Title: As They Bask in the Material World
Author: Traxits
Rating: Teen.
Content Notes: None.
Word Count: 10376 words.
Summary: Every year, Reeve tours the outer reactors. This year, Veld is unable to escort him, so Tseng gets the job. It's just his luck that the car breaks down, and perhaps the best idea was not to spend the night in Cosmo Canyon...
Author's Note(s): In an unusual move for me, I have placed my author's notes at the bottom of the fic.

[[ ... One-Shot ... ]]

Reeve Tuesti— designer of the Midgar Rail system, the man who had single-handedly redesigned the newest generation of reactors, and the man who had, by all accounts, made the Midgar Plate work— was in Veld's office. The door was shut and the blinds were drawn and every Turk in the office was watching the door, waiting for it to crack open, waiting to see just what Reeve was in there for.

Tseng sat at his desk— as the newest Turk, he had the one desk with uneven legs, the one desk that sat directly in front of the door, the one desk that was perpetually too hot or too cold depending on whether the fan was on or the windows were open— his eyes drifting from the paperwork he was supposed to be filling out up to the door for just a moment before they snapped back down. It took everything he had not to look back up again when he heard the door open.


He did look up then, and when Veld nodded toward the door, he was on his feet and crossing the room immediately, without needing to be told twice. The door was closed behind him, Veld lingering at it, and Tseng stepped to the side. He stopped short when he saw the young man standing in front of Veld's desk.

Dark, tousled hair, dark eyes— green? or brown? There was a word for that color in between, but Tseng couldn't think of it— and the most tightly restrained smile that Tseng had ever seen anyone manage. He rubbed his hands on his black-spattered jeans— no suit?— and Tseng held out his hand automatically when Veld brushed past him back toward his desk. It was what one did in Midgar when meeting someone new.

Veld's lips quirked in a faint grin when Reeve hesitated, and he gave Reeve a little nudge toward Tseng with a low, "He doesn't bite unless I tell him, Reeve. Stop shaking."

Reeve cast a look at Veld, a frown marring his expression before he took Tseng's hand with a surprisingly firm— callused, so the kid worked for his paycheck— grip. "Reeve Tuesti," he said, and then, his brow furrowed, and before Tseng could offer his own name back, he'd blurted, "You're Wutaian?"

Tseng's eyes widened, and he glanced at Veld, uncertain as to what the kid— no, that wasn't right; Reeve might be older than he, Tseng just couldn't tell— meant, what the subtext was under those words. The question wasn't asked with that edge of annoyance that Scarlet had or the superiority that Heidegger had managed. Instead, it was asked neutrally, as a means of gathering information, and he must have hesitated too long because Reeve flushed a dark red, jerked his hand back, and covered his mouth.

"Sorry. That was really rude. Sorry."

Veld watched the two of them for a few more minutes, and then he moved to sit at his desk, reaching to rearrange a few folders as he announced that Mr. Tuesti was going on his bi-annual reactor tour, and would Tseng be so kind as to accompany him? Tseng wasn't fooled by the wording of the request. It was an order, worded that way purely for Reeve's comfort.

A glance over to Reeve assured Tseng that he wasn't fooled by it either, but he didn't protest, didn't even look at Tseng. He'd just stood there, back ramrod straight and his thumbs hooked into the pockets of his jeans. Tseng had seen more relaxed postures among SOLDIERs at attention.

Tseng bowed, inclining his head the way he'd noticed Midgar's children doing when they agreed with something. Veld smiled all the way up until Tseng admitted that Reeve would have to drive. Tseng had never learned how.

That was how Tseng ended up in the passenger seat of a Shinra car, watching the countryside fly by and watching Reeve slowly relax around him. The process was painstakingly slow. A bit like taming a chocobo or luring a guard hound kit from its mother.

(Not that Tseng had to do either of those anymore, not that his survival was reliant on his ability to bring in something that might fetch a good price. Now his survival was more based on how quickly he could adapt to living in Midgar, to doing whatever the Turks had him do.)

They went to Fort Condor first, then around to Junon, then to Corel. Tseng was seeing more of the world in this trip than he'd ever managed in his life. After all, the boat from Wutai to Junon hadn't exactly been the most comfortable thing, and getting from Junon to Midgar had been even worse, had taken Tseng months on his own.

They were leaving Gongaga when Reeve had finally managed to start cracking jokes from time to time, and as the sun set, he'd glanced around them, eying the way everything was painted in reds and oranges, and offered Tseng one of those tightly reined in smiles. Did he know no others?

"Should have stayed in Gongaga, it looks like," he said softly, and Tseng glanced out the window before he nodded his agreement. Night fell far faster here than it had in Wutai, than it did in Midgar, and Tseng wasn't entirely certain that he trusted those narrow beams of light that came from the front of the car to light the road enough for Reeve to drive on. Reeve's voice was low as he added, "We should probably turn back—"

The car shuddered, and Reeve's hands went white knuckled on the steering wheel. Another shudder and a loud, ominous crashing sound, and the vehicle stopped moving all together. They both sat exactly where they were for the space of a moment, and Reeve glanced over at Tseng.

"I'll get out and see—" He stopped talking when Tseng opened his own door and came around to open the driver's side, and Reeve sighed as he slid out of his seat. "Fine. We'll both get out then."

There was a flashlight in the roadside emergency kit in the back of the car, and Tseng held the light for Reeve when they popped the hood. The engine was this mass of tubes and blocks and strange devices that Tseng hadn't ever seen before, but Reeve stuck his hands in among them without pause, his fingers deftly checking connections and feeling for ... whatever he was feeling for. Something wrong, Tseng supposed, but it wasn't as though Tseng would have known what to look for.

Twenty minutes of standing there, and finally Reeve shook his head. "No good. I can't see well enough to fix it. We'll have to wait until morning." He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand— the motion left a streak of dark grime across his skin— and he leaned back against the front bumper of the car, staring off into the horizon. For a moment, that car deserved to be burned, to be trashed and left there to rust until it fell to pieces, and Tseng shook himself very slightly, made himself focus. It wasn't as though anything could be changed. The car had broken, and while Reeve could fix it, it would need to wait until morning.

