A/N: It's the end! Finally! Sorry it took me a while to finish this. My first version of this chapter was lost (cries) and I had to write much of it from memory, as well as a bit from scratch. I really don't like the beginning of it, so if you don't either, just know you aren't the only one. It's not action...y at all and I apologize. That's just not my strength. Plus, I was determined to keep this as close to canon as I could.
Kind of sappy, at points. Forgive?
MPREG...for a while longer, anyway. ;) Definitely swearing.
Disclaimer: The Final Fantasy VII characters, locations, etc. are all property of Square-Enix. I own nothing, I just do this for fun.
Reno knew there was no way he could fight in his condition. Be it Cloud and his buddies he squared off against, or whatever the hell he'd just seen Hojo morph into; it was larger, and somehow even fouler than his first transformation. But there Reno stood, close enough to see the battle, but not to take part. A comrade on either side and an unreadable expression on his face, Reno tightened his grip on the railing. It was anybody's guess what he was feeling. Was it the pain of his body revolting against him -- trying to perform an act it was never meant to? Or was it the realization that -- damn this kid's horrible timing -- Hojo had taken his revenge away from him as well?
Rude and Elena said nothing, just stood silently next to Reno. They'd leave when he was ready. No sooner, no later. Unless they felt like dragging him, kicking and screaming, all the way back down however many stairs, through the winding tunnel and the streets of Midgar, to the chopper.
Elena had been last to speak, nagging Reno to slow down as he was taking the rusty metal steps two at a time. It seemed nothing, not even the onset of labor, could keep him from getting to Hojo. He'd wavered down in the tunnel, and she thought that maybe, just maybe, he'd do the sensible thing and let Cloud take care of Hojo. From what she'd heard, Strife deserved a shot at the man as well. But Reno, do something sensible? She knew it was too good to be true. So she bit her tongue and buried her worry and followed silently behind her leader when he'd said, "Come on. We're going up."
Rude hadn't argued. No one was surprised.
It was a relief -- a small relief, but a relief, nonetheless -- when Reno had stopped, three-quarters of the way up the stairs and admitted to his partners, "I can't touch him."
The trio locked eyes in silent understanding.
"But I have to see him die," Reno concluded, fiercely. Bitterly. "Even if it's Strife that does him in. I have to see it."
And so he did. It was downright infuriating to let someone else take that from him, but Reno had been right when he said he couldn't touch Hojo. At least the ex-Turk had finished him off. Once a Turk, always a Turk, Reno told himself. He knew Vincent deserved it as much as he did. That knowledge was only marginally satisfying for Reno.
Thoughts of Hojo, deformed, oozing and bleeding all over the place, as Avalanche mercilessly shot, stabbed, froze, burned, electrocuted and speared him were still so fresh in his mind -- it had only been about forty-five minutes after all. They did it. They destroyed him, and Reno? He stood and watched.
Elena had been watching Reno very closely the entire time. It always worried her when he was being introspective. She'd kept quiet all the way to the chopper and for nearly the first hour of flight. When she'd had enough of the silence, she asked, "This is really it, isn't it?"
"Yup," had been Reno's short (in every sense of the word) reply.
"Can't quite believe it."
"Is it bad?" she asked, in a low voice.
"Bad enough. I've dealt with worse."
"That's good," Elena said, amending the statement mere seconds later, "No, wait. That's not good. That's bad. I'm sorry."
It's okay, Elena," Reno said, sweetly, genuinely. It was short-lived, though. His response to Elena offering him to squeeze her hand when it hurt was, "How about you lemme squeeze your neck instead? No, better yet, lemme squeeze Hojo's neck. Pop his beady little eyes right out of their fucking sockets."
Elena pouted and folded her hands in her lap.
"I'm fucking serious," Reno grumbled. "What the fuck was I thinking 'I can't touch him?' I could've taken him."
"Too late now, Reno," Rude said, sternly.
"You made your choice," Rude reminded him. After a long pause he added, "You made the right choice."
They were in Mideel now, on the freeway, with Rude behind the wheel. He glanced over at Reno. The redhead didn't look good, as far as he was concerned. He was flushed and fidgety, tense and tired. He hadn't said much in a while, and that was by far what worried Rude the most. Reno was typically a very vocal complainer, so much so that he wasn't often taken seriously when something was really wrong with him. The thing about Reno, Rude knew, was that if he was loud, it was nothing. It was when he was quiet that there was cause for alarm. And right now, Reno was being very quiet.
Rude glanced away from the road for a split second and over at Reno. "Hey."
"What?" he muttered, looking up and Rude, then down at his stomach, which he was pretty sure Rude had been staring at, thinking who knows what, and finally back up at the man himself.
