Written by Anikka

VERSION 3.0 : Waiting

He was beginning to think this wasn't a good idea after all.

" ... and so he said that I was being selfish. Me! Can you believe that? He's the one who's always skipping out on me for the office, and he thinks I'm being inconsiderate of his needs. I have half a mind to go to him and ..."

Rude casually checked his watch. 8:49. Only two minutes since the last time he looked. Struggling against the urge to gag her, he simply nodded along with her ranting mindlessly. It was true, he hated Cloud as much as the next guy who wanted his girlfriend - only fueled by the fact that he was the reason she wouldn't shut up - but even he could only take so much nattering. He thought that maybe it was because of Elena and her constant whining, but there was no way to be sure.

They were standing patiently in line at the Paradiso, waiting for the ticket master to let them through ; there had been three cases of ticket fraud in the last fifteen minutes now,and it was getting infuriating. The Turk hated standing still and waiting for so long. It wasn't so bad when he had something to do, like cleaning his gun and picking off random rodents, but they would probably frown upon that there. And always, there was the nattering, but he blocked that from his mind and chose to focus on the playbill whitewashed to the wall.

The title screamed at him in a bold, racy red, super imposed against a sultry looking woman who, once upon a time, was probably the lead; it was too far away for him to make out any names. It was an old poster from at least twenty five years ago, and the beautiful girl was probably well into her fifties. Still, he stared at her anyways. He had never seen this play. He had no idea what it was about. He had no idea why he was there.

"Hey Rude?"

*Oh, right*

He felt her finger jab him lightly in the ribs; Tifa must have noticed that he wasn't paying attention to her anymore. "Yes?"

"Am I boring you?"

"Uh," he blinked, "A little bit. If I wanted to know about how much Cloud loves his work I'd go up to his office and ask him about it."

"Sorry," she apologized with a weak laugh, "I guess hearing about me isn't any better than being me, is it?"

" ... it's okay."

"No, it's not okay," Tifa said with an odd firmness, "You didn't come to hear me rant all night about Cloud or watch me wallow in self pity. From now on, no one says one word about Cloud tonight. Deal?"

He couldn't stop a tiny smile. "Deal."

There was only one thing that Rude had feared would happen when he found himself alone with the AVALANCHE beauty ; awkward silence. Normally silence didn't bother him. He loved it actually, but not in certain situations. This was one of them. He was sure she could tell he was nervous, and that always made him paranoid. Shifting about uneasily, he tried to avoid looking at her, but at times like these she seemed to be everywhere.

You're just being an idiot

*You think so?*

Don't take everything so seriously. Sometimes awkward silence is just awkward silence.

*But now she's looking at me funny ...my God she's pretty ... oh no, I think I'm blushing.*

Turks don't blush

*She'll notice, she's gonna notice. I'm insane, aren't I? I've gone insane.*

Well, you are talking to yourself ...

He was suddenly aware of a second, slightly harder jab to the rib cage. A brief look of surprise flashed across his face, which made Tifa laugh. It was funny, sometimes, how she caught him lost in thought, a million miles away. He was something of a mystery to her, and it sometimes seemed that he didn't want anyone figuring him out. Of course she had heard all of the office talk about him, and it came as no surprise that more than a few people saw Rude as unfeeling. And at times she thought there might be some stock to the rumors. Never once had she seen him display any outwards signs of anger or joy. Only rare smiles, and even rarer laughter. If you didn't know him any better than that, perhaps he was an emotionless sack.

But there was one emotion she knew he felt. Guilt.

Remorse over things he had done under Rufus' father's orders. Regret for actions taken when Rufus was in charge. He had never spoken to her about it, nor had she asked, but she knew it was there; she could just tell. Reno had said that he had nightmares sometimes, though that bit of information had to be dragged out of the red head when she became aware of the fact that Rude hadn't been sleeping. Elena was always commenting on how tired he looked lately and how he was slower than usual. Sometimes she contemplated asking him directly, but always decided against it.

*He's got his right to privacy*

Still, she couldn't help but wonder about what kind of person he was hiding under that cold exterior. There had to be more to him than the presented front, she was sure.

Chuckling quietly to herself, Tifa mulled over the irony.

A year ago, if anyone had told her that she would have been in charge of the Turks, never mind friends with them, she would have snapped their neck on the spot. A lot changes over the course of a year. When Reeve had suggested hiring them, she was opposed, as they all had been at first. They were soulless murderers; they destroyed Sector Seven. They had killed her friends. But when Vincent unexpectedly came to them and argued on the Turks behalf, she started to rethink her feelings.

Almost absently she found her thoughts drifting back to that day ...

