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Gravedigging

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Turks did a lot of grave digging.

It was only natural, considering. The job usually was delegated first on rank and secondly on convenience. Solo missions required the Turk to do it all. Duets were often the easiest, and usually involved a coin toss.

But Veld had been sent alone and left with a scientist. Who, for all his work to create the corpse, was less than inclined to take care of the mess. The young Turk hated escort missions as it was. At least the elder scientist was giving a lecture in Cosmo and he only had to baby-sit Hojo.

"I was gone for five minutes. Where did this come from again?"

"Oh calm down, Veld. It's just a dead body. You should be used to them by now."

He didn't want to remind him that he'd been working for over five years when his skinny ass was hired. And that technically four years of employment no longer afforded him some slack. But that wasn't his department, and he was just barely a team leader himself. So he just glared.

"That doesn't matter. What matters is that I turn my back for five minutes and you decided to play doctor."

"I am a doctor."

Veld briefly considered hitting him over the head with the shovel they'd found and adding him to the nameless grave in the middle of this pseudo desert, but he liked his job. And he really didn't want to have to talk to Dr. Gast at all. Which killing his assistant would make him do.

The soil around Cosmo was surprisingly heavy. Like clay. Dry clay. He dug in silence while Hojo inspected parts of the corpse and made notes. Veld pretended he wasn't trying to read them, but he did notice that Hojo used mirror writing and Wutain. He could read it if not for the damned backwards characters.

"You want to know what I'm working on, don't you?"

It was always twilight here.

"I'd like you to help dig, but you'd get your lab coat dirty."

"It's a present, actually."

Red twilight. Even at noon it felt like it. But the heat... the heat was always there.

"For who?"

As much as he disliked Valentine, he almost missed having him around as a buffer for times like these. Hojo judged reactions and speech patterns in a way that made him uncomfortable sometimes. Though, he had figured out that compared to how Hojo treated the other Turks, he was getting off light. Veld supposed it was all about first impressions.

The scientist brushed aside a single hair that had fallen into his face and smirked.

"For a girl."

Veld tried his best to contain the shock, because Hojo had always seemed dedicatedly asexual and detached from humanity. As much as he didn't want to admit it, he aspired to that sort of stature, the kind that made people leave him alone unless he needed something work or intellectually related.

"The new one, isn't it?"

What made Veld good at his job was a checklist of everyone in the company, notes that he kept in his desk. He had to write it all down lest he forget. He'd seen the new intern before, and quite frankly, he didn't understand the fuss. The men were tripping all over themselves around her, as if she were some kind of demigoddess of science. It was just a woman.

It was mildly disappointing that Hojo was counted in their number.

Hojo scribbled something else. "Oh don't give me that sort of look. I'm not some drooling caveman. While she does have nice breeding hips it's not that sort of thing."

He did that on purpose. Punk.

"Her thesis was on heart failure, if you're so curious. This man died of a heart attack; I didn't poke him or anything. I was just studying the effects of dust."

"Dust."

"We're all ashes and dust, Veld. But you've read that already, haven't you?"

That game. The 'let's see how smart he thinks he is' game. Veld didn't widely advertise the correspondence courses or the amount of books in his apartment because he wasn't expected to be intelligent. Just clever.

"Why are you doing this for some random lab technician, then?"

Hojo allowed him the subject change. "Lucrecia is hardly a random tech. Her faculty advisor was Dr. Grimoire Valentine. I'm glad to have someone... progressive on the team."

He didn't like the way he said 'progressive'. Then again, he didn't like anything out here, in the middle of a foreign place that he'd never cared for. Planet studies was a bunch of rubbish. If the Planet really was 'listening' then history would have looked very different.

The body made a slight thud as he tossed it in.

"Why are you afraid of women?"

"Why are you asking so many questions, Hojo?"

"I'm bored. Gast is communing with the dolts in the Canyon and I'm stuck outside in the desert with a corpse and a Turk."

"Then talk to the corpse."

He peered over his glasses into the grave.

"Mr. Body, can you tell me why this frightfully boring young man is afraid of women? No? Well, Veld, he's less of a conversationalist than you are."

"If you are so bored, I know a cantina a short walk from here. No naturalists."

Hojo's smile was something in-between a leer and a smirk and a frown and Veld really didn't like it. But he was piling dirt on the man's little science experiment and he desperately wanted to be in the company of people that were slightly less shady.

Besides, he could use a drink.

"Well, you're useful for something."

---

"I still don't get it."

Veld was waiting on Ifalna, though he was pretending that he wasn't. Hojo looked tired, and a little malnourished, but that was his fault, considering the lovely woman that made food for these marooned scientists. He wasn't technically supposed to be here, but considering the general escapist attitude surrounding the Jenova Project, they wouldn't notice his presence.

