A/N: Urgh. XD I know this took damn long, but... I'm kinda suffering from a nasty little writer's block with the sixth chapter. I hoped I'd get my inspiration back sooner, so I kept this chapter from you a while longer so there wouldn't be a huge gap between this and the next chapter, but seeing that my inspiration still hasn't quite returned, I decided to just publish this and warn you that the next chapter might take some time...
(So no, this time it wasn't boys that made me forget about this. XD Just in case you were wondering... Anyways, the guy I mentioned last time is still doing his best to confuse me and is now doing so as my boyfriend, while I'm doing my best to turn his calm, steady life into a mess. Yeah. He's too level-headed and calm for me! How can I write about people like Cloud and especially RENO if my own life goes smoothly and effortlessly? XD So I'm working hard to make my life less smooth and effortless, just because I'm a dork like that.)
And now... the first signs of guilt are starting to inch their way into the evil hearts of our two heroes' friends! About time, don't you think?
"Tifa, I'm not going to do this anymore."
Tifa turned to look at Vincent in surprise. They were alone in the kitchen; Cloud was doing a delivery and Reno was serving the customers at the bar, while the kids were already fast asleep in their beds.
"What are you talking about?" she asked, confused.
"This... trick. I'm not going to keep this up any longer." The cloaked man was sitting at the table, having read the newest print of Midgar Times while Tifa cleaned the kitchen from the mess Reno had created when he had tried to make the kids something to eat before going to bed.
"What?" Tifa glanced at the door that lead to the bar and was relieved to see the redhead at the far end of the other room, taking a new pint to one of the regulars. She went to close the door quietly and then turned to look at her friend. "Why so suddenly?" she asked, lowering her voice.
Vincent was silent for a moment, as if deep in thought. "I don't like where this is going. It was a joke – a funny joke, even – for some days; before they started to really take it seriously. Now they have named a child they will never get – after someone they both cared about. It's nothing but a cruel lie."
Tifa bowed her head, feeling slightly guilty. "I know... but everyone – especially Cloud and Reno – seem to enjoy the game so much... I just don't have the heart to tell them it's not real." She opened the door again to take a quick peek at Reno; the Turk was now pointing the toilets for a new customer, then laughing at a joke someone cracked.
"Look at him," the bar-keeper said softly. "He's always been pretty easy-going and laid-back, but I've never seen him this genuinely happy. He smiles and laughs more often than smirks and sneers, these days. And Cloud... during these weeks, I've seen him smile and talk more than ever before. Can you imagine how they would react if we just told them that it's not true?"
"Can you imagine how they will react when the pregnancy should start to show and they realize there's nothing to show?" Vincent asked back.
To that, Tifa couldn't find an answer.
After a moment of silence, Vincent got up quietly and swiftly, walking to the door to let himself out. "I will not tell them, if you're worried about that. Not right away. I will, though, if they ask. Otherwise..." He opened the door and stepped into the bar, waving his hand at Reno who was still on the other side of the room. "I hope you'll break the news to them soon. The longer this goes on, the longer it will take to recover from it."
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN NO?"
"Reno, pipe down!" Tifa tried to shush him, not knowing whether to cover the Turk's mouth or her own ears.
"NO I WON'T! WE'RE TALKIN' ABOUT BREAKING A LITTLE BOY'S HEART HERE!"
This time Tifa did cover his mouth – with the very same rag that she had used to wipe the counter just a minute ago. Reno gagged and spat the rag out of his mouth, but didn't dare to keep yelling anymore, in fear of what the barmaid might do next.
They were alone in the Seventh Heaven; the kids were still at school and Cloud had taken off with the Fenrir the moment Tifa had mentioned that she could use a little help cleaning the bar. Reno had been still sleeping back then, and so he had, without knowing it, volunteered to help her simply by being the only person available. He had whined and complained, though, wondering why everything had to be so damn clean and bitterly reminding the woman that he had cleaned the bar with his own dainty and delicate hands the night before.
"That's because tomorrow is Denzel's birthday," Tifa had explained. "And I want everything to be clean and pretty for that."
