Chapter 2 - Therapy
So I got this awesome review from EvanNJames, who gave me the idea to continue this in a PM.
Unfortunately EvenNJames does not recall this PM, so you'll just have to take my word for it.
"Reno, you gorgeous rascal, you," Reno the TURK announced quietly to himself as he clicked the lid back onto the felt tip he had been using to decorate his arms for the last half-hour. "You are a genius." He unhooked his legs from the bar stool he'd been sitting on with a satisfied sigh, blowing lightly on the intertwining green squiggles that formed the vine-like pattern plastered on his pale skin. Beside him, Marlene Wallace sat on a stool of her own, diligently colouring in a picture she'd drawn on a very square, very white sheet of paper. Reno watched her for a moment, before turning with a grin to where he knew Cloud was standing behind them.
However, to his surprise, Cloud wasn't the only one watching him – Rude, Tifa, Elena and even Denzel had gathered around the bar where he and Marlene sat, each wearing an expression more solemn than the last.
"Hey, uh… I know I'm fabulous, but d'ya all have to stare at me like that?" The others glanced at each other. It was Cloud who spoke first.
"Reno… I think we need to talk." He began delicately, and the ridiculously wide grin that had been plastered upon Reno's face disappeared instantly.
"…you're kicking me out, aren't you?" Elena was by his side with her arms flung about his shoulders before Cloud could even open his mouth to reply.
"Cloud!" Tifa's free hand was placed firmly on her hip as she slapped the blond hero upside his head. "Gawd, Reno's right. You really are a hopeless chocobo-head." Quite disturbed by the sudden shift in the attitudes of the women in the room, Cloud turned to Rude and Denzel for support, only to find them both shaking their heads at him disappointedly.
"What did I say?" Cloud was left to wonder as the others reassuringly gathered around his bewildered boyfriend. Only when the redhead had finally had enough of all the sudden attention being lavished upon him did he glance over to where Cloud was dithering in the middle of the room.
"Ok, we've established that you're not kicking me out, right? So what's going on, yo?" he leaned on the bar with his elbows, having regained at least some of his usual cockiness.
"I never said I was kicking you –" he trailed off as the others collectively glared at him. "Uh, never mind. We're all here today because we care about you." Tifa nodded encouragingly, and he continued, his confidence bolstered somewhat. "We think you may have a problem," he announced with a sigh. Meanwhile, Reno had picked up a stray red pen that had fallen onto the ground and begun to fill in the gaps in his design. The effect was garish, indeed – but rather appropriate, given the delightful partnership of colour that was his hair and eyes…
"…your hands." Cloud was saying when he finally tuned back in again. Reno grinned happily as he held up his handiwork for his boyfriend to inspect.
"Oh, you mean these glorious displays of artistic talent?" he chirped, to which Marlene gave an indignant protest as she realised her green and red pens were now dried out and quite useless. Rude groaned and covered his face with a large hand.
"Reno, you have a problem, and it's getting worse." He affirmed bluntly. Reno shot him a resentful glare.
"I don't have a problem." Tifa shook her head.
"You're in denial."
"I am not!"
"You get pissy for no reason if you haven't touched a pen for a while," Elena continued darkly.
"You spend all of your spare gil on pens, and now you're resorting to stealing to fuel your habit," agreed Rude.
"I don't steal!"
"Ahem?" Marlene waved her now-worthless felt tips before the redhead's nose.
"Hey, I can stop anytime I want!" Reno waved Marlene's hand away, but his friends stood their ground, hands on hips and each regarding him suspiciously.
"Then why are you getting all defensive?" Tifa was saying, and Reno struggled to find an appropriate response.
"I am NOT getting defensive!" he growled, and Cloud and Tifa glanced at each other knowingly. "Cut that out!"
"Cut what out, Reno?" Denzel wondered, his face a mask of innocence.
"Great, he's getting paranoid now, too," he heard Elena mutter. For the overwhelmed redhead, this was the last straw.
"Alright, cut it out!" he yelled, and sighed melodramatically as one by one, the others turned back to him. "Ok, fine. I'll stop drawing on my hands. Ya happy now?" he shot this last remark at Cloud in particular, who blushed and hung his head shamefacedly.
