Chapter Seven

Reno figured he'd lost consciousness for a moment, for suddenly the pain was there again, and so was the noise. The shooting hadn't stopped. The battle still raged around him. He remembered wondering how it was there were still 'copters in the air, given the sheer mass of ground cannon when he'd landed.

"Reno, you fool. Why did you do that?"

He knew that voice. He struggled to open his eyes and managed to focus on a pair of mako-enhanced eyes. Cloud?

"She..." Reno wanted to tell Cloud that even his mako-enhanced strength wasn't a match for
her, but it all came out muddled. "Too... you... strong."

"Yeah," Cloud said. Then the blond man's mouth was so close to Reno's ear that Reno could feel his breath. "Thank you, Reno," he said, so quietly Reno doubted anyone else could hear over the tumult. "For... everything."

"Gotta go," another voice said crisply. Reno didn't recognise it. He closed his eyes again as the stretcher moved, sending more pain lancing through him. He had been hurt before, but he couldn't remember ever being this messed up.

"Look after him, Rude," Cloud said. "Have to go. Shera went down."

Reno didn't hear Rude's reply.

But then, that was probably because Rude didn't say anything. He never did, not when it was important.


What the hell just happened? Rude thought. He was getting very good at pretending to be asleep. After all, he'd been doing that almost every night for a while now. He lay quietly, one hand held firmly on the blankets so he wouldn't be tempted to move, concentrating on keeping his breathing deep and even, although it was not easy with Reno's hair tickling his nose, or Reno's butt leaning against his groin.

At least Reno wasn't wriggling in his sleep, for once. Rude suppressed an annoyed grunt as that thought aroused him. What the hell was wrong with him? Bad enough that he let himself be fucked by his shithead of a boss, but worse, Rude thought, that he was prepared to subject Reno to the same treatment.

Reno... was like his brother, for gods' sakes. Yet, even now, with the taste of his friend's mouth still on his tongue, all he wanted to do was bury himself in Reno's... Rude grimaced, feeling for a split moment like he was going to choke. He could still his body, but he couldn't manage to calm his mind.

He wanted more.

His arm tightened as Reno muttered incoherently in his sleep, then he moved slightly, resting a hand on his friend's arm and applying a reassuring pressure until Reno quietened. Rude'd realised over time that one reason Reno'd always been a busy sleeper was because the other boy had regular nightmares, although Rude didn't know what of. He'd never asked and Reno had never told him. Fact was, Rude was pretty sure Reno didn't even remember them.

Rude wondered if he talked in his sleep, when he could sleep, that is, because he definitely remembered all of his own nightmares. They were always of Krane. Always. One day, that man would get his.

Then Rude, and his Ma, would finally be free of him. One day...

This night had been one of those rare occasions when he'd rolled into bed and been able to drop into dreamless, deep--no. More like passed out. Two full shifts in a row would do that to a man. Man? Rude grimaced again, trying to extricate himself from his dead-weight friend so he could roll over. He was no man. If he was, he'd be able to do something about what was being done to him rather than just accepting it like some kid who couldn't stand up for himself.

Fact is, he'd spent many years learning how to look after himself. If it wasn't for the fact Krane'd threatened his Ma, Rude would've cut off that bastard's dick and fed it to him a long time ago.

He'd never told Reno what was going on. He wasn't sure why. It was just that... somehow, what Krane did to him--what Rude let Krane do, rather--made Rude feel less, in his own eyes. He didn't want Reno to feel sorry for him. To... look at him.

This isn't going to work, he thought. The arm Reno was lying on had gone to sleep, and the only way Rude could move him was to dump him sideways. That'd wake him up. And if Reno woke up, that would just mean more of the same. Shit. Bad enough that Rude wanted that. But in eleventy-two different ways, he really didn't. He couldn't even put a name to what had just happened.

He didn't even know if he wanted to.

