A/N: Don't like the title, but I couldn't come up with a better one. Starts right after the party's last confrontation with the Turks.
The phone rang as they were picking their way down to the ground. Reno had it, and he stopped, greeting the caller with a curt "Turks."
Rude halted and turned back, coming even with their de facto leader. "Yeah. D'you need help getting out?" Reno asked, just as Elena caught up with them. She shot the bald Turk a quizzical glance, and he responded with a shrug.
"Got it. We were headed out, but if you think... yeah, okay. Hey, good guess! You know where it is, then. Yeah." The redhead snapped the phone shut, and the group resumed their descent. "That was Reeve. Security's released him, so he's stepping in."
"Will he need protection?"
"Avalanche'd leave him alone, he blew his cover with them. Besides, they're going after Sephiroth."
"It's always good to have a goal, I guess," Elena said dryly.
"It might do some good," Rude suggested. "Saw him up north when everything went to hell."
"You think he had something to do with it?" she asked.
"Hell, I would if they weren't. Anything'd be better than hanging around waiting for the world to end." Reno rubbed his face, raked his fingers through his hair. "This is confidential, but Reeve's working on evacuation plans. If you have friends or family in here, you might call them, tell them to get out early, but you have to swear 'em to secrecy. He don't want to start a panic."
Elena stopped dead, made some inarticulate noise of protest, and both men halted to look at her. A moment's silence passed before she found the words. "How can he say that? How can you just... choose the people that are important enough to save or not?"
"It's not certain death, it's just giving some a head start," Reno began, but her face had twisted with emotion and he broke off. "Shit, 'Lena, don't cry."
"I'm not crying! I'm pissed off! I can't do that, I can't just leave people here to die in all this! Knowing that I'm doing it! How can he lay a secret like that on us?" Her face was red, and there were tears in her eyes, but neither man was about to contradict her. "How can he! And you! You didn't have to tell me that! Everyone I went to school with still lives on the plate, everyone from my neighborhood, every... He had no right!" she insisted, almost in a shout, and for a moment she stood, fists clenched and shaking with anger. "Fuck him!" she yelled, turning and driving her fist into a nearby girder with all the force she possessed. The two men traded impressed looks as she shook out her hand, biting her lip against the pain.
"You're a bad influence on her, Reno," the bald Turk said under his breath. "She didn't used to throw screaming, cursing fits."
"So are you. I may swear, but I'm not the one punches walls." Raising his voice, he added, "Elena, come here, okay?"
With a heroic effort not to cradle her hand against her body, the tiny blonde descended another tier of garbage to reach them. Reno gripped her by the shoulders. "'Lena. Listen. I got a lot of friends and family in there too. You just gotta accept that you can only do so much. Trust Reeve, okay?"
"Why should I?" she demanded, her voice choked. "What's he ever done? So he planned Midgar! Look at the shape it's in!"
"Could've been worse. Look at Junon," Rude said helpfully.
"Yeah, but if there was anyone in Corporate who cared it was him," Reno said, disregarding his partner's contribution. "He's gonna do what he can, but if we give the alarm early we'll just f— mess it up for him."
"What if our families don't keep the secret?"
"They have to."
On the edge of town, they found a bar, and as one, they all ordered vodka. Rude downed his and immediately walked over to the bar. Elena prodded at her untouched shot glass with a fingertip as she made her call on the shared cell phone.
"Hi Mom. It's me." There was a long pause, and a faint smile flitted over her features. "No, no, I'm fine. I mean, sort of stunned about it all, but, you know, fine. And unemployed, I guess. Sort of." There was another pause, then, "Well, actually, that's sort of what I was calling about. I think it might be a good idea if you did leave." A look of frustration, and she ran her hand through her short hair. "No, Mom. Just pack up some clothes and the most portable valuable things you have and get in the car. And the dogs, yes, you can take the dogs— Mom? Mom. Mom, c'mon." Finally, "Mom, can I talk to Dad?"
A moment's pause. Rude returned, and after a hurried, quiet exchange with Reno, left again. She tried not to wonder what that was about. "Hi Daddy. You sort of know what we were talking about, right?" She ran her finger around the rim of her glass as she listened. "You mean the Weapon? It's not that, Daddy. It's Meteor. Some of the scientists think it'll hit Midgar first." Reno winced and gestured at her to lower her voice. Rude frowned at her as he sank into his seat. She ignored them both, lowering her head as tears sprang to her eyes. "I don't know. I hope so. It can't hurt to try, can it?" A short pause. "Listen, Daddy, don't tell anyone what you're doing, all right? Outside the family, I mean. Don't... don't cause a panic. Just leave really quietly." Pause. "I love you too, Daddy. Tell Mom and Matt I love them, too. Call me when you get to Uncle Joe's house, okay? Yeah, this number's fine. Okay. Bye."
