"I just had an idea," Reno announces, brightening visibly. "Yo, Highwind! Still got your ears on?" he calls into his radio. "Guess not," he remarks when no reply was forthcoming.
"What, you've got an idea about Meteor?" Elena asks.
"Nope, just thought of a way to snatch one last bit of happiness before that damned big rock comes down and kills us," Reno replies with a mischievous wink. He then adjusts the frequency to the airship's bridge and tries again, "Hey, Cap'n, get your ass back here!"
"Why the hell should I, mother--?" Cid's response comes back loud enough for Elena to hear clearly from her position, still tightly wrapped in Reno's arms.
"Because last I checked, airships fell under maritime law. And maritime law says the Captain of a ship at sea can perform weddings. So get your ass back here!" Hearing Reno's idea causes Elena's face to brighten.
"Huh, never done one'a them before. Got a ring?" Cid asks, surprised at the request.
"Shit. Hold on, we're coming up on Icicle. Oughta be time to stop in there real quick. We'll have time, right?" He directs this question to Nanaki.
"It should take at least two hours for Meteor to impact the planet at it's current speed, not taking into account air resistance and Holy," the furry quadruped answers in his surprisingly soft voice.
"Great, we'll have plenty of time. Go ahead and set us down," Reno orders before turning off his radio. "You know, I've never been to a wedding before. I know basically we say vows to each other in front of witnesses and some official type and that rings're involved, but... uh... I'm not so clear on the specifics. So, um... anyone know how we're supposed to do this?"
"I've never been to one either," Elena confesses. The pair look at Rude, who shrugs helplessly.
"I've been to a few, back when I lived in Nibelheim," Tifa announces.
"So you'll help us?" Elena asks.
"Sure, I still owe you for helping me so much in Junon." Tifa pauses to think for a moment, reviewing old memories. "Alright, you'll need a ring for each of you, usually plain gold. They're engraved a lot of the time, but that'll have to wait until later if you want to do this before Holy comes. Also, the groom needs to pick a best man and the bride needs to pick a maid of honor."
"What do they do?" the petite blond asks.
"Help arrange the wedding, assist the bride and groom, make sure they show up on time, and hold the rings until it's time to put them on."
"Alright, want to be the maid of honor?"
"I'd be honored," Tifa answers her.
Reno glances at Rude, who nods and smiles slightly, silently letting his best friend know that of course he'd be honored to be the best man at his friends' wedding. "Anything else?" the lanky redhead asks.
"Nice clothes. I saw a bridal shop last time I passed through town, so I should be able to help find a nice wedding dress. And there should be some place you guys can find some nice suits. Traditionally the groom wears a black or white tux."
"I don't have to wear a tie, do I?" Reno asks, looking none too thrilled with the idea of dressing up.
"C'mon, you know I love it when you dress up for me."
"Well, alright..." he agrees, unable to resist the look his fiancé's giving him. "I hate ties, but I'll wear one for ya."
"That's all we need," Tifa says. "Well, there's supposed to be flowers, but I don't know if we can find any here. After we get everything, we can come back here, get dressed, and have the ceremony. You two say your vows to each other, Rude and I hand over the rings, you put them on each other, then Cid declares you 'man and wife' and you get to kiss."
The deck shakes slightly as the Highwind lands on the outskirts of Icicle. "Let's get moving!" Reno declares as he leads the way to the rope ladder.
"Can I come? I love shopping!" Yuffie blurts out, looking a bit more hyper than normal.
Reno rolls his eyes and is thinking up an appropriately insulting way to refuse her when Elena says, "Sure, I could use a little extra help picking out a dress." Reno shrugs, deciding that it's not worth wasting any of the little time left arguing over something trivial, and quickly climbs down the rope ladder.
He heads into town at a jog, followed by Elena, Rude, Tifa, and Yuffie, all of whom were starting to feel cold in their current clothes. Reno rushes up to the first townsperson he sees, grabs him by the front of his coat, and demands, "Where's the nearest jewelry store?" while shaking the unfortunate man. He hurriedly gives directions in a quavering voice, then Reno shoves him aside into a snow bank and quickly continues on his way.
"Sorry!" Tifa calls out as the group hurries past. Reno throws an arm over Elena's shoulders as they jog and the pair begin whispering to each other.
"Whatcha talking about?" Yuffie asks.
"We're working out our vows," Elena replies.
"Oh. So what're you gonna say?"
"None'a your damn business, brat," Reno curtly answers.
"We haven't decided yet," Elena adds in a kinder tone.
"Redheaded jerk," Yuffie mutters, then tries to move closer to eavesdrop, but finds herself pulled out of listening range by Rude. "Hey!"
"C'mon, give them some space," Tifa urges. "You'll hear whatever they pick at the ceremony anyway." Tifa then returns to discussing the details of the ceremony with Rude. A short while later, they find the store.
