Rude looked up from his paperwork to where Reno was sitting at his desk across the office. The redhead had his feet propped up on the desk, a pencil stuck between his upper lip and his nose as he reclined in his chair.
“Are you going to do any work today?” Rude asked, gesturing to the pile of paperwork on his partner’s desk.
“I’m trying to make it last as long as I can,” Reno replied, careful to keep his upper lip curled enough to keep the pencil poised like a mustache. “We both know field work has been slow since ShinRa’s adopted this whole ‘kinder, gentler’ image.”
Rude sighed and shook his head, turning his attention back to the form he had been filling out. Reno was right the mission to check the research facility in Junon had been their first day out of the office in almost a month. Still, he didn’t feel that was enough of an excuse to allow the younger Turk to shirk his responsibilities.
Tseng’s voice come over the intercom sitting on Reno’s desk, breaking his concentration and causing the pencil to drop from its perch on his face. He swore quietly under his breath before sitting up in his chair and pressing the button just below the two-way speaker.
“Yes, Sir?” he addressed his boss.
“President Rufus wants you in his office, now,” Tseng’s voice informed him, calm but stern.
Those were the words Reno had been dreading he would hear for the past week. He had known that the president was unhappy with his outburst at the hospital the nurses who had overheard his conversation with Rude had ratted him out and he was expecting nothing less than a severe lecture from his employer.
“I’m on my way,” he replied into the intercom.
Rude avoided looking at him as he stood up and ran his hands back through his messy red hair, trying and failing to make it any neater than usual. Next, he fidgeted with his shirt, running his palms down the front in an attempt to smooth out the wrinkles that seemed to be permanently embedded into the fabric. Then he took a moment to brush off his navy blur jacket, in case any visible crumbs had attached themselves to the fabric during lunch.
“Stop stalling, Reno,” Rude said without looking up. “The more time you take to get there, the more time he’ll have to mull over your punishment.”
Reno sighed deeply and exited their office, trying to remain as casual as possible as he walked down the hall toward the elevator banks. A couple of secretaries stepped off the lift as he reached it, chatting away excitedly. He gave them one of his best smiles and winked at them, causing the shorter of the two to giggle a bit like a teenager. With a playful wave, he reached out to press the button for the top floor, where Rufus’s office was. Tseng’s office was up there, too, but compared to the size of the President’s it might as well have been called a closet.
He often wondered why the young president liked to keep Tseng in such close quarters. Back when Rufus was in charge of the Turks, they had all been set up for operations out of Junon. Since his father died and he received the promotion he’d so longed for, however, they had all been relocated to Midgar well, Edge, now that Midgar was not much more than a hole full of rubble and Tseng had been given a small, but posh office on the top floor, right across from Rufus.
Of course, there were rumors. Reno knew them all quite well, actually, being that he had an ear for gossip. He wasn’t sure he believed them, though. He’d caught Tseng making eyes at Elena when her back was turned on more than one occasion, especially in the six months since the incident where they both narrowly escaped with their lives. Then again, Tseng had been a part of Rufus’ life since before Rude had become a Turk, three years prior to Reno joining. So maybe there really was something more than just friendship between the two of them. Personally, it wasn’t something Reno wanted to spend too much time thinking about.
The trip in the elevator seemed much faster than usual, probably due to the fact that Reno was actually not looking forward to the conversation that awaited him upon reaching his destination. He stepped out into the hallway, taking each step at a slower-than-normal pace, despite the knowledge that Rude was right about what he said about putting off the inevitable, and used the time it took to walk from the elevator bank to the doors leading to Rufus’ office to put on his well-practiced ‘I know I was bad, please don’t order me killed’ face.
Reno raised his hand to knock on the dark, heavy wood door leading to his boss’ office, then counted the number of seconds it took for him to answer. Sort of like a thunder clap after lightning, Rufus Shinra’s moods could often be determined by how soon after knocking he asked you to enter � it was an indication of how much he was expecting you.
“Enter,” came the order from the other side of the door. Reno had barely even finished knocking. This was not good.
With a small sigh, Reno opened one of the doors and stepped into the office, making sure not to look directly at the president before he finished closing it behind him. When he finally did meet the younger man’s gaze, he found he was being smiled at. The smile didn’t quite reach Rufus’ cold blue eyes none of his smiles ever did but this smile wasn’t the same as the humorless one he put on in the public’s view. It was the one he saved for when he was about to punish some sorry sap for being stupid enough to cross him.
“Reno, glad to see you could finally make it,” he said, his voice not betraying the slightest bit of emotion as he sat back in his plush leather chair and rested his elbows on the arms, steepling his fingers against his lips. “I have the details of your next assignment for you.”
Reno merely nodded. He knew that speaking when he hadn’t been asked to was probably not the best course of action, but it was hard to contain his surprise. He had suspected Rufus would order him to take a leave of absence without pay, and instead he was being given a new mission to carry out.
