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The Devil's Own

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter 19

 

For a minute there, Reno thought Cloud was going to jump down his throat and maybe yank out a few vitals. He'd had that sort of just over the edge of homicidal look on his face. And not that Reno was intimidated by Cloud - - because he damned well wasn't - - and screw anyone who claimed otherwise, Rude included - - but taking on unbalanced pseudo super-soldiers just wasn't something he liked to do before breakfast had really had the chance to settle.

Besides which, the boss had laid down a 'hands off Strife' law and Reno was already treading thin ice after letting certain things slip to that other less than sane, less than wholly 'living' member of Cloud's little cliché, Valentine. The boss was still maneuvering things to his liking, Reno was sure of it. Moving pieces across a board for reasons he didn't feel the need to share with just any old grunt on his payroll. No big surprise there. Rufus tended to think six steps ahead on a bad day and a man that liked his job and his benefits didn't go out of his way to question, he just did what he was told and did it well.

So Reno delivered a bit of information to Cloud per orders, along with a little bit of sly insinuation of his own - - because riling Cloud made him happy in ways that halfway verged on sexual - - and headed back to the office. Rude was a silent presence riding shot gun beside him, more of a frown than usual on his lantern jawed face. It was the arm. He was on light duty, explicit orders from the mouth of Tseng himself, and he damned well didn't like it. There was nothing Rude hated more than the idea of not pulling his own weight and then some. Reno never had suffered from the same affliction. Light duty or paid leave wouldn't have hurt his feelings in the least.

"So, I told him," he reported to the man himself, after Elena directed them up to Rufus' office. He was half thinking about dragging Rude down to Fu Long Moo's for some drinks and gratuitous observation of the scantily clad - - or not clad at all - - pole dancers the club employed. Rude needed a few stiff shots to loosen him up. A lap dance probably wouldn't hurt, if he got enough booze into Rude that he'd allow it.

Rufus nodded. He had a nice big shiner under one eye and a painful looking swelling that started at the bridge of his nose and extended down about an inch. Payback from Cloud, which Reno figured, all previous grudges aside, the boss had had coming. And then some.

Rufus pushed a little metal case, not much bigger than a pocket tool kit across the desk top towards Reno. "You're heading to Gold Saucer. Elena will fill you in on the details you don't know on the way."

Reno shrugged and picked up the case, turning it over in his hands. Rufus arched a brow at him, hands long and idle on his uncluttered desk. "I'm trusting you with a critical component, Reno. An irreplaceable component. Don't fuck up."

"I never fuck up, boss."

Elena snorted softly, eyes never leaving the boss's face. Rude's frown deepened.

Elena was just being a bitch, but Rude, Rude wasn't happy at all about being left on this side of the pond. Reno was particularly happy about it himself. Elena was as professional as they got and damned efficient to boot, but he'd take a wounded Rude over her any day of the week. Most especially during a twelve hour flight across the ocean, Shinra red-eyes notoriously lacking in-flight entertainment.

Rufus just looked at him, until he got the idea that the meeting was over, and nodded, backing away a step before turning and sauntering away. Rude tailed him out, Elena lingering, getting some last minute face time in with the boss - - brown-nosing little bitch. But being in with Tseng, who was in with the boss as tight as you got, had its perks.

"I don't like it," Rude growled softly, surprising Reno because Rude's complaints generally began and ended with various degrees of scowling.

"Yeah, well, I don't much like it either. Ever since that night in Vuutan with the home brewed snakejuice, she's had it in for me. It's going to be one long fucking flight."

"That's not what I mean."

Reno's mouth quirked. "Worried about me with you not there to watch my back?"

Rude said nothing, the 'scowl' starting in. He kept it all the way down to Equipment, where Reno starting picking and choosing which gear to take with him on the trip. A little light body armor might not be a bad thing. Nothing that would restrict his movement, but enough to keep errant bullets or stray washes of materia powered strikes from piercing flesh.

Rude stood just inside the door, watching him stuff gear in a duffle, until his phone went off and he shoved his good hand into his jacket pocket to dig it out. He put it to his ear, listened and grunted an affirmative after a moment. You really had to know Rude to get all the nuances of his methods of communication.

