Tseng: I looked at him, waiting for him to respond, because, Gaia knew, he always had some sort of come-back for everything. As his silence stretched on, I realized I had genuinely surprised him with my answer. Unfortunately for me, his lack of reply left me to just studying him for once. He looked pretty good, considering. Then again, Rude had tranquilized him and given him something for the pain, so I wasn't sure how long that would last. The scrape on his left cheek was familiar enough, but it took me a moment to remember fighting him for the knife and leaving it. Feeling ashamed of myself, I shifted my gaze to other territories. His dress shirt was probably covered in blood and balled up in some corner –it was sort of the way Reno was, and I knew how bad he was at field medicine. Still, I supposed it wasn't all that surprising that he hadn't managed to throw on an undershirt today. There was a rough-looking wound on his right shoulder that remained unbandaged, and I figured that was probably the graze. I knew that Rude would not have left a bullet hole uncovered: a graze was a much less severe wound and he wouldn't have even thought about covering it. My gaze was then immediately drawn to the white gauze on his left arm. That, I was fairly sure, was a bullet wound. Continuing down the rest of his barely-covered form, I finally recognized the wound in his right thigh as the other bullet hole. Scanning back up his body, I checked for other things I might have missed and found a minor scratch on his right hand, as well. That one, I remembered very well: he'd been trying to cut away my hair-band and I'd slammed my hand into his. He'd lost his grip on the knife and fumbled to catch it. Still, I was proud that he hadn't made so much as a sound when it pierced his hand. Wait a minute. Proud? I looked over his body again. I did this much damage to him and I'm proud that he deceived me? How do I see this and feel anything but ashamed of myself? Trying to distract myself from the shame churning in my stomach, I looked over his body again. I frowned slightly as I recognized the age in those eyes, the strength of those shoulders, the definition of those abdominal muscles, the power of those legs, the elegance of that musculature. When had all of these things happened? When had these changes occurred? Had it been all at once or over a long time? Had I been too distracted by paperwork and missions and my own boss to notice the changes in him? Fucking hell, when had Reno stopped being so young? When Legend had first introduced me to him, Reno had been nothing but a street punk suddenly plucked off the streets. He had been all sharp angles, gawky spindly limbs, and sarcasm. To see that he'd filled out –the skinny arms becoming muscular, the shoulders broadening with maturity, the chest filled out with hard work, the long slender legs becoming lean with muscle– should have changed my perspective and my opinion of him. But I hadn't seen it, not at all. I'd noticed his improvement as an operative and properly rewarded him for it, but I'd never looked at him –really looked at him– and saw that the kid I'd met in the first place was no more. For some reason, I still saw him as the impulsive clumsy kid that liked explosions a little too much, hated guns and refused to even carry one, and lived to push my buttons. Obviously, he'd grown up into an attractive man, a man who had taste in literature as well as porn, a man who could follow my orders because they were orders and get the job done, a man who could actually hold some semblance of authority and train new operatives, a man who could reveal a lot about himself while hiding even more. It unnerved me a bit that it seemed he was modeling himself off of me: hiding behind that persona –though I figured his was mostly because people always underestimated him because he seemed reckless and ignorant; keeping his distance from everyone else so as not to hurt them, not to be hurt by them, and not to be missed by them; honing his body and mind to be his deadliest weapons; and not getting attached to anyone or anything –not even the inanimate things. The carbon copy of the original Turk ghost, the 2.0 edition now better than ever, copyright of the Shinra Electric Company. When had this man stopped being devoted to his own originality and become a shadow of his former self? If I really thought about it, his provocations no longer held any bite, his sarcasm was more of a reflex, and most of his 'accidents' were intentional. I knew it instinctively, but I had never paid attention to it. Hell, I had willfully ignored it, because he was easier to handle that way! Only a few hours ago, I had believed he might be seeking out my true personality with his annoyances and incitements. Now I wondered if he sought it out only to prove to himself that he still had his own personality lurking somewhere deep in his core. Had I somehow inadvertently broken the spirit of this once vivid man? It was sort of peculiar, I guess: Reno had always been hard to handle, but I'd... relished that about him. I liked that he had his own opinion, that he challenged me. How had I not noticed when he just... stopped? Was there anyway to bring it back in him, anyway to resurrect the intensity that had once belonged to him? Was there any hope that my own individuality still lingered somewhere inside of me, too, that I could bring back that which he sought out in me? I knew it was strange that I wanted to fix him –that I wanted to please him– but for some reason, it just didn't matter. Nothing seemed to matter except him. And what should have been frankly alarming was simply accepted. Because it was Reno. Because he mattered.
