Part Three: The Associate of Corruption

Chapter Eight

Reno knew all about the Lifestream, of course; had known all his life. You couldn't live on Planet and not know. His father had first told him about it a long time ago, when he'd been on leave.

"The Lifestream is the force that gives Planet its life," he said.

"How?" Reno asked.

"Well, when we die, that's where we go. It's kinda like breathing. Planet breathes in the Lifestream, Planet breathes out the Lifestream. And we're all a part of it. Planet breathes us out, and we're born. When we die, Planet breathes us back in again."

He'd only been partially correct, Reno knew now. But that didn't matter. The thought had been a nice one to hold onto when his mother had died.


Damn it, Rude, Reno thought as he scrubbed vigorously at his shirt in the bathroom sink. The bastard had run away, and left Reno with the clean-up. What were you thinking?

He gave up in disgust. There was no way he was ever getting the blood out. Just, no way. If it hadn't been his favourite shirt, he wouldn't've even bothered trying. "You fucker," he muttered, throwing the offending garment across the room, scowling as the sodden shirt landed on top of jacket he'd been wearing. They'd both have to go in the garbage.

Or, better, the incinerator, down the street, somehow. Preferably without being seen. Reno didn't know who the guy was, and as a result didn't know how long it would be before someone came looking for Rude. Reno could only hope that the dead man wasn't one of Corneo's sellers. That'd get Rude a one-way ticket to deadsville, himself.

But that would be the only reason Reno could think of that Rude would kill someone. Maybe the guy had something to do with Rude's brother.

He shivered slightly and turned on the hot water tap in the shower, adjusting the temperature to steamy before stepping under it. He closed his eyes, leaning both hands against the wall and letting the water sluice down his face and over tired shoulders.

When Rude finally did show, Reno had a few more choice words to say to him, and "why?" wasn't at the top of that list, either. Nope. "You owe me a new shirt" was right up there.

Five gods, he'd known Rude'd been wound tight lately, but to kill a man? And then to take off that way, like... like what? Like he'd had no idea what he was doing. Like he had no idea where he was. Reno felt his anger drain away, opening his eyes and watching a smudge of blood trailing down the plughole. How the hell had he ended up with blood in his hair?

He washed as quickly as he could, then dried off and wrapped the towel around his waist, before wandering back into the bedroom and sat on the bed, wiping his hand over his eyes. He should never have walked away in the first place. He knew Rude was tired. Reno should've insisted he hadn't worked that last shift, made Rude come home and get some sleep, at least.

Reno shook his head at the impossibility of making Rude do anything he didn't want to do, but that didn't stop the thoughts. What if he'd woken up ten minutes earlier? What if he'd hung around? What if he'd let Rude sleep the night before instead of coming on to him--what if he'd just remembered to turn on the bloody heat?

What if Rude'd been having problems at work for a long time and Reno had bothered to ask him about it? Shit. Reno lay back, forearm over his eyes, willing his brain to shut up.

Closing his eyes hadn't been a good idea, either. Urgh. When he'd commented to Zirengia that Rude was capable of making mincemeat of someone's face, Reno hadn't really meant it quite this literally. And there was no way Reno was going to get that image out of his head any time soon. One thing was sure, if Reno ever had the opportunity to eat a good rare steak, he was turning it down.

Reno wondered for the umpteenth time what Rude had been thinking. Why had he done it? Why?

This was getting him nowhere. All that was happening was he was thinking around in circles. Reno sat up again and paced the floor for a while, glancing at the clock about once every thirty seconds. Where was he?

Getting dressed might help. So he did that, then he paced and watched the clock a bit more, before doing some push-ups to try and settle his mind, if not his body. He didn't "do" patience. Climbing the walls in frustration, he could do. Waiting? Not so much. He wandered out to the kitchen and made a half-hearted attempt to wash the dishes.

Then he managed to get his blood-stained clothes down into the garbage incinerator down the road. It wasn't difficult, after all; at this time of night--early morning, rather, no one paid attention to a local with a couple of rubbish bags.

Maybe he should go look for Rude, Reno thought as he lobbed the bags into the huge incinerator. He paused, genuinely unsure of what to do. What if Rude had been picked up by, say, Corneo's thugs, and was in a whole different kind of trouble? He ran a hand through his still-damp hair, shivering as the water dropped on the back of his neck. No warmer, tonight, than it had been the night before. He could see his breath.

He stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered back to the bungalow. He had to work in a few hours, and they couldn't afford for him to miss a day, and if Corneo had Rude, there was nothing Reno could do. And he kinda doubted that. So, where would Rude go if not home?

He frowned. Apart from Zirengia's, he had no idea. Surely, Rude would contact him, somehow, if not at home, then at work.

So he had to go home, and wait.


But Rude didn't return home that night, and there was no sign of him, or any message from him, at Zirengia's the next day. Reno did ask her if she'd seen or heard from Rude, but he didn't want to give the impression anything was wrong. Even if Rude hadn't killed one of the many drug dealers under the Sector 6 Plate, he'd still killed someone. One way or the other, he was looking at front-line conscription, or worse, and Reno didn't want to be the catalyst that put him there.

By the end of the day, he was pushing frantic, and it was getting hard to hide it. What really clinched that for him was when he missed catching an eight year-old near the end of his last class and the poor kid landed on his keister. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt, but Reno thought it best to end the class a few minutes early; see if Rude'd been home yet.

Zirengia caught his arm as he headed for his locker. "What's going on, Reno?"

"Nothing," he said casually. "I didn't sleep too well last night, is all."

She crossed her arms and looked at him doubtfully. "Hm. Does that have anything to do with the murder that happened at Krane's Bar last night?"

Reno went very still. "What murder?"

"Well, I've only heard about it second hand, but a few of the students through here are saying that the bar's closed and that Krane's been killed."

"Krane?" Reno's mouth went dry and he had to work hard to stop his knees from buckling. Rude had killed his boss? Well, at least Reno could rule out the possibility that Rude had killed him over drugs, unless--"I'm sorry, what?"

"I said, 'does this have anything to do with you asking after Rude earlier'." Zirengia said quietly.

Reno let out a long sigh, unaware until he did so that he'd been holding his breath. "He didn't come home last night. I-I'm worried about him. More, now," he added. Rude is missing, not a fugitive, he reminded himself.

"Does he stay out all night often?"

Reno knew what she meant: with a girl, or out drinking or something. Occasionally Reno would bunk up at someone else's place, but as far as he knew, Rude never did. Never had. He shook his head.

Zirengia looked concerned. "You think something's happened to him."

Reno stifled a sigh of relief. Of course, she wouldn't believe this of Rude, either. Reno'd watched it happen and he barely believed it. The longer he stayed away, though... "I have to go home," he said.

"Sure thing. Keep me up to date, okay, Reno?"

Reno nodded, then headed out the door.

Rude wasn't at home, and as far as Reno could tell, he hadn't been there, the defining fact of which was that the towel Reno'd used the night before was still on the bedroom floor. No way Rude would ignore that, no matter what mood he was in.

Great. Now what?



Reno started out of sleep, blinking rapidly. What the hell? Felice?

"Rude! Reno?"

It was Felice. Damn. He rolled out of bed wearily, wincing as his boots hit the floor. He had to stop falling asleep fully dressed. "I'm in here," he said.

The door opened and she stuck her head in. "Get out here, Reno. Now, please." He couldn't tell if she looked pissed or worried.

He nodded, then sighed as she went back to the kitchen. It was probably both. Obviously, she'd heard. He listened to the chair scrape against the kitchen floor as Felice sat at the table, then ran a hand through his hair. Stupid unruly mop. He really didn't want to have this conversation.

The previous two weeks had settled into a dubious routine. Up, eat, work, eat, look for Rude, home, bed. Reno had hung around Wall Market, trying to sound out what the word was, and as far as he could tell Rude was considered to be Krane's killer.

But no one had come looking for him. It didn't make any sense... unless, of course, the authorities, such as they were around here, already had him.

The thought chilled him. If that was the case, they'd never know. Rude would be trucked off to wherever the army was serving now that the Wutai war was pretty much done with, and if anything happened to him, neither he nor Felice would ever find out.

And, not a lot was said, either. Murders happened in Wall Market every day. It was just taken for granted Rude was the culprit 'cos he'd gone missing, but within a few days, the gossip had moved on. No seemed overly sorry that Krane was dead, either. The generals consensus seemed to be "good riddance".

