Chapter Two: The Introduction
Reno muttered darkly to himself as he walked the short distance from Shin-ra Headquarters to Rufus's penthouse. Well, one of them anyway. The rich bastard…
He was not in a good mood, his mind filled with dread as he thought about the task that awaited him. Taking the company owner's huge, highly aggressive Guard Hound to the veterinarian was just about the last thing on the face of the Planet he wanted to do. Reno was definitely a cat person, and though he wouldn't openly admit it, dogs scared the hell out of him. Especially enormous, snarling, genetically altered dogs who wanted to rip his face off upon sight. How the hell was he supposed to do this and emerge intact? No dog liked to go to the vet as far as he knew, much less one bred specifically to attack people.
"Nobody loves me, everybody hates me…. Guess I'll go eat some worms."
A tall woman in a lab coat gave him an odd look as she passed him by, and even though she was rather attractive he only glared at her in response. Fuck her, she was probably on her way to a nice, safe office instead of an assignment where she might lose a limb… or an even more vital body part.
Oh gods. I hope he just tears my throat out and gets it over with.
The closer he came to his destination, the more nervous he grew. He had no idea how he was supposed to handle the creature, much less get the damn dog to the vet. The address he'd been given was a good half an hour's drive away, and he hadn't been instructed to check out any of the assorted vehicles from the company garage. He owned a motorcycle, but clearly that wasn't going to work. He giggled despite himself at the mental image of the giant snarling dog riding behind him on the bike in a leather jacket and crash helmet, then quickly shook his head and sighed.
As he rounded the corner and turned onto a private sidewalk, he could see Rufus waiting in the doorway of the penthouse. Reno checked his watch, noting that he was more than on time despite the fact that he'd had to use the bathroom before leaving Headquarters to avoid pissing himself. He'd also taken a very long smoke break in a failed attempt to calm his nerves. He could still feel his hands trembling a bit inside his pockets. He rolled his eyes, not bothering to walk any faster. Why hurry on what might well be the march to his death?
When Rufus finally noticed his approach, a surprised look crossed his face. He ran a hand through his perfectly styled hair and straightened his white suit jacket, still appearing a bit impatient. Reno finally quickened his pace under his employer's scrutiny and soon stood a few feet away from him. He nodded politely, hoping his nervousness and disgust with the assignment wasn't apparent. Tseng had told him on more than one occasion that all of his thoughts and emotions tended to show clearly on his face, but he'd never seemed to get the hang of controlling his expression... Unless he was playing poker or trying to pick up a woman. Then it was easy.
"Reporting for duty, sir."
Rufus raised an eyebrow. "I see. Interesting… I had told Tseng he could send me someone expendable that he wouldn't mind losing for a time."
Fucking hell… I am so dead…
Reno frowned and felt his face grow hot, briefly entertaining the idea of telling Rufus right then and there that Tseng was screwing one of his subordinates in direct defiance of company policy. He'd show him who was expendable! But after a pause, he sighed inwardly, knowing he would never betray his boss' trust. Not after everything Tseng had done for him over the years. And dammit, the man knew it, too, or he'd never have sent him here like this. Why did he have to have such a strict fucking moral code? For some reason, Reno had a feeling people might have laughed if he'd said that aloud, but he didn't really understand why. Besides, if Tseng got canned, there was a good chance he might end up being promoted to his position, and there was no way in hell Reno wanted that kind of responsibility.
"Uh… Guess he just wanted to make sure this gets done right," Reno said, attempting a casual shrug.
Rufus nodded, looking rather pleased with the lame explanation. "Excellent. I'm glad to know Tseng cares for my beloved Dark Nation enough to send me one of his best. I shall have to find an appropriate way to show him my gratitude."
Son of a bitch! Not only had Tseng sent him to what was sure to be a painful death, now he was going to be rewarded for it, too. Reno held back a groan as Rufus turned, gesturing for him to follow him inside.
"My poor pet has been having a few minor issues, and he is due for his vaccinations and yearly check-up anyway," Rufus was saying as they walked through an elaborate sitting room. Reno found it hard to concentrate, feeling the sweat running down his back as he pictured all of the various ways he was about to be disfigured. "Nation is not as young as he once was, I fear. Time passes so quickly. It feels like just yesterday when he was a tiny puppy I could carry about in my shoulder bag."
