Start location: Shinra building, 69th floor, lift lobby.Time: One day one evening several days after the party. A friday.Characters: Rufus, Rafe, Zack, other Turks if they can work their way in, and/or Avalanche if they want to turn up later.Note: Fastforwarding in time here, but it shouldn't affect any of the other party threads, so just consider this a pre-emptive out-of-sequence post or something and go on with whatever you were doing? ^_^Summary: Rufus, having found the perfect guide for a Wall Market tour in the form of Rafe, has decided to put that particular plan into action. He ropes in Zack.Not that I've ever been to Wall Market, myself...Rufus wanders down the corridor, a file tucked under his arm to make it look official, and generally adopting that brisk I-know-where-I'm-going-and-I'm-in-a-hurry-so-please-get-out-of-my-way. It's just past the magical 6 o'clock, so the crowd of people clocking out on the dot has generally dwindled to the occasional executive rushing past him on the way to the doors in a mad bid for freedom.Ah, fridays.There are people working late, of course. There always are. Some of them hear his footsteps as he comes down the hall, and look up to give him the you-get-to-leave-on-time-you-lucky-bastard-scowl just on principle, before they catch sight of the trademark white suit and turn as white as his jacket before ducking their heads again and start praying that he hasn't noticed. He gives one of them a sardonic smile as he walks past, telling the man to keep up the hard work, and the executive nearly pisses his pants.His father is long gone, of course. Clocked out at 5, ostensibly heading home to prepare for dinner. Yes, except it's not going to be food that he's eating, and Rufus rather thinks that he's the type to spit, rather than swallow......He pauses, shuddering at the mere mental image.He adjusts the file under his arm again. Technically, heading to Wall Market while his father is busy at the Honey Bee Inn might be risking some measure of trouble, although he's fairly certain that the old man won't leave anywhere before midnight, if not the next day. Plus, better than heading there on a normal day and risk his father making a surprise visit. While he has all the excuses planned out, he doesn't actually want to prove that this is a boy's night out. He shudders again, and a secretary timidly asks if Rufus-sama has caught a chill.He waves her off with a smile, and continues onwards. It's a nice feeling to have all the paperwork cleared, or as much of it as it's possible to clear before the weekend. Stock takes. Updating the employee rosters. Good grief. Mind numbing and back breaking work, and he's spent two days in front of the computer except for the few hours where he passed out on his office couch. Don't they have secretaries for this stuff?This is too high level for secretaries to handle, son. Now off you go. Make sure it's finished by Monday.He steps into the lift lobby and hits the down button. There's a ding, as the elevator arrives quickly, gun metal gray doors swishing open to eject a Turk. In fact, coincidences of coincidences. The very Turk he's looking for.Rufus, about to head into the lift, stops short. "Ah. Uh. Rafe."[Tags: doublegunshot]
Rafe stops, startled. Blond hair. Blue eyes. A white corporate suit, neatly pressed and clean, certainly more clean at least than the last time he'd seen it crumpled over in the corridor of Shinra HQ, rocking back and forth in pain....Well, it looked like someone had recovered quite quickly from the office bash.He tips his head in a nod of greeting. "Mr. Vice President. Good to see you."
Memories of the ... party ... drift vaguely to mind, and Rufus winces visibly. They say that alcohol kills your braincells, and he's certainly felt the effect of that over the past few days. It was a whole day before he even left his room, and most of the week has been spent spazzing out. And he has the sneaky feeling that his IQ is down 30 points. The thought that it might be permanent keeps him up at night. For the other side effects, such as continually falling over and the hangover of doom, Shinra medical is more than used to dealing with post-office bashes, and stocks up on supplies of injections for those who really need to return to work within the next 48 hours. Nevertheless, Tuesday and Wednesday were, largely, complete write-offs. Fortunately, the same was true for everyone else in the building, and no one really comments on it. One glance at the Turk tells him that the Turk hasn't forgotten about that particular night either. Why should he, after all, when he had the rare and wonderful opportunity of seeing the Vice President making an utter fool of himself?He returns the Turk's nod -- at least there's no whimpering sucking up from this bunch, and gestures him over to the side of the lobby and out of the way of people looking to use the lifts. "I was looking for you, actually. Are you on duty?"
"No, I'm off for today, sir. What did you need?" Rafe asks, studying the Vice President. After that drunken mess of a party, he was surprised anyone in the building could stand up straight (or in the case of some individuals, actually look each other in the eye - ah, yes, the post-party rumors had started. A certain blond-haired woman who dressed all in red was central to most). He'd heard some very familiar sounds coming from the sick bay not a few days afterward, most of which contained retching and groaning and the word "fuck" repeated numerous times.Apparently, hangovers were indiscriminate about who they hit.Which was interesting because, given the amount of money Shinra poured into Mako research, they'd yet to find a cure for alcohol-induced sickness. Ah, yes, the day that materia came about...well, that would be the day the President could truly say he controlled the world.
