Chapter Nine

Reno vaguely remembered the period that Rude was gone from his life as some of his darkest days. Darker than when his mother had died. Darker than when he'd been told his father had been killed in Wutai. Darker than the day he realised Vickie was dead and his other sister, lost to him, perhaps forever. Darker than any that had followed later.

Darker, even, than this day, because no matter what happened today, Reno knew that Rude was here with him.

It wasn't so much that the events of that time were so awful. They had their moments; they weren't all bad. Some were, in fact, really fucking good.

And it wasn't like they didn't have worse to come.

But only someone who's tried to live any part of their life with half of themselves missing would understand why it was so hard, anyhow, even when it shouldn't have been.

Even if you manage to, somehow, learn to almost love another.


"Coupla things we need to do," Raith said as they wandered through Wall Market, heading for Corneo's Mansion, Reno presumed. "You gotta meet the boss, for a start."

"What's he like?"

"Kinda disgusting, really. He spends a lot of time trying to get his lardy arse laid with girls that are way too young for him. Thinks he's quite the ladykiller."

Reno had some second--or, rather, third--thoughts at that point.

"Maybe not as bad as it sounds," Raith continued, pushing his black hair out of his eyes. "He is supposedly... um... auditioning candidates for the future Missus Corneo, but I think it's just his way of, well, you know, getting with the new Honeybee girls before anyone else does." He rounded a corner, dodging a cart coming in the opposite direction. "Nah. It really is as bad as it sounds."

Honeybee... the Honeybee Inn. Corneo's own little sex house. "Why don't you do something about it then?" Reno said. "Report him?"

"Well, for a start, the lardarse is my boss," Raith said in his what are you, a retard? voice. "For a second, it's not like he's kidnapping them off the street or nothin'. They're all walk-ins, there 'cos they wanna be. For a third, either way, just not my problem."

"How's it not?"

"Walk ins, Reno. Shit. One thing you'd better learn in this business, and quick smart."

"What's that?"

"Don't get wise. And keep your head down, and your nose outta anything that don't concern you. Which'd be anything but what you're told to do. By Corneo or by me."

Reno really regretted his decision to do this, now. "Look, I don't think this is a good idea."

"'Sup to you." Raith took Reno by the elbow, steering him into a side street away from the press of people. "But there's a reason you agreed to take this job. Has that changed any?"

Reno sighed. Of course it hadn't, not over the past half hour. Felice was still sick and they still had no money. But... Don Corneo was everything that made the slums unbearable--or sold everything that made them bearable, depending on your viewpoint. Drugs, sex... those could make life worth living in this neighbourhood. If the drugs didn't kill you and the sex was voluntary and you could pay for both without preying on your neighbours for the gil, that is. But what would Rude think of all of this? After he killed Krane; after what'd happened to his brother?

Reno realised, then, that Raith still had hold of his elbow, and shook him off.

"I ain't gonna pretend I'm not disappointed," Raith said when Reno didn't answer. He indicated the grey zig-zag tatt on the left side of his face briefly. "Fact is, though, once you're in, you're in, and there's no backing out, so it's gotta be up to you." He dug into his pocket and pulled out a small phone, frowning slightly as he tapped some buttons. "Take this. My home number's programmed in. If you change your mind--"

"I'm not taking your phone, Raith."

"I can get another one. C'mon. Take it." He held the phone out.


Raith gave him a withering look. "You gotta accept someone's help sometime. Remember you're not 'barely subsisting' alone. You have a sick woman to think about." He continued to hold it out. "I'm not taking 'no' for an answer, here, Pony Boy."

"Rack off." Reno started to move, but Raith blocked his path. "Oh, for gods' sakes, fine then. Give me the bloody thing."

Raith did. "That wasn't so bad, now, was it?"

Reno grunted and shouldered past him, heading for home.


The house was dark when Reno arrived home. He frowned. That was strange. Felice should've been home by now. He opened the kitchen door and turned on the light, shivering slightly. The heat hadn't been turned on, either.

Felice was lying in a cumpled heap on the floor.

"Oh, hell." Reno knelt next to her, lifting her head off the cold floor. She was barely conscious; her skin was clammy and her breathing, laboured. Oh, hell. "Felice," he said, low and urgently. Don't you dare do this!

"Reno?" Her voice was barely above a whisper, a strained husk.

"Yeah. Tell me. What can I do?"

"I can't see you."

He frowned. Her eyes were wide open. That couldn't be good. "I'm calling a medic," he said.

"We can't afford--"

He soothed her with a shh and his hand. "You let me worry about that. Come on, we need to get you off this cold floor." But first thing to do--Reno flipped open the phone Raith'd given him and dialled the EMC. The guy on the other end of the phone sounded doubtful when Reno gave the address, but agreed to send out a bus when Reno asked the man's name and threatened to walk down there and rip his balls out through his throat if he didn't.

