Disclaimers:  I do not own Final Fantasy VII or any of its characters.

Notes:  Another part to my little fic.  Reno heads home after his night out with Rufus, only to encounter trouble.



Risks and Wagers



Part One


Reno hummed as he headed home.  It was still fairly early in the evening - for Reno at least - so the air was refreshing, helping
him to clear his mind after the night of drinking.  True, he hadn’t had all that much to drink, but he was feeling moderately
buzzed.  There was a faint scent of rain lingering in the air, but Reno couldn’t care less as he twirled his EMR in his hand and
pondered the wager he and Rufus had made a few hours ago.

With a spring to his step, at the prospect of winning, he climbed the stairs two at a time and approached the rather large
apartment he shared with Rude.  The tall, bald man was waiting there in the doorway, looking annoyed.  He was probably
peeved that he didn’t get to go out drinking too.  Reno smiled and raised his hand to greet his friend and partner, only to forget
that his Electromagnetic Rod had still been in his hand.  It could never go too far, since it was attached to his wrist by a leather
band, but it went far enough to slam harshly into Rude’s face.  Reno winced as the sound of something cracking reached his
ears.

There was a moment of looming silence as Rude reached up to touch the blood coming out of his nose before glancing down to
examine the remains of his sunglasses that lay in two pieces at his feet.  “Reno . . .” His voice was a low and dangerous growl.  
“Get out of my sight before I kill you.”

Reno bit his lip, feeling a bit worried.  This wasn’t the first time he’d hit Rude by accident.  Or even the first time he’d broken
the man’s sunglasses.  Maybe he should learn to be a bit more careful.

“Come on, Rude.  It was an accident, yo,” he tried, only to receive a harsher glare that would have been more effective if Rude
hadn’t had his hand over his bleeding nose.

“Get out,” Rude snarled.  He turned and went back into the apartment, slamming the door behind himself.

Reno guessed he’d have to give Rude a bit of time to cool off.  He was sure they’d work through this.  After all, this wasn’t the
first time he’d done something this stupid before.  Not the second or even the third time either.  Frankly, Reno didn’t know how
many times he’d inadvertently pissed Rude off enough to kick him out.  He’d just have to go spend time in some of his old
hangouts, what was left of them at any rate.

He shrugged his shoulders and slowly walked back down the stairs, languidly swinging his EMR from the strap binding it to his
wrist.  His buzz had quickly ebbed away and now he was feeling rather dejected.  Maybe a nice long walk would be good for
him.  He shook his head.  No, that would be damned dull, not entertaining in the least.  Instead, he made a beeline for the nearest
bar in the sector.  It would be much better to drown himself in booze.  Maybe he’d even get lucky and find some hot little
honey to occupy him for the rest of the night, perhaps even give him a place to sleep - or even better NOT to sleep - the night
through.


*****


Several hours - and bars - later found Reno arguing with the bartender of someplace he couldn’t remember the name of.  The
man just said something snappish and called over the bouncers, who took great pleasure in hauling Reno off his feet and
unceremoniously tossing him out into the street.  Just because he didn’t have any Gil didn’t mean they could treat him like that.  
Reno was beyond pissed.  He staggered back to his feet and shouted out slurred, drunken insults at the three men that had
thrown him out.  It was a rather stupid mistake on Reno’s part.  Bouncers, in Reno’s experience, didn’t generally have a sense
of humor.  Well, not a good one at any rate.

He found himself face down on the ground before he knew what was happening.  Thankfully, they didn’t do much other than
getting in one good hit each, until Reno’s face felt like a ton of bricks had hit it.  Before they turned and went back into the bar,
laughing over what they had done to the redhead, one of them gave a good strong swift kick to Reno’s chest.  Reno curled
around the foot that had hit him, gritting his teeth against the wave of pain as a loud shattering crack resounded in the air.

Reno rolled onto his back as the pain receded, his drunken stupor effectively ruined by those thugs.  He’d had a nice buzz going
again.  Now it was ebbing away, leaving him sluggish and - well, really just tired.  He reached into his pocket for his cell phone,
thinking that maybe Rude had gotten over his bout of anger.  Maybe he could sweet talk his friend into giving him a lift home.  
Reno nearly laughed at the thought.  Rude wasn’t exactly the forgiving type.  He held grudges.  It would probably be better for
Reno just to call a taxi service.  Even though he didn’t have any cash on him, he could charge it to his work account.  Sure,
Tseng would chew his ass out for it, but he needed a ride home.  Or at least a ride to somewhere he could crash tonight.

He blinked his hazy eyes as he lifted his phone into view.  Then he growled in anger.  “Those fucking bastards!” he shouted to
no one in particular.  His phone was smashed, probably when that muscled freak had kicked him in the chest.  Guess that
explained the cracking sound he had heard.  Sitting up, he threw the useless piece of junk away, then kicked away some tin can
just because it was there within kicking distance of his foot.

He frowned at a painful ache in his wrist and looked down, seeing blood just under the leather strap connected to his EMR.  
Peeling the leather away, he found a coarse and jagged line beneath, blood already caking on his skin.  He must have landed
badly.  He shrugged, deciding not to put the strap on again.  It would be better not to have to deal with the irritating pain.

