Title: How to Succeed in Sexual Blackmail Without Really Trying

Summary: The ballad of Cloud and Reno. Sort of.

Warning & Disclaimer: It's Reno, so that's a warning in and of itself. All characters belong to Square.

Notes: Man, I can't even count the number of lines or jokes that are blatantly lifted from conversations with Twig, Flidget, and Catt. They really should get credit as co-authors.

If this is a crush, I don't think I could take it if the real thing ever happened. --Chasing Amy


"I'm blackmailing you into having sex with me," Reno informed him one day, showing up out of the blue while Cloud was on a delivery route to Kalm.

"What are you blackmailing me about?" he asked.

"I haven't actually thought that far," Reno admitted, and disappeared again.


"Reno's blackmailing me for sex," he told Tifa when he got back to Midgar.

"What about?" she asked, not looking up from washing the dishes.

"I'm not really sure," Cloud admitted. "I don't think he knows yet either."


"I'm not sure about that either." He picked up the cover to the pot cooking on the back of the stove, inhaling the warm smell of garlic and trying to lift a piece of chicken out without burning his fingers.

"Well, it is Reno," she said, as though that explained everything. "Hands. Hands!"

It really did sort of explain it, Cloud thought as he went meekly to go wash his hands before getting something to eat.


"Don't forget about the blackmailing you thing," Reno reminded him in Junon, two weeks later.

"Nnngh," Cloud said first, because sometimes the best way of dealing with Reno was to have a large supply of noncommittal grunts and to simply to pretend he was a particularly loud, alcoholic, and (depending on how much alcohol) ambulatory piece of furniture, but Reno seemed so expectant that he gave up. "I haven't."

"For sex."

"For sex, yeah."


He waited a bit. Reno didn't seem inclined to say anything else.

"Part of blackmailing someone usually involves having something to blackmail someone about," he offered.

"I know that," Reno said irritably. "What, you think I've never done this before?"

"Just checking," Cloud said, swung one leg over his motorcycle, and drove off.


"Is Reno still blackmailing you for sex?" Tifa asked him while she was helping him load the next Corel delivery. He had backed his motorcycle up to the door of the bar to make it easier, nearly into the bar itself.

He thought it over. "Sort of?"

"Oh," Tifa said. She picked up the last box and handed it to him. The word "FRAGILE" was scrawled all over it and it clinked ominously, like glass. It sounded like a chandelier. He wondered who in Corel would ever need a chandelier. "Do you want me to, you know, beat him?"

"No, that's all right," Cloud said.

"Mm," she said. "I think that's everything."

There were a few seconds of silence, time to adjust his gloves and sunglasses, give everything a test-shove to see if it would hold. The sounds of Marlene and Denzel playing some game that involving galloping across the room upstairs filtered through the ceiling. If he looked up he could actually see little puffs of dust coming from the between the cracks in the ceiling as they ran, a haze of golden motes just floating in the weak morning sunlight. They were actually sort of pretty to watch, he thought. Relaxing, even.

"He just seems to like reminding me about it. I don't really have to actually do anything," he finally said. "I don't think."

Tifa nodded, and seemed to be paying particular attention to the knots that roped the boxes down.

"There. All secure. And I made you a lunch," she said finally. "Don't forget about it again and leave it at the bottom of your bag for a month. I don't know how you ignored the smell that long."

"Thanks," he said, and he knew that she knew what he meant.



"Blackmailing me for sex, I know." Cloud gave Reeve the computer disks and the box of scavenged electronics. "Here, I hope these still work."

"I'll figure something out," Reeve said, smiling gratefully. "I'm thinking of making a new form of transport for Cait. Something a little more multi-terrain, you know? And waterproof."

"Good luck," Cloud said. He looked around. "Rufus around somewhere?"

"He's in the back with Tseng and Elena, going over something. Has to do with the sewers, I think. There's some concern about one of the old ducts contaminating the new waterline."

"Yo, blackmailing here?" Reno said crossly, and tapped his nightstick against the desk for emphasis.

"You're not," Cloud said, "because you still haven't said what you're blackmailing me about, and you haven't given me a reason why, either of which you need in order to blackmail. Officially, I mean."

He wondered if it was at all a good idea to explain any of that to Reno, but it really hadn't seemed to make much difference so far.

"He's right, you know," Reeve added, not looking up from where he was already picking through the electronics. "You need motive and material. I mean, the keystone thing, I laid it out for him like that and it worked pretty well. Are there any 6-B copper cables in here?"

