Elena: When I came into work and there was a new memo sitting on my desk, I had no doubt that Reno had some hand in it. Not that the crazy redhead liked rules. Much the opposite, in fact. While he was the right hand of Tseng, Reno was also an infamous prankster. He loved to push Tseng's buttons until the vein in his forehead became harshly prominent. I'd warned Reno about pushing Tseng too far. I was the newest Turk and therefore still had a bit of leeway when it came to things like rules. Reno, however, had a position on authority and I had no doubt that Tseng wouldn't think twice about making Reno the example for anyone else who dared push at the rules. However, when Reno walked into the office, all thoughts about the memo, about Reno's frequent pranks, about Tseng's rules and structure all abandoned me. Reno looked like hell. Aside from his generally battered appearance, there was a wide bandage across his left cheek and a wound on his right hand that was sill flush with its freshness. His wan face seemed ever the more pale and sweat beaded upon his brow. Where his stride was usually marked with lazy grace, his current gate showed something more like careful precision. Someone had definitely worked him over but good. As he drew nearer to me, I could smell the sharp harsh scent of fresh super glue. Even Rude allowed a worried expression to flicker briefly across his features. Cissnei, not known for her tact, took one look at him and demanded, "What in the hell happened to you, Reno? Date gone wrong? Bar fight?" Reno glared at her. "None of your business, yo." Rude stared at his partner for a moment. I had a feeling Rude was trying to figure out why Reno was so defensive –mostly because I was puzzling over that very same thing. Still, like Rude, I already knew better than to ask him point-blank. He might treat me like his favorite kid sister, but that didn't mean he wouldn't bite my head off if I probed too much. Swallowing hard, I opened my mouth only to close it again when he removed his suit jacket with a wince. When he draped it over his chair, I could see vibrant red staring his not-always-so-pristine white dress shirt. "Reno, you're bleeding!" I exclaimed, quickly dripping the pen in my hand and rising to my feet. I didn't remember walking to his side, but the instant I was newly aware found me pushing him into his desk chair and gripping his left arm at the elbow. He didn't cry out, but I watched that wince turn into something more severe. I held out my hand and one of my coworkers placed a combat knife across my palm. Satisfied with the weapon, I smiled slightly. Gripping the knife with a calm and steady hand, I slit the seams of his sleeve clear up past his elbow. The gauze was soaked in fresh blood, bright as his hair in color. When I unwrapped the gauze slowly, the wound came into view. One neat bullet hole, of a small caliber, passed through the meat of his arm. It was a through and through, but Reno had obviously tended to the wound himself. Unfortunately, for all his years as a Turk, he still lacked any skill with field medicine aside from digging out the bullets. Unable to take my eyes off the still-leaking wound, I absently lifted the receiver of the nearest phone and began to dial that familiar number. I had entered half of the ten-digit number when Reno growled and snatched the receiver from my hand. It landed back in the cradle with a loud thunk. I thought about reaching for it again, knowing he was still the best when it came to field medicine and the mess before me needed the best, but Reno grabbed my hand when I tried again. "Don't tell him." "Reno, he needs to know," Cissnei attempted to reason. "He's your boss. What if you have an assignment? You can't work in that condition!" Once again, Cissnei's attempts were met with a brick wall known best as Reno's will. He blatantly ignored here and instead turned his attention to me. "Don't tell him. Please, 'Lena," he added, his gaze meeting mine. I hated it when he did this to me. He knew that I was a sucker for the puppy dog eyes and/or sincere pain and suffering. Then again, I really should have expected it. Reno could be very suave, very smooth, and he had no qualms about fighting dirty, a quality that Tseng had often remarked about how important it was in a Turk. I sighed heavily. "Rude, would you patch him up? It looks like I get to come up with an excuse Tseng will believe." The man inclined his shaved head in agreement. There went the one favor he owned me –well, unless he saw it as a favor to Reno. I sort of hoped he would: that favor was from something that had been incredibly difficult for me to complete and I'd been hoping to use it to coerce the quiet man into teaching me how to make certain explosives. As I watched Rude move toward Reno, a sudden though crossed my mind. I halted Rude's action with a single hand. "Reno, where else are you hurt?" I demanded, knowing that since he had chosen to manipulate me a little, I was the one most likely to get a straight answer out of the man. "Right thigh. There's another bullet hole." He gritted his teeth as I reached down and explored his thigh. I paused only when I found a patch of wet material that was accompanied by his sharp intake of breath. I removed me hand and looked up at Rude. "Just patch the holes before he bleeds out on the carpet. Though, I would recommend checking the rest of him. You know how he is. Rude nodded, easily hauling Reno to his feet. Rude had known Reno longer than I had known him, but I still hesitated to say 'better than I knew him'. Reno was at times the most private person I'd ever encountered. At other times, he divulged some very private information –though usually with nowhere near enough detail for us to chase down or interview other involved parties. It was like he had embraced the ghost-like life of a Turk and turned practically turned himself into a ghost. At times, I wondered if that was what I would turn into if I survived this job as many years as he had. "Thanks, 'Lena," he murmured, patting my head like I was a child. I shook my head with a wry smile and watched Rude and Reno disappear. Then I groaned aloud when I realized I had to lie to my boss. If he caught me –and he probably would– it wouldn't just be Reno's ass in a sling. Cissnei took one look at me and sighed. "Just let me do the talking, fledgling. After all, you need to survive if you ever want to earn your wings."
