Chapter 29: The Final Chapter
"I felt like I was losing my mind." The blonde calmly explained, as the redhead slowly stepped around him, never taking his aim away. "The things he was saying… The lack of control I had…" With a slight snort, he continued to ignore the gun and studied another photo where Reno was sitting on an old mattress with a stuffed mog in his arms and muttered. "Aldrich must have taken this one…"
Then he turned it for the redhead to see and nodded when the man reached over to take it from his hand. "I don't know why… But I never imagined you to be the type of child that would play with stuffed animals…" With a slight pause, the blonde faintly smiled and sadly admitted. "For some reason, I always assumed you were born reckless…"
After that, he finally made eye contact with the redhead and stared at him with an unexplained regret. "But you weren't… Were you?" He asked. Then he scratched at his chest again and, almost embarrassingly, admitted. "The man doesn't own one comfortable shirt."
With another nod at the redhead's continued silence, he let out another deep breath and absent-mindedly brushed his bang back while averting his eyes to the floor. "I could hear you screaming…" He admitted, and while still nodding he reached his hand up to pull away the binding from around his neck and was stopped by a sharp stab to his forehead from the barrel of the gun.
"I deserve no less…" Nodding again, the blonde looked back over to the silent redhead and set his regretful attention on the blossoming bruises around the man's neck and lightly tapped his fingers on his knee. "He was more immune to the serum than I was…" With a hard swallow the blonde's fingers gripped into the jeans over his knee and sneered as his eyes took on a glossy and mirrored effect.
"I didn't know what else to do… You were –"
With his words cut off by the sudden switchblade under the binding around his neck, the blonde simply lifted his chin and continued to stare regretfully at the man, as if he was inviting him to go ahead and do what he must. "I was so afraid of losing you again." He choked out, barely above a whisper as a furious green glared back at him while pressing his thumb against the material where the sharp edge was directed.
Then, with a quick snap, the material fell loose and the redhead slowly lowered his arm, before he reminded himself to breathe and trailed his eyes, reluctantly, down to the scars on the man's neck. After that, he swallowed hard as his appearance turned disturbingly dark, and he bolted to his feet while unpredictably backhanding the other man, hard enough to send him flying to the floor.
He remained discouragingly silent as he did it, and after he hit him, he whipped the switchblade at the man before angrily firing a shot at his head and running to the adjoined bathroom to ram his fingers down his throat.
- - -
Eradicate the area…
"Um…" Amidst Vincent's agonizing screams, Tseng closed his eyes, tight, and rubbed at them with his forefinger and thumb, as if he was attempting to erase what was happening in his mind. It was a chance for him to come clean. It was his chance to tell them a Class C victim was involved, and it was his chance to order them to do everything that could possibly be done to save the man's life.
"Sir?" The woman's voice on the other end asked. "Are you still there, Sir?"
"Yes." He choked out, as he opened the back door to the chopper and mindlessly looked about at the medical supplies and radiation suits in the back. Then he shook his head and apologised. "Sorry… I thought I heard something… Could you repeat the question?"
He could always grab one of the guns, he thought to himself, as his eyes locked onto the small and portable cabinet on the floor. He could make it quick; he could end the man's suffering the merciful way.
But he couldn't seem to make up his mind, as he replayed the reasons for his indecision.
Vincent was his friend. He was his only friend. They practically grew up together and always watched each other's back…
He considered the man family for Leviathan's sake.
"Coordinates of the contamination, Sir." The woman repeated, as the man shook his head and wondered where he was for a moment.
His mind must have wandered…
"Apologies… Could you repeat that?"
With a dizzying sense, he could have sworn he asked that question already and made an attempt to save face by explaining. "My connection appears to be breaking up."
Then he gripped onto the frame and winced at a blood-curdling scream in the distance. "Sir… Are you sure there are no life forms above Class E?"
Class E… He thought; the class of irrepairable mutations, not worthy of attempting salvage…
"Yes." He confirmed, as he guiltily felt disgusted by his own lie and grabbed the GPS to send the woman the coordinates.
With a silent turmoil, he hung up the PHS when the connection was completed and rubbed at his temples. Then he took another look around the chopper at all of the possibilities available to try and save the man, and not once, was he willing to turn around and face that which he was leaving behind while his throat tightened relentlessly.
Then he closed himself off and jumped into the chopper to start the engines.
He couldn't forgive him…
The man ruined his life over the silence of another betrayal, and to Tseng, it was far worse than if Vincent had just come clean about the woman.
- - -
"Fuck..." the blonde muttered, as he pushed himself up and looked at the bullet hole in the floor, a hair's distance from where his head was. Then he pushed himself up and rubbed at his cheek as he stared at the closed door and listened to the man retching on the other side.
"Reno..." He started, in an attempt to make amends, as he tried to turn the knob and discovered it was locked. "Reno... Please... Open the door..."
"Let me explain."
When there was nothing but the sound of gagging and spitting on the other side, the blonde ran his hand through his bang and decided he'd have to get in there one way or another. And with a nod, he stood back and kicked the door hard enough to bust the frame before it swung violently open.
