"Oho. Target acquired," said Marco, who was fond of war movies, with his tail up like a flag and the wings of his nose fluttering wildly.
Elena straightened up. She'd hoped they'd be useful on this mission -- they were The Newbies, there were lots of blunders she needed to make sure her partners forgot as soon as possible -- but she hadn't expected their chance to come so early.
Reno and Rude were off somewhere -- coordinating a last-minute whatever with the head of the troops stationed there, they'd said. But that left her alone in front of the inn and really annoyed, because it had been ages, and naturally there were no convenient Wutainese brats in the street for her to grab and ask to give a message, only an old senile guy and his weird racoon thing, who both glared at her for being... she didn't even know if the issue was "not Wutainese," "A Turk," or simply "a woman in pants". She preferred to think it was being a Turk, so she gave a haughty little sniff and turned smartly on her heel -- something she might have, perhaps, copied from Rufus Shinra a little. The boss did know how to make an exit.
The second they turned the corner she grinned at her daemon, who wagged his fluffy tail and cocked his goofily oversized, drooping ears, and was off like a shot, nose to the ground.
Spaniels might look really cute, and eminently pettable, and like all dog-daemons they indicated an ability to take orders well, but first and foremost they were hunting dogs, and once they caught a scent nothing could make them lose it.
A half hour later she was somewhat wishing he would have lost it anyway.
Marco dangled from the mouth of Flunky Number One's Doberman mutt like a puppy, just as she dangled from the man's shoulders, hands tied behind her back. Flunky Two and his toad ambled behind, and they'd get her before she could get back up even if she managed to squirm enough to get dropped. That disgusting Don Corneo's goose honked and preened and bumbled before them, and sometimes pecked at Marco when he bared his teeth. He had too little range of motion to manage to bite, just like her legs were restrained too tight to kick that old, disgusting pervert in the teeth when he slapped her butt as punishment for her daemon being rude to "his precious Fabulosa."
They were never going to live this down, either.
"All wrong," said Reno, his heel the only thing that kept Don Corneo's hand from losing grip on the cliff's edge.
Fabulosa honked, running around blindly, her wings beating the air so close to Reno's leg she almost -- almost -- touched him, and if she and Corneo had been smarter Elena might have thought it an attempt to get him to get away from her person, playing chicken. Except if she'd been smarter she would realize that Reno stepping back wouldn't save him; really the other way around.
Reno wouldn't have flinched even if she had touched him -- he was a veteran Turk, the most cold-blooded person she knew -- but in the end Tahoe decided she'd had enough of it and struck without warning, uncoiling lightning-fast. The goose screamed at the first bite.
Tahoe rattled her tail-tips together and flared her hood, swayed to strike again, and in trying to get away Fabulosa went and threw herself right off the edge.
Farm geese didn't fly, not really. They fluttered at best, but Fabulosa was just as paunchy and out of shape as Don Corneo was.
Elena berated herself for being so squeamish, but she had to admit she was relieved when Reno lifted his foot and let gravity have Don Corneo before the distance between man and daemon tore them apart.
She'd seen him consider it. She knew he could have chosen not to give that small mercy, too. But it hadn't been necessary, and it hadn't been in his orders, and in the end, Corneo hadn't been worth it. When Rude untied her and helped her down from the statue she went quietly, still thinking about it, about how Reno was everything a Turk should be, and how she still wasn't.
"Thank you," she said. "I never expected you to come help," and it was true, she hadn't; she should have managed alone; she wondered how annoyed they were. Marco was still in Ben's mouth, as the powerful jaws carried him down with a care that wouldn't have broken an egg.
"Don't act so weak," Reno replied, his eyes slicing to the band of outlaws standing so close, outnumbering them. "You're a Turk!"
He turned away to answer a sudden phone call from the office; casual like he didn't notice the potential danger, now that Don Corneo's other captive was rescued and the bunch of anti-Shinra terrorists blocking their way down the mountain didn't have a reason to cooperate any longer. Elena stayed quiet, trying to decide if Reno's 'don't act so weak' had meant 'stop shaming the name of Turks,' or 'of course we'd come.' The second one seemed a bit like wishful thinking.
"Yes... Yes... I'll get on it right away."
"Was that the company?" Marco hazarded, tail low.
"Yeah, they want us to find Cloud..."
Rude and his pit bull daemon straightened, watching Cloud and his friends, who had just dropped into fighting stances. Elena swallowed and lifted her fists. Just because she'd blundered again today, blundered right now, in front of them, she wasn't going to let embarrassment stop her -- fighting she could do, and if those were her orders...
... And then Reno went and he -- right there, staring at Avalanche, having just heard and relayed the order to hunt them down, he said, "No, today we're off duty."
Marco's head jerked up, staring at Tahoe, and he took a small, cautious step in her direction, a tiny whine caught in his throat. Tahoe threw him a glance, and then Reno grunted, got out a cigarette, and started walking up the statue's arm, right past the bunch of terrorists who still stood there baffled with weapons in hands, Rude and Ben strolling after him. After a second Elena and Marco jumped to follow.
Oh. Oh. Maybe they'd -- no, she was misunderstanding -- but it really did seem like --
"So," Reno said when they reached the bottom of the mountain paths. He and Rude exchanged a long, talking look, Tahoe looping easily through Ben's front paws.
"I'm sorry for getting caught," she said. "It was--"
Tahoe rattled her tail, just once. "What were your mistakes?"
"I went alone."
"Because the scent might have been gone, and--"
"You're a Turk. Some days you'll have to work alone. What were you planning to do after you were caught?"
... She'd made the right call? Well, not the right one, but -- oh, right. She'd taken a risk, with the available information, and Turks didn't -- couldn't -- play it safe anyway. He didn't seem to even question that of course she would be planning something, she wouldn't give up just because she'd been captured. Elena straightened her spine a little. "Well, I -- I was waiting for a chance, I -- someone would have had to let me down at some point and then, um, I thought -- they'd have to sling me on their shoulder for it -- I'd have gone for their kidneys..." She swung her fists down in a vicious arc in illustration, giving Reno a hesitant look.
He shrugged, looked down at Tahoe, turned on his heels.
"North-west?" Rude suggested. Elena blinked from one man to the other.
"Hm. What's it like again?"
The tiny stub of Ben's tail quivered happily in response.
"Uh, Reno? Rude?" She looked back and forth once again, hope starting to rise even as she tried to keep it down. It was almost as if she was starting to feel her way into their almost telepathic communications, but...?
"The beach, Elena, the beach. What else do you want to be doing in Wutai on vacation?"
They strolled away in the direction of the chopper, casual and cool like -- well, like Turks, and offing someone who threatened one of theirs was all in a day's work.
Oh. Oh. Reno had meant it like that, that of course they'd come for her, or else why would he have bothered to ...
They'd put off a job for her.
"Dancers," Rude suggested.
"Shyeah right, if there's a titty bar in the whole island no one will admit it to me."
Grinning, Elena jogged after them.