Auld Lang Syne
(nota bene: The Montagues [Phoenix, Diego, Angelo, Jess, Cassie, Kellie, Angelina, and Katie], candathine, Raife St.James, Jack, and Eleanor are all copyright bishonenink. Please do not use without permission. Trust me. Once you let Reno's family in they will never shut up, and all Raife and Eleanor do is sit around getting sloshed and singing the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. You'll be sorry. ^_^ )
The liquor store in upper Sector Five, on the corner of Vector and 29th, was Reno's particular favorite. Not that there wasn't a similar establishment on roughly every other corner in Midgar, but this one had nice roomy aisles and good lighting, like a department store, not like the usual cramped dark seedy places. Reno figured he broke the law often enough, he didn't need to feel like he was doing something illegal just by buying booze.
It was still lit when he pulled up to the curb, much to his relief. There'd been some red tape to take care of down at the station, and dealing with cops always took longer than it needed to. By the time he'd expressed exactly how little he had to do with the body dumped in the alley in upper Third, he'd been way late. Fucking cops should know better, Reno snorted, as he pushed the door open. Like the Turks would ditch a corpse in such an amateur fashion. And why were they looking for trouble, anyway? Musta been new guys. There were reasons the police got a nice fat Christmas bonus from President ShinRa himself, and one of those reasons was so Reno could get to the booze store before it closed.
"Usual, Reno?" the owner asked, barely looking up from his paper as he reached behind the counter, but Reno shook his head, brushing snow off his coat.
"Nah, Tom. I got some holiday shopping to get done." He flashed a wink and jammed his hands in his coat pockets.
Tom gave an amused snort of laughter and tipped ash from his cigarette into an empty soda can. "You're lucky I got anything left. Take your time, I'm not in a hurry tonight."
Reno was not in the habit of getting a basket, but he realized early on that he had been blessed with a limited number of arms, being two, and bottles were heavy. Besides, he didn't want to drop anything; it would be a waste of good booze. He was debating hard between Siren Song Amaretto and Crème De Menthe, trying to remember which was a favorite, and so would not have noticed the bell jangle except that he wondered who else was buying booze at ten o'clock on Christmas Eve.
Fluorescent light flashed on a familiar pair of sunglasses, snow drifting off of shoulders that were higher up than average. Reno hunkered down for no reason he could explain besides instinct, not wanting to be spotted yet. He picked the Menthe on the basis of its being more festive and closer, slipped it into his basket, and skulked down the aisle to listen in. He'd sure as hell never seen Rude in this place before, but Tom seemed to know him at least as well as he knew Reno. Reno squinted past an elaborate display of 1000 Needles Tequila, trying to see the counter through cactuar-shaped bottles.
There were two bottles on the counter-- Rude's usual Molotov Vodka, not unusual in the least, and a pint of Blue Dragoon Brandy: expensive, and not the sort of thing Reno would ever expect Rude to buy. He just didn't seem the brandy type.
"Been a year already, has it?" Tom was saying, ringing up Rude's purchase. "Never sell this stuff that I don't think of him."
Reno's eyebrows went up. Was Rude buying for someone else?
"...Three years," Rude said, and handed Tom a 5000 gil note. "Keep the change, Tom." Rude gathered the bag up in one hand, and slipped it into an inner pocket on his trenchcoat, acknowledging Tom's Merry Christmas with a nod, and sending the bell ringing again as he left.
Reno didn't hesitate to think. He hustled up to the counter and deposited his shopping rather breathlessly. "Gimme an estimate."
Tom squinted at the vast assortment of bottles. "Seventy two thou'."
"Throw 'em in a bag, keep the extra." Reno gave him eighty, making Tom grunt in mild surprise. Customers in a hurry he was used to, but Reno usually never operated on anything faster than a swagger.
"Hell of a party you got there," Tom said, pushing Reno the bag. "Invite me next time."
"Sure thing," Reno said, waving over his shoulder and hurrying out. It was snowing harder on the street, and he swore. If Rude had taken a cab or brought his bike, he had lost him. Reno could not picture Rude politely dropping a 50 gil piece on the toll box of a public transit bus or sitting demurely next to little old ladies with their holiday shopping, but that didn't mean he wouldn't. A bus roared away from the corner stop, the ad for the holiday showing of Loveless spattered high with frozen mud and brown snow, but the passengers were blurred behind fogged glass. Reno swiped fat snowflakes out of his eyes, looking for Rude's fedora in the shadowy street, or his height towering above the faceless people bundled up on the sidewalk.