Reno: "When did you go and grow up on me, Red?" he asked me, breaking the long silence with his sudden question, a slight frown on his face –the same look he got when he was confronted by some sort of puzzle he was having trouble solving. I blinked, completely lost. "What?" "When did you grow up on me?" he repeated, his voice soft, dulcet, conversational. "When did you stop being that cocky, smart-assed kid, and how did I not notice, Reno?" Swallowing hard, I tried to process the whole thing. What in the hell was up with these questions now, of all times? After all these years, I still did not get this man at all! Heh, after a million years, you still wouldn't understand everything about him, taunted a voice in my head, which I chose to blatantly ignore Instead, I shrugged. "I donno. Time passes, even if we don't wanna acknowledge it at times." I thought about it often enough, even though I hated to think about it. It had been close to ten years since I'd met him, and I had loved him from day one. Of course, I would never have admitted it –not as the self-assured hot-head I'd been– but as I grew older, I could admit it to myself. No matter how many people I slept with, no matter how many times I tried to tell myself I hated the confident smooth-talker who held my leash, it had always been him and he had always had my heart. He just had no interest in it. So I slept with strangers, I got drunk, I tried all varieties of drugs, and I went out on suicide missions. All the while, I tried to pretend that all of those things brought me the blissful numbness I craved, that I could somehow forget him. Yet when darkness fell and I was all alone, I knew it was all an elaborate lie. But I kept that lie going as long as I could, because letting it go meant things had to change. "Careful, Red. That sounded almost philosophical," he remarked. There was something... different in his tone. Biting back my sardonic reply, I tried to figure out what was so different about it. I about bit my tongue off when I recognized the tone of his voice. He was teasing me, like I was almost... a friend of his or somethin'. I got the feeling that Tseng really didn't have many friends, which was probably why I was so stunned. He sighed. "I suppose that if you've grown up on me, that makes me ancient." Oh, are we fishing for compliments? inquired the nosy voice in my head. I laughed, surprised to find the sound was all natural and not at all forced. "Tseng, you're sorta... timeless. It's like you and you alone somehow managed to exist outside of the boundaries of time. Trust me, you'll still look young long after I've gone gray." He frowned at that and my thoughts drifted elsewhere. Why was he here? I'd been injured often enough –hell, he had been the one to injure me often enough– and it had never summoned this reaction in him. He would sort of... ignore me until I got better, then put me back to work. It had sort of stung until I had realized that he treated all of the Turks that way, even our newest operative. A gentle hand laced into my loose hair and my gaze shot to his face. His expression was thoughtful as he slid his hand across my hair. I thought I was going to die –whether of embarrassment, shock, or arousal, I didn't know. Tseng would have no frame of reference to know, but my scalp was one of my... spots, as one of my previous lovers had called them. Suffice to say that the skin was very sensitive. Since his elegant dexterous fingers were taking a luxurious trek through the brightly colored strands, there was a subtle, gentle pull against it that stirred heat I had no business feeling at a time like this. I suddenly felt a hell of a lot more naked than I had before. I still wore little more than a blanket draped over some tactically important areas –I just felt more nude than I had ever felt around him in my life. Hell, I felt more nude than I had felt before anyone in my entire life, and I wasn't shy about my own naked body. I figured it might possibly have something to do with some physical responses I couldn't control and the physical proximity to the man I had always wanted but could never have. So distracted was I by the stirrings and the sensations that Tseng's soft statement startled me. Then again, if I hadn't been distracted, I would still have been startled. "It would be a shame to see all of that vibrant color disappear." His voice was soft, the statement itself was half murmured. It took me a few seconds to convince myself that I hadn't been hearing things, that he had actually said such a thing to me. A soft smile I didn't know how to interpret pulled at his lips and I forgot how to breathe. Oh, c'mon, Tseng! Help me out here. Yell at me or poke at me or pull your gun or tell me I'm being a kid again or something! I plead in my mind, swallowing hard. Do something that makes me think you hate me. Please! I wasn't sure how I would manage to contain myself if he didn't remind me that he was a bastard. A repressed, calm,... sexy,... kind bastard... Ah, hell, that wasn't helping any-fucking-thing! "Why don't you get some rest, Reno? I'll stay and keep an eye on your injuries." Fuck me, why couldn't he just be a bastard this one time when I needed him to be one? "I... I need a shower," I admitted slowly. He arched a brow. "Do you need my assistance?" he asked kindly, sensibly. Fuck. Rational, kind, sensible... why, Tseng, why can't you just help a guy out and be a bastard? I licked my lips and hoped he wouldn't bite my head off until he heard the reason behind my request. "Uh, yeah. Can you leave the room?"
