Chapter Eleven

There came a time in everyone's life, Reno knew, when you are offered a choice between two paths. This happened often in his own life, but there was always the Big One: that first choice which wasn't between two places to go, so much, or two actions to take, but was rather a choice between options that ended up deciding who it is you were going to be.

Or who you wanted to be.

The real question was, looking back ten years later, or more, or less, could you live with those choices made when you were still half-grown in mind and spirit?


Reno towelled off, and pulled on the borrowed pants, then picked up Raith's shirt. Though clean, it smelled like him, and Reno hesitated before he shrugged it on as well, doing up only half of the buttons. Didn't matter.

He wandered out to the living room, took a seat on the couch and flipped through one of the firearms manuals Raith had lying on the floor.

Raith appeared from the ensuite soon after, wearing only a pair of worn and faded jeans, slung low on his hips, and Reno watched him, the article on small-caliber handguns forgotten, as Raith sauntered across the room. Nothing Reno hadn't seen before, of course; that flat stomach, enhanced by a thin line of fine, silky black hair running from navel to waistband... Reno blinked. Why the hell was he even looking? He didn't even like Raith, let alone--

"You know, I can get my entire midsection photographed and framed so you can look anytime you want," Raith said dryly.


"I'm hot. I know it. But, you know, carry on." He gave Reno an arch look. "You can touch, if you like."

Didn't he ever give up? "Get bent," Reno said sourly.

Raith's eyes dropped. "Coffee?"

"Yeah. Thanks." Reno frowned. If he didn't know any better, he would've thought that Raith was actually... hurt? His face resembled a miniature thundercloud as he wandered into the alcove kitchen, filled the kettle and all but threw it onto its base to heat.

And he was making instant. But, hell, it wasn't like he didn't always come on to Reno just for Reno to say "no", again, so it couldn't be that. Reno shrugged. "Ya know," he said, "for future reference, taking cover behind a motorcycle in a gun battle; probably not the best idea."

Raith said nothing, just staring at the kettle.

"Fuel tank, see. Bullet. Velocity plus heat plus fuel equals ka-blooey?"

Raith's eyes darted to Reno as he filled the mugs with hot water. Man, he looked pissed.

"What's with you?"

Raith didn't look at him. "You really don't get it, do you Reno?"

"Get what?"

"Remember back when I first offered you this job I told you I'd always been on for you? You figured I was being flippant and used it as an opportunity to get your rocks off with some turnabout."

Reno grinned, dropped the manual back on the floor and wandered over to the breakfast bench. "I remember."

"Yeah, you're hilarious." Raith paused for a moment while he added sugar to Reno's mug and then handed it to him. "You know something? I used to avoid the showers after athletics when you were in my class that semester."

Yeah, right. "Why?"

"Too embarrassed, man. Even the thought of the thought of you in the buff and me in the same room'd get me hard. But it wasn't just that."

"What's your point?"

Raith looked him in the eye. "I wasn't being flippant."

Reno studied Raith's face for a moment, keeping his own impassive. Crap. The man was deadly serious. Always a little in love with you, Reno was actually what he'd said. Reno wasn't really sure how he felt about that, so he just went with the usual. "Yeah, well, neither was I. Leave me alone."

"You know, I thought after--" He shook his head. "You came onto me. Pulled me down and started grinding, or I wouldn't've touched ya. And then the brush off. I don't really like being jerked around."

"What the hell, Raith. One drunken fuck does not an attraction make. I was too out of it to even know what I was doing. Some would say you took yerself some advantage."

Raith grimaced. "C'mon, Reno. I know when someone's into me. You can barely keep your eyes to yourself most days."

"You're forgetting to take into account that you're a heavily deluded, arrogant prick."

"True enough." Raith grinned, but the smile didn't reach his eyes. Reminded Reno of how he looked just before he was about to beat someone's head in without any real warning. "Even so, I can still tell."

"Yeah, well, I don't know where you're getting that idea from, but--"

"You work very, very hard at disliking me, you know, and for very little reason, as far as I can tell, my 'delusions' aside. Why do you do that, do ya think?"

Reno opened his mouth to say because you're an arse, then realised, with palpable shock, that, in fact, Raith wasn't an arse. Sure, he was full of himself, but since he'd hired Reno on Corneo's behalf, Raith'd never been anything but... not an arse. Not to Reno, anyway. The people he stood over for Corneo probably had a different opinion. But then, Reno knew he proably had the exact same reputation, all things considered.

He really couldn't process all of that into words, though, so he shrugged instead.

Raith put his mug down, untouched, and turned his back to Reno, leaning against the breakfast bench, crossing his arms across his chest. "You're still holding our school years against me, no matter what I do. Would an apology help?"

Reno ran an eye up Raith's back, hip to neck. The man was all lean meat, a sinewy cat who could laze on the couch or move into instantaneous action with equal grace. And ruggedly beautiful to watch, either way. "What for?" he said, distracted.

"For being, oh, I don't know, just the same crap-arsed bastard as everyone else was in that hell hole, including you?"

"I never beat up on other kids just for being different."

"Neither did I, actually, if you paid any attention at all."


