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Variations Chapter 9

Al Niente

Veld was waiting for us when we got back to the Shinra building. It was ten in the morning, Midgar's time, and he ordered us all straight to the lounge, except for Reno, who he went with to the infirmary on the forty-seventh floor. The Shinra building has an awful lot of facilities, I've realized. A lot of which are there so we never really have to leave home.

We waited in the lounge for Veld. Tseng was pacing. I guess he must have been terribly nervous. After all, we'd directly disobeyed company charter. We were on very shaky legal ground, according to our contracts. I just prayed the Company would take us back, despite the fact that we'd resigned.

Rude cleared his throat. "Well. Hopefully Commander Veld takes into account the fact that we didn't get killed."

Tseng sighed and continued pacing. "I hope we aren't fired," he said anxiously. "You realize that if we are, we revoke the pardons we earned when Shinra hired us? I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm looking at five to ten years in prison if I get fired. Not to mention my family losing their only source of income.

"Calm down, Tseng," Cyr said soothingly from where she was sitting on the couch with St. Andrew. She'd bandaged the graze to his side on our way back to Midgar and had apparently earned an admirer, given the way St. Andrew kept looking at her.

Samantha chewed her lower lip. "You...you don't really think they'd do something like that, would they?" I glanced at Samantha, surprised. I had no idea she had any kind of criminal record. Though maybe it was for embezzlement or something like that. I really couldn't imagine Samantha committing a regular kind of crime.

Rod scowled blackly. "I am not going to jail for the sake of that bastard," he snarled. "I knew I shouldn't have gone along with the whole thing."

"Oh, come now, Rodney," Rafe chided. "We were willing to risk our lives for a friend. A few years in prison is a comparatively small price to pay, when one considers that we all could've been killed."

"That's true," St. Andrew agreed fervently. "I really wouldn't have liked dying."

Cyr shrugged. "You won't know if you like it until you try it."

The elevator doors opened after about fifteen minutes of waiting and Veld entered, looking around the room. "Ah, good. You're all here. Take your seats, please," he requested, nothing in his tone belying his intentions.

I hesitantly sat down next to St. Andrew on the couch. "We're going to be lectured," he muttered. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed he had his hand on Cyr's knee. That was a new development, but it made a heck of a lot more sense than Samantha and Rodney.

Veld folded his arms across his chest. "Yes, St.Andrew, there is going to be a lecture. In the Company's eyes you've all acted reprehensibly. The risks you took were obscene. And you think that a little note tacked to your letters of resignation is all it takes for you to get away with it? Shinra refuses to lose you that easily. Why do you think there is a line in the company charter regarding situations like this? The company has invested far too much in you for you to be throwing your lives away in reckless endeavors like these. In the Company's estimation, you should all be demoted."

I winced. Demotion. It had been worth it, it had definitely been worth it, but still being bumped down a rank was a blow.

"However," Veld continued, holding up a hand when he saw how dejected we all must have looked. "That is only in the Company's estimation. I refuse to demote any of you. In the Company's eyes, what you did was senselessly jeopardize one of their investments... your own lives. In mine, you did what you felt you had to in order to save the life of a comrade and friend. Shinra criticizes you for taking these kinds of risks. I commend you."

Veld cleared his throat. "Years and years ago...probably before some of you were even born...the Turks were a freelance organization. We were mercenaries. Our loyalties lay, not to a faceless corporation, but to our comrades. There are times when I miss those days. There were fewer rules, and things were much simpler. Having agents like you...who understand the value of the life of one of their own...makes me feel that those days are not truly gone. I am proud of you."

I'm sure I wasn't the only one who felt a rush of pride. To say nothing of gratitude and relief. Commander Veld was smiling. He really was pleased with us for what we'd done.

Veld cleared his throat. "Despite my personal feelings, though, Shinra expects me to deliver a rather stinging lecture about how irresponsibly you have behaved. And, since I already have a rather lengthy rebuke prepared on just how thoughtless your behavior was, I might as well give it. Just so long as you know that I will mean very little of what I say."

And so he lectured us. Loud and long, for about half an hour. Even knowing he didn't mean any of it, it was a tough thing to listen to. Commander Veld has a remarkable talent for oratory and I even felt a little guilty by the time he was done.

"Thank you all for putting up with that," he said when he was finished, straightening the cuffs of his suit jacket. "I'd appreciate it if you could all try to look suitably cowed the next time a Shinran official sees you, and if you could refrain from doing anything too terribly stupid for the next week or so, that would help."

"Yes, sir," we all murmured dutifully.

