Reeve had been reasonably certain that no one was in his office. It seemed like a logical assumption to make, given that he was not there and that no one short of the President had a key. One day, he would learn to stop assuming anything when he counted the Turks among his friends.
He stopped just outside of his office door, clutching not one, but two briefcases and a small arsenal of tubes that each held different blueprints for the reactors around Midgar, and just as he started to juggle everything around so that he could put the key in the lock, he heard a little giggle. A proper giggle. The sort that only little girls made. His eyes narrowed as he glanced back up at the door, confirming that it really did say 'Head of Urban Development, Reeve Tuesti' there.
He hovered for just a moment more, trying to recall if he knew of any reason whatsoever that there should be a little girl's giggle drifting out of his office, but failing to find one, he sighed and leaned forward, his forehead hitting his door. He would regret finding out, that much he knew for sure. He always did when anything even remotely similar to this happened. The fact that he could say that things 'similar to this' happened to him had him sighing. Then the door opened and he nearly fell flat on his face in his own office. As it stood, he ended up dropping just about everything he was holding and catching himself on the door frame.
The little girl in the door smiled up at him, apparently momentarily delighted in the mess that was the falling tubes and loose papers.
"Was wonderin' when you'd come draggin' back in, yo," Reno drawled, sitting behind Reeve's desk with his feet propped up on what looked suspiciously like the output reports from Junon. Reeve's jaw clenched.
"Next time drop me an e-mail first," Reeve retorted, and he bent down to gather everything up. The little girl watched him, and Reeve briefly smiled at her— it wasn't her fault that she was there, he was sure of that much, and taking it out on her would simply be cruel— before she ran back into the office and resumed whatever game had been making her giggle. Reeve pointedly ignored the chalked-in hopscotch board on the carpet. He might be tempted to pull his hair if he looked too closely.
"Boss wants her here." Reno watched Reeve absently, his fingers wiggling a pen loosely between them, letting it tap on the edge of Reeve's desk. Reeve ignored that too. "Said you're t' keep up with her since you're doin', you know ... that shit. With your cat. Said you might need her handy, yo."
"That sounds awful when you say it like that, Reno," Reeve said, ignoring the fact that it was a particularly awful thought as he dropped the tubes in the pot near the door that he used exclusively for that purpose. With the straps splayed around the edges of it, they looked almost decorative. He got the last of the papers up and shut the door behind him, locking it. "Is Tseng with Rude and Elena then?"
"Rude's with Tseng and Elena," Reno corrected sharply, his eyes narrowing as he looked up at Reeve. Reeve held up a hand, offering his most disarming smile. He should have realized that Rude being in the field without Reno was a touchy subject, given Reno's condition, given the wounds that AVALANCHE had left him with from when they attempted to stop him from—
Reeve stopped himself there, drawing a breath. He had to focus, and not on the fact that his city was falling apart at the seams. "Right. They're going to Junon?"
Reno shrugged, and his eyes drifted back to Marlene, to watch her hop across the chalked outline. Reeve wasn't sure that pink chalk came out of barely off-white carpets, but he knew for a fact that the Shinra janitorial staff had gotten far worse out of the carpets on the Department of Administrative Research floor. He would leave an apology-slash-thank-you note taped to the floor before he left for the evening, provided that he did leave for the evening.
He leaned the two briefcases against the side of the desk, and he sighed as he spotted the glass sitting on his desk, on top of the damage reports for Sector Seven. There was a wet ring obliterating a good portion of Reeve's tiny, handwritten notes. He swallowed, then took the glass, sniffed it just enough to make sure that it was the whiskey he had tucked under his desk, and turned it up. Reno didn't look directly at him, but he grinned when Reeve drained the glass.
"That bad, yo?" He extended his hand for the glass, and Reeve gave it to him for the refill before he took it back. Reno wrinkled his nose, but he located the second glass that Reeve kept in the desk without being prompted.
Reeve sighed, sipped the whiskey, and after a heartbeat, held the glass low enough that Reno could fish a few ice cubes from it. He didn't want Reno walking around his office too much anyway. Not considering that Reno still had crutches leaned on the wall near the chair.
"That bad," he confirmed. "Well, it wouldn't be had Scarlet not gotten the other half of the rate hike. Now she wants to put all kinds of crap everywhere in Midgar." Reeve rubbed his hand over his face, and when Reno waved his hand, having split the ice cubes between the two glasses, he sipped the whiskey again. "I'm blocking her and Hojo both with paperwork. He's at least distracted, but Scarlet... hell, she's been accosting me every chance she gets."
Reno nodded wordlessly, and they both watched Marlene skip across the hopscotch board again. Reeve studied her for a minute before he looked back at Reno, raising an eyebrow in what he hoped was an unspoken question. Reno hesitated, then sighed and reached into an inner pocket on his jacket. He pulled out a note folded up so small that Reeve was a little surprised he hadn't lost it. Then he smiled slightly as he glanced at it. No, Reno wouldn't have lost it. Only Tseng folded notes like that.