"I've got to go," he clicked the phone shut and looked over the top of his glasses at Reno. "You be careful, partner."

Reno grinned at him. "You be careful."

After all, Rude had the broken arm. All Reno had to contend with was staying out of the way of two of the most dangerous men on the planet in the hopes of resurrecting one that was on a whole 'nother level altogether, because the boss had Gods knew what sort of schemes going. He was golden.


Cloud was hot to get across the pond and even though Cid was presently minus the means to personally give him a lift, he wasn't without contacts. The community of long haulers that weren't Company contracted was small and, Cid liked to think, elite and he knew most all of them. Had traded drinks with most all of them. Midgar was a major trading hub and if they were lucky, they'd be a ship or two all loaded up and ready to take off west.

So the kid commandeered Barrett's old truck and they headed out to the Midgar port facility. Cid's captain's credentials got them through the gates sectioning off the hangers from the more public portions of the complex.

They hit Port authority and Cid sauntered in like he had legitimate business, nodding idly to the woman behind the desk as he scanned the incoming/outgoing board behind her, looking for friendly names on a time schedule that might be of some use to him.

The Meritan had just left dock, which was a damned shame, because her captain owed him a favor. Shy Lady was in port but her departure date was two days from now and she was headed to Nibelheim via a stopover at Gongaga, which was a good hop skip and a jump from Gold Saucer if the kid had to take the ground route from there. It would be cutting it damn close. Still, a captain might be convinced to pull her crew in early if there was profit to be had in it and Cid had a few favors he could offer.

"C'mon," he nodded at Cloud, who was loitering in the doorway and the kid pushed himself off the jamb and followed in Cid's wake. Still pissed and not bothering to hide it and if he'd been armed people likely would have given him a damned wide berth. Pretty as he was, there was just something about Cloud in a mood that tended to make folks nervous.

The Shy Lady was in a slip down at the end of the docks. Mid-sized craft with years of piecemealing making a patchwork of her outer shell. Cid was a master of piecemealing himself and had no problem with a creative crew doing what needed when supplies were short and times tough.

"Loose the scowl," Cid suggested as they reached the foot of the open cargo bay doors and came under the scrutiny of the lone deckhand on duty there. "Or they likely won't feel inclined to invite us onboard."

Whether Cloud managed that feat on not, Cid didn't bother to look, stepping forward and hailing the Shy Lady crewman with a 'Hey there, your Captain on board?'

The crewman, a junior member by the look of him and not of Cid's acquaintance peered down at them warily.

"She is. What's it to you?"

"Give her a holler and tell her Cid Highwind's come round for a visit."

A few minutes later, the Shy Lady's captain, a rawboned woman some years Cid's senior appeared at the cargo bay and peered down at them. Just like him, she'd used to be Company way back when and just like him, she'd parted on bad terms.

"Leanne," Cid nodded up at her.

"Cid. It's been a while."

"Too long."

"Heard through the mill that Sierra had some trouble."

"Heard right."

She frowned. Business competitors though they were, a body's ship was sacrosanct.

"Got a favor to ask."

She frowned again, glancing beyond him at Cloud and maybe the kid had managed to wipe the ominous glower off his face, or maybe - - being female and not in the grave yet, she just liked the look of him - - because she looked back at Cid without a deepening of her own frown.

"Come on up then," she beckoned. "I'll hear you out."


"Kid here needs to get to Gold Saucer and I need to get back to Rocket town and see how ship repairs are going," Cid finally got around to explaining after shots had been poured in the Captain's cabin and he and she had traded customary and polite gossip. Kid sat there the whole time, impatient as hell, but having the sense to know Cid was working an angle and hiding it best as he could.

"I got room for a couple of passengers, long as they don't mind riding in cargo. Won't be stopping near Gold Saucer though. Close as I'll come is Gongaga."

"Three passengers, maybe," Cid corrected, hoping Vincent might take the trip with him. You never damn well knew with Vincent, what he'd decide to do or exactly why. But there was still danger out there, gunning for Cloud in particular and Cloud's acquaintances by association, so he figured Vincent would stay close, one way or another, Vincent's protective instincts a far shot more defined than Vincent ever cared to admit.

