"Boss, Reno's still not in," Elena called as I came into the office space. I frowned. Reno didn't play tardy past noon. It was 1:00 pm. "Did anyone check his apartment? The lush probably got trashed last night." Despite my stated supposition, there was no bite to my words. Rude shook his head. Elena looked a little worried. Something twisted tightly in my gut. It was a painful response from my instincts to tell me that something was wrong, but it had never been this bad before. Something was seriously wrong. "Never mind that. I'll go check on him," I informed her, changing my mind suddenly. My instincts were rarely wrong, and they were practically screaming at me. "Can I come with?" Elena chirped. "No. Work on your paperwork." I walked out of the office and onto the elevator like nothing was wrong. Once alone in the elevator, I checked my phone. There were no missed calls from him, no annoying little texts, no flirty voice-mails. Something was really wrong. I dialed the number for his PHS. It rang and rang, but he never picked up. I hung up when I reached voice-mail. This is bad. I called his land-line. Likewise, it rang until it hit his machine. "Reno? Hey, Red, where are you? It's past noon: time for lazy red-heads to pick up their phones and come to work, don't you think?" I tried to maintain my normal biting sarcasm, but I was on the verge of panicking. Despite his outward appearance and general nature toward anything related to actual work, Reno took his job seriously. Yesterday, I had told him I needed him in at ten this morning. While he had grumbled and complained at the time, it was quite unlike him to sleep in when I asked for him in at a specific time. When the elevator stopped at the parking garage, I hurried to my car, dialing his PHS as I went. Something was very, very wrong. What trouble has that red-head gotten himself into? On the drive over, I imagined every horrible thing my mind could dream up. Someone killed him in the night. He was kidnapped and they were torturing him. Cloud made good on his threat of impaling Reno on his sword. His date from last night had killed him. He died in the middle of autoerotic asphyxia. He suddenly had a heart attack. Someone shot him up with more mako than his tolerance would allow and he was writhing in agony as he died slowly. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer terror that gripped me upon finding that door jimmied open and the lock broken beyond repair. "Reno?" I called out, opening the door and stepping inside. Cautiously, I strode through his surprisingly neat apartment until I reached the bedroom. The black silk sheets were pulled off the bed in places. The bedding was in utter disarray. Somehow, it was different from the normal Reno-induced chaos that I was used to at the office. Something acrid hit my nostrils. Maybe he's just sick, I told myself, but I honestly couldn't even convince myself of that line for even an instant. I could hear the sounds of water running and splashing, so I slipped into the bathroom. On the floor, there was a puddle of vomit that looked like it had been there for a while. Wincing, I stepped over it and looked into the shower. Reno was curled up on the floor in a ball, looking absolutely pitiful. His body shivered, but I could see that he'd burnt his skin with water that had been too hot. The only way I could tell that he was alive was that incessant shivering that made me feel chilled deep in my soul. "Reno?" I asked softly. Something was obviously worse than even I had imagined, and I had the distinct honor of being told that my paranoia should be bottled and sold to government officials. He lifted his head, his eyes fluttering open slowly. "Tseng?" he asked weakly. I didn't like what I saw in his eyes. The normally confident gaze was terrorized. The vibrant eyes faded to glassy orbs in a pale face. Gaia, what had happened to him? I climbed into the shower stall with him. "Yeah, it's me, Red," I told him softly, reaching out for him. He jerked away. "N-no. D-don't t-touch m-me," he stuttered. "I'm d-dirty…" "Reno? What are you talking about?" I almost couldn't believe this was my subordinate. He looked like him, but the way he moved and spoke was very unlike the over-confident red-head that liked to give me migraines. Reno had always been so confident, so full of life. What had happened to him? "You're not dirty, Red. Come here," I commanded softly. "N-no. I'm d-dirty, Ts-Tseng." His gaze was so full of pain and shame as he looked at me. "I don't care, Reno. Come here, please?" I requested gently, honestly frightened that Reno viewed himself like that. It was in that moment that I first ever thought, If this is what Reno is now, he might be better off dead. Not that I would be better off if he were dead. He looked at me again before moving toward me. "Y-you d-don't c-care if I'm d-dirty?" he asked, his voice so small and soft and scared. Inside, my heart ached. I reached for him again. "No, I don't. Come here, Reno. You're scaring me." Carefully, I leaned forward slowly, trying not to startle him. Ice-cold water pelted my back before he finally moved to me and rested his head against my thigh. I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him against me tightly, as if my awareness of his well-being was directly proportional to how tightly I held him to me. His legs parted marginally, and I sucked in a harsh breath. It looked as though he'd tried to scrub every cell of skin off the insides of his thighs and everything that lay between them. The rest of his skin had also been thoroughly scrubbed as well, yet none of