When Rude goes missing one night after leaving a bar, Reno sets out to hunt him down. Will he find him before it's too late?
Reno looked over the top of the pile of discarded furniture he was behind, all the while mentally cursing Tseng for insisting he wait for back-up. Dammit, Rude didn't have time to wait for back-up! The bastards had had him for the better part of a week. The only reason Reno knew he was still alive was because one of them kept shouting at him. The only one of them Reno'd actually seen; built like a brick shithouse, and just as ugly. Kept calling him 'Baldie' and smacking him around, and ever time Reno heard the all too familiar 'thump' of a fist against flesh, he had to bite his tongue.
"Goddamncocksuckingsonofabitchmotherfuckingbastardturk!" The litany was punctuated by another 'thump.' Oh, they were gonna pay for ever single one of those hits. Reno'd make sure of that. Nobody smacked his partner around and lived to talk about it.
Which set him back to worrying and cursing Tseng. Rude wouldn't be lying still for that kind've shit unless something was wrong. So either they had him restrained, drugged, or he was in such bad shape he couldn't fight back. Reno was genuinely hoping it was one of the first two, because he didn't like to think about what the third might mean.
The very fact it'd taken them a week to find out where he was made Reno worry. You wouldn't think a guy as big at Rude could just disappear into thin air. But the trail, which started at Downbelow Station in the third sector, also seemed to end there. The barkeep and waitresses remembered him, yes. He often came by for a couple of drinks after work; rumor had it he used to work for the original owners. He was polite to a fault, didn't say much, and left a very generous tip behind.
The night in question, he'd had his usual two drinks, talked with the barkeep about the weather, and, around eight o'clock Midgar time, had said his goodbyes and walked out the door.
He never made it home, something Reno didn't discover till later. Rufus had decided to upgrade the computer mainframe again, so he'd been working overtime for a couple of weeks. Most nights, he was lucky if he got out before eleven. By the time he made it home, it was close to midnight, his dinner was being kept warm in the oven, and Rude was in bed asleep. Reno would eat his dinner, brush his teeth, and join his lover in bed. They hadn't done anything beyond kissing and hugging simply because Reno was so exhausted. Besides which, Rude always joked, they had to take a break from boinking like bunnies occasionally, or they'd never get anything done.
That night, it had taken him all of 20 seconds after he stepped inside the door to realize Rude wasn't there. The first thing he did was call Tseng.
He'd managed to get what little information they had through a systematic process of bar-hopping. He knew the bars Rude frequented (he went to a lot of them with him), but he'd never been in Downbelow Station. Rude had a strange sort of sentimental attachment to it; Reno supposed it was because it was where he'd first worked after arriving in Midgar. He'd told Reno that he didn't want him coming there because it was a time and place before he'd joined the Turks.
"You weren't part of my life then," he'd said to Reno, kissing his nose. And Reno had understood, because they were places from his past he'd never taken Rude, and probably never would.
A couple of days into the investigation, they'd gotten their first real clue from one of Reno's informants; a kid named Koi who worked out of the Silk Pavilion in Wall Market.
Actually, Reno hadn't even approached him-he'd been working his network of grasses when Koi had sidled up next to him and asked where the big guy was.
"Yeah. Ya know, the guy that's usually with ya?" His nose was running, and he wiped it on the sleeve of his shirt. Koi spent most of his time tweaked. Tonight he was even more strung out than usual, and Reno had to resist the urge to pop him one upside the head so he'd quit twitching.
"You mean Rude?"
"Yeah, that's him. Good looking guy, if he'd ever take those shades off."
"No, but one of my johns the other night was crowing like a goddamn Chocobo over how he and a buddy had put it over on Shinra. Said they'd taken down the biggest baddest guy in the company, and the candyassed Turks'd never find them. Didn't think about it much at the time. Just seein' you here brought it back."
"You know his name?"
Koi snorted. "Like a john's gonna tell you his real name, Reno? Give me a fuckin' break."
Reno dug into his pocket and pulled out some gil. "Okay, consider this a retainer."
"Retainer?" The way he pronounced it, Reno knew he had no idea what the word meant.
"If you hear anyone else say anything about my partner, anything at all, you call me." He pulled out a slip of paper and wrote his cell-phone number on it. "Deal?"
Koi had looked at the money, then back and Reno, and managed to stop twitching long enough to shake hands with him. "Deal."
