. o .
He finds her afterwards, once the church has emptied out, and she is sitting on the edge of the gap where the water starts, dangling her legs into the water and kicking her feet back and forth. She looks fifteen. She looks fifty.
He should not be looking.
He should be out celebrating; he just helped to save the damn world. Okay, he thinks, so that thought's gonna take some work to sink in. I sure as hell never signed up to be a hero. He wonders if she had any more choice than he did, and his wondering must be audible because a pair of brown eyes whip around to look at him accusingly (old habits, he smirks) before turning defensive.
Suddenly feeling too tall, too awkward, he walks over and waves the glass vial in his right hand. "Don't call the goon squad on me, Shrimp. I'm just here 'cause Rufus wants a sample of this rain stuff." Bending to swish the vial across the surface of the water, he waits for her retort.
"Ever the loyal lapdog, Reno?"
"Woof," he chimes sarcastically, for once too sore and tired to rise to the bait. Almost. "I wouldn't fit in your lap, Kisaragi, if that's what you're askin' – ow, woman! The hell was that for?" He isn't worried – her slap was just annoyed, but it brushed a bruise from earlier.
She scowls, her hand retreating from his leg to toy with the laces of her tie-up boots that she has stacked beside her. "We're in a church, in case you didn't notice. Besides – ew."
"Ew?" he echoes. Careful to stretch in a way to best show off the stomach muscles that she probably is telling herself she's not looking at, Reno remembers to stash the vial in a pouch at his side, not bothering to hide his grin. "Doesn't look like that's what you're thinking, hey."
"Shut up," she murmurs, turning away and continuing to swing her feet – back and forth and back and forth, and maybe if she is super-lucky, she'll figure out whether she wants him to go away or not. She hopes he'll go because he's right there and she doesn't know how to talk to him without fighting, or even if she should be talking to him in the first place, but the church – her church, Aeris' church – doesn't seem as big with his loud footsteps and louder hair making the vaulted ceiling a little less daunting, the stained glass a little less lonely.
To Yuffie's surprise, he mutters something that is probably oh, what the hell, and he is sitting beside her, shucking his shoes, tugging up the cuffs of his pants, and dunking his toes in before cursing. "Dammit, Kisaragi; why didn't you warn me it was freakin' cold?"
She can't help it; she laughs. He looks like a cat that just had a pail of water upended over it. His bristly hair only adds to the illusion, impossibly spiky and bright, bright red… She thinks that, if she had her boots on, she'd be just quick enough to tug at his ponytail and get out of range in time.
He thinks she looks like trouble, and traces a lazy circle on the water with the tip of his finger to distract himself from the miles of leg attached to a ninja-girl who is unfortunately and unwittingly protected by more bodyguards than old man Shinra ever had. "I betcha Hero Boy never told you that this hole in the floor was his fault."
Her eyes turn to his, and he swears they are the size of the dessert plates that he broke at Elena's place last week.
"Uh, uh," Yuffie scolds, her toes kicking a small wave in his direction. "You're not gonna not tell me how you know that, Red."
"I know," Reno preens, "because Spikey was trying to huck barrels down at me from the rafters."
She looks from the considerable size of the pond in the floorboards that was once a hole, up to what remains of the support beams twenty feet above where they sit – even from a distance, the beams are splintering and set very far apart… "Naaah. Cloud's maybe a little crazy – okay, a lot crazy, shut up – but he's not that crazy. What was he doing up there, anyway?"
Laughing, Reno takes a chance and splashes her back. "Told ya already. Trying to knock these big-ass barrels onto my head and missing."
Her look has turned angry, and her hand that is toying with the laces on her boot has clenched into a fist. Ooops, he thinks as she speaks.
"I'm not an idiot, Reno."
His expression matches hers. "Yeah, that's why you're in here, talking with me, instead of being all celebrate-y 'cause you just finished saving the world and shit. Again. Man, Kisaragi, you've got to have one hell of a resume."
"…I already have a job," she mumbles, and it's so uncharacteristic, not that he knows her or anything, but any nineteen-year-old chick who wears Mideelian-print shirts and those shorts – he admits he kind of likes the shorts – and has a voice made for hollering across village squares shouldn't be this sort of muted. This sort of almost-broken that makes him worry because three months ago he wouldn't have cared if she was dead and now he doesn't even want to see her damaged.