Tseng: When I walked into the office, I found it surprisingly quiet and empty. Only one single pair of my subordinates were present, and both of them seemed to be hard at work on paperwork. Vaguely, I wondered if any of them had bothered to read the new memo on their desks. "Good morning, boss," Cissnei sung out like a happy child, her cinnamon hair swishing behind her as she turned her head to look at me. I eyed the woman warily for a moment. Perhaps it was paranoid of me, but I was pretty sure she only greeted me on days in which she had bad news to share with me. "Where are Reno and Rude?" I inquired slowly, just as wary of the answer as I was of the woman before me. "Sparring in the training room downstairs." She rolled her eyes. "You know how they can get." I inclined my head in agreement. Reno and Rude were one of the best teams in terms of effectiveness in combat situations, however, they were otherwise a very volatile combination –like a demolitions expert and all the explosives he could dream of. Actually, that analogy might be too close for comfort. Looking over toward their desks, my gaze came to rest upon the newest addition to our team. Unlike her coworker, the petite blond was utterly absorbed in her paperwork, her eyes flickering between documents as she carefully filled out two documents at once with surprising precision. Rapping lightly on the edge of her desk with my knuckles and trying not to startle her, I offered a small smile. "Good morning, Elena." "Good morning, sir," she murmured. She didn't even look up: the whole of her attention was still focused only on the paperwork. Not wanting to disturb the woman who was probably my only subordinate who was so diligent in her paperwork, I hummed in response before heading toward my office at a somewhat leisurely pace. I pause when I reached the door and looked back at the pair of women. "Let me know when Reno arrives," I commanded them softly. "Yes, sir," they chorused, neither one even looking up at me. I smiled and shook my head ruefully. Well, if they kept working this hard, at least it should pay off positively in paperwork. After glancing around the room once more, I slipped into my office and shut the door behind me. Absently, I ran my hand across the newest scars in the hard-wood paneling and wondered if the cleaning crew had much trouble removing the slugs. I wasn't sure if it was very fortunate or highly unfortunate, but the cleaning crew for this complex had a lot of experience when it came to pulling bullets out of walls and patching the holes. Most of the experience probably came specifically from my private office, but as far as I knew, they had never lodged any complaints about it. It might possibly have something to do with the fact all of the bullets never seemed to trouble me at all –despite being of two different calibers– and the fact I might have a hair trigger temper, but I appreciated it none the less. When my hand came away damp and sticky before I noticed the red color, I wasn't all that worried at first though something churned deep in my stomach. After all, the most efficient method for retrieving stray bullets involved a sharp blade and a little maneuvering. It was more than fathomable that the person who had attempted the extraction had simply cut themselves. Trying to put it out of my mind, I wandered over to my scarred wooden desk. The first thing I noticed was the one thing that had not been there when I'd left my office: a note, written in someone's precise script.
