"Angel -- Book Three"
Reno Spiegel

Part 1: Reviving Memories

The cold winds of February sent his hair whipping wildly as he stepped from the door, stinging his face slightly.

The blue suit pressed against Reno's skin and his metal-bottomed shoes tapped loudly against the sidewalk, the man still wearing his Turk uniform. Maybe it had something to do with his past; with the man who had given it to him; with Tseng. But he knew it was foolish to hang onto something for that long, even if it belonged to someone, when you weren't related to them.


Gazing absently toward the sky, Reno stared at the stars and halted his steps. He didn't look at these enough in Junon, these heavenly bodies hanging over the metropolis. Further into Junon, the lights from buildings diminished their presence, but out here, they shone as brightly as they had back in Kalm. But Kalm was far away now, both physically and mentally.

She moved there.

He left.

Yes, Tifa Lockheart had moved into Kalm and sent him away, but under his own will. Even though the incident at Sector Seven had been years before, Tifa would most likely never forgive him for that. Many things that had transpired three years into the past would haunt his soul until the day he was cold in the ground, and perhaps in the Lifestream. But Reno was not one who hated Tifa, had even come to her bar to tell her to leave the Sector that day.

But Tifa Lockheart wasn't at the bar when he came.

‘She wanted you dead.’

And she most likely still did, putting a pang deep in Reno's gut. Why did he care, though? He was a Turk, and she was in that blasted group. That AVALANCHE, the ones he'd been ordered to exterminate.

Reno started walking again.

Still, he wanted her to leave the Sector, for she'd been a good friend of his up until that day. He'd given her the gloves she always wore because she had handed over the mag-rod he used for a weapon, Reno one of her regular customers.

He still had the picture Rude had taken. He still had the picture of when he had come over on her birthday around one in the morning for a joke, an unexpected cake in his arm.

‘She's probably holed up with Strife.’

Was this voice in his head to taunt him? It sure seemed like it, the way he was thinking right now.

Still, although he was Reno and hadn't exactly stayed away from the women, it was hard to stray your thoughts from a girl you. . .

Thankful for the interruption, Reno turned and walked into another door, this one to the bar he had taken a job at a few days ago. The Launch Pad, it had been called, and wasn't the best in Junon. The workers there all had their stories, and Reno was no different, being an ex-Turk. This was the place where the rejects were, to put it straight.

The stench of cigarettes and Vodka hit him as he walked in, but he quickly recovered and looked around. A blonde girl, just over nineteen, trotted over to him, a tray balanced against her hip. She looked him up and down and slugged him in the chest with an open palm, the hint of a smirk on her lips.

"You're late, Reno."

Reno shrugged. "You're acting like a bitch, Tarah," he said honestly, returning the smirk.

Tarah glared at him, but this was the usual Reno for you. She thumbed over her shoulder and readjusted her grip on her tray. "Karen's been waitin', but she's on a rampage today. Be nice," she stated.

Reno nodded and moved around her, on his way to the kitchen, where Karen was. She was the head cook, but Reno had been hired as an assistant, and she had a very short temper. When Tarah said she was on a rampage, it was good to stay away from Karen, but where was the fun in that?

Reno strode into the kitchen and pulled an apron from a hook, Karen grumbling and working over the grill. She could cook, though. All four of the employees were good at their jobs, along with a Wutai man who controlled the bar.

"Pleasant day," Reno said loudly, taking a slip of paper from over the delivery window. Karen swung around, spatula held defensively.

"I smelled you when you entered Junon, Reno," she said with a fake cheeriness before turning back to her work. She was a bit younger than he was, but could act like Reno's mother at any time.

Oh, but Reno knew he could push Karen further than this, and was going to do it. He walked to the burners and turned a few knobs, washing his hands and tossing a patty of beef onto the grill. Reno was a good cook, but Karen was by far better. It was around eleven, which is why Reno had come in. The second part of his job was fun for him in a way.

"You forgot to wash the damn spatula, you twit!" Karen growled, slapping him on the back of the head.

She could be nice when she had to, but when overworked, she was a demon at the stove.

Reno shrugged, flipping the burger again to make her even more irritated. In fact, he had washed the spatula, but wasn't about to say it. "Oops."

Karen growled and shoved him to the sink, putting the water on its maximum.

Reno smirked and shoved the spatula under. Being as flat as it was, the water jutted off and showered both of them.

Karen wanted to screech, but calmly went back to her work at the grill, having two orders of a burger basket and some stir fry waiting for her.

Around twelve, Reno was awarded as the first shouts of the night floated into the room, followed by a few roars like cheers. Reno calmly took his apron off and pulled his mag-rod from his belt, walking into the main bar area. A few drunks were going at it, but the fight didn't seem to be growing at all.

"The guy in the jacket started it, but the guy in the red ain't throwin' too many punches," Tarah helpfully informed him.

Reno nodded and scrambled through the crowd, finally coming to an opening where the two were slugging at each other. Their attention hit him as his mag-rod sparked, a large ball of light.

"Wrong place to try that," Reno scolded, hitting both of them easily. They went down, but hadn't gotten the worst of his rod, and were just unconscious.

Tarah gave him an approving smile as he turned around, the rest of the patrons seeming to sober up. The bartender, ViYlic, was quick to put the two outside, and Reno made his way back to the kitchen.

The work went slowly after that, and in around an hour, they were closing up, Reno having to shove an undercooked burger into a take-home box. The crowd gradually thinned out, and Karen was out before they had even officially closed. But Reno knew they'd clean up tomorrow before they opened up.

He made his way to a seat at a table when they really had closed, ViYlic sitting behind the bar and Tarah jumping into Reno's lap to irritate him. "We still haven't heard your story," she said slowly, eyeing him carefully.

Reno groaned, not liking to have to tell how he worked at ShinRa. Still, a pleading look from Tarah got him to launch into it reluctantly.


"Well, looks like it ends here," Reno commented.

The Turks had left Midgar, only to wind up in Kalm. Rude had already taken off to Wutai, but Elena had stuck with Reno for the ride to his other home, more of a shack.

Elena nodded, looking at him sadly. "You sure you're gonna be okay here?" she asked, concerned. She knew Reno had to live alone as a child, most of the times sneaking food from stands in Sector Six, and she didn't really want him to be on his own again.

Reno just nodded, clapping her shoulder rather roughly. Even he could see this was a bit hard for her to do, leaving the Turks and all. It wasn't easy for him either, and as much as he would've liked to offer her a place to stay, he had to decline his own offer to do that. That just wasn't something he'd do, even being Reno.

Elena sighed, "I hope you'll do well." She wrapped him in a friendly hug for a moment, then pulled back and looked at him as if his mother.

"I'll make it. Want anything for the road?" he offered.

Elena immediately nodded, wanting to stretch this out as long as she could. She followed Reno into his kitchen, which they had stocked upon entering Kalm, and watched as he pulled open the refrigerator. He reached to the side without looking and picked up a type of cooler, though much smaller, like something she had once used in school.

"You look worried," Reno said thoughtfully, his brows furrowing as he handed over the snack he had given her. It was a large, securely-tightened bowl of his homemade salsa and some corn chips with cheese melted onto them. She once said she liked this kind of thing.

Elena brushed some hair from her face. "I just wanna make sure you're alright here," she replied, barely managing an uncaring voice, but Reno saw through the mask.

"Look, I'll be fine, and you've got my number if anything comes up," he reassured.

Elena just nodded, Reno walking around her and leading her back outside.

Reno looked around, liking where he lived. They were just next to the stone steps leading up to the second level of the town, which held the shops.

"Where you headed?" Reno asked abruptly, expecting an answer. He wanted to know, say something really did come up for them.

Elena hesitated. "Nowhere, really, but I'll find a place," she said after a moment. "And I'll get back to you on where it is when I do."

Reno, satisfied with the answer, just nodded.

The two exchanged good-byes and it wasn't long before Elena was walking toward the town entrance, waving over her shoulder.


"Few years pass. . ." Reno’s voice drifted off, but the story didn't.


"What was that noise?"

Reno pushed himself from the couch and peered out the window, surprised to see a crowd gathering in the middle of the town. Three years and nothing like this had happened.

"What the. . .?"

Someone was shouting at the people, who seemed to be excited about whatever was going on. A crowd, in Kalm?

"C'mon! I'm not that popular!"

No doubt about it, he knew that voice, but from where?

Hair blew out from inside the crowd, a deep brown, almost like a raven's feathers. It was long, too long to just be another woman in the town.

It looked like. . .

The woman stepped back, wearing the usual white sleeveless shirt and black leather skirt, along with. . .

Reno backed away.


He froze and skidded aside as he saw he peer his way, but was almost relieved when no knock came to the door.

Why was Tifa Lockheart in Kalm?

It was then that it hit him, feeling physically. She was moving into Kalm, which meant he had to get out.

Almost carefully, his eyes strayed over to one of the pictures he had on a table, among some of the Turks'.

He had an arm slung around Tifa, who was in a pink nightgown, and a large cake held infront of them both, 'Happy Twentieth,' plainly written on it.

Yes, Reno Drannor had to leave Kalm as soon as possible.


"Almost sad," ViYlic commented, having gotten them a round of drinks as Reno was in his story.

Tarah, not one to stay after work, was comfortably asleep on the man, having complained about being tired all day, from what Karen had muttered.

Reno shrugged, eyeing Tarah critically. This was a bit odd, being used for a makeshift bed, but he bit his tongue. It'd be rude to wake her up now.

"I'll close up, say you wanna carry Sleeping Beauty home like that," ViYlic offered.

Tarah and Reno lived in the same apartment building, but Reno looked skeptical. "You're closing up?"

They all knew whoever closed up had to open the next day at noon, though Reno only came when a fight was sure to appear and when the orders got too heavy for Karen.

ViYlic nodded, picking up the glasses again.

Reno returned the nod and carefully slipped his arms beneath Tarah, having gotten in a bit better shape over the years so he could carry boxes into the bar.

"Later," ViYlic said, opening the door for the two.

Reno just gave him another nod and stepped into the cold, thankful Tarah proved a heavy sleeper. Their building was only down the street, and even though he was Reno, he planned on following through on his deal with ViYlic. Anything else would be wrong.

Sure enough, they were inside the building within minutes, and in the elevator almost immediately. Reno was thankful they were already headed for the fifth floor, and he pushed past some people as he got off. He staggered down the hallway, her place at the end. He reached it without a problem and, using his Turk skills, managed to fish around in her pockets for a key.

>From how she had acted and looked earlier, this was a large change.

He got into the apartment and ignored the details, immediately spotting the bed and walking over to it. She only shifted and groaned slightly as he let her down onto it softly, but stayed asleep, even after he politely pulled the blankets over her.

Unlike Reno, but he had learned to be a bit nicer to women over the years.

He found a pad of paper and jotted down how she had wound up here - making sure to include he'd behaved himself - and then walked for the door. The night had been long for Reno Drannor, and he needed some sleep.

And time to think.


Once again, Reno found himself in the bar, but he had come early today.

In fact, he had opened up for ViYlic, not sleeping until one in the afternoon like usual. But instead of cleaning - he'd gotten that done hours earlier - he sat at the bar with his phone infront of him, brooding.

The story last night had gotten him thinking about calling her.

He knew he should, to see how everything was going, but this was hard after so long. What would he say after what had happened in Sector Seven; after everything? He had always tried to ignore her in their battles, go as easy as he could on her, and he had even let her pass in the tunnels back in Midgar. He wasn't such a jerk, was he?

Then again, there were two sides to this man. He had pressed the button and sent the plate down on the Sector that held her bar, and he had destroyed many memories of his own. That bar was like a second home, but he had crushed it with everything else. And her Cetra friend. Aeris, was it? He and Tseng were in on her kidnapping, but AVALANCHE had their revenge not long after.

Reno was finished with this.

He lurched forward and grabbed the phone, flipping it open and dialing the number he had gotten from the Kalm operator. He needed to call, devil or not.


February was cold, and everyone knew it. Kalm just hadn't been showered with the worst of it yet, which was the snow that was sure to come, according to the television.

Therefore, even Tifa needed suitable quilts, though she only heated the place for one.

That gnawed at her.

Cloud had run off to go 'find himself,' and everyone else had scattered, leaving Tifa to move back to Nibelheim for a while. But that didn't work, and she soon found herself in Kalm. Kalm was nice, but still, the feeling she was completely alone was hanging over her day to day, taunting her like a bad school bully.

But she knew Cloud was looking for more than himself. He was looking for her, although it did bother Tifa. And she knew he would never find her.

"Ow," she muttered, sticking herself yet again with the needle, mostly out of anger. She'd never been one to sew things, but her quilts needed it this far into her first winter in Kalm. Nibelheim wasn't that bad, and the mountains usually caught all the snow, so she had to get used to this now. She perked up as the phone rang next to her, dragging her from her pondering. She picked it up and pushed it to her ear, greeting with a usual "Hello?"


Maybe it was a prank, she thought. "Hello?" she tried again.

["Odd to hear that voice."]

Tifa was puzzled, unsure what this was. "Excuse me, who's this?"

Silence came before, ["Figures. I'm easy to forget."]

This was becoming odd now, and Tifa was clueless as to who had her new number. "Who's this?" she repeated.

A dull chuckle came off the other end, though the voice was full of life. ["Take a shot at it."]

Tifa felt a knot tighten in her stomach at not knowing. "Cloud?" Her tone was hopeful, but she was replied to with a louder laugh this time.

["I'd shoot myself if I were, Tiff."]

Tifa's eyes enlarged. No one had called her Tiff in years. It had always been Teef or Tifa, but the one person who called her that had been. . .


The man's tone was serious this time.

["Maybe not so easy to forget, eh?"]

Of all the people who would call her, Reno was the last she would've thought of, but she had developed a high level of forgiveness over the years. Reno, however, was one she would need to forgive over a long period of time. Sector Seven had been a home to her, truthfully. She narrowed her eyes, as if staring at him.

"What do you want?" she asked, calm as possible.

["Actually, I want to apologize, as much as you probably don't want to hear it. Look, I got to thinking about you the other day - the topic of my past came up in a conversation - and I figured I at least should let you know I never wanted to release the Plate.

"I had orders from the President to do it, so I wasn't about to back out because of how I felt about the Sector, but I was hoping something might go wrong and I'd mess up. I know you're probably still a bit pissed at me for it, but I just wanted to let you hear this. I'm sorry, and if you have time, come to Junon, if you want. It'd be nice to meet up again, maybe just for kicks, huh? Ask around for me. Everybody knows where to find me."]

The phone clicked off and Tifa was left with her eyes wide.

He had sounded so sincere she was almost jumping out of her skin. Where had that come from all of a sudden? Reno, the one person she probably figured she'd never see again, had just called and apologized for something she'd always held herself partly responsible for. She let the receiver fall back to the base, almost forgetting what she was working on, and went back to trying to sew a decent quilt.

Why had he wanted to see her?

This thought came to her a few times, a bit suspicious of him. The offer sounded almost slightly tempting. What was she thinking, considering meeting Reno again, from what she knew of him?

He did sound like he meant it, though.


Tarah was in a few hours after Reno, surprised to see ViYlic was nowhere in sight, and that Reno was awake. "This is a change."

Reno, cleaning a table, just nodded, already knowing the source of the voice. "Didn't sleep much," he muttered, lying. He'd slept, but found he was woken up by his cat.

"Hey, thanks for carrying me home last night," Tarah stated, slightly embarrassed. She sat down on the bar, surprised as Karen was the next to walk inside. ViYlic was supposed to open up, from what she knew.

The cook grumbled a greeting, more of a warning she wasn't in the mood to talk again, and disappeared into the kitchen. Not to her surprise, Reno hadn't cleaned, so she grabbed a rag and started on it herself, at the grills and stoves immediately.

"You seem preoccupied," Tarah observed back in the main room, her feet swinging just above the floor.

Reno finally came back to reality and sat down with a thump in the nearest chair, rubbing his forehead. They only had an hour before they opened up, and they needed their bartender, but that wasn't on his mind. He had invited Tifa to Junon in a blurted out speech, but wondered now if she'd come at all. He wanted her to, for some reason, but it seemed unlikely.

"Re - no?" Tarah called, stretching out his name.

Who was he to invite her, though? Like he had thought before, she was probably living with Strife and wanted nothing to do with Junon. But he would like to just see her again, maybe just a glare shot his way like before everything had happened.

He snapped awake as Tarah shoved her fingers into his nose, then quickly withdrew them. "Alive?"

Reno shot her a glare, but had to smirk. "Yeah, just a bit too deep in my thoughts," he said matter-of-factly.

Who should've been ViYlic walking in the door before she could reply actually turned out to be one of their earlier customers, Priscilla. She didn't live too far, but they had always cautioned her of thugs and gangs. She was around fourteen, but mature for here age, and it was always a pleasure to have her around. "Hi, Tarah. Reno. Any applications lyin' around?" she asked immediately.

The two workers exchanged a look before Tarah spoke. "You're a bit y -"

"It's for a friend," Priscilla dismissed, looking pleadingly at them. "Dad says I gotta be back soon, so I hate to rush you, but. . ."

Reno just nodded, standing up from his very comfortable chair. He walked behind the bar and yanked out a dusty application, not many up for working in a dump like this. He walked back over to the two and handed the paper to Priscilla. "Your friend got any questions, you know the number, right?"

Priscilla hurriedly folded the paper under her arm and nodded. "Yup." She turned and jogged out, calling back thanks.

Tarah looked at Reno once again after the door had clicked shut. "Looks like we're gonna have some help," she said softly.

Reno just nodded, wondering who was going to come around. "Looks like it."

At that time, ViYlic walked in, the business already booming, Reno could make a crack at. His short blonde hair looked unkept, and there were large bags under his eyes.

"Mornin', Chief," Reno greeted.

ViYlic nodded in return, obviously not up for much talk, and wandered to the pot of coffee resting on the bar.

"New help coming in," Karen called to him from the kitchen, sounding as if she'd cheered up a bit. But they all knew the rumors of ViYlic and Karen, and it didn't surprise them she'd been like that when he came in.

"She's got good ears," Tarah muttered into Reno's.

Reno just nodded, tossing a rag at ViYlic. "Now that your Wutain ass is here, get some work done. I had to open up for you."

ViYlic shot him a dirty look, but went to his work as Tarah suppressed a smirk.


The week went by almost uneventful, and without their new help arriving, until Reno had to open his mouth that Friday after closing.

"I'm not the one who ignored table eight!" Karen yelled.

Tarah and ViYlic looked up from their work toward the kitchen at the outburst, and both knew Reno had started it.

"Actually, yeah you did, you bein' the one who grabbed the ticket!" Reno countered.

"And slapped it infront of you!"

They could all hear the growl that rose in Reno's throat. The two were in the main bar area now, a spatula in Karen's hand, but Reno's threateningly close to his mag-rod. "You grab the ticket, you serve the food! We both knew that, the first day I came in!"

Tarah twisted the towel she was using absently in her hands and bit her bottom lip, not liking how Reno might react if this became physical.

"Who's the head cook here?!" Karen screeched, her lungs trying to keep up with her rage.

Reno gave her a skeptical look, but resumed he flaring eyes within moments. "If that mattered on how the food's prepared, I'm sure you'd be havin' me do all of it!"

Karen looked ready to explode. "I'm not the one who comes into work with a hangover and expects the food to go to my partner, if I can even call you that!"

"And I ain't the one who spends every extra minute I get starin' out that window at ninja boy here!" Reno snapped, thumbing toward ViYlic.

The place went deathly silent as Reno gave her a look that could knock a WEAPON dead.

"I quit!" she roared back, slamming the spatula down and walking out.

All eyes were on Reno, but his own were on the spatula. "Let's hope whoever's comin' likes to cook."


As it turned out, Reno's suspicions were confirmed as soon as the next day, the day when their business really got good, but frankly, this person made his skin crawl.

All he could see as 'it' walked in was that it looked a bit 'top-heavy,' rather short, and wore a large black cloak with a hood that hid any skin of it.

"Check that," ViYlic muttered as the person - or thing, to stretch the imagination - extended a small hand from its cloak and laid the application infront of him. He picked it up and noticed only the gender blank was left empty, something he would've liked to know. He turned it over and tapped the box. "Eh, Larken, if that's how to say it, you forgot this."

'Larken' just gave him what he thought to be a blank stare from beneath the hood.

‘Does it speak?’

"You forgot this," he said a bit louder. Everyone else was silent as they watched him.

It still didn't reply, only tapped its foot absently on the floor.

"Gotta use the can sooner or later," he muttered, scanning the application again. "What's the eh, job you want?" Truth was, this Larken character was intimidating.

For one of the first times, Larken moved and jabbed the paper, but Reno took in the details of the hand, brief but informing. He thought he had caught a glimpse of a painted fingernail but couldn't be sure.

ViYlic was their boss, like it or not, for he had founded the bar and everything. "A bartender, eh? Well, that'd give me a break, and maybe I could become the full-time bouncer." He gave the others questioning glances.

Tarah nodded, thinking it might be fun for him to get outside and do something different.

Reno just shrugged, more focused on Larken. Why did he have a bad feeling about this. . . Well, maybe that had something to do with it. What was it?

"Sounds good," ViYlic decided, just nodding to Larken.

The cloak gave its own kind of nod and stepped behind the bar, grabbing a rag. It seemed to know where basically everything was there, so there was no need to show Larken around.

ViYlic just slid over the bar and made his way to a seat next to Tarah, Reno on the other side. He didn't have a feeling much different than the others' on this.

Tarah watched Larken go to work, easily cleaning and doing it quickly, all the time not making a sound or revealing itself.

"Well, time to open up," Reno declared, lifting himself from his chair and walking over to the window. He simply clicked on two neon signs and turned the sign to open, then leaning against the cold glass.

The first snow had come, making traffic much more slow, which would make it hard if Tifa wanted to visit soon, if at all.

‘Why are you still thinking about her?! Let her die with everything else; the Turks, Tseng, Rufus, your sister, all of it!’

Reno suddenly jerked up and slapped himself, intentionally, to take those thoughts away, mostly the one about his sister. He noticed the other three hadn't seen it, and was quite relieved. Now he wasn't only talking to himself, but trying to kill himself. "I need help," he groaned, rubbing his temples.

This took Tarah's attention away from ViYlic for a moment. "Alright, what's goin' on, Reno?"

The fiery-haired man looked up, silently cursing himself. "Nothing."

ViYlic interjected, not pleased with the answer. He'd noticed Reno's stress level increasing lately. "Don't give her that. Give her an explanation, and I bet even Larken's curious now."

The newest of the staff shrugged from under the heavy material of the cloak, secretly uncaring, and kept with the work.

Reno sighed, giving in. "Alright, alright. The weather's bad, and I'm expectin' somebody here soon. Maybe, but if she does decide to come, she'll probably clock me and leave."

Tarah and ViYlic exchanged knowing looks, Larken still not looking like 'it' cared.

"You're waitin' for that Tifa girl, the one you. . ." Tarah started with a sly grin.

But the silence that descended upon all four was so odd they had the urge to look over to Larken, who had stopped its wiping and now stared at the bar, they were assuming.

ViYlic was the first with an idea and leaped from his chair, rolling over the bar and grabbing Larken by the arm.

Larken stood perfectly still.


ViYlic, as expected, tried to peel back the hood, but Larken's hands flew to it and Reno was immediately behind the bar, insane laughter erupting from all three, despite Larken's situation.

Reno pinned its arms behind its back and nodded to ViYlic, who got at the hood with ease while Reno's legs were assaulted.

Tifa gave them all a look of defeat, blowing some hair from her face. She had wanted to play that out for a while, but the guy was too smart for her. She could feel Reno hold her arms tighter as the hood fell, spouting a string of scoldings at her. Oh, but she knew he was glad to see her. "You found me out, but I'm fresh outta medals. Now what was it you called me?"

Reno was immediately silent, having released his grip a moment ago, and she stood facing him now. He didn't even thing she'd want to speak with him, let alone actually laugh when they revealed her. But now she had him in a corner, and he had no way out. He just stared at her like a moron.

"I'm sure you were a bit drunk when you said it, so I'll let it slide," she concluded, peeling off the rest of the slightly-damp cloak.

Reno was about to snap back and say he wasn't, but thought better of it for now. He could see without looking below her neck she hadn't changed - mostly to keep his mind clear of. . .thoughts - and he still found her relatively attractive, but said nothing of it, of course. He then thought of something. "Great, I'm stuck working with you."