He moved to pull the blankets from the trunk, and Reeve watched him with a slightly furrowed brow. Then he held up one of his hands, and he cleared his throat until Tseng looked at him, shining the flashlight just to the side of him instead of in his face. Reeve jabbed his thumb over his shoulder, and he tilted his head. "Cosmo Canyon shouldn't be far. There will be beds and breakfast and then we can come back out to the car in the morning. I'll be able to fix it in the daylight, and we can continue on to Nibelheim."

Tseng went perfectly still at the mention of Cosmo Canyon. Veld had been insistent that Reeve did not need to stop there, that it wouldn't be safe, that Reeve might ask him and if he did, Tseng was to be very firm on telling him 'no'. There was no reason for them to stop in Cosmo Canyon.

Except... Reeve looked tired— he'd spent all day in the Gongagan reactor, had come back to the room and showered and announced that they should go ahead toward Nibelheim, that he didn't want to spend another night in Gongaga— and he wasn't pressuring Tseng, wasn't arguing or trying to convince Tseng that they desperately needed to go. He'd simply laid out the facts and had left it up to his Turk.

Tseng shook his head. "Safety hazard," he murmured, and he held out the towel that was kept in the back of the car. Reeve obediently took it and wiped his hands off, trying to get most of the ... grease? Oil? Tseng would have to read up on cars more when he returned to Midgar— or had he already bought a book on them? Perhaps he had placed it under the other piece of literature he'd been working on since he'd arrived in Midgar: a hefty book that detailed the specifics of using standard. His standard had improved tremendously since he'd been forced to use it every day instead of Wutaian.

"It would be a safety hazard," Reeve said softly as he glanced his hands over in the flashlight beam, "if I were with anyone but you." He hummed, scrubbed at one of his hands again, then folded the towel where all the stains were on the inside, and handed it back to Tseng. Tseng stowed it in the car, and Reeve took the flashlight from him. When Tseng raised an eyebrow at him, Reeve smiled and shrugged. "Look at us. Who would believe we were Shinra?"

... That was a point. In Gongaga, they would have had problems convincing the townsfolk of that if they didn't see Reeve twice a year and vaguely remember him from each visit. Tseng could even understand how they forgot Reeve, considering he was only there for a few hours. He paid for a room, disappeared into the reactor, and if it was still light out after he'd completed his inspection, he'd leave without demanding a refund on the room. He was as unobtrusive as possible, had been at each of the reactors they'd visited so far.

People paid far more attention to Tseng than they did Reeve.

Tseng sighed and he shook his head. "Should not risk it, Reeve," he said firmly, and he held out one of the blankets. "We will sleep in the car."

Reeve nodded very slowly, and so help him, he managed to look as though Tseng had just calmly announced that they would barbeque kittens. He was sliding into the backseat of the car when Tseng reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

"Are you going to look like that all night?"

Reeve glanced at him, and he immediately composed his expression into something far less pathetic. Somehow, that was worse, knowing that Reeve— awkward-but-kind Reeve Tuesti, who was gifted with anything mechanical— was working so very hard to control his feelings on the matter. Or, rather, working to not burden Tseng any more than he already was.

Tseng gritted his teeth, and then he glanced down the road. "There will be drinks there, yes?" he asked, and Reeve nodded. Tseng jabbed a thumb toward the road. "We should walk then."

The glee on Reeve's face almost made it worth the fact that he knew if Veld found out he'd be in serious trouble. Perhaps he could think of some sort of excuse that would work for Veld before they returned to Midgar. Leviathan's scales, he'd have time to think of one just on the walk to the canyon.

It took them close to an hour to reach it, and Reeve wasn't too winded— he'd needed to stop for a minute about halfway through, and Tseng had let him without a second thought. It wasn't as though their lives depended on Reeve's ability to move right then, and even if it had, Tseng had three guns on him as well as his blades. He was confident in his ability to fend off attackers long enough to get Reeve on his feet and moving again.

The Canyon itself was very bright, and Reeve's eyes were wide as he looked around, taking in everything. Tseng was focused more on the expressions of those they were approaching, but no one looked openly hostile. It wasn't safe, but it was just enough to let him relax marginally. Reeve didn't even seem to notice, but he stayed two steps back and to the right of Tseng. Just far enough back to be out of the way if Tseng had to pull a weapon, and just close enough that Tseng could grab him and pull him in close if there was a threat from behind.

Reeve didn't even seem aware that he was doing it.

Tseng introduced them. No last names, just Reeve and Tseng, and no one so much as blinked an eye. They immediately and cheerfully directed them to the Inn, and after just a moment, Tseng heard the murmurs about Wutai, about Wutaians always being a safe bet to let in.

He cast a critical eye over his shoulder at Reeve, and he smiled very slightly. Reeve was half, looked half, and he'd been right when he'd bet that no one would think of them as Shinra. Tseng had simply been working so hard to be Shinra that he supposed he'd thought it branded into his skin.

(His suit would have been a giveaway had he been wearing it. But Reeve disliked wearing suits when he traveled— perhaps all the time, if his attire in the office was any indication— and after the first day in the car, the first day spent watching Reeve move among people without being noticed and Tseng attracting more attention than was useful in any way, Tseng had taken him up on the offer of sharing his clothes, jeans that were honestly too tight for Tseng's comfort and the t-shirts that clung a little closer on Tseng than they did on Reeve. But he knew from studying himself in the mirror that his discomfort didn't show, that he looked the part, and he had stopped attracting the excess attention.)

They rented the room, and Reeve collapsed on one of the beds with a happy sigh. He rubbed his face against the blanket, and Tseng smiled when he lifted his head and the dark streak of grime from earlier had spread over his forehead. He tilted his own head toward the small bathroom off of the room.

"Would you like to shower first?"

Reeve glanced up at him, smiled, and nodded. "Sure. Then you can, and then we can find something to eat?"

Tseng couldn't stop the way his smile widened. If nothing else, Reeve took his safety seriously. Unlike almost every other person Tseng had ever acted as a guard for, Reeve followed his instructions and waited for him. He never had to worry about Reeve not being where Tseng had left him.