"Go fuck a mog, Reeve," Reno said, and poked Cloud's arm with his nightstick. "So, is right now good for you? There's a closet across the hall if you don't wanna do it in front of toy-boy there. I think it even has carpet."

"You're not listening," Cloud said. "You can't blackmail me."

"Look, Strife," Reno said in a more reasonable tone than anyone tended to hear from Reno, ever. "How many people have you blackmailed into sex lately? I don't think you're any expert on the subject."

"I am."

"Shut up, Reeve."

"Look." Cloud resisted the urge to bang his head against the wall, even though the building was already quite beaten up and Rufus probably wouldn't notice a few more dents and cracks. "Just. I'm not even going to. You know what, never mind."

"Because," Reno said, as though the question had actually been asked. He glared, smacked his nightstick against his palm one more time, stroked it in a way that was more than a little disturbing, and walked out of the room as though he was the one who was being put-upon.

There was a moment of awkward silence.

"It's nice to have a hobby," Reeve finally said, brightly.


"Does he ever--" he asked Rude.


"Is there any way to--"


"Well, what do you--"

"Partially deaf in my left ear. I always make sure he's standing on that side."

Rude was no help at all, and Cloud decided he would start hating all Turks on general principles again.

It didn't help much, but it was good for the vindictive twenty minutes it took him to deliberately eat nearly all of the homemade cookies Tifa had put in the bottom of his satchel this time. Rude sighed heavily every fifteen seconds, and Cloud felt slightly bad, but he ignored it as long as he could before he gave in and let Rude have some of the broken ones.

"Sometimes I just hit him," Rude added thickly, through a mouthful of molasses crinkles.

No help at all.


There were seventeen illustrated notes of increasing obscenity taped to the seat of his motorcycle in Wutai, but he never managed to actually catch Reno in the act or see him in the city itself. He found Yuffie studying the eleventh one when he came back from having a nick ground out of his sword at the weaponry store.

"Is this stick figure supposed to be you? What the hell, you don't have three legs." She peered closer. "Oh. Oh."

"Quit it," Cloud said without much energy, and crumpled the latest note into a ball without looking at it.

Yuffie snatched it back before he could toss it away. "No, wait, I wanna see what happens next. They go in installments. There's, like, a story involved. I think he's trying for a cliffhanger."

Despite all his hopes otherwise, she brought everything up again while they were halfway through dinner and Yuffie was much more than halfway through Godo's second-best sake.

"Hey. Cloud. Um, I'm not sure how to say this, but… Uh. Are you really gonna sleep with Reno? 'Cos, I have to say, um, I have to say something about that." She paused to gather her thoughts. It looked like something that required great physical effort on her part. "I have. I have to say. Don't do it."


"But if you do, I mean, be sure you use some sort of protection. I mean, more so than usual. You don't know where he's been. I mean, like, you actually do know some places he's been and that's why you need protection, but. Um. I mean. Seriously, don't do it."


"Cloud," she mimicked.

"Yuffie. Just tell me if you've seen him here in Wutai or not."

"Wouldn't you like to know," Yuffie said smugly and mysteriously, and then promptly spoiled the effect by slumping forward on the table and knocking her sake glass into her lap.

"Does everyone know about this?" Cloud asked crossly.


Fortunately, he didn't meet anyone at all in Rocket Town who wanted to blackmail him for anything, or cared if he were being blackmailed. Cid mostly swore at him a lot, he helped fix an engine, and they got into a bar-fight together later that night.

It was very restful and Cloud resolved to come back soon.


The phone rang when he was riding up the coast. The number was unfamiliar; he debated the wisdom of answering and finally picked up.

"Don't hang up."

Cloud hung up.

He headed further inland. After he had ignored the phone ringing for an entire hour, there was finally a different number on the call screen. He squinted at it, recognized the bar's number, and clicked the button to answer.

"You asshole, I told you not to hang up. Hold on, before you think about-- yeah, okay, go ahead, kid."

A new voice on the phone as well. "Cloud?"

"Marlene?" Cloud frowned, impressed despite himself. Reno was fighting dirty, although he didn't know why that should at all surprise him.

"Cloud, when are you going to come home?"

"I…" He leaned his forehead against one hand, sighed. "Marlene, I'm on my way back now."

He could hear Reno muttering something, Marlene whispering back. "Ask him--" "Oh--"

Marlene's voice again, louder. "Are you bringing me a present?" More urgent whispering. "Us. Will you bring us a present?"