The jeweler, not expecting any customers so early in the day, looks up when he hears the bell over the door and is surprised to see five sweaty, disheveled, well-armed figures in blood-stained clothes, three of whom also had slightly singed hair and clothes, pile into his store. "Um... Can I help you?" he timidly asks.
Tifa quickly tells him, "We're here to buy a wedding set." She hopes her explanation will set him at ease, since she realizes they make an odd sight, fresh from the battle in the Northern Crater.
The jeweler squints for a moment, looking over the group of fighters. "Hey, I recognize you now! I saw you on TV yesterday, proposing to her! It's an honor to have the saviors of the planet in my store! Wedding sets are right over here." he gushes.
"Wow," Elena remarks in surprise, "we're celebrities." She quickly moves over to the indicated display case with her fiancé and begins looking over the available rings. Tifa and Yuffie follow, while Rude wanders the shop, looking at the other jewelry that's for sale.
After a few minutes of looking, a pair of plain gold bands is selected and bagged while Reno pays for them. "I'll take these," Rude says after the rings have been bought and points out a fine gold chain with several small dark red garnets hanging on it and a pair of matching earrings. "They remind me of your eyes," he tells Tifa, hoping that he doesn't look or sound as awkward as he feels. "I think they'll look nice on you."
"Thanks, Rude, you didn't have to do that," Tifa says, pleased at the unexpected gift.
"No, but I wanted to," he insists with a slight smile as he hands the boxed set to her.
"That's really thoughtful of you. Well, looks like I've gotta go if I don't want to get left behind." Tifa quickly gives him a light kiss on the lips, then hurries after Elena and Yuffie, who are walking towards the exit while smirking and waving at her. "Hey, you weren't going to stick me with tuxedo shopping, were you?"
"I don't know," Elena jokes as they exit the shop, "the guys might need the help." The trio laugh a bit at this.
"What'd he buy you?" Yuffie asks. Tifa opens the box and her two friends lean over to look while walking towards the bridal shop. "Oooh, nice," Yuffie compliments. "That's almost as good as buying you materia."
"He's got good taste," Elena remarks. "I bet he's right about them going with your eyes."
Later, after finding the shop and explaining to the owner what a hurry they are in, the trio find themselves looking over the small amount of dresses in stock that fit Elena or were close enough they could be quickly modified to do so. "Why've they all got buttons on the back? I won't be able to reach half of them," Elena complains.
"That's because it's my job to help you get the dress on," Tifa explains, then pauses to laugh a bit before continuing, "and it's Reno's job to help you take it off."
"Oh, fun," Elena says, smiling widely. "I just hope we have time to get to that part. That reminds me, I oughta check, see how the guys're doing." She then pulls out her PHS and selects Reno's number.
"Hey, babe, what's up?" he answers.
"Just checking in on you. Find a tux yet?"
"Nah. The jewelry guy gave us bad directions, so we've had to shake down some people. We oughta be about a block from the tux place if the last guy I roughed up had his directions straight."
"Oh. Well, all the dresses they have that'll fit me are plain white, so make sure you pick up something that matches. Too bad there's no time to have one made, or I'd get one in Turk blue."
"Yeah, that'd be great. Too bad."
"Yeah, so much for having a blue wedding. Also, I'm going to stop by our safehouse for a quick shower before heading back to the ship. I'd like to at least be clean at our wedding."
"Good idea, Lena. Hey, we finally found the place. Guess I'll meet you at the safe house. Love ya, babe."
"Love you too," she replies before hanging up and getting back to choosing a dress.
"Hey, I'm in a hurry," Reno announces as he and Rude enter the tuxedo shop. "Show me what you've got in my size."
"Sure thing, Romeo." the clerk replies.
"Why the hell you calling me Romeo?"
"After what you did on TV yesterday, you really have to ask? The whole world saw you and commentators on the news've been talking about it. I guess they needed a change of pace from talking about certain doom. Now, step this way, Romeo, and I'll take your measurements."
When they arrive at the small Icicle safehouse, Reno and Rude find Tifa and Yuffie sitting on the couch, watching the news. "Elena's in the bathroom," Tifa informs them. Rude is pleased to notice that Tifa's wearing the jewelry he bought her.
"Right," Reno says. "I'm gonna go get a drink. Have a seat, pal." He then unsubtlely pushes Rude towards Tifa and walks towards the kitchen. "Hey brat, come here!" he calls after entering the small kitchen.
"Wha'd'ya want, turkey?" Yuffie asks, following out of curiosity.
He holds up a finger in the universal sign to keep quiet before explaining in a whisper, "Give them some room, alright?"
"What?" She turns and sees that Rude and Tifa are sitting very close together and leaning towards each other while talking quietly and that Rude isn't wearing his shades. "Oh. Heheh, cute."
