I Know What's Beneath the Snow Fields -Chp.92

The deed had been done in three seconds. Quick and simple. Davoren, having jabbed the nightstaff by surprise into Rufus' stomach, yanked it away again. The short electric jolt instantly eroded the boy's nervous system to complete numbness. His eyes, fixed and wide open at first, revealed the intensity of his shock. It extended far beyond the physical aspect- of raw energy ripping through his entrails, buckling his spine over. It pierced deep into the emotional realm as well- anguish, incomprehension at being thus deceived by this man.

This man, who amidst a world full of torture and madness had been the only one with the compassion to shelter him under his wing, even when they both knew a cruel, depraved lunatic like him deserved this punishment.

More importantly to Rufus, he had come to fill the hole another man had carved into him long ago- his father, a hateful shadow still stalking his mind. He himself had scarcely begun to realize it. He'd only just confided it to Davoren a minute ago, and now...

Now this...

For all the time they'd known each other, the gunman and Rufus had never spoken heart-to-heart as tonight, where circumstances had the two sitting upon the floor in some crumbling storage ward. One was a desolate man, old inside, so persecuted by his own misery he'd delved into the darkest depths of evil just to escape it. The other was a young man, in Davoren's eyes more like a boy, pushed by angst to the very brink of insanity. They were completely different. Different generations, different pasts, different stories to tell.

Then somehow their paths had merged into a common road. Here they'd sat on the same level, two wretches soaked in crime. Between them hung such gloom: Davoren's murdered brother, his grief, the memory of his tearful breakdown at the bridge still quite vivid; Rufus wracked by anger, guilt and overwhelming sadness... unable to bear his awful past or even himself because as it turned out, he and his company had caused that grief and everything else.

By the end of the night, all this hurt, revelations, turbulent feelings and destruction had burnt them both to a waste. Strange, yet it had also drawn them together into this final meeting, where face to face they'd forged a new connection between them. It had felt so much stronger and more profound than ever before, like a bonding of spirits, not just friendship.

But then came that nightstaff to cut everything off.

The voltage robbed his awareness faster than he could comprehend. Rufus didn't even grunt out his surprise. He just slumped off in a heap, almost crashing to the floor had not the attentive gunman caught him first and carefully placed him there upon his side.

Three seconds. The task was finished.

But not its consequences. Davoren remained slouched upon his knees for a long time afterwards, gazing down ever morosely upon the comatose young man cast before him. His silence reflected the deep loss his action had cost him. Truly in viewing him from afar, as the two ex-Turks did, it seemed no matter what the right decision was, no matter how he'd compelled himself to trick Rufus, that neither lessened the man's sorrow nor eased the difficulties he'd have to confront alone from here on.

The Reactor meanwhile continued to degenerate. In the distance, belligerent earthquakes could be heard ravaging this once mighty fortress. Creaks and moans of mangled garbage, some so horrid they twisted one's stomach, echoed down the corridors. The entire storage ward seemed to shudder in anticipation. In fact, a subtle tremulousness had already begun to infest its walls.

Reno glared suspiciously up at the cracked ceiling, which shed more loose rock with every passing minute. Not a good sign. Soon another wave of destruction would reach this cluttered room, and another and another until it caved-in like the rest of this place to oblivion. Their only chance of escape was that floor trapdoor Davoren had uncovered for them earlier. Its square mouth awaited wide and open, beyond which its gullet would deliver them down into the sewers. At present though, their salvation remained neglected in the corner.

Despite the impending doom, a grim hush not even those clamours could defeat hung heavy in the air. Reno returned his eyes to the sight straight up ahead, where he studied the forlorn gunman from behind, like he had throughout his private conversation with Rufus. Both he and Rude in fact had stayed mute spectators at the opposite side of the room. Not once did they intervene.

Rude had always maintained his premonitions. He'd sensed something about to happen, what though he couldn't quite say. He'd just discerned this... this dark burden within the gunman. Nor would this uneasiness subside as Rude, sitting wrecked and weary atop some wooden crate, observed Davoren from the corner of his eye.

Then came that moment of electrocution. The instant Rufus lurched over, the alarmed ex-Turk had sprang onto his feet. At once he'd turned to his friend for his plan of action.

The plan, quite bluntly, was do nothing. Reno did not even glance back at him. He just stood there statuesque with folded arms. His blood-spattered face from the side exuded a particular sternness not to be challenged. Only then Rude understood: Reno had lent Davoren his nightstaff with full knowledge of his intentions. Neither of them were to interfere.