Yeah, I was wondering if you, uh, remember that night--We spoke that night after the party... or at least I think we did. I'm not actually sure what I said--How about a night out, eh? You and me and Zack. Nip down to Wall Market, just the three of us, quiet like, and we can hang loose and--His IQ is definitely down 30 points. If not more. There is no way he'd have thought that in a normal frame of mind."I believe you mentioned that you're familiar with the Wall Market area," he says, marshalling words like ... a lover writing to his beloved a kid reporting to his bastard father that he's screwed up. Well, at least he has lots of practice where it comes to thinking on his feet."I was planning on surveying the area this evening," he explains. "I was wondering if you could accompany me."
Hm. Well, this was interesting. The Vice President of Shinra himself going down to the lower plates. Something was definitely up. Rafe hadn't heard anything about AVALANCHE's presence in that area recently, nor was there any trouble in the reactors or...deals with the Don that he'd heard from on his grapevine, which could only leave...The Honeybee? Rafe blinks. Somehow, he didn't think like father, like son applied in this case.Either way, this would pose a problem, and not the least because he wasn't exactly on good terms with Corneo right now. While the Don had grudgingly acceded to his...abrupt employment change, Rafe knew how quickly word of mouth traveled in Wall Market. He also knew how eager the gangs were to curry favor from the mafia house. The last thing he wanted to do was drag the 15-year-old Shinra heir into a private crossfire. Especially over a stupid drunken conversation."Perhaps someone from SOLDIER would provide a better guide," he suggests cautiously.
Rafe can't possibly know the can of worms he's opened just by suggesting that SOLDIER would be a better medium for this operation than the Turks. For all that the man is sharp -- and Rufus is sure that he is -- he's probably too junior to know about the politics and run oh-so-rampant through the Company. Especially if he thinks that coming to Shinra will help him to escape from them.Fortunately, though, this is all unofficial business, and the exact department doesn't matter. And with any luck, there won't be an excessive number of repercussions either. If any. It's the post-party season, after all, which means that more people aren't as sharp as they would normally be. And half the company is still clearing leave.But, hm. Reluctance. He hadn't really factored that in, if only because he hasn't been thinking clearly of late. Some nasty piece of history, perhaps? Some other reason why he left the place and joined the Turks instead? "This is purely unofficial, you understand," he says. "And I don't exactly intend to make my presence conspicuous either. However, I'm given to understand" -- a shot in the dark here -- "that the politics of the underground are quite fearsome. And" -- not a shot in the dark here -- "Some of them involve Shinra." Specifically, the old man, and the people he's bribed to keep him safe while he goes to the Honey Bee, and probably all the people he's bribed to keep him informed as to exactly who frequents the area. After all, the old man doesn't share."As I'm sure you know. I would rather not run foul of any of them, and forewarned is forearmed. I actually do have someone in mind to accompany me -- us, if you should choose to accept the mission -- but he's hardly the expert on the area." Rufus smiles darkly. "More likely to be the distraction since he's good at calling attention to himself."He studies the Turk, wondering just what it will take to get his cooperation. Outright bribery won't work on this one -- at least, that's the feeling he got from their last exchange -- and Rufus has no idea what Rafe might possibly value enough to take on an unofficial assignment.Plus, he thinks sourly, I don't have the most winsome personality.
The other's flinch at his mention of SOLDIER immediately stops Rafe in that line of thought. Damn company politics. So the talk of Sephiroth and the President were true. Not a surprise really; every organization seemed to have its tensions between the army grunts and the paper-shuffling brass. Though officially, that medallioned Christmas tree of a pompous general (Heidegger, was it? Rod had snorted and called him the horse) was in charge of the military, Rafe had a suspicion that when push came to shove, the only thing that really mattered was the silver-haired general's compliance.Rafe chuckles at the mention of Shinra and the underground. He wandered how much the President's son really knew of his father's exploits, the people he bribed and those he made...disappear when gil wasn't enough to buy silence. Always through freelance hire though; Shinra didn't dirty its hands unless it absolutely had to. Let the slum take care of itself."Someone else, sir?" Another distraction? The last thing an ex-mafia assassin and the Shinra VP needed was more attention being drawn to them.