This isn't going to work, he thought again, and this time he wasn't referring to trying to get his arm out from underneath Reno's head without waking him. The realisation earlier, as he'd come to full wakefulness, that he'd been literally fondling his friend had sent a shock through Rude's system just like having a bucket of cold water thrown in his face. He ground his teeth together as shame washed over him.

But Reno...

"Why'd you do that?" Reno had asked him. Rude knew what Reno meant by that: why had Rude broken that trust between them, abused it like so much garbage? Rude had no idea, and he knew his meagre apology was useless. And then to... forcing his friend to... grabbing hold of Reno's hips and making him...

No. Reno had wanted--

Rude swallowed, clamping down on the thought. That's exactly what Krane said of him.

But Reno had responded to--he'd told me to--

. Rude's jaw ached, he was grinding his teeth so hard. So did he, when Krane--it meant nothing. No control over that. He couldn't help it. Sometimes, he even liked it. Didn't make him feel any less sick when Krane was done.


Shut up,
he told his head. You're just fucked up. The whole situation was fucked up. He'd lost control of himself and taken advantage of the best friend he'd had since he'd lost his older brother. And he'd enjoyed every minute of it. Every. Last. Second.

He was no better than Krane.

With a frustrated grunt, he pulled his arm out from under Reno's head and rolled to a sitting position, away from Reno; away from the boy whose touch was still sending him insensible, no matter that Rude knew it shouldn't. What the fuck was he going to do now? How could he ever look Reno in the face again?

Gods. Why hadn't Reno just told him to stop?

The cold air hit his shoulders like a whip, and he pushed the covers back over Reno, finally finding and dragging on his discarded boxers before reaching to the bedhead for a shirt that should have been there, but wasn't.

As expected, he'd woken Reno. "Whatcha doing?" the redhead murmured sleepily.

Where was that bloody shirt? "Work," Rude said shortly, not looking at Reno, then tried to moderate his tone. "Go back to sleep."

"I was going to make breakfast," Reno said, sounding a little more awake.

What? Reno never cooked. He was pandering. Rude stood and walked to the chest of drawers, looking for another shirt, pushing down something akin to panic, trying to pretend the feeling wasn't there. "Don't bother."

"I won't burn it, promise." Reno's voice was his normal lazy but sunny one, but there was something else... uncertainty?

Rude closed his eyes briefly. See what you've done, shithead? he asked himself. Then he turned back to Reno, dragging the shirt over his head so he wouldn't have to look Reno in the eye. "I'm running late," he said gruffly.

"Thought your shift didn't start til ten," Reno said, sounding fully alert now.

Rude glanced at the clock as he hurriedly pulled on his trousers. Only nine. Crap. "Got home early," he said, fudging. "Hafta go in earlier as a result." He picked up his shoes. He'd put them on in the kitchen. There was no way he was sitting down on that bed again right now.

"Rude, wait." Reno's voice was sharp, this time.

Rude turned around and looked at him. He was sitting up, blankets fallen to his waist, nipples hard with the cold. His face was serious, very un-Reno-like.

Reno said nothing for a moment, drawing his knees to his chest under the covers and wrapping his arms around them. Even healthy, his skin was virtually translucent. Then he spoke. "What's going on, Rude?"

Rude didn't respond at first, staring at the floor instead. Trouble was, like it or not, Reno was smarter than he was, so Rude had to be careful what he said. He had a lot to answer for, and no way of saying it.

He looked up at Reno again, expecting... he didn't know what. He didn't know. Hatred? Maybe. But Reno's face was calm, almost matter-of-fact. Rude hadn't expected that. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again.

Reno held his gaze. "Why don't ya take the day off?" he said slowly, lazily, as if the events of earlier that morning hadn't happened. "You work too hard."

Rude swallowed, working to keep his face impassive. Fact was, he was tired; almost too tired to resist the urge to just strip off and curl up again behind his friend and at least try to get some real sleep. How easy would that be, just to drift off and relax, for once? Then he remembered that this was the last day that Krane wouldn't be at the bar; the last day that all of Rude's money would be his own and that he wouldn't have to-- "No. I'll see you later."