So the ex-Turk lingered next to his friend, clutching his wounded side tightly, self-restrained despite his obvious consternation. He stole another sidelong glance at Reno. He could practically palpate the intense deliberations still raging behind that austere façade.

"Rufus ShinRa may still be alive," Vincent had informed them only yesterday. In a secret laboratory somewhere within Midgar. Reno had to admire his shrewdness. The man sure knew how to select his bait. Even after they'd denied knowledge of any such place, even after the little sneak had apparently left them, Reno had found himself growing more and more preoccupied with this tidbit of news. They all knew WEAPON had blasted the top of ShinRa HQ to rubble. They'd all been told, despite the lack of material evidence, their president had perished in the explosion. He couldn't have survived!

Nevertheless, Reno couldn't rest pondering the remote possibility that Vincent might- just MIGHT- be correct. And so, he and Rude had snuck off to the lab on a quest for truth. Yet what had started out as an innocent investigation evolved into such a mess of facts and dirty secrets.

Then there was Rufus. They'd found him alive all right, just like Vincent said, though hardly the same man they'd served. Their once confident, formidable leader reduced to a tormented, almost schizophrenic, amnesic wretch. Reno recalled how they first met here (it hadn't gone too well, as he soon recalled slapping the boy in a flash of rage). It was also when Davoren's name first cropped up.

Rufus had described him as a mysterious man who'd always looked after him. Reno did not know him. Hours later, and he *still* did not know who Davoren was, not really. At first, he'd been a riddle. Then he became their enemy; Reno still had plenty of injuries to remind him of his brutality (not to mention a close fatality averted solely by a flask of beer). Finally that same man, in one strange twist of fate, had turned ally. He'd risked his own life to extract them out of that debris-clogged Hellhole. He'd lead them across hostile terrain to their only passageway to safety.

Everything however terminated here. Viewing Davoren more grimly, Reno realized that his path with Rufus separated from now onwards. And he also knew that in lending his nightstaff, he'd thereby participated in splitting those intertwined paths.

Reno's expression darkened. One particular issue kept pestering him over and over until at long last it compelled him to move forth. Indeed, the morose Rude watched his friend advance at a deliberate pace across the room towards the gunman. He did not follow; intuition advised him to stay out of this. So he remained a spectator.

Reno stopped directly behind the hunched-over Davoren. He waited. Lingering thus, his keen gaze fastened down upon this man. He couldn't help but wonder what thoughts tumbled inside his head. Better yet, he wondered how he looked right now. He could barely trace the side of Davoren's face at this view. Plus the man kept it bowed, shadowed from scrutiny behind stray hair strands. Reno did notice however that he still clutched the nightstaff.

The ex-Turk stole a glance beyond Davoren upon the boy lying comatose at his knees, but looked away again as if stung by something sharp.

"How long will he be out for?" Davoren spoke at last. His voice was steady and dry.

Reno stared into the back of his head. "I set it on a small voltage. He'll be unconscious for only a few minutes."

"I see."

Another pause followed.

"The kid cares a lot about you, y'know," remarked the ex-Turk suddenly.

The comment sounded rather stupid to Reno's ears- Ah well done. Aren't you the perceptive one tonight? he berated himself. He could not determine whether his words had affected Davoren or not. The gunman did not look behind at him. He just continued to brood in silence.

Still, Reno squared his shoulders. Above his own awkwardness, he felt the necessity to lay bare all facts, even the most obvious, at Davoren's feet before their time expired.

"While all of us- me, Rude over there, and Vincent were fighting against you, Rufus was the only one who kept defending you. He said you were his friend. Didn't matter what you did or said. He still kept his faith in you. Hell, the damn loony was even prepared to throw his own life away to avenge you. Can't say I know that much about you, man. One thing I *do* know for certain though: this kid means a great deal to you too. Otherwise you never would have betrayed Professor Hojo to save us."

Reno's green eyes narrowed upon their target. "All I'm asking," he said, "is if you're sure. You're sure THIS is how you wanna end it?"

As to what "it" referred to, Reno supposed he meant this faith and affection he and the boy shared. His tone harboured no resentment towards Davoren's decision. Nor did he intend to stand here and drag out his reasons; somehow in a way Reno couldn't quite explain, he felt he already understood those reasons, even though the gunman never articulated them. He'd simply asked Reno to please lend him his nightstaff. Davoren had seemed so certain of his choice, so dead certain it was right, that the ex-Turk not only couldn't dispute it, but had found himself (albeit reluctantly) agreeing with him.

