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Sorry, Angel

Chapter Text

The butt of his pistol connects with the nut sitting on his desk, dead centre.

The fragments of the shell skid over the surface of the desk, some falling into oblivions on the floor. The nut itself remains, spinning on the spot.

He has to admit, smashing nuts open with the butt of his gun is a touch crass, a touch gauche, even with an audience like Reno, but it’s effective. He pulls the edge of his hand across his desk, gently drawing the detritus of the shells to one side, and then adjusting the flat to progressively diminish the area of the pile. This is important.

He places his pistol on the desk, before drumming the fingers of one hand on it. He lowers his head a little after a time, yet he can sense that Reno and Tseng maintain their stares.

He looks up. The young redhead languidly rests his back against the wall of the office, one sneaker-shod foot also connecting with it, his knee forming an extended V. His expression displays the usual combination of a leer mixed with cheerful insouciance. Tseng, on the other hand, stands rigid in front of the desk in that strange posture of his, one hand resting behind him in the small of his back.

His father had termed people who always seemed obtrusively vertical to be in a state of ‘hovering’. Tseng always seems to him to hover.

There was something, there, underneath the surface of diffidence and reserve. A guardedness. He was an odd character to discern. Even for a Turk, he held a lot back. Yet he was effective; he’d been Veld’s protégé with good reason.

The stares and the silence continue on, prickly, more palpable.

He’d finalised their briefing, and hadn’t dismissed them, expecting that they’d want to ventilate some of the details. Though they’d surely pieced together much due to the surveillance work, the entirety of it, revealed, was still rather weighty. Instead, they simply looked, as if they wanted some kind of affirmation from him. This was irritating, as if anything he had been hoping for something of the opposite effect.

It's Reno who finally wades into the thicket of silence. "Penny for your thoughts, chief."

He protrudes his chin a little in concession, and sniffs. "Pretty big operation. Nothing we can’t handle, though. The army will take care of the rest."

He looks up. Tseng’s eyes remain fixed on him.

Leaning back a little in his chair, he reaches for his glass of ice water on the desk, and takes a sip, before tossing the nut into his mouth. Crunching, he flicks open his snuff box. He isn’t a drinker anymore, but he likes tobacco. Of all drugs, it produces the best high-to-retention of control ratio. Within the building, he was confined on choice, but even so, there was an unfussy elegance about snuff. He takes the powder between thumb and forefinger, and inhales.

Such good stuff. Not so good for his sinuses, though.

He’s tiring of Tseng’s silence. It seems a challenge, almost.

"Tseng. Will you do this thing?" His tone is customarily flat, not at all matching the issue at hand; it was a superfluous question anyhow, operational assignments were not done by consent. But he needs the confirmation.

"All the evidence we’ve collected seems beyond dispute, Sir."

That was true enough, though a little evasive. It hadn’t been quite what he’d been asking.

"And you’ll do exactly what’s required?" he asks Tseng, almost in a whisper.

"Of course, Sir. Of course."

"Go-od," he finds himself saying, as two syllables.

Perhaps it was the snuff, but he begins to feel a little sick. Not as bad as cigarettes on an empty stomach, though.

"In some ways, it’s simply routine," Tseng comments, flatly, still staring.

Tseng was definitely, at some level, judging him. Or challenging him. He was certain of it now.

The glass of water stops, mid-distance between the desk and his lips. "Yes. All entirely routine. "

He stares back at Tseng.

Reno blows a bubble from the gum he’s chewing, breaking the intensity of the moment. There would always be a little disconnect in his mind between the boyish, devil-may-care naivety of Reno’s demeanour, and the reality that he was endearingly, sometimes breathtakingly efficient; always ready for any task, good or ill. Precisely the quality you wanted in a Turk, nominally.

Reno draws himself forward, off the support of the wall, and flexes his shoulders, attempting to tease out the tension. His lithe body clings to his white shirt, under the suit jacket. He giggles.

"Tseng, ya make it sound so boring. This one’s gonna be such a blast."

"Hey," Vincent Valentine finds himself saying, in a gravelly burble, "there’s not going to be any of that shit. No wet work. Just bring them in."

He keeps his head down, but he notices, in his peripheral vision, a change in Tseng. A slight brightening, a loosening, an easiness. Tseng liked restraint. Following the rules, keeping discipline. Keeping just the right side of the line. Or whatever fucking justification, whatever internalisation of the situation Tseng feels he needs, he seems to have it, now.

He jerks his head straight up, and takes one final assessment of the pair, and then takes a single, deep breath. "Okay. Dismissed."

As they leave his office, he begins to slacken his tie, working it loose, tugging it from side to side. He sits in a stupor in his chair, delaying the inevitable. Something much worse than the briefing approaches, much worse than dealing with Tseng.

But it has to be done.

He scoops up the black receiver of his desk phone from its cradle.

He has a social call to arrange.