A Place to Belong

Kagura Kyo Shinra

Warning: This is shounen-ai story, which means it has boys loving boys. So do not read it, if you do not like that kind of stuff.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything

"I knew that if we fell, we'd go together; he would never drop me."

-Mrs. Forrester, A Lost Lady by Willa Cather

Part One: Constantine and the SFBs

Reno and Rude sat rigidly on the couch in Reno's apartment, each one staring in the opposite direction. Two years they had spent together, but there were still things Reno was too afraid to speak.

"Well?" Rude barked. "Don't you think I deserve some kind of answer to that question?"

Reno's eyes glossed over, and he just stared with a funny smile plastered across his face. It was too much to tell, and if Rude knew, he'd only turn away from Reno.

"Reno!" he shouted again. "I've been patient. I've told you everything about my life. Is it too much that I want to know about your past? Don't I deserve that?"

"You don't know what you're asking, Rude," Reno mumbled. "It's not pretty, and there's no way to sugar coat it."

Rude knelt down before Reno and took his hands into his own. "I don't care," he said. "I'll never judge you. I just want you to share with me."

Reno's eyes fell upon the handkerchief in Rude's pocket, and Rude's eyes followed.

"I know you said you hate lime green, but…"

Reno didn't wait. He barely made it into the bathroom and vomited. It was the first time in a long time that color had cause that reaction.

"Reno!"

Reno slammed the door shut before Rude reached him and locked it.

"Are you okay, Reno?"

Reno lay on the floor. Underneath the door he could see Rude's shadow. His scars began to sting, and Reno rubbed them gently¾ that hadn't happened in a long time either. They were the only things his father had ever given him.

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"I told you not to get pregnant!"

"Like it was my fault! You think I wanted him?"

"Abortion! That should have been your answer!"

"And risk my life! Besides I didn't know he'd be such a worthless piece of garbage! But I think you overreacted when you did that to him! A simple beating would have been enough!"

Reno felt the tender wounds underneath the bandages on his cheeks and listened to his parents arguing. Would it have been this way for them if he hadn't been born, or would it be the same only with another child?

Blood began to soak through the toilet-paper bandages Reno had made, staining his fingertips. He didn't belong here. Wasn't there some place out there for him¾ someplace where they'd never reach him?

Reno looked around at his bare bedroom and knew what he had to do. With a deep breath, he climbed out the window. Walking away, he looked back only once, but not with remorse. It was the look of determination, as if saying that no matter how bad things became, he'd never need them, he'd never come back, and he'd never end up like them.

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The month after Reno's departure from home went smoother than he thought it would. He found a deserted apartment in downtown Sector Two and survived by begging for money. However, by his fifteenth birthday, things grew difficult.

The apartment he'd been staying in was rented out, and people grew tired of the red-headed boy on the corner begging for their money every day.

"Boy!"

Just as Reno had been kicked out, he was found. A boy about a year older than Reno called to him from a darkened ally beside Reno's old apparent building.

"Yes?" Reno asked hesitantly, but stepped closer to the youth.

The boy had shaggy, black hair, and he was a few inches taller than Reno (who was somewhat tall for his age). He also had the same gangly figure as Reno; however, what really caught Reno's attention were the boy's eyes. Reno had never seen such eyes on anybody before. They were dark and clear, as if drawn from a very fine pen and had a way of piercing into Reno like they saw everything inside. The young read-head quickly decided they definitely made him uncomfortable.

"I've seen you begging for money a lot," he said, and then looked Reno up and down, rolling his sharp eyes over every inch of him. "You're attractive."

Reno blushed. Nobody had ever said he was attractive. Nobody had ever associated his name with anything good.

"Calm down, Reds. I was speaking in a business sense. I'm Constantine, by the way." He peered into Reno's face. "How'd you get those scars?"

"Oh, it's nothing," Reno said, ducking his head and touching the scars gently. Under the gaze of Constantine's eyes, they began to burn. "My name's Reno, and what do you mean 'business sense?'"

"Well, I'll tell you, Reds. You see, I represent a small group of boys in Sector Four known simply as SFB, that stands for Sector Four Boys, and I'd like to tell you a little bit about what we do."

"And you want me to join?" Reno asked, happy that somebody seemed to be looking out for him.

"Hold your horses. Let me tell you what we do." Constantine placed a finger to his temple as if deciding how he would go about explaining his situation. When he did speak again, it was very slowly. "Our main function is to provide special services for men of older generations…"

"Are you talking about nursing care for old people?" Reno interrupted.

Constantine didn't try to hide his laugher.

"Are you really that thick? We provide special services for adult men, not old men." He looked at the blank stare on Reno's face. "Reds, we provide sexual services for men."

Reno startled. He wasn't a fool. He knew there were people out there who sold themselves like that, but young boys? How could he do something like that?

"Our second function is simple thievery¾ for ourselves and other people who want specific things that have no monetary value but perhaps emotional value or some other junk like that."

How could Reno turn himself into something like that? Wasn't he better? The very idea seemed distant. Reno had dreams that reached far beyond what he saw. And yet…

"I'm sorry," he finally managed to say. "I just can't do something like that."

"Too modest?" Constantine pressed. "Really, it's not bad. You know…I mean, it does…feel good."

"It's not modesty. I just don't think I could do stuff like that. I mean maybe the thievery, but the other thing is just too far."

Constantine gave him a warm smile. This mixed peculiarly with his fierce eyes. "I'm a nice guy, Reno. I understand your situation because I was there once as well. I tell you what. You come with me to Sector Four and join our group. You'll just be stealing, and I know you'll eventually feel okay with the rest of it."

It sounded so ugly, but if it meant keeping him from going back to his parents, perhaps it wouldn't be too bad.

"I'll go," he said. "But it's only temporary. I want to get outta the slums one day."

"Great! We'll get good money for you," he said. "When you're ready, of course."

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The group welcomed Reno with a kind of compassion he'd never seen before. Later, Reno concluded that they must have just been happy to have somebody else to share a piece of their misery.

That first night, Reno and Constantine were the only two boys in the house. All the others had been bought for the night. Sitting on the beat up couch under a ragged blanked, Reno watched the stars out the window, thinking about the countless lives that people were living in places he could only imagine.

"Is it warm under there?" Constantine asked. A puff of white air exited his mouth when he spoke. "Do you mind?"

Reno shook his head, and Constantine jumped under the blanket beside him. He pressed his body against Reno's in the pure attempt to get warmer.

"Sorry about the cold. We can't exactly afford heating."

"I don't mind," Reno said. He'd gotten use to missing out on luxuries.

"So, tell me about why you left home, Reds."

Reno flipped through the story in his head. Confirming to himself that it was not for others, he didn't speak.

"Not gonna tell me, eh? That's okay. I have no intention of sharing my story. I guess there's no reason to ask, anyways. We all have our stories, and I bet not one of them is very different than the other."

Reno looked at Constantine, avoiding his eyes. He studied the soft line of his jaw and the light rise and fall of his chest. His large, wet lips were slightly parted, as if asking for attention. With a small smile, Reno decided it would not be so bad to spend the rest of his life under this blanket beside this boy.

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The job wasn't really that bad, and Reno discovered that he excelled at thievery. And even though he wasn't entirely sure he'd ever be able to sell himself, the feeling of belonging someplace felt good.

"It was great, Connie!" Hiro, one of the younger boys shouted. "Reno just walked in with his head high and pretended he was the guy's son in one of the rooms, and the idiot just gave him a key."

All the other boys agreed that Reno was the best thief in their group.

"So, what all did you guys get?"

Reno poured out his bag on the table. An array of food, jewelry and some CDs slid onto the table.

"Great job, Reds," Constantine said, patting his back. "Let's celebrate a victory," he added grabbing a can of pop from the table.

The celebration had only reached its peak when Constantine pulled Reno aside.

"Reno, I know you've told me your ideas on this already, but Mr. Forest has been asking about you again."

Reno's sprit dropped. For the past few weeks, Constantine had been bringing up some man named Mr. Forest and how he'd caught a glimpse of Reno and hasn't been able to think of any other SFB's since. Reno knew he was letting them all down, but he just couldn't do it.

"He's offering 5,000 Gil now, Reno," Constantine whispered. "I mean, 5,000! We could sure use that."

Constantine's eyes watched Reno's face, and he felt the familiar sting of old wounds across his cheeks again.

"I don't want you to do anything that you don't want to do, Reds." He slid his hand up Reno's shoulder and massaged it gently. "I'd never want to force you to do something."

Constantine sat so closely to him that Reno could feel the warm breath of his friend¾ the warm breath he learned to worship. When Reno could make Constantine smile, it made him feel like he had reached something great, and he wanted nothing more than to do anything to make that feeling return again and again.

