The Fallen Chapter 11
Rory sat alone in one of the rooms of the cottage, that seemed to have been custom built for her tastes. Nice and wide on either side, stretching room, space to breathe, there would be no claustrophobia here like you felt when you were trying to sleep in the back seat of a car. But the ceiling was low, so you knew it was there, so you had something to lock onto and grasp as you lay in bed with your thoughts swirling around you at a thousand miles an hour. So... her room was roomy, but not too roomy. Whatever that meant.
A sharp tap came at her door, startling her out of her own thoughts. It had to be her brother, something about his knock always set itself apart as distinct. Loud as hell, even though he didnt really seem to hit the wood that hard, and not the firm smack of a teacher tapping your desk in school while you slept or the cops coming to do a raid in a house you were crashing in. Kind of like her room. You knew it was there, but it wasnt intrusive.
Which was actually quite unlike her brother, who was both of them.
She didnt tell him to come in. There wasnt really a need to. At their old house they hadnt exactly had doors, so a knock was just a five second indication to hide whatever bad thing she was doing so he wouldnt have to yell at her for it. If she wasnt quick enough, well, she deserved the lecture then. It would speed her up. On pure instinct, she allowed her eyes to scan the room, making sure a stolen razor or a pile of pills or something wasnt lying around in plain sight. Five seconds past, and the door creaked open, though even she had to admit Reno came in a lot slower than he used to.
"Hey kid," he said slowly, taking a seat next to her on the bed. Finally in a good light, Rory began to realize how truly tired Reno looked. And how old.
"Since when did you call me kid?" She slung the barb at him, hoping he would remember the old tradition of exchanging jibes. It was one of the only ways they could have a conversation.
"Since I got about twenty years older than you," Reno answered, taking her question at face value as he ran his hand back through his hair. Rory was horrified to catch the beginning sprouts of a few premature greys, an obvious by product of stress.
"Ah." Was all she could think of to say, and then hastily rearranged her position on the bed so she sat facing him. "Well then, Mr. responsible adult, can you tell me why you almost sucker punched the chick in the pink?"
Reno winced at the very recent memory. As almost all things that involved anyone on Gods green earth being anything but prostrated towards Aeris, Cloud had got into a big thing about wanting to cut his head off with a sword. It wasnt like hed done anything that over the top, and insults shouldnt count as anything anyway. After all, she *was* a stupid bitch, he didnt care what anyone said. "I just dont feel right about you going off with that Gabriel guy alone. I just found you again, Im not in a big hurry to have to bury you a second time."
"I dont know," Rory said quickly, trying to get the image of being buried out of her mind as fast as she could. "Aeris said he was... what? Training for your job before he got shot? Training as a Turk?"
"That doesnt exactly make me feel better," Reno said slowly, "though I am glad he didnt actually get the job. Of course, that *is* why he most likely got shot."
"Huh?" Rory asked, interested in a morbid sort of way.
"Old custom," Reno said simply, "that was disbanded before I joined up with them. The Turks had no connection to any larger company then, and you didnt give them a resume, they came to you. Of course, some times they come to you anyway, but thats besides the point..." Reno suddenly sighed in frustration. This wasnt really the topic he wanted to be discussing, it sounded like a really horrible movie. My Life as an Assassin. My Life as a Murderer. Ive Killed Children. Ugh.
"Theyd round up some of the biggest known gang members, train them up for about a month or two. Then, that night, theyd go to all of them- tell them that theyd won. But it wasnt that simple, the price of initiation was taking out every other candidate for the title before the strike of midnight. So they started their own little last man standing, and whoever came back still breathing and in control of most major limbs got the job. Im guessing Gabriel forgot to knock someone off, and they got to him first."
Rory stared at him in disgust. "So he would have what, been your teacher, if hed gotten in?"
Reno smiled at the bizarre thought of a fifteen year old picking him up off the streets and trying to teach him the tricks of being a Turk. "Maybe, maybe not," he said with a small grin, "or maybe Tsengs. I didnt really catch how old hed be today if he had been smart enough to wear a bullet proof vest. Actually, he probably would have been Tsengs, and thats why my boss always gets a really weird look on his face when he sees him. I unno."
