The sky burned for four days, all a vivid green, all eight reactors flaring in a brilliant mass of mako and smoke. Midgar was dying.
She shook her head. Midgar wasn't dying anymore than she was, and she was decidedly not dying. Death didn't hurt this badly. (Hopefully.) She dragged another sheet of metal over to the truck, blinking when a pair of gloved hands gently worked her own fingers loose of it.
"Time to switch off," Rude told her easily, his voice a little gravelly as he nudged her toward the truck. Tseng was already leaning against it, and Reno was propped up on the truck beside him, eyes flashing as he said something -- for once, he was speaking too lowly for Elena to hear. He'd learned to do that only after Tseng came back, she decided. Only after they'd been so damn sure they'd lost him, after she'd thought...
Tseng's head lifted and he caught her gaze. He tilted his head toward the truck. She was too tired to argue, so she nodded and jogged over to him. Reno was the one who wiped her face with a rag -- bastard probably smeared oil or grease or who knew what else all over her -- and he was the one who tilted her head into the light, his gaze narrowing as he studied her. Finally, he fished out a handkerchief -- part of her marveled for that he had a handkerchief in his pocket -- and put it over her nose. "Blow," he told her, like she was some kind of child for him to take care of. She didn't argue with him.
Then he'd strolled off, moving to help Rude with the sheet of metal, and Elena watched as they uncovered more bodies. Reno was the one who started rifling through their pockets, pulling out IDs. Their families would want to know. Rude, after Reno had moved through them, began the process of actually loading the bodies to be buried in the graves that Reeve was organizing the digging of. A hand landed on her shoulder, and Tseng steered her toward the truck.
She fell into the passenger seat, her eyes closing for a minute as he cranked it, and then they were driving back to Edge. They had four vehicles so far, and not enough mako cells to run more than two at a time. Elena would be glad when Reeve finally perfected the fuel alternatives he was working with Cid on, because then she wouldn't have her attention torn between trying to sleep and trying to focus on the gear in the back, the salvageable pieces that they'd loaded up as she and Tseng had worked earlier. She would be even gladder when this was over, when there were no more bodies to bury.
She must have dozed in the car, because she woke to Tseng's hands on her, one arm sliding under her legs as he pulled her from the truck's cab.
"I can--" she started, but he just shushed her, and he was pulling her in close to him, cradling her against his chest like she was some kind of child. For once, she didn't mind.
He didn't let her go until they were in the house, until he could lower her on the couch and she made a slight noise as she worked on getting her shoes off. He took them from her and set them by the door, where his own went, and she blinked against the light, trying to make herself focus. Her head lolled against the couch, and she looked out the window toward Midgar. All ablaze with green and with black, and she lifted a hand to push her hair back from her face. She could still smell the mako on their clothes, tangerines and grease, what Reeve always smelled like. All of Midgar smelled like it now.
She had never hated the smell before now.
The couch dipped, and then Tseng was sitting beside her, and his arm stretched out over the back of it behind her. She glanced up at him, but he wasn't looking at her, wasn't even looking out the window. Instead, his attention was on the TV sitting across the room. He didn't turn it on, but then, he didn't have to. They both knew what the reports would be about: Edge. They'd be about Edge, about how many people had been packed into its city limits, how many people were sleeping on floors, in unfinished buildings, how many children were still trekking daily back and forth between Edge and Midgar just to drag out what little peices of salvageable materials they could.
(Tseng hadn't unloaded the truck. There was no telling if anything would even be left when they finally did go out there to do it. If pressed, she'd admit that it might be the point.)
So they didn't turn on the TV, didn't turn on the radio. They just sat together, Elena half asleep in the sunlight, Tseng's arm a warm and steady presence behind her shoulders even if he didn't touch her. It was what they had left.
She wouldn't have traded it for anything.