[fic] The Things You Never Knew About People: Revenge

Title: The Things You Never Knew About People - Revenge
Status: 11/14
Fandom: FF7
Rating: R
Word count: 9575
Summary: Sometimes, it's personal.
A/N: Sorry it took longer than I thought to get this part out; I had some problems with tendonitis in my right wrist, which made typing a pain in the butt. ^^;; It almost DIDN'T come out because right after I finished it, Evernote bleeping DELETED IT. Thankfully, I had saved a copy to Dropbox because I am paranoid. Y'all, make sure you always back things up.

Chapter 11 - Revenge


Things, Rude decided when they went into Tseng's office, did not look good. Tseng had an expression on his face that was severe even by Tseng's standards, and, more worrying, Rufus was there as well, looking somewhat grim himself. Elena was already there, looking nervous.

"Yo, 'sup?" Reno said to Tseng and Refus' serious faces and flung himself casually into a chair as he raised an eyebrow at them, handling the gravity of the room in a way that was very Reno: by answering it with an equal amount of levity.

"I watched the videos of your 'interrogation' of Shi while you were in Wutai," Tseng said, his voice low and uninflected, and Reno's head jerked up, his whole body jerking like he'd had a shock, and he went from slumping in his chair to stiff and coiled like a spring. "And I would like to know what was on your Wutai wire recordings that were deleted. I believe those deletions were your doing."

Before Rude could process all of that fully, Reno was back on his feet, saying something low and fast in Wutai. Rude had no idea what Reno had said, but he did know that this wasn't like Reno--while having that whipcord dangerousness was like him, aiming it at another Turk, let alone Tseng...that wasn't like him at all.

And what was that Tseng had just said about deletions? Reno had deleted things from the wire tappings?! Rude thought back frantically, trying to think of when it was Reno could have possibly edited the recordings, and there was no way...

Every morning. Every morning, Reno was up at least two hours before him or Elena, putting on makeup. And Rude only knew it was two hours because that was what Reno had said, but...well, he'd never asked after the first few times, and by the end Reno had switched his alarm to buzz and kept it under his pillow, so Rude never even woke up.

...Just what under the Heavens was going on?!

Tseng leveled a gaze at Reno, not giving anything away as he calmly asked Reno a question in Wutai, and Rude wished suddenly that he didn't have quite as much of a tin ear for the language, just so he would know what was going on, because the only thing he understood out of that whole exchange was "Who is Yang Zhao Xi?" and "You and Shi."

He was beginning to wish he had pressed Reno on Yang Zhao Xi or what had happened with Shi, because whatever this was, it seemed to run a lot deeper than Rude had imagined.

Reno snapped something at Tseng, and Tseng replied back in the same coldly dispassionate way that served to make Reno's back go straight like someone had hit him with his own weapon, taking in a sharp breath.

Tseng's gaze was a weapon; he leveled it at Reno and only disengaged it when something shifted in Reno's eyes--if Rude had had to name it, he would have said it was as if the fight had gone out of Reno, but on some level, Rude couldn't quite accept that.

"So what is it you weren't telling me, Reno?" Rufus finally said softly. "That you weren't telling any of us? Tseng translated the interrogation for me last night, and I think there is a lot going on here that you aren't telling us."

Reno's shoulders slumped, and that was when Rude knew the man well and truly had given up. "You know...you know that wife and kid, yeah? The Wu clan ones, I mean, the ones what got kidnapped and presumed murdered?"

Rufus frowned slightly, thinking, then nodded. "Vaguely, yes. You mentioned them as part of the rift between the Li and Wu clan. The Li clan killed them, correct?"

A bitter smile crossed Reno's face. "Sometimes, things ain't so simple."

"So what happened?"

"There was a reason why the Wu and Li clans made nice-nice. It's 'cause they found out what happened to them two. Turns out they didn't get kidnapped and murdered by Lis. They fled and came to Midgar."

"Why did they flee Wutai? It was before the war, correct?"

"Yeah. Gets kinda nasty, an' I don't know the whole story myself 'cause they weren't exactly spillin' their life stories to me or nothin', and I was distracted what with me being tied up with a gun at my head when I was hearin' it, but they fled 'cause...the husband was kinda beatin' the crap outta his wife. The kid didn't much like seein' his mom gettin' the shit beat outta her, and shot his dad. The ma flipped out, grabbed an assload of money, an' had 'em on the first boat outta Wutai. Ended up in Midgar under fake names."

Rude was starting to get a very bad feeling about all of this. A bad feeling and a very bad suspicion. And what in Hel's name had that been, about Reno having a gun to his head?

Reno smiled a hard, bitter smile. "Gotta admit, I didn't get it at the time, but Auntie Qian, yeah, she had a thing with names, though maybe I shoulda guessed it with the way she picked out the wuzi for mine. She picked out names that a kid could remember easy and make it so he knew he had to keep them secret--can't help but, when every time you say your new family name, you're sayin' 'hide'. And with Jie, she even used one of the same names so he wouldn't slip up. He was Jie Yao in Wutai."

Rude's eyes had flown open the second he heard the name "Auntie Qian," and the bad suspicion settled into a strange, sick certainty that he didn't want to be true at "Jie."

"Reno...wait...that Jay...that's not your friend when you were a kid?" he said, stomach sinking even more into certainty that he wanted very much to have negated as he said it, and Elena's eyes went very, very wide. "Not the one you learned Wutai from?!"

"Always knew ya were smart," Reno said, a wavering smile on his face. "They came to Midgar an' went from Yang Zhao Xi an' Wu Jie Yao to Qian Xiao Zhen an' Qian Jie Guang."

