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The King of Bedside Manner

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Back in the days, when he was still a scraggly kid roaming under Midgar’s looming plates, there were many occupations Reno imagined for himself, in the unlikely event he ever made it out of the slums: barkeeper, delivery driver, mechanic, even rockstar. Doctor or nurse had not been among them for good reason.

And yet, here he is, playing nurse for an unwilling patient.

Strictly speaking, this was his idea. The patient had been against it. Loudly. Vehemently. Relented only against the outranking force, also known as the vice-president, overruling protests.

Come to think of it, Rufus Shinra might have well ordered it because he thought it amusing.

Reno is bad at this, but he tries, because it’s his fault that Tseng’s right arm is in a cast and the rotator cuff and biceps on the left got some dings. Add the mild concussion, multiple bruises and lacerations and the nasty stunt pulled on Tseng’s hip, Reno has a lot to make up for. He’s willing.

But he’s also in a staring contest with Tseng, who refuses to give up the carafe to his coffee maker, and it already tests his resolve.

“I can make my own,” Tseng hisses, held up only by the counter and his stubbornness.

“You can’t even get to the coffee maker without falling over,” Reno retorts, watching the carafe for signs of falling out of Tseng’s hand while the man tries to right himself.

“I got to the kitchen just fine.”

Reno twitches; for a second it looks like Tseng might buckle, but he catches himself and glowers at Reno as if it’s his fault. Well. Technically, it is.

“Yeah?” Reno drawls. “If I poke you in the left arm, or somewhere on your ribcage, you’d crumple like a house of cards. I want coffee and I’m not waiting three hours for you to prove some shit.”

“Go out and buy yourself some, then,” Tseng snaps. “I don’t need a nursemaid. A bowl of soondubu and some light work, and I’ll be just fine.”

“That the hill ya wanna die on today?” Reno asks and checks his watch. “It’s only 8:30 in the morning.”

If Reno weren’t used to it already, he would be impressed by the cold stare he receives. An eight out of ten on the Tseng frosty glare scale. Undermined by the lack of posture, though.

The silence stretches on for an uncomfortable ten seconds, then Tseng places the carafe down with a thud. “Fine,” he says, almost hissing and starts moving out of the kitchen again, trying his level best not to steady himself with the counter or doorframe.

Reno resists offering help, because Tseng wouldn’t even let him make coffee without an argument. Try help him walk and Reno would likely eat the cast for breakfast.

“Fuck me,” Reno mutters under his breath and flicks on the switch for the coffee grinder, the machine setting to its task with a loud crunching noise.

He pulls his phone from the pocket of the hoodie he threw on this morning, resisting the urge to wear the suit to appear before Tseng. Wearing a hoodie felt weirdly casual, though not even Tseng is insane enough to wear a suit at home. Nevertheless, the boss manages to look sharp in dark grey yoga pants and a white t-shirt, even when they’re wrinkled from sleeping in. No doubt Tseng had already tried and failed to change since they dumped him at his place last night, still woozy and half asleep with horse-tranquiliser-strength potions they gave him at the hospital. He needs to complain to someone, and his first choice for that is always Rude.

text exchange between Reno and Rude, Reno complains about Tseng being difficult, Rude has no sympathy


There’s little dignity in hobbling out of his own kitchen, but at least he can make it out of the room without assistance. Barely, but Reno need not know that walking sends a sharp spike of pain through his hip and down his thigh.

He knew he had to give up on making coffee when realising that he can’t lift his left arm higher than eye level without excruciating pain shooting through his shoulder. His mugs are in a high cabinet. It still doesn’t mean he wants to be waited on.

Tseng gingerly sits down at his dining table, not trusting his ability to make it all the way to the sofa without a misstep. He eyes the pack of potions peeking out from the white plastic bag they came with. Reno must have picked them up from Medical before coming here this morning.

Still.

He hits the speed dial on his phone to end the mess.

“No,” is what Tseng is greeted with.

“Sir?” Tseng asks, somewhat taken aback by the manner the VP answered his phone.

“No, you may not send Reno back.”

Tseng can’t help the stab of irritation. “The Turks need leadership in the office.”

“Are you saying Rude is incapable of handling the team for two weeks?” Rufus Shinra asks.

