Two Letters and a Number
I'm not dead and neither are my muses. The holiday season for retail is dying down so I have managed to coax them out of hiding.
This was the first story that insisted on being updated...
Title: Two Letters and a Number Author: ladynero Rating: PG-13 for Reno's mouth Warnings: Reno swearing.
Smirking, Cloud held Rufus’ eyes, almost daring him to refuse the challenge. It was a no-win situation for the young president, and Cloud was enjoying watching him squirm. After everything that Shinra had put him and his clan through, it was pleasant to get a little of his own back.
“Very well. What are your questions?” asked Rufus, false confidence in his voice as he stood straighter.
“What is the symbol for Gaia?” Cloud watched the confusion flicker in Rufus’ eyes as he managed to keep from smirking more than he already was. After a few minutes, Cloud shrugged a shoulder. “All right, what are the symbols on the ‘Gate for?”
“That proves *nothing*!” snapped Rufus, glaring at Cloud as he slashed a hand through the air. “The ‘Gate is under my control and staying that way.”
“Oh, I dunno,” drawled Jack, leaning back in his seat with a smirk. “Seems like the proper owner knows how to use it. Unlike you.”
Cloud reached into his shirt and pulled out the small pouch. “You do not wish to turn the ‘Gate over to its rightful owner because you don’t want to admit you’re wrong. So, we should let the Fate’s decide.”
“What do you mean?” demanded Rufus, eyeing the small velvet bag suspiciously.
“My mother’s Runestones,” Cloud said, opening the bag and tipping the black glass pebbles into his hand. The gold paint on each one glittered as brightly as it did the day the runes had been painted on.. “She mailed them to me along with her last diary. They never failed her since her mother gave them to her. So, if you are willing to let the Fates decide the outcome of the ‘Gate, we will each draw a stone. If either of us get Thurisaz, then the other will concede the Stargate to them.”
There was wariness in that pale blue gaze but also a touch of greed, the spoiled brat that never grew up and always got what he wanted finally showing through. It would be that greed that forced Rufus to act instead of the wariness. Cloud tipped the pebbles back into the bag, making sure each one was in there before handing the bag to Teal’c. “Teal’c can hold the bag to make sure it is fair.”
The large black warrior carefully accepted the bag before holding it in his cupped hands, his back to the wall. Cloud stood to one side of Teal’c and waited, mako blue eyes staring at Rufus as he waited. The wariness and indecision was still visible in the other blond’s eyes, but the greed was growing. It would be a perfect chance to show up Cloud and remain in a position of power over the Tau’ri. That was what Cloud was gambling on because he knew that the Gods wouldn’t keep the ‘Gate in Rufus’ hands.
Finally, Rufus walked over to stand on the other side of Teal’c before nodding once. “Let this decide who controls the ‘Gate,” announced Rufus before smirking. “I’ll go first.”
Cloud waved a hand, willing to let Rufus draw his stone first. Rufus slipped his fingers into the bag, still holding Cloud’s eyes, as he rummaged around in the stone for a few minutes before pulling out a stone. He held it before him in his clenched fist, and Cloud reached into the bag himself. He ran his fingers through the stones, searching for the one that wanted to be pulled out by him before curling his fingers around a stone that seemed to stick to his fingers. He pulled his hand out of the bag and held his own fist out, matching Rufus’ pose.
Together, they opened their hands, displaying the black stone each one held, and Cloud snickered at the sight of Nied glittering on Rufus’ hand.
“Fitting you drew the Rune of delay and limitations,” Cloud drawled, not even looking at his own hand to know that Thurisaz lay there. He tilted his head slightly and plucked the stone out of Rufus’ hand. “To thine own self be true, Rufus Shinra.” He dropped both stones back into the bag before removing it from Teal’c’s hands with a nod of thanks. “Of course, I suppose the Strifes must thank Shinra. After all, you made us far more capable of guarding the ‘Gate now.”
