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FIC: Crossed the Rooftops

Title: Crossed the Rooftops
Fandom: Final Fantasy 7
Characters/Pairings: Reno/Tseng one-sided, Elena/Tseng one-sided, Reno/Elena friendship.
Date Written: 2006
Summary: After the incident at the Temple, Reno and Elena learn, together and alone, what it is to fall and keep falling.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13. Slash, character death(s).
Notes: Realized that I’d never written about Elena at all. Realized I’d never written Reno’s reaction to the temple. Realized that this needed to be written.



The first day.

She’s leaned up against my side, and I don’t have it in me to push her away. The couch cushions really need replacing; they’ve started to sag under us and we’re both the weight of underfed pigeons. I was watching cartoon reruns when she came in with the news, but the television is silent now. Outside the one window, the rain comes down in sheets, wringing the city clean. A rainy day, no place to play. The company building always looks great after a good rain – shining, flawless, made new by the water. Such a lie, when you come down to it.

I never told you what I really felt, because tough guys don’t talk about their feelings, do they? But now I’ve missed the chance forever and I’m wishing I’d gotten myself good and drunk alone with you sometime, so I could have blurted it out, felt like an idiot, and moved on. Now, it’s just clawing regret. Elena might’ve been the only one to have a cheap schoolgirl crush on you, but she wasn’t the only one who wanted to touch you, you untouchable bastard.

Easy enough for you. All you had to do was die on us.

o

My shoulders shake, and I can feel the inevitable breakdown coming on. I’m not weak. This is normal human behavior. It’s a biological reaction to stress and grief. I tell myself this as the tears start to come, and I know he’s going to tease me for it. Reno teases me for everything.

So I’m surprised when I feel a hand rest gently on top of my head, running carelessly through my hair. “Shh. S’alright.” Whose words has he stolen this time? It’s not alright, and I don’t believe it. But that’s okay, because I don’t think he believes it either.

o

I lie to her through my teeth, but that’s okay, because it’s what Turks do best. We lie to each other, to others… to ourselves. It’s not alright, and never will be again. Interesting though, none of my lies have ever been this well-intentioned. I’ve never wanted to believe them more.

o

At first I assume that he’s said that just to calm me down, so that I’ll stop crying and get off of him, stop invading his personal space. But the hand on my head stops moving, and then buries into my hair, holds me there. I panic at first, but this is no seduction. He’s holding onto me the way a five-year-old holds onto his pillow in the dark. He’s clinging. Reno doesn’t cling.

It hits me all at once, with the force of a runaway truck: He cared, too.

o

In the generations of Turks before ours, the death of a leader was almost cause for celebration, especially for the second-in-command; it was the only possibility of promotion. They were cold groups, inside and out. They had a lot of casualties, a lot of suspicious deaths. Turnaround was high and training costs were through the roof. But they had no messy emotional entanglements. Better, or worse? Falin was old guard, and he was a horrible leader- and his death was cause for celebration, but not for the usual reasons. That was the day we stopped being treated as cannon fodder.

You believed that a team that cared for each other would perform better, would have fewer losses, less lag time lost in training. Would be a steadier unit, knowing itself inside and out. You believed in harnessing the immense power inherent in emotional connections for the good and efficiency of the team. That was what you said, when defending your leadership style. It was a convincingly detached argument.

Sometimes, I wonder if you were lonely.

o

I wonder, sometimes, what you really thought of me, what you saw in me when you chose me to join the ranks. There were thousands of candidates, maybe a hundred or so serious considerations. I was just another cadet, another crack shot, another pretty face with an unspeakable past. And I talked too much, or so people said. I think I was just trying to connect with someone, anyone- have someone acknowledge me as a person and not just another cutout. I tried too hard. Now the one person I most wanted to have connect with me is dead, and the one I least expected to… has.

The hand stays where it is, and I don’t mind. For as skinny as he is, Red generates a lot of warmth. I need that right now.

o

This feels an awful lot like falling, I’ve discovered. I’ve felt it in the past, thought I’d tested the depths, thought I knew how far there was to fall. I had no idea.

o

I breathe against him, breathing against me. Evidence that we’re both still alive. Never thought I’d think about it in those terms. What’s the phrase, ‘as automatic as breath’? It’s not automatic. It’s not assumed. It can stop happening sooner than you think.

o

There’s a crack of lightning outside, and for just a second, I’m fifteen again, a slum thief, hanging from a rafter above two stories of empty space. I don’t expect anyone to save me. No one saves anyone, except in the stories you stop believing in as soon as you’re old enough to walk outside.