“No, but-–”

“In that case, we will be perfectly fine.”

“Sir–”

“Tseng,” Rufus says and his tone cools, “what I said last night was an order, not an invitation for debate. You refused to remain in Medical, you denied care staff to attend you at home, and the doctors said you require at least ten days to rest the arm that is not currently in a cast. Reno offered to help and he’s due for a few days of medical leave himself after that blow to the head yesterday.”

Tseng grits his teeth, but he knows Rufus Shinra will only tolerate talking back from him to a certain point.

“I understand, sir,” he says, tone clipped.

“Good,” Rufus replies in the smug tone he uses when he’s aware his team would love to give him a piece of their mind but doesn’t.

He hangs up to prevent Tseng from adding anything else, and Tseng lets the PHS clatter onto the table with a huff.

This is infuriating. It’s hardly the first time he’s been injured, and suddenly, he needs a minder? Granted, he hasn’t often experienced injuries in both arms at the same time, but that hardly matters. He doesn’t need Reno hovering.

Yes, technically Reno is the reason Tseng got injured, but Tseng made the decision himself to step in when Reno got pinned down by a pair of wayward Sweepers an insurgent group absconded with a few months ago. Reno had miscalculated and ended up backed into a corner. Certainly, Tseng could have waited for more backup and hoped Reno would hold his own until then, but Reno had been struck in the head early on and wasn’t at his best. Tseng’s Hail Shiva approach to stall for time wasn't elegant, as evidenced by his state, but they made it until Rude and Elena arrived to put an end to the whole thing.

“Already trying to get rid of me?” Reno snorts, sauntering into the room with two steaming mugs in his hand.

Tseng narrows his eyes at him and refuses to answer, looking at the stitched up cut on Reno’s temple. They must have used Cure on him, the wound looks almost healed already. He can’t help feeling envious, even though he himself authorized the notation on his medical record that Cure only be used when he’s in danger of dying. It’s hardly Reno’s fault that the effects of Materia make Tseng violently ill, often for days. Tseng is part of the small percentage of the planet’s population that suffer severe side effects from the use of Materia-assisted magic. Shinra is yet to invest any substantial money into research and possible remedy of the matter. Best they can tell, it’s a genetic quirk.

He places a mug in front of Tseng, filled almost to the brim with coffee. At least Reno knows how to make coffee. He even knows how to get a decent brew out of the communal machine in the break room.

“I usually take milk,” Tseng says instead of thank you, just as Reno slides into the seat across from him.

“Since when?” Reno asks and raises an eyebrow.

“I don’t at work,” Tseng says and taps his index finger on the rim of the mug’s ceramic. “But I do at home.”

“Heathen,” Reno grumbles under his breath and heaves himself out of his chair again to pad back into the kitchen to return with the almond milk carton from Tseng’s fridge.

“And almond milk to boot?” he asks and sets the carton down in front of Tseng, settling back into his chair.

“Dairy doesn’t always agree with me,” Tseng explains and takes a sip of coffee off the top to have some space for the milk. His shoulder protests just lifting the mug, but to a level that he can handle.

“Your fridge is almost empty.”

“I don’t cook much,” Tseng says by way of explanation.

“Okay, but it’s basically only pickled cabbage and almond milk in there,” Reno snorts. “Even I know that’s a sad state for a fridge.”

Tseng shrugs at Reno and takes another gulp of coffee.

He keeps some staples around, but most of the time he picks up his meals from Shinra’s better food establishments in the Tower or from the night stalls popping up around Midgar after dark. The last week, he didn't have a chance to go shopping, so he’s running low on almost everything at this point.

“Guess I’m gonna order some groceries for you,” Reno says and starts tapping on his PHS. “You’re a disaster, boss.”

Tseng doesn’t disagree, and only just about stops a smirk from forming on his face


“I’m going to take a shower,” Tseng announces later in the morning, snapping the lid of his laptop shut. At least Reno let him check his email without protesting about rest.

The stink of medical wing is still all over him and his hair needs a wash. It’s been a long few days and yesterday’s events were just the cherry on top.

“With that cast?” Reno asks and points at the layers of plaster encasing Tseng’s right arm. “Doc will kill you if you get it soaked.”

