Chapter Fifteen

If someone loses a person; a part of themselves, then that part is seemingly filled by another, what happens if the first person returns? Can three halves become one whole?

Or do you have to choose?


Reno looked from Braden, to Rude, and then back to Braden again, looking for signs that he was being messed with. But, both faces were calm, if not expectant in Braden's case.

"You have got to be kidding me," Reno finally said. "What the makes you think that I would want anything to do with any of you? Especially now?" This last, he directed at Rude.

Rude's face was stony.

Braden glanced at Rude, then back to Reno, then scratched at the scar on his cheek. "Leave us, please, Rude. Wait outside."

Rude nodded once, then left.

"Good. Nothing worse than trying to have a quiet conversation through a subtext one is unaware of." Braden shook his head wrly. "Was he always so laconic?"

It came as no surprise to Reno that Braden would be aware that Reno had known Rude once. Reno did, after all, watch out for Rude's mother. "Pretty much."

"Hm. Nevertheless, Rude can be very... loud, even when he's not saying a word."

Reno almost grinned despite himself. "I know what you mean."

Braden did smile, and his shoulders relaxed slightly. "Reno, I know we don't know each other that well, but I have to say that I am rather glad that I'm not required to kill you." He paused. "Yet."

"I take it, then, that you've just made me an offer I cannot refuse?"

"You can refuse. It just wouldn't be a good idea," said a voice from the door.

Reno jumped, startled, then frowned, annoyed at his lapse. He hadn't heard the door slide open. He recognised the Turk in the doorway: one of the others who had occasionally brought the President to HoneyBees. Very occasionally. Usually, it'd been Braden. The man's black hair was tied back into a short ponytail at the nape of his neck, and he had a small Zhen mark in the middle of his forehead above his brow.

Wutai, Reno thought. At some point in his life, this man had dedicated himself to one of the Five Sacred Gods of Wutai, although Reno wouldn't've known which one. It was moot, though, if the man was in Midgar. Dedicates were not allowed to leave Wutai. At all.

Probably meant his hands were more dangerous, even, than Rude's, though. Zirengia had trained under a Wutai master.

"I take it you're the cavalry," Reno finally said.

"Don't be silly," the man said calmly, wandering over to stand next to Braden, although he didn't lean on the table. He exuded calm. Fairly reeked of it. "No one uses mounted troops any more."

Reno sighed impatiently, crossing his arms across his chest.

"Reno, we have yet to sort out this blackmailing issue. Until we do, we will need to keep an eye on you. Now," he said, putting up his hand as Reno opened his mouth to protest, "I am given to understand that you were not personally involved. Fine. Either way, Don Corneo will be out for your blood. There is also the matter of your partner. Any information you have on his whereabouts would be most appreciated."

"From what I can see, you have more information on that than I do," Reno said sourly.

"Indeed," he said. "We will not force you to work for us. But I have seen you in action, Reno, and I believe you would be an asset to our division. I like your skill, and your sense of fair play,for a start. And, surely, an elite poition in the Shin-Ra Organisation is a step up from wondering how long it will take you for your boss--your former boss--to decide you are no longer useful?"

Something clicked in the back of Reno's mind, something that he'd not had a clear enough head to consider, not while Rude had been there, anyway. Elite position in the Shin-Ra Organisation. Meaning, access to their classified mainframe. Meaning, a track into information regarding his sisters. Meaning... gods. What was he thinking, being so stubborn? This was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

He shrugged. "Okay, then."

The twin looks of surprise that crossed both Turks' faces was totally worth it.

"Well." Black pony-tail nodded to Braden. "Let him know what to do." Then, he left.

Braden gave Reno an amused look. "That was too easy. What are you up to?"

"Who was that?" Reno said.

"That was Tseng," Braden said. "He is... hm. Best way to tell you is--" he put his hand, flattened palm down, in front of his body, neck-height--"Up top, you have President Shinra." He lowered his hand a small amount, like going down a ladder. "Under him, his son, Rufus." Another rung down. "Then the department heads. We are officially 'The Department of Administrative Research', and our Head is Veld. Under him--" one more rung--"Tseng. Then the Senior Turks--that'd be me--Junior Turks--Dallas and Rude--and Trainees. That's you." He smiled. "Welcome to the bottom of the heap, Reno."

Reno shrugged. It wasn't like he wasn't used to that.

"Right, then." Braden looked at his watch. "It's late. You'll need a place to sleep. Turks live in the building, but it's too late to open up an apartment tonight. You can stay with Rude, I think."

Reno frowned. He really didn't want to do that.

Braden seemed to notice. "Over the course of your career with us, Reno, you will be asked to carry out many orders you don't agree with," he said quietly. "I want to make it very clear right now. Except in extreme cases, which will be covered in your training, those orders will be obeyed. And, for the record, those circumstances are rare and are unlikely to crop up in your tenure. Are we clear?"


"And that's yeah, sir, Rookie."

Crap. This was going to be a royal pain in the arse. "Yeah... yes, sir."

"Tomorrow, you will have a meeting with Veld, and we will go through what is expected of you." He looked up as Rude re-entered the room. "Rude, you will need to take Reno down for a uniform. Tomorrow, 0900, for Veld. No, wait. Make that 0930."

Rude nodded.

"Welcome to the D.A.R., Reno." Braden put out his right hand, and Reno shook it.

Then, he followed Rude out the door.

How, exactly, had that just happened?

It was only then that Reno considered what Tseng had said. He'd seen Reno in action? When?


Rude didn't say a word the entire time it took them to wait for the elevator, go down a few floors, find wherever it was that the uniforms were stashed--Reno was kinda lost by then--have Rude scan his card into some machine, pick up a couple of cellophane-wrapped packages, then, with a glance at Reno's feet, a pair of boots, and tuck them under his arm, then wait for another elevator, go up to what Reno could only assume were the apartments Braden had mentioned, where Rude scanned his card again, enter the apartment, wait for Reno to enter, lock the door, and drop Reno's uniform on the couch.

Reno didn't really care. It wasn't like he was feeling particularly conversational anyway.

The Shin-Ra apartment was not quite as large as the one Reno shared--had shared--with Raith, but it was comfortable, none the less, and similar in layout. No balcony, though, and the kitchen wasn't open, but through an alcove off to one side.

