Deceptive Appearances




by nekojita


Rude straightened his tie in the mirror and gave his appearance one more quick glance before he turned away and headed for the door. He took a deep breath before leaving the quiet peace of his quarters, the only concession he made to the importance of the day. Some Turks got assigned new partners all the time, he reminded himself.

Still, he failed to convince himself that things were the same as always when he found Tseng waiting for him in the hallway, the reserved second-in-command leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest and his head tilted down as if lost in contemplation. Exactly three seconds passed before he stood up straight, the movement fluid as his arms fell to his side and his chin lifted as he looked Rude in the face. "Good morning."

Rude nodded in greeting and hoped that would be the extent of their conversation for the time being. One of the things he has always enjoyed and respected the most about Tseng is how they could fall into silence together, the lack of needless exposition once the bare bones of a mission or schedule had been given. He had a new partner; they were to work together and not fuck things up any more than necessary, and it would be nice if they both lived as long as possible, that was the assumption of all Turk partnerships. To be told any further details was, quite frankly, rather troubling.

"I’m sorry that you’ve been stuck with this assignment. Do your best, and perhaps we can soon convince Veld to assign Reno to another rookie." The words rushed out of Tseng’s mouth, a clear sign of just how disturbed he was by the situation.

"Veld believes that we’ll be well-suited for each other." Even though he was looking forward at the time, Rude caught the slight wince of Tseng’s reaction to his response out of the corner of his eye and began to wish he had laced his morning coffee with some whiskey. All right, it was clear from Tseng’s demeanor – that of walking a condemned man to the firing squad – that the Wutian was *not* happy with the pairing. There was also the fact that Veld had warned Rude that things might be a bit rough the first few weeks of his new partnership. He had been a bit displeased to hear such a thing, considering how much of a close-minded asshole Thomas had turned out to be, but he knew he was a good Turk *and* Veld assured him that this was meant with the best results possible in mind. The Old Man had specifically asked Rude to put up with the rookie’s rough edges on the promise that they would work out to be a good partnership in the end. Rude had the utmost faith in Veld.

There was a smothered, choking sound from Tseng’s direction that did little to soothe Rude’s growing annoyance. "Just remember that it’s *Veld’s* belief," was all that Tseng said after a moment’s tense silence.

For all that they had gotten along well the few years that Rude had been a Turk, he really wanted to smack the older man just then; Veld had yet to let any of them down so far, and Tseng was usually the Old Man’s strongest supporter. Why was Tseng fighting Veld so hard on this personnel assignment? The last thing Rude wanted to dwell on right now, after the spectacularly bloody mess of a failure that was his last partner, was being paired up with someone who ran the risk of putting him through the same thing again, so Tseng’s attitude just now was *not* reassuring.

Rude knew that he did good work. He was not as vocal or outgoing as some of the Turks, who seemed to revel in coming across as amiable pals until they could shock people with what they really did with a living. He always was there for his fellow Turks, but he saw no need to be talkative or make any extra effort for people outside of the department, and he did his job to the best of his ability each time. Thomas had taken advantage of his hard work ethic and refused to listen to a ‘rookie’, no matter how much experience Rude had gained over time, and it had cost the man his life. Veld had assured him that it would *not* be the case this time.

So what if his latest partner was from Below-Plate? He had been warned that he and Tseng would have to work hard to sand down Reno’s rough edges, but considering the nature of their work, there was an advantage to having a partner who was used to the harshness of reality. Perhaps it was because of his own appearance that Rude had learned to never take anyone at face value – he used the time that most people jabbered away with small talk to make his assessments of people and the situation, and *then* reacted accordingly. That was what made him a good Turk, and that was what he would do when he met his new partner.

They finally reached the door to the conference room where the introductions were to occur, and Rude barely managed to smother a sigh when Tseng directed a final sympathetic look his way before opening the door. He stepped into the room, not quite sure what he expected to find – a drooling idiot? A raving maniac complete with straightjacket? A homicidal nitwit intent on doing him in five minutes into their partnership? He doubted it was some kid who was sprawled out on the conference table as if it was a comfortable bed.

"Reno." Tseng managed to put an amazing amount of sufferance into the two syllables as he pressed the thumb and forefinger of his right hand to the bridge of his nose. "What the *hell* are you doing now?"

"Eh, na’ used ta bein’ up a’ this time. Usually jus’ goin’ ta bed aroun’ now." Reno slunk his way into a slouched sitting position, his eyes heavy-lidded and his heavily accented voice sounding as sleepy as he looked. Yet his movements had been too fluid for him to be tired, Rude noted, and his eyes – blue? green? tracked Rude’s movement closer to the table. "We gotta be up like this all tha time?" His dark blue uniform looked as if it had been slept in for the last few days, and despite being new, was already missing a couple of buttons and a tie.

"Depends on what the Old Man says," Rude commented as he came to a stop a few feet away from the table, his feet spaced apart and his right hand loosely clasped around his left wrist. So far, Reno failed to make much of an impression… at least, surface-wise.

