Chapter Twenty-Two

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. Nevertheless, all dialogue written in this colour is quoted directly from Before Crisis and should not be interpreted as my own work.

Some of the Shin-Ra mission storyline has come from Before Crisis. However, this is an adaptation, and not all of the Shin-Ra political storyline in this story has come from the game, but is my original content, so you won't have seen it if you've played the game.

However, be aware there are major, major spoilers of the Before Crisis endgame storyline in this chapter.


Turks were warned, from the beginning of their training, that inter-office relationships were not a good idea. "Emotional entanglements dull job effectiveness and/or create unnecessary complication." It wasn't a rule, and wasn't policy, but it could be "detrimental".

Funny thing was, they all bought that load of crap.

Even funnier thing was, it didn't really stop them, because most of them had been involved with someone at work, somewhere, sometime. Katelyn and Tseng. Dallas and Braden. Dallas and Zack. Dallas and Braden, again. Rude and Kytt. Reno and Raith. Tseng and Elena. Sherin and the Cute Guy From the Sixth Floor Records Room. Jask and Half The Secretarial Staff. Tseng and Rufus. Rufus and Whoever-He-Damn-Well-Felt-Like.

Reno and Rude.

Then again, it wasn't like they could look for anyone outside Shin-Ra. Who'd understand?

Veld may've been able to be alone, but the rest of them weren't him.

They all tried. They mostly failed, cos the job could kill more than just your body.

Reno stirred, his mind groggy. Rude wasn't here. He couldn't open his eyes, but he could still tell. He could feel it.

was Rude? Why wasn't he back?


Reno's phone was ringing. He opened one eye, too far asleep, still, to take the trouble to reach across Rude to get the damned thing. Rude'd pick it up.

It kept ringing.

"Rude," he mumbled, "can you pass the phone over?"

It kept ringing.


Reno rolled over, reaching over... no-one. He sat up, blinking the sleep from his eyes, and picked up the phone, peering through the dark at the other bed as he opened it. Empty. No light under the bathroom door, no movement at all.

Reno's stomach sank.

"Reno. Reno? Hello?"

He put the phone to his ear. "Sorry, Dallas." Rude's glasses and hotel keycard were gone too. What? It was nowhere near time to go on duty. Still fucking dark out.

"He's done it again."

Reno blinked, confused, until his still partially-asleep brain realised Dallas wasn't referring to Rude because she couldn't possibly have known of the events of the night before. "You're going to have to define that 'he' for me, Squirt," he said, yawning.

"Seriously. Are all men this emotionally retarded? I know he still wants me. Why can't he just tell me what's going on, y'know, like talk to me rather than just doing this whole 'I'm sorry I have to go, but it's all for you' bullshit routine?"

Again, Reno had to remind himself that she was probably talking about Braden, not Rude. "You're bein' a bit gender-specific there. Have you asked him about it?"

She made an impatient noise. "Of course I have. Braden bails on me and tries to give a nothing response, I'm sure gonna try to find out why."

Oh. Right then. Reno rubbed an eye with the heel of his hand, trying to wake up properly. "What'd he say?"

"I just told you."

"Yeah. Sorry. In my defence, I didn't get a lot of sleep last night. I drank a bit too much. Having trouble bringing brain function online."

Dallas paused. "Reno, what's wrong?"

"Felice died."

"Oh, no. And here I am going on about my crap stuff. Are you okay?"

"Not really, no."

"I'm so sorry I'm not there. I can fly out if you want."

"Don't worry about it." He paused. "It's really good just to hear your voice. I'm kinda tripping."

"You sound awful, Stretch. How's Rude?"

Reno swallowed. "I couldn't say."

"Can I talk to him?"

"He's... not here at the moment."

There was silence on the other end for a moment. "Okay, what are you hiding from me?"

"Nothing I have time to go into right now."

"Uh-uh. I rang you in plenty of time for you to make sign-in because I planned to rant for a while. Now, come on. What gives?"

"I... uh... think I made a serious error in judgement last night."

"What do you mean?"

"Rude and I kinda... um. Let's just say things got complicated, in the rookie handbook sense."

"Oh, really? Wow. Well, that's understandable, given Felice and your history. And it's not like everyone except me doesn't already think you're together."

"What?" Really? Did Raith think that?

"You read each other's minds when you fight, Reno. It's spooky adorable. People jump to conclusions. I've yet to see the problem, though. I'd be happy for you, except it seems you're... not?" She paused. "How do you feel about this?"

"'Serious error of judgement' ring a bell?"

"Were you drunk?"


"Yeah, then, so not what I meant. I asked how you feel about it, not what your brain is interrupting with. So under 'serious error of judgement' we would file 'I'm kinda tripping'. See?"

"Yeah. Doesn't really matter, though, does it? He ain't here."

"But what--oh. I see. You think he's done a runner again."

Reno didn't answer.

"He wouldn't, surely. Not this time."

"And your authority is?"

"Sometimes he looks at you."

"Funny, that. Y'know, Seisin said the same thing once. Still didn't see Rude for more'n three years. Is that a girl thing?"

"Probably. We find a conclusion based on what we see without really looking, then feel the need to justify it with logic so you guys'll accept it."

"Hm. Here's some logic for you then, smartarse girlie. It was still dark, well before time to report in, by the time he was dressed and gone, and I was still asleep when he went. What does that tell you?"

"He's a moron? Probably scared of himself?"


"No, I mean it. I have no idea how anyone could resist you, Stretch."

"And yet."

"Well, how about a brand spanking new concept. Why don't you just ask him?"

"Yeah, I'll pay that one." Trouble was, Reno figured, he had tried to ask Rude, twice, why he'd been acting so weird after the last morning after and Rude'd refused to make any sense. The day Reno'd had his first bourbon. The day Rude'd said he'd be home "later, okay?" and had never fucking come home. And Reno still didn't know what his problem'd been.

She sighed. "You're still not sure which one you want, are you."

"That's not it."

"Oh, really. Tell me, did you wonder a minute ago if Raith was one of those who thought you are with Rude already?"

If he hadn't been feeling so miserable, Reno would've smiled at that. "You know me way too well, Dal. Besides, we're back to that whole not like I really have a choice, given neither actually want me anyway."

"Oh, Reno. You're breaking my heart. You know I love you, right?"

"Yeah. I love you too, sis." He paused. "Do you still want to rant a bit?"

"You don't need to hear that right now."

"Actually, it's just what I need right now. It'd take my mind off. Besides, if Braden's pulled that on you again then you're feeling bad too." He paused again. "Can I hurt him this time?"

"Don't be silly. We both know you like him too much to do that."

"Yeah, but I will anyway, if you want it."

"Nah. The only thing that's really pissing me off is that he keeps doing it by phone. Won't even face me."

Reno grimaced. "Not won't. Can't, I'd say. If he's in the same room, he wouldn't be able to do it."

"Are you defending him?"

"Um. Maybe? Just a bit?"

"I don't need him to do the whole bogus 'I'm bad for you so I'll protect you by being elsewhere' thing. It's all bullshit."

"Course it is, Dal, but he's doing this so he doesn't have to lie to your face. He's been given certain orders, he's been told not to tell you about them and I thought you would've got that already. The man thrives on honesty and honour and no matter how high falutin' we think that last one gets, he's been told to go against his own better judgement. He's been told to treat you like you're less than who you are, to ignore and downgrade all the things he loves about you, and he hates it. And himself for going along with it, probably. So, he fucks up at dealing with it."

"Oh. Yeah. I see what you're saying. Why are you so good at seeing these things when it's not you?

"Cos it's not me?"

"Is this trouble with all the love stuff hereditary?"

"No. Ma and Dad, from what I remember, were real together, when Dad was home, and Vickie left behind someone she was with for a long time. In your case, it's the damned job."

"It's stealing my heart after all, Reno. I know where my loyalty is, it's just... I can't take what they've done to Zack, y'know? And if I think about it too much--"

"Dallas, don't, c'mon." The line was not secure, and Reno did not want to be mourning his sister next.

