Bottled Up and Empty


Warnings: Violence and adult language. It's also really dark, so if you're feeling all chipper today, you might not want to read this. ^^

"Their souls are lost
Because they could never find
What's this life for"

~ Creed What's This Life For

It's fucking cold.

I can feel it radiating from where my hand presses against the asphalt, seeping into the thin bones of my fingers so that the tips feel practically numb. I can feel it through the fabric of my pants, chilling my knee, freezing my toes... Hell, if there isn't a place on my body that doesn't sting despite the layer of clothes, I haven't found it yet. But I'll put up with this shit because it's part of the job. Sure, the first thing I said when I crawled out of bed this morning was that freezing my balls of on a Sunday night sounded like a whole lot of fun. Yeah, well, if certain vital parts start going numb, I'm saying screw this. I give up a lot for this job, but some things are just sacred.

Reaching into the pocket of my overcoat with stiff fingers, I pull out a stray match. Holding it firmly, I strike it on the ground, watching as the head catches and flares to life. Some days, I think this shithole of a city would be better off burning to the ground. But hey, Midgar's home, so I don't suppose I should say that. I mean, without the good ole Shinra Incorporation, I'd be out of a job. How fucking sad. I'd probably turn into a bar-hopping, womanizing drunk like my old man. Some days, that reality is all that stands between me and self-destruction.

Pulling the match higher, I shield it with my hand to keep it alive. This is my last match, I'm cold, and I want a cigarette. If this goes out, I'm not going to be too happy. Not that I need to worry much. How much fresh air do you think the slums of Midgar get? You're right. Not a whole hell of a lot. If you want to get away from the stale atmosphere, that reeks of sweat, garbage, and sewage, you need money. Since money is pretty damn hard to come by in this town, your chances aren't too great. You either need to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth, or do what I did. Sell your soul to the Devil, and become one of his loyal minions.

To do that, you'd have to be willing to slit the throat of your mother.

Me, I've done worse. I slit the throat of the woman I professed to love, dumped her body in the middle of her apartment, stepped over her, and never looked back.

Heartless? She was a traitor. She was sucking information out of the company at the same time that she was fucking me. So let me ask you, which do you think I was going to choose? Love, or security? I've seen what love is. Love is my washed out shadow of a mother who stayed with my father through the beatings, the booze, and the other women. Security is a steady paycheck, a fine line to walk in order to shake the legacy that runs in my veins. I'd do whatever I had to keep that. Even kill those closest to me. It's a dog fucking eat dog world. You either bite first, or die. So I chose security over love.

And if I've ever regretted it, if I've ever hated the scarred, pale face staring back at me in the mirror, well then, haven't we all? Don't we all have something we wish we could take back? Don't we all hate ourselves in some way? That's part of life. I don't care what they brochures say. It isn't beautiful, and it sure as hell isn't fair.

I like where I am, so I'm going to do everything to make certain I stay here. Get in my way, and I'll pound you into the ground. The planet has screwed me over many times, and the only person I watch out for is myself. Even above my fellow Turks. Rude is like a brother to me, Elena an annoying sister, and Tseng a father. But I'd forsake them all if it was in my best interests. So welcome to the world of Reno of the Turks. If you don't like what you see, that's too damn bad. All exits were sealed the minute you stepped in.

I shake the match out, and inhale deeply, letting the nicotine work its way into my blood, wishing it was alcohol. A nice shot of whiskey would warm me right up. But see, I only have one moral. I don't drink on the job. You can thank my dear old dad for that. I'm a murderer, a thief, and an all around bastard, but I'm not a worthless, drunken piece of shit. No, but like him, I have a taste for it. The difference between us, is that I control it, it doesn't control me. I'm not going to live my life by the bottle. That's a pathetic existence. I live my life by death. And I somehow doubt that's much better.

Narrowing my eyes against the smoke, I stare across the glowing tip of my cigarette and into the alleyway across the street. Nothing. The only activity I've seen all night is the rats scouring through the overflowing waste bins. I'm not just talking about the rodent variety, either. To a homeless man, an unattended alley is a buffet line. It's sickening to watch. But it doesn't turn my stomach. I've carved the eyeballs out of a man while he was still breathing. So watching another stuff his mouth with moldy pizza is mild in comparison.

