[info]stopthatgirl7 wrote
on October 18th, 2015 at 02:08 am

[fic] The Things You Never Knew About People: Shi Qu [Losing It All]

Title: The Things You Never Knew About People - Shi qu [Losing it All]
Status: 10/14 [12 story chapters, plus two epilogues]
Fandom: FF7
Rating: R
Word count: 11280
A/N: ...yeah, so, this is just a wee bit late, eh? Yeah. Also...this is a bit rough, since it's unbeta'd, and I'm sure there are places that need work or maybe don't work? Sorry...

On a writing note, I'm using a custom in China and Korea for Wutai, where even after marriage a woman keeps the name she was born with, and but her children take their father's names. ...You'll see. Also, I'm going to be posting another "Ultimania" author's notes for this to lj/ij/dreamwidth, because this chapter had to come out first.

--
 
第十話-失去
ㄉ一ˋㄕˊㄏㄨㄚˋ - ㄕㄑㄩˋ
Dì shí huà - shī qù
[Losing It All]

 
"You know," Jie's mom said, and there was something somewhat speculative about her voice, "Your wuzi are beginning to look like a human being wrote them, not a drunken chocobo."
 
Coming from Jie's mom, that was high praise, and Reno grinned. "Thanks, I think."
 
She actually smiled, and not the bad-for-them kind of smile, and that was rare when she was meting out punishment. "I really ought to teach you how to write properly, one of these days," she said, frowning slightly. "Aside from bopomofo and a menu, you're illiterate, and that's just a waste."
 
"DO IT!" Jie said from the side, taking the chance to put his brush down and massage his hand. "It's just not fair that that little punk hasn't had to learn how to write!"
 
"Hey, whose side are you on?!" Reno snapped, looking wounded.
 
"Sides can go fuck themselves, as much crap as you give me over me having to go to Wutai school, asshole," Jie said, making a face at Reno when his mother wasn't looking.
 
Jie's mom heaved a sigh, but ignored them. Reno wondered some times about Auntie Qian's English--she didn't have too many problems making herself understood, and while she still didn't actually speak it very well, he strongly suspected that at this point, she understood damned near every word they said.
 
She frowned slightly, obviously thinking. "Well, for starters, I'm going to at least teach you how to write you name in wuzi. And maybe find Jie's old workbooks..."
 
Jie started all but crowing. "YES! I'll even go dig 'em out for you!" he said, jumping to his feet.
 
Reno only managed to refrain from throwing something at Jie because Jie's mom was sitting there. As it was, Reno got the feeling there was gonna be some serious words--and by words, he meant punches--coming up soon.
 
Jie's mom laughed. "Later, later." She raised an eyebrow. "You still haven't finished yet."
 
Jie let out a curse under his breath and sat back down, and Reno shot Jie a smug grin.
 
"For now," Jie's mom said, ignoring them both again and putting a weight on a clean sheet of calligraphy paper in front of her and then smoothing the paper out. "Hand me the brush, and I'll teach you your name. And not YOUR brush, Jie," she finished, snapping in short-lived irritation and glaring. "You still have several lines of that left to do!"
 
"It was worth a shot," Jie said, in a tone that was almost good-natured for him, and he went back to copying the morality track poetry she had chosen for him; something full of the virtue of remaining peaceful and calm and some other shit that made not one bit of impact on either Jie or Reno. Reno had to give Auntie Qian credit: she tried. That, or she had a sadistic streak, something equally possible, since Jie always looked like he wanted to throw up whenever he read what she chose for him.
 
"Could be worse," she'd once told him when Jie started complaining. "You never saw the 'Eighty-One Womanly Virtues' my mother made me copy every day from the time my wedding was arranged until the actual ceremony.  By the end, I thought that if I had to read one more line about being quiet and obeying my husband that I was going to bite my tongue off and die."

It was a little odd, Reno thought, to watch how calm Jie's mom went when she had a calligraphy brush in her hands. She had explained, once, that her family had made her study calligraphy since she had been old enough to hold a brush--that, and many other various lessons designed to groom her into a well-bred lady. "It didn't work," she'd said with a self-disparaging smile. "I used to sneak into the kitchens to get away from my lessons.  That was where I learned to cook.  And when my mother discovered I had an interest in that, she decided it was at least something feminine and, in her mind, better than me bossing around my little brothers."
 
"So why're you making me learn to cook?" Reno had asked with a grin.  "I'm not a girl!"
 
"Because you need a marketable skill, you little grass-brained hooligan, and beating people doesn't qualify!" she'd snapped.  "And this way, you stop eating all of my food."

It hadn't stopped him from eating all of her food, as she had put it, but it was something Reno was grateful for.  Between the lessons on how to cook and the money he made working at the store--and the leftover food he usually took with him--there was always some food at his home now.  He remembered all too well being hungry all the time as a kid, so having a way to provide his own food was something that he definitely appreciated.

"Redo this menu and you're done," Jie's mother said, picking out one of the menus from the ones he had copied.  "You messed up two characters.

"Aww, c'mon! It's only two!" he said, whining, and got swatted with the menu.

"If you had done it right the first time, you wouldn't have to do it again," she snapped, and Jie bit back a laugh.  "Then, while you wait for Jie to finish the next stanza, I'll teach you how to write your name," she said, and Jie groaned.

"The next stanza?  But you said up to this verse!" he said.

She gave him a look, and Jie slumped back with a sour face.

--

"Holy shit," Reno said, leaning against a wall. "How the fuck that that shitbag put up that much of a fight?" he said in disbelief. He'd pulled another loser who had fallen for his reentry act, but the guy had put up a tougher fight than most would-be johns. He had still been shit, but for less shit than he should have been

"Fucking bastard had a Toughness Ring!" Jie said suddenly, holding it up.

"And he was still that crap?" Reno said, his eyebrows shooting up.  "What a total waste, yo."

"Not a waste anymore," Jie said with a grin, and then slipped it onto his finger.

"Hey, how come you get it?" Reno said suddenly with a grin of his own.

"Asshole gave me a good right hook. That's gonna bruise. I earned this."

Reno laughed. "Yeah, I guess you are the more shit fighter, huh?"

"Say that again, asshole, and we'll see who's the most shit."

Reno mockingly put his hands up. "And then we get to explain that to your ma, and don't nobody want that. She'd prove we're both shit."

Jie laughed. "Yeah, ain't that the truth," he said, pulling the gil out of the unconscious would-be john's wallet, then slipping the wallet back into his pockets before he stood up and walked over to Reno.

"Y'know, eventually, we're gonna get to old to pull this," Jie said with a grin as he counted the gil.

Reno chuckled.  "What, you don't think my pretty face'll keep on drawin' 'em in?" he said, cocking his hip and fluttering his eyelashes.  

