Chapter Thirteen

Note: Be aware, that from this point in the story until the end of Part Four, Raith has his own side to tell, although it is set as a different story, in first person. In order to understand some of Reno's Story, to avoid having to repeat myself, it became apparent to me that rather than being a separate story, it has become more of an extension of this one. So, in order to make complete sense out of Part Four, you really do need to read Raith's side, too, in the order they were written (I'm sure the bastard planned it that way... /sigh...). Anyhow, Raith's is offsite, but the links to each chapter are at the bottom of each relevant page, in reading order, and I've linked back to the next Reno's chapter from Raith's bits.

~ Bethgael


Why Reno had thought it would work, he still didn't know. People hate; families break up; loves... leave.

In fact, nothing in Reno's life to that had indicated that anything was ever going to happen easily, or stay good--at least, not for long. He should've known, all things considered, that something would happen and it would all go horribly wrong.

But then, he'd never exactly been accused of pessimism, and he never did spend time mulling over negativity. And it'd been just too tempting to almost believe that things wouldn't change.

Which was ironic, when you considered that every person he'd ever loved had left him, sooner or later. One way or another.

Some, more permanently than others.


Kyrie almost accosted them as they walked through the door. "Oh, Reno, I'm glad you're here. Really glad." She glanced at Raith and blushed, then back at Reno, a guilty look on her face.

Reno usually smiled when she did that: her crush on Raith amused him, especially since Raith was completely oblivious to it. He was attractive; people always came on to him, and he never noticed. But not this time. "What's wrong?"

"Felice is in a bad way."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, nothing physical. But... she's listless. Normally, she gets on with her work, and seems content. But this week, she's been in a funk."

"Why didn't you call me?"

"She asked me not to."

Reno frowned. "I pay you, not Felice."

"Yes, but she's my client, Reno. I have to think of her wishes."

"I understand," Reno said, "but I wouldn't expect to go a week without knowing she's unhappy."

"Maybe if you dropped by more often you'd know."

"I spoke to her yesterday, Kyrie." Reno wasn't sure why he felt the need to defend himself. It was probably because Kyrie had a point. He made sure he called Felice once a week at least, but often a couple of weeks would go by without him seeing her. He just wanted to spend his spare time with Raith, which was probably selfish given they spent most of their work time together as well.

He did wonder when Raith would get sick of him. Or vice-versa. Just hadn't happened. Not yet, at least. But until it did... he sighed. It meant he neglected Felice.

"Reno has to work or you don't get paid," Raith said mildly. "And Felice is her own woman, Reno. She understands that. She has her own life--she's not helpless."

"I know that," Reno said, then moderated his tone. "Sorry. I just don't like her being bad off."

Raith didn't respond. Instead, he leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, his face blank. It bothered Reno when he did that: it meant he couldn't tell what Raith was thinking. Even Raith's eyes would shutter. Reno didn't know anyone else who could appear so suddenly void as Raith did. Came from long years of defensive practice, Reno was sure, but still, he wished Raith wouldn't do it with him. There was no need.

Reno supposed, just then, that maybe all those years of him giving Raith a hard time meant that Raith thought Reno would revert if he said something Reno didn't like. Maybe Raith didn't know there was no need. But, maybe now that he'd said how he felt about Raith... "What?" he said.

Raith's eyes flickered to Kyrie.

"Where is she?" Reno said.

"Asleep. Which is where I was heading," Kyrie said.

"Early night?"

"Not for us."

"Fair enough. Look, can you tell Felice that I will come and see her tomorrow?"

"Sure. So long as you turn up."

"C'mon, Kyrie. I've never just not turned up."

"If you say so."

Raith cocked an eyebrow. "Someone wants a pay cut."

Reno caught Raith's eye and shook his head. "I'll be here," he said to Kyrie, who had turned an even deeper shade of pink.

She nodded and headed for her bedroom without looking at Raith.

Reno turned to Raith. "What on Planet...?"

"Too bossy for an employee," Raith said quietly.

"Trying to do her job."

Raith grunted.

Reno narrowed his eyes. "You don't like her at all, do you?"

"Well... not so much. She makes me uncomfortable."

"I'm almost afraid to ask why."

Emotion returned to Raith's eyes...embarrassment. "I think she has a thing for you."

