[identity profile] kawree.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] ship_manifesto
Title: Punch-Drunk Love
Author: [livejournal.com profile] turkish_delight, [livejournal.com profile] aenigmadarai
Fandom: FFVII
Pairing: Reno/Tifa
Word Count: 13,753 >.>;;
Spoilers: The Game, of course; mostly focuses on Advent Children, references to Before Crisis. IMAGE HEAVY, YO.

I know this is a little early, but I just couldn't stand to sit on my hands anymore. It's hella long, so there's a link to part two at the bottom of this one. >.> I really need to learn the art of brevity...


Introduction: A House of Cards


In every organization, corporation, or association, there is bound to be something of a wild card. You know the type--the one who stands at the head of the angry mob and taunts the opposition with a carrot on a stick and dares them to advance; the one who breaks every rule and finds every loophole and still manages to stay in the chief's good graces because despite all the unorthodox methods, the job still gets done, and gets done damn well. Every society or establishment has its peppering of these characters; the people who push the envelope and get away with it because they're too damn charismatic to stay angry with, the mavericks who aren't afraid to test the boundaries of their own humanity and the limits of their passion.

So what happens when you take two wild cards from two opposing sides of an ongoing war and put them in the same room? Well...one of two things. Either there will be a horrendous and epic battle in which several nations are destroyed as each tries to get the other to see that their way is certainly the right way...or there will be a brief period of hissing, spitting, and posturing before each realizes that the other's methods are really no different than their own. Occasionally, both occurrences will come about, and that is where this manifesto begins.

On one side of the fence we have the ShinRa Company--a global conglomerate with basically a monopoly on everyone and everything including the kitchen sink and the water pump that runs it. Weapons, electricity, space exploration, R&D--you name it, ShinRa's logo is on it. ShinRa's biggest claim to fame is their mako technology; having harnessed the unfathomable power of the Lifestream that runs beneath the planet's surface, ShinRa was well on its way to ruling the world with an electric bill...however, being the worldwide label that they are, of course ShinRa has plenty of detractors. The hippie population of Gaia would give its last string of love beads to see ShinRa wiped off the face of the planet, and spares no expense to see that every effort is made to show the mighty bureaucracy that the planet would not go down quietly.

Enter AVALANCHE. When hippies have funding. Standing against everything that ShinRa stands for, AVALANCHE is a vigilante challenger--a real thorn in ShinRa's side. They aren't shy about using brutal methods to get what they want, and don't bother with diplomacy when making their presence known. Armed with a ragtag legion of planet-loving environmentalists (and the occasional megalomaniacal mad-scientist bent on destroying the world) drunk with the knowledge that if ShinRa is not stopped, the life force of the planet will be sucked dry, AVALANCHE wages an all-out war on the company that rages on for nearly a decade.

Leading the front of the battle for the planet is Cloud Strife, a boy from Nibelheim with dreams of being a hero and a hairdo that defies gravity. His fledgling team of mismatched friends grows to a full regimen of first-rate warriors, eventually encompassing Barret Wallace--a gung-ho tank of a man with a machine gun for an arm and a fighting spirit that dwarfs his own stature, Cid Highwind--a foul-mouthed pilot with visions of space travel painted on the insides of his eyelids, Yuffie Kisaragi--a kleptomaniacal ninja princess from Wutai, Aerith Gainsborough--descended from the Ancients who once lived in synch with the planet itself, Red XIII--an experimental specimen rescued from the clutches of ShinRa's science department, Cait Sith--a robotic cat controlled from afar by one of ShinRa's own executives, and Vincent Valentine--a deserter of ShinRa's most elite and top-secret of departments. Among this rather motley lineup, who would be best cast as Cloud's right-hand man--or woman, as it were? His childhood friend, Tifa Lockhart, whose passion to destroy ShinRa burns as brightly as the fires that destroyed their hometown. Sparing no delicacies to show ShinRa just how much she thinks of them, Tifa casts aside any pre-established labels of demure femininity and instead throws fists, ready to stick by Cloud until the bitter end.

On the other hand, we have ShinRa's finest--the Department of Administrative Research, a.k.a. the Turks. And who stands at the head of the formation to stand against AVALANCHE but their second-in-command--the haphazard nonconformist with hair to match his temper and an attitude to match his style. Wielding an electro-mag rod and a slew of sarcastic remarks, Reno leads the Turks in the fight against AVALANCHE to save his company--and, consequently, his Turks--from annihilation at the hands of not only AVALANCHE, but Sephiroth, the monster ShinRa itself released into the world.

But when the dust clears and the monsters are gone and ShinRa is in shambles and AVALANCHE is all but disbanded...what's left for a first-mate and a second-in-command to do? Once the fighting is over and nobody really knows who emerged victorious in the first place...when chocobo-headed heroes fall to simple delivery boys and corporate gods are reduced to sickly shadows of their former glory...what are these deputies to do with their time, their knowledge, and their idle minds? How far can a pair of wild cards get in a broken world of folded hands?


The Players: Two Cards Up Your Sleeve


Love takes two--anybody can tell you that. The trick is finding two who are not only physically compatible, but whose desires, dreams, and overall destination are close enough that they can get there together. Certainly Tifa and Reno don't immediately strike as kindred spirits, but if they simply cast aside their precedent for hating each other's guts, they would find a lot of common ground upon which to stand.


