10 ---

Author note: Hey guys! It's been a year and one day since I started writing this chapter . and it's actually pretty short. But hey, I've got to start again somewhere. Enjoy it!

Also, today is the one year anniversary of me getting together with my wonderful fiancée! The two things coincide suspiciously. But don't worry, I am back for good.

Onwards with the fic!


"W-what makes ya say that?" I stuttered, throwing myself backward out of the chair and yanking away from him hard. Rufus let go of my shirt collar and let me trip backwards, as he stood there watching me with the slightest smirk on his face.

Flailing my arms out behind me, I stumbled back and caught the kitchen counter, quick enough to stop myself from dropping onto the floor but slipping anyway and kind of hanging there helplessly for a moment. He didn't move, still watching me with his piercing eyes, like he was expecting me to actually come out and confess. Hanging there off the counter wasn't doing anything for me so slowly I let myself slide down on the floor and just sat there, dumbstruck for anything else to say. Denying it like crazy wasn't going to help the situation in the slightest, because if he knew about it, he'd heard it from a solid source. Vincent, or Cloud …and Cloud said he swore he wouldn't tell.

Cloud and Rufus had never got along, especially seeing as the first time they ever met, Cloud sliced Rufus' precious pet in two with his big fucking sword and Rufus tried to have Tifa executed. I liked Dark Nation. Cute little pup, really. I've never really been a dog person, but Rufus adored him and so as Turks, we kind of had to love him too.

Anyway, my point is that despite the fact they still hated each other's guts – quietly now, with less swords and shotguns, but they still did – I doubt that Cloud would give away something like that just to spite Rufus. It's not like it's something that would piss him off anyway, or at least I thought not.

Which left Vincent. Fucking hell, I thought I could fucking trust Vincent, but… seems like I can't fucking trust anyone at all. Great. It's a good day to be me, I fucking swear.

Rufus came closer, footsteps almost silent as a wraith. He crouched down in front of me, blue eyes flickering to the left and right, I assume to check if anything on the floor was going dirty up his spotless white suit. He leaned right forward and opened his mouth slightly, eyes flicking up and down over me, until they landed on my leg. For a moment, I thought he was going to change the subject, but no.

"So that's why you're limping." He said with a slight scoff, before fixing his eyes on my face again. "I see."

"Why the hell else would I be limping?" I muttered quietly, looking away from him at the tiled floor. He was fucking freaking me out, being that close to me. I don't know what the hell was going through his head at that moment, why he sounded so fucking angry about the fact I'd slept with Cloud; maybe it was just pent up anger or maybe he thought it was more disgusting even than I did.

Rufus just snorted slightly and flicked his hair out of his eyes. It seemed to be a new – and annoying – habit of his. "How many times, Reno?" He asked snidely, leaning even closer. I drew back as far as I could against the cupboard doors behind me, the door handle pressing sharply into my spine.

I said nothing, because sometimes it's just best not to. It was easy to pretend I didn't know exactly what he was talking about. Because I did, and though the answer was probably better than whatever the hell he was expecting, if he was even expecting anything, I just wasn't ready to admit it out loud yet. I hadn't even fucking come to terms with the fact I'd slept with a guy yet.

I could still feel Rufus' eyes on me, though. It was the same feeling as when he'd been staring in the car, and I guess, it was because of the same thing. He probably thought I was completely sick in the head.

A knock sounded at the half open door. Rufus looked around, and stood up quickly, straightening out his pants as he did so. Tseng pushed the door open the rest of the way and cleared his throat… all at once, the sense of déjà vu hit me again. Because last time we were doing this, Rufus and me in the kitchen having a really uncomfortable talk, Tseng had walked in, hadn't he? It had been awkward too, like now. I was still sprawled on the floor and this time Rufus had been crouching there, staring at me.

"Tseng," Rufus nodded, acting like nothing was wrong. Maybe not in his head but I couldn't even bring myself to try and get up. I was freaking happy, sitting there. Better than I'd been all day. Not that it was the most comfortable place to sit, but I'd suffered worse in the last 24 hours.

"Sir. The perimeter has been cleared."

Rufus nodded again and glanced back at me, snorting slightly. "Very good." He said smoothly and started for the door. "And the captives?"

"Bound, and still unconscious. But they're going to make it." Tseng answered, rolling his shoulders back as he spoke, and clasping his hands behind his back.

"Alright. If that is all, I am going to sleep."

His last statement was more like a question, challenging Tseng to interrupt him. I watched the Wutain man carefully from where I lay slumped on the floor, silently hoping he would, and that it would annoy the boss. He deserved it, since he'd been freaking the hell out of me.

Tseng did speak up again then, somewhat hesitantly, and if he hadn't practically admitted to hating me back in Edge I might have even half-believed that he'd heard my mental prayer and decided to answer it. But I couldn't forget that he'd told me he wanted me to burn. You just don't forget shit like that. "One more thing, sir." Tseng said slowly.

"Yes?" Rufus questioned, pausing in the doorway and looking back at him and then at me like I was more interesting than whatever the hell Tseng had to say.

"About the sleeping arrangements, with Vincent staying here for an extended period of time-"

"I have already explained, Tseng," Rufus interrupted, flicking his hair again. "The last building will be utilized within the next 48 hours. There should be no problem."

