“Heh, no, Shinra didn’t corrupt me,” a cocky tone announced, words muttered out of one corner of the speakers mouth, as a cigarette butt occupied the other half. “They hired me because I was already corrupt.”
“Humpf.” A prissy, rather delicate tone returned. “You don’t follow orders, you show up for work drunk, you smoke in the building, I don’t see why Shin-Ra would want you in the first place.”
That statement resulted in a rather wry smile, as a pair of icy blue eyes gazed across the table to the blonde female, staring though a few stray strands of fire red hair. “They don’t want me, they need me. I’m just that damned good.”
A slight cough was heard, it sounded like someone was trying to smother a laugh. Those blue eyes quickly shot to the towering form beside him. “Shut the hell, up, Rude!” the red head snapped. The dark skinned male quickly regained control of himself, pressing those dark glasses further upon his nose, giving a slight nod to show it would not happen again. He knew Reno, and his dirty little undertones, far too well.
That blue gaze quickly returned to the female, pulling one black, fingerless standard-issue Turk uniform glove from his hand. “Fine, you wanna know why I’m so damned ‘corrupt,’ Elena? I’ll tell ya a story, but it’s not what you wanna hear.”
That blonde head bobbed, brown eyes curious. Nodding once more, the red head lifted his drink to his lips, taking a long drink before setting it on the table, pausing a moment before he spoke again.
“Midgar Slums, Sector Five, I was sixteen years old...”
The world was no different back then. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, children dreamed of being heroes and the world slowly choked to death on its on corruption. I was a run away, nothing but a pocket knife, a hunk of Matera and a few dozen Gil to ensure my survival. The Midgar Slums were a whole new world for me, filled with excitement and danger. I was a kid in a candy store, drunk off the vile, poisoned armpit of the world and all it had to offer.
But survival was not as easy as I expected. No body wanted to hire an under-aged red head for any kind of respectable job. Not that I wanted one of those anyway. My looks did not fit my passions, and no one was going to take a risk on hiring a skinny street-rat. I was hungry, I was tired, and I was sick of sleeping in the sewer.
That’s when I first met her. We had the same goal, but she was experienced. Her will was stronger than mine. The shop was not too large, but it was successful, and sure to have plenty of Gil on hand.
I rushed toward the shop entrance, ready to kick open the door, demand the Gil from the register and cut the throat of anyone in my way. It was my first real felony, I crouched in the shadows, my adrenaline pumping, head spinning on this new rush. I sucked in one last breath and dashed for the door--and found myself on the ground. Confused, disoriented, I fumbled for my knife, ready to kill the bastard who hit me from behind. How the hell had they known I was there, much less what I planned to do?
I soon discovered that the bastard who knocked me over had not known what I was doing. It hadn’t been a bastard. I looked up to see the back of a curvy form, long legs wrapped in tight leather, long raven hair and a black tank top revealing a pair of tattooed black angel wings vanish into the shop, pistol in hand.
Now, I was young, but I was no fool. If someone found me out front with a knife, I’d be labeled an accomplice to the crime. No way in hell was I going to jail for a crime I did not fucking commit. I ran like hell, winding my way though the streets of Midgar, trying to put as much ground between myself and the scene of the crime as possible. But I never forget those black wings...
Three weeks passed, and of those, I had been out of cash for two. Grab and dash techniques had kept me from starving to death, but had not improved my mood any. I was trying to plot my next big move, but an empty stomach makes that really damned hard.
At last I found myself crouched in the shadows outside a restaurant, eyeing the patio tables. There were no customers there at the moment, but the dinner rush had yet to hit. This place was pretty damned well-to-do, so I figured robbing just one of the stiffs here would give me enough Gil to live comfortably for a few days. Gotta love the social gap that exists between the rich and poor. Thank God for the Upper Plate.
At last a waiter led a woman out to the patio, pulled her chair out for her, handed her a drink menu and left. I grinned, knife held tightly in one hand and prepared to rush forward and relieve the broad of some extra wealth. Thank God I hesitated.
She sighed, uncomfortable in the hot night, and removed her jacket, hanging it over the back of her chair. And there they were, painted across those lean, bare shoulders, black angel wings. I felt my breath catch at first, Why her? Why here? Then the bastard in me took over. I know what that smile means, Rude, wipe it off your damned face.
