Sundays were early nights at Seventh Heaven, a fact Tifa was grateful for as she flipped the sign on the door from Open to Sorry, We're Closed. Although it was only seven in the evening, the wet, windy weather and grumbling customers had made the day seem far longer. As one hand massaged the tight muscles in her neck, she walked behind the bar to grab a tray so she could start clearing tables.
She was on the third load – this one filled with tumblers and half-empty beer mugs – when she turned and ran smack into a man wearing a sloppy suit. Shoving the tray at him in reflexive defense, she let out a shriek of surprise that only doubled when he failed to catch the laden object she'd forced on him, spilling stale beer and melted ice over their legs.
Metal hit the floor with a clang and a sneaker-clad foot with a curse, accompanied by the shattering of a large quantity of glassware. Then there was silence except for the soft drip of liquid from clothing and chairs.
For Tifa, slowly fading shock was fanned instantly into anger when the man – Reno – awkwardly cleared his throat, shuffled squelching feet and asked, "Hey, Tifa... is Cloud around?"
It was an amazingly stupid question.
First, had Cloud been around, Reno wouldn't have to ask as he would have made his appearance – along with several feet of steel somewhere frighteningly close to Reno's person – within seconds of her scream. Secondly, who in their right mind tried to play "business as usual" when dripping the sticky dregs of someone else's beer? And finally, he couldn't possibly imagine she was just going to answer his question and ignore the mess he'd caused!
Reno fought not to gulp in trepidation as Tifa's gaze snapped from the floor to his face. "We're closed!" she said, pointing at the sign. "What are you doing in here?"
"Um... ah... lookin' for Cloud?"
"He's. Not. Here." Every word was clearly enunciated in order to underline her annoyance.
"Oh. Okay then. I'll just..."
"Don't you dare!"
Already backing away, he spared a glance at her clenched fists and said a silent prayer of thanks that she wasn't wearing her gloves. Tifa was always dangerous, but armed she was frightening. "I'll look for him somewhere else, yo?"
"Reno..." the growl was menacing enough to stop his retreat at the doorway. "If you want his help with whatever it is, you'd better be going to fetch a mop. Maybe a broom. And a dustpan."
Huh. That was an odd threat, but plain and annoyingly accurate just the same. Tifa didn't run to Cloud for protection, but she was definitely angry enough to share the details of this little altercation. If she didn't get what she wanted – Reno's help cleaning up the mess he'd caused – he wouldn't get what he wanted: Cloud's cooperation on an upcoming job. Cloud didn't like it when people messed with Tifa; if she was annoyed, Cloud would flatly refuse all overtures until she'd been appeased.
Well... not if it was truly important, like saving someone's life. But this wasn't, damn it.
Reno glanced around the bar, surveying the mess, and then imagined himself in an apron and wielding a mop to clean it up. Cloud's help so wasn't worth that hassle.
Except the boss had sent him on this errand, and was unlikely to agree.
"That's bribery!" he tried instead, hoping to appeal to Tifa's better nature.
"It's closer to blackmail, actually," she retorted, "and it wouldn't be necessary if you could read."
"I can read! I just didn't think the sign applied to friends." It was a low blow, but he knew Tifa was a soft touch if you could get on her good side.
"Reno, we're not friends. The only time we interact is when you need a favor or Sephiroth is on a rampage. I realize you're a Turk and may not understand this, but saving the world is not a social activity! It does not qualify as a friendly get together. We're... business associates at best."
Damn. The woman could really lecture. He should've remembered that after hearing her give it to Cloud. As if on cue, from outside came the low rumble of Fenrir, further complicating things for him. His shoulders slumped in response, an action Tifa was quick to catch.
"So what'll it be? Are you going to help me or not?" Arms crossed across her chest, a small smile teasing her lips, she looked like she'd be equally happy with either choice... probably because she knew he felt differently.
Reno waffled another minute more, grimacing at the wet noises his shoes made as he shifted his weight. Then Cloud was in the doorway, eyeing Reno with suspicion as he took in the mess on the floor.
"Tifa? What happened?" Cloud was soft-spoken as usual, his tone concerned and careful, but there was a hint of growl there as well: a warning that he could and would show his teeth if it was necessary.