Rude may not have said anything, but Reno could feel his eyes boring through his skull, even through the shades Rude hadn't removed, yet. Reno ignored it, until Rude spoke.

"What did you think you were doing, joining up with Corneo?" he said, his voice low, but clearly annoyed, his arms crossed against his chest like he was some sort of... authority.

"What did I think I was doing." Reno kept his own anger in check, even though his stomach churned with it. But all he knew was that if he let himself go, in that place, in that time, he would not be able to stop yelling at his former friend. What he really wanted to do was smack those fucking shades up the other side of Rude's face, give the shithead something to think about, and the consequences be damned. "Let's see. What did I think I was doing. Well, I am sure I don't know. You can just put it down to 'Reno's a screw up', if you'd like. How's that sound?"

"You owe me an explanation, here, Reno. You know what happened to my brother."

Oh. Too far. Reno turned on Rude, facing him, working so hard to keep his voice down that he was shaking with the effort. "You have that backwards, you self-righteous, hypocritical--" He stopped, swallowed, and continued. "I don't owe you any explanations. I didn't kill my employer then run away like a scared baby so that someone else could clean up my mess. I didn't stay away, with no word to anyone about where I was, or how I was. I didn't let my mother think I was dead, or abandon her with no means of support."

Rude's jaw tightened. "I don't feel good about what I did, Reno."

"Yeah? Seriously? Well, fine, that makes everything all right again. Let me weep for your pain. Poor little you."

"Look, I did what I had to do."

"And what you had to do was screw up your life and take the rest of us with you, was it?"

"No one asked you to hang around."

Unreasonable--"Oh, fuck you, Rude. Just--fuck you." Reno ran a hand through his unruly mop, wishing Rude would take those stupid glasses off so Reno could see his eyes.

Rude was silent for a moment before he spoke. "This is not the time for this."

"You brought it up. And if not now, when?"

Rude fiddled with his tie for a moment, and turned his face from Reno's, his brow furrowing. "I know."

Anger warred with curiosity, and curiosity briefly won. "Why am I here, Rude? Was this you?"

Rude's face turned back to Reno's, one eyebrow raised above the glasses. "Make the best of it, Reno. There's nothing else for you."

An image of Raith's face crossed Reno's mind at that, bringing with it a fresh wave of pain. He stared at his feet. No, anger. That was better.

"I have to know," Rude said. "Why Corneo?"

Reno looked up again and smiled, pouring as much contempt into his smile as he could. "No. You don't get off that easily." He narrowed his eyes. "You first."

Rude shifted his feet. "Reno, I know what you're like--"

"Do you? You knew what I was like. You fucking knew. And yet you didn't trust me enough to--you could've at least bloody called us, let us know you were alive or dead. I would've watched your back. Hells, I did watch your back. You had to know that."

Rude stood there quietly, his face impassive, while Reno spilled his anger.

Rude's quietude only fuelled it further, though. "Do you know that for the first birthday after you were gone, your ma made you a cake, hoping you'd turn up? And when you didn't... she gave you up for dead, man. You did what you had to, fine. But we were the ones paid the price." Shit. Reno brought himself under control before he continued. It wasn't easy. "A lot can happen in four years. Do not presume to know who I am now." He paused, glaring at the larger man. "Where were you?"


"Not. Good. Enough. It almost killed her, Rude." Reno now kept his voice quiet, controlled, refusing to give away what it had done to him.

Rude's face didn't register any reaction to that. "I've missed you, Reno," he said quietly.

That unexpected admission stopped Reno's next tirade in its tracks. He caught Rude's gaze and held it for a moment. He could see, now, the faint outline of Rude's eyes behind the shades and knew that Rude held his gaze just as steadily.

Then Rude removed the glasses, dropping them on a small glass-surfaced table next to the couch. "What do you want from me now then? What's done is done. Can't change it."

"That's a cop-out, and you know it. Look, even if you don't think you owe me an explanation, you sure as hells owe Felice one. Have you even seen her since you returned to Midgar?"

Rude avoided Reno's eyes. "I heard you were looking out for her. I figured you both wouldn't want--" he swallowed. "No. I see your point." He rubbed his chin. "It's just... fuck. I'm not good at this stuff, Reno. You know that."

Reno did. He'd always known. "Look, I don't know why you murdered Krane, and frankly, I don't give a shit. Tell me, don't tell me. I don't care. I never did. What I don't get is why you didn't trust me. You were my best friend."

"Were." Rude met Reno's gaze, then. His face was still stone, but his eyes were troubled. "I still consider you mine."

What? How could he? Reno couldn't fathom that; had no idea what to say. "But... you left me."

Those words hung between them for a very long time, it seemed, before Rude spoke again. "Yeah. I guess so. But I had my reasons."

"You're not going to tell me what they were, are you." It wasn't really a question.

"No longer relevant." He sat on the couch, motioning to the chair across from him. "Look, Turks have to rely on each other for their lives, even if they aren't partners. You're here now, and one way or another, we have to put this behind us."

Reno sighed, then sat down as well, leaning forward so his elbows rested on his knees. "Then you have some questions to answer, and I have a lot to say."

"I get why you're angry."

No, you really don't.

"Maybe I don't," Rude said, his brow furrowing again. "But I did trust you, Reno. It's how I knew Ma would be okay."

Reno raised an eyebrow at Rude's vocalisation of Reno's thought, but didn't comment on it. "She wasn't okay. She still isn't. Y'know she can't see no more?"

Rude looked at his hands. "Yeah, I heard."

"And you still haven't gone to see her yet?"

"I can't face her."

"Get over it, Rudolph." Reno's voice was intentionally harsh.

Rude's eyes narrowed. "It's a matter between my Ma and me. Why don't you mind your own fucking business?"

Reno looked at Rude in genuine surprise. He recovered quickly, though, surprise replaced by disgust. "How about I just smack your arse sideways, dickhead?"

"You could try," Rude growled.

"And you could grow up."

"Says you. Where do you get off telling me how to talk to my own mother?"

You have to be fucking kidding me, Reno thought. "Where do you get off telling me I have no right to?"