"You haven't met him, I suppose. He's from SOLDIER, General Sephiroth's division, currently assigned to Headquarters. Although he's not native to Midgar and spends most of his time out in the field, so he probably won't know his way around," Rufus says absently, his mind busy working in the background. The Turk isn't biting. The Turk is evidently stalling, trying to find a nice way of brushing him off. Bribery doesn't work, not when you don't know what the other wants. Negotiations and bargaining breaks down when you don't have anything the other could value. Money isn't going to work. A promotion is going to look suspicious. Threats aren't going to work. Surprising the opponent by descending from the pedestal of his fearsome position and looking merely human (and therefore likeable) probably isn't going to work, since the Turk has seen him at his worst already and wasn't particularly impressed. The last thing Rufus needs to do is to ruin his reputation further.He's about to give it all up as a bad job and go and look for Zack, when a stray thought occurs to him. The Turk might be a newbie, but his professionalism is impressive. Loyalty is something that Rufus is so used to not having that he hasn't even considered it. The thought of someone doing anything for him out of a sense of duty instead of having to be cajolled or threatened into doing it is frankly surprising.After all, the Turk did see him all the way back to his rooms that fateful night without blackmailing him or even ignoring him in favor of letting someone else take up the unenviable task. He finds himself letting his shields down almost unconsciously, letting a bit of the stress that he's been under recently leak onto his face, letting a bit of disappointment leak through the usual careful mask. "I suppose I shouldn't trouble you," he says with a quiet sigh. "I've been more than enough trouble to you of late. Sorry about wasting your time."Adjusting the file under his arm, he makes as if to go. If the Turk still doesn't bite, even when he sees his Vice President about to venture into very dangerous territory with an obviously inexperienced guide... well, then......then there isn't anything else he can do, probably, except to pick up Zack, head out, and hope for the best. Honestly, all this thinking is starting to hurt his head.
A SOLDIER? With the infamous Sephiroth, even? This certainly changed things. Rafe reconsiders the offer. While Shinra guards were hardly uncommon in the lower plates, the company's elite guard were a whole other matter. And if this SOLDIER was serving under the General himself...hm...that meant at the very least he would have a decent grasp of stealth and experience in the field. Besides which, if there was anything more dangerous than an inexperienced upper-plater going into Wall Market, it was an inexperienced upper-plater going into Wall Market alone. Rafe struggles with the options. If he went, it was highly likely they'd run across some unpleasant underworld figures with a chip on their shoulders. On the other hand, if he didn't go, he'd be guilty of not only ignoring the Vice President's orders, but also held responsible for any mishaps that might occur with a 15-year-old kid and what sounded like a brash, young SOLDIER type that he could've prevented. Catch-22, anyone?"Wait." Rafe turns resignedly to the Vice President. "I didn't realize you would also be accompanied by SOLDIER. In that case, it shouldn't be a problem." ...He hoped.
Now that's a pleasant surprise. Rufus brightens. "Are you certain? I wouldn't wish to impose if you have other things to attend to."Is that reluctance he can still sense? Fascinating. Nasty history, most likely. People who wouldn't be happy to see him. They will have to be careful, then. He hits the lift button again, watching the elevator making its slow progress from the 1st storey up to the 69th all over again. Enough time for the Turk to change his mind and run away screaming. It'll be fun! he feels like saying, inanely. We'll go partying and hit the bars and checking out the sights... But he gives himself a mental shake instead, berating himself for getting carried away like a kid on a holiday. This is no holiday. He's not doing this for fun.
Rafe shakes his head. "Veld's given us leave for the weekend, and nothing immediate's been assigned. Besides which, a mission from the Vice President supercedes all others." He's somewhat surprised by the other's incertitude. After all, what rumors he'd heard of Shinra's VP had all pegged him as cold, commanding, "never bleeds or cries" as one corporate exec had confided in him during a late-night drinking session out in the slums (said exec later found himself on the business end of a gun, having become thoroughly intoxicated and forgetful of certain...debts he'd failed to pay to the Don on time). But then, Rafe knew all about image politics and how the rumor mill grinds. He'd taken full advantage of it himself, after all. Reputation was half the danger where he came from. And while Rufus was the Vice President of Shinra, he was also the President's 15-year-old son, which, given the way the company was run...and the gist of their talk that evening...held ominous implications for the boy's future if he didn't establish his authority right now."What areas will we be surveying, sir?" Rafe asks, mentally mapping out the territories in Wall Market. So long as they kept away from the Don's house and any of the outlying tracts...the only thing they had to worry about was the occasional bandit.
"It's not an official mission," Rufus feels obliged to tell him. "In fact, it's not even a mission. It's a request, rather." He brushes his fringe out of his eyes. "It's not official Company business.""I'm given to understand that there are a number of weapons and materia traders in the area. If I'm not mistaken, that is one of the best places to acquire equipment in the Slums. Will it be feasible to check that out?"And perhaps swing by the Honey Bee Inn. He's curious to see what this famous establishment for himself. Perhaps one day he'll even dispatch a squad of assassins there if the old man proves too difficult to dispose of by more discrete means.
Rafe nods. "The sellers are usually amenable and welcome any business, so long as it involves gil. Although...if you're looking for anything beyond the usual collection of cheap knick knacks, I suggest flashing some cash and asking to see the back." Though some places did have deals with the gangs regarding reserves of certain weapons, on the whole, the only thing that mattered was how much the customer was willing to pay. Money didn't just talk, it fucking breathed and walked in Wall Market. "Once in awhile, the dealers get in modified - " And very illegal, he almost adds " - versions of equipment you won't find anywhere else."Privately, Rafe wonders why the Vice President of Shinra would need to descend to the slums to shop for weaponry. There were some rare items, true, but nothing that couldn't be reproduced by the company's technology or private commission. Most of the stuff was scavenged and cobbled together from upper plate junk. Hardly worth an executive's time....Unless that executive was trying to slip something under the radar for his own purposes. The word "survey", Rafe was quick to learn, had a lot more meanings than originally intended.
