November 2nd, 0010
The office was small, grey and mostly empty except for the necessary furniture and a pot of yellowing plants to break the monotone.
Reeve was slouching in his chair in the WRO headquarters, eyeing the reports in his hand with solemn pensiveness. The sun had only reached overhead, but he was already running on evening fuel. He squeezed his eyes together as he ground his temple with a knuckle to delay a looming migraine.
It wasn’t so much a physical exhaustion, but rather a mental one that accumulated through months of restless sleep.
He could never seem to catch a break ever since WRO was founded. They were struggling to find volunteers, hard-pressed for an energy source that didn’t involve mako, and scraping around for an…alternate source of funding. And now, to add to the batch, Cloud was missing, and not because of another one of his I’m-not-coming-home episode like Tifa thought.
The blond was in hiding.
Reeve shifted in his seat, the worn leather squeaking against his clothes, as he thought about his last phone call with Cloud. It had been in the middle of the night that Reeve was roused from his sleep by the beeping of his PHS. Cloud had sounded frantic as his words quickly drained the blood from Reeve’s face. Sephiroth was back, Shin·Ra was helping Sephiroth, and Cloud was now being pursued by Shin·Ra.
With a hasty plea that Reeve looked after Tifa, the call had ended before Reeve could learn anything more.
There had been no further contact from Cloud since that night, the blond most likely having destroyed his PHS to avoid being detected, and Reeve was left in doubt. He felt bad that he was keeping this from Tifa, but all things considered, Sephiroth’s return wasn’t a knowledge he could pass on freely without knowing for sure what was going on. It would actually be irresponsible to tell without looking further into this turn of events.
In the first place, how had Sephiroth come back? Why hadn’t there been any sign of the ex-General? Sephiroth wasn’t one to stay low. Was it possible Shin·Ra was covering up Sephiroth’s track? But Sephiroth despised Shin·Ra, did he not? Reeve couldn’t see the two working together.
The integrity of Cloud’s information was also called to question at this point. Tifa said Cloud was hearing the dead Aerith’s voice before he left. A mental breakdown? Then, how lucid was Cloud when he’d imparted these alarming information? And where was he now?
So many questions, and Reeve was tired of not getting an answer to any of them.
The latest report from the search had yielded nothing. All traces of Cloud had vanished approximately two weeks prior, roughly the same time Tifa had lost contact with him.
So Reeve had lied to Tifa about calling off the search, but Tifa deserved to know.
Just not yet. There were still too many variables, and Reeve was already ashamed enough that he couldn’t help lighten the load for the poor girl. He needed something more conclusive before he went and added to Tifa’s stress.
He just feared it wouldn’t be for much longer, because, according to this report, Cloud had last been seen wandering the streets of Junon.
The muffled beating of a helicopter’s blades reached his ears then, and it didn’t take long before the shadow of a black chopper loomed into view, hovering disturbingly near the glass windows that they vibrated.
Speak of the devil.
As the helicopter started rising away from view, Reeve shook his head at the silhouette he could make out in the cockpit. Sliding the reports into his drawer, he left his office and took the elevator up to the roof.
By the time he and his men arrived at the helipad, the aircraft was already grounded, its rotors still spinning out powerful gusts that tousled the blond hair emerging from the passenger cabin and exposed how loosely fitted the thick layers were on the wearer.
Rufus Shinra descended from the platform, his most trusted Turk not more than a step away from him, all six feet of stone and cold steel.
“Rufus! Tseng!” he greeted, extending his hand to shake Rufus’s ever cold one and nodding at Tseng. “I hope the flight wasn’t too rough with the wind at this time of year?”
“Some turbulence, but my Turk made sure it was uneventful enough.” Despite the calm demeanor and softly-spoken voice that was barely discernible over the noise of the helicopter, his grip was firm like any textbook businessman.
“The same one that nearly shattered my windows?” Reeve joked, though not quite lightheartedly, as they headed back inside.
“Reno could use some more prudence, I agree,” Rufus nodded, but it didn’t feel much like a response to Reeve’s words as Reeve noticed the wire hooked in his ear and stretching down into his collar.
Once they were inside the conference room, Rufus wasted no time to start the meeting, but not before running a hand through his disheveled hair.
One had to admit what Rufus had accomplished at his age was no small feat. Every time Reeve gazed upon the shadow of the old Shin·Ra tower standing its grave that was Midgar, he was inclined to think Shin·Ra would remain a poltergeist of the past, malevolent but forever powerless to touch the world again.