THE SLEIGHT OF HAND: RENO


While it may not be apparent at first glance, Reno is, above all things, dedicated and loyal. Before Crisis gives us a Turks' Eye View of life, and we are shown without a doubt that his Turks are his family, and even an evident goofball like Reno knows that family is something one cannot live without. Despite his tendency to idle and slack off, he can always be counted on when the going gets tough--he's not second-in-command for nothing. Proud, defiant, obnoxious boisterous and sarcastic, Reno is outwardly a somewhat abrasive personality, and most decidedly an acquired taste in company; with his inclination toward ridiculous behavior, it's really no wonder nobody takes him very seriously. But what anyone who doesn't work closely with him likely doesn't realize is that beneath the chatter and absurd gesticulation...beneath the façade of a cold-blooded killer and a lap-dog to the ShinRa Company is the heart of a man who really just wants to have fun with his life. For the most part, he appears to be a genuinely happy person with a job he's good at and friends he can count on--something hard to come by in the more recent years of Gaia--and while it may be true that he does what he's told and gets his job done no matter what, Reno lives by his own rules and does things his own way. He kills when he must, but would honestly rather just let people do as they pleased, claiming to be "off-duty" when the instructions of the moment don't suit his fancy. He's always up for a little senseless destruction, but only if nobody's really getting hurt. Surprisingly enough, it seems he's got something of a soft spot for kids, and has been known to stop what he's doing--even if it's fleeing for his life--to assist a child in need. (This is something he will certainly never own up to.)

Actually, it is this softer side if his personality that often seems to be the subject of debate--there is a large chunk of the fandom that appears to believe Advent Children completely ruined Reno's character. I, however, disagree entirely. The problem, in my opinion, is that when the game was translated and brought to the US, we got a different flavor of Reno than his true character dictated. I'm not implying in the slightest that the translators did a bad job of translating the dialogue from Japanese to English. The problem lies in the oral and vernacular characterization that the Japanese language not only allows for, but is often defined by...that simply does not carry over into English. Perhaps one of the best examples of taking too much artistic liberty with translation is this line, said in the first scene where we meet Reno in Aerith's church when Aerith and Cloud flee:

レノ「古代種が
Reno: The Ancient is getting away! Attack! Attack! Attack!

Uhm...stop putting words in Reno's mouth, please. In the original, all he says is "The Ancient is..." and leaves off the rest of the sentence. He's musing, not ordering an attack--or even if he is, he's certainly not as adamant about it as the English makes him sound. This gives a false impression of Reno's being far more brutal and trigger-happy than he may actually be. It is misinterpretations such as this one that make his happy-go-lucky attitude from Advent Children seem off, when it is in fact not off at all. Most of his lines indicate that he is really pretty much just as ridiculous and non sequitur and not serious business as the movie dictates--he speaks very casually and with an almost drawling, laid-back vernacular. Just because he follows orders and does his job and drops the Plate on the slums because that's what his boss needs him to do doesn't mean he's a heartless villain who will stand back to watch innocent bypassing children be smashed beneath the claws of Bahamut Sin.

But don't misunderstand. While Reno may not be the epitome of all evil that some people take him for (he's a Turk, not a monster), he's not exactly poster-child for model behavior either (he's a Turk, not a saint). He drinks like a fish and holds his liquor better than people twice his size, is probably prone to smoking in inappropriate locations, and loves to be the center of attention, regardless of whether said attention is good or bad. He's not too nice to play a few childish pranks on someone to get a rise out of them, and while he surely doesn't seem the type of person to take a joke too far and breach the line of cruelty, it's certainly not beneath him to have a good laugh at someone else's expense. He's crude and has a wickedly sarcastic sense of humor, embellished with slightly more than a splash of a perverted streak (come on, you know he's a perv). He may secretly be something of a gentleman at heart (well, any man worth his salt holds a door open for a lady, after all), but his finish could definitely use a little polish before anybody will be wanting to take him home to meet Mom and Dad.

A Turk takes his job seriously, and even if it is the only thing Reno takes seriously, he's unwilling to compromise a mission for anything. Just because he's a nut at heart doesn’t mean he can't do a damn bang-up job of kicking ass and taking names...and taking no prisoners. When a Turk is crossed, there's hell to pay, and Reno's more than happy to collect. You don't toy with ShinRa's finest unless you've got a real death wish on your agenda, and when push comes to shove, Reno will throw off the gloves and fight tooth and nail for his own. The FFVII Ultimania Omega says of Reno, "The condition of his uniform suggests the attitude and personality of one who is irresponsible, but his self-confidence and pride as a Turk is twice that of most men." ...Yeah, that about says it.

Overall, Reno will be the first to tell you that while work almost always comes first, he's surely not too busy to have a little fun with his day. If that means taking an extended lunch break or an impromptu afternoon off, so be it. He is fiercely devoted to those he deems worthy of befriending, and protects those put in his charge with his life. His methods might be slightly unorthodox (okay very unorthodox), but by now the Turks all know that he'll get the job done, regardless of the procedure, even if it means letting the 'enemy' go in an effort to destroy the greater evil. Bluntly honest to a fault (no sense beating around the bush, right?) and hilariously animated, Reno is far more the picture of an overgrown kid than a battle-hardened killer; perhaps his inexplicable allure lies in the effortless way he manages to balance the two.


THE FLOURISH: TIFA LOCKHART


Tifa Lockhart is fiercely devoted, relentlessly loyal and loving, and dedicated to a fault. Her mother died when she was eight, leaving her father and her alone in the world, and after her bout of blinding grief sent her questing for solace up a mountain and resulted in her falling from a bridge and into a week-long coma, the two of them became inevitably closer. She learned at a very young age that family is rarely unfractured and complete, but that even with its faults and cracks, family is something every person wants, deserves, needs...and loves.

Despite the way she loves ferociously and without reserve, Tifa is hesitant to take anyone into her heart in the first place--she learned the hard way many times over that there is no pain greater than losing those you love. Her mother died, her good friend Cloud left her when she was young, and her beloved father was murdered at the hands of ShinRa's abomination Sephiroth; after the incident at Nibelheim, Tifa was left to start a new life in Midgar, mourning the loss of quite literally everything she'd ever loved.

