Part Five: The Seduction of Power

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Reno remembered, now, why Raith was not here, and the memory ripped through him like a fresh wound that no painkillers could alleviate.

It had sent him mad, once, that pain. Not that kind of stark raving lunacy you saw in some, no; it was the cold kind of mad that didn't seem like madness. It was the hiding, the drawing yourself inside, so you remained protected from the horror you couldn't face. It was that madness that was apparent to no one, not even Reno himself.

Except Rude. He knew. He always knew. He always knew Reno, it seemed, better than anyone else had. Better, even, than Raith.

Better, even, than Reno himself.


There was nothing left once the fire had burned down, which did not take very long. Nothing but an unnatural glow from the twisted metal below and softly falling ash still whispering against their cheeks, which Rude realised with sickening clarity was partially their fellow Turks. There would be nothing to identify.

And no hope of any survivors.

They sat a safe distance away, hopefully out of sight of the Shin-Ra emergency teams, But Rude wasn't really paying attention to the activity below. Instead, he watched Reno. He was motionless, elbows on his knees, like he was casually waiting for a late train, observing the teams, eyes intent, occasionally squinting against the floodlights the teams had set up. Rude expected that. Except... Reno was still. Reno was never still, even when he was trying to be.

Rude's earpiece buzzed. "Reno." It was Tseng. "Reno, report."

Tseng'd been trying to raise Reno every ten minutes since the explosion. Rude had ignored it, thinking that it was for Reno to answer, given he was Tseng's second, but Reno hadn't responded. He'd just sat. And, once again, Reno didn't react.


Fuck it. Rude tapped his comm. "Reno's busy, boss."

"What's going on?"

"Nothin' good."

"Can you be more specific?"

"Building blew."

"I got that much." Tseng sounded impatient. "What of our people?"

Rude glanced at Reno again. He still hadn't moved. "They were all inside when it went." Damn. Now it was... real.

There was a pause before Tseng spoke again. "Survivors?"


"No hope at all?"

Rude watched the beetling of the Shin-Ra services for a moment, best he could from the lights Shin-Ra had set up. "None," he finally said. "Shin-Ra's dealing with the mess. We'd've seen by now."

"How? It's dark."

"No ambulances," Rude said grimly.

"Shit. All right. I want you both out of there." Tseng's voice was sharp, now, but it was the swearing that made Rude's eyebrows rise.

"Will do."

"Do not let anyone see you. Get Reno back from whatever he's up to and go back to the base. Immediately."

Rude paused. He wasn't sure if, things being as they were, Reno'd be able to give the necessary debrief. Well, he'd cross that bridge when it collapsed. "Right, boss. Ou--"

"I mean it, Rude. I can't afford to lose the both of you as well. Do not get caught. And go radio silence. Do you understand?"

I get it, dickhead. "Got it. Out," Rude said as patiently as he could. What did Tseng think Rude was, a moron? He pulled his comm and switched it off, frowning as he noted Reno not doing the same. "Reno," he said quietly. "We gotta go."

Reno didn't respond.

"Reno." When Reno still didn't answer, Rude reached out and touched his friend on the shoulder, gently.

Reno flinched, and turned his head, looking at Rude like he hadn't known Rude was there, his face and shoulders and hair dappled with ash.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Reno was in no shape to--no. Rude couldn't worry about that here. Tseng was right. The sun would be up within a couple of hours and the bluff was too exposed. No one knew, yet, how the Shin-Ra forces below would react to a couple of live Turks watching them.

He sighed and looked down again. As more services arrived, the full magnitude of the devastation was becoming more apparent. There was a crater, for gods' sakes.

"C'mon," he said, firmly. "Tseng wants us gone from here."

Reno blinked, as if he didn't understand.

That couldn't be good. Okay, he needed to move carefully on this one. Something was shot in Reno's head, so Rude'd need to be--

His attention was caught by movement next to them, and he moved just in time to avoid the bullet that went whizzing past his ear. He turned, drawing his gun and firing, but not before the Shin-Ra ground scout got off a second shot. The scout was dead before he hit the ground.

Rude twisted his head to look around him and saw moving lights; torches. Some of the Shin-Ra security forces were moving towards them.

Well. Now, they knew what the reaction would be, at least.

No time to be gentle. "Reno, we need to go now," Rude said, reaching down and pulling--dragging--Reno up by the arm with his right hand and pulling Reno's comm with the other. "Move!"

A bullet ricocheted off a rock behind Rude at head level just as he started to pull Reno up. Timing, Rude thought. "Move!" He yelled it that time, but it turned out to be unnecessary, as Reno was already doing so. They managed to run behind the rocks at the top of the bluff as more gunfire sounded, this time from multiple firearms.

Rude took stock of the area, quickly, as he pushed Reno against a large yellow sandrock jutting out the side of the bluff. They had cover, here, up on the bluff, but once down the hill there was nothing but desert and scrub between them and the edge of Midgar. Not far between here and there, but it may as well've been a day's drive with that amount of cover. They would have to get across that before the sun rose. No way they wouldn't be seen there once the sun rose, not in their suits.

The burn along his arm hit suddenly. Holy fucking--. He took a look at it, pulling aside torn fabric, and his hand came away sticky. His hand went automatically to the pocket where he kept his potions before he remembered that while they were estranged from Shin-Ra, they didn't have access to any fresh ones, so he'd run out. He jabbed at the wound; no problem. Didn't feel bad enough to warrant one. Fucking grunt scout'd only winged him with that second shot. No real harm done.

He wiped his hand on his jacket and glanced at Reno, who fortunately hadn't moved out of cover, then allowed himself a look in the direction from which they'd come. The Shin-Ra troops were still a good distance away, if he was any judge. Shooting distance, although as far as he could tell, the grunts were just shooting at them randomly. Too many to just kill--and he knew Tseng did not want that. But, he noted with professional distaste, the useless fucks were all coming at him and Reno from the one direction. They'd be easy to avoid if he was smart. Head in the opposite direction, come around behind them, then edge around Midgar and go in from the other side.

Quietly and quickly would do it.

He ducked back down to avoid a ricochet, then signed at Reno quiet, around, back. Reno didn't respond, so Rude leaned towards Reno, unholstering his handgun again, just in case. "Going to go around and come into Midgar from the back, on the silent."

Reno nodded, and pulled his own gun.

Rude signed again, using their own private version rather than the regular military ones all the Turks knew. He figured that'd get through better. Good to go?

Reno nodded again.

Rude swore under his breath. Reno wasn't all here. Rude just hoped he'd do. "Go." He gave Reno a light tap, propelling his friend in the direction he wanted him to go.

Reno was aware enough, it seemed, to keep his head down and keep moving. Rude was thankful for their training, and muscle memory, and reflexes, and the fact that Reno was, on a bad day, still the best of them. Trouble was, it was a very bad day.

