How Rufus and Reeve met, and the beginning of fascination.
Secretary Takei's lip quirked a little bit around the edges, in what might have been a smile. "My department owns a corner of this floor," he said. "And the suggestions you made during your interview were...ambitious, to say the least. I have high hopes for you, Tuesti."
In years to come, Reeve would know that phrases like that never, ever, led to episodes of happy goodness. But he'd just walked out of the Midgar University with a doctorate in reactor science, and into /his own office on the sixty-second floor of the Shin-Ra Headquarters/, complete with its own window and breathtaking view of the city. He could, perhaps, be forgiven for failing to note a warning sign when it waved itself under his nose. The Secretary, noting that Reeve was pleased with his office (which, despite its beautiful window, was about the size of a walk-in closet), patted him on the shoulder and put a capped cardboard tube in his arms. "Here," he said. "Your first project. Pay close attention to the parameters you need to work within."
Secretary Takei slipped out (well, of course he would; the bulk of the Urban Development department was on the 65th floor, there were only a few committees on the 62nd) and Reeve politely closed the door (his door! He'd heard some people had to work for years to get their own office) and slipped out of his jacket, hanging it on a hook, and loosened his tie. Just the beginning, Reeve, he told himself. If you can start this high, who knows where you'll end up? And the view - oh, the view. He could see so much of the city, and it was so, so beautiful. It was an hour before he wrenched himself away from that magnificent, God's-eye view, and uncapped the cardboard tube his boss had left him.
Ten minutes later, he'd fixed I have high hopes for you in his personal company glossary as meaning I badly need a scapegoat and you'll do nicely. The contents of the tube were a rolled set of blueprints - he held the corners down with books raided from the company library - and the parameters Secretary Takei had mentioned, along with recent readings. From what he could gather, the Gongaga reactor needed 372,000 gil worth of repairs and a month of down time, and Urban Development had 40,000 gil to spend and two days with which to effect them. Notepads and calculators were raided from wherever they might be obtained - he'd quite forgotten, already, to tighten his tie and grab his suit-jacket - and Reeve quickly lost track of the hours after that, the gorgeous view behind him ignored.
He only looked up when he realized he was squinting at the blueprints, and that he was squinting at the blueprints because it was dark. It was dark because the sun had set, and he'd never turned on the lights in his office. He didn't check his watch to find out what time it was. He just walked over, turned on the lights, and went back to his desk. He had to think of something/. He didn't know a lot about the company, but he rather suspected that if it was willing to go to this expense to get a scapegoat, it wouldn't want a scapegoat that was in any way verbal. /Verbally-capable scapegoats, after all, might be able to identify themselves as such.
Reeve didn't go home until a cleaning lady knocked on his door. At that point he checked his watch and decided to get a few hours' sleep before coming back and continuing his work on the problem. Maybe/, if he used what budget was available on the most /critical repairs, using the allowed downtime to effect said, he could keep the whole in a sort of jerry-rigged state of functioning until next year's budget allowed for more repairs, more down time...
While his mind was focused on this problem, Reeve had no attention to spare for anything else. He came in, closed the door, unrolled the blueprints...and spent the rest of his day checking figures, making calls to get more figures, juggling figures, and trying to make very large numbers into manageable groups of smaller numbers. He kept the door of his office shut not because he didn't want to see anyone, but simply because people tended to knock more when the door was closed.
So he very nearly startled himself right out of his beautiful (but now largely ignored) upper-storey window when, in the middle of a cost analysis for gradual repairs on the Number Three Cooling Tank, he got a half-eaten apple right between the eyes. To say that he jumped would leave no word for the way he went from sitting in his chair to plastered against his window - a position he corrected quickly, as he wasn't sure the window was designed to bear that kind of weight.
"Next time I say hello, you say hello back, you got it?" snapped a - boy, Reeve realized, blinking. A short, blond, blue-eyed boy, decidedly younger than fifteen, though how much so was hard to say. There were no boys in the Headquarters, he'd heard company policy was very strict about that sort of thing, which was one reason there were few women on the secure levels. Shock stood in place of survival instinct; he was too breathless from sudden fright to ask who are you or what are you doing here /or even /why on earth did you just throw an apple at my head? Besides. The boy seemed quite pleased with Reeve's reaction, even a touch smug about it.
Reeve opened his mouth, discovered his voice had taken flight somewhere, coughed - while the boy grinned fit to take in his ears - and managed, "Hello."
