Chapter three: Half
He had never, Rude realized, seen Reno drink in the way he was drinking now.
He'd seen Reno drink a lot. It almost pained Rude to have to admit that Reno could hold his liquor far better than Rude could himself, since Reno was so much smaller, but he was saved from that embarrassment by the fact that Reno had also spent more of his life in a drunken stupor than Rude ever had, and the gods only knew just how much Reno had snorted, sniffed, injected or swallowed in his life before he became a Turk and had to limit himself. Reno was insatiable in all things, and unapologetic in his insatiability.
He'd seen Reno drinking to get drunk. He'd seen Reno drinking to forget. He'd seen Reno drinking with such an unflagging joy for the process that Rude had been hard-pressed not to smile at it.
But this...this was different. There had been something forced in Reno's cheer, desperate in the shots he was knocking back. The cheer had faded after about fifteen minutes, Reno seemingly having decided that Rude wasn't buying it, and there was something brittle and hard about the way he was drinking, like if someone said or did anything Reno was shatter into glass and cut to a bleeding ruin whoever had set him off. The only time he'd ever seen that look on Reno's face had been when they were working--working and Reno knew it was a hit. Coldly detached and dangerous like a knife; everything about him sharp-edged. Rude watched Reno silently knocking back shot after shot, the smile on Reno's face of a kind Rude couldn't begin to interpret in this context. Rude knew to tread lightly, but he had no idea where it was, exactly, that he was supposed to tread around.
"So," Rude finally said. "What exactly is'bye long me an'?"
That got Reno's attention. "...Bwu-ha?" he said, one eyebrow cocking up, the on-a-hit look on his face changing into confusion.
"I could have been mistaken," Rude said, somewhat defensively, but knowing he didn't quite remember and his pronunciation was probably off. "It was something that sounded like that. 'Bye long me an."
Reno blinked. "'Bye long me an? What in the...HA!" he said, face lighting up with a sudden, wide grin. Reno had the most expressive face that Rude had ever seen, showing every quicksilver emotion that went through him, no matter how fleeting. "/Bailong mian/! That's it, eh? Yeah?"
Rude nodded, taking a sip of his beer. Reno had been knocking back the booze like there was no tomorrow, but Rude, after paying far too much for a potion, had been nursing his beer slowly. "Yes, that." A faint smile touched his own lips, at Reno's pride in himself for figuring it out, and at Reno's unconscious facility with words that Rude himself had failed so badly at.
"/Bailong mian/. Dragon noodles. Well, OK, technically 'white dragon noodles', but you get it."
"Ah," Rude said, nodding. That was what Reno had had at the restaurant, if memory served him correctly. Reno, he remembered, had gotten really happy when he had seen the menu. Rude had assumed the light in his eyes was remnants of the adrenalin high, but now he wondered. He set his beer down carefully, knowing the next question also might not be the safest, but figuring it was his only opening. "How old were you when you started learning Wutai? I'm not expert, of course, but that sounded very native."
"Oh," Reno said, shrugging. He fell silent and frowned for a second, then seemed to make up his mind. "Dunno, actually. Started picking it up when I was, what, eight or nine? Something like that. Maybe ten." He knocked back the rest of the shot, the last in the bottle, and tapped the bar for another. When he got it, he poured another shot, but just held the glass, staring at it, a strange little smile on his face that Rude couldn't identify. "Time I was, shit, twelve or thirteen, I was talkin' more in Wutai than anything, thanks to the kid I was hanging out with. I could go days not sayin' nothin' that wasn't Wutai."
"Hn," Rude said, feeling like a light bulb had just gone off. That explained it, Reno having been so young. Reno, he knew, had grown up under the Plate in the slums, and, to be unpleasantly blunt, down there like tended to stay with like, so it had been hard to imagine Reno running in a Wutai gang, which had been the only way Rude had been able to figure Reno knowing Wutai as well. But hearing ages like eight or nine bandied around, things suddenly made a lot more sense.
A bottle cap abruptly hit him on the head, and Rude wondered why it was always his head taking abuse.
"Wha'chu thinkin' about?" Reno said, scowling faintly, words slurred from all the alcohol.
Rude took another sip of his beer and said, "I was just trying to picture you as an eight-year-old."
"Oh, yeah?" Reno said, looking amused. "You managin' it?"
Now that he'd said it, Rude couldn't help but imaging a little-kid version of Reno, unkempt red hair and probably covered in bandages and dirt. And with the biggest, brightest eyes you ever saw on a kid. "I bet you were a cute kid."
