You've been frequenting the same bar every night for the past six months. Every night at 11:17 you pass through the front door, make your way across the dim, smoke filled room, and sit in the same stool at the far end of the counter. The bartender use to ask you what you wanted to drink, but stopped after you ordered the same thing twenty-seven nights in a row. Now, if business is slow, he has your drink waiting freshly made the moment you take your seat. You nod, he nods, and you're left to cradle the frosty glass of strawberry daiquiri that has and will always be your favorite, while you tune out the sappy song wafting through the din of conversations.
The part of the bar that you love is shadowed, most of your body hidden from view. You don't like attention, never have, and this spot is the reason that you chose this bar instead of the famous 7th Heaven across town. Crowded nights here are extremely rare and that just makes you love it even more.
As you glance around the room, careful not to make eye contact, you see familiar faces, some young, and some old, mostly male. The ratio is six to one in favor of testosterone. This bothers you but it is a bar and so it is to be expected. At least once a night some drunk, brazen, neanderthal will make the journey to where you are sitting and recite a corny pick up line that he thinks will make your heart flutter. Little do they know that your heart hasn't 'fluttered' in five years and you are beginning to wonder if it even remembers how to do so. You lost interest in such silly things when your fiancée died. His death changed everything and since that day, you've despised change. Random chaos, as you like to call it, drives you insane, makes you nervous. Now you have a routine and you stick to it religiously. Is it fun? Mostly no, but it is safe, there are no surprises and that makes you happy.
You come here after leaving from work. It is a job that you neither love nor despise; it simply is what it is. Another occupation, that in its own miniscule way, keeps the world flowing smoothly. Coming here, even for a few hours, delays the emptiness that awaits you at home. It is an emptiness that you are afraid to fill since that would mean change, and that only leads to heartache, which in turn brings more emptiness. Therefore you sit, a shadow among the living, your fears wrapped around your body like a shield, keeping out the noisy goings on around you. You are in no way emotionally dead. Far from it according to the way you cry yourself to sleep each night while you lie huddled in a bed that has never known the warmth of a man. The emptiness doesn't kill you. No, that would be too simple; an easy escape. Your mind wishes to die but your heart...Your heart is fighting for something that you can not name. So, you trudge along from day to day. You wake, you dress, you work, you drink, you cry and repeat.
That is your routine. That is what your broken existence consists of.
You had loved your fiancée since age twelve. For years you had followed him, in the shadows as you are now, listening to his voice, getting close to his friends so that you could learn more about him. You told no one how you felt, but he knew. He had always known you better than anyone else. Perhaps even better than you knew yourself. Then that day had come, the day when your Mother died, and he had been there, waiting on the porch when you arrived home. He was nineteen, you were seventeen, and from that day forward he was yours and you were his. He was your conscience, the foundation that held you upright. He had loved you without fail until another day when the winds of fate had blown once more.
He had gone to Midgar, to the slums, to visit family. You had tried to stop him. You hated that place, that hell without sun. He had just smiled and laughed, knowing your worried mind. You never saw him again, not alive anyway. The love that you had waited so long for had been murdered all for a watch and one hundred gil.
When the plate had fallen a few months later, you had watched the news with a hidden smile as black as your sin, hoping that whomever had taken your light away had been there and was now crushed beneath the debris.
As time passed however, you would grow to hate yourself for that smile and lack of remorse for the innocent lives that were lost. You vowed to never smile again, to never love again, to pay penance for the blackness in your heart that day. So far, you have managed to keep that vow.
Lifting the sweet alcohol to your lips, you drink, and over the rim of the glass you see the door open. Outside a steady rain has begun to fall and from within its cold embrace steps a man in a navy blue suit, his shoulders hunched to let the drops splatter against his back. As he enters, the door swings shut behind him and he straightens to his full height. You notice two things as you set your glass back upon the counter. One: his rain soaked hair is the most alarming shade of red that you have ever laid eyes on and Two: the smile that is lying on his lips is as empty and cold as you feel.
You watch as he greets the bartender by his name, though you can not remember ever seeing him here before. There is cheer in his voice when he speaks but you see it for what it is; a shield similar to the one you wear. After all, the miserable can always spot their own kind.
With a lazy gait, he walks over and takes a seat two stools down from you and the bartender slides him a bottle of beer with chilled vapor rising from the opening. He simply stares at it, the overhead light glinting off the goggles that rest on his forehead. You note the way that his jacket is unzipped, and how the dress shirt underneath is wrinkled and untucked. Half of the collar is upturned but if he knows it, he doesn't care. Drops of water are rolling down the side of his pale face, trailing past a red tattoo to drip from his lean jaw onto his shirt.
