Notes: Written for Hakuen on LJ, who had the winning bid on my FFVII Help Japan auction.
A loud slam, followed by a curse and a strangled yell, had Tifa startling awake to a dark room and an empty bed. The mattress beside her was still warm, so she guessed that Cloud had only just left. Quickly slipping out from under the covers she followed suit, tiptoeing down the hall to the kids' room. Despite fighting bedtime tooth and nail earlier in the evening, both Denzel and Marlene were sound asleep; hoping they would stay that way, she closed the door firmly against any further noise.
Continuing down the hall, she reached the landing in front of Cloud's office. There the faint whispers coming from the bar resolved into two discernable voices: one the familiar but slurred protestations of Reno, the other the unmistakable bass rumble of an angry Barret. At the foot of the stairs, a darker shadow against the gray of the dimly lit bar, she could just make out Cloud's figure where he was leaning against the wall. He was watching something out of her range of sight, and judging by the faint tremor in his shoulders, was both completely relaxed and thoroughly amused.
Without looking behind him he held out a hand, pulling her down to join him when she took it. "What's going on?" she whispered, standing on the step above his with her chest pressed to his back.
"Barret apparently came to stay awhile," he murmured in answer, "and he surprised our other guest coming back from the restroom."
It wasn't unusual for Marlene's "Papa" to show up unexpectedly, as it was his habit to visit anytime he happened to be passing close to Edge. They'd given him a key so he could let himself in whenever such an occasion presented itself. As for Reno, although such instances were considerably less common, it also wasn't the first time he'd slept off an impromptu binge on one of the long benches in the bar.
But it was the first time both men had stayed at the Seventh Heaven at the same time.
"Didn't you hear him?" SOLDIER senses were the best alarm system ever devised; nobody robbed the Seventh Heaven, so it was highly improbable that Barret – even at his quietest – could enter without Cloud noticing.
He nodded, rumpled golden spikes tickling her chin. "Yeah. Both of them."
When he didn't add anything further, she poked him in the arm. "So? Why are we standing here instead of intervening before the posturing stops and the carnage begins?" She liked the building the way it was. The furniture, too.
A huff of laughter came in reply. "Just watch. In most ways, Barret is a lot more intimidating than I am." When Tifa poked him again he caught her fingers, saying in a fair approximation of Yuffie's excited tones and phrasing: "What? This is gonna be, like... the best. Intervention. Ever."
"Assuming Reno remembers in the morning," she grumbled, but couldn't completely stifle her answering amusement. Resting her head atop his, she leaned into him to peek around the corner. Barret had Reno's lanky, disheveled form pinned up against the wall outside the men's room, gun-arm trained on his target while he seemed to be taking a visual inventory of Seventh Heaven. The sight prompted her to duck her face into Cloud's shoulder to stifle a surprised laugh. She'd known Barret still didn't trust the Turks, but... to suspect them of petty thievery?
"What?" she heard Reno ask, sounding aggrieved, "Are you the bathroom bouncer now?" Barret merely snorted in response, continuing his search. Although very, very drunk Reno finally recognized the scrutiny for the unvoiced accusation it was, and his features contorted with affront. "Oi!" he said, shifting sideways in a bid for freedom. "I swear I didn't take anything."
"Talk to the hand, Turk," Barret replied dismissively, eyeing the register. He was fairly sure Tifa removed the cash drawer every night. "The ears ain't listenin'."
Tifa's mouth dropped open in shock, even as Cloud convulsed against her in more silent laughter. Barret had not just used one of Yuffie's favorite comebacks. Admittedly, it made an impressive retort when the hand in question could morph into an extremely powerful weapon, but still...
"What?" Reno demanded, as flatly astonished as Tifa felt.
Barret rolled his eyes as he shifted around to get a better look behind the bar. Everything seemed to be in order, as far as he could tell. Even the Gold Strike was still on display. "You heard me. It's simple enough my daughter gets it, and she's only seven. Or are you not as smart as a second grader?"
