Mixed Signals (6): Expectations
maybe i should take your face tonight
let you see yourself in a different light
if i were to take your place tonight
wouldn't Jesus be surprised
there's no savior hanging on this cross
it isn't suffering we fear but loss
this is closer than i ever came
just a burning moth without a flame
-Over the Rhine "Moth"
A month into his training, Reno finally thought he might be getting the hang of the thing. He still wasn't allowed his weapon, though Rude had taken him down to supply and let him pick one out: a nice retractable adamantine rod complete with an electrical charge.
"Six weeks," Rude had said, as Reno flicked his wrist and the segments of metal shot outward out of his hand, the tip crackling with blue energy that Reno could feel even through the rubberized handle. "Until then, you stick with the hand-to-hand."
That part of it had been going better as well, or at least Reno had been picking himself up off the mat a little less these days. Rude still got the better of him almost every time, but it took him a little longer to do so. Maybe Reno was just learning how to get out of the way.
Mornings were spent in more technical training, and Reno was glad for the afternoon brawl of muscle and speed to work out the stuff that was being crammed in his head every day. There was only so much speed-offense vehicular training, also known as 'watch Reno wipe out an entire colony of orange traffic cones' that one guy could take. He was particularly interested in helicopter lessons, mostly for Phoenix's sake. Rude said there was no way Reno was going to get them yet, waving a hand at the maimed and crunched traffic cones and saying, "You think I'm letting you get off the ground?"
Only one thing had really failed to improve at all, and that was Rude himself. Reno had tried everything he knew to get under the guy's skin, to weasel so much as a conversation out of him, but it had been no use. Unless Rude was saying exactly how he had managed to knock Reno's teeth down his throat, or mentioning that really the company cars weren't made to go on two wheels, he simply didn't talk. Reno could not say he knew anymore about the man than he had known on the day of the bar fight.
Which made it really difficult, Reno thought to himself, when he was doing his level best to get into Rude's pants. Had Reno not been thoroughly convinced otherwise in the gym showers, he could believe Rude didn't actually have any heavy equipment below the belt.
But a Montague is not a thing easily subdued, and so he kept at it, every day, with probably more enthusiasm than he put into his training and the systematic destruction of any vehicle he climbed into. Maybe it was just a streak of masochism on his part that even a frosty response was better than complete silence, as much as getting picked up by Rude and hurled around the room was at least physical contact.
"Hey," he said, as he always did, once they had finished in the gym. There was just a handful more of sunlight every day, hinting that winter wasn't going to last forever, not even in Midgar. "You want to go out for a beer or something?"
Rude carefully slid his tie knot back up, and flicked the earpieces out on his sunglasses. "You're still underage, aren't you?"
Rude might as well have hit him with one of his punches to the gut. Fatality. Rude always had an excuse, but that was the best one yet. Reno forced his shoulders back up again. "You know," he said, leaning on his locker to close it, "I really don't know anything about you. If we're partners, maybe we should hang out more."
"What did you want to know?" Rude asked, in a tone that certainly did not invite questions.
Reno was undeterred, casting about for something less direct than what Rude's personal taste in lovers was. "Your tattoo," he said, at last. "It's a really sweet piece of work. Where'd you get it done?"
If Rude had not expected that question, he showed no sign. "Place down in third, back when I was still in Security. Me and Raife--" He stopped, and shut his locker door with a kind of finality.
Reno had never yet heard Rude say his dead partner's name. He was burning with curiosity to find out what had happened, but since Rude was his only real contact with any company gossip, he really didn't know anything more than the Turk's name. "He had one to match?" It was not the smartest thing to press the issue, but Reno was not about to miss an opening, no matter how small.
It might even have worked, on anybody but Rude. "See you tomorrow," he said, and rounded the corner to the elevator without looking back.
There was a soft word of profanity followed by a sharp bang, and Reno glared at the dent in his locker door as though he had no idea how it got there.
It took him a minute and a few deep breaths to calm down enough to take the elevator down to the Department lounge to pick up his coat and a pack of cigarettes from the vending machine. It was usually empty after five, but Reno was surprised to find it occupied. Tseng was leaning against the coffee vending machine, his eyes not quite focusing on a cup that had been dispensed and filled long since. Reno had never seen someone so obviously having a headache in his life.