"Oh, Fraser," Raith said sardonically. "Yeah, I threatened him. Wasn't me that beat on him though. And I don't count that one little shit who was blackmailing me, anyways, for nothing but the same fucking stupid reasons everyone else was being so retarded. And who got both of us kicked out of school, I add with prejudice."

"I got myself kicked out of school," Reno said absently, so involved in his contemplation of Raith's shoulders that he took a mouthful of the coffee. Good gods. It was awful. He walked behind the bench and tipped it into the sink, then turned to face Raith.

He looked amused, now. "And I'll wager a year's pay that it was because you decided to go boy hero for your little friends, take all the blame."

Reno grimaced. "I won't take that bet."

"And what'd that get you, exactly?"

Reno shrugged.

This time, Raith's grin did reach his eyes. "See, that's one thing I always did like about you. You didn't give a shit about having to belong, or about what others thought. You just did whatever it was you thought was right, whether you were or not. You were fearless."

"Didn't have anything to lose."

"No, what you had were some real friends."

"Yeah, well, they all forgot me the moment I walked out of those gates."

"I kinda doubt that." Raith's eyes narrowed. "Did you ever go back?"

"Once," Reno said shortly. "Couple of years later." By which time most of the kids in his year had moved on, anyhow.

"Stevens died, I heard, about a year and a half after we left."

"What? They told me he'd retired."

"That's another word for it, I suppose."

Reno ran a hand through his hair. The thought genuinely saddened him. "He wasn't a bad guy, really."

"Nope. He wasn't at that."

It was weird, Reno thought, getting to have a good hard look at yourself through someone else's eyes. He had been unreasonable, and he couldn't, for the life of him, work out why. He had been working hard to dislike Raith, just as Raith'd said; it didn't come natural-like. In fact, when Reno wasn't actively thinking about not liking him; in the actual act of reminding himself that he really, really disliked Raith, he... uh... really didn't. Got along with him quite well.


"Stevens told me you went to bat for me with him that day," Reno said. "Thanks."

Raith shrugged, but his glance was quizzical. "How's your shoulder?"

"It'll keep." A thought occurred to Reno then, something he'd thought to ask a few times but hadn't cared about the answer enough to bother. "Whatever happened to Stork?"

"He went mad so I shot him." Raith's tone was off-hand, but he turned his head so he was looking out the window and his throat worked as he swallowed.

Reno wandered over to the bench, leaning against it in imitation of Raith, in between Raith and the window so the other man looked him in the face. "What happened?"

"Stork wasn't all that smart. Got himself hooked on Kandy pretty quick. The shit he was shooting up was Krane's, I think, and so cut that it sent him spackoid."

"Define 'spackoid'."

"Lost his mind. He'd get a hit, go out and beat up some guy on the street. Or he'd rape someone. He got shithouse strong, too." He looked down at his feet. "Sometimes he chose to stay in. Took it out on me instead."

"That sucks."

"Yeah, well, he was always a violent shit, and Kandy just brought out his good side."

"So, why'd you hang around?"

"Thought I could help. Besides, I pretty much held my own." He shrugged, still staring at the floor. "Best I could do in the end was put him out of his misery."

"You really killed him."

"I really did." Raith's voice was very quiet. "There's a certain amount of irony involved, though."

"What do you mean?"

"That night Stork came home and he was beat up pretty bad; busted nose, coupla teeth missing; hand was broken, too, I think. Finally met up with someone bigger than he was, I guess. But I don't think he even noticed it. What really got me, though, was that he had blood all over his boots. And he was laughing, like... I dunno. But, laughing, you know? He was ranting about how he'd almost killed, of all people..." His voice trailed off.




"Yeah. You know, I knew he'd always hated you, and I reckon that was mostly my fault. Still, I just figured the hallucinations'd gotten to him. Then he started going on about how he was going to go back and put a bullet in your brain. And he was so off his nut he started beating on me. Couldn't stop him without the gun, so I shot him." The last was said matter-of-factly, as if Raith was telling Reno what he'd eaten for dinner. "First time I'd killed anyone."

An image of Seleen's face flashed into Reno's head and he nodded. Hard to forget that, especially when there was no rhyme or reason to it. "Shitty break, man."

Raith uncrossed his arms and leaned on his hands. "Yeah."

"So why do work for Corneo then? You've see the damage Kandy does."

"Why do you?"

"You know why. And it's not the same."

Raith smiled wryly. "You just keep telling yourself that, buddy."

Yeah, Reno thought. "How long?"

Raith frowned. "Not sure. Happened 'bout a year after we were all kicked out, I think."

Reno blinked. When Raith'd talked about irony, he'd had no idea just how ironic he was being. It'd been Stork who'd belted him around, the night he'd met Rude. Sure, it may not have been; it could've been a coincidence, but that was highly unlikely. They'd saved him--Rude, and Raith.

On an impulse, inexplicable even to himself, Reno reached out and curled his left palm around the back of Raith's neck, feeling the other man's muscles stiffen in his hand as he regarded Reno warily. His hair was still wet.

"What are you doing?" Raith said quietly, his eyes searching Reno's face.

"I'm not exactly sure," Reno replied, and it was the truth. "You'll know when I do." He turned slightly so his hip leaned against the bench. "But..." Five gods. He had no idea what to say. He had been acting like a--what was it?--a crap-arsed bastard, and he couldn't even remember why.