What better opportunity could there have been to get my revenge? She was paying for this dinner with Gil that should have been mine. She deserved for me to mug her more than any other fat cat on the Upper Plate. Judging from her outfit and her restaurant choice, that shop had been loaded, and that money should have been mine.
I leapt from my hiding spot and landed just behind her. I was fast, even back then, and before she knew I was there, my blade was to her throat.
“Hand over the Gil, bitch!”
She just laughed.
She moved before it even occurred to me to get a better hold of her, somehow slipping from behind my blade. Those small hands of hers were like iron around my wrist, the crook of one lean elbow closed around my neck, and the next thing I knew I was bent backwards in a choke hold, unable to breath, my knife in her hand.
I looked up and back, damning her with my eyes, when I noticed she was still smiling. “Taunting bitch,” I thought. If not for how damned good she looked, I might just have killed her in the next second, because right then, she let go.
“I remember you,” that cocky tone purred. Sea green eyes looked across at me as I hacked, hands at my throat, trying to draw air into my lungs again. “You’re that boy who nearly got in my way.” Her tone was quiet, soft and slick as satin. I knew right then that I hated her; I knew right then that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.
“Go to hell!” I snarled, able to stop coughing at last. The most original come back? No, but hell, I hadn’t been able to breath for a damned long time!
She laughed, her head tilting to one side, studying me. “Take a seat. You look like you could use a meal.” She moved calmly back to her seat, still in possession of my knife, acting as though she was not the least bit threatened by my presence.
I just stood there, a dumb ass look on my face. “What?”
“Do you want something, or not?” she snapped, tone clipped, dark fringed eyes glancing over her shoulder to me.
Heh, did I want something? I sat down before you could count to three. I had show her I was no boy, after all.
“Don’t fucking look at me like that, Rude,” that cocky tone broke from the narrative, the red headed Turk casting a venomous look toward the dark skinned male beside him. “I had to prove myself!”
Elena’s brown eyes blinked, canting her head to one side. “So you decided to prove yourself by having dinner with her?”
The red head let out a sound of disbelief, clapping the palm of one hand against his forehead. Rude again fought back a laugh, lips pressing into a thin line, those dark glasses hiding the smile in his eyes. “That’s not how he was intending to prove that he was not a boy,” he explained.
Reno frowned sharply, aiming one elbow for the taller man’s side. “Shut the fuck up!” Hell, Rude was going to blow it all if he let innocent little Elena onto his thinking.
“Sorry,” Rude returned crisply, leaving Elena looking confused.
Reno grinned, taking another long drag of his cigarette. Damn he loved naive women. “So we talked. It’s damned strange to carry on a civilized conversation with someone ya just tried to knife.”
“But you said you were just going to steal her Gil!” the blonde interrupted, looking even more confused. “Now you’re saying you wanted to kill her?”
“Well, they don’t have to be exclusive actions,” the red head grinned, lifting his cigarette to his lips to take another long drag.
Elena looked to Rude for an interpretation. She did not under stand Reno, never had.
“He was going to rob her, then kill her,” the bald headed male announced in his usual, matter-of-fact, no-nonsense way.
Wide brown eyes turned to Reno again, who simply nodded a confirmation, swirling his drink on the table before him. “Yeah, but hell, she didn’t kill me when she had the opportunity, so I figured I’d let her get off easy. For the moment, at least.”
“But you said--” the blonde began again, her objections quickly cut off by a slightly sharp tone.
“You want me to finish the damned story or not?”
Her mouth quickly shut, blonde head bobbing once in a prompt affirmative.
“Good. So, we talked. She was there because she was supposed to meet some pencil-pusher from the Shin-Ra for dinner, apparently. I thought it was pretty damned strange, but judging from that dress, I knew she’d get the job. Only question was, what was someone looking for an office job doing pulling guns on shop keepers...?”
“I’m just making sure Shin-Ra knows my name tonight. My plans are bigger,” those crimson lips announced. I could not decide which was more hypnotizing, the way they moved when she spoke, or the view that low cut dress provided less than a foot below.