She closed the phone gently, deposited it in the middle of the table, and then downed the contents of the shot glass. She was too busy coughing to notice her colleagues eyeing her with concern.
"Where's your Uncle Joe?" Rude asked quietly, as the scrawny redhead claimed the phone, moving over to a deserted corner before he started punching in numbers.
"Down south, nearly to the marshes. He has a farm near Amara."
"Really far south, then."
"Oh, I think your family'll be okay, Rude. I mean, we're banking on Kalm, and they're further than that." She was choosing her words with care, not for fear of upsetting him, but just because her tongue was growing numb.
"Yeah," he said softly. As one, they both turned to look at Reno, who was almost huddled, shoulders tense, speaking vehemently but too low to be heard. Occasionally he'd make an aborted gesture with his free hand or pace a few steps. "Maybe Avalanche is right. Maybe they'll kill Sephiroth and it'll do some good," he added.
"It'd be nice. I just don't see how it can help. I mean, even if he did cause it, it's still there. It won't just go away, will it?"
"Guess not. Just hate to give up hope."
"I'm not," she said with false bravado. "I'm holding out hope that we won't die when it hits." The vodka, she reflected, worked a bit like insulation, protecting her from the feeling that was twisting her gut; fear wasn't quite the right word. Dread, maybe. She was still aware of its presence, but at a distance, as though she weren't paying full attention while someone told her of it.
"Okay, that's my folks taken care of. Assuming Ma listens," he added, disgusted. "Did what I could, anyway. Ready to go?"
"How? We don't have anything to travel in, half the trains have stopped running—"
"See that car outside? Argued the bartender down to half his asking price," the bald Turk informed them both with a touch of pride.
"Driving drunk is bad, Rude," she informed him earnestly.
"Elena, I'm three times your size. I'm not drunk."
"Whoa," she mumbled as she stood up.
"At least some things never change," Reno said, almost fondly, supporting her by the elbow as they walked out to the car.
Rude drove. The roads were almost empty. "I'd expected refugees," Elena noted from the backseat.
"No one knows if there's anywhere to run," Reno said, uncharacteristically serious. "Including us."
"I'd rather just be doing something, though. Not just sitting around, watching TV on that endless loop of 'Threat From the Skies!' and so-called experts bullshitting about when it'll hit and what to expect. They've started with computer simulations, did you see? I guess after today they'll take a break for some news about what happened to the President and all."
Rude shifted uncomfortably in his seat, a barely perceptible motion. Reno sympathized wholeheartedly. Rufus had been – not a friend, exactly, but a fixture. As a boy he had been fascinated with the group; when he got older he had tried, in his way, to befriend them. He'd learned to shoot from the same man who'd taught Tseng, and had formed with his guards a camaraderie that his father had never even faked. To Elena, still a rookie, he was just a distant figure. Rude had once seen him laugh, and had reported this to the others as the news that it was.
Reno broke the awkward silence. "Hey. 'Lena. You want to go back to your family? I mean, we're goin' someplace we have memories, but it's not like you have any reason to go there. If, uh, I mean, you might want to just spend time with them."
"I'm a Turk too, Reno," she insisted, resting her head on the cool of the glass. "But if you want to get rid of me, just say so."
"No, no, nothin' like that. Just didn't want you to feel obligated," he muttered, abashed, turning back to face forward.
"Just as well. We just passed the last exit for a while," Rude said. Elena closed her eyes.
The trip to Kalm was nearly eight hours, even driving as fast as safety would allow. Elena had dozed off, occasionally shifting fitfully in her sleep. Rude suspected that Reno had slept as well, though some weird pride would never allow the older Turk to admit anything of the sort. He had, however, straightened up in his seat and stretched discreetly, when they stopped for fuel three hours along.
The car was mako-powered, and Rude felt a tinge of guilt while he stood at the pump even though he'd always written off the anti-Shinra propaganda as superstition. The idea of the planet being alive was a fairy tale. He didn't write off all spirituality, but that particular element always struck him as singularly unbelievable. But if it was true, if mako really were the souls and knowledge of the dead, well, they'd better refit all the cars for gasoline pretty soon unless the knowledge of the Ancients forbade that too. He didn't top off the tank when he was done.