Jie responded by rolling his eyes and shoving Reno in the face.

"Hey, don’t damage the merchandise!” Reno said, aiming a kick near Jie. Jie made a rude gesture in return, then handed over half the gil, which Reno quickly pocketed.

"We’ll milk it for all it’s worth for now before you get all grey haired.”

Reno snorted. “That’ll never happen. I’ll dye this shit before then."

"You are the vainest person I have ever met,” Jie said, rolling his eyes as they headed away from the perv currently unconscious on the ground.

"Yeah, ‘cause I know being pretty works,” Reno said with a snort, waving his share of the gil briefly at Jie before stuffing it in his pocket. "And don't nobody expect the pretty, delicate looking guy to be able to beat the shit outta you."
 
Jie laughed. "Ya got a point there." Jie's face suddenly went serious. "For real, though. We can't do this too much longer," he said as they made their exit from the alleyway before the perv woke up.
 
"Yeah," Reno said with a sigh. "We're gonna finish school soon.  What're you gonna do?" he asked looking up at the plate over the sector.
 
Jie frowned.  "Ma is gonna make me go to high school, you know that. She already started nagging me about how I have to start applying when winter vacation is over.  But..." he said, then trailed off.
 
"But?"
 
"Laugh and I swear on Shiva's tits I'll break your face," Jie said, giving Reno a sharp glare.
 
"You can try," Reno shot back with a grin, and Jie rolled his eyes.
 
"I'm thinking about Roswell," Jie finally said.

Reno stopped walking and his eyes went wide. "Ain't that the performing arts school above Plate?"

Jie nodded, and stared down at his feet.  "Yeah.  So Ma flipped out when I suggested it.  Said I needed to go to a real school an' she wasn't gonna throw her money down a reactor core.  You know she's never much liked me playing.  I guess she figured I'd outgrow it or something."
 
"Can you even go for a Wutai instrument?  Don't you gotta, like, play a violin or a piano or something?"

Jie shook his head.  "It was my guzhong teacher what suggested it.  She said they actually got a pretty good classical Wutai music teacher there, an' they needed students since people playing Wutai instruments have dropped off 'cause of the war and don't nobody wanna learn no more.  She said if I really worked an' polished up a couple of the songs I know, I'd be sure to pass the audition.  If I pass the audtition, I can get in even though my grades ain't that great."

"So you gonna do it?"

Jie shrugged.  "Maybe.  I still got a few weeks before I gotta decide.  Dunno if I can get in, but..."  He trailed off, and shrugged again. 

"Shit, man," Reno said. Then he grinned. "...shit, do you know how much money the would-be pervs above Plate are gonna have?"

--
 
As soon as he opened the door, a scent Reno knew far too well hit him, and he cursed under his breath.
 
There really was only one thing that smelled like that--nothing quite had that certain je ne sais quoi as drying vomit.
 
 "Fuck," he muttered under his breath. He knew what this meant - he was gonna have to clean up his mom and her room, then see her through the worst of her comedown. It wasn't the way he wanted to spend the rest of the evening, but it was one he was used to.

He grabbed the cleaning supplies on his way to her bedroom, where the smell was definitely coming from, grumbling the whole way. "Dammit, Ma, can't you even try to make it to a bathroom? Or maybe learn your limits?"

He opened her bedroom door and almost gagged from how strong the smell was in there. "Seven hells!" He ran over to the window and threw open as fast as he could, and took a deep breath of fresher air. When he felt like he was ready for it, he turned around to assess the damage.

His mother was laying on her stomach on her bed, sleeping it off, with vomit all over her. "You're fucking disgusting, you know that?" he said angrily, then stomped over to her. There was vomit all over the bed, all over her face and in her hair. He didn't even want to start with her, so he just knelt down by the bed and started cleaning the floor, hoping she'd wake up and could go take a shower on her own.

She hadn't moved the whole time he was cleaning, and Reno knew he was going to have to wake her up and clean her up.

It wasn't the first time.

"Ma, wake up," he said angrily, and shook her.

He stopped short. "Ma. Ma!" he said, and shook her again. He'd thought she was asleep, but her eyes were open and glassy.

She wasn't moving.

She wasn't moving.

She wasn't breathing.

"Ma, what are you doing? Ma, you're scaring me," he said, his voice cracking slightly as he shook her harder. "C'mon, Ma, wake up! Stop playing. This isn't funny!"

Her entire body was stiff, cool to the touch, and she wasn't breathing.
 
His breath started hitching. His heart felt like it was being squeezed too tightly, like every beat was a struggle. 

This couldn't be happening. Dammit, it wasn't supposed to hurt like this. He hated her. She stole from him all the time, she hadn't even noticed his last three birthdays, and she...it wasn't supposed to hurt.
 
He had no idea what to do or how to react. 

He didn't know what to do.

What was he supposed to do?
 
He made his way numbly into the kitchen, where the phone was. Their phone was always on now, thanks to Reno and his job at Auntie Qian's - between it and the supplements like today, he made enough to keep the bills paid whenever his mother couldn't or forgot.

He needed to call...someone. Do something.

Who was he supposed to call?

He called the Qians without thinking about it. If anyone knew, it would be Auntie Qian or Jie. Jie was smarter than him; he'd know what to do.

The phone rang a few times, and Reno was about to hang up, when someone picked up.

"Hello?" Jie said, sounding faintly out of breath.

"Jie? That you?"

"Reno? What's up?"

"She--Ma's--" Reno started, and then suddenly his breath hitched as he had to try to put things into words.  "I think...I think  my ma's dead."

The phone fell out of his grasp, and he put his face in his hands and was suddenly crying harder than he could remember.
 
 --

Reno was still sitting in the kitchen when Jie came.  He didn't even know when Jie came in, or how. Just one minute he was sitting on the floor his kitchen alone and then he wasn't alone anymore.

Jie's face was serious. "Where is she?"

Reno just stared at him blankly.

"Reno. Where is your mom?"

"Room. Her bedroom," he said, his voice sounding strange to his own ears. Jie had a grim look on his face, and he walked into the back room.

Reno stared after him.

When Jie came back, he had Reno's backpack slung over his shoulder. He dropped it onto Reno's lap. It was soft, like it was full of clothes. Jie walked past him and went to the telephone, and started making phone calls. Reno didn't say anything, just watched.

He still didn't know what to do.

He didn't know what he was supposed to do now.

Jie hung up the phone, then went to Reno and dropped down next to him.  "We need to wait for the cops to come. Then we'll figure out what to do."

"...Yeah, ok," Reno said hollowly.

 Jie put his hand on Reno's shoulder. "Then we go home," he said, and Reno just looked at him, then dropped his eyes to look at his hands.

He didn't know what to do, but at least it seemed like Jie did.

