Midgar, the glory of the Shinra Electric Company, their favored city displayed so prominently on posters all over the world, stood, a giant of bright lights and loud noises in the middle of the plain, the patchy grass giving way to the expanse of gray-brown dirt that continued all the way into the city itself. A massive circle, eight reactors were spaced evenly around the rim of the city held up on giant pillars that are centered in the middle of the slums below. Paradise above the plate, the lights and noises spill over the edge, an offering to the black sky above. In the darkness below the plate, the only light comes from the juice joints, all decked out to rival even the swankiest place above.
14:25, 17 July
"You know you gotta be nice to him, right?"
Blue eyes cut to the side, studying Reno curiously. "You think I wouldn't be?" He arched an eyebrow when Reno snorted. "Really, Reno? I can be diplomatic."
"Says you." Another drag off of the cigarette before it was flicked away, and then Reno added, "I'm just saying. You should try to charm him. Tseng will be quite put out if you terrorize him too much. They're friends, after all."
"Friends, and yet Tseng didn't want to do this instead?" Rufus waved a hand at Reno, dismissing him easily. The Turk worried too much. "Wait with the car." He heard another match strike, and he wrinkled his nose, glaring at the redhead. "And don't let that smoke in the car. I'll never get it out." Reno shrugged before he offered a little salute, just touching two of his fingers to his forehead. It was the best Rufus was going to get, and no matter how much it put his teeth on edge, Reno was still the best pilot in Midgar. The only problem was that he knew it, and thus the insubordination.
Shaking his head slightly, Rufus reached up to open the buttons on his white jacket as he took the stairs up toward the front of the building. He flashed his ID badge toward the guard at the security station- as though he wasn't known by face alone- and headed toward the elevator, pushing the button for the mayor's floor. Idly, he reached up and shoved a hand through his hair as he composed his expression, doing his best to look at least a little overwhelmed. It was more difficult than he figured it should have been.
An obnoxious chime and the doors opened, and Rufus headed down the hallway, peeling off the overcoat to fold it over one of his arms. He wanted to look as 'casual' as possible, since the target of this little operation was well known for being skittish. Like a wild chocobo, Tseng had said, a little smile on his face. Approach as quietly as possible, do your best not to startle him when you offer the greens.
The 'greens' in this case happened to be tucked under Rufus's arm, the plain manilla folder deceptively simple. Rufus stopped outside of the door, running over his mental checklist one last time before he lifted his hand to rap his knuckles along the door. The door opened before his fingers made contact though, and he was suddenly almost face to face with a flustered woman, who ducked under his arm without seeming to even notice him standing there.
"Of course, Mr. Tuesti! I'm getting it now," she called as she broke into a jog down the hallway, folders and papers clutched to her chest. Rufus watched her go, then glanced into the room curiously, not expecting to see the stacks of loose papers everywhere, not expecting to see a cat sitting so delicately on one stack, licking at a paw.
"Reeve Tuesti?" He pushed the door open, looking around, stepping carefully when he entered the room. A flash of something dark, and then the Wutaian he was looking for appeared, holding a diagram of some sort that he spread out over a desk.
"Just set it in the box over there. I'll get to it when I can," he answered, studying the diagram intently, reaching out with a marker to write something in the margins. Rufus watched him curiously, taking advantage of the moment to really look at him. Reeve was tall and slender, his dark hair slicked back out of his face. Rufus couldn't quite tell from the angle, but he was pretty sure that Reeve had green eyes, the only detail that belied the fact that he wasn't fully Wutaian.
"Vice President Shinra!" The woman's gasp brought Rufus back to reality, and he smiled warmly at her nodding slightly. Out of the corner of his eye, Rufus saw Reeve stand up straight, and then Rufus held up his hands, chuckling softly.
"Not here to disturb too much, honest," he said, his smile as disarming as he could make it. He held out the folder to Reeve, dismissing the woman as a secretary. She clearly yielded to Reeve in the office, and Rufus already knew who it was that he wanted to speak to. His eyes met with Reeve's, and the Wutaian hesitated only a moment before he took the folder. Reeve flipped through the pages, one by one, well aware that he was making Rufus wait on him. Rufus arched an eyebrow, surprised at the gall; no one made him wait like this, and he could tell that even the little secretary was nervous.
She was wringing her hands, glancing quickly between both men until she couldn't stand it, and she hissed, "Mr. Tuesti!"
Reeve slowly closed the folder, but he didn't look up, only drummed his fingers along the manilla cover slowly. "So, you want me to come and look at it?" Finally, those eyes- yes, they were green- lifted to look up at Rufus. "Just like that?"