Reeve got the note open after a few minutes— he lacked Tseng's skill for Wutaian paper folding— and he skimmed it, then frowned, and actually read the whole thing twice more before he scowled. "He has to be joking."
Reno had a grin on his face, and he glanced back up at Reeve over the edge of the glass. "You an' the boss finally decided t' adopt?"
"I just have to watch her for a few days." Reeve hoped. He really did. He wasn't exactly cut out to watch her for much longer than that, not given how unstable reactor two was and the fact that Rufus was demanding an updated damage assessment for Sector Seven, and he was still supposed to be in place to track AVALANCHE if they stopped by the Gold Saucer. He wasn't entirely sure they would, but they had reports that at least one of them was from Corel.
Stopping would be a temptation that would be hard to pass up.
"Be useful havin' her here after they hit Gold Saucer," Reno said evenly, and Reeve's eyes widened slightly before he glanced down at him. Reno was watching her hop across the board, sipping from his glass, and Reeve's stomach churned just a little at the idea. However, he swallowed back the sharp taste in the back of his throat, and he nodded, turning up his own glass to finish it off. He set it on the edge of the desk, and he didn't have to look to know that Reno was refilling it again.
He reached up and wiped his mouth, more for an excuse to delay his response than anything, buying himself a second to try to make sure his voice would be steady when he replied, "Yes, it will be. I would hope it won't come to that—"
"Always plan for it comin' t' th' worst, Reeve," Reno interjected, and then the girl looked up at them both, smiled, and Reeve managed a very shaky smile back as Reno pushed himself up out of the chair and crossed the room. He didn't reach for the crutches, but there was definitely still a limp there, and he stayed well within arm's reach of something that he could use to steady himself if necessary. He plucked a little decorative coaster off the bookshelf near where the hopscotch board was drawn, and he held it up to her, raising an eyebrow.
Reeve wondered how Reno could do that, casually sit here and suggest that the girl would be a useful bargaining chip, would be handy to have so that they could threaten her, and then move to show her how to toss the coaster onto her hopscotch board and hop around it. He was grinning at her, all easy amusement, and Reeve's chest was so tight that he wondered for just a second if that was what a heart-attack felt like. He reached for the glass Reno had left him, and he didn't let himself down it, but he definitely needed a sip from it.
The whiskey was smooth, smooth and steady and tasted exactly like he knew it should. (It tasted like death and disappointment. Tasted of the sort of situations that led to Reeve breaking it out in the first place, and not for the first time, he wondered if that was why the Turks drank more often than he did, if that was why they drank the same thing every time, to keep themselves from associating the taste with those memories.) His desk phone rang, and he leaned over to answer it without a thought, his attention sliding from the girl and Reno to his work, to discuss some of the finer details regarding the cleanup of Sector Seven with Rufus. The President. Because Reeve had to stop letting himself be quite that familiar with him now that he was the President.
Everything was changing, shifting and swirling around him faster than he could keep up with. He and Rufus were no longer the outsiders that the Turks had embraced and taken under their wing; they were no longer sharing that moment of being so painfully aware that they weren't ever going to quite fit in with the rest of them. It was a good thing. It had to be.
There was absolutely no reason for it to lend itself to making his chest ache vaguely, make him miss those moments more than anything.
When he finally looked away from his paperwork— he was aware that at one point Reno had come back, reached around him to take the glass and the bottle of whiskey, but Reeve had simply waved him away and gone back to his work, dialing numbers and talking to engineers from four of the remaining reactors in Midgar, trying to see if he couldn't get some of the power rerouted so that they could get reactors one and five back up again— Reno and the girl were on the couch. She was asleep, her head propped up on Reno's knee, and Reno was sitting there, his hand in her hair, a book open in his lap. Reeve blinked slightly, reaching up to rub his eyes, and Reno glanced up at him, meeting his gaze.
"Were you reading to her?" he asked, wondering how he'd missed that, how he'd managed to tune out Reno’s voice in what had to have been a steady thrum of noise. Reno nodded, and Reeve made a faint noise before he smiled and pushed himself away from the desk. "What were you reading?"
Reno shrugged, flipped the book over to look at the back, and he offered Reeve a wide grin. "Apparently somethin' 'bout fairy cats, yo," he said, and Reeve nodded, knowing exactly which book that was. Not that Reno should have had it. The bookshelves were filled with technical books, dry reads about the reactors and about Midgar and about mako energy. That book had been tucked away in the bottom of one of Reeve’s desk drawers. It meant that Reno had rifled through his things before Reeve ever got in the office.
Not that Reeve was particularly surprised.
