Part One – As We Were
The haze of pollution and smoke hung endlessly over the slums of Midgar, like a vapor of forgotten dreams and fallen idols. It stank, as it always did, the odor of failed times and the decay of a golden memory. The mako reactors loomed over the tattered remains of poor homes, the gaudily painted whores standing on the corner and the beaten, dejected men shuffling along with haunted eyes. They stood a mockery of ShinRa’s brilliance and a testament to all those in the shadow of the mega corporation that they were truly beneath notice. Only five years in existence, yet the reactors and the plate had quickly degraded the lives of those living beneath them.
The thin boy with bright red hair stood huddled against the cold, lingering on the corner with wary eyes and gazing intently at those around him. He knew these streets well, knew the shadows and the secrets, they had been his home for his entire life. It was something he understood, loathed deep within the constant grin and underneath the strained look to his eyes, the same that all slum-residents wore, that he could never escape from them. Never escape from the hand that fate had dealt him.
His clothes were tattered like the others around him. A thin, cotton shirt hung on his bony shoulders, accompanied by a pair of jeans patched several times over and boots, thick-soled, probably the most expensive and well-kept item he wore. He was ignored by those milling about him, the same dismissal that all those who lived in the slums learned to adopt. It was best to keep one’s eyes to themselves, lest one finds themselves pulled into a dark alley and robbed for all they’re worth, which wouldn’t be much.
The red-haired boy was not standing on the street without purpose. Despite his shivering, his aquamarine gaze was intently studying the buildings around him as if searching for something or someone. And he was.
“Ichi! Ichi!” His name was yelled above the quiet crowds, almost drawing all attention his way were it not for the impassivity that all slum-residents had developed. The red-haired boy, Ichi, short for Ichigo, sighed and rolled his eyes dramatically, turning his head to spot the grungy, shaggy-haired boy that was calling his name.
The just as shabbily dressed blond ran his way, darting out from a dark alleyway, his holey sneakers slapping loudly against the pavement. Les, as the thin boy had taken to calling himself since no one of their gang remembered their real names, was supposed to be watching their current mark.
“Dammit, Les!” cursed Ichigo, grabbing the boy by the back of his shirt, and the two stumbled into the shadows of an overhang where a street light had long gone out, the bulb to never be replaced. “Wha’d I tell ya bout callin’ m’name, yo?”
“Sorry boss,” the boy gasped as he grinned, not appearing the least bit apologetic. “But Merel say it’s near ‘tat time.”
Blue eyes blinked as Ichigo considered his words, gaze shifting over the crowds outside. This was his first time trying to lead the Razors on his own. They were a relatively small gang now, only seven members. That damn street fight two weeks ago had nearly wiped them out, his older brother included. Ryu was only his half-brother but still the only family he had had.
Ichigo never knew his mother. She had disappeared after giving birth to him, leaving his poor father alone with a baby to raise. And now Da was dead, too. Another victim of ShinRa’s mockery, he had died in an accident at the Number 5 Reactor. Ichigo supposed he was one of the lucky few. He actually knew his Da, Kurogane, for a time, but before he had even hit puberty, he had found himself an orphan. If it hadn’t been for Ryuuken, Ichigo was certain he would have died on the streets of the Midgar slums.
The golden city of dreams. Perish the thought.
Chewing his lip in thought, Ichi released Les and idly rubbed the still healing marks on his face, wincing when his calloused finger caught on a ridge of flesh, nearly tearing open the wounds again. Though they were almost six months old, his constant picking and scratching kept them from healing properly. He hated the marks and all that they implied.
He hadn’t told anyone in the Razors how and why he had gotten the tattoos or about the bruises for that matter, and Yeris had nearly fought him trying to find out. Curious bunch of nosy brats. But no matter how much they poked and prodded, he kept his secret safe.
He didn’t want to admit anything about Daren, the first serious mistake he had made. When Ryu had seen what had become of his younger brother he had punched him upside the head for being such an idiot. He hadn’t expected Daren to suddenly turn on him, knocking him out with some sort of drug. Ichi had woken up groggy and disorientated with his face throbbing like someone had gone after him with a lead pipe.