He turned on his heel and strode out of the room, slamming the door behind him. He didn't bother putting on his shoes, just grabbed his coat with his spare hand as he went out the front door.

Fucking idiot, he was. There would have been no sleep, and he knew it. Just another however-many hours doing his best not to give into the overwhelming need to fuck his best friend whether Reno wanted him to or not.

If they were, in fact, still friends.

He was no longer panicky. Instead, there was just a mindless bloody rage surging through him; an anger so strong that he couldn't get a hold of it.

And he didn't want to.


"Rude, can you get the rest of those crates out back for me?" Seisin called from the bar back into the kitchen.

"Sure thing," he called back to her, wiping his hands on his work apron before piling four of the heavy wooden spirits crates on top of each other and lifting them with a grunt of exertion. He smiled wryly to himself for a moment. When he'd first started at Krane's Bar, he'd only been able to lift two at once. He'd come a ways.

He put the crates near the back door for the trucks to pick up, then went back into the kitchen to get the three remaining ones. Seisin was leaning against the sink, pale eyes regarding him soberly. She pulled out a cigarette and tapped it on her hand a couple of times before speaking. "Once you're done with those, Rude, you can go home."

"I'd rather stay."

"Honey, you've been here all day and you've done two double shifts in two days. You must be exhausted."

Rude shrugged. "Need the work."

She wandered over to the back door and propped it open with her foot before lighting up. "No doubt, with Krane out of town, I can use the help. But you look like shit."

Rude didn't say anything. No point. It was probably true.

"Are you all right?"

He nodded.


He nodded again.

She took another drag of her cig and watched him closely. "Fine. One more. But you get tomorrow off."

He shook his head. "Krane--"

"My brother will live," she said firmly. "And if he gives you any trouble, you come see me. I've told you that before, haven't I."

Rude nodded, avoiding her eyes.

She looked doubtful, but shrugged. "Take some time out to eat--elsewhere," she added as he picked up the three remaining crates. She moved out of his way, holding the door open for him. "Take your friend with you."

He dumped the crates next to the others, then wiped his hands on his apron again. "My who?"

"Oh. Guess I forgot to mention. There's a kid waiting for you in the bar. Bright red hair. Says he's a friend of yours, but I haven't seen him here before. Almost didn't let him in. He doesn't look sixteen."

Damn it. Just what Rude didn't want, in more ways than one. For starters, Rude didn't know if Krane knew that Reno existed. If he did, just gave him more leverage until Rude had finished paying for his brother's debts.

For seconds, Rude just didn't want to deal with Reno right now. He eyed the back door wistfully, then sighed. No point making a bad situation worse. He pulled his apron off and hung it on the peg next to the sink, barely acknowledging the other kitchen hand as he did so.

Reno was sitting at the bar, sipping delicately and experimentally on a scotch, his nose wrinkled with distaste.

Despite himself, Rude grinned, walking over and downing the whisky in one mouthful. He grimaced as it went down. Reno'd bought the cheap stuff.

"Hey!" Reno protested. "I paid for that."

"Don't think that'll suit you," Rude said, pouring out a finger of bourbon instead and handing it to Reno. "And try mouthfuls, not sips."

He watched Reno sniff at the drink suspiciously, then he raised an eyebrow at Rude and downed it. He blinked once and put the glass on the bar. "Might have another of those."

Rude shook his head. "Let's go eat."

Reno followed him silently and without question into Wall Market, which was not like him. Rude ignored the press of people and wandered over to a café, taking a seat by the door. Reno sat across from him.

Rude didn't speak to Reno until after their food had arrived. "Shouldn't've come down here, Reno."

Reno's fork paused halfway to his mouth. "How come?"

"It's just... not good."


"Too dangerous."

Reno glanced around him. "I can look after myself, Rude--but that's not what you mean, is it?" He was watching Rude closely.

Rude took a bite of his chicken, chewing slowly.

"I'm not stupid, Rude. Something's going on. What gives?"