It was just... the circumstances kept pecking at the back of Reno's mind. He understood what Davoren was trying to do, yet remained unsure of the way he'd chosen to go about it.

Ultimately, Reno reckoned he wanted assurance; a guarantee that despite the deception and many issues still floating about, this- THIS- would always be the best method to severe his ties with the boy. He needed to know because he'd come to consider Rufus his friend too, and the prospect of living afterwards in doubt, wondering whether or not he'd made the right choice to help him daunted Reno a lot more than he cared to admit. Whatever Davoren would say, he decided he'd trust his answer as the final word which lays everything to rest.

So, was this how he truly wanted to end it?

The gunman addressed Reno without turning towards him. "This boy… he.. he's like a little brother to me. And to him, he said I..," yet Davoren paused; he realized the futility of such an explanation, for he alone could ever appreciate the full significance of his own words. He tried another approach. "No. This is not how I want to end it. Rufus was the prisoner. I was his caretaker. Truth be told though, I was a prisoner just as much as he was... both of us stuck in our own Hell for so long. We let it turn us into someone else... someone ugly, cold... and monstrous. The boy and I, yeah, there are many special- I don't know... special threads that connect us to each other. And now that we're not prisoners anymore... now that we're free, those threads have to be cut."

Davoren lifted his head slightly and craned it sideways to look at the solemn ex-Turk behind him. His face reflected the absolute conviction in his own beliefs. "But then, the best thread he and I share is also the strongest, and that one can never be cut no matter where we go from here. I'm just sure that... this is what I must do. This is how I must end it," his keen gaze dug deeper into Reno's as he added, "You understand. You wouldn't have helped me unless you do."

The ex-Turk knew not how to answer. Nor did Davoren expect him to. The latter finally rose to his feet again. He handed the nightstaff back to its owner with a polite "Thank you".

Reno couldn't be sure whether he'd thanked him for lending him the weapon or for understanding. Either case, he accepted it. Davoren stood before him with hands loose by his sides. Despite his scruffy demeanour, he struck quite the noble figure, accentuated further by his impressive height. The gunman closed his eyes for a moment- just this brief, quiet moment as if to lock it all safe within his memory forever- then regarded Reno. He flicked his sight over to Rude, who all this time had been attentively listening to their conversation from across the room. The boy lay the same upon the floor. Davoren cast one final look at him.

The deed was done. Time to move out. And so, Davoren turned to leave them.

The sight of the gunman walking away so carelessly back towards the entrance, back towards *that* calamity outside, instantly whipped both ex-Turks into rigid shock. Until now, they'd thought Davoren would accompany them down the escape shaft and part ways in the sewers. But off he marched, putting them, Rufus and salvation all behind him.

"Y-you're going back there for Vincent and that girl, aren't you?!" cried the incredulous Rude.

Davoren needn't reply. He just continued onwards.

"Man, you must be more insane than I thought!!" Reno shouted after him in a fluster, "How do you know he's still here, eh?! What if he's already taken the girl and split?! Think about that! You'd be searching for a needle that may not even BE in the haystack!!"

"He's still here," said the calm gunman, "I just know it."

"And where the Hell are ya gonna start looking anyway?! This place is friggin' HUGE!!"

A valid point. But his earnest entreaties all fell on deaf ears. Davoren coolly stopped to take his assault rifle, which hitherto had been waiting propped up against the metal shelves. Such nonchalance irritated the hot-blooded young man, so much so that he dashed forth to grab Davoren's shoulder before he could sling the gun on.

He snarled outloud "Goddamit, would ya take a look around?! LOOK! This entire shithole is falling apart and here you-"

Yet he stopped short when Davoren, instead of arguing, merely twisted his head aside to meet that glare with a small, serene smile. He didn't appear the least bit ruffled by Reno's brusqueness. Nor did he attempt to wrestle out of his grip, even though they both knew he could have easily flung him off. Once again, they lingered in this silence, the gunman's hand still clamped around his weapon, Reno's still on his strong shoulder. Those eyes shimmered a tranquillity the ex-Turk had never seen the likes before, so clear with purpose, not a ripple of worry or trouble.