A cold smile spread across Cloud’s face as Rufus seemed to continue staring at his hand as if unable to understand how he possibly could have lost. “In thanks, I guess we’ll erase one of your minor debts to the Clan. That brings you down to only... what? A couple hundred?”
"You cheated." Rufus’ voice was soft, but it carried through the room, and he glared at Cloud. “I don't know how, but somehow you cheated. It's the only way.”
Cloud snorted and tucked the small bag away. “The Fates decided, Rufus Shinra. Are you going to be stupid enough to challenge Their decision?”
"Rufus, you have resources that we lack, and offices in places I don't," Reeve stated, drawing the young president's attention back to him. "We're going to need to work together for the good of the Planet and Her people."
“What are you proposing, Tuesti?” inquired Rufus, all signs of the spoiled little boy vanishing beneath the businessman again.
Reeve shrugged in response. "When representatives are sent to Tau'ri to negotiate trade treaties, you also send someone you trust to talk and negotiate on your behalf without working against my people." He spread his hands. "Both of our companies can then distribute the resources received."
For a few minutes, Cloud thought Rufus was going to protest or demand a large share of the resource distribution, but the young president nodded. “Tseng, Reno, you will accompany Mr. Tuesti’s representatives and work with them. No matter who it might be.”
“Yes sir,” agreed the two Turks, and Rufus nodded once before glancing at Reeve. “Please inform me when you will send your representatives through and I will dispatch my Turks.”
Reeve nodded in agreement before Rufus swept out of the room with his Turks following him. As the door shut behind them, there was a low whistle from Jack, and Cloud glanced over to find him shaking his head. “There goes one cold customer.”
Cloud nodded in agreement. “You have no idea, Jack.”
Jack grinned as he watched the final few connections being reestablished between the DHD and the ‘Gate. Now placed upon a concrete platform at the very outskirts of Edge, the ‘Gate was easily accessible to any who wished to use it, and there were stone and steel guard towers that were situated around the ‘Gate just close enough for watchers to defend the ‘Gate until back-up arrived.
The towers had been Sephiroth’s idea after Jack had talked with the silver haired man about the dangers of the Gou’ald while Cloud was gathering up various SOLDIERs who were willing to work a second job or even a primary job of guarding the ‘Gate. According to Sephiroth, the towers were situated far enough apart to allow large vehicles with supplies through while also allowing for the use of Summons and materia in defense without hurting either the ‘Gate or the other towers. Jack had asked, rather skeptically, how these Summons and glowing crystals could defend anything, only to watch as a good section of desert suddenly turned to ocean at the command of a giant serpent named Leviathan. That was after Cloud had used one of those ‘glowing crystals’ to turn another section of the desert into molten glass.
The red stone in the center of the DHD flashed as the last connector was made, and the technician backed up, brushing his hands off. “That should do it.”
Jack nodded and glanced at Sam and Teal’c. “I’ll dial you guys home so you can let the General know that we have diplomats coming to negotiate.”
They nodded, shouldering their packs as Jack pressed the buttons that corresponded with the ‘Gate back on Earth. He watched as the ‘Gate spun with each Chevron being selected before the center of the ‘Gate exploded in the frothy blue before settling into the event horizon. There were startled gasps and a couple of curses from the people around them, but there was something comforting in watching that shimmering portal of blue. As if no matter what happened in the rest of the Universe, this was a clear indication that there was always a way home again.
“Sam, Teal’c, we’ll give you guys an hour before we come through ourselves,” Jack announced, glancing over at the two in question. Sam nodded, shifted her pack a bit higher on her shoulders and casually walked through the ‘Gate with Teal’c right behind her. There was the ripple of almost-water as they entered the event horizon before it imploded in on itself.
Turning, Jack started towards where his gear was stashed when he saw Cloud going through some moves with Daniel beyond the circle of towers. From the distance, it looked like some sort of hand to hand combat, and he wandered over to watch. During the last week, Jack had gotten use to seeing Daniel with either Cloud, Zack, or Sephiroth as they helped him relearn his body’s limitations. Of course, Zack had managed to find a huge slab of metal that was masquerading as a sword while Sephiroth had taken to carrying what could only be called a katana with delusions of grandeur.
