((Hints of yaoi.  You shouldn’t be reading this without reading parts one and two.  Disclaimers are all at the first part.  They apply here too.))


Things Aren’t What They Appear To Be: Part Three

By Deathswings

In a very unusual way, I owe what I am to you
Though it times it appears I won't stay, I never go
Special to me in my life, since the first day that I met you.
How could I ever forget you once you had touched my soul?

In a very unusual way, you've made me whole...
~Maury Yeston "Unusual Way"

Elena watched Tseng stare moodily into his drink. He'd been like that all day-pensive and silent. More so than usual, she thought, with a bit of concern. Not that anyone but me would ever notice, she added after a moment's thought. She supposed she was in love with him. She had no other way to explain that weird shivery tingle she got whenever she was around him. But why wasn't she sure? She'd been in love before, she would recognize the signs, and pervasive as the tingle was, it wasn't really one of them. It wasn't quite the same *kind* of tingle. On the other hand, why shouldn't she be in love with him? He was drop-dead gorgeous; tall, with thin, almost aristocratic features and that long, black hair that he always kept so perfectly straight and groomed, almost as if his life depended on it. Of course, there *was* always the fact that she had never seen him smile, or if she had, she had never seen it reach his eyes. He was always moody, brooding. He never laughed. She found that particularly odd. At first, she thought it might be their line of work, but Reno still laughed and joked around, and she'd even heard Rude crack the occasional joke. (Though usually while drunk!) So what stopped Tseng? What had he seen that had affected him so deeply that he could no longer have fun with the rest of them? She'd asked him about it once, and his only reply had been a terse shake of the head. He was so tragic... so beautiful in his aloofness. She often caught herself staring at him when she thought he wasn't looking. She wondered if he ever noticed. Of course, he never seemed to notice Reno's blatantly sexual comments to him either, or how Rude and Reno would both disappear for hours on end. Which meant of course, that he most likely knew about all three. He had merely decided to let things run their course, provided they didn't interfere with his plans. The new leader of the Turks was like that. As long as it didn't interfere with his work, his carefully made plans, it didn't matter to him. It was merely filed away in the back of brain for future reference-in case he needed it.
In case he needed it! She permitted herself a mental snort at that. Tseng prided himself on not needing anything, or anyone. He was about as sturdy as a brick wall despite all of his pensiveness. She wondered if he would ever trust anyone with his heart. Not that it would be her if he finally ever did. More likely it would be Reno. She knew all too well about ShinRa's bend towards beautiful gay men. She surmised that it had something to do with the fact that Rufus, President Shinra's son, was in charge of promotions, and it was no well kept secret that his passions generally went in that direction. Tseng had come out of nowhere, really, to become leader of the Turks, and that took skill and talent... but it also took some serious ass-kissing, and with Rufus in charge, that *could* be literal. Elena repressed a shiver. She was glad that she was a woman, and thereby immune from that sort of sucking up. In fact, when she had asked if she was ready to become a Turk, Rufus had treated her with a great deal of cold indifference. He'd merely read the name "Vincent Valentine" out loud, and then stamped her papers.