He was about to pass the chocobo ranch. Cloud slowed down and steered the motorcycle closer so that he was driving parallel to one of the outlying fields. Three of the birds were out grazing, two blues and a black; he thought that the black and probably one of the blues were his. He was sure of it when they came charging up to the fence, chirping excitedly and thrusting their necks out to be petted.

"What do you want as a present, Marlene?" he asked, reaching up to let his fingers sink deep into the dusky plumage of the black, scratching as the bird cooed contentedly and the other chocobos tried to nip at him for attention.

"You have to help me plant flowers when you get back," Marlene said promptly. "In the church. You have to promise."

"Hold out for more," he heard Reno advising in the background. "Get him to commit to hard gil."

"All right," Cloud said hastily to draw her attention back, "when I get back, we'll plant flowers. We'll--"

He cast about in his mind, what the hell did children like to do, anyway? He wasn't sure where anyone had gotten the idea he was an expert on the subject; any mention of his childhood was usually enough to make most people back away hastily and change the subject to the weather. Just the thought made his grip tighten on his handful of feathers, and the chocobo squawked in protest. He patted it in apology, and the chocobo chirruped and went back to trying to groom his hair.

"We'll get ice-cream," he finally said. "For you and Denzel."

"Okay!" Marlene said happily. "The man with the funny hair wants to talk to you now." She lowered her voice. "He's kind of weird, Cloud."

"I know. Go find Tifa, all right? Let me talk to him."

"Okay. Bye, Cloud," she said.

"Yo," Reno said on the phone. He sounded nearly as cheerful as Marlene. "Still blackmailing you for sex. And ice-cream. Hurry back." He hung up.

The phone rang again immediately. Too tired to do anything else, he answered it.

"Hey. What are you wearing?" Reno asked.

Cloud hung up.


"Strife," Rufus said, his pen stilling for a moment, "would you like to tell me why Reno is claiming you as a marital dependant on his tax forms? As well as--" he tapped the pen against the desk, shuffled a paper. "--Seventeen orphans? Many of whom appear to be listed as crippled or in some way disabled."

"No," Cloud said.

"Mm," Rufus murmured. "I see the honeymoon period is over. Oh, look here, he's also listed a sector five church as a deductible nature preserve."

Dealing with Rufus was much less a matter of having a good supply of non-committal grunts than it was a matter of simply trying not to be on the same continent of the world as him at any given time.

"Here's your delivery," Cloud said. As he went through the doorway, he turned back, despite his better judgement. "Why is Shinra still even bothering with the old tax forms?"

"We don't, really," Rufus admitted. "I just made him fill them out because it kept him out of my way for two hours."


Vincent was the only person around which Cloud found himself being more talkative about the situation. Cloud wasn't entirely certain of how it worked, and he was pretty sure Vincent was one of the last people on the planet qualified to give advice on relationships, but he listened or put up a good facsimile thereofAnd while he was still technically a Turk, Vincent had never blatantly tried to kill him or feel him up, at least not while Cloud was awake to know it, and he could shoot things accurately from a long ways away, which was a very useful skill in general and probably even more so considering his current situation with Reno.

"And it doesn't make sense," Cloud said. "He just. He won't go away. I don't think he's human."

Vincent was cleaning a sniper rifle. He nodded without looking up.

"No offense," Cloud added. Vincent nodded again. Neither of them stood much on ceremony when it came to acknowledging how Hojo had left the both of them. He half-suspected that was why he and Vincent got along as well as they did.

There was a breeze that cooled the evening, and the shell houses of the City of the Ancients glimmered like white bone against the darkness; the firelight threw flickering shadows across the entire clearing. A few stray fireflies still drifted lazily among the trees. Cloud caught one in his hand, let the glow pulse between his closed fingers as it sought escape, and then released it again.

"He had me deliver a pizza. I didn't know it was, you know, a pizza. He got someone from the place to put it in another box, told Tifa to have me deliver the box to some address. He was naked when he opened the door."

Another nod from Vincent, although Cloud couldn't tell if it was for the gun or for him.

"You know, it wouldn't even be so bad if he were doing it right. He keeps saying he's blackmailing me and he isn't." He poked the fire with a stick and sighed. "And that should-- I mean, logically--It's. Just. You used to be a Turk, so I don't know if this is normal or what."

Vincent made an odd noise. Cloud realized, with some surprise, that it was laughter.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. Normal." Cloud picked at the crumbling bark on the stick he was holding, peeling away as much as he could with his fingernails. The wood underneath was smooth and pale and hard enough to resist his nails. "Don't think I don't know for a fact that you screamed at Tseng the entire time he was here about what the Turk corps are like now."