But I don't do anything about it. I just watch, superior in the knowledge that I don't have to stoop so low, and ashamed for the person, because someone was witness to the depths of their deprivation. Yeah, it wouldn't kill me to give him five gil and shove him toward a cafe. But you save one, then you have to save them all. I'm not the world's savior. I wasn't put on this Planet to help the weak or the poor. It's hard enough to survive yourself, without worrying about what other people are doing. So I let the weak rot.

I'm a Turk. The Grim Reaper. I bring death with me where I go, not life. I'm feared, I'm hated, and I'm respected. People move out of my way when I walk down the street, leave me alone when I enter a bar, and shy away when I pull out my gun. I should feed off this. My ego should be bigger than the whole goddamed city. But like the guy digging in the trash, my reputation sickens me. I wanted to be as different from my father as I could, and boy did I ever make it. I'm a fucking god. I could shoot you and everyone would look the other way. Yeah, I made it to the big time.

I pull to my feet on stiff legs, settling my back against the brick of a nearby building. Something runs across my foot, but I don't bother to look. It was probably just a rat. You get used to their company when you're on surveillance. Maybe even prefer it. They don't talk back, and they don't occupy much space. Besides, I'm a Turk, I should feel right at home. I may be covered in clean clothing, smell faintly of cigarette smoke and soap, and have some place warm and dry to go back to, but beneath it all, I'm covered in the same filth. Clothes and skin are only the outer layers. Inside, I'm as black and cold as the night.

When I was younger, I used to question my reason for being. What was the point of going to school, of coming home and listening to my father scream at my mother, of listening to the sickening snap of flesh on flesh? I always felt that I would be better off dead. But suicide is the cowardly way out, and there was no way in hell life was turning me into a weakling. So, instead, I found my purpose. I would never be like my father. My entire life would revolve around being something he was not. Yeah, something better. So join the Shinra army. Work your way through as a grunt, dishing shit out as well as you could take it. Then, when the Turks approach you, give you a job description, tell you it'd get you out of the slums, give you money, you take it.

Yeah, and when you go home, look down on your father, you'll listen to him tell you that you're no better than him. Lower, even. Because he may be a drunk, but at least he isn't an assassin, a man that profits from other people's deaths. You won't beat your wife, dwindle your money away, or sleep with women you pick up in a bar. You'll just kill strangers, ruin countless lives, and become a household name of fear. But you'll never go hungry. You won't have to live amongst the filth of the slums, or wear worn clothing ever again. You can stand tall, and walk proud, because you're earning your living, and you know you look damn good in that blue suit. And somewhere, along the way, you can lose your soul.

Because if you don't, then you lose yourself.

Flicking ashes onto the ground, I watch them roll across the surface and disappear into the shadows. I don't mind telling you I'm getting tired of standing out here. Not that it changes much. I've got a job to do, and I never leave a job half-finished. It doesn't matter what I have to do to end it, I'll find a way. I have a reputation to keep, after all. I'm known as a lazy slob who would rather be kicking back in a bar than working. And no, before you ask, that isn't the reputation I'm talking about. That's just the one people see. Funny, how what you see isn't always what you get, isn't it? I'm ruthless, I'm thorough, and I'm patient enough to wait an entire day in the same spot for my target if I have to. And very few realize this.

Good old President Shinra knows what I am, though. He had a hand in making me after all. He knows, that despite my complete lack of respect for him, my oftentimes slow way of doing things, and my easy smiles, that I would just as soon snap your neck as look at you. I'll smile into your face while I do it too, while your blood runs down my hands, warm, until the chill of the air touches it. Smiling is an easy mask to project, after all. So is laziness. I only have to slouch a little, wear my clothing askew, and rarely comb my hair. I can be everything I'm not to you, and you'll never be any wiser for it. Not until those last moments, when the gap between life and death is closed.

Some days, when I'm walking the Shinra halls, and I hear hopeful soldiers talking about what life would be like if they made it to the Turks, I want to beat the shit out of them. They're so stupid, so naive. They talk as if what we do is some grand thing, as if life couldn't possibly get much better than this. I know Elena's that way. She went into this thinking only of the glory, and she's going to come out of it, thinking only of the death. This way of life is going to kill her innocence, smother her optimism, and make her hate the Planet, and all the people on it. Because here, all you see is the ugliness. And when you're faced with so much, you begin to struggle to see the beauty, until you realize there isn't any left.

You can't tell her that. You can't tell any of them that. They can only see it for themselves, and that's sad. But I'll spare my pity, and save my worry for something else. They went into it of their own accord, and there isn't a damn thing you can do to stop them. Besides, I already said I wasn't the savior of this Planet. I doubt there even is one. We're all going to grind ourselves into ruin, until there's nothing left, and nothing is going to be able to save us. Not that I give a flying fuck. I don't need to be saved. I'm right where I want to be.