Hmm. Showing the money would be difficult. People tended to remember other people who carried large amounts of money. And credit cards, he suspects, are very much out of the question.Fortunately, the problem is rapidly tagged by its answer counterpart. He will have to stop by his apartment later on the way out, but with any luck, the solution will be a lot more believable than a teenager carrying massive wads of cash in his pocket. Not that he's actually buying. The actual buying will happen later, and by other people, and they can go and figure out how to spend large amounts of cash and still not be remembered... if indeed it's a problem for them at all."It's also my intention to go incognito." He glances over at Rafe. "How likely are you to be recognized?"
Rafe blinks. Incognito. With the Vice President of Shinra. Somehow, those two terms didn't belong in the same sentence together. Not only was the boy the qualified mouthpiece for the company, but he also practically patented the white jacket look that so many made synonymous with the brutal fist of Shinra. There'd need to be more than a wardrobe change to mask that image.On the other hand...Rafe was fairly certain he could get away with a night out in the slums. While his work was extensive and connections broad, he'd been careful to separate those everyday dealings from his other...work in the slums. Aliases, pseudonyms. Assassins didn't live very long if their identities were discovered. As Rafe Strauss, he was simply the Don's bodyguard, an innocuous soldier in the mafia's long web of temporary hires, nothing more. The few people who might've matched up face for gun weren't exactly in a position to do so, at least, not in the land of the living. "As long as we keep near the central road, there won't be trouble. People are more than willing to selectively forget my presence. However..." Rafe glances at the VP. "...You might want to find something else to wear." And change the hair, he adds silently. Whoever heard of perfectly conditioned, styled, and coiffed lustrous blond hair in the slums?
"I'll settle that in a moment," Rufus replies, as the elevator arrives. "Let's go meet the other intended participant of this venture." Trusting Rafe to follow, he steps into the elevator and keys the floor for Zack's office. And hopes that all those pesky secretaries are gone, and that there won't be any more rumors about Zack and him and harems.And he hopes Rafe is confident that about not being recognized. The Turk's hairstyle is... distinctive. Very, very distinctive. A flaming identification beacon, almost."The SOLDIER's name is Zack. You might have heard of him." The elevator ejects them at the desired floor, and Rufus navigates the twists and turns of the building with the air of someone distracted. He pauses before the respective door, and knocks. Silence greets them."I hope he's in," Rufus says with a frown, raising his hand to knock once more.Silence. Again.Shrugging mentally, he swipes his keycard through the reader, codes slicing through the access requirements like a hot knife through butter. The lock clicks, and he opens the door....On an office every bit as messy (if not more messy) than he last remembered it, and absolutely devoid of life. That is, if you discount the mouldly chocolate bar on the desk. Devoid of human life would be the more accurate phrase."And he appears to be absent," Rufus says, a tad annoyed.
Zell honestly didn’t know what was worse: having failed at his mission during the first week on the job mostly because of his partner, or having failed at his mission during the first week on the job mostly because of his partner right in front of General Sephiroth. The reprimand he’d been expecting from Zack hadn’t come, though, just another lecture about there being Things He Wasn’t Supposed to Mess Up and Irvine still looked awfully smug about the whole affair, so he had to wonder with disgust if this was going to be one of those types of jobs, heavily involved with the Things He Wasn’t Supposed to Mess Up that no one would tell him what they were. Politics. He hated politics. Point of fact, he hated being here at all. The boy he was assigned to protect didn’t say two words to him and seemed to resent his presence, Irvine was acting like he didn’t give a damn and this was some kind of paid vacation, Sephiroth was furious at Zack for reasons Zell couldn’t fathom, the rest of the people in this stupid building shot him funny looks when they thought he wasn’t watching and he hadn’t heard from Squall in over a week. It drove him to distraction. He wasn’t cut out for this type of work and Zack knew it but wouldn’t re-assign him and there were dangerous things going on right over his head that he didn’t know anything about but was somehow supposed to Not Mess Up and Rufus Shinra seemed just as cold-blooded and antisocial as he’d heard even worse than Squall on his really bad days and Irvine had pissed off the S.I.C. of the Turks and all Zell wanted to do was just give up and go back to the field where he belonged but he couldn’t do that because he was Private Zell Dincht SOLDIER second class and he had a mission damn it and soldiers did not just give up their missions.It was driving him insane.“Stop pacing, Dincht,” Irvine drawled, lounging like a cat as he thumbed through a porn mag. “You’re going to wear a trail through the damn carpet.”