"She's my mother, not yours."

Final straw. Reno lifted one booted foot and slammed the heel into Rude's shin, hard, then jumped to his feet, ready to follow it up with the aforementioned smack upside the head if need be.

Rude also got to his feet, and they stood toe to toe, Rude glowering down at him. "You only get to do that once," Rude said. "Next time, I'll deck you."

"Bite me." Reno pointed at his cheekbone, where he guessed that bruise would still be a lovely shade of purply green. "Think I'm afraid of being hit? Time for some home truths, I think, and frankly, I don't give a flying arse about your temper tantrum over your fucking name." Reno lifted his chin so he could glare into Rude's eyes. "You took off and deserted the mother you're now trying to claim. When I said she almost died, I wasn't talking in metaphor. She was sick. If it wasn't for--" He paused. If it wasn't for Raith... He grit his jaw briefly, then continued. "If it wasn't for that job I took with Corneo, the one you're now looking down at me for, fuckwit, your mother would be dead."

"Shut up." Rude didn't yell. He just spoke through a gritted jaw.

"I will not. While you were gallivating around, doing whatever, Ma was dying. We couldn't afford to eat, we couldn't afford medical care, and she didn't even tell me how close she was to losing her sight until it was too late."

Rude pushed Reno's chest so that Reno fell back onto the chair. "Shut up."

Reno glared up at him, still ready to move. The last time he'd seen Rude angry, Krane's face had ended up looking like ground meat. Maybe he'd pushed too far... then again, hells, no. Rude was being an arse. Let him feel the full weight of his actions. It was about bloody time. "Two months in hospital. Six months in rehab. Learning to see without her eyes again. And where were you? Wallowing in self pity somewhere?"

Rude's eyes flashed and he grabbed Reno by the front of his shirt, lifting him up off his feet, pulling Reno so their noses were close, thighs brushing together.

"Belting me won't change the facts," Reno said quietly, not flinching. "Who do you think was there when you weren't? Don't fucking tell me I have no right to watch out for her. Even if it's you she needs protection from."

Rude looked at Reno for a long time. Then, as suddenly as he had lost his temper, his demeanour changed again. He blinked, then frowned, and then let go of Reno, before turning his back on him. He ran a hand over his head. "I wish..." he said quietly, his voice muffled.

Reno waited for Rude to finish his thought for a minute or so. "What?"

Rude turned around and sat on the couch again, elbows on knees, an imitation of how Reno had sat earlier. He didn't look up. "Nothing."

"No. What?"

"Really, Reno. Nothing useful. Except..." he looked up, then, his hazel eyes boring into Reno's face. They looked almost pleading.

Reno sat in the chair, and resisted the temptation to prod Rude again, instead sitting back, running a hand over his face, avoiding Rude's gaze. Fuck, but he was tired. The past day? Seriously screwed. He felt like he'd lived a full week into just a few hours. Raith... Reno almost laughed at the irony, would've if he hadn't been so pissed, and tired, and ready to take out a couple of walls with his fists, just for fun. Only the night before, Reno'd been with him, with Rude intruding in his mind. Now...

It was giving him a gutache. All he wanted to do was get out of here, but he gathered that wasn't an option. He wondered idly if Rude was also his jailor. "They gonna return my gun?"

Rude blinked, obviously caught off-guard by the question. "Yeah. You'll get it back at training."

"That's something, I guess."


"Enough already, Rude. I've had a shit of a day and I'd really appreciate it if you'd just shut the fuck up."

They settled into a long, uncomfortable silence.

Finally, Rude stood. "Are you hungry?"

"Not particularly."

"You didn't eat anything we gave you."

We. Interesting concept. Rude was one of the "we." Turk. For the first time, Reno really looked at his former friend; tie, suit, demeanour. He was Turk, through and through. Well. All very well for Rude to accuse him of whatever because he worked for Corneo, no matter that he cited his brother as a reason why Reno should've known better.

What about what Shin-Ra'd done to Rude's ma? Didn't add up.

Rude raised an eyebrow questioningly.

Don't you dare act like we're back to normal. Just don't, Reno thought. But schooled his face calm. "You eating anyway?"

"Yeah. Just gonna change first."

"Well, you're puttin' me up, so let me know what you want and I'll get it."

"Yeah... no."

"What? Can't trust me with the knives?" Reno kept his tone flat so Rude'd know he wasn't kidding.

"Not that. I'm not fond of charcoal."

Despite himself, Reno felt his lip twitch in annoyance. "And we're right back to 'don't presume you know me any more'." He shrugged. "Fine. Your house."

Rude's face stayed expressionless, but his throat worked as he swallowed. "Right back," he muttered before heading into a room off one side of the sitting room.

Reno wandered over to the large window on the other side of the room and looked out over Midgar for a moment, before leaning forward, placing his forehead on the glass and closing his eyes. He couldn't make heads nor tails of what was going on around him in that moment. So much... if he tried to take it all in, he was left with nothing but an empty, surreal sensation, a bitter reminder of what he may have lost.

He wanted Raith in the worst way; just wanted a chance to find out what was going on, whether he really was taking off, or had intended to leave, or whether Braden'd fed him a load of shit in an attempt to get Reno to do as he was told.

Part of him had no trouble believing that Raith'd left him. Eventually, Reno knew, everyone did, and usually for no other reason than Reno'd indicated he needed them. Rude did. Why would Raith be any different? And Raith's behaviour over the past couple of days hadn't helped that.

Another part of him told him he was wrong. It was an easy part to ignore. It wasn't making any sense.

An even smaller part of him didn't fucking care. Since they'd first hooked up, he and Raith hadn't spent more than a few hours at a time apart. Reno craved his presence, and the more time passed, the more agitated he felt, even aside from anything else.

That part of him was impossible to ignore. Raith was a habit he'd have to break, if what he'd been told was the truth. But he didn't want to. He wasn't just a habit. Reno'd intended to spend the rest of his life with him, no matter that he'd expected that life to be a short one. How could he have possibly considered the possibility that he'd be where he was now, a mere 24 hours later, alive and yet, without Raith?

It didn't bear thinking about.

