Author's Note: I apologize for the delay in posting this one. I had a brilliant idea as to where to take this, and lost it only an hour later, before I could get to that point. So I've been spending weeks trying to think of exactly where I wanted this story to go. This one goes out to Cerebra Leader Aoki and Brian. I know it's not up to par with the others, but I had SO much trouble writing this one. Kept losing track of where I wanted to take it.
Disclaimer: I own nothing except the plot bunnies. Review Carrots are their favorite food.
The phone rang.
Tseng made a tsk sound at the back of his throat, then finally hung up. Reno was late. While others may have taken one look at the Turk and guessed that this couldn't be an abnormal occurrence, Tseng knew otherwise. It was part of Reno's defense - that lax, devil-may-care appearance. The truth was, the red-head was rarely ever late to work.
And he always had a good reason if he was.
Worry wriggled its way into the Turk commander's mind, and finally he flicked his phone back on, dialing another number.
"Commander Hewley, I apologize for disturbing you, but I require the use of one of your Seconds."
"I'll ignore the fact that you could guess so easily. Reno hasn't appeared for work today, and..."
"If Zack doesn't already know what's wrong, he can find out more easily than sending another Turk."
"I'll send him over."
Ten minutes later, a worried young SOLDIER poked his dark-haired head around the open portal into Tseng's office.
"Ah, Zack... come in." The nervous swordsman entered as he had been bid, and stood at attention across from Tseng's desk. "Were you with Reno last night?"
Zack blushed, but shook his head. "No, sir. The night before, yes, but last night, he and I both had things to take care of." He paused here, seeming to consider what Tseng might have wanted from him, then shook his head. "I'm sorry if I'm not being any help."
Tseng turned his head in a minor, dismissive indication. He looked a little pensive, then managed a strained smile. He was worried, Zack could tell. It was touching, in its own way.
"Do you have a key to his apartment?"
To this, the 2nd Class SOLDIER nodded. "Of course."
The Turks commander's smile brightened at this, becoming far more genuine.
"Good. I need you to go over there and check on him. He hasn't come into work, and he isn't answering his phone."
Zack gave a low whistle, but nodded. "I'll call in once I'm there."
With a small salute, he hopped up and hurried out of the office - and the ShinRa building. What was wrong with his lover? What kept him from his duties?
He fretted the entire way over to that lovely red-head's apartment. Nothing tended to keep Reno from his job. Even the promise of a morning in bed together, complete with breakfast, a massage and sex hadn't kept Reno put - though the impish Turk had insisted on a rain-check for a day he had off. Zack laughed at the memory, but it still drew up more worries and doubts.
He slid his key in the lock in Reno's door, calling softly into the seemingly empty abode.
"Reno.... Hey, love, you home?" His voice continued to sound - not too loud, not too soft.
For a few frightening minutes, he got no response. Then, as he drew closer to the bedroom, he heard a low groan to follow his call.
The bedroom door was nudged open and Zack breathed a faint sigh of relief - Reno was laying on the bed, a small bucket to the side of the bed. The groan had come from the pale man, and now that the door was opened, Zack could tell the sound was one of discomfort. Pain, even.
He hurried over. "Reno?!"
A moan sounded from the redhead's lips, and bright blue eyes opened, hazed with fever. "Shit... Oh, love.." he murmured, then shifted quickly to bring the bucket up the moment he felt those muscles tense - Reno quickly dispatched some of the contents of his stomach into the waiting bucket... and only then did Zack notice it'd been used a few times already.
"Ehhh... I'll just clean this out for you," he insisted, then leaned down to press a hopefully soothing kiss to the fevered forehead of his lover. He carried the bucket to the bathroom, turned the water to the shower on, then set the bucket beneath the spray. Eventually, the shower would fill the bucket, diluting what was inside and making it just a bit more bearable to view as he poured it out. In the meantime, he flicked his phone open to call Tseng. A brief conversation informed the Turk commander that Reno was ill - very ill - and that Zack would be taking care of him. A request was made to inform Angeal, and after that was agreed to, Zack canceled the call and turned his attention to more important things - like getting to the bucket before that mess overflowed.
Once the bucket was clean, he began raiding the closet for medicine, knowing that Reno likely hadn't even had a chance to take anything that would make him feel better if he hadn't even had the chance to call into work. He found some cold and flu medicine and took it out, checked the date and nodded to himself. It would do.