They shuffled down the side of the bluff, moving as silently as possible through the sandy scrub, Rude alternating between keeping one eye on making sure Reno was moving and the other behind them, watching for signs of pursuit. Nothing close, but the Shin-Ra grunts were still coming, although the gunfire had stopped. They could afford to pick up the pace a bit.

He was just about to nudge Reno and indicate as much when there was a skittering of stones rolling down the side of the bluff not a metre from were they were. Rude froze, fisting the back of Reno's collar. Again, it was unnecessary: Reno'd stopped as Rude had.

He didn't let go, though. And Reno didn't pull away.

Rude felt more than heard the low feline growl that sounded from the underbrush, before a dark shape crept closer, pausing as the bright white tip of its tail twitched and it scented the air. Rude went to lift his gun, but Reno'd taken hold of his wrist, stopping him. Rude glanced at his friend, then nodded quickly as Reno, with inexorable slowness, drew his EMR from his belt instead. Of course. Any shots, and Shin-Ra would know exactly where they were.

For the longest time, they stood, facing a pair of eyes that glowed yellow in the pre-dawn before the coeurl sniffed the wind again, and turned and left as softly as it had appeared. It wasn't until then that Rude saw the three kits that followed her. Good not to pick a fight with that one.

Rude gave the cat the space of a couple of heartbeats to continue the way she was going before he moved again. They had to get across the open space, now, before the sun hit the horizon.

Well, they'd already skirted a short distance past the scene of the explosion, the best they could do now was just run. Rude paused again to listen before he broke cover, then tugged at Reno.

And they ran.

Once they reached Midgar, it was a fairly simple matter to walk through to the base. No one who was up that early under the Plate was going to question a pair of Turks who wandered through, armed, even as filthy as they were. The news of the explosion would've been rife, and the general public was not aware of the schism between the Turks and Shin-Ra. Not yet, anyway.

Not that it mattered. The streets were virtually deserted. Shin-Ra must've called a curfew.

But if that were the case, why weren't there any troops on the streets?

Still, Rude was circumspect enough about the whole thing to use the underground sewer entrance so that they wouldn't be seen actually entering the building that housed Tseng's base.

Or maybe it was Rufus' base. It was hard to tell sometimes.

Once out of immediate danger, Reno had kinda... deflated, again. He followed well enough, but as if he really wasn't aware of his surroundings. Rude tried not to think about it. Not yet. Not until they were--well, if not actually "home", at least in a safe place.

The base was quiet and dark, and Rude paused at the door of the unit he had been assigned with Reno. He couldn't really call it "his" or "theirs" yet, given he'd not spent a night there since they'd moved in, but--maybe they should check in with Tseng before... he grimaced. Clear your head, moron. Prioritise.

Right. First thing to do was clean up, get Reno sorted. Tseng could wait. Rude ran his keycard through the slot, then gently steered Reno through the door, taking his friend's weapons from him and placing them on the table near the sofa, along with his own gun and his glasses. "Should probably look to get some sleep," he said.

"'Kay." Reno ran a hand through his hair, dusting white ash into the air, then moved towards his bedroom. Once there, though, he stopped at the open door, staring, transfixed, into the room.

Yeah. That wouldn't do. Sleeping in there was the last thing Reno needed right now, given the--shit. "Maybe you should shower first," Rude prodded.

"Sorry. What?" Reno turned his head and looked at him.

The thing that got to Rude was Reno's eyes. Gone. No sense of purpose. Not even grief. No... nothing.

Rude swallowed, hard. He wasn't used to this. When bad stuff happened, Reno was the first to rise to it. He made things work. He shouldered it and got it done. Rude had his strengths: photographic memory, fighting, first aid--hells, he could even help deliver a baby in a pinch if he had to, thanks to his ma--but it was Reno could do the disaster thing. The comfort thing.

Not this time, Rude thought, and it shook him. Reno was no milksop, Rude knew that from experience. But... long ago, Sherin'd called Reno the Turks' heart. Well, it was broke. Real broke.

He couldn't see this. He couldn't do this. He failed miserably at it, that stupid comfort thing. Once, when Reno'd found out about Dallas, maybe he'd been okay. Otherwise, every time, he screwed up. Every time he'd hurt Reno so bad Reno'd been angry. The last time... shit.


But if not him, then no one.

Okay. What needed to be done, needed to be done. And it was on him to do it. Wasn't like he hadn't needed to look after Reno before.

'Cept... the last time he'd needed looking after like this, Reno'd been physically sick, and Rude hadn't, at that time, taken Reno under false pretences, knowing he was supposed to be with Raith... that night his ma'd died... Stop it! Maybe if he yelled at his head loud enough, it'd stop wandering places he didn't need to go right now. "C'mon, buddy, you need to get cleaned up first."

Reno looked confused for a second, then blinked, reaching up to Rude's shoulder. His hand came away ashy, and he stared at it, rubbing soot between his fingertips. Then he nodded.

Rude frowned. Perhaps Reno needed the hospital. Sometimes mental shock got dangerous real quick. Between his ma and basic field medicine training in Junon, Rude knew enough that he could handle treating physical shock, but this was a whole 'nuther ball of wax.

But which hospital? General would only send Reno up to Shin-Ra Medical. Clearly, that was out of the question. His stomach churned. Reno, c'mon... "This way."

"Yeah, okay."

Rude didn't even bother to ask if Reno'd need help: he would, and there was no point embarrassing himself or his friend by voicing it.

Reno was stoic and quiet enough, eyes looking at the floor, while Rude--as methodically as he could--removed Reno's uniform and got him into the shower. Worked okay until Rude tried to get shampoo into Reno's hair and his sleeve fabric caught in the wound he'd pulled while running from Shin-Ra.

"Fuck," he muttered. "Hold on a bit."

Getting his jacket off was okay, so long as he kept the arm pretty still. Stupid thing, hadn't really hurt until now. The shirt was another matter, though. He'd bled a lot, it turned out, and the whole fucking sleeve had scabbed onto the wound. Rude, impatient with the whole business, simply ripped the sleeve off.

"Bastard," he grunted. That kinda smarted. Great. Now it was bleeding again. He reached for a towel with his other arm, but was stopped by Reno's pressure on the injury, washcloth already in hand.

"What the fuck have you done to yourself, Rudolph?" Reno's voice was... not like him. Harsh, angry. Rude'd heard him angry, of course. Different, this time.

Rude met Reno's eyes, which were as angry as his tone. "It's fine. Just winged me, is all."

He doubted Reno'd heard him, because Rude was pulled into the shower, trousers and boots and all.

Rude grunted, his eyes watering involuntarily as Reno scrubbed at the wound as if he was cleaning a pot of burnt-on fried eggs. That fucking hurt.

Reno clearly didn't notice, because he kept at it. "Not like we ain't got enough on our fucking plate without you going and getting fucking killed too."

"It's not that bad--"

"You can't go and do this sort of shit, Rude! Get it? You just--"

Rude pulled his arm back. "Reno!" he said, sharply, hoping it would cut through Reno's verbal train.

Reno stopped scrubbing--thank gods--and looked up at Rude.