Rude's eyes went large, because that was one name he had not been expecting to be involved in that story. "Yang Zhao Xi?!"

"Yup," Reno said, no emotion in his voice.

"She was a Yang?!" Elena yelped, wide-eyed.

Rude couldn't do more than look over his sunglasses and blink. If he'd tried to say anything, all he would have managed would have been a 'No.'

"Not just a Yang," Reno said, getting a smile that Rude didn't like at all on his face. "She was the eldest daughter of the Yang. Found that out in Wutai, yo," he said, and the faint trembling of his hands belied the calmness--one that didn't last long--in his voice. "She was the eldest daughter of the head of the clan in an arranged political marriage to the next head of the Wu clan."

Suddenly, everything in Wutai--Reno's reactions to the leaders of the Yang and being in the Yang compound, the way he always seemed so jittery afterwards--made a horrible kind of sense, and Rude wondered how he could have missed things that much.

"The Wu clan found them almost by accident," Reno continued flatly. "Auntie Qian decided enough years had passed, got a little careless or something. Opened her own restaurant, and...and someone who had been in the Wu clan recognized her," he said, and there was something about the way he paused that let Rude know there was still more that had occurred than Reno was telling them. "That was how I knew for sure it was the Wu. 'Cause I remembered the guy, once I actually saw him again, not a photo," he said, his face going tight. "And they figured out maybe it wasn't what they thought. So they came to Wutai to find her and take Jie back--they thought she had killed her husband and fled, so they had planned to kill her. Only..." Reno's voice trailed off, and there was something painful in the hearing of it and how his eyes skittered away from everyone else's. When he spoke again his voice was normal, but as if forced to be--as if Reno was trying to force himself not to care or think about about what he was saying. His words were just a hair too fast and too flippant to be normal. "Only shit went wrong. Jie died. Dunno about her. Prolly. Don't think she got out when her restaurant was burning."

Reno's eyes went sharp and dangerous, and he looked at Tseng. "You remember when you hired me?" Reno said, narrowing his eyes. "You remember what I was doing when we met?"

Tseng stopped short. "All the more reason to pull you from this. I should have pulled you the instant it became clear the Wu clan was involved. Had I known how deeply this ran, I would have. I will correct that mistake now."

Reno smiled. It was a cold smile, sharp and deadly, and Rude knew that smile, had seen it more than once in interrogations, aimed right at whoever they were questioning right before things went very, very badly for the person being questioned.

Reno's next words were the same as the smile, malice covered with false and deadly levity. "'Cause you got so many Turks what can speak Northern like a native, yeah?"

Tseng's eyes widened, then narrowed, and the twisted smile on Reno's face turned ugly. "This ain't business no more, boss," he said. "This is personal. You can try and take me off this, but I ain't done with this. Not by a long shot. Me an' the Wu clan...this ain't got nothin' to do with ShinRa, an' I'll walk out the door right now if you try an' stop me."

Rude had never seen Reno like he was now, and he knew one thing with an absolute certainty: Reno's last words had been the complete and absolute truth. Reno had always been professional at work--it had never been more than a job for him, only now it looked like his personal life had been dragged into it despite his best efforts, and it was more than he could take...and if it came down to a choice between a job and something like this, something so personal...

"We want the same thing, boss," Reno said, closing his eyes and he seemed to try to calm himself down. "So there ain't no good in us gettin' in each other's way, yeah? This don't gotta be a 'conflict of interest'."

Tseng looked ready to say something, when Rufus spoke, sounding almost bored. "I have no interest in any of these clan intricacies or who means what to whom. The Wu clan is a nuisance to ShinRa and counterproductive to our goals with Wutai. You yourself said they were antagonistic to ShinRa and the data has born that out. The last thing ShinRa needs is an unknown and hostile power on Wutai and one that has more than once indicated it is trying to get a foothold in ShinRa areas. Eliminate the Wu and the Li clans. ShinRa's resources are at your disposal."

Some of the tension seemed to ease out of Reno's shoulders at the same time as Rude let go of the breath he had been holding without knowing it, and the look Reno flashed Rufus was one of relief and gratitude. "Thanks, sir," he said, voice sounding odd.

Rufus' voice was soft, and Rude almost frowned as he tried to puzzle out the note of what almost seemed to be sympathy in Rufus Shinra's voice, and not for the first time, he began to wonder if there was more to Rufus Shinra than he had thought. "Run them out of Midgar," he said. "Make having come here so costly they never come back...for any reason," Rufus said, giving Reno a long look. "Break the back of the Wu clan, here and in Wutai, once and for all."

The smile that Reno got on his face was one that Rude, in all his years of knowing the man, had never seen before. And he prayed to whatever deity would listen that he would never see again.

"Don't worry about that one," he said. "I'm finishin' this shit for good this time."

--

"Reno, what was--" Rude began, when Reno cut him off.

"You need a drink?" Reno said, his breathing fast. "'Cause I need a drink," he said, picking up his jacket.

"...Let's go," Rude said softly, and Reno slammed out the door. Elena looked over, but Rude shook his head, and she nodded once, and Rude followed after Reno alone.

Reno didn't say a single word as he fumed his way to their car. Everyone had wisely gotten out of Reno's way as they made their way down; many had thrown Rude looks of confusion and what looked like relief that Rude was following after him.

Reno got into the car, in the driver's seat and slammed the door shut, but Rude shook his head. "Let me drive, partner," he said, and Reno glared at him.

