There were two people in the world Tseng had always considered his. His relationship to each of them was similar in function. Each began as an as assignment when they were only children. In fact, he met Rufus and Aerith around the same time, but it was Rufus who had been his first official mission as a Turk.
He'd met Rufus Shinra when the boy was only three years old. Tseng was ten years old, technically too young to be assigned to anything, but playing babysitter to a sheltered child was hardly high risk. It was also Veld's intention that Rufus grow up with Tseng in his life, at first as a companion and later as a bodyguard. Veld wanted the Turk assigned to Rufus to be a constant in the boy's life. The life expectancy for a Turk isn't the longest, so it was best to give someone Rufus young, and so Veld chose a young Turk who had years before he'd face life threatening missions.
Perhaps there was more to the choice than that. Tseng had always been Veld's protege and perhaps even then Veld saw something in Tseng and intended to groom a successor. Perhaps his intention was for the future of the Turks and the future of Shinra to be bound together by lifelong trust and familiarity. If that was the case then being given Rufus Shinra was even more of an honor. It meant that not only did Veld entrust him to eventually be the one to guard the President's son, but to one day become the leader of the Turks themselves.
Long ago in less enlightened times when slavery was still practiced, there had been a practice of raising a slave alongside the Master's children. The slave was to learn loyalty through familiarity and love, and this slave would be a watchdog to the children. Loyal and fiercely protective, always there. This is what Tseng was meant to be for Rufus Shinra.
Tseng had met the President for the first time the day he met Rufus. Veld had advised President Shinra that having a Turk assigned to Rufus one day would be a good security measure and the President had agreed to meet the Turk Veld had in mind. The director introduced Tseng as the one he'd chosen to assign to Rufus.
Tseng held out to hand to shake hands with the President, but he hadn't taken it.
"Tseng, eh?" asked the President. "You're Wutaian?"
Tseng put his hand down, pushing down the pang of embarrassment."I was born and raised in Midgar, sir," said Tseng.
"His mother was an old friend," said Veld. "Tseng has been under my care for years, there's no Turk I'd recommend more highly for this assignment."
"Well, he's a bit young, but then so's Rufus. Children guarding children is it?" asked the President.
"Tseng won't actually be on this assignment for quite some time. Think of him as Rufus's future personal bodyguard," said Veld. "For now, all the matters is to give Rufus someone he can trust, because there may come a time when he will have to trust Tseng with his life."
"Yes, yes, I suppose you're right," he said. "All right, come along, then. I'll let you meet the whelp."
He'd followed alongside Veld as the President led the way to his lavish penthouse. Once inside the President called for his son.
The boy came running bounding out. Duck fluff blonde hair, big blue eyes and a child's carefree grin.
"Daddy!" he cried. Arms extended upwards in the universal sign of a child asking to be picked up.
The President looked down at his son with a mixture of disinterest and annoyance. "Rufus! How many times have I told you not to run in the house?" he barked. The President crossed his arms. "I'll have to have a word with that nanny of yours. See to it she gives you proper discipline."
"Sorry," said Rufus. Wide blue eyes now rimmed with tears he tried to wipe away before anyone could see. Luckily, his father wasn't paying him any attention at the moment but was looking at Tseng.
"Rufus, I want you to meet Tseng," said the President. "One day it'll be his job to look after you."
At that moment Tseng had to fight the urge to pick up the boy and comfort him. As he looked down at Rufus he couldn't help but feel sorry for the young prince. Tseng didn't know much about little kids, but he had met Veld's family. He'd seen the way Veld's daughter, Felicia who was about the same age as Rufus would run to Veld. Veld would scoop her up in his arms and hold her like he would never let go. Tseng didn't know much about children, but he knew enough to know that what Rufus most needed was a hug. He also knew, even then, that it was not his place to comfort the boy.
All he could do was his duty. At that moment he swore that he would protect Rufus Shinra, even if it meant giving his own life. He didn't know what that meant at the time, not really, but never the less Tseng swore himself to his task. It was the first mission he would be given as a Turk, and Tseng knew even then that it would be a lifelong assignment.
