Deceptive Appearances




by nekojita


Tseng made his way to Veld’s office, eager to see the new recruit that had captured his superior’s attention. He hadn’t heard much about the person, just that it was a young man from the Sector Six slums. His fellow Turks had spent the last two days scrambling to dig up as much about the man’s past as possible, and it seemed that Veld had reached a decision.

Knocking on his supervisor’s door, he waited for Veld’s ‘enter’ before he opened it and strode into the room. Veld stood in front of his desk, his attention focused on the large screen in front of him. "Good morning, Tseng."

"Good morning, sir." Tseng bowed his head and then turned to look at the screen as well. What he saw left him confused. "Sir?" he asked as he began to frown. "I thought we were supposed to discuss the new recruit."

"We are." Veld motioned to the screen. "There he is."

Busy folding a sheet of paper into what looked to be a paper plane was someone who could barely be awarded the description as ‘man’. No, ‘child’ would be more appropriate, the person in question barely appearing more than about fifteen years old. He was too thin, a combination of a slender build and what appeared to be a serious case of malnutrition considering his pale skin and how sharp the bones of his wrist, chest and face poked out. If there was any fat on him, Tseng couldn’t see it, and obviously he’d wasted the money that should have been spent on food on ridiculous hair dye instead.

"Sir, with all due respect… is this a joke?" Tseng had to ask, and turned so he could see Veld’s expression.

Not bothering to look away from the screen, Veld shook his head. "No, it’s not." He reached beside him on the desk and picked up a thick folder, which he handed to Tseng. "So far, he’s passed all the requirements."

Tseng began to wonder if this was some sort of test. "He’s a child, sir. I can’t believe that you tested him in the first place. We’re not SOLDIER," he pointed out as he opened the folder. As if to prove his point, the… ‘recruit’ finished folding the paper and aimed it perfectly at the camera that kept watch of him. As the plane bounced off the lens, he stuck his tongue out and leaned back in his chair, his arms folded behind his head.

"He’s old enough," was Veld’s cryptic reply as he picked up his mug of coffee and took a sip.

"If you say so," Tseng replied, certain that the boy had to believe that this was a game of some sort. He’d watched several recruits sit in that room before and wait for a decision, and none of them acted anything remotely like the boy did. As he watched, the ‘recruit’ seemed to sigh and shifted forward, his arms now resting on the table as a pillow for his head. Certainly no one had *ever* pretended to go to sleep. "Sir, I honestly do think this is absurd."

"Read the file," Veld said, a hint of a smile hovering on his lips as he stared at the screen.

Doing as he was told, Tseng spared one more glance at the boy, dressed in a mostly unbuttoned dark blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He shook his head in disbelief and looked at the folder. The top sheet of paper showed the boy’s picture and some of his personal statistics.

"Reno." He noticed there wasn’t a last name and quickly looked at Veld, who didn’t say anything in return. Was the omission of a last name deliberate, a sign that Veld already considered him a Turk? Reading through the boy’s personal history, he suspected that there might be another reason. Reno didn’t seem to have a father; there was no name listed and only a first name for his mother. Considering the research that had gone into the boy’s past for him to have made it this far into the recruitment process, that was a telling sign. Tseng wasn’t the least bit surprised when he read what Reno’s mother had done for a living and had to look back at the picture since all that was visible on the screen was the top of the boy’s head.

Reno was rather pretty, his features and coloring exotic and eye-catching. "Since when do we hire whores?" he asked, growing angrier with each new page of background information. He felt a bit of pity for a child raised by a prostitute in one of the worst slums around but saw no reason why he had to continue with this farce.

"We don’t." Veld sighed and finally looked away from the screen. "I do believe you’re being a bit of a snob, Tseng, and not looking closely enough at what’s before you." The disappointment in Veld’s voice was a harsh reprimand and caused Tseng’s lips to thin for a few seconds.

