Here it is, the final chapter. I've had a lot of fun with this one, and I appreciate every person who has taken the time to read and comment on my scribblings. Thank you and much love! Lilymoon

Reno was a lot calmer than he had been earlier. He had a vague idea that was becoming stronger by the minute of where he might find Cloud. Still, with calmness came better awareness of pain and a nasty pain it was. It felt like someone was burning a whole through his chest and gouging with knives at the same time. No one looking at the Turk would ever see it unless they knew him well. Reno walked with his usual smooth, slinky gait and managed to look deadly and dangerous even with his hair down. Rude had forgotten to bring him a hair tie, and Reno had sniffed in disgust at the flowered hair scrunchie offered to him by the nurse.

Reno's bike was fueled and waiting for him outside the Shinra building. Where he was going was not accessible by helicopter, not to mention that Rufus had adamantly refused to authorize the requisition. As if Reno would have damaged a bird even in his present condition. Reno snorted an offended sound from his nose and straddled the bike. Rude and Vincent stood to the side to watch him go. He knew full well they would probably follow him from a distance. That was fine as long as they didn't interfere. Starting the bike with a muffled roar, Reno sketched a jaunty salute to his partner and his partner's lover before speeding away with his hair streaming behind him.

Hours later Reno brought the bike to a stop at a familiar pool deep in the eerily glowing forest. He could see Cloud sitting on the ground listlessly tossing pebbles into the water. His lover slumped in complete and utter dejection, even his hair seemed to droop to reflect his mood. Reno bit his lip to stifle a moan of pain when he slid off the bike and tucked his hands in his pockets to confidently approach Cloud. He didn't bother to be stealthy. Cloud already knew he was there. It was evident in the sudden tension in his body.

"Running away again, Cloud?" Reno drawled, letting his voice drip with scorn. "Is that how the tragic hero deals with the threat of someone getting too close?"

Cloud didn't answer the jibe. He only raised his head and glared at Reno before turning away to angrily fling another stone into the water.

"And you're the man who saved the world again?" Reno continued, mocking and vicious. "We should all be dead. You're a fucking coward, Cloud."

Really far from his best, Reno never saw Cloud move. He grunted in surprise and pain when he found his aching body pinned to a tree and the forearm of his enraged lover pressing against his throat. Cloud's eyes were glowing with fury and his pupils had taken on a cat like shape that made Reno want to shudder in memory.

"You," Cloud spat. "have no fucking clue what I had to do or what I have had to give up to stop Sephiroth!"

Reno didn't try to struggle against Cloud's hold even through the waves of unstable rage coming off Cloud made him want to fight for his life.

"So talk to me, or are you too scared to do that either?" Reno asked and prayed that his gamble wouldn't cost him his life.

Cloud pressed harder against Reno's throat, cutting off the stinging words. He was dangerously close to snapping. He could feel the burning surge of the mako scorching his veins and narrowing his thoughts. It was the unwanted gift of Jenova, too, the urge to destroy that which caused him pain. Cloud took a deep breath and closed his eyes. With a concentrated effort of will he forced away the murderous thoughts, his body trembling from it. When he reopened his eyes, they were once again their normal softly glowing pure blue and filled with so much pain and sadness that Reno was hard put to keep his hands still. It wasn't comfort that Cloud needed right now he reminded himself.

"Talk to me, Cloud," Reno asked again softly when he felt like his voice would work again.

Reno's voice snapped the blond fully back to the present and he paled upon seeing the bruises around blossoming on Reno's throat along with the seeping stain of fresh blood on the Turk's once white shirt. Cloud backed off and watched as Reno braced himself against the tree.

"Reno, I... Why the hell couldn't you just leave me alone?" Cloud asked woodenly then averted his gaze. "Why did you have to insinuate yourself into my bed? You were only being paid to watch over me."

Underneath the throbbing aches in his body Reno felt a new pain and anger squeeze his chest momentarily stealing his breath with its strength. It gave him the energy to push away from the tree and move towards Cloud to crowd him.

"You selfish, self-righteous bastard!" Reno yelled, his voice hoarse with both abuse and emotion. "Yes, I was being paid to protect you, but I wasn't being paid to fuck you, and I sure as hell didn't insinuate myself anywhere. You're not a good enough actor or liar, Cloud, to try and convince me that it wasn't mutual attraction." Reno cocked his head and grabbed Cloud's chin to force eye contact. "Perhaps you were the one using me. Do you feel guilty now? Dissatisfied? Wasn't I enough to replace Zack?"