it had gotten quite as much attention as the scarlet skin of his inner thighs. Yet something kept me from asking why. I wasn't sure why, but I was certain that if I asked him here, in this room of this building, I would watch him shatter even further than this. "Y-you're s-so w-warm, Ts-Tseng," he breathed out, moving his head to rest against my chest. "Don't tell anyone, Red. You don't want everyone to know I'm not as much of a cold bastard as they think," I told him wryly. "A-as y-you p-pretend, y-you m-mean?" His laugh was small and it trembled. It was nothing like the robust, rich sound I'd come to like so much, and it broke my heart even more. "Ah, there's that humor I so appreciate," I praised him softly, rubbing my hand up and down his bare back. "Do you know what time it is, Red?" He shook his head. "It's after 13:00. Come with me. We need to get you dressed and into work." I wasn't so sure it would even be possible with him like this. I really wanted to know what happened to him, but I didn't think he was anywhere near ready to tell me, or anyone else for that matter. He nodded slowly. He allowed me to help him get up. The task that fell to me was to lead the soaked man through his bathroom and out, careful to avoid the puddle of vomit in the middle of the bathroom floor. I had to dry him off myself. Slowly, tenderly, I brushed his hair and clothed him like he was a broken, fragile doll that needed to be posed each time in new ways. He wouldn't follow me: I had to take his hand and lead him through the rooms. When we passed by his bed, he shifted further away from the bed and closer to me. "Please burn the bed for me." I turned and looked at him. "What, Red?" "Please burn it. I can't sleep on it anymore." He looked around the apartment. "I can't stay here anymore." "Well, where will you stay, then?" I asked. I had a feeling that he wouldn't budge on either thing he'd just said. I wasn't about to ask him to until I knew what had done this to him. "Do you have somewhere else you can stay?" "Can I stay with you? I feel safe with you." His voice went back to that small, terrorized tone. "Sure. I can't promise I'll be good company, but you can stay with me." Anything you need if it will fix you. I couldn't believe that I had thought that until I took a short instant to ponder it. Despite all the times he annoyed the hell out of me, I wanted the old Reno back. I didn't like seeing him turn into this frightened, clinging child. It scared me. I was almost terrified of learning what had happened to him. "Thank you," he replied softly, stepping forward to rest his head against my shoulder again. "Thank you." "You're welcome, Red. Come on. Work awaits us." Of course, there was no way in hell nor any power on this earth that would ever force me to force him to work in this condition. Handing him his weapon in this state was a good way to help him kill himself. I used the excuse of work just because I knew it would push him to move forward, to follow me. I wanted to keep a close eye on him: this side of Reno was scaring me and I really didn't want him to commit suicide anywhere, let alone in my condo. When I placed Reno in the backseat of my car, he gave me a soft smile before stretching out and lying down across it. His body curled up into itself as I watched his eyes drift shut. I pulled out my phone and called Elena. She picked up on the second ring. "Yeah, boss?" "Take the assignment with Rude. Reno will stay in the office with me." "Why, sir?" she asked. "I need you to go with Rude. Go now. I don't want you in the office when I come back. If you're still there, there will be hell to pay. Do you understand me?" I growled. "Yes, sir." Her reply was sharp and startled. It could probably be blamed on the fact I'd just lost my temper with her over nothing. Well, she could pout about that on her own time. Right now, I had something much more worrisome on my mind –and in my backseat. "What did 'Lena do?" asked a groggy voice from the backseat. I hung up on Elena. "Ah, questioned a direct order." "C'mon. You don't get that mad at me when I do it." I could almost hear the confident way the Reno I knew would say those words. It made me desperately sad to realize that this shell of a man was all that was left of that Reno right now. Instead of answering, I slowly reached my hand back into the backseat. The old Reno would have sucked on my fingers and licked between them before purring out some provocative line that would earn him a slap. This Reno clasped my hand between both of his and rubbed his face against my fingers. I wanted to cry. This was the same man –this much, I knew. Yet, at the same time, it wasn't him. What had happened to the man that annoyed me so much I wanted to shoot him? I would welcome him in place of this scared, timid child of a man that needed to hold my hand to leave his own apartment! Just what had happened to him? "Tseng?" "Yeah, Red?" I asked softly, wondering if I would ever get to retrieve my arm from the backseat as I pulled onto the road that ran in front of the parking garage. Gently, I folded my fingers around one of his hands. He brushed his lips across one of my knuckles. "Thank you." "For what, Red?" I asked, trying to steady my breathing. He didn't mean it as a kiss, I yelled at myself. He's taking some sort of comfort from the proximity. "For coming for me." How I didn't break down and cry was both a mystery and a miracle. That I also managed to pull straight into my parking spot was something eerie. I turned off the ignition before turning in my seat to look at him. "Anytime you need me, Reno, I'll