I Know What’s Beneath the Snow Fields- Chp.93


It amazed Reno how they managed to escape the Reactor that night. Davoren had left the group to make their own way to safety. The wounded Rude, despite his visible agony, insisted he’d recuperated enough to walk unaided. Reno of course didn’t believe that lie for a second. Then again, they also had their comatose president to consider, and he could only handle one body. So Reno accepted.

Besides, the impending destruction, the sheer *urgency* of the whole situation allowed no room for argument.

They had to act fast and NOW. The quick-witted Reno crouched down to haul Rufus up onto his back, at the same time barking behind at his friend to “Move your ass!”. Rude instantly obeyed. He hobbled down the open shaft. Reno, having secured his load, sprinted away and followed the first man in, just as another ferocious tremor seized the room.

Down the ladder rungs they scrambled like a pair of escaped convicts. A miasma of dust poured after them through the vent’s mouth. Bits of debris pelted their exposed heads. Rude almost lost his footing twice. Reno couldn’t stop cursing. Nevertheless, the men scurried downwards at the same determined speed. No time to worry. No time to think. Just move, move, move!

The shaft ended some meters below at a huge, perpendicular pipeline. The fugitives dropped into its round lumen. They rushed straight ahead, blind and breathless, till this road also terminated. Thus they emerged, as Davoren had told them, upon the dark, smelly caverns of Midgar’s sewer system.

Neither man had a clue which direction to take. But what with anarchy still hot on their trail, it didn’t matter where the Heck they went as long as it was far away from here. They bolted off into some tunnel on the left. Reno, filthy and dripping sweat, led the expedition through these wet burrows. He carried the oblivious Rufus flopped across his shoulders like a sack. The ex-Turk bore his load with a bent back and a hard, forbearing attitude. Danger pounded after them, insanity ran amok- but hey! At least the kid’s not heavy, the disgruntled Reno tried to look on the bright side.

Onwards they pressed. Some half a mile down the tunnel, the tremors finally receded again to their previous grumblings. Lucky indeed, for Rude, who hitherto had been rushing alongside his friend, gradually lost momentum until, quite abruptly, all strength expired. He would have collapsed had he not leaned against the wall first then slid down onto the floor, panting and spinning in a mental vortex. He refused to lose consciousness- now certainly was not the time. But even he had to admit he could go no further on his own.

Reno of course had stopped the instant he’s noticed Rude fall off the race. He anxiously called his name. Still the man could not gather himself. Reno, awash with agitation, set the boy down on the ground and ran back to tend to this new concern.

It took a few minutes before they’d re-established any kind of stability to Rude’s frayed senses. Reno meanwhile had squatted down in close attendance. He held his head up, urging him to get a grip on himself. Inside though, he knew Rude had expended all his endurance. That wound continued to torment him. He looked terrible. No doubt he would get dangerously worse unless he received immediate treatment. For now however, Reno could only offer his friend constant encouragement.

“Hold on,” he kept telling him, “Goddammit, Rude. We’ve made it THIS far alive. You die on me now ‘n I swear I’ll kill myself just so I go bust your sorry ass in Hell. You hold on, got that? Hold on!”

Amidst these agonies and reassurances, Reno happened to glance back to where he’d left Rufus. There he discovered, much to his sudden apprehension, the boy already stirring back to life. He watched Rufus fight the grogginess to sit up. Those bewildered blue eyes darted all around the strange new surroundings, paused to reflect inwards a moment, then searched again until they found Reno.

Their gazes interlocked for a mere fraction of a minute. The silent ex-Turk confronted him straight on- no melodrama, no explanations, only this solemn, harshly honest visage which said nothing yet at the same time said everything. Right then, Rufus, haggard and mystified mute, realized what had transpired as intensely as knife straight to the core: they’d fled the Reactor without Davoren. In fact, Davoren had deceived him to get rid of him; he’d used the nightstaff on him. And Reno, that man over there staring back at him, he’d-

Rufus’ whole face strained with an emotion Reno could not quite describe. It was like dismay, incomprehension, anguish and consternation knit into this one expression of such poignancy, such candour. The ex-Turk felt a profound discomfort stir within him, as if that look alone had...