Three days later, Koi had called him. "I found someone who thinks she saw'em."
They made an appointment to meet at Wall Market in half an hour, and then Reno had called Tseng and told him what was going on.
"Is the informant reliable?"
"I don't know about the girl. Koi's always been straight up with me."
"Reno, if you find anything out, you are to call me immediately? Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Reno looked at the cell phone a minute, then puckered up and made a squealing noise. "Yeah, Tseng, the signal's breaking up. Probably won't be able to contact you once I'm under the plate."
Reno thumbed the phone off, and set out for Wall Market.
"She' was named Acacia, and she was one of Koi's tweaker friends. Reno would've said she was 15 tops, and even that might've been too generous.
"So, you're friend's a big black guy, right? With shades and stuff, right?" Reno nodded. "Cause me and Kimmy, she's my best friend, me and Kimmy were coming out of Porter's the other night and passed these two guys carrying this other guy between'em."
"What'd they look like?"
"The two guys, or the guy they were carrying?"
Reno rolled his eyes heavenward and prayed for patience. "All of them."
"Oh. Okay. The big black guy was wearing a suit like yours. The other two guys were dressed like...I dunno, workmen or somethin'. Dirty jeans, t-shirts, boots, that kinda shit."
"Any of them say anything?"
"No. Reason I remember'em is because right about the time they got level with Kimmy an' me, the guy they were dragging's shades fell off, and one of'em stepped on'em. And the guy made a noise, kind've like he was really pissed, and struggled some, but I think he was either drunk or shooting up, cause one of them growled at him to shut the fuck up an' he did." She blew a huge bubble while simultaneously twirling her obviously dyed blonde hair around one finger. She was practically vibrating in place. "So, Koi said you wanted to know, and I told him and he had you come here so I could tell you."
Reno turned his back and counted to ten. Several times. When he felt sufficiently calm, he turned back around. "Did you see where they went?"
"They were going that way." She pointed at an alley across from where they stood.
"What's over there?"
"Mostly empty houses. Nobody's lived down there since 'fore I was born."
He ended up giving them each some gil, and, for a brief moment, entertained the idea of calling Tseng. In the end, he rejected it. Acacia had finally managed to pin down that she'd seen these guys on Thursday night. It was Sunday now, and Rude had gone missing Monday. They'd had him for nearly a week, and if what Acacia had said about him not having the strength to fight back was true, Reno was genuinely afraid to lose the trail. And he would lose it if Tseng insisted on him waiting for back-up.
The streets the alley opened onto were creepy. The houses were weather beaten, but mostly in good repair, and Reno wondered why nobody lived here.
It wasn't hard to find the trail. Literally. The dust was thick on the pavement, and it would've been obvious to even Kimmy that two people had gone through here dragging a third. He tracked them right up to the front door of one of the larger buildings (the place had three stories), and finally, the creepiness got to him and he called Tseng.
"Where are you?"
"Dunno. The alley was across from Dijoh's in Wall Market, but it's like a damn ghost town, Tseng. I'd lay good money the only people here are me, the guys who took'im, and Rude."
"Hit your tracking system."
Reno triggered it and slumped back against the door. The silence here was unnatural. He couldn't have been more than a few blocks from Wall Market, and you normally heard Wall Market long before you saw it.
"Okay, I've got you pinpointed. Reno, do NOT go in alone. If I get there and find out you've gone in alone, I will personally flog you to death."
"So I'm just supposed to sit here and let'em keep doing whatever it is they're doing to Rude? Tseng, it's been four days since Acacia saw them. He could be fucking dead right now."
Tseng sighed. "Reno. My asking you not to go in is as much for your own safety as for Rude's. I've got helicopters fueled and waiting, and Elena and I will be there in less than 10 minutes. Do you understand me?"
Reno sighed. "Yes, sir."
"Good. Now sit tight."
And he probably would've if the one guy who'd kidnapped Rude hadn't started making so much noise.
He was huddled inside the door-frame of the building when the dead silence was abruptly shattered by someone throwing a beer bottle through one of the second-story windows. Reno damn near jumped out of his skin.
A few seconds later, a variety of random objects followed the same trajectory as the beer bottle. They came with such regularity, Reno was beginning to wonder if the guy was using some sort of catapult when they abruptly stopped.
"That oughta teach the sonofabitch to keep his fuckin' mouth shut!"
