6 days until the election.
Reeve toyed with the fork in his hand, frowning as he looked up at Rufus. "What do you mean that we don't have to bother with under the plate?"
"I didn't mean it the way you took it," Rufus immediately replied, and he raised an eyebrow at Reeve with a faint smile on his face. "I just meant you don't have to secure the votes if you'd rather not. You have plenty of supporters; more than enough to make certain that you'll win the election."
He tapped his fork on the edge of his plate, his frown still firmly in place. In fact, he was beginning to think it might be a frequent variant on his normal expressions. "It doesn't change the fact that I'm going to make sure there are voting booths set up down there. They have the right to vote just as much as anyone else."
"I never said they didn't."
Rufus managed, no matter how heated Reeve got, to sound as though they were discussing something as trivial as the weather. He never got worked up or rose to any of Reeve's baiting. In that way, he was a lot like Tseng; Reeve hadn't realized just how many mannerisms the two shared. He wrinkled his nose, and when Rufus asked him if he was going to actually eat anything, he set his fork down and shook his head.
"Not hungry," he murmured, and he propped his head up on his hand, well aware that he was behaving like a child. Rufus didn't even seem to notice though, instead choosing to pick up his glass and move it until the tea coated the inside.
"Are you going below tomorrow?"
Reeve looked back over at Rufus, his gaze narrowing. "What?"
"Are you going under the plate tomorrow? To campaign. If you're going to make certain that they can vote, I would like to know that you at least appealed to them to vote for you."
"... I'm not entirely certain that's ethical," Reeve murmured. "I mean... I have to be the one to set up booths down there. Asking for them to vote for me as well seems..."
"Like blackmail? Bribery?" Rufus chuckled into his glass before he set it down. "It is. You're also the first official who wanted to make sure they could vote at all though, so I think it's fitting. Don't you?"
Reeve considered it, and then he sighed. "It shouldn't have taken seven years to make sure that everyone in Midgar can vote, Rufus." He leaned back in his chair, reaching a hand up to rub his face. "Domino should have made certain that there were measures in place for it."
There was the slightest of scraping sounds as Rufus pushed his chair back, as he walked over and put his hands on Reeve's shoulders. "Why didn't you make sure they could vote? If it's so important to you, I mean."
And as much as Reeve wanted to jerk away from that touch, wanted to turn loose a righteous anger, Rufus was right. It took the wind from his sails, and he simply sighed again. "I... I didn't think I needed to get involved in the politics of it all. I was worried more with some of the mechanics of the city." He lifted his glass and looked in it. He didn't drink though. It was more comforting just in his hand.
Rufus made a low noise, something akin to confirmation. "You certainly had enough on your plate. I suppose the one lapse in judgment can be forgiven."
Reeve frowned slightly, but he wasn't sure if Rufus was being serious or not. He toyed with his fork a moment more, just pushing it a little ways along the edge of his plate. Rufus's hand dropped down to cover his, and Reeve found himself looking at Rufus.
"You can't blame yourself. Running a city is more than just a one-person job." Rufus looked at him for a long moment, and then he leaned forward, his lips ghosting over Reeve's. Reeve was pretty sure that his lips parted, that he was drawing in the slightest of gasps for air, and to his own surprise, he wasn't entirely sure that he was relieved when Rufus didn't kiss him.
In fact, there was definitely disappointment welling up under that sensation in the bottom of his stomach.
"Right," he murmured, and he made himself glance away, back at the food, at the forgotten Mideel cuisine. His was cold; Rufus's couldn't have been any warmer. "That's why there's an entire system of people to handle it."
"Exactly. Besides, if you need any help, I'm sure I've got some best and brightest somewhere in the company. At the very least, we could create a joint task force to alleviate some of the paperwork." Rufus smiled and he stretched a little, walking across the room to where he could look out the window. Reeve hesitated for only a moment— just long enough to compose his expression— before he followed.
