Disclaimer: I own none of these characters. Please don't sue me, Square.


Chapter One

This time I spot her before she spots me. Wearing her favorite pink dress, she's kneeling in the center of the abandoned slum church. As usual, she's working on her flowers, and she's got her back to me this time. Heh, I thought she was more cautious than this. A smirk rises to my face as I creep silently towards her. I've been here often enough that I know where all the squeaky floorboards are. She's making it too easy. "Gotcha!" I shout triumphantly as I wrap my arms around her and lift her into the air.

She makes a cute little shocked noise, almost a squeak, before she recognizes me. "Reno!" she gasps.

"Hey, babe."

"You almost made me break one of my flowers," she complains.

"Sorry, but I'm here on a mission. I'm here to capture the last of the Ancients... and take her to a play." I then produce two tickets to 'Loveless' from my left sleeve with a little flourish. Just a little slight of hand, but it always seems to go over well with the ladies. Not surprisingly, I get a smile and a giggle out of her. I dunno if it's for the trick or the corny line, but either way it's worth it to hear her laugh.

"Oh, I like that one."

"What, you've already seen it?"

"Uh-huh. Tseng took me to it last week," she informs me cheerily.

Damn. A point to you, boss. Well, nothing I can't deal with. "We could always see another if you want," I smoothly offer without missing a beat or showing any jealousy. Professional respect aside, I don't know why Tseng even bothers trying. He may've taught me everything I know about being a Turk, but he's not half as smooth with ladies as I am. We both know Aeris'll choose me in the end. I dunno why he's being so optimistic, that's not really his style. No, I know why. Kinda makes for an awkward situation, the both of us being in love with the same woman...

"That's alright, I'd like to see it again. Could you put me down so I can go clean up?"

"Sure." There she goes, headed over to the church's bathroom to wash the dirt from her hands. While she does that, I take a moment to review my plan to slip her past upper-plate security. It won't be the first time I brought her up there, but there's still a risk. If the company finds out I'm doing this instead of bringing her to Hojo's lab, well, let's just say I'd be lucky if my job was all I lost. Never thought I'd take a risk like this for a girl, but there's something about her. Words aren't good enough to describe what I feel around her, but I'd do almost anything to keep it from ending. Ah, looks like she's ready to go.

"You know, she's just using you two," Rude announces as I step into the Turks lounge. Just like him to get straight to the point instead of wasting words.

"Hey, I already told you, you can't play a player."

"So you're playing her?"

"Hell no! You think I'd take a risk like this just for a little tail?"

"So you have feelings for her?"

"Well... don't go telling anyone, but yeah." I wouldn't tell this to anyone else, but I know I can trust Rude. It's not the first secret of mine I've given him, and he's never let any slip.

"Tell her yet?" he asks me. Damn, this guy can be relentless when he thinks there's something worth talking about.

"Not yet."


"None'a your damned business."

"Hey, you wouldn't leave me alone until I admitted having a crush on that bartender. I'm just returning the favor."

"Yeah, I remember her. You never would talk to her, except to order drinks. What was her name, Tina?"

"Tifa," he corrects me.

"Heh, you've still got a thing for her, don't you?" He wouldn't be so quick to correct me on her name if he didn't. "Why don't you go talk to her, ask for her number?"

"That's my problem. Why don't you tell Aeris how you feel?"

"Same problem, I'd bet." It's hard for either of us to admit it sober, but the problem's courage. I haven't had this problem since High School, back when I was still trying to figure out how to talk to girls, but every time I try to tell her how I feel, my knees go weak, my stomach starts jumping around, and the words, they just won't come out.

"Possibly," he agrees. "Want to cut out early and get a drink?"

The president must be getting impatient or something, because I have some Shinra MPs assigned to me for 'Ancient duty' today. Not that big of a problem, I'll just have to arrange it so I can blame the dumb grunts for letting her escape, then I'll have some privacy next time out. It's a good thing I like to surprise her, if she knew I'd planned to take her to a park outside the city she'd be disappointed. And I hate to see her disappointed. Maybe I'll have time to do that after I get off work. I bet it's been a while since she's seen a sunset. Hell, it's been a while since I've seen one.

Strange, I wasn't expecting to see a guy in a Soldier uniform in here. Was the mission double-booked? No, his body language's all wrong for that. Bet he doesn't know who she is. This'll complicate things. Odd, he's acting like he's protecting her. He's rambling on about knowing me for some reason when the grunts come in behind me, and now he's ranting about spies. Hmm, stranger and stranger. Whoever this guy is, he's obviously not here on company orders. That's obvious enough for even the grunts to figure out, they want to know what to do about him. "I haven't decided yet," I tell them. He looks familiar for some reason, but I can't place him.