The voice was so close Reno could've sworn the guy was standing right next to him. It was answered by a quieter murmur; he couldn't make out what was said, but apparently, big-mouth didn't like it.
"Like fuckin' Shinra's gonna show up here? Hah! Nobody even knows we got the guy, Briscoe. Or if they do, they're off lookin' in the wrong place. Nobody'd ever think to come here! Ain't that right, Baldie?"
Reno was already standing when the 'thump' of a fist hitting flesh filtered down to him. That was all it took to make him say to hell with Tseng and his caution. These guys had Rude, and he'd be damned if he'd stand back and let them beat the shit out of him just because Tseng told him to.
The door was unlocked, which struck Reno as being all kinds of wrong. Unlike the other houses, this place had obviously seen recent habitation, though most of the furniture was broken or falling apart. He'd been careful as he could on the stairs, which looked on the verge of splintering, and he couldn't help wondering how the bastards had managed to get Rude up here without all of them falling into the basement.
He'd been surprised to find the top of the stairs blocked by a pile of furniture. It was while trying to wiggle his way through it to get a good point of view that he'd apparently made some noise. He barely had time to hunch down behind a huge dresser before Brickface was standing out in the corridor, gun drawn. "Who the fuck's there?"
Reno didn't even breathe. He already had his gun in one hand and his EMR in the other, charged and ready to go.
"For Shiva's sake, Gil, there isn't anyone out there. Except maybe some mice."
"Yeah? Well how come we been here for nearly four days, and I ain't heard no mice before now?"
"Probably scared'em off with your big mouth, dickweed. You're makin' enough noise to raise the dead!"
"Don't say that!" He spun around and went back into the room, where he started shouting something about 'stirrin' up things that were better left buried' and how Briscoe was gonna get'em both killed.
Eventually he wound down and went back to his favorite pass time: Punching Rude. This close now, actually able to see the one guy, Rude's silence worried him. Reno'd fought back to back with him more times than he could count, and while he might not make a lot of noise, he'd at least grunt if you got in a good shot. Hell, as close as he was, even if they had him gagged, he should've been hearing something.
"Know something, Baldie? I'm startin' to get mighty tired of you and your damn closed mouth. Think you're so hard, do ya? Fucking Shinra Turk in his fancy suit and tie! I'm gonna make you scream if it's the last thing I ever do, you bastard!"
The door started to swing closed, and Reno panicked.
"Think It's time to play the game again, Briscoe." The guy sounded so drunk, Reno was amazed he could still stand up. How much booze did they have in there, anyway?
There was a click, followed by a hissing, and for the life of him, Reno couldn't place what it was. Which was stupid as fuck, because it was a familiar sound, one he heard on a daily basis. So why couldn't he...
"Gil." Briscoe's voice was low and panicked. "I don't think that's such a good idea, man."
"Yeah? Well who asked you? So Baldie. You ready to try for the big one?"
Answer him, man, Reno thought wildly. It ain't worth getting your fucking self killed over!
"I'm gonna take that as a no." Again the click and hiss, steadier this time. Somebody whimpered (Reno was pretty sure it was Briscoe) and then the smell came wafting out the door, and with a sudden flash of horror, he knew just exactly what Gil was doing.
They never knew what hit them. One minute, Gil was holding his cigarette lighter up to the palm of Rude's right hand, smiling as the skin began to char. The next, a tall, skinny whirlwind with flaming red hair exploded into the room. Briscoe took a direct hit from the EMR to the chest and hit the floor, flopping like a fish. Gil had just enough time to register they had a visitor before the first bullet broke his left hip.
He screamed, and dropped the lighter. "What the fuc..." he never finished the sentence, as the next bullet blew a nice, neat little round hole in his forehead For a moment he just stood there, staring at Reno in open-mouthed surprise, then his brain realized that most of his frontal lobe was gone, and he dropped like a rock.
Reno ran over to the bed, stamping out the small fire the dropped lighter had ignited on the bedspread, then dropped to his knees. "Rude?! Yo, Rude, open up those big eyes for me, huh? Lemmee know if anyone's home."
For a split second, he was afraid he was too late. Rude was trussed-up and gagged with his tie, and Reno quickly went to work undoing the knots, mouth moving as fast as his fingers. "Sweet Leviathan, babe, scare the ever-loving shit out of me, why don't ya, huh?" The ropes fell away, sticky with blood, and Reno wished he could revive Gil and kill him all over again.
