A/N: Sssooo, it's been like six or seven months since I've updated. It's recently been brought to my attention that I might actually still have some readers out there so I decided to toss this out to test the waters. If there are still readers out there I'd like to know. I never completely stopped writing, I just slowed down and stopped posting.

Since it's been so long here's a very brief, and not detailed, recap. The current arc involves Genesis having been kidnapped by Hojo. He escaped by teleporting to Mt. Corel, ended up with Reno, and they both ended up with Sephiroth. In order for the trio to return to Midgar without suspicion as to where they have been, they decided to return to Mt. Corel, which is suspected to be AVALANCHEs current base of operation. This chapter starts the day they are to set out for the Mt. Corel reactor.

Story Rating: M

Chapter Warnings: Language

Current Pairings: Genesis, Reno, and Sephiroth, Tseng and Rufus, Rude and Cissnei

Disclaimer: I do not own any characters, scenery, or towns; Square Enix does.


47 – Residual

Sephiroth's eyes popped open and he fought to remain still. He wasn't sure what had woken him but something had and if it was a threat, it would be foolish to let an enemy know he was awake. Laying on his right side, he slit his eyes just enough to see and scanned the surrounding area. The fire had died down and it was still dark but his enhanced vision was unhindered. Nothing unusual.

More out of habit than true concern, the silver cast his senses out to scan the area. His Mako detection recoiled and came back at him like a sledgehammer to the head. His detection ability was similar to a spell and it felt like something had taken control of it and thrown it right back at him. Forcefully. There was a shuffling sound in the distance and he sat up with a wince. He swiveled and his eyes locked onto a figure several feet from camp. Even through his pounding headache he could tell by the figure's posture and movements that it was Genesis.

After dinner last night the trio had decided to keep guard since it was likely AVALANCHE was in the area. They had an odd number so he had taken the first watch and rotated with the auburn four hours later. Genesis was supposed to switch with Reno after two hours, so he hadn't been asleep for long if the auburn was still on guard. That or Genesis had opted not to wake the Turk and taken his shift. He watched the distant auburn toe the ground for a moment before quietly sliding out of bed and circling the dead fire.

Directly opposite of where he had been seated was a bundle of blankets. The only signifier that it was anything more was a tuft of red hair sticking out of one end of the pile. He resisted a grin and called the Turk's name quietly.

"Reno?" Receiving no response Sephiroth gently laid a hand on the pile where he assumed the redhead's shoulder would be and tried again, adding a little shake for emphasis. "Reno?" After a pause so long he was about to try again the blankets began to shift and the Turk's head emerged like a butterfly from a cocoon.

"Everything all right?" the redhead mumbled, hauling himself into a seated position. His tired and gritty eyes didn't want to focus and he started to rub them.

"Don't," said Sephiroth, grabbing the Turk's wrists.

The retort on the tip of Reno's tongue lost its edge at the look on Sephiroth's face. "What's wrong?"

"Get up."

"I am up." In way of reply Sephiroth stood and yanked the redhead to his feet with a scowl. "The hell's wrong? Is it AVALANCHE? Monsters? Where's Gen?"

"There's no danger and Genesis is patrolling the perimeter."

"Then wha-"

"I'm assuming you don't wish him to know of the link between you two, so start running and don't scratch your eyes."

"I don't –"

"Reno your eyes are literally swirling with Mako," Sephiroth replied, looking into the blue-green orbs. The striking spheres didn't come as a surprise and confirmed his suspicion that Reno, or rather Reno's power, had shoved his ability away, causing it to slam back into him. "You need to burn some of it out of your system before it gets worse. Casting spells is best but physical exertion will do. Genesis is west so head east and stay on this side of the mountain. I'll cover for you. Now go."

The SSC gave him a little push and Reno obediently took off, a million questions circling around in his still sleep fuzzy head. He and Sephiroth had speculated that his link with Genesis might help balance the man out but they hadn't known for certain. Hell they hadn't even been certain that there was a link between them. Guess we were right on both counts. Unfortunately being right didn't make him feel any better. In fact, at the moment it was terrifying as the reality of the situation came crashing down on him.

Reno had never considered joining SOLDIER so he'd never gone through any of the prerequisite testing. He'd be dead already if he wasn't at least partially compatible with Mako, but to what extent did his suitability run? How much could, or would, he take from Gen and what would it do to him? What would happen if he soaked up too much of the stuff and didn't get some of it out of his system? Would it burn him up? Would he explode? Would it drive him insane? What? He wasn't being monitored by the science department so he had no way of answering any of his questions. All he could do was talk to Sephiroth. The man probably wouldn't have all the answers but he obviously had a good grasp on the situation and he sure as hell knew a lot about Mako, both on a personal and scientific level.

His personal safety and questions aside, he didn't mind siphoning the Mako out of Genesis if it helped the auburn, but what would happen if the man found out? When he finds out, he amended, knowing they couldn't keep it hidden forever. He had a feeling the STC wouldn't like the idea of being linked to someone at all. Add the apparent side effects into the mix and he would probably like it even less. Would he accept it? Would he leave him? Hate him? Probably have a meltdown at the very least yo.

