Walking The Path


navy = flashback

The air around him was thick and oppressive, a mixture of cigarette smoke, alcohol, and sweat. The lights were dim, creating a dreary atmosphere that did nothing to raise the spirits of the bar's patrons. His own cigarette was now long past the point when it should have been tapped in an ashtray. Through half-lidded eyes, he watched the smoke curling up from the tip, rising until it joined the haze already inhabiting the space above his head, before returning his gaze to the bartop in front of him.

He was supposed to be at his apartment in bed.

Reno, however, detested lazing about in bed as much as he did this injury, given to him by that bastard Cloud Strife. As a matter of fact, he was ignoring its existence much in the same way he had ignored the doctor's orders. The only slight difference was that he could not completely overlook the burning ache that each and every small movement caused. If he hadn't wanted to drink, he might have deigned to take the pain pills prescribed to him.

Yet, he had done nothing but sit on this stool for the last hour, staring down into the amber liquid that filled the small shot glass in front of him; not touching it, not drinking it, just starting at it. He knew what it would feel like going down. That familiar warmth; the light, pleasing buzz that lit his insides on fire as it took him down the path to forgetfulness.

But only for a while.

Maybe that was why he didn't touch it. He didn't want to forget. Perhaps, too, that was why he hadn't touched the small brown bottle of pills left carelessly on the counter, amid spoiled food, wrappers, and discarded beer bottles. It wasn't just that need to drink, that need the clawed at his gut and seduced him with the promise of an escape from reality. He was deluding himself if he thought so. Pain pills meant depending on something. Reno of the Turks depended on no one but himself.

No, that wasn't true. He had entrusted his life to Tseng and Rude far too many times to count. Rude was his friend, and though Reno would never admit it, he looked up to Tseng almost as a father figure and valued and respected his opinion, even if his actions did not always say that. Yet, something told him that Tseng knew. He was like that.

Pushing the glass away from him with a disgusted sneer, Reno watched as some of the alcohol sloshed over the edge and onto the counter. He didn't know why he was here. The bar was usually some place for him to unwind, to forget about being a Turk for as long as it took to get drunk. He couldn't even bring himself to pick up the glass. Which was hardly an easy thing to begin with, considering one of his arms was in a sling, and his body felt like it had been pummeled repeatedly by a hammer.

The dropping of the plate was supposed to have been an easy mission. It had been, until the blonde kid with the Mako eyes had shown up, his two pals, a huge foul-mouthed man known as Barret Wallace and a shapely woman known as Tifa Lockheart, tagging along. He was as good as any Turk ought to be when it came to outright brawling, but that had been a bit much, even for him. Now, here he was, too injured to do anything while some snot-nosed rookie had his place on the team.

It had only been a few days since then, but he was not so far out of the loop that he didn't know President Shinra was dead. Reno could hardly say that broke his heart. He had never liked the man to begin with. He had been a manipulative, controlling bastard with a love for only money. As far as he was concerned, Tseng was his boss. Whatever orders came through, Tseng was the lucky man that intercepted them and reported them. Reno and Rude rarely, if ever, saw the president directly.

Now, he would be taking his orders from a kid five years his junior. That rankled slightly, but only because Rufus Shinra was not someone Reno particularly cared for. He was sharper than his old man, shrewder, and where his father had lacked vision, he had more than enough to make up for it. Reno supposed he could respect that. Hell, he ought to have felt bad for the kid, having just lost his father. And maybe he would have, if he hadn't known Rufus like he did.

Even as a boy, Rufus had been icy and tightly contained. Every movement was measured as though it would cost too much to move even the slightest bit more. Reno could have handled that, he could even have handled Rufus superior attitude, the way he had of looking at you as if he were above you. They might have even come close to being friends at one time. Reno, however, did not much care for the man Rufus had become, and the decisions he had made along the way. Something told him life was about to get a hell of a lot more interesting when Rufus officially announced himself acting president of Shinra Inc.

He was not entirely certain whether he liked the idea of working under Rufus, but so long as he got his paycheck, he was content to ignore the man that signed it. That was, if he ever got to the point where the doctor declared him fit to return to work. Eyes narrowing, he told himself that the next time he ran into Cloud Strife, he was going to make certain the kid didn't forget him. Yes, he was going to make damn certain the kid felt some pain.

Raising his eyes to the wall in front of him, he squinted until he could just barely make out the time on the neon clock that had long since lost its lighting. It was after midnight. If he was smart, he would be sleeping. The problem was, sleeping led to dreaming, and dreaming led to remembering. Remembering that the death and injuries splashes constantly across the news, displayed even now on the television in the corner of the bar, was his doing.