“I can tape it up with plastic,” Tseng sighs, irritation rising again.

“You realise that’s a bad idea if your other arm is impaired, too? And you’re not standing up so hot either. If you break your neck, the rest of the team plus Rufus will kill me.”

“Am I supposed to lie in my own filth for weeks?”

Tseng fixes Reno with a stern gaze, but Reno’s returning look is unfazed. Reno is hard to stare down even in the office, but at least Reno pretends there to be less blasé. Or, and Tseng has never been able to verify this to his satisfaction, Reno actually accepts his authority at work.

“Nah, but I could help you,” Reno deadpans. “Ya know, like I’m supposed to.”

“Giving me sponge baths like a good nurse?” Tseng snaps back and bites his tongue. This is venturing too far into territories of his mind he’s been ignoring for years.

For a brief moment, he thinks he sees a light flush across Reno’s cheekbones, though that may just be an effect of his tattoos.

“I can help you take an actual bath,” Reno grumbles. “I promise I won’t steal your virtue.”

“I’m hardly worried about my virtue.”

With trainings, decontaminations, and occasional cramped quarters aplenty, they’ve been naked in each other’s presence before. Bathing in someone else’s presence isn’t a novelty for Tseng either. Wutai has a robust culture around public baths; it’s not uncommon to meet friends in a bathhouse for a soak.

“Fine,” Tseng finally acquiesces. He can’t reach to do his own hair anyway and doesn’t relish the idea of slipping and falling in his own bathroom. The indignity of ending in a heap on his bathroom floor is greater than that of requiring help washing his hair.

Reno raises an eyebrow, clearly having expected more of a fight. He underestimates the importance of a shower and bath to Tseng.


Every lesson about professional detachment that Tseng ever dished out to Reno comes into play here.

Reno is surprised he remembers as much as he does. But he has to, unless he wants to become a flustered chocobo.

It’s not the fact that he saw Tseng naked, or even that he had to help undress the man. Even if Reno had to keep his hands calm when they skirted along Tseng’s chest helping remove the t-shirt. Or steadying Tseng while he carefully stepped into the hot water. Needing to unfocus his gaze while the muscles in Tseng’s back and arms shifted. Granted, none of these make it easier, but Reno could shove them all into a box in his mind, label them ‘NOPE’ and send them to the recesses of his mind where he keeps his top notch screw-ups to ignore (until his blood alcohol is high enough to get maudlin about them). Having a weird, inconvenient crush on your boss counts as a screw-up.

What does Reno in is the fact that he’s doing all of it in Tseng’s home, in his own private bathroom. Reno’s been to Tseng’s place a few times, usually to drop something off. In and out in a few minutes. He’d never seen the bathroom.

“Are you going to bite my head off if I offer to help with your hair?” Reno asks and watches Tseng settle in the hot water, plastered arm securely wrapped in an old plastic bag and hanging over the rim of the tub.

Steam fills the room in no time flat, Tseng seems to like his bath temperature to be somewhere around ‘stripping your skin off’, though you wouldn’t know it if you looked at his face. The colour of his skin up to his chest can best be described as ‘lobster’, but his features are perfectly relaxed.

“Okay, how do you stand it that hot?” he finally asks and hands Tseng a washcloth when he extends his hand.

“I’m used to it,” Tseng says and shrugs with one shoulder. “Public baths and springs in Wutai are always this hot, and at home, the entire family would use the bathtub, so it still has to be warm when the last person gets to go.”

“Y’all are weird,” Reno scoffs and grabs for the jug he brought with him from the kitchen, wiggling it in front of Tseng.

“Says the man who insists on washing my hair,” Tseng replies, voice droll.

“That man can drown you in the tub, too.”

“Do you really want my job?” Tseng asks, one eyebrow rising towards his hairline. "Because that’s what drowning me will get you.“

“Fuck no.”

Tseng smirks, but at least he tilts his head back, implicitly giving Reno permission to assist with his hair.