Constantine pulled Reno closer until his lips pressed against the boy's ear. "I need you," he whispered.

"I'll do it," Reno said, breathlessly. If Constantine needed him, he was powerless to refuse. "I'll do it for you, Constantine."

"Thank you," Constantine said and pulled away. "I'll give you all the information tomorrow, but for now just have some fun."

For the rest of the party, everybody did whatever Reno wanted. They filled him so full of junk food that he thought he'd explode. They all played tons games that Reno hadn't played since he was a child¾ games that reminded him that once upon a time his mother laughed and his father smiled.

Years later, when he was much wiser about the world, he decided that was the last time he was young.

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Reno looked at the paper in his hand then at the street sign. He was definitely in the right place to meet Mr. Forest. Before he had more time to consider it, a black car with heavily tinted windows rolled up. The door opened, and Reno could see a man inside. He looked about forty, and had a very rigid face.

"Get in the car, Reno," the man said in a calm, deep voice.

"Mr. Forest?" Reno asked.

The man gave a kind of smirk that told Reno he should leave, but he didn't listen.

"Yes, definitely call me that when I'm fucking you."

Reno flushed. The tone and words the man was using made him feel awkward.

"Get in," he said firmly.

Reno nodded and climbed in. As the car pulled away, he stared out the darkened window, desperately wishing he could go back.

During the drive, Mr. Forest seemed to forget that Reno was even in the car. He neither spoke nor looked at Reno until they reached a shabby, brown motel near the edge of Sector Four.

"This is the place, Reno," he said, pushing Reno out and quickly following.

Nothing seemed real. Reno had the distinct feeling of dreaming, but he knew he wasn't. If asked to describe the motel, he wouldn't even be able to name the color on the walls. His mind had fled, too afraid that the narrow hallway and musty smell were real. It wasn't until he felt something touching his leg that he came back to himself.

He sat on a very large bed, his feet dangling a few inches above the floor. Mr. Forest's hand was pressing against Reno's leg, rubbing it softly. It wasn't like in the hall. Reno could describe this room in complete detail. It haunted his dreams even years later when he thought he was over it. The dark stains on the filthy, tan carpet, the lime-green walls, and the smell of something Reno didn't want to find out the source of were forever burned into his brain.

He remembered everything¾ Mr. Forest's heavy breaths and his rough hands touching Reno everywhere. Reno's own screams matching Mr. Forest's moans¾ it was all real.

"Here," Mr. Forester grunted when he had finished with Reno. He rolled over and handed him some money from his wallet. "Leave, I'm gonna sleep."

Reno stood up, but his legs did not support him. He collapsed onto the floor, catching site of the blood dripping from between his legs. He let out a scream, but the only answer was the back of Mr. Forest's hand across his face.

"Be quiet!" he shouted.

And that was all he remembered of it.

He never sure how he managed to get dressed and make it back to the apartment. When he came back to himself he was standing outside the door, grasping a wet, bloody wad of money.

"Reno!" Hiro shouted as he came up the stairs. "You look like shit."

He wrapped his arm around the red-head and helped him inside.

"Reds," Constantine said with a smile. "You did it." He took the money from Reno.

"Reno's back from his first job!" Hiro shouted, and everybody cheered. They sounded so happy.

Reno looked around at each of them. Had they changed? Were they happy because he was back or because he was one of them? No, they hadn't changed. He had. They were ugly, and so was he.

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"Damn, Reds, you really do now how to make the money," Constantine said taking the money Reno handed him.

It had been two years since Reno's first night with Mr. Forest, and Reno had grown into a successful SFB. Like the other boys, he had developed a knack of vacating his mind during visits with gentlemen callers, but he always woke with that same sickening feeling¾ that feeling that was beginning to consume him.

"What's this?" Reno asked, picking up a paper from Constantine's table.

"A job request from some chick in Upper Midgar," Constantine said. "She says her ex-boyfriend has something of hers and she wants it back."

"Are you gonna take it?"

"It pays well, and I was hoping you'd help out."

Reno read the letter over. It was a standard request. Marie (probably a fake name) was requesting a briefcase that she claims her ex-boyfriend stole from her. The rest of the letter explained that she was asking them for help because she wanted it kept secret¾ especially from her current boyfriend.

"I don't think so. Upper Midgar? That's dangerous. I think I should let some of the more experienced boys handle that," Reno said.

Constantine smiled. "Reds, you're our best. Besides, if you're that worried about it, you don't have to go alone. You don't even have to be in charge. I just want you there because I know how careful you are and how good you are."

"But still…If I get caught in Upper Midgar the consequences will be a lot tougher than if I got caught down here."

"But that's just it! If you're there, I know nothing will go wrong. She's paying a truckload¾ 20,000 Gil." He reached up to Reno's hair and wound some of it in his fingers. And I was thinking that some of that money could go for a nice, quiet dinner for two at some classy restaurant in Upper Midgar."

The blood rushed to Reno's cheeks, and he had to bite back a giggle. He never tried hard to hide his feelings from Constantine, and now that his friend seemed to be returning those feelings, Reno couldn't be sure if he could refuse. Constantine's very being pulled at Reno, and the read-head was too weak to push him away.

Reno nodded. "Okay, I'll go."

"Good," Constantine said coyly. "And we'll have to get new clothes for the dinner. You'll look great in something…blue."

Reno grinned. "I like blue."

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"It's so bright!" Hiro said, looking around Upper Midgar.

"Yeah, bright!" Georgie cheered.

Reno couldn't help but smile at the sight of them. They were all a little younger in the fresh air and sunlight. Even Reno felt a little less knowledgeable about the world.

"That's the house," he said.

The small group looked up at a large two story brick house.

"It's huge!" Hiro said in awe. "The people here are so lucky."

Reno silently agreed.

"We still have a few minutes until Marie said he should be leaving," Collin said, watching the doorway.

As the boys began chatting about what they'd do with their share of the money, Reno's eyes began to wander. In front of the Shin-Ra building down the street stood a small group of men. The blonde in white looked about the same age as Reno, but he couldn't be sure because of the distance. The man beside him with the pony tale looked rather attractive as well, but Reno's attention manly focused on the tall, bald one. Something about him Reno could only describe as steady.

"Oh, it's Mr. Rufus Shinra, isn't it?" Collin asked, following Reno's eye. "And isn't that the head of the Turks Tseng?"

"I'm not sure," Reno said. "I've never seen any of them¾ just heard about them. Who's the third guy?"

"Hmm…Oh, that's the new Turk…Jude…or something."

Hiro rolled his eyes. "He's not new, he's just the newest. He's been with them for like two years now. And his name is Rude."

Reno repeated the name a few times and decided he liked it.

"It's bad, though," Hiro said. "Having them right there. We'd be fucked if they caught us."

"Damn!" Georgie cursed. "It's time. We've gotta get in now. We only have a certain amount of time before his security system kicks in."

"Alright, let's go," Hiro said. "Don't let them see you. They can smell trouble."

The boys all made it safely inside the house. Marie had told them where the case would be so they headed for the study.

"There's a lot of stuff in here," Collin whined, but they all began searching.

"Found it!" Hiro said, holding up a brown briefcase. "Too bad it's locked. I wanted to see what was inside."

"Let's just go," Reno said, taking the case. The fact that everything was flowing so easily made him very uncomfortable. It was too good to be true.

Outside, Reno's premonition was confirmed.

"Just hand me the case, boy. I'm actually glad that I forgot my phone. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to catch you rats. Let me guess, Marie sent you?" a large man asked. It was the ex-boyfriend.

Surrounding him were many other men who Reno could only assume were security, and they all had guns pointed directly at the boys.

"I'm sorry," Hiro whispered to Reno. "Here you go!" He shoved Reno forward into one of the men, and Reno could hear their quick footsteps into the distance.

Reno stood motionless for a moment. They had sacrificed him for their own escapes. He meant nothing more to them than a hostage.

"What's going on down there!" The scuffle had caught the attention of Tseng, Rude and Rufus. The former two were now running into action.

"Grab him!" the ex-boyfriend shouted. "He's robbing me!"

Before anyone could grab Reno he flipped backwards, just missing a bullet. With a quick spin of his leg he struck one of the men. An audible crack echoed through his brain, but Reno couldn't stop. He used the briefcase to attack another man, breaking his nose. As he fled the seen, the last thing Reno saw as he looked back was Tseng checking one of the men on the ground. His neck was bent at an awkward angle. Down the street, Rude stared after Reno, not making any movement, his gun hanging limply at his side.

Reno ran as fast as his legs could take him. For a long time, he heard the footsteps and shots of people behind him, but he soon found himself alone. His chest burned as he gasped for air.