Midgar never ceased to take his breath away, to make him feel lightheaded. He resisted the urge to put his hand on the window; his own apartment had what his housekeeper had called 'permanent smudges' on his windows from doing just that. Rufus leaned against the glass, his arm folding just over his head to offer a place for him to rest his forehead on. His smile was serene, and Reeve couldn't help but to mirror it.
No one else understood what Reeve saw when he looked at Midgar. No one else lived their life attuned to the rhythm and the pulse of the plate, the smell of the mako in the air, the shimmering quality of the light that filtered through the haze that lingered in the evening. But Rufus recognized Midgar for what it was, he moved in the same pace, felt that same brand of possession when he looked out over it. Reeve pushed his hands into his pockets, and he looked past Rufus toward the sectors.
Voting booths were already being set up in several sectors. They were visible by the sheer number of white and red flags waving over head. Reeve's eyes narrowed as he realized that all of the flags bore the Shinra colors; not a single actual Midgarian flag waved among them. He would have that corrected when he hit the office the next day.
His eyes drifted back over to Rufus, and he swallowed before he said quietly, "I didn't mean to snap. This entire thing—"
Rufus waved his other hand, and he stood up straight before he shot Reeve a grin. "It's unnerving to be drug so thoroughly through the mud right on the heels of being called a saint. I'm aware."
Reeve felt a blush on his face, and he took a tentative step closer to Rufus. It wasn't that he thought Rufus would shut him down; he was pretty sure that it was his move in this little game that they were playing, this dance that Rufus seemed determined to lead him through. He was more concerned about his own reaction to it, the sheer weight that went along with initiating this sort of relationship.
But then they were both moving, and Reeve was kissing Rufus— maybe Rufus was kissing him. It didn't matter. Their lips were actually touching, and Reeve's hands were in Rufus's hair. He drew back after just a moment, but he didn't open his eyes. He didn't think he could right away.
It was foolish; getting tangled up like this when so much was going on. There could be another explosion any moment, and it might not just be a reactor that went up. An entire sector could go ablaze given the instabilities within the systems, the way they were being forced to compensate for the two offline reactors—
Rufus's lips touched his again, and there was a low murmur, "Stop thinking about work. You're out of the office for a few hours."
Reeve opened his eyes slowly. Rufus had extra guards posted at all of the reactors, had the Turks overseeing the shift changes and the actual protective detail. He bit his bottom lip. "You're right," he replied, but it wasn't that easy. He couldn't just turn it off, make himself not think about the plate, about the risks and the way he knew the pipes had to be screaming under the extra strain—
"Focus," Rufus whispered, and he was kissing Reeve again, was pulling Reeve close to him. Reeve shivered, but he yielded. He needed the few minutes, needed to stop thinking. At least for a while.
5 days until the election.
The bar wasn't actually open when Zack arrived, but the other dancer was standing outside, smoking a cigarette. He smiled as warmly as he could manage, asking, "Is Tifa inside?" He leaned back against the wall beside her, and she studied him for a long moment, flicking the ash off of the end of her cigarette before she nodded. He nodded in response. "When do you guys open?"
"Soon," she promised, and they both quietly stood there, as though trying to out wait one another. She glanced down the street, looking for someone maybe, then took the last drag from her cigarette before she flicked it to the ground. Zack stepped on it, to make sure that it was out. She watched him, and when she ducked back inside, she motioned for him to follow her.
Tifa was wiping down the bar, humming softly to the jazz already spilling from the record playing in the corner of the room. She didn't even look up when the door opened and shut, just called, "Jessie, you better get back there and change—"
Jessie's cough interrupted her, and she paled marginally when she spotted Zack standing in the doorway. She and Jessie exchanged some sort of wordless communication that Zack couldn't follow, and then she smiled at him and waved him on over to the bar. He didn't sit, just leaned against it, and she stood there, hands braced on the bar as she looked him over.