Jack started moving past the towers when a hand fell on his shoulder, and he tensed before looking over to find Zack standing there with a grin on his face. “Spike’s got him going through some basic drills. If you go over there now, he’ll just get all self conscious.”
“Which one, Cloud or Daniel?” Jack inquired, raising a curious brown and getting a friendly laugh in return. It was easy to see why people were more willing to deal with Zack rather than Sephiroth. His personality was one that wanted to make friends with a person, smoothing ruffled fathers faster than any politician on campaign trail.
“Both actually,” came the reply as Zack leaned back against the tower, shifting slightly to find a comfortable spot again. “Daniel because he wants to learn to keep all of you safe, and Cloud because he hasn’t really been in a mentor position before.”
Jack nodded and adopted a position of relaxation next to Zack to watch the two move together. Now that he was closer, Jack could tell that it wasn’t hand to hand as weapons training. He could almost see the blades in their hands as Cloud lead Daniel through more moves. “Is Daniel going to get a ridiculously huge sword to swing around as well?”
“That would have to be up to Daniel, but one thing I can say, a blade is much more practical in his hands right now than a gun,” Zack stated. Jack looked at him in disbelief, and the dark haired man nodded. “None of the SOLDIERs ever carried a gun. It wasn’t practical, and if someone panicked, they’d have a mass of crushed metal instead of a weapon. Now, if he decides to go two blades instead of one, that would be his choice.”
"It's not as if guns would work against a SOLDIER, unless over-whelming force is used along-side under-handed tactics," remarked a new voice, causing Jack to swear as he started. Sephiroth appeared around the tower, looking at Zack soberly.
Zack grinned wryly in response. "Rub it in, why don't you?"
“Don’t suppose you could make a bit of noise when you show up like that, could you?” grumbled Jack, glaring at the silver haired man. “And what do you mean guns would only be good with over-whelming forces and under-handed tactics? The math seems easy to me. Person plus bullet equals dead person.”
That got a grin from Zack that had more than a bit of wildness about it. “Yeah, but you gotta be able to hit the person first, which is where the sneaky stuff comes in.”
“Still don’t believe it. No matter how strong or how fast you guys are, you can’t outrun a bullet.” Jack shook his head even as Zack’s grin grew and an amused smirk appeared on Sephiroth’s face.
“Tseng, I believe you're the best shot amongst the Turks. Would you care to assist in a demonstration?” Sephiroth asked, and Jack jumped again when the quiet man emerged from around the corner.
A small smile curled Tseng’s lips, and Jack had the sneaking suspicion that the bastard was silently laughing at him. “It would be a pleasure to assist in a demonstration.”
Zack casually walked off about a dozen feet, close enough that Tseng didn’t have a chance of missing with the gun he was drawing. Tseng fiddled with the gun, removing two orbs of materia before sliding them into his jacket pocket before flicking the safety off. Tseng took three large steps away from the tower, lifted his gun and fired at Zack’s back.
He opened his mouth to scream a warning when Zack suddenly twisted, that huge sword appearing in his hands. There was a ping of a ricocheting bullet before Zack simply wasn’t there. Tseng managed to pull the trigger twice more before a dark blur Jack thought was Zack had him pinned on the ground, his hands empty. Zack stood over him, the sword once more on his back as his foot held the Turk on the ground while his arms kept him controlled.
“Zack, stand down,” murmured Sephiroth, and Zack released Tseng, stepping back to offer the Turk a hand up. Jack shook his head, unable to believe it. Tseng had only managed three shots before he was disarmed, and Zack wasn’t even breathing hard. The bullets hadn’t been blanks either. Jack had distinctly heard that ricochet.
“Why did you shoot him in the back?” Jack glared at Tseng, who was dusting off his suit.
