“Morning,” Rude offered over the top of his newspaper as Reno
slouched into the Turk’s lounge at forty-five minutes past the hour. “You’re late again.”
“Yeah,” Reno grunted shortly, flinging himself into an empty chair with a noisy thump.
Rude rolled his eyes behind the protection of his sunglasses. “We’re out on assignment today,” he informed his recalcitrant partner, turning the page. “Out in Old Sector One. They found some unusual energy readings around the dead Reactor. Tseng wants to know what’s causing them.”
Reno sank further into his chair and made a noncommittal sound that could have meant anything from ‘not another fucking salvage mission’ to ‘thanks for covering me in the meeting yo.’ Rude glanced up despite himself.
“You’re quiet today.”
Reno’s expression flickered slightly – with guilt? – but an impudently careless grin smoothed over his face before Rude could decipher the look. “So?”
“So,” Rude echoed, calm in the face of Reno habitual obnoxiousness. “I wasn’t aware you were able to stay quiet for more than five minutes at a time without your head imploding from the pressure build-up.”
Reno glared at him. “Fucker.”
Rude shrugged. “Not during office hours,” he deadpanned.
He’d expected Reno to say something then – since when had his partner ever passed up the chance to run with an off-colour joke? – but the redhead just snorted and glanced away. Idle curiosity morphing into something almost resembling concern, Rude laid his paper aside and stared hard at his partner. Reno seemed suddenly very interested in the vending machine against the wall.
“Reno,” Rude said gravely, not sure whether to be amused or worried by the way his partner flinched ever so slightly. “What’s up?”
Reno was still for a long moment, then he cocked his head lazily to one side and raised one eyebrow in imitation of his usual insolence. “Nothin. Why?”
Rude was not going to strangle his partner. He wasn’t. “Cut the bullshit Reno,” he said brusquely. “I’ve seen you say more while wearing a ball gag. Why aren’t you talking?”
Shoulders hunched, then uncoiled abruptly as Reno tried to shrug the question off. “Don’t feel like it today yo,” he slurred, the words coming out thickly jumbled as if he were talking through a mouthful of cotton.
“Whoa, hey!” Reno exclaimed as Rude stood and reached into his pocket for his gloves. “What’s up?”
Rude speared his partner with a narrow look. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong now or afterwards? Because unless you give me a proper explanation for why you sound like someone’s knocked out all your teeth, I’m going to go find someone who will.”
Reno muttered something that might have been ‘down Tiger’ if it hadn’t been so garbled, and shot out a whipcord arm to tug on Rude’s jacket until he sat back down. Only after he was seated again did Reno scoot forward in his own chair, a conspiratorial glint in slanted green eyes.
“Just got it done yesterday,” Reno confided, sounding worse than he usually did after a company-funded Christmas party, and Rude only had a moment to be confused before a gleam of metal flashed under his nose, starkly silver against tender-looking pink flesh.
One eyebrow arched. “That’s different,” Rude observed laconically, examining the silver piercing in Reno’s tongue with interest. “Old Sector Six?”
Reno nodded, drawing his tongue back in. “Makes it fucking hurt to talk, yo.”
“I noticed. How long will it take for the swelling to go down?”
“Fuck if I know,” Reno slurred, collapsing back against the chair back with a frustrated scowl. “Which fucking sucks.”
“Oh I don’t know,” Rude said thoughtfully, retrieving his discarded paper and settling himself again. “I think it will be rather refreshing.” He grinned wolfishly. “For me, at least.”
The gesture Reno made then really didn’t need any words to explain it.