The ball gets rolling...


The air was thick with bloated flies feasting on corpses. Raine smacked a cloud away from her face and tried to ignore the rest landing and bumping against her so she could focus on making a connection. Behind her the sounds of tissue slipping and slapping; tendons stretching and snapping; bones braking and crunching, along with the growling and chewing, snarling and swallowing insistently interrupted her concentration. Too close for comfort a pair of local panther-like beasts gorged themselves on the dead natives she'd shot barely ten minutes ago. The Wutains side had a number of monstrous beasts to bolster their troops, put it was obvious few of the creatures had any true alliance. In the frenzy they'd been unintentionally released from their cages, adding to the havoc and slaughter, driving by instinct to lash out in the confusion. Now things had calmed down they were content, joining the insects to dine. Keeping an eye on them she thought of the flesh from both sides being mixed in their stomachs. It would give them strength against the oncoming harsh winter; it was the only good the fighting was doing, she thought bitterly.

Even if there was anything salvageable in the mess the guerrilla fighters caused before her unit got there she could not focus to rescue it. It was not so much the noise- listening was a good distraction to feeling of the dead watching her- but a nagging frustration that sapped at her will. Lately, wherever they went they ended up somewhere suffering in the wake of a battle. In their state it was morbidly viewed as good fortune. For the last month and a half they had been surviving by the beast's example, stealing from bodies and pillaging the wreckage, thankful they did not have to sink to cannibalism - animals often got caught in the cross fire too. The ambush that left them in this state and two down, had dimmed her pity for the people of this land, but it was creeping back like cold fingers crawling up towards her chest, making her weak. At least when she was angry she did not feel sick, she could not smell the rancid blood in the soil, did not see the people instead of the enemy, would not hear nor feel anything beyond what had to be done. Like a fuel she was using it up and did not want to know what she would be when the tank emptied. Already she was having thoughts of desertion and she hated herself for it.

Today was supposed to have been a rendezvous with a communications team to report back to HQ, stock up on supplies and rest. It had given her hope. She should have been wiser when they were still a couple of leagues from ShinRa controlled borders. She should have expected a little camp of technicians to not last in a zone so torn up already. Still she had hoped-liked she'd hoped so many times before- and it was not until they saw the thick black smoke cloud coming from the co-ordinates of the site did she face the cynical reality her superior and partner had voiced the moment he received the order for them to come here. They had received no orders since nor would they be getting any today, with most the signalling equipment thoroughly and purposely destroyed before they arrived. Everything, everyday made her want to burst into tears, but she was not allowed despite how much it added to the hurt holding them back.

Even with these unpleasant thoughts and tiredness from the hours of walking through the jungle she still spotted pieces from the debris that were reusable and though she did not like the idea of carrying more it was their obligation to make sure none of it got into Wutain possession. The native bombs were crude in comparison to their own so assessing the damage she concluded a spell caster must have been among those they shot before coming onto the site. The fires were not started by any normal means and the extent of damage was too great to be caused by normal fire or explosive force. For this reason Hatoro had Seungri checking all the bodies. There was only the three of them left and this was the first time since Karmen had been killed while scouting had Hatoro allowed them to spread so far apart. Seungri was much younger than them and she knew her partner would be looking out for him as she could handle herself. Through the guilt and fatigue the one thing that kept her going was an instinct not to let Hatoro down, his pride in her was all she lived for when she forced herself to keep going. However bad things got, it could not be worse than seeing him look disappointed or worried. It made her act strong and optimistic on the outside and in seeing her effort she knew Hatoro was keeping the strong mask over his inner self. They all needed that; they had to hide their fears from each other otherwise they would truly be in trouble. Sometimes she envied how sincere Seungri could be; he was not expected to be strong for them. But when she held him close on the nights he was too frightened to sleep and unbidden tears silently soaked into her dirty jacket she was grateful he was there to be emotional and human. (What had Veld been thinking to send a rookie out here? He was bright and above average no doubt but this mission was suited for veterans who had the mental resilience not to be as ruined afterwards- if they got out. Seungri would surely be dead had Hatoro not kept a close eye on him.)

She wondered if he had found anything, the kid had good sight- it had been part of his recommendation, although Bilal had commented all kids were attracted to shiny things and they had all laughed- but she heard only the panting of the full, now resting beasts and buzzing. There was no wind this evening and the sun was only just beginning to descend so the trees were still and the birds had yet to sing. Looking away from the ruins she'd been searching she spotted the top of Seungri's head bobbing behind what could have been a four wheel drive once. She guessed he was kicking something, it reminder her how kids in her home town would prod her grandmother's old wolf-dog with their toe to wake it up as a dare and it made her miss the rookies mischievous and childish character of three months ago. She wanted him to make it back home, take leave and see his family and his girlfriend (who worked on floor 21). Making her way over and picking up things as she went she started to get a strange sensation.

The temperature's were getting low this time of year so though some fires were still going making the wreckage site was general quite warm the prickling heat beginning just above her elbows and across her back that felt like it was getting closer was unnatural. That Seungri who must have by now searched the five men they'd taken down had not found anything yet must mean-

"Get down!"

Automatically she obeyed. She just glimpsed Hatoro throwing himself against Seungri and knocking them both over when an arc of blazing fire swept overheard with a thundering 'woosh' that hurt her unprotected . It blasted into into the trees at the opposite side of the clearing with a frightening crash. Rolling to her side to look behind her, everything was as high up as just above her elbows was burning and as she watched the trees fell. They shook the ground on impact and rolled down the slight incline leading to the clearing. Somehow the angle of the cut and domino like way they fell stopped them going far. Instead they piled up at a natural ditch and only the highest branches of the closest trees got as far as a meter from where she dropped down. When everything was still again, the dust settled and the alarmed birds quietened it looked like a giant beaver had suddenly taken resisdence. Whatever that spell had been it formed flames so condensed and fast they cut cleaner than diamond. As she had thought the spell caster was still out there.

"Raine! Raine? Are you alright?" Hearing Hatoro's concern instantly made her forget the ringing in her ears and the pounding of her heart.

"I am. How about you guys?" Her voice was stronger than she expected and for once she was not spitting mud out of her mouth. They were getting so much practise diving into the dirt; it was actually becoming a skill.

"Brilliant." To her surprise Hatoro was laughing, that time must have been too close if he was so relieved. Scary as that fact was the sound got her moving. Crawling on her belly she made her way over to the (now even more unrecognisable) vehicle, determined to catch a glimpse of his rare smiles least she die here.


xXx


It was now four weeks, three days (8 hours and 26 minutes –he did not go too far and remember the seconds) since Rude had last spoken to Reno. Why was he bothered by this? Why did he wake up every morning chiding himself for thinking (more hoping) maybe he'd get a surprise visitation from the exuberant red haired youth? Why had he been going to bed knowing he had done every task asked of him by the book and still felt dissatisfied when he closed his eyes?

