Chapter Ten

Of course, Reno thought, he had no way of knowing, back then, that his major regret that night hadn't been, so much, that it'd been some random one-nighter. It was more that it hadn't been, and that, for the second time in his life, he'd actually felt something a little more than just the physical.

Mind you, it was hard to be self-reflective when you were drunk, so he hadn't noticed anything like that at the time. He was too busy having the best fucking orgasm of his life to that point, and then feeling guilty as sin for it.

No. The reflection came much later.


Reno seriously considered not showing up for work that night, but then decided that he couldn't stomach being that much of a coward. He'd done what he had done, and he had to face it. Because, let's face this, for starters: he hadn't exactly been forced.

What had he been thinking? Why hadn't he just told Raith to get lost? He was sure that thought had crossed his mind, more than once. Why the hell hadn't he just told him to stop it?

It occurred to Reno, albeit briefly, that it was probably because he hadn't wanted to stop, but he quashed that pretty quickly as one of the more dumb-arse notions he'd ever thunk in his sorry existence.

He ran a hand through his hair then rolled out of bed. It had to've been the booze. He probably shouldn't drink so much in future; The only thing he got out of it was a severe case of the stupids.

One way or another, Reno thought as he showered, he was going to have to work with Raith. They may very well've been only doing bouncer crap lately, but that was just to break Reno in. Fairly soon, they'd be watching Corneo proper, which would involve a fair amount of having to trust the other in order to stay alive.

If Reno hadn't felt sick before, the thought of having to trust Raith that much... ugh. Then the look on Raith's face as he came drifted into Reno's mind; his head thrown back, his neck bared... moaning from deep down inside his chest... Reno shook his head. The image was giving him a boner he could do without. He turned the water to cold.

Ice cold.


He washed as quickly as he could, then turned off the water. Damn. He was out of towels. Well, not out, exactly; there were a number of damp towels on the floor in the corner of the room.

"S'pose I should wash those," he muttered. He sucked at the whole housekeeping thing, really. Ah, well, shake off, drag clothes on over damp skin. All the same, really.

Best policy, he decided. Carry on like nothing happened, and deal with the other with a handy fist to the face if it ever became a problem. Yeah. That'd work.

But for now, he was to see Felice. He was, he realised, glancing at the clock, already running late. He would worry about Raith later.


After spending what was left of the morning with Felice, Reno decided to head to Seisin's for a late lunch.

"Hey, Reno," she said, picking up a bottle of bourbon and placing it on the bar.

"Just pie, today, actually, thanks, and an LLB. Bit early for me."

"Wasn't yesterday," she said, her tone mildly teasing.

"Yesterday was different."

She shrugged. "Be that as it may, this is your friend's bottle. Hasn't come back for it yet. Thought you could get it to him, or one of the bartenders is like to go through it."

"I imagine Raith'd strip the skin off someone's hide for that."

She nodded. "I don't doubt it. He's not known around the traps for his leniency."

Reno raised his eyebrows.

"How well do you know your friend?"

"He's not my friend," Reno muttered. "I just work with him."

"If you say so," Seisin said mildly, putting a lemon, lime & bitters in front of Reno. "Watch out for him, then."

"Are you warning me or telling me to look after him?"

She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Both, I think. He's a hard one to read. Most dangerous kind. Stay on his good side, Reno." She went out the back to get him his pie.

Reno grunted and drained the drink. If he could find Raith's good side, he just might. The guy hadn't changed, obviously. Once a bully, always a bully, no matter what he did to try and hide it.

So long as he kept reminding himself of that, he'd be fine.

Seisin returned with a serve of sweetberry pie. "How's Felice doing?"

"Step up from yesterday, actually," Reno said. "She came good overnight. She's still in a bad way, but they've taken her out of ICU and will be moving her to a longer-term care facility tomorrow."

"That's good news."

Reno nodded. "She'll get all the care and rehabilitaton she needs and they'll teach her how to get around and do stuff without her sight."

"I'm glad to hear that, Reno."

Reno spent what was left of the day there, chatting to Seisin, but knew that all he was really doing was putting off the inevitable. He had to face Raith, sooner or later.

May as well get it over with, he thought.


That was easier said than done, though.