Now, with Tseng nodding, Reeve was slipping into the bathroom, and in just a few moments, Tseng could hear the water running. He listened to it run, listened to the pauses and breaks in the flow that were Reeve showering and cleaning up, and then it was his turn and he listened to the way that the pauses and breaks were different when he moved. He never doubted that Reeve would be anywhere but sitting on the edge of the bed, hands wrapped over his knees as he waited for Tseng to dry off and come out.

Reeve proved him right.

He sat up straight when Tseng walked into the room, and he averted his eyes as Tseng moved to dress— Tseng would, it seemed, never remember that Midgar's children were all strange about nudity— and then he was standing by the door almost before Tseng could even pull his shirt all the way down. Tseng smiled a little, motioned toward the door, and Reeve stepped to the side to allow Tseng out of the room first.

They ate in the inn, at the little restaurant that boasted that the Cosmo Candle— their signature drink— was unparalleled across the world. They each had one, and before they left, Reeve got two more in paper cups, and Tseng took his more for the fact that Reeve had handed it to him than because he actually wanted it. There was music drifting into the restaurant, and Reeve was tapping his foot slightly, glancing out toward the bonfire. He didn't ask though, didn't ask even though it was painfully obvious that he wanted to, and Tseng glanced toward the door— not really a door, it was just a cloth that had been pulled back for now— and the bonfire, trying to decide the risk.

"How's your Wutaian?" he asked softly, the liquid syllables almost foreign in his mouth after so many months of nothing but standard, but he couldn't forget them, and Reeve glanced at him, licking his bottom lip before he nodded.

"My Wutaian is passable," he murmured back, and Tseng couldn't stop the way his eyebrow raised. Reeve sounded almost painfully formal, and suddenly, he was grateful that there wasn't— or didn't appear to be— anyone immediately around who could have heard that. Reeve didn't speak like a native would, but neither did he speak like the translators that Shinra so often employed. Those didn't sound like a native either, but there was at least some degree of familiarity with the words, and none of them spoke as though they were standing before the royal court. Reeve hesitated, his brow furrowing again, and he asked, "Is there something wrong with my Wutaian?"

Leviathan's blessed scales, the kid— Reeve— didn't even realize how he sounded. Tseng shook his head, offered Reeve a little bit more of a smile, and he tilted his head toward the door. "Do you want to go see?"

Reeve's eyes widened, and he nodded sharply. There was that glee again, that joy that Tseng wasn't sure he had ever expected to see on Reeve's face. Not after days trapped in the car with him and not getting anything more relaxed than the very occasional joke. It was hard to resist offering him whatever it would take to get Tseng that smile.

(Not to say that Tseng didn't appreciate the silence. It had given him time to study the countryside that Reeve was clearly familiar with, given him time to breathe without the crush of so damn many people as there were in Midgar. Reeve could even be overlooked in the car, he kept himself so still.)

Reeve headed out to the fire, though he didn't stray away from arm's length of Tseng— and who the hell had trained him to keep him that aware of where he was in relation to his bodyguard? Had he simply had one all his life?— and he sipped from his cup, his eyes alight with pleasure as they watched people lining up along the edge of the fire. Some kind of dance or ceremony then, and Tseng glanced around them before he caught Reeve's elbow and very gently guided him to the ladders. Cups were held between teeth as they climbed— and Reeve hadn't needed any instruction on that fact, he had simply moved as directed, had placed his cup between his teeth and held it as he climbed, so perhaps he was familiar with maneuvering around ladders then— and when they reached the first 'floor', Tseng guided Reeve up again until they were only a level or two below the massive telescope and observatory.

Reeve spent a minute leaning over the railing, glancing up at it, before the music started up again, louder this time, and then he was watching that instead. From where they were, they could see all of the dancers, could see the musicians and the giant red ... cat-like creatures who were prowling around the outermost edge of the fire. Their tails were alight with little flames of their own— is that where they got the Cosmo Candle's name? Or was it named for the perpetual bonfire?— and Reeve was perfectly quiet as they watched.

Tseng couldn't have said how long the dancing went on for. It could have been hours, it could have been minutes, between the drink— it was stronger than he'd first suspected— and the music and hypnotic fire, time was meaningless. Reeve was swaying very slightly with the music, his fingers tapping on the railing with the same throbbing beat of the drums, and Tseng took his paper cup the minute Reeve was finished with it. Then the music slowed, fell off, and Reeve hummed softly, turning to glance up at Tseng with a wide smile. The first real smile Tseng had ever seen on Reeve's face.

He started to say something, but Tseng's attention slid from him to the old man that was hovering— hovering?— in the doorway to the next level. Tseng's eyes narrowed, and the old man held up a hand; Reeve turned to see what Tseng was looking at, his words dying on his lips before he could give breath to them.

"Oh, ho... Didn't mean to startle you." The old man moved closer to them, and Reeve tilted his head, his eyes dropping to study the bright green device that made the old man float.

"I haven't seen one of those in use before," Reeve murmured, and he started to kneel, started to lean closer to get a better look at it, but Tseng's hand caught his elbow again, kept him still. Reeve didn't glance back at him, didn't react at all beyond the fact that he simply didn't lean down. "I didn't think they had made it past the concept stage."

"They're didn't," the old man replied, a smile on his lips, and he was studying Reeve. "My own design. It works and that is the important thing."

Tseng and Reeve both nodded, and the old man studied them for a moment more before he drifted closer to them, looking over the railing toward the dancers. The music was easing, was slowing and fading as the musicians stopped playing one at a time, and then only the drums were going. It was eerie, without the flute and the stringed instruments, and Tseng could feel the beat in his gut, in his chest. The old man's smile widened slightly.

"Are you two here to study the Planet then?"

Reeve nodded before Tseng could stop him, and he gave the old man his very best, bland smile. It was restrained, and Tseng was suddenly more than just concerned— he was annoyed at this old man for taking the genuine pleasure that had been on Reeve's face. "Of course. That is the popular reason for stopping, isn't it?" He glanced back at Tseng, and he murmured very lowly, in Wutaian, "Just go with it, if you please. I would very much like to learn some things from him."

Tseng sighed slightly, but he didn't move to stop Reeve. His hand didn't let go of Reeve's elbow either, but Reeve hardly seemed to notice the hold. Instead, he was turning back to look at the old man. "I've heard that there's an observatory— is that it?" He pointed, and Tseng watched the old man glance around and grin.