Reno forced the questions aside and focused on the ground in front of him. AVALANCHE was on this damned mountain somewhere and he sure as Shiva didn't want to run into them. Having his head up his ass was not the best way to accomplish that. Running into a stream and getting soaked wouldn't be great either, which is exactly what he was about to do.

The Turk skid to a halt and eyed the flowing water with trepidation and longing. His mouth was as dry as the desert surrounding the Golden Saucer and his tongue was begging for him to slurp some of the wet stuff, but he resisted. The water was crystal clear but that could be deceiving. There could be any number of parasites swimming around in there, waiting for some dumbass to take a sip and give them a nice new home. Deciding the risk wasn't worth it, Reno took two steps back and turned to the south. He was far enough away from camp that running into Genesis wasn't a concern and south would keep him on this side of the mountain and the stream.

As he started to jog the redhead detected movement out of the corner of his right eye. He drew his EMR and spun as his eyes raked the bank on the opposite side of the stream, seeking a target. A quick glance reveled nothing so he slowed his gaze and then froze it altogether. Tseng had once told him that when trying to spot a target it was sometimes best to stare at a fixed point without really focusing on anything. While doing so it was often easier to spot any movement within one's field of vision. At the time he'd thought the Wutain was crazy, but a few weeks later he'd tried it out of desperation. To his complete surprise the trick had worked.

Although the Department of Administrative Research and SOLDIER didn't get along and thought of each other as rivals, Turks were often used in the early stages of SOLDIER training. The reason being that many new wannabe SOLDIERs were used to head-on, straight-up fights because most of their combat experience came from drunken brawls or monsters. In situations like that an opponent generally didn't try anything underhanded. Life or death battles with humans weren't so cut and dry though. If death was an option a human being would do anything and everything to survive. That included using trickery and devious tactics.

In the same turn, while many Turks were used to fighting, using any means at their disposal and having their opponents do the same, they were not necessarily used to fighting enhanced individuals or Spellcasters. Casters weren't that different from a normal person if you were using a long range weapon. If not, you had to get close enough to take them out and most needed to learn the trick to getting closer. As for SOLDIERs everyone knew they were stronger than the average person but it was one thing to know it and another to experience it. Their strength, combined with their casting ability and speed, made them a triple threat.

With all this in mind the two departments had somewhat begrudgingly decided that in order to both strengthen Shinra and their respective departmental personnel they needed to work together. That was how Reno had been pitted against a fresh SOLDIER Third who wanted to make a name for himself. The second the sparring match had started the Third had thrown everything he had at him. Reno had always been very agile so he'd managed to avoid most of what the guy was dishing out. The problem had been trying to hit back. The guy had moved so fast that by the time Reno had detected him, he was so close that all he could do was block. When the Third had literally driven his back up against the wall the redhead had remembered Tseng's advice. From that point on instead of trying to follow the Third with his eyes, Reno stared straight ahead without focusing. To his surprise it was easier to spot the Third's quick movements and he'd been able to bring the guy down with a few well-placed kicks. In the end he'd been the one to make a name for himself and to this day the SOLDIER still hated his guts.

A gentle wind blew as Reno leveled his head and continued looking straight ahead. If he'd run into one of Fuhito's Ravens he might be able to detect its movement like he had the SOLDIER's. Weeds and grass swayed in the breeze and a few insects darted about, but otherwise nothing disturbed the predawn calm. Must have been imaginin' things. Yet as the Turk started to refocus his eyes he noticed a faint shimmering on the other side of the stream. It almost looked as though one area was markedly warmer than everything around it, but a heat wave made no sense. The stream wasn't steaming so the water wasn't coming from a hot spring and the sun hadn't even come out yet.

Thinking the problem was with his eyes the redhead started to rub them but remembered Sephiroth's warning. He'd probably burnt some of the Mako out of them but without a mirror he couldn't tell what shape his eyes were in, so he decided not to risk it. Reno blinked a few times to see if that would help but the shimmering area remained. Unsettled he began to slowly back away. If worse came to worse he could spin and bolt toward camp while screaming bloody murder. Rather unmanly and certainly un-Turk-like but it might keep him breathing. It was good to have pride, but living was better.

"… Ssssstay …"

The Turk froze but it wasn't because the word had been a command, rather his limbs stopped functioning from shock. Frankly he'd seen some pretty bizarre shit in his life. So much so that he'd come to expect it. But a talking heat wave? That was something he couldn't wrap his head around. He had to be hallucinating. Gotta be dehydrated or something. That made sense considering all the running combined with the Mako wreaking havoc in his system.

While Reno was still pondering his mental state there was a loud pop. Before the sound had even stopped he was on the ground with his arms covering his head. He mentally chuckled, wondering what hitting the ground and covering his head at a loud bang said about his life. The redhead slowly removed his arms from his head, opened his eyes, and looked up. The shimmering area was still there but it had changed. In the center of the wave stood a shape that resembled a human. It had a head, a body, arms, and even legs. What it didn't have was any definable features or gender. The whole thing looked like it was made, or pulled together, from Mako. As he watched the limbs lost their shape, turning into a blurry shimmering mass before reforming.