He opened his eyes and stared down at the lights of Midgar. Above the Plate. The Shin-Ra building was the tallest in the sector, so even at the fifty-second floor he could see out to the darkness beyond. Where was Raith? Was he still here, or had he skipped town the moment he'd heard that Corneo's was definitely going pear-shaped, leaving Reno behind to take the fall? Did he know where Reno was? Did he care?

Had any of him even been real?

Reno wanted--no, needed--to go back to the apartment, try and see if there was any sign at all of Raith being there. Because if Reno'd been lied to, then Raith was still marked by Corneo. Or the Turks. Either way, he was in a lot of trouble. And if he was there... gods. Even the thought of the sight of his face made Reno feel warmer.

And angrier.

The whole conundrum made him want to scream in frustration. Why couldn't anything just be fucking easy? Just something. One thing. Any bloody thing. He sighed. Maybe it was.

He turned away from the window, to find Rude standing there, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, arms crossed against his chest, watching him. Shit. How long had he been there? Reno hadn't heard a thing.

"What is it?" Rude said quietly.

What wasn't it? "I'm going home," Reno said.

Rude winced. "'Fraid not."

"Oh, really. And why not? Am I a prisoner, Rude?"

"No. Just not until after tomorrow's meeting with Veld, is all. I have to--" he stopped.

"You have to make sure I turn up."

Rude didn't say anything.

Reno rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to take off." Not unless I find Raith, anyway. "I just need some clothes and stuff."

"I can send over, if you like."

"Bit late for a courier."

Rude shrugged. "Not for us."

Us. We. Again, Reno was reminded of how far apart he and Rude now stood. "I know where everything is. I can just go straight in, grab what I need, and come back. Won't take me more than an hour or so. Easier."


"I'm not a prisoner, but I can't leave."

"You don't have an ident card yet. Won't get past the front desk."

It was on the tip of Reno's tongue to suggest that Rude just come with him, but then he realised how stupid that idea was. What if Raith was there? Hey, Raith, meet Rude. Yeah. You know him, kinda. Remember that old friend of mine that I told you was dead...? Not one of his brighter ideas.

A buzzer sounded from the kitchen.

"Food," Rude commented.

"That was quick."


Reno followed Rude into the kitchen and sat at a small steel-topped table that was situated against a wall. He waited until the food--if you could call it that--was put in front of him before speaking again. "Where did you go? And a real answer this time."

"Junon. Ended up in the military."

"You volunteered for the army."

"Not exactly." Rude took a mouthful of a substance from his tray that Reno supposed was probably once a vegetable of some kind before continuing. "I didn't know where I was going. I just hopped the first truck I could. I wasn't paying attention. Things on my mind."

"I'm sure," Reno said tersely.

"Ended up in Junon and was thrown in the brig. Choice was the army or jail. I decided to take the army. When my time was up, Tseng asked me to join the Turks. No options, so I did." He ran his fork through the food. "Was unable to contact any one for a while."

Reno nodded. That still didn't explain why Rude went of his nut to start with, and why he then ran off. He finished his almost-food in silence, then took the plate to the sink. There was nothing much to say, really. Nothing that wouldn't end in another fight.

"Corneo's?" Rude said.

Reno faced out the kitchen window. "Ma needed medical attention, in a hurry. No money. The opportunity came up, so I took it." He turned around and looked at Rude then. Make one comment. I dare you.

But Rude only nodded.

Reno yawned. "Where am I supposed to crash?"

It may have been Reno's imagination, but Rude looked very uncomfortable all of a sudden. "Well, it's only a single room, see..."

"What are you getting at?"

"One bed."


Yep, that was definitely Rude at "let the floor swallow me now" uncomfortable. "Look, we're not kids any more. We can put all of that behind us, right?"

Reno realised, then, that Rude was referencing that last night they'd been together before Krane's murder, and he raised an eyebrow. Fact was, Reno hadn't thought of that. But now that Rude had mentioned it... he couldn't actually fault Rude's perspective. Yet... Yet. He felt like a child, abandoned all over again, but Rude didn't need to know that. Reno felt sure that he wouldn't understand. And, yeah. They were no longer kids, after all, he thought sardonically.

Besides, who the fuck did Rude think he was, that he'd think Reno was looking to push past a friendship with him, anyway, if that, even? After last time? He had to be fucking joking. "Sure," he said, wondering why he wasn't just not telling Rude exactly what he was thinking. "If that's what it takes."

Rude looked relieved, which only served to irritate Reno again. "Think I'll take the couch, though," he said sardonically. "You know, in case of any... accidents."

Rude nodded, his face a mask. "So... are we good now?"

Reno watched Rude's face again, wanting to say, "no" to the bastard. And yet, he just couldn't. He had so many reasons to stay angry, but the fact was, he didn't want to, fool that he knew he was. He could only hold so much rancour, and it didn't come natural-like. And most of it was directed at staving off that dead feeling he got in his gut at the thought of Raith having left without him. Or having stitched Reno up. It was too much effort.

He wasn't completely satisfied with Rude's explanation, but he knew what he had was what he would get. No more, no less. Whatever had happened, at least there had been no actual betrayal involved, unlike--no. Don't go there.

You could forgive in a friend what you couldn't in a lover. His anger at Rude evaporated, for real this time. "Yeah. We're good, I guess. On one condition."

"What's that?"

"You're calling your mother first thing in the morning."

Rude's grunt spoke three hundred volumes of how much he really wasn't going to enjoy that, but he pulled his phone out of his pocket and pressed numbers as Reno gave them to him.

"Oh, and there is one more thing," Reno said, as a thought occurred to him.

Rude paused in the act of programming his phone, sighed, giving Reno a tired look. "What."

"You owe me a new shirt."


Midgar, 8 years until Meteorfall

Stupid building, Reno thought. Why do they need all of these floors, anyway? Most people could make do with ten or twenty. Thirty at most. Seventy was just bloody ridiculous. He ran his finger under his collar again. If he didn't die of starvation because he was lost, then he'd choke to death instead. Literally. Why make a man wear something that an opponent can hang him with, anyway?

Screw this. He loosened the tie and undid the top button of his shirt. Better. Not perfect, but it would do. For the moment.

Well, he shouldn't be late.