"Ugh. I know. Look, call me when the launch is done and tell me how you're going and how everything is, okay? Or I'll worry."

"Will do."



Reno closed his phone then rolled out of bed, wincing slightly as he headed for the bathroom to shower. It'd been too long, and Rude'd been kinda--raw. Powerfully so. Understandably so, given the circumstances. And Rude didn't even know the worst of those, and Reno was never going to tell him.

Gods, Felice, he thought as he let the water run down his back. Just.... He shook his head. Even knowing, as he did, what she'd done, it would've been harder on Kyrie, who found her. Kyrie had lost a friend, her livelihood and a place to live all in one night, too. Well, he could help with the place to live if she wanted it. It wasn't like he was using the apartment anyhow.

And if Kyrie couldn't stand to live there now, then that was okay. He'd sell it and get her a smaller one. It was the least he could do. Felice never did find out that Reno'd been Corneo's, once. She wouldn't say anything to Rude.

Least she wouldn't have to worry about the roof over her head. A good reference would help her find new work. Pity he couldn't do anything about the other. For any of them.


He sighed, getting out of the shower and towelling himself dry before wandering out of the bathroom to get dressed. He had to get his mind back: there was a job to do and he needed to get with the game before he left the hotel. It was a short walk to the launch site, not a lot of time to clear his mind of... everything. And if Rude had left--


Reno started, turning. Rude was sitting on the single bed. How had he not even noticed? Too much thinking, he thought, casually buttoning his shirt. Reno wanted to be relieved. But there was something... he wasn't relieved, at all. Instead, his stomach was tying itself in knots. "Mornin', Rudolph," he said. "You were up early."

Rude nodded at the table behind Reno. "Food."

Gone a long time for just food, Reno thought, but he didn't say anything, because Rude hadn't even reacted to his full name, and now Reno knew for sure there was something wrong. "Ah. Thanks. Thought it was my turn."

Rude shrugged.

Reno pushed aside a couple of the empty mini-bar bottles he'd gone through the previous night after Rude'd taken off the first time, then pulled a large sweet pastry from the bag. He frowned. There was just the one. "You not eatin'?"

"Already ate."

"Ah." Reno realised, then, that he really wasn't hungry. Rude had distanced himself, it was clear, but it was equally clear that he wanted to say something that he was having trouble saying. And he'd vacillate until the chocobos squawked if Reno let him. But Reno couldn't say what he wanted to say. The words just wouldn't come. Probably didn't help that he wasn't sure what he wanted to say in the first place. "Dallas phoned earlier," he said instead, forcing himself to take a bite of the pastry.

Rude looked up at Reno without really looking him in the eye, and nodded.

"She passed on her best." Passed on her best? Fuck, Reno. Get a grip. Wasn't happening. He needed to deal with this later. Time was getting on.

Rude nodded again and looked at his watch. "We should probably get a move on."

"There's some time yet."

Rude watched the pastry not being eaten for a moment, then stood and headed towards the door. "Time to go."

Reno frowned. It was almost like Rude couldn't stand to be in the same room as him. Almost. Maybe not quite. He followed quickly, locking the door, then continued past the hotel entrance to the front of the Launch Complex nearby. From there it was another long walk to the launch site bleachers, that sat a fair way away from the rocket itself. They walked in silence, and Reno wasn't having any luck clearing his mind, or stilling the churning in his gut. He had to say something, before the reached the crowd that already milled in the bleachers ahead. Before they reached the President. Before it meant there would be a long crappy day where there would be no chance to sort out anything. Just a day where he was supposed to be making sure the President didn't come to any harm. With Rude too close, and everyone else... Raith... nearby.

Fuck, why was he thinking of Raith now?

They'd reached the bottom of the private ramp where they were supposed to meet the President, who was being escorted past that point by Tseng and Veld through a separate route. Raith and Kytt would need to be there, as well, for Rufus. This would be his last chance.

He stopped at the top of the ramp, and strangely, so did Rude, pulling off his shades. "Not the best timing, but I need to tell you something," he said, at the same time as Reno said, "Before we go any further, I need to ask you something."

For a split second, Rude met Reno's eye, then he dropped his gaze just as quickly. "You go."

"No, it's okay. You can--"

"No." Reno's voice was firm. "You say what you need to say. Mine can wait until after the launch."

Reno nodded, swallowing. "Okay. Last night--"

"Yeah. I'm sorry about that." Rude wasn't looking at him again, and his jaw was working.

Sorry, what? "No. I wasn't--" Reno shook his head and tried again. "I just want to know where it is we stand, now that--"

"Reno, look." Rude's voice was terse. "It was just comfort. That's all. No more. There's no need to read anything more into it. I won't do it again."

"You won't?" It took all of Reno's willpower not to let his confusion show on his face. He thought he managed. He thought so. "Rude--"

"We have a job to do today, and anything else will get in the way. You know that." He put his glasses on, then, and turned towards the rendezvous point, but not before Reno saw Rude's jaw clench again. "Can't do this," Rude said then, as if to himself. "Not doing this."

Doing what? Reno thought, watching Rude as he walked down the stairs towards the launch area, out of sight. He wanted to yell that after Rude. Doing what? Or how about, What the fuck? Or maybe, You won't? You won't? There were two of us there, shit-for-brains!

He didn't, though. "It was just comfort", he could understand. Wanting it to stay in that one night, sure, he could understand. No issue, there, not really. He was okay with either, even if his preference would've been something more permanent-like.


It was the cold shoulder he didn't get. The feeling he'd been... and he hated to even think this, cos he'd never felt this way, ever, with no other person he'd been with... it was the feeling he'd been used. That it hadn't been some mutually agreeable well-needed comfort, at all, but... something else.

He knew that wasn't what'd happened. He felt stupid thinking that way. But of all the people to give him that feeling... Rude?

Worse: he had the distinct feeling he'd just lost his best friend. Again. Sure, Rude's body was still here, this time, but he'd still run. Again. Without a fucking proper explanation. Again.

Even worse, Reno found himself wishing... for what, exactly? He didn't know. No, he did know; he just didn't want to admit it. How was it that he and Rude could be so easy, have so much certainty in other areas, but in this Rude just... well, he seemed like he wasn't really there. Both times, years ago as well as last night, he'd been holding back. Or something. Reno didn't know. Reno'd rolled over and Rude'd tried to leave. Rude was done, so he was out? That wasn't what Reno'd thought at the time, but now...

Fact was, Reno missed the kind of affection he'd had with Raith. Reno missed being touched, and it wasn't sex he was missing. Just touch. Falling asleep with Rude'd been better than any orgasm, had fulfilled something deep in him that had been absent since Raith'd left. Fact was, maybe Reno missed... Raith? Just as much as he'd wanted Rude? But, no, he'd fucked that up, just as he'd somehow fucked this up. And the "why" and "how" still eluded him.

Rude had one thing right, though. There was a launch to take care of, and Reno needed to focus on that, for now. The rest could wait. It would have to wait. He shoved it into some deep recess of his mind, and turned. And he wasn't alone.

Raith. "Hey, Reno," he said, his face sombre. "How're you doing?"

Oh, for fuck's sake. Not now. Reno, as a general rule, did not believe in the Five Wutai Gods, but in that moment he was convinced the fat farts were sitting on a cloud somewhere laughing at him. Had to be. Cos, holy shit on the timing. "Not now, Raith," Reno said, intending to walk past, but then something in Raith's face made him pause. "What?"

"I heard about Felice. I wanted to say..." Raith chewed his lip for a second. "It'd be kinda useless to say I'm sorry. But I am."

Reno nodded tersely. Probably better not to speak, considering.

"Can... I do anything?"

Undo the last two years? Reno wanted to say. But he didn't. Instead, he shook his head.

"Yeah. Okay." Raith paused. "I'm having trouble believing it; I can't even imagine what you're feeling. Felice was a strong woman. How does someone like her just... die?"

"She didn't just die. She killed herself," Reno blurted out, then realised what he'd said. Gods, no. If that got back to Rude... "No. Raith, you can't tell anyone that. No one."

Raith blinked. "Sure. No problem."

