Chapter Twenty-Four

Please note: All dialogue written in this colour is quoted directly from Before Crisis, Crisis Core or the PAL version of Last Order and should not be interpreted as my own work. However, with apologies to any purists reading, for the Cosmo Canyon portion of this chapter, even though the dialogue is in yellow I haven't directly quoted it, but paraphrased it instead. Clearly, something was lost in translation and I couldn't help but edit, because the alternative was... um.

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 for the Before Crisis endgame storyline in this chapter, as well as (albeit already well-known) spoilers for Crisis Core, Last Order and the original FFVII game.

Note also that I've gone off-script for the "Samples" escape, but much of this is because SE has been so lax in keeping to their own storyline that I've had to adapt their numerous different time lines for this incident to suit at least one of their canon situations. I hope canon lovers will allow me some latitude in this respect. :-)


When he'd finally been able to admit it to himself, Reno found it strange, then, and just as strange, now, that the first person he'd really wanted to tell about the file Felice had left, about his parents; about what the doc had said, wasn't actually Dallas. It wasn't even Raith.

It was Rude.

Then again, maybe it wasn't so strange. Felice was Rude's mother, and, after all, Rude had been the one Reno'd counted on when it came to searching for his sisters, way back when.

Or maybe Raith was correct when he'd once declared to Reno that it was Rude who was the love of Reno's life.

Where was Rude now? He'd been here... Reno tried to talk, to ask, but he couldn't make his brain connect to his mouth. What the fuck was happening?
What is wrong with me?

And where was Raith? He hadn't been here. Not at all. Reno couldn't... remember.

All he thought was that if Rude was here, and Raith was not, maybe Raith
had been right, all along.


"I'm serious, Reno. I was going to say, maybe you need to take a minute and settle down a bit before you come down here."

"Dallas, I am already not there when I should be. Don't even start with me. I should not have left his side. I wouldn't, if you hadn't bloody insisted." Reno knew that was an unreasonable thing to say, but he didn't care. What if Raith thought Reno didn't give a shit?


Reno started to wonder, then, if she was stalling him for a reason. "What's going on? Is he okay?"


"Fucking hells, Dal, just answer the bloody question. Is he okay?"

"As far as I'm aware, yes. Braden and I have already spoken to him."

"You were there when he woke up?"

There was a moment of silence. "Yeah."

For the first time since he'd met Dallas, Reno resented his sister. "What about Rude?"

"He was in a meeting with Tseng. Well, he was watching Rufus for Tseng, really, so he had us come and sit with Raith so you could sleep, for once. They're both on their way down."

Reno didn't want to know any more detail about that. Tseng sometimes called on Rude when he felt Rufus was getting the better of him. Keeping that young man prisoner had been about as much trouble as Reno'd expected. Tseng didn't even speak to Katelyn, now, not even to pass on orders. He had Reno do that for him. "Does Raith know how long he's been down for?"

"Braden told him, yes."

Fuck. Reno'd wanted to tell him that, himself. "Well, I hope to hells he was tactful."

"Give him some credit, Reno. They are friends, and Braden's not stupid."

Reno grunted, then closed his phone, annoyed, then ran the rest of the way to the hospital unit. Tseng and Rude were already there.

Reno didn't bother to speak to them, he just started along the ward... then realised he didn't know which bed Raith was in. It was a large ward, and Reno hadn't been back since Doc Mir had moved him the day before.

"This way," Rude said quietly.

Reno walked with Rude down the long room, almost to the other end, swallowing. He was nervous? Why? It wasn't like he hadn't seen Raith almost every day for three years.

Yeah, but not while he's been able to look back. He took a deep breath and tried to calm his nerves when Rude stopped at the foot of what had to be Raith's bed. Still, Reno was unprepared for his reaction when he saw Raith, sitting up, eyes open, awake... Holy five gods, but that was like... hells.

He had dark circles under his eyes, and he was pale, but that was to be expected given he'd seen little to no sunlight except when Reno'd moved the bed near the window. Reno dragged his eyes over Raith's face, like he could somehow see if anything was wrong, like he could see if Raith was still... Raith.

"It's good to see you awake, Raith," Tseng said from behind Reno.

"We were worried," Rude said.

Reno's attention came back to what was being said, even while he still searched Raith's face. Huh. He hadn't noticed Dallas and Braden leave. Gods, he should say something. "You sure are lucky," he blurted. What the fuck? Lucky? Why did I say that? "You almost died," he added lamely.

Raith told them a couple of things that Shears had told him just before the accident, about Elfe being used as a materia storage and redesigned as a tool to destroy Planet by Fuhito, but unfortunately he had nothing to add to what the Turks had already discovered. Raith seemed disappointed by that, and was also dismayed by the standing order to apprehend and kill Veld.

It was the news of Reno's promotion that made him blink, though.

Despite the fact Reno really thought it could've waited, between them, Reno, Rude and Tseng caught Raith up on the Veld and Avalanche situation, but Reno wasn't paying attention, again. He was too busy watching Raith's eyes... those eyes that he hadn't seen for three long years... those eyes that seemed to be deliberately not looking at him. At all. Not even when Reno spoke. Reno considered that Raith may've had some trouble focussing, after so long, but, no, he seemed to be able to look everyone else in the face. It was only Reno he looked past.

It probably didn't help that Reno was aware he was nervous and was therefore saying stupid things. Crap. "Don't underestimate our intelligence network"? Smooth, Reno. Real smooth.

Raith, it appeared, didn't want Reno there. Nevertheless, Reno was itching to see Raith alone, even if it was only for a moment. Just one perfect, private... moment... the one he always thought would have happened when Raith finally woke up and Reno was there, and Raith looked up at him and... he clenched his jaw. That would never happen, now, and Reno didn't know how to backpedal. He didn't know how to unrehearse all those things he wanted to say when Raith saw him sitting there, waiting, because he hadn't been there.

Instead, he just dribbled inane stupidity and tried to pretend he was not freaking out so badly he wanted to run, even while he wanted to stay, even while he wanted to stand on top of Shin-Ra HQ and yell at the sky because Raith, awake, and whole, was so fucking amazing.

"Reno," Tseng said. "Did you hear me?"

"Uh, no, sorry. What?"

"I said, 'I think it would be a good idea if you partner Raith through his rehab'."

Reno couldn't answer for a moment, because, somewhere deep down, the whole concept scared the shit out of him. But, no, that was stupid. "Okay, boss."

Tseng nodded. "I trust you'll make sure he's actually fit before we send him out a new mission."

"Will do," Reno managed to say.

"What, no sick leave?" Raith said. His throat sounded sore.

Reno looked back at Raith, alarmed. Did he still feel that bad? Well, Reno supposed so, given the circumstances... gods, what is wrong with me?

"You've used up your allotment, I believe," Tseng said. "Let's try to not make it necessary for you to need more, shall we?"

"Sir," Raith said.

"It really is good to see you awake," Tseng said, before he and Rude left.

Reno moved closer to Raith's bed, almost taking a seat in the chair by the bed, before deciding against the idea. Instead, he stood at arm's distance, resisting the strong urge to take Raith's hand. It wouldn't do, that, touching without asking first, no matter how much Reno wanted to. "So," he finally said.

"So," Raith said, but he didn't look at Reno. Instead, he was focussing on his own hands.

"How, um, are you feeling?"

"I'll keep." Raith's voice was short.

Reno swallowed, again. So much he wanted to say, but then, Raith'd only just woken up. "I guess you're tired."

"Yeah." Raith grimaced, then. "I mean, yes, sir."

Oh gods. Reno had forgotten about that. He cleared his throat. "You don't have to call me that, you know. Not when there's no one else around. In fact, please don't." Reno gazed at Raith's face, unsure of what to say next. Did Raith remember that they were going to talk? Or had too much time passed? Had that time passed for him? Or did he feel like he'd gone to sleep one day and woken up the next?

But how could Reno ask any of that? But, gods, he just wanted to... he didn't know what. Now wasn't really the time to be asking Raith a bunch of questions, to be thinking only of himself, especially given that Raith wouldn't even look Reno in the eye. Yet... say something, moron! Tell him you're glad he's awake, or something. Tell him you realised what he meant to you only when you thought it was too late, that all the other shit doesn't matter, and that you never want to make that mistake again. Tell him that you still... care.

He tried. He did. But then, Raith did meet his eyes, and whatever it was Reno was going to say dropped out of his head, because all he could think of was how damned fucking good it was to see Raith sitting up. To see the light, there, in his eyes. To finally see him rather than a half-dead shell... He opened his mouth to say that, but Raith dropped his gaze to his hands, again, and the words died on Reno's lips.

Raith needed some time. They had that, now. "I'll go get the doc, then," Reno said. "If you want."

Raith nodded.

Reno didn't have to go far, because Doc Mir was a few beds down, leaning on an empty bed. "That was quick," she remarked. "Nothing to say?"

"Thought you'd want him," Reno said.