“We’re supposed to be his bodyguards and all we do is sit here!” Zell burst out. His nerves were getting the better of him. “He insists that he can’t work with people hanging over him but Zack says we’re supposed to stay with him at all times but he outranks Zack so we have to leave when he orders us to get lost and— ”“And you worry too much,” Irvine interrupted with a supremely disinterested tone, eyes intent on a centerfold. “We’re bodyguards, not babysitters. He calls, we work. He doesn’t call, we don’t work. And hanging out in the general vicinity is still keeping an eye on him, right?” The blond SOLDIER shot his partner a dirty look. “Three floors down is not in the general vicinity.”Irvine shrugged. “But three floors down is where that hot redhead works.” He squinted at something in the picture. “Whoa. That’s gotta be airbrushed.”Zell very seriously contemplated killing Irvine. But he didn’t think killing one’s partners because they were annoying and incompetent was allowed. Maybe. Seifer had tried to kill him once when they were assigned together, of course, but that had been when they were younger and he did recall Seifer getting into a lot of trouble for it. Or maybe it had been because of the communications tower that had accidentally been wrecked by monsters while the two of them had been busy brawling.“I wish Squall were here,” he muttered.“Jesus, Zell, go be lovesick somewhere else, would you?” The sharpshooter actually deigned to look up from his literature, annoyed. “Camp outside the brat’s door like that cat of his or something, if you think you’re not doing enough.”“I am not lovesick!” Much to his disgust, Zell’s fair skin immediately flamed into a blush. “Uh huh. Sure.” Zell stalked off. He didn’t have to put up with this. He was going to go talk to Zack about a transfer, or at least about getting a new partner.
As soon as his partner was out of earshot, Irvine looked up beseechingly at the ceiling. “God,” he said very seriously, “if you love me, even a little bit, you will lace all the drinking water in the city with angel dust, so everyone in Midgar will go crazy and kill each other and they’ll stop bringing their problems to me.” He paused. “They’d also stop bringing them to you. Win win situation, yeah?”God didn’t answer. He usually didn’t.Irvine scowled and went back to his magazine. No matter how much information he picked up from gossiping secretaries or how amusing it was to make Tseng twitch whenever he looked the Turk’s way, he was definitely not getting paid enough to run these inter-departmental war games. Oh, ethics, Zack said. Do the right thing in a corrupt world. Serve your country better than it would serve itself.Whatever. Political activism wasn’t nearly as much fun as Zack had promised it would be. Plenty of sex but no explosions and entirely too much whining from Zell, which was why Irvine almost but not quite felt bad about not warning the other SOLDIER that Zack wouldn’t be found anywhere in the building at six on a Friday afternoon. In someone else’s bed hung over, maybe, or at a bar or a strip club, but definitely not his office.*****Zell absolutely couldn’t believe it. Zack’s office was empty.He spent several minutes cursing under his breath and wondering if he dared try to ring the man. Where the hell could he be at six on a Friday afternoon?He was about to go and report this fact of Mysteriously Vanished Officers back to Irvine, who might have some idea where their superior might have disappeared to (Irvine just seemed to know these things, whenever Zell came to him with questions) but was distracted at the stairs by the appearance of a very familiar white coated figure.“Vice President, sir!” He jogged back over, wondering at the presence of the Turk---Rafe, wasn’t it? He’d looked over the profiles Zack had provided but Irvine had been bored and determinedly trying to distract him by unzipping his pants so he really wasn’t sure---but kept his mouth shut in case it was One of Those Things He Shouldn’t Mess Up.“Zack’s not in,” he said inanely before his brain caught up to his mind and went, No Shit. “Um. I mean. I was looking for him too.”
[OOC: Guys, can we stick in one tense before you break my brain? -_-]Rufus turns at the sound of running footsteps, to see that lousy excuse for a SOLDIER that Zack nevertheless recommended to him. He looks even more incompetent than the other two that accompanied the last time. The same two who are present very, very dead thanks to that incompetence. At least the other one -- Kinneas, was it? -- looked as if he knew which was the dangerous end of a gun, but at the same time, he looked the type to leave his charge stranded in the middle of enemy territory while he went off to chase the nearest hot chick. Who would probably be the enemy commander.Rufus for his part, isn't fond of incompetence at all. It makes him snarlier than usual, especially when such incompetence lands him up in hospital and Tseng doesn't even stop by for a visit.However, it can't be worse than whoever Heidegger picks, and he's willing to pass judgment until he actually sees the two in action. Even if he rather hopes that they'll never actually have to see action, if only because his schedule is full enough without having to make those phonecalls to distressed family members about how their son/husband/kid/brat/Chocobo was unfortunately killed in the line of duty, please stop sobbing on the phone, you'll break it.However, Dincht's timely arrival will perhaps prove useful."That much is evident," Rufus says, heaving a sigh. "Would you happen to know where he is at this time? In a meeting, perhaps?"At Dincht's completely lost look, he heaves another sigh, ripping off a corner from a paper in the file as he does so, and scribbling something on it. He turns to Rafe. "We'll split up to look for him. Check the conference rooms to see if there are any meetings presently ongoing." Holding out the piece of paper to him, he continues, "This is my PHS number. Call me if you find anything... or if you can't."