"What can I get you, detective?" she asked lowly, and he felt his stomach sink. He figured she'd find out sooner or later, but he'd been sincerely hoping for later. Later was always better with this sort of thing.
"A highball?" He rubbed a hand over his face. He should have bought a pack of cigarettes on his way down; he had a sinking feeling that he was going to be craving by the end of the night.
She made his drink but didn't take her fingers off of the rim of the glass right away. Instead, she simply watched as the ice cubes shifted and settled into new patterns. "What are you doing down here?" She didn't look at him, and Zack hesitated before he reached out and put his hand on hers very lightly. She stared at it, then raised those dark eyes to look up at him.
"I'm not here for you," he promised, and his brow furrowed as a flash of something crossed her face. Fear, maybe, but then again, maybe his mind was playing tricks on him, encouraged by the sheer paranoia that had begun to grip him. Everyone seemed to be against him; everyone aside from his secret letter writer.
A writer who mimicked Zack's own handwriting when penning him encouraging notes.
"You're not here about the alcohol then?" She looked at him searchingly, and he shook his head, wanting to reassure her, to see that same expression of content flirtation she'd worn when he'd taken the rest of her cigarette outside. He liked that expression. She twisted her hand in his until she could squeeze it just a little, then she pulled away and let him have his drink.
He had just raised it to his lips when the door opened, and he glanced over his shoulder as Tifa smiled and waved.
"Tseng," she said cheerfully, and she didn't even have to ask the Wutaian what he wanted. She was already mixing his drink. "The others coming down?"
Tseng took the glass from her with an air of ease, of practice, and he shook his head. "No Reno tonight," he finally said, and Zack's stomach sank as he remembered the sloppy redhead, battered and bruised but alive thanks to Tuesti's timely arrival and rescue.
"He still in the hospital?" Zack asked over his glass, and Tseng shot him a look before he nodded. "Which one did he end up in?"
"He needed to see a specialist in Seven," Tseng replied, and Zack snorted just slightly. Same hospital as Cloud then. Tseng raised an eyebrow at the sound, and Zack turned up his glass.
Only after he'd set it back down against the bar's surface did he murmur, "Cloud's in that one."
Tseng nodded slowly, and Zack got the feeling that Tseng was perfectly aware of that, had already known that Cloud was not only in the hospital, but was there because Zack had put him there. He looked up at Tifa, and she offered him a small, reassuring smile before she splashed some extra whiskey in his glass.
"Thanks," he murmured, and he sipped the whiskey, wincing at just how harsh the stuff was when it went down without something to cut it. Tseng gave him a sympathetic look.
"Seventh Heaven Motor Oil," he said, and it took Zack just a minute to understand what he meant. "They make it in the back. It'll burn your throat clean through if you give it the chance."
Zack laughed, and he sipped a little more. This time, he was braced for the burn, was ready for it, and the alcohol went down a great deal smoother. He waved a hand at Tseng's chuckle. "I'll get the hang of it," he announced, and Tseng patted him on the shoulder before ordering another one.
He made himself scarce the moment the other two suits came in— Rude and the blond— and he nursed his whiskey from a corner in the room. He watched Tifa dance solo, Jessie minding the bar. The two men who had been working the last time Zack had been there were gone. He wondered at the fact that he couldn't remember what either of them looked like, and then sighed.
He was trying too hard. Tifa kept topping off his glass though, and really, he didn't think it was all too bad. He did miss Cloud.
He woke to her lightly shaking his shoulder, and he rubbed his eyes before he looked up at her, trying to bring her face into focus. The blond in the suit was still there, and Jessie was scrubbing down the bar top. Zack fumbled for his wallet. "How much?"
Tifa hesitated, and then she shook her head. "Don't worry about it," she replied. "Tseng picked up your tab. You got somewhere to stay?" She tilted her head, and Zack thought about the train ride back above the plate, about the apartment complex sitting in two. He nodded slowly, and Tifa smiled. "Need some help to the station?"