We hadn't used the third and final building, which sat further up the cliffs, for anything yet. I don't think any of us had even been inside since we'd bought the lodge a year ago – Rufus had just had it locked up and had told us it was better to remain in close quarters during troubled times, for safety reasons. It was a smart idea to help prevent any attempts on Rufus' life because the fact he was still alive had just become somewhat public. Although I've said before, there really haven't been any real threats since Avalanche was still in full throttle and meteor was threatening the planet – pretty much since Rufus took over – until now. So we'd just ignored the third building and I'd practically forgotten about it entirely.

Of course, the first thought that sprang into my head was that perhaps there was a bottle of whiskey or two left up there. It was a rest home, after all. They were expected to have these kind of things.

"I thought perhaps with the change in Reno's situation-"

My situation? That caught my attention. Unless he was referring to the fact I was in shit loads of trouble, I wasn't aware of any 'situation' I was in. Now, my bosses and colleagues can try and keep shit from me all they want, but stuff about myself, I deserved to know. I mean, I would know about it anyway. Right?

"The situation has not changed," Rufus corrected him curtly, and tore his eyes from me to stare straight at Tseng. I shuddered slightly as soon as he broke eye contact with me, having held it in. I didn't want to show weakness, not in front of Rufus. "Reno and myself will move into the third building promptly. Goodnight, Tseng."

"What?!" I shouted and scrambled up off the floor. Okay, everything freaking me out was one thing but making a decision like that was out of order. Out of fucking order. Not because they'd decided without telling me, but because Rufus was acting so fucking weird. Couldn't Tseng see it? Like before, when Rufus had me by the ponytail in the kitchen, and the way he kept staring at me. Or maybe he did see it and he just hated me that much that he was going to let it happen. Whatever Rufus' problem with me was, I was not getting locked up in a separate freaking building with him! I refused!

I was up on my feet in mere seconds, but Rufus was already through the door and gone without a second look back. I'd almost forgotten about the massive gashes in my leg, too. That just left Tseng and I standing awkwardly in the kitchen, with me hissing in pain and gripping at my knee like I could squeeze the sensation out.

Tseng scoffed at me slightly. I looked up and glared, my teeth still gritted through the pain. "Don' fucking laugh. I don' wanna be stuck with him in that fucking building!"

"What happened to your leg?" He asked in a perfectly civilized manner, although he completely ignored what I'd just said. You'd almost thing we hadn't been fighting for a moment. But we always did this – argue, and then pretend we hadn't. Just never on this scale.

"Dog-boy got me with his big scary metal claw." I scowled, peeling up my ripped trouser leg to look at the five gashes again. I heard him inhale sharply when he saw it.

"Nasty. You should wash that," Tseng said bluntly. "For a moment I almost thought you actually did care about Vincent, Reno. I guess I was right, though. You really don't care about anything."

With that, he turned and left the room. Bastard, making a comment like that again. I swear, it was gonna become one of those things that started bugging me all the time. I did care about things, I've already said that. Like, my chopper.

…Fuck. The chopper. I hadn't even thought about it, I'd hardly even remembered what had happened, but it was flooding back to me now. Leaving the construction site, getting pissed off about that bastard terrorist, bleeding to death in the sand and fuck, the chopper was gone. Vanished. No longer there. I hadn't even had time to think about it then before I'd dropped dead – literally, if I could even believe Cloud, although at that moment he seemed like the only person worth believing if I'm really honest. I had no idea if the others knew it was gone, although I had to assume so. I'm surprised they hadn't ripped my head off about it yet.

The only person I guessed could possibly know about where it could have got to is Cloud and it was worth a try. It's not often I'm struck by the desire to call someone I don't like, and similarly it's not often I'm struck by the desire to call someone after sex, but sometimes both are called for. The chopper – the chopper I did care about – was potentially stolen, or destroyed, or worse if that was possible. It was my duty to find out what had happened to it. Tseng's bike, too, now that I thought about it.

I unrolled my shredded pant leg and limped towards the kitchen door, reaching into my pocket for my PHS to call Cloud. Reluctantly, I might add, but I was going to anyway. Cloud and I had exchanged numbers after the incident with the Remnants, or rather Cloud and 'the company' because technically it wasn't a private thing between the two of us, because he'd asked us not to bother Tifa anymore if something major cropped up like it had done; he didn't live at the bar and the delivery service number really was for deliveries and not for business like ours, or something like that.

Of course, I'd left my PHS with Cloud and so not for the first time today, I was royally screwed. I swear, this was the longest day of my life to date. I'd been through worse, but not all at once like this.

What I did find in my pants pocket was that bloody necklace I'd picked up off the man I'd killed. I pulled it out and examined it again – I didn't really know why I'd taken it, I guess because he'd acted like it was precious to him and such. Maybe part of my subconscious had decided it was probably valuable and worth selling. Or maybe I really had just felt bad about killing him. It wouldn't be the first time in my career that I'd been struck by that feeling, but I did my best to ignore it.

A year or two into my job, I was given a research assignment that had to end with a kill. They'd told me from the start that it would, and at that point, I was beyond being bothered by the routine of it. I had to get close to some guy – they called him 'Cormack', but street aliases are rarely real names. He was a real bonehead apparently, used to work for Don Corneo and shit. He'd gotten rich somehow and Old Man Shinra didn't like him, for whatever reason. I had to find out everything I could about the guy, how he'd made his money, whether he was a threat to ShinRa and such, and if he was, we had to take him down.

