Chapter Nineteen

Please note: While I'd previously planned to incorporate most of the scenes Reno is involved in from the BC game, I decided on a different route for the sake of the story, partially because of logical inconsistencies that occur when BC bumps against FFVII, and partly because I don’t want the story to just be a retelling of gameplay. Nevertheless, all dialogue written in this colour is quoted directly from the game Before Crisis and should not be interpreted as my own work.

~ * ~ * ~

Reno should have been relatively content during that period. He'd accomplished two of his life-long goals. Goals? More like needs. He'd found his sister. He'd learned how to fly.

But it wasn't enough.

More, he had a "family" who cared about him.

But it wasn't enough.

If Reno'd been more aware at the time, he would have known what he really wanted. As it was, though, it was a goal he only reached by degrees, tiny steps that marked the years.

For years it was. Time passed and he barely saw them. Just as he barely saw what he allowed to fritter between his fingertips.

If he'd known then what he knew now, he would have realised that 'tiny steps' were a fracking big waste of that time, and taken giant galloping leaps instead.

For what is the accomplishment of a goal worth with no one to truly share it with?


Reno was getting sick of meetings. It was one disadvantage of being a Senior. Sure, he hadn't minded moving up a pay grade, but he would've gladly handed every gil back if he didn't have to go to meetings. It just didn't seem fair that Dallas and Braden didn't have to attend them just because of the minor point that they weren't ever in Midgar.

He missed Dallas. It'd been two weeks since she'd gone and it felt like two years. Well, at least the DAR'd been able to gather more information on Avalanche lately, mostly by virtue of the fact that the terrorist group had suddenly grown more active. He'd been too busy to worry about anything else, at least. Raith had been just as busy, elsewhere. Reno'd barely seen him. Avalanche seemed to be everywhere, and the Turks just were not. And with the ranks of SOLDIER depleted, they couldn't cover Midgar properly, let alone anywhere else.

Hence, the meeting. He turned his attention back to Veld. Even Tseng wasn't there that day. Probably out tailing that Ancient kid, Reno thought. He turned his attention back to Veld.

"These are your orders. The President has decided to bring in SOLDIER to deal with Avalanche. We're short on manpower, so you're going to recruit SOLDIER candidates. Reno, Rude. I'm leaving this mission in your hands."

"Understood," Rude said.

"Take a couple of the Juniors with you," Veld said. "Katelyn and her partner, I think."

"Good move," Reno said. "She and Sherin do very well together."

"No, we've actually teamed up Sherin with Jask. Katelyn is now working with Raith."

Great. That's all Reno needed. And it wasn't just their history he was thinking of. After he'd heard about Buzz's death, Reno'd spent quite some time wrestling with himself over whether he should've reported that earlier incident with Raith, after all. Again, he'd decided not to, but Raith's behaviour made little to no sense. Sure, Buzz was a fuckwit, but why kill Buzz and not all of the other fuckwits in that place? Orders? He doubted those even mattered to Raith.

It had been easy for Reno not to think about it when Raith was not around. Having Raith in his face for a week or more...

Rude nodded. "You think Katelyn will sort Raith out a bit."

"He's still too unrestrained, and sometimes dangerously so. I am hoping Katelyn's professionalism will rub off on him."

"Bit harsh, boss," Reno said. "He's mostly professional. Can't fault him most days, except lotstimes he thinks his way is better'n anyone else's. His issue is obedience, not professionalism."

"Interesting to hear you stand up for him, Reno," Veld said.

Well, I ain't letting you screw up anyone else's life, no matter who, dickwad, Reno thought. "He is what he is and I know what I know," he said casually.

"Brings me to you both, actually," Veld said. "Decide on who you'd like to work with, soon, or I'll assign you each a partner myself. After the disappearances a couple of years ago I want my team all working in pairs. I don't like it when you die alone. Braden being out there on his own is bad enough." He pressed his mouth together briefly. "You leave tonight. Dismissed."

Reno frowned. Dallas was also on her own. Why hadn't Veld mentioned her? Especially when you considered Veld had all but raised her? Reno knew that Tseng made contact with her on a regular basis, and she was capable of looking after herself, but they all were... Veld wasn't worried about his youngest, prettiest, favourite Turk?

Reno followed Rude out of Veld's office. He'd made a decision not to contact Braden about his sister, mostly because it was one thing to press the man in the right direction, but totally another to directly interfere.

Besides, Dallas had asked him not to.

She'd called him that morning. Zack was in Gongaga visiting his parents. She was, apparently, bored witless. "What good is tailing a nice arse if you never get to touch it?" she'd said. Reno knew she was still hurting. She put on a good front, though.

On a whim, he pulled out his phone, taking note of Rude's belligerant expression as he did. "What's with you?" he said.

Rude grunted. "So I'm working with you again."

"What are you saying, Rude?" Reno was concentrating on punching Braden's phone locator code into his own phone to pay much attention to what he was saying.

Rude didn't answer.

Reno smiled as Braden's location flashed on his phone screen. He was right. Braden was also in Gongaga, and Reno was willing to bet his pay rise that he wasn't there to visit his own parents. Reno now knew what his assignment had been all along, why Veld wasn't worried about Dallas. She might have been tailing Zack, but Braden was keeping an eye on her. He snapped his phone shut, and grinned at Rude. "Admit it, you're happy you get to work with me."