He shook his head, started to get up, but when the world lurched wildly around him, he simply dropped back in the seat. "Maybe," he admitted, and if he slurred the word, no one let on. Tifa simply took his arm and draped it over her shoulders, much to the blond's apparent distress.
"I can take him—"
"No, I've got him." Tifa waved a hand and then they were heading out the door, Zack doing his best not to put too much weight on her. It took them some time, but eventually, they reached the train station. Tifa let him slide onto one of the benches there, and she spoke with the conductor before she came back to sit with him.
She looked tired, but when Zack suggested that she head back, she simply shook her head. "Going to get you on the train," she said softly, and Zack smiled at her tone.
"You don't sound happy about that," he decided, and when the faint blush touched her face, he laughed. "'M not a drunk, you know."
"I didn't think you were," she said, but she said it carefully, as though she were concerned about how he might react to it. He waved a hand at her.
"No. Cloud... Cloud got shot a few days ago." He sighed, staring up at the top of the station, wondering just how long he had until the train pulled in.
"Cloud is your partner?"
He nodded. "Terrorist shot him up," he murmured, and his eyes slid closed. He wondered briefly if he could take her hand, or if that would only serve to get him hit. "We were in under-six lookin' for ... a gun-arm." He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so tired.
There was a slight noise from Tifa, and then she asked, "You were looking for the group? AVALANCHE?"
He nodded without opening his eyes. "My case," he clarified, and he sighed. "Was my case. They took it from me." He waved a hand again, dismissing 'them' as easily as he had her nerves. "Reckless endangerment of my partner."
"... I thought the group was done though," she said softly. "I mean... two reactors is more than enough for a statement, isn't it?"
"They're not done," he replied, and he opened his eyes at the sound of the train pulling in. He pushed himself up to his feet. "They're not done until Shinra's gone. "
Tifa started to say something, and then she simply shook her head instead. She helped Zack all the way to the train doors, and when the train pulled out, she was still standing on the platform, watching him leave.
4 days until the election.
It was another night of dancing, and since Elena wasn't there, Jessie took over the cleaning duties, letting Tifa actually get some rest. She was in the middle of scrubbing a stack of glasses, soap and warm water soothing against her hands. She liked doing dishes; far preferred it to actually scrubbing the floor, at least, and she left that to Dyne.
She was humming softly to herself, some tune that Tseng and Rude had broken into in after a few drinks, smiling as she let herself drift, focused on her task. A crashing sound made her head jerk up, and she wiped her hands off on a rag before she stepped into the bar itself to investigate.
Dyne knelt in the middle of several broken glasses, and she grabbed a serving tray off of the bar before she walked over to help him pick up the broken glass. They worked in silence, Jessie worn out from dancing and serving, Dyne weary from breaking up bar brawls before they ended in damage. It wasn't until the door opened that Dyne spoke.
"Jessie, go ahead. I'll get this." But he didn't say it with the same attitude that he normally would, that laid back tone. Instead, he sounded tense, angry, and she studied the two men walking in the bar with Barret. She frowned.
"Tifa doesn't like anyone in the joint after hours," she reminded him, and she was shocked to see his expression turn dark.
"What Tifa doesn't know won't hurt her, will it?" He grabbed her arm, hauled her to her feet, and she jerked herself away from him angrily.
"It's not your place, Dyne—"
"I'm damn well paying to use it. Just go, Jessie." He started toward her, but Barret caught him and pulled him back. She exchanged looks with Barret, her frown deepening, and when he simply shook his head, she sighed.
"Fine. Pick up your damned mess though." And she stalked off, as dignified as she could be. It wasn't until she reached the kitchen again, until the door shut behind her, that she felt herself shaking, and she leaned back against the door for several minutes, just trying to breathe. She put a hand over her chest, and she turned her head so that her ear was against the door.
