[info]stopthatgirl7 wrote
on March 15th, 2009 at 09:51 pm

[fic] The Things You Never Knew About People - Roadtrip (9/12) pt 1

Title: The Things You Never Knew About People - Roadtrip
Status: 9/12 (plus two epilogues)
Fandom: FF7
Rating: PG
Word count: 14700-ish
Summary: Oh, I just told them to fuck their moms.
A/N: Look at me; I'm making up shit on the Wutai continent! XD Also, "Visgradian (Standard)" is English (I went back to edit the earlier chapters to retcon that in)--as I'm doing more with Gaia, I'm filling in pieces of things, like the way I've shamelessly made up stuff on Wutai. One of those things was naming the continents on Gaia, and Visgrad is the continent that Midgar is on. It comes from a mix of "Asgard" and "Visgrid," the plain where the battle before Ragnorak occurs. :D I won't touch much on it in this fic, but it has and will show up in other series and stories that I'm working on now--internal consistency FTW.

As for Wutai, here's what I made up for this fic, and it's also internal canon for all my fic. :D There are five provinces in Wutai, thus the 'Wu' in 'Wutai'--it's 'five' in Chinese (and I spent a LOT of time on the Chinese wiki, yo). The 'wu' in 'wuzi', however, is a different 'wu' character, and it's like 'hanzi', where the 'han' refers to the Han Chinese. The 'wu' refers to the Wu people. Also, the 'wu' for the Wu clan is a different character. Don't think about it too hard. >XD;; But the big thing for this fic is the locations. I researched, yo. I'm not gonna spill out everything, but any of y'all interested, you can either wait for the Author's Notes Ultimania on names, which will come out when chapter 10 is done...or do a search on Diyu and Taohuayuan (Táohūayuán). :D

Oh, and I'd advise going back and reading chapter 7, just because this takes off right where Chapter 7 ended.

...oh, god, now I have to write chapter ten. D:

Chapter 9 - Roadtrip


"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck," Reno said over and over again, sitting on the floor and pressing his hands against his head, ignoring the gun. "Fuck."

"Reno?" Rude said, for the first time that evening truly feeling disturbed. He had never seen Reno react like this; never seen Reno in any way unnerved by whatever violence was done in the ShinRa name. Reno had never flinched from doing anything, no matter how dirty the job. But now Reno was obviously off-balance and unnerved and, more frightening in its way, angry. Whatever this was, it was pure unbridled rage, and Rude had never once seen Reno like this. Professionalism, and Reno had it for all he seemed on the surface not to, had no part of this, whatever this was.

Pieces were starting to come together in Rude's mind, but there weren't enough to make things clear, only enough to make things more frustrating because there were so many pieces missing, and the pieces he had were speculation and nothing more.

Reno continued on his cursing rampage, oblivious to everything but his rage. "The Wu clan. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, FUCK!" he yelled, snarling. "I thought those fucks got run the fuck outta Midgar! Especially after--FUCK!"

He stood up and began pacing, completely ignoring the dead man, snarling more obscenities that were variations on the theme of "Fuck." After a few minutes, Reno whirled, fired more shots at the dead man until his gun cartridge was empty and only hollow clicks came out before he finally stopped, chest heaving raggedly. Then he shut his eyes, hard, and seemed to force himself to take a deep breath, and he didn't open his eyes until his face had run through a gamut of contortions, rage and fury and so many other things Rude couldn't identify before Reno seemed to pull himself relatively together, still with a fine tremor of rage vibrating beneath the surface. He opened his eyes and turned to Elena, who had been staring at Reno with wide eyes, looking as stunned as Rude felt. "Take care of that," he said, gesturing at Shi's body, then shoved his gun in his holster and practically threw himself out the door, pulling out his PHS as he went.

Rude shot Elena an apologetic look, and she smiled weakly, nodding once, then squared her jaw and turned to the corpse leaking blood and brain matter on the floor. Rude took this for what it was, express permission to go and assurances that she could, in fact, handle this, and he headed out the door after Reno.

Reno hadn't gotten far and was standing impatiently at the elevator, talking to someone on his PHS. "Get me every," Reno said, voice tight and sharp, "fuckin' scrap of info, I don't care how small or insignificant it is, what the fuck language it is in, fuckin' Wutai, Visgradian, Mideelian, whatever the fuck-ese, that we have on both the Wu and Li clans in Wutai. An' I want it in under thirty minutes. If it ain't on my fuckin' desk in thirty fuckin' minutes, you personally, whoever the fuck you are, are gonna wish your daddy had pulled out!" he finished, and slammed the phone shut, still breathing hard.

"Don't say nothin', man," Reno said, his eyes seeming like they were glowing, this time grey, from the grey coloring of everything around them, in Reno's pale face.

Rude nodded once, and turned to wait for the elevator. Once the elevator got there, they went in, and Rude faced the doors impassively, giving Reno space to turn and beat his fists angrily against the side, flinging himself in his rage from one side of the elevator to the other as it rose to the top levels, remaining calm as Reno raged.

Reno practically flung himself out of the elevator, then stopped short. "What the--" he began in confusion, frowning slightly. "What the fuck, man, this ain't our floor!"