"Lectured," Vincent murmured, still not looking up. "It was friendly advice."

"Yeah, well," Cloud said, and wrapped his arms around his knees. "Whatever you told him didn't take. Any more friendly Turk advice?"

Silence. Vincent took his time removing the last of the copper solvent on the barrel of the rifle with another cleaning solvent. He ran the rag over the entire rifle, folded it, and put it away with the rest of his cleaning equipment. He chambered a round, held the rifle up, adjusted the cheek piece, and looked through the telescopic sight. Once satisfied, he laid it down carefully on the blanket next to him. When he looked at Cloud, his eyes glinted red and steady in the firelight

"As a Turk," Vincent said calmly, "I believe that this is his version of courting you."

"I don't care." Cloud savagely pushed his stick into the fire and several logs collapsed in a shower of sparks. He sat back and stared into the embers. "Is all Turk courtship this fucked up?"

Vincent mulled it over.

"In my day, it involved more guns and rubber hosing," he finally said.


Maybe it was courtship, but everything about it was fucked up. Reno didn't know how to properly blackmail, he constantly lost his own nightstick in mind-boggling places, he overslept and was late to his own cunning schemes, and in one shining moment of sheer dumbfuckery, he tried to rush Cloud and fell out an open second-story window.

Cloud stood in the middle of the room, still trying to figure out the last few seconds. He'd had the impression of a blue blur topped with electric red that was headed straight for him before he'd automatically dodged to the side. There'd been a loud yell, a rush of air that smelled like cigarettes, a brief fumble at his crotch, another loud yell of different pitch, some clanging, an ominous thud, and now, a horribly awkward silence as everyone in the room turned their attention to him.

"Did you just kill Reno?" Elena finally asked.

"Good show," Rufus said calmly. "I've been trying to do that for years."

"Ah," Tseng said from the corner where he was perusing some blueprints. "Rufus, I found it. The sewer grate in sector three was bricked over about ten years ago and rerouted to sector five."

"Reno is dead," Elena said slowly, carefully, as though she were trying the words out together for the first time, ones often thought but never said aloud. "You killed Reno. You killed Reno."

"I did not," Cloud said automatically. It seemed the safest and simplest reply. He looked around the room, still bemused. It was probably a dream of some sort; lately, he'd had a lot of nightmares involving Reno.

"You killed Reno."

Technically, the fall would have killed Reno, he thought to himself. Or more accurately, the ground. But this probably wasn't the best time to say that.

"It's strange," Rufus said thoughtfully. "Honestly, I always thought it was going to be Tseng who did it. Or Rude. It's always the quiet ones. But I suppose you qualify for that, Strife."

"Mm," Tseng said, still having not yet looked up. "Not you? Elena, grief is natural. Lifestream and inevitable cycles and… things. Did anyone ever make coffee?"

"No! You don't understand anything!" She gazed at them wildly, and wrung her hands. "Reno is dead!"


"He owed me so much money!"

"My life," Cloud said slowly, "is sometimes indescribably strange."

Rufus looked at him and there was nothing but sincerity in his eyes. "Oh, Strife, you have no idea."

"Do you have even a clue how much?!"

"Elena, we're all upset here. Reno owed each of us a lot of money."

"So much!"

"He's alive," Rude announced, leaning out the window. "He landed in the dumpster."

And he was. Everyone pushed past Cloud and crowded around the window, jostling for the best view-- Rufus had sharp elbows, Cloud noted in irritation-- and looked down to where Reno was, judging from the swearing. And then as one they all looked back at Cloud as though it were his responsibility to do something and really, Reno had gone out the window on his own and Cloud had never asked for any of this and he'd thought that saving the world twice in just as many years would excuse him from it and it just wasn't very fair to pin this whole situation on him as though he had any sort of experience, even if he suddenly did remember Zack doing something very similar.

Three times, even. One of them had been off the rooftop of a sector eight bar that specialized in Gongagan line-dancing.

"Well?" Elena said.

Cloud took one step and then another, still vaguely hoping that he would wake up. He eventually edged up to the window and looked; Reno was sprawled on an old mattress but no body part seemed to be at too unnatural of an angle. There were a few dark stains on his clothing, but they had probably been there before he had gone out the window.

"How do you feel?" he finally called down to Reno. The swearing stopped. Reno looked up.

"Like I just fell out a two story window." He frowned. "Also, concussed."

Cloud couldn't think of anything to reply that wouldn't be enormously inadequate.