"Uh...sir?" Tseng called, as Veld turned to leave. "How's Reno doing?"

Veld turned back around. "He's all right. Tired. Very, very tired. He was not treated well. The doctor says he should be better after a few days in bed and after that, he'll be off for a month or so with a broken arm. But he'll heal. We all do."

"Right. When will we be able to see him?"

Veld shrugged. "I don't honestly know. He was asleep when I left. I would give him a few hours to come out of whatever they put him under with. I'll have someone keep you posted. For now, the lot of you get cleaned up and relax. I'm considering suspending you, just so you all get a decent break."

Tseng nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"Well!" St. Andrew said brightly, once Veld had left. "That went pretty well."

Rude nodded in agreement. "Indeed. We were lucky. Anyone else would've fired the lot of us."

Tseng sighed and yawned. "Well, I'm going home. Morgan will be worried, and I feel like I haven't seen Dakota in years. If anyone goes to see Reno, give him my regards."

"Bye, Tseng," Rafe called, getting up and stretching in his own turn. "I think I'll go get some sleep, myself."

"Y-yeah...me too," I agreed, getting up. I did feel tired. Sleeping while sitting up on the ride back home had left me sore and stiff and not really rested. I headed back to my apartment, took a long shower, and then had a nap.

*

It was much later in the evening when there was a knock on my door. I'd since gotten up from my sleep, had something to eat, and was looking for something to watch on TV...an old movie, or something of the like, when there was a knock on my door.

I got up and answered it. Cyr was there, in jeans and a t-shirt, her long hair tied back in a ponytail. "Reno's awake. Did you want to come see him?" she asked, getting right to the point.

"O-oh...I don't know. I didn't really think he'd wake up today..." I hedged, embarrassed. For some reason even I wasn't quite clear on, I was nervous to see him.

Cyr evidently picked up on this, as she looked at me strangely. "He's all right. Do you get nervous, visiting people in hospitals?"

"No...no, I don't." I couldn't explain it. I suddenly had an overpowering reluctance to go anywhere near Reno. I didn't even know why. I was scared of something, but I had no idea what it could be.

"Rosalind..." Cyr began slowly, then stopped. "May I come in for a cup of tea?" she questioned politely.

I arched an eyebrow. "Well, that depends. Are you going to drug it again?"

Cyr laughed. "No, not this time. I apologize for that, Rosalind. But sometimes people need to be persuaded that it's time for them to sleep."

"All right, then." I wasn't entirely sure what Cyr wanted, but it would be nice to talk to someone. I headed into the kitchen and put a kettle of water on the stove, while Cyr seated herself at my kitchen table. "What type of tea would you like?" I asked hesitantly. I don't have people over very often. Actually, I think I've only ever had people in my apartment twice, and never on invitation.

"Chamomile, if you have. Anything will do, though," Cyr answered, tenting her fingers and watching me pensively.

I felt her stare as I moved around the kitchen, getting out a teapot and cream and sugar. It made me anxious and clumsy and on more than one occasion I nearly dropped whatever I was carrying. Finally, after several miraculous catches of things I knocked off the shelves, I managed to serve tea and a plate of cookies.

"Thank you," Cyr said simply, accepting her cup of tea and dropping a sugar cube in, stirring it thoughtfully. She lifted it to her lips and blew on it gently, before taking a tiny sip. She nodded once, satisfied, and leaned back in her chair, examining me again.

I squirmed, nervously, and stared at the plate of cookies. I didn't know whether Cyr expected me to make conversation or not, but if she did I was afraid she'd be disappointed.

I hadn't voiced any of these thoughts and Cyr had been watching me curiously while I sat and thought. "You're a very shy person, aren't you Rosalind?" she asked finally, after studying me for a few minutes.

"W-well...yes, I guess so. I've tried not to be, but it's hard sometimes. I'm not...accustomed to people treating me like a friend."

Cyr nodded sympathetically. "Hard childhood?"

I shrugged. "Not hard so much as...removed. The military was my life from a relatively early age. I learned a lot about rank and discipline. At first I rebelled against it, but eventually it became my way of life."

"You're shy...closed...slightly rigid," Cyr murmured, almost to herself. "So why Reno?"

I froze. I didn't know how to answer this. All of a sudden, someone had seen to the very heart of something I wasn't even fully in touch with myself. "I don't know what you mean," I whispered, frightened by the fact that Cyr knew one of my most personal secrets. "H-honestly, Cyr, I..."

"Rosalind," Cyr interrupted gently. "I'm not trying to attack you. I don't mean to be invasive. I just know what I see and I know the attractions between people. I want to understand."