Tifa placed her hands on her hips, tilting her head at him. "And?" she asked, a bit of fake irritation in her voice.

Reno tried to put on the most innocent face he had. "How'm I supposed to work a grill with you out here?" he asked, his tone unbetraying to his face.

Tifa gave him a genuine glare, but knew he was kidding with her. Right?

"Work the bar and I got no problem," Tarah said politely.

ViYlic had introduced her, or Larken, to everyone there, so she already knew all she needed to know. Tifa stared up at Reno for a moment more, finding that shred of happiness in his eyes that made her trip worthwhile. He did care for her in a friendly way, despite what had happened years back, and she knew she felt the same way. He had drawn her from hiding to get her to Junon. That meant something special, right? He wouldn't just do that for anyone who happened to stop by, and she knew him well enough to guarantee it.

"That explains it," Reno said suddenly, snapping his fingers in a fake way of understanding something.

"What?" Tifa again was the first to speak.

"Tch. . .I knew you looked a bit top-heavy." The ex-Turk easily parried a slap aimed for his face, already knowing it was heading there. He just turned with a dismissing wave, putting on a wide smirk, and went to his job of being the new head cook. "Might need some help back here. Tiff? ViYlic? One o' you two?" he asked, turning around to face them in mid-stride.

ViYlic just jabbed her in the back, making sure it was unseen by Reno. He could run the bar for a while, and from the looks of things, the two might need to talk.

The work did go a lot quicker with Tifa instead of Karen, though the conversation was light and mostly about the task at hand. Reno did enjoy her company, but the question he dreaded finally came up after a comment about how thin the burgers were that day.

"You know I just came to Junon, right?" Tifa asked, using the tone that told him this wouldn't be the last of her questions.

Reno felt a knot in his stomach, knowing right away what this was going to build into. Maybe. "Yeah."

"And I'm low on gil right now."

"Yeah." Reno could guarantee where it was headed now.

"Well, I don't exactly have a place to stay, 'cause Priscilla's moving soon. I mean, I hate to ask, but. . ."

Reno just nodded, gripping his pan a bit tighter as he swirled the butter around. It wasn't often they got an order for a grilled cheese sandwich, but Reno wasn't exactly a moron. "Long as you want. I'll take the couch, but the place ain't exactly clean." But Reno hadn't done so bad, and he was making his apartment into a suitable place.. Why did his chest suddenly feel heavy? Maybe the smoke was finally getting to him, but he guessed it had something to do with the fact he was going to be living with Tifa Lockheart for a while.

A woman who was beautiful, he had to admit, but he felt he might have a silent objection as she attracted attention in the bar. He felt the rate of fights, some possibly over her, would rocket skyward. She knew how to work in a bar and all, but Reno would still feel jealous. Jealous? Where had that come from?

Tifa smiled to herself, glad to have at least someone she could count on anymore. Even from Reno, she'd take a place to live, some good food, and some gil to get her on her feet. She had to admit that since Meteor had fallen, she had been a bit low on anything to use on groceries, and had spent her last on moving.

It seemed she had just gotten lucky on Reno giving her an opportunity to turn that around. Maybe it wasn't going to be such a bad trip after all.

"I had a thought it'd be her," ViYlic said honestly.

Tarah had insisted she knew it was Tifa, but he could see the look in her eyes that betrayed her statements. She threw herself down on the bar furiously, glaring at him, but she knew he was too good to fall for it. "Alright, I didn't know for sure, but I bet even Reno thought it was her once or twice."

ViYlic gave her a skeptical look, folding his arms over his chest. "Reno Drannor?"

Tarah slapped her forehead and the two burst into laughs, not trying to insult Reno's intelligence, but he wasn't exactly one to solve a murder case.


As expected by all of them, Tifa caught the eye of almost every man that walked into the bar that night, and the crowd seemed to be larger. Reno had to admit he had the urge to knock each one of them out, but reminded himself Tifa knew how to take care of herself.

And, as Reno had oddly guessed, the first fight that broke out was near the table Tifa was working on while the orders were slow. Obviously ViYlic was nowhere near, for Tarah called for Reno.

The ex-Turk had his mag-rod out in one swift move and was into the bar area, but this was growing slowly. A table had already been cracked and a chair was being used for a weapon, giving Reno the impression they might need to get the law involved.

Tarah jogged up to him, looking like she wanted orders.

"Just get the Force over here. I'll try to stop it 'til they can get in," he said, then dashing into the fray.

Luckily, Tifa knew a bit about hand-to-hand, and was able to help him out a bit.

Reno looked around and made a rough estimate of twenty or so people slugging it out, but there were many more who could help or hurt his job. He clicked the switch for his mag-rod to its highest setting and made a mad jab, cursing as he felt a fist slam into the back of his skull.

He spun around and slammed his palm into the nearest face, knowing he had a right to go all out now, his mag-rod taking a few seconds to recharge. He was rewarded as another went down and he ducked, bringing his foot in a wide circle.

Turks needed to know how to improvise with weapons, and this was how he knew. Just attack whoever you can get your hands on.

He was relieved as he heard the blaring sirens and screeching tires of the Junon Force, what they might call police in other regions of the Planet. The doors slammed open and everyone was sent scattering, the Force able to take care of it now.

But that didn't mean they were safe, for now it was like a stampede.

Reno stood back up and dashed through the crowd, only half-sure of what he was looking for. Soon enough, he saw a large knot of people crowded around ViYlic, who was dealing out punches like he was born with lightning for hands. He made a good bouncer.

This was the worst brawl Reno had seen, but he, ViYlic, and Tarah knew how to handle it.

Tifa, on the other hand, had had his help in the biggest fight he was aware of, and the man was drunk off his rocker.

He crashed into one of the troopers from the Force, but shoved on, his eyes darting around for Tifa.

He finally spotted her in the back corner, a few men closing in on her. Reno leaped over a fallen brawler and kicked one of the men in the back of the head, wanting to laugh as he crumpled like paper. He didn't even know why he was doing this, for Tifa knew how to take care of herself.

Maybe he was over-protective?

Or was there something more to it?

He jammed his mag-rod into the back of a second, sending him down with a pig-like squeal. The last was far drunker than Reno had ever been and just fell when he tried to make a getaway.

Tifa looked slightly surprised, seeing Reno panting with his hands on his knees. She was sure she looked like a fool, but she hadn't been wearing her gloves at the time.

Reno looked up at her, feeling no immediate danger, and swallowed heavily. "Welcome to the Launch Pad."


Reno tapped a chair with one leg remaining, sighing as it fell over and broke into pieces. It was like the calm after a storm, a time you got to see if anything remained. They certainly weren't opening tomorrow.

"We'll make the six o' clock," ViYlic commented, one to always find humor. He meant the news in the morning, of course.

The bar was fine, but they'd lost a few chairs and a table. Tifa was a bit shook up, a fight like that breaking out on the first day she was there, but Reno had assured her those rarely happened.

"You're acting like an ass, ViYlic!" Tarah complained.

"You're acting like Karen," Reno muttered, mimicking her voice.

"Well, I say we just all leave. I'll get a buddy over here with the new stuff. You guys just take tomorrow off, and everything'll be fine when you get back," ViYlic assured.

Murmured acceptions came and Tarah hurried out, Tifa walking to the back to grab the cloak she had worn.

"You're lucky," ViYlic said quietly, nudging Reno with an elbow.

The ex-Turk gave him a skeptical look, already knowing he was referring to Tifa.

Tifa and Reno finally set out on their short walk to his apartment, but Tifa had a few things to say.

"You three don't seem too friendly," she observed, looking up to her friend. When she really thought about it, he was one of her best friends, enemy at one time or not. She smiled inwardly, shrugging deeper into the fabric of her cloak. Really, it wasn't her type of outfit, but it would do.

Reno shrugged. "We've all got our stories, and not too many friends. We're still that to each other, but it doesn't show too well."

This piqued Tifa's interest. "Stories?"

‘I should've kept my mouth shut.’

Reno hesitated, stopping in his steps and turning to face her. Well, it was going to come up sooner or later. He put on a faint smile, knowing these weren't happy stories at all. "ViYlic was shot in the Wutai/ShinRa war. So, while he was out of that, he got arrested for murdering someone, but he got out and came here."

The tall man continued, "Tarah's father was an abusive man, and her mother died when she was little. He would usually come home drunk, hit her, other stuff that scarred her enough," he said in a dismissive tone, knowing she understood what he could've said. "Eventually, he got alcohol poisoning, died, left her on her own. She got into the wrong crowds, started drugs. So, she wound up here with ViYlic in the bar somehow."

"Like you know, I made some mistakes, and I'm on my way to fixin' 'em."

Reno went on. "Karen, the cook that quit a few days ago, was a lot like me. Shifted between foster families, never really had a place, so when she was old enough and had the gil, I'm sure you can guess."

The Turk gave her a prodding look. "So, how 'bout you?"

Tifa was nearly too shocked to speak. All those people seemed so nice, but she would've guessed they had done all that. Tarah took drugs, and ViYlic was a wanted murderer. What was her story, though? She put on a smirk and poked him in the arm playfully. "Well, a desperate man invited me to Junon, and I took it up."

Reno glared at her, but turned silently and moved on, close to the place now. "Just don't bring that up and you'll be fine."

Tifa was about to ask why, but they stepped into the apartment building and she thought better of it. Junon was still slightly foreign to her, so she thought she better take the advice of someone who lived there.

Reno led her up the steps infront of him, sighing with a bit of relief as they made it to the landing. He nodded a greeting to the only person in the hallway, though he had no clue who she was, and walked the rest of the way to his apartment.

Tifa watched with mild interest as he fumbled with his keys, but they finally made it inside. Tifa noticed a small television set to her right, and a reclining chair across the room from it. The kitchen had a bookcase for a divider, and other than that, only one other room was actually separated from them.

The couch was in the middle of the room, facing the television and the chair, and the walls looked like they hadn't been painted in a long while.

She nearly screeched as a cat darted off the arm of the couch and leaped onto Reno's shoulder.

Reno smirked at her. "Don't like cats?"

Tifa shrugged quickly, recovering from her surprise. "The way it came at you, I didn't know what it was up to."

The ex-Turk peeled the cat off of him, ignoring its hissing protests, and sat it back on the floor, watching it dash off toward the bedroom. "Well, he'll run around at night, so don't be surprised if somethin' crawls ontop of ya. Unless it's me, you should be fine."

Tifa shot him a look, which he was oblivious to, and sighed, remembering. "My bags are still at Priscilla's."

Reno shrugged it off. "I'll go grab 'em while you're asleep. I know how to get to her place well enough. The bedroom's that way," he said, motioning to the doorway that was across the room from them. "Like I said, I'll take the couch, so you should be fine. Not much in the way of food, so I guess we'll need to shop tomorrow."

Tifa bit her bottom lip as she looked up to him. "Y'know, I can sack out here on the couch. It's no problem, really."

Reno waved it off dismissively, gently prying her cloak from her shoulders and tossing it across the arm of the chair. "Nonsense. I might not have guests often, but when I do, I know what they get and what I get. Now, I'll go get your stuff, and you can just do whatever you need to, alright?"

Tifa still looked reluctant, but from the expression the man's face held, it looked like she wasn't going to get the couch. "Yeah, alright. I should be outta your hair soon enough, so I guess it won't matter for too long."

Reno smirked, a way of telling her she was wrong. "Maybe, maybe not. No rush to have ya leave. Night, Tiff."

"Night, Reno."

And with that, the red-haired ex-Turk was out the door.


It didn't take long for Reno to reach Priscilla's house, and it looked like someone was still awake. Reno was always up to the early hours of the morning, however, and his bangs on the door were loud as ever.

That's why he was surprised when a still-dressed Priscilla opened the door. "Hey, Reno," she chirped.

"Um, hey. Why're you still up?"

Priscilla shrugged. "I was just the first to hear you, so I got the door. Whatdya need?" she queried.

Reno shrugged inwardly, knowing it was best to talk to her anyway. "Actually, I'm here to pick up Tifa's stuff."

Priscilla disappeared silently into the house, emerging with a large duffel bag slung over her arm and another on wheels trailing behind her. "One more inside. Need help carryin' 'em?" she asked politely.

Reno shook his head and relieved her of the bags, waiting patiently as she ran back to get the third. This was heavy enough, so he could barely guess what else Tifa had.

Luckily, all Priscilla came out with was a large wrapped package and a dark look on her face. "No peeking."

Reno lifted the package over his free shoulder and put on an innocent look. "Me? Peek? C'mon."

Priscilla let out a genuine laugh and the two exchanged good-byes before Reno was on his way back to his place.

It didn't take long for him to get back, only a few minutes more from the weight, but he was finally inside the pitch black apartment. He felt his way to the couch and threw the bags down on it, more careful with the box.

For one person, she had a good amount of luggage. It looked almost like she was going to. . .live with him.

Reno shook the thought from his mind and silently opened one of the bags, clicking on the light next to him. For once, he wasn't trying to snoop, only find her some clothes for the next day. He finally came upon a black sweater and a pair of jeans, drawing them from the bag and standing up.

He was a bit tired, but he was usually up much longer.

He walked cautiously into the bedroom, the moonlight drifting in through the window. She was only half-covered by the blankets, but in a deep sleep, his cat at her feet. Reno walked forward and laid the clothes next to her, then walking around the other side and standing over her.

He still couldn't get over the thrill of her staying with him, but was still unsure why it was so strong. Maybe this could turn out to be something good for him after all.

He backed slowly out of the room and walked to the couch, laying the bags on the floor and dropping down on it.

He was asleep before his head came in contact with the pillow.


"She took off an hour ago."

He knew the voice well, but whose was it, and where was he?

"Alright. Well, if she comes back in, tell her to meet me out infront of the ShinRa Building around noon, wouldja? And you do the same, alright?"

That was his voice, but who was he speaking to?

"Will do, Reno."

That was. . .Johnny?

He ran faster, looking for her frantically.

Looking for who?

"You ready?"

That was undoubtedly Rude.


The reply came with a sigh, and he felt himself running again, up long metal stairs this time.

What was going on?


He threw himself over the edge, toward Tseng's voice, but he came up short. . .

And fell. . .

Down. . .

Down. . .

Reno woke with a start, his breath ragged.

Where was he?

He looked around, noticing he was on the couch and still in his usual clothes. Slowly, the previous night returned to him. He stood up wobbly, needing something to wake himself up, but noting he was still out of coffee beans.

Reno walked into his room carelessly.

What was that noise?

His cat hissed at him as he entered, but he paid the thing no heed as he crossed the room to the bathroom, gripping the doorknob. He opened it with a swift motion and was blasted with steam.

The shower curtain wasn't closed.

Reno immediately shut the door again, his breathing once again heavy. He noted his Reno-devil was probably laughing at him. Had he seen what he thought?

‘Most likely. Shit!’

Reno backed up and landed on his bed, his hands folded over his eyes. This was getting embarrassing.

Thinking better of his choice, the ex-Turk quickly stood up and strode from the room, closing the door behind him as he collapsed on the couch. That would be something to drive Tifa away, and being Reno, she would probably thing he meant to do that.

He waited a few minutes before he heard the door creak open, and he knew death was slowly approaching.

"Nice to see you're awake."

She didn't sound mad at all. She sounded. . .perfectly normal.

"You know I didn't mean to do that," Reno muttered through his fingers. What made it worse was the fact the curtain had been fully open.

She was silent.

"Proof we've both been single for years?" he tried, desperate to find a loop in this.

Reno finally looked up after she hadn't replied, slightly puzzled. Tifa stood - now dressed in what he'd laid out for her - with a cocky smirk on her face, one that would be seen from Reno.

"I'll accept that, and I figure we both might have to change a bit," she replied, putting an unimaginable amount of relief through Reno.

"So, we never speak of this again and go get you some decent clothes?" Reno queried, lifting himself from the couch and looking at the clock.


"And lunch," Tifa added, following his gaze.

Reno merely patted his suit straight and grabbed his wallet from the kitchen counter, stuffing it into his back pocket before grabbing his mag- rod and clipping it to his belt. He looked at himself, then her, and nodded he was ready. "Tseng needs food."

Tifa arched a brow, wondering if he'd gone nuts. “Tseng?"

Reno slapped his forehead and blushed slightly, something that was rare for him. "Tseng's the cat. Maybe it's a stupid name, but I've always liked to think of it as really him."

Tifa looked almost touched. "Oh, you're sweet," she said with more than a hint of sarcasm. "Now, isn't it a bit more important that we're dressed and fed instead of treating your cat like the mayor of Junon?"

Reno shot her a look, noting to himself how she'd taken on a tone that reminded him slightly of Scarlet.

He gave her an awkward smile and led her out of the apartment, closing and locking the door behind them after they'd grabbed coats. He actually wore one this time, though it still had the seal of ShinRa on it. "And we need to get you a real coat," he said with a bit of disgust, looking at the dusty cloak she still had on, although the hood was down now.

They walked in silence until they were outside and Reno broke it. "Why'd you even come?" he asked.

Tifa looked up, taken slightly aback by the question, but quickly recovered and mulled it over in her mind. She wanted to say she didn't know, but was that true? Not really, for she'd come and taken a temporary residence with him. She wouldn't do that with anybody, but she couldn't find the words to describe why she really had come.

"Because you're my friend, and I think we should give this a bit of reconsideration; all the fighting and where we really stand in each other's lives," was the best she could come up with, but it really didn't sound too bad when said.

Reno gave her a puzzled look, but spoke first. "You act like we're dating."

Tifa couldn't help but laugh lightly at this, bringing a smirk to the man's face. It was then she noticed she didn't laugh enough anymore.

And Reno knew few people could make Tifa Lockheart laugh in the middle of a serious conversation, and almost felt as if he'd achieved something; something more than just a laugh.

"But, if you really wanna know, that's half of the reason."

Tifa immediately wished she would've left it there.

Reno caught this and prodded her a bit more. "What's the other half?"

The former AVALANCHE member didn't reply, and turned away from him. She knew, deep inside, what it was, but she wouldn't dare say it to his face. She had felt a kind of empty void when Cloud had left.

She'd been relieved when she found it filled again, and being around someone was all she wanted, but had been surprised when she found Reno filling it better than Cloud had.

She stopped her thoughts.

What was she thinking? That Reno and she. . .?

"Nevermind that," she blurted out, making her way down the street, much quicker this time.

Reno picked this up and kept with her pace, his usual smirk back. Oh, this was too good not to follow up on. "Tifa?" he called, getting no response back. He just shook his head, leaving it for later, and took up the lead again. They came to an expensive - women's - clothing store and Reno immediately hurried in, Tifa a little reluctant.

She finally followed, however, guilty as she saw all the beautiful outfits. Sure, she would've taken any of them, but Reno paying didn't settle right with her. She spotted him waving her over to one of the walls and quickly obliged, arching a brow as she saw the newspaper in his hands.

"Not even a day in Junon and you're in the paper," Reno stated, showing her the front page. Sure enough, the Launch Pad's article was there, and her name was mentioned among the workers. "Well, we should do some real shopping." He stuffed the paper into his coat pocket and handed a single gil to the woman behind the counter, who was staring at him oddly.

Tifa looked at him about the same way as he moved around the racks, whistling absently. They were the only two in the store, and a man looking at the clothes would probably seem a bit odd, so Tifa walked over and helped him out.

Within minutes, they had a few outfits, and the woman behind the counter politely guided Tifa to the fitting rooms.


Reno looked at the woman who had helped them oddly. "What?"

Her nametag said her name was Leann. "You're newlyweds, I can see," she repeated.

Reno narrowed his eyes, almost offended by her conclusions. "No, for your information, she's a friend of mine in from outta town."

"Then you're gay," Leann said immediately.

"What?" Reno blurted out.

Leann drummed her fingers on the counter subconsciously. "Look, you lead her into a women's clothing store, pick out most of her clothes, and then say you're only friends. Either you're lying, or you're gay."

The ex-Turk walked to the counter and slammed his hands down on it. "No, actually, I'm Reno Drannor. Maybe you know me from Midgar?" he hissed quietly.

Leann bit her lip, indeed having heard of him. "Y'know, you're friends, and that's cool with me. Actually, I'll give you fifty percent off because of my accusations," she replied reluctantly, knowing if it got out to her boss, she'd be on the street again. But she also knew what a Turk could do.

Reno just nodded, a content smile on his face as he stood back up.

Tifa was out in a few minutes with the same look on her face, announcing they all fit and looked well on.

Reno nodded sideways toward Leann. "Well, odd as it seems, Leann here's one of my old drinking buddies from Midgar, and we've got a pretty good discount on this, eh?"

Leann nodded quickly and rang it all up, finally coming up with a not-so- low amount of gil, but Reno paid it all.

After a few fake good-byes between the two, they were outside again, Tifa with a large bag of clothes.

"And now we need coats," Reno muttered, rubbing his rough hands together. He looked down the street and hurried that way, not really knowing Junon all that well yet. He still hadn't mentioned anything about Kalm to Tifa.

"I really feel guilty about this," Tifa confessed, but Reno waved it off.

"Like I said, you're a guest, and a good one at that. Think of it as your first pay from the Launch Pad." True, he was using his check from work to do this, but at least he wasn't blowing it on more beer like usual.

"Thanks, Reno," came the soft reply, bringing a smile to his unseen face.

For once, he was doing good in a big city, and it felt better to have one of his oldest friends with him on that. It felt nice to be thanked for something, also, for it had been a long time since he'd had someone say that to him.

‘Rude would laugh.’

Reno let out an almost silent chuckle at the thought itself, but he knew he was right. He walked forward, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jacket, which hadn't been worn in years.

‘Of all the things. . .’

His hand came back out with a small box, something he hadn't seen in the same amount of time. It was neatly wrapped and slightly dusty from sitting around, but he knew it was still good, if a bit late.


He swung around, noticing he'd stopped his walking, to meet almost concerned eyes of Tifa. Reno lifted the box and handed it to her, smirking again. That smirk was always with him, it seemed, but this time he knew she'd jump out of her skin. "I guess I'm a bit forgetful."

Tifa carefully set her bags down, confused out of her mind, and unwrapped the small box, clueless. She noticed it was a white box that opened easily, something she had seen before. She opened it and gasped softly, setting her eyes on a pair of diamond earrings ontop of a small note. She slipped the note out slowly and opened it, noticing it was a bit longer than it looked, and read it to herself.


Hope you can put these to some good use. Kinda of a joint gift between the two of us, but we didn't really know if you had piercings. However, Rude brought up the fact that if you didn't, we could always take you to get them some day. Happy twentieth birthday.

Reno, Rude’

"Well, four years old, but I hope it's still acceptable," Reno said nervously when she had looked back up, rubbing his neck.

Tifa was speechless, frankly, unable to really comprehend words at the time. She'd never been given a present like that, even though she'd always dreamed of it, and even though they were four years old, she still found them as beautiful as if she were just turning twenty.

"Why was that year so important to you?" she asked.

Reno paused for a moment. "It's the only year I was around."

Tifa saw the point he had, but still. . . Diamond earrings and fighting gloves?

The two started off in silence, Tifa still holding the box in awe. Reno may have had a lot of money, but why did he spend it on her? He barely knew her, after all, even if they had known of each others' existence for four years.

But they'd been absolute enemies most of the time, like it or not.

"Well, here we are," Reno announced, stopping infront of a store. The crowd was mostly teenagers, but they offered jackets and coats, so he'd take them.

Tifa was the first in this time, Reno walking a bit slower.

He was immediately over at the jackets, which looked enough like coats, and found Tifa already scanning the things. Loud music was blaring around them, but he'd gotten to the point he could block anything out.

The ex-Turk's eye was caught by a large jean jacket, deep blue in color, with the symbol of a local clothing company. Yes, this was definitely a place for teenagers, but he wasn't about to let that affect his choice. He grabbed the thing off the rack, noting how heavy it was, and tried it on.

It fit. . .

Tifa looked over and gave him a crooked grin, almost knowing beforehand he wouldn't stray from that color. "Looks. . .good."

Reno gave her a look. "Yeah, yeah, whatever. What're you gonna get?"

Tifa just shrugged, looking around again. Nothing was very appealing to her, but she knew she couldn't walk around in the cloak. It itched like mad, anyway. She finally settled on a pure white 'coat' that fell below her knees, though it was meant to do that.

"We're done," Reno sighed, taking the coat from her and walking to the front desk. After paying - they were surprisingly cheap - the two were once again outside, donning their new outfits. "Well, we're makin' good time. We still might be able to jet over to the Pad and see how ViYlic's doin'."