"Hey, Boss," Reno said, as gently as he could manage without sounding like a total girl. Tseng started, looking at him for a moment as though trying to figure out who he was. "...Tough day?"
Tseng straightened, smoothing back hair that had escaped his usually neat ponytail. "I thought everyone had gone home for the night."
"Not yet," Reno said, and found the excuse coming up to his lips unbidden, smooth as anything. "It's my new place... I'm not used to it yet, living on my own." In the dim glow of the vending machines Reno could see the shadows around Tseng's eyes, and he could think of several nice ways of taking both their minds of their problems. "I never even had my own room before."
"Big family, I take it?" Tseng seemed to remember his coffee; he reached down and wiggled the plastic door up to get the cup out.
"Big and noisy," Reno said. "I guess they're right about it being lonely at the top."
Something moved across Tseng's face, and he smoothed his thumb over the lip of the styrofoam cup. "I suppose so."
The pitch of Reno's voice changed subtly, along with the angle of his hips. "You lonely, boss?"
Tseng smiled, and the gesture he made with the cup was almost a toast. "I'm not at the top, Mr. Montague." He took a sip of his coffee and Reno watched the motion of his throat, remembering something pleasant. "How are you settling in? You think being a Turk suits you?"
"Right down to the ground," Reno said, but there was an unspoken proviso to that statement that Tseng caught easily.
Reno blew up at his bangs, grimacing. "You gave me a real stiff for a partner, you know that? And I don't mean that in a good way."
"Rude is not exactly a social butterfly at the best of times," Tseng said. "He takes time to warm up to people."
"Anyone else would have been warmed over by now, Boss." Reno stuffed his hands in his pockets, and glared out the wide windows at Midgar, darkening for the night. "Hey," he said, with something approaching caution, "I know he was your friend too so you can tell me to screw off... but what the hell happened with this Raife guy? Rude won't even say his name, much less anything about what happened."
Tseng looked down at his coffee for so long that at first Reno thought he wasn't going to answer, just walk away like everybody in the whole damn company did when faced with difficult questions. But when Tseng spoke at last, it was not a dismissal. "Come up to my office," he said.
Tseng's office had not changed since Reno's hire, still as aloof and polished as the man himself was. It was better lit than it had been, but still shadowy, dotted with faint pools of artful lighting. Reno's eyes swept over tasteful, modern artwork and sleek furniture. Any loose items --and there were very few-- seemed impersonal, like decor pieces chosen because they matched the theme of the room, and not with any sentimental motive: A polished onyx sphere on a stand on the bookshelf, a clear glass vase with three white hothouse lilies on the glass table. Nothing in the room gave any hint of exotic origin; not even the art was from Wutai.
With one exception.
Tucked into a shelf was a small splash of color that caught Reno's eye immediately, it was so incongruous with the room and with Tseng himself, who was opening the liquor cabinet in the opposite corner.
"I wouldn't take you for a doll collector," Reno said, as the bright object resolved itself into a small wooden Wutai warrior with black silk-floss hair in a traditional topknot, papier-mâché sword in his fist. He was slightly worn; the yellow satin of his tunic was faded with age and love under the crimson embroidery.
"It would seem I am unable to entirely escape my heritage, Mr. Montague." Tseng shut the door of the cabinet, and Reno felt that the subject of the doll was closed as well. "Have a seat."
Reno settled down in the chair across from Tseng's desk, and waited a moment while his boss looked out over the lights of Sector Two below. Tseng had poured a drink for himself, but hadn't offered one to Reno. Since Reno had just asked him to talk about the death of a close friend, he couldn't begrudge Tseng the whiskey and soda.
"I assume, Reno, that you know being a Turk is by no means a simple occupation, or a safe one."
"I don't think you'd be training me to break necks if it was," Reno said.
Tseng tipped back the glass in his hand, and looked at Reno over one blue-suited shoulder. "Do you know what our prime directive is, in this department? Rude should have told you, but I don't doubt it might have slipped his mind."
"I think he's been too busy kicking the shit out of me," Reno admitted, reaching up to his shoulder for emphasis.
"As Turks, our duty is first and foremost to protect the security and continued stability of this company. If something is a threat to that, no matter how large or small, it is to be removed. If it is an asset, it is worth pursuing. It is as simple as that." Tseng turned around to face Reno, leaning lightly on the lip of his window. "You look like you have a question."
