Tonight, appearing live, the one and only Rude.
In the city of Junon, once upon a time, there was an organization known as the Turks. The Turks were known for a long of things - extortion, assassinations, murders, racketeering - you name it, they had a finger in it. They were the enforcers, Shinra's hired thugs, and you didn't fuck around with them when they came into your bar. Whatever they told you to do you did with a smile and a handshake, those were the rules.
Still, when the Turk known as Rude handed the owner of the Upper Junon Bar a roll of twenties and told him to keep his mouth shut about what the bald-headed man was about to do there, the old man couldn't help but show a little surprise. Who knew that the Turks had added incognito blues playing to their repertoire of sins?
There were two things Rude loved in life: his friends, and the blues. Whether it was this love that spurred him to take up playing in the seedy nightclub after work or something else, only he knew for sure. One way or the other, it had become a habit, and habits, once formed, are notoriously hard to break. Playing the blues wasn't just a hobby now, it was a way of life.
The blues wasn't something you learned, it was something you felt/. Emotions that started way down in your stomach and worked their way up to your fingertips, where they were given sound and form and energy - /that was what the blues were. Rude took all those raw feelings, all the guilt of the hired killer and all the anger, and he channelled them into his guitar. People in the smoky little club wondered who in the hell the tall, dark-complexioned man in the battered fedora and sunglasses was, and what had inspired him to play with such a passion. Failing to understand his motivations, they were content to merely enjoy the music he made.
No-one, not even his closest friends in the Turks, knew Rude could play guitar. The only folks who knew were long dead, buried in the boneyard of a town destroyed and deserted eight years hence. There was nothing wrong with playing an instrument (as far as Rude knew that wasn't against Shinra protocol, at least), he just preferred to keep the information to himself as he did a lot of things. Besides, Reno probably would have laughed, and then Rude would have been forced to beat the shit out of him. As usual.
There wasn't much of a crowd on this particular night - whether the light rain falling had kept them away or something else Rude couldn't say. He was kinda glad for the slow evening; the Turks had been involved in a rather messy hit earlier in the day and it weighed heavily on his mind. The bar and surrounding area were lit by their customary blue glow, cerulean light glinting off the uncounted bottles sitting in their snug rows behind the countertop and Rude's guitar in equal degrees. Between the low light and the smoke you could barely see a hand waved two inches in front of your face, but that's exactly how the big man liked it. The less light, the less chance someone was going to recognize him, not to mention less chance of anyone approaching the stage and trying to chat afterwards.
He picked up his instrument and began to play, taking hold of all his feelings and memories like you took hold of a yam you wanted to pull out of the ground. Music flooded out and filled the hazy dive, the keen wail of the slide conjuring up a happier time and place in Rude's mind. Fond recollections they were, of another guitar being plucked on a sunny front porch, held securely and capably in the leathery hands of a wizened old man. There may have been a boy there too, sitting in thrall at the bluesman's knee, but Rude didn't remember that. All he recalled was the whine of the guitar, the face of his grandfather, and the taste of iced tea on a summer evening long ago.
By the time Rude finally finished and came back to his present self there was quite a crowd gathered, twice as many as there had been when he had started playing. A smattering of impressed applause broke out and Rude nodded politely, then stood and left the stage, carefully placing his guitar back into its black case and shutting the latches with a professional snap. So busy was he with the task at hand the Turk never noticed his visitor until she stood right behind him, standing but a few feet away with an expectant smile.
"I didn't even know you owned one of those things, Rude. Do you play here often?"
Rude froze. Oh /shit/. He turned slowly from the guitar case and came face to face with none other than Elena, grinning broadly and without a hint of malice. She seemed genuinely happy to see him here, if not a little surprised. /I am so fucked/.
"... Yeah. I play sometimes. Only a little, though."
"Only a /little/?" Elena laughed, incredulous. "Only a /little/! I may be blonde, Rude, but I'm not stupid, y' know. I heard you up there just now, and don't think I haven't heard of the mysterious bluesman of Junon before. Dude, I can't believe it's /you/! You're Cueball Jefferson!" She gave a little squeal of excitement and several people glanced at the pair curiously.
Rude briefly weighed the pros and cons of calling her out on her use of the word 'dude' but instead chose to suddenly grab the petite blonde by the shoulder, dragging her as discreetly as he could to a corner booth of the bar. He glanced nervously left and right, pushed his old black fedora down tighter onto his head, and with a sigh addressed Elena's eagerly beaming face across the table. If he didn't calm her down every fucking person in the room was gonna know who the hell they were, that was becoming apparent by the minute.
"Yeah. I'm Cueball. Never meant for it to get this big, it just kinda did." The big Turk heaved another sigh and continued, looking both acutely annoyed and embarrassed at the same time. "Look, Elena, I know this is a lot to ask, but could you not tell anyone about this? Reno finds out, we won't have peace for a fuckin' decade, you know that." He shot a pleading glance at his companion, praying to all the gods he could remember that she was in a good mood tonight.