Vincent Valentine. Now there was a name she hadn't thought of in years. She wondered where he was now. He'd been her recruiting officer when she had decided to join the Turks. She really didn't know how she'd made it in. There were other candidates many times better than she had been. She suspected that she made it because Vincent rather liked her, though he was old enough to be her father. There were times when she'd catch him looking at her in much the same way she looked at Tseng-as if he were slightly puzzled by her, as if she was an enigma to him, but beautiful anyway. But even if the ages had been right, he had recruited her. Any relationship they would have had would have branded her a job whore, and made him look even worse. Of course his son was a different matter...
She'd only known Luc briefly, but she'd seen enough to know that he was a sight for sore eyes, despite being almost blatantly gay. He was amazing fun, always laughing, always smiling, and he could rival Reno in dirty joke contests, though his were always more subtly nasty that Reno's. He'd transferred to SOLDIER soon after she joined up, and she'd quickly lost track of him. Then, she heard that ShinRa had too. He'd gone MIA along with Cloud and Sephiroth at the incident at Nibelhelm. That's all they would call it. The Incident. Everything else was classified. Just like the mission Vincent had gone on. It seemed to haunt her. Both of them, MIA... gone... She hoped they were okay, wherever they were.
She looked up, tuning back in as she realized that she, too, had zoned out of the conversation.
"Come on Tseng!" Reno slurred, a bit drunk already,"Why're you looking so down?"
Tseng looked up at him,
"Sorry Reno. I was just thinking about my... um... father. I haven't seen him in years and... it's his birthday today."
Elena blinked, caught off-guard. Tseng must really be upset, that was the most of his past he had ever revealed to anyone, that she knew of. And she knew exactly what that was like. She had lost her father and mother at an early age. She didn't know what she would have done if Delia's parents hadn't stepped in and raised her. But Tseng obviously hadn't had someone like Delia there to help him. She placed a hand on his shoulder, compassion shining in her eyes,
"I'm sorry Tseng. I know what that's like."
His eyes shone back at her, grateful, and they might actually have shared a tender moment, but Reno, being his usually insensitive and slightly drunk self, chose that moment to place a hand on Tseng's leg,
"I could help you forget all that, you know," he almost purred, obviously joking. But everyone knew that under that joking was a deadly serious offer.
"Reno..." Tseng's voice was strained, "I'm *really* not in the mood for this tonight..."
"You sure?" Reno squeezed his thigh.
"Yes!" Tseng snapped at him, exploding out of his chair. Before anyone could move or say anything, he was gone, the door letting in a small draft of cool, damp, night air. Elena stared at the door a moment, shocked. She'd never seen Tseng do anything like that before. Whatever was bothering him was bothering him a great deal. She turned back and looked at Reno, wondering if she could make his head explode with her disgust for what he had done to Tseng. He beamed at her, and looked like he was about to make a flippant comment, but Rude's hand fell like a bar of lead to his shoulder,
"You've got to watch it Reno. One of these days, you're going to piss off the wrong people with that mouth of yours. Come on," he hauled the smaller man to his feet," We've got a long day tomorrow, and you've already had too much to drink." Rude dragged Reno out, leaving Elena with her second shock of the day. She believed that that was just about the most she had ever heard Rude speak at one time! She sat there for a moment, staring into her drink and wondering what the protocol said she should do in this situation. She finally decided that she wasn't accomplishing anything down here, and paperwork was always a good thing to do when you had nothing better. She sighed and stood up, throwing some money on the table for the drinks. She had the feeling it was going to be a long night.

