Harmonies
Eagleheart  

Chapters

Author's Note
Prologue

1. Overture
2. Rubato
3. Scherzo
4. Vivace et Affettuoso
5. D.S. al Coda
6. Dolente
7. Harmony and Dissonance
8. Impetuoso
9. Morendo



On the forty-seventh floor of the Shinra building is a small hospital. Well, not really a small hospital. Given the amount of space a single floor of the Shinra building takes up, I suppose it’s a pretty damn big hospital, by comparison to the small sort of hospital you’d find in a little city like Kalm or Gongaga. Probably about the most technologically advanced facility in the world, too, being that it’s in the building where all the technology is actually developed.

Anyway, it’s a hospital/clinic/doctor’s office type thing, and seeing as it’s only one floor below our residences, and the SOLDIER get taken care of by scientists on higher floors, and the Shinran military have their barracks in a different part of the city, we’ve sort of claimed it as our own. Other members of the company come there too, for various ailments and afflictions and damage resulting from inexplicable explosions (this is by no means an admission of guilt in the incident involving the fireworks in the executive bathrooms, I’m just saying.) But, being that Turks are the people who’re injured most often and most severely, we pretty much consider it our territory.

As such, we’ve gotten pretty possessive of the doctors and nurses and techs who work there, and vice versa. We see these people on a depressingly regular basis, often when we’re at our very worst and in relatively rough condition. Or, if not because we’ve been bashed up, because it’s time for a check up, or a physical, or an examination, inoculation, or vaccination. It’s hard not to get attached to the people who’ve been pretty much taking care of you since you got involved with the company.

So, when I woke up, some number of hours later, in a private room with blue wallpaper and a very nice view of the city, I was quite sure I was in good hands. And they turned out to be the best hands, actually. Dr. Rachel Ann Gabriel (it’s peculiar when a person’s full name consists of three first names), who is to doctors what Commander Veld is to Turks, was very carefully setting my arm in a fiberglass cast.

Dr. Gabriel is about fifty-eight years old and of about medium height, with deep blue eyes and wire-rimmed glasses and steel gray hair (she says it goes a little grayer every time I show up in her ER.) She’s very fit and very smart and if I’d been around maybe thirty years ago I’d have been all over her, because I’d bet anything she must’ve been damn pretty. That would’ve been back when she was just starting out with Shinra, too. She’s the best doctor in Midgar and maybe in the world and I’m not just saying that because I’m her favorite, either. And I’m not just her favorite because I get hurt more than most people.

“Awake, then, Reno?” she asked, not even looking up from what she was doing. I guess doctors can just tell these things.

“Mmm hmm.”

She snorted softly. “Well, stay awake, because I should probably yell at you. Have you any idea what a reckless thing you did? It’s nothing more than luck that you weren’t killed.”

“I know.” She wasn’t really yelling. She calls it yelling, but it isn’t really. Dr. Gabriel never yells at me. She gets disappointed, sometimes, but she never yells.

Shaking her head, Dr. Gabriel continued. “You know. Of course you know. And you went and did it anyway. You don’t know what a strain you put on the people you leave sitting at home.”

Well. I never do think about that. “I’m sorry I worried, you, Doc.”

She sighed and smiled slightly. “Yes, I know you are. You always are and I always forgive you. It’s just I spend so much of my time trying to keep you from falling apart, so I take it a bit personally when you go and get yourself ripped to bits.”

“I’ll try not to do it again, Doc.”

Someone cleared their throat. It was Commander Veld, because when he clears his throat it sounds like somebody starting an outboard motor. “Rachel, until you learn not to give in the first time he apologizes, you won’t be much good at discipline. Leave the dressing down to me.”

Dr. Gabriel chuckled softly and cut away the bit of bandage she’d been working with, securing it to the rest of the cast. It felt much better, now that it was all patched up and stuff. “Well, Dimitri, if I recall correctly, I used to dress you down with a certain amount of efficiency.”

“With surgical precision, yes,” the Commander agreed dryly, getting up and coming over.

“You were such a young, innocent thing, back then,” Dr. Gabriel mused.

“Times change.”

“Do they have to?”

I grinned a bit and struggled to push myself up. “Would you two like me to leave?”

“Hush, you. That cast has to set and even after it does, you’re not going anywhere. “ Dr. Gabriel answered, absently pressing me back down when I tried to sit up. “And then there was me, the medical intern, oh so intelligent and worldly. Hah. I was so very foolish and so very vain, Dimitri, how did you ever put up with me?”

Commander Veld grunted. “I managed. The Turks chased the medical students, it was what was done at the time.”

“You managed.” Dr. Gabriel tossed her curls and drummed her fingers against my shoulder. This was interesting. There were all kinds of rumors about Commander Veld and Dr. Gabriel, but I’d never heard anything quite as…”concrete” as this. “Give me a little credit, Dimitri, I could put members of your organization in tears.”

“Yes, but that was before the advent of modern anesthesia. If you wouldn’t mind, Rachel, I do need to have a few words with my agent.”

Dr. Gabriel clucked her tongue. “Don’t you yell at him, Dimitri,” she warned protectively.

Commander Veld sighed and rolled his eyes at the ceiling. “I won’t yell at him, Rachel.”

“See that you don’t.”

Grunting again, Commander Veld turned his attention to me. “You nearly killed Rufus Shinra.”

“I’m sorry, sir, I’ll do a proper job of it next time.”

“That’s not funny, agent. There won’t be a next time, thanks to the restraining order. But that’s beside the point. You appropriated a jet without proper authorization.”

“I thought Cid would take care of it for me.”