"Hells, yeah, I was!" Reno said, laughing. "Shit, man, people used to think I was a girl. Well, when I wasn't all beat-up. Hell, that was the fastest way to get me in a fight, call me pretty like a girl. Some smartass'd say it, an' we'd jack 'em up."
He wondered if Reno was aware of that little slip, and decided if there was ever a chance, this was it. "You are your friend, Jay?"
Reno's grin widened, seeming just drunk enough to not have realized what Rude had done. "Yeah. Jie'd hold 'em down and I'd break their face. Or the other way 'round, dependin' on who got called 'pretty.' Had to keep the pedos an' freaks at bay. After all, you couldn't be too careful down there," he said, his face changing again, getting serious. "One dumbass coulda just been bein' a dumbass, but another one coulda been some freak with a thing for pretty boys."
"So better to establish that there would be repercussions for anything that could potentially happen."
"...In your fancy pants, too many damn syllables way, yeah, we wanted to make sure that anyone knew we'd jack up anyone who might even think it. Worked, too," he said, taking another shot. "Me 'n Jie, we knew the stakes. We had each other's backs."
"So, what happened to him?" Reno said, his voice intentionally flat and noncommittal.
And he realized he had pressed his luck right after the words were out of his mouth.
Reno's face went tight and his eyes went ice cold, and he sat up straighter than Rude had ever seen the man even when he was sober, and he glared at Rude before his eyes shuttered again. "Fuck, man, how'd you do that?" he finally asked, grudging respect in his voice and a lazy smile crossing his face. "You're good."
Rude only shrugged. "I simply asked a question and allowed the conversation to go where it would."
Reno smirked. "Riiiight. Try that one somebody who don't know about all them piles of weird-ass psych books and crap you got filling up every inch of space in your apartment, yo. Shit, man, I picked one of them damn things up once and couldn't understand nothin'but 'the' and 'and'. You actually read all them damn books, or they just there for show?"
"It would be pointless to keep books merely to impress anyone, especially if one has no idea of what is contained within said books. One might find oneself in an embarrassing situation, should one's company be an affectionato of the topic, after all. A few questions would give away the ruse."
Reno blinked drunkenly, raising an eyebrow. "And there you go, usin' them big words again," he said, and rolled his eyes exaggeratedly.
"And there /you/go, pretending you don't understand them," Rude replied back evenly and finished the last of his beer, staring at the empty stein with a glare, wondering vaguely where his beer had gone. He raised his hand to get the bartender's attention, and tapped the space in front of him to indicate another.
Reno stared at Rude for a minute, then burst out laughing. "Shit, partner. I see why you keep all them books. Don't nobody got me figured out quite like you do."
Rude covered the faint smile that showed up by taking a sip of the beer that had come when Reno started laughing, but he couldn't help but wonder how well Reno's mysterious "Jay" had known him. But he knew better than to press his luck again, and opted instead to knock back his beer. "Come on, partner. We still have work tomorrow. Finish up your drink."
Reno rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, OK, Mom," he said, and stuck his tongue out at Rude.
Rude contemplated Reno solemnly. "You're drunker than I thought, if you're mistaking me for your mother."
Reno cackled. "Yeah, that's for damn sure," he said, and hauled himself to his feet, downing the last of his drink as he did so, and putting the glass down clumsily. "C'mon, let's blow this popstand."
"You know, I know that's just an expression, but it makes me nervous when I hear you say it about restaurants and bars that I like, since one never knows when you're being serious. After all, it is difficult to find good establishments nowadays."
Reno blinked for a second as he worked through what Rude had just said, and then his face split into a huge grin, all amused and relaxed and loose. "See, this is why we're friends," he said, and slung his arm over Rude's shoulder. Rude wondered, briefly, at how physical Reno was and had always been. Most of the Turks were very detached from others, as if there was a barrier between themselves and others--something, Rude thought, was necessary, given what they were and what they did. Detached and controlled in all things, down to their movements. But Reno was different, had been from the beginning, and Rude wondered not for the first time what made him so different...but now he wondered how much Reno's "Jay" had had to do with it, and what had happened to make Reno so close-lipped on the subject"You know me too well. And I only blew up one place, and they deserved it. Off we go, then."
Rude nodded once, and filed away in his head that Reno had never answered his question, and that he didn't know half so much as he thought he did just a few hours ago.
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