"I’m sorry, sir, but I fail to see why you are doing this." He motioned with the folder to the screen, at an apparently sleeping Reno. "He’s too young, too uneducated and underfed. He wouldn’t survive a week as a Turk."

"He’s survived for a hell of a lot longer than that on his own, in a slum that we won’t enter unless we’re partnered up." Veld set his coffee mug aside and folded his arms over his chest. "Stop seeing what’s obvious and look deeper, Tseng. I expect more from you."

Stung by the comment, Tseng frowned again and resumed reading the boy’s folder. Once past the information about his mother and early childhood, he was surprised to see that Reno wasn’t a prostitute as he’d expected. At least, not a full-time one. There were several reports of him exchanging oral sex for money, but there was also a note that he’d sent more than one customer to the hospital for- Tseng winced and fought the urge to press his legs together. No, Reno was more known for being a thief and a fighter, and had offended or impressed enough people that they were willing to talk about some of the boy’s crimes. Reading through the interviews, Tseng skipped ahead a few pages to see what the boy had been charged with over the years. He was quite surprised to find no criminal record. That was rather impressive. "What did he do to get your attention?"

"Ah, now you’re asking the right questions." Veld left the desk to pour himself some more coffee from the machine tucked away in a corner, and held up the pot in an offer to Tseng. When Tseng shook his head, he shrugged and poured some only for himself. "How do you think I noticed him?"

Feeling as if this was a test, Tseng carefully flipped through the interviews. "He’s known more for thievery than prostitution, so I’ll assume that’s the answer." At least, he didn’t know of any Turks placed on medical leave so assumed it wasn’t a sexual liaison gone wrong. "Did he try to steal from one of us?"

Veld scoffed and shook his head. "You can do better than that. I wouldn’t waste any time on some kid stupid enough to steal from a Turk."

"It can be argued that it’s courage and not stupidity," Tseng remarked, once again stung by his superior’s disappointment. "I’m sorry, sir, but I’m at a loss."

Looking at Reno once more, Veld actually smiled. "You were close, but he wasn’t stealing from us. He figured out that people tend to not pay much attention when a Turk comes calling on a neighbor, and would sneak into the apartments of any targets once the Turks left to pick it clean. Delia and Thomas found him when they went back for something they’d overlooked and brought him to my attention."

That explained why the two Turks were currently on unpaid suspension, Tseng surmised as he looked at the screen as well. Reno still appeared to be asleep, his face hidden by his arms and bright red hair – which, according to the medical report, was natural. He was beginning to see what had caught Veld’s interest and searched out the boy’s test results.

"His reading comprehension isn’t very good, which can be expected since he didn’t receive much in the way of schooling, but he’s smart." Surprisingly so, Tseng noticed, which explained how he’d managed to come up with the scheme to make money off of the Turks’ targets. The physical results were even more surprising. Reno didn’t have much in the way of strength, a legacy of a slight build and poor nutrition, but his speed and agility was amongst the highest scores Tseng had seen among all the recruits in the last few years. That score should only get higher when Reno received training and a steady, healthy diet.

"So he more than meets the intelligence requirement and looks very promising as a fighter. However, he’s still too young and untrained. Why don’t you wait a few more years, perhaps find him a job in the company and keep an eye on him until then?" The Turks didn’t usually hire anyone so young.

"Because he’ll be dead within a few years if he’s left on his own." Veld took a sip of coffee then rubbed his eyes, as if tired. "He’s attracted the attention of Don Corneo. Look at page twenty-three."

Searching for the page, Tseng felt disgust at mention of the infamous pimp who somehow managed to escape the President’s attention. Many of the Turks would love nothing more than to tear the man’s little ‘empire’ of prostitution and extortion apart but the order never came down. That was suspicious in and of itself, and yet another reason why Veld would be interested in the boy. Finding the correct page, Tseng had his suspicions confirmed. While not beautiful, Reno was pretty and exotic enough to attract attention, and possessed an attitude that would be very attractive for some of Don Corneo’s more… unsavory customers to attempt to break. It seemed that the pimp had realized that and had orders for Reno to be brought in. "Is this some attempt to strike back at Don Corneo?"