"Right," Reeve said evenly, and he glanced back at his desk, sighing before he grabbed one of the briefcases he'd propped up against it earlier. He dropped the digital tablet into the briefcase, double-checked which papers he had with him, and then he snapped it closed again, reaching to pick up the jacket he'd shucked off at some point. He pulled it back on but didn't bother to button it, and he shook out his sleeves as he smoothed the cuffs, walking across the room to the couch. The girl— Marlene was what Tseng's note had called her— stirred as Reno looked up at Reeve, but she didn't wake. Just shifted, rubbing her cheek on Reno's knee. That couldn't have been comfortable.
He reached down, brushing his fingers over her hair, and then he met Reno's gaze. Those green eyes were uncomfortably sharp on him, and he swallowed before he moved to pick her up, pull her into his arms. She blinked up at him, wide eyes that were open for only a moment before she wrapped her arms over his shoulders and held on. His eyes closed as he adjusted his hold on her, then he picked up the briefcase and headed to the door. He didn't bother leaving a note for the staff, but he saw Reno leaving what was left of the bottle of whiskey in the middle of the hopscotch board. He smiled faintly, and his brow furrowed as Reno grabbed his crutches and followed him out of the office.
He didn't ask until after he'd put the girl in the backseat of his car— she'd held on a little too tight to his jacket, so he let her have it, slid out of it and draped it over her before he closed the car's door— and Reno was leaning against the trunk, one eyebrow raised as he tapped on the back of the car with the end of one of his crutches.
"Going home with me tonight, Reno?" Reeve asked, and he popped the trunk for him, his jaw tensing at the idea. Reno didn't notice, or if he did, he didn't say anything about it, just dropped both crutches in the trunk and worked his way around to the passenger door.
"Stayin' with you 'til Chief flies out to Junon, yo," Reno replied, and Reeve nodded as they both slid into the front of the car.
The rumble of the engine was comforting, and for a second, Reeve just sat there, feeling the car move, playing it through his head, imagining all the parts of that engine moving and working together to make that pleasant noise. It wasn't unlike a reactor's hum.
"Sides," Reno added, and he pulled a pack of cigarettes that he flipped between his fingers. He didn't pull one out though. "Slum kid. Could be dangerous."
Reeve glanced back at her, curled up on her side under his jacket in the backseat, and he tried to imagine the little girl in her pink dress and yellow ribbon looking up at him as feral and wild as Reno had the first day they'd brought him up. He couldn't see it, couldn't even begin to picture the girl with a weapon in hand, let alone the drive to use one. "Right. Might kill me in my sleep, after all," he replied, and he sighed as he put the car in gear, and they started to move. "Can't have that."
"Boss might get pissed, yeah," Reno agreed.
"Might." Reeve navigated the overpass easily, blowing out a breath as he considered that. In all honestly, Tseng was more likely to be disappointed, knowing that Reeve had been taken out by a four- or five- or maybe six-year-old slum girl. But then again, perhaps the orders were not actually for Reeve, but an excuse for Tseng to keep Reno busy, keep him from thinking about Rude in the field with the rookie, with anyone but Reno himself. Reeve's jaw clenched and he felt Reno looking at him so he forced a smile. "Don't suppose anyone thought to get some clothes for her already, did they?"
"Didn't have much," came the sleepy voice from the backseat before Reno could reply, and Reeve's eyes flicked up to the rear-view mirror. Marlene was sitting up, rubbing at one of her eyes as Reeve's jacket slid off of her. She yawned, ran a hand through her hair to get it back from her face, and looked out the window. "Didn't get a bag 'fore the flower lady got me."
The flower lady? Reeve felt Reno's tension ratcheting up beside him though, so he didn't ask. Instead, he just kept his smile in place, hummed softly, and asked, "Well then, I guess you'll need some clothes, won't you, little miss?"
"Marlene," she corrected, not looking at him. She was leaning her head against the window, her eyes closing halfway as she watched the lights fly by. "'M not 'little miss.' It's Marlene Wallace."
"My apologies, Marlene," Reeve replied, and he took the exit for Sector Eight, for home, before he glanced back in the mirror at her. Her pale skin was washed gold in the setting sun, hair tinted a halo from the sunlight filtering through the thick Midgar air and the glass of the window. "Would you like some clothes? Something else to wear?"
"It's not Yule," she said softly, and her eyes flicked to the back of his head before she spotted the mirror. When she met his gaze, there was something tight in his throat all over again. "Get new clothes on Yule."
"Normally, I'd say that's true," Reeve said, and he glanced over at Reno, who only shrugged and tilted his head. Clearly planning on letting Reeve handle this. Of all the times for Reno to clam up on him. "But seeing as you're going to be staying with me for a while and I don't have anything else for you, I think we should pick some up. You could think of it as an early Yule present, couldn't you?"
