Reno froze in place, his hand still on the doorknob as he stood in the threshold of the room Rufus had moved Cera to. It was hard to believe that just over a week ago, she had been struggling to stand. Her face lit up with a smile as she crossed the room to stand before him, walking with an effortless grace that belied her previous physical state, the skirt of her long white dress billowing softly with each step she took.
“Something wrong?” she asked him, turning to gaze at herself in a mirror that was situated next to them. She looked herself over self-consciously for a moment before looking to him again. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” he told her, shaking his head and shrugging as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a deck of playing cards. “You ready?”
Cera nodded, but her smile wasn’t completely genuine, and he tilted his head slightly as he studied her and tried to figure out what was on her mind. Then he mentally shook himself for even giving a crap about her feelings and stepped past her to go sit at the small table by the window.
He had to move aside a pile of comic books to make room for them to play on the same ones Rude had lent him, which he had then passed on to her when she told him she was bored sitting in her room all day with nothing to do. He glanced over his shoulder at her as he sat down, and noticed a blush creeping up into her cheeks when he caught her staring at him.
“Were you checking out my ass, yo?” he asked her in a playful voice, giving her a wink and one of his trademark grins. She shook her head, the color of her cheeks growing darker as she moved to take her own seat across from him, and he laughed and she sat down, refusing to look him in the eye.
Reno knew he shouldn’t be flirting with her, or even spending as much time with her as he had been the past several days, but he couldn’t help himself. Being around her gave him this weird feeling he just couldn’t describe, and until he was able to get to the bottom of just what that feeling was, he was content to damn the risks and sit with her while they played cards and talked.
At first, the conversation had been awkward. Since she had no recollection of anything that had happened prior to when they found her, he had given her a brief history lesson on the major happenings in and around Midgar, starting with the whole Sephiroth incident and leading up to the city’s destruction and the birth of the new industrial capitol, Edge. She listened intently to every word he said, asking questions every now and then about the places and people he had been talking about, and he could see it in her eyes how much she was coming back to life with everything she learned.
“Oh! I almost forgot,” she exclaimed, raising a hand to her mouth at her outburst. Reno looked at her and saw a slight blush coloring her cheeks as she cleared her throat and continued speaking in a calmer voice. “I remembered something this morning.”
“You did?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. He was excited for her, but the prospect of her remembering who she was and where she came from also brought a certain amount of dread upon him. Why he was dreading it was beyond him, though. Maybe because with the knowledge that she was regaining her memories also came the knowledge that she would likely go back to that life and a part of him didn’t want that. He was still unsure about Rufus’ motives for bringing her to their headquarters rather than letting her stay in the hospital, but a part of him had grown somewhat accustomed to their daily meetings. If nothing else, he would definitely regret not being able to ignore his regular duties any more.
She nodded. “I remembered my full name,” she told him with a sort of half-smile that caused his stomach to lurch in an unusual way that it hadn’t before around her up until that moment. “Well, my full first name, anyway.”
Reno tilted his head slightly as he looked at her. “I thought you said you remembered them calling you Cera before?”
“I did, and I do,” she clarified for him. “It’s just that I’ve remembered Cera is actually shorter for something else.”
“And what’s that?” he asked her.
“Ceraluci?” He repeated, carefully pronouncing each syllable.
“Yes,” she confirmed with a nod. “I remembered meeting someone, and I told them that was my name.”
“Remembered meeting who?” he wondered aloud.
She shrugged. “Can’t really say. He was probably average height… dark hair, glasses not the best-looking guy in the world and I remember he had this voice that just grated on my every last nerve.”
Reno’s eyes widened slightly at her description of the man. He knew someone who could fit every characteristic she had mentioned, down to that annoying voice.
“Was he a doctor?” he asked carefully. She sat there for a moment, her brow furrowing in concentration as she tried to remember, then sighed deeply.
“I don’t know. He might have been. He wore some sort of a lab coat.”
Hojo, Reno though. But how the hell was he involved with her?
An idea came into his mind even as he thought the question, and it forced him to take another look at the girl sitting across from him. Hojo was a scientist employed by ShinRa. She was found in a ShinRa research center. It begged the question: What sort of experiments were they doing on her? The entire idea made him sick to his stomach. To think that she had probably been taken away from her family at a young age so that deluded maniac could use her as a lab rat made him wish Hojo was still alive so he could snap his neck, personally.
Her voice brought him out of his thoughts of revenge and sent his thinking pattern in an entirely different direction.
So what if she was experimented on? Plenty of others were, too, and you didn’t give a shit about any of them. What makes her so different? Why is she special?
He shook his head and did his best to smile at her, but he knew it looked as forced as it felt.
“Sorry. I was just trying to think if I knew anyone like that or not.”
She eyed him for a moment, and he could tell from the look on her face that she wasn’t buying into his excuse. Instead of calling him on it, though, she simply shrugged and removed the playing cards from their box, prompting him to sight softly in relief.
“You know,” she finally said, her lips forming into a smirk as she shuffled the cards. “I was wondering something about you.”
