A/N: I have to apologize for taking so so so long to upload this. I have many excuses, but the one I will give to all of you is that I have been working my butt off the last three months in order to pay for my last semester of tuition, my rent, and all my bills. I pay for everything myself, and this semester has just been brutal, and I feel like I'm never in a place to write anymore. I'm working so hard to get this story done, but work and school are my two priorities right now. I graduate in May, so I'm not trying to screw up my last semester. I hope you all can understand, and will forgive me when the next chapter takes longer than usual as well. I'm so sorry and I thank everyone who had stuck with this story. You guys really keep me going!
Chapter 15: Start Over
It has been officially one week since Tseng told me that you were gone. He told me you were dead, but I know that he is lying. I know that you wouldn't die so easily. And... I can feel you. The planet tells me that you are alive. But if that's true, then where are you? I wish you would come back. I miss you a lot.
I started selling flowers above the plate. Remember when I told you that I didn't think I would ever be able to do that? I guess I wanted to prove myself wrong, to make you proud of me. I hope that when you come back we can sell them together one day. It would be funny to see you ward off all of the men that try to bring me home with them. Don't worry though! None of them have ever hurt me, I can take care of myself. Of course you already know that.
Tseng has been hovering even more so than usual. He seems very preoccupied though whenever he is here. Like he's here, but his mind is elsewhere. I wonder if he misses you too. He refuses to tell me what really happened to you, so I stopped bugging him. It seems to upset him. I really hope you're alright.
The monster that was protecting me, the one with the wing? It's still here. It usually just hangs out in the rafters, silently watching over me. You'd think that having a monster watching me all the time would be scary, but it's really not. He protected me from some rogue Shinra robots again the other day. I wish it had been you, but I bet you're glad to hear that someone is watching over me in your stead.
I begged Tseng to let me go look for you, but he told me there was no point. I argued with him, and he got very angry with me. I have never seen him so angry, and it upset me, so I never asked him again. I really do want to go find you though. I bet I could find you. The planet would lead me to you. I know it would.
Toby has been very effected by your disappearance. He took it harder than I thought he would have. He took the practice sword you got him and went and tried to kill as many monsters as he could in his anger. His sister had to heal him, that little rascal. You know, she's so opposite from him. She treasures your bracelet, works so hard to become as good as me at healing. I don't think I can bring myself to tell her that I have this ability because of my heritage. She enjoys her work though, and I know that with time she will surpass me. I am overjoyed and humbled by this at the same time. She and her brother are very special. They both miss you so much.
I changed my outfit! I wish you could see it. When you get back, you'll have to tell me how you like it. I'll give you hint about it though, it has more pink in it! I know how much you like pink on me. Don't worry, I still wear the ribbon you bought me. I don't think I will ever take it off. It's all I have left of you now.
Please come back soon. It gets lonely at the church most days now. I miss your laugh. It used to fill the church so loudly, and it would always make me laugh too. Promise you'll laugh for me when you come back? And we can go on another date! I think that would be such a good idea.
Be safe. And know that I'm waiting for you,
Letter after letter, word after word, it was the same thing. "I miss you. Come home soon." Aerith truly believed that Zack was alive, and that he would come back to her. Every letter she expressed wanting to go after him, look for him, bring him home herself. The only thing that stopped her was because she didn't have the means to go. Tseng wouldn't help her, Shinra probably would have gone and brought her right back. She was stuck, and she hated it.
Bee read each and every letter right there in that church, too mesmerized to take a break, or save the rest for later. They were Aerith's words, and she worshipped every pen stroke, every loop, every dot and period and exclamation point. She would run a hand over every page before reading it, as if touching the words would bring them to life in her ears, like Aerith would read them aloud to her. But Aerith was gone, and these letters were more proof than anything else. When she finally finished the last one, she tied them back up and sat to think.