The streets were as crowded as ever that night, Sector Six a hubbub of noise and dirt and heat, Wall Market a throng of people. Reno could not explain why, exactly, but a steady tension thrummed through him, building on itself the closer he got to the Mansion.

"Scotch," he said brusquely as he went though the front door. Then he stopped. "Raith here yet?"

Scotch shrugged.

Yeah, thanks for nothing. Reno sighed and, shoving his hands into his pockets, went inside. The lobby was deserted.

Except for Raith, who was standing next to one of the tall windows on the other side of the room, leaning on the frame, his back to Reno, staring out the window. Mysterious... dark. A wave of regret washed over Reno, a sensation he couldn't articulate the reasoning behind, even in his own thoughts.

Maybe it was, with Felice finally out of danger, Reno was feeling how fucking alone he really was in all of this, what with Rude nowhere to be found. How easy would it be to just... He sighed. Stupid thoughts. He shook his head, clearing his mind. He wasn't that desperate.

Crap. He'd forgotten the bourbon.

Raith must've sensed Reno was there, because he turned around, giving Reno a crooked smile--a smile that faded as Reno jerked his head wordlessly in the direction of Corneo's "throne room" while doing his best to keep his face impassive.

"We're not wanted tonight," Raith said.


"Corneo's got company."

By which, Raith meant female company, of course. Reno glared at Raith for a moment. "Are we on duty or not?"

"Kinda. On the clock, but we're to stay outta the way."

Reno grunted. Whatever. He headed towards the kitchen, but he didn't get very far, because Raith grabbed hold of Reno's arm firmly and dragged him into Raith's room.

Reno shook his arm free. "What the hell, Raith."

The raven-haired man turned and looked at Reno, closing the door behind him. He didn't look happy. "All right, what gives?"


"You know bloody well what regarding."

"No. I really don't," Reno said. Of course he did, but maybe Raith'd back off if Reno gave the previous night's events as little importance as possible.

Raith gave Reno a look that clearly indicated he wasn't fooled. "Okay, I'll play. What is it you want from me?"

"Not a whole lot. Being left alone'd be nice."

Raith he didn't say anything to that. Instead, he pulled his gun from the back of his pants and put it on the table next to his bed. Reno frowned: they were still, strictly speaking, on duty, and there was no reason for Raith to divest himself of his weapon.

But then Raith stepped closer to him, and looked him in the eye, his demeanour a challenge; an invitation, and Reno understood. Raith intended to--no way. Not again, and definitely not sober. Reno met his eyes squarely, fully intending to give the other man a solid piece of his mind. Something along the lines of, "Try that again and I'll rip off yer arm," followed by that fist he'd prepared earlier, if need be.

Huh. Raith's eyes were actually more violet than grey. Reno'd never noticed that before. He blinked, then frowned. What was he thinking? He couldn't stand Raith. Why did he keep forgetting that?

Raith scratched an eyebrow for a moment before speaking again. "Reno, I--" He stopped as the door crashed open.

"Corneo's given me to you, again," Seleen declared loudly.

Raith grunted impatiently. "Are you ever going to learn, girl? Even Corneo won't have an addict."

"I'm not an addict. Addicts shoot up. I don't even drink."

Raith rolled his eyes. "Go home, Seleen."

"I don't have a home."

"Yeah, well, you did that to yourself."

Reno glanced at Raith. "Harsh," he muttered.

"You're not the only schmuck she's stolen from," Raith said. "Difference is, she only took your money once."

"Gouged you too?"

"For the cost of a two stints at rehab, among other things."

Reno prided himself on never being surprised, usually, but that was a turnout for the books, he thought. The man was a contradiction on legs.

"I didn't need to go to that place," she said. "They were a bunch of do-gooder shits who expected me to clean toilets. Like that was my job or something. I'm not their slave."

Raith caught Reno's eye and Reno shook his head. It wouldn't be long before Corneo noticed how bad she was and at that point she'd be dealt with somewhat more... harshly.

The dungeon-come-torture-chamber was there for a reason. As far as Corneo was concerned, a junkie was not human, and he could do whatever he wanted. Shitty, when you considered what the man's major source of income was down under the Plate.

Worse, when you considered that the one time Seleen finally got what she wanted would be the time it did her no good at all.

"Mebbe you can loan me some money, then," Seleen said to Reno.