"Mr. Tseng– I'd like to apologize for the inconvenience, first and foremost. The new holes and scars should be properly patched tomorrow. We had some difficulty removing the bullets, and my team is not prepared to handle the cleanup of biologicals such as blood. As such, sometime tomorrow a bio-hazard certified technician will be by to finish the job. Again, I apologize for any inconvenience this might cause for you. Sincerely, Amai Sara of Lifestream Cleansing"
The note fell away from my hand as I swore hotly in my native tongue. I practically fell into my chair. That fucking shit! How dare he pretend that I hadn't wounded him! I had no notion of how badly he was injured, whether he was in any condition to work, how many injuries he'd sustained, if he was alright. I was more than a little angry that he hadn't told me, but I supposed I was angrier that I hadn't noticed. That red-headed menace had pulled one over on me, and that wasn't the way things were supposed to work between us. He'd bitch about the paperwork, I'd cajole or con or force him into doing it –that was normal. For him to actually con me… well, at the very least, it indicated a lag in my attention span. Gaia, and to have actually shot him over something so stupid was so… so… normal for us. I eyed my closed door curiously. Just how had he managed to convince Elena and Cissnei to lie and cover for him? I had to give credit where credit was due: Elena was obviously improving if I hadn't suspected her lie or her compliance. After shedding my jacket and rolling up my shirt sleeves, I propped my elbows up on the desk. Knowing what I did now, I was pretty sure that Reno and Rude were nowhere near that training room. I wondered where they actually were and if my associate had told them why he was hurt. He was utter shit at field medicine, I recalled with a frown, and that only made me feel worse about the whole situation. I comforted myself with the thought that Rude was with him. At least Rude knew how to properly care for a bullet wound. That was unfortunately more than I could say for Reno. With a heavy sigh, I reached for my phone. It was time to check his normal haunts and see if I could offer any aid. His wounds were, after all, inflicted at my hand.
Reno: "Fucking hell, yo!" I hissed out, wincing hard enough that I was worried I might have reopened the wound on my cheek. Y'know, Rude had said somethin' about a 'little sting', but this felt more like someone had set me on fire. I would be the expert in that area: I'd been on fire, in the line of fire, fired upon, returning fire… blowin' stuff up… Rude grunted at me and gave me one of those looks. 'Stop being such a whiny bitch, Reno,' I translated. I can do that, I thought wryly. It wasn't like pain was something new to me. Pain was practically my life, at times. I was either in it, causin' it, or bein' one. He was patching up the second bullet wound, so I was sitting in a cool room wearing little more than a towel draped strategically across my waist. I honestly hadn't thought I could manage to drag two reasonably well-fit garments over the wound that had still been bleeding this morning, so I'd chosen to go commando. If I'd thought that Elena would shred my shirt and then send me away to get treatment from someone much better at field medicine than I was, I would have said 'fuck it' and suffered through the second garment. Rude had schmoozed his way into the dark room behind the barroom at Seventh Heaven, which had presented me with all kinds of surprises. For one thing, I'd been Rude's partner for a few years now and I had never seen him do such a thing. Whatever human interaction had been required by our positions had been my responsibility: he preferred to stand by and look like the hired muscle. He'd also said more words to the woman who ran this place than he'd uttered to anyone else since training –more than all of his 'conversations' with Tseng combined. I wondered vaguely if he was seein' her or just sweet on her. Then I thought about that mopey blond man that lived here as well, and figured he was just sweet on her –unless there was some kind of kinky AVALANCHE/SOLDIER/Turk ménage goin' on. I would have definitely wanted to be invited to that –if only for the shits and giggles factor of watchin' it. "Ow!" I exclaimed when he prodded at the opening in my leg. He gave another grunt and that same look. "Hey, I'm not bein' whiney. It just hurts," I grumbled, trying to focus on the clock hanging on the wall instead of the pain. It wouldn't be good if Rude stopped what he was doing: these wounds were more serious than I could deal with in my limited experience and skill. I knew as well as he did that I didn't wanna pass out on the floor or anything. Besides, I'd been hurt worse than this before. I was raised rough, then turned out on the street as a kid. Let's just say there were people out there a lot less tolerant of my mouth than Tseng, and I encountered most of them –then ran my mouth. There had been several times that I'd been left to die in one gutter or another. It had taught me to hate guns and bullets and the like. I also