And so Tifa took all that pain of loss and poured it into the hatred of the ShinRa company that had taken everything away; she loathed ShinRa with every ounce of passion her boundless heart could muster, and it's really not surprising that she vaulted through the ranks of AVALANCHE in the few short years she'd lived in Midgar so that her bar had come to host the organization's headquarters by the start of the game. Her level of involvement is testimony to the fact that Tifa is both passionate about her work and capable--she wouldn't have become the co-leader alongside Barret if she hadn't had a good head on her shoulders.

After the destruction of Sephiroth, Tifa acknowledges that her devotion to AVALANCHE wasn't really to save the planet, but to avenge her father and her town, and so they retire their organization to try and live out the rest of their lives in peace. Tifa, along with Cloud, Barret, and Marlene, builds a new establishment to sell food and drink, and hopefully offer up at least a few fleeting hours of happiness to the bereaved people of Edge. She hopes to forge a new family with these friends of hers, to finally recreate that which she lost years ago with the help of a man from her past and the friends she's made since then.

Her hopes are never fully realized, however; the family she so desperately wants doesn't rise out of the aftermath of Meteor and Holy, and slowly the family disperses. Tifa holds herself responsible for the destruction of Sector 7, not only because she was unable to stop the plate from dropping, but because it was her bar and her organization that made the sector a target in the first place, and not even after she adopts Denzel, one of many children orphaned in the disaster, does a family emerge. She works alone, caretaker of an absent friend's daughter whom she loves like a sister as a disease slowly kills her adopted son, and she wonders if anyone out there holds family as sacred as she does.

Tifa would, and does on numerous occasions, fight for what she loves. She fights ShinRa for her hometown, fights the Turks for her mission, fights Sephiroth for her father, his Remnants for her surrogate little sister, Bahamut Sin for her son, and even fights Cloud for himself. Her sadness and sorrow, her loneliness is always forgotten in the face of her love, and nothing short of insurmountable brute strength can keep her from fighting for that love to the death. Self-reliant, self-sufficient, proud and stout-hearted and strong, Tifa is a caring friend and mother with one hell of a tenacious streak. No damsels in distress here.



Supporting Characters: Shuffle, Cut, Deal


Tifa and Reno are both part of a team, and as such, neither of them go through the uphill battle of their lives alone. What does this entail? Well, it does throw something of a monkey wrench into the entire dating scenario. No one would approve of a high-ranking presence in AVALANCHE dating a Turk, and certainly no one in ShinRa would be too forgiving of a Turk having relations with the enemy. And so, perhaps to truly get a good understanding of Tifa and Reno themselves, we have to also take a look at the people who are closest to them. Tifa's character is well fleshed-out, as she is a member of your party through the entire game, however Reno does not get such thorough characterization, and we are left to draw many conclusions for ourselves. Luckily, a great deal can be gleaned about Reno if we simply take a look at his comrades. After all, much can be told about a person by the company they keep.


THE JACK OF SPADES: RUDE


Rude is not only Reno's partner in crime, he's Reno's best friend. While we don't know exactly how long these two have worked together, it's clearly been a very long time. They know each other better than anybody--they know each other's likes and dislikes, their tactics, strengths, and weaknesses. Part of what makes them such an unbeatable team is in the dichotomy of their relationship. Rude's stoic and taciturn nature balances Reno's outspokenness; he is the voice of reason that directs the shot in the dark. Strength to Reno's speed, yin to balance yang, it's really no wonder these two team up to make such an infallible and formidable foe.

However, Rude is perhaps the biggest hang-up on Reno's side of this relationship--not because Rude would necessarily find fault with his partner's taste in women. Quite to the contrary, actually: in FFVII, during a scene in Gongaga, Reno prods Rude into telling him who he has a crush on. Rude reluctantly admits he likes Tifa, and Reno is genuinely taken aback by this.

レノ「なあ、ルード。 あんた、誰がいいんだ?
    なに赤くなってるのかな、と。 ん? 誰がいいのかな?
ルード「………………ティファ
レノ「な、なるほど……と
    つらいところだな、あんたも
Reno: Hey, Rude. Who do you like? What are you getting so embarrassed about? Come on? Who do you like?
Rude: ...Tifa.
Reno: Hmmmm... That's a tough one.


What Reno actually implies with "That's a tough one" is that Rude is setting himself up for heartbreak. He more literally says, "That's a painful spot you're in there..." So not only does Reno view Tifa as a tough nut to crack in general, he's thinking that trying to hook up with her will only end in tears. What this tells us is not just that Rude has some manner of affection for Tifa in the first place, but that from the get-go, Reno has a degree of respect for her. If he views Tifa as a difficult prospect who apparently has every means to break his partner's heart, then clearly he acknowledges her as more than simply a pretty face and a good martial artist. The problem that this creates is less that Rude would disapprove of Reno's dating someone in AVALANCHE, and much more that Reno would likely feel terribly guilty for dating the girl his best friend is crushing on. Better break the news gently, Reno.

Although, Rude likely wouldn't fault Reno for his choice, despite the fact that Tifa stands opposed to ShinRa throughout the extent of the game. Rude himself once dated an AVALANCHE spy--a girl named Chelsea, in mission six of Before Crisis. He even knew she was a spy, and only when she herself decided to break off the relationship because she felt guilty for lying to him did Rude part ways with her, and he hasn't dated since. It seems that when Turks fall, they fall hard and for good, regardless of how unwise the decision may be.

