Bitter Ash: Part one: Flower girl
by Anonymous

Shinra’s company helicopter flew over the slums of Midgar. It was one of the newer models with sound-dampening, and Tseng appreciated the almost-quiet inside the cabin. The leader of the Turks gazed disinterestedly out of the window that had been wiped and polished until it gleamed clean-- something that could not be said for anything else in the slums; most everything in the lower section of Midgar was covered in a layer of filth that could never be removed. Even the money was dirty, gained by drugs, sex, murder, or a combination of the three. Tseng was glad he didn’t have to live in it.

He did, however, have to work around it quite frequently. Work was, in fact, what had brought him to this dump today (and it was day, although you could not tell by looking in the slums; no sunlight ever reached most areas below the plate). President Shinra had ordered that AVALANCHE in Sector 7 be stopped, and the President thought destroying the pillar which supported the plate would be a most effective way to get the message across. Reno was there now, setting up the explosives; Tseng was going to pick him up.

The harsh artificial lights lining the underside of the plate cast a horrible glare on the slums, laying bare the utter corruption-- dirt-covered men being led away by whores dressed in glitzy, barely-there dresses; someone lying in a pile of garbage, drunk or stoned or both. The lights, run from Mako energy, were the only major source of illumination. Sunlight could not pass through the plate. One effect of this was the complete lack of vegetation. Fungus and various bacteria were about all that were cultivated in the slums. Only in areas where the plate had cracked and sunlight was able to seep through did anything grow. Tseng only knew of two such places. The church in Sector 5 had a small bed of flowers; the helicopter was flying over the other now-- Aeris’s house. In his opinion, the only decent place in the slums, the cottage Aeris shared with her adoptive mother Elmyra was always kept in good repair, with a lovely garden surrounding it.

Tseng scowled at the thought of the young flower girl he had grown up with. Despite constantly following him around as a child, Aeris had done nothing but spurn him as they grew older. She flirted and teased mercilessly, but whenever he had returned any affection, she had smiled girlishly and ignored him. She had always come back to toy with him the next day, however.

Aeris was still the same childish brat who expected him to be her plaything despite her constant snubs. She was always giggling and smiling cluelessly, but Tseng couldn’t help liking her sometimes. It was a crush leftover from boyhood, he supposed, and one he despised himself for. The feeling was remote, though, and the Turks’ leader would never allow it to interfere with his job. Being sentimental did not keep him from attempting to bring Aeris-- the last Ancient-- in as a captive for Hojo’s experiments. He took a small, petty satisfaction in being able to repay her for her toying with him. So far the Turks had been unable to bring her in freely; it was time to resort to more sordid methods.

Speaking of which...

"Pilot, set us down! Quickly!" Tseng commanded, catching a glimpse of pink ribbons below. The helicopter descended with as much haste as possible. Making a mental note to commend the pilot, Tseng opened the door and jumped to the ground as soon as it was close enough.

Dusting his expensive blue suit off, the leader of the Turks ran in the direction where he had seen Aeris. No one paid him any attention-- these sort of things were common in the slums-- except for some slut in far too much makeup who headed in his direction. "Damn whores," he muttered. She changed her mind when she caught sight of the gun he pulled from somewhere.

As he moved through a section he recognized as being near Aeris’s cottage, he caught up with the girl in pink. Skipping with a cheerfulness that hardly seemed appropriate under the circustances, she led a small girl by the hand. Not believing his incredible luck, Tseng moved to stand closely behind her. Raising his gun, he said, "Hello, Aeris."

The Ancient stopped at the sound of her name, whirled her neck to look. At the sight of Tseng, she jumped and turned her body to face him. Gaping for a moment, she smiled-- "Tseng"-- and moved closer to him.

"Don’t move," he said, twitching the gun just slightly. "I’m glad I happened across you, Aeris; you haven’t been too cooperative for my men. Let’s hope you are better for me." He smiled coolly. "The President will be very happy to see you."

Aeris fidgeted for a moment, the giggled cutely. An act; this was all an act. "You wouldn’t really hand me over to Shinra, would you? Tseng, you’re--"

"Drop the act, Ancient. You won’t toy with Shinra any longer," he said coldly, setting up a wall of ice between himself and the girl.

