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FIC: Never Fades to Grey

Title: Never Fades to Grey
Fandom: Final Fantasy 7
Characters/Pairings: Reno/OC, Tseng
Date Written: 2002
Summary: Reno's girlfriend offs herself. Reno seeks solace.
Rating/Warnings: R; language, adult themes, suicide.
Notes: This was a nasty bit of history I'd given Reno that I didn't particularly want to roleplay, but that I felt deserved to be written down. And I'd been in a masochistic mood when I decided to write it. Placed early on during his stint in the Turks... he'd be about nineteen, and it's six years or so before the game. Eventually, we all learn that we can't treat everything in life so casually, can't go on believing unshakably in our own ability to be in control of a given situation... and start getting an idea of what's worth it, and what isn't.


 "I never fucking asked you to love me, you masochistic little shit."

It's funny, how you can swear up and down you won't ever do something, doesn't really matter what it is, just something... and you still end up doing it.

"I never asked you to care. I never asked you to do anything except fuck me. I don't have any responsibility to you or your sanity."

It's not funny because you said you wouldn't. Deep down, you knew from the beginning that the future's not predictable like that, that the boundaries we carve into place today rot away over the years and that a few tommorrows from now, everything could be different.

"...god, Reno. Why don't you just get out? Why don't you just fucking leave?"

No, it's funny because you walked right into it... walked into it knowing full well what a complete disaster was waiting to happen. There are a few big No-no's, and it's one of the biggest, and you did it anyway.

She crosses her arms over her chest now, I can see the dark spots where the sweat of exertion and stress has darkened the fabric of her shirt. Can see the trembling, as one hand picks restlessly at the other sleeve. Can see the thin white lines of scar tissue crisscrossed over the inside of her arm, lengthwise and crosswise both, most old but a few very new.

I was there when some of those weren't scars yet.

These aren't the sort of things you're supposed to notice in a lover, the stupid little details that ruin a perfect picture. But the training's deep in my blood at this point, and I pick up on little things without trying... and I've never really believed in perfection anyway. Perfection is an angel on top of a building, stone and ice, wings readied for flight no matter the overwhelming odds. No one expects the angel to jump. No one expects her wings to fail. No one expects her to be flesh when she hits the ground.

"I can't save you."

You think... I'm smarter than this.

I'm no fool.

I know what I'm getting into, dammit.

It's nothing, it's just a fling. Piss off, okay?

"I'm sorry, Kei. But I can't save you. And I can't destroy myself trying."

It's nothing.

I'm not attached. It's not affecting my work.

It's not.

"...Go away, Reno. You were never anything special. You were just another pretty face. Go fuck your boss, okay?"

"That's a lousy fuckin' rumor."

"Not like you'd mind if it wasn't though, eh? Jesus, you're such a goddamned whore."

Right about now, you're probably wondering how I could ever have fallen for her in the first place. Complete bitch when she's angry, isn't she? Angry or crazy or whatever else, but who's counting? Never seemed to make much of a difference.

Fact of the matter is, she's as much bluster and show as I am and she knows it. And she's standing there staring at me, waiting for a reaction. Waiting for me to get angry so the argument can escalate, so she has a damned excuse for what she wants to do. This is a desperation game. She doesn't say things like that because she means it. She needs the anger in response to fuel her motivations. I've never figured out which was worse.

I'm all out of reactions. I'm all out of anger.

And what always happens, happens. There's this moment when a person cracks apart inside, and if you're paying close enough attention, you can see it. Something just sort've... dims, behind their eyes, and there's this sound like crystal shattering against marble, thousands of shards skittering across the tile. There's no gluing it back together, no real picking up the pieces. All you can do is sweep it up and throw it away.

Hindsight and all. At the time, I was crazy about her, abuse or no, dysfunction or no. Maybe I really was a masochistic little shit. Moot point, now. Backstep a few months, and the scene is the same- She's standing there fractured, and I'm within easy reach. I'm always within easy reach, but sometimes she just doesn't bother; the kitchen knife on the counter is even handier, and a hell of a lot easier to control.

That's part of what pisses her off. She can't control me. No one can, really, but I have this resistance to her particular brand of manipulation that she can't stand.

The next morning at work, I get the customary stares for the blood staining my duty blues. Is it mine, I'm asked.

Of course not.

That seems to satisfy most of them.

But there's something in Tseng's expression when he asks... something that says he already knows. And excuses aren't going to work. And that it's time for a Talk. Pardon me for not being in a talking mood that morning. People do stupid things under stress, to the last people they should; telling your boss to fuck off is one of them.