It wasn’t until he looked into the mirror that he had realized what had happened. Daren had marked him in the same way he marked all of his male tricks. Anyone who took one look at Ichi would assume he was for free with Daren taking in the profits. He supposed it was his ex-boyfriend’s way of punishing him for fighting back when Daren had tried to smack him around again.
The fact that Daren was dead didn’t stop them from coming either. It only made his life that much more complicated, not that it wasn’t already. He had been fine beneath Ryu, learning from his brother, but now, he was on his own without Ryu’s advice. He only hoped that he didn’t get them all killed somewhere along the way, especially with his half-baked and somewhat reckless idea.
To steal from Don Corneo?
It was madness. But they needed cash, and they needed it quick. Ichi was good at what he did, one of the best thieves and pickpockets in the slums. It was the others he was worried about.
He eyed Les, fingers itching suddenly for cigarettes he didn’t smoke. They would have done something for the curdling fear in his belly.
“Merel be sure?” he questioned, pinning the other boy down with his overly bright eyes. Like most of the residents of the slums who tended to collect around the mako reactors, Ichi’s eyes glowed with an overflow of mako infusion.
Les nodded. “Ye’.”
Taking a deep breath, Ichi cracked his neck, finally rousing from his nearly frozen position. He moved to the mouth of the alley, sweeping his gaze over the milling crowd beyond him. They all had the same, all-too-familiar look to them, only hanging onto their miserable lives because they were too stubborn to just give up and give in. Kind of like himself. And though he didn’t honestly believe anyone noticed anything, Ichi he didn’t want to run into a Shark or a Fang with only Les at his side.
“Alright, les’ go, yo,” Ichi muttered, stepping forward into the crowd and quickly getting swept up in the current. He hunched against the chill, turning right to head in the general direction of the Don’s house. He dimly registered Les scrabbling to keep up to his long-legged stride as his ears picked up on idle conversation around him: bitching about pay, griping about the wife at home, complaining about the people above the plate, the same as usual. People in the slums were nothing if not predictable.
His sharp gaze kept a careful watch for anyone who seemed too interested in his face or his markings as one hand hovering near the pocketknife he kept tucked into his pants. He was not in the mood to fend off would-be rapists. Fucking Daren had insured that he would never sleep or live easily for the rest of his life.
“Ne, Ichi, lemme ‘ave a smoke,” Les whined, breaking into his internal thoughts.
The redhead shook his head. “Ya need ta stop ‘that shit, yo. ‘Ts bad for ya.” He wasn’t sure exactly why he carried a pack of cigarettes, but as expensive as they were and as short on funds his group was, he had to dole them out like candy, on a by-person basis. It was actually quite pathetic. Besides, Les was too young to start smoking already. The boy was only nine and trying to act all grown, consequence of living on the streets.
“Ryu wudda lemme ‘ave it.”
Ichigo scowled at both the reminder of his brother and the younger kid’s attempts to trick him. Les was quite the smart little bastard, wasn’t he? Trying to play on all the insecurities Ichi was trying his best to hide. It wasn’t going to help his case any though.
He might not have looked like it, but Ichigo Renaurd was actually quite intelligent. He had a bit more schooling than the rest of them, even though for his age it was pathetically inadequate. But on the street, book smarts did not account for much. It was cunning or strength or a bit of both. Knowing how to solve for some random letter in a series of equally vague problems had little value beneath the plate.
Smoothly shifting around the strangers passing by them, some trying to bowl over his slight figure, Ichi gave Les a sour look. “Don’ gimme ‘hat bull, Les. Ryu ‘ated cigs. Ya don’ like it, ya can leave, but don’ think ‘nyone else’ll take ya in.”
It sucked, but it was true. Les was scrawny and young and had little skill. Much like Ichi, Les had been made an orphan not too long ago and wasn’t as adapted to life on the streets. While the boy was slowly beginning to understand the finer arts of pickpocketing, he lacked all knowledge of subtlety. And he hadn’t yet had to kill. In a sense, it was as if a part of him remained somewhat innocent. Given their life beneath the plate, Ichi knew it was only a matter of time before Les was forced into a position where he had no choice.
Much like Ichi himself.
