Chapter Six

The other thing that always perplexed Reno was why it was, if family was so important, that every time he thought he'd found one--people who loved him; somewhere to belong--something always happened to screw it all up.

It took all of the fingers of one hand to count how many "families" he'd had through his life to now. First, his blood family. Then, the orphanage. Then, Rude and his Ma. Then...the others.

But, when all was said and done, it didn't matter, did it?

'Cos in the end, you always die alone, no matter how many people profess to love you.


"Cold enough for you?" Rude said.

"Frickin' freezing," Reno said with his mouth full. "So when's Felice back?"

"She didn't say exactly," Rude said, watching Reno eat with a slightly sick look on his face, his fork hovering over his plate. "It'll fill you up more if you let it touch the sides on the way down, ya know."

"You're chatty today."

"Do you even know what it is you're eating?"

"Do I care?" Reno frowned momentarily. "Where'd she go?"

"She didn't tell me."


"She doesn't tell us everything, Reno."

"I know that. But it's not really like her to be so secretive. You'd figure she'd at least mention how long she'll be gone for."

Rude snorted. "Are you kidding me? She's been secretive all my life."

"Yeah? What about?"

Rude just looked at him steadily.

"Right. I see your point," Reno said. If Felice told Rude "what about", Rude wouldn't think she was secretive. "My brain's not working today."

"And that's new, how?" Rude said with a grin.

"Bite me." Reno shoved another mouthful into his mouth, chewed twice and swallowed. "And pancakes. Again. See, I do know what I'm eating."

"Yeah, but you cheated. You looked at the plate."

"I don't need to. It's the only bloody thing you know how to cook."

"No one's stopping you from trying something different."

"True enough." Reno took his now empty plate to the sink. "But I can't cook water without burning it."

"You boil water, Reno."

"See? I rest my case." Reno leaned against the sink and watched Rude for a moment. Normally the other boy was emotionally nondescript, if not dour, but at the moment he was almost cheerful.

"Your I-can't-cook routine's a put-on and I know it. You're lazy."

"Lazy?" Reno heard his own voice go up an octave, but shit, that was hardly fair. Okay, so he didn't cook, but he cleaned up after himself. Most days.

Rude grinned wolfishly.

"Bastard." Reno crossed his arms. "What's going on?"

Rude raised a questioning eyebrow.

"You're kinda bubbly today."

"Bubbly." Rude's voice did not go up an octave. Instead, he almost growled the word, but with good humour. "Guess I'm thinkin' I'll be having me a good day."

"Yeah? Why?"

He indicated his plate with his fork. "No boss for three days. Enough to eat. Mother not hovering."

"I like your mother hovering. Besides, she ain't that bad."

"I'll pay that one." Rude frowned briefly. "Something weird."


Rude squinted at him.


"Didn't wanna mention this."


"You almost died back then, so we needed to get you something."

"Yeah. I vaguely remember something vile being poured down my throat."

"Ma didn't think you'd last the night, so she got a potion." He scratched his head. "Thing is, we couldn't really afford it." He paused. "I ain't trying to make ya feel like you owe us or nothin'."

Reno shrugged. He already felt that way, and that was fine. It was true.

"She never did pay for it, you know. I know how much money comes in and goes out. She never did."

"You're wondering why."

Rude looked uncomfortable. "She knows a lot for someone who was 'just' a nurse. I wonder sometimes if she was kicked off staff for reasons other than my brother."

"Nurses are waiters."

Rude raised an eyebrow.

"They're invisible," Reno explained. "They see everything, do everything, and no one notices unless they say something about what they're seeing. But then someone notices that what they're doing is being observed, and that they must do something about that. What happens next depends on the observed."

"So she sees something she shouldn't have, so my brother 'takes off', my father gets shit-faced and she is fired?"

"Or she saw nothing at all. Your brother was stupid, your dad is an arse and your Ma, and you, paid the price."

Rude pushed his plate away, the remainder of his food uneaten. "That was blunt."

"I'm saying you should actually ask her rather than wondering. Fuck, man, she's hiding something, you're hiding something and no one's talkin'. You're family, but this house is so stuffed full of secrets that's it's a wonder there's room for the table. What, you think she'll love ya any less 'cause she knows whatever it is?" Reno indicated the plate. "You done with that?"