“Like knocking off a Matera store?” I asked, tone sharp as I could manage with my mouth half full. The place may have been way too rich for my blood, but the food was good and I was hungry. She did not seem to mind.
“That was just another stunt to make sure they know who I am.”
“Right...” I stated skeptically. After all, why the hell should I believe some rich tart from the Plate who thought she was smart enough to play the system?
Her lips parted, about to answer, when some square in a suit and tie, with glasses about the size of my dinner plate, scuttled out the door and toward the table. “Sorry I’m late,” he announced, speaking entirely though his nose, the whiney sound of it made me shiver. Suddenly I wished I had killed her, no one, no matter how arrogant and bitchy, should have to suffer though a conversation with that sound.
Wipe that smirk off your face, Rude. I’m allowed to be arrogant. Why? Because I’m just that damn good.
Well, long story short, she basically told me just to piss off then. The minute that pencil neck appeared on the patio she was all smiles and batting eye lashes. Her voice was suddenly much higher and flirty, all hand shakes and nice-to-meet-you, how-do-you-do’s. It was disgusting.
“Well, now that I’ve done my good deed for the day,” she purred, her tone syrupy sweet, eyes landing on me again, “you should be running on home.”
I could have strangled the bitch. Her good deed! That was my Gil she was spending! I was no charity case!
I stood up, about to show her just how big a scene one pissed off teenager could make. I had my mouth open and a lungful of air, just about to let loose, when I suddenly realized that her hand was in my pocket. Heh, yeah, that shut me up fast.
“I’ll see you at home, then,” she purred, winking one emerald eye at me before removing her hand, turning her full attention to the little Shin-Ra drone.
I really had no idea what the hell all that meant. I had not figured women out back then-don’t say a damned word, Elena-so I did as she said. I walked away.
I had never been treated like that by a woman before. I had never had a woman that close to my-heh, anyhow. I wandered the streets for a while, trying to sort all this out in my mind. I stuffed my hands into my pockets, and at once two realizations came to me. The first was that I had never gotten my knife back from that tattooed broad. The other was that there was something new in my pocket.
I pulled my hand out to discover that a pack of matches, the cover bearing the logo of the restaurant I had just ‘visited,’ the inside holding a few words, written in black ink. “If you want your knife back, meet me at midnight.” The handwriting was a perfect script, when had she written that? I had not even seen her with a pen. The address written below was to a shady motel in the Sector Five Slums.
Now anyone with a clear head would think something suspicious about this set up. I did not have a clear head. All I knew was that a beautiful, if not obnoxious, female wanted to meet me at a hotel at midnight. I may not have had a clear head, but I sure as hell had an active imagination.
Midnight came, and so did I. It was not until I got there that one key fact dawned on me: She had not left a room number. Well hell, that made it difficult. I stood in front of the office, hands in my pockets, narrowed eyes studying the night. This was not a good place to be. The Slums in general are not a good place to be, but hell, you either know what goes on around sleazy motels at night, or you don’t want to.
Five minutes, ten, twenty ticked away and I was cursing my own youthful impulses. She had not shown up, and she was not going to. “Reno, you fool,” I murmured, ready to leave, when the sound of high heels split the night.
“Looking for some company there, tiger?” a voice questioned from the shadows.
Now, any woman who thinks I need to pay for it really has some nerve, and really needs to be straightened the hell out. And yes, Elena, I am above that. As I said, I’m just that good.
Anyway, I sneered toward the shadows, making no secret of my disgust at the idea. “I don’t think you could handle me,” I snapped.
It doesn’t fucking matter if I’d slept with a woman yet or not, Rude. What matters is how you present yourself. No I’m not avoiding the question! I’m not answering that because I don’t wanna. Do you want me to finish the damned story or not? That’s more like it.
“You look awful small to be talking so big,” the shadowed figure returned, and before I could put the bitch in her place, a pair of green eyes met mine, a familiar face emerging.
“I thought you’d decided to shack up with that Shin-Ra clown,” I announced casually. Was that just an attempt at saving face? Hell yes.
She laughed, the sound full, echoing off the walls. “You men are all the same.”
Heh, she called me a man. Score one for the home team. “I’m not like any man you’ve ever known.”
“I see,” she returned, the skepticism in her voice poorly masked. “Let’s find out.”
