door into Tseng's office. Every fiber of me wanted to look down, so I kept my gaze up instead. Tseng was beside his desk. His hair hung like a black silk curtain down his back. He had a few new scars on his face; one just above his upper lip caught my attention. I forced myself to meet his fathomless black eyes. He did not look the slightest bit impressed or happy to see me.
"Sir," I said. "I have a report." I clasped my hands behind my back, hating that the palms were sweaty.
Tseng smoothed his hand across his tie. He sat back in his chair. "Really? Well, this should be good." There was a hard edge to his voice. His anger toward Elena was blending with his displeasure with me.
"Genesis Rhapsodes is alive."
He quirked an eyebrow at me. "That's it?"
"I saw him on the Northern Continent. He was heading back from the Crater."
"He's still suffering from degradation . . ."
"On my way from Junon I ran into Vincent Valentine."
"He had information that a SOLDIER marched through Cosmo Canyon with a military group."
Tseng folded his hands on the table. "Did you think that I was unaware of Genesis's resurfacing?"
Honestly, I suspected that he already knew. But it didn't really matter. I was sick of being gone. I was homesick for the violent existence of the Turks. I wanted to feel that connection with another person again. A living person that is.
Behind me Zack was muttering something about a "blaze of glory." I ignored him.
"Sit down, Cissnei."
I sat down. I stared at Tseng. He stared at me. A minute passed. Another minute passed. I could hear the hands on Tseng's desk clock ticking the time away. Zack kept up his quiet rant, apparently opting to be less distracting in light of the fact that I was speaking with Tseng.
Finally Tseng spoke. "How are you?"
"How are you, Cissnei?"
"F-fine, I guess."
"I honestly didn't think you were ever coming back."
"I didn't think I was coming back either."
He frowned. "I thought that you went after Hojo."
"What would be the point in that? I'm just as responsible for what happened to Zack as he was. Maybe more so if you think about it. All I did was watch. That's my –"
"Don't say sin," Tseng said. "I'd rather not hear you echo that particular line."
I frowned at him. What did he mean by that?
Tseng pinched the bridge of his nose. He looked frustrated. He pulled his PHS from his pocket. "Do you still have my number?"
"Yours, Reno's, and Rude's."
"Add Elena's," he said. He rattled the numbers out. "You'll need a new uniform. We go with blue these days. After Veld's desertion, President Shinra wanted us to adopt a new look. He said blue was more people-friendly."
I added the number. I'll confess that my heart was beating a million miles a minute. He was angry, yes, but nowhere near as bad as I'd anticipated. "Where do I get the new uniform from?" If I could just get myself jammed into the door before he realized that I had deserted (which was punishable by death) I would be okay.
"The HR department, 3rd floor," he said. "Tell me what you've been doing with yourself if you didn't go after Hojo."
"Nothing," I said. "I found Zack's body. He was riddled with bullet holes, lying in a pool of blood. His eyes were open, but . . ." My throat constricted a bit, tears threatening. Even after all these years I still couldn't breathe right when thinking about what happened. I'd never talked about it with anyone except Zack. Somehow I'd expected that time would dull the pain more.
"I saw the bloodstained ground. I didn't find his grave," Tseng said, skillfully asking for more detail.
"Yeah, well, I didn't want anyone to find it," I said. "Veld taught me how to hide a body."
Tseng nodded. "I was there when you received that training. What happened after you buried him?"
"I walked away."
I shrugged. "One foot in front of the other. I collapsed outside the Chocobo ranch. Woke up. Stole a chocobo. Crossed the marshes. Somehow got through the Mythril Mine. Eventually I ended up on the Northern Continent with a bottle of whisky."
"Ah, the bottle," Tseng said. He smiled sadly at me. "I shouldn't be surprised. Reno got you addicted pretty young. He took you after your first mission with him, didn't he?"
"What was that mission anyway?"
I bit the inside of my lip, trying to dredge that memory up. "Well, it wasn't my first mission. It was my first field mission. Veld had me writing letters from dead SOLDIERS to their distant families for quite some time. Shiva! I hated doing that."
"Yes, well, if I remember correctly you were pretty gifted at writing those letters. Better than Reno or Rude at any rate."
I didn't want to talk about the letters. That was one of the things that I hated about the Turks. All those damn letters, back and forth with the families. And I'd written them for Zack's family for four damn years before . . . yeah, before he died. I didn't want to dwell on that.
"My first field mission was rousting some wannabe gangsters from Sector 2. Nothing of consequence, I guess."
Tseng looked thoughtful. "You could still leave, you know. Walk away again."
His smile faded. "Well, actually you can't. With Elena out of the picture, I need you. You'll have to stay." He stood up, walking to the window and looking out over the city. "Reno and Rude will be upset. They thought you died."
"I didn't – I couldn't think."
"I would have left too," he said. "I thought about it. I thought about killing Hojo too. To avenge Zack. To avenge you. I thought he murdered you."
I stayed in the chair because he'd told me to sit and I didn't want to disobey. But I wanted to stand beside him. I didn't. But I wanted to.
"I would keep seeing you at our old haunts in Midgar. I'd chase rumors in the evenings. There was a dancer at the Honeybee inn that looked like you. There was a girl with AVALANCE who fought with a shuriken – and rumors of an ex-Turk with them too. I thought of you. When Deepground emerged, I watched the women's legs, hoping I'd see yours. After I got access to their records, I scoured them for your name. I looked at every picture."
He turned. His eyes weren't fathomless anymore. They were hurt. "I hoped that you were alive. That Hojo just experimented on you."
"Nothing to be sorry for. In this business if you leave a forwarding address you're not really out. But I know for a fact that Reno and Rude both looked too. Reno used to love you."
I looked down, studying my fingers. Reno hadn't made a secret that he thought I should forget SOLDIER and date him. I don't know if he loved me – I can't say for certain that I understand what love is.
"So here's the story. You were with Deepground. You've had amnesia. After Deepground disbanded you went north, seeking the solace of the snow. Instead you saw Genesis. He sparked your memory and you came back. End of story." He lifted his PHS. "Your number?"
I told him. He sent me an analysis folder on Deepground. "Read it tonight. I'll have HR assign you a room. They should have a new uniform for you by morning. Oh and before I forget, what you heard from my meeting with Elena – forget it."
"Of course it is. You're Cissnei of the Turks." He smiled again. The muscles in his face didn't look like they were used to smiling. "Welcome home."
Tseng . . ."
He stepped around the desk, motioning for me to stand. And he did the most surprising thing ever. He hugged me. I was stiff and awkward in his arms. His embrace was stiff and awkward. Turks didn't hug each other after all. But after a second we both relaxed. And I got what I'd been missing for the last seven years. A co-worker and a friend. And that ever critical human need: someplace to belong.
Author's Note: Thanks to everyone who is reading and reviewing :) Next chapter is Cissnei's first encounter with Cloud and Tifa!