Once More, With Feeling... – Chapter 42: Odd Jobs and Espionage

Summary: Business continues as usual.

Author: Illusor Meaneld

Rated T: for Descriptive violence and injuries, No Adult Situations, No Cussing.

Disclaimer: I did not create, and do not own the characters from Final Fantasy 7, They are owned by Square-Enix, and I am simply borrowing them for my own (and hopefully your) enjoyment.


The next few days were much less eventful; Tseng in particular enjoyed his reprieve, using his time to coax his Turks into a smoother routine. Reno was working better with alternate partners than he ever had before. The piles of paperwork finally seemed to be decreasing, much to his secretary's relief. Cloud was working well with his light work load, completing all of his loads of paperwork expeditiously.

Tseng paused on that thought with a slight frown, actually he might prefer if Cloud were slightly less efficient, he was running out of courier work for the youth. It was with this thought in mind that the older Turk stepped out of his office turning habitually towards Mrs. Stone, questions dying on his lips as he observed his secretary idly filing her nails. An activity Tseng could not recall witnessing from her during work hours.

Cori looked up before Tseng could do more than narrow his eyes slightly. "All work completed sir." She said with a wry smile.

"The files?" Was Tseng's automatic inquiry, one eyebrow raising a fraction.

"Sorted, sent, signed, spellchecked, and synchronized." She sent back, "That little blond assistant you gave me… I think he needs a hobby."

Tseng nodded, discarding his initial plan of asking Mrs. Stone for suggestions on keeping Cloud occupied, the errands would only occupy so much of the youth's day. Tseng mentally sighed, and shuffled the puzzle to the backburner of his mind to stew for a while. In the meantime he headed for the SOLDIER mess hall, to meet up with one of his subordinates. Eirene was currently in charge of investigating the Avalanche hacking job, and Tseng often got her updates in the lunch rooms. 'because it was such a discrete place to meet' she would say, 'who would think of discussing a covert operation here?' Tseng knew it was really because she liked to ogle all the SOLDIER's and they tended to come in straight to lunch from workout, sometimes sans shirts.

Sure enough, when Tseng stepped into the Mess hall, Eirene was perched in the far corner, gazing out at the rest of the room. her attention seemed particularly taken by an auburn haired SOLDIER 2nd class, who was standing next to a table of his peers laughing, with his shirt draped over his shoulder. Eirene's eyes held that particularly glazed look that meant she was exceptionally enjoying the view, and if not for her generally professional demeanor, Tseng would not have been surprised to see her visibly drooling.

"Do you have a status update?" Tseng inquired in a casual undertone as he approached the blonde young woman.

"In general the SOLDIERs here need a shower, but they're getting quite a workout." Eirene responded with a sly smile.

Needed a shower, … Tseng thought carefully, Eirene always liked to speak in riddles, not the standard code, as some other Turks used. With Eirene, the words were always different, even if the message was the same. Quite a workout… her team was working hard? Or Avalanche was… and … needed a shower, … if she meant the operation had gone badly, she would have said, 'had a good wash' as in, 'the mission was a wash', but needing a shower, …

"It makes me wonder who faired better, the SOLDIERs or the test dummies they were practicing on." Tseng murmured in reply, hoping to draw out more information.

Eirene laughed, "The maintenance workers are still trying to replace the stuffing, I'm sure."

So Shinra did well, their enemies not so much. … maintenance workers, was that a new code? Or incidental to the conversation.

"Interesting weather we're having today."

Eirene's laughter died, "Weather? Really?" Her sardonically unimpressed gaze leveled on Tseng, "We're talking about the weather now?"

Tseng shrugged, "I have perhaps a lot on my mind, … other than shirtless SOLDIERs of course." Hopefully she would take that as a hint that he still had more questions to address.

"Our friend Reeve over there seems to be enjoying the view too, … though he's not the only one."

Tseng did a double-take, Oh, Reeve actually was here, and also paying attention to the SOLDIERs. Though that was probably incidental to the message also, 'not the only one' was the important part. More than one hacker perhaps?

"You drink decaf coffee right?" Eirene perked up.

"I drink tea."

"I can't taste the difference really," She blithely replied, "But some people say they shouldn't even be listed in the same category."