Tseng: I'm certain I looked as though he had slapped me across the face. Well, I certainly felt as though he had, even if it didn't show through. "Could you repeat that?" I inquired serenely, carefully shoving my instinctive response down as low as I could. I didn't get it. Why did it hurt? Why did it hurt that he wanted me out of the room, away from him? It didn't make any sense. One of the things I had always liked about him was that he was unpredictable, that he would fight me even knowing it was not a smart idea. Why was I hurt? Why was I feeling this way when he just... continued a behavior that had been natural to him as long as I'd known him? Still, he licked his lips again and swallowed hard, like what he was going to say was making him anxious. "Ah, boss? I'm naked under this blanket. Unless you wanna see all of me, you might wanna wait in the living room until I manage into get into the bathroom." Reno looked embarrassed, something I'd never seen before in the entire time I had worked with him. More than that, he looked like he was prepared for me to fly off the handle at him for making such a request. Instead, I turned bright red. How had I not realized he was so, so... naked before, when I'd been busily taking note of his injuries? "I... I didn't realize," I stammered, pulse pounding in my throat. "O-of course. I will go into the living room, then." A thoughtful wrinkle creased his brow and he reached out with a soft expression that bore –dare I say it– empathy. "Boss? You okay?" I wanted to hide my face. Gaia, what about him got me so far off my game? I was the Turk Commander –and I just stammered like some love-stuck school boy at the notion of my subordinate being naked under that blanket of his! Doing my best to make it covert, I took a deep soothing breath. It didn't help. "Red, I'm fine. I'll be perusing the bookshelf in your living room if you need me." He winced at that. "Anyway I can convince you the music collection is more interesting, yo?" That nearly made me laugh. "I'm incredibly selective when it comes to music, but I'm more open to other influences when it comes to books. So, probably not, Red." "...That just makes it worse, boss-man." This time, I did go ahead and laugh as I turned and left the room, careful to keep my stride measured and precise so he wouldn't think I was running away. "Stay away from the novels. I mean it, Tseng!" I started. Was that the first time he'd called me by name since I'd been here? I had to think about it as my fingertips graced the spines of his well-worn collection of books. He might have said my name once before, but he sounded almost warm when he used my name, like some of the distance between us had evaporated. Then again, my nickname for him was becoming more and more affectionate each time I used it. Maybe a little distance would be prudent, seeing as I had to work with him after this. I wasn't sure I could separate it out with him any longer. If I let Reno in, it was sort of an all-or-nothing deal. Swallowing hard, I tried to distract myself with the book under the pads of my fingers. To my surprise, I hadn't even noticed that he separated the philosophy from the fiction earlier. My head had been a complete mess, so I guessed it was a byproduct of that. It was something that was unacceptable of the Turk Commander, so I took note this time around. He was surprisingly intellectual for a man who fought so hard to convince me he was nothing but a hard-drinking sex-obsessed accident waiting to happen. A faded copy of "Tao Te Ching" was wedged in at the end of the shelf with all of the Nietzsche. Remembering that he hadn't wanted me to look at the novels, a smile graced my lips as I shifted my attention to the other shelf. A duel volume of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass", a copy of Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" that had been read so much the spine had to be taped up, a thick volume that claimed to contain everything H.P. Lovecraft had ever written, three thin paperbacks by Ray Bradbury, every well-known play by Shakespeare, a few hit-and-miss books of poetry, and more I didn't even recognize filled the shelf. As I glanced over the others, I recognized a few of the authors were best-sellers, but I still hadn't read anything by Christopher Rice, Kim Harrison, or any of the other prolific authors who dominated the shelf. With a half-smile, I pulled out his copy of "Fahrenheit 451". While I succeeded in extracting the novel, I unfortunately knocked down "The Martian Chronicles" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes". It was a bit of artless clumsiness on my part, -not a normal occurrence at all, and a definite testament to how much being here in Reno's apartment was screwing with my head– but as I bent to pick it up, I noticed that the bottom shelf was full of nothing but non-fiction. I had to admit, it made me curious, so after replacing the three novels, I perused the other shelf. It was impossible to contain my smile when I saw that he owned "The Complete Book of Mixed Drinks". That a well-worn copy of "The Complete Illustrated Kama Sutra" was beside it wasn't much of a surprise either. The surprise was the collection of memoirs that butted up to the others –"The Glass Castle" and "Never Stuff Your Dog" being the two primary titles that stuck out to me. A loud thunk and copious, loud creative swearing yanked my attention from the bookshelf. Nervously, I hurried through his bedroom and to the bathroom door and knocked three times, noting that the shower was still running. "Reno, are you alright?" He made a slight sound that I didn't quite catch. "I-I'm fine... Don't worry about it." A quizzical expression pulled across my features. He certainly didn't sound alright –not that anyone other than a stubborn Turk would ever try to use that word when they had two bullet holes in them. "Are you sure?" I inquire lightly, pondering whether or not I should check on him anyway. My throat constricted at the notion of seeing him naked and my hand barely touched the doorknob. "Yeah. I'm fine, boss." His voice sounded stronger this time, so I withdrew my hand. "Alright, then. Call out if you need me, Red," I returned before wandering back into the living room, wondering what in the hell was wrong with me.