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It feels like drowning, sometimes.

In the barely-there cracks between the plates of Midgar, you spy glittering light -- a telltale of what little rain falls beneath Sector 6’s plate. The corners of your vision fill with the vivid lights of Wall Market, your ears with the raucous laughter and camaraderie of nightlife, the blur of rich, vibrant life and the din of the Mako reactors in the far, far distance.

You’re here for a different reason, though.

Fingers pull off the mask, and you cast a scrutinizing gaze over the grinning fox’s face painted onto it. A gift from Madam M -- you’ve been a favorite of hers for a long while now, and it’s no small secret, given that her stubborn outbursts towards you are more out of concern, rather than genuine irritation.

With a relieved sigh, you latch it to your hip, just hardly obscured by the large jacket hanging off your shoulders. All that hard work gathering intel for AVALANCHE works up quite the appetite, and with an excited shake of your shoulders, you make a beeline for the takeout joint back on your way home in Sector 7.

You’ve taken to leaning against the countertop, making idle chatter with the cook, whose wrinkle-laden face beams brightly in your company. She’s known you since you’d made the move to discover more of the slums. With work pulling you plateside and down below, you get around, and currently, she’s giving you an earful of not visiting for three weeks.

“Here I was thinking you were dead, you know!” You wince playfully as she fusses over you, tossing a sweet sauce into the wok. “Stop by more often, won’t you? Anyway, since you have a few orders ahead, help me wipe up these tables!”

“Loud n’ clear, Miss Emily,” you reply sheepishly, catching the rag thrown in your direction. She’s practically the neighborhood’s mother at the point, and you don’t mind throwing in a little help her way, since she does give you a discount on the food.

Reno’s day has been long, boring, and tiresome. A whole lot of running around, catching the crowing laugh of that damned Scarlet echoing in the hallways of the Shin-Ra tower, and the itch to get good food after a long day of chasing the shadows Tseng’s been piecing together.

Some sneaky hacker found their way into the system, even went as far as to personally infiltrate a warehouse, and managed to trip out the ID scanners -- and now, it’s been deemed the Turk’s mess to clean up.

But it’s a mess that can wait ‘till tomorrow.

“Yo, Rude,” he chatters animatedly into his phone, lazy gaze sweeping over the vibrant pinks and purples of Wall Market. “Gonna grab some food from that one joint, want some?”

With a positive response, he tucks the PHS into a hidden pocket of his uniform, runs a hand through unruly crimson locks, and strides into the little restaurant as if he owns the place.

He expects to order the usual, but he’s more inclined to try something new this time around. What he doesn’t expect, however, is his lack of attention for where he’s going to make him bump into you as you spin on your heel to move to the next table.

In a split second, you find your world spinning on its axis, an undignified squawk torn from your throat before firm hands catch you round the waist and pull you close, and the bright, pale blue eyes that give you a playful glance.

“Here I am out to get dinner, and I’m gettin' a pretty face fallin’ right into my arms, huh?”

The redhead’s tone is as confident as he looks -- you’re a bit too shocked that he’s caught you so very easily, and with how close his face is, and that stupidly handsome half-smile pulling at those … admittedly soft lips.

That observation makes you snap back to reality, in part with him tilting you back onto your feet, and letting you go, though the touch at your waist lingers longer than it really should.

Gods, uh … thank you so much for that ….,” you start off meekly, avoiding his observant gaze as you trail off, waiting for a name before continuing your embarrassed rambling. “I really should’ve been looking where I was going and --”

He shakes his head and looks at you; at first, it seems like a cocky, demeaning glance, but the way how his smile crinkles the edges of his eyes, framed by those pretty tattoos makes you realize it's otherwise.

Nah, don’t sweat it, yo. I wasn’t looking either,” he shrugs nonchalantly. “Name’s Reno, by the way. Yours?”

You’re a second from giving him yours when the picture finally makes sense. Crisp black suit, the way he stands, the brilliant red hair -- you recognize it once the rose-colored glasses come off.

A Turk.

You bite your bottom lip to stop yourself from speaking, but luckily, he seems to take the gesture in a completely different way from your startled habit. Well, if you refuse, you’ll raise red flags … and it’s not like any of your companions know your real name anyhow.

What feels like years of worry, in reality, resolves itself in seconds. You repeat his name in a tone that borders on sweetly, and you can see something in his eyes light up at the way how you say it.

For a Turk, he either really wears his heart on his sleeve, he’s playing you like a fiddle, or he’s flirting with you for the fun of it.

You offer yours, and he repeats it in kind, a hand posed at his chin as if he’s in deep thought.

“Well, I’d expect a pretty name to fit a face like yours,” he says easily, peering at you through his lashes.

He’s awfully handsome, you think as you cross your arms. Stupidly handsome, despite the fact you’d seen him patrolling the very warehouse you’d snuck into only hours before. Despite the fact he’s with Shin-Ra, and even though you aren’t officially a part, you do offer your services to AVALANCHE among other groups.

“Is ‘pretty’ the only compliment you know?”

The question slips from your lips before you get a chance to regret it. You watch surprise flit across his face before something else crosses his countenance. Something clever and dark, dangerous and practiced. The curve of his lips takes on a teasing curl as he leans into your shared space.

“Is fallin’ into a stranger’s arms somethin’ you do regularly?”


It barely borders on snark, but not quite. He does this often, you realize, watching him carefully. You fall into easy banter with him, resuming and finishing the task Miss Emily assigned you. Placing the rag onto the counter, your thoughts are cut short when the owner of the establishment places your steaming hot order down.

Oi, Reno. Don’t go flirting with the customers in my restaurant, you hear?”

The sight of a Turk getting an earful from a sixty-something year old, tiny woman is enough to make you have to cover your mouth before you burst out with laughter. Between his half-hearted dismissal and promise to ‘behave’, and Miss Emily’s lecture, you feel now is the best time to leave.

A part of you wishes you don’t have to; wishes he wasn’t a Turk.

With a barely-there brush of your fingers on his sleeve, you easily steal his attention. “See you around, Reno,” you hum, leaving him hopelessly at the mercy of the cook, but not before pressing a piece of folded paper into the gloved palm of his hand.

As you walk out, he can't help but to notice the strange mask hanging off your hip.

Two days later, you get a text. It’s a number you recognize as Shin-Ra, from the area code associated with it. And though there are plenty of folks you could think of who’d text you with such a number, there’s only one that you’re really interested in seeing.

You know it’s beyond stupid to entertain him, beyond idiotic to keep this phone now that he has your number. And even beyond that to actually text him back ... which you do.

But then again, it’s not really fun if it’s not dangerous.