After all, there hadn’t been much movement from Shin·Ra even when its mark of ownership over Edge – the Meteor Monument – was blown asunder, and even when Deepground was discovered and its already nefarious reputation plummeted across the world.
Yet there it was, thriving and expanding in Junon, so silently, so unlike Shin·Ra, that Reeve only noticed when it had once again grown large enough to be a menace. Right this moment, Shin·Ra had already owned most of the corporations in Junon, if not through mergers then by intimidation.
Reeve’s only solace was that, for now, they were working towards the same goal.
Still, things were complicated.
“Commissioner, while I don’t deny WRO’s contribution, I find it unacceptable you want to take control of the city, considering it was Shin·Ra that restored Junon from ruins.”
Reeve held back a sigh and kept his shoulders from slumping. Territorial dispute was what this meeting really was about, and Rufus did not beat around the bush.
“Your worry is unneeded. We have no such intention.” The man hated seeing his authority challenged, while Reeve just wanted to make sure Shin·Ra didn’t gain any more influence. He wanted the power to be in the hands of the people.
“Hm, then might I advise you not to let your men spread their asinine propaganda in my town.” Rufus’s voice was light, an easygoing smile on him, but it was clear he was less than amused.
There had been no identifiable insinuation in his tone, but the demand for recognition of city ownership was vehemently implied. Reeve was under no illusion that Rufus rebuilt Junon merely out of the goodness in his heart—if he even had one. And, by Gaia, promoting democracy was ‘asinine propaganda!’ Reeve sensed it wasn’t merely an insult, but that Rufus truly believed it was a foolish notion.
“Rufus, the WRO only wants to help the people of Junon.” Reeve chose his reply with care.
“So does Shin-Ra.” His smile widened by a fraction of an inch, and while it would have looked amiable on any other man, the smile only looked sinister on Rufus. “We want nothing but the best for Junon.”
He didn’t say ‘people.’ Did he even care about all the lives he had in his palms? Reeve had had high hopes when Rufus had proclaimed to want redemption, but it was soon obvious the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Though the last time Reeve even hinted the thought, Rufus had not been pleased.
“I will see what I can do,” Reeve didn’t disguise his sigh this time. “But keep in mind that despite my position, I hold no more power than the next member. They’re volunteers, Rufus. They are free to express their ideals.”
There was a chuckle that couldn’t be anything other than mocking.
“My, my, I’m amazed WRO can function so well with such a system. That’s certainly admirable. But I’m sure your words hold some weight regardless. We’d greatly appreciate any effort on your part to…revise your current policies in Junon. A gesture of good faith, if you will.” Rufus set an elbow on the table and rested his chin against his thumb. “After all, Shin·Ra has respected your presence in Edge thus far. We only ask for the same from you.”
Reeve felt something inside himself bristle. Rufus saw WRO as no different from Shin·Ra, and that was perhaps the most scathing aspersion that could be cast at Reeve.
WRO was his child, the first step to his dream of a fair world where everyone was treated equally, where people could live their lives in harmony, unencumbered, without war or disease. Most of all, a world where their voices mattered, and no dictatorship reigned over them with cruel, selfish oppression. A world without the likes of Shin·Ra.
Yet since WRO’s founding, there had been Geostigma, then Deepground, and now here he was working with the one power whose name was synonymous with tyranny. He wasn’t getting any closer to his goal, was he?
They were supposed to be of equal standings. WRO helped with Junon’s development, and in turn, Shin·Ra provided all the energy WRO needed at a more than generous price. However, Shin·Ra was secretly funding WRO on the side – and Reeve used the word secret loosely because while Rufus never mentioned his anonymous donation, the man didn’t go out of his way to cover up the money’s track either. And with Rufus holding Edge over Reeve’s head like it was a favor Shin·Ra was doing, WRO was at a severe disadvantage.
It pained Reeve as he brought himself to nod.
“Very well. WRO will refrain from taking a stance or making any official statements regarding Junon’s politics.”
Unofficial ones, however, were fair game. The fleeting crinkle of Rufus’s eyes told Reeve that notion did not escape the younger man.
“I’m glad we could come to an understanding on this matter. Let’s move on to the next topic of this meeting.” Again, wasted no time.
“Yes, you wanted to propose a new project?” Reeve kept the apprehension out of his voice.