He poured out a little more than the recommended dosage - while SOLDIERs were quite drug-resistant thanks to their Mako treatments, Turks had their own drug tolerance training to go through - which he'd learned wasn't exactly the most fun training in the world. Then he carried the stuff over to Reno and pressed the little cup to the redhead's lips. "Come on, love. Drink up. It'll make you feel better."
Reno's glazed eyes managed a brief moment of focus upon Zack's face, then lips parted and he willingly downed the foul-tasting medicine. His face screwed up in an adorable (at least, according to Zack) grimace, and eyes closed afterward, head flopping on the pillow behind him. Poor guy. Zack tutted, then kissed Reno's forehead (a habit, he'd admit it) and slipped out of the bedroom. It was time for soup-making. Feed a fever, right?
He rummaged through Reno's collection of food, picking out one item or another. Once upon a time, he'd actually been surprised to find a reasonable array of food stored - healthy mixed with unhealthy. The only difference was that Reno's food was all easy-to-make. His lover was NOT a good cook, and if something involved more than three steps, there was a good chance he'd mess it up somehow. But there were some fresh vegetables in the chiller, and some pre-cooked chicken.... okay, so it wasn't perfect. But with some chicken stock....
Every so often he'd have to put his soup on the lowest heat and rush over to Reno's side - the redhead sometimes had some impressive coughing fits, or he'd whimper Zack's name. But as time went on and the medicine began to work, the fever slowly faded and coherency eventually could be seen in the Turk's eyes. It wasn't perfect, no. Reno was obviously still sick. But he looked better and obviously felt better. At one point, Zack brought in both a glass of water and one of juice, and Reno managed a smile and a 'thank you' - Zack was proud of himself! Maybe there was something to all the fuss mothers made over sick children?
When Reno proved he could keep down the juice and water (thanks to the medicine, which Zack would insist he take again the moment it was safe for Reno to do so), that was when the contents of Zack's soup-pot were ladled carefully into a bowl and brought over to his sick lover. Noodles, vegetables and chicken, with a little salt and pepper. It took some effort to do so, but eventually the whole bowl disappeared into Reno's stomach and soon after, the redhead fell back asleep.
It was then, left by himself, that Zack realized there was no way Reno would be well enough to go to work the next day. Or the day after, he wagered. Hell, if this was the flu, Reno would be out for days!
His phone was brought out again, and this time the conversation with Tseng was a bit longer. Angeal was called into the Turk's office, and together the three worked out how Zack could spend most of the next few days taking care of Reno - he'd report in to work, collect a stack of papers on Angeal's desk, and process them while he was helping the redhead get better. Work was getting done, Reno was being nursed back to health, and none of the higher-ups would be subjected to whatever it was that Reno had. Then the idea that Zack was subjected to Reno's germs was brought up. So another addition to the plan - that Zack would be stopping into the medical wing to get checked up on and perhaps get inoculated if at all possible - was tacked on.
By the time Zack had finally gotten off the phone with the two, Reno had woken up. How long had it been? An hour? Two?
"Zack...?" the weak call came, and the 'puppy' of the SOLDIER militia grinned. It was nice to feel needed, wasn't it? He headed into the bedroom, perching on the edge of Reno's bed.
"I'm cold..." Zack lifted a hand to rest on Reno's forehead, tutting after a moment.
"You're not cold, love. You've got a fever." Which was making Reno -feel- cold.
"Oh. ... But I feel like I'm freezing..."
Zack pulled the covers back to curl up beside the redhead. "If it's infectious, I've already caught it. Move over a smidge and I'll help keep you warm." Blankets were drawn back over their bodies, and Zack wrapped his arms gently around his lover's waist. "Is that soup staying down?" he asked in concern, dropping a little kiss to Reno's shoulder.
"Mmhmm. Was yummy soup." Reno yawned, then turned to curl up into Zack's arms, tucking his head in the hollow of the SOLDIER's neck. "You're too good to me..."
Zack had to laugh. "Angeal thinks so, too. Tseng is just glad there's someone making sure you don't wreak havoc at headquarters."
Reno snickered a bit at that, nibbling a little along Zack's throat. "I'm good at causing chaos, aren't I?"
Zack chuckled, gently prying Reno's questing lips from his neck. "Easy there, tiger. You're sick, and the last thing either of us need is for you to spend what energy you have on that. You'll either fall asleep midway, or you'll be that much sicker tomorrow."
