Seventh Heaven was quiet that morning, and Tifa woke up slowly, rolling her head around to pop her neck. She drew a deep breath and began her morning ritual: shower, combing out her hair, and deciding on clothes for the day as well as picking out the dress she'd wear later that night for work. It wasn't until after she'd put on her make-up that she even wandered into the kitchen, where Jessie was already sipping coffee.
The paper was immediately pushed in her face, and Tifa waved it away without looking at it. Instead, she fixed her own cup of coffee. "What is it?"
Jessie held the paper out, pointedly glancing across the kitchen at Marlene, who was munching on her cereal. Tifa sighed, took the paper, and just as she raised her cup to her mouth, she noticed the headline: Reactor Explosion Rocks The Plate. She lowered the cup, her breath catching in her throat. Sure, she'd heard the boom at some point in the night, but she hadn't really thought anything of it. Instead, she'd simply decided that there was some sort of celebration going on up there, marking the five years.
Her eyes narrowed as she skimmed the paper, but her breathing relaxed just a little as she spotted the Turks in various snapshots. When she'd managed to count all three of the ones who hadn't come in last night, she felt better. They were good customers; perhaps a little rowdy, but they certainly never let anything get out of hand in the bar.
She handed the paper back with a sigh. "That's Elena, isn't it?" she asked, and Jessie nodded slowly, relief clear on her face. Tifa smiled. "I'm glad she's all right."
Jessie fidgeted just a minute more, then she asked, "Can I get one?" When Tifa nodded, Jessie disappeared into the front of the bar to fish a cigarette out of the pack Tifa kept tucked away. Their funds were limited, and cigarettes could get expensive quickly. Limiting them was the most economical choice.
There was a loud crash of the back door hitting the wall, and Barret walked in, his good arm slung over his friend's shoulders. "T! Marlene!" Both men laughed, and Dyne knelt to catch Marlene as she charged at them. Tifa's eyes narrowed as she studied them.
They looked like they hadn't slept yet, and somehow, that scared her more than anything else.
"Barret. Dyne." Tifa sighed as she reached for two more mugs and poured coffee for each of them. As she held out the first cup to Barret, she smiled warmly at Marlene and said, "Sweetheart, why don't you go and get started on your studying? Aunt Jessie will be in soon to check on you."
Marlene looked at her father one more lingering minute, then nodded and slid down to run into her room upstairs. Tifa kept the smile on her face, and she wiggled her fingers when Marlene hesitated at the steps. As soon as she heard the door shut, she held out the second cup of coffee to Dyne, and her smile faded.
"What did you two do?" She looked between them, her hands on her hips, trying to pin them with a firm stare that would force them to tell her. "Did you have something to do with this?" She brandished the paper at them both, and their faces made her heart stop. Dyne wore a faint, almost smug expression, and Barret... Barret was outright proud. She drew a deep breath, purposely looking up to the ceiling as she reigned her temper back in.
Dyne took a long drink of his coffee, and then he set it down on the top of the table and held up his hand. "T, you can't be angry with us—"
"You're always sayin' that you want somethin' better—"
"What the hell were you thinking?" She cut them both off, hissing the words between her teeth. The door opened and shut; Jessie walked in, stopped, and, sensing the tension in the room, darted on upstairs. Tifa waited until she heard Marlene's door open and shut once more before she added fiercely, "You're going to get all of us killed, that's what you're going to do. What is Marlene going to do if something happens to either of you?"
The two men exchanged a look, and Dyne sighed as he pushed himself up. He drained his coffee cup and reached into his pocket where he pulled out his wallet. He pointedly looked at Tifa as he thumbed through a wad of bills bigger than Tifa could have pictured him keeping. "For taking care of her for me, T," he told her as he pressed a portion of them into her hand. "She loves you like a mother."
Tifa's hand shook as she clenched the money, and she held it out toward both of them with the same accusing look she had worn when the paper had been in her hand. "Where did you get this kind of money?"
Barret smiled. "People are sick of Shinra. They want to take the plate down, see the sky again. We're heroes down here."
"You're idiots," she gritted, but all the same, she folded the bills and tucked them into her pocket. "For Marlene," she said firmly, aware of the look she was getting. "And do not ask me to protect you two at the expense of Jessie and Marlene."
Dyne held up his hand. "Wouldn't dream of it, T," he promised, and Tifa wished so desperately that she could believe him. Sighing, she rubbed her forehead as she returned to the counter, where she'd abandoned her own coffee. Her eyes flicked back to the paper, and for the first time she noticed the ash in the picture, floating down to the ground.
"Bringing the snow," she murmured, and she heard Barret's laugh.
"We sure as hell did."
"You're not going to do it again, are you?"