He sat there moping, until he felt something cold and wet touch his cheek.  Looking up to the sky he frowned as several more
droplets hit his face.  “Oh, well FUCK!” he snapped, glaring up at the offending sky.  If things didn’t already suck enough, it
was starting to rain.  No sooner was that thought processed than the skies seemed to open up and pour forth a torrent upon his
aching head.  He could almost feel the vein in his temple throbbing in time with his heartbeat, he was so pissed.

Reno groaned and pushed himself to his feet, grabbing his EMR as he rose.  He was mumbling under his breath as he stumbled
to the roadside, starting on the miserable trek back to a friendly sector.  He flipped out his thumb as he walked along.  It was
embarrassing that he had to stoop to such a means of getting a ride, but he had little choice in the matter.  Of course, this
method of travel was only serving to tick him off even more, as each passing car managed to hit the puddles just right to splash
cold water halfway up his legs.

He was cold.  He was tired.  He was wet.  And he was completely ready to snap.

The rain was still falling in a steady thrum, drenching Reno to his very bones.  Another car was roaring along and Reno dazedly
had his thumb out, still hoping to catch a ride from someone who wasn’t a complete nutcase or a sicko pervert.  Unfortunately
for Reno, he was passing by a rather large mud puddle at the time.  The car slammed right through it, sending a disgusting
brown wall of mud into the air and right onto Reno.

Reno reacted without thought.  Still dripping with water and now a gritty mud, he screamed out a string of profanities and
hurled the only thing he had available to him.  His EMR was swift to hit the target.  It smashed through the back window of the
vehicle, shattering the glass.  The jackass behind the wheel slammed on his brakes, then put it in reverse.  Reno had a faint idea
that this was not going to be good, before the man roughly kicked open his car door and approached Reno, the redhead’s EMR
held dangerously in one tight-fisted hand.  The man was bigger than Rude, and gave off a sense of foreboding that had Reno
shivering slightly.  He’d never admit to being frightened, but standing there under the harsh glare of this man with no weapon in
his hand was not doing his sense of calm any good.  Reno was still dazed, half-drunk and his reaction times were not up to par.  
He knew he wasn’t in any fit state for a fight.

He somehow knew that he would never be able to talk his way out of this situation.  He swallowed nervously and tried to back
away, only to stumble a little bit and nearly fall back on his ass.  “Woah, calm down, big guy,” he said.  Even though he knew it
was no use, it was better to say something, to try and get out of this instead of just taking the ass kicking he pretty much did
deserve.

“What’s the big idea, you little shit?” he screamed, dangerously waving Reno’s EMR as he growled at him.  “So I don’t wanna
give some lowlife punk kid a ride in my car!  That doesn’t give you the right to break my window!”  He shoved Reno, almost
knocking him over.  “I think you need a lesson in manners!”  

Before Reno could right himself, the man had already lashed out again, this time using Reno’s EMR.  He swung it in a sharp arc,
connecting solidly with the side of Reno’s head.  Reno found himself on the ground, something warm and slick spreading
across the side of his face at a sickeningly rapid pace.  He had the sense that this was not a good thing, but couldn’t bring his
mind to focus on the situation.  A haze brought on by drunkenness and now by a head injury, left him numb to what was going
on around him.  Pains that would normally seem sharp and harsh were only dull reminders of the beating he was currently
suffering through.  He was detached from himself, gasping for breath when a foot hit his stomach repeatedly.  A fist collided
with his face a few times, a number of kicks and strikes to his arms and chest.  He did try to fend off the attack, but he was
sluggish at best.

For a brief, wonderful moment, the beating stopped.  He thought the man had finally gotten tired of kicking his worthless ass.  
And then Reno heard the five worst words he’d ever heard.

“What’s this thing do, anyway?” the man asked, pausing in his attack to curiously examine Reno’s EMR.  It didn’t take a genius
to figure out how to operate the weapon.  And once he did, a wicked gleam entered his cold eyes.

Suddenly, it was as if the world was brought back into a sharp focus once more.  Reno’s eyes widened and he struggled to
scramble back, every single injury sending a harsh pain to remind him of the abuse he had already endured.

The attacker chuckled cruelly, grabbing a fistful of Reno’s filthy and soaked shirt to haul him to his feet, tearing the front of his
shirt open in the process.  He shoved Reno back against a wall, then stepped back.  A mere moment later, Reno’s own EMR
was used against him for the first time.  His body convulsed with the electrical current passing through him.  The man laughed
darkly as he took the EMR away from Reno’s smoldering skin.  The redhead was given only a brief respite before it was applied
to him again and again.  Reno was deaf to his own screams, though his throat was raw and burning with each yell torn from
him.

The sound of metal hitting pavement was distant at best.  It took Reno several long moments to realize that he wasn’t being
electrocuted any more.  Instead, there was the sensation of hands on his shoulders, dragging him up on shaking legs and
pressing him more firmly against the wall behind his back.

“Under all this muck, you look pretty good,” the man spoke with a heavy breath, grasping Reno’s bruised chin in a hard grip.  
His other hand twisted in Reno‘s ponytail, roughly yanking on it and forcing his head back.  “Why don’t you put your scrawny
little body to good use and pay me back for the damage you caused?”

If Reno could get his mind to work, he might have had some scathing retort.  Instead, he just whimpered, sluggishly trying to
raise his hands to push the man back.  He was barely conscious and feeling more than a little weak.  He couldn’t get his body to
move, no matter how much he wanted to get away from this.