The kid laughed and flowed off of the table, proving himself to be at least as agile and fast as Tseng, which was impressive in and of itself. "Oh yeah, ‘Old Man’ seems ta be one who don’ take no shit. Don’ blame ya on tha one!" He made no pretense of covertly examining Rude; his eyes, which appeared to be aquamarine in color, roved up and down in a slow manner. "Ya are?"

Behind Rude, Tseng muttered a Wutian curse under his breath. "’*You are.*’ We spoke about you needing to make yourself more easily understood, Reno. This is Rude, your new partner."

Rude waited for Reno to either react to the complaint about his Below-Plate accent or make a crack about Rude’s name, and was mildly surprised when all Reno did was shrug and then let out a slow whistle. The kid leaned back a little and once again gave Rude a thorough head to toe look-over. "Wow, bet everyone’s hot ta get inta your pants. Tha’ or shittin’ their own when ya show up on business! Gonna be fun, watchin’ ya kick ass!" He gave Rude a wink and smiled in appreciation.

For his part… Rude did not know what to say, which despite his reputation for being quiet, was not normal for him. When he first met people, certain things happened with enough regularity that it was almost as if the situation was scripted. First there were questions about his name, what it was short for or if his parents hated him. Then there was the assumption that any one as big as him has to be dumb. His first meeting with Thomas had led to the man bitching up a storm about being stuck with a rookie who was too much of a ‘meathead’ for the SOLDIER program.

He took a step closer to Reno and slid his shades down his nose a little while schooling his expression into one that had, on occasion, made a target or two soil their pants. "You think I’m going to do your job for you when it comes to fighting?" Did the kid think he was just a bunch of muscle?

Despite the fact that the kid weighed well over less than half of him, all Reno did was roll his eyes and shake his head. "Hell no, where’s tha fun ‘n tha’? Jus’ think it’s gonna fuck wit’ their minds, seein’ me an’ then ya comin’ at ‘em!" He rocked up onto his toes and bounced a few times, his pale face brightening as his lips curved into a wicked grin. "Fuck ‘em up big time, jus’ when they think they go’ off easy! We’ll show ‘em wha’ tha Turks can *really* do!"

"Because I’m bigger than you?"

Reno made a disgusted sound, the air pushing past his lips in a rush as he rolled his eyes again. Was the color from a mako enhancement? "Eh, who ain’? So ya tellin’ me tha’ Turks hire anyone who jacks up their muscles? I thought tha was SOLDIER." The kid made another sound of disgust. "If so, le’ me know now so I can ge’ ma ass on outta here."

"Let me remind you that you signed a contract," Tseng announced, his eyes narrowed and his posture one of clear menace… which Reno shrugged off before returning his attention to Rude.

As first impressions went, Rude’s new partner was an under-educated, malnourished street rat. On that basis alone, he could now understand Tseng’s concern. However, said street rat was fast, agile and, most importantly as far as Rude was concerned, perceptive. When was the last time upon first introductions that he did not have to prove himself as something other than a Turk strongman missing a brain?

"If you think you’re going to slack off on work, then *you* should be the one in SOLDIER," was all Rude said to his new partner.

Reno’s unusual eyes went wide, and a few seconds later he was laughing as he approached Rude and patted him on the left forearm. "Nah, where’s tha’ fun in ‘at? We’re gonna be kickin’ in heads an’ blowin’ shit up!" Just as suddenly as his good mood appeared, it vanished as he leaned around Rude to glare in Tseng’s direction. "Or a’ least, we *betta* be blowin’ shit up and kickin’ it in."

"Trust me, Midgar will never be the same, once we unleash you upon it," Tseng muttered. "If the introductions are finished here, I’ve better things to do than witness the end of the world as we know it." When Rude gestured that he was fine, Tseng muttered again, something in Wutian that sounded a bit like an old saying about hoping that fortune favored blind fools.

"Eh, he always a ray of fuckin’ sunshine?" Reno asked once Tseng had left the room.

Rude pushed his glasses back up his nose and shrugged. "Think you bring it out in him."

He did not know the kid well enough yet to anticipate a reaction to the remark, but he doubted that it was a wide grin as Reno ran a hand through red hair that looked as if it had been hacked off at various lengths with a dull knife. "Yeah, I ge’ tha’ alot. So ya gonna be a stick up tha’ ass like him, or wha’?"

Rude uncrossed his arms as he snorted in disdain. "Don’t flatter yourself, kid." Street rat of a rookie partner or what, it would take a hell of a lot more to get under Rude’s skin. He would break in this partner soon enough.

Laughter trailed after him as he left the room. "Ah, I see! Ya tha type tha’ doin’ the up tha ass part, right? Fine by me!"

As they made their way to Rude’s – and now Reno’s – office, they attracted amazed stares from everyone they came across, no doubt in thanks to Reno’s disheveled appearance and rapid-fire chatter. Rude had a feeling that he better get used it.


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