Then he simply stood there and stared compassionately at the redhead, as the man supported himself with his right hand, against the wall, and supported his gut with the other as he spit small amounts of blood into the toilet.
"Stay the fuck away from me." He muttered, before he tried to cough something up and grimaced from the sour taste.
"I can't." The blonde explained. Then he tested the waters by taking a small step closer. "I never intended for any of this to happen."
"Nah…" Reno disagreed, as he shook his head and spat again. "Ya jus thought ya'd use me as a fuckin pawn ta satisfy the sick little game ya'n yer brother wanted ta play."
"That's not what happened."
"I said some things…" The redhead admitted, in a sick-sounding rasp. "I said things I meant."
"You never were one to hold back." The blonde agreed, as he felt slightly bolder and attempted to come near the man to try and console him. Only, he was roughly pushed back and yelled at as the redhead literally acted as though being anywhere near the man was a violation beyond contempt.
"DON'T FUCKIN TOUCH ME!" He bellowed. Then he lowered his voice to a threatening hiss and glared at the man as if he detested him. "I don't wancha EVER fuckin TOUCHIN me AGAIN!"
"Gaia…" The blonde muttered, before he wiped at his mouth and stepped away with a sinking feeling as he watched the redhead pull up his collar in shame and return to the position he was previously in to expel more contents of a nearly empty stomach.
Then the redhead appeared to waver, even though he resisted his feelings of weakness and stubbornly held himself up while rasping out in disgust. "I fuckin thought 'e was you…" After that, he spun around and roughly pushed the blonde further back, against the wall. "I FUCKIN LET HIM TOUCH ME!" Then, with a flicker in his eyes, he almost danced as he took a small step forward and chuckled while frighteningly admitting in a twisted-sounding voice. "I thought I killed ya, Ruf…"
"I don't know how to apologise." The man admitted, as he stood, facing the man, and tried to swallow back on his growing regrets.
With a snort, the redhead stared the man up and down as if he was staring at something that disgusted him and spat out. "'Course not… Everyone knows Rufus fucking Shinra don't apologise fer nuthin!"
- - -
"Hm." Erryn muttered, after she removed the President's scarf when his body was brought down for her to approve and schedule an autopsy. "Well, I'll approve it… But I can guarantee you right now that it's not him."
"What?" Elena asked, as she pushed passed Rude after giving up on trying to find out what the hell was going on with Tseng and stared at the woman with an eager anticipation in her eyes. "What do you mean? How can you tell?"
"Well, for one… Rufus was repetitively choked by a thin wire quite a few years back… It left a roadmap of tiny scars around his neck…" Erryn pointed out, as she rubbed the palms of her hands on her lab coat. "Normally, something like that wouldn't have scarred as badly as it did with him. But because his system was failing at the time, it wound up scarring worse than it should have."
Then she pointed at the man's neck and commented. "This man has a single, straight, mark across his neck, as if it was cut by something sharp." Then she motioned for both Rude and Elena to take a look for themselves. "There's no way someone's physical structure can change on that level… But…" She sighed, as she placed her hands in her pocket. "If you'll allow it, I'd still like to study him."
"Why?" Rude asked, before he replaced his shades after taking a good look.
"Because I'd like to know why the supposed Mako in his system suddenly decided to stop the repairing process when it did." She commented, before she pointed at one of the more shallow stab wounds that she felt should have healed, almost immediately.
"What do you mean by supposed?" Elena asked.
"Well…" She added, before she sighed and leaned, curiously, over the man. "Normally, Mako will continue to repair the body a little, even after its deceased… If I didn't know any better, I'd say that his actually turned on him."
- - -
"Gaia… Reno…" He started, almost feeling frustrated by not being allowed to justify himself, and he grabbed the redhead by the shoulders, before quickly letting go when he saw the faint flash of terror that turned into an outright detest wash through his lover's green eyes. Then he stepped back again and lowered his voice. "That's not what I meant…"
"I meant…" While shaking his head, he wanted nothing more than to grab the man and simply hold him to comfort him. But he knew it would have simply elevated the situation back in the direction he didn't want it going to and simply stood there with a futile feeling as he put his hand on the counter to support a sudden weak feeling he couldn't seem to overcome.
"I meant…" He repeated, as if searching for the right words. Then he faintly snickered in bad taste and looked up, while trying to blink back on an overflow of emotion and muttered to himself with a futile choke to his words. "You're the only person that can do this to me…" Before he looked back at the man and took a deep breath to try and regain some sort of control over his emotions.
"There is no possible way for me to apologise for something that never should have happened in the first place." Then he fluttered his hand up to rest a curled finger against his mouth and dropped it to scratch at a more annoying itch on his chest. "Please… Just let me explain…"
- - -
"Dr. Hakiou…" Darius greeted, when the other man answered his PHS. "You left me an intriguing message in regards to our little project."
"I did?" The man asked, as he looked at his phone and wondered when he called the man.
