Chapter Seventeen

To fly... to have in his hands the controls of that 'copter, seeing the world from high above the city, hearing nothing but the sound of the rotors above his head, or communication from HQ in his earphones. It was quiet up there, nevertheless. Peaceful.

To fly... he took to it like a natural, Rude said. Rude never complained when Reno pushed the 'copter to its limits. He never told him to stop. He just sat quietly, a small, enigmatic smile on his face. Rude knew. He understood. Up in there sky, you could go anywhere. Do anything.
Be anyone.

To fly... Reno remembered those days most of all, no matter what happened after. Rude taught him how to fly. Raith, Reno later realised, had opened the door for him, but it was Rude who took him to the clouds.


Mideel, 7 years until Meteorfall

"So, Dal, tell me all about Braden," Reno said as they were eating lunch on their second day in Mideel.

"Sorry, what?" she gave up on staring out the window and picked up her fork again. "Sorry. I've been here before, but I can never get over how quiet it is. The trees creep me out."

"It's not that quiet, Dal. The birds, for one. Palms in the wind. Pretty noisy to me."

"Yeah, but it's not traffic noise, y'know?" She took a mouthful of her meal, then wrinkled her nose. "I forgot how bland the food is in Mideel. So, what about Braden?"

"I've been with Shin-Ra, what, almost a year and know nothing about him." He grinned and added, "except for how good he is in bed." He gave Dallas a direct look. "Some of which I really don't need to know, by the way."

"Just cos you're not getting any, don't go begrudging me."

"Oh, I don't. It's just, do you have to be so, you know, descriptive? I'm starting to feel like the third body in the room."

She raised an eyebrow. "Now, there's an interesting thought."

"Stop that. I'm actually just fine with keepin' myself to myself for a while." I don't cheat either, it turns out, he thought wryly, I just dream about what I can't have. He took a mouthful of juice, which was not at all bland, more thick and sweet. "So?"

She gave him a sympathetic look, but allowed the change of subject. "Hard to know what to say, really. He has a wanderlust that I find difficult to reconcile with his job, though. He's been stuck in Midgar for a long time, and it doesn't sit well with him." She frowned. "But he's all Turk. It's weird. I do, worry, sometimes, that he will just up and leave on some mission or other."

"He wouldn't do that without taking you. Even if you weren't together, kiddo. You're his partner."

"I suppose so."

"So what brought him to Shin-Ra?"

"They pulled him out of a Gongagan jail."

Reno's eyebrows shot up. That didn't sit with anything he'd figured about the man. "What was he in for?"

"Murder. He won't talk about it though."

Reno didn't know what to say to that.

Dallas frowned, then, looking over his shoulder. "Huh. What're SOLDIERs doing here?"

"What?" Reno turned around. Two men, swords on their backs, were entering the café behind him. One was a young guy with black hair and a cheeky grin. The white-haired other carried a katana and a dangerous demeanour. The last, he recognised, if only by reputation. He turned back to Dallas. "Is that the General?"

"It is," she said before breaking into a grin and waving. "Zack!"

"Hey, Cissnei," the dark-haired SOLDIER wandered over, a grin splitting his face. "How's tricks?"

Reno raised his eyebrows, and Dallas smiled at him brightly, but shook her head imperceptively.

"Not bad," Dallas said, then introduced Reno. "What brings you to Mideel?"

"Just passing through..."

Reno was polite, but while Dallas and Zack Fair made small talk, he sat casually, surreptitiously studying the General, distinctly aware that the General was doing the same thing with them. Sephiroth. Quiet, assured, and if stories didn't lie, almost unbeatable on the battlefield. The man had been a complete legend in Wutai.

Reno didn't like him. At all. Hero or no, there was something... off about him, although he couldn't put his finger on it. Zack seemed to look up to him, though. Reno shrugged inwardly. He was probably just taking the man's cool arrogance the wrong way. Maybe it was just that when Sephiroth walked into a room, he carried with him a distinct air of ownership. He owned the room, and everyone in it. Not because he demanded it be so, but just because that was how it was. Reno probably just resented being owned.

He'd had enough of that at Corneo's.

He smiled and nodded when the two men left. Zack seemed okay, though. Carried himself well, didn't radiate pretence. Still knew who he was and what he was about, but didn't shove it in your face.

"How's tricks, 'Cissnei'?" Reno said with a smile.

"You know better than that, Reno."

Reno nodded. "The name doesn't suit you," he commented.

"Me, no," she said. "But it suits 'Cissnei'."

"Ah," Reno said.

"Come on. Let's get out of here."

"You haven't finished eating, little bird."

"Not hungry," she said. "Let's get what we have to do done and get back to Midgar. I'm homesick all of a sudden."


Reno, likewise, was homesick, but not for Midgar. Home wasn't a where, any more, it was a who. Once, It'd been Rude, now... not so much, even if it did seem that, for the most part, their former, pre-that night relationship was reasserting itself.

Rude even started to act like he was comfortable in his own--their own--apartment again.

Still, it wasn't the same. Reno couldn't exactly drop his guard, not completely. He reasoned it was because he didn't want to share Raith, yet, but part of him knew, deep down, that Rude had been able to fuck with Reno's head once, and even though Reno had forgiven him for that, he wasn't really open to the concept of allowing Rude to do it again.

Besides, even taking into account the intervening years, Reno still knew Rude well enough to know when he was hiding something. He always had been, really, but this was... different.

He didn't mind admitting that the reason he didn't completely trust Rude that way yet was because Reno still didn't understand why Rude'd racked off the first time. And if Rude didn't trust Reno enough to tell him, then... well, that thread of logic would just snarl in knotted circles if he followed it to its conclusion.

He understood what had happened with Raith even less. Nothing made sense. Needless to say, the trip to Mideel was a bust. No sign, no where, no how. None of the known facts lined up with any theory, that either he or Dallas could come up with.

Unless Raith was dead. And had been dead for almost a year.

Reno wasn't prepared to consider that, just yet. Even if it was the only explanation that matched with all the known facts and still allowed Reno to believe that what he'd had with Raith was not just a bunch of lies.

Somehow, though, he knew he wouldn't be able to deal with that. He was six hundred different kinds of sure that this was the conclusion Dallas believed, "and I think you do, deep down too," she said to him on the way home.

"Why do you say that?" Reno said, "because I really don't."

"Reno, honey, remember when you were telling me about how he always pays his bills? Halfway through the conversation you started referring to him in the past tense."

"I did?"