Obviously it was because he enjoyed the interruption to routine, the shock of suddenly being confronted with a ball of energy that had mood swings faster than any woman he knew and the interesting events that tended to follow. He just wondered why he enjoyed it?
What made being accosted by Reno better than spending time with the original misfit crew? Well he supposed Reno knew more about how things worked and rarely had a care in the world (or if he did he was very good at hiding it) which meant Rude did not find himself in a cyclic conversations of rumour mongered worries. That was nice. Also Reno could be quiet, and Rude did not have to worry about the reasons for him being quiet unlike the others who were usually stressing so much they would turn introvert. Not a kind observation of his friends but he had to be honest. They acted more like rookies than anyone else which was endearing but tiring. Anyway, he did not know why he missed someone he barely knew over the friends he'd also barely seen for approximately one week, five days, (10 hours and 4 minutes) excluding passing Tabby and Lyon in the corridors approximately 3 days (13 hours and 58 minutes) ago.
To make life more challenging and to give his neurons a daily workout he got back into the habit of taking note of the exact details of almost every aspect of his day. Memorising when the trash was collected for their building, the surrounding buildings and the tower... Honestly he had gone so far as to learn the public services routine for every district in Midgar one particularly thrilling sleepless night. He knew when the receptionist tried to be different by changing the type – but not the colour- of the flowers in the vase between the wall and a plaque informing residents owning vehicles to park them in the garage and not in front of the building. He was starting to recognise faces, not by name but knew which floor to expect to see them on or regular individuals on the streets. The list went on but did not get any more interesting. Not always fun but a lot better than having to pay attention to Marko whose presence simply grated on his nerves.

During work he threw himself into his job because it was the best part of his day. Only in hindsight, during times when Marko was out and he had the apartment to himself- like now- did he go over the day and see opportunities he over looked at the time. Being friendlier, speaking up, not fading into the back ground and allowing everyone else to decide how things should be done. He was as good as any of the other rookies but knew he was allowing himself to be just a lapdog, no better than a grunt. He started promising himself he would do better tomorrow but by the morning all his wanted was to get the paperwork, patrols and searches done to an impeccable standard so each evening he was still left with a sense of disappointment. He could not watch television, especially not the news now he knew it was spun lies and the way Reno had mocked him for watching it made him feel like a fool. Other than that the dramas were too fake. Small things, everyday things kept reminding him of the youth, he supposed that was part of the redhead's charm to leave a lasting impression and he was so hung up about it because he could not make the same impact on others. He wondered how someone so young could change the way the world spun simply by entering the room or how he fascinated those that quite liked him and how he infuriated those that did not. In comparison Rude felt like he had no real charm; he came and went like a ghost from room to room, he helped things go as they always did like clockwork and safely did not rub others up the wrong way or encourage any affection for his character either.

But he knew some people were special, often you found out later it was superficial and they were just human like everyone else - or less so. Rude had never been bothered by these kind of people before, until the academy he had been another grubby slum boy. In the academy he was just there, the silent stereotype. As a rookie he was the intimidating muscle man of the new batch, defined, categorised and regarded accordingly. His interesting quirks were that he always wore shades and a watch; he was bald and was well acquaintance with the least promising new Turks and sometimes Reno. The last fact garnered the most attention and even some warnings for him to back off, such as from Kyo and Trent but others had done the same even Turks he did not know. They spoke about Reno behind his back, mostly in a derogative way and Rude wondered if they did so about him too (if he was worth the attention). It made him want to know what they knew that he did not about the infamous kid in the Turk suit and why he did not see it.

Or maybe he did. There had been times when looking into Reno's eye it seemed something darker was lurking beneath, a killing aura and deadly professionalism. Is that what concerned everyone else, the other sides to that person? Did they think it made him untrustworthy? Rude supposed it would make you uncomfortable to have your life partly in the hands of someone you could not trust. You would not want to be partnered with them, then you may start thinking of good excuses to give the boss as to why you don't want to work together and start justifying it to your friends and it would spread and escalate like a disease which only a few were a immune. If that was the case Rude was immune, he knew without fully seeing that a darker nature was there but he knew he had one as well. Everyone did. His master did a good job repressing it during his most rebellious stages but Rude knew it was there to be called upon when his self control waned. That side made life exciting, it could make dull air feel charged like when a storm was coming, and it promised everything you signed on for as a Turk, the stealth, adrenaline, and intelligence. It was like being a cat hunting, sleek, deadly and full of purpose. He wanted to be that kind of hunter, the kind criminals' truly feared. After all their training he and the other rookies still had to prove themselves and pay their dues to earn the privilege of participating in influential missions and it was starting to feel a long way off. Around Reno he could imagine and even feel what it was like, the kid held nothing back when it was just the two of them in his office or in Rude's room – mainly because Rude was writing it down for the kid's report – and he had begun telling Rude of the most interesting or exciting missions he'd been on or had been conducted by the Turks. He was a good story teller even without the finer details he had a skill of not spilling to the rookie, they had been something to look forward to, and another reason to be so hung up on the redhead.

Round and around his thoughts swam until he finally decided to get up and make the last cup of coffee for the day. Only when he moved from his comfortable seat did he notice how cold the apartment had got. He checked the thermostat and confirmed it was just two degrees above freezing. Marko must have turned it down before he went out three hours ago. The prick was inconsiderate like that. Rude was discovering swearing in his head was a great release for his frustrations concerning his friend's brother. It seemed pointless to turn it up so he continued to the kitchen. The tiles were icy against his bare feet and he contemplated if the drink was worth it. He decided it was and got coffee filters from a top cupboard and the rich coffee beside it. If his roommate was going to try and freeze him to death he would just have to drink his expensive ground beans to keep warm. It tasted nutty and was not as strong as his own economy brand but was really good with that liquor Reno left on his last visit.

The fugitive manner which the redhead had hidden it in Rude's room over six weeks ago made the rookie wonder where he had stolen it from. He had forgotten about it until three nights ago when Marko demanded he turn his room upside down to find the memory piece of his phone that had went missing after he'd thrown the device at Rude for ignoring him. Rude shut the door just in time so most of the parts were scattered outside but his roommate had been adamant the thin metal sheet might have slid under the door. Rude found the bottle while checking under the bed. (As it turned out the missing piece was wedged upright against the wall outside his door but half buried in the carpet overlooked. Understandable Marko had failed to notice it and Rude had made no real effort to search anyway). Not his problem if the superstar wanted to throw a diva fit because he couldn't handle the repercussions of his decisions. Although Rude was fed up of the 'I am taking charge, I'm messing up but at least I stepped up to the challenge, unlike you, don't judge me you are a coward because you don't try and boss people around, you let everyone do the hard thinking for you etc.' attitude he was subjected to whenever anything went wrong. Of course such fits did not happen enough. Marko was learning from his mistakes and he was more obnoxious when he was right. Worse he was redeeming himself after the tournament, the other rookies were starting to look at him with a bit of respect and Rude hated to admit the jerk earned it. Maybe it was such feelings that made him fearless to open the possibly stolen bottle when Marko went out that night and mix it with his coffee so he could stay up and stare pointlessly at the street lights across the plate. If he took off his glasses and let his vision blur- it stung – but it was easier to imagine he was looking at stars in a far off galaxy below, - since they had no real stars here.

Together the liquids made a creamy and warm product with a strong, expresso aftertaste. He took a gulp as soon as it was made, savoured it for a second than danced on tiptoe into his room and straight into bed. His bedroom was smaller and much cosier than the lounge. It was still sparse and probably would remain so, had he a more possessive or sentimental nature a horde of knick knacks may have added more warmth but his quilts and duvet were doing a pretty good job along with his own body mass. Finishing his drink, he reached for his book 'Survivor' a fictional novel that caught his attention because it made him think of the Turks and Soldiers fighting in Wutai. He knew it was a hot but secretive topic among the veterans on this side of the continent, the rookies were excluded from these sorts of talks, they had no personal attachment to the fighters and it was probably deemed unprofessional to load them with concerns they did not need to deal with. Being Rude and gifted with the ability to become one with the background he had eavesdropped on enough conversations to know the situation was getting worse and new MIA's kept coming in. The writer was not writing about the war, the setting wasn't even in Wutai or a jungle but the wastelands. However from the first page he thought the feelings would be the same, suffering, isolated and lost in your mind as much as the wild. It gave him a sense of empathy for the strangers that were his seniors, people he felt he should respect but probably would never meet. The writer was excellent by Rude's standards and he was near half way through despite starting it the same night he opened the bottle, he did not know which he would finish first though. Just as he was getting immersed in the dry, windy plains a loud knock on the apartment door pulled him back out.