She didn't say anything else, only tilted her head back against the glass, and the silence in the car was almost uncomfortable. Reeve wondered a little at it, but he stopped at the first store that he thought might carry clothes she could wear, and she didn't move until he opened the car door for her. Then she slid out, his jacket over her shoulders. She was small enough that the hem of the jacket dragged the ground, but he didn't move to take it from her.
Reno leaned against the car and pulled out a cigarette, lighting it in a flash and sucking a deep breath off it before Reeve could say anything. So he didn't bother. He simply offered his hand to Marlene and led her inside. There were plenty of clothes, and for a moment, they both stood there at the door, holding one another's hand, panic setting in under their skin. When they looked at each other, Reeve thought there was just as much nervous energy in her as there had to be in him. She bit her bottom lip, and he forced another smile for her. The girl at the counter smiled and waved them in, and Reeve asked where the clothes that might fit Marlene would be.
That was how they ended up in front of the children's section, and Marlene's hand was holding onto his so tightly that her knuckles were white. He wondered if she realized he was just as out of his depth as she apparently was. His eyes closed for a second while he prayed a quick short prayer to Odin for strength, and then he reached for the first thing he saw. A yellow dress, nearly the same color as her ribbon, with a white-checked skirt, and he held it out to her. Her eyes widened as she glanced up at him, and he thought her free hand might be trembling as she took it from him.
"You don't like it?" he asked, dropping to a crouch to look at her. Her hand clenched on the dress, and she shook her head, holding it closer to her.
"It's pretty," she said, and her voice was a little tighter than he'd expected it to be for something that she liked. She squeezed his hand and then let it go slowly in favor of reaching up and rubbing the skirt fabric between two fingers. "It's... nice."
Belatedly, Reeve realized that he was an idiot, and he managed a little smile before he nodded over toward the dressing room. "Would you like to try it on? If you don't like it or it doesn't fit, we can find you something else instead." There was certainly plenty to pick from, and maybe she wouldn't be so overwhelmed in the smaller dressing room with Reeve simply handing her things. She probably hadn't seen this many clothes in a single place in her life if she was from under-Seven. She looked at him for a long moment, her throat working as she glanced between him and the dress.
"Can I?" she finally asked, and her voice was so thin and small that Reeve's heart nearly broke right there for her.
(He wondered how many Marlenes were living under his city, wondered how many had their homes and lives completely destroyed not just a few days ago. He couldn't think about things like that, but it didn't stop the thoughts from drifting through, and he had to blink against the heat threatening to come up in his eyes.)
"You may," he murmured, and she headed over to the dressing room, hesitating at the door to look back at him. He smiled and he promised her lowly, "You can have as many as you like." It was a foolish promise to make, something that wasn't going to mean anything as soon as Shinra was done with her. It wouldn't put food in her belly or a roof over her head. It wouldn't rebuild the home Reno had destroyed on the President's orders.
But it made her smile, made her eyes glisten as she shut the door, and Reeve looked up to the ceiling for a minute before he started rifling through the racks. He had no idea what little girls liked, what this little girl would like, but she'd been wearing dark pink with that oversized ribbon, and she'd been comfortable in the dress.
So when the door opened again and she stepped out to look up at him, he glanced at her, then nodded, tilting his head as he studied how it fit. She'd need a size bigger maybe, if children grew as quickly as everyone claimed (stupid, to be planning on her being around long enough to grow much more, especially if AVALANCHE was as cold as he thought they might be; they'd been more than willing to kill hundreds of people with every explosion in every reactor, there was no reason for them to care about this one little girl with wide eyes and a shaky smile). He thought the dress fit well though, and he handed her a few more to try on.
They spent long enough in there, him passing her clothes under the edge of the door to try on and her keeping or rejecting each item, that Reno finally dragged in and watched them from the doorway with an oddly blank expression. The girl working the register grew antsy, probably kept past closing time, but Reeve didn't really care. She wouldn't kick him out, not when he had a Turk standing at the door in uniform, offering her that sharply edged grin.
By the time they finally left, they had Marlene a veritable wardrobe of clothes: jeans and pants and shirts and blouses, dresses and rompers, and socks and shoes, and an oversized rabbit plush that had been in the back corner. Reeve was pretty sure the toy had not originally been for sale, but when Marlene had walked over and touched it with all her marveling joy at how soft it was, he'd been incapable of leaving it behind. She sat in the back seat of the car, leaning against it, wearing her new yellow dress, and Reeve could feel some kind of tension in Reno beside him, but Reno didn't remark on anything except to tell Marlene that she was very pretty, yo.
Marlene smiled at him, that shaky little smile that Reeve was so scared might shatter. "Ms. Elmyra would probably like it," she murmured, smoothing her hand over the hem, and Reeve raised an eyebrow, glancing over at Reno.
Reno's tension had ratcheted up higher, and the cigarette box was still in his hands, not moving and not tapping against anything. Somehow, that made Reeve more nervous than anything else had. Reeve smiled widely, and he said, "I'm sure she would. What would you like for dinner, Marlene?"