Where had Rude said Human Resources was? Third floor? No, fourth. No, wait, third. Or was that the staff lunchroom? No, he didn't have to worry about that until later, anyway.

Argh! Fuck this stupid tie! He pulled the damned thing off and threw it in the closest wastepaper bin, before grabbing the nearest passer-by. "Veld's office?" he said.

The girl looked at him, startled, then gave him some directions.

Just as well he'd asked. He'd been heading in entirely the wrong direction. Thanks a heap, Rude. Supposed to make sure I made it to the meeting? Couldn't've shown me where to go?

He finally made it to Veld's office at 9.29am. Sorry, that was 0929.

Braden was already there. "Cutting it a bit close, there, Reno."

"Sorry. Sir," he added.

Veld's assistant showed them in.

Reno stood in front of Veld's huge desk, his stomach churning.

Veld, a scarred man in his late forties, looked him up and down, before consulting a file on his desk. "So. This is Reno," he said.

"He is," Braden said.

"Where's your tie, Reno?"

"Oh. I lost it, sir," Reno said casually.

"Hm. Braden, see that he gets another, would you?"

Braden nodded. "Yes, sir."

Veld looked Reno up and down one more time, then nodded and closed the vidfile. "Dismissed."

Wait. Was that all?

Braden turned to leave, so Reno guessed he was supposed to, too.

"That was kinda weird," he said when they'd reached the outer office.

"He already knew what he needs to know about you, Reno. He just needed a look."

"I stand by my statement."

"Where is your tie?"


"Hm. I'll get you another one while you're in the gym."

"Okay," Reno said brightly.

"But, now, I shall give you the tour. At least, of all the things you'll need to know to start with. We'll head to HR first and you can get some forms signed."

It turned out "some" meant about three hundred of them. Then there was the pic to take for his ident card ("it'll be ready later today"), arrangements to make for his medical cover, blood tests, DNA typing, eyesight checks and a full medical.

Then, the lunch room, the Turk-only areas and the Places No One Was To Go Without Proper Clearance.

"Does the President live in the building?" Reno said.

"Not usually," Braden said. "But Rufus does, often. He has taken up the highest apartment. Covers most of the floor, which is not bad given all of our apartments cover a floor, and they're not exactly tiny. Oh, speaking of," he said, "here is a cardkey. It will get you in and out of the building, into your apartment and also anywhere only we can go. You will also need your ident, so keep them together. When you get a partner, you will also need to get your cards programmed to each other's housing."


"Security measure. Tseng and Veld also carry Masters."

Reno nodded. Made sense, he supposed. If one Turk was in trouble, the other could go to his aid.

They took the glass-encased elevator to the fifty-first floor. "Turk-only floor," Braden explained, swiping his keycard when the elevator stopped to open the doors. "Lounge. Gym. Showers. Firing range. Flight Training. The six floors from the fiftieth up are D.A.T. only, being apartments, private archives, offices, library, classrooms. There's a gym and lunch area downstairs for most of the office workers."

Reno followed Braden into a changing room, equipped with showers and lockers, more than were needed from what he could tell. At one point, there must have been many more Turks. Reno counted twenty lockers, but there were only a few with labels on them. Veld. Tseng. Braden. Dallas. Rude... Reno. Huh. That was quick. "Maybe you should've printed a map."

"Well, we don't have them, but we do have these." Braden pulled a bunch of books from the locker with his name on it, and handed them to Reno. They were not light.

Reno recognised them. He had stolen some with similar covers a few years earlier. None of these specifically, though, he thought as he looked at the titles. Oh. No, he was wrong. He'd read the one on the internal computer system. "Homework?" he said.

"Study them. Learn them. Don't lose them, and they stay on you." Braden smiled briefly. "There will be tests." He pointed. "That locker's yours. Slip in the card, programme a code-key, then set by hitting 'enter'. That way, you can keep your card locked in there."

Reno shrugged, unfazed. He used to test pretty well. He put the books in his locker. "If we're the only lot allowed up here, why all the precautions?"

"Because no system's perfect." Braden tossed Reno a plastic-wrapped package similar to the ones that had held Reno's suit. Reno caught it deftly. "Change," Braden said. "Then meet me in the gym. Let's see what you've got."

"Sir," Reno said absently, looking at what was inside the packages. Better than the suit, anyway, he thought, getting changed. Hm. Dark blue trackpants and a white singlet top with the Shin-Ra corporate logo on the left side of the chest. Not too bad, all up.

He wandered out into the gym, and was, he thought, suitably impressed. Three boxing rings, the same number of martial arts mats, weight equipment, ropes, vaults, gymnastics stuff... it went on. "Gods, Zirengia would kill for some of these facilities," he said to no one in particular.

"True," Rude said from next to Reno.

Reno started. Where had he come from?

"Don't think she'd accept donations from us, though," Rude said.

"I don't doubt that," Reno said. "So, what am I doing, then?"

"Braden wants to see how you do against one of the better of us."

"Ah. So, that's you, is it?"

"Actually, no." Rude nodded at the floor mat a short distance away, where the girl Turk who Reno'd seen the day before was warming up. "Her."

Reno watched her for a moment. She moved well. "Excellent."

"Don't underestimate her. She's at her best with shuriken and sword, but she'll take you out if you don't watch it."

"I don't underestimate people, Rude, if I can help it." Not in fights, anyway.

Rude grunted.

Reno wandered over to the mat, well aware that Braden was watching from one side of the room, even if he was seemingly busy rehearsing forms with a katana. He bowed quickly. "Dallas, right?"

"Hi Reno," she said, returning the bow and taking a stance. "Don't even think about going easy on me 'cos I'm a girl, right?"

"I wouldn't dream of it," Reno said mildly.

"Good. Rude still holds back on me. It's annoying."

"Well, in Rude's case, it's probaby a good thing."

She grunted.

"No, really. I didn't mind when he used to hold back a bit. Meant I fell down less. Saved my former teacher on ice, too."

"I'll take your word for it. Ready then?"

"Not rea--oof." And just like that, Reno was looking up at Dallas from the floor. "Nice one," he said, jumping to his feet and throwing a quick combination that put her on the hop.