There’s a hole in the roof above me, where the plaster gave. There’s a hand, and a wash of hair, and a silhouetted figure against the light from the overhead plate. All I can see in the dark shape are the eyes, grey and intense. Sincere. I didn’t expect that. To this day I don’t know why I took your hand.

You even made me give your wallet back in the moments after, breath still coming hard and fast, adrenaline on the downswing. I never blamed you for that.

o

It’s just like me, really, to have not noticed it before. I was so caught up in impressing you, endearing myself to you… and now, the phone call in and not an hour gone, mourning you… that I haven’t even stopped to consider that there might be losses greater than mine. Reno’s served under you for, what? Ten years? That’s a long time to lose, in the space of a heartbeat.

His cellphone rings; he doesn’t answer it. None of us will be answering the telephone easily or willingly for a while, I think.

o

I shift on the sagging cushion. I think I’m trying to make her more comfortable, but I can’t be sure. The rain slapping into the window is hypnotic and suggestive. I used to fall asleep to rain; right now, it’s just making me antsy. It’s making me remember things. The price of a memory like mine is how it feels to realize that these perfectly catalogued moments are gone, forever.

o

“You will die,” you had said, standing before me, the wind kicking up both of our winter coats. This was the formal job offer, though I didn’t realize that yet. It was a script that had been acted out countless times before. “Your colleagues will die. You will have no family and no friends. You will not exist. When you die, you will be buried a nobody.”

I had nodded, once, curtly. I had no family and no friends. I was already a nobody.

o

A collection of nobodies, rattling around Midgar like the small change scattered from the bottom of your pocket that you don’t bother to pick back up. Not worth the time or effort, is it?

I hope that if I keep her head down, hold her against me and focus on calming her grief, she won’t notice mine. We’re not supposed to pick up the change when it falls, not supposed to look back. We’re not supposed to cry.

o

I hear the door open, but it takes a few seconds for it to register. I hear the heavy footfalls across the carpet; must be Rude. I’m tempted to spring away from Reno, try to put the scattered pieces of my dignity back together, try to deny this weakness. I don’t understand why he hasn’t done the same, why his hand still circles at the base of my skull. But it’s already too late, as the steps come to a halt a few feet away. Nothing else, not even the sound of breath.

I feel the shift as Reno moves his head to look at our teammate.

Nothing but silence, but I can almost feel something exchanged in a glance or a set of expressions. A confirmation of rumor; the worst kind. The footsteps retreat, back to the hallway. Disappear.

-------------

The first week.

I guess I’m in charge now. No idea how that happened. The upper management’s been oh-so-carefully detached from the proceedings, informing me that the promotion will be reflected in my next paycheck, that they expect weekly reports on Fridays, that my dress code isn’t up to spec. Don’t they expect that by now?

Me, I feel like someone’s cut out my heart and roasted it on a platter, but that’s civvie talk. Heart, what heart? We know not of what you speak.

I hate them all.

o

I’m sitting here, watching him wade through paperwork, expression blasted to neutral, motions mechanical. I know he can’t afford anything else, and this is no time to tease about papercuts or deskwork. There are many reports he’ll be filing in the indeterminate future, but these in particular I do not envy him for: the official casualty papers. Where, when, how. How much was left.

How he does this without throwing up, I don’t know.

o

I hate them all.

I keep repeating this to myself, as a mantra. They could easily have had Heidegger write up this report. This is a test, and they know that I know it. They don’t care that it’s transparent. That they would make a test of this makes me want to kick someone in the neck.

I move the pen quickly, keeping my handwriting just barely legible enough that I won’t have to redo the thing. I don’t comprehend what I’m writing. I let my hand do that for me. In the back of my mind I realize that this will probably not be the last time I fill out these forms. Someday, someone will be filling them out for me.

o

We’ve all moved up in rank, and it’s left a hole at the bottom. Reno refuses to have your suite cleaned out, and I understand this. It’s too soon.