The flower girl, realizing that he was deadly serious, dropped the "dumb" facade. She grabbed the little girl’s hand and squeezed it. "Please, Tseng, let Marlene go. Let me take her to my mother, and I’ll... I’ll go with you willingly. Please," she pleaded.

He considered for a moment, never taking his eyes from her. Aeris was hardly in a position to bargain, but her charge was only a little child. Having no fondness for leaving children in the Midgar streets, Tseng agreed. "I’ve no use for her; take her."

"But don’t try anything, Ancient," he added as she turned. Following Aeris and the girl-- Marlene-- closely, he walked toward the pretty cottage. Aeris knocked on the door and waited. Tseng saw Elmyra peek out from behind the door. As she opened it, her eyes widened.

"Aeris, what--" she started, but Tseng shoved the little girl through the doorway.

"Mom, watch after Marlene, all right?" Gun in hand, Tseng pulled Aeris from the cottage. "And tell Cloud-- tell him I’m sorry."

Not wanting to waste any more time, the leader of the Turks guided his captive back to the helicopter. She remained silent until the ‘copter had taken off again.

"Where are we going," she asked, sweetly, even conversationally, peering out of the window.

Tseng smiled a slow smile. "To the Sector 7 pillar. Reno is setting up the explosives as we speak. Your friends at AVALANCHE won’t be around much longer."

The flower girl looked at him; the consequences of Sector 7’s plate being dropped did not seem to have dawned on her, but they would. "Reno reports that Cloud Strife-- that bodyguard of yours-- is on his way up the pillar," he told her casually, turning to face his window.

A look of horror crossed her face. For the first time, she appeared distraught. "No! Tseng, you can’t do this! Everything will be crushed! Can you really kill so many innocents?" Clutching his arm, she pulled in closer to him. "You can’t, Tseng, please!"

He flung her off him. Aeris did not care about the "innocents" that would die, just as she did not care about him. The brat just wanted her current plaything kept alive while he was still fun.

"Tseng--" she pleaded from the floor. He pitied her for a moment, felt a pang of conscience for treating her so harshly. Was she ever anything but cruel to you? he asked himself. No.

Not another word, Aeris," he said. In truth, Tseng was sorry for the people who would die in the plate crash, but he wasn’t going to let her know it. He was damned if he would let her see any weakness on his part-- she preyed on them too easily. The loss of life today was regrettable, but they were only slum-trash. He would carry out his orders, regardless.

There it was-- the pillar was incredibly tall. In between the plate and the ground was a circular platform that contained various control panels and displays. Next to these stood a figure in the expensive blue suit of the Turks. Tseng knew that once the helicopter flew closer he would see that Reno’s suit was characteristically wrinkled, the shirt half-unbuttoned and half untucked; a his pair of five thousand gil-sunglasses were thrown carelessly on top of his head. He battled the three people opposite him with his nightstick, fighting with the nonchalance of someone who doesn’t have to be told he’s good.

Tseng watched the scene with interest as they neared the platform. Apparently Reno had already set the Emergency Plate Release System. Reno waved to his opponents, cast one look at the explosives panel, and ran away, laughing. So much for picking him up.

Ordering the pilot to bring the helicopter alongside the platform, Tseng opened the side window and saw the three-- all associated with AVALANCHE-- frantically examining the Release System. Laughing, Tseng shouted over the hum of the helicopter. "That’s right. You’ll have a hard time disarming that one. It’ll blow the second some stupid jerk touches it."

One of the three, who Tseng recognized as that Seventh Heaven waitress that Rude was so infatuated with, ran towards the edge of the platform. As she moved, Tseng looked in disgust at the skin-tight tanktop and skirt that could have hardly bared more of her well-endowed figure. Another slum-trash whore, he thought as she pleaded with him to stop the explosives.

He laughed. "Only a Shinra executive can set up or disarm the Emergency Plate Release System."