"And your arms," Elena prodded, to which Rude nodded approvingly.
"And your feet," he added as an afterthought. Reno's shoulders slumped in defeat, as Marlene huffed and went off in search of some crayons to finish her drawing.
Cloud's bedroom was gloomy with the curtains drawn, particularly behind the bed where Reno was now huddled; filling in the gaps in his previously interrupted design. Since the others had practically forbidden him to so much as touch a pen, somehow all of the writing utensils in Seventh Heaven had disappeared and Marlene refused to share her felt-tip collection with him any more, probably under orders from Tifa.
However, Reno was a cunning sort of fellow, and after a quick rootle around under Cloud's bed, he had procured a few long-forgotten biros that had probably lain there since before Meteorfall, if the layer of dust under there was anything to go by.
The TURK was shaken out of his reverie by the sound of heavy footfalls on the stairs outside. He had barely enough time to hastily jam the pens under the mattress before Cloud burst through the door.
"Reno, are you up here? Tifa says dinner's r- what are you doing down there?" Reno stared up at the blond from his hiding place, wearing the expression of a naughty child caught with his hand stuck in the cookie jar. Cloud narrowed his Mako-enhanced blue eyes, and when he spoke again, his voice had taken on the tone Tifa liked to use when the children (or Reno) had done something wrong.
It was the kind of voice that made even Barret quake in his boots. "You promised," he said reproachfully, pointing to something that had rolled out from Reno's hiding place and into view. Reno glanced in the direction of his boyfriend's gaze and groaned. One of the pens he had been using lay there, having rolled away while he had been drawing, almost as if to say 'hehe, busted!'
Before Reno could move a muscle, Cloud had swooped over and snatched up the damning evidence, and stuffed it into his pocket. Probably so he could go and tattle to the others, thought Reno mournfully.
"I tried, yo, but my design wasn't finished, and…" his weak excuses trailed off under Cloud's glare. "It's getting worse, isn't it?" he sighed and dejectedly stared down at his smudgy hands. "Ya really think I have a problem?" The blonde only smiled sadly and crouched down so that he could join Reno in his hideaway.
Despite the pointy objects that had somehow found their way into the mattress digging into his back, it was actually quite cosy.
"Yeah, but every problem has an answer, right?" he said brightly, only to be confronted by Reno's suspicious glare.
"Tifa told you to say that, didn't she?"
"N-no?" Cloud had always been a terrible liar, especially when it came to the redheaded TURK. He sighed and shut his eyes. "Actually, it was Elena," he admitted finally.
"Lemme guess – they've organised a therapist for me and they sent you up here to butter me up so I'll agree to it." Almost unconsciously, Reno's voice had taken on the same reproachful tone Cloud's had only a moment before. Judging by the guilty expression on the blond's face, he'd guessed correctly. "Ok, fine." Cloud's head shot up so quickly he hit his head on the wooden bed frame.
"You're ok with that?" he yelped, gingerly rubbing the lump that was forming on the back of his head and staring at the redhead incredulously. "You're not going to kick up a fuss or try and get your revenge on us all in the most horrific way you can think of?" Reno would have laughed, had this suggestion not actually crossed his mind.
"Well, if it makes you feel any less suspicious, I'd like to be able to borrow a pen off Rude without him breathing down my neck the entire time I'm using it," he drawled lazily, making a show out of examining his nails so Cloud didn't see the blush that had crept up around his cheeks.
"And you're not going to run away? Or steal my Fenrir? …Or drop-kick her out the window?" Cloud was still puzzling over Reno's sudden cooperation.
"No, but I reserve the right to kick you in the head if – wait, 'her'? She's a woman?" the blond suddenly smirked, all trace of concern having disappeared.
"Yes, that part was Tifa's idea."
He grinned the kind of grin that made Reno suddenly very uncomfortably aware that resistance was futile.
Reno might have agreed not to make trouble for Cloud regarding his trip to therapy, but one glance at the multi-storeyed building, with the carefully arranged hanging baskets around the sparkling revolving door at the front, was enough to make the redhead blanch. For a moment he wondered whether he should take the opportunity to exercise his aforementioned right to kick his chocobo-headed boyfriend, but restrained himself and settled for checking his E.M.R instead. He might need it later.