"I can wait a few minutes more."

"So can I." Reno's temper was fraying, and he knew it, so he left it at that.

She gave him a sympathetic look. "I took the liberty of gathering your items from his private room before the orderlies moved him to the ward. They're in my office."

Reno nodded. He hadn't left any sensitive material behind, he didn't think, but he appreciated the thought.

"I popped in the paperwork you loaned me, as well," she added casually. "It was very useful. Thank you."

Reno nodded, again. "How is he? I mean, really?"

"It's hard to tell without further tests but he seems to be just... fine."

"You don't sound convinced."

She frowned. "He shouldn't be 'just fine', Reno. He should be weaker. He should be more disoriented. He should be more than just a 'little' tired."

"He seems all that."

"He does. But, as if he's had a bad illness for a few weeks, not as if he's been in a coma for years. I really don't know what to think."

Neither did Reno, but not about Raith's health. He knew Raith would be fine, physically. It was... everything else... he was worried about. He sighed inwardly. He had to remember that just because he'd been waiting three years, that didn't mean that the same time had passed for Raith. He could wait. Just a bit more. Just to make sure Raith really was okay.

"Either way, Reno, you don't need to stay here."

"Fuck that."

Doc Mir raised an eyebrow.

"Sorry," Reno muttered. "I'm not really myself today."

"Completely understandable. I won't take long. Promise."

"Take whatever time you need." Reno thought he could go and, maybe, get Raith some food... no, wait. "Is he still on nil by mouth?"

"We'll see how he goes with water first, and introduce some solid stuff soon enough."

"I'm sure he's hanging out for some really good coffee."

The doc smiled. "Give it until tomorrow, at least."

"What did you do with his Shooters?"

"They're in a box in the cupboard near his bed."

Reno sat on the chair by the empty bed while he waited for Doc Mir to finish with Raith. He supposed he could've gone home, or something, but he felt at a complete loose end. He'd practically lived by Raith's bedside for so long that, even if Raith didn't want him around, Reno truly didn't know what else to do.

He gave it a half hour, then wandered back, hanging back until the Doc came out from behind the curtain. "Well?"

"His reactions are all normal. Neurological function seems fine--although there will be further tests to determine that more accurately--and he seems to be in good spirits. His memory tests fine, he knows his name, date of birth, where he works, everything but the year."

"Yeah. Guess he'll be foggy on that one for a while."

She nodded. "He'll probably want to sleep again."

"He won't lapse back--"

"Unlikely, but don't worry, I have Monik keeping an eye on his vitals half-hourly today, and I'll be here all night if need be."

"Can I--" Reno indicated the curtain.

"Of course. Don't wear him out, though."

"Wouldn't dream of it." Reno smiled, but he didn't feel it. He ducked in behind Raith's curtain, and was met by a surprised glance.

"Did you want something?"

"Just checking in on you."

Raith looked at him doubtfully. "Why."

It wasn't really a question, but Reno felt he had to answer it anyway. "Well, it's a hospital. Not a place to be sittin' on your ownsome. Besides, we're partners for now, right."

Raith nodded, his face blank. "Guess so. I was wondering what I was going to do with myself for the next week."

"Well, something you might like, then." Reno opened the cupboard at the side of the bed and, sure enough, the box of Shooters was in there. He pulled out a couple and held them up. "D'you want to start with the most recent and work back or the other way around? No, wait, I know you." Reno dug into the bottom of the box and pulled out the oldest six copies, then handed them to Raith. "Have at it." He paused. "You keepin' water down okay, then?"

Raith gave Reno a very small smile. "I've only been awake for four hours, Reno."


"So far, okay, I guess."

"I was going to sneak you in some brew, but Doc said to wait until tomorrow."

Raith chewed on a fingernail, then winced and adjusted his drip line. "Keep forgetting that's in there. Don't bend arm."

Reno half sat, then remembered that he might not be wecome. "Do you want me to leave?"

"Up to you," Raith said, flipping through the three year-old magazine. "But, thanks for this."

"No problem." Reno sat back in the chair, and watched Raith read for a moment, before he picked up another of the old mags at random and quietly pretended to read through it.


If Reno had been watching from outside himself, as someone who knew himself, he would've remarked at how weirdly, surprisingly, patient he was being, but the truth was he was seething inside.

Raith was... it was hard to find the exact thoughts to describe how he was, but the best Reno could think was not really there. He figured that was natural. He figured Raith had a lot to catch up on; a lot to deal with. He'd come good.

Reno did realise that he had to move out of the hospital that had all but been his home for so long, so he took to actually sleeping in his and Rude's apartment.

He did his paperwork there, as well, at the kitchen table, since he no longer had room at the hospital and his actual office, previously Tseng's, irritated him way too much. He'd never thought to get it refurbished and it was very "Tseng", formal and dour.

"How is he?" Rude said, putting a mug of soup in front of Reno and sitting across from him.

Reno dropped his pen on the notes in front of him. "Doc seems happy, so far."

"How long's he stuck in there for now?"

"Couple more days. He's up and around, eating properly, reciting the alphabet okay, about ready to climb the walls, that sort of thing."

Rude looked at the files in front of Reno. "Wondering why you don't just use the vid entry straight up for those instead of double-handing everything."

"I like a hard copy of some things, just in case."

"In case of what?"

Reno shrugged. "Just in case." He grinned ruefully. "I also got into the habit when I was working away from a vid screen at the hospital." He took a mouthful of the soup, one of Rude's good ones, thick with meat and vegetables, then handed Rude the file. "In this particular case, though, there will never be any vid input from me. Take a look."

Rude gave Reno a quizzical glance as he accepted the file.

"Just look at it. Front sheet in particular."

Rude did, then swallowed. "This is from Ma."

"Yeah. When she came back from wherever she'd been, a couple of weeks after you left, she confirmed a few things to me about Vickie. One, that Vickie was definitely dead, although she didn't say how. Two, that she knew where Dallas was. Thing is, she refused to tell me any more. She just told me that she'd arranged to make sure that certain information came to me after she died. That's what you're holding."

"What the hells is all of this?"

Reno explained to Rude what Doc Mir had told him, and Rude listened wordlessly, his face darkening gradually in what Reno knew, from experience, was a slow burning anger, one that would last a very, very long time.

"Your nightmares, the ones you don't remember..." Rude said when Reno'd finished.

"Probably a side effect, most of them."



Rude put the file down on the table, carefully, like he was resisting the urge to throw it across the room. "What do you want done."

"I'm sorry?"

"You, Dallas, Raith, Katelyn. You've been drugged without your knowledge or consent, and I saw what that fucking fever did to you. That needs some answering. What do you want done."

"I hadn't thought about it. I only found this out a few days ago, just before Raith woke up. This is the first time I've looked at it again. Dallas, Raith and Katelyn don't even know yet."

Rude frowned. "I'm sure Dal would like to know the names of her parents, Reno."

"Yeah. I just haven't had the time."

"You should find the time. She deserves better than that."



"Raith and Katelyn, too."

Rude nodded. "Yeah."

"Thing is, Rude, there's nothing that can be done. As far as I know, we're no longer being given any substances, at least, not since we were sick. And what, do you think, can any of us do against the likes of Hojo?"

"Tseng and Braden--"

"Probably know already. Tseng, at least. Veld, definitely."

Rude was quiet for a moment before he spoke again. "You want to keep quiet."

"I want to keep quiet, at least, for now. Until I've sorted out who knows what."


"I'll talk to her. In my own time," Reno added.

Rude paused. "Raith?"


Rude didn't look pleased. "I--"

"If you value our friendship at all, Rude, you'll let me deal with this in my own way."

"Dal is my friend, too. I don't feel comfortable keeping this from her."

"Dal didn't get sick. You might have to consider that she already knows some of it."

"I don't believe that."

Reno grimaced, looking at the mug in front of him. "No, neither do I, really. But someone around her does."

"At least tell her your parents' names."

"I intend to. I just..."

"Just what?"

Reno looked up into Rude's face. "Had to tell you, first." And if you know me at all, you'll see the significance of that.

Rude broke eye contact first. "Have you talked to Raith yet?"

"I just told you--"

"No, Reno," Rude said quietly. "Have you talked to Raith, yet."

"He's still in the hospital."

"Perfect time, then. He ain't busy."

Reno didn't bother to suppress his irritation. "I think you lost the right to comment on my personal life quite a ways back there, Rude."

Rude knocked on the files with a beefy knuckle. "Then stop bringing me into it."

Yeah. Doesn't get me at all, not any more. "You want out, you know where the door is. Not like you ain't used to using it when it suits you."

Rude stood. "There's no talking to you when you're like this."

"Like what?"

"Fucking stubborn and defensive."

He was one to talk. "I'm only defensive when there's a need."

Rude pressed his lips together, visibly schooling his face, then met Reno's eyes. "What's the need?" he said, very quietly. "You're my oldest and closest friend. You being happy means a great deal to me."