"Alright. And when will we be meeting back here, sir?" Rafe wasn't looking forward to prowling the 60 some floors of near-identical halls in Shinra tower, in search of a man he barely knew anything but the name of. At least on assignments, he had a photo to go by. And the other two men - one with a distinctly gunslinger look and the other obviously some kind of martial artist - who were they? Rafe didn't remember their presence during the Turk indoctrination, nor did they seem like regular members of the military...perhaps more SOLDIER? Their manner certainly didn't fit the straitlaced corporate protocol he'd encountered so far. If this was truly Shinra's elite guard...Rafe shakes himself out of his thoughts. Of course attitude didn't reflect skill. He'd seen men act like children one second and cold-blooded killers the next. All that mattered right now was the task at hand.Another trip through the mazes of Shinra, inc.
Mental flail. Zell can almost hear the Vice President’s temper fraying, and hurriedly counters with the best solution he can think of.“Hold on! Let me talk to Irvine, he and Zack used to hang out all the time and he might know where—”“The barracks,” someone interrupts from behind. Zell shoots his partner an unabashedly grateful look, which the newly arrived sharpshooter good-naturedly returns with a trademark leer and a casual salute for Rufus. An unfamiliar girl is with him, SOLDIER uniform with third class insignia, short brown hair that looked hacked off with a knife, closed non-expression and dead eyes. “Cal here saw him,” Irvine explains, attempting to slide an arm around the girl’s shoulders but faltering at her Look. “Uh, earlier. Yeah. Thought y’all might want to know.”“Try the General’s quarters.” Her voice is as dead as her eyes, gaze unblinking on the Vice President. Zell could only re-affirm for the thousandth time that Irvine had strange taste in women, and sidles a little away from her. “Oookay…then…shall we go?” Directed deferentially at Rufus, of course, while Irvine gives him the you’re-bootlicking-again-Dincht look.
"Thank you," Rufus says, returning the salute with a nod. Two nods, actually, one at Kinneas and one at the one called Cal. He glances briefly at the newcomer, wondering about the flatness to that gaze. A Wutai veteran, perhaps? War, he knows, may cause that kind of scarring, or perhaps some past trauma. It's a pity he doesn't have time to get on the case of every employee in the Company. And sometimes it's better not to.The General's quarters. The implications of that are ominous. Perhaps it's work, although given the rumors......The rumors also said that Zack is partial to blonds, he thinks sourly. He doesn't need to call Rafe back. At least that Turk is sharp enough to notice the change in situation. His gaze slides over to Dincht. We? What is this we he speaks of, Rufus wonders. At the same time, ordering them to stay out of it seems like swatting a fly with a hammer. It probably isn't going to hit, and it'll crack the table. "Very well." He closes Zack's door, and heads off towards the elevators.
Rafe follows silently behind the procession, eyes narrowing for a moment at the sight of the unfamiliar woman. Something wrong about her. The eyes, definitely. He'd seen that look in the face of many veterans in his time, usually before they either killed someone or took the proverbial walk off the bridge. Trauma, perhaps? Shinra had enough cover-ups going on in the world...The elevator floors flicker rapidly upward, and Rafe finds himself contemplating the meeting with the General. Sephiroth. He remembered when the victory over Wutai was first announced, how the Don and his pack of cronies chuckled as they watched the President's speech on TV. Pretty words and phrases, but they all knew that if it weren't for that silver-haired man's strength (unnatural, they said, whispered rumors about the Shinra's experiments in human cloning), the war would've dragged on a lot longer. Back then, Rafe's greatest worries were how he'd measure up as a foot soldier for the Don. Now, he was going to see the General himself.How things changed.
Rufus leads the way swiftly to the desired office, hoping that Zack is, indeed, in. And possibly that the General isn't. He's not up to another confrontation today. Hopefully, someone will be in, at any rate, because even his access codes can't get into Sephiroth's rooms, and he's getting very tired of this run around. Perhaps he should have planned this several weeks in advance and made reservations with everyone, complete with colorful sticky tags on the relevant calenders.For crying out loud. It was a friday evening, not a Monday morning. What on earth would Darklighter be doing in Sephiroth's chambers?They arrive in double quick time as Rufus literally glares any linger crowds out of the way and stalks up to the relevant door. And takes a deep, deep, breath and hits the doorbell.