"Yes." With a slight grin at the knowledge that the man was probably doing and wondering exactly what he was doing, Darius rested his hand against his briefcase, and took one last good look at Ten-ji's office in the distance as he was driven passed it. "You mentioned something about a possible complication."
"Ah…! Yes…! I did…" the man exclaimed, as he suddenly remembered. Then he snickered nervously and looked around in embarrassment. "Not to worry… It was a false alarm…"
"Good to hear."
"I thought you might feel that way…" The doctor commented, as he stuffed his hand in his pocket and was disgusted at the fact that he found a used tissue in it. "Am I to assume everything went as planned on your end?"
"Things couldn't have gone better." Darius commented, as he looked up at the Meteor-armed jets flying overhead, toward the site where he left Vincent, and smiled as he mindlessly toyed with the chain he removed from his neck. "Many things were achieved this evening."
"Excellent…" Dr. Hakiou mused, before he stepped forward and crouched while scratching at his head. "And what about Ten-ji… How are we going to keep everything…?"
"Already taken care of." Darius assured, as he patted his hand on his briefcase. "Rufus turned out to be more of a gem than we expected, and Ten-ji managed to keep his promise by leaving everything to yours truly." With a satisfying smile, Darius sat back and commented. "It appears I'll be able to give you that raise I promised you."
"That was quick…" With a unmistakeable surprise to his tone, the doctor dragged a steel chair across the floor and cringed at the sound as it sent chills down his spine. "I'm afraid I'm going to miss having Rufus around… He was such a pleasant boy… Very tidy… Very polite…"
"Yes. He was… Very agreeable and very willing to play along… He would have been a most welcome addition to our family." Darius agreed, as he continued to toy with the chain and empty vial. "But you know, as well as I do, that keeping him wouldn't have fit in with our plans. And remember, we want Shinra to continue to exist… There's much more profit to be gained when there is a resisting factor involved…"
"We could have left Marcus in his position… A little conditioning could have helped Rufus forget…"
"Goodness… No…" Darius answered, before a deep chuckle escaped the man. "Marcus would have just let everything fall apart… Besides, he's dead now."
"Disappointing…" The doctor muttered, while scratching at his scalp again. "I take it you had something to do with that…?"
"Perhaps." Darius toyed. Then he placed the cool vial against his lips and leaned toward the window to watch the Meteor shells fall from the sky with a widening grin and muttered "Three down…" while he slowly closed the phone on the other man and watched the sky light up.
- - -
With a subtle nod, the redhead licked his lips and flushed the toilet while staring at the dizzying swirl and rasped. "Explain then."
As he nodded from the permission, Rufus tapped his fingers on the neglected counter and turned his eyes to the floor while taking on a distant tone. "When I heard you screaming, I became desperate… I realised I was no match for Marcus… It was like trying to fight madness, and nothing more…"
"All I could think about was getting you to safety…" He sighed, before he looked back over to the redhead who'd found his way to his knees. "I didn't know what else to do… Each second I wasted, was a second closer to something more horrible than my imagination would allow me to…"
With a shake to his head, he cut himself off from his own disturbing thoughts and knelt down to carefully move closer, but not enough to impede upon Reno's needed space. "I wound up making a deal with him…"
"A deal?" The redhead asked, before he snorted while keeping his attention on the toilet. "Nice'a ya ta fuckin let everyone know…" Then he shook his head and muttered. "Ya could'a gotten yerself killed."
"I realise that." Rufus admitted, before he added. "But considering the situation, the risk seemed worth it."
"So, what was yer deal?" Reno asked sarcastically, as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarette.
"I told him he could have Shinra…" Rufus confessed, as he continued to study the redhead as the man pulled out his lighter and lit his cigarette. "I told him he could take my place if he took you with him."
"Fuck…" The redhead muttered, as he snickered and shook his head again. "Ya've had better plans."
Nodding again, Rufus attempted to shuffle closer, but again, he still minded the redhead's space and admitted. "I'm aware of that."
"There's gotta be more." Reno confronted, as he took a heavy drag from his cigarette. "I ain't dumb enough ta believe that that was all it took ta get him ta go along."
"You're right." With a sigh, and a bit of a shameful look in his eyes, he continued to study the redhead and contemplated moving closer, but thought better of it. "I had to convince him that I'd take his place and never say a word… But the deal was that it would only last as long as he never harmed you."
Then he leaned against the sink's cupboard, and ran his eyes understandably over Reno again. "But apparently, something went wrong."
"I came onta him." Reno muttered, in answer to the silent question, as he picked at his knee and blew a fair amount of smoke from his lungs. "Thought 'e was you."
"No… Ya don't…" Reno informed, as he continued to look away from the man and snorted before taking another drag from his cigarette. "I was gettin tired'a bein ignored… An I wound up talkin ta Cloud…"
Then he looked over at the blonde and noted the slight change in his mannerism. But he didn't care, and decided he'd continue. "I told him I wanted him outta my life… Gone…"
"An he kissed me."