Fuck. Reno rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger, mostly to avoid looking at Rude's face. "Okay," he conceded. "I'm kinda on edge."

Rude sat again. "I get that."


Rude shrugged. "I'm used to being on the wrong side of your tongue."

"You're one to talk," Reno shot back, although more lightly, this time. "Look, thanks for your concern, I think. Thing is, I can't discuss Raith with you."


Because it's too fucking weird, is why. "Won't."

Rude sat back in his chair and was quiet for a while. "I'm aware of how you feel about him," he finally said.

"I know," Reno replied. But you don't understand how I feel--felt--about you. "What I don't get is why you feel you have any vested interest in the outcome. It's between Raith and me."

"Just told you why," Rude muttered.

"Sure. Me happy. Whatever." Even though that hasn't mattered to you before, Mister Fuck-and-run. What if I told you that you coulda made me "happy" a long time ago, huh? Sure, fine, so long as it ain't you, right? "But I'm going to tell you the same thing I'll tell Dal, later, when it comes up... and it will, I know--unless you get in with her first, that is," he added, throwing Rude an annoyed look. "Butt the hell out."

"Can't tell me you don't want this."

"What I want is a matter of conjecture, even to me, most days." Reno stood, then, and took the empty soup mug to the sink. "Besides, I learned a long time ago that what I want is secondary to what is possible, especially if it don't line up with what someone else wants. Trust me, you can want something with everything you got, but if it ain't gonna happen, then it ain't gonna happen. You, of all people, should get that, Rudolph."

Rude frowned.

Reno looked at his watch. Time to go back to the hospital. "Thanks for the soup," he said, avoiding Rude's eyes. He really didn't need to be confused, right now. "Always good."


Reno did look at Rude, then. "Look, you are right about one thing. Whatever's happened over the years, you are my best friend, and the fact we are still friends after... everything... says a lot. But I gotta say, if you want to keep it that way, you and Dal will quit with the behind-the-scenes attempts to 'do what's best for me' you both been running with this year. I am capable of working out my own crap. Even if I suck at it, it's my sucky life. Talk to me all you like, but stop the underhanded background interference bullshit. Geddit?"

"W--she just does it cos she cares, Reno."

"I know that. But sort out your own respective shit and leave mine alone. And you may as well tell her that for me since you talk to her more than you do me. I couldn't be shitted."

Rude grunted.

"I'm not kidding."

"I believe you."

"Good." Reno sorted through the files on the table. "Fuck. Where is that report on Maxx and Katey's last mission to Gongaga?"

"Haven't seen it. Can I hang on to this for a bit?" He indicated the file Reno'd given him.

"Yeah, but keep it under wraps. Hojo finds you with that, you're a dead man."

Rude nodded.

Reno found the file he was looking for. "Guess I'll work on this at the hospital."



"Last thing I'll say before I butt out."

"Can I stop you?"

Rude grunted again. "You just spent three years of your life sitting there, waiting. Least you can do is see if you wasted that time. Besides, I--" he stopped.

"You, what?"

Rude frowned and set his jaw. "Just think of yourself, for once."

Reno knew that Rude had something else to say, but that he wasn't going to be forthcoming with it, so there was no point trying to get it out of him. That would be wasted time. "Whatever," Reno said, and headed out the door. If he hadn't known better, he woulda thought that Rude was actually pushing him towards Raith.

Paranoia. Stupid.

And it hurt that Rude was doing that. Stupider. After all, wasn't that what Reno wanted, anyway?

Raith wasn't in bed when Reno arrived; he was probably either out on the garden terrace or having some tests done. He sat down with the report and read through it, making notes as he went. Good to busy his mind at times like this. Even though he knew there was nothing to worry about, and he knew he was being ridiculous, Reno was so used to Raith's presence in the room that he missed it when Raith wasn't there.

It just didn't feel right.

"Still can't get used to that," Raith said from behind him.

"What's that," Reno said without looking up, working hard not to react.

"Reno Turk, paperwork fanatic."

Reno grinned wryly. "Yeah. I'm a real fan." He closed the file. "How're you doing?"

"Better now they've let me wear actual real clothes." He paused. "Thanks for these, by the way."

Reno shrugged, not really trusting himself to speak. Raith was less pale, more back to his previous self, by the looks. And always did look really fucking good in a pair of jeans. For the first time in three years, Reno found himself wanting again. Gods, he'd almost forgotten that part of himself existed. He shifted uncomfortably, putting the file on his lap. "I hope you don't mind, but I had your other stuff washed. After so long sitting in cupboards, some of it was a bit rank."

Raith sat on the narrow cot, facing Reno, and nodded, his face an enigma Reno couldn't decipher.

Reno decided, again, that now was not the time to be bringing anything... sensitive... up. Raith still hadn't really reacclimatised, he thought. It wouldn't be fair. However... "Your other apartment," he said. "I had to make a decision what to do about it, the first year when the body corporate fees came due."

Raith grimaced. "I probably should've sold it a long time before I--well, before. It wasn't like I ever used it. I just found I couldn't." He caught Reno's eye, then, then dragged his away again, like he hadn't intended to do that. "Hopefully you had the sense to sell it?"

"Um, no. Didn't feel like I had the authority to do that." Reno didn't bother to mention that the place'd had too many memories for him to even consider it, memories he wanted to keep. "I did rent it out, though, on a year-to-year basis. I moved everything of yours that I thought you'd want into your Shin-Ra apartment. The current lease on the other one is up in about six months."

"Okay, thanks. Anything else I need to know?"

"Financially, you're doing pretty good. The rent covered the body corporate fees and suchlike for the apartment, so you're ahead there, but your full health cover lapsed last year, and despite Tseng's best efforts, Heidegger would only allow for partial, so I had to authorise some lump payments. I have all the records for you to look at when you feel like it."


"Tseng did manage to make sure you stayed on sick pay for the entire time you were down, though."

Raith raised his eyebrows. "How did he manage that?"



"Well... less said, the better, but Tseng kept throwing around that you went down while defending Shin-Ra's VP against a terrorist attack and Heifucker couldn't really say anything against it, especially given Rufus' current... um... situation."

"I see." He sat quietly for a while. "A lot has changed around here."

"Yeah. And mostly not for the better. With Veld gone, the other department heads have the President's ear and he's... I dunno... not making the brightest of decisions."

"That's new, how?"

"Well, before, he didn't have as many people actually succeeding in manipulating him. Lazard's gone, Rufus is no better a replacement anyhow--and frankly, is too busy trying to wrap Tseng around his nuts to be of any use to anyone."

"How's that going for him?"

"Tseng still has it all under control, I believe."

"Hasn't given in yet?"

"Not that I'm aware of. He's still too concerned with Veld."

Raith nodded.

"I can always tell when he's in trouble, though, because he calls Rude in to 'watch' Rufus. And that's been happening more often lately. Rude's been more Tseng's partner than mine, even before you woke up."

"Does Tseng even like Rufus?"

"I think he does. I think that's half the problem. Tseng actually feels sorry for that spoiled shit."


"Yeah. Not a picture I want in my head."

"No." Raith shifted his legs so he could hug his knees. "To be fair, though, given who his father is..."

Reno rolled his eyes. "Fuck that. I know at least one person who had a father who was much, much worse than Reginald Shinra and yet still didn't turn out to be a manipulative brat who cares for no-one but himself." He met Raith's eyes, then. "In fact, he turned out pretty well."

Raith reddened and broke eye contact, clearing his throat. "Well. Uh, thanks for keeping an eye on all that stuff for me. You didn't have to. I'm sure you had enough on your desk without all of my crap."

Reno was going to throw out something flippant, but then what Rude'd said earlier dropped into his mind. Raith may not be up to any discussions yet, but Reno didn't need to pretend he didn't care, either. Not any more. Because no matter where they stood, Raith had made it clear, before his accident, that he wanted to at least look at them, and Reno had spent a lot of time investing in that. So, why not just keep going like that was still the case? Raith'd then bring it up in his own time and at his own pace. All Reno needed to do was keep the door open. "Was no trouble," he said honestly.

"Reno, boy hero," Raith said with a wry smile. "Can't help yourself, can you."

Reno was quiet, not sure how to take that. Was Raith implying that Reno would've done it for anyone, or that he'd gone too far taking on something he had no right to be meddling in, or was he poking fun... Reno didn't know. He didn't like that he didn't know. "Hey, you're the one made me your next of kin," he said, probably too defensively.

Raith shrugged. "I didn't know anyone else when I signed up. Sorry if that was inconvenient for you."

Oh, so not where Reno wanted this conversation to go. He closed his mouth before he came out with something angry and stupid, and thought, first. "It wasn't ever an inconvenience, is what I meant."

"Oh." Raith met Reno's eyes again. "I wasn't trying to be, is what I meant," he said.