Reno could use a lot of descriptors to characterize himself. Fun loving, trustworthy, optimistic, assassin, intelligent, and so forth. Although some might put it on the list, crazy was not a word he would use personally. Right now it was the first word that came to mind. Yet part of him knew, just like it knew that he wasn't hallucinating, that he hadn't lost it. Whatever was happening was happening.

"The water… will not harm you."

Although the thing had taken on some semblance of a shape its voice was still eerie as hell. It was like it was on a bad PHS connection, one with nasty echo and delay. For better or worse he couldn't say the voice was entirely unfamiliar to him. In fact if he added Genesis's voice to the mix it was a voice he'd never forget.

"Shit," the redhead breathed. It was a complete understatement but no other words would come to him. The Mako figure beckoned to the stream and he sighed. Not seeing much choice or reason to resist he pulled himself to his feet, stuffed his EMR back into his jacket, walked back to the stream, and knelt. He paused for a split second then cupped some water into his hands and drank. The liquid was cool, bordering on cold, and infinitely refreshing. When his throat no longer felt like someone had taken a cheese grater to it and the cotton had been removed from his mouth he stopping drinking and sat on his ass with his knees roughly bent at a 45 degree angle in front of him. He still couldn't think of anything to say so he tilted his head back, wrapped his arms around his knees, and blinked at his unexpected, and somewhat creepy, visitor.

"You have performed well… Sssanguine. Better than expected… and in the most… inventive ways."

"Inventive?" Reno parroted, tilting his head to the side with a slight scowl. "Wait, did ya just complement or insult me?"

"Neither."

"Kinda sounded like an insult to me yo," the Turk mumbled. Given the thing was incorporeal and didn't have features he couldn't see it scowl, but he swore he could feel it. It wasn't anything definable and he couldn't really explain it, but it was similar to the feeling he got when someone glared at him in irritation and disapproval. Usually he could shrug stuff like that off but not this time. The air that suddenly felt 10 degrees cooler wasn't helping either.

"I offered opinion… on what I have observed. Nothing more… nothing less."

"Okay, okay, sorry," Reno backtracked with a shudder. The weird feeling lessened and he sighed. "So, eh, what, er… who are you? I mean, do you have a name or something or do I just keep calling you Lifestream or what?" the Turk quickly added, cursing the nervousness that made him sputter and ramble like an idiot.

"I am nothing and no one… yet everything and everyone."

"Man I hate riddles," the Turk muttered. The being chuckled and he whipped his head up. He hadn't really meant for it to hear him but apparently it had. The hell did you expect dumbass?

"You… dislike that which cannot, or will not, be explained."

"Eh, somethin' like that, yeah," Reno shrugged. Truthfully he'd never really thought about it before but he couldn't think of too many people, including himself, that actually liked the unexplained. Hard to deal with something when the mind doesn't know how to process the situation in the first place.

"Think of me as… a representative… no… a representation of Gaia."

"Of Gai- you've gotta b- I…," the redhead sputtered. His mind couldn't, or wouldn't, comprehend the situation, leaving him reeling. The air around him warmed, like the sun breaking through clouds, and he knew he'd amused his visitor. Glad one of us is entertained, he thought, pulling himself together. It was no longer the unexplained he was having issues with, it was the impossible made possible. That or I'm on one hell of a Mako trip.

"You are perfectly sane... and sober."

Like crazy, religious was not an adjective that Reno would use to describe himself. He didn't claim to be a follower of any religion nor did he pray regularly. He certainly didn't have any kind of shrine at home nor did he go to any type of church. In fact, now that he stopped to think about it, the only time he really prayed at all was in the thick of he only implored the Gods when he wanted something, which, at face value sounded pretty terrible. Heh, kinda is terrible. Or was it? Call it rationalizing or justification, but ninety-nine percent of the time Reno didn't see any reason to pray to the gods because he didn't see any reason to even believe in them. Hell, to him praying while neck deep in shit was basically just his way of thinking 'I hope this works,' 'I hope I don't die,' 'skills don't fail me now,' 'someone do something,' or something else along those lines.

"It's called faith Sanguine."

"Fuck your faith and stay the fuck out of my head!" the Turk snapped, abruptly standing. His thoughts had taken a decidedly venomous turn and he began pacing as words fired from his mouth, every bit as lethal as a bullet. "Through my eyes the world is a fucked up place. I've seen children who've never done a fucking thing wrong get beaten and eat scraps out of garbage cans while rich bastards watch and get fat. I've seen innocent people slaughtered like sheep while the fuckers that did it walk away free and clear because others are to scared to stand up to them. The world is overrun and controlled by corrupted cocksuckers because they have all the power and money. I should know; I work for some of those bastards." The Turk stopped pacing and faced the Mako figure. "All normal people have is faith. They kneel in front of altars begging the gods to right the wrongs. They pray for the guidance, strength, and wisdom to change things but their pleas fall on deaf ears. In the end, if they're lucky they get the attention of some power hungry prick and some asshole like me comes along and gives them a bullet to the brain. If they're not, a life full of suffering and pain is their fate. Faith… fuck faith."