Orders were orders. He was loyal to the company. A Turk to the end. Indifferent and hard because he had to be. Life had taught him early on that you had to be tough if you wanted to survive. The slums of Midgar catered to no one. What you wanted, you had to take. Because if you didn't, you were crushed. Crushed, like he had done.

Shit. He was sick of thinking about it. Thinking wasn't going to change anything. He had done his duty. President Shinra wanted the plate dropped to teach the pesky band of rebels that had blown up his reactors a lesson. He almost laughed aloud. Yeah, he had ordered that, and had not even taken the rebels out as he had wanted. And look where he was now. Six feet under and rotting.

"You look lonely."

Reno shifted slowly, turning his head until he found his gaze eye level with an expanse of exposed flesh. Eyes lingering there momentarily, he took a drag from his cigarette and finally smashed it into a nearby ashtray. A quick scan of her face told him what he had already guessed. She was a hooker, looking to make some extra cash before she called it a night. At any other time, he might have taken her up on her silent invitation. But right now, he could only bring himself to feel a passing interest.

She would warm his bed, offer him a few moments of pleasure, and then leave, the only sign that she had even been there the cloying scent of her perfume staining his sheets and his skin. He would go back to feeling empty and she would go back to selling her body.

"I like being lonely," he finally replied, his tone dismissive.

She shrugged. "Your loss." And moved on to find a man who was willing.

Reno didn't even turn his head to watch her walk away.

Women, like alcohol, were nothing more to him than a release. There was no such thing as 'happily ever after', and love was something people deluded themselves into believing because it made them feel better. Reno liked to tell himself he was above them all because he didn't buy into that crap. The trouble was, it only sufficed until night came, and he faced an empty bed.

There had been a time when he had believed. A time when he had been young enough and stupid enough to think he could have what others had. He had been wrong. And as was often the case, Tseng had saved his ass.

The night air was chilly, and the sky stretched out above him, filled with brightly twinkling stars. Reno sat on the edge of the Shinra headquarters rooftop, his feet dangling precariously over it, a bottle of whiskey situated between his legs and a shot glass next to him. He had lost count as to how many he had, had, but the bottle was more than half empty. He was more than a little inebriated. As a matter of fact, it was amazing that he could even see the hand he was passing in front of his eyes without his vision blurring. Reno had always had a high tolerance for liquor, much in the same way he had a high tolerance for pain, but not pain of this kind. This kind of pain ate at him from the inside out, ripping through his heart like a ravaging disease. He had sought to numb it with alcohol, but it was not helping. The same words kept reverberating around in his skull.

I can't do this anymore. I wanted to tell you before... but I love someone else. And... I know he'll provide me with the kind of security I need. I can't live knowing that... that you might not come home one day. I'm leaving you now, Reno.

... I love someone else.

Can't do this anymore...

...Love someone else...

He'll provide me with the kind of security I need...

I'm leaving you now, Reno...

I love someone else...

Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, he tried to block out the words, tried to push them to the back of his mind, but they would not cooperate. He had finally thought he found his respite from his job, from dealing with everything that went along with it. She had been a decent, beautiful woman that had nothing to do with Shinra, and offered him a safe haven to forget. She was also the first woman he had ever allowed himself to love, to open up to beyond sleeping in the same bed with her. And she had left him.

He hated this. It was why he had once vowed to never give himself to anyone, not that inner part, the part that was him, the part that he allowed no one to see. He had felt like this once before... when his mother had dumped him in an orphanage with the promise that she would come back. She never had.

Footsteps echoed behind him on the pavement, and bowed his head, not bothering to turn and see who it was.

"I thought I might find you here," a low, calm voice stated.

"Go away, Tseng," Reno responded.

Tseng ignored that, walking up to stand next to Reno, his eyes drifting out. "It is a long way down."

"What?" Reno sneered. "Did you think I was going to throw myself off the edge? For a woman? Not fucking likely."

"You are hurting."

"No shit Sherlock."

"I will let that pass because of the state you are in," Tseng replied, quiet steel behind his tone as his eyes drifted to the bottle of whiskey.

Reno sighed. "I'm sorry, Tseng. It's not your fault I'm screwed up."

Tseng gracefully lowered himself next to Reno and eyed the other man in silence, waiting.

"How could I be so stupid? I knew better. Now I feel like shit and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. Not even this alcohol helps," he added derisively, starting down at the bottle.

"It is a natural part of life, loss is."

Reno squinted at him. "Yeah, well I don't want anything to do with it."

"It is how you deal with it that makes you a man, or a boy."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Reno demanded, an edge to his tone.

Tseng shrugged elegantly. "There is nothing you can do to change what happened. I know that you are hurting, but destroying yourself is not going to make it any better."

"Whatever." Reno muttered.