Aerith had waited for Zack for so long. Waited and yearned. Yet what had Bee done when the person she loved disappeared? She made excuses and let him go. Let him go like he had never mattered to her in the first place. Bee laid back in the flowers, noticing again the brown edges, the wilt of the stem, and she was overcome with an overwhelming sadness. She did not cry. She had done enough of that lately. Instead, she thought over very carefully what her life had become, what she wanted it to become, and what she was going to do to get it there. She fell asleep there, surrounded by the flowers of her greatest friend. And she dreamt of Aerith, of Tseng, of Zack, and of Reno. Aerith spoke to her throughout all of them.
"You have to let it all go. Let it go. And start over."
She knew Aerith was right, but she had no idea how to do it. How does a person pick up the pieces of her life so easily? It took Cloud years to piece his life back together. She didn't have years, she knew. She had a matter of days, she figured. What would she even do?
Tseng eventually came back to find her sleeping in the flowers, and woke her gently, telling her that it was growing dark, and that her patients would probably be expecting her soon. Bee barely registered the fact that Tseng had waited for her for several hours without switching with someone else. She just nodded sleepily and stood, grabbed the stack of letters, and held it against her chest as they walked back to the car. She got in, buckled herself up, and then took out her phone.
"Toby," she breathed into the phone when she heard his voice on the other end. She was relieved to hear his voice, to know that he was willing to answer her phone-call.
"Hey..." he said warily, "I wasn't sure if you would ever try to get in contact with me again." He sounded nervous, and Bee couldn't really blame him. She noticed that Tseng had glanced at her briefly, but made no comment on her call.
"I know. I'm really sorry, Toby. I really am. It was so wrong of me to have left like that," Bee tried to explain, willing him to hear just how sorry she was. "I was just so mad that you had left us. Surely you understand?"
"I do, sis. I really do. But you never gave me a chance to say that I was sorry. When I saw mom's body... I realized how badly I had messed up. I was so deluded by the image of SOLDIER, I forgot what really mattered. When I offered you help before it was because I knew I hadn't been there before and I want to be there for you now," Toby told her. His words were slightly jumbled, he was still nervous.
"I know, and I'm sorry that I refused to give you a second chance. I was stubborn. And wrong, and I know that now. I was so quick to yell, I didn't even think to listen to you, to even give you a chance to explain yourself. Can we start over? I want to be part of the family again." Her voice was hopeful, expectant, and Tseng heard just the hint of fear in there. She was afraid Toby wouldn't accept. She knew she would deserve it if he didn't, but she hoped beyond every hope that he would.
"Sis, I would love nothing more than to start over," Toby told her, his voice full of relief, and she could hear his old cheerful self coming back.
"Good, I'm glad," Bee said enthusiastically, also relieved, and extremely ecstatic. She could have a family again! "Listen, tomorrow is my birthday dinner at my friend's bar in Edge. I know that it's really short notice, but I would really like for you to be there. Bring Melinda and Aiden! Reeve is coming, he knows where it is, so you could come with him if you wanted..." She listened, wondering if she was pushing it already. But his voice came, just as cheerful as ever.
"I would love to come!" he exclaimed, maybe a little too eagerly, "I knew it was your birthday, I was going to call you on Saturday if you hadn't called me by then. I will ask Melinda, I'm sure Reeve would be willing to take us. Maybe Mel can meet us, Kalm is much closer..." He continued on, talking about plans for Friday, but Bee did not listen. She was consumed with the joy of knowing that her brother, her nephew, and her sister-in-law would be at her birthday dinner. She would have a family, a real family, at the dinner, something she hadn't had in years.
Toby finally decided that he would call Melinda and ask what she wanted to do, especially since having the baby meant that some modes of transportation would be off-limits. Bee agreed, and asked him to text her with the cemented plans, and they said their good-byes. Then, just before Bee was about to hang up, she heard words that she had not heard in over four years.
"I love you, sis. I really do, and I'm sorry I haven't shown it in the past few years."
Bee felt the prickle of tear drops in her eyes, and she smiled widely. Tseng glanced at her again, and then again but she waved him off, swallowed, and responded in kind.