“The girl has been released from the hospital’s care and placed in a room on the third floor.”
“She’s awake, then?” Reno asked before he could stop himself.
“No,” Rufus replied, with a bit of a sigh. His eyes flickered away from the Turk’s only briefly before he looked up at him again. “She is still unconscious, but she is stable. Your job will be to sit with her until she wakes up.”
Reno blinked stupidly for a moment, wondering if he’d heard correctly. That was the mission Rufus was going to send him on? Reno had thought maybe he would be sent on something insanely dangerous that might end up killing him, not on some sort of baby-sitting job. Suddenly, it became apparent what his employer really wanted: he didn’t want Reno dead, he wanted him to suffer.
“With all due respect, Sir, I hardly think that a person with my qualifications would be the best candidate for an assignment such as this,” he protested.
“Either you can sit with the girl and guard her until she wakes up,” Rufus repeated, his smile turning into a somewhat lecherous grin, “or you can accompany me on business to Costa del Sol this weekend.”
Reno knew far too well what that meant. He had been unfortunate enough to receive a similar assignment his second month with the Turks, back when Rufus had been his direct supervisor under Mr. Shinra’s presidency. A ‘business trip to Costa del Sol’ was basically Rufus’ code phrase for ‘let’s go to Costa del Sol and fuck all weekend.’ The only thing that had enabled Reno to refuse his boss’ advances the first time was the fact that Mr. Shinra had no idea bout his son’s sexual orientation, but now the old man was dead and Rufus was in charge so there was no way Reno could blackmail him into keeping his dick in his pants around him.
“I think Tseng would be far better suited for that mission,” the redhead said without losing his composure. “I’ll take on the task of watching over the girl.”
Reno could hear the disappointment in Rufus’ sigh. It should have made him feel relieved that the other man was giving up, but it bothered him because it meant Rufus actually cared that he wouldn’t sleep with him. Repressing the shudder that so desperately wanted to crawl its way down his spine, he straightened his posture and cleared his throat before addressing his employer once more.
“What room is she in?” he asked, impressing himself with the way his voice remained steady despite the utterly disgusting mental images his mind was conjuring up of Rufus and the sick little games he was sure to enjoy playing in the bedroom.
“Second one on the right when you get off the elevator,” the blonde man replied. Reno nodded and turned to leave, fully aware of how Rufus would be checking his ass out as he made his way out of the office and back to the elevator bank.
“I trust everything went well?” Tseng asked as he emerged from his office just as Reno was passing by.
“Yeah,” he scoffed. “I get to go watch some chick sleep, and you get to accompany the president on one of his little business trips.”
“Don’t sound so disappointed, Reno,” Tseng told him with a laugh. “I’m sure Rufus would love to take you with him, instead.”
Reno was glad that he didn’t have to wait for the elevator to come back up for him. The doors opened as soon as he pressed the down button, and he stepped in without giving his supervisor another word or glance in his direction. Unfortunately, the ride down wasn’t any faster than the one up. In fact, it took even longer because he had several more floors to go down that he normally would if he was just returning to his office. He couldn’t help but let his mind wander to all the times he’d been propositioned by Rufus in the nearly ten years he’d been with the Turks, and the fact that he had never once heard of his partner being approached in the same way. He reasoned it was probably because Rude was too masculine Rufus seemed to like ‘pretty’ guys, like Tseng. Then, did that mean he was pretty?
Shaking the thought from his head as the elevator dinged, indicating he had reached the third floor, he stepped out and made his way to the room Rufus had told him to report to.
“About damn time,” Elena grumbled from a seat just inside the door when he entered. Her legs were crossed, and she had a small paperback novel on her knee with the pages bent back as far as they would go without ripping them out of the binding.
“Laney,” Reno greeted her, smiling as relief washed over him. This new assignment might suck beyond belief, but at least he wasn’t going to have to do it alone. “Man, I am glad to see you.”
“Not half as glad as I am to see you,” she told him, placing a folded sheet of paper into her book before closing it and standing up, tucking the novel under her arm and heading for the door.
“Wait,” Reno said, stopping her with a hand on her arm. “Where are you going?”
“Home,” Elena told him matter-of-factly. “My shift is over. I need to do something stimulating to bring my brain out of hibernation. Have fun!”
Reno gaped at her as she gave him a small wave before making her way to the elevator, leaving him alone with the comatose girl from the site of the explosion. He looked around the room for something to keep himself occupied, but found nothing. There wasn’t even a television in the room, which he supposed made sense because she couldn’t exactly watch anything in her current state. He would have given a good amount of gil for anything, even a damn book, to keep him from going bored out of his mind.
“What did I do to deserve this?” he said under his breath as he pulled the chair Elena had been sitting on over to the side of the bed and seated himself upon it with a bored sigh.
“Three weeks, Rude… Three fucking weeks he’s had me spending the night in that damn room, watching her.”