It all still hurt.

--

It took hours. Reno felt like he was running on autopilot. Everything by now was settling into "numb," which made it easier to answer all the questions - no, he hadn't been here when she went into distress because he'd been out with Jie; no, he hadn't noticed she was dead when he started cleaning; yes, she was a junkie, Potent; no, he hadn't thought it was strange that she was covered in vomit, she was a Potent junkie, so it hadn't been the first time she'd had bad reactions, how was he supposed to--

Reno's words dried up when they took his mother, on a stretcher and inside a bag, out of her room and past them out. His heart felt strained again, and his throat just as constricted.

"That's enough, son. I'm sorry for your loss," one of the cops said with a strangely gentle voice, and Reno just looked at him, not sure what to say. Everything felt...wrong.  

Things got quiet after that. There was still bustling around the apartment, but soon everyone was gone but him and Jie. Jie sat with him for an amount of time Reno couldn't figure out - it could have been five minutes or it could have been an hour.

Then Jie stood up. "Let's go, Reno," he said, and his voice was soft.

--

When they got to Jie's apartment, Jie just shuffled Reno into his bedroom and pushed him towards the bed instead of the closet the futon Reno normally used was in.

Reno had looked at him in confusion.

"Your mom fucking died. You get the damn bed," Jie said, opening the closet and pulling out the futon.  

"So that's what it takes, huh?" Reno said, giving Jie a weak smile.

Reno couldn't begin to interpret the look on Jie's face, and didn't try. "Go to bed, Reno. It's almost 2 am. I'll talk to Ma when she gets home to let her know. You're gonna have a lot of shit to do in the next couple days. Get some sleep now while you can."
 
Reno's shoulders slumped. It seemed like it had been years, not hours, since he and Jie had been wondering about what they were going to do next with their lives. Reno'd had no idea his life had been about to completely get upended, and he was suddenly exhausted.

"Yeah, OK," Reno said, the words sounded dull even to his ears. He shucked off his jeans and shirt and crawled into bed as Jie set the futon out.

Reno curled up on his side, but sleep was a long time coming.

Dammit, it wasn't supposed to hurt this much.

--

It took Reno a few minutes after he woke up for things to kick in. When it did, it hit him with a crashing thud. He sat up cross-legged on the bed and rubbed his face. He didn't want to think about any of this, but he knew he was going to have to.

He didn't have any other family that his mom - he had no idea who his father was, and his mother had never even mentioned her family. The one time he'd asked her as a kid about his grandparents - because everyone else had grandparents; why didn't he? - she'd snapped that everyone else could go fuck themselves.

He hadn't understood what that meant at the time, but he'd known to never ask again.

His stomach growled. It was a sharp reminder to him that life went on - that he was still alive. He'd figure out what to do after he got himself sorted - he'd lost it yesterday, but he had to get it together now.

He headed to the bathroom and splashed water on his face. His reflection looked tired and stretched thin. "Not so pretty now," he said, and shook his head.

Food first. Food, then find out about...figure out funeral arrangements. Then what he was going to do after that.

Death didn't stop shit. You still had to eat. The bills would still come. 

...And judging by the way he looked when Reno went in to the kitchen, Jie was still not a morning person.

"Mmrgh," Jie managed when Reno entered the kitchen. He gestured vaguely towards the rice cooker with his mug of coffee then went back to being hunched over and trying to inhale the coffee to get the caffeine into his system sooner. He hadn't even bothered getting his own breakfast yet; had just gone for the coffee.

Life went on.

It was just the two of them; Auntie Quan was usually out the door by 6:30 in the morning, and it was almost 9 at that point. Reno checked the fridge, and found enough food in there to definitely throw together some kind of quick breakfast to shut his stomach up, and he focused on that. 

"Mmrgh," Jie let out in acknowledgement when Reno put some porridge and fried breadsticks in front of him. He was still clutching his coffee like a lifeline - once his mother had relented and let him drink it, he had become as much of a caffeine monster as she was. 

They ate in silence; Jie because he wasn't capable of speech yet, and Reno because he couldn't have put anything in to words yet.

Jie was the one to eventually break the silence. "I didn't get a chance to let Ma know yet. She was already gone when I woke up," Jie said.

Reno nodded, and stared down at his plates. 

"And one of those cops yesterday gave me some information on where they were taking her. You're gonna have to claim the body and make funeral arrangements."

"I'll do that today," Reno said dully.

"You want me to come with you?" Jie asked.

Reno shook his head. "You ain't gotta. I gotta do this," he said. He sighed. "I needta get used to doin' things on my own. Might as well start now," he said with a shrug.

"...yeah, that's dumb," Jie said flatly.  "Go take a shower and we'll go."

--

It was probably the longest day of Reno's life. He didn't want to admit it, but he was glad Jie was there - it was almost everwhelming how much stuff there was to do when someone died. And how much it all cost. He was almost in a panic trying to figure out how he was going to pay for it all.

He'd figure something out, somehow. It did solidify one fact for him quickly: his school days were about to be done.

They didn't say much as they walked back to the Qian's apartment. Once they got back, Reno dropped onto the sofa and shut his eyes.  It was all feeling both too real and not real at all, and he felt numbed at everything.

He scrubbed at his face. He couldn't afford to be numb. He had too much to do and too much to figure out. He'd never been much good with numbers, but all those prices were running around in his head, and he knew how much he had and how much he made.

Jie dropped down next to him.  "I'll call Ma later and let her know what happened. It's almost time for the dinner rush so I don't want to bother her now. We've been running around so much I didn't have time to before. Do you wanna go back to your place and get some of your stuff?"

Reno didn't want to go back to his old place at all, but he knew he was going to have to. He'd always hated it there, but now he really hated it. 
 
Even worse, he knew he wasn't actually going anywhere - he might be sleeping over at the Qian's for now, but that wasn't forever. It never had been, and that wasn't going to change now. "Well...I guess that solves one thing," he said, staring off into space. Jie looked at him strangely. "I'd been planning to move out, y'know? Soon as I was sixteen and could rent my own place to, y'know, get away. I don't have to move now," he said, and something inside starting hurting again. And another part felt numb at the same time, and how did that work? "I was kind of hoping to finish school then get a job, but hey. I never was any good at school anyway and there was only a couple months left. I probably have to move anyway, I don't think I can afford it any more."
 
Jie's hand came up and smacked the back of his head in a way that was almost comfortingly like Auntie Qian's. "Listen up, you dumbass. If you think for one minute you're either moving some place even more slumtastic than where you are now or quitting school, you're stupider than you look and you don't know me or Ma that well. You think Ma's gonna let you quit school?"

Reno frowned. "Doesn't matter. I don't have any other family, and while I've got a little bit saved up, I don't have that much. The funeral and all that will wipe out what little I have. I...I have to be realistic."