"Ho, ho! It is, yes! Good eye, you have there."

It was a pretty difficult thing to miss, though, and Tseng frowned slightly before he let his gaze drift up to it for just a moment. Then he looked back, and the old man was studying them both far more sharply than Tseng expected him to. Tseng's grip tightened slightly, and Reeve stepped back closer to him, careful to keep just to one side of him.

Guarding anyone else after this was going to be hell.

"I don't think he cares for me," Tseng murmured, and Reeve laughed, glancing back at him.

"You are staring at him as though he might assault me at any given moment. I do not believe I would much care for you either," Reeve replied, and Tseng wanted to hear what Reeve would sound like speaking more natural Wutaian instead of that ... whatever he was speaking.

(Tseng had heard that style of speaking only a few times in his life, all of them in the royal court. It was the sort of speech one used when speaking to the Emperor, when pleading for the life of a family member or the honor of a house. It wasn't meant for every day use, and the fact that Reeve didn't even seem to notice how he was speaking simply served to set Tseng's teeth on edge. He would trade Reeve later, maybe. Driving lessons for how to speak Wutaian normally.)

The old man cleared his throat, and immediately, Reeve's attention snapped back to him. He wore another of those small smiles. "Forgive us. It's ... His standard isn't the best." He didn't even look to Tseng to see if Tseng would play along with that, and for a moment, Tseng was annoyed. His standard was just fine—

But it gave Reeve the excuse to be rude, to speak to Tseng in Wutaian instead of in standard, as would be expected in the company of someone who didn't speak Wutaian themselves. Tseng relaxed slightly, making himself let go of Reeve's elbow just a little.

Another wide smile from the old man, and he nodded. "Understands it better than he speaks it, does he?" Reeve nodded, and the old man glanced at Tseng again. There was something mischievous in his face, as though perhaps he knew that they were lying, that Tseng spoke standard perfectly well. (No, that was an overreaction. That was Tseng forcing what he knew to be true on an incident that didn't necessarily relate. Exactly the way he had assumed everyone would look at them and know they were Shinra.) "Well. I am Bugenhagen—"

"The doctor?" Reeve tilted his head, and the old man hesitated, his smile fading slightly. "I just ask... wasn't it the doctor who proposed the Lifestream theory?"

The old man tilted his head, and he nodded. He was suddenly looking at Reeve much more critically, and it took everything Tseng had not to pull Reeve back behind him and stay between him and this old man. Doing that would shame Reeve though, would force him to carry on his conversation around Tseng, and Tseng knew better than to put either of them in that position. Instead, he simply tensed, his fingers twitching as he prepared to pull the blade in his boot. Just in case.

"Ho, ho, hooo! You're correct, but son, I hardly created the theory. I simply gathered information from those around us. From those who were in tune enough to ... understand."

Reeve nodded, and he leaned forward slightly, offering Bugenhagen a slightly wider smile than he'd managed so far. "I would very much like to hear the theory from you. I've read your paper on the subject, but there's so much of it that's difficult to follow—"

"It is a theory best presented with a visual aid," Bugenhagen agreed, and he hesitated for just a moment before he motioned toward the observatory. "Would you like for me to show you?"

"Can we?" Reeve glanced back at Tseng, and for a moment, Tseng wanted to tell him no. Wanted to ask him what the hell he was thinking and drag him back into the room— this had not been what Tseng had expected their evening to be like when he agreed to this— but he drew a breath. It wasn't as though there was an immediate danger here. There was no reason for Tseng to dislike the old man immediately and thoroughly, and Tseng gritted his teeth slightly before he nodded. Reeve smiled at him, slow and wide, and then he looked back to Bugenhagen. "If you don't mind, that would be lovely."

They were led up to the observatory, and Tseng found himself sticking closer to Reeve almost by instinct. There was too much machinery around them, too many things that Tseng couldn't immediately identify. In some ways, it was like being in a reactor, except that here, Reeve wasn't nearly as comfortable. Bugenhagen took them into a larger room off to the side of the home they entered, and Tseng grabbed Reeve's elbow again when Bugenhagen pushed a lever and the platform they were standing on shot up toward the ceiling.

Tseng's gaze sharpened at the old man, and Bugenhagen only smiled, placid and calm. Reeve at least looked excited as he glanced around them, reaching up to dislodge Tseng's grip in favor of simply stepping closer to him.

"If you keep this up, people will begin mistaking us for a couple," he murmured, and he looked at Tseng before he returned his attention to the ceiling, to the machinery that Bugenhagen was working with. "You will be mistaken for my possessive lover," he added, and for once, the smile he wore was mischievous, playful.

Tseng rather liked that look on him.

(Anything was better than those small, restrained smiles. Anything was better than the feeling Tseng got that someone had hurt Reeve, had worn him down until the only thing he had left was self-restraint and that quiet dignity.)

"Perhaps I am while we're here then," Tseng retorted, and Reeve laughed— really laughed— for the first time that Tseng heard. He relaxed fractionally for the sound, and then the room was growing darker, and Bugenhagen made a low sound of triumph.

"Here we are!"

And began their demonstration, the whirling stars and Planets and the concept that their Planet was only one in a sea of thousands were all enough to give Tseng a headache, but Reeve was asking more questions than Tseng could even keep up with (What do you mean, a Planet dies? What about the forces of nature that keep our Planet in motion? Are you discounting the natural laws that have already been proven, Doctor?). Then the Planet began to glow, red and green and colors that Tseng realized were meant to represent different life types.

He knew this idea. Knew this theory. It was a part of growing up in Wutai, a part of understanding the natural flow of energy, the way life balanced itself. He was almost surprised that Reeve wasn't already familiar with it, or he would have been had he not reminded himself sharply that Reeve was, in so many ways, one of Midgar's children. But the more the lesson wore on, the more uncomfortable Tseng grew.

And then there it was. The anti-Shinra punchline, the belief that the Lifestream was not simply a metaphysical idea, but a real thing, an actual surge of energy and consciousness and liquid that flowed just under the ground. Tseng's skin crawled when Bugenhagen glanced at Reeve and said lowly, "Spirit energy is the source of life for trees, for birds, for humans, and not only living things, but it even makes it possible to form Planets. But if that spirit energy were to disappear..."