Reno suddenly realized one of the reasons Davoren had to rob Rufus' consciousness: he knew the boy would have tried to stop him from going back, just like he was trying right now. Davoren knew the risks. He knew he might perish searching for Vincent. His calm façade however told Reno that he had made his decision and did not want anyone to interfere. Please, he seemed to beg, I appreciate your concern but this is how it must be.


Though Rude stood at a distance, he sensed just as keenly as his friend this clash between apprehension and the growing bond they'd forged with the gunman. It surprised Rude a bit to realize he'd actually come to like this enigmatic ally. He knew Reno shared his sentiments too. Amazing how Davoren had so quickly won their favour when only a few hours ago they'd been battling each other bloody. The man possessed this talent at drawing strong trust and admiration from those around him. Leadership just seemed to come naturally to him. He'd sure demonstrated it well throughout their alliance, from rescuing them from that death-trap to bringing them here.

But upon regarding Davoren right then, Rude also saw the futility in trying to dissuade him from going back. He returned his solemn eyes to Reno. They drilled into the back of his head, persuading him to relinquish the gunman, to respect his choice without letting his own emotions intervene. This was how it must be.

The message seemed to reach the latter. Indeed, Reno became acutely aware of his disquietude. His furrowed brows relaxed. Yes. Yes, perhaps this really was how it must be.

So in the end, he released his captive.

Davoren resumed like nothing had happened. He slung the loaded rifle across one shoulder while the two men watched him in silence. He moved to leave, but suddenly stopped again as if he'd just remembered something of utmost importance. He turned halfway around to view both ex-Turks in full.

He asked them, "Can I trust you to take care of the boy after I'm gone?"

The two men stood at attention, yet neither the morose Rude nor Reno, still burning contemplation, replied.

Davoren chuckled weakly as he realized how silly his question had sounded. "Heh! Of course you'll take care of him," he answered himself, "I know every Turk must swear his loyalty to the ShinRa President. However, the company no longer exists. Rufus isn't your boss anymore. Still," Davoren smiled benevolently at them, "you came here for him. You always stuck by him no matter what came your way. Both of you are loyal to him because you *want* to, not because you *have* to."

His statement carried sincere commendation, which rather took its two recipients aback. Not once, they realized, had either of them wondered- really, really questioned- how far their duties should extend to their young President. True, Reno at first had tried to sweep it away from his mind. But deep down, he knew he was only lying to himself. The possibility of Rufus being alive somewhere had weighed as heavy upon his heart as upon Rude's. That's why he couldn't sleep. That's why he and his friend had ventured here.

They'd fought the deranged Professor Hojo. They'd joined forces with former enemies, Vincent and then Davoren. Hell, mused Reno, they'd even disobeyed a direct order from Rufus to just let him die... twice. They simply did whatever they had to do to pull him out of this place.

In effect, Davoren had revealed to them a truth subconsciously they'd already known: their steadfast loyalty and more importantly their desire to help- genuinely help- now bound them to the beleaguered Rufus. "Duty", the sense of strict obligation to their superior... that had long since ceased to be a factor. For these two ex-Turks, to have this truth exposed to their conscious minds by such candid words let them both quiet with reflection and equally in awe of the speaker's incredible insight.

In return, Davoren's expression softened upon them. Humbly, he made his last request, "You two are good men. For all you've done, you have my respect. And I know you'll look after Rufus. But if you really care about him, then please... be his friends, not his bodyguards. I think... he needs that more so now than ever."

By this time, fresh tremors had begun their onslaught upon these hapless wards. The room convulsed. Nevertheless, the atmosphere retained its solemnity while the ex-Turks still studied Davoren another moment. His plea contained such a melancholic quality, like a parent about to part with his child, but at the same time, place trust and confidence in these two men. Reno did not need to consult Rude to know they'd both reached the same answer. He thus straightened his back and gave Davoren one assertive nod: yes, they will honour his request.

Through his chaotic white hair, the gunman smiled back at them; a broad smile of heartfelt gratitude. Then, as simply as that, he whirled around again and dashed away... away from the ex-Turks, the boy… out of the room and beyond. He never looked back.

Reno would always remember the sight of Davoren running down that ominous hall till he'd vanished into the darkness. He'd always wonder what befell the man afterwards. Did he find Vincent? Did he actually manage to escape the doomed Reactor in time? Or did he just disappear amidst all the destruction crashing about? Did he live or die that night?

They'd probably never know for certain. As Davoren rushed through falling garbage, that was the last Rude and Reno ever saw of him.

-End of Chp.92