He had almost given up when a swirl of navy trenchcoat flashed bright in an orange streetlight, half a block away, across the street. Reno grinned, shifted his grip more securely on his purchases, and tailed after.
Rude must be pretty slow tonight, Reno thought, sludging down a street whose name he could not read, the sign snowed over. Otherwise the other Turk would surely know he was being followed. Or maybe he knew, and just didn't care. The bottles in their bag clinked faintly, warm on the inside of Reno's leather jacket, and a snowplow rumbled ominously by a street ahead of him. Reno wondered if Reeve had gone home yet, or if the Secretary of Urban Development was still stuck in his office, fielding calls from the transportation department. Reno's vote was for the latter.
He waited by a crosswalk light flashing yellow in the snow, his eyes on Rude's back. They had left most of the shopping district behind by this point, and there were apartment buildings and closing convenient stores here, and fewer pedestrians. Reno couldn't blend into the crowd so much, but it didn't matter, as Rude seemed to have reached his destination. Reno waited in the shadow of a doorway, eyes narrowing as Rude walked up a short flight of stone steps and pushed open the door to an inconspicuous grey building.
Surely it wasn't a boyfriend, Reno thought, the bottle of brandy fresh in his memory. He and Rude had been partners for three years this New Year's Day coming, and while their conversation never drifted to anything really personal, Reno was confident he would know. He frowned, crunching across the frozen street and edging between two parked cars. At least, he thought he would know. Rude never talked much, but the man devoted his entire life to his job; surely his daily post-shift beer or five with Reno was the closest thing the man had to a social life. He never even asked for days off; he never took the ones he was supposed to. Reno supposed sneaking about might not be necessary, but if at this point Rude hadn't told him, Reno didn't think he'd find out anything just by walking up and asking.
Reno stepped gingerly onto the slick sidewalk, and looked up at the building. It was short, squarish, and there were no windows, just decorative indentations. It registered as vaguely familiar in Reno's mind, and he wondered if he'd been on stakeout beside it once or something. The sign was iced over an inch thick and Reno had to kick it a few times before the coating shattered like glass, and fell away from the letters. They had once been gold, and they still managed to glimmer a little when a car turned onto the street and sped by, fountaining slush behind it, loud pop Christmas music throbbing against Reno's eardrums even after it had gone.
Reno read the sign a few times, weighing curiosity against discretion. Curiosity won.
On the whole, Reno didn't have a real problem with the dead. He couldn't really, in his line of work, and all in all he found them to be a peaceful, law-abiding bunch of citizens, insomuch as most of them were stored in tidy little urns. That didn't mean he was particularly keen on mausoleums in general, and he thought Midgar Gardens was a pretty farfetched name for one, considering it was only a few degrees warmer inside than out, and the only green thing was the plastic holly adorning a few of the plaques. It smelled like stale smoke and long dead flowers, snow and stone. Reno stood in the cavernous entryway, dripping a muddy, snowy puddle around his boots, his arm remembering to ache from the weight of the bag he carried. He switched it to the other side and stepped in, looking down the shadowy aisles for Rude.
The place seemed deserted; from the dates on the plaques Reno stopped to read he figured there wouldn't be many recent mourners in the first sections, anyway. The later rows had more reasonable years on them, and also more of the permanently mounted small vases on each little shelf contained flowers, and on one or two a stick of incense was still smoking. So not completely forgotten, then, but by this hour no doubt turned down for livelier parties.
Reno hesitated when a name caught his eye, and stopped to put his fingers against the cold metal letters. So this was why he thought he knew this building. He had only been here once, when he was fourteen; small wonder he didn't remember. His mother didn't have the money to splurge on trips to the upper levels, not then, and they didn't allow burials in the lower sectors, even though Reno knew they happened anyway, in the dirt labyrinths of the slums, people who couldn't afford to be above the plate even when they were dead.
There had been enough money for this, though, a small shelf in a modest, ShinRa-sponsored section of memorial. Even though Reno had wondered then, as he wondered now, if they had even found enough to cremate. Someone must have been here lately, because there was a flower in the vase, one real rose, waxy with cold. It nodded heavily into his hand when he touched it. He smiled faintly. Yellow.
The red-haired Turk jumped, bottles clanking, and blinked across the wide central aisle to the one opposite him. Rude was looking at him in a way that might have been mildly surprised, but his expression was lost in the shadows and his shades reflected back only dim blue light from above. "Oh, Hey, Rude. Small city, huh?" Reno fumbled for an excuse, and realized that it was engraved under the leather palm of his glove. "I was, uh, just stopping to say hi to my Dad."