Veld snorted and looked at Tseng. "I wouldn’t put so much effort into hiring him if that’s all this was about. No, I just consider it a very good reason why Reno will accept our offer. As you noticed, he’s not stupid and he’s well aware of the odds of surviving on his own. That’s the only reason he’s willingly here." He smiled again, clearly amused by something.

Unsure if it was himself or Reno who was responsible for that emotion, Tseng resumed reading through the folder. Reno’s personality tests had produced some… very interesting and disturbing results. "He has a problem with authority and obeying orders. That is not a good sign, sir. Why don’t you just send him to the SOLDIER program? They’ll have no problem with his age and might be able to teach him some discipline."

"Ah, you’re the eternal optimist, Tseng," Veld remarked, so straight faced that Tseng was left to wonder if he had been insulted or teased. "He’d fail the program in a matter of weeks."

"Then why are you insisting that he become a Turk?" Tseng set the folder aside and stepped forward to stand between the screen and Veld. "Please, sir, explain it to me since I’m so lacking in understanding." He greatly respected his supervisor but today, Veld left him confused and feeling slighted.

Veld looked directly at him, all traces of amusement gone from his demeanor. "I want him because he’s smart, determined and has potential. *Think*, Tseng. He’s survived on his own for several years, doing whatever was necessary but never taking the easy way out, not entirely. He clearly has some pride, and he’s tough enough to stay away from the gangs that would just use him. Think of what he could bring to the Turks."

Tseng wanted to remark that Reno would probably bring along an assortment of venereal diseases but he’d proven clean on that front. Trying to get past the boy’s young age and past, Tseng sought after the answer that Veld wanted.

The boy clearly had enough sense and dignity to not follow his mother’s footsteps, though he wasn’t above selling himself from time to time. Instead of seeing that as a possible cause of shame, Tseng focused on his reputation for not taking any abuse from his customers. Also, it was clear that Reno preferred to steal, swindle or outright take by force whatever he wanted or needed. Considering he was small enough that a strong wind would blow him over, Reno must be pretty good at fighting. No formal training but instinct, speed and intelligence, something that couldn’t be taught. "I still think it would be best to wait a few more years, sir. As I said, give him a job elsewhere and wait until he’s a little older."

"You think he’ll settle for a regular job?" Veld scoffed as he picked up the folder and began to flip through its pages. "Besides, I don’t want to give him time to pick up any bad habits. No, I’ll hire him now."

Tseng felt the signs of an eminent headache and pinched the bridge of his nose. "He can barely read and he has no respect for authority. By all means, don’t let him learn either of those things before you give him a weapon and unleash him on Midgar." He was appalled when he realized that he’d spoken aloud, but all Veld did was chuckle.

"He’s smart enough that a little bit of tutoring will fix the reading problem, and he’s never going to respect someone who sits behind a desk all day. He knows very well what it means to be a Turk, considering what he’s been up to for the last couple of months, and I doubt he’ll have any problems following orders." Veld’s smile faded just then and he grimaced. "Well, no problem following orders that interest him. But he’ll learn. There have been quite a few Turks like him in the past – give him something to respect and he will. That will be us, the Turks. The rest of the world can go to hell for all he cares, but not the Turks, not once he’s one of us."

Realizing that this was a conversation that would never be repeated or mentioned again, Tseng slowly turned away from Veld to check on Reno. The boy was either asleep or faking it very well, his position unchanged in the last several minutes. Staring at him with a critical eye, Tseng still felt that Reno was too young, which was odd when he would be accepted into the SOLDIER program without any hesitation. But that was merely a physical limitation and would soon be corrected. To be able to survive on his own in the slums meant that he wasn’t much of a child, if he’d ever been one at all.