The blond nodded. "That's better/. I'd heard someone was working back here, but the door's always closed and nobody's been seen going in or out for days, so.." he shrugged, with the same sort of attitude one might expect of a professional exterminator. /Well, y'see, the rats are there but they're not coming out, so I have to go in after 'em...
Reeve took that as a warning; any boy who could take that attitude with employees - particularly on the secure levels - probably had power and/or money backing him elsewhere in the building. He probably didn't want to find out who the hard way. So, carefully, he said, "And now that you have verified my existence?"
The blond boy leaned casually in the doorway, his bangs falling into his eyes, with very much the attitude that he owned the place and was just waiting for Reeve to figure this out and kowtow properly. "Well," he mused, "You haven't been seen around, and the caf serves crap for the drones anyway. Maybe I should show you where to go."
Reeve rubbed his apple-dented forehead and considered his desk. "I haven't been out because I have a lot to do," he explained. "Secretary Takei dropped a very big assignment on me and I've been -"
"Working your ass off to save his," finished the boy, apparently amused at Reeve's naievete. "D'you know, I think you're the only one in his whole department who /works/? He must've picked you up from the middle of nowhere."
"Midgar University, thanks," said Reeve with a frown. And you're not even through high school, yet.
The look the boy gave him said clearly that it sometimes took someone highly intelligent to be really damn stupid. "Uh-huh," he said, and the tone made clear how impressed he wasn't. He held out a hand to grab one of Reeve's. "Come on. It's about the right time of day anyway. I think I want to show off my find - somebody in this beehive who actually works instead of waving his ass."
Reeve, very much to his surprise, found himself being dragged by someone possibly only half his age through the corridors of the Headquarters. "Look," he said, as the short blond hauled him past the Mayor's office, "Not to be rude, but I don't even know who you are."
"Yeah, I gathered that," grinned the boy, and his tone said he'd probably pay money to be around when Reeve found out. "My name's Rufus. And I'm pretty sure yours isn't 'Supply Closet', so you might want to talk to Takei about getting the name plate fixed."
"I - what?" Reeve blinked, as he was hauled into the elevator. "It didn't say that before. Since when do supply closets have windows? And you know Secretary Takei?"
Rufus snorted. "Well enough to know he's getting away with murder in your case," he replied. "And all the outer rooms have windows. If someone's not junior enough to deserve a room the size of a lunchbox, it's just a supply closet until someone comes along to fill the space." He leaned against the side of the elevator as they descended. "So. What is your name? Or did you want me to make something up?" He grinned. "Wouldn't be any trouble at all. It'd stick, too."
"Reeve," said Reeve quickly, mentally filing room the size of a lunchbox away for future consideration. There was that in Rufus' tone that implied he could think of some pretty unflattering nicknames.
"Reeve," Rufus echoed thoughtfully, with a little nod. "Interesting. You didn't tell me you're "mister" something-or-other. Most would."
Reeve, quite lost now, just blinked at him as the elevator doors opened on the main floor. "Why should I?"
Rufus slanted a blue-eyed glance of pure wicked mischief at him. "Cos I'm just a kid, of course," he said, and with cheerful ruthlessness dragged Reeve outside, heading out onto the Plate. "Now...where's a good place for you to go..."
In a pig's eye you're 'just a kid', was Reeve's thought. Anyone who thought this Rufus was 'just a kid' probably didn't have a career long enough to figure out their mistake. He wasn't sure who the boy was connected to, but whoever it was, it granted him a lot of clout. Either that or the boy was just naturally fearless. Reeve had to concede that this might in fact be the case. But fearlessness wasn't enough to get you up to the sixty-second floor often enough to stalk supply closets. Reeve was starting to get worried about that; wouldn't do to voice the wrong opinion if this Rufus was going to echo it to whoever his parents were. Rufus was certainly familiar - to the point of contempt - with the local lay of the land; the ultra-expensive highrises and restaurants near the Headquarters. Reeve noted with increasing worry that the doormen and security guards seemed to know who Rufus was - the general attitude of such people toward teenagers could be summed up as get the hell out of here before I give you a thick ear/, but to his new guide they were infallibly polite and precise. That spoke of a Name. There weren't /that many in the company.