The same year he met Aerith, at the time she was just an infant in her mother's arms. Tseng hadn't understood Veld's intentions at the time. Why had Veld introduced him to this woman, Ifalna, who looked at him for a long moment then asked if he wanted to hold the baby. Why had he encouraged Tseng to hold the baby?
Tseng didn't want to hold the baby. Indeed, what Tseng wanted most was to flee the room. When Ifalna looked at him a moment ago it had unsettled him. It was as if the woman had looked through him and seen every inch of his being. As if she knew him better than he knew himself, and had seen his whole life before he'd lived it. He didn't want to meet her eyes anymore. He wanted to back away, but couldn't bring himself to move. So he'd looked anywhere else. His eyes landed on the baby in her arms.
"Do you want to hold her?" asked Ifalna. Her voice was so sweet that Tseng wondered how this woman had unnerved him so. All the same, he shook his head no.
"I couldn't," said Tseng.
"Go on," said Veld.
So Ifalna passed him the baby and showed him how to hold her. Support the head. Then she opened her eyes and looked up at him. Looked into him as much as her mother had.
"This is Aerith," said Ifalna.
The baby's arms flailed upwards as though she were reaching out for him. Tseng gave her his hand and the tiny fist closed around his finger.
Aerith was his second assignment.
"She's a very special girl, I want you to watch over her, Tseng," Veld had said. "That child may be the most important thing the world, not just for Shinra, but for all of us." So Tseng watched her from a distance. Hojo would not allow much access to the child, and it wasn't until years later that they finally spoke.
In many ways Rufus and Aerith were similar assignments. Each a child born to a greater destiny. Each a prisoner in their own way. Aerith, while actually a prisoner, seemed better off than Rufus. Aerith had her mother and seemed happy. Meanwhile, Rufus was ignored by father when he wasn't being scolded. His mother seemed loving enough, but most of Rufus's life was spent in the care of nannies or off at boarding schools designed to build character.
Rufus once confided in Tseng that he hated the places, but of course, Rufus didn't dare say a word of protest. He seemed to take these things as a challenge set out by his father. There was one thing Tseng could say for President Shinra's parenting methods: it encouraged Rufus to rise to any challenge without complaint, a quality that would serve him well.
So it was this Tseng was bound to protect two prisoners who he had no hope of rescuing. After Ifalna and Aerith's escape and Ifalna's resulting death, Tseng realized how complicated his situation truly was. He was not the sort of man to quote Loveless or compare his life to some epic tragedy, but he knew the future would be prove difficult. Aerith was his to watch over and protect, but there would come a day Shinra would order him to bring her back and he would follow orders without question because he was a Turk.
He wondered again then why Veld had pushed for him to get to know Aerith, to care for her. Perhaps, as with Rufus, he hoped the Cetra would come to trust him. Perhaps Veld knew one day Aerith would run away and hoped that eventually Aerith would return to Shinra with Tseng on her own accord. Then again, maybe Veld simply knew Tseng had a strong emotional side, perhaps he thought Tseng had more heart than a Turk should rightly have and thought to use this weakness as a tool. Tseng cared, and so Veld made it so he cared for his charges, for Rufus and for Aerith. Tseng was a good watchdog, because his loyalty was born of love.
Still, at the end of the day Rufus and Aerith were assignments and Tseng was a Turk. When the time came to bring Aerith in Tseng would do so. Tseng had hoped that things would be easier with Rufus because they were on the same side. Tseng was a servant of Shinra and Rufus was heir apparent. Unfortunately, things are never so simple.
Tseng supposed Rufus's betrayal shouldn't have been so surprising. Rufus Shinra was the man his father had raised him to be. In his way, Rufus was still a little boy desperate for his father's attention and approval. Somewhere along the line he decided that the only way to get either was to destroy his father. To defeat his father and prove himself a worthy successor. Somewhere along the line Rufus had given up on the idea that he could earn his father's love and praise and settled for the next best thing. Although Rufus might have other reasons of his own, the President had made many enemies over the years. It wasn't a stretch to believe he could make an enemy out of his own son. This was especially true given the fate of Rufus's late mother.
Killing Tseng along with the rest of the Turks hadn't mattered to Rufus, of course. To him collateral damage mattered as little as the loss of pawns in a game of chess. Rufus was on the verge of adulthood, but in many ways still such a child. So very immature. Tseng hoped that perhaps Rufus might grow as a person while in their custody, as the President had ordered the Turks to keep Rufus confined indefinitely.