Food was always a sufficient distraction with slum children, and while there was a twinge of guilt at how easily distracted she was, Reeve couldn't let himself care. Not when he felt Reno easing, not when Reno was glancing at him, a very small grin on his lips. Thankful maybe, but Reeve couldn't focus on it. He was too busy laughing, asking Marlene if she wanted a soup or real food, some pasta or rice, beef or chicken.
By the time they were done going through what she liked— just about everything, Reeve decided, or at the very least, there was little she'd outright say no to, which only reminded him of a certain redhead in his first few days above the Plate— Reeve had an idea of which leftovers to pull out of the fridge when they got home. He pulled the car up front instead of in his regular parking spot, and he opened the door for Marlene, helping her get a hold of her bunny before reaching in to grab his briefcase and jacket. The clothes were piled up in bags, and he popped the trunk for Reno to grab his crutches before he headed inside the apartment building.
The man at the front desk nearly jumped when he saw Reeve, stumbling over his greeting and stammering out if there was anything Reeve needed that he only needed to ask, and Reeve smiled before he pressed his keys into the man's hand.
"There are some bags inside the car," he said lowly, and he pulled his wallet to find a few bills to slip the fellow, "if you could have them brought up to my place and have my car parked, that would be exceedingly helpful—"
"Of course, Mister Tuesti. Consider it done."
Reeve exchanged glances with Reno as they headed to the elevator, and Reno waited until Reeve had pushed the button for his floor to grin and look at Reeve a little more critically. "Well now, didn't think I'd ever see you pullin' your weight like that, yo. Smooth as anythin' too, yeah? Been holdin' out on me, Mister Tuesti?"
Reeve snorted faintly, shifting his briefcase to his other hand. "Hardly. I am perfectly capable of using the... perks awarded to me through my work, you know." He watched the lights at the top of the elevator, and his eyes widened slightly as he felt narrow fingers brush against his palm. Marlene was holding his hand again, leaning in a little against his arm, and he glanced down at her, feeling something sharp coming up in the back of his throat.
The elevator slowed to a stop, and Reeve led them to his apartment, unlocking the door and stepping back to let Reno in first. He kept Marlene at the door until he heard Reno's 'all clear' call, then he let her run in after Reno.
She ran to the couch first, carefully arranging her rabbit in the corner of it, and Reeve deposited his briefcase by the door, kicking off his shoes and shedding his jacket in a series of practiced movements. He had reached up to peel off his tie when Reno made it to the door, and he kicked off his own shoes, and Reeve took his jacket as well to hang up in the closet near the door. Marlene was sitting on the couch watching them both, and when Reno made it over to her and fell back onto the couch, she scooted over just enough to give him room to move. She eased off the couch, and Reeve watched her as she headed over to the door. She glanced at their socked feet for a minute more, and then she dropped down and peeled off her own shoes, setting them carefully beside Reeve's.
She took a step on the carpet, her toes wriggling in the piles, and he smiled when she looked up at him and met his gaze. A smile broke out over her own face, a decidedly less shaky one, and he watched her dart back over to couch where she climbed up to sit with Reno and her bunny. Reno flipped on the television, and Marlene's eyes widened as she watched the screen.
Below the Plate, they were likely still using old CRTs cast off from the upper areas, and Reeve believed in splurging on the newer flat screen models, probably because Tseng and Reno and Rude watched it more than he ever did. His smile softened, and the knock on the door drew his attention away. The young man working the front desk had his bags, and Reeve took them from him with a grateful smile. This time when he shut the door, he locked it.
He stepped into the kitchen to start working on dinner, looking for leftovers to reheat, things that both his guests would eat. He shied away from some of the heavier foods that he had in the fridge, and he heated up the chicken and rice soup instead. He remembered Reno's first few days above the plate, remembered his mistake in feeding Reno things that were far richer than what he'd gotten in the slums, remembered how often Reno had slipped into the bathroom only to come out with red-rimmed eyes and starving all over again.
He didn't plan on repeating that experience.
By the time he had dinner heated and the table set, Marlene was standing just in front of the television, her fingers light and not quite touching the screen. Reeve watched her for a moment, surprised that Reno wasn't scolding her or pulling her away, but he just stayed there on the couch, quiet, flipping his phone over and over in his hand. Reeve wondered how long it had been since Reno had heard from Rude or Tseng, and he cleared his throat before he called them for dinner. Reno eyed the table, met Reeve's gaze, and Reeve took pity on him, bringing him his bowl of soup before he returned to sit with Marlene.
