For The Sacred and Profane.

I neither own nor profit from ffvii or its characters.

Thank you for reading.

Enjoy.

fire mystic

Getting to Know You

"It's on the house."

Tifa eyed the clerk disbelievingly. He had pushed her hand with the money away as she held it out to him. Why would he give her the soda for free? She noted the small smile on his face; oh Gods! Was he flirting?

"That's really not necessary," she refused politely, pushing his hand back, doing her best to insist he take even that small amount of money.

He shook his head, holding his hands up and away, making it perfectly clear he was not going to take it from her.

"I ain't taking it, Lady."

Okay. Shrugging, Tifa put the money back in her pocket.

"Well, thank you."

He was already going back to work, wiping down the counter. He offered a nod in response, glancing over her shoulder with a strange expression.

Taking the bottle of soda from the counter with another hasty thank you, she turned to see what he had been looking at. There was nobody there, but the door was swinging shut. Following quickly, she pushed through the door and scanned the sidewalk.

He was standing a few feet away, lighting a cigarette as he leaned against the wall. Tifa approached, holding the soda out as if it were an accusation.

"It was you. He gave it to me because of you."

Sparkling green eyes raked up her body to meet hers, sensuous lips blowing smoke out in a narrow stream, before quirking up in a familiar fashion.

"Consider it a benefit of being friends with a Turk, yo."

Tifa bristled. "We're not friends, Reno. I don't even know you."

He shrugged casually. "We can fix that."

Was that suggestiveness in his tone?

"Even if you weren't a Turk, what makes you think I'd be interested in knowing more about you than I already do?"

Eyes narrowing as he inhaled more nicotine, they crinkled around the edges in mirth.

"You just said you don't know me."

"No, but I've heard enough about you."

"Like what?"

"That you're a smart-ass and a womanizer who drinks and smokes too much. And that you have no morals or conscience."

His smirk grew as he lifted a hand to his chest, pressing it dramatically against his heart.

"Oh, you wound me, Lockhart."

"See? Proof that it's true."

Flipping her hair back over her shoulder she turned and started down the street.

"Actually," he called after her, "it only proves one thing you said is true."

That stopped Tifa in her tracks, spinning to glare at him. Was he serious?

And, apparently, he was. He had gotten rid of the cigarette and pushed himself away from the wall. The smirk was gone, as was his slouch, his gaze intense.

"You're serious." She stated, disbelieving.

He held out his hands, palms up.

"Give me a chance, Lockhart. You might like me once you get to know me."

It wasn't a come-on. It wasn't sarcastic.

Damn, he was being genuine.

Looking around impatiently, Tifa tried to find a reason to turn him down, but she was already feeling guilty; she had already been far too rude, and what had he done? Used his influence to get her a free drink? Yeah, there was something to be pissed about.

"Okay," she sighed. "Walk with me. I have another stop to make."

Reno fell into step beside her, shoving his hands in his pockets, but when she approached a door a few yards away, he was holding the door open for her before she had a chance to reach for it.

"I can open my own doors, you know."

He tipped his chin at her.

"You want I should let it go?"

Shaking her head, she walked past him into the small store.

There were only a few things she needed, and Reno shadowed her through the store. Glancing at him occasionally, she tried to figure out what the game was. What was Reno after? Was he doing this for Shinra? Or was it something else? When she stepped up to the counter, the girl behind the register kept looking over her shoulder at Reno, but while she expected flirtatiousness, all she saw was fear and nervousness, and the poor thing looked almost afraid to take her money.

Outside the store, she turned to Reno with a scolding expression.

"Is that the reaction you inspire everywhere you go?"

"It's the red hair." He flipped his ponytail at her with a goofy grin.

"You're not winning any points; you know that, don't you?"

"I'm serious, yo. You think it's because I'm a Turk, but do you think if Elena walked in there in jeans and a t-shirt, anyone would bat an eyelash? Hell no. It would be business as usual. But if I walk in there in jeans and a t-shirt, people still recognize me. I'm still Reno of the Turks." He tugged a strand of his own hair. "It's the hair, yo. I'm telling ya."

Tifa couldn't help but giggle at that. He was serious, and what was worse, now that he had spelled it out for her, he was right.

"Why don't you change the color?"

He held out the tip of his ponytail.

"What would you suggest?"

Tilting her head from side to side, Tifa studied him critically, playful, yet serious, considering what color might look better on him. Strangely, nothing came to mind.

"I don't know, Reno. I like it red."

His smile was sincerely pleased.

"I guess I'll leave it red, then."

Tifa realized two things. First, it had been the first nice thing she had said to him, and second, it hadn't hurt a bit.

Maybe getting to know him a bit better wouldn't be as bad as she thought. With that thought an idea popped into her mind, and she wondered if Reno would play along.

"Tell me something about yourself, Reno. Something I don't already know."

"Personal?"

"That's the idea."

"I'm ticklish."

Tifa stopped short on the sidewalk, staring at Reno's back as he walked past her, and then at his face as he turned back to her.

"What?"

"You answered me."

"Didn't think I would, did you?"

"Not really. Ticklish?"

"Yeah. It's something no one knows about me."

"No one?" She continued walking.