Hell, even one of his own kids didn't notice how often his visited these mountains.

It took him a minute or two to realize that Hojo was speaking to him. He was losing focus so much these days. Thankfully no one in the company had noticed. It was the make it or break it time for him, with the possibility of becoming Chief so close. And he was still fairly young.

"Get what?"

Ifalna always insisted he wait in the kitchen. Sometimes they stayed there and played cards and he talked about nothing of significance. He didn't see Hojo much, because that's where he and his wife--he still found it ironic that the scientist had married that woman--usually dwelled. And Gast.

"Why you're afraid of women."

"I'm not afraid of women, ask Ifalna."

Hojo blinked, and then smirked. "Surely you know that she's more special than that."

"Do you tell your wife that?"

Having planted the barb for today, Veld leaned back against the countertop. Part of him didn't want to admit that he missed older conversations. Ifalna was pleasant enough, and maybe he did feel some affection for her, but the rookies around him respected him too much to argue. And since Valentine didn't seem particularly inclined to call him, there was no one to yell at either.

Veld was lacking mental stimulation.

"I take it middle management suits you even less than grave digging did."

"I'm bored out of my skull."

"I could make that literal."

"You'd no sooner experiment on me than I would shoot you, and we both know that."

There were exceptions to the rivalry, naturally. Veld was quite sure he would exact very painful revenge on the scientist should anything happen to what he valued. Even if he wouldn't admit that he valued them.

"You're not insinuating that we're friends or something, are you? Because I have some acid over there and you look like you could use a scar."

"Oh god no. But you're most likely to be heading the department when Gast retires, and I'm most likely to be heading the department when Tally does, so this is really a matter of job security."

Hojo munched on his sprout sandwich, and Veld had to admit it was the strangest looking sandwich he'd ever seen. And considering how long he spent noticing this, he had to wonder just how completely bored he was.

But Ifalna appeared.

"I didn't think you'd be visiting this month!"

"It's been slow at work, how have you been?"

"Hojo, chew with your mouth closed. I've been fine."

They didn't acknowledge each other's presence after that. And Ifalna chattered in between the both of them, and maybe they were both vying for her attention in their own ways.

But she led Veld out of the kitchen by his elbow, and Hojo went back to his work and it didn't really matter anymore anyway.

---

"This is my box, and that is your box, and if you dare get into my personal space I will shoot you, you son of a bitch."

"Bitterness doesn't suit you, Veld."

The sunset was cold in Nibelheim. The charred remains of the town gave it an even sharper edge, and for the first time in over twenty years, Veld was digging graves. He'd told the President himself that he would see to this cover-up, and possibly just to annoy him, Hojo had been hanging around. He had just made a comment about his greying hair when his temper had been set off.

"Are you going to help or are you going to hover?"

"Hover. We've both been so busy, and isn't it interesting to talk to someone around your age for once?"

"False nostalgia doesn't suit you, Hojo."

He didn't want to think about nostalgia. Because that was false hope and false happiness, really. Like he'd ever honestly been pleased with the world around him. Veld had settled into a muddled sort of anti-depression; he refused to recognize that he had regret, so he simply was ill-tempered and demanding.

"While we're on the subject of nostalgia, how's your investigation going?"

Like so many years ago, he had the urge to hit Hojo over the head with a shovel and leave him in this nameless grave. And maybe bludgeon him a little extra out of spite. Wipe the smirk off his face in a literal fashion.

"Oh, well, it's halted. So have you raised that bint of a wife of yours from the dead?"

"Lucrecia wasn't--"

"You know that's what I never understood about you. Her. She was pretty smart, had legs, wore inappropriate lab clothing. But she was hardly anything special. You were a tool, Hojo. I thought you were more intelligent than to be that."

"You're hardly one to call me a tool."

"Takes one to know one."

"Considering some of the beds you frequented, I think you can hardly speak for my marriage."

He dropped the shovel. He fisted his hands at his sides and they almost stared each other down. Almost. Because it was a known fact that Veld never made eye contact with Hojo.

"It would have been much simpler, you know."

"What would have been? Stop it with the euphemistic Turk speak."

"Do you remember when it was only the job? When..."

But he stopped. No, there was no rewriting mistakes. As much as he wanted to.

"The job was only a setting, Veld."

He picked up his shovel, then. He wasn't angry, he wasn't sad. He wasn't tired. He wanted to know the value of silence, because he'd always taken it for granted. He wanted to keep the distance, because it was comforting.

He was becoming a nihilistic and bitter old man.

"You always walk away, don't you? Bury the corpse, and walk away."

But Hojo was the one who talked to corpses.