"No one knows the reactors better than you. You streamlined their design, didn't you?" It could have been considered laying it on a little thick, except that it was true. Every word of it. Reeve Tuesti had not only streamlined the reactor design, but he had single-handedly designed Midgar, the rail system that served it, and the specialty programming for the eight reactors in the city. With the Junon reactor putting out such unstable numbers, Reeve was their best bet to fix it, even if he was officially a public servant to the city of Midgar and not a Shinra employee.
Another hesitation, and then Reeve asked, "When are you going?"
Rufus shrugged a little, careful not to show his amusement at the question. "We're leaving tonight. I was hoping you'd be with us." He gave Reeve just a moment, and then added quietly, "It's dangerous to leave the reactor like that, after all, and Junon has to have it." Reeve's annoyed glare melted at that thought, and his shoulders sagged before he nodded. Rufus felt a momentary pang of guilt at dragging Reeve away; tonight, for once, they were actually holding a party in his honor in Reactor Five. It was a celebration of Midgar's fifth birthday.
"Right," the Wutaian finally agreed, and he reached behind the desk to pull out a bag. Tseng hadn't been kidding about the fact that Reeve Tuesti lived in his office. "Shelly, file the forms we were working on, and tell the mayor where I am. If he needs me, he can leave me a message on the Shinra line. I'll call when I get there."
Shelly nodded, and she smiled at him before she nervously tucked a lock of hair behind one ear. "And... send the..." She lowered her voice then, to just barely breathe the last word, "flowers?" Rufus arched an eyebrow, and Reeve nodded before he looked up.
"Are we going?"
Rufus stepped to one side, motioning toward the door. "After you. Car's waiting."
17:50, 17 July
Tifa stared at herself in the mirror, reaching up to brush her dark bangs back, trying to figure out if it was worth it to cut her hair or not. She reached back and felt the braid, smiling affectionately at it before she pushed it back to hang freely behind her. No matter what the fashion was, she was keeping her hair. Instead, she leaned forward and finished her make-up. Pulling the little cap down over her head, she headed out to the front of the building, unlatching it and taking up her position behind the bar.
She ignored Barret's sigh as she wiped down the counter, rocking back and forth to the music that was already being pumped into the joint. Seventh Heaven was famous for its jazz and dancers; it was what brought the crowds. She lifted her head when the other dancer finally came out of the back, content with her appearance. She had swept her dark hair back into a higher ponytail and tucked a flower behind her ear. Tifa smiled.
"Jessie, you ready for tonight?"
"Absolutely." Jessie grinned at her, blushing only slightly. She twirled, the short skirt flaring out slightly in the movement, and giggled, reaching up to hide her mouth. "Can I get one from the hope chest first though?"
The cigarette pack sailed through the air to her, and Jessie pulled one out, tossing it back before she stepped out the door, lighting it on the way. Tifa watched her go, and then looked over at Barret, her eyes narrowing as he worked with the metal arm, checking all the joints before the bar opened and he had to start working.
"You doing okay?"
"Just ducky, T." He flashed her a smile as he stood, and he walked over to the bar, taking the rag from her hand. He hesitated, and Tifa arched an eyebrow, leaning one hip against the bar. He must have felt her staring at him, because finally, he let go of the cloth and looked back up. "Tifa," it had to be serious; he rarely called her by her full name, "I got a job."
"Not... Nothin' that gets in the way of this." He motioned to the joint, letting her know he was planning on staying. She breathed a quick sigh of relief, and then she narrowed her eyes at him. He was too nervous, too keyed up. He was hiding something.
"What sort of job?"
"The sort that brings the snow."
"Th-that's chewing gum." Her mouth went dry, and she opened her mouth to speak, but the door opened behind her. She shot a glance over her shoulder, and she felt herself go cold. The last thing she needed was a Turk in her bar while Barret was talking about practically-treason. "Tseng," she said, as warmly as she could manage. She shot Barret one last glare, and then turned her attention to the Turk.
"Tifa." He smiled back, but his eyes cut between them as he moved to sit lightly on one of the bar stools. He tilted his head, long black hair spilling over his shoulder as he studied them. "Everything's okay?"
"Copacetic," Barret fired off, reaching up to get a glass. "Gin and tonic?"
"Always." Tseng shrugged slightly, and Tifa moved to stand just behind him, wrapping her arms over his shoulders.