That got a raised brow from Tseng. “To provide a more beneficial demonstration.”
Zack snorted softly as he gave Tseng an amused look. "You just wanted to get that one extra shot out, didn't you?"
The Turk merely smiled and collected his pack before glancing over at Cloud and Daniel who had stopped to watch them. Daniel had a bit of a startled look on his face, but Jack ignored it as he turned to stare at Zack.
“So that’s why you carry around those huge blades. To double as shields,” he drawled, an amused smirk on his face as he tried to hide his feelings of awe and fear at what he had just witnessed. Someone fast enough to dodge bullets. Sure, some people could dodge bullets, but usually by ducking behind something after the first bullet missed.
Zack snickered and shook his head. “Not really. Sure, I can use it to deflect bullets, but it really is a good weapon.”
“Most people will carry at least a knife or a blade of some kind instead of a gun,” remarked Reno, wandering over to join them. "If someone trains hard enough even unenhansed combat experts can dodge bullets. Take Miss Lockheart for example."
"Of course, there's also the control factor," Sephiroth added. "Once a bullet has left the chamber, there is no way to control where it will strike. Should the intended target move, then that bullet is lost. A blade in the hands of a trained expert, however, can change direction in a fraction of a second."
Jack found himself nodding in agreement with their explanations. That was one reason why snipers used such high powered rifles, to get the bullet to the target before the target moved, because if the target moved, then there was no way to get the bullet to change directions. And there were always rumor about martial artists who were good enough to take on a gunman and win. After all, that’s what the basis of a lot of chop-socky movies were about, someone with enough power able to deflect bullets or outrun them.
He turned to glance at Reno and Tseng. “So, how did you guys take care of anyone like that who turned into serious trouble?”
“Overwhelming force and under-handed tactics,” smirked Reno before shrugging. “Last stats for taking down a Third Class was two experienced Turks to one Third in close quarters and unprepared. And even then, there was only a 50/50 chance of success.” He smirked. “That was back before Meteor.”
Jack blinked at that before nodding towards Zack. “And someone like him?”
That got another shrug from Reno. “Start at ten and keep adding Turks until he either falls or we run outta Turks.”
“The normal numbers would be eight experienced Turks to one First Class, but Commander Fair was good enough that he was Sephiroth's Second in Command by the time he was twenty," remarked Tseng, his casual tone making it sound more like he was talking about the weather rather than killing someone. "Therefore we would automatically start with at least ten experienced Turks, preferably more."
“Aw, I’m flattered,” announced Zack, a huge shit-eating grin on his face as he draped an arm around Reno’s shoulder to lean on the redhead who squawked and almost buckled under the sudden weight of the man and his sword.
That got Jack curious about something else. “Just how heavy is your sword?”
Shrugging, Zack pulled it off his back as he moved away from Reno and flipped it around to offer the hilt to Jack. “Not that heavy.”
Jack eyed Zack with the eye of a practical joker who knew the score, but Zack just stared back with an open and honest face. And continued to stare as Jack curled his fingers around the handle before releasing it. Jack yelped as the sword instantly headed for the ground, nearly pulling his arms out of the sockets before he could release it out of self preservation.
“I thought you said that hunk of metal wasn’t that heavy?” asked Jack, shaking his arms out as he glared at Zack.
Snorting, Zack leaned over and scooped up the sword before replacing it on his back. One handed. “It’s not!”
Cloud snorted. “Don’t feel bad. He did the same thing to me when I was fourteen.”
Shaking his head, Jack glanced at Cloud’s sword. “Is yours as heavy as his is?”
That got a shake of Cloud’s head and a grin. “It’s heavier.”
“Why can’t you people have normal weapons,” grumbled Jack with an almost pout. “Ya know, things I can lust after and want to own myself while being able to use it without having super human abilities?"
Zack grinned and slapped Jack on the back. “Because we’re SOLDIERs and we never do anything the normal way,” he remarked, sounding less like a boast and more like a fact. “Besides, hasn’t it been about an hour?”