As he listened to Rufus, his migraine became a full blown headache. His fear was no longer unwarranted. Rufus intended to clear the ruins of Midgar and was asking WRO to facilitate Shin·Ra’s operation. Just formalities, of course. Reeve knew Shin·Ra had enough resources to clear Midgar ten times over on its own.
What Rufus wanted was WRO’s invitation to be in Edge, no doubt one step in his grand plan to reclaim his lost throne. And with WRO’s name slapped next to Shin·Ra’s, likelihood of sabotage would also decrease, just like in Junon.
They were being thoroughly used to further Rufus’s cause.
“Now that Junon can function on its own, I believe there is no better time to start. Shin·Ra was vastly responsible for the devastation of Midgar. It’s only right that we are the one to clean it up. However, considering our absence in Edge thus far, Shin·Ra might be ill-informed, and we don’t want to step on any toes.”
Reeve maintained a straight face, nodding, but all he wanted to do was scoff.
“Naturally, we don’t expect WRO to be doing charity work for us.” Rufus gestured for Tseng, who promptly place the briefcase he’d been holding before the President. A stapled contract was soon pushed towards Reeve.
“For the duration of the operation, Shin·Ra’s services will be at no charge to you.”
And there it was. The discussion was over, though admittedly there was never one in the first place. The young heir of Shin·Ra was too good at utilizing carrots and sticks.
Reeve knew refusing would hurt WRO’s relations with Shin·Ra as well as leave room for some bad words to spread to the public. On the other hand, if he agreed to this deal, the money they would save on electricity could be used elsewhere, on people still living off the rubbles on the streets, on towns and villages still in ruins. There was no drawback—aside for the fact that Shin·Ra was going to be in Edge.
The meeting ended with them deciding on the starting date and estimated length of the project, as well as establishing what Shin·Ra could and couldn’t do. There were disturbingly few of the latter, although considering the nature of the operation it made sense. Didn’t mean Reeve had to like it.
To add salt to the injury, the pace of the entire meeting was set by Rufus from beginning to finish. And by the end, Reeve felt bruised and weary, like he was a ragdoll that Rufus had dragged around on a string.
“By the way, how is Cloud Strife?” Rufus asked when he stood to leave, and Reeve just knew the question wasn’t as offhanded as the man had made it sound.
“Cloud? He left and hasn’t been around for a while now. Why do you ask?”
“Indeed? I was just wondering about what the hero of Gaia was up to, but he can’t seem to stay still, can he?” Rufus straightened his jacket as they started walking to the elevator. “He is keeping in touch though, I hope?” His eyes when their gazes met were splintered ice, sharp enough to cut, and most likely dissecting Reeve for information.
Ironically, Reeve was thankful he didn’t have any information on Cloud for Rufus to extract.
“He’s not.” Reeve shook his head, the disappointment on his face didn’t need to be forced.
“Hm, not even a single call home? How cold.”
Says the man with ice for blood. “It’s typical of Cloud, I’m afraid.”
“Then, I suppose it’s too much to hope he’ll say hello to us, huh Tseng.”
“I suppose so, President.” The dark Turk spoke for the first time since he’d gotten here, though he made no attempt to match his master’s playful attitude.
“Well, Reeve, I look forward to our cooperation.” When they reached the windy roof, the sky was dark and the chopper was ready for take-off. Rufus’s extended hand was immediately seized, still cold. “It’s always reassuring to have the WRO’s help.”
If only he could say the same for Shin·Ra. Reeve gave a quick laugh. “Seems a storm is forming! Perhaps you’d want to delay your departure?”
“I thank your hospitality, but there is still work unfinished. I have complete trust that my Turks will get me back in one piece.” Rufus paused, eyes drifting, before he smirked, most likely at whatever he was hearing from his earpiece.
“Good day, Commissioner.”
And so, Reeve stood back and watched the two men disappear into the helicopter, and then the black helicopter that disappeared into the rolling grey clouds.
An ominous exit befitting Shin·Ra.
Walking back inside, Reeve pulled out his PHS and dialed a number.
No reply. Growing a little worried, he tried a different number and let go of a breath he didn’t realize he was holding when the other side picked up.
“Hey…I’m sorry, were you sleeping?” he paused to hear her response, as well as collect his wit. He still needed more information, but Shin·Ra was clearly involved in this race. Tifa needed to be warned, though a little cherry-picking was probably in order.
“Can we meet? It’s about Cloud.”