She nodded, her brows knitted.

"Well, I don't believe it," he said, looking out the chopper window.

She sighed as she banked the chopper towards HQ, but to her credit, she didn't press him on the matter.

Sometimes he thought she knew his thought processes better than he did. Kind of like Rude had, once. Probably still would, if Reno felt able to tell him about everything.

He missed that; the sense of belonging to a whole. He'd had it, once, then fucked it up. Raith had just about filled that; now, he was gone, too. And Rude was... not even something Reno was prepared to consider that way, not again. Those feelings were dead and buried.

Well, buried, anyway.

Besides, Rude would just run off again.

So, when Rude was about, he plastered on a casual attitude and pretended everything was normal. Some days, he even bought his own press.

Most days, he even fooled Rude.

Dallas announced their arrival into her headset, and Reno's own crackled to life. "Good to hear," said Braden. "Head down to the range after you've landed. Got a new recruit while you were away."

"Will do," Dallas said. "Out." She grinned at Reno. "So, how does it feel?" she yelled over the sound of the chopper, not trying to activate her headset and land at the same time.

"What do you mean?" he shouted back.

"You're not the newbie any more."

Reno grinned. "I'm sure I'll get over it."

They made their way to the shooting range, where Rude was watching a girl as she fired a handgun, bullets hitting paper targets on the opposite wall. She didn't seem to notice them come in.

Perky type, Reno thought. But all business with the gun.

"So, who is she?" Reno asked Rude, after watching the new girl shoot off a few more rounds. He had to admit, she was pretty good. Probably not as good as Raith had been, but still, not bad at all.

"Rufus recruited her."

Reno looked amused. "Oh, really? So how much time does she spend actually training, then?"

Rude shrugged. "I had the same thought, but, no, she's earning her place here."

"Good to hear. I wouldn't want to be tangled up with Rufus in any sort of non-professional capacity."

Rude didn't respond.

"She looks familiar," Reno commented.

"Sherin Paine," Rude said. "Champion Game at the Midgarian Nationals this year. And last, I think."

Reno whistled. He'd seen pictures of her in some of Raith's shooting magazines, then. That would explain it. Funny how things worked out though. He knew from both Shooter articles and the financial reports on the news about her father's company, that she was from Mideel. "Her rep is 'spoiled brat', though."

Rude nodded. "Spoiled, yeah. Brat, not really. But then, let's see what happens when she's asked to do something she doesn't want to. That hasn't happened yet." He glanced at Reno briefly. "Can't be any worse than when you're asked to type anything," he deadpanned.

"Up yours," Reno retorted good-naturedly. "Nice arse, though," he commented. "She fills out the uniform well."

"Boob man, myself, if I had to choose," Rude said.

"Why choose?" Reno grinned. "Them, too."

"Do I have to beat your heads in again?" Dallas said from behind them.

"What for?" Reno said.

"People are more than a collection of... actually, you're right. She does have a nice arse." She grinned. "Carry on. I'll just stay here, watching Rude's, cos it's luv-er-ly. Really. Rude, can you bend over a wee bit?"

Reno hid a smile as Rude reddened. "Don't look at me to defend you, Rudolph," he said as Rude threw him one of his 'looks'. "I happen to agree with her."

"And Reno gets to live with it," Dallas said. "He should know."

Rude's lips twitched humourlessly, and he turned back to watch Sherin.

What did I say? Dallas mouthed to Reno.

Reno could guess, but he wasn't going to share, so he shrugged. Don't worry about it, he mouthed back. Long day, probably. "Well," he said, "I have a bike to service."

"Why don't you let Mechanical do it?" Dallas said. "They're better at it anyway. You're not really as adept as you think you are."

Reno stuck his tongue out at her. "I like to," he said. "Keeps my mind busy." And off Raith, he thought. "Besides, I'm building this one from the ground up. And I'm not that bad. Have some faith in a man, wouldja?"

"If you say so," she said doubtfully. "Although, if you have to keep your mind busy, I have a stack of reports--"

"Don't even finish that sentence, Dal," Reno said.

"Just try not to track grease through the apartment when you're done this time, eh?" Rude said, still not looking at them.

"Your command is my wish," Reno said, knuckling his forehead.

For the next three weeks or so, in between minor patrols of the Midgar sewers, clearing out a conglomerate of large nasties that were making their way in from out on the plains a lot lately, Reno worked on that bike down in the basement.

It was an exercise in frustration, partially because Dallas was right when she said that Reno, while a reasonable hand at most mechanical stuff, wasn't really an expert. But it was a good frustration. He was learning a lot.

Well, it was a good frustration right up until he went to start the thing--and it wouldn't. Not even a click. There was no noise from the solanoid. At all. Well, that couldn't be right. He was fairly sure the part was sound. So, he pulled it all apart again, looking for where he might have gone wrong, then spent a few days putting it back together in a manner he was sure was correct, then was forced to go and shower and change before going out on patrol with Rude again.

They needed better grates on the sewer lines. Seriously.

Soon as the patrol was done, he returned to the basement garage and turned the key again.

He was relatively sure the entire building heard his annoyed, vociferous swearing when the motor refused to turn over again. At least it was sparking this time, though.

Useless. Maybe he should get Mechanical to look at it. He'd obviously missed something. Twice. And probably not the same something each time, neither.

He shook his head. He would work it out, one way or another.

He looked at his watch. Quarter to ten. He had his final flying test that night. He'd already mastered, and passed the tests for, the little choppers and a light plane Rude said they rarely used. By the morning, provided he passed the blind flying, he'd be licensed to fly the large people carrier, the one he and Dallas had taken with them to Mideel just in case they found any likely SOLDIER candidates.

They'd returned alone, of course. Seemed fewer and fewer people wanted to try out for SOLDIER. He wasn't sure how Heidegger would react if he ever ran out of applicants, but knowing Heidegger, it wouldn't be good. The man was a moron.

He stood at the window of the staff caf and looked out across the expanse of lights, watching the moon, low on the horizon. He liked flying by the moon, but he was supposed to navigate with as little light as possible, hence the late hour. He was looking forward to it; skirting the trees outside Midgar and up towards Kalm, hugging the cliffsides so close you could almost stick your hand out and touch them, if you were stupid enough to try.

It was like a good fight, or a good fuck: that fine line that was razoring so close to death you could do nothing more than just laugh at it and live.

He hadn't had a good fight, or a good fuck, for that matter, in a while. But he could fly.