Having said his piece some of the malice coursing through Reno's veins dissipated. He hadn't intended to sound so hateful and spiteful, but for better or worse he'd told the truth as he saw it. Tendrils of anger and despair had begun coiling around him ever since he was a child and although he had learned to ignore them, he had never been able to get rid of them. At the beings statement the fibers had tightened and he'd snapped under their pressure and weight, causing his unvoiced thoughts and emotions to rush out unchecked.

Yet even as his negative emotions were given voice Reno had a realization. Regardless of his experiences, thoughts, or how fucked up things appeared to be, some part of him believed in the gods and while he was angry and discontented with them, he didn't hate them. Still, even with the self-proclaimed representation of Gaia standing in front of him the Turk wouldn't say he had faith per say. It was more that he wanted to believe there was a reason behind what appeared to be chaos and madness. He wanted to believe there was a reason for some of the things that had happened and were happening. Like it or not he couldn't blindly follow, he needed a reason.

Reno's dicey thoughts led to another conclusion. While he couldn't entirely rule out the possibility that he was asleep or hallucinating, he didn't think that was the case. That determined, he had to acknowledge that if he even had a tiny belief in the gods that it was possible that one, or at least a representation of one, was talking to him. He wouldn't exactly say it was proof just yet, but it, combined with recent experiences, were starting to add up.

"Your belief in us is inconsequential. We believe in you."

The redhead's mouth audibly snapped closed. The hell was he supposed to say to that? Uncertain he said the first thing that popped into his head. "That's… mystifying on so many levels and kinda makes me feel worse since I already felt bad for blowing up at you. Talk about ungrateful."

"Your reaction was anticipated." The Turk blinked, clearly at a loss. "I… You are not meant to understand everything, Sanguine. That… life would have little meaning with all of the answers. It would be… pointless."

"Pointless?" Reno repeated quietly, cocking his head to the side in thought. Now wasn't the time to fully contemplate the beings words, but it seemed to him that if he woke up every morning having all the answers and knowing exactly what to expect, life would be pretty pointless, not to mention boring. "Yeah, maybe, but people shouldn't have to suffer for life to have meaning either."

"Without suffering… there would be no joy. Without pain… there would be no pleasure. For every positive… a negative must exist… and contrariwise."

"Okay fine, but does it have to be so… unbalanced? It seems ta me that some people do all the suffering while others do all the enjoyin'. That ain't right."

"As much as I would like to explain I cannot, nor is now the time for this discussion."
"Hrmpf. Sure, shut down when the questions get tough. Might as well be a politician yo."

"Our… business is far from concluded. In the future perhaps we may converse more on this, but remember you are not mea-"

"Meant to have all the answers. I get it," finished the redhead. The air around him once again warmed. If only everyone was so easily amused the Planet would be a much happier place.

"Perhaps the Planet is a happier place than you realize."

"Will ya please stay outta my head? Even if it's only an illusion I'd like ta go on thinkin' my thoughts are my own."

"Very well," the Mako being chuckled.

The Turk started to speak when he felt the mood shift abruptly. The lightheartedness vanished and was replaced by alert tension. Reno felt his own muscles stiffen in response.

"We are out of time. I must depart."

"Hey wait a minute!" the Turk yelped at the already fading figure.

"The path ahead of you is undetermined; however it is more treacherous than that which is behind you. Walk carefully, Sanguine. Very carefully."

"That doesn't… is that why you came here? To tell me that?"

"No," was all Gaia's representation said before disappearing completely.

Dumbfounded, Reno blinked at the spot where the Mako figure had been standing seconds before. He wanted to yell 'then why did you come' but didn't, knowing he wouldn't receive a response. His mind, which had already been chaotic and cluttered due to his wake up call, was now in complete disarray. Gods he was so tired of having more questions than answers. Answers had become more valuable than the most of precious gems it seemed.

"Reno!"

The Turk spun as Genesis skid to a halt less than ten feet away and jumped as Sephiroth materialized to his left. Both SOLDIERs had their weapons drawn and scanned the area anxiously. Reno fought to keep his already tense muscles from going as tight as a drawn bowstring.

"Are you alright?" the auburn asked, continuing to scan the surroundings while moving up on the Turk's right.

"I'm fine. Eh, somethin' the matter yo?" asked Reno, following the silver's gaze straight to the spot where his visitor had stood moments before. Shit. His companions were fairly opened minded and plenty understanding but telling them he'd just had a chat with a god probably wouldn't go over well. It wasn't going over well with him for that matter. Still, he had to tell them something. With a sigh he opened his mouth to try and explain but Sephiroth spoke first.

"It would appear I was mistaken. I apologize."

"Perhaps one of those Ravens was coming after Reno but felt us and backed off before it tried anything," replied Genesis.

"It's possible," shrugged the silver. "I haven't been close enough to one to tag them."

"What do you mean?"

"I can detect most beings that have Mako within their system. Each type of being has a certain signature and I've not been close enough to a Raven to pinpoint their signature type."

"So you're Mako Sense can tell the difference between a SOLDIER and a monster?"

"Yes."

"Interesting. So if each type has a signature, how do you detect an individual?" Genesis asked thoughtfully, wondering how the silver could tell one blip on his radar from another.