"What is this, a shrink's office or a hotel?" he said instead, frowning as he followed Cloud through the door and tugging the sleeve of his jacket down a little further over the garish scribbles that covered his arm.
"At least there are no bars on the windows," the blond observed cheerfully, quite oblivious to Reno's mounting apprehension.
"Welcome!" the receptionist smiled widely. Her braces gleamed in the electric light from overhead/. She barely glanced at Reno. "Do you have an appointment today?" she chirped in Cloud's direction, batting her eyelashes at the bewildered delivery boy. For a second, he looked so helpless that Reno almost felt sorry for him. While the blond stuttered his way through the details of their visit, he made a quick evaluation of the lobby.
While at first glance the place looked quite fancy, it turned out the framed pictures on the walls were not photographs at all; they were informative posters about various metal conditions. Oddly enough, none of them mentioned obsessive doodling. Maybe his case was unique, he thought with a grin that didn't last very long.
Back by the young receptionist's desk, the woman had collapsed into peals of laughter over something Cloud had said. He wondered briefly if the chocobo-head had gone and told her about his 'condition', but one glance at Cloud's reddening face told him otherwise.
The fact that Cloud was still shy as hell around women (despite happily being in a relationship with a certain TURK) cheered Reno somewhat, though it did nothing to alleviate the knot in his stomach. A brass plaque on the wall listed the building's different floors, and who resided on them.
"Doctor L. Stoke, Therapist," he read aloud, nervously twirling his E.M.R between his fingers when Cloud finally managed to escape from the receptionist. "She's not going to hypnotise me, is she?" he hopped from one foot to the other as his gaze flicked back and forth from the elevator doors, to the cream-coloured walls, to the suede armchairs that had obviously been chosen to complement them, and then back to the elevator doors again.
"No, that's a hypnotherapist," he said, looking a little uncertain but nodding nonetheless. "Just relax," he added, placing a hand on the leaner man's shoulder.
The elevator doors glided open, and they stepped though, their feet making barely any sound on the stylish carpet. Instead of following the blonde's advice, Reno instead made an impromptu metallic tapdance on the brass handrail with his fingers as the elevator began its ascent.
"If she tries to… you know, put me in a trance, you'll stop her, right?" he muttered. Cloud bit back a chuckle and slid an arm around the redhead's waist.
"Of course. And I'll beat her with your Electro-rod," he assured him. There was a brief pause, during which the mild elevator music floated through a pair of speakers installed in the ceiling.
"You're taking the piss," Reno said eventually, and Cloud smiled at his reproachful tone.
"No I'm not."
The doors opened once more, and they found themselves outside a polished wooden door, to which was attached a plaque with the psychiatrist's name on it. From beyond it came faint snatches of conversation. Whereas one of the voices sounded rather hysterical, the other was calm and reassuring. Reno shut his eyes and prayed the latter belonged to the psychiatrist.
The door suddenly swung inwards to reveal a pale, frail-looking woman wearing a pinstripe suit emerged, suspiciously glaring at the pair outside.
"Goodbye, Miss Collins. And remember, doctors are here to help you!" came the perfectly calm, authoritative voice Reno had heard before. It belonged to a tall, blonde lady with thick-rimmed, red glasses and an even redder lipstick-y smile stretched thinly across her face. "Oh, you must be my newest patient," she said when she caught sight of Reno, who had surreptitiously backed away and stood behind Cloud, as if to put an extra barrier between him and the psychiatrist.
A split second later, Doctor Stoke had nudged Cloud out of the way and was peering over the rims of her glasses at the bewildered redhead. With surprising strength, she grabbed Reno's wrist and held his decorated hand up for closer inspection. She clicked her tongue and shook her head.
"Just as I thought," she muttered, tapping her foot thoughtfully on the carpet.
"What, that's it? You mean I can go home no-ack!" Reno was cut off by his own yelp of surprise as the doctor seized his arm once more and pulled him through the doorway and into her office. Only once the door was firmly shut did she let go, and Reno could only flop down into an armchair, feeling suddenly rather exhausted.