"I'm fine," Rude said. "It's just a flesh wound."

"That's not the point." Reno's voice was still harsh, but his eyes were... something. Something... like, needing help. At least he was now aware, although Rude wasn't sure that was any better.

Yeah. Rude knew that wasn't the point. But what more could he say but, I'm okay? He couldn't ask if Reno was all right; he clearly wasn't. He couldn't tell Reno everything would be better, or fine, or... it wouldn't, and it wasn't. He couldn't comfort Reno. Reno couldn't be comforted, not after this, and Rude didn't blame him for that. Rude wasn't who Reno needed. What the fuck was he supposed to do?

He dropped his gaze so he wouldn't have to look at Reno's eyes, and handed Reno a bar of soap. "You okay here? I need to--" he glanced at his arm, hoping what he was about to say was true enough. It would be. "--put a stitch or two in this."

Reno swallowed, then nodded.



"Can I... get you anything?"

Reno shook his head.

Rude stuck his head under the water to rid himself of leftover grime, then got out, sitting on the toilet, lid closed, to get his wet boots off, before ridding himself of the rest of his sodden clothing, and grabbing a towel to dry himself off.

It was then he noticed Reno watching him impassively, soap in hand. He was shivering.

What? Had the water run cold? He stuck his hand under the water. No. Fuck this. Needed to get Reno warm before he went badly south. Rude lathered up the shampoo and worked quickly to get Reno cleaned off.

"You're still bleeding," Reno pointed out, his teeth chattering.

"I'll live," Rude said curtly, fighting against the feeling of dread that threatened to build in his gut. "C'mon, get out," he said, turning the water off.

Reno obeyed, and Rude grabbed another towel and dropped it over Reno's shoulders, wincing as the bullet wound pulled against itself when he rubbed Reno dry.

"Stop," Reno said, quietly, when Rude bent over to do Reno's legs. "You're making it worse."

"Sorry," Rude started to say, then realised that Reno was indicating the blood that was falling on the floor in large drops from Rude's arm.

Reno placed his hand, very lightly, very briefly, on the top of Rude's head. "Stop. Let me help you with that."

Don't do that, Rude thought. Was too much like the night they'd met. "It's fine--"

"You got shot moving my arse outta the way. Let me." Reno was talking through chattering teeth again, but before Rude could answer he'd pulled another small towel out of the cupboard and padded it against Rude's now very raw skin. "I have some pots left, still. Let me get one. I've fucked that up too much to stitch."

No. Reno needed to get warm first. "I can do it mys--"

"I need to fix it, Rude. Okay?" His voice was angry again.

Whoa. Rude stood and tucked his towel around his waist. "Yeah, okay. Just..." he pulled Reno's towel over Reno's shoulders, "get warm first."

"I'm not c-cold."

"Yeah, coulda fooled me." He put a hand on Reno's shoulder and steered him out of the bathroom. "Where's this potion then?"

Reno swallowed as he pointed at his bedroom.

Rude didn't want to go in there, not after what he'd seen the last time he was in the unit, but it was clear it was worse for Reno. "I'll get it then. You go--" he indicated his own room. "You can sleep in there." Rude'd take the couch, he figured, cos there was no way he was sleeping in Reno's room, either.

Rude watched Reno disappear into the bedroom, and a small voice in the back of his head wondered why he couldn't just crawl in with Reno, get him warm, like they'd done when they were kids, but he ignored it. He knew better. The last night he'd lived at his ma's place'd changed too much.

But that's what he needs.

Truth be known, so did Rude. But it didn't stop there, any more, did it?

It would if you weren't such a shit.

Yeah. Whatever. Just go in and get the potion. He sighed and grabbed the half-full vial off Reno's bedside table. That'd be enough to do the trick. On an impluse, Rude grabbed a pair of Reno's trackpants and a Tshirt out of the pile of clothes Reno hadn't properly unpacked or put away yet. Trust Reno to put that off. Wasn't like he was lazy, so much, no matter what Reno wanted people to think, Rude knew. Reno'd obviously gotten halfway through the job and been distracted. Most of the time it'd make Rude smile, even while it was driving him nuts. Now... he sighed heavily, and made his way to his bedroom.

Reno'd closed the drapes, so the room had that musky half-light of early dawn peeping through the edges of the curtains. Reno sat on the edge of the bed, still shivering.

Rude handed him the clothes. "Here," he said, then grabbed his own pj pants from the draw, pulling them on.

"Where's the potion?" Reno said.

Rude handed it to him. "It's really not--never mind," he corrected as Reno's face darkened. He sat down next to Reno, who turned and carefully removed the towel, which'd stuck a bit. Then he slowly dotted potion along the wound. Rude watched Reno's hands move, mesmerised by Reno's completely unnecessary attention to detail. Rude would've just slapped the stuff on and ground his teeth while it worked for him. Reno worked slowly, tiny bit by tiny bit, and it barely hurt, apart from an unavoidable afterburn. But, Reno's hands were cold, and his lips were starting to look blue, and it wasn't because the room was cold, either.

It took every bit of self-control Rude had not to pull away and just... hold him.

It felt like forever, but finally Reno was done with him... or he wasn't. He looked up and his eyes locked with Rude's, and those eyes sparked, somewhere in there... "Rude," he said. And that was all. And it was just need, or want, or... something.

Rude didn't want to see that, or hear it, either. "Okay," he said, sounding calmer than he felt. "Your turn. Lie down and get warm."

Surprisingly, Reno did as he was told.

Rude stayed where he was, and closed his eyes, waiting for the post-healing burn to subside. Waiting for the desire to leave him. Fuck, but he wished he could see into Reno's mind. It'd help to know what to say, or if he had to say anything at all, if he knew what Reno was thinking.

"Rude?" His voice was very quiet.

Rude opened his eyes and turned to meet Reno's troubled ones. "Yeah?"

"I don't know where Dal is."

Well, that answered one question, anyway... the words drove home. Only Raith'd known where Dallas and Braden were headed, and he was dead. And Reno... fuck this. "Raith knew his job," he said, wincing at Reno's expression at the mention of Raith's name. Anger. Shouldn't've said that. "He would have a redundancy in place, I'm sure. And even if he doesn--didn't, we'll track her down."

Reno set his jaw. "No."

"You need your sister."

"I need her safe."

Rude wasn't going to argue the point. The last thing he wanted was to endanger Dal in any way. He nodded. "What do you want to do?"

"Tseng thinks they're dead." Reno rolled onto his back, his voice so low that Rude had to strain to hear him. "We keep our mouths shut, she'll be safe."

Rude'd expected no less, but truth be told, she'd be a hell of a lot better at this crap than Rude could ever be.

Shit, Raith, why'd you have to go and do something so stupid as get yerself killed? He'd spent a lot of time and effort investing in Reno being happy with Raith, and for what? This? How the fuck could he ever make up for what he'd done to Reno if this crap kept happening? He couldn't fix this. No one could fix this.

Rude hated this helplessness. He hated how his chest hurt. He hated seeing Reno so... whatever. "She's better."