Rude nodded.

Reno picked up the last pancake, rolled it up and shoved it in his mouth, then washed the plates, aware of Rude's eyes on his back. "You know," Reno said, "if you wanna tell someone what's goin' on and you really don't want to tell your Ma, I'll listen."

Rude sat back in his chair. "You working today?"

Reno'd figured Rude would ignore him. He was very forward with being backward when it came to telling anyone how he felt about something. "Nah. Zirengia said she couldn't give me any hours until tomorrow, so I thought I'd head up to Shin-Ra HQ and see what I could see."

Rude frowned. "And what do you think you can do there?"

"Just thought I'd sit, watch the comings and goings for a bit." Reno wanted to see the execs who worked there for himself; match a few names to faces.

"Ma asked you to back off."

They had decided to talk to Felice when Reno and Rude'd visited his old orphanage only to find that Stevens had been replaced. Retired, they were told. Reno hadn't believed a word of it, but at least he'd been given his ID. He grimaced. Felice wasn't pleased when they told her what had gone down. Strictly forbid you boys to go anywhere near them again was the exact phrase she'd used. Reno hadn't been "forbidden" to do anything since he'd left school. It didn't sit well with him. "She's not here."

"Ma's not big on the smack-down statement."

Reno sighed. "I know. So she's got a good reason, right?" Well, screw that. "Think I'll go anyway. Can't hurt just to sit."

Rude shrugged. "Have it your way. But don't think they don't know who you are now, man, if they didn't before."

"That's just a little paranoid, Rude."

"Use your head. She still said she'd help."

"Do ya reckon she's following up?"

"No idea. Guess she'll tell us when she gets home. But if she is, do you really want to fuck that up?"

"Point taken." Reno sighed. "Maybe I'll head down to work anyhow, get some extra training in, help out a bit. Why don't ya take the day off, come down?"


"C'mon. Why not?"

"Money." Rude grinned again. "Gotta get ahead of your stomach, man."

"Is that all there is to it?"

"One of these days I'll move Ma outta here."

Reno caught Rude's eye and nodded. Maybe while he was out, he'd see if he couldn't pick up some more hours, or another job. He owed Felice and Rude his life, if nothing else. There was no paying that back, but the least he could do was try. He smiled seriously, and Rude grinned back, and Reno felt a real wave of affection for his friend.

Actually, he was feeling kinda horny. Maybe he would see what he could pick up while he was down the road. Another advantage of his new job. For the last couple of months, the girls at the gym couldn't get enough of him, it seemed. He'd flash a slow smile at a likely girl, and within a couple of hours he was fucking her brains out, if that's what she wanted.

They usually wanted, and if not, well, no matter.

He couldn't work out exactly why they'd want, but he wasn't complaining.

First time'd been a bit awkward. He'd just finished a rough-house bout with Rude, and had actually put his friend on the mat, for once.

Rude looked up at him from the flat of his back as Reno grinned down at him. Then the other boy moved quickly, sweeping his legs under Reno's feet, felling Reno. Reno rolled, narrowly missing being pinned, coming to his feet in one movement. Rude rolled to a sitting position, then grinned, perspiration gleaming on his forehead. "Done me," he said. "Man, I thought you were fast before."

"Gotta be to get outta your way. Don't like your fists in my face." Reno threw Rude a towel, then picked up the other one, rubbing it over his face and chest. His hair still dripped sweat, though. He took a mouthful of water, then squirted some of it over his head. "Why's it still so fucking hot?"

"No air down here, man," Rude said, referring to being under the Plate, of course.

Reno wiped his hand on his tracksuit bottoms then hauled Rude to his feet.

"You did real well," Rude said.

Reno grinned widely. Rude was sparse with any sort of praise, so when he did say something, Reno felt like he'd achieved some sort of random goal Rude'd set for him, without him telling Reno what that was.

"He's right, you know," a voice said from behind him. Zirengia walked over. A small, dark-haired woman, she could out-fight both of them, on a good day. "You've improved tenfold since you started here." She glanced at Rude. "Hit the showers. Stretch first."