Reno’s eyes jerked wide open at the realization that he was being kissed.  The fucker’s tongue was shoved halfway down Reno’
s throat, his dirty hands yanking at Reno’s pants.  Feeling coursed through him, flaring up every nerve ending in his body,
effectively snapping him out of his stupor.  Narrowing his eyes, Reno bit down hard on the offending muscle invading his
mouth.  He was rewarded with a muffled yell and the coppery tang of blood flooding across his palate.  The man reared back,
holding a hand over his mouth, blood trickling past his fingers.

“I ain’t a WHORE!” Reno hissed severely.  He reached out and gripped the man’s shoulders, using him as leverage as he
dredged up every last bit of strength he had left.  Using that energy, he brought his leg up, sending his knee straight into the man’
s groin.

The both of them collapsed to the ground.  One out of sheer exhaustion, the other writhing in pain.  Reno knelt there, effectively
wiped out.  He reached over and grabbed his EMR, flicking it off easily.  Sure, it would be easy to get some revenge in now, but
he didn’t feel like it at the moment.  Instead, he brought his EMR down in a wide arc and smacked the son of a bitch across the
head with it, knocking him out with a practiced ease.  

He sat there for a bit longer, shivering in the cold, rainy night.  Then he gathered himself together and pushed himself to his feet
again.  He still had to find a place to spend the night.  And he really didn’t want to wait around for that bastard to wake up.  He
doubted he’d have the energy needed to fend off another attack.

Just wanting to find a place to crash, Reno headed for the street again and stuck out his thumb once more.  He staggered along
the side of the road, his vision wavering dangerously.  He didn’t know how much longer he could keep walking.  But he’d go
for as long as he could manage to keep his feet moving.  The cold penetrated every fiber of his being, helped by the fact that his
jacket was missing - he didn’t know when or where he had lost it, probably during the fight with that sicko freak - and his shirt
was practically torn in half, hanging open and revealing his chest and stomach to anyone who wanted a look.  His pants weren’t
in much better condition.  The right leg was torn at the knee, the left was in even worse condition.  Hell, it was only a matter of
time before they fell off of him completely, given the fact that the button was missing and the tattered garment was just barely
hanging onto his hips.

The sound of a motor approaching - and slowing - only barely registered in Reno’s fogged mind.  It wasn’t until he heard a
familiar voice that he looked over, squinting into the bright headlight of a motorcycle.

“Reno?  Is that you?”

Reno almost fell over as a sense of relief filled his weary body.  “Cloud!  Hey, can you help me out here, yo?”  He stumbled,
though he hadn’t been moving, and was barely able to catch his balance before he collapsed.

There was a moment of silence before Cloud snorted softly.  The bike shifted to rest on its kickstand and the rider dismounted.  
“You look like a drowned rat.”

Reno glared into the headlight.  “That supposed to be some sort of joke?”

“No.  Just stating a fact.”  Cloud briskly stepped forward and grabbed Reno’s arm.  Reno now saw that the night hadn’t been
much kinder to the blonde man.  He was drenched from the rain.  “Come on.”

Reno shivered, feeling the biting sting of the icy rain against his bare chest and stomach.  He wrapped his shaking arms around
himself and nodded, wincing as the movement sent off flares of pain all over his aching body.  “Can’t wait to get out of this
rain,” he commented, taking a step forward.  “It’s fucking cold, yo.”

He was stopped by a gentle hand on his chest.  Reno blinked, feeling confused, until Cloud shook his head and draped
something soft around Reno’s shaking shoulders.  It took a moment for Reno to blearily notice it was a jacket that Cloud had
been wearing himself.  The night was cold, it was only reasonable that someone would wear a coat in this weather.  Just
because Reno hadn’t anticipated the cold, didn’t mean Cloud would have been that foolish.  The garment was wet, but it still
held Cloud’s warmth in the heavy fabric.  Reno practically melted in it.  He threw his arms through the sleeves, pulling it closer
to his body, clenching a hand in the fabric at the front of it to keep it shut.  He didn’t have the sense of mind to operate a zipper
right now.

“Where’s your place?” Cloud asked.

Reno blinked, not having noticed when Cloud went back over to the side of the bike.  He shook his head.  “No point in me
telling you that.  Can’t go there.”

Cloud mounted his bike with ease.  “Why not?”  He kicked the kickstand up, seemingly ignoring Reno’s presence, though he
was waiting.

Reno managed to convince his legs to move enough to straddle the bike behind Cloud.  He shivered violently for a moment as
his chilled body met Cloud’s warmth, then got his brain to form a coherent sentence.  “Rude’s pissed off at me right now.  Not
a good idea for me to show my face.”

Cloud was silent for a moment.  When he spoke again, his voice was laced with something that almost sounded like anger.  
“That’s no reason to make someone go out on a night like this without a coat or a means to get to shelter.”

Reno, although shocked and touched by Cloud’s anger on his behalf, had to defend his friend Rude.  “Oi!  It wasn’t this cold
when I left, and it’s my own damn fault I’m in the shape I’m in.  I spent all my Gil in a bar . . . or two.  Ok, maybe three or
four . . . And my phone got broke when I was kicked outta that last one.”

Cloud hummed softly.  “You can use my phone when we get to my place.”  He said nothing more on the subject, effectively
cutting off all communication as he started the bike up.