Up there, throttle in his hand, headset on, Rude in the other seat. It was the only place he could completely forget Raith, for just a while.

He watched the lights for a few minutes more, then figured he may as well go sit up on the roof for a while anyhow. The aircon was bugging him. For so late in the year, it had been very warm, and as a result the building temperature was kept too cold for his liking. He and Rude kept theirs off, preferring to open the windows instead. At the height their floor was, the air was colder, so it worked.

But, only a couple of months from the turn of the year, it should have been almost turn-on-the-heat weather. Hells, some years it was close to snowing at this time. Instead, Reno took the opportunity, once he'd reached the roof, to remove his uniform jacket and roll up his shirtsleeves, pulling the tails of the shirts away from his body and removing his shoulder holster so he'd cool down a bit. It wasn't quite as hot as a Midgarian summer under the Plate, with its stagnant air, but it was still warm.

Still, it reminded him a bit of when he was back at the Orphanage, and he and Hamill would climb out on their windowsill and hang out sideways from the just to see how far they could lean without losing their grip. They always would of course, and the other would be forced to drag his room-mate in so he wouldn't fall to his death.

He grinned wryly. Probably should've occurred to them that they could fall to their deaths.

He wondered, briefly, what Hamill was up to now.

Then there were some of those hot, sticky nights under the Plate, trying to sleep and not being able to cos the extra warmth of Rude's body kept him awake. So, they'd both stripped down to their jocks and tried to lie as still as possible so as to not create any more heat, right up until one of them, usually Reno, did move, stirring up the hot air and forcing Rude to lazily pummel him. He grinned at the memory, then his grin faded as he remembered that it had never occurred to either of them to be at all self-conscious at any of that. Not until after that night. And now... Reno shook his head. You could never go back, could you?

The last really warm night with Raith... he'd just brought out a tray of ice so he could scientifically determine whether a cube melted quicker on Reno's chest, stomach or lower back. That was fun... although they never did find out for sure. He pushed that memory to the back of his mind as soon as it popped up. He couldn't deal with it right then.

He still had an hour or so before Rude was due to turn up, so his intention was just to sit on one of the sides of the building and see how long he could keep still--he was getting better, he'd probably make the hour without wanting to chop off his own arm in boredom--but then he noticed the chopper door was open. Both sides were.

No sign of movement, though. There was no way any Turk would just leave the door open and walk away. He drew his gun, just in case, dropping the holster and his jacket at his feet, and quietly moved to the chopper, and peered inside.

Well, he thought, tucking his gun back into the back of his waistband. Rude was asleep on one of the longseats inside, lying on his back, hands behind his head, legs crossed at the ankles. This was not really a surprise. Rude could sleep anywhere.

What surprised Reno was also not that, obviously, Rude was seeking to avoid the unseasonable heat as well, because he'd stripped off his jacket and shirt and had folded them under his head as a pillow. What did surprise Reno was that Rude was sleeping so soundly he hadn't even stirred at Reno's approach. Reno hadn't seen Rude so relaxed in... forever. Not since they were kids. He leaned against the side of the chopper and smiled, watching Rude's stomach rise and fall as he breathed. That was nice. Then his smile faded. Too nice, he thought, heat rising up his neck at his own presumption, hopelessly aware that if Rude woke up then and saw Reno watching him, he'd freak, and they'd be right back where they started years ago.

And, Raith, he thought guiltily. What the hells was he thinking? He backed away carefully, perching on one of the ducts close by, willing the blood out of his groin. Well, that was silly, even when he'd been with Raith, Reno had still looked. And Raith hated it, he thought. Well, no, he hadn't hated it, exactly, but it had bothered him. I don't cheat.

It struck him, then. Dallas was right. He was thinking about Raith in the past tense. Did he really believe that Raith was dead? Or just that he was gone, for good?

He couldn't believe either. Raith hates it. No, he doesn't. But it bothers him. It didn't feel right. Reno closed his eyes as some sort of stupid lump developed in his throat. He was losing Raith, the feel of him; the smell of him, the memory of what his voice sounded like. Screw the test, he thought. He'd do it later. Or not. It didn't matter.

Reno no longer expected, or hoped, Raith would be at the apartment when he arrived. Hadn't for a few months, truth be told. He pulled the gun out of the back of his belt and put it on the table next to the front entry with a distinct sense of déjà vu. It'd been a while since he'd carried it back there. Not since Corneo's.

He was gone. Reno had to face it.

The apartment didn't feel like him any more, either. Reno had been in and out of it all year and had, of course, cleaned up after himself. Raith's smell had long gone, replaced by just faint memories he couldn't even touch.

And, even though they consumed him, Reno could barely visualise them. He could feel them, but he couldn't see them. How fucked up was that?

Raith really was gone... but how? Where? Had Corneo killed him after all? He'd certainly lied to Reno.

Reno wandered over the the cupboard where they kept their liquor and poured himself a good finger of bourbon. Picking up the bottle as well, he took it out on the balcony so that he could take advantage of the breeze, sitting in the long chair and studying the drink by the lights of Midgar. The moon had set.

He couldn't help but feel that he had handled it all wrong. Why had he been so quick to think that Raith would've just left? Why hadn't he searched Corneo's Mansion, just to be sure?

Mind you, if Corneo had killed Raith, Reno had turned up three weeks too late.

Then again, if he'd thought Raith had taken off, he wasn't the only one. He knew Braden well enough, now, to know that he had truly believed what he'd said.

Then there were Raith's actions. Those ones Reno woud probably never get an explanation for, now. The money in the jar. The ID card. The bookings...

And... people always left him anyhow... fuck. He drained his glass and stood, throwing it off the balcony as hard as he could.

If Raith was dead, shouldn't Reno know? Shouldn't he just... know?

It was worth looking at again, though. Scotch was just yellow enough to be easy to bully into giving some information. Maybe he should pay them another visit, much as walking into that place again without at least taking a flamethrower with him was the last thing he wanted to do.

It might be too late to help Raith, but at least Reno could find out what might have happened.

And if Corneo had anything at all to do with it, he would die. Reno just had yet to decide how much time it would take.


When Reno woke, with a start, it was still dark. He was feeling a bit on the seedy side. Which he would, he supposed, since he'd finished half the bottle. And his eyes hurt; like, sandy. Swollen, a bit, although Gods only knew why that was. He rubbed them irritably and yawned. He could use some proper sleep, but he supposed he should do it back at the apartment at HQ. For the first time in a year, he didn't want to be in this apartment any more.