"Hm." Reno rubbed at his chin with his thumb, watching the floodlights that lit up the building sweeping like slow lightning over Tseng's face. "I notice you say, 'protect the company', not 'protect the president'."
Tseng's smile might have been a trick of the moving light, for all that it managed to stay on his face. "And to think Rude intimated that I hired you because you're good in bed."
Reno hung his arms over the back of the chair, grinning broadly. "And anywhere else, baby."
This time Tseng's smile stayed, but he failed to take the bait. "This company," he said, "is like the center pillar holding up the plate. There are other supporting pillars, but without this one, they would all fail. ShinRa is the single largest economic and military force on the entire planet, Mr. Montague. Without it, and without us, everything crumbles." Tseng gestured with his glass. "Jack ShinRa has not made our position the most tenable one. He has ostracized Wutai completely, and his heavy-handed policy towards several reactor-based communities have eroded public support and wasted billions of gil. The company loses assets he pours into pointless scientific indulgences, and the company elite have no one to keep them in check. If he continues to sit the helm much longer, ShinRa company will sink."
Reno squelched uncomfortably in his chair. "Boss," he said, glancing uneasily around the room. "Uh, don't you think it's... you know, not the best idea to talk about that here? I mean, the place might be bugged."
Tseng lifted his eyebrows. "Of course it's bugged. And you will find that anyone listening in will surely get an earful of the dripping sink in the janitor's closet, which is where the transmitters now lead to." He settled gracefully behind his desk, and steepled his fingers in front of a face that could only be called smug in its serenity. "I'm the best in my business, Mr. Montague. If the President wishes to go behind my back, he has no choice but to rely on the dubious talents of utter amateurs."
"Aah," Reno said, and sat up just a little straighter. "So, what? You're wanting to take over, is that it?"
"Placing myself as the head of this company would be a needless amount of effort for a position I find unappealingly public." Tseng studied the bottom of his glass. "Especially when there is already an heir apparent."
"Rufus?" Reno snorted. "I've never even seen the kid."
Tseng said, very carefully, "I have. I've watched him a long time, though I'm certain he does not even know who I am. He's young, and he has no love for his father, I'm sure. His potential is untapped, and most likely untempered, as well."
"You want a puppet, is that it?" Reno's voice did not conceal a certain measure of distaste. "Someone to control?"
"Not a puppet, Reno." Tseng looked at him, an there was an intensity in his eyes that Reno had never seen there before. "Merely a Protégé. Someone to make into a president this company deserves: a man worthy of the loyalty we are capable of giving. I have not enjoyed watching the current regime waste opportunities in pursuit of their own petty ambitions."
Reno nodded, offering up his own assessment of the situation. "You need to get yourself a steady lover, boss."
Tseng only smiled, as a man who already has planned for any contingency.
"So!" Reno continued, getting that particular message loud and clear. "Yeah. None of this is really helping me out with Rude, and this Raife guy."
Tseng washed away his good humor with the rest of his drink. "I've known them both a long time, before I was put in head of the Turks, before I cleared out the dead wood in this department and hired them both up out of security." He put a hand over his mouth, thinking a moment.
"Sorry, if it's rough on you," Reno said.
Tseng waved the apology away. "This is a... delicate position, for lack of a better word. There are many factors to consider, and any number of personal boundaries that are not to be crossed. Raife was--" Tseng swallowed. "Raife was not a man to let politics rule his heart, and it cost him." Tseng stood up all at once, as though his body craved motion to get away from the words. "I tried to warn him, but he wouldn't hear it. He chose his own path."
"Into someone else's politics," Reno concluded, part of him wishing now he hadn't asked. He had once chalked Tseng up as cold and calculating, ruthless even. And so he was, but only when it was needed to do his job. Reno wondered, seeing him like this now, if he would ever think that again. Watching Tseng grieve was somehow intensely more intimate than sleeping with him, and Reno looked away. "I thought it might have been a hit."
"I would advise not bringing the subject up again," Tseng regained his composure, and used it to fix Reno with a glittering dark stare. "Let it go, Mr. Montague, and avoid open confrontation with your superiors. You'll live longer if you remember your place here."