No. Raith was being too flippant. Reno took Raith's arm and looked him in the eye. "I mean it. Rude can't ever know. It'd destroy him."

Raith's eyes flashed, but he nodded. "I get it. He'll never hear it from me. You have my word." His mouth flickered sardonically. "If that means anythin' to you any more."

Did it? Reno couldn't see through that damned wall Raith threw up all the time. But then again, as far as Reno could tell, Raith'd never even spoken to Rude about anything to do with their previous... what'd gone before, so he supposed he could trust Raith on this, at least. Then he realised he was still holding onto Raith's arm. Kinda intrusive, that, he shouldn't've grabbed it to start with. He let go.

"What happened?" Raith said.

Reno hesitated. He didn't really understand why Raith was suddenly so chatty. Then again, it'd be nice to get it off his chest. It was kinda difficult to be the only one who knew, considering, and Raith already knew the background, so Reno wouldn't have to waste time in lengthy explanations. It just felt weird.

"C'mon. You need to tell someone or it'll eat at you."

"The operation did some damage that was worse'n we ever knew at the time, got worse as time went on," he finally said. "She was starting to lose her ability to remember things."

"That sucks."

Reno nodded slowly. "Kyrie told me that Felice just knew that she was getting past the point she would be able to remember anything, and she didn't want to go out that way. So she stuck a needleful of pure Kandy in her arm. Blew out the back of her..." Reno couldn't finish. It was too much. The knowing, the keeping it quiet, the whole damned bloody thing, that only showed Reno how much he'd failed both Felice and Rude. How badly he'd failed.

Raith's hand twitched like he wanted to touch, but instead he just looked at Reno, sympathy written all over his face, his eyes horrified. "I don't know what to say."

"I just wish--" Reno stopped.

"What?" Raith said quietly.

Reno grimaced. "That I coulda done more."

"Reno, you went above and beyond for her," Raith said, sounding annoyed again. "It was Rude who up and left and--"

Fuck, don't bring up Rude. "Don't."

"You can't be thinkin' that of you, though. You were there for her when her own son was--"

"I said, 'don't'." Reno looked out towards the rocket, mostly so he wouldn't have to look Raith in the face. Hells, he knew Reno so well--no, he'd known Reno so well--he could probably see the night before written all over Reno's face. Reno didn't want to think about that, and he wanted to talk about it even less. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Yeah, well, not like you ever explained it to me too clear."

Reno swallowed. He couldn't get into this with Raith. There was no way he'd understand.

Then again... no. Raith, of all people, would understand exactly how I feel right now. After all, hadn't Reno made Raith feel just the same way, the day Reno'd shot Seleen? Least Rude didn't pick me up and throw me on my arse like I did to Raith.

Yet for all that, Raith had still persisted, had made Reno feel worthwhile, just for a bit, and naïve as Reno may've been, he had thought he'd gone a fair way towards making up for that stuff. So, what went wrong? What had Reno done? Cos it had to've been Reno. First Rude, then Raith, now Rude, again... there was something wrong with him, and he had to know what, or else it'd just happen again.

Might happen again. Might not. Cos no matter what, he wasn't risking Rude again, no way, no how. Twice was fucking enough. Sure, there'd been eight years between lessons, but still.

Then, what goes around comes back and smacks you in the face, right? I took Raith for granted, I guess, Reno thought. We had it good and I saw that too late.

"What happened?" The question spilled out of Reno before he'd had a chance to realise it was there, let alone think of it and stuff it back where it belonged, unsaid. He looked up and met violet eyes, unprepared for the jolt they still gave him when Raith was looking at him like he was a person. "How'd I lose you?" What did I do? What the fuck is wrong with me?

Raith frowned, clearly still annoyed, and didn't answer for a while. But then he sighed and his face softened, just a little bit. "Yeah. Maybe we should talk about that, y'know, when we're done with this launch thing."

Reno noticed the lack of denial. So, it was something I did. Something I am. But Raith was right, of course, just as Rude had been. The job was the important thing. Shin-Ra first. Always Shin-Ra. Be professional. Don't show emotion. No, screw that, don't bloody have emotions. And, don't worry, even if you try, it'll get fucked up anyhow. But he just nodded. "Yeah," he said, lifting his EMR and dropping it on his shoulder. "Job to do. Can't ever be gettin' in the way of that."

Reno became very aware of Raith's eyes on him, then, those piercing... for gods' sakes, Reno thought, what's with the everyone always wantin' to look at me like they want to see my fuckin' soul then rabbiting if I'm stupid enough look back? And what's with me wishing they'd let me? "What?"

Raith's face was now, well, Raith at his most Raithish. An enigma. Unreadable. "Not what I meant," he said. "Just... not the time now, is all."

Whatever. "Really," Reno said flatly.

A small crease furrowed Raith's brow. "Yeah, really," he said. "Not a conversation easily ended in the next fifteen minutes."

He sounded sincere, but then, so had Rude the night before. "Guess not," Reno said. "But..." He tore his eyes away from Raith's. He couldn't let it go, not again. He had to know some answer, now. Had it been him? Had he somehow driven Raith away? Or had he just got sick of Reno, as Reno'd expected he would, eventually? But he couldn't find the words. What if Raith confirmed it was his fault?

"What?" Raith said quietly.

Reno sighed. This was stupid. He didn't need to be told what he already knew. "I did, didn't I," he said. "Lose you." Reno found the nerve to look up again, so he could see Raith's face when he said yep. You were just too much trouble and I didn't want you any more. "It was me."

What Reno saw surprised him. Raith had dropped the wall behind his eyes. It was just gone. And his face... it was naked. The wry anger was gone. The sardonic suspicion was gone. In their place was a deep sadness, like--Reno didn't know.

Like, he still cared, which was stupid of course, because with all the time that'd passed and the running off with Sherin and the--Reno's thought was ended, then, by Raith taking a single step in his direction and, in a fleeting moment that Reno couldn't even be sure happened, he tilted his chin up and brushed his lips across Reno's.

Then he backed away with a single glance, and continued down the ramp towards the other Turks.

Reno watched him as he went, so confused he was beyond confused, moreso when Raith turned and glanced back up, ever so briefly, when he'd reached the bottom.

His earpiece buzzed, then, and Tseng calmly asked him where he was, just as the roar of planes overhead signified the start of the pre-launch air show.

He lifted his comm, resisting the urge to rip the damned piece out of his ear and leave. He had a job to do, and he somehow had to get through it. Just... he needed a few minutes to get his head together, like, maybe somehow feel like he was actually still... here? The thought of standing in the middle of a crowd of people right now did not appeal. Not with Rude on the other side of the President and Raith behind the VP and television cameras and noise and--no. Just a moment to get his head together. Just a moment. "There in a bit, boss," he said. "I think there's a security issue and I am going to check it out first. Can you cover there?"

"Do you need support?"

"No, I can handle this one on my own. I'll buzz if anything's up. I think it's nothing, just some kids being kids, but I reckon I should look anyhow."

"Good to be thorough, Reno. Keep in touch. Out."


Good. Great. Now he needed to go and find himself a security issue so he wasn't lying to Tseng on top of everything else.

Reno made it to the alleyway behind the complex before it all really hit him. He pulled the piece from his ear, turned off his comm, and ducked behind a stack of large crates. And out of sight of Gods or man, he covered his eyes with one hand and cried until his stomach muscles hurt from it.

Cos Rude could run from him, and Raith could run from him, but one thing was sure, as sure as the Blue Hells were hot: Reno couldn't fucking run from himself.


Midgar, 4 years until Meteorfall

Reno strode into Tseng's office, unannounced. "I want out," he said.

"Of Shin-Ra?" Tseng said, a look of mild surprise on his face.

Sure. You offering? "No. Of the apartment. I'd like my own. And I'd like to be assigned a new partner."

Mild surprise turned to astonishment. "You don't want to work with Rude any more?"

"Did I stutter?"


"That's not any of your business. With respect, sir," he added.

Tseng sat back in his chair, the zhen mark stark on his forehead in the afternoon light. "While I'd normally agree that a Turk's private life is, in fact, none of my business, in this instance I must insist. If you are requesting a change of partner, then the reasons why are my business."