On another note of potential hurdle, there is a large part of the fandom that ships these two bad boys together, and I will certainly admit that there is a lot of chemistry between them. However, there is a big difference between having affection for your best friend, and loving your significant other, and while surely these two titles can coincide, I really don't believe that to be the case in this situation. If Reno was going to be in a relationship with a man (and honestly? I can see his door swinging both ways, easily), Rude would probably be the best candidate. But I think most people would agree that Reno just really gives off a Ladies' Man vibe more than anything else.


THE QUEEN OF SPADES: ELENA


Not much is specified on Reno's direct relationship with Elena, however gleaning some information from Before Crisis, we know that Reno is very protective of his junior Turks. Elena should be no exception to this. While he doesn't have much time to mourn her temporary loss during Advent Children, I have no doubt that if Elena and Tseng had truly perished in Northern Crater, their deaths would have hit Reno much harder than he let on. When she first signs on with the Turks in FFVII, Elena probably reminds Reno a lot of himself half a decade or so ago--she's brash, overenthusiastic, and has a tendency to mouth off; much like anyone could imagine Reno was when he was still cutting his teeth on the title of Turk. However despite the fact that she only has a few lines in Advent Children, she appears to have matured a lot over the two years that pass between the game and the movie, withstanding torture at the hands of the Remnants to return to ShinRa and once again stand strong and tall beside her cohorts to protect and serve their corporation.

If Rude is Reno's temperance, then Elena is his earnestness. He becomes the middle road between them, neither as cool headed as his partner nor as hot-blooded as his junior, and despite the deplorably small amount of contact and dialogue these two have together in concrete canon, if Reno's track record with his subordinates is any indication of his feelings toward his cohorts, Elena is no exemption from Reno's decidedly brotherly antics. So while Elena's role in this situation is not as specific, her place in the deck is best described as Reno's ward. In Turtle Paradise, when Elena speaks sharply to Reno that his beliefs on how one should do their job are foolish and irresponsible and then storms off, Reno stops Rude from following her to bring her back. He insists that Elena isn't a child, and to just let her have her way for now. This gives us some indication that Reno isn't one to suffer fools, you could say. If Elena wants to stomp off and look immature, that's not Reno's problem. But as soon as they hear that their wayward rookie has been kidnapped at the hands of the unscrupulous Don Corneo, Reno rushes off to her rescue, prepared to give the Don what for. And while Reno doesn't spare any particular niceties after Elena is safe--

イリーナ「あ、ありがとうございます。 先輩……!
    まさか、助けに来てくれるなんて……
レノ「イリーナ。 あまえるなよ、と
    お前もタークスの一員なんだぜ、と
Elena: Oh, thank you very much...! I never expected you'd to come help...
Reno: Elena, don't act so weak. You're a Turk!


--the fact remains that Reno wasted no time retrieving her from the enemy. For that matter, Reno has something of a precedent for rescuing lost rookies. The younger Turks in Before Crisis see Reno as their senpai--their dependable and knowledgeable elder to whom they can turn when they are in trouble. Throughout the entirety of Before Crisis, Reno is the junior Turks' guide and coach; he shows them the ropes, and serves as their materia tutorial--he even comes to their rescue should they be caught by the enemy, risking his own neck to save his comrades from destruction. It is this reliability and irrefutable affinity for his subordinates and his desire to see them bloom into the best Turks they can be that proves Reno is not only capable of love, but rather bound and defined by how well he projects it.

Elena's thoughts on Tifa are unspecified as well, however one could easily be led to believe that while Elena might not always trust Reno to take the wisest course of action, she trusts him and his judgment enough to stand by his decisions. So Elena might tilt her head and squint at Reno's choice of romantic partner (and probably have plenty to say about it), but the loyalties of the Turks lie with the Turks alone. Elena would never rat out her senior, even if she didn't necessarily approve of his actions.


THE KING OF SPADES: TSENG


Temperance, earnestness, and whatever happy medium lies between them must all be balanced atop some manner of pillar, lest the entire pyramid of equilibrium topple. Tseng is that pillar, not only for Reno and his immediate comrades, but for the Turks as a whole. Leading his team with a cool head, a stern hand, and a quick tongue, Tseng is the mast that supports the sails of the Turks. This undoubtedly gets on Reno's nerves, but even a maverick like Reno can appreciate good leadership (even if he still digs in his heels and gives management a hard time). Tseng and Reno's relationship is--as with most of the finer details of the Turks--mostly left up to interpretation. However in my personal opinion, it would serve to reason that, judging by their individual personalities, while they work well together when the going gets tough, in a more casual setting they drive each other absolutely bananas.

The Turks have no canon information to go off of, other than their standing in the chain of command, and perhaps their taste in the opposite sex. There are no birthdates, no hometowns, no blood types or favorite colors. We are given no specific indication of who these people are, and are thus left to decide for ourselves based on the sparse information we have. Going on this, I am inclined to believe that Tseng and Reno are very close in age, and even though they stand at opposite ends of the Austerity Spectrum™ and indubitably lock horns frequently, there is a grudging respect there that won't allow either of them to fully disregard the other. Tseng is all white gloves and dress code and protocol--Reno is gloves off, what tie? and has no problems bending rules as he sees fit. Tseng is boundaries, paperwork, and decisive action; Reno is all no-holds-barred and shoot first, ask questions later. Tseng is water to Reno's fire--precision to passion. What does this create? Other than a lot of steam... Bear in mind that while Tseng is the leader of the Turks, Reno is his second-in-command, and if Tseng had no faith in Reno's ability to lead in his place, the redhead wouldn't hold such an important title.

