Things aren't always as black and white as they seem.
There was a soft hiss as the electric door slid shut behind him, and Xian Tseng fell into step with the white-coated doctor. "It's good of you to agree to see me this late, Dr. Chu."
The doctor, a tall, dark-haired woman, nodded. "I must admit, Mr. Tseng, that when you called me, I was frankly amazed. My major question at this point, is this: Are you absolutely sure it's him?"
"As sure as modern science can make us, Doctor."
"Three months ago, modern science told you he was dead."
Tseng smiled a small, tight smile. "In that case, Doctor, we discovered modern science had greased a few palms in its favor. I'm willing to stake my reputation that this is not a mistake."
"I certainly hope not. I needn't tell you what it could do to Mr. Johnson's mental state if you're wrong. The man's barely functional as is." They stopped in front of an imposing metal door. Dr. Chu nodded at the guard, who unlocked it. "How do you intend to approach the subject?"
"I was hoping to bring the person in question with me."
"I'm not 100% convinced that would be a good choice, sir. You have to remember that Mr. Johnson's believes he's dead. He's so firmly convinced he's dead, he's retreated into his own mind for protection. Such a shock could just push him further into himself."
"I'm willing to take that chance. Rude's worked for me a very long time, Doctor. I know him well enough to know that just telling him something won't make any difference. He'll have to see before he's willing to believe."
The door slid open smoothly, revealing a small room painted off-white. It was sparsely furnished; a single bed, a bedside stand, and a fake wood-laminated door that he knew led into a small bathroom. He wasn't sure what bothered him more; that what little furniture there was in it was bolted to the floor, or that the one window in the room, while large, was reinforced with what appeared to be razor wire.
He took a step towards the bed, where a large, bald-headed man wearing blue scrubs sat. "Rude?"
He didn't really expect an answer; Rude hadn't spoken a word to anyone since the night they'd found...he shook his head. He still relived that scene in his nightmares; Rude kneeling on the street, clutching the almost unrecognizable body to his chest, roaring like a wounded animal. He remembered the thought briefly going through his mind that it would be a mercy to the man if he just took out his gun and shot him.
He stepped closer to the bed, kneeling down so he was at eye level. "I trust they're treating you well?" Not that they'd dare do anything different. Even in these post-METEOR days, the name Shinra still held some power. "Rude?" He put out a hand and touched his arm.
Rude twitched, as if someone had thrown an electrical switch. His head turned towards Tseng, and the older Turk immediately wished it hadn't. They'd taken away his sunglasses, and the mismatched eyes that met his were totally empty, lacking even the barest spark of life. "I wanted you to know I'm bringing someone to see you tomorrow. Someone I think you'll be happy to see."
Rude simply turned his head away. Tseng stood up, dusting off the knees of his pants (not that he really needed to, the place was spotless), and walked back over to where Dr. Chu stood.
"You're still determined to do this?"
Tseng nodded. "For his sake...for the sake of the man he loves, Doctor, I have to try."
"Be in my office at 10:30 tomorrow then." They stepped out of the room, the guard relocking the door behind them. "You realize, Mr. Tseng, that I can't give you any guarantee that what you're going to do will make any difference? Mr. Johnson's severed almost all connection with the real world-I foresee the day coming, and soon, when he'll have to be put on IV nutrition. He barely eats now as is."
They stopped at the door, and Tseng turned and held out his hand. "I want to thank you for taking care of Rude. And I hope, I sincerely hope, that what I'm going to do will result in him re-establishing touch with the here and now. I'll see you tomorrow." He made a slight bow, and was gone.
Ten-thirty the next morning found him knocking on Doctor Chu's door, a smaller, red-haired man at his side.
Tseng pulled the door open, waving the younger man in ahead of him. "Dr. Chu. I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Johnson's partner, Reno Tarshill."
They shook hands. "Are you sure you should be bringing him here, Mr. Tseng? He looks like death warmed over."
Reno laughed. "Don't feel as bad as I look, ma'am. Though I couldn't have told you that three months ago."
"Our staff physician has deemed Reno fit for moderate activity. Given the shape he was when we found him, his being alive at all is nothing short of a minor miracle."
"Miracle my ass." Reno snorted. "I'm just too damn mean to die, Tseng."
"That as well."
Dr. Chu shuffled through some papers. "I'm assuming you've explained Mr. Johnson's condition to him?"