Rufus, however, either didn't notice or didn't concern himself with Reeve's increasing unease. He simply dragged Reeve along with absolute assurance. "What're you in the mood for?" he asked, and from his tone it was clear this was both a test and one Rufus wasn't particularly invested in seeing the results of. "I'm up for anything, myself, but if you're allergic to something or vegetarian or whatever, now's a good time to say."
"Weren't you supposed to be showing me?" Reeve asked blankly, and in answer got Rufus' blue-eyed stare at uncomfortably close range. He wasn't sure if the boy was contemplating a kiss or ripping his throat out with his teeth; from his expression it was hard to tell.
"Well, yeah," said Rufus softly, his tone suddenly indecipherably intense. "But if you just wanna eat what the executive fashion of the month is, you're a lot more boring than I thought you were."
"....Er." Reeve had spent the majority of his existence nose deep in a book, or neck-deep in various mechanical bits and bobs. He wasn't terribly well equipped to deal with that sort of close-range speculation from people in his own age group, never mind from a boy who was still working his way through puberty. It didn't help to know that no matter what actually happened, the law would say it was his fault. And that the boy's parents, whoever they were, could probably afford ten or twelve lawyers at once. "I. Um. How about Wutaian?" he asked desperately, and then mentally kicked himself. Takeout Wutaian? As well ask for a cheeseburger. Oh well, so much for good impressions...
"Not bad," was Rufus' surprising reply, and he laid a startlingly firm grip on Reeve's forearm. "Let's introduce you to sushi." And he abruptly changed course, dragging the now thoroughly-lost Reeve in his wake like a can tied on a long string to the bumper of a car.
He did his best to keep up - physically, if not mentally - as Rufus chose a building at apparent random and hauled him inside. The elevator within had only one unlocked button - only one button that could be pressed without some kind of key - and Rufus clapped his hand down on it with utter unconcern. As the doors whooshed closed, Reeve ventured, "Um. Where exactly are we going?"
"I told you," said Rufus shortly, though not as if he were angry about it - more that he seemed to be immensely enjoying how off-balance Reeve was getting, and didn't want the fun to stop too soon. He didn't elaborate, at any rate, and his expression as he watched Reeve sort himself out in the elevator's relative privacy seemed amused.
The elevator let out on a short hallway, which opened onto an elegant Wutaian restaurant, Reeve realized. Not a takeout, a ...very expensive looking... restaurant. His salary probably didn't cover whatever they actually served here. There were cubbies for shoes lining the halls, each one locked by a person's ID card. "Alexander's turrets," he breathed quietly. "No. Rufus, no. I don't -"
"My treat," said Rufus, with a sly grin that said he'd seen that coming from a mile away. He moved his hand in a smooth-sailing gesture. "My allowance is probably bigger than your salary, anyway."
Ouch. Reeve hid a wince at the probable truth of that. Oh, the splendor of the rich. And I was so proud of my accomplishments only a few days ago. I'm trumped by a boy who's probably only recently discovered what girls are. He'd have to remember that, next time he visited his mother and she tried telling him he was rising too fast in the world. At least Rufus seemed (somewhat) aware of the appearances of things; he didn't drag Reeve so much as firmly lead him. Off with the shoes, this is how you lock them in the cubbies, pocket the receipt it prints in case for some reason your card doesn't open it back up again, and then the boy was speaking to the maitre d' in what sounded - to Reeve's inarticulate ears - to be crisp, perfect Wutaian, though Reeve was more concerned with Rufus' attitude than whatever it was he was saying. Rufus was casually superior, in both tone and stance, as if he'd been here many times and the maitre knew exactly who he was and how deeply to bow.
Pretty deeply, Reeve realized, and once again had the feeling he was dangling his toes over a shark tank as they were shown to a table. "I don't bite, you know," Rufus said quietly, with a smile that said he probably would, under the right circumstances. He showed Reeve the menu. "I'll go over this, you learn and memorize. It's always better to stick to foods you actually like, then it doesn't look so much like you're sucking up." And he went down the menu, having no difficulty translating the various terms - and with more than a few words on how well the restaurant prepared the various dishes. The part of Reeve that was an in-the-bone engineer took the knowledge and filed it away for later use, while the rest of him continued to speculate on just how highly placed this Rufus' family was.