Reno had immediately cheered up at the thought of a birthday party, but then Tifa had brought him down by telling that there would be no party. Denzel didn't have many friends at school – not many that he liked, anyway. Almost everyone wanted to be buddies with the shy auburn haired boy, and most of them wanted that just because he lived with the heroes of the Planet. Astonished and slightly angered, the redhead had slammed his fists to the counter, saying that no matter what kind of pricks were going to school with Denzel, the kid had many friends among the Avalanche and the Turks.
"I'm gonna see that the poor boy gets his party!" Reno vowed with determination. "He didn't have one last year because of that mess with Kadaj and his Silver Club, or the year before that because he was down with Geostigma, and the year before that I have no idea what he was doing but I'm damn sure it wasn't partyin' all day and night, and before that there was the Sephiroth thing!"
"I know, Reno, but I have no time to arrange a party for tomorrow, I'm too busy today," Tifa sighed. "We're going to have a quiet little party, just the family – the way he likes it. You know he's rather withdrawn."
But Reno shook his head. "No fucking way!" he declared. "He's turning ten and that's an important thing, so he deserves to be the center of attention for one day! He can spend the rest of his birthdays in peace and solitude if he wants to." He shook his index finger at the barmaid with a furious scowl on his face. "You'll see, Tifa! I'll take care of everything myself if I have to, but he's so gonna have a birthday party this year!"
And, when the redhead turned and stomped off to start the preparations (inadvertently leaving Tifa to clean alone), the dark haired woman could have sworn that he muttered, "Besides, I never had birthday parties as a kid, and when I turned ten, no one said so much as a 'happy birthday'..."
Chuckling, Tifa wondered whether the little boy who was going to be heartbroken without a party – in Reno's opinion – was Denzel or the eternally childish Turk. She was slightly surprised but not very sorry to find a soft, fond smile creeping to her lips.
"Yo, Cloudy! Do you have deliveries tomorrow?"
"A few. Why?"
"Well, cancel them. You're staying home all day."
"... Come again?"
"Yeah, it's Denzel's birthday and you're gonna have a day off and act like a family chocobo. Oh, and I know you're not working right now, just cruising around on that behemot bike of yours for fun, so drag your ass here, I need your help."
"Reno, you're being absurd."
"Well, your fault for picking up. Now come back here and make sure that the Fenrir's tank is full, because you're gonna be driving around a lot today."
"You're using the 'Rude, I'm screwed and I need you to take the blame for me or to risk your life saving my ass' tone, and my answer is no."
"But Rude – I, I never do that! How can you even think that of me! I'm perfectly capable of solving my own problems, thank you very much, so don't think too highly of yourself, Baldy!"
"Then what are you calling for?"
"... Well... I kinda do need a favor..."
"For selfless purposes, I swear! Listen, man, I need you to pick the runts – eh, the little angels from school and look after them for the rest of the day. Do something fun with them, take them to the mall, bake them cookies or whatever, teach them Poker, I don't care – but keep them out of Seventh Heaven until it's their time to go to bed."
"Has Tifa told you to take care of them? If she has, I won't do it. You're the one living in Seventh Heaven, you do your chores."
"No no! It's because – what? Yeah, Teef, I'm talking to Rude. Okay, I'll tell him. Bye! Rude, Tifa says hi. So anyways, it's Denzel's birthday tomorrow, and I'm gonna throw a surprise party, so someone has to keep him out of the way while I make the preparations."
"I thought your party organizing skills were limited to saying 'Grab your coats, we're going to the nearest bar'."
"Well, we'll be at Seventh Heaven so there'll be no need to do that. Oh yeah, and tell Tseng, Elena and Rufus that they are planning on coming here tomorrow at noon, and that they also have brilliant ideas for birthday presents. Resistance is futile."
"Don't even start with the cheesy Big Bad Turk Lines."