Dropping to his knees, Reno clutched the briefcase. He had killed that man, and he knew a door behind him had closed forever.

At home, Reno felt numb. He didn't cheer that his companions had made it safely home, but he didn't chastise them either. When he learned that inside the briefcase were mere pictures of Marie,¾ pictures that could cause problems for herself and the political career of her current boyfriend¾ he didn't feel anything. He had lost something that he'd never get back for a handful of dirty pictures.

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Reno couldn't look at any of the boys the same again after their betrayal. He had given them his friendship, and they had thrown it in his face. Constantine was all he had left now.

"I hope you know how bad Hiro and the others feel, but they knew you'd make it out. It wasn't too bad for you, was it?" Constantine asked.

Reno shook his head. What point was there in telling his story¾ just another page to add to the rest.

"I really like that shirt on you, Reds," Constantine said, admiring the blue silk shirt Reno wore.

They decided (Constantine decided) to dine in the most beautiful and expensive restaurant they could find. Everything was as perfect as Reno always hoped it would be, but he had doubts about Constantine's feelings. Was he serious about Reno or not?

"I feel so strange being here, don't you?"

Reno nodded.

"Please cheer up," Constantine said. He reached over and squeezed Reno's knuckles. "You're so much sexier when you smile."

"The Turks saw me," Reno mumbled. "They saw me come out of the house with the briefcase, and they tried to catch me, but…"

"You escaped from the Turks?" Constantine nearly choked on his drink.

"But…I'm afraid they'll…"

"Don't worry about them. Marie's current boyfriend will take care of covering up any leakage, and the Turks don't care about some punk from the sectors."

"They looked very strong."

"Strong? Yeah, I guess they'd have to be pretty strong. I bet they have to know all kinds of fighting styles."

Reno sighed. Constantine never understood him. The image of Rude kept flashing across his mind¾ strong as an oak. A small breeze could knock Reno over.

"Did you hear about that new club in Sector Two?"

Rude's image¾ his safe, strong figure¾ began to dissolve like a passing dream as Constantine brought Reno back to the sectors.

"It's run by that Meadows guy. Anyways, it's some kind of club for prostitution. Do you believe that! They're trying to steal our business!" Constantine sighed. "Oh, well. I hear they'll pay for boys. I mean, if I found them a boy, they'd pay me. I was thinking maybe we could start scouting for that. Of course, I'd never sell one of my boys! Oh! By the way, that reminds me Now that you're my boyfriend, I want to be in charge of who you sell yourself to." He looked at Reno with pure compassion on his face. "I just wanna make sure you don't get hurt."

That's the way things went with Constantine. Without Reno's input, he decided they were together. Even though he wasn't complaining,¾ Reno truly cared for Constantine¾ a part of him kept saying that Constantine was only trying to control him. But it was so easy to let it happen.

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A year with Constantine passed quickly, and Reno grew familiar with the feeling of being more like Constantine's pet than anything else. Even though he often resisted against it at first, he soon found that he depended upon it, and perhaps that was part of Constantine's plan from the beginning. Reno no longer knew what he would do if he didn't have Constantine's arms to return to.

"I heard you were in Upper Midgar again, Reds," Constantine said.

Reno stood up from their bed and went to the window. He knew how Constantine felt about his visits to Upper Midgar, but there was just something about it that called to Reno. The beautifulness of life up there meant everything to him.

"I was just walking around. I didn't really go anywhere in particular."

Constantine carefully folded down the blanked and smoothed it out. His deep eyes peered into the back of Reno's head, and Reno unknowingly rubbed his tingling scars.

"Well, I think it's better if you don't go up there again." He took a deep breath. "It's just going to bring you down. That's a world far out of our reach. It's something unattainable."

"But…" Reno mumbled without turning around. "But isn't it worth anything to dream."

"Dreams are meaningless, Reds."

"Why don't you support me?" Reno asked quietly. He could barely get the question out. "I know that if you had a dream I'd support you."

"I support everything you do, but I'm not going to indulge you in your outrageous fantasies," he said in a firm, clear tone that stated the matter was closed.

"So, are all the plans made for Hiro's birthday party?" Reno asked after a moment of silence.

"Yes." He held out his hand. "Now, come and sit down beside me."

Reno did as he was told. A happy sign escaped him as Constantine wrapped his arms around his shoulders, rubbing his face in the soft red hair.

"It's funny," Constantine said, "how I feel sometimes when I'm with you. When I'm this close, and I can smell you¾ you know you smell like something not of this world¾ I feel so confused, as if there's just some things I will never understand."

Reno kissed his cheek and caressed the back of Constantine's neck. "I think that I understand… Constantine, let's leave this place. As long as we're down here, I'm afraid of what's going to happen to us."

Constantine pulled away and picked a strand of red hair from his shirt, dropping it to the floor. "We can't go. There's no place for us. You belong here."

"But don't you understand!" Reno said. "It doesn't matter if we have no place to go, as long as we're together. That's enough for me. We'll belong as long as we're together."

"There'll be no more talk about leaving! There's nothing for us anywhere! We belong here!" Constantine shouted.

"I'm sorry, Constantine," Reno said, defeated. "You're right. This is where we belong. This is where I belong."

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By Hiro's birthday, Reno had completely forgotten about his conversation with Constantine. It had not been the first dead-end discussion about leaving they had had, and Reno was trying of keeping tract.

"It's such a nice party," Hiro told Constantine.

"Well, it's all for you," he said. Reno watched carefully as Constantine gently stroked Hiro's arm.

"Why don't you go sit down on the couch, Reds," Constantine said, straightening Reno's shirt. "I'll be over there in a minute."

Reno soon found himself sitting on the couch, waiting. He watched Hiro and Constantine across the room. Occasionally, Constantine would reach out and gently touch Hiro's shoulder and laugh at something Hiro had said.

"It's sad, really." Georgie's voice came from the hallway behind Reno.

He stilled and listened quietly.

"I know," Collin responded. "He used to be so different. Now it's all 'yes, Constantine,' and 'no, Constantine.'"

"And the way he never calls him by his name. I've never once heard him call him Reno. Does he even know his name?"

"Better him than me."

"And the sad thing is that Reno will never realize he's just a lap dog. Oh, well."

Their voices grew closer, but before they emerged from the darkened hallway, Reno sprung from the couch and to Constantine's side. He held onto his arm as if he could not hold himself up on his own legs.

"What's the matter with you?" Constantine asked.

"Nothing," Reno said and held him tighter.

"Don't tell me you're horny. It's kinda a bad time, Reds."

Reno blushed and shook his head quickly.

Constantine stroked his soft hair. "We'll have some fun tonight," he whispered.

Reno was about to protest,¾ he'd been sore recently from work, and Constantine wasn't exactly the gentlest of lovers¾ but he shut his mouth.

"Please excuse me," Constantine said to Hiro and pulled Reno aside.

"What's wrong?"

"Constantine."

"Yes?"

"I just like to say your name," Reno said. "Maybe it's funny, but it makes me feel good¾ saying it and knowing that I'm yours." He forced himself to look into Constantine's cold eyes, without fidgeting. "Why don't you say my name?"

"What? Reds, you worry about the dumbest things. Isn't it cuter that I call you by a nickname?"

"But you've never called me Reno."

"Does it matter?" he groaned. "I think Reds suits you better."

He pulled Reno into a tight embrace, and Reno felt the worry melt away from his mind. Yet, there was still something painful about Constantine's answer.

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"Reds!" Constantine shouted into their bedroom from the living room. "Get dressed and come in here!"

Reno quickly threw his clothes on, fixed his hair, and bounced into the living room with a stupid smile plastered onto his face. Lately, Constantine had been so attentive to him, really making him feel at home.

"This is Elliot Meadows," Constantine said.

"Hello, Reno," Elliot said, shaking Reno's hand.

"Meadows?" Reno asked. "You run that club, don't you?"

"That's right, Reds," Constantine said. "And there's more. He wants you for his club. He's going to pay us 5,000 Gil a week!"

Reno backed away slowly. He couldn't really be hearing this. Constantine wouldn't. There must be some kind of mistake.

"Calm down, Reno," Elliot said. "It's only temporary, but just think of how much money we'll all make."

"Constantine, you said you'd never sell one of your boys," Reno said urgently.

Constantine shrugged. "If you don't wanna go, you don't have to. I just thought you'd do this for me." His eyes stared into Reno. "With this money, maybe we could finally have enough to get out of this place."

A childish grin flashed onto Reno's face. He knew Constantine would see that they belonged someplace different. Now, he was so close.

"If you're for real, Constantine," Reno said, "I'll do anything you want." He grabbed his hands. "I just wanna be with you someplace beautiful!"

"So you'll go? Fantastic, I guess we'll really have to make the most of the time we have left together. Well, until you come back, of course."