"Me? Don't be a dumbarse."

"Then why--"

"You had something to say to me before," Reno said. He didn't have the patience for that conversation in that moment. "Out with it."

"Was nothing."

"Nuh-uh. You shoved a brick wall in front of yer face. Means: was something. What?"

"You're babying a grown woman."

Reno sighed. "Comes a time when a person can only take so much, then they drop. She's droppin'. I should be doin' more."

"It's not your fault, Reno," Raith said, and he sounded a little impatient. "Did you kill her sons? Either of them?"

"No," Reno said glumly. "Of course not."

"Then why the hell would you feel responsible? Haven't you done everything you can for her?"

How could Reno explain what he felt to a man who'd never known a sense of family? Raith's loyalties seemed to be attached to one person at a time; presently, that was Reno. He didn't relate to women very well, which didn't surprise Reno given Raith's history.

Reno knew that Raith just didn't get a mother's attachment to her children. It wasn't like he'd ever known that himself. Given what Reno now knew about him, he was surprised Raith was as affectionate as he was.

He looked at Raith helplessly. It wasn't even like Reno could explain that part of her problem was that Felice didn't know if Rude was dead or alive. Knowing was better, even if it was knowing the worst. Not knowing was soul-destroying. Reno had someone; Felice wasn't alone, but she may as well've been. How could he explain that, when he'd told Raith that Rude was dead? Sure, it'd been just because eh didn't feel like explaining at the time, but now he knew if Raith knew he'd been lied to, that would seriously screw things up.

"Okay," Reno said, then paused for a moment, trying to think of a way he could explain it in terms Raith'd get. "I've been shot."


"Bear with me. I've been shot, and I'm bleeding everywhere. You're applying pressure to stop the bleeding. Do you decide at some point that I've had enough and you don't want to do that any more, or do you keep the pressure on until the bleeding actually stops?"

Raith nodded as he followed Reno into his barely-used bedroom. "So come back in the morning. Right now, we have another of your rescues to work on."

"Did I detect a hint of sarcasm there?"


Reno reached into the back of his cupboard and counted money out onto his bureau. "Harsh."

"Not so much," Raith said. "It's just... one day you're gonna stretch yourself too far. And it'll get you killed."

Reno had nothing to say to that, and those words hung in the air as they left the apartment.


Reno leaned against the kitchen wall, drinking his beer, while Raith explained to Seisin what they'd planned to do, sans details as to exactly how Reno would foot the bill. It was Reno she addressed, though, when Raith finished talking. "What's the catch?"

Reno's eyebrows shot up. "I'm sorry?"

"The money. What will you expect in return, Reno?"

"Pay me back when and if you can. Other than that, don't worry about it."

"People down here don't do nuthin' for nothing, and I can't see as you'd be the exception."

That was hardly fair. "You do," Reno pointed out.

Seisin watched Reno closely while she lit up a cigarette. "Why are you doing this?"

Reno shrugged. "Damned good pie."

She sighed impatiently.

"Okay, then. Here's the thing. I like you much better'n Corneo. Don't want to kill you, and I can't kill him, so this is the best alternative for the moment." He glanced over at Raith, who simply looked annoyed.

"Just take the money, Seisin," Raith said. "We don't have time to listen to you bitch about it."

"Let it pass," Reno murmured when Seisin opened her mouth to speak.

"I can come up with the money myself," she said.

Reno shook his head. "Not in time."

"Then I'll take the consequences. Feel free to shoot me."

"Yeah... no. I don't think so." Reno caught Raith's eye for a second, hoping he'd go along with what Reno was going to say next. "Besides, it's after the fact. Done deal. You'll have to go with it, and keep your mouth shut, or we'll all be in trouble." He put his half-finished beer on the counter. "Gonna hit the head. 'Scuse me."

Reno used the facilities, then walked back into the kitchen just in time to watch Raith attempting to hand Seisin a thick envelope. They were so embroiled in their conversation that neither of them, it seemed, had noticed Reno's return.

"I'm not taking your money, too, Raith." Her voice was low, but heated.

"No, Seisin, you listen to me. You will take this money and you will get out of Midgar for a while."

"I appreciate what you're both doing, kiddo, but I am not leaving my home, and my business, on Corneo's say-so."