She opened her mouth to respond, but Reno managed it a split second sooner. "Some punk hid in the restroom after last call! Came rushing out with a knife after everyone else was gone." Tifa couldn't help but be impressed at the Turk's ability to spin a spur-of-the moment story. He even managed to sound indignant, and probably would have fooled the kids. Who, if she didn't miss her guess, were probably listening in from the landing on the stairs.
Cloud on the other hand... One blond brow arched in a mixture of surprise and disbelief. Skepticism. The idea of anyone trying such a thing in Seventh Heaven – where the barmaid was also the bouncer, and had helped save the planet twice – was slim to none. It'd have to be someone new in town, and with the kids upstairs, Tifa kept a close eye on anyone that wasn't familiar. "Was the punk's name Reno?"
"What? No! I was looking for you and heard the crash – helped chase the wannabe off, yo!" Tifa could almost believe Reno's offense wasn't feigned, and she knew he was making the whole thing up. "I was offering to help clean up just as you came home." His self-righteous preening, on the other hand, was going a bit overboard.
Cloud gave the Turk a long, assessing look, then sighed. "What do you want, Reno?"
Tifa had to turn away, ostensibly to find a trash can and mop, in order to hide her smile. It was obvious to her that Cloud knew exactly what had really happened.
Reno, on the other hand, was oblivious, and began explaining his errand with his usual zeal. "The boss wants to hire you as a weekly courier between him and the WRO. He's made a deal with Tuesti regarding opening and investigating all of the Shin-Ra holdings where Hojo had offices or labs." One hand raised to tap his electro-mag rod against his shoulder in a familiar gesture of confidence, but he thought better of it when he noticed the sticky streaks of beer that had dried along its length. He cleared his throat instead, letting the rod pat his damp pant leg in a twitchy rhythm. "Nobody wants copies of Ol' Creepy's data floating around, but information will be going back and forth regularly between our company and the WRO. The courier has to be someone the president can trust. With public opinion being what it is, he doesn't want the Turks making the deliveries."
"Which leaves me." Cloud's tone was resigned. While Reno had been talking, the swordsman-cum-delivery-boy had crouched to help Tifa, and the broken glasses had already been picked up. Rising, he took the trash can back behind the bar, while Tifa began efficiently wielding a mop. "Fine. I'll meet with Rufus tomorrow and see if his story is as good as yours."
The sarcasm there was rife, and Tifa had to bite her lip to keep from laughing outright.
Reno, on the other hand, was both elated and relieved: Strife had cleaned up the mess for him, and he had agreed to meet with the boss! "Thanks, yo!" he called over his shoulder as he turned to leave, "I'll tell the boss to expect you." His hand was already on the door when Cloud's voice stopped him.
"Reno... for your help tonight," and the redhead cringed involuntarily at the emphasis in those words, "we'll expect a case of beer mugs and another of tumblers tomorrow afternoon." Turning to protest, the Turk froze under Cloud's stern mako-enhanced gaze. "Or, we can just add the cost to your tab."
Now that was a bit more promising. Rude generally paid all Reno's tabs, simply so he could continue to enjoy their regular haunts himself. "Yeah, add it to my tab," he agreed, relaxing into his nonchalant slouch for the first time since Cloud's arrival. At the other man's nod, he once again turned toward the door.
"Reno!" This time it was Tifa's voice that stopped him before he made his escape.
"What?" Who knew that relief could make a man testy?
"With the glasses added to your tab, you're going to owe us around five thousand gil." Tifa had ordered enough of the things to know what they cost by now. "Maximum tab I allow anyone to carry is two thousand. You'll need to pay the other three tonight."
The Turk blinked at her in disbelief. "Or what?"
"Or," Cloud's tone was the same as ever, but Reno still felt the man was laughing at him, "I collect the money from Rufus tomorrow, and make sure he knows why." As he finished speaking, he leaned back against the bar and crossed his arms. From his perspective, the conversation was obviously over.
Reno grumbled a bit more but eventually handed the money over – he even paid in full, having no plans to come back to Seventh Heaven again. Ever. "I still say this is bribery," he accused, heading toward the door and determined to leave this time, no matter what.
"Blackmail," Cloud and Tifa chorused in response, and then the door shut behind him, inadequately muffling their subsequent laughter.