He waited, hoping maybe they would go away and if it was urgent then they would phone him but they persisted. Huffing he got up to check who it was, if it was Marko than Rude would leave him out there and would still sleep easy but something about the way the rapping was conducted suggested the hands doing it were smaller and possibly belonged to a woman. Cautiously he crept towards the door without turning on the light so the person on the other side would not see a shadow approaching. What was to stop the person on the other side pulling a gun and shooting him when they knew he was there? Well a bullet proof door admittedly but much of ShinRa technology was already considered outdated by one year because defence and weapon technicians seemed to be constantly trying to outwit each other.
Barely breathing he peaked through the spy hole and was surprised to see Tabby's distorted face trying to look in. He almost laughed. Stepping back and undoing the locks and codes on the door, he opened it letting light from the corridor and Tabby's too pleased voice to flood in. "Oh you are in! I'm so relieved." She said before the she could see who she was talking to. She did not seem to mind he'd obviously been waiting for her to go away, she knew what he was like. "Is it just you Rude?" she asked once she was in, looking around the dark apartment for any other signs of life.

"Yeah."

She nodded and looked like she wanted to turn on a light. Rude did it for her and lead her to the sofa. "Is Marko out? When will he be back? I don't think he'd like to see me visiting you." She asked, surprisingly fine with his state of dress even though this was the first time she had seen him anything less than training gear. It was strange she was not chirpily pointing out the obvious like she usually did.

Puzzled by the last remark, but his glasses covered the emotion, he simply answered, "I don't know."

"Oh, I better be quick, did I get you out of bed?" She asked looking apologetic and sounding sweet. She was such a nice person and somehow still untouched by some of the sobering facts the other rookies were gradually learning. He imagined much of it was Lyon's doing but he also imagined the reason he had hardly talked to her and why she seemed uneasy was Lyon's doing as well. He must make her feel she needed permission to do anything, not by his own actions- although he was overprotective everyone had noticed that- but Tabby had a way of being extra obedient towards her seniors and probably had not checked it was okay for her to go visiting this late at night.

"I was not sleeping," he assured her but that did not stop her lower lip being bit in worry so he added, "Would you like anything to drink or eat?"

"No thank you," She answered politely then continued with a much brighter expression, "I actually have some news to tell you, about tomorrow."

He raised an eyebrow to show interest then strolled into the kitchen to make himself another coffee and liquor brew, with more liquor this time. He would make one for her as well because she would decline even if she really did fancy something so as not to be an inconvenience. She was awkward around him, it could be the setting since it was the first time she had come to see him in private ever or because they had not talked for a long time and their friendship was built on a relatively short acquaintance -whatever the reason she needed a little help loosening up. Speaking from the kitchen, which had an open window into the lounge area so communication could be conducted between the rooms, he responded, "What news?"

"You've been picked to go on a special mission in Juon." She smiled like it was good news but her slumped body language and the way she seemed so tiny in their spacious lounge gave Rude the impression it troubled her, "Isn't that great? Only two other rookie units have been picked, Lyon said if the mission is successful you'll be distinguished amongst your peers, I mean us. You're really lucky to get this opportunity, you could move up really fast." But it would be dangerous because it would be such an important mission, and they've probably run out of more experienced people to do it.

What she left unsaid he could almost feel, she was good at that and he felt illogical guilt- it was not his fault- and could not honestly be pleased about the job. Maybe when she left and it had sunk in he'd appreciate it. While Marko's expensive coffee brewed he put a bit more liquor into her cup so it was almost the same level as his. "Are you and Lyon one of the other units?"

"Oh...no," she replied, sounding like she was just about to doze off on their couch for a second, "Jordo and Doug where picked and Hana and Maya too. I think Lyon said their skills would be the most useful and then you guys were simply the most promising and deserved the opportunity."

"Really," He muttered to himself, not liking the sound of being stuck with Marko and his posse on an extended trip. If he recalled correctly this could be the same venture Reno had informed him of. Too late for guess work he chose to find out, "Is it to do with the Lau brothers? Was Lyon on that case and did you come this late because you have useful information I should know?" Already it felt like he was speaking too much, his throat was going dry and he fancied a glass of water as much as his coffee but he would wait for the coffee since it was almost done. Tabby looked like she needed a pick up even when surprised.

"How do you know it's about the Lau siblings?" She sounded so shocked and confused yet Rude wondered why she even knew about it and if she was going to be connected in anyway.

"Reno mentioned it to me."

"Reno?" The increasing confusion on her face alerted Rude he had spoken without thinking, "You've met him? Oh wow, what is he like? Is he really intelligent and charismatic?" She asked with the more familiar interest and excitement he was used to. Charismatic? Where did she come up with that? From her ideal image she's created for him? If Idols had existed she would be the sort to become a groupie which begged the question why she was not a fan of the celebrity Soldiers Rude wondered off topic. Then again she was more of the kind to feel safer loving dreams than face the often disappointing reality.

"Yes actually," He sounded teasing and involuntarily a subtle smile crept onto his lips as soon as he matched the descriptions to the kid. Yes the youth fit those words in his own way, or at least to Rude he did.

"Ah he must be wonderful," She squealed bouncing in her seat just as the coffee was ready to be poured. "It's so rare you wear that kind of expression, like when you are with Red."

Walking into the lounge he paused briefly when she said that but immediately carried on and hoped she was so giddy to notice his reaction. Unfortunately she did. "What was that just now? Is something up between you two? He hasn't been around lately. Why did you stop when I mentioned his name?" He tried to ignore the reams of questions as he set the coffee on the table. She took hers without question, to intrigued to remember she had not asked for it.

"It's nothing like that," He said, smirking into his cup as he sat down. He almost burnt himself.

"Then what? Please tell me" she paused examining him and he could see her going over their small conversation to work out the answer herself. It did not take her long, "Are Reno and Red connected? Is that that why you've met Reno, is he Red's partner?"

"Reno doesn't have a partner," He answered automatically and before she could ask any more he clarified, "Reno is Red or Red is Reno."

It took a while for that fact to sink in. He observed her blinking three times then her plain eyes bugged, "...No way."

"Disappointed?" He could not keep the chuckle from coming out with his question since her face was still frozen in a priceless fashion.

She shook her head, "No just... I wouldn't have...it's not how I imagined."

"Obviously."

"Oh you," She grinned and playfully beat at him with a pillow, missing by miles, "you sound just like John."

"You must garner those kind of responses then." Again his remark was greeted by a failed attack by a comforter. Maybe he should not speak since it made people he liked hit him.

"Still," She sighed looking at the ceiling and letting her weapon dangle, "he does suit Reno doesn't he?"

"Who does?"

"Red, Reno suits him better as a name." She clarified, frowning either slightly annoyed by his slowness or because it sounded as if he was getting at her ability to express herself clearly. Rude smiled, again it was barely visible but it was enough for her to see and the frown disappeared.

"Red would be a lame name."

"Yeah it would," she giggled. "But Reno is still unusual."

"Yes he is." His tone was abnormally cheeky.

"For a name! When did you become such a tease? I haven't seen this side of you!" Tabby sounded exasperated with him but her mood had relaxed greatly compared to when she came in it did make Rude wonder, had he put too much in her drink?

"I guess he rubs off."

"I like it." She gave him a big childish grin that transformed her plain looks into something one could only be described as adorable; she did not have the look of a killer. Blowing on her coffee she said, "I hope he comes by again if you haven't fallen out."

