I'm not sure if I posted this link in a previous chapter but the second picture AthaMaarit sent can be found here www (dot) athamaarit (dot )deviantart (dot) com (slash) gallery (slash) # (slash) d1raept

I don't know if I am stereotyping Rude but in my mind he is some sort of highly educated gentleman with an air for etiquette. Confused? Allow me to elaborate. Let's say Rude is enjoying a nice cup of coffee and out of nowhere a man with a gun springs up in the coffee shop he is presently occupying. Not only would Rude not look surprised, he would already have thrown a knife at the guy all the while still calmly sitting at his seat enjoying his morning paper. The only irritation out of him would be a small sigh that his moment was interrupted. And maybe a mumbled "some people" under his breath.

"Yo, am I disgusting?"

Rude's cup of tea stopped jarringly halfway up to his lips. He had been sitting in the Turk lounge all alone enjoying some desperately needed quiet time but now it seemed that that was going to end, make that disintegrate. Reno in the meantime was trying to decide whether Rude's rigid stillness was because he was considering the question or it had shocked him to the 9th circle of hell.

"Well?" Reno huffed impatiently.

Calmly Rude returned the cup onto its neat, crisp white saucer and seemed to focus all his concentration on the question at hand. Reno took this opportunity to fling himself onto the opposite leather seat with a flop and wait for his best friend's epiphany.

"In what way?" was the composed answer.

Repressing an irritated growl Reno explained, "I mean in general dude. No need to be picky."

A ghost of a smirk passed Rude's lips as he began noticing his friend's impatience.

"Usually you just don't care."

Reno was watching the ceiling by this point as if he was already bored with their conversation but he nodded in the end refusing to meet Rude's glasses. The silent Turk could tell that meant something was on his mind, which was rather odd. Reno was many things but affected by someone's opinion or judgment just didn't happen.



Silent pause.


"Oh you mean who," the red head figured out. Suddenly he became a little uncomfortable.

"That doesn't matter. You know what, forget I even said anything."

Rude chuckled silently. So this was about a girl. But if Reno didn't want to talk about it, then he wasn't going to pry. Reaching for his cup more than ready to continue where he had left off, Rude was ready to put this whole conversation behind him.

"But seriously, am I disgusting?"

It was starting to look like he wasn't going to get any peace and quiet until he honestly answered.

"Not really," Rude said shrugging slightly. "It could be worse."

Reno frowned in confusion. "What do you mean it could be worse?"

Well he hadn't meant for it to be a follow up question. Rude pushed back his sunglasses with a well-practiced movement and prepared to say something no man should say to another man.

"You are an attractive man Reno."

Reno's red eyebrows shot up but Rude ignored it and continued.

"Yes your clothes are haggard, you are a pig most of the time, offensive, loud, stubborn etc, etc but deep down an overall nice guy." Rude paused to take a sip of his lukewarm tea and shrugged. "Well as much as a man who kills for a living can be anyway."

Rude didn't seem to notice or chose not to the somewhat stunned silence following his once in a lifetime declaration. Reno however was more amazed at the total amount of words that had come out of Rude and not as much at the actual words.

Finally Reno smiled mischievously and said,

"See buddy that wasn't so hard."

Rude just raised an eyebrow and inclined his head forward in acknowledgement knowing that was the closest he was going to get to an official thank you. Quickly Reno bounced off the leather seat in a flail of limbs determined to find Elena and explain everything once and for all, mind games officially over.

Meanwhile Elena was still a bit stunned in her office but she had moved on to paperwork to keep her whirling mind busy. But every time she tried to focus on something her thoughts automatically reverted back to Reno's reaction and most troubling of all, his words.

Sighing she got up and decided to end her torment by getting busier. She was going to skip the official report that company policy dictated she should submit and go straight to Rufus and actually tell him verbally what she had managed to dig up. Getting her weary bones moving, she dragged herself out.

As she exited the elevator to Rufus' floor she jerkily stopped at the sight before her. Reno was sitting behind the secretary's desk seemingly typing something on the computer keyboard. To the outside observer he might seem to be actually working but to someone who knows him, the odds are he was probably installing a virus… or worse.

"Reno what are you doing?" Elena half-yelled as she approached him. Really she didn't have the energy right now.

She was a little satisfied at seeing him jerk a bit but he immediately recovered.

"Just playing a healthy, innocent joke on my favourite long-nailed human-lizard hybrid," he said getting up from his seat and around the table. "I swear Laney, no real human can have such nails!"

His eyes widened in mock horror causing Elena to chuckle.

"So whatcha here for?" he asked.

"I'm here to see Rufus. I'm just going to explain the situation with the least amount of paperwork."

"Ah," Reno smiled widely, putting his hands in his pockets. "So I was right."

"No, you just may have had a point, that's all."

"Of course Laney, whatever you say."

With a slight huff, Elena walked around him and knocked on the President's door. Only when she heard Rufus' authoritative come in did she deign to enter. As she was about to close the door behind her, Elena noticed that Reno had slipped himself in. Great another meeting between the three of them, just what she needed.