Reno looked at Rude like he didn't know what Rude was talking about, then his eyes fell on Rude's arm, and he opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again. "I'm sorry," he finally said.

Huh? "Why are you sorry?"

Reno didn't answer.


Reno shook his head and rolled over, his back to Rude.

"No way. What for?"

Reno didn't answer for so long that Rude thought he'd gone to sleep. "Sorry I hurt you."

"I'm okay."

"I'm not."

"Yeah, I know." Rude paused. "You should try and get some rest."

"What about you?"

Rude was about to say he'd sleep on the couch, but he couldn't get the words to come. He couldn't leave the room, not with Reno the way he was. He couldn't stay, though, cos... no. He couldn't go.

You have to.

No, he really couldn't.

You must.

He turned and shuffled under the covers, an arm's length away from Reno.

Yeah, that's familiar, dickhead.

No, this time it was different. This time Reno needed him, not the other way around. And he had a debt to settle. He reached out and laid a hand on Reno's head. "Just go to sleep. You need to."

Funny how calm he felt, now.

Maybe Reno felt the same. Maybe he did, because he rolled backwards, leaning back into Rude, just as they had when they were young, before Rude had fucked everything up. Within moments, Reno had stopped shaking. Very soon, he was asleep, although it wasn't altogether a peaceful sleep, as far as Rude could tell.

Rude leaned his cheek against Reno's Tshirt. Just like the old days. It wouldn't last, Rude knew. But it was enough for now. Do just enough to get Reno past this. Let him forget long enough to get some distance from the whole stupid, crappy mess.

What had Kytt said to Rude, that night his ma'd died? Be a real friend, and let Reno feel comfort?

Sure. Rude could try that.


Maybe because his last thought before he'd gone to sleep had been Kytt, Rude dreamed about her, from way back when they'd been at Junon. Mostly, her hair. Partly, how she got wolfish whenever she was about to shoot someone.

Then there was the day he'd stayed with Dallas and Kytt when Raith'd gone into his coma. Kytt was angry. No, exasperated.

"Well, far as I can tell, you're doing the big 'sacrifice yourself' thing, thinking Reno is better off with Raith or some such. So, if Raith dies, what then? Step in, make Reno feel better?"

That woke him up.

Took him a moment to get his bearings, in that unfamiliar room. Still light outside. Still that day made of nightmare. Reno was still asleep, although he was muttering, inaudibly. Rude couldn't tell what he was saying. Didn't matter; Rude could guess. Absently, he placed a hand on Reno's forehead.

So, if Raith dies, what then? Step in, make Reno feel better?

Rude froze.


He extricated himself from Reno's hold, then carefully rolled on his back, forearm over his eyes, an imitation of Reno the night before, he then realised, moving his arm.

Of course that was what he was doing. Stepping in. Raith hadn't been dead for more than a few hours, and already Rude was taking advantage of Reno. But... what's wrong with wanting Reno to feel better?. He pushed the thought away. He had to stop making excuses for himself.

Worse. He hadn't even stopped to think of the full ramifications of what'd happened that morning. He was too busy worrying about Reno and being relieved that Dal'd not been there to die too.

Now Kytt was on his mind, the words she'd said the day they'd broken up, when she'd told him to move out of her place, weighed in. "Rude, I don't know what your issue is, and it's clear you will never tell me, but you need to get past it. Maybe then you can unfreeze that thing that claims to beat in your chest."

At the time he'd figured that was fair enough. He did have trouble relating to people, except for Reno. And for some reason, Dallas. And to a lesser extent, Raith. And, until just before they'd ceased to be a twosome again, Kytt. He'd felt much the same way about her that he had when they'd been together in Junon, and hadn't realised she was looking deeper. He'd felt kinda bad about that. Always had intended to try and fix it.

He couldn't. She was gone. Everyone was gone. But... Kytt was gone. Hells, he'd spent four years, all up, with her; how could he've not even thought about her until now?

He really was a heartless fuck.

Reno stirred, rolling towards Rude and dropping an arm across his waist. Rude swallowed, determined not to move, one way or the other. Devour and get out! screamed in his head. But, if he left, he'd be running again. If he stayed, though, he knew it would only be a matter of time before he tried to take Reno's pain away from all of this... by hurting him. Again.

Yet, with equal impulses tugging him in different directions, neither won. Instead, he just placed a hand on Reno's shoulder, like he always had when Reno'd had his nightmares. Reno sighed deeply, still asleep, relaxed... but his fingertips pressed into Rude's side, beneath his ribs.

He wants you to.

Rude frowned. Don't start that shit again.



Rude tried to will himself back to sleep, but it wasn't going to work, even dead tired. Too much in his head; too much going on.

Reno was too close.

"Rude." Reno wasn't awake; it was just a whisper in his sleep. Rude'd seen this before, though; you could have almost a full conversation with Reno when he was like this, and if you didn't, the nightmares started.

Rude's hand coaxed itself into Reno's hair, gently soothing. No nightmares. Not on top of everything else. "Yeah, buddy."

Reno shifted so he was facing away from Rude, drawing his knees up, and leaning his back into Rude's side. "Don't die." Then his breathing slowed, and he was deep asleep again. There'd be nothing more to say, Rude supposed.

Don't die. Holy fucking gods, he couldn't take that. It was too close. Rude stayed on his back, willing the emotions not to come. He had to keep it together.

Right. No problem. Get up, get out of this room, get away from temptation, and get some work done. He still had to report back to Tseng, and it would be night again soon. He needed to find out what the word on the ground was. Frankly, he'd been remiss--he should've done that first.

He pulled his arm out from under Reno's head as carefully as he could, so as not to wake him, then rolled to a sitting position. Pants. He'd need those. Dry, preferably.

He grabbed a pair, plus a spare belt and socks and took them out to the lounge area, dropping them on the couch. He considered them for a moment, then headed out to the kitchen and poured himself a finger of whisky before walking back out to the lounge and parking himself on the sofa next to his clothes.

Was a funny thing, feeling like a guest in his own unit. Figured, though. He'd moved in, then spent all his time trying to help Tseng find Veld, sleeping at Tseng's, then in Kytt's spare room the night before, given Raith wasn't using it.

And, meanwhile, Reno... well.

Rude shouldn't've been surprised. Not really. He'd been pushing Raith to talk to Reno for a while, and Reno'd just about made it clear where he stood. It'd only been a matter of time before they'd sorted their shit.

Still, Rude'd turned up to the unit to pick himself up some clean clothes, and found the lounge area in a mess. His first thought was that, somehow, Scarlet's grunts had managed to infiltrate the base, so he'd followed his first instinct: pull your gun, check for your room-mate and any intruders, ensure the safety of the base.

It was only after he'd worked his way to Reno's open bedroom doorway and saw Reno and Raith curled up together, fast asleep, that he noticed that some of the mess had included half a uniform and at least one shirt that was the worse for wear.

He'd left quietly.