I went in there with my own alias – Jordan was the name I used – and at first, I just thought the guy was a complete prick, and had made his cash selling off mako residue or something. But slowly I got to know him and actually let him know a thing or two about me – I was still damn young and I hadn't told anyone about all the shit that happened to me out on the street. Talking to Cormack was almost refreshing, even though I did have to make him believe I had nothing to do with ShinRa and was still living in the streets. Turned out he'd grown up in the same shithole in Sector 7 as I had. He had a bright red crop of hair like me, the kind you hardly ever see; the two of us actually got on. He said we could be like brothers and he starting trying to convince me my life really wasn't all that bad. I wouldn't listen at first. I was pissed off that ShinRa seemed to want me to off myself on ridiculous assignments and I hadn't gotten over myself after living on the streets. Then slowly he kind of got to me. He told me how he'd made his money – it escapes me now, but what I'm saying is that he convinced me that I didn't need to live the life I had been, that I was worth more than that. He even offered me a job and a place to live and I was really starting to like the guy when he slipped up – he told me his plans. He did want to run ShinRa out of town and whilst I didn't want him dead, I really wasn't cool with that. I actually cared about him, though, and figured there was a way to get everything I wanted with the least consequences. Stupid decision for someone like me. Only a real genius like Rufus could pull off that off.

But I was still big-headed, and so I made a rash decision. Intelligence had been listening in to everything we talked about, and they already knew, so there was no way I was keeping his confession secret, but I smothered the microphone and told him everything. I told him who I really was, and that I'd get him out of there alive, because he deserved it. He trusted me, too.

When it came down to it, the ShinRa guard got us cornered and the other Turks were called in. Now, I wanted Cormack to get out of this with his life, but I had my job security at ShinRa and I wasn't about to fight to the death for this guy. I wasn't willing to kill guards, or take on Turks to fight for his freedom. Perhaps if it had happened later in my career, then I might have… but even something you're passionate about is not worth losing everything over. It's not. So I was cornered, and ShinRa gave me a choice – fight and die, or kill the guy right there and then and face the consequences of my actions.

I certainly wasn't ready to die and it was hardly the first time I'd had to deal with punishment for doing something wrong, so I agreed to their terms. We all stood there, Cormack cowering and begging me not to kill him, and telling me to think about all the things we'd talked about and screaming out 'Jordan, Jordan, don't do it!' I'd reduced the man to a crying wreck, such a strong fucker like him, and I think that's the only thing that actually gave me the courage to put a bullet through his head. I was angry, with myself and with ShinRa, but it was easier to pretend that I was angry with him for being all talk and no action than accept that. When I went to do it, I had the pistol cocked at point blank against his forehead and my own eyes were closed. I was gritting my teeth and trembling slightly, and it was probably one of the worst few seconds of my entire life, where every moment seems to last a lifetime and so I did the only thing I could to handle it. I exhaled deeply, and straightened up, and looked him straight in the eye. "It's not Jordan," I snorted, giving him a cocky smirk like I didn't give a shit. "It's Reno." And then I pulled the trigger and blew his fucking brains out against the concrete wall behind him. I watched, too. Blood and brains and bright red hair decorating the dull grey scenery like a messed up masterpiece. The stuck-up attitude saved me then, and I've never looked back.

When I turned back to the grunts and the other Turks I laughed again, because it was all I could do to keep myself from being sick right there and then. "See? Easy." I said, and swung my pistol around in my hand. The other Turks escorted me to the car and that was that… Later Tseng caught up with me in the bathroom, dry heaving over the basin, my face streaming with tears. I don't really cry, not ever, but I was so disgusted with myself that I couldn't help it. Tseng told me then never to trust anyone ever again except the Turks. He said attachments made the job impossible – emotions, relationships and aspirations – and that if I had to trust someone, to let it be him and no one else. I thought he was a complete bastard for saying it then but slowly I started to live like that too. Funny, how things change over time. I wonder how we ended up like we did now.

The necklace glowed slightly in the light when I turned it over. It was like a green gem, a spiral of silver metal holding it in place. The metal got thicker towards the end, twisting into the chain that made up the rest of the necklace. The green orb itself almost looked like a tiny splintered piece of materia, except for something yellowish in the centre that seemed to be the cause of the bizarre glow it had. Looked pretty, but I doubted that it did anything special. I assumed it was an heirloom or a gift of some sort; I wasn't really sure what else could make a man go crazy over a necklace, but if anything it could help in the future when it came to blackmailing the terrorists. Shrugging slightly, I put it on and shoved it under my ruffled shirt collar, straightening that out too from Rufus' attack. My main priority now was contacting Cloud about the chopper, finding something to drink and then somewhere to sleep. We had to have a spare PHS somewhere… one that didn't require bothering Tseng or Rufus, or…

Or… I could use Vincent's phone. Now that was an idea.

I stood out in the hallway, considering my options. I could break into the third building and look for left over booze no one was going to miss, or I could root around in the crates again in the garage, looking for another one of Rufus' bottles of cognac or brandy or something similar. The storage garage was probably my best bet, but the building we'd barely even touched was far too exciting to miss out on. I could always venture down to the other one if I came up empty handed.