“Oh?” Reno asked as he watched her hands. He had just taught her how to play poker, but she had caught on quickly and even shuffled with more flair than he did. It made him wonder if she had worked in a betting parlor before losing her memory.
“Everyone wants to know my name,” she stated, dealing them their card. “But what about you?”
“What about me?” he asked as he reached for the cards she had laid in front of him. Her hand reached across the table and settled on his, causing another startling lurch in his stomach, and he swallowed a bit uneasily as he met her eyes.
“I want to know your name.”
“It’s Reno,” he teased her. “You know that. Or have you forgotten?”
Cera shook her head. “Your full name, Reno.”
He looked away from her, staring at the cards under his hand, his expression turning from playful to bitter in a matter of seconds.
“I don’t use my last name.”
“But you still have one,” she pointed out.
He shook his head. “I still don’t use it, which means it isn’t important.”
“Why don’t you use it?” she asked. She started caressing his hand with her thumb, and he hand to pull himself away from her. He looked up into her eyes and saw a flicker of embarrassment in them as she drew her own hand back, placing it in her lap He wanted to tell her she didn’t do anything wrong, that it was okay, but his own reaction to that simple gesture had scared the hell out of him. One touch, one reassuring caress, and he was just about ready to spill his guts to her.
“I don’t like my last name,” he informed her. “I think it’s ridiculous.”
It wasn’t a total lie, but it was only partly true, as well. He did think his last name was stupid. Because it was a bit unusual, people always either asked him how to spell it or how to pronounce it. Reno, on the other had was easy easy to spell, easy to say, easy to remember, easy to forget. The true reason he didn’t use it, though, went deeper than something as superficial as thinking it was a dumb name. It was his father’s name. He’d hated the man for most of his life, ever since he walked out on him and his mom when he was a kid. Then his mother had died, and he hated his father even more for not giving enough of a damn to come back for him.
“I’ll make you a deal,” she offered with a smirk that could almost rival one of his when he was up to no good. “If I win this hand, you have to tell me your last name.”
“And what if I win?” Reno asked her, raising an eyebrow suspiciously. She shrugged in response.
It was a loaded statement if he ever heard one, and as soon as it came out of her mouth his head was swimming with images of every improper thing he wanted to do to her. The first thing he thought of was bending her over the very table they were sitting at and…
Stop it! He scolded himself. You do not want to fuck her!
But he knew that was a lie. She was a half-decent-looking girl more than half-decent, really and he was a guy with a libido as unruly as his hair.
“Well?” she prodded him with that single word and a smile as she leaned forward, bending her arm on the table and resting her chin in the palm of her hand. “What do you want if you win, Reno?”
“Dinner,” he said before he could stop himself.
“Dinner?” she asked, eyebrows moving upward slightly. “You mean, like a date?”
Reno shrugged in reply. “You eat. I eat. We could eat together for one meal without it being a date.”
He watched her as she considered his offer for a moment before slowly nodding as she picked up her cards. He mirrored her action, fanning his own hand of card before his eyes and smirking at his good fortune. Two kings and two sevens. One more of either and he had a full house, or at the very least he’d end up with two pair. His eyes flickered to her face as he caught her staring at her cards, deep in concentration, rolling her bottom lip between her teeth.
“I’ll take one,” he told her, pulling the mismatched card from his hand and sliding it, face-down, across the table toward her. She nodded absently and gave him a single card off the top of the pile, then discarded three of her own, replacing them with a relieved sigh. He raised an eyebrow at her in curiosity, picking up his card and grinning triumphantly as he was rewarded with the seven of clubs.
“What do you have?” Cera asked him, and he laid his card out for her to see.
“Full house,” he announced. “So, what kind of food do you like? I know this place that makes the best authentic Wutaian cuisine in the area.”
“Not so fast,” she scolded, fanning out her own cards on the table in front of her. Reno looked down in horror to find four queens staring back at him. He swallowed uneasily and looked up to find her brown eyes sparkling with suppressed laughter.
“So… About that name of yours,” she purred, tracing her finger over the visage of the queen of hearts as she grinned at him. Thinking fast, Reno quickly looked at his watch and stood from his seat at the same time.
“Damn, I gotta go. Big meeting to attend. Guess I just lost track of time, yo. We’ll continue this later, okay?”
He spoke rapidly, backing up toward the door even as she rose from her own chair and began advancing on him. He put on a sheepish grin and shrugged helplessly, giving her his best innocent look as he attempted to escape.
“Not so fast,” she reprimanded him, moving quickly to block his path. “I won. You owe me payment.”
“I really gotta go.” Reno insisted, attempting to step around her. She side-stepped back and forth, blocking his path each time and smiling in amusement.
“I’m not letting you by until you tell me you last name, Reno,” she announced once he had finally stopped trying to strafe his way around her. The redheaded Turk sighed deeply, his shoulders slumping in defeat, and her grin grew even wider.