"I love you too, Toby, and I'm also sorry. I didn't show it either. I will see you tomorrow." They hung up then, and Bee slowly brought the phone away from her ear, snapped it shut, and then let it fall into her lap. She placed her forehead on the window of the car and smiled all the way back into Edge, Aerith's letters held almost possessively in her hands, her thumb stroking the bottom letter.
Tseng drove her all the way back to her shop. She turned to him before she got out and thanked him, but he dismissed her thanks easily.
"It was not entirely selfless," he said with a grimace. When she gave him a confused look, he explained himself, "Toby has been bothering Reeve and the Turks to no end about you. You've obviously been in a lot of pain lately, causing Elena to worry relentlessly about you. And I was hoping that you would talk to Reno. He... has not been himself lately."
"He was... he was supposed to come tomorrow night," Bee told him, trying not to convey sadness and knowing she was failing. "I was looking forward to him being there."
"He still could be," Tseng pointed out, "Look how easily you patched things up with your brother."
Bee looked over at her shop, watching the pink ribbon on the door handle blow in the gentle breeze that had been going through Edge most of that day. The pink was worn; she would need to replace it soon.
"I don't think that Reno will be so easy... Not easy enough to be able to have him come tomorrow at least. Or at all." She frowned, and turned back to Tseng, and saw that he knew this to be true, but did not want to agree. "You know, for the Chief of the Turks, you're not completely unreadable."
That took Tseng by surprise. He lost his composure for what he had thought was the first time that day, letting his surprise show on his face. Bee gave a low chuckle at this, pleased with the fact that she had caught him off-guard.
"You loved Aerith, and you try so hard to hide it. There's no need. You care about your Turks, more than your own life. You want to see me happy because it will make them happy. If the Turks are happy, they work better, their missions become easier to complete. You're secretly a good person, as all the Turks are. You would not have regrets for not saving Zack if you were really a cold-hearted killer like the Turks are claimed to be. You don't want to admit to me that getting through to Reno will probably be harder than either of us think, and we both already think it will be hard. But you don't want to admit that to me because it will dishearten me, and make me not try."
Bee listed these off, each one coming easily to her, as if they were afterthoughts that she had recently remembered. Like a long lost memory. With each one she ticked off, Tseng felt more and more stunned. Reno had never mentioned how well she read people.
"Relax," Bee told him, standing up from the front passenger seat of the car. She placed her hand on the edge of the door and leaned over so that she could still talk to Tseng. "Like the rest of the Turks, that's just the very surface. I bet even Cloud knows all of that. You've got more layers then the rest, I know it. You wouldn't be Chief if you weren't. But for whatever reason you did this, I am grateful. And you should let Rude and Elena know that they can come tomorrow. So can you. I don't have many friends, so there's plenty of room for you all." She shut the car door then and turned to enter her shop after giving Tseng a polite wave.
He sat in stunned silence before chuckling to himself. As he pulled away from the curb, the amusement did not leave. Oh, Reno, he thought to himself after turning the car down the nearest alley way, No wonder you fell so hard for this girl. She see's the best in everyone even when they don't deserve it, doesn't she?
The next night came much too quickly for Bee. She had decided not to talk to Reno Thursday night, and then decided Friday that she would not talk to him then either. There would be no point, she told herself. She had bugged Elena a little about Reno that afternoon. Elena was very surprised, to say the least, as after the first day in the hospital, Bee never brought Reno up again. Having Bee talk about him, let alone ask how he had been doing that day had been a major breakthrough on Bee's part. Elena knew that the boss had planned something the previous day, some field trip, he had called it, for Bee, but she hadn't known what it was for. Clearly, it had been to help the girl with her feelings, and this threw Elena even more.
