Hello, readers of the world. It's Mengde again, and this time I felt (for some reason) like writing a fic with Reno and Tifa as more than just friends (especially since I enjoyed writing The Wolf That Hunts so much). I don't own FFVII, I've rated this T for some sexual situations and language, and while I don't normally come right out and ask for reviews, I don't write Tifa very often, to say nothing of angst!Tifa, so if you have any suggestions for me in that regard (or any, really), please don't hesitate to leave me a note. Now, I give you...


Broken

A Final Fantasy VII Fan Fiction

Written by Mengde


1. the situation

Tifa hates herself.

Maybe it's an omnipresent, all-consuming self-loathing that was already present in some kind of muted or lurking form before all of this happened, but regardless of its questionable previous nature it is now very real and very directed, with a clear modus operandi and raison d'être.

It gnaws at her during the day whenever she talks to Cloud, whether it's about the school the kids are going to or how the delivery company is going or just anything at all. It rubs salt in wounds that are already very raw and taunts her at night, when she runs the bar and one particular customer comes in for his vodka.

Reno used to drink whisky or bourbon, but recently he's moved up to vodka for his shots. He says drinking something he hates helps keep him going. He says that when the going gets rough, and the world seems unpleasant and grey, he thinks of the bar and the vodka that he hates so very much, and it gives him the fortitude to weather the storm for another day.

Tifa doesn't understand why he insists on drinking it if he hates it. Is it some kind of bizarre self-mutilation, evidence of buried masochistic tendencies that manifest themselves in the compulsive consumption of booze that he claims tastes like car fuel? He's never given any kind of explanation. All he does is occasionally give a satisfied sigh and grin after tipping one back before saying, "I hate this stuff." When she asks him why he drinks it, he grins and tells her, "Because."

A lot of what he does gets under her skin. If she asks him how his day was when he comes in for a drink, he regales her with horrific tales of how many people he's had to kill that day, and how the WRO is actually corrupt and evil to its very core because Reeve is too idealistic. She can never tell if there's any truth to any of it, because he keeps up a constant wall of sarcasm and invective between himself and anything that might require sincerity.

She keeps telling herself to stop, that she'll hate herself less or even not at all if she stops. She never manages to convince herself.

One night, the two of them lie in bed together, the sweat cooling on their skin, the moonlight filtering in through the window providing the only illumination. Cloud is away on a delivery, which is the norm for this situation. Tifa knows somewhere in her soul that she and Reno could carry on like this with him in the room adjacent and it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference, but something in her resists giving in entirely to the inevitable.

"What're you thinkin' about?" Reno asks her.

Staring at the ceiling, Tifa's first instinct is to tell him how much she loathes herself in this particular instant. "Nothing."

"Bullcrap. You're always thinkin' about somethin'. You're too smart to do otherwise."

"I'm not thinking about anything," Tifa insists, turning over onto her side, facing away from him.

She feels him roll over as well, shifting his weight onto his elbow and looking at her. She feels the flesh on her arms prickle at the feeling of one of his fingers on the bare skin of her back, tracing her spine. "Come on, tell me."

"You're not usually one for pillow talk," she observes. "Most of the time you'd be either in the shower or gone by now, depending on how drunk we both were."

"You mean on how long you could go before decidin' that this was the very last time and you were never gonna see me again," he drawls. "Even the first time, I'd only had enough to get me buzzed, and you'd just had that brandy. If we were drunk the sex wouldn've been nearly as good as it was."

She flips herself around to face him and gives him a hard shove. He gives a surprised grunt and falls out of bed, the sheets tangled around his legs. "Get out," Tifa says to him, surprised at the amount of venom in her own voice. "Now."

Reno gets to his feet and gives an easy shrug. "Sure thing." He quickly pulls his clothes on, but without seeming hurried at all – he does it naturally, like he's accustomed to getting dressed fast. Tifa doesn't want to think about it too much.

He strides to the door, opens it, gives her a wink, and says, "I'll see you tomorrow." Then he shuts the door behind him, letting it block the pillow that she impotently throws after him.

Cloud gets back the next morning. When he asks her how her night was, she replies that it was uneventful.

Tifa fumes over the situation as she washes glasses in the bar. Why does she feel guilty? She's not seeing Cloud. They only ever spent one night together, and all they are now is friends. Being involved with Reno is no crime, even if he's an arrogant narcissistic asshole who thinks that he can do no wrong. They've been fairly discreet, they've done their best not to let the kids catch them…

So why does she feel so terrible? Why does she want to punch the woman she sees in the mirror? Why does she look the next morning at the indentation where Reno had lain and want to beat it out of the mattress until there is nothing left, and why does she obsessively wash the sheets after every single one of his visits?