"Rude?" He was beginning to panic. His partner was too still. Not still as dead still, but the sort of stillness you see in someone who's been conditioned to be afraid to move. What the hell had that bastard done to him?
He undid the tie and went to pull it out of Rude's mouth, only to find he couldn't. Rude's jaw muscles were set so tight, Reno was surprised his teeth hadn't shattered. "Oh, Rude..." leaving the tie where it was, he climbed onto the cramped cot with him and pulled him into a hug. "It's okay to scream now, Rude. The bastard's dead. Nobody here but you and me, and it isn't anything I haven't heard before, right, partner?" Rude's whole body was as tightly wound as his jaws; Reno could feel the tension vibrating through him. "Rude, look at me."
The softness of the words must've somehow pierced the daze Rude was in, because he turned his head slightly to look at Reno. One eye was completely swollen shut; the other was bloodshot and glazed over. Reno wondered when the last time was he'd slept.
"Yeah, like that," He kept his voice soft, gently touching the side of Rude's face. "Those bastards really jacked you up man. But they're dead now. I made sure of that. Nobody touches you like that and lives. Wasn't that what we agreed?" Rude gave what might have been a nod. "So look, man. Tseng and Elena are on there way here. It's over now. It's okay to hurt. Remember when you told me that, babe? Another nod. "It's okay for you to hurt now, Rude. Nobody's gonna hear or see it but me, and there isn't anything you could do that would make me think any less highly of you." Reno pulled him closer, resting his head on top of his partners.
It took him a moment or two to notice the sound. At first he thought it was the helicopters coming in, but no, whatever this was, it wasn't mechanical. Sounded like a really big cat growling. Only gradually did he realize it was coming from Rude. He could actually feel it gathering, as the big guy's muscles slowly relaxed. Everything his partner had felt, all the pain, all the anger, all the fear, was rising to the surface.
If he hadn't loved the man more than life itself, Reno would've run. Instead, he just stroked the side of Rude's face, whispering nonsense in his ear as it all gathered like an approaching storm.
When it finally burst free, it was unlike anything Reno had ever heard. A scream torn directly from the bottom of his lover's soul. He wanted to close his eyes and stop his ears and not have to listen to it or look at Rude's face, but he wasn't a coward. Rude had held him through worse than this, and never once had he looked away or flinched from what he saw in Reno's eyes.
It seemed to go on forever, but in reality, it was over fairly quickly. Silence fell over the room again, the whirr of the approaching helicopter blades mixed in which Rude's deep, sobbing breaths. Reno continued to talk to him softly, telling him how much he loved him, how glad he was to have him back, how lonely he'd been without him.
When Tseng finally found the two of them, they were curled around each other like small children frightened of the dark. His eyes took in the tears on Rude's face, the satisfied smile on Reno's, and the two very dead bodies on the floor.
Neither one stirred, even when they loaded them into the med chopper. Elena stood next to Tseng, regarding the bodies of Rude's captors dispassionately. "Did you honestly expect him to do what you said, Tseng?"
"Tseng looked at her and smile wryly. "Of course not. But I have to at least put on a show of being in control, Elena. I'm the leader of the Turks."
Reno opened his eyes to a sight he was becoming disturbingly familiar with, the sterile green and white decor of Shinra's medical section. A quick assessment told him he was in a hospital bed, with an IV in one arm, dressed in a set of those godawful green scrubs everyone wore.
"Welcome back to the land of the living." He glanced over at Tseng, sitting in one of the straight-backed chairs they kept for visitors.
Tseng gestured at the far corner of the sick bay, where a curtain was drawn.
"How long was I out?"
"About 24 hours. Apparently, you haven't been eating and drinking properly. So now you're nicely dehydrated. That's why you're on an IV. Once the bag is empty, you're free to go."
"What about Rude?"
"He's asleep." Elena came up on the other side of his bed, smiling. "He's pretty badly beaten up, but Claudia's using materia to make sure the burns don't scar."
Reno's head snapped around. "Burns?"
"The one on his hand is the most recent. Claudia says the oldest one dates back to a week ago. Apparently, the guy you shot liked setting people on fire."
"Shit." Reno felt like he was going to be sick. "All I saw was the one on his hand. That's why I killed the fucking sonofabitch. And all this time, the bastard was burning him? It's no wonder he wouldn't make a sound."
"What are you talking about?"
He looked from Elena to Tseng. "So he's talking okay now?"
