Pretend Or Surrender
Reno closed his eyes, letting the hot water from the shower fall without challenge onto the back of his neck. Sweeping his hair to one side, he let out a soft groan of contentment when he felt the hot water begin to loosen the muscles in his shoulders and back. Reaching a hand out, he let it rest against the cool tiles of the shower, keeping his balance as he rolled his shoulders, his eyes still closed as the water washed over him. Eventually, he tipped his head back letting the water plaster his hair to his scalp. Rubbing his hands over his face, he smiled. He had the rest of the evening off, and then tomorrow as well.
Feeling lighter at the prospect of some free time, Reno picked up the soap and began to lather himself. He watched the swirl of grit and blood spiral down the drain along with the soap bubbles and wondered vaguely just how much money the soap companies made from Turks alone. He was fairly certain they went through more soap than nearly anyone. He’d have to ask Rude how many bars he went through a week.
When he’d gotten himself sufficiently clean, Reno stepped out of the shower, wrapping his towel around his waist. He wiped the fog off the bathroom mirror and blinked at his reflection. He looked pale. Well, he always looked pale, but with his hair flattened to his head and wet his skin looked even paler. His light freckles stood out more clearly and he could practically see the veins through his skin. He was tired. He felt it and he looked it. Letting out a huff, he straightened himself up and dried himself off.
When he’d gotten dressed and spent a good amount of time styling his hair, Reno grabbed his old jacket as he headed for the door. Smiling softly as he pulled the jacket on, Reno felt himself relax at the familiar feel of it. His jacket was the only thing he still owned from his days living on the street before ShinRa had given him a job. When he’d been offered employment with ShinRa, one of the conditions had been that he sever all ties with his past life. Connections like that would make him weak. Vulnerable. ShinRa would not allow that, and so he was to start afresh. Reno had done so as best he could. With the exception of the Jacket. He’d loved this jacket and he didn’t think it was such a big deal if he kept it. He did, afterall, need something to wear when he wasn’t in his uniform.
Stepping out on to the street, Reno headed in the direction of the other thing he had been unable to leave in his past. His friend, Aura.
While Rufus mightn’t mind much if he discovered that Reno had kept his old jacket, he would be more than furious if he discovered that he’d kept contact with his friend. More than kept contact. When Reno had gotten work with ShinRa, he’d gotten Aura off the streets. He’d found her somewhere to live and he’d supported her with his paycheque. Every time he had a few days off, he would take her some money. It wasn’t much as he had to be careful that nobody would notice large chunks of money being taken from his account regularly, but it was enough for Aura to buy food and other necessities. ShinRa may have taken him off the street and taught him a few new things, but he still had his own code of honour. He and Aura had taken care of each other on the street back then, so when he had gotten out of there, there was no way he was just going to abandon her. That just wasn’t the way things worked. Reno may not have had all the fancy morals that some other people had, but he had loyalty. Loyalty was the basis of everything for Reno, and his loyalty to Aura would not see him leave her on the streets alone.
When he got to the part of town he’d gotten Aura a house in, he turned the collar of his jacket up and looked carefully around. It wouldn’t do to have anybody recognise him here. Reno walked up the quiet street, trying to look inconspicuous. He hoped Aura would be home. Flicking a glance at his watch, he bit his lip, thinking. He should have let her know he was coming. She could still easily be down at the market. If she could afford anything that was . She still should have some money left. It hadn’t been quite a month since he’d last gone to see her and had taken her the usual bag of Gil he gave her.
He pulled out his phone and thought about calling her to see if she were home, but caught himself before he did. He didn’t want to leave any kind of evidence that he still had contact with her. Putting it back in his pocket, he continued up the street towards Aura’s house. When he arrived, Reno knocked on the front door and waited silently. He looked up the street, his eyes seeing far more than anyone observing him would suspect. Hearing a small noise behind the door, he turned back around. Seeing a slight ruffle in the curtains in the window, he knew Aura was doing as he had told her, and was checking who was on her doorstep before she opened the door to them. He looked at her when she then did open the door.
“Reno.” She smiled. He smiled back. “I didn’t expect you for weeks yet.”
“I have some time off.” He said, moving into the house as she stepped back to allow him to enter. He smiled again and he looked back up the street quickly before she shut the door.
“The curtains.” He said.
“I did as you told me... I checked before I let you in.”
“I know... I saw you.”
She blinked, “Oh.”
“If I was someone who intended you harm, I would have forced my way inside once I had proof you were here.”
“So, you must look out the window without being seen, yo.” He moved to the curtain and demonstrated. “Don’t touch the curtain... and make sure you do it from the side of the window furthest from the door.” He looked at her. “Also, it’s probably a good idea to bend down a bit when you so... different heights and all.”