It was a very busy day, and only the mako in his system kept Cloud from collapsing from exhaustion when they finally settled down to have a quick snack around five. Reno had made him cruise around Midgar, getting this and that, after which he'd been forced to cut the lawn, clean his and Denzel's rooms, and fix a couple of things he should have done long ago. Tifa had run around as if Sephiroth himself had been on her heels as well, doing her own things most of time since they had been the reason she couldn't arrange the party, but occasionally helping Reno too.
"Cloud, is your room clean?" Reno asked as he dug into his sandwich. The blonde nodded and the Turk looked at the list in his hands, looking rather pleased. "Great! Then almost everything should be ready here, except for the things that we can't do before the kids have come home and gone to bed. Eat up, Spiky, we're going shopping once you're ready."
And so Cloud took Reno to a shopping mall in Midgar, because it was, in Reno's opinion, the only place where everything necessary could be found. As the blonde was driving to the city by Tifa's car, his hands gripping the steering wheel tightly as he listened to Reno babbling on the phone non-stop, he wondered again why he had agreed to this. Not that he had really been given any chance; Reno had made it clear that he would make the poor delivery boy's life very miserable if he refused.
"... And yeah, I know you're friggin' busy saving the world and fighting the bad guys in the shadows or whatever it is that you do to amuse yourself, and I don't give a shit!" Reno was seething presently to a reluctantly listening Vincent, waving his hands and accidentally whacking Cloud in the jaw. "Oops, sorry man. No, not you, Mr Valentine! Look, we're talking about a little kid here – what's your problem, never had birthday parties as a kid? ... Okay, no need to get all pissy... Honestly, Vincent, your miserable life quest of ridding the Planet of evil won't run away if you take a day off, get it? And you'd make a little boy happy. What? No, not me! Denzel!"
Cloud couldn't help but snort at that, and this earned him another slap, this time intentionally. "Fuck you both," the redhead muttered. "Okay, not then. I just thought it would be nice to make an orphan happy for a chance."
Cloud shook his head slowly as Reno listened for a second and his eyes went suddenly wide. "Seriously, yo? You're coming? Fabulous, man! I knew you have a heart!"
The ex-mercenary was close enough to hear Vincent reply, "Likewise." and then the line went dead. Reno glanced at the blonde by his side with a perplexed expression and shrugged. "What the hell was that about?" he muttered as he dialed another number.
Cloud grinned slightly. "I think you just managed to guilt trip Vincent Valentine into doing something," he replied, though he was pretty sure that the mysterious man had indeed intended to come wish Denzel a happy birthday anyway.
"Really? Oh crap," Reno frowned as he placed the cell phone to his ear, waiting as it connected. "I bet he's gonna guilt trap me tomorrow... like, in some far off cave where I can rot to death without being able to bother him anymore... Sorry, what? No, Cid, that's not exactly what I've got in mind for tomorrow and no, you're not invited. No wait, actually, yes you are invited! But not to the Let's Lock Reno Up In A Cave Party, but Denzel's. No, we're not gonna lock Denzel up in a cave..."
Cloud had to admit that Reno had surprised them all by actually getting down to the business and especially by doing so with such determination and energy. If Cloud had been working like mad today, Reno had worked twice as hard. He had been calling people, making orders for food and stuff that couldn't otherwise be prepared for the following day, cleaning both his room and Cloud's office (to Cloud's terror, for while it had been difficult to find anything there before, now it was downright impossible), writing and rewriting lists, and painting a huge "Happy B-Day, Denzel!" on a white blanket he had stolen from Tifa. He had also baked muffins, and if poor Tifa had been slightly shocked to find Reno in the kitchen, baking, she was shocked beyond words when the muffins actually tasted like muffins should.
"Milk," Reno said as they were standing on an aisle in the grocery shop of the mall, staring at the long list in his hands. "Eggs, flour, yeast... You go get the juice and milk, okay?"
And so they shopped. Reno wanted a whole trolley full of food, he wanted funny paper hats, he wanted straws of multiple colors, he wanted blue and white confetti, he wanted paper mugs and plates with fancy pictures of a cartoon hero, he wanted this and that and he made it very clear to anyone who wasn't deaf.