"Absolutely NOT!" Cloud was at a near bellow, "I am not letting those Turks set one foot inside this building."

Cid Highwind was nodding vigorously in agreement, while Shera retained a passive expression; she did not seem to want to be dragged into this argument, but as the new head of the Shinra Science program her involvement seemed inevitable.

"I don't know if its a good idea Reeve," she added in her two cents quietly, "After all ... they did some pretty horrible things."

Reeve seemed on the point of exhaustion with the subject. Arguably the former Turks had not been his greatest of friends when he was working under the Shinra family, but he thought they deserved a second chance. He knew what they had been through; he had been through it himself.

"I know they weren't exactly saints or anything, but they were directly under Heidegger's orders. You don't understand what it was like back then. He would --"

"I don't give a flying fuck about Heidegger or his threats. No Turks."

Almost forlornly he turned to Tifa, who was withholding her opinion on the matter. He knew she detested the Turks for what they had done to Sector Seven, but maybe she would listen to practicality.

"Teef, didn't you just say yesterday that you would kill for people who were decently trained? We've got rioting everywhere, monsters tearing up the farming communities, and those SOLDIER groups trying to take over Junon. Don't you think we could use people who know how to handle this sort of thing?"

"Not people like that," she said somberly, avoiding his eye, "We can make due without them."

Frustrated, he sank into his chair. He had promised Elena that he'd try to get them back in. They were the ones who had come to him, broke and pathetic looking, asking for a second chance. Reno had said that they were tired of living like vagrants; they were willing to do anything these days. And the new Vice President hadn't disputed that. When he discovered them lying low in Sector Six, Elena was contemplating selling herself at the Honey Bee Inn, despite her partners objections.

What would he tell them now?

Suddenly there was a gentle rapping at the door. When Shera answered it they were all astonished to see a familiar caped man standing passively in the hallway. His hard, crimson eyes seemed to soften slightly when he saw his friends, though he did not smile. One clawed hand held a golden glint in the florescent lighting, clenching and unclenching as if it held a will of its own.

"Vincent!" Tifa's mood instantly lightened at his unexpected arrival, and she greeted him with a hug, "Where did you vanish to? We were all worried about you."

"It's good to see you too Tifa," he replied smoothly as he pried out of her embrace.

"Fuck man, we thought you mighta gotten your ass stuck in that coffin again or somethin'" Cid swore jovially, as he did at every occasion, and clapped the man on the shoulder, "Glad your here."


Cloud did not get up from his desk, but even his mood lightened at the new arrival. "We tried to get a hold of you Vincent, to offer you a job here, but no one knew how to contact you, but since you're here -"

Vincent held up a clawed hand and shook his head. "Thank you anyways, but I didn't come looking for a job. Like I've said before, my company days are behind me, whether it be Shinra or AVALANCHE. But I still hold all of you in the highest regard."

"Oh," Tifa sounded a little disappointed, "Then what suddenly brings you out of hiding."

"Actually ... I came to talk to you about the Turks."

All of the lost tension immediatly returned, triple fold, and seized the room. Cloud stared at Vincent with disbelief, his mouth working with growing anger. The others merely looked surprised, though Reeve was beyond astounded. There was no way those three had been in contact with Valentine, no one had been, but here he was petitioning for them.

"I think ... you should give them their jobs back."

Cloud narrowed his Mako coloured eyes, his lips tight with retained curses. "Excuse me?"

"They deserve a second chance."

"Why the fuck should we give those scum anything?" Cid demanded loudly, "Why should we help those killers --"

"Am I a killer Cid?"

The pilot suddenly halted his tirade and blinked. "What?"

Vincent drew a calm breath and continued. "How many people do you think I killed under Shinra? Ten? A hundred? Thousands?"

"What ... what are you saying Vincent?" Tifa questioned him curiously, her usually cheerful demeanor dark and filled with a certain curiosity.

"You know I used to be a Turk before ... things changed," never had he openly spoke of Lucrecia, but it was an understood boundary between the group, "Have you not forgiven me for my past sins? Do you see me as one of them still, or as someone better? No one is innocent these days Cloud, but everyone deserves a chance to make things right."

"I just can't forgive them Vincent. They didn't care about the lives they destroyed. I ... don't ..." The President trailed off under Vincent's scrutinizing glare.

"How do they feel, do you wonder? When Tseng died ... I know I felt anger. Part of me wonders why you didn't stop to help him, even though he was our enemy at the time. He could have lived. I knew him when I was a Turk. He was just a kid, a rookie, but there was so much potential. Tseng was a good man, but corrupted by his loyalty to the Shinra. He should be alive now, but you wouldn't help him Cloud. It would have taken a minute to stop the bleeding, and then you could have continued your precious Sephiroth chase. A minute."