Rude grinned, and Reno knew he'd ignore the "stretch" instruction. Rude always said that was for sissies and serious martial artists, not for brawlers like himself.

Rude hid it well, but he could be very, uh, confident, sometimes.

Reno watched Rude's well-defined bare back as he walked away. He was getting tall. Reno reckoned the kid pushed six feet if he was an inch. Reno, on the other hand, seemed to have gotten stuck where he was. Ah well, no mind. He still had a few years growth in him, and smaller meant faster. He turned his attention back to Zirengia. "'Sup?"

"I meant it when I said you're improving. I want you to do a level test."

"What for?"

"Was thinking you'd like to teach one day."

Reno's eyebrows went up. "Yeah?"

"Yes. Anyway, think about it. Let me know." She patted his shoulder and headed for another bunch of kids.

"That's so cool," said one of the girls who'd been watching his bout with Rude. He'd see her around, although she'd never spoken to him before. She had to be a couple of years older than he was. Nice boobs, broad across the butt, pretty in blonde perky kinda way. "Hey, could you show me that flip you did again?"

"Uh, sure," he said. For the next half hour, he showed her a number of different moves, at her request, before he begged off. "I'm way too hot."

She handed him his water bottle and grinned. "Why, yes you are."

He took a mouthful then gave her a slow smile, unsure of what to say. She moved closer to him and whispered in his ear. "Use that smile on anyone and you can get anything you like." Chills ran down the back of his neck then. He wasn't sure if it was because of her proximity or the low sexy way she'd drawn out "anything" that caused them, but it was probably both. He'd swallowed then.

Thinking of mud no longer gave him a hard-on, but a girl breathing in his ear definitely did. And he was wearing sweat pants. Shit. Stop that, he begged his annoyingly autonomous penis.

Between seven and ten minutes later, he was flat on his back in the janitor's cupboard, sweat pants around his ankles, being ridden like a chocobo in the main race on Shin-Ra Cup Day.


It took her two weeks to tire of him, but in that two weeks, he learned a lot. His first lesson was: always hold on to the condom when you withdrew. Hence the "awkward".

Lesson the second: if a girl is looking for a random fuck, she doesn't want you to kiss her.


The likely target that day was a cute, round-faced girl with bad skin and a tight boyish arse. She was new.

Zirengia had been, frankly, annoyed that Reno had come in to work any way. "I do not like people to work for free, Reno. It's not good for my pride."

"Don't you always say that pride is the first downfall of any warrior?"

She rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Don't take me so seriously all of the time, Reno. It just gives me a headache."

Reno grinned. "Give me something to do."

"Sure. Go home. Clean your room."


"Don't whine." She started to walk away, then turned back. "Oh! There is one thing. I've heard rumours that someone's handing Kandy around here. Let me know if you see anything, would you?"

Reno nodded. Kandy was, long-term, deadly, and Corneo's trade of choice. The stuff was popular amongst prostitutes and professional fighters. Refined mako, crystallised and cut with any old substance to hand, sometimes. The mako wouldn't necessarily kill you, but the shit they mixed it with often did. It was nicknamed Kandy because, injected directly into the bloodstream, it almost instantly made everything you excreted taste sweet.

It was also the drug Rude's brother'd been on when he'd gone.

Reno didn't go home straight away, though. A gaggle of small boys and girls gathered around him, begging him to wrestle with them, which he did, playfully. Most of these kids had lost at least one parent and none of them had much money. They all adored him.

He'd just sent the last one home when she joined him. "They like you," she said.

He smiled. "Yeah, they seem to."

She stuck her hand out. "I'm Seleen."

He shook it. "Reno."

"I know. I've heard about you."

He ran his hand through his hair self-consciously. Damn. Needed cutting again. Stuff grew way too fast. "You have."

"Heard you were real pretty." She grinned. "Told me right. I like pretty."

He stuck his hand in his pocket. He had a few gil. "Hungry?" he said.


By the time he'd picked them something up to eat at Wall Market and they'd reached home, it was well past dark. Reno frowned slightly when she handed him a small bag of Kandy, though. He'd mention it to Zirengia later.

Rude was there, and had already eaten. He barely acknowledged Seleen, only grunting at Reno.