Rude cleared his throat slightly. "Let's go," he said, before continuing to the elevator.

Huh. Reno blinked. Maybe it was imagination, but was Rude actually blushing?


Costa Del Sol, 6 years until Meteorfall

Reno rarely had a chance to eat giant crab, but he figured, as he was breaking apart one fist-sized claw, that he should do more of it.

"Does he even know how to use cutlery, sir?" Katelyn asked Rude.

"I'm sure he's familiar with the concept," Rude said dryly.

Raith didn't say anything, but even he looked amused, which would've been fine except that Reno was reasonably certain Katelyn hadn't been joking, at all.

Reno wiped his fingers on the napkin he'd tucked into his shirt and affected a scowl. "Stop focussing on me and just eat yer lunch. Nice sunny day and all, away from winter in Midgar. Surely you have better things to do than watch me eat."

Rude and Katelyn went back to whatever they were talking about and Reno looked out the window next to the table they were at, watching the waves outside. Funny, before the Turks he'd never even seen the coast proper. He still wasn't a hundred percent sure he liked it, all that water. It was just so vast. Thing was, the sky was also vast, and it never bothered him.

The sky wasn't so hungry, though. It couldn't devour you. Maybe that was it.

The waves sounded great, though.

Costa Del Sol was generally considered one of those places you visited on a romantic getaway or vacation. Visiting it in uniform with a ship full of pressed SOLDIER candidates seemed, to him, a waste of good sun, sand, and a well-stocked bar.

Especially given who was there with him. Was a time that he would've killed to come here with Raith, spend some time soaking up some of that sun and the rest of it making out on the sand, maybe with stars or some suchlike rot. Now... it was all he could do to keep his mind focussed, most days.

Some days, it was getting difficult to stay angry at him, especially when Raith turned those eyes on him and just looked at Reno, without speaking, like he was... something.

Reno sighed. He really needed to get this mission finished so he could be somewhere else. Anywhere else. He didn't care where; anywhere Raith was not would do him. He was more than glad this was the last stop before heading back to Midgar. Yet, sometimes he just wanted things back the way they were.

Trouble was, for the life of him, in those sometimes, he couldn't work out if "back the way they were" was referring to before he'd become a Turk or before Rude had murdered Krane.

Either way, wishes were not chocobos, so there would be no riding, for beggars or anyone else.

He sighed again and turned his attention to whatever it was Katelyn was saying. Took him a moment to catch up, but sounded like she was describing their Junon mission, undertaken just before Veld had ordered them to gather SOLDIER candidates. Just him, Katelyn and Sherin, supposedly there to protect the President from Avalanche operatives, before the mission had gone awry, fast, and the operatives shot the President and tried to attack the huge mako cannon on the coast near the army base.

"Sherin and I were left to try and take out Shin-Ra's own security system on the cannon before everything went 'boom', and sir, here, took on the lot of them himself," she said.

"Right," Rude said, downing the last of his whiskey.

"Thanks for your vote of confidence, there, Rudolph," Reno said.

Rude gave him one of his deliberately blank looks.

"No, I swear, by the time we were done, there was Reno, surrounded by the dead: a compliment of our own Junon soldiers and a bunch of Avalanche operatives, taking out the last one. Sherin and I ran down the stairs to try and help him, thinking we'd have to save him again, but he didn't need it. And you know what he says?"

Rude lifted an eyebrow.

"Go on, Reno, tell him."

"I don't recall, Katey," Reno said mildly.

"'Time to go home, huh'," she said. "He'd dropped at least forty of them, all the grunts who were supposed to help him were dead or ran off, and he looked at the dead Avalanche operatives at his feet and said, 'time to go home, huh'."

"It was all fucked up," Reno said. "Last time I want to be in any sort of Presidential detail. The man asks to be killed. Every time you told him to go one way, he'd jump the other, then give you the shits cos he got his own self shot. Fuhito only got him cos he wouldn't do as he was damned well told."

"Well, he didn't die," Katelyn said.

"Not for want of trying, and only because he called the General. But, you and Sherin did a good job."

"Actually, I think if General Sephiroth hadn't shown up, it would've been a very different matter." She grimaced. "And didn't he make a mess."

"What do you mean, 'again'?" Raith said quietly.

"Sorry?" Katelyn said.

"You said that you and Sherin would need to 'save him again'."

Reno shook his head. "In Sector Eight, before I was recalled to Junon to protect the President, I ran into one of the Avalanche leaders. Shears. He's good. Damned good."

"He took you out?" Raith said, and he sounded mildly surprised.

"Done like a SOLDIER's dinner. Katelyn and Sherin turned up at a good time."

Katelyn was quiet for a moment. "That other leader of theirs. Elfe. I saw the General try and fight her. He barely made a dent. That's why I think all this SOLDIER recruitment we're doing just won't work."

"Explain," Rude said.

"I'm sorry, sir, I don't mean to question the Chief, but if the General can't touch her, who can?" she said.

"Numbers," Reno said. He had to admit, she had a point. On top of that, if the volunteer SOLDIER candidates were deserting in droves and no one else was volunteering thanks to the bad reputation SOLDIER were developing because of the couple of First Classes that'd gone rogue, what made the execs think they'd do any better with conscripts?