Raith bit his lower lip momentarily. "But?"

That single movement, small as it was, sent Reno's heart pounding, and for the first time in almost a year he allowed his body's reaction without interfering with it. More, he allowed himself to be aware of it, as his dick filled with blood, hardening slowly, almost gently, in response to Raith's quickening, deepening breathing. Oh, that was nice. "But," he finally said, moving his face nearer, "I think I need to apologise."

"Yeah? What for?" Raith's words were a quiet breath on Reno's cheek, skittering down his neck. He smelled of soap, and coffee, and... sex.

A single drop of water rolled down the back of Reno's hand and he flexed his fingers, drawing Raith's face to his. Then he stopped, so their cheeks became two opposing poles of magnetism; close but not touching, energy attracted and repelled all at once, their only point of contact Reno's hand on Raith's spine. "I'm an idiot. I didn't see."

"Hm." Raith's eyelashes fluttered as his eyes closed momentarily and his shoulders relaxed. "What do you see now?" he asked, tilting his face so that their mouths were close.

Reno dragged his gaze along Raith's jaw, curling his fingers through the damp hair that covered the nape of Raith's neck, unexpected softness contrasting with the angular masculinity of his throat. "I... don't know."

Those words hung in the air for what had to be only the space of a heartbeat. Or for weeks.

"Reno..." Raith's voice was a whispered groan, and with that one movement, his lips brushed Reno's, a touch so light that Reno wouldn't have known it had even happened, except for the tremours that gathered beneath his skin in response... and he knew that if he moved, if he deliberately touched, then all volition would cease.

But he was already touching; already running his thumb up and down Raith's neck, already brushing the tip of his nose against the other man's cheek, feeling his breath; hearing his want. And, oh, the sound of his own name, said like that--no one, but no one, had ever said Reno's name like they needed him so badly that it hurt. No "Pony Boy" this time, either, just... "Mm?" he said.

"D'you know yet?"


"Gonna let me in on it?"

Reno wanted to speak, but all that he was able to say was, "Mm-hm," again. He ran his free hand slowly up Raith's side from hip to nipple, revelling in the ebb and flow of the muscles under Raith's skin as they twitched under Reno's fingertips in reaction to his touch. Raith groaned softly, but his hands didn't move. He didn't move. It was like he was waiting for something.

Reno ran his lips along Raith's jaw, coming to rest beside his mouth, then frowned slightly as Raith pulled back, just a little bit. "I'm sorry I've been such a shit," Reno murmured.



"So... what are you going to do about it?"

Reno's senses, intensified, became very aware of his surroundings--the edge of the kitchen bench digging into his hip through his borrowed jeans; the smell of coffee wafting up from Raith's untouched mug; the kitchen faucet dripping in slow, measured beats. Without fanfare, the sun, curtained by clouds, had dipped down below the horizon outside and late afternoon had drifted into evening. The streetlights shared their light through the window as an eerie green glow as they turned on, one by one, and the sounds of the peak hour traffic echoed across the city as the citizens of Midgar headed home. Reno's pulse heightened, and his dick pressed excruciatingly against his jeans, begging for escape.

And there, in front of him, becoming clearer to Reno through the gathering dusk, were Raith's glittering grey-violet eyes--and a single question that required a definitive answer.

It had to be Raith's choice, after all of Reno's rejections of him. It had to be, so the correct answer was another question. "What would you like me to do about it?" Reno said, deliberately placing the emphasis on you.

Raith lifted his hands and placed them on Reno's waist.

Huh. Were Raith's hands actually shaking? Reno couldn't be sure, but he thought they were. He didn't want to shift his eyes down to look, though. He was too busy studying the bridge of Raith's nose, wondering if he should move just that little bit forward now, or let Raith make that first, final move.

And Raith did, fisting Reno's shirt and pulling Reno to him in one sharp movement, his eyelids fluttering shut as he teased Reno's lips with his, slipping his tongue in as Reno responded, gripping the back of Raith's neck tighter; hungry, starving, ravenous... more.

Raith murmured deep in his throat, then pulled back, cheeks flushed, licking his lower lip slowly. The movement had Reno holding his breath, fascinated, before he even realised he was doing it. "Do that again," he demanded softly.

"Which?" Raith said with a coy little smile.

Any of it, Reno thought, but he didn't feel like voicing it. "Oh, fuck that," he said instead, pulling Raith to him and taking the other man's mouth for his own.

Raith's hands moved so he was clutching the front of Reno's shirt, and he backed up, dragging Reno with him until they'd backed into the bedroom door. Raith paused there, disengaging his mouth for just long enough to mutter, "couch or bed?", not even allowing Reno time to answer the question.

"Ughn," was all Reno could say, with Raith sucking on his tongue the way he was. He leaned against the other man, pressing against the length of his body, his palms flat against the door on either side of Raith's head as Raith unbuttoned his shirt, then ran his hands along Reno's stomach before pushing Reno's hips against his, grinding against Reno until Reno had to get out of these damned pants, now.

Well, maybe if he took the lead, Raith'd take the hint, so the best course of action was, of course, to unzip Raith, open the door, push him on the bed and strip him naked. That thought; that image of Raith, flat on his back, dick hard, grinning back up at him... godsdamn, but that was pretty, so much so Reno let out an involuntary moan at the notion.