Reno had purchased soft drinks and potato chips inside. He handed Rude his preferred beverage, opened his own bottle and settled back in. Neither felt any need to speak.
Elena, as always, did. When she awakened, she asked first about the time, then about food, and then requested that they turn on the radio. Every station was broadcasting news. After the blast from Midgar – they'd seen it on their way out – the strange darkness in the north had vanished, and the airship Highwind had been seen approaching the spot. "That's Avalanche," Reno said, seeming to realize the pointlessness of the comment even as he spoke. The Gold Saucer had evacuated and closed. City leaders in Kalm were asking citizens not to panic. Gridlock outside Junon as the inhabitants tried to flee. "Upper Junon, they mean. Below, there's almost no cars," Rude noted. Scientists were now predicting an impact in the ocean. Elena sputtered with outrage until the others soothed her with reminders of the media's penchant for lying and the unreliability of science under the circumstances. Then came a message from Reeve, urging the citizens to remain calm and officially announcing the evacuation plan; details about the stages in which cars would be allowed to leave, instructions that residents in certain areas take shelter beneath the plate, directions regarding shelters.
"Under the plate?" Elena asked, once it became clear they'd heard the gist of the plan.
"Nice word for the slums," Reno explained.
"I know that, but why? That's like hiding under a table."
"Exactly. I'm from tornado country. Always seemed pointless, but that's what you do," Rude said.
"This isn't exactly a tornado!"
Reeve's message began again, and halfway through the third repetition Reno snapped off the radio.
The bar was at the edge of town, surrounded by other boarded-up and rundown buildings. The trio emerged from the car, stretching stiff joints and, except for Rude, blinking against the sunlight. "Feels weird not to have any luggage to go get," Elena said timidly.
"Take you shopping if you want," Rude offered, quietly. "Plenty of money between us, no reason to save it."
"But around here?" She cast a doubtful eye at the surroundings.
"We'll take you someplace," Reno offered absently, doing something to the lock. Elena didn't think it looked like he had a key. She didn't ask.
"Maretti's," she read off the sign. "Why are we going here, anyway? Kalm has other bars..."
"It's not just a bar! More like a lounge. Old Turk headquarters. I told you, we got memories here. Especially me. Besides, it's Shinra-owned, so it's not like we're looting something we're not entitled to, and there's a bedroom upstairs."
"I guess that helps," she agreed vaguely. Rude steered her indoors. "This isn't a normal bar, is it?" she asked, flinging herself down on a couch. Reno just shook his head, venturing over to investigate the bathroom. Rude stood in the middle of the room, hands in his pockets, head down. Reno emerged from the restroom, wiping his hands dry on his pants.
He then inspected the bar, or pretended to, watching his partner carefully. "Rude? You okay, man?"
"I'm trying to remember the last time I slept."
"Go upstairs. We'll take care of things here."
"Buy food. Not just alcohol."
"I know, I know. Elena? You think you're ready to go?"
"I guess so," she said, with no real enthusiasm.
When they returned, with a single bag of groceries – a rush of survivalism had left the stores almost bare – and a bag of equal size from an impressive liquor store, he was nowhere to be found. Reno went upstairs to check on him, and found him sprawled on his back on the bare mattress of one of the beds. He'd removed his shoes, but not his sunglasses or his suit jacket. On inspection of the linen closet, he found that the sheets were musty but intact, and he made up one of the spare beds before returning downstairs.
Elena was standing by the refrigerator, staring vacantly at her hand on the handle. "Elena?" he asked, quietly.
"Reno, the world's ending," she whispered, tears starting in her eyes and cracking her voice. "Everything's ending."
"Hey, hey... they don't know for sure yet..." he soothed, wrapping his arms around her.
"They can make a pretty good guess!" she retorted, muffled by his shoulder.
"Elena, did you get into the booze already?"
"Maybe you should. Or take a nap. Seriously, it doesn't do any good to freak out ahead of time."
"I don't see how I can help it!"
"Turk control, remember, Elena? Save the freaking out for later. Or never, ideally."
"It'll be never. There won't even be a later," she insisted, but quietly. The tears were leaking unheeded from her eyes, but she didn't argue or resist as he got her settled on the couch. When he turned on the TV (and silently blessed it for still working) she stared vacantly at the screen. He considered putting away the groceries, but he gave up that idea and simply joined her on the couch. The television was oddly soothing.