The thing was, he felt... well, it was like he'd been sucker punched. He hadn't really expected that. Reno was where he'd wanted to be all along; Raith was where he'd wanted to be all along; there'd been a chance that Reno would be okay. So why hadn't Rude felt good about that? Why had he actually wanted to shoot something? Why had his only thought been, as he'd backed out of the doorway, why can't that be me?

Even now, the image left a heaviness in the pit of his gut that was souring his whiskey. Fact was, it could've been him, if he'd kept his trap shut. But he wasn't who Reno'd wanted.

Yet... now Raith was gone...

Rude sat back, leaning the glass against his chest. Now Raith was gone, Rude would still be second. He always had been. Reno'd make do, and part of Rude wanted to let him.

But the deep part, the honest part, knew that he had only ever hurt Reno; Reno'd been forced to be with him, twice now. He couldn't do that, not again.

So, no matter what happened, he could watch over Reno, but friends they would have to stay. It was only sex that he was missing out on. It wasn't even like he liked sex that much, except when--no.

It wasn't Reno's problem. All Rude had to do was learn some self-control. Cos he reckoned he'd not do well without his best friend. Not well at all. No risking that.

He sighed, and looked at the clock on the bench. Time to see if Tseng was anywhere to be found, so he could do the debrief. At least Rude could spare Reno the task of having to describe how he'd watched the man he loved blown to dust while they hadn't been able to do a damned thing to stop it.

Now, where the hells had Dallas put his clean shirts?

Probably at Kytt's. He'd have to go get them.



Reno reckoned the best part about being asleep was that it made time go very fast, even if ten hours curled up without Raith was ten hours wasted. It's just that when you were asleep you weren't conscious of what wasn't there, and it didn't feel like time that you cared you'd missed.

Especially when you woke up and he wasn't there, and the bed next to you was cold, and you wished the events of the previous twenty-four hours were only a dream.

"Reno, I ain't leaving you. If it's in my power, at all. Unless I've explicitly said so, and I don't see that ever being the case, if I ever walk out the door and don't come back you'd better believe it's cos I can't."

Reno steadied his stomach. "Raith?"

No answer. But... he'd felt cared for. Safe. Lov--then he remembered. Fire. Heat. Gods. Reno opened his eyes, struggling against the dead feeling in his brain. Where the fuck was he?

Rude's room. What?

The events from earlier that day started to leech back into his mind. Yeah. Rude'd made sure he got home, and he'd--fuck! He'd been shot--no, wait. He was okay. Rude'd been there when Reno'd gone to sleep, but...

Hang on, had they...?

Reno couldn't remember. He remembered wanting to, though. Needing to. Needing Rude to make him forget... but he didn't think so...


No answer from him, either. Of course not. Probably ran away, Reno thought, closing his eyes again. Guess they had, then. Only thing that'd make Rude run away.

But he had been warmed...

Blood. Blood, running, washing away with the rain. Dead eyes open to torrential skies... fire. Zack... Cloud... Don Corneo, hitting Raith, over and over and over again until the blood flowed and washed away with the rain and the sky exploded, and falling ash, like snow... and fire. Cloud, being taken away by Hojo. Blood... Rude's blood, and more fire until the heat seared violet eyes and hazel eyes into nothing and burned Reno's face and--

And Reno woke, and took a few moments to realise where he was, again. He watched the late afternoon shadows skating across the ceiling. It was very quiet outside; even the traffic seemed muted. It's all wrong. Nothing made any sense. He couldn't make any sense out of any of it.

All he knew was that he didn't want to go to sleep again. If he did, then all he'd see was... and then he'd have to wake up again, and realise that it was real, that it'd happened. That he couldn't go back and change it, make sure everyone knew not to be in the building. To draw Zirconaide outside. Or not to kill it. Not to... gods.

Maybe if he'd been faster, run faster. Maybe if he'd paid more attention to Tseng's distraction, tried to make some logic out of it rather than spending all that time in bed with... or wishing he was with... I could've done better. I should've done better. He could've stopped it. He could've--

"Reno? You awake?" Rude's voice was very quiet.

"What?" Damn. How long had Rude been standing there? Reno hadn't even noticed him enter the room. Reno rubbed his face vigorously with the palm of his hand. "Yeah, I'm up."

"You hungry?"

Reno considered that for a moment while he sat up, twisting so his feet hit the floor. "No, not really."

"You should eat something."

"Probably. Don't want to."

Rude didn't answer.

Reno shrugged, then remembered something. "Damn it. I should report to Tseng."

He started to stand, but Rude put a hand on his shoulder, lightly. "It's done."

Reno resisted the urge to lean into Rude's arm. "Heh?"

"I reported to Tseng while you were asleep." He removed his hand, then, although the echo of it lingered.

"Oh." Touch me again.

"He does want to see us both again, soon as you were awake, he said."

"Better get going then."

Rude was silent for a moment. "You really should eat," he said again.

"I'm not hungry." For reasons Reno could not articulate, Rude's quiet demands were pissing him off.


"Godsdammit, Rude! Let it go, would you?"

Rude's face hardened.

Shit, Reno thought. "I'm just... I don't want to eat," he said, as contritely as he could.

Rude nodded. "I'll... uh... leave you to it."

"No need. All my clothes are in the other room." The... other room. His bedroom. Reno vaguely remembered standing at the doorway the previous night and... showering. Oh. "Rude, I..." He couldn't finish. What had he wanted to say, anyway? Thankyou? That was a weak-arse thing to say, given Rude'd dragged him through gunfire and got himself shot to get Reno to safety. That... oh, fucking gods... that, despite everything that'd happened with the... the mission, until Rude'd left to do whatever, Reno couldn't remember ever sleeping so well? And that... Shit, he thought again.

He looked up at Rude, who was standing in his patient way, waiting for Reno to speak. Rude lifted an eyebrow, a question: Yes?

I want to forget. Just... help me forget. "Thanks," Reno finally said, swallowing. What the fuck was wrong with him? How the hells could he want to forget the one person who'd made him feel like he was worth something? How could he want--need--Rude so much when only yesterday he'd been lying in that room with Raith? When Raith was--

"I'll get them," Rude said, leaving the room abruptly.

Reno didn't bother following him. Instead, he pulled off his Tshirt, then concentrated on finding his "Turk" persona so he'd have something to wear in public. Don't think too much. Remember, it's just your job. Don't get too close, don't feel too much. Shoot. Kill. Be prepared to die. Be prepared to lose... He closed his eyes. No, you didn't lose. You couldn't lose if you aren't someone. Come on, Reno, get it together. You can't be like this. Stuff to do. Places to go. People to kill... His eyes snapped open. Yes. He may not've been able to save Raith the first time, or the second, but this time Reno wasn't letting him down.

Job to do. Shin-Ra would take them back, now, surely, since Tseng had "killed" Veld. Shin-Ra would want Avalanche--what was left of it--dealt with. And Corneo... yup.

And Reno didn't need to rely on anyone to get it done. No more wishing for Rude. That was just plain wrong.