"Oh," he said lamely.

"I hear blowjobs are good for concussions," Reno said.

Cloud thought of a lot of things to say, but none of those seemed quite adequate to the task either.

The silence stretched on. The swearing started again.

"He'll be okay," Cloud said, with much more authority than he actually felt.

"As much as he ever is," Elena added, sotto voce.

"I heard that!" Reno yelled irritably.


It was raining. Thankfully, there were no deliveries. Cloud sat at a table tucked away in the back of the bar, keeping an eye on the place. Barrett was visiting, Marlene had a cold, and Tifa was looking more and more harried every time she came downstairs, although he thought that it was more because of Barrett than Marlene.

He touched her arm when she went past him for the fifth time in as many minutes. "Take a break."

"I'm not tired," she said wearily, and then slumped down next to him in direct contradiction to her words. "I think I'm just going to keep the closed sign on the door. People can get along without this place for one night."

"All right," Cloud said, and touched her arm again. "Take a rest. Marlene will be fine. Barrett's doing all the hovering you need."

Tifa rolled her eyes but he got a smile. "If he asks me again if I think her forehead is warmer than the last time, I'll kill him, I swear." She got up slowly, taking the time to stretch. He heard her back pop. At the front of the bar, the bell on the door jingled as it opened. "And that's my cue. Can you deal with that?"

"Sure," he said, and then saw who it actually was. "No."

Tifa patted his arm. "Take a break," she said, and then made hastily for the stairs to the basement.

"Work it, Lockheart," Reno said as she passed him, "give Rude some new material for the spank-bank." Tifa didn't even break stride when she elbowed him hard in the ribs, and Cloud was pretty sure that Rude stomped on his foot as well. "Ow."

"Go away," Cloud suggested.

Rude cleared his throat. "Rufus wants to set up another delivery to Mideel," he said and then stopped abruptly, probably over his quota of words for the day.

"Fine," Cloud said. "Tell him to call and I'll do pick-up at the usual place."

Neither Rude nor Reno seemed ready to leave.

"Anything else?" he finally asked as the silence stretched on.

"Well, I'm here to blackmail you," Reno said. "And Rude wants to stand around and stare at Lockheart like a psycho stalker while trying to get the balls to ask her out, but not actually ever doing it. Like he always does."

Cloud considered and cross-referenced the statistical likelihood of getting either of them to leave, the probable consequences of murder, his current sanity level, his last payment from Rufus, how much alcohol was in the bar, the amount of fuel in his motorcycle, if the rain was going to stop any time soon, and if he really wanted to get up or not.

"She's probably in the basement doing laundry," he finally said to Rude, closed his eyes, and put his head down against the table. "Or hitting the punching bag."

He heard footsteps and wasn't sure at first if they were coming towards or going away from him. Someone was breathing heavily about two inches from his ear, and he shut his eyes tighter.

"We're alone," Reno said. "We could do it now."

"I think I must have done something horrible in a previous life to deserve this one," Cloud mused into his arms. "I must have, I don't know, drowned kittens or something. Knocked old ladies into traffic. Blind old ladies. Blind old ladies holding kittens."

"Kinky," Reno said cheerfully. "Sounds kind of fun, though. That your idea of foreplay?"

Cloud sighed.

"Hey. Hey, wait. Wait a sec." Reno sounded as though a cow had wandered onto the tracks to his train of thought. "Wait, wait. Are you sleeping with her?"

Cloud opened his eyes and found Reno's face about half an inch away. "What?" he said, too startled to say anything else.

"You know," Reno said, making vague motions with his hands to describe the shape of feminine curves or possibly a lopsided cactuar. "Lockheart. Are you doing her?"

He stared for a few seconds before his brain shut down to prevent irreparable psychological damage. "No."

"Yeah, okay. Just a sec." Reno turned away. "RUDE! IT'S OKAY! HE'S NOT FUCKING HER!" he bellowed in the direction of the basement stairs.

Silence from the basement.

"Would it have mattered if I was?" Cloud asked out of morbid curiosity.

"What, to me or Rude?" Reno asked.

"Either," Cloud said, and then shook his head. "Never mind."

Reno opened his mouth, but Barrett appeared at that moment to lean over the upstairs railing and glare death at both of them.

"Marlene's tryin' to sleep," he hissed like some kind of demented mother chocobo with a gun on one hand and a thermometer in the other. "My little girl is sick and she needs her rest. So shut the hell up!"

He disappeared. Reno looked at Cloud. "You're not sleeping with him, right?"

