Summary: One man's search for understanding of his shadowed past leads him places he never expected. When he is drawn once more into the darker side of ShinRa, the line between friend and enemy becomes blurred, forcing him to decide where his true loyalties lie...
Talonn had dozed off slouched on the sofa, a faint frown on his face, the blanket draped loosely around him when he was awakened by a horrific scream. He was instantly on his feet but only half awake as he stumbled through the living room and into the hallway. Another scream jerked him from the remnants of sleep, depositing him quite abruptly into reality. “Gabriel?!” he called as he rushed down the hall, skidded on the slick tiled floor and nearly passed the door. Grabbing the doorframe, he stopped the slide on socked feet and lurched into the room. A part of him was unsurprised to find Gabriel sitting in his bed shaking all over and completely alone. Another part was annoyed and still another was angry beyond redemption. The nightmares Gabriel suffered were horrible and but to know that someone had caused him to actually endure the things he dreamed of was unforgivable. “Gabriel? Are you alright?” he questioned as he tried to calm his racing heart and dropped onto the edge of the bed. Immediately Gabriel’s hands reached for him, frantic efforts to part the cloth of his shirt as he babbled between panting, sobbing breaths.
“Tal! Tal…let…let me see…” Gabriel fought to distinguish between reality and dream but it was impossible. The semi-light of daybreak barely breached the heavy shutters across Tal’s room and the fire had burned low, leaving the space in a weird half-light that gave him no solidity. The sound of Talonn’s voice was familiar and reassuring but still the unknown wouldn’t release him. He pawed at Tal’s shirt, desperate to know if what he’d experienced was dream or reality. “There’s so much blood…so…so much…blood…” a sob broke from him as he struggled with the blankets, trying to get closer, fully intending to rip the shirt off of Tal if he resisted. In Gabriel’s mind blood was on his hands and the surrounding bedding, it filled his nostrils with the tang of death and the slickness on his palms was not perspiration but instead Tal’s life pouring from his chest. “Oh god…” he continued, breathless, confused and unable to push past the images in his mind.
Talonn was utterly confused for a long second, watching Gabriel closely, wondering if the man had finally lost his tentative hold on sanity. No, it was a nightmare and he wasn’t fully awake yet, or at least not aware this was reality. Again helpless rage coursed through Tal’s mind as he grabbed the brunette’s panicked hands, holding his wrists in a firm grasp. “Gabriel! Gabriel, look at me. Here…my face…look at me. It’s alright. I am fine, Gabriel.” He wasn’t getting through to him and Tal sighed as he watched the silver trails of tears fall from those pale eyes. “There is no blood, Gabriel. Look…” he turned the brunette’s hands over and shook them, the movement causing Gabriel to gasp. “There is no blood. I have not been harmed. All is well.” He didn’t release the brunette but held him firmly, wishing he could dive into that confused mind and pull him out of those horrors. “It was a nightmare, Gabriel. Just…just a nightmare.” The words sounded ridiculous to him. ‘Just a nightmare’, hell. This was a waking horror Gabriel endured nearly every night in some way or another and Talonn knew it. Even though the brunette didn’t wake screaming each night he didn’t sleep well nor for long and the dark circles beneath those pale eyes testified he suffered on a nightly basis.
Gabriel fought to pull himself together. The feel of Talonn’s hands on his wrists gave him a weird sense of comfort, the firmness of his voice adding to the reassurance this was reality and Tal was alright. Still, at the edges of his mind disjointed memories tried to spill forth into reality and he struggled. He stared at his hands and even as he watched they seemed to be both bloody and not. As if a light turned on and off, the blood was there one moment and not the next. “Tal…I…I can’t…I can’t tell…” He lifted pale eyes to stare into silvery-green and for a long second tried to force it make sense to his brain. “Tell me. P-please…tell me…it’s not real.” His voice broke again, confusion warring with dream combined with reality so that he wasn’t even sure Talonn was there. Perhaps he’d dreamed the gold-haired warrior too. Maybe he was still locked in that dark lab and this was another type of torture or insane experiment.
Talonn silently vowed a dozen terrible deaths on the man who had done this to Gabriel. In his mind he envisioned ways to gut him and leave him alive but unable to do anything about it, watched him bleed out on a concrete slab… He shoved away those images and focused on the brunette. “Gabriel. I am alive and well. All is as it should be. You are alright now…safe.” He could tell Gabriel was struggling to believe him, to see past the images his mind produced but it was a battle. Tal sighed and placed one of Gabriel’s hands against Tal’s chest, pressing it firmly over his heart. “Be still and feel my heartbeat, Gabriel,” he murmured quietly, watching the brunette closely. Gabriel went utterly still, holding his breath, the tears still falling down those pale cheeks but in his eyes Tal could see he had breached the barrier between reality and dream. Talonn nodded, “I am alive, Gabriel. There is no blood. No injury. My heart still beats. Do you feel it?”