"Look, let's talk to Ma first, before you started planning shit. See what she says. I mean... you practically live here now anyway. You might as well just move in for real. Ma isn't gonna leave you out in the cold right now."
 
Reno's head jerked up and he looked at Jie. Live...here? With the Qians? It...he almost couldn't imagine it, the idea of actually being able to live here and have this place--a place that was small and cramped and yet warm--be the place he called home. He used to wish it, when he was little, but it had always just been a stupid, jealous wish.
 
This wasn't the way he ever would have wanted it, but...

Jie suddenly grinned. "And you know what it means, right, if you start living here?"
 
Jie looked far too happy, Reno decided. "What?"
 
"You're gonna have to start calling me 'big brother'," Jie said, an evil grin on his face.
 
"Oh, fuck that noise," Reno said, giving Jie a look, but all the while feeling something he couldn't quite name; an odd kind of happy relief and an uncertain, tentative kind of hope, something he couldn't remember having ever felt before. Everything had started to feel like it was crushing him, but this...
 
"You have to respect your big brother!" Jie said, eyes glittering with what Reno decided was pure evil. "C'mon! Repeat after me. 'Ge-ge'! Oh, ge-ge, I want to be just like you one day!"

"Fuck your face, Jie," Reno said, and dammit, it felt good to laugh. It was shaky and didn't feel completely normal, but it felt good.
 
He didn't know if anything would come of it, but...maybe...

"Look, go empty out your backpack and let's go get some of your stuff and bring it back here. I only stuck a day or two's worth of stuff in there anyway. Things are starting to get hectic at the restaurant now, so I'll call Ma later on, when I can actually talk to her. We're gonna figure something out," Jie said, looking serious again. Then he grinned. "Ge-ge knows best, after all."

Reno hit him with cushion.

And life went on. But maybe it wouldn't go on  as badly as he'd feared.

--

Reno had thought he was OK. He really had. He'd gotten though everything all day, down to identifying his mom's body and getting through funeral arrangements. But there was something about going into the apartment, which still held a stale smell of sick of cleaning products, and the stillness of it...

He felt like he was being choked from the inside of his throat. "I fuckin' hated her, y'know?" Reno said as he stood in the living room. His voice sounded strange to even his own ears.

He'd promised himself years ago he wasn't going to cry because of his mother ever again, and was about to break it again for the second time in as many days. "Shit," he said, after taking a deep breath to try to stop from crying like a damn kid.

"I know," Jie said quietly.

"She's fucking my life up one last time."

"I know."

"I fucking hate her. I fucking hate...I hate..." he said, and his breath hitched. "I didn't want her to--"

"I know," Jie said softly. "Believe me, I know. I hated my dad and everything he did to Ma, but I didn't want him to actually die. But me and Ma did OK after he died. And you will, too."

"I should've been here," Reno said. "If I'd been here, I could've maybe..."

"Stop," Jie said sharply. "You can't know what woulda happened. This ain't your fault. You didn't inject that shit into her and you weren't her keeper."

"Yeah, but--"

"But nothing," Jie said, his voice somehow growing sharper. "You're gonna miss her and it's gonna hurt, trust me. And you're gonna keep wondering what you coulda done different. But this ain't your fault."

Reno looked at his feet. They were getting out of focus, and he was going to cry. 

"Let's get some more of your stuff, and let's go."

"Yeah, ok," Reno managed to get out, and he headed to his bedroom to pack.

There was a lump in his throat, his eyes were burning, and his heart was starting to hurt again, but life went on.

--

He made the mistake of looking at his mother's door as he was leaving with his bag, and he couldn't keep from crying again. It wasn't as wrenching as it had been the night before, but it stopped him cold. He dropped his bag and dropped his head, and tried to keep from losing it like he had the day before.

Jie didn't say anything, just stood next to him. Then he reached out an arm and dropped it on Reno's shoulder.

"I know," he finally said, and Reno let himself cry.

--

Reno was reminded of the fact that thing went on by his stomach growling when he was finally calming back down.

Jie laughed. "Your stomach never quits," he said, shoving at Reno's shoulder.

"I don't even feel hungry," Reno groused, and it was true. 

"Your stomach doesn't care about your feelings and never has, Reno. C'mon, let's get some food. You have anything to eat here?"

Reno nodded. "Yeah." There wasn't much, but what was there did need to be eaten - Reno hated wasting food, and a lot of what was there was perishable.

"OK. You make something to eat, and I'll call my Ma and let her know what happened."

Reno nodded again. He cooked for himself most nights he was home and had ever since Auntie Qian had taught him how to cook - she'd actually trusted him enough cooking to help out in the kitchen at the restaurant some nights, and he actually liked cooking, much to his surprise. There was something comforting in being able to make food for himself. 

It's probably good I already know how to do that, he thought. I can make it on my own.

He knew Jie was serious when he said Reno ought to live with them, but...until it happened, he was going to assume he was going to be on his own. He shook it off and looked in the fridge - he had some leftover rice and a little chicken and some vegetables from a few days before; he could turn that into fried rice pretty easily. Easy enough.

"Ma? Listen, it's me. I'm at Reno's place and --OK, OK! Ma! This is important...Reno's mom--OK, OK! Look, me and Reno are both coming down to meet you at closing. Reno's ma--...Ma, are you even listening?! Oh fuck this, I'll talk to you when we get there--" Jie said, then pulled the phone from his ear and stared at it in disbelief before he hung it up in irritation. "She hung up on me. She yelled 'Later' and hung up on me." Jie let out an irritated breath then shook his head. "It sounded like Ma has got her hands full. There was yelling and screaming in the background." He shook his head. "Odin only knows what's happening down the--"
 
The phone rang.
 
"'Lo?" Jie said, snagging it quickly. "Ma? What's wrong? Oh. Yeah. Ouch. Yeah. Got it. I'll stop by and pick some up on the way over. How many? Two? That enough? Ma, you don't have to yell my ear off! I got it! Ma, look, there's something I gotta--" Jie stared at the phone in disbelief. "She hung up on me again."

Reno just blinked, even forgetting to stir the chaofan he was making. "Wow."

"We need to make a pit stop on the way over.  Ma needs us to pick up some potions. Apparently, the new girl and Da Fei had a little problem with how to properly handle an oil fire," he said, shaking his head. 
 
Reno winced. That explained why Jie had utterly failed at trying to let his mother know what had happened. And speaking of fires, or rather not letting things catch fire, he thought, and turned his attention back to the fried rice.
 
"Ma said they were the last two potions. She said she had ordered some more last week and are supposed to come in in a couple days, but these took the last two at once."
 