"He's... well he's not doing so well," Elena finally answered after getting over her initial shock. She didn't mention that to say that Reno wasn't doing well was a huge understatement. She had seen him early that morning, in the Turk's smaller Edge headquarters. They had been meeting there with more frequency than they used to. Bee was their primary mission now. Reno was the only one to guard Rufus on a daily basis, and the president had insisted on coming to Edge to also keep tabs on Bee. Elena had been about to leave for Bee's shop when Reno stalked past her, heading for Rufus's office. He was exceptionally angry that day, more so than he had been in the past week. While all other days he had treated with an annoyance, like a mosquito was following him around all day, he had turned his annoyance up to all new level. Now, it seemed to Elena, that a hive of bees was following him around, with one bee in particular really stinging him. Tseng had already informed her about the birthday dinner that night. Apparently, Reno hadn't forgotten about it, and was not dealing with the fact that he wasn't going to go all that well.
"I'm guessing he's not sick?" Bee asked sullenly. She was not working for once, and had actually taken a break to eat lunch. She had made both herself and Elena sandwiches, bringing a bag of pretzels down and two glasses of water as well. Elena had been touched by the gesture, and ate the plate with much gratitude.
"No, no he's not sick," Elena affirmed, snacking on a pretzel twist and sucking on the salt, "I think we both know why he hasn't been doing well."
"Yeah, we do," Bee agreed, her face pained. She had already eaten half of her sandwich but was suddenly not feeling hungry anymore. She flicked her hair over her shoulder and forced herself to take another bite, washing it down with a gulp of her water. She looked back at Elena afterwards and took a deep breath before saying, "I'm... I'm going to... Well I want to fix it. Do you think he will let me?"
Elena wanted to do anything but answer that question. She took another bite of her sandwich in order to stall, but Bee watched her, expectantly, calculatingly, accusingly. Elena could not avoid answering, she knew, so she told the truth. "I... I don't know, Bee. I'm sorry."
"It's alright," Bee said genuinely, "At least you didn't say no."
They finished their sandwiches in silence, with Bee finally going back to work afterwards, trying to multitask making antidotes for the army, and some healing potions for her shop. She had been neglecting making any more products to sell and had noticed she only had about five healing potions left. She usually kept thirty on hand at all times.
It was while she was making these antidotes and potions that she decided that she needed to talk to Reno eventually. She wanted to put it off, she really did. But she also knew that she couldn't forever. She had been miserable the past week, moving through it like it was a haze. Aside from the more important conversations, she didn't really remember much. What had her and Yuffie talked about just two days ago? What question had Cloud asked her just that morning? Nothing had really mattered to her, and she knew that she couldn't live like that anymore. She hated her routines now. She loathed waking up knowing she was just going to do the same thing as she had done yesterday. Yet wake up and go through the motions was what she had done everyday since she had been released from the hospital. And it was going to end, she decided. She would talk to Reno. Just... not today.
Bee stood tall as she walked herself to the 7th Heaven. She held her head high, telling herself over and over again to be happy with the dinner, the small party her friends were throwing for her. Talk to Nanaki, meet your family, hold your nephew, drink a few drinks, play with Marlene, open presents. She listed the events in her head, ready to act out the night in her best happy-mode. Don't focus on the fact that he isn't there, that he doesn't want to be there. You can fix it. Later.
Everyone was there already when she walked through the front door to the bar. This surprised her; she had assumed that she was going to be early, would be able to help Tifa with setting up. Apparently, Tifa had told her an hour late instead of an hour early, and Bee felt humbled by her friend's thoughtfulness. She closed the door, and turned the sign to "CLOSED" and then locked the door for emphasis. Tifa had already warned her regulars that the bar would be closed that night for a private party.
The click of the door shutting caught Cid's attention, as he was the closest to the door at the time. He had been leaning on the side wall, smoking a cigarette as usual, but he turned when he heard the door.
"Hey! Brat's here! Drinkin' can finally start!" he exclaimed, turning the heads of everyone else in the room. He moved forward to clasp Bee's shoulder. "Happy Birthday, kid."
"Thank you, Cid," Bee said with a nod and a smile up at him. She found herself in a better mood now, touched by Tifa's gesture of making sure she did no work for her own party, and amused by Cid (then again, she was always amused by Cid).