"I don't think so," Reno said. She'd just go buy Kandy, and pour it into some john so she could suck it out of him again to keep her illusion that she wasn't the junkie intact.

"Raith? Please?"

Reno looked at her hands. They were shaking violently.

"Just little a bit," she whined. "I swear to all that's holy I'll pay you back." She lurched forwards, all but knocking Raith over as she landed against him. "In e-every way." She grabbed at Raith's groin.

He sighed and took her by the upper arms, picking her up and moving her away from him. "Get lost, Seleen."

"C'mon, Raithy," she said, her voice trembling, moving forward again and sliding her hands around his waist.

"Don't do that." He didn't move her this time, though; looking over her head with a tired glance at Reno instead. "I'm not interested."

"You never are," she said, her voice developing a shrill edge. "No one ever wants me. What's wrong with me?"

Reno had no idea where he'd even start answering that question that wouldn't send her looking to put a gun in her mouth, but Raith just shook his head. "You're just a kid."

She stepped backwards, smacking into the bedside table, and glared at him. "That's what he said," she said, pointing at Reno. "I'm not 'just' anything."

"That's not what I meant," Raith said.

"Why are you so nice to me then, huh, if you won't fuck me? Huh?"

Raith's eyes flickered to Reno briefly. "Have some self respect, Seleen," he said.

"Respect?" she said.

Her voice had gone up an octave, Reno thought. That was never a good sign... and for unknown reasons that went beyond having to deal with a borderline hysteric, Reno realised he'd gone on guard; his body stiffening in that "relaxed but aware" way it did instinctively sometimes when Reno just knew the guy he was deciding to let into HoneyBees was trouble.

Raith'd seen it, too, Reno thought. "Calm down. C'mon. You can stay here. How about that?"

"With you?" she said.

"No, I'll find somewhere else to sleep," Raith said, his eyes flickering to Reno again.

Over my dead body, Reno thought.

"Can't you just give me something?" Seleen said. "Get some from your boss? You'd know how to--"

Raith shook his head.

"You have to!"

"No, I don't."



Reno ended up watching Raith, wondering how he could be so calm. Reno would've just thrown the girl out by then. He had very little sympathy for her. As far as he could tell, she took any hand that was offered to her and then used it to slap its owner in the face.

There was a sudden movement from Seleen, however, and in that split second, Reno wished he'd paid more attention. If he had, maybe he would've noticed that she was picking up Raith's gun before she'd managed to raise it, slip off the safety, point it at Raith, and fire off a shot.

Only one, closely followed by a second.

Reno didn't remember pulling the trigger. He didn't, in fact, recall drawing his own gun. Nevertheless, that shot rang out, clear, cold, followed closely by that unmistakeable smell that told anyone who knew, that a gun had been fired just under his nose.

And Seleen fell, in slow motion, it seemed... lurching backwards and crumpling to the floor, Raith's gun falling noiselessly from her hand to the thick carpet.

She was dead before she hit the floor.

Reno didn't move, keeping the gun trained on her even after he knew he no longer needed to. A single thought floated across his mind... what a bloody waste...


He looked up. Raith was watching him closely as he placed his fingers on Seleen's neck, probably feeling for a pulse. Way too closely, for Reno's liking. Reno knew enough to know that Raith was wasting his time. Most people didn't survive having the back of their skull blown off.

"You can probably put that away now," Raith said quietly.

Yeah, probably. Reno slipped on the safety and tucked the gun back into his waistband.

By this time, a couple more of Corneo's men had appeared, guns drawn. When Scotch saw Seleen's body, though, he holstered his gun. "Kandy rage?" he said dispassionately.

"Yeah," Raith said. "Get the Baggers, would you? Tell 'em we'll need clean-up, too."

Scotch nodded and left.

Raith tapped Reno on the shoulder. "I'll see to this, and come in later to see ya, 'k?"

What? What had he said? Doesn't matter, Reno thought. Probably asking if I'm okay, like I wouldn't be. Just say anything that'll shut him up. "Fine," he said. He had to get out of there. The metallic tang of blood was... reminded him of Krane...

He made his way to his own room and vomited in the washbasin for a while, then stripped, and showered. He didn't even bother to dry off before crawling in under the covers and dragging them over his head. One thing about these rooms at the Mansion, purple as they may be: the beds were luxuriously comfortable.

