Find Your Own Way Out

by llamajoy

i will go in this way
and find my own way out
all at once the ghosts come back
what if they came down crashing
i'm begging slow, i'm coming here, only waiting
i wanted to stay
I wanted to play
i wanted love you

Spend a night in the ShinRa mansion, they'd said, as the sun went down. Dodge the spooks and try to find the elusive stash of gil that Heidegger and Scarlet supposedly hid in the abandoned old building. Don't let the locals find you; they've always been fucking creepy. We'll come back and get you in the morning.

At about eleven-thirty-- or at least she guessed it was eleven-thirty-- Elena suspected that it had all been a trick. A way for the older trainees to make the younger ones spend a night shivering in terror, of course, to convince another generation that the mansion was teeming with ghosts, terrifically haunted. She kicked the base of the balustrade, watching dust and cobwebs flutter down like grey snowflakes to the floor below. She wasn't buying it, for Jenova's sake. Just because she was short didn't mean she was gullible.

Sure Heidegger was paranoid enough to have a hoard of money somewhere, and it wouldn't have surprised her to know that Hojo had a boatload of mako secreted away. But it wasn't here. There was nothing here, not even a spook. Just old rotting floorboards that creaked when you stepped on them, and chairs with upholstery so old they disintegrated at one hesitant touch.

Hmph. She stomped down the stairs, making more noise than absolutely necessary. She didn't really care if the inhabitants of Nibelheim heard her; they would all just think she was a ghost or something, the shade of Sephiroth come back to--

She shivered, arms going around herself unconsciously. Darn old building was drafty, wasn't it?

Or maybe she should just admit to herself that some things were kind of frightening. The library had been the first place she'd explored, naturally, as much as she loved books. The high walls loaded with volume after volume of printed text... it had been awe-inspiring, for about ten minutes. Until a book crumbled to dust underneath her fingers-- until she started to smell the layer of mildew underneath, the scent of decay.

Until she'd found one particularly beautiful tome, and opened it wonderingly, only to find the scribbles of a madman in the margins of every page.

It would take a lot of time and dedication to write notes on every single leaf of a book that thick.

And it scared her how she almost understood, how some of the handwriting was legible and the grieving and despair and insane curiosity were all-too evident in the words. She read until her candleflame guttered and gave her a start, making the words seem to flicker and crawl.

She dropped the book and hustled out of the library, and hadn't been back since.

The rest of the mansion was almost dull, by comparison.

There was that one room in the basement, the one that smelled faintly of cloves, lit from within by that thin purple light. But though she was intrigued, she was in a hurry to leave that dingy underground place. And it was locked, anyway.

So now all she had to do was pass the time till morning, right? Easy enough.

Walking the first floor for what seemed the eight hundredth time, she tried not to jump when another clock sounded. Of the four she'd seen, not a one agreed on the time; this was the second one to chime midnight. Idly she counted off the bells, trying not to shudder at the eerie chords they made, echoing through the deserted place. Yes, midnight. Her own watch was safely in her quarters in Midgar, of course-- part of the dare. She had no idea what time it really was.

She could always just curl up someplace and sleep, she knew. But then she'd have nothing to show for herself-- and it was more than a little unsettling to think about lying down in this Planet-forsaken place, with her guard down.

Not behavior befitting a potential Turk, certainly.

The rooms were starting to look familiar, the way a certain curtain belled out unevenly against the draft, the way a certain carpet was stained in unpleasant patterns.

Maybe she was thinking of the scattered pages on the floor in the library, or maybe the wind caught its edge and the rustling noise startled her. But there it was on the floor, in the front room where before she had sworn there was nothing. A piece of paper-- a letter.

A mystery.

Or at least something to think about until dawn. She stomped her feet to warm them, hoping that she was just tired and her hands weren't really shaking as they clutched the letter.

It was a puzzle, an invitation to a game, really. Hm... that squeaky floorboard on the second floor? Clues she hadn't known she was gathering suddenly made more sense. A little smug, she caught a reflection of herself in a tarnished metal shield in the main corridor. Yes, Elena, she thought, with the closest thing to satisfaction she had felt all night, you may yet be a Turk.