Rufus shook his head and smiled fondly, crossing through a dining room and the most high-tech kitchen Reno had ever seen to approach a sliding glass door. Through it, an enormous in-ground pool was visible in the center of a perfectly green lawn that stretched out like a football field. How he managed to have actual grass growing in the middle of Upper Midgar was a mystery, though the Turk had a feeling the Science Department may have had something to do with it. Almost nothing grew in Midgar any more, choked out by pollution, concrete and overcrowding. Reno's mind began to wander, picturing himself taking a refreshing swim in the cool, clear water before stretching out in one of the lounge chairs between a pair of well-endowed women in bikinis. They'd sip their beverages, catch some sun, and then maybe-
The image was quickly replaced by that of a snarling dog lunging at the glass, dark eyes locked upon him as if he had spotted a particularly hated prey. The creature was even bigger than Reno remembered, his loud barks punctuated with furious growls as he began to frantically paw at the glass. Reno took several nervous steps backwards, swallowing hard and feeling sick to his stomach. His hand crept inside his jacket to rest upon his nightstick, though the solid metal object didn't really make him feel any safer. He hoped he wasn't going to have to use it, or his gun… That would more than likely get him fired, and likely shot in return. Rufus definitely cared about his pet more than he did his employee. Reno briefly wondered how many people would attend his funeral.
To his surprise, Rufus was laughing at the dog's actions. Reno was fighting not to pass out or wet himself, and his boss thought it was hilarious.
"Oh, Nation," he said with a cluck of his tongue, moving as if he was about to slide the door open despite his pet's obvious aggression. "Uncle Reno has come to take you for a ride! I do hope you intend to behave yourself."
"I um, don't think he likes me…"
"Of course he does! Nation greets everyone he likes this way."
"Are you sure you should just let hi-"
Rufus pulled the door wide open without another word. Dark Nation instantly flew into the room like a bull released from its pen and headed directly for Reno. He was unable to hold back a strangled yelp of terror, closing his eyes and lifting one arm to protect his face… or maybe just to avoid having to watch his own death. The muscular black dog continued to charge, thick drool trailing from his lips, enormous white fangs glistering in the sun.
Reno's life began to flash before his eyes as the Guard Hound prepared to leap for his throat. He saw himself as a neglected little boy no one really wanted, living in various run-down apartments and hovels, always dirty and hungry. He saw his hated step-father kicking his ass numerous times while his mother either did nothing or joined in. He could still hear her shrill voice telling him he was the spawn of the devil. He saw his younger brother, who could do no wrong, constantly getting him into trouble and smirking as he was punished. His first smoke at age ten… first drink at twelve… living on the streets by fourteen. All the trouble he'd gotten into, the stupid mistakes he'd made, the scars on his cheeks to remind him of it all every day when he looked in the mirror… All the pretty girls he'd screwed, and the fun he'd had despite all the bad. Pranks, parties, getting high and drunk, waking up with someone whose name he didn't know. Then his first glimpse of the Turks and the feint but growing hope that he might be able to make something of himself one day… Signing up with Shin-ra, being introduced to the gang, making friends that would last a lifetime, and enjoying almost every second of life as a Turk… even the really hard and dangerous moments where he was sure he was about to die. Everything seemed so easy after his past experiences, and he was rarely afraid. He'd lived a life of pain and struggle mixed in with good times that almost made up for it unless he thought too much… And it had all led up to this one final moment, when he was finally about to meet his death beneath the strong jaws of a freaking dog. How anti-climatic. The universe was even more cruel than he'd always suspected.
Thanks, Tseng… I'm gonna haunt you and your girl, mother fucker!
Reno waited, expecting to feel sharp fangs puncturing his jugular at any moment. What was taking so damn long? Was he already dead and just didn't know it? Slowly, he dared to open one eye, peering out from behind his forearm. Rufus was staring at him, bemused, the giant vicious dog sitting at his side like a perfectly obedient child.
"You can't show him any fear, or he will take advantage," Rufus was saying through the haze of Reno's thoughts, his pulse still pounding loudly in his ears. Seems he was still alive after all. Dammit. "I told you he liked you… If he didn't, he would have attacked you despite my command."
