Tarnished Side Chapter 1

By Janet Monstwillo

Hopping out of the train door, the bald man was confronted immediately by an armed footsoldier. With a few swift kicks, the guy was on his knees, wanting his mommy, and the bald man hadn't even shown a facial expression.

"Good job, Rude," commented the statuesque brunette, who had followed him off the train.

He merely nodded, noting that when a pretty smile lit up her features, one could barely notice the purple scar marring the right side of her face.

"Are we gonna stand here and chit chat, Tifa?" A third person joined them on the platform.

"Of course not, Zack."

"Then get your asses in gear," he urged them. As the group ran off, he turned back to the train. "And you, get on the fucking ball, newbie."

"Don't rush an artist," came the reply. The thin red-haired man flipped out the train door with a grand gesture, only to be ambushed by another footsoldier. Grinning, he dodged the first bullet and swung hard with his nightstick. Pressing a button on the side, he watched as the soldier was electrocuted. "Better cut down on the frying. It's bad for your health."

"Come on," muttered Zack. "Reno, we're on a schedule."

"You're ignorant of the way the street works." Reno leaned over the charred corpse, finding a few gil coins and an undamaged Ice materia. Slapping the orb into an empty slot on his simple armlet, he stood upright. "Just because I'm new to your group doesn't make me a fresh, green, naïve little boy."

Zack merely glared back at him.

Flashing another grin, he began to walk away. "Well," he said, glancing back, "I thought we were on a schedule."

* * * * * *

"So we're blowing this thing up?"

"Not so loud," hissed Tifa.

"Hold your horses, scarface, I want to get filled in on why the hell you guys exactly want to destroy part of this city."

Rude shook his head and went back to entering access codes.

"I speak Rude gestures," said Zack sarcastically, "that one means you should have been asking this question before you hooked up on this mission."

"That's it? Come on." Reno raised an eyebrow. "You know you wanna try and recruit me to your glorious cause."

"Look...we're on a mission to take out the enemy. If they get the strength to finally finish Junon, complete with the big guns and impenetrable armor, we're all screwed. Not just us here, but all of our family and friends back home."

"Your 'back home' people sided with Wutai, that makes this imminent danger your own damn fault. Wutai's victory fifteen years ago was a fluke. A fluke you can thank that dumbass Sephiroth for." Reno snickered. "Not that the Shinra aren't assholes, too. That's why my cause is the best one. The cause of money."

"That seems like a damn lonely side," said Tifa.

"But honey, think about it. If your terrorist group fails at bringin' down Shinra, I win. I have the money to buy security. Same thing if your foolish pipe dream manages to bring a billion gil corporation to its knees."

"Don't you even care about their tyranny and oppression? That the awe-inspiring victory of Wutai means absolutely nothing if Shinra conquers the free people anyway, now by brute force?"

Reno reached up and caressed her cheek. "Sweet thing, as long as you pay me, I'll try my damnedest to make your mission a success. I can even pretend to believe in it if the situation requires." He slid his hand lower along her body. "And maybe afterward..."

"I'm in." Rude stepped back from the console, and the door to the reactor slid open.

Reno turned from Tifa. "We'll talk later." Patting Rude on the shoulder condescendingly, he smirked. "And to you, congrats on achieving the art of the sentence, man."

* * * * * *

The explosion had lit up the skies brighter than any Victory Day fireworks. Then again, Victory Day was a cover-up for the Wutaian defeat. Shinra's claims of victory in the war fifteen years ago had been a fabrication.

The Planet had told Aeris that much of the truth. Perhaps that's why the blast had scared her so much. What if that old enemy was coming to finish off Midgar, once and for all? Twenty minutes passed before she allowed herself to emerge from the abandoned car that she had used as a makeshift shelter.

She decided to head straight home. People were rushing around her with a strange sense of urgency. Home sounded pretty good.

Suddenly, someone knocked into her, full force. Landing hard on her bottom, Aeris winced in pain and watched in disappointment as the contents of her basket scattered all over the alley. Then she realized that the person's head was in her lap. "Excuse me," she said softly.

"You know that whole 'watching where you're going' thing...it's a good idea," the guy mumbled as he slowly sat up. "You're quite solid, honey, do you work out?"

A giggle.