"Corneo's say-so? Corneo wants you dead, preferably as of about an hour ago," Raith said bluntly, crossing his arms. "And if you hang about, he'll send Scotch and Buzz, who would take great pleasure in using you for sport first." He leaned forward with his business face on. "Don't mistake me, Seisin. Corneo has nothing to do with this money, and Reno's risking his own life--and mine, I should add--so we don't have so kill you now. This is not a 'request' made for your sake. I'm telling you to get the fuck out of town, because if you get Reno shot because you're choosing to be stubborn, there is no power on Planet that will stop me from putting a bullet in your brain."

Reno frowned, torn between annoyance that Raith was threatening Seisin and being pleased because it was over his own safety. Either way, though... "He has a point, Seisin. Kinda," he added, giving Raith a sardonic glance.

Raith's expression didn't change.

Reno raised an eyebrow, then returned his attention to Seisin. "It doesn't have to be permanent. But I don't like your chances if you hang around."

Seisin nodded. "Fine. For you, Reno, I will go--" she tossed a dirty look at Raith-- "and not because of your threats."

Raith shrugged. "Not threats. I don't make threats."

No, Reno thought, hiding a smirk. He just states 'facts'. "Seisin, I'm sorry."

"Don't be a dumbarse, Reno. I brought this on myself," she said. "Made some stupid decisions. None you should have to pay for."

"That's what I told him," Raith said. "But you know Reno. Ain't no talking him outta anything he wants to do once he has his mind set. You'll have to live with it."

She regarded the two of them seriously, looking from one to the other. "I guess I have no choice."

"Something like that," Raith said.

"I'll go after I've closed up, then." She frowned for a moment. "Are you still looking for information on that gang leader?"

Reno shrugged. "That Jask kid? Corneo pulled us off that for good about three months ago. Kinda a pain in the arse, when you consider he's still doing the crash and run thing."

"Getting difficult to get around as a result," Raith said. "We don't even bother going into Sector Seven. Like to get ourselves shot up for trying."

"You've noticed, maybe, that he's been leaving Sector Six alone?" Seisin said.

"We did," Raith said. "Figured it might have somethin' to do with Corneo, but he has tacit control all through the Sectors so we never really nutted out why."

"Didn't try that hard," Reno muttered. "Don't fuckin' care."

"I do," Raith said. "You almost died lookin' for the kid."

Seisin smiled. "Would it help any if I told you that Jask is Don Corneo's son?"

Reno exchanged a long look with his partner. "It would explain a lot."

"How do you know this?" Raith said.

"I said I'd keep my ear to the ground," she said evasively. "Have been."

Raith frowned. "Why didn't you mention this before?"

"You never asked," Seisin said. "Check it out, bigshot. I think you'll find it's fact." She yawned. "Well, I have things to do, apparently." She reached out and squeezed Reno's hand briefly. "Thankyou. Really."

Reno nodded and watched her as she made her way back towards the bar, then turned to see Raith studying him.

"Sometimes, I just don't get you, Reno."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

He shrugged. "Nothing important." He waved his hand in front of his face, nose wrinkled. "Why she smokes in the kitchen... C'mon outside for a sec so we're not talkin' outta school." He indicated the kitchen hand, who Seisin had sent back into the room when she'd returned to the bar.

Reno followed Raith out the back door and they emerged in the alleyway. Reno still had trouble being there without picturing that night, when in that dim deserted late night alley, he'd watched Rude pulverise a man's face.

It wasn't deserted that night, not so early. Reno could hear traffic noise and crowds from the street, and the alleyway had a few groups of people, talking, laughing, fighting. He wasn't paying much attention to the people around him, though. He leaned his butt on the edge of a pile of crates, drawing his eyes along Raith's throat. Funny how the more time Reno spent with Raith, the more time he wanted with him. You'd think it'd work the other way...

"She'd better do as she promised," Raith muttered. "If she tells Corneo anything I'll--"

"Hm." Reno put his hand on the back on Raith's neck and drew him nearer. "That's actually something I don't wanna hear from you again."

"What's that?" Raith said.

"That you'd waste time on revenge if anything ever happened to me."

"Why the hell not?"

"Reference back to the word 'waste', Raith. Not getting yourself wasted on account of me. Move on, live your life."

Raith met his eyes seriously. "If you were dead, I wouldn't have a life."