She came at him again, but he simply wasn't there. However, he wasn't quick enough to drop her on the mat, and he narrowly missed being hit by a a side jab she tossed in his direction.

Her eyes narrowed, and he responded with a grin, backing off steadily until she overcommitted just a bit, a punch not as tight as it should be, and he reversed her into the mat, trying to pin her.

"Oh, really," she said as she rolled to her feet, giving him only a split second to move out of her way.

He managed, but only just, coming back to his feet and working a three-point combination that ended with a jab to the sternum. He pulled the last shot just enough so it wouldn't injure her, but she backed off with a grin, rubbing the spot.

"My turn to say 'nice one'," she said... and a split second later, he was on the flat of his back with her heel at his throat.

"You'll have to teach me that," he remarked as she put out her hand and pulled him up, before giving him a bow, signifying the end of the bout.

He bowed back. "That was fun."

"You fight well," she commented, flexing her shoulders, stretching them out.

Reno nodded in Rude's general direction. "Mostly his fault."

"I thought I recognised some of your style from somewhere." She smiled. "Only the punching, though. Your speed. You leave the rest of us in the dust, even me, and I'm not slow. You're moving before the other person has even decided what they're going to try to do to you."

Reno grinned widely. "I don't have the broadest shoulders or the biggest biceps. Have to find somethin' somewhere."

"I hear you." She cocked her head to one side, watching him thoughtfully, and yet again, Reno was reminded of someone, although he really couldn't put his finger on who. He watched her right back as he took a mouthful of water. She just tickled something... no. Lost it, whatever it was.

"I'm not coming on to you, you know," she said.

Reno laughed. Unfortunately, because his mouth was full of water, he ended up almost choking and spat most of it down his shirt. When he'd finished spluttering, he managed to say, "I didn't think you were."

"Good. Just wanted to be clear. You seem like the type."

"Oh, really," Reno said dryly. "And exactly what 'type' are you referring to?"

"The type who knows how to have a good time, on a frequent basis, but who wouldn't know love if it smacked him on the face with a adamantine-armoured crab holding a spikefish."

"Fair assessment." Reno said it lightly, even if he didn't feel anything like what he was trying to project. It was the truth, after all. He still didn't know if he'd been had, or if his time with Raith was real. "Although I'm not sure that being attacked with seafood is altogether a good sign."

"I do like you, Reno." Dallas' brown eyes twinkled with good humour.

"I know." Reno grinned then, and there was no fake-out in it. "Don't worry, though, Braden's safe from any competition from this side." And that was also the truth. It was funny. He really wasn't interested.

She snorted. "Like you'd be any."

"Ah. Crushed. Really."

She bit a fingernail. "You're coming to dinner with me tonight, 'kay? Then you're telling me all about you."

Reno blinked, surprised. "Erhm... okay. I mean, yes, ma'am." This last with a small bow. "How will Braden feel about that, then?"

She faked a punch into his shoulder. "It's not a date, moron."

"I knew that. And, ow," he quipped.



They grinned at each other, and on a whim, Reno stuck his tongue out at her, expecting to be reprimanded. He was the new kid, after all. Everyone outranked him, even if it was obvious she was substantially younger than he was. But she stuck hers out right back.

"Surprised you don't know everything about me already," Reno said. "Doesn't Shin-Ra have files on everyone?"

"Sure they do," Dallas said, shrugging. "My clearance isn't high enough to read yours yet, though."

Reno was only half-sure she was joking.

Rude joined them then. "How'd he do?"

"Hey, partner," Dallas said.

Sorry, what? "I thought you were Braden's partner," Reno said.

"No, I'm stuck with this rookie for a while." She grinned, and stood on tiptoe so she could rub Rude's bald head. "Braden works with Tseng."

Rude threw Reno a helpless look, and Reno was struck by a sense of déjà vu. He was repeating something. What the hells was it? He searched his mind for a moment, then gave up. Never mind.

"I'm not a rookie," Rude said, sounding only a little bit sulky.

"Of course you aren't," Dallas said soothingly, giving Rude a mock serious look. She turned back to Reno. "I'll meet you at the front entry at eight. Wear something swish. Oh, and shower."

"Shower? But I did that last week."

She snorted. "Of course you did. Now go spend some time on the bag, Rookie."

"Yes ma'am," Reno said.

By the time Reno had finished for the afternoon, a couple of hours later, he was feeling muscles he'd forgotten he'd had. For the most part, working for Corneo, he'd kept himself reasonably fit, but the gymnastics and technique he was being exposed to now really required him to be fit.

Braden, showered and changed back into his suit, approached Reno as he was wiping his face with a towel after the rope drill Rude'd taught him. Hand over hand, up, no feet allowed, not allowed to drop down but single-handing until your shoulders burned.

Rude, of course, did it with ease, every muscle straining but face calm, a light sheen of sweat covering him. Reno, on the other hand, ended up feeling like he was trying to drag a dead chocobo up with him.

He was okay going up, but fell off on the way down.

"It'll get there," Rude commented.

Reno had his doubts.

"Your ident card," Braden said, handing it to Reno. "You can now get back into the building if you leave. Which I suppose you're planning to do?" he added.

"I need to get some stuff from my apartment."

Braden nodded. "Well, I have a briefing with Tseng this evening, but I will see you tomorrow, then." The last was said with a pointed look. "Your training time table is in your books." He smiled then. "Let Dallas pay for your food. It's on the company tab."

"Sure," Reno said. "Sir," he added.

Braden headed in the direction of the lift, and Reno headed for the showers.


The first place Reno headed when he left the Shin-Ra building was Raith's apartment, of course.

His hand shook, he noticed, as he used the keycard to open the door, but he steadied himself, closing his eyes momentarily with what could only be described as a subconscious wish, and let himself in.

"Raith? Y'here?"

No answer.

The apartment also just... felt empty. He looked at his watch. He didn't have more than an hour or so, but the restaurant Dallas had mentioned was only a five minute walk from here, so he wasn't too concerned.

He supposed he should try and find something to wear, he thought as he dropped clothes into a bag he'd brought with him, trying to ignore the lump of iron that was threatening to do stupid things to his chest.