Rude shrugged as he watched her sip the hot beverage still a little concerned about its alcohol content, "Not to my knowledge."

"Good, You obviously think well of him and he balances you out nicely. I know John, Jim and I haven't been able to do much for you and we all know about Youji," She paused suddenly guilty. "Sorry." She added quietly.

Shifting in his seat it took him a moment to realise why she'd reacted as such, then he felt bad for forgetting but he had promised to close that chapter of his life. It proved he was doing well, those aspects of his past were not burdening his thoughts liked they used to although it was unsettling to have them brought up. He forced his small smile to stay in place and become reassuring; even if it was not a look he knew how to express easily. Tabby meant well, she always did and that was what mattered he did not want her to feel bad for trying to be a caring friend. "That is alright, Youji was more like a brother I guess," Rude told her truthfully thinking for only a second of the young exuberant man who had guided him onto this destiny and whom he had felt admiration and responsibility over, "but not one I could really relate to."

Thinking about what he said she replied perceptively, "You can relate to Reno?"

Nodding he continued knowing it was the first time he had been so open to her and that it would mean a lot, "On some levels I can relate to him on things I never thought I would think about."

"He's opening you up." She guessed, demeanour easing once more.

"Worrying." He replied jokingly. He had not considered his small but significant acquaintance in the redheaded Turk being something of discussion but it felt safe sharing it with Tabby, she seemed to have a second sense for sensitivity so knew what to let slip to others and what to keep to herself unlike Jim. Plus she seemed as interested in the redhead so he was a common interest that was quickly making up for the long time of not seeing each other.

"No, no it isn't. Rude everyone needs a friend and out of the four of us you are the most distant. I am happy you have someone that one day may turn out to be your best friend." She said sagely and he could imagine her mother or grandmother handing similar advice down to her when she was still a little girl running around in dresses with pigtails. Well in the tone at least.

"Aren't you being a bit premature with this." He chuckled deeply, his baritone loudly filling the otherwise quiet room, at the thought of him and Reno being best friends. Having not seen the kid in so long and with the possibility of not seeing him again, the idea felt farfetched. Seriously best friends and Turks were not words that shared sentence space often. Partners and comrades were as far as it went professionally and the seniors although friendly with each other, very close attachments were probably frowned upon so it would be easier to move on if something unfortunate happened. Logic was one requirement in their department, excessive emotions lead to illogical motives which could put you and others in jeopardy. To call someone your best friend it meant a lot or at least to him -maybe he thought too deeply into things, - but it was not a frivolous title. You would not leave your best friend to die or sacrifice themselves for the good of the mission and you would never fully move on if they did. A best friend was an irreplaceable soul mate that you were lucky to even meet, possibly rarer than true love. Perhaps he was being ideal but the point was what she said now sounded ridiculous.

"Maybe, but I get the feeling you would forgive him no matter how he turns out. You are what my mum would say 'attached'." She carried on unaware of his mental monologue and happily drank more of her coffee now it was much cooler and not giving as much heat to her hands that were hugging it for warmth.

"Attached?" He asked as if he did not understand what she meant but privately he acknowledged the feeling. It was what made him keep a look out for the kid where ever he went, or find excuses to do filing in case he was in his 'office' and what made him worry for the younger's safety although he must have been doing just fine before they crossed paths. Well actually not just fine, you don't end up looking like prematurely wrapped mummy when you're getting along just fine.

Even with the shades on he could not hide the far away expression from Tabby this time and she let him think a good while over the simple but profound word, letting in dangle in the air so to speak, before carrying on, "You have a sentimental feeling towards him already I can tell."

"You make me sound like I am in love." He said as a blush heated his cheeks, luckily it was unnoticeable- he did not like to be caught spacing out. He took a huge gulp of his coffee to act nonchalant.

"Friendship is a form of love." Tabby said warmly, putting her empty mug down and rubbing her hands together. "It is part of true romance...Yeah, it's quite similar to true love... I think you too could be honest and pure with each other." She said the last part more to herself and Rude definitely thought she was getting carried away or she was tipsy.

"Pure? Where do you get this from?"

"My lady newspapers."He was going to go with the tipsy but she sounded more sober as she went on, "I am not talking romantically I just mean he could be someone you don't feel like keeping secrets from and feel comfortable around."

Taking a moment to evaluate her eyes he concluded the alcohol content was still below her threshold so she was in fact taking this too far with the sentimental, mushy stuff but the last bit he could understand although not apply it to the kid and voiced as much, "I have a feeling if we ever became close he would keep secrets and not let me keep mine. He is that sort of person."

"Really?" She sounded surprised.

"Yes, very nosy." He confirmed.

She laughed, "We have something in common then."

"Yes you do."


xXx


"Oi get up!" Marko screamed at his door, "We have to be in Tseng's office in an hour for a mission brief."

Rude, who was crouching in the kitchen looking in a cupboard contemplating the best way to start the day just rolled his eyes and popped up. "Then you better get some trousers on," he indicated with his spoon at his partners half dressed state, while he was fully clothed and immaculate. Marko glared at him, the man hated anyone seeing him look less than perfect, hence time only made him loathe Rude more.

Once sufficient glaring had been achieved he stomped back into his room. Amused Rude kindly made Marko some toast and tea ready to go since the man would use all the spare time priming himself. Marko drank tea in the morning and Rude only found out why when his partner had coffee for a change then had to go to bathroom an hour later. Some drinks just go right through people. Leisurely he prepared himself a more wholesome breakfast, consisting of what Jim would describe as Chocobo fed - That's not what it said on the box but eating it Rude was inclined to agree. He did not care, it stopped his stomach demanding food for hours better than ration packs they'd been introduced to in the academy and did not weigh him down like porridge.

When Marko made his dramatic re-emergence, walking as if the world depended on him that very second, Rude had already been waiting halfway out the door. Swiping the toast and plastic cup from the side as he swiftly put on his shoes he gave his partner the first signs of gratitude ever. Rude nodded and went on ahead not looking back to see Marko grimace after chugging the lukewarm tea. Via the now very familiar tunnel system they were back in the main building within fifteen minutes and outside the second-in-commands door in ten. All their mission briefs thus far had been given to them by Tseng usually from their PHS; Veld had more important matters on his hands. Entering his office though had actually become rare, especially this early. Marko looked at Rude to share a comrade look of apprehension before going in but Rude spared no time for that, knocking and entering in almost the same motion.

"Finally," Silky amusement with an aftertaste of annoyance greeted them as they walked in. Everyone in the room flinched on their behalf. Checking the clock, on the desk's shiny wooden surface informed Rude they made it exactly on time, on the dot in fact. That was not acceptable. Then he looked the Wutai man in the eye, or his shades did. It was still quite dark in the room- Tseng did not turn on the lights, perhaps preferring the light from the Reactor -but he saw the purposely aimed lightening flash of irritation in those eyes so dark they were orbs of black ringed thinly with white, like a sharks. The irritation appeared to be directed at Marko, as if their second-in-command knew he was the reason for their lateness but he was smart enough not to put a subordinate publicly on the spot, not before a mission that could hinge on their respect for each other's abilities.

Thankfully after glancing at the others present that probably was not going to be a big issue. Hana and Maya sat in the only two chairs in front of Tseng's green lit desk while Jordo and Doug stood behind them like bodyguards. The ladies smiled at him and the men acknowledged Marko, things were already dividing nicely. Their superior observed this silently, making sure Rude in particular knew nothing slipped his notice by giving the rookie another pointed look. Rude did not feel comfortable being singled out.