And he held his hand out over the Planet hovering beside him, the colored energy flowing sharply off of the surface and into his sleeve, leaving a blackened husk that cracked, broke, and fell away into nothing. For a moment, none of them spoke, and then Bugenhagen looked between them and added, "This is only the basics of the Study of Planet Life that we teach here, but spirit energy is only efficient because it exists in nature. When it is forcefully extracted and manufactured, it can't accomplish its true purpose."

Reeve nodded slowly, and he stepped just a little closer to Tseng. "You're talking about mako. About reactors." It wasn't a question. Even Tseng, whose standard was not quite good enough to follow all of this discussion without the visual aids, had immediately grasped that fact.

"Every day," Bugenhagen said, his voice rough, "mako reactors suck up spirit energy, diminishing it. It's compressed in reactors and processed into mako energy."

"You're saying that mako energy can only destroy the Planet," Reeve replied softly, and Tseng was close enough to him to feel the tremor that raced down him at his own words. Immediately, he reached out and brushed his fingers against Reeve's elbow, his attention jerking from Bugenhagen, from the machinery that was slowly lowering them back down and out of the model, back to Reeve.

(They shouldn't have come to Cosmo Canyon.)

"All living things are being used up and thrown away," Bugenhagen said as studied them both. Reeve hummed, but he didn't argue, didn't say anything else except that Bugenhagen had given him much to think about. Satisfied with that, he'd turned the machinery off, and they'd headed back to their room at the inn, leaving Bugenhagen in his observatory.

Reeve was still quiet after they got back, and Tseng ditched the paper cups that he had almost forgotten he was holding before he perched on the edge of the bed. Reeve was stripping his shoes off, sliding back onto his own bed and rubbing his face, and he wasn't talking, wasn't looking at Tseng. Slowly, Tseng pulled his boots off, and his gaze narrowed as he studied the engineer, waiting for ... something. A reaction, maybe.

There it was, in the tremble of Reeve's shoulders, and Tseng flinched when he saw them. His lips pressed into a thin line, and he wondered briefly if any of the other Turks had fucked up as thoroughly as he just managed. No wonder Veld never wanted Reeve to stop here. How could he let him when he knew— had to know— what they taught here? When he knew that they were claiming the reactors were evil, that Reeve's life's work was destroying everything that everyone would end up with.

That Reeve has been converting souls into simple power.

He dropped both his boots by the bed, and hesitantly, he started to reach out to touch Reeve's shoulder, to try to see if he couldn't offer some kind of support— people in Midgar were always touching one another when they were upset— but before he could make contact, Reeve was shuddering and jerking away. He reached blindly forward, caught the candle-holder on the table between the beds, and he threw it. It crashed into the wall and fell to the ground with a clatter, but thankfully, the candle hadn't been lit. The mess would have been a lot worse otherwise.

Tseng glanced back at Reeve sharply, his eyes widening slightly. Reeve was curled back up on the bed, his knees tucked in close to his chest and his arms around his legs, holding them as close as he could manage. There was a knock on the door, and Tseng moved to answer it. The innkeeper, asking about the noise, and Tseng smiled blandly before he murmured, his Wutaian accent thick, "Mouse. Scared him. Fine now, thanks." She smiled, nodded understandingly, and wished them both well before she headed back down to the desk.

Tseng shut the door, locked it, and when he turned back to look at Reeve, the engineer was still shaking. But he was frowning sharply, his brow furrowed and still holding onto his knees as though they were somehow going to make this better. Tseng dropped onto the edge of the bed, and he tilted his head, quiet. Waiting.

It took Reeve about seven minutes before he looked at Tseng again, and he glanced past him toward the candle-holder, a faint blush touching his face. "Sorry," he muttered, and he unfolded himself, stood, and started toward it. Tseng caught his elbow and hauled him right back to the bed. He wasn't about to give Reeve something to distract himself from. Tseng needed— no, he was selfish; he wanted to know what had sparked the action in the first place, wanted to know what triggered this young man that Veld was so fond of.

(He wanted to know the players in this game in Midgar, and Reeve was definitely one of the major players, no matter how unobtrusive he was, no matter how quiet. He was pivotal since he operated the reactors and maintained the city.)

"Sorry," he said again, and Tseng shook his head, raising an eyebrow. Reeve squirmed slightly as he perched on the edge of the bed, and he glanced down at his hands— neatly folded in his lap— instead of looking back at Tseng. But Tseng had patience, could out-wait him, and after another two minutes, Reeve sighed. "I just— They make me so angry."

Tseng's eyes widened slightly, and then he was really studying Reeve. Anger hadn't been what Tseng had expected after that demonstration, after watching the very graphic result of sucking the Lifestream from the Planet. Anger hadn't been anywhere near the top list of reactions Tseng had expected from Reeve.

"They sit here and they claim they don't use Shinra power, they claim they are doing what they can to save the Planet, and they're just such hypocrites. I can't stand it!" Reeve reached up, shoved his hand through his hair, and he sighed, jerking away from Tseng's loose grip on his elbow and moving to sit back in the middle of his bed again. He glanced up at Tseng. "Did you see all the electric lights?"

Tseng hesitated. He had seen them, of course. He hadn't thought much of them though. Hadn't ... noted them the way Reeve clearly had. He nodded slowly.

"And that projection. That 3-D hologram that we just watched? How much power to you think that uses?" Reeve blew out a breath, and Tseng hummed softly. He had no idea how much power it used, but given the amount of machinery involved in operating it, he would bet a lot. "And he wasted it, just showing us. He operated that whole thing just to show two people! It's awful. Wasteful and awful, and did you notice what they are running everything off of?"

"Batteries," Tseng murmured. He had noticed those. They were almost impossible to miss given that they were almost as tall as he was, that they were certainly bigger around than Tseng was and looked like they weighed a ton. They weren't hidden from view either, and honestly, Tseng had wondered just where they came from.

"Shinra batteries," Reeve corrected, a scowl on his face. "They don't care about the Planet. They care about repeat business. About looking good and getting people to come back to buy more Cosmo Candles or whatever."