And what the hells made Elfe so damned invincible? Were they even thinking about that?

Raith stood. "Be back in a sec," he said, and headed for the restrooms.

Reno watched him leave for a moment. Damn it, Raith could still send Reno's chest into some sort of chocobo track race, and he hated it. When was he going to just stop wanting the man? He felt Rude's eyes on him then, and spoke, mostly to distract himself. "How's Raith doing, Katey?"

"Sir, my name is Katelyn. Please call me that."

"How is he doing?" Reno repeated. "You can speak freely."

"He's driving me mad. He rarely follows protocols. He prefers to make decisions on the hop instead."

Reno remembered. It had worked well for them with Corneo's, that flexibility. "That's not a bad thing altogether," he said.

"It is when he won't talk to me. Maybe it will be better when we're more used to each other's styles. Very rare that anyone manages the sort of compatibility you two have in the field. Most of us have to work at it."

You two? Reno thought. Him and Raith? Huh?

She smiled wistfully. "Tseng said to me the day he hired me, 'Reno and Rude are virtually telepathic working together. You'll learn a lot from watching them'. I have to say, he's been right so far, sirs."

Oh. Reno glanced at Rude, then, wondering if that wouldn't bug him, but he looked calm enough.

"And, if I may say so, sometimes Raith seems..." she stopped and frowned.

"Seems?" Rude said.

"A bit off, is the best way I can put it."

"What do you mean by 'off'?" Reno said. "Not fighting well, not on his game?"

"No. More like... just not really there, sometimes."

Reno opened his mouth to speak but Rude did so first. "Stick to it, Katelyn," he said. "He'll get there."

Raith returned, then. "Let's get back," he said. "Then I can head over to Club Duel and have a look-see."

"You mean 'we'," Katelyn said, and stood.

"Sure," Raith said. "We can head over to Club Duel."

Reno watched Rude watch them leave. Rude's face was thoughtful. "That woman," he said, "is way too uptight."

Reno had to laugh at that.

Rude looked at him. "What?"

"Never mind. I could never explain it."

Rude played with his empty whiskey glass for a moment. "You worked in the field with Raith when you were at Corneo's?"


"Any problems?"

"Not so much," Reno said, carefully. "Generally did okay. But then, Raith was kinda my boss, so 'doing as he was told' was never at issue."

Rude nodded slowly.

"Why do you ask?"

"Maybe you should partner up with him."

Kidding, right? "Why the fuck would I want to do that?" Reno said.

Rude raised an eyebrow. "Suggestion only."

Reno set his jaw. " He's already betrayed me once. I ain't giving him a chance to do it again."

"Betrayed? How?"

Oh, I am a blind fool with an idiot for a client, he thought. "Nothing," he said. "Let's get back to work. We have a boatful of conscripts at the docks and no one but a pair of rookie juniors who don't get along watching 'em."

Veld's words bothered him. If he and Rude didn't choose a partner soon, they would be assigned... and Reno knew that if Rude could come to that conclusion, then chances were, Tseng and Veld would, too.

It was true, what Katelyn had said. When he and Rude worked together, they worked well. Ideally, they would be partners, officially. Reno wouldn't've minded that, pretty much. It was Rude who didn't want it.

And, even taking into account that night, Reno was at a loss to work out why.


Reno woke. Something wasn't right. Man, can't even get a good nap these days. He rolled out of his bed cubicle, and yawned, steadying himself as the boat rocked backwards and forwards with the wash at the docks, and listened.

See, this was another reason he wasn't sure about the ocean. He never got airsick, but the ground under your feet just shouldn't move. Even if it was water.

Everything was quiet, except for the lapping of the water, the dinging from a buoy out of the harbour, and the far-off sound of people in the town.

It was wrong. There should be talking coming from the hold. Nearby dock workers calling to each other.

He made it to the deck of the ship in five seconds flat. Rude was unconscious on the deck and Katelyn and Raith were nowhere to be seen. He dropped on his knees next to Rude. No blood, nothing where it shouldn't be. Just out cold. He pulled out his radio piece and stuck it in his ear, and pinged Katelyn.


"What's going on?"

"Avalanche, sir. They let the candidates go. Rude ordered Raith and me to round them up while he took care of Shears."

Hm. Obviously that went well, Reno thought. "Why didn't you inform me?"

"Rude said to let you sleep."

Idiot. Well, that's what he got, thinking he could do everything without help. "You have Raith with you?"

"Yes sir."

"Okay. Continue as you were, meet back at the boat at 1700."

"Yes sir. Out."

Reno pulled the piece out of his ear irritably, pulled off Rude's sunnies, and tapped Rude on the face a few times with the palm of his hand. "Come on, lugbrain. Wakey wakey."

Rude opened his eyes, squinting. "Heh?"

"There we go. How's the head?" Reno pressed the bruised ridge of Rude's eye socket with his thumb. Wasn't broken.

"It'll keep," Rude said as he sat up. "Stop that."

"Don't be a baby. I have to check it."

Rude grunted, but he sat still while Reno finished.

"Okay. You'll live. Let's go help out the rookies."

By 0500, most of the candidates had been returned to the hold, and Reno was ready for another nap. Another? Any sleep at all would've been good. Even when he did sleep, he woke tired.