Shit. He'd forgotten to tell Rude he wasn't turning up. He didn't make stupid mistakes like that. Now he'd have Tseng or Braden on his case on top of everything else.

He pulled himself out of the chair. Yeah. His neck hated him. Get over it, neck.

0327, and no call? Huh. Wait, what the fuck had he done with his phone? He always kept it in the inside pocket of his jacket... oh. Which was still up on the roof at Shin-Ra. When Rude had phoned Reno to find out where he was, he would've heard the phone, found the jacket and holster, known Reno was there...

Reno let go a string of epithets that would've made a sailor blush.

S'pose, he thought, I should face the music. He would have to think up a valid explanation for turning up, then leaving, too.

But when he reached the roof of HQ, his jacket wasn't there. Neither was Rude.

Reno sighed and went back down to the apartment, wandered into the kitchen for some water to wash out his mouth... and there was his jacket, hung on the back of a chair, with the holster over it and his phone on the table... with one missed call on it, from "Rude". He picked up the items and went to bed. Thank fuck the next day was his RDO. He could sleep in a bit before visiting Corneo's. He'd face whatever when he had to face whatever.

He woke to the smell of... what, was he dreaming or something? Pancakes? He wandered out to the kitchen after dragging on a pair of jeans. "What gives?" he said, yawning. Normally, they just ate something at the caf before their respective shifts. Maybe headed down the road to the bar and had a meal and a few drinks there, if it was a day off.

Rude, dressed in jeans, a Shin-Ra gym shirt, and wearing his old army dog tags, shrugged. "Was in the mood." He gave Reno a direct look. "And as always, you've turned up just in time for the eatin'. Sit."

Reno did so while Rude dropped a plateful and a bottle of syrup in front of him. "I'll wash up," he said with his mouth full.

Rude threw him a look that said, of course you will. What he said though, once they had almost finished eating, was, "you missed your test."

"Yeah. I meant to call, but--" Reno shrugged. If you weren't specific, you didn't have to lie.

Rude's mouth twitched in what was almost a smile. "You could fly that thing upside down through a snowstorm in a waterfall, and we both know it," he said, forking the last of his pancake into his mouth.

"Guess so, maybe."

Rude stood and took his plate to the sink, then turned and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "So I passed you anyway. Sent the paperwork up to Tseng an hour ago."

What? Reno blinked.

Before he could say anything, though, Rude said, "I'm heading out for a bit. We're out of everything."

"Yeah, groceries. I was going to--"

"Wash up," Rude said as he picked up his keys and shades from the top of the fridge. "Maybe try and get some more sleep." He paused in the act of putting his sunglasses on. "Your nightmares never left you, did they," he added quietly.

Reno shrugged again.

Rude left before Reno had a chance to say anything more, like, say, "thanks for covering for me." He got it. Rude didn't want him to mention it again.


Reno let go of another string of expletives and kicked the damned bike so hard he had to move fast to grab the handlebars so it didn't topple over. The last thing he needed was for the bloody thing to flood, as well. "Fucking ridiculous," he said. "I am not this stupid." What was he not getting?

Ugh. It was pushing midnight, and he was on duty from 0400. He didn't have time to struggle with this. And now his foot hurt, despite his boots. Although... where did he put that book?

Maybe he left it on the bench in the office, he thought, wandering in and reading it by the light of the garage outside the glass partition. Yeah, there it was. Okay. The adapter is connected to the... what the hells? he thought as he spied movement out of the corner of his eye.

He easily dodged the fist aimed at his head, taking ahold of the owner's wrist and putting his arm in a lock. "You're gonna attack a Turk in our own garage?" he said into the guy's ear, from behind. "Not the brightest move, sunshine."

The guy struggled to pull free of Reno's grip, but Reno didn't have any trouble holding him. Instead, he dragged the guy out to the garage where he could get a better look at him, and pulled his gun, pushing the guy against the wall.

He made to run until he saw the firearm. Then he froze, putting both hands up.

"Yeah, don't move, there," Reno said. "What do you think you are doing?" And how did you get through security? would be the next question, but Tseng would probably want to know that one. Hells, but he looked familiar. Aubern hair... then it clicked. "Jask," he added with a smile.

Oh, this was too good. Hey, Corneo, what did you do with Raith? You don't know? Try to lie to me again, you fucker? Well, how would you like to see your son's brains splattered all over your fancy walls? Yeah? Maybe Tseng didn't need to know, just yet.

Jask looked at the gun, and paled slightly, but when he spoke he didn't betray any fear. "Needed a bike."

"Needed a bike," Reno repeated.

"Sure. Thought I'd just pick me one up. Not like you guys can use 'em all at once." His voice had an arrogant edge to it.

"Just buying one didn't occur to you."

Jask shrugged. "Where's the fun in that?" His eyes pierced Reno's. "Besides, ain't no bikes in Midgar like these."

"I'll pay that one," Reno said dryly, his eyes narrowed as he studied Jask and a different idea occurred to him. It would just be a matter of whether the kid was worth it. Question was, was he too reckless? "You know you stand in a lot of trouble, boy," he said. "Shin-Ra could ignore your gang war--" Maybe. Reno didn't think they actually gave three hoots so it was a safe bet--"but this is something else."

"Couldn't give a fuck."

Reno shrugged. "Fine then." He raised his gun to Jask's face and put on his "casually dangerous" voice. "If you're the prayin' type, I suggest you do so, now, cos you won't get another chance. Three... two..."

Jask paled further. "Wait," he said. "I know what's wrong with your bike."

Well, that wasn't what Reno'd expected to hear, but it piqued his interest. "You do."

"Sure. Easy."

"Easy," Reno repeated, teeth gritted.

Jask's eyes flashed, but he didn't let that sound in his voice. "For me, anyway. I'm good at that sort of stuff." He cocked his head to the bike, raising an eyebrow.

"Sure, be my guest," Reno said.

Jask took the cover off the engine, fiddled with two parts for about a minute, took something out and cleaned it off with a rag, then put the part back, reversed from how Reno'd had it. Then he closed the cover, flicked the key and... it started. No problems at all.

"Explain," Reno said sourly.

"You have the later year model here. Some bits are different from the earlier model. That manual is for the early model." He shrugged. "It's a common mistake. Some mechanics don't even pick it up."

"But you knew."

"Like I said, I'm good." He ran a hand lovingly over the front of the bike. "You've done a good job with her."