"We need to talk to Tseng," Rude said, voice calm, watching as, on some level, Reno seemed to latch onto that one bit of normalcy. Rude had no idea what had set Reno off so badly, but it was obvious that the man needed a way to calm himself down. And no matter what was said about him, he had always been able to focus when it came down to, as he would put it, "getting shit done."

Now was a time to "get shit done," and Reno having it presented as such before him would hopefully give him the focus to calm down.

Later, however, would be a whole other story. But by then, there would be some distance.

--

As Rude had hoped, Reno did calm down once they were in front of Tseng, but not nearly enough for it to not be noticeable to anyone with eyes. Reno gave a quick report to Tseng, with Rude jumping in from time to time. Rude suspected very seriously that Reno was not reporting everything, but he had no way to be sure, and knew better than to voice his doubts now.

The more he heard, the more Tseng seemed to not like what he was hearing, especially when Reno first said "the Wu clan," and Tseng finally shook his head. "You're sure this isn't just misinformation?" he asked, frowning slightly.

Reno shook his head. "No, man, not a chance. That guy, Shi, he's Wu clan. Trust me, he's Wu," Reno said, and Rude was almost shocked to see how Reno's lip curled up, in a mix of disgust and something else, the man's eyes unfocusing for a bare instant as he seemed to be reacting to something he was thinking, or something he was remembering. Something ghosted behind Reno's pale eyes before Reno shuttered it away, something that caused a bad feeling to begin to touch the bottom of Rude's stomach.

"How do you know?" Tseng said, voice and face expressionless in the way that meant he was thinking and, more importantly, considering. In that moment, Rude was very sure that Tseng had more than a few extra pieces to this whole mess than Rude did, but not enough, not nearly enough, to put everything together.

Reno's eyes narrowed. "I know." The look he gave Tseng was hard and burning, and, above all else, steady in its rage.

Tseng looked at Reno sharply. "Are you going to be able to complete this case, Reno?"

Reno stared at him, taken aback. "What?"

Tseng met Reno's surprised gaze blandly. "Exactly what I said. Are you going to be able to complete this case?" Tseng said, his voice as cool and detached as ever, but there was a twinge of something, and Rude wished someone would fill him in on what in Hel's realm was going on.

Reno's jaw clinched so tightly that it looked like it had to be painful. "Don't pull me offa this, not now, not after all the legwork I put into this."

"Legwork is not the concern; conflict of interest is. I know you've had some dealings with the Wu clan--I do, after all, remember why you were recruited and what you were doing at the time--but I don't know the particulars," Tseng said. "Care to enlighten me as to just what relation you have to them?"

"No," Reno said, the word cold and sharp, and Tseng looked taken aback, eyes going wide for a brief moment at the sheer shock of being given so firmly and blunt a denial. "But I do wanna find out what in Hel's name they're doin' back in Midgar and make sure the fuckers get out and don't never come back," he finished, and something in his pale eyes burned fever-bright in a way Rude had never seen before.

"Very well," Tseng said slowly. "I want a write-up about what happened today, as well as a report on everything that has occurred up until now, and I want it within the next two hours, before I leave out on my mission."

"Understood," Reno said, and turned on his heel, heading out the door without a look back.

"Rude," Tseng said softly, when Reno was out the door, before Rude could follow. "Whatever this is, Reno is close to it. I want you to keep an eye on him and report back to me immediately if something starts with him."

"Sir?" Rude said, allowing that one word to show all the questions in his mind about what he had just seen and heard. Then he paused, and opened his mouth to speak before Tseng wearily could. "Never mind. I will. Excuse me," he said, and with a slight, crisp bow, left the room.

An explanation for whatever the hell all of that was, he decided, should come from Reno. And somehow, Rude would get it. It just might take a bit of time, but he was a patient man, and he understood the value of timing.

--

It wasn't often that Rude was surprised when he came into the office he and Reno shared. On occasion, yes, he opened the door to find surprising things, things such as when he had come in to find Reno struggling with learning to read Wutai that first day, and the time he had come in to find Reno curled up asleep with his jacket over him like a blanket, paperwork trailing from a limp hand. Things like that were by their very nature and rarity surprising.

But not nearly so surprising as walking in, sadly an hour and a half late thanks to an accident that had occurred on his route to work, to find Reno, hair dyed Wutai black and one eye dark brown, putting a brown contact lens into his still pale-colored left eye, with Elena frowning next to him and trying to match mascara with Reno's newly dyed hair.

"Partner?" Rude said, suddenly struck by the fact that Reno's tattoos were gone. Then he noticed the containers of what he realized had to be makeup on the desk. Which explained why Reno, easily one of the palest people Rude had met in his life, was decidedly not so pale anymore.

"'Bout time you showed up. What the fuck, man, I ain't never supposed to be here before you."

There was a certain something surreal about him being chewed out by Reno for being late. "There was ten-car pile-up on the highway," he said, frowning.

Reno made a dismissive noise, blinking to settle the contact lens into place. "Whatever."

"This color will probably look the most natural and be able to cover your own eyelash color," Elena said, finally picking one. "But are you sure you want to use foundation instead of just using a chemical tanner? A chemical tanner is safer since you won't have to worry about it coming off or someone looking too closely."

Reno gave Elena a look. "Safer?! If you think I'm lettin' anythin' that comes out of a ShinRa lab near my face, you must be out of your mind. I'd prolly end up, like, glowin' or somethin'," he said, shuddering.