"You always were difficult to get through to. I would imagine now to be no different," Tseng remarked offhand.

Reno ran a hand through his deep red hair, knocking the sunglasses from their perch and watching as they tumbled down until he could no longer see them.

"That is a long way down," he remarked, laughing harshly.

"Can you handle yourself Reno, or am I going to have to suspend you?"

"What?" The younger Turk shot out, his head snapping around to regard the dark haired man in disbelief.

"I do not want a Turk under my command that is too drunk to perform his job properly. If you become a liability, then I have to let you go."

"Damn you're tough."

Tseng met blue eyes with dark ones, and smiled slightly.

Shaking his head, Reno managed a small smile himself. "I'll do my damn job like I always have. Sober."

"Good. Now let us move away from the edge before you accidentally slip over."

Reno laughed, allowing Tseng to help him to his feet. "I ain't that drunk, boss."

As they moved back toward the building, Tseng eyed Reno shrewdly. "Will you be all right?"

"No." Reno replied bluntly. "But I'll live with it. Just needed my moment to wallow in self-pity so that you could come and kick me in the ass."

Tseng's lips curved up slightly. "It was my pleasure."

"Yeah," Reno muttered in response, "I'm sure it was."

That had been a long time ago. He had learned a lot in five years. Like never to underestimate your boss, and never to trust a woman.

"You're paying for that," the barkeep informed him, cutting through his reverie.

Reno simply stared at him, eyes boring into the man until he squirmed uncomfortably.

"I don't give refunds when you haven't drunk what you ordered."

With an impatient jerk, Reno reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a coin, flicking it at the man. Before the barkeep could note that he hadn't paid enough, Reno withdrew more coins and flung them at him separately, the corner of his mouth tilting up slightly as the man flinched with each toss of the coin.

"You think you're something special because you're a Turk!" The bartender snapped, his tone wavering as he clutched the coins in his hand. "Well, you're no better than them," he added, waving his hand out toward the rest of the bar. "Maybe worse."

Reno shrugged his one good shoulder. "Maybe not. Maybe I am worse. In which case, old man, you'd better watch yourself. I could make your life real hell if I wanted to."

The man drew himself up. "Ever since the president died, you Turks think you can run Midgar."

Reno eased himself off the stool, hiding a wince. "I got news for you, we've been running Midgar for a long time now. So you'd better behave, old man. The Turks are watching you," he added, offering him a half-grin and a lazy salute.

Ignoring the stares of the people he passed, he ambled out of the bar slowly, only startling slightly at the dark shape that materialized beside him.

"The Turks are watching you? What the hell kind of line was that? What are we, 'Santa Claus'?"

"Fuck you, Rude," Reno replied, reaching into his suit to fumble around with a crumpled pack of cigarettes.

"I thought we'd already been through this. I'm not your type," the big man replied, amusement coloring his tone.

"Whatever. Light me up."

Rude obliged, his dark sunglasses hiding his expression as he scanned his friend's face. Reno looked entirely too tired. His face was pinched and white, and he looked like he was going collapse at any moment.

"Why aren't you home in bed?"

"Because mommy, I was sick of lying around."

"Do the words 'doctor's orders' mean anything to you?" Rude asked in response.

"No." Reno replied, his tone clipped and short.

Glancing back at the bar, his cigarette dangling from his lips, he considered the barkeep's words again. No, he wasn't better off than any of the poor saps wasting the last of their money on booze. As a matter of fact, they were probably a hell of a lot happier than he was. They had their simple lives to return to. His was anything but simple. But that had been his choice. The Turks were his family, and there was no way he was leaving them. It was just the way it was.

"So how's the rookie going?" Reno interjected into the silence.

"Elena? She's... okay. Talks to much. Seems to have a thing for Tseng," he added, pretending not to notice when Reno sagged against him.

Reno laughed harshly. "Oh, too bad I'm friggin' bed-ridden. I'd give to see that."

Slipping Reno under his arm, Rude supported him as they began walking. "Yeah, well, you won't be any time soon if you keep making trips to the bar."

"Look, nurse Rude, I'm sick of staring at the inside of my goddamned apartment. It's driving me crazy."

"Yeah, well the longer you stay in that apartment, the sooner you'll get out of there."

As backward as that sounded, Reno knew it made sense. He just had to endure a week more or so of inactivity, and he could return to work, to his life. He was a Turk. That was all he had ever been, and all he would ever want to be. He had chosen this path a long time ago, and he planned to walk it until it killed him.

And that day might be sooner than he knew.

Author's Notes

Well, not too much to say about this. I just felt like writing for Reno a bit more, so out came this. Not a whole lot of point to it, but then, vignette's aren't supposed to have a huge plot. ^_^