"Were you expecting anything different?" Tseng raised an eyebrow, tilting his head slightly. "They are completely reliant on tourism to fun the entire community. People only come back if they feel there is something to see."

Reeve hesitated, then he sighed, and his legs slid down. Somehow, he looked more vulnerable like that. "I shouldn't be surprised, I know that. ... But everyone has always worked so hard to keep me away from here that I just assumed ... it was stupid. I'm an idiot." He fell back, rolling onto his side, the motion putting his back to Tseng.

Tseng wondered how many people were comfortable enough with the Turks as a group to do something like that.

"You broke the car on purpose."

Reeve snorted, and Tseng waited a minute before Reeve started to laugh, low and ... or was he crying? Was he crying?

"N-nothing wrong with the car. I messed with the engine before we left Gongaga." Reeve sighed, and he pushed himself up, reaching up to rub his face with his hands. Tseng couldn't see any tears, but Reeve had definitely sounded like he was crying. When his hands dropped down, his eyes were rimmed slightly in red.

"I did not see you mess with the engine," he murmured.

Reeve glanced up at him, and he shrugged very slightly. "You were making the last pass through the room."

Tseng frowned. That last pass had taken not even a full minute, and Reeve had managed to open the hood of the car, do something to the engine, and be back behind the wheel, studying the map, by the time Tseng came back out? He shook his head, and when Reeve started to protest, he held up a hand. "No, I... I believe you," he murmured, and Reeve leaned back a little, frowning himself and tilting his head to one side as he looked back at Tseng. "I believe you. I was not aware that you could move so quickly," he clarified, and that caused a soft dusting of red over Reeve's face. A blush.

"Don't do it often," Reeve replied, and he blew out a breath— the motion a little too forceful to be a sigh— before he leaned back down, folding his arms under his head. "I ... it was stupid. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done it."

The only reason Tseng got an apology is because Reeve didn't find whatever it was he was looking for here. He nudged Reeve over, and Reeve glanced at him before he obediently edged over on the bed. Tseng stretched out beside him, one hand resting lightly on his stomach as he studied the ceiling.

(Dirt ceiling. Dirt ceiling and dirt floor because this inn, like everything else in Cosmo Canyon, was built directly into the side of the mountain. Brought back memories of other dirt ceilings and dirt floors, of the places that he had stayed on his hike to Midgar, of a life that Tseng had given up the moment he stowed away on the ship headed to Junon. Tseng didn't miss dirt ceilings.)

"You were expecting ... what exactly, Reeve?"

Reeve shrugged, and he rolled over onto his stomach, folding his arms under his head again, propping his chin up on them. "I don't know. I ... I've read their teachings before, you know? I've read about this whole Lifestream theory and the fact that the elders of Cosmo Canyon believe in it and push it and claim that every time you use mako, you're killing not only the Planet but the souls of the departed. I just wasn't expecting to see them flaunting the fact that they don't believe in their own teachings. I should have. I just thought that with someone like Bugenhagen at the head of this movement, they would at least pretend to do more than lip service."

"You know him then?"

Another very slight shrug. "He used to work for Shinra."

The statement was given easily, no judgment behind it, no ... anything really. Tseng turned his head enough to look at Reeve. Reeve was staring at the head of the bed, his fingers tapping on his pillow, tapping some rhythm that was familiar, even if Tseng couldn't place it.

"Right. What did he do?"

"He was a scientist. He wasn't very popular though. Didn't approve of mako use or the weaponry development, and back then, that's all Shinra was, really. I mean, they had funding for other departments, and that's about the time the motors division was started, but mako and weaponry? That's where the funding really was. If you wanted Shinra to support your research, you provided something in return for one of those two areas."

"Bugenhagen didn't?"

"He ... he did. He helped with the reactors, but I think only because Gast coaxed him into it. In return, Shinra set him up a fine little laboratory to use, and he ran the thing off of coal from what I understand. Whole thing crashed down around him when he published his Lifestream theory though, and eventually, Shinra cut off his funding. Not that it mattered by that point. He had already cut ties with them and moved into Cosmo Canyon." Reeve looked back at Tseng, his brow furrowing. "Sorry. You're not interested in this really, are you?"

Tseng shrugged this time, mimicking Reeve as smoothly as he could. "It is important to you. And I am in charge of your well-being. That makes it interesting to me, does it not?" He raised an eyebrow, and Reeve stared at him for another minute before he looked back to the head of the bed.

So, the quiet Reeve, the quiet, awkward engineer, didn't trust him. Tseng couldn't say that it surprised him.

"How do you know about Bugenhagen? You were there when it happened?"

"No. It happened years before ... It— " Another pause, and then Reeve shook his head and sighed once more. "It happened before I was recruited into Shinra. I know because I researched it after I found his paper. He wrote the whole thing with such conviction that I just thought... I don't know. I wanted to meet him. Wanted to see how he lived if he didn't use mako."

"He uses the batteries."

"Which are charged by a process that utilizes energy created by the reactors," Reeve countered. "He's using mako, it's just in a bottled form."

"They could not be charged some other way? Coal?"

Reeve hesitated then, and Tseng watched the way those dark eyes unfocused slightly, sliding from one side to the other as though he were reading something. It was an expression that Tseng was rapidly beginning to associate with Reeve working out a problem in his head, with figuring out an answer before he offered it. Then Reeve shook his head and looked back at Tseng. "Not those batteries. They're too large. Only Shinra makes them that big, and if they're Shinra batteries, they're charged with mako energy. ... They're expensive as well. I'm not entirely certain how Cosmo Canyon can afford so many of them."

This time, it was Tseng's turn to offer a slight smile. "I am sure the doctor has his funds. If not, it would not be so hard to steal them, would it?" There had been reports of shipping trucks being turned over closer to Junon, where those batteries were used to operate mining equipment in the nearby mountain settlements. Tseng had spent the last week before his trip with Reeve filing those reports and making certain they were sent to the appropriate departments. Now that he had some idea where the batteries were ending up, he would be able to track the movements of the thieves more efficiently.

For a moment, Reeve didn't react at all to Tseng's words, and then he snorted slightly and nodded. "Right. Could have stolen them. Maybe they don't even feel bad about using them if they stole them. They might see it as thumbing their nose at Shinra instead of just using mako energy themselves."