He had Felice in bed and the heat turned on by the time the medic turned up, and Reno was ordered out of way while the man did his thing.

He came out of the bedroom some ten minutes later. "Well, Reno, I have some bad news, I'm afraid."

"Pneumonia, right?"

"Yes. But, the pneumonia's the least of our worries right now. Your mother has cancer, in the region of her brain behind her eyes. It's still operable, but only barely. If the tumours are not removed, and soon, she will die."

Reno swallowed, stunned. How could he have missed noticing this? "What about her sight?"

The medic shook his head. "Too late for that. The optic nerves have already been damaged, and we'll have to take out a large chunk of those to have any hope of saving her life. She may very well lose one or both of her eyes, as well."


"Potions fix injuries. They don't heal illness. And the weak ones we have to work with can only do so much. Only the military gets full healers." He sighed. "Look, Reno, you must know the pneumonia makes any operation right now extremely risky. It could still kill her, and if the op doesn't, and we get all the cancer... well, I'm sorry to say that the chest infection probably will."

Fuck. Reno felt his stomach churn. "What I don't understand is, how can she not have known this was happening? She was a nurse."

"Reno, she did know. Felice told me most of this herself, and I confirmed it with a mobile scan. She will have been in some pain, given the advanced stage, and her sight will have been failing for some weeks, probably, if not months. She needs a hospital, and as soon as possible. Preferably yesterday."

She'd known. And had kept it from him, knowing full well they couldn't possibly afford the operation required to save her life. And he'd barely noticed. He closed his eyes briefly. He didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in his ability to do this on his own, but there was one thing he did know: if Reno didn’t find some way out of this for her, when Rude returned, his mother would be dead. No way was he going to allow that to happen.

"Set it up," he said tersely.

"You have no--"

"Set it up."

"Reno, if you don't have either a work ID card or the funds for the operation, she will not be admitted. And you'll be out the cost of the transfer anyway."

"I know."

The medic nodded, and pulled out his phone, wandering out of the room.

Reno sighed, and pulled the phone Raith had given him out of his pocket. I can't believe I'm actually going to do this. But some things were more important than his stupid pride. This was Rude's mother. He flipped it open, pressed the required buttons, and waited for an answer on the other end.

"That didn't take long," Raith said.

"Yeah, don't rub it in. Look, I wouldn't call you if it wasn't something bad. You know that, right?"

"Sure I do. What's up?"

"I, uh, need your help."

Raith didn't even hesitate. "Just tell me what you need."


Raith met Reno at the hospital, and, while Felice was wheeled into the OR, handed over a prepayment for her operation amounting to a significant amount of gil--more than Reno had ever seen in one place.

"C'mon Reno. She's going to be a long time. My apartment's not far. I'll give the hospital my number and they can call you when they know something."

Reno shook his head. "I have to stay."

"Right then. Hospital caf food it is then. What'll it be?"

"I'm not hungry."

"You won't do her any good if you flake out on the floor."

"Good point."

"I'll be back."

Reno paced the waiting room until Raith returned, then paced some more.

Raith watched him for a moment then put the food on a side table. "I would've got coffee but there's just no way anyone can swallow that machine crap. Coffee should be fresh, hot and you know, actual coffee."

Reno nodded, too distracted to answer. Who really cared?

"If you want some, though..."

"No." Reno realised how sharp he sounded, then. Felice's situation wasn't Raith's fault, or his problem. "Look, Raith, I... really appreciate this. I'll pay you back as soon as I can." And, given how much it was, it would take Reno years. The very thought of owing Raith that much money...

Raith stuffed both his hands in his pockets. "You don't have to, you know."

"Sure I do."

"I mean it. Call it my good deed for the day."

Reno ground his teeth together. More like, for the century. And strings would be attached. "I am not taking your money, Raith."

"Call it a gift to her, then."


"Fine, then. Take as long as you have to. And, I have more where that came from, if you need it."

"I am not--"

"Look, I'm not using it right now. And the op's only the first expense. You've still got to find money for her recuperation, potions for after the op, hospital food. And what about after that? She obviously can't work where she was, so there goes her income. She won't even be able to read any more. She'll need to learn to get around again. Even the small things will need to be relearned. Can you do all of that yourself, and still come up with the money for a roof over your heads?"

Reno rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger. Much as he hated the concept, Raith was right. Felice would need live-in help. And there was no way Zirengia's would pay him enough. Just... no way. "I'll work something out."

"I'd put her on my work ID but it's too late to do that, now. They know she's not covered by me."

"Stop it," Reno said irritably.

"Stop what?"

"The 'nice' act you've got going on."

Raith sat down in one of the waiting-room chairs, and leaned back, resting his feet on the coffee table and crossing his legs at the ankles. "Whatever you say, Pony Boy."