"Yep. There's a TV in the corner to keep you busy. Now stay put." he instructs before moving to leave the room.
"Where ya going?"
"To Lena. Now, stay."
"You seem pretty nervous, Rude. What's wrong?"
"Well, um..." he pauses to take a deep breath. "The thing is, I'm... not very good at talking to women, especially beautiful ones..."
"What," Reno jokes while passing through the room on his way to the bathroom, "you mean there's people you actually are good at talking to?" Rude rolls his eyes and chuckles lightly at his friends jest.
"That was rude," Tifa complains while glaring at Reno's back as he exits the room.
"No, that was Reno, but people do get us confused sometimes," Rude deadpans with laughter glinting in his eyes.
"Oh, that was awful," Tifa laughs, her glare wiped away by a wide smile.
"Maybe so, but it was worth it to put that smile back on your face," Rude replies while smiling back at her, glad that his intentionally lame joke had the intended effect. They're both quiet for a while as Rude tries to think of something to say.
"You always so mysterious, Rude? How about telling me something about yourself?" Tifa requests while gazing deeply into his eyes and sliding a little closer.
"Well..." he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before continuing, "The earliest I can remember, I was alone in the slums, doing... whatever I had to do to survive. Those aren't very... pleasant memories. I prefer not to think back on my childhood if I can help it."
"But you survived," Tifa says while wrapping an arm around his broad shoulders and placing her other hand over one of his. "That's probably why you're so strong." she says with a reassuring smile.
"That which does not kill me, right?" he quotes with a faint smile. "Well, one day, I was captured by a Shin-Ra conscription patrol. I was barely fourteen at the time."
"That's horrible, forcing someone that young to fight."
"Actually, I didn't mind much when I found out what was going on. For the first time I can remember, I had three full meals every day and a warm, safe place to sleep every night. Pretty inexpensive way to buy someone's loyalty, but it worked well on us slum rats. I scored high enough on the intelligence and psychological tests that I was placed in Turk training. It was intense. Most of the trainee Turks didn't make it, but I was determined to excel, because I owed Shin-Ra majorly for getting me off the street."
"So that's why you've stayed with Shin-Ra so long? Obligation?"
"Yes. Also, the Turks are the closest thing I've ever had to a family. You can't just leave your family."
"No, I don't suppose you can." Tifa says with a thoughtful look on her face.
"After basic training, I was sent to sniper school and given a roommate, since snipers work in pairs. It took some time to warm up to each other, but after a couple weeks, Reno became the first person I considered a friend and the first I really trusted. We were still both a few months away from fifteen when we finished training. We were both granted the rank of major and sent directly to the theatre command center, where we were immediately deployed on our first mission."
"Wow, that's a long time to be friends with someone. Hey, the other day Cid said something about you having a sweetheart during the war. I'm kinda curious, well, the way you responded was a little odd."
A small, bitter smile crosses Rude's face. "We could've been, and would've if we hadn't both been such cowards..."
"What do you mean?" Tifa asks, even more curious after Rude's enigmatic answer.
"Remember the drawings I showed you yesterday? Two of them had a Turk named Elly in them. We were very... close friends and... both wanted to be more."
"So why'd you hold back?"
"Well, you already heard what a short life expectancy we had back then. We'd both seen friends fall in love, lose the one they loved, and become so... torn up that they often committed suicide, or... simply stopped caring and became sloppy, causing them to die from stupid mistakes on missions. It... Well, frankly, it terrified us. It's pathetic, really. We were both so scared of losing something that we never even tried to have it in the first place. We even lied to ourselves, denying our own feelings..." Rude sighs. "I still think Reno and Angela were the smart ones, even though it hurt him so much when she died. Ever hear the saying, 'better to have loved and lost'?"
"Yes, I've heard it."
"It's true. Unfortunately, I didn't realize it until Elly was dieing. Our teams were on a joint mission after the war, hunting down guerrillas, when shrapnel from a mortar round pierced both of her lungs and several arteries. She knew she wouldn't live long enough to be med-evaced and we... didn't have enough materia to do more than delay her death, so... she stopped lying to herself and told me her feelings and... her regrets. And I did the same. I thought all the death I'd seen during the war had caused me to lose the ability to cry, but... I was wrong. We must have made quite a sight, three of the deadliest commandos in the world, huddled together in a foxhole, weeping while our comrade died..."
"Wait, Reno was actually crying?" Tifa asks, incredulous that the Reno she'd fought could be the same person as the Reno in Rude's stories.
"She was like a sister to him. And... we'd been thinking we had beaten the odds. All during the war, people died all around us, but the four of us somehow kept coming back alive. Just when we were beginning to think we'd all make it and have plenty of time to do all the things we'd never dared hope to be able to do... one of us was snatched away."