Rude's eyebrows went up beyond his sunglasses, and Reno sniffed loudly, for effect. It wasn't hard; his nose was thawing inside faster than it was out.
"I didn't know," Rude said slowly, tilting his head. "Sorry to hear it."
"Nah," Reno waved a hand dismissively. It was inviting bad luck already, and Rude was so fucking serious, he didn't want to drag him down. "I was just a kid." He coughed, and his boots squeaked on stone as he stepped into the middle aisle. "What're you doing here?"
Rude turned to the row of graves on his side, and Reno saw now that the bottle of brandy was sitting empty on one of the shelves. He had a feeling someone's vase was full of something a lot better than fake flowers. "Visiting an old friend."
Rude did not seem inclined to elaborate, so Reno crossed the aisle and looked down at the plaque next to the empty Blue Dragoon bottle.
"Raife St.James?" Reno's brow furrowed. "Wasn't he the Turk before me?"
Rude nodded once, but did not say anything as Reno went down on his haunches, and reached out to touch the date. "Christmas Eve." Reno swore, once, swallowing past a bitter taste in the back of his throat. "Fuck, Rude. I'm sorry." Rude shrugged. Reno picked up the bottle, light flaring briefly over the foil emblem. He smoothed a corner of the label with his thumb. "His favorite?"
"Used to get him one for Christmas." Rude hesitated, adding, "You think I was up to something?"
Reno put the bottle back on the shelf with more reverence than usual for him, and looked sheepishly up at Rude. "Figured you knew I was tailing you. Just curious, is all." He stood up, shifted his bag. "Were you close?"
Rude didn't answer right away, not that that was anything unusual. "I suppose," he said, after a long moment.
Reno, with nearly three years worth of daily exposure to Rude, knew that meant a lot more than Rude let on. "Sudden, wasn't it? I remember Tseng talking about it."
"Drive by," Rude said.
Reno's eyes narrowed. "Hired hit. You kill them?"
Rude made a noncommittal noise.
"Hrm." Reno frowned at the unassuming resting place. "Who would call a hit on a Turk? Someone in the slums?"
Rude reached into his coat, pulled out the vodka he'd just bought. It had already been opened, but not much was gone. "I know," he said. Reno waited, expectant. Rude took a long drink, put the bottle away without offering any to Reno, knowing how the other Turk felt about vodka.
"Are they dead?" Reno prompted.
Rude shook his head.
"No?" Reno was flatly surprised. "Fuck, Rude, if someone called a hit on you, I'd kill the bastard the second I laid eyes on 'em."
Rude smiled, just a little. "Even if it was your boss?"
Reno blinked. "My boss?"
"Jack ShinRa," Rude said flatly, "paid for the hit."
Reno stared. "The president had Raife killed? What the hell for?"
"Raife and Eleanor ShinRa were lovers." There was no bitterness in Rude's tone, he just sounded painfully tired. "For a while the president didn't care, but then he started to think they were plotting against him. As far as I know."
Reno sank to the floor, unaware of the cold marble under his backside. "Were they?"
"...I don't know." Rude shifted his weight. "I doubt it."
Reno remembered the first time he had met Rufus ShinRa, two weeks after Eleanor ShinRa hung herself in her apartment, four months after Reno became a Turk. Four months after Raife died. "Damn." His brain took a minute to catch up, making connections, matching actions to previously unknown motives. Tseng, quietly bringing Rufus into the Turks' circle, making them more loyal to the heir than the president. Rude, closed and silent behind his sunglasses, Tseng ordering Reno to stick by him. Rufus, pale and haunted, his anger turning to silent ice the more he learned to control himself, the flatness of his eyes when his father was mentioned. Reno shook himself and looked around, as though it had suddenly occurred to him that he was sitting in a nearly empty mausoleum on Christmas Eve, and his ass was cold. "Do you come here every year?"
Rude nodded. "Not much else to do."
Reno's eyebrows lowered, determined. "If it was me, I wouldn't want you doing something like that." He stood up, dusted off his jeans. "C'mon." He walked down three aisles, then looked back over his shoulder.
Rude still stood by Raife's plaque, head lowered, vodka in hand. He clinked the bottle against the vase, and knocked back a shot. He was still screwing the lid back on by the time he caught up with Reno. "Let's go."
"What's all that for?" Rude asked, fifteen minutes later when they were on the train to lower Sixth, the first time he had spoken since they'd left Raife's grave.