It was after midnight when the knock sounded on her door. She got up slowly from her desk, rubbing sore eyes and stretching stiff muscles. The paperwork may have gotten her mind off of things, but it was still paperwork, and she had been sitting far too still for the last several hours. She reached for the handle of the door automatically, realizing mid-twist what she must look like-no jacket, no shoes, loose tie, rumpled, untucked shirt, slightly tousled hair. Hardly a good image to present for the Turks! But if she wanted to know who the person on the other side of the door was, she *had* to open it now. So, imagining the verbal lashing she was likely to get from Tseng later, she opened the door.... and blinked.
She didn't think Tseng would be giving any lectures on dress code and conduct. He looked even worse than she did. Though he still had his jacket on, his tie was missing, and sand on his feet attested to a long, barefoot walk on the beach. He wavered on his feet like he was drunk, but Elena could tell that he was stone sober. Everything about him looked haggard and rumpled... and almost irresistibly attractive. She just stood there for a moment in utter shock before her brain kicked in,
"Tseng? Tseng, my God! What's wrong?"
"Elena... can we talk...?" he sounded oddly defeated.
"Of course! Come in!" she stepped back and led him in, closing the door behind her, "Sit down before you fall over! Are you all right?" He sank into an armchair near the window and placed his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands.
"No. No, I'm not really all right. Elena, I really need to talk to you about something, but it's going to be awfully hard for you to hear."
"Why is that?"
"Because I know how you feel about me. And this... this runs counter to that. And even if it didn't, what I really need tonight is a friend. Can you do that Elena?"
Elena nodded. It wasn't what she had hoped for, but at least he trusted her enough to tell her whatever he was about to tell her. At least he thought she was strong enough to be able to play the friend, whatever her true feelings were. She did have to crack a small smile though. He said he knew how she felt about him? Hell, *she* didn't even really know how she felt about him. But he was close enough.
"Of course I can Tseng."
"Good. There are things about me... things that you don't know, things that no one knows..."
"You don't have to apologize for yourself, Tseng. All of us have pasts we aren't proud of, why else would we still be in the Turks?"
He lifted his head, surprised, and almost smiled at her. Then, his face fell, and he started to speak,
"I lied to all of you back there in the bar. It isn't my father's birthday today. I haven't seen him in years, yes, and I don't know whether he's alive or dead, but that isn't what's upsetting me. It has nothing to do with birthdays and nothing to do with my father. Today is the anniversary of the day I met my one true love, my soulmate. I know that sounds utterly corny, especially coming from me, but I don't know how else to explain it. I met them in a bar much like this one, while sitting with... people much like Reno and Rude. And then... and then..."
"You lost her," Elena finished softly.
"No... I lost him."
Such a simple little word, but all of her disappointment was behind it. She knew she had promised to be his friend tonight, but she couldn't help that reflexive depression that came from knowing that she never even had a chance.
"Elena, I-"
"Sorry, Tseng. I didn't mean to say that like that..."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"How did you lose him?"
"I... don't really want to talk about that. It was quite a traumatic day for me. I joined the Turks shortly after hoping that I might be able to find him. But I don't think I ever will. I think perhaps he is dead, or at least, the man *I* knew is dead. He's a different person now... a different per-," Tseng choked off and Elena could tell he was close to tears, but he was holding them back for her sake.
"Go on and cry Tseng. I won't tell anyone," she said softly, placing a hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her, tears brimming in his eyes, profoundly grateful. He looks so young like that, she thought distantly, so innocent and so... much like someone else. She frowned for a moment, trying to chase down the memory, but it eluded her grasp. Who did he look so much like?
And then he broke down into sobs, his whole body shaking with the force of his grief, and she abandoned that line of thought to kneel next to him, pulling him out of the chair and into her arms, holding him while he cried himself out on her shoulder. She ran her fingers through his hair, whispering soothing nonsense meant to soothe, every inch a mother. Finally, he fell silent, only an occasional, ragged sob evidence of his grief. After what seemed like an eternity, he looked up at her, raising his head ever so slightly,
"Thank you, Elena," his voice came out as a hoarse whisper.
"Anytime, Tseng."
His voice was slightly slurred, sleep beginning to overtake him,
"Can I stay here?... don't think I can make it back to my... *snore*"
Elena blinked in surprise. Had Tseng just fallen asleep in her arms? She looked down at him. Yes. He had. Well, tonight had certainly been an interesting one, that was for sure! She carefully lifted him up and set him on the bed. God, he weighed next to nothing! She had the feeling he hadn't had a decent meal since he got into the Turks. All training and running around and no good food had made him almost as skinny as Reno. And the cigarettes probably didn't help much either, though he always claimed he wasn't addicted.
She tucked him in and then stepped away. So where was she going to sleep? This wasn't exactly the Shinra Mansion. Finally she sighed and opted for the far other side of the bed, fully clothed. Not really all that comfortable, but better than the floor, or interesting questions in the morning. She closed her eyes. Somehow, this worked just as well as anything she could have imagined. Besides, Tseng had shown that he trusted her with something far more precious than love, perhaps even far more precious than life. And that was better than being lovers... right?