What is Zack doing in Sephiroth's quarters?At the moment, snoring away and sprawled on top of Sephiroth's lovely designer sheets on his huge ass bed that he never uses because he is a workaholic freak that would rather stay late in his office than go back to the comfort of his lavish apartments. It was one of those great mysteries of life. Beds are meant to be appreciated, so Zack always makes sure /someone/ appreciates Sephiroth's bed (especially when it's a shorter distance from the entrance, the greatest mercy to the very drunk), even if that someone isn't the General himself.Although the General could be persuaded to appreciate Zack's decidedly inferior bed on occasion, or the random army cot, or even a pile of blankets on the tent floor out in the bloody wilds. One wondered if Sephiroth simply wasn't allergic to anything that reminded him of his rank.The snoring is interrupted by the very unwelcome intrusion of what sounds to Zack's sleep addled brain like an alarm klaxon, and sputtering in the way only a highly-polished, highly dangerous, and very hungover SOLDIER can sputter, he woke up.And promptly dives off the bed, shouting something incoherent about Charlie and firebombs and whatever gorramn asshole took a baseball bat to his head last night to make it pound the way it was now and---oh. It's the doorbell.The clock dislodged from the bedside table says it's also half past six in the afternoon.…..someone is going to die messily for this.Spitting heavily slurred curses, there is a quick search for pants. There is an even quicker decision that they aren't necessary to do murder. Someone's spare rifle is. "Sod OFF you unbelievably inconsiderate asshole!" he roars through the door at his commander or Irvine or Auron, because only his commander or Irvine or Auron would be down here trying to pester him at such an unholy hour, and backs up the words with the very distinct sound of a gun cocking—…make that gun going off. He stares stupidly at the smoking hole in the center door for a second. Oops. Shit.
Irvine is just about to suggest knocking and then clearing the doorway (to evade the inevitable Wrath of Hungover Zack when it came forth, as Sephiroth would obviously not be at home when where was still work to be done anywhere else), but Rufus is already pushing the bell. He suggests clearing the doorway anyway, or starts to. "You know, we ought to stand ba--"Interruption. Interruption, in fact, by the most familiar sounds in the world, incoherent rage and hey, that sounded an awful lot like a thirty cal-----shit.Zell has the faster reflexes. They all knew that. So while Irvine is still forming the warning shout, cut off by fire blossoming across his ribs, Zell is a blur of motion in front of Rufus. Shoving the kid as hard as he can towards Rafe. Turning, too late, his own back into the bullet.Except that Cal has already stepped up and taken it full in the chest.The rush of her breath from her lungs is somehow very loud. Zell isn't looking, panic telling him that he's already dead even when there's no agony to feel. Irvine is looking and there's a lot of agony to feel. He's a SOLDIER second class and a bullet at such close range is nothing to brush off. Calidan Meridius is only third class. She should have been blown backwards into the opposite wall.But she doesn't fall. She just stands there.And that's when Irvine notices that there is no slow spread of crimson across the front of her uniform, only a hole and a trickle of smoke. He stares. Zell stares. She scowls at them both and looks down at the wreck of her jacket."That's the fourth armor he's ruined this month," she hisses, and for the first time her eyes don't look so dead. They focus on Irvine."You're bleeding."Was he? He put a hand to his side and it came away red. "I think I'm shot," he agrees with the utter calm of the shell shocked."I think you're grazed, actually."Zell didn't contribute to this conversation, mostly on account of the fact that he was busy breaking down the door. Temper urged him to forget that he was barehanded and it doesn't look like it matters, from the sizeable dents he was leaving in the steel."Zack!" he yells in fury, "You fucking shot Irvine!"Irvine felt he ought to make a contribution. "Yeah, you fucking shot me.""Grazed," Cal corrects, holding out a Materia orb and muttering the chant for Cure."Whatever."
At the first click of a gun, Rafe immediately throws an arm over the Vice President, reaches for his own weapon with the other. An intruder? An assassin? This couldn't be a professional they were dealing with, certainly, but the roar he hears beyond the door makes him flinch and automatically assume a protective stance in front of Rufus."Sod OFF you unbelievably inconsiderate asshole!"And then someone - that character with the tattooed face - pushes him aside, and he's about to shout a warning about shotguns or hitmen, except the crack of a bullet cuts him off, and instinct makes him twist his body above the boy's so that the ensuing blast of splintered wood hits him in the back and hurls them both onto the ground in a tangled, smoking mess.Silence ensues. Swiftly, Rafe rises and, seeing that the Vice President lacks any immediate life-threatening injuries, spins on one heel to bring his twin handguns up, trained at the (well, what formerly was the) door. Except the appearance of a shamefaced black-haired man, coupled with the cry of "Zack!", stops his finger on the trigger. Rafe blinks.This was the man they were bringing to the slums with them?!
At least, Rufus thinks sourly, Those two SOLDIERs appear to be competent when push comes to shove. And Rafe's instincts are good.And speaking of shove...He glances up at Rafe, as a suppressed memory sneaks up and ambushes him. Rafe. Him. Him pushing Rafe up against the wall...Rufus is abruptly furious, the anger so palpable that he can feel it freezing it around him. Shoving past Rafe, he climbs to his feet, all ready to chew Zack out for this farce. "You," he snarls.