be there. I promise." From now on, I swore to myself. From now on, I won't let anything happen to him. Reno did the one thing I still never expected of him: he began to weep, sobbing in earnest. I tugged my hand from his, only to maneuver myself out of the front seat and half-way into the backseat. "Come here, Red," I commanded him softly, my arms already reaching for him. He allowed me to pull him out of the car and into my arms. He buried his face in my shoulder. Wet, warm drops soaked through my suit jacket and my shirt, but I didn't care. One arm held him tightly against me and the other held his head against my shoulder, my fingers playing the in the bright red locks of their own accord. Leading him with me like this was awkward. In contrast to the way he clung to me, he was not a small child. It was not an easy matter of scooping him into my arms and carrying him into my office. Instead, it was a careful maneuvering of steps as I whispered comforts against his ears and tugged his body along with me. It was easier when we got into the elevator. I didn't have to move him anywhere for a few moments, and his tears were beginning to subside. I kept whispering comforts into his ear and stroking his back as I waited for the elevator to reach our floor. With a ding, the elevator doors slid open to reveal the two subordinates I had just ordered out of the office. Reno, upon noticing them, whimpered pitifully and wrapped himself tighter around me, like he was trying to crawl into my skin with me. It almost hurt to have his arms wrapped so tightly around me. Elena gasped in horror. "What happened to him?" she demanded. Rude put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her into the elevator I was carefully vacating, despite the man who was so wrapped around me I would have trouble defending myself against any danger. I glanced back when I finally succeeded. Rude lifted his glasses for a moment, leveling his gaze with mine as a way to communicate without words. You find out who in the hell did this to him, and then we all get to play with them, his eyes seemed to say. I nodded my assent the instant before the elevator doors closed and I had to drag this man into my office with limited maneuverability. Sighing and feeling a bit defeated, I leaned him against Rude's desk for a moment. I wondered if I was still capable of what I was contemplating for an instant before I traced Reno's physique with my eyes carefully. He was slender on the best of days, effeminate on the worst. It's been a long time since I carried a man this way, I thought to myself. This would be a great way and a terrific time to pull something when I try it. But it was the best way to get him into my office quickly, so I looked at Reno. "Is it alright if I lift you up, Reno?" I asked softly. He nodded slowly. "It's okay if it's you," he murmured softly. Slowly, I bent at my knees and crooked one of my arms behind his knees and used the other to support his torso. When I lifted him, I found him to be a bit lighter than I had expected. His arms wrapped around my shoulders and neck like some sort of vice. It struck me as funny when I remembered that this was the way a newly-wedded male carried his bride to the marriage bed. Well, this time, it's the office couch, I thought wryly as we passed through the archway and I set him down on the soft couch. He was hesitant to uncoil his arms from around my neck and his lean body from around mine. Thinking about his need for my physical contact, I let him unwrap himself from around me before I eased him up to a sitting position. Quickly, I stole away to sit on the couch before I pulled his torso gently backward in a manner that placed his head in my lap. He relaxed almost instantly, but one of his hands moved to form a fist in the fabric of my shirt. Well, I'm not going to get any work done today, I told myself wryly. Absently, one of my hands began playing in his damp hair. He made some sort of noise that reminded me of a cat's purr. I assumed that meant he liked the sensation. I allowed myself to continue touching his hair, taking a moment to massage his scalp and the back of his neck until I heard a soft moan that about melted me on the spot. "Reno, you look tired. Would you like to rest a while?" He turned his head so he could face me. The panicked expression he wore made me wish I had the luxury of breaking down, yet I knew I didn't. I needed to hold him up for the time being. "I'll stay right here," I promised him quickly, touching his forehead and smoothing back his hair. He nodded slowly. His eyelids slid closed and his breathing quickly evened out. I continued to sooth him as best I could, playing in his hair as he slept in my lap. With him asleep, it gave me time to collect my thoughts and observations. I recalled the broken lock, the flushed and heavily scrubbed skin, the disarray of his bedding, his words to me when I reached for him. Then I remembered his wish that I burn his bed and his declaration that he couldn't stay in his apartment any longer. The pieces of the puzzle slowly fell into place and for the first time in more than ten years, I allowed myself the luxury of weeping in the sanctuary of my office. "Oh, Red," I breathed out between sobs, caressing his cheek with the tips of my fingers. Could I have saved him from this if I'd just stopped by last night? The thought was haunting and it only fed my tears. Leaning in, I pressed a kiss to his forehead. "I will help you get better, Red," I promised him, though he couldn't hear me. "And I will catch whoever did this to you. I promise, Red. I promise."