But then, more important matters needed attention right now. He broke away from the boy and returned to his suffering friend with more words of encouragement. By then, it had become blatantly obvious that Rude could not continue this journey on his own. The pain and exhaustion had eroded too much; he dangled on the very border of unconsciousness.

Reno, without looking aside at Rufus, barked, “Sir, can you stand up?”

It was an order, not a question. All the same Rufus, still a bit shaken, scrambled to obey. The stern-faced Reno meanwhile had wrapped Rude’s arm around his neck and hauled him up to his wobbly legs.

“Move it. C’mon, we gotta find a way outta here,” he ordered as he brushed past the boy.

Again, the latter obeyed. Down the dank tunnels they trudged. To have the group mobile once more greatly relieved Reno, though he had to admit Rufus’ full compliance rather surprised him. He’d expected lots of questions, a big argument, even resistance against which he’d have to employ his nightstaff again.

But he’d only received that haunting, inscrutable look. Reno avoided direct eye contact with Rufus for the rest of the trip. Instead he invested all his focus into supporting Rude and keeping this party on the move. Nor did the boy utter a single syllable. He just marched along, ghost-like, his wan face overshadowed by gloom.

They drifted through the labyrinthine sewers until they reached a steel ladder fixed to the wall. It stretched up to a manhole. One by one, the group climbed up. Reno removed the grate and clambered onto some dingy alley in an unfamiliar part of town. He helped Rude out, after which Rufus emerged- for the first time he could remember- upon the open world.

His eyes whirled around the grim scenery only to rest, like Rude and Reno’s already had, on that metallic fortress burning wild in the far distance. The sheer ferocity of the spectacle gripped the boy by the throat. Yes, that was the Reactor. That was the inferno they’d just escaped.

For a long moment, the trio simply lingered there in a collective daze. They beheld torrents of smoke billow up the night sky. They heard the Reactor’s moans echo across the horrified city. Soon the sirens of police cars and fire trucks joined in the cacophony. Reno peeked askance at Rufus. He could tell from his face how the fiery spectacle perturbed him: everything incinerated to a memory right before his very eyes. The fire burning... burning, and somewhere in there Davoren...

“We better get going,” said Reno.

They left the catastrophe behind and wandered down another street. The path emptied into an abandoned square. Reno recognized it at once. They’d actually travelled a great distance through the sewers, right into the heart of their own sector. From this square, navigating the rest of the journey home would be a cinch!

Reno therefore took the expedition through a knot of black alleys, supporting Rude along the way. The latter by now relied almost completely on his comrade for balance. Rufus just tagged behind the pair in quiet dismay, feet on automatic pilot while his downcast eyes gazed at nothing.

They reached a thicket of apartment blocks with the first rays of dawn. At long, long last Reno caught sight of their building: home! There it was. Never before did it look as good as right now!

The dishevelled group lumbered their way up to the apartment door. Reno could have kissed it. Just an hour ago he’d wondered if he’d ever see this door again. God was he tired! And dirty. And come to think of it a bit hungry. He probably looked a proper mess too, all tattered and bloody. Maybe he’d wash first and eat something before retiring to bed for, oh mused Reno, a few months...

Yes, they’d spent one unbelievable night running around, battling for their lives, narrowly escaping a death-trap then scouring the putrid sewers for an exit. And people complain there’s nothing fun to do in Midgar after twelve, he thought sarcastically. It didn’t matter though. They’d made it out in one piece. They were home. Reno thus unlocked the door certain they’d put all peril far behind them.

Little did he know the worst danger yet would swoop upon them the instant he opened that door: a hysterical Elena.