There was a pause, which Reno used to figure out how thoroughly Rory had managed to lead him off subject.
"But still. I dont like the thought of you going trekking with him."
"Were going over some snow to pick up a few things to stab people with. I think your being a tad over protective. I should be the one worried your going to give me a little niece or nephew, going out with that Wutain girl." Rory jabbed again, hoping hed rise to the challenge. This time, he did.
"Listen, Aurora," he said slowly, trying to build before the shot, "just because you little whippersnappers can hear us wise folk, that doesnt mean you understand what we really mean." He gave her his best impression of a withered old man, like on of the few drunks on the streets who had made it to old age. They both managed to keep a straight face for roughly the time it took for them to replay what he had said in their minds, and then they both broke out laughing.
"Its going to be weird getting used to you being old enough to be my dad," Rory admitted, "not like you dont act like it anyway. So what else is new? Wait, let me guess. Youre a rich pimp who only whores out the prissy little bimbo girls who made fun of you twenty years ago?"
A flicker of a frown crossed Renos face, and Rory wasnt exactly sure what she had said wrong. Maybe she had just triggered an unhappy memory in her older- now by a considerable deal- brothers mind. She quickly scooted across the bed and put her hand on her arm, trying despite herself to be serious. It was just pretty damn hard to try to act grim when she was in the warmest, safest place that shed probably been in her entire life, or at least since she left the womb. And with stray bullets, abusive husbands, thrown bottles... no, this *was* the safest place she had ever been.
"Hey," she said reassuringly, "Ill be fine. And I was just kidding about the Wutain girl, shes too short for you anyway. The blonde one. Shes nice. You should try to hook up with the blonde one."
Reno snorted. "Elena? Shes ditzy, she hates smoking, and she belongs to Tseng." Reno paused in mid speech. "And I mean that literally. Im not sure he wants her, but the little girl Elena that I know will always belong to Tseng. Without him, shes just..."
Me, his mind told him.
"Cold." Is what he said out loud.
An awkward silence followed, as Rory tried to envision the skilled but off beat women as an assassin. It didnt work. In an effort to calm the silence, Reno hastily reached into his jacket, and pulled out a long black handle.
"Here," he said, sounding awkward. "This is for you. To take with you. As far as I know you arent going to run into anything unpleasant, but if you do, this should help a little."
He went to hand it to her, making an obvious effort to turn it sideways as he did. Rory had no idea until she grabbed it and went to pull it back with a quick squeeze, and six inches of thin steel popped out of the end facing away from that. Had Reno not turned it, it would have ended up in her palm.
"Wow," she said simply.
"Wow is right." Reno said. "That should never come out of your pack, understand? Ever. I mean it. Its meant for self defense, but even if a self defense situation arises, I dont want to know about it. You can do it, and you can use it, but I dont want to know about it. You understand me?"
Rory nodded, staring at the handle closely. It had been engraved with something, not carved into but around, so the image actually rose up from the handle. A long stemmed rose curled around it, long thorns jutting out on either side, dripping blood. The blossom of the flower spread out into the opening where the blade would emerge. At the very bottom, one word was written:
She looked slowly back up at Reno. "How long have you had this?" she asked.
"Bought it with my first pay check as a Turk," Reno said. "I didnt have a good knife, Tseng said I needed one, and since anyone who didnt have their own knife wasnt someone Shin Ra would ever hire any way, I had to buy it myself. I figured Id spring the few extra bucks."
Twisting her fingers sharply, Rory withdrew the blade back into the knife. Reno looked at her in shock, but amusement was obvious in the rims of his eyes. "And where did you learn to that?" he asked.
"Practiced with your old one whenever you forgot it back at the house and left. It was no where near as cool as this one though. Thank you."
Reno smiled, but it was bitter. Thank you were not words he got to hear very much when they were younger... well, when he was younger. He hadnt been able to give Rory very much to be thankful for. If they got through this deal with Hojo, he was going to start changing that immediately. Pony. A pony. He was going to buy her a by god pony, first thing. And ice cream. Lots of it.