Commander Veld snorted. “Cid didn’t take care of it anymore than you did.”

“Oh.”

“He’s been spitting nails ever since he found out that you blew it up. Keep out of his way for a while, or he’ll break your other arm.”

I got a bit defensive about that. “I didn’t blow it up! Avalanche blew it up! Why would I blow it up?”

“Because you have a rather unfortunate tendency to blow up Shinran property.”

It’s hardly my fault that Shinran property seems to be particularly explosive. And that the Shinran exec are particularly flammable. But I’ve tried that argument before and it doesn’t work, so I just tried to look contrite.

Veld continued. “You alerted Avalanche to our knowledge of their presence.”

“Well, I’m sorry about that one, sir.” Except I wasn’t, really. Because then their camp would’ve gotten stormed and innocent people like Jessie and all the families of the real terrorists might’ve gotten hurt. It’s one thing when they do it, but it’s another when Shinra does.

“You made eight of my best agents drop whatever they were doing and go tearing halfway around the world after you.”

“I told them not to come, sir.”

“You should know better than anybody else that you can’t tell a Turk anything,” Veld commented wryly. “I’ve had my fair fill of trying to teach you children to listen. We have people specially trained to deal with these situations, you know.”

“I know, sir, but they wouldn’t have gone. They’re not as crazy as me, sir, not by half.”

Veld shook his head mournfully. “Some days, agent, I just don’t know what to do with you.”

“Are you really mad at me, sir?” I didn’t think he was, but it never hurts to check.

Veld sighed. “No, Reno, I’m not mad. I understand why you went. I wish you’d taken the time to stop and think about it, for just a few moments, but I can’t really be mad at you for it. I am…regretfully…proud of you.”

“Thank you, sir.”

He nodded and clapped a hand on my shoulder. “Very good. You rest, now. I have to go discipline your comrades.”

Dr. Gabriel chuckled. “You ‘re nothing more than a crabby old softie, Dimitri.”

“Please, Doctor, not in front of one of my agents,” Commander Veld said, maybe just a little pleadingly.

“Oh, very well. Commander. Go about your business, then. I’ll finish up here.”

Commander Veld nodded and squeezed my shoulder again. The Commander’s a good guy. He wasn’t mad, not really. That was good.

I yawned a little and settled against the pillows as Dr. Gabriel straightened the blankets and tapped her fingers against the cast on my arm. “Hey…Doc, what’d you mean when you said the Commander used to be ‘innocent’?”

“He sleeps now,” Commander Veld interjected hastily. “And that’s an order.”

Dr. Gabriel laughed and took a vial and a needle out of her pocket, waving Veld out of the room. Glancing over her shoulder once he was gone, she inserted the needle into the IV tube sticking out of my arm and leaned forward conspiratorially. “Certainly, he’s a man of experience now,” she murmured, pressing down on the plunger of the syringe in her hand, “but there was a point in time where your Commander was very unfamiliar with the subtle workings of feminine undergarments.”

“Oh…? Oh.” I grinned and started to laugh, but it very quickly turned into a yawn, then a sneeze, then another yawn and I was asleep.

*

It felt incredibly good to be home again. Granted, I hadn’t really been anywhere but a bed in the infirmary, but that felt really good, so it still counts. There were flowers on the table by the bed. I thought that was rather nice. But then, sitting up and looking around, there were flowers on just about every available flat surface, so it went a bit beyond nice and into the territory of bloody unbelievable.

And Cyr came in with another big vase of flowers in both hands, searched for somewhere to put them down, and finally settled on the windowsill. “The secretaries got word that you were home,” she explained, turning the vase slightly and straightening the stems of some of the flowers. “I swear, the entire company must have known within the hour. The flowers started coming around noon.”

Well. It does make a person feel kind of good to know that he’s been missed. “Wow.”

Cyr laughed softly. “You will have to say thank you.”

“I’ll send a memo.”

“You’ll do no such thing,” Cyr said firmly, pulling up a chair and sitting down by the bed. “You’re lucky it’s just flowers. If the doctors hadn’t barred you from having visitors, you wouldn’t get a moment’s rest.”

“You’re visiting me,” I pointed out.

“I’m not visiting, this is business,” Cyr clarified.

“Aww…business?”

Cyr shook her head. “It’s not really business; we just have to say that it’s business, because otherwise we couldn’t visit you.”

“Oh. Well. Okay, then.”

“Are you feeling better?”

“Of course I’m feeling better! I feel fine. When can I go home?”

“Probably not for a few days. They’ll likely keep you until the end of the week, at least.”

That wasn’t any good. Being stuck in the hospital was not what I intended to do with my newfound freedom. “But I want to go home now.”

“You are home. And gods, Reno, don’t you have any idea what you’ve been through over the past few days?”

“No, Cyr, I haven’t the slightest idea. Please, fill me in.”

“Don’t you get smart with me, Reno, or I’ll give you something that’ll keep you here for a month,” Cyr threatened. “You’re exhausted. You’re dehydrated. You’ve got more contusions, cuts, and fractures than I can count. You nearly drowned. There’s still water in your lungs. The only reason you’re in such a good mood is because you’re on so many painkillers you can’t even recognize the fact that you’re supposed to be in pain.”

Cyr can be such a downer sometimes. “Oh. But I’ll be lonely and bored.”

“I’ll have people come visit you,” Cyr promised solemnly. “And you’ll be resting a lot anyway. You’ll be just fine, Reno. The longer and better you rest, the sooner you’ll be able to go home. If you push yourself, you’ll be here forever.”

Cyr is also right entirely too often. “Aww…okay.”