She greeted all her other friends as well, thanking Tifa and Cloud, hugging the three younger children, being engulfed in a large hug by Barret, kneeling down to give Nanaki a hug around the neck and nuzzling his fur, getting a handshake and smile from Reeve, and receiving a gruff hello and nod from Vincent. She was surprised to see that Tseng, Rude, and Elena had all actually showed up, and were all wearing civilian clothing. Elena wore a pretty sundress and sandals that Bee thought especially suited her. Rude had opted for jeans and a dress shirt, much like his white Turk shirt, but dark green in color. Tseng had deviated the least from his uniform, and Rude and Elena had teased him about not being comfortable in civvies. He had worn black dress pants and a white shirt, both different form his Turk uniform, but the colors had been so similar that Bee had thought he had just taken off his blazer before entering the bar. However, Bee noticed that the shirt was loose, flowing almost, and his pants had a stripe going down each side. The Turks all assured her that they had brought guns, Elena's strapped to her leg under her dress, in order to protect Bee. She had waved them off, and had thanked them each for coming, her mood lightening even more at their presence.
That left Toby, his wife, and their son. Bee had walked up to them shyly, ducking her head in embarrassment when Toby first greeted her. But he had given her his big bear hug, wished her a happy birthday, and then brought her over to meet Melinda. She looked exactly like she did in the picture Toby had shown her before, only perhaps a little prettier. The photo it seemed had not done her justice. However, she radiated with happiness at finally meeting Bee, handing the baby off to Toby in order to embrace Bee.
"I'm so happy, just so happy to finally meet you. Toby was devastated when he couldn't find you after Meteorfall. Couldn't sleep for weeks, wouldn't eat. And I'm just so overjoyed to have a sister. I lost my family a while ago in the Wutai War, it's so great to have a family again," she gushed into Bee's ear during the hug. Bee pulled back and told her it was an honor to meet her brother's wife. Melinda waved her off saying, "An honor! No! The honor is to be together, as a family! Here, come meet Aiden."
The baby was plopped unceremoniously into Bee's arms, and had she not dealt with babies previously, Bee felt that she would have dropped him with how eagerly Toby handed him to her. Aiden was blonde as well, but had Toby's hazel eyes. He was beautiful to Bee, and she gazed down at the tiny life in her arms and she felt as if the world has slowed down. This tiny being was her nephew, her own blood. Her brother had made this thing, this baby boy. It was simply beyond her comprehension. Even with her healing skills, Bee could not create life, nobody could. She could resuscitate the dead, could cure almost any illness, but she could not bring forth what her brother and sister-in-law had.
Aiden stared up at her with wide eyes, old enough to be able to focus on things close to his face. When Bee asked how old he was, she was told that he would be a year old in a month. A year, but he was so tiny to Bee! So foreign! And he was her nephew! Bee couldn't get over it. She had someone who would look up to her now as the years went by. She would be the example to this child, as Aerith had been to her. Now, she was the one leading, and it was a responsibility that Bee took upon her shoulders with the utmost joy. She smiled at the boy in her arms, and leant down to kiss his forehead. Aiden smiled, his gums glistening in the light of the bar, and Bee felt like she was losing herself in those hazel eyes, so much like her mother's eyes. She became aware of how tight she was holding the baby, and worried that she might hurt him. Who knew how fragile he was? Her world halted in that baby's gaze and Bee had never felt more terrified and captivated at the same time.
She looked up at her brother and his wife, and gave them a smile. "He's so beautiful. Would you mind if I held him a little longer?"
"Of course not! Go right ahead!" Melinda told her happily. Beside her, Toby looked down at his sister with such pride that Bee felt that her heart might break. How could she ever have been mad at him? He obviously loved her more than his own life. It had just taken him a little bit longer to realize it. "Hold him as long as you want!"