"Course not," Barret said after just a minute. "We made our point."
Tifa closed her eyes, drew one more good, deep breath, and nodded. "Good." Why then did she feel so nervous, so frightened that everything was going to go terribly wrong? The two of them had gotten away with it; it was over.
She was off of her game that night, and Tifa was glad that both Dyne and Barret were working. She and Jessie were decked out in some of their best, and as usual, Tseng walked in first, taking his normal place at the bar. He smiled that small smile to her; she waved, and Barret delivered him the gin and tonic that he always ordered. Shortly behind him followed a lanky redhead, Reno, and his stoic partner, Rude. She smiled to both of them as well.
Reno ordered for both of them, and Rude never said a word in the bar. Really, he didn't need to, because Reno managed to talk enough for both of them. Jessie stayed keyed up and nervous until Elena came in as well, and then she visibly relaxed and wrapped her arms around the blond in a tight hug. Elena laughed as she returned it, pressing an affectionate kiss to Jessie's forehead.
Everyone in the bar cheered, and Tifa didn't bother to hide her smile. She had to admit, Jessie and Elena were a striking couple, with Jessie wearing her dancing costume and Elena dressed in her suit, matching her coworkers. Jessie stayed just long enough to exchange a few words, and then she joined Tifa on the small stage where they danced.
Two songs, and then they took a break, much to the patrons' delight. Everyone's favorite time was when the two of them worked their way through the crowd, laughing and flirting outrageously even as they delivered fresh drinks. Honestly, Tifa wasn't sure she'd have traded the work for anything; she loved getting to be so cheerful and friendly.
The door opened just as she and Jessie were preparing to do another number, and Tifa felt something in her world shift as two men walked in, one with black hair and one with blond. She almost missed the opening beat to her song, but then she launched into it, and for some reason, she felt exceptionally flushed as she noticed them watching her.
And Jessie, of course, she reminded herself sharply. Jessie was dancing just beside her. They could have been staring at either of them. When the number was over, Tifa slipped in the back to steal a cigarette. There was some rustling, and then the door opened and the dark haired man spilled out into the narrow alley with her, and he blushed as he spotted her.
"You dance well," he offered, and she smiled at him. "I'm D... Zack. Zack Fair."
"Tifa Lockhart," she replied, and she held out her hand. He raised it to his lips and kissed the back of it— like she was some sort of lady, not just a dancer in a juice joint— and she felt something in her stomach flip. She couldn't stop the blush on her face. "I... Is this your first time here?"
He let her hand slide from his, and he leaned against the side of the building as he looked at her. "Yeah. That obvious?"
Tifa took another drag off of the cigarette, then flicked the ashes off. It was something to keep her hand busy. Something to keep herself occupied. "No. I just try to remember faces." She, too, leaned against the wall, then turned so that it was her back against it and she could look up at the bottom of the plate overhead. He chuckled and they were quiet for a few more minutes before she asked, "Where are you from?"
"Two," he replied, and then he looked over at her again. She could feel his gaze raking over her, taking in her costume. She shivered as she considered the relative darkness of the alley, the quiet that blanketed them. She could just hear the muffled music from inside, the faintest hint of the foot traffic bustling out front.
"Yeah? I've never been over there." She pushed herself off of the wall, and she took one last puff from her cigarette. She tapped the ashes off. Then she glanced at it, trying to decide if there was enough to justify putting it out and saving it. She caught his look, and she smiled at him again, trying to stay perfectly calm. It wasn't as though she were helpless. "I thought I could finish the whole thing," she offered, by way of explanation.
"Not tonight, eh?" He held out his hand, and she hesitated only a moment before she gave it to him. He raised it to his lips, and she could see the faintest smudge of her lipstick disappear under his own lips. He blew out the smoke from it, and there was an expression on his face that bordered on bliss. "Been trying to quit," he murmured, closing his eyes briefly before he looked at her. "But I'm always up for helping a pretty girl."
She laughed. "I bet you are," she replied, and she was careful to keep her voice even, to not think that he had practically kissed her in that motion, that long, slow drag from the cigarette. Or rather, she had kissed him, in the sense that her lips had been on the cigarette first. "I need to go in. Set up for another dance," she said slowly, trying to figure out why her heart was racing in her chest. "Will I see you inside?"
He nodded and glanced down at the cigarette in his hand. "You dance all night?"
"Sure. Nothing else to do down here." And with that, she disappeared back into the bar, a hand over her chest, in the irrational concern that her heart might burst through. She spotted Jessie on Elena's lap at the bar, and Elena was laughing, leaning over to clink her glass with Reno's. Tifa smiled. It was normal, something that she was used to seeing.