There’s a brief second, even through the fog and pain of the world’s worst hangover, that an icy pit opens up in Zack’s stomach and he tears the door open at the same time Zell’s last kick breaks the hinges from the wall. The blond’s rage driven, automatic pilot roundhouse is caught absently, eliciting a furious squall, and the rifle handed off without ever looking in Zack’s hurry to see what kind of damage he’d caused. Forgetting, for the moment, that he’s dressed in nothing more than chocobo boxers and stark, livid bruises. Probably some scratches. Bite marks. Mostly bruises, though, guilty fingerprints on tanned skin that even a SOLDIER first class’s advanced healing couldn't fade before morning.Sephiroth was going to leave more later, comes the disjointed thought, when he came back and found his brand spanking new lack-of-door. Sephiroth was going to be so freaking beyond pissed if Zack had actually managed to accidentally shoot someone---Oh, nevermind. Just Cal and Irvine were shot. Hey, and Rufus is here too. And Rafe. “What in the sphincter of hell were you— ” he begins angrily, about to start in on the SOLDIERs for doing something so monumentally stupid like waking up him up when he was hungover, but Rufus’s snarl interrupts. The boy’s spitting mad once he gets up from the floor and the shelter of Rafe’s arms, and then the Turk’s got both guns leveled at Zack like he was some kind of dangerous idiot who’d just shot off a firearm at the Vice President and Rafe, the proper and oh so very concerned bodyguard, was going to do something about it. “Oh.” He blinks, lecture derailed, and half-ass observance collides into revelation, or what passed for one when his head still felt like it was going to explode. “I didn’t know you two were dating. Isn’t that against the rules?”
Years and years and years of practice are the only thing that stops Rufus from hauling Zack up by the collar and punching him. That and the fact that he suspects that even someone who can fire a shotgun one handed can't beat any sense into the idiot.He spares a glance for Cal, ignoring the little snagging voice at the back of his mind that's busy asking how someone can take a bullet at point blank and not even flinch or stagger back from the recoil. He's been shot before, and even with a bulletproof vest, some bullet rounds are capable of sending you flying. And hurt like a bitch.But that voice has been completely trampled by other pressing concerns. He doesn't even spare a glance for Zack's brightly colored boxers before he stalks over. "SOLDIER," he growls, "What the hell you're doing dead drunk in the middle of the evening when you ought to have been at work?" He doubts that the dressing down will work either, since he's had the chance to actually read Zack's record over the course of the week. If Sephiroth himself hasn't managed to beat some semblence of professionalism into the man, nothing will. A glance at Zack's hazy visage only serves to confirm that observation. "Forget it," he hisses. "Sober up. Dunk your head under some a tap and get down to medical to get a booster. I have a job for you."Or perhaps he should just leave him behind. Certainly, the last thing he needs is a drunk SOLDIER staggering all over the place. At the very least, he'll take that Dincht person, or just get a move on on his own. The prospect is certainly tempting. And after that last remark, he wonders if it's a good idea to distance himself from Rafe as well.
The fact that the Vice President seems more concerned over the black-haired man's drunkenness rather than his foolhardy gunmanship tells Rafe two things - that one, Zack either had immense skill or friends in high places for this grave offense to not be met with immediate execution. And two, this was not the first time the SOLDIER had fired off a shotgun at a Shinra official. Possibly the Vice President himself at some former party of his. The thought is hardly comforting.Not to mention, chocobo boxers? Who the hell over 12 years of age still wore chocobo boxers?"Sir, if I may..." Rafe glances first at Zack, then back at Rufus. Decides politeness can take a backlog to duty (or rather, survival) at this point. "I don't recommend bringing this man to Wall Market with us. Trigger happy gunmen are not conducive to low profile surveying."
"Who's drunk?" Zack retorts automatically, ignoring the fact that he's listing alarmingly to the right. "This isn't drunk. You haven't seen drunk until—whoa." The floor seems to be tilting in a most unsettling fashion. "Bad floor!" he barks at it. "Stop moving!"Okay, maybe he's still a little drunk. "What kinna job?" Blink at Rafe, pretend not to notice Zell's expression of righteous-fury-and-approval and Irvine's punch-drunk sniggers at the Turk's disparaging comment. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? 'Trigger happy?' Oh that's really cute, coming from a guy whose reputation in the slums was---" Pause. Horrified twist of expression. Sudden about-face and sprint back into the room, banging open an innocuous door on the side wall. Cue somewhat muffled sounds of someone being violently sick.
As last chances go, Zack has blown his rather spectacularly. "Your recommendation is noted," Rufus says to Rafe. He spares a glance around, considering briefly whether to take one of these goons along with him -- Irvine is injured and probably wouldn't be terribly excited about the idea of overtime, Zell looks like he'll cry if they tear him away from his CO at this time, and Cal, while promising, is too much of an enigma. There's something very, very strange about the girl, and Rufus wonders if he should go and dig records later this evening.Shaking his head in disgust at the entire situation, he glances at Rafe. "I'm going to forget I even wanted to enlist him on this trip. Let's go."