He closed his eyes but his mind kept replaying the look on Seleen's face as she fell. She'd been surprised. Not in pain. Not angry. Surprised.

And then... dead, half her brains splattered across the wall behind her. He tossed and turned, trying to get his brain to slow down, but it wouldn't.


Stupid girl. What the hell had she been thinking? She'd known Reno carried. She'd known. And yet--no, he corrected himself. She wasn't thinking. She was jonesing for Kandy, and desperate.


What had Raith been thinking, putting a loaded gun out in plain sight and trying to--fuckwit. Put himself in danger, and for what? A moment with someone who didn't even want him, who didn't even--fuckwit. If that was what he'd had in mind he shoulda locked his damned door. They knew what Corneo was doing. They should've known Seleen would be back, again.


Stupid. Fucking. Girl.


Ugh. He needed to sleep. He had to go and help take Felice to the Hospice in the morning, and he only had a few hours before the sun was up. He had to get this out of his head.

He rolled over onto his stomach, hugging the pillow under his head. Funny how things came full circle. He'd first met Seleen on the night he and Rude--on that night. And now, Reno thought wryly, breathing slowly in an attempt to settle his brain down, I'm a murderer too.

The only difference was that Reno didn't have to run. For he had only been doing his job. Raith was his partner, and she'd tried to kill him, in a Mansion he'd been hired to protect. She'd brought it on herself.

It was just his job.


Reno was dreaming, and he knew it, but he didn't care.

They were all there. Every last one of them. His mother, his father, and both of his sisters, all sitting around a table, laughing. They were happy; his father, greying, now, at the temples, carving meat onto his mother's plate. She had hardly changed.

Vickie, grown and beautiful, wearing a deep blue dress that shimmered in the light of the candles on the table, sitting next to a nameless, faceless, young man, their hands interlinking under the table.

And his younger sister. She was there, too... her face in shadow. Reno couldn't see anything but her serious brown eyes, smiling in the corners as she whispered something to the man sitting next to her... Rude? It was Rude, looking across the table at Reno with a helpless glance, which made Reno smile. Rude liked Reno's family, but he never could get comfortable with overt displays of affection, and his teenaged sister rubbing Rude's head was definitely that.

His face clearly said it, even those his mouth didn't speak the words... Help me...

Dreams did not need time and space to determine events, so Reno moved backwards, to a freezing cold night, Rude's heat at his back... no. Forwards. A different time. A different space. A room that Reno had never been in, but could have been his own, back at the apartment... same, but different.

Alone, in his bed... echoes... Rude.

But, no. Rude was here. Not at his back, but standing in front of him, grinning at him in that feral way he did whenever he put Reno flat on his back on the mat at Zirengia's.

The cognisance that this was but a dream fled, and Reno looked up at his friend with a sideways grin.

Then Rude moved forward, putting one knee on the bed near Reno's hip, brushing Reno's hair off his face before running a hand over Reno's face and nibbling at Reno's mouth with his own. Reno responded, quietly at first, and then...

Wrong. It was wrong. It was too soft; too forward. Rude would never do that. Never in a million....

"Reno," Rude murmured, but the voice wasn't Rude's...

Reno's eyes opened, and it was real, and it was good... in that langourous moment between dreaming sleep and partial wakefulness, he couldn't believe it wasn't Rude he was making out with, that it wasn't Rude's mouth and tongue and--he pulled back, his eyes focussing, finally--on Raith.

"What in the blue hells do you think you're doing?" Reno said as quietly as he could through a stream of rising anger, sitting up--which put his face close to Raith's again, unfortunately. Quietly. They were in the Mansion, after all.

The expression on Raith's face switched from complacent lust to confusion. "I thought--"

Reno fisted the front of Raith's shirt and pushed him away with so much force the other man landed on his keister on the floor. "Thought what? That you'd just waltz in here and take advantage, again?"

"What do you mean, 'again'?"

"Get out."

"Sorry, Reno." Raith stood, flexed his neck, then narrowed his eyes, before nodding slowly. "Honest mistake."

"Piss off."

Without another word, Raith left, closing the door behind him.

Reno resisted the urge to go after the arsehole with his gun, lying back on the bed, his hands behind his head. Where did Raith get off, doing that? What did he think they were, a damned couple or something?