"This?" Reno shifted the now slightly battered paper bag on his lap. "Just a little Christmas cheer, that's all." He grinned and put his boots on the seat opposite. The train car was nearly empty; it was past ten thirty. The only other occupant was a man asleep under a battered old coat on the far end of the car, and a ShinRa office worker standing by the door and frowning at his watch. "And don't try to get out of it," Reno added, even though Rude had shown no sign of doing so. "You'd probably go and mope someplace depressing, and that just ain't healthy, ya know?"
"Good," Reno said, taking this for agreement. "I got some errands to run, and if I'm with somebody it'll keep me from staying too long." He looked at his watch. "I'm way late as it is, the cops and their damn paperwork kept me until past nine."
The ShinRa worker glanced at them nervously, Reno in his leather jacket and jeans and double scars, Rude in his long dark coat and shades, ears studded with silver rings. Reno flashed him a grin and he moved quickly to the other end of the cab, preferring the company of the sleeping wino.
"Merry Christmas to you, too," Reno muttered. "Doesn't he know we keep his office building safe?"
"Forget it," Rude said. "You're not in uniform, you just look like a punk."
Reno looked at his scuffed boots, at the muddy puddles of melted snow on the corrugated metal floor. "...Yeah."
The train wound down the central pillar like a worm in an apple core and squeaked to a stop at the Sector Six station. There was no snow beneath the plate, a small comfort since it wasn't much warmer, but the industrial steam from above meant that at least it wasn't freezing in the slums. Even if it was, the collective heat from Wall Market's neon would be enough to keep it temperate, and unlike the upper level, it was still hopping in spite of, or maybe due to, the holiday. Of course, in the slums, there were more people out on the streets because most of them didn't have anyplace else to go.
The two Turks left the station and crossed, unharrased, through the forest of scrap metal and jury-rigged shelters in empty pipes and mismatched lumber, into the warm orange glow of Wall Market proper. There were no street signs here, but Reno knew the way by heart, winding through the barrel-fires and gaudy awnings. A trio of hard eyed girls, dressed in too little even for the warmer air of the slums, eyed them thoughtfully, wondering at a possible positive reception. One of them blinked as Reno turned his head, her face changing from her work expression to one of genuine delight.
"Reno!" She rushed over and hugged him, her impractical shoes swinging off the ground. She was colored like a candy shop. "I thought that was you! What in Shiva's name are you doing down here?"
Reno grinned, hugging her back one-armed. "Hey! Can't I come spread some peace and goodwill?"
"Down here?" the rentgirl giggled, her pale lavender hair falling in her eyes. "Gods know it could use it. Who's your friend?" She was eyeing Rude with open appreciation.
"Oh, Right. This is Rude, my work buddy. Rude, this is Tina." Reno smirked. "An old work buddy."
"Nice to meet you," Rude said.
Tina tittered. "Oh! He's so nice, too!" She hooked her arm through Rude's. "You're not spending Christmas Eve with this bozo, are you?" She winked at Reno.
"Bozo, huh?" Reno faked a wound to the heart. "And here I come all this way to see you guys. You got some new girls with you?" He nodded to Tina's companions, who were whispering next to the yakitori stand. "Don't tell me you're working tonight."
Tina waved a hand. "Yeah, they came in after you left." She put a hand on her hip, tugging at her blue plastic skirt to show some more skin above the waistband. "Hopeless, really, I don't know how long they'll last. But sometimes you can get a good client, on a night like this. Holiday bonus, you know." She folded her fingers around Rude's coat lapel, glossy pink lipstick shining as she smiled shyly up. "Know anybody who's interested?"
Reno gently pried Tina's hands off his partner. "Sweetheart, you're barking up the wrong tree."
Rude might have been a little flushed, but in the rosy neon light it was hard to tell. "My apologies, Miss."
"Oh, damn," Tina said, without heat. "Can't blame a girl for trying."
"Is there anybody back in the Slips?" Reno asked, "or have they all gone home?"
Tina tapped a lacquered finger on her chin, thinking. "Alec and Mark have gone home I think, but Vic and Tony are still there; they live there anyway." She whistled over to one of her girls, asked a quick question and nodded at the answer. "Suzan and Teri are probably there, too."
"Thanks, gorgeous." Reno rummaged briefly in his bag and brought out the holiday-packaged cherry brandy. "Got a Christmas card for ya. Share it with your girls, okay? It's chilly out here."
Tina squeaked, hugging Reno again and leaving a pink lip print next to one of his scars. "You got an address for me to send the reply?"
Reno grinned. "How 'bout care of ShinRa Corp?"