He yawned just as his earpiece crackled to life again. "Shears has been spotted down on the beach," Tseng said.

"Right," Reno said, then sighed as he watched Rude stride off the boat. He knew exactly where he was going. Yeah, cos taking on Shears on your ownsome worked so well for you earlier. Stubborn, bullheaded... he started to follow.

"Where're you going?" Raith said from behind him.

"I'll be back," Reno said. "Keep an eye on the boat." He stopped for a moment, considering. "You did a good job today, Raith," he said, and he meant it. "Real good." Then he turned and headed down towards the beach. He needed to cut Rude off.

He was just in time, reaching the other side of the bar just as Rude rounded the corner. "Are you going alone?"

Rude glared at him.

"The beach, right?"

Rude kept walking, without answering.

Reno raised an eyebrow. Sullen much? Weird. "What a surprise. I was just on my way to the beach myself."

Rude glanced at him, then. "Do whatever you want."

Shears was on the beach, and he turned to them as they approached.

The fight lasted about five minutes. There was just no way the Avalanche operative could beat the two of them, not together. It was a close thing, though, and Shears escaped.

Reno looked after him, breathing heavily. "Sorry, Rude, what did you say?"

Rude gave him one of his looks. "You're almost as bad as Raith. Always doing what you want. Be more careful next time."

"Yeah, well, right back at you, Rude," Reno said, annoyed. "I wasn’t the only one in trouble there. What would you have done if I wasn’t here?"

Rude looked like he was going to make a retort, but then shrugged. "Dunno. But I knew you would come."

"Why's that?"

"I've known you for a long time. I know how you think.

It was on the tip of Reno's tongue to tell Rude to go to Hells, but then he realised: it was true. It had always been true. They even finished each other's sentences some days. Not that he was going to allow Rude to get away with that statement, oh no. Not a chance. "I'm a lot more unpredictable than that." He grinned, catching Rude's eye--or where his eyes would be, if he wasn't wearing the shades. "Right, partner?"

Rude gave him a broad smile, crossed his arms across his chest and looked out over the water, towards the setting sun. "Right," he said.

Reno turned his head and watched the sun, too, feeling almost... content. It was a bizarre feeling, one he'd almost forgotten existed. Content. Almost like a piece of himself had been restored, somehow.

It occurred to Reno, then, that there was a certain irony in the whole thing. Way back when he'd first been with Raith, it was partially because he wanted to forget Rude.

Now, he was partnering with Rude partly to avoid, to forget, Raith.

And both times, while the forgetting was impossible, the end result was that he'd felt... complete... and yet, still felt like a piece of him was missing.

It gave one furiously to think. Or would have, if he'd known what it meant.


It didn't matter how large a boat was, it was always too small, as far as Reno was concerned. Even up on deck.

Maybe it was the sight of Rude and Raith, eating fruit and quietly talking that was bothering him. No. That wasn't it. It was the long glances that Raith directed at Reno while he was talking to Rude that bothered him. Like, a person could get real paranoid watching that.

Reno didn't really want to get paranoid, so decided to head below and spend some time with the one person on the boat who didn't make him feel like there was something wrong with him. He should've been asleep, really, given the lateness of the hour. He was just feeling really restless in that indefinable way he used to get all the time, usually fixed by a quick trip to Zirengia's, either to pick up or for a quick spar. Either or. Energy burned.

Not really an option, any more.

Besides, for some reason regarding the stars made him think of Vickie. He'd not really had a chance to talk to Katelyn in depth since the day she'd told him about Vickie's fate. He hadn't seen his elder sister since she was eleven. That was a substantial chunk of missing time--time he knew Katelyn had spent with her.

And it'd get his mind off more... disturbing... things. Like why he wasn't involuntarily angry with Raith any more, even though he should be.

He knocked on the door of Katelyn's cabin. "Only me," he said.

There was a long pause. "Moment," she said, before opening the door.

He cursed himself for a selfish arse. She was dressed in military-issue T-shirt and boxers and had obviously been asleep. "Shit. I'm sorry, Katelyn. I should've realised I'd be waking you."

"No, that's all right," she said, indicating he should come inside. "I'm glad you're here, actually, sir."

He stepped over the doorjamb. "Not 'sir' at the moment, Katelyn. We're both off duty."

"If you say so." She picked up her uniform pants and pulled out her money clip. "I meant to give this picture to Dallas. It belongs to her more than me." She pulled removed it from the clip and glanced at it, once, like she was memorising it, then handed it out to Reno.

He gently pushed her hand back. "I gave Dal a copy of mine. You keep it."

"I appreciate that, Reno." She glanced at the picture again, then, and swallowed, before putting it away.

Reno watched her, a lump in his throat, more on Katelyn's behalf than his own. "Tell me what you remember of her."

She sat on the edge of her bed cubicle. "Vickie was... she was amazing. Smart, funny, always wanted the best for people."

Reno nodded, sitting next to her. "I remember that about her."

Katelyn smiled. "You remind me of her, a lot."

"Gotta be the hair."

"That, too." Her smiled faded.

"What is it?"

"It's just... it's been very lonely since she died. I mean, I know I keep busy, but it's not the same. Losing someone is... and listen to me, going on about that when she was your sister. I still have most of my family. But..."