He needed to find something... what was it? Swish. Something swish to wear to dinner. What the hells was "swish", anyway? He ploughed through his own stuff, but then, on a whim, pulled out Raith's favourite dark blue button-down shirt and threw that on the bed instead. Gods, it smelled like him.

Wait. Why would Raith take off somewhere and leave this shirt behind? Reno had bought it for him. That couldn't be right... He pulled out a few more drawers. There were the chocobo-print pj bottoms Raith wore so often they were almost worn through.

Unless... the items had been gifts from Reno. Maybe Raith was trying to forget about him.

Well, fuck that, Reno thought, cos I ain't forgetting you. Not until I know what's going on. And probably not even then, even if the worse was the worst.

In the meantime, he had no idea what he was going to do with this place, or the things in it, given that he was now expected to live in the Turk lodgings in Shin-Ra Tower. Should he leave it as it was, just in case Raith came back?

He grimaced. No matter how much time he'd spent here, no matter that he all but lived here, that it had been more his home than the apartment that actually had his name on the deed, it wasn't his apartment, after all. He wasn't even sure if he should be here.

The pjs went into his bag, though.

He wandered over to the bed, swallowing as he ran a hand over the dent in Raith's pillow. Where did you go? Why did you go? He lay down in his own spot rolling to his side and putting his hand where Raith would've been, if he'd been there. For a moment, memories of a similar action rolled into his head, back when Rude had left.

Somewhere, deep down, maybe he'd thought the spot would, somehow, still be warm. But it was as cold as his dead Ma.


The phone rang, and Reno woke with a start. The room was dark. "Oh hells." He picked up the phone. "Sorry, Dallas," he said. "I fell asleep. Give me ten minutes, okay?"

"Any more than that and I'll have to eat your dessert later."

"Done," he said and flipped the phone shut. He threw on the shirt, ran a hand through his hair, grabbed his bag and left.

"Hey, Sleeping Beauty," Dallas said as he arrived.

He blinked, and swallowed. She couldn't know. Just cool it, Reno, he said to himself. "Sorry," he said again. "Long day."

"Nice shirt," she commented.


"Well, I can forgive you once," she said. "Don't do it again."

"No, ma'am," he said with a grin.

The restaurant was a top-notch place Reno had probably been able to afford for quite some time, but that it had never occurred to him to try. Expensive. He was sure he actually blanched at the menu prices.

"What would you like?" Dallas said.

"Hm. Glass of water?"

She smiled. "Go for your life, Reno. It's on the Company."


"Because it is."

They made some small talk until the meals arrived, and Reno was surprised at how easily they'd slipped into familiarity. Frankly, it was nice.

"Rude told me you already know each other," Dallas said, attacking a Mideel lobster fillet.

"Yeah," Reno said, still stunned that any lobster would be large enough to fillet at all, let alone the fact that people were playing the equivalent of a week's wage under the Plate to eat one. Not that this stopped him from trying some of Dallas'. The taste of it alone made the cost more understandable.

"How long for?"

"A while," Reno hedged. "Lived with him and his Ma after I left school."

"Good friends?"

"The best," Reno said honestly. "For a while he was like my brother, at a time when we both really needed one. Then we lost contact for a while."

"What happened?"


She chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment, watching him, a movement that gave Reno another moment of oddness-plus. "I'm sorry, I can be too nosy sometimes," she said.

"It's not you, really." Truth was, strange as it seemed to him, Dallas made him feel very comfortable and Reno did, in fact, feel like spilling out the whole story to her. He almost needed to. Another perspective would've been nice. But... "A lot of it isn't mine to tell," he said.

Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Does it have anything to do with that Raith guy?"

Reno grimaced. "Not exactly."

"You miss him?" She sounded curious, but there was also something else. Like, she actually gave a crap.

Reno studied the damask tablecloth.

She nodded. "I won't say a word, to anyone, don't worry. Not even Braden, or Rude." She leaned forward. "Don't worry. Whatever his intention, he'll be found, sooner or later. Braden's pissed."

He looked up at her. "Should you be telling me this?"

She shrugged. "I don't see why not. You're one of us now."

If she said so. "I thought the line was that he's done a runner with some of Corneo's money." And mine, while he was at it.

"Yeah, he probably has. But does that change anything for you?"

Was she kidding? "It does."

"Hm. If you say so."

The spoken repetition of his thought made him suddenly uncomfortable. Only Rude tended to do that. And sometimes, Raith. But Rude had always been really good at it. "Can we change the subject?"

"Okay. From here on in, we won't even mention his name, ever again." She raised her eyebrows and smiled. "Deal?"


"So... once you've finished Basic, Rude will do for you what I've just finished doing for him."

"What's that?"

"Mostly a lot of patrolling Sector Eight. Nothing too harsh." She rolled her eyes, sticking another bit of bread in her mouth. "Boring, as a point of fact." This last was said with her mouth full.

Reno sat back in his chair, pleasantly full. "So what's your story?"

"Nothing much."

"Claim to fame?"

"Um, I am the youngest Turk ever?"


She nodded.

"How old are you?"

"Seventeen. How about you?"

"Twenty. So, how did you get to be the baby Turk?"

She picked the garnish from Reno's plate bit at it. "I'm an orphan. Shin-Ra raised me, trained me for the job."

"Wow. That must've been interesting."

Dallas shrugged. "No need to be sarcastic. I didn't know anything different. I've done well for myself. I ate every day. I now have a good job. What more can I ask for?"

"Someone was conspicuous by his absence from that list, Dallas."

"You noticed, huh." She nibbled on the parsley a bit more. "How do you do it?"

"Do what?"

"Get them to... you know."

"Get who to no-I-don't?"

"Get strangers to sleep with you."

"Quite a presumption, there, Dallas."

She looked at him steadily.

He grinned. "Okay. Um, with a smile and the power of my mind," he said lightly.

"Reno," she said impatiently, "I'm serious."

Reno put his fork down. "Why do you ask?"

She reddened. "Braden won't--" she stopped with an uncomfortable shrug. "Gods, why am I discussing this with you?"

"You tell me."

"I just feel kind of comfortable, like I've known you forever. That sounds stupid, doesn't it?"

"Not really, no."

She sighed heavily. "Maybe he just doesn't feel the same way about me that I do about him."