Reno’s mind easily began to drift off, lost in the steady thrum of the pouring rain and the revving of the engine.  Just because
his pleasant buzz had been ruined, didn’t mean he was sober.  He was still quite drunk, and was feeling more than a little tired.  
All he wanted was to go to sleep, his aching body protesting every moment he remained awake.  He barely heard Cloud’s
warning to hold on before they took off down the dimly lit street.  In reaction, he threw his arms around Cloud’s body, his heart
skipping a beat when the bike jerked forward.

“Sorry,” he called out loudly, loosening his grip to lightly settle his palms at Cloud’s sides.  He could barely make out Cloud’s
nod as he rested his forehead against the blonde’s shoulder.  Reno was tired, unbelievably so.  He easily found himself relaxing.  
He couldn’t understand why he felt so safe here, in the presence of a former enemy, but he did.  That, added to the drunken
haze settled over his brain and the gentle vibration of the bike, started to lull Reno’s eyes to close.

“Don’t fall asleep!”

Reno’s eyes snapped open and he tightened his slackening hold.  Cloud’s hand was tight on his wrist and Reno noticed that his
other hand had completely fallen away from the blonde’s body.  He had probably almost fallen off the bike.

“Sorry, just tired,” Reno said, though he didn’t know if Cloud had heard him.  He hadn’t really felt like yelling it.  His throat hurt
too damn much for yelling.

Cloud pulled to a stop when they reached the next intersection.  “Stay awake for a while longer.  You can rest when we get to
my place.”  He looked around, even though there were no other cars coming.  The road was rather empty.  It could have been
the weather, or the time of night, but either way the city of Edge looked deserted.  “You won’t do yourself any favors by falling
off.”

Reno sighed, setting his hands at Cloud’s waist again.  “Yeah, yeah.  I know.  Sorry.  It’s just been a long day.”

Cloud snorted softly.  “Just hang on.”  With that, he revved the bike up again and made a sharp right turn.

Reno grinned tiredly as his mind wandered to his earlier conversation with Rufus.  It would be so easy to slip his hands into
Cloud’s pants.  Just a little shift of his fingers, a bit of blind fumbling and he could probably make Mr. Cloud Strife a very happy
camper.  Of course Reno wouldn’t have the proof he’d need to win the bet, but this could lead to a situation where he could
obtain the proof he required.

With a smirk, he edged his hands toward the waistband of Cloud’s pants.  Hooking his thumbs in the edge of fabric, he allowed
his fingers to continue down across the barrier of cloth.  His fingers had just barely brushed across the zipper when the bike
suddenly swerved and made him throw his arms tight around Cloud to keep from falling off.

“Watch where you put your hands!”                                         

“Sorry, yo.”  Again, not knowing whether or not Cloud had heard his soft apology.  Not that it mattered.  He wasn’t really all
that sorry.  It thrilled him that Cloud hadn’t sounded angry, just a little annoyed at having his concentration interrupted.  Reno
couldn’t keep himself from grinning as he leaned his cheek to Cloud’s back, settling himself in for a comfortable ride.  He
loosened his arms from around the blonde, draping them about Cloud’s waist again.  He made sure to keep his eyes open as he
looked at the passing scenery, thinking that things were beginning to look very promising.                                        

In a mix of seeing just how far he could take things, and for the fact that he wanted to stay awake, he let his fingers wander
again.  He grazed his fingertips across Cloud’s stomach, feeling the faint flutter of abdominal muscles twitching beneath the
tender contact.  He nuzzled his cheek against Cloud’s back, frowning when the action made him flinch in pain.  His face was
beginning to hurt rather badly.  Reno wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up with one or both eyes blackened.  Still, he was a man
with a plan - as tentative as it was - and he wasn’t about to let a little pain divert him.  So, he pressed his cheek to Cloud’s back
again, deciding to ignore the aches for the time being.

Reno let his hands simply lay there on Cloud’s belly, idly petting the wet - yet still soft - fabric of his shirt.  He took in a deep
breath, or at least as deep a breath as he could before the pain in his chest and stomach stopped him.  As he fought off the urge
to cough, he had to still the movement of his fingers, denying their wish to dig into the other man’s body.  Thankfully, he was
able to deny both reflexive actions and managed not to cough or claw what he hoped to be a lover before the end of the night -
or rather, the coming morning.

“You okay?” Cloud called out over the roar of the engine.

“Just peachy,” Reno snorted, though he was certain Cloud hadn’t heard.  He tightened his hold briefly, hoping that would be
enough to convey that he was still among the living.  Since Cloud didn’t stop or ask anything else, Reno assumed he understood.

“Hang in there a little longer.  We’re almost there.”

Reno blinked.  Unless he was imagining things, Cloud had actually sounded a little bit worried.  Reno wondered why that was,
until he realized he was shivering again.  A combination of pain, cold and fatigue was starting to overcome his senses.  He
decided to concentrate solely on staying awake and on the bike.  There would be time for playing later.

The scenery slowed as they entered the section of the city that Reno knew the new Seventh Heaven was in.  He let his eyes
close as Cloud slowed to a halt.  Then he lost track of time for a bit.  Blearily, he heard and felt as Cloud put the kickstand
down, the bike shifting to one side a little to rest.  The engine was turned off.  But it wasn’t until Cloud placed a hand over one
of his that Reno could bring himself out of his daze.  Slowly, he drew himself back and dragged his hands away from Cloud,
frowning when he couldn’t stop his body from shaking.  He wrapped his arms around himself, staying where he was, even as
Cloud got off the bike.