She rolled over reflexively in bed and met with cold sheets. Her brow furrowed. That was odd, though she couldn't remember why... and then she shot up straight in bed. Tseng! Tseng had been here... and now he was missing. She sighed slightly. She was fine about being more of a sister than a lover, but some little part of her *still* wished she could have at least seen him when he woke up. She climbed out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom. This was better in the long run she told herself. Odd questions might be raised if they came down together. This was far better, they could pretend that this never happened. She picked up the little sheet of paper and frowned at it, then grinned. Only Tseng didn't see it that way. Tseng didn't see it that way at all...

Elena went down and sat with the other Turks, who were just ordering breakfast. She pondered the two little words written on the sheet of paper. What on earth did they mean? Tseng had something planned, but what? She ordered her breakfast distractedly. Why would Tseng leave her a piece of paper with the words "Play along?" scrawled on it? She had just started to nibble at her breakfast when Tseng came down the stairs, whistling merrily.
"Good morning everyone!!" he called out cheerily. The three Turks blinked and stared at him like he had grown a third eye. Elena was struck again by how familiar he looked, but once again, the person he looked like escaped her. He all but skipped over to their booth and slid in next to Elena,
"Good morning Elena..." he said in a voice just barely above a whisper, her name falling from his lips like a slow caress. Elena blinked, trying not to look too shocked as the meaning of "Play along?" finally became painfully clear to her. She smiled at Tseng and winked at him, and his lips pulled up into a slow smile. Then, they both turned their attention back across the table, and Elena had to struggle not to laugh at the expression on Reno's face. He stammered,
"Tseng... Elena...?"
The smile on Tseng's face was nothing short of predatory,
"Anything... wrong Reno?" he sounded ready to kill. Elena was only able to suppress a giggle by sheer Turk willpower.
"No- no, nothing's wrong.... Nothing at all."
"Good," Tseng practically drawled. She knew that this wasn't real. She knew it was an elaborate charade designed to get Reno off his back, and make midnight conversations seem plausible. She knew he didn't return her feelings, he was still searching for his long lost love. She didn't, she *wouldn't* delude herself. But this was nice. This was very, very nice. She grinned at Tseng, who, much to her surprise, grinned back. Very nice indeed.

But Elena's happiness was short lived. A few weeks later a telegram arrived for Tseng from ShinRa Inc. Tseng opened it, read it without once changing expression, then set it carefully down on the table, standing up,
"I'm leaving for a while. Alone. If any of you follow me, you will never be seen again," and he was gone. Elena picked the telegram up off the table and read it:

"Oh... Lord..."

Sephiroth. They had finally made it to Sephiroth. All they had to do was climb over this one last hill, and they would meet their destiny. Cloud took a deep breath and headed up the hill. Sephiroth had taken his family, his best friend, and his lover... and it was time for him to pay for his sins.
"So... you made it this far Cloud?"
Cloud turned around slowly to see Tseng standing there in all of his Turk glory. So the bastard wasn't dead after all. Damn. He had thought for once that Sephiroth may have actually done the world some good. His eyes narrowed,
"Tseng. I should have known. What the hell are *you* doing here anyway?"
"I was ordered here by ShinRa to prevent Meteor and dispose of you."
"What? Without your Turk buddies?" Cloud sneered.
Tseng opened his mouth to respond, but Elena's voice cut him off.
"No. His Turk buddies are here. Rude and Reno couldn't get up the slope as fast as I could..." there was something odd in her tone though, and Cloud had a strong suspicion that she did not actually have any backup. Then, Elena saw Vincent. Their eyes locked for a brief moment, and something passed between them. Now there was something Cloud hadn't known. Had Vincent been a Turk when Elena was? It didn't seem like the ages could possibly match up, but they sure knew each other from somewhere.
Tseng looked at Elena then back at Cloud and seemed to come to some sort of decision,
"Elena... you shouldn't have followed me here. But if you must see this, then you must," he turned back to Cloud, "You may not believe me, but I didn't come here to kill you, or Sephiroth. I came to try to prevent this. You see I think I may have the key to-"
Perhaps if Tseng had been allowed to finish his sentence, tragedy could have been averted. However, Sephiroth chose that moment to attack.