Tina swatted his chest. "Tease." She lowered one eyelid at Rude. "But let me know if your friend changes his mind about wanting holiday cheer."
"Old girlfriend?" Rude asked, when they had left the three girls behind. Reno was cupping his hands around his lighter, trying to get his cigarette to catch.
Reno shook his head. "Who, Tina? Oh, hells no. She came in the year I left. Nice girl, really. Just not my type." He smirked back at Rude. "Seemed taken with you, though."
Rude coughed. "Not my type, either."
Reno exhaled smoke, green eyes wicked. "Why, Rude. I didn't know you had a type."
Rude muttered something under his breath and Reno laughed, flicking ash into the street. "C'mon. This won't take long."
The main lobby of the Silk Pavilion could have passed for that of one of the nicer hotels in the upper sector. There was a splashing fountain and tasteful lamps, squashy armchairs that seemed to invite a comfy seat, a cup of coffee, and company. The room was empty except for the reception desk, where two men and two women sat playing cards. The phone was off the hook.
Reno strolled in as if he owned the place, waving down one of the young men who stood up to greet him. "Don't get up for me, guys. You getting paid to sit around like this?"
"Not much," one of the girls said, with a sour look on her face as she put her cards down. "If business was any slower it would be going backwards." She looked curiously at Rude, lingering a few steps behind Reno. "You guys down here for information? It's been pretty quiet, lately."
"Nah." Reno set the bag down on the reception desk, in the middle of the card game. "Thought I'd play the saint, tonight." He started pulling out bottles, introducing the two girls, whom Rude didn't know. Vic and Tony were often paid as informants, and knew Rude on sight, if not by name. "Where is everybody?"
"Out on calls, mostly. We wouldn't even call the shop open, if Teri wasn't hoping for a rich client to walk in off the street." Tony, the young man who had tried to greet them, ducked as Teri swatted him.
Reno looked around the mostly empty lobby. "Isn't Alec here? Who's managing you guys?"
"You know us, we mostly manage ourselves." Suzan brightened as Reno passed her a bottle. "Ooh! Thanks, Reno! It's my favorite!"
"Ah, I figured you'd like it better than company Christmas cards." Reno grinned. "You like Chocobo Gold, right, Vic?"
"Hell, yeah," Vic said, taking the bottle. "You gonna stay and have one with us?"
Reno shook his head. "I would, guys, but I'm fucking late as it is." He shook his head at the protests. "I'll stop by tomorrow afternoon, kay?" He poked in his bag, which now contained only two or three bottles. "Pass the Amaretto on to Alec when he gets back, and the Crème de Menthe is for Sarah."
"Didn't you hear?" Teri said. "Sarah's gone. That racer boyfriend of hers finally hit it big at the Saucer, bought up her contract. She's living in Junon now. Six weeks pregnant."
"Really?" Reno said, surprised. "Good for her! Well, fight over the stuff then, I don't care." He checked his watch, and swore. "Sorry to be generous and run, but I've got to get to Sector Four, pronto. It's almost bedtime, you know." He hefted his bag, and jerked his head at the door. "C'mon, Rude. Unless you wanna make Teri's night by being her rich client."
Teri looked mildly alarmed; Rude was quite obviously more than she was hoping for. The Turk bowed, muttered something about Reno's big mouth, and followed Reno out into the street.
"Damn," Reno said, hurrying through the dirt street. "I hope they're all still up, don't want to disappoint the girls."
"Bedtime?" Rude inquired mildly, and Reno shook his head.
"I'll explain later."
They caught the 11:05 train out of Sector Six just as the doors were closing, Reno collapsing onto a plastic seat and pushing his hair out of his eyes. "Whew. Didn't think we were gonna make it."
"Do you always do this?" Rude asked, polishing his shades on the cuff of his coat.
"What, the booze, you mean?" Reno shrugged. "Usually. It's easier than food, and money they might think of as like, charity, and none of 'em want that." He poked around in his bag, as if seeing what he had left. "But a drink of something expensive, you know, to celebrate, that's nice. When I was working there Alec would usually try to get us a little bonus, fifty gil or so, but most of them aren't working for themselves, and that's not much for Christmas presents." He glanced out the window at the Sector Five station flashing by. "Trust me, I know."
"You haven't spoken much about your family," Rude observed, after a long moment, replacing his sunglasses.
Reno lifted an eyebrow. "No, I guess I haven't." The train began to slow for the next station, and Reno hauled himself to his feet. "But you'll get to find out for yourself, soon enough."