If it weren’t for the fact that the company is falling to pieces around us, we’d be actively scouting for a new member. There’s no sense in it now, there are bigger concerns and if the world really is ending, there’s nothing four people can do that three people can’t. But it makes me wonder about the one who died to give me my position. Reno mentioned once that his name was Jake. I think they might have been friends.

If we did recruit someone now, would they know or wonder or care about who went before?

o

I’ve dealt with a loss of this kind twice before. Once I didn’t care, and once I did. This time, I don’t think ‘care’ is a strong enough word. Rude has seen it once. Elena never has. This is all perfectly logical, the numbers work out. But I still can’t help feeling like I got the short end of one stick or another.

I’m the crazy one, the one who takes stupid risks and never looks back. Wasn’t I supposed to go first?

o

I hear him exhale, a sudden and harsh burst of held breath. The pen hits the table. All that’s left is folding the documents and sealing them, and dropping them into the interoffice mail. Ritualisms. The computer system won’t be updated until those forms are in, and I don’t have to guess at what is pulled up on the closed screen of the laptop humming beside him.

I walk over, rest a hand on his shoulder. That’d normally be cause for a sharp shrug and a tease or two. He doesn’t seem to notice it there, too busy staring at the paperwork folded under his hands.

o

The question is obvious in her posture, in the way I can feel her looking down at me. I lift my hands up over the papers; they’re shaking. I push them back through my hair.

“I don’t want to make it official.”

o

I close my eyes, and remove my hand from his shoulder. I pick up the paperwork and the department stamp, turn the folded bundle over in my hands. Set it down and roll the stamp over it. “It’s already real. That’s worse than official.”

It was real a week ago, more than any piece of paper can make it. I walk over to the mail chute, conscious of his eyes following me the whole way. They’re more hollow than I ever remember seeing them, and I don’t think he’s eaten in days.

I open the chute and drop the papers into forever.

o

I drum my fingers restlessly on the desk, then stand up, reaching for my coat. I’m going for a walk. She can come along if she wants, or not if she doesn’t. These things don’t need to be spoken.

She does.

o

I don’t know exactly where we’re going, or why. It just seemed like a good idea to follow him, even if it is miserable and spitting rain outside, and my coat isn’t heavy enough. I tread along a half-step behind him and to the left. We get stares, even on the plate. On the platform. On the train.

Under the plate, we get no stares. Stares draw attention, and these people are smart enough to know that attention is the last thing they need.

o

I haven’t said a word and neither has she. It’s the silence game, or maybe it’s just tact. Maybe we both need the space. I don’t have any idea what I need. I’m wearing my shades even down here, in the semi-daylight semi-darkness under the plate that has turned everyone down here into practical albinos. I was the same way, then. I had never seen the sun.

It was raining up above. I can’t remember if it’s done anything but rain in the last week.

o

This is a bad sector we’ve come to, one of the worst, even with the urban renewal projects Reeve had been championing for years. I’m distracted for a few seconds outside of a broken-down old grocer, tracing the crowd to its source, looking out for danger. When I turn back, I’m alone.

o

A turn here, another there. They never clean up these messes, do they?

o

It’s only by some primitive instinct that I’m able to follow the shallow, unobtrusive footsteps. You taught me how to move and not leave a trace. You taught him better.

I find him on the roof, sitting on the rotting plaster at the edge of a gaping hole. It’s larger than it must have been ten years ago, crumbled by time and abuse. It’s dangerous where he sits, but he knows that and I know that, and it doesn’t stop me from walking to his side, crouching down. His feet swing slightly in the space beneath the hole, kicking up dust motes and stirring the memory to life. I can’t imagine what he’s seeing there.

o

“This where it started?”

I look up at her question. I didn’t even hear her come up, and she shouldn’t have been able to trace me. Those are both problems. I’ll be wri- I’ll have to write myself up later. Business, business. The plaster moves a little under me, threatening to give.

After a moment, I just nod. “Yeah.”

o

I don’t prod any further; it isn’t my place. This isn’t my place, with its dust and florescents and smell of rotted, termite-ridden wood- this place of memory, of past. I am an interloper. I just watch as he pulls himself to his feet and walks back the way he came, the way I came – across the wooden beams and planks. He doesn’t lift his arms out for balance, doesn’t need to- he navigated this jungle through most of his childhood, ran and balanced across these beams, lived or died by them.