"...You have a point," Elena said, blinking. "Over the counter stuff? But then, that might turn you orange."

"...And here I thought that blonde meant you were dumb."

Before Elena could start spluttering with anger, Rude finally decided to ask just what was going on.

"Oh, yeah. That. We gotta go to Wutai, yo," Reno said, raising a dyed eyebrow, then opening the mascara and leaning down in front of a mirror on his desk. "Elena, WTF, how do girls do this?" he ended, looking up at her with a "I am helpless, do it for me!" look on his face.

And Elena fell for it hook, line, and sinker. "By not trying to stab themselves in the eye," she said, looking like she was amazed by Reno's stupidity, and she took the mascara brush from him and started explaining the esoterica of makeup to the man.

"Wutai, fine. It won't be the first time. But why are you...?" Rude began, and then wasn't quite sure how to finish it.

"Lookin' like one of the troops happy 'gifts' to Wutai?" Reno ended, looking up but not daring to move much, with Elena trying to mascara his pale lashes black.

"You're too old to be a war bastard," Rude said flatly.

"Yeah, yeah, but you know what I mean."

"Yes."

"We've gotta figure out how deep the Wu clan is in an' where they are. Meaning Wutai Road Trip to do some on-the-ground shit-checking, make an' talk to contacts that ain't gonna be so thrilled talking to a Turk from Midgar or bein' seen talkin' to a Turk from Midgar and that ain't gonna work too well if you look like a Turk from Midgar, an' me and my red hair would have sent up red flags," Reno said flatly.

Elena smacked Reno. "Hold still, dammit," she said crossly.

Reno stuck his tongue out at her, but trying to sit a little stiller, then kept on talking. "So we're just gonna bank on the fact that, thanks to our boys during the war, there are a lot of not-so-pureblooded Wutai runnin' around, and so everybody over there has seen or knows at least one half-ShinRa bastard an' so they'll just plug me into that 'half' category. Won't kick up near the fuss it woulda before the war."

"Gotcha," Rude said, figuring he understood close enough--there were enough children who had been fathered by soldiers at war in Wutai that no one would blink anymore at someone who had only vaguely Wutai features but spoke like a native.

"Plus, we got contacts over there, got shit ready for if we ever needed to slip somebody in to do some spy work, and it's all for, well, Tseng," Reno said with a faint grin, looking as if he was mildly amused by it all. "So now I'm the half-Wutai guy we're slippin' in. Only, I'm not, so we gotta do some work until I am."

"And Tseng's never been there?"

"Nope. He pointed out the fatal flaw in all the planning that got done when he found out about it," Reno said with a slightly manic grin.

"And that flaw is?"

"He's Taishangese."

"OK..." Rude said slowly.

"Meaning he speaks Northern with a Taishangese accent, an' that'll stick out even if he tries to hide it. But me, I got a Northern accent. Kinda thick one, yo. All them 'er' sounds I put in," Reno said with a grin, making a sound Rude had no way of even trying to reproduce, then said a bunch of words in Wutai that all had strange, swallowed 'r' sound that Rude couldn't wrap his brain around and had Elena freeze up mid-mascara application, staring at Reno with her jaw hanging open for a moment. "So I'll actually pull this off better'n him, unless I look like a Midgaran with his face painted funny."

"Done," Elena said, and Reno bounced out of the chair.

"Well? Whaddaya think?" Reno said, grinning manically. "I'll have to say I took after my ma an' someone gives me shit an' I'll glare all wounded an' pissed an' try to break their face, but think I'll pass?"

Rude just blinked. It was Reno, but...not. The shape of the face and mouth and nose were the same, but everything else was completely different--as if it weren't Reno standing there, but instead a half-Wutai half-brother, and Rude didn't quite know what to make of it, or why it made him feel vaguely uncomfortable, as if something that was taken for granted as a constant suddenly wasn't.

Half of everyone in this part of the world had Wutai blood running in them because of the Wutai invasions generations ago; the color may have been washed out but features hadn't, and seeing Reno like this made Rude realize that--with his red hair and pale eyes gone and skin color no longer that almost blinding pale, it was easier to see the Wutai bone structure and eye shape. He didn't look full-blooded by any stretch of the imagination, but he didn't look Visgradian any more, either.

"You'll pass," he said, nodding slightly. As soon as Reno opened his mouth and native-level Wutai came flying out, no one would doubt him. And it was good, Rude thought, that they hadn't tried to darken Reno's skin too much; it made it more plausible, ironically enough. And Reno could carry himself with a big enough chip on his shoulder to pull off someone who's been given shit for what they are their whole lives.

"Good! Cause the sooner we get this mission done, the sooner I don't never gotta wear make-up again unless I get the weird urge to cross-dress, and don't even start gettin' funny ideas, you," Reno said with a cheeky grin, and suddenly everything seemed a lot more normal, because that grin was pure Reno.

"I'm afraid it's too late for that. But, if it's any consolation, I think you would look quite fetching in a dress. Perhaps a nice forest green," Rude said, and was unsurprised both by the container of make-up that came flying towards him and that it connected with his head. As always.

Rude shook his head to clear it a bit while Reno snickered at him and Elena looked like she wanted to ask for a pay raise, and then had a sudden, horrible thought. "Are you going into Wutai alone?"