"I'm assuming you found something," Rufus said from behind his desk, not bothering with any niceties.

"Yes sir. Throughout my interviews I've been able to find out that several Shinra employees have been replaced by supposed workers from a single employment center, the Central Midgar Employment Agency. Our employees I presume are being replaced by Acta 3 operatives for a few weeks and then disappear. None of your employees have returned to date though sir."

The President remained quiet after her statement which wasn't unusual. Rufus would usually continue on with his work and make his employees wait for a few minutes for him to make a decision or acknowledge their existence. Therefore Elena patiently waited for him to give his orders. Finally with a quick flourish, Rufus wrote his signature one last time and calmly placed his pen on the desk.

"Good work Elena," Rufus commented neutrally. "I want you and Reno to go see this Central Midgar Employment Agency for yourselves. If it's a nest for these people, I want it blown up today. Also go to some of the missing employees' residences and see if you can find anything. That is all."

And with that Rufus picked up his discarded pen once more and began to sign pages. Recognizing a dismissal when they saw one, Reno and Elena left the President's office.

"So it's you and me again huh Laney?" Reno drawled as he calmly walked behind her and her quick little steps.

Ignoring his remark and his presence, Elena just pressed the elevator button and waited a little bit anxiously for its arrival.

"Look, we'll start with the latest employee who has gone missing. Her apartment isn't far from here. It's more efficient that way," Elena explained. Mentally she added that it would probably be even more efficient if Reno didn't come at all but that was wishful thinking and she knew that.

Together they entered the elevator and remained silent. Elena couldn't quite come to a decision as to whether it was a good silence or a bad omen silence, like beware the ides of March type of silence.

Finally the doors swooshed open and the dynamic duo headed towards their SUV, again with Reno trailing behind her. There wasn't even arguing when it came to who would drive. Reno didn't complain or whine when he sat himself in the passenger seat. He even put on his seat belt without being nagged into doing it.

Elena, needless to say, was getting freaked.

She parked the vehicle directly in front of the apartment building knowing no one would be waiting for them in ambush.

"Nice place," Reno muttered as he got out of the SUV.

"Yeah," Elena agreed as her eyes roamed over the beautiful structure. "Guess we are in the wrong field of work Reno."

They were standing in front of a white brick building with pristine windows and marble stairs. The building positively oozed class.

Shrugging his lean shoulders, Reno took the lead and ignoring the slightly stunned valet, removed his mag-rod.

He waited for Elena to tell him where to go since he hadn't bothered looking up which apartment the employee had occupied. Reno wasn't as optimistic as Elena. He knew the kidnapped people weren't alive and he would bet money on it. Except Rufus had told him not to do that anymore, something about it lacking good taste.

"This way. She lived on the 4th floor."

"Right," he mumbled, not really paying attention but just following.

They got to the door and without prompting, Reno was already at work picking the lock. Meanwhile Elena kept a lookout with her gun held closely to her right thigh.

Eventually a small click was heard followed by a ta-da and Elena knew Reno had gotten the better of a lock yet again.

Without a sound, Reno swung the door open.

"Well so much for your kidnapping theory," Reno said as he calmly lit a cigarette. He really needed to start betting again.

There in front of them was either the messiest place in the world or something really bad had happened here. Tables were overturned, drawers ripped from their hinges, glass was broken everywhere. But what really caught Elena's eye was the blood spatter and single bullet hole in the far left wall.

"She was killed here," Reno stated matter-of-fact, white smoke escaping his parted lips.

The blood had long ago turned a dull brown and as Elena squatted down to get a closer look, the blood wasn't even liquid anymore. It had been so long that it was dried solid. The only evidence of the violence of the shot was the wide range the blood had sprayed over the cream painted wall.

"From the looks of it, it looks like the work of a pro. Single shot, silencer probably, either through an important artery or straight through the heart," Elena said dispassionately. She had been the cause of too many scenes such as these to be affected by them anymore.

Reno nodded at her observation and left to go through the rest of the apartment. He didn't find anything unusual, just more mess.

Whoever this or these guys were ransacked the place. But looking for what exactly? If they wanted to get information on the weapon manufacturing going on in Shinra then they wouldn't have found anything really important in an employee's home. No, there was something else they were after.

Reno returned to the living room to see Elena just getting off her PHS.

"I called Tseng. A team will be sent here along with a few others to go to the residences that we haven't gone to."


"Tseng urges us to go to the employment agency right away and see who we can find and drag in to Shinra."

Reno whistled slightly under his breath. "I guess Rufus wants to get his hands on someone he can hurt now."

"Yeah, well, I'm sure we all do at this point Reno," Elena replied as she walked past him and out the front door.

Reno stared a few seconds more at the place they presumed the young woman had died and nodded once as if accepting a silent challenge. He had a strong feeling this was going to get uglier before it got better.

My updates are going to be rare from now on. Life is getting just too busy. But i'm going to continue writing so it doesn't mean this story is on hiatus. The story shall go on! Reviews?