He pulled back a bit from Raith's grasp, getting rid of his shirt, and lowered his eyes to that zipper, licking his lips at the sight of the obvious bulge underneath Raith's fly. The best laid plans, though... Reno was busy concentrating on that getting that waistband unbuttoned, and didn't see Raith open the door just as that damned button came undone.

He wasn't exactly sure how it happened, but within moments, Reno was on the bed, looking up at Raith, and having his jeans unzipped instead. And he didn't mind that one fucking bit. Not one... fucking... oh yeah, he thought as his dick was finally manhandled out of his pants.

"Better?" Raith said with a feral grin, dragging the jeans off Reno's ankles, along with his jocks. He did that two-in-one undress thing as a matter of course, apparently. And the getting Reno naked while Raith was still dressed, too. And it still wasn't fair.

"Much," Reno grunted. He pointed at Raith's hips. "You."

"Just a moment." Raith raised an eyebrow, eyeing Reno from neck to groin and back up to Reno's face. "Enjoying the view."

Reno growled low in his chest. "Don't make me come up there."

Raith removed the offending garment slowly, and Reno swallowed as he watched, his breath catching in his throat. Hellfire, but the man was sexy as all hell, and Reno no longer cared that it was Raith.

Divested of his jeans, Raith strode towards the bed and straddled Reno, running his hands up Reno's chest and pinching a nipple. "That's kinda the point," he said, shifting so their hips and stomachs were pressed together and he could follow up the pinch with a small bite.

Ughn. Reno grasped Raith's arms and collapsed them at the elbows so he could roll Raith over, bending his head so he could suck on Raith's neck for a while, do a bit of work there with his tongue. There was this one little spot where Raith's windpipe merged into his jaw that definitely needed attention...

Man, he tasted good, all salty tang and something undefineable that could only be described as... him. Raith arched his back, opening his legs so that Reno could settle more comfortably between them, and bared his neck, grasping the back of Reno's head with one hand and digging his fingers into the small of Reno's back with the other.

Reno shifted his hip slightly and ran his hand down Raith's side; marvelling at the feel of Raith's skin against his fingertips, smooth and soft played over sinuous cords of lean muscle; until he found what he was after: skin smooth and soft and hot and so fucking graspable that he had no choice but to do just that, what with Raith's groaning as Reno squeezed him being so appealing and all.

Raith bucked his hips against Reno's and Reno kissed up his neck, continuing his slow stroking of Raith's dick, until their lips met again. Godsdamn, he hoped Raith wouldn't do the same to him. He was way too close; there was no way he'd be able to control himself, and he wanted this to last. If not for the fact he'd jerked off in the shower earlier, he'd've popped already.

Raith's kisses, however, had taken on a sense of urgency, and his breathing was ragged. "Oh, shit," he moaned. "Just fuck me, damn you."

Reno ran his thumb over the top of Raith's dick and, yup, he was slick, leaking into Reno's palm. His mind took him back to the last time they'd done this... the look on Raith's face as he'd come... and on a whim, he muttered, "no."

Raith stopped moving and looked up at him, his eyes startled. "What?"

Reno bit his lip. "You do me."

"Are you sure?"

Reno wasn't, but he needed to know... "Yeah."

Why did Raith look so mystified at that? It didn't make sense. But he nodded, rolling sideways so they were facing each other.

Reno watched as the other man visibly steadied his breathing and forced himself to do the same.

Raith ran a fingertip along the underside of Reno's dick. "Have you ever--?"

Reno shook his head.

"Hang on a moment, then." Raith rolled backwards, opening a draw in the small table next to his bed, and took a small bottle from it. A potion, not quite full. Raith leaned back into him, pressing their bodies together and running his tongue along Reno's lips. "Roll over," he whispered, his throat working as he swallowed.

Reno did so, sighing as Raith fitted along his back and curled his hips under Reno's, his dick fitted neatly into the cleft of Reno's butt. His free hand ran along Reno's chest and down his side and hips until his hand stroked Reno's inner thigh, a movement that had Reno biting his lower lip to keep from crying out. Then Raith withdrew his hand, kissing Reno's shoulders as he moved backwards slightly.

"This may be a bit uncomfortable at first," Raith said. "Do you trust me?"

With only the slightest of hesitations, Reno nodded, concentrating only on the feel of Raith's lips on his neck... oh, gods. His hips bucked momentarily as Raith lubricated him with some of the potion, and it tingled his skin with burning pleasure.

"Yeah, they can have that effect on healthy skin sometimes," Raith murmured, his breath hot against the side of Reno's neck as he drew himself closer, drawing Reno's hips backwards and slowly, slowly, entering him.

Reno tensed involuntarily.

"Just breathe with me," Raith sighed, stroking Reno's hips and thighs comfortingly until he was almost all the way in.

Reno did, closing his eyes and savouring the sensation as the potion took over.

Then Raith wrapped his arm across Reno's chest and held him, burying his face in Reno's neck as he pushed in that last, pulled back and thrust again.

Reno gasped as Raith's dick scraped against... something inside... and a bolt of lightning shot through him. He reached back to take hold of Raith's hip. "What the hell--" he choked out.