A muscular black man yelled something angrily. Just what he said was lost amidst the sound of gunfire. Some sort of gun had been surgically attached to his wrist in place of a hand-- this would be Barret, leader of AVALANCHE. The projectiles bounced harmlessly off of the bulletproof helicopter, but Tseng decided that enough was enough. He did not want to give him a chance to get a lucky shot in through the window.

"I wouldn’t try that..." he said, a slight smile curling his lips. "You just might make me injure our special guest." Grabbing Aeris, he thrust her head up to the window.

She looked at the people on the platform. "Cloud--" she started.

Tseng halted her. "Not another word, Aeris," he warned.

The waitress gasped below. "Aeris!" she exclaimed.

Smiling, Tseng allowed himself a little joke. "Oh, you know each other?" he said, feigning ignorance. Of course they did; Shinra kept its enemies under constant surveillance. They made it their business to know. "Hoe nice you could see each other one last time. You should thank me."

Cloud, the mercenary with the Mako eyes, walked forward. "What are you going to do with her?" he asked.

Pushing Aeris back into the seat, Tseng brushed his hair from his eyes and turned back to the window. He shrugged. "It isn’t my decision. Our orders were to find and catch the last remaining Ancient. It’s taken us a long time, but now I can finally report this to the President. He will be very pleased--"

Tseng was shoved aside from behind. Aeris squeezed in beside him and leaned out over the side of the helicopter. "Tifa," she exclaimed breathlessly, "Don’t worry! She’s all right!"

Cursing very unprofessionally, Tseng roughly pulled her into the helicopter. "I said ‘not another word,’ Ancient!" He stretched out his arm and slung it around until the back of his hand connected with her face. The girl fell to the floor.

"Aeris!" the scantily-clad waitress yelled.

The Ancient struggled to reach the window again. "Hurry and get out!"

Tseng sent her forcefully back to the floor, where she remained. Turning to the platform once again, he laughed. "Well, it should be starting right about now. Think you can escape in time?" Motioning to the pilot, Tseng settled back into his seat as the helicopter flew off. There was a bright flare as the pillar exploded, but the Turks’ leader did not look back at it. Nor did he watch when the plate collapsed, leaving Sector 7 in crushed, smoldering ruin.

Sometime on the flight back to Shinra, Aeris stirred, catching his attention. On the unconscious woman’s face, a large bruise was already forming. She hadn’t really deserved it, he knew, but so-called "justice" didn’t concern him at the moment. She never had taken him seriously, and he now demanded that she do so. He looked away, closing the walls around himself once again. If he could not force himself not to care, he would find himself felling sorry for her, might even find himself contemplating letting her go-- and he could never let that happen.

The helicopter set down on a landing pad outside of the company headquarters. Tseng climbed out and pulled Aeris with him. No fight was put up, but she certainly wasn’t cooperative, either, moving slowly and glaring icily his way the entire way. He tried to say something to her-- he could never remember quite what-- but she ignored him, refused to answer.

Heh... ignoring me as always.

Inside, he handed her over to the closest armed personnel he could find, telling them that she was the prisoner the President had given orders about. They led her away, to Hojo probably. She turned her head just long enough to shoot an accusing glare at him before disappearing into an elevator. He had no doubt that she took him seriously now.

Tseng stood against the wall for a long while. For the first time in years, he really wanted a stiff drink. Not long after, he was sitting in a bar, getting just that. He usually never accompanied his fellow Turks on their frequent visits to local bars, but when Rude had asked tonight, Tseng accepted. He supposed Rude was lonely without his regular drinking partner, Reno, who was in the infirmary with wounds. Tseng knew he wouldn’t be much better, though, as he had hardly said a word to Rude the entire night and was unwilling to start talking now; not the Rude talked much anyway.

The liquor putting cracks into Tseng’s walls, thoughts of Aeris were allowed to seep through. What a bitch, he thought, downing the last contents of his glass. Tseng set it down and stared at it, trying to convince himself that he give a damn about her.

Author's Notes: I always got the feeling that Tseng wasn't really all that fond of Aeris, but for personal reasons. It seems he had a history with her. Unfortunately, the game really doesn't develope it, like so many other things. So here is my take on it.

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