Reno can‘t help it, his breath catches just a little. He‘s been holding onto a certain amount of fascination with Tseng’s hair for a long time now. It‘s another facet of the low-grade, irritating crush he has. When Reno was still green, his infatuation with Tseng had been intense – these days, it lives in the back of his mind to pop back up at inconvenient times. Even Reno can‘t maintain a crush at full strength for years and years, but neither has he managed to rid himself of it. It refuses to die. So occasionally, he will watch Tseng‘s hair like an idiot, wondering what it would feel like because it looks so silky. And now he actually gets to touch it, putting aside that it‘s not quite in the context he‘d have hoped for.

Well, his New Year‘s resolution was to appreciate the small things. Nevermind that he‘d been talking about liquor shots at the time.


It’s nice, Tseng has to admit, having someone wash your hair. He likes getting a full wash and massage at the salon when he goes in to trim the ends every three months. The elderly Wutaian lady who runs it has known him for almost as long as he’s been living in Midgar and she still calls him Mr. Turk. Whether she’s being derisive or considering it a honorific remains a mystery to Tseng.

He hears Reno stand up and rustle in the caddy with his hair products, suddenly interrupted by a yelp, a curse, and some fumbling.

Tseng opens his eyes to see Reno standing above him, pale, wide-eyed, and with a throwing knife awkwardly held in his hand not even a foot from Tseng’s tilted-up face.

“Why the fuck is a throwing knife in your shower caddy?” Reno curses and sinks back down onto the stool, knees showing the jitters of receding adrenaline. “I nearly skewered you.”

“Don’t tip it over then,” Tseng says, unbothered.

“Not the point!”

Reno throws his hands up for a moment, then slaps the knife down on the nearby sink, the ceramic coated metal ringing sharply on the porcelain.

“You have to be prepared,” Tseng explains.

“For what?”

Reno flicks open the bottle of shampoo and pours some into his palm, then starts working it into Tseng’s scalp. His technique may not be on par with a professional, but Tseng has to suppress a few inappropriate sounds regardless.

“I don’t walk around my flat with my gun holster,” Tseng continues, just to focus on something that’s not Reno’s fingers digging into his scalp. He’s sitting in a dense cover of bubbles, but he’d rather avoid any overt signs of just how much he enjoys Reno’s attention.

“Because of all the random assassins that come after you?” Reno sounds incredulous, now lathering up the lengths.

“We have plenty of enemies.”

“You are fucking mental, you know that?” Reno bursts out. “You beat the stuffing out of me for six months straight so I can take someone out with a paperclip if I have to, and you’re hiding weapons all over your place like a paranoid squirrel? Like you couldn’t kill some asshole with the shower curtain if anyone came in.”

“Having an advantage doesn’t hurt,” Tseng says, not quite understanding why Reno gets so worked up about this. He finds it more worrying that Reno apparently lolls about unarmed at home.

“For Ifrit’s sake,” Reno grumbles and scoops up water with the jug to wash the suds from Tseng’s hair. “Am I going to randomly stab myself or you anywhere else in this place?”

“You should avoid reaching behind the box of rice porridge in the kitchen.”

“Fuck me,” Reno mutters under his breath, pouring another jug. “Anything else?”

“Do you actually want to know?” Tseng asks, staring Reno dead in the eye.

Reno narrows his eyes at him, looking like a bird about to swoop down and hack his eye out. “Yes,” he finally says, voice going up at the end, almost turning it into a question.


Text conversation between Reno and Rude where Reno complains about Tseng hiding weapons in his home
txt3


The next couple days are...peaceful, almost. If you don’t count Tseng nearly falling over and tearing his rotator cuff for good because he has to insist on trying everything first before he lets Reno do it for him.

He’s given in on letting Reno make coffee in the morning (and Reno’s coffee is better anyway), but that’s about as much as he’ll allow without any prolonged discussion. It doesn’t help that Tseng is getting antsy on top of it.

Sure, Reno can relate in some ways, he’s pretty shit at inactivity himself, but he’s not clamouring to work. If he’s off for two weeks, you can bet your ass he’s not doing anything relating to Turk business. Herding Tseng is taking care of the boredom he’d normally experience when stuck in the same place for too long. Tseng himself on the other hand is like a cat left to sit outside a room, desperate to get in – scratching at the door frame and wailing.

He’s wailing at the guardian of the door again, i.e. he’s on the phone with Rufus, trying to get the man to send him some work.