Reno smiled inwardly. And there was his in. Even better. How would Corneo feel if his son became a Turk? "Well, kid," he said, lowering the gun just enough to give Jask a false sense of security. "How would you like to ride one of these every day, legally?"

Jask couldn't hide how his eyes lit up at the thought, but he said, "It'd be okay, I guess."

"Well, say hello to your new best friend, then," Reno said. "Follow me."


"Come on. If you want to be a Turk, we can't keep Tseng waiting."

"It's one o'clock in the morning."

Reno nodded. "It's that or I could shoot you now," he offered.

"Fine." Jask sounded grouchy, but Reno wasn't fooled.

Jask really was grouchy, though, when he realised that Reno was locking him up in a cell. "What the fuck?"

Reno shrugged. "Like you said, it's 0100. Sleep. I'll see you in the morning."

At 0730, Reno was in Chief Veld's office, explaining what had happened.

Veld nodded. "He sounds like he'd have potential, but his history, Reno."

"I'm aware of it."

"I will have to think about it."

"Fair enough, Chief, but..."

"What is it, Reno?"

"Well, you probably already know, but are you aware that Jask is Don Corneo's son?"

Veld looked at him thoughtfully. "We didn't know for sure, no. Do you?"

"I think so, yes." Reno described Corneo's behaviour in regards to Jask when he and Raith had been working for him. "He was full-on for getting this kid, until his name was mentioned. Then it was all cold."

"Hm," Veld said. "Fine, then. Hire him, Reno. We'll see how he goes." He paused in the act of hitting a button on his intercom. "Take him to Resources, get them to start his workup, then report to the Conference Room in a half hour."

"Okay Chief," Reno said.

"Get another tie," Veld said absently as Reno left his office.


It was a scramble to make it to the Conference Room by 0815, but he managed, just.

"Still cutting everything a bit close, I see, Reno," Braden said.

Reno grinned, then sat as Tseng, Rude and Dallas all looked at him expectantly. "Sorry," he said.

"So, as I had just started saying--" Braden threw a look at Reno--"The decision that needs to be made, here and now, is whether to start Jask's training now, or wait," Braden said. "As it is, I would like to extend Sherin's training past the usual month. She does shoot well, but is lacking in other areas. I don't want to let go of her just yet, though. There is some serious potential there."

Reno happened to be looking at Tseng when Braden said that, so he saw the area around Tseng's eyes tighten. Weird, Reno thought.

"Why would we wait, sir?" Dallas said.

"We have another possibility coming on board," Braden said. "Or, two, perhaps. Not confirmed yet. We have one of the daughters of an instructor at the Academy in mind."

"How soon will we know if the other is good to go?" Tseng asked quietly.

"No way to know," Braden said noncommittaly. "May be a few days, but he is close. As for the girl, I imagine she will not require anything more than a refresher," Braden said. "Just as Dallas did. Katelyn already fulfils the exam criteria, and is virtually field-ready. I imagine Dallas could fill her in on anything else required with no problems."

"Thank you, sir," Dallas murmured.

Tseng nodded. "We'll wait Jask until the second four weeks, and bring the other on then if he is ready."

Braden made a note. "Which brings us to the next item on the agenda." He looked at Dallas sternly. "Stop calling me 'sir'." He then expanded his focus to include Reno and Rude. "And you two, as well."

Reno, Rude and Dallas exchanged glances. "Excuse me?" Reno finally said.

"You're being promoted," a voice from the doorway said mildly. "Congratulations, Seniors."

"Thank you, Chief," Reno said, a sentiment echoed by his fellows.

Chief Veld glanced at Reno. "Reno, have you lost your tie again?"

If you didn't answer straight, you didn't have to lie. "Sir?" he said.

Veld shook his head, his eyes amused. "Never mind. Pick up another one when we're done here."

"Yes, sir," Reno said carefully, relieved. One of these days, one of his superiors would actually remember to order Reno to wear one of the damned things. He wasn't looking forward to that day. He did, after all, follow orders.

It was getting to the point, though, where he was seriously considering getting a quilt made out of the ones he had.

"Now that we have some new recruits," Tseng continued, "Chief Veld will be taking a closer, more hands-on approach for the training period. This will free me up to focus on another task." He paused. "A task that you will all be apprised of, in due time. For the moment, we need to concentrate on another issue closer to hand." He pulled out a video dossier. "Avalanche." He opened up the info and displayed it on the screen.

The dossier was virtually empty. Reno frowned.

"Herein lies our problem," the Chief said. "We know nothing of this group. We don't know who they are. We don't know who leads them. We don't know why they have formed. All we know is that they are increasing in numbers." He flicked off the screen. "I will need you all to keep your ear to the ground while you are out there, people. On patrol, off duty; it doesn't matter. Consider yourselves on this until further notice." He crossed his arms across his chest and glanced at Tseng.

"We will also be talking to Don Corneo about passing us any relevant information," Tseng said. "He owes us one--"

"More than one," Braden commented sourly, then coughed. "Sorry, sir."

Tseng nodded, dismissing the apology. "Braden is correct. It means, however, we are to keep away from his operations unless we are specifically required to be there. Clear?"

Reno knew what "specifically required" meant. The President's proclivities hadn't changed since Reno had joined Shin-Ra. He nodded.

The Chief seemed satisfied. "So, Reno, Dallas, Rude, you will be responsible for inducting the rookies," he said. "Think you can handle it?"

"Yes, sir," they each replied.

"Good then. You all know what's required. I will expect you to design a useful series of new tests, with Braden's assistance, to really test out the new recruits. Decide how the duties will be split up and who will teach what. We can't afford to take any new Turks out into the field until we are sure they are ready. Watch for instability, particularly in the cases of Katelyn and Raith, when they start their training. I want any incidents reported to Braden immediately. Is that clear?"

"Sir," Reno said with the others, although it occurred to him to wonder... why just in the cases of Katelyn and Raith? Why not in the cases of Jask and Sherin as well?

It wasn't until he caught Dallas' glance and saw her wide-eyed expression, directed at him, that the full meaning of that thought hit him, and he found himself unable to pay attention to the rest of the meeting. Katelyn and...



"I am so pissed I want to kick his fucking head in," Dallas muttered to Reno as they walked down the hallway after the meeting, towards the Turk Lounge.

Rude had wandered off in the opposite direction, mentioning he'd be down there "later" in muttered Rudespeak.

"Sorry, what?"

"Braden," she fumed, indicating the man, who was behind them. "He knew I had an interest in tracking down Raith, and he said nothing."