"Until recently I couldn't."

"You mean all SOLDIERs felt the same?"

"Yes. Even now most SOLDIERs feel the same. The only ones I can tell apart are SSC Hewley and yourself," the SSC replied, finally sheathing his weapon.

"Huh," the auburn said. He wondered if Sephiroth's ability had gotten stronger or if it was something else. Perhaps a personal connection of some kind was required to spot an individual signature. "And you!" began Genesis, pushing his thoughts aside and wheeling on the Turk. "What in Ifrit's Horns are you doing this far out anyway? You should have stayed closer to camp, especially since you weren't feeling well!"

"I, ah, sorry," Reno replied, still shocked. Obviously his visitor had caused a Mako spike which Sephiroth had felt and been unable to identify, so he'd gotten Genesis and they'd come running. The man hadn't been mistaken and the Turk was positive he knew that, yet without a word or so much as batting an eyelash the silver had flat out lied.

"Well at least you're alright," sighed the STC. "Are you feeling better? Sephiroth told me your stomach was upset."

"Yeah."

"Good," the auburn smiled, stabbing the tip of his sword into the ground and leaning on the hilt. "Probably just stress. Or nerves. Gods know you've had more than enough of both lately." The Turk nodded. "Are you well enough to head out today?"

"Sure."

"Then I suppose we should head back to camp."

"Agreed," Sephiroth chimed in. "I'm starting to pick up several signatures in the area and while I may have been mistaken before, I'm not this time."

"Are you sure?" asked the auburn.

"Positive," replied the SSC, gesturing behind the redheads. The pair spun and drew their weapons in unison.

"I got it," Genesis said, springing toward the Bagnadrana that was trying to creep up on them.

"The hell'd that thing come from yo?"

"Where do any of them come from?" replied Sephiroth.

"Heh, point. Most of the time it does seem like they just pop up outta nowhere."

"While he is occupied tell me what happened."

"What do yo- oh, that…" The Turk sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He certainly hadn't forgotten what happened, rather his mind had pushed it aside to try and subconsciously process it.

Sephiroth remained quiet for a moment, sensing the redhead's reluctance. Finally he said, "Perhaps when you ar-"

"LifeStream popped in for a chat," said Reno, immediately wondering if that were true. Although Gaia's representation had been composed of the LifeStream, that didn't mean it was the LifeStream. After all, every living thing, no matter how big or small, entered the LifeStream upon death. That meant it wasn't strictly the Planet or Gaia alone, yet as far as he knew Gaia was part of the LifeStream. Talk about confusing! Even so, to keep things simple he thought referring to what he'd just seen as the LifeStream was best. Besides, it sounded better than 'I just talked to the Planet' or 'A god wanted a word with me'.

The silver blinked, thinking he must have misunderstood. Only when it was clear that he hadn't and that the Turk wasn't joking did he speak. "Reno… you must have been hal-"

"I wasn't hallucinating Seph."

"I see. What did it say?" asked the SSC as Genesis tore into another Bagnadrana.

"That what we've been through ain't shit compared to what's ta come."

"How reassuring."

"No shit," chuckled Reno. After a pause he added, "Either ya still think I was hallucinating, ya think I'm totally nutters, or yer takin' this pretty well yo."

"I'm still debating option one and two, however the LifeStream showing up would explain the sudden surge of Mako I felt and where all the excess Mako in your system went."

"Huh? Ya mean it's gone?"

"More or less."

"That's great!" the Turk exclaimed, relieved. He wondered if getting the Mako out of his system had been why Gaia's representation had shown up. It had helped before after all and it obviously wasn't through with him. Letting Mako take him out was probably counterproductive to whatever it had in mind.

"What's great?" Genesis asked, joining his companions and sheathing his sword. They both jumped and his eyebrows traveled upward. "Interrupting something am I?"

"No."

"What he said," Reno added.

"Oookaayy, so… then what's great?"

"Seph said he thought he felt some Ravens movin' already. Was hopin' we'd get more of a jump on 'em," the Turk lied, hopping the auburn hadn't picked up on his excited, happy tone, else the lie would fail apart.

"Oh. No matter. We can handle them."

"Don't get too cocky. Ravens ain't yer run a the mill enemy."

"Doesn't matter. They still aren't a match for us," the auburn grinned. The Turk looked less than convinced. "Reno…"

"Look I told ya I can handle this and I can. Confidence is fine, but do not go in thinkin' you've already won 'cause that'll get ya killed. Fuhito is one deceptive son of a bitch and he always has somethin' up his sleeve. He's proved that time and again."

"What are you saying?" asked Sephiroth.

"Simple: the Ravens may not be our biggest threat."

"Is there something you've not told us?"

"No."

"Are you certain?"

"You callin' me a liar?"

"No. I thought perhaps you had remembered something, that's all."

"Remembered something?" the Turk said, face screwing up in confusion.

"Subconsciously..."

"Subconsciously?" Reno parroted, cocking his head to the side. There was a strange sensation somewhere within his skull. It almost felt as though his brain tingled and itched, which he knew was impossible. He tried to locate the source but the sensation vanished as quickly as it had come. "You think I might have overhead somethin' while I was Fuhito's prisoner."