"He was our enemy."

"He was my friend, and you let him die."

The room was so quiet Tifa could her the blood pounding through her veins. She had never thought that Vincent felt so strongly about Tseng's death; he hadn't said anything about it, but then again, no one had bothered asking him about his Shinra days.

"He was like their father," Reeve added in cautiously, careful as to how Vincent might react, "They were all so close ... I'd never seen Reno cry before, but ..."

Vincent glanced at him for a second, a hint of something unknown in his eyes, at then turned back to Cloud.

"All I ask of you Strife, is that you give them an opportunity to prove you wrong. If they are as inhuman as you seem to believe then I will apologize you personally, but I don't believe they will disappoint. Turks are bound to their job, no matter who orders it."

Cloud hesitated. He looked back and forth between his executives, finding ranging expressions from sadness to shock to deep thought. When he rested on Vincent, he was returned an impassive crimson gaze. Valentine tilted his head ever so slightly, causing raven hair to cover once side of his face.

"Would you deny them salvation?"

Salvation ...

Briefly Tifa glanced at the Turk again, and a thoughtful look crossed her face. She didn't want to work with him, any of them, at first. She only saw the killers, the ones who had destroyed her home and her friends. Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie. She hated them for who they were. But then, as time went on, she got to know them a little more. Sometimes she would feel a little sad for them when they were in public, and people threw things at them and cursed their names. And then she started to learn a little bit about them, and sadness turned to sympathy.

Elena was the first one who opened up to her. Tifa didn't feel as much animosity for the blonde, seeing as how she wasn't around when the pillar collapsed, and the two women found they had a little in common. She had no family - they were killed in the Shinra / Wutai war sixteen years ago, and she was left to her own devices. Elena had applied to SOLDIER, but they didn't take women, despite the fact that she was more than qualified. So she had been reduced to waitressing in the Slums and taking odd jobs, until Tseng noticed her skills at a public shooting gallery. Whenever the subject of their former leader came up the blonde became very closed-mouthed and would change the subject. Tifa sensed that she might have had feelings for him, maybe even loved him, and that only made her feel more guilty. She could see unspoken accusation in her eyes, though Elena had never outright blamed her.

Reno was harder to figure out, and the one that she hated the most. He pushed the button and brought the pillar down. So many times she just wanted to attack him out of rage, but she barely managed to stop herself. Reno was so arrogant and cocky, it drove her to the brink of madness on occasion, but there was a false bravado to it. The man put on a good show when people were around, but after hours she had caught him drowning himself in the lounge on more than one night. He drank so much it was a wonder he had a liver left at all, and when he drank he talked. A lot.

She remembered clearly one night when she found him alone on the couch, crying about his mother. It was that night that she stopped hating him. Heidegger had sent men to his mother's home when he had first refused to detonate the bomb on the pillar, and had her tortured until she lay bleeding on the floor. Reno tried to save her, but he got there too late; she was already dead. He said that Heidegger frequently made examples out of people's family members if they didn't obey his orders. He apologized to her, drunkenly begging for her forgiveness, and she reluctantly gave it. Somehow she couldn't hate him anymore after hearing that story.

The strangest one of those three was Rude, a man that no one could seem to figure out. He barely said anything to anyone except Reno, and was freakishly calm all of the time. She didn't know what to make of him at first, so had taken the generic route of hating him along with his friends; it was easier that way. But it was hard to hate someone who was so nice. He always seemed to go out of his way to make her happy, like he was trying to earn her respect or something, but he never talked about the past like the other two. Reno said that he liked to leave the past where it was; where it belonged. She wasn't sure when her hatred of him had faded, but it seemed to much of an effort to bare ill feelings for someone who really didn't deserve them. After all, if she could forgive Reno it should be easy to forgive Rude.

"Ironic," she muttered to herself.

"What's ironic?"

She hadn't realized she'd said that out loud, and forced a laugh to cover herself. "Oh, nothing. Just ... my mind was wandering, y'know?"

He smiled, one of those rare genuine smiles that you had to wait months to see, and shifted his weight impatiently. They had been waiting far longer than they expected they would, but they were third in line. The play would be starting in ten minutes, and they would barely have enough time to get to their seats.

The evening was starting to get a little better.

"Found you at last!"

And then it happened.

Rude grimaced when the familiar voice rang in his ears like nails on a chalk board. Standing there on the curb - with his best innocent-looking child routine - was his least favourite robot on the Planet. A light blanket of snow covered his shoulders and trailed the length of his red cape, but he hadn't seemed to notice.