"It's not the same," Reno finished. "I understand 'lonely' too."

"But you have Dallas now."

"That I do. And thankyou."

"I didn't do anything."

"Yes you did. You kept your promise." His brow knitted as her eyes welled up. He hated to see anyone cry. "And you're not alone any more, either. You have all of us, for a start."

She smiled again, but this time her smile was tinged with bitterness. "I am aware I'm not very well liked, Reno. I'm a few years older than everyone else and I get pedantic. I don't quite 'fit'. You don't have to mollycoddle me. I'm old enough to know better."

"Not liked? Not." He shrugged. "Least, not that I'm aware of. I mean, I like you."

"You do." She sounded skeptical. "Raith, I believe, can't stand me."

"Raith has always had problems getting along with older women."

"Ah. One of those."

"Don't misunderstand me. If you're thinking he's sexist, no, not at all. He's just... well, it's complicated."

"You know his whole sad story."

Reno grimaced. "Yeah, right. Sure. Look, you just need to lighten up on yourself a bit."

"And, maybe Raith?"

"Nah. You give him as hard a time as you like," he quipped.

"I've been a bit adamantine since Vickie died. I know that." She shifted her hips so she was facing Reno, leaning her back against the head of the bed cubicle with her knees drawn up, toes facing inwards. "What's your excuse?"

Reno deliberately avoided glancing at Katelyn's bare legs, watching her face instead. "Me? I'm an open book, babe."

"Yes, you are. But the book everyone else reads isn't the same book you wrote."

"Why do you say that?"

"Vickie used to do the same thing. 'My world's falling down around my head but I'm just fine. Don't you worry about me.' It was a defense mechanism. I don't know Dallas very well, but she seems to do it, too. Family trait, maybe?"

"P'raps. You liked Vickie a lot, hey."

"She was my best friend," she said simply, her eyes searching his face. "I loved her."

For reasons he couldn't assimilate, that statement made Reno feel really uncomfortable. He smiled slowly, to cover up, then became consciously aware that Katelyn was watching his mouth, her eyebrow raised thoughtfully. And he liked it.

Actually, judging by how his circulation was now a meandering trickle south, he really liked it.

A split second later, she had straddled him and he was engaged in a powerful liplock with the tiny blonde. Something new in his realm of experience: girls looking for a random fuck may've not wanted you to kiss them, but a woman surely did. And this woman kissed deep and hard and when she pulled back to help him remove his jacket and shirt and called him "sir" with unbridled lust on her face, she knew exactly the effect she was having. The meandering trickle south became a raging torrent. Gods, yes, he thought, dragging his arms around her back under her T-shirt.

She raised her arms so he could haul her shirt up over her head then lowered them again so she could undo his belt and pants, fingers sure and direct. "I have to warn you, sir," she said in a low voice, "it's been a while."

"You and me both," Reno said, leaning back on his hands so she could reach her objective, lifting each foot in turn so he could push each of his boots off with the toes of the other foot.

"I can tell," she said, running her thumb along the underside of his shaft. "Mm. Never would've picked you for going commando. Don't think I'll be able to look at you the same way again, sir."

He suppressed a groan. If she kept doing that, he was going to lose what tenuous control he had. He dragged her hips forward with both hands and she shifted so she was in his lap, her legs wrapped around his hips, so his bare skin nestled against damply warm polycotton.

Reno stood and reversed them, lying her back on her bed and settling his hips into hers.

Mouth devoured mouth, hands searched crevices, vestiges of clothing were removed, voices demanded more, innate need ruled.

And for an all-too-short, dizzying moment, loneliness eased.


Midgar, 6 years until Meteorfall

"Fucking Shin-Ra infantry bastard grunts," Jask said as he entered the lounge.

Reno looked up from the manual on the new security software system that was being installed on the Turk floors. "Hello to you too, Jask," he said. "Sherin."

"Sir," she said, her face angry. "Hot enough for you?"

Reno nodded. Summer in Midgar was a dry wave, a sample of at least one of the levels of the Blue Hells. No humidity, just dry air that sucked the liquid out of you soon as you stepped outside. Well, it would've been worse under the Plate. Made him wish for the water he'd wanted to avoid at Costa Del Sol four months earlier. "I take it the mission didn't go well?"

"How do they train them? Send them after kiddie moogle toys?" Jask grunted and all but threw his EMR on the pool table. "One of them--the only one who lived, mind--just a kid, couldn't shoot for shit, had to spend my time looking after him instead of the doctor. Sherin was attacked by a bunch of--what were they?"

"I don't know," Sherin said, "but they were Avalanche, and they wielded some pretty powerful magic. I've never seen it before."

Reno looked at her sharply. "Doctor Laylee?"

"Was captured," she said.

"And that stupid Cloud kid decided he knew better than two experienced operatives," Jask said, grabbing two cold drinks from the fridge and handing one to Sherin. "Fucking lucky I didn't just shoot him myself."

"You can't shoot anyway, Jask," Sherin said.

"Bite me," Jask retorted.

"You got it, 'sweetie'. Just tell me when and where."

They grinned at each other.

Yeah, yeah, Reno thought. "The SOLDIER data she was carrying?"