"Oh. That's... I'm not really sure what to say, losing someone that way's so sad..." she said while squeezing his hand comfortingly.
"At least she had those who loved her with her at the end and had time to say farewell. And I learned from my mistake, which is why I've been so open with you. The fear's still there, but I try not to let it control me. And it's not as bad as it was before finding out if... um..."
"If I liked you too? No problem there, Rude, it seems like the more we talk, the more I find to like about you. Like how you're actually willing to talk about your feelings instead of hiding them. Hey, do you have any happy stories from your time as a Turk?" she asks in an attempt to brighten the mood.
"I've a few. For one, there's the time I had Elly distract Reno while I mixed hair remover into his shampoo."
"You didn't!" Tifa laughs.
Rude grins and chuckles lightly. "He was as bald as me for a while, and none too happy about it. Of course, he had to get back at us after that..."
"Hey, babe," Reno calls as he steps into the bathroom, grinning at what he sees through the glass shower door.
"Hey. Enjoying the show?" Elena replies with a smirk as she continues to lather up with a bar of soap.
"You better believe it," he replies as he sets down the clean uniform he'd been carrying next to hers on the counter. "I'm so tempted right now to just climb in there with you. But if I did, we'd still be in there when Meteor hits," he continues as he kicks off his shoes and begins piling his weapons on the counter while continuing to watch her.
"What, you don't think Rude'd interrupt if we took too long?"
"Nah. I stuffed the brat in the kitchen, so he's all alone with Tifa. The way those two were looking at each other, they probably wouldn't notice we're taking too long till Meteor hit," he states with a lopsided grin while stripping off his dirty uniform.
"Heh, that's so cute. Good for them. Hey, mind getting my back?"
"Sure," he replies while kicking off his boxers. Reno then takes the bar of soap from her and begins scrubbing her back. "You know, they say even lobster gets old if you eat it every night. I say they're full of shit." He leans forward and lightly kisses the side of her neck, then inhales deeply, enjoying her scent, before continuing, "I want you bad, Lena. Just as bad as the first time, even though I've lost count of how many times we've been together since then. It ain't easy being patient." He then hands the soap back and withdraws from the shower as she begins rinsing off.
"No, it's not easy. And you just made it worse, you damn tease." she replies with a slight smirk that takes the sting out of her words. "Heh, you know, I lost count the first night."
Reno chuckles lightly at the revelation. "That intense, huh? See, I told you not all of my reputation's rumors," he states with a wide smirk as she steps out of the shower, leaving the water running. He hands her a towel and she lightly trails her fingertips over his body as he steps past her into the shower. "Heh, who's being a tease now?" Reno jokes as he begins to shampoo his hair.
"Hey, can't blame me for wanting to have a little fun," she says with a laugh as she towels off. "Now, give me a good show, alright?" Elena jokingly requests while enjoying watching the water run down Reno's body as he rinses the shampoo out of his hair. "C'mon, shake that moneymaker for me." Grinning, Reno obliges, swaying a bit as he lathers up. "Now, let's see if I can keep from drooling," Elena jokes as she begins to get dressed in a clean uniform.
"Hah, now you know how I felt, standing out there. Y'know, I could use a hand with my back," he states. She reaches into the shower and runs the soap along his back with one hand while caressing his back with the other. "Ah, that feels nice..." he sighs, fighting the urge to turn around and pull her fully into the shower, which grows stronger as she goes lower. "Heh, I'm pretty sure I got that bit already," he jokes as she goes even lower.
"Yeah," Elena agrees with a lazy smile. "But I like your ass, so it's gonna get a little more attention." She then withdraws and gets back to dressing.
"Ah, you tease. I'm gonna have a hell of a lot of frustration to work off after the wedding, you know," he points out as he rinses the soap off.
"That's the plan," she says with a smirk while tossing him a towel as he steps out of the shower. "Hey, since we won't get a whole week, may as well make the time we've got left as intense as possible."
"Good plan," he says with a wink while hurriedly toweling off. He then begins rapidly throwing his clothes on.
"...and the next thing I knew, I woke up in a hospital in Midgar," Tifa says, recounting how she survived the Nibelheim incident to Rude, who is holding her close as she relives the old memories. "I found out that Master Zangan had carried me out of town and left me with a student of his named Jessie. We became good friends and she helped me start a new life and recruited me into Avalanche."
"I can't blame you for hating Shin-Ra so much after that," Rude says.
"Yo," Reno interrupts as he exits the bathroom, "time to get moving!" He then leads the way out of the safehouse.
After launching the Highwind, Cid calls Avalanche and most of his crew out on deck. Once everyone's standing close enough to their assigned position to satisfy Cid, he turns and knocks on the door leading back into the ship. Reno and Rude step out at the signal. Rude has changed into a clean Turk uniform while Reno wears a white tuxedo with tails on the back that reach to his knees. Unable to resist adding a flamboyant touch, he also wears a white top hat with a crimson hatband that matches his fiery hair, as well as a bowtie and cummerbund the same color. In place of the usual ratty rubber band, a narrow strip of white silk ties his still damp hair back.