Reno waited until he saw her relax, and then he seized the opportunity to lunge around her, heading for the door. Unfortunately, she was one step closer to it than he was, and managed to back herself up against it just as his hand encircled the doorknob.
“Move, Cera,” he told her, his tone mildly threatening. She simply shook her head in reply.
Reno wasn’t sure how to react to their sudden closeness. At first he was surprised. He had never realized just how tall she was until that moment. She was probably close to the same height as Cloud, which was unusually tall for a woman, but still shorter than he was by at least three inches. He also noticed a bit of a scar forming where the gash in her head had been, and some unusual flecks of color in her brown eyes. They were almost burgundy, contrasting a great deal with the expected flecks of gold he found in her irises.
She reached up to touch his face with her right hand and he flinched slightly, his left hand automatically coming up to grip her wrist as she traced her fingertips along the carefully arched line across his cheek. She gasped at his reaction, the way his fingers dug into her skin, and he quickly let go.
“Sorry,” he apologized, hoping he hadn’t hurt her too much. “I’m just not used to people doing that.”
“It’s okay,” she said quietly and gave him a small smile as she repeated the action of running her fingertips over the mark, causing a small shiver to run up his spine.
“You know,” she mused, tilting her head to the side and repeating the same action upon the mark on the other side of his face, “I thought they were scare, at first. Then I noticed how perfectly symmetrical the are, so I thought they couldn’t possibly be scars. And now,” she traced them both at the same time and Reno closed his eyes, swallowing uneasily. “They don’t feel like scars at all, so I’m certain they can’t be. Tattoos?”
Reno nodded, keeping his eyes closed as he tried to heed the warning of the little voice in the back of his head even as another was screaming to kiss her.
“I was named the leader of a gang when I was sixteen,” he explained without looking at her. “The tattoos were a mark of my status.”
Cera nodded, her hands falling away from his face, and Reno opened his eyes to see her looking at him with a mixture of desire and fear etched upon her features. She blushed when he caught her staring at him like that, looking away and tucking a loose strand of her long black hair behind her ear. Before he could stop himself, he reached out and placed his hand under her chin, turning her head back toward him.
What the hell are you doing?
The rational part of him screamed for him to stop, but he wasn’t about to start listening to it, not with the way her lips parted so invitingly as her eyes met his again. He moved toward her, her hands flattening against his chest as their mouths grew closer, and he saw her eyes flutter closed as her warm breath blew across his skin in a sigh. His eyes fell closed just as he started closing the distance, their lips brushing and causing her to gasp softly and pull back reflexively in surprise. Reno smiled as he started leaning closer to her once more, when suddenly his phone rang.
Cera’s eyes flew open and she looked up at him, startled. They stared at each other for a moment as his phone kept ringing, until it became apparent that whoever it was wouldn’t give up until someone answered. Reno pulled the phone from his pocket, glanced down at the caller ID, and swore under his breath when he found the call was coming from Rufus Shinra’s office. Giving her an apologetic look, he took a step back away from her and opened the portable handset, bringing it to his ear.
“Reno, what are you doing?” came the smooth baritone of the ShinRa corporation’s president.
“What do you mean?” the redhead asked, feigning innocence.
“Don’t play coy with me, I can see you. You were about to kiss her, weren’t you?”
Reno’s entire body became more alert at the statement, and he began looking around the room for some sort of camera. It was the only way Rufus could possibly know exactly what was going on in that room.
“Behind the mirror, Reno,” came his employer’s voice, answering the question he had only asked in his mind.
Keeping the phone to his ear, Reno walked over to the mirror Cera had been inspecting herself in earlier. Propping the handset between his ear and his shoulder, he pulled the reflective glass away from the wall and peeked behind it. There, mounted in the wall, was a security camera, and a glance at the back of the glass confirmed it was a one-way mirror.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered under his breath, looking over his shoulder at Cera, who was watching him intently, her eyes full of curiosity. Rufus was obviously spying on her every move, and it irked him to know that he’d been watching their every move all along.
“Meet me in my office immediately,” he heard Rufus order before the line went dead in his ear.
Reno closed the handset and placed it back in his jacket pocket as he looked Cera over with a sigh. She was still looking at him with a question in her eyes, confusion over what the conversation he had just had had been about. It struck him how innocent she seemed, standing there in that immaculate white dress Rufus had picked for her to wear, and he cursed himself for having wanted to taint that purity by kissing her.
“I have to go,” he answered her unasked question. She nodded, stepping away slightly from the door, and Reno crossed the room to stand before her again. He hesitated a moment, then leaned closer and kissed her cheek.
“It’s Auchenleck,” he whispered before standing up straight again and going to the door.
“What?” Cera asked, turning to him as he turned the doorknob and started took a step put into the hall.
“My name,” he told her as he looked back at her over his shoulder. “It’s Reno Auchenleck.”
She smiled at him, and he felt that weird sensation in his stomach once more as he smiled back at her. For a moment, they simply remained looking at one another. Then, with a sigh, Reno stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind him before beginning the trip up to the top floor and Rufus Shinra’s office.