Tifa looked disappointed. "Can we go somewhere real for lunch?"

Reno turned to face her. "We both work there. I call that real, don't you?"

Her face didn't change.

"Oh, fine. We'll head downtown. I think there's a new bar opening up, and I assure you they serve quality food." Reno was getting weak.

‘Yes, Rude would laugh at me.’

But it felt good to finally be able to talk and laugh with someone, let alone be near Tifa Lockheart. He had to admit he was growing to like her more with each minute that passed, but that didn't mean a thing.

Their talk was rare as they made their way downtown, and finally Tifa brought something up. "Why don't you have a car, or something like that?"

"Waste of money, and where're you gonna get exercise with a car?" Reno replied dismissively, ending that conversation.

Tifa just nodded, not dwelling upon the subject, and was silent until they reached their destination.

"Closed Sundays. Grand opening tomorrow," Reno read the sign aloud. "So, either way, we're screwed on lunch here," he announced.

Tifa was about to turn and start off before his hand closed on her shoulder, startling her. She looked up to see him peering through the glass.

"Well, lights're on and I hear stuff, so I guess it wouldn't be so bad to have the first meal," he said.

"You're implying we sneak in?" Tifa asked skeptically, surprised as she received the shake of a head.

"If he asks, you're Hailey Jolteve," Reno said quickly, banging on the door.

A moment later, a tall man in a leather jacket stepped out, towering over both of them, Reno by a foot or so. "Yeah?"

"Hi, I'm Cramen Jolteve, this is my wife, Hailey, and we're from the JPBO. May we have a look at this establishment?" Reno asked firmly, obviously having done this before.

Tifa almost choked on her tongue with nervousness, but the man nodded and let them inside.

"JPBO?" the man asked, his voice even deeper as they stepped into the narrow hall off the door.

"Junon Pub and Bar Organization," Reno replied at once, turning to face him. "And you are?"

"Zan Hurst. I invented that trick, you bastard. Now stop with the games, Reno."

Tifa froze, knowing she had jumped nearly three feet at the last words. They'd been found.

"Zan!" Reno howled, laughing and slapping him on the back.

The tall man returned the slap and laugh, Tifa left clueless. What was going on?

"Tifa, this is Zan Hurst, Rude's brother. Zan, Tifa Lockheart, I'm sure you remember," Reno introduced the two, still thrilled about all of this. Zan was one of the 'Turk Trio,' years back, along with himself and Rude. They knew all the tricks, and, as Zan had said, invented a few of their own.

"Who could forget Tifa Lockheart?" Zan said with a hint of a wink, then turning to look at Reno. "You still wearin' that damn suit," he scolded, referring to the Turk suit under Reno's coat.

"Where do I know you from?" Tifa blurted out, still drawing a blank.

Zan nodded for them to have a seat and started a trio of drinks, then spoke. "I was the Turk nobody ever saw, to put it straight. I was the one who took all the pictures, and usually came into the bar drunk off my ass. Now, Reno, I think you forgot the main rule of that one," he said slowly, setting the drinks down.

"We thought you were open," Reno dismissed, Tifa as confused as before.

"Yeah, but I wanna know if you really remember how to pull it off," Zan replied, sitting down with his own drink.

Reno sighed, looking like an adult was yelling at him. "Always bring a clipboard, use the same name every time, and speak with an accent."

"Yep," Zan said simply, drinking deeply from his glass.

Reno shared a chuckle with him before the taller looked over at Tifa, as if he'd just noticed her. He clicked his tongue and smirked slyly, speaking slowly. "Reno Drannor and Tifa Lockheart. Who'da thunkit?"

Tifa reddened and turned away as Reno coughed loudly, grabbing his attention. "Actually, she's just here to look for a place." From the luggage Reno had seen in Kalm, it looked like she'd brought everything she owned with her, meaning she had most likely left the small town and sold her place.

Zan looked skeptical, but nodded.

They talked a while longer, finishing their drinks, before Zan spoke again. "Well, I know you're glad to see me and all, but I can't let you stay. Too private of a place before the opening, so you gotta scat."

Tifa was relieved at these words. She barely listened as they exchanged addresses, phone numbers, and other things they might like to know about each other. But she was interested in the way Reno had replied to Zan's assumption, as if he was defending only her. She guessed if she hadn't seemed so disturbed, he would've said something smart with a chuckle, knowing him, but he seemed to want to stick up for her.

But, then again, maybe she was jumping to conclusions.

When she finally came back to reality, they were outside the bar, Reno looking at her impatiently, and evening had already passed.

"What? Oh, sorry," she apologized, looking around.

Reno said, "I asked if you wanted to zip over to the bar and see how it's going." She seemed a bit nervous, and he finally figured out why. "Look, Zan'll blurt out anything that comes into his mind."

Tifa just shook her head, wondering why she felt like she was floating all of a sudden. Her head was pounding, and she felt ill. She had only had an egg that morning, so she didn't see how anything could've disagreed with her. Unless. . .

"Tiff?" Reno cocked his head to the side a bit as she got a kind of faraway look in her eyes, swaying heavily. He barely knew what he was doing as he moved forward, catching her as she finally tipped and returned her drink to the outside world, although her clothes did manage to catch some, much to his displeasure.

He noted she obviously didn't drink much, because a single glass of vodka barely got to him anymore, and she looked like she was already passed out from it. Truth was, he'd never seen this, for Rude and himself could usually hold it down. He heard her mumbling unintelligible things every few seconds, which probably meant she had a vague knowledge of what was going on. He had no trouble lifting her up and getting her in a comfortable position in his arms - and Tifa wrapped hers unknowingly around his neck - but when he looked down the street, he saw they had a long walk ahead of them.

He had a long walk, Reno corrected himself, looking back down to Tifa. She wouldn't be feeling too good when she really woke up, he knew that much, meaning he had to at least get her back to the apartment before that. He'd done this with Tarah, though.

Reno moved quickly down the streets, ignoring any looks and stares he was given. There were quite a few of these, sadly, as he moved along.

‘Rufus and Tseng are probably laughing, up there in the Lifestream. . .’

Reno, doing something nice for his former enemy. He had to admit he would've just stared at Tifa as she laid on the ground years ago, but he'd learned to treat people better. And Tifa Lockheart was someone who he'd help in any situation, considering she'd been nice to him and put up with his attitude back then.

Why was he thinking like this? Was he starting to. . .?

Reno chuckled softly, turning a corner. He suspected the vodka may have had an affect on him after all. It took a good twenty minutes to get back to the apartment building, and as he was reaching for the handle, Tarah walked out, nearly bowling him over.

"Oh, hey, Re --" She stopped as she saw Tifa, then exploded on Reno. "What'd you do now?!!"

Reno gave her a brief run-down of what had happened, but she didn't look satisfied.

"You probably made sure it went that way, so you could get her like this," she hissed, glaring daggers at him.

Reno looked almost offended, knowing what she was getting at. "Look, if I still acted that way, what stopped me from doing that when I had to carry you all the way here?" he shot back, anxious to get this over with.

Tarah glared at him, but let him pass, knowing she had been defeated.

Reno walked in and pounded up the stairs, finally reaching his landing and looking at Tifa again. She seemed so innocent, laying in his arms like that, but he knew she could most likely send him through the wall if needed. Her muttering had stopped, but she was still hanging onto his neck, her head resting against his chest.

‘Just move, and keep your head clear.’

Oh, so he did have something up there that told him the right thing to do? Reno snorted and walked down the hallway, easily getting into his apartment. His arms ached as he walked into the room he usually slept in, setting Tifa on her feet for a moment. He peeled the coat off of her, muttering all the while, and tossed it across the bed.

He looked at Tifa again, frowning as he saw the large, wet mark on the neck of her sweater. Well, he surely couldn't let her sleep like that.

But, as realization hit him, so did reluctance. She might hate him for it, but he almost mechanically reached down to the bottom of her sweater.

‘Keep your head clear. . .’

His hand moved upward, ignoring the voice in his head that shouted at him to take advantage of this, as Tarah has assumed.

‘. . .Don't freak out. . .’

He moved his hand to her back and continued, knowing it was better to touch. . .nothing.

‘. . .Keep moving. . .’

He finally got the back of the shirt over her head and started on the arms, moving quicker now. If she didn't wake up, it was possible she wouldn't know. Now was the tricky part of actually removing it.

‘. . .And whatever you do, do not picture things you know you shouldn't, Drannor!’

The sweater came off easily, and Reno immediately tossed it onto the coat, starting a kind of pile. He nearly dropped dead as he looked back to Tifa and noticed she had nothing under the sweater, but listened to the voice in his head again, almost a kind of instructor.

‘Okay, Drannor, you're smarter than you think. She very well can't sleep in jeans, so. . .’

More torture was the only thing Reno could describe it as, but knew she was bound to be wearing something beneath those. He felt almost guilty as he eased her down on the bed, keeping his mind and eyes from wandering, but the work this time went much quicker, considering he knew there'd be nothing to see.

Luckily, he thought as he tossed the jeans onto the pile, his prediction proved truthful, and relief washed over him as he pulled the blankets up over her, looking around to see if he'd forgotten anything.

‘Heh. . .Tseng would be impressed. . .’

He was only slightly surprised when he looked over and saw the cat of the same name on his shoulder, like a bird looking for prey, and it was obvious he'd been oblivious when Tseng had jumped up.

Reno frowned. He'd forgotten the cat food, but he would get to that later, after he found Tifa something to wear the next day.

He walked into the living room, surprised when he saw an empty bag next to the couch with a note on it. The ex-Turk walked over and snatched the note up, reading it to himself.


Tifa called this morning, asked if I could do some laundry. You were asleep, so I figured it was fine. Her stuff should be done tomorrow morning.


(Be careful where you leave your address book, Reno.)’

"How surprising," Reno said flatly, dropping the note and looking around again. All he had were Turk suits, and they were probably all too large for Tifa. He sighed heavily and slumped down on the couch, knowing the day couldn't get any worse, although it was nearly over.

She better be an understanding person, Reno thought to himself, already knowing she was. He figured he'd done well for the night, and just needed some sleep.


Part 2: Showdown at The Pad

She knew this was unsafe, but she would lead anyone across it, especially Cloud. Tifa had to smile to herself as she jogged across the creaking and moaning bridge, glad to have him back. He was probably oblivious to it, but she'd noticed he was never more than a few feet from her, and when he was, the young man would jog to catch up.

But she couldn't ignore the presence Sephiroth gave them all, and he always seemed to be watching Cloud with a careful eye, as if he were his father, and saying what needed to be said. Nothing more than that.

The bad thing was, he always seemed to be around, never giving her a chance to speak with Cloud alone.

Tifa stopped and looked back, Sephiroth's cold gaze fixed on her, the two ShinRa guards accompanying them silent and attentive. Cloud wandered casually over the bridge, his pace slightly faster than a walk, looking around curiously.

Tifa reminded herself he hadn't been up there in years, and probably wanted to know what it was like now.

Cloud looked up and smirked, having changed a lot since before he left for Midgar, and Tifa couldn't help but notice Sephiroth had stopped abruptly.

Was something wrong?

The Great Sephiroth, as most knew him, just held his position, and she swore she felt a hole being drilled through her by the Mako eyes.

The bridge rocked as Cloud halted, giving a final groan before the ropes on the other side snapped from the pylons holding them, sending her plunging downward.

She was sure her death was coming before Cloud reached out and gripped her wrist, sending a jerk through her body. Tifa dared to look down, then up again, horrified as she saw the other ropes starting to loosen.

Sephiroth, hanging on down the bridge, didn't seem all that worried to her, and was preparing himself for the fall. He looked disappointed, if anything. One ShinRa guard had already slipped and fallen to sure doom.

'It wasn't meant to end this way.'

Famous last words, Tifa told herself, accepting her fate as the bridge plummeted for the ground.


"Tiff!" The voice was loud and demanding, and she found herself pinned to the bed by the arms, the sheets pulled tight around her neck.

She met a pair of yellow eyes, but found the source of the voice in the face of Reno over the cat, noting how concerned he looked. Any thoughts of sleep had gone out of her head, and now she just wanted to know exactly what had happened.

"Everything alright in there?!"

What was ViYlic doing there at this time of day? Tifa asked herself only once before sinking down into the bed, oblivious to exactly where she was and how she looked.

"You alright?" Reno asked, much calmer and quieter, his brows furrowed. He decided not to bring up the fact she'd been talking about him in her sleep, but he'd come in and tried to control her thrashing a bit.

Tifa didn't reply, barely aware when Reno replied in the affirmative and ViYlic left the apartment at his request.

The ex-Turk released his grip and walked to the window, pulling back the curtains and letting in a blinding blast of daylight. He leaned on the wall, waiting to make sure she was alright for then. She looked terrible, mostly from the complete surprise of it all, or so he guessed.

Tifa finally realized a fact and looked at Reno, her uneasiness returning. "Where're my clothes?" she managed, feeling her temples throb with each word.

Reno avoided her question by answering with, "Bad dream?"

Tifa wasn't pleased, and felt a knot tighten in her stomach as she sat up, careful to make sure she covered herself with at least one of the blankets, sighing as she asked her next question. "What did we do last night?"

"You slept, I behaved myself, as tempting as it was," Reno replied honestly, suppressing a smirk. "As for the clothes, they're on the chair in the corner, as you may be able to see, not thrown around the room in a fit of passion. Tempting, like I said, but not me anymore. For now, I mean," he cleared up, ignoring the puzzled look he was given.

Tifa had to admit she was slightly impressed at the way he had acted, if he was telling the truth about it. He looked as sincere as she'd ever seen him before, and guessed his story would check out anywhere. Indeed, the clothes were on the chair as he'd said. "Well, I guess I might have to thank you for at least that," she said, faking irritation. "Now, can I have a better explanation of what happened?"

‘Rude would laugh.’

Why did that phrase always come to him when he was about to do something nice? It was like a jumping record needle, but he paid it no heed, knowing Tifa needed to know. He was slightly surprised she hadn't booted him from the room yet.

"Well, after you passed out from the vodka, I brought you back in here, decided you couldn't sleep in the clothes that caught your drink, and here we are now, to put it straight," he said in a single breath.

Tifa arched a brow, pulling her knees to her chest, and pinning the blankets there.

"Now, I can tell it's probably cold, so I'll leave for now. By the way, we gotta get to the Pad soon. ViYlic said he saved all of his checks the best he could and got some. . .additions," he finished with a grin, picking up Tseng and walking out, not even bothering to shut the door behind him.

Tifa crawled out of the comfortable bed once she knew he was gone and put her feet on the floor, shivering at the cold wood below her. She walked to the chair in the corner and threw the clothes on carelessly, not too happy that they were below room temperature.

She walked into the bathroom, now knowing what it was like to wake up with a mild hangover, and grabbed her hairbrush, running it through the long strands that she somehow managed to keep straight. It was then she noticed her hair tie missing, something that puzzled her. She was sure she'd worn it the previous day, but maybe she had dropped it somewhere in her light- headedness. That she remembered, but it wasn't something she was eager to repeat.

She walked back into the bedroom, about to go when something caught her eye. A small table, long and clean, sat against the wall, something she hadn't seen before. She slowly walked over to it, noticing it held paper articles and pictures in frames. It looked like Reno did have some things he held onto after all.

One that was carelessly laid there was the article she was in from the previous day, atop a stack of other Launch Pad paper mentions.

Looks like he actually is well known.

One picture caught her eye, and she immediately recognized it as the one they'd taken at her birthday. She had been mad when they came to her door far before the sun had come up. Actually, below the Plate, there was no sun, but she knew it had been too early for it to be up.

The next article she found was one she picked up and actually read all the way through. It was from the Midgar Daily News, and straight from the inside.


Last week, all of Sector Seven was demolished as the large Plate looming above the residents' heads finally fell, said to be dropped by none other than the infamous Turk, Reno Drannor. Shortly after the disaster, it was reported that Reno had gone missing for a period of three days, then mysteriously returned as if nothing had happened. "Oh, but he changed. I could see it in his eyes," fellow Turk and friend, Tseng Lander, claimed. "

Another statement from the lips of Johnny Simmons, part of the Last Knights, one of the main gangs in Sector Seven, was this: "He came in lookin' for Tifa Lockheart, who I just found out's in AVALANCHE. Told me to make sure she got outta the Sector, from what I know now. He told me to do the same exact thing, and I gotta say that [guy's] got some guts, tryin' to kill us all. If I ever see 'im, I'll make sure he pays, but I know he meant well for Tifa.

Not tryin' to get mushy or anything, but I know one of 'em's gotta be readin' this, if it gets in the paper at all, and I think Reno knows more'n he's lettin' out." Reno Drannor was unavailable for comments, but the rest of the Turks assure me that if he were, I would get nothing else.

For now, all of Midgar will look to ShinRa for guidance on how to make it through this hard time.

- Daniel Reeve, Head of Urban Development’

"Rufus nearly had my head when he read that."

Tifa was startled, turning around to see Reno with a grim look on his face, his icy gaze telling her not to ask questions, and she had to guess he meant that about Johnny's little speech. When she thought about it, this was the first she had seen Reno with that expression on his face in a long time.

"Reno," she couldn't help but start, her eyes pleading, but he had turned her a deaf ear.

"'Bout time for work. C'mon," he muttered, sighing heavily and walking out of the room, Tifa on his heels. If anything was there to drive her away, that would probably be it, for the single sentence that he had wanted Tifa out of the Sector from Johnny's mouth almost screamed those diamond earrings were a bit more than a friendly gift, but what sane man would admit that when he might be off the hook for the time?

Besides, Tifa didn't seem like she wanted to prod him on the matter.

The two were silent as they got their coats, started out, and even when they had finally reached the Launch Pad, Reno seeming like he was brooding over something important. He really was, wondering how she'd taken the statement she'd read, and how she might act from just that little thing. True, he did seem to keep a lot of things concerning her around, but he did the same with the Turks and his drinking buddies.

But still, the Turks and his drinking buddies weren't using his bed to sleep in and his apartment to live in for the time.

They walked into the Launch Pad, looking around. ViYlic was behind the bar, a few tables were occupied by some of their good friends, and Tarah was leaning on the bar. It wasn't quite time to open up, but some people came in early for some small talk with them. Zan's bar opened that day, Reno noted, so he would most likely go over and see how it was working for him later.

"You're awake," ViYlic announced, looking directly at Tifa.

Reno couldn't ignore the glares and mouthed insults coming from Tarah, but he knew that she was aware he hadn't tried anything.

"Light-weight," Tarah laughed, following the Wutain's eyes.

Tifa looked at Tarah disapprovingly. She hadn't a comeback, however, and just hurried to the kitchen, Reno slowly following.

Before he could get there, however, Tarah swung him around and grabbed the lapels of his suit. "If you try anything, anytime, I will have your head on my wall, Reno," she hissed, letting him go and shoving him toward the kitchen, giving him a threatening glare.

Reno mumbled something that would've gotten him knocked out as he walked into the kitchen, looking around. He grabbed the apron from its hook, but didn't put it on, only walked to Tifa and stood silently. "You wanna know if Johnny's fulla shit." It wasn't a question.

Tifa was silent, but he knew that was as good as a nod. "Explain to me how you'll ever know the truth, and I'll tell it to you."

Tifa turned to give him a look, not really caring whether Johnny was telling the truth or not. What she wanted to know was why he'd done that, and if it was more than Johnny thought it to be, but she couldn't bring herself to ask. Instead, she left him with a trailed off sentence. "Reno. . .do you. . .?"

"Can we talk about this later?" Reno asked, rubbing his forehead. Yes, he guessed the truth may have been out now, but what was the truth? Did he even know? The truth was that he didn't, and he may never be able to know.

Tifa was about to object, but she saw his eyes, a mixture of confusion, pleading, and. . .hurt? She had never seen such a look from the man infront of her, and found herself nodding.

The work was absolutely silent, even the hissing of the grill as they worked inserting itself into the air. They worked faster, Reno had to admit as he grabbed the ticket for another meal, but the uneasiness in the air was absolutely unnerving. He could understand what was hanging over Tifa right now, but he really hadn't wanted her to see that. He knew there'd be a fight, too, the feeling just hanging in his mind.

Their first problem came when Tifa was a bit distracted by her own thoughts and forgot about the burger she was working on and it caught fire, a high blaze.

Reno casually smacked it with his spatula, controlling the flame until he could do it a few more times and completely extinguish it.

Tifa reddened, but was puzzled by the question of "Table eight?" from Reno. She nodded, looking up to him. "How'd you know?"

Reno put on a smirk, his mood lightening. "Table eight always causes problems."


They actually did lighten their moods a bit, the conversation a bit heavier as they went along, but their work was not slowed, and they put in nearly twelve hours when they were finished.

Reno prayed she'd forgotten about what had happened, and was slightly surprised when they were closing and no fight had come up. He just shrugged inwardly as he walked to the main bar area, Tarah nowhere in sight.

"She took off," ViYlic stated, smirking when he saw Reno clamp his mouth shut again.

Tifa threw herself into a chair with a groan, slumping lazily into it.

"So, where're the additions?" Reno asked, looking around. As far as he could tell, it was just the same old bar, to put it straight. He gave ViYlic a questioning look, obliging as he was beckoned to the bar. He saw the Wutain kneeling behind it, pointing to a large button on the floor.

"Automatically gets the Force here. Silent alarm, really," he stated, standing up again. "And, I fixed the tables, got a few new chairs."

But, before Reno could reply, the door swung open, admitting a man who automatically caught their attention.

Tifa couldn't help but flinch back, as if hit by a blow, as she saw his long, silver hair, reminding her far too much of Sephiroth, the one who had nearly killed them all. The rest of him, however, made Sephiroth look nearly innocent.

He wore a pair of almost silver-lensed sunglasses, even at night, his hands disappearing into his pocket. His size gave Zan a run for his money, and he wore a black pair of pants, along with a white shirt, no hint of sleeves or a neck to it.

He looked almost as if this place were a dojo and not a bar.

But this man's eyes went immediately to ViYlic, his face impassive as he held his tongue.

ViYlic returned the gaze evenly, and Tifa suddenly felt so out of place her stomach churned at the thought of staying any longer.

"It took me years, but I managed to track you down from Wutai, General," the tall man hissed, his voice like a shattering window.

"I'm fresh outta medals, Andreeson."

Tifa was almost sure she'd seen a hint of a smile shot her way from behind the mask of concentration, a simple facade for ViYlic. She had to admit she held back her own smile, but this Andreeson character seemed all business, his eyes flaring at his remark.

‘Wait. . . General?’

She looked to Reno for a bit of guidance, but found his eyes on the man who'd stepped in unannounced.

"So, wanna settle this here and now, one on one?" ViYlic asked as if he were an old friend, rubbing his taped wrists.

"To the death?" Andreeson questioned.

A nod was his answer.

Tifa stood up to make an objecting, but found herself being eased back down by Reno's hand, an arm sliding around her shoulders, but this was mostly for restraint, and she knew it. Reno wouldn't do this unless that was exactly what it was.

"This is his fight," the ex-Turk murmured, knowing even she wasn't good enough to take down Andreeson. He had a way of comforting people, and he knew he was good when he got Elena to finally pull herself together after Tseng's death.

"How'd you find me?" ViYlic asked, shoving a table carelessly out of the way. It looked like Andreeson wanted a fair fight this time.

"Tifa Lockheart tends to attract a lot of attention to a place," the man stated coolly, his ankles aching from him holding their ready-to-be-dealt blows back.

"You're pushin' it, dammit," Reno growled.

Tifa tensed as Andreeson's eyes locked on her for a moment, the same gaze of Sephiroth, even. Who was this guy, why did Reno refuse to step in, why was he fighting ViYlic, and why did he know everything? All of this went through Tifa's head as the two stared each other down, the floor cleared out as if it were a usual event.

Before either of the ones uninvolved knew what was happening, the two were sending and blocking hits, neither with an immediately noticeable advantage, but Andreeson clearly was doing the better work.

Tifa watched in awe, noting how fast both of them were. ViYlic was a lot more nimble than the taller, and used speed to his advantage, his hands unable to be followed.

But Andreeson blocked each hit, and when he saw an opening, his hands flew to it and he bore down upon his adversary, usually getting in around five hits until ViYlic knocked him off-guard and followed on that. He had to admit, ViYlic seemed to've gotten some training in.