Once both are standing next to Cid, the side door of the nearest chopper slides open and Elena and Tifa step out. Elena wears a white dress, which has three-quarter-length sleeves and a fluffy, lacy skirt that reaches to the ground and trails behind her. She also wears a simple thin gold chain, a thin gold bracelet, and gold hoop earrings that Tifa was loaning to her, since the small amount of jewelry Elena owns is all in her luggage back in Junon. She forgoes the use of a veil, since she had found the one she'd tried on in the dress shop to be annoying. Tifa wears the same blue dress and matching high heels that she'd once worn to Wall Market and the jewelry Rude had bought for her. They step forward and Elena, having never worn such a long dress, trips on the hem and comes close to falling when Tifa helps her catch her balance. "Well, at least you didn't buy the dress with the tube top," Tifa whispers in an attempt to cheer up her blushing friend.
"True, I wouldn't want to flash everyone at my wedding," Elena whispers back. She then takes a deep breath to compose herself, bends down, picks up the hem of her dress, and jogs up to where Reno waits before letting the hem fall back to the deck.
"Alright, you damn screwheads, listen up!" Cid announces in a loud voice. "If I catch any of you --s falling asleep, I'll kick your -- ass!" He then scratches his head and mutters, "Now, how'd this shit go?" He blows a puff of smoke from his ever-present cigarette and then continues in his previous loud voice, "We're all out here today 'cause these two wanna get hitched. This guy's been chasing skirts damn-near his whole life and he finally caught one. Or maybe one caught him, it's hard to tell sometimes. Anyways, good for them, they're all happy and shit now. Shortest --ing engagement I've ever seen, too. So, if any of you've got a reason these two shouldn't get hitched, goddamnit, you better keep your -- mouth shut unless you want your -- ass kicked! They've made their own vows, so, erm... eeny... meeny... Reno, you first. Hey, pay attention, mother--!" Cid shouts as he punches Reno in the shoulder.
"Wha?" Reno blinks. Having managed to lose himself in his lover's eyes, he had completely missed Cid's speech.
"You goddamn vows. Say em."
"Uh, right." Reno closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before beginning his vow while looking Elena in the eyes. "Elena, I love you with all of my heart and swear that no matter what happens, I'll keep loving you as long as I live. I'll watch your back, and I won't hesitate to take a bullet for you. If I ever fail to protect you, a part of me'll die and I'll avenge you, no matter the cost. Elena, I'm willing to die for you, but I'd rather live for you, sharing what time we have left on this world together. I swear this by my own blood." He then surprises the onlookers by pulling a switchblade from his right pants pocket and unflinchingly slashing across his left palm. Next, Reno pockets the knife while holding his bleeding palm out towards his fiancé.
Elena immediately starts saying her vows. "Reno, I love you with all of my heart and swear that no matter what happens, I'll keep loving you for as long as I live. I'll watch your back, and I won't hesitate to take a bullet for you. If I fail to protect you, a part of me will die and I'll avenge you, no matter the cost. Reno, I'm willing to die for you, but I'd rather live for you, sharing what time we have left on this world together. I swear this by my own blood." Elena pulls a small dagger from the bodice of her dress and slashes her right palm without flinching, then presses her wound against the one on Reno's palm, allowing their blood to mingle as their fingers entwine. A few drops of mixed blood escape to the deck before their mako-accellerated natural healing processes, aided by the pressure of one another's palms, causes the shallow wounds to clot.
"Damn, I wasn't expecting any crazy shit like that," Cid comments. "Still, guess it's kinda symbolic or some such shit. Alright, hand over the goddamned rings." At this cue, Rude hands Reno a ring and he gently places it on the third finger of Elena's left hand, then softly kisses the back of her hand. Tifa then hands the other ring to Elena and she slides it carefully onto the third finger on Reno's left hand. "Alright, that's it. You two're officially man and wife now. The hell're you waiting for, kiss her already, damnit!" Cid loudly urges.
The newlyweds need no further prompting, immediately coming together in a passionate embrace and locking their lips together swiftly enough that Reno's hat falls off due to the impact. He brings his left hand up to the side of her face and softly caresses it before moving his hand to the back of her head and running it through her hair as his other hand traces it's way down her spine. At the same time, she brings her left leg up and hooks it around his waist, holding him tight as her left hand rubs his shoulder and part of his chest and her other hand runs up his spine to tangle in his hair. The movement of the amorous pair's jaws makes it obvious to onlookers what their tongues are doing as Reno's hand finishes it's journey down Elena's spine and smoothly glides over her hip before coming to rest upon her left thigh.