"Oh, no, just you wait," Jask said. "This kid--arrogant fucking prat--starts lecturing us on how we weren't to throw the Doctor's life away for that information. Never mind that if he'd done as he was bloody told in the first place, she wouldn't have been captured and we wouldn't've needed to rescue both her and his stupid arse as well." His face darkened. "I mean it. Should've just shot him."

"He did fairly well in the end though," Sherin said, "once he got a hold of that sword."

"Yeah, guess I'll pay that. Talented there. But he ain't gonna need that skill in the army. Needs to learn to shoot and not fall down every time someone takes a pansy swipe at him."

"The data," Reno grated.

"Oh, yeah, we got that back," Jask said. "It's just--what the fuck does Heidegger think he's doing? Seriously, if you'd seen how badly trained these troops were... Rude and Katelyn would have a fit."

Sherin giggled. "Neither of them would do that, Jask. Katelyn would start a proper rant about protocol and faulty training methods and Rude would grunt in agreement a lot." She rolled her eyes. "I like Katelyn, but she can be kinda... straight. No spontaneity about her at all."

Reno had to smile at that. Sherin was, after all, right. Well, half right.

"Katelyn and Raith will be back from Costa Del Sol today, Reno," Sherin said. "After we've done our debrief, we should head down to the bar and have a few. It'll be the first time in a while most of us have been in Midgar."

"Except Dallas and Braden," Jask said.

Reno nodded. He hadn't seen Dallas in way too long. He missed her. It was like he'd just been given her back, only to lose her again.

"Except them," Sherin agreed. "And the last time in a while it'll happen again, if what Katelyn told me is true. They're being sent straight back out tomorrow night. So, 2030 hours?"

"Sounds like a plan," Reno said. "I'll let Rude know."

Sherin lifted her ponytail off the back of her neck. "I just hope they've fixed their aircon." She tossed her empty drink bottle into the bin. "Come on Jask, let's go face the music."

Jask nodded and put his drink back in the fridge.

Reno watched them leave. Good pair, that one. Worked well together, drove each other up the wall. Pretty sure they weren't fucking, which probably helped. He did find one thing curious, though: Sherin had requested to be partnered with Jask.

Why not Raith?

Katelyn and Raith were still not a good fit, from what Tseng had told him. Reno wouldn't know. He hadn't seen either of them since they'd all returned from Costa Del Sol with the SOLDIER candidates. Tseng had mentioned, once, that perhaps Raith should work on his own. As it was, Tseng tended to take Katelyn with him on the odd occasion he needed a partner, which wasn't often.

At no time did Tseng reiterate his threat to pair Reno with Raith. In fact, he'd been pleased that Reno and Rude had come to that decision on their own.

Funny thing was, Reno wasn't sure if he was glad of that or not.

Raith being completely absent meant he didn't have to think about that, though. Some nights, he'd wake from dreams half realised and have a generalised sense of nothingness that seemed to stem from old memories, but it was nothing he could put his finger on. It was like he'd so completely buried his feelings he no longer had any. It was like they'd never existed.

Except when he thought of them, like right then. Then he'd get that... ache. And he'd have to stomp on it and turn it into the remembrance that Raith had betrayed him, after all. Had stolen from him, had turned him in to Shin-Ra, had left him. Forgotten him. Turned on him and never said word one about it.

But as long as he was on one side of Planet and Raith on the other, it was all good. He didn't have to think about it.

There was just the nights to get through.

He glanced at his watch. He was off-duty and had a couple of hours' window to go and visit Felice, and was supposed to meet Rude there. He'd done his best to increase the amount of time he spent with her, wherever he could, as had Rude. She'd deteriorated, badly, like the operation had finally caught up with her. Some days, she didn't even know who Rude was, something Reno knew caused his partner deep pain.

She never forgot Reno's name, after all.

Occasionally, when Rude returned from her place, he'd ignore Reno and just head into his own room, shutting the door behind him. Reno didn't have to hear Rude's deep-throated, suppressed sobs to know they were there. Trouble was, Rude hurt, so did he, and he hated the helplessness of it. He couldn't even do for Rude what they'd done for Dallas, cos Reno knew that if Rude thought he was aware, he'd go so far as to move out into another apartment. He was not a man comfortable with his own emotion.

But then, they were Turks. None of them were. They weren't supposed to have any.

He made his way to Felice's apartment, hoping that today was a "good day."

Felice herself met him at the door with a smile and a warm hug. "Hello, Reno," she said. He hugged her back. So, it seemed to be a good day. "Rude's here. So nice to have both of you boys home, for once."

Reno led her back into the lounge, smiling a "hello" to Kyrie. "I know. Work is hectic. Most days we don't have time to scratch ourselves. And we only have the same RDO once a month, I'm sorry."

"Come out to the kitchen."

"As you wish. What is that I smell? Pancakes?"

She sat at the table. "I hope so. Either that or burnt butter."

"I'm a better cook than that, Ma," Rude said, dropping a plate in front of her.

"I miss these. Kyrie makes them, but they aren't the same as yours, Rude." She breathed in with a smile. "Sit. I have to talk to you both."

Reno caught Rude's eye with a questioning glance and Rude shrugged as he sat.

"I have a question," she said.

"Shoot," Reno said.

"I want to know if you boys have resolved your differences."

Reno blinked.

Rude frowned. "We don't have any differences, Ma." He glanced at Reno. "Do we?"