See? Turk. All Turk. Easy. He was fine. Just fine.

Don Corneo. Shin-Ra, for whatever reason, wanted him left alone. That would not do. He couldn't involve anyone in that, not even his partner, but that was okay. He didn't need anyone else. No one. He could just--


Gods. Oh, gods. She had to be safe. Don't fucking try to contact me, Dal. Please. Stay dead, at least for now. Don't. Contact. Me. Just wait. I'll come for you when it's safer.

Reno felt before he saw Rude watching him from the doorway, Reno's uniform loosely in his hand. He looked unsure, as if he didn't know whether to interrupt Reno or not.

Their eyes locked, and Reno's fa├žade almost slipped. Rude...

Reno broke eye contact, and stood, putting his hand out for his uniform. Wordlessly, Rude handed it to him, then he turned and left the room.

The action left Reno inexplicably and acutely irritated. He shook his head, shrugging it off. All Turk, right?

Ten minutes later, they were at Tseng's door.

Tseng was calm, collected, quintessentially "Tseng", but Reno noticed that his eyes were red-rimmed. "Come in," he said quietly, "quickly. You both need to see this. It's the second time in the last ten minutes this report has run." He indicated the television on the other side of the room.

Reno walked over and watched the prim newscaster as she continued the report. "The explosion caused a large cloud of ash to hover over Midgar for some hours, forcing clean-up crews to sift through the debris wearing masks. Shin-Ra Company sources say that a group of former employees from the Turk Division were responsible for this terrorist attack. A number of Turks were killed as a result of their own explosion, however it is believed that two of the ringleaders survived and are at large. At this point, Reno's and Rude's Shin-Ra ID pics were put up on the screen. "If you see either of these men, please contact authorities immediately. Do not attempt to approach them, as they are considered extremely dangerous and are most certainly heavily armed."

There was a long silence, during which Reno attempted to make sense of what he'd just seen.

"Well, you can fuck me dead," Rude said. "I don't get it."

"What he said," Reno agreed. "Wait, what don't you get?"

"Why would we do that?"

"We didn't."

"I know that." Rude gave Reno his "exasperated" look, which amounted to a small frown and a slightly raised eyebrow. Didn't differ much from his "what the fuck" look. "Why are they saying we did that? Blow up a useless building to get back at Shin-Ra--for what, exactly?"

Tseng shook his head. "I'm not sure."

Reno, however, had picked up on something else. "Why just Rude and me?"

Tseng scratched his eyebrow. "That bothers me, too."

Reno and Rude exchanged a long look. All Reno could think at that point was, they've bought that Dallas and Braden are gone. But, then... "Why not you, too, Tseng? What aren't you telling us?"

"I'd been negotiating with the President for the opportunity to dissolve our status. I thought that the 'execution' of Veld would have ensured that," Tseng said quietly. "However, I have not been holding out a great deal of hope, given other forces at work. Having said that, the fact our execution order stands doesn't surprise me." Tseng paused, frowning slightly. "What concerns me is that the President has allowed this to become a public issue."

"My father isn't driving this," Rufus said from the doorway. "It has to be one or more of the Department Heads. Most probably Heidegger or that woman."

"Or both," Rude said.

Rufus assented with a single nod. "I daresay."

Tseng glanced at Rufus. "What do you want us to do?"

Reno frowned. Since when was it Rufus' decision what they did? Wasn't he supposed to be their hostage?

"Reno and Rude cannot leave until I have talked with my father and 'reminded' him of the stakes here," Rufus said, his face blank. He pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Or until you have, Tseng."

"Yes," Tseng agreed. "Both of you are way too recognisable to be out and about."

Rude nodded, but Reno felt his jaw tense involuntarily. He understood the necessity, but the thought of being locked up--because that was, essentially, what enforced house arrest was, to him--well, that was not acceptable. And who was this young fucking upstart to say what they should and should not do? "Maybe someone needs to 'remind' you that we woudn't be in this mess if you'd been less stupid, Rufus."

Rufus didn't answer, simply turning his gaze on Reno coolly.

"How about we listen to what the Vice President has to say," Tseng said, lightly emphasising the words Vice President.

Rufus made a dismissive gesture. "Give me some time to think through what my father needs to know and what he doesn't," he said. "The old man is clearly going senile, at best, allowing events to spiral out of control as he has. When the company is mine I intend to change many things. Scarlet will be the first change I make."

Tseng watched Rufus walk into the other room, then turned his attention to Reno. "It may be highly redundant of me to ask, but how are you doing, given the circumstances?" His voice was crisply professional.

Circumstances. Raith... oh, fuck. Reno kept his face still, but emotion welled up in his throat and threatened to overtake him. No. No need to think about that, not now, not ever. He beat it back until it cowered in one small corner of his mind, where it would be safe until after they were all executed. "I'm fine," he said firmly, glaring at Tseng. "Leave me alone."

Tseng watched him for a moment. "Well, I'm not. So don't you go and do something stupid, like getting yourself killed, do you understand?"

"Yeah, don't worry. I'll stick around just long enough for Heifucker and Scarwench to kill us legally."

Tseng pressed his lips together in that way he did when he was trying not to lose his temper. "I don't think it will come to that." He glanced at Rude, who nodded. "Just be smart."

Reno noted the exchange between Rude and Tseng with annoyance. He knew that look. Rude and Dallas used to throw them at each other all the time, that Reno doesn't know what's good for him look. "Don't be so fucking patronising, Tseng."

"You have people who care about your well-being, Reno," Tseng said quietly. "Live with it."

"I am capable of looking after my own well-being, Tseng," Reno shot back. "Live with it."

"Reno." Rude's voice was quiet, but had a clear censuring tone to it.

Reno turned on him. "And don't you fucking start. You've been lying to me for years, so save your bullshit, got it?"

Rude didn't answer, but his shoulders stiffened.

Yeah, right, get defensive on me. That works. He turned to Tseng, ready to say something else, but then he realised how sad Tseng looked. He swallowed, ashamed of himself, as he remembered that Tseng had also lost. Worse, that Tseng thought his loss was worse than it actually was. Braden was, after all, Tseng's best friend. How would you feel if you thought Rude was dead?

Damnfuck. Reno knew very well how he'd feel; he already had thought that, once, and he hadn't done well with it. Sent him into the arms of someone he'd thought he'd disliked, even. "Yeah, okay," he said, "I'm sorry, Tseng. I'm not thinking too straight."

Tseng waved away the apology. "I don't think any of us are." He glanced at the door Rufus had exited through again. "Excuse me, please," he said absently. "Maybe... if you get bored of things to do, you could consider putting together the personal affects of..." He didn't finish what he was saying before he'd followed Rufus through the doorway.

"He has to be kidding," Rude muttered.

"Someone has to clean it up, I suppose."

"That's not what I was talking about."

Reno looked at Rude sharply. Rude looked right back, then dropped his gaze, almost like he was ashamed. Reno decided to ignore it. Rude wouldn't answer him, anyway. "I'm changing out of this stupid uniform, either way. Fucking sick of it."