So perhaps what Tseng's presence in Reno's life tells us most predominantly is that Reno is a team player first and a pain in the ass second. Tseng is a stern, no-nonsense fellow, and wouldn't put up with his subordinate's shenanigans if there wasn't a damn good bit of payoff to balance it--Tseng wouldn't keep Reno on his wing if he didn't believe Reno could handle his duties in his stead. Water and fire might hiss and sputter and cause third-degree burns when they combine, but steam is a force that can move mountains when put to the proper use. Make no mistake that if Tseng and Reno put their heads together, the cosmos wouldn't stand a chance.

As for Tseng's opinion on the dating front...well maybe he's not quite as much of a wet blanket as he appears. Not only does Tseng bear some manner of affinity for Aerith Gainsborough, but prior to his altercation with Sephiroth in the Temple of the Ancients, he actually asks Elena out to dinner. Maybe if Reno stopped hating on Tseng and his white collar long enough to get to know the guy a little better, he'd know that Tseng apparently has no particular issues with dating at work.


THE ACE OF SPADES: RUFUS SHINRA


Rounding off Team ShinRa, we have the squad captain himself. Er...president, as it were. Dressed in layers of contrasting blacks whites and shades of grey, Rufus Shinra sits atop the throne of the most powerful company in the world. The planet dances at his fingertips, and money is of no consequence to this would-be prince of power. What does this tell us about Reno? Well, that Reno runs with the big dogs, if nothing else. The very nature of ShinRa is that they are the best and only the best of the best make it to their upper ranks--Rufus wouldn't have it any other way.

But Rufus's role in Reno's displays of character actually is significantly larger than people think. Rufus's significant presence in the lives of the Turks come the events of Advent Children not only proves to us that the Turks have moved up in the hierarchy of ShinRa (Shinra Sr., along with most of the executive staff, loathed the Turks and would have loved to see them all knocked off--the one exception being Reeve, who actually aided the Turks during their temporary defection in Before Crisis), but that they now report directly to and work very closely with the president himself. Rufus's ShinRa is most decidedly not the ShinRa his father left behind.

For that matter, Rufus is not the boy he once was, either. Several years prior to the game, Rufus had been leaking secrets of ShinRa's objectives to Fuhito and AVALANCHE, hoping to usurp the company from his father. At one point, Rufus sells the Turks out to AVALANCHE and gives the rebel forces permission to take the meddlesome department out. But when AVALANCHE doublecrosses Rufus, the Turks dutifully snap to attention and protect their wayward president-in-training. Somewhere in the interval between that moment and the events of Advent Children, Rufus and the Turks must have come to some manner of close understanding, and exchanged something of an apology and a ceasefire on the hostilities and misgivings the department surely would have carried with them since the junior Shinra's betrayal.

This confirms beyond shadow of doubt that Reno has a big heart, and is willing to forgive the people who have wronged him. Rufus betrayed the Turks, and yet they turn around and stand by him without hesitation. Rufus handed their lives over to AVALANCHE with every blessing to take them out, and yet come Advent Children, Reno and Rude look downright horrified to see Rufus leap out of the building where he was conversing with Kadaj. The Turks are nothing if not loyal to the ones they have sworn themselves to, and Rufus Shinra may well be the best representation of that true blue constancy.


THE ACE OF HEARTS: CLOUD STRIFE


As Tifa's oldest and best friend, Cloud cares for Tifa in an obvious and unique way. Despite the way he derides himself all through Advent Children, feeling he's not good enough for anyone and unfit to help anyone, he still cares for his friend. His concern for Tifa when he finds her unconscious in Aerith's church is proof enough of that, but perhaps the best indication of his relationship with Tifa is when she yells at him for thinking he can't do anything to help.

Tifa berates Cloud for running away and hiding from them, for giving up the fight against geostigma and being willing to let everything fall to pieces. She loves her best friend dearly, and it really hurts her to see him so depressed and forcibly helpless. So, Tifa does the only thing she can--she bitches Cloud out and sets him straight, getting his ass in gear and up to Ajit to save the kids, and when he returns, he's changed somehow; he becomes determined again, and finds the strength they all had two years ago. She's relieved he's found that in himself again, and proud of him for taking up the fight that saves them all. Though Cloud seems to have lost himself in the events after Meteor and doesn't do much besides slowly abandon Tifa throughout those two years, she still loves him fiercely; he is still family, and while his absence makes her sad, his redemption fills her with a pride and happiness that is nearly indescribable.

Just as Rude throws something of an opposing love interest wrench into Reno's lineup, the idea of there being a romance between Cloud and Tifa is a very popular one. But, like Rude to Reno, Cloud is Tifa's best friend. They've known each other since childhood, and know every facet of one another's personalities, but that doesn't always mean they're destined to be lovers. From the beginning, Tifa was never particularly interested in Cloud; she knew him as the neighbor boy, and little else. Cloud adored Tifa from the get-go, and wanted more than anything to impress her and make her notice him, but she was too devastated by the death of her mother to notice his affections. When they did become friends, it seemed strictly platonic on her end; Tifa needed someone she could depend on, and Cloud was eager to rise to the occasion. It was only after he left town to go join ShinRa that Tifa began to develop a hero-worship crush on him, and when he was returned to her in a nigh catatonic state, all her bottled emotions surged forth into some manner of mother-complex, overpowering romantic feelings with the desire to protect the broken boy that had come home. There was once a time that Tifa probably wanted more than anything to be Cloud's girlfriend, but as time passed and Aerith came into the equation and her death devastated Cloud so badly that he clammed up on himself and took to fleeing his problems instead of dealing with them, Tifa's ability to depend on him began to dwindle. Her love for him never faltered, but with the passage of time and the realization that Cloud's general attitude toward life had taken a turn for the worse with his self-inflicted guilt over Aerith's death, it slowly began to shift from the idealistic infatuation of a girl for the cute courageous boy next door into the love of a woman for a dear old friend and long-time comrade-in-arms.