At the sound of their entry, Elena, still in her night shirt and without any make-up, poked her head out of the kitchen. She immediately flew down the hall in a flurry, where by pure instinct, she pounced upon the confused man to hug him tight. “AH! Reno!!” she wailed, then upon noticing the miserable load he supported, gasped out a horrified “OH GOD! RUDE!!”

Reno struggled to uphold his friend while trying to calm this tearful woman: yes, they were okay... Rude was badly wounded... no, his own injuries weren’t as serious... again yes, they were alright...

But no sooner had Elena’s anxieties been alleviated than rage seized her senses. From weeping to outright wrathful, the woman suddenly shoved Reno away with a loud, “AND WHERE THE HELL WHERE YOU GUYS?!”

An avalanche of questions followed: where were you? What happened? Do you know what time it is? Why didn’t you call me? And God almighty, what IS that awful stench?! Her endless barrage practically slammed both men up against the wall. Neither dared speak back- they knew better than to cross a woman with a temper *this* hot.

“You assholes!” she fumed mad at the pair, “Leaving me here to go nuts, wondering where you’d snuck off to! I was so damn worried I skipped work today! And you think you can waltz in and just shrug it off?! Like Hell! I wanna know what’s going on! And as for YOU, Mr. President, I-“

But the rest of her rebuke froze on her lips when she suddenly realized who she was addressing. Indeed, for the first time since their arrival, Elena noticed Rufus. He stood slightly apart from the two ex-Turks... just stood there staring blankly back at her. On the journey home, Reno had told him in brief about this woman. Elena had only joined the Turks a short period before the company collapsed. Afterwards she, Rude and himself had rented this apartment together. He assured him she was a good friend, trust-worthy, quite tender-hearted, though volatile sometimes and a bit naïve.

Rufus did not remember her, even now as he beheld her with a mixture of perplexity and caution. Elena on the other hand had immediately recognized that scruffy, thin figure as the former ShinRa president. She also remembered he was supposed to be dead. Yet there he lingered in plain view, very much alive.

Yes, it was him. It really WAS him.

Dumbfounded, Elena turned back to the ex-Turks, who’d been observing her reaction suppressed under an awkward silence. She folded her arms and arched her eyebrows expectantly. From her demeanour alone, they understood she wanted a full explanation.

*************************************

But that would have to wait till later.

Rude’s grave condition had demanded immediate attention. For now questions were suspended. Elena, assuming command as head nurse, had the feeble man taken to his room while she dashed off into the kitchen. Reno had led his friend to his bed. He helped him clamber in, after which Rude fell backwards flat upon the sheets, gasping in visible pain. Reno began peeling off his tattered shirt to expose the wound beneath. There it glared back at him: one horrible, obscene gash streaked across his flesh.

“Oh boy,” he muttered to himself.

Only moments later, Elena rushed into the room with the medicine box she’d just fetched from the storage cabinet. She pulled up a chair to the patient’s bedside. Together she and Reno went to work.

As former Turks, they’d each received basic training in injury management. Reno loaded a syringe with some fluid. Gently he encouraged the man to “Hang tight, okay? This is just a quick pain killer”, after which came the injection like a small bee sting. Elena, who’d already donned the latex gloves packed inside the kit, now prepared to a suture. Once analgesia had totally eradicated Rude’s agony and his body relaxed, she started stitching his torn flesh together. Or at least tried her best to. She’d only learnt the simplest pattern- and even in that she lacked confidence. A surgeon she sure was not. But then, better to stitch the wound badly than leave it open. Meanwhile, the assiduous Reno tended to Rude’s less critical injuries. The pair worked quickly yet effectively. Neither spoke a word. For some forty minutes, Elena poured all her concentration into suturing, Reno into cleaning and bandaging.