He looked at her and stopped, seeing her biting her lip. “I don’t mean to unsettle you...” he said, wrapping an arm around her. She hugged him and he held her firmly.
“I know. Thank you.” She murmured.
“So, I brought somefood.” He smiled, trying to lighten the mood. She grinned.
“I do have food here...”
“I know... I also brought wine.”
“Oh, I see.”
“I have some time off. Let’s celebrate.”
Aura nodded and headed into her small kitchen before coming back with two wine glasses. Reno set about opening the bottle and pouring them some wine, before sitting down on her old couch. Moving a cushion from beneath himself, he blinked at it.
“This is new.” He looked at her. She smiled and nodded. He blinked again, wondering how she had the money to pay for such things. She only had the small amount of money he brought her from his own salary from ShinRa. It wasn’t much but it was enough to keep a roof over her head and food on her table. He’d always wished he could give her more, but he’d been afraid that a larger sum of money going missing from his account regularly would be noticed. As it was he was pleased that he’d gotten away with it for so long. He’d gotten himself an apartment that was smaller than he could afford, but still nice enough not to arouse suspicion, but he could still hardly believe that his co-workers and, more still, his boss, believed that he was drinking and whoring away so much already. Sure, sometimes he would go out for a drink, and sometimes, he’d even take a woman home for the night. If he could help it, though, she generally wasn’t a prostitute. Reno didn’t like to pay for it. Also, it made some memories from his life on the streets harder to forget.
He blinked yet again at the cushion in his hand, concerned now over what Aura was doing to be able to afford such things.
“You... can afford this?” he asked softly.
“I didn’t use the money you gave me.” She said. He closed his eyes. “I’ve been making some money of my own.”
“If you need more, I can give you more.” He said, sure he could figure out a way for that to work. He started to calculate how much more he could possibly get away with before Rufus began to wonder what he was throwing money at.
“No.” She said, and he looked at her. “I’ve been selling some potions.”
“Oh.” He smiled.
“You thought I was whoring.”
“Well...” he didn’t know what to say and so fell silent.
“Reno, I... I couldn’t do that...”
“I know.” He ran a hand over the back of his neck. Back in their days on the street, he’d whored for the both of them so that she wouldn’t have to. “I just... I know I don’t give you much... and I wish I could... I want you to be able to make a home and buy random things like this... and I know you barely have enough for basic stuff...”
“Yeah..?” he murmured, looking at her.
“You do a wonderful job of taking care of me.” She told him, “You don’t even have to. Most people would have left me where they found me.”
“You’re my friend.” He said, trying to shrug it off.
“So, these potions... They sell well...?”
“Sold ten so far...”
“How many have you made?”
He laughed, “Okay, so that’s good progress. How much are you selling them for?”
“You could be selling them for more than that.”
“The people around here don’t have more than that.” She replied, looking at him.
He nodded silently. “If you went to the market, in the centre of town...you could bump the price up a bit.”
“I suppose so.”
“As long as you were careful, I mean.”
“Mhmm.” She nodded and then smiled softly. “I want to open an Apothecary.”
He looked at her, smiling widely. “That’s a brilliant idea, Aur.”
She took a sip of wine, smiling more broadly. “I can’t believe you thought I was whoring.”
“Sorry.” He wrapped an arm around her, “I apologise.” He watched her, wondering how the thought had even entered his mind. She knew what he’d done to keep her from that in the past. There was no way she would just do it now and make his sacrifices be for nothing. Looking at her now, he wondered if she’d even ever had a lover. He didn’t think so. He would have known about it. He was sure of that. But then, he only visited her every couple of weeks... there was plenty of time for her to have a lover over that he would never encounter.
Not sure why he was gritting his teeth at the thought, Reno took a mouthful of wine and tried to relax, telling himself that he would find out about any threat to their security and make sure that it was no longer a threat.
“What’s wrong?” her voice brought him out of his thoughts. “You suddenly got this really... intense... look on your face.”
“Do you ever have... visitors... here?”
“Uh...” she blinked, “Sometimes...”
He tried to keep his face neutral. “... Who?”
“Maati.” She blinked, “The old man who lives next door... sometimes, when he goes trading to other towns he brings me ingredients for my potions and stuff that I cannot get here easily. Sometimes, I have him over for dinner. He’s alone since his wife died...”
“Ah.” He nodded.
“Is that bad?” she looked at him and he thought about how lonely she must be here on her own.
“No.” He shook his head, “That’s not bad.”