The chair scraped again, and Reno, resigned, went out to face the mother of his best friend. The best friend who he had failed to help. Or find any trace of.

She stopped pacing as he entered the room and faced him. "What's going on, Reno?"

He bit his lower lip. "What have you heard?"

"I went down to Krane's to let Rude know I was home and it was closed."

Reno nodded, avoiding Felice's eyes by focussing somewhere over her left shoulder.

"So, I went to see Seisin and she told me that Krane was murdered--" she took a deep breath, then continued, "--and that Rude is also missing, presumed guilty of killing Krane, although she apparently, doesn't believe it of him. What happened, Reno?"

"I'm not sure," he said quietly. Well, that was sort of the truth.

"Do you know anything about what happened?"

"Not really."

She frowned slightly. "I expect the truth, Reno."

"I know."

"Where is he?"

He looked her in the eye. "I don't know."

Her mouth tightened.

"I honestly have no idea. I've been looking for him for two weeks." He heard his own voice crack slightly on the word "weeks", and swallowed.

"And if you knew, would you tell me?"

"Yes." And he meant it.

Her shoulders slumped then, and she sat back down at the table, hands folded in front of her. "Do you know anything at all?"

"Can I get you something to eat?"

She shook her head. "I'm not hungry, thank you anyway, Reno."

"I could make you some tea."

"No. Thankyou."

He sat down across from her. "I am so sorry, Felice. I let you down."

"What?" She looked surprised for a moment, then her face softened as she watched him. A small frown creased her features. "How are you doing, Reno?"

He shrugged.

"Reno," she chided mildly. "You say you know nothing, yet you're blaming yourself, and you don't look like you've slept properly in a week."

"Two," he admitted. Thought was getting kinda hard to come by. It wasn't until Felice pointed it out that the tiredness he'd known was there, but was ignoring, actually fell on his shoulders full force. Before he'd realised he'd moved, he crossed his arms on the table in front of him and rested his forehead on top of them.

He felt her hand on top of his head. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come down so hard on you. It's just that you boys are so close that if one of you is in trouble, then I presume the other is in on it, too."

For some stupid reason, her words sent an almost physical pain through Reno's chest, centred somewhat on the left side. It came to rest in his gut and refused to budge. It'd been like that for a while. Maybe he was coming down with something. He lifted his head. "You'd think, huh," he said, then blinked, surprised at how bitter he sounded.

"Oh, Reno."

He hated that, the look of pity she gave him. That acknowledgment that he was, once again, alone. He wanted her attention off him, and he didn't care how. "Where have you been, Felice?" he asked, his voice hard.

She looked for a moment like she was going to reprimand him for his tone, but then she grimaced instead. "Out and about. Checking on your situation."


"Sisters, yes."

He noted the plural immediately. "Is Vickie--?"

"Let it go, Reno."

"What? No. No, I Need to know if--"

"Not now," she said. "I will talk to you about Vickie later. You don't need to hear all of this now. All you do need to know for now is: stop looking."


"That's not something I can rightly discuss right now."

Reno clenched his jaw. "I don't believe this," he muttered. "You know, don't you? You know what happened to them."

"I know. And I'm not telling you, not now." She pressed her lips together momentarily. "Promise me you will stop looking." Her voice was sharp.


"Promise me!"

He blinked. Felice never yelled. Fine, then. He'd have to be out of here, soon, now that Rude was gone, anyway. He could work on it later. "Fine, then," he said, trying to hide exactly how angry he was.

She watched him then, for a very long time, it seemed. "I know that look in your eye," she finally said. "I mean it, Reno. Let it go."

"If you could just tell me why, I--"

"Reno, I have now lost two sons. Don't make me lose my third." Her voice sounded broken.

Her... what? Reno looked at her again, like really looked. It came as a shock to realise--no, to know, that this strong, caring woman was looking at him like he was all she had left... all she had left of her family, and that she was trying to protect him from something.

Not that he needed protecting, but still, mothers could be funny like that.

Mothers. His anger dissolved. Yeah. She'd gone through enough, and it didn't look like getting any better for her, anytime soon. And here he was, giving her a hard time. He shouldn't do that. He could let this lie. For now, at least.