"Thing is," Cid said, running a hand through his hair. "We got a bit of time crunch. Kid here needs to be in Gold Saucer by end week which means reaching Gongaga by tomorrow afternoon latest."

Leanne shook her head. "No can do. Crew's got two days downtime before we take off. "

"I hear. But here's the thing. With Sierra down for repairs, I've got contracts that I've no way of fulfilling. Lotta gil that's not lining my pockets that just as well might line the pockets of an honest independent instead of some company freighter." Which was god's honest truth and Cid lamented the loss hourly. Better he work out a temporary arrangement with his regular clients than have them seek out replacement long haulers on their own. He should have already done it, but he'd been a tad distracted, fighting for his life and all.

Leanne knew the smell of gil when it wafted across her bow and got a speculative glint in her eye. "I could call them back in tonight. The promise of a good bonus might ease the pain of the loss of a night or two carousing the town. "

"It would me," Cid agreed.

She nodded, thinking no doubt of the Sierra's contacts and the benefit it could bring Shy Lady. "You make those calls and we'll take off once the hold's full and the crew's back. Tonight maybe. Midnight latest."

Which meant they'd reach Gongaga noontime tomorrow which was the best a man could expect, all things considered.

 


 

Cid had gotten him a ride and a free ride at that and Cloud was grateful for it. It was just some broken part of him, that part that had a hard time forming polite conversation at the best of times, that couldn't do more than nod and grunt to express that gratitude . Not when he was agitated and worried and feeling damned stupid for not having thought to go back and retrieve his belongings before this. Cid nodded back amenably enough though, when they were heading back to town, pleased enough with himself and his bargaining skills, not to be offended.

Cloud parked inside the warehouse behind the bar, next to the stacks of lumber and scavenged building materials Barrett had scrounged up to repair the fire damage. He walked down to his garage while Cid went into the bar. Cloud wasn't certain Vincent was even there, Vincent often scarce during the daylight hours. And Vincent was worse at actually answering his phone than Cloud, but he figured Cid had ways of tracking him down when he wanted to talk to him badly enough.

He gathered up supplies and stuffed them in a backpack. Picked out various weaponry, the small things that might go unnoticed on a man when all attention was focused on the damned big sword on his back. Got out his oils and sat down to give leather gear a protective once over. A whetstone on the edge of his sword honed out any dulling earned during the little out to the wastelands the night before last.

There was nothing else to do then, but bite the bullet and go tell Tifa he was heading out Gold Saucer way. She'd worry, current circumstances as they were and he hated being on the receiving end of well meaning concern.

He shuffled in the back way, putting off the inevitable a little longer by heading upstairs and changing clothes. Black jeans, sleeveless sweater that was thick enough to pad leather gear straps and not chafe. He lamented the loss of his good boots, lost to some wasteland scum, somewhere in the desert beyond Gold Saucer. He'd look into getting something that didn't have patched soles after he retrieved Fenrir. He'd have a little extra gil, since the ride over was free.

"Cloud." Tifa caught him stuffing gloves into his belt and he started, not even sure why he felt the twang of guilt. "Cid says you're heading out tonight."

"Yeah."

She nodded, used to monosyllable answers. "I'm going with you. I'll get Barrett to watch the bar."

"No."

"Cloud, you've got a crazy man after you."

"Good enough reason for you not be around me. You've got responsibilities here."

"So do you," she countered and it was solid hit. This was the only home he had and these people were as close to family as it were possible to get without sharing actual blood. Still, he'd brought trouble to their doorsteps because of that association, because something else close to him in another way, something that shared something more essential than simple blood couldn't leave well enough alone.

"If they coming looking for me here, Barrett can't deal with them and protect the kids all alone." He knew her weak spots as well. He also knew how to be painfully blunt. "And if he follows me, all you'd be is a distraction."

She lifted her chin, hurt welling in her eyes. But she was a reasonable woman. A pragmatic one who knew her limitations. And against something like Diablo/Sephiroth what he'd said was absolute truth.

"Okay. Okay. But, you call me, hear? Don't make me sit here and wonder, because it's damned inconsiderate."

He nodded and reached for the cell on the desk, showing it to her before stuffing it into his pocket.

It was just a matter of waiting then, until Cid got the call from the Shy Lady that the crew was in and they were ready to take off.

 

 

 

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