"Does he really think I'm dead?"
"I'm afraid he does, Mr. Tarshill."
"Shit. Poor Rude. No wonder it made'im crazy. I don't doubt but that I'd go a bit crazy myself if I though he was dead."
"I'm also assuming Mr. Tseng explained to you that seeing you might not be the best thing for Mr. Johnson?"
"Yeah. But I gotta try, Doc. It's my fault he's like this."
"It is not your fault, Reno." Tseng's voice was sharp. "You were being held captive. You had no idea what was going on."
Reno sighed. "I know that. But I still feel like it's my fault."
"It's no one's fault, Mr. Tarshill." Dr. Chu rather liked this young man. "Except, maybe, those of the men who were holding you prisoner." She turned to Tseng. "How did you want to go about this?"
"I was planning on letting Reno go into the room alone. The rest of us will observe from outside."
"I suspected as much. That's why I've taken the liberty of having Mr. Johnson restrained..."
"You're restraining Rude?" Reno's green eyes flashed. "How the hell am I supposed to convince him it's me if we can't touch each other?"
"Mr. Tarshill, please! Up to now, Mr. Johnson has proven a fairly docile patient. That doesn't mean, however, that a sudden shock to his system might not cause him to become violent. I can't, in good conscience, let you see him without him being restrained."
"Look, lady," Reno leaned over the desk. "Rude would never in a million years hurt me, yo? So take the damn restraints off."
Dr. Chu took a deep breath and looked at Tseng.
"I'm in agreement with Reno. He and Rude have been partners for nearly 10 years, and never once has Rude lifted a finger towards him. I told you that Rude is the sort of person who has to see things for himself before he'll believe? If he can't touch Reno as well as see him, he'll assume it's a trick of his mind. I realize Rude's rather intimidating looking to those who don't know him, but trust me doctor, he's not going to hurt anyone."
Dr. Chu sighed, picking up the phone and punching in a number. "Richter? Mr. Johnson's visitors are here. I want you to take the restraints off him, then call me back." She was silent a minute. "I know that, Richter, but they've agreed to take responsibility for anything that happens. Yes." She put the phone back on the base. "He'll call us when Mr. Johnson's restraints have been removed." She turned her attention to Reno. "I must admit, Mr. Tarshill, you look in relatively good shape for a man who's been dead three months. I'd be interested in how such a monumental mistake could've been made."
Reno looked at Tseng, who nodded. "Reno's still got a few holes in his memory as to exactly what happened. As I told you the night Mr. Johnson was admitted, Reno had been missing for over a month. We suspected he was being held hostage by a man we were investigating, possibly to be used as a bargaining chip at a later point. Then we got a call from a night watchman, telling us a body with a Turk ID on it had turned up in an alley."
"Naturally, Rude and myself went down there expecting the worst. And we believed we'd gotten it. The body was badly decayed, barely recognizable except for the hair. Reno's hair is an extremely unusual shade of red; one I've never seen on anyone else in all the time I've known him."
"That's where we made our first mistake. Due to the fact that our new offices are still under construction, certain positions have yet to be filled. Otherwise, the body would've been autopsied by our own coroner, and the lie would've become immediately obvious. However, we had to rely on the city coroner's office, who identified the body via dental records, as it was so badly decayed fingerprinting was impossible."
"At that point, believing Reno was dead, Rude had his breakdown and I brought him here. We were all grieving, and so it was several days till I began to realize certain things didn't add up. Such as how a body so badly decayed it couldn't be fingerprinted could still have most of its hair intact. After conferring with President Shinra, I went back to the city morgue, only to discover that the body had accidentally been cremated. The coroner and his assistant were brought in for questioning, as was the guard who found the body, and while it took a while, we finally managed to get the truth out of them: They had been paid by the person we were investigating to make us believe the body was Reno's."
"So whose body was it?"
"Some street kid, I would imagine. From our interrogation, we discovered that Reno was still alive and was, as we'd suspected, being held prisoner."
"And it took you three months to rescue him?"
"No, ma'am, it only took'em a week to find me. It's taken me three months to get to the point where I could walk again. Fuckers broke both my legs."
"As well as his collarbone." Tseng looked over at Reno and smiled. "And he was still threatening to kill them they carried him out on the stretcher."