Bee thanked her, and then swayed Aiden in her arms, gently rocking him back and forth, moving her hips too and fro. He gave a joyous giggle at the motion and Bee's heart swooned. How strange it was to fall in love with a tiny creature so easily, she pondered. She left her brother then, assuring him that she would bring Aiden back, but wanted to go talk to everyone else. She walked over to Tifa, Aiden still grasped gently in her arms. Tifa cooed over the baby, waggling a finger in his face, making him giggle again. Bee paraded her nephew around to everyone in the room, even though Melinda had probably already done the same thing before she had even entered the bar. But Bee did not care. She was an aunt now, and this was her beautiful nephew, and she had never been prouder to walk around to all of her friends. Even Vincent made an effort to show interest in the baby, waving his gold gauntlet in front of Aiden's face, who was mesmerized by his reflection in the gold metal.
Aiden remained in Bee's arms as she walked over to the food, as she asked for a glass of water, as she sat and talked with Nanaki for a half hour, and then even to feed. She held the bottle of milk in her hand clumsily, having never fed a baby in her life. But Aiden took the bottle and suckled easily, grasping with his tiny hands at the sides of the plastic. Bee was pleased with herself, and it was here that she looked up, extremely eager to share her triumph, only to find that the object of her bragging was missing. Reno was not there. She didn't honestly think he'd care that she was feeding a baby, but nonetheless, he had been there for so many of her other first experiences, she wanted him to witness this. To give a snide remark, to grin down at her, to show in his eyes that he was secretly happy for her, but would make fun of her for it later on. But there was no red head standing next to her. No tall lanky male to smirk down at her. And for the first time that night, she felt her heart sink. But the moment passed quickly, and Aiden cried out, pulling her attention back to the boy in her arms.
Melinda finally took Aiden back when Bee was ushered over to the bar, and told that she had presents. She sat on a bar stool, waiting patiently for Toby to present her with a present that he claimed was from "her family." He handed her a thin, flimsy, wrapped square. She unwrapped it gently, and saw that it was a magazine; a first issue of "The Edge Science." It had originally been a magazine that Bee had read constantly while in Midgar, back when it was called "The Midgar Science." It published many great theories on materia, magic, inventions, and alchemy. Some of Bee's best theories were generated from the ideas in that magazine. As she lifted it, a paper fell from the front page. She picked it up and read:
"We would be delighted to have you write for our magazine. We have heard of your shop and your work with the people of Edge, and we believe that your contribution to the study of alchemy would greatly benefit not only our magazine, but also all future generations of alchemists. We are willing to give you your own segment. Please send us back articles that you wish to have published, and we will have our editors go over them beforehand. Thank you for showing interest in 'The Edge Science' magazine. We hope to hear from you soon."
Bee read the small letter in disbelief, then gazed up at her brother in awe. He and Melinda smiled down at her, and Toby looked very smug with himself.
"I didn't know what to get you," he said with shrug, "I haven't seen you in so many years, I didn't want to get you something that you already had. So I figured, why not enter your name to be the next alchemist writing for the best modern science magazine on the planet? I think you'd be able to write some really great stuff, don't you?"
The magazine and the letter scrunched a bit in Bee's hands. She smiled at her brother, clutching the magazine closer to her chest, and then nodded. "Yeah, I think I can too. Thank you both so much." She stood and hugged the two of them, avoiding crushing Aiden while hugging Melinda. They told her it was nothing, such an easy present, but Bee didn't think they understood how much this meant to her. They had given her one of the greatest gifts that a person of science could ask for; the gift of sharing the findings that one worked so hard to get to. She was brought back to the bar by Tifa who's smile threatened to crack her face.
"Now, we all chipped in and got you these..." Tifa told her, lifting a large bin onto the bar stool next to Bee. She peered over the sides to see that there were several large items, all wrapped, and then some smaller items, covered in tissue paper. Bee ripped the wrapping paper of one of the bigger items, curiously. She had honestly no idea what they could have been.
It was when Bee noticed that what she had unwrapped was a small carrying cage that she heard the meow from the other side of the bar. She perked her head up quickly, her eyes darting for the sound, when she saw Marlene coming down from the last step of the stair case. In her arms was a small cat, not a kitten, but not yet a full adult. It was white, except for four brown paws, a brown stripe running the length of its back, and a brown tip on the end of the tail. It was sleek, its coat shiny, its eyes the brightest blue Bee had ever seen, and it was being held out to her.