“Good.” She stood up and leaned over, wrapping her arms around my shoulders and giving me a bit of a hug. “I just want you to get better, dearest. You gave us all such an awful, terrible scare.”

“I know…I’m sorry. But, hey, it’s okay now.” I paused, remembering something. “Hey…Cyr?”

“Yes?”

“Could I ask you a question?” It’s always safest to make sure it’s okay, I think. Some people get kind of touchy when you start asking questions.

She nodded and sat back down. “Of course, dear.”

“Back at the reservoir…you know…you were crying. I’ve never seen you cry before. Why were you crying?”

Cyr was suddenly very still, her hands clasped tightly in her lap, knuckles slightly white. Then she stifled a whimper and threw herself at me, sobbing.

“Hey! Whoa, Cyr! I said why were you crying, I didn’t say why don’t you start crying!” I patted her shoulder a bit awkwardly. I really don’t know what to do with people when they’re crying. I especially didn’t know what to do with Cyr, because she always seems so strong. “Aww…shit, Cyr, knock it off. Jeez, I didn’t mean to make you cry…”

She coughed, embarrassed and wiped at her eyes with her sleeve. “I’m sorry,” she apologized, trying to compose herself. “Forgive me, I’m sorry…”

“It’s okay, Cyr. I didn’t think it would upset you. Forget I asked, okay?”

“No, no,” she shook her head. “No. It’s all right. I just…the thought that you might’ve drowned…it’s just horrible. You must’ve been so scared and…I…I just wish it hadn’t had to happen.”

Cyr’s a good person. If I could’ve had a say in things, I would’ve really liked to have Cyr as a big sister. Maybe I could meet her parents and they could adopt me. But they probably have enough kids, so maybe I’ll just think of her as a big sister. That’s pretty much the same. “I’m okay, Cyr. You know that, right?”

“Yes…I do. Just…next time, don’t let it be drowning.”

“Will do, Cyr.” I guess she must have a phobia of water, or something. Which is odd, because I’ve seen her training and she’s one of the strongest swimmers I’ve ever met. Growing up in Mideel, you’d think she’d have learned to swim around the same time she learned to walk. But I suppose, if I can be a Turk whose afraid of blood, she can be an islander with a fear of water.

She cleared her throat again and blushed a little. Probably embarrassed, which was probably okay. “Well. Yes. Ahh…if you don’t mind, I think I should probably go now…I mean, if you won’t be lonely?”

“Nah, I’m all right. You go on, I don’t mind.”

“I’ll send someone else up to see you, if you like…”

I shrugged. “Oh, I dunno. It’s all right, don’t bother anybody…”

“Reno. There is a small mob of secretaries hanging around by the elevators and not one of our people can go through the office upstairs without being attacked. If you’re worried about being alone, I can have a dozen impatient young women in here faster than you can blink.”

“O-oh. Ahh…nah, I don’t think I’d want that.”

Cyr nodded sagely, a glint returning to her eyes. “That’s right. No, you’re obviously not yourself, you didn’t jump at the idea.”

“Hey, I’m not St. Andrew.”

“No,” Cyr smiled slowly. “St. Andrew, you certainly are not.”

There was something about the way she said it and the way she smiled that should’ve struck a chord with me, but I didn’t think of it at the time. “Well, thank god.”

Cyr laughed and stood up, pushing back her sleeves and tossing her hair over her shoulder. “Indeed. Well, then I’m going to go. And I’ll see you later, sweetie.”

“Yeah…bye, Cyr.”

She turned to leave, waving over her shoulder, and Rude appeared in the doorway, knocking on the frame lightly. “This a bad time?”

“Huh? Oh…ah, no, Cyr was just leaving. Hey, Rude.”

Rude nodded to Cyr and entered, pulling a chair up to the bed. “Hey, partner. How’re you doing?”

“Oh, I’m okay. Loads better. But I guess that goes without saying.”

“Heh. Yeah.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes, listening to the sounds of the hospital in the background. It’s not very loud, because it’s not really very busy, but you could hear nurses talking at the nurses’ station down the hall and things like that. Silences like this happen between my partner and I, but they’re okay. It’s funny, just because I talk more with somebody doesn’t mean they know me better. Or, maybe that they know me as well as Rude is a better way to say that.

There are people in the company would could rattle off all sorts of stuff about me. Where I grew up, the guys I used to hang around with, where my favorite place to eat on a night off is, all that kinda stuff. And maybe Rude can too. He’s a smart guy and he picks up on a lot of stuff, he’s just not showy about it. The point is, all these people who know stuff about me, yeah, that’s all well and good, but they don’t know stuff like how long I can hang off a rope before I can’t anymore, or how fast I can reroute the wiring in a sprinkler system, or how many times I can be knocked down before I need backup. That’s the sort of stuff that Rude knows. It’s also the sort of stuff I’ve never had to tell him. He just always knew. That’s why he’s my partner, I guess.

“Hey, Rude, how…”

“Reno, can I ask…”

I stopped. “Oh, sorry. You go first.”

“Nah, mine can wait.”

“Oh, okay. I was just gonna ask how badly Veld dressed you guys down. He didn’t really give me much shit, but he knows that I can’t really help doing dumb things like that. You guys’re all supposed to know better. Did you get in bad trouble?”

Rude shrugged and pushed his sunglasses up on the bridge of his nose. “Nah…not so much, really. I mean, he yelled at us, sure. He yelled at us for a solid half-hour. He was practically blue in the face when he stopped yelling. But he also told us beforehand that he wouldn’t mean a word of it, and that he was proud of us for what we’d done.”

“Yeah? Huh. He told me that too. Wonder why.”

“D’you figure it might be because he’s proud of us, maybe? Just a guess.”