The red-haired man, with forearms resting on the edge of the counter, begins to open and close his fists. Even in the dim light of the bar, you can see how his knuckles turn white and the veins in the back of his hand become more pronounced. He is looking at them as if they are stained with something only he can see.
The song on the jukebox lets out a high pitched squeal as the record sticks and you jump at the sound, almost spilling your drink. You look to your left and spot the noisy contraption in an alcove surrounded by advertisement flyers. A man approaches it, kicks it once, and the music continues its regular course. You see the man get a few high fives from his table of friends as he goes to sit back down.
You turn back and freeze as a literal chill spreads throughout your body. The feeling is so intense that your fingers begin to numb and it feels as if all the oxygen your lungs are trying to produce suddenly vanishes. You have locked eyes with the red-head by mistake. You never do so on purpose because the action always attracts attention, especially from the men and it is never the good kind. For some reason they choose to see it as an invitation instead of an innocent glance. You hate it when people assume things.
It's not so much the man as a whole that makes your blood run cold, but rather his eyes. They are blue but that isn't what holds you transfixed, it's how unnaturally bright they are.
Mako eyes, you whisper to yourself, fascinated.
It is as if the entire bar as faded, leaving only you and this blue eyed stranger. You can no longer hear the music nor the prattle of slurred voices. At this moment in time the only thing in your world are his Mako eyes. You feel as if you are being pulled, drawn into the soul that hides beneath, the sensation causing gooseflesh to prickle across your skin. Somehow, you know that his gaze has pierced through your shield and your heart clenches as fear washes over you with renewed strength. Panic, thick and strong, grips you, but you can not look away.
Silently, you plead with whatever higher being there might be for this man to turn away. You can feel his pain, his emptiness, and his despair. You see yourself behind those glowing pools of blue and you do not like what you see there. Ghosts of the dead are swimming within.
Reality suddenly crashes into you as your silent prayer is answered, and you flinch from the rush of noise that clamors against your ears. With heart pounding, you down the rest of your drink, ignoring the burn of alcohol in your empty stomach. Reaching into your pants pocket, you withdraw the gil needed to pay for it as well as extra for the bartenders tip. With a trembling hand, you set it next to your empty glass and rise on legs that feel as if they are suddenly made of lead. You keep your eyes fixated on the counter as you steady yourself, not wanting to risk making eye contact with the red-head again. You are far from drunk, but anyone looking at you might think otherwise as you sway slightly, your teeth biting into your bottom lip.
You don't want to ask yourself how just one look into his eyes could affect you to such a degree. You don't want to know, are too afraid to know. With a deep breath, you let go of the counter and make your way to the entrance. As you pass by the red-head, your heart leaps into your throat, fearing that he might turn and grab your arm, halting your escape. That is exactly what you are doing; escaping, though the only things you have run from in recent memory are your own personal demons.
He does not reach out to you, does not even acknowledge your presence, but your heart does not resume its normal pace until the door seals you out in the rain and you begin your trek home.
* * *
Rusted hinges creak as you open the door and step into the familiar atmosphere of the bar. As always you walk to your favored seat, and as your bottom settles onto the stool, the bartender pushes your drink in front of you. You nod, he nods...and then things begin to spiral out of control.
"I think you have an admirer," the bartender confides to you.
Your hand, which is reaching for your drink, pauses halfway to its destination and you blink at the man, your stomach twisting into knots.
"Wha...What?" you croak. You want to bolt back out into the comfort of the night but this man has been nice to you and besides you don't wish to look like a fool.
Why? Why does he have to speak? Why couldn't he just let things be as they were?
Oblivious to your inner turmoil, he offers you a gentle smile while drying a glass with a yellowed dishtowel. "Reno, the guy with the crazy hair from last night, started asking me questions about you after you left."
Oh, crap. "Questions?" you ask in a horrified whisper. "What kind of questions?"
The bartender shrugs his bony shoulders as he grabs another glass to clean. "Oh, the same ones that always get asked around here like, 'What's her name?' and 'How often does she come in?'." He laughs softly. "I didn't give him any answers, mostly because I didn't know. You seem to enjoy your anonymity and you should stick to that, especially around Reno."
You relax, but only a little, and take a sip of your drink. "Reno? That name sounds familiar," you mumble to yourself, frantically searching your memory.
The bartenders' voice interrupts the process. "He's a Turk, or was, I'm not sure on that now that Shinra Inc. is in ruins. He still wears the suit and so do the others that I've seen, so they must be working for Rufus now."
Your skin begins to feel clammy. "Aren't they the ones that destroyed the plate in Midgar?" you ask quietly, your interest quipped, though you haven't spoken this much to your fellow co-workers.