It was odd, seeing a look so purely Reno coming from a face that somehow looked so different. "...Do I look like I wanna get my scrawny ass killed?"

"...Am I then to take this to mean Elena and I are also..."

Reno burst out laughing. "Oh, man, if you could see your face right now! And no, don't worry, y'all don't gotta do the whole 'two hours of fuckin' make-up in the fuckin' morning' thing. The second either one of you opened your mouths, it'd be all over. No, no, you two are gonna keep my scrawny ass from gettin' beat too bad. You're gonna play 'bodyguard' for the young Midgar-born-Wutai mobster's son," he said with a grin, looking far too pleased with himself, a big grin on his face, "And Elena, my hot young sex toy who pouted and gave me blow jobs until I agreed to let her come with me to Wutai."

Rude didn't even try to stop Elena from hitting Reno with a howl of outrage; he instead chose to just get out of the way.

"So, Midgar-born-Wutai mobster's son, eh?" Rude said after a while, deciding to get back to business. He could see the wisdom in how they were going--in an odd way, since he and Elena were so obviously Not Wutai, it would help Reno's cover. Reno as he was now next to blonde-haired, blue-eyed Elena seemed a lot more not Visgradian by the contrast. And Rude's own much larger, much sturdier build would make Reno look smaller and thinner than the man, already a reed by almost any metric, was.

Reno nodded. "Yeah. I'm going in as distant member of the Yang clan," he said, pulling out a file.

"How many clans are there?" Rude finally asked, wondering how he had missed yet another clan name.

"Three main families in the northern areas," Reno said, plucking at a lock of black hair that fell in his face and staring at it like he wasn't quite used to it. "The Wus, the Lis, and the Yangs. The Yang and Li are from the Beizhou Province, but the Li got bleedover into parts of Taishang, which is why they an' the Wu didn't get along for so long--the Wu are Taishang an' Gwongnaam. There’s another big family in the Yamato Province, the Yamamotos, but they tend to not have much to do with the Northern areas--they don't go much past Chochung--and they tend to play nice with ShinRa 'cause of Little Yamato."

Elena groaned. "Am I supposed to remember all this? I swear, half of what's coming out of your mouth all sounds the same--incomprehensible."

Reno gave Elena a sharp look. "Yeah, actually, ya do gotta remember it all."

Elena blinked suddenly at Reno's sharp tone. "I--" she began.

Reno cut her off sharply. "You wanted this job, remember? It ain't all beatin' things with sticks, yo. This is part of it, an' ya either do it or ya need to pack it up an' go home. Don't matter how 'incomprehensible' info is, you hear it and you remember it, 'cause if you don't, what you don't know might be what gets you or the people you work with dead."

Elena's jaw, which had dropped open, shut so fast Rude could almost hear the snap. "Y-yes, sir," she said, and Rude realized with surprise that it was the first time he had actually heard Elena use the word "sir" with Reno.

Reno's face was hard. "Yo, partner. Where're the Yang in Wutai?"

"Beizhou," Rude said, nodding once. "Along with the Li, who extend into Taishang, overlapping with the Wu, who are in Taishang and Gwongnaam."

Reno looked at Elena again, who was staring at the floor. "Whine and bitch all you want 'bout somethin', but you still better be able to do it. 'Cause this ain't a fuckin' game."

"Yes sir," she said again, but her voice was so quiet Rude could barely hear it.

"An' if you start cryin', you gotta show me your tits," he said, grinning suddenly.

Rude couldn't quite classify the sound Elena made at that; he chose instead to pick up the folder on his desk and start skimming through it for information while Elena continued to splutter in almost incoherent rage for a few minutes.

He wondered to himself if she had any idea that Reno had probably said that to purposely make her angry. If he hadn't, she'd probably be upset. Well, she was upset now, but it was a different kind of upset; it was an "I am going to flay Reno alive" upset rather than a "I fucked up big time" upset, and one was much easier to deal with.

...Or, he thought, reconsidering, Reno might have figured it was a prime chance to get to see Elena's tits. One never quite knew with Reno.

"So when are we shipping out?" Rude asked as he read over the mission perimeters. It looked to be pretty cut and dried: go into Beizhou--Taoyuan, specifically--and not get discovered as Reno did most of the grunt work. He glanced over at the file on Reno's desk and saw how much thicker Reno's file was than his and felt vaguely sorry for the other man.

"Hope you remembered to replace your toothpaste in the 'ship out now' bag from the last time," Reno said with a grin. The grin turned sour. "Serious, though, we got a few hours. I begged Tseng to have at least some time to try an' slog through that," he said, gesturing at his file. "I keep tellin' him, I read like a dyslexic first grader, an' he just keeps on not gettin' it," he groaned.

"So I have time to get a change of clothes and more toothpaste."

"Traffic clear up?"

"Should by now."

"Go for it," Reno said, shrugging. "Elena, go, like, grab whatever the shit it is girls need when they go places. And bring, like, sexy shit to wear, too. Gotta play your part, doncha know," he said, and then dodged the pen Elena threw easily. "Gotta work on your speed too, yo," he said, and grinned.

--

They met up about an hour later at the helipad, out of uniform and already changed for undercover work, all carrying bags for a week of being away from home.

"Holy crap, Elena, why do you have so much shit?" Reno said, staring in disbelief at the giant suitcase Elena had.

"It's a week's worth of stuff," she said stiffly.

