Tseng: I wanted to growl in frustration. I had called everywhere: every strip-club he had casually mentioned, every bar we'd had to fish him out of, every restaurant he liked to eat at or have take-out from, the jail to see if he'd ended up in the drunk tank again, every bar he visited when off duty, all of his usual contacts, his normal stop for groceries and cigarettes, every former sexual partner or one night stand or booty call that I could come up with. No one had seen or heard from him today. The clock chimed to mark the quarter-hour and I looked up. It was 6:45, and I hadn't even caught a single break when it came to finding him. Much as I loathed to admit it, I was genuinely worried. I knew he was hurt –had no clue as to the severity of things, but I knew he was definitely hurt. And much as he routinely annoyed the hell out of me, that little shit was mine: my subordinate, my responsibility. On the odd occasion I even liked to consider him a friend, despite his abnormal enjoyment of getting a rise out of me. Not expecting an answer, I dialed the number for his apartment. The phone rang five times before it hit the machine. I sighed. "Red, call me back as soon as you get this. Where in the hell were you today? I know you had Elena cover for you." That was an educated guess; he was more likely to get the blond to cooperate. Though, I could see Cissnei getting really concerned if he came into the office severely wounded, and for all I knew, he had. "Do you really want her busted down to junior trainee?" An empty threat –I was really quite pleased with her for managing this without breaking down and blabbing to me. The phone was picked up before I could say anything else. "Sir," a curt voice answered. Ah. Rude, who'd also been absent all day. "Rude," I greeted. "Reno came in hurt this morning. Elena sent him with me to be patched up." I tried to keep my tone completely calm. Inside, I was screaming, Please Gaia, don't let me have killed that little shit. I was unfortunately attached to him. Plus, training a replacement would utterly suck. "How badly injured?" "Two bullet wounds, a graze and a knife wound. He's resting. He'll recover." Fuck, I'd hit him three times? How exactly had he manages to hide that from me yesterday? "Go home, Rude," I directed. "I'll be by in ten minutes and I'll keep an eye on him." "…" I knew that that long silence. It meant there was a wrench in the works, that I was getting too far ahead of myself. I wasn't going to let him stop me this time, no matter the consequences of my actions. Not this time, when I was still feeling guilty for disabling my own man. "What is it?" "He didn't want you informed of his condition." Who knew that eight little words could prove to me that I still had a heart? It couldn't be a gentle reminder –no, those eight words practically tore it out. I wanted to hurt someone, something, anything –that red-head sounded about right. "You informed me of his condition to protect Elena and yourself. Is that clear?" I told him tersely. "Yes, sir." The quiet man knew his out clause when he heard it, and he wasn't about to let his career go down in flames because of Reno being a stubborn shit. I sort of wanted to salute him. "Get some rest, Rude," I said instead, knowing that the big man had spent the entire day with Reno, who could be obnoxious when well. He was utterly insufferable when he was hurt. "Yes, sir." I hesitated for a moment. "Did he… did he ever say how he got hurt?" I inquired, going out on a limb. "No, sir. He refused to talk about it." "I see." When I hung up the phone, I looked around my office at the piles of paperwork. Thank Gaia we hadn't had any sort of assignment today. I had been too caught up in locating Reno to even file paperwork, and I practically did that in my sleep. I frowned. I thought about paperwork even in life or death situations. What hold did that menace have over me that he actually managed to push paperwork out of my mind? Shoving my hand through my loose, disheveled hair, I thought about it a little deeper. This wasn't the first time I'd seriously injured one of my subordinates. I'd personally trained Elena in hand to hand, and I'd left serious bruises. I'd accidentally shot Rude, Cissnei, and Reno in combat situations when they were in my line of fire. Hell, when I'd been captured by one group of terrorists or another, I'd had to stare Rude in the face and shoot him. I'd even broken Reno's nose once! My subordinates had all been seriously injured on my watch before, even! But I hadn't lost my concentration or my ability to function as the Commander when either of them clung to life in a hospital bed. I'd never even had the desire to sit in vigil at their hospital bed or even particularly care about the wounds they sustained. What in the hell was so different here? I'd always been so careful to view my subordinates as cogs in the well-oiled machine that was the Turks. Knowing that I was capable of caring way too much about each member of my team, I'd taken pains to distance myself from each of them in the smallest ways. Perhaps the problem was that Reno had refused to allow distance between us. He refused the strictness of the uniform. Instead, he would show up disheveled and missing an element or two. He slipped into my office for the sheer purpose of seeing how long it took me to notice –he liked to say he was keeping me sharp, that too much office work would dull my senses and ruin me. He liked to rile me on purpose and kept pushing until I was violent in my anger. If I thought about it too hard and gave Reno credit for motives, it really seemed that he was intently trying to draw out my true self. He didn't seem to mind that my true self seemed to be incredibly violent. He was strangely alright with insults and knives and bullets and fists flying his way when he pushed too far. Just like that, he refused to be just another Turk, just another ghost employed by ShinRa. Somehow, he had slipped past my defenses just as easily as he slipped into my office. Fucking hell, he had made me actually care again. Quickly, I slipped into my jacket. Pulling back my hair into a messy pony tail, I surveyed my office briefly before deciding that work could wait. That red-headed menace obviously couldn't.