Reno's stomach did some completely cliched flip-flops then. So much time had passed, and so much had happened since Raith'd left Reno and run off... they were physically close, but all Reno could see, could feel, was distance. How the hells could he bridge that? Was it possible? Did Raith even want to?

What if he didn't want to?

Reno flipped Raith a smile. "So what did the doc have you doing today?"

"Tests." Raith grimaced. "Y'know, I really don't like brain scans."

"Don't hurt, do they?"

"No. It's--" Raith stopped briefly. "Something else. Confined space," he said, motioning around his head with his hands. "It's..."

Reno waited for Raith to explain further, but nothing, it seemed, was going to be forthcoming. "Won't be long 'til she springs you, at least."

"Guess so."

"However, today, I managed to get you a pass outta here for a bit. Feel like a light workout?"

"Will there be not-hospital food involved?"

Reno grinned. "If you like."

Raith's grin was better than sunshine. "Thank gods. If I have to eat any more oatmeal I'm going to shoot something."

Gods help me, Reno thought. Too much hope. Way too much hope. "That's a pity," he said, mock serious, "cos there's this new little oatmeal place opened up down the street. Best porridge in town."

Raith looked at Reno blankly for a moment, then frowned. Then he smiled again, although to Reno the smile was uncertain.

"Are you okay?" Reno said.

"Lot of people asking me that lately," Raith said quietly.

"Ah. And you're sick of it, right?"

"Pretty much."

Reno nodded. "Yeah. You'll have to live with that. 'Lot of people' worried about ya for a very long time. Comes with the territory."

"Wish they'd stop it," Raith said shortly.

Does that mean me, too? "C'mon. Let's go do this run-through so you can get some real food into you."

"Sounds good."


A few days later, Raith was released from the ward, and Reno had him work out at the gym on a daily basis, more gentle stuff at first but then working up to the sort of training they'd done when Raith'd first joined the Turks, although Reno tried to be a more reasonable taskmaster than he'd been back then.

He thought he'd been doing pretty well at that, until about halfway through the month, when Raith asked Reno about the incident that'd occurred during rookie training, that day he'd smacked Reno's head in at Raith's apartment.

Reno did his best to reassure Raith that it'd been Reno's fault, but he failed miserably at that, he reckoned. Raith wouldn't stop apologising. "Look, it really doesn't matter. What's past is past, y'know?"

"It fucking matters to me," Raith said.

Okay. Reno did understand why. Raith thinks he's like his father. Fuck that bullshit. Raith was better than that. He always had been. "Raith--"

"Forget it, Reno." He turned on his heel and headed for the elevator.

Reno watched Raith leave, torn between collaring him and telling him not to be so damned stupid, and giving him some space to deal with whatever the hells was going through his head. Reno had no idea which way to go, so he ended up just standing there, helplessly watching Raith's back.

Follow him, moron.

"Reno, do you have a second?"

Reno turned. "Hey, Dal." Well, that was a relief. Decision taken out of his hands. So why did he regret that?

"Oh, you're talking to me now?"

He blinked. "Was I ever not?"

"Not lately, no. And neither's Rude, by the by. What is that about?" Her voice sounded casual, but there was an edge to it that told Reno she was either hurt or annoyed. Probably both.

"Sorry, Dal, it's not actually intentional. I've been kinda busy."

"Uh-huh. How is Raith?"

"Fine," Reno said, keeping his voice neutral.

"And you didn't answer my question. You, I understand, but why is Rude avoiding me?"

Reno grunted. "And here I was thinking you were his new best friend forever."

Dallas blinked. "Whoa. That's some sarcasm, brother mine. Where'd that come from?" She narrowed her eyes. "You're kidding me."


"You're jealous?"

"Don't be stupid."

She snorted. "I am not touching that one, Stretch, mostly cos it's clear your big brain hasn't been doing your thinking for a very long while."

"That's harsh. I haven't thought about sex in a long time."

"That's not what I meant, doofus. If your little brain was doing the thinking for you, you'd be better off, too."

Reno knew he was going to regret asking this, but, "Why?"

"Because then you'd just go and boink one or the other of them--or both--and stop letting everything else get in the way."

"Yeah, cos that's worked so well thus far."

She shrugged. "We both know that whatever Rude's problem is, it's his own. I think that if you just sexed him up enough he'd get over it."

"Not really what I want, Dal."

"I know. Hence, my earlier comment."

"So, I take it you've decided you're still going to interfere in my life?"

"No. Just talking."

Reno sighed. "Look, I can't speak for anything else, but I can tell you why Rude's probably avoiding you. I asked him not to tell you something he thinks you need to know before I'd spoken to you about it. And I've been kinda... busy."

Dallas crossed her arms. "And that is?"

"Here, sit." Reno dropped onto the mat.

Dallas did, and Reno explained what had happened with the drug testing, minus the specific details regarding Raith's coma. "I haven't spoken to Katelyn or Raith about it yet, either."

Her eyes were narrowed thoughtfully. "Don't."

"Sorry? I thought you'd be all for full disclosure here."

"Normally, I would be, but at the moment all that would stand to do would be to put them in danger they don't need to be in."

"You know something about this, don't you."

"Maybe. I don't know if I do, though. I'd like to check into it further before doing anything about it." She sighed. "Fact is, I understand why you kept this quiet. What is Rude's problem?"

"There was one more thing."


"The way I found this out... can't really go into detail, but in the process I found out our parents' names."

"Oh, my gods. What are they?"

"Erin and Viktor."

She repeated them under her breath. "Erin--Reno--and Viktor--Victoria; Vickie. I wonder where my name came from?"

Reno gave her a sympathetic look. "Ma adored you, so somewhere special, I'll bet."

Dallas smiled sadly. "Which parent had the silver tongue you got?"

"Not silver enough, apparently."

She reached out and squeezed his hand, then glanced at her watch. "Shoot. I'm late for a dinner with Kytt. Tell Rude you told me, 'kay? We'll discuss this again, later."

Reno watched her go out the same door Raith had, and considered, briefly, going to see Raith, but then decided against it. If Raith was struggling with something, it was clear he didn't want Reno to be a part of it. He probably needed time to himself to sort it out. Raith needed his space. Reno could wait, just a bit longer.

He sighed. Coward.

One thing Reno did know, and that was that he was getting tired of Raith calling him "sir" in private, even though he'd been asked not to. Of course, he did consider ordering Raith to stop it, but that kinda defeated the purpose.

He just needed to keep the door open. Then it'd be fine.


Cosmo Canyon, 1 year until Meteorfall

By late October, Tseng decided, after talking to Reno and Doc Mir, that Raith was healthy enough to try a mission, out to Cosmo Canyon, to pick up an animal specimen for Hojo.

Reno was of the opinion it was too soon, but still, Raith seemed to be almost back to what he'd been before, albeit a bit more on the more easily tired side. The doc had thought it would do Raith some good to get out of Midgar, though, so he didn't have a lot of say in the matter.

Truth be known, Reno didn't really mind. He'd fly for the first time in a long time... it was the first time he'd felt like flying.

Raith didn't have much to say during the trip, he just watched the ground go by as Reno flew the chopper out of Midgar, over the water towards Gold Saucer, then further west, towards Wutai, stopping short of the west coast of the Cosmo area, above Cosmo Canyon. Reno didn't mind the quiet. Unlike many of their silences since Raith'd awoken, this one felt comfortable.

About ten minutes before their destination, Raith turned to Reno and grinned.

Reno grinned back, warmth collecting in his gut. "'Sup?" he said into the headset so he could be heard over the rotors without yelling.

"Not sure," Raith said into his. "I just feel kinda..."

"Kinda what?"


Reno surveyed the landscape ahead of the chopper, deep red burgundy dirt with ochre rock, treeless yet fertile. "Yeah. I know what you mean."

"How long to go?"

"Not long, but there'll be a bit of a walk when we've landed. We'll be hiking and sleeping on the ground for a few days. Up to it?"

"Sure. If you are."

"Oh, I see. It's like that, is it?"

Raith smiled briefly, then his smile faded. "Hells."


"I just realised I'll be thirty in a couple of months."

Reno raised an eyebrow. "Yeah. So?"

"Well, I dunno. Just kinda unexpected."

"Still catching up, hey."

"Yeah." Raith stared out the window a bit longer. "We've known each other for well over twenty years."

"Fuck. Really?"

Raith nodded.

"Wow. That's... wow." Reno had no idea why Raith was making with the small talk, but he figured, any talk was better than none, right? He concentrated on landing the chopper, then.

"If we're walking in, how are we getting the sample out?" Raith said.

"I'm supposed to send Tseng a photo through my phone to confirm we have the right sample," Reno said, "then Hojo will send in another chopper to lift it out. We're after a fairly specific target."


Reno landed the chopper and they collected their gear. "Ready?" he said.

"Yup," Raith said with another grin.

Reno grinned back at Raith, and they started walking.