Reno sat down as well, picked up the sandwich Raith'd bought for him, mentally adding the cost of it to his debt, and took an unenthusiastic bite. It went down like sawdust.

"She'll be okay."

Reno grunted. "Seems like nothing I try to do will ever make any difference at all."

"Welcome to the real world."

"Don't be so fucking condescending."

There was a long silence while Reno stared out the window of the hospital's waiting room. It was raining. He was not made to wait. He just didn't have it in him. Even Zirengia'd had trouble instilling Reno with any sort of patience at all. And all he could think about was how he had failed Felice--and Rude--so miserably.

"Raith," he finally said. "Is that job offer still open?"


The next few days went by in a confusing, grey blur.

Felice came out of the other side of the six-hour operation alive, if not worse for wear. The surgeon was unable to give her more than a "we'll see" prognosis, however.

"C'mon," Raith said to Reno as the doctor left. "Let's get this sorted so you can make sure she's looked after properly."

Reno looked at Raith blankly.

"C'mon," Raith repeated. "I'll introduce you to the boss. Then you can get some rest. Yer spent, man."

Don Corneo's Mansion was back in the old neigbourhood, Sector Six, but it didn't take too long to get there by transport. Not long enough, anyway, Reno thought as Raith elbowed him awake.

Raith raised an eyebrow at the guard at the door and the man nodded.

"Thanks, Scotch," Raith said. "C'mon, Reno. Look, don't say anything unless you're spoken to, 'k?"

Reno nodded, and followed Raith through a large front reception area. The mansion looked rather like a palace, with lush furnishings and rich but bawdy colours. Corneo liked a lot of red.

"Kinda loud," Reno said.

"You should see the dungeon," Raith said in a low voice.

"I'm not even going to ask."

"Good idea."

Corneo was, just as Raith'd said, a disgusting, but eerily well-dressed man. It wasn't so much his weight that made him disgusting, or the tattoo of a arrow-shot heart on his near-bald head, or the blonde flash of carefully-kept hair that made up the "almost" part of almost-bald, but the fact that every single time a woman walked into the room, he would openly leer at her like he could barely manage to keep it in his pants.

Reno was not averse to watching a woman walk, of course, even to the point of extreme enjoyment, but he at least tried to be discreet about it.

Corneo seemed sympathetic to Reno's situation, though, which was a contradiction Reno found difficult to reconcile.

"I can admire a boy who watches over his mother, Reno," he said congenially. He lifted a finger and whispered in the ear of the underling who responded.

The underling nodded and left.

Don Corneo peered at Reno with a gaze sharper than his mere appearance would suggest he was capable of. Reno became very aware he was being sized up and adopted a casual lassitude in response. Of course, Corneo was smarter than he appeared. You couldn't get to where he was without at least some smarts.

Corneo nodded, appearing satisfied. "You will have your work I.D. by tomorrow, Reno, and I will personally make sure the hospital is informed."

"I appreciate that, sir," Reno said quietly.

Corneo's eyes narrowed, then he glanced at Raith. "Crawl's replacement, you say."

"Reno can be trusted, Don, with anything you need," Raith said.

"Your personal recognisance, Raith," Corneo said. "We can't have a repeat of that incident with Crawl."

"Of course," Raith said.

Reno glanced at Raith then. His face was stony, closed. Just lost the guy who worked with me, he'd said. Crawl, Reno presumed. Obviously, there was more to that. Maybe Crawl couldn't be trusted. "Lost" was kinda an ambiguous word for "dead".

Corneo turned to Reno, then. "Reno, we are like a family here. We look after each other, and I will look after you. But there are certain obligations on you. I am sure Raith has filled you in but it is my responsibility as the head of this family to be a kind father to those under me, so let me reiterate, yes?"

"Yes," Reno said.

"Yes. There are," Corneo said, "three rules in the Mansion. The first one is, 'no men', unless he works for me, or I have invited that person here. You have your own room here, but if I catch you bringing in your boyfriend, expect to be dealt with."

Reno raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing.

"The second," Corneo said, "is I am a generous man, and I like to share with my friends. Many nights I have ladies visit me. Of course, there are so many I can't possibly choose them all, so my men can feel free to choose from whoever's left, and you may do with them whatever you would like. First pick from the new HoneyBees."

In other words, you got to fuck the girls before anyone else did. And consent didn't seem to be a necessity. Reno felt kinda sick at that one.

"Thirdly," Corneo said, and he leaned forward slightly, the congenial tone gone from his voice, "at all times, Reno, you are to do as you're told, and don't even think about betraying us. Do you understand?"

Reno inclined his head. "Of course, sir," he said carefully.

"Good," Corno said, his congeniality restored. "Tattoos. Hm. Crescents, under the eyes, I think, coloured to match his hair. Do it."

What? Reno thought as two burly underlings took him by the arms and held him down.