Rude’s got such a stupid sense of humor. I rolled my eyes. “I mean why’s he proud of us?”

Rude shrugged again. “Well, when you look past all the stupidity, it was a pretty gutsy thing to do.”

“Guess so.”

“He also said…that we were the type of Turks who cared more about our comrades than about the Company. It sounded like that was the reason.”

“Don’t all Turks? I mean, isn’t that the sort of thing anybody would’ve done?”

“Hell, I don’t know. Maybe not, the way he talked about it.”

“Huh.” That was kinda weird. Oh well. Maybe some Turks have more sense than we do. “What did you wanna ask?”

“Hmm?” Rude glanced up. “Oh…nah, it was nothing.”

I shifted in bed. “No, c’mon. Whatcha wanna know?”

“It’s not important.”

“Come off it, Rude. Ask, or you might not get a chance. C’mon, before I go and do some other crazy stupid thing.”

Rude didn’t answer for a few minutes. He was thinking, I guess. Rude thinks a lot. “You know…you were dead for about a minute, there.”

“I was?”

“Well, you weren’t breathing.”

That’s the sort of thing that’ll give a person a bit of a chill. “Yeah? I didn’t know that.”

Rude shrugged. “Yeah, well, you couldn’t have, really. I don’t know. It was weird.”

“You’re telling me.”

“Did you feel anything?”

“What, you mean when I…?”

Rude nodded. “Yeah.”

I sat for a few moments, trying to remember. I didn’t, really. Remember, I mean. “I don’t know. I don’t think I did. I sort of…I knew I was dying, I think. But…no, I didn’t know about the actual second it happened. No long dark tunnel with a light at the end, no visions of the afterlife. Sorry.”

Rude shook his head. “Nah, that’s all right. I was just curious.”

“Oh. Well, okay.”

There was another knock at the door. “Are we interrupting?” Tseng asked, leaning into the room.

Rude stood up. “Oh, no. I was just on my way out. I’ve got to get back, there’s a game on soon.”

“Hey, Tseng. Who’s we?” I questioned, waving at Rude as he hastily left the room.

Tseng made a beckoning motion. “I was driving Hannah to her dance lessons and she asked if we could stop in and see you.”

“Hannie!” Hannah is Tseng’s daughter. He’s got a beautiful family, his wife (Emily) and his daughter and him. Hannie’s a really great kid. I’ve known her since she was born, watched her grow up, kinda. Tseng’s family is close to the company; they sometimes come along when we do picnics and stuff. Hannah’s a load of fun to have around. Sure, we have to cut down on the cursing and not play too rough when she’s there, but she’s so damn cute it more than makes up for it. I hope she realizes that when she grows up she’s going to have a bunch of people who’ll run background checks and spy on every single boy she dates. I think Tseng’s kind of counting on it.

Hannah looks a lot like her mother, with long blonde hair and big blue eyes. Tseng’s got such a great family. It’s the kind of thing that makes me feel like maybe, someday, if I ever decide to stop being such a dumbass, I might want to settle down and have a kid or two myself. I mean, like, a long time from now. A really long time. I don’t even know why I brought it up, because I’m talking about such a long time from now that it doesn’t really even bear mentioning.

Hannie came scampering in, swinging a backpack from one hand. “Hi!”

“Hey, angel! Lookit you, how long’s it been since I saw you last? God, kid, every time I see you, you’re getting bigger. C’mere, honey, lemme get a look at ya.”

She clambered up on the bed and beamed at me, while Tseng sat down in the chair Rude had recently vacated. “Mum says I’m s’posed to ask how you’re doing and if you feel okay.”

“You tell you’re mom that I’m doing just fine and I feel great.”

Hannie nodded vigorously and unzipped her backpack, digging around inside and pulling out a handful of magic markers. “She also said that maybe if I was good I could draw on your arm,” she explained, pointedly uncapping a red marker.

I laughed at that and shifted my right arm so she could reach. “Sure, honey. There, knock yourself out.”

Tseng cleared his throat as his daughter occupied herself, drawing on the cast that covered my arm from knuckles to elbow. “You’re doing all right, then?”

“Never better, Tseng.”

Arching an eyebrow, Tseng got up and picked up a clipboard from the bottom of the bed. Skimming it quickly, he whistled. “Well, no wonder. Look at what Dr. Gabriel has you on. I could stick a fork in your eye and you’d be just dandy.”

“I think I’m awfully lucid for someone who’s quite as drugged as you people make me out to be.”

Tseng shrugged and replaced the chart. “Well, Dr. Gabriel’s always been very good with painkillers. Good to hear, then. I’ll tell Emily, she was worried.”

“Yeah, tell Emily I’m fine. Hey…Tseng?”

“Yes?”

“I’ve been meaning to thank you…you know, for all you guys did with the whole Rufus thing.”

“Oh, that. No problem, happy to do it. It was rather amusing, really. Hannah helped.”

“She did?” I glanced at Hannie, who was busily scribbling something large and green on my arm. “What’d you do to Mr. Shinra, Hannie?”

Hannie didn’t look up from her work, selecting a blue marker. “I got chocolate ice cream all over his bright white jacket because Daddy told me to be a problem and Mum said that the biggest problem I ever was, was when I put chocolate ice cream in the dryer with Daddy’s white shirts.”

I hope I can someday raise a kid who’s even just half the evil genius Hannie is. “Hannah, darling. Would you like a pony? Tseng, can I get her a pony?”

“Pony!” Hannie cried enthusiastically, clapping her hands.

“No, no ponies. We wouldn’t have anywhere to keep a pony, sweetheart. And Reno really shouldn’t be encouraging you.”