Reno vaguely remembered this... this being kissed awake. Coming, bemused, out of a half dream, warm and comfortable, into a better sense of being half here, warm, comfortable and alive, two huddled under a single blanket, every sense responding before your mind has had the chance to take on board thought. Your body has decided for you... mm-hm, yes, before you have time to think, and all that is left for you to do is to simply go with it.

All Reno could think, in his half languid state, was that Raith was finally stepping through that open door. Raith's hand was on Reno's jaw, his fingers laced through Reno's hair at the base of Reno's skull; his lips teasing... nibbling... what could Reno do but respond?

So respond he did, sensation thrumming through him from his toes up, like icy fire through his veins, Raith's mouth on his. Reno rolled onto his back, drawing Raith to him and wrapping his arms around Raith's shoulders, ignoring the rough ground beneath him.

"Gods, Reno," Raith said, his thumb massaging Reno's cheek, his voice an empassioned whisper, edged with sleep.

"Mm," Reno agreed, leaning his face into Raith's hand, unable to say anything more, mostly because Raith's other hand had already made its way under Reno's T-shirt and was lazily sliding across Reno's ribs.

Reno's fingers ached to do the same. Oh, but they ached to do the same. He rolled again so they were both on their sides, using one hand to pull at Raith's shirt.

"Reno," Raith said, and voice was different, this time. Unsteady, yes. But also, unsure. "No. Wait. Reno. Stop." He captured Reno's wrist, moving backwards and away. "Stop."

Reno shuffled so he could focus on Raith's face. He was guarded, uncomfortable, but there was something else there that Reno couldn't identify. "What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry. I--I can't. I'm sorry."

Reno swallowed, not sure what to think. Raith had never said no before. Not even once. And, he'd started it. Reno didn't understand, but there was nothing else to be said. "Sure. Okay."

Raith looked at Reno, and his face was... surprised, and, more, relieved. He let go of Reno's wrist, then.

Relieved? Well, fine, then. Reno rolled onto his side, his back to Raith, mostly to hide his own face, but also to reassure Raith that he wouldn't push any further. Still... "You know where I am if you change your mind." This, said as casually as his rejected heart would allow.

Raith didn't answer, but Reno could feel the man's eyes on the back of his own neck. Or, maybe that was just his imagination. It wasn't like he was going to turn around and look.

It took some doing, but he managed to quiet his mind enough to doze off again. He wasn't able to still the raging in his blood, though, so he didn't sleep well, not until what he thought were the very early hours of the morning.


Reno was awoken--late, he gathered, by the angle of the sun on the horizon--by a gentle touch on his shoulder. He sat up, resting his elbows on his knees, and yawned.

Raith'd already packed up what little needed to be, and was resting on his haunches next to Reno, tin-mugged coffee in one hand and trail ration in the other.

Reno accepted both, then yawned again. "Why'd you let me sleep so late?"

"Clearly you needed it."

"Okay. So... why'd you really let me sleep so late?"

"Because, clearly, you needed it, sir," Raith said firmly.

Reno stuffed the trail ration into his mouth, following it with a mouthful of coffee. It went down like sand. He tossed the rest of the coffee on the ground. "Whatever," he muttered.

It didn't take long to be on their way, and they walked in silence for a full hour before Raith spoke again. "Reno."

Reno turned his head. "Mm?"

"I wanted to say sorry."

Again? "What for, this time?"

"Well, I know I kinda started things last night, and..."

Fuck, don't bring that up. "Don't worry about it."

"I wasn't trying to cocktease you or nothing."

Reno raised an eyebrow. "Didn't think you were. Seriously, don't worry about it." He swallowed, then. Now was as good a time as any, he supposed, to get out what he'd been wanting to ask for over a month. He stopped walking. "I do have a question, though."

"What?" Raith's face was guarded.

"Well, I just... I've been..." How could he put this so it didn't sound stupid? "I've kinda been waiting to have a conversation."

Raith looked at him blankly. "Yeah? What about?"

So, he didn't remember, then. "Before you--before your accident, we were going to... talk." Fuck. Why was that so hard to say?

Raith looked uncomfortable. "Oh, that."

Oh, that? "Yeah, that."

"Look, sir--"

"Raith, for fuck's sake, don't do that. Please," Reno added, softening his tone so he sounded less like he was barking an order, taking a step towards Raith. "I ain't talking as your boss here. Can you forget we're Turks for a second?"

Raith broke eye contact and took an equal step backwards. "Not that simple," he muttered.

Reno stopped moving forward. "I don't understand what you mean by that."

"I..." Raith trailed off, and didn't say anything for what felt like a long time.


"No. I'm sorry. I just think, when it all comes down to it..." Raith raised his head and met Reno's eyes. "We're not good for each other."

Not good for... Reno had to work very hard to keep the feeling that his stomach was twisting in his chest from showing on his face, but he managed, he thought. Turks were well-schooled in deception, after all. He dragged his eyes away and wandered to the edge of the canyon, and stood, his back to Raith, watching as a small isolated wind eddied across a ledge off the cliff face opposite him, kicking up red dust. A griffin was gliding across the top of the escarpment, probably looking for her lunch.

Raith thought Reno had been bad for him? That was... well, okay then. Not a great surprise, really. Reno'd been waiting to be told Raith'd been sick of him. Guess I know, now.

It fucking sucked.


"If you say so," Reno said, schooling his face again before turning around.

Raith was silent for a moment. "I think it'd probably be better if we didn't talk about us, or our past, again."

"I see. Sorry. Must've misunderstood you when you said you wanted to talk, back then, eh?"

Raith winced. "No, you didn't. But, there's been a lot of water under the bridge since, and I don't think rehashing any of it now will be of any use. Not now, if ever. I just..."

"Just, what?"

"I... can't we be, I dunno. Friends?"

Yeah, right. "We've never been friends, Raith."

The area around Raith's eyes tightened. "Guess not."

Reno chewed the inside of his lip. Just because Raith didn't want him was no reason to be a shit. It was Raith's choice. He sighed. "I didn't mean it that way. We've only been school enemies, boss and subordinate or--" He stopped. He couldn't say it, partly because he couldn't name what he and Raith had been. The only thing he could say was that, clearly, it hadn't been quite what he thought, before that day Raith left. "I don't think we've tried friends."

Raith's mouth twitched, but Reno couldn't tell if that was sardony or amusement. "You're my boss now."

"You were mine, back then."

"Yeah, I guess." Raith's throat worked as he swallowed. "So... what do you say?" His eyes met Reno's again.

No, Reno wanted to say. I don't want to be 'friends'. I have enough fucking friends. Rude is my 'friend', and that's fucked up enough. I can't do that with you, too. Frankly, if Raith didn't want him, Reno would've preferred nothing at all. Anything else was too much. He still wanted to ask why. He still wanted to ask what was so wrong with him, after all was said and done. He wanted to ask why it was Raith could've been so hot for Reno at one point and now... nothing. Or... something, but not enough. What do you mean, 'bad' for you, huh?

He didn't, though. Raith'd had Stork try and force him to stay with him, once, and that'd taken something from Raith, something that Reno was sure he'd never been able to make up for, even though he'd tried to. It wasn't in Reno to push him. Clearly, whatever the reason, Raith'd made a decision, and Reno had to respect that. Besides, "we're partners now, Raith, at least for the moment. So, sure. If that's what you really want," he added, still watching Raith's face. C'mon, Raith. I know you felt it. Tell me you were wrong. Tell me you've changed your mind.

But Raith just looked at him... then nodded. "It's better for both of us that way."

Is it? Why? Reno wondered, but he didn't give the question voice. What was the point? The "why" didn't matter, not now. All that mattered was the... what? Nope. It just didn't matter.

It wasn't like he really had a choice. He'd made it clear he was in, but Raith didn't want to be. So, Reno could play at friends. Maybe it was better than nothing.

No. "Nothing" was better. But not an option.

The mission. Concentrate on the mission. Let everything else go, at least for now. So, time to put his Turk face. "Once we climb up this, we reach our destination," he said, starting to walk again. He didn't look back to see if Raith was following. He would be.

"I can't believe that my first job since I recovered is hunting some animal. They couldn't come up with something different?"

"That's what you get for lying on your back like a lazy lump for three years. Rehab." Raith could pretend nothing had happened? Well, yeah. Then Reno could pretend that nothing had happened.

"What's Hojo going to use this animal for?"

Reno shrugged. "Who knows. It doesn't concern us. Once we accept a job, we have to succeed in it. That's the way we Turks are." He managed to keep the sarcasm out of his voice, but only just. "So, I heard it resembles a tiger and that it lives around here. But the villagers don't see it often."

"We're just going to keep watch?"

"Yeah, like Shin-Ra would give us that kind of free time. No. There's a festival that takes place here every fifty years or so. I heard our target will appear at that."

"So we target that festival?"

"Not really. Too many people, and we have to capture it without raising any commotion."

"Doesn't ask for much, does he?" Raith said.

Reno didn't answer.