Reno opened his mouth to tell Raith not to be so fucking stupid, but then realised that he couldn't really do that. At least, not without being an A-grade hypocrite. Thing was, if something happened to Raith, Reno would still have one responsibility: Felice. He'd still feel like he had nothing, though. And Raith didn't even have that.

Reno curled an arm across Raith's shoulders. "If I did bite one, I'd need someone to watch out for Felice for me," he murmured into Raith's ear.

Raith turned his head and kissed Reno with abrupt raw intensity, before pulling away. "I have to get this money to Corneo, 'specially given you already told her it was done."

"Okay. Let's go then."

"No. You stay here. I'll go."

Reno looked at Raith through narrowed eyes, watching his face through the dim light of the street lamp down the alley. "Why?"

Raith hesitated only slightly, but Reno noticed. "Someone needs to stay here with Seisin, just in case."


"I'll see you at home, 'kay?"

"Raith." Reno resisted the urge to take hold of Raith's shirt. All of this talk of dying had his stomach churning. But it was more than that, more... instinct. "I don't like this. Corneo--"

"Won't be a problem. I can handle myself."

"I know. Just--"

Raith leaned in to Reno's ear again, talking to be heard over the night crowds on the main streets. "We have a conversation to continue, right? So you can bet yer sweet firm arse I'll be there."

Oh, really. Reno rewarded Raith with an incredulous look. "Bet my what?"

"Yeah. Too cheesy?"

"Way. Not to mention inaccurate. I'm kinda skinny."

Raith shrugged. "See you at home." He started to walk away, then turned back and playfully bit Reno on the neck. "I'll pick up some more cheese on the way home."

"Idiot." Reno rolled his eyes and grinned.

Raith grinned right back and wandered off.

Reno raised an eyebrow as he watched Raith leave. Hm... that cocky walk of his did interesting things to Reno's spine, speaking of sweet firm arses... then he frowned. Sometimes it seemed like Raith was two different people. Like, threatening Seisin not two hours after swearing blue blind to Reno that the last thing he really wanted to do was hurt her.

But then, it was consistent with that "Reno first" thing Raith had going on. Five Gods, but that made Reno feel good--but it also worried him. Too much of that, and Raith was headed for a severe lapse in judgement that could get him killed.

But then again, it wasn't like Reno didn't feel the same way about Raith. It was getting more and more difficult to separate the job from the consequences lately. He smiled to himself, considering the irony. It wasn't that long ago that he'd felt sick at the thought of trusting Raith. Now, he couldn't imagine not doing so.

And yet...

He shook his head. Not the time or the place for the deep and meaningfuls. He turned to go back inside the kitchen--and his beer--but intuition screamed at him: duck, now, so he did, turning to look at the face of the man who'd just thrown a clumsy roundhouse at him.

It was no one he knew--or, at least, no one he recognised, straight up--but that didn't change the fact that he was coming at Reno again, a knife held in a burly fist. Reno backed off, checking behind him for the possibility that this guy was not on his ownsome; taking in his surroundings in one quick glance. No one else was coming at him, but the guy coming at him had drawn the attention of some of the other people in the alleyway.

Of course, the slums being what they were, and Reno's tatts being what they were, no one was going to interfere in a fight between anyone and one of Corneo's men. Generally, he didn't get messed with at all.

He smiled slowly. It'd been a while since he'd played with some serious hand-to-hand. This was going to be fun.

The guy rushed at him, and Reno stepped sideways relatively easily and his attacker ended up going past him. Reno put his boot into the bigger man's arse and he fell. The knife clattered out of his hand and skittered across the pavement.

The man rolled and went for the knife, but Reno stepped on his fingers. "Now, that ain't fair, don't ya think?" he said quietly. "Stand up and face me proper, dickwad. Don't make me pull my gun."

He moved back again, allowing the man to his feet but remaining in between him and the knife, to some encouragement by a couple of the bystanders, which was a surprise to Reno, but not one that distracted him. Whoever this guy was, despite his bulky appearance, he obviously wasn't all that confident, or he wouldn't have waited until Reno was alone, and attacked him from behind with a weapon.

And now, he hesitated before coming at Reno again, and Reno stood, ready but casual, waiting. "Sure you wanna do this?" he said.