Les pouted briefly and went quiet for a moment after Ichigo’s last statement, letting loose a brief shiver as he hurried to keep up with his “senpai.” At the moment, he might not have agreed with the “boss”, but he looked up to Ichigo, as did most members of the Razors. Five of the seven of them were younger than Ichi’s fourteen years. And although Van was sixteen, he still deferred to Ichigo.
“Wha’s th’plan, Ichi?”
Ichigo’s lips curled into a frown. “Fer start, don’ say, Ichi, dumbass,” he growled, reaching out with one thin arm to cuff Les along the side of his head. It was reminiscent of something his brother would have done. “I dun told ya ‘bout ‘hat already, yo.”
The kid managed to look penitent as he rubbed the spot on his head, though it couldn’t have hurt anymore than stubbing his toe would have. “My bad. What’s it?”
He waved a hand of dismissal as he snorted. “Ge’in, ge’out; no noise, no fight. We can’t lose ‘nymore. Not aftah th’Sharks, fuckin’ bastards,” Ichigo sneered, mind again recalling the gang fight of two weeks past. It had decimated their gang to less than half, killed his brother and made them lose their stomping grounds. But Ichigo had plans. He wasn’t going to live half-assed in the slums anymore.
If he was going to be a leader of the Razors, then they were going to be the strongest and most influential gang beneath the plate. He wasn’t going to settle for simply surviving.
And breaking into the Don’s mansion was the first step.
Les wasn’t aware of the full plan because he was both new and unskilled. Ichi didn’t trust that he wouldn’t screw it up, which was much the same for Merel. The both of them had been assigned the tasks of waiting outside, scouting out the best escape paths should it be necessary. Neither he nor Merel had been exactly happy about it but couldn’t very well argue.
Ichigo took a deep breath as he broke free of the crowd in Sector Six and found himself standing just beyond the massive walls of the Don’s home, said walls having been covered with graffiti already. Large banners and burly guards immediately captured his attention, and he knew that somewhere just beyond where he couldn’t see, four other members of the Razors were just waiting for his signal.
He couldn’t help but wonder, as he mentally prepared himself for the difficult task of sneaking in, pilfering, and sneaking out without getting caught, if his life would ever be anything better. With the chill wind trying to sneak beneath his clothes and a boy far too young to have eyes that old beside him, it seemed highly unlikely. But if there was one thing that the slums couldn’t take from him, it was his right to dream.
* * *
As he finished the second course, a light soup that did nothing to quell the aching hunger inside of him, Reeve carefully laid the spoon aside without a single clang of expensive silverware on even more expensive Costa dishware. That would have been a major social faux pas, one that he had learned at a very young age to never commit along with several others that floated around in his head, constantly reprimanding him in a voice that suspiciously sounded like his mother’s chastising tone.
He resisted the urge to tug on the tie around his neck, the weight of expectations so thick that he nearly choked on them. Instead, he swallowed thickly since he had been taught to never clear his throat in any setting and raised amber eyes to the both of his parents, who were currently sipping the last of their soup with the same maddening but socially acceptable pace.
Celia and Kain Tuesti were in their prime, both barely having crested fifty and approaching the ripe age of retirement. His mother’s hair was just beginning to streak with grey at the temples, which she refused to color because she had far too much dignity. His father’s face was slowly beginning to take on a full range of laugh lines, but Reeve couldn’t remember the last time he had actually heard his father laugh.
His eyes surreptitiously passing between the two of them, he couldn’t help but internally remark at how he somehow managed to be a blend of them both and yet not like them in the slightest. His mother’s hair and his father’s eyes, his father’s height and his mother’s build but none of their interests or talents.
Reeve hadn’t quite ended up according to their plans. He didn’t work in any sort of medical profession, but worst of all, he held a position within ShinRa Electric Company, which though wealthy and widespread, didn’t exactly hold the same prestige as his parent’s occupations as surgeons. Neither his mother nor his father had understood at first how it had felt for him as a child, growing up within a gilded cage. He had felt stifled under expectations, and although he hadn’t crazily rebelled, he had found a way to break free.