It took a few more days, and a couple of "tiger-like creatures" that weren't the one Hojo was looking for, but they did finally find the correct specimen. Reno had to work pretty hard to keep his head in the game. Basically, he just looked at Raith as little as possible.

One interesting thing did come out of the mission, however. Apparently, according to one of the leaders of the village, Veld had been at Cosmo not long before. He told Reno that the materia Elfe had embedded in her was slowy killing her, and that it was used to summon a creature that would "burn out all life on this Planet." Veld was looking for a way to get the materia out of his daughter before it was either used by Fuhito or it killed her.

Worse. Avalanche was at Cosmo, and in force, and they'd all been kicked up to "Raven" status.

Fortunately, Raith really had recovered, and well.

"Bigger, stronger and more of 'em, Boss," Reno said to Tseng when he phoned. "It got a bit hairy there for a bit."

"Great," Tseng said.

"Does your boyfriend have anything to do with this?"

"That's enough, Reno."

"Yeah. Sorry. Does Rufus have anything to do with this?"

"I'd say not."

"Fuhito, then."

"Clearly." He sighed. "One moment, Reno, I have Rude on the other line." There was dead air for a moment, then Tsemg came back on the line. "We need you both back here a.s.a.p."

"Sure. What's going on?"

"Some samples have escaped from the Nibelheim facility."


Midgar, 1 year until Meteorfall

"You doing anything for your birthday, sir?" Kytt asked Rude.

The Turks--all except Dallas and Braden--were waiting in Reno's office for Tseng to arrive to brief them on their instructions. Reno didn't know about the others, but he had a nigglingly bad feeling about the whole thing. "Nibelheim samples" had a nasty ring to it.

Maybe it was just that it brought to mind a blond kid who deserved much better than he got, and Reno's inability to do a damned thing to stop what was going to happen to him.

"My birthday's ages away, Kytt," Rude said. "I haven't thought about it."

"It's a month today. And I haven't forgotten yours or Raith's either," she said to Reno.

"Is it the nineteenth already?" Reno flashed a grin. He indicated Rude and Raith. "Worry about those old men, I ain't thinking about mine yet. Let them have the cake. I have too much sugar as it is."

"Oh, I have it in hand, don't you worry," Kytt said with a grin.

"And now, I am worried," Rude said mildly.

Reno snuck a glance at Raith. He looked like he hadn't heard. It was probably just as well. Raith hated birthdays, if they were his own.

Tseng arrived then, although he didn't have a lot to say, simply that the "samples" were two men, and that they needed to be captured swiftly, without publicity, and alive.

Reno's phone buzzed as they were all about to leave the office. He glanced at the readout. Dallas.

"What's up?"

"Reno, you have to help me." To anyone else, Dallas' voice belied her words. She sounded calm. Only Reno could hear the tense around the edges.

"What's wrong?"

"The escaped samples. They're Zack and his friend."

Cloud? An image of the blond, near dead, vulnerable, being stretchered off to whatever it was that Hojo had planned for him, again flashed through Reno's mind, accompanied by a fair swag of guilt. "What's the sitch?"

"I helped them. Here, in Nibelheim. I gave Zack the keys to my bike."

Reno turned his back on the other Turks and lowered his voice, walking away. "Rude and Katelyn are about to get in a chopper, Dal. And the rest of us are being sent out after Hojo's 'samples' as well. All of us."


"All. They're being given highest priority. What can I do?"

"I need to tell Tseng who it is we're after. Who the samples are. I don't think he knows."

"Will that make a difference?"

"I think so, yes."

"So what is stopping you?"

"Cowardice. You do understand the repercussions here."

"I do." Dallas had defied a Shin-Ra order; worse, she had abetted Zack and Cloud's escape. Her life was forfeit, and it would be the Turks who would have to track her down and kill her. Well, not if he had anything to say about it. "It doesn't have to come down to that. Just call him and tell him you've seen Hojo's samples and who they are."

"It will look a bit sus when we catch up and they're on my bike."

"So? Zack overpowered you and stole it. It's mostly true. C'mon, Dal, you can think clearer'n this."

"I know. I just..."

"Saw Zack again under those circumstances and lost it. I get it."

"Not 'lost it', so much. But after Nibelheim..."

"Yeah. Where's Braden?"

"I lost him somewhere near Corel."

Reno doubted that, but decided it was better not to say anything. All he knew was that Braden was potentially her biggest danger right now. "Which way did he head?"


"Okay. We're on our way out to the chopper hangar now. Get on the phone to Tseng."

Dallas hung up, and a moment later, Tseng's phone rang.

Reno watched as Tseng's face registered surprise, then annoyance, before he schooled it, Tseng-like, again. He nodded a couple of times, then closed his phone and motioned to Reno. "Get the Turks out to the choppers, Reno," he said in a low voice when Reno was close.

Reno nodded. "Will do. What's wrong?"

"The samples are the two men taken at Nibelheim, Zack Fair and Cloud Strife. I don't like this."

"No, me neither," Reno said carefully.

"I don't like this at all," Tseng said quietly, as if to himself. He frowned thoughtfully, then sighed. "Let the others know who it is we're after, while you're at it."


The Turks were all ready to go before Tseng appeared. Reno watched him walk towards the chopper, his coat slung over his arm. He didn't look happy.

"We gotta capture the same guys we saved five years ago?" Jask said.

Reno nodded, even though "saved" was not exactly an accurate term. He wasn't in the mood to correct Jask. It didn't matter.

"That's fate for you," Katelyn said.

"You do have to feel bad for them," Raith said quietly.

Reno breathed an inward sigh of relief. If Raith felt that way, then they could work together on this. Or, at least, Raith wouldn't stand in Reno's way. There was more going on here than Tseng, or Dallas, or even Reno was fully aware of, he was sure. As far as Reno was concerned, though, his sister came first. She wanted Zack free, then Zack would stay free, no matter what the official position was.

It helped that Reno agreed with her.

"Oh, please, people. Since when are you guys so nice?" Sherin said.

Reno cleared his throat. "We get the job, we do the job. That's what we're all about."

"Let's go," Tseng said.

It was time. "We're moving out. Get your butts in gear, Turklets," he said. "They are on foot, so they can't've made it out of the Nibelheim area yet, so we should concentrate the search there. Raith, you're with me."

He watched Rude and Katelyn climb in the chopper, hoping like hells that Zack had, in fact, made it out of the Nibelheim area by now, and that he was smart enough to stay in the trees, out of sight of the Shin-Ra choppers. He couldn't tell Rude what was going on, because he had no idea if Dallas had told him about her assignment and subsequent realationship with Zack. They'd become close friends, but even so, he doubted it. She wouldn't compromise her friend's--Rude's--integrity by telling him. She hadn't even told Braden, even though Reno knew Braden was perfectly aware.

Nope. Just my head on the block as well. The difference was, he didn't mind that, at all.

He waited until everyone else had left, then turned to Raith. "C'mon," he said in a low voice. "I know where they are." He stopped for a moment. It wasn't fair to drag Raith into this without his knowledge, at least. "I'm about to mostly disobey a Shin-Ra HQ order. If you want out, now's the time to say it."

Raith looked at him seriously for a moment, then nodded. "I'm in."

"Right. Then I'm ordering you to come with me and do as I say, no questions asked."

"Order's not necessary."

"Is. Now, you fly."

Reno headed for a chopper then directed Raith to fly them down towards Cosmo, while he kept an eye on the ground.

After a couple of hours of back-and-forth, Raith spotted them, heading south... out in the open, just riding out of the heavy trees and into light old growth woods.

"What the hells is Zack thinking?" Reno said.

"Maybe he figures no-one's looking for him down here."

"Yeah, well, he's heard the chopper. He knows now. Hover, will you?"

Raith flew the chopper down so it was in front of the bike, and hovered, forcing Zack to either stop or crash into a tree. Fortunately, he stopped.

Zack looked up grimly.

Reno opened the side door of the chopper and hung out the side. He handsignalled Zack. Talk.

Zack shook his head.

"Can you get lower?" Reno said into his headset.

"I'm not as good at this as you are. Trying very hard not to hit a tree, here."

"Try." Reno signalled again. Friend.

Zack shook his head, again.

"He doesn't trust us," Raith said.

"Would you?" Reno sighed. Enemies north and east.

Zack didn't react.

"Fuck this," Reno muttered, pulling his headset off. "Get me low enough to jump down," he yelled at Raith.

"If he thinks you're a threat, he'll kill you."

"Now, Raith. Then land and wait for me."

Raith grimaced, and did so, and Reno jumped down, waiting for Raith to take the 'copter out of the way so he wouldn't have to shout.

Zack hadn't moved, until then. He'd still straddled the bike, Cloud in a lump behind him, but now he slowly got off the bike, obviously ready to pull his sword if he had to. "Have to warn you, Reno, I will kill you rather than go back." Cloud slid off the bike and fell, but Zack didn't turn. He was ready.