Those last nights with Constantine, Reno felt better than he ever had. He knew it was only temporary and that soon, he and Constantine would be living someplace wonderful.

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Even though Reno's new home was almost as big as an entire apartment complex, he only saw one room¾ his bedroom. He had a bathroom, and his food was brought to him three times a day. Elliot kept all his boys locked in their rooms.

"Are you ready for your next client?" Elliot asked.

Reno nodded. "Everyday, I just keep telling myself that I'm doing this for a good reason."

Elliot smiled, but it gave him a dark twist. "There's no point in lying any longer. You're here for as long as I want you."

"But Constantine said…"

"Constantine lied."

"He wouldn't do that," Reno said, backing away from Elliot.

"I'm not renting you, Reno. I bought you. I paid a good deal of money for you, too."

Reno's mind was reeling, and he only knew one thing for sure. Constantine would never do that to him. Elliot was taking advantage of Reno, and without Constantine there to fight for him, Reno would lose. He didn't belong there.

"Oh, here's Mr. Filter," Elliot said as somebody knocked on the door.

Elliot opened the door, and a large, round man came in. Bristly hair covered his face, and his flat nose pressed into his face.

"I'll just leave you two," Elliot said, locking the door.

"I'm kinda…"

"Take your clothes off," Filter grunted, and pulled at Reno's shirt.

Apparently the delicate process of removing Reno's clothes was too much for him, and he finally decided to just pull Reno's pants down to his knees.

"Please, I'm a little sore," Reno said.

Filter shoved Reno onto the bed and climbed on top of him. The weight of the man pressed Reno into the mattress, crushing and suffocating him. All the while, the man's putrid smell enveloped Reno, droning him in the deathly odor.

Reno screamed out for Constantine but nobody answered. Images of Constantine flashed through his mind¾ how happy he was when Elliot made his offer, how disappointed he'd be when he found out Elliot had lied to them. He couldn't let Constantine down. They belonged together.

"Stop fidgeting!"

"No!" Reno gasped. "Get off of me!"

"Shut up," Filter said, struggling to grab Reno's wrists.

"I don't wanna!"

Reno bent his leg, kicking Filter right between the legs. The man rolled off of him with a great moan. Reno pushed him onto the floor and raced to the door, but before he could reach it, Filter grabbed his ankle.

"No!"

He had to get away. He couldn't let this happen to him. Not this. Not anymore. It was too much. He needed to get back to Constantine.

"Get back here, you little fucker!"

Reno kicked Filter again, this time striking him right it the skull. In a fit of furry he leaped at the fat man. Everything became a blur, and he wasn't sure what he had done until he was standing over Filter, gasping for air. His fists dripped with blood, and Filter's gaping, lifeless eyes stared at him.

"What the hell is going on in here?"

The door opened, but before Reno waited to see who it was, he raced for it and pushed whom he later decided had to have been Elliot onto the floor.

Reno ran until he didn't know where he was. Dirty rain dripping through from the Upper Level drenched him, washing away the blood but leaving a layer of grime. And then Reno realized where he was. He was close to home. Close to Constantine.

With a huge smile, he stared at the familiar bar that he and Constantine had often gone to. Tears began to build in his eyes, but when he caught site of the picture at the booth he and Constantine shared, the happy tears turned to bitter weeping. Constantine's slender arms were wrapped around Hiro. He touched him with the same fake gentleness he had given Reno.

And Reno knew everything.

Constantine didn't care about him or Hiro. He only cared about himself. Elliot wasn't the only one to blame¾ Constantine had sold him. But Constantine had also sold something more precious, something that Reno would never get back. Those nights with Constantine had meant something to Reno, but now they were washing away like chalk on the side walk.

He didn't belong with Constantine. There was only one place he could go.

-------------------------------

The gray house looked just as pathetic as when he was a child, and the emptiness made it seem even more hateful.

Reno pushed the front door open and walked into the empty living room. Garbage covered the floor, but nothing of his parents was left.

"Excuse me," Reno said as an elderly man walked by outside. "Did you know the people who lived here?"

The old man rubbed his chin for a long time. "Mr. and Mrs. Remington? Yes, I knew them."

"Could you tell me what happened to them?" Reno asked.

"Oh yes," he said.

"Wait!" Reno shouted suddenly. "Forget it. I don't…I don't wanna know."

The old man shrugged and walked away.

Reno stared after him. For a moment he almost called him back, but changed his mind. He'd like to believe that his parents had enjoyed a pleasant life after he ran away. He pictured them someplace in Costa Del Sol, living for only each other¾ the way he would have liked to spend with Constantine. He'd never have that now.

As the old man disappeared around the corner, Reno shut the door behind him. He was home now, and this time he wouldn't be leaving.

He walked down the hallway to his bedroom. It seemed just as big and dark as it did when he was a child. Inside his old bedroom, he looked around, but it was empty, except for an old pillow case. Sitting down where his bed once stood, he picked it up and folded it into a line.

"I remember this," he said.

Without fear, Reno put the case around his neck and tied it as tightly as he could. As his head began to throb, he carefully lay down on the floor and waited. His vision grew blurry, but he could see something standing before him¾ A tall black blur with large dark eyes. He was instantly reminded of the large Turk he had seen so long ago. A feeling of warmth and safety wrapped around him, lifting him.

"Is this death? It feels different than I thought," he said, closing his eyes.

A gush of stale air suddenly filled Reno's nostrils, and he opened his eyes. The pillow case laid across the room in a crumpled pile. In the distance he thought he heard a door closing, but he was still too weak to be sure.

"Did I pull it off?" he asked, rubbing his neck.

Reno looked out at the bleakness of the sector. Somehow part of it didn't seem so ugly anymore. He felt that maybe it wasn't so bad to live in this world. Maybe he did belong, and that possibility seemed to be something he could one day accept.

Part Two: A Second Beginning

Two years away from Constantine passed quicker than Reno though they would. Even though Constantine occasionally entered his thoughts again,¾ especially at times when he was sick and tired of everything¾ Reno never let the handsome youth who had once ruled his world control him.

Reno pulled off his janitor outfit and threw it into his locker. He'd been working at a rather nice part of Sector One as a janitor in some office building. It was crap work, but Reno loved it. Even when he was scrubbing toilets, he felt cleaner than he ever had as an SFB.

"Some of us are going out for drinks, Reno. You wanna come?" Frank (one of Reno's coworkers) asked.

"No offence man," Reno said, "you guys are awesome, and it's great to work with you, but I don't believe in friends."

"You don't believe in friends?" Frank asked. He slapped Reno on the back. "One day, you're gonna have to tell me your story."

Reno grinned. "That's not for public use."

"Whatever, man. Take care. We'll see you next week."

Reno couldn't help but smile as he made his way out of the building. If he hadn't been so burned by Constantine and the others, he might have really enjoyed making friends with Frank and the rest, but friendship was something Reno couldn't risk again. Not yet, anyway.

He walked slowly, enjoying the feeling of being free and was only a block away from work when he heard quiet footsteps behind him¾ footsteps as if somebody was trying to avoid detection. Reno walked faster. In only a few minutes, he was running. He was running so fast that his brain hadn't caught up to him, and he mistakenly ran down an empty ally.

"Shit," he cursed when he reached a dead end.

At the other end, he could see the tall shadow of somebody.

"Whoever you are, I don't have any money!" Reno shouted. "I'm not joking!"

The shadow moved closer.

Reno's heart fluttered. There was no way out.

He caught site of a large crate beside him. If he could jump high enough, he might be able to make it over the brick fence that was blocking his path. As if sensing his thoughts, the shadow began to quicken its pace. Reno threw caution to the wind and leaped up, just barely clearing the fence. He landed on his butt on the other side, but didn't stick around to see if the shadow would follow.

-------------------------------

It had been a solid week that Reno had been followed; however, he discovered that if he just stayed to the crowded streets, the shadow never got very close.

"I'm gonna give this another shot," Frank said, as Reno was just leaving the locker room. "Come out with us. I think it'll change your mind about friends."

Reno was ready to refuse again, but somehow he just couldn't this time. Perhaps he was finally seeing Frank and the others as a separate entity from Constantine and his group.

"Alright," Reno said. "I think I'd like that."

They went to a bar that was only a couple blocks from Reno's apartment. He wasn't very familiar with it, only having been there once or twice.

"Aren't you glad you came now?" Frank asked. He was already rather drunk.

Everybody had already had quite a number of drinks, except for Reno. He was still working on his first. Despite his appearance, he didn't drink all that often.

"Yeah, I'm having a nice time."

"Reno!" Kevin whispered, elbowing Reno a little roughly. "That guy is totally checking you out. You're gay, right? I think you should go for it."