Reno held up his duffel bag. "So's this!"

She glared. "I'm supposed to be your brainless bimbo girlfriend, right? That requires a lot of 'shit'," she said, and rolled her eyes.

"Shall we go?" Rude asked, looking over his sunglasses. He was the closest to in uniform of the three, as his role was to be Reno's 'bodyguard'.

Reno grinned. "Let's roll. I'm drivin', yo!" he said, and climbed into their helicopter.

"Oh, gods, we're going to crash and die," Elena said under her breath, but shoved her bag into the back and climbed in.

The ride to Junon, because they couldn't exactly fly into Wutai undercover in a ShinRa helicopter, was relatively quiet, most of it spent with Rude and Elena thumbing through their files and guidebooks for information, and Reno piloting with a bored kind of grace, his eyes bright.

Rude suddenly realized, staring at the fake names the three of them were going under, that he was missing a rather vital bit of information. "Hey, partner. How exactly do you pronounce your 'name'? You're going to have to say it for us a few times."

Reno smiled, a smile oddly twisted. "Luo Li Hong."

Rude felt like there was a significance there he should have known, but didn't dwell on it, instead distracted by the way Elena's expression had filled with a kind of horrified dismay.

"Try again," she said. "And hopefully something I can pronounce this time."

"Hey! You manage 'Tseng' just fine."

"That's because I like Tseng. You, not so much."

"Yeah, yeah, I know how you like him, Elena," Reno said, getting an evil little teasing smile on his face.

"Don't make me hit you right now."

"Oh, kinky," he said with a grin. Quickly followed by "Hey, no smacking when I'm piloting!"

--

They weren't in Wutai for very long before just how much animosity remained towards Easterners became almost painfully evident.

The thing of it was, they were only five years or so out of a war--a long, bloody war that had lasted ten. It only stood to reason that there were a lot of bad feelings. Everyone in Wutai was more than capable of speaking Visgradian--it had become the lingua franca with the rise of ShinRa, and no matter how far-flung the part of Gaia it was, anyone who had gotten an education had learned to speak it, and any place ShinRa had taken over had long ago been encouraged, through Visgradian replacing whatever the tongue of that region was in the schools, to become the common tongue of that region, and it had been an extremely successful policy; even since before ShinRa's military forays, it had been obvious that to succeed, you needed Visgradian, and so people had started teaching it to their children anyway.

But not Wutai.

Wutai still clung to her old ways, trapped in her proud, imperialistic past perhaps, and had disdained everything from the eastern continents as if unable to forget that one long ago she had conquered them. And here was a different world; filled with buildings and sites nowhere in the east, and the air filled not with the common Visgradian you heard everywhere else in the world out on the streets, but Wutai.

The trip through Taoyuan to their inn was jarring when compared to how it had been in the other areas of Wutai, like Gwongnaam. Here, people stared. And not simply staring, but glaring, full of open animosity. Storekeepers, standing in the doorways and yelling for customers went silent at the sight of them. Children clutched tightly to their mothers. And everyone glared.

"I always heard the Wutai were friendly," Elena whispered to Rude.

"In the tourist areas, perhaps," he said, feeling as uncomfortable as she looked. He had been to Wutai before, but it had never been like this. "But this is not a tourist area," he ended, and wondered if perhaps that was part of it. Taoyuan was a fairly large city, but for some reason, it was little known outside of Wutai. It was almost as if the whole Jiuquan region was a giant blank; the sheer lack of any mention in any of the guidebooks he had flipped through on the ride over stood out. The only mention given was that there was an ancient road, the Quanlu Road, that passed through Jiuquan to Nankyo, and the Wangxiang Pavilion--and that was listed as being inaccessible because the paths there were in disrepair and had been long before the war.

Past that, nothing, for the entire region. Most small villages in Wutai had more sites of interest than the city of Taoyuan.

But then, Jiuquan, Taoyuan in particular, was also a hotbed of Wutai mafia, and he could see why they would try to keep the Easterners out. Welcoming to tourists, it was not.

...And Reno had apparently had enough; someone stared too hard at them and walked into a pole, and Reno snapped.

Rude had no idea what it was that Reno yelled at the man exactly, but it was enough to make the man's eyes all but fly out of his head. The man yelled something back, and Reno sneered back an answer along with making a gesture of some sort, and the next thing Rude knew the man was leaping at Reno, looking determined to rip his face off.

Rude stepped in immediately. Reno was more than capable of defending himself, but they had their parts to play, and before the man could make contact with Reno, Rude had him wrestled to the ground.

"I'm afraid I can not allow you to injure the young master," he said softly, lines and phrasing for the part memorized. He twisted the man's arm until he let out a small sound of pain, and then released him. "I hope my point is made." The man nodded once, and Rude stood. The man gave all of them an angry look, then took off, and Reno rolled his eyes.

"Loser," he said, shaking his head, and gestured for them to follow him.

The odd thing of it was, it seemed to make things a little better.

The Wutai, Rude thought, were strange.

When they finally got to their inn, it was almost nightfall, and Elena made a beeline for the nearest bathroom in their inn while Reno got them their room keys.

Elena came out of the bathroom looking disgusted. "Gods, why is Wutai such a dump?" she said, making a face. "Have you seen the toilets?!"