"Fair enough," Reno said, and hauled himself up out of the seat, expecting dismissal. "Though it doesn't help me with Rude."
"You're not here to be helped," Tseng said. "I hired you because Rude needs you, whether he admits it or not." Tseng lifted his glass again, but it was empty. He stared at it as though he couldn't remember what he had been drinking. "Raife was his best friend, Reno, and he was killed in broad daylight not two steps away from him. Give him time, and stick by him, no matter what." Tseng placed the glass on the corner of his desk, just so on the brushed steel surface. "That's an order."
"I hear ya," Reno said, without any heat. "I woulda done that anyway." He tilted his chin up. "...What about you, Tseng? Who takes care of you?"
Tseng folded his arms, unpersuaded by Reno's obvious offer. "I take care of myself."
"Is that why you buy boys instead of crossing any company lines?" Reno knew the moment it came out of his mouth that it was going too far. The look Tseng shot him in response only confirmed that, and Reno found it hard to swallow. "Sorry," he said, more harshly than he meant to, and turned to go. "None of my goddamn business, anyway." He stopped just short of leaving, his fingertips on the doorknob. "I guess things were easier when I didn't know your name. I can't really blame you."
Something in Tseng's voice made Reno turn around, but when he did, Tseng still wasn't looking at him. "...Boss?"
"It's not a luxury I can afford myself," Tseng said at last. "Having a lover who knows my name." He looked up, mouth twisted in a mocking smile. "Raife made that lesson clearer to me than ever before, and I won't soon forget it."
Reno let his fingers slide off the doorknob. "I don't owe anybody in this company shit, except for you and Rude," he said. "So why are you worried about my loyalties?"
Tseng didn't answer at first, his eyes shining with Midgar's reflected light, and a heat that Reno hadn't forgotten. "...Habit, Mr. Montague."
And though no money changed hands, and Reno no longer had a permit or business card to show, he found he still knew the meaning of that kind of look, and he knew how to answer it. Better now, in fact, because for the first time, Reno had his own reasons.
Three steps back across the room and his suit jacket was off, flung across the table with the lilies. Another two and Tseng had pulled out his ponytail, and by seven steps total Reno had both his hands full of shining dark hair and their mouths were together, tongues sliding in a hot tangle, and Tseng's lean body pressed up warm against his own.
"I've never done this before, you know," Reno admitted, even while his hands were busy pulling down the metal zipper on the front of Tseng's jacket, and slipping into the satiny warmth between the lining and Tseng's shirt.
"You can't possibly expect me to believe that, Reno," Tseng said, as if they were standing in the corridor ten feet apart, and as if he was not running his thumbs in little circles over Reno's hipbones. "I was there at the time, if you recall."
"I mean," Reno said, mostly to Tseng's neck, "You know, without getting paid for it."
"Ah." Tseng's hand slowed a little, undoing Reno's ponytail. "Well I've never felt it... prudent to engage someone without a transaction, so I suppose we're even."
Reno was laughing, hurrying over Tseng's shirt buttons as though it would cover the fact that his fingers weren't quite steady. "Guess that makes us the two most experienced virgins in Midgar."
There was no posh hotel bed this time, only the flat metal surface of Tseng's desk, cold on the bare skin of Reno's back. His shirt was undone and rucked up beneath him, pants sliding down beyond recall with only a little encouragement on Tseng's part.
"Not quite the penthouse," Tseng said, and it was almost but not entirely an apology. His mouth moved down Reno's exposed chest, drawing him up off the metal and into his warmth.
Reno groaned, eyes half-closing as Tseng's hair slithered down his ribcage like cool black silk. "You're rich enough for me, boss. It's a good thing I don't hafta pay--unf!!" Reno's voice caught on itself. Tseng had swept his hair out of the way in one practiced motion, giving Reno a gorgeous unobstructed view as he bent down and closed his parted lips over Reno's burning cock.
Reno let all his air out at once, falling back on his elbows and sending a miniature landslide of paperwork off the desk and onto the floor. For all his time in the slips at the Pavilion, he could count on one hand the number of times he had been on the receiving end of such attention, and one of them had been when he was fifteen, his first night on the job, and one of the older girls was showing him how it was done.
She could have picked up a few tips from Tseng.