"Excuse me?"

"Let me drive. You're not in a position to drive right now."

"Uhh, I'm sitting in the driver's seat. That puts me in the perfect position to drive."

"You know what I mean," Rude said, crossing his arms. He wasn't going to budge on this one. With the way Reno was, they'd be more likely to end up wrapped around a pole than to whatever bar Reno had in mind.

He and Reno stared at each other before Reno slammed his fist into the steering wheel and cursed.

Rude continued to stare at him over his sunglasses.

"Fuck you," Reno swore again, then slid over.

"Thank you," Rude said calmly, and took the keys Reno slammed onto the seat between them.

--

"So who was Shi De Ting?" Rude asked, after Reno had slammed down a couple of shots then switched over to whiskey on the rocks at some hole in the wall bar he'd directed Rude to. Neither of them had said anything past ordering their drinks, but Rude knew Reno would need to be prompted.

Reno's face tensed. "Bastard. He was the one what found Auntie Qian and Jie and went runnin' off back to the Wu," he said with a snarl, and stared into his drink. "And he was there when they died. Didn't know his name an' he got old, so it ain't like the picture of him told me shit. Then I saw him when we were supposed ta pick 'im up. Recognized him then," Reno said, still staring into the glass, and looking as brittle as the glass he held in his hands.

That explained a lot, Rude thought, and he couldn't help but wonder just what was on that tape of the interrogation.

And speaking of tapes...

"Why did you erase parts of the tapes in Wutai?" Rude said softly.

Reno kept on staring at his glass. "As soon as I found out how high up in the Yang clan Jie's mom was...like I said, dunno if she's dead or alive, but what do you think'd happen if she was alive? I'm pretty sure she's dead, but if? Someone that high up, livin' in Midgar in secret? You know it'd go bad," Reno said tightly, clinching his jaw, and only just now looking at Rude.

Rude frowned, but tried to think it through, see what would upset Reno so much. Yes, she'd be in danger from the Wutai clans, but why hide it from him--from all of ShinRa?

...because she'd become a pawn, Rude realized with a sharp jolt. Someone the Wu and Li clans wanted dead that much, and who could upset the balance of the Wutai mafia clans just by existing, and might accidentally spark another round of clan warfare...she'd become a pawn, or worse, bait. If she was dead, it wasn't an issue, but if she was still alive...

Going down the routes it could take, none of them ended well, not for Yang Zhao Xi.

Rufus's words--I have no interest in any of these clan intricacies or who means what to whom--flashed back to him, and he was suddenly fully aware of what had gone unsaid meant: ShinRa would not be looking for her.

In one swoop, Rude realized, Rufus might have just bought Reno's loyalty forever.

"You know what killed me?" Reno said after a while, staring into a glass. "When we was in Wutai, an' I was meeting with the Yang...with Jie's grandfather, for fuck's sake, he was tryin' to pawn off one of his younger daughters on me. Shit about how 'we can't let the bloodline dilute more with the ghosts' an' other shit. An' all I could think was how much she looked like Auntie Qian. An' how much some of 'em looked like Jie. One of his younger sons, 'cause the guy had like twenty gajillian concubines, looked..."

Reno swallowed suddenly, and his words were tight and angry, and almost shaking with rage. "The Wu killed him, man. Right in front of me. He was tryin' to protect me. He's dead, maybe both of 'em, probably both of them, 'cause of the Wu clan. Him an' Auntie Qian, they was the closest thing I had to a real family."

Rude's face didn't change, as he gave himself time to process everything. When he finally spoke, his voice was flat, but there was something expectant in what he said next, knowing the answer and expecting nothing less than it. "...I am assuming you plan to avenge his death?"

Reno's face changed to a sudden, sharp smile, deadly like a knife. "Oh, yeah, I got them back, back then," Reno said with that same sharp smile, the most dangerous one in the man's repertoire. "Who d'you think it was what helped run 'em outta Midgar in the first place? Who caused Wu Shan Wen to be out for the count? They blamed the Turks, but I hadn't even joined up then, just good timing what gave 'em that impression. Shiva's tits, man, that was how I got this job," he said, and tossed back another shot. "I always did like blowin' shit up."

--

Rude had seen Reno hard at work before, but it had been nothing like the next few weeks turned into. He honestly found himself wondering if the man slept - or needed to.

He strongly suspected that at the rate he was going, Reno was going to know enough Wutai characters to read anything that got flung at him.

It was also the longest he had ever seen Reno go with smiling, and that was something Rude hadn't realized he would miss. Before, Reno had smiled all the time; all different quicksilver smiles to match his quicksilver eyes, but now, there was only a grim seriously, broken only occasionally by quick flashes of smiles that never quite reached his eyes.

Even Elena had noticed something was wrong, but while she didn't say anything about it, Rude had noticed her giving Reno odd side looks when she knew he wasn't looking, as if she were trying to figure out what was so different.

Rude did what he could to help; to lighten the load Reno had taken onto himself, and to keep the man company when he would take breaks by getting as drunk as he could at the same little dive of a bar Reno had directed him to when this all started.

Rude was the one who reported to Tseng - it seemed a better idea to Rude, and Reno hadn't objected. He gave him status reports every week, with sooner updates whenever they came across anything interesting.

He knew things were going to reach a breaking point soon - either in the case they were working on or with Reno, and Rude sincerely wished for it to be the former, rather than the latter.

Two months after Rufus had given Reno carte blanche, that break came.