Yeah, well. He hadn't had the chance to tell Raith to leave him be, earlier. Maybe now, he'd get the message.

That just made Reno think of Seleen, and he closed his eyes, pushing that out of his head. It wasn't difficult, and that fact bothered Reno. A lot. He'd killed her, and he didn't seem to give a shit. That wasn't right. It couldn't be right. He should care. He should. Right?

Yet, for all his anger, frustration and confusion, only one image stuck in Reno's mind: Rude, in his dream; that helpless look on his face, and the echoed words through Reno's mind...

Help me...


Midgar, 10 years until Meteorfall

For the next few months, one day was pretty much the same as the next. There were some stand-out days, but for the most part, they blurred into each other, as Reno did more and more things he didn't like and cared less and less about it.

Raith, to his credit, never tried to thank Reno for shooting Seleen. Sometimes Raith wasn't stupid--he knew that a "thanks" in this case would be like a smack in the face.

Didn't stop the bastard from watching Reno like a lost puppy, though, some days. Reno hated that. More, he didn't understand it. Most of the time, he just ignored it. He and Raith almost, perhaps, could've been called friends, if not for that background discomfort that occasionally reared its head. Reno figured he'd just never grow to truly like the guy. He supposed.

They worked well enough as a team, overall, so long as Reno concentrated on the job and not on Raith.

Felice, gradually, recovered her health, although not her sight, unfortunately. After seven months in the Hospice, learning how to do many things for herself again, without sight, she moved into the apartment with a live-in assistant-come-housekeeper, Kyrie.

Kyrie was much better at keeping up with the towels than Reno was.

Reno was glad of his job, or his pay, at least. The bills were huge. He couldn't even imagine trying to cover those expenses a few months earlier. But now, he'd not only been able to pay Raith back, and cover the hospital bills, and the costs of Felice's rehabilitation, but also the lease on that up-top three bedroom apartment and a living wage for Kyrie--more than usual. It bought Kyrie's silence on what Reno actually did for a living.

One thing he did still care about, that. Felice wouldn't want to know she was living on Blood Money.

Seisin, however, seemed to see things a different way.

"Corneo's a louse, no doubt," she said one day while Reno was chowing down on some of that multi-orgasmic pie; Raith doing the same on the stool next to him. They'd become more than regulars there, and the pie was a large portion of the reason for that. "But I think you've underestimated how much many people down here actually are glad of him, especially lately."

"I don't understand," Reno said with his mouth full.

"Protection," she said. "Hate him or love him, Corneo's a known factor. Shin-Ra, well, they don't give a crap what happens under the Plate, so long as we all pay our damned power bills, which many of us can't do. Corneo, well, he's rumoured to be in the President's back pocket, but that, at least, keeps the street lamps on." She leaned on the bar. "And with the bloody gangs, well, he has people like you two helpin' keep a lid on it all."

"Protecting his own interests," Reno said.

Raith threw him a warning glance. Don't say too much.

"Yeah," she agreed. "Reno, we ain't stupid. Kandy wars, we're callin' them. Not a day goes by when some gang member isn't mown down on the street by a rival, usually takin' an innocent with them, and it's just getting worse. You guys are, at least, a little more direct about what you shoot at."

"Dead children don't amuse," Raith said bluntly.

"No, they don't at that," she said. "Bad enough--but this new lot... they're worse'n most. They've taken to smash and grabs as well, stealin' from every business in the neighbourhood."

Reno nodded. Corneo was well aware of the new kid in town. What he didn't know, though, was the name of the gang's leader, even though Corneo had put out a standing "shoot to kill" order on whoever it was. "So, you're no fan of the new lot, then, eh," he said casually.

"Not particularly," she said.

Reno and Raith exchanged a long look.

Seisin smiled and shook her head, lighting up a cig and pulling over an ashtray. "If you have something to ask, boys, just ask it."

Raith tapped his fork on his teeth for a moment. "We can trust you to be discreet." It was not a question. It was said mildly, but Reno had been working with Raith for long enough to pick up the threat implicit in the statement.

"Of course," Seisin said, as if she was scolding a child.

Reno glanced over his shoulder casually and, satisfied that no one was close enough to listen, said, "Corneo hasn't taken out the gangs because while they're at each other's throats, they ain't tryin' to wipe out us. But this new guy is a hole different matter."