She pulled a pair of keys from her hand bag, heading for a room, casting a ‘come hither’ glance back at me. I stood, frozen to the ground for what felt like an eternity. She had rented a room, she wanted me to go in with her. Damn I was good. I smiled at last, patting myself on the back as I followed her inside.
“So she just met you and slept with you?” An unbelieving squeak broke in, Elena’s big, innocent eyes blinking quickly.
“I didn’t say that, did I?” the red head demanded in agitation. Was she not going to let him just tell the damned story? She had asked to hear it in the first place!
“But, you made it sound like--” the blonde trailed off, now looking confused.
“She has a point, Reno.” the larger of the three announced. Rude, who looked cool and disinterested as ever to the common eye, lifted his beer to his lips, taking a long drink.
Reno flashed a grin to his friend, as if sharing some secret with the larger male. “Hey, I’m telling a damned story. I was sixteen at the time, standing in front of a shady hotel with a beautiful woman, what else was I going to be thinking?”
Rude nodded in acknowledgement of the point.
“So, you didn’t?” Elena questioned. Just when she thought she had Reno figured out, he pulled something different.
“Nope,” the red head announced, finishing off his drink and sliding it across the table.
“So what did you do?” the blonde asked, leaning further forward. Well, if this wasn’t going to be all dirty, it might be interesting.
“We talked,” Reno announced, brows knitting at the reactions that gained him. “What the hell? We did. She wasn’t interested in a kid like me. She was nineteen, already a woman, or very nearly one, depending on how you look at it. She’d been on the streets for a year, longer than I had, and had been a hell of a lot more successful. She took a liking to me, in that annoying kid brother way,” he continued, face curling into a look of disgust as he relayed the last part.
“That’s kinda cute,” the female announced, a giggle in her voice.
“Shut up,” Reno snapped, icy blue eyes falling harshly on her. It was not cute, damn it! “Anyway, she took me under her wing. She helped me make it. We were partners in crime for two and a half years, we were invincible. We ran amuck in the Midgar Slums, jumping from Sector to Sector, causing the police and Shin-Ra itself more hell than they wanted to admit.”
“Did you call her ‘Sissy’?” Elena laughed again.
Reno looked as if he wanted to throw his glass at her. Damn she could be obnoxious! Rude fought back another chuckle, but kept himself quiet.
“I called her Angel,” Reno announced, tilting his chair back, propping his feet up on the table. “She hated it. Her name was Deborah. Deborah! What a fucking awful name for a bad-ass, street wise woman! It’s way the hell too long, Debbie sounds too girly and Deb isn’t feminine at all. But those tattoos gave me the perfect excuse.
“Things were perfectly legit for two years, until my eighteenth birthday.” A slight grin pulled at his lips, his eyes focused on something in the distance as he spoke. “I became a man in more ways than one that night. And life went on. We drove the authorities, and each other, mad. Another half a year slipped by, and there was a strange stirring in the air...”
“They’re still not admitting to hiring them,” Angel announced, shaking her head. She was laying in bed, stretched out on her stomach, chin resting upon her arms. Her bare feet were tucked under a pillow, the rest of her wrapped up in the sheets.
“Who?” I questioned, only half interested, really. She was always watching the news, she was addicted to it, but I really did not understand her fascination. I sat beside her, tracing the black feathers painted on her back with a finger.
“I’m not sure what they’re called,” she announced, shaking her head, shifting onto one elbow to look at me. “Shin-Ra keeps a group of spies and assassins, I know they employ them, but they’ve got such a strangle hold over the media that I can’t find much information on them.”
“Why do you care?” I questioned, really not caring myself. “Think they’re after us or something?”
“No, Reno, don’t you see?” she demanded, looking flustered. “That’s our ticket out of the Slums! That’s what I’ve been trying for, all this time. Shin-Ra needs a connection with the Slums, someone who knows the low-lives down here, who is smart enough to deal with the forked tongued politics up there, and someone who is good enough to get a job done, and get it done quietly.”
That’s the trouble with women. You can be with them forever, and right when you think you both have the same goals in mind, they pull this shit on you. “You want to work for Shin-Ra?” I sputtered in disbelief. “That giant company you’ve been pulling shit against since before I knew you? The ones you always refer to ‘those Communist bastards‘?” And women wonder why we say we do not understand them.