--

Oddly enough, it was Elena who found it. Elena had been given what Rude considered important grunt work - she had been assigned to combing through all of the financial records of the people Reno had turned up during his research. Reno created an almost exhaustive list of people who were in some way connected with the Wu and Li clans, and Rude had in split the names between himself, Elena, and one or two other Turks he knew would have the patience to sift through ever scrap of information on them.

It didn't require much knowledge of written Wutai beyond numbers and company names to go through their financial histories. And while Elena was terrible with reading people, it turned out the woman was a genius when it came to reading paper trails.

"Seven hells," Elena let out one day. There was nothing about the moment prior to give any indication that Elena was about to break things wide open; she, Rude, and Annelise, a Turk known most for her computer skills, had been going through the haystack of paperwork looking for a needle all that morning, and Rude had more been thinking about going for lunch soon when Elena let out her stunned curse.

"Elena?" Rude asked. Elena almost never cursed, not even mild ones like the one she had just said.

"I think I found something," she said, and her face suddenly lit up. "I really think I've found something." She pointed at some of the paper files she had as Rude came over. "Look at this. Look at the names here. This is the company that owned the ships that had potent seized from them," she said, then pointed to her computer screen, "and then here, this is their banking information." Rude nodded, and Elena quickly flipped to another screen on her computer. "And here, look at that; then this here," she said, pointing to another paper on her desk. "Now look at the amounts," she said, and then it clicked.

Rude felt himself starting to smile. "Good job," he said to her, and Elena beamed. "I'll call Reno; you call Tseng," he said, and she looked surprised. "You earned this one," he said, and Elena's face lit up as she reached for the phone.

--

There was a long moment of silence before Reno spoke. "This better be legit," he said flatly.

"It is," Rude said, nodding even though Reno couldn't see him. "I checked over it myself. We've got a paper trail tying the Wu with the potala shipments. Elena is contacting Tseng now.

"We've got them, Reno," he ended, but there was silence, a long silence on the other side.

"Not yet," Reno finally said, then hung up, and Rude had no idea at all how to interpret that.

--

The next day, Tseng called them in for a meeting. Rude was surprised at the sheer number of people there; it was more than he would have been expecting. It seemed like half of the Turks were there, at least. "We are going to raid several Wu and Li compounds the day after tomorrow," he said as soon as everyone had arrived and was sitting down. "These will be coordinated raids," he said, as he handed out different folders to each person. "Each of your files details which compound you will be raiding. Do not deviate from these start times," he said. "The main target will be the main Wu and the Li headquarters, led by Reno, Rude, and Elena for the Wu and Annelise, Jareth, and Striker for the Li. The rest of you, keep in mind that your targets, while important, are secondary. Meaning that if you meet resistance and request backup, you actually getting backup is contingent on them not requesting a military drop. You are authorized to use any and all force necessary to obtain information and to permanently cripple the Wu and Li criminal enterprises. I'll give you a few moments to look through your files. Are there any questions?" he ended, and there was silence as the Turks shook their heads, then began looking through their assignments. After a few moments, a few people asked for clarification of their orders, then the room went quiet.

Rude did not miss something in their files - his and he was certain Reno's but not sure about Elena's - that he suspected were not in the others.

They - he and Reno, at least - were not simply infiltrating the Wu compound. Elena was there, he suspected, to gather information needed to cover their actions...whereas he and Reno were there theoretically there to cover her, but actually there to first assassinate the head of the Wu, his deputy, and the top two "officers," then call in a military strike on the compound once clear.

The strikes, Rude knew, were to covers for the assassinations. No one looked too closely at charred bodies, after all.

Rude hazarded a look over at Reno, but his face was inscrutable.

"We will be begin departing the day after tomorrow at 5 am. Sharp. Contact me if you have concerns. You are dismissed," Tsung said, and everyone stood. He nodded once, and the Turks began filing out.

Rude waited until everyone had left. One thing he'd always been good at, despite his size, was making himself invisible, and he used that to his advantage as he everyone left.

Tseng, however, had never been one to overlook him. But instead of saying anything, he simply waited, never taking his eyes off of Rude.

"Tseng," Rude said, the words slow and careful, because he could almost feel how they wanted to trip over themselves, as they had when he was a child, "you knew. When you watched the tape of the interrogation. You understood."

Tseng sighed. "Yes. But by then, it was too late. The 'hidden dragon' bit me instead."

Rude stared at him, frowning slightly in confusion.

"There is a saying in Wutai. 'Do not use the hidden dragon.' It means that you don't use all of your strengths--keep one hidden, so no one sees it or knows about it. It means to carefully guard the true extent of your power, so you use it when it can have the maximum effect. I knew Reno he had a hatred for one of the Wutai clans, although I had no idea why, and when I discovered he spoke Wutai, I thought he would be a perfect weapon to destroy any of them that threatened ShinRa--it is the Wutai clans we have to watch for, not their broken emperor. The Yang clan," he said, a brief, tired look on his face, "is the one we have to fear the most, because they are the one most likely to try to reinvigorate Wutai. For all they are the weakest of the mafia clans in the north, they have a long history, going back millennia, and they are the most impenetrable. And therein lies their danger. I thought Reno could be our hidden dragon to bring them down in the end."

Tseng frowned, but his expression was more inward than anything else. "I was mistaken. I did not know what my own hidden dragon hid. My hidden dragon is a paper dragon, and the Yang a lit match."

He sighed, faintly. "He may not bring down the Yang...but he will likely destroy the Wu, which will unfortunately strengthen the Yang in the end, and there is nothing that can be done for that. The hidden dragon has his own fangs, and I saw that if I try to stop him from using them, he will turn on me."