"You told me you didn't tell him why we were going to Mideel."

"He presumed it had something to do with--" she stopped. "Um, 'Cissnei.' I let him believe that."

"So, as far as he was concerned you haven't had the file for months." Reno shrugged. "Possibly he thought you'd lost interest." He could've mentioned it to me, though, Reno thought. Even without knowledge of the nature of Reno's connection with Raith, Braden knew they'd worked together at Corneo's.

Then again, that was as good a reason as any not to mention it to Reno.

"Still, he could have mentioned it. That is one man who isn't getting laid for a good long while. And is it just me or is Rude acting weird?"

"Rude always acts weird. As for the other, I think that comes of the heading of 'cutting off your nose to spite your face'," Reno said mildly as they reached the lounge. Mildly. He didn't feel mild. Too many questions were running through his head. Where had Raith been? Where was he now? Why had he gone? Why hadn't he even contacted Reno? "What the fuck?" he finally said to Braden, who entered the lounge behind Dallas and Reno.

Braden pushed his glasses up his nose, pausing on his way to the bar. "You're going to need to be more specific, Reno," he said.


Braden nodded. "Yes. Sherin suggested him as a potential." He poured a drink for Dallas and handed it to her. "We'd been looking at him before, but didn't know where he was."

Sherin? The girl from Mideel? Reno frowned, confused, the mess of questions tripping his tongue. "What about the blackmail? You know, the one you accused me of?"

Braden blinked. "Is that what you're angry about, Reno? Don't worry about that. We always knew it wasn't him."

Dallas shook her head at Reno. "Stop," she mouthed.

She didn't have to tell him twice, because he was unable to say anything else. They'd known that, but suspected Reno? And what had Braden said, back then? Raith was the reason Reno was there?

The real reason, however, that Reno suddenly couldn't speak was that he'd realised that all those questions added up to Raith isn't dead.

His first reaction was that dizzy sensation you get as you're falling, the good one. The sensation of... flight. He isn't dead. Trouble was, it seemed he was trying to fly without a parachute, because that was almost immediately followed by the sickening thunk of hitting the ground. He isn't... dead. He'd gone. He'd left. He'd never contacted Reno. He'd hidden. And he'd hidden so well that neither Reno, nor Dallas, nor Shin-Ra, had been able to find him.

Reno had simply, finally said, "I love you." And Raith'd gone. It had all been a lie.

"I have to go," he said shortly. "Things to do."

He left the lounge, but not before he heard Braden ask Dallas, "What's Reno's problem?"

"Nothing," Dallas replied.

Well, Reno thought, she did promise, after all.


The next couple of days were filled with meetings, mostly to determine how the Seniors would split up the training duties. To Reno, they just passed by, because he refused to let any of "it" get to him. Every time a thought of Raith dropped into his mind, he buried it. If he started running that series of questions through his head again, he angrily converted the sensations they engendered to dust.

There were more that did occur to him, though. Did Raith know Reno was a Turk? And what did they mean, "ready"? Where the fuck was Raith now?

The only person who could really answer them was Raith himself, anyway, so dwelling on it all was a useless exercise.

It wasn't until, on the third day, when he was inspecting Sherin's hand-to-hand forms, that it even occurred to him that there was someone else who could answer some of it, if he bothered to ask. Sherin herself.

"I've heard you recommended our newest recruit," he said casually, correcting one of her arm movements as she moved into the next form. "Keep your elbow up a bit more."

She nodded and moved again.

"How well do you know him?"

Her face grew guarded. "Fairly well," she said.

"Drop the knee. Yep, that's it." He paused. "How long have you known him?"

"A while." She tried to do as he'd said, then frowned as she almost lost balance. "Damn."

"It's okay," Reno said. "Start again." He kept his voice as calm as he could, despite the fact he was seething internally. He watched her for a while longer. "That's better. Got it that time."

She smiled. Pretty girl.

"What's he like?"

"Raith?" She smiled again. "He's nice. Dangerous, but sweet. You'd like him."

You have no idea, Reno thought. He watched her for the rest of her drill wordlessly, a cold, sick sensation burrowing into his gut as he realised he wanted to tear her fucking pretty face off her head. When she was done, he couldn't leave the gym quickly enough, making for the apparent refuge of the change room. He didn't want to go up to the apartment, yet. Rude might be there. He couldn't go back to Raith's apartment, either. That was no longer home.

Although it did occur to him that he should probably go back and get all of the rest of his stuff out of there, maybe get rid of any old food in the fridge. Give Raith a clean apartment to return to, at least. It was the right thing to do.

The row of lockers had more tags, now. Veld. Tseng. Braden. Dallas. Rude. Reno. Sherin. Jask... Raith.


Not Katelyn, yet. So whenever it was happening, it was soon.

Reno leaned his head against his locker, trying to stave off a headache. It was all a little too coincidental to him that Sherin, who had recommended Raith as a recruit, was from Mideel, the very place that Don Corneo had said Raith was heading for, one of the places Raith had made a booking for.

Obviously, he'd been in Mideel all along. Reno and Dallas had just missed something, somewhere.

A very small voice inside shouted at him that it wasn't right, that he had made a mistake, that he should let Raith explain, at least.

He took a deep breath. It was an easy voice to listen to. He wanted there to be a simple explanation that didn’t involve Raith having dumped Reno on his arse.

Reno hated how he felt. He'd never been the jealous type.

He dressed back in his uniform and made his way over to Raith's apartment.

As far as Reno could tell, no one had been there since he had a few days earlier. He had a good look around. The place wasn't a mess, exactly, but it had that "hasn't been lived in for a bit" feel about it. After a moment's consideration, he flipped open his phone and called a cleaning and laundry service, then while he waited for them to turn up, he stripped the sheets and piled most of Raith's clothes together, along with the towels he'd left in the bathroom. No. The towels went in the garbage chute. He'd get some more.

The laundry service took the clothes and linens and the cleaning service sent over three people, who got busy after Reno had given them instructions.

Wasn't going to be cheap, but it saved him scrubbing the shower, anyway. He watched for a moment as one of the cleaners emptied out the fridge and out-of-date foodstuffs from the cupboard, including a particularly nice, probably very stale, bag of coffee.

How likely was it that Raith would come back here? Reno couldn't know. And even if he did, it was likely he'd eat at the caf or his Shin-Ra HQ apartment. Still... Raith'd liked his private time, so he'd probably try to get out of there...