Rude let them do their jobs. He savoured this pain-free rest with easy, deep breaths. It gave him an opportunity to re-organize his mind. No matter how often he assured himself, it still confounded him how they’d survived tonight’s madness... no, wait. By now, it was morning; he’d just noticed sunlight creeping through the half-drawn curtains. So it was actually yesterday. And only the day before, they’d no idea, not even the vaguest suspicion, of Hojo’s “experiment”, or that president ShinRa still lived. At the thought of Rufus, Rude looked around. The boy wasn’t here; he must’ve been placed in another room...

Having finished the final stitch, Elena now began patching Rude’s wound. “So,” she suddenly broke the silence, “Which one of you boys wants to tell me what you were up to last night?”

Rude tacitly whirled his eyes to the far end of the room, thereby escaping any interrogation. He decided to entrust that tricky matter to Reno. After all, *he’d* lead them into this mess. He should do the explaining.

Thus Reno found himself, much to his own chagrin, the sole prisoner under Elena’s glower. His friend having deserted him to face her alone, Reno decided he’d break both of Rude’s kneecaps later. At present though, he would have to explain everything.

So began the long saga of their “adventure”, from when they slipped out of the apartment to their escape from the crumbling laboratory and all in between. The restless ex-Turk shuffled about behind Elena while she finished dressing her patient’s wound. She listened attentively to him talk about Rufus, about Professor Hojo, their alliance with Vincent and the enigmatic Davoren. He described how they fled the Reactor via the sewers (hence the terrible smell), the route they followed home, etc etc etc. Everything.

“And that brings us up to this point in time,” Reno concluded, “Can I go get some sleep now?”

“Wait! Just wait!” the stunned Elena backtracked, “So Professor Hojo... THE professor Hojo, he was alive in some laboratory working on this ‘experiment’?”

“Yep.”

“Isn’t he supposed to be, like, dead?”

“Yep.”

“But you saw him alive.”

“Yep. Alive and kicking.”

“Kicking our asses, that is,” interjected Rude wryly.
“And the same goes for the President?”

“Yep.”

“That guy, Reno, that guy you brought here with you: that’s New Age President Rufus ShinRa, genuine-certified-100%-guarentee-or-your-money-back HIM?”

“Yep.”

Elena paused. Clearly such an incredible tale mystified all logic. One particular detail however soon caught the woman’s attention, “Hm, this lab,” she asked Reno, “You said it was in a Reactor. It wouldn’t happen to be the same Reactor that collapsed this morning?”

His quizzical expression told her he’d no idea what she meant. Nor did Rude. Their ignorance merely vexed her further. Rather than elaborate, the miffed Elena reached over to switch on the radio by Rude’s bed. At once, an excited voice boomed out. The speaker raved about some horrific disaster.... an explosion had struck one of the Mako Reactors early this morning... only hours later, it suffered what is believed to be a massive earthquake... authorities still haven’t made a formal statement... one other oddity which has everyone completely stumped: shortly before the reactor’s ultimate collapse, electricity- yes, electricity- returned to the building. Not since the demise of the ShinRa Empire had Midgar witnessed a Reactor at full power. Lit up in a dazzling glory, truly it took one’s breath away. But as of yet, no one seems able to-

“Heh! Y’hear that?” Reno bragged smugly to his friend, “That’s MY handiwork they’re praising: they reco’nize mah skills, brotha!”

“So it WAS you guys!” the outraged Elena slammed the radio off and sprang up, “You wrecked that Rector!!”

“Er, y-yeah. I mean.. well, we’re not *entirely* responsible for that,” the startled man tried to weasel out of his unintentional confession. Rude just slapped his forehead in agony: Elena was sure to massacre them now.

“And what about this ‘secret lab’?” she demanded, hands on her hips, “I distinctly remember you saying there was no lab. After that Vincent fella broke in here and asked about the lab, you told him there was no such place!”

Having joined the Turks only shortly before ShinRa Inc.’s destruction, Elena never had the opportunity to learn many of the company’s “classified” information, certainly not of this laboratory. Nor had either of her more experienced comrades cared to enlighten her until today. But as for not telling Vincent, the nettled Reno declared, “I lied to him, okay? I didn’t trust that vampire-freak at the time!”