“We’re here,” Cloud stated, looking Reno over carefully.  He reached out, carefully grasping Reno’s arm lightly.  “Come on.”

Reno was tired.  He was sore.  He didn’t want to move anymore.  Every breath he took sent a jabbing pain through his chest.  
There was a good chance he had a few broken ribs, at the very least bruised.  And he had an uneasy feeling telling him that
there was a decent possibility of internal bleeding.  He began to shiver more severely.  Now that Cloud was no longer in front of
him, Reno wasn’t benefiting from the warmth of his body anymore, the protection he had provided from the wind and majority
of the rain that still swept down from the merciless skies.

He let his head drop, his soaked hair plastered to his face and neck.  He leaned forward and - still shaking - braced his hands on
the bike in front of him.  He noticed with some spark of fascination that his hands were scratched up pretty badly.  One of his
fingernails even seemed to be missing completely.  He didn’t wonder much about it.  He’d probably hurt his hands trying to
fight off that wack-job back before Cloud had come across him.  Reno smirked, knowing he probably looked like shit.

He tried to shift himself enough to get a leg up over the bike, but couldn’t seem to manage it.  “I . . . I don’t think I can,” he
said, then chuckled weakly.  “Funny.  All I want to do is get into a nice warm bed and collapse . . . but I can’t seem to move
my legs.”  He turned his head a fraction, just enough so he could see Cloud’s face.

Cloud didn’t say a word.  He just stood there frowning for a few seconds, even as the rain beat down on them.  Whether it was
a worried frown or an annoyed one, Reno didn’t know, nor could he really bring himself to care.  Then the blonde man nodded
and made a move to pick Reno up to carry him in his arms.

Reno may have been bone tired, near frozen, and sore as hell - but he was not about to be carried into a building like some
prissy damsel in distress.  He did have some pride left, as wounded as it already was.  “Hey, hey!”  He managed to raise one
hand, and pressed it to Cloud’s shoulder to stop his effort.  Thankfully, it worked, and Cloud backed away, looking at Reno
with confusion and not a small amount of impatience etched onto his features.    “Just get me on my feet, yo,” he said with a
sigh, tiredly dropping his hand again.  “I can probably put one foot in front of the other well enough.”

Cloud looked as if he wanted to argue, but curtly nodded instead.  “All right.”  He moved forward again, and bent slightly.  “Let
yourself fall off the bike.  I’ll catch you and help you steady yourself since you insist on being a stubborn ass.”

Reno nodded and grunted as he shifted his weight and slid his hand off the side, letting himself topple over.  Sure enough,
before he could slam to the ground, Cloud was there to catch him.  The moment his arms surrounded Reno, the redhead had to
fight the urge to scream in pain as his ribs flared anew.  He bit his lip harshly, barely allowing a grunt of pain to escape him.  
Gritting his teeth, he raised shaking hands to grip Cloud’s shoulders, ignoring the aches he garnered for the movement.  Cloud
was cautious as he helped Reno adjust, getting his feet beneath him.  Reno’s knees nearly buckled under his own weight, but
Cloud stayed put to act as support.  Reno was practically sweating buckets by the time he was standing upright, his breath not
coming to him easily.

“You’ve probably made your injuries worse, you know,” Cloud pointed out.  He wasn’t moving, just standing there under the
rain with his arms around Reno.  It was too soon to move, Reno knew that.  He’d pass out if he had to move right about now.

Reno shrugged slightly.  “I heal fast.  Have to in my line of work.”

Cloud made a soft grunt in reply.  Not an agreement, not an argument.  Just a soft sound to know that he had heard Reno’s
words.  “You almost ready to move?  There’s a Potion in the first-aid kit I can give you.”

Potions.  Reno sighed at the thought of being able to have one.  Although a Potion wouldn’t be all that effective with the extent
of injuries Reno had, it would help with the worst of the pain.  “I’ll replace it.”

Cloud nodded.  “I’ll hold you to it.”  He glanced down and inclined his head.  “Ready?”

Reno didn’t really want to move, but he knew that he had to.  He figured that if he didn’t indicate that he was ready soon, Cloud
would just go ahead and carry him in.  He took as deep a breath as he could and nodded.  “Yeah.  Just . . . Slowly, okay?”

Silence was his only answer.  Cloud adjusted his hold on Reno’s body.  Taking one of the redhead’s arms around his shoulders,
he slipped his own around Reno’s slim waist.  It was a bit more comfortable for the both of them this way.  Reno all but sank
into the other man’s hold, just hoping that he’d be able to make it to the door.  He let his head drop, focusing his eyes on his feet
in a feeble attempt to make them move by sheer force of will.

Thankfully, he was finally able to drag one of his feet forward.  It ended with him having to put even more of his weight against
Cloud, but at least he was moving.  And once he had one leg going, it was much easier to get the other one to cooperate with
him as well.  Still, his breathing was labored by the time they did reach the door and to his great annoyance, Cloud didn’t even
ask before he all but lifted Reno up onto the small step outside the door.  Okay, Reno probably couldn’t have gotten himself to
step up on his own, but not being asked struck his ego the wrong way.

“I’m not an invalid,” he muttered, though he’d intended it to come out far harsher.

“No, you aren’t.”  Cloud agreed easily as he opened the door with minor difficulty.  “I wanted to get out of the rain.”  He
directed Reno to sit in a chair close to the door.  “Stay here.”