They also ran across Rude, who was walking through the toys department, clearly looking for something.
"Rude!" Reno hissed, glancing wildly around them to see if Denzel and Marlene were already poking at the trolley that Cloud had been forced to push, asking what all the food was for. "What the hell are you doing here?!"
"I made the mistake of taking your advice," Rude replied, "and brought the kids to the mall. They're stuck at the candy aisle, and I decided to come and see if I could find a present for Denzel."
"Well, take my advice for the second time and – shit, they're coming this way!" Reno grabbed Cloud and the trolley as he heard familiar voices approaching along with the sound of steps of small feet; before they fled, though, the redhead paused to throw a package of frozen dough to his partner.
"Here you are, Mr Rude!" Marlene's cheery voice followed them as they hurried away. "We've been looking for you all over the place! What do you have there?"
"... Dough. Why don't we go back to my place and bake cookies?" they could hear Rude say, trying to sound like it had originally been his idea; Marlene and Denzel agreed without hesitation, apparently eager to get to decorate the cookies. Moments later they had left, and the secret of Operation Surprise Party was safe again.
And as they wandered the aisles, arguing about Denzel's likes and dislikes and discussing the importance of showing how much they all cared and fighting briefly about the boy's status as a ten-year-old (Reno considered him a teen, and Cloud argued that he was still a child, as was Reno at the age of 26), Cloud became very aware of how people were staring at them. Those who recognized them as the leader of Avalanche and a Turk, gave them curious looks, remembering the rumor of the redhead's mysterious condition; and those who didn't recognize them clearly thought that they were a gay couple. To his surprise, the thought didn't bother him nearly as much as it could have.
"Cloud," Reno said suddenly, breaking a long, blessed silence as they were walking back to the car through the mall, dragging four bags of food and other goods along.
Cloud glanced at the Turk and saw that he had stopped in front of the window of a little shop for children's clothing. There were tiny little socks, rompers, shirts and dresses in the colors of light pink and blue on the view along with slightly bigger clothes, and Reno was staring at the little ones; his free hand was raised to rub his coat-clad stomach gently and he had a distant look on his face.
Sighing, Cloud went back to him. "What is it, Reno?" he meant to snap, but it came out as a soft inquire.
"Just... wondering," the Turk mumbled. "Do you reckon that we might one day discuss Zack's tenth birthday just like this? I wonder how things will be then..."
"I suppose we'll look older," Cloud muttered, not feeling ready to get into a deep discussion about their baby's future and the big question of how they were going to grow him up.
Reno laughed at that and snapped out of his reverie, turning to look at Cloud again. "Yo, Cloudy? Let's make a deal," he said with a wide grin. "If it's a boy, we'll name him Zack and have him wear blue, and if it against all odds is a girl, we'll call her Aerith and dress her in pink, okay?"
Cloud chuckled a little, nodding. "Sounds good to me. And now, my sweet Mrs Strife... Let's get going before the ice cream you insisted on buying melts beyond all help."
Vincent appeared just after Tifa had put the kids to bed, and Reno didn't waste time getting him to help as well. Rude had stayed after bringing Marlene and Denzel back, so he was helping too, and poor Cloud just didn't have a choice. Reno had them decorate the bar and hang the Happy B-Day blanket above the fireplace, and after giving them these orders he disappeared to the kitchen. Tifa came to their aid for a moment, then spent a moment in the kitchen before calling it a day, thoroughly exhausted because she wasn't mako infected, a vampiric creature, or exceptionally tolerant of Reno like the three men were.
Around midnight they finished, Rude left to go home, and Vincent retired to the spare room. Cloud yawned as he checked the bar one more time to make sure everything was ready, and then headed upstairs to go to bed as well. Suddenly he realized that it was very quiet, and had been for a while; no sound came from the kitchen.
Warily, the blonde sneaked to the kitchen door and opened it as slowly and quietly as he could, peeking carefully inside before stepping over the threshold. He couldn't help but chuckle at what he saw: the kitchen was spotless and clean, and Reno was sitting at the table, his arms folded on it and head placed on them, fast asleep.