Her feet were swinging over the floor, but she ate properly, spoon in hand and careful not to slurp— Corel manners, some part of Reeve noted, and perhaps her family member was the one who would insist on stopping at the Gold Saucer. She ate quickly though, and that was to be expected, scarfing down the bowl as though she was scared he might take it from her. Or perhaps she simply knew that if she ate fast enough she could hold more. Either way, she didn't so much as breathe a word until she drained her bowl, turning it up to scrape the last few grains of rice into her mouth instead of leaving them in the bottom. Just watching her eat had Reeve's stomach churning uncomfortably. No doubt she would have a tummy ache before morning.
And likewise, there was no doubt in Reeve's mind that she wouldn't so much as breathe a word about it to him.
She didn't know if she could trust him after all.
He sighed as he worked on his own soup, eating far more slowly than she did, and when she finished hers, he poured her a little more broth. That she drank more slowly, a faint blush on her face. So she knew eating as quickly as she did was rude, knew that it lacked manners, which meant someone had been trying to teach her. Perhaps the brunette. Reeve would have to review their files again to be sure.
She watched him when she was done eating, and he let her, deciding that it didn't bother him so much anyway. It wasn't until he was nearing the bottom of his bowl that she finally leaned forward, careful to keep her elbows off the table, her hands presumably folded in her lap (not that he could see them from here to be sure). "Do I call you Mister Tuesti?" she asked, and Reeve looked at her, surprised by the question.
But no, he probably shouldn't have been. He hadn't been introduced to her, after all. Reno might not have even introduced himself to her, let alone Reeve. He smiled then, and he shook his head. "You don't have to," he told her easily. "You may call me Reeve."
"Mister Reeve," and wasn't that charming, hearing her affix mister in front of whatever name he gave her, "how long am I goin' t' stay with you?"
Reeve hesitated, but he didn't let himself look away from her, didn't look back at Reno to confirm. After all, none of them had any idea how long Marlene was going to stay. It depended on too many variables, everything from how she behaved to how AVALANCHE reacted. He shrugged a little, his smile fading. "Just for a while, Marlene. I'm not sure how long yet."
"I miss home," she said, looking down into her empty bowl, and she sighed. "I miss Daddy."
Reeve looked at her for a moment, his heart damn near twisting right there in his chest. "I know," he said finally, and he pushed himself back from the table, picking up dishes to start cleaning up. "It will hopefully all be over soon," he offered, and he ignored the snort from Reno across the room. "And then things will be normal again."
"Shit won't ever be 'normal', Tuesti," Reno shot back, and he shoved himself up to his feet, phone held in a white-knuckled grip as he looked at the two of them. "Not since those damned explosions, not since they killed—" He was looking at Marlene though, and her wide eyes must have been enough to make him go quiet, make him rethink what he was going to say. He snarled though, baring teeth and headed out to the balcony, snapping the glass sliding door shut after him far more gracefully than someone injured like that should have been able to.
Marlene didn't seem that badly affected though; she just sat there, staring after him, and Reeve closed his eyes, sending up another quick, silent prayer to Odin, because he was that selfish. Then she looked at him instead, and he met her gaze, a very faint smile on his lips.
"He's upset," he said, but before he could come up with some excuse, she nodded.
"Because of th' explosions," she murmured, and Reeve stared at her, surprised that someone so young might have grasped that. "Jessie didn't mean 'em t' be that big, you know. They were supposed t' be smaller."
More contained? Depending on how much smaller they were supposed to be, they might have simply put the reactor out of commission instead of nearly destroying the whole thing, killing the mechanics and engineers inside, not to mention the civilians who had lived nearby. Then the only casualties would have been those who died from not having power, people on life support in areas with poor back-up power and such. It still would have been bad, but not nearly so bad. The President might have been able to be dissuaded from dropping the Plate in that case.
Not that it mattered.
"I'm sure she didn't," Reeve replied, and he cleared away the table, grabbed Reno's dishes out of the living room area, and he turned on the faucet to start washing them after he folded his sleeves up. For a moment, he was alone in the kitchen, breathing and smelling the soap, listening to the water, listening to the normal in his apartment. Then the door eased open and Marlene peered in, biting her bottom lip again. Her lips were chapped, probably from dehydration. He needed to work on getting some water down her.
She came in to stand beside him, stretching up on her tiptoes to look over the counter at the sink.
"I dry normally," she offered, and then she smiled faintly. "But you don't got a stool t' stand on."
"Have," he corrected absently. "I don't have one, no. Looks like you get out of drying tonight." He saw her repeat what he'd corrected, murmured low enough that he didn't hear her, and she moved through his kitchen, fingertips trailing over countertop edges and knobs and the wood grain of the cabinets. Then she opened his pantry, dug around for a minute, and the next thing he knew, she was standing beside him again, tugging on his pants' leg.
"Mister Reeve, where are your lowball glasses?"
He stared at her, his lips pursing slightly. What had been the cover AVALANCHE had used for their headquarters, a bar? Only a five-year-old from the slums would know what a lowball glass was. He reached into the cabinet overhead and pulled one out for her, handing it to her before he focused on the dishes, on shutting off the water now that they were rinsed and starting to work on drying them off instead. When he put the last one away, there was a glass sitting on the counter just beside him, whiskey over ice, and Marlene was stretching up to return the whiskey to the shelf that he kept it on.