"No leaving," Raith said quietly, pointing to his cheeks. "We're all marked."

Reno glared at him.

When they'd finished and let Reno go, Raith handed Reno a potion. "For the discomfort," he said.

Reno pocketed the small bottle. He'd save it for something more extensive instead.

Raith showed Reno around the Mansion. "We'll do HoneyBee's later. Although I'm sure you've visited at one point, right?"

"I don't pay for sex," Reno grunted.

"Of course not," Raith said sardonically. "You wouldn't need to."

Arsehole. "Why isn't his house up top?" Reno wondered.

"Supposedly, so the Don can keep a close eye on the 'pulse of the people'," Raith said, "but it's probably more to with the fact Corneo wants to live in close proximity to the Honeybee Inn. He has a taste for the seedier side of life. I think he just likes it down here."

There were extra rooms for Corneo's underlings. Raith took Reno to a small one nestled in between Raith's and a couple of other guards.

"Yours. For when you need to be here 24/7, which happens quite a lot lately. Don't worry," Raith said, "we'll check out some apartments later."

Reno nodded. He wasn't sure if he'd actually be able to sleep in the midst of so much purple, frankly. Oh, man. This whole thing was one big fucking mistake, and he knew it. Too late now. "So, what's with that whole 'no men' rule?"

Raith shrugged. "Corneo's fear of being assassinated borders on the paranoid, even for someone in his position. Somehow he can't get it into his thick skull that a woman could take him out just as easily."


"You said it. No one's ever accused the Don of extreme intelligence." He grinned. "Why? Boyfriend?"

"Don't be a retard, Raith."

He gave Reno a half smile. "Girlfriend, then? No? Huh. I'm in with a shot then."

"Please see my previous answer," Reno muttered.

Raith just grinned.

Sometime that week, Reno found a reasonable place that he thought would suit Felice and himself. And almost had a heart attack when he got his first pay, direct deposited into his account. He'd have Raith paid back in no time at this rate.

And through it all, Raith kept Reno topped up with some really good, fresh, hot coffee, that actually was, you know, real coffee.


"Hello Reno," the nurse said as he reached Felice's room.

"How is she, Zoe?"

"She's awake, today." They'd had Felice in an induced coma and life support for the week, partially to keep the pneumonia at bay.

"That's good news." He put his hand on the doorknob to go in the room, but the nurse put her hand on his arm.

"She hasn't any sight left," she told him, "so touch is very important. Don't be afraid to hug her, hold her hand. Let her know you're there."

Reno nodded. "Is she in any pain?"

"Some, but for the most part, she's comfortable." The nurse smiled gently. "Your mother should be very proud of you."

Of course. Up here, she wouldn't know that Corneo was anything other than a legitimate businessman. Reno wondered, briefly, how he'd managed that. Probably his links to Shin-Ra. Who knew?

He had to admit, Felice without all of the breathing apparatus and sitting up in bed, propped by pillows, was a much better sight, but he couldn't help but feel guilty about the bandages across her eyes. If only she'd felt able to talk to him earlier. He wasn't sure what he could've done, but he would've at least tried.

"Who's there?"

"Hey Felice," he said, wincing. He should've identified himself as soon as he walked into the room. He wandered over and took her hand. "'Sup?"

"Not a lot," she said, with some diffculty.

He frowned. She was still having trouble breathing. He didn't like that. Well, maybe he could cheer her up a bit. "I do have some good news. I have a new job. A good job; one that means I can support us both in relative comfort." He squeezed her hand. "And when you're done with all of this stuff, I have another surprise for you."


"New digs."

"I don't understand."

"I have put a deposit down on a new apartment, closer to the sky. Somewhere you can breathe. Somewhere you can recover, get warm."

"No, Reno, I can't make you--"

"Felice," Reno said gently, "you've been through more than anyone should have to. You've looked after me ever since--" he stopped, unsure if he should mention Rude's name. She never did, and while they still didn't know if Rude was alive or dead he figured he should follow her example. He sighed. "You're sick. You have to concentrate on getting better. It's time for me to look after you."


"I mean it, Felice, and I'm going to insist, here, I think."

"Oh, you are, are you?" She started to laugh but that turned into a cough that had her gasping for breath when she'd finished.

Reno filled a cup with water and handed it to her, helping her drink it. "Yeah. I am."

She thanked him with a nod, handing the cup back silently before leaning back into the pillows. "You're too good to me."

"No. I am nowhere near good enough to you. Fact is, I should've done this a lot earlier than I did. Now I can."

"Must be some job. Exactly where is this money coming from, Reno?"

"Advance on my pay and a low-interest loan," he lied.

For the first time--and hopefully the last, he thought guiltily--he was glad Felice had lost her sight. She'd know right away where the money was coming from if she could see the tatts. And she didn't need to know exactly how much he was bringing in. All she needed to know was that she was going to be well again, soon, and that he wouldn't let anything happen to her. He owed it to her, and to Rude. "But for now, let's get you the care you need, okay?"