Maybe it was the weeks of seeing Elena wrapped in white bandages, her pretty hazel eyes swollen and barely able to glare at him when he came to visit her and Tseng – it hadn't seemed nearly so bad when he was all tied up, except when he wanted to itch his back – but seeing them where he had been was scary as hell, so he had been loud and brash to cover it. Elena wasn't supposed to be quiet and Tseng expected noise from him, so he had held the fort, or let Rude hold the fort as he dashed and laughed and tried for Elena's giggle or that nearly-invisible quirk in Tseng's cheek that meant that the Fearless Leader was amused.
And now… now, there is this little wisp of a woman beside him who could be the photo negative of Elena, dark where his fellow Turk is fair but with similar eyes… or so he thinks, because Yuffie won't look at him, and Bahamut damn him, but he wants her to. So he lets her last comment slip for the moment and charges into the guarded silence between them. "He was protectin' Aeris," Reno sighs. "I think that hole up there in the roof was his fault too, 'cause we heard one hell of a crash when we were walking up to the church. Strife was lying on that patch of flowers with her leaning over him when we got in; I think she'd pulled him from the wreckage. I learned from Rude that Spikes had fallen from one of the Reactors, and the timeline… aw, hell, Kisaragi, it works. Yeah," he adds, taking in her stunned expression and wondering how little of the story she actually knows, "Crazy, hey? I'll say this for Strife – the man just won't say die."
"Even if he is Cloud the Mopey sometimes," Yuffie adds, a tiny smile curving her lips. She has started to swing her feet again, the water above them rippling with her movements. Struck by a thought, Yuffie looks over at Reno. "I think she just paid him back for all the times he saved her."
"Yeah, maybe." Reno stretches, looking at the water at his feet and trying not to think about how the long-haired momma's boy he fought earlier had left some pretty serious bruises and probably a cracked rib or two in his wake. It wouldn't have mattered, but Reno was avoiding Rude – and Rude's Cure materia – because the man was always pissed for a good few days whenever Reno broke another pair of his precious sunglasses.
"Hey," she says slyly, "I bet this water would be good for your bruises."
"You just want to see me shirtless, Yuffie."
To his surprise, she smirks. "Won't be anything I haven't seen before." And she keeps her cool as his black suit jacket and wrinkled white shirt hit the floor in an undignified heap, but as he reaches for the button on his slacks, she leans back, one of her legs snapping out of the water and tangling in his knees to send him flying forwards.
The water breaks his fall, and his splash is oddly satisfying. But before she can enjoy the look on his face as he falls, or think of pulling her left leg, still dangling in the water, out of his strike zone, his hand grabs her ankle and his head breaks the surface of the water, using her leg as leverage to grab her waist and fall backwards with her into the pool.
He's muttering something that could have been your turn, but she isn't sure because she's too busy trying to kick him and offer a gleeful, thankful prayer to the flower girl and not breathe in water – Kisaragi are ninja, they are not fish – all at once. Yuffie pokes at his ribs as he draws her out towards the centre of the pool; standing, it ripples just under her breasts and she's crossing her arms across them, fighting her smile. She fails.
Godo would have an apoplectic fit if he was to see her now. Soaking wet and dressed boyishly, her head tilts back and her eyes are crinkling as her laughter joins Reno's, hesitant at first but then as boisterous as his. One week, one week echoes through her head as his arm crooks and pulls her closer; defiantly, she pushes thoughts of her father and the land she returned to as a stranger to the back of her mind as her smile turns thoughtful.
His fingers are tracing looping circles on her back, and she realizes she's been wrong all the times that she's called him cold-blooded; perhaps he was, he probably still is, but not in the literal sense of the word. Not at all.
She wants to burrow into him, forget who he is, forget who she is and who she is going to have to be once this week is over… she wants a camera. Nobody would believe this moment, even if she swore to it. She doesn't want to, caught somewhere between panic – he is right there and holding her and she's really more accustomed to him trying to kill her - and exhilaration – he is right there and shirtless and maybe it should be romantic but she'll take this laughing rebelliousness, because it doesn't look like he wants to kill her, the scars below his eyes stretching as he laughs and they stand chest-to-chest in the icy pool.
Right, she thinks. Icy. Cold. So she pokes his side again and his laughter is low and dark this time; she can feel it rumbling against her chest and wonders if he's stolen Rude's laugh.
(If the fist-fighting Turk laughs, Yuffie thinks, he should sound like Reno does right now.)
But his hand has dropped from around her waist to retaliate and she seizes the opportunity, pushing against his chest and sliding backwards in the water, a quick whip kick sending her away from where they had been standing. Without taking her eyes from the bemused redhead, she pulls herself up and out of the pool, collapsing amidst Aeris' flowers – yellow and white lilies spike up around her and she smiles apologetically at no-one; she's probably squishing a couple of the flowers as she sprawls on the floor, waterlogged and content. To her surprise, he moves into her field of vision and sits down beside her, leaning back on his hands.