He stood and walked around the table, putting out his hand and drawing Felice to her feet. "I'm not going anywhere," he said, embracing the woman who had become his mother.

"I don't understand. Why would he do such a thing, Reno? Take off like that, with no word?"

There had been a word. No, three. "Forgive me, Reno." Reno shook his head. "I don't know."

She pulled away and looked Reno directly in the eye. "Do you think Rude killed the man, Reno?"

Yeah. There was no answering that one. "He'll be okay. Don't worry. He's smart, like his Ma," he said, trying to sound more confident than he felt. "We--You haven't lost him." Reno hoped that was the case, any way. "Besides, they don't have any proof he killed Krane." There was no proof to be had, not any more, besides Reno being a witness to it, that is, and Rude had to know that Reno would never say a word. Surely, Rude had to know that. Surely.

Reno didn't want anything bad to have happened to Rude, but in some way that was easier to accept than the alternative: Rude didn't trust him. Rude didn't want him.

Felice's face grew even more stricken, if that was possible. "What if whoever killed Krane killed Rude, too?"

Oh, shit. For a split moment, Reno considered telling her what he'd seen, but then he decided that the less she knew, the safer Rude would be. Relatively, at least, all things considered. "I don't think that's happened," he finally said.

"How do you know, Reno?"

"I... I just think I would know if Rude was..." he said, not really wanting to complete the thought. Part of the reason was, he didn't like lying to Felice. The other part of the reason was, it wasn't entirely a lie. He just knew that Rude was not dead, that he hadn't done anything stupid to himself--at least, not yet, not in the last couple of weeks. Whether he still would, well, that, Reno couldn't even begin to think about.

But he'd known. He'd known Rude'd needed him that night. And he also knew that Rude needed him, now, as well.

Trouble was, Reno didn't know where Rude was at. And he knew Rude well enough to know that he wouldn't ever know, not unless Rude wanted him to.

All he could really do, now, was wait until Rude wanted him to.


Midgar, 11 years until Meteorfall

"What have you got for me?" Reno said, leaning casually against the thick concrete wall, eyeing the woman in front of him, admiring her creamy coffee skin.

The dealer pulled a handgun out from a back shelf and placed it, side on, on her upturned palm. "Nine millimetre semi-auto, southpaw version, as per your request. A direct shot will take out your target at eighty metres and not deliver too much of a kick. Fair enough for a beginner."

"Better show me how to use it, then," he said with one of his slow, lazy smiles, the one guaranteed to send every girl he used it on weak at the knees.

"Sure thing," she said, her face expressionless, her voice business-like. She nodded to her companion behind the counter.

He waved his hand at her briefly.

"Follow me," she said.

Reno's smile faded. Ah, well. Ya couldn’t get 'em all. Obviously, grown women were immune to his charms. Pity, he thought, watching her arse as she walked. It was like watching two cats fighting in a sack, and fairly hefty cats at that. Just... poetry.

There was a target on the back wall of the shop. She led him close to it, then spent some time showing him how to take the gun apart for cleaning, before putting it together again.

He watched her do it, once, then sighed as she looked like she was going to show him again. "Shouldn't you show me how to shoot the thing first?" he said.

She gave him a disgusted look. "Gun won't work if it ain't maintained. Firing pin won't spark proper when you need it, or the thing'll explode in your hand. If you can't take it apart and put it back together again I ain't showing you how to take off the damned safety, let alone how to load and use it. I'd just be sending you out to get yourself killed, boy."

He glanced at her, annoyed. "Don't call me 'boy'."

She looked over her glasses at him, her face doubtful. "You're, what, fifteen? I shouldn't even be sellin' you this."

"I'm past seventeen, thanks," he said irritably, "and paying you damned good money."

She placed the gun on the rack in front of him. "Take it apart for me then. Once you can do that, I'll show you how to work it."

He shrugged, picked up the gun, pulled it apart, then put it back together again, handing it back to her.

She grimaced. "You already knew, I take it."

"No. You just showed me." He shrugged as she looked at him incredulously. "I'm a quick study."

"Right then," she said, flashing him the first smile he'd seen from her since he'd walked in the door. She showed him how to reload the spare clip and how to hold it, as well as how to use the safety. "Make sure you remember this one. It's very important."

"I get it. I don't want to accidentally shoot someone."