"You're th'one what wanted ta come, sweetcheeks," Reno said with a grin. "I toldja to stay in Midgar, but nooooo...." he said.

Elena glared, but didn't miss a beat. "You didn't tell me about the toilets! I thought it'd be a nice little vacation, and I wanted to see Wutai!"

"And now you're seein' it!" he said with a grin, and Elena--or rather, Marith Erdmann--glared back at him.

The clerk stared at them, narrowing his eyes at Elena for a split second before handing keys to Reno--Li Hong--and smiling in a way that was so patently falsely polite that Rude wondered what they had gotten themselves into.

--

The alarm clock the next morning went off far too early, in Rude's mind. He blinked awake slowly, wondering why it was still ringing before he saw Reno's hand come out and smack the thing. Hard. He blinked slowly at Reno, trying to register when it was too early and there was a distinct lack of coffee to help with the waking aspect of things.

"You can go back to sleep," Reno mumbled, scratching his head and glaring blearily over at Rude before he crawled out of his bed. "Makeup. Gotta. Yeah," he muttered, and Rude didn't hear if there was anything after that.

It was much later that the alarm on Rude's PHS began to buzz, and he woke quickly at the familiar sound.

"'Bout time you woke up," Reno said with a grin, and Rude wondered how it was the man was that awake and functional. And not only that, had obviously been awake for a while; there was a towel that looked damp in the middle of the floor, and Reno was awake and doing the last of his makeup, darkening his eyelashes with mascara.

"How long have you been awake?"

"'Bout two hours," Reno said, making a face. "This shit takes time an' I don't know what I'm doin'. An' I ordered food. Should be here in, like, ten minutes, so I gotta finish this quick," he said, looking at his right eyelashes carefully in the mirror before starting his left. "Do me a favor, put this crap away?"

Rude nodded and began clearing the makeup and applicators and assorted other things Reno used to make himself look half-Wutai. Reno had just finished the last of it when there was a knock at the door. He stuffed the mascara into pocket, then was on his feet to door.

Rude answered first. Body guarding he of course knew well, and one would never let their charge answer the door. "Yes?" he asked, and looked down at the slight Wutai maid at the door. Her hands tightened tightly around the handle of the cart she pushed, but she took a moment to steel herself.

"Room service, sir," she said, a faint accent to her Visgradian, and sounding like she had practiced it over and over again.

Reno said something in Wutai, and the woman nodded, then realized he couldn't see her and said something back in a loud enough voice to carry to Reno.

"Let her in. It's breakfast," he said, and Rude stepped aside. She pushed the cart aside, and instantly Rude ceased to exist; she spread the dishes out and directed every comment, in Wutai, to Reno, then bowed to him and left.

--

It set the tone for the rest of the day, it turned out--people would startle at seeing Rude and Elena, then completely tune them out in a very obvious way in favor of Reno. The entire day was spent going from one place to another, with Reno introducing the three of them in Wutai, then a lot of bowing, and then Rude and Elena ceased to exist.

The two of them discovered quickly that here, they were not simple completely useless, but pointedly, uncomfortably invisible--not in a not-seen way, but in an "ignored" way where everyone was watching them out of the corners of their eyes and trying to pretend they weren't, and their eyes slid away if Rude or Elena looked at them, only to return as soon as it was 'safe.'

"This is so weird," Elena muttered, and Rude had to agree with her sentiment--he'd been to Wutai before, multiple times, but it had never been like this, and it was putting him on edge.

"Very few people from the other continents venture into this region," he said in a low voice, knowing they were being listened to. Taoyuan was buried deep in a forest; it was odd to think a mafia family had sprung from such a cut-off area. But the Yang somehow had. The Li were from the capital, which made more sense, and the Yamamotos had sprung up in Nankyo, another major city. Taoyuan...there was nothing here. Nothing. Even with the secrecy the Wutai all but prided themselves on, this place made no sense whatsoever. It was ringed by a forest and mountains--what could be here to spur an underworld and a mafia to run it? "I suppose no one is used to foreigners."

"I guess," she said, wrapping her arms around herself and looking slightly unnerved.

"You can return home, Miss Erdmann," he said softly, fully aware of the eyes and ears on them.

Elena startled slightly, then narrowed her eyes. "I already told Lee I'm want to see Wutai! I'm a big girl, you know!" she said, putting her hands on her hips and poking her lip out.

"Yes, miss," Rude said. "My apologies."

Elena humphed, seeming every bit the spoiled little rich girl she was supposed to be.

The fell into silence and waiting for Reno to finish up. It was a relief when he did; things had grown heavier and more uncomfortable.

"Are you done yet? I didn't come to Wutai to sit around looking at walls!" Elena said, pouting again, and Rude had to admit to himself that she was very good at it.

"I'm here on business, babe!" Reno said, making a frustrated gesture. "All you gotta do is come for this and then you can shop to your little heart's content."

"How many more?" she asked petulantly, and she was very good at this. Good enough that if he wondered if it was all acting. It had been a pretty boring yet nerve wracking day, after all.

"Just one more, babe," Reno said, clearly enjoying getting to call Elena that and her not being able to smack him for it. "One Mr. Hu, and then we can go back to the hotel and you can make my day lots better," he said with a leer.

"Oh, you," Elena said, and tittered, but Rude didn't miss the way her eye twitched before she let out that giggle.