Reno snorted even though the small laugh caused his ribs to flare.  “Where the hell am I gonna go under my own power, yo?”

A moment later, Cloud returned with the Potion held lightly between his long fingers.  “Good point,” he said, pressing the Potion
into Reno’s palm.

Reno pulled off the lid and downed the Potion in two gulps, knowing his insides were far more damaged then his outside was.  
He sighed as he felt the pain in his stomach and chest subside.  Reno knew that nothing at all had been done for the injuries to
the outside of his body.  The Potion had only been enough to heal the internal damage Reno was certain he had suffered.  As it
was, he still felt a faint pain in his ribs, though not anywhere near as severe as it had been.

“Thanks,” he said, resting the empty Potion container on the table before him.  “If you’ll let me use your phone, I’ll call
someone and see if they can get me out of your hair.”

Cloud shrugged.  “Lines might be down, but . . .” He brought over the phone.

Reno sighed as he accepted it.  That was one downside to the way things were now.  Land lines for phones tended to go out
when it rained.  It was one of the many reasons most people used cell phones.  “I thought you had a cell.”

Again, Cloud shrugged.  “It got lost.  I need a new one.”

Reno didn’t think anything of Cloud’s statement.  He supposed it wasn’t all that difficult to lose a phone, given Cloud’s line of
work.  He did travel quite a bit, going all over to deliver things for people.  His phone could be two countries over for all Reno
knew.  Not like he cared though.  With a sigh, he punched in Rude’s number.  He was somewhat relieved at the sound of
ringing.

“Hello?”  Rude’s deep voice sounded oddly nasal.

Reno took a deep breath, trying to keep himself feeling cheerful.  “Yo, Rude!  Can you come and get me?”

There was a pause before Rude answered.  “Why would I want to?  I think you broke my nose, you jackass.”

Reno glared down at the phone as if it could convey his feelings to Rude for him.  “Oi!  You made me leave without letting me
get my wallet or my coat.  I’m flat broke, soaked to the bone and freezing my dick off!  The least you could do is come and get
me . . . even to some crappy motel!”

Rude huffed audibly over the phone.  “Where are you now?”

“Seventh Heaven,” Reno shrugged.  “Cloud gave me a . . .”

“You can stay there for all I care then.  It’s your own damn fault you’re where you are.  I never told you to go out drinking.  
You could have gone to the Healin Lodge and crashed with the Boss.  You made your own choices so live with it.”

Reno blinked, not sure if he had ever heard his friend so angry before.  Or quite so talkative.  “Now you listen here, Rude!”

“Goodbye!”  Then there was a click indicating that Rude had hung up on him.

Reno had to suppress the urge to fling the phone across the room.  “I guess he’s still pissed off.  May I make another call?”

Cloud looked over from the chair he had sunk down in at some point in time.  “Go ahead.”

The redhead dialed Rufus’ number, and swore silently as a high-pitched whine met his ears.  “Lines just went down.”  He
sighed and shrugged.  “At least I know that they can get me if they need me.  Rude may be pissed as hell at me, but if Tseng or
Rufus go looking, he won’t withhold information from them.”

Cloud nodded.  “Go shower.  Tifa will get angry if you mess up her sheets.”

Grimacing as he did so, Reno looked down at himself.  True, he wasn’t vain, but his clothes were a horrible mess and he was
sure he wasn’t much better off.  He clenched his bloodied and scratched fingers in Cloud’s jacket, holding it closed against his
chest.  He was still trembling from the cold and was still hurting from the various aches and pains.  Not to mention the intense
sense of weariness.  He knew he had to look like shit, for how horrible he felt.

With a grunt, Reno managed to get to his feet, but quickly braced a hand against the table as the room decided to tilt at an odd
angle.  He bit his lip against a wave of pain and nausea.  The Potion had helped with the worst of it, but that didn’t mean he
wasn’t still in bad shape.  At least his vision hadn’t gone all spotty.  Taking a breath, he managed a weak smile.  “I don’t
suppose you could help me get to the bathroom?  I hate to sound like a pussy, but I don’t think I have the strength to make it on
my own.”  Selfishly, he was thinking about getting to touch Cloud again.  He did need the help, but that didn’t detract from his
urge to get his hands on that blonde’s taut body again.

Cloud got up and approached.  He eased an arm around Reno’s waist to support him.  “You’re standing on your own . . . that is
a start.”

Reno sighed and let himself drift in the haze for a moment.  He was hardly even aware that he was being led up a flight of stairs,
taken up to the set of rooms above the bar.  He blinked when Cloud gave him a little shake.  He must have dozed off for a while,
because when he looked around the water was already steaming and there was a pile of towels near the sink.  “Huh?”

Cloud nodded when he was satisfied that Reno was awake.  “You can stay in Denzel and Marlene’s room.  Do you remember
where it is?”

Reno nodded.  He remembered the layout of this place pretty well.  He had been here before and had snooped around when the
chance had been given to him.  Besides, it wasn’t as if this place was really big.  There were only four bedrooms.  Tifa had her
own room, as did Cloud and Barrett.  The kids shared a room.  If Reno was right, then he knew himself to be in the bathroom
closest to the kids’ room.

“I’ll meet you in there in fifteen minutes to help with your injuries and bring you something to sleep in.”  Cloud eased himself
away from Reno, leaving the redhead alone in the bathroom.