His mouth was meltingly sweet as it pulled on him with gentle insistence, his hands sliding up Reno's thighs and lifting them onto his shoulders. There was a difference, Reno was learning, between Tseng himself and the alias he had worn in the penthouse. Something a little less polished, a little more dangerous, something that made the smooth, hungry pressure of his mouth falter when Reno arched his head back and said his name.
"Tseng," Reno gasped, one hand fisting in his perfect hair, "goddamn if you don't fuck me I'm gonna quit, or come, whichever happens first."
Tseng pulled back, smiling, the flushed tip of Reno's cock resting on his lower lip. "Turks don't have the option of quitting, Mr. Montague." He leaned up, still holding Reno's legs to his shoulders, and the cold metal square of his belt buckle pressed hard against Reno's bare ass. He dipped one hand into his jacket pocket, removing a silver cigarette case, his gloves, and a spare clip for his quicksilver, stacking them neatly on his desk before retrieving a hard plastic vial and snapping it between his fingers. "So I suppose that only leaves you with one option."
Reno didn't have the heart to object, his belly tightening as Tseng stroked him with slick fingers. He pressed against Reno's entrance, petting him until Reno yielded and let him in, clutching Tseng's fingertips as though there wasn't something better he wanted there. Hot waves of sensation rippled right down to Reno's toes, like a live wire vibrating with one touch of current.
"Never thought I would even see you again," Reno managed, his ribcage shuddering with breaths that would not stay slow. "Much less this."
"I admit, I wasn't looking forward to training a new boy," Tseng's belt clattered against the desk, and the distant searchlights found his smile. "But anything more than that is classified information, Mr. Montague." Tseng bore down on him, folding the two of them together like origami flowers. Reno's eyes fluttered closed and Tseng's name was a slow moan in his throat as Tseng's cock burned into him, stretching him so full that Reno wondered how he could ever have felt empty.
Reno's patience was spent, and it was just as well that Tseng's was too. The desk shivered underneath them and the edges of the steel top bit into Reno's palms as he held on to it, and let everything else go. Tseng's kiss muffled the sound Reno made as he came, hot and messy between them. Tseng buried his face in the soft crimson spikes of Reno's hair, and Reno said his name to make up for all the time he hadn't known what it was.
"Reno," Tseng said on the way down to the elevator, as though they had just happened to meet and had not, in fact, been screwing less than fifteen minutes ago. "Just so you know--"
"I know, I know," Reno said, his fists jammed in the pockets of his pants, looking like he was the proverbial cat and there wasn't a canary left alive in all of Midgar. "No expectations or demands or anything like that. I'm a pro, boss. Don't worry about that."
"It's Rude, actually." Tseng pressed the down button, and the elevator car hummed demurely up the glass chute. "Keep at him, and that's an order."
"Yes, sir," Reno grinned, snapping his gum and following Tseng through the elevator doors.
Reno's locker wouldn't close.
"Nice dent," Rude said, eyebrows up over his sunglasses, looking at the mangled door to Reno's gym locker. "You pick a fight with it?"
"Something like that," Reno said, and gave up, letting it hang open. If someone really wanted to swipe his spare socks and grubby company-issue t-shirt, they were welcome. "Ah well, looks like we both lost--"
"It was a Phoenix," Rude said suddenly, as if he was answering a question. and he was, though Reno didn't understand until Rude added, "Raife's tattoo. It was a Phoenix."
"Really?" Reno was not about to let the opening slip by. "My brother's named Phoenix."
Rude made a noise that was not quite an invitation to continue the conversation, but Reno already had his attack planned. "Let's go," he said, picking up his jacket and striding past Rude. "I'm buying you a beer."
Rude hesitated only a moment, as though he knew any rebuttal he offered would fall on deaf ears, and there was a free drink at hand.
"It better not be a cheap one," he said at last, three easy strides catching him up to Reno, blue-suited shoulder to shoulder in the fading winter sunlight.
"I only buy the good stuff for a buddy," Reno said, without bothering to glance back at Rude. "what kind of a guy do you think I am?"
"In that case I'll expect the best," Rude answered, still intractable, impenetrable behind his shades. But Reno caught their reflection in the full-length glass windows of the corridor and knew he was finally in on the secret. "And I know what kind of a guy you are, partner."
Reno hid his smile in the undone collar of his shirt.