"Nope. Your turn."

"What do you mean, my turn?"

"I figure fair's fair, yo."

"Hmmm," Tifa thought. He was right, of course; she had no right asking if she wasn't willing to reciprocate, but what could she share? What did people not know about her?

"I'm addicted to anime."

"You're friends don't know that?"

"I have to lock myself away in my room to watch it, sometimes till four in the morning. The kids won't leave me alone when I'm watching it, Cloud thinks it's stupid, and Yuffie laughed at me when she found me watching Saiyuki. She laughed at me, Reno. Yuffie. Gah. So, no, I don't share that little gem with them. Your turn."

Reno was doing a fine job not chuckling at Tifa's reaction to Yuffie. The ball being back in his court was sobering.

"All right. I'm not as lazy as people think I am. It's a front I let everyone believe."

That was a surprising revelation.

"What about all the other things people believe about you?"

"Mostly exaggerated. I mean, yeah, I've done my fair share of playing, but it's not as bad as people would have you believe. But it helps keep people at a distance. Keeps them on their guard, yo. They never know what to expect."

And yet he was telling her.

"Aren't you afraid I'll let that little secret slip?"

"You won't." He said it as if it had never been in question. He reached out and tugged at her sleeve playfully drawing her attention to him as he came to a stop.

"If I didn't trust you, Lockhart, I wouldn't be talking to you."

Tifa swallowed. Twice. What had she done to earn that trust?

"Let's find a place to sit," he suggested, and turned her back to their walk, leading her in the direction of an out-of-the-way bench, where he sat next to her but turned so he could see her, resting his elbow on the back of the bench and his chin in his hand.

"You're turn, Lockhart."

"I'm afraid of the dark," she admitted after a moments thought.

"Yeah?" He questioned in disbelief.

"I know it's silly, but yeah. When I was a kid it was just the usual, a child's fear, but just as I was growing out of that, I found out what could really be lurking out there. But I love lying out and looking up at the stars. If I have someone there with me."

"Is that something you do often?"

Blushing, she refused to look at him.

"Not really." That was an admission she hadn't been planning on making. Would Reno pick up on the implication there?

If he noticed, he didn't say.

"I'm afraid of clowns."

That, at least, brought the smile back to her face.

"O-okay."

"Can't help it. It's the makeup, yo. It's like they're hiding something from you. They could be monsters under all that stuff."

Tifa had no way of knowing if he was serious or simply trying to cheer her up. Either way, it was adorable.

"So, what do you love?" She had one of his fears, now he owed her one of his likes.

"Walking in the rain." It was hardly the answer she expected.

She opened her soda and took a sip. Becoming aware of his eyes on her, she held out the bottle in offering. Reno studied the bottle in her hand before taking it from her, intentionally brushing his fingers over hers, and tilted it up to his lips. It dawned on Tifa how intimate it was to drink out of the same bottle, but, oddly, she didn't mind.

Tifa had no idea how much time they spent together on that bench, offering up little pieces of their lives, but when next she noticed, the sun had shifted well across the sky, and the bottle they had shared was long empty. She had learned that while she was addicted to roller coasters, Reno loved merry-go-rounds. Reno admitted he regretted not having a family of his own outside Shinra; Tifa admitted that she still mourned her father, a fact she had never shared with anyone. She knew that one of his favorite pastimes was pranking Elena, as she was such a pain in the butt, and he knew that her idea of a prank was purposefully mismatching Cloud's socks when she folded the laundry. His earliest childhood memory was of being beaten by one of his mothers' boyfriends; hers was of her father holding her high above his head and swinging her around and around in circles.

Sharing little and major things, Tifa was amazed that Reno never once refused her an answer, although he didn't elaborate on some of those that it was clear were painful admissions. Surprisingly, she wanted him to elaborate; she wanted to hear those stories, all of them. She also found, as the conversation continued, that she became less guarded as she had originally been when she met him that morning. He had a comfortable, casual way about him that made it easy to talk to him, and while he had a wonderful sense of humor, he was not, as she first assumed, entirely about sarcasm and making fun.

When a passing car horn jerked their attention back to reality, she was shocked to find out how late it had become, and even more so that she regretted having to leave to get the bar ready for opening. Checking her watch to confirm the time, she sighed softly.

"I hate to do this, but I'm gonna have to get my butt in gear if I plan on opening the bar tonight."

Reno hopped up off the bench, offering her a hand up.

"Mind if I walk with you?"

No, she didn't mind. And when he snagged her arm to pull her out of the way of a wayward bicycle, she didn't mind when his hand remained, sliding down to wrap around hers.

They were quiet on the way back to Seventh Heaven, and when they reached the door, Tifa reclaimed her hand.

"Can I ask one more question?"

"Sure." His expression was curious, expectant. Tifa was blushing; he couldn't figure why, but it was adorable.

She had to clear her voice before asking.

"Where are you ticklish?"

Reno burst out laughing, and the pink tint in Tifa's face darkened. He reached out, brushing the tips of his fingers over the heated skin.

"Tell you what," he offered, his voice and expression becoming sensually teasing; "you let me stargaze with you on your next night off, and I'll give you a chance to find out."