Slightly AU as far as timeline goes. I decided to ignore some events and change others. The story runs from pre-game through AC.
Rated M for language, violence, and suggestive situations.
For What It's Worth – Chapter One
He sauntered into the bar well before closing time, but the place was empty save for the bartender who sat at a table on the far wall, huddled under a blanket. A lone candle served as the only source of light in the otherwise pitch-black room.
"This is harassment, Reno," Tifa said through gritted teeth. "It's a new low, even for you."
The Turk cocked an eyebrow, while a corner of his mouth turned up into a smirk. "You underestimate me, Lockhart. I've done way worse things than this."
Smug bastard. "You cut off my power!"
"I thought that'd get your attention. Y'know, since past due notices and phone calls don't seem to be getting through to you." Reno looked at the shot glass and half-empty bottle sitting on the table in front of Tifa, and his smirk quickly became a full-on grin. "Not only does she serve liquor, she can hold it pretty well, too." He sat down at the seat across from her, and tipped his chair back until it rested on two legs.
Everything about his posture radiated confidence, and Tifa's jaw clenched as she realized that although this was her bar, Reno seemed to be in complete control. The red-haired Turk grabbed the bottle and glass, and began to pour a healthy shot for himself. "When'd ya get to be such a lush?"
"When you turned off my heat," Tifa ground out as she watched him toss back the shot.
"Ugh. Brandy?" Reno pulled a face and pushed the liquor back to the middle of the table. "I can think of better ways to keep you warm…"
"What exactly are you doing here?" she asked, quickly becoming irritated. "Do they always send Turks out to collect on late payments, or is this a special form of punishment? Did you get demoted?"
He leant forward to put all four chair legs back on the floor. There was a strange gleam in his eyes, and Tifa could tell that he was enjoying himself. "We drew straws, actually. I won."
The bartender simply stared back at him and crossed her arms, pulling the blanket tighter around her as she waited for him to continue.
"Alright, you got me," Reno said finally, raising his hands in mock defeat. "The late bills are only half the reason I'm here." Suddenly, his pleasant demeanor vanished, and the Turk was all business. "Obviously we've been investigating several leads on the terrorists that call themselves 'AVALANCHE', and we were…surprised to hear the 7th Heaven mentioned. Things got even stranger when the owner of that bar stopped paying her bills to the Shinra Company. Coincidence?"
"I doubt it," Tifa said, not missing a beat. "Rumors like that are probably why people haven't been coming into the bar much lately." A ghost of a smile crossed Reno's face, and to Tifa, it looked almost genuine.
"That's not what I was going to say. It's a...possible explanation. Possible, but unlikely. Answer me honestly, Lockhart. Are you a member of the terrorist group, 'AVALANCHE'?"
"I'm afraid I don't know how to respond to your question, Reno." At that, the knowing smirk was back on his face, and Tifa clenched her fists in an attempt to reign in her temper.
"It's a simple yes or no question, babe. There's not much to think about." This time it was Tifa's turn to smile, and she leaned forward, dropping the blanket from her shoulders as she moved.
"Alright, then. Tell me, what would you do if I said, 'yes'?"
"I'd haul your ass back to Shinra headquarters."
"…And with good reason. Now what would you do if I answered, 'no'?"
"I'd assume you're lying, knock you out, and then haul your ass back to Shinra headquarters."
"Since I would prefer not to do either of those things, I'll have to refrain from answering the question."
"That only makes me more suspicious," the Turk said, laughing. Tifa shrugged and allowed herself a small, victorious smile. A joking Reno was still extremely dangerous, but a serious Reno scared her more than she wanted to admit.
"Okay," she began, trying to steer the conversation away from AVALANCHE. "What will it take to get my heat back and get you the hell out of my bar?"
"Well, you could pay your bill in full, plus interest."
"And what would that run me?"
The bar owner frowned. "That's an awful lot of interest."
"And you're awfully late in making your payments."
"Point taken. But I still can't pay it."
Reno thought for a moment. "You could…"
He blinked. "I didn't say anything yet."
"I've seen that look before, and the answer's 'no.'" The red-headed Turk flashed a smile that made her breath catch in her throat.
"Why would you automatically think it's something dirty, Lockhart?" Tifa managed to cover her embarrassment with a doubtful look. "Alright. Fair enough. You have every reason to think that. So how would you propose we settle this debt of yours?"