"I really don't know what you're saying," I said miserably, burying my face in my hands.

Cyr backed off slightly. "Would you like me to explain? I can use an example. You know, of course, about Rod and Samantha? About what's between them?"

I nodded and felt a hot rush of anger. How could she think that my feelings were anything like Samantha's? Samantha was too different from me. Maybe, sometimes she could have bursts of unexplainable compassion, but her relationship with Rodney made so little sense to me, it couldn't possibly be the same thing.

"You know the 'what' of Rod and Samantha. You don't understand the 'why.'" Cyr leaned forward in the chair she'd taken, her elbows resting on the table and her slender fingers tented in front of her once again. I thought she looked like a psychiatrist. "First, consider where Samantha has come from. Her family is wealthy. Socially elite, as it were. Her world is one of fine and beautiful things. A world where what she wants is showered upon her and one way or another she always gets her way. Also, a world of unwritten rules and codes of conduct. A place where certain things are simply not done."

"I come from rules and codes," I muttered, remembering growing up in the slums. There were things you didn't do. You didn't mess with the pimps, or the drug dealers, or the thieves. You didn't go out past midnight, you didn't talk about the upper plate, and if your father happened to be a successful Shinran, you didn't talk about him either.

"A world of tangible rules and codes, with reasons behind them. Her rules are obscure and ethereal. Half the time she isn't sure if what she's doing is permissible to the people she considers her betters."

I didn't understand what she was trying to explain. All I understood so far that Samantha was a snot. "I don't know what you're getting at, Cyr."

Cyr held up a hand. "I'm not done yet. Samantha is attracted to Rod because he breaks rules. He lives a life where he doesn't have to care what anyone thinks, and, in her attraction to him, she's breaking rules herself. When Samantha looks at Rod she thinks 'I'm not supposed to touch him, but...oh...what would happen if I did?' It's an escape. A release. She probably likes rough sex, too."

I blushed at this. I'm still a virgin and talking casually about these things embarrasses me. "I still don't understand..."

"Well, Rod is just the same. When he's with Samantha, it's akin to a child playing with china. He knows he's breaking boundaries and that's why he likes it. Samantha is like a porcelain doll up on a shelf. Exquisite and cool, not something to be played with. Unfortunately, I think the only thing that goes through Rod's head when he looks at Samantha is 'sex.' I sincerely doubt he's looking for a relationship. I could be wrong, though. Sadly enough, in either case, I don't think they'll work out."

I was surprised by how confident Cyr sounded about this. "What do you mean? How do you know?"

Cyr shook her head. "They're too different. Eventually, when they attempt to make this something serious, they won't be able to find a middle ground between their worlds. Samantha is still governed by the disapproval of those of her class, and Rod is afraid of civilization. Either she'll attempt to make him live the sheltered, beautiful way she does and he'll balk, or he'll try and show her the harsh reality of his world, and she'll run away in fear and disgust. One way or another, they won't be able to push each other."

"O-oh..."

Cyr shrugged. "Well, it doesn't really matter. They're young. They'll get over it. The point I'm trying to make is that they see something in each other."

"What do you see in St. Andrew?" I asked, almost hoping that I might catch Cyr off guard and make her change the subject.

"A challenge," Cyr answered immediately, with a slow, easy smile. Apparently she isn't as bashful about her feelings as I am.

"I suppose, with you, it must be true that opposites attract," Cyr mused, moving right along. "As I said, you're shy and reticent and rather stiff. Reno is outgoing and forward and one of the loosest people I know. He also thinks the world of you."

"H-how do you know that?" I stammered, past the point of caring whether or not I was admitting my feelings to Cyr. She knew, regardless of how I tried to hide it.

Cyr shrugged. "Reno's easy to read. He's open and he doesn't feel the need to keep his feelings to himself. He's bypassed all the emotional maneuvering most people do, to try and get themselves to the higher ground. If he's angry, you'll know about it. If he's happy, he wants to share it with people. When he cares about someone, they know."

"W-well..."

"Oh, Rosalind, surely you understand you're important to him?"

I lifted a spoonful of tea from my cup and let it pour back in again. "He seems to care about a lot of people," I answered finally, remembering what Cyr had said the last time we'd talked. "I'm not any different from anyone else."

"Ah," Cyr murmured understandingly. "That would make it hard for you, I suppose. It is different, though, between you and him. Can't you tell? You're someone he's responsible for. He's never had that kind of a relationship with anyone, and so he's protective of you. Maybe even a little possessive. I'd bet anything there was more than just indignation at Rufus giving you orders going through his head when he attempted to kill our beloved leader's son."