He made a mental note to have a talk with this Maati. If the man could be trusted, perhaps it could ease his own mind to have someone keeping an eye on Aura when he could not. Maybe the man could even tell him if she had a secret lover. Or, maybe Maati would make him as a Turk and Aura would be made vulnerable. He tried not to sigh.
“How about we have some dinner... “ she said, getting up and heading back into the kitchen. He followed her and watched as she turned the oven on. “Come on, make yourself useful.” She grinned, tossing vegetables at him. He smiled and took a knife from the drawer. He looked at it. It was good quality. Another purchase from the profit of her potion sales. An apothecary would need a good knife, he would assume. He quickly peeled the vegetables and made short work of cutting them up. He was, afterall, extremely skilled with a blade. He was finished well before Aura was done preparing the meat. When she was finished, she put it in the oven, and then looked at what he’d done.
“I can never get them all exactly the same size like that!” she complained. He just smiled, “Do they teach you how to cook at ShinRa?”
He watched the way her eyes moved over him, and then, as she always did when the discussion came too close to what he actually did for ShinRa, she changed the topic.
“The meat will take an hour, the rest can go in after half.”
She then busied herself getting out plates and cutlery. He watched her set the table, silently wondering what it was that she had convinced herself he did for a living. Aura wasn’t stupid. She knew that he worked for ShinRa, and she knew that he’d had to cut all ties with everything in his past to take the job. He wasn’t certain if she knew he was a Turk specifically, as he had not told her that, but she seemed to suspect enough that whenever they came close to talking about anything relating to his work, she would back away. Or maybe, it was due to the growing hostility toward ShinRa employees on the streets lately. Maybe she thought that the less she knew, the better. He certainly agreed with that. He dreaded to think of the way she would look at him if she knew what he had done... what he did, just about every day... what he had been doing not four hours earlier. He was quite happy with Aura not knowing that he was a killer.
It wasn’t that he enjoyed keeping a secret that big from her, it actually made him rather sad. Aura was his oldest friend. She knew things about him that nobody else did. The things they had endured on the streets together had formed a bond that he could only compare with the one he now shared with Rude. But he just didn’t think he could take her horror or disappointment, or even disgust if she knew what he had become. He needed her. Her good opinion of him. That source of light she provided that comfort of knowing that no matter what unspeakable thing he did for ShinRa, she would be there for him to go to and forget it all. She had become something for him to protect, something pure, and he could not lose that
“Do you want more wine?”
He blinked, realising that she had finished setting the table and was now looking at him.
“Yeah.” He followed her back into the living room and sat back on the couch once again. He filled their glasses and she turned the television on. Reno set a cushion comfortably on his lap as a news report on the latest riots in the towns flashed across the screen.
“Two more ShinRa employees killed...” Aura murmured. “Yesterday there were three...”
“I know.” He said quietly.
“They’re even attacking the families...” she turned to look at him. “Is that why you never come here in your uniform?”
“It’s become part of the reason.” He nodded, “But originally it was so nobody knew I’d kept contact with you...”
She nodded. “These attacks... has anyone had a go at you...?”
“No.” He said firmly. He watched her accept that and nod.
“If they did...you’d be okay, right?” she asked. He looked at her, and she twisted her hands, clearly uncomfortable with what she wanted to ask, “I mean... you can fight, right?” she gave him a queer look. “Really well, right?”
She nodded and let out a soft breath. “Okay.” She then smiled and leaned against him. “You always were fast...” she murmured, “It’s cause you’re so skinny.”
He gave a soft laugh, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and watching the rest of the report.
When dinner was ready, they ate that in front of the TV and finished off the wine. Reno was watching the TV completely zoned out to everything until he’d finished his glass of wine and blinked slowly at it. “Hey Aur, I should have brought more wine...” he said, before turning to look at her and discovering that she was asleep. He grinned, looking at the way she was curled up against a cushion at the other end of the couch. “Aura,” he nudged her leg, “Wake up, yo.”
She mumbled something and didn’t move. He got to his feet and touched her shoulder gently. “Come on, go to bed...”
She groaned and opened an eye, looking up at him. “Go to bed.” He grinned. She sat up, pushing her dark hair back.
“... Are you staying?” she murmured.
“Yeah. That okay?”
“Mmm.” She nodded, getting up. “You need anything?”
“Nah, I know where stuff is.”
“Mmm.” She pushed her hair back again, “Okay...”
“’Night.” He smiled as she staggered off for the hallway. He watched her bedroom door close and then he got a spare blanket from the cupboard and curled up on the couch. Yawning, he turned the TV off stretched out comfortably. Closing his eyes, he tried to work out a way to talk to that neighbour in the morning.