No, time would age Reno soon enough, as would the job. Decent meals would put on some weight and training would develop that new mass into needed muscles. Tseng doubted that Reno would ever be very strong, but the promise of speed more than made up for that. Speed and cleverness should never be underestimated, and he had a feeling that many people would learn that fact the hard way.

So the Turks would have a new member, one intelligent if not well educated, fast if not strong, experienced if not aged. They would have someone who would be loyal to them and not ShinRa Electrical Company, if Tseng understood what Veld was trying to say. Considering Heidegger’s attempts to take control of the Turks away from Veld and the President’s seeming indifference to their organization, that would be very important in the years to come. Rufus was much too young to take over ShinRa, even if he was similar to Reno in regards to being older than his actual age.

"Please don’t tell me that he’s my new partner," Tseng pleaded.

Exchanging the folder for his mug, Veld smiled. "No, you’re not who I have in mind for that ‘honor’." He paused for a drink then shook his head. "Who do you think should be stuck with him?"

Seeing this as a chance to redeem himself, Tseng gave the question some serious thought. He rejected several names before he settled on a person who he best thought would match Reno’s weaknesses and felt another stab of pity. "I thought you liked Rude, sir."

Veld chuckled into his coffee mug. "Very good. He should have the patience to train Reno and the stubbornness to not let the kid walk all over him."

"I request that I *not* be the one to break the news to him, sir." Tseng said in an attempt to do some joking of his own, but entirely serious as well. He didn’t want Rude to hold this against him for the rest of their careers.

"Very well, I shall have the honor… which means you get to tell Reno that he has a new job." For a moment there was a flash of ruthlessness that made most people treat Veld with wary respect. "Your misgivings aside, he’s a Turk now and will be treated appropriately. Get him a uniform and situated in his new quarters." He handed over a new folder, one that contained various identification cards and information about the boy’s salary and new home. "Don’t give him any shit and make him think that he can do better on his own."

"Yes, sir," Tseng said with an aggrieved sigh. "I’ll respect your choice but I still fail to see what good he’ll be for the Turks."

In the process of sitting behind his desk, Veld paused to stare intently at Tseng, an unreadable expression on his face. "It’s rather odd to hear you say that, when I was repeatedly questioned about the wisdom of hiring a Wutian." Done speaking, he looked down at his laptop and seemed to utterly forget about Tseng’s presence.

Recognizing the dismissal, Tseng bowed his head again and quietly left the room. He knew that people hadn’t been happy when he’d joined the Turks and his first year in the organization hadn’t been… pleasant. But Veld had always supported him.

And now Veld had decided to support some brat from the slums, and Tseng was finally learning to not question that decision. First and foremost, Veld looked after the Turks, made sure that they avoided most of the ShinRa power struggles and abuses. The work they did was unpleasant but necessary, and Veld never treated them as if they were a bunch of thugs skulking in the shadows. The SOLDIERS might get all the attention and respect, but the Turks were just as valuable to ShinRa. Rufus understood that, even if his father didn’t.

Tseng didn’t bother to knock when he reached the recruiting room. As soon as the door closed behind him, Reno bolted upright in his chair, his eyes blinking furiously as he turned to face Tseng. "Eh, you’re new," Reno drawled as if he was still groggy, but his aquamarine eyes easily tracked Tseng’s movements.

In person, Reno had a… hardness to his face that made his exact age rather difficult to tell, and there was a wiriness to his slender body that gave Tseng hope that he’d be able to survive the upcoming physical training. "I’m Tseng," he said and bowed the slightest bit. "Veld sent me to welcome you into the Turks."

"Huh, hadn’t told tha old man I’d join up yet, ya know?" Reno said, but Tseng noticed that he’d relaxed slightly at the mention of Veld’s name. "Jus’ figured it couldn’ hurt ta crash someplace new for awhile." He shrugged as if it wasn’t a big deal to be accepted into the Turks.