"Yes."

The redhead shook his head. "'Fraid not. Least if I did I really don't remember. I'm just speakin' from experience. Every time anyone's cornered that bastard he pulls some stunt and takes off. Usually in a dramatic and violent fashion yo."

"What do you remember?" asked Genesis.

Reno's head snapped toward the auburn but his face quickly smoothed in understanding. Although the question had held bite, there was more to it than mere curiosity about what happened during the days that Fuhito had him. They had both been held captive, albeit by different people, and he felt as though that one question asked a thousand. Genesis was asking if he remembered anything because the man wanted to know if he would always have a hole in his memory. He was asking because he wanted to know if he would ever be able to turn a corner blindly again or if he'd stop jumping at shadows and knocks at the door. He wanted to know if he'd be able to sleep without waking up to his own screams. Simply put, he wanted to know if the fear and anxiety would ever diminish.

"I remember… some," the Turk finally said with reluctance and a sigh. "Bits and pieces mostly and even those are hazy. Sometimes… sometimes I can almost feel memories trying to surface but as soon as I focus they're gone. Occasionally something will act as a trigger and I'll have a flashback, but not often."

"Oh," the auburn said so quietly it was nearly inaudible.

"Everybody's different Gen."

"I know," Genesis replied, knowing the Turk meant no two experiences were alike. He could remember more than the redhead, or less. "How… how did… do… you deal with it."

"You want the truth?" Reno asked, wondering how much that question had cost the auburn. The man was fiercely independent and personal, so much so that opening up enough to think of asking for advice, let alone actually asking, was almost a foreign concept to him.

"Of course I want the truth," snapped Genesis, leveling a glare at the redhead.

"I don't," Reno shrugged, stuffing his hands into his pockets and looking everywhere but at either of his companions. "I don't deal with it," he added quietly. "I try very, very hard not to think about it. I ignore it and pretend it didn't happen."

"But you seem so…"

"Adjusted?" the Turk said at the auburn's pause. "Normal?"

"Yeah," Genesis quietly replied.

"Appearances can be deceiving."

"That's true. I thought you were an annoying pain in the ass."

"Yeah?" Grinning, the auburn nodded. "I thought Seph was a prick yo."

"I do seem to remember being called a strange, unpleasant dick," snorted the silver.

"Sounds about right," Reno chuckled.

"You called him that?"

"Yep."

"You really don't have any tact."

"Meh, he was pissin' me off and I hadn't given him a chance yo."

"Has your opinion of me changed?" asked the silver.

"Think yer more of a strange, pleasant dick these days."

"Reno!" Genesis gasped.

"What? His dick is pleasant and even you gotta admit he's strange. 'Sides, I never said it was a bad thing."

"Good to know you find at least one part of me pleasant," Sephiroth said, coming up behind the Turk and trailing a finger down his spine.

"Shit," Reno breathed with a shudder.

"You are such a sex fiend," giggled Genesis.

"Look who's talkin' nympho!" The Turk chuckled as the auburn quickly looked away to hide his blush. When he finally looked back he was doing his best to scowl, but his grin was winning.

Somewhere during the playful banter the trio had started toward camp and it was now visible in the distance. They approached it cautiously, eyes darting this way and that but nothing looked disturbed. As they got closer they drew weapons and rushed in anyway, just to make sure there wasn't someone, or something, lurking around. When everyone was satisfied that they were truly alone and that no one had stumbled upon their location they relaxed. Only then did Reno comment on the faint smoke coming from the fire pit.

"Who started the fire yo?"

"I did," Sephiroth replied. "I thought we could finish the soup before leaving."

"Good idea."

"Is your stomach up for that?" asked Genesis. "Hard to be sneaky if you've got stuff coming out of one end or another."

"Thanks fer that visual," chuckled the Turk. "Think you were right and it was jus' nerves or somethin'. I feel fine now." Never felt bad in the first place, he thought. He hated lying but he also didn't think now was the time to bring the whole link thing up. Best to get back to Midgar first. At least then they wouldn't be stuck together if the revelation didn't sit well with the auburn.

"How do you wish to proceed?" inquired the silver, ladling the now warmed soup into bowls and passing them out.

"Like I said yesterday, we climb. We know AVALANCHE is here so I figure our best bet is ta stick together and head toward the reactor. Gotta be where they're holed up."

"What if they're in a cave or something?" asked Genesis.

"Some of 'em might be scattered but their main force is at the reactor. Only thing that makes sense."

"I agree," said Sephiroth. "Whatever their purpose here, it involves the reactor."

"Do you think they're going to blow it up like they did the one in Gongaga?"

"No," answered Reno without hesitation.

"What makes you so sure?" Sephiroth inquired, not entirely convinced that the groups' intention wasn't to destroy the reactor. His eyes locked with Genesis's, who raised his eyebrows, wiggled to get comfortable, and continued to eat. Apparently the auburn was content to let them hash out the details.

"I ain't positive, but if ya ask me there are only two reasons why they woulda blown the Gongagan reactor. One, they did somethin' there they didn't want us to find and two, they wanted ta make sure Shinra wasn't out lookin' for 'em when they changed locations."