didn't trust them to work, so I refused to be armed with them. It had made Tseng crazy, that straight refusal, but he had eventually given in. I wondered sometimes if Legend had told him why I hated them. I usually decided the he hadn't –Legend wasn't exactly loose lipped, and he knew that was private. When Rude withdrew from the wound, I figured he was close to finished with it. Then he stabbed a needle directly into my thigh. "What the hell, man?! Warn a guy, yo," I protested. I saw a flash of white teeth before he depressed the plunger. Fucker did it on purpose. Good Gaia, that shit hurt going in –he'd stabbed me in the muscle. The pain would only get worse as I used the muscles and the medicine circulated. I wondered if it was just a stock anti-inflammatory or something else. For the umpteenth time, I wondered if my entertainment had been worth all this. A grin pulled at my lips. Seeing Tseng get all aggravated when I stole the rubber bands from his hair was priceless… but I probably should have stopped the first time he managed to stab me with the knife I'd used to cut the bands a few times. Tseng always did say that I had no idea when to quit. Then again, he also expected me to have sense and give it a rest after minimal injury. That had been where he was wrong. All I knew was that it was so much easier to cut or remove them when he'd expected me to give it up. I wondered when he would ever learn that I never would get the good sense to stop before I had two bullet holes, a graze, and a small knife wound. That was one of the reasons I hated guns: bullets and guns made you lazy. The damn things were temperamental, but if you shot someone, that didn't mean they were going to stop comin' at you. If the intention was to disable, the legs were the best place to aim –after all, I'd only stopped yesterday when I had a bullet in my thigh. At least with a stun-weapon, even if it was friendly fire, all you had to worry about was a bit of unconsciousness. If it was an enemy… well, a period of unconsciousness was one hell of an opening. Rude disappeared from the room for a few moments, only to come back with a glass of familiar glowing liquid. I grimaced. Potion á la Mako. The damn things were disgusting and they burned all the way down. If I actually managed to swallow it, I would spend the next ten minutes shivering –and that was if there wasn't enough mako in it to give me mako poisoning. That shit was more miserable than a hangover. Still, I took the glass from his hand and tossed it back, wondering if Tseng had caught the girls in a lie or if he was hunting for us. It always felt so wonderful to be wanted, I thought with half a smirk as the tremors began to wrack my body.
Elena: Tseng hadn't come out of his office at all. I worried my hands beneath my desk, concentration evading me at all angles. I wanted to know if I was so busted for helping Reno out today, if I was going to be busted back down to the most basic level of trainee, if Reno was giving Rude any trouble… My mind was constantly pulled in six different directions, and none of them had anything to do with my paperwork. Cissnei, however, seemed to be perfect fine with things, if the way she continued to go about her paperwork was any sort of indication. Since I obviously couldn't get any work done, I decided to watch Cissnei instead. Hey, I might learn something. As she finished the three sheets of paperwork she'd been working on, she absently reached for another. She squinted at the paper for a moment, then made a puzzled face. When I was about to ask what was wrong, she burst out laughing. She looked at me and tried to say something, but she couldn't stop laughing. She pushed her chair back from her desk and tried to stand, but ended up on her knees on the ground behind her desk, laughing hysterically. I walked around her desk, wondering if she was okay. "Cissnei?" I inquired. She couldn't even stop laughing long enough to tell me she was okay. Instead, she handed me a sheet of paper. It had Tseng's letterhead on it and it looked quite official. I skimmed it quickly.
"Rule 346: Those that steal, remove, or destroy the hair-bands that belong to the Turk Commander will find themselves on the least savory duties available."
The document was signed by Tseng and dated the previous day. I figured Tseng had written it up and left it on our desks last night before leaving the office. "G-Gaia!" Cissnei stuttered out between bursts of laughter. "Fucking Reno! This has to be how he got injured." I shook my head. She was right. Reno was the only person who managed to piss off our boss so badly that he shot at him. And that was generally the only conceivable reason that he wouldn't want Tseng to know he was injured. He'd been in and out of Tseng's office all of yesterday. I'd noticed off-hand that the number of hair-ties around his wrists seemed to multiply, but I'd considered it unimportant at the time. But with this new rule, things made a lot more sense. I began to laugh as well. A morning full of rubber bands, super glue, and bullet holes, and just one man to blame: the red-headed menace himself.