So we're here again, this silent face-off. I could rationalize this moment by remembering the good times, all the moments where she made it worth it. Or I could say what she told me, tell the story of her shitty past and what drove her to this self-destruction. I never told her mine. Her life was a fuckin' cakewalk by comparison, but I just... never told her that. Insensitive or something. Whatever. There's no excuse. There never is.

She crumples; there's no other way to describe it. Falls into me falling into her, taking support from the fact that I'm willing to fall a little bit farther each time just to keep her from hitting bottom. I can almost feel the sticky warmth of blood that isn't really there soaking through my jacket. The tears -are- real, I'll give her credit for that.

I refuse to fall. Not this time. Never again.

"Kei... Keiran."

Refuse to fall into her.

"Kei, listen to me."

Refuse to play the part I've always had in this, the only role I was ever meant to fill. Refuse to help her forget herself.

"I can't help you."

There's something dark and twisted and appealing about existing only to make another person forget they exist, to let them disappear into you for the stretch of time you spend pushing them into the carpet.

"I can't save you."

Something about the urgency of it, the basic animal violence. Heat, thick and cloying, hanging in the air of her darkened rooms. Summer was the worst time for her. It was when she remembered the most.

"I won't let you kill me like this."

Funny how blood tastes like tears tastes like sweat, in the end.

"All I can do..."

A light kiss, gentler than I've ever handled her, over eyes pinched shut in pain and desperation. I almost wished I could have seen her eyes one more time...

"...is let you go."

And it's over in a second, in a heartbeat, in the space between breaths. I step back, and the tears fall into the empty space between us; I steady myself, she's incapable of it. Crumples. Falls to the floor. That usually happens, too. The only real difference is, this time, I'm not down there with her.

And it takes a moment or two for the sight to register, thundercrash right on the heels of lightning's strike, but always taking a moment or two to catch up. She's sprawled out before me, flat against the carpet, shaking from the tears. Reaching one hand up like a supplicant, begging for... something. Forgiveness, a lifeline, simple contact. Fingers stretch until they tremble.

I turn. I walk out the door. I don't look back.

---

I fall.

---

It's not something you recognize or realize. You don't see your own balance dependent on theirs, you're the rock, you're the one who's pushing away, letting go.

---

I'm not quite sure how I managed to find my way home. Home, work, the nuthouse. Whatever.

Stumble in through the door to the commons. Not injured physically but holding myself like I am, arms tight against my middle, head ducked.

I'm on the train. The shakes come on with a vengeance. People shift away from me, eyeing me with that sideways glare that they reserve for my kind; dogs, monsters that terrorize them by night and day. Dogs they fear, but not enough to stop them from hating.

There's no one in the room, thank god. It's a late summer afternoon and the window's open; the air smells the same as it did in her place. I choke.

The crowd shifts around me, giving me more leeway than usual but I'm beyond noticing. There's a shriek, a high, keening cry that stretches out as other voices join it. A crunch, tearing sound of metal. In my head? Real? Impossible to tell. It's so hot out here...

God. Going to throw up. Going to fall down. Going to twist into the carpet and disappear, let it swallow me up.

I couldn't find the right building if I tried, have to run on autopilot, letting instincts lead me home. Home, where I can crack open my head and lay my scattered brains out on the carpet to dry.

I stumble again, almost falling. Someone moved the couch, it's in the way, even though I have no idea where I'm going...

The stairs are steep and tall and too many.

Somehow I end up...

...the elevator, I usually love the view, but it's poisoned today and it's spinning and it's making my head hurt more...

...at a door, maybe mine, maybe not. There's a heavy, loud sound right next to my ear, vibrating through the wooden planks my face is pressed against, body collapsed against, and it takes me a moment to realize that it's the sound of my own balled hand coming down on the door.

Silence.

And then the door opens, and I know without really knowing just why I was driven here.

Standing in the doorway, one hand still on the knob, Tseng's exactly as he always is. Collected. Calm. Impeccable. And me, stumbling back a step as the door gives way, a wreck, eyes staring up and out and past him hollowly. A thin trail of blood slides down my palm from where the fingernails have bitten clear into flesh.

There's this moment of wordless silence where something passes in between, and he knows. Without me having to say a thing, he knows exactly what's happened, and he steps back into his room, opening the door wide in invitation. No words. The lock clicks shut behind me. No one will hear.

---

Two shots of bourbon later, and I've calmed my nerves enough to actually start talking.