Reno glanced in the direction Kevin was pointing. Leaning against the bar counter was a tall, slender man. He was attractive, but nobody Reno would pursue a relationship with. However, this was the night to have fun. So, a dance wouldn't hurt.

"Go on!" Frank insisted.

Reno screwed up his courage and approached the young man.

"I'm Reno," he said smoothly.

"To tell you the truth," the man said. "I don't really care what your name is. I just wanna dance with somebody, and you're attractive enough."

"That's fine with me. I'm just looking for some fun."

"See that guy over there?"

Reno casually glanced over and saw a large hansom man.

"I wanna make him jealous. So, if you'd be up to a little fun we could have a good dance."

Reno agreed and they were both soon on the dance floor. Reno had a chance to show off the moves he'd learned from living with Constantine (the one thing Reno could still respect him for). The man could barely keep up with Reno but nobody seemed to care. Reno felt alive, and he didn't care if he looked stupid or if people laughed at him. At that moment he felt as if only good things could happen to him.

By the fourth song, the large boyfriend politely requested that he take Reno's place, and Reno bowed out.

"I think I'm gonna head home guys," Reno told his friends. "My head kinda hurts."

The group expressed their thanks for his coming and told him he was invited from then on. As Reno left the bar, the idea of having new friends excited him a little.

Outside, he stopped across the street and leaned against a large sign to have a smoke.

"That was a fabulous dance. I never expected you could move your body like that."

Reno startled and looked around only to realize the voice was coming from behind the sign. He was about to look, but something stopped him. Was this his stalker?

"You've been following me?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Why? I don't think I did anything to you."

"I have my reasons, Reno."

A smile appeared on Reno's face. The way the man said his name¾ it was like nobody else. Perhaps it was the voice itself¾ a deep, calm voice, as if nothing could knock it over or bend it.

"You know my name?"

"I know a lot about you. I know that you killed a Mr. Ryan Winters for a briefcase of dirty pictures."

Reno's heart skipped a beat or two, and he spun around the sign only to find himself face to face with a Turk. But not just any Turk, the Turk. Rude Rivers.

For a moment, he nearly lost his composure. They had come for him. This giant of a man with his hard head and solid form had tracked him down, and who knew what he was going to do to Reno.

"So that's what this is about," Reno said.

"Listen to me, Reno…"

But Reno listen.

He swung his leg at the giant, preparing himself for the familiar feeling of broken ribs, but it never came. Opening his eyes, Reno stared in shock at his foot in the firm grasp of Rude.

"Oh, shit," Reno was just barely able to get out before Rude flipped him over.

Reno flew into the air. The only thing he could think about was how much it was going to hurt to land on the concrete, but it didn't come. Long before he reached the ground, he was caught by Rude. Two large arms supported Reno, and then gently stood him up.

"This isn't about your little murder, Reno. It's something much bigger," Rude said. "You're not in trouble. I'm here to make you an offer."

"What kind of offer?"

"I've been keeping an eye on you since I saw that incredible fight and escape back then. You've heard of the Turks?"

Reno nodded.

"I want you to join."

Reno stared back at him. He knew he must have looked stupid, but it didn't matter.

"Me? Why?"

"You have pure talent, something that will only grow."

Reno shook his head. "I don't have any kind of talent. I'm not anything special. That was pure luck that I escaped."

"And what about your escape from me just the other day?"

"It was just my adrenaline. I can't do it. I'm sorry. My answer is no."

Rude stood quiet for a long time. His hand moved toward his gun, but he stopped just as his fingers brushed against the handle.

"It's not usual that we let people walk away, Reno. When we lay down an offer, it's an order."

Reno stood firm. "You're much stronger than me. If you wanted to, you could force me to go, but I have no intention of going willingly. I don't belong in your world."

Rude waved his hand at Reno. "Get out of her." He turned to leave.

"You're not gonna force me?"

"I'll have to lie to Tseng, but I don't believe in forcing people to do or be things they aren't. But this won't be the last time we meet, and eventually Tseng will take over, and he doesn't take no for an answer."

"I understand. Thank you."

He watched Rude disappear down the street. The strong, dangerous appearance was very different than what that man held inside. And Reno would have liked to get to know it a little better.

-------------------------------

"Fuck!" Reno cursed as he exited work with his friends and looked at his check. "I just can't live off of this."

"I know what you mean," Frank said. He seemed to have a lot on his mind. "I'll see you later, Reno. I've gotta get to the wife and kids."

"Yeah," Reno mumbled, still scowling at his paycheck.

"Reno Remington. Yes, I've heard that name before."

Reno turned and found a man a few years younger than him standing behind him with a smug smirk on his face.

"What do you want?"

"You're one of Constantine's boys. My name's Eric."

Reno had to fight himself against striking the man upside his head and nearly lost that struggle.

"I used to be one of Constantine's boys," he said through gritted teeth.

"At any rate, you still have you're talent," he said. "I could use your help. I've heard about you from all kinds of people."

"My help?"s

"That's right," he said. "There's a rather large supply of very rare materia in the basement of one of my old friend's house, and I'd like it. If you help me, I'll split the money with you, 50-50."

"I'm not really into that kinda stuff anymore," Reno said. "I'm straight now." He laughed. "Well, I mean I'm legal."

"Yeah, and look where that's got you. Do you even have enough to pay your rent?"

Reno looked at his check again. It wasn't enough. He thought of all the easy money he had made by stealing. He was good at it, and everything usually went smoothly. This one job would probably sustain him until he found a cheaper place to live.

"I'm really not sure," he said.

"Here." Eric handed him a paper with an address, time and date. "If you decide, then meet me there at that time."

Reno nodded and pocketed the paper, but he honesty didn't know if he'd be able to show up.

-------------------------------

Reno closed the door of his apartment building and stepped into the stale air of Sector One. Just as he was about to reach the street, he spotted a familiar bald head by the fence and smiled to himself.

"We seem to meet a lot," he said. "But I still haven't changed my mind."

"I heard about the decrease in pay at your job," Rude said.

"And you've come to give me some money?" Reno asked playfully. "That's too sweet."

Rude smirked. "If I've calculated correctly, you can't live off of how much you make. Your rent is too high."

"Guess I'll have to find a new apartment," Reno said with a shrug.

He began down the sidewalk, but Rude followed behind.

"You're not fooling me. I can tell you're worried. Besides, where will you move to? All the other apartments are unfit to live in."

Reno laughed. "Believe me, I've lived in worse places."

"Tell me about it."

Reno stopped and looked Rude squarely in the eyes. "Now, that is something I won't do either."

"I don't wanna see you living in a place worse than this, Reno. You deserve a better life."

"Aren't you sweet," Reno said with a sigh, "but please don't bother your pretty, bald about me. I'll manage."

"You know, stealing materia is illegal."

Reno raised an eyebrow. "You really do your homework."

"If you need money…"

"Join the Turks, right? I told you I don't want to."

Reno wasn't even entirely sure why he refused the offer. He had no malice toward the Shin-Ra company. Perhaps it was an old wound deep inside that told him he wasn't anything special. Rude only managed to pick at that wound whenever he showed up.

"I don't want to see you do anything stupid." Rude paused awkwardly. "I mean, if you go to jail, we'll have to do a lot of work to get you out and get rid of all the paperwork."

"Listen," Reno said. "If you wanna help me, then give me a hand out, but I'm not going to join the Turks."

Rude reached for his wallet.

"Man, I was joking," Reno said, feeling slightly embarrassed.

A light tint of pink crawled up from behind Rude's dark sunglasses.

"Do you always wear those?" Reno asked.

"No."

"Lemme see."

"See what?"

"Let me see your eyes." Reno leaned a little closer. "It is kind of weird, you know. Are you hiding some hideous deformation under there or something?"

Rude pulled off his sunglasses, and Reno was pleasantly surprised by the soft, bright blue eyes that hid beneath. Looking into them, he seemed to be able to forget the ugly things he had seen.

"Are you going to take my money?" Rude asked, putting his sunglasses back on.

"I can take care of myself."

"I don't wanna take care of you," Rude said somewhat annoyed. "I just wanna give you a hand. Haven't you just had anyone there who supported you?"

This was a touchy spot with Reno.

"Why don't you just leave me alone!" he shouted. "You don't know a fucking thing about me, and all you ever do is tell me what I shouldn't do or what I should do! All your damn theories about how I belong somewhere else¾ just drop them!"

Reno felt a little ashamed at his reaction, but it didn't matter at that moment. Reno knew who he was and where he belonged. Rude's insistence only proved to hurt him.

"Just leave me alone," he said and started walking again.

Rude didn't follow.

-------------------------------

That conversation ended Reno's thoughts about if he should or shouldn't help Eric. Two days later he took a deep breath as he approached the dumpster where Eric had asked him to meet.