Aeris decides for me, yelling, "Don't fight here! You'll ruin the flowers!" before leading the guy into the back room. I can tell by his eyes that he's been injected with Mako, and he moves like he's been through Solider training. Heh, this could get interesting...

By time we enter the back room, Aeris and the renegade Soldier're up on the next floor. Of course, the grunts are looking around like dumbasses. "There they are, over there!" I announce, pointing up as they start to run. Guess it's time for my token effort. "The Ancient is getting away! Attack! Attack! Attack!"

Holy shit, they actually hit her. Good thing I made the grunts pack riot control carbines with rubber bullets. Looks like she landed alright. I knew teaching her how to take a fall right'd pay off some day. "Think we killed 'em? They shouldn't have put up a fight, I say!" Hmm, maybe a bit too dramatic, but it's probably best to lay it on thick, so the grunts all mention how loyal to the mission I am when they report back. Dumbasses.

"Well, go fetch her," I order the grunts, sending them down to her. Now she's calling for his help. Cloud, I'll have to remember that name, give the personnel database a visit later. Hmmph, showoff's trying to drop barrels on them. Actually hit one, too. Dumbass grunt should've been paying attention. The others don't do much better. It might not be my weapon of choice, but I've shown Aeris a few tricks for that staff of hers and she's putting them to good use. "You did good, babe," I tell her with a grin when she climbs back up to my level.

"Thanks, but why'd you bring company?"

"The higher-ups don't think I'm getting enough results, figured I needed help. Probably won't happen again after I report the grunts got in the way. So, who's the guy?"

"Cloud? I just met him," she tells me before giggling. "He fell through the roof a couple minutes before you got here."

"Heh, hell of an entrance. Must be kinda clumsy, with aim like that."

"You'd do better?"

"Throwing barrels at people isn't really my style. Nah, I'd've hit them coming through the door."

"I need to get going, before Cloud comes down to check on me."

I feel a sharp pang at the thought of her with that guy, but I try not to show it. Gotta show her my confident side, let her know I'm sure that guy's nothing and she'll come back to me. I want to tell her to ditch him and stay with me, though. "See you around, Aeris," I tell her instead. What's that saying, something about letting someone go if you love them?

"I'll see you later," she replies, then gives me a quick kiss on the cheek before running off. I call in a medical team for the grunts as I walk back out to the car. It's strange, I haven't had trouble talking to women for years. Hell, I even walked into a strip club once and talked a couple dancers into buying me drinks, just because Rude bet me two months pay that I couldn't. But here I am now, in love with her, and I can't tell her. Damn, I need a drink...

Hmm, Soldier records don't show anyone named Cloud. Sitting in my office later in the afternoon, I try a different tact and type in a query for mugshots of all Soldiers with blonde hair and blue eyes. Still no luck. On a whim, I search the full employee database for guys named Cloud and start browsing through the few who pop up. Jackpot. Huh, now this is strange. His records say he washed out of Soldier training, never got higher than an MP, and never had any Mako enhancement. Even odder, it also says he was killed in action during the Nibleheim incident. Maybe he was on a Soldier black-ops team? Mosta those guys're listed as dead in the official records, but if that's the case I oughta have a high enough clearance to see his real file. Wait a second, I think I remember him now. I pull up the report for a mission from not too long ago that was failed due to grunts interfering against their orders. Yeah, there he is, one of Hojo's escaped lab rats we were chasing. Written off as useless because Hojo needed both alive to continue his experiment. Bizarre. Let's see what Tseng makes of this. Leaning to the side, I pound my fist against the wall and shout, "Hey, Tseng! Come here, you gotta see this!"

A moment later, my boss's annoyed-sounding voice drifts through the wall from his office next door. "Reno, how many times do I have to tell you, just because our office walls are thin enough to shout through, does not mean you should do so."

I smirk before shouting back, "But boss, you're doing it!"

"Damnit, Reno! If you want to talk to me, either use your phone or walk over here!"

Heh, I got him pissed, now. "But I found something odd on Ancient duty!" That oughta get him curious enough.

"Hey, boss, what's up?" I greet Tseng as I walk into the lounge that's the center of the Turk office suite the next morning. He's usually hard to read, but he looks absolutely pissed right now.

"We have a mission."

"Where we headed?"

"I shall be retrieving the Ancient. You hav-"

"Wait, what?" I interrupt, shocked. Today's not his turn on Ancient duty, and he wouldn't phrase it like that, unless...

"It's over," he tells me. For a split-second, a look of intense sorrow flashes across his face.