Then Tseng cleared his throat, "Now that you are all present I will go over the details. Your mission is in Junon," A stir went through the rookies to whom this was news, and Rude felt Tseng assessing his unmoved continence, "We have reason to suspect these men," He slid a pair of A5 photographs of two rough looking men across the table. Hana and Jordo took one each, their partners leaning over to see while Marko and Rude had to peek over their shoulders, or in Rude's case loom over Jordo to see the picture obviously taken by a spy at a considerable distance. The men must not have any previous criminal records, probably good business men who got greedy and made a number of sly corrupt turns, using money to evade the regular police. "Brothers, last name Lou," Tseng continued, " are believed to be smuggling stolen ShinRa equipment to Wutai troops and human trafficking." Maya let out a shocked gasp while Hana's usually still expression shimmered with contained disgust and anger. "How events plan out will decide how their fates will be dealt with. The President has made it clear he would prefer a legal outcome, in which case your priority will be to gather solid evidence. How would you go about doing this?"

The rookies were silent, taken aback by the unexpected question. Doug looked desperately at Marko, leading the others to do the same. After an expectant pause Marko suggested, "Footage of crates of weapons or people on their ships and a red handed arrest."

"That should be sufficient." Tseng bowed his head and Marko grinned cockily. "However after discussing with your senior who will be supporting you on this mission, were it that easy they would have been caught long ago. These brothers employ more than just thug bodyguards. People much like you, people with knowledge of weapons, technology and espionage are working for them. Their building and ships are highly guarded with man power and up to date security and traps. From what we know it is likely they are employing people to dismantle our equipment, remove the tracers and registrations and recycle the components into their own equivalent designs. Conducting their arrest legally could give us access to all their personnel and possibly add their skills to our company. Naturally you should expect they may have anti-ShinRa motivation, however considering the reputation of Mr and Mr Lou there is also the chance they are unwilling participants. That is just something for you to consider. These men are devious, hence their success in carrying out such large scale piracy right under our noses. Hopefully time has made them careless. To complete this successfully you should 'aim no shallower than the heart' as he put it. Get in close, penetrate their records, find where these technicians and scientist are working and how they are stealing and trafficking our equipment and people without being noticed until after the fact. Send everything you get back, when you have complied enough the president will send in troops to storm the properties – hence it is important you find all of their bases and employees identities for comprehensive arrests." He paused to assess their staring faces, maybe he did not like what he saw for his expression remained hard, "The finer details will be decided by your senior, in order for this to be successful you will have to be malleable and expect to change plans in an instant. If he gives you orders I would advise you follow them without question. Now if you are ready, everything has been prepared and the helicopter is waiting."

"Yes sir."

As they went to file out Hana hesitated.

"Yes?" the second –in-command asked.

"Sir," She began her voice icy and soft that it gave everyone except Tseng chills, "Why have these men been impenetrable so far, if you have enough evidence to believe they are behind stolen ShinRa supplies and people why is that not enough to make arrests already?"

The rookies collected by the door eagerly waited for the response their superior was mulling over as he gazed at her unblinking. When she broke eye contact he chose that moment to speak, "Mainly, our attention has for a long time been diverted and less of our time spent on this case. Now it is a sufficient issue it has become a priority. Otherwise, it is the need to acquire all the information that has been a setback. Before you, two separate parties isolated the Lou siblings as a source of disappearing equipment and human trafficking, but without a hundred percent reliable sources there was little we could do that did not clash with the presidents wishes. When they attempted to push further there were causalities. Unfortunately considering our stance in this they were within their right to deal with intruders. Until the troops are called your work will be secretive and mistakes may forfeit your life without consequence except setting us back further. Ideally more would be spent on this but little can be spared, that is why it is important you listen to your instructions carefully and nothing less than your best will be expected of you."

Hana nodded, "Of course, sir. I just wanted to have a better idea of what to expect."

"Perfectly reasonable. Now go before your tardiness upsets him."

Like frightened mice his cool words had them scurrying for the elevators. Once packed in, there was still a reasonable amount of space for all even if Doug's muscular. overbearing frame seemed to take up enough space for another person. Rude pressed himself against the glass side and looked out to the red clouded sky and dull wastelands, made grander by the pattern of exaggerated shadows of any lump or crack in the ground. For the first time since going to Costa del Sol he would be leaving Midgar, although it had only been months it seemed like years. Drawing his view to the immediate city, watching the buildings and few people up this early fall further and further away, he felt heaviness in his chest. As time had worn on he knew his perspective was becoming more 'us' and 'them' than before. As a trainee they could turn back, now after their rather long transition they were committed. That commitment brought privileges and those privileges were gradually making the divide wider and wider. On this side of the glass he was getting a better idea of why Turks were viewed as more detached from citizens than the military operatives, as a trainee he had sort of believed he could maintain that connection but it seemed to already have slipped away without him noticing. But loosing it did not necessarily mean he would not protect the people of Midgar, or that his aims or actions would be at their expense. At least he could still believe in that.

Actually there was 'them, 'us' and 'them' because similar divides separated juniors and seniors in the department. It was all about how much you knew or how much you were allowed to know. Where it not for his distraction of trying to keep his mind off thinking about Reno he may have become oppressed by the invisible layers building up. The atmosphere of the tower, the politics they understood and the relationship of the people already pressed down on the rookies who were just getting used to life on this side of the line. Looking back at the sky and knowing by sunset they'd be in Junon, a different place and different faces, different 'them' he felt excited but it did not dislodge the peculiar weight.

However harbouring melancholy or at least cynically tinged thoughts was a poor precedent to a mission so he reviewed the details so far in his head. He had been told nothing new so he still did not know where in Juon there were to be placed, what time frame they were probably aiming for and exactly what would be required of them to obtain the files and other evidence. Having Hana and Maya on the team strongly suggested work at a distance, with lots of stack outs and spying. Rude wondered if Tseng's mission briefs would be less vague or if they'd just learn to know how to fill in the gaps. Their senior had been oddly vague on who would be guiding them, only giving up their gender. From that he surmised it was not Arisa, Trent, Kyo or Lyon all of whom had been the Turks who were still assigned to the rookies when needed. He had heard of instances of other seniors being involved with them but that was specifically if the rookies work had anything to do with theirs which was rare. From the tone by which Tseng spoke of them and the order to not question him, their second-in-command trusted they knew what they were doing and that was enough for Rude.

He held back the urge to take a deep breath – it would not be wise in the confined space- instead he placed both hands behind his back and squeezed his wrist. Nobody noticed, Hana and Maya were whispering softly to each other on his right, on his left Jordo seemed uncomfortable and maybe a bit twitchy for his handgun. He could not see Marko with Doug standing directly between them but he could smell the blonde's sweat making him regret pulling out of his thoughts. However the elevator came to a halt and he was spared the odour as Doug quickly dogged Marko's footsteps just like he tended to do in the academy. Jordo waved the girls out in front of him and walked along side Rude at the rear. As they ascended the stairs towards the launch pad roof the bald rookie subtly glanced at the average built man, reviewing his loose way of walking almost casually slinging along, keeping his arms relaxed but still controlled and his eye movements minimal but certainly taking in more information than the typical observer. These were highly toned down mannerisms you learnt to expect in a typical thief on the streets, good at grazing market stalls and swiftly swapping drugs and money without the obvious bump and pausing and most vitally always ready to lash out with fist or gun if things got that far. Unlike Doug, Jordo's relationship with Marko or at least why the guy stuck with the teacher's pet was simple survival behaviour. Associating with Marko levelled out the disadvantage of having an extensive criminal record and the difficulty of learning professional etiquette. Hanging around Marko would be like a fast track ticket to becoming a Turk especially when your back ground was as shady as Rude believed Jordo's had to be. He did not think Jordo had ever been a leader of a gang, his ability to suck up to Marko ruled that out but for a sly second-hand-man who figured out early on when the game was up and took off for a better deal was more like it. Jordo was a man for himself, so Rude was wary about what he was after whenever his behaviour fluctuated from normal.

