Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII is the property of Square-Enix. No profit is sought from this work.

Paint the Town

There's Something Strange

"My office is haunted!"

"Haunted." Tseng leveled a stare at the fat man before him. "What has led you to this conclusion, Director Palmer?"

Palmer tried to squirm in his seat but his girth did not leave the room for it. "My window opened up by itself while I was out and all my papers were flying around. At first I thought the latch had come loose but then I heard it!"

Tseng let nothing show on his face. "Heard what, exactly?"

"The ghost! The most ungodly shriek that ever was!" Palmer was bouncing now. The seat creaked dangerously. "It came right up the ventilation shaft! It sounded liking something dying in there!"

Tseng kept his reactions in check. He would humor the man; it was part of his unwritten job description but some days, Shinra execs could be a real trip. "I will send someone to investigate. In the meantime, why don't you head down to medical and have them look you over. It sounds like you've had quite a shock. You could probably use something calming." What the man needed was probably quadruple bypass surgery, but Tseng wasn't about to set the man down that route. The Turks had their own agenda.

"I don't need a damned valium!" Palmer wheezed. "The only thing I've ever needed is a jumbo bowl of Choco-Joe's four-cheese mashed potatoes, with the extra-greasy gravy. Comfort food, that's what I need!" Tseng felt slightly sick to his stomach.

"I'll have some of my best men on the situation. You can wait here if you'd like an escort back to your office."

"Oh, no, I am NOT going back there! Not until you have the whole place exorcised and clear out the ectoplasm!"

Tseng blinked. "Ectoplasm?"

"Yes, ectoplasm! What ghosts are made of? Don't you Turks know anything?"

Tseng straightened a file on his desk. "I must admit, Palmer, that ghostbusting is not exactly our area of expertise. We will do what we can, of course."

"You better." Palmer sniffed. "I had ten years worth of burger smells in that office. There's no way I can get that back in a hurry."

"Would you like a seat outside while you wait?" Tseng asked, eager to shove the man out the door. Close proximity to Palmer made his skin feel like a breakout was imminent. Too bad Turks were not any good at investigating auras either. Tseng was sure Palmer's would be the color of week old griddle grease.

"What the hell do you think this is, Turk? I need to go home and relax! While you're setting up a séance of whatever it is you need to do to get the shrieking zombie out of my room, I want an escort to my apartment on the double."

"You'll have it," Tseng promised. Thank Gaia it was a slow day.

"Good! I'll just make my way up to the helicopter pad, then." Palmer tried to rise but the chair came up with him, hanging on to his hips. Tseng looked away.

"You want a helicopter?"

"Of course! You don't think I'm going to take the highway, do you? That's exactly where a ghost would look."

Tseng astutely kept the thought that if ghosts existed they probably flew to himself. "I'll meet you up there and personally see you off, then. Will that be all?"

"For now." Palmer extracted himself from his seat. The chair hit the floor with a thud and rattle. Tseng knew it would never be the same. Ever the diplomat to the execs, he waiting until Palmer had successfully navigated his bulk through the door before letting out a sigh and reaching for the phone.


Zack ignored Julia's poisonous glare and inched his way down the hall, leaning heavily on the wall for support. Maybe he should have asked Sephiroth to just smack him a good one to knock him out, and then haul him off to the infirmary for real treatment. But then that would have raised questions and like hell was he going to let anybody find out about this. He hissed as a seam brushed against a sore spot. This day had turned into such a bitch.

"Yo, Zack!" Reno's voice came at him from behind. "How'd it go?"

Zack tried to turn but couldn't manage it. He tried to straighten up a little, at least. "I'm okay," he said, though his groin was telling a different story. He was pretty sure he had ice packs in the freezer at home. Or at least frozen peas.

"You sure, man?" Reno skidded to a stop and slapped Zack's back. Zack lurched and choked off a cry. "Dude, you don't look so hot."

"I'm okay, Reno, really." Zack said, breathing a little heavily.

Reno studied him. "If you say so, man. How'd it go?"

"About the same as always, to tell you the truth." Zack smiled wryly. When was Seph ever not bristly and not admitting he needed some company?

Reno couldn't stop looking Zack over. "You sure? Because I gotta say, you don't look too steady on your feet there. Something's not right here."

Zack cringed inside. Reno was the ultimate snoop of Turk snoops. What if he could sniff out exactly what had happened?

"Aha!" Reno declared. Zack's heart nearly gave out. "Your pants don't match your shirt. What the hell happened to you?"

"Uh," Zack fished around for an excuse. "I, uh, I was in a rush this morning."

"Bee ess, Fair, I saw you this morning, remember? Besides, those pants aren't yours."

Zack's heart packed its bags for the next bus out of town. Reno rocked back on his heels, looking mighty pleased with himself. Zack gulped. He leaned on the wall for support. "How did you know?" he asked, keeping it quiet.

"Number one!" Reno held up a finger. "They're too big and baggy on you. Any pants I can't see a fine SOLDIER ass like yours in should be declared a crime. Two, you didn't tuck them into your boots properly and you missed a belt loop in the back, which tell me either you dressed in a hurry or you're not used to this design. And three!" Reno leaned in. "They look way too expensive for a broke-ass grunt like you."

Zack looked down at the supple leather. Reno had him there. "I guess." He sighed.

"So, are they his?" Reno asked. Zack looked up. "Come on," Reno coaxed, "who else were you planning to see today?"

Sephiroth's warning rang in Zack's ears. "You can't tell anyone! Not even Rude! I'm serious!"

"Of course I won't tell anyone, SOLDIER-boy." Reno studied his fingernails. "I know good blackmail material when I see it."


Reno grinned. "So how'd that happen anyway? You had a trade off?"

Zack crossed his arms. "That is none of your business."

"Everything within these walls is my business, Fair," Reno drawled. His smile faltered a little. "Besides, even without the pants issue you don't look too good. What's got you?"

"It's nothing, Reno. Thanks for your help and all, but I gotta go."

"Dude, you're limping. What's up with that?"

Zack shrugged, trying to make it nonchalant. "I'm just kinda sore."

"You're sore?"

"Yeah." Zack gave Reno a wry smile. "It's nothing out of the ordinary."

"It's not?"

"Not for SOLDIER. You know how the General is, it's all about roughing and toughing out everything." Zack looked aside. He could feel his cheeks flaming.

"So what kind of sore leaves you limping like a boy-whore at a thong convention?"

Zack sputtered. Somewhere in the back of the good Gongangan boy part of his brain, his mother's voice screeched at him about the company he kept. "It was an accident!"

"What, you banged your crotch in a door?" Reno raised an eyebrow?

Zack winced. That was hitting a little too close to the truth. "My leg and a desk, if you must know," he blurted. He was no Turk but even SOLDIERs learned to think on the fly.

Reno still wasn't buying it. Zack's limp had a flavor to it that Reno wasn't sure he liked. Reno leaned in closer. "He was rough on you, huh?" Zack stared open-mouthed. Reno made a sound. "Look, you can't fool a Turk. I know hurt when I see it."

"I'm okay!" Zack insisted, rushing to his General's defense. "I'm not hurt bad. He didn't do anything a SOLDIER can't handle." And it had completely been his own fault too. Did people think Sephiroth was beating on his men? What the hell was up with that?

Reno gave him a level stare. "Zack, be honest with me now. It doesn't go beyond the two of us."

Zack sighed. He would have to toss the Turk something because Reno just wasn't letting go. "He liked his presents. It's just that some of the stuff that came afterwards… well, it was… kinda heavy, but I needed it, you know?"

"Oh. Oh!" Reno mulled that over. He had his suspicions. "You sure you don't need me to get you to Medical or anything?"

"Nah, it's cool." Zack tried to wave him off. He could manage. "I'm a SOLDIER, I've had worse. I'll heal up and be ready for another round by tonight."

Reno stared. "You SOLDIER boys love your punishment, don't you?"

Zack shrugged. "It was my fault anyway."

That set off the final alarm. Reno drew breath to launch into a tirade against abuse that would have made his legions of unknown redheaded ancestors proud. It would have shaken the stars from the heavens, called forth the spirits of the uneasy dead, cured diabetes and opened the gates to the netherworld. But his phone rang.

"Shit, hold on! Yeah, what! Oops, sorry, sir." He turned away, frame stiff with tension. "Yeah, uh-huh… What? Seriously? Okay, okay, I'll be there, bossman." He flipped his phone closed and rounded on Zack. "You!"

"Me?" Zack blinked. Turk business couldn't have anything to do with him, right?

"Yeah, you." Reno leaned close and lowered his voice. He was a Turk first, but he'd had a life before that. He knew his way around more than one kind of sensitive issue. "Look, I know you big, bad SOLDIERs like to tough things out and handle everything on your own, but there's some things that just ain't a one-man job, you know what I'm saying? If you need a hand with anything, and I mean anything, you call me."

"Uh, okay, I guess."

"I'm serious, Fair! I own half your soul, remember? I want it in good condition when I collect."

Zack stuck his tongue out. "Can't I barter it back with another porn subscription?"

"You got the cash for that?"


"Exactly!" Reno shoved his phone back in his pants. "Look, I hate to leave you like this and we'll definitely talk later, but I gotta go. Palmer thinks he has a poltergeist or something."

"A what?"

"I know, right? Don't you have to be intelligent to attract one of those? Anyhow, I'm on immediate 'special investigative' duty."

Zack cocked his head. "They're asking the Turks to track a ghost?"

Reno shrugged. "Who you gonna call?" He backed down the hall towards the elevators. "You got my number, Fair! Use it if you have to!" He turned away, shaking his head. The image of Zack limping his way along in that condition stuck with him. It wasn't like Reno could do anything about the General's methods, but if Zack decided he was ready for a way out, Reno could definitely help with that.

Time: 5 hrs 17 mins

Music: Ghostbusters - Ray Parker, Jr.

Notes: If you follow my work I'm sure you're used to the delays by now. Since there's usually nothing serious riding on fanfic it gets pushed to the background for more important things, but the times are calling for a little something different.

Over at the LJ auction Community Help_Haiti, fandom is pledging all kinds of fanwork in exchange for a donation to a reputable charitable organization of your choice that is providing aid in the earthquake's wake. Definite deadlines, and generally your choice of characters, genres and prompts. Details of my offers in particular are here, without the spaces:

http : / / ardwynna – m . livejournal . com / 66096 . html

I'm willing to toss in quick digital sketch illustrations as a bonus for some 'auction lots'. If my work doesn't suit, please check out what the rest of the comm has to offer or possibly offer up some time and talent of your own. We are powerful, fandom. :)