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Phoenix and the Filer

part 6 of Genetic Imperialism

When will Tseng return? He'll bring more news, shocking or boring, each tidbit a bone on which this city-caged bird must gnaw. Each far door opening triggers Reeve to close his eyes and see the face of a stranger writhe beneath him, closed eyes to hold in the fear; Tseng is always in danger, Tseng is dangerous wherever he is, his home turf not least of all. Reeve will not be so crass to call Tseng home in a hurry, just to see him face to face: association could threaten them both. (One day they'll bring down the Man Without Wings.)

The city is Shinra's empire, the building Shinra's prison tower; Tseng can't know how the building feels to Reeve, who has to stay here, always: Reeve is a man of cities, Reeve loves cities, but not levels or floors or bureaucracy. But Reeve is also an architect: all structures to him are but methods to reach the heights he so desires. At the apex of Shinra's tower is the hand, the lips, the heart that could give Reeve freedom to impa ct this earth, but that man won't, he won't. (One day they'll bring down the Man Without Wings.) Tseng can't know what the building (cage, constraint, depressive evocation of another man's ego) does to Reeve because Tseng has a different freedom, one independent of any structure but the framework of his self. Oh, there's still paperwork for Tseng, yes, the rows and rows of typists clicking away in their tiled and fireproof corridors, but for Reeve paperwork is life and a killer both at once, and each day of paper is a day that schisms his self from his desires. The typists shelter from Reeve and the crazed layers and layers of plans and diagrams he produces with the freedom of his pen: their little cubicles are formed of gendered sanctuary and the safety of knowing each key they press has but one outcome, the letter so obvious upon its face. If all the words of the world should accidentally come together in a way to form offence to human freedoms, well; tain't their fault, guv, tis but the words of the Man Without Wings (wink wink).

Somewhere a train comes in aching on its rails, a rising cry of steel and wheels pent, bound to a single line: Tseng's back! But the train is irrespective of this fact. The sound is just Reeve's reminder that some men can drive themselves, completely off the rails.

Reeve is as powerless as a ghost in this Shinra regime, but even a ghost has late-afternoon desires, the draw of a dream: one of his selves runs through corridors uninhabited by meaning, beneath awkward ceilings inscribed with Shinra's wingless logo, past the traps of common association that would keep him complacent in his grand cushy chair. (How Reeve so wishes he were a braver man, or that Shinra was the god he truly wanted to be: the things an Empire could have done for the world, had it a bent for achievement, not ego.) The walls are immaculate and dumb, but behind them lurks a labyrinth. Reeve has the advantage in this game he must play with Tseng, the hours of association and study of blueprints to find true privacy away from Shinra's multiple eyes; Reeve knows Shinra's tower in the way a child knows his mother's every wrinkle and frown. Tseng has no advantage but he's not far behind, in pursuit: because Tseng is a Turk and adaptable, so this can be a game, a bit of fun, amongst all the orders that must be obeyed out of fear. Tseng's good, Reeve realizes, Reeve is being haunted by that oft-absent man through ducts and service shafts. Reeve lets one of his selves lurk atop a lift that's rising, so sure he is that Tseng is below him - so sure it's surprising when something drops down from above, long fingers closing around his neck -

'Where is Phoenix?' Tseng asks. 'I have word.'

'His office,' Cait pipes, 'where do ye think he lurks and hides all the livelong day? Wolf and Lion might go where they go but the Phoenix is always in his office.'

'The bars of the cage have been long neglected.' (In the dark, Tseng's eyes look like voids.) 'Wolf and Lion are long since dead. Phoenix and the Filer must be reconciled.'

'Aye aye,' cries Cait, 'you know where he is then, but be warned, the Man Without Eagle Wings has eyes.'

'Everyone has eyes,' Tseng replies, and his hands are tight around Reeve's throat, and flexing, and strong; so capable! 'And ears, but they see and hear what they want to. Phoenix, how many of your selves must I destroy before we find a pattern that will make our Joy bloom again? The Filer tells you: a six-foot Blackheaded Snake is rampant in our midst - Phoenix, I'm sorry, but you know this has been for your own protection.'

Tseng crushes the self and Reeve is left reeling, recovery fraught with pain, and he thinks he still feels Tseng's fingers around his throat, implacable. The Shinra tower is tall and complex: Reeve's eyes, flesh-and-blood eyes are open by the time Tseng opens his door.

Wolf and Lion, Zack and the grunt, dead and dead, and Hojo's venom everywhere, too many Caits nearly discovered and Tseng's forced destruction of them (and Reeve felt each one dying, squirming and helpless in bed, at his desk, alone). The reports from Hojo's labs have come all garbled, confused, deceptively tame: Nibelheim is in flames. Something has happened, something vile and monstrous. Aerith is still weeping, in her broken church.

Tseng kisses the palm of Reeve's hand, dangerous, dangerous, eyes in even the most private of offices, but he is here. This is not a game.

'Let them see what they want to see.' Tseng is danger and is dangerous, here, in the flesh. 'My friend died today. I will not let your dream die also.'

'Of what do caged birds dream?' Reeve tries, but control has never been his, even knowledge slipping through his many, many fingers; he wants to fight, and can't. Tseng's arm is around his waist. The only luxury a Turk may keep is in the decadence of his hair. A midnight veil spills across their lips and cheeks, so close this might be, and will become, a kiss. (One day they'll bring down the Man Without Wings.)

'Phoenix dreams of cities,' Tseng replies, 'and the blaze that will turn it all around.'

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