"I kissed him back." After he confessed, he sneered slightly at Rufus, and couldn't help but feel slightly vindictive. "I liked it, Ruf…" Then he snorted again and took another drag, while Rufus sat there and took on a look of being helplessly hurt. "But I wanted ta try an mend things with ya… or who I fuckin thought was ya… So… I gave him the kiss-off'n went home… Ya wanna know the rest?"
"Well… I feel like talkin… It's what ya wanted, ain't it?" Reno bitterly confided, before he took another drag. "If I recall correctly, ya were always wantin ta know things…"
"How much do you recall?" Rufus suddenly asked, realising he wasn't dealing with the innocent side of Reno that he'd been dealing with for almost a year.
"Enough ta know that I'm seriously pissed about whatcha did ta me… An whatcha allowed ta happen ta me…" Then he shook his head and muttered. "Fuck it… Ya knew how I felt about bein in stasis… An ya knew how I would have felt about losin everythin… But ya did it anyway…"
"An thanks ta that, I rammed my tongue down yer brother's throat'n shoved my hand down his pants, thinkin it was you, encouragin the sick bastard ta… Fuck it… Ya can figure out the rest…"
Then he stood and flicked his cigarette at the man and pulled his collar up again. "Yer selfish, Rufus… Selfish ta a point ta where ya don't consider how it affects others." After that, he roughly nudged the man's leg with his foot and ignored the reddening eyes on the man. "Go home." Reno coldly commanded, and scoffed at the liquid that ran out of the man's left eye as if he was accusing him of it being nothing more than an act. "An leave me the fuck alone."
Once he limped out of the bathroom and left the man to sob silently on the floor, he grabbed the mog from the box, that he was holding in the photo Rufus showed to him earlier, and bitingly called back. "An don't worry yer pretty little head 'bout me runnin off with Cloud… It'll never happen..."
"He ain't my type."
Then he grumbled as he hatefully kicked the box over. "Tired'a bein everyone's fuckin plaything."
- - -
A month had passed, and although it rarely snowed in Midgar, every four years, the area would be covered in a blanket of white. During that month, Reno only entered the Shinra building to tend to his treatments, and Rufus stayed out of sight during those times.
Whether it was respect or humiliation that kept him away, it was hard to say, particularly to those that were around him. As usual, he maintained his austere profile. He even managed to act as though nothing ever happened, even though nothing really was the same. But the tell-tale sign that he wasn't exactly over the situation was the fact that he found himself listening in whenever he heard the redhead's name being mentioned.
He even went so far as to watch him from a distance, much like he did in his youth. However, unlike the daydreams of his childhood, he couldn't help but feel the distance between them was final and not worth contemplating. As a result, he told himself that he only cared for professional reasons.
He only cared about the progress of Reno's treatments simply because he didn't want an uncontrolled menace running lose, and he only cared about Reno's memories because the man used to be a Turk and could easily leak valuable information.
He couldn't allow himself to be convinced of anything else. He felt that after everything that happened, Reno had every right to walk away, even though a part of Rufus hoped he never really meant it.
On the day that he returned from Kalm, he was held up by the MPs as an intruder, only to simply let them proceed to take him to the infirmary without saying a word. Surprisingly, he didn't protest to the action and willingly let them put their handcuffs on him, right before Elena came running down the hall while ordering them to let him go and informing them that they were arresting the wrong man.
Of course, the first thing to leave her mouth after that was "Where's Reno?"
And she was answered by nothing more than a stoic appearance that appeared forced as the man said. "He felt he'd be happier if he had nothing to do with Shinra." Then he subtly nodded and scratched at his chest with a slight sneer over the fact he was still wearing his brother's clothes and told the woman. "I want you to ensure all charges against him are dropped and that his name is cleared within twenty-four hours."
Then he went up to Reeve's office and handed the man a set of blueprints he obtained from Ten-ji's residence and informed. "These contain the locations of all the surveillance they tapped into… Hopefully it will help shed some light on the electrical glitches we've been experiencing as well"
- - -
About a week after the incident, Tseng was handed a ring found at the site that was still under decontamination orders, and found himself trying to swallow a hardened lump in his throat that wouldn't seem to go away. Then he closed his hand around the object and briefly closed his eyes before leaving to start preparations for a decent funeral he'd been denying up until that point.
"What's with the ring?" Elena asked, the moment he came home and found her in the kitchen, drying her hands off while she stared at the ring-finger of his right hand.
"It was my father's." He answered, before he placed his hands over his face and rubbed at his eyes. Then he added as if he was about to fall apart. "They said they found it by the remains of an unidentified creature… Possibly the source of the contamination…"
Not really knowing why Tseng was upset, the woman came quickly to his side to console him, only to find out that he lied to the authorities about what really happened, while he wound up telling her everything that happened from the start.
"He was just a simple vagabond when I met him…" He explained. "No home, no money… Nothing… He didn't even know how to defend himself…"
Then, he went on to explain that, even right from the start, he felt a brotherly attachment to the man and that they used to behave like silly boys often did and fooled around for kicks. It started out as a way for them to see who could disturb who the most by acting flirtatious to a point to where one of them would look at the other like he was out of his mind and step away, leaving one of them with a sense of victory over emasculating the other.