Gabriel was trembling all over as he focused his entire attention on the feel of the thudding beneath his palm. Added to that, Talonn’s calm voice edged into his mind and Gabriel dragged in a shaky breath. He nodded uncertainly at first then again, his breath falling in a huff as his lungs forced air out then in again. “Y-yes…yes…” he sobbed softly.
Talonn dared to breathe normally. “It was a nightmare, Gabriel. You are safe. I am well. Relax and breathe.” His hands loosened on Gabriel’s wrists but didn’t release him. Not yet. Tal knew he needed the physical contact.
Gabriel stared at Talonn’s chest and as if by magic, the wounds he had seen in the nightmare faded to nonexistence. Instead he saw smooth flesh, scarred but with no bloody trails or gaping wounds. He struggled to breathe past the tears filling his throat and after a moment was reduced to sniffling. Finally, feeling weakened and relieved he collapsed against Tal, his free hand clutching at the blonde’s shirt. “I’m sorry…” he mumbled softly, hating the feeling of exhaustion and the fading remnants of the nightmare’s hold on him.
Tal sighed quietly and slipped one arm around the brunette. “Do not apologize, Gabriel. I understand. Relax and breathe. All is well. You are safe.” His hand moved slowly up and down Gabriel’s back as his eyes closed, hatred for every human being in ShinRa’s employ filling him for a long few seconds. Why they had done this made no sense. There was no reason to reduce a man to such weakness. ShinRa was all about power and control, not weakness and lack of control. So, why had they done this?
Gabriel turned his head and placed his ear against Tal’s chest, listening to the steady strong sound of his heartbeat. It was reassuring and calming. A steady sound, constant and powerful, a testament to the man himself. The weakness the brunette felt made him sigh and after a long couple of minutes he forced himself to lift his head. He stared up into those compassionate eyes and for once didn’t feel as if they pitied him. “I…I woke you up, didn’t I?” he questioned softly, hating that thought.
Talonn gave him a half smile. “One could say you woke me quite thoroughly, Gabriel.” At the sudden flush on the brunette’s cheeks, Tal sighed and disentangled them from one another. “However, do not apologize. I understand and do not blame you for what you suffer.” He urged the brunette to lie back on the bed. “You are exhausted. Try to go back to sleep, hm?”
When Tal mentioned sleep, Gabriel surged upright again and fear filled his eyes. “No!! No, please…no…I…I don’t want…” he stopped and looked away, clutching the covers, wishing he didn’t sound like a terrified child. How could a grown man be afraid to sleep? But, in Gabriel’s case, how could he not?
Talonn studied the brunette closely for a long minute then nodded and sighed. “I understand your concerns, Gabriel, but you cannot continue to refuse sleep. It is a necessary part of life, despite the nightmares.” The fear written on that familiar face made Tal once again allow thoughts of dismemberment of that unknown scientist to enter his mind. He shoved them aside and changed position, moving to settle in the bed next to the brunette. Without hesitation he gestured Gabriel into his embrace and frowned when the brunette merely stared at him. “Do not argue and do not question. Come. There is still time left to get a little sleep and I am tired as well. I may not be able to keep the nightmares away but rest assured I shall wake you before you are drowned in them.” At Gabriel’s reluctance, Talonn huffed and gestured again. “Come. Now. Else I leave you to battle your memories alone.” That said, the brunette nodded, blushed crimson and curled at Tal’s side. After a few moments of tension and repositioning, they both drifted into sleep.
-------------------- [not too far away] -------------------------------
“You realize you’re way out of your league, yo?” Reno questioned, a smirk on his face, a riot stick in his hand slapping rhythmically against his open palm.
Hayle swallowed, squirmed then gave up efforts of escape. Behind him, Rude held him quite firmly, one huge hand around Hayle’s throat, the other tightly gripping both arms in a painful hold. “Wh-what do you mean? If it wasn’t for me you wouldn--“ a squeak escaped as a sudden but brief tightening on his throat warned him. Hayle cut his eyes to the left but the man behind him, although larger and taller, was effectively keeping out of his direct line of sight.
“If it wasn’t for you this whole damned thing wouldn’t be necessary,” Reno finished for him, his smirk fading to become a hard frown. He glanced to Rude and lifted a brow, a silent warning not to do the man harm. At least not yet. They had their orders and both were well aware of them, however any ‘accidents’ could be easily and smoothly explained…if necessary. “Now, as I was saying, you realize you’re in deep shit, yo?”
Behind Hayle, Rude’s lips twitched at the sudden tensing of his victim and the predatory glitter which passed over Reno’s gaze. “Deep…as in over-your-head deep, Hayle. Careful what you say,” he added quietly, his lips close to the man’s ear.
