Crossing a Burnt Bridge

Disclaimer: I don't own FF7, or any of it's characters, or enough money to be worth suing for copyright infringement. But I do own a spork.

Note: Text in /these/ is a character's thoughts.

She had been straightening up the stools in front of the bar in preparation for tonight's clean up when she heard the door open behind her. "We're closing in ten minutes." she announced.

"I'll make it quick, then." a strangely familiar voice said from behind her.

Wondering where she'd heard it before, she turned and her burgundy eyes went wide with surprise. He's dressed differently than she'd seen him before, in jeans, a plain white t-shirt, and a brown leather bomber jacket, but she instantly recognized him by his fiery red hair, lightly glowing aquamarine eyes with a scar beneath each, and the smirking expression that seemed to say that he's privy to some private joke.

His smirk slipped and his eyes widened slightly with surprise, but only for a moment, then his customary expression returned. "Hey, there, beautiful. Didn't expect to run into you tonight." he said, walking closer. Something about the way he walked put her in mind of a predatory animal.

"I don't serve assassins here." she declared, eyes filled with anger.

"That's all in the past. Haven't been one of those since the company fell apart. For what it's worth, I never liked doing those jobs. I'm just a cashier nowadays. Shitty work, but it pays the bills." He now stood a little over a foot away from her.

"Leopards don't change their spots. Get out, no one wants you around here."

He closed his eyes and chuckled lightly for a moment, then opened them, fixing her with a piercing gaze. "I hear that a lot. It's like everyone who recognizes me wants me to be a hermit or something. Heh, makes it kinda hard to hold down a job. Now, I've had a rough day today, babe. Is it too much to ask to buy five minutes worth of hard drinks before heading home?"

"Too much to ask?" she demanded, feeling her temper snap inside her. "Was it too much to ask to let the people in Sector Seven live?" She punctuated this question with a vicious left hook to his head. "To let Jessie live?" She followed this with a powerful right cross to his left eye. "And Biggs?" Another punch. "Wedge?" Yet another. Her old anger at Shin-Ra and it's blue suited enforcers had boiled over and she continued her assault, now growling unintelligibly with each strike. A powerful uppercut lifted him from his feet, dropping him on the floor. He snapped back to his feet an instant later with a smooth kicking maneuver.

She took a half step back and raised her hands in a defensive posture, expecting a counter-attack. She was very surprised when he simply stood there with his hands at his sides and a resigned expression on his face. /Why doesn't he try to fight back? I've seen him fight before, he should've been able to block most of that./ she thought. She looked into his eyes and saw something unexpected, sorrow and a hint of self-loathing. Her anger faded, replaced by shame. She had always prided herself on her self-control and was shocked at her lapse. "I... I'm sorry. Are you okay?"

"It's alright, I deserved that. Now about those drinks..."

"No, it's not alright. You're bleeding. I had no right to do that. Now, sit down." She took him by the shoulder and guided him to the nearest barstool.

"I've had worse. Don't worry about it." he said while she put up the closed sign and locked the front door. She then pulled a small first aid kit from behind the bar and sat on a stool next to him. As she opened the kit, she briefly wished she hadn't sold all of her materia to pay for her new bar, then began to pull out the items she'd need to repair the damage she'd caused. "Do you still hate me?" he asked as blood oozed from the corner of his mouth.

Surprised at the unexpected question, she turned towards him and burgundy met aquamarine, separated by mere inches. Silence reigned as she sincerely pondered his question. He could tell from her eyes that she was deep in thought and she saw a mixture of hope, trepidation, and sorrow in his. "No. I just don't have it in me to hate you anymore."

The ends of his lips curved slightly upwards when he heard this and she was surprised to note that it's not a smirk or sneer like she'd seen so many times in the past, but a genuine smile that's reflected in his eyes. "You don't know how glad I am to hear that." he said, relief plain in his voice.

"If you didn't like doing work like that, why didn't you quit?" she asked as she soaked a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol.

"I couldn't. The only ways to stop being a Turk're to get killed or get too old or too badly wounded to be any use to the company. Doing anything disloyal like trying to quit got punished pretty harshly. Hell, you saw what happened to Valentine." He winced a little as she used the cotton ball to clean where she'd split the skin over his left eyebrow. "They made it even worse for guys like me that had family, cause they'd be punished too."