Thus, the reason for the uncomfortable circumstances at the present moment; it was the first time he had seen his parents since leaving home at sixteen for Academy, though that had not been the end of communications. Letters and brief phone calls had let them know he was alive and not out, homeless and on the streets. He finally felt he had something to offer them in terms of his life that they could not refute. His recent promotion proved that he had something to show for what they considered a “rash and random act of rebellion. “They hadn’t realized that he had been planning his escape since he was twelve years old.
He waited until both Celia and Kain finished the second course before speaking, keeping his tone respectable. “It is a shame that Reis was unable to attend,” he commented politely, his voice sounding incredibly loud in the almost reverent silence of the large dining hall within their Costa del Sol main house.
His mother smiled, though he could tell that the gesture was thin, strained even. “Yes.” She paused, seemingly choosing her words. “She is quite the busy flower after all. Reis simply could not miss her music lesson for an act of spontaneity.”
Internally, Reeve winced at her double meaning. Every instance of his life had once been like that, so carefully structured that he found it amazing they hadn’t trained his body to urinate on schedule. He also remembered the music lessons well, yet another disappoint for his mother. Both piano and violin, both of which he had absolutely no talent for. He simply did not have the ear for the finer intricacies of the musical language.
“I hear she is quite talented,” he responded instead, biting back any other comment he thought to make. It wouldn’t do to upset his mother this early in the conversation, not when he had yet to tell them the purpose behind actually wanting to see them.
“She plays the violin absolutely beautifully,” his father explained, face beaming with pride. It was quite clear to whom they had passed their expectations. Reeve wasn’t sure if he should feel guilty for forcing that upon Reis or relieved that they had finally given up on him.
It was then that the servants quietly made their entrance, clearing away empty bowls, refilling beverages, and finally bringing out the main dish, served on the same elegant and refined dishware as before. The flavorful aroma of roasted fowl in an orange glaze, served with a side of steamed vegetables wafted in Reeve’s direction, making his mouth salivate. He had skipped lunch that afternoon to meet with President ShinRa and was incredibly hungry, though he knew better than to scarf it down.
“I would like to hear her some time,” Reeve suggested quietly as he gave a gentle smile to the servant who had laid out his plate before him. He and his younger sister, Reis, were twelve years apart, and he adored her. She was energetic and cheerful, and no matter what his parents said about him, she remained steadfastly loyal to him. It was quite endearing.
Celia smiled then, a true smile that actually brightened her brown eyes. “She would love it if you did. Now, why not explain the reason for this dinner, Reeve? We are very interested in hearing what you have to say.” Both she and his father turned their gazes on him then, eyes piercing and demanding.
He swallowed to clear his throat, an inexplicable rise of nervousness building within him. That hunger wilted and faded. It wasn’t so much that he was afraid of what he had to say, but they were his family. Wasn’t it ingrained in children to seek the approval of their parents, even on some level? He wanted them to be proud of him, even if he did not follow their path. And he didn’t want to lose his family either.
He set his fork down, suddenly not too interested in his meal. “Well, as you know–”
“Do not begin a conversation with ‘well’, Reeve. It is unbecoming,” his father interrupted before he could even speak, shooting him an all too familiar disapproving stare. It had begun, and he hadn’t even said four words.
The executive nodded, wincing internally. Perhaps he shouldn’t have bothered.
“As I am certain you are already aware, construction on the new Midgar completed three years past with the final laying of the plates.”
Celia frowned, her brow furrowing in confusion. “I was not conscious of this,” she countered, half-turning to her husband to question him. “Did you know of this, Kain?”
“I called you when they accepted my proposal,” Reeve insisted, beginning to flounder and suddenly feeling every bit like he had when he was sixteen, attempting to convince them he wanted to attend Academy and not the more prestigious Conservatory located within Costa del Sol. “I sent you update letters once a month as to the progress of the construction.”
Kain shook his head. “As eventful as it has been around here, that information must have simply been misplaced.” He waved a hand towards his son as he picked up a gilded fork with the other, already looking towards his steaming meal. “Continue, Reeve. I am sure we will be able to understand nevertheless.”
Misplaced, my ass, his internal voice scoffed. They chose to disregard the information because it didn’t have anything to do with that they wanted from him.
Seeing that they were going to be difficult no matter how he presented the information, Reeve took a deep breath and barreled directly forward. “Since the construction has been completed, Midgar has been running at full capacity and the President is quite pleased with the results. I have been promoted to a member of the board, and I now own a small part of the company.”