Reno swallowed. "I don't want to talk about it, sir, is all."

"I hope we're not talking about a lovers' tiff that will sort itself out in a few days?"

"Give me some credit, Tseng. For a start, Rude and I are not, as you so delicately put it, lovers."

"All right," Tseng said mildly. "Fill me in then."

Reno shook his head. "Look, forget I said anything. I'd like to submit my resignation instead. Effective yesterday. And if it means you'll all hunt me down and blow my head off next week, feel free."

Tseng watched him for a moment. "Your mother died recently, didn't she."

"Rude's mother, yes."

"I am aware of how well you looked after her, Reno," Tseng said sympathetically. "I used 'your' advisedly. Has this been causing some tension?"

"Not exactly."

Tseng scratched his cheek with a forefinger. "First of all, and I should have said this earlier, I am very sorry for your loss, Reno. From all reports, Felice was a remarkable woman."

Reno nodded.

"Secondly, I am not going to accept your resignation, not least because I doubt I could find a Turk willing to shoot you." He paused. "Maybe Jask, and only then in the ironic sense. I think I can work something out for you, living-wise, at least temporarily. While I would much prefer that you sort out whatever the problem is with your current partner, I can, at least, offer you a single apartment. Mine, in fact."


"It won't be available until after the end of the week. Do you think you can wait until then?"

"Sure. But... where will you be living?"

"Katelyn's offered me a berth at her place."

"Katelyn's place is a single."

"Yes it is."

Reno grinned. "You sly fox. No one had a clue."

"Maxx had a clue."

"Does Rufus know?"

Tseng blinked. "I fail to see how he figures."

"If you say so, Tseng."

"Which reminds me," Tseng said, glancing at the clock on his desk. "I have a family dinner to get to this evening and a lot of work to get through before then." He looked mildly uncomfortable. "Wouldn't do to be late."

"Ah. Meeting the folks, then? That is serious."

Tseng shrugged. "I'm petrified."

"Don't you already know her father? Actually, don't you out-rank her father?"

"I do. It is not him that I am worried about. I have to pass the mother and the, quote, 'bratty little sister'. I think I'd rather face down a rabid Kimara Beast or two."

Reno laughed. "I hear that. Well, good luck, sir."

"Come back tomorrow at 14.30 and we'll discuss the partnership issue. I'm sure you will've come up with a plausible lie by then."

Reno blinked. "Okay, sir."

"I don't mind saying that I am extremely annoyed by this, Reno, whatever your reasons may be. The failure of the launch was bad enough. I really don't want to have to deal with squabbles as well." He picked up his pen. "Well, 'what is cast, is cast'. Dismissed."

"What, you're not going to order me to get a tie? You're slipping."

Tseng's mouth twitched. "Actually, Reno, tomorrow, I want to see you in full and proper uniform, please. Including your tie. As in, get one of those ties you've been collecting and wear it properly. And tuck in your shirt, while you're at it." He went back to signing forms. "And, now, you're really dismissed."

Reno left Tseng's office with an inward groan. One of these days, he was going to learn to keep his mouth shut.

He decided going home would not be a good idea. He didn't want to see Rude. He didn't want to talk to Rude. As far as Reno was concerned, Rude was a non-entity.

Liar. It was a small voice, that one in his head, but a persistant one. Reno was, however, getting pretty bloody good at ignoring it, almost as good as he was getting at ignoring Rude's existence.

Which was, in fact, one of the major reasons he was requesting a change of partner. That sort of attitude was going to get Rude killed. It already almost had, on a routine patrol for nasties within Midgar. Reno'd been concentrating so hard on trying to feel like Rude wasn't there that he'd almost missed the Kimara Beast that tried to rip his partner's head off. If he'd been a split second later...

Reno was angry with Rude, but he didn't want the man dead, for gods' sakes.

It'd been two weeks since the failed launch. What a fucking debacle that'd been, a huge embarrassment for Shin-Ra, particularly the President. Midgar Tonight was still running segments debating the incident and arguing over whether all of the money poured into the programme had been worth the time and effort spent--and the big Nothing that it resulted in.

Rufus, however, walked around the corridors of HQ like a cat who'd eaten an entire pot of cream.

Reno really couldn't stand him. Soft, spoiled little rich kid with delusions of grandeur, looking to further fuck up a Company he'd never done a damned bit of work to build in the first place. Reno didn't like the President much, but at least the man knew what a day's work looked like. Rufus? Too overdressed, too underendowed with anything resembling an ounce of humanity, too used to getting whatever he wanted the moment he wanted it without having to do anything to earn it.

And his little obsession with a Tseng... hells. Tseng hadn't noticed, and Reno was reasonably sure that Rufus thought he was being subtle, but the kid--well, not a kid, really, at nineteen*, but his lack of maturity implied "child" to Reno--was damned obvious. Reno had noticed. As if the long rapacious glances at Tseng during the launch ceremony weren't enough of a clue, the hatred he threw Katelyn's way fairly screamed it. Katelyn had twigged, Reno was sure. Tseng? Well, he was an idiot.

Ugh. He really didn't want to be thinking about that, either. Office drama-slash-politics gave him a headache.

Thing was, in this instance, Reno almost agreed with Rufus. There had been a helluva lot of money thrown at the Space Programme, and while Reno could completely understand the need to fly higher, go further--hells, he'd been damned jealous of the pilot, Cid Highwind--he could see Rufus' point. Reno knew firsthand the conditions under the Plate. All of that money coulda gone to medical clinics, public works, policing... the sort of thing that might've kept Felice alive longer if she'd had access to it when she'd first fallen ill.

The failure hadn't been, as far as Reno could tell, Shin-Ra's fault. Cid had aborted the takeoff to save the life of a mechanic who'd been trying to fix a problem with the Shin-Ra 26. After the dust had settled, it turned out that Jask had been knocked out by what was presumed to be an Avalanche operative trying to sabotage the rocket. In light of the failure, the programme had been cancelled.

Reno felt sorry for Cid. It was a hard thing to see your dreams die through no fault of your own.

He felt sorry for the girl mechanic, too. Cid had not been amused and was not backwards in having a go at her for it.

Reno'd missed most of the kerfuffle, as he'd arrived just in time for the countdown and the aborted launch. Redheads tended to get blotchy when they broke down. He could put up with a lot of things, but advertising that sort of weakness was not one of them.

Least he'd worked that crap out of his system.

Then there was... the other. Raith and his "yeah, maybe we should talk about that." It hadn't happened yet, and Reno was no longer sure he really wanted to "talk about that." What sort of moron tried to have a conversation with someone who was just going to tell you how much of a shit you are? Not this sort of moron, Reno thought.

It wasn't Raith's fault. In the aftermath of the launch debacle, there had been some rumours of some corporate shenanigans in Wutai, some business investment partners of Shin-Ra's no longer wanting to play ball. Reno didn't know the details, but a few of the bigwigs'd been sent to sort things out, and of course, when security was required, Turks went, so Raith, Kytt, Jask, Sherin and Braden were up there as well. It'd dragged on.

Reno kept all thoughts of that kiss out of his mind. He had enough to contend with without confusing himself further by dwelling on it. Chances were, Raith was just trying to fuck with his head, anyhow.

Least Reno could talk to his sister, anyway. Not about all of it. But Dallas, at least, seemed to understand that his head was kinda messed up even if Reno couldn't exactly explain why. He figured she knew why, but apart from telling him that it was "perfectly fine" to feel for two people at once, she wasn't letting him in on it.

She would say that, of course. Funny thing was, he didn't see it as a problem, for her. He grimaced. Maybe it was, after all, a family thing, this wanting what you couldn't have. Maybe he'd just been too young to know.

He sighed and looked at his watch. He had another patrol that night, so he probably shouldn't head down to the bar, but... fuck it. Rude was easier to deal with when Reno was at least halfway to being almost drunk.


"You're early," Tseng said.

Reno didn't answer.

"And you're in full uniform, Reno. I'm impressed. Very neat." He smiled slightly. "Did you actually iron your shirt?"