Couldn't taste the difference, she wasn't sure that there were two different hackers, but there could be. Not listed in the same category. If there were two, they might not even be part of the same group. Tseng was intrigued.

"You haven't touched your food." Eirene continued, "Eyes bigger than your stomach?"

How much do you have on your plate? He mentally translated

"I think I'll save it for later." Tseng returned with a smile, "Don't forget to pay your check on your way out." Which means: 'I look forward to reading your official report.'

Tseng stood and made his way to the door, but paused before actually leaving, his gaze drifting across the room. Reeve WAS acting strangely, The Turk decided on a detour.

"Good evening Mr. Tuesti." Tseng greeted as he sat down across from the Head of Urban Development. "Enjoying the fine cuisine?"

Reeve looked up startled, and then smiled ruefully down at the plate of food he'd been playing with.

"Well, I'm kind of working on something." Reeve chuckled softly, "Am I being that obvious? I was trying to be subtle,"

"Well I am a Turk, we're trained to look for unusual changes in behavior." Tseng cocked his head slightly to one side curiously, "Is it classified?"

"Well no," Reeve paused, contemplatively, then looked up with a surprisingly insightful expression. "Actually, maybe you can help me." With one last measuring glance he continued, "It's a moral problem actually, because of the tenuous cease-fire, the SOLDIERs are still on active duty, but without enough duties to occupy them. I have some ideas, but… well… I don't really have anyone to bounce ideas off of, it's not like there's an official consultant for keeping SOLDIERs occupied." Reeve sighed as he continued to idly stir his food on his plate. "It is a bit more work than I initially anticipated."

This was one of those moments for Tseng, where a hunch ended up giving him the solution to several problems at once. "I actually happen to have an Intern on light duty due to injury, a particularly creative individual who is currently enrolled in the SOLDIER Preparation program, and friends with several of the SOLDIERs. I have been trying to find something keep him occupied"

Reeve blinked hard once, eyes widening in surprise. "Wait, he's in both programs?"

"I did mention 'creative', he initially enrolled for SOLDIER, I have been trying to change his mind."

Reeve appeared intrigued, "Well that sounds perfect!" he exclaimed, nearly knocking his food from the table as he leaned forward, "When do you suppose I can borrow him?"

"I'll send him your way."

Reeve paused, "I'm not taking him away from important classwork am I?"

"If he has any work left at the end of the day, I will be surprised." Tseng returned.

Generally looking impressed with that assessment Reeve's attention visibly wandered into contemplation, Tseng took the opportunity to excuse himself from the distracted Department Head, and made his way from the lunch room once more.

Tseng continued with his other errands, next heading to the Science levels to check in on Professor Hojo. Were the Head of the Science Department in a more stable mood, he might have sent one of the younger Turks, … but whenever the Scientist turned particularly manic, the policy was to send someone undeniably indispensable as a safe-guard to them going missing.


Genesis lounged with his legs propped up on one of the benches in the SOLDIER mess hall, watching the Thirds gallivanting around the place like it was their personal playground. The red-headed lieutenant snorted in disgust. What immature behavior, showing off to the mere potential of feminine attention, … and in fact Genesis could spot at least three females raptly admiring the brutes. One of which he was fairly certain was a Turk, … she looked like she was ready to start drooling any second, Genesis noted as the corner of his lip curled disparagingly. His gaze flickered to an actual blue suit, and sure enough there was Tseng, standing up from what looked like a conversation with some official or other Genesis thought he'd seen before. Obviously not someone he'd ever taken interest in, … for a moment the Lieutenant considered investigating the unusual conversation, but rather quickly determined he couldn't dredge up enough interest to care.

He turned back to his current pass-time, scooping up the four dice that lay on the table before him, shuffling them in his hand before rolling them across the polished surface. he glanced at the numbers, murmured a phrase under his breath as he flipped open the Hard Cover of loveless he held in his other hand. Smiling as he read the passage before him. He repeated this activity several times before he was interrupted by the heavy shudder of the table suddenly taking Angeal's considerable weight. After a moment's silence, and another roll of the dice, the larger man piped up curiously,

"Hey Gen, what'cha doing?"