Reno smiled at her and indicated she should eat without him, then followed Rude into the bathroom.

"Stupid girl gave me this," Reno said, waving the bag in Rude's general vicinity.

Rude finished cleaning his teeth. "You shouldn't touch that shit."

"Wasn't planning to." Reno shrugged and emptied the bag of greenish-blue mako crystals into the toilet, hitting the flush button.

"Going to work," Rude said.

"What, again?"

Rude avoided Reno's eyes. "Figure I should do some extra hours while Krane is gone, while they need the staff. Get some money squared away."

That's what he'd said that morning. Sounded like a prepackaged answer. Something was wrong here, although Reno couldn't put his finger on it. "When will you be home?"

"Took the eleven-thirty. Be home about five."

"Man, you already did two six-hour shifts today and you've already noted on the board you're going in at ten tomorrow morning. Were you planning on getting any sleep?"

Rude indicated the bedroom door with his thumb. "Was I going to get any anyway?"

"Don't do that, man. This isn't the first time I've had some girl over."

"Yeah. And it's pissing me off."

Reno blinked, surprised. "Why?"

"Never mind."

"Rude, you're only seventeen. You should be having a bit of fun occasionally. Many of the girls were only here with me 'cause they wanted to meet you. Why'd you make 'em settle?"

"Fuck off. I'm going to work."

"Hang on, don't do that. What's goin' on?"

Rude grunted, hazel eyes glittering dangerously. "Gotta go."


"Don't have time. Have fun." The bathroom door slammed as Rude left.

Reno looked at the door for a couple of seconds, perplexed. "Huh." Then he shrugged. Working those hours would make anyone nuts. Once Rude's boss was back he'd go back to regular hours and be his usual sunny self. By which Reno meant Rude'd only look like he'd been chewing glass for part of the day, instead of 24/7. Plus the bubbly thing he'd had going on.

He frowned. Maybe Rude'd been taking something. Reno almost immediately rejected that thought, though. There was no way. He was exhausted, that was all.

Reno ran a hand through his hair again. He should make breakfast in the morning, he decided. Yeah. Blackened food should cheer Rude right up. Eh. It was the thought that counted.

He returned to the kitchen.

"What happened to your friend?" Seleen asked.

"Had to work."

She pouted slightly. "That's a pity." She stood and hooked a finger in the front of his pants, leading him into the bedroom, dragging her shirt off as she went.

Reno blinked. The girl was direct, he gave her that.

By the time she'd pushed him onto the bed, they were both unclothed. Reno shivered slightly. Too cold, and he'd forgotten to turn on the heat.

She dropped to her knees in front of him and ran her tongue along the underside of his dick, once, before looking up at him. "Did you take the mako?"

"Nah. I don't do drugs, babe."

"Well, if you think I'm gonna let you come in my mouth now, you can just forget it." She sounded pissed.

Reno shrugged. "'Sup to you." He smiled lazily, running a finger along her cheek. "Maybe I'll let you come in mine."

"Well, you're not putting it in, got it?"

Reno cocked his head to one side. "You don't like me very much, do you?"

"Not really."

He didn't bother asking why not, but in this light... "How old are you, baby?"


Reno looked at her closely, now. He didn't think so. "Try again."

She shrugged. "Fifteen."

He raised his eyebrow. "And once more, for the record this time."

"Thirteen," she said sourly.

Yeah. Jail bait, even for him. Forget that. He moved backwards onto the bed, drawing his knees up and willing the blood in his groin back into his system. Gods of Wutai, he was going to hate himself in the morning. He patted the mattress next to him, grinding his teeth together. "It's cold. Come up here."

"What are you doing?"

"Absolutely nothing," he said with genuine regret, grabbing one of Rude's T shirts off the back of the bed and handing it to her. "Put that on. Get some sleep."

She took it, looking at him suspiciously.

"Don't be a fool, girl. You don't like me and you're a kid. What the hell are you doing?"

"Needed a place to stay. Streets are cold. And I'm not a kid."

"You're sucking cock for a night's roof, and you're feeding strangers a drug that'll make 'em almost instantly stronger and could make 'em violent as well, just to make the medicine go down sweeter. C'mon. Be less stupid."