Reno sulked for a moment, then landed a fevered kiss on Zack's lips before finally agreeing and settling down again. "Fine. But just wait till I get better," he promised, leaving Zack wondering whether to be amused or scared. Reno could be damned determined, and though he was skilled at following through with whatever goal he set, there was often large explosions in his wake. Or pain. Or at least some form of chaos. He hadn't been joking when he'd said he was good at causing it.
"I'll hold you to it," Zack finally responded, then tucked Reno in gently.
The redhead grinned, but allowed himself to be secured for the time being. He honestly felt too sore and achy to move much - for now.
Three days continued like the first, and while initially Zack had no problem with it, by day three he was getting worried. He hadn't caught anything from Reno, for one. And secondly, Reno wasn't getting better. Not really. Oh, with medicine, he managed to keep food down most of the time, and he even tried to make a play for Zack now and again. But as the medicine wore off, each time Reno would lapse into a feverish, incoherent mess.
Something wasn't right.
By the end of the fourth day of this, Zack already had made up his mind. He'd be hauling Reno into ShinRa Headquarters for a medical check-up the next morning. This couldn't continue - not like this. Normal illnesses lasted a long time sometimes, yes, but usually there was some improvement after a few days. Zack was afraid that if he wasn't there constantly to give Reno the sticky syrup every few hours, the poor guy would relapse and die of dehydration from the fever.
Thus, the morning of the fifth day of Reno's illness, Zack tugged out a jacket to keep his lover warm, dressed him, and braced the woozy Turk against him as they walked to the ShinRa building.
The reaction of the staff on the first floor was worth whatever trouble it had been to get Reno in there. The poor guy looked like death warmed over, and the expression of shock and fear on the faces of those in the public greeting area had Zack snickering softly under his breath. Reno gave him an odd look, but Zack only grinned and dragged his sick companion into the employee elevators. He hit the button for the first of the medical floors, and held the redhead tight during the ascent.
The doors hissed open. Zack and Reno stepped out into relative quiet.
Then all hell seemed to break loose. One doctor glanced at Reno for just a moment before calling a nurse and a wheelchair over. Reno gave a half-hearted protest before being toppled into the rolling seat, and off they all went. Zack knew he must have appeared utterly bewildered as he trailed the hurried doctors and nurses. First stop was a lab, where blood was drawn, temperature was taken, eyes and ears were checked... the works. Reno looked positively miserable during the whole ordeal, casting his dark-haired lover what would have been rather deadly glares if he wasn't practically kitten-weak.
Then it was off to a small tube where Reno's entire body was scanned and x-rayed. Then just his head. Samples of hair and fingernails were taken. He was forced to drink something chalky, and another round of x-rays were taken. By the time the doctors finally let the poor guy settle down in a bed, he appeared utterly exhausted. A bit of medicine was given to him, and the redhead fell fast asleep.
Zack watched the poor man sleep for a few minutes, marveling at the steady rise and fall of his chest and the now-peaceful expression on his pale face. The doctors obviously felt there was -something- wrong with him, or their reaction wouldn't have been so quick, or so serious. What had started off seemingly like the flu now had Zack more worried than ever.
A hand lifted and dragged through Reno's unbound, crimson hair, petting through the soft strands idly till he, too, fell asleep.
They were both woken a few hours later by the gentle coughing sound of one of the doctors. "Mr. Fair? Mr. Reno..?" Zack's eyes opened groggily and he peered over at the white-lab-coat wearing young man. A clipboard was in his hand, and on it rested at least a dozen sheets of paper. Reno's test results, he was fairly certain.
"Doctor?" Zack greeted, already eager to hear the results. The doctor's face didn't look worried - just curious. That ought to be a good sign, right?
The sandy-blond man glanced to the still-sleeping Reno, and Zack's expectant expression turned slightly sheepish. Of course Reno ought to be awake for this. So a little bit of shoulder-shaking and soft whispering and they had a groggy-but-awake Turk nestled in a partially sitting-up position in the bed, watching the doctor warily.
"I've never personally seen this before, but some of the older physicians have. You're experiencing flu-like symptoms, with nausea included - am I correct, Mr. Reno?" The Turk nodded, then rested his head against Zack's upper arm. "We thought so. The last time this was seen was during battles with the Northern Continent a few decades ago. While it wasn't all-out war..."