Tifa stood up, grabbing the blanket from off the chair as she walked to the counter at the back of her bar. The Turk, unable to contain his curiosity, also left the table, taking the woman's shot glass and liquor with him. Reno handed them to her, and she muttered her thanks as she dropped the glass into the sink and placed the bottle of brandy back on the shelf.
She pulled a lighter from her pocket and dropped into a crouch, sitting back on her heels in front of a small black safe. Tifa flicked on the lighter and put her hand on the combination dial before turning her head to look back at the Turk. He was propped up by his elbows on the counter, his lanky body stretched backwards while he watched her intently. "Don't look," Tifa said as she started to enter the combination.
"Wouldn't dream of it…" he murmured. Reno didn't particularly care about the safe. He was too busy staring at the dark-haired bartender to pay attention to anything else. If she was trying to hide something, she wouldn't have put it somewhere as obvious as a safe anyway.
After a few turns, Tifa pulled a small stack of bills out, and then closed the door before she cleared the dial. She then stood up and held the money out for him to take.
"Are you bribing me?" Reno asked, reaching out to take the cash. His fingers brushed against hers and lingered just long enough for her to notice. She pulled her hand back quickly, and silently cursed the Turk for making her blush. Part of her was glad it was so dark in the bar, and she hoped that he hadn't seen the pink tinge blooming on her cheeks.
"For my bill."
"This is only two-fifty," Reno said as he thumbed through the money.
"It's all I have right now. I planned to use it to restock my shelves, but the alcohol won't do me any good if I can't even light the place."
"That's the spirit. We'll take this as a sign of your goodwill and your cooperation with the Shinra Company." He straightened up and tucked the money into the inner pocket of his suit. "When can I expect the rest?"
"I can probably have it in a couple days." The Turk nodded, and turned to head for the door. "Wait. What about my electricity?"
"First thing tomorrow," he said, glancing over his shoulder at her.
"Tomorrow? What am I supposed to do tonight?" Reno stood still for a moment before he turned around completely. He thrust his hands into his pockets and walked purposefully back towards her. The Turk stopped with only inches between them, and it was close enough for her to feel the body heat radiating off him. Tifa's eyes were level with Reno's chest, and she found herself staring at the prominent collar bones visible through the open V of his white shirt. She willed herself to look up at his face, and found him staring at her with a steadiness she rarely saw in him.
"The offer still stands," he said softly, without any hint of a smile or a leer. "I'll warm your bed, Lockhart."
Tifa fought the instinct to step away from him, and prayed that her voice sounded stronger than she felt.
"No?" he repeated.
"You're…not my type…" she ended lamely. Of all the reasons you could have given him, that was the best you could come up with? Tifa thought, mentally berating herself.
The Turk seemed particularly amused by that. "Really. What is your type? Boring? Gentle? Nice?"
"There's nothing wrong with that," Tifa said defensively. Reno leaned in until she could feel his breath on her lips.
"I could change your mind."
"I don't think…" she began, but that was all the further she got, as he closed the last gap between them, and the rest of the thought fled from her mind. Tifa felt his lips move slowly against hers, but was too stunned to do anything about it. Reno seemed to become impatient with her and bit her lip harshly, causing her to gasp in surprise. That was all the opening he needed, and he used the opportunity to deepen the kiss. The Turk moved one hand to the back of Tifa's head, and she found herself leaning into his touch. But almost as soon as she started to respond, he broke off the kiss and took a step backwards.
Tifa brought a hand to her mouth and winced as she touched the spot where he'd bitten her. "Nice guys don't kiss like that."
"True," he said with a smile. "But you liked it."
Reno walked to the front of the bar and stopped to look back at Tifa with the door half open. "Pleasant dreams, babe." And with a wink, he was out the door.
"Are you sure?" Tseng asked him again. "We're trying to run a company, and we can't deal with another PR nightmare. This needs to be dealt with quickly."
Reno switched his phone to his right hand and pushed the left deep into his pocket, cursing the cold as well as his luck. He would have much rather been back in the 7th Heaven, hands tangled in her hair, and…
"Yeah. Yeah, if I'm sure of anything, it's this: Tifa Lockhart is AVALANCHE."