Rude tried his best not to laugh at is partner’s plight, but a small smile still managed to escape and grace his lips. He had been hearing the same speech every day since Rufus gave Reno his ‘punishment’ for the outburst in the hospital, and while he knew he shouldn’t be finding such amusement in the younger man’s suffering, he couldn’t help but see the situation as humorous.
“I have to sit there, watching her basically sleep all the damn time, and not be able to sleep myself,” the redhead continued ranting as they rode down in the elevator together. “I actually did fall asleep once and you know what happened? One of the security guys told Rufus and he threatened to dock me a week’s pay if it happened again. What bullshit!”
“Reno,” Rude said as the elevator stopped on the third floor, attempting to get his attention.
“Seriously, man… not only is he depriving me of sleep, but being stuck here every night is putting a serious cramp in my social life, yo.”
“What?” Reno snapped, turning to eye his partner.
“Your floor,” Rude announced, gesturing toward the open doors and the hallway stretching out before them. Reno glanced out into the hallway and sighed.
“Yeah, yeah… I know,” he said dejectedly, stepping through the doors. “Hey, thanks for the comic books, yo. I don’t know what I’d do without them. Probably insane and start fucking shooting everything,” he added, holing up the stack of brightly colors superhero comics Rude had brought to work for him to borrow.
“You’re welcome,” Rude replied as the doors slid shut.
Reno reluctantly made his way to the girl’s room, and found Elena there waiting for him, tapping her foot impatiently and staring at the clock.
“What’s with you?” he asked upon seeing the state she was in. Usually, she was calmly sitting in a chair reading a book he discovered she preferred trashy romances but today she seemed flustered and unwilling to be in the same room as their charge.
“I have a date, and I’m going to be late thanks to your dilly-dallying,” she informed him as she quickly maneuvered around his form in the doorway and made a beeline for the elevator.
“Sorry,” Reno said to the space where she had just been standing, then took his usual seat next to the girl’s bed. The next few hours were spent reading through the comics Rude had given him, which was an entertaining task, but he still ended up feeling tired after about the fifth hour of sitting still.
He felt his eyelids beginning to droop and decided that it wouldn’t hurt to just close them for a few minutes. He wouldn’t sleep, just rest his eyes, and if Rufus wanted to dock his pay, he would tell him that. He glanced at the monitors next to the girl’s bed, then looked out into the hallway briefly, stretching his arms up over his head and his long legs out in front of him, then tucked his hands behind his head and closed his eyes.
Reno had barely settled into the comfortable darkness when he heard a sharp gasp. He bolted to his feet, nearly knocking over his chair, and prepared to tell the guard who had caught him that he was not sleeping on the job, even if it looked that way. He was surprised to find the doorway and the hall beyond it still empty, and wondered if he hadn’t just imagined the noise.
“Excuse me?” came a soft, feminine voice from behind him. Reno turned slowly toward the bed and found the girl struggling to pull herself into a sitting position.
“Hi,” he said stupidly, unsure what exactly he was supposed to say to her.
“Can you tell me where I am?” she asked as she finally tried to get into an upright position against the pillows.
Reno moved over to the side of the bed and placed a hand against her back, carefully helping her sit up and moving the pillows to support her.
“You’re at the ShinRa headquarters, in Edge,” he informed her. “Do you know where that is?”
She sat quietly for a moment, apparently thinking about his question, then shook her head slowly.
“What happened to me?” she asked in that same quiet voice. “Why am I here?”
“You were in an explosion,” he answered her, taking in her appearance. The wounds on her face had nearly finished healing, leaving only a slight bruising around her cheekbone. If he hadn’t seen the gash in her head first-hand, he never would have known it was there, and now, finally, he knew what color her eyes were: They were a soft shade of brown, clear and innocent.
“Is this a hospital?”
“Hmm?” Reno said, not hearing her question at first. When it finally registered that he was staring, he shook his head and moved to stand at the foot of her bed, as far away from her as he could get.
“No, this isn’t a hospital. You were in the hospital, but my boss had you moved here once you were stable.”
“Why?” she asked. “Do I know him?”
“You tell me,” Reno said, running a hand back through his messy hair. “I’m just as in the dark as you are about why he insisted you be brought here.”
The girl nodded and the same thoughtful look crossed over her face as before. Reno tilted his head to the side as he watched her, wondering if she was figuring out the reason behind Rufus’ insistence that she remain in ShinRa’s custody and care.
“Who am I?”
The question was barely more than a whisper. Reno thought she was kidding at first, but then she met his eyes and he saw a genuine fear in those brown orbs that told him she really had no clue who she was.
“You don’t know your name?” he asked, hoping maybe something remained of who she was in her memory.
“I…” she began, then hesitated, shaking her head slightly as she brought a hand to her temple as if fending off an oncoming headache.
“Cera,” she said after a moment. “They called me Cera.”