"But it got out of hand…" He explained. "We were so brainless… What we thought was harmless wound up being used against us."
"Sounds like you were typical boys to me…" Elena sighed, as she rubbed at his shoulder, and guided him over to the sofa while jokingly adding in an attempt to lighten the man's mood somewhat. "Even if I have a hard time imagining you as one."
With a subtle smile that wasn't very convincing, Tseng continued to explain the rest. But his remorse turned somewhat dark when he got to the part where Vincent wouldn't deny that anything ever happened between them, only for him to find out why over forty years later that "He was sleeping with my fiancé." Then he added as he sat back and sighed. "I lost everything because he couldn't keep it in his pants and wouldn't admit to it."
"Maybe he was afraid of losing you as a friend…" She suggested, as she sat back, beside him, and stroked her palm against the back of his head. "And maybe it just got harder for him as the years went by."
With a reflective nod, Tseng leaned toward her and sighed again, while admitting that she might have been right.
But despite her words, and the fact that he partially agreed, he still couldn't stop playing the man's last words over in his head and wished he would have let him finish, even though he highly suspected he didn't really want to know what it was.
- - -
"It never gets easy." Tifa mused, after she placed a second plate in front of Rude and sat across from him. "It's strange… For some reason I always saw Vincent as being someone that was indestructible."
With a sigh, she sat back and tapped her fork on her plate while staring at the table. "It's just so hard to believe." After that, she turned her attention to Rude and wondered how he managed after losing all of his own family and asked. "Do you ever miss them?"
While nodding, the man made a quick attempt to finish chewing his food and swallow it back before he admitted. "I don't think I ever really got over it."
"Who were you closest to?" She asked, with a sudden interest, as she leaned over the table and regarded him with a keen compassion.
"I guess…" With a moment of pause, to actually think about it, he took a deep breath and wiped at his mouth with a napkin. "I'd have to say my little brother."
"What was he like?"
"Reckless." He answered, as he stared at the ring he gave her and ran his hand over his scalp. "He was the most outspoken and obnoxious one out of all of us. But he meant well."
"Hm." She mused, as she thought about why that might have been. "It must have been hard to grow up so far away from home."
"It was… When we moved from Mideel, we were the only coloured family in the area… We weren't exactly accepted as part of the community."
"Is that why you're so awkward around women?"
With a bit of thought, the man shrugged and stood while motioning for Tifa to follow him to her living room and confessed in the form of a question. "Would you believe that I was an emotional child?"
"Yeah…" She admitted, as she leaned into him when he wrapped his arm around her shoulder. "Most tough guys are."
"Hm… The first girl I ever asked out laughed at me… And I ran home crying."
"Mm…" He nodded, as he sat both her and himself down and joked with an unreadable seriousness. "But if you tell anyone, I'm going to have to kill you."
"Not if I see you coming." She joked back, while crossing her arms in front of her stomach and leaning across his chest to look up at him.
"Cute…" He mused, realising that she was probably right. Then he pulled her up so she was cradled across his lap and traced his finger across her fine brow while she smiled and asked him why he'd been so quiet for most of the evening.
"I came across an anonymous letter today." He answered.
"Am I allowed to ask what it's about?"
With a nod, he continued to look down at her and commented that Reno was believed to have killed his mother several years ago.
"That's horrible!" She exclaimed, while making no attempt to hide the shock. Then she sat up and straddled his lap while asking in a hushed voice. "Did he do it?"
"Not according to the evidence that was in the envelope."
"What was it?"
"A confession." Rude informed, as she leaned back slightly and he supported her with his arms. "But that wasn't the evidence."
"There was a scalpel in it… We ran tests, but whoever it was… he or she was careful. The only DNA found on it was Reno's mother's."
With a strange contortion to her face, Tifa half-sneered in disbelief and muttered out "That's strange… So… did this nut just use it once, hang on to it for a bunch of years, and then decide out of sheer conscience to just send it to you?"
"It would appear so." He admitted, as he thought about the signature being nothing more than a capital D. "Of course, we're continuing to look into it. But I can't tell you anything else, since the rest is confidential."
"Wow…" She muttered, as she stared at nothing and commented. "You're job is never dull, is it?"
"Sometimes…" He confessed, as he pulled her back toward him. "I wish it was."
"Does Reno know?"
"He knows as much as you do at this point." He told her, before he added. "We can't tell him anything else until we know the details."
"Is he okay with that?"
"He used to be a Turk." Rude reminded her, as he wandered his hands down her sides. "He knows he doesn't really have any other choice but to let us do our job and wait."
With a small giggle, she squirmed a little when he found a ticklish spot, and wound up laying across his lap again and looking up. "This isn't going to complicate things, is it?"
"Well… If we decided to have kids… Your job wouldn't disallowit or anything, would it?"
"You want kids?" He asked, not really knowing why he was surprised about it. But he was nonetheless, and when she nodded, he asked. "How many did you have in mind?"
"I don't know." She confessed. "I've always wanted to have at least one. But if it's something that would cause a problem, I'll always have the orphanage."