"Eh, I dunno, Dallas. I saw how he looked at you back in the interro room." Heh. Interro. He was already picking up on the jargon. "Gave me the impression him and you were a done deal."

Her nose wrinkled. "He thinks he's too old for me."

Reno snorted. "He's, what, twenty-five, six?"

"Twenty-six in a month or so." She bit her lip. "I should put his comment in context. It's a Gongagan thing. They have some honour law about there being no more than a five year gap in age or something stupid."

"Well, he's an idiot."

"Maybe I'm the idiot."

"Yeah... no. And don't ever let anyone make you feel that way, right? Don't care who he is." He picked up the butter knife and played with it for a moment. "There's a fairly easy solution."

"What's that?"

"Well, far be it from me to picture you naked, but you have all the right bits in all the right places. Make him an offer he can't refuse."

"I've already discussed it with--"

Reno snorted. "Discussed. Hellfire, girl. Stop talking. Next time he's in your apartment, excuse yourself to get him a cup of coffee and then hand it to him naked. If he could resist that, then he's made of stone."

"Mm," she said.

"Hm. What?"

"Okay, you have to promise not to laugh."


"I am really good at being a Turk."

"I don't doubt it."

"I mean it. I fight well, I think well, and I have a brain."

"No argument so far," Reno said.

"It's just... I went to a girl's orphanage, and then came straight to the Turks. All I've done is train, and work. And then Braden joined up, and I kinda..."

"Got a full on jones for him, sure."

"Thing is, I spent so much time learning, and training, and working, that I never had time to actually live a bit, you know? So, it's not just that Braden won't--um. It's also that I've never--um. I wouldn't know how to get him to look."

"Ah," Reno said, smiling.

"You said you wouldn't laugh."

"I'm not. That was 'understanding smile'."

There was a long pause, before Dallas spoke. "So, where's the chivalrous offer to help me out, here?" She sounded a little defensive.

Reno smiled again to soften what he was about to say. "This is it: nope, I won't do that."

Her eyes fell. "Why?"

Crap. "I'm not rejecting you, Dallas. It's because, if I did I'd be cheating you out of something better."

"I don't understand."

"I know. I didn't either, before..." his voice trailed off, and he leaned his elbows on the table, resting his chin on a hand as he tried to find the right words. "You're in love with Braden, right?"

She nodded glumly.

"Right. So, somehow you've managed to convince yourself you'll be doing this for him, even though, really, you'd rather not be with anyone but him. Right?"

"I suppose."

"Well, it really doesn't work like that."

She raised an eyebrow questioningly.

"Let's put aside, just for a moment, the fact that I can see how he loves you, and that most guys in love don't take too kindly to having their loved-one seek out someone else. Fact is, for you, it'd be an empty nothing. And I ain't one for handing out nothings."

"What do you mean?"

"You want him, not me. Say I agreed, and took you home, right now. Yeah, I see by your face that even the thought doesn't make you comfortable."


He shrugged. "Not personal. See I'd do for you, no problem. But I'll never be Braden. The best you can hope for is a nice time." He frowned. Try another way. "Fucking, no strings attached, is great. It's fun, with the right person. Have an itch, get it scratched, no harm, no foul, whatever, see you later, thanks for the ride."

"That's all I'm after."

"No it ain't. You're wanting to divest yourself of your 'burdensome' virginity, in an attempt to appear like you're someone you ain't cos you think that'll solve a problem."

She reddened again.

Poor kid. Reno sighed. "My first time was in a storage cupboard with some girl whose name I can't even remember. Actually, I'm not even sure what she looked like. She boinked me for a couple of weeks and then she was done with me. I liked it. I've lost track of how many mutually-agreeable one nighters I had after that. Mostly great. Occasionally not so much. I have a few fond memories." He took a mouthful of his bourbon. "And I'll not do that again. The whole random fuck thing just doesn't appeal to me any more."


Cos Raith ruined me for it, that's why. Reno frowned slightly. How much could he say while keeping Rude's name out of it? "Well. See. One of those nights in there I ended up with someone who really mattered. Just the once, and never again." He swallowed. Hells, but he didn't need to remember Rude like that right now. "And now, well... that person we were talking about earlier whose name we're not going to mention again?"

She nodded.

"I'm seriously and homicidal-like angry with him, I think, for a lot of different reasons I'm not going into now." Especially since it looked like he had done exactly what Braden said he had. "Fact is, though, if he turned up here, now, I don't know how I'd react. Part of me actually could hate him. But at the base of it, I just... I dunno. I can't imagine not... at least, not right now." Man, he was making a mess of this. He sighed. "Holy fucking Shiva, but you want good? When this--" he tapped the left side of his chest--"gets involved, there ain't no going back to screwing for fun. At least, not while it's still focussed on him. And any first at all with someone you're invested in, shit. You can't buy that."

"I think I get it. Too late for me to think of going casual, right?"

"At the moment, yeah. I mean, don't feel you have to walk around frustrated. You got an itch, scratch it yourself, y'know? But don't cheat yourself. Experience ain't everything."

"And if he never comes around?" She reddened even further, if that was possible. "S'cuse the pun."

Reno chuckled. "Good one, actually. Look, I'm not saying to wait forever. But at least give Braden a chance to grow a brain first. He will, eventually." Even if Reno had to kick him in that direction, just a little bit. "And he'll do good by you, I'd say."

She grinned suddenly. "How do you know?"

"Well, like I said, I've been around a bit. I'm pretty good at picking someone who's good in the sack. Feelings aside, I have a feeling that beneath Braden's serious demeanour lies a certain something that will be totally worth the wait. The quietly intense ones usually are. Trust me."

She smiled. "I want to hug you, Reno."

"Once we're out of this uncomfortably formal place, I'll probably let you."

"I do have one other question."

Reno drained his bourbon. "Hm?"

"That first one, who mattered. What would you do if that person turned up again? Cos, even with... um... the One We Will Not Name, that other person would be your first love, right?"

Reno regarded the glass in his hand. He had never actually looked at Rude like that, not exactly. It was a disturbing thought. "Guess so," he said.


It was a good question.

And one that, despite the circumstances, Reno had no answer for.

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