Reno figured they would both just wear each other down until he saw an opening ViYlic hadn't bothered to cover, and he knew Andreeson was just waiting for the time to follow up on that. Tifa had settled down a bit, still trying to get up once in a while, but he didn't release his arm, maybe just a reminder someone was as nervous as he was, the ex-Turk thought, knelt down behind her chair.

Tifa strained against his grip as Andreeson launched the first kick she had seen, connecting with ViYlic's jaw, but she saw that he seemed only a bit stunned.

ViYlic spun around, meeting Andreeson's first with his right forearm, and the two froze simultaneously. ViYlic looked over his shoulder, taking in gasps of air before he spoke. "You've just made the biggest mistake of your life."

Tifa heard it, and she had seen it before that. By bringing his arm up, Andreeson had left his side unprotected, and ViYlic wasn't at all hesitant to follow up on it. She was again shocked at the speed of the next attack.

The Wutain spun on his heel, coming almost completely around as he bent and rammed his shoulder into Andreeson's side, feeling the air being pushed out of the man, to put this feud to rest. He felt a slight achievement as the man crumpled to the ground, breathing harder than ever. ViYlic paced a slow circle around him, knowing this was basically over.

"You once. . .defeated. . .Sephiroth. I did not. . .expect. . .to win," Andreeson choked out, now on his deathbed, and he knew it.

ViYlic couldn't suppress his smile, leaning down to look Andreeson in the face. "Then you're a moron for trying."

He brought his right foot back past his left, lifting himself from the ground completely. He made a kind of crescent shape as he spun through the air, landing once again on his right foot, but this time, it was planted on the breaking spine of Andreeson, and then only the dead man left in his place.

The bar went deathly silent, only the howling of the winds through the alleys on either side of it inserting themselves into the calm.

The victor stared at the frozen, shocked expression still in the lifeless eyes of Andreeson, making a silent prayer to himself that he may be forgiven for what he had just done. Slowly and calmly, ViYlic silently lifted his foot from the man and walked over him, striding out the door without a word.

Tifa and Reno sat there for a moment longer, their eyes still on the lifeless form that had minutes ago been one of the best fighters they'd seen. Tifa sighed shakily, feeling Reno tightening his arm a bit, now for a bit of reassurance to them both.

"The bar's not openin' tomorrow, and he ain't comin' back for a while. C'mon, grab your coat," Reno sighed into her ear, feeling the involuntary shudder run down her back.


Even the apartment seemed to have silenced itself, but Tifa didn't understand why they were so impacted by the 'loss.' They hadn't known the man, but what did that matter? She was more interested in Reno's reaction, something she'd never seen from him.

'No regrets.'

She'd somewhere seen the Turk Code posted, and isn't that exactly what had been there? She turned to look at Reno, about to ask for an explanation, but the look in his eyes told her he was wanting the same thing.

Tseng had already taken his usual spot on the man's shoulder, a true companion to him. He knew he was leaving some information away from Tifa when he told her the story of ViYlic, but he never expected it to go this fast. Her second day on the job, and she'd already seen their bouncer kill someone, the largest brawl in the Launch Pad's history break out, and had unintentionally found her way into his apartment.

He wordlessly led her to the couch, both of them sitting down as Reno told her what he could, what he'd left out of the story. "I was in SOLDIER, believe it or not, but I was pulled out by Tseng to get into the Turks. One o' the guys that roomed with me was Andreeson. That kid always had this glint in his eyes like he was plotting the destruction of the damn Planet."

"The war started, of course, and Sephiroth went off to battle, but took the newest First Class SOLDIER with 'im. You probably guessed, but that was Andreeson. Well, rumors flew leftn' right about another General from Wutai who knew more than Sephiroth did when it came to battle, but nobody believed 'im. Except, of course. . ."

"Andreeson," Tifa finished for him softly, making mental notes for when the pieces came together.

Reno nodded. "I was the gossip around the building, so, naturally, I knew about alla this. Well, Andreeson was gone for a long time 'til he finally came back, from Wutai of all places, and said he didn't want them invading the town."

"Sephiroth declined, and just pressed the attacks, tellin' him to just suck it up and fight," he stated flatly.

"Well, the day finally came when the General happened to start fighting, and Andreeson did just that. Shot the bastard in the side of the head, but he didn't know at the time he wasn't dead."

"ViYlic," Tifa said in disbelief, receiving a nod.

"It's an odd coincidence I got to workin' for ViYlic, but I did, and he said he didn't give a shit about ShinRa anymore, just Andreeson. Well, you just saw the first time he came in, and I guess they put it to rest with him."

Tifa didn't hide her surprise, but she doubted even a Wutai General could just pick up those fighting skills somewhere. She knew it first-hand, anyway, that someone needed to be taught things like that, and not by themselves.

Maybe she was so mad that Andreeson was such a great fighter, and that she'd watched him die. For lack of a better reason, she just took that and nodded, hugging her knees to her chest.

'’Tifa Lockheart tends to attract a lot of attention to a place.'’

No, she was sad because she had caused what had happened. That was exactly the reason, and she may have even run ViYlic off because she was around.

‘It would've been better if I'd never left Kalm.’

"Well, you're probably dead-tired, so I guess we should just call it a night."

The voice brought her temporarily from her brooding, but as she looked to Reno, she couldn't help but notice that if she had stayed in Kalm, she wouldn't be here, and would most likely lock herself in her house. No, if she'd stay in Kalm, she'd still be alone, but Reno. . . With Reno, she felt she was no longer alone, just another unlucky one in life.

She didn't mean he was, but she couldn't really feel alone with Reno. But, the truth was, she was as lonely as the next person.

Her eyes suddenly felt heavy.

‘You’re acting like a kid. Don't let yourself cry, dammit.’

Reno whistled lightly, waving a hand infront of Tifa's eyes to bring her to reality. That was proof enough that she was tired, so he just stood up, shaking his head slightly. He'd brought her into all this mess, but he had to wonder if it was really worth it. Yes, it was. But he knew this wouldn't be the end of their problems, because it never did seem to just end for the two of them.

He led her into the room she was staying in for the time, not even noticing how swayed her movements were before they were actually in the moonlight from the window.

"It's my fault," she said softly, not being able to say anything in a real voice. Her eyes were clenched shut, but she doubted that would help. What was wrong with her? Truth had hit her hard, in the form of another First Class SOLDIER, and once started, she'd found hundreds of things to cry about.

Reno was now fully aware of her 'condition,' and placed his hands on her shoulders. He was barely surprised when she fell into him and closed him in her own arms, sobbing heavily into his chest while he just patted her back, resting his chin on her head.

He had a feeling something like this might happen. He just slowly walked over to the bed and sat down on it, Tifa curling up like an abused child in his embrace. He rocked slowly back and forth, as he'd done with Elena after the incident with Tseng, softly trying to calm her.

The minutes seemed to drag by, but her cries were downed to soft whimpers eventually, her head still buried against him. Yes, she'd screwed up this time, and she really hadn't wanted to do this infront of him.

"It's not your fault. ViYlic told me this day'd probably come, and you just wound up there when it did. True, you do bring a crowd or two, but that doesn't mean anything's your fault, Tiff. Andreeson was just trying to get under your skin, and I don't really give a shit if it worked or not, but none of this was your fault. Don't even think of it that way," he said softly, thinking he got his point across when she fell silent.

Three days straight, and it always seemed to include a bar. Reno sat like this for a few more minutes, until he finally figured out she was asleep, the rise and fall of her side the only clue she was still alive. But he couldn't leave now. He wasn't absolutely sure why as he slowly shifted and laid down, still keeping one arm around her as he grabbed the nearest blanket and threw it over them.

Right or not, he was going to stay here the night, just to let them both know they weren't alone.

And he fell asleep holding her silent form, his head resting on her shoulder.


"Reno Drannor."

Reno's head snapped up, not paying any attention that he went right through Tifa's arm, staring in shock as Tseng rounded the bed, clicking his tongue.


The deceased Turk nodded, a smirk on his face. “And I have been laughing, but I believe you've been doing the best things you can, Reno."

Reno narrowed his eyes, but knew that was a usual Tseng reply. "How'd you get here?"

"Dream walking, really," Tseng replied, sitting carelessly on the bed. "You and Tifa Lockheart. I figured it might come to that, from what I heard from Rude."

"We're not a couple."

Tseng, still in his Turk suit as well, just shrugged with a smile. "Maybe, maybe not. It could always be more than you want to admit, Reno. I think you want more than you know you want. Please forgive me for sounding like a riddle box, but you know exactly what I mean. I can see it even now."

Reno fell silent, knowing Tseng had a point. "Why're you here?" he asked abruptly, now knowing Tifa wasn't even really 'there.'

"To tell you that. I'll come back a few times, if you want, but I figure you should look a bit deeper inside to find the truth, as corny as it sounds. Think of me as a kind of. . .guardian angel that gives lectures," he said dismissively, looking real enough to Reno.

The other just gave him a look. "I didn't need help with the lecture part, but I really don't get why the hell you're here."

Tseng replied, standing up, "You care more than you think, and you just need to realize that."

Reno was silent, watching him as he started to the door. "You gonna be back?"

Tseng put a foot out the door, the limb disappearing into a green portal- like surface. He looked over his shoulder with a Turk-worthy smirk. "I'm the voice in your head. I'm always there."

And with a bang-like sound, Reno returned to his dreamless rest.


But the dream walks weren't quite over, and the next was Tifa's.

"I still don't see why," Aeris Gainsborough groaned, stamping her foot like a child.

"She trusts you, in a way," Tseng replied, looking around the area known as the Lifestream. Actually, death was no different than life. Everyone he had once known was there, save for those still living, and all could be seen below them.

He lowered himself down onto one of the benches, sighing and stretching. The area was a green fog, and no ground was in sight.

Sephiroth, who'd learned of his mistakes, stood silently among them. Aeris, Tseng, and Rufus were all arguing over something he didn't care about, but his interest rose as Aeris separated herself from the group and the other two walked off into nothing.

The silver-haired man followed and offered her a bit of advice. "You can't get in."

Aeris looked surprised as she spun around. She felt the need to reply, although she wanted to ignore him, for she didn't think of him at all like a crazed, mass-murderer. "How do you know?" she asked, sitting down and crossing her legs.

Sephiroth followed suit, much to her displeasure, deciding to go along for the ride. "Because I tried yesterday, and it simply gave her a nightmare."


It wasn't surprising that he cared, but Tifa wanted to knock him out then and there as they made their descent into the forgotten city.

Cloud led her on, his pace quick, only they weren't just heading anywhere.

She was wordless as she pointed down the stairs to Aeris, who knelt silently at the Altar.

Cloud led her farther, until they were right behind Aeris, then suddenly unsheathed the massive blade from his back. He walked forward until he held the metal over her head, but was cut off.

Tifa stared in shock as Sephiroth leaped from the spiral staircase, driving his Masamune down through Cloud. She couldn't help the shriek from emerging from her throat, but stopped as she was picked up by the neck and pressed against the wall, Sephiroth glaring at her.

"Would you shut up?!"

Tifa fell to the floor, rubbing her neck as Aeris came up to them and looked at Sephiroth, a smug grin on her face.

The tall man gave her a dark look. "Okay, maybe you were able to get in."

Aeris shrugged, looking down to Tifa and helping her up. She couldn't help but enlarge her grin at Tifa's expression.

Hadn't they been through this once, and hadn't the outcome been different the first time? Tifa asked herself this before looking between the two of them, now fully knowing when and where she was. "You're. . .dead. . .?"

Sephiroth just nodded, resting a hand upon Aeris' shoulder.

"And you killed her?" Tifa asked, finding this hard to believe.

"Yep," Aeris chirped.

Finding no answer coming, Tifa finished the circle with, "And I helped kill you?" looking at Sephiroth.

"Allow me to explain," he offered warmly, waving his free hand.

Tifa gasped in surprise as the city warped into what looked like the top of a building.

"The Lifestream allows you to do many things you cannot, or could not rather, do on the real Planet, such as dream walk. But, of course, there are downsides to this. If the person has a negative feeling toward the other who has taken the dream walk, there will be a possibility of brain damage."

"Luckily, Drannor woke you up before the dream had finished yesterday."

Tifa jolted, but felt nothing as they moved over the city, floating through the streets. She recognized it as the Upper Plate of Midgar, but let Sephiroth continue.

"Most of the time, dream walking is harmless to a person, but, as I said, it can have a bad effect. If you'd like to know how I know all of this," he said, Midgar coming to a halt as he turned to look at her, suspended in what he could call mid-air, "consider me a Lifestream Elder. Now, because we were able to get through to you this time, there will be no effects to you."

Tifa sighed inwardly, knowing it was all probably still a dream, but she felt she could take his word for it. "So, why're you here?"

"Reno asked the same thing," Aeris said with a grin, then continuing. "I don't really know why, but don't go to the bar tomorrow. Make sure Reno knows some good friends who can hide you, or both of you, away for a while."

"Wh -" She was cut off by Sephiroth, his tone a bit colder.

"If I were you, I wouldn't question a Cetra who's trying to save your life," he snapped.

Aeris glared at him. "Don't be so mean. It's probably the first time the man who nearly destroyed the Planet tried to do the same thing."

Sephiroth settled for just glaring back at her, but gave a last statement of, "Heed the warning, Lockheart."

And then they were both gone.


Part Three: FOXX Den

Tifa made no sound she was awake, just shrugged back into her pillows. She didn't want to get up yet; didn't want to face the world today. After what had happened the previous day, she just felt like sleeping through this one.

She barely heard the groan sounding through her ear and felt the shifting against her back, but it was enough to raise her interest. Her eyes finally fluttered open and she became more aware, noticing the pillows were nowhere in sight and she was being restrained around the waist.

That didn't feel like the vicegrip Reno used to restrain, however.

Turning her head to her right, she found she didn't get too far, Reno's chin on her shoulder. She didn't feel any particular objection to this for some reason, then noticed the blanket thrown over both of them.

She knew she hadn't even tried to slink under the blankets the night before.

‘Explains why I didn't freeze to death last night.’

Tifa almost smiled at the kind of irony of it, but then remembered the dream she'd had that night. It felt real, though, and she knew that if it were real, she had to heed the warning, as Sephiroth had said.

‘You're not insane. Trust Aeris.’

Well, she had to admit that was a bit convincing. Another groan reverberated through her neck and shoulders, but the head lifted this time, as if Reno had no clue who or where he was.

"I'm surprised you didn't sock me and toss me off the bed," he muttered groggily, his head falling back to the bed, but his arms not moving.

"It was cold," Tifa lied, her voice a bit clearer. Truth was, she'd felt an odd sort of comfort waking up next to someone else, even if it was Reno.

‘. . .Especially Reno.’

He did have a kind of calming feeling when he was around, and Tifa knew even Cloud didn't have that.

Reno waited a moment before prying his arms from around her, reluctant to say the least, and sat up on the end of the bed. He was glad she seemed to be a bit more herself today, but what Tseng had said - most likely in only his dream - made a lot of sense to him.

Cloud's a fool, he thought as he risked a glance at Tifa, who'd also sat up, but her back was to him. A smirk came to his face and he cracked his knuckles, the sound almost echoing through the room.

"I guess I should warn you I'm taking a shower," Tifa announced, looking back to meet his gaze.

Reno looked disappointed. "It woulda been more fun if you hadn't. Now I don't have an excuse."

Tifa grabbed one of the pillows and hurled it at him, not surprised when he caught it. "I'll have to lock the door, you're saying?"

"It'd be the safe way to go."

Tifa frowned at him, but the smirk she was shot gave her the impression he was being his usual self again. She walked without another word into the bathroom, shuddering at the cold tile underneath her feet.

She closed the door and reached into the shower, turning the hot water on all the way with only a bit of cold. Reno's shower was one that hissed terribly, but the force behind the water was extreme, looking like it could take oil off of a driveway.

She carelessly peeled off her clothes, feeling the truth of how cold it was before the stepped into the shower, steam having already fogged the mirror.

She shuddered once more at the temperature change, but found the shower one of the best places to think, which was why she was there this morning. The dream the previous night had scared the hell out of her, really, but she was going to stay away from the bar if possible.

Aeris was usually right in life, so why would she lie in death?

Few thoughts actually passed through Tifa's mind before she stepped from the shower, grabbing a towel and drying herself off. She couldn't forget how it felt to wake up in someone's arms, which she'd felt minutes before, but she wondered what made Reno do that.

He could've just left her alone.

But, thinking about it as she slipped back into her clothes, she figured she'd do about the same thing. She remembered when she had broken down the night before, something that embarrassed her, but Reno was a good friend, and she felt only slightly bad about doing that infront of him.

She rubbed the mirror so she could see her face, frowning when she felt her hair, which was still in knots and missing its tie.

‘Where'd it go?’

Tifa sighed and shrugged to herself, just brushing through her long, raven- brown strands before she walked from the bathroom. She tossed the towel in a wicker basket Reno had set up for laundry and strode into the living room, surprised at the smell and sound of breakfast.

Reno said without turning his back on the stove, "We're headin' to the bar after awhile."

Deciding not to bring up the fact that she wanted to stay far away from there, she nodded and chewed her bottom lip, not wanting to sound crazy.

She had a knot in the pit of her stomach, though, that she should speak up.


"It. . .it's insane!"

". . .It must be done. You've seen for yourself."

"It's just unheard of, though!"

"You heard me."

"But -!"

"Do not argue. It's possible, if you will just let me speak with the council."

"You can't!"

"Give me a reason and I won't."

". . ."

"Exactly. Let me speak with the council."


But the two did wind up heading out and toward the bar, Tifa's mind screaming at her every step. She knew she had to say something, but she couldn't put it into words without being called a loon.

Reno just led them on, about to step infront of the bar when his suit was grabbed and himself thrown into the alley, coming to a stop staring into the crimson eyes of Tifa. "Um. . .?"

"We can't go inside," she hissed, giving him a brief run-down of the dream she'd had last night. "You got somebody we can stay with for a while?"

Reno still looked skeptical, but his reply was cut off as three men skidded into the alley, wearing the unmistakable Wutai police uniform. He grabbed Tifa's arm unknowingly and threw her down the alley, making sure she kept on her feet, and they both dashed through it.

Tifa was unsure of the alleys in Junon, but she just ran, taking random turns until he muscles screamed for her to stop. She was now sorry she had doubted Aeris and Sephiroth, and knew what they had been speaking of. But still, she needed an explanation from Reno as to why they had Wutai after them.

Reno took the lead and dashed forward, wincing each time he heard shots ring out, but Tifa's panting was reassuring in a way. They needed somewhere to stay? The ex-Turk made a sudden turn and pushed through the crowds in the street, managing to get a grip on Tifa's hand as they reached the other side.

Tifa looked back as he pried a grate from the sewer and dove down, and unhesitantly, she followed, wondering how far it was down. Not far, as it turned out, and Reno had her hand again, pulling her through pitch black corridors, from what she suspected.

Panting, Reno drew out his cellphone and managed to get out a number. When he received a greeting, he just barked, "Hole! I need one now! Can you get it?"

An affirmative reply was his answer and he quickly pocketed the cell phone, stopping in his tracks.

Tifa found herself in worse shape then she could hear he was in, and was about to ask what was going on when a light almost blinded her.

"Get in here!" came a hiss, Reno obliging and bringing her in the process.

Tifa found herself inside a narrow hallway, a flashlight the source of the blinding flash. She couldn't see the one behind it, but she figured she was being looked at.

"Look, we've got Wutai feds after us. Can we stay in the Den for a while?" Reno blurted out, though the flashlight never moved.

"You can, but not her," came the icy reply. "She's one of the seven, and could put us at risk."

Tifa felt her stomach twist, but Reno was glad to keep up his argument.

"She lives with me, and as far as I'm concerned, she's one of us," he snapped back.

The person kept the light on Tifa a moment more before clicking it off, revealing the dimmer light a ways down the passage. "I don't have the final say, Reno."

The man in question just laid a hand upon Tifa's shoulder to lead her through the darkness and followed the back of the one who was leading them.

Tifa had to blink yet again as they entered a large room, feeling two sets of eyes on her but one had his or her back turned, tapping away at the keys on a computer. She looked between the two, one of which appeared to be a boy no more than fourteen, and the one leading them was a relatively short man, looking slightly older than Reno.

"Visitors," the young boy muttered. His black hair was spiked, almost perfectly spaced in all places. He wore a red bandanna around his forehead, but his impassive expression was uncaring as to who she was or why she was there. He wore a grey shirt and a pair of ripped shorts, though it was only February, and Tifa noticed it was almost warm down here.

The man who'd led them in, as he turned out to be, was heavy-set and had small brown eyes, wearing a brand-name T-shirt and black jeans.

The one whose back was turned to them, his or her head craned enough to hide it, was wearing a white robe, from what they could see.

"Welcome home, Reno," the small man said dully, still giving Tifa a careful eye. "What brings you back?"

Reno gave them a run-down of what had happened, adding in Andreeson and ViYlic at the end, and the two who had given their attention to the newcomers simply nodded, the young boy going back to a thick book he seemed to be deep in.

"Welcome to the FOXX Den," came a female voice, the figure at the computer standing and walking to them. She had long red hair, much lighter than Reno's, which disappeared beyond the neck of her robe. She looked about their age, her green eyes standing out the most. She looked at Tifa and smiled, a hint of impression inside of it.

"You give final say," the short man announced, walking over and sitting on the couch next to the boy's legs, which hardly took up space at all.

"She stays," the woman replied immediately, receiving a grunt from the shorter.

"She could put us all in danger, and you automatically say yes. I would've preferred if the whole thing'd been left to Riley," the boy on the couch weighed in from the couch, not even glancing up.

Riley, Tifa assumed being the short man, just smiled approvingly and looked at the woman.

"She stays," she repeated, looking at Reno and putting on a smile. "Reno Drannor? Long time no see."

"Yep," was Reno's short reply, whose hand had yet to move from Tifa's shoulder.

"How's the world treatin' ya?" the boy asked from the couch, inserting a red slip of paper into his book and tossing it onto the floor. His eyes seemed to have almost a rust color to them.

"Like crap, Xion," he replied with a chuckle, leaning on the wall and folding his arms across his chest.

"Shit," Xion corrected with a groan, stretching out with uncountable cracks.

Tifa was looking at the woman infront of them, who reminded her so much of Jessie it was almost scary. She looked to Reno for information, but he was already in a conversation with Riley and Xion. The former AVALANCHE member looked back to her original interest, deciding to question. "What is this place?"

The other simply held her hand out, answering another of Tifa's questions. "Navi, leader of FOXX. It doesn't stand for anything, but I'm sure you know about underground organizations like this. Instead of Midgar, though, we go for Junon."

Navi led her to the computer, then sat down and whacked at the keys like she was born to do so. She went along as she typed, apparently looking for a file. "My brother left the whole thing to me, and I'm sure you can see it didn't go over too well."

"Xion's parents couldn't afford to support him. They left him in the streets one night a few years ago, and he found his way in here. Obviously, we couldn't have it get out about us, so we decided we could use him."

"My brother, Zek, Riley, and I were the only ones here at the time, so he was welcome, maybe just for company," Navi went on, still jabbing the beige keys. She had opened around eight windows so far, and Tifa was aware just by looking that they had it planned out pretty well.

"We did some business with Reno a while back, a few years really, and he just kinda stuck around. You're Tifa Lockheart, right?" Navi queried. The clicking keys had stopped and all there was there was a search bar.

Tifa just nodded, not really surprised. She watched as Navi typed in her name and pressed the search button, a lot of results coming up. One of them, separated from the others, read 'FOXX File.'

Navi grabbed a key from under her desk and tossed it to Reno, but it landed harmlessly on Xion. "You're in the C room," she informed him absently, then clicking on the bright link that was on the screen.

The computer worked for a moment before it went to a kind of profile, taking Tifa by surprise.

"Completely updated," Navi said with a grin, scrolling to the bottom of the information. Indeed, the last date was telling of Tifa's job at the bar.

"Where do we get this?" asked Navi before the surprised Tifa could speak, spinning in her chair to face her. "The walls got ears."

Tifa was about to respond, but Reno's voice drifted down on of the stone tunnels leading off of the Den.

"There's only a couch!"

Navi sighed and stood up, looking toward the tunnel entrance. "You gave up the big room when you took off to Kalm, and you expect it to be available a few weeks after you come back? I doubt it, so deal with the couch."

Reno suddenly wished she'd just kept shut as he walked back into the Den, seeing to look on Tifa's face. He'd forgotten all about Kalm. Giving her another look that asked for them to delay that conversation, he received a small nod. "So, we're stuck with the couch," he sighed.