And so it was decided. I made my way outside and around the back of the building to where a rocky path ascended into the forested hills above. It lead to the other building if I remembered correctly, so rubbing my hands together to fight the chill of the night and rolling up my sleeves, I took hold of my mag-rod –preliminary protection against wild boars or anything of the sort and began to limp up there. It wasn't too tough, although honestly, I didn't see Rufus taking the route every day. It had become a lot more overgrown and wild in the year we'd left it unattended. Light rock fall from the cliffs above had made the ground unstable and I slipped more than once, but like a miracle, managed to catch myself. Must have been the first time that day.

After a few minutes the large greying building came into sight, so similar to the others but for the fact it wasn't clean and that the stars sparkled behind it. I smiled up at the night sky, taking a moment to revel in its vastness as I neared the steps up to the building. It looked almost exactly the same as the building we occupied in layout, except mirrored – hopefully that applied to the inside too so there wouldn't be too much fumbling around in the dark looking for the kitchen. The lights were probably switched off to conserve power and I was beginning to regret not bringing a torch.

I hopped a broken step on the way up to the front door – probably smashed in half by a falling rock or maybe it had just rotted over time – and turned to look down over the valley. Fuck, I was a long way up now. It was almost like flying, save for the fact I could feel my two feet on solid ground (actually the solidness of these steps was questionable but still…) and I liked it. If it wasn't for the fact I'd have to be staying with Rufus up here, I could almost get used to it.

It occurred to me that perhaps I could bargain – I could say that with the terrorist threat it probably wasn't as a safe as it had been for Rufus to stay in a separate building to the other Turks with just me as protection and that he should stay with Tseng. It wouldn't be at all bad with, say, Rude staying up here with me. We could play cards and hold those silent conversations we always seemed to be so fond of. Yep, I could picture that pretty well. Hanging off the deck with a cigarette and a brew, just chilling with my best friend and not needing to say anything. Much better than having Rufus yanking my chain, any day.

The door to the third building was locked solid but I guess the wood around it was rotting too, as it came free pretty easily in a cloud of splinters. I blinked slightly, trying to let my eyes adjust to the darkness. There were no massive windows in the roof here as there were in the other block and the lack of natural light made everything almost pitch black.

The layout did seemed the same inside, although reversed, and with different furniture. Everything was that little more homely than in our building, because Rufus had thrown out everything he deemed unnecessary one day when he was feeling moody.

Rufus has a tendency to do things like that when he'd moody – chuck things out the window, shoot people, go down to the firing range, make a new law... You can't really tell that he's in a bad mood until you see him doing one of these things and that frightens me. He hides his emotions so well.

I limped across the wooden floor of the first room towards where I expected the door to the hallway to be, running my hands across the left wall feeling for it and trying to support myself. The hill and then the staircase had really put a strain on my leg. It would be fine, I just needed to rest, and get drunk.

My hand slipped over something different now, and it had to be the door from the feel of cold metal. I groped around for the handle where I knew it to be, if it was the same green aluminium door as we had down in our building. Finding it after a few moments, I pulled it open and peered into the long, dark hallway beyond. Finding the kitchen was going to be fun.

Unlike the foyer, there were a few tiny windows lining the top of this corridor, giving me just enough light to see the array of doors along it's walls. More than in our building – they must have been small rooms, probably all bedrooms by the look of it, for patients here. I started to worry slightly that there might not even be a kitchen – but oh well, at least I was exploring. It was keeping my mind off all the shit that had been going on.

All the doors were unlocked, and my suspicions were correct, as I found a small bedroom with a cubicle bathroom behind every door. They were all pretty identical – a single, wooden-framed bed pushed against one wall, with bed sheets in the same olive green as the doors. Some of the beds had been stripped, and others remained unmade, giving the whole place a really creepy feel to it. The dirty bandages left around, stained with geo-stigma excretion didn't help, either. I felt like I was walking through a derelict hospital ward and not the building that was about to become my new home. One of the rooms did catch my eye though – not for a good reason, either. It looked lived in. It didn't seem to be particularly special compared to the other rooms, the same bed and dresser as any of them, and it's own tiny, cupboard-like bathroom with a shower, toilet and wash basin and nothing else. The only reason I could tell it was different was the cardboard boxes spread around the floor, a few items of scattered clothing and a couple of dirty plates stacked up on top of the dresser. That, and the fact it smelled different to the others, not so musty and old, more like the scent of another person. Any normal person couldn't tell, but with my enhanced senses, it was a stitch.

No reason for immediate concern though. The food on the plates had turned solid and fused with the ceramics, and the clothes, although unwashed, had lost the stink of something recently worn. I knelt beside one of the boxes, rooting through it in the low light to see if I could find any clues as to who might have been living there. Perhaps it was just a really messy, bad smelling geo-stigma patient who'd never thought to clean up when it was time to leave for the city to be healed in the Sector 5 church.

I found nothing that gave anything away in the first three boxes, just more clothes and trinkets and silly little personal items, and sceptically moved onto the fourth. I didn't come up empty-handed this time – an unopened bottle of Mideel Red Rum was wedged in among the junk, the outside of the bottle sticky with something but the inside looking beautifully aged and delicious. Satisfied that we weren't in any danger right now, I popped the bottle under my arm and stood up. The motion was more painful than I'd expected it to be and I stooped again, clutching my injured leg slightly. I could put off further investigation until the morning; now was time for getting drunk and forgetting my troubles.