She smiled wanly. "If you say so, Reno."

He put his hand on hers, squeezing reassuringly. "I say so."

Her hand clutched at his. Her skin was clammy. She wasn't out of danger, yet. "Reno, what if he comes home? How will he know where to find us?"

He swallowed, trying to make sure his voice would be steady when he spoke. "Don't worry about that. I have it taken care of."


"I'll leave our details with a few people," he hedged. The neighbourhood would know exactly where to find him, soon enough. He swallowed again. He could never step foot inside Zirengia's again, that was for sure. And he didn't blame her. "There is no way that he can return home and not be known. He will be told. Or I will be, and I will find him."

She coughed again, and he put his hand on her shoulder until she settled. "Do you really think he's still--"

"Absolutely," Reno said firmly.

"You're a good boy, Reno."

Yeah. Right. "I'm sorry, Ma, but I have to go to work," he said.

She reached out her hand again, and he took it. "That's the first time you've called me that," she said. "Look, I have something to tell you, just in case I don't get through this."

"Don't be silly," he said.

"Don't interrupt your mother."

Despite himself, Reno grinned. "Sorry."

"That's better. It's about your sisters. Honey, if I don't get through this, I have information on where your younger sister is. Or, rather, should be. I have arranged to make sure you get it. I wish I could tell you more now, but I just can't."

Reno nodded, then remembered she couldn't see him. "I understand," he said, even though he didn't, really. He wanted more information, now, but he also didn't want to put her under any more pressure. "Thankyou." He put her hand on her stomach, gently kissing her forehead. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay? Get some sleep."


Most of Reno's job over the first couple of weeks with Don Corneo's organisation amounted to "bouncer" duty at the Honeybee Inn. In other words, he and Raith kept the riff-raff out and made sure all services were paid for.

Reno barely saw his new apartment. He'd spend nights at Honeybee, catch an hour or so of sleep in his room at Corneo's and spend the rest of his time at the hospital. He wanted to make sure Felice knew she was not alone.

Holy shit, but he wished Rude was around.

One night after work, he and Raith wandered back to Corneo's after their shift ended and went to Reno's room so that Reno could pay back Raith some gil.

"It's about a quarter of it," Reno said.

Raith accepted the envelope and put it in his pocket without looking at it. "I really meant it when I said--"

"Raith," Reno said tiredly. "I'm not going over this again with you."

"Fine, whatever."

The door opened suddenly, and a girl stumbled in. "Well, I'm here," she annouced.

"Good for you," Raith said mildly.

Reno frowned. He really had to rememebr to lock his damned door. Mind you, she looked kinda familiar... hang on... Seleen? It was. And she looked really drunk.

"Rejected me again," she slurred. "Do what you have to."

"What is she talking about?" Reno said.

Raith glanced at Seleen, disgust crossing his features. "She 'tries out' for Corneo's bride at least once a week. Your predecessor used to take enthusiastic advantage of the leftovers policy."


"I know you," she said, squinting at Reno, teetering slightly. "You stole my Kandy and didn't pay up. I got cut for that."

"Maybe you shoulda stayed around," Reno said dryly. "Or, at least, returned my friend's shirt, given you actually stole enough of my gil to cover that little packet three times over."

"Yeah, you're still a shit." She collapsed on the bed, then, lying on her back. "I hate you, Reno," she slurred. "You made me feel like a person for a second."

Reno sighed. "Seleen, you don't have to be here. It's no life."

"You're not going to get through to her," Raith said.

Reno looked at her again. Her eyes were half-lidded and she was all but unconscious. "Fuck it. She's not drunk. She's wasted. Corneo said that we're supposed to make sure the girls don't inject that shit."

"She didn't."

"Then how--"

"I'm sure if you think about it you'll work it out."

"I don't--"

Raith laughed. "Five gods, Reno. You are not that dim, or that innocent. The guys she's hooking outside Honeybee's are the ones injecting. She's eating the stuff." He raised an eyebrow. "Seleen's pretty popular, so she gets to eat a lot, if you get my meaning. Most of the girls have the sense not to swallow. Seleen, well, the little bitch wasn't that bright to start with, and she always did like sweet things."

Reno glanced at the now completely unconscious girl before turning her on her side so she wouldn't choke on anything, like, say, her own vomit. She was still just a kid. A nasty-arse kid, but still. "I hear that. She must be pretty good at what she does though."

"I'm better, and I don't make you shoot up first." Raith gave Reno a direct look, then an all-too-familiar half-smile; the same one Reno, himself, used when he was trying to seduce someone. It would've been sexy as all hell, on anyone but Raith.

Truth be known, it was sexy as all hell, but still--Raith. Arrogant bastard. Reno yawned. "What time is it?"

