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[personal profile] sterling
Title: Headlights Off
Rating: R (Language, Violence, Adult Themes)
Genre: Action/Suspense
Chapter Word Count: ~1900
Characters: Reno, Rude (Turk-Centric)
Disclaimer: FF7 is owned by SquareEnix. I'm not making a profit with this writing.
Summary: Post-Crisis Core, Turk-Centric, Rated R for Language, Violence, Adult Themes. A mysterious attack sends Reno and Rude on a mission to discover the truth about what's happening to their organization.
Chapter Links: one - two - three


Headlights Off
Chapter 3 – Unfortunate Suspects

Reno didn't have to wait long. Tseng called him about an hour after he'd arrived in his dorm. He was now officially authorized him to discuss the mission with Rude, which hadn't been a real surprise; it was nice to have his gut feeling about his partner confirmed. He really needed someone to trust right now.

What had been a surprise, was the fact that Rude arrived at their dorm carrying a bag of fried chicken carryout, courtesy of Tseng. Reno had immediately taken the bag to inspect its contents. He found chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, and even a couple of fancy yeast dinner rolls. Rude took all four ears of corn, not bothering to put butter or salt on any of them. Reno had learned long ago that his partner had a taste for bland food, and Reno welcomed him to it. As usual, Rude took the stuff Reno didn't like, which worked out for the best, because he had other items to lay claim to: namely the bucket of salty, rich gravy right in front of him. He tossed a few pieces of chicken onto his plate, along with a healthy dollop of mashed potatoes, and a couple rolls before slathering his entire plate with gravy.

As he ate, Reno pretended not to notice the wary expression his partner wore, and carefully avoided eye-contact with Rude. To do otherwise, would mean a lecture for certain. Last time, he'd been subject to a long-winded and uncharacteristic lesson on cholesterol and heart attacks. So what, if he liked a little extra butter on his toast, or sugar topping on his ice cream? It's not like he was planning on making it to retirement age in his line of work, anyway.

"If you keep eating like that--"

"Damn, partner," Reno said, taking a drink of bubbly soda to clear his mouth of food. "I swear, you're turnin' into Tseng."

Rude didn't respond, and Reno smirked. If there was one thing Rude didn't like, it was being compared to their anal-retentive boss.

After devouring their food, despite being completely exhausted, Rude and Reno began to scour the reports and pictures that Tseng had given them. Reno mostly looked at the pictures, and left the boring stuff to Rude. It's not that he didn't like to read, he just didn't like to read Tseng's reports, which were some of the most clinical write-ups he'd ever seen in his life. Rude was usually able to decipher them, so Reno was more than happy to let him do so.

"I don't know what to make of it," Rude said.

"What do you mean?"

"Most of the Turks are considered enemies of Shinra," Rude said. "Tseng considers them defectors, and they are wanted criminals until brought in for questioning and cleared."

"We were on that list, I take it."

"Yeah, but not anymore," Rude said. "From what it says here, they think Rod hacked into the intelligence database, and got a hold of some kind of top secret information. Instead of returning to base, he shared it with the rest of the Turks, and now they're acting on their own initiative. According to the tally, Gun and Nai checked in, and were going to report back to base. Gun turned up dead, and Nai is still missing."

"He sure left us out of the loop." Not that Reno would have expected the ex-gang leader to have informed them; he was painfully aware that their rivalry interfered with almost everything, from job performance to self preservation. But something about that report didn't make sense. Reno took a few calming breaths and thought about the inconsistencies.

Rod was well known for his street skills, but not so well known for his computer skills. Just two weeks ago, Rod's computer had locked up, and Reno had overheard him calling the corporate help desk for assistance. While he was on hold, Reno suggested simply rebooting the machine, and Rod gave him an earful about how it was "more complicated" than that. Sure enough, when he'd finally gotten a live agent on the phone, they'd told the stubborn Turk to reboot. Reno hadn't been able to resist saying, "I told you so" despite knowing better. Reno's unsolicited advice had earned him an icy stare, and stinky leftover lunch food in his personal trashcan.

"Wait, the computers would have been on lock down. Rod doesn't even know how to turn a computer on, much less hack into one."

Rude shrugged. "I suppose. The information was transmitted to a location in Wall Market, your old haunt, and Rod's old base of operations. That's why he's a top suspect. That said though, the report isn't ruling anybody out just yet, except us."

"Tseng said we're going after Cissnei first. Why her? Does the report say?"

"It's because she's the only lead we have," Rude said. "And Tseng probably wants to question her himself. I'm sure you've noticed how tight-lipped he's been about shit ever since the whole Zack mess. Cissnei was pretty upset about things, according to Tseng. Rumor is, she found Zack before the Army did and let him go instead of bringing him in. The kid would probably still be alive if she'd stuck to her orders."