“I could have a look at the reports and approve them, that’s hardly strenuous, sir.” - “No, of course you’re perfectly capable of approving reports.” - “No, there’s no need to involve Heidegger, sir.” - “Of course.”

Reno doesn’t need the other half of the conversation to feel the cool smugness in which Rufus will no doubt be delivering his answers. He enjoys getting to poke and prod the Turks sometimes. And there’s precious little chance to ruffle Tseng on a regular day. And Reno isn’t going to lie, he too gets a minor spark of glee out of seeing Tseng bite on granite with the boss.

Reno devises a strategy of distraction, the majority of which consists of dumb action movies and game shows. He’s not looking for refined entertainment, he’s not even looking for good entertainment. Preferably, it’s stupid enough to get Tseng’s attention, so he stops thinking about form A-38 or some other boring nonsense.

The fact that it works is amazing; Tseng gets into scoffing at bad combat choreographies, actors waving guns about like toys, atrocious interrogation techniques, fake bombs, and terrible spy work alongside Reno. If Tseng weren’t still on painkillers, Reno would have suggested taking shots whenever one of those came up. They’d be constantly plastered, so maybe it was good Tseng wasn’t allowed to steep himself in liquor.

Tseng is annoyingly good at quiz shows and overly invested in the outcome of cooking contests for someone who can barely tell one end of a spatula from another. Reno even gets to subject Tseng to the whacky game shows with the neon colours, wild decor and irritating mascots. He will threaten to stab the mascots once in a while if he ever sees them out and about, but Reno can relate to that sentiment. He normally only ever watches those at 3 AM when insomnia gets the better of him, so he’s too groggy to wish death on cheerful, oversized bears and rainbow chocobos. The urge is a lot stronger when it’s 4 PM and you’re well-rested.

Reno also gets to teach the value of having popcorn for terrible movies. Real popcorn, made on a stove and not the bags you burn to a crisp in a microwave. Tseng will hog the bowl and try to look like he isn’t, inching ever closer to his side until it’s basically in his lap. The stealing is fine with Reno, he can always make more, and the times that Tseng is stealing most of the snacks is when Reno gets to brush Tseng’s hair.

He gets to brush Tseng’s hair. Reno can hardly believe it. Tseng won’t let him put any potions on the multitude of bruises mottling his torso in a by now impressive range of colours from dark purple to yellowish green, but he allows the brushing. It turns out that Tseng is really fucking vain about his hair and it drives him up the wall he can’t lift his arm high enough to do much of anything with it.

So every evening, after a dinner delivered and consumed, Reno grabs a bottle with some sort of oil or tincture that he doesn’t exactly know the purpose of – the dark brown glass bottle is only labelled with a sticker you find on homemade jam jars that says something in cramped handwritten Wutaian. It smells herbal and somewhat volcanic, pungent when you first open the bottle, but it dissipates fast. Twenty drops all over the hair, as per Tseng’s instructions, and then spread it through brushing. To Reno, it seems like an awful fuss, but considering the shine and texture of Tseng’s hair, the man may be onto something with his concoction. Reno is just jazzed he gets to do this, and doesn’t think much further.

Maybe that’s why it hits him like a sack of bricks somewhere around day ten just how fucking domestic they are.

He’s in deep shit.


Tseng realised early on he’s indulging. By now, he’s certain he’s overindulging, and not in the sense that he’s eating too much popcorn. Which he is, but in his defence, it is good popcorn.

He’s overindulging in Reno and his attention, but Tseng has always had a hard time moderating his emotions if he doesn’t have a clear path to follow. Veld helped him, when he was younger and rasher, taught him how to focus on the steps ahead and keep his emotions level.

Tseng has no path for how to deal with enforced closeness to someone he’s been unduly attracted to for some time. Regular interactions, on and off-duty, he has his ways to navigate, keep control of the situation. He knows how to keep himself away far enough for a degree of separation but close enough to keep the team together and unified. It’s easier with Rude and Elena – he only has to maintain the level of respect and camaraderie they share already. Reno on the other hand always appeared to have some invisible pull on Tseng, tempting him to get ever closer. Interactions with Reno were always weighed and calculated, careful not to become too much and dig himself in further. Tseng has been keeping it balanced, but he’s always known it to be precarious and easily upset.