--

"We're goin' explorin'," Reno said when Elena came over the next morning, grinning.

"Getting information?" Elena asked.

"No. Hanging out around the city and bein' tourists."

Elena frowned, her expression severe. "Reno, we're here for work, not to have fun!"

Reno rolled his eyes. "OK, Imma explain this. We are on a mission, yeah. I know that. We are playin' the parts of the spoiled, rich, half-ghost mob kid, his Midgaran sex toy, and bodyguard...all on their first trip to Wutai," he said, before Elena could blow up again over being described as "sex toy." "Meanin', in order to be realistic, we gotta go out and be tourists. This is part of the job," he said, raising an eyebrow. "We gotta go out an' be seen and all that crap."

All of which sounded perfectly valid, and probably was, but Rude didn't miss the way Reno's eyes were dancing at the thought of heading out there and poking around like a little kid. Realistically, Rude thought, today was probably the only day that Reno could go out and play tourist--Reno'd spent half the night on the phone, talking to people in Wutai, and scribbling out times and dates and what looked like names. Rude wasn't sure; half of what Reno'd written that weren't numbers had been in bopomofo, with a few characters thrown in, and only a few words in Visgradian.

Elena rolled her eyes. "Fine, fine," she said, throwing her hands up in the air. "Once I've had a chance to brush my teeth, let's go. Oh, and you better find me a place with real food, not that liquidy rice slop they keep giving us for breakfast," she said, shaking her head, and Reno looked at her like she was nuts.

--

"Elena, y'know, ya have to at least try, here. You're supposed to be my bit of Midgaran tail, here," Reno said in a low whisper, after they had been wandering around Taoyuan for about an hour or so.

Rude didn't miss how Reno's next move was to smoothly get out of the way of the kick Elena aimed at his shin.

"Serious, though," Reno said, actually getting rid of the leering smile for a bit. "You've got to play the part, yo."

Elena gave a little twitch, then did her job--she sucked it up and took leaned in closer to Reno.

"Now that's better. I can feel your tit now," Reno said, the leering grin coming back. His next sound was a started "Ouch!" as she stomped on his foot.

Rude ignored them, his attention caught suddenly by something else. "Hey, what are those?" he said, pointing discreetly at a street vender, selling...some kind of things on long sticks. It looked vaguely like fruit, but they were all coated with something, some with something clear and shiny, some with what looked vaguely like chocolate and some with what looked like sprinkles. And there were a lot of children, running up and buying them with small coins.

Reno looked perplexed. "Fuckall if I know, man. It's my first time here, too. I ain't never seen one before."

Rude kept watching the vendor handing out the laden-down sticks with vague interest, wondering what they tasted like, when Reno barked out a laugh.

"You're sad, you know that?" Reno said with a grin, shaking his head. "Wait here," he said, and let go of Elena's arm and trotted over to the vendor. He came back a few minutes later with three sticks and handed one to each of them. "Here. According to the kid what got one right before me, they're called tang hu lu and are a winter thing here. They just started selling today."

"Because it's fucking freezing," Elena said under her breath, and took a bite. "Hey, this is pretty good!" she said, sounding slightly surprised.

Rude took a bite and had to admit that Elena was right. Reno had given him the one that looked like the Wutai fruit on the skewer was chocolate-coated, but one bite taught him that the fruit had been first candied, then dipped in chocolate. He took another bite, then another, enjoying the contrast in textures between the fruit center and the hard sugar coating and the chocolate, and...

"...Man, you need to watch it before you embarrass yourself in public," Reno said, biting his lip against bursting out laughing. "Damn."

Rude frowned slightly, not knowing what Reno was talking about.

They had walked a bit further, and by then Rude had finished his tang hu lu. But for some reason, Reno and Elena had only barely touched theirs, and he wondered if it wasn't to their taste.

No accounting for taste, he decided, since they really were quite tasty. "...Are you gonna eat that, partner?" he asked Reno, nodding his head slightly to the sweet.

Reno snickered. "I was. But never mind," he said, and handed it to Rude.

Rude took it, figuring Reno must be full or something. After all, Reno was just holding his, and that was a waste, honestly. Tang hu lu were delicious.

He took a bite and thought he really did like these things, and for some reason, even Elena snickered that time and said something about how she'd better eat hers or Rude was going to steal it when she wasn't looking.

He ignored them. The tang hu lu really was quite good, after all.

Too bad they were so small.

--

The week passed in a blur of inactivity for Rude. Reno was meeting with people, and they were meetings where Easterners were very patently not allowed. Not that it would have done any good; from the very beginning everything was done in Wutai, and Rude's head began to hurt after just a few minutes of it. It pretty quickly turned into Rude escorting Reno places, and then being half the time being dismissed to the Inn and told Reno would call him. Rude had objected the first time, only to have Reno--or rather, Li Hong--ask him sharply if he was insulting their hosts' ability to keep them safe and their goodwill. So most of the time he returned to the inn to go over information with Elena and play the tourist. They had seen the Quanlu Road--nothing special, just an old road--and took pictures of the Wangxiang Pavilion from it, and then looked at each other and went back to the Inn to look at data again.