Tseng has a difficult time picturing the inhabitants of Cosmo Canyon mounting an armed assault on the trucks used to move those batteries. More likely, they were purchasing them from the thieves. He didn't see a reason to correct Reeve's impression. Instead, he simply hummed softly, thoughtfully, and he looked back to the ceiling. "Perhaps. Or perhaps they feel that using these batteries to show the visitors such a display is worth it? It is ... particularly moving."

"It's a theory," Reeve countered immediately, and he shifted on the bed before he moved to sit up, crossing his legs and holding out his hands in front of him. Tseng tilted his head down, one eyebrow raising as he watched Reeve. "I mean, look, okay? There's the Lifestream theory. It's popular, but it's hardly the only one available. There's also theories that suggest mako is little more than a by-product of some geological events that we have been unable to obverse properly since most geological study has ground to a halt since the discovery of mako. There's even theories that suggest mako is some kind of internal runoff from our more ... unusual metals. Like mythril. That would explain why there's so much mako under Midgar, you know. Because those mountains are thick with mythril." The entire time he was talking, Reeve was moving his hands, counting off theories and glancing up at Tseng just long enough to make certain that he hadn't lost him, and then looking back down at his hands. Reeve might not have been able to talk at all if his hands had been tied behind his back.

"I am not familiar with those theories," Tseng finally said, because Reeve had gone quiet, because Tseng realized that Reeve was probably expecting him to say something, and he shrugged again. "I am familiar with this ... Lifestream theory. It is what is taught in Wutai. Everything is connected— "

"Just because everything is connected doesn't mean that there has to a real physical connection between them. Wutaian theories are more suggestive of a metaphysical connection, an energy that connects everything. Not a real liquid gushing about under the Planet's crust." Reeve's frown deepened, and then, his eyes suddenly widened, and he flushed darkly. "Sorry. Sorry, I ... I didn't mean— ... It's not my place to tell you what Wutaians think— " He stopped short, and he put a hand over his mouth, averting his face quickly.

Tseng couldn't stop himself from laughing, and he dropped his head back on the pillow. There was really no other reaction that Tseng could offer, with the force of Reeve's reaction to the idea that he had not only cut Tseng off but then proceeded to lecture him— albeit shortly— on the way Wutaians viewed the world. By the time he managed to get it back under control, Reeve was flushed even darker, was still not looking at him, and Tseng drew a breath just as Reeve shot off the bed, clearly needing to pace. Tseng caught his arm by the wrist and pulled him back down on the bed, and Reeve stared at the floor, his hand still over his mouth.

"Reeve," Tseng said softly, and Reeve finally glanced up at him, misery in those dark eyes. "It is fine. You got it correct, yes? So long as you get it correct, you can lecture."

Reeve shook his head, and he started to open his mouth, his hand dropping back down into his lap, and then he snapped it shut. He shook his head again instead of trying to find words.

For a moment, Tseng simply looked at him, trying to imagine how exactly Reeve had gotten tangled up in the Shinra company, trying to imagine what sort of circumstances would have led to his recruitment, his acceptance of such a recruitment. There were too many possibilities to make a guess though, and in the end, Tseng simply resigned himself to the fact that he would have to do a little digging once he got back in the office. Veld would be a good place to start, given the fondness he had when introducing Reeve to Tseng, but it would be tricky trying to get information out of him without it being obvious.

Then Tseng loosened his grip on Reeve's wrist, and he smiled a little. "It is fine," he repeated, and Reeve shivered before he nodded jerkily.

"It's normally Veld with me on these trips," he whispered, and he took his hand back so that he could pull his knees up to his chest again. "And I don't have this perpetual need to put my foot in my mouth— to be so foolish— all the time with him."

Tseng nodded as though he understood, but really, all that information did was make him more curious. The director of the Turks went with Reeve on these trips, on these days away from the office and without reliable communication with the rest of the company; why? Veld surely had more important things to do. And the fact that Reeve was more comfortable with Veld at his side, with the director of the Turks instead of a lower ranking one, only served to make Tseng wonder at the nature of the relationship Reeve had with Tseng's boss.

(It did explain why Reeve was so well trained to having a bodyguard with him, why Reeve needed little to no prompting before he assumed the appropriate and best methods of sticking close to his Turk. Veld wasn't the type to take any foolish risks. Veld wouldn't have let him go to Cosmo Canyon; they'd have spent in the night in the car. ... It also meant that Veld wouldn't have seen that expression on Reeve's face when they watched the dancers, wouldn't have seen how Reeve lit up getting to see the bonfire and sway to the music.)

"I do fine in meetings, you know. It's just when I get stuck with someone, when I have to spend a lot of time with them and I don't know ... them." Reeve leaned his head forward to rest on his knees.

Tseng didn't think that 'knowing' his companion was what Reeve meant right there, but he didn't correct or argue with Reeve about it. He figured it was less knowing them as individuals and more not knowing what they expected of him that set Reeve on edge. He made a soft sound, and then he sat up and glanced at Reeve. After a minute, he reached out and placed his hand on Reeve's shoulder. Reeve looked at him, brow furrowing, and Tseng ignored how awkward he felt doing this. Reeve looked like he needed some kind of connection to ... well, anything, honestly.

"Are you tired? Will you sleep now?"

Reeve bit his bottom lip, and then he nodded. Tseng's eyes narrowed as he raked his gaze over the tension in Reeve's shoulders, in the way that he was still trembling slightly (from rage or agitation; Tseng couldn't tell), his hands clutching at his legs as though he might fall to pieces— or simply break— if he let go. For another moment, he stayed still, and then Tseng was pulling Reeve close to him, wrapping his arms over Reeve's shoulders. Reeve tensed, but when Tseng didn't let him go, he drew a shaky breath, then another, and Tseng made this low sound as he loosened his grip just enough to stroke one hand over Reeve's shoulder. The tension eased a little, and Tseng continued to hold him.

The last time he'd held someone like this, there had been far more blood. Far more screaming. His eyebrows drew closer together as he tried to focus on the feel of Reeve, on making sure that Reeve was breathing and relaxing the way he should be.