"I see. What wouldn't they have wanted us to find?"

"Fuhito's gettin' a shitload of Mako from somewhere, right?"

"You believe he's getting it from the reactors?"

"Possible. He could jus' be gettin' the stuff from Mako springs or whatever, but those are pretty scattered and the quality ain't always good. Even if he is gettin' his Mako elsewhere, he's gotta be usin' it somewhere right?"

"I don't…" Sephiroth trailed off and his eyes briefly widened as understanding dawned. "You believe he's performing experiments at the reactors. That he's using them as his base of operation."

"Yep."

"You've got to be kidding," snorted Genesis, finally drawn into the conversation.

"'Fraid not."

"No offense but that's doesn't make any sense. What about all the people that work there? They'd notice something sooner or later, not to mention it's just stupid to set up shop on your enemy's turf."

"You ever been in a reactor Gen?"

"No."

"They're huge. Huge. What ya see when ya walk through the door is literally only like five ta ten percent of the actual size of the thing. There are miles and miles a tunnels and rooms underneath the surface. Most reactors have ten employees or less on shift at any given time. If ya knew the layout it would be pretty easy to not only avoid employees, but create an alternate entrance or two."

"That doesn't sound secure… or safe," the auburn scowled.

"It ain't."

"Then why doesn't Shinra do something about it?"

"'Cause most people won't get any closer to Mako than they have to because they're scared of the shit."

"I can't say I blame them," the auburn snorted.

"Me either, but with people bein' afraid of it Shinra thinks it's a waste a money to post guards at reactors. Unfortunately Fuhito ain't scared of it and with the lax security and miles a tunnels to hide in, a reactor would be a good place for the bastard to set up shop. As fer bein' on the enemies turf, it's actually a pretty good place ta hide 'cause most don't look right under their nose yo."

"Your logic is sound," stated Sephiroth.

"That mean you agree with me?"

"Yes."

"So do I," Genesis sighed. "I also think Reno's plan of action is correct: head for the reactor while watching for scouts or anything unusual along the way."

"Agreed," said the silver, gathering the empty bowls. "Is the water from the stream you were by clean?" he asked, eyeing the Turk.

"Yep."

"Then I shall wash our bowls and fill our canteens while you two get everything ready to head out."

"Sounds good. Why don't ya take the pot too? You can wash it out, fill it with water, and we can stash it in the chopper. That way when we get back we'll have water if we need it yo."

"Good idea. We may need to leave in a hurry," the SSC replied, gathering the items before taking off in the direction of the stream.

Silence settled upon the two redheads. Genesis shifted closer to Reno, wrapped his arms around the man's torso, and leaned into him. He hummed contentedly and squeezed, inhaling the redhead's crisp, clean scent. The Turk chuckled and placed an arm on his back.

"I think I should clarify somethin' 'cause I don't want ya left with the wrong impression," Reno said, rubbing the auburn's back. "In regard to what happened with Fuhito, it's true I try to ignore it all but it ain't like some big ass black cloud looming over me or anything, even when I don't ignore it. It happened, but I really ain't all that hung up on it."

"It's been bothering you lately though."

"Yeah," sighed the redhead.

"Is it because of what happened to me?"

Reno automatically started to deny it but stopped himself. "It's a combination of things. Somethin' in Gongaga triggered it and brought it close to the surface, then I ran into Fuhito on this very mountain, and there's what happened ta you. Hard ta push somethin' aside when everything keeps draggin' it back up."

"Maybe you shouldn't keep pushing it aside. Sometimes we have to confront our past in order to deal with it."

"Ain't that sorta what we're…"

The Turk trailed off and Genesis sat upright, twisting so he was facing the redhead. The man's face was blank and his eyes were unfocused. Concerned, the auburn started to call his name but Reno erupted into a flurry of movement before he could get the word out.

"Son of a bitch!" Reno growled, standing.

"Reno?"

The redhead spun and looked down at Genesis. "Everything's fine," he soothed, noting the concern in the STC's tone. "I'm just an idiot, that's all." After a pause he added, "Why the hell is it so easy for someone to see something in someone else, but not within themselves?"

"Huh?"

"Heh, that was confusing, wasn't it?" chuckled Reno. "It's just… when I was planning this shit I thought it was to help you, but I was really just tryin' to help myself."

"I have no idea what in Ifrit's Fire you're talking about," scowled the STC. "Want to slow down and explain it to me?"

"We didn't have to come here, Gen. I could have faked reports about AVALANCHE sightings anywhere on Gaia, gone there and no one would have been the wiser when we got back to Midgar. That thought didn't even cross my mind, not until now anyway."

Genesis blinked up at the Turk while he processed the man's words. "So you're saying we didn't just come here for me, we came here for both of us?"

"Pretty much, but I think comin' here was mostly fer me. What you said earlier, about dealin' with what happened, my subconscious apparently agrees. It saw a way to kill two birds with one stone. If things work out I get closure and we all get to return to Midgar without suspicion."

"I think I understand, but explain it to me anyway."