Having Reno all up in his private business, in a vulnerable state no less, for weeks, how could it not topple over? Tseng knows he has no chance of regaining equilibrium while Reno is in his home, helping him with the most basic tasks short of accompanying him to the bathroom. He has stopped trying, since Rufus refuses to recall Reno to his duties, and, as much as Tseng loathes his state of helplessness, he needs assistance. He’d rather jump off the Tower than admit it, but Tseng is not known to be delusional.

Once they’re back to the way it was, he can figure out how to regain his footing. By then he’ll stop telling himself that Reno brushing out his hair every evening is much more about practicality and necessity than enjoyment. Just like he’s only looking out for Reno when he pulls a throw blanket over his sleeping form on those nights when Reno fell asleep on Tseng’s couch. Yes, Tseng could wake him up so Reno could go home to his own place and sleep in a proper bed – it would be sensible. But it is also perfectly sensible to spare Reno the irregularities of the night trains or expense of a taxi when it’s already quite far into the night and the commute would only take time off the few hours of sleep Reno would allow himself before being back early in the morning. Taking pleasure in seeing Reno fast asleep on his couch, quiet and relaxed in a way he never is awake; that’s just a side effect of Tseng’s poor hold over his own emotions.


It’s been nearly two weeks, and Tseng’s movement in his left arm has been improving so much that he won’t be needing Reno hovering around him all hours of the day. Most of the bruises have faded to almost nothing. The date of his next med eval is marked in the calendar dangling from the wall in the entryway, and it’s looming close. For something that seemed to go on and on like pulling on taffy at first, it has sure come up fast now that they’ve found some sort of rhythm. Reno should probably be relieved it’s over, but he finds himself more wistful than anything. Would it be too much to mark the occasion? Give Tseng a “thank you for not murdering me” present?

The first part of his idea comes to him while he’s making yet another pot of morning coffee. At this point Tseng is practically drinking a Flat White, since he claims that he doesn‘t actually need to be wide awake for anything and that reality TV is best endured with mild drowsiness. The latter half of the statement, Reno can’t dispute. But there might be something, he ponders and pulls his PHS from his pocket while the coffee slowly drips its way into the carafe.

txt4
txt5


The second part takes more research, running around, and facing down greater dangers than Dark Nation before he got his mid-day meal. But he manages. It should go down in his annual evaluation as a positive.

He'd excused himself with the vague statement of needing to take care of a couple things and left Tseng to his own devices with a book and a pot of tea. It’s just about dinnertime when Reno returns, juggling paper bags while letting himself in with the key Tseng gave him a couple days in. Reno hates the idea of giving it back, but there’s no good reason for him to keep it.

“Honey, I’m home,” he chirps with a wide grin and toes off his shoes to land in the pile at the entry. No doubt that Tseng will be rolling his eyes, even if Reno can’t see it.

Tseng creeps into the dining area, hair unbound from his earlier low ponytail. Even though he’s seen it a lot over the past two weeks, Tseng’s hair completely loose and unrestrained still sends his heart into tiny backflips. Or it’s heartburn for all the spicy food he’s had lately. Tseng definitely has a penchant for it. He’ll pour a hot sauce the shade of Reno’s hair on foods that already come with a warning on the menu. Reno sniffed the bottle one time and it made his eyes water.

Tseng, no doubt called to attention by the familiar smell emanating from one of the bags, snatches it with his left and peels it open, peering in.

“Since you’re rid of me soon, I thought you deserved a treat for not throwing me off the balcony at any point,” Reno says and pulls smaller containers from one of the other bags in his possession.

“Where did you get that?” Tseng asks, peeling the lid off one of the larger stew containers he removed from the bag.

Reno can see his nostrils flare when the full force of the soondubu hits him, and the glint in his eyes is openly one of excitement.

“Dae in Sector Three downstairs,” Reno answers and disappears into the kitchen for bowls and cutlery.

“How did you know to go there?” Tseng sounds surprised, and Reno internally pats himself on the shoulder. His gut instinct had been right.

