it won't grieve me, i understand
where it is you're coming from
shadows call me, in the wind
some don't go away
precious little in your life
is yours by right
and won without a fight
On the first day, she was going to save the world. Reno and Rude would maintain radio operations in Wutai and she would go into the jungle and find the impossible. She had her boots, her survival rations, and she was a Turk, dammit. If there was anyone who could scour the rainforest without missing a leaf, it would be her. If Tseng were still alive, she would find him. Reno and Rude trusted her, and she lifted a smiling face to the dense canopy of trees.
By the seventh day, after three miserable rainstorms, two broken compasses and countless bugbites, she realized that she'd been had. There was no reason for her to be here, Reno and Rude were drowning in their cups and it was all a lie and her job was shot to hell and her boss was dead and his boss was dead and Midgar was blown up and-- and-- Tseng would never even get to take her out to dinner.
She found that somewhere along the line, she'd learned how to swear.
On the eighth day, she awoke in the midst of a miracle-- a rising planet, the Lifestream pouring around her ears in the most glorious rippling chords she'd ever heard. She might have been laughing, or weeping, but she forgot which.
On the ninth day, her radio blipped to life-- without her having to initiate contact, with the hour delay to get Reno's attention. Even more of a miracle.
She flipped it on, ready to curse out whoever it was, for sheer spite... only to have her fingers go numb when she recognized Tseng's call-signal. It wasn't only exhaustion that made her voice tremble. "Elena here."
"Elena!" Most distinctly not Tseng's voice. Through the static she couldn't be sure, but she thought she may have heard the voice before. "Oh, finally, Elena. Thank the planet SOMEONE answers their radios these days."
Blinking in confusion, she demanded, "Who is this?"
The voice spoke hurriedly, a jumble of coordinates spilled over the line, and the sounds of people talking excitedly in the background. "So that's where we are, how soon can you reach us?"
It was less than a day's walk from where she stood, and she was already running.
The noise of people and frantic scurrying told her she'd made it, still high on adrenaline and not allowing herself to wonder just what she'd found. A swath of greenery yielded to her seeking hands, and a little clearing came into view--
She might have been mistaken, but the last person she expected to see, standing kneedeep in riotous underbrush and holding Tseng's radio, was-- the Secretary of Urban Development?
Amazement was tinged with more than a little disapproval. What business did a non-Turk have, carrying around Tseng's equipment, dialing up Jenova-knows-who on his restricted call-signal?
The look on his face as he turned to greet her quelled such thoughts, as she remembered that the world had ended and certain allowances had to be made. He had called her there, after all. Not interrupting his stream of orders into the speaker, one hand punching coordinates and the other shoving low branches out of harm's way as he made his way to her, Reeve looked like a man who knew what he was doing.
He stumbled over a stubborn thick-leaved plant, nearly dropping the radio.
She inclined her head politely, remembering that, technically, he was the only living person who outranked her. "I made it, Reeve-san. What news?"
He reached her, and she thought she detected apology in his stance as he handed her the radio. It was still warm and slightly slick from his hands, and Elena wondered reflexively when the last time Tseng had used it had been. She opened her mouth to say thank you, but he shook his head. "You should take it; you're better trained for it anyway. Couldn't figure out half those extra buttons. Besides--" But here he interrupted himself, looking aggravated. "Not the point. Tseng--"
Her fingers tingled, wrapped tight around the slim blackmetal radio, and throat ached, but she would not disrupt him to ask questions. Decorum. She was a Turk. But, oh, Tseng...
Reeve spoke too quickly, as though if he were to slow down, his mind would catch up and he'd realize how ridiculous everything sounded. Later, she would see the lines of exhaustion around his eyes, the paleness of his face. But at that moment, through the watery light dappled through the treeleaves, he looked only flustered. "Tseng is badly hurt, but he'll live. Sephiroth did some major damage but AVALANCHE got him out of the Temple of the Ancients. He must have been unconscious for days, but Cloud thinks the Lifestream must have helped to heal him some, which makes sense to me... and we've bandaged him up and he's sleeping now, but I need to make it back to Midgar because Rufus wants him--"
He stopped rather abruptly, and she would have sworn he was blushing. Certainly not, it must have been the flush of rainforest heat on his cheeks. Elena stared at him, mind spinning. Tseng alive! Rufus alive! Her knees were unsteady, but she kept her feet. She nodded curtly, proud of her own hard-earned professionalism. "Hai, Reeve-san. I understand. What do you need me to do?"