But first, to call Cloud.

I loped back out of the building and carefully down the wooden stairs, being even more cautious on the rocky, overgrown hill on the way down as I had been on the way up and somehow managing again not to slip. I wondered if we'd gotten past midnight yet and my nightmare day was over, but no, it couldn't have been past 10, latest.

Again I hadn't noticed the cold out until I was back inside – the warmth of the lodge overwhelmed me and made me feel a little stuffy. I cracked open the bottle of rum quickly taking a moment to inhale it's aged scent before I took a gulp. Oh, that was good shit. I hadn't had anything nice to drink like that for a couple of days, at least.

I found myself standing outside my own bedroom door, contemplating how I was going to do this. Sure, I was a great pickpocket, and I could steal easily from corner stores or from under mobster's noses but from Vincent? I doubted it would be so easy. As well as the man being an ex-Turk, he seemed to have insanely enhanced senses. I could just wake him and ask for the phone, but I didn't like the idea of him listening in on my conversation. I still wasn't comfortable around him yet after our argument that morning, and especially not now I'd seen him limit break in action. Any man who could turn into a larger-than-life mutt had something seriously wrong with him.

Taking a confident breath, I slipped into my own bedroom like I was sneaking over the enemy fence in a war zone. Vincent was completely out of it, sleeping dead still on his back, barely even breathing. I faltered for a moment, wanting to check if he was even still alive, but I knew he probably was. Tseng had been willing to leave him unconscious in the middle of the road, so he had to know the man was going to survive this on his own. I'm sure he would.

I thought for a moment as I stood there where Vincent might keep his phone. On his person, obviously, seeing as he'd travelled with no luggage. I hadn't really noticed that before – at least, it hadn't seemed relevant, but now his pants were torn and bloody from his transformation, I couldn't help but wonder if he just had several copies of the outfit and what he was going to do for clothes if he didn't. Of course, we had spare clothes knocking around – probably some casual stuff because I seriously doubted we'd get Vincent back in a Turk uniform this side of the next hundred years, although I really couldn't picture the slim, wild-haired man in a pair of Rude's sweatpants and a wife-beater – he was free to borrow anything he wanted, really, seeing as he was our guest but if this whole 'Galian Beast' business had happened in the past, surely he had a way of dealing with the devastating effect it had on his tight clothing. Unless he usually stripped off first …I really hoped I'd find the phone in the tattered pockets at his knees to save myself having to feel around inside the other numerous pockets he seemed to have in his bizarre, one-of-a-kind leather pants.

Stepping up to him, I tried to keep myself from even breathing so he wouldn't wake. I didn't dare open the rum again, knowing he would probably smell it even in his near-comatose state of sleep and wake up to maul me. Suddenly, the thought that he could maul me didn't seem so bizarre, having seen him in… animal form, for a lack of a better way to put it. I patted down the pockets around his knees lightly, feeling for something remotely solid and phone like. If I recalled correctly, it was about the size and shape of Tseng's, so much smaller than the chunky PHS I carried around but a little too… pathetic for my taste. I was happy with my outdated brick-like technology.

I found nothing.

I allowed myself a quiet scowl, knowing that it probably wouldn't wake him if my hands on his knees hadn't. He had to have the phone on him somewhere… I noticed he even still had Cerberus strapped to his side during his slumber. It was a strong reminder that he could probably kill me without even opening his eyes, his lightning reflexes too fast even for me. I shivered slightly at the thought and repeated my soft patting motion on the pockets at his hips. Of course they had to come up empty too, didn't they? There were only three more pockets that I'd ever taken notice off – not that I had taken notice; one on his chest, and two on the back of his pants. Well, it was pretty obvious the flat pocket on his chest wasn't hiding his cell, which put me in a great position. Not only did I have to turn him over without waking him, I had to retrieve the phone from his back pocket. He was going to wake up and think me a complete creep… why did I talk myself into this?

Because of the chopper, I reminded myself. My baby was in trouble somewhere and I had no other way of contacting the only person I knew who might have information. Sucking it up, I slid a hand gently under his arm and tried to roll him onto his side so I could at least check for phone-shaped lumps in his back pocket before I went groping around. At least he wasn't a total deadweight like Cloud had been when he was asleep…

Not that I was thinking about that.

Surprisingly, once I had Vincent on his side, he grunted and rolled right over onto his face. At first I jumped back, freezing where I landed, thinking I had woken him, but once I heard him groaning in his sleep and rubbing his face in the pillow, I had to laugh. He was surprisingly human still, despite the beast I'd seen inside of him. It shouldn't have surprised me so much, seeing as I probably knew as much as anyone about how human he could be despite his strange quirks, but it did. I'd starting thinking of Vincent as a demon unwillingly, and I really had to stop. He was still my friend – at least, part of me hoped he still was. I'd have to have a proper chat with him when he finally woke up.

I retrieved the phone without any more trouble – it all but slipped into my hand once I'd pulled up the red cloak that trailed behind his every movement and unbuckled the pocket. Grinning triumphantly at the slumbering man, I actually had to restrain myself from patting his hair gently to thank him for being such a good sport. Now I could go get pissed and make the phone call I really didn't want to make.