“Hannie, in the pocket of my jacket, on that table over there, I think there’s something like four hundred and thirty-seven gil. Take all of it.”

Hannie giggled and recapped her marker. “Thank you.”

Tseng cleared his throat. “We’d better be going, Hannie. Say good-bye.”

Nodding, Hannie pushed herself up and kissed my cheek. “Buh-bye, get better.”

“Yeah, see you, Hannie. Have fun!” I called, as she climbed off the bed and skipped out the doorway. “Thanks for stopping by, Tseng.”

“Hey, any time. Rest well, Reno. Bye.”

“See you later, Tseng.”

And then things were quiet for a while. Which was all right. Drugs or no drugs, as well as I felt, I was kind of tired. So I slept. It was nice to be in a bed again. It had been ages since I’d slept in a bed. Boring, though, to have to be stuck in this bed for days. I wasn’t looking forward to that. Sure, people were visiting me now, but there’s only so much visiting to be done during work hours and there’s only so much visitors can do to keep you occupied.

Hushed whispers from the doorway woke me and I rolled over, yawning, to see Samantha and Rafe standing there, evidently arguing.

“Ohh, look, now you woke him. We’re sorry, Reno, we’ll come back later. You can go back to sleep,” Rafe said hastily, turning to go.

Samantha grabbed his arm and practically dragged him into the room, her other hand behind her back. “Oh, no you don’t. Get in here. Reno, darling. How are you? We’re terribly sorry to wake you…”

I sat up and shook my head. “That’s okay, really. I’ll be sleeping a lot more than I figure I need to for the next little while, it’s all right. Hey, Samantha.”

“Hi.” She shot a triumphant look at Rafe and rather forcefully steered him to the chair next to the bed. “I’m glad we woke you, then. Are you feeling well?”

“I’m good, yeah. Everybody keeps telling me I’m drugged…except Rude, he came in here and told me I’d been dead…which was kinda creepy…but other than that, I’m just fine, really.”

Samantha beamed. “Oh, good. Well! Here we all are, then.” She poked Rafe in the shoulder. “Did you have something you wanted to say, Rafe?”

“Uhh…Hi, Reno.”

“Hey, Rafe.”

Samantha made an indelicate noise and glared at him. I glanced up at her, a little confused. “Something the matter, Samantha?”

She flushed suddenly and flashed a smile. “Oh, no. No, of course not. Here, look at what I brought you,” she said quickly, withdrawing her hand from behind her back and presenting a shiny, brand new EMR.

“Hey!” That was thoughtful of her. I’d lost my old one back in Cosmo Canyon, which was a real shame. It wasn’t like it was the first weapon I’d ever owned. That one got destroyed four years ago, in a particularly nasty face off with a drug lord in Wutai. He sheared it right in half. I was a rookie, then, and would’ve been pretty darn helpless, unarmed against a Wutain swordmaster. It was a damn good nightstick, though, and when he cut it in half, he cut it right near the powercell and electrocuted himself. Damn good weapon, right ‘til the end.

This new one, though. It was pretty obvious it had been redesigned. I’d been after and after the boys in weapons to get more juice out of the old one, and they’d done what they could with it, but it looked like this thing would pack a proper punch. I took it and gingerly extended it, instinctively twisting each segment slightly, and listening to them click as they locked into place. It was perfectly weighted and wonderfully balanced. I examined the dial closely. There was a new setting, almost a full turn around, marked with what looked to be the face of Satan himself. “Ooh, boy.”

“Do you like it?”

“I love it.”

Samantha beamed. “The order hadn’t gone through for it to be upgraded, but I nudged it along. And then when I talked to the engineers and told them it might cheer you up, they went ahead and redesigned it.”

“Well, thanks! Shit, Samantha, this was really nice of you!” Samantha’s not such a bad person. I think it’s just the fact that she’s so used to controlling and manipulating and ordering about everybody around her that she’s gotten kind of hard to approach. She’s nice though, once you get past the fact that she always wants to get her own way.

“No problem. I was happy to do it.” She cleared her throat and glanced at Rafe. “I believe Rafe has something to tell you?”

I doubt it was so much that Rafe had something to tell me, as it was that Samantha had something she wanted Rafe to tell me. “Uhh…we’ll be going now,” Rafe answered, standing up.

“No!” Samantha exclaimed stamping her foot. “Now, you listen! What in the world is your problem?”

“Please, Samantha, it’s not a big deal. It was nice seeing you, Reno, I’m glad you’re feeling better, I’d better be going…”

Samantha grabbed his wrist as he turned to leave, pushing him firmly back down. “Just tell him!” she insisted, her hands on her hips.

Rafe slouched in his chair and muttered something, flushing slightly.

“Ooh…fine. If you won’t tell him, then I will.” She turned to me (I was more than a little bewildered by this whole thing, I have to admit) and cleared her throat. “Rude told you that you just about died?”

“Uhh…yeah?”

“Did he tell you it was Rafe who fished you out of the water and got you breathing again?”

“No…”

Rafe flushed even darker when I glanced up at him. “Samantha, really, you don’t need to make a big deal about it,” he pleaded. “It’s not anything more than I used to do in Junon and I don’t deserve any kind of special recognition for it…”

Samantha whirled around again. “Yes! You do! It’s not right for you to save somebody’s life and then not let him know about it! It’s wrong!”

“I was just doing my job,” Rafe insisted stubbornly.

Samantha flared again and would’ve started into another tirade, but I interrupted. “Hey, Rafe? Thanks, man. I’ll pay you back. I think that’s all she wants to hear.”