"You're enjoying this way too much, Tseng."

Tseng nodded. "I believe I am enjoying this just enough, actually. Now, in the name of all that's holy, take off that stupid tie and don't even think about wearing one again. You look ridiculous."

"Fuckwit," Reno muttered.

Tseng chuckled. "That's 'fuckwit, sir' to you."

Reno pulled the noose off and undid the top button of his shirt. "Up yours, sir."

"Don't push it."

Reno avoided the obvious retort. Tseng would probably tear his ears off if Reno even mentioned his arse, even in jest.

"Right. To the subject at hand, then. Have a seat, Reno."

Reno sat, stretching his legs out and crossing them at the ankles.

"I have given this a great deal of thought. As the situation stands at the moment, I have a group of partnerships that work very well, and I am loathe to separate anyone."

"Dallas and Braden are both free."

"Braden will be on assignment undercover once he has finished with Wutai and I don't think it would be a good idea for you to work with Dallas, given the family relationship."

"So I'll solo it then. Dallas and Rude can work together."

"That is a valid option. However, you and Rude are the best team we have. This vexes me."

"Yeah, Tseng, I'm sure you're real vexed."

"It is not like you to hold grudges."

Reno's mouth twitched in amusement. "Do you know me at all? It is very much like me to hold grudges." He shrugged. "I hold 'em close, take them with me on walks, buy them coffee and take them to bed with me. Hells, I'd have sex with them if they'd let me and I could afford dinner. Grudges and me are great buddies."

"I don't see the joke in this, self-deprecation aside." Tseng exhaled impatiently. "The other thing that bothers me, Reno, is your refusal to be less than forthcoming on the reasons."

"They're my own."

"Are you trying to protect Rude in some way? Has he done something that he should not have?"

"Nothing that undermines Shin-Ra."

"Splitting up your partnership undermines Shin-Ra, Reno."

"Yeah, well, it's my issue, not Rude's. He doesn't even know I'm here."

"You haven't spoken to him about this?"

Reno shook his head.

Tseng's face expressed his annoyance. "I am not prepared to break a unit that is working perfectly well to satisfy a whim."

"You really don't know me. D'you seriously think I am making this request on a whim?"

Tseng's eyebrow twitched. "I see. What if I ordered you to get over it?"

Reno scoffed. "You and your orders. Shiva, do you really think orders solve everything?"

"Worked with Raith."

Reno resisted the urge to make a snide comment. "Yeah, cos in that case I was being unreasonable and you didn't say nothing that weren't true. Sure, you can tell me to 'get over it', and I'll obey my orders, physically, keep working with Rude like you want. Shin-Ra has already bought my person. With an order you could probably buy my soul, if you haven't already, with that whole--" Shit. Don't mention Nibelheim out loud, moron. "But you can't buy my heart. And you can't force it to do what you want just cos you said so." Hells, Reno couldn't force it to do what he wanted.

Tseng's eyes narrowed again. "This is another trust issue, isn't it."

"Pretty much."

"I am going to ask again, and I want the truth this time, no vacillation. Has Rude in any way betrayed or taken advantage of either you or the Company in any way that means disciplinary action need be taken?"

Reno looked Tseng in the eye. "No, he has not. In fact, I would hazard that Rude is more loyal to Shin-Ra than I am."

The monitor on Tseng's desk beeped. "Excuse me, Reno," he said as he pressed a button. "What?"

"Vision coming in from the new reactor site at Corel, sir," said the nameless security officer on the other end. "You'd better look at it right away."

"Right." Tseng entered a code into the console. "What..." He paled. "What is this..."

"What's wrong, Tseng?"

"Take a look." He turned the monitor so it faced Reno.

Reno leaned forward and studied the image. It was not the best, but he could still see figures within the structure... what? Avalanche operatives. And a shitload of them. "Whoa."

"Looks like it's completely occupied."

It did look like that. Reno looked up from the monitor. "I thought we destroyed their stronghold."

"In Wutai? We did. But not the leadership itself, apparently, whatever we believed to the contrary."

"Guess we're going to Corel, then."

Tseng nodded grimly. "I will need you and Rude to go down and spearhead this mission. Your team will include--" he considered-- "I will recall Kytt and Raith, and I think, also, Jask and Sherin. Braden can wrap up in Wutai. We'll keep Katelyn and Maxx here, just in case. I am also going to call Dallas in as backup. I will also be coming along."

"Sure, boss," Reno said, unable to keep the sardonic out of his tone. Him and Rude? Had Tseng listened to him at all?

Tseng gave him a sharp look. "Hopefully we can have this sorted within a few days. When we get back, I will see to your request, Reno. We have always had a policy of not forcing partners to work together if it doesn't serve Shin-Ra's interests, and you have managed to convince me that at this point in time it won't. I would rather you sorted out whatever is wrong between you and your friend, though."

"Rude ain't my friend, Tseng."

Tseng sighed, his eyes sad. "Go and see to the details, and let me know when you're ready to leave. I will let your team know what is going on. Now, go. I need to report to the Chief."

"Yes sir."

Reno strode out of Tseng's office, glad to have something useful to do, especially an all-out assault on Avalanche. Anything to take his mind off anything. Everything. Rude's dismissal of him like he was some sort of... of... peon that he could pick up and then push aside at will. The conversation with Raith that still hadn't happened. The uncomfortable realisation that Rufus Shinra had a full-on jasper for the clearly oblivious Tseng and that everything was about to get very unpleasant--more unpleasant--around the office as a result.

Even knowing there was a definite traitor in their midst didn't bother Reno as much as that. He liked Katelyn. He'd rather she lived to see the week out, and Rufus was just crappy enough to have her dropped off the nearest high building just for kicks.

Putting together the required ordinance and signing the paperwork took him a couple of hours, and then he was forced to go back to Rude's apartment. While Rude was still awake. And Reno was sober. And, chances were, Tseng had informed him of Reno's request by now.

He stopped outside the apartment, keycard in hand, and worked to still the churning in his stomach before he let himself in.

Shit. Rude was sitting on the sofa, clearly waiting for him. "I have to talk to you," he said quietly.

"I don't have time right now."

Rude stood and blocked Reno's path. "Make time. Few things you need to know."

"Oh, you just did what now?" Reno said. "Get out of my way."

Rude ran a hand over his head, exhaling, then moved. "Tseng told me you've requested a new partner," he said, his eyes troubled.

Reno nodded tersely.

"And you're moving out."

Reno nodded, again.

"Is this because of..." he trailed off.

"Because we fucked?" Reno said bluntly. "Five Gods, Rude, if you can't say it you shouldn't be doing it. And, no, it's not because of that."

"Then, why?"

"It's because of what you said the next day."

Rude was silent a moment. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have touched you. I--"

"And that there, Rudolph, is what I'm talking about, you fucking child."

Rude's face warred between puzzled and annoyed.

"You wanna know something?" Reno pointed at himself. "Adult. In full awareness of my own faculties. Able to make choices and live with them, if need be. Recognise it?"

Rude frowned. "Reno--"

"Yeah, bring out your warn-y voice and let me know you're pissed. Throw yerself a big bolshy tantrum while you're there. They're always fun."

"Hardly fair," Rude said quietly.

Reno lifted a shoulder in a shrug. "So? Life ain't fair."

"Reno, I really don't understand what you're going on about."

"Yeah. I guess you don't." Reno sighed. "Here's the thing. I understand the concept of the comfort fuck. I get casual sex. Hells, I've had more tail that you've had hot breakfasts over the years. I get the 'friends with benefits' concept. I have no issue with screwing a complete stranger just for for fun. Done it a lot. No strings, see ya later, mutual benefit. With me?"

"Not really."

"It wasn't that night. It wasn't even that you didn't want it to happen again. Shit, that is your right, as it would be mine. Not like we were picking out china patterns or nothin' that day. It was the fucking presumption."

Rude shook his head. "What presumption?"

"The one that made you say that you would never do it to me again."

Rude blinked.