I don’t hold my arms out either, as I follow him. I am familiar with the desperation that makes a person do stupid, careless things. I have no need for balance.

--------------

The last week.

I find his bags half packed. He left the door to his suite wide open; he must’ve wanted me to see. There isn’t a lot to see, other than the worse-than-usual mess. Half of what was in the closet is on the floor. There’s a mostly empty scotch bottle on the bed, dribbling onto the sheets.

One of your pistols is gone from his shelf.

o

It’s early evening and the air is cooling. There’s a storm coming in, lightning licking at the horizon, dark clouds scudding in under their own power. The wind up here is incredible, which it always is. The sky is green, which it usually isn’t. Mako sky. I’m just guessing here; I’m no scientist.

There’s a clicking and sliding of metal-on-metal. I don’t associate the sound with the motion of my hands or the object in them. Things have gotten a little disconnected.

o

It takes a moment or two for the significance to settle into place. Once it has, I don’t have to think any further. I know exactly where he’s gone.

o

The ShinRa Tower, the tallest building in Midgar. In the world. It’s never been officially verified, but the press releases say so, scream it in faded ink across yellowed paper, flutter and crack with the sheer truth of it all. So it must be so. I don’t doubt it. Right now, I can’t see a living thing higher than I am.

The higher you go, the farther you fall.

o

I push through the glass doors without making a sound; they’re heavy and on weighted runners, and settle closed again with the same gentle fit as my flat-bottomed shoes in the carpet. The soles catch on the threshold, brush across the concrete, carry me faster than logic says they need to.

He’s across the balcony from me, sitting straddled on the wall. I can’t see what’s in his hands, but I don’t have to see it.

o

I hear my name float up over the distant rumble, faraway and unreal-sounding. Nothing carries well up here. I don’t say anything, but it’s not a particularly meaningful silence; just nothing really demanding to be said right now. I fiddle with the pistol, cocking and uncocking it, flicking the safety on and off.

Here’s something you taught me: If you have to shoot someone with your own gun, try to do it somewhere high. By the time they hit the ground, there won’t be enough hamburger left to find the bullet hole.

o

I don’t run across the balcony frantically, yelling ‘don’t do it.’ I’m not a child, and he doesn’t have the muzzle pointed anywhere but at the ground, the sky, wherever it happens to end up. This is not split-second life and death, as most of our lives tend to be, but instead a rare sort of metered-out, assisted freefall. Pull the chute cord if you chicken out. I clear my throat, though I can tell he already knows I’m here. “…this isn’t like you, Reno.”

“I know. It’s not.”

Long, unexpectedly graceful fingers still work over the pistol; safety off, safety on, safety off. His eyes are still fixed on the gunblued surface. He’s told me the story of the first time you let him hold it, when he was just an underfed scrap of a kid eating the first real meal of his life. He’d always get this funny look on his face when he talked about those days, a sudden twitch of desperation and hunger and pain and fearless, careless hope, there and gone again in the time it took him to reach for his shades. I never recognized any of those things until right now. He never let me see it long enough to pick it apart, to see what it was made of.

o

“Then why are you doing this?”

I look up, and it’s a strange question she’s asked me, because in a way I don’t really understand, I’ve been asking it myself. I hold it up to the light for a second, and look at it.

Click. Clack. Click.

“Not... really sure. Guess I thought I’d try it out for a while, see what it’s like.”

o

“And what is it like?” I reach up and pull at the elbow of my jacket, picking nervously at the cloth. Terrified I’m not; Anxious, I am. I’m not cold enough yet to not show it, and you never got around to issuing me a pair of shades to hide behind, did you?

My eyes say it: I will not lose another teammate tonight.

o

I take a deep breath, and let it out in a self-indulgent, frustrated sigh. “Not like me.”

o

There are only a few real reasons for climbing out onto a ledge, to put a razor-thin moment of choice between yourself and the air. One is to jump. One is to ask for help, for reassurance from someone on the outside that it’s worth pushing forward with the business of living.