Perhaps he was not as subtle as he thought for as soon as Hana and Maya were far enough up the stairs Jordo whispered, "Che, don't fret it's just two by two formation."

The comment ruffled Rude's metaphorical feathers and to save face he responded. "Who's fretting?"

The other smirked and walked a step ahead so Rude brought up the rear by himself. At the top Doug open the door a blast of air shoot right down and howled horribly in their ears. Maya stumbled from the unexpected force but Hana prevented her from falling and Jordo hit Rude's chest, all four of them glared at the top duo for not giving them warning. It was in vain for Marko was already gone and Doug was quite oblivious. Gripping the cold handle rail they progressed up the stairs, Hana muttering dark nonsense and Jordo definitely swearing their way up. Maya fell back to take Rude's support and in the end it was more like him herding them to the exit. The air current was so strong it had to be being pushed by a chopper's blades. Just when they were near the top and the large black craft was in view the heavy door suddenly swung far enough to slam shut. Immediately the women fell forward and Jordo tottered but they all caught themselves and unhindered rushed as one to the door, but it was Rude who contributed to re-opening the door. As Maya slipped out the gap, someone outside took the other side letting them all out with no further fuss. Once on the roof Rude saw their helper was a masked technician, large bodied and hugging a clipboard to his chest. The stranger gave them a cheery thumbs up, pointed to where Marko and Doug were next to the nearest Helicopter with another technician trying to open the side of the hull, then carried on his way.

Feeling the others group around him he forced his way forward, as he got closer the blades rotation slowed and everything became much easier. The technician even got the door open and to their surprised dived in before them, wiping off his mask and stomping towards the cock pit. After a look round Marko shrugged and jumped in, the rest followed his example. The first thing they heard was the technician's broad accent thundering around the metal and they all stood stupefied to listen.

"...in t' name o' Chaos we'ye tryin' ta blow us off ta roof ya mad rat! E'bye if ya was'n chained dun ya woulda be'eh in space!" As the man paused for breath a rather familiar voice replied far too cheerfully.

"Aww, Raffy ya scared me man. Burstin' in and shoutin' like that I thought you were goin' ta murder me."

The technician's arm reached out and hit something hard, producing a pained yelp, "On't no why aye ain't, puttin' her up so sudden like that. If ye weren't ye I'd be stringin' ya scrawny arse offer de side righ' nu. Where ye offa too wid de newuns?" The offending limb now wrapped around the unseen individual in the pilot seat in a more kindly fashion. The rookies relaxed; no longer worried their mission was starting with a brawl on the roof.

"Junon, to be honest they took so long I thought I was going solo, kind of forgot about the locks ya know."

"Well Dunt, ya rip her in two an' ye be sorry."

"Yeah, yeah you'll be first in the lynch mop."

"Aye, but ye be more worried who come afterta me, " the Technician laughed and with a more friendly cuff stood straight and lumbered out, barely acknowledging them as he passed and slammed the door behind them. As soon as the man was no longer blocking Rude's view he tried to get a look at the Senior leading them already suspicious of who they were. He did not have to try particularly hard; the Turk was leaning on the armrest and looking back into the hull with a sunny smile on his face. The bright light coming in made it difficult to look directly but there was no mistaking that mess of red hair. Beside him Marko was making fish faces and Jordo looked equally displeased while Hana and Maya could not have looked happier.

"Well, well, well," Reno hummed from his seat, "Ya finally decided to show up."

"We came straight from Tseng's office," Marko barked indignantly.

"Admiring the scenery along the way or something. I got a call like fifteen minutes ago."

"Not our fault if the elevator has only one speed," it was Jordo who sniped this time while Doug was glowering appropriately.

"Yeah, but ya coulda run, ya know, show some enthusiasm. Jeez." He turned from the trio of unpleasant faces and spoke to the ladies, "Not that I blame you Hama I know you ladies would have teleported to my side." Maya erupted in snorts of giggles and even Hana cracked something that had to be a grin making Rude immediately curious of the history behind this familiarity and probable inside joke. "How ya been girls?"

"Bored," Hana, being the only one fit to answer replied.

"Oh well, we'll soon fix that," chirped Reno, turning back and started flipping switches. The motor picked up speed and the Turk shouted over the increasing noise, "Destination danger and a return ticket is up to you. Yo bauldie boy get up front and the rest of ya buckle up."

"What about the rest of the briefing," Marko yelled as he hurriedly seated and strapped himself in with the others.

"What?"

Further communication was halted by the helicopter taking off, Rude just managed to grab hold of the co-pilot seat in an almost dignified manner as the floor tipped smoothly 45 degrees of more. Part of his mind that was not concentrating on gripping his seat for dear life was impressed the Turk would manoeuvre so soon when the large craft was barely air born. As soon as the floor levelled and they were ascending the sky normally he collapsed in his seat and immediately snatched the seat belt and slammed the lock in before he let out the breath he'd been holding very, very slowly.

"Ya okay?"

"Fine."

"Ya sure, ya lookin a bit green."

"And whose fault is that?"

Reno just snickered to himself and Rude finally turned to look at the young man properly. Even though they had been following the sun they'd already beat it through the cloud cover but he could see the first hint of its golden touch spread over the fluffy grey horizon. Sight no longer hindered he noticed a distinct lack of cloth encasing the redhead; instead the pale skin shone ghostly white in the pre morning glow, unexpectedly smooth. He glanced down to the exposed neck and chest and found all skin in the same condition. Was ShinRa medicine that good? Or what had all those bandages really been for?

The only markings were what appeared to be thin red strokes framing his eyes. The tip starting parallel a couple of centimetres out to the outer corner of each eyebrow and slightly curved at the bottom to follow the line of his cheekbones to stop almost to the align with the centre of each eye but again a couple of centimetres down. They were perfectly symmetrical and looked like the sort of impressions one got from wearing too tight lab goggles for too long, but these marks were definitely permanently inked. His quiet evaluations drew the younger's inquiring turquoise eyed gaze and Rude immediately threw out a question to avoid the other catching on he'd been examining him, "So where have you been?"

"Eh? Sleepin." The Turk sounded sheepish but giving Rude a side long glance he laughed to himself finding the rookies apparently stunned reaction hilarious.

"It's been almost two months."

Reno bobbed his head still smirking away, "yeah, yeah. But as you can see," He gestured up and down his body, "All good now."

"All good?"

"Uh-Huh."

Rude waited for more but nothing came so he looked back through the windscreen as more of the sun rose into view, lightening the dark sky to yellow, pink, orange, violet and finally a icy azure. "I'll take your word for it."

Reno did not respond, like Rude he settled for a moment or two admiring the view and lazily holding the stick, clearly not one to be too vigilant at the commands when it wasn't necessary. Meanwhile the rookie took his eyes from the glass and set about recalling what all the helicopter controls meant. To his dismay this design was far beyond the level they'd been taught to use in the academy. The dash board was fitted extra mini screens along with the familiar radars. One was very similar to their PHS with a small keyboard beneath it and extra monitoring screens were present, lighted dials spinning gently, dots flashing now and then or wave lines gentle and rhythmic. He forced himself to look at the fields of switches and dials, picking out ones he knew and wondering what the new ones were supposed to do.

"Congratulations by the way." Reno suddenly said, easily snatching Rude's attention from the daunting circuitry.

"For what?"

"Making the team." He said, as if Rude should know.