Raith glanced at his watch. "Almost five-thirty."

"I need to get to the hospital."

"You can't keep burning it at both ends like this. Get some sleep first."

Reno indicated Seleen. "Bed's taken."

"So use my room. Or go home for a couple of hours."

"I can't. Too much on."

"You'll kill yourself at this rate."

"Stop it. You're not my mother," Reno muttered.

Raith put both his hands up. "Whatever. Just see's you don't get me killed in the process, eh, Pony Boy?"

"Make sure she doesn't steal anything," Reno said shortly, then strode out the door.


Reno had the night off, and he knew that he should probably be at home getting some actual sleep rather than sitting in the bar formerly known as Krane's, nursing his fourth shot of good bourbon.

Sleep was not going to happen, though, not without some consolidation; a bit of liquid back-up. He stared into the glass numbly. He had no idea what he was doing here, of all places. There were plenty of other bars around, better than this one. And yet, when he'd left the hospital, after on-off fitful snoozing in the large chair next to Felice's bed, he'd found himself choosing to walk home instead of taking a transport.

And instead of going to his new home, he'd found himself walking back to Sector 6; back to Wall Market; back... here, wandering into the bar in the late afternoon. It was virtually deserted.

"Hey, honey, don't I know you?"

Reno looked up, into the face of the woman he'd seen the last time he was here, a year earlier. Reno frowned slightly. Had he really lost track of time? It had been a year, to the day. Maybe that was the thing. He tried to remember the woman's name. What had Rude's ma said? "Yeah. Seisin, right?"

"You're Rude's friend. Saw you the day he dis--" she stopped then. "I'm sorry."

Reno shrugged. "Sorry about Krane," he murmured.

"Don't be. My brother was a shit." She watched him for a second, then took a pair of glasses down from the back of the bar and poured herself a shot, and another for Reno. "For when you're done with that one--on the house, hun," she said as Reno reached into his pocket for some gil.

"Thanks," he said, downing the one he'd been nursing. He held out his right hand. "Reno."

She shook it. "Bad day?"

Reno shrugged.

"Are you in contact with... Felice, at all?"

He nodded.

"I heard she wasn't well. How is she?"

"Not so good." Her pneumonia was worse; nothing they'd given her was helping. They'd thought she wasn't going to last the day, but she'd come good. That's when they'd kicked him out; told him to go and get some real sleep and come back in the morning; that they would call him if anything changed.

Reno's real concern was that she'd given up, although he found that hard to imagine. Felice had always been so strong.

Seisin's brows knitted. "Oh, I am very sorry to hear that. Good woman. Give her my best, would you, honey?"

He nodded again.

"If you ever... happen to see Rude, you can give him my best, too."

"Not likely I will."

She flashed him a wry smile. "I find that hard to believe."

Reno set his jaw. "And why is that, exactly?"

"Saw the way he looked at you, that day. He'll be back. Don't you worry."

Reno stared back into the new glass. "I have no idea what you mean," he mumbled.

Seisin leaned forward against the bar so her face was close to Reno's. "Look, I don't know who killed my brother. It could've been any number of people. Frankly, I don't care. If it was Rude, though... well, Krane was a slug who deserved whatever he got, and I would hand the kid an engraved medal for it."

Reno looked at her face so he wasn't staring at a faceful of cleavage. It was nice enough, but it wouldn't do to be impolite. "Find that hard to believe," he said.

"Believe it. I know what Krane was capable of." She indicated Reno's cheekbones. "I used to look forward to seeing one of you guys, in the hope that, this time, Corneo had finally ordered that hit. I hated him." She poured herself another shot and downed it before putting the bottle away. "Believe me, I had reason."

Reno watched her for a moment. Hard woman. Then he nodded.

"Have you eaten at all today, Reno?"

A nurse had brought him a sandwich at some time during the day, and he'd almost managed to stay awake on the amount of coffee he'd gone through, but... "Not much," he admitted.

"Cook's not in yet, but I have some gods-amazing pie I can heat up if'n you're hungry."

"Sounds good."

"Sweet or savoury? I have a chicken and vegetable pie that I can guarantee is so damned good you'll be coming in your shorts after two slices."

"Better take just the one piece of that then. I didn't bring a spare pair." He felt like some sugar, though. "And maybe a slice of the other, as well." This time, he did lay some gil on the bar.

"Done." She put the money in the register and wandered through the door into the kitchen.

Reno picked up his glass and took it to a booth in the far back corner of the bar, away from the street; away from the kitchen, and leaned against the wall, stretching his legs out along the vinyl seat. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back until Seisin brought him his pie and another bourbon.

He smiled his thanks and tucked in, and she hadn't been wrong about how good it was. He'd have to come back more often--he sighed. Or not. He still wasn't sure why he'd come here. He leaned against the wall again, bone tired. Maybe he had some stupid thought that Rude'd turn up, but that was less than a fool's hope. Why the hell would anyone turn up to a place where they'd killed a man a year before?