The Turk groaned to himself. "Oh God."

There was almost a tangible smugness in the air. "That's okay Rude, you can just call me Cait in public."

Tifa gave a visible start at his arrival, looking as confused as he was when he first saw the android. After her initial surprise, a smile began to grow on her lips, and she laughed, bending down to eye level with the moogleless robot. Cait seemed to love her attention.

"Cait Sith!" she exclaimed joyously, "Oh, it's been so long since you've had him out Reeve."

"Uh, Tifa?"

"Yes Rude."

"Reeve can't hear you," he explained flatly, "He animated the damned thing so it acts independently."

She blinked in surprise. "Really? Oh wow, that's so cool. So you're on your own now Cait Sith?"

"Yep," the robot crowed enthusiastically, "I'm my own man! I can go where I want to go. See what I want to see. Do what I want to --"

"He doesn't know you're out here, does he?"

The cat paused and gave Rude a sour look. "Not as such, no. Where is he anyways, you didn't kill him, did you?"

"No," he didn't bother to mask the underlying tone that he'd considered it, "He went home, and he's gonna wonder where the Hell you went."

"I got it covered," he said slowly, "So why'd he leave, you guys ditch him or something, cause God knows I wou-"

"We didn't ditch him," Tifa said, thinking that someone should jump in to Reeve's defense.

She explained the ticket situation to Cait, saying how Reeve had given up the seat for Rude. Cait seemed to understand, but made a crack about his friend being a push over and then commented that he could see down the front of her dress. Tifa straightened up with a jerk, blushing profusely; Rude threatened to kill him.

"You can't really kill a robot," Cait said with smooth confidence.

"Then I'll just have to rip you apart circuit by circuit and sell you to a scrap yard!"

They bickered back and forth, and despite her embarrassment, Tifa couldn't help but laugh to herself. This was the most animated she had ever seen the Turk, even though he was frustrated to no end. It was then she noticed they were next in line.

"Hey, we're next," she pulled out the tickets and handed one to the bald man, "Here you go."

They're arguing stopped dead in it's tracks, and Cait pouted something fierce. "I wanna see the play too," he sounded pathetic.

"No robots allowed," Rude almost snickered at the cat, "And we only have two tickets."

"I'm sorry Cait," Tifa apologized to him, "I guess you'll have to go back .... oh, wait, I have an idea!"

Rude watched in horror and she hastily removed his little crown and cape, stuffing them into her hand bag. She picked him up and tried to get him to climb up around her neck.

"Pretend you're dead or offline or whatever," she chirped with a smile, "And they'll never notice. You can be like a fur or something."

"Fur is murder," Rude muttered to himself, feeling extremely sullen. This was supposed to be his night alone with her, and now it was being ruined by that damned robot. He hadn't expected anything to come from the evening; she loved Cloud, and that was that. But even if he would never get anywhere with her, just being close to her was enough for him. And now he envied Cait Sith like nothing else, because the robot got to touch her and he didn't.

"This isn't going to work," the Turk said flatly.

"Yes it will," she hissed at him quietly, "As long as you two stop arguing and he stays absolutely quiet until we get to our seats."

"I can do that," Cait said as quietly as he could while attempting to look limp.

Rude snorted. It was a bad idea. Damn that cat for ruining his evening. His foot tapped impatiently, as he'd lost all semblance of earlier control, and was relieved when the ticket man called them forward. He was quite possibly the oldest man who ever lived. Liver spotted skin was gaunt against an skeletal face, with a sharp beak of a nose and no chin to speak of. Death-like fingers were held out expectantly, and the pair handed over their tickets. He glanced at them quickly from sunken eyes, tore the top half of the papers, and handed them back.

"Third row, center," he rasped at them with a voice like a box of nails, "Enjoy the show."

Apparently he had not noticed Cait, now or earlier when he was arguing loudly with Rude, because he gave them no more than a glance before ushering them forward. He was sure he heard Cait and Tifa breathe a sigh of relief.

"Come on Rude, the show's gonna start soon."

He could barely contain himself when she grabbed his hand and pulled him forward. Her skin was impossibly soft despite years of hand to hand fighting, and felt warm against his own. Feeling a little better about the situation, he let her lead him through the lobby towards the theater, his mind on nothing else but the sensation of their linked hands.


Reno paced the short length of the room anxiously. His date was over twenty minutes late, and the red headed Turk was becoming impatient. Had he been stood up? No, that couldn't be it. Stuck in traffic? Likely. Lost? Maybe. Abducted by aliens? It could happen.