It shouldn't have been possible, but Cloud paled even further and his pupils dwindled to pinpoints in shock. Zack. Zack had befriended him, had protected him, had loved him, and Zack had died for him. Gone forever. Reno wasn't Zack, couldn't ever be Zack. Cloud knew that, but had he been using Reno to get back some of the feeling he had felt with Zack? The loud mouthed redhead had bedeviled him and befriended him, never letting up until he had drawn Cloud from his silent, self imposed lonely shell.

Reno had made him take notice of people and the surroundings about him again with his incessant talking. No, Cloud couldn't keep up the pretense that he hadn't been attracted to Reno. It was Reno's obvious enjoyment of life and vibrant personality that had drawn him as much as his looks and ever present sex appeal. Cloud felt the burn of shame curdle his stomach, and he wrenched his chin from Reno's hold to stare at the ground between them.

"I'm...sorry that I said that," Cloud whispered.

Reno stared hard at the bowed head for a moment before relenting, drawing Cloud into his arms and easing them both to the ground. He was starting to feel dizzy and so very tired and had serious doubts that he could remain on his feet any longer. Reno tugged until he had Cloud sitting between his splayed legs. He looked out over the water and ran soothing hands over Cloud's arms and chest.

"Why did you take off this time?"

"Reno, Zack was my friend and he was my lover." Cloud's words came slowly, painfully from a throat tight with pain and the fact that he just didn't discuss his feelings and actions. "You know that when we escaped from Hojo he died protecting me from the snipers. I couldn't do anything to stop it."

"It wasn't your fault, Cloud," Reno murmured against his temple.

"Yes. Yes, it was! I was too weak. I couldn't keep up, and I couldn't defend myself. If he had just left me behind he might still be alive."

Reno tightened his hold on Cloud's shaking body.

"And if he left you behind, do you think he would have forgiven himself for doing it? Do you think he could have lived with the knowledge that he had left you to a fate worse than death if he truly loved you? Cloud, would you have left him if the situation were reversed?"

"What? No!" Cloud turned cold and rigid.

"That's loving and caring for someone, Cloud. I won't try anymore to convince you tonight that it wasn't your fault, but I do want you to tell me why you left this time. I was trying to protect you, but I didn't die. I'm still here."

"But you almost did! And it would have been my fault again. Everyone who gets close to me dies, Reno. Zack. Aeris." Cloud was nearly sobbing with frustration now, but his eyes remained dry. "Or worse. Sephiroth was my hero. I didn't just want to be like him. I wanted to be his equal, and I had to destroy him. Twice."

"So, what are you saying? Do you think just because you're my lover that I'm walking around with some sign pointing at my head that says, 'Hey, world! Cloud Strife got his rocks off and actually enjoyed himself a little. It was this man. Kill him.' Got news for you, babe. I'm a Turk. I could be killed on my next mission, and it most likely wouldn't have a damned thing to do with you."

Incensed by Reno's mockery, Cloud twisted around and pushed Reno to his back on the ground.

"You're purposely trying to piss me off," Cloud snapped.

"No," Reno hissed. Fuck, but he was really hurting. He was running out of lucid time. "I'm trying to show you that you are being selfish, not noble, by pushing everyone away who gets close to you just because you're afraid they will be hurt. You're hurting them yourself by doing that. You're hurting me."

"You're not being fair," Cloud trembled and whispered.

"I want you as my lover, Cloud, and it has nothing to do with the damn job. I want to be around you in all your moody bitchiness, and I want to keep trying to make you smile. You hardly ever smile, and I can't tell you what it does to me to know that I can make you do that. I want to be able to go home from my violent, messy job and know that there's at least one person in the world who still wants me. You gonna take that away from me just because of fear? Are you strong enough to stay and see what happens? Are you strong enough to fight for something you actually want instead of just fighting because there's a job needs doing?"

"You're the most manipulative bastard I've ever known, and you never shut up."

Cloud sighed and let his head drop to Reno's chest in defeat. Reno's vision whited out for a moment and this time he couldn't stop the strangled gasp from escaping. Cloud raised his head again to check out his lover's labored breathing and shocky pallor.

"I don't know," Reno wheezed. "I've heard I'm pretty quiet when I'm unconscious. You trying to find out?"

Cloud stood and easily pulled Reno to his feet. He supported the wobbly Turk and headed towards his own bike.

"Idiot. Rude's probably pretty tired of watching over you. I'll bet he's been begging someone to take you off his hands for a while," Cloud muttered nastily even though his touch was gentle.

"You offerin'?" Reno slurred, his head lolling on his neck. He only got an impatient huff for an answer. "Where we goin'?"

"Home."

It wasn't a declaration. It wasn't a promise. For Reno, it was good enough, and he allowed his eyes to finally close.

"And you think I'm trouble," Cloud said and waved his hand at the men he knew were watching.to let them know Reno would be okay. "I don't know what's going to happen, but at least I know I'll never be bored."

-fin-