I made my way back to the lounge, walking inside and turning on the lights without thinking – I'd forgotten again about the men Tseng had in there. To my amusement, they were chained back to back in one corner of the room, one of them passed out still, his head lolling back on the shoulder of the other man. The second assassin was awake now, staring at me with an expression I couldn't decipher. There was fury and hatred in there, and I definitely detected a hint of pain which was a given seeing as the Galian Beast had chewed him half to death and spat him out into the forest – but what was that? Fear? I actually laughed. Two deadly assassins, coming to make an attempt on the presidents life at his not-so-secret hideout, only to be scared shitless when we set a savage, unholy creature on them and took them hostage instead. Nothing I hadn't heard before. The essential elements may have changed – how we instilled the fear, where we had them hostage – but the story was the same. It made me wonder why anyone even tried to hurt us anymore. Save the hostages, I think I'd managed to have the same effect on the terrorists at the construction site earlier. Twice in one day, that was something I hadn't seen in a long time – not since the early days of Avalanche and their pseudo-immortal army.

Although I was sorely tempted to throw myself down on the couch right in front of them to drink and make my phone call, I knew it probably wasn't a good idea to get in anymore shit with the boss today. Even if we were planning to off these two sometime in the near future, we couldn't risk them knowing anything just in case. I rolled my eyes at the thought and made my way out of the lounge again, pulling the door closed quietly. The kitchen would have to do.

After making myself comfortable with a glass of ice for my rum and a couple of chairs to put my legs up on, I flipped open the phone and quickly navigated my way to the address book. He didn't have many contacts down – The Avalanche gang all seemed to be there, a couple of Wutain names, Paragon, Reeve, Shelke, that little Wutanese bar we'd found him at and …Tseng. I was pretty much expecting it, seeing as I knew he was on there under speed dial 2, but it still surprised me a little to see his name flash up onto the screen. I wasn't going to question it… now. I'd get the truth out about those two as soon as I could.

Too curious for my own good and wondering who was on speed dial 1, I tried it. An unfamiliar Wutain name popped up on the screen and I cancelled the call quickly, wondering who this person could be to Vincent. Perhaps family? But he'd been in stasis for so long, not to mention the fact he'd once been a Turk. He probably didn't have any family left. Friends didn't really seem like Vincent's thing, either. I tried speed dial 3 instead to distract myself. It was Cloud. Go figure.

Holding the phone up to my ear, I took a gulp from my glass for confidence and listened to the slow ringing tone. For all I knew, Cloud wouldn't even pick up. He'd been known not to, many times in the past.

But the ringing stopped, and the device beeped, and Cloud's dull voice spoke up from the other end of the line. "Vincent."

He almost sounded like he was expecting the call. I raised an eyebrow and took another drink. "Nah, it's Reno." I said casually. Cloud's voice took on a sudden edge.

"Where's Vincent? Is he alright?"

I considered the question. Could be, I guess. Tseng seemed to think he'd be fine. "Sleepin'. I think he tired himself out being dog-boy or somethin."

"Dog-boy?" Cloud sounded skeptic. Well, I thought it was a pretty accurate description.

"Limit break?" I offered by way of an explanation. "Least Tseng said so. Listen, Cloud, I need ta ask-"

"What do you mean? The Galian Beast?" Cloud interrupted. I frowned at the phone. "What did you do to him Reno? I swear, if ShinRa has hurt him…"

"You'll what?" I scoffed. "We ain't done shit. Some bastards launched an attack on Healin and Tseng sent him after them. He chewed them ta bits. Cloud-"

"Tseng 'sent' him after them?" The blonde interrupted again. I was getting irritated now. I didn't go to all the effort of pinching Vincent's phone so I could have a girly chat with my worst enemy. Because, that was essentially what this was, to men like us, at least. "Whatever. I'm assuming Rufus hasn't killed you yet, then."

"Listen, Spikey!" I snapped, slamming the glass in my hand down on the table in frustration. "I called you fer a reason, alright? Jus' shut up fer one second."

I think I heard a mumbled "don't call me that" and I was about to retaliate that I could call him whatever I liked, but bit my tongue instead. Yeah, I'd not call him that from now on.

"Whatever. Look, when ya found me dead…"

"I already told you, I don't know any more, Reno." I'd just about had enough of his interruptions. I snarled down the phone and fought the temptation to snap it shut and hurl it across the room.

"I know that! Jus' was wondering if ya saw my chopper… or what happened to Tseng's bike, while I'm askin'."


"Yeah, fuckin' oh." I scowled. What was with him? He seemed to have come to some sort of agreement inside his head that he could treat me however the fuck he wanted now. Not that he didn't before, but at least back then, back… before last night he would fucking shut up on the phone for two seconds and listen.

"Sorry Reno. I saw nothing of your helicopter."

"Yer serious?" I sighed, dropping my face into the palm of my free hand. I propped the phone on my shoulder and reached for the rum again. "What 'bout Tseng's bike?"

"That belongs to your boss? You've made a right mess of it." I almost thought for a second that I heard the blonde snicker at the other end of the line.

"Fuck you." I muttered harshly, draining my glass. "How bad is it?"

"It'll be fine. I've taken it down to the garage with mine and I'll have it fixed up soon enough."

I frowned slightly, unsure what to say. That was pretty nice of him, however much we fought… "Ya… don' have ta do that, y'know." I told him quietly.

"It's fine, Reno. I enjoy working on bikes."

"…Thanks, Cloud."