The man also hung back, but this time he was sizing Reno up. Reno got the distinct impression that, perhaps, his attacker had underestimated him and was now reassessing the situation. Didn't look like he was going to back off, though. Or speak.

The man moved again, and Reno stepped aside, delivering a jabbing punch to the man's nose as he did. The result was a satisfying crack. "Ah, so you are going to do this. Feel like telling me why?"

The man's eyes were tearing up, but he came at Reno again with a growl. This time, Reno didn't bother hitting him--he just moved out of the way. It wasn't any fun when the other guy was so clearly inept.

"C'mon, man, give it up."

But the guy came at him again, with the same result.

"This is stupid," Reno said to him, ignoring the calls around him to take the guy down. "Just tell me what your problem is. I don't have time for this crap."

The guy blinked again, wiping blood from his nose.

"It's probably broken," Reno said. "You'll need to set it and ice it for a bit." He paused. "You can speak, right?"


"You attacked me, pal." Reno relaxed slightly. This guy was no real threat. "What's your damage, anyway?"

The guy's eyes flickered over Reno's shoulder briefly, back to Reno, then over Reno's shoulder again.

Reno wasn't unprofessional enough to turn around, but he did keep his awareness open, turning slightly so that he could use his peripheral vision to anticipate another attacker from the rear, just in case. There were no catcalls or warnings from the bystanders. In fact, they were pretty much breaking up now that Reno had called an end to it.

The hairs on the back of his neck literally stood up, though, as the sensation of being watched swept over him... but not from behind him. From behind the guy--an area of stillness amongst the movement of people, one that felt almost familiar, that drew his attention for a split moment.

That split moment of inattention was enough. Reno had just enough time to sight the side of a dark-skinned bald head and think Rude? before the man's fist connected with his cheekbone.

Reno reacted swiftly then, marking his attacker a quick combination that had the man dumped on his keister. "Dickhead," he muttered, his voice no longer lazy. "Get outta here before I shove my gun in yer ear."

"You wouldn't dare," the guy said.

"Try me," Reno said shortly. "Please." Dammit all to hells. He'd lost sight of... whoever that was. He bent down slightly and looked the man in the eye, keeping his temper tightly under control. "Give. Me. An. Excuse."

The guy's face drained of colour, and his gaze flickered past Reno again.

"Thought so," Reno said, dragging the man to his feet by his collar. "Get fucked." He watched as the man left, then casually turned around, his eyes scanning the few people who were left as surreptitiously as he could. Nothing out of the ordinary he could see--or no one, for that matter. Still...

Reno frowned. Random attack... seemed kinda coincidental. It may've been nothing, but something primally instinctual told him it wasn't. Whether that had been Rude or not, something wasn't right. The only thing he could be sure of was that the man hadn't been one of Corneo's. If he had been, Reno would be dead.

He went inside, finished his beer in one long mouthful, nodded to the kitchen hand, then went into the bar to see Seisin.

"What happened to you?" she said.


"Your face."

"Eh. Nothing to worry about. But, listen. I need you to close the bar, and leave. Now. Go to Wutai, or somewhere north. Somewhere Corneo has no influence."

She looked like she was going to ask "why", but took a close look at the expression on his face and instead nodded slowly. "Will do." She called over one of the bartenders, and said something to him. He raised his eyebrows in surprise, then nodded, before calling for last rounds, to a chorus of protests.

"You have my number, right?" Reno said.


"Well, if you need anything, call me. But for your own sake, don't come back here until I tell you it's safe, okay?"

"If you say so." She looked at him quizzically. "Why me, Reno? Why would he come after me?"

"No reason other than principle, Seisin, unless there's something else you're not telling me."

"Not that I can think of."

He watched her for a moment. Perhaps... "How do you know about Jask?"

"Nothing more than luck, Reno. If you can call it that. And I'm one of many who'd know. Hell, Jask probably knows. Use it, if you can."

"You bet."

Reno hung around impatiently for the hour it took her to clear the bar, lock up and grab a few things, then saw her to the train station. "Good luck," he said.

She nodded, hesitated, then spoke. "I gather you didn't take my advice re your partner, after all."


"Raith. Told you a long time ago to watch out for him."

"Ah. I remember now." He smiled coyly. "Looks like I decided to take you to mean 'look after' rather than 'beware'."