"Sure thing, kid," he said. "You know, this is going to be quite a hike. The old chain smoker will be able to drop us all off close enough to where we need to go in a big blimp with rockets on it- and yes, the ride is just as fun as it sounds. I hurl everywhere, and if youre any blood relative of mine, you will to. But thats not the problem. The walk back is. All the way from the Icicle Inn mountains to Condor Towers? Its not exactly like we got a lot of moving excersise back home except when we were running from gun fire."
Rory smiled a wicked looking grin. "Well make it a race. After all, from that map Aeris showed us, all Gabriel and I need to do is cross a damn river. You guys are going to a whole other continent. I say the first people who make it there owes everyone else a round of beers."
Reno shot her a sharp look.
"...root beer for me." She allowed.
"I dont think were going to be in a drinking mood," Reno said slowly, trying to convince himself that such a mood actually exists. "Besides, your trying to trick me into a suckers bet. The Ava-brats and us Turks are crossing the damned ocean, and theyre the only ones keeping the Highwind. Thus, youre dealing with a bunch of incompetents with a plane and a bunch of brilliant minds without one."
Rory laughed. "Youre no fun anymore."
"I was never fun," Reno assured her, "and to prove it, Im going to say something Ive never actually said before. Go to bed. Tomorrow is a big day, and you have a hell of a lot of walking to do. Keep in mind Ill probably be going ballistic every ten seconds I think of you trudging through snow with that sawed off little smart ass, so try to hurry, will ya?"
Rory nodded smartly. Of course she would take exactly as long as she god damn well pleased, but there was no reason to speak that thought out loud- Reno had to know it anyway. He was just fulfilling this very unfitting parental role by trying to act like he could constrict her actions. If she wanted to hurry, she would hurry. If she wanted to rest a day for some hot chocolate and some skiing, she would do that to. Its not exactly like she was in a hurry to meet some mad scientist gone even worse.
Without another word, Reno left her there, images of soaring down an ice covered mountain at death defying speeds on a pair of wooden stakes with flimsy metal rods to steer with flying through her head. It didnt take her very long to decide that no, she would not be going skiing. Maybe she would hurry, after all.
Then, to her complete and utter surprise, she rolled under the covers of her bed, and went to sleep.
"How did they take it?" Rufus sounded less interested than awkward, as if the nine seconds of silence since Aeris had made her way into the room shed stowed them in had been unbearable. He leaned back against a rigid wooden chair, slowly cleaning the new 12 gauge Aeris must have picked up somewhere or other. It was heavier than his old gun, and he was sure it had a lot less accuracy and power, but thats the kind of thing you needed to deal with when you bought trash from civilians. Even his new jacket felt disturbingly scratchy...
"They took it." Aeris answered simply and cryptically. "Thats all I could really ask for. Of course, if things had started to go too badly, I probably could have marched the two of you out there to cause quite a stir."
"No doubt..." Zack glanced down the edge of his buster sword to make sure it was straight, and quickly plucked a bloody hair from the tip. It was going to take forever to get his weapon clean of those damned rats. If not longer.
"Listen, there is something Ive... heard, just recently, that I didnt get to tell you before I had to talk to them." Aeris fumbled over her words, not sure how to tell them shed gotten this new information without revealing that she hadnt been sent back to the Planet alone. Somehow, the thought of informing them the man who had tried to kill both of them was in this very house wasnt all that appealing.
Rufus glanced up from his weapon, his attention caught. He didnt like it when other people knew more than him. "Well?" he said impatiently, though she wouldnt have had time to tell them yet if shed wanted to.
"Its a side trip." She said. "That everyone needs to take. Different side trips. Your two side trip happens to fit together, so youll be traveling side by side once again."
The two men, president and soldier, shot each other an emotionless glance, and then looked back at Aeris. Neither of them objected.
"Yours is actually the oddest of the lot," Aeris admitted, "and Im not really sure how it came to be. Rufus, do you remember your underwater reactor?"