“What about me?! Why the Hell didn’t you let me in on this? I used to be a Turk like you, dammit! You should’ve at least told me what you were up to!!”

Indeed, Elena had woken early today to find Midgar in turmoil. While preparing for work, she’d flicked on the television by chance. Instantly, news of the disaster had blared back at her. She even caught footage of the Reactor’s collapse. Such a horrific catastrophe had sent the woman into an immediate flurry. She’d rushed off to wake her two friends only to discover, much to her bewilderment, an empty bed in each room. Both men had completely vanished. No note, no trace. Nothing.

The distraught Elena had thus languished in acute mental distress for the next two hours. The television kept her company throughout her ordeal. Intuition had warned her something was “up”. Something bad. Reno and Rude wouldn’t just sneak off into the night like that unless it were so. But what was it? Where did they go? How come they didn’t tell her? Why hadn’t they returned yet? What if they were in danger??

By eight o’clock, Elena’s imagination had concocted all sorts of frightful possibilities: they drank themselves stupid and fell into a ditch! They got hit by a runaway truck! They were abducted by a sect of kooky female chocobo worshippers who used single men as bird fodder; yes! Like that story her (even kookier) tabloid-addicted colleague at the office once told her! Or-

Thankfully, the turning of the front door lock rescued her sanity just in time. Who should enter but her friends, rumpled and wasted after a whole night frolicking Heaven-knows-where. And here she’d wasted her morning driving herself mad!

It just confirmed what her mother had always warned her about men: their genes were a paradox- the X chromosome could make them lovable, caring sweethearts, but the Y chromosome could turn them to insensitive bastards.

“Have you jerks any idea how worried I was about you?!” exploded Elena in passionate indignation, “I was going insane, in-friggin’-sane wondering what happened to you! My God! I even thought you’d been turned to Chocobo chow! I actually thought rabid birds were feasting on you while these nutty, half-naked witches chanted some evil hymn!!”

The two men exchanged an odd glance, each one wondering exactly how she’d acquired such a ...bizarre notion as THAT (then again, best not to ask). Nevertheless Rude, who’d managed to sit himself up over the edge of the bed, tried to mitigate her anger, “Ah see, Elena,” he reasoned, “We thought it might be too dangerous. Reno ‘n I didn’t mean to get you worried. We just didn’t want to risk you ge-“

“THAT SHIT DON’T CUT NO ICE WITH ME, BUB!” her retort almost knocked him back flat, “You think leaving me behind in this state was any better?! I miss work, I stress myself sick, ‘n then what? I discover you two macho-morons were out vandalizing public property!”

“We were NOT vandalizing!” insisted Reno.

“Point is, you acted without the slightest consideration for my feelings. And to make it up to me, once you’ve healed up, you’re both doing ALL house chores for a month!!”

Not if Reno had anything to say about it. A heated argument rapidly broke out: he was all for making it up with Elena- yes, maybe they should have told her. Yes, they were real sorry for her ordeal, but damn! House chores for a month? ALL of them?! He may as well have died a grisly, bloody death back there in the Reactor!

Reno declared outloud he’d rather have his own spleen extracted through his left nostril and shoved down his throat than endure such inhumane punishment! At this stage, Rude had to intervene for fear Elena might actually grant his request. He stood between the quarrelsome two. The man had to use all his skill to negotiate a compromise. The terms were simple: for one month, they would devote themselves entirely to bathroom and kitchen duties. In return, Elena would let them keep their heads. Everyone’s happy and nobody has to get hurt. Now wasn’t that fair?

“Hmph. Fine!” she consented.

“I’ll scrub toilets and mop floors,” grumbled Reno sourly, “But no way I’m cleaning up after her cat’s damn hairballs.”