Hayle swallowed visibly then dragged his courage forward. “I live around here. You have no right to—“
“No right? Uh, actually, we have every right. ShinRa is watching you, man. You make one wrong move, say one wrong word and it’s over. You’re done. You’ll never see another sunrise. I think maybe Rude would like to help you on your way…am I right, buddy?” Reno glanced past Hayle to Rude’s dark glasses and smirked at the faintest hint of a smile on the other man’s face. “Yeh, that’s what I thought. My friend here would be real happy to break your pathetic neck. So…you wanna tell us why the fuck you’re here? And who you’re working for?”
When Hayle didn’t answer immediately but seemed to be considering something, Rude spoke. “That would be an interesting bit of information I’m sure Tseng would appreciate hearing,” Rude’s hand tightened on Hayle’s arms causing the man to hitch in a gasping breath. “Remember…careful what you say.” His tone was almost seductive in its depth, low and quiet, close to Hayle’s ear. The power which was semi-evident in his broad-shouldered form was deceptive actually. He was much stronger than he appeared to be and that was daunting to say the least. Standing in front of them Reno smirked again and Rude lifted a brow in silent signal. Immediately, Reno’s smirk switched to a frown and the riot stick began the rhythmic pounding against his palm again. “Looks like Red would like to pound you into little pieces and I’m actually of a mind to let him.”
“Hmm…yeh, it does sound like a rather nice ending to a long, boring night,” Reno commented, moving a step closer which forced Hayle to try to back up only to find himself back-to-chest with his captor. “Comments, Hayle? C’mon…you don’t want to end up a smear on the sidewalk now do you?” Reno’s words were sarcastic and had about them a lilting sound, nearly sing-song.
Hayle fought the desire to scream, knowing it would do him no good. He was a powerful man, had many men at his beckon call but where were they now? He’d stupidly gone off alone, intending to find some answers of his own and in doing so he’d not brought any of his bodyguards or even one of his sweet seconds with him. He silently cursed himself for his stupidity as he stared up into bright green eyes which held a weird predatory look about them. “I…I just came to see if…if…” he stopped, hating the fact he was allowing his mouth to run away with him and turned his head but knew he couldn’t stop the hit he could sense coming.
Reno glanced to Rude, the larger man tightened his hold on his captive and the next instant Reno smacked Hayle hard across his left cheek with the riot stick causing the redhead to sway and cry out. “Tell me goddamn it! I ain’t in no fucking mood for your shit today, Hayle!” Reno lost his temper and leaned, nearly nose to nose with the gang leader.
Hayle couldn’t see for a long second, pushed almost to the limits of his low pain tolerance by the hit. He jerked his head to the right, spat blood from his mouth then glared up at those green eyes staring down at him. For a second he thought of refusing but knew he couldn’t take another hit no matter how he wished to. Instead, he growled, “I came to see if…if Thorne was still here.” He allowed the semi-truth and waited, hoping it’d be enough. Unfortunately it wasn’t.
Rude tightened his grip again and the redhead in his grasp hissed in a breath, squeaked and tried to struggle. “Who are you working for?”
Reno was alternately gritting his teeth and fighting the need to smack the man again. They needed answers and this was taking way too long to Reno’s way of thinking. “Who goddamn it!” he leaned again, pressing the tip of the stick into the man’s belly.
“T-t-togashi!” Hayle relented, hating himself, the scientist and all of ShinRa not to mention each and every Turk he’d ever come across which, to his way of thinking, was far too many in the past six months.
Reno straightened suddenly, glanced to Rude and the two exchanged a surprised expression. Rude was the first to recover.
“What does Togashi want you to do here, Hayle? And remember…one little jerk and you’ve got a broken neck. So sorry, insta-dead.” Rude growled in the man’s ear.
Hayle swallowed hard, tried to squirm into a less-than-painful position but failed. He finally sighed and looked past Reno’s shoulder. “He wants Thorne back. I…I was supposed to…to…recapture him.” He turned his head, feeling small and helpless not to mention realizing that his life might as well be over. Once Togs found out he’d given the scientist up, Hayle would be a dead man, if Rude didn’t kill him now.
Another long second of exchanged expressions passed between the two Turks then Reno growled, waved the stick and turned on his heel. “C’mon, Rude. Let’s get this piece of shit back to Tseng. I’m sure he can find something…useful…to do with him.”
“I have a feeling you just wrote your own death warrant, Hayle,” Rude commented as he nodded briefly and followed Reno’s lead, forcing their captive into forward movement although in their current position that movement was slow. Reno glanced back a couple of times then slowed his own pace and together the three headed for the distant waiting black sedan parked around the corner. Although their shift wasn’t up for a few more hours, both Rude and Reno knew that Tseng would want to talk to Hayle immediately. What happened to the man after that was an unknown but Rude hoped it would be a fitting end. Something along the lines of being stripped naked and flayed alive.