"Do I need to repeat myself?" Navi asked with a disturbing smile. Frankly, everything about her seemed disturbing to Tifa.

Reno glared at her, knowing how rhetorical the question was.

"Wonderful," Tifa muttered, looking again at the file that Navi had pulled up. She had forgotten just how many millions of people knew her, and how much information they could get about anywhere. She was just trying to mirror Reno's attitude with the curt statement, but knew it bothered neither to have to use a couch.

Knowing Reno, he'd wind up on the floor anyway.


"I do not see why. . ."

"Because I can. If I can, I will. Surely you see the point in my request."

"Of course I do, as does everyone on the council who has heard your argument."

"Then I am permitted?"

". . .I'm sorry. It is. . .out of the question."

"You are aware I will simply find a way if I am not given clearance by the council."

"Indeed I am, but that is not something my power can control."

"You will give me clearance! I will be granted my last wish!"

"Ah, but if you do receive permission, it may not be your last wish."

"Then you see my point in asking as clear as ever!"

". . .The council grants your wish."


The couch didn't fold out; it was a simple couch.

This Xion mentioned only after they had arrived in the room, but the looks he got were proof that the idea didn't exactly make them jump for joy.

"It's fine," Reno assured him, looking around the dimly lit room. A single light bulb was suspended in the middle of the room, boxes lining the walls, and the couch pushed against one like a forgotten rag.

Xion just shrugged and walked out, muttering for them to try to keep it down before he snapped the door shut behind him, turning off the light and leaving them in darkness.

"Kalm?" Tifa demanded from Reno, who'd laid down on the couch already.

The ex-Turk didn't give a usual reply, which would be him spitting something offensive at her, but almost examined the shadow of Tifa for a moment before speaking. "I was there, then you came and I took off. What more's there to it?"

"Why didn't you stay?" she asked, suddenly feeling uneasy about it. She sat down on the arm of the couch, looking straight into his eyes.

The gaze made Reno want to look away, but he knew that was the worst move he could make. Instead, he gave her the truth. "Because I doubted you'd ever consider me anyone you'd wanna speak to anymore, and I didn't think it'd work if we were living in the same town. But, look how this is goin'. You came here, and we're being chased by about everybody in Wutai for killing an officer."

Tifa nearly jolted out of her seat, her eyes flung wide at what she had just heard. "What?"

Sitting up, Reno hooked his arms around his legs. "After Meteor, Andreeson took off and became a Wutai officer. That's why he knew so much about everybody, and ViYlic's supposedly dead. So, we're the next in line for suspicion, and I admit Tarah'll need to watch out, too. What we need to do is lay low and keep an eye on the feds."

Tifa felt as if she was going to be sick, not having an idea as to how much Reno was keeping from her.

Reno simply stared at her a moment more, but couldn't help from pondering the way they were going to have to sleep that night. Of course, he knew neither wanted the floor; he would refuse, and would object if she offered to take it. Which left the choice he knew both of them had thought of more than once. "We should get some sleep. Big day tomorrow, if my plans get heard."

His predictions were proven truthful as he saw Tifa start to slide off the couch, but put a grip on her wrist, a calm smile upon his face. This was mostly at her reaction, which was complete surprise, as she was forced onto the couch. Even in the dark, it wasn't hard to make things out, and he pressed further into the couch cushions as his arms found their position of the previous night around her waist.

Tifa nearly exploded as she was pulled impossibly close to him, but kept her mouth shut, managing an inward sigh of odd relief as she finally found a comfortable position, Reno's breath warm on her neck. She would normally try to squirm away, but there was a new voice inside her head that told her to bite her tongue and stay.

"Nobody gets the floor. Now just go to sleep," Reno whispered calmly into her ear, finding his uneasiness gone as his legs partly entwined with hers.

‘She's not screaming, and she didn't sock you. I consider this a good sign.’

Now that he knew what it was, the voice actually did echo in his mind as Tseng's. Her closed his arms around her shoulders, resting a hand on either elbow. There was an odd kind of feeling of needs fulfilled that night as they rested against each other, one both fell asleep smiling because of.


The hour of two in the morning was not new to Navi, nor were the sounds of clothed being put on from a room down one of the stone tunnels. Riley's job started at three, the man working as a Jujitsu instructor downtown. His class was appropriately called the Night Owls, small but meaningful.

His footsteps grew as he entered the room, but quickly left for their kind of break room, the one with the coffee machine and television.

Navi tapped away at the keys still, insomnia actually welcomed by her. When she was alone, she worked best, and her only light was the glowing screen infront of her.

Riley, as usual, gave no good-bye as he left the Den nearly an hour later, but Xion's groaning brought Navi from her trance and made her spin on her chair.

Xion slept in the break room, because it was one of the only ones with a bed, so he usually got up with Riley. "Mornin', Kid," she greeted.

The young boy's hair was sticking every way she could imagine, and his usual book was under his arm, still wearing the same clothes. He threw himself onto the couch as he always did and looked to her with a crooked grin. "When're you headin' to bed?"

Navi shrugged. They shared the bed, though they never used it at the same time. "What are you reading, anyway?" she queried, nodding to the book she could barely make out in the dim light of the room. Xion always had his nose stuck in it.

He picked it up and squinted at the cover, not really knowing. "General Insanity," he finally made out. "'Bout Sephiroth, believe it or not. Biography."

Navi wasn't surprised, but knew it was mostly all lies. Few knew about Sephiroth's true past, and she couldn't say she was one of them. Xion knew that, she was aware, but they might've gotten one or two things right, so he was reading it.

At least, that was her guess.

"How long's it?" she asked, deciding to change the subject to something else when this was answered.

"This is only part one, but it's got somewhere around a thousand pages," he replied, yawning deeply.

"Riley doesn't trust Reno," Navi blurted out. "He thinks he's tryin' to lead the feds to us, and wants him out soon. Tifa's innocent, though."

Xion retorted, "What makes you say that?" He shared Riley's feelings on Reno, but Tifa, he knew, wasn't one who had a perfect record.

"I dunno, I just think she's got nothing to do with it if Reno is trying to turn us in. I just get a feeling, and you know those're usually right," she said with a sigh, rubbing the back of her neck as she shut down the computer and clicked on her desk light.

"Well, at least I didn't hear any funny noises comin' from their room last night, or I wouldn't be able to sleep again," he muttered.

"Get real!" Navi said, laughing softly. For only fourteen, Xion was a mature child, and read many things that adults couldn't even comprehend. She thought it a shame he never finished school. "Read me some of the book, would ya?" Her first yawn of the night came then and she stood up to walk and sit next to him.

Xion nodded and opened it to the prologue, reading:

"'Sephiroth is undoubtedly the one responsible for the Fire of Nibelheim,

and many eyewitnesses have told so. One of these was a man named Cloud Strife, a former acquaintance of mine. He was told to be one of the best in the SOLDIER program, and went on many missions with the General of the ShinRa Army after the war had ended. Not much else is known about the Nibelheim incident, but there is always more history of Sephiroth to be told, though it is unlikely we will ever have the full story in our minds.

Sephiroth's childhood was filled with trouble, being the son of the Professor Hojo Novehar, and watching his own mother die at the hands of the man himself. Professor Hojo never wanted a son, only one he could turn into another monster, or that is my opinion. Lucrecia, a mere assistant to Hojo, whose life was ruined and taken by the man she thought she loved, was Sephiroth's birth mother, her last name unknown to anyone living today.

Until his death, Sephiroth was considered the most skilled swordsman and most powerful person on the Planet. Although my opinion does not matter much here, I beg to differ, for AVALANCHE was the group to defeat him, am I right? AVALANCHE was a small group, never wanting to get caught up in this, but even as a 'Jenova-filled puppet,' Sephiroth died at the hands of them.

These are the untold stories of a madman.'"

"There's a lot more detail into the book," Xion confirmed, closing it.

"Who wrote that?" Navi questioned.

She watched in confusion as Xion flipped the book in his hands a few times, an odd look on his face. "What's wrong?"

"It doesn't say."

Navi was taken aback by the curt reply. "It has to say," she stated slowly.

"It's not a real name," Xion said.

"Well, who is it?" she prodded.

Xion stared at the front of the book for a long while before reading, "Chaos."


"They. . .permitted. . .it?"

"You sound surprised."

"I am! I can't believe you're even going to try that, let alone that the council told you that you could!"

"I continue to have a kind of effect on others."

"Still. . ."

"You sound worried now."

". . ."

". . .Are you?"

"What if something goes wrong?!"

"Don't avoid the question."

"Yes, I'm worried, mostly about you!"


". . ."

"What, do you have feelings me?"

". . ."

"You don't, do you?"

". . .I just. . ."

"You shouldn't love me. I'm leaving now."

"Wait. . . Wait!"


For the second time in twenty-four hours, Tifa woke up first, but she knew what to expect this time. She liked the feeling of waking up next to him, oddly enough, and she found a smile on her lips as she noticed her hand, which had apparently taken his in the middle of the night.

She couldn't deny the feeling in the pit of her stomach anymore. Tifa new she had come to Junon for a reason now, more than just politely accepting an invite. She had unknowingly wanted to be close to Reno at any cost, and had indeed gotten just that. Wutai wanted them dead, and no one she was currently staying with wanted her there with the exception of Navi and Reno.

The ex-Turk seemed to be in a deep sleep, and he didn't feel like he'd shaved in the last few days. She knew this, for her cheek had somehow gotten to a resting spot ontop of his chin, a faint wheezing emitting from his nostrils.

The room was still pitch black, but the door was open she could see. Obviously, someone had come to check on them, but it didn't help their lighting problem. She had no idea what time it was, either, and made a note to herself to ask for an electric clock. She had a feeling it was early, for she was still tired.

So, not wanting to wake Reno, she closed her eyes and slid into a deep state of thought, not really feeling all that steady at the time.

Tifa knew Reno had feelings for her, but she also knew he wasn't one to let someone break the barrier so easily. She could often see it in his eyes, or hear it in his nervous tone.

But somewhere in the back of her head rested guilt, caused by the one person she had always dreamed of laying next to her like this, but Reno had somehow wedged his way in.

Like it or not, she did miss Cloud.

Reno was the last person she had imagined would be resting against her, and especially since she didn't drink to much. But she didn't need to be drunk to wind up like that, it appeared, and she suddenly felt like laughing. For no reason, really.

She wanted to laugh at Nibelheim; at the others who worked in the bar and had told her that Reno Drannor was known for using and ditching women; at Sephiroth, who turned them against each other for long years; at her past doubts of ever being his friend again.

But most of all, she wanted to laugh at everyone who had told her that at her rate, she would barely live to see her twenties, let alone ever meet someone 'right' for her.

She did consider Reno a bit more than a friend at the time, and doubt had suddenly gone absent. Although that was what she had told herself to avoid, she had pretty much figured out it would be exactly what happened.

But, to her surprise, she found nothing to make her even consider regretting it.

Tifa smiled to herself, letting her body almost sink into the couch as she drifted off again.


What Tifa didn't know was that Reno was just good at feigning sleep.

He knew how to do this, for the Turks needed to know small, important things for some of their odder missions.

Her constant shifting was unnerving to him, but he knew to lay still and speak not a word. Why he was doing this, he had no idea, but he really didn't care.

He knew he and Tifa were close friends, but he had to admit that meant nothing.

Over the years, each woman who'd found him in a bar had added a bit to the barrier he had sealed around his soul. Finally, after a long time, he never opened up to anyone much. It was like a giant wall, Reno's heart. No one had ever climbed over the top, save for maybe his sister.

This brought terrible memories. . .


"Midgar sucks," she muttered.

Reno gave his sister, Dani, a dark look. "Where'd you pick that up?"

Dani was a young girl, only twelve. This made her three years younger then he older brother, but she was still mature enough to argue with him. Dani rolled her eyes and snorted, "Oh, I forgot, I'm talking to Reno, the man with the clean mouth."

They were walking through the Sector Seven slums, where they had been living for a while. The streets were littered with various wrappers and balls of paper, left carelessly to blow in the faint breeze that managed to reach under the Plate.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Reno asked with slight vehemence.

"I picked it up from you!" she said loudly, laughing.

The older was about to reply when Johnny, a fellow member of the Knights, strode straight at him, knocking him off balance. "No wonder you can't even dodge a punch," he said with a chuckle, helping the younger man up.

Reno brushed himself off and glared at Johnny, not really in the mood for games. "Somethin' up?"

"Might be," Johnny replied, but that sounded nothing like his voice.

"You feelin' okay?" Reno asked, tilting his head. When he finally looked at him, he looked a bit different.

"He is, but you may not be," came the cold voice from behind him.

Whirling around, Reno saw none other than Cero, leader of their rivaling gang, and a small group of his 'goons,' as Johnny called them. The man was undoubtedly who he thought it was, the bright green eyes and long brown hair unmistakable.

"Take her, Marcus. We need to do this quickly. Nang, you restrain him. Make sure he gets a front row seat," Cero hissed quickly.

Before Reno knew what was happening, his arms were pinned behind his head and he was staring in horror at Dani, whose wrist was held violently by the Johnny look-alike.

Reno didn't want this to be happening, and thrashed with all he had at 'Nang.' This proved to no avail, and the young man knew he was stuck.

Cero pulled the switchblade from his pocket with a menacing grin, casting a glance at Reno. "This may teach you to stay off of our turf." He spun back around, holding the blade loosely as he strode slowly to Dani.

"I'll kill you!" Reno roared, sure he was going to break his arms from the attempts to break free. "I swear I'll fucking kill you, dammit!"

Cero just shrugged, going in a slow circle around his target. "You won't be able to if you're dead," he replied coolly, a smirk still on his face. They were in the alley, which had made the two Drannors easy prey. He planned on getting rid of the threat one way or another, and if he had his way, both.

Reno could see the fear in Dani's eyes, and he finally managed to get a hand free, though it was only caught again. He wouldn't let this happen to her. She was only twelve, dammit! He would take her place if he could save her.

Cero gave Dani a last look before moving the switchblade into her chest agonizingly slowly, Marcus clamping a hand over the wailing girl's mouth. Cero kept pressing on the handle of the blade until he could go no farther, then pulled it back out, satisfied with the steady flow of blood from his victim.

Reno was shouting things he might've even made up, not even caring about or comprehending his own words. Never before had he felt so helpless; he had been easily trapped.

Cero turned and nodded to Nang, pleased when the man let Reno go.

The red-haired young man stumbled over to his sister, tears rushing forth for the first time in so long from his eyes. He wanted so much to wake up any time now, but he knew that wasn't going to happen. He barely heard the words Cero said.

"Give me your gun, Nang," the tall man hissed, looking expectantly at his partner and sensing his hesitation.

"Sir," Nang started, but was cut off.

"We get rid of the entire threat now," Cero snapped, knowing Reno was too much of a wreck to try anything.

"Don't be dead!" Reno pleaded, cradling the body of his sister. He was praying to anyone who might listen, but the feeling of Dani's skin alone told him it was too late.

"Allow me to ease your suffering," Cero almost offered, holding the gun at the back of Reno's head.

And then, Reno saw nothing.


The real Johnny had somehow found him and had the Knights put their small amount of gil together to get him some medical attention, but Reno had decided than that he would never get so close to something that he would be hurt if they died.

The Turks had somehow gotten past that, and, opening his eyes, Reno noticed Tifa had, too.

Sadly, Cero had never been seen after that day, and Reno never got his revenge.

The involuntary jolt through his spine was enough to wake Tifa, but she immediately went into a round of coughing. Reno looked at her with concern, each sound wracking her body harder than the last.

When she had finally finished, she gave a low groan, and Reno observed, "Looks like you're sick."

Tifa just nodded. She had known she hadn't felt like herself when she had woken up, but she had never suspected she'd get sick.

Reno laid there for a moment more before sitting up, having to force Tifa to stay down. He figured this was no big thing, to be sick. They were living in the sewers for the time, after all. He could see well enough in the darkness, something he had always considered a talent.

One thing he needed was to get back into the real Junon and go shopping, or at least pick up some things from the apartment, even if the place was crawling with Wutai police.

‘I should probably have Navi check that out.’

He looked at Tifa, whose eyes were closed again, and noticed how violently she was shivering. It wasn't all that bad, but noticeable nonetheless.

Reno looked around and came up lucky as he found a folded blanket on a stack of boxes, barely visible in the pitch black of the room. As he grabbed it from the kind of pillar, he noticed luck hadn't been a rare thing lately. They had managed to escape one of the best forces on the Planet, and he had lured Tifa Lockheart from Kalm into his arms, to put it straight.

The mere thought brought a grin to the face of Reno as he walked back to the couch, shaking out the blanket a bit before laying it over Tifa, the young woman still shaking, but awake, he knew.

"Need anything?" he queried.

Tifa just shook her head, still looking like she was asleep. She had always hated being sick; that feeling in her stomach and the cold, even in the heat. What she wanted was real heat, some that could get through her skin at the time.

Reno then decided that he wouldn't leave, seeing how bad a shape she was in, and resumed his earlier position. Shopping could wait, he decided as his arms found their way around her again, no words exchanged.

One good part of the FOXX Den was that it was always dark, and easy to sleep in at any time.

The new source of heat was good enough for Tifa, and she squirmed onto her other side, returning the kind of embrace. All she wanted was to get over this dizziness, and she would probably be fine. She barely knew where she was or who she was laying next to as sleep took her again.


"How long, again?"

"Hours. It is short, but be reminded of the pain involved."

". . ."

"I sense hesitation in you."

". . .You know why."

"Do not worry about it. We will make sure it is taken care of."

"Then. . .I'm ready."



"Glad to hear it," Reno replied with a grin, standing in the 'doorway.'

They had spent most of the day in the FOXX Den, but Reno had finally gone shopping and, as he had thought, grabbed a few things from his apartment.

Tifa had gradually managed to get over whatever she'd had, and had finally gotten the clock she wanted. Xion had offered to switch rooms with them, seeing it was a bit cramped on the couch, and warned them of Riley.

Tifa had accepted anyway, just glad to finally have a mattress. One thing that did bother her was the fact that Reno was going to take the other couch, and refused to share the bed. That only bothered her because she was once again getting the better part of the deal, though.

"You're welcome to stay," she offered, trying to hide the pleading in her voice. Wutai was still out there, and it scared her terribly to know that.

Reno shook his head. "I'm sure you'd like some room tonight." Although he was nearly jumping at the offer, he knew he couldn't stay. He knew he couldn't stay, because he was afraid one of them might try something that they would regret.

‘Damn, you changed, Reno.’

"Well, then," Tifa started, frowning inwardly. "Night, Reno."

"Night, Tiff."

And with that, the light was off, and she was alone again. Looking around, her heart skipped a beat as a scraping sounded in the corner. Maybe she wasn't alone.

"R - Reno?" she asked, fearful for the first time in a while.

She screamed as a hand closed over her mouth, muffling it to a whimper, and the light clicked on again.

Tifa went silent, her eyes wide, staring into another pair; a pair she'd met one too many times.


Part Four: Hidden Agendas

Reno, who'd been waiting impatiently outside the door at the sound of the scream, burst back in, splitting the thin wood in the process.

The sight froze him.

Two pairs of eyes were on the red-haired ex-Turk, one a crimson, pleading look, and the other an emerald glare. The green ones had stopped him, and they glowed in the darkness. The light clicked on and he almost swooned in shock.

Green Mako eyes.

Long silver hair.

The Masamune and SOLDIER uniform, as if he'd never been touched.

"Sephiroth." It was a low rasp coming from somewhere deep inside Reno, and he was prepared for a fight.

Sephiroth removed his hand from Tifa's mouth and straightened himself with a grin, looking directly at Reno. "You look surprised, Drannor."

A sharp breath jutted out of Tifa in place of the earlier scream, her throat suddenly dry. That was the last person she'd expected to be on the other side of the arm, and she was scared out of her mind.

"What the fuck?" Reno hissed, pulling out his mag-rod with one swift movement.

Sephiroth arched a thin brow, his face darkening into a frown. "I see Tseng forgot to inform you of my. . .visit. Very well. If you must know, I am here to help you in this situation you and Lockheart have wound up in. Killing me would be the wrong choice."

Reno didn't look satisfied. "Sephiroth's dead! Who're you?!"

"Indeed I am," came the curt reply, Sephiroth sitting down on the bed as if he were living there himself. He smirked and patted Tifa's shoulder, the young woman apparently very frightened. He cursed himself for not informing Tifa himself. "Maybe I should explain a bit further," he offered, nodding to the open side of the bed.

Reno stayed put.

Sephiroth shrugged and started. "The Lifestream is of course where one goes when they return to the Planet. No news to you, correct? But there is a loophole. If someone had a large enough impact in life, and died an unclean death, they will have the clearance to continue life, if they promise to change."

Tifa was sitting up now, her feeling of sickness returning. She listened intently, though, knowing she would probably need to know this, truth or not.

"As odd as it seems, I do intend to change. If this were a simple arrest they want you for, believe me, I wouldn't be here at all. Wutai is extremely strict, and especially when one of their own is killed. You being the suspects, I believe you two have gotten caught up in something horrible, and I'm here to stop it," the deceased General said calmly, his eyes holding no hint of betrayal for once.

"Liar," Reno accused abruptly.

"A not uncommon reaction," Sephiroth replied, still as calm as always, but his green orbs did seem to be focused mainly on Tifa. "If I may voice my opinion, we need to all sleep on this. It would help. However, I need to speak with you, Drannor."

Just the way his penetrating gaze hit Reno's made him nod, still intimidated by the man. Like it or not, he knew this was probably the truth, if Tseng could speak to him from beyond the grave.

"Sleep well, Lockheart," Sephiroth dismissed himself without looking at her, standing up and striding from the room.

"I'll be in here tonight, I guess. Just. . .gimme a few minutes," Reno muttered with a forced smile, following Sephiroth.

The tall man had already placed himself on the other couch next to a blanket, hands clasped infront of himself. "I trust Tseng did tell you of my visit."

Reno nodded, a knot tight in his stomach from lying infront of Tifa. He'd known all along, and had been told when to expect the man.

"You put on a nice show," he went on.

"What do you want?" Reno blurted out, not wanting Sephiroth around all that much.

Sephiroth's eyes held a bit of pain, as if he were remembering some terrible scene. He waited a moment before replying, "You have Tousaz's number, I presume?"


It wasn't long before Reno came back in, his face a ghastly white.

Tifa sat up again, looking at him with furrowed brows. "Reno? Something wrong?"

Reno didn't reply, only clicked off the light as if she weren't there and almost threw himself carelessly under the blankets, his stomach feeling as if he'd had ice poured down his throat.

His next question came out much softer than he had planned after he'd flipped on his side to face Tifa. "How do you honestly feel about me?"

Tifa was caught completely off-guard, looking at him with an expression of confusion. Truly, she didn't know exactly what he meant. "What?" A hand grabbed hers, a new-found urgency in Reno's eyes. Tifa shivered inwardly.

His skin was icy to the touch.

"You can think on it all you want, but. . .I know it's odd, but I need an answer soon," Reno said softly, the echoing voice of Sephiroth bouncing off the insides of his mind.

This was nothing like the Reno Drannor who'd dropped the Plate onto Sector Seven years before, more of a child-like version of him. There was a hint of fear in his voice, and pleading evident in his steel-colored eyes. She knew what he was getting at now, and he could've just as well said:

'Do you love me, or do you regret coming?'

Tifa just stared at him for a moment more before lowering herself to the pillows, and if she'd cared, she would've thought that a bed felt good compared to a couch, but Reno still looked expectant.

But she had no answer for him, sadly, as much as she wanted to say the first thing her mind had provided. She had no way of telling whether that was the truth or not, and the sudden question had come at her like a train.

Looking at him more closely, she noticed he had managed to calm down a bit, but he still had a tight grip on her hand and was cold as ever.

"It's rushed, I know. Like I said, you don't have to say a thing right away, but I gotta know," Reno said with a sigh, smiling a bit weakly.

Tifa wanted nothing more than to leap on him and blurt out the truth then and there, but something held her back. Maybe she held a bit of doubt, but what she finally concluded was that she had no clue how Reno felt. He'd once talked about a 'wall.'

"How d'you feel?" she finally managed to ask.

Reno let out an unsuppressable chuckle at this, but it soon turned into a low hiss, his voice failing him. He knew how he felt. He now knew he probably couldn't live without her around. The wall had somehow been blown to dust by the woman who laid next to him now, something he'd doubted would ever happen.

