Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy VII, hence the "fan" part of "fanfiction"
The hush of the late night surrounded Cloud as he wove through Edge's dark streets. His skin itched with the grit of the dusty roads and he looked forward to a warm shower and his soft bed. He frowned as he pulled up to Seventh Heaven. While the "closed" sign was lit, so was the bar's interior. Tifa should have finished cleaning and gone to bed over an hour ago.
Knowing the bar's ceiling was too low for most of his swords, he drew First Tsurugi's side blades and left Fenrir on the street. He ghosted up the steps to peer through the front windows and relaxed instantly, his tension morphing to confused curiosity.
The bar was cleaned and closed save for one table where a familiar red-haired Turk chugged a bottle of beer. Tifa leaned against the bar, quietly conversing with Rude. Fears allayed, Cloud parked his bike properly and slipped into the building through the garage entrance.
A twitch of Rude's head alerted Tifa to the blond approaching from behind. When she saw him, some of the exhaustion drained from her whiskey-toned eyes. She wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him.
Cloud's luminous blue eyes softened, and after a moment, he carefully draped his arms around her and squeezed gently. Her shoulders slowly relaxed and she sighed deeply into his chest.
"What is going on?" Cloud asked the bald Turk over Tifa's head.
"Anniversary of a bad mission," the man replied quietly.
"Ah," Cloud hummed in understanding.
Reno chugged the last of his bottle and called for another. Over a dozen empty bottles littered the table and floor. Cloud pulled Tifa back so he could quirk an eyebrow down at her. "How long have you been giving him the flavored water?"
Tifa giggled at his nickname for the non-alcoholic beer and snatched an open bottle from the counter. "From the very start. Rude told me this was Reno's third bar."
Cloud took the bottle before she could walk around him to bring the Turk his next "beer". He walked to Reno's table and set it down firmly. "This is your last one, Tifa and I need our sleep."
Reno lifted his head and his sea green eyes struggled to focus. He grinned drunkenly and slurred, "Cloud! 'S been fureb- febur- 's been uh while yo'!" He hiccuped and gulped some of his new bottle.
The blond glared down at the man. "Drop the act, I know you don't slur when you're drunk."
"Ah you're no fun," Reno drawled, suddenly losing the drunken accent.
Cloud grunted lightly. "You're past your limit Reno; it is time for you to go home."
Reno cackled and thumped his head against the table. "Limits," he snorted. "If it din't mean I couldn' get drunk, I'd envy you SOLDIERS..."
Rolling his eyes, Cloud crouched and gathered the bottles on the floor. Tifa could handle herself, but so could a drunk Turk. She knew better than to approach such a well-trained drunk. Snorting at the concept of a "well-trained drunk" he stood and took his armful of empties to the bar. Tifa took some and Rude silently took the rest. Cloud nodded his thanks and returned to the table for another load.
Reno sipped his bottle pensively as he watched Cloud retrieve the last of his empty bottles. After collecting them all, Cloud wiped the table around the inebriated Turk.
"Y' know, Hojo was wrong when he called you a failure," Reno mused, breaking the silence. "You were the perfect SOLDIER."
Cloud froze and narrowed his eyes. "Because I killed Sephiroth?"
Reno snorted, "No, though that was a damn impressive show." He saluted Cloud with his bottle and took another swig. He waved his free hand. "See, Shinra was all about makin' the perfect warrior. Turks, we got the brains; while SOLDIERS got the brawn. Now I ain't sayin' you're dumb or that we're weak..."
Reno shook his head and continued, "The old Firsts, those three were the science department's attempt to fix that. Probl'm was, they were smart as Turks and strong as hell but they din't have hearts."
Cloud's brow furrowed. The description fit Sephiroth and his fragmented memories of Genesis, but... "But what about Angeal?" Cloud protested.
Reno cackled and chugged the last of his bottle. "No, he was the worst of them all." Reno pushed his seat away from the table and staggered onto Rude's waiting shoulder. "If Hewley had a heart, he wouldn'a made Zack kill him."
A slight chill went down Cloud's spine as one of Zack's memories hummed with a faint echo of anguish. He didn't react as the pair left.