Seleen pulled the shirt over her head. "You're a shit."

"I could be a lot worse, sweetheart. I could be overloaded on Kandy, impossible to stop and rapin' you."

She looked at him curiously as she tucked her feet under the covers. "Why aren't you anyway, Mister bigshot?"

"Because I don't fuck children."

"You're not that much older than me. In a few years, it'd be no difference at all."

"Yeah, well, come and see me in a few years then. Go to sleep." He turned out the light and rolled over, his back to her.


Reno woke with a start, shivering. Still half asleep, he moved absently towards the closest warm body.

"Your feet are cold," Rude mumbled.

"I'm freezing, man. You pulled all the covers off." Just to make the point, Reno's body shook with the cold and he sneezed. Reno realised then that he and Rude were alone. Rude must've come home while Reno was asleep. "Where'd Seleen go?"


That was weird, but he didn't bother worrying about it. She'd obviously taken off, probably with all of his remaining gil. Reno lifted his head and peered at the clock. Three forty-two a.m. Rude was home early. Then he sneezed again, all over Rude's back.

Rude grunted. "That's gross. Roll over."

Reno turned so they were back-to-back. Rude's back was warm. How did he do that? It was the middle of winter. Unnatural, is what it was. Reno leaned backwards against him, seeking more warmth. He considered, briefly, getting out of bed and throwing his jocks and undershirt on, but figured it was colder out there than in here. He really wished, now, that he'd remembered to turn on the heat.

Rude flinched. "Even your arse is cold."

"Warned you."

"You're always cold. Too skinny."

"It's not my fault. I have a fast metabolism."

"Go to sleep."

"M'kay." Reno wrapped his arms around himself, trying to keep his body heat in, and sneezed again.

"Are you sick?" Rude asked sleepily.

"Nah. Just chilled."

Rude rolled, throwing an arm over Reno's shoulder and curling in around Reno's back, drawing in the covers, his knees resting under Reno's thighs. This was not the first time they had slept thus, of course, Midgar slum winters being what they were, but it was the first time Reno'd been stark naked at the time. He didn't care. All he knew was that he would be warm soon enough and would be able to sleep: Rude generated a lot of heat.

Soon, Rude's even breathing indicated that he was asleep.

Gradually, warmth seeped into Reno's back, and buttocks, and legs, and feet. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and leaned back into his friend, waiting for sleep to overcome him. He felt weirdly safe. Rude sighed, embracing Reno closer, his fingers absently drawing small circles on Reno's chest. Chills shot through Reno's body, but not from the cold this time. It was, instead, like all of the heat had been pulled out of his limbs and shot straight into his groin.

Reno's eyes snapped open. Rude's dick was pressed, hot and hard through his boxers, between their bodies; his fingers lazily moving up and down Reno's stomach, now; his breath warm against Reno's ear. And, fuck if that didn't feel good. He wanted to... wait. Was Rude even awake? Five gods of Wutai, Reno hoped so.

What? He blinked furiously at the dark, surprised at his own response. Rude was his best friend. And, at that moment, his best friend was running the tip of his thumb over Reno's incidentally very sensitive right nipple. Reno suppressed the groan that threatened to escape his throat, swallowing hard until he could bring the sensation under control, trying to keep his breathing steady even as adrenaline coursed through his body from eyes to dick. If Rude was asleep, Reno didn't want to wake him. He'd probably be horrified.

If he wasn't... well. Well. What to do then? Foxing sleep himself wouldn't get him anywhere.

Damn. His stomach muscles had tensed up at the unexpected contact and now his hip was cramping. Slowly, he stretched, leaning the offending hip further into Rude's erection. Quite unintentionally, of course. Yeah. Of course.

The interesting question was, Reno thought, why he hadn't even considered jumping up out of bed and yelling at Rude what the hell he thought he was doing, or why Reno didn't find this uncomfortable, at all. Fascinating answer, really. Reno wanted... exactly what, he didn't know.

The palm of Rude's hand ran steadily down Reno's chest, over his hip and up his cock in one swift movement. Shit, yeah. That'd do, Reno thought as Rude buried his face in the back of Reno's neck and wrapped his hand around Reno's cock and slid it upwards, once, and then again. Other question answered. If Rude was doing this in his sleep then he could bloody well stay that way, Reno thought, with a tiny involuntary grunt, moving his hips so his rump grated against Rude's boxers.