Reno nodded. "There were still hostilities. The people of the Northern Continent wanted nothing to do with ShinRa or the Mako Reactors..."
The young doctor nodded with a small grin. "They found areas in the Planet that the Lifestream did not weave itself through - that it would avoid repeatedly, without fail. So they dug into the earth and discovered a few liquid-filled rocks as they worked. They tested these, and learned that the liquid had an adverse affect on the Lifestream - and in consequence, Mako."
Reno flinched. He already figured out what had happened, but let the man explain anyway.
"They began poisoning the SOLDIERS stationed in the Northern Continent. A little in their food. or drink would have them incredibly sick for weeks... months... however long it took for either the mako to leave their system, or the illness to eventually kill them through dehydration or starvation. The substance remained in the body for so long... it took nearly a year for a normal male to process the substance and be completely rid of it. By then, whatever enhancements the Mako had allowed for those SOLDIERs had been lost, and they had to go through treatment and training all over again. Some never bothered." The doctor paused, then shook his head, tapping against the clipboard.
"You're lucky that the Turks don't get much by way of Mako treatment. Had you received the amount a SOLDIER gets... well.. the amount of the invasive fluid in your body would have nearly killed you outright."
Both Reno and Zack stared at the doctor incredulously, then Reno sighed and nuzzled at the hand Zack was currently petting through his hair. "As much as... say... Sephiroth?" Reno queried, looking reluctant to mention it.
"Had a man like Sephiroth gotten this dose, he'd be six feet under by now. I don't care how strong he is. It'd have killed him," the doctor replied.
Reno groaned and shook his head, leading Zack to look at him curiously. "What is it?"
"Our fearless General has a sweet tooth, to some degree. And someone had given him a slice of cake downstairs - said their sister baked it or something, and they knew Sephiroth was fond of chocolate - it isn't exactly a secret. But the chocolate cake had mint in it, and apparently, he dislikes mint. I love it. So he gave his slice to me. I got sick that night."
The doctor seemed to muse over this for a moment or two, as the meaning behind what Reno had said registered in the SOLDIER and Turk's minds. Finally, Reno turned to the doctor once more and tipped his head to the side. "Has anyone seen the General as of late?"
Zack's eyes went wide, and he snatched up his phone, immediately beginning to call Angeal, Tseng, Lazard, and anyone else he could think of to check in on the General, explaining as quickly as he possibly could what was going on. While he worked on the security end of things, the doctor turned back to Reno.
"You have two options at this point. You can either wait this out – which will leave you feeling sick for months – or you can undergo a transfusion, which will hopefully remove both the poison and the Mako from your system. You'll be a bit weaker than you were before the Mako treatments, but in a few months, when we're certain that the substance has been fully eliminated from your body, you can undergo the treatments again. It will leave you slightly vulnerable for those few months, but I think its in yours and ShinRa's best interest to withstand that, rather than have you sick for that length of time."
Reno frowned to himself at the doctor's words, chewing on his lower lip. It shouldn't be such a hard decision - the benefits of the transfusion made it a no-brainer. But the risks involved in a transfusion…
"Let me think about it…" he finally said, leaning against the pillows behind him and sighing slightly. The doctor nodded, patted Reno's shoulder in what was likely supposed to be a comforting gesture, then left Reno and Zack alone. Zack hung up the phone shortly after, then sat down on Reno's bed near his feet, giving the redhead's knee a gentle squeeze.
"So… I told Tseng and Angeal, and they're getting the word out that someone's after the General, and what this crap does to a person. Tseng no longer is asking you to do any work, and Angeal only wants me to come in for training now – no more paperwork till you get better. " Reno grinned at that, pale fingers grabbing for Zack's hand. The comfort of that simple gesture did wonders.
"The doctor said that they want to try a transfusion. And they make a good point. But…"
Zack laughed and gave the hand in his own a little tug. "Don't tell me Reno of the Turks is scared of a little medical procedure?" Reno scowled at his lover at that.
"It's not that little," he huffed, then tried to cross his arms over his chest in that huffy protest only to find the IV stuck in one arm and the wires attached to the other were blocking the motion. "Great. Can't even get a good sulk in."
Zack laughed, but his expression softened. A light kiss was given to Reno's lips before he leaned back again and considered. "They're pros at this. And ShinRa would be rather sore to lose a company asset like yourself. You'll be just fine, Reno. They can't afford to waste the money they spent on training you just because of a transfusion. Besides, I'll be right here with you for the whole thing."