"I am testing my memory," Genesis returned, gesturing to the table, "The dice indicate Act, Scene, and Line. If I can quote the results accurately, … I win." There was a long pause, during which Genesis rolled the dice once more.

"Can I burn your book?" Angeal abruptly interjected, sounding perfectly serious.

Genesis yanked his book away, "How DARE You!" He snarled in outrage, tucking the precious novel hastily into the inside pocket of his jacket, snatching up the dice a moment later, before the larger SOLDIER could place eager paws on them. "Don't you have anything better to do?" Genesis spat as he glared up at Angeal.

Unperturbed, the black-haired SOLDIER raised one eyebrow, "Who around here has ANYTHING better to do? Our pet project has been shelved, there's no armies to fight, my puppy has had as much training as I can give him without building him a hamster wheel, and Sephiroth is, … well,… Sephiroth."

"We could always go and SEE Loveless." Genesis grumbled,

"Just the two of us? … well THAT would start rumors…"

"Well why don't you take your PUP… on a WALK then!"

Angeal chuckled back, "Only if you come with us."

"Why? You shouldn't need MY help to teach that mutt to heel!"

"Because if I catch you playing your dice game again, I really WILL burn your book." Angeal returned with a grin.

Genesis jerked from his seat with a snarl, "You Uneducated Philistine!""

"Love you too Gen-Gen."

"Illiterate Troglodyte!"

Angeal stood chuckling, and led them both from the lunch-room, ignoring the litany of insults Genesis grumbled as they walked. It didn't take very long to track down the 'Pup'. They eventually found him doing squats in one of the workout rooms,

"Do you ever assign him anything else?" Genesis grouchily queried as he watched the lanky teen work out.

"I never assign him squats anymore, he likes them too much."

"I'd say it was an unhealthy obsession, … but well, … he's like the Shinra Rarab… he just keeps going, and going, and going…"

Angeal paused, frowning, before glancing at Genesis incredulously, "Are you talking about that old furry mascot? I can't believe you still remember that thing…"

"Well it fits."

"Disturbingly," Angeal agreed.

At that point Zack finally noticed their presence, and perked up eagerly like the puppy he was nicknamed for. "ANGEAL!" He called, bounding excitedly over, "Hey! What's going on?"

"We're going for a wal… er … on a mission. Genesis and I are taking you out for some real-time training. How does that sound?"

"REALLY? Awesome! Are we leaving right now?" Zack bounced in place, eventually dropping back into squats as he shifted in place.

"Down boy," Genesis muttered, smirking victoriously as Angeal snorted.

"What's so funny?" Zack gamely asked upon hearing the noise.

"Genesis was making jokes." Angeal responded with a straight face.

"… Genesis jokes?" Zack returned with sincere surprise

"Hey!" the red-headed SOLDIER protested, expression instantly transforming into a frown.

"He tries." The black-haired SOLDIER 1st responded, patting Zack on the head like his nick-namesake.

"C'mon Zack, let's see if we can't instill some common-sense into you this time."

"Awwww, Angeal… I have common sense!"

Genesis snorted again.


Reno followed the dark suit in front of him as they walked through the slums, the red-head had his hands in his pockets, his posture in it's usual slouch as he tried to engage his companion in conversation. "So man, … Your name's, Rude right? I thought ya had a partner,"

Rude nodded,

"Who's yer partner again?"

"Eirene."

"Wow, crazy blonde lady? That's gotta suck. … She tried ta carve mah eyes out once man… can' imagine bein' stuck with'er alla time…"How come she ain' here?"

"Special assignment." The stoic man finally replied,

"What'ser assignment?"

"special."

Reno snorted, "I know that, I mean, what'she doin'? I know yer s'pose to keep special assignments hush-hush and whatev. But I can keep a secret ya know?" Reno grinned up at the taller man.

"computer forensics."

"Oh, … what's that?"

"forensics for computer data."

"Sounds complicated yo," Reno wrinkled his nose at the thought, "not somethin' I'd be good at I think, but I betcha my partner Cloud would rock that."

Rude grunted, which Reno took as encouragement. "Cloud's the most awesome partner ever! Don'cha think?"

"Maybe."

"I knew it! You totally agree with me!" the red-head cheered, but the darker man's expression never changed,

"No."