"Thank you, Marlene," Cloud murmured. Tifa nodded, biting her lip against a spate of helpless giggles. The little girl was an incredible mimic; it wasn't surprising to hear she'd adopted Yuffie's favorite phrase and used it in Barret's presence. That he'd then adopted it from her, however, was vastly entertaining.
Apparently giving up on determining what – if anything – Reno might have stolen, Barret shifted his attention to figuring out how the Turk got in. The back door had been locked and dead-bolted. Dragging the other man behind him he went to inspect the windows.
"Ow! Ow! Shiva's icy tits!" Jerked forward on unstable legs, Reno stubbed his toes on a barstool, bumped stomach first into a table, and then clipped the side of his head on an upended chair. Aching both internally and externally, he lifting both hands to pull ineffectually at the fingers clenched in his shirt. "Leggo!" Another sharp yank and he shifted his grip to his head, closing his eyes as he paled. "Not helping the hangover, yo!"
For the first time, Barret paused and actually looked at him, noting the overall disheveled appearance. Although Reno never presented the same immaculate front as the rest of the Turks, this was extreme even for him. "Since when do you have trouble holding your liquor?"
"I can out drink you and Highwind and Valentine," Reno said, slowly taking a seat in a nearby booth, "all at the same time." His problem wasn't with the drinking, it was getting home again afterwards. Damn Rude for refusing to pick me up.
"You mean Tifa actually let you stay here?" Barret demanded.
Oh. No wonder that sounded so loud in my head. "Look, it sure as shit wasn't my idea. You got a problem with it, talk to the human breathalyzer." The spiky-haired bastard was the one who'd taken his keys. Who knew SOLDIER-senses could detect how drunk you were at thirty paces?
"Human breathalyzer?" Cloud's tone was both offended and incredulous. "He knocked over no less than three women on his way to the door! Everyone knew he was drunk. I didn't need to check his breath." This pronouncement caused Tifa to collapse on the stairs, face pressed against her knees as fresh laughter bubbled up.
Barret's gaze traveled slowly around the room. Nothing was missing. All of the windows were closed, locked, and intact. The metal security gate was in place in front of the main entrance. Perhaps most damning of all, a discarded suit jacket rested at the end of one of the padded benches, along with a thin pillow and a faded blanket. Lowering his arm, he allowed the high-tech prosthetic to morph back into a hand. "They let you stay here." No longer a question, it was merely a statement of disbelieving acceptance.
"They didn't tell me I'd have you as a roomie, either," Reno retorted, sounding petulant. "If they had, I would've told 'em I wasn't drunk enough yet."
"There's not enough Corel wine on the planet." Barret's voice was flat.
Despite having said much the same, Reno feigned hurt. "Aww... you didn't complain about sharing a cell with the lion-dog."
Reaching down, Barret pulled him to his feet. "I like Red. Don't say it," he added, noting the sudden glee in the Turk's bloodshot eyes, "I can still shoot you." He gave the skinny man a shove in the direction of the makeshift bed. "Just... go to sleep." Broad shoulders drooping he shook his head. "I can't believe I'm bedding down with a Turk." His dejected tone implied that sharing the room was the lowest he'd ever sunk in his life.
Making his unsteady way across the floor, Reno grinned but refrained from further comment. A moment later Barret turned the lights out, and then there was a faint whumpas he settled himself on the opposite bench. "Don't you want a blanket?" Reno asked.
"I promise not to move while you raid the linen closet."
"I promise not to move if you shut up."
"What if I snore?"
There was a whirring noise, and then a dim green glow lit Barret's side of the room. "Not a problem."
After a long moment of silence, Reno gave a sigh of capitulation. "Talk to the hand?"
"Talk to the hand."
On the stairs, Cloud gave a soft huff of amusement, then nudged Tifa with his knee. Together they quietly crept back to their room, still sharing smiles and the occasional brief laugh. "Do you think they'll make it until morning?" she asked, sliding under the covers and snuggling into his shoulder.
"I think Barret had a very convincing closing argument." Besides which, once prone and no longer running his mouth, it was unlikely Reno would stay conscious for long.
Tifa gave one last, sleepy chuckle. "Well... the phrase certainly takes on new meaning when he says it."