Reno sighed at that, but gave a small nod. "I guess so," he responded, and though he didn't sound all that convinced, the look in his eyes was that of a determined man. "Yeah, I'll do it," he finally uttered, then gestured to all of the beeping machines around him. "Anything to get away from all of this crap. I'm sick of tubes in me already." Another laugh came from Zack, and he ruffled the unbound red hair on top of the man before him.
"All right, I'll go get the doctor and we'll get this set up. Then you get to go home, recover and Tseng'll have you back to work in no time."
Reno smirked and shook his head. "I dunno… I'm kinda getting used to slacking off…"
Zack snickered again and gave Reno's longer hair a playful tug. The redhead would be back on the job in no time.
The next week was a blur to Reno. At least the medical center had him on a constant drip of medications and such that kept his symptoms at bay, but with all of the coming and going in his room, he was actually GLAD when the doctors came to take him for the transfusion. Tseng had been in the room at least twice a day. Rude had visited, followed by the President's son, Rufus ShinRa. That had shocked Reno – he'd no idea that he was that important in the company. Yeah, he was a Turk, but…. The President's son? Luckily for Reno, it had been a short visit, with a small box of goodies for Reno to eat after the operation, and a somewhat sarcastic pep-talk that ended in a little mutual joking.
But through it all, Zack was there. Often, he was just sitting in a chair by Reno's bedside, sometimes sleeping, sometimes laughing with him or playing around. And from time to time, when Reno was feeling scared or anxious, Zack was there with a gentle hand and soft words, calming the redhead down and distracting him from the upcoming procedure.
It was just a transfusion. It shouldn't scare Reno that much. He didn't even need to be sedated for it! But it didn't stop his nerves from getting the jitters the minute his thoughts drifted to it. Inserting the needles was a painful affair, as Reno's grip on both of Zack's were iron. Zack even bit his own lip – his fingers felt like they were caught in a vise!! Still, they relaxed once the procedure began, and time simply ticked by.
He fell asleep at some point. Zack probably did as well, but when his eyes opened, he was back in his hospital bed feeling like a truck had plowed him over – but the needles were out of his arms. And the procedure was over.
… And Sephiroth was standing in the doorway.
"Sir!" Reno squeaked as storm-blue eyes fixed on the silver-haired General. The man grinned softly and nodded.
"I came to see how you were doing, and to apologize. I was told that your illness was intended for me." His voice was surprisingly soft. Kind. Not many people got to see that particular aspect of the General.
"It wasn't your fault, sir. And besides, if you'd eaten the cake, they're pretty sure you would have died. I'd rather that not happen."
Zack gave a little nod at Reno's side, while Sephiroth only chuckled lightly. "It's true, though, sir. Better one of us sick, then you dead."
"Still, I'm sorry you became ill because someone wished me dead. And if you need any assistance in your return to work, do not hesitate to ask. If it is within my power to help you, I will." He grinned, then moved to duck out of the room. Reno stopped him.
"Sir… did they ever find the person who did this?"
The General nodded. "One of our employees was the sister of a Wutai sympathizer. One can feel some pity for her – she married a Wutaian before the war. However, her attempts on my life and unfortunately through that attempt, your own life, cannot go unpunished. She is being held for her crimes, and will be tried. And likely found guilty." The General gave a soft sigh of defeat, then smiled to the redhead. "Get some rest, Reno. Tseng looks forward to having you back in his arsenal of operatives."
Reno blushed, grinned, then nodded. "Yes, sir."
The General smiled at the fiery-haired Turk, then turned and left, letting a very buoyant Zack freedom to pounce on Reno, who laughed under a flurry of little kisses. "Hey, hey, hey! You heard the General! I'm supposed to be resting, you fiend!" Reno insisted amid his laughter.
"Fiend? You wound me," Zack pouted, then brushed a kiss across Reno's lips. "I'm just glad you're feeling better," he insisted. Of course, this won him a softer look from the Turk, who nodded and brushed a hand gently over Zack's cheek.
"Me too. I'm going to enjoy this down-time, though… and Tseng'll have to take it easy on me a little bit when I go back. No mako, after all. So … let's just try to focus on that bright side of things, yeah?"
Zack nodded and caught Reno up in another warm kiss.
A/N: Yup, no citrus. Just fluff. And a lil drama. And more fluff. I like fluff, can you tell? Read and review, folks!