By the time Advent Children rolls around, Cloud has become a very hard person to be friends with, and yet Tifa never gives up on him. Truly, if anyone captures the depth of Tifa's abiding love, it is Cloud, even if it's not necessarily the degree or flavor of love he (along with most of the fandom) wants it to be.


THE KING OF HEARTS: BARRET WALLACE


The hot-headed co-leader of the Midgar faction of AVALANCHE, Barret was the only other person in the strange cold-hearted city who seemed to want to achieve something for more than just himself. It was Barret who made AVALANCHE a team, and brought that team spirit out in Tifa. He is passionate and dedicated, a loving if unorthodox father, and in him, Tifa found that echo of family she'd been searching for. After the disaster at Nibelheim, Barret became Tifa's only real friend, and it seems that bond of dedication drew others to the cause--Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie all became part of that family, all working together for what they felt was the common good. While Cloud may have known Tifa the longest, Barret surely knows her the best, as the two of them have worked together for a long time, climbing through the ranks of AVALANCHE to stand at the head of the formation.

Barret has more than a couple rough-edges; he curses up a blue storm and is certainly a good deal brawn, though he's obviously not stupid. A mutual hatred for ShinRa and desire for personal revenge drives the two of them, and the passion they both share is mutual--they fight for the memory of their lost families and the future of their new ones. Undoubtedly, Tifa was very disenchanted with the concept of family after Nibelheim's fires robbed her of hers; Barret was likely the one who rekindled that value in her. So if nothing else, perhaps Barret best illustrates Tifa's unbridled desire to create a family out of the broken pieces of the life she has left after AVALANCHE and ShinRa fall.


THE QUEEN OF HEARTS: MARLENE WALLACE


If Barret was the ideal of family reawakened, Marlene is surely the embodiment. Tifa is a surrogate guardian of this little girl, and though their relationship certainly isn't like a mother to a daughter, it is certainly close and familial--Marlene uses Tifa's first name when referring to her, which is unusual for a six-year-old to do (especially in Japanese, children usually speak to their elders using titles or honorifics). The two act rather like sisters, and Tifa fights to protect Marlene with everything she has.

That in mind, Marlene does her fair share of looking out for Tifa while she's at it. How many six-year-olds do you know who would bean a very strong, very mean, very capable adversary with materia and then stand their ground as they were advanced upon? Clearly Tifa's courage has rubbed off onto Marlene as much as Marlene has influenced Tifa's inherent maternal instincts.


THE JACK OF HEARTS: DENZEL


When Cloud brought back the sick boy he found outside Aerith's church, Tifa actually expressed a feeling of obligation to take care of him. She holds herself responsible for the destruction of Sector 7, and feels that this boy was actually brought to her so she could take care of him. Denzel brings out everything responsible in Tifa; she loves him as a son, and becomes a mother so she can raise him as best she can.

Her adoption of Denzel marks a final transition in Tifa's life; at first, she was the child of a family, cared for by her father. Then she had no family at all, and then became an equal partner in a family with Barret; when she began to take care of Marlene, she became an elder sibling, somewhat but not ultimately responsible for a child. But it's when she adopts Denzel as her own that Tifa really finalizes her involvement in the family she's created; there's no turning back now, because someone else is depending on her.


So much of Reno and Tifa is defined by the people around them. Their friends, their families, the people they fight for and the people they would die for--neither one of them would stand to exist alone, it's just not who they are. And while Reno is not the type of person to openly call out an "I love you, man," it's very clear that while the way he loves is not as visible or as obvious as the way Tifa does, it's no less powerful. Just as the family ties that bind Tifa to the rest of her loved ones are not forged in blood, the bonds that hold the Turks together go much deeper than simple professional courtesy, proving that while the two of them are very protective of their families and would go to the ends of the earth to keep them safe, family is defined by love, not parentage, pedigree, or blood alone.


The Evidence: Open or Check?


Most of the evidence for what makes this pairing work is from Advent Children. While the game itself and the stories of Before Crisis help us better characterize the personalities of the involved parties, there's really little room for Reno and Tifa to develop any manner of budding affection for one another until post-FFVII. It is not until AVALANCHE falls and ShinRa Tower crumbles and enmities are dissolved along with many alliances that the thin red line that kept Reno and Tifa standing on different sides was able to be crossed. In Before Crisis, while there were a couple opportunities where the two of them could have interacted, there's no room at all for any sort of relationship--good or bad--to grow. Plus, Tifa's only a child during the most of the time of Before Crisis, and while we're given no specific indication of Reno's age, we can safely assume he's at least a few years older than she is, since he's already a Turk when she's only fifteen. Something tells me he would not be terribly interested in getting overly friendly with a fifteen-year-old in a cowboy hat.

Come FFVII-proper, Tifa's hatred of ShinRa Corp. is already burning strongly, so when Reno pushes the button to drop the plate onto Sector 7 below, the fight that happens as he tries to escape is fought wholeheartedly. I personally have not conducted enough tests of this particular theory to state it as fact, but in my experience, one of the first indications of the potential fledgling relationship is demonstrated in this fight.


EXHIBIT A: THE FIGHT FOR SECTOR 7


When Reno hits the button that sets the timer for the bomb that will bring Sector 7 crashing down onto the unsuspecting slums below, Cloud, Barret, and Tifa engage him in the hopes that they can beat the disengage code out of him. Needless to say, Reno is disinclined to acquiesce to their request. A fight ensues, and while it's not a terribly difficult battle, Reno does get in a few good hits before he turns to make an advance to the rear before the entire sector falls down around them. However, something of a trend I've noticed during the handful of times I've played this battle, or watched other people play it, is that Reno displays a tendency to not strike Tifa nearly as often as he attacks Barret and Cloud. He locks her in his Pyramid attack, but is much more interested in smacking or electrocuting the boys with his EMR. ...It seems Reno's not particularly keen on hitting girls. This observation rang true in the subsequent fights in which your party engages the Turks in Gongaga, Sunken Gelnika, and the sewers beneath Midgar--Reno proactively used magic attacks on Tifa, but only hit her with his EMR as a direct counterattack to being...punched repeatedly.