"I knew you'd come," Eric said.

"Let's just get this over." He couldn't help feel a little guilty.

"I made a copy of the key to the basement door. We can just walk in."

Reno followed Eric to the basement door and waited with a stilled breath.

"I knew I couldn't trust you, Eric."

Reno and Eric turned around. Behind them stood a small group of men, and they definitely did not look happy.

"You knew, Kenny?" Eric shouted, looking around nervously.

"You've always been careless, Eric. I told you that you should work on that, and now you've pulled this poor man into."

"If you feel so sorry for me then let me go," Reno said hopefully.

Kenny shook his head. "I don't think so."

He aimed the gun at Reno, but before Kenny could fire, something else caught his attention. Eric had tossed the key in his face and started running. He was as fast as a rabbit and made it away clean and clear. Unfortunately, Reno was surrounded.

They leaped at him like a pack of hyenas. The first punch wasn't bad, but as they all began to get in a good hit or kick, Reno slipped to the ground in a stupor. His eyes felt heavy, and all he wanted to do was sleep.

BANG!

He'd been shot. He had to have been, but there was no pain.

Another shot, and something fell in front of Reno's line of vision. No, not something¾ somebody. One of the men was lying before Reno, blood dripping from a gunshot through his chest. There was another shot and the sound of running.

Then Reno felt something he'd felt once before. The same warmth and safely that he felt that day in his house wrapped around him and lifted him with such careful passion.

"Look at you," a firm voice said, but somehow it sounded worried. "Are you okay?"

Reno mumbled and rolled his head back. His gaze fell upon a familiar face.

"Rude…" he whispered just as everything turned to black.

Part Three: Turks

Something bright gleamed onto Reno's face. It was nice, but something completely unfamiliar. It woke him calmly, not like the familiar shouts and noises he was use to in the slums.

"What is it…?" Reno mumbled.

He couldn't open his eyes.

"What's what?"

"That light. It's warm."

"That's the sunlight, Reno."

Reno gave a weak laugh. "There's no sunlight down here. Everything's dead. It's all gray."

"Are you even awake?"

"I think so."

"Then open your eyes. You're not in the slums, Reno. I brought you to Upper Midgar Hospital."

"Who are you?"

"Don't I feel special. You don't even remember me?"

Reno struggled and finally opened his eyes. The smiling image of Rude came into focus above him.

"Oh, it's you."

He struggled to sit up, but gave up and allowed Rude to give him a hand.

Rude kept glancing at Reno with a strange look that told Reno he wanted to say something, but Reno didn't have to ask what. He knew what Rude wanted to know. Why had he given in?

"Why'd you bring me here?" Reno asked. "And how long have I been unconscious?"

Rude handed him a glass of water, but Reno refused it.

"It's the best hospital. I didn't know how severe your wounds were, and you've been out for three days." He looked at the floor, a little bit of color reached his ears. "I was so worried about you," he whispered, but Reno didn't hear.

Reno stared out the window. The sunlight touched everything with a bright covering, and Reno believed that it was the most perfect place on the planet.

"Thank you, but why did you help me?"

To Reno's annoyance, Rude turned away from him. Reno enjoyed watching Rude when he spoke¾ seeing such a passionate voice come from such a strong face.

"I wanted to," he said. "Not just because I'm suppose to make you join the Turks, but because I'm interested in you. I'd like to know your story."

"No, you don't."

"Yes, I do," Rude said firmly. "Maybe I feel sorry for you, Reno. You're so young, but I know you must have already been through so much. I can't even imagine what your life must have been like."

"Did you grow up in Upper Midgar?"

Rude shook his head. "I came from Kalm. My father was a miner, but he died a long time ago."

"I'm sorry."

"It's alright. He was a good, strong man. He always took care of me and my mother. I guess that's why I work so hard to take care of her."

"Does your mother live near you?"

"Oh, no! I'd never bring her to a place like this," Rude said in horror. "I send her money back in Kalm. I don't want her to see the world I live in."

"But it's not like you live in the slums. It's nice up here."

"You'll soon see that Upper Midgar is just as ugly as down there in some ways," Rude said. "The trick is to learn to be happy with yourself and who you are, not where you're living."

"I guess I'll be miserable wherever I go then," Reno said quietly, but either Rude didn't hear him or he didn't know how to respond.

"You should get some rest," Rude said.

"I bet you're gonna use this to try and get me to join the Turks, huh?"

"Actually, I was hoping, but it doesn't really matter. Soon, I'm going to have to tell Tseng the truth."

Reno reached out to him but pulled back. "Won't you get in trouble?"

Rude nodded.

Reno closed his eyes. He had been having so much fun playing with Rude that he didn't think of the consequences Rude would have to eventually face if Reno never gave in.

"I'll see you later. I've got a party to attend¾ Rufus' birthday. And don't worry about the bill, it's taken care of. Just rest."

Reno grabbed the sleeve of his suit just as he was walking away. "Will you visit me again?"

Rude smiled. "If I've got nothing better to do."

-------------------------------

Rude did come back, everyday. However, this only proved to be a painful reminder of how much he was going to get Rude into trouble soon. The same day he was released from the hospital, Reno knew what he had to do. Even though he still wasn't sure he belonged in this strange world, he was afraid to go back down, and he was afraid of never seeing Rude again.

Reno waited patiently in the chair beside one of the many secretaries at Shin-Ra Inc. He only made it to the 59th floor before he got stopped and decided that Rude would have to come to him.

"Reno?" Rude asked as soon as he spotted the red-head.

"Hey, Rude," he said with a grin. "So, where's my office?"

Rude's eyebrows lifted above his sunglasses. "You're gonna join?"

Reno nodded. "How can I allow the guy who saved my life to get in so much trouble just because I'm stubborn."

"So, you're stubborn. That's what it is, huh?"

"I guess I just really have a problem with depending on people anymore, and when you asked me to join, I saw it as a handout because I just don't belong here. Plus," he added slyly, "it was kinda fun to have you stalking me."

"Reno, we've gotta do something about that self-esteem of yours. Perhaps making a few new friends…"

"That's another place where I'm a bit stubborn, but I'll really try."

The elevator sounded and out stepped Tseng Mae, head of the Turks.

"There you are, Rude. I…Oh, is this him? Rude, you didn't tell me you finally found the right time to approach him."

Rude babbled for a minute or two but couldn't get anything coherent out.

Reno stepped up and clapped Tseng on the shoulder almost knocking him over. "Rude just wanted to surprise you!" He leaned into Tseng. "Hey what's this dot on your forehead." Reno poked it roughly.

Tseng knocked his hand away and rubbed the spot delicately. "It's just a reminder."

"A reminder?"

"A reminder of where I came from and a way for me to always bring it with me, even if I can never go back."

"That's deep," Reno said, nodding solemnly to Rude.

Tseng shook his head and grinned. "Welcome aboard, Reno."

"When does training start?"

"Training?" Tseng asked. "You learn as you go along. Besides, if Rude's told me the truth about your abilities, you don't need much training."

-------------------------------

Tseng was right, Reno didn't need any training. Being a Turk was a lot like living in the slums. Of course, none of his missions had been very intense yet. He'd helped captured a few people to join SOLDER and learned information about various rebel groups. A particular one called The Knights seemed the most dangerous, and they were all preparing an attack.

In the meantime, Reno discovered that being friends with Tseng and Rude wasn't so bad, especially being friends with Rude. He was beginning to feel comfortable in this world, even if he still wasn't sure if he belonged. However, he had forgotten the advice Rude gave him long ago about being comfortable with himself, and that would soon come back to bite him.

"I'm telling the truth," Rude said. "When I first saw you I knew you would become an amazing fighter."

Reno looked at him skeptically. "Come on, seriously?"

"Seriously. Now, what did you think when you first saw me behind that sign."

Reno looked confused for a moment and then smiled. "But that wasn't the first time I saw you."

"It wasn't?"

Reno shook his head. "I actually saw you for the first time before you saw me. I was just about to break in with Hiro and the others, but I caught site of you, Tseng and Rufus down the street. I thought you were very strong. That was my first impression, and I guess it was right."

Rude suddenly leaned his head over to Reno. "But what do you think about Tseng and Rufus," he whispered.

"I guess they're nice…"

Rude laughed. "Not like that. I mean do you think they've got something going on?"

"Oh!" Reno nearly giggled. "Yeah, I saw them talking in the lounge. Tseng was all like this." Reno stood up straight and looked at Rude seductively. In his best Tseng voice, he said, "'Rufus, I'm afraid you're going to change one day. I don't want you to turn into the diabolical man your father is. I just want you to stay the sweet innocent boy who I first saw.' Then Rufus just leaped from the couch and threw his arms around Tseng. I got out of there before anything else happened. I was kinda scared."