“Well, thank you!” Samantha threw up her hands. “Yes! That was all I wanted. See, Rafe, was that so bad? There. Now you can go.”

Rafe grinned a bit and then hurried off. He’s a funny sort of guy. Now I know that he wasn’t after Rosalind, I think he’s pretty okay. Hell, he saved my life. It’s not such a huge thing in the Turks; we’re doing it all the time. But, hey, it still means something. And I’d do my best to pay him back for it.

Samantha tugged on her sleeves. “Well. I should be going too, I suppose. I hope you’re feeling better.”

“Yeah, I am. Thanks again, Samantha and…y’know. If you should just maybe accidentally let word slip about what Rafe did to the commendation board…everybody else knew too, he wouldn’t necessarily know that it was you who’d said something.”

She smirked and laughed, waving over her shoulder as she headed for the door. “If he asks, I’ll just say Commander Veld did it. See you later!”

She practically flew out the door, breezing past St. Andrew, who was leaning against the doorframe. “Can I come in?” he asked, rapping his knuckles against the wall.

“Yeah, sure. Hi, Andrew.”

“Hiya.” Like everybody else who’d been in, he pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down, folding his arms across his chest and studying me for a few minutes. “Doing all right?”

“Yeah, I’m doing fine. Just great. How’re things on the outside world?”

Andrew grinned. “Already getting sick of being stuck here, eh?”

I sighed. “Oh hell. What d’you think? God, everybody comes in here and gawks at me like I’m some sort of freak. ‘How’re you doing, Reno?’ ‘Are you feeling better, Reno?’ ‘You’re on an awful lot of drugs, Reno.’ ‘Get well soon, Reno.’ I’m telling you, if this keeps up, I’m gonna goddamn break outta here, I’m not even kidding.”

St. Andrew laughed and shook his head. “Nah, don’t do that. Don’t wanna strain yourself. Y’know, you just about died back there.”

“Surprisingly, Andrew, I did know that. Lemme tell you, if you ever plan on dying…not any time soon, of course, but it’s something to think about…try to avoid drowning. Damn unpleasant way of doing things.”

“You wouldn’t recommend it?”

“It’s very low on the list of ‘Preferred Methods of Dying’, let’s just say that.”

Laughing again, Andrew shook his head. “Nahh, I’m not gonna drown. I know exactly how I’m gonna go…eighty years old with a bitch on either side, just the way the Don always said.”

“The poor girls. Gypped out of their hard-earned cash and they end up in a threesome with a dead guy.”

“When I get to be that old, I’ll start payin’ ‘em in advance. Don’t wanna cheat the poor women. Hookers work hard, y’know. It’s a hell of a job.”

“Pays the bills, though, I’m sure.”

St. Andrew nodded. “It does that, yeah.” He was silent for a few minutes more. “So lots of people’ve been by?”

“Yup.”

“Rosalind been by?”

I didn’t answer immediately; wary of the probing in Andrew’s tone. “No.”

“Oh.”

St. Andrew sat by the bed for a few moments in silence, then stood up, reached over, and rapped his knuckles solidly against my skull.

I pushed his hand away. “Hey! Knock it off! What’s your problem?”

“I’m just wondering what you’ve got crammed in your skull in place of brains, that she doesn’t do it for you. God, man. What the hell’s the matter with you?”

“Andrew, get off my case,” I told him shortly, settling down in bed, as best as I could with my arm in a cast. “I’m tired now; I wanna get some sleep…thanks for coming by. I’ll see you later.” I reached over and turned the light next to my bed off as he stood up.

I kinda thought that might be the end of it, but he reached over and turned it right back on. “No! Hell no! You’re not blowing me off again! Not this time. I want to get to the bottom of this! What the hell d’you think she is, a part of the wallpaper?

I stared at him, slightly terrified, but still playing the idiot. This had gone downhill very fast. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

St. Andrew slammed a fist against the wall. “Rosalind, you goddamn dunce! Where the hell d’you get off, cutting her out like this? What’s your goddamn problem? You honestly mean to tell me that you aren’t the least bit attracted to…”

“Shut up, Andrew.”

He ignored me and kept talking. “…someone that cute…

“St. Andrew, I’m not kidding…”

“…that sweet…”

I really wasn’t kidding. “Andrew, I’m warning you…”

“…someone who’d go halfway around the goddamn world for you…”

Well, that was it. I was due for a small fuse blowing anyway. “I never said I wasn’t attracted to her! What the hell d’you think I am? Why the hell’d I go in the first place, huh? Because she went and I was so damn scared she’d get hurt because I’d gotten mad at her and I got mad at her because I was scared Rufus was gonna hurt her and I was scared Rufus was gonna hurt her because she’s such a goddamned amazing person and he’s such a creep and he’d have done something, I just know it and she’s so…so damned naïve that she wouldn’t have seen it coming and I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself and maybe if I’d just said something beforehand she wouldn’t have ended up with him in the first place and…and shit, Andrew.” I stopped to catch my breath. That’s a hell of a lot of stuff to fit in one sentence. “And another thing…”

St. Andrew held up a hand. “Stop,” he commanded. “Breathe. You just about goddamned drowned, yesterday, moron. If the nurses find out I’m getting you worked up, they’ll put paint thinner in my next tetanus shot.”

“Worked up—you’re damn right I’m worked up! Just about drowned and I hadn’t ever even told her I love her!” I choked on that last bit and fell back against the pillows. I’d always wondered how it would feel to actually say it. I didn’t figure it would feel like someone had torn my throat out. I hadn’t even meant to. It just kinda slipped out. “God, Andrew.”