Reno nodded. If there were no potions, it was a disaster waiting to happen some days--especially when there was a whole crop of new people working there, like there was now for the winter holidays.  "We can grab some at the 24-hour apothecary, yeah? There's one of the way up there." 
 
"Good idea. And that smells really good. You're gonna make someone a good wife one day," Jie said with a grin.

"Fuck your face, Jie," Reno said, seriously considering throwing something at Jie.

"It's ge-ge, remember?" Jie said with a shit-eating grin.

Reno felt his eye twitch. "Hope you didn't want any food, ge-ge," he said threateningly, and Jie laughed at him.

--

They walked in silence towards to 24-hour apothecary.  Reno was glad of it; he focused more on just moving. "You want anything?" Jie asked, making sure to speak in Standard. They had learned the hard way not to use Wutai out in public - the war was going badly and people were still assholes. The only time they used Wutai when they were out in public now was when they didn't want to be understood...or they were trying to egg someone on.

They'd started branching out with the separating of fools from their money - more than once, they'd lifted wallets from assholes who thought Jie would be an easy target. 

"Nah, I'm cool," Reno said after a minute, shaking his head.

He was starting to feel jittery now - they were heading to Auntie Qian's restaurant, and how she reacted to finding out his mom had died was going to have a major impact on his immediate and possibly long-term future, and...

He wanted to live with them. He wanted to so badly it hurt. But he also knew how much one person cost - the Qians weren't well off. They were doing ok, better than he was and had been, but an extra mouth...he didn't know if he could put that on her.

"Yo, anybody home?" Jie said suddenly, waving his hand in Reno's face.  Reno startled.

"Yeah, uh, what?" Reno said, feeling out of it. He hadn't even noticed Jie talking to him, he'd been so deep in his own thoughts. 

Jie sighed.  "Here, you put these in your bag, OK? Last thing I need to do is risk dropping or breaking them. And we'll talk to Ma when we get to the restaurant and figure stuff out, OK?  So don't worry."
 
"Thanks," Reno said, focusing now on putting the potions - when had Jie picked them up and paid? He hadn't even noticed - and to looking at Jie. When he spoke next, his voice was small.  "And you know, you and your ma don't gotta do nothin'. This...I...ain't--"
 
"Oh, shut up with that," Jie snapped, sounding angry. "You are my best fucking friend and my mom adores you. We ain't throwing you to the gods-bedamned wind, you stupid little shit. Now come on, we have a train up to catch."

--

They arrived right around after closing time, just as everyone else was starting to leave after clean-up.  Reno was glad for that; the last thing he felt like dealing with everyone looking at him the way he knew they would once they knew. Reno hated pity, and he knew that's how everyone would look at him, with pity on their eyes. Reno put on a fake smile when to say good-bye to everyone leaving.

"Hey, Da Fei, how'd that oil fire go, eh?" Reno asked. Da Fei immediately raised a finger in response.

"You're pretty, but you're not that pretty," Da Fei said shortly. "I will break your face, ghost."
 
"Oh, you can try," Reno said with a grin, leaning against a wall.

Jie snorted watching all this. "Ayumi, where's my mom?" Jie asked. Ayumi, a Yamatan girl, stopped for a moment.

"She's in the back putting the money for tonight away. She should be out soon."

Jie nodded. "Thanks. Have a good night," he said, and Ayumi gave him a little smile. Da Fei made a slight face at that, then dropped his arm over her shoulder.

Reno grinned. "Hey, does she know you were just calling me pretty?" he said, batting his eyelashes exaggeratedly at Da Fei.

Da Fei snorted. "Better watch it, ghost, before she starts getting ideas. Bye."

They headed out the door, and the inside of the building became hushed and silent.

Reno could feel the smile falling off his face.

Jie was going to tell his mom now. Jie was going to tell his mom, and then he was going to wait to see how she responded, see if...

The front door opened.
 
--

Jie had been heading towards the back, but he stopped one the door opened. "I'm sorry, but we're closed," he said. "We reopen tomorrow at--"

Instead of leaving, one of the four men who had come inside shut the door behind them.

Jie's eyes narrowed, and Reno felt himself going on guard. The two men didn't look like they were about to hold the place up, but you never knew.

"Are you Qian Jie Guang?" one of the men asked. The man asking was vaguely familiar; Reno had the nagging feeling that he'd seen him before.

"Who wants to know?" Jie shot back, crossing his arms.

"We're the ones asking questions, boy. Are you Qian Jie Guang?"

"I ain't telling you shit," Jie said, switching to Standard. His hackles were up, and Reno started scouting around with his eyes to see what could be used as a weapon in case things went south.

"Oh, I think you will," the vaguely-familiar man said, and one of the other men began to step forward menacingly.

Well. That's how it's gonna go, huh, Reno thought. He and Jie had never backed away from a fight, and fuck no were they gonna start now.

"Yeah, well, I think you little fucks need to leave," Jie said, sticking to Standard. "I dunno who the fuck you are, but now you're trespassing. Get the hell out." He repeated it in Wutai, just to make sure they understood.

"You don't have the right to tell us we're trespassing. Not unless you have some claim to this place," the familiar-looking one said in a tone that was oddly smug.

Jie just glared, and Reno knew that look - shit was definitely about to go down.

Reno gripped one of the straps of his backpack. If he needed to, he could use it for a weapon, or at least for the element of surprise. There wasn't much around him that he could use, but if push came to shove, he could toss the backpack and grab one of the chairs nearby - they were heavy as fuck, but wooden, so he could maybe break off a leg or something if he needed to...

He started edging towards the kitchen as well. The last thing they needed was Auntie Qian coming out, and if he could get to the back, he could also maybe get a knife or something...

"Take them," the older man who had been until watching silently said to the two guys who were clearly his muscle, and yeah, it was game time.

--

People always underestimated Reno, especially if they were measuring him against Jie. Jie wasn't the biggest or the burliest of people, but he was bigger and stronger-looking that Reno was by a long shot.  He made Reno look even smaller and slighter than he was, and that meant people assumed he'd wouldn't be a real fight. He knew it, and used it to his advantage. People never came at him full strength, not at first.

People were suckers that way.

Reno wasn't the strongest, but he wasn't a fragile little flower, and most important, he was fast. That was something else people never expected and never saw coming.

Reno had the backpack slung off his back and was whirling it around before the man who had been coming for him could completely register it had happened. If they guy got too close, Reno was planning to make sure he got a face full of backpack.

There was a crashing sound near him, but Reno couldn't afford to look over - it was Jie, had to be, and Jie could take care of himself in a fight. And he'd figured out pretty quickly that if he did, the guy trying to 'take him' would get in quick. And judging by how the man tried to lunge for him right after the crash, he knew he'd been right.

There was another crash off to the side, and then the sound of a door being flung open.