"Whoa, whoa, there," Reno said to one of the cleaners as he was about to dump a pile of Shooter magazines down the chute. "What are you doing? No, those stay."

"They're old issue, sir."

"I'm aware. Just the kitchen cupboards. Leave the rest alone. Sorry, I should have been clearer."

The cleaner nodded and returned back to the bedroom.

It took Reno about a half hour to gather up what was left of his things. He'd pretty much gotten most of it during the year. He supposed he should bring back the items of Raith's he'd borrowed, too; the blue shirt, chocobo pjs; but he wanted to keep them. He sighed. That was stupid. He'd bring them back later.

He had a couple of hours before the cleaners would be finished and the laundry back, so he dumped all of his things at the door, then headed down to the store for those towels, pantry items and some freezables. And coffee. The good stuff.

He was on his wayback to the apartment when Rude called. "Where are you?"

"Getting some stuff done. Why?"

"New guy starts today. Braden wants us to meet with all the rookies together."

Reno swallowed. So. "How is Sherin taking doing the repeat?"

"She'll live." Rude's voice was dry, even for him.

"I'll be there in an hour. That enough?"


By the time he'd put the groceries away, paid everyone, dropped his own stuff back to Shin-Ra HQ and changed into his gym gear, he was running a good ten minutes late, so he slipped in behind the rookies surrepticiously. But then, Rude and Dallas weren't there, either, he noted.

Braden was droning on about something, although Reno wasn't paying attention to him. He was too busy studying the figure in front of him. Raith. Weight shifted sideways, arms crossed against his chest, from the angle of his head, probably not actually looking at Braden at all.

He would have known Raith anywhere, even from behind. Of course, Reno had expected him to be there. What he hadn't expected was his own reaction to the reality. Was it possible for a man's heart to beat itself right out of his chest? Probably not, but in that moment, Reno wasn't sure. He wanted out of that room. Maybe he could just back away and no one would notice he was there...

It wasn't to be, though. "Nice of you to join us, Reno," Braden interrupted himself dryly just as Reno started to move.


"Sure thing, sir," Reno said absently, momentarily forgetting that he wasn't supposed to be calling Braden that any more. Jask and Sherin barely reacted, turning their attention back to Braden's lecture, but Raith twisted on his heel, his arms dropping to his sides as their eyes locked, just for a moment. One of those moments that felt like forever. For that split second; those violet eyes on him, a smile playing on Raith's mouth; all of Reno's doubts dropped away, and he knew. It didn't matter. None of it. Whatever had happened, it could be fixed. There was an explanation. The corner of his mouth turned up, returning Raith's smile.

"Reno, come up here," Braden said.

Reno could feel Raith's eyes on him as he wandered over to Braden, just as Tseng, Dallas and Rude crossed the gym from the other side, joining them. He tried not to look at Raith again, though. With all of the same feelings he'd ever had... it was too distracting.

Distracting was one word for it. He was wearing tracksuit pants. He needed to keep his mind on the job. He could talk to Raith later.

Tseng spoke. "Reno, and Rude, here, will be taking care of most of your training from here on in, with assistance from Braden and Dallas, and occasionally myself. There will be another of your number arrive in early new year, and I expect you to treat her as one of you." He paused, Tseng-like. "Any questions should be directed to Reno and Rude. They've both been with Shin-Ra long enough to be able to provide you with any information you need." He clapped a hand on Reno's shoulder. "This one has come a long way in a year. If he can do it, so can you."

"Thanks, Boss," Reno said dryly, with a grin, his eyes on the floor.

"Okay," Dallas said. "We're going to have one of us work with each of you on some hand-to-hand while Braden and Tseng keep an eye on how you go. Sherin, you're probably ready to take on Rude." She glanced at Reno, then over at Raith, then back at Reno.

Don't, Reno thought.

"Jask, you can try to knock Reno down. I'll give you a hundred gil if you manage to, by the way," she said with a cheeky grin. "Watch him, he's fast."

"I know," Jask said, not sourly. Exactly.

"And I'll see what Raith can do," Dallas said.

"She is also fast," Braden said.

For the next half hour or so, Reno was too busy with Jask to even look at Raith, which was probably just as well, because the anticipation would've driven him mad otherwise.

The rookies were sent to the showers first while Dallas, Reno and Rude discussed them with Tseng and Braden.

"Sherin," Rude said, "has improved. Think the extra month will do her good, though."

"Reno?" Tseng said.

"All in all, Jask's not too bad. Too rash, thinks he's better than he is. Give him five minutes with Rude next time, disabuse him." He shrugged.

Braden turned to Dallas.

"Raith is very good. Almost as good as Boy Wonder over there." She nodded at Reno. "Almost identical in style, the main reason I could anticipate him, even taking into account that Reno has some of Rude's. Fact is, so does Raith."

"Makes sense," Reno said. "We were at the same school, then worked together for years after Rude taught me to fight. Some was bound to rub off. Some of my style is probably his, truth be known."

"Predator," Rude said cryptically.

Reno didn't bother trying to work out what that meant.

"How's his temper?" Braden said.

Reno frowned. There was that instability worry again.

"Seemed fine," Dallas said. "Although he was a bit distracted." She avoided looking at Reno, then, but a smile played on her lips.

Tseng and Braden exchanged glances, then Tseng nodded. "Fine, then. Go shower."

The rookies had left by then, of course, but Reno imagined that Raith would be waiting outside the gym for him.

He was half right. Raith, in uniform, but missing his tie, was leaning against the wall, talking to Sherin in low tones. They seemed very intensely wrapped up in what they were saying, standing very close to each other. Then she reached up and brushed his face in a wholly intimate gesture, tangled her fingers into his hair, lifted her chin, and kissed him. Deeply.

And he kissed her back.

Reno's throat closed, and the desire to hit something returned. Full force. More so when she broke the kiss and he watched Raith watch her walk away, his face enigmatic, but serene.

Maybe that heart of his could break through his ribs, Reno figured. It felt like it was. Hurt enough that it could've been.

So, he really had been dumped. Nice of Raith to let him know. He started to turn on his heel to go the other way, but at that moment, Rude came out of the gym and walked into him. Reno would've fallen over if Rude hadn't grabbed both of his shoulders to prevent it. "Sorry Reno," he said.

Reno nodded, very aware of the feel of Rude's hands. It was the first time Rude had deliberately touched him outside of the sparring ring since they'd parted at that café all those years ago. It was... unsettling.

A line creased Rude's forehead above his shades between the eyes, and he bent slightly so he could catch Reno's eye. "You okay?"

