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FIC: With a Smile

Title: With a Smile
Fandom: Final Fantasy 7
Characters/Pairings: Reno, Tseng, Reno/Tseng if you squint.
Date Written: 2002
Summary: Reno is finally given a job he's not entirely comfortable pulling off- a hit on a competitor's child.
Rating/Warnings: R for language and violent themes. Also: Infanticide. This one is dark.
Notes: I felt that Reno had some anger issues to work through. Very dark and it should be disturbing, but really turned out more depressing than anything else. Shades of grey can be fun to work with, but I was about run out of white paint when I wrote this one.

It's one of those desperate autumn evenings, sunlight bending at the edge of vision and gradually fading into grey. There are times when I still can't believe how much sharper and more dizzying the turn of the seasons are up here. The build-up is an itch in the back of your mind, a primal instinct to move on to warmer or cooler climates, and the descent is steep and violent, a sharp drop that leaves you scrabbling for a handhold.

I don't usually babble like that, even in my head. But there's not much to think about right now, not much to do besides wait and watch, observe the world through the shifting blue-grey haze of exhaled smoke. I don't really smoke much either, but this seemed like the day for it, little stub of a cigarette resting between gloved fingers. Seemed like the day my nerves'd need the most calming. It's not really that there's nothing to think about so much as that there's nothing I can afford to think about. Don't have that luxury. There aren't many assignments that get to me like this, but occasionally...

The low brick building across the street is unmoving in the chilled afternoon, the yard empty. There's a flicker of light and movement through the windows, but no sign of anyone emerging. Expected. It's far too late in the day for recess. This perch I have, this derelict jumble of rusted iron tubing, isn't meant to support an adult's weight, but I've never been all that heavy. Shift my weight now and then just to be sure, kind of like a crow moving from foot to foot on the top branch of a blasted old tree. It's a silly, off-topic thought, but I can't shake the mental image, and the bitter smile that curls in response is probably the last one I'll be indulging in today. I bring the cigarette up for one last drag. The smoke tastes like poison, which it is, so... it's just as well.

Never had a place like this, growing up. No schools in my sector, no playgrounds. No wire fences around the perimeter to keep the bad things out. We wallowed in the bad things, ate and drank and slept in them, stole from and made deals with and begged change from the bad things, hid in the night from their bullets and their selfish hands. The bad things don't like the word 'no'. They like it even less when you try to run.

The cigarette starts to singe the leather of my gloves, I've let it burn so long. I chuck it down to the blacktop, where dry leaves have skittered to a halt against the legs of the jungle gym. The sunglasses hide the distaste in my eyes at the smell and the gummy, sick taste left my mouth, but again, it's just as well. I think I'd start to worry if I were completely comfortable, doing something like this.

A closer look at that building. There are black paper cutouts of arching black cats and bats taped to the windows. A small playground within the fence, a few dead trees around the entrance, hung with cornstalks and fake cobwebs. Halloween is coming up, and that fact makes the disguise I'm wearing feel a little more normal.

The children dress as monsters, while the monsters dress as them.

Odd that a wealthy business owner would send his young son to a middle class public school. Most of them hire tutors. Old Man Taylor might've wanted a normal childhood for his kid, but he sent him in among working-class kids wearing his monogrammed jacket and expensive shoes. Defeats the purpose. Besides... these places aren't safe, are they? Aren't very secure. Anyone with two good eyes can gather all the intelligence they need.

Jacob Taylor. Age 9. Blond hair, blue eyes. Small for his age. Sits alone at lunch. Sits alone at recess. Walks two blocks each day after school to where his mother- and her chauffer, of course- pick him up. Has a tendency to dawdle. Likes to pick up frogs and shiny bottle caps. Has an imaginary friend. Likes the rain.

No. Too many details. Remember what is necessary, empty out the rest.

Gloved fingers fish into my jacket, searching out the pack of cigarettes. One more for the road. One more for the long haul. A smoke and a few last words before the hammer drops. The package comes up empty, crumbling under shaking fingers. That's not right. I shouldn't be shaking. How many damned smokes have I had? Doesn't matter. Like the nervous laugh and the nervous eyes and the nervous twitch, it's not something anyone'll remark on later. So I got the shakes. Too much coffee, too much nicotene in one day, too much... something. Not the job. Never the job.

And the sinking in my stomach as a shrill bell rings out and the school starts emptying the little trolls out onto the sidewalk- gotta be the Thai I had for lunch, right?