Rude grunted, then followed Reno back to their unit.

Reno pulled off his jacket and threw it across the room, then dropped onto the couch, putting his feet up on the coffee table. "I don't like this."

"Clearly." Rude took off his glasses and sat opposite Reno, undoing his top button and loosening his tie with a slight frown at Reno's boots. "We won't be stuck here long, though, I'd say."

Reno ignored Rude's clear command to get his feet off the furniture. "Not that... except I have a feeling that if we stay, we'll be here longer than you think." Although... the last time he'd been under any form of house arrest was when Rude'd needed to confine him, when Reno had first joined Shin-Ra. When Raith had... Reno ground his teeth together.

"You think Tseng's up to something," Rude said.

"I think Rufus is up to something."

"I'm not sure Tseng would betray us, Reno."

"I'm not sure he wouldn't." Reno sighed irritably and took his feet off the table so he could remove his boots. "And Rufus is always up to something nefarious," he said without looking up, "especially when it comes to Tseng."

"Nefarious?" Rude sounded amused.

Reno didn't answer. The last time before Rude'd had to keep him at Shin-Ra HQ, was when Reno had been under house arrest at school for fighting with Raith. Yeah. What the fuck was he complaining about, feeling "confined"? Raith'd gone through much worse with no way out of it.

Rude cleared his throat. "What do you want to do."

"I think we should leave, and soon." Reno stood and picked up his jacket and boots.

"Can't say you're wrong."

"Besides, there is something I have to do, and I can't do it if I'm stuck here."

"I probably shouldn't ask."

"No, you shouldn't," Reno said grimly. "I don't want you involved."

Rude grunted. "Right." He paused for a moment, then fiddled with his tie again before removing his jacket, "Look," he said, speaking as he rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, "say I agree with you and think that leaving is the best course of action--"

"You do agree with me."

"Let me finish."


"Say I agree with you, that doesn't mean that we should draw attention to ourselves by going on some sort of... whatever it is you're planning on doing."

"C'mon, give me some credit."

Rude rubbed the back of his neck wearily. "I give you nothin' but credit, Reno, but I just... you should wait."

Reno was going to shrug and ignore Rude, but then... "Why?"


"Why should I wait?"

Rude paused, his expression wary. "Been a rough week. Makes for sideways judgement, is all."

Reno looked at Rude sharply. "Something you know that you ain't telling me?"

Rude looked confused. "No."

Truth. Dammit. "Well, you can stay. I'm going, one way or the other."

"Wish you wouldn't."

"Yeah, well, you have no fucking say in it, Rudolph. Stop trying to control every little thing I do." Not fair, but there it was. Rude wouldn't answer him, anyway.

Rude was silent.

Reno grimaced. Knew it. He paused outside his own bedroom, not looking in, but steeling himself to enter. "I hate feeling like I can't trust you," he said quietly. He didn't wait to hear Rude's reply, if there was one. Instead, he all but ran into the room, pulled out a pile of clothes at random, and changed, shoved the rest in a bag, then left, without even trying to take in his surroundings. Yeah. Best they get out of here. No. Best he got out of here. Fuck that. Things to do. Couldn't be locked up here. Rude could go take his crappy caution and stick it where the sun don't shine.

He stopped for a moment, frowning. Why was he trying to pick a fight with Rude, anyway? Rude didn't deserve that.

He lied to you. Yes, he did. Seemed every time Reno got close to anyone they let him down in some way. He shrugged. Not a complaint, so much, just... he put people in harm's way. Better he do this alone. If Rude was pissed off, he wouldn't come along.

"You're determined to do this, then," Rude said as Reno dropped his half-full rucksack on the floor near the lounge.

"If I'm gonna go, now's the time to do it, while Tseng's busily being fucked and no one's in any state to stop us."

"I ain't going."


"And neither are you." Rude's voice was firm.

"Yeah, like hells."

"They'll kill you, Reno."

"Then let them kill me!" Reno yelled. "What's the point of waiting around trying to avoid what Shin-Ra is going to do anyway, huh? Why not just fucking let them get it over with? I ain't afraid to die, Rude!"

"You wanna go runnin' blind into a bandersnatch's nest, be my guest. But you ain't the only person to consider here!"

"You afraid?"

"Yeah, I'm fucking afraid, but not of dying, if that's what you think."

"How would you know what I think any more?" Reno headed for the door, but Rude blocked him.


Reno watched Rude for a moment. What was with him, anyway? More like what's with you, he told himself. He was being moronic and he knew it, but... he just didn't know why. Reno bit off the shitty comment that sprung to his lips. "Why shouldn't I?" he said, trying to calm down. This was not how a Turk should act. "Give me a good reason."

Rude looked uncomfortable, then his eyes took on a determined gleam, a familiar one. He'd made a decision. Reno knew, then, that he wasn't leaving, not that night. "Can't lose my best friend on top of everything else," he finally said, gruffly. "Not you."

Even though Reno'd kinda known what the answer would be if Rude had bothered answering, Rude's reply surprised Reno. He looked at the floor, running his hand over his face tiredly, his head spinning. He couldn't leave Rude here. He didn't want to. And Rude'd lost Kytt, too, and friends. I couldn't be more selfish right now, could I. Reno sighed. He sucked at noticing other people, stupid self-absorbed bastard, he was. Just, he was trying not to think about... anything. Didn't mean Rude wasn't, though. "Okay," he said slowly. "I'm sorry. I really am. I'm just sick and tired of it all." He met Rude's eyes. Fact was, Reno was sorry, and he was tired--bone-dead tired. And he couldn't stay angry with Rude when he knew Rude wasn't at fault. He was. Reno. That was all.

Rude nodded, brows knitted. "You are staying," he said firmly, reaching out and grasping the back of Reno's neck gently, forcing Reno to look at him. "And you will eat, then you will relax some, then you will sleep. And we'll discuss this again in the morning."

"Right." Why are you being so nice to me? Reno swallowed. He didn't deserve this. He destroyed what he touched. He lifted his chin, intending to say "no" to food again, but Rude looked so... so... Reno didn't know what he looked like. Just, maybe, concerned. He couldn't say no. "Rude, I..." He trailed off. Rude, I... what? Want you? Can't trust you? Need you? Wish I'd never met you? Want things back the way they were before you left? Feel so fucking alone I can't breathe?

"You ain't alone, Reno. Never."

Liar. Yet... Reno's mouth went dry. "We've both said that to each other on occasion," he said. "I think I'm supposed to say that I don't need... anyone--" you, actually, he thought, but he couldn't voice it-- "but I'd be lying."

"Yeah, I know." Rude leaned his forehead against Reno's. "Everyone needs someone, right. Even you."

Reno wanted to lean against Rude and, maybe just... fall, but he resisted the urge, instead just grasping Rude's shirt with his fingertips. "Even you."

"Even you," Rude murmured, tightening his hold on the back of Reno's neck briefly. "So stop tryin' to make me angry, cos it ain't gonna work."