There is no question about her going to see him. It just doesn't work that way. Cloud takes messages on his cell and then calls people accordingly. He never preemptively sends a message, never picks up the phone when it starts to ring. By the same token, Tifa never decides when Reno will visit. He comes to drink quite often, but he only ever visits when Cloud is away on a delivery, the rule unspoken but understood by both him and her.

That is the situation, and Tifa hates herself for it.


2. the beginning

It is around ten in the evening, and Tifa is closing down Seventh Heaven for the night. The clientele have slowly drifted out of the bar, disappearing one by one until a single individual remains.

He sits at the bar, drinking whisky. Tifa watches him out of the corner of her eye as she tidies up, and he takes measured sips of poison. A shock of red hair stands up from his head and is pulled into a ponytail in the back. Identically-colored marks on his face curve up from his cheekbones and terminate above his eyebrows. Goggles rest on his forehead, above sharp green eyes that stare blankly into the golden abyss of his drink. Below these features Tifa is faintly aware of a pair of lips twisted into a perpetual half-smirk.

"Yo, barkeep," he drawls after downing the rest of his glass's contents in one gulp. "Gimme another, eh?"

"It's nearly ten," Tifa replies. "I'm closing. You should just take the one you've had on the house and go home, Reno."

"I just got here for starters, and I think you should get me some more whisky and have some for yourself," Reno counters. "I'm not some kinda pussy that gets drunk after one glass of booze."

Tifa rolls her eyes at him. "All right. One more, but then you have to leave." She pours him another drink and then puts the whisky back and pulls out a bottle of brandy. Reno watches her pour herself a glass and seems fascinated as she takes a sip and savors the feel of the liquid. She notices him staring and asks, "What? Do I have something on my face?"

"Nope," he replies a bit too brightly before taking another sip of his drink. "It's just that I don't think I've ever actually seen you drink."

"I have a drink occasionally," Tifa replies, feeling oddly defensive. "I just don't indulge as much as you do, that's all."

"Mm-hmm. Listen, honey, I can think of only two reasons that somebody who runs a goddamn bar doesn't ever drink, and 'not indulgin' that much' isn't one of 'em."

Tifa narrows her eyes a bit and takes the rest of the brandy in one gulp. That really, really isn't how one drinks brandy, but she doesn't care right now. "Oh, really? Why don't you tell me what these reasons of yours are, 'honey'?"

Flashing her an insouciant grin, Reno takes another measured sip of whisky before saying, "Well, the first one is pretty simple. Alcohol, in spite of all the crazy shit it makes people do, is actually a depressant. It could be that you're so damn happy, that you're so busy not bein' sad, that anythin' that makes you that way is like poison to you, and you just have to avoid it."

Tifa sighs. "Right. You know that 'depressant' doesn't mean it makes you depressed, Reno. It means it slows down how fast you think and react."

"Well, that's what I mean. You keep yourself too busy to remember that your life sucks and you're sad. If you just sit around and do nothing but think, no matter how slow you're thinkin' eventually you'll arrive at the conclusion that you wanna avoid."

"Sure. Tell me your next reason, finish your drink, and then you can go."

Reno drains the rest of his whisky and gives a small, contented sigh. "The second reason is that you're afraid of doin' somethin' that you wouldn't do otherwise, somethin' you'll regret later."

Tifa takes his glass from him and forces a small laugh. "Right. Because, deep inside, I'm actually a loose cannon who'll do anything and everything once I get a little alcohol in me."

"I wasn't sayin' that," Reno contradicts her. "No, what I was sayin' is that you'll do somethin' that you already wanna do but wouldn't do because you know that anyone who knew would think less of ya for it. You wouldn't do it because you were drunk, but because later you could think back and say, 'Oh, it was the alcohol. I was just drunk. It didn't mean anythin'.'"

Tifa doesn't say anything to that but "huh." Reno watches her wash out their glasses, looking bored now that she's dismissed both his theories and now that he has nothing to drink. For some reason she hesitates to insist that he beat it, even though he's finished his drink and a large part of her wants him to go.

Finally he asks, "Where's the ol' ball an' chain?"

"Cloud," Tifa says, "is out on a delivery. And he's not a ball and chain. We're just friends."

"Really? Even after savin' the world twice an' goin' toe-to-toe with Sephiroth and raisin' a pair of kids together?"

"That doesn't have anything to do with it. We don't have to be in a relationship to be family. We can take care of Marlene and Denzel just fine as we are."

Reno shrugs. "If you say so. I just always kinda assumed, what with… well, y'know."

Tifa turns to look at him again, wishing that he would leave but still hesitating to tell him to. "No, I don't know. With what?"