The corner of Rude's mouth twitched before he cold stop it. Ironic, that Reno would think that Rude thought he was stupid. Trouble was, Reno was too smart for his own bloody good. "Just don't come to my work again, okay?" he said, his voice harsh even to his own ears.

Reno sat back and crossed his arms in front of his chest, a belligerent expression on his face. Rude almost smiled again, but the smile faded before it began. A year ago, he wouldn't have known what "belligerent" meant. Reno'd given him that.

And in return, Rude had given Reno, what? Fuck all.

"What are you doing?" Reno said quietly.

There was that uncertainty again. "I don't know what you mean."

"Don't play the 'dumb lugnut' with me, Rudolph. I know better."

Rude frowned. "Don't call me--"

"Stop that," Reno snapped.

"Sorry," Rude said, staring at the tabletop. Could use a good clean.

"Don't say sorry. Explain."

"Explain what?"

"Look, you're uncomfortable. I get it," Reno said. He frowned then. "What I don't get, is why."

What Rude didn't get was why Reno was still even talking to him. By all rights, Reno should be avoiding him, rather than the other way around. He sighed. "Maybe this should wait until I'm off work."

"You are off work."

"No. On a break."

"You've taken another shift?" Reno sounded annoyed.

"You're not my Ma, Reno."

Reno's grin flashed. "And you have no idea how glad I am about that."

Rude glared at him. He didn't intend to glare, but he knew he was. And he knew this, mostly, by the way Reno's face fell and he bit into a fingernail.

Then he stood, reaching into his pocket and dropping a few gil on the table. "Whatever, Rude. See you later." He sounded pissed.

No, not pissed. Hurt.

Rude stood as well, leaving his meal unfinished, and followed Reno out the door. "Wait a sec," he said.

Reno turned back and looked at him, his face, for once, unreadable. Seisin was right. Reno didn't look sixteen, at least, not on the surface. His eyes, though... there had been a lot of living done for his age. Thing was, Reno drove Rude nuts. He was forever dropping his stuff everywhere and never took anything seriously, it seemed.

But they fit. Almost like, Rude couldn't remember what life'd been like before Reno'd come to live with them. One thing he did know, though. There'd been no colour. Reno had floated into their lives like... like air, had crawled under Rude's skin and was not leaving any time soon. Not that Rude wanted him to. Something about Reno needed protecting, and Rude figured that was his job. If only he hadn't--

Rude reached out and put his hand in Reno's shoulder. "I'll see you later, okay?"

Reno's eyes narrowed slightly, then he nodded.

Rude watched Reno as he merged into the crowd, heading in the direction of home.


Rude glanced at the clock in the kitchen as he emptied the sink of filthy dishwater, yawning widely. Ten minutes after knock-off. He was almost done. Just as well. He didn't mind admitting to himself, just this once, that he was just about gone.

He wiped out the sink, throwing the dregs into the scraps bin and dried his hands. The bartenders had gone, leaving only Rude and Seisin behind.

"I'm done with the tills, how're you doing in there?" she called. "Your shift finished twenty minutes ago."

"Almost done."

"I'm heading out the front then. Can you lock up out the back when you leave?"

"No problem."

"'Kay. Night, Rude." He heard the door slam as she left.

Rude put away the glassware and then picked up the knives to hang on their pegs, when he heard a footfall near the back door. "Forget something?" He turned, expecting to see Seisin.

But it was Krane. "Hello, Rude," he said quietly, looking up at Rude.

Rude didn't bother to answer him, placing the knives in their pegs instead, before turning around casually, arms folded against his chest, leaning on the edge of the bench. His entire body had stiffened, and he worked to try and relax. Not very successfully, unfortunately.

Krane was big, and well-muscled. Krane could break Rude in half without trying, not to mention what he'd threatened Rude's Ma with... but then Rude suddenly realised, with an almost physical shock, that Krane was looking up at him. Two years ago, when this had all started, Krane had seemed huge, a massive wall that could never be knocked down.