"Given up on Rude, then."

Unexpected statement. Reno stared at the side of the train for a moment, then looked her in the face. "D'ya blame me?"

She put a hand on his arm. "Not particularly. I know I told Felice that I didn't believe it of him, but I'm reasonably sure he took out my brother, and I'm even more certain you know of it. Whatever happened, I will always be thankful to him for that. Just... don't think too badly of him, okay?"

Reno grunted. It was hard not to, under the circumstances. Especially if that had been his former best friend he'd seen earlier. "What did your brother do to you, Seisin?"

"Nothing I want to talk about."


"No problem. Let's just say that he was a sick shithead and leave it at that, eh?" She kissed Reno on the cheek in a very sisterly way. "Whatever you say, I don't trust that partner of yours."

"You don't know him like I do."

She looked mildly amused. "I'd say not. Still, look after yourself, Reno. And consider that your judgement may be impaired." She got on the train.

Reno watched it pull out of the station, then walked to the top of the Plate, heading for home. It was a longish way, probably long enough to hop a transport, but he needed to clear his head before he reached home. Her words echoed through his head, but he shut them out of his mind after a few minutes. She really didn't know Raith.

But then, no one did, not even Reno, really.

Then he realised that he'd just thought of Raith's place as "home". It'd been a while since he'd thought of anywhere as... Rude and Felice's. That'd been the last. His own apartment he thought of as Felice's place. He had for a while, he supposed.


Unravelling Raith was something he was prepared to spend some time doing. As long as it took. As long as they had.

Even if--could that really have been Rude?


Raith wasn't home yet. Hell. Reno looked at his watch, did some mental arithmetic and his stomach sank. There was no reason why he should've beaten Raith home, all things considered. He got himself a drink out of the fridge and wandered over to the glass doors that led to the balcony and opened them, leaning on the balcony's ledge, looking out over the lights of Midgar. His brain was running, all sixes and sevens and no solid conclusions.

It couldn't've been Rude he'd seen. If it had been, Rude would've said something. Wouldn't he?

Damn it all, where was Raith? Surely Corneo hadn't worked out what they'd done. He wasn't that smart.

But, if Rude had seen the tattoos under Reno's eyes, he knew. He knew that Reno worked for Corneo. He wouldn't have wanted to talk to Reno. He wouldn't even want to know me.

Fuck it. He should've gone to the Mansion with Raith. Stupid.

Except the alleyway had been dark. Darkish. And from that distance, if it'd been Rude, he wouldn't've seen the tatts. And if it had been Rude, he'd stood by and watched as Reno was set upon. Sure, Reno hadn't needed his help, but still...

But if Rude had been there, how long had he been there for? Had he seen Reno with Raith?

And if he had, so what? Rude'd been his best friend, and yet had taken off, abandoning his own mother, let alone Reno. Rude didn't want him. Raith wanted him. He wanted Raith. End of story.

Except... if it was Rude, Raith would know Reno had been less than forthcoming. He winced. Call a chocobo a chocobo. He'd lied.

He grunted, frustrated with his thought process. What the fuck was taking Raith so long?

He wandered back into the apartment, dumped the empty bottle in the bin and jumped in the shower, deliberately trying to empty his mind of stupid notions, like Rude possibly being back in Midgar or Raith having his brains splattered all over the floor of Corneo's "throne room" on Corneo's orders. Five more minutes and I'm going after him, he thought as he turned the water off. Then he frowned. Screw that. If Corneo has him, he doesn't have that much time.

He pulled on his jeans without drying off and headed out to the living room, intending to grab his phone--and Raith was sitting on the couch, shirtless, eating an apple, and snapping shut his own phone, which he dropped on the couch next to him casually.

Too casually, Reno thought in a split moment, forgotten as soon as he'd thought it. He had more important things on his mind. "What in the blue hells took you so long?" Reno said, at the same time as Raith said, "What in the blue hells happened to you?"

They blinked, then Reno grinned. "You."

Raith took another bite. "Am I late?" he said with his mouth full.

Reno felt a bit silly then. "Just under the circumstances, Corneo being Corneo and all."

Raith's hand paused in the act of bringing the apple to his mouth again. "Were you worried about me, Pony Boy?"

Reno considered making light, but for reasons he couldn't fathom, changed his mind. "Yeah."