"He's talking as much as Rude ever talks." Tseng stood up and came over to stand next to his bed. "He's been more worried about you than himself, which is par for the course with you two. He's already debriefed me."
"Who the hell were those guys."
"Idiots." Tseng's voice was sharp. "Apparently, Rude knew them back when he first came to Midgar. Just drinking buddies, never actually friends."
"So why'd they kidnap him?"
"They had this idea they were going to hold him for ransom. Apparently, they only recently became aware that the reason they haven't seen him for close to 12 years was because he was a Turk. They were both out of work, they both had extensive criminal records, and they both mistakenly believed Shinra would pay blackmail money. I gather, from what he said, that the guy you shot was either drunk or high most of the time they had him. He was also more than a bit insane."
He looked at Reno. "Which means that once again, you've managed to squirm your way off the hook, Reno Tarshill. If you'd waited till we got there, they most likely would have killed him." His face softened. "One of these days, you know, you're going to push it too far."
"When I do, I hope you're still around to see it" Reno smirked at him. "So once the IV's done I can blow this joint?"
"With the proviso that you go home, have a decent meal, and get some sleep." Claudia, the nurse on duty, had slipped into the room when they were talking. And by decent meal, I mean something besides pizza or Wutai take-out." She was rummaging around in the bedside table, finally coming up with some cotton swabs and a bandage "Are you going to be a good boy and do what you're told, or am I going to have to keep you here for 'observation?"
Reno shuddered. "Anything but observation, please." He turned his head away as she removed the tape from his arm and slid the IV out, then put the bandage over it.
"Okay, you're good to go."
Tseng nodded at him. "I need to get back work. Take the next couple of days off, alright?"
"How long will Rude be here?"
"At least a week." Claudia was cleaning up the clutter from removing the IV. "Most of the burns are superficial, but he's got a couple on his back that need to be watched."
"Can I see him before I leave?"
"Feel free, but I doubt you'll be able to get much out of him. He's fairly heavily sedated right now."
Reno slid out of bed. "That's okay. I just need to see'im, yo?"
Claudia smiled. "When you're ready to leave, your clothes are in the first locker there."
In the end, he decided to wait till after he'd seen Rude to change back into his regular clothes.
Carefully, Reno peaked around the edge of the curtain. "Rude?"
He hadn't really expected an answer, so he wasn't surprised when he didn't get one. Soundlessly, he moved over to Rude's bedside and looked down at his lover.
Rude was curled up on his side. His IV was attached to a machine with materia slots. The hand Gil had been burning was covered with what looked like some sort of fluid-filled pad.
There were at least five of the pads, from what Reno could see. He wasn't wearing a scrub top; so Reno figured they probably wanted to keep the areas exposed so they wouldn't stick to his clothes or the sheets.
He looked exhausted. Even asleep, there were worry lines on his forehead. The bruising on his face had faded a bit, and Reno wondered if he could open that eye yet.
It was pure reflex to reach out and try to smooth the lines away. He knew he'd never forget the sound he'd heard in that room, and he also knew he never wanted to have to hear it again.
"Ren?" The voice was barely a whisper, but his good eye was open.
Reno smiled. "Hey. Good to have you back, man."
"Umm. Good to be back." His eye began to drift lose, then re-opened. "You okay?"
"I think that's my line, huh? I'm not the one who got kidnapped."
Rude looked confused. "Don't remember much."
"Just as well. Nothing worth remembering."
"Claudia and Tseng want me to go home, eat a decent meal, and get some sleep."
"Should." Rude lifted up his unburned hand to brush Reno's hair out of his eyes. "I know you when you're on a case, little big man."
"You'd have done the same thing."
"Yeah." Whatever they'd given him was pulling him under. "Ren?"
Reno smiled. "That bed isn't near big enough for the two of us, Rude. And I don't wanna hurt you."
"As if you would?"
When Claudia came in to check on Rude a few hours later, she was only slightly surprised to discover Reno in bed with him, carefully positioned so as to not put any pressure on the burn pads. His right hand was lying on Rude's shoulder, fingers intertwined with Rude's. She gave very brief consideration to waking him up and telling him to go home; that they weren't operating a hotel here, but in the end, she abandoned the idea.
She did a quick check of Rude's vitals, made sure the materia wasn't depleted, and then, with one last look at the sleeping pair, went back to her office to do her charting.
What Tseng didn't know wouldn't hurt him.