Rude had told me about that. I winced. "He's lucky he didn't get in serious trouble for that."

Cyr chuckled and sipped her tea thoughtfully. "Rosalind, why don't you come see him? I can't tell why you won't...are you still mad? Are you afraid he's still mad? You were fine with each other in Cosmo Canyon. What's different now?"

Cosmo Canyon had been different. Cosmo Canyon had been a mission. I'd had an objective and protocol to follow. I was back home now, and in unfamiliar territory. Unfamiliar social territory. "I...oh, I don't know. I just...I don't know what to do. I'll go see him later maybe."

Evidently, that hadn't been what Cyr wanted me to say. She sighed. "Rosalind, would you like to know why I'm really here?" she asked honestly.

"Uh...?" Cyr was a straightforward person. It didn't seem like her to have ulterior motives.

Cyr paused. "You know how it is, when Reno's depressed? How it's just about the saddest thing in the world to be around him? It's like kicking a puppy. Terrible. It makes a person feel really, really lousy."

I nodded slowly. I knew what she meant. So it isn't just me who picks up on it when he's upset.

Cyr continued. "You're right. There are a lot of people he cares about. And it's very important to him that people feel the same way. Everyone's been down to see Reno. Everyone except you. Even Tseng came by with his daughter. Naturally, he's taking that to mean he's done something wrong."

"O-oh...well, I..."

Cyr held up a hand, cutting me off. "I know it's not your fault. You had a fight and you aren't sure if things are patched up or not. The reason I'm down her is because he asked me to come and tell you he's sorry."

I blinked, surprised. "Sorry? For what?"

"I don't think he's entirely sure, either. For everything, I guess. I don't know. Just please, go talk to him. You seem to be pretty good at cheering him up."

I gave in. I didn't have a good reason not to go, anyway. "Well...all right. I'll try, at least."

Cyr smiled warmly. "Good. Thank you. I'm sure he'll be glad to see you."

I got up and glanced a little ruefully at my untouched cup of tea. Oh well. I don't particularly care for it anyway. "Well...umm...thanks for coming over, Cyr," I said hesitantly. I didn't know if it was the right thing to say. There hadn't been any classes in etiquette at the Academy.

Cyr laughed and embraced me. "You're welcome," she answered. "I'll see you later, all right?"

I nodded as she left. "Right. Good bye, Cyr." And then I was standing alone in my apartment, second-guessing myself and getting nervous again. Finally, I sighed and glanced in the mirror in the hallway. I looked at least semi-presentable in jeans and a sweater. I ran my fingers through my hair a few times. It was getting long. I'd have to get a haircut at some point in time.

Chiding myself for stalling, I pushed open the door of my apartment and stuffed my hands in my pockets. Keeping my head down, I strode quickly down the hallway and across the lounge, thankfully not running into anyone. I didn't need to be distracted.

I stepped on the elevator and jabbed the button for the forty-seventh floor. I wished the ride were longer, then kicked myself for the thought. I just had to do this. I had no reason to be so worried.

The elevator stopped at the forty-seventh floor with a chime and I stepped off into the clean, bright hospital. I blinked. The white linoleum and harsh fluorescent lighting were such a change from the warm, muted tones of our floor. Hesitantly, I crossed the waiting room. The Shinra infirmary is just like a small hospital. It's part of the company's insurance policy that employees can be treated here. It's also a very convenient place for us Turks, being that we're constantly getting hurt.

I went up to the reception desk. The nurse looked up before I had a chance to say anything. "Here to see Reno?" she asked, nodding. "I hoped he would have another visitor soon. He seems lonely and terribly sad. None of us can get him to perk up. Poor boy."

I nodded. Now I knew why I didn't want to see him. Guilt. Of course. It's always some kind of guilt with me. "Uh...which room is he in?"

The nurse leaned over her desk and pointed down the hallway to my right. "Down there, third door on the right. Knock first, so you don't surprise him. If he's sleeping, you might want to come back later. He's been through some terrible strains these past few days."

"Yeah. So I've heard." That didn't make me feel much better. It had been my fault, after all. "Thanks for your help."

"Any time, dear," the nurse answered, looking back to her paperwork as I headed down the hall. I meandered down the corridor, stopped in front of the door, hesitated, then knocked softly and pushed it open a crack. "Sir?" I called, looking into the room.

Reno looked up at me, when I half-stepped into the room. Apparently I'd interrupted him in the middle of picking little fuzz balls off of the blanket on his bed. "Rookie! Uh...I didn't think you'd...I mean..."