"Good, huh." Raith's voice was smug, and yet, laced with need. "Want more?" He rocked into Reno again, short and slow, keeping it at that rhythm until Reno was groaning like one of the Bumblebee Inn's whores--except that he wasn't faking--and he wasn't exactly sure how much of it was him and how much was Raith.

Reno leaned back against Raith, interlacing his fingers with Raith's against his chest. Raith upped his tempo then took Reno's hand down with his so they were both fisting Reno's dick, matching the rhythms.

"Ughn. Five gods, Raith..." Reno couldn't hold it any more. With a hoarse moan, he spurted all over their fingers, his orgasm so overwhelming that he didn't, at first, notice Raith shuddering as he followed suit, not until, on Raith's final thrust, he choked out Reno's name.


Reno realised he kinda liked being kissed awake; that gradual conscious awareness of his body being alive well before he was, morning hard-on and all. He opened his eyes and looked straight into Raith's. "G'mornin'--is it?" he said, stretching. Trouble with keeping reverse hours, most days, was never really being sure when you were going to wake up on your days off.

"Not sure," Raith said, running his hand over Reno's butt. "Mid morning, I think."

Reno closed his eyes again, ready to doze off, or, possibly, get up and use the toilet--he hadn't decided which, yet, but then Raith said, "Your phone was ringing."

"Oh, crap." Reno, fully awake, now, dragged himself out of bed.

"What's wrong?"

"I just need to call Felice."

"Checking in?" Raith said with an amused look.

"Not exactly. She knows I spend most of my time at work; knows I sleep there most days, and doesn't expect me home, but I do make sure I call her, at least, on my days off if I'm not going to the apartment so she knows I'm okay."

"She's not actually your mother, Reno."

"To all intents and purposes, she is, as far as I'm concerned. She gave me a home when I didn't have one. She's already lost both her sons, and her husband was, or is, a louse. Popular woman, but without me, she has no family. I'm not going to worry her for lack of a single phone call. Besides, something could've gone wrong with her."

Raith smiled lazily, drawing himself up onto one elbow as he watched Reno drag on his jeans. "You make your phone call. I'll make food."

"I can order something in," Reno said.

"Nah. Quicker if I cook. I'm starved."

Reno shrugged and went to the living room, where he'd left his phone and his gun. Sure enough, there was a voice message on his phone from Felice, spoken in her normal unobtrusive manner.

He looked at the time. Yup, 10:37. He really had no idea why he was still at Raith's. He didn't usually stay overnight, mostly to avoid the whole awkward, "thanks, hope you had fun, see you, well, never" conversation, and anyone he screwed understood that up front, or suggested the same thing.

It was just... staying had seemed kinda natural.

He sat on the couch, the phone held, forgotten, in his hand. Once before, once only, had he actually woken up with someone he'd had sex with, and the end result had, in fact, been "see you, well, never."

Reno didn't really want that to happen again, in this case, even if it could. But he, literally, had no idea what to do next.

Well, first things first. Make the call.

He did so, wandering into the bathroom for privacy. He spent some time chatting with her about different things, and finished up by reassuring Felice that he was fine and he'd see her the next day, if not before. He frowned as he closed his phone. Maybe he should just go home and try and get his head around this whole thing.

He was feeling a lot less irritable. Huh.

He froze, though, as he wandered back into the living area and smelled the unmistakeable aroma of cooking pancakes. For a split second, he felt like he was ion two places at once: here, and back at the old house, Rude serving up pancakes at the old table.

That was disorienting.

Raith was already eating, seated at the breakfast bar. He indicated the second plate. "Syrup or lemon--no, you'd be a syrup guy."

Reno's stomach growled, reminding him he hadn't eaten since the night before even if Reno himself had forgotten that for a moment. He sat, doing "heavyhanded" with the syrup and picking up his fork. He really didn't know what to say, here. Try "thankyou", moron. "Looks good," he said before digging in. Maybe he should've offered to cook instead of buy. Shit.

Raith shrugged, but smiled. "Plans?"


"What do you usually do on your days off?"

"Ah. Gym. Spend some time with Felice. Firing range." Reno stopped before he added "sometimes, pick up". He figured Raith wouldn't appreciate, given the circumstances. "You?"

"Sleep. Watch a bit of TV. Read. Not a lot."

"That sorta inactivity would drive me nuts."

"Drive you?" Raith's grin flashed. "You've always been nuts. You never could sit still for more than two minutes at a time."

Reno took a mouthful, chewed and swallowed before answering. "Fast metabolism."

Raith snorted. "More like a short attention span." His eyes caught Reno's then. "Or, at least, that's the game you play."


"You forget I used to know you, so I know you're hiding how much nouse you actually have. And don't look at me like that. It's actually the smart thing to do, given how fucking stupid Corneo is and how much he dislikes anyone smarter than he is."

Reno raised an eyebrow and added more syrup to his pancakes.

"Mind you, you'd probably be a lot less edgy if you didn't add so much sugar to everything."

"I like sweet," Reno said with his mouth full.

Raith shrugged, tapping his fork against his teeth for a moment. "'Spect him playing fast and loose with Shin-Ra will catch up with him eventually."

"If Jask's lot don't get him--and us--first."

"Like you need another reason not to sleep." Raith hestitated, then said, "you have some pretty active nightmares going on."