"Just making sure you're alright," Rude told him.
"You got a pretty fucked up definition of 'alright' there, Rude," Reno told him, almost sounding too weary to be angry.
"Well, it must not be too bad if you can still joke," Rude concluded, though he didn't sound like he was completely convinced himself.
"You worried about me?" Reno asked, in disbelief.
"No," Rude insisted, a little too quickly.
Reno actually laughed. "You are. That's fucking priceless." He paused and took a deep breath. "It's not gonna come rippin' outta me like... what's that one movie? You know, the one where -- son of a bitch. That fucking hurts."
A small, perfectly manicured hand came up between the seats and squeezed Reno's shoulder. "Hang in there. We'll be there soon. You're doing great."
As time passed, Rude would lose count of how many times, and how many different ways in which Elena tried to paraphrase that. She hadn't attempted to touch at Reno in a while, not since he'd angrily shaken her hand from his arm, during one of her many attempts to comfort him. She wouldn't have been able to reach him now anyway, as he was no longer leaning back in his seat. Now, he was pretty much doubled over, chin in his hands, forehead against the dash.
Without warning or hesitation, Rude slammed on the brakes and threw the car into park, not even noticing the dull thunk that immediately followed.
"Ow, you fucker. That was my head," Reno groaned.
"Rude!" Elena scolded him.
"Sorry," he apologized, unbuckling, pulling the key out of the ignition and opening his door. "We're here."
Reno had a palm to his forehead as he stepped out of the car. Rude and Elena both knew better than to try and help. There would be serious repercussions for such a gesture, no matter the intention.
"What happened? Did he get hit in the head?" Dr. Harte asked, putting a hand to the red welt on Reno's forehead.
"Tell him what happened, Rude," Reno instructed his partner, daringly.
And so Rude did.
Dr. Harte's response had thrown everyone off guard. "I'm sure it's of little consolation to you, Reno, but I've seen and heard much worse."
"And I'm sure you're about two seconds from telling me that someday, I'm gonna look back on this and laugh," Reno grumbled, as he was damn near shoved down into a wheelchair. He continued with his rant, regardless. "I can just see us twenty years from now. 'Hey, Rude, remember that one time that mad scientist got me pregnant and you gave me a concussion when I was in labor?' Goddamnit." Reno glowered down at his stomach. "Stop doing...whatever the hell you're doing to me."
"That's just your baby's way of telling you its ready to be born."
"Well, I get it, alright."
The doctor gave Reno a pat on the shoulder, then proceeded to wheel him down the hall, signaling for Rude and Elena to follow. "I'd say you got him here just in time."
Elena and Rude shared a small, uncomfortable smile. Somehow the statement just wasn't very reassuring in the moment.
"One of you can come in with him," Dr. Harte said, looking to Reno and telling him, "If that's alright with you."
Reno offered up a heavy, "Yeah."
Elena smiled sweetly at Rude and whispered, "You."
Neither Rude nor Elena said anything, though they both wore the same nervous expression, paced the same narrow hallway, and took turns staring at the same closed door. Elena would have the tiny space to herself in a short while -- as soon as Reno had been prepped for surgery.
As it was all very quickly explained to the trio of Turks, Reno would be given a local anesthetic, to numb his middle, as per standard c-section procedure. He'd remain alert for the surgery, unless it became absolutely necessary to put him under. The prep would probably take longer than the actual operation. Closing Reno up would be a little more involved. There was the matter of removing the womb, and doing it with as little risk to Reno as possible.
After what felt like an eternity, the door opened slightly, catching Rude and Elena's attention immediately, and the nurse said, "He's ready. You can come in now."
Elena gave Rude a nod, and a sad smile, but didn't say anything. Her look conveyed her feelings just fine. Rude would take care of Reno.
The first thing Rude noticed, entering Reno's room was the smell. Hospital smell. He hated it. The sterility...it was never a good sign. There was a buzz in the air that told him the sterilization had been done with materia. He figured that was the only reason he hadn't been forced into a pair of scrubs, and made to put a mask over his mouth just to be allowed anywhere near Reno.
Reno...Reno was squirming. Trying to get a look at what Dr. Harte was doing. He had been momentarily stopped by Rude, who put a hand to his forehead and said, "Stay still," as soon as he reached his friend's bedside.
"Can't see. What's he doing to me?" Reno demanded.
"Don't worry about it," Rude assured him.
"Then I take it you can't feel this?" the doctor asked.
"What's he talkin' about?"
"He's poking you, Reno, to see if you're numb," Rude explained, for the first time noticing everything Reno's, or rather, his clothing had concealed over the past few months.