She could hear some muffled talking but nothing that actually sounded like words. Another sigh, and she walked back over to the sink. She knew that Tifa and Dyne had been fighting, arguing over everything from Marlene's education to his work hours, but she wasn't entirely sure what had sparked it. Elena seemed to think that whatever it was, it would work itself out, and she sincerely hoped that Elena was right. Especially given how bad it had gotten.
She did her best not to think at all until she'd finished all of the dishes, and she decided that she deserved a cigarette for her hard work. Tifa wouldn't mind, and if she did, Jessie would buy two packs next time to make up for it. She slipped back in the bar, and she was pulling a cigarette from the pack when she heard them.
"AVALANCHE has got to prove their point! Placing some damn Wutaian as mayor doesn't change the fact that Shinra is the one pulling the strings."
"Dyne, we need a few more days for the explosives—"
The pack slipped from her fingers, and she felt her mouth go dry. She had noticed that Barret and Dyne kept slipping off, sure, but she'd figured it had been for something usual, like a pair of pretty girls or some club that they both liked to frequent. She hadn't even imagined that they were members of some rebel organization that had managed to kill hundreds of people already.
And planning more, from the sound of it. She replaced the cigarette in the pack, forcing her hands to stop shaking, and she glanced around the bar for just a minute before she decided that she'd better head back into the house. She didn't want Dyne to know that she'd heard.
She pulled the door closed very carefully, not allowing it to make a sound as it latched, and she sat at the kitchen table, tapping her fingers over the wood. For a few more minutes, she debated with herself, and then she shook her head.
She needed to tell Elena.
Jessie pushed herself up from the table, crossed the room to the telephone, and had just picked it up when the door opened. She dropped the phone guiltily, and when she saw Dyne in the doorway, she swallowed.
"Geez, Dyne. You scared me. Did you clean up your mess?" She hoped that she sounded normal, that her voice wasn't shaking as badly as she felt like her hands were.
Dyne walked over to her, his eyes sharp as they skated over her face, and he bent down to pick the phone up with his good hand. He slowly replaced it on the cradle, and Jessie wondered for just a minute how the hell he managed to make such a domestic action look so ominous.
She licked her bottom lip. "What are you doing?" She made herself look at him, made herself meet his eyes and not flinch. He sighed.
"You eavesdropped," he murmured, and Jessie flinched at the accusation. She shook her head quickly, stepping back from him and holding up her hands. "You were going to tell that Shinra whore, weren't you?" He tapped a finger on the phone, and Jessie's stomach sank sharply.
"N-no, Dyne. Why—" But his hand connected with her face before the words could escape her, and she dropped back against the table, using it to hold herself up. Her own hand lifted momentarily to touch the heated spot where he'd hit her. She blinked quickly, forcing her tears back.
"You're not going to say a word to anyone, are you, Jessie?" Dyne leaned in closer to her, and she braced herself against the table. She shook her head. "There's a good girl. Not even that Shinra whore, do you understand?"
There was something wrong with him, she realized, as she nodded jerkily. She didn't dare say anything, didn't dare contradict him when he was so close to her. He reached out with the prosthetic hand, and the cold plastic dragged down over her face. She didn't cry though; not yet.
"You say anything to anyone, and I'll kill you, Jessie," he said, and for all the world, he sounded as though they were discussing the weather. She shuddered. By the time he walked past her— stopping just long enough to pull a beer from the icebox— she was shaking, and when he was finally gone, she fell back in the chair at the table, her hand on her cheek. She didn't bother to blink back tears at that point, but she didn't make a sound as they escaped her.
She gathered up her strength to stand and made it into her room quietly, the tears still streaming down her face. She locked the bedroom door behind her and crawled into the middle of her bed. A pillow muffled the sounds of her crying, of her choking fear escaping her. She didn't want to wake Marlene. Or worse, Tifa.