He fought casual, if that was possible, high kicks and roundhouse punches, slapdash but so damn fast

Unreadable.

He fought casual, if that was possible, high kicks and roundhouse punches, slapdash but so damn fast. Like he learned by watching drunken brawls and showy street fighting, and built upon his natural instinct – to get out of the way. He was wiry, unkempt, and his accent was shockingly lower-Midgar, very out of place in the upper echelons of the Shin-Ra hierarchy. But there was nothing defiant in his appearance. He wasn't making a statement, he was just Reno.

And if he wasn't so fast, they would have killed him on that pillar. His machismo had vanished the second he realised he was facing three trained opponents who outclassed him; his attacks were designed from the beginning to immobilize. He stunned Cloud with a wicked-blue crackle of electricity, backed away from an incapacitated Barret… but he underestimated her, allowed her to get behind him. He turned around into her fist. She felt his jaw break, watched him stagger back spitting blood. Through the haze of adrenaline she watched him pull the glasses from his hair, touch his cheek and turn narrowed eyes on her. And then her fists were up and they were fighting, his curious style bewildering her at first.

He tricked her, really. Preoccupied with the hand-to-hand, she forgot that he carried a weapon. And when she eventually got close enough - to break ribs – he reached an arm around her back and put 800 volts up her spine. Her impression, in the instant the electricity seized and froze her, was of his crooked grin and the scent of his cologne, and then he put a safe distance between them. He'll shoot me, now, she thought, and perhaps he would have. But Cloud chose that moment to fly over her head and effectively end the fight with the Buster Sword. Blood flecked her vision. She shook away the searing tingle, focussed on the fire in her right glove, and went for the knee of the fallen Turk.

It half shocks her now, her own history and brutality. He teases her about that fight sometimes, limping around exaggeratedly and regaling the children with tales of her merciless beat-downs. He wants her to laugh, but she can't, because he bears Avalanche scars and never left a lasting mark on her. It wasn't chivalry – God knows he was lacking that. It was the absence of a killer instinct. She had confided this belief to Cloud, and been laughed at, because after all, Reno was a Turk. A Turk from the slums. He could not have survived without being a killer, and Tseng was not interested in recruiting the weak of heart. Still, often she looked at him and failed to see the ruthlessness in him. He was an impossible contradiction; he did not make sense.

Unreadable Reno.

Slouched now in her doorway, watching her clear away the last of the glasses. He rarely came by without the Turks, or Rude, at least.

"You're a little late for a drink, Reno. We're closed."

"Right. Barmaid has a thing for me, though. Never holds out on me."

Cheeky. Hopeful. She couldn't hide her smile.

"All right then. But close the door behind you, I don't want any more drunks wandering in demanding service."

He sauntered over to a barstool and leant on the counter, chin in hand. Raised a red eyebrow.

"Services, ey?"

"Be careful, Flash. One of these days I'll call in your tab."

She deposited Reno's favourite, imported rum in front of him, noting with surprise that he was not particularly drunk. He was actually incredibly well-presented, for once. His glasses were nowhere to be seen, his shirt was tucked in and crease-free, his suit was an immaculate, city-tailored affair and he was wearing a belt. Of course his hair was an unruly blaze, and his boots were scuffed as ever, but it was still an impressive effort.

"Nice suit."

"Talk about mixed signals, Tif. First it's 'cool down, Flashboy', then it's 'damn Reno, you looking sharrrrp'-"

She rolled her eyes.

"What are you doing around here at this time, anyway? Where's Rude?"

"We broke up. He doesn't love me any more."

She nodded seriously.

"I see. At three am you can only communicate in innuendo and sex jokes."

He drained his drink and nudged the glass back toward her, smiling wryly. She hesitated before moving to refill it.

"Rude is in Junon, actually. I stayed back. Was going to meet someone." He shrugged. "She didn't show."

Tifa sat down opposite him, carefully decorating the glass with a slice of lime, trying to hide some sudden stabs of pity and compassion. Her sentiment was not lost on Reno, however. He interrupted her efforts by reclaiming his drink, his expression amused.

"Her loss," said Tifa softly.

He laughed.

"God, Tifa."

She blushed.

"Well! Nobody likes to get stood up!"

"I didn't really expect her to come."

"Well you must have hoped she would, otherwise you wouldn't have waited so long!"

"Oh, aren't you sweet. Where's Spiky, anyway?"

"Corel, with Barret."

"Hm."

Sexual tension generally bounced off Tifa without her noticing it. Every inch the stoic barmaid, she rebutted sleaze and sexism effortlessly, and backed it up with her fists when necessary. She had never been the feminine type, never been interested in anyone other than Cloud, and had watched jealously in the past as Aeris had flirted playfully with him. It was not her style. It was not Cloud's, either.

There was no mistaking the way the Turk was looking at her now.

"…Reno?"

He shook his head, getting up and simultaneously finishing the rum. She grabbed his hand, uncomprehending.

"What? Reno! Don't go."

That crooked smile. He gripped her suddenly and pulled her swiftly to her feet, pressing the backs of her fingers against his lips. Sharp blue eyes and that same cologne, and she wished passionately that she knew something, anything, of his past.

"Some things aren't meant to be, lady."

He turned and left her there, heart thudding in her chest.