Tseng suddenly narrowed his eyes, and his voice was like ice. "So let him destroy the Wu. Let him destroy the Li. The Yang may rise up to take their place, but Reno is not the only hidden dragon we have," he finished, and then his lips curved into a faint smile. "There are other ways to destroy the Yang. There are things they hold precious that we know of now that can disappear as surely as Yang Zhao Xi did. One dragon has lead to another."

Rude startled, but didn't ask; didn't want to know. Knowing was dangerous, and only the gods knew how many 'hidden dragons' Tseng truly had.

And more than that - he didn't want a conflict. He didn't want to risk having to make a choice between ShinRa and Reno. He didn't know who he could choose in that situation, and he did not want to risk bringing it about. So instead of questioning, he simply bowed his farewell, and left before he asked more than was safe to.

--

Reno was there actually waiting for them when Rude got in. His eyes bleary and rimmed red, as if he had chosen alcohol over sleep for the last several days, and his face stayed grim.

But he was also keyed up, unable to stay still and twitchier than he normally was. He was looking around constantly, until Tseng came over to give them more detailed instructions. Reno snapped to attention then, focusing so intently on Tseng that Rude was vaguely impressed at how unfazed Tseng was by it.

Rude suspected that Reno was closer to his breaking point than any of them would have liked.

"Do not take any extra risks," Tseng before the got into the helicopter. He was looking directly at Reno when he said it, but Reno didn't react at all. Tseng glanced over at Rude for a moment, and Rude nodded once. He knew well enough what that look was for - he was there to keep as much an eye on Reno as he was anything else.

He wasn't quite sure how he felt about that now, about being Reno's handler, after everything Tseng had said about his hidden dragons. He suspected more was going on here than the man was letting on, but he was not going to push it. He was good at compartmentalizing, and right now, he knew what his place and role was: Reno was there to destroy the Wu, but he was there to keep Reno from destroying himself in the process.

He wondered, briefly, if Reno had the easier task. Judging by the tense, brittle way Reno was holding himself now as he piloted the helicopter, so different from the normal, boneless way he normally did, he suspected that Reno did.

He was glad Elena was spending the majority of the trip with her nose in her files and laptop, trying to target what information he would need.

Rude decided it would be a better use of his time to look over floor plans so they would know exactly where to go. Plus, he had no idea what he should do or even if there was something that he could. Words had never been his forte; they had always betrayed him when he needed them the most - he could almost hear his mother’s disgusted words, Cállate, mocoso inútil! now - and he felt as if anything he tried to say now would only make matters worse.

So he just looked at the floor plans and planned their route and alternatives should they run into problems, because that was something he could do well.

Elena reached for her thermo of coffee and Reno piloted stone-faced, and Rude planned and hoped to himself that it would be enough.

--

They touched down a ways from the Wu compound.

"Elena, I need to you basically have ShinRa on speed dial," Reno let out, as soon as they finished camouflaging the helicopter. It would have been safer for them to be flown in on a drop, but Reno had nixed that idea quickly, saying they needed to be able to go if things went pear shaped. He'd phrased it in a far more colorful way, but his feelings had been very clear. "We're goin' into Mafia Central, and they will have guns and they will shoot our asses and we will need backup if we get discovered."

Elena nodded, eyes slightly wide. She shot a glance over at Rude, who nodded at her faintly. She nodded herself, first a sharp nod of acknowledgment to Reno, then a slightly more hesitant one to Rude.

Reno said nothing to this, and Rude felt something cold in his stomach at that. He knew this was personal to Reno, knew this was a pain that ran deep, but he still felt uneasiness about all of this. He knew Tseng had no choice; that he'd had to send Reno or risk the man throwing himself at on his own. But it was a bad situation, and he wondered if Tseng knew just how bad of an idea it was.

More than that, he wondered if Tseng cared.

He wasn't sure anymore. The only thing he was sure of at this point was that he was probably the only one here who had Reno's best interests in mind, and that included Reno himself.

They made their way to the compound, keeping out of sight and silent. Rude wasn't very good at navigating the outdoors, but he knew enough to not break twigs stepping on them. Elena was trudging her way through carefully, but Reno was oddly enough was doing the best of the three - he'd always been good at making his way through small spaces and dirty streets, and that translated well, unexpectedly, to the woods.

It was strange, now that Rude thought about it, how the compounded was located away from the city. It did make things easier, for their purposes, but it, like most things about Wutai, was strange. But then, even with the capital, the castle had been in the middle of the fucking woods. The Wutai really liked having their major strongholds surrounded by nothing for some reason, so Rude supposed it made sense, in that respect, that the Wu compound would be out in the forest.

When they got close, Rude raised a hand to stop them from going further. "Cameras," he said, and pointed to where they were located. Some of them had been notated on the map, but while he was on the helicopter, he had looked over the plans and made notations for where cameras might be. It was better to assume there were more cameras than had been written down, especially for a heavily-protected place like this.

He gestured towards where the cameras most likely were, and Elena and Reno nodded in acknowledgment. They snuck their way around, with Rude leading them towards where an entrance was. When they got close enough, Elena pulled out her computer and started typing quickly, trying to access their network. Rude and Reno kept an eye out, to give her a heads up so they could move if needed to.

It took her about thirty or forty minutes before she let out a happy gasp. "I'm in!" she said. "Give me another five, and we'll be able to walk in past the cameras. I'm changing their timing, to slowly create a blind spot. They'll be pointing in the wrong direction in no time."

"Good job," Rude said.