He just... wished it so. It was the last place Reno'd seen him. Somehow, he felt... closer... here.

Gods. He was so tired...

"Hey, Sleeping Beauty," a masculine voice said. "Wakey up there..."

Rude? Reno opened his eyes slowly, trying to focus on the face hovering over him. Grey eyes, pale skin, black hair... not Rude.

Raith. "You're lucky that Seisin was keeping her eye on you. Three different fellers tried to buy you to ship you off to Wutai."

Reno yawned. "Don't be a moron. How long have I been asleep?"

"Couple of hours, according to her. She left you be. Reckoned you needed it." Raith put a bottle, a jug and three glasses on the table. "Bourbon's your drink, right?"


Raith poured the equivalent of three shots into a glass and pushed it towards Reno. "Went by the hospital, heard what was going on with Felice. Are you okay?"

"I'm not the one who's sick."


Reno picked up the glass. "Trying to get me drunk?"

"Tempting, but no. Trying to work out a way to get you to sleep. At least, somewhere other than the back corner of a bar." He poured a glass of water. "That's to make sure you don't get hung over."

Reno downed the alcohol. "Going home," he said, standing. Or rather, trying to stand. He was fine until he got to the "upright" part. Then it all went a bit pear-shaped. He sat again, suddenly.

"Yeah. Not in this lifetime," Raith said. "C'mon. I'll get you home."

Piss off, Reno thought. "Y'okay."

Raith called a transport and asked Seisin to keep the bottle under the bar; he'd come back for it later. "Gods, Reno, how much did you drink before I got here?"

"Dunno. A little bit."

"You're not usually a heavy drinker, are you."

"Not particularly."

It took about an hour to get to Reno's apartment, by which time he figured he'd sobered up enough to get up his own elevator. The pavement agreed with him, when he got close enough to ask it. Mind you, did it really have to hit him so hard? That was completely uncalled-for.

"Yeah. I don't think so," Raith said, pulling Reno up off the cement and throwing the driver some gil. "Where's your keycard?"

"My what?"

"Key. Card."

"Don't talk to me like I'm stupid. I just didn't hear you. Back pocket."

Raith stuck his hand into the back of Reno's pants pocket, and pulled out the card. It didn't actually occur to Reno until Raith'd dragged him through the lobby and into the elevator that he could've gotten it himself. And that Raith'd lingered in there a little longer than he'd needed to.

"I can take it from here," Reno said as they reached his front door.

"Sure thing," Raith said, handing Reno his card... which Reno promptly dropped.

Raith sighed, and with a wry grin, propped Reno against the wall and picked up the card, letting them both in. "Crap, Reno, at least try to hold up your own weight a bit, wouldja?"


Raith reached behind Reno again and removed Reno's gun from the back waistband of his jeans, placing it on a small table in the hallway. Then he dragged Reno into his bedroom and made, it had to be said, a noble attempt to drop Reno onto his bed. Trouble was, Reno forgot to let go, so Raith, predictably, landed on top of him, one of Reno's arms still locked around Raith's shoulders.

Reno looked up at him, and was met by a clear pair of eyes. Raith wasn't drunk at all. I, on the other hand, Reno thought numbly, am too fucking sloshed to move. He probably should roll Raith off him, rather than just lying here; tell him to rack off so Reno could grab some sleep, but he couldn't be bothered. Raith was too heavy for his inebriated limbs to push off. He could stay there, then. Wasn't so bad.

He resisted the urge to giggle at the phrase inebriated limbs. Stupid. Giggle? He wasn't that sloshed. He should probably not let on how drunk he was. Maybe if he mustered all of his dignity and asked real nice, Raith'd get up of his own accord.

Get up. Already up, he thought with a small frown, moving his hips curiously, experimentally, against the pressure that bore down on them. Oh yeah. He was decidedly and pleasantly... up. Huh. When had that happened? He sighed, closing his eyes. Didn't matter. Felt... good. Was probably the pie.

Hang on, wait. Someone--Raith, probably--was kissing him, all mouth and lips and tongue... and teeth. Oh, yeah, good, he thought, wondering why the hell he was kissing Raith back, until his borked mind hit upon the answer. It was 'cos it was gooder when he bit back, all that licking and sucking and exploring. Made his hips arch against that pressure and stuff... except there was this belt buckle that dug into his stomach. That was decidedly not good.

His hands felt compelled to do something about that. They couldn't right away, however, because they were too busy dragging Raith's shirt over his head. Once done there, though, they found their own way to the buckle.

Briefly, his brain screamed at him, what the fuck are you doing? Stop! but the thought was lost, drowned in a miasma of tiny bites at Reno's neck that were threatening to send him insensible. Send him? He was there, already. Was that him actually moaning, now? Holy shit.