"Um… uh… great," Reno said in a voice that was nearly a squeak, lowering his arm and blushing fiercely. His face was hot with terror and embarrassment as he cautiously studied the dog. At least his pants remained dry for the moment. "Thanks, boy…" he added in a tone of forced cheerfulness, hoping to win the dog's favor. Dark Nation growled in reply.
"Let me fetch his leash and muzzles. Stay right where you are, Nation!"
Rufus disappeared through a doorway, leaving Dark Nation and Reno alone together. The dog was still glaring, studying him as if dissecting an opponent with his eyes. Reno swallowed nervously and did his best to stand tall, shoving his hands into his pockets and trying to look as if he did this every day.
The big dog's black eyes made him shiver. There was a danger in them that all Guard Hounds seemed to share, but much more pronounced. It only further convinced Reno that genetically altering anything was a bad idea. The result always seemed to be creatures that were extremely powerful, but who lacked sanity and were very dangerous as a result. Dark Nation had to weigh close to what Reno did, and his long, sharp fangs were still visible even when he closed his mouth. His black coat was sleek and shiny, and he was obviously very well cared for. He was toned and muscular, the long bony 'tail' that protruded from a spot directly between his shoulder blades twitching against the tile floor as their silent stare-down continued.
"Look, dog," Reno whispered, trying to appear stern instead of terrified. "I really don't like you, and I definitely don't want to be here. But if you're good to me, I'll be good to you and make this as quick and painless as possible. If you behave I'll even stop and get you a hamburger or something on the way back. Deal?"
Dark Nation curled his upper lip into a snarl, scraping one clawed foot along the floor and snorting as if disgusted. Reno took a quick step backwards, cursing himself for being intimidated while at the same time fighting an urge to flee out the front door and back to the safety of Headquarters.
Just as he was about to turn toward the door, Rufus reentered the room. At the sight of his leash, Dark Nation stood and began bouncing up and down with excitement. Reno grinned despite himself, taken aback by how ridiculous the big dog looked. Even his bony tail was wagging, and he began to make an excited, high-pitched sound as Rufus snapped the leash onto his thick leather collar.
"Now, since I am not able to come along today due to business, I am going to muzzle him in case he becomes upset. Sometimes he sees other animals or people he doesn't like the looks of, and I really do not care to have to pay off another whining citizen with a chunk missing from their leg or carrying a dead poodle."
Reno swallowed nervously as Rufus held out a black cloth muzzle and began to fasten it around Dark Nation's muzzle. Instantly, the dog stopped bouncing around and sat at his master's feet, eyes cast downward. He almost appeared to be sulking.
"Now now, Nation," Rufus said as he clipped the muzzle behind the dog's massive skull. "You know it's for your own good."
The dog whimpered, and Reno was surprised to see Rufus produce a second muzzle. This one was made of metal and looked almost like a basket, even the front completely enclosed behind tightly spaced bars. Somehow, the sight of it didn't make Reno feel any better. If the damn dog needed TWO muzzles, one of which looked like a steel cage, he was even more screwed than he originally thought.
"There we are… All ready to go. There should be a car waiting out front for you to use. The keys are inside. Please try to return it in the same condition."
Reno cringed, forcing a guilty smirk. He did have something of a reputation for destroying company vehicles, after all.
"Yes, sir. I'll be careful."
Rufus held the leash toward Reno, and it took all of his courage and will power to extend his arm and take hold of it. He eyed the dog nervously as he accepted Rufus' credit card and slipped it into his pocket. He was so dismayed with the assignment that the usual mischievous ideas about what he could do with it didn't even cross his mind.
"I'll see you in a few hours, my pet," Rufus said, fondly patting Dark Nation on the head. "Now off you go! Doctor Payne does not tolerate tardiness."
Reno briefly closed his eyes as he headed for the door, a reluctant Dark Nation trailing behind him. The veterinarian's name finalized it in his mind. This was going to be the most horrible assignment ever.
((Author's Notes: I think Reno and Dark Nation are going to be best friends, don't you? Right. Next chapter, see what happens during their fun-filled car ride to the vet! I hope you are enjoying the story so far… If so, please take a moment to share your thoughts and leave me a review. Otherwise I am left to wonder and worry, hehe. Thank you so much! ~ JenesisX ))