We spoke for another minute or so – it was almost comfortable, actually, talking to him over the phone. Not awkward because I didn't have to look at him and we weren't physically near enough to try and kill each other. He asked me if I was okay, how much shit I was in and that – I made the situation sound better than it was, I'm not really sure why; I guess I just didn't feel like getting all emotional over the phone to Cloud or running up a massive bill for Vincent. I told him Rufus wanted extra security – a simple enough lie – and that I was on the job because I'd been breaking the rules. I suppose, the whole having to bunk with Rufus thing probably didn't sound so bad to an outsider anyway. It was probably just me.

"Cool. I'm gonna… hang up now, anyway." I said with a frown. "Thanks fer fixing the bike fer me."

"It's fine, Reno." Cloud repeated and I could almost hear a smile in his voice now. It creeped me out. Talking on the phone with me shouldn't make anyone happy. "I'll phone in if there's any news of the helicopter."

"Yer. Oh, and… Cloud?" He grunted slightly in response. "'Bout this Galian Beast or whatever. There anything I can do fer Vincent? He's in a pretty bad shape…"

The blonde chuckled at the other end of the line. "You actually care? Never thought I'd see the day. No, nothing, just make sure he isn't woken up before he's ready. You're all gonna regret it."

He hung up then and when I put the phone down, my face was twisted in a scowl. I was fucking fed up of people being surprised that I cared about anything! I was human, after all. There's loadsa shit I cared about.

Like Vincent, for example. I was really hoping Cloud could have given me a better answer than that about how to deal with him. Maybe I would have been fine with letting him sleep for days, if he needed to… if Tseng hadn't had me dump him in my bedroom. Kinda needed that.

I wondered what Cloud could have meant by 'you're all gonna regret it' though. It couldn't be so bad – obviously he was speaking from experience and he wasn't dead, or anything. Well, at least not currently. I'd learned just today that the whole life/death thing didn't seem to matter for shit. I'd been dead. I wasn't gonna get over that. Fucking weird.

At least I was even more grateful now that I hadn't woken Vincent up when I'd stolen his phone. I'd been beat up, knocked over, shot and mauled too many times today. It was late, too. Fuck drinking the rest of the rum; I'm sure I could sleep now it had numbed the pain in my leg. Standing up slowly, I took a few careful steps across the kitchen and found I really could walk just fine now. Tseng had said to clean up the wounds but fuck it, that could wait til after I'd got a couple of hours sleep. I shoved the rum into the back of one of our cupboards. I'd got a considerate way down it already and it was beginning to give me that nice warm feeling a good spirit does when it settles in your stomach. At least it hadn't killed me yet – I wasn't going to make a habit of drinking bottles I found in miscellaneous cardboard boxes in abandoned buildings though, just in case. The cupboards were all almost empty now – between the others having been away so long so Elena couldn't order in a few months supplies of food and Vincent being here to actually use what ingredients we had left to cook with instead of just grabbing a frozen meal from the cooler there wasn't really anything substantial in the lodge at all.

I picked up Vincent's phone, wondering what the hell to do with it. I couldn't leave it in the kitchen, obviously, and I really didn't want to have to explain why I had it when he finally did wake up, or go to the trouble or trying to put it in his back pocket again now Cloud had warned me about waking him early… and there was also the issue of where I was gonna sleep tonight. I figured Rude's room was the best bet. I didn't feel much like sleeping on the couch with those two tied up in the lounge. It's pretty hard to sleep with two angry pairs of eyes watching you.

I left Vincent's phone on mattress beside him. It seemed like the best bet, because he wouldn't know that it hadn't just fallen out of his pocket. Apart from the fact his pocket was unbuckled but… his pants were so fucking ruined anyway, I could blame that. I was out the door in a second, pulling it shut quietly behind me so he wouldn't stir. Not that I expected him to, because I'd freaking rolled him face down and he hadn't done much more than nuzzle the pillow like a sleepy child.

Rude's bed was freaking bliss. I didn't even begin to notice just how exhausted I was until I was lying down; I almost didn't have the energy to strip down, but I forced myself to anyway. I doubt Rude would have appreciated my stinky, dusty, bloody pants in his sheets and I hated sleeping in my shirt unless I had to or was too drunk to notice. It's so constricting.

I lay down and my last thought as I was closing my eyes was fuck, it was finally over. My day from hell was finally fucking over. I grinned to myself, feeling the pull of a deep sleep washing over me.

The sound almost didn't register at first, but it was inevitable. My eyes shot open as soon as I realized what it was, and I was out of the bed before my head had even caught up and at the bedroom door. For fucks sake, what could possibly be going wrong now? I just wanted to sleep for crying out loud!

But the scream was coming from Rufus' room. I slid down the hallway in my bare feet, catching the door to the presidents bedroom and throwing it open before I'd even stopped moving.

"Sir?" I called into the darkness, hand slamming at the wall, feeling for the light switch. I caught it, clicking it on and freezing on the spot. There was blood.

Oh, shit. There was blood in his hair, and on his bed sheets, and his fingers were clawing at the skin of his chest like something was trying to break out of it. The worst part was that his eyes were wide open, staring at the ceiling like it was some massive fucking beast, ready to feast on him. I was only staring, still on the spot, for a split second before I was at his side but the image of him laying there was burning into my head.