Sector Four was mostly residential, blocks of worn-down ShinRa company housing, remodelled years ago from the old barracks when the SOLDIER base had moved just outside city limits. The bare dirt wore a thin coating of frost; the winds made this colder than the other sectors. Most of the windows were lit against the darkness, but Reno shivered as he stepped off the train.
"Always ten degrees colder here than anywhere else in the slums." He blew at his hands, and looked over his shoulder at Rude. "Listen, Rude, I'm not keeping you from anything, am I? I mean, if you've got stuff to do--"
"Not really," Rude sounded bemused. "You trying to get rid of me?"
"No, no!" Reno waved his hands as best he could without dropping his bag. "It's just, you know, I don't know if this is your kind of party."
"Something worse than rent boys?" Rude asked. He gestured for Reno to lead the way, and Reno had no choice but to do so. He had, after all, insisted Rude come with him.
"They might not even be awake," Reno warned, walking up to one of the many identical doors and ringing the buzzer. "It's way late and--"
The door flew open and the two Turks found themselves in the midst of a many-legged, many-voiced, red-headed firework.
"You're here! You're here!"
"Jess was gonna send us to bed!"
"We knew you were gonna come!"
"Angelo! It's not Diego, it's Reno! And he's got a friend!"
"--not like we have school tomorrow--"
"Did you bring presents?"
"Well I was just ASKING!"
Girls, five of them, ranging in age from about eleven to sixteen, although the eldest one was smiling apologetically at her brother and trying to unclog the doorway. Reno waved his arms, trying to make himself heard over the uproar. "D'you think you can accost me on the inside, girls? It's cold out here."
"What are you, a delinquent?" A young man eyed them beadily from the cramped living room, as they shuffled in, thumb in his book. "Do you know what time it is?"
"And I'm so happy to see you too, Angelo," Reno waded into the room, trying to pry the smallest of the girls off his leg. "Work kept me late-- Katie, let Mr. Rude have his hat back, please-- and we didn't get here until--" Reno blinked around the room. "Where's Phoenix and Diego?"
"Diego's still at work." Angelo was tall and lanky, like his brother, but his ponytail was much better-kept. His glasses were a little large for him, and made frequent attempts to escape off the end of his nose. "Ma's next door at Mrs. Cole's, taking her some soup. Phoenix is upstairs-- " Angelo seemed to just notice the very large shape looming behind Reno. "Um, you brought a friend?"
"Oh, yeah." Reno picked up the smallest of the girls, and pried Rude's hat off her head. "Rude, this is my family-- most of them, anyway. Angelo, Jess, Cassie, Kellie, Angie--"
"Right, sorry, Angelina, and Katie."
"Hat!" Katie said, holding out her hands.
"Most?" Rude said, eyeing the living room. The house had been designed for no more than four, and there were eight already in the small room. Most of the space was taken up by a tree, a real tree, like the ones sold on the upper level. It filled the room with a piney smell and its mismatched lights blinked random colors that puddled into a warm amber glow. The ornaments were mostly handmade, bits of scrap metal cut into stars and snowflakes, or blown glass ones so old that the paint on them was worn transparent. The furniture was old and well-loved, with spots leaking stuffing, but some attempt had been made to make them presentable by covering them with several miles of knitted afghan in whatever colors had best come to hand. The walls were thick with photographs.
"I can see how that fifty gil bonus didn't go far," Rude said to Reno, under his breath.
A voice from upstairs said, "Is that Diego back?" Phoenix Montague looked very little like Reno, and his spiked red hair made him seem like a male copy of Jess. "Reno!" He vaulted the last four steps and tackled his sibling in some combination of a headlock and a hug. "Dammit! Now I'm gonna owe Diego, I bet him you wouldn't make it tonight."
"I might not," Reno wheezed. "Have you been working out?"
"Faker," Phoenix said, digging an elbow in Reno's ribs. "You can still kick my ass."
Jess Montague was a formidable young woman, and it would seem that in a few years there might be another Turk in the Montague family; she had a steely glint in her brown eyes that was now turned on her two oldest brothers. "Where did you learn your manners? In a drain pipe?" She pried them apart to get to Rude, and smiled apologetically. "If you work with Reno, you must be used to this, but nobody needs a double dose. You're lucky we've only got half the twins. I'll get your coat for you, would you like some coffee?"
Rude shrugged gratefully out of his coat and placed it over Jess's outstretched arm. He dropped his hat on Katie's head, who got an instant case of giggles as it slipped low over her eyes. "Coffee would be wonderful."