"Think he'll unite the gangs againt Corneo?" Seisin said, flicking some ash.

"Shit, no," Raith said. "But whoever he is, he's tipping the balance outta whack. He's already wiped out a gang in Sector Seven."

"Give him time and he'll be another Krane," Reno said quietly.

She looked alarmed. "Can't have that."

"Why do you hate him so much?" Raith asked.

"He was a bully. I'm sensitive to the type," she said bluntly.

Reno figured he'd better bring the conversation back before it got out of hand. "This guy is methodical and seems to be succeeding, but he's also fucking stupid. He takes risk--like the smash-n-grab stuff you said about, Seisin."

"Like he's in it for thrills not power," Raith added.

"The end result's the same," Reno said. "Thing is, he's taking so many risks we should know who the hell he is, but--and this has to stay behind your mouth, Seisin--we just don't."

"That must be embarrassing for the Don," she commented.

"Sending him up in flames," Reno said, grinning widely.

"Which means we cop the edge of his threats," Raith reminded Reno.

"Still funny," Reno said with his mouth full. He swallowed and ran a finger over the plate, mopping up some of the leftover filling. "Ya know, Seisin, I know I say this every bloody time, but fuck, that's good pie."

"It's better with a beer," she said, stubbing out her cigarette.

"Nah," Reno said. "With this guy around, I'll keep my head clear, thanks." He meant Raith, of course, but figured they could just believe he meant the new gang leader. "I'll take a LLB, though." He put some gil on the bar.

Seisin picked up the bill. "I can't change that, I'm sorry."

"So keep it."

"Six hundred percent's a helluva tip, Reno."

"Worth every bit."

"Too much."

Reno shrugged and indicated Raith. "Give him one too then. But I ain't taking it back."

"LLB as well?" Seisin said to Raith.

"Nah," Raith said. "I'll take some of the hard stuff, thanks. Then we'd better go," he said to Reno, indicating his watch.

"Sure thing," Reno said.

"Tell you what," Seisin said as she served them the drinks, "I'll pretend you didn't just try to bribe me for information, Reno, and tell you what I was going to tell you anyway. I don't know who he is, but I'll see what I can dig up."

Reno finished his drink, then grabbed a coaster off the bar and wrote down his phone number. "Give me a call if you do. And I wasn't rying to bribe you. You make the best pie in Midgar and don't charge nearly enough for it."

"People down here can't afford more," she said.

"Yeah, well, I don't need the charity. You can charge me full price instead. The rest was a down payment on what I've been gouging outta you so far."

"I can see right through you, Reno."

He gave her one of his formerly ubiquitous crooked grins. "Good," he said.


"Been a while since I've seen that," Raith commented as they left Seisin's bar.

"Seen what?"

"That seductive thing you've got going on."

"What are you talking about?"

"You know exactly what I'm talking about. That half-smile thing you do. You turn it on, and anything with a pulse around you goes into 'fuck me' mode."

"Give it a rest, Raith."

Raith shrugged and kept walking. "Hey," he said after a while, "you know that special 'mysterious visitor' Corneo's been smuggling in and outta HoneyBee's?"

"What about him?"

"Corneo wants us to do it from now on. Apparently Brad has too big a mouth. Started blabbing about who it was."

Reno shook his head. "Not the brightest feller, that one. Who'd he tell?"

Raith chuckled. "Me."

"And you ratted him out."

"C'mon, Reno. You know me better'n that."

"No, I know you well enough to know that. You never could keep anything to yourself."

Raith threw him a look. "Don't be an arsehole."

"Whatever." Reno kept walking.

Raith stopped where he was. "Um, Reno? Where are you going?"


"Uh, HoneyBees is that way."

"I know, genius. I'm heading for the train."

Raith quickened his pace until he caught up. "Why in the blue hells would you want to take the train?"

Good question, actually. There was just something... "I just do," Reno said.

"You know, one of these days someone's going to forcibly remove that damned stick from up your butt."

"In your dreams."

"Maybe, but that's a bit personal, don't you think?" Raith drawled.

Reno ignored him.

"Seriously, what's gotten into you? You're more irritable than--eh. Never mind. You know what your problem is?"

"Okay, I'll bite. What do you think my 'problem' is?"