"Rufus!" I grabbed his wrists, prying his hands away from his chest with the kind of strength you only have when you're panicking. Because he was fucking strong when he was resisting – when did he get so strong? I climbed up onto the bed, wrestling his arms down to his sides and kneeling on each of them so I could free my hands up to stop the bleeding. I called his name again, although I really doubted he could hear me. He was no more responsive than the last time I'd seen him have a stigmatalime breakdown, which was all I could pin this too. What else could it fucking be? It was hardly a nightmare.

I stripped the pillowcase from the pillow beside him and wadded it against his head. Tseng was at my side, but I was concentrating too hard to pay much attention to him. He must have heard the scream too.

"Where's he bleeding, Reno?" Tseng asked, his usually calm voice cracking with panic.

"Dunno. Head I think. This has happened before?" I lifted the pillowcase to get a better look at the blood. It seemed to be coming from up into his hairline.

"Never." Tseng told me quickly, tearing apart some of the other sheets and dabbing at the scratches on his chest.

"Check his meds. Check to see if he's taken them!" I demanded, although he was probably already on it, as Rufus started to thrash to try and free his arms and clawing at my thighs in the process.

Tseng nodded. I caught the action in my peripheral vision, although I didn't pay much attention. "I'm on it." He said, and was gone from my side. Rufus' breathing sped up, and he went limp under me, swallowing slowly and closing his eyes like he was in pain. Which he had to be, really. His lips moved in speech, but not sound came out.

"Come on sir," I said through gritted teeth, wiping at the blood again. It wasn't dripping anymore. "I can't hear ya if ya don' make a sound!"

Whatever the fuck had been bleeding seemed to have stopped and the wound seemed to have closed up already. It was seriously disconcerting. Whatever this fucking disease was, it was the weirdest thing I'd ever seen. I threw the bloody pillowcase aside, wiping Rufus' hair back out of his eyes with one hand. Fuck, his skin was hot.

Now he'd calmed the fuck down, I finally noticed how compromising my position was, especially in my underwear. I bet this looked great to Tseng. I snickered slightly, and wondered what the hell I was supposed to do now. I couldn't move because I didn't trust him not to start attacking himself again.

He tried to speak again, opening his eyes slightly and almost focusing on me. Or, on the ceiling above me. I couldn't tell.

Tseng was at my side again, holding the pillbox. "He's taken them." He said in a calmer voice, seeing that Rufus was still. "I have honestly no idea what's happening to him, Reno."

I frowned. Well, that made two of us. "He's breaking a fever." I said in reply. "Can ya get a cold cloth? I don' wanna move in case he starts thrashing again."

"Of course." Tseng replied, and was gone again. Rufus was still writhing slightly. He had to be both delirious and hallucinating from the fever or he was freaking possessed. But the blood? It had to be something to do with this disease no one except Cloud seemed to know anything about. It looked like the aftermath of a bloody experiment that'd gone wrong. It was horrific.

Slowly he stopped moving altogether and closed his eyes. His breathing calmed and slowed to short sharp breaths that were far from healthy but much better than before. I relaxed, releasing my grip on him and sitting back between his legs so I wasn't straddling or crushing him. Poor fucking bastard. I couldn't imagine what it was like, being that sick. When I was a child, back before Rufus' father started to give up on the condition his city was in entirely, my mother and I used to get benefits. She'd get a small amount of gil a week for being a single parent, and an unemployment benefit. It was far from enough for two people to live on but it was supposed to encourage people to clean themselves up and get a real job, turn their lives around. That way, the slums would clean themselves up and the city would return to its original, glorious state; or at least he saw it that way. The old President always did like to control everything with money. However, my mother did get one other weekly payment, which was a health benefit, because I was ill. I was never really ill, but up until the age of about 7 or 8 I truly believed I was, because she told me I was. The extra money wasn't the only benefit for her – she wouldn't have to do anything for me either, like send me to school, or take me out, or teach me to swim. She could just leave me in bed for days, tell me I needed bed rest if I ever wanted to get better, and that the reason there was no food for me that week was because it would make me throw up. It was a brilliant, although horrendous, plan on her part. I was a kid, gullible to anything my precious mother said, and so I believed her. The other benefit was, of course, the pills. Prescription medication, for free. No doctor would check me over without charging but that didn't stop the benefit scheme from providing medication for whatever condition was declared. I'd go with her to get the medicine and she'd cover my face with her make up, and tell me it would make me look a little healthier when really she was trying to make me look like death. Then she'd tell me she'd mashed the pills into my food, put them in my drink, given them to me when I was sleeping. I'd believe her, leaving her to pop them whenever she felt like it. Makodine, the drug, was still in it's early stages of manufacture back then, and people would die from even the smallest doses. She had other ways to get high.

Makodine would have been the reason why the benefit scheme fell apart, too. No one would ever use their money to improve their lives. They'd use it to shoot up, and forget their troubles altogether. It had the same effect as turning over a new leaf, but didn't require any of the effort.

When I realized I wasn't sick, I left. I was bold enough to tell her what I thought of her, and she told me if I didn't like it, I could get out. So I did, and by the time I got back, she was dead. But that's another story, for another time… since I realized she was lying, I've never really known 'illness'. I've always been healthy, even when people around me are contagious. I guess it's compensation for being made to believe all that shit.

But anyway, back to Rufus. I started dozing slightly as I relaxed, against my will; I was so exhausted that I drifted off to sleep right there beside him.