Their punishment thus settled, the vexed ex-Turk folded his arms and retreated to the window, where he brooded with his back to the group. After so much talk, he needed a minute of quite introspection to detangle his many thoughts. His friends needed the same. Rude sat down again on the bed. He leaned over to rub both temples, then cast his gaze aside, already lost in contemplation. Elena, who’d turned slightly away from the main scene, loitered alone in her own reflections. Amongst the three of them stood a long, heavy silence.

Elena breathed a soft sigh. By now, she’d vented all the rage out of her system. Only profound relief and happiness lingered inside now that her friends had returned home safe and sound. The woman hated to imagine what she’d have done if she’d lost either one of them. They meant so much to her, like two big brothers- though fat chance she’d ever tell them THAT! After all, she had her “tough girl” image to maintain.

Nevertheless, trouble continued to tumble inside Elena’s kind heart. The story her friends had brought back with them astounded her beyond words. The person they’d returned with... *that* matter, she just did not know what to think.

Elena looked towards the bedroom door, which had been left wide open throughout their discussion. Her worried eyes drifted down the hall outside to the living room on the opposite end. She could see Rufus in profile, sitting there slouched on the sofa alone and frighteningly still. The boy didn’t discern her scrutinizing his despondent demeanour from this distance. Nor did he seem at any point aware of their argumentative conversation. He either had not heard it or simply did not care, himself so engrossed in his own dark stupor with eyes fixed on his boots.

During the previous scramble to treat Rude, Elena, while rummaging about for the medicine box, had managed to spare a few minutes for Rufus. He didn’t seem to understand when the benevolent woman awkwardly asked him if he was hurt anywhere. He’d just looked back at her in confusion. In fact, studying Rufus right now, Elena wondered how much sanity still dwelt within his mind.

Anyway, his injuries hadn’t appeared to warrant any immediate attention. She did notice however his hands shaking a bit. Thus she’d guided this wreck to the living room. There he was seated on the sofa. Elena had quickly fetched him a glass of water and a woolly blanket, which she’d wrapped around him with the utmost care. After that, she’d dashed off to tend to Rude in the bedroom.

More than an hour had passed, but Rufus sat there exactly as she’d left him. The glass remained untouched, the blanket draped around his shoulders as if to protect him from this alien world surrounding him. He looked dreadful, pale and shell-shocked. What a contrast that young man struck against the president ShinRa she remembered.

Yet there he was: Rufus ShinRa.

“God, I...,” faltered Elena suddenly, “I can’t believe he’s been alive all this time. Still alive after that blast a-and...”

The sheer reality of it overwhelmed her before she could complete the sentence. The compassionate young woman pressed her fingertips to her lips to compose herself again. Reno had already told her about the array of torture Rufus had suffered for the valuable information locked somewhere within his head. Accounts of beatings, drugs, delirium and constant, relentless mental violations; those still weighed heavy upon her heart. The grave Rude looked from her over to his friend, but the latter remained silent by the window.

“And,” Elena asked softly, “He really doesn’t remember a thing?”

She turned to Rude. He shook his head and muttered, “His mind is all tattered and foggy. When we found him, he didn’t recognize us. He didn’t know who he was beyond his first name. He couldn’t remember anything from his life before the accident and he certainly didn’t know why the Professor bothered saving him. He’d even forgotten that he used to support Hojo’s experiment. I’d say most of his memory has been wiped out. I don’t know; maybe some bits and pieces remain. But it’s not only that, Elena,” Rude’s solemn gaze now strayed beyond the open doorway to rest on that solitary figure in the living room. He mused, “Rufus... he’s not the same person as before. Everything inside him, *he* himself, is just so completely...”

“Shattered,” Reno finished the sentence.

Rude frowned. He would have preferred a more discreet word, but then none would have described Rufus’ state better: utterly and completely shattered.

Another silence descended upon the group. The same question occupied their three minds: what to do with Rufus?

