Fallen City

by llamajoy

disclaimer etc: did you wonder how the turks got out of midgar? i did. (hey, two short sting song-quote fics in a row!) square owns the world; these guys aren't mine. *sigh*

under the ruins of a walled city
crumbling towers in beams of yellow light
no flags of truce, no cries of pity
the siege guns had been pounding through the night
--sting, "fortress around your heart"

Stumbling on twisted metal beams and stuttering concrete, her arms thrown wide for balance, a woman fought to stand. There was ash in her hair, her face was burned and bruised. Her coat was roughly tied in a makeshift bandage around her left thigh, the blue fabric of it staining slowly darker.

A fall of half-molten stones sent echoes shivering through the rubble, through the thunder of the toppling buildings. Wildly she spun, and clutched to her chest were shards of darkness, broken remnants of a pair of sunglasses. Her fingers were raw with the sharpness of her burden, but she tucked the pieces into her breast pocket as if they were fragments of deadly materia, precious and rare in their unwinking blackness.

Down the fallen streets she moved, picking her unsteady way through walls that had once stood fifty storeys high, through doorways jarred forever open by the weight of the city upon them. Beneath her weary feet the ground quivered and cracked, above her head the unceasing scream of sky.

Still she ran, for she was looking, though she did not know what she would find.

She did not rest until she saw the nightstick, sticking up from the wreckage like a ragged battle standard, once proud flag defeated and gone to dust. Going to her knees in the shattered concrete, Elena lowered her head. Reno, too. Attempted escape, too little, too late, and now they all would die here. Bitter, she felt the sting of glass-slivers cutting against her heart, the ruin of Rude's sunglasses. It was over.

Someone called her name.

She recognized the voice, and her shoulders shook, too tired to hate him, too tired to care. "Strife," she said, lifting her head carefully, to see him standing there, alone. In the greyness of the floating ash and smoke, he shone as sunlight. She wiped the away blood trickling from her mouth with the back of her torn shirtsleeve. "Strife," she said again, coughing a little. "You... survived."

He held out a hand to her, for if he heard the angry disdain heating her words he chose to ignore it. "We've got transportation-- we can get you out of here."

She didn't move, her breath coming hard, swallowing against the pain. Somewhere close by, a fire started, another pool of spilled fuel ripe for the hungry tongues of flame to come rippling mercifully through.

He cleared his throat, sweat starting on his forehead. He looked down at his outstretched palm. "I know you've been injured; you need help. Can you walk?"

She brandished the nightstick then, the light of falling stars in her eyes. "I'm fine," she said quietly, and the glimmer of the fire caught her hair, flashing golden bright and dangerous. "And I do not need your help."

The man nodded, though the slow movement looked as if he bowed his head to her, in reverence. "I understand," he said, and she thought he probably meant it. "Um, well. Our ship is this way? If you... want to get out of here faster."

"Judiciously put, Strife," she murmured, and coughed again. The fire licked closer behind her, a steady flare of warmth beginning at the base of her spine and radiating outward. Almost soothing, the way her vision blurred at the corners, the way his damnably pleasant face swam in her eyes. Some rational part of her brain told her that she would die. And she didn't want to die alone, not after coming this far. Elena hefted the weapon, fingers cradling it lovingly, threateningly--

"Elena." Terribly soft, smoky and indistinct in the firelit gloom. "There is no need to fight." She struggled to see, shadows detaching themselves from the debris-littered murk behind Strife, shadows that spoke. "Hey hey, 'Lena." Another voice, awful in its quavering, bleeding beneath the words. "Don't waste a perfectly good nightstick on this blockhead."

She didn't drop the 'stick but her fingers went numb, and she faltered, knees aching. Alive, they were alive yet. Limping both, leaning on one another for support, and she could see the torn bits of their shirts, each sacrificed to wrap the other-- a muddied shoulder, a bloodied forehead.

Rude wore his impromptu bandage with the same impervious dignity as his accustomed shades. One eye was bruised shut, but the other watched her carefully-- She could not remember ever seeing his eyes before. Unaccountably blue, though dark with pain. "Are you all right?" Simple as always, a hundred concerns unspoken under his question. When she nodded cautiously, his face remained impassive, but she saw the tiny smile that flickered only in his gaze, in the barest wrinkles at his temple.

Elena's heart faltered, and she found her mouth wobbling, attempting an answering smile. The familiar breadth of Rude's shoulders was a welcome support, and when Reno moved to her other side it felt almost steady, a balanced three. She let them buoy some of her weight, and felt no shame.

Reno's smile was the same as ever, though his face was pale, and she did not want to think about the blood he had spilled, about the arm he quite obviously could not move. "Let's get the fuck outta here, rookie. Whaddya say?"

"But Reno--" Elena began, noticing for the first time that Strife had turned away, allowing them each other, in privacy. Gratitude flowered in her, or forgiveness, gentle and cool in the wake of lapping flames.

"But nothing, 'Leney," Reno said firmly, and with his good hand he mussed her ashy hair, too hurt himself to laugh too hard at her own feeble protests. Something gentled his expression, and he leaned his scarred cheek against her forehead, warmth and weight and understanding. "'S all right. Let Midgar burn. We'll find some other dump to call home."

Rude made a noise that might have been assent, or amusement, and the three of them turned their back to the fires and followed the path that Strife had walked.


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