"I think I need a drink," Cloud said.

"Are you sleeping with Valentine?" Reno asked, following him.

Back at the table, Reno scratched his head and sat down beside Cloud. "This doesn't have to be so complicated. I don't know why you're so hung up about this. I mean, you're not sleeping with anyone else and I can't get you pregnant." He frowned. "Uh. I don't think I can."

"I don't want to have sex with you," Cloud said, trying very hard not to kill anything.

"Why not?" Reno asked.

"Why not?" Cloud repeated. "How many people have a hit out on you right now?"

Reno chewed his lower lip, counted on his fingers a few times, and frowned. "How do you count Siamese twins and entire town populations? Are those singles?"

"See," Cloud said, resting his head against his hands, "see. That is why not. Answers like that are why not."

"I'm really not sure where you're going with this," Reno said.

"Nngh," Cloud said. Reno helpfully got him another drink.


"Right, see," Reno said three drinks later, one arm slung around the back of Cloud's chair. "This whole blackmailing thing."

"You're not blackmailing me."

"Yeah, whatever." Reno used his nightstick to scratch the middle of his back. "This whole blackmailing thing, I mean. It's like, natural. I thought about flowers and chocolate and all that shit, but that wouldn't work. But the blackmailing for sex, that's what archenemies do."

"You're not my archenemy either."

"Because, you know, I'll get you the flowers if you really-- what?" Reno said.

"You're really not." He rubbed at the rim of his glass, spreading moisture between his fingertips. "I mean. We've fought. But. I've fought a lot of people. Even without Sephiroth, it'd probably be more like Rufus, wouldn't it? Because you work for him."

He was getting better, Cloud reflected, at saying Sephiroth's name without hesitation. All the hurt was still there and always would be, but it was getting easier.

Reno wasn't saying anything.

"Sorry," Cloud added, because it seemed like something had to be said. He wasn't used to dealing with silence when Reno was involved.

"Rufus," Reno said flatly.

"Yeah. But maybe you could be by proxy. Sub-nemesis." He considered it. "Nemesis by hire. Like a rent-a-cop, or something."

Reno stared at him, expressionless.

"Did you just hear someone's testicles shriveling?" Tifa asked mildly as she walked by with a laundry basket in her arms. Behind her, Rude was carrying another three laundry baskets, his face carefully blank.


"This is the thing," Cloud said four rapid drinks later, and then paused while he tried to figure out what the thing really was. "This is the thing. You."

"Me?" Reno said vaguely, looking around the room as though to locate himself. "Yeah."

"Yeah," Cloud said.

"Right," Reno said. A pause. "What?"

"See," Cloud said.

"Yes!" Reno said enthusiastically, and then stopped. "No."

"I don't sleep with my archenemies." He crossed his arms across his chest defensively. "I don't."

Reno opened his mouth to say something and then, wonder of wonders, appeared to think better of it and said nothing for a few minutes, sipping his drink and staring into space. Cloud was more impressed by this than he wanted to let on.

"It's okay," Reno finally said to Cloud. "I wasn't going to bring it up. You don't have to."

"Shut up," Cloud said, but he was oddly comforted.


He had kissed first. He remembered that with somewhat humiliating clarity. They were walking down the alley with graffiti-daubed walls; the rain had stopped but the streets were still wet, streaks of yellow lamplight smeared over the broken concrete. The air smelled fresh and clean for once. Drunk for the first time in a long time, Reno drunk as well, both of them yawning and for once Reno hadn't said anything about sex in the last twenty minutes. Everything had seemed--well, okay, for a minute. And Reno had dropped one arm around his neck, not asking for anything, just a casual touch because he was there as they staggered their way into an intersection, and Cloud had turned his head and kissed him because he was there. Just like that.

The doorknob to his apartment was digging into his back and Reno was digging into his front and Cloud really wasn't sure how they'd gotten there. He wasn't sure of much of anything that had happened in the last-- whatever time span it had been between Reno eating the worm out of a bottle of tequila and… right now.

He decided, suddenly, that he was going to deal with it later.

"You're good at this," Reno said, and the stupid fucker had the temerity to look genuinely surprised.

Cloud thought about kneeing him in the crotch, but it would be difficult when his hand was already there. Instead, he said "Thanks," and then the door gave way and he was twisting just enough so that he wouldn't whack his head on the threshold or get crushed. Reno landed on him anyway.

"Gnpmhh," he wheezed. "Take your hand off my-- off that."

"Yeah, okay," Reno said, and kicked the door closed. "It's off."

