I: The little things

Reno had, admittedly, had a very easy childhood, and his overall upbringing could make just about anybody jealous. He was the only child to a set of wealthy parents, and his financial future and education were never in any kind of doubt. To say the last, he had led a very comfortable life up until the end of high school.

After graduating somewhere in the middle of his class (behind Mae, of course, who had graduated early anyway), Reno managed to snag a place at ShinRa as the company began its expansion in Midgar. For the first time in his life, things were suddenly not being handed to him. In fact, he had to work hard to stay in the company, particularly as the events with Cloud and Sephiroth unfolded. But after that, around the time Mae had joined them, Reno's workload lessened, and he easily fell back into his slacker routine.

Somehow, though, the party after their most recent adventure had changed Reno. It didn't make him work any harder because he wanted to; instead he had to. He felt weaker and weaker as time went on. Something had changed in his body, he could tell. The greatest indicator was one night when he, Rude, and Mae got together to drink: normally, he could outlast Mae, but he was down after one can of beer. Had something literally altered his physical makeup after that mission?

He wondered for a while if he had experienced some kind of trauma in the helicopter crash that was finally taking its toll on him. After all, they had fallen from pretty high up, and he was lucky to have not broken anything on the way down. Too lucky, perhaps. He wondered if, instead, he had received some kind of internal damage. While a trip to the doctor's would've answered his question, Reno waited, mostly out of fear.

But another reason he chose to wait was because he hated having people worry about him. He had always been able to handle things on his own growing up, despite being raised in a well-to-do household. Being an only child had taken its toll on his personality, though, and so having anybody with him was "cramping my style, man." It had taken him months to get used to Rude, even.

There was no doubt about it: Reno had had friends in school. But after graduating, everyone had split off into their separate ways, and Reno enjoyed having the solitude again. He was somewhat of a one-man army, relying on nobody but himself, working for nobody but himself. His attitude didn't have any adjustments until he met Rude, and Mae's friendship completed a void that he'd had for a long time.

Reno didn't necessarily value Mae's friendship more than Rude's, but hers had an even more important effect on his personality. When he had befriended Rude, Reno had gained a close friend who was nothing like him. Rude was quiet, and while he enjoyed keeping to himself just like Reno, he usually had to be convinced to go out. At times, Rude was someone Reno could boss around without any real consequences. In return, Rude trusted Reno, even in his worst moments.

However, to Reno, befriending Mae was a lot like befriending himself. As much as they both denied it, they were a lot alike. Had Reno never ended up becoming friends with her, he never would have been able to improve himself. Sometimes, looking at her mistakes and flaws was like looking at his own, and it made him mature, even if he did so slowly. Mae, too, felt the same effects of their friendship.

So, when Reno had gotten sick at the bar, Mae and Rude had helped him, as friends should, but Reno's reaction was less than satisfactory.

"I'm fine, really," he insisted as they led him back outside into the cool night air. It had been nearly five months since the end of their mission, and the night life of Edge had returned to normal.

"If you're going to be spewing, you'd best do it somewhere else," Mae commented, being the closest to sober amongst the trio.

"Or at least someplace you won't embarrass us," Rude added, and Mae nodded in agreement.

"No objections allowed. C'mon, let's get you back to your place."

Reno's pride had been too heavily damaged to fight back, and so he let Mae and Rude lead him back to his apartment. As soon as they arrived, Reno collapsed onto his couch, leaving the others to just stare.

"I wonder what's been going on," Rude said in his usual quiet voice.

"What do you mean by 'been going on'?" Mae asked, putting her hands on her hips.

"This isn't the first time he's gotten sick like this." Mae pursed her lips, humming a low note. "You didn't notice?"

"Dunno. Maybe I didn't want to."

Rude didn't ask; for that, Mae was grateful.

^^vv^^vv^^

It was true, what Rude had said. Reno had been acting off for several months. But he wasn't telling us anything, so what could we do about it? Sure, there was plenty we could do to try to slip that information out of him, but it was his private business. Rude and I are nosy friends, but we know other people have standards, too. I didn't think it was worth fighting over. Not at this point.

"He's not himself," Rude continued, and I nodded.

"Yeah, I guess I can't deny that," I replied. "But what are we gonna do about it? He's already sick enough, so do we need to drag the info out of him?"

"You've gotten nicer," Rude said. I crossed my arms, giving him a look. He acted like I had never been nice to them. What bull.

"And you're not answering my question."

"Well, you're right. He's sick enough."

"So just keep watching him, right?"

Rude didn't answer, so I just assumed he agreed. Assumption is dangerous, but it's safe with Rude. He doesn't like to admit this, but he thinks along the same lines as all of us, no matter how coldly he comes across.

"I've just got a bad feeling about this," Rude then mumbled. I looked over at him again; I wasn't entirely sure that he was serious in saying that.

"What makes you say that?"

"He usually can't keep his mouth shut."

"Then it must really be important, right?"

"Aren't you growing up."

"One of us has to, especially if this kind of stuff keeps up."

Rude smirked, glancing at me over his glasses. My face was probably blank. I was thinking so many things at that point that I felt nearly emotionless.

I was worried, for one thing. Rude was right in saying that Reno had a big mouth, even with his personal problems (though they were occasional). Obviously something was going on if he wasn't telling us something. Even worse was if he himself was denying that there was a problem. That would have spelled out intervention for Rude and me.

I also hated seeing someone close to me suffer, especially physically. It was all just so off.

"I'm gonna head out," I said after a few more minutes of watching Reno in silence. "You know how to get me if something-"

"You're good," Rude said, nodding. He sat down in one of Reno's lounge chairs, putting his feet up. "See you tomorrow."

"Yeah."