"...she's doing it this time. I could just tell, in the way she was talking, the way she moved. There wasn't..."

Deep breath. Focus on those serious eyes staring into my broken ones. There's support there, and practicality, and something I've always trusted.

"...wasn't anything I could say or do. She wouldn't listen. And damned if I was gonna watch her do it."

Voluntary self-destruction is the harshest legacy to leave behind. When someone just... dies, you go through the anger phase, how dare they leave you... but the anger fades, because it makes no sense. When they jump, there's no reason to ever get past the anger, because yes, they did choose to leave you, and no, you weren't a good enough reason for them to stick around.

Fuck.

"...there isn't always anything that can be done."

"I know. I know, I just... it feels like I could have done more. Like I... fuck, like I killed her." Is it ever enough? Is there such a thing as a completely lost cause? And if I wake up tomorrow to find the frontpage featuring the header she's planning to take into evening traffic... "...god, Tseng. Was I wrong to leave?"

An incremental shake of his head, eyes almost reproachful but stopping just short. He has these subtle, minute shades of reactions that are hard to read, but not nearly as hard as when he chooses not to let them show. This time, for some reason, he's letting me see, and that look... there's chagrin in it that I would even ask the question. "It would have killed you, eventually. You did what was necessary to ensure your own survival and sanity. Believe it or not, Reno, that is a valid decision." Silently: And if you doubt your importance that far again, I -will- have to hit you.

Word to the wise. Codependency is a hard habit to break, and it tends to piss off the people around you.

"What then? Was it wrong to even care? It made me feel almost human. I didn't... I didn't know I could care about someone like that, and now I'm thinking I never should have..."

Silence, for a moment. There are no answers in those inscrutable dark eyes; there never are. But I don't have to see it to know. I'm already plenty aware of his opinions on the subject, have heard all the practical arguments and I agree with them, but I can't handle having them thrown back in my face, not right now.

I never planned to love her.

I never planned to have this far to fall.

And words come, shocking me in their simplicity. "No. You weren't... wrong."

...what? Wait, wait. That's not the right answer.

I'd expected a lecture at worst, silence or gentle criticism at best. I lock eyes with him again, trying to puzzle this one out. And I'm not up to this right now. That must be obvious, because his expression softens, becomes less guarded. The words are metered out carefully. There is no anger in them.

"...Reno. Something can be... unwise, or impractical, or even foolish, and still not be wrong. Rights and wrongs are irrelevant. Should you have let yourself get that attached, or let it affect your work? No. But it's a moralistic neutral. You know that."

...I do. I know better. And the only thing that keeps the words from stinging is the look on his face... visibly pained, if subtlely, just from seeing me like this. I could never figure out exactly why he cared; it was the sort of thing you just accepted, and didn't question. People like me aren't supposed to have anyone give a damn.

People like me. People like Kei. No one's supposed to care about us.

"I just... I feel so lost, I don't know what I'm going to do here..."

"Yes, you do."

It's more an assurance than a criticism, but it's stark and simple and it drags me out of my mounting panic with the firm, gentle insistence of his hand on my arm. Words that touch, words that calm. Words that push you through the dark when you can't afford the light.

Dulled but more focused eyes lift back to Tseng. Trying. Really, really trying to hold it together. Peering into the darkness, squinting for the faintest sliver of light, crawling in the dark and trying to take back what she took from me, because it's mine dammit, and I won't have a ghost controlling my life...

...god, it's not that easy... she's not a ghost yet, she's still out there, it might not be too late...

Breathe.

"...yeah, I do. I'm going to keep going, and do my job. Take what I can learn from it and forget the rest. Forget her. But."

A moment's pause. Not hesitation. The words are just having trouble forming.

"...but I'm never going to forgive her for... for forcing me to make that choice."

Sometimes, I could swear his eyes are haunted... I can almost see the ghosts dancing behind them.

"...no one ever said you had to forgive her, Reno."

How many seconds in a minute, minutes in an hour?

My throat's dry and constricted; the alcohol isn't helping.

"...you going to be around for a while?"

"I have a few hours free, yes."

The only way to forget, sometimes, is to shake it all free, tell it to someone. Babble, rant, throw it all out into the air... let it evaporate into the ether.

"Good... do you mind if-"

"Talk as long as you need."

The response comes immediately, before I even have a chance to finish the question, and the eyes regarding me from over the rim of his own glass are softer than anyone around here is usually privy to... it's honest sympathy that I'm seeing in them.

And understanding.

Part of me is curious as to just where that understanding is coming from... and another part is hoping that I never have to find out.

*





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