Reno didn't say anything at all.

"All right, guys, we have to go in a minute or two. We'll only have a short time, but there's going to be a blind spot opening up," she said, and true to her word, a few minutes later both cameras swung in opposite directions, leaving a blind spot.

"Now!" Rude hissed, and they all took off for it. Once they got inside, Rude quickly led them to a safe location.

"Everyone know what to do," Rude said, and Elena nodded.

"Yeah, sure," Reno eventually let out. By now, something in him had changed, and instead of the unnatural stillness of before, he was almost crackling with energy; giving off a feeling of twitchy movement even though he wasn't moving.

"Elena, can you get into their records from here?" Reno asked, the first time he had seemed to show an interest in anything. Rude recognized what had happened; Reno had gone into professional mode, almost the second they had entered the building.

He wasn't sure if it were a good sign or a bad, that Reno had switched into that going-by-rote behavior.

Elena frowned. "I'm not sure. It's easier and faster if I don't try to hack in, but can access a computer that's already open."

"Then that's what you'll do," Reno snapped. "We'll make sure you get there and keep the way clear, but you're not the only one with a mission here."

Elena looked slightly taken aback, but Rude gave her credit for her quick recovery. "OK?"

Rude decided to stay quiet - Reno was finally talking, and he wasn't about to risk shutting that down.

"How many cameras are there?"

Elena looked down at her laptop. "Judging by the security feeds, there are cameras on pretty much every hallway. Some sweep, but most of them are stationary. It's not going to be easy to sneak by all of them."

"You just keep yourself clear to get to the computers, an' get 'em outta the way when you can," Reno said. "Cameras ain't that hard to slip by when you need to. More important thing is take out anyone who might be watchin' them cameras," he finished, his eyes flicking around automatically, as if security might be in the room. "Where's the security room?"

"Close to here," Rude said. "It's down the hallway to the left out of here, about three doors down," Rude said after a moment, closing his eyes to bring the floor plans up in his mind. He hadn't had much time to memorize the entire thing, so he'd focused on the important areas.

"Alight, we hit that first. Elena, stay here," Reno snapped. "You keep our way clear and warn us if shit is coming," he said, tapping the communication earphone he had in his right ear. They were all wearing them, since they would have to split up inside the compound.

She nodded. "I'll see if I can hack into--"

"NO," Reno said sharply, cutting her off. "You keep your damn eyes on the camera feed so we know what the damn security is seeing and if they see us. You looking away could get us fuckin' killed. This ain't no damn training simulation where you try an' show off."

Elena recoiled slightly at Reno's harsh words, then angrily narrowed her eyes. "Yessir," she said, looking like the words burned her to say.

Reno paid it exactly zero mind, which Rude expected. Instead he looked over at Rude. "Lead the way, man."

Rude nodded, and they headed out the door.

--

Rude, in general, preferred it when Reno lead the way in situations like this. He could be quiet, but Reno had stealth down to an art form, which is why he was most often sent to infiltrate competitive businesses and other sensitive places that required someone to get in and out. But he was the one with the map in his head and who knew where they were going. He gestured the directions to Reno, and when they got to an intersection of hallways, glanced up to see the camera now pointing away from them, and signaled an all clear. They had been lucky so far, not to have run into anyone, but that luck wouldn't last long, especially if they didn't take out security and fast.

There was a keypad at the door to security. Rude didn't miss a beat, and took out a small container of powder and a brush. The good thing about keypads was it meant people had to push them, which meant finger prints, which meant they could get the numbers, if not the order. But they could get close to the order easily enough - people always pushed the first and last number the hardest, with the first number usually slightly harder.

It was only a three digit number, and Rude said a prayer of thanks to the superstitious Wutai - they hated the number four and avoided it like the plague. "It's either 8-2-9 or 9-2-8," he said, and Reno shrugged.

"Try 'em both. That kinda keypad gives you three chances before if goes off."

Rude nodded, and put in the first one.

The right one, it turned out, and Reno grinned. "After you," he said as he pulled out his baton, and Rude thought it would have been churlish not to accept such a gracious invitation.

--

While Rude preferred to simply punch people until they stopped moving, sometimes finesse was called for. As was the case here. Especially when they had been cleared to act as they had.

Closed fists were effective for creating fear, but squeezed necks were best for creating silence of a more permanent kind.

Reno preferred things quick and sudden, like snapping someone's neck before they really knew what was happening, but Rude preferred to be more honest about what he was doing. And for whoever it was happening to to know. He would look someone in the eye if he were going to lay his hands on them.

It made his job harder, if not impossible, some days, but they day he couldn't be honest about what he was and did would be the day he either quit or ended up with a bullet in his brain.

It didn't take them long to eliminate the three men who had been posted in the room.

"Well. That gives us, like, an hour or four," Reno said, reholstering his baton. He'd used it to stun one of the security guards while he and Rude had disposed of the other two. "Ain't supposed to be no shift change for a while, but if shit goes tits up, someone might stick their heads in here or somethin'. There ain't gonna be nothin' for them to see, though," he said with a grin, and set about fiddling with the cameras to make them loop over the same few areas of clear hallways.

Rude nodded. "We also need to keep any potential attention focused on us rather than Elena so she can gather as much information as she can."

"Yeah, sure," Reno muttered as he finished up. "She's a big girl. She can take care of herself."

"Reno," Rude said softly.

"Don't say nothin'," Reno cut him off with. But his words were soft, almost sad. "You wanna go watch her back, keep the heat offa her an' whatever, I got this. I'll get their attention but good," Reno ended, and there was a dangerous gleam in his eyes.