Luck was with him; Elena's face fell into as serious an expression as it could muster and she nodded her head furiously, eager to alleviate Rude's fears. "Yeah, I thought there had to be some reason you hadn't told any of us, but ... man, Cueball Jefferson? I came here just to see you play! I mean, not you you but you know what I mean, right?" She leaned across the table, eyes aglow with worshipful fervour. "Gawd Rude, where on earth did you learn to play like that? You're really amazing."
A beat. "Someone taught me, long time ago. My granddad. You think I'm good, you should've heard him play." Warming to his subject, Rude smiled slightly and after a long pause continued, chin rested on interlaced fingers as he remembered. "Old man could pick and grin so fast you'd swear smoke was going to start coming off the strings. Taught me everything I know." The smile faded, disappeared. "He's been dead for years now, but I'll never forget him."
The two of them sat together silently before Elena reached out a comforting hand and patted Rude on the arm, causing the shy man to flinch back in surprise. Rude had always been the silent enforcer of the group and any information into his past was intriguing, but she couldn't just sit there quietly without doing anything when he looked so sad. "You're lucky to have had him, sounds like. And you're so lucky to have musical talent! In the orphanage where I grew up they gave us instruments to play with, but I was never any good at that kind of stuff." She made a face to emphasize her point. "Like, they gave me a violin to learn and play, but how in the heck are you supposed to learn without a teacher when you're as airheaded as me, huh? Silly." A crooked, sheepish smile was shot in Rude's direction. "Anyway, you're a lucky guy. And I'd say your grandpa was lucky to have a student like you as well."
Their eyes locked from across the booth. Something passed between them; time ground to a halt as the pair stared at one another, each seeing the other in an entirely new light for the first time. The rest of the bar ceased to exist, shut out of this sudden private world they had created. There had been tension before, yes, but never like this ...
Then somewhere in the back a waiter dropped a stack of plates and once again the planet spun on its axis, leaving two slightly embarrassed Turks in the dust to catch up. Elena hastily excused herself and stood to take her leave, muttering something about getting home before ten, and Rude, blushing ever so slightly through his dark skin, nodded assent.
Just as she was about to step away, Rude reached out and grabbed her sleeve. He was still blushing furiously but seemed to have mastered his shyness for the moment; how long this boldness would last was anyone's guess. "Uh, Elena? You wanna come back here sometime next week? Maybe get a drink after work? I play here a lot, and ..."
Elena gave him a brilliant smile.
"I'd love to, Rude," she said gently, putting her hand on his shoulder. "And hey, if you're lucky I won't even bring Reno along."
The two chuckled at this and immediately the tension broke, splintered into harmlessness by the power of humor. Elena waved a final goodbye and disappeared into the darkness of the smoke-filled bar, leaving Rude to nurse his thoughts by himself. A bemused smile crept across his face.
No-one ever visited the dusty remains of Coral without either a bodyguard or a good will drawn up first. Lives had been lived here and bodies buried, long before it was turned into a prison and the earth went to ruin, but few remembered or dared to visit the place anymore. The dead stayed dead, and the living continued on as best they could.
There wasn't a soul alive in the prison grounds who wanted to tangle with a Turk though, and so when Rude strode down the sandy streets of his old hometown with a guitar-case in one hand he went unmolested by convict or monster. He could sense the eyes on him from every boarded-up window and porch, but he really could have cared less what the fuck they thought about him. Rude was on a mission.
Seeing the place where he had grown up in such a state of disrepair was painful. Once the streets had rung with the barking of dogs and the giggling of children; Rude could almost smell the tobacco smoke from the old men's pipes, the faint aroma of his mother's apple pie wafting from a demolished windowsill of long ago. He had been wild and happy and carefree in those days, concerned with nothing more than running barefoot with a bamboo fishing pole in one hand and a handful of blackberries in the other. But time never stopped for anyone, and what was done was done. Rude pulled his hat down further to block the glare of the sun and continued onwards towards what had once been the edge of town, looking neither left nor right but straight ahead.
The headstones of the cemetery lay untouched, the superstition of the prisoners having protected the place from vandalism for years uncounted. Rude slowed, removed his hat, and when he had found the grave he was looking for halted, clutching the case tightly in his right hand. Carefully he sat it onto the ground, the sound of the rusty latches snapping open echoing through the church-quiet of the little graveyard. When his guitar was removed from within Rude clamped the case shut, using it as a makeshift stool to sit on while he balanced the little acoustic twelve-string on his knee. He stared at the headstone for some time before speaking, the slightest hint of a quaver colouring the big man's voice. A faint sheen of sweat was already breaking out all over his bald pate.
"Hey Granddad. 'S me, Rudie. Sorry I haven't been out to see you much, but I've been kinda busy since the last time we talked." Rude bit his lip and wiped the sweat running into his eyes with the back of one hand before continuing. "I dunno if you'd like what I'm doing for a living now, but I try to be a good man for you. I won't forget what you taught me, no sir. See, I even remember what you taught me about playin'. Wanna hear?"
His finger slipped inside the slide, and once again Rude played the blues for a packed audience.