"You stopped drinkin' a while back and my bet is you haven't been laid in about as long. Kinda sucking the life outta you."

"It's this bloody job that's doing that," Reno said without thinking, then he grimaced. He hadn't intended to say that out loud.

They'd reached the Sector Six train and jumped a carriage, not bothering to try and find a seat through the press of people.

"Where're we heading?" Raith said.

"Wherever we go," Reno said. "Let's start with Sector Seven and work our way around. Call us in, wouldya?" They were supposed to clock in by seven and it was almost that now.

Raith pulled out his phone and made the call. When he was done, he snaped it shut, replacing it in his jeans pocket, then grabbed hold of a pole as the train pulled away from the station. "Are you gonna let me in on what's on your mind or should I just keep taking orders like you somehow hired me rather than the other way around?"

Reno moved closer to Raith so he could speak in the other man's ear without being heard by other passengers. "Corneo's given the search for this gang leader priority, right? So we're lookin'."

Raith turned his head slightly so he could reply, his cheek very close to Reno's. "Are we really, or d'ya just feel like a day off?"

Five gods. He always smelled good, Reno thought before he gritted his jaw to cut off the thought. "I am sick of being cooped up in the Mansion lately, but we are really. They're dominant in Sector Seven, so the word on the ground will be...?"

"His name," Raith said.

"His name," Reno agreed.

"This would be a whole lot easier if Corneo didn't have the full jones on for marking us as his property," Raith murmured. "Makes us stand out."

"I'm no one's property," Reno growled.

"Sure y'are. Well paid, fawned on property, but still." This time he did lean his cheek on Reno's to speak. "Hint: can't leave. Which is why I thought you'd find the information of who Corneo's mystery visitor is so interesting."

Reno moved away slightly so Raith was no longer touching his face. "Why'd you think I'd care?" He did, though. Curiosity was his lifeblood.

Raith glanced around the carriage and then turned so he could put one arm around Reno's shoulder, facing him. "President bloody Shinra," he said in Reno's ear, so quietly that Reno wasn't sure that he'd heard correctly.

He pulled back and looked Raith in the face, one eyebrow cocked.

Raith nodded just as the train came to a shuddering halt, brakes whining. Reno took the opportunity to pull free and then exited the train, glancing up and down the unfamiliar platform, looking for a sign to help him get his bearings.

Raith joined him. "Now tell me that isn't good."

"It's bye-the-bye, actually," Reno said, heading for the steps to the street.


"For what?"

"Haven't gotten to that bit yet. Thought you'd work that out."

"Well, I dunno, Raith. Did Brad work it out?"

"I see your point."

Once on the street, Reno looked for the nearest food vendor. There was one on the opposite corner. "What do you want?"

"We just ate," Raith said. "You can't possibly be hungry again."

Reno rolled his eyes. "Tell me, do you remember anything you learned at that school of ours? Like, surveillance 101, perhaps?"

"Well, if you'd actually tell me what you're doing, I'd know. Hell, for all I know, this is a date."

Reno gave him a withering look.

"Okay, okay. Just a sandwich'll do me then."


"From here? Are you trying to kill me?"

Reno resisted the urge to answer that one. He was quite proud of himself. But the, he spotted a small group of youths across the street, in the opposite direction from where he and Raith were heading. They were all watching Raith and him. "No," he said seriously, nodding in the direction of the group, "but if we don't play our cards right, they might."

The food vendor backed away and hid behind his cart.

"That can't be a good sign," Raith commented.

"You're not wrong."

"Whaddya reckon? 'Wait and see' or 'shoot first, ask questions later'?"

"It's their house. Keep walking."

Raith must have seen the big guy in the front of the group pull a rifle at the same time as Reno did because they reached for their own firearms in unison.

There were seven of them. Reno fired smoothly, moving towards the cover of a nearby doorway, and watched as two of them fell before any of the others had drawn a weapon. Stupid, Reno thought. Raith must've hit the guy in front, because he dropped like a stunned chocobo as well.

The other gang members had now reacted to the pair's fighting back and had taken cover. People on the street had run, screaming, away down the street, or had dropped, terrified, to the ground. Too many people, Reno thought. They couldn't be firing indiscriminately.