"Reno..." Cloud whispered, shaking the redhead a little by his shoulder. The Turk's head shot up and he gave him a bleary look and a questioning sound. "Weren't you supposed to be baking?"
"... It's ready, it's in the fridge," Reno mumbled, waving his hand weakly and rubbing his eyes with the other. "And I cleaned the kitchen too, see! Then I just felt so frigging tired and I was just gonna sit for a sec..."
Cloud walked over to the fridge, and couldn't help but smile as he found a huge cake with "10" written in icing on top of it. It looked a little sloppy, but somehow it just made it cuter; after all, Reno wasn't exactly know for his cooking skills. Baking a cake – and muffins! - showed very clearly how important the redhead thought Denzel's big day was.
"Somethin' wrong with it?" Reno mumbled sleepily from behind him. "You've been staring at it for a while..."
"No, it looks good." Cloud closed the door and went to turn off the kitchen lights. "Everything is ready, Reno. Let's go to bed, or you'll sleep past your party."
They were upstairs and Cloud was already opening the door of his room, when Reno suddenly stopped and turned to look at him. "Cloud..."
The blonde glanced at him and was a little startled by the anxious look in the thinner man's eyes. Swallowing slightly, he wondered what could possibly come to the redhead's sleepy mind after a long, heavy day that would make him look so bothered. "Yes?" he asked warily.
Reno didn't answer for a moment, and when he did, his voice was strained and panicked. "Cloud... I... forgot... to get Denzel a present..."
I decided to stretch the timeline, so Denzel got Geostigma a year before Kadaj and his buddies appeared. Just because. XD And I really loved writing all the parts where Reno was talking on the phone. :'DDD
Rin-chan101093: Damn right he's falling hard, but don't worry, he'll have to stop being in denial soon enough. XD ... wait, what, you got your first yaoi on your 9th birthday? Seriously? O__o' You sure you're talking about yaoi ('cause it includes lemons XD), not shounen-ai (which is a tamer version of yaoi, like pg-13 or something...)? Though even a shounen-ai seems a bit weird to be given to a 9-year-old... XD
Lil'Mousee: Whoa, thanks :'DD And yeah, a confused, lost Reno is just too damn cute xD At least in a story like this, in a more serious fic I prefer a slightly more professional Reno. :'D
Favrite_of_Chaos: Thanks! And hey, who could resist a bit of fluff... ^^
Demain_Matin: Thank you!
CEED: Thanks! Yeah, as far as I know, Reno hasn't originally been given a last name. I think the most used is Sinclair, though nobody seems to know who originally said it's his name... XDD But yeah, the idea that Turks have to leave their last names behind is pretty popular too. Anyways, I'm fine with any of these options, and I'm not gonna get into this matter in this story, so Reno's "Who said he's gonna be a Strife" was more like Reno protesting because a baby usually get the father's last name and Reno didn't want to be considered as the girl in the (soon to be-)relationship. Which is, of course, a bit stupid because he would be the one to give birth anyways... XD
NicotineGum: Thank you! It's fun to write Cloud and Reno trying to act like responsible adults because of a "baby". :'D And I really think that though Cloud is a moody brooder and likes to avoid his responsibilities by going into hiding, he'd try his best to take the responsibility in a situation like this. And poor Reno is just confused and not really sure what the heck is going on. xD
needleholehalo: Yeah, it makes me sad too! So maybe, maybe it'll change... Or maybe they get a puppy. 8) ... Okay, we'll see. XD Thanks for your review!
Bekas_Strife: Oh dear! XD Oh well, what we wouldn't do for Cloud and Reno... write until late night... read even later... get diabetes...
Neenaw: Thank you! Your review made me so happy. I try my best to be funny, but I can't help it that I simply can't play with the words like I can in my own language. I swear, this would be a hell lot funnier in Finnish! But then again, then there wouldn't be any readers. :'D
blackcat686: A lot of people keep requesting that Reno gets knocked up for real... I was thinking about making a poll but the answer seems pretty clear. XD Anyways, thanks for your review!