"It's simple really. For years AVALANCHE has been evading SEPC and when we do meet face to face, AVALANCHE always seemed to come out on top. Me and the Turks have been injured time and time again, but now, because of what happened with you and Hojo, I've found myself with the two most powerful people on the Planet and we need to return home with a solid alibi. Not only does coming here accomplish that, I also have the opportunity to pay Fuhito back and bring him down. Subconsciously I realized all that, and that's why we came here instead of me faking reports and having us go somewhere else."

"I see," Genesis said after a long pause. "It makes sense."

"Yer not pissed?"

"Why would I be?"

"The point of this plan was to help you, not subconsciously make you a pawn in my plot for vengeance yo."

"I'm not a pawn and the way I see it, it's a win-win situation."

"Unless Fuhito wins this round too."

"Not going to happen," called Sephiroth, placing the pot full of water into the helicopter's cargo hold. He slid the door shut before turning to face his companions.

"How long have you been listening yo?"

"Long enough to know your subconscious is calling the shots."

"Sorry 'bout that."

"I suspected as much," the silver shrugged.

"Seriously?" Sephiroth nodded. "The hell didn't you say anything?"

"I wasn't certain and it didn't seem relevant. Regardless of your subconscious motives, your conscious ones made sense."

"Do you feel like a pawn yo?"

"No."

"That's good I guess. Still feel bad though."

"It is my understanding that friends help each other. Am I mistaken?" asked the SSC. The Turk shook his head. "Then there is no reason to feel badly. Also, although I hate to admit it, a bit of my pride is at stake."

"Why?" asked the auburn.

"'Cause he was sent ta take care of AVALANCHE and failed," Reno answered without accusation. The auburn's eyes widened and locked on Sephiroth, seeking confirmation.

"Reno is correct."

"Out of everything that's been discussed, that makes me worry the most about our odds," said Genesis after a time.

"Do not let it deter you. I failed because I was unable to locate the group, not because I couldn't handle them."

"That's good."

"It is good that I failed?"

"That's not what I meant," scowled the STC. The Turk chuckled and he snapped, "What?"

"He was teasin' you yo."

Genesis leveled his gaze on the silver. "So he was," he finally said, picking up on the humor in the man's eyes. "You know, I actually feel a lot better."

"Why is that?"

"Here I was thinking that this whole half-cocked plan was because of me. That I'd inadvertently put you two in danger by fighting the largest terrorist group on Gaia just so I could go home. As it turns out, that's not the case."

"It's a fair trade," Sephiroth shrugged.

"Fair trade?" parroted the Turk.

"Although unintentionally, Genesis has placed us within Hojo's crosshairs and into a… delicate… situation. By bringing him here with us we've done the same to him."

"Ya know, when ya put it that way it sounds really, really bad and we all sound like really, really bad people. Well except maybe Gen 'cause he didn't mean ta get us involved." Genesis snorted and Sephiroth shrugged.

After a lengthy pause the silver sighed and said, "I do not wish to place more stress or pressure upon either of you, but I have to say failure here is inadvisable."

"Well no shit. I don't wanna end up dead, or worse, be Fuhito's bitch again."

"If we fail Fuhito will likely be the least of our worries and death would probably be preferable."

"What are you saying?" asked Genesis.

"I am saying that if we fail President Shinra may well give us to Hojo as his new pets."

"What? We're two of his best SOLDIERs and Reno is one of his best Turks for Shiva's Sake!"

"He ain't exactly happy with the Turks yo."

"That is correct. As for us, he will wonder why his best can't stack up against Fuhito and his best. He may wish to attempt to… improve us. Or at least try to."

"You have got to be kidding me!"

"I am not."

"What if we're outnumbered?"

"We probably are, but aren't we always?"

"Sure, against humans. They don't even send less than two SOLDIERs after some monsters, like Behemoths and Dragons! He knows that and Fuhito's Ravens are worse than those!"

"I fear it will not matter. Behemoths and Dragons are natural creatures, the Ravens, and us, are not."

"I don't believe this!" snarled the auburn, standing and pacing.

"Unfortunately I think he's right Gen. Hell, if we fail it might not even be Hojo we have to worry about; it might be Fuhito himself. Shinra may see our defeat as Fuhito's success and try to recruit the bastard."

"You seriously think he'd replace Hojo and Hollander with Fuhito?" asked the auburn doubtfully.

"Hell yes. Loyalty doesn't mean shit to Shinra, but results get him off in a big way. Fucker'd save money by only having one lead scientist too."

"Okay, okay, okay," Genesis said, grinding his fingertips into his temples. "Assuming you're both right, what do we do?"

"We don't fail," replied Sephiroth.

"We kick the shit outta the Ravens, cut Fuhito's fuckin' head off, and take it back ta Midgar on a silver platter."

"Vengeance with closure and satisfaction on the side. How lovely," the auburn smirked. He wasn't certain about their odds, but beating Fuhito would be fantastic. Not only could he pay the man back for hurting Reno, Sephiroth would get back the piece of his pride he'd lost and if they impressed Shinra enough it might even be enough to get Hojo off his back. At least for a while. "Shall we go then?"

"You bet yo."