Leaving Reno alone seemed like the worst possible idea to Rude, but he also knew better than to say so.

"As I recall, she saved us last time we were here," Rude finally said, the words slow and careful because he could not afford to mess them up now, and he gestured for Reno to lead the way. Reno's face got that unreadable look again, but he headed out and Rude followed behind.

As soon as they got out, Reno looked back at him and raised an eyebrow.

"Alright, so what were your orders? An' don't try an' act like we all didn't get different ones. I know Elena's were straightforward to get info, but you know as well as I do mine weren't, an' I just wanna make sure we both ain't trippin' over each other or nothin'."

Rude could see the wisdom in that, plus, he was genuinely curious as to what Reno had been ordered to do.

"I've been ordered to assassinate the heads of the Wu and call in a strike to cover it."

"Oh, good," Reno said with a grin. "'Cause that's what they told me to do, too. So let's go obey some orders."

--

Their good luck of not being noticed lasted longer than Rude expected, but not as long as he had hoped. They'd run into people, but had managed to quietly dispatch them and stealthily assassinate the two head officers - Li Xin Lun and Liu Da Cheng, without much fuss, but on the way to the last of the secondary targets, Wu Jun Dao, one man had managed to slip past them, and Reno swore as he saw the man slip through a door at the end of the hallway.

"They'll be waiting for us now," Rude said with a frown after they dispatched Jun Dao, and Reno nodded once, sharply.

"We ain't got much time, an' there's one guy I gotta get," Reno said, his face hardening. "We need to split up. I need you to go after Wu Ting Liang. I gotta get Wu Shan Wen."

"He's not a priority target, Reno," Rude countered. The man was no longer the head of the Wu, and was not in the best of health. And splitting up now was stupid on a level that was unexpected from Reno.

"He's my priority," Reno snapped. "Right now, fuck ShinRa's list," Reno snarled vehemently. "I'm here for that motherfucker. Don't make this a conflict, partner," he said, and something pleading came into his voice. "It don't gotta be one."

Rude knew he was going to have to make a choice, and it wasn't one he liked. But it wasn't a difficult choice to make. "We go after Ting Liang. Then we call in the strike on the way to get Shan Wen. We'll have enough time to eliminate him and get out. Deal?"

"As good as I get, ain't it?" Reno said grimly, then nodded. "Ting Liang. Then Shan Wen."

"Do you even know where he is?" Rude asked.

"He's the ONLY guy that I know where he is," Reno said, and his voice was brittle, and Rude didn't push any further.

--

They had to go in weapons blazing by the time they got to Wu Ting Liang. They had run into group after group after the alarm had been raised. Rude hoped Elena was doing all right, and decided that since she hadn't called them in a panic for backup, she was fine.

Plus, as Reno had said himself, she was a big girl and she could take care of herself.

Wu Ting Liang did not go down easily.

"You are Turks," the man said as soon as he took them in after they kicked the door in to his office.

"Well, ain't you a quick one," Reno said with a smirk.

"You will not find me an easy mark," he said, not rising from his desk, and that was a bad sign. Rude saw the man reaching for something under his desk surreptitiously, and so was prepared with the man pulled out a gun and fired it.

He dove to the side, and from the corner of his eye, saw Reno had done the same, only Reno had thrown himself more forward, and used his momentum to get closer to the target, casting a Haste on himself as he did.

Reno Hasted was a blur so fast he was almost invisible. He was the fastest of the Turks even without Haste; with it, he could hit speeds normally only SOLDIERs could reach.

Ting Liang made the mistake of going for the fast-moving target. Rude used the distraction to slowly make his own way closer to Ting Liang.

Reno may have been fast, but Rude was patient.

When he was almost close enough to grab him, Ting Liang finally noticed him, and whirled to fire on him.

Reno was still Hasted.

Before Ting Liang'd even finished whirling around with his gun, Reno's electrified baton hit him hard on the neck.

He was over rather quickly after that.

"Man, he almost got you there," Reno said with a grin.

"No, I was fine," Rude said, and Reno gave him a open-mouthed stare.

"Man, he was about to shoot your ass."

Rude picked up the gun and gave it to Reno, and Reno burst out laughing.

"You mean that idiot was out of bullets?!"

"He shot them all at you," Rude said with a shrug. "He didn't fire at me once."

"Yeah, I noticed, and how the fuck do you do that?" Reno said, wiping some sweat off his brow. "How the fuck do you manage to just disappear like that?"

Rude frowned.

"Not literally," Reno said, rolling his eyes. "It's like you just drop outta people's brains or something until you get up close and splatter theirs all over the wall. It's like people just don't see you."

Rude's frown deepened. He was slow and methodical and somewhat plodding; it wasn't as though he could control people's inattentiveness.

"Never mind," Reno said, rolling his eyes. "ShinRa's job is done. Now we do mine. We get Wu Shan Wen."

Rude nodded. "Call in the strike force," he said, and Reno's eyes glittered.

--

As Reno was calling in the strike, Rude took the moment to contact Elena.

"Elena, it's Rude," he said, and he could hear her breath of relief.

"Oh, thank the gods," she said. "I heard all the shouting and fuss. I had a few Wu clan members interrupt me, but they weren't a problem." She laughed slightly. "They underestimated me, just like the Yang did last time. I guess they don't figure a woman will be a problem."

"Their mistake," Rude said, and she laughed.

"I'll say. Guess who showed up here, and who's now tied up and out like a light?"

Elena sounded proud out herself, so Rude figured she must have reason.