"I was there. I am pretty sure we were doing it to each other and that I was enjoying every damned moment. So, you know what your attitude says to me, Rude?"

Rude shook his head.

"You see me as less than you. Not an equal. Maybe even, as your... I dunno. Your victim? I can't work with that. And I can't live with that."

"I don't think of you like that."

"Yeah. You do. And not any less by virtue of not being able to see it."

"No. I really don't. There--"

"So you say," Reno said, annoyed. "Here's the test for you then. All other things being equal, if the mood struck us both and I wanted it, d'you reckon you'd bend over that table for me?"

Rude stared at the floor, his jaw working.

Yeah. Figured. "There you go then. And y'know why? You see taking it as being less. And, you'd be wrong, by the way."

"No. When I said--I didn't mean--"

Reno looked at his watch. "I have to go get some stuff together and then we need to get in the damned 'copter. But it's done: when we get back from Corel, I won't be your partner no more, and I won't be living here. Cos if you don't see me as being as good as you, then I want nothing of it." He paused. "I should thank you, though."

"What for?"

"Finally being honest about how you see me. Hadn't seen it before and I was kicking myself around thinking it was my problem. Least now I know it's cos you're an ignorant shithead."

Rude swallowed.

"Cos you wanna know the truth?" Reno stood very close to Rude and looked him in the eye. "When it comes to sex, men, women, casual, whatever, when equals are together, it's the bottom who's always in control. It's a gift, Rudolph, not something that's taken. And it's non-returnable, so don't even try." What I'd had with Raith. He gave, I gave. And I fucked it up.

Rude held his gaze for a moment, and for a moment Reno thought that his ex-best friend was going to, y'know, agree. Or deny it again. Maybe even finally admit to Reno that he was worth more to Rude than a comfort fuck and a long kiss goodbye. But he didn't. When he finally did speak, he said, "You don't understand."

So... now I'm stupid, too? Reno nodded dismissively. "You arsehole. Screw you; I'm done with it." Maybe now he could purge Rude from his system. Maybe once he had, he could do the same thing with Raith. It'd be kinda nice to free up the space, really, so he could think of more important things.

Rude took hold of his arm, just a little too tightly for Reno's liking. "Gotta tell you--"

"Y'know? I don't gotta anything." Reno shook him off. "It'll have to wait. And fuck off. Don't 'touch me like that again'. Geddit?"

Rude opened his mouth to speak again, grimaced and crossed his arms, instead. Then he nodded.

"Good." Reno strode to his room and started throwing stuff into his kitbag.


Corel Village, 4 years until Meteorfall

Corel was a mining town nestled in between dusty mountains, and despite being well-established, was mostly a tent city, the population made up of miners and their families. This was the main reason for the new reactor. One of the community's leaders, Barret Wallace, had spent a lot of time and energy lobbying both Shin-Ra and the citizens of Corel for its construction.

It was Barret who met Reno and the other Turks when they arrived: Rude, Tseng and Reno in one 'copter from Midgar, and Raith, Kytt, Jask and Sherin in another from Wutai.

Dallas hadn't arrived yet.

Reno considered that if they'd had half a mind, they would've been more subtle with their arrival, but Tseng had over-ruled him.

"Better," Tseng said, "to make sure that Avalanche know that we will respond to communities under our protection."

"Sure," Reno said, "but maybe we can do that without the waving bells and whistles."

"The decision's been made, Reno."

"Don't tell me I'm in charge, then. Sir."

Reno concentrated on Barret and tried not to look at Raith, at all. Of course, he'd failed miserably already at that, because he hadn’t even noticed he'd been waiting to see Raith until he had already done so, and had needed, as a result, to spend more effort than he wanted trying to stop his blasted heart from pounding through his stupid chest. All cos the bastard caught his eye and almost smiled at him. A bit.

Of course, he couldn't look at Rude, either, cos that just made Reno angry. And Tseng was pissing him off.

Frankly, Reno was sick and tired of feeling like he had no control over his emotions any more. It was almost like he'd lost his point of stability when he'd realised that Rude had no respect for him, at all. Even Rude leaving was better than that. Stupid, he chided himself. Stand on your own self or you're a pointless waste of space, for Shin-Ra or anyone else.

Easier thunk than done. Reno wasn't even sure who his own self was.

Barret was a large man, miner, community leader, darker of skin and eye than Rude. Not the sort of guy you'd want to have to stare down in a dark alley, but congenial enough.

Within the half hour, Dallas had also arrived.

The plan was a simple one. ""We'll split up from here", Tseng said. "Let's go over the mission one more time. We're going to recapture the reactor--we'll be coming at them from all four sides. If we lose Corel, the company's livelihood will suffer. Be discreet. Be quick. And succeed at all costs."

The other Turks nodded, then, after a quick comm test, they and Barret headed down towards the reactor site.

Reno was about to follow when his phone buzzed. He grabbed it and it was flashing a pre-recorded voice message, just sent. Reno almost ignored it, but then he saw the sender readout, and frowned. Raith. Damn. He didn't need this right now. It was a recording. It could wait.

And yet, he still pressed that damned button and lifted the damned phone to his ear.

"Yeah. Reno. Sorry I haven't contacted you before now but it's been crazy up here, and I also... well, I needed some time to think." There was a pause, and Reno could hear a helicopter starting up in the background. Raith must've recorded it just before he'd left Wutai... and sent it just now? Huh. "I meant what I said, y'know. That we should try and talk. Thing is, I'm not sure what that'll solve." Another pause. "Fuck," he muttered, as if to himself. "That didn't come out right." Another pause. "Okay. Thing is, after everything... I don't know. All I know is, I have done a few things... well one thing... that I shouldn't've and you should know... maybe you won't be able to--" He sighed. "Anyway, all this for later. If you want to. How about after the Corel mission's done? Least we'll be in the same place for more than a few hours. Clear the air, at least, cos I need to know why... oh. Yeah. Later. I... well... I, okay then. Let me know. If you want to. I want you to. But, y'know, if you want to. Even"

Even if what? Reno almost closed his phone, thinking that was the end of the message, but then Raith cleared his throat and spoke again.

"I've missed you."

Reno held the phone in his hand limply, feeling kinda dazed. But... Raith'd hated him. Didn't he? Well... kiss said no. Message said what the huh? Reno considered ignoring it, letting it go, cos he really didn't need any of this right now...

Yet, he still pressed that damned reply button and lifted the damned phone to his ear.

"Hey." Raith's voice was low, gravelly.

"Even if what?"

"Even if you still hate me."

Reno blinked. "Um, never hated you. Thought you hated me."

There was a pause. "Don't, apparently."

"Why now?"

"Seemed right."

Huh. "So, yeah. Later, then."


"Yeah." Reno hesitated, then. "Raith?"


"I've missed you, too."

"So... after?"

"You bet." Reno had to work very hard to keep his voice neutral. "First thing." You can tell me how much trouble I was for you and we can go our separate ways.

"Reno, I..."


"Nothing. Later. Be careful." The call ended, then.

You too. Reno closed his own phone and continued walking towards the reactor. Not far from the north entrance to the site, Tseng, Rude and Dallas waited.

"Nice of you to join us, Reno," Tseng said dryly.

Reno ignored him and surveyed the area near the entry. "They're everywhere," he said quietly.

"And they know we're here, is my guess," Dallas said. "They're watching for us."

"Same south?"

Tseng nodded. "Dallas, you and Reno take the west entrance. Rude, you're with me."

Rude's nostrils flared slightly, but his "sure, boss," was calm enough.

"See you on the inside," Tseng said. "Luck."

Reno glanced at Dallas, raisng an eyebrow: good to go? She nodded, and quietly, carefully, they made their way towards the reactor, weapons at the ready.


Midgar, 4 years until Meteorfall

"No," Reno said. "I'm not leaving him."

Dallas frowned, her eyes sad. "I understand, Reno, I really do, but we all have to go to this debrief. It's important."

Reno watched the doctors in the ICU as they worked. One, he knew. Doctor Mir. She'd attended him when he was sick, Reno thought. "I'm not needed."

"Tseng will not be happy."