"Wow, most girls would've strangled me by now." He flashed her a smile. "I'm Reno, and I'm sorry for knocking you over...even if your lap is quite the nice place to be."

"You're the first person who's apologized for spilling my flowers. Happens quite a bit," she said softly.

"Mean ol' Midgar." He stood and reached a hand down to help her up. "Actually, I probably have spilled your flowers before. Guess it takes falling on top of a sweet thing like you to actually notice her."

"You're coming on to me!"

"Is that a complaint or a startling realization?"

"Probably a combination of both." She rolled her eyes and looked at her flowers sadly. Reaching down and picking up her basket, she began to collect the broken blossoms.

"Hey...like I said, I'm sorry about the flowers." Reno stuck his hands in his pockets. As he fidgeted, a jingle rose to his ears. "Oh, I completely forgot!" He pressed the gil pieces into her hand. "Maybe this'll make up for it."

"I don't need your money--"

"Shut up and take it, before my conscience ceases to exist for another month. I'm getting paid soon tonight anyway, so it's no biggie."

She looked at the coins warily. (They look like they've been in a fire...)

"I just want one thing in return. A date."

Aeris stared at him in astonishment. "A date?"

"Hell, I'll even bring you flowers. Where do you live?"

Her head was spinning. "Sector 5..." she managed. "...the slums," she added softly. (Why am I doing this? I can't have this grungy guy coming over and asking my mom if he can have the pleasure of my company.)

Reno slapped himself. "Jeez, I almost forgot. What's your name?"

She spoke softly. "It's--"


Several footsoldiers came running down the street. One of the spotted Reno and yelled. "There's one of them!"

He gave an apologetic smile to Aeris and began to run in the opposite direction. "We'll finish this later, flower girl..." His voice trailed as he ran off into the night, soldiers behind him in hot pursuit.

She cautiously followed behind, just in time to see the thin man pause in front of the train tracks. His bright blue-green eyes caught hers, and he gave her a wink.

The sound of whistling grew closer and the vibration of an oncoming locomotive resounded underneath the street.

"Ta ta, gentlemen!" called Reno, as he backflipped onto the top of the rushing train, disappearing into the darkness as it entered a tunnel.

Aeris ducked back into the shadows of the alley before the soldiers could recognize her. Heart pounding, she shook her head and sat back down on the cold, hard ground. (The last person I need to have in my life is another renegade.)

* * * * * *

The rumble inside the train was only slightly deafening. Just enough so the three people in the freight car had to yell to be heard.

"I wonder what happened to Reno." Tifa sighed. "At first, he seemed like a candidate for the long haul."

"He's an egotistical jackass," stated Rude plainly.

For awhile, the only noticeable sound was the rattle of the door latch.

"He acted like he was eager to help. Plus, he had all that knowledge from escaping Shinra jail."

"You sweet on him, Lockhart?" asked Zack.

"Of course not. It's just he was so hateful towards the Shinra when I met him at my bar."

"He thrives here. Stench of Shinra coats him."

Tifa shrugged and looked away. "If he can help us, it wouldn't matter if it were Sephiroth himself. It's just too bad he's--"

There was a loud crash as the train door was kicked open and a man jumped inside. Sliding the cover back, Reno turned to the group. "What can I say? Love dramatic entrances."


Tifa suppressed her happy reaction into a tiny smile. "So you did make it."

"Of course doll, I need to get paid. Managed to run out of cash. I bought some flowers."


"Yeah, knocked a pretty girl's basket over."

"You'll get your money when we make it back to the hideout." Zack gave him a hard look.

"Sure thing, sir." Reno performed a mock Soldier salute. "Then we can discuss the terms of my next mission."

The train lurched to a halt. "This is the stop," remarked Rude, throwing the door open and stepping outside, followed by Reno.

"Next mission, huh?"

Tifa turned her eyes downward.

Zack stepped towards her. "If he can help us with our mission, then we must keep him. No other reason. He's not worth your bother. You deserve better than him...if not because he was once the leader of a Midgar street gang, then because he doesn't respect you."

She stepped towards him. "I hear jealousy in your voice, that, and fear. Who's losing sight of the mission?"

He slowly descended to the platform, watching the slender girl run through a place where the sun would never shine, and rain would never fall. The sun never set on the slums--that was because sunrise never came.

There was more than one thing he was fighting for.

Chapter 2

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic