Residual tingles of Cure materia.
Sitting up. More pain.
Pain, pain, pain.
"Rude?" Elena's voice, from the side. "He's awake!" Turning to look at her. "Tseng! He's okay!"
Tseng, standing by the door. "Of course he is."
The replacement, behind him, peering in. "Man, that guy got you good."
Tseng, shoving the replacement outside. "Go report."
"But I didn't even—"
Emotion, in Tseng's voice?
Shock, then submission. "Yes, sir." Footsteps, scurrying away.
Wondering what happened to Reno's body.
"They said you'll be fine in a few hours, so don't worry." Elena, still not understanding. Optimistic smiles and nods. "It was a good thing we got there in time!" A blush. "I mean, not that… I… well… it… could've been worse."
Thinking he'd rather have just died.
"Let's go, Elena."
"O—okay." Elena, standing up, glancing back over her shoulder. Smiling. Hopeful, now that it was over. "See you in a few hours!"
Elena, leaving. Then just Tseng, leaning on the doorframe.
"Well. This has never happened before." Tseng's quiet voice. Contemplation. "I would call you lucky, but I might be wrong."
A slight smile. "But 'insane,' I'll grant. Both of you."
Were, not are.
Tseng, turning to go, then hesitating.
Looking up, questioning.
"I'm glad the number stays odd for now." Knowing exactly what number he meant. "But, should you wish to make it even…"
Eyes, flicking to the table by his bed. His eyes, following Tseng's. Stopping to rest on a familiar gun. Familiar, only not his.
Looking up, to see Tseng gone.
Easy. It would be so easy.
Lying back down, closing his eyes, seeing red through his eyelids from the blinding lights of the hospital room.
Fade to black?
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Days, going by in a blur. Missions. Breaks. Weeks. Months.
Looking up now, gazing at the statues of angels leaning over the hall. Reaching for each other across the high, arched ceiling. Stretching. Fingertips, despairing for touch.
Never making it across.
Never stopping anyway.
Wondering if they were ever angry.
Church, Sector 6 slums, 4 AM. Silent. Empty pews. Sitting.
Wouldn't have been able to say if he tried.
A hand on his shoulder. Twitch. Resisting the reflex to turn around and start shooting. Turning around calmly instead. Looking up.
"Can I help you, son?"
"I don't mean to intrude." Apologetic. "It's just that… I've seen you here, night after night, and you never say a word…"
"Is there something that you'd like to tell me?" Gentle words. "Many a man feels the need to trust in God… especially in Midgar. I promise that anything you tell me will never leave this room."
One more try. "Have you… lost someone?"
Finally, an odd half-smirk. "…maybe."
Blink. Shock. "May-Maybe?"
A shake of his head. "Yes."
"Ah…" The hand, on his shoulder again.
A failed attempt at comfort. Only annoyance.
"It is hard, I know…" A sigh. "But… one must always remember that God keeps His children. All His children. Somewhere out there, your loved one is with Him."
"God?" The odd half-smirk again.
A tentative questioning look. "Yes, God…"
A pause. Then. the longest sentence he'd said in a long time.
"Reno would kick his ass."
"So would I."
Confusion. "I understand why you might feel angry, but…"
No… not anymore.
Nothing. Just nothing.
His phone, vibrating against his leg, cutting off their conversation. Tseng again. Probably another mission.
Time to go kill someone again.
Standing up. Ignoring the priest staring at his back. Shoving open the double doors, smog from outside smashing into him like an invisible wall. Heading out of the church.
Looking up. The Plate, in all its rusting glory. The phone, still demanding his attention. The Gates, locked from the outside.
Nowhere to run.
Reno's last word, echoing in his memory.
Maybe, Rude thought, maybe Reno had figured it out, sooner than him. It didn't matter, where they went. Who they worked for. What they did. No matter what, they were trapped.
And if they ran… nothing. No hope, no chance.
Like the angels in the Church. Always trying. Never touching. Never getting anywhere.
Even in death…
The cold, cold anger that eventually burned its way through a heart and left it empty.
Bliss. Cold bliss.
Picking up the phone.
Tseng, immediately. "An escaped specimen from Hojo's lab. It was last seen heading in your direction. Sector 6. Squads are on the way; meet them at the Gate. Dangerous. Be on your guard. Elena and I will be arriving soon. Permission to move out without us: capture, contain, or destroy."
"Then." Almost able to hear Tseng nod. "I'll see you in fifteen."
Sticking his phone back into his pocket, turning around to take one last look at the Church.
Then, starting to run, normally at first, then faster, faster, pushing himself beyond his limits.
Wishing it were away instead of toward. Wishing it were out of Midgar. Wishing it were into the past. Away from the past.
But not. Reaching the Sector Six Gates. Watching the SOLDIER squadrons arrive. Nodding to them, then silently gesturing for them to wait.
Seeing the respect bloom in their eyes at the sight of his suit.
Knowing what it meant. Living what it meant.
Like the furious, silent, despairing angels reaching for—
Something? Nothing? Each other?
Splitting up, beginning to scout the area.
Find the specimen, capture the specimen, kill the specimen.
Tseng and Elena arriving and leaving with squads of their own.
Pausing, just for a moment.
Staring down at Reno's gun in his hand.
Maybe he'd die today.
Was it wrong to hope?
A shake of his head.
Back to work.