"I'm fine." Now would you let go of me?

"Look angry."

"Not a lot of sleep," Reno said.

Rude nodded and finally let go of Reno's shoulders. "See you at home, then," he said, heading in the direction Reno was going to walk.

So, of course, Reno decided to go the other way... to find that Raith was still there, leaning against the wall, arms crossed, his face and eyes blank, but his mouth was curled into a sardonic smile.

Shit. Just shoot me, now. Reno really wasn't up to this. So, put on "Turk," drawing on that persona in a singularly unsuccessful attempt to push the image of Raith and Sherin out of his mind. "Where's your tie?" he said, pointedly nodding at Raith's collar.

"Probably the same place as yours," Raith said lazily.

"Yeah, well, I outrank you."

Raith raised an eyebrow. "You don't fool me. I know what you were. Wasn't that long ago I outranked you. Among other things."

"Ancient history," Reno said, trying to ignore the fact that Raith's crooked, sexy smile still had the same effect on him as it always had. It was easier than he thought. He had a stack of long-unexpressed anger to draw on, after all. "And it's 'sir'."

"Sure... sir. If you say so."

"I say so."

Raith moved away from the wall. "So, I'll see you 'round, then, Pony Boy."

Something snapped, then. Reno moved quickly, grabbing Raith's shirt collar in one hand and drawing the other man's face to his so that they were almost nose to nose. "It's 'sir', rookie," he said lazily. "And don't you ever forget it, or I swear to the Blue Hells that I'll be rearranging that pretty face of yours until it ain't so damned pretty. Got it?"

"Yes, sir," Raith said, his voice harsh. "Message received, loud and clear."

Reno let go of Raith's collar. "Good."

Raith started to head towards the elevator, then he sighed slightly, and turned. "Sir," he said, looking like the word was going to choke him.

What now? Reno raised an eyebrow.

"I'd like to speak to you when we're off duty." Raith's throat worked, but his voice was casual.

Yeah. That was the last thing Reno wanted to do, now, thanks anyway. He looked at his watch. "I don't have time for this now."

Raith nodded slowly. "Rude," he said.

"What about him?"

"Bigger in person than his picture. He's Felice's son, right?"

Reno winced. He'd momentarily forgotten he'd never told Raith about Rude before Raith had... left. How had he forgotten that? But then, Raith had "forgotten" to let Reno know for a fucking year that he was boinking Sherin, gun mistress extraordinaire, and that Reno was no longer wanted. What did it matter any more? So, he didn't answer.

"Thought so. Looks pretty good for a dead guy. Sir," he added, derisively. "Forget I said anything. I think I get it now."

Reno ran a hand through his hair, watching Raith leave, puzzled. What, does he actually think I'm gonna buy that he thinks the reason I joined the Turks was because I wanted to hook up with Rude? Fuckwit. It didn't make sense. Raith knew what he'd done.

Reno didn't particularly like doing the "pulling rank" crap either. He'd just... snapped. Raith could at least apologise for leaving Reno without a word. Guess he figured Reno wasn't worth it.

Not that Reno cared. He wouldn't. Not any more. But, shit, was nothing ever simple?


Well, no, it wasn't simple, Reno knew. And when he and Rude were called to Tseng's office the next morning, he knew it had just gotten worse.

"Need you two to go pick up Raith," he said absently, seemingly paying more attention to vidfile he was reading than what he was saying. "He's AWOL. Supposed to be at the medic; didn't turn up."

Reno sighed, annoyed. "Can't someone else do it?" he said.

He felt two pairs of eyes on him. Reno ignored Rude, but swallowed at the look on Tseng's face. "Sorry, sir," he said.

Tseng nodded and hit a button on the other screen on his desk. "Didn't go far. Try the bar down the street," he said. "Dismissed."

"What was that?" Rude said as they left the office.

"Better things to do than babysit a lame duck," Reno said.

Rude's grunt spoke volumes. He didn't understand, and he didn't agree.

Reno didn't respond.

Raith was, in fact, sitting at the bar in the establishment Tseng mentioned.

Reno met his eyes in the mirror behind the bar, and Raith swivelled in his seat. "Reno, Rude," he said.

"Hello, Raith," Reno replied, not even trying to hide how on edge he was.

Raith looked him up and down. "Nice suit you're crumpling up there, Pony Boy," he said lightly. "Where's your tie?"

He was drunk. "Don't call me that."

Raith glanced at Rude, then favoured Reno with one of his sardonic bullshit expressions before downing his drink. "What brings you both here, then," he said as he threw some gil on the bar.

"You're AWOL."

"Ah. And here I was, thinking you were missing my winsome personality." Raith's tone was no longer light.

Reno mentally cursed Tseng. "Look, you can either come and report to Tseng willingly or I'll haul your arse in. Up to you."

"What makes you think I want to do that?"

"Because you know the alternative," Rude said quietly.

Reno swallowed as Raith watched Rude for a moment, his jaw working, before turning back to Reno. "Why do I get the distinct impression I'm about to be fucked up that self-same arse, and not in a good way." He smiled lazily. "And without my permission, even. My, my, my. Haven't you changed."

For gods' sakes. Reno sighed and crossed his arms, deliberately not looking at Rude. At all. "Yeah, well, clearly, you haven't." But they were only words, for clearly, Raith had. Much of Raith's cocky arrogance was gone--no, still there, but to Reno, much more of an act than it used to be. Instead, there was a tightness around his eyes Reno'd never seen on him before, a sardony to his tone that he'd never heard before. It was an act with an edge to it. Raith was miserably unhappy. For a single, split moment, Reno forgot Raith's betrayal, and he felt sorry for his former lover. Be fucked if he was going to show it, though. "You could be dead, instead," he said bluntly.

"Whatever. Just trading one mobster for another," Raith said, meeting his eyes.

Reno grunted and shut down any sympathy he was feeling. Couldn't afford it. He didn't have time for this shit. "I'd rather not keep Tseng waiting. Unless you have better things to do?"

"Fuck off."

Reno opened his mouth to stop telling Raith to be a moron, but Rude spoke before he had the opportunity. "You know better, Raith. Come on. Time to go."

Raith was quiet for a long time. Then his eyes hooded and he nodded slowly. "Lead the way, then," he said.

Reno turned and looked at Rude, whose face was expressionless. And, as Raith'd just said in another context, not in a good way.

Nope. My life isn't becoming more difficult by the moment. Not at all, Reno thought.

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