By Tiger

A lone man in a blue suit walked slowly through the woods, ignoring as the ever unhygienic nature dirtied his uncharacteristically clean blue jacket with dripping water and scraping branches. In fact, his eyes weren’t even aware of the area above, or even directly around- simply below. His eyes were glued to the forest floor as he walked, tracing every mud imprinted line that had creased the soles of the red sneakers that had passed here. The lines around them were sharp, wet, new.

She had been here, recently.

Somehow this didn’t come as the biggest surprise in the world to him. Since he’d first met her, that had seemed to be the way his life had worked. One of them was always running into the other, more than rarely in the literal sense. If he arrived somewhere important and she wasn’t there waiting, with that smart ass grin on her face, then she would arrive soon enough, and he would have to greet her with his own.

She must have been materia hunting here. Mideel was, after all, one of the few prime places in the world left for that very activity. Largely unexplored, and the place was so steeped with mako that you could strike it like oil if you dug deep enough. Old joke, he reckoned, about Soldiers... it mirrored that very statement. Cut one of the blue clad enforcers deep enough and you’d see something bright green and liquid.

He wondered briefly if she’d been successful, then dismissed the thought. She was always successful. A hawk rarely missed its mouse in an open field, and a place like Mideel was about as open as it got for her particular profession. Her keen eyes missing one of the shining crystal orbs would be like himself walking past a bar without even noticing. Not in this life time. Or at least this state of soberness.

Reno froze in his tracks. Sitting in front of him, almost in the dead center of the path, sat a cool blue orb.

Not trusting his own senses, he bent over to pick it up, never letting his gaze leave the surface of the perfectly smooth ball. Only when the tips of his fingers touched the cold rock did he admit to himself that it was true, and he quickly plucked it from the ground like a child who had found an Easter egg, and was ready to stuff it into his basket. But instead, he polished it on his white undershirt, changing the color to light brown as he unheedingly wiped the mud off the materia on his own clothes.

He had no idea what the hell it did, magic had never been a talent of his. She had tried to explain it to him once- not the concept, but the reason for his failure, which was so typical of her. She said that it wasn’t enough to hold the right materia and say the right things, you had to believe what you were saying, you had to have faith that what you were trying to make happen would.

When it came to faith, his cup did not exactly runneth over.

Blue, blue, blue... he ran over it in his mind, trying to remember. Formed from an incomplete strain of mako, so it was always searching for more, always searching for a companion. That’s why you had to use it with another piece for it to have any effect. That’s what he’d been told anyway, what she had told him. Personally, he thought it was bullshit, but it was nice to ask a question like that and not have it answered in a two hundred page data print out from a lab for once.

He stared into the center of the materia, remembering that was how you started the process. Stupid, he reckoned, he didn’t have anything to combine it with, but it wasn’t like he could make it work anyway. But he liked staring into them, the sudden dizzy feeling so akin to inebriation it gave its only redeeming feature, in his estimation. You felt like it was sucking you in, trying to eat you alive, and you had to fight it, a private battle between your mind and a hunk of crystal over who would control you. Honestly, he didn’t care who won.

This world wasn’t his. Materia, spells, powers that didn’t come from yourself, or the tip of your Tigerstar .58 pistol. It was almost like a cheat, having something handed to you that you didn’t earn or fight for. It was stealing, even if it was only stealing from nature, an act he admitted he took part in every time he sat down in a wooden chair, or smoked a cigarette. Maybe he should quit, he reckoned. Sitting, of course.

No, this was her world. A fantasy place. Something you’d read in a god damned picture book.

He looked into it, and he saw her. A princess. An actual, by god, authentic princess. There was a reason there was only continent in the world that followed hereditary leadership, and that’s because it’s about as pointless and wasteful as slipping the town whore a mickey. You could inherit your eyes, your chin, even your tits from your parents... you could not inherit leadership.

He saw her family in it, even more royalty, even more members of her fantasy world.

He saw her defiance, in inability to follow the simplest command, even as she performed the most complicated tasks on her own.

He saw her expression, a smirk that dismissed everything, a tongue that then bashed it down, but eyes that would invite you back every time for a second helping.

He saw the sort of person he thought he hated, who had laughed at him, who he’d always prayed he would grow up to rule over and have revenge from.

But most of all, he saw himself. Not part of it, but just as deeply inside as the rest of them, buried in it, drowning in it because he was too stupid to kick his legs and reach the surface that was only inches above.

With a snap he closed his eyes tightly, locking his jaw to keep from screaming, penting up the rage inside his mind as if that would be enough to drive out the images and the feelings that he couldn’t accept but still knew, with entirety, that they were true. That no matter what he tried, or how hard he wished, he’d become part of her. And somehow, she’d become part of him as well.

Without opening his eyes, he let his grip slacken, and the materia slipped from his fingers, free falling to the mud below, where it landed in the same hole he had picked it out of. Just the way it had been dropped an hour before, from a shorter height, falling from the hands of a Wutain ninja who had gotten more than she bargained for when she looked into its depths.

Slowly, with his eyes on the ground, Reno continued to walk, following the footsteps.

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