"Just because it's dark doesn't mean I can't tell your hand is still there."

"Oh," Reno said. "Huh. How about here?"

"Gnpmhh," Cloud wheezed in an entirely different way, and gave up.


In the morning, his ass hurt, his jaw hurt, he was sticky and strawberry-scented in illogical places like the nape of his neck and behind his knees, Reno had wound most of the sheets around himself in a giant cocoon, and Cloud strongly suspected he had been drooled upon in the night.

Anyone would have done the same thing under the circumstances, he told himself, perched on a stool and staring into his frying pan. He wondered how many other people had told themselves the same thing, hung-over and trying to find a comfortable position to sit in while Reno snored not far away. Maybe there was a condolence card for this sort of thing.

The butter was melting in the frying pan. Zack had always made the scrambled eggs with huge chunks of butter, and then he'd go and squirt globs of ketchup on them as well, which Cloud had always thought sort of defeated the point. Zack never beat the eggs first either, just breaking them into the pan and stirring them around with a fork, humming as he swirled the yellow and white together.

He'd been dreaming last night and he only vaguely remembered it, but it had been nice. He thought that maybe Zack had been in it.

Upstairs, there was a steadily increasing clumping noise that was approaching the stairs from the bedroom. Then there was a series of muffled thumps and swearing, almost as if a hung-over person had stepped wrong and tripped down the last four stairs. There was a brief scrambling at the foot of the stairs, some more swearing, and the clumping approached him. Cloud kept watching the pan.

There was a gap in his memory about getting home, but that was nothing new, and then there was the door, and then there was way too much in his memory that he was comfortable with trying to review right now.

"Hrngphfck," someone said from behind him. That one wasn't actually in his repertoire of noncommittal grunts. He glanced over his shoulder.

"Mmn," he finally settled on saying. "Eggs?"

Reno squinted blearily at him. "Did we score?"

Cloud considered all possible responses: another grunt; staying quiet; lying slightly; lying blatantly; hitting Reno over the head with the frying pan, sneaking out the back door, and hoping no one learned of this, ever; or the truth.


Reno squinted harder. "Are you lying?"


"Fuck the eggs," Reno said. "Not literally. Unless you're into that sort of thing, in which case I'll try anything twice, but seriously, c'mere."

"You just fell down the stairs," Cloud pointed out, but he turned the stove off, twisted around on the stool, and went.


The bedroom was blessedly dark, and there was still a warm spot on the bed when Cloud dropped back down on it. He thought that he could probably fall asleep again if he wasn't careful.

"Did Zack ever tell you about the time he was cooking naked and the bacon grease splattered?" Cloud asked absently.

"Tell?" Reno paused as he was taking off the few pieces of clothing he'd had on in the first place. "Fuck, he dropped his pants and showed me the blisters on his dick, like, every day for a week. I took pictures."

"Yeah," Cloud said. Sunlight limned the edges of the window where the shade didn't quite cover it. He needed curtains. He stretched out his fingers and wiggled them in the stripe of light that fell across the bed. "I saw those. He put one up over the stove to remind him not to do it again."

It had been a hell of a thing to see every morning while he was eating breakfast, and he'd never quite gotten used to it.

"You were around by then, right?" Reno said. "Betcha saw the real deal close up. Did you kiss it all better?"

"Fuck you," Cloud said, but he couldn't quite summon up the requisite annoyance or anger. He was too comfortable. It didn't make any sense, but he was. He turned over on his side.

"Might've," Reno said, sprawling next to him and probably taking up more than three-fourths of the bed. "I counted four condoms, and those were only the ones on the floor. I didn't check the bathroom or the ceiling."

He didn't have to ask. He really didn't.

"Ceiling?" he asked.


It was quiet for a while.

"I'm not really good with people," Cloud told him without turning over to look at him.

"I drink, I smoke, I've taken at least thirty-nine illegal kinds of drugs that I remember, and once I chugged seven bottles of maple syrup in five minutes," Reno said. "The thick kind, not the imitation shit. I like lying to people and causing property damage. I cheat at poker. I jerk off wherever I can, including in the staff coffeepot. I use household pets for skeet practice. I've stolen over five million gil worth of office supplies, not because I needed any of it but just because it was there. I don't like children. Once I punched a dolphin, three vending machines, and some random guy in a chocobo suit all in the same day. Elena says I'm a moogle gobbler, whatever the fuck that means. I blackmailed you into having sex with me. I can keep going, if you want."