He grinned. “Well, now we’re getting somewhere! I always knew there was something funny about you and her. Why didn’t you just say so?”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

St. Andrew blinked at me and waved a finger scoldingly. “Oh, no. No, no. You said it, you meant it. How the hell else could you mean it? I always knew you did. And why not? Why shouldn’t you?”

“Andrew, really, I don’t,” I objected.

“Don’t what?”

“I don’t like her.”

“You jackass, you just said you loved her. You don’t goddamn take stuff like that back.”

“That’s not what I meant…shit, Andrew, just leave me alone.”

St. Andrew folded his arms across his chest. “No. I’m gonna figure this out if it kills me. And I’ll be damned if I don’t think I’ve got a pretty good idea…”

“For god’s sake, just never mind. Just forget I said anything.”

“Damn it,” St. Andrew cursed. “No! Now I don’t know what the hell’s going on! A minute ago you spill your guts. I thought that might’ve been something! And now all of a sudden you’re clamming up and trying to deny it? What’re you trying to do to yourself?”

I was very sorely tempted to reach over and turn the morphine on and make him go away. Or call a nurse. Or throw the lamp at him. Anything to make this stop. It wasn’t right. This didn’t feel good, like getting stuff off your chest should make you feel; it felt very, very bad. And I thought I’d felt vulnerable dying alone in a lake in the middle of nowhere, that was nothing. Nothing compared to standing in the room with a crazy yelling guy who knows your deepest, darkest secrets. “St. Andrew, get out.”

“No way in hell.”

Well, I couldn’t exactly force him, given the whole half-dead-in-a-lake thing. I wasn’t up to making him stop. But I sure as hell wasn’t going to talk to him any more. It was kind of childish and really not much of a defense, but I rolled over and pulled the blankets over my head.

St. Andrew cleared his throat. “Don’t you even start with me. God. You’re pathetic, you know that?”

I really wished he would stop. He’s such a jerk.

“Fine, then, just sit there and listen to me. You can’t do this to yourself, all right? You just can’t. I don’t know how long this has been going on with you. I would guess it’s a pretty long time. As long as you’ve known her, probably. It’s the kind of thing that sort of tears you to bits inside, the longer it goes on. It gets worse and worse every damn second you spend, not saying anything.”

I took a very small amount of consolation from the fact that it wasn’t my fault he knew this stuff. I hadn’t said anything about it. How he knew was beyond me, but I still didn’t like it.

“It hurts, right? Goddamn right it hurts! And you know who you’ve got to blame for it? Yourself. Because you won’t just come out and tell her. Because you’re such a damned coward.”

He stopped and sighed heavily. “But I don’t really have any right to call you a coward,” he said after a few moments of silence. “It’s a terrifying thing. And I can’t say it’s not hard, either. Darkest before dawn, and all that stuff. But…and you’ve gotta believe me about this, I wouldn’t lie to you…once you just tell her…it’s all right. It’s just fine.”

Yeah, that was easy for him to say. He wasn’t scared out of his mind of getting rejected and ruining everything.

St. Andrew coughed awkwardly. I think with the last few remarks; he’d sort of lost whatever drive he’d had a few moments ago. “I mean it. Listen…working where I did…y’know, with the hookers and stuff…well…you learn a lot about what love isn’t. There’s a lot of things it isn’t. You get hurt a few times, you learn that. But…one thing that it is…it’s something too valuable to lose hold of, just because you’re scared. I know you probably don’t get it…being that you’re on the other side of ‘the wall’ and stuff…but you’ve gotta believe me. C’mon, please. For both your sakes, just try. Hell, for my sake. I can’t stand seeing the pair of you apart.”

I didn’t answer. D’you ever get where your jaws just sort of fuse shut and you couldn’t say anything, even if your brain were working well enough for you to want to?

“For god’s sake, get those blankets off your head. I feel like I’m talking to some sort of whackjob.”

I might’ve, but a bit of plaster sticking out of the wrist of my cast had kinda gotten snagged on the blankets when I rolled over and I was a bit tangled up.

“Reno, you goddamn talk to me or I’ll drag her in here and tell her for you.” Sighing, letting it hiss through his teeth, he reached down and yanked the blankets away. “C’mon, Reno, just do it…”

“Leave me alone, Andrew.”

We squared off for a few more moments, and for just that little bit of time, it was a contest of pure stubbornness. I didn’t know where the hell he got off, sticking his nose in my personal life like this. I won out, thankfully, because he scowled and backed down. “Shit. Fine, you do whatever the hell you want. Fuck up your life, I don’t care. I told you what to do, you don’t wanna do it, then I don’t give a damn. Hear that? Be a stupid ass, I don’t care. Jesus.”

He stormed out of the room, muttering angrily to himself. I was glad to see him go. He didn’t understand, he didn’t get it. It wasn’t just that I loved her. That didn’t matter anymore. I’d forgotten about Rufus. There was always the problem of Rufus. Maybe it’s different where Andrew comes from, I guess it must be. There’s only something like love, where Andrew comes from. It doesn’t matter to him whether there’s another guy in the picture, because to him, there’s no such thing as a woman with only one relationship at a time. Well, Rosalind had one, and it wasn’t with me, and I had to accept that. All of this…everything that had gone wrong…had gone wrong because I’d tried to screw up what she had. Out of jealousy, I guess. And that wasn’t any good.

Of course, it was one thing to think all this to myself. It was quite another to hear a soft little knock on the door and “Sir?”

I looked up sharply, staring at her for a few seconds. “R-rookie!” Oh, god, this was hard. This was the most difficult thing I’d ever done in my life. Andrew was right, she’s beautiful and sweet and the most wonderful person in the entire world and I was going to have to live for the rest of my life, seeing her with another man. “W-what’re you doing here, rookie?”