It wasn't a surprise. Rude'd mentioned that, as well. Reno figured playing "stupid" would be a good idea. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. Kicked me awake a few times."


"Don't sweat it. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

"Do you remember them?"

"Nope." That, at least, was true.

"Probably has something to do with why you can never relax."


"Is there some reason you've suddenly been rendered incapable of giving more than one word answers?"


"Is that a 'yes' uh-uh or a 'no' uh-uh?"

Reno forked another mouthful and glanced sideways at Raith, raising his eyebrows.

"Ah. It's a 'lay off me' uh-uh." The brunette's tone was light, but he watched Reno closely, like that aforementioned cat. "You're pricklier than a mother cockatrice. What gives?"

"Nothing." Heh. One word again. Reno grinned inwardly. He was getting as bad as Rude used to be. He took his plate to the sink, yawning widely. "I'm wasted. What time are we on tonight?"

"Eleven. Eight hour shift."

"Should probably try to go home; get some more sleep, then." Damn. Wrong thing to say, judging by Raith's narrowed eyes. "I'll, uh, wash the dishes first, since you cooked."

"Leave them," Raith said shortly.

Shit. "Wouldja mind if I borrowed your shower again?"

Raith's face clearly told Reno he was pushing his luck. "If you want."

Reno bit the inside of his lip, not sure if what he was planning to say next would be well received. "You could join me, if you'd like," he said in a low voice, wondering why the hell he was feeling so... freaked.

"'S okay. You go ahead."

Yeah. Luck pushed too far. Reno nodded and headed to the bathroom, stripping off and stepping under the water once it'd reached almost too hot to bear. He leaned his forehead against the wall, allowing the water to run down his back for some minutes, blocking out all sound but the water that torrented over his face and neck and down his shoulders, back and sides, allowing the heat to soak into his muscles, watching as the water swirled down the plughole. "Guess I deserved that," he grumbled.

"Yeah, you did," Raith said from behind him at the same time as Reno felt him put his hand on Reno's back.

Reno muttered an expletive.

"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you," Raith said, wrapping his arms around Reno's chest and kissing the back of Reno's neck. "And, right back at ya. Why is the water so damned hot?" He reached out and turned it down a bit, then ran that hand up to Reno's shoulder. "Man, you're tense."

"Apparently, I don't sleep well," Reno mumbled, turning to face Raith. Why was he feeling so relieved? Stupid brain. He wasn't a child any more, in need of someone to hold him. He hadn't been a child since the day he curled up next to his dead mother.

"You really don't," Raith said seriously. He gently ran his thumb over the half-healed injury on Reno's shoulder. "I watched you for a bit."

"That's kinda creepy."

Raith shrugged. "Didn't have anything better to do. Besides, it wasn't like I was sleeping much. It's like... you fall asleep, but the moment you look like you're even beginning to rest you kick yourself awake."

"Too much energy, I guess."

Raith looked at him doubtfully. "It was more like you were running; fighting."

"Stands to reason given what we do. Brain's runnin' all the time." Reno frowned. Why wouldn't Raith just let it go?

"I think it's more than that. Sometimes you'd--"

"When did you get to be such an expert on my head, huh?" Reno said irritably. "Let it go."

Raith's eyes narrowed dangerously.

Urgh. He'd fucked up again, but all Reno thought at that moment was that Raith looked kinda captivating when he was pissed off. The thought was so absurd that he laughed.

"What the hell, Reno--"

The rest of Raith's words were lost somewhere in the back of Reno's throat as Reno cut them off, his lips contesting Raith's in a lazy massage, sweetened by remnants of syrup. Reno wasn't actually sure if Raith's appreciative "Mm," was, in fact, appreciative or if Raith was just trying to finish his sentence, but whatever it was, its tone sent Reno's stomach into languid flip flops.

The second "Mm" was definitely appreciation, though. Reno couldn't get over how vocal Raith could be--more, even, than he was. Reno'd been with a couple of screamers in his time, but that did very little for him. Raith's smoky timbre, however, combined with the water backfiring off of his skin, sent his blood surging... he couldn't remember being this into anyone, not since Rude.

Not since Rude.

Not since that one time with Rude.

The rolling in his stomach upped a grade to actual queasiness and then did a flying leap into near panic. He pulled away, breathing heavily, wondering why he felt like he was falling. Wondering why he spent so much time lately wondering why he felt how he did.

"What's wrong?" Raith said.

"Had... to breathe," Reno hedged.

"Hm. What's wrong?"

Reno was going to say "nothing", but then figured Raith wouldn't believe him. "Don't laugh."


"It's just..." Reno suddenly felt very silly. "Never mind."

Raith ran the flat of his palm up and down Reno's back in a disturbingly soothing rhythm. "Tell me."

Reno hesitated. Oh, what the hell. May as well just say it. "I've been around. A lot. But I just realised I've never actually done this more than once with the same person. I'm... a bit nervous." Crap. Now he felt more than silly.

"This'll make three, actually." Raith planted a kiss on the underside of Reno's jaw.

"Sober, I meant. First one doesn't count."

Raith's fingers tightened on Reno's back. "Ah." He tilted his head so he could look Reno in the eye. "You can trust me, you know." His voice was straightforward, but to Reno, it sounded like a plea.