"Shit, I said kiss, not --ing dry-hump," Cid remarks to the oblivious newlyweds, looking amused despite his gruff words.
"Well, it hardly matters," Nanaki states while giving a pointed look to the south. "Unless Holy comes soon, we're all out of time. It should already be moving." Looking south at his words, everyone except Elena and Reno see that Meteor's oddly slow decent has almost brought it into contact with the horizon, and the newlyweds see it a few moments later, after Rude finally prods them in the shoulders hard enough to get their attention, which causes them to turn their heads without otherwise breaking their pose.
"Shit!" Cid exclaims after pulling a pair of high-powered binoculars from a pocket to take a closer look. "The --ing thing's coming down right on --ing top of Midgar!" He has the best view of the distant disaster, but those with mako-enhanced vision can vaguely see what's going on.
"I had as many people as I could evacuated," Reeve's tired voice announces through Cait Sith's speakers. "The rest are taking shelter in the old air-raid shelters in the slums but... I don't know if that's enough to protect them."
"Well, since we're about to die, I may as let you all know you surprised me," Reno remarks, looking over the assembled Avalanche members. "I only expected a couple of you to even show up, but you all did alright down there." He then displays his trademark smirk. "And if we somehow live through this, I'll deny ever saying that."
"Shit, there it goes..." Cid comments.
"What?" Barret asks. "The hell's happening to Midgar?"
"--ing hard to tell from here, but it looks like some shit's coming offa Meteor and --ing up Midgar."
Rude steps behind Tifa and wraps his arms around her before whispering, "If there's anything I can do..."
"Just keep holding me," she replies in a quiet voice. Tifa then turns, not wanting to watch Meteor anymore, and spots a bright light to the north. "What's that?" she asks, pointing towards the approaching light.
"Holy," Cloud states.
"I believe he's right," Nanaki confirms.
"Hey, looks like we'll get to have a honeymoon after all," Elena quietly says with a hopeful expression.
"Sounds nice," her red-haired husband replies. All those gathered on deck watch as Holy approaches and passes to the west of the ship, before speeding south towards Midgar.
"Cid, could I borrow those binoculars?" Nanaki requests.
"Shit, why not?" the chain-smoking pilot replies before holding the requested item out at Nanaki's eye level.
"This isn't good," Nanaki states. "It seems Holy's late arrival has accelerated Meteor's effect." Shocked exclamations and curses ring out across the deck at this revelation.
"Well," Reno whispers, "at least we get to die in good company." He feels Elena tremble slightly in his arms from the shock of having sudden hope snatched away and tightens his embrace on her, partially in an attempt to calm his petite wife and partially to keep his own hands from shaking. Not wanting to watch their approaching certain death any longer, they turn their attention to one another. Brown and aquamarine gaze deeply into one another, each shimmering with unshed tears.
Nearby, Tifa continues to stare towards the distant destruction, shock and disbelief writ plainly upon her face as Rude silently holds her, offering what comfort he can. Suddenly, they see streams of brilliant green erupt from the ground and undulate their way through the air towards Midgar. "Shit, I never seen so much --ing mako in one place in my --ing life!" Cid comments.
Cloud murmurs, "Lifestream... It's her..." but no one seems to notice, as the spectacle unfolding before them transfixes all who observe it. More mako erupts, making the ground appear a sea of bright green to the aerial observers. As the flowing mass of mako pours into Midgar, a bright light appears above it, causing even the distant observers on the Highwind to squint and obscuring what was occurring from even those with enhanced vision. The light grows brighter as the last of the airborne mako pours into it, then the light disappears.
"What the -- just happened?" Cid asks while looking through his binoculars. "--ing Meteor and Holy just --ing vanished!"
Cloud says, "She just saved us. I'm going to go find her," and then climbs into the chopper that Cid had flown into the crater and takes off without another word, flying in the general direction of the City of the Ancients.
Barret wonders, "The hell was that about? Damn spiky-headed fool."
"He didn't even say goodbye," Tifa complains.
"It's not your fault he's being an ass," Rude tells her with a quiet smile. "You know, I've never been so glad to be wrong about something in my life. So, where can I pick you up from?"
The question confuses Tifa for a moment before she remembers their plan to go on a date after Rude goes to Tseng's memorial. "Kalm. It's a nice town, and Reeve's offered to help out anyone who settles near there, so I'll see if I can get a business running there."
"Nice how that works out. Reeve's offered us work, so we'll be heading there anyways. But we won't be leaving until we're closer to Junon, so the two of us still have a bit of time left."
"So, any ideas for what to do till then?"
"Not offhand," he says with a small smile. "Guess I'll just have to keep holding you like this until one of us thinks of something else to do."
Tifa smiles and relaxes, allowing her head to rest on his chest. "Yeah, I like that plan."