* * *

Cloud dealt the final blow and Sephiroth fell to his knees, holding the wound in his side, blood oozing over his fingers. Cloud gloated over his enemy. Finally, his debts were revenged! But Tseng, standing a ways off, where he had been for most of the battle, stoic and silent, swayed on his feet slightly. Sephiroth looked up at Cloud and chuckled darkly, blood coming out of his mouth,
"So you finally won, eh Cloud? How does revenge feel? Does it bring back your loved ones? Your town? Your mother? Your precious Zack? You've killed me. You've won. But what have you won? What about you Vincent? You still don't have a daughter..."
Vincent stared at his toes, and murmured softly,
"I never had a daughter."
Tseng closed his eyes. Elena placed a hand on his shoulder. God, he looked like he was about to throw up.
"Tseng... Tseng what's wrong?"
He said nothing, but he shook her off and moved to stand at Cloud's side.
"You too, Tseng?" Sephiroth choked out, "You survived? And you've come to gloat as well?" he looked at Cloud, laughing darkly again, "Perhaps you should begin charging admission. It seems there are many who would be happy to witness my death," Sephiroth choked and fell flat on his face, trying to get back up again.
"Perhaps," Tseng said, the words obviously hard for him, "But I am not one of them."
Something inside of Tseng snapped, and he fell to his knees beside Sephiroth, gently picking up his head and laying it in his lap. He stroked the blood matted hair with immense tenderness. Sephiroth tried to focus on his face, just as surprised as the rest of them,
"Tseng? What the hell... Why the hell do you care?"
Tseng smiled slightly. In two quick, fluid motions he discarded both his jacket and his tie, and he dropped the posture of the leader of the Turks. His hair had been mussed by the wind and he aided the process a bit, his hair falling into his eyes,
"This scene look familiar?" he said, a hint of a smile on his face. Sephiroth blinked slowly, and Cloud, Vincent and Elena all did double takes.
"T-Tia? Tia? Oh my god..."
She wrapped her arms around him softly, cradling him.
"Shhh... save your strength."
"Oh... Tia, I don't think..." he broke off, coughing, " I don't think I want to die now."
"You won't! I'll heal you!"
"You already have Tia, just not in the way you want to. You've already made me whole..."
She began to cry softly,
"No! No, this can't be happening! I don't want to lose you! Not again! I just found you again... not like this Sephiroth... please..."
"I came back for you! I came back... Seph... I love you."
"Love you too...," he reached up, touching her face gently, "Don't... waste... your... tears... on me....," his hand fell away, his eyes closing for the final time. Choking back a sob, she kissed him on the forehead.
"Sleep... Sweet dreams...," and she laid his head down gently in the snow, her eyes brimming with tears, but his final words, like an order, kept them from falling.
There was a silence. A deep, dark silence. Cloud looked down at his vanquished foe and that foe's lover. It had to be done. Sephiroth would have killed them all. Still... The words "I'm sorry" caught in his throat. They were empty, meaningless. He was so much more than sorry. He placed his hand against her shoulder, squeezing gently.
"This... This isn't how it's supposed to happen, Cloud. He's supposed to be forgiven. He's supposed to live... live..."
Cloud looked up at Vincent, who had come up beside him. Vincent inclined his head at Cloud, and Cloud stepped back, allowing Vincent to pick Tia up like a little kid. He took her weight in his inhumanly strong arms without any trouble,
"Hush... hush Tia..."
And he carried her off into the falling snow.

~~~~~~The End~~~~~~

Loved it?  Hated it?  Want to kill me?  Want to make me Queen?  Let me know! Lucretia@jenovaproject.com



Read the backstory behind "Things"

Read the sequel, "... Doomed to Repeat It"