Almost. Maybe Reno was hearing things that weren't actually there.

Raith's eyes dropped and then he looked up again. "I haven't been around a lot."

Reno blinked. "Find that hard to believe."

"Well, I talk a good game. My right hand. Stork. You. That's it."

Reno's hand seemed frozen to Raith's hip. Huh. "Really," he said doubtfully, raising an eyebrow.

"Really." Raith sounded defensive. "Look, I know fucking's just a big game to you, but to me, it means something real."

Reno stared at Raith's chest, watching the water as it trailed over the other man's shoulders. Shit. He had to say something to that, but he wasn't sure what, exactly. Trouble was, the only thought that flashed through his mind right then was an image of Rude's face. But Rude was gone, and Raith was here. And also... deep down, perhaps, there was something else--

Raith moved suddenly, and Reno's hand involuntarily tightened on his hip. Damn. He'd taken too long to speak, and Raith'd backed up; only the shower door keeping him where he was. He raised his head and looked Raith directly in the eyes, running his free hand down Raith's arm and taking him by the wrist. "Wait."

Raith stopped, a haunted look on his face. Hell.

Stork. Me. And he killed Stork. Reno realised then that he hardly knew anything about Raith--except that he'd been alone all his life, was real good with a gun, and that his brash confidence had always been an act.

And come to think of it, he did always seem to go home on his own. When anyone propositioned him, male or female, he laughed it off or made vague, teasing half-promises, and the only person Reno had actually ever seen Raith come on to was... Reno.

That was interesting. Even more interesting was the weird little pocket of warmth in Reno's stomach produced by that realisation. "I think maybe that's a part of why I'm so nervous," Reno said in a low voice, rubbing his thumb along the inside of Raith's wrist. "Maybe it means something to me this time, too."

"What are you saying?"

Reno wrapped his arms around Raith's waist, holding him so their thighs pressed together. "I guess what I'm saying is..." Well, what was he saying? Did he... care about Raith? Well, yeah. Maybe more? He couldn't say that for sure, so he said, "I do trust you. And, you are kinda hot, at that."

"And don't you forget it."

"Not likely to, given you remind me of it every five minutes or so," Reno said, smoothing water off his face with one hand.

"Yeah, well, I have to. You have a 'fast metabolism'."

"'Short attention span', wasn't it... huh... Hey. Your tiles need regrouting."

"Paying attention back over here, Pony Boy." Raith ground his hips against Reno's for emphasis. "Or I'll have to do something else to keep it."

"Is that a threat or a promise?"

Raith smiled crookedly. "Fact."

"Ah. And what would that 'something else' be, then?"

"Eh. I'm sure I'll think of something," Raith murmured. "Like, maybe..." Slowly, excruciatingly, he slid his mouth down Reno's chest and stomach...


Reno lay on the bed, his head in Raith's lap, pleasantly sated. Raith ran his fingers through Reno's hair. It was... strange. It was... nice.

"Your hair's getting long," Raith commented.

"Yeah. I keep cutting it, but the damned stuff grows so fast."

"You could grow it out, tie it back."

"Mm. Then I'd have to actually look after it or something." Reno closed his eyes, accepting Raith's ministrations with a sigh and relaxing--actually relaxing--against Raith's stomach, curling an arm over his own head so his forearm was wrapped around Raith's lower back. It was a strange feeling, and more intimately familiar than any screwing could ever be. He hadn't felt this secure since... that night, long ago, with Rude.

"You know something, Reno?"


"You never did tell me what happened with Felice's son, and Krane."

Well, that was weird; Raith bringing up Rude just as Reno'd thought of him. He opened his eyes and looked up at Raith but the other man's face was completely neutral. Coincidence. "You heard the rumours," Reno said.

Raith nodded. "Rumours aren't fact."

"You know very well he did. I all but told you he did."

"Well, no, what I got was that you thought he had. I never met the guy. Wouldn't know him if I stumbled over him."

Reno didn't answer.

"I guess you had to have been pretty close, given you're looking after his ma."

"Mm." Not close enough, though, obviously.

Raith's hands stopped moving for a moment. "You miss him, huh."

"Guess so," Reno said, reluctantly allowing the words out.

"You never talk about him."

"That's because I don't want to."

"Ah. So, what happened to him?"

"What part of 'I don't want to' did you miss?"

"Pretty much all of it." Raith's fingers moved through Reno's hair again, his touch firming until he was slowly massaging Reno's scalp. "C'mon."

He wasn't going to give up on this. "He's dead," Reno said shortly. As good as, anyway. Hell, probably in reality, given that Rude didn't even turn up when his own mother was close to death.

It was probably time to stop kidding himself. It wasn't like the lie mattered, anyway. Even if Rude was still alive, it was abundantly clear that he wasn't coming back. So, it wasn't exactly a lie. Fact was, though, he really didn't want to discuss Rude with Raith. Fact was, he didn't want to even be reminded of Rude.

He kinda hoped, now, that Rude would stay away. He wouldn't like what Reno had become, especially given that he'd probably killed Krane over drugs.

"How did he die?" Raith said.

"I don't know."

Raith's hand brushed over Reno's forehead. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah. Me too."

"Close your eyes."