Odd, up until now most Turks got to pick which rookies they wanted on their teams for their own reasons as soon as he knew it was Reno in the cockpit he immediately assumed that was why he had been chosen. "You did not get to choose?"

The Turk shook his head while looking at some switches above his head then decided to jump up and flick a few. "Nope, but I knew Hama would be coming and that dark haired guy." The sound of small currents of air streaming through filters and powered by little fans accompanied a pleasant rise in temperature, making Rude notice his own digits had been gradually freezing. Someone shouted thanks sarcastically from the back.

"Who is Hama?"

"Hana and Maya obviously."

"Oh obviously." It was rather but Rude preferred to confirm it but something about the nickname made him irritated.

"Yeah, had a couple of missions with them before I was put to sleep and they're practically joined at the hip so seemed pointless saying both their names all the time, get it?" The redhead said giving him a another cheeky smile

"Yeah, how many missions?"

"Two, three I think. Just stack out and a sniping stuff."

"Sniping?"

"Hear about that lead investor in some chemical company growing in Kalm?"

"You?" Rude could not keep the shock from coming out with his words.

"Us. Stopped all plans with a single bullet." The Turk said eyes looking Rude up and down curiously, making him uncomfortable and wishing he controlled his tone better. Reno sighed and looked at the radar, "Listened to locals the morning after most were relieved that sort of stuff was not spreading in their town, so not a totally bad deed."

"Murder?" Again, the word just shot out of his mouth, it seemed his distaste for such immoral acts was preventing his better judgement, or maybe it was the fact he felt he could question it because he was talking to Reno.

"Mission orders."

Rude couldn't think of a response to that except to nod but his discomfort with the reminder that sometimes their jobs required them to essentially perform criminal acts was evident. Thankfully Reno did not stare at him like Rude noticed other Turks do when those type of realities were brought up, probably evaluating who had the stomach to actually do them. By some divine mercy neither he nor Marko had been put to such tasks, he supposed his skills in fist fighting and technology made him more suitable for escort and deciphering field work and Sword skills were more for aiding capture or termination of very problematic monsters.

Suddenly Reno leaned over and hit his arm, "Oi mind taking control while I go back and give the brief." Again Rude failed to reply but conveyed enough panic the Turk got the message. "Okay," He laughed. Relaxing back into his seat he jabbed a button and adjusted the mic on his headphone set, "Alright people I am gonna give ya the brief now so ya better shut up and pay attention cause I am only gonna do it once."

His voice echoed back from the hull where it must be projected through speakers, he paused until all shushes died down and continued as blasé as ever, "'Kay so we're going to land in Junon, we got a HQ set up that we're basically gonna use it till this is over. It's essentially a small room with a couple a bunks in it and a table, nothing fancy but that's military for ya. Hopefully it'll inspire you to do everything right first time so we an' pull this up early and get back sooner. Tseng would like us to finish up in a week maybe over; I say we could do it in three provided you kids are on the ball and I've read ya reports so no excuses.

"Lucky for us what we'll need is already over there, I want to get started tonight and that will be breaking into their head office, downloading everything, going through their paperwork- that'll be legit stuff but if we find forgeries it'll point us where they are covering up, and that's what we really want to know. Hama I want to be in charge of watching our backs the whole time, you'll be in charge of radios and the IR scanners cause the place will be crawling. Pick pocket and Baldie you're going to cancel their security, get past the cyber defences and get the data- as much as you can. Brainless and Mr Model you two watch their backs on the ground. That's the jist. It's a big building so first task is checking out the building, they keep tightening things up so weaknesses are going to be difficult spot. I'm sure Tseng drilled this in ya but I'm gonna say it again, Do. Not. Get. Caught. Cause if you set anything off all of us are screwed and if you make it out I will kill you. Can't say much now, we are working this on the fly. My word is as holy as...well Holy now so yeah so don't argue with me unless you know something that I don't. Oh on the mission keep talking, report everything and anything, and Hama you get it on record. I know their cameras did not pick up sound on our last check up and hopefully if Pocket picker does his job right it won't matter but if a camera starts following you get out of there or destroy the thing, ideally in a way that is subtle - actually to be honest by that time the alarms will be going off...Oh while you are settling I am going to set up knock out gas in all their surveillance rooms, that will take a lot of time but if we don't we might as well not bother. Physically getting past their alarms isn't a problem for me so I will do that solo. If I can do that that'll give us three maybe four hours tops which is plenty of time. But we only have one shot at this, if ya mess up I am not taking you back to Midgar, actually if ya mess up you and probably someone else will be going straight to the life stream. Hope ya appreciating what I'm sayin' here. This ain't no training mission and half baked won't cut it either. If it comes sunset and ya got any doubt ya stayin on base cause I ain't having ya risk anyone else's life, any problems?" Reno finished and listened but aside from some mutterings nothing was called out. He shrugged and turned the speakers off.

Meanwhile Rude was amazed; the speech was by no means eloquent and a bit here and there but when he wanted to the young redhead possessed a lot of authority. He knew there were some details he would prefer to be expanded on but Reno essentially told them they had to work off what they were going to find out this afternoon and build a plan just before the actual job. An extremely messy arrangement than what they were used to but again the Turks tone covered a 'What can you do?' attitude that stopped anyone bringing those sorts of complains forward. Strangely Rude did not mind this.

"Ya okay with that?" Reno asked him, again leaning over, Rude liked the way he looked interested in his opinion.

He nodded, "All except the nickname." A bright, toothy grin cracked across Reno's face and he nodded, clearly he was going to use that more from now on.

"Cool. I know you can handle it," The Turk said and Rude swelled with pride, "but it's going to be a long night. If you can, rest up while I set up the distractions."

"I could go with you." He offered.

Reno shook his head, the smile already gone and instead he looked serious, "No, I need you fresh and alert."

"What about you?"

"I can handle myself."

"You don't have to." Rude said carefully, wary of coming across as if he thought the redhead was weak since he knew how sensitive it made the younger man.

"True but I am keeping the risks to you as low as possible." Reno nodded, and the rookie was relieved he was taking it the right way and quite touched by the younger man's mature tone, "I am in charge of ya- unfortunately- and my top priority is making sure all six of ya get back in as big a piece as ya are now. No assurances, if you're stupid and get killed I am not going to be able to help that."

"Understood. We can handle ourselves."

"Supposedly," The Turk said eyeing him up and down as a bit of mischief crept back into the glint in his eyes. "But ta me ya still babies and...I'm worried." Reno finished softly, the mischief gone as soon as it appeared. Again Rude was touched but it would be too awkward for him to end it on a sombre note so he directed his reply to the other comment.

"Babies? You are younger than us."

The redhead shrugged, "Probably but I am still more senior. Can't afford any more casualties in close association with me so just promise me you won't be stupid."

"I won't." He promised and felt confident he could keep it.

"Good, I am relying on you man." He received another friendly punch in the arm, he knew the others could probably see this and he imagined Marko would be scowling at the favouritism.

"Hm."

"...Yeah, can't have our young being without my other half, you know."

"Our young?" Rude snapped his attention to the Turk wondering if he'd his heard, the younger's speech was less clear as his manner became more casual so he may have.

The twinkle in Reno's eyes told him he had not. "Tonberry remembe, another reason to get back a.s.a.p. may hatch anytime. We should probably talk about names soon too." He confirmed.

It took a Rude a few moments to realise his mouth was hanging open before he thought of a response. "...You...It hasn't hatched yet?" He asked, referring to the more than two month incubation period. He knew nothing about Tonberry biology admittedly but after so long surely the Turk had a dead egg.