"Are you busy, sir? I could come back later, if you wanted..." I offered hesitantly. I didn't see how on earth he could be busy, but I didn't really know what else to say.

"Oh...umm...no, I don't mean that...I just didn't really expect you to come. I...uh..." Reno trailed off and stared at the blanket. I remained standing awkwardly at the door. "I'm sorry," he said finally, resuming picking at the fuzzes. "I'm really sorry, rookie. I just..."

"Sorry for what, sir?"

Reno shifted uncomfortably, a little clumsily, with only his left hand to maneuver with. His right was encased in a plaster cast from wrist to elbow. "For...for screwing everything up for you. I was a real jerk and I'm sorry."

"You didn't screw anything up for me, sir," I answered honestly.

"Aww, hell, rookie...yes, I did. The whole thing with Rufus...and then Cosmo Canyon...I was just...I dunno. Jealous or something. I dunno."

I hesitantly moved away from the door and pulled a chair up next to the bed. "Well, sir...with the whole Cosmo Canyon thing...I really shouldn't have gone in the first place. I'm sorry, sir."

Reno shrugged. "It was Rufus telling you to go, rookie, you couldn't very well've said 'no'..."

"Of course, I could've. We can always say 'no', sir. It's one of the things that makes us different from other mercenaries," I explained.

"I didn't really mean it in that sense. I mean..." Reno paused before continuing. The brief silence spoke volumes. "He's your boyfriend. And I...I shouldn't have tried to screw things up for you two. I never thought it might be different. I mean...hell, I dunno the way Rufus treats women. Maybe he was different with you."

"Oh, sir..."

Reno interrupted. "And I'm sorry I hit him. And tried to kill him. I wasn't thinking."

I shook my head. "I'm not sorry, sir. I'm just sorry I didn't listen to you. I could've saved everyone a lot of trouble if I had."

"Well, no..."

"I mean it, sir," I insisted. "It's not your fault this time. You were right the entire time, but I just wouldn't listen. I'm sorry, sir. I never wanted any of this to happen, but I let it get out of hand. If I'd just stopped and listened, none of this ever would've happened. We wouldn't have had a fight, I wouldn't have gone to Cosmo Canyon, you wouldn't have gone to Cosmo Canyon...you wouldn't have gotten hurt like this...oh, sir, I really am sorry..."

I trailed off and lowered my head. There were tears in my eyes and brushed them away irritably. I hadn't expected to end this whole thing with crying. Of course, it was absolutely typical of me.

I felt Reno watching me. I blushed and sniffled. "Aww, rookie..." he said softly, reaching out and pressing his good hand against my face for a few moments. I'm sure my cheeks must have felt hot, because I was blushing like crazy. "Let's just agree," he began, wiping away a tear that slipped down my cheek with his thumb, "that we're both stupid, and we're both sorry, and we both just wanna put the whole thing behind us, okay?"

"You mean it, sir? Even after all I said?" I asked tearfully, looking up.

Reno smiled. "Hey. If you can forgive me for what I said, then it's no big deal for me to put what you said behind me."

I managed a watery smile. "Thank you, sir."

"Aww, rookie, c'mere..." Reno held out a hand and grabbed my upper arm, pulling me close. "Gimme a hug, rookie. That's an order."

I laughed and returned the embrace, as gently as I could. He'd been hurt pretty badly, after all. I could feel the tenseness of his muscles through his t-shirt and tentatively rubbed a hand up and down his back. And he ran his fingers through my hair and kissed me. And I closed my eyes and let him. And everything felt the best that it had in a long, long time.

*

When I started writing this, I talked about choices. About how, when it comes down to it, it's the choices we make, the ones that affect our lives and the lives of others, that we really have to think about. I think now that it's not so much about choices as it is about the feelings we have behind the choices. How much we care about the people around us, and how much they care about us. How badly we hate our enemies for the injustice they're inflicting upon the world. How we feel about our mistakes, and about forgiveness.

I talked about understanding, too. About how there are so few people in this world who really understand us-who really understand me. I realize that it doesn't matter that there aren't a lot of them. What's important is that there are some. It's important that there are maybe seven or eight people (or even just one person) who know what it's like to live a life of protecting innocents; what it's like to be afraid at night, about what's going to happen the next day; and to make the kinds of decisions we do. If I've found just one person who understands this, then I think I can keep going. I think I'm going to be all right.

~Finis~


All That Glitters Is Cold 2 Fanfic Competition
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