"Yeah?" Raith put the half-eaten apple on the coffee table, his expression an enigma.


Raith held Reno's gaze, his mouth curling up in a tiny smile, but then he frowned slightly. "Paranoia will get us killed quicker'n anything else, Reno." He paused, his eyes darting to his feet momentarily. "We don't know that Corneo knows anything."

Reno nodded. "We don't know that he doesn't, either."

"Yeah, well, I'm not going to give him extra reason for suspicion." He stood then. "Now you. What happened to your face?" he said, looking at Reno's cheek more closely.

Reno shrugged. "Nothing of consequence."

"Not swollen, at least." Raith reached out and fingered the bruise on Reno's cheekbone. "Ya know, for all the times we've been shot at or in fights, I ain't never seen you with one of these. You're normally too quick for anyone to lay a hand on."

Reno grimaced. "I generally don't put my face in the way of someone's fist."

"What happened?" Raith said in a tone that clearly stated and who do I kill for it?

"Feller wanted to empty Seisin's till. Convinced him otherwise." And why Reno felt the need to lie again, he didn't know.

"Reno, boy hero," Raith said, grinning. "You never change." His smile faded. "Anyone we know?"


"C'mere. Let me have a closer look."

Reno stood his ground. "It's not that bad."

"I know," Raith said. "I just like lookin'."

"Ah. I see how it is." He winced as Raith pressed a sweet spot. "Hey. That actually hurt."

Raith looked amused. "Wuss."

"Well, it wouldn't hurt at all if you weren't poking it." He looped a finger into the front of Raith's jeans and pulled him closer. "Hm. Speaking of poking, didn't we have a conversation that needs finishin'?"

Raith dropped his head and nibbled on Reno's collar bone. "I was getting to that," he murmured.

"Took too long."

"You in some sorta rush?"

Reno moved his head so he could look Raith in the eyes. "Not that so much. It's just that..."

"Just that what?"

Reno hesitated. Hell, he'd said this once already, dammit. That should be enough. Words just made everything too fragging complicated. Well, he didn't need 'em. Instead, Reno leaned forward and kissed him, drawing his tongue along Raith's lips softly until Raith responded in a gentle massage that made Reno go weak in the knees. Actually weak at the knees. Weird. You'd think, after a year of this...

He wrapped his arms around Raith's shoulders, sighing as Raith snaked his arms around Reno's waist and held him close.

"Ya know," Raith said, burying his face in Reno's neck, "if you initiated more I wouldn't mind. You hate waiting but you do anyway. Never understood that about you."

"I do initiate."

"Only to a point. You play games, you hint, but you're never direct unless we're already in some sort of a clinch. Today was the first time. And now." He bit Reno's throat. "I like it." And again. "I really like it."

Reno closed his eyes and savoured the feel of Raith's bare chest against his. Why was it that he could make Reno forget everything that was shitty about working for Corneo? Made it all worthwhile, was what he did.

He wanted direct? Reno could do direct. Without letting go, he dragged Raith into the bedroom and moved forward so that the backs of Raith's legs were leaning against the bed. "Well, I like you," he said in a low voice, letting go of Raith's shoulders so that the other man fell backwards, pulling Reno down with him. "I really like you."

Raith looked back up at him, and his eyes were almost... something. Vulnerable? Pleased? Unsure? Hell, normally Reno was better at picking people than this; his own feelings were getting in the way, probably. Except... erhm... getting in the way of what, exactly? He was living in a world where nothing made sense; nothing was guaranteed, not even the likelihood of making it through each day alive, especially now.

Except for one living, breathing constant.

Raith. He'd essentially trapped Reno, but good, within a world Reno hated, and yet had given Reno everything he had, made sure he could care for Felice... and hadn't left him. Hadn't run away, no matter what Reno'd said or done. Hadn't made him feel like he was worth nothing... not worth trusting... not worth staying with...

"What're you thinking about?" Raith said.

I don't care if that was Rude. Really don't., Reno thought. "Really do... like you," he murmured, kissing along Raith's jaw line, rearranging hips and limbs so that he could slide his knee in between Raith's legs, gently leaning his thigh against Raith's groin.