His father’s bushy brows rose nearly to his hairline. “Simply because you designed the shape of his building, the President believes you are quite capable of making executive decisions?”
Typical. His father completely bypassed the fact that Reeve was promoted and instead concentrated on the only negative truth he could pounce on.
Reeve frowned, his lips forming a thin line. “I am not an architect alone. I also designed the mako reactors and their energy output system. I had been working on that blueprint since my second year at Academy. I have told you this already.”
“I do not understand,” his mother commented, pursing her lips slightly as she shook her head. “What is so unique about your design that they would accept it from someone who amounts to little more than a child?”
He gritted his teeth, resisting the urge to scream and yell at them in an immature fashion. He didn’t think it would pierce their cultured core, anyways. Instead, Reeve took a deep and calming breath, preparing to explain further.
“I combined the eight surrounding towns and created a distinctive infrastructure that has them running along the same electrical network. By placing ShinRa Tower in the center and threading all operations through that base, as well as dispersing the mako reactors in an eight-spoke pattern, I have made energy cheap and accessible to everyone.” He smiled then, enthusiasm for his work peeking through his exterior. “It was my dream to better the lives of those already living in those towns.”
His father hmm’ed thoughtfully. “I see,” he responded, neutrally seemingly rolling Reeve’s words around in his mind. “Since construction is complete, what are your responsibilities now?”
“I have been made minister of their Housing and Urban Development department. It is my task to keep watch over the well-being of the people, as well as track and approve all new construction,” Reeve explained. His job now basically amounted to piles of paperwork with him designing new schematics on the side, including certain requests from the President himself.
“Does that mean that you are finally ready to settle down then?” his mother questioned, unable to handle her obvious enthusiasm for this particular subject. “I believe Anastasia has just graduated and plans on interning with us,” Celia suggested immediately.
On the outside, Reeve gave them an impassive expression, but inwardly, he was grimacing. He remembered Anastasia. She was boring, high-class, and essentially snotty. She couldn’t carry on a conversation to save her life, and her favorite subjects included herself, her yacht, her summer home, etc. Though she was attractive to Reeve, her personality killed any affection he might have developed.
The recently promoted executive shook his head, attempting to return to the meal before him. “No, Mother. I am in no hurry to marry quite yet and certainly not Anastasia Drummond. There is still much I must accomplish before I can even think about beginning a family.” He picked up his fork, eyeing the fowl before him, which had once looked enticing but now seemed unappetizing since the orange glaze had long since hardened into a shiny, globulous paste.
He sighed softly, the motion barely noticeable as his parents sent him a twin set of disapproving looks, his mother even going so far as to shake her head in censure. “You are twenty-four, Reeve. No respectable woman will even consider a marriage if you allow yourself to get too old.”
He opened his mouth to argue, but a firm buzzing in his left side quickly alternated his train of thought. He furrowed his brow in confusion, wondering who on Gaia would be calling him. His secretary knew that he was out of town, and he wasn’t expected in any meetings. He idly palmed the vibrating phone as he considered his options.
“What is it?” Kain asked, having noticed the strange look on his son’s face.
Scooting back his chair and pulling the hand-woven cloth napkin from his lap, only to set it on the table, Reeve rose to his feet. “Excuse me, please,” he inserted with the slight bob of his head as he backed away from the table, one hand already delving into his left pocket. He ignored both of his parent’s incredulous stares as he turned his back to the table, pulling out his PHS and flipping it open.
“Tuesti here,” he answered crisply, walking to the far side of the room, where hopefully his conversation would not be heard. He didn’t even bother to check the display; there were few people who had his cell number.
Almost instantly, he winced at the voice that floated through the speaker, grating on his already strained nerves. “Reeve, darling,” said the female, followed by an amused, giggling, chuckle. “Where in Gaia are you? Your secretary told me that you had taken a personal day.”
Reeve sighed, rubbing a hand across his forehead. Cameron, his current… well, he supposed girlfriend was the correct term, though he was honestly considering ending their relationship. She was everything his parents wanted for him and nothing he wanted for himself, other than her beauty, which only ran skin deep.