Dr. Chu looked from one to the other of them, and shook her head. She'd heard stories about the Turks all her life, but she'd never really believed any of them. Now, though...her phone rang, interrupting her. "Yes? What? Alright, we'll be there shortly." She hung up the phone, looking pointedly at Tseng. "Your Mr. Johnson is apparently more in touch with reality than we'd believed."
"He managed to rip the beside stand loose from the floor and pound it repeatedly against the window, cracking it in several places."
Reno was on the edge of his chair. "But he's okay, right?"
"Yes, he's okay. The window wasn't so lucky." She looked back at Tseng. "The windows in this building are made of a specially constructed plexisteel substance roughly five inches thick. Despite that, they're as clear as an ordinary glass window. The manufacturer assured us they were unbreakable."
"Well he did only crack it, Doctor."
For a minute, Reno thought she was going to hit him. "Furthermore, the furniture is held to the floor with three-inch thick rivets. Which have withstood numerous attempts by various patients over the years to pull them loose." She stood up. "Come along, gentlemen, before Mr. Johnson decides to start ripping up people instead of furniture."
They heard him before they saw him; or rather, Tseng thought, they heard the noise from the havoc he was wreaking. Richter was standing outside the door looking none too pleased. "Still at it?"
He nodded. II think he's trying to tear the bed loose."
"Exactly what happened?"
"I went in to take the restraints off, like you asked, and when I got them off, he just...exploded. Took a swipe at me, but I managed to get out of his way and get the door closed. That was when he pulled up the bedside table and started banging it against the window."
Reno nodded. "Trying to get out. Rude hates being cooped up."
Dr. Chu turned to Tseng. "Sir, I realize you believe you know how your friend will react, but if I let either of you go in there and you end up injured, I'll be the one held responsible."
"Then I absolve you of any and all responsibility. If you wish to make it legal, feel free to give me a form stating as much, and I'll gladly sign it."
Dr. Chu looked at Richter, eyebrows raised. "With all due respect, Doctor, I'm not going back in there unless he's sedated."
She sighed and turned back to Tseng. "If either you or Mr. Tarshill end up injured, sir, this establishment will not be held liable. Agreed?"
"Richter, open the door, please."
Richter glared at Tseng and Reno, then unlocked the door and slid it open.
It wasn't till that moment that Tseng realized the door had muffled the noise Rude was making. Now, it hit him head on, making him wince. He looked at Reno, who nodded and gave him the thumbs up, and stepped into the room.
Richter had been right. Rude was trying to pull the bed loose. And Tseng could understand his apprehension; he already had two of the legs undone. The bed stand lay forgotten underneath the window.
He took a deep breath. "Rude, you will stand down NOW! That's a direct order!"
It was as if someone had flipped a switch. Rude simply dropped the table and stood up straight, hands clasped behind his back, looking for all the world like a soldier at parade rest. Tseng had never really understood Veld's insistence on training the Turks to react to military-style orders, but he'd seen it pay off Gods knew how many times over the years.
He looked back at Reno, Dr. Chu and Richter, all of whom were crowded in the doorway, and had to suppress the urge to smile. "Reno, I think it's safe for you to come in now."
"Hell, Tseng, it was safe before you started playin' drill instructor." Reno sauntered into the room, hands in his pockets. Only those who knew Rude well would realize that if he'd really wanted the bed pulled loose, it would've been loose long before they arrived.
Tseng turned to him. "Rude, Reno's come to see you." Rude continued to stare straight ahead. Tseng looked at Reno, who nodded and crossed the room, eventually coming to stand directly in front of Rude.
"Hey, big guy, how ya doin'?"
Tseng saw a flicker of something pass across Rude's face, and inclined his head towards Reno. "Sorry for the mix-up, but Tseng and the rest didn't realize at first what'd happened..."
"Go away." Rude's voice was barely a whisper.
"Go away?" Reno frowned. "Hell, aibou, that doesn't make any sense. I just got here."
"I said, go away!" His voice was louder this time, and held a hint of anger. "You're not real, dammit! You're dead, so go away and quit fucking with my head!"
Tseng could practically see the wheels in Reno's head turning. "I've visited you before now?"
"Hells bells, Ren, you never left! You're always standin' someplace around the room staring at me! I know I fucked up, babe, I know I should've tried harder to find you, but I couldn't! I didn't know where to look, okay? I'm sorry I fucked up, but..."
"Rude, it's not your fault."
