Title: The Mask and Mirror Full Circle
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII
Characters: Tseng (one-sided TsengxAerith)
Prompt: 003: Ends
Word Count: 1147
Rating: Hard PG-13 (mentions of torture, dark themes)
Summary: He grasped the wisps as a man trying to grab death itself and pull it back.
Author's Notes: [Teeny tiny spoilers for Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus] This is actually a song-fic, in a sense. It's based on the song "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You" by Colin Hay...but while the song is a beautiful, sad, love song...this...is a bit more twisted. When listening to the song it actually inspired me to write a Tifa/Aerith fic that fit more with the theme of the song, but when I sat down to write it Tseng came to mind instead, and he took it to a rather dark place. I would love feedback, since I'm still not wholly satisfied with the ending...any suggestions would be great :)
Struck down in the crumbling Temple, he welcomed death, bleeding out apologies and regrets to the tearstains on the stone floor. To find himself alive just a short week later, cold and alone in the sterile Midgar hospital, tension in the air cutting into him deeper than the needles in his arm, it felt...unjust.
He remembered Valentine's cries of regret filtering in through the static of Cait Sith, while he watched the grounds float around in his last cup of coffee before Reeve awoke to resume the Avalanche watch.
They were all sinners. Valentine, Sephiroth, Cloud...himself. All guilty of crimes for which there was no retribution, only he had no excuse. He claimed no influence of Jenova, was no product of Hojo's experiments. He had stared men, women, and children alike down the barrel of his gun, muscles timed into the hammer and trigger like an extension of his own body. Even Barrett claimed no love for his new arm, but his weapon, sentient and separate from himself though it should have been, was tied into his soul, his spirit.
He wasn't surprised, when Reno and Rude told him the news. The only thing surprising was that they actually seemed to show sympathy--not for her, because they were Turks and were probably just relieved Sephiroth had done it so they wouldn't have to--but for him. An unrequested moment of silence, before they walked wordlessly out of the room to leave him to his thoughts.
In the beginning of Kadaj's torture he wondered if she was there, standing in the background so she would know the punishment he faced for his betrayal--that everything did come full circle in the end.
He eventually convinced himself she was watching until it turned into a burning obsession. He willingly submitted, wanting to show her his regret, his prostration, no longer seeing her keeping him company in the shadows but she actually became the clones. It was she who stripped him bare, she who held the blades beneath his fingernails, between his toes, behind his knees, shaving the skin across his entire body until he screamed in pain, and then holding the knives to his eyes and threatening to cut out the tears should they choose to fall.
And he acquiesced, following her every command, eventually growing to resent her and the pleasure she gleaned from his pain. In her presence he was the perfect masochist, welcoming her torment, allowing himself to be shamed to the very reaches of her imagination, crying out to her in the darkest of moments to hurt him more, hurt him more. And when she was gone, he wanted to hurt her back for abusing his penance. Who knew the scarring he endowed upon Elena, allowing himself to be punished in her place, and then transferring his anger onto her when the doors were closed, but at the time it wasn't Elena. Her, always her, surrounding him in his prison as his torturer, as his cell-mate, until he was screaming her name even when he was alone.
And in the end, it was she who finally rescued him, cloaked in blood and flying away on the winds of memory, and he clung to her, sobbing for forgiveness and pounding her chest with ire over everything she had done to him, and wordlessly she carried on, heartbeat and a cape of wings eventually lulling him to sleep.
There came the final and inevitable fall of Midgar, and he grasped at the wisps of the city as a man trying to grab death itself and pull it back. Rufus had become so immersed in the work of Reeve and Vincent, and Barrett and Cloud were leading a new revolution in energy, that the small place on the planet left for Shinra was eclipsed entirely and they had to find some way to assimilate. The rest of them, or at least, Reno and Rude, joined the leaders of the new world order, creating the Turks anew. It amazed him how committed they actually were, in the end.
He tried. Cloud needed help, and his loyalty to Rufus was unending. Despite the turmoil he had caused Elena she fought the hardest to bring him back, but then, who knew what demons had appeared to her while he was seeing ghosts, and maybe his own treatment caused less dissonance than the terror she would have experienced without. He dedicated years to rebuilding the world, generating tomes of official documents to replace those lost in the wars from those three years, forming a new generation of Soldier without the use of Jenova cells, overseeing all research done on the Promised Land, the Weapons, and the Lifestream to ensure that Neo-Shinra (because regardless of name, that's all they were) would not again bring Catastrophe.
Reminded, but never joining. Maybe he researched the Lifestream to search for a way for the common man to speak to the spirits of the planet. Maybe it was just that he died in the Temple those years ago and he walked on the planet an empty husk. Valentine had found salvation by facing his past, perhaps he thought he could do the same; he could find a way to tell her he was sorry.
She spoke to him through the grounds of his last cup of coffee and the smell of whiskey that still clung to melting ice cubes, through the flowers in the courtyard and the capricious rain that fell in a rhythm only a woman could command. In the files he found in the Midgar ruins that must have survived only so he could look into the grainy black and white eyes of the lives he had ruined, in the accusation that still fluttered across Tifa's eyes whenever he entered the bar because she had the sharpest memory of anyone he'd ever met and she knew.
She spoke to him in the air he breathed and every painful step he took from the day he walked away from her as she sold flowers in the park to the day he lay in bed finally unable to move, drowning in the irony that a trained assassin could die in his sleep of old age, outliving even the lives he had once tried to end. When he realized that after years of hearing her, he never understood what she was saying, and that after all this time, after a life of pretending and running from the haunting voice he'd sought for so long, that in the end, it had been his voice all along.
Two years and a century past, her name escaped on his last breath, the silent plea for forgiveness swallowed by the guilt of a sinner who chained himself and swallowed the key to hide from its resonating cries of 'what if.'
His sin was never betrayal at all.
I don't want you thinking I'm unhappy
What is closer to the truth--
That if I lived till I was 102,
I just don't think I'll ever get over you.