"What? But you just said Cloud was awesome!"

"Maybe."

Reno paused, scowling, his eyes narrowing in suspicion. "Yer doin' that on purpose,"

There was perhaps the slightest twitch in Rude's expression this time, "Maybe."

Reno sighed, wrapping his hands behind his head as they continued to trot along. It didn't take very long for them to reach a tallish building, it had the words 'Shinra' written on the side, less than ideally visible due to graphiti and damages but despite the rough edges, it clearly had better than usual security, a solid door and reinforced windows.

"So what was our mission again?" the red-headed Turk inquired as he gazed at the deceptively rickety-looking architecture.

"Counter-espionage,"

"ooh, nifty." Reno grinned up at the building with possibilities, "Who's our target?"

"Hired Wutaian insurgents."

"Cloud totally would have been awesome for this."

Another grunt from his quiet partner, Reno sighed under his breath in mild aggravation. How could anyone get through life being so … dull? … the guy needed to do something fun, release some tension, blow some stuff up… SOMETHING.

As he quietly assessed the building Reno cocked his head to one side, "I dunno 'bout you, but I jus' can't picture a ninja-spy comin' in through the front door yo. I know Cloud'd be smarter'n that a'least."

Rude actually cracked a tiny smile this time. "Doesn't make sense to me either."

"tha's what I was thinkin' yo, le's do this 'roun'a back."

With a particularly 'satisfied cat' grin, Reno led the way around back, eyeing the fire-escapes and tall nearby buildings speculatively.

"So, how many a' Cloudy's moves've ya seen?"

Rude sighed,

"What'sa matter?"

"Do you talk about anything but Cloud?"

Reno paused, glaring at Rude suspiciously, gauging him for a long moment, "You've got partner-envy, don'cha?"

"No."

"Ya totally do! Who WOULDN'T be envious of Cloudy?"

"No"

"Ya absolut-" Reno paused, mid-sentence holding up one hand as he spotted a shadow on one of the roofs. Both Turk's stood unmoving as the mottled shadow made it's way swiftly and silently down between two of the neighboring buildings. The cloaked figure, dressed almost entirely in varying shades of grey, blended neatly with the dim colorless alleys of the slums, was nearly invisible to those who weren't watching for the signs. The rather amorphous individual padded quietly from the alley, approaching the building Reno and Rude stood near. As he or she approached one of the reinforced windows, the barely noticeable glimmer of tools appeared in one hand, and stretched out as if to touch the edge of the framed glass.

Suddenly, Rude cleared his throat, the loud noise almost making Reno jump, and noticeably startling the would-be insurgent. The ninja immediately straightened, tools vanishing into grey non-descript cloth. Both parties eyed each other for one tense moment, and after the awkward stare-down, the ninja suddenly shifted into a casual 'I-wasn't-doing-anything' pose and walked away back down the alley, no longer concealing the sounds of his or her footfalls. Once the ninja was well gone, Reno turned back to his taller partner.

"So, … how come we're not, ya know, … chasin' that guy down or something yo?"

"We're currently on cease-fire." Rude returned, Reno frowned,

"but,… then what're we doin' here?"

"We're intimidating 'that guy' into not doing something, … stupid."

Reno paused in careful thought, mulling over the mission and it's results. "We totally shoulda brought Cloud, he'd be like, … the most awesome 'crazy-wutaian-spy' intimidator ever!"

Rude sighed.


((Author's Note: I know it has been a while, … but as I keep stressing, I've no intention of giving up on this fic, … just been having life get in the way, and situation making it difficult to find a good place to write. … I do have to wonder if the people who keep inquiring in worry about my intent with this story, actually READ any of my author's notes though… as I think I've said this at least a half-dozen times… if not more.

Anyways, … Several scenes in this chapter, … all are PERTINENT to the story. … but I added them here in particular because I've had a number of particularly Cloud-centric chapters lately, and wanted to switch things up… I also intentionally gave you a SOLID Rude section, just for those people who fail to remember he already showed up before in my fic.

And also … I have mentioned Eirene before, so she's not a random introduction. (she lives near Reno.)

So I hope you enjoy! And more is coming so no frets.

-Jianre M. A.K.A … Illusor Meaneld.))