Nearby, a much less restrained celebration was taking place. After a few moments of stunned silence at the sudden turn of events, Reno lets out a loud whoop, then grabs Elena around the waist, tosses her into the air, and catches her. Both then break into relieved laughter, wide grins adorning their faces. He lifts her into the air again, then spins in a circle as both continue to laugh. After a short time of this, Elena suddenly sneezes. Glancing around for a source for the irritation, they spot Vincent leading a fully saddled gold chocobo onto the deck. "Yo, Valentine! Taking off?" Reno calls out.
"Well, hey, just so you know, if you ever get bored with retirement or need work or something, look us up. Far as I care, you're still a Turk, so you're welcome to run with us."
"Thank you for the offer. I may take you up on it someday, but I have a great many things to think about first. I've been out of the world for a long time, so I've decided to walk the earth for a while, see what I've missed while I think."
"Make sure you stop by south Costa while you're doing that. Last I heard, Jessiah and Ricdeau were still alive, raising hell in a retirement villa."
"My old comrades still live? I'm surprised, they're each over ten years older than me."
"Yeah, I guess the crazy geezers're too damned tough to die. I fought with 'em a few times back in the war before they retired. Anyways, if anything can help you get shit straightened out in your head, talking with the guys you were Turks with oughta do it."
"Yes, I should do that. Thank you and farewell." That said, Vincent climbs into his borrowed chocobo's saddle and rides over the edge of the deck. Those near the edge can see him alight on the water's surface and ride to the southwest.
"The -- all you lazy --s standing around for! Get the -- back to work!" Cid commands his crew, sending the scrambling back into the ship, followed by the grumbling pilot. Over the next few minutes, various members of Avalanche drift below decks, until only Tifa and the Turks are left on deck. The two couples stand on opposite sides of the deck passing the time with small talk and cuddling.
After a little over two hours pass, they are in easy viewing distance of Midgar and Reno announces, "Alright, time to go. Mount up!" and he then climbs into the co-pilot's seat of the remaining chopper and begins warming up the engine while Elena walks over to Rude and Tifa, removing the borrowed jewelry as she goes.
"Thanks again for loaning me these," she says with a smile while handing over Tifa's jewelry.
"It's the least I could do after how you helped me," Tifa replies with a smile. "Oh, and congratulations. I hope you two have a fun honeymoon."
"Yeah, we'll have to make time for one. Guess I'll see you later." The two share a quick hug, then Elena heads towards the chopper, leaving Tifa alone with Rude.
"Hey, um..." Rude hesitates for a moment before reaching into his jacket and pulling out his sketchpad. "Hold onto this for me until I get back, alright?" He then hands the pad to her.
"Thanks, I'll keep it safe for you," she replies, sure that the gesture means a lot to Rude. "Don't keep me waiting too long, now."
"I won't. I'll call you when I'm heading back," he promises. He then hesitates a moment before tentatively leaning forward and planting a kiss on her lips. Tifa responds, leaning into the kiss, and is a little amused to note that Rude blushes slightly before pulling back. "So, uh... Guess I'll see you later." he says, wishing he could think of something smooth to say.
"See you around, Rude." Tifa calls as he walks off.
"So, you use tongue this time?" Reno predictably asks as Rude climbs into the back of the chopper.
"...no..." Rude replies. "Could you stop asking that?"
"I'll stop asking when you start kissing her right," the redhead proclaims with a laugh as Elena guides the chopper into the air. Back on deck, Tifa stands by the railing and watches the chopper recede out of sight. She then walks to her stateroom and opens Rude's sketchpad. A smile comes to her face at the discovery of a new drawing, an unfinished sketch of the kiss she'd shared with Rude before flying into battle at the northern crater.
After flying directly to Junon, the Turks land on the roof of their safehouse, where they perform a quick pre-flight check on the Falcon before taking off and setting a course for the ruins of the Temple of the Ancients. The mood during the quiet flight is somber, due to all three thinking on the upcoming memorial ceremony. During the flight, Reno and Elena change into clean Turk uniforms and Reno, for the first time in years, has his shirt tucked in and fully buttoned and even zips his suit coat and wears a tie as a show of respect for his fallen comrade.
Landing near the site not long before sunset, they open the rear ramp of the Falcon and quickly pitch a medium-sized tent next to it. Then they unload a wooden crate and slowly carry it over to the edge of the pit, feeling very much like pallbearers. After using combat knives as prybars to open the crate, they remove the stone marker it contains and firmly plant it into the ground a few feet from the edge, along the pathway to the temple. That done, they stand together in silence for a few moments, looking down at the simple marble gravestone that bears three lines of text, 'Here Died Tseng of the Turks, Killed by Sephiroth, Avenged by the Turks'.