Not some intense stranger who flirted with her by offering to take the cigarette that she couldn't finish. She headed over to them, and Barret provided her with a drink before she could even ask. Her smile widened, and then Reno had pulled her into his lap, exclaiming, "See, Laney? I can have a pretty girl on my lap, too."
She laughed with everyone else, even as she carefully removed herself from him, sliding off of his lap to stand on her own two feet again. "Jessie, you ready?" She took a swig of her drink, then handed it back for Barret to hide behind the counter. The music revved up again, and Jessie joined her on stage for a tap routine that they both thoroughly enjoyed far too much.
It continued that way for the rest of the night, alternating between dancing and serving drinks, and when they cut off the lights on the stage, there were protests, patrons begging for one more song, one more dance. But Tifa and Jessie were tired, and they played that up to those sitting the closest to the stage— wouldn't want us to drop, would you?— before they headed back to the bar to pick up drinks to serve.
She spotted her stranger— Zack, she reminded herself quickly— across the room, and when he saw her, he leaned over to grab both his and his friend's glasses. He started toward the bar, but he stopped short when he saw the blue suits, all neatly in a row. Tifa turned to make sure that they were indeed what had stopped him.
Before he could change his mind, she intercepted him, crossing the room to him and taking his glasses with a bright smile. "I'll get you another?" she asked, and he nodded slowly, looking past her at the Turks. She headed back to the bar, and just as Barret handed her the new drinks, Reno swiveled in his seat, narrowed his eyes.
The laughter faded from his face like a switch had been thrown. That in and of itself wasn't necessarily unusual; Tifa suspected that a lot of Reno's joviality was forced, a front for him to use as his coworkers relaxed; he snapped back into that angry, nightstick wielding brawler at the first sign of a fight. When he saw her picking up the drinks, he caught her arm and said, "That's a cop. A detective."
Her eyes widened as she glanced toward Zack and his friend. She swallowed. It wasn't that they were doing anything illegal in Seventh Heaven. In fact, it was legal for them to serve alcohol, since the law only covered above the plate. That didn't stop raids though, didn't stop the occasional cop that got it in his head that he needed to clean up under the plate.
She was a great deal more nervous as she walked back, drinks in hand. She smiled easily enough as she served them, but it was like the air had suddenly changed between them. Zack looked at her a little differently, kept glancing past her toward the blue suits who seemed right at home. He didn't linger after that. He caught her right near the door, paid for their drinks, and disappeared, leaving her with an uneasy feeling in her stomach.
She was grateful when they closed for the night. Jessie tried to stay, to help Tifa and Barret and Dyne straighten up, but Tifa waved her on. "Elena's staying?" she asked, and when Jessie nodded, Tifa laughed. "Well, go see her then." And Jessie smiled at her before she vanished back into the house proper, just behind the joint.
Tifa turned her gaze to Barret and Dyne, narrowing her eyes as she wiped down some of the tables. They were leaning together, speaking as lowly as they could, clearly not wanting her to hear them. She gritted her teeth. They were planning something that they knew she wouldn't like. It was the only reason for them to behave like that.
She sighed, shook her head, and scrubbed down the next table a little more furiously, burning off the anger that those two managed to spark in her. Barret wasn't too bad without Dyne there, poking and prodding and coaxing him into doing stupid things, and for the life of her, Tifa couldn't understand how those two, who loved Marlene so dearly, could risk the danger in exchange for a feeble strike at Shinra Electric.
Tifa dropped the rag against the table. That wasn't to say that managing to destroy a reactor wasn't impressive, exactly, because it was. But the truly impressive thing in her book was that the two had found someone to fund them, someone to pay them for their reckless behavior. She licked her lip, and when she lifted her head, a stack of glasses balanced in her hands, they were gone.
The glasses very nearly went crashing against the floor, but she dropped them onto the nearest table after just a second of realizing what had happened. She walked through the bar quietly, checking everywhere they could have been, but they had really managed to slip out on her, to leave her cleaning the bar after she spent the entire night dancing.
She forced herself through the rest of the work then, and by the time she dragged back into the actual house, dawn was breaking. Elena was drinking a cup of coffee, and she raised an eyebrow at Tifa's appearance. Immediately, she moved over to the cupboards and searched for a glass.
"Would you like some water?" She looked back, and when Tifa nodded, she fixed her a glass. Tifa drank it greedily before she started over to the sink to wash it, but Elena stopped her and did that for her.
Tifa must have looked worse than she'd originally thought.
"I didn't realize you were in there alone," Elena offered as she settled the glass back in the cupboard, freshly washed and dried. "I thought..." She swallowed, then shrugged slightly. "My apologies for stealing Jessie last night."