Now, he was just a shitty little man with an over-inflated sense of his own importance.

Rude met the man's eyes, allowing his anger to bubble to the surface, finally, his mind calm, for once.

Krane blinked, but recovered quickly. "Is there something you'd like to say to me, Rude?"

"Not particularly," Rude growled.

"Come here," Krane ordered.

"No," Rude said.

"No," Krane said, his face still.

Rude hesitated. Krane was still deadly, even if Rude had grown taller. He swallowed. "No," he repeated.

"You still owe me."

Rude nodded. "I am aware. And I'll pay you every single gil my brother stole from you. But with gil, Krane, and that's all."

"Have you forgotten what I've said?"

No. There was no way Rude would ever forget anything Krane'd said, from "On your knees" to "It's either you or your Ma. And I won't be so gentle on your Ma." The rage was in Rude's throat, now, making it hard to speak, so he said nothing, just shook his head slowly.

"I think you have."

Rude didn't move.

Krane leaned casually on the door jam, an annoyed glint in his eye. His voice, when he spoke, was calm, though. "Saw you at Wall Market earlier today." He watched Rude, as if waiting for an answer and when Rude stayed silent, he continued. "Pretty redhead you had there with you. Who is he?"

Shit. Stay impassive. "No one," Rude said.

The corner of Krane's mouth turned up. "Didn't look like 'no one'."

Rude shrugged casually, but his head was screaming at him. Shut up. "Some kid."

"Some kid."

"That's what I said."

"Haven't seen him around here before. Why is that?"

"How would I know?"

"Thought you might, given he lives with you."

Cold gripped at Rude's belly.

Krane grunted. "Thought so." He wandered towards Rude. "Don’t you get it? You're not in charge here. I am. That's why they call me the boss. Your Ma? Not in charge. Your pretty little boyfriend? Not in charge. I own you, Rude. I thought you understood that." He now stood almost toe to toe with Rude. "She agreed to this, your Ma, but hey. No skin off my nose if you want to trade yourself for, say, the redhead."

"Liar." The word was out of Rude's mouth before he could stop it. There was no way his Ma would--

"I'm sorry, what? Liar? Perhaps. But not this time." He took Rude by the front of his apron. "I'm serious. It's been fun. But that boy of yours, well. He's"

Something snapped inside Rude then, and one hand shot up, and before he knew it, he had it locked around Krane's throat, pushing the older man to arm's length so he couldn't do the same to Rude. Krane was a brawler--you had to be to work as a barkeep in Wall Market--so Rude just held on as the man grabbed hold of his arm with both hands, pouring every last scrap of hatred he'd ever felt into his grip.

He wasn't strong enough, though. Just wasn't... quite... strong... enough, and Krane managed to break free of Rude's grip.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing, shithead?" Krane said, his voice raspy. "I'm giving you an honest way out of this. Give him to me, and you're free of it."

Krane's words were like buzzing in Rude's ears. Just buzzing. But the thought of Reno being subjected to Krane's handling, especially after Rude had already abused him... he lunged at Krane again, wondering briefly if that loud roar had come from him, or from Krane.

Krane hit the floor, and Rude landed on top of him, landing punches on the man's face, seeing nothing but red. Red, red and more red. Moisture hit him in the eyes, and he just kept hitting...

Then there was another voice, seeming like it came from a long way away. "Rude." Then again, louder. "Rude. Stop it. Rude, fucking stop it!"

Someone grabbed his arm, and Rude resisted at first, then he heard the voice again.

"Rude. C'mon, man. Get off him."

Rude blinked and stopped struggling. "Reno?"

"Yeah, man. It's me. C'mon. C'mon. Give me the knife."

Knife? What?

He looked down, and realised that, in his balled fist, he had a paring knife. He hadn't even remembered picking it up. As his vision started to clear, the anger draining from him, he saw Krane. His face... oh, gods, his face.

Reno took the knife from him, placing it carefully on the edge of the bench. Rude watched him impassively, then looked back down at his boss.

