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Bitter Ash: Part 2: Cry Not for Me

Dying... I’m dying...

The Turks’ illustrious leader fell against a hard, stone altar, cursing the pain that coursed through his weakening body. His blood, sticky and warm, congealed on his hands. Inside of the Temple of the Ancients, Tseng had run into the great Sephiroth. His proof of the meeting was a thin hole straight through his chest where the Masamune had sliced through. Stumbling against the sandstone walls of the ziggurat, wounded, he had reached the entry chamber. Telling himself he would only rest for a moment, Tseng slumped over the altar in the room’s center, staining it crimson.

Dying... I’m going to die alone...

Things were slowly beginning to fade away when he heard voices coming from outside. All three were familiar, but the one he recognized immediately.

She bounded into the room and exclaimed in her usual, cheerful manner, "Hey! It’s Tseng!"

Can’t... let her see me like this. She always... seems to find me... in weakness, he thought, and forced himself from the altar, grunting with pain.

"Tseng?" Cloud said, entering behind her. "The Turk?"

Tseng knew he had to tell them, no matter how much he despised them; someone had to stop Sephiroth, and it didn’t seem that he would have much longer to find someone to tell. If he didn’t, everything would be destroyed-- his family and his Turks. A tiny smile crossed his lips. Elena would be a good Turk someday-- she was just new. It was too bad he wouldn’t be around to see it, but he could do what was in his power to make sure she got the chance. Only Tseng held the truth. "Uh..." he grunted. "We’ve... been had." Breathing heavily with exertion, he slumped onto the floor. "It’s not... the Promised Land... Sephiroth is searching for..."

Cloud moved quickly forward. "Sephiroth? is he inside?!"

Tseng raised a quivering hand towards the altar. "Look... for yourself..." Strength gone, his arm dropped of its own accord. "Damn..." he muttered. "Letting Aeris go was the start... of my... bad luck." It had been. Why had he done it then? Why had he let her go?

Because you’re a pathetic sap, that why. You thought that somewhere, deep down, the little brat’s games weren’t just games, he told himself bitterly. You thought that maybe, just maybe she cared what happened to you, and so you were gonna care what happened to her. This is what you get for it. And now Aeris waltzes in, looks at you, and says-- cheerfully-- "Oh look! Here’s Tseng!" Nevermind that he’s dying.

But he had to tell them... "The President... he was wrong..." Tseng managed.

Aeris stepped up to him, hands on hips. "You’re wrong," she cried, seeming rather like a child who thinks he has won an argument. "The Promised Land isn’t like what you imagined." She turned away from all of them.

Could she not even let him finish? He was dying, and she would not even let him finish a sentence.

"And I’m not going to help you," the Ancient continued. "Either way, there was no way Shinra could have won." Moving into the farthest corner, she leaned against it, mouth set stubbornly.

A bitter smile twisted Tseng’s cracked lips, but it quickly changed into an anguished expression as a he spasmed in pain. "...pretty harsh..." he forced out. "Sounds like something... you’d say."

Forcing himself up, he pulled a small, hard object from the pocket of his expensive suit-- one that was now covered in blood. Holding it out to Cloud, he instructed, "The Keystone... place it... on... the altar..." Cloud took the ancient stone. His task complete, Tseng stumbled into a corner and slumped over. No one offered to help him, not even the girl he had grown up with, the girl he had allowed to toy with him for years. She gave him no assistance, even in his dying moments.

Cloud pocketed the Keystone and walked over to Aeris, facing away from her back. "You crying?" he asked softly. Aeris shook her head lightly and turned to face him.

Of course she isn’t, Tseng thought angrily. Has she ever? She has gone through life cheerfully, smiling, never stopping to think about the consequences of anything she did. Everything was a game to her... even other people...

"...Tseng’s with our enemy, the Turks, but I’ve known him since we were little... There’s not alot of people I can say that about. In fact, there’s probably only a handful of people in the world who really know me." Aeris looked at him for a brief moment.

Oh, and I’m one of the lucky few, right, Aeris? One of the few people who know how you really are. Who are the others? Certainly not Elmyra, but that SOLDIER, Zack, probably knew. Yes, he did, didn’t he Aeris? And look what happened to him. What about you, Cloud Strife? Will you ever know? Are you next? Yes, it was truly a pity that only a few people in the world really knew Aeris.

Cloud and the others stood around the altar. "Let’s put the Keystone in," he said, pulling it from somewhere on his person.

I’m dying... Not long now...

They could not leave; she could not leave him. If they did, he would die alone.

Does she really care about anyone? he wondered. Does she really care about me? If she had any sympathy for him, she would stay. Even Aeris could not leave a man she had grown up with to die alone in this ancient temple.

The Keystone clicked into place. As it had for Tseng, the altar began to glow a brilliant blue.

She couldn’t leave him. No now, not here. She won’t; I know it...

An elevator opened in the floor. It led to a vast underground maze, he knew. Aeris and her companions stepped onto the elevator platform. It whirred to life and sunk into the floor. Cloud, Aeris, and the Seventh Heaven waitress slowly disappeared.

The Ancient didn’t even look back, Tseng thought, just a little sorrowful. His body didn’t hurt anymore; a numbness was slowly spreading to his limbs. But another hurt flickered in his mind, faintly-- one that he tried desperately to stamp out with anger. Why did he always manage to let her hurt him?

I am dying, and she seemed like it wasn’t a big deal to her, Aeris acted like she didn’t even care, he thought angrily. No words of comfort had been offered; the only thing she had even said to him had been harsh, cruel. She was an Ancient; they were supposed to have some sort of powers, weren’t they? Why then, did she not even try to help him?!

Tseng had always assumed-- or hoped-- that she cared, somewhere, even just a small bit, about him. Not so much because he wanted any feeling returned, but because it would somehow make life seem right to him, more just. But now he knew that she didn’t care-- not about him, Tseng, her childhood companion, and not about him as a person in general, a dying person in need of assistance that he would never ask for. As the numbness encompassed him and life drained from his body, he heaved a bitter sigh and knew the truth, finally. She didn’t care.

Dying... Death...

She didn’t... give... a damn...

Author's Notes: One section in which Square made Aeris seem rather cruel and inhuman to me was Tseng's death. She professed to have known him for a long time, but yet she hardly seemed to care when he died. In fact, she really didn't even talk him, or try to lessen his pain-- even if it was impossible to heal him. This is simply how I thought Tseng, in this scenario, might see it.

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