"He's just a year old," Yuffie told her happily, "Already litter trained, fully outdoor cat, so you can bring him with you when you visit your patients if you want! He's perfectly healthy, got all of his shots! And he's very gentle too, perfect for you!"
Bee took the cat into her arms, the feeling of fur very different from the softness of baby skin that had been there previously. But the weight was almost the same, and the eyes caught hers, just as Aiden's had. Bee scratched its head with one hand, and it leant its head into her gesture, purring under Bee's other hand.
"You're always alone at home," Marlene told her disapprovingly, "We wanted you to always have company and someone to cuddle!" She looked up at Bee with hopeful eyes, and Bee knelt down in front of her.
"Thank you, Marlene," Bee said sincerely. She gave Marlene a hug, and the cat meowed again at the contact. Bee stood then and turned to look at her friends, the ones that had been there for her at the very beginning of her new life, and she smiled at them all, hugging the cat closer to her and petting its head. "Thank you all so much." There was a chorus of welcomes, a few nods, and Tifa finally explained that the presents in the bin were everything Bee would need to take care of cat.
"What will you call him?" Denzel asked her, taking his own turn to pet the cat now.
Bee's first instinct was to call the cat Zack, but she threw that idea away just as fast as it came. It was too cliché for her, and Zack could never have his name carried on with a cat, of all things. So instead, she picked the next name that came to her head.
"Dax," she announced, looking down at the cat in her arms, deciding that it fit him perfectly.
"That's the name of the main character in Materia Rush!" Denzel said, recognizing the name instantly.
"Yeah. That's Reno's favorite mov-" Her voice caught in her throat as she realized what she was saying, and why she had picked the name. She cleared her throat and ignored the many looks she was receiving, and focused on Denzel instead. "He was very brave, Dax. Wasn't he? I think that this here cat is going to be brave. I'll teach him to follow me all through Edge. And climb with me."
Oblivious, Denzel laughed and agreed, turning to Marlene and Shelke and talking animately about the movie, and Bee turned away from him. Still ignoring everyone else, she lifted the cat off of her chest and held it up to her shoulders, urging him to take a seat there. It took a little coaxing, but eventually Dax draped his lithe frame over both Bee's shoulders, stretching around her neck and swinging his tail languidly along her back. She scratched his head, earning a purr, and then went digging for a treat out of the bin, rewarding him for his new trick. She liked the little guy already.
The cake was brought out right after, a futile attempt made by Tifa to blow past the awkward slip of tongue Bee had had. The cake was delicious, but as Bee ate it, it tasted dry and crumbly, turning to ash in her mouth. That was twice already she had thought of Reno. Now, it seemed, that no matter where she turned in the bar, she wished he was there. She pictured him sitting at the bar, drinking a beer. Standing in the corner with Tseng, their voices low. Making fun of Rude's shirt. Eating a slice of her cake, making a mess of his face with icing. Standing beside her, talking about their mountain trip tomorrow. The mountain trip. How easy it had been to forget about that, even though she had been so looking forward to it, so excited by Reno's offer. Dax shifted on her shoulders and Bee felt that somebody was standing behind her.
It turned out to be three somebodies. Three Turks to be precise. She greeted them with a strained smile, nodding a head at them, and asking if they wanted cake. They all declined, stating that that was not the reason they had come over to her.
"We have a birthday present for you," Elena told her, her voice low as if she did not want the others to overhear her.
"You do?" Bee asked, immediately apologizing. She had not meant to sound surprised, or ungrateful. She just had really not expected a gift, nor did she feel she needed one from the Turks. She told them this, but they waved her off.
"It was nothing we had to buy," Tseng explained. "In fact, it is very simple, really." He held a hand out to Bee, and she took the object he was presenting her with. It was a small folded over strip of paper. She took it curiously, not really sure what she was just handed.
"It's an address," Rude told her. "Reno's address."