"What under the Heavens are you two--" Jie's mom yelled as she stormed out, then she suddenly stopped short, her eyes going wide and all the blood draining out of her face as she stared straight at the older man. "No. No. You can't be...no!"
 
"Ah, long time no see," he said with a vicious smile. "Yang Zhao Xi."
 
Reno felt the wind knocked out of him as the man he had been fighting took advantage of him looking away by darting in and punching him square in the solar plexus.

Rookie mistake, he thought, and wheezed for breath as he went down.

--
 
"Wu Shan Wen," Jie's mom whispered, staring at the older man, her face completely bloodless. She swallowed and her legs seemed to almost give out from under her as she swayed on her feet. "How did you--?" she began, then the words dried up.
 
The man, Shan Wen, smirked.  "You thought you could run forever, didn't you, Zhao Xi? You were mistaken."

Reno didn't quite know what was going on - Yang Zhao Xi? Why was this guy calling Auntie Qian that?

Auntie Qian didn't say anything, just took in a deep breath through her nose. "Get your thug's hands off my son," she said, her voice icy cold.

"No, I think not. Secure my grandson, and...I don't care, dispose of the ghost."

"Hey, no! Stop! Look, just let my friend go. He's...whatever this is, he's got nothing to do with this. Just look at him; he doesn't even understand Wutai!" Jie yelled, struggling to get free of the grip the muscle he'd been fighting with before had on him. Reno hadn't noticed when that had happened; he decided it must have been when he was on the floor gasping for air. He was still on the floor, but at least he could breathe now. Though at this rate, only the gods knew how long that would be. For now, he was going to stay on the floor; make himself small and wait for an opportunity.

One of the men smiled, the one whose face had been naggingly familiar somehow to Reno. "Oh, but it's too late for that. He's already seen us. And you speak Wutai, don't you, ghost? You told me so yourself," he said, coming over to Reno and leaning over him.

That was when Reno placed him. He was that guy, not-Tsai, the one who had stared at Jie's mom a few months before; fuckall if Reno could remember anything more than that, and he was amazed he's even remembered the man at all. "You picked a bad day to work overtime, ghost. But I have to thank you, since you were the one who gave me that info on 'Xiao Zhen' that day."
 
Jie's mom looked at him like she couldn't believe her ears, and the betrayed look on her face was like a punch to the gut. 

Reno didn't have time to think deeply about what had just happened before he was hauled to his feet. Grandson?

I don't want to die, he thought frantically. I have to get out of this.

"Yeah. I speak Wutai. But I don't know what the fuck is even going on here," he finally said. "And I don't want to know. I know how this goes. I know I'm dead if I do."
 
"You're dead anyway, ghost," Shan Wen said. "Shi, make sure Jie Yao is evacuated."

Not-Tsai nodded, and Jie started jerking harder to get out of the grip Goon 2 had on him.  "My name is Jie Guang! Not Jie Yao!" he yelled in Standard. "Let my friend go! Let me go, you fuckers!"

Shan Wen stiffened. "Jie Guang? I won't use that name, boy. It's not your name. Your name is Wu Jie Yao, and it is a name you should be yelling from the rafters with pride.

"Your mother stole three things very important to me. She stole my money, my son's life, and my grandson. I have come to retrieve you. You have been gone too long. Your father's place has been empty for too long."
 
"I ain't going back!" Jie screamed. "I ain't got no father whose place I gotta take; I won't go back!"
 
"Speak Wutai!"
 
"No!" Jie yelled, his lip turning up in an angry snarl. "Fuck you! You can't make me go back! I ain't goin' nowhere!"
 
Shan Wen's eyes narrowed. "I see you need persuading. Tie up the ghost and the whore."

Goon 1 tightened his grip on Reno's arm, twisting it so hard Reno could swear he could feel his muscles being ground against the bone.

"Let go of my ma, you motherfu--!"

Jie's words were cut off abruptly with a slap. And almost a second later, Shan Wen had pulled out a gun of his own and shot the man straight in the head.

"That's my grandson," he said mildly, to the other goons he'd brought with him. "Remember your place."

He then leveled the gun directly at Auntie Qian's head. "You'll behave now, won't you, Jie Yao?" he said, his voice just as mild, and Jie stopped looking ready to attack.

"Since I am down a man because of your disobedience, you will tie your friend up."

"I won't--!" Jie yelled, and Shan Wen turned his gun on Reno.

"Then I kill him now."

"...I understand," Jie said, the words sounding like they were grating his mouth to utter.

"Tie him tightly. If the bounds are loose, I will kill him."

"You're already planning to kill him," Jie snarled.

"I can be persuaded otherwise if you behave," Shan Wen answered, in that same mild tone.

"I understand," Jie repeated, clenching his hands into fists, one last defiance, before his shoulders slumped. He walked over to Reno and grabbed one of his arms; the one that the good didn't have a death grip on. "Let go of him."

Live Goon was apparently smarter than Dead Goon, so he let go of Reno's arm. Reno didn't put up a fight this time - it wouldn't go well. Shan Wen had shot one of his own men; Reno had no doubts he would be shot down just as quickly.

Jie probably knew it as well. "What am I supposed to tie him up with? Air?" he said, teeth gritted.

Live Goon walked over to a bag by the door. A bag that was apparently full of rope. And weapons. He pulled out a rope and brought it over to Jie, handing it to him without a word. Jie offered a grunt in reply, then led Reno to a chair close to the kitchen.

"Try again, Jie Yao," Shan Wen said sharply, and anger flashed on Jie's face quickly. Reno gave him a shrug. He knew what Jie had tried to do; put him further from everyone and closer to a way out.  "Clear that space," Shan Wen ordered, pointing to the center of the restaurant. Live Goon quickly cleared the area. "Two chairs," he said in clipped tones. When there were two chairs in the space, he pointed to one.  "That chair." 

Jie may have had a grip on his arm, but Reno walked over to the chair on his own and sat down. He put his hands behind the chair - there was nothing he could do, but he knew Jie had to have something up his sleeve. All Reno needed was a chance...

Jie was tying the ropes around his wrists, and Reno felt slightly cold at just how good of a job he was doing. Reno knew they had to be tied seriously, but this was...

He suddenly felt something cold brushing against his fingers as Jie tugged on the rope around his wrists testing them. He looked over up Jie, who was shooting him a look.  He opened his hand quickly, and felt Jie drop something into his hand.

The Toughness Ring.

"Did you have to tie them THAT tight?" Reno grumbled, seeming to struggling against the bonds to cover as he slipped the ring on. Things were about to go to shit, but it sounded like of all of them, Jie was the one they were the least likely to do anything to, whereas Reno knew he was pretty much up shit creek. And Jie knew it too, which was why that Toughness Ring was now on his finger and not one of Jie's.