The blacktop under my feet doesn't give out as I roll to my feet and start covering distance, and it shouldn't, but for some crazy moment there, I thought it would. Or should. Dunno. Either way, the metal grip nestled into my palm feels odd, approaching the group. It's a disconcerting moment, and the seconds don't stretch so much as warp, twisting into something wholly unlike themselves and outside the definition of time passing at its usual breakneck clip. I'm not sure how many of the little monsters whip by me, oblivious to my hand in my coat or what it means, uncaring or just unknowing of how quickly tomorrow can drop away.

So, so quickly. How quickly can a finger squeeze, how fast is a bullet?

The Taylor kid has two blocks to walk, so the other kids won't see him get into a fancy car, won't make fun of him. They do anyway, they find reasons or make them up. Children sense things like that- they know who's different. Know it intrinsically. And if this kid seems a little more hurried in his path today, a little more on edge as I cross the street to intersect with him, I'm not surprised. He knows something is up. I'm in the most nondescript clothes imaginable and I've even dyed my hair down a few notches to brown, but something is screaming 'watch out' to the kid and in a way, I'm glad. I'd almost feel worse doing this if he were oblivious.

Doesn't change the fact that with the passing of two more seconds and a single muffled sound, what he does or doesn't know, feel, or care about, what abuses he endures on a daily basis from his peers, doesn't matter anymore. The gun is left with the body swiftly cooling in the Autumn air, registered to an employee of a rival company... ends against the middle.

That's all this is. A political maneuver.

I'm not even aware of the smile I gave the kid just a second beforehand. It wasn't an expression that said 'Don't worry, I'm not dangerous', though I've been known to muster those on occasion. It said 'Don't worry, I am dangerous, but it won't matter for long anyway, kid- nothing matters for long.' And that smile hasn't faded, as much as its presence is starting to sicken me... I turn, and start running. I know where to go. I don't want to see the aftermath of this. I have strict orders in this regard- I get caught, I'm not a Turk. I don't wave the ShinRa banner around to maintain unaccountability. I go to the fuckin' chair for this before I admit to being under orders from ShinRa, because this isn't a normal mission, and even the megacorporation couldn't muster enough PR to ever recover from this.

I don't want to see his mother come around the corner. They all look the same, and I don't want to see her expression of faux-love and forced horror at what I've left behind, all glitter and jewels and overwrought acting. They're all the same, and they're all abandoning creatures- maybe not in the literal sense, but everyone eventually gives up, and retreats behind their eyes, where the light can't reach. Everybody goes away. And I have no sympathy for any of them.

Blocks away, there's a door secreted in an alleyway. There's a room behind the door that I can bolt and hide behind from the sirens rising up in the streets. There's a rope on the floor to follow, and reel it in as I go, through the convoluted maze of a building to where a change of clothes is stashed. A bucket and gasoline to dispose of the ones I'm currently in. A sink to wash off the flecks of blood. A darkness to sit in and wait, and wish desperately that I'd thought to add a bottle of something to that inventory, never mind that I don't usually drink on the job- right now, I need it. The flask I keep on me is nearly empty, but I drain what's left of it anyway, slumped in the dark, waiting for the door on this side of the building to open.

It's a long wait, and it's supposed to be. Takes a while for the streets to clear, after all, and I think there's even consideration built into that that it takes a while for the killer to come down from this sort of thing. To normalize. I'm better at that than most, better at snapping level-headed and functional in the midst of upheaval, better at snapping sober when I'm on the edge of drunk. It's a talent, and one I wish I had more use for as the hours press on. Wish I had more than a few drops of scotch to carry me over.

Eventually, a key turns in a lock, and the only light that spills across the floor in the vague shape of a doorway is from a guttering streetlight just outside. Amber and pulsing, it does a damn good job of masking the person at the door in shadow, a black outline against the light that I need to squint to look directly at. But I already know who it is. And I toss a smile at him as I pick up my gear and roll to my feet, sliding past him in the doorway... it's the same smile I used on the boy, but context, context. It's the smile of a killer to a killer this time, and only the other will be able to make out the sickness in it.

Everything is fine, everything went to plan; I pulled it off as efficiently and smoothly as you would have. Old Man ShinRa will be pleased. And someday, my friend, if there is a Hell, we'll be sharing a room there. But I can't blame you, and I won't. This was my choice. I asked for this. I wanted it.

...fuck it all. I need a drink.