"Well, that too," she said. "But fer some reason kids your age like to stuff these things into the front of their belts. If you forget the safety, you're like to shoot your dick off."

"Ah. I'll remember that."

She raised the gun. "You're going to love this," she said. "Having one of these in your hand gives you a real rush."

"Really?" Reno said doubtfully.

"Oh, yes," she said, her eyes glittering.

He watched her closely as she shot off a few rounds, and couldn't help but grin. She didn't just love what she was doing; she seriously got off on it.

Once he'd gotten used to the recoil and learned the knack of "squeeze, don't pull", the rest was fairly easy. Shooting it didn't give him that same sense of euphoria that the dealer lady seemed to have, though. It was a tool to use, no more, no less.

"Nice, eh?" she said.

"It'll do." He ejected the clip and put it in his jacket pocket, then tucked the gun into his belt at his back. "Thanks for showing me all of that."

She nodded. "You picked it all up quicker'n most. Feel free to come back any time."

He grinned. "I will." He started to turn away, but she caught his arm.

"For any reason," she said in a low voice.

He grinned again. Yep, she seriously got off on it. "I'll be seeing you," he said.

"You're a pretty good shot," said a familiar male voice from behind him.

Reno suppressed a groan as he turned around, eyes narrowed. "Hello Raith."

"Hey, Pony Boy."

Reno didn't bother to comment. Raith hadn't changed much. Taller, sure, broader across the shoulders, black hair carefully styled. His face was more angular, and he had a grey zig-zag tattoo on either cheek.*

Still the same cock-sure attitude, though, Reno realised, watching Raith watching him.

"How've you been?" Raith said congenially.

Reno grunted. "Fair." Fact was, it had been a year since Rude had disappeared, with no word, no sign, no clue of where he could be. Reno believed that Felice had given up her younger son for dead, as well. She'd grown frailer, and this year's winter, although milder, had gone straight to her chest.

Reno worked as hard as he could, teaching in earnest, now, at Zirengia's, but the money wasn't good, and without Rude's income they were struggling. Reno harboured an honest fear that Felice was literally going to work herself to death.

He wanted, no, needed to get her out from under the Plate, up where she could see the sky, at least, and get some good health care, but he couldn't see how. He felt like a fish in a bowl.

To top that off, there'd been some sort of inflationary boom, or crop failure, or both, and prices were skyrocketing. Some of the seedier residents under the Plate were feeding off their neighbours as a result. Rival gangs fought more often. Hence the gun. Kandy abuse was increasing, too.

"You don't look it," Raith said. "Look like shit, actually."

"Piss off, Raith." Reno shouldered past him and headed for the door.

"Wait." Raith followed him out the door. "Reno. C'mon. I didn't mean anything by that. You really look like hard times got a hold of ya."

Reno turned. "Hard times got a hold of everyone right now."

Raith scratched his chin thoughtfully. "May have a solution for you, if you're interested."

"Solution to what?"

"Extreme poverty."

Reno gave him a blank look.

"I'm offering you a job."

Reno crossed his arms. "What are you into, Raith?"

"I'm a personal bodyguard. Just fired the guy who worked with me. Looking for another."

"And what makes you think I'd suit?"

"Watched you shoot, so you can handle a gun. Personal experience on how well you land a punch. You were smart, back then, presuming that hasn't changed. And you move like a fighter--something new and sexy on you, by the way," he added with a grin.

Reno rolled his eyes. Obviously one thing hadn't changed. Raith was still a jerkoff with a high opinion of himself. "Who's the client?"

"Not a client, exactly. I work for him, not myself."

"Who, Raith?"

"None other than the Don, himself.

"Corneo? Forget it."

"Reno, the money is very good. Enough to get you outta here."

"Enough to afford topside?"

"You bet. Of course, you'd be living at the Corneo mansion in Sector six, still under the Plate, but you could keep a place up there. I do."

Reno hesitated. Actually hesitated. He could get Felice out of there, and give her a chance to recover from whatever was slowly killing her. What? Why was he even giving this any thought? Don Corneo was part of the problem. His gangs ruled the streets. It was his Kandy flooding the market. His organisation had all but shut down services in sector six, and Shin-Ra, for some reason, let him. Reno shook his head. "Thanks anyway, Raith."