He'd give Elena credit, though. She'd taken the fact that she had nothing to do at all and started to play the bored and spoiled girlfriend part extremely well--in front of people she would pout and stomp her foot about being left behind, and finally ventured out a few times and came back laden with things from shops, and more than once Rude had watched her yelling "Too expensive!" and bartering prices in Wutai. Reno'd taught her that much, and a few useful phrases, on a whim the third day they were there, and she'd taken it and run.

Meanwhile, Reno was meeting with the members of the Yang clan, and coming back to the Inn looking twitchy and with hours of data from his wires, much of which he translated and what he couldn't he sent to Tseng. There was nothing much that Elena and Rude could do to help him with that, but once they got the translated materials, they began doing what they could, correlating and analyzing whatever they got from Reno and Tseng.

There was still a big piece missing, some kind of connection bringing the Li and Wu together, and Reno just shrugged, saying they weren't telling him and he couldn't press yet. But that he'd get it. Somehow. And saying they were going to have to stay longer--the week got extended to a month after one long phone call with Tseng over some of the new info that had come in from the Midgar underground.

Not long after that, Reno started slipping out nights, pulling Rude to go with him, to stand and look dangerous while Reno met with the shadier end of things, and the shady end of 'mafia' was pretty shady.

Rude had a bad feeling about all of this, especially with the way Reno would sometimes just stare distracted out into space or was vibrating like a live wire from barely held in check anger some days, but knew there was nothing he could do but hope the information they were missing came sooner rather than later. Something was getting to Reno more than an assignment normally did, but since Reno wasn't the "open up and talk about it" kind of guy and Rude wasn't the "pour out your emotions to me" kind of guy, he just passed Reno a shot of the unpronounceable rotgut Wutai specialized in, and kept Elena busy with cross-referencing work.

And today was another boring day, Elena sent out to go be seen in town and Rude standing outside of a closed door, waiting. The boring days were set to end, however; they were slated to return to Midgar in two days.

It seemed like an eternity passed before Reno came out and they bowed their farewells to the elder members of the Yang family. "We got dinner plans," Reno said as soon as they got outside. "Somethin' formal, 'cause this is at the head guy's place. THE Yang house," Reno finished, glaring slightly. Days when he was at the head residence, Rude remembered suddenly, were always the worse for Reno. He was fine there, if tenser than normal, and usually ended up that live wire angry from between the time they left to the time they had arrived at the Inn. Rude had asked once or twice what had happened, but after getting a sharp, "Nothin'" followed by Reno drinking in the bad way every time, in the kind of mood Reno usually only got over by killing, drinking, fucking, or whatever self-destructive behaviour he could manage, Rude stopped asking and kept Elena out of Reno's way. "I got, like, a bad feelin'," Reno said suddenly. "Can't explain it or nothin', just got this feeling."

Rude frowned slightly. "Do you think they're planning something?"

"Hard to say. Maybe they suspect something, I dunno. Might just be paranoid, I been on edge this whole time 'cause one little rain storm or someone looks too close an' everythin' goes tits u...ooh, hold up, man," Reno said, holding up a hand and staring into the shop.

"Yes?" he said, wondering what Rude had seen. It looked like a normal clothing store. A normal woman's clothing store.

"In here, yo. Stuff we gotta pick up," he said, and headed in. Rude followed, feeling vaguely confused, and wondering just what Reno wanted from a woman's clothing store. Reno immediately went over to a clerk and started talking at his normal rapid-fire pace, and Rude resigned himself to simply waiting until after to find out what was going on.

He began to get an idea, though, after the sales clerk began bringing out dresses, and dresses that most certainly would not fit Reno, so Rude knew the man had not been overtaken by an odd desire to cross dress.

"Hey, you pay more attention than me. What's Elena-sized?" Reno said, gesturing at the dresses. Rude blinked and looked over the dress choices, and frowned slightly, trying to figure out which would be closer to Elena, and selected two dresses that seemed right. Reno looked over them, then grinned, pointed to a dress, and pulled out a charge card, and Rude thought vaguely that Elena was going to kill Reno.

That said, it was a very nice dress. It was very sparkly. And Reno remembered to get shoes and a coat to go with it, even if he did need Rude to size them. And he picked out some odd kind of hair decoration things that the salesperson directed him to. Reno had a good eye, Rude thought to himself, and the ensemble was nicely matched together.

But Elena was still going to kill him.

--

They stopped by another store, this one for men's clothing. Reno quickly bought himself an outfit, as dressy as the one for Elena.

Reno tugged at his collar when he came out of the changing room, and Rude was startled at how Wutai he looked. He thought he'd gotten used to it, but he seemed he hadn't, and he suddenly missed Reno's shockingly red hair and indistinct eyes. "Man, I hated these things when I was a kid at Wutai New Years' an' all the other times I had to wear it," he said, making a face. "I hate havin' shit around my neck. You're lucky, you can dress normal."

"For these 'dinner plans' What are they, exactly?" Rude asked, not having a clue why Reno had gone on this shopping spree.

"A farewell dinner or somethin'," he said. "Since we're leavin'."

"Ah," Rude said, nodding. That made sense, then.

"Still gotta bad feelin'," Reno muttered, then shook his head. "An' I'm getting outta this damn thing before I choke or somethin'," he said, scrabbling at the buttons at his neck in disgust. "Dinner better have some serious fireworks for this shit, man," he muttered under his breath, and headed back into the changing room, and Rude wondered just what kind of 'fireworks' Reno had meant.

--

Part 2

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