He had met her during the grand opening of the Kabuki Theater in Junon, and it was then that she had revealed her actual residence was within Midgar. He had been attracted to her stunning looks and obvious interest in the finer arts of dramatic presentations. She had immediately recognized him as being a Tuesti, though he hadn’t known her from the next high socialite that passed.
But recently, her voice had begun to sound like nails on a chalkboard, and he found even spending twenty minutes with her threatened to put him to sleep… or force him to fight down the urge to jump from the nearest high-rise. She wasn’t a bad person by any means, but like most spoiled and rich daughters of high society, she didn’t understand a thing about hard work or his dedication to his career. She constantly vied for his attention and never once stopped hinting about marriage or something similar. Not to mention that he knew for a fact that her mother was in close association with his mother.
They sought to bind the families Tuesti and Tousen into one big, happy, aristocratic conglomeration.
Cameron was nothing if not predictable and boring, thus the main reason he was already seeking excuses to end their pathetic one-way relationship in the search for something far more meaningful. She simply used up far too much of his energy and time for her existence to be anything more than a nuisance.
“Cameron,” he acknowledged simply, shoulders sagging with weariness. “I am at my parent’s house right now. Is it important?”
She tsk’ed at him, and he could practically see her shaking her head at him, brunet and expensive curls bouncing around her shoulders. “Silly. You should have told me you were going home. I would have loved to see dear Celia again. How is she doing by the way?”
He took a deep breath, speaking through slightly clenched teeth. “Mother is well. I am certain she will be delighted to know that you are thinking of her. However, we are having a rather important discussion. Can you and I continue this at a later time, when I have returned to Midgar?”
Cameron laughed. “Of course, darling. I shall eagerly await your call. Smooches,” she giggled, her voice reaching that annoying high-pitch quality that he tended to associate with young girls.
He clicked the phone shut without any other word, knowing she wouldn’t take it harshly in the slightest. Things like that tended to roll off her back like water, as if she were impermeable to even the smallest hints that he was quickly losing interest in their relationship. Taking a deep breath, and feeling the angry glares of both of his parents searing into his back, he slid the phone back into his pocket and turned towards the table, finding his seat once more.
“Who was that, Reeve?” his mother interrogated immediately, not even giving him the chance to apply the appropriate apology and explanation.
He scooted his chair forward back into position, staring down at a plate that no longer held fowl but now some chocolate concoction that was obviously meant to be their dessert. It had changed so quickly. He blinked in slight surprise, dimly registering cherry and mint chips before looking up and directly into the amber eyes that mirrored his own in color alone.
“Cameron Tousen. I am sure you remember her,” he replied quickly, throat suddenly going dry as he reached for the warm tea to moisten his lips. “She sends her greetings.”
His mother raised one elegant brow. “You did not tell us you were seeing the first daughter of the Tousen family.”
Reeve winced. “I did not consider it a fact of importance.” Meaning, he did not want them to get their hopes up and believe he was considering marriage when he had so blatantly claimed he didn’t want to earlier.
Kain Tuesti scoffed immediately. “Do not be ridiculous, Reeve. Of course it is important. The Tousen’s have long been good friends of the Tuesti’s. If the two of you were to marry, it would effectively seal what is already a longstanding beneficial relationship.”
“We are not going to marry,” Reeve insisted, resisting the urge to rub his temple before them. “I am not in any position to make such a decision like that at the moment. I simply do not have the–”
“Of course you do,” his mother inserted easily, completely overriding his words before he could even finish speaking. “You have a well-paying job now and a home, even if it is not a particularly large dwelling. You are still young. Now is the perfect time to consider it.” She spooned an appropriate amount of the chocolate confection into her mouth, thereby effectively ending the discussion.
Frustrated, Reeve wondered why he even bothered to tell them anything when it was obvious they only heard what they wanted to hear. He sighed, turning his gaze back down to his own dessert, wondering why it, too, lacked all attraction. In the end, did it even mean anything to tell them what he had accomplished?
They were still looking for him to see the “error of his ways” and return to the life they had chosen, even going so far as to steer his current path in their direction. Why had he even bothered at all?
He wondered if there was something out there he had yet to find.