"Oddly no, I think they may have a certain time of year, or conditions that trigger hatching ... I keep meaning to look into that." Reno shrugged and the rookie could tell the possibility that the egg was not going to hatch had not crossed his mind, a reminder the Turk still possessed some youthful optimism when he wanted to, "But mission first."

"Yes." Rude nodded hoping the Tonberry would be forgotten and never brought up again.

It was not long until they descended below the clouds to see they were nearly upon Junon. Reno had been anything but quiet for that time, instead entertaining himself by the sound of his own voice through the speakers to the point Rude was sure Marko was going to jump the Turk and strangle him as soon as they landed. Hama though had been thoroughly entertained by the Turk's comical fairytale story centred on a handsome hero with a long sword whose adventures had not quite left his castle yet on account of his hair not being perfectly coifed. As impressive as his ability to spin out a load of nonsense for so long he was more impressed Hana was enjoying it. He suspected the Redhead's boyish good looks and cocky charm had something to do with it but then more than once Jordo had to turn away and pretend to suffer a coughing attack. Rude had been watching their reactions in the reflection of the very shiny switchboard and mirrors the Turk had set up to see into the back. It told him quite a lot about Doug, which is to say there was not a lot to him, he was still a plank in personality as he was in expression. Maya was very similar to Tabby, just prettier, more self confident and possibly not as smart or at least he got the impression she was accustomed to relying on Hana that she did not bother exercising her cognitive functions as much.

When they could see Junon the large city had his attention completely. It was not the first time they had come here but it was the first time seeing it from the cockpit for Rude. It was as foreboding as it ever looked. Junon to most people was the new city and military installation, with the multi-storey metal building integrated step like into the architecture of the still not-quite-complete Sister Ray. The roads were huge runways for large defence robots and tank vehicles that lumbered along them with uniformed low level Soldiers scurrying about like dots of blue and silver. They were flying low enough to almost skip the top of the buildings and the giant canon looked even bigger up close as it pointed threateningly out to the ocean. No one told him why the weapon had been built or what it had to do with defence and he had not seen any official documentation about it either but it certainly would make most people think twist before upsetting ShinRa. He did not even notice the small fishing village in the giant cities shadow but if he'd peered down he may have caught a glimpse of it before Reno turned the Helicopter towards the landing pads.

There was already a crowd waiting for them and after a neat landing, Reno bolted from his seat, opened the door, leapt onto the tarmac and ran almost head long into a sour faced higher level Soldier. Rude wondered if his enthusiasm had anything to do with wanting to get away from Marko since he did not look that interested in what the Soldier was droning on about as he slouched to attention. The rookies, less sure hopped out with their things and walked calmly after their Senior at a pace that hopefully meant by the time they got their someone would tell them what to do next. They timed it well; the Soldier was already leaving with his troops when they stopped around Reno expectantly.

"Right," the redhead clapped his hands together not looking at any of them in particular, "I landed on the wrong roof." Marko looked murderous, then Reno shot him an evil sideways looks and grinned, "Just kidding," Marko continued to look murderous but Reno had swiftly turned his attention to the large tunnel opening that air craft could wheel in and out of. "Our Bunker is somewhere in this building, Mr Sourpants did say he'd tell us where it is momentarily but since he's probably struggling to remember why he got up this morning we'll save him the stress and find it ourselves."

"Won't they be upset if we wander around as we please," Jordo asked. "We should wait."

"My word is holy," The redhead sang giving the thief an irritating smile that made you want to hit him and back far away at the same time. Then the senior became serious, "Look kids, between you and me we know you are rookies and a bit pathetic. To everyone else you are in Turk uniforms thus you are a Turk and Turks can do whatever they want so long as they look like they are supposed to be doing it. Don't mind Soldiers getting territorial or antsy, they are only like that because we are higher up on the command chain and they cannot do anything about it. They like their toys, guns, tanks and shit, and like children don't want the other kids to play with it, unfortunately for them we are the big kids in the park, we know everything about them and to an extent can boss them around if needs be."

"Really?" Doug asked awed.

"No," Reno laughed, "but we can do what we have to do whether they like it or not. Anyway enough chitchat lets go."

He bounded off, a bit like a rabbit, making no effort to maintain the image of a professional Turk and getting some odd looks from various aircraft maintainers. The worst part was running to keep up with him, looking like bigger fools for following the fool who could not do a better impression of acting lost. They were on the third floor down by the time Marko abruptly came to a halt and shouted, "Enough, let's just go back to the roof they are probably wondering where we've gone!"

No response, except his fellow rookies at various lengths along the red carpeted corridor blinking at him. The sounds of their heavy breathing were punctuated by a distant cry of success, "AH HA!"

At a more leisurely stroll the rookies rounded a corner and faced another long, singular designed hallway with doors on the right and plain bronze metal walls on the left. The only difference was one door was open and Reno's head stuck out of it a moment later. He waved at them, "Found it," He called sounding proud of himself.

"I swear, if he is who we are relying on to get out alive we are all dead," Marko huffed.

"Come on," Maya said in a friendly manner, "He hasn't really done anything...incompetent yet."

"He has not done anything sanely either," Marko countered and the woman did not seem able to argue that point.

They entered the room. As promised it was minimal, six cots were set up with thin mattresses and sheets across the room. Between those and the door was a long metal table with various pieces of equipment and tech laid out, all of which they'd need for the mission. There was a computer on which Reno was already actively typing. He ordered them to get settled in which they did in barely a minute (essentially they flung their belongings on a cot) and investigated the things on the table. Reno did not appear to mind them doing this or whatever was on the screen was much too urgent for him to take his attention from it.

A beep announced he had finished and he appeared lightening fast to slap Doug's hand away from a tiny gun, and calling it a gun was being a bit generous. "Alright," He clapped his hands together demanding their attention, "Now you have all poked at it I am going to assume you know what is what, get together what you know you will need and there should be enough then you are going to get some rest. At eighteen hundred hours we start."

They nodded and immediately began pulling various equipment towards themselves, except Rude who was too busy watching the redhead go over to a cot behind the door that already had a pack ready to go and three belts full of canisters and pellets and various other things useful for break ins and sabotage. He wondered at what point the Turk decided he'd do the afternoon preparations solo because he was sure at some point there was some mention of them being part of it. The Turk adorned what he could, fiddling with the belts to conceal as much of them as possible under a long black coat he threw on over and casually swung the pack over his shoulder, he hid his vibrant hair under a oversized cotton beanie and western style hat on top. He looked more like an adventurer than a thief but he was not going to be inconspicuous, especially not in a place like Junon.

"Where are you going?" Hana asked after noticing what Rude was looking at.

"Just got to do some preliminary preparations," Reno said giving his Stetson a final tug so it was set at a jaunty angle and flashed a charming smile, "Nothing to worry about sweetie, I will be back before you know it." He strolled to the door and swung it open letting in the light of many vibrant fluorescent bulbs and tossed over his shoulder a flippant farewell and one last tease, "Behave yourselves kids, no fighting and no hanky-panky!"

Then the door slammed shut leaving the room darker and emptier, while Hana gave them a glare that told them if any hanky-panky were to be attempted they would be neutered.


Yay a short chapter. Apologises I promised this long ago but felt my writing was so poor I thought I would go through it and try and make it better a couple of times and gradually add to it. Well some parts are more revised than others and it's still unbeta'd it does need to be beta'd, alas I have forgotten who kindly offered and feel a bit too rude springing this on them ^^; Maybe it can be beta'd and reuploaded in a corrected form since knowing me I have probably filling it with terrible english.

As a side note the next chapter there should hopefully me more action and more Reno 8D

Opinions always welcome and thank you to everyone who have favourited this or just taken the time to read it *bows*