"Always the first one here, aren't you?" She giggled, and when Tseng reached up to touch her wrists, she blushed slightly. She should have been used to it- she'd certainly been touched with more forward intentions than Tseng's- but he always managed to make her self-conscious. Perhaps it was because he was so careful not to touch anyone except the other Turks.
"If you worked above plate, you'd be the first one in here every night, too." He smiled and nodded to Barret when the glass was placed in front of him, and he took a long drink of it before he lowered it. "Can't wait for them to allow alcohol up there. We'll move Seventh Heaven right upstairs then."
Tifa swatted at his shoulder, laughing as she did. "You don't like us down here? Away from all those snooty people?"
For a moment, she thought she might have made him blush as well, but no, he was too composed for that. "I wouldn't mind having you on the plate," he murmured, turning slowly on the bar stool so that he could gently brush some of her bangs from her eyes. "You'd certainly fit right in."
"Oh, Tseng, the way you come down here and badmouth them? I don't think I like that." But she was laughing, and then Jessie was back and the joint was filling up. Soon, she was dancing, and then she wasn't thinking at all, until she saw Barret slipping out the back after she had taken over the bar once more. Her eyes narrowed, watching him go.
21:38, 17 July
"Sir, if you don't mind, I brought along a few of my weapon designs-" Scarlet scrambled to open up her portfolio, to get at least one of them out to display.
But President Shinra, even though he had his hand in the middle of her back, was already looking past her, lighting up as he saw someone. "Excuse me, Scarlet," he said quickly, cutting her off, leaving her standing there, blueprints in hand as she watched him head off to speak to some other woman, one without a portfolio the size of a large briefcase. Sighing, she shoved the blueprints back into the case and snagged another glass of champagne. She turned it up and set it back down on the next tray she saw.
The president would be giving a speech soon, expounding on the joys of living in on the Plate, ignoring the fact that thousands were still living under their feet, having spent the past five years without seeing the sky. She scowled at the next person who approached her, not caring who it was. Some party. The guest of honor, the engineer who designed the city, Reeve Tuesti, wasn't even there, nor was the one person who would have actually looked at her plans, Rufus Shinra.
The dress had been a good idea though, even low cut as it was. It at the very least made them remember her name, no matter how fried they had gotten. Alcohol was illegal above the plate- hah! Almost everyone here was drunk, some too drunk to even stand properly.
Unable to stand another moment of it, she made her excuses and her farewells. Palmer, Heidegger, and Present Shinra himself were all just fat bags of hot air, talking just to hear themselves talk. Dr. Hojo had been polite enough, even if he had confessed that he was primarily interested in her as a test subject for some experiment. She had smiled and shuddered and quickly escaped that conversation.
Now, she strode away from the reactor, toward the rail station. They could have their foolish fifth year celebration of Midgar, clearly, she would have to submit her designs under a false name, or to someone else entirely. She managed a very tired smile to the tall man at the platform, and when she all but fell into the chair, he glanced at her, and a small smile of his own touched his face.
"That bad?" he asked lowly, and it took her just a moment to realize he had even spoken. She sat up, pulled her portfolio closer to her, and nodded slowly. Idly, she reached up to let her hair down.
"That bad," she confirmed, shaking her head so that it fell softly around her face instead of so severely swept back. "Bags of hot air." His smile widened a touch- it was hard reading his expression with those dark glasses on!- and he took his position back up, standing there, feet shoulder-width apart, his hands behind his back. His suit looked uncomfortable in the heat of the night. "You're one of Rufus's Turks, aren't you?"
He didn't react, despite the fact that it sounded a lot like an accusation instead of a simple question. She nodded to herself slowly. President Shinra didn't necessarily like the Turks, but he certainly used them when they were handy. She wondered idly what his name was, but she didn't ask. She knew better. They never gave out their names to civilians. She watched him a moment more, and then she looked back at the hands she folded in her lap.
The next thing she knew, she was on the ground, her ears ringing, heat everywhere around her as she pushed herself up to her feet slowly. Her vision slowly cleared as she forced herself to concentrate, and she rubbed at her ears, trying to get them to stop, trying to make them pop or something. Little white flakes fell from the sky, and she reached out to catch one, staring at it, her brain struggling to comprehend what it was. Snow? Not in the middle of summer-
Her eyes lifted, and she gasped. What was left of the reactor was still ablaze, and the Turk, whoever he was, was running toward it, clearly planning on dragging out anyone he could. The train station was a wreck, and Scarlet just slid down to her knees as she realized what had happened. It wasn't snow; it was ash. Reactor number five was gone.