She hadn't made it halfway back up the stairs before she felt-- something. Just a little niggling suspicion. How did she know she'd like what she found? Who had that letter been meant for, anyway? What if--

Shaking her head violently, she strode firmly up the rest of the ancient stairs. That was just the sort of self-doubt that she couldn't afford. Besides, she suspected that her fellow trainees hadn't had the slightest idea that this was here-- or they would have tried to find it for themselves. Yes, indeed, she was going to walk right through this thing and show them--

There was a greenhouse?

She turned, distracted. It was more of a conservatory, really, a glass-walled room that must have held hothouse plants. She must have missed it on her first walk-through; she hadn't spent much time on the second floor. Fascinated, she opened the door, and didn't even notice the squeal of its rusty hinges.

A scattering of browned leaves fell around her upturned face as she walked slowly inward. Absently, she batted them away, drawn to the one blossoming thing in the whole grey-aired room. It was a flower she'd never seen before, a cluster of standing spires, with tiny blooms of deepest blood red. They looked vaguely violent, a riot of color, short and sharp in stature. She liked them instantly.

She lifted a hand to brush the buds across her palm--


A man and woman, one dark-haired, the other fair. She drew a loving finger across a crimson blossom, watching the blade of the flower shiver under her pale-handed touch. He watched, with longing in his eyes.

Quietly, she spoke. Her accent was unfamiliar, concise and pronounced. "You're not from Nibelheim?"

Somewhere a clock was tolling midnight.

His voice was soft, lilting, and he stepped closer, as if he wanted to run his fingers through her hair. He did not. "No. But I am a Turk, and I will stay here as long as I am needed."


--and jumped back as if stung.

Elena's heart was fluttering mad in her chest. In the tiny greenhouse room she felt like a caged bird, beating her wings hopelessly against a rapidly constricting cage.

Help, she thought, not allowing the desperation to surface. She clenched her hands to fists, closed her eyes. It was a dream. I fell asleep for a second; it's very late. Only a few more hours till morning. Her breathing steadied.

She opened her eyes.

And reflected in the window before her, as if standing just a step behind, he was standing-- the one with the dark dark hair and the grief on his face. His eyes were red as the sharp-tipped blossoms she had touched, red as summon materia.

Elena forgot to breathe.

There was a footfall behind her and she spun round raggedly, hands up at the defensive. The clamor of her boots echoed hollowly against the glass windows, sound ricocheting around her ears.

A sweep of hair like an obsidian curtain, and eyes as impassive to match. The head of the Turks, standing close behind her and she was so befuddled she couldn't remember her own name, let alone his. How had he moved so close without her hearing him? She tried to mask her surprise by raising her hand in salute, and she opened her mouth to say, I'm very sorry, sir, but I think you have the wrong woman for this job.

But his eyes flashed, just once, with something like warmth, and he rested an elegant hand on her shoulder. She flinched; surely he must feel her chaotic heartbeat. "I'm very sorry, Elena, for your evening. It could have been better spent in training. Reno was badly hurt in Sector Seven, and we need another Turk."

Her hand hovered in mid-salute, her mouth still slightly parted. "...Sir?"

"Come with me, Elena? I'm sure your friends will have plenty of stories to tell if they come back and find you missing."

Inanely, the only thing she could say was, "What time is it?"

He glanced at his watch. "Twelve o'clock," he said, but paused, shaking his wrist slightly. "Though it seems my watch has stopped."

Elena shivered convulsively, and Tseng inclined his head, thoughtfully, as if seeing the room beyond them for the first time. He pursed his lips slightly, holding out a hand to the trembling flowerblossom at her side.

She held her breath.

But he did not touch it, resuming his professional stance, arms behind his back. "Elena. You are a Turk. We mustn't stay any longer--"

"--than we are needed," she finished, feeling numb.

He nodded, approving. "Let's go then." The adrenaline rush had not faded; she followed him quickly.

"Oh, and Elena?"

"Yes, sir?" Perhaps against her better judgment, she looked behind her, watching those red-pointed flowers shivering in the still, forgotten air, until they were out of sight.

He barely looked over his shoulder as he headed out of the ShinRa mansion into the town beyond. "Congratulations," he said, and held out a hand to help her into the helicopter.


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