Glancing at his watch, Jack realized that it had indeed been about an hour, and it was time to head for home. “All right. Everyone gear up who’s coming.”
Daniel and Cloud scooped up their packs from where they were resting near the base of a tower while Zack and Sephiroth shouldered their own packs. Tseng and Reno followed Jack over to the DHD, watching as he inputted the Chevrons for Tau’ri.
“Hey, how do you just keep the bad guys from doin’ this and walking through to your world?” inquired Reno, a curious expression on his face as the giant ring started spinning.
"There's a metal plate fixed a milimeter from the event horizon on our side," Jack explained, shrugging his pack on. "If the right signal isn't sent through to our people, then the iris isn't retracted and the ones going through ends up resembling ground beef."
Reno whistled through his teeth. "Nice."
Jack grinned. “Crude but effective. Kept the Gou’ald off the planet since it went up. If they wanna come visit, they gotta find another way to do it, and our allies keep them out of the same galaxy as our home.”
“Maybe we could get something like that for ours,” mused Zack before shaking his head. “Nah. Too much trouble.”
Snickering, Jack motioned for everyone to follow him into the ‘Gate before stepping across the horizon. There was a heartbeat of silence before he was caught and pulled through the wormhole. Freezing cold battered at him while the light of a thousand stars flashed in his eyes, and the shrill whistle of traveling at much farther than the speed of light across numerous galaxies. Then, his foot came down on the metal grating of the ‘Gate ramp with just as familiar lights and sirens attacking him. He moved a bit farther down the ramp before turning to see how the Gaians handled their first ‘Gate trip.
Reno was the first one out, swearing and shivering as he staggered down the ramp, and Jack bit back a snicker as he noticed Cloud and Sephiroth emerging. His humor turned to concern when the two men staggered a bit farther down the ramp before collapsing in a heap. Before he could move, Zack and Daniel emerged from the horizon, and they also staggered farther down the ramp. Daniel fell like a puppet with its strings cut while Zack shook his head, hands pressed over his ears, and Jack realized Zack’s eyes were clenched shut.
Heightened senses, Jack thought, numb as Zack’s lips curled back in an almost animalistic snarl and his head came around to track the soldiers that were moving around the room.
There was another swear from Reno before the redhead proved that he was as suicidal as they came. Grabbing the rod that had been strapped to his pack, Reno whirled it around to strike the ramp with a loud, resounding clang that Jack could feel through his boots. It also had the desired effect as Zack’s head whirled around to focus on Reno, taking the dark haired man’s attention off the rest of the soldiers. Quickly using hand signs, Jack ordered everyone to stay still and silent before grabbing the closest soldier.
“Kill the lights and siren. Now!” he hissed before shoving the man towards the door at the exact moment that Reno hit the ramp again to keep Zack’s attention. The man stumbled but made it through the door just as Zack blurred again, this time towards Reno who managed to dodge out of the way.
“Come on, ya sorry sunofabitch,” snarled Reno, a wild light in his eyes as he continued taunting Zack by making as much noise as possible. It took a couple of seconds for Jack to realize that the swordsman was tracking Reno by the vibrations of the ramp.
Just as the lights and siren died, Tseng emerged from the horizon, his boots sounding almost impossibly loud in Jack’s ears, and the horizon collapsed in on itself with a whooshing sound, drawing Zack’s attention completely. Jack watched with a sinking feeling as Zack started to turn towards Tseng where the Turk was trying to get his muscles to work again. With a defiant yell, Reno jumped at Zack, swinging his rod, and there was a crackle of a static discharge along with the scent of slightly singed skin as Zack blocked the blow on his arm.
Electrified. That rod’s also a taser, Jack realized, watching as Zack attacked Reno with a flurry of movements that had the redhead on the defensive. There was a couple of pained grunts and a snap of a broken bone from Reno when Zack managed to get the rod away from the Turk and turned it on him, and Jack was starting to see just how outclassed Reno was, and how even more outclassed his soldiers would be.