“Asked around in some of the Wutai bars in Wall Market,” he says and places the dishes on the dining table. The chopsticks nearly roll off the edge, and Reno catches a stray one just on his way down. “There aren’t many places in Midgar that serve it the original way, apparently. And everyone told me I shouldn’t bother going to Dae. So that’s where I went. Call it a hunch.”

The surprise on Tseng’s face morphs into being impressed. “I didn’t know they served anyone who’s not Wutaian.”

“Oh they don’t,” Reno snorts. “I severely overpaid for that, and I’m pretty sure I sold my firstborn and my soul to that mean old lady out front.”

“Yes, she’s a character.”

That’s close to the biggest understatement of the year. The old woman who sat outside Dae’s on a bright yellow chair with a small paring knife and a bucket of persimmons looked like she would face down a Tonberry and make it run off without even uttering a word. She wore an old traditional robe of the kind that Reno thinks he’s only ever seen in black and white pictures of Wutai before. Her face framed by short grey curls is scored with deep lines, the skin almost leathery, but her eyes were as sharp as the knife in her hand when she looked Reno up and down. Reno knew right away he wouldn’t be passing that doorstep without her explicit permission.

“I might have promised to keep Shinra security from their block for the next six months,” Reno says with a shrug. “And that was after I’d already weaselled myself in there by telling a heart-wrenching story about wanting to do something nice for a homesick Wutaian friend.”

“I hope you didn’t tell them I work for Shinra.”

Tseng’s forehead wrinkles and he glances at Reno, but he’s dumping the contents of one of the containers in one of the bowls. The aroma of garlic and spring onions hits him, washed over by the punch of kimchi, chili and the brine of seafood. Reno watches Tseng pluck a piece of silken tofu from the top of the bowl and into his mouth.

“Yeah nah, that place is such an obvious front for a Wutaian resistance group, I didn’t drop that one of their regulars is the Director of the Turks.”

Reno grins, but Tseng doesn’t look surprised that Reno figured out what went on in the back room within minutes of setting foot into the bar.

“Good,” Tseng merely says and uses his chopsticks to drag one of the smaller containers towards him. Some pickled root or other. Reno had told the guy at the counter to just give him whatever went well with the stew. The menu written on the chalkboard above the bar gave no explanations as to what the dishes were.

“Do I ask why your favourite dish comes from a Wutaian resistance joint and why it’s still operating?” he asks, amused.

“They’re unorganised.” Tseng shrugs. “Not worth worrying about for now. I’m keeping an eye on it.”

Considering how hard Shinra stomped on anything that remotely smelled like resistance from Wutai, Tseng’s interpretation of ‘not worth worrying about’ is very liberal by Shinra guidelines. But if there’s anything the Turks are good at, it’s operating within a ten-foot radius of guidelines and law.

“You don’t want to shut it down because then you’d be out of Soondubu, huh?”

Reno can’t help grinning at Tseng. It’s good to know that even Mr. Inflexible will wiggle around to protect something as trivial as his favourite dish.

Tseng shrugs again. “Like I said. Unorganised.”

“Sure.”

Reno lets the little white lie stand and grabs his own container of stew. He’s pretty excited to try it. He doesn’t have much experience with original Wutaian cuisine. A lot of the places in Midgar and Junon have adapted the dishes to suit Eastern palates.

When he notices that Tseng placed his bowl back on the table and is looking at him, Reno glances up from his own preparations. Did he get something wrong after all?

“You went through a lot of trouble,” Tseng finally says and inclines his head. An actual smile ghosts across his features. He pauses, then adds: ”thank you.”

Well, if that doesn’t bring the heartburn right back. And it seemed to have brought its friend, the intestinal butterfly.

“That’s not everything,” Reno announces, to distract himself from his fluttery insides and grabs for the tote bag that’s been resting against a leg of the dinner table. In his single-minded quest for Soondubu, Tseng has paid no heed to the contents of this particular bag.

With the heavy splat of stacks of paper and manila folders against the wood of the table, Reno dumps his loot.

“Is that…?” Tseng asks and takes a folder from the top of the crooked pile, imprinted with the Shinra logo and a file number in Tseng’s own, pain-stakingly even handwriting.