"Did you ever find out who was donating that money?"
"Hm…" He mused, before he decided to get back on the topic of them having their own children and thought about it. "I don't see why we couldn't try for our own…"
"How many did you want?"
"At the risk of scaring you away?" He asked, as he flicked her bang to the side and she nodded. "Five."
"Wow… That sounds so… definite…" She mused, as she thought about it, and realised that she kind of liked the idea of having a big family. Then she smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck to pull him down for a kiss while daring to make a suggestion. "Let's just start with one, though… And see how it goes from there."
- - -
After a painful and trying month had gone by, Tseng appeared to return to his old self, somewhat, even though he remained more silent than he was before everything happened, and he never really did seem content about conducting the most honourable funeral he was capable of.
But he only appeared to be his old self during the days.
In the evenings, when no one but his immediate family was present, but asleep, he found himself tossing and turning, and replaying images and words over in his mind until he felt like madness would overtake him if he didn't find a way to cleanse himself of it. Then he would find himself with Vincent's gauntlet on his lap and sitting on his balcony, amidst the cold snow, with nothing but a pair of black pajamas on while he toyed with his father's ring and stared into space as if he was looking for something.
If it weren't for his wife, he might very well have gone mad. But she was well-aware of his distress, each time he climbed out of bed in frustration, and she would silently follow and watch him from the shadows as he muttered words of apologies and forgiveness to the wind, while knowing he could never ask for them in return.
Out of respect, she would wait for his sorrows to wane enough for her to approach without embarrassing the man, and when she did, she would tell him that she simply couldn't sleep, herself, and that she wondered where he wandered off to as she'd shiver and sit down beside him in hopes that she could help mend his soul.
But by day, Tseng was highly skilled at carrying out the expected façade many had come to take for granted, and he managed to make everyone around him believe that he was perfectly fine, even if Elena highly suspected that he was only doing it for his daughter's sake.
And as the month was beginning to turn into two, he was finding that he could actually smile without feeling guilty about it. But whether or not he'd ever let his conscience forgive him, was another story entirely.
- - -
After nearly two months of trying to coordinate his own meetings, on top of everything else, Rufus decided it was time to quit doting over things he had no control over. And he decided he'd find himself a new secretary, only to discover it was a painful process when it came to interviewing several women that were either too inept or outright liars on their resumes.
As a result, he was finding himself near his wit's end and almost ready to give up when Tseng entered his office with an, almost, conniving look on his face as he set a resume down in front of the man.
"What's this?" He asked, as he sat forward and pulled the papers toward him to look them over. Then he snorted and cocked his brow as he read over the impressive work history and skills the woman claimed to possess. "Rose Vanlain?" Then he pushed them away and sat back while claiming. "I'm in no mood to speak with anyone today."
"If I may, Sir…" Tseng started, as he pursed his lips and folded his hands loosely in front of him. "I feel you may change your mind once you speak with this one."
"Oh?" Rufus asked, with a disinterested cock to his brow as he stared at a picture of Dark Nation on his desk. Then he sighed and tapped his fingers on his desk while snidely asking. "Did you take the trouble of interviewing her already?"
"I'm afraid I didn't need to." The man replied, before he stepped closer to the President's desk and tapped on the papers. "This one has already proven their skills are forthright and genuine."
"Hm…" Rufus mumbled, sarcastically, then he sat forward and snidely remarked as he looked at the papers again. "I'm under the impression you already know this woman… Can you guarantee me that she's trustworthy and not another desperate liar that I'm simply going to have to fire because she was better at getting someone else to write her resume than she is at her actual job?"
"It's not my fault your difficult to work for, Sir." Tseng coolly commented, before he added. "But to answer your question, I'm afraid I can't guarantee that this one doesn't lie. But I can guarantee you that… her… abilities are impeccable."
"You're up to something." Rufus calmly accused, as he folded his hands in front of him and sceptically looked the man over. Then he sighed and muttered out "Very well," while adjusting his coat and decided he might as well play along. "Send this… Rose in then."
With a faint hint of a grin, as the President continued to look at him with a growing distrust, Tseng bowed and then walked to the door, before he uncomfortably cleared his throat and called out "Rose?" Then he opened the door a little more and answered to something that Rufus could only guess must have been a gesture since he didn't hear any response. "The President will see you now."
Then, the man uncomfortably cleared his throat once more, as Rufus shook his head and frowned while grabbing the papers to look over them again.
He didn't bother to look up and simply commented after Tseng left the room that. "It says, here, that you're adept at dealing with system malfunctions, and hardware failures." He coldly stated, as the woman kept silent and took a light-footed step forward. Then, with a sigh, he flipped the page and remarked on the fact that "I'm afraid I'm not looking for someone with all of these skills… I simply need someone to answer the phone and tend to scheduling… perhaps some slight hostess skills for when conferences are held. Other than that, I'm afraid you may be overqualified."
After that, he brushed his bang out of his eye and motioned his hand to the seat in front of his desk while continuing to keep his eyes on the papers. "Perhaps you can tell me why you're interested in this position."