"Oi! Jess! Get me some too!" Reno yelled, busily trying to extricate himself from Phoenix's wrestling hold.
"Me too!" Phoenix added, and then wheezed; Reno had just backed him into the wall and knocked all his air out.
"Your legs broken, Reno?" Jess demanded, from the kitchen.
"No," Reno answered sweetly.
Jess stuck her head around the doorway. "Do you want them to be?"
Rude inclined his head to Reno, and said, as if finishing an old conversation, "That would be my type."
Angelo stood up, irritated. "I'll get it, if you two sit down before your bring the house down around our ears."
"We haven't seen you in ages," Angelina said, dragging Reno over to the dilapidated couch. "How's work?" She leaned forward eagerly. "You shot anybody?"
"Whaaaat? And don't call me Angie!"
"Angelina, must you be so morbid?" Cassie was the next to oldest girl, and was trying very hard to be ladylike. "Reno doesn't want to talk about that." She smiled at him. "Have you seen Rufus lately?"
"Cassie has the hots for him," Angelina said, by means of revenge.
"Angie!" Cassie shrieked, betrayed.
"Angelina, don't say 'hots'," Angelo returned, carrying two cups of coffee. "If Ma heard you she'd bust your hide."
"Well, it's true," Angelina insisted, to Rude. "Honestly, she's got all these clippings of him on her side of the room; you can't go in there without being scowled at, really, does the man ever smile?"
"At least she doesn't want to paint her side black," Kellie said. She didn't seem inclined to talk much, but had wedged herself as close to Reno as possible. "Like some people."
"It's better than pink," Angelina shot back, and proceeded to sulk.
"How is work, really?" Phoenix asked, taking his cup from Angelo and scooting over to make room. Reno and Phoenix had their coffee in heavy chipped mugs, but Jess had gone to the trouble of bringing Rude's in on a tray.
"Slow," Reno said. "Rufus is in Junon."
"Again?" Phoenix asked, shrewdly. "He's hardly been in Midgar this year, from what I've heard."
"I'm sure the President needs him there," Reno said, but remembered what Rude had said about Raife St.James, and how Jack ShinRa reacted to people he thought might betray him. Rufus had been away from Midgar a lot this year, neatly estranged from the Turks. Reno looked over at Rude, but he was engaged in a silent tea party with Kellie who, still wearing Rude's hat, insisted on pouring the creamer for him. "Anyway," Reno said, and the room seemed a little more spacious when they weren't speaking of Reno's employer, "How's work for you?"
"Thrill a minute," Phoenix said, with disdain. "Not that I ain't grateful, but if it didn't mean losing my job I'd dump the Don sometime from about 2,000 feet."
"Oooh!" Angelina said, with delight.
"He'd probably bounce," Reno said. "I'll keep an ear out for anything better."
"Nah, it's all right," Phoenix said. "He may be a slimeball but at least I've got tonight off, Diego had to work."
"What's keeping him, anyway?" Jess frowned at the clock on the mantle. "Surely they can't run much later."
"Holiday party at the Honey Bee," Phoenix explained to Rude. "Diego's a bouncer."
At that moment the door opened to reveal not Diego, but the matriarch of the family, who was round and flustered, with flyaway hair. She had puffed into the room, gone into the kitchen, removed her coat, complained loudly about the state of the neighborhood, and come back into the main room before actively noticing the two new additions to the crowd.
Reno was greeted like a seven-years' lost son, and Rude with absolute delight ("I didn't know he even had friends, but surely he can't be breaking legs by himself all the time, that's group work!") and a few minutes later the last of the Montagues had come home, confetti in his spiky bangs and a lipstick print on his ear. He was scolded roundly by his mother for coming home in such a state, and accepted it good-naturedly.
As it was well past midnight by this point, Reno tried to come up with an excuse to leave, but his mother would hear nothing of it, nor would his younger sisters, who seemed to think climbing up Reno was a much more fun activity than going to bed. Using Rude as an excuse to go was also thwarted, more to Reno's surprise than anyone's, when the older Turk accepted Mrs. Montague's invitation to stay the night and have Christmas dinner the next day. Reno threw up his arms, defeated, and scooped up Katie and Angelina in his arms to carry them upstairs to bed.
"Your family's real nice," Rude volunteered, after the rest of the family had gone up to bed and the house was silent, creaking contentedly to itself in the dark. "I didn't know there were so many."
"I don't talk about them much, I guess." Reno said, hands behind his head. "Part of being protective of them, maybe. Keeping them kind of a secret."