Rufus paused. "In Junon, yes. Why, are we going there?"
"Excuse me," Zack interrupted, "did you say underwater?"
Aeris seemed to pay him no heed. "Actually, no. Youre going to be going under it."
"What?" Rufus demanded. "There is no under it. Under it
is very wet sand and some sea shells, unless you get really deep and then
you would probably start running into rock, slate, molten lava, and if you
went even deeper than that, you would probably poke your head up into Wutain
"Uh, guys..." Zack tried again.
"Hojo secretly issued an order to the soldiers there to start mining downwards in your name. It was slow work, they only got a few hundred feet down in a years time, and its not very wide, but they got close to what they were looking for. Only a few more feet of sand and they would have found them."
"Found *what*!?" Rufus asked sharply, agitated how Hojo had been operating so many things without permission. He really should have kept that man on a shorter leash while he was still a man.
"Weapons," Aeris said simply.
Rufus froze. Images of the Diamond Weapon approaching the cannon in Junon, of the gunfire and rockets bouncing uselessly off its hide as it advanced, only to charge up its weapon and fire a direct hit into the room where Rufus stood. "Ive had quite enough dealings with Weapons on my life time, thank you very much." He told her coldly.
Aeris understood at once, and was apologetic. "No, no, I mean real weapons, though I am not sure what kind. They are sort of similar, though, they are from the planet, and I believe they are incredibly powerful. But you would be wielding them, not attacked by them."
"GUYS!" Zack suddenly barked out, interrupting the two of them and causing them to look over in shock.
"What!?" Rufus barked back, but Aeris simply responded with a simple nod, indicating he should say his piece.
"I am not going under water." Zack said firmly.
"Excuse me?" Rufus asked.
"Im not." Zack repeated. "Going under water. I dont do that. I dont swim. I dont go in boats. I dont do water, period."
Aeris pleaded quickly, "Zack, you need to understand..."
"No!" He argued, not letting her finish. "Look, I know how important this is, and I have a vague idea of whats at stake with all the traveling I did in Soldier. But I would be useless under water, Rufus would probably be better off going alone."
"Would it help if I told you that the tunnel you would be traveling down in is pitch black, so theres no way there would be enough light for you to even see that you were under water?" Aeris offered weakly.
"No," Zack answered stiffly, "Im not sure that would help me at all."
"...I knew it." Rufus voice, sounding odd, came from their left. Aeris reverted her attention to him.
"Knew what?" She asked.
"That Soldiers were soft," Rufus said simply.
"Rufus!" Aeris said in shock.
"What?" he asked. "There was a reason Avalanche was able to bust into our operations over and over again. Because the Soldiers werent fast enough to get there, and wouldnt have been strong enough to stop them if we had. Cowards. Look at Zack here, hes afraid of a little water."
The Gonganan began to rise angrily, growling, "You son of a..."
Rufus continued unabated. "It makes me wonder how people like Cloud managed to wash out without major genetic defects. It seems like the club was less exclusive than a local swimming pool..."
Rufus shot Zack a quick look.
"I apologize if that gave you the willies. Mentioning the pool, I mean."
Zacks mouth worked angrily and soundlessly for a moment, his knuckles white on the grip of his sword. He looked like he would have preferred very much to shiska bob the man right then and there, but something held him back. The desire to prove him wrong. He turned to Aeris.
"Im going," he said simply, and promptly exited into the second room she had given them to sleep in, managing not to slam the door loudly enough that it would invite investigation from other resides in the house. Aeris gave Rufus a long, hard look.
"Could you please tell me," she asked slowly, "why you did that?"
Rufus face remained absolutely cold for a moment, and then suddenly broke, and an arrogant smirk spread across his features, though Aeris was unsure whether or not that was just a mask for his smile. "It worked, didnt it?" He gave as his explanation. "I think getting this done is more important than having friends, is it not?"
After a moment of shaking her head, Aeris, too left, leaving Rufus alone in the room. He paused, and then resumed cleaning his gun.
"Some people are so sensitive..." he muttered under his breath.
Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic