A.N.: Technically this is an AC timeline and beyond fic, but I'm taking a LOT of liberties. In other words, I guess you could say it's only loosely based on the movie XD I'm not gonna be too technical about it. Hope you don't mind! I also hope you enjoy.
Yeah, he remembered this church. It was a long time ago he'd been here, back in 'the day' as he now called it. He wasn't entirely sure why he called it that, actually. Most people used 'the day' to refer to a fond memory of something good, a sort of golden age in personal history, and that wasn't exactly how he felt about his past.
Things were much better now than they were in 'the day,' he thought. He certainly felt happier nowadays. Of course, still being a glorified lackey left a bruise or two on his oh-so-fragile ego, but pride, for the very first time in his life, it seemed, wasn't a top priority anymore. Amazingly enough, feeling good about doing the right thing factored in there somewhere.
That was the only way he could explain why he was here, chasing after those two—not pursuing them for a fight for the death, as he'd been so accustomed to doing in the past, but, in fact, coming to their rescue.
It took a little getting used to.
He frowned at the two figures on the flowerbed below his feet, gracefully arranged as if someone had planned it that way. He watched them for a brief moment, noting they were breathing deeply, as though they were lost in quiet sleep. They were definitely knocked out, but the good news was they weren't dead. He only spared a quick glance at the blond—he was definitely of no particular interest.
The other, however…
He wished he had taken another moment to remember just how beautiful she was, for he was quickly captivated by her dozing form. Sure, he'd taken special 'interest' in her the moment he saw her over two years ago, but seeing her now, after so much time apart, during which a few flirtatious phone calls had transpired… he just wasn't prepared.
Suddenly her body was lifted off the ground, abruptly breaking him free from his thoughts.
"Hey, why do you get to carry her?" he blurted before he had the chance to stop himself.
Rude settled Tifa in his arms, and looked over his shoulder, eyebrow raised. "Get to carry her?" he repeated with inquisitiveness and slight amusement.
Reno swiftly recovered from his little slip-up. "I mean… y'know, why do I have to get stuck carrying him?" he said, pointing a thumb at Cloud, slacked out on the flowers. "I mean he's gotta be a lot heavier and… you're, uhh… stronger than I am." It nearly killed him to admit that, especially after many years of claiming that he could kick Rude's ass if he wanted… he just chose not to.
Rude snorted. "Strength's got nothing to do with it."
Reno grew suddenly indignant. "What, you don't trust me with her?"
He scowled. Yeah, so, he wasn't exactly a gentleman all the time, but he wasn't the kind of creep who perved on women while they were passed out either. He deserved a little more credit than that. "Hey, cut me some slack! What kind of freak do you think I am?"
Rude wasn't having it anymore. "Shut up and carry him," he said, heading towards the exit.
It took a moment for it to occur to Reno that maybe Rude still had feelings for Tifa. More so, he wasn't sure how that made him feel. He had always kind of assumed that Rude's little crush was just a pipe dream that would blow over in time. Two years was long enough for that type of thing to fizzle out, wasn't it? It had to be, he thought, hoisting his unconscious former enemy over his shoulder.
Then again, he was already experiencing the sneaking suspicion that she wasn't a girl that was easy to get out of one's system. Something told him he was going to have to learn the truth about that the hard way.
He tried his best to shoot glances of sheer loathing in Rude's direction on the walk back to the 7th Heaven, but the man remained annoyingly oblivious. Reno thought that boring holes in the back of Rude's head as he lagged behind him under his much heavier burden would somehow make the situation better. Unfortunately, it wasn't working so far. He was just going to have to be extra annoying to Rude later as payback.
When they finally made it back to the bar and went upstairs, Reno's relief was immense. He wasted no time in dumping Cloud unceremoniously on the bed, once again cursing his misfortune. God, would his back be killing him tomorrow. For a guy that Reno considered to be more than a little on the short side (though being around Rude all day made anyone look short), he weighed a fucking ton. Irritably rubbing his aching shoulders, he cast a furtive glance to his left and observed Rude very carefully, almost tenderly, setting Tifa down upon her bed. Reno scoffed louder than he intended to, and quickly returned his gaze to Cloud, haphazardly splayed out on the sheets. Reno vaguely wondered if he'd fall off the bed.
He fought a scowl as he looked at Rude again, watching her sleep. Two years! he repeated in his head.
Rude suddenly straightened, serious and business-like. "Stay here and call me if they wake up."
But Rude was already halfway downstairs before Reno could finish his sentence. This time, he did scowl as he plopped down on a chair in the corner. Their whole dynamic had changed over the past couple years. Back in 'the day,' Reno was pretty much second in command after Tseng. The responsibility wasn't exactly his thing, but he damn well enjoyed the prestige. But the fact of the matter was, he'd never been too into the job to begin with, and he definitely wasn't the hardest worker out there. It was only a matter of time before the guys in charge noticed that Rude was the responsible one, the one who always had his assignments in on time, the one who followed orders efficiently and without question… the one who actually wore a tie.
Rude was a better employee and Reno knew it. Of course, that knowledge belonged on 'the list of things that Reno would never admit to in a million years,' and he had already crossed one of those off today. He wasn't aiming for a second.
Reno supposed he resented the fact that Rude was a step above him now. It wasn't so much that he minded the lower status… he just couldn't help but feel that Rude enjoyed ordering him around. Reno figured he had it coming to him. Walking around with an undeserved sense of superiority was bound to bite him in the ass sooner or later.
But all in all, he enjoyed the lower position on the food chain. If something went wrong, it wasn't immediately pegged to be his fault—although later on it would usually discovered that it had been his fault—and the pressure was a lot lower. Aside from a few daring helicopter missions, his tasks had consisted of making a few appointments with the right people, and placing the occasional important phone call.
Yes, the phone calls had definitely made the loss in stature worth it.
He remembered the first time he'd had to call her, looking for that idiot Strife. Oh, he was a real delight on the phone. But talking to Cloud wasn't so bad, in comparison—Reno didn't really care whether or not Cloud hated his guts. However, when Tifa picked up the phone… Reno was hesitant to introduce himself. What would she say?
"Strife Delivery Service."
Reno's well-rehearsed obligatory greeting to Cloud caught in his throat. He hadn't been expecting the feminine voice on the other end.
"Uhh… yeah, I need to speak with Cloud."
She sighed softly. "He's not here right now, but I can take a message if you'd like."
"…Is this Tifa?" He knew the answer, he just felt like stalling.
She paused for a moment. "Who's this?"
"Uhhh…" He COULD just hang up, and… "Reno," He flinched as he said it, not certain what reaction to expect. When she didn't respond right away, he added, "Remember me?" with an awkward laugh. It didn't help that he was honestly curious whether or not she knew that he existed.
To his amazement, he heard a small giggle over the line. "Yes, I remember you. You're hard to forget, you know."
Reno wasn't sure if this was a veiled insult, but whatever it was, he'd take it. "I've been known to leave an impression on people," he said slyly, back in his element. A nagging voice in the back of his head told him it wasn't really right that he could be so casual with her after the negative impact his actions had had on her life, but he figured that if she wasn't going to bring it up, it wouldn't be in his best interest for him to do it either.
"Hmm, so I've heard," she replied with slight amusement. "You've got a reputation around here, you know."
Yeah, he was proud of his 'history'—'history' being especially appropriate, considering that lifestyle had long since become a thing of the past—but the idea of Tifa forming an impression of him based on whatever drunken one-night stands she had been talking to didn't really sit well with him. "Nothing but good things, I assume?"
"Hmm…" He could just hear the smirk in her voice, and he matched it on his end. "Depends on who you talk to."
Damn, that was what he was afraid of.
And that was why every time he'd called the 7th Heaven afterwards, he'd been sure to stay on the phone for a little extra time when he talked to her, so he could try to dispel whatever nasty rumors she had heard.
He couldn't even imagine how much company time he had wasted making chitchat with her…
Totally worth it, he reminded himself, allowing his gaze to linger on her sleeping form.
He definitely enjoyed talking to her. Something about being on the phone made things a little less awkward. But now that he was facing the reality of actually talking to her in person… he felt a little apprehensive. Something told him that his casually flirtatious relationship with her was about to come to an end—whether it came to a halt entirely or developed into something more.
The former wasn't something he liked the idea of, but the latter would mean he'd have to deal with Cloud… and Rude… fuck, that option would not be easy.
This was not the type of situation he was used to dealing with. When was the last time he had genuine interest in someone?
Reno shook his head at himself. Of course that someone would not only be the one his best friend had a thing for, but also be in love with someone he couldn't stand. He sure knew how to pick 'em.
He frowned as she stirred on the bed. Any minute now. He almost wished Rude were around to take some of the pressure off. Plus it would be a good opportunity to try to figure out how Rude felt about her.
'Try,' of course, was the key word. Working together for so many years did not, unfortunately, make Rude any less of an enigma.
He abruptly straightened up from his slouched position when he saw her eyes flutter open. The moment of truth was upon him. He swallowed hard as she sat up and looked at him, with no small confusion on her face.
Not knowing what else to do, he gave her a small smile and an awkward wave.
"Hey… remember me?"
A.N.: Yes, this is the beginning of a multi-chap (good God, what am I getting myself into?) Technically it COULD stand alone, if something goes horribly wrong, but prepare for more chapters : ) Please, please, please leave reviews! This was a crazy experiment written on a whim, so I'd love to know what all of you think.