She shrugged her shoulders, looking way too damned innocent, murmuring, “I wouldn’t mind working for them if they paid me to do fun things. Besides, as long as you give them hell and they keep giving you a pay check, aren’t you the winner?”
And that was why I loved that woman. The only person alive that thought on the same wavelength as I did. “You’re a genius,” I announced.
“You loved her?” a rather high-pitched squeak sounded. “That’s sooooooo cute!”
“Rude, if she does that again, will you break her legs?” Reno muttered, raking a hand though his messy hair.
“I believe it’s against company policy to break the legs of coworkers,” Rude returned flatly.
“Damn,” Reno muttered.
“Well, go on!” Elena chirped, quite upbeat at the thought that Reno had a true love out there somewhere.
“Fine, but don’t interrupt,” the red head growled. “She told me her plan then, to catch Shin-Ra’s attention one final time. She was going to get hired if it killed her, and I was coming along for the ride.
“Shin-Ra was unveiling it’s newest invention later that week, it was a vehicle with an entirely redesigned engine. It was the pride of the Shin-Ra, and supposedly the President himself was coming for the occasion. We were going to hijack the vehicle and drive it right out from under their noses.”
“That was a risky plan,” Rude announced, shaking his bald head a little.
“Shut up, Rude,” the shorter male snapped, greatly annoyed by that comment, it seemed. “It was brilliant. We made our plans that night, and sealed our commitment in blood.”
“In blood?” Elena chirped.
The red head nodded, lifting one thumb and running it over the pink scar of his left cheek. “We both took my knife, we each marked beneath our left eye to prove our commitment to each other and our trust in each other. Then she came into my arms, blood still staining her cheek, she told me she loved me one last time, and we spent the night in each other’s arms. The sun rose the next day, and we set out to make history.”
“What happened to her?” Elena asked softly, suddenly not so entirely she liked this story.
Reno heaved a sigh, letting his eyes drop, feet pulling off the table top and returning to the floor again. “Things did not go as planned. The area was more heavily guarded than we expected, and....”
His voice trailed off, pausing in his story to take a breath. Elena’s eyes widened, suddenly turning toward Rude, as if to ask if this were true or not. Rude, however, had his head half way bowed, studying his beer bottle silently, obviously trying to hide his reaction.
“She didn’t survive. I watched her fall, I tried to help her, but I had to save myself. I escaped with my life and mark on my arm where a bullet grazed me. We’d achieved our goal, Shin-Ra knew and feared us, but she didn’t live to see the news reports telling of our glory.
“I sat at home, that night, and picked up my old knife. The one that started it all, the one that had left marks upon both our faces. Wincing, I added another to my own, in memory of her.” He lifted a hand again, this time running his thumb across the scar on his right cheek. “In memory of my Angel... The next day Shin-Ra hunted me down, gave me the option of joining the Turks, or of rotting in jail. I did what Angel would have wanted, I joined. And I’ve been a Turk ever since.”
Reno took in a long breath then, rising and raking a hand though his hair, keeping his eyes lowered. “I should be getting home,” he announced. He seemed rather shaken by recounting the tale.
“Wait!” Elena said quickly scrambling to her feet, reaching to wrap her arms about the lean male’s waist. “I’ll walk you home,” she offered softly, trying to comfort the obviously still grieving male.
“All right,” he murmured, seeming to hardly notice, though he did put an arm about her shoulders.
Elena started for the door, keeping one arm about the red head’s waist, not noticing as that icy blue gaze shifted back toward the third member of their little party, a wide, devilish grin seizing Reno’s features. “Night, Rude.”
Rude sat, finishing off his beer and setting it atop the table as he watched the pair exit. Only then did he allow a long repressed smile to break across his features. How Reno could come up with bull shit stories like that at the drop of a hat was beyond him. And how they always worked never failed to amaze him. Well, he had warned Elena that it was not what she wanted to hear, but Reno had gotten what he wanted out of it.
“I guess it’s true,” he murmured, chuckling a little as he tossed down a few Gil to cover the drinks. “He really is that good.”