Sunset poured through the windows. To the west, the lights of Edge glittered on under the gathering red-and-gold; to the west, the gathering dark of the sky mirrored the unbroken darkness of the ruins of Midgar. At sunset, Rufus temporarily abandoned his growing tide of paperwork to stand at the window with a cup of coffee and look out, northward, with the light on one side and the dark on the other.
It pained him, looking over the ruin of Midgar: broken concrete, the air hazed with dust and blown smoke. The pulverized debris and lingering pollution in the air made for remarkable sunsets, backlighting the patchwork structures of Edge, the well-built if unaesthetic WRO building dark against the sky. To the east, the broken hulk of his tower loomed, a patch of opaque darkness against the translucent blue-dark of the sky.
Things, he thought. Things can be replaced.
Every morning his secretary brought binders full of reports, which he ignored. The important reports—the ones that could not be handled entirely adequately by hired analysts; only a fool tried to obsessively micromanage—came through Tseng, who got many of them from Elena, who got them from the ninja girl, who got them through some officially unofficial process from Reeve's office. Neither he nor Reeve could afford to co-operate publicly at this juncture, but they would be fools to try to work around one another without some form of communication.
Tseng brought them in the morning, along with black coffee and a hawk-watchful look. Rufus was used to it: for months he had submitted, with varying degrees of grace, to surreptitious inspection by his Turks, who noted each day and hour and minute the progression of his disease. ("How bad is it?" he had once asked Elena—unusually blunt, but the pain and exhaustion had stripped much from him. He had seen himself in her dark eyes like mirrors, the stigma blossoming at his temple and spreading across his forehead, and seen her preparing herself to lie, and said, "Don't." And she had nodded, and said nothing.)
"How are you feeling this morning, sir?" Tseng asked.
"Better," he said. Without attacks to suck it from him, his strength returned slowly but surely—he could stand and walk and even run normally, could even walk up a flight of stairs without losing his breath. He used caffeine now to enhance alertness—he fingered the handle of his coffee mug—rather than prescription drugs designed to cut through a haze of pain.
"Good," Tseng said. "I have the reports on the building project in the southeast for you. I think you'll be particularly interested by the figures on page three . . . "
Reno looked inordinately pleased with himself on the first working morning of the week. He was also limping, and had a sizeable bruise on his cheek.
"Do I want to know?" Elena asked, which saved Rufus from wanting to do the same.
"Fuck," Reno said, and laughed, "it wasn't that kind of good weekend. I just found my old apartment."
"Well, yanno, what was left of it. I was on the fourth floor of five, and when Weapon hit the first floor wound up in the basement and so on, like. But there was some stuff I could salvage. Nearabout killed myself trying to do it, too."
"What, family heirlooms?" Elena asked archly.
"Fuck you. Just 'cause I'm belowplate, you think my family must've been—"
"Oh, come off it, I'm from belowplate, too," Elena said.
"Psssh." Reno waved her off. "Sector Four. That's all gentrified slumming professionals, yo."
Elena rolled her eyes, an expression that made her look about seventeen and infinitely disdainful. Then she said, to Rufus, "What about you, sir? You've never asked us to get anything out of the ruins of your apartment. I'm sure we could—"
"Not necessary," he said. "There are higher priorities."
The fundamental difference between Rufus' mother and his father, Rufus thought, was their feelings about things. The Shinras were, comparatively speaking, new money; they had made their first million when his grandfather was young, and had achieved the status of super-wealth only in his father's youth. His mother, by contrast, was old money: her family had ruled as feudal lords over a sizeable piece of the Midgar Plains a thousand years before. Had she lived longer, perhaps Shinra Inc. would have had a different history indeed; but then, perhaps that was why she had not lived longer.
Rufus took after his mother: her slightly overbred racehorse good looks, her self-protective chill, her discreet disdain for conspicuous consumption. It was by her influence that he kept his office furnished sparsely—with excruciatingly expensive handcrafted furniture and one tasteful ancient vase officially classed as 'priceless,' but nonetheless sparse. Minimalist. His father had always been mistrustful of that tendency in his son.
"Rude," he said. "I want you and Reno to get me information on the building projects on the east side of Edge."
Rude was good at information-retrieval missions, and Reno was good at providing whatever backup Rude needed. Rude nodded, and didn't ask, but Rufus could see the question in the tension of his shoulders. Why are you interested in WRO housing projects?
If Rufus admired Reeve for anything, it was that he had a keen sense of what he was doing. Building a city was difficult enough, but Reeve had undertaken the nigh-heroic task of rebuilding the idea of the city.
"You should rest. You are still not fully—"
Rufus felt the old familiar flash of irritation. Sometimes, with Tseng, it was difficult to maintain his façade of maturity. Too easy to fall into old patterns: Tseng had known him when he was ten years old, had counseled him, "Sir, I believe retiring would have a better effect on your test scores tomorrow than continuing to study this late . . . " Too easy to allow Tseng to be the responsible adult to his child again.
Too easy, too, to ignore good advice to prove a point. The attacks had not come back since the healing rain, but he was still weaker than he liked, and every time he felt a tremor he wondered for a sick moment if the disease was back.
"I'm going to finish up this column, and then I will," he said. Compromise. He wasn't good at it—he'd never needed to learn to be good at it—but until his world was his again, it was a necessary evil.
"You helped us against the remnants," Strife said. Hesitant. As if he wasn't sure why.
It wasn't wholly true, but it was a good line: "Strife, surely you know by now that if anyone is going to manipulate the Planet, I'm going to make sure it's me."
Rebuilding Shinra didn't mean putting the mako reactors back in business—ethical arguments aside, it was untenable financially and from a marketing standpoint. Nor did it mean rebuilding the Tower, the foremost physical symbol of the Company's dominance in its heyday. If you said 'rebuild Shinra' to almost anyone who wasn't a Turk, you could see that future rising behind their eyes (the reactors glowing green against the night, the Tower mirrorlike and monolithic), and just as quick you could see them turn cold and hard as stone, unyielding, unhelpful. Strife wasn't the first to react that way; he would not be the last.
Rebuilding Shinra meant taking the company apart into its component ideas and building something out of them.
Everything else would follow.