Reno knew that even if he had a gun with him, Zack's sword would still be faster. Besides, SOLDIER didn't go down with just a few bullets. He kept his hands away from his body. Not that he was visibly armed; he'd deliberately left his EMR in the chopper. "Not here to take you back. Yet."

Zack's eyes narrowed. "What game are you playing?"

"No game. The Turk who gave--who you stole that bike from--" he corrected meaningfully--"is my sister." Reno glanced at Cloud, then. The blond was... sick. Catatonic, at the best. Probably dying. Fuck me dead. What did Hojo do to you both? Clearly, whatever it was, Zack'd been able to withstand it. Cloud, though... that kid'd seen way too little of real life for this. "I love my sister. I won't see her harmed by you, or anyone else, if you catch my meaning."

"I have no intention of harming her. I just want... out."

"So, we see you out."

Zack nodded slowly. "And then?"

"You switch vehicles as soon as you can, and I skirt the truth for twenty-four hours. And then it's up to who's better at the game."

"I see. Have they sent SOLDIER? Or just you Turks?"

"SOLDIER no longer exists. Sephiroth was the last straw."

"Right. Then I'll win the game."

Reno glanced at Cloud again. "I hope you do," he said quietly.

Zack did pull his sword then, at the same time as Reno heard footsteps behind him. Reno didn't turn.

"I'm with him," Raith said. "Don't worry."

"Told you to stay with the chopper," Reno said.

"Got a call. Hojo's expanding the search. I told Tseng we were already heading south, so he sent everyone else west, east, north."

"Which way is Rude headed?"


Reno nodded. "North. Okay. Zack, for the love of all that's holy, don't go that way, because Rude is one of our best. Keep to trees as much as possible. The only one of us who can fly low in thick brush is me. But ya gotta know, they will never stop hunting you, not while Hojo wants you. Find a way to get deep and stay there."

Zack nodded. "Hope I never see you again, Reno."

"Likewise." Reno turned his back and motioned to Raith to do the same. "Whoops, we seem to have lost sight of you." He started walking away.

"Were'd he get the bike?" Raith asked in a low voice.

"Must've stolen it."

"Looks like Dal's."

"Did it? I didn't look."

Raith was quiet for a moment. "Why're you doing this?"

"Cloud was just a kid, and I know Tseng well enough to know that he's doing this under sufferance. He can't afford to disobey. I don't have the same restrictions. I'm just a dumbarse, remember? I 'misunderstand' stuff a lot." Reno turned, and watched as Zack piled Cloud onto the motorcycle. "Let's give 'em a chance. Zack's First Class, he'll get 'em out. And if anyone finds out, it's on my shoulders, right?"

Raith caught Reno's eye. "Can't have it both ways."


"Don't start throwing your rank at me in private, now. Anyone finds out, you didn't order me to do a thing."

Reno swallowed as his stomach churned at the eye contact. Fuck that. Get a handle on yourself. He nodded, and sat, leaning his back against a tree trunk that was the width of a bike's length. "We've been at this all week. I dunno about you, but I need a breather. I'm stuffed."

Raith looked amused. "Yeah, I feel a sudden lethargy coming on, actually. I've not been well, you know," he said, and sat down next to Reno, with less than a handspan's worth of space between them.

"What, still? I thought you were over all of that," Reno shot back, only half joking. For one, he wanted to make sure Raith was, in fact, being flippant. For a second, he was not going to be able to get his head, or body, around this "friends" thing, not if Raith being this close kept affecting him the way it was. Not now. Not ever.

Funny, how he'd been able to keep Rude at arm's length that way, but, then, he'd had years of practice, some even before he'd met up with Raith again. Maybe he'd need to apply the same principles to his dealings with Raith. Build a wall, work at it, accept things were as they were. Then, both of them wouldn't have the power to hurt him any more.

Raith made a noncomittal noise in response, and Reno closed his eyes, like he was resting. What he was really doing, though, was concentrating building on that wall. Like that was helping.

Mind you, it was easier with Rude, in many ways. Rude had been his friend first. And Rude didn't give Reno a hard-on just by being near. Raith could. There was something about him that made Reno's skin come alive; a simple smile could muddle Reno's brain and make it almost impossible to see good sense. Rude could turn Reno on, and did, but with Raith, all it took, sometimes, was a look... a smile... a thought... him sitting next to Reno with their back against a large tree, waiting for Zack to take Cloud far enough away that he and Raith would lose them if they followed...

Fuck. Yeah, not helping. All of this ruminating was having the opposite effect to what he wanted.

"Why is it so important to you that Cloud get away?" Raith said.

"We owe him. He took out Sephiroth for us and got Hojo as a reward."

"Them," Raith said firmly. "We owe them."

"Yeah, okay."

"You're specifying Cloud. Any particular reason?" Raith's voice had an edge to it that Reno recognised. He'd used it, back then, whenever Reno joked about having a threesome or bringing home a girl, especially the first time Reno'd said that, before Raith understood that Reno had been, in fact, joking.

Reno opened his eyes and looked at Raith. Like, really looked. Raith was glaring at him. Glaring? What the fuck? Was he... what? Jealous? No. That was ridiculous. Surely. But there he was, eyes glittering like he was pissed. Well, that was... frankly, really, really annoying. Just friends, remember? Your choice, remember? "Yeah, I specified Cloud. So what? Zack is old enough and ugly enough to know exactly what he was getting into when he went after Sephiroth. And he stood half a chance. Cloud went after someone who clearly outmatched him because his friend was near dead and he was the last person, he thought, who could. I happen to admire that. What's the problem?"

Raith didn't answer. Instead, he fisted the front of Reno's shirt, pulled Reno to him, and kissed him.

Reno was so surprised he forgot not to respond... but then, he'd always liked it when Raith was direct and... shit. Really not helping. At all. And... clearly, Raith'd changed his mind. Reno lifted his hand and clutched the back of Raith's neck, meeting Raith's aggression with some of his own. Oh yeah, he'd been jealous. He'd really been... ughn... jealous. Raith, I--

Raith pulled back, hard, out of Reno's grasp. "Stop it, Reno."

Huh? "Stop what, exactly?"

"I don't want this."

What? "You'd better let go of that shirt you're wrinkling up, then," Reno said, trying to mask his confusion.

Raith didn't take his hand off Reno's chest. "I don't want you to misunderstand me, here."

"What's to misunderstand? You moved on me, I responded, you backed off, and now you're, what--trying to tell me you didn't move?"

"No, I moved. It was just..." Raith pressed his lips together for a moment. "I made a mistake. I'm sorry."

Sure, you're sorry. Really. "Take your hand off me, Raith."

Raith did. "I really am sorry."

"You ever touch me again without asking first and I'll break your fucking arm. That's the last time you play with me. Geddit?"

Raith frowned. "No, I wasn't--"

"Shut the fuck up." Reno stood. "You know, Raith, I think you're well and truly done with your rehab. You did good this mission. So it's probably time you went back to work with your partner."

Raith's throat worked as he looked up at Reno. "Of course. Sir."

Fuck you. Raith wasn't supposed to be so accepting of that, dammit. And stop calling me "sir". Reno turned on his heel and strode to the chopper, taking the pilot's seat. Be Turk. Be Turk. Don't make the mistake of looking at Raith. Crap. Yeah, on second thoughts, do call me "sir". Reno needed the distancing effect that had. And don't fucking look at me like I've killed your favourite aunt, either.

Reno flew the chopper aimlessly back and forth, sending in "reports" on a regular basis, until low fuel forced him to fly back to Midgar.

Dallas was in his and Rude's apartment when he got there. Rude wasn't, for which Reno was grateful.

She was pacing back and forth like a coeurl in a cage, but stopped when Reno came in. "Did you find him?"

Reno nodded. "Decent head start."

"I was thinking... we haven't gone out for a while. How's about a quick trip to the bar?"

"I don't really think--"

"You could invite Tseng, and Rude," she said, a meaningful tone in her voice.

Reno lifted an eyebrow, and she nodded. She needed to discuss something, away from HQ. "Sure. Rude back yet?"

"Yeah, flew in about an hour before you did."

"Right, I'll give him a call then. You go get Tseng, and we'll meet you there in, say, a half hour?"


A half an hour later, exactly, Reno dropped into the corner booth next to his sister. Tseng and Rude were already there.

Rude handed Reno a bourbon, no ice. "What's going on?" he said to Dallas.

"Not much anyone's going to like," she said. "And it's going to require we make a choice."

"We?" Tseng said.

"We, Turks. Collectively," she said.

"Fill us in," Tseng said quietly.

"After the... samples... escaped, I went down to Shinra Manor to poke about," she said in a low voice. "Veld was there, too."

Reno gave a low whistle.

"Look, I know by rights I should've shot him on sight, Tseng, but I couldn't. The man virtually raised me, and all he's doing is looking for something to save his daughter's life."

"You'll get no argument from me," Tseng said.

