by llamajoy

it makes a difference
that i'm feeling this way
with plenty to think about
and so little to say

-Over the Rhine, "When I Go"

Rude had never been too good at hospitals, really. If he had to pin it to a reason, it was that, and surely Tseng and Rufus were visiting the kid enough as it was. And it wasn't as though Reno would be laid up for long, anyway. He'd bounce back.

So without thinking too closely about it, he went out for a drink. What else did Tseng expect him to do with a day off?

La Vitesse wasn't a place for drinking alone, not yet. Besides, Rude had spent more than a little time feeling out the smaller places, bars that were more holes in the wall than anything else. Good places for quietly knocking back a beer or two. For not thinking about the blood that had stained Rufus' white coat. Or the fact that this particular bar was still one stool short, from a fight-- had that only been four months ago?-- where he'd watched it wielded with as much skill as any electro-rod.

...Until he heard what he shouldn't have been surprised to hear, listening long enough in places where people didn't have the sense to keep their voices down.

"Hey boss," someone said idly. It was a Tuesday night, and the Seven Slots was thick with the smell of cheap cigarette smoke and the spill of cheaper beer. "Heard you got banned from the Pavilion."

"Yeah." An unpleasant laugh, high-strung and dangerous. The chatter and buzz of the drunken regulars seemed to fade into silence, as the speaker warmed to his subject. "Among other things. But I got him back good, though. You believe we ran into him on the trains just the other day?"

"Who, Tony?"

"Nah," said the voice, and Rude tilted his head to see the man sitting at the bar-- just as distasteful to look at as to hear. "That goddamn Montague bitch."

Had anyone been sitting near enough to Rude, they might have been alarmed to see the brief, tight smile that moved across his face.

Rude stood back from the bar only when his beer was done, tip neatly arranged on the counter by his stool. Reno might have recognized the small stretching moves, as he tipped his neck from one side to the other, flexed his fingers. Reno might have gotten the hell out of the way. He'd had practice.

But the punk at the bar was too busy bragging. "Not just one side but both! No better'n that cheap whore deser--"

"Excuse me," Rude said politely.

"The fuck you want?" he said explosively, surprised out of his tirade and his drink. His eyes were candy-bright; Rude recognized the tint of them. They were also bloodshot, angry-- lazily they drifted up from jacket-zipper to sunglasses, belatedly registering a threat. When Rude didn't immediately answer, his swagger faltered a bit. "You gotta problem, asshole?"

Rude, unmoved and inscrutable behind the shades, said, "Are you Bansu?"

At that his scowl bridled to a cocky sneer. "And if I was? You got--"

What it was Rude may or may not have had never came to light. He was not as fast as some; he lacked Reno's natural lightness or even Tseng's grace. But there was art in the one, smooth motion of his hand: fingers curling to a fist without warning, knuckles driven with all the force of Rude's arm and broad shoulder, right into Bansu's leering face.

The barstool toppled and took Bansu down with it, though it was difficult to say which made the bigger crash. Nobody moved to help him up, not even the few who'd been ringed close around him, listening to his story.

Rude ignored them all, nudging the stool leg out of the way to stand over him. "All things considered, I ought to say thank you," he said. Bansu whimpered. "But that will have to do."

And he walked out of the Seven Slots without looking back.


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