Disclaimer: I do not own, nor do I profit by, these characters. Final Fantasy VII is the property of Square Enix, and they are good sports for letting me play with their action figures.

The word trickled out after the Tiny Bronco incident, in between countless rehashings of Avalanche stealing a Shinra plane – and her pilot – from under the President's nose, and Lardass Palmer getting hit by his own truck. Avalanche had picked up a sniper. Not an ammo-happy gun nut like the big Corel guy; a real sharpshooter with a long-barreled pistol. He'd taken out three militiamen from the President's guard – kneecapped them, then shot their cheap GI rifles out of their hands for good measure – from 60 yards. Even managed to shoot out the tires on a couple of Shinra's vehicles, from the wing of a moving plane, under fire.

So it was more or less excusable when the youngest, most excitable militia grunt who'd been wounded in the action wouldn't shut up about how it was the coolest thing he'd ever seen, and was practically bouncing out of his infirmary bed as he insisted to everyone in earshot that the guy "shot like a Turk, man, just like a Turk, just cold, just mechanical!" But it did prompt a few wry looks over the Turks' break room table. Only four people still alive shot like a Turk, and as much as they might like to take a shot at Palmer, they were all accounted for that day. Crazy kid, they silently commiserated. Half that damage was probably friendly fire; the sniper was just a convenient scapegoat.

Or, as Reno put it, "We'd look like Fuckwits on Parade if we didn't have Avalanche to pin all our fuckups on."


The sniper wasn't there when the Turks ran into Avalanche again in Wutai. Maybe he'd never been with them; maybe he was just in a different splinter of Strife's band. That bugged the hell out of Reno, because it was one thing the muscle-brained boy scout did right – split the group into smaller task forces, cover more objectives and keep from being recognized. Shinra didn't even have a complete list of the terrorists they were hunting, because it seemed like they never saw the same people twice. That, and Strife apparently recruited more every time he stopped to tie his shoes.

So instead of the sniper, the Turks got to meet a bratty ninja kid who turned out to be a renegade princess – and a materia thief, and jailbait. Which was how Rude and Reno ended up suspending their vacation and forming a truce with Strife and Tifa (which made Rude happy, at least) while they rescued their respective girls from the slimiest kidnapping sleazebag this side of Hell. And then had the added pleasure of throwing him off a cliff to be eaten by his pet raptors.

Hell of a vacation. Hell of a story. Reno knew just how he'd tell it to Tseng, too – saved the princess, killed the troll, found the buried treasure (that armour in the Dachao caves was up for grabs, right?), toast of the town…except that he couldn't tell Tseng, because Tseng would want to know about details like why they'd had Avalanche in their sights and let them go, and what they had found out about the Wutaiian black market for Shinra weapons tech. Hell, he'd probably demand a full-length report on revolutionary activity in Wutai's underground, just in retaliation for his staff dragging into work two days late and (in Reno's case) massively hungover.

So it was a great relief when Tseng didn't even ask about their 'vacation,' or why Reno was so hungover, or why Elena acted so quiet since their return, but instead just plunged into the next assignment briefing – standard dirty work, taking care of some reactor-leak victims who might be tempted to take their oh-so-sympathetic story to the press. Rude and Reno would handle that, while Tseng took Elena on a recon tour of some old temple down south. Avalanche was just too damned weird, too much of a circus; it would be good to get back to business as usual, with no superpowered freaks or ninja princesses or mystery snipers who might not even exist.

That rumour about the sharpshooter just itched at him, under his skin. Maybe Reeve's intel would finally get them somewhere. …Reeve and his spying cat-robot.

…The whole thing was a goddamned circus.