"Them whose is it?! I promised you I'd keep you safe. I told you I'd watch your back, and the one time you needed me to do it the most, I wasn't there!"
Reno glanced over at Tseng, who raised an eyebrow. "Rude? Have I ever touched you?"
Rude snorted. "You're a fuckin' ghost, Ren! How the hell you supposed to touch me? You're not even real."
"If I'm not real, then why am I hangin' around here? I mean, I should be in the Lifestream by now."
"You can't pass on. You told me that yourself; that because of the way you died, you can't pass on till I join you. And dammit, kid, I wanna be with you again! But short of holding my breath till I suffocate, there's nothing I can do. They took away my gun and locked me up in here with nothin'. Not even my shades!"
Silently, Tseng walked back over to the door. "Have you ever seen any evidence of Rude acting as if someone else was in the room? Talking to himself, perhaps?"
Dr. Chu shook her head. "If he's been hallucinating that Mr. Tarshill was here, it's been entirely inside his head. We have surveillance cameras in all our rooms, Mr. Tseng. At no point has he said a word since the night you brought him in."
Reno considered what Rude had said a minute, head cocked to one side. "What if I could prove to you I'm not dead?"
"You can't prove it, Reno. You're the one who told me in the first place, remember?"
"Yeah, but you said I never touched you, just talked to you. If I were dead, could I do this?" He lifted up a slightly shaky hand and touched the side of Rude's face.
Rude went completely rigid, staring at Reno like a cuahl caught in the headlights. Tseng could almost see his mind working, trying to somehow make this new development fit into what he knew.
Reno sighed, letting his hand slide around to the back of Rude's neck. "I'm not dead, Rude. I don't know who the poor kid was you and Tseng found, but it wasn't me. I was locked up in Johnny Arcadia's basement with a couple of his goons taking turns whackin me upside the head. Lucky for me, Tseng figured out the truth and managed to track me down. I would've been here before now, but I was in pretty bad shape when they finally got me back."
Tseng could see Rude's body slowly relaxing. "How bad were you hurt?"
Reno shrugged one shoulder. "Broke both my legs and my collarbone. Bruised my kidneys. I was in the ICU the first month just healing up."
One of Rude's hands came up, tentatively touching Reno's hair. "And you're out walkin' around? Shit, Ren, I know you've got a golden tongue, but I can't see Claudia givin' you leave to just go off somewhere with Tseng."
Reno smiled. "I can walk okay; just get tired if I stand too long. Physical therapy's helped that a lot, but it'll be a while 'fore I go runnin' any races. When Tseng finally told me what'd happened, that they had you locked up in here, I started makin' a lot of noise. Guess I finally yelled loud enough they took me seriously, huh?"
"Yeah." One corner of Rude's mouth quirked, and he pulled Reno into a hug, resting his chin on top of his lover's hair. "Shit, kid, when we found that body...I just went crazy. All I could think was that I'd never see you again, never hear you laugh, never have to put up with you hoggin' the covers. It was just too much to take. I think my brain shorted-out on me."
"Hell, I'd have done the same thing." Reno pulled back to look at Rude's face. "All that kept me goin' when Arcadia had me was knowin' you an Tseng an Elena would show up and rescue me. I never doubted that for one minute, Rude."
"I should've been there."
"Hush." Reno put a finger to his lips. "Tseng and Elena did a good enough job of makin' sure I got well, yo? Once I healed up some and started askin' questions, Tseng told me what'd happened. I was all ready to climb out of bed right then and there and crawl down here if I had to. I actually tried a couple of times." he glanced over at Tseng with a smirk. "Boss man there finally put me under 24-hour guard; told me if I didn't stay put, he'd have Claudia start dopin' me. Said once I was well enough to do it, we'd come and get you out."
"So they're gonna let me outta here now?"
Reno glanced at Dr. Chu, who was firmly shaking her head no. "Maybe not right this minute, big guy. You've been here for three months; they can't just let you walk out the door without asking some questions first. But once they're sure you're okay now, they'll let you out. Then I can finally get out of Claudia's clutches and go home; she doesn't want me goin' home by myself. So you get out, and I get to come home, and we're probably both of us due some medical leave." he looked over at Tseng, smirking when the man arched his eyebrows. "Maybe even a vacation."
"Don't push your luck, Reno. So, Doctor, how long will it take to get Mr. Johnson properly evaluated and released?"