Still facing the window, Reno furrowed his brow as he tossed the issue about. He admitted in the beginning, when they’d just met Rufus, his prime focus had been to simply “get the kid out of there and to somewhere safe”. Indeed, from fighting Davoren to Professor Hojo to that abyss to fleeing that Reactor, he never quite had enough time to plan beyond this objective. “The kid comes with us. We’ll figure out what to do later”, Reno recalled himself once saying. Well, later was now. So what where they going to do? In his mind, one and only one answer existed. Besides, he’d promised Davoren.

Reno spoke his decision clear and sure, “Rufus stays with us.”

Both Rude and Elena regarded the morose man, who finally turned around to face them; his expression radiated quiet determination stemming from a sincere heart.

“He’s got nothing. I mean yeah, none of us here like our lives: boring jobs, underpaid and overworked, outcasts in a city that hates us. But hey, at least it’s A life. We’ve got other things to help us get by,” Reno’s voice then dropped to a solemn undertone as he peered intently between his two friends, “But this kid, he’s really got nothing: no home, no family, no money and no memory. Just us. *We* are all he’s got right now.”

As far as Rude was concerned, Reno needn’t have explained his answer. He himself had reached the exact same decision. To them both, this matter had long since evolved from loyalty to their leader to genuine care for a friend, just like Davoren observed before leaving. Rude nodded at Reno in full agreement: yes, Rufus stays here. The two ex-Turks then consulted Elena, who smiled understandingly and nodded too: damn right he stays. She’d never have accepted any other option.

“I still say you guys should have taken me along though,” she insisted afterwards, if only to squeeze one final rebuke into this discussion.

“Take you along?” Reno poked fun at her, “Are you nuts?”

“Why not?”

“You’ve very limited combat experience.”

“So?”

“So you wouldn’t have lasted five seconds in there. I mean, look at what happened to Rude ‘n me, and we’ve been around A LOT longer than you, sweet-cheeks. Heck, we already had our hands full watching after the kid. Babysitting a rookie like you as well woulda been damn impossible, I can tell ya that. And besides!” Reno lashed out the final point with relish, “Knowing you, you probably would have just dawdled there making ogely-eyes at the enemy!”

“What are you yapping about?”

“When that freak Vincent broke into our apartment yesterday, you were all like ‘Wow, he’s so polite. Eee! He’s so cute’.”

“Well, he was!”

“The guy’s *supposed* to be your enemy. AND he’d just broken into your home. Geez! If you’d taken on someone like Davoren, you’d probably have ended up... I dunno, hanky-pankying around ‘n flirting with him instead of fighting him!”

“Yup. All over him like bees on honey,” Rude chimed in jest.

“Hell! Maybe even turn against us just for him.”

“Yeow! Really? Was this ‘Davoren’ fella that hot??” the eager Elena blurted lustfully, only to realize the trap she’d jumped into, “Er, I mean- no! That is so not true!”

The two ex-Turks just stared at the embarrassed young woman. Of course, neither believed her for a split second.

“Well, whatever,” Reno dismissed the topic, believing they’d teased her long enough. He was actually very happy to be back home bickering with Elena; they both were. Many times during last night they’d feared they might never see her again. “Look,” he said, “I’m gonna hit the shower then get some sleep, okay? Wake me sometime next week.”

Reno shuffled off towards the door. Much to his confusion however, the astute Elena snagged his arm to draw him back, “Ah-ah!” she declared, “You can do that *after* I’ve looked at your wounds.”

“Wha? But-“

“No buts! I still got you and the President to treat. C’mon.”

No use trying to squirm out of her attentive care. Elena didn’t like that bleeding gash alongside his temple or his stiff shoulder. At the very least, she would clean and dress those injuries. Thus Elena escorted her second patient by his arm to the chair.

“Rude,” she ordered, “You lie back down. No getting up till I say so. Reno, you sit here. Sit! Now then, lemme patch that up for you,” as she tended to his head wound, Elena smiled deviously, “And the in the meantime, you two boys can tell me *all* about this ‘Davoren’ guy.”


-End of Chp. 93