"That's the rumor, but no one has been able to prove it."
Now you begin to understand the haunted look you had seen in his eyes the night before. You'd look that way too if you had helped kill only the planet knows how many innocents...and not so innocents. Even though it had occurred five years ago, guilt like that never fades, never loosens its hold on the soul.
And you thought your pain was horrible...
A customer walks up to the counter, gaining the bartenders attention, so you settle back and allow the routine to continue while you periodically sip your drink. You begin to wonder if the red-head, Reno, will be back tonight, conflicted as to whether or not you want him to. Part of you screams no because his appearance has disrupted life enough for you but there is also a whispered 'yes' coming from another part of you that you haven't heard from in a long time.
Do you love him? Of course not. Love at first sight is a thing best left for fairytales and stories told by reminiscing lovers. You hadn't always believed that but sometimes things change whether you want them to or not.
You are staring into your glass of pink liquid when you hear the door open. Your whole body tenses because, even though you don't dare look up, you know it's him as if he were summoned by your thoughts. You can feel the weight of his piercing blue eyes as they settle onto you briefly and then the feeling is thankfully gone.
"Hey, Reno," the bartender greets. "The usual?"
Even over the noise of the patrons you can hear the thud of his boots as he heads toward you, your heart jumping at every step.
"Nah, gimme the strongest ya got. It's been a long day."
Like the previous night, you hear him sit two stools down but this time nothing short of a catastrophe will cause your gaze to leave your glass. You trail your thumb through the condensation, yearning for the monotony of your darkened home and yet secretly enjoying the thrill of unexpected change that fate has wrought.
According to your watch, you manage to remain focused for a good six minutes before a strong hand grips your shoulder causing a startled gasp to escape from between your parted lips. Not once in the six months you've been coming here has someone been daring enough to touch you. The sensation that it gives you isn't pleasant and if you had the power you'd simply disappear into thin air, but you don't and so you have to settle for an unavoidable situation.
"Why you sittin' here all by yourself, beautiful?" slurs the man behind you. "No sense in a woman spendin' her nights alone when there are plenty of men want'n to have a go at her."
There are chuckles from a nearby table, the sound no doubt coming from the 'plenty of men' that Casanova had mentioned. He's so close to you that you can feel the buttons of his shirt touch your back and then retreat as he breaths, his touch almost burning through the fabric covering your shoulder. A smell, similar to whiskey, drifts past your cheek, offending your nose and causing your eyes to water. Biting your tongue, you fight against the wave of nausea that constricts your stomach, at the same time trying to find your voice, which seems to have vanished.
The hand on your shoulder suddenly tightens its hold and you wince from the strength of it.
"Ya deaf? I said-"
"Don't think the lady's interested."
Before you can stop yourself, your startled gaze flies away from the condensation trickling down the side of your glass and over to the red-heads face. He isn't looking at you. In fact, he's staring at his own drink, his hair hanging down so that the upper half of his face is obscured. His appearance is just as rumpled as it had been the previous night, if not more so. For the first time you notice that he has a ponytail that is so long it almost reaches his seat.
"Aww, come on, Reno. I'm just tryin' to show her how to have a good time. Looks to me like she needs it."
Reno's face turns ever so slightly in your direction and you catch a glimpse of one blue eye between strands of red hair. "Want to start some shit, Tall, Dark and Ugly?" he asks. "Take your hand off of her if you don't."
You hear a sound like metal sliding against metal and even though you never saw him move, you know he has some sort of weapon hidden from view. Tall, Dark and Ugly seems to realize this as well because his grip loosens and then disappears before he grumbles his way back from whence he came.
You can't help the way your shoulders sag in relief. You close your eyes as you lower your head, drawing in one shaky breath after another. Five seconds passes, it can't be any more than that, and you look back up and have to bite your lip to keep from screaming. Somehow, without making a sound, Reno has slid onto the stool closest to you, his presence accompanied by the smell of vodka.
He shows you a sad, heart clenching smile, "This should keep anyone else from bothering you."
You struggle through your shock and manage a mumbled, "Thank you."
His shoulders lift and fall in a shrug that says 'no big deal.'
You watch him for a moment as he turns his attention back to the drink in his hand. For the past five years, your heart has been searching for something that you could not name. Your fear of change has kept you from living.
"I'm ______," you say in a shaky voice as you hold out your hand.
He looks over at you once more, his Mako eyes locking with yours, and then his warm hand closes around your own.
"Pleased to meetcha, ______."
At the sound of your name rolling off his tongue, there's a strange feeling that tickles the inside of your chest.
It seems that your heart remembers how to flutter after all.