Former boss. The man was dead.


Reno walked away from the Wall Market café fully intending to go to Zirengia's to find himself a girl for the night, and it wasn't until he was half-way home that he realised that he actually wasn't going to do that after all.

Instead, he let himself into the house and turned on the bloody heat, before dropping on the bed, rolling over to stare at the ceiling, one arm behind his head. It needed painting. Maybe he should do that; ask Zirengia if she could find him some more work. Maybe he could teach private classes. He grimaced, knowing that no one under the Plate could afford that.

Maybe he should just get his teaching levels and take it topside. Then Rude wouldn't have to work so hard, Felice wouldn't have to work so hard... Reno groaned. Idiot. You needed Shin-Ra connections to do that, anyway.

It was clear. What had happened the night before had put a massive dent in his friendship with Rude. Fact was, Rude probably hadn't wanted Reno at all; he'd just responded because that was the nature of horny boys who didn't get any--Reno never had seen Rude with anyone. Fact was, from all appearances, Rude now resented him. Fact was, Rude probably wished he'd never suggested that they take Reno in. Way to go, moron.

Reno knew he couldn't stay, not now. Even the thought of continuing to share a bed with Rude was giving him a hard-on, and whatever had happened, however it had happened, Reno knew he didn't want it to stop. His hand wandered under his waistband, but then he stopped, rolling onto his stomach and hugging his pillow instead. Putting Rude in his spank bank just didn't feel right. Not yet, anyway.

He had to leave. And he would have to tell Rude in person, not just take off. Maybe, apologise.

And the thought, well... the thought hurt.


Reno rubbed his eyes, squinting into the dark. When had he fallen asleep?

Rude wasn't there, yet. He rolled over and glanced at the clock. His shift had finished twenty minutes earlier. He should've been home by now.

Normally, Reno would've shrugged and rolled over, curling up and drifting back to sleep, but something didn't feel right. He couldn't explain it, or put words to it. He just knew that something was wrong.

He rolled out of bed and ran all the way to Krane's Bar. The back door was open, and...

Oh, fuck. "Rude, what the hell," he said under his breath, before striding into the kitchen, blinking as blood hit him in the eye. "Rude."

His friend wasn't listening. He just kept pummelling on the face of whoever he was sitting on.


Rude kept pummelling.

"Stop it. Rude, fucking stop it!" He grabbed hold of Rude's arm. The other boy looked at him and Reno felt the blood drain from his face. He had never seen his friend so angry. He softened his voice, talking to him like he would a stray dog. "Rude. C'mon, man. Get off him."

Rude blinked, his eyes clearing, then stopped struggling. "Reno?"

Shit. Reno swallowed. Rude looked so lost. "Yeah, man. It's me. C'mon. C'mon. Give me the knife."

Rude looked down at his hand, looking at the knife reversed in his fist as if he'd never seen it before. Then Rude looked down at his victim.

Reno followed his gaze. Yeah. Victim. The man was definitely dead. He couldn't be anything but. Gods, what a mess. Reno looked away, resisting the urge to vomit as the sharp tang of blood hit his nostrils. He took a step towards Rude, and took hold of the handle of the knife. Rude gave it up without resisting, and Reno put it on the bench.

Rude stood, suddenly, his eyes meeting Reno's. "I have to go."

"No. We'll sort this out. What happened?"

Rude opened his mouth to speak, looked at the body, then looked back at Reno, seemingly unable to say anything at all. Reno took a step towards him and put a hand on Rude's shoulder, but Rude shook it off.

Reno let his hand drop. "Rude. Tell me what happened."

Rude shook his head, then pushed past Reno, heading for the open door.

"Rude. You can't go out like that. Wait up a sec. Talk to me, man."

Rude shook his head, again. "I--I just. No." He stepped out the door, then looked back. "Forgive me, Reno," He said quietly.

Reno frowned, glancing at the body behind him. Forgive Rude? For what? For the murder? "Of course," he said, just as quietly, looking up again.

But Rude was gone.

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