When she turned and he was staring at her, she smiled. "Drink after dinner, yeah? You were drinking whiskey on th' rocks in th' office."
He swallowed, his fingers light on the rim of the glass for a heartbeat before he nodded, and he took the drink she'd poured for him. Whiskey on the rocks, because that was what she'd seen him drinking in the office earlier today.
Fine example he was setting, and yet, he suddenly didn't give a damn.
He just had a five-year-old pour him a drink, a drink that she'd seen him drinking earlier in the day and had remembered, recognized from the bottle, he was sure. A five year old. And how many more of her were under the Plate right now, under his very feet, living in a world that forced them to grow up long before they were due? She shouldn't have even known what on the rocks meant, shouldn't have been able to tell a lowball glass from anything else, shouldn't have known a whiskey bottle from any other bottle. She was supposed to be playing hopscotch, curling up with a giant plush rabbit, reading books about fairies, and wearing soft, frilly dresses.
And she shouldn’t have needed to be here in order to have those things.
"Well, thank you," he said softly, and he smiled at her before he took a sip. She relaxed visibly for him accepting the drink, and he drew a breath as he headed back into the living room, Marlene right at his heels. He set the glass on the coffee table, where Reno had left his pack of cigarettes— which meant he was out on the balcony on the phone, not smoking— and he picked up the bags of her clothes that he'd left near the door. Marlene watched him until he told her, "Why don't you get your rabbit, and we'll go see the room you'll be staying in?"
She nodded, and he took her to the guest room, eyeing it a little critically. It was meant for Turks, not little girls, and it was obvious that he had never so much as considered a child staying in his apartment from the design of the furniture in the room. Most of it was far too large for her, but she seemed to be able to manage all the same, dragging open dresser drawers to look inside and getting the closet doors open without too much trouble. She placed her rabbit in the middle of the bed, and Reeve started to go through the bags, looking for... there it was. One of the nightgowns he'd bought for her. He held it out to her.
"Why don't you take a bath, then you can change, and you can get some sleep?" he offered, tilting his head as she took the nightgown from him, her fingertips almost trembling again. "I'm sure you've had a long day."
"Tifa always takes her bath with me," Marlene replied, staring down at her nightgown, and Reeve hesitated, hoping that she wasn't... but she glanced up at him and smiled and shook her head. "I mean, not that I want you in th' bath with me. I was jus' sayin'. It'll be weird without her."
"Is Tifa your mother?" he asked curiously, and Marlene shook her head, her smile widening.
"People think that, but no. She's Tifa. Daddy's tough girl."
The brunette then. Which meant Jessie had to have been the blond that was reported dead earlier. Reeve nodded. "I'm sure she's with your daddy now," he said, and Marlene's smile cracked into a grin.
"Not like that. She likes Cloud. Where's th' bath?"
Reeve showed her, showed her how to operate the faucet, and he found some body wash to make bubbles with, and he left her with a tub full of water and bubbles and soap to scrub down with. Marlene shut the door behind him, but he didn't hear her lock the door, and he headed back to her room to start putting things up. He wasn't expecting Reno to be sitting on the edge of her bed, sorting clothes. Reeve watched him for a minute before he moved to the closet and took out a handful of hangers to start putting dresses up.
"Can't get attached t' her," Reno said after a few minutes, and Reeve went still, swallowing before his eyes darted over to look at Reno. Reno hadn't so much as glanced up from the shirts he was folding to put in one of the drawers that Marlene could actually reach. "Mean, you'll have t' hurt her, Reeve."
"I know that," Reeve answered, and this time it was his fingertips shaking. He closed his eyes, drawing a breath and holding it while he counted to ten. When he let it go, he felt marginally better. "I might have to torture her where AVALANCHE can hear it. I know that, Reno."
"Jus' makin' sure," Reno replied. He started working on pants, filling the other half of the drawer. "She's leverage, yo. Not a person. Not a girl. Leverage."
And yet Reno had admired her new clothes. He had sat there and watched her marvel over the television. He'd even read to her. Reeve hung another dress, his lips pressing together in a thin line. "Right. It all depends on what happens."
"Even at the least, you'll have t' scare her. And she's never goin' t' look at you the same again."
Reeve wanted to hit him just to shut him up. Maybe that was the point. Just to prove that Reno could get in his head, no matter how damaged Reno was, no matter how much advantage Reeve thought he had. Reno could always get to him.
"Should think about that, eh?" Reno said, and he set the last of her jeans into the drawer, leaning back to look at Reeve. There was a cigarette tucked behind his ear, and he smelled like the whiskey that Marlene had poured for Reeve. "Don't want you chokin' up on us."