"Since he was involuntarily committed, there will have to be a court hearing, as well as evidence presented by me that he no longer represents a danger to himself or those around him. At the most, depending on how busy the judge is, it will probably take anywhere from two to three days for all the paperwork to get filed. You, and Mr. Tarshill, will be required to appear at the hearing as well, to assure the judge that, once released, he'll have a support network waiting for him."
Reno groaned. "You mean I gotta spend another three days in the infirmary? Hell, lady, I'm runnin' out of veins for Claudia to poke at!" He looked up at Rude. "You'll get'er for me once you're out, won't ya, big guy?"
"I'm not laying a hand on Claudia, kid. She's responsible for you bein' alive. If anything, I'm gonna shake her hand and thank her."
Reno chuckled. "Traitor. Just wait and see if you get any once we get home."
Tseng just shook his head and turned to Dr. Chu. "How about we go back to your office and get started on the paperwork, give these two some time alone?"
Dr. Chu opened her mouth to protest, then looked at Reno, who was, most likely, whispering something obscene into Rude's ear, given how pink the man's face was getting, and shut it. What they'd always told her about Turks apparently still held true after all these years; They got what they wanted, with or without your cooperation.
"Home sweet home." Rude pushed the door to their apartment open, waving Reno in. "You wanna tell me how you managed to accumulate so much shit while in the infirmary?"
Reno glanced at the three bags. "I got bored. So I kept sending Lena over here to get me stuff."
"Stuff?" Rude sat the bags down, and started rummaging through one of them. "Okay, I can see Claudia tolerating a whole helluva lot from you, Red, but porn?" He held up a couple of tapes.
"I had a private room. Not like I was makin' anyone else watch it."
"Great. Now Lena knows the extent of our porn stash."
"Hell, aibou, she asked to borrow a couple."
Rude looked at him like he'd sprouted an extra head. "She wanted to borrow our porn?"
"Yeah. She and Tseng used to take turns sittin' with me at night when I first got back, and we got to talkin', and it turns out she gets off on guy/guy lovin'. So I let her borrow a couple of the tamer ones."
Rude just stared at him in amazement. "I can't let you go anywhere by yourself, can I?"
"Yeah, but you already knew that." Reno turned around and hugged him. "If I never see another mint green wall again in my life, I will die a happy man."
Rude hugged him back, glancing around the apartment. "That reminds me; we need to repaint the walls. Something with a little more color to it."
"Reminds you too much of bein' locked up?"
"Tseng told me off-white's supposed to be calming; all it made me want to do was throw my food at the walls so there'd be something interesting to look at." His arms tightened around Reno. "Ya know, there are still times when I have to pinch myself to believe this is all true."
"I just hate that you had to go through it alone."
"Tseng visited me at least once a week, but I wasn't really in any shape to appreciate it." He sighed, burying his face in Reno's hair. "Thinking back, it just seemed like a nightmare I couldn't wake up from. All I knew was that you were dead and I wanted to be dead to."
"Hey." Reno pulled back, green eyes serious. "I'm not dead, okay? I'm alive, and so are you, and we'll get through this just like we've gotten through everything else life's thrown at us. Right"
"More than right."
"Good. Now shut the fuck up and kiss me. It's been a long, lonely three months for both of us."
"Amen to that." He leaned forward and kissed Reno gently.
Eventually Reno detached himself from Rude and took hold of his hand. "Bedroom. Now. We can put stuff away later. Need to be with you, yo."
Rude took his hand, letting Reno pull him towards the bedroom. "Feel the same. And we got a month's medical leave to make up for lost time."
Reno turned, smirking at him. "Wanna see if we can spend the whole month in bed?"
Rude yawned "Let's start out with something more reasonable, like making it there without falling asleep."
"Dammit!" Reno yawned as well. "Now you've got me sleepy."
"S'okay." Rude undressed himself, then Reno, gently tracing his fingers over new scars. "Nap first, then sex. We'll last longer that way." He collapsed backwards on the bed, pulling Reno down on top of him. "Wanna hold you while you sleep, know you're safe." He fumbled with the covers, finally pulling the sheet up so it covered both of them. Reno was already out, snuffling softly in his ear. Rude put his hand on his lover's back and began to rub it in slow circles, humming softly.
He smiled slightly as he felt sleep pulling him under. And for the first time in three months, his dreams were free of blood and pain, and the overwhelming sense of loss that had never left him.
It was good to be back where he belonged.