"Not that I'm aware of, no."

"You don't fool me. Rude, you have only been home such a short time." She frowned, then. "I should make you a cake. You'll be nineteen soon."

Oh, no Reno thought. She was okay with names today, not so good with time. "No. Everything's fine, Ma," he said soothingly, hoping she'd stop talking. "We're fine."

She reached for his hand, and he moved so she could take it. "Reno, you are a great kid, you know that? I knew, soon as Rude brought you home that you'd be good for him. And you have been. And then he left, and you were so bereft, so alone... you don't fool me. I know how much he hurt you. I could hear you. And now you make it better for him, and forget yourself."

Reno caught Rude's eye and shook his head helplessly, hoping that Rude would understand that Reno meant that his mother was overstating things. Or would think she was. Fact is, apart from the last sentence, every word was true.

He couldn't, however, imagine that any level of Hells could be worse than having to look at Rude's face right then. Reno's only consolation was that she thought they were still pretty much kids and hadn't remembered Raith.

"I am going to die, soon," she said. "I need an operation, and we don't have the money."

"No, Ma, you're fine," Reno said. "You had the operation and got better."

"Why can't I see, then?" She yawned, suddenly, then, and let go of Reno's hand. "Who's here?"

Reno sighed. "It's me, Ma, and Rude."


"And me, Ma," Rude said.

"Who are you?" She turned her head towards Reno. "Who was that?"

Rude stood and left the room, his face stone.

Damn it.

Kyrie came in a moment later. "Come on, Felice. Think it may be a good idea if you get some sleep."

"Of course. Night, Reno."

Reno gave Felice another hug. "Night." He went out to the living room, where Rude was standing on the balcony overlooking Midgar, arms crossed against his chest, throat working, shades on. "Rude."

Rude didn't turn around. "I don't want to hear it."

"No, I--"

This time, he did turn around. "I said, I don't want to hear it," he said, his voice low. "You don't get to pity me, y'hear?"

The ride home was terse, and of course Rude made his way straight to his room, but not after he muttered, "Go to the bar without me."

"Nah. I'll stay home, I think."

"Just get out, Reno."

Reno nodded. "Fine, then. I just--"

"Get. Out."

So, Reno did.


The snows were heavy at the end of that year, more like a proper Midgar winter should be. Reno was sure he preferred less snow, even if it had been weird sweltering in December. Then again, perhaps it was for the better. He still dreamed of that night at the chopper, on occasion, and that still ended with him taking a happy shower.

He still loved central heating. He'd gotten so used to sleeping without his pjs he now found it too restrictive to wear any.

Not much had changed. Avalanche were still being occasional trouble. Fuhito and Shears and Elfe still, they were sure, plotted behind closed doors--wherever they were. He and Rude spent some time looking for new SOLDIER recruits. Reno still had seen very little of Raith, and nothing at all of his sister. He knew she was in Midgar occasionally, whenever Zack was, but she and Tseng had the SOLDIER problems to deal with, something that Reno knew Raith and Katelyn helped with, often. Braden was still pretty much invisible.

Reno still thought of Raith as little as possible. He still missed his sister, but at least she was still talking to him like they'd never been apart, when she could call him on a secure line. He had to admit he was concerned about her, though. He suspected she was falling in love with the subject of her mission. That was never a good thing. Part of him wondered if he should report this, but he figured that if Braden was tailing her, he already knew when and where and how often Dallas was sleeping with Zack, poor bugger.

Besides, he'd never do or say anything to put Dallas in jeopardy.

There was one major change, though, and it centred around Rude. That day with his mother had changed their dynamic completely. Rude was like two people after that. The first was the Turk. Calm, confident, professional. Got the job done, worked well with his partner, nothing had changed.

Behind closed doors, though... fact was, he avoided Reno like Reno was some sort of plague. It was almost like things had been when Reno first joined Shin-Ra. Awkward, difficult. And Rude was secretive. He was, again, no longer comfortable in his own home.

Worse. He didn't go back to visit his mother again that year.

Reno asked him about that, somewhere around mid October.

Rude had avoided his gaze. "Too busy."

"Don't make me drag you over there, Rude."

"You could try."

"Why are you avoiding her, huh?" And while you're at it, why are you avoiding me?

"I could never explain it."


"She doesn't even know who I am." Rude looked at him, then, and swallowed. "I can't handle it."

Reno knew that Rude's admission had cost him, but he was too annoyed to stop. "It's not about you."

"I know that!" Rude took a breath, and moderated his tone. "It's not her illness. And it's not guilt. I take responsibility for my mistakes. I know I hurt her, did wrong. And I know I deserve this, that it's my penance. It's just..."

"Just what?"

"If a man's own mother doesn't know him, does he exist?"


"That day. The day I killed Krane. The day I--" he swallowed and looked away from Reno. "I think I stopped existing then. I lost everything. And I did it to me."

Reno frowned, not understanding, but knowing that if he said the wrong thing, Rude would clam up and not speak of this again. It was how he was. He reached out and cupped his left hand around the back of Rude's neck. "You didn't lose everything."

Rude's jaw worked. "How does that work?"

"For a start..." Reno looked him in the eye, "you didn't lose me."

Rude reached up and took Reno's wrist with his own left hand, running his thumb along the back of Reno's hand, his eyes troubled.