"I'm pretty sure I hooked their 'Paper Fan,'" she said, and Rude was impressed on multiple levels, first that she knew what that position was, and that she had captured him. The 'paper fan' was the man in charge of the financial and business side of things, which meant he was the one ShinRa would most want either captured or dead.

"Excellent. Tseng will be pleased."

"Have you called in the strike?"

"Not yet. Do you have all the information?"

"In about five minutes. I found some really good stuff just poking around, so it took me longer to copy all the files than I thought. Don't let me hold you up."

"Once you have everything, start making your way out with the paper fan. The strike force will be here in about ten to fifteen minutes."

"Oh, that's plenty of time," she said, sounding cheerful. "Did you guys get....whatever it is you were sent to do done?"

"Yes," he said, and left it at that. "Will you need assistance?"

"Nah, I got this. And him. I've moved corpses around, after that last shootout we were in, and this guy won't be too different. See you soon, then," she said, and Rude closed the connection.

Looks like Reno had been right, about making Elena move corpses around being good for her.

Reno had already finished calling in the strike, and was almost thrumming with energy now. But his face had gotten that tight look it had had until they had gotten into the compound and he'd had to start focusing on his job.

Now the job was done. He'd done everything ShinRa needed him to do, and now he was doing...whatever it was he needed to.

The strike would cover up both what they did under ShinRa's orders, and what they did not under them as well.

"This way," he said, and the smile from before was gone from his eyes.

The feeling of a Blizzaga being set off in his stomach returned, but he followed Reno without a word.

--

The place was still crawling with Wu clan, especially now. It was good that the strike had been called, because as hard of a slog as it had become after that one guy had slipped through and set off the alarm, now it was worse, because they were discovering that the main heads at the compound were now bloody messes.

Reno hit himself continuously with Haste as they ran into wave after wave, but Rude knew better than to say anything. Too many Hastes were dangerous once they all wore off and it caught up with your body, but Reno was in no conditions to hear a warning now.

And if Rude was being honest, they were outgunned and outmanned, and they needed that edge. He was glad he had brought a Slow and Cure with them, because him Slowing the Wu paired with Reno Hasting himself meant that the Wu's numerical advantages were countered.

They were also lucky because the bulk of the Wu clan were heading towards to more central areas of the compound, where the higher-ups were to be found. And the head, his deputy, and his two main officers were dead now, along with some of the minor officers who had been in their way, meaning it would be chaos.

It made it very easy to make their way to what looked very much like a hospice area.

There were a few guards, so it was almost nothing to get past them - they were barely even paying attention anyway when Rude and Reno crept in, having the bored look often hidden by visors but not by posture that Troopers on low-priority guard duty locations had.

Reno paused before one door once they had cleared the way, and Reno didn't miss the way his hands were shaking before he balled them into fists.

He reached for the doorknob, then paused with his hand on it. "This guy...he's mine, got it?"

Rude nodded.

Reno took a deep breath, then steeled himself and opened the door.

--

Reno walked in, Rude right behind him, and stopped short, sucking in a harsh breath.

The old man in the room, his face and body burnt with old scars, and sitting in a wheelchair, turned his head to look at him, and he sneered. "You."

Rude really, really, really wished he didn't have such a tin ear for Wutai, because he would have liked to have known just what it was that Reno had said to him.

The man sneered again, and Rude wondered just how smart this Wu Shan Wen was. "I refuse to speak Wutai to a ghost," he said, arrogance raising the man's jaw. "Or to hear it dirtied coming from your mouth."

"You wanna do it this way, fine. Your clan is gone now. You ain't got shit now. I'm finishin' what I started."

Wu Shan Wen got and furious look on his face. "You. It was you. You did this to me."

Reno preened.

"We thought it was ShinRa, and it was. You found someone to give you the power to try to cut the head off the dragon, and I will see you die for it."

"ShinRa didn't have shit all to do with that. That was all me. That was all me."

Wu Shan Wen smiled. "All you. Meaning Yang Zhao Xi and her bastard died in that blaze," he said, and his voice was gloating. "Tell me, did you even try to save them, or did you leave them to burn?"

Wu Shan Wen, Rude decided, really did not have a single gram of sense in his head. He was also suddenly glad he didn't understand Wutai, because he suspected whatever it was Reno had just let out would have burned his ears off had been able to understand it.

And Wu Shan Wen continued talking. "I thought I had killed all three of you that night. I should have made sure all of you were dead," the man said, eyes burning with rage.

"But you didn't, yo," Reno said, his smile cold and deadly, and above all else, cruel. His next words were in Wutai, and then, almost faster than eyes could see, his baton was out, crackling on the highest setting, and against the old man's temple. Wu Shan Wen twitched and foamed at the mouth as the electricity surged through him, and only when he stopped twitching did Reno let go of the baton, unholster his gun and shoot him at point-blank range in the head in one seamlessly smooth moment. "And that's why I'm alive, an' you ain't no more, you gods be damned motherfucking son of a--"

His words became a torrent of agonized Wutai, and he fired again. And again. And again, until there were no more bullets, and even then he kept pulling the trigger as his words ran out, the empty clicks and Reno's harsh breaths echoing in the room. Suddenly the gun slipped out of Reno's hands and he dropped to his knees with a choked sound, and Rude, turning his head to stare out the window at the troops now swarming out of ShinRa military helicopters on the warpath and opening fire on the panicked Wu and Li clan members running around the complex, pretended not to see Reno cry.

This - whatever it was - was finally done.

He hoped.

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