Ma Montague had arranged a pile of pillows and blankets on the living room floor, since it turned out that Rude was too long for any of the couches. The Christmas tree was still on, and it blinked a drowsy light over the room, sparkling on the glass picture frames. After the younger girls had been securely tucked in bed, Reno and the twins and Angelo and Jess had hauled packages out of their hiding place in the hall closet, and argued good-naturedly about the proper arrangement of them under the tree. Phoenix and Diego made off with Angelo's stocking, and when it was returned they were altogether too gleeful about its lumpy contents to mean anything good.
"I hope you don't mind," Reno said. "Staying, I mean."
"I said yes, didn't I?" Rude had his sunglasses off, and his eyes were on the ceiling. Reno had known for years why Rude wore them, but in the dim room it was not obvious.
"I know, but--" Reno shrugged. "I didn't want to force you, you know."
"Liar," Rude said, amused. "What were the other bottles for? In your bag?"
"Oh, those." Reno grinned. "Ma's sweet potatoes and the hard sauce."
Rude chuckled. "Figures." He sighed, closing his eyes. "You always send your paycheck here?"
Reno opened his mouth, shut it again, and shrugged. "Not all of it. But what am I gonna spend it on, anyway? It's not so bad, now, with Phoenix and Diego working." He nudged a wrapped package with his sock toe, making the whole tree shiver with motion. "A lot better than before you picked me up in that bar."
"Never thought to ask why you were doing what you were." Rude turned his head, lights blinking now blue, now green, like his mismatched eyes.
"Renting out, you mean?" Reno made a vague motion with his hand. "It paid better than anything short of running candathine, and was less likely to get me shot."
"Didn't you do candy on the side, then?" There was no accusation in Rude's tone, no disapproval. You could drink yourself into the grave in the Turks, but drugs were out of the question. Not that Reno had needed much provocation to quit.
"My main client liked me high," Reno explained. He pointed to his face. "They still glow in the dark, don't they?"
"Your eyes?" Rude nodded. "Yeah, they do."
"Oh well," Reno stretched. "Just look like I've been in SOLDIER." He hitched the afghan up around his chest, and picked absently at the fuzzy chartreuse yarn. "What was he like?"
Rude blinked at him.
"Raife," Reno clarified. "I never met him."
Rude was silent, and for a time Reno thought he wasn't going to answer at all, just lie there like Mount Nibel. "Like you," Rude said at last. "Maybe. Older."
Reno rolled this over for a minute, the mantle clock chiming two. "Did you ever tell him?"
Rude, who had just closed his eyes, opened them again. "What?"
"That you loved him," Reno said to the afghan, winding the tassel around his finger. "Or do you still buy him outrageously expensive brandy every year out of deep and abiding friendship?"
"...I didn't know," Rude said.
Reno let the yarn slide out of his hands. "You didn't know you loved the guy?"
Rude lifted one shoulder. "I never thought of it like that until you said." He folded his hands across his chest and closed his eyes, showing all signs of going to sleep.
Reno leaned over him, frowning. "Hey, Rude."
"What?" Rude asked, without opening his eyes.
Reno swallowed. "If I got it tomorrow, would it take you three years to notice?"
Rude opened his eyes, Reno nose to nose with him. His hand came up and fisted in the front of Reno's shirt, eyes narrowing. "Don't."
Reno's eyes glinted. "Don't tease you?"
Rude's other hand came up to the side of Reno's face, his thumb running along the scar. "Don't die."
Reno had just started to protest how much he didn't plan to when Rude pulled him down the required inch closer, shirt and all, and kissed him. Reno had never figured Rude for the kissing type, and there was a kind of artlessness to it, an almost innocence. Rude didn't kiss much, Reno figured, but he meant it when he did, just as much as he meant breaking kneecaps when he had to, and with the same kind of impact. He let Reno go less than a minute later, rolling away from him onto his side.
"I don't get paid enough for two bottles of brandy a year," Rude said. "Now go to sleep."
Reno sat staring at Rude's back, waiting for his heart to get back to normal. Rude shifted and was probably already asleep. Reno pressed his lips together, they were buzzing like he'd never been kissed before. "Thanks." He said finally, but Rude didn't answer, either asleep or doing a good impersonation of it. He didn't move when Reno finally lay back down, and he didn't protest when the younger Turk curled up against his back, one arm flung around his waist.
You and I can share the silence
Finding comfort together
The way old friends do
Times of joy and times of sorrow
We will always see it through
I don't care what comes tomorrow
We can face it together
The way old friends do