“Your To-Do file drawer?” Reno replies and leans his hip against the table, patting the stack of paper. “Yes. Minus the actual drawer. Or cabinet. Rufus was against my removal of office furniture from the office.”

“Rufus let you take these?” Tseng wears an expression of surprise. “Last week, he was ready to lock me out of office emails. And half of this is classified enough that it shouldn’t even leave the Tower.”

“I made a convincing case?”

Tseng stares at him, and Reno sighs.

“Yo, I did,” he defends himself. “I have to go back to work Monday, and you’ll be healed up enough to climb the walls if you don’t have anything to keep you busy. He accepted that it would probably save him a lot of phone calls if he lets you work on some open projects from home.”

Reno grabs a pickled radish from one of the smaller dishes and tosses it into his mouth, the salt and sweetness from the brine coating his tongue. Holy shit, that stuff is good.

“Cost me two weeks of night shifts and a threat of ending up as target practice if anything goes sideways with the classified stuff,” he continues, “but in relative terms, that’s a pretty good deal from Rufus.”

Reno hates pulling several night shifts in a row, a well-known fact throughout the team, but he’ll bite the bullet if it makes the last stretch of healing easier on Tseng. He’s so absorbed in trying to fish from more morsels from the sides scattered over the table’s surface, that it takes him several seconds to notice that Tseng has neither moved nor said anything since his explanation.

When he looks up, Tseng is right there, pinning him with a gaze so intense it should be scary. Reno has no clue what’s happening – Tseng looks...upset? No, that’s not it. Confused? Maybe. Reno doesn’t know if he’s ever seen Tseng look confused before. As much as Tseng’s face ever moved from enforced serenity, that is. Tseng looks, at a loss, is the best that Reno can describe it. His mouth is slack in a way it never is.

“Tseng…?” Reno begins to ask, but that’s as far as he gets, because Tseng’s left hand snaps forward, bunches in the threadbare fabric of Reno’s grey t-shirt and hauls him in, crashing their lips together.

Reno – who would have expected a punch before this – freezes, going as rigid as if someone had hit him with Stop Materia. The alarm blares in his head, sending him into a near panic.

Tseng, no doubt noticing the unmoving state of Reno, draws back, if only by mere inches. His fist remains firmly clawed into Reno’s shirt. Reno knows his eyes must be the size of saucers and it’s not just from what just went down. Fuck me, he thinks, is Tseng looking nervous? Openly?

“I…” The word comes out of Reno’s mouth without any clue as to how he’s going to continue that sentence.

“Did I misread the situation?” Tseng asks, sparing Reno the blabbering he was no doubt about to start sprouting in a second.

Reno blinks, his mind replaying the question to make sure he heard it right. Tseng has to be nervous if he’s outright admitting to uncertainty.

“Fuck,” Reno breathes because he’s nothing if not eloquent under pressure. “Not what I was angling for, but shit, I’ll take it.”

There’s a tiny crease forming between Tseng’s eyebrows, right under the mark on his forehead. The grip on Reno’s shirt starts to lessen, and a new, different panic creeps its way up from Reno’s gut. One of these days, he’ll punch himself until he learns to contain his verbal diarrhea and actually spend half a second thinking about what he’s saying, and how. Maybe he’ll ask Rude to punch him, the man packs a lot more force and would enjoy doing it.

To Tseng, this probably sounded like Reno is willing to indulge him this once. When nothing could be further from the truth. Eighty percent of his ongoing internal hysteria is owed to the near unbelievable scenario that Tseng – not high on drugs, and not under duress – chose to kiss Reno. There is a non-zero chance that Tseng might like him, too – that way. And Reno’s flapping gums are royally screwing him over.

“For Ifrit’s sake, don’t listen to me,” Reno blabs, because the solution to saying the wrong thing is saying more. “I’m an idiot.”

He’s doing the first smart thing since the whole exchange started: grabbing the back of Tseng’s head and reeling him back in for another kiss. A proper one, that Reno is actually participating in. The ‘oof’ of surprise from Tseng against Reno’s lips soon melts away, together with some of the tension in Tseng’s shoulders. He sneaks his mobile arm around Reno’s waist, drawing him even closer until they’re flush against each other.

They’re going to have to talk about what this means.

But not before dinner.