Reno did so, and Raith's stroking continued down Reno's face. Five gods, but that felt good. He hadn't felt good in forever. "You know," he said sleepily, "you reminded me earlier of something, maybe how I was before I took this job. What you said about me doing what I thought was right."

"What about it?"

"I haven't been doing that so much lately. I mean, I took this job for Felice, right. But there's no way she'd like any of this crap. Hell, I don't like any of this crap."

"No one said you have to like it."

"I really don't."

Raith lifted Reno's head off his lap and shuffled down so they were face to face. "There's no way out, if that's where you're going with this. I mean it, Reno. Listen to me," he said as Reno opened his mouth to speak again. "They will kill you. No ifs, buts or maybes. Corneo will kill you, man. And he'll make me do it, while he watches to make sure it happens."

"Would you?"

Raith slid his hand onto Reno's waist. "It'd take my dead body."

Which was exactly how it'd go down. If Raith was true to his word, and refused, Corneo'd just kill him, then get someone else to shoot Reno. The thought of making Raith die for his sake made Reno feel kinda... sick. Mind you, with the new guy in the 'hood, life's precarious round here anyhow, Reno thought. They could both die tomorrow. Ah, well. Better to burn out than fade away, as the saying went. Hell, Corneo could die tomorrow, and if it weren't for the fact that it was their job to prevent that, Reno figured maybe they should just let it happen.

He discounted the possibility, though. He may not like his job, but at least he could do it well. On top of that, with the gang situation being as it was, Corneo's death would lead to a power vacuum that would lead to them all wading in blood, even if, as was rumoured, Corneo's pockets were being lined by Shin-Ra.

The corporation would just sit back and wait for the new player to rise. They wouldn't do a damned thing to stop it.

And if Corneo was gunned down, likely it would take out Raith. And probably Reno, too. Bodyguards always got it first. It was, after all, their job.

Reno felt a pang of guilt, then. Raith would be true to his word. He believed that. And, he'd told Raith he trusted him, but he'd brushed his questions off and given him nothing, and why? What was he afraid of? "I think I need to tell you something. About Stork."


Reno swallowed nervously. "I don't think he was hallucinating that night."

Raith frowned. "Why do you say that?"

"I was beaten up at around the same time. Almost died. Felice's son was the one who stopped it. I don't really remember much of it, and I never saw who it was, but..." He trailed off as he saw Raith's face, and Reno's stomach sank as he realised he'd screwed up, and badly. Again. Raith looked stunned. "I should've told you this earlier, before--"

"Why." It wasn't really a question. "I'm actually surprised you're telling me at all."


"You're a runner, Reno," Raith said, stroking Reno's lower back.

"Come again?"

Raith chuckled wickedly. "Maybe later. Now, I'm talkin'. But seriously... you fuck and run. You don't get anything but your small brain involved and you don't say stuff that ain't dragged outta you with a hook."

"You're not upset about Stork."

"Got over that piece of crap a long time ago, Reno. You, on the other hand," he said, his voice reaching 'gravelly' again, "I never did."

Reno shifted uncomfortably. Change the subject. "Have to ask," he said.


"If there has just been Stork, how'd you get so great at sucking dick?"

"You think I'm good, huh?"

Reno raised an eyebrow. "Don't pretend you don't already know that: you told me yourself you were, a long time back. And, shit, yeah. And I have points of comparison, at that."

"Points, huh."

"Plural intentional."

Raith smiled. "Just went with what I think I'd like," he said, sounding almost shy. "I was just yanking your chain, back then. He never actually told me if I was doing any good."

"What you 'think' you'd like? What d'ya mean?"

"Well, see, I wouldn't know. Stork always thought it was better to give than receive, so long as he wasn't doing any giving at all. In any way, if you get what I mean."

Reno kept his face as neutral as he could. He did know. That explained a lot, including why Raith'd tried to dominate Reno back in their school days, and yet had given way so easily when Reno put up a fight. He'd been conditioned to back down.

The thought made Reno sad. He'd always seen fucking as a give and take kinda thing, not where one person gets all the good stuff and the other has to like it or lump it, choice or no. It was one thing to let yourself be dominated--Reno'd done that himself on occasion--but another to not know anything but. "I've always been big on equality," he said. But, wait... "Are you saying that last night was a first for both of us, then?"

"Stork was always proud of the fact he was never the fuck-ee," Raith said quietly.

"Well then," Reno said, "I'm here to tell ya, you're pretty damned proficient, Raith, if not blindingly fuckingly adroit, at that. And other 'good-like' words."

Raith flashed a half smile and his face reddened. "Yer not so bad yourself," he mumbled.

Reno ran his hands across Raith's chest, pulling the older man closer until he could nibble on his neck a little. "You tired yet?" he said cheekily, drawing his tongue along Raith's lower lip.

"Hm. Can't say as I am."

"Well, in that case..." Reno rolled Raith onto his back and kissed a long line from his eyelids down to that raven happy trail he liked so much, brushing his mouth across Raith's navel and smiling at Raith's surprised gasp. He ran a single forefinger along the underside of Raith's dick, followed the stroke with his tongue, and sucked gently until the head enlarged enough to fill his mouth. He lifted his face, then, and murmured, "I've only done this for girls, so you'd better tell me what you're liking as I go..."

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