Reno: I surfaced from unconsciousness full of righteous indignation and anger. Rude, that fucking fucker, had slipped me a tranq. He knew how much I hated the damn things! Taking inventory of my body –its parts, its aches, its symptoms– was slow going through the leftover haze of the drug. When I realized that the aches from my injuries and symptoms from Mako poisoning had subsided some, I grudgingly admitted to myself that Rude might have had the right idea when he had given me the tranquilizer –but I would never own up to that aloud, even if it killed me. When I opened my eyes and my mouth to chew Rude out royally, I was so stunned that I actually closed the latter without saying a damn thing. At some point, my partner had abandoned me. That, I could have lived with: I'd actually slept through the worst of everything. It was his replacement –the first sight that greeted me upon waking– that was nothing short of shocking. And it was that sight that would be incredibly hard to get over. Tseng, the Turk Commander himself, was sitting sideways in my favorite easy chair, his long legs dangling over one arm. Not a strange position, truly, but completely against his nature normally. In his lap, he held one of my books. With a wince, I realized it was my well-worn copy of "Der Willie zur Macht" –in the language it was originally written in, no less. Fuck. I really hadn't wanted him to find out that I found Nietzsche intellectually stimulating. Or that I read German. Or that "The Will to Power" was my favorite of his pieces. That one little worn-out paperback book was going to ruin my entire life. What's a guy gotta do to fool his boss into thinking he's a lazy, sex-obsessed maniac anymore? There was no way to negate that knowledge –not even an intentionally crashed helicopter. What in the hell was he doing in my apartment, anyway? He never associated with any of the Turks outside of work, and he made it a personal mission to stay away from my apartment in particular. It had been a long time since I'd let that fact hurt me anymore. It was safer that way. My books should have been safe here, damn it! I was the only one who ever came here! Why oh why did my sexy boss have to come over here today of all days? Having him here, in my home, made me want to pounce on him and hold him here –none of which was a particularly good notion with my condition or a sane notion with who my boss was. I tried to console myself. Maybe he hadn't realized I'd woken up yet. "Red, Red, Red. Who would have thought you actually had taste in literature?" Well, there went that particular pipe dream. "I have taste in porn mags, too, boss," I replied lazily, still hoping to draw his attention from the book. "However, I keep them under my bed. Wanna see?" He clicked his tongue at me. "How like an adolescent male." "It's convenient, yo. You ever tried crossin' the room to fetch something when you're hard? Not fun." Unfortunately, I didn't get the pleasure of watching his feathers get all ruffled this time. Nope, this time he radiated calm effortlessly. Surprisingly enough, I found it soothing –hell, it was strange enough that I found his presence soothing at such a time. When I was hurt, laid low by my least favorite kind of injury, and he was the one who'd hurt me, shouldn't I be wary of his presence? Shouldn't I feel alarmed by more than him picking through my reading material? "You didn't tell me I'd actually shot you." Oh, great. Now we got to have that stupid conversation I'd been trying to avoid all day. Gaia knew, he would never let this one go until I answered him, much like a guard hound on the leg of an intruder. "It didn't matter." Immediately after I spoke, I winced, knowing I was going to catch all kinds of hell for it. He raised a brow at me and swung those long legs around to set his feet on the floor in front of him so he could face me. "Why do you get to decided what matters and what doesn't matter, Reno? It would have mattered to me." Well, that… certainly wasn't what I had expected him to say to that. Honestly, I had expected a full lecture about how my opinion really didn't matter in this situation, that I was his responsibility –that would have been his careful side-step around 'Property of Shinra', which he knew would set me off like one of Rude's explosives– and he should be informed of which Turks are out of commission… that sort of rant. Tseng was always very attractive when he ranted. Instead, I got 'It would have mattered to me.' I'd admit that the statement was quite charming in its ambiguity. On one hand, he might have simply realized that I relished his rants and the way his face flushed and the way his accent became all the more pronounced when he was flustered. Gods, he was beautiful when he was irritated! On the other, it might actually mean that he cared. Based on the ratio of personal desire for an option versus the way the universe and Fate liked to fuck with me, I decided that the outcome that I most desired was probably the furthest from the truth. In other words, I figured Tseng had realized how much I enjoyed his rants. Considering that the day had serious sucked from the start, it was pretty par for the course. For once in my life, I didn't have a smart answer or a pithy comeback to retort with. I had absolutely no idea what to say in this circumstance. Which pretty much meant I was fucked –six ways to Sunday, a seventh time on Saturday, and the fucker would catch up with me again Wednesday– and none of it in a fun way.