Reno tried to answer, but he couldn't. Not with his head spinning the way it was. Too much crap in there. Too much happening. Too much... he swallowed. You will not give into this. Not in front of Rude. Not ever.

He tried to concentrate, to focus enough to stop it all from exploding out of him, so he started by allowing himself to feel Rude's hand on the back of his neck, Rude's forehead on his, Rude's breath brushing his face... Rude's body moving closer... Rude's arms drawing him into them... the rise and fall of Rude's chest against his, demanding that Reno relax into him and breathe with him and just... fall... to let himself be comforted.

And Reno did. For just a moment, he relaxed into Rude, wrapping both arms around Rude's waist, burying his face into Rude's shoulder as Rude's mouth travelled along Reno's neck to his collarbone... allowed himself to feel warm... to feel... NO!

He had no right to feel safe. He had no right to feel warm or loved. What the fuck was he doing? How could he even consider this when Raith--when Raith was--he pushed himself away from Rude. Or maybe he pushed Rude from him, he couldn't tell and it was all the same wasn't it? How could he consider wanting Rude when Rude had lied to him? When Raith had been--had been--and Rude could've stopped it?

How could he be forgetting Raith already just because Reno wanted to feel better? "You have no right," he muttered. "None."

"Reno, I'm sorry. I shouldn't've--"

"What?" Reno looked up into Rude's stricken face. Hells, for a second, he'd forgotten Rude was there. What was wrong with him? "Just... leave me alone." I have to find him. I have to--

He ran, without even knowing where it was he was going. Just pushed past Rude and through the door, to the basement where the bikes were kept. And he rode, with no conscious thought. Just rage. Rage at Rude, for making him feel. Rage at himself, for thinking he could forget. Rage at Raith, for fucking leaving him, like everyone did, sooner or later. Like everyone.

Then, he stopped riding, and turned off the motor, and stared at the fuselage, gritting his teeth until his jaw hurt more than his chest and he could see past the anger.

It was the acrid smell that told him where he was. That wet char smell, damply sick amongst the late afternoon stillness, mixed with that certain aura of death.

He was there. Where Raith had... left.

Reno slowly got off his bike and stood quietly, trying to take it all in... trying not to. There was no sound. Nothing moved. Even the wildlife had gone.

Was this the hells the Wutai monks spoke of? This?

Reno wasn't sure what he'd expected, really. Perhaps he thought that, being here, he would... hear him, or something. Feel his presence.

But there was nothing. No, more than nothing. A complete absence of nothingness.

How could all that--all that love, be vapourised in an instant, never to be felt, or seen, or heard from again? All Reno had left was the words. Memories.

And a slow burning anger.

He didn't hear Rude arrive, but Reno knew he was there.

Funny, that: how Rude was always there, when Reno really needed him. Funny, also, how Rude was never there when Reno really needed him.

"He--they're really gone, aren't they," Reno found himself saying. He looked up at Rude, who was silhouetted by the setting sun.

"Yeah," was all Rude said.

Reno fisted some of the dirt and watched it fall from his hand. So. That was all there was. What'd been stolen. From Raith, from him. And it was his fault.

And there wasn't any way of going back.

Didn't mean he couldn't sort a few people out, though. Starting with a certain Don Corneo, no matter what Rude said. And anyone who'd been a part of Raith's captivity. Moving on to anyone and everyone who'd been, and was, a part of Avalanche.

People had to learn that you do not mess with the Turks.

Not even Shin-Ra.

He picked up a twisted, melted piece of metal, one that'd been fused into rock by the heat. It could've been a part of the building; maybe it was a part of a weapon. Reno couldn't tell. He turned that rock over and over in his hand, watching as the colours changed with the dying sun. He had to know something, before he took any action. "Why did you lie to me, Rude?"

There was that defensive stiffening again. "I don't understand what you mean."

Reno stood. "You knew where he'd been, that year."

Rude's shoulders relaxed, then. "Yes."

"So why didn't you tell me?"

"I was ordered not to." No hesitation.

Reno set his jaw to stop himself from calling bullshit. "I thought we were beyond that, Rudolph."

Rude nodded, his face grim. "At the time the order was given, I had no idea that the information was relevant to you."

This time, Reno wasn't buying it, and Rude's distant "giving a mission report" tone did not help. "You're so fucking--" he stopped, and took a breath, which was no help in stemming the boiling rage he was trying very hard not to feel. "You came to know it was 'relevant'. Why not then?"

Rude's jaw tensed. "I was--there were reasons."

Sure there were. Reasons Rude clearly wasn't going to share with him. "Did you know he was in there before you went to get him?"

Rude took off his glasses and met Reno's eyes. "No."

Okay. That was the truth. "Are you aware of anyone, at all, who knew where he was before you pulled him out?"

"Only Sherin."

Sherin. Of course. Someone Reno couldn't speak to, because the woman was dead. "Who gave you the order not to tell me?"

"It wasn't just you." Rude swallowed, putting his glasses back on. "Look, Reno, this isn't helping any--"

"Fuck it!" Reno'd had enough. "Who gave you the order?"

Rude rubbed his head for a moment before answering. "Tseng."

"Tseng." Bastard. Tseng, at least, had been aware of exactly what--and who--he was keeping from Reno. "Anyone else?"

"Braden was there when the order was given, but... no. Not that I'm aware of."

Braden hadn't known about the previous relationship, either. Yet--he had lied by omission as well, after everyone had known. The coma. Reno drew on more anger to stop himself thinking about the fact that Raith'd wasted so much time... and then lived only a year... and... No. Don't think about it. "Good." Reno turned and strode to his bike.

"Reno, wait."

"Leave me the hells alone," Reno threw back without turning around. He mounted the bike, then looked down at that piece of rock again, before he pocketed it. "Why are you here, anyway?" he said, pulling on his gloves.

Rude didn't answer.

"Whatever," Reno muttered, starting the bike. Tell me again how much you can't stand to lose me, you fucking liar.

Rude moved to take hold of one of the handlebars. "Reno--"

"Shut up and get out of my way."

"No, Reno." Rude pointed behind Reno with his other hand.

Reno turned to look over his shoulder. Yeah, figured. Reno should've known the site would be watched and the moment he or Rude turned up, Scarlet's grunts wouldn't be far behind. Well, he had known. It just wasn't on the tip of his mind. Stupid.

What he hadn't expected was how many there would be. Had to be twenty, maybe thirty uniformed Shin-Ra behind him. Guess Scarlet and Heidegger figured they'd be hard to catch. Oh shit. "Get on and hold on."

Rude complied without another word, dropping his hands on Reno's waist.

Reno ignored the tingling in his thighs caused by the warmth at his back and revved the bike, setting off across the plains of Midgar at speed. He and Rude would be easy to see for a while, but Reno knew a way out of eyesight, a way that would head them in the opposite direction. The Shin-Ra grunts would not be able to find them.

Soon, they would be ghosts.

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