His throat was on fire. It burned as they yanked his head back by the hair and forced the dark liquid down it. He coughed and choked, but they wouldn't let him spit it out. He felt it slide down inside him, wet and slimy and burning. Then they left him wearing identical grins.
He wanted to die.
Reno found himself wandering, directionless, around Healin Lodge. His hands were in his pockets and his suit was covered in dust. He had just returned from his latest mission – only a reconnaissance, nothing important. He should have been resting, but for some reason he felt unbearably restless.
For nearly two hours he had lain there, in the dark comfort of his room, staring at the blank ceiling, the colourless walls, the monotone door. Sleep evaded him. His system was on alert, probably still coming down from the adrenalin of the chase through Midgar, as his subject had attempted to evade him. Yes, that was all it was.
So he had pulled his uniform back on and gone for a walk, hoping the familiar action would calm his nerves.
It had been raining. Large, fat drops fell from the green leaves that surrounded the Lodge and disappeared into the ground.
The world always seemed that much more vibrant after rain. Being born in the slums, Reno hadn't seen real rain until his induction into the Turks. He had come to love the strange, temperamental weather. It was one of the many things that singled him out from the others, he thought miserably.
Elena and Tseng hated the rain. It was cold and damp and made their clothes stick to them. Rude didn't really care about it, so long as it didn't completely cloud his shades. But Rufus, oh Rufus.
When they had to go out in the rain, Rufus would complain and whine about the feel of his sodden clothes. He would complain about his hair and the way it flattened uncomfortably against his skull. He would complain about the way it coloured his white clothes. At least, he did when Reno was on guard duty. Only then. Those tirades were not even shared with Tseng. Reno snickered as he thought of Rufus whining like a five-year-old to the cold, untouchable director.
He stopped laughing as he wandered past Rufus' rooms, grinning at the two guards who stood there in as unnerving a fashion as he could muster. Their identical, wide-eyed and shocked stare had him half running around the corner, crouching beneath a window and desperately trying to stifle his sniggers. Lore and Lare they were called. They were new enough that they hadn't quite become acclimatised to his twisted sense of humour and teasing them was one of his favourite past times, when not on duty.
Just as his mirth began to subside, he heard a muffled cry of anger. Recognising Tseng's tone from inside the room, he stiffened, ready to spring to action at a word from his superior. But no order came. Instead, Tseng's tone softened almost instantly and lowered so that Reno could barely hear him.
"If that is your only concern, I can assure you that we will keep a close watch and ensure that –"
"You are not listening Tseng!"
Reno jumped as Rufus' angry voice sliced through the air. There was a soft crash from inside, as his fist collided with the table.
"I am listening, sir. But I fail to see what else can be done to assuage you."
Tseng was using the resigned tone of a man well accustomed to dealing with the sometimes changeable temperaments of the Shinra family.
There was a soft, breathy sound, which Reno took as Rufus' sigh of apology.
"I apologise, Tseng. Yes, that is a logical solution. Of course."
His voice was slightly muffled, as though hidden in his hands.
His curiosity now peaked, Reno slowly began to lift himself from the crouch, glancing through the window. The sight made him freeze.
Rufus was sitting at the table, surrounded by mounds of disturbed paperwork. Documents had floated to the floor around his feet, giving the distinct impression of a snowstorm. Head in his hands, Rufus fingers were buried in his unusually disordered hair. He was breathing deeply, trying to bring order to the chaos of his temperament.
Now, considering the recent development and cure of his geostigma, this was not an unusual position for Rufus. It was Tseng that made him freeze.
The Director was standing almost directly behind the President, one hand resting comfortingly on the younger man's shoulder. His face was as rigidly set as always, but there was a softness to his features that betrayed his relaxed state. Reno had never before seen him look like that. If he didn't know better, he might even say that Tseng looked… happy?
As he watched, Rufus sighed and glanced back at the older man, smiling gently in thanks. They paused there for a moment: speaking, discussing with only their eyes.
Reno felt like an intruder as he watched the intimate scene. A scene, he thought dismally, that would never be his.
He felt a stab of pain somewhere in his chest and sank to the ground beneath the window, pointedly ignoring the feeling of betrayal that thrilled through him. He had no right to feel it, after all. None at all, he reminded himself.
He liked to think of himself as Rufus' confidant. Whenever the man wanted to complain about this businessman or that 'infernal, flirtatious slut!', Rufus spoke to Reno. The red-head had never really considered that he might confide in others. He had certainly never seen the President do so before and he had never heard any of his co-workers discuss it. But then, he never discussed it either. It felt as though there was an unwritten law, that whenever Rufus whined and complained about his bad luck, his good luck, Reno never spoke of it to anyone else. He wondered if the other man had a similar arrangement with each of his Turks and the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach intensified. Again, he ignored it.
From inside the room, he heard the scraping sound of a chair moving, presumably as Rufus stood up.
Unwilling to be caught in his current position, the redhead picked himself up and slunk away, back to his small room on the far side of the building. He leapt on the bed without bothering to get under the covers or even to get undressed.
Lying on his back, his gaze wandered automatically to the ceiling, which greeted him coldly. The hollow pit in his belly had subsided to a dull persistent ache.
Frowning at the ceiling, he turned onto his side and tried to forget what he had seen. Closing his eyes, he willed sleep to come and to his relief, he sank quietly into oblivion.