She flushed slightly and toyed with the doorknob for a few moments. “I…I just stopped by to see you, sir. If you’re busy, I can come back later…”

“Oh…” Yes. Come back later. Give me five minutes and I can find something sharp and open a vein and bleed myself to death so I don’t have to deal with losing you. I should’ve just died; it would’ve been so much easier. “N-no. That’s okay.”

Rosalind nodded and stepped inside the door, closing it behind her, and just…standing there. All the way across the room. That was probably better. If she got close enough for me to see every single perfect detail of what I was going to be giving up, I don’t know if I’d be able to do it. “Listen…Rosalind. I’m…well…I’d like to say I’m sorry…for what an ass I’ve been.”

“Sir?” she questioned, sounding faintly perplexed.

God, don’t make me say it. Don’t make me remember how awful I’ve been. Even if you do…and you will, because you’re just that wonderful…I’ll never be able to forgive myself. “For…screwing everything up. I’m sorry.”

“You haven’t screwed anything up, sir.”

“Yeah, rookie…yeah, I have.” I took a shaky deep breath. It didn’t help as much as I’d hoped. “For what I did to you and Rufus…” Forgive me. “…trying to get between the two of you…” Please, let someone forgive me. “…for yelling at you…” Even though I don’t deserve it, won’t ever deserve it. “…and that whole mess with Cosmo Canyon…” Forgive me for being so stupid that I didn’t love her when I had the chance. “I…I’m just so sorry.”

She stood by the door for a few moments more, then hesitantly crossed the room, sitting down, like everybody else before her had done, except when they did it, it hadn’t felt a thousand times more painful than anything I’d gone through in Cosmo Canyon. “Well, sir…really, the Cosmo Canyon thing was my fault, sir. I shouldn’t have gone in the first place.”

Why did she have to make this so hard? No…no, she wasn’t making it hard. She couldn’t help it that she was that wonderful, she didn’t mean it. She had no way of knowing how much pain just hearing her voice put me in. “N-no, rookie, listen. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have interfered. After all…it was between Rufus and you…”

“Oh, sir, that doesn’t have anything to do with it…”

“I…I didn’t mean that…” I paused and swallowed hard, taking a few moments to steel myself. “He’s…you and him…well, you’re together. I didn’t have any right to involve myself; it wasn’t any of my business. I…I never even thought about how it must have made you feel. I’m sorry…”

“Sir…”

“I’m sorry that I hit him that one time. And…and for when I tried to kill him. I just wasn’t thinking. I’m…”

Rosalind interrupted. “No, sir.” She stopped and shook her head. “No. This isn’t about that. I’m not sorry about what you did, sir. I was wrong not to listen to you. All this trouble is because of me.”

She’d done this before, tried to take the blame for herself. Just like then, it wasn’t her fault not in any way. “Aww, no…”

“Sir, I mean it,” she insisted. “It was my fault, all of it. All of it was me. Because I wouldn’t think, because I wouldn’t listen…all that time, sir, all the pain and trouble I caused everyone, it was all my fault. If I’d listened just once to what you were saying…because you were right, you were right the whole time…if I’d just listened…then none of this would’ve happened. You wouldn’t have had to yell at me, I wouldn’t have gone to Cosmo Canyon…you wouldn’t have come after me…you wouldn’t have…have gotten hurt…oh, sir, I’m so sorry you got hurt…I never…I never wanted…Rufus doesn’t mean as much to me as you do, not by half, sir.”

She stopped and her eyes filled with tears. Ashamed she lowered her head and coughed and sniffled for a few moments, wiping her eyes. She’s so beautiful.

Maybe this was it. Maybe this was my opening. I’d let it pass me by, so many times before…at midnight in Icicle, walking back in Gongaga, in Cosmo Canyon, so many perfect opportunities, never taken…who was I to chance this one? I reached out slowly, tentatively, and pressed a hand against her cheek. I shivered, in spite of myself. Her skin was warm and soft against mine. “Rookie…” A tear slipped down her cheek and I brushed it away. “Listen I don’t know who’s fault this is. I don’t think it was either of us. But…if it makes you feel better…I’ll forgive you, if you forgive me.”

She sniffled again and looked up, hope gleaming in her liquid eyes. “Really, sir? You mean it?”

“Of course I mean it,” I answered gently. “It’s nothing to forgive you, rookie, not for anything.”

Rosalind smiled and a few more tears slipped from her eyes. “Thank you, sir.”

“Hey…c’mere, rookie.” I reached out and took her by the arm, pulling her close and wrapping my arms around her, holding her tight. “C’mon, rookie, let’s have a hug. Don’t make me order you to do this.”

She laughed softly and pressed herself close in her own turn, her arms clasping tightly, gently around me. Well. If this was anything, now was the time to find out.

I reached down gently and tilted her chin up, looking into her emerald eyes for a few seconds, before softly kissing her. And her eyes closed and she pressed closer against me, and I could almost feel the smile on her lips. This was fine.

And that was that.

*

I hadn’t told her I loved her. I don’t think I needed to. I think she knew. I think that maybe there are some people in this world who are close enough that they don’t have to come out and say it. Coming out and saying it would cheapen what love they have. So maybe that was what this is. Maybe it was a sort of love that went beyond what words could ever express. I hoped so. Because then I could resign myself to the life time of searching it would take, to find the words that perfectly sum up how I feel about Rosalind. I’d never find them. And maybe, since I know that, I can forget searching and just spend my time loving her, like I should have from the beginning. Because that’s all I ever wanted.