I feel a sinking sensation, like the floor's just dropped out from under me. "What, Why?" I ask as a hollow feeling washes through me. "No, doesn't matter..." If there's nothing Tseng can do about it, then it really is over. Damn it all. Rage rises up within me, so cold that it burns as it fills the void caused by this revelation. I desperately want to smash something right now, preferably something big and expensive.

"Here are your mission details. Get to work," he orders me while handing me a file. Huh, looks like I get a mission appropriate to my mood. I get to smash a whole sector...

My rage still burns strong as I limp back from the terrorists on the plate support. Damn them, if they hadn't pushed the company by blowing up those reactors, the search for Aeris probably wouldn't have been intensified. I usually don't enjoy killing, it's just a part of my job, like writing memos. But the thought of these pieces of shit being buried under the plate brings a smirk to my face as I grab the zipline and slide down to the landing platform below, where Tseng's chopper waits.

My wounded leg gives me a bit of trouble climbing into the chopper, but I manage. And there she is, giving me a look like she's disappointed. All it takes is that one glance and my rage is gone, replaced by shame. I look away from her and slump into a seat. Rude asks, "Hey, you alright back there?"

"I'll live," I reply. But do I really deserve to, just sitting like this while a few feet away the woman I love is being taken to the place she fears most? Sure, I don't have much chance of success, especially wounded, but people're supposed to take chances for love, not act like a coward like I'm doing. Pathetic.

My mind wanders this damnable track for some time before a loud explosion followed by a rumbling draws me back to reality. There it goes. An eighth of the world's largest city, destroyed just because I didn't have the guts to take off, grab the girl, and run instead of taking out my anger and frustration on half a million somewhat innocent people.

I feel her hand on my shoulder and I draw away as far as my seat allows me. She hates me now, I'm sure of it. Her fingers are on my chin now, pulling me to face her. Probably wants to hit me. After betraying my love like I've done, I at least owe her the small satisfaction of a free shot. So, I let her turn me and find myself looking into two of the saddest looking eyes I've ever seen. I can only meet her gaze for an instant before I turn mine downward. I can't stand to see her like this, and I could've saved her from it. "Hey," she whispers. "Reno, I forgive you."

Shocked, my gaze rises back up as my jaw drops. She's actually smiling at me. "It'll be alright," she whispers, then leans over and kisses me. Just a light little kiss, but damn. The chopper lands before I manage to collect my wits enough for any coherent reply, and we all step onto the landing pad attached to our office suite.

"Rude, escort her to the lab," Tseng orders. She pauses for a moment while walking past the boss, then gives him a quick kiss before following Rude into the building. Tseng stands frozen for several moments before walking quickly into the building, followed by yours truly. I've never seen the boss flop onto a piece of furniture before, but that's exactly what he does when he reaches the battered leather couch in our lounge. "She... forgave me..." he whispers, almost too low for me to hear as he sits slumped on the couch.

He's obviously having second thoughts over what he's done, and I could easily twist the knife right now. Instead, I place a hand on his shoulder and say, "Yeah... me too..." Then I pull out the chromed flask I carry in my jacket and take a swig of the strong Gin it contains before passing it to Tseng. She was a real angel living among the trash of the slums, and we went and condemned her to a living hell. Hmph, what a display of love... Guess this makes us both cowards...

Tseng takes a swig and grimaces before saying, "Thanks, Reno. Now, quit bleeding all over my carpet and get down to the infirmary."

"Sure, boss." He obviously wants to be alone. Can't blame him, I'm gonna want the same after I get patched up. I leave the flask with him. He needs it and there's plenty more where it came from, back at my apartment.

I'm not sure what time it is, or even what day. I've been sitting on my couch for some time now, staring at nothing in particular and trying not to think too much. Suddenly, the security alarm goes off. Odd, that one only goes off when there's a security breach. Last time it went off, Avalanche was trying to break Aeris out, but failed. Curiosity overwhelms lethargy, and I reach over and flick on the monitor for my PC and pull up the security feeds to see what it is this time. Looks like someone's tearing the place up. He appears on a monitor for a second, slicing up a group of MPs. Sephiroth. What's with all these officially dead guys turning up lately? I notice that his path was close to the cells holding Avalanche, just two floors from my apartment. I smile for the first time in over a day as a plan starts to form.

Author's Note

I was originally going to make this a one-shot, but it's run on a lot longer than I planned, so I'm splitting it into two chapters. Maybe three, depending on how much I ramble. The bit about the Turks chasing Cloud and Zack comes form the Last Order OAV, which you should see if you haven't already. As always, big thanks go to Noroi for kindly betaing for me. And, of course, reviews are always appreciated. So, let me know what you think.

New note: 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.