Another is to breathe out there, in the air that becomes your world for those few seconds, and to look down- to look into the abyss. To let it look into you.

Reno isn’t a jumper and he isn’t an asker.

o

She holds a hand out to me, and I see shadows of what I’ve lost in the gesture, sharply silhouetted against a sudden crack of lightning.

There is no judgment or pity in it, and I admit no weakness as I grasp hold of it and vault off of the ledge.

o

I think we both walk into the building less alone than we left it.

--------------

The last day.

Endgame came a lot sooner than anyone expected.

o

We wander along these familiar streets, already being blasted and torn apart by the heat and pressure of the bloated monster hanging overhead. Rude is silent as usual, absorbed in his own memories. Reno keeps pace with me, pretending that it’s accidental. There is no home for us, since the top’s been sheared off of the company building. There is no job for us, since the president was sheared off with it.

An hour ago, we were underground, and Avalanche was underground, and I really wanted to put their faces through the floor for once and for all. For all they caused, for all they’ve taken from us. Reno wouldn’t let me. I don’t know whether he just doesn’t have any fight left, or if if he’s found a calm I haven’t come to yet.

o

Falling down.

I found something in the archives once, and old piece of propaganda from before Midgar was built. It showed an artist’s mockup of what the city would look like, years and endless piles of steel and money down the line. Wasn’t half-bad, really. It promised the city would last until the stars went out and the mako fires cooled.

There’s something else I thought would live forever. This has been a good month for disillusionment.

o

I was raised under the plate, like most of us were. I had a family, and a tumbledown house, and a few friends. I was in a good sector, a lucky-break sector, a sector where you didn’t have to worry so much about the drug dealers and gangs. There are times when I miss it. Life wasn’t easy but it was a lot simpler, drawn in bright shades of old wax crayons.

I wonder how much of what they say is true, about mako, and the planet, and what happens when you die. We’ll all be finding out pretty soon, but I’d like to have forewarning.

o

It’s all changed so fast. Yesterday, the air was still clear and clean, or at least breathable. Three days ago, the wind whipped around the company building, drafting and shifting around the helicopter balcony in the same frenzied dance that’d got me up on the railing the first time, years and years ago. Two days ago, the balcony was gone. Today, the air’s stagnant and sick and hot, and sits in your lungs like syrup.

o

He was out on the balcony again but there was no threat this time, no worry. He was watching the sky change colors, watching the apocalyptic clouds. I thought nothing of taking the outstretched hand, and halfway expected it when he pulled me up on the ledge to join him.
We must have stood there for an hour, silent, feeling the wind push through. It was the last night the building was habitable. It was the last night I slept, too.

It’s true. You can never go back.

o

There’s a terrible brightness, and I lost my shades in the sewers when we were down there – what? An hour ago? It’s all I can do to cover my eyes with the arm of my jacket, and try to find some direction to look in that isn’t flooded with this goddamned light. It’s no use, right, it’s everywhere. This is where the fall begins, and ends.

o

My vision hares out for the last split second that I’m able to think, blurring Reno and Rude and the lampposts and the disused buildings into a haze of white and dizzying pain. There’s some green in the white, and maybe something important is happening. I wouldn’t know.

o

The pavement rushes up hard, fast, and unforgiving. I can’t see it. Under my hands, the rough surface shifts, and I can feel it tear the skin, feel the bleeding. I will hold onto that feeling until the end.

o

I hit the ground hard, and fall against something warm and bony. Blinded, searching, I find his hands, curled against the bucking pavement, and grasp at his arm, needing something to hold onto while the first searing blast of heat starts melting the fabric of my jacket. There’s a smell of burning hair. It’s not all mine.

I don’t believe that anything persists beyond. I don’t believe that we’ll see you again.

o

There’s white, and red, and black, in waves. I think it’s Elena next to me, but I can’t really tell.

I don’t believe in life after death. I don’t think we’ll be seeing you again.

o

So let me say, for once and for all, that I did my best. I took it all seriously. I would have died before consciously letting you down, or the group down. I’m sorry my best wasn’t enough.

o

So let me say, for once and for all, that I always loved you. You deserved to hear it sooner, but there’s fuck-all I can do about that now, and this is all the time I’ve got.

o

Until we meet again.

*



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