Tseng wondered at the time why the President had spared Rufus. The man was many things but merciful was certainly not one of them. At the time there was a part of Tseng that would have loved to kill Rufus for what he'd done, even as there was a part of Tseng that still loved him. Love was a dangerous sort of emotion, like the wax coated fuse on an explosive that stays lit even as you try to snuff it out.
Perhaps the President had spared Rufus because he realized the worst punishment he could give the boy was to simply ignore him.
When Tseng had informed him of the President's decision Rufus had responded by asking, "So I take it my father isn't going to order my death then?"
Rufus Shinra was, for the most part, impossible to read, but Tseng wondered if he was disappointed on some level. If Rufus had been prepared to take the bullet. Tseng could picture Rufus facing him as he drew his gun. Tseng would have ordered him to turn around, and Rufus would have told him he preferred to face his execution and that he wasn't afraid. Rufus would have met his gaze unflinching as he faced the loaded gun. Tseng wasn't sure if he would have been able to carry out that execution. Tseng was furious, he could have easily beaten Rufus within an inch of his life, but kill him? No, Rufus was his and had always been his, or rather Tseng was Rufus's. Tseng was his protector, his mentor, and his constant.
So it was fortunate for Tseng that the President's orders had been no more severe than keeping Rufus confined. There would be difficult choices ahead and one less order he was loath to carry out was all the better. Rufus was punished, of course, Tseng was furious and Rufus needed to learn the meaning of consequence. However, Tseng also meant for him to learn that Tseng was still on his side, even if Rufus had yet to earn forgiveness. The Turks would be his one day, and Tseng hoped Rufus would come to value that fact, and value them. They would be his Turks and he would be their President.
Tseng knew not what Veld intended when he gave Tseng his assignment. He wanted Tseng to bond to Rufus and Rufus to bond to Tseng so that in turn the whole of the Turks could be bound to the one they served. The plan seemed to have gone well when Rufus was younger. Rufus had taken to Reno, and it seemed that if Rufus had had a say in what he did with his life he might have wanted to be a Turk. However, they had lost Rufus along the way, but now his confinement would prove an opportunity to set things right.
The Turks would offer Rufus what he always wanted. Acceptance, approval, and family, in the strange way the department functioned as one. Rufus would have to earn forgiveness, and because of Rufus's action they had nearly lost one of their own which would make things difficult. However, Tseng had faith that things might yet go well with this assignment.
With Aerith, he knew he would not be so lucky. It had never been easy with Aerith.
The first time she spoke to him she had thanked him. It had caught him off guard. She was still a child then, but had living a new life free from Shinra's clutches for years. Tseng had watched her. Tseng would be the one to bring her back one day, and she thanked him.
When Tseng made no reply Aerith had continued. "You're protecting me, aren't you?" She was so innocent. At times, Tseng felt unworthy to be anywhere near Aerith. Tseng was a killer, even back then he'd taken lives and done his share of dirty deeds in Shinra's name, and Aerith didn't deserve to have him darkening her door. Aerith was majesty and light, in her eyes Tseng saw not his own reflection, but all the good things left in the world.
You're the one protecting me, aren't you?
Tseng had told her the truth, he wouldn't let her mistake him for a hero. He was from Shinra. Aerith's features had grown cold then. "I hate Shinra," she'd said before running off. At the time he thought it was right for her to run, because to her Shinra was the enemy, and so was he.
It was all he could ever be to her, and perhaps it would be best to keep that in mind when the time came to take her away. Perhaps when the time came he could act like the monster she'd expect an agent of Shinra to be. If he could do nothing else for Aerith, he could at least meet her expectations. Things didn't have to be as complicated for Aerith as they were for him. She would never have to question how he could do such a thing, he would be evil because what more would she expect from an agent of Shinra.
For now, he'd continue to protect her and delay the inevitable for as long as he possible could. Aerith was his, and he loved her, but could never belong to Aerith the way he belonged to Rufus. Despite the similarity in assignments and in the love he felt for the two people he'd been charged to look after, this was the key difference.