Once Cloud was gone, Reno allowed himself to sag in exhaustion.  He leaned heavily against the counter, feeling more tired now
than he’d ever felt before in his life.  His head was beginning to throb and his body was aching rather badly.  Letting out a long
breath, he began the task of stripping off his sopping wet clothes, starting with the jacket Cloud had loaned him.  He just let the
articles drop to the floor, leaving them to pile in a soggy mess by his feet, lastly slipping the tie out of his hair.  When he was
bare, he took a chance and turned to the mirror that took up most of the wall over the sink.  He hadn’t looked before, not
wanting to know just how bad he looked.  But his curiosity got the better of him.  Now that he was looking, he was regretting it.

He honestly did look like shit and Cloud had been right when he’d compared Reno to a drowned rat.  The redhead’s hair was
flat against his head, sticking to his skin wherever it could.  Bruises were already dark on his pale skin and he knew there would
be even more visible in the morning.  He was going to have one hell of a shiner come tomorrow.  He reached up and delicately
prodded the jagged line above his eye, hissing in pain when the action caused a trickle of blood to seep out.  His eyes wandered
down, taking in the sight of the bruising lining his cheekbone, the few breaks in his lips.  His throat was marked by bruises, his
collarbone and chest, and his stomach as well.  Even his arms and legs hadn’t been given a respite from bruising.  He could
swear that he saw fingerprints on the skin of his upper arm, the same markings that were on his jaw.  That man had held him
awfully tightly.  Then of course there were the burns, the few places on his chest and stomach that had been damaged by
contact with his own EMR.

Reno shook his head, turning away from the sight of his body.  He didn’t like the reminders of what had happened to him
tonight.  He uneasily stepped into the steaming shower, closing his eyes and bracing himself for more pain as he stepped under
the stream.  The water rained down on him, scalding his sores.  He frowned, forcing himself to remain silent as his body
adjusted to the sting of the water.  It warmed him quickly, banishing that icy coldness that had clung to him.  He was grateful
for the warmth.  Reno decided to just enjoy it for the time being.  He closed his eyes and leaned forward, bracing his arms on
the wall as he pressed his forehead to the tiles, letting the water wash across his sore back.

It took Reno a few minutes to get himself to move again.  But it was better to get cleaned up and out of the shower before the
water went cold on him.  He hated cold showers, always had.  When he’d been young, that was all he’d ever been allowed.  
Houses in the slums didn’t generally have hot running water.  Hell, some didn’t even have running water at all.  Reno’s family
was just one of the lucky few that did have an internal plumbing system.  The first thing he had done upon becoming a Turk
was to stand in his shower until all the hot water ran out.  It was a delight he never tired of.  But tonight, he just wanted to
sleep.  So, in the effort of reaching that goal, Reno grabbed the soap and started washing up.

No more than ten minutes could have passed before Reno was rinsing out his hair.  Done with that, he turned off the shower
and felt a smile tugging at his lips.  It felt damn good to be clean again.

He grabbed a towel and ran it over his body as quickly as he dared.  Even moving gently, the cloth became stained with fresh
blood as he scraped open various wounds.  But he didn’t let the slight pains stop him.  He didn’t want to leave Cloud waiting for
him all night.  He dropped the bloodied towel to the floor and picked up a second towel, using it to dry his hair somewhat before
wrapping the cloth around the damp mass.  Then he grabbed the last towel and threw it around his hips, not really eager to try
and put on his soaked clothing again.  With a shrug, he left the little bathroom, padding across the hall to the bedroom he was
told he’d be using.  His hand never left the towel around his waist, keeping it secure around him.  He couldn’t stop the shiver
from coursing through his body as a chill in the air passed over him.  He ignored it though.  It wasn’t uncommon for him to get
chilly right after a shower.

Reno pushed open the door and took a glance around.  Cloud was there, standing by the nearest bed and looking down at
something in his hands.  It was obvious he had showered, and was now wearing dry clothes, a towel draped casually around his
shoulders.  He looked over when the door creaked open and Reno gave him a sheepish smile.

“Didn’t make you wait long, did I?”

“No,” was Cloud’s simple answer.  He set down what he had been holding and Reno saw that it was a first-aid kit.  “There are
clothes for you on the bed.  Sit down and I’ll see how much I can help you.”

Reno shifted his gaze to the small pile of clothes, seeing that it was similar to what Cloud was wearing now.  Nothing more than
a t-shirt and a pair of sweats.  Reno didn’t generally wear anything to bed, but since this wasn’t his place, he wouldn’t object.

It occurred to him that this would be a perfect opportunity to see if Cloud was interested in him in the least.  He approached the
bed with a grin, letting himself drop to sit on the bed once he was close enough.  He didn’t even bother to adjust the towel when
it spread open, exposing the length of his entire right leg to view.  It wasn’t as if he was ashamed of his body, and Cloud wasn’t
seeing anything Reno didn’t want him to see.  Besides, the more interesting bits were still obscured.

Cloud apparently ignored Reno’s boldness.  He set right to work in taking care of Reno’s injuries, asking questions only when
he needed to.

“So where are Tifa and the kids?” Reno asked, just trying to make idle conversation as Cloud cleaned and wrapped various
injuries.

“They went to visit Barrett.”  The blonde didn’t elaborate further.  

Reno rolled his eyes.  He should have known better than to expect a good conversation.   “I guess you prefer it here.”

Cloud shrugged.  “Someone had to stay.”