"You had family?" she asked, surprised. Somehow she had never thought of that possibility.

"Yeah. My mom, little sister, brother-in-law, niece, and two nephews. President Shin-Ra threatened to give them to Hojo to experiment on if I didn't drop the plate."

"That's horrible! How could he?"

"That's how he worked. If he couldn't buy someone, he'd threaten everything they cared about. I've had to carry out his threats before, so I knew he wasn't bluffing. Where'd you think Rufus got his ideas? He just skipped straight to step two."

"At least you saved them." she said while she stuck a small bandage to his forehead and wished she had something more comforting to say.

"For a while. They were in shelter C in Sector Four when Meteor hit."

"Oh, I'm sorry." She'd read about that shelter and a few others like it in the paper, about how they'd taken direct hits from the twisters that had descended from Meteor, killing all inside.

"Yeah, me too. I never could tell them what I did for them, was always afraid they'd hate me. I'm sure they heard rumors, but they never said anything. I... Aww, shit." he blurted out as he slapped a hand over his face, covering his eyes. "Thought I was over this..." he mumbled, almost too quietly for her to hear. "I should get going. Sorry for bothering you." he said in a slightly shaky voice that was a clear sign he was fighting to control it.

She gently pushed him back down on his stool, noting that he forced himself to take deep, slow breaths, yet was not fully in control and shuddered slightly when he exhaled. "You're in no condition to go anywhere right now."

"I'll be fine, really. I... don't want anyone to see me like this."

"It'll have to come out eventually. Better here than when you're walking down the street. I wouldn't want you to stumble into traffic or something."

His voice bacame less steady as he spoke again. "You're too kind. Sure you don't want me to wander into traffic?"

If someone had told her this morning that by the end of the day she'd be comforting one of her most hated enemies, she'd have laughed and called them crazy. Yet here she was, looking at him not as an enemy who had escaped justice, but as a hurt man in need of help. Her nurturing side took over and she reached out, wrapping both arms around him. "Of course I'm sure. Go on, you need to let it out."

Having finally lost the slim amount of control he'd held, his breaths became ragged and his shoulders began to shake. "I always did whatever it took to protect them." he choked out. "So many suffered because I loved them so damned much I'd do anything for them. Always told myself I made the best choices I could. I... I'm not so sure now. I killed thousands to protect a handful. But in the end, it was all for nothing. Nothing. Was... was everything I did in life a mistake?"

She wished she could think of something to say, but nothing appropriate came to mind. During her Avalanche days she'd been a confidant to most of her teammates. She'd been able to listen to anything and even lend a shoulder when needed and keep quiet about it, but she'd never heard anything like this. He began to slowly regain control, forcing his breathing into a slow and deep pattern. Within a few minutes, he appeared to be composed again. "I'm fine." he insisted. "I must be coming down with some sorta weird flu that's messing with my head or something."

As she let go and sat back on her stool, she noticed that he appeared distinctly embarrassed and had his eyes fixed on the floor. "It's okay, I'm used to seeing that sort of thing. Sometimes I think I have 'tell me all your problems' tattooed on my face and I'm the only one who can't see it." she casually remarked. "I've seen about half of Avalanche like that, and you'd be surprised how often I see customers open up like that."

"It's your eyes."

"What about my eyes?"

"Er... Well, they're sorta kind and trustworthy looking. At least when you're not pissed off." he answered, embarrassed and wishing he'd kept his mouth shut.

"Thanks. Hey, no need to get all embarrassed like that. You're just being human. I've seen some really tough-looking people open up and start bawling like you wouldn't believe. Even people I'd never met before. Some of them even had worse excuses than that flu thing you came up with."

"Yeah, that was pretty lame." he admitted with a faint rueful smile on his face. "Guess I'm not exactly in top form today."

"Still want that drink?"

"Yeah, how about a whisky sour?" he said while finally looking up at her again. "Damn, sorry about messing up your shirt."

She looked down and saw his blood on the right shoulder of her shirt from where she'd hugged him. "It's not your fault. Sorry again for making you bleed." she said while walking around the bar.