"Nonsense," Tifa muttered, waving a hand. "It's not your fault. Those two idiots bailed on me." She dropped into one of the chairs at the kitchen table, and Elena carefully sat beside her. Tifa was impressed to see that Elena was already back in her suit, fully dressed and ready to face the day. She didn't even show any signs of how much drinking had been done the night before.
Tifa's eyes roamed over the kitchen, and she knew full well that she needed to get some sleep. The joint would be open by dark again, and she only had so many hours left to catch some sleep. But she couldn't seem to turn off her brain, so she simply read the side of the paper facing her, changing to a new article each time Elena rustled it.
"Is that today's paper? Where did you get it?" Tifa's eyes narrowed as she checked the date.
A secret sort of smile, and Elena raised an eyebrow. "Your neighbors might be missing theirs. Just ignore them if they complain to you."
Tifa reached out and caught the paper though when she spotted a picture of a Wutaian standing beside Rufus Shinra. She'd never seen a picture of Rufus Shinra, and she studied him carefully, trying to get a measure for the new president of Shinra Electric.
Elena smiled. "That's Reeve Tuesti with Rufus."
Tifa looked up at her, wondering what it was like to be close enough to someone so powerful that she could drop his first name like that. "Tuesti?" She wasn't sure what else she could say, didn't want to admit she'd only picked the page out because of Rufus.
"Yes. He designed the plate." Elena shrugged a little, folding the paper to drop it back on the table. "Along with the rail system. He's nice enough."
"You've met him then?"
"Spent most of yesterday with him," she admitted. "Rufus was ... not comfortable leaving him alone after they figured out that the explosion was sabotage instead of an accident."
"What?" A chill raced down Tifa's back at those words. Barret and Dyne had gotten away with it, hadn't they? The paper from yesterday had reported that it was an accident. "Did they release new information yet?"
Elena shook her head, apparently unaware of Tifa's distress. "No. It's not in the paper. Mr. Tuesti spotted the scorch marks on the reactor's core though, so they called the police." She looked at Tifa over the top of her coffee cup. "You met the lead detective last night, I hear."
In a flash, her stranger popped in her head, and Tifa swallowed thickly. Zack was investigating Barret and Dyne's attack? Where had they gone then, since they had assured her that they were done? She shook her head a little. "He didn't say he was a detective."
"Not surprising." Elena tapped a finger on the top of the table. "I mean, he was hitting on you."
Tifa looked up, but she couldn't stop the pleased smile at the thought. Even with all the danger, all the secrecy, there were some things that never ceased to make her happy, and learning that someone was attracted to her was one of those very few things. "You think so?"
Elena laughed before she took another sip of coffee. "Of course. You didn't see the way he was watching you. He couldn't take his eyes off of you."
"Were you watching him to make sure he wasn't checking out Jessie?" Tifa raised an eyebrow with a light giggle and was rewarded when a blush touched Elena's face. "You were! You're so jealous, Elena."
A hand wave dismissed her statement. "I might not like what Jessie does, but I wouldn't stop her from doing it." Elena shrugged a little as she leaned back in her seat. "After all, who am I to tell her what she can and can't do?"
Tifa thought about that, about how comfortable with herself Elena was, dressed in that man's suit, holding her own next to some of the most frightening men she'd ever seen. She smiled a little and reached out to touch Elena's hand. "I like that about you," she decided aloud, as much for Elena's benefit as it was her own. "I like how strong you are."
Elena covered Tifa's hand with her own and squeezed it briefly before she returned to her coffee. "Thank you," she said lowly. "Now, why don't you go on to bed? You have to be exhausted."
"Are you leaving again soon?" Tifa rubbed her eyes with a sigh. "I can't go to sleep without someone awake for Marlene—"
"I'll get Jessie up before I leave." Elena gently helped Tifa back to her feet. "Go. Rest. Everything will be fine. Jessie can watch Marlene, and if you like, I can track down Barret and Dyne—"
"No, no. That's fine." Tifa reached up and rubbed her forehead. "Don't worry about them. They'll be back in time for work tonight. I just didn't want Marlene alone in the house." She hesitated, wanting to linger in the kitchen, with its cheerful coffee scent and faint light beginning to tease the edges of the curtains in the windows, but the lure of the bed was simply too much.
She went into her room, changed mechanically into her nightgown, and just as the light began to really filter in— the mechanical lights overhead, not the sunshine that was already hidden behind the plate— she collapsed into her bed. Her arms wrapped around one of the pillows, and she closed her eyes.
She prayed, in the vaguest sense of the word, that Barret and Dyne weren't doing something else risky. She didn't want to wake to a knock on the door or to the simple realization that both of them were gone or even worse, to another explosion.