Reno turned to regard the blonde who was taping a bandage over a gash in Reno’s side.  “So, what were you doing when you
picked me up?  Had to have some pretty good reason to be out in weather like that.”

Cloud’s hands stilled.  “I was . . . visiting a friend.”

There was an unspoken meaning there, something that Reno couldn’t grasp.  It seemed private, far too private for Reno’s
curiosity.  So he decided not to press the topic.  “Regardless, I’m glad you were in the area.  Who knows what would’ve
happened.”  He blinked and felt like he was about to drown in Cloud’s electric blue eyes as the blonde moved up to carefully
tend the injuries on Reno’s face.  Deciding that he really had nothing left to lose at this moment, Reno raised his hand to stroke
Cloud’s jaw.  He was pleased to note that, although surprise registered on Cloud’s features, the blonde did not get angry with
him or try to pull away from the contact.  “Anyone ever tell you how beautiful your eyes are?”  Reno didn’t know what
shocked him more, the fact that Cloud blushed faintly, or the fact that Reno actually meant what he was saying.  He swallowed
and felt a blush tinting his own cheeks as he leaned in closer to Cloud.

With very little effort, Cloud stopped him, drawing himself back and placing a hand on Reno’s bare chest.  “No.  You’re in no
condition, and you’re in shock.”  With a look of determination, Cloud stood and cleaned up the used supplies.  “You’d regret it
in the morning.”  He turned and headed for the door, pausing only once to glance back.  “Get changed and into bed.  I’ll bring
up some soup.  You should eat.”

Reno felt his mouth gaping open as Cloud left the room.  If he weren’t so damned tired and sore, he would have jumped up and
danced.  He didn’t know Cloud all that well, but he could tell that the blonde was interested.  A small smile formed on his
cracked lips as he wearily got into the clothes that Cloud had left, dropping the towels he had used to the floor.  He was grateful
that the garments were somewhat loose so they wouldn’t irritate his injuries.

When Cloud came back, Reno was reclining in bed.  He was relaxing, staring up at the ceiling and beginning to doze off.  At the
sound of the door creaking, he turned and couldn’t suppress a smile at the sight of the blonde carrying a bowl of steaming soup.

“Nice to be waited on,” Reno chuckled, uneasily pushing himself to sit up in bed.

“Don’t get used to it,” Cloud retorted.

“Spoilsport!  I just plan on making this whole situation seem better and you try to wreck my little fantasy.”  Reno smirked when
Cloud bent a little to put the bowl down on the nightstand.  Knowing he’d probably regret it in a bit, Reno reached out a hand
and yanked Cloud close, causing a flash of pain in his wrist and shoulder for the effort.  Still, even with the pain, he felt a thrill
of victory when Cloud lost his balance and his stumble brought the blonde’s warm lips into contact with Reno’s own.  Reno
hummed in approval and teasingly licked a path across Cloud’s lips.  He would have smirked if he weren’t preoccupied, as
Cloud barely parted his teeth.  The slight invitation was plenty for Reno and he slid his tongue forward, his heart skipping a beat
as he tasted the recesses of that hot mouth for the first time.

Cloud’s hands settled on Reno’s thighs, lightly fisting in the material of his pants.  The contact only served to spur Reno on and
he slid his hands around the blonde.  He pushed his tongue deeper into Cloud’s mouth as he casually reached his hand down into
Cloud’s sweatpants to run his fingers along the smooth skin of Cloud’s backside.  Cloud jerked forward, his hand flying up to
grab Reno’s shirt, pressing himself deeper into the kiss with the same movement.  However, the moment Reno started to ease
the material down, Cloud drew away from him.

“You . . . you’re in no shape right now,” he said, pushing at Reno’s chest with a shaking hand.  His cheeks were flushed, a
slightly glazed look to his perfectly blue eyes.

Reno smiled and he was sure that he looked like a cat that had eaten a large fish washed down with the finest cream.  Granted, a
cat that had to fight for that meal, but still, it was progress.  “When I’m recovered then?”

Cloud was silent for a moment, a thoughtful expression on his face.  “I . . .”  He cleared his throat, then frowned and turned
away from Reno.  He stood and walked a few steps away, pausing on his way to the door without looking back.  “Eat your
soup and go to sleep.”  Then he was gone and Reno was left to wonder what the hell had just happened.

Things had been going so well, as far as Reno had known.  There was no reason for Cloud to have reverted to that familiar cold
facade.  A minute ago the blonde had been all but ready to climb into his lap and have a good old time.  And now, it was like the
moment had never happened.  Reno had just gotten the worst cold shoulder he’d ever gotten and it only left him confused.

With a confused grumble, he picked up the bowl of soup and dutifully ate all that he’d been given.  Feeling deeply tired, he again
decided to do what he’d been told to do and scrambled under the blankets.  He didn’t bother turning off the lights, not really up
to making the trip across the room.  If Cloud bothered to check on him, he’d turn off the lights.  If not, well it really didn’t
bother Reno either way.  He had the good fortune of being able to fall asleep anytime anywhere, no matter how bright or noisy a
room was.

He turned on his side and snuggled himself comfortably into the soft bedding.  He’d work on getting into Cloud’s pants
tomorrow.  Reno was looking forward to the challenge, eager to get to feel more of that delightfully smooth and hard body.  He
slipped easily to sleep, his mind swimming with dreams of the elusive blonde and the feel of that warmth against him.



To Be Continued . . .