"Would you rather get shot in the damn face?" Jie groused.

"Speak Standard again and you will regret it," Shan Wen said sharply.

"What is your problem with me speaking Standard?" Jie snapped, his short temper fraying. "I grew up here. I speak it most of the time. I worked hard to learn it!"

"It is the language of the people trying to destroy us! Of the upstarts who are trying to steal our culture! We brought culture to these cursed lands thousands of years ago, and now they repay that with war. You will NOT use ShinRa's words, not in my presence ever again! You stain your own history by using that language!

"But it's not your fault," he said, calming down from this sudden rage. "It's her fault. She is the one who stole you away from the Wu clan and your true home."

His voice was full of venom as he glared at Auntie Qian. She responded with defiance, raising her chin instead of lowering her eyes.  "Tie her next to my grandson's pet ghost."

Reno bristled, but kept his tongue behind his teeth. Not-Tsai manhandled her over to the empty chair, but she didn't go quietly or easily. She fought every step of the way, and then not-Tsai backhanded her so hard so was knocked over.

Jie started at that, but stopped short at Shan Wen's abrupt, "Don't. Who walks out of here and who dies in a pool of their own intestines depends entire on how cooperative you are."

Every millimeter of Jie was tense, like he would explode from the pressure of it all of he moved an inch.

"Tie her up," Shan Wen repeated, and not-Tsai hauled her to her feet and forced her into the chair, but was rewarded with a sharp kick to the shins as soon as she was seated. Not-Tsar immediately punched her so hard in the solar plexus that she was left gasping for air, and he took that time to tie her down firmly.

Shan Wen watched her with almost no expression save a strange light in his eyes until she caught her breath, then he turned to Jie. "You've behaved well, Jie Yao. And for that, I will reward you. I'll let them leave." He focused his look back on Jie's mother. "We are taking my grandson and going," he said, and at that, he smiled just the tiniest bit. "You will be left with nothing. Come along, Jie Yao."

He turned and began to walk out. Jie swallowed, then dropped his head, defeated. "I...Ma, take care of Reno, his Ma--"

"One more word to her and I shoot her," Shan Wen said sharply, and Jie let out an aborted growl of rage. His shoulders dropped, and he turned to follow after his grandfather.

"He's not your grandchild!" Jie's mom screamed suddenly. "He's not a Wu! He's not Gao Lun's child!"
 
The older man went completely still. "What?" he said, whirling around, and a range of emotions playing across his face.
 
The look on his face seemed to give Jie's mother back her courage. "Like your pathetic, limp-dicked, noodle of a son could have possibly gotten me pregnant," she said, voice full of mocking contempt. She sneered. "After my wedding night, I wondered if that had even counted or if I was still a virgin."
 
The stalked over to her without a word, but the slap he gave her echoed in the room. "You lying little whore. You just want us to leave and are going off on wild flights of fancy hoping to land upon one that will work. He is my son's child!"
 
"You're a pathetic, blind old man," she said, raising her head with stiff-necked pride. "Just look at Jie. Does he look even a bit like that noodle you called a son? Anyone with eyes can see whose child he is. Chen. Xi. Hui," she said, carefully enunciating the name, as if spitting it in his face.
 
"Chen Xi H--the bodyguard. The bodyguard that...he wasn't killed trying to protect you," Wu said, eyes narrowing.
 
The contemptuous look on Jie's mom's face deepened, then she made a disgusted face. "That little harpy, Guo'er, told the noodle about us. She wanted to make sure her child had the best position, and used the eyes none of you seemed to have.  So tell me," she sneered, "Guo'er got what she wanted, so why are you still after us?  Unless," she said, and laughed.  "Unless she had a daughter."

She laughed harder at the look on Wu Shan Wen's face.  "I should have known.  Of course the limp noodle wouldn't have even been able to manage a son."

"We were about to flee Wutai anyway when the noodle found out," Jie's mom said. "Xi Hui didn't want to live a lie, and I wanted out of there. I was tired of being beaten because the only time the noodle felt like a man was if he was hitting me."
 
"Zhao Xi, you're nothing but a little fool," the man said, his whole body all but shaking with rage. "I knew Gao Lun didn't have what it took to be the next head, and that was why I chose you to be his wife. The marriage would have united us with the Yang clan, and your fierceness was all but legendary even when you were a child. All you would have needed to do was soften your tongue to him and you would have been at his back, leading the clan from the shadows."
 
She snorted. "My 'fierceness'? 'Leading from the shadows'? How stupid do you think I am? I saw how you looked at me when I was fourteen and you and my parents arranged that disaster of a marriage. The only 'from the shadows' you were hoping," she said, with a knowing and contemptuous smile on her face, "was that when your impotent failure of a son couldn't get me with child, you would have to step in and try." She made a disgusted face. "But I'd have bitten my tongue and died before I let you touch me, you toothless old bandersnitch."

"Your family already thinks you dead," Shan Wen said, his voice colder than a Blizzaga. "You took my son's life, Yang Zhao Xi. First you played him for a fool, and they you saw him killed when he discovered your treachery. You will pay for what you have done, all of it, with your own. You will pay," he snarled as aimed his gun at her head and cocked it.

"She didn't kill him!" Jie screamed. "I--I did! I killed him! I killed him! Not her! And I'd do it again!

Shan Wen froze, then lowered his gun. "You're lying. You're lying, to protect your mother!"

Jie shook his head forcefully. "No. I killed him. I shot him. He shot the man who was with us, then threw it down and attacked ma. He was choking her...he was choking her and screaming he'd kill her with his bare hands for what she had done. So I...so I shot him. I picked up his gun and I shot him." Jie's breath was ragged. "And then we ran."

"All this time," Jie said, and he suddenly smiled. It was a cold smile, one Reno had never seen him make before. He'd never seen so much hate in Jei's eyes before. "I thought I had killed my father. But it turns out, I actually killed the bastard who killed my father."
 
"Jie, what are you doing?! Shut up!" his mother yelled. "It wasn't him! I did it! I shot him! Not Jie, it wasn't him--!" she yelled, her words almost tripping over themselves as she tried desperately to get them out.

"You still think me a fool, Yang Zhao Xi.  Kill them," Shan Wen grated out, his voice shaking with rage. "Kill them all. Kill the ghost first, then the whore, then her murderous whelp. Make him watch them all die."
 
Goon 1 pulled out a gun, and Reno couldn't see his way out of this. He was going to die. He was actually going to...

"No!" Jie screamed.
 
It was like everything happened in slow motion. One instant, the goon was pulling out his gun and leveling it at his chest, the next...

The next, Jie was leaping in front of him, and Reno was jerking to the side, knocking the chair over to at least win him a few more seconds, to go out with some kind of fight, and then there was blood.