"Been wondering 'bout something ever since we did that detention back at school," Raith said in between nips, pulling at Reno's pants with both hands.

Oh, so he had the same idea. But no belt to worry about, so Reno's jeans came off, along with his jocks. Well, that wasn't fair, at all. Holy--what was Raith doing with those hands of his? Reno wasn't exactly sure, but he thought there was fondling involved, enough that he found himself suddenly unable to breathe properly.

Reno just struggled to undo that fucking belt, without a whole lot of success. Crappy stupid inebriated-ey limby fingers wouldn't work. "What?" he mumbled.

"Something about your giant throbbing dick, if I recall." Yep. That was definitely...ughn...stroking.

Ah, there you go, Reno thought as the damned buckle finally came free. "I may've exaggerated a bit." What was that going on with his voice? He sounded almost...something. "For comedic effect."

"Really." Huh. Raith didn't sound surprised. He did lift himself off Reno, though... no. More like slid his body down Reno's until he was standing at the foot of the bed, lips pursed as he eyed Reno's groin. "Well, two outta three ain't bad, Pony Boy," he said as he pulled at Reno's boots and jeans.

"What, no throbbing? That can't be right. There's definitely thro--" Reno was forced to stop talking as Raith straddled him and pulled Reno up by his shirt so Reno sat against him, Reno's dick clamped against Raith's thigh, nestled between leg and balls. Reno lifted his chin so he could look into Raith's face. "Definitely--"

"You talk too much."

"You started it." Dizzy, Reno thought. He would've fallen back onto the bed but for the arms that were holding him where he was.

The corner of Raith's mouth turned up. "No, Pony Boy, you did." His eyes glittered dangerously and Reno realised that he didn't actually mean the talking.

Whatever. More important things to do right now than ruminate.

He arched his lower back so his mouth reached Raith's, but he didn't kiss him straight away, instead running his tongue up Raith's neck, tasting warm salt until Raith dipped his head and took him, instead.

It was kissing, but it was more than that, as well. It was... a duel, warm, raw, each one seeking an instant, devouring dominance then yielding to the other while still not giving way entirely; kissing that took into account their entire bodies, more movement than not; more urgent lust than finesse. Reno's fingers dug into Raith's butt, driven by the heat of Raith's cock against his stomach and his own dick--five Gods--ensnared against Raith's inner thigh, kneaded by Raith's balls as they moved together.

"Godsdamn, Reno." The kiss wasn't broken by Raith's words, the man just moaned them into Reno's mouth.

Hellfire, he's having as much trouble breathing as I am, Reno thought, drawing his mouth away for a moment so he could do just that, suddenly conscious of the sweat that rolled down his back.

Raith regarded him for a moment. "Shirt," he ordered.

Yeah. Reno'd forgotten that. He pulled it off and dropped it on the floor, then recaptured Raith's mouth, swallowing him in, blood rushing through his ears, balls aching... wanting... needing release...

"Not yet," Raith murmured, his voice low and gravelly.

"What?" Reno could barely get the word out.

"This." Raith freed Reno's cock from the confines of his warm, damp--no, come back.

Reno grunted in protest but the sound turned to panting hitches of enjoyment, breath hissing between his teeth as Raith moved so that their dicks were pressed together between their stomachs, his hand stroking Reno's, covering him in their own pre-come and sweat. "Oh, shiiit," Reno moaned.

"Wait." Raith's voice was a tight whisper, now. He lifted himself up onto his knees, moved his hips against Reno's stomach, then drew himself down, slowly... gradually... deliberately... until Reno was buried within Raith's arse. Raith paused for a moment, taking slow, gulping breaths, then rocked against him again, taking Reno deep, his head thrown back in half-lidded ecstacy.

The rushing in Reno's ears became a roar.



Reno woke with a headache and a deep yawn, rolling sideways, muscles stiff, but very, very aware that he had--finally--slept, long, dreamless and hard. He wasn't really hung over, just a bit sore; a bit vague.

Dreamless. No, wait. How had he gotten home? Dreamless... a series of images filled his muddled head and he frowned. Raith? He swallowed. Ugh. His mouth tasted like shit.

Maybe not so dreamless. He glanced at the other side of his bed, which was empty. Yeah. Maybe not so dreamless. Well, no harm in a little fantasy that--hang on a minute. Hang on just one fucking minute. There was an indentation in the other pillow, clear indication that someone else had slept there... and then the memory crashed down around his ears.

Oh, no.

He rolled on his back, arm over his face, sick to his stomach, not so much over the what, but the who. But why, he thought, should this particular case be making him feel so shitty? Raith wasn't the first random fuck he'd had over the last year, and yet, none of the others had left him with so much... regret.

It didn't take him long to realise that it was probably because Raith hadn't been who he'd really wanted.

Gods, Rude, where the hell are you? I need you.

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