Suddenly, Tseng was draped across Zack’s back, somehow managing to not slice his arm off on the sword as he clung to Zack. Jack could just make out the words that Tseng was saying, but it sounded like Tseng was talking in an Oriental language. Yet, the more Tseng talked, the more relaxed Zack became even as Reno collapsed on the ramp, twitching slightly.
“An’ that, bastards an’ bitches, is why ya don’t surprise a SOLDIER,” gasped Reno from where he was laying. His accent was thicker, probably from pain since his arm was laying at a bad angle, even as he continued twitching. “Tseng, I want hazard pay.”
“You’ve got hazard pay already, Reno,” snorted Tseng as he extracted himself from Zack’s back without the sword slicing him , kneeling next to the redhead.
“I want hazard pay on top my hazard pay!” snarled Reno, slowly pushing himself up to glare at his superior, a difficult task considering the broken arm.
"Ow." The noise brought Jack's attention back to Zack, finding the swordsman rubbing the side of his head with a pained grimace on his face. Glowing eyes flickered over to Reno, widening slightly in surprise as he listened to Reno good-naturedly argue his point. "Never would have pegged him to be one to do that."
Jack moved over to kneel next to Daniel, carefully checking him over. He sighed in relief when it appeared that Daniel was only unconscious. He wondered how often traveling through the ‘Gate would do this to Daniel or if he would become used to it after a while. He’d have to talk to Hammond to see about cutting the alarm on incoming travelers for Daniel’s comfort.
“So, mind telling me what happened?” inquired Jack, glancing up at Zack just as the door opened to admit Teal’c, Janet, and three gurneys with orderlies pushing them. He noticed Zack was eyeing the new arrivals warily and had started moving until he was between his fallen friends and Janet.
“You mean other than the searing cold, intense light, and blaring sirens?” It was a wonder how Zack could ask that and make it sound like the most innocent question in the world while making the person who asked feel like the biggest idiot in the world.
“Yeah, other than that,” drawled Jack, rising to his feet to face Zack. Janet stopped at the base of the ramp, eyeing them with a frown and crossed arms, but Zack was still standing between her and the unconscious men.
Zack shrugged a shoulder, remaining an immovable wall as he kept a watchful eye on the labcoats. "Between the flashing lights and noise, for all I knew I was coming out in the middle of a fight. How was I to know that was how they welcomed you home?”
“Excuse me, but I have patients to get to,” Janet announced, and Jack glanced over at her to find her tapping her foot and glaring at Zack to get him to move out of her way.
The easy smile appeared as Zack turned his attention to her. “Hey, doc, mind telling me what you’re gonna do with my buddies before you cart them off? See, we don't have the best relationships with people in lab coats and the last thing you want, really, is for General Sephiroth or Cloud to wake up alone in your care."
If anything, Janet’s glare got harder, and Jack winced. They had all learned that when it came to their health, Janet’s word was final since she only had their best interests at heart, but to hear someone question her intentions apparently was the worst thing to do. After their experiences with Anise, Jack wasn’t that surprised at her anger.
“I am going to take everyone down to the Infirmary and check all of you out for Gou’ald symbiots before I can release any of you,” growled Janet, her eyes flashing. “Then I will see who is injure and how before tending to them.”
“No worries there, doc,” drawled Reno with a grin at her. “Turks take care of their own.”
Jack watched as Tseng grabbed Reno’s arm and set it with a jerk, causing the redhead to pale dramatically. Tseng frowned as he stared at Reno before releasing him to dig into his jacket.
“Apparently, materia won’t work on your planet,” the Head Turk casually remarked as he pulled out a vial of some green blue liquid and promptly dumped it down Reno’s throat, causing the man to gag. Despite that, he never really lost his wild grin.
Part of Jack had to wonder what that liquid was while a larger part wonder what was going to happen when Reno finally came down off his adrenaline high. He only hoped that the rest of the base didn’t suffer from the fall out.