"I'm pretty sure you already know," the man replied, speaking in a tone that ended the conversation. He turned over onto his other side, sighing shakily.

Tifa stared at the back of his head for a moment, still slightly surprised by his question. And now she knew exactly how he did feel about her, which only added to her uneasiness.

She was sure she mirrored Reno's smirk as she inched over to him, placing one arm around his shoulder and another under his arm, resting her head on his shoulder as he'd done a few times before. His suit smelled from not being washed lately, but she couldn't say much better about her own clothes, and she was sure he was already asleep.

She said a single line softly into his ear, one she wasn't even sure if she meant and one she knew he didn't hear. "I bet you can figure it out, too."


Sephiroth stealthily moved through the alleys, his Mako eyes darting around. He knew there would be a scene if he was spotted, and wasn't up for that right now. He had other things on his mind freshly delivered from the Lifestream.

"Thirty-nine," he kept muttering over and over again, his gaze scanning all of the tall buildings around him before he finally came upon the address and casually strode for the front doors.

This particular building was still dwarfed by the ShinRa Building, but it was big for Junon. It was brightly lit, only streetlights the other source that he could find. He started toward the doors before a voice cut him off, cold from the shadows beside the entrance.

"I'm dreaming."

Sephiroth smirked and looked over to see a woman staring at him. "Tousaz. You're alive, I see."

Her eyes were almost a combination between his own and Aeris', a shocking green that stood out in a crowd. Red hair fell down her back and ended in a tie. She wasn't as tall as him, but taller than Tifa by about three inches. She had an almost reptillian tongue, seen between her teeth when she spoke.

"Don't you use first names?" She had gotten over the surprise, having received a call from the General an hour or so earlier and hearing his story.

"Not really," Sephiroth replied, following her as she led him around the building and into a garage, large and empty.

Her full name was Katedona Tousaz, and he knew that, but even so, it was a habit to use last names only. Looking the woman over, he couldn't help but notice she went coatless, wearing only a red vest over a black, long-sleeved shirt and a pair of red, armylike pants.

"So, what d'you need from me?" Kate queried, leaning on one wall of the building. She was skipping work to come here, but she had felt it worthwhile just to meet up with him again.


She was taken aback by the reply, but Kate was quick to shoot back, "Why?"

"Also, I will need a map of the entire city, from sewers to alleys," he went on, ignoring her question. "Now, I cannot pull this off too fast nor too slow, or else any hopes of success will be demolished."

"Why do you need SOLDIERs?" Kate demanded, hands on her hips and balled into fists.

Sephiroth looked at her as if seeing a giant boulder heading for him, puzzled and a little offended. A grin slowly curled his lips, a glint in his eyes. "A mission."

Their talk went fast, and neither one saw the thing moving through the shadows.


Navi scratched her head for the millionth time that morning about three weeks later, sure her scalp was going to fall off. She had woken up to see her computer on and a new file up, this one of an unmistakeable Mako-eyed man.

What puzzled her was the newest date in the FOXX File, which read:

Sighted in Junon.

She shook her head and sighed. It was obvious Riley or Xion had hacked into her files to mess with her, she was sure of it.

"It's all right, y'know."

Navi made a screeching sound at the voice, then turned to see Reno, looking serious, but she seemed skeptical. "I'm sure."

Reno heard the more-than-a-hint of sarcasm in her voice, and just shrugged, knowing he had his proof as the door swung open and Navi went absolutely white. "Have a nice outing?" he asked, turning to face Sephiroth.

"Yes, but I believe we may need to get your friend to start breathing again, Drannor," the other replied, nodding toward Navi.

True, Navi did look a bit comical, but she was making slight choking noises in her throat when Reno noticed it. "Wake up," he snapped, waving a hand infront of her eyes.

She could only make fragments of sentences. "He. . .dead. . .how. . .killed. . .AVALANCHE. . .here?"

Sephiroth sighed and shook his head, sitting on the couch and just barely missing the lump under the blanket next to him. "Yes, I am dead, yes, AVALANCHE did kill me, and yes, I am sitting here talking to you. I'm just here for a kind of visit," he explained with a dismissive wave, perking his interest as the blanket moved and groaned.

Navi still looked like she was in the dark about all of it, and he made a mental note to tell her about it later.

"I. . .knew it!" the blanket screeched, Xion's eyes lit as he popped up.

Sephiroth backed up a bit and arched a thin brow at the young boy, who seemed to be very awake. "Knew what?" he asked as if he'd lived there forever.

"I knew it was you! I've read about every book written on you! I almost joined the SOLDIER program because of you!" Xion screeched, looking like a complete loon.

This was all a surprise for a blurry-eyed Tifa, who stood just inside the entryway for the room. She knew she must've looked terrible, for she could feel her hair in knots. She looked at Xion, or the hazed figure of him, having just learned he looked up to Sephiroth with admiration instead of hatred.

Tifa also looked at Reno a bit differently, not even listening as the four continued in their conversation, and made a note to herself to admit it to him when the opportunity arose.

She glanced back to Sephiroth, who had really seemed to have changed a bit. She didn't hear the question she was asked before Reno repeated it.

"Up for a walk?"

Tifa looked at him and nodded quickly, a faint smile pulling at her lips.

Reno just nodded and led her out, wanting to blurt out all of Sephiroth's plans then and there to her. Another thing he wanted to do was to fry the man on the end of his mag-rod, but he was under the thumb of Sephiroth.

Reno had assured Sephiroth he would keep silent, and he had done so for the past three weeks.

Sephiroth had promised Reno to keep the feds away from him in return.

It all made Reno Drannor sick.

"Something wrong?"

He snapped from his daydreaming to see Tifa looking up to him, a confused look in her eyes. He managed a grin, not being able to pry his gaze from her. He still needed an answer, but was reluctant, knowing Sephiroth would need to know about it, too.

"I'm fine. Guess I didn't get enough sleep or somethin'," he muttered, lying to her once again. He moved forward at a quicker pace now. He finally came to a flight of stairs and ascended, coming out into the morning light of Junon.

After a few deep breaths of real air, he was on his way again, making sure Tifa was behind him at all times. He was on a course for Zan's bar, knowing he should at least pay the man a visit sometime.

Talk was light as they went through the streets, Tifa hanging like a child on Reno's arm. They did this nearly every day, but nothing had happened yet, and Wutai seemed to be gone.

"You know very well how I feel about you."

Reno pretended he hadn't heard the soft voice of Tifa, but he nearly swooned.

You heard her wrong. . . You heard her wrong. . .

This proved to no avail, however, as she repeated the same thing, now gripping his arm a bit harder to grab some attention.

Reno looked at the young woman next to him, feigning confusion. "How's that?" he queried, starting back toward Zan's bar. They were close, and maybe once they were inside, she'd forget about it.

"You're playing stupid," Tifa scolded.

Reno didn't reply, only wanted a shot of gin to rid his mouth of a new taste; one of deception.

Something that caught his eye caused him to jerk into an alley, making sure Tifa came with him, and pinned her against the brick wall with a devilish grin.

Tifa broke into a cold sweat, looking at him with wide eyes. What was this? Was she about to be killed? She did let out a small gasp of surprise as he made his order.

"Kiss me."

Now it was starting to get odd, but as much as she wanted to scream, Tifa felt herself doing the complete opposite; taking him up on the offer.

Reno felt a sense of his own surprise wash over him as their lips made contact, but he had to admit he had enjoyed the look on her face when he had instructed her to do that. He had released the kind of pressure he had put on her arms and a hand now rested on either of her hips.

Unlike what she might've anticipated, Reno wasn't as rough as he looked. Tifa found herself brought from life for a moment, and when she returned, she'd wrapped her arms around his neck. This was so sudden, but it wasn't like she was complaining.

She'd figured this might happen.

Reno, feeling his own sense of pleasure on the other end of this, moved his hands slowly up to the edge of her shirt, but was cut off.

"OH, GAWD!!"

"We can finish later," Reno muttered to Tifa as he pulled back, a promise he intended to keep. Although that had just been a distraction, he had planned, he had to admit that by her reaction, he would've wound up finishing or close anyway.

Tifa, dazed out of her mind, just nodded and looked around, finally remembering the other sound. She froze when she looked down the alley, staring at a Wutai fed who looked extremely familiar.


The young girl's eyelids were barely able to be seen as she stared at them, gun leveled at the head of Reno. She had no problem with killing him, but nothing could've prepared her for that. She looked as if she'd been stricken between the eyes with a hammer.

"The brat's a fed," Reno said with a click of his tongue, flipping his mag-rod out. "From stealing to confiscating. Well, I guess I can understand that."

Yuffie was still shocked. She looked at Tifa, forgetting her current position for the moment. "You're fucking serious?!"

"Are you gonna kill me, or not?" Reno asked loudly, giving the former Materia hunter a glare.

"I'm surprised I'm not blind!" Yuffie screeched in reply, ignoring the fact she was indeed supposed to kill him on sight.

Tifa, glad it was dark in the alley, was red as the blood coursing her veins. Yuffie was the last person she would've thought to be a fed, but it was embarrassing enough to be caught like that with anyone.

Reno'd had enough, and, by taking the element of surprise to his advantage, managed to get a firm blow in with the side of his mag-rod to Yuffie's side.

The young ninja shook her head and took off, knowing that she couldn't take Reno out alone, but also knowing that she couldn't let him die in Tifa's sight. Instead, she simply moved to the next alley to lie in wait.

"All the trash she talks, then she runs after a hit," Reno muttered, shaking his head and turning around. "Well, I doubt we can stay out here very long and live."

Tifa nodded in agreement, still uneasy. She had never guessed they'd be caught just taking a walk, but that didn't bother her. Nothing bothered her at the time.

She smiled and wrapped her arms around his again as they started out of the alley.

Reno, smiling to himself, figured he should make more diversions in the future, and never felt the eyes from the shadows leave his back.


Yuffie peeled off her fed suit, which was a fake anyway, and walked back into the stone building that awaited her, easily navigating through the winding corridors.

She had a bad feeling as she knocked on the door and was greeted with a grunt of permission for entrance.

The former AVALANCHE member had never been a fed, had been undercover as one who was undercover, in fact.

She walked in and sat at the chair she was usually seated in, findinf herself, not uncommonly, staring at the back of a chair and the windows infront of it. "Sir?" she called quietly.

"By your tone, I doubt you have good information, Kisaragi," the man hissed, turning around in his chair to give her a cold stare. "What is it?"

"I believe the target and the quarry may be. . .involved, Sir," Yuffie replied, hating using code, but knowing people could tap the wires. "Luckily, help, I am informed, has arrived."

No one could've missed the balled fists her boss had clenched as she spoke the first line, nor the murderous look in his eyes. "That will be all, Yuffie," he said through clenched teeth.

Yuffie was about to say he'd never called her by her name, but bit her tongue and asked something else. "Awaiting orders, Sir."

The man was silent for a time, but finally said, "See what 'Puppet' has to say."

Yuffie couldn't help but grin at the nickname, nodding and sismissing herself quickly.

As soon as she was gone, her surperior slammed the fists on his desk and picked up his identification, in the form of a glass orb with his name engraved on it on the side.

He stared at it for a moment, then hurled it suddenly at the wall, watching as it shattered into pieces.

He didn't deserve that name.


Cloud Strife had died moments earlier.


Part Five: This Is Your Mission If You Choose To Accept It

Sephiroth was having daily meetings with Katedona, unknown to anyone in the Den except Reno. He would just declare he was leaving and do it, no questions asked.

Presently, he stood there speaking with her.

"I believe they've discovered it," Kate warned him.

Sephiroth replied with, "It will mess with the man's head. Maybe wake him up a bit. Back on the topic, if you don't mind, the time is drawing close."

Kate nodded. "Mere days. You're sure this is what you want to do?" she queried, twirling a bit of her red hair between her fingers.

"If we decide not to, it won't be by my word. Is that good enough for you?"

Kate was silent, seeing the rhetorical question posed.

"Others have seen me. Should I get rid of them, or just send them off with a 'warning?'" was his next question, a smirk planted on his lips.

Kate frowned. "Both are the same thing, correct?"


"Whichever," came the end of the curt statements. "Why's he even cooperating with us?"

Sephiroth changed the subject. "Do you have my maps yet?"

For three weeks, Sephiroth had been waiting for a layout of the entire city, and so far, he'd gotten absolutely nothing. And now, they had four days to put his plan into action.

Kate nodded, but stayed silent. After a moment of that, she asked again, "Why's he cooperating, Sephiroth?"

"Blackmail. Do me a favor and send out our team."





"Thirteen's your final chance, Puppet," Sephiroth snapped, now standing with the leader of Claratish, Cloud Strife.

"Twelve and a half is as high as I go," Cloud replied coolly.

"Twelve and a half it is, but if we succeed, I may expect more."

Cloud nodded. "We close at twelve and a half for now, then." He took the pen from his desk and looked at the line where he was told to sign.

He didn't know if the threat would go through, even, but he wasn't one to take chances anymore. The ex-AVALANCHE member sighed heavily and signed in black.

Cloud Strife, however, was signing away a life.


Tifa looked oddly at Reno, who sat on the bench outside the cafe, staring into space. This had been happening a lot, along with some bad dreams, but now it was getting more frequent with each passing day.

The coffee in his hand was burning his skin, but Reno Drannor felt he deserved it for going along with Sephiroth's plan. He finally snapped from his daze and turned to meet Tifa's eyes, which had seemed somehow more beautiful than usual.

It was sure now, the two were in love with each other. Even a person who just saw them looking at each other could establish that fact.

Winter hadn't let up any, and breaths came in showers of ice crystals, but something eventually got to them and they just kind of faded from the face of the Planet.

Ah, how much Reno would've liked to be one of those right now.

Oddly enough, Reno reminded Tifa of Vincent Valentine at times; he would just stare at something unseen to others, but she had known what was going through Vincent's head. Memories of the ShinRa Mansion, Lucrecia, Hojo, and others.

Reno, however, was hard to read, and she had been constantly asking what was wrong to no avail.

A beeping interrupted their thoughts, and Reno fumbled with the phone in his pocket, standing up and walking casually into an alley. Once there, he pressed the device to his ear and sighed, letting Sephiroth know he was there. "What?"

["I've the maps, a date, and I am cleared with Puppet."]

"You're telling me this, why?" Reno prodded, rubbing his temples with his free hand.

["I'm giving you four days to do what you need to, Drannor. Don't waste them."]

The phone went off with a click.

Reno put his own back in his pocket, then walked back out onto the street to take his previous spot, glancing to the clock inside the cafe as he did. It was opening in a few minutes.

A few more minutes closer to four days later, was all Reno could think about. He looked over at Tifa, his stomach tight. He wanted to tell her; wanted to blurt out everything, but he knew he wouldn't live long enough to do anything about it if he did.

He looked down the street and silently cursed himself to see a man in his late teens strolling toward them. This wasn't what he needed, and, seeing the cold gaze of emerald green eyes locked upon him, he knew this wasn't going to turn out well.

Reno was about to stand up, but two men emerged from opposite sides of the street and strode to stand at his flanks, the three looking like the walked with a purpose.

Tifa must've noticed them, too, for she shifted and softly asked, "Friends?"

Reno didn't reply, only looked at the two new men.

One had red hair, much liked his, but it stood straight up, making him look like he'd gone through a vacuum cleaner. He wore a leather jacket, various piercings on his face.

The other was too far away to see, but he soon took up the lead, and Reno had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach as they curved and started straight for him.

It was then he saw the leader's face.

"No," came out in a rasp, his throat tight.

Long, light brown hair tumbled down his back, hi eyes like staring into two frozen pools of water. The three arrived, and the two others were recognized as Marcus and Nang.

"Well, well, well," Cero muttered, clicking his tongue in disapproval. "Looks like the lone Drannor rides."

Reno, looking for something to fire back, said the first thing that came to mind. "You didn't die with all the other crap in Sector Seven?" He immediately regretted it, for he could almost feel Tifa tense on his other side.

"How 'bout we play a little game a' Dani with yer friend here?" Marcus suggested, sharing a laugh with Nang.

Tifa was clueless as to what this meant, but she could see the wave of fire sweeping over Reno's eyes.

"How'd you wind up in Junon, loner?" was Cero's next question.

Reno was silent as Cero snapped his fingers and Nang and Marcus pulled them off into an alley, not even trying to resist. Nang was larger than any of them, and even Tifa's blows didn't loosen his grip.

Once in the alley, Cero lit a cigarette and looked around. Seeing no one was there, he pulled out the switchblade, which Reno immediately recognized and growled lowly at, then turned to look at Tifa. "Well, Reno, you get to see two deaths -- by the same person and weapon -- and then I'll finally give you yours."

"Boss," Marcus hissed. He was gripping Reno in a full-nelson, and it was so dark that no one would've been able to see them if they'd stared in there from the street.

"What is it?!" came the reply, covered in vehemence.

Marcus chuckled lightly and nodded at Tifa. "You sure you wanna kill 'er?"

Cero looked offended. "Of course! What else would I -- . . .oooh. What fun," he muttered, smirking like a loon.

It took a minute for this to sink in, but when it did, Reno was sure he broke his arms and lost his voice, thrashing against Marcus and yelling.

"Silence him," Cero demanded.

Quick to oblige, his 'minion' gave Reno a punch in the face and a hard slug in the stomach, making him crumple and gasp. Reno gripped the very concrete, as if that would somehow hurt Cero, as he tried desperately to refill his lungs while coughing on his own blood.

Cero looked thoughtful, then shook his head. "It'd be too loud out here. . ." He looked at Tifa, his eyes swirling in madness.

". . .Which means we need to find someplace else."

Marcus grabbed the back of Reno's shirt and lifted him over a shoulder casually, looking to Cero. "Back to the place?"

Cero nodded and snapped his fingers a second time, nodding in approval when Nang had Tifa in a grip she couldn't escape with the hardest effort.

They were about to leave when. . .


Marcus was the closest to the call, and, when he looked over, was the first to be hit with three bullets to the neck. He gagged and dropped Reno from the full height of his shoulder, his eyes bulging as he gripped for his throat and crumpled to his knees, writhing in pain.

Nang was the second. It took over five shots to send him down, but none even came close to Tifa.

Cero, looking around like a trapped heron, made a hasty retreat from the alley, disappearing around the corner.

Tifa was so preoccupied with the safety of Reno that she didn't even notice their 'savior' until Reno looked at him, then he had both of their attention.

The sight was shocking.

Vincent Valentine stood there, shrouded within the shadows, but even his presence gave his identity away. He looked at them both with cold eyes, keeping his impassive facade of a face. He still wore his red cape; still held the Death Penalty; still looked just like he had years ago.

"Vince?!!" Tifa shrieked, half-scared, half-elated.

Vincent didn't flinch, nor did he blink an eye. He stood there a moment longer before slowly striding to them with a curt nod. He bent down and whispered a few things to Reno, unheard by Tifa, before standing back up. He then proceeded to walk calmly after Cero, or at least in that direction.

Tifa was now frozen in confusion, but then she was even more in the dark when she looked down and, from a bit of light in the alley, saw how pale Reno'd gone.


The ex-Turk stared after Vincent. He'd heard it. Vincent knew the whole plan, from the date to how it was to be executed. What this meant for now, Reno could only guess, but he doubted it would be anything good. He knew they couldn't stay in one place for long, so that left the only choice he had for the time.

"We're goin' home."


Oddly enough, Reno managed to keep the promise he'd made, before they ran into Yuffie weeks before, that night. . .


Three days.

That was nearly all Reno thought about as he laid in bed early the next morning, Tifa asleep in his arms. He did have to smile to himself, though, at how everything had turned out between them. He absently rubbed the dip in his shoulder with his chin, where Tifa had bit him a bit too hard.

He thought back on the past twenty-some years of his life and had to decrease the smile.

He'd always been keeping everyone at arm's length, never wanting to deal with 'commitment,' if you could call it that, of having to devote himself to something.

The Turks didn't count, he added to himself with a grin.

He'd been the one in the bars, leaving with a different woman every night, never having seen them again past nine the next morning. Reno Drannor had a kind of personal wall around himself; one that let no one in; one built after his parents and sister were killed; one that got stronger with each succession of missing out on commitment.

Tifa, though, had found the loose brick in the wall, and was able to pass it, along with the Turks and maybe a few others. If he were able to have another chance, Reno decided he would have probably stopped himself from letting people through the loose brick so easily. Pulling back and looking at what he had to brag about in his life, Reno found that any success at all was slim to impossible to find.

Feeling the raven-brown hair pressed lightly to his face, though, Reno found that this was about his biggest accomplishment since joining SOLDIER, being pulled from the program, and being tossed into the Turks.

As if on command, Tifa shifted against him, pressing herself slightly closer, though the bed was large enough for her to spread out if needed.

Reno knew she was asleep, but kept absoutely still just for a bit of safety. The large cut across his cheek from the sharp knuckles of Marcus still throbbed lightly with each thump of his head, but he knew he'd tough it out.

It was then that Vincent came to mind.

He knew he was dangerous, but he also knew the man was intellegent from Turk rumors. What this meant was that whatever Vincent wanted to do with the information he'd been given was most likely possible for him.

Reno sighed and closed his eyes, though in the pitch black of the apartment, it made it no darker than it already was.

A single phrase went almost silently through his lips before he drifted off.

"You're a moron and you never truly saw what you ignored and passed up, Cloud."



The ex-Turk was no longer surprised when Tseng visited him via Lifestream, but he still jumped slightly at his name and opened his eyes quickly, to see a heavenly-like Tseng, a kind of glow coming off of him.

"You're back," he stated a bit coldly, sitting up and feeling a slight chill as he passed through Tifa. It had been explained that this was simply his soul leaving his body to communicate with someone from the Lifestream for awhile.

Creepy is how he explained it.

"Bad timing?" Tseng questioned with the hint of a smirk, taking a spot at the foot of the bed.

Reno rubbed his head. "I'm guessing you watched?"

Tseng shrugged, but shook his head. "That's one thing the Lifestream prohibits, but I got the point of how it was going to turn out. You know why I'm here, I assume."

Not a question.

"You've got three days to establish how much you love her, Reno. Hate to sound like a lecture from beyond the grave, but I think this is going to be as close to one as you're ever going to get," Tseng said without waiting for an answer to his 'question.'

Reno gave him a glare that could knock a WEAPON over. "You don't think I've established that," he accused.

Tseng gave him a stare, not flinching under his hard gaze. "Have you?"

This brought silence down on the younger ex-Turk. He wondered just how much of a point Tseng had, or if he really had established that already. Casting a glance over his shoulder to, well, himself and Tifa, he stared for a moment and then looked back to Tseng. His voice was softer as well as his eyes. "Three words and I could make her understand just how much --"

"Say those three words and you'll be kicking yourself in four days, Reno. I don't want to see words. I want to see action," Tseng snapped, his voice raising a bit.

This time, Tseng had a point.

Tseng continued, "When the time comes, what are you going to do? Gung-ho with the plan? Stop it? I'd really like to know, because right now, as far as I know, you're stuck on going for it."

Reno was about to reply, but Tseng went on in a kind of rant.

"You know what Sephiroth and Cloud plan on doing as well as you knew what Cero was going to do yesterday. But you ran away like a coward; you didn't step up and say how much you care for Tifa; you didn't voice your opinion and tell them to halt the mission. No, you ran away and hid it all from Tifa. I know you were trained to lie, and I know you're afraid of being committed as well as I know I trained you as a Turk not to let emotions surface, but enough's enough, Reno!" Tseng exclaimed.

Reno exploded, swinging a fist to the face of Tseng.

Despite being out of the Lifestream, anything physical was still felt, and Tseng was sent sprawling onto the floor.

The red-haired young man was susprised to hear his uneven chuckle as he staggered back up. "Show action like that in three days. . .and you'll both be fine."

And then he was gone.


For the first time since Tseng's first visit, Reno woke with wide eyes to more of the blackness around him, his ears still ringing with one phrase in particular.

'When the time comes, what are you going to do?'

Reno Drannor now had an answer, he decided as he adjusted his arms around Tifa, glad to see she was still there.

Tifa wouldn't be lured into Cloud and Sephiroth's trap.

Tifa wouldn't be killed, and Reno would make sure of it.


Part Six: Three Days. . .

Tifa awoke a few hours later, when the sun had begun its ascent over the horizon and opened the sun to its usual light blue color. She refused to open her eyes, not wanting to welcome that blazing sun, but then figured the sooner she started on her work, the sooner she could be finished.