It wasn't his.

It wasn't all his.

His shoulder was on fire

And Jie was on the floor.

And there was blood.

Jie wasn't moving.

Jie wasn't--

This wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening.

He could hear Auntie Qian screaming.

Play dead, Reno thought suddenly. Unconscious, or something. The bullet had gone through...gone through Jie and still hit him, and there was a lot more blood than he wanted to ever see coming out of him. If he acted like he was passing out, if he--

He had to try. He made himself begin to twitch, and forced his breathing to sound more strained, adding a harsh wheezing to it before he let his head drop and he went limp. 
 
Through his eyelashes, he could see the goon pointing his gun at Auntie Qian, and it was all he could do not the yell, not to do something to--

He could hear her, Auntie Qian, still yelling even though her voice by now gone hoarse from screaming. "My son, you've killed my son! Jie, oh Jie..."

--he had to--

Shan Wen smiled suddenly and raised a hand, halting the goon before he fired. "Wait," he said, and there was something Reno recognized as vengeful in the man's eyes as he holstered his own gun. "Don't waste your bullets. I want the whore to suffer. You brought dishonor on my house, and I will see its honor restored. Burn this place. Burn it to the ground, and let the last thing she sees be her bastard dead at her feet. You will suffer as I have. And then you will die here, in a Fire Pit of your own making," he said with a snarl.
 
"The ghost? I think he's faking it," not-Tsai said, and Reno could hear the frown in his voice.
 
Shan Wen scoffed as Reno cursed internally. "It doesn't matter if he's faking or if he is truly unconscious. He's not going anywhere. She can watch him bleed out and burn, too."

The goon nodded, then headed into the kitchen. He wasn't there long, and when he came out, he was carrying several of the containers of cooking oil that had been back there. He and not-Tsai began dousing the tables and floors with it.  "The kitchen is already on fire," Goon said as he worked. "The rest will be soon, sir."

"Good. Bar the doors when we leave."

The goon nodded, then, once the jugs of oil were empty, and to the sound of flames crackling in the kitchen, took out a lighter and began setting everything on fire.

"Let's go," Shan Wen said as the new fires began to spread. "Farewell, Yang Zhao Xi," he ended with a sick smile and a sarcastic little bow, before he, his live goon, and not-Tsai left the restaurant.

--

As soon as they were, gone, Reno opened his eyes fully and sat up. He knew he didn't have much time. He had to get out of the ropes and fast - the place was filling fast with smoke, he was bleeding, badly, and if they didn't get out now...

The rope was wearing at the skin of his wrists, but he kept struggling, trying to get just one fucking hand free--

Reno gritted his teeth, and grabbed the thumb of one hand with his other. His hand could almost slip loose, but his stupid hand was too big...
 
He pushed his thumb into a way it wasn't meant to go, and bit his lip to keep from yelling from pain as the joint gave. 

It hurt like fuck, and he was starting to feel woozy in a way that he knew wasn't good, but now his hand could slip free. That was all he needed. He pulled his hand free, then the other, then bent down to untie his feet.

He was hit again by pain from where he had been shot, and the world swam and went grey for a few seconds. But he had to, he--the potions

He shook it off and untied his feet, then scrambled for his bag. He wouldn't be any good at all if he passed out trying to untie Auntie Qian. And he didn't want to die. Not now. Not today. Not like this.

As soon as he got the bag, he tore it open and fumbled for one of the potions. He almost dropped it, but managed to get it open and quickly downed the entire thing, then gritted his teeth at the feeling of everything inside of twisting, knitting together faster than was possible by nature, and the groaning of his body as it screamed silently in protest...then the relief of nothingness; the absence of pain almost a pain itself for a moment before his body registered that it was fine.

He still felt woozy; still felt weak. Potions could get your back on your feet, but all they did was speed your body's healing up, and once the adrenaline was gone, you usually would feel like you needed to eat a whole chocobo and sleep for a day.

The potion helped his dislocated thumb and closed up the bullet wound, but did nothing to help his lungs or his eyes, which both started to object to all of the smoke rapidly filling the room. The fire was going to make things impossible soon, and they had to go - they had to go now.

And he hoped against hope that Jie wasn't...he couldn't be, he had to still be alive; maybe the bullet hadn't killed him and if Reno could get that last potion to him...

"Auntie Qian! Auntie Qian!" he yelled, keeping low to the ground and crawling towards where she was still tied to the chair. She was starting to cough now, and he had to untie her and they had to get out, get out now.
 
He covered his mouth with his shirt and untied her as quickly as he could. As soon as she did, she stumbled over to Jie, and started shaking him. "Jie? Jie, please, you have to get up, please, why did you tell him that? Why did you say that to him?"

Reno made himself look now. He hadn't been able to, not until now, and...

Jie was dead. The bullet meant for Reno had instead gone through Jie first, and Reno knew that look now. 

He knew what death looked like. He knew what a body looked like when they breath and life was gone from it.

He couldn't think about it now. Not now. Not right now.

"Auntie Qian...we have to go. We have to! We can't stay here!" Reno coughed out desperately, tugging at her arm. She yanked her arm free and snatched the potion Reno was still holding in his hand, then dropped to the the floor, and pulled Jie into her arms.

She desperately tried to pour the potion into Jie's mouth. "Jie...Jie...please...please! You can't leave me, you can't..."
 
Her words were cut off by a fit of coughing. "We have to go!" he managed to get out, and grabbed her arm to pull her to feet. "He's...he's gone."

The words hurt.

Auntie Qian's whirled to look at him, and the pain on her face was like a slap. Something flashed in her eyes, some kind of deep despair, before they hardened and her face contorted.  "Because...because of you. Because he tried to save you."

Reno dropped her arm almost as if it had burned his skin. "I...it---" he stammered out.

"Why?" she wailed, and tears were streaming down her face as the restaurant burned around them. "Why are you alive and my son dead?!" she screamed, voice tortured. She began to cough again, then dropped back to the floor and cradled Jie's body. "Get out! I never want to see you again! Get out, get out, GET OUT AND LEAVE ME HERE TO DIE WITHOUT SEEING YOUR FACE! GO!"
 
Reno's voice caught in his throat and his voice hitched. "I...I'm...I'm sorry. I won't...I won't...I'm sorry," he said, stumbling over his words and blinking fast as something inside him broke. He was alone, he really was alone.  Jie was gone, his mother was gone, he-- He let out a gasping sob, and then, before she could say anything, turned on his heel and ran. The door wouldn't budge, so he raised his arms to protect his face and leapt through the window.  Through the sound of breaking glass, he thought maybe that he could hear her call out from behind him, but he didn't stop running; didn't look back.

And life, somehow, somehow...would go on.

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