Padding over to the dirty, film encrusted window, he removed a crumpled cigarette and stuffed in into his mouth. The rusted locks would not budge until he was nearly white knuckled, and the window paine itself was another story all together. Finally, with an aggravated screech of protest, the glass slid open and the Turk was greeted by a chilled blast of thin air. A few flakes of snow whirled about on the breeze, nesting in his hair ; he batted at them absently.

"Why do I do this to myself?"

He lit the cigarette and took a slow, relaxing drag. The nights replayed themselves in his mind so many times he could describe every encounter down to the last filthy detail. The dates, the places, everything. Smells, sounds, words uttered in muddled passion that should never have seen the light of day. Every meeting was the same, with always a predictable result - him drunk and babbling about how much his life sucked.

He couldn't tell anyone, of course. They wouldn't understand. Rude might; he always seemed to be sympathetic of his idiocy. Still, he opted to leave his friend as clueless as everyone else. Elena definitely would not understand. This was the kind of thing she frowned upon and started her into a big lecture. Reno could picture it now; her standing over him, red faced from yelling and hands on hips scolding like she was his mother, while he thought about the next opportunity to get away and see his secret fling.

Reno chuckled humorlessly and flicked ashes out the window.

Yes, a fling. That's all it could or would ever be. Anything more was impossible, despite his flickering disappointment. Reno wasn't sure if he wanted more, but even the smallest chance seemed to sparked his interest. When he'd gotten into this he had told himself - and had been told - that nothing could ever come out of it. It was to be a purely physical relationship, a way of stress relief and the casual comfort of having another warm body against your own. The Turk had nothing against casual sex, God knows he'd had too much of it in his life, but when confronted with the idea that he would never be given much notice outside of a sleazy motel room, it bothered him.

And he didn't know why.

It was never supposed to go farther than a few nights of secret passion, but when Reno hadn't been looking, something had changed. Whether or not he was developing feelings was beyond the point ; he already knew they were there, and denying them would be useless. What bothered him was that he couldn't tell what they were. Was is dependence or something more? Dependence would be easier to deal with, because he would only have to find someone else to share a bed with. He had grown used to the warmth, to the feeling of another person tangled against him, and letting go of that familiar comfort would be harder. But somehow the alternative seemed impossibly cruel.

If he were developing real feelings, it could only do more harm than good. People would be hurt - he would be hurt - and that was something he didn't need. If there was a way to sever all ties and end it all, he would have done so. But as each day passed, he found it harder and harder to wait for the next meeting. The next chance to touch and be touched, it was always too great a temptation to give up. But was it worth it? To be dominated, to be treated as nothing more than a quick fuck and then revulsed?

A sound caught Reno's attention, a quiet jangling of keys, and his head shot up like a dog awaiting its master. Sure enough, the sound was followed by others like it ; the scraping of metal against metal, the click of a lock, the ungreased squeak of the door knob. Something seemed to grab at his throat, constricting his air with anticipation. Automatically his hand went for his gun, a reflex he feared he would never be rid of, but a good one to have in Midgar. The cautious would live to see another day, after all. Reno was relieved to see he wouldn't need it, and tossed the weapon aside carelessly into the dark blue pile that used to be his jacket.

That feeling was back in the pit of his stomach. The one that surfaced lately whenever they were alone together, or even in the same room. It churned and gnawed at his insides, like it was slowly eating him alive. And at that moment, when Reno just sat there staring at his lover, he was sure that it was more than dependence. He was sure it was something more, and cursed himself for being weak. It wasn't supposed to have been anything, and it never could be. All he was doing was torturing himself.

But a few hours of sex would make him forget for a little while, and that was all that mattered to him.

A smile slowly graced his features, and he rose to greet his date. Throwing his cigarette butt out the window, he slammed it shut and nearly tripped as he raced to meet familiarity. Reno was met with a feral smile, slightly devious but genuine, and relaxed when a pair of strong arms snaked around his shoulders.

"You're late," he murmured around a fierce, demanding kiss, "I've been waiting ..."

"Do you have any idea how fucking hard my day has been," the voice was rough in his ear, but heavy with lust, "I don't care how long you've been waiting."

The combination of stale liquor and poorly chose cologne wafted into his nose irritably, and it made the feeling twinge with something he couldn't place, but he didn't care. The only thing the Turk concentrated on was the comforting warmth suddenly pressed against him as he was hastily pushed backward towards the bed. He didn't care about the demands to hurry with his clothing and forget the foreplay. He didn't care about the way his wrists were pinned with awkward pain above his head. None of it mattered.

All he cared about was the warmth.

To Be Continued

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