Reaching into his coat, Reno pulls out a bottle of fine aged Cognac, Tseng's favorite. After pulling the cork and taking a swig, he then passes the bottle to Rude, who does likewise before passing the bottle to Elena. She hands the bottle back to Reno after taking her swig, and he pours the remainder of the bottle over the gravestone, then throws the empty bottle into the pit. Glancing to his left, Reno see's that Elena is standing stiffly at attention as tears stream silently down her face. To his right, Reno see's that Rude appears almost as stoic as always, hiding his pain behind his shades, yet subtle cracks can be detected by his old friend, telling him that the facade will not last long.
Reno sighs as the eulogy he'd composed on the flight down slips from his mind. Fighting for control, he begins to improvise in an unusually thick voice, "Well, we did it, Tseng. Killed the -- that killed you. Even saved the world, if you can imagine us doing that..." He takes several deep breaths as a tear runs down his cheek before continuing in a cracking, unsteady voice, "Shit, man, -- miss you. Ain't never gonna be the same, but we'll keep going on." He then raises his arms and wraps one around each of his fellow Turks, pulling them close as they return the gesture. Tears run freely down the faces of all three as Reno continues, "I'll... I'll take care of them, man, I swear... I'll lead them best I can. Shin-Ra might be dead, but the Turks ain't finished... Nowhere near. I dunno if you can see us but... we'll make you proud man... I swear, Tseng, we'll make you proud..."
It's hard to tell who's the first to sink to their knees, as the others follow almost instantly. Mere moments after the last words of the eulogy leave Reno's mouth, the trio is kneeling together in a tight huddle before the gravestone, heads bowed and shoulders shaking as they weep loudly. This continues until sometime after sunset, when they gradually quiet down. A few minutes later, Reno unsteadily stands, then reaches down to help Elena to her feet as Rude slowly rises on his other side. They then slowly make their way to the tent and enter.
Inside, they begin a somber meal of cold army rations and strong whiskey. After a few minutes of silence, Reno looks up and asks, "Hey, Lena, you ever hear about how we first met Tseng?" She silently shakes her head.
"He wasn't... very impressed with us at first," Rude states with a ghost of a smile faintly visible on his tear-streaked face.
"Heh, that's a hell of an understatement," Reno says with a small smirk at the distant memory. "Course, it's kinda hard to make a good first impression when you've just spent half a day drinking cheap Sake and smoking pot."
"Was he... still all professional back then?" Elena asks.
"Hell, yeah," Reno replies. "He didn't really care much for us young Turks, mostly just hung out with the other pre-war Turks, Jessiah, Ricdeau, and Veld. What was that thing Tseng used to call us?"
"I think it was 'hedonistic young imbeciles, fit only for low-grade wetwork'. And that was when he was in a good mood," Rude supplies.
"Yeah, that's it!" Reno laughs. "God, it took him so long to warm up to us, for us to earn his respect." The mood in the tent continues to lighten as the trio share their happier memories of their fallen friend. This continues for several hours until the combination of exhaustion and alcohol lull the blue-suited trio into a peaceful slumber.
Well, that's it, it's finally over. Heh, kinda hard to believe I started this little project over five and a half years ago. It's definitely good to finish it after having it sit untouched on my hard drive for so many years. And I sincerely apologize for the long delay since the previous chapter. As always, big thanks go to Noroi for betaing and to everyone who reviews for letting me know how you like it. As promised earlier, I do plan on a sequel, but it'll take me some time to get the outline together before I start on it. In the meantime, I'll probably just work on my Reno/Tifa fic and occasional one-shots.
There's a couple Firefly homages in this chapter, Rude's line about not being good at talking to women, Reno's comment when he overhears, and Rude's comment about being too scared of losing something to try having it. Rude's line 'that which does not kill me' is of course a reference to that famous German philosopher whose name I'm utterly incapable of spelling. Well, I'm sure you've all heard that saying. And I forget where the 'loved and lost' saying comes from, but I'll probably remember after I upload this. Reno and Elena's wedding vows were heavily influenced by Weiss & Hickman's Deathgate Cycle, which is still my second favorite series of novels. The Patryn binding ritual seemed like an appropriate base to build Turk wedding vows out of. Vincent's plan to walk the earth is a bit of a Pulp Fiction tribute. And I'm considering a spin-off fic set between the game and AC in the regular continuity where Vincent just walks the earth, like Jules and Cain did before him. Jessiah and Ricdeau's names come from Xenogears, and Veld is Tseng's boss in Before Crisis. Also, in case anyone wonders why I think so much can happen between killing Sephiroth and Meteor coming down, remember that in the game the Highwind was near Midgar when Meteor hit. That's a long way to fly, if you look at the FFVII world map. Well, guess that's it. I hope you all enjoyed this.
Edited again because some site update deleted all the '--' lines I used to use to denote scene changes. So time to slap horizontal rulers into all my fics.