Reno nodded. "Guess... I guess I am."
"How about this? Can you feel that?"
Reno merely shook his head.
"No? Then I think we're ready to get started," was the conclusion, followed a moment later by a shallow incision slightly below the one Hojo had given Reno. The one that had started it all.
Lot of blood, Rude decided, as the cut was made deeper, and Reno was mercilessly spread open. The sight of blood didn't typically bother Rude -- he was a Turk after all. But the sight of Reno's blood, the few times he'd seen a lot of it, disturbed him greatly. Always had, always would.
"...he do it? He...cut into me?" Reno asked.
Rude nodded. He said nothing. He figured no good could come from him informing Reno that in addition to the unforgiving incision, Dr. Harte pretty much stuck a big metal spatula inside of him to keep it open.
Reno squirmed once again, trying to get a look. "Can't see."
"That's the idea," Rude told him, doing his best to still him.
"Yeah, I can see."
"...is it gross?"
Rude chuckled. "Yeah."
"Glad to...hear..." Reno mumbled, sounding his most distant yet. He blinked a few times, until finally, his eyes remained closed.
"What 's wrong with him?" Rude demanded.
Dr. Harte, now wearing a fair amount of Reno's blood, glanced up. He nodded to his nurse, who was quick to abandon her position pressing down on Reno's abdomen to swoop in and check his vitals.
"He's stable," she confirmed.
"Good," the man said simply, now holding something bloody and vaguely baby-shaped between his gloved hands. It was small, so small, and not moving as far as Rude could see.
The nurse had come in close to Dr. Harte, taking the all-too-quiet baby from him, then stood in waiting as he cut the cord. She cradled the child to her chest, seeming not to care that her uniform was now smeared with blood. She stuck a finger in its mouth, clearing it, telling the baby, "Now how about you make some noise for me, sweetheart?" Before her request was granted, the nurse turned sharply from where Rude was intently watching her.
Make some noise, kid. You heard her, he thought. I know you got it in you. You're Reno's. He glanced down at Reno's unconscious form.
A shrill wail broke the silence. Reno's eyes flashed open and he tried to sit up.
Rude was quick to plant both hands on his shoulders, and sternly shake his head at Reno. "Don't move."
"Where's it...? Is it okay...? Rude...?"
Rude just nodded.
"Welcome back, Reno. I'm not done, so I need you to stay still."
"She's just fine. You can see her in a little while," the doctor confirmed.
"She...?" Reno asked. He nodded weakly, but seeming satisfied, repeated, "...she."
"That's right. We're just gonna get her cleaned up here," the nurse chimed in, from across the room.
"Don't care...about that...just lemme see...I don't even care if she's...ugly...just lemme..."
"Patience, Reno. You've waited a long time, I think you can last a little longer."
And last he did, despite a few rather creative insults -- "no good, lily-livered chocobo fucker, tryin' to keep me from my kid!" being one of them -- and, of course, more squirming. Reno's pissy, exhausted, glazed over expression had faded, however, when, after what felt like an eternity to him, he'd been allowed to see and hold the baby. His baby. He had a baby.
Elena stood up sharply when she saw the door open and Rude slowly step out. "Is he...?" She couldn't even finish her question. She was practically hyperventilating, not to mention shaking pretty fiercely. She tried to elaborate, nonetheless. "I heard the crying, but...?"
"He's fine," Rude assured her.
Elena nodded, somewhat manically. "And...?"
Rude offered a small smile. "Kid's fine too."
Elena flung both arms around Rude and buried her face in his chest, and was sobbing uncontrollably almost immediately.
Though he felt completely out of his element, Rude did his best to comfort her. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly, but didn't move.
"Sorry," she mumbled, feebly, when she was able to speak again.
"It's okay," Rude assured her.
"I slobbered and cried all over your shirt."
"It's fine. I'm sure I'll get most of my clothes back from Reno now. He didn't alter any of my shirts. I don't think."
Elena managed a little laugh. "When can I see him?"
"They were gonna give him something to knock him out. He's been through a lot, after all."
Elena nodded, solemnly.
"Whenever he's up for it, I guess."
Elena nodded again. "And the baby?"
Rude shook his head. "He said he didn't want anybody to see her until she turned cute."
Elena pouted. "That's no fair." A moment later it hit her. "She?"
"Yeah," Rude confirmed.
Elena resumed sobbing.
It was dark when Reno awoke, save for the light from one dim lamp. He tried to sit up -- where the fuck was his baby? -- but he was floored by a burning pain in his lower abdomen.
"Where is she?" he demanded, very slowly pulling himself into a sitting position.