"What?!" Bee drew her hand back quickly, as if she had been stung, but the paper was still clutched in her hand. Dax gave a meow, having been jostled on her shoulders. She lifted a hand to lazily scratch an ear again, calming the animal down. "Why would you give me this?"
"Because he refuses to answer his phone," Tseng explained as if it should have been obvious. "For any of us."
"We tried calling him several times today," Elena added, looking at Bee sadly. She seemed softer to Bee in her sundress. Like a big sister trying to explain something to a younger sibling and not knowing how to do it without upsetting them. "But he just won't answer us. We saw him this morning and then... Nothing. Rufus is at the WRO headquarters, so Reno isn't guarding him. Reno is off-duty. We all are for tonight."
"But I don't understand," Bee urged, shaking her head, "Why would you need to call him? Did he have a mission or something?"
"We wanted him to come," Rude told her. She stared at him, silently asking him to continue, but he didn't, not that Bee was very surprised.
"He needs to get over all this!" Elena said exasperatedly, her shoulders hunching a bit. "He should have came today, worked things out with you, but instead he's running away. He's been running away for a week now, won't listen to anything we've said to him. You need to talk to him."
"What makes you think he'd listen to me?" Bee asked disbelievingly. She had yet to open the slip of paper, but had not thrown it out either. It was stuck in the palm of her hand, burning her skin and making her feel fidgety.
"You are the only one he would listen to," Tseng told her, "You mean the most to him out of anyone else that he knows. He has never cared for a person more fully than he has cared for you. He values your opinion more than he values any of ours now. You took over his life completely."
"Then why have you been encouraging me to go see him?" Bee argued. Dax sat more alert on her shoulders at her aggressive tone. "Shouldn't you want me to never see him again because I'm distracting him from his work?"
"You do the opposite," Rude replied. He looked thoughtfully down at his partner's friend, and again noticed how small she looked compared to Reno. She was more than a child, that was apparent, but she exuded innocence, and Rude saw how that appealed to his friend. "You focus him. Give him something to look forward to at the end of a mission. Without you now, he has become more aggravated, going to extreme measures in order to get what he wants. He is Reno without life. He is a hollow shell."
Once again, when Rude finally opened his mouth, the most impacting and eloquent words came forth. Words that made Bee think. She was suddenly very aware of the paper in her hand again, and it felt heavy to her. Heavy enough that she wanted to get rid of it, but not before reading its contents. With shaking hands, she opened the paper and read the address, and then ripped the paper into tiny little pieces, letting them fall to the floor. She watched them swirl, flicker, and land on the wood of the bar floor where they rested, their job complete.
"Tell Tifa," Bee told the three in a rush. They nodded, and she dashed out of the bar, past her brother and Cid, but she gave no explanation. She ran right out the door and down the street, feeling much like she had when she ran out of the WRO building. Again, her mind buzzed with adrenaline, and she dared not take a breath and clear it. If she did that, she would have the ability to think about her spontaneous decision. She would be able to think long enough to decide to run back to the bar, back to the shelter of Tifa and the familiar smell of sticky counter tops and stale beer. And she knew she would remain there, never gaining the courage to do what she was doing now.
Buildings whipped by, and she barely took noticed of where she was going until she realized that she had just passed her shop. She had recognized the address of Reno's apartment. She passed the complex a lot on various trips throughout the city. Who knew that he had lived there this entire time? It was less than a ten minute walk away from her shop. So close, yet she had never known. He had never offered the information, and she had never asked. It was part of the life that Reno had never been willing to part with her. Part of the life that she wanted to be involved in. Part of the life that she craved, and would do anything now to learn about.
The apartment complex was on the smaller side, about four stories high. Bee climbed the stairs to the top floor and noticed that it was fairly clean. There was no trash on the any of the steps, the carpets along the hallway that lead to Reno's door had been vacuumed recently, there were still wheel marks lining them. Even the door to Reno's place was well polished, there were no dents and the handle was a bright gold. Then again, Reno probably didn't get many visitors.
Well, Bee thought as she raised a hand and knocked on the door, Here's your first one. Let's hope it's a good visit.