"I’m sorry, but Veld is under the impression that you’d already agreed." Tseng sat down across the table from Reno and closely studied the boy – no, young man, for a few seconds. The dark blue shirt wasn’t cheap and was clean, even if it was terribly wrinkled and the sleeves rolled up. Beneath it was a worn but equally clean white t-shirt. Reno would have to learn to dress better but he at least had some concern for personal hygiene. Getting the impression that the b- the young man would be one contradiction after another, Tseng slid the piece of paper with the salary amount on it across the table. "And I’m certain that Don Corneo’s men haven’t given up after just two days."

Reno scoffed as his hand crept toward the paper, his eyes narrowed as he stared at Tseng. "Been avoidin’ ‘em for longer than two days."

"For three months, according to your dossier. That’s very impressive." Tseng did his best to get the point across that they knew everything about Reno while not being either too heavy-handed or condescending. "However, the odds are against you. One person can not stand against several dozen for too long."

"So I should join tha Turks, yeah?" Reno wrinkled his nose and stuck out his tongue as he picked up the paper. The derisive expression faded when he read the numbers, his demeanor going carefully blank. "This alla I get for bustin' heads?" he asked, his tone bored but his entire body having gone perfectly still, as if expecting some sort of attack.

Tseng slid another piece of paper across the table. "That and benefits as well as free room and board." He kept the comment about how much Reno could earn in a month as a prostitute to himself since he got the impression that pushing too far would just make Reno walk out the door to spite him.

Reno read that piece of paper as well, pausing in certain places longer than others. He was quiet for several minutes and then he slapped the paper down on the table with enough speed and force that Tseng actually twitched. "Eh, I’m sure ya guys’ll figure outta way ta screw me over somehow, but that’s life." He grinned at Tseng, his expression so amused and carefree that Tseng felt the urge to smile as well. "Where do I sign away my soul?"

For a moment, Tseng couldn’t believe that it was that easy. Then he thought about Reno’s circumstances, of having to go back below the Plates and all the problems there that awaited him and felt some hope that the boy had some common sense after all. "Pardon me, but you do understand that you can’t change your mind, don’t you?" He was certain that Veld would make clear what Reno’s duties as a Turk would entail so didn’t bother to ask about that.

The look Reno gave him had nothing at all about youth to it, but was one of weariness and resignation. "Doubt I’ll get tha money ta get out of Midgar now that you guys figured out wha' I was doin’. It’s you or Don Corneo, which is a fuckin' choice a' least."

Tseng wondered about the formal recruitment steps that Veld had taken and if his supervisor hadn’t done it deliberately to box Reno into a corner. They had been waived from time to time if a candidate was believed to be promising enough. He also wondered if Reno had only recently come to Veld’s attention. The Head of the Turks was known to do whatever was necessary to get what he wanted. "I’m not sure that’s a rather flattering way to look at your new employment," Tseng remarked as he put the contract in front of Reno.

"Yeah, well who wants ta have ta work for a livin’? I’d rather jus' get rich an' spend all damn day in bed," Reno muttered as he looked over the contract, his lips moving silently from time to time. "At leas' this’ll be fun."

"I believe the proper word is ‘interesting’," Tseng informed his newest co-worker once the contract was signed, and came to a sudden decision. "Besides your duties, you’re to spend an hour a day with me as we work on your diction and reading comprehension." He wouldn’t allow the Turks to be shamed by their latest recruit, and Reno would have an easier time being accepted in the company if it wasn’t so obvious that he was from below-Plate.

Reno frowned and opened his mouth as if to say something, but closed it a moment later and glared instead. Tseng felt a spark of hope that Reno was indeed teachable and would know when to behave. "Very well, let’s get you settled into your new quarters." He rose from the table and motioned for Reno to follow him.

"Ya gonna try ta teach me how ta walk, too? Make sure I can use a fork an' know ta wipe my ass?"

So much for hoping that Reno would know when to behave, Tseng thought as he felt his headache grow stronger. At least he would mostly be Veld and Rude’s problem from now on, he assured himself.


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