"I'm not even sure I like you," Cloud said.

"Yeah, you do, even though you think I'm a dick. And I like you, even though you're fucking crazy," Reno said comfortably. "And seriously, like, you need to just let that be enough. Because it's not like I know exactly what the hell is up with you, and you sure as hell don't know me all the way through but we both already know that we suck at certain aspects of life. Big deal. Who gives a shit?"

Reno exhaled; Cloud felt lips touch the back of his neck but it wasn't a kiss, just a steady stream of heat against his skin. "Anyway, let's fuck."

Cloud frowned. More than half of Reno's words actually made a bizarre sense, and that was kind of fucked.

"You didn't blackmail me," he finally said.

"Yeah, okay, I'm not blackmailing you for sex anymore anyway," Reno said dismissively, licked his neck, licked his hand, and stuck it down Cloud's boxers, fingers curled and palm already moving in flat, efficient strokes. Cloud tensed, relaxed, tensed again, and then relaxed because it was either that or fall off the bed.

One hand was curled up by his face; it trembled a little and then stopped. He watched it with interest, as though it didn't belong to him. After a few moments, he relaxed further. It was enjoyable being handled by someone who obviously expected so little of him.

He flexed his fingers on the pillow, stroked the surface. He thought about turning it over to the cooler side but he didn't want to move. He lifted up his hips when Reno worked the boxers further down his legs, curled one leg back and lazily kicked them down to one ankle. He didn't bother taking his shirt off and Reno didn't bother trying. It was old, a bar logo on the front too faded to make out anymore, washed so much that it was soft and paper-thin.

Tifa had tried to throw it away twice; he'd rescued it both times and stopped putting it in the laundry hamper. Then it disappeared again and returned on his bed, clean and washed and the fraying hem repaired with almost invisible stitches. He wondered if Zack had ever really been to the bar that the shirt advertised; it was probably all under rubble now anyway.

It was soft. It was soft and the bed was warm and the room was dark and he was lazy and Reno wasn't, which was surprising and probably worrisome but Cloud just couldn't be bothered which was also probably worrisome, but. Cloud let all the pleasant sensations sink over him, wrap around him. He let them fit together, assembled them until all the edges matched and he could pull his entire sense of being over him like a blanket. It was nice, and then it was nicer, and then without any effort from him at all, it was close to fantastic, and then it was.

All he had to do was hold still and breathe. He could do that. It wasn't hard. It wasn't hard at all.


It took him a few seconds to realize that the flashes of light across his eyelids really were flashes of light and not just his various neural pathways burning out. He opened his eyes just in time to get blinded by another camera flash. Camera. He reached for righteous homicidal fury and didn't find it; he realized, with a vague sense of horror, that he felt too good to kill Reno. Too happy.

Maybe he could outrun him. He was pretty sure he could outrun Reno, even if Reno was kind of lanky. Lanky people sometimes turned out to be good runners.

"So, like." Reno waved one of the pictures back and forth, watching it develop. "I took your advice. And I'm blackmailing you with actual stuff, but not for sex because we already did that, obviously and that's what I'm going to use to blackmail you with."

Cloud blinked at him. "Uh?"

"I wanna move in."

"Oh God no," Cloud said, very calmly.

"Seriously. Your place smells better. And hasn't been on fire lately. And, you know, sex. Now that it's obvious we're compatible or something."

"You planned all of this," Cloud said. "From the beginning."

"Wow," Reno said and looked genuinely surprised again. "I think that's the nicest thing you've ever implied about me. Are you sure I'm not your archnemesis?"

"Shut up," Cloud said helplessly. He had to get up. He had to run away. He was happy and it was because of Reno and that was even more fucked up than Reno making sense. "It's not thatsimple."

"Really?" Reno said, frowning. "I kinda think it is."

"You think," Cloud said. "You think--"

"Look on the bright side," Reno said philosophically. "We can probably get in on the new Shinra health insurance for couples deal. Think of the savings."


"I'm blackmailing you into buying more beer," Reno informed him one day, sprawled out on the couch that Cloud could usually only get him off of by displaying alcohol, fast-food, or nudity. A combination display could sometimes even get him to turn off the television.

"What are you blackmailing me about?" Cloud asked. He shut the apartment door behind him, balancing the pizza on one hand.

"I haven't actually thought that far," Reno admitted.

"You'll think of something," Cloud said as he tried to unlace his boots with the other hand.

"Yeah. I mean, I have done this before," Reno said, and got off the couch to take the pizza, pause for a grope, and otherwise welcome him home.