Raith regarded him sombrely. "Pity."

"Is it," Reno said flatly. "I don't know how you live with yourself, frankly."

"I manage."

Reno started to walk away again. He could do without this shit. Or, truth be known, the temptation.

"Word is, Corneo's very grateful to whoever it was took out Krane," Raith said casually.

Reno froze. "What did you say?"

"Sure. Krane was a low-life, and he was hedging the market, sending shit-laden Kandy onto the streets. Least Corneo's stuff is pure." Raith's eyes narrowed. "Addiction may be up, but deaths are down."

Reno frowned. It was true. But, more importantly, "what has this got to do with me?"

"Rumour has it the guy that killed him is a friend of yours."

"Was," Reno corrected tersely.

Raith smiled slowly.

Shit. Reno had all but confirmed, to a member of the Corneo organisation, that Rude had killed Krane. What the hell was he doing? "Rumour, where?" he said, hoping to back-pedal.

Raith ran a hand through his hair. "Look, forget all this fucking around. I'm just going to be straight up with you, 'kay?"


He leaned against the wall, avoiding Reno's eyes. "I've been watching you, on and off, for a while, about three or four months, actually. I know what you've been doing for work, and I know your friend's mother is sick. I haven't been local here for long, but I know enough to ask around. You want to get her out of here; I want to help. That's all." He paused, looking back at Reno's face. "Krane was a fuckwit. If he hadn't already been killed, I was to do it myself within that week anyway. Your friend, whoever he is, saved me some work and I got promoted as a result. So I figure I owe you both one."

Reno found that hard to believe. And yet... somehow, he knew he was going to accept the job. He didn't say anything, though. Not yet.

"Corneo wanted me to hire someone I trust."

Trust? That went too far. Raith was a liar. "So you'd choose me."

"Sure, why not?" Raith said. "Fact is, even if I didn't owe you one, I still... you know, owe you one."

An image of that day, over three years ago now, in the hallway, flashed across Reno's mind. He sighed. "No, you don't."

"No, I do. It's dangerous, it's a pain in the arse, but it's not without its perks. Just say the word, the job's yours."

Reno knew he was going to regret asking the next question. "How much?"

Raith mentioned a per month figure roughly equivalent to what Felice brought home in a year. "And if you do die, Reno, she'll be looked after. Corneo has a good pension plan."

That struck Reno as hilarious, for some reason. You didn't think of crime bosses handling people's retirement funds. He wiped a hand over his eyes. He could get Felice out of here. And, he thought, his mind working, Corneo had connections, some said to President Shinra himself. Maybe he could tap into those, see if he couldn't track down whatever it was Felice still wasn't telling him about his sisters. Maybe even... Rude?

"Fine," he finally said.

Raith's grin split his face. "Done, then. Welcome aboard."

All Reno felt at that was a sinking sensation in his gut.

"You don't trust me," Raith said.

"I have good reason not to," Reno said.

Raith shifted his shoulders against the wall. "Yeah. I was an arsehole. I still am." He shrugged. "Fact is, I think I always was a little in love with you, Reno."

Huh. Reno smiled lazily and closed the space between them, his arm leaning on the wall next to Raith's head, their mouths close, placing his hand on Raith's hip, curling his palm around his hipbone and flattening his thighs into Raith's. "Yeah?" he said huskily, pressing his hips against Raith's until he could feel upwards movement in the other youth's pants. "Well... the feeling was completely...you know...one sided." He moved away with a snort. "You have to be kidding me."

The scowl on Raith's face was priceless. "Guess I deserved that."

"Yeah. Well. To every action there's an equal and opposite, they say."

Raith's lip curled in a half smile. "C'mon. Never even crossed your mind back then?"

"Not even once. Never was one for lapdogs."

"Well, you're working for Don Corneo now, Pony Boy," Raith said quietly, his voice laced with irony. "Prepare to become one."

Comment on this Chapter.
Back to Contents

Previous Chapter
Next Chapter

References Home
Story Home

* Yes, I know. Player D actually has no tatts on his cheeks. However, the hair that is drawn down the side of his face side-on could be seen that way, and the hair thing is a bit dicky anyway. Allow for creative license on this one. You'll see why. :-) Player D was, in fact, recruited from Corneo's organisation into the Turks.