Reno peeked out of his doorway and saw Raith behind a motorbike down a bit from him. Using the hand signals he could remember from school, he indicated to Raith to cover him while he made a dash for the vendor's cart. The vendor wouldn't like that, but there were fewer people there.

Raith nodded and signalled go, and Reno did. He noticed one more gang member fall as he moved. Raith was good with his gun, no doubt. Didn't waste his shots. The rest of them fled.

It was a civilian that got him, just as he'd reached the cart. At first, Reno just thought he was being clumsy, but then his right shoulder refused to bend.

Then, as he hit the ground behind the cart, the pain hit.

Then he hit his head on something, and zoned out for a bit--a few seconds? Long enough that Raith was there, like magic, almost.

"Oh, no," the vendor said in a small voice, "Jask ain't gonna like that you killed some o' his boys. Get away from here as quick as you can."

"Jask?" Reno said.

But the vendor said no more. Instead, he closed up his stall and left.

"Jask," Reno said with a fair amount of satisfaction.

"Jask," Raith agreed, ripping Reno's shirt at the collar, down the sleeve, his fingers wet with Reno's blood. He took one brief glance at it, then pulled his own off, using it to stanch the flow as he rolled Reno so he could look at his back.

Holy fuck but that hurt like buggery.

"It's gone through," Raith grunted. "Banged up your shoulder blade some."

Reno tried to sit up but found himself too woozy to do so.

"Yeah, don't do that," Raith said, his voice starting to blur around the edges. No, more like Reno's hearing was blurring around the edges. "Nicked an artery. You're losing blood fast. Hold this," he said.

Reno pressed his left hand into the balled-up shirt as hard as he could.

"This is your lucky day, Pony Boy," Raith said, holding up a small bottle, one he'd fished from his jeans pocket.

"What's that?"

"Potion. Not enough to finsh the job," he said as he poured some out onto the palm of his hand, "but it'll stop your bleeding and hopefully fix the bone--a bit, at least."

"Oh. Good," Reno said, then blacked out.


He didn't stay out for long, but he wasn't fully aware until they'd reached Raith's apartment. Gave the potion time to work, and much of the pain had gone.

"I should go home," he said.

Raith paid the transport driver. "Felice will smell the blood on you. Do you want to worry her?"


"You can get cleaned up and have a coffee--get your legs back."

Reno stood and, sure enough, his knees were a bit on the unsteady side. "The thing has mostly healed. Why am I still feeling like crap?"

"Minor potion, half a bottle, and you lost blood. Don't worry: you'll feel better in another hour or so." He swiped his keycard, ignoring the stares of passers-by in the lobby presumably Raith's neighbours. Reno realised they must've looked a sight, half dressed and covered in blood.

One in the apartment, Raith handed Reno some clean clothes and a towel and pointed him in the direction of the bathroom. "I'll use the other one," he said. "Be careful, though, the water pressure acts up sometimes."

He left, closing the bathroom door behind him. Reno flicked the lock and then stripped off.

He flexed his right shoulder, trying out his arm at a few angles to see how good a job the potion'd done. It'd be stiff for a few days, possibly permanently, given the damage the bullet'd done to the shoulder blade, but there was no real pain, just a bit of pulling.

He checked it out in the mirror. It still looked raw, and he didn't have full range of movement. He didn't like the idea of being slowed down at all, but at least it was his off arm. It could've been worse.

He turned on the water and stood under it, languishing in the heat. Good thing Raith'd had the potion on him, or Reno could've bled out before they'd reached any hospital. His shoulder tingled momentarily, the echo of Raith's fingers still on him.

Reno sighed. Man, he was wired. Between the gun battle, being shot, the hot water and--he hated to admit it--the memory of the feel of Raith's hands wandering across his body... combined adrenaline had him wanting a fuck so bad that he wished, now, he hadn't decided to spend less time picking up random strangers over the previous year... maybe actually taken up more offers from Corneo's offcuts, when they'd been offering freely. There'd been a few.

Just... he was never satisfied by that, anymore, not since that one drunken, bloody night--not since the night before Rude left, really, if he was going to be honest with himself. He'd had a few, but all he'd really ended up with was a used condom and a generalised sense of "what was the fucking point?"

"Random" just wasn't doing it for him. Not any more.

It was a lot less trouble to give his left hand some exercise instead. If nothing else, it'd keep his mind off... things.

So, he did.

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