Abruptly, Rude let go of him, moving backwards so quickly that he pulled the covers off Reno. Cold air blasted up Reno's chest and he gasped.

What the hell?

Reno rolled over so he was facing Rude, taking hold of the edge of his half of the bedclothes and dragging them back over himself so he wouldn't need to go through the rigmarole of getting warm again. The act of doing so pulled Rude back to him with the covers. Not quite all the way, but close enough to feel his heat without actually touching. Midgar lights didn't penetrate well under the Plate, so Reno could only just see the outline of Rude's face through the night.

Reno waited for Rude to speak, or move, but he didn't. "Why'd you do that?" Reno finally asked.

"Sorry, Reno," Rude said in a voice so low he could hardly be heard. Actually, Reno more like felt it. Rude's voice was more a breath so near that all Reno would have to do to close the gap was reply.

Which he did, of course. "Don't be sorry," he murmured into Rude's mouth, moulding his hand over Rude's hip, compact muscle over hard bone through thin boxers. Hmm. Through the shorts. That wouldn't do. That wouldn't do, at all. "Just don't stop."

Rude emitted something like a sigh, but he didn't move. What was he waiting for, a written invitation? Do something, damn it, Reno willed; anything at all that would soothe the boiling between his legs would be good right about now. He groaned inwardly. There was nothing for it but to take matters into his own hands. He hooked his thumb on Rude's waistband and removed that irritating fabric barrier, suppressing a moaned expletive as the pedaling of Rude's legs to get the offending garment off stroked his erection against Reno's.

Rude groaned hoarsely, pushing himself forward and grasping Reno's lower back with bruising force before his hand dragged along Reno's arse, leaving a trail of fervid, tingling skin in its wake.

The ability to articulate thought fled, and Reno was left to express what he thought about this treatment in only one way: instinctively. He tilted his chin and, drawing Rude closer, digging his fingertips into the other youth's back, he imprisoned Rude's mouth with his own. Rude hummed in appreciation as their tongues entwined and he responded, hesitantly at first, as if he wasn't sure of what he was doing. Soon, though, he was tonguing Reno like a pro.

Not that Reno had a point of comparison, but he knew the effect Rude's mouth was having on him. Lesson the third: Kissing freaking rocks. Do more of it.

Instinct. It was a wild and amazing thing, and not something to disdain, oh no. Reno kissed Rude like he was drinking in life. His hips pressed against Rude's, finding their own rhythm, Rude moving his own pelvis in counterpoint, until the small grunts Rude exerted with each breath grew thready and ragged.

Rude rolled on his back slightly so that he could use both hands to press into Reno's butt, tilting his head so that his temple rested on Reno's cheek, his cock hot against Reno's. The gathering energy in Reno's groin grew intolerable as they moved together, faster. Harder. It felt... it felt...

"Oh... hell..." Reno breathed, moving his head so his face was buried in Rude's neck. "Rude... quick... godsdammit." This last uttered thickly as he spasmed, coating both their bellies with slick come.

Rude was less verbal, but within moments his head was thrown back with a quiet, "Holy..." and Reno could feel him throb against him as he, too, came.


This time, Rude really was asleep, curled in around Reno's back, one arm thrown over Reno's shoulders, hand drawing in the covers, knees against the back of Reno's thighs. Reno took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and leaned back into his friend, waiting for sleep to overcome him. This was not the first time they'd slept thus, Midgar slum winters being what they were, but it was the first time they'd both been stark naked; the first time Rude's still-damp but quiet dick was pressed sandwiched between his stomach and Reno's lower back.

They hadn't spoken as they wiped down their stomachs with a spare shirt, and Reno no longer felt weirdly safe. He was, instead, perplexed, confused... and sated, content, and not only in his groin.

He hadn't known he could feel like that. Ever.

It wasn't until he was on the verge of sleep that the answer to it all drifted into Reno's mind.

Lesson the fourth: Sex was always at its best when your heart was engaged in the whole thing.

He suppressed a groan of an entirely different type.


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