"Right here," Elena answered, approaching him slowly, cooing at the bundle in her arms.
"Can you believe it?" Reno asked, softly, taking his girl from Elena.
Rude offered up a nod.
Elena smiled a little, tousling Reno's hair. "I think so."
"Oh yeah? Both of you?"
Rude nodded again.
"Yeah. Both of us." She leaned in closer. "You've always defied logic."
"Yeah. Guess so."
"You're gonna have to work harder than this to get to us."
"Harder than this?" Reno repeated, raising an eyebrow.
"Alright, alright. This is definitely your best work," Rude admitted.
"I second that," Elena added, quietly.
Three pairs of eyes admired the tiny girl in Reno's arms. Little pink lips, puckered slightly, rosy cheeks, and she had long, long eyelashes and big, bright green eyes just like Aeris. She seemed to have her late mother's brown hair, too, but she was unmistakably Reno's.
"She's really beautiful, Reno," Elena said. A moment later, still staring down at the baby, she softly asked, "What are you gonna call her?"
Reno furrowed his brow. "Crap."
"That's the worst name you've come up with yet," Rude deadpanned. "And that's saying a lot."
Reno laughed a little. After a pause, he stated, "Well, in keeping with tradition..."
Elena crossed her arms. "You will not name this child 'Ugly' or 'Stupid,' Reno Tarshil," she said, warningly.
The redhead smirked. "Wasn't gonna," he assured his friends. Looking down at the baby as if seeking her approval as well, he murmured, "Aylin. I was thinking of calling her Aylin."
Rude cocked his head to the side. "Where'd you come up with that? What's it mean?"
"Means...singled out, pretty much."
"Fits." Rude said. "I like it."
"It's a beautiful name," Elena added.
"See, I figure, since she's the last Ancient now, so she's bound to be singled out, even if she is only, what, a quarter Cetra...? Dunno if I want her to be singled out, but there might not be anything I can do about that. Hmm. Really, I just want something she won't mind other people calling her."
"You did all this thinking when?"
"Ha ha, Rude. I've been thinking about it for a while."
"Either way, it's beautiful."
Reno was dozing. Nobody ever said having a baby was easy. Nor taking care of one. That was the part that had surprised him the most -- just how much such a tiny little person could put him through. Here he'd thought she was hard on him before she was born. But he was wrong. This was definitely the hard part, with the crying and the fussing, and the spitting up on his clothes, and the crapping -- oh, there was tons of crapping. Not to mention being so damn gorgeous he couldn't even begin to be mad at her for any of it.
Aylin was dozing for the moment, just like her daddy. It was the middle of the afternoon -- naptime for both of them. Or so Reno had decided.
He hadn't realized he'd nodded off until a soft rustling woke him. He looked down at his daughter. Still asleep.
Sometimes people told Reno she looked like him, sometimes they asked about her mother. Sometimes they thought Elena was her mother. The way she fussed over both Aylin and Reno, it was no surprise she gave off that impression.
"It's about time you woke up," Reno said, quietly, as not to disturb his baby, who, for the moment anyway, was still asleep.
"What didn't?" Reno murmured.
"How long was I out?" was the somewhat groggy response he received.
There was a brief moment of silence, broken by the sound of a baby's cry. Two pairs of eyes quickly migrated to the carrier where Aylin had been napping.
"That long," Reno replied, with a smirk. "Suppose I should introduce you two," he concluded, scooping his girl into his arms. She stopped fussing a moment later, just wanting to be held.
"An introduction sounds good. I'd like that."
Reno sat down on the edge of the bed; cerulean eyes met onyx, and, with a nod he gently placed his daughter in waiting arms.
"She's really something," was whispered, followed by, "I can't get over how beautiful she is."
Reno gave a blank look and deadpanned, "I love how surprised everyone sounds when they say that."
"I didn't mean it like that."
"I know you didn't," Reno said, with a grin, observing the awed expression his boss wore as he marveled over the gurgling, wide-eyed and curious child in his arms. Reno took a deep breath. "Tseng, this is Aylin. Aylin, this is Tseng. He saved your life."
A/N: It's done! -throws confetti- I hope you all enjoyed it.
I don't know if Aylin is a real name, or what it actually means if it is. :P
The reason Tseng is still alive in my story is that he's still alive in Advent Children. I tried my best to stay true to the storyline of the game, as well as deal with that curveball. In my head, Elena's little stop spell made it so his injuries could be treated, but put him into a coma, which he woke up from at the end. I was about 2/3 done with this story when I saw Advent Children and had to rethink things. Hope I did okay with that, and just with the fic in general.