The both of them broke out into a fit of laughter.

"It's kinda romantic," Reno said when their laughter had subdued. "I think that Tseng would do anything for Rufus. Have you ever had anything like that?"

Rude shook his head. "I've never had a very serious relationship. Not like I don't want to. I just have bad luck. Maybe people see me as scary" He looked at Reno. "What about you? Have you had anything like that?"

Reno though for a long time about Constantine. "I though I did at the time it was happening, but I was wrong. He was only using me."

Rude didn't press the subject. He had grown use to Reno's privacy and was probably surprised that Reno relayed that much information. Reno was.

"It's the same for friends," Rude said thoughtfully. "People must be afraid of me. You're the closest friend I've ever had."

"Hey!" Reno shouted. "Same goes for me!" He gave Rude a thumbs up. "The two unloved, friendless losers have made a friend!"

Rude looked at Reno with a slight look of amazement on his face, and Reno began to feel a little uncomfortable.

"I think I'm gonna go to bed," Reno said quietly and stood up.

Before he could get to the door, Rude reached him and grabbed his arm. "I'd like to hear your story one day, Reno," he said in a heavy voice.

Reno smiled at him. "I probably won't tell you, but keep asking. I like to hear you ask me about things like that."

-------------------------------

"Aren't you done with that yet?" Rude asked peeking at Reno's laptop.

The three of them were in Tseng's office. It was long after hours, but they had a lot of work to get done. Of course, like usual when they were all together, work seemed to get pushed aside a little.

"I've got a paragraph done!" Reno said defensively. "Nobody told me I had to be able to think at this job."

"You're smart enough," Tseng said as he fiddled with his own computer; however, he was also not working. "I've seen a lot come out of you since you've been here."

"You…you think so?" Reno asked. He smiled and looked at his work. "Nobody's ever told me I was smart."

Rude cleared his throat vigorously.

"Hey, Reno," Tseng asked. "Where did you get those scars on your cheeks?"

Reno and Rude grinned at each other.

"You're not going to get anything from this one, Tseng," Rude said. "His story's sealed and locked."

"Why so secretive?" Tseng asked curiously. "Did you get into some horrible fight and the person mutilated you or something?"

Rude could tell Reno was growing annoyed and decided he should change the subject. "What are you doing anyway?" he asked as he approached Tseng.

"Nothing!" Tseng shouted, snapping his laptop closed. "I'm working!"

"Working on what?" Reno looked up curiously. "I haven't seen you type anything."

"Let's see what you're doing."

Rude reached for the computer, but Tseng pulled it away. He clutched it to his chest as if his very life depended on it, but there was a playful smile on his face.

"You can't have it."

He jumped around the room, moving too quickly for Rude to catch him. Reno had closed his computer and was just watching the scene casually, as if he wasn't all that interested. However, he was very interested.

"Maybe they're naked pictures," Rude said. "Or love letters. Or even better, our secret files. Lemme see!"

"You can't have it. It's personal." Tseng laughed. "Reno, tell him. He listens to you."

"He does?" Reno said thoughtfully. "Rude, stand still."

Rude stopped in place.

"Now, bark like a dog."

Rude barked.

"Spin around."

Once again, Rude did as he was told.

"Hey, you're right!" Reno laughed and Rude soon joined him.

The laughter soon died down, and Rude jumped at Tseng. "Gimme!" he shouted and almost succeeded.

"Tseng," Reno whispered. "I'll tell you his weakness. Rude's head is very ticklish. That's how you take him down."

"You think it will work?" Tseng whispered back.

"Oh, yes," Reno said solemnly. "I'll hold this for you."

As Tseng was preoccupied with planning his attack, Reno took the laptop from his hands. Tseng instantly leaped at Rude's head, rubbing it.

"Haha!" he shouted. "Now you're mine."

Rude grinned. "That feels really good, Tseng."

"Huh?"

"Oh, right," Reno mumbled thoughtfully. "Rubbing his head makes him horny. Now, let's see what's on the computer!"

He opened it up and instantly broke into a fit of laughter.

"What is it, Reno?"

Reno spun the computer around, and showed Rude what Tseng had been so preoccupied with. The entire background of Tseng's computer was a mixture of pictures of Rufus. Some of them were very spicy.

Tseng looked morbid.

"Ah ha ha. You're so in love with him!" Rude howled. "I wonder if his background has pictures of you."

Tseng stood up straight and yanked his computer back from Reno. "Yes, it does."

Reno slid off the couch, he was laughing so much, and Rude struggled not to join him.

"Seriously, Tseng," Rude said, "why didn't you tell us?"

Tseng blushed. "You know how his father is. He'd kill both of us if he found out his precious son was dating his most loyal employee."

"Loyal." Reno nearly choked. "That idiot will never realize everybody's just waiting for Rufus to take over."

"But…but sometimes I'm afraid Rufus will end up like his father. He's been through so much, and I don't think it would take much more to break him," Tseng said.

"Well, no matter what happens, you'll follow him," Reno said. "And I guess Rude and I will always be there too. I guess that's what having friends is about, right?"

"Friends?" Rude asked.

"Yeah, well, I guess going on a dozen or so missions with people just bonds them."

"Oh, that reminds me," Tseng said to Reno. "The mission against The Knights is canceled."

"Canceled?" he asked.

"Rude and I took care of it already. Some things came up and President Shinra wanted us to take care of it sooner. You were chasing after some recruit for SOLDER."

"What happened?"

"Rude killed him."

"You killed him?" Reno asked. "But wasn't there any other way?"

"People like that don't negotiate. If I didn't take care of it, he would have come back again and again."

"But did you at least try?"

"It's not our job to negotiate with terrorists."

"Terrorist?" Reno asked. "Aren't they just fighting for a better world. Isn't' that what everybody wants?"

"It's our job, Reno," Rude said. "I told you that this world could be as ugly as the slums."

Tseng and Rude began chatting about other things, but Reno wasn't listening. Constantine had been right. Reno didn't belong in this place. He was bringing his ugliness to it and corrupting everything. It had spread to Rude already. How much sooner would it be before Reno had destroyed that man?

-------------------------------

Reno avoided Rude and Tseng as much as he could over the next few days. He was afraid to see Rude and be reminded of all the bad things he was doing to him. As he sat in his apartment in the Shinra mansion, he reflected over his life, and wondered if he might have been better off if he would have stayed with his parents.

"Mr. Reno," a voice over the intercom spoke up. "There's a man here to see you. Should I send him up?"

"That's fine," Reno said and opened his door.

Only a few moments later there was a quiet knock.

"It's open," he said.

"This is some set-up you've got here, Reds."

Reno's breath caught in his chest, and he didn't know if he should move. Slowly, he turned around, and like the sudden motion of a camera, an image moved from blurry to clear before his eyes. Everything was the same¾ those same loveless, dead eyes that seemed to spread decay to every person they looked at.

Constantine.

"What are you doing here?" Reno asked.

"I need you, Reds," he said. "I've been thinking and looking for you. I love you."

"You love me about as much as you love any of your pets," Reno hissed. "What's the matter? You need somebody to earn your money for you. You know, I bet a Turk would go for a lot, huh?"

"It's not like that, Reds."

"What about Hiro?"

"Hiro? What do you mean? He's fine…"

"Don't give me that!" Reno shouted. "I saw you that day. That day that I ran away from Elliot, I saw you touching him and holding him, in our booth! You sold me and it meant nothing to you!"

"Elliot tricked me, Reds."

"Fuck you, Constantine! He didn't trick you. You knew what you were doing. It just didn't matter to you."

"Maybe I did some stupid things, Reds. But when I saw you a few weeks ago working with the Turks, I knew I had made a mistake."

"What makes you think I still want you?"

"You don't belong here," Constantine said.

"I do."

"Are you happy here?"

Reno thought about the encounter with Rude and Tseng. Perhaps this was meant to be. Constantine was coming for him, giving him a place to return to.

"Well?" Constantine pressed. "Will you come back with me?"

"I'll only bring him down," Reno thought as he pictured the strong image of Rude.

"Come with me, Reds," Constantine said with his hand out.

"Where are you living? Same place?"

Constantine nodded.

"I'll come. Just give me a few days to say goodbye to somebody that I owe it to. I'll meet you back home."

"Come with me now, Reds," Constantine whined.

Reno nearly gave in, but the friendship he shared with Rude meant more to him than that, and he knew he had to say goodbye.

-------------------------------

Reno waited until Friday before he decided to leave. The weekend would give him enough time to become another nameless face in the slums before President Shinra ordered him killed for abandoning the Turks.

"It seems like you've been avoiding me," Rude said.