"Hey, I'll be fine. I've had a lot worse. Hell, you've given me worse, back during the whole Sephiroth thing." he said with a chuckle as she passed him his drink. She's interested to notice that he can somehow appear charming despite a badly bruised face.

"That doesn't make it right." she said, beginning to clean up while talking. "I misjudged you. I guess you're not the soulless snake I used to think you were. Sorry."

"Don't worry about it. So, what happened to your old crew? They in town too?"

"No, after Meteor everyone just went their separate ways. Barret, Nanaki, and Yuffie keep in touch, but they all live on another continent so I don't see much of them."

"What, you didn't keep in touch with Chocobo-head?"

"Cloud? He disappeared right after Meteor without saying a word to anyone. No one's heard from him since."

"Too bad. You had a thing for him, didn't you?"

"Nothing serious, and him taking off like that ended those feelings pretty quick." The bitterness in her voice denied her words, but he didn't press the issue. "So, what about your old team?"

"We're still together, still as close as family too. We're all roommates, renting an old house. They're just working the night shift today. Rude's the doorman at a nightclub called the Electric Chocobo and Laney's waiting tables at Chatskie's."

"I'm glad to hear your friends stuck with you. So, where're you working as a cashier at?"

"Well, I'm not anymore. Some loudmouth customer recognized me this morning and bitched to the manager. So I got my last paycheck and severance pay and spent the rest of the day looking for another job. Know anyone that's hiring?"

"Yeah, I know someone. Ever work as a waiter?"

"A few times. Just don't ask for references, they all canned me for being me." he joked.

"Good, I've been short a waiter for over a week now. The job pays six gil an hour plus tips if you're interested."

He looked surprised by her offer. "You're serious? I'll take it! It'll be nice not having to worry about the boss finding out who I am. When do I start?"

"Right now. Give me a hand cleaning up."

"I'm on it." he declared before finishing his drink and walking around the bar to clean the glass. He then began to competently perform the tasks of cleaning up a bar, proving his past experience. "Hey, thanks. I really appreciate you giving me this job."

"All I'm giving you here's a chance. You'll have to prove yourself if you want to keep the job."

"That's still more than most folks'll give me nowadays."

"They just don't know you well enough."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well... You really surprised me tonight. You always acted like an insensitive jerk when I saw you before and your reputation matched. But that's not what I saw tonight. I saw someone who I wouldn't mind having working for me... or as a friend."

"You mean it?"

"Yeah. I'm good at reading people when I get a chance to talk with them."

"I... Thanks. It probably sounds dumb, but that means a lot to me."

"I understand. That's clean enough for tonight. You sure you're alright? Looks like you could use some ice for that."

"I'm fine. Hell, I actually feel better than when I walked in this place."

"You sure? I'm still feeling guilty for working you over like that. There anything I can do to make it up to you?" she asked as they walked towards the door.

"How about a date?" he asked on impulse, giving her his best charming look.

"A date?" she asked, surprised.

"Well, if you don't want to, you could just call it even for hiring me."

She looked him over and thought about his offer while she locked up. She had to admit to herself, she found him attractive and was intrigued by the side of him she'd seen that night. And she was also a little curious about if there was any truth behind his reputation as a ladies' man. So she decided to give him a chance in this as well. "Sounds fun. It's been a while since I've had time for dating."

"So, when's your next day off?"

"That could be a problem. I only have days off when the bar's closed. It's the downside of being the boss."

"How about a lunch date then? Tomorrow?"

"That'd be great."

"Mind if I walk you home?"

"I'd like that."

Author's Note: As usual, thanks to Noroi for kindly betaing for me. Well, here it is, my first ReTi. I've read plenty of ReTis where Tifa comes close to hitting him early on, so I wondered how things might play out if she gives in to her anger. The part with Reno's lapse of control was heavily influenced by episode 23 of Trigun. Chatskie's is a little homage to Office Space and probably spelled wrong too. Yes, that means poor Elena has to wear pieces of flair to work. I originaly planned this as a one-shot where Tifa forgives Reno and they're just friends after that, but I decided to take it farther. So, tell me what you think. Hopefully it turned out alright, most of this was written while having some insomnia. As always, if you review and have a fic in a fandom and language I know that I haven't already reviewed I'll return the favor.

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.