"I mean, you two still get on and live together even after all the crap he's put ya through. He left an' went back to Aerith's church for a while there, an' if I have any idea of how things are around here he's always out on deliveries and assumin' that you'll take care of the kids without him… that kinda stuff. If I were you, I wouldn't put up with any of it unless he was the only thing keepin' me sane or unless he was just really good in the sack."

For some reason Tifa can't exactly articulate, she's angry. "You shouldn't just make assumptions like that," she says, throwing herself back into the business of tidying up the bar. "Some people's priorities are different than others', after all."

"Really. Tell me, then, Teef. What're your… priorities?"

She stops what she's doing for a split second. He just made a pass at her! She's absolutely sure of it, she knows Reno well enough to recognize that. "The bar," she hears herself saying. "The kids. Cloud's delivery service. Those kinds of things."

"That can't be all," he says. The scrape of his stool's legs against the floor as he gets up is suddenly very loud. "You're lyin' if you say that's all you care about."

"I don't see what point you're trying to make," she says. He's coming around the bar and she's not sure what the hell she's supposed to do. "I think you should go now, Reno."

"You're not makin' me feel very welcome, y'know," he drawls as he walks closer to her. "Have another drink an' then get out, Reno. Tell me your reasons an' get out, Reno." He comes within a foot of her and she unconsciously tries to take a step backwards and bumps into the bar. Reno snorts and draws even closer, until their noses are almost touching. "What're you afraid of? I'm not gonna bite."

"Reno," Tifa says, the note of pleading in her voice sounding strange and alien to her. "Just go. Please." Her voice cracks treacherously on the last word.

He inclines his head, his lips a bare inch from hers. "No," he says.

The feel of his breath on her lips ignites something in her, a sensation that by this point she finds almost foreign. An electric tingle runs down her spine. He presses his mouth against hers, hard, and pushes open her jaw so he can stroke her tongue with his own. She feels goosebumps begin to form all up and down her arms, and her heart starts going double-time.

At first she doesn't know how to respond, unsure whether to throw him off of her or return the kiss. Her mind is instantly made up for her when she realizes that he is running his hand up the inside of her thigh, moving it dexterously up beneath the hem of her skirt. He gets beneath her undergarments with practiced ease and searches until he reaches that one particular spot, and then he tweaks it just a bit.

The result is an explosion of intense sensation that stiffens every muscle in her body. She presses herself against him and ravenously returns the kiss, breaking it off for just a second to hiss at him to do that again, harder.

He does it again, and she arches against him and practically gnashes their teeth together, she's kissing him so intensely. She gets one of her hands underneath his shirt, feeling the iron-hard muscle there, and gets her other hand inside his pants, feeling the hardness growing there as well. That gets his attention, and he growls deep in his throat before practically throwing her down onto the floor behind the bar. The carpet absorbs most of the impact, but the glasses on the counter still clink with the force. Tifa doesn't notice and is beyond caring.

Reno takes just long enough to get his pants undone before he pounces on her. He takes her right there on the floor of the bar, and later the two of them lie there, panting in the aftermath, and that is when Tifa begins to hate herself.


3. the truth

The bar and the brandy was almost three months ago and Tifa has not stopped hating herself since. At times it's a deeply personal thing, and she goes down a list of unreasonable reasons why she should hate herself, and at other times it's an apathetic kind of loathing, a constant that she just deals with and accepts.

Reno has taken to smoking after they have sex, which irritates her. She doesn't say anything about it, but instead makes sure the window is wide open behind the blinds. If the kids start asking about the smell of the smoke, which permeates everything, not just the sheets, or Cloud wonders about it…

One night, when he lights up, she feels something snap inside her, and she asks, "Why do you do that? You know I don't smoke, and I hate it when Cid does it. So? Why?"

"You shoulda told me you didn't want me to," Reno replies, seemingly mystified. "Here." He takes one, very long drag on the cigarette, then gets up, puts it out against the exterior windowsill, and lets it drop to the ground outside.

"You still haven't answered my question," Tifa says.

"Why? Jus' because. Oh, and it makes me look cool."

Tifa stares at him, a mounting fury rising in her that she can't explain, which seems to be a recurring theme in her life nowadays. She looks at him outlined in the window, that damn perfect body that he knows how to use so damn well and that damn cocksure grin and his damn callous nature and damn why is she crying?

Tears start hitting the sheets,and Tifa shakes with great, wracking sobs. She cries piteously and loudly, not caring if the kids hear her or if Cloud hears her – oh, yes, she stopped caring if Cloud was gone on deliveries or not a month ago. She never told Reno, but somehow he knew, somehow he just sensed it and started visiting even when Cloud was here, and she hated herself even more for it, and she can't take it any longer.