"Maybe I was," Reno said. "I was ashamed."

"Ashamed of what?"

Reno's eyes began to water. "Ashamed of what I've done to you. I know now that I don't belong here. I've ruined everything in this world. I've tainted it."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Rude asked. He reached out to touch Reno but Reno jerked away. "Why are you like this?"

"I can't be different." Reno couldn't hold back his tears anymore, and he allowed himself to cry outright.

Rude tried to grab him again, but Reno pushed him away.

"Let me comfort you, Reno."

"You can't. I'm leaving, Rude."

"You can't leave!"

"Constantine's come back to me." Reno touched his chest. "He saw me, and he knew that I was miserable here, and he came to save me."

Rude looked at him. "Who is Constantine? What do you mean you're miserable here? You never told me you were miserable."

"I've ruined this place. At least in the slums everything was already ugly. If I leave, this place will get pretty again. You'll get better too."

"I don't think I follow you," Rude said. "If this is about me killing that guy, I killed dozens of people before I even met you, Reno."

"It's different now," Reno said. He wasn't entirely listening to Rude. "I'm going back to where I belong."

"Who's Constantine?" Rude raised an eyebrow. "Is he that person you were talking about? The person who you thought you loved, but realized he was using you?"

"It's my life, Rude."

He turned around to walk away, but Rude grabbed him and shook him vigorously. "I'm not just gonna let you walk away from me! You're too important to me to let you go back down there!"

"What are you talking about?" Reno looked at him with a blank expression.

"Don't play that game with me, Reno. You know." He pulled off his sunglasses and pressed his face against Reno's chest. "I didn't try to hide my feelings, Reno. You have to know."

Reno's eyes widened as what Rude was telling him dawned on him. "I don't know anything!" he said, shoving Reno away from him. "I can't know! I don't know! You don't understand the person I am!"

"Than tell me!" Rude barked. "Don't you understand? Will you ever realize that I don't care what the fuck you've done in your damn life, I wanna hear it, and I'll still be here. I'm not just gonna walk away because I hear some things that make me uncomfortable. You're Reno, and that's who'll you'll always be to me. Fuck, Reno, I'll never stop…"

"Stop talking!" Reno shouted. He couldn't hear it. If he heard Rude say it, he'd have to stay, and if he stayed he'd destroy Rude.

"Please," Rude said, "don't leave."

"I'm going, and you can't stop me, Rude. You deserve better," he whispered.

"Please, Reno," Rude said desperately. "I won't stand it if you leave."

"Shut up," Reno said and lightly pounded his fist against Rude's chest. "I hate you, Rude…I hate you if you keep saying those things…"

Rude grabbed his wrists. "Is that really what you're trying to say, Reno? If you hate me, why are you leaving?"

"Because I hate you!" he screamed in his face.

Rude threw Reno backward and kicked the table beside him. A vase shook and fell to the floor, shattering. "Leave then!" he shouted. "Go wherever the fuck you want, Reno, but do you think I'm just gonna sit here and let you get fucked over by that Constantine bastard? I'll follow you across the entire planet if I have to. I'll make you want to come back."

"No you won't," Reno said with a smile. "You'll never force me to do anything I don't wanna do."

Rude relented. "Maybe, but I'd also never let you fall, Reno. Even when you didn't realize it, I've been here for you."

"I just came to say goodbye, and I'm sorry for everything, Rude."

"Reno!"

"Will you say that one more time?" Reno asked. "I like hearing people say my name, and I like the way you say it the most."

"Reno…"

Reno smiled and walked out of the room. Rude didn't try to catch him.

-------------------------------

Life with Constantine was completely different than what Reno remembered, but perhaps it was because Constantine wasn't doing drugs the first time. Reno had only been there a week, but he'd already noticed that most of the money that came into the group (also the group had shrunk a considerable amount) went to Constantine's drug addiction.

"Constantine, maybe you should try to cool it on the drugs," Reno said as he watched Constantine search the entire apartment for any drug but come up empty handed.

"I'm fucking out?" He turned to Reno. "Get out there and sell your ass, Reds."

"No," Reno said disgusted. "I don't do that anymore."

"Fuck, Reds, I need some. Just a little. You wouldn't have to work much."

"Look at yourself," Reno said. "Get some control."

"Shut up!" Constantine shouted. Spit flew from his mouth. "Earn me some damn money."

"I'm not earning your drug money. If you want us to be together again, you need to realize that I can't love a drug addict."

SLAP!

Reno froze. Constantine might have done a lot of tings, but he had never hit him before. Constantine had changed. Or had they both changed just enough?

"You hit me," he said blankly.

"Money!"

Reno shook his head.

"I guess it takes more than a bitch-slap for you. Maybe a good beating will really teach you."

Reno could have protected himself. He was a Turk, and Constantine was a tiny, pathetic drug addict from the slums, but he didn't do anything. He was tired of life, and let Constantine hit him again and again. The beating didn't hurt, it was the realization that if this was the place that he belonged, then he was just as ugly as Constantine.

Reno prepared himself for the next blow, but it didn't come.

"What the fuck?" Constantine mumbled.

Reno looked up. Constantine's fist was caught in a familiar grasp.

"Who the fuck is this, Reds?"

"His name," Rude said as he pushed Constantine's hand away, "is Reno."

Reno's eyes filled with tears, and he threw himself against Rude's hard body. "You came for me. And I was so stupid."

"Get the fuck outta my sight," Rude said to Constantine, and the young man scampered out of the apartment. "You're always stupid, Reno, but haven't you realized that I don't care about that?"

"I don't belong here," Reno said. He pressed himself against Rude's. "Tell me I belong with you. I'm not a bad person. Tell me I'm not a bad person, and make me believe it!"

Rude wrapped his arms around Reno and kissed his head lightly. "How can I make you see yourself the way I see you, Reno?" he asked. "I see a man who's been through so much that I can't even imagine. I see a man who's ashamed of what he's been through, but he shouldn't be because he's still alive today. He's a caring man and a confused man who thinks that he's somehow corrupted an entire world, but he doesn't realize that he made that world more attractive to me. He's a scared man who thinks everyone is going to suddenly reject him, but he doesn't understand that no matter what he does I will never push him away. He's somebody who I wake up thinking about and go to bed dreaming about. He's somebody who makes me feel good about myself, somebody who makes me fight to be a better person. But most importantly, he's a person who deserves something good."

Reno gave a deep sigh.

"How do you feel, Reno?"

"I feel like I belong."

Reno closed his eyes and rested his head against Rude. He felt the strength of Rude pouring into him and knew that Rude would never let him fall. If Reno began to waver, Rude would hold him up¾ he'd stand for him or he'd fall with him.

-------------------------------

Reno stood up from the bathroom floor, and brushed his teeth. As he watched himself in the mirror, those last moments of his story repeated through his mind. Rude had given him something wonderful that day that nobody could take away. More than his unconditional love, Rude showed Reno how much he mattered in the world. It didn't matter how stupid Reno was, Rude would always be there for him, and for that he deserved the only thing Reno had never given him.

He opened the bathroom door slowly.

"Are you okay?" Rude asked quickly, standing up from the floor in front of the bathroom door. "I was so worried when you went in there."

Reno look Rude over. His entire face looked pale, and his handkerchief was gone.

"I just didn't know you hated that color so much."

"I know you didn't, but you deserved to know, and I never told you." Reno took Rude's hand and lead him to the couch. "Do you remember that day when you showed up at Constantine's?"

Rude nodded.

"I realized that day that I'd spend the rest of my life with you. No matter what arguments we had, I'd fight for us. Do you know why?"

Rude shook his head.

"Because you did something for me that day. You took away all the ugliness that had been put into my mind since I was a little kid, and you replaced it with beautiful things that I didn't even know existed. Your light shinned onto my darkness, and at first it was too bright for me. It blinded me. But I soon realized it was good."

Rude took Reno's hand. "Where's all this coming from, Reno?"

"These are the beginning," Reno said, stroking his scars. "When my father cut me as he threatened to cut my neck next, and my mother stood beside screaming at him to do it quickly if he was going to do it."

Rude opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Instead, he grabbed Reno's hand tightly, but Reno wasn't sure if it was for his sake or Rude's.

"Let me tell you everything, Rude. But I want to warn you that I doesn't begin with 'once upon a time.'"

Rude listened intently to Reno's tale. It was nothing more shocking than the stories of the countless other boys and girls that had lived in the slums, but it was Reno's. A couple times Rude made him stop so he could just sit and hold him, but he didn't realize that Reno didn't need him to comfort him. The mere fact that Rude was listening meant everything to him. When he was finished, Rude took a deep breath and smiled.

"And for all that," he said, kissing away Reno's tears. "For each horror, I love you all the more."

Owari