Raith reverse mimicked Reno's position with a hummed sigh, tipping his head back, eyes closed as Reno ran the tip of his tongue along Raith's windpipe, firm enough that Reno could feel the deep timbre of Raith's voice ripple along his throat as he tasted him. Raith embraced him, his fingers scrolled along Reno's back, feather-light, trailing gooseflesh behind them.

Movement; slow, gentle, sensuous... Raith hardening against Reno's thigh, him against Raith's... thought dissipated and became touch alone, a gentle massage that took into account only them. Reno gave way to sensation, dimly aware of Raith's hand against the back of his neck, fingers grasping into his hair. So familiar, now, but so... different, this time.

Reno's mouth followed the path of sinew and bone and muscle until his lips grazed Raith's nipple, starkly dark against paler skin in the azure illumination of the faded night, a soft mound that transformed to a firm peak under Reno's attentive teeth.

Raith's whisper-soft groan echoed through Reno's mind, sending shivers skittering across his skin, and the muscles in Reno's stomach tremored in response, in concert with Raith's own under Reno's fingers. Satisfied with Raith's reaction, he trailed to the other nipple and repeated the process, and was this time rewarded with Raith arching against him, stomach to chest.

Reno continued his downward movement, his tongue following the trail of hair beneath Raith's navel like a grooming cat, until he reached waistband. He lifted his head then, and gently pried the button out of its hole, then worked his way back up Raith's torso and salty, salty neck until their eyes met again.

They looked at each other for the longest time as Raith's hands wandered aimlessly over Reno's skin, stopping to stroke one sensitive part of Reno's spine, only to move on to the next just as Reno started to feel like he was being sent insensible. Playing him like an skilled musician plays a complicated piece... crescendo, then soft, silent, pausing for the space of a heartbeat... crescendo, again...

Gods, but he couldn't get enough of Raith's eyes. Reno frowned slightly, then, wondering what was going through Raith's mind. If his thought process was anything like Reno's then his head would be filled with just the one word: mm...more.

"Reno." Another throaty murmur, born out of need, eyelids fluttering shut then open again, his mouth just made for...

Reno bent his head and kissed him... and Raith devoured him in return... kissing freaking rocks, oh yeah, it does, especially when your heart is...ughn... engaged in the whole thing. Five gods, Raith...

Somehow, Reno remembered how to breathe; remembered how to help Raith off with his jeans, dragging his own body down with his hands so he could bury his face in Raith's stomach, rub his cheek against hard heat; Raith's fingers brushing his hair, his deep-chested groan vibrating against Reno's forehead. Reno turned his head to one side and tucked his arms around Raith's hips, holding him close and inhaling the scent of him, kissing along his shaft until Reno could lick salty droplets from its tip and tease the slit.

He smiled as Raith's breath hitched in response.

Reno would've happily stayed were he was, doing what he was doing, but Raith, it seemed, had other plans, for he sat up slightly and reached down under Reno's arms, fingers pressing until Reno took the hint and snaked his face up to Raith's again. Raith drew him up so that they were both on their knees, noses close as Raith wordlessly undid Reno's jeans and pushed them down his hips, running his hands over Reno's butt and then back up his back, over his shoulders, palms caressing Reno so his skin tingled and blood rushed through his ears.

Then both of Raith's hands were on Reno's shoulders and he was pressing Reno back into the pillows, and manhandling Reno's jeans off, before coming back over him, pressing their hips together, tucking his arms under Reno's and nibbling on Reno's neck.

"Mm. S'good." Reno swallowed then, and dug his fingers into Raith's lower back, trying to concentrate on Raith's mouth, not the feel of their hips pressed together. This long, drawn-out seduction was going to drive him... ughn... crazy, urging him towards completion as it was.

But he didn't want it to end... he wanted to have every part of Raith, just to feel. Just to want. To give. To touch. To taste. To hold. Everything from the inside of him, to Raith.

And that's what he had, here and now. No thought, just movement; the languid sensation that he could somehow drink Raith in, in every rasping breath and in a tangle of legs and groins and mouths and sweat.

Raith's pledge sounded in his ears and mind, "Reno... I love you..."... until there was only one thing left for Reno to do: give in to the urging of his body and heart and voice and utter whispered homage of his own as he gave in to that inevitable pulsating, desperate, pleasurable death; even as the image of Rude's face echoed through his mind; "I love you, Raith. I love you."

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