What does this mean? Maybe nothing. I may be incorrect--I haven't actually done a percentage test with this. It was just something I noticed that perhaps doesn't have any particular bearing on the pairing itself, and is more just a predisposition on Reno's part that may have been an intentional character trait, or may just be something in the way he's coded and nothing more. Yet somehow, it feels worth it to mention that if I'm correct in the assumption that more often than not, Reno will strive to not strike Tifa (which, coincidentally fits the character mold Before Crisis sets up for him; he's very accommodating of your playable Turk character after you awaken from a three-year coma--especially if you are one of the female characters), then perhaps it displays a bit more of that gentlemanly disposition I'm inclined to believe is there somewhere beneath his tough skin.


EXHIBIT B: THE PHONE CALL


Advent Children is literally littered with subtextual indications that Tifa and Reno have been dating on the sly. There are several subtle hints that support the idea of a clandestine relationship between these two--the first and most obvious of them being the phone call made within the first few minutes of the movie.

ティファ「覚えてるぞ、と
Tifa: I remember you[, yo].

With this one line, we can already garner several things about the way things have gone during the interval between the end of the game and Advent Children. First of all, Tifa giggles into the phone after the person on the other end of the line speaks. She sounds genuinely happy when she announces that she does indeed remember this person. The English version of the movie leaves out the little verbal tick in Reno's vernacular, but fans who caught Reno's trademark "zo, to" at the end of her sentence in the Japanese dialogue knew immediately who she was speaking to, even before she left Cloud a message to explain that Reno had called and had a job for him.

At the end of FFVII-proper, the Turks let AVALANCHE pass to go defeat Sephiroth, but they are by no means on particularly friendly terms. If things had stayed exactly as they were at the end of the game, it's difficult to imagine Tifa even exchanging civil words with Reno over the phone...much less a giggle and a very familiar jab at his speech patterns. I wonder what on earth could have happened between the Turks (or at least Reno) and the Cloud-crew (or at least Tifa) that could bring such a smile to her face to hear from him on the phone?

A little later on, Tifa calls Cloud and leaves him another message on his phone, reminding him that Reno apparently has a job for him, but that he "sounded strange" and for Cloud to be careful. How could Tifa imply that Reno sounded out of sorts if she wasn't familiar with how he sounded when he's right, I wonder? This would be another subtle indication that they have had at least some manner of friendly, likely regular contact since the end of FFVII.


EXHIBIT C: GET ME TO THE CHURCH ON TIME


In the bilingual artbook that was released alongside the movie, a canon timeline of events is detailed within. It states that Cloud speaks to the Turks in Healin at 3:30pm, and that he gets back to the plateau just outside the city of Edge at 4:30pm, where he suffers a fit of pain from his geostigma near the memorial to Zack. This is indicative of a few things--the most important being that the distance between Edge and Healin can't be terribly far if Cloud can make the trip in less than an hour; we're led to believe that the planet itself is not very large (please see this wiki for detailed information). The next relevant timestamp we're given is that Cloud arrives at Aerith's church in Sector 5 at 5:00pm and finds Tifa passed out after the fight with Loz. He then collapses in another fit of geostigma pains, and awakens half an hour later back at 7th Heaven.

So what does all this mean? Let's look at the time frames we're given: at 3:30pm, Cloud has a chat with Rufus, and then stalks off. It takes him an hour to get back to Edge, and then another half-hour to get to Sector 5. He wakes up half an hour later in Tifa's bar, and the Turks are there with him. Obviously, Reno and Rude are the only means by which Cloud and Tifa could have been brought back to the bar. But how did they get into the bar? And for that matter, how did they know that they would find them at the church? Since Rufus is not with them at the bar, they must have made a stop at whatever HQ they report to in Edge to drop him off, giving them little time to get from HQ to Sector 5 and then back to the bar with unconscious passengers. Given the time constraints of the canon timeline of events, they couldn’t have gone aimlessly searching the city and the ruins for them--they must have known they would find something at Aerith's church--otherwise why would they have gone there in the first place?

Obviously, since Rufus failed to ascertain Cloud's assistance and services as a bodyguard, he sent Reno and Rude after the wayward delivery boy. If Tifa and Reno have become friends, it's rather likely that she has lamented to the Turk that Cloud has been very hung up on Aerith's death, and rarely comes home these days. Since Reno fought Cloud in Aerith's church in the game, he knows where it is and, being a clever fellow (he's not in charge of all the field missions for nothing, after all), he would logically head toward the church to look for Cloud. Finding both Cloud and Tifa in the church, the Turks would have then taken the two unconscious people back to Tifa's bar to recover from whatever happened to them. Since the timestamp on Cloud's awakening is 5:30, the entire search-and-rescue operation, from point Healin to point 7th Heaven took place in less than two hours, meaning the only feasible way they could have made the effort in such a short amount of time (considering it must have taken them at least half an hour to get back to Edge from Healin) is for someone--namely Reno--to have already known where they were going from the beginning. And how would he know that Cloud would likely be found at Aerith's church if he wasn't already aware of the fact that Cloud was guilting himself over Aerith's death? Clearly someone must have informed him of the blond's recent descent into emo...and that person really couldn’t have been anyone but Tifa.