She yawned and opened her eyes, meeting the wide-awake impassive face of Reno. The brunette smiled faintly, still feeling the sleep trying to claim her again. "Morning," she muttered groggily.

Reno had been awake and watching her since Tseng's visit, debating his words carefully. Blurting something out wouldn't be the way to go was the only thing he'd come up with, but he knew he had to speak with Sephiroth. "You're awake," he observed simply.

Tifa nodded, shifting to lay her head against his shoulder.

Reno suppressed a shudder at the image of what could happen three days later as it ran through his head, settling on pulling his fingers lightly through her hair and keeping silent. "I'll be back." An odd statement, but he knew he had to call Sephiroth as soon as possible.

Tifa just nodded, letting her eyes fall closed as she felt his weight leave the mattress of 'their' bed.

The ex-Turk sat up and fished his pants from the floor, throwing them on carelessly and standing up. He was sure his hair was a mess and that he needed a shower, but he passed that on his way to the living room.

The previous night, he decided, was the small push he needed to speak with the silver-haired maniac.

And he didn't mean Tseng's talk.

Reno mumbled and rubbed his face, finding his phone on the table. He dialed in Sephiroth's number, noticing it was only seven in the morning, and was answered almost immediately.


Reno sighed at the almost coolness of his voice. "Yeah, it's me. Listen, --"

Sephiroth hissed, ["Where did you go, and why is she with you?!"]

'For many reasons,' Reno thought to say. He ended up with, "We have to call the plan off."

Silence came for at least thirty seconds, only muffled voices beyond his recognition reaching his ear.

["Impossible. Strife refuses, and he's sure he does not want to know why you're deciding to go against us."]

Reno could understand that, he decided. "Look, Sephiroth. If you don't stop it, I'll take some action. In three days, if you don't have it called off, I will find you, and the result will not be pleasant."

["You're threatening me?"]

"If you want it to turn into a threat, it can very quickly," Reno snapped. "Get back to me."

He clicked off the phone and looked around, relieved to find he was still alone in the room, save for his cat, who was looking at him oddly.

"Go away!" he hissed, setting off one from the cat and sending it dashing into the bedroom.

Reno suspected this wasn't going to be a day he'd want to have, but he knew he'd have to face Sephiroth sooner or later. He sat down in his chair and rubbed his head, looking around again.

>From the things scattered around the kitchen, he figured Tseng had found his own food in the time they were gone. He also noticed how messy the place was, stood up, and started for the kitchen.

He was up, so he might as well clean.


Sephiroth calmly put his phone away and drummed all four fingers on his left hand against his temple, standing facing the wall next to a file cabinet.

A large table, but not in the best of shape, held four other people behind him.

They were in an abandoned building right next to Reno's, but he'd refused to make the attack now. Turning around, the former SOLDIER captain looked at those four people and took his seat at the head of the table silently.

To his right sat Cloud Strife, and to his left, Katedona. Next to Katedona was Yuffie, who was a big part in Claratish, and next to Cloud was Cero.

Three chairs sat unfilled, belonging to Nang, Marcus, and the man they currently waited for.

"As I mentioned, Drannor wishes to stop or make us stop the mission."

He glared at Yuffie, who'd given a snort at the statement. She shut up quickly.

"All of us know this cannot happen, but all of us also know that Drannor isn't an idiot. Yes, I'll even admit he has a bit of a mind left," he added with a disturbing smirk. "We've wiped out the Den?" he queried.

"Sir," Cloud affirmed, flinching at having to call him that.

Sephiroth waited for a moment, then said, "Suggestions?"

Cero immediately spoke up. "Take out Drannor right now, then get the bitch."

"Cero," Cloud growled, his hands balling into fists. It wasn't like he absolutely hated Tifa.

"We stop."

All five looked to see Vincent Valentine standing at the doorway, a serious look in his hollow red eyes. "Yes, you heard me correctly. We stop. Remind me why we are doing this again."

Four were silent, and Yuffie seemed a bit nervous all of a sudden. Kate, however, spoke up.

"She has caused all of us misery at one time or another," she said with a slight hiss on 'misery.'

Vincent didn't look at all convinced. "How has she affected you, Katedona?"

The red-haired woman was silent for a moment, but finally replied, " ShinRa. I worked there, and I barely escaped."

Vincent now had his point across. "Whose fault was that? I believe it was Sephiroth's, was it not? He is the one who decided to slaughter the staff. To move on, Cloud?"

Cloud glared at him. "You know very well."

Vincent was rounding the table now, hands behind his back. "That was your own fault. Aeris got in the way, I believe, and you shoved Tifa away. Then, when Aeris was killed, you got mad because Tifa was no longer there wanting you. Again, not Tifa's fault. Possibly Sephiroth's. Yuffie?"

Yuffie was absolutely silent. She finally murmured, "Nothing."

"And you are only here by Cloud's command, therefore, you've every right to blame Sephiroth as well, in my view," he added, sending a look Sephiroth's way.

"I believe you've said enough, Valentine," the tall man snapped.

Vincent continued. "Cero?"

"He didn't stay off of our turf," the former gang leader said confidently.

But Vincent shook a finger at him. "This disappoints me. Even as a gang leader, you know you've caused him enough pain. You're here just to try to end it you say, but you actually just happened to be a fan of Sephiroth. I know this, and it can be retraced to him once again."

The crimson-clad man turned to look at Sephiroth with some twisted satisfaction in his blood-like eyes. "And, yourself?"

"A request from Aeris," he immediately said.

Vincent went on. " Sephiroth, Aeris does not control you. You have no reason to do this, and you know it, except for the fact you would like to get your revenge on AVALANCHE. Aeris is gone, therefore, there is no reason to obery her anymore. Do not get me wrong, I loved her as a friend, but this has to stop. All in all, even you yourself can blame the tall ex-SOLDIER infront of me."

As anticipated, everyone was mulling over what had been said, and they mostly came up with one conclusion.

Sephiroth was to blame, and they had never wanted to do this.

"You're down to five members," Vincent finally broke the silence, turning on his heel and walking from the room.

The leader of the operation waited for a moment, approving silently as at first no one seemed to want to leave, but then Yuffie dared to stand and follow suit.

Cero caught Sephiroth looking at him and give a curt nod of his head. He then gripped inside of his jean jacket and leaped up, jamming the end of his best knife into Yuffie's spine.

As she felt the pain, the blood started flowing from her back, which kicked the adrenaline in and caused it to pump faster. All in all, trying to stay alive was killing her. A part of her brain had shut down when her spine had been severed, and she was no longer able to comprehend what was happening.

This made it impossible for the adrenaline to stop, and also for the blood to quit flowing. As she hit her knees and then fell onto her face, the glaze in her eyes signified the pain she could no longer feel, and as the knife was pulled from her back, another jolt went over her form.

Her lungs collapsed, making her breathing stop in mid-inhale, and her mouth formed a small 'o,' as if to say something or make a short prayer.

The room went silent, and Cloud deathly pale.

Yuffie's corpse was laying there at Cero's feet, the man's knife still held threateningly at his side, but he soon shoved it back into his jacket and took his seat.

Silence was still there, before Sephiroth muttered one thing.



Vincent moved back through the building until he was in the alley next to Reno's place. He looked up and frowned, seeing the window twenty feet in the air, and closed.

He settled for the front door. It took only a few moments for him to get to Reno's door, and from there, picking the lock came easy.


Reno was finishing up picking the clothes from the floor when Vincent entered quietly, but still enough to attract attention with the creaky door.

Tifa was asleep, again, in his armchair, looking like a cocooned animal, and didn't wake up as he came in.

"You're here to kill me," Reno accused, though his eyes were hollow and sunken, as if he were expecting it. Truth was, he knew they would probably send someone after him after he'd run his smart mouth that morning.

Vincent stared at him, shaking his head. "I'm here to keep both of you alive. I believe we've both irritated them to the edge."

Reno snorted and stood up, his hand knowing the path to his mag-rod if the need were to arise. "And I should believe you, why?"

"I cannot force you," Vincent replied immediately, figuring it a good thing he hadn't been shot at yet. "But I do hope you believe, for it is the easiest way to guarantee Tifa will not be harmed. I know how you feel about her, and I know you'd like it no other way than she stay alive."

Reno looked as if something had just walked out of Vincent and crawled into him. "How would you know any of that?"

Vincent, for once, gave him a smirk. "Yuffie has brought back some interesting updates, Reno."

Reno had almost taken those words as a physical blow. "Yuffie's in on this? And exactly what'd she say?!" He looked over his shoulder, satisfied to see Tifa still sleeping.

"Yuffie's always been in on it, and you know what she said," Vincent assumed. "If you wish to live, I am going to stay here when needed for the next three days, because we need to plan this out well."

Reno thought on it, then nodded faintly. "Mention it to Tifa, and you're dead. Take the couch."


Vincent made it seem like he was perfectly content that night as he 'went off to sleep.' What he really did, though, was call Sephiroth again, waiting patiently after three rings.

["Drannor?"] came the grumbled greeting.

"Valentine," Vincent replied simply, pleased with a sound of acknowledgement. "I'm guessing they all bought it?"

Sephiroth chuckled on the other end. ["Yuffie, a bit too much, but the others, yes."]

Vincent closed his eyes, knowing very well what they had agreed on if someone had chosen to follow."I. . .suppose. Back on the subject. Here is how we do this. . ."

And so, he gave Sephiroth a plan in detail.

Himself, Reno, and Tifa would arrive inside the hangar near the large office building in the heart of Junon in three days, where Vvincent would act on their side until Cloud, Sephiroth, Cero, and Katedona showed up. From there, he would then turn on Reno and Tifa, following through with the original plan and then leaving.

Reno would live, Tifa would die, and the plan would be fixed again.

Sephiroth brooded this for a moment. ["Deal."]

And with the click of a phone, they were disconnected for three days.


Part Seven: . . .Three Words

The day was tomorrow, when their plans would be put into action. As usual, Reno went to bed with a feeling of deception as he felt Tifa in his arms, and he wanted to tell her all of it, right then. He could do it. He could confess and sweep her off to some remote place, but the words never came.

Words and actions, however, did come this night as he laid beneath the moonlight, his arms hung loosely around her waist.


She mumbled in response, but then turned over to face him, completely aware. "Yeah?"

Reno stared into her eyes, which had always seemed a bit burgandy, and couldn't force himself to say a thing for a moment. He brought a hand up and rubbed her cheek with a thumb, silently closing the space between them and pressing his lips to hers.

They stayed this way for a moment before Reno slowly backed off, still barely breathing loud enough for himself to hear in the silence of the apartment.

Tifa looked a bit surprised, but it wasn't like she was going to complain.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, his hand still resting on the side of her face.

This time, Tifa was visibly confused. "For what?" she queried, having no problem with anything he'd done so far.

"Bringing you into all this," was the reply she received.

Reno couldn't admit what he was thinking; four days ago, they had both been so shaken by Cero's gang's appearance, the night hadn't been completely. . . He couldn't even find the word to describe it.

Tifa shook her head the best she could while resting it against a pillow. "I'm glad you got me out of Kalm. I'm glad I had to stay with you, and I'm glad things worked out the way they did."

Reno wanted to scream. That was exactly what he'd needed to shift his stomach around. He'd been lying to her. He knew he never wanted her to leave. He was sure of that now, but he had a sinking feeling that Vincent's proposal was too good to be true.

Bad luck seemed to follow him everywhere.

"Promise me something," he blurted out suddenly.

Again, Tifa was taken aback by this, but nodded, furrowing her brows. Reno was acting a bit odd.

Reno couldn't believe he was about to say this. "If something happens to me, promise you won't do anything stupid."

"Reno, wha --"

"Tiff," he choked out, now on the verge of tears. He was surprising himself tonight. . . "Just this one thing, I need you to promise me."

Tifa thought on this a moment. It almost seemed like a warning, but she could sense he really wanted her confirmation on this. Why was he acting so strange, and why was he talking like this, though?

"Promise," she found herself saying. "But, why?"

"Because I love you too much." There was something he hadn't meant to say at all. And yet. . .

Tifa's eyelids looked like someone had shoved them back, but it was too dark by now to see them. Had she heard that, or was this some kind of odd dream?

Reno sighed, knowing he'd just stared truth in the eyes and then passed the look to her, if someone were to want a comparison. "I know it's a surprise. . .but it's true." From what she'd said, he doubted this would be too much of a problem.

The ravern-haired woman was at a loss for a voice. She couldn't believe what she was hearing, and from the way Reno spoke in a tone like a child being scolded, she suspected he couldn't either. Deciding she couldn't get words to form, she wrapped her arms around his neck and caught him in one of those kisses that made the point clear that she returned the feeling.

What they had no clue of was Vincent, who stood just inside the doorway, had heard all of it, and put on a blank look.

He now felt. . .depressed.


The next morning came in all its morbidity, as Reno thought of it, for the ex-Turk. He awoke once again feeling his arm had been snapped off at the elbow from the lack of bloodflow, but relieved to find Tifa had again stayed there the night.

After last night's confession -- or confessions, whichever way you chose to look on it -- he found himself wanting to close his eyes and sleep through the day, but was forced up by the pure feeling he needed to do this to get it over with. He opened his eyes after blinking a few times to meet blazing sun.

Obviously, he'd gotten more sleep than usual.

Sleeping in the suit hadn't been as comfortable as he would've been had he word just a shirt, but he had a kind of attachment to the Turks, even after years of separation from them all. Reno, having no uneasiness hanging over his head now, managed to wake Tifa by dragging his lips lazily over the back of her neck, forcing a groan and a muffled laugh.

She had to admit, it wasn't such a rude awakening.

"You're awake," he greeted as his usual morning observation.

Tifa let out what could've very well been classified as a giggle. "You're annoying. We're even."

Reno reached over his shoulder and grabbed one of the smaller pillows, lightly hitting her in the head with it. "Not funny."

"When you're finished, breakfast is made."

The two looked up in surprise to see a wide-awake Vincent just outside the door, looking at them expectantly, but especially Reno. He knew this wouldn't be easy. . .for either one of them.

Reno nodded and waved him off, sitting up, already dressed for the day. After Vincent had left, he looked back to Tifa, who was also getting ready to leave the comfort of the large bed. "Last night --" He was cut off.

"-- Happened, and I don't regret a bit of it, Reno," she finished for him, a smile spread on her lips.

Reno made no movement besides standing up and leaving the room. Unlike himself, she'd had a chance to change into something able to sleep in, so he figured she'd like to change. Once he was at the door, however, she called him back for a moment.


The man in question looked straight over his shoulder with a questioning expression but no words.

Not wanting to have any attention attracted to them -- from Vincent, for example -- she simply mouthed three words:

'I love you.'

Reno nearly swooned, but grinned widely and shut the door behind him, his head feeling a bit less aching this morning. If anyone'd asked him back in Midgar, he would've admitted Tifa was way out of even his league, but it seemed like fate had finally given him a break.

"What time're we goin'?" he queried to Vincent, who had already taken his seat at the table and started on whatever he'd made.

The crimson-clad man looked up for a moment, then replied with, "As soon as possible, if it's alright with you.

Reno nodded and took a seat, stabbing his fork at the eggs laid infront of him.

He knew the whole plan by now.

Reno and Vincent would act like they were playing along, and at the last minute, turn on Cloud and Sephiroth and shoot them down. Tifa would be left unhurt, and as far as Reno was concerned, everyone would be happy.

Well, save for the dead ones.

The creaking door told them to drop the conversation as Tifa walked out to the table and took the third seat, still not having changed to get ready for the day.

She looked around in a kind of awe. "Look at this," she murmured.

Reno thought she'd gone insane for a moment, but as he looked around, he noticed how clean everything looked this morning. The kitchen was near spotless, the clothing was picked up and put in a laundry basket for later, and everything looked. . .clean.

"Vincent?" he queried, receiving no response. He took this as an affirmation. "Nice," he muttered with a whistle.

Tseng leaped from some hidden spot on the couch, which was now only five feet from them, and managed to still hit Reno's shoulder.

Vincent looked like he was going to leave his skin. "Is that not surprising at times, Reno?"

Reno shrugged and smirked at Tifa, who was trying to suppress one of her own at Vincent's question.

"Tseng's a bit different," Tifa managed to say through her teeth, her throat threatening to let out a boom of a laugh.

For the first time since he'd known them, Vincent looked surprised at something. He stared oddly at the cat, whose gaze only matched his as he questioned, "Tseng?"

Reno nodded and shoved half of a slice of toast into his mouth and then tried to speak. "Athiz ane."

Vincent and Tifa both blinked before he swallowed the toast and cleared his throat.

"That's his name, I mean," he corrected, then moving back to the eggs.

Vincent nodded slowly and dismissed himself, standing up with his plate and walking into the kitchen, where he washed the plate off. He seemed a bit different himself, but Vincent was always. . .well, different.

Despite being the last to arrive, Tifa was the next to place her plate in the sink, and Reno after that. The red-haired ex-Turk walked to his -- still, maybe their -- bedroom, stepping into the bathroom and locking the door behind him.

He still remembered the first real day Tifa'd been there.

>From there, he reached in and turned the shower to its full heat setting and peeled off the suit, leaving it carelessly on the floor as he stepped into the shower. He turned the water down to as hot as he could stand it, which wasn't much of a change from full-blast, and grabbed the bar of soap from the side.

He decided Vincent being there would be a good thing for them when it came to having to keep the both of them safe, and he was actually quite glad things had worked out the way they had now.

He and Tifa apparently both returned each other's feelings when it came to emotions, and later, their only threat would be taken out if he forgot about the feds. Reno grinned to himself, no longer caring that the wall around him had most likely been torn down for eternity, but carinng more that he could finally trust someone.

Truth be told, he hadn't trusted anyone before Tifa, fully.

The water still felt hot against his back, but not to the point of any discomfort. It was more of a heated feel of comfort itself, as if it were protection from the evils of the Planet.

"You sound like a Cetra," he scolded himself with a laugh.

Shaking his head and putting the soap back, he moved onto his rat's nest of hair, knowing, however, that it was impossible to remove every tangle.

Hell, they were probably fusing together by now.

He thought back to three days ago, the feel of himself pressed against Tifa. He had to admit, he'd not felt a feeling quite like the pleasure in a long time. He could understand that, though, and he could only imagine it if it had been truly meaningful.

He wrung his hair out and pulled his fingers through it, wincing at one large knot he'd be forced to cut out later. There was no meant humor in his next thought.

He had a feeling they'd have a meaningful time like that when this shit was all over with.

Reno didn't mean to sound like a jerk but. . .damn, she was good, and for her first time, even!

He would be the one to know.

He stepped from the shower, humming a kind of tune as he grabbed a towel and dried himself off, then shoved himself lazily into his suit again. From the way it smelled to him now, he needed to do some laundry tomorrow. Reno looked in the mirror and found his eyes a bit brighter as he grabbed the electric shaver from the edge of the sink.

He gave it a few runs over his square, recruit-like jaw, before he tossed it back to its original place and patted himself down a bit.

This was a daily routine, despite how he always looked.

He walked from the bathroom carelessly, a bit relieved to see he had caught no one dressing this time, and tossed his wet towel into the basket for cleaning.

Once out near the main room, he set his eye on Vincent loading his gun and looking toward him. "Are you ready?"


The four walked freely down the street, not even noticing the many that paled at the leader.

Sephiroth had his Masamune hanging freely in its sheath at his belt, flanked on either side by another person and one behind him. On his left was Cero, Cloud on his right, and Kate on his heels.

The large office building was still two blocks down and over, but they could all see it as if it were the ShinRa Building itself. This had come to be a few years back as the new ShinRa headquarters, but nowhere near as insane as it had been.

Daniel Reeve had now taken over.

"Time?" came the curt question from Kate.

Cero looked at his watch, now held to his wrist by a piece of twine, and pondered it a moment. "Nine-thirty."

"Soon," Katedona mumured, raising a nod from their leader.

He was more concerned with Vincent and how strong his belief in his own words was. If he actually chose to turn his back on them. . .

The group rounded a corner and looked ahead to the end of the street. Sephiroth's lips curled into a cold smile.

The hangar.

With a silent understanding between them, they ran toward it like children who'd just seen their favorite television celebrity disappear into it. It took only moments to arrive, and when they did, it was a mammoth structure, the door a good fifty feet high.

Two guards looked at them and shifted nervously, always keeping an eye on Sephiroth. They'd read in the paper -- unknown to them, Sephiroth had managed to get a fake excuse in -- that he was back and more. . .polite, but it still seemed odd.

"Miss Touzas?" one of them finally called uncertainly.

Katedona stepped out from behind the large man, giving them both a surprise. "I need entrance and I need it cleared out."

One guard gruned and the other ran to a control panel, dialing in some unseen code. The one who'd grunted said, "Ma'am, the hangar is usually closed to the public at this time, and your presense is always welcome."

Katedona nodded and watched the door open a ways, but not fully, and watched the others go before hissing, "If you hear anything strange, call the Force and you'll be killed. Also, we have a second party joining us."

With an innocent smile, she dashed after them and heard the door slam closed behind them.

"We've half an hour. Let's get ready for their arrival," Sephiroth commanded.

All four dashed in opposite directions. From the mere feeling of it, Cloud could tell the place was huge, but completely dark. He hit his head on a few plane wings before he managed to lie in wait under one and pull out his PHS.

"Ready," he hissed into it.

Three other affirmations came, then silence from the devices in their hands.

They had only to wait now.


Vincent led them down the same path, his gun ready at his side, but only as a kind of precaution. If something went wrong, he was to shoot Tifa on the spot, as much as it made his insides churn.

Tifa, actually, was the only one confused as to where they were headed, and was even more awkward when they came to the hangar and the three were treated as if they'd been expected to arrive. The guards seemed awfully pale, as well, but Vincent got admittance with no more than a gaze at one.

The three walked into pure blackness and silence, leaving them to stumble around. The feeling Tifa got wasn't too good of one, and she found herself taking Reno's hand for a bit of reassurance.

"Welcome to your fate," came a booming voice, along with the lights clicking on.

Sephiroth stood high above them all on a platform, and familiar faces were perched on planes. One of these was a man who she never wanted to speak with again.

Vincent was among them, his gun trained skillfully on Tifa's form.

Reno exploded then. "I trusted you, dammit! Now you go and pull this! What kinda bullshit is this?!!"

Thes exclamations were aimed toward all five of the people in the hangar, and his mag-rod was lit already.

Tifa's throat was tight, her head feeling suddenly light. Why was Cloud with them, and why were all but Sephiroth looking at her?

Sephiroth made a jump that looked like suicide, but landed gracefully and started in a slow stride toward them, evil lurking in his emerald Mako eyes. "I can see you kept it from her. Step in the right direction, Drannor. Coming here after everything. Mistake, my friend."

Tifa looked wildly for an answer, and found it in the form of Reno. "Kept what from me?" she managed to mutter at him.

His eyes sunk immediately, but Sephiroth was, not oddly, ready to reveal it.

"Drannor's led you to your death and used you to get close to you, Lockheart. All of it was a lie. He never loved you, he just needed to win your trust so you'd follow him into the spider's web. Bravo, Drannor," he announced, clapping his hands as the sound echoed through the concrete room.

Lines of planes in a room much too large to even look real was what they were inside.

Tifa's heart broke at that statement. She looked to Reno with glazed eyes and an open mouth, looking like a pool of hate. She couldn't believe this. After giving him the one thing she could never take back, it had all been an act. A lie, and it would end in her death. He had signed with her blood, in a way.

"Aeris' last wish was to see you die, Lockheart," Sephiroth went on, his Masamune held in its natural grip and his steps lessening the distance between himself and them. "She was envious of you and Cloud, as she had put it. She wanted to see you pay for winning, and, herself being a Cetra, I was obligated to follow commands and see that the wish was fulfilled. So, I needed a pawn."

He stopped about ten feet from them, and went on. "You and Drannor happened to need help, and I offere to provide it to see my own mission was completed. I used him, he used you, and now you die. Perfect, isn't it? And this way," he started.

His eyes seemed to find Tifa's pure soul. "I get to finish what I started in Nibelheim."

"LIAR!" came Reno's booming roar before he threw himself at Sephiroth, spinning with a kick to his head.

Sephiroth easily parried the blow and clipped Reno's foot, sending him to the floor. He made it look so easy. "Foolish."

Tifa was still frozen from what she'd heard. All of it. All of it was a lie? She could hardly believe it, as sincere as Reno had seemed.

He was a Turk, though.

He knew how to deceive people.

She didn't see the blade descending on her immediately, but Reno's call gave her time to shift out of the way and plant an elbow between Sephiroth's shoulders, though it only staggered him slightly.

"You're faster, I see," he muttered, tossing down his sword. "I'll make this easy. And painful."

Reno was surprised no one had made a move from the planes yet. His mag-rod was nowhere in sight, having been sent flying when he went down, so he reached into his pocket and grabbed a kind of small club he always kept with him.

The ex-Turk leapt to his feet and sent a solid blow to the back of the Mako-fueled maniac, sending him onto his own back in mid-swing at Tifa.

A scream caught his attention and he looked over to see Katedona fall from the top of one of the Junon bombers, and in her place, none other than ViYlic.

The door was suddenly blown open and a kind of armored car drove through the smoke, tinted windows hiding the drivers and plates protecting them from gunshots.

"Up for the countin' game?!" a voice yelled from a loud speaker atop the car, while latches opened and all kinds of guns revealed themselves.

'It couldn't be,' was Reno's thought.

"Count the shells, suckadogs!!" it came again.



Part Eight: One Last Mission and More Agendas

Sephiroth made the best move of all of them and managed to get atop the machine before the shots went off toward the planes, and from there, he saw Cloud's leg clipped by a bullet and one just barely miss Cero.

He knew he was in trouble, though, when he heard the hissing and felt a platform rising beneath his feet.

Not good.

"And, to put the icing on the cake!" came the voice, one he could remember vaguely as the young boy in the bandana back underground. "This is for the little stunt you decided to pull on FOXX."

The platform continued up and then steam poured from three points on the armored car, sending off small guided missles at the two left standing on the planes.

The one aimed at Cloud missed and spun out of control afterward, smashing into one of the fighter jets and sending it into a ball of flame. That alone was enough to shove Cloud from the top of his plane, but he lived the fall.

The second hits its desired target of the fuselage on Cero's pedestal-type plane.

The third missle made a cartoon-like path. It knicked the propellor on the front of Vincent's plane and that carried it forward while the missle blew a large hole in the far wall.

Vincent jumped off, but it didn't turn out too well as the plane hit the wall and also went up in flames.

Sephiroth was left unharmed as he hopped down from the car, fires burning dangerously high not two hundred yards from the survivors.

Reno and Tifa were both knocked to the concrete after Cero's plane had exploded, and Reno attempted a rushed explanation. "He's a liar, Tiff."

The hatch on the car opened and Xion bounded out, silver handgun in his right fist and aimed for the back of Sephiroth's head. "Nice try, but y'can't kill 'em all, bastard," he hissed angrily.

Tifa, oddly, took notice of Xion's tattered clothes as she nodded at Reno, feeling a bit relieved -- but still not fully trusting him -- by that.

Cloud, attempting to go for his blade, was met with a cold barrel against the back of his head, and Sephiroth was furiated to see Vincent having sided with Reno and Tifa after all.

Yes, it seemed like he was there to help them after some thinking.

"Wow, I get to kill my hero," Xion announced with a chuckle defying his age, along with his skills. "Your first bad move was wiping out the Den. You couldn't have thought we didn't have other branches, ya moron!"

ViYlic walked from the flames and hurried to the two fallen people who were on his side, helping them both up.

"Smart kid," Cloud grumbled.

Sephiroth gave Cloud a look. "Is this the time to insult them, Puppet?"

Xion had moved forward and stood on his toes to keep perfect aim on Sephiroth.

"Smart, but slow," came a low growl from the silver-haired legend, spinning around and taking a mad swipe with the Masamune.

He turned out to be fooled as Xion quickly leapt over the blade, backhanding him with the side of the gun in the process.

The Masamune slid out of his grip and into a wall, where Reno was unheasitant to take it for himself. It made a better weapon than a mag-rod.

"Why'd ya have to say that, bitch?!" Xion tauntingly spit on one of his boots and then stepped on it as if to rub it in.

At gun-point, Sephiroth wasn't near as threatening as 'Chaos' had made him out to be, the youngest decided.

Sephiroth, fed up, grabbed the barrel of the long gun and kicked it at the handle, causing Xion to lose his grip and give it up to him.

"Ignorant bastard!" Xion whooped with a chuckle, dancing around lightly. "C'mon, shoot me!"

Tifa wanted so bad to yell, 'Xion, you're nuts!', but kept her peace.

Sephiroth was glad to comply, but as he tried, he found the gun completely empty. He growled and glared daggers at the former FOXX.

Xion looked at him with an odd sense of pleasure. "Who's a bit on the slow side now, eh?"

Vincent had to suppress a chuckle. This was amusing.

Reno felt much the same way as he held the Masamune, watching Xion dance around the older man and parry pistol-whips.

Sephiroth stopped and quickly brought a loaded gun from his pocket, turning to face where his shoulder had been and firing a shot.

Reno heard it a second or two too late, but he couldn't block out the scream emitted from beside him, nor the feeling that someone had dumped a large load of lead into his chest. In a way, this was true, but he'd never been shot so straight before. The next thing he noted was being on his back, not hearing anything but screams and grunts from the fight, which was barely feet away.

Why did he want so badly to sleep, he wondered.

He felt his eyelids obeying gravity, and being so drained, he couldn't help but oblige and fall into the unconsciousness.

ViYlic had his hands pressed to the shot wound as Tifa shook Reno's shoulders roughly, trying to wake him up.

Xion's eyes flew wide. He stammered with words, maybe a comical apology, but right about now he really needed some help. Seeing the glint in Sephiroth's eyes, that alone suggested his former idol didn't feel up for sparing a fan.


Sephiroth made the wrong move at looking over at the call, giving Xion a chance to wrench the gun from his hand.

Tarah dashed at Sephiroth ahd leapt, landing on his back. She hated to do this, but it was their last chance, as far as she could tell.

Vincent's Death Penalty was pressed hard to the back of Cloud's head. "It doesn't look like Claratish will make it out in one piece," he mused.

"Traitor," Cloud hissed, his hand very close to his blade. He could most likely duck, draw, and cut, but he didn't want to take the chance this soon. Instead, he simply watched as his only lasting partner tried to throw the girl from his back as she tried to cut off his air supply.

The crackling of the fires was barely heard over the unbidden sobs wracking Tifa for ViYlic, and he went off into curses when the blood had stopped but Reno still looked out of it.


Inside Reno's haze, he seemed to be floating through a world of emerald glass, passing him and amplifying his reflection at times. He was flying, as far as he could tell, in a world of complete peace and harmony.


He knew the voice anywhere as Tseng's, but this time he appeared completely human and unlit. The deceased Turk was standing just up ahead, and he pedalled himself for the man.

"Hey, where'm I at?" he queried, looking at Tseng with questioning eyes.

The older man was silent for a moment, his face a mask. He didn't want to tell Reno the truth. "Follow," was the curt reply.

The world swirled around for a moment before they stood in a mist of the same color green, though standing on solid ground for a change. With a break in the 'clouds,' Reno could see transparent figures floating around in a void of white.

"The Lifestream."

Those words were enough to freeze Reno's insides, and he gaped at Tseng as if he were speaking for the first time. "What?!!"

Tseng clasped his hands behind his back and gazed into the blinding color around them before a figure materialized in the middle of the platform they were on, which felt, when Reno thought about it, like it was floating through the same thing.

Reno could hear a faint hiss behind him, so he swung around and got another surprise. "The Ancient!"

"I have a name," Aeris corrected politely, her hair now let down and falling below her waist.

Tseng broke in, "The weapon Sephiroth was using was Jenovan, and the race was great in their weaponry. They made the most powerful guns, but their mistake was letting the secret of their technology get out and carried into the Lifestream. Why this matters, I am unsure, but with a gun like that, your friends don't stand a chance. Sephiroth brought that from here, just like himself, which means they must be returned, but not before he serves his purpose."

Reno could almost hear all of it whiz over his head, and it must've been felt somehow.

Aeris continued for him. "As odd as this sounds, when one leaves the Lifestream, once their mission is complete, they return. But, once a being from the Lifestream has five deaths on his or her hands, they become mortal and are not forced to return. What Sephiroth is looking to do is become mortal, and then complete his mission, so he can then live and continue his destruction."

"Why didn't you just keep him here if you knew what he was up to?" Reno demanded.

Tseng sighed. "No matter how bad the sin, we must comply with his wishes if his tie with the Planet is strong enough. If his mission were to summon Meteor again, we could not stop him."

Reno was extremely confused now. "What're you tellin' me this for?!"

"You must kill Sephiroth before he becomes immortal. 'Why?' you might ask. Because Tifa does not yet have ties with the Planet strong enough to return. You do, Reno. To put it simple, you can go back, but you must do it before Tifa is killed, or she will die and never be there with you again. If she dies before you come back, however, the Lifestream is not what everyone thinks it is," Aeris told him softly.

Both of the deceased now faced Reno. "Exactly what do you mean?" he queried, not wanting the answer, really.

"You will not be reunited if she dies," Tseng murmured.

Aeris almost sounded as if she were replying to a question when she said, "He means, few lucky beings are permitted to explore the Lifestream and speak with other dead. Only one returned from the Lifestream can kill one from the Lifestream. As of now, Sephiroth has one death, which is yours. There are five more people down there, and then Tifa. The Lifestream is asking you for help."

Reno was beginning to catch on. "But, if I go down and kill Sephiroth, I'll be back up here, and I won't be able to be with Tifa anyway," he softly assumed.

Tseng shook his head slowly. "Most of the time, those who return have their own missions. Currently, the Lifestream is asking for your help. This will not be your mission; you will not be returned, but once it is completed, you will be stripped of your new strength, and you will not be. . ."

"Alive," Reno choked.

Both of them nodded grimly. "If you do not accept, you will still be entitled to return with a mission, but if you do accept, you will have to go down, kill Sephiroth, and then you are kind of given a second life, but not living," Aeris finished.

This was all coming too fast for Reno to quite understand, but he got the point from Aeris' last words. "He said this was your last wish, Aeris," he half-asked.

Aeris shook her head. "A lie. As was what he told Tifa, and you know that, but she doesn't. Would it not be worth it to go back, just to say that?" she questioned.

'Why me?' Reno wanted to shout. He had to go down and kill Sephiroth. "I'm not strong enough for that," he thought aloud.

Tseng almost smiled. "Sephiroth was not strong enough to kill you, but he used a weapon from the Lifestream. Is there something that prohibits you from doing the same? I think not, therefore, we will provide you with a tool to use."

Reno looked up from staring at whatever they were floating on. "Eh?"

Aeris cleared it up for him in a way as Tseng disappeared into the void. "The Cetra were not exactly the strongest race, Reno, but they did know how to make their weapons, and they knew how to make them well. The Jenovans and the Cetra were enemies, I think you know, and the Cetra managed to squeeze their technilogy techniques from one of the captives from the Eight Thousand Year War."

"So, you're basically gonna give me an Ancient-made Jenovan gun?" Reno sounded more than skeptical.

Aeris sighed and shook her head. "Wait for Tseng."

Soon enough, the former Turk was back with a long stick, something looking like an ax head at the top, but with four jagged points. He held it out to Reno, the thing looking like a stick with a rock at the end. "Don't make stereotypes of staffs. Use it."

Reno took it hesitantly, balanacing it out in his hands befrore thinking it all over again and shaking his head. "I can't do this," he muttered.

"Get your ass down there and be with Tifa," came a hard demand from Tseng, taking Reno and Aeris by surprise. "Listen, Reno. The entire Lifestream's counting on you to bring Sephiroth back up here. From there, the Cetra will deal with him."

Reno was silent for a moment. He still had one question. "You said after she dies, Tifa doesn't have a strong enough connection with the Planet to have a last mission. I figure she should have more of one than me."

Tseng's lips curled into a smirk. "Remember when I said if you cleaned up your act, I'd put a good word in for you?"

Reno frowned. "Alright, alright. Get me back down there, already."

Aeris nodded and closed her eyes, bending her head and folding her hands in deep concentration.

After a moment, Reno felt the sensation of being drenched with ice water, then complete blackness.

Tseng easily caught Aeris as she collapsed, standing her back up. He kne whow much that had taken out of her. "Let's just hope he doesn't live up to his reputation of a complete moron," he whispered as Reno faded into the white around them.


Not one of the six saw exactly how it happened, but what they did see was Reno's eyes snap open and a staff appear in place of the Masamune in his hand.

Tifa was the closest to it, and almost died from awe at the apparent revival. She knew no one's Life abilities from Materia worked after the Reactors were shut down, and she hadn't done a thing except sobbed next to him for a few minutes.

Sephiroth seemed more surprised than Tifa, but it turned to rage as quickly as a man could blink. He had a sense for the Lifestream. "Aeris," he hissed under his breath.

The deceased Turk raised to his feet with ease, feeling different. For one, he was dead. The next was that he'd felt an improvement in strength.

Tifa still looked on him with dinner-plate-sized eyes. She tried to say something, but it came out as a force of choked air. She'd never seen anything like this before.

Reno advanced on Sephiroth, and was surprised to see him looking ready to flee. "You. Me. Now. We finish this, Sephiroth. Leave them out of it," he commanded.

The red-haired young man didn't even know what he was doing as he vaulted over Sephiroth on the staff and set a foot into his spine, propelling him forward into Cloud, who'd managed to try to sneak up for an attack.

Cloud was surprised at how fast he moved, just before he slammed into Sephiroth and was sent sprawling.

"Whoa," came a mutter from ViYlic, who then snatched up Cloud and restrained him. The speed at which Reno moved was different, needless to say.

Sephiroth growled and wiped at his lip, having fell onto his face.


The growl became louder as he threw himself to his feet, sending his leg out in a wide circle and landing a hard hit.

Pain was still there, Reno noted as the side of his face felt like a dog had bitten into it. He merely staggered, though, keeping on his feet and holding the staff defensively. "That the best you can toss?"

Sephiroth came at him full-force with a shoulder, which was enough to knock him to the ground for once. He then backed away a step and kicked his legs sideways, coming down into a crescent kick.

The other had been ready for it, though, and rolled to the side to feel the back of his suit grazed and hear the heavy boot on the concrete. He shifted the weight into his shoulders and kind of spun, knocking Sephiroth's feet out from under him with a leg.

Tifa was still trying to figure out the whole mess as Sephiroth went down. She hadn't bothered to wipe her eyes, and her cheeks were slightly stained where tears had flowed in small rivers before.

Cloud had gotten up and took a low swipe with his sword.

Reno's very mind had sped up, and he countered by barely ducking under the blade and then pushing off the ground. He swung the staff out and hti Cloud square in the face, but realized his mistake when his chest broke his fall and the wind was knocked out of his lungs.

Cloud didn't even make a sound as he went down; only took it like a SOLDIER would be expected to.

As it was down to Reno and Sephiroth, the other five just watched, knowing it was their problem as of now.

To Sephiroth, Tifa no longer mattered, but Reno was his main concern. The two stared each other down, Sephiroth starting into a pant while Reno looked no worse for the wear.

Xion had disappeared to jnside the car for safety -- an order from Tarah -- so he didn't see what happened next.

Another gun was produced from Sephiroth and two shots went off with impossible speed.

ViYlic and Tarah fell, never to rise again.

Reno exoloded into a fit of rage, advancing on Sephiroth with many blows from the body of the staff. He did this until he had the taller man backed into the wall and unarmed for hopefully the last time.

The staff's hooked end was crudely designed by hand, that was apparent, but the hook fit Sephiroth's neck perfectly. Reno shoved it into the wall so he had him pinne there, then stood back as if to admire his work.

Sephiroth, seeing the rage burning in Reno's eyes, had it figured out that the fight was over, and the younger prevailed, having had enough power to indeed stop the mission. "It ends. . .here," he muttered, choking against the Cetra weapon.

Reno just stared at him for a moment before smiling disturbingly and putting a hard kick to the end of the staff.

Blood flowed, but not too well, and Sephiroth seemed to have died in pain. His head froze for a moment, then rolled off to the side, hitting the floor with the sound of someone throwing down a soaked rag.

The deceased stared at the torso of Sephiroth for a moment, as if to say 'Have a nice trip.' He could hear the crackling of the fires, which had disposed of all the planes now, as well as sobs coming once again from Tifa because of all the death.

He reached down, having seen something, and picked the fairly heavy object up. The staff had disappeared into nothing, and he felt as weak as before death, but as he looked at his hand, he found the switchblade he'd seen used on his sister.

Reno dropped it and spun around, making quick strides to Tifa. He forgot about it all for a moment as soon as she collapsed and buried her head in his chest, gripping his slightly-charred shirt, just relieved to feel his arms pull her close as a sign of comfort and understanding.

Vincent watched in silence, then bowed his head and closed his eyes. He'd been responsible for many of the deaths that had come to innocent people that day. It was all his fault, and he would speak with both of them later, confessing to Tifa, and then tellng Reno he had nothing to blame himself for.


Vincent's eyes snapped open at the call, only to fall on Xion, who had a curious look in his. "what of it?" came the harsh reply.

Xion frowned, not even seeming to care that most of FOXX had been wiped out. "Look, I've read all your books, and from what I heard, Sephiroth deserved all of it. Fuck 'im, cheer up, and live, man."

The crimson-clad man stared at Xion for a moment, then laid a hand on his shoulder and said, "Child, that's the most intelligent thing I've heard in a long while. Run outside and tell the guards to bring the Force, and then we can all do that."


Indeed, Vincent kept his promise and told everything he had to them both. His secret agenda with Sephiroth; how he had planned to help in the killing of Tifa; how he'd deceived them all and had never planned to save anyone.

Reno seemed a bit mad at first, but Tifa had managed to calm him down, though she had her own feelings toward Vincent left unexpressed.

The dead one had his own confession, about what had happened after he'd been shot, but it didn't matter too much.

The three sat inside the living room of Reno's apartment, the light of the sun having left them with only deep violet smudges pressed into the sky. One lamp was lit and Vincent sat across from them in the armchair. Tifa was asleep, using Reno's chest as a pillow, on the couch.

Xion had gone somewhere with ViYlic, and the Force believed their story because of rumors floating around.

"I'm sorry," Vincent said for the umpteenth time that evening.

Reno sighed. "Vincent, I told you, we all forgive you now. Look at me, even. I lied to her the whole way, but both of us came through for her in the end."

"Not about that," he denied. "I mean, you are immortal, correct?"

"In a way," came Reno's reply.

Vincent nodded, rubbing his metallic hand against his real one. "I'm sorry you have to feel my pain of never being able to age; of having to outlive everyone who cares about you. I know what it feels like, and maybe it seems fun right now, but use these first few years well, Reno. I know what it feels like to waste them and just rot, never doing a thing for yourself whilst the opportunity was there. Tifa loves you a great deal, and you her. Use the feelings and years well, and you will never be like me, always looking back and saying what you would change if given another chance. That, Reno, is the worst feeling in the world, and what's worse is knowing you can't do a thing you'd like to have done."

Reno brooded Vincent's words for a moment, looking down at the face of Tifa. He knew how much of a point the man had, but he didn't want to have to tell Tifa he was never going to age; that he was going to be another Vincent Valentine. She would be crushed, as far as he knew.

Vincent could almost read his thoughts. "Now is better than ever to tell her, Reno. If you don't, she will be even more hurt when she finds out, maybe from someone else."

Reno nodded. "She means more than life to me," he admitted softly.

"You've lost life. Don't lose her," Vincent instructed. He then stood up and disappeared into the kitchen's darkness.

The younger man looked down at Tifa again, resting a hand on the back of her neck. Vincent's point was as clear as glass, and Reno knew he cared for Tifa more than he'd cared for anyone before her.



I looked at the engraved letters, etched heavily in the faded concrete sticking out of the grass. Waves crashed against the shoreline a ways away, but they were of no comfort to me.

That had been so long ago. . .

"That long?" came the soft query from beside me.

I simply nodded, eyes fixed upon the gravestone. 'That long' happened to be a long time.

A century.

One hundred years, and I had still failed to pass into the Lifestream.

I still looked the same as always, though my hair was neat and my clothes had a darker shade now. I remember, this day in the beginning of autumn, I wore my favorite, thin, black leather jacket.

My head was hung, silence being respectfully paid to the fallen.

My hands were in sharp contrast to the faded, now bronze-colored ring around the finger on my left hand, worn to a near-brown from working in the field I owned.

One hundred years seemed a long time, but when someone pulled back and looked at the time, not much could happen in that time to make a Planet-changing difference. One hundred years was just that, ticked away on the scale of history, but not going down as a major achieving time.

If they'd given me another century, and I would have bored myself to death.

But it seemed like too long in one or more ways.

A cold hand gripped my shoulder lightly, and I again felt the mist biting at my ice-like eyes. That hand had always seemed to be there when needed, one I was thankful for.

I looked up a bit, to see the leaves turning to yellow and in some places red, signifying August was upon us again. I could almost smile at the picture it painted, but not at that time.

I couldn't smile at anything right then.

But then I did smile as I looked to my right, to the face behind the hand upon my shoulder. Vincent Valentine looked back with that same impassive face, though in his eyes was a look of nothing but understanding.

So much had happened in a century, I wouldn't know where to begin even at this date. ShinRa had fallen again, and many new cities had popped up. The Mako Reactors were all gone, as everyone knew, and few had even heard of Materia by now.

The Turks were dead, the team and the people, save for myself.

I had, as Vincent said, outlived everyone I cared for and whom cared for me, but truly, I wouldn't change a thing that had happened in that time. So much hadn't happened, but what did was overly-Utopian.

"I can see you need a few minutes."

The hand left my shoulder, my eyes still damp from the unshed tears, but I no longer felt I needed to be perfect and unemotional.

Sephiroth had failed to make a come-back again, if you are interested, and nothing odd had come from the Lifestream, to my knowledge.

Tseng had visited many times in those hundred years, maybe to reminisce, maybe to look on to the future.

I learned that, when my time came, and if it did, I would be one of the lucky ones who got to make a few visits inside the Lifestream.

Many might ask, why I didn't just end it then, so I could be with her again?

That night she made me the promise, all those years ago, I had silently made one to myself, and I'd resisted the urge to break it for that long.

Believe me, it wasn't as easy as it sounds to keep myself alive as I could be.

I took the crimson red rose from my pocket, where I'd been holding it for the last few hours, but it was still more alive than I, and stared at it for a moment.

The custom hadn't faded with many other things on the Planet.

I knelt slowly and placed the plant gently on the stone platform jutting out, made for such things, and stood back up again.

In doing this, I looked at the stone figure perched on a pedestal, more of a kind of Jane Doe than a person. I liked to imagine a part of her trapped inside this, looking down on me every day for the last century.

I took my time in looking into the eyes of the chipped stone form standing infront of me, and unexpectedly, my first smile of the day came with the first hot path running down the side of my face.

I didn't exactly feel the continuation of tears; more like sensed it without knowing even that.

Once, this statue had been absolutely perfect in every way, but now the weather and age showed on it. Pieces were worn off by wind, rain had caused a bit of erosion, and sometimes the blizzards would be just too much and it would fall over, leaving me with the job of uprighting it again.

Infront of me, though, this angel looked as perfect as she had looked that first day in the bar.

I can remember, not two years after that, almost every feature of her visage as she gazed into my eyes that single day, standing infront of everyone we'd know throughout life. Even Rude had made an appearance, and forced Elena to come as well.

And, three years to the day from that month, as odd as it seems, I remember how I couldn't even put into words how beautiful she'd looked, even worn to her last ounce of energy.

The other eye had started its own small path of tears, stopping to drop from my chin onto the collar of my jacket.

I can remember, those years we'd been together, nearly everything, from the Den to the funeral.

And I wouldn't change any of it.

All through it, she'd never minded my condition, for she had put it in these exact words:

"If it happened to me, I can tell it would not affect us, but it happened to you, and I think the rule stays the same."

Indeed, she hit the nail on the head with that one, and I've never forgotten that one phrase.

"Are you ready?" Vincent's voice was welcomed, but I would've given a lot for just another few moments inside the graveyard.

I nodded and wiped at my face with the neck of my shirt, then turned on the ball of my heel and strode past him with as much happiness as I could muster, leaving behind the stone engraved with this:

Tifa Drannor Loving Mother and Wife May 3, 2065 - August 9, 2102 "You will never be forgotten. Part-time Mother. Part-time Wife. Full-time Angel."

For the record, I was stricken down with a terminal illness seventy-eight years after that, and today, I live as one of the luckier ones in the Lifestream.

I couldn't be happier.