He inhaled like a drowning man, the odd light casting antique gold across his hands as he gestured uselessly. "You-- I need you to--" And without warning he passed out, eyes rolling back, hands fallen to his sides. Elena had the presence of mind to grab at him as he swayed, sitting him down against a tree. She felt remarkably calm, clear-headed. There was leafmold streaking his dark hair like aging grey, and bits of random greenery in his goatee. She brushed them away, giggling softly to herself.
Now, wasn't this a change of pace? If only Rude and Reno could see her now.
Her smile got a little wobbly at the edges, though she swore the happiness would not make her cry. Thank the planet, Tseng would be all right.
For all her training in ruthlessness, she shook his shoulders only tentatively. "Reeve-san, wake up."
Reeve mumbled groggily, coming ungracefully to. "We have to get Tseng back to Midgar-- reunite Rufus and his lover--"
Rufus-- and his lover? She'd never been as swift as some, but two and two made four easily enough. And she wondered if she would cry, after all.
Swallowing, she shook him the rest of the way awake. "Reeve, wake up!" Sharper than she meant it to be, the command made him open his eyes, focus on her. The sunlight shone too brightly on her face, her hair falling haphazardly into her eyes-- what a mess she felt.
But she must have looked formidable, for he obeyed, regaining his feet and his composure. "Sorry," he said, moving to brush himself off and belatedly realizing that he was already free of stray foliage. "Hard day." He didn't seem as embarrassed as she would have expected, and she felt a small bud of respect flowering in her. He gestured to a knot of people, and what looked like the tail of-- the Presidential jet?-- peeking out from a screen of trees. "He's this way; they helped me get him safe aboard the Highwind. I know you've been worried about him."
Understatement, she thought, glaring at him. But he was already headed there, and she trotted after him. He looked back over his shoulder and she was ready for it, armed with a grim smile to keep the hurt at bay. "Well, yes, if you must know. He-- owes me a dinner date."
Reeve laughed, not derisively, and she was the one who tripped on a maliciously twisted treeroot, caught beneath her boot. He didn't dare look solicitous-- condescending to a Turk?-- but as she straightened, she thought for a moment that she saw perfect understanding in his eyes. Then a breeze shifted the shadows across his brow and she wasn't so sure.
The little cluster of people, all half-familiar, parted to let her through. Was that Cloud? And that rocket-scientist ShinRa had buttered up all those years ago? Hadn't Reeve called the ship the Highwind? And who was the red-clothed one, with the long dark hair, the one whose eyes she swore she knew?
But questions faded as she saw Tseng at the heart of the crowd, propped carefully on a sickbed. And he was awake, and-- and looking at her. Tseng! Decorum was not forgotten, just-- ignored for the moment. She didn't care who was watching, but for his sake she kept her face normal, kept the frantic relief from her voice.
"It is good to see you, sir," she managed, clasping her hands behind her back to hide the fact that they were trembling.
"Oh, hush, Elena," he said, and she could hear warmth beneath the customary stiff formality of his tone. "I know what you're really thinking."
She blushed furiously, swearing at herself all the while. He can't know what I'm really thinking, can he? Shoving inappropriate thoughts deep into her psyche, she wanted to say something witty, wanted more than anything to make him smile--
He levered himself up from his makeshift bunk and grasped her shoulder, utterly serious. "But I don't know where we're going to find a decent restaurant, these days." And he winked.
Elena was lost. Her fingers sought the hand at her shoulder and held it tightly, nodding wordlessly because she did not trust the tears to stay away. The familiar feel of his long-fingered hand, as he would squeeze her shoulder in approval or encouragement, as if nothing had changed. She felt light-headed and weepy, and wondered, horrified, if she would faint--
Another hand, on her other shoulder, anchored her; the world stopped spinning. She half-turned her head, and saw to her surprise that Reeve was standing a step behind her, leaf-stained hand resting heavily on her. "Don't tease," he said, and she wondered at the strain she heard in his voice. "How can you be so-- She's been looking for you a long time."
Elena wanted to say that it was all right, that Tseng was always Tseng, and she had never really expected more from him. There was a definite list to Reeve's stance and she couldn't tell if he was supporting her, or vice versa-- or if he was standing up for her, or--
She only knew that she felt more stable, thus balanced between them. Reeve moved no closer, but she watched, mystified, as Tseng narrowed his eyes and nodded. His hand tightened on her shoulder, and he murmured, "Thank you."
"No," two voices overlapped, unintentionally-- Elena made a face, and Reeve grinned, some of the anger leaking out of his eyes. "No worries," he clarified, just as Elena was saying, "No, no, I'm just glad you're all right..." They glared at each other again, as their words tangled and muddled in the green-gold jungle sunlight.
And Tseng smiled.