They were very close. All Reno had to do was tilt his chin up, and--his phone rang. He was going to ignore it, but it seemed to act on Rude like an alarm. He tightened his hand around Reno's wrist and gently but firmly removed the hand from his neck.

"No," he said. "You, I lost, most of all."

Reno swallowed. "I don't understand you, Rude."

"Just... don't ever touch me like that again, okay?"

Reno nodded slowly. "Sure. No problem."

Soon after that, Rude became even more secretive, if that was possible, but that wasn't what got to Reno. What got to him was that he still had those feelings for Rude.

And still had them for Raith.

It was all wrong. How could he need them both like that? That was stupid. No matter what Dallas had said.

And what was more stupid was that neither of them wanted him. That was one reason he tended to look forward to the few times Katelyn and he were in the same place, even if it did usually mean that meant he and Raith were also in the same place. He'd forgotten how much of a relief it was to just fuck, no strings attached, no stupidity, no ties, knowing that you were both completely happy with that. The later knowledge that she'd been Vickie's girlfriend as well as her best friend came as no surprise.

Her flexibility did, sometimes, though.

Sometimes he wondered if he'd steered Dallas wrong that first dinner they'd had. If he'd somehow sold her on something that just didn't exist.

Rude's mission to infiltrate Avalanche, one Reno did not know of until after the fact, was aborted when his target, Chelsea, fell for him and showed her hand as an Avalanche spy. Reno suspected the feelings were mutual, frankly, but if that was the case, Rude never admitted it.

Reno never asked. He didn't want to know.

A few days later, close to the close of the year, the Chief called a meeting to discuss developments. All Turks were present except Dallas and Braden.

Tseng was there, although he'd been due to fly out towards Icicle that morning with Zack Fair on other business.

Reno knew that if he hadn't left, then Zack was probably still in Midgar, probably at HQ, which meant that Dallas should've be there as well. It irritated him that he had no idea where she was. It was probably because no one was supposed to know, but still. He fucking missed her, almost to the point of depression.

He glanced at Raith, who was sitting at the other end of the table with Tseng and Sherin, studiously avoiding Reno's gaze. Reno figured he'd return the favour. Katelyn was sitting next to Tseng, and Reno raised an eyebrow when he noticed Tseng's hand on her thigh under the table. Huh. Well, good for them, he thought. Katelyn saw him looking, and reddened.

He grinned at her, and nodded, and she looked relieved.

Rude arrived then, and sat down next to Reno, leaning towards Reno's ear to speak. "Sorry I'm late. Did I miss anything?"

"Nothing Shin-Ra related, but we all know you hate office gossip," Reno said quietly.

"Fill me in later."

"Of course. And why are you late? You're never late."

"Always a first time," Rude said.

"Not for you," Reno retorted.

"Well, that's clearly nonsense, because late I am."

Reno nodded. "I'll pay that."

Rude grinned at him.


There was no more chance to talk, because Veld arrived soon after Rude. "Right," he said, "I'll make this brief. We're upping the game plan. We're going to need more manpower to gather data on Avalanche. Reno, Rude, you’re going to target Fuhito's special corps."

Rude and Reno voiced the affirmative.

"Katelyn, I'll want you and Raith to go with Jask and Sherin to collect intelligence."

"Understood," Katelyn said.

"We're also hiring new Turks," Veld continued. He pulled out a couple of vidfiles and looked through them. "Maxx is a detective from Costa Del Sol, a man we've been working to hire for quite some time, and Katelyn has finally convinced him he needs to come on board. Kytt, our other recruit, is a mercenary and a former soldier, based in Junon." He looked up at Rude. "Rude would know her."

Rude nodded. "Deadly woman," he said. "Good addition to the team."

"Raith, I'll want you to take Kytt on as your partner, and Katelyn, if you could work with Maxx as soon as he arrives, which should be in the next day or so. If you work well together, we'll make those partnerships permanent."

Reno noticed that Katelyn looked relieved at that. He frowned. Surely, Raith hadn't been giving her that hard a time? One thing Reno had to say about Raith, he'd never been deliberately nasty.

Mind you, it wasn't like he'd seen much of his former lover over the year. Reno couldn't say that he knew who Raith was, now.

If he'd ever actually known.

Veld looked at them. "Right, it'll be a new year in two days. Let's make it a good one, shall we? Sort out this Avalanche problem once and for all."

Murmurs of assent went around the table.

"Good," Veld said. "Dismissed."

"Anyone for the bar?" Jask said to the room.

Reno stood, stretching his neck. It'd been a long week, and was about to get longer. "Sure," he said.

"Uh-uh. Not you." Rude grabbed him by the upper arm and started walking, dragging Reno with him. "Come on."

Reno blinked in surprise. "Hang on, hold your chocobos." He reached out and grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. "What gives?"


Reno had no choice but to follow him--to the apartment? "Rude, I'd really kill for some off time and a few drinks right now. Why are you--"

"Wait." Rude scanned his keycard and their apartment door slid open. "Just be aware, she's not supposed to be here."

She? Oh, Gods. Please. Reno had barely stepped into the lounge room when he was hit by a barrage of sister, grabbing him by the waist and refusing to let go.

But it wouldn't have mattered if she had, cos Reno sure as Hells wasn't.

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