Reno could hear the distaste in Rude's tone, even though it was well disguised. His partner had very little tolerance for Turks who didn't follow orders. Ever since Reno had known him, Rude had followed procedures to the letter, although somehow he managed to do it without turning into a complete stick in the mud, like Tseng. Even knowing that, Rude was often privy to untold rumors. Those Reno couldn't charm out of people, Rude could usually get just by sitting around listening. Rude didn't talk much, and so people tended to forget he was there, which meant he often heard things that weren't actually meant for him to hear. He never ceased to be amazed at how much information could be gathered this way. For Reno personally though, this method was too time consuming, and frankly, too boring to even attempt. He'd leave the subtle stuff to Rude any day.

"Do you think any of this has to do with Tseng's promotion?"

"Why would it?" Rude said. "That was ages ago."

"Well, maybe someone wanted the job and thought they had a chance, since our last major mission was totally botched," Reno said. "Not that anyone's qualified other than you or me."

Rude made a short harsh cough, a noise that was definitely an interrupted chuckle. "There ain't no way you're ever gonna run this department."

Reno feigned insult, and ended up making himself laugh. Rude was probably right, but it didn't hurt to try and imagine what things would be like if he ran the place.

"You know, I'd start by making some serious changes."

"Like what?"

"Like two hour lunch breaks, that's what," Reno said with a grin. "And less paperwork."

Rude shook his head, and went back to studying the report. Reno knew better than carry on too much, despite the fact that both of them needed a little bit more levity in their lives at the moment. The expression on his partner's face was one of concentration and seriousness. He was certain that Rude was searching for clues: for anything that might indicate that any of the other Turks might be on their side. Problem was, the report was thin, and information was scarce. No matter how many times he looked at the report, Reno was pretty sure it was a dead end. Kind of like the photos.

Reno forced himself to focus elsewhere, and picked up the photos again. He couldn't believe he was looking at pictures of a dead Turk. It was definitely Gun. Her unmistakable bright blond hair was soaked in blood, presumably her own, and her prized weapon lay to the side, soaked and unusable.

"They must have been quick to get these," Reno said, musing aloud. "Bodies can dissolve back into the lifestream pretty fast when they want to."

"Murders are slower, you know," Rude said.

"Yeah, but not that much slower. We should ask Tseng who took these."

"Go ahead," Rude said. "I'm going to take a nap. Let me know if anything interesting happens."

Reno watched his partner disappear into the living room section of their dorm, and heard him make his imprint on the couch. He sighed, looking at the photos. Something was bothering him about them, but he couldn't quite place it. They just looked like normal murder scene evidence pictures, except… something wasn't right. He picked up his phone and dialed Tseng.

"Yo, Tseng," he said.

"Yes, Reno?"

"Listen, me and Rude have been going over the reports and I have a question about these pictures. You know, the ones of Gun. Who took them?"

"They were left at the scene," Tseng said. Reno knew that that was Tseng's indirect way of saying that he had no idea. "No fingerprints or any other identifying marks appeared on the initial scan of the photos. The body was gone when I arrived on the scene to investigate."

"Wait, how did you know where to investigate?"

"Gun didn't arrive back at base, despite reporting it as her intended destination. Everyone else was otherwise assigned, and so I went to check on her last known location. When I discovered the scene, I called off your mission and requested your immediate return to base."

"Do you think she was still loyal?"

"As far as I know," Tseng said. "But that is purely speculation."

"Have any of the other Turks passed their loyalty tests yet?"

"No one else is in custody," Tseng said, sounding like he was getting tired of their discussion. "Reno, you really should get some rest. Your orders will be issued early in the morning."

"Alright," Reno said, hanging up without saying goodbye.

He stared at his cell phone for awhile, letting the case information swirl around in his brain, as he tried to make sense of it. Turks not reporting in was serious; they were suffering an extreme lack of manpower at the moment. Not to mention, the pictures were downright suspicious. Presuming that the murderer had taken the photos, what kind of person leaves such graphic evidence behind? Someone who either likes attention, is proud of their work, or is trying to get caught. Reno took one last look at the photos before closing the file. Things were happening fast, and they really didn't have any time to waste. It was of the utmost importance that they find out what was going on, and as soon as possible.

Reno got up and peered around the corner, and Rude glanced up at him from the couch. Of course, his partner hadn't yet actually made it to sleep.

"Rude," Reno said, sounding thoughtful. "Tseng said he doesn't know who took the pictures."

"Figures," Rude said.

"You don't think..." Reno paused, not sure if he should speak his mind this time. "Ah, never mind."


"You don't think the company is behind any of this, do you?"

Rude was silent for just long enough to cause a ripple of nervousness to run through Reno's stomach. After long last, he finally spoke.

"If so, we're screwed."


A/N: To be continued...
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