Reno exchanged a surprised glance with Rude. It was one thing for Tseng to not really try all that hard to find Veld, it was another for him to endorse complete defiance of Shin-Ra's direct order.

"That's not the half of it," she said. "Veld as there to find another materia--he knows we have one--and he had information there was another sample at Shinra Manor who could help him."

"By 'sample' do you mean another of Hojo's experiments, or a sample of materia?"

"Hojo's," she said, her face clearly showing her disgust.

"I take it you found something," Reno said.

"Yeah. Remember how Veld's partner Vincent went missing?"

Tseng nodded.

"Let's just say I'm fairly sure I know what happened to him, and it wasn't nice." She sighed. "Calls himself 'Vincent Valentine' now, and he's ensconced himself in the basement of the Manor in a coffin, as punishment for his 'sin', whatever that means." She played with her glass for a moment. "Veld was pretty shaken. Vincent wouldn't confirm it, but I think Hojo did something to him."

"Seriously, I wonder why we do this job, sometimes," Reno said.

"The good Shin-Ra does far outweighs the bad," Dallas said.

"Yeah, but, shit. Giving Hojo any sort of free reign is just..."

Tseng frowned. "Well, in this instance, my mind is clear. Turks need a new directive. We Turks are going to help Chief Veld."

"This is treason, you know," Reno said.

"If you agree to this, our lives will be in danger," Tseng said.

Reno shrugged. "I knew that from the beginning."

"It's always been like that, Rude said. "Nothing changes."

"We're Turks so we can do something about it," Dallas said. "It's a reason to continue working as a Turk."

Reno and Rude nodded in agreement.

"We won't be able to turn back," Tseng said.

"Tseng, sir. There's no need to worry. I think the others will be with us," Dallas said.

"So, then, there's something you all need to know," Tseng said. "I have been aware that there has been much change at Shin-Ra, and not for the good. Since Raith's coma it has become apparent to me that if not this, then some excuse would be found to... terminate... us all. With that in mind, I have been quietly working to put together an alternative base in Corel so that when the day did come, we would be able to move our operations there."

"The army will seek us out, once the President becomes aware of what we're doing," Rude said.

Tseng's face was grim. "The President might have the army, but we have something that trumps that."

Rude frowned, like he understood, but Reno had no clue. "What's that?" he said

"We have Rufus," Tseng replied.


Corel, Year 0

In early February, the inevitable happened, and the Turks were forced to move to the base in Corel. Meanwhile, Tseng was still going through the motions of looking for Zack and Cloud because, he explained to Reno, Rufus had told Tseng that a slong as the Turks remained useful to Shin-Ra, his father probably wouldn't hunt them down imediately.

Rumour had it that Scarlet, the Head of Weapons Development, wanted the Turks completely disbanded so the money could be funnelled to her department, however Rufus believed that Reeve Tuesti was resisting the move.

Of course, who knew how much Rufus could be trusted, anyway? He was their hostage, after all, albeit a willing one. All Reno knew was that Tseng listened too closely to him. Reno didn't like that, not one bit.

Reno moved into a small, two-bedroomed unit with Rude, who seemed surprised at that. "Why are we working together again?"

Reno looked at him blankly. "I don't understand the question."


"Er... yeah? What about him?"

"I thought you'd stay partners with him."

Oh. "Probably will, on and off, depending on what Kytt's doing and how often Tseng needs you." Reno frowned. "Is this you trying to butt in again? Because, if it is, you can just shut the fuck up."

Rude's face stayed impassive. "Didn't go so well, I take it."


"Yeah. Shutting the fuck up."

Reno swallowed. He had to ask, he supposed. "Unless it's really that you don't want to work with me no more, after so long."

Rude looked at Reno with his analysing face on. "No, Reno. It isn't that," he finally said. "Better together, generally, us. Working, that is."

Whatever. "Okay, then. If you say so."

For many months, the Turks remained in a holding pattern, kinda like Reno's life, he thought. The President had declared the Turks should die, but wouldn't actually move on the Turks because they had Rufus with them; the Turks kept "looking" for Zack and Cloud while trying to help Veld with Fuhito, sometimes with the secret assistance of Reeve Tuesti, who did so through some robotic cat he created. The President hid from the public that the Turks were no longer really Shin-Ra's arm, and Rufus tried to convince Tseng to either fight Shin-Ra and install him as President or to simply kill Veld and get back their former status at the company.

Tseng declined to do either, for the longest time.

Reno felt like he was in a similar holding pattern. He completely failed at trying to be "friends" with Raith, even though Raith did still try to do so. Reno avoided it by avoiding Raith. He couldn't stop the gamut of emotions that hit him in the face every time he saw the man for any length of time, and he hated that he couldn't stop them. It made him angry. He didn't like taking his anger out on people, but he had nowhere else to put it.

Rude tolerated Reno's occasional snippiness with a fair amount of, albeit surprising, stoicism.

The whole situation had nowhere to go but down, at least as far as Shin-Ra and the Turks were concerned, and as September rolled into October Tseng was finally forced to act. Veld had disappeared again, and, more, Zack and Cloud were spotted again, this time by Heidegger's army.

Tseng wanted the Turks out there before the army caught up with Zack. He quietly told Rude and Reno, before they climbed into the chopper, to try and take Zack alive for, he said, Shin-Ra would not. "They're heading into Midgar, if reports are correct. And the army is out in force."

Reno nodded and started to climb into the chopper, but then Tseng took his shoulder. "Remember we're in public view, Reno. That's very important."

"Got it, boss," Reno said. "We'll be careful."

The wastelands around Midgar were vast, however, and it only took Reno an hour to wonder what the hells they were doing. "They can't be serious. There's no way we're gonna find two needles in a haystack this size."

Rude looked nonplussed. "There's no mission that's impossible for the--"

"Turks. Yeah, yeah."

Rude grunted. "Also, Tseng apparently has something to give him."

"Who, the target?"


Probably something to do with that girl who Tseng'd been following all year... and before. "So, we're couriers now, delivering packages to fugitives, huh? Heh."

Rude shrugged.

The radio crackled. "Reno, Rude, status," Dallas said. She sounded businesslike, but Reno detected worry underneath.

"We got nothin'," he said.

"You?" Rude said.

"Likewise. I'm heading to point two-three-five. You two take point one-two-zero."

"Roger," Rude said.

"All right," Reno said, "let's get going."

For the rest of the day, they looked, zig-zgging backwards and forwards.

Then the news came. The army'd caught up with Zack and Cloud earlier that day. Zack was fighting them, and had been, for some time. The report said that he was holding, but they were starting to overcome him.

"Tell them they are to hold their fire, damn it." Tseng sounded pissed.

"They have been so ordered. They have ignored us, boss," Rude said.

Reno checked the headings. "I don't know that we're going to get to him in time, Tseng. He's in the area we were searching earlier and left. Is a fair way back."

To make things worse, as darkness fell, so did the rain. Reno and Rude exchanged glances, and Reno knew that Rude and he were thinking the same thing: it didn't bode well. Reno couldn't remember the last time rain fell in the Wastes. It felt ominous.

Finally, they found them, on an ridge overlooking Midgar.

Oh no... Dallas... Reno thought. It didn't look good, not at all. They were too late. Zack was on his back, with Cloud bending over him. Blood covered the ground around Zack... as did the bodies of Shin-Ra infantry, dozens, it seemed.

"Fuck," Rude said. "How many of them did he kill?"

"SOLDIER First Class. Ain't going down without a fight." Reno hovered the chopper lower. "What the--?"

"Fuck me dead..."

Zack's body was... rising, dissolving into tiny firefly-like smoke, becoming transparent. He moved upwards until he disappeared, leaving Cloud, a saturated, lonely figure kneeling in the mud, watching him go.

Oh gods. Oh gods. Reno'd never seen anything like that before... but it wasn't Zack he was thinking about, then. It was Dallas. And the blond on the ground... who would be overtaken by another unit of regular soldiers within the next ten minutes if he didn't move from where he was.

"Reno, report," Tseng said.

Shit. He'd forgotten. Reno pushed down what he was feeling on Dallas' behalf and collected himself. "The fugitive sample known as former SOLDIER First Class Zack Fair has been shot and killed by members of the Shin-Ra infantry. Do you wish us to pursue the other sample. Over." Reno switched channels. "If you want us to get a hold of Cloud, Tseng, we have to do it now. Zack's killed all comers, but there're more troops coming, and we have heavy rainfall. Strife is on his own, and he really doesn't look well. I don't like his chances if the bastards catch up to him."

Tseng was quiet for a moment before he spoke. "No. There's no point. Leave him be." Reno heard Tseng switch channels again, and he gave another order, one that sounded like Reno and Rude were to leave Cloud to the troops, but actually amounted to keeping the troops away from him.

Reno switched off the radio after confirming they were "on their way home" and turned to Rude. "Ready to do this?"

Rude nodded.

Reno turned the chopper away from the bluff. "Right, then. Let's make sure Cloud gets into Midgar."

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