"Well…" Came a raspy-sounding voice. "Ever since some crazy scientist shoved a Meteor cell down my throat, I figure I have a rather sexy-soundin voice… Heard that comes in handy when dealin with difficult people." With a slightly nervous snicker, as the President finally lifted his eyes far enough to stare at a pair of worn-out pants, the person who claimed their name was Rose stepped forward. "But I should warn ya… I have a bit of a temper'n I tend ta be a little stubborn."
"Rose…" Rufus breathed out, as if he was suddenly in a daze, and lifted his eyes further to stare at the man as if he was a child looking up.
"Yeah…" The man admitted, before he stepped toward the desk and grabbed his resume to wave his fingers at the name. "Discovered that when I changed the letters around in my name that I could make it sound kinda pretty…Classy too."
"And how long did it take you to come up with that?" Rufus asked, as he tried to fight off the sudden child-like feeling he suddenly had.
"Not long…" Reno confessed. "Rose came rather naturally… After that, took me no more'n a couple'a seconds ta come up with somethin convincin with the rest'a the letters."
With a sigh, Rufus shook his head to brush off the numbness he was feeling and straightened up with a professional cool. "I understand you've been given a clean bill of health."
"Yeah… No more Ren…" Reno answered, as he raised his brow and rocked on his feet. "Figured since I had some control that I'd get ma a normal job'n rent a small house that needed fixin."
"I heard you were working as a mechanic over in Edge."
"Keepin tabs on me?"
"Well, you are the first Turk to ever leave with your life intact." Rufus reminded him. "It wouldn't be wise to not keep an eye on you." Then he sat back and brushed at the front of his coat. "So, why are you here?" After that, he waved his hand at the resume in Reno's hand and sarcastically commented. "I'm assuming it isn't because you'd really like to be my secretary."
"Heh… Yeah… I…" Reno started, as he nervously scratched at the back of his neck. "Thought it was only fair ta tell ya that… I think I might've fallen in love with someone…"
"I see." With every attempt to act as though it meant nothing to him, Rufus sat back and ran his eyes over the man's face with a cold austerity. "Anyone I know?"
"Yeah…" With another nervous snicker, the redhead ran his fingers over the back of the chair and stared at the desk. "He's complicated, a bit of a freak… An he's moody as hell, But…"
"He…" Rufus repeated, as he cut the man off from finishing and figuring there wasn't much guesswork to who it might have been. "Would I be correct to assume he's blonde?"
"Yeah…" With a bit of a nod, Reno bit on the bottom of his lip and stared directly into Rufus' eyes. "Only, I… don't think he knows… Kinda left on bad terms."
"So, you haven't told him." Rufus concluded, before he stood and walked over to his window to look out over the city.
"No… Haven't actually talked ta him since I told him I never wanted ta see him again." The redhead rasped, as he stared at the back of Rufus' head. Then he turned his attention to the reflection of the man's face while letting out a small breath. "Been kinda spendin my time in solitude… Tryin ta figure things out… Ya know?"
"Mm… I'm afraid I don't understand why you feel the need to go out of your way to tell me."
"Cuz…" Reno started, as he walked up to the man and stood beside him. "Whether either of us like it or not, yer kinda involved."
With a slight moment of silence, Reno leaned against the window so he could see Rufus' expressionless eyes as they continued to stay away from him as the man focused on the city below, before he finally looked over at Reno's earring and admitted with a slightly scratchy voice.
"I believe… being dumped by you once was enough." Then he turned and started to walk away before Reno grabbed his arm and held him in place. "You're free to do as you please, Reno…" He informed in a clinical manner. "Be it with Cloud, some whore on third… or any other lowlife for that matter…"
Then he pulled his arm free and walked back over to his desk and sat down to pull something, anything, out of his drawer to keep him occupied. "Now, if you don't mind, I have work to do."
With a slight snort, Reno shook his head and walked up behind the man to see that he was looking at a menu for a restaurant and placed his hands on the back of the man's chair to tilt it back while stating. "I don't think we're on the same level here." Then he turned his gaze over to the menu for a moment and went distant as he muttered out. "Or maybe we are…"
With a shake to his head to clear it out, he added. "Dunno… Dunno if it would matter if I told ya the man was a pompous prick."
After that, he let go of the chair and snorted as he folded his resume and placed it in the breast pocket of his coat. "Never really been good at this sorta thing, ya know?" Then he sarcastically snickered and raised his brow as he stared at the floor. "Anyway… Was'n expectin much more, really… Jus thought I should let ya know… Guess I jus needed ta say it."
Once he took a moment to wallow in the following silence, as Rufus continued to stare at his menu, Reno let out a deep breath as if he'd been holding it and started to walk toward the door while speaking without facing the man. "By the way… Good luck with yer secretary…"
After another moment that seemed to last longer than it really did, Reno simply froze under the request as Rufus absent-mindedly tapped his fingers on his desk. Then he stood and adjusted his coat as he walked to the front of it and stopped.
"What, exactly, were you hoping to achieve?"