EXHIBIT D: THE EVIL EYE


You know, for a guy who apparently made some kind of amends with his ex-AVALANCHE rivals, Reno sure seems to carry something of a grudge for a one Cloud Strife. Throughout the entirety of the conversation between the Turks and Cloud, Reno is giving the blond man a good old-fashioned Stinkeye™ and a hefty portion of visual disdain.

レノ「重かったぞ、と
ルード「・・・あんた 子供たちと
    住んでいたよな
レノ「空っぽだ
ルード「いいのか?
クラウド「俺は・・・
レノ「じれったいぞ、と
Reno: You were heavy, yo.
Rude: There were kids living with you, weren't there?
Reno: Place is empty.
Rude: That's fine with you?
Cloud: I...
Reno: *sigh* Gods you're a pain in the ass...


But why? At the end of the game, Reno decides to let Cloud and his gang pass to go and fight Sephiroth, and even if they aren't exactly on friendly terms at that point, they're certainly no longer warring with each other like cats and dogs. So why the inordinate hating on Cloud? Quite clearly, Reno is disgusted by Cloud's inability to act responsibly toward the people he claims to care about, and he is bitter that Cloud's recent attitude has done nothing but make Tifa sad. How can Cloud claim to be Tifa's friend--claim to care about her at all--when he can't even find it in himself to stick around? No self-respecting Turk would turn his back on his fellow Turks--on his family... How dare Cloud presume he is a better person than the Turks are when he can't even be faithful to the ones he calls comrades?


EXHIBIT E: JUST 'KID'DING/EVIL EYE THE SECONDE


On that note, why do Reno and Rude bother to go looking for information about Denzel and Marlene anyhow? The Turks have always played the role of antiheroes better than that of villains, but it is a bit jarring to envision them as babysitters. However after a few hours pass and it's gotten dark and Tifa awakens and chides Cloud for running away as usual, Reno and Rude appear silently like ninjas to crash Cloud's little pity party.

レノ「いつまで引きずってるんだ、と
ティファ「見つからないの?
Reno: *in Cloud's general direction* How long are you gonna drag this [conversation] out, yo?
Tifa: Did you find them?


Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I would not be too excited about my kids being found by someone I didn't trust or have a lot of respect for and confidence in. But perhaps even more conclusive than Tifa's anxious cry is Reno's face as he explains that he and Rude found a witness who testified that the children were taken away. Not only does he explain their findings directly to Tifa, but there is heavy apology and almost a look of remorse on the Turk's face as he does so, as if he's genuinely sorry that he couldn't bring Denzel and Marlene back to the safety of Tifa's bar himself. I mean, look how serious he is! There isn't a single other scene in the movie where Reno looks that serious, that severe, and that sincere. Reno may not be well-known for his munificence, but I'll be damned if that's not genuine apology in his eyes.

This gives the heavy indication that Reno either knows Denzel and/or Marlene personally and has actually grown fond of the kids (which, while not entirely unfeasible, seems somehow slightly far-fetched), or has something personally vested in their safe return. It's entirely possible that Reno has gotten to know Denzel and/or Marlene in the two years that have passed between the end of the game and the events of Advent Children, as we are given no specific sign one way or the other...however it is much more likely that Reno knows how much Tifa loves Denzel and Marlene, and knows that his failure to retrieve them will do nothing to ease her worry or assuage her sadness. Whatever their specific motivations for searching for the kids, the fact remains that they do, and Reno looks honestly sorry to have to return empty-handed and with bad news.

The conversation quickly goes downhill from there, however, when Cloud tries to get the Turks to go to get the kids back in his stead. Tifa scolds him harshly, knowing he's just going to run away again. An amusing scene takes place in the background here--we see Reno and Rude scuffling as Tifa is ripping Cloud a new one, and then Reno, with a most scornful look on his face, very quickly puts Cloud in his place.

レノ 「アジト おまえが行けよ、と
Reno: You go to Ajit...

Turks don't take orders from delivery boys. If Cloud is unwilling to grow a spine and go after the kids himself, Reno's not going to coddle him or cater to his wallowing in self-pity. If Cloud can live with himself knowing he didn't even have the strength to try to go after the kids, Reno is more than willing to let that knowledge fester inside of the blond man for the rest of his life. And most of all, if Cloud can go on knowing that his presence in Tifa's life is nothing but a saddening burden (her little speech even implies that she views Cloud's current state as an encumbrance and he just needs to get the hell over himself and stop letting down everyone around him), then Reno is more than happy to step up to the plate and be the rock in Tifa's existence in his stead. A Turk carries out every mission to the best of their abilities, and Cloud is nothing if not a miserable failure in Reno's eyes, and it's visibly apparent in the redhead's expression that he has no respect at all for failures.

But why the scuffle? What were the two Turks bickering silently about during Tifa's pep talk? Surely Reno has to know by this time that Cloud is as useless as a sack of wet sand, and has no intention of going after the kids. Cloud will just continue making excuses and running away, and in the fiery indignant spirit we have come to attribute to Reno, the redhead moves to storm out the door and down the stairs to go and get Tifa's kids back himself. But Rude stops him, knowing that if someone does this for Cloud, Cloud is never going to get his feet back under him. If Cloud doesn't do this, he'll never do anything again. And only when Reno comes to the realization that this is the only way to make Cloud stop being a hindrance to everyone and everything in his life does he swallow his pride and spit the necessary venom to whip Cloud into shape. Even though he fears that Cloud will just fail again and the kids will remain in danger (and expresses this with abandon through the disgust in his eyes) and that Tifa may lose her son...as much as the idea that the fate of the children rests in Cloud Strife's butterfingers vexes him, it's not his place to lead this mission.


Continue to Part II >>>
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