The piece in my ear suddenly cracks static, and I drop the cigarette to the ground, grinding it beneath my heel.

"He's heading your way. He should enter the alley for the package in less than a minute," a calm, apathetic voice tells me.

"Roger," I answer, sharp eyes cutting to the alley again.

I don't have to wait long. A figure, dressed in black shuffles slowly past, looking over his shoulder every so often. His nervousness is apparent, but his caution isn't needed. He's already dead. He just doesn't know it yet.

I step away from the wall, the familiar weight of my pistol against my side and the comforting press of my nightstick at my waist. If things go as I want them to, I probably won't need either. But that all depends on our little rat here.

My feet are silent as I cross the street, pausing only once to watch him with a half-smirk. There are many stupid things you can do. One of them is crossing President Shinra. He isn't kind to traitors. No, he sends us after them. Through us, he enacts his revenge to discourage things like this from happening again. Yes, while we stain our hands with blood, he sits up in his pristine white castle of an office, growing richer, growing fatter, and growing older. He isn't touched by this. He doesn't have to see the job done. He only has to hear it was.

Sliding into the alleyway just behind him, I catch a flicker of a movement down the sidewalk. Rude. He doesn't leave me with the dirtywork when we're assigned a job. We do it together. But I don't thank him for that. He doesn't want my gratitude anymore than I want his.

I fall right behind him, my breath a brief cloud in the air. He rummages through the dumpster, still unaware of my presence. The stench already filling the alley covers whatever new smells I might bring. Otherwise, he probably would have smelled my cigarettes. Or at the very least, my cologne. But no, he remains oblivious, right up until my hand falls onto his shoulder.

He jerks hard, trying to spin away. I tighten my grip so that I know it has to be painful.

"Hold still," I inform him quietly, as Rude falls on the other side of him, blocking off all signs of an exit.

I catch a glimpse of his face. Wide-eyed and frightened, he knows who it is that has him now. He probably also knows he's going to die. The risks we take for money... It's sad, really.

"What are you going to do with me?" He stutters.

The muscles in his shoulder are tight beneath my hand.

I smile, my teeth a flash in the dark.

"I have a better question. What's in the dumpster?" I ask, my voice pleasant enough.

"I-I don't know what you're talking about," he answers quickly.

I look to Rude. He nods.

"That's the wrong answer."

One hand on his shoulder still, I reach down and grab his hand, settling it along the top of the dumpster so that his fingers trail over the side.

"What are you doing?" He asks frantically, head jerking back and forth between us.

"What's in the dumpster?" I ask instead.

"I told you," he insists, his hand cold beneath mine, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"See, now that's strike two."

And, before he can react, Rude reaches out and snaps his index finger.

He cries out in pain, trying to pull away from me, but I'm stronger, and holding him down isn't much effort.

"I wouldn't recommend lying. My friend here has no problem with breaking every little bone in your body until we get the answer we want."

He's crying now.

"Why don't you just look for yourselves?"

I punch my thumb down on the snapped finger.

He cries out again.

"Because we want you to tell us. It's much more fun that way."

"If I tell you, will you let me live?"

I shrug. But living wasn't on the list of options. President Shinra wants him dead, and so that's what he's going to be.

"Maybe," I respond, noncommittal.

He takes a shuddering breath. "It's Shinra Inc. programs in development. I'm going to sell them."

"Oh, yeah? Nice hiding place," I say conversationally.

Rude stands by, a silent, threatening presence. I wonder if he ever gets tired of being the 'strong arm'.

"You'll... you'll let me live now?" He pleads, and the hope in his voice is sickening.

"Well," I begin, moving behind him quickly so that my arms come up around his neck, "I could be a nice guy and let you live. But I'm not."

And I twist, the brutal snap of bones telling me what I need to know.

Then, I let him fall, not watching as he hits the pavement.

"Get the disks. He slipped them into his coat just before I grabbed him," I tell Rude, as I step over the body.

Whatever I once was is bottled up. All that remains is emptiness. I'm a walking ghost. Dead the day I was born, dead until the day I die.

So if you see me on the street, don't be fooled by my easy smile. Look the other way and pass on by. Because I won't hesitate when you're the one I'm ordered to kill. I'll let you fall, I'll step over your body, and I'll walk away.

And I won't ever, look back.