"Dunno…" Reno admitted, before he turned around and lazily leaned against the door. "Guess I jus thought I'd see if, maybe, we could start over or somethin." Then he placed his hands in his pocket and jingled the loose change that was in them. "Ya know… Maybe see if we could get it right."
"Yeah…" Then he admitted that he wasn't exactly expecting Rufus to leap into his arms or anything. "But I figured it was worth a shot… that maybe we could take it slow, ya know…? I'd stay where I'm at an we could jus, kinda go from there…"
"And you would be comfortable with that." Rufus asked in a flat tone, before he clasped his hands behind his back and stepped up to the man to aloofly study him.
"Hm." As he continued to study the man, he stepped slightly closer and narrowed his eyes in a manner of test. "And if I wanted you to return home?"
"I'd say no." Reno answered, before he twisted the right corner of his mouth and returned the study in a less defensive way than what he was receiving. "Never really been on my own before… Jus feel like I need it."
"I see…" Rufus mused, as his stance lightened up somewhat and he cocked his brow at the man. "At least you're being honest." Then he unclasped his hands and rested the palm of his right hand near Reno's head to test the man's reaction and lowered his voice as he openly contemplated the proposal. "I suppose we could attempt to see where things go."
Then he became even more bold and placed his hand on Reno's hip, as he moved closer. "But I do have one condition, if we're going to try and make things work."
"I ain't surprised." Reno admitted, as he looked up at the man and took the toothpick from his mouth.
"I didn't think you would be."
"So, what is it?"
"I promised you a vacation… Years ago." Rufus reminded the man, as he placed his hand on the man's cheek and ran his eyes over the scars. "I wanted nothing more than to give you everything you could ever ask for, and I meant it." As the man's look softened, he lightly caressed his fingers down to graze them over the redhead's lips and added. "I'd like to fulfill that promise." Then he leaned his forehead against Reno's and lightly rubbed his nose against his.
"That's yer condition?"
"Not quite." Rufus muttered, as he rested his body closer and dropped his hand to place it at Reno's waist where his brother stabbed him. "The conditional part, is that I will insist that you stay by my side the entire time, and that you honour me at least one evening by walking with me on the beach and holding my hand."
"An if I say no?"
"Then I don't see the point in attempting to start over." After that, he pushed himself back and started to return to his desk. "Whether you want to believe it or not, all I've ever asked of you was that you be at my side, and you could never properly do it." Then he turned and tapped his fingers on his desk. "So, now I'm going to outright ask you… I'm willing to give you the world, Reno… All I'm asking in return is that you openly admit to something everybody already knows."
"Yer a shit…" Reno muttered, as Rufus leaned against the front of his desk and brushed his bang back.
"I'm aware of that." The man agreed, before he spread his legs slightly and cocked his brow as if he were mocking the redhead. "Would you have expected anything less?"
"Good." Rufus chirped, as he stood and cockily grinned. "Next month looks like the perfect time to go someplace warm… Should I clear out my schedule?"
"Sure…" Reno muttered again, before he turned around and placed his hand on the knob. "But if I gotta do the fruity thing an hold yer fuckin hand, yer gonna hafta suck it up an go fishin with me."
"I suppose I can do that."
"Yer fuckin right ya can."
Then the redhead left without looking back while Rufus stood there with a satisfying grin over the fact that he wasn't the only one who wanted to start over with the hopes of getting it right for a change.
I know that some people knew I actually had a different ending in mind. But something just felt so complete about this chapter that I think it's best to end it here. It became more evident as I went over it a couple of times, and I just get the feeling that if I were to continue that it would be like flogging a dead horse.
So, I hope everyone that stuck around enjoyed it, and got a good feeling of satisfaction over the way it ended. And as far as Darius went, I have to admit that I've always enjoyed stories where something was left hanging since finality always seems too final.
This way, the imagination is left to wander and contemplate things that could possibly still happen, and I don't know about you guys, but I kind of like the idea that Reno and Rufus will always be left with some sort of unexplained conflict to constantly test their relationship.
In all honesty, my original intention was to try and keep this story around 25 chapters. But my dang muses turned evil on me and started acting up, making it difficult for me to finalize this blasted thing.
So, on that note, I hope you all enjoyed the story. It's always a challenge to write online, since it's live, and you can't always go back and change things that happened earlier on to make it work when you change your mind, which I'm sure a good number of you know. However, I have to admit that that's one of the reasons I enjoyed doing it so much, it left me with a sense of challenge and a good number of head-scratches at how the hell I was going to recover from some of the thoughtless things I wrote.
Sometimes it worked, and other times, I went "How the hell am I gonna recover from that?" Or "Damn! I wish I never posted that, cuz now I gotta fix it… AAAGGGHHH!"
Well, enough rambling…
Thanks to everyone that reviewed. It's always a pleasure to read everyone else's thoughts and ideas on where things are going or where they'd like them to go, and it's always a pleasure to see other's opinions, good or bad.
So now, if you'll all excuse me, I need to finish editing DOM, like I promised, and then move onto this one, which I'm sure will make me cringe.