To his credit, Reno doesn't act like most men do when women cry. He doesn't stand around looking panicked, and he doesn't start trying to reassure her everything will be all right. Instead, he disappears into the bathroom for a moment and returns with a box of tissues. He sits back down on the bed next to Tifa and drops the box in her lap. He waits until she gets her sobbing under control and has buried her face in the tissues to ask, "So, what's eatin' ya?"

"I hate this," Tifa says, muffled. "I hate myself, and this situation, and everything about it. You come here almost every night now, and we have sex, and I can delude myself into thinking I feel happy just for that long, and then it's over,and you go back to your life, and we're two separate people, and I hate myself." She wipes viciously at her eyes and tosses the soiled tissues on the floor before pulling fresh ones from the box and furiously blowing her nose.

"I feel ya," Reno says. "I do, really. But I don't think you oughta hate yourself for wantin' somebody, Teef. That's not bad or unnatural or anythin'."

"Then why do I still feel this way?" Tifa shrieks, knocking the tissues off of the bed and grabbing Reno by the shoulders. "I can't look in the mirror without thinking about this, about us, and it's killing me. Bit by bit, Reno, it's driving me insane."

"You're just afraid," Reno says.

"What? Afraid of what?"

"Afraid of admitting it to yourself."

"Admitting what?"

"That you really don't have the life you think you do. That you're broken just like everybody else, and this ideal platonic happy fun-land bullshit you think passes for an existence is just your way of copin'. That I'm just your way of copin'."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Tifa asks, her voice ragged. "What are you trying to say, Reno?"

"I know about your past, Teef. You've told me how your mother died when you were eight. Your father was killed by Sephiroth when you were fifteen, and you were almost killed yourself. You got dropped in Midgar by your teacher for medical attention, and when he up and disappeared on ya you opened a bar and joined AVALANCHE. Then everybody in AVALANCHE you had come to know and love exceptin' Cloud and Barrett got killed." He doesn't make any mention of his involvement in the incident – Tifa already knows all about how he feels about that.

"So?"

"So I'm sayin' that nobody can have a past like that and come out of it all healthy and well-adjusted and normal. You're broken inside, Teef, even if you don't wanna admit it. You know why you fell for Cloud and spent years chasin' after his dumb blonde ass? You know why you keep screwin' me? You know why you just took it lyin' down when Barrett dumped Marlene on ya when he decided he didn't want to settle down, and you know why you were a-okay with it when Cloud showed up one day with some sick orphan kid that he claimed Aerith had sent?

"It's because you collect broken people. Broken men like me and Cloud, broken kids like Marlene and Denzel. Cloud went through no-one-knows-how-much shit in his past. I hurt people for a living. Marlene lost her mother, and her father goes around oil prospectin' because he can't come to grips with his past, and Denzel lost his entire family and also lost his adoptive mother. You collect broken people, and you do your very best to try to fix us.

"You do this for two reasons. First, it keeps you busy. It lets you cope. It keeps you from realizin' how broken you really are. As long as you can keep goin', as long as you can keep tryin' to fix us broken people, you can keep pretendin' that you're just not as broke yourself. An' second, if you ever do fix one of us – if you make one of us all better someday – then maybe you can be fixed too and it's not completely hopeless." Tifa sits in her bed and says nothing, but merely looks at Reno with hollow eyes, knowing that everything he says is true. "You work so hard on makin' sure that everybody gets what they want that you forget that you also want. You also got needs,and you also got hopes and dreams beyond just tryin' to make other people's come true.

"That's why you hate yourself for this situation. You hate yourself whenever you feel good, whenever I fill up in some small way that endless want you got, because you feel like you don't deserve it and you should be helpin' somebody else instead. Which, of course, is horseshit. You're allowed to want things same as anyone else. Okay?"

Tifa takes a long, shuddering breath. "Okay."

They lie there for a while, not saying anything, until Tifa finally gets it in her head to ask about the thing that's been bugging her for a while now. "Reno?"

"Yeah?"

"Why do you drink vodka if you hate it?"

He doesn't reply for a minute, obviously collecting his thoughts. "Well, to be real honest, Teef, it's because I feel like I gotta hate somethin'. Before we started this… whatever it is we have, I hated myself. I still do, sometimes, when the day's unpleasant, and my job sucks, and nothin' seems worth it. That's when I think about you, and the vodka you give me, and how much I hate that shitty drink. Then I feel pretty good about myself by comparison."

Tifa just looks at him and then says, "That's really, really stupid."

Reno sighs. "This is what I get for bein' honest."

"Thanks."

"You're welcome."

More silence, and then Tifa asks, "Reno?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you think I'll ever fix any of you? Do you think I'll ever be fixed myself?"

Reno blows out a laborious sigh. "No. Bein' broken is just part of life. Only variable is how broken you are."

"…I think I can live with that."

Reno spends the night, and for the first time, Tifa begins to hate herself a little less.