"I'll do what I have to do." He would do it for Reno and Tseng and Rude. Even for Elena. He would do whatever he had to in order to help put away AVALANCHE and get Sephiroth taken care of. Reeve's fingers slid off the next dress he'd hung up, and he wasn't expecting to feel the heat of Reno standing so close to him, coming in from nowhere and hovering immediately behind him. Reno's fingers were absurdly pale as they smoothed one frilly skirt hem.
"Better," Reno said, his voice low and right there at Reeve's ear. Reeve shivered, and he made a soft noise in the back of his throat before he moved, stepping around Reno to leave him smoothing down the skirt hanging up. "Be fuckin' dependin' on your ass, yo."
Just like everyone else.
Reeve nodded. "I'm aware," he murmured, and he shoved a few more dresses into Reno's hands, setting him to hanging them up while Reeve dropped the package of underwear and the package of socks into the drawer. They fell quiet though, topic apparently discussed to Reno's satisfaction, and by the time they were finally done, with all of her new clothes put away, Marlene was standing in the doorway, watching them. Reeve was grateful that Reno didn't continue the conversation right up until her arrival. She stood there though, towel in hand as she rubbed at her hair, in the pale pink nightgown. It had little bunnies patterned across the fabric, everywhere except the ruffle along the hem and the ruffles along the sleeves.
Reno was the one who dropped onto the bed, eyeing Marlene for a minute before he asked, "You got a comb somewhere, Reeve?"
Reeve nodded, and he slipped into the bathroom to find it and bring it to Reno. When he stepped back into the guest room, Marlene had crawled up to sit with Reno on the bed, her arms wrapped around the bunny that was so nearly as big as she was. Reno's fingers were working through the bottom of her hair, and her eyes were closed. Reeve watched them until Reno's gaze snapped up to him, and then he held out the comb to let Reno work it through her hair. Either he was gentle or she wasn't tender-headed (or some combination of the two things), because she didn't wince or flinch from him, didn't even seem to notice him combing her hair out. When he was done though, she twisted around to look up at him, and she smiled.
"Thanks," she said softly, and Reno flipped the comb between his fingers before he held it out to Reeve without so much as glancing up at him.
"Welcome," he replied, and he pushed himself off the bed. His limp was more noticeable when he left the room this time, and Reeve wondered if it got worse when Reno got tired. Hopefully it would be a few more weeks before Rufus— the President— left for Junon. Reno would need the time to recover.
Marlene crawled around on the bed, working herself under the covers, and Reeve's fingers lingered on the light switch as he watched her. When she looked up at him, she wrapped her arms around her bunny and pulled it closer to herself. He looked away as he shut the light off, and just as he started to close the door, he heard her murmur, "We're not bad people."
He pushed the door back open to look at her, and for another moment, they were both quiet, just the light that poured into the room around him stretching out over the blanket that covered her. Reeve's throat was so tight that he wasn't sure he could talk for a minute, and finally, he managed a low, "Neither are we."
He pulled the door closed before she could respond, and he leaned against it, his eyes closing as he tipped his head back toward the ceiling. He couldn't hear her moving around, couldn't hear anything except for the pounding in his chest actually, and he probably would have stayed there for a while had Reno not leaned against the opposite wall and cleared his throat. Reeve's eyes eased open to look across the space at him, and Reno gave him a little wry smile.
"Speak for yourself," he said.
That was it, just those three words, and Reeve felt his composure cracking, felt his practiced calm slipping away to leave him soft and vulnerable in front of that edged smile, the sharp prickles that all the Turks used to surround themselves with. "You're not bad either," Reeve managed after a second, and he had to suck in a shallow breath, trying to keep some of those fragments of calm close to himself. "You were following orders."
"Followin' orders that I knew full well came from a crazy bastard," Reno countered, and not for the first time, Reeve saw that tension all over him again, saw it seeping into the way Reno breathed. "Can't justify what I did, Reeve," he added, and he met Reeve's gaze, held it until Reeve had to look away, unable to face that cold resignation. That acceptance that Reno had that Reeve would never forgive him, that Midgar would never forget.
There wasn't enough whiskey in the world to make this day better.
"I don't try to," Reeve murmured, and he pushed off the wall, stepping over and reaching out to brush his fingertips against Reno's forehead, tucking red hair back behind his glasses. Rude's glasses. His spare pair, maybe. "Get some sleep. Early day in the reactors tomorrow."
"And the kid?" Reno wasn't quite leaning into the touch, but he wasn't shying from it either. He just seemed at a loss as to what to do with it. That was fair. Reeve didn't know what to do with it either.
Reeve shrugged. There were places he could stash her for now. Maybe leave her in the office for a while with Reno. After all, they had time before it would be necessary to start keeping her with Reeve more often.
AVALANCHE hadn't even reached Junon yet.
"I'll find a place for her."