"Cloud, this woman scares me," he mouthed at the blond man, but snapped back to attention when Doctor Stoke cleared her throat and shuffled some papers on her desk impatiently.
"Right," she announced sternly. "Down to business." Rather than sit in her assigned chair (which had wheels and spun around, and probably provided hours of entertainment on the quieter days at the office), Doctor Stoke chose to lean against the edge of her desk. Apparently this tactic was to make her appear friendlier, for she flashed the two men a brilliant smile that chilled them to the bone. "First of all, we need to address the underlying cause and the circumstances leading to your… addiction."
"You what?" Reno burst out, before he could stop himself. Doctor Stoke arched an immaculately shaped eyebrow. "Uh, I mean… pardon?" he smiled sweetly, trying to ignore the bead of sweat trickling down the back of his neck.
"In many cases I've found my patients have insecurities about themselves, or their lives are undergoing a stressful change of some kind…" The doctor smiled serenely as she turned away to face the window, quite obviously engrossed in her own explanation. In the meantime, Reno had picked up a rather expensive-looking pen from the mug on the table beside him, and was absent-mindedly clicking it on and off. He suddenly yelped as a strong hand roughly slapped it out of his hand.
"Pay attention," Cloud hissed softly in his ear. The doctor paused and turned her head.
"Is there something wrong?" she enquired, as Reno rubbed his hand with a reproachful glare at the man beside him.
"Nothin', yo." He growled through gritted teeth. Doctor Stoke glanced suspiciously at the two men, then shrugged and continued with her previous explanation as if there had been no interruption.
"Maybe you're trying to cover something up. Your freckles, perhaps?" Reno had to laugh at this.
"Why would I do that? I'm freaking gorgeous." he scoffed.
"Ah, you say that, but –"
"Watch it, sister. I'm not the one wearing make-up." he folded his arms stubbornly, but squawked in surprise as Cloud smacked him on the arm. "Hey! What is this? 'bash-Reno-day'?" there was a long pause as the psychiatrist regarded the two men quietly for a moment.
"Reno, does Cloud hit you often?" She said finally, and this time it was Cloud who blanched under her icy stare.
"All the time, yo." Reno feigned a mournful sigh, ignoring Cloud's half-hearted protests. "Sometimes I don't think he even realises he's doing it. It's like the ink, Doctor. It's like he's the one with the addiction." While anyone who had known Reno for more than half an hour would have scoffed at the TURK's ham-acting, Doctor Stoke pressed her hands to her mouth and turned to the helpless blond.
"Cloud! Is this true?"
"No, no! Only when he deserves it!" Cloud protested, and silence fell upon the room as the Doctor stared at him, open mouthed. Reno collapsed into silent, helpless laughter.
The rest of the therapy session continued this way, the psychiatrist painfully unaware of the hidden war going on right under her own nose. Whenever he had the chance, Reno played up to his role as the downtrodden one, and all Cloud could do was dig himself deeper with every half-hearted protest he made. Even he couldn't help but snort with barely repressed laughter whenever the Doctor spun around, eyes narrowed, whenever their secret battle grew a little too loud.
"I think it's important for you to remember that you're not alone in this, Reno," Doctor Stoke clasped her hands in front of her as the session drew to a close. "I want you to encourage your friends to help you whenever they can. And as for you." She turned on Cloud. "Absolutely no more hitting! Reno is in a very fragile state right now!"
"Not fragile enough, apparently," Cloud muttered with a sidelong glare at the redhead, though he struggled to keep a straight face. He nodded obediently anyway, just as eager to get out of the Doctor's clutches as Reno was.
Reno, to his credit, managed to keep his helpless giggles under control until they were almost at the elevator doors. He would have succeeded too, had the Doctor not chosen to call out one last time –
"Remember Reno, are you wearing the ink, or is the ink wearing you?"
Reno and Cloud stumbled though into the elevator and collapsed on the carpet within, howling with laughter.
Rachel the Estate Agent and Leila the Doctor-Turned-Psychiatrist both turn up in other stories of mine that you'll probably never read. Because apparently there is only one Real Estate company and one hospital in the whole FFVII universe.