"You're lucky your flower girl's not around anymore, Kisaragi."
She expends the energy to crane her neck and look upwards at him. "Huh?"
"Aeris hated it when people smushed her flowers. When any of us Turks walked on them when we came to check on her, she knew there was trouble coming and that she had to lay low for a while."
"Really?" Yuffie hates that her voice is incredulous. "You guys must've known her pretty well then…"
He twists lily leaves, plaiting them together between his fingers, and looks over at her with green eyes softer than before. "Nah. She spooked Rude – hey, I didn't get it either – and 'Laney met her even after you did. She and I were kinda like cats and dogs; just too different. Tseng liked her, though, so that's why we always let her get away. It became a joke between us, and that's when the flower code started up."
She frowns; she wants to pout and say she never told me that, but it sounds childish even in her head, so she lets him talk, absorbing a story she never knew he was such a large part of. And suddenly the subject changes and he's paused and he's looking at her, but for the first time, he seems to be lookingthrough her, so she pokes at his knee and frowns. Yuffie Kisaragi does not like to be looked through, and she tells him as much.
Reno shakes his head; she catches the edge of a smile. "You looked like her for a second, there."
"Aeris?" Yuffie asks, propping her head up on one elbow. "I think Yazoo hit you harder than you think he did."
He mimics her posture, sprawling backwards as he shakes his head. "No. Like Tifa, when Rude and I found her lying on those flowers, with Strife curled up across from her."
"Yeah," he says. "Rufus'd sent us to look for them, so when they weren't at Tifa's place, we figured the church was the smartest place to go next. She looked beautiful, but so still, ya know? Like a painting; like kids, the two of 'em… Rude had cast Cure on them both before I could even blink. Hell, he had Tifa slung in his arms before I could get over to where they were. I whined that Strife's leather weighed more than I did, but I bet you can guess how much effect that had, hey?"
Yuffie laughs, twisting a couple of the lily stems into a chain. "You had to carry Cloud all the way back?" Her eyes turn mischievous at his sullen expression. "I wish I'd seen that." With a careful flick of her wrist, the flower crown sails towards Reno, catching on his spiky hair and settling at a rakish angle.
The ivory lilies are striking against his crimson hair, and Yuffie's smile grows. Reno's expression is priceless, and she tries to take a mental photograph of the quirk of his lips and slant of his eyebrows as he reaches for the crown.
He pauses in mid-motion to pout. "You'd damn well better not be thinkin' that this look suits me."
"Good thing you can't read thoughts," she retorts, leaning away from his half-hearted swat. Leviathan damn her, but it doesn't look as ridiculous as it should, and for half a second, she wishes it could be a different sort of crown; that she could drag this sopping, sarcastic stick of a man back to the Pagoda and watch Godo's jaw refuse to work when she declared that she wouldn't rule that stupid, wonderful island without an equally wonderful and stupid man.
So what if this particular man had tried to kill her a few times and she hadn't been too ladylike to return the favour? Her father's instructions just before she hopped on the Sierra between a have you packed your toothbrush, young lady and a gruff take care could go hang.
Three weeks to run around like she was sixteen again; three weeks to save the world and see Spikes and Teef and Vince and… everyone… before returning to diplomacy classes and calligraphy lessons and the traditional yukata that made running or jumping or anything fun nearly impossible. Worse, two of those weeks had already flown past. There was a price to be paid for the privilege of royal blood, and when she turned twenty-one she would pay it; she would take the traditional circlet and be sworn in as Lady of Wutai. She'd promised. It was the only reason that she was here with her father's blessing.
Yuffie sighed. She was going soft, and she was blaming it on one of the mornings when, over carefully stilted conversation on the porch where she and Godo had been eating breakfast, he had leant for the pickles that he liked. As he had, she noticed that her father's careful topknot was more silver than the jet that she remembered and that his hands shook as his chopsticks clamped over the pickled vegetables.
Her father's hands did not shake, and she had pretended not to see it, letting her long bangs cover eyes that had gone suspiciously glassy, tucking into her rice with what Godo had laughingly called youthful appetite. His innocent comment had only made her look away longer. More things had changed in her years away than the garish lights down the streets that attracted tourists by the buckets…
And so while Kisaragi are not fish, and they don't like to be looked through, she is her father's daughter, and for all her wanderlust, she loves him and she knows that it is their duty to rule a nation. As a Kisaragi, even she must eventually behave like she is aware of that fact… and she sounds like her father inside her head and doesn't realize that she is frowning until Reno's hand slips under her jaw and she tenses, but his index finger merely traces her lower lip, trying to turn it upwards into a smile.
"Doesn't suit you," is his only defence; his lips are curved into a curious frown as he leans towards her, his free hand on the planks beside her hip. "Looks like ya need to kick something, Kisaragi."
She tries a smile. "Unless you can airlift my father here in ten seconds or less, I hope you're offering." To her surprise, his hands cover hers and squeeze them briefly in what she would call compassion if it came from anyone else before one of his legs hooks over her knees.
"I'll pass," he replies, sticking a yellow lily behind her ear spontaneously. It is a sweet gesture, and he doesn't do sweet, but the look on her face is hilarious, so he thinks that he might have to try this again. "Buy you a drink instead?"
She says nothing at first, so he imagines the worst and prays that Strife or Highwind or any of the others aren't about to walk through the church doors and see the two of them... "Shit. You are old enough to drink, right?"
This time, her punch hurts and he realizes that at least one of his ribs is cracked for sure. "Jerk," she hisses and he thinks that this means that she is, which makes her age one less thing that he could worry about if he was a worrying sort of man. He isn't.
He's also not sure if she is crying as she breaks his hold, but doesn't stop her as she shifts towards him. Either way, he has been knocked backwards and there is an angry ninja girl curled against his chest before either of them can think better of it.
One of her hands dusts over his cheek and the scar that bisects it before toying with the lily that hangs above his right eyebrow. "Nineteen last November –"
And he hates himself for a second – nineteen? Shit, not by much...)
But she is stronger than she looks, so he doubts he could get away without some serious pain being inflicted upon him – and he's had enough of that for one day – so as long as she just stays where she is and doesn't try anything too stupid, it's not so bad, never mind the fact that crying females have always made him twitchy.
"…'m old enough to drink and old enough to run a country; Pops made damn sure I'd agree to that before letting me come here..."
It appears she is still talking, but it takes this phrase to pull Reno out of his thoughts. "You're taking over Wutai? Shouldn't you, ya know, be happy, Kisaragi? I mean, it's an island that's all yours…"
Her stare is flat and oddly tearless as she looks down at him. "If you want it, take it."
"I'd be killed in my bed within a week – a Turk taking over Wutai? C'mon, babe, give me some credit. You'll be fine; you're just scared."
So much for that pipe dream, Yuffie thinks. Then the nickname sinks in. "Babe?" she asks. "Yazoo really hit you hard. Unless…" and her eyes take on a thoughtful glint as she tilts her chin upwards.
But he's seen this play before and moves away. "Kisaragi, you'd kiss one of those silver-haired jerks to get out of this right now, and I'd like to think I'm a rung or ten higher than that, what with saving your ass and all back in Wutai that time." She looks at him in surprise and he won't lie and say that she's beautiful – she's glaring at him and what isn't wet with tears is still soaking from when he dunked her – but he grins. He's got to look at least as bad, and at least she isn't wearing some pansy flower crown. "I've gotta break even, at least."
"Gawd. We're even, okay?" Yuffie beats his reflexes and succeeds in kissing him this time. She does nothing by halves so her arms have slipped around his shoulders to cradle his head and she's half-decent at it and he was going to kiss her in the water anyhow if she hadn't slipped away first, so he kisses her back.
Lilies and tears and the lemon that has to be her shampoo catch at him where he'd missed them before, too busy swimming and laughing to stop and take anything in… damn good thing the girl's going away in a week, he thinks; she's turning me into a poet.
Yuffie pulls away first, and as he blinks she tugs him to his feet, wiping her tears away with the back of her hand. "Sorry," she chirps, biting her lip. "I, uh…hey, you still owe me that drink!" Lacing her fingers through his, she grins nervously and turns away to slip across the floor and around the pool with careful accuracy, her bare feet dancing a delicate staccato. He mimics her movement with much less grace and she scowls back, reaching one of her massive boots and using her free hand to swing the high-top in his direction.
"Missed me, missed me," he mocks, ducking under the boot and around her to slip on his socks and shoes. Jamming the laces of his shoes into the sides, he grabs his shirt.
As he straightens, putting the buttons together haphazardly, she darts in with one boot still dangling from her hand to kiss his cheek. This is the second time she's caught him unawares, and she knows it, grinning as she rocks back on her heels with her hands on her hips. "I know how the rest of that rhyme goes," she teases, sticking her tongue out then bending to slip on her other shoe. "You're kinda cute when you're blushing."
"I'm not cute," he retorts, spitting out the last word as if speaking it burns.
"What are you, then?" she breathes, brown eyes curious.
"Stunning. Highly attractive. Dangerous. Handsome." Each word and he's closer closer and somewhere between realizing that very important detail and snarling at the splinters poking through her vest from the floorboards against her back the thought occurs that maybe she shouldn't have pushed him but she's never been the sort to let opportunity slide when it leaves itself wide open -- and that is a dangerous train of thought, she thinks from where he has pinned her.
Pinned her to a floor that Cloud should really, really consider sanding, cause she's sure there's a splinter in her shoulder the size of one of his swords at least – and all of a sudden it doesn't matter because he – not Cloud, because gawd, that would just never-ever happen ever again – Reno is kissing her and though she hopes he doesn't notice that her toes may be curling just a little, little bit, she's sure it's not supposed to work like this. He's supposed to whisk her away or at least be the one to get all splintery. She's a princess, for Shiva's sake.
Tilting her head to tell him as much, she freezes as she catches sight of his expression – no longer smiling or even mischievous, his eyes are hooded and she remembers just why she shouldn't be here. Even his laugh has turned predatory, trailing his lips along her jawline slowly, pausing just below her ear. "Don't start games you don't intend to play through, babe," he whispers, and she is frozen.
"I'm winning," she retorts, but her voice wavers and he isn't fooled.
"I'm no-one's conscience, babe, but you don't want me, I don't need you, and neither Rufus nor your daddy dearest could handle another war. I'm not the sort you fall in love with, either, so don't get any stupid ideas."
"So..." She hates being lost for words.
"I didn't say it wasn't a good idea, Yuf-fie."
This smile is insufferable, she thinks, but he's not done.
"What's dumb," Reno murmurs, "is diving into whatever you think this is like an idiot schoolgirl when you know better. Read my file, go run your island, and if your bodyguards haven't killed me by next spring, I might start leaving my apartment door open."
Somehow, she works one of her hands free and shit, that damned rib, he thinks, she gets it every time.
He watches her storm out of the church and wonders if the sick feeling in his stomach means that he's just done something very stupid, or something very noble. Shrugging because it's probably just indigestion, Reno grabs his jacket from the floor and glares down anyone who looks at him funny over his walk home. He gets more odd looks than usual, and it isn't until he slams his apartment door closed and catches his reflection in the mirror that he realizes why. His lily crown, much like the girl that made it, is hard to get rid of.
And she's not, he finds, the type to run from a challenge, either; she stays in town for the rest of her week, but ignores him with all the grace and fury of an electrocuted chocobo. Tifa casts a couple of confused looks at the two of them, but he sees no reason to enlighten the martial artist, particularly since his ribs are just starting to feel back to normal again.
Rufus is harder to evade; his smile as Reno hands over the vial of water from the church is arch and utterly knowing. Reno matches Rufus' stare, and is not surprised when he is sent along with Elena to Wutai that autumn for a recon mission. He doesn't notice anything out of the ordinary beyond drinks being more expensive at the Turtle, but when he overhears Elena jabbering on her phone to a friend about the gorgeous yellow lilies which had been everywhere around the Imperial pagodas which was weird, because they hadn't been there a year ago, but they were so lovely, you wouldn't believe it - that Reno leans back against the wall and shakes his head.
It seems that he's just as hard to forget as she is, and though he's never been the hopeful sort, once he gets back from their mission, he sends a crown of yellow lilies to Yuffie on her birthday. Girls like flowers, it's been said, and as he hears the tell-tale creak of his bathroom window sneaking upwards at three in the morning two days later, he thinks to himself that she is no exception. "The door was open," he drawls as she startles and falls the rest of the way through the window, somehow catching herself in mid-tumble to roll forwards and onto her feet. Right, he groans, ninja.
"Where's the fun in that?" Yuffie giggles, steadying herself against the vanity. "Hey. Were you sleeping in the bathtub, Reno?"
"…Nah," he says, but his eyes shift and he laughs along with her.
"Well, you'd better stop," she replies, reaching out with both her hands to tug him out of the bathtub. "You still owe me a drink."
He lets her pull him up. "Yeah," he says, slinging an arm around her shoulders for what he tells himself is balance, but his smile says that he knows it's nothing that simple. Or that boring.
"Yeah," Reno echoes, steering her out of the bathroom and into the night, starting with pleasant surprise as her arm slips around his waist. "So I do."
. o .
… finis …
. o .
Sabe's Scribbles: This one's dedicated with love to Reno Spiegel, who asked for flowers, windows, and a Reffie to Sufjan Stevens' "Casimir Pulaski Day". (The characters, etc, belong to Square.) Thoughts and comments are always welcomed gladly!