(There were no screams here, no blood, no shouting in Wutaian and standard alike as SOLDIERs forced Wutai's people to their knees in her streets. There was no cold resignation to the fact that Wutai couldn't possibly win this fight— that if Tseng wanted to live, he had to bolt from this city, from this country and head somewhere that had a chance to win. The body in his arms then had only been the final straw, the thing to convince him that he was right. The moment there had been no more breathing, the moment that Tseng had realized he was holding a thing instead of a person, he had committed to his plan. It was easier to carry out when he only had to plan for one.)

"Why did Veld not come with you on this trip?"

Reeve drew a deeper breath, and he started to pull away, but Tseng didn't let him go, and after a heartbeat, he leaned back against him. More heavily this time. "I couldn't put it off until he could. There's a party in Junon that he'll need to attend. The President is holding some sort of function in the Junon household. I needed to make this round before Veld would have been available." He sighed softly, and this time when he started to pull back, Tseng let him. He seemed more at ease, more connected to the world again, and it made Tseng's chest ache a little less to look at him.

"I see," he replied, and then he was leaning back again, moving to sit more on the edge of the bed. Giving Reeve a little space. "Because you did not want to go to this ... function?"

Reeve's eyes snapped up to Tseng, and for a moment, Tseng didn't think Reeve was going to answer him. Then he managed a very faint smile, and he nodded slightly. "How did you know I was even invited?"

This time, Tseng raised an eyebrow, and the smile he gave Reeve back was wider, easier. "You make the reactors work," he said simply, and Reeve started to protest, started to give him what Tseng was rapidly recognizing as his default response to that sort of statement, but when Tseng shook his head, Reeve quieted. "You have the director of the Turks at your..." Tseng blanked, trying to think of the phrase, and he shrugged. "You have him ready to go when you need him, yes? Or can get a Turk to accompany you for your trips at least? That takes pull in the company."

Reeve nodded slightly, and he let his knees ease down from his chest. "It's not that," he finally said, and he glanced down to the tops of his knees, reaching up to pick at a small hole there, his fingers tugging on the white strings fraying at the edges. "I have to have a Turk with me when I leave Midgar on any sort of extended trip. It's ... an agreement Veld made with my mother years ago."

Reeve didn't look old enough to have been with the company for 'years', but Tseng didn't counter him, didn't argue with him. Instead, he simply hummed lowly, and he tilted his head. Reeve was quiet for another minute before he looked up at Tseng.

"I should let you sleep. We'll need to walk back to the car tomorrow, and Mt. Nibel isn't the easiest reactor to get to - "

Tseng shook his head, and he stood, dusting off his jeans almost absently before he pulled his boots on. Reeve watched him, brow furrowing, and when Tseng held out his hand to Reeve, the engineer took it, tilting his head to one side in an unspoken question. Tseng smiled. "You were wanting something when we came here, yes? You were looking for something."

The very faintest of red colors dusted over Reeve's face and he nodded slowly. He didn't look any less confused, but he let Tseng tug him out the door and out of the inn. For a moment, Tseng stayed there, Reeve's hand in his own as he turned to glance, turned to see where the best spot would be. He found it after just a few minutes, and he pulled Reeve over to the wall and - after looking around them both to make sure no one was there to see them, no one to yell at them - he offered Reeve a boost and they started climbing up the cliff's face. Tseng was careful to keep them well away from the path they'd taken to the observatory, and after a few minutes, after Reeve was sucking in sharp breaths and still looking at Tseng as though he might be mildly out of his mind, they reached the flat section Tseng had been aiming for. He guided Reeve to the edge, and he couldn't stop the very slight rush of pleasure he got from the fact that Reeve trusted him, that Reeve let him seat Reeve on the edge of the small flat area they had climbed to.

Veld would never let Tseng have guard duty for Reeve ever again.

Tseng fell to lay flat on his back, and after just a moment, Reeve followed suit, and Tseng's eyes closed at the slight gasp Reeve let out. A grin quirked his lips. He was from Wutai, had climbed the face of Da Chao more times than he culd count, and part of him wondered if the same blood wasn't running through Reeve's veins, given the ease that he'd taken to climbing the cliff face. But none of it mattered as Tseng opened his eyes and stared up into the sky. He had missed being able to see the stars like this, with nothing in the air over his head, nothing but the stars and the sky and the cool air that rushed past them. Reeve made a low noise as he stared up at the sky, and Tseng turned his head just so that he could see Reeve's face. There was just enough moonlight to see by, and Reeve was laying there, his lips slightly parted and his eyes wide. He must have felt Tseng looking at him, because after a minute, he was looking back at Tseng, and he hesitated before he smiled.

It was a surprisingly sweet smile.

"I don't understand."

Tseng laughed, and he looked back at the stars. "You were looking for a connection. For something you could ... " He hesitated, and then he waved his hand. Standard didn't have the words he was looking for - or if it did, Tseng didn't know them. Instead, he murmured, "You were looking for a connection to something, weren't you? For something to make you feel not quite so alone?"

There was another soft gasp from Reeve, and then he managed something that sounded almost like a laugh of his own. "No wonder you're a Turk," he replied, and after another minute of quiet, he added, "Yeah. I guess I was."

"They're endless, you know. Suck up everything that gets close to them."

"That's the theory," Reeve answered, and he did laugh that time. Something real, something open and something that Tseng was much more comfortable hearing. "I mean. It's kind of like Midgar."

Endless and all consuming? It certainly was.

[[ ... End ... ]]

Author's Note(s): This fic is one of those that was very heavily inspired on my replay by some of the dialogue that Cait Sith has when you're in Cosmo Canyon. It always struck me as odd that of all your party members, two of the specifically seem exceptionally unimpressed by Cosmo Canyon, and those two party members are Cait Sith and Yuffie. Yuffie, however, is simply not interested in it, whereas Cait Sith seems ... I don't know. Different. It's more than simple disinterest coloring his opinions. In particular: "This place seems like it has a lot of secrets," which he says in the kitchen, and "I wonder how many years it's been... Gosh, it brings back memories," which he says when your party is sitting around the bonfire. He never clarifies what kind of memories, or what 'it' he's referring to.

And yes. There really are huge batteries scattered throughout Cosmo Canyon. If you would like to see a screenshot, just PM me.