"Tseng can fuck himself. I am not leaving him."

Dallas nodded. "Right. Then I'm not leaving you."

"You go. No need for both of us to get in trouble."

Dallas gave him one of her looks. "Reno."

"Really, I'm fine. Just go."

"Better just do as he says, Dallas," Rude said from behind Reno. "Won't listen to you."

Dallas threw Rude a dirty look, Reno didn't know if it was because he'd filled Dallas in on Rude's rejection of him and she was pissed at that, or because of what Rude'd just said. It could've been either. He didn't care. Either way, they both left, and Reno was left alone, watching through the window of that damned ICU while they worked on Raith.

Gods, Reno hated hospitals. What was taking so long? How hard can this be? Slather him in max potions and fucking fix him already.

Not that they hadn't already tried some of those in the 'copter on the way back from Corel. They hadn't worked. Tseng thought it had something to do with the materia that'd been embedded in the back of Raith's hand. The potions just... didn't work. If not for Rude's field medical skills...

"Reno." Tseng's quiet voice, just behind him.

Reno didn't turn. "I'm not leaving."

"No. I expect not. But I have a change of clothes for you. Rude took the liberty... you should change, at least." He indicated the front of Reno's uniform shirt. "Go on. I'll stay until you're back. The debrief can wait. I have to speak to the doctor before I can meet with the President anyway."

Reno looked down. Yeah. Should. When Raith woke, he didn't need to see Reno covered in Raith's own blood. Well, some of it was rightfully the blood of Avalanche "security". Still. The blood on his hands; dried, cracking, flaking. That was all Raith's. He accepted the bundle Tseng handed him and ducked down the hallway until he found an empty room, locked the door and used the shower, scrubbing his hands grimly until they felt raw.

The reactor had been surrounded by Avalanche operatives, but he and Dallas had no real trouble taking them down. One thing Reno had to say about Dallas in the field, that shuriken of hers did some serious damage and she was deadly with it.

Once inside, they'd both expected more resistance, but there was... no one. Right to the core of the reactor, where he and Dallas met up with the rest. No one.

Except Rufus Shinra, who had not been at all happy that they were there. Reno'd just had enough time to realise why when Veld showed up and ordered them to arrest the Vice President as the inside spy.

It'd all gone kinda pear-shaped from there.

Reno scrubbed at his face and pulled on the clothes Tseng'd given him. Jeans, T-shirt. His boots. Clear message. Reno was off-duty until further notice. Suited Reno just fine. He wasn't going anywhere for anyone, no way, no how.

"Be careful."

Reno resisted the urge to punch out the wall a little bit. He needed to keep his head. He dropped his uniform into the bin labelled Contaminated and made his way back to the ICU, where Raith was being wheeled out. "What's going on?"

Tseng hesitated, then spoke as he led Reno to the waiting room. "They can't get that materia out of him. It’s kind of... protecting him, but in a way that means they can't even fix anything. He's not getting worse, but he can't get better either, not with potions. They have to get it out, or operate old school." He looked grim. "Doctor Mir thinks he's got mako poisoning as well. Must've happened when he fell near the core."

Reno nodded brusquely, crossing his arms and biting his thumbnail.

"I have to make my report, Reno. Will you--?"


"She needs to be at the debrief, as well."

Reno narrowed his eyes. "You're the chief, now, Tseng. Make the decision. I want. My sister. Here."

Tseng nodded slowly. "I will send her down."

Reno stood next to the window, looking out over Midgar. Dusk was falling, and the sky over the wastelands beyond was turning different shades of purple and orange. Reno couldn't help but think it was way too nice a sunset for such an ugly city. Life struggled here. The city was as dead as the wastes beyond.

As dead as Fuhito had turned out not to be, after all. That had been more of a shock than Rufus Shinra being in control of Avalanche. They'd seen him die at Wutai, after all.

Turned out Rufus was in for a bigger shock, though, when he ordered Fuhito to kill all of the Turks, and Avalanche Ravens had surrounded them all. Fuhito politely declined, and instead instructed his Ravens to kill Rufus. Veld, of course, ordered them all to keep Rufus alive, and they prepared to move out... then Shears and Elfe showed up--apparently, also not dead.

Veld had the biggest shock of the moment. Elfe, it turned out, was his daughter, Felicia. Fuhito had implanted something in her and had been using her, and ran off with her, leaving Shears behind. Veld vacillated between his loyalty to the Turks and what he needed to do for his daughter, until Reno, backed up by Rude and Tseng, told him to go after his daughter, for gods' sakes.

Reno closed his eyes as Rufus' words, said to Veld, echoed through his head. "You think you can leave the Turks alive? Impossible. Death is the only way to leave the Turks."


Then Dallas was there, her arms wrapped around his waist. "Tseng told me, before he went in to brief the President. Raith's a Turk. Strong. He'll make it. I know he will."

For the first time since they'd pulled Raith out of the rubble of the reactor, Reno allowed himself to face what he might be losing. "What if he doesn't, Dal? I can't--" He took a breath, and told her about the message, the phone call.

When he'd finished, Dallas made Reno sit on one of the lounges, sat next to him and tucked herself neatly under his arm. "See, though, now I know he's going to be okay."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because you've given him the strongest possible incentive to live," she said simply. "You." She paused. "Rude's real worried 'bout you. And Kytt'd never admit it, but she's not doin' so well either."

Reno didn't say anything.

Dallas gave a small sigh. "I'm sorry, Reno. Maybe if I'd been quicker... I swear, he was just behind me."

Reno frowned. "No. Don't do that. Not your fault. Raith's a Turk, too, took the same risks you did. You're not to blame for any of this. That'd be Rufus. Fuhito. Avalanche." And if anything happened to Raith... then they'd die. All of them, starting with Vice President Shithead. That was all.

Veld had gone after his daughter, handing his job to Tseng, permanently, this time. Raith, Kytt and Dallas covered the rear against Shears and the Ravens while Reno, Tseng, Rude, Jask and Sherin fought through the front to the exit, while trying to keep Rufus from being killed. Somehow, Raith got separated from Kytt and Dallas, and just as they'd reached the exit, Rufus had delcared they needed to hurry because Fuhito planned to blow the reactor up. He'd kill his own Ravens just to destroy Shin-Ra.

Unable to contact Raith on his comm, Dallas had run back in to find him, while the rest battled their way out. Reno reached the exit, planning to head back in, but an explosion rocked the core just as Dallas dragged an injured Shears out. Raith did not appear behind her.

Reno had to admit, Rude'd backed him up when Reno insisted they wait, and search, even when Rufus declared they were wasting their time and should leave.

He stood and started pacing. How fucking long was this going to take? "Wish they'd just tell us what is going on," he muttered.

"I'm sure you'd prefer the Doc was actually working on fixing him than out here gabbing at us," Dallas said.

"Yeah. You're right. It's just--"

"Come and sit down, Stretch. I know you need to 'do something' but there's nothing you can do right now."

He sat, and she shoved a magazine into his hand. He grimaced at it and dropped it back on the table, but sat back, slouching into the chair.

Not long after that, Rude and Kytt turned up and wordlessly sat in the sofa opposite. Reno didn't pay any attention, barely noticing when Rude motioned to Dallas and they wandered off to one side so Rude could talk to her in low tones.

The double doors opened, then, and Doctor Mir walked through them, looking haggard. She looked at Reno. "You are Raith's next of kin?"

Reno blinked. "I... uh..."

She checked her file. "You're who Raith listed as such when he joined Shin-Ra, Reno."

Dallas' eyes teared up at that.

Reno avoided his sister's gaze. "How is he?"

"Well, I'm happy to say that we were able to stabilise him, remove the materia and, as a result, fix most of the damage with potions. He is weakened, however, mostly because of the amount of time it has taken to get to him, and also due to mako poisoning. That, at present, is what most concerns me. I have no way of ascertaining how bad the poisoning is until he regains consciousness. I do expect him to recover, barring any complications due to the mako."

"How long until we know about that?" Reno said.

"It's hard to say. I have him on an enzyme that should flush the worst of it out of his system overnight. We'll know more tomorrow."

"Thankyou," Reno said.

"Can we see him?" Kytt said.

"Just a couple of you," Doctor Mir said, "and very briefly, please."

Reno followed Kytt into the room. Raith was no longer covered in blood, but he was hooked up to machines that beeped and sputtered, and an IV line. He had an oxygen mask on, and the room was dim, but Reno could see how pale he was. No bandages; they weren't needed, the potions had done their job, except for one on his hand.

Kytt bent over and said something quietly in Raith's ear. He wasn't sure he heard right, but Reno thought she said, "Don't die. Not if you want to see that perfect world. You're not alone."

Then she turned and squeezed Reno's hand. "And neither are you, sir. Call if you need me."

Reno nodded, then wordlessly pulled a chair up next to Raith's bed and sat in it, folding his arms on the edge of the bed next to Raith's shoulder. "Well," he said, "it's after. Here, like I said. Let me know when you're ready to talk."


Raith didn't regain consciousness that night, nor the next day, not even when Tseng dropped in to debrief Reno.

"By order of his father, Rufus is under lock and key, and only I have access to him," Tseng said uncomfortably. "Only the President, and we Turks, know of his indiscretion, and the President wants it to stay that way."

Reno wondered briefly if the President was aware that Rufus was likely to see an enforced incarceration with Tseng holding the key as a reward more than a punishment.

"Reno, we've also been ordered to hunt down Chief--former Chief--Veld. And when and if we find him, we are to--" he swallowed.

"Are to what?"

"We are to kill him."




Reno became aware sometime in the week following that there was always another Turk hanging around the hospital, seemingly keeping an eye on him. He didn't pay too much attention, but he ate despite not actually going to get any food and he had a clean set of clothes turn up every day or so.

Doctor Mir had Raith moved to a private room with a larger bed, out of the ICU, at the end of the week. She didn't, however, look happy.

Braden was the Turk on-call that evening. "Potions? Can't fix him?" he said when she expressed concern.

"There's no physical injury, Braden. He had the fractured skull, broken limbs... some swelling on the brain which we took care of using potions. There's nothing left to fix, not physically. I am at a loss as to what else to do for him." Doctor Mir looked genuinely sad. "I'm sorry, Reno, but if he hasn't woken up by now then chances are he won't, unless something changes drastically." She glanced at Raith and frowned. "I really hope I'm wrong. Given how healthy he seems otherwise, under the circumstances, I may very well be. We'll put him on a programme of physical therapy in any case."

Braden glanced at Reno, then back to the doc. "Drugs?"

"Nothing affecting him now, nothing that will will help," she said. "The lack of neural response is also a concern. Try talking to him more. Coma patients usually respond to that sort of stimulus." She made a note on Raith's chart, nodded, and left.

"I'm with the doc," Braden said. "Hope she's wrong."

Reno sat in the new chair and shrugged.

"Worried about you, Reno."

"I'm fine," Reno said curtly. "Worry about him."

Braden nodded slowly. "You know, it's funny to think that if it wasn't for Raith, you probably wouldn't even be a Turk." He smiled wryly. "Sometimes I wonder if I should've hit him harder in training, once or twice, or maybe a lot, but Dallas finding her brother made her very happy, and I'm all for that, so I guess I'm thankful to him, instead."

Reno looked at Braden sharply. "What are you talking about?"

"Raith was the one who tipped me off that you were being set up by Corneo. Rang us from Corneo's Mansion not long after we picked you up." He frowned. "You know that. I told you."

Reno tried to keep his face as impassive as possible, but he could feel his nostrils flaring, Rude-like. "No, can't say as you have."

"I'm sure I said something about it. If he hadn't told us that, then we couldn't've exonerated you. You'd be dead now. Or worse."

"You told me Raith was the reason I was at Shin-Ra."

"What?" Braden's face was confused. "I would not have said that, not like that. It wasn't true."

"Uh-huh," Reno said. "After you moved me. Raith was the reason I was there."

Braden's eyes narrowed for a moment. "Well, sure, then. He was the reason we moved you out of the interro unit and we were back to offering you a job instead. I didn't expand on that at all?"


"That doesn't sound like me."

"We all know how much you usually like the sound of your own voice."

"Sure. That's what it is," Braden said good-naturedly. He clapped Reno on the shoulder. "See you later buddy."

"Yeah," Reno said absently. "No, wait."

Braden stopped. "What?"

Reno turned so he could look the Gongagan in the face. "If you're still in love with my sister, Braden, fucking tell her, or I will have to beat your stupid head in with the flat of my boot. 'Kay?"

"Right." Braden pushed his glasses up his nose. "Right." He glanced at Raith, then. "Aaand, I'm back to wanting to hit him a bit."

"You'll get over it." Reno looked back at Raith and absently pushed Raith's hair out of his eyes, before facing Braden again. "So...that phone call. The one you got while I was in lock-up. Was him?"

Braden watched Reno's fingers for a moment, then he nodded, his expression suddenly sympathetic.

"So... why didn't you pick him up?"

"He was supposed to meet us, then he disappeared. We couldn't find him." His face was troubled, now.

"And then you did."

Braden nodded again. "And then we did. When we hired Sherin and she told us where he was. And you know the rest." He looked at his watch. "I really do have to go, Reno. I'm sorry." He paused and put his hand on Reno's shoulder. "Do you need anything?"

Reno shook his head, but he wasn't paying attention. He barely noticed Braden leave. It helped. Only a little, but it helped. Raith had still taken off to Mideel without him, but at least Reno knew, now, that he hadn't deliberately tried to throw any sort of suspicion on Reno before he left.

It had been Corneo who'd been accusing Reno all along. I am a moron. Still, it remained that Raith'd neglected to tell Reno he wasn't wanted any more, and he'd still stolen from him and... and, looking down at Raith's deathly pale face, Reno no longer fucking cared. Raith'd left him, but he hadn't betrayed him. Reno'd been so angry, between Sherin and that accusation. And half of it had been unnecessary. And it was the half that mattered, when you considered that as far as Reno could tell, with the exception of that one kiss, Sherin and Raith hadn't been together for the entire time they'd both been working for Shin-Ra.

Now... Reno just wanted the man to open his damned eyes, even if for nothing more than to find out why. They had a conversation to finish.

That wasn't really it, though. Reno just wanted him to open his eyes.

He removed his boots, and carefully pulled himself up on the hospital bed next to Raith, resting his cheek on the pillow so his mouth was near Raith's ear, his hand on Raith's chest.

He started talking, in low, measured tones. Not about anything solid, or deep or painful, but about all that was new. The stuff he thought about when he was flying on his own, when Reno's mind ran as free as the chopper, all that was what he told Raith, even if it didn't seem to make sense. He spoke of babies' chubby fingers and how funny they looked and the new vineyards they were planting in Corel, reclaiming disused mines.

He talked of chocobo races and soft rains on the plains of Kalm. He wondered why it was the water made the sky seem blue if it was in fact the sky that made the water seem blue... where did the blue come from? He compared apples to oranges and outlined in explicit detail why he thought Gongagan coffee was seriousy over-rated and therefore hopelessly overpriced, cos, y'know, rarity didn't make it good.

He just talked as it dropped into his head, without any real thought, as the light outside dimmed, and faded, and was replaced by shadows and lamps. But not about anything important.

When Reno ran out of words, he lay there, listening to the beeping of the machine. It was there just to keep track of Raith's vitals, and to nourish him. Raith breathed on his own. His heart was beating; Reno could feel it strongly beneath the palm of his hand. He was warm, alive, his skin still reacting to the touch of Reno's fingertips. So why wouldn't he wake up?

Reno had no more to say. Except one thing. After days of waiting, saying nothing at all, after hours of avoiding the solid, the deep and the painful, he spoke, in low, calm, controlled voice, the epitome of all of those: "Gods, Raith. Please don't leave me again."

*Yes, this is about 2-3 years older than Rufus should be, but my maths is bad and I didn't feel like editing. Also, I think SE under-aged him for what he is in FFVII. My excuse, and I'm sticking to it. ~ Beth :D

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