The food was good, though. Reeve dutifully attempted to get the hang of the polished chopsticks, but most of his attention (that wasn't on Rufus or his lunch) was directed at the restaurant's view. Panoramas of Midgar never failed to captivate him, and the restaurant offered a very good one. And Rufus seemed to note that as well, figuring it into whatever tally he had going on inside his head. There were hints, here and there, that the tally wasn't making a lot of sense to him. True to his word, though, when the check came Rufus paid it, putting a plastic card in the fold.
For some reason Reeve had the strongest feeling he shouldn't try to learn Rufus' full name by looking at the card - that doing so would be breaking some unspoken rule, failing some unstated test. And somehow Reeve knew, too, that it was very important he pass that test. Reeve rather disliked relying on such nebulous things as intuition - engineer to the core, he preferred things he could measure and examine, predict and control - but occasionally intuition didn't so much gently hint as firmly command. He would not look. If he was quite, quite lucky, sometime down the line he might figure out why. It was what was somehow required, though - Rufus glanced at him as he paid the bill and pocketed the card, and there was that in his attitude that spoke of approval...and, well-masked, confusion. It vanished as he got to his feet. "Come on," he said. "Just about time to get you back to your closet, but I think I want to show you something first."
Another test? Reeve wondered as he obeyed, following Rufus out to retrieve their shoes. Rufus seemed to have an almost scientific approach to people, testing and testing until he knew what he was dealing with. Reeve was almost as tempted to ask the boy what his categories were as he was to ask his name. Whoever Rufus was, he'd clearly spent a lot of time in the higher levels of the Headquarters, and his insights on the people there were probably invaluable to anyone with ambition. If, of course, he chose to share them. Reeve found himself wondering if the sushi lunch had served a larger purpose than just introducing him to Wutaian gourmet.
Rufus led the way back to the Headquarters and Reeve followed, this trip more comfortably silent as both of them were rather lost in their own thoughts. But when they got into the elevator, Rufus swiped his keycard in the reader and punched the button for the sixty-ninth floor. "Keep your mouth shut and don't gawk," he advised as Reeve's jaw dropped and the elevator rose upward. "You need to understand what you're dealing with."
I do? Reeve almost asked aloud, but managed to stop himself. He wondered what it was Rufus was reacting to, or foreseeing. As it might well be the only premature trip he'd make to that floor, he did his best to compose himself. Professional. He could do this. No problem. Rufus slanted a glance at him just before the door opened, and seemed almost approving.
The offices here were /huge/. The floor wasn't carpeted, but was coated in some sort of springy material that felt like having brand new athletic shoes. Every office was keycoded. And Reeve noticed that, young as he was, nobody on that floor so much as gave Rufus a second glance, though more than one looked at Reeve in a way that put him in mind of predators. Realization settled on him in a cool, shivery chill, and he knew who Rufus had to be.
He was rather distracted out of the moment of clarity, however, because at that moment there was a minor crash around the corner, and a yelp of pain. Reeve reacted automatically, leaving Rufus' side to go and see. It wasn't anything major; a maintenance worker had been on a ladder, replacing a fluorescent light, and had lost his balance. Landing on the glass tube, he'd cut his hand open. Reeve scooted over, said, "I can help," and caught the man's bloody hand in his, ignoring his shocked expression as he made use of the restore materia on his wrist to close the wounds, picking out the glass splinters as the flesh healed. "Okay?" he asked the man quietly, wondering why he was being given that shocked - almost frightened - stare. Materia wasn't that hard to get - you could even buy it in the slums, he'd heard, if you had the cash.
"Yeah. Thanks," said the worker, as if the most intelligent thing he could do would be to get as far away from Reeve as possible, as soon as possible. "I'm just gonna go wash this off."
Reeve stood and let the man go, of course, though he was a little puzzled as to why he'd gotten that reaction. Taking a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe the blood off his hands, he turned around to see Rufus looking at him with the same blank incomprehension, and wondered what on earth he'd walked into.
"Why did you do that?" Rufus asked him, as if he were half-certain Reeve had done it on purpose - to showcase himself, perhaps, or make some kind of statement.
Is that the only purpose mercy serves here? Reeve wondered, but the worker's evident fear of him hinted at darker things. "...Because he was hurt?" he answered carefully. "Do you know why he was afraid of me?"
"Because you don't belong on this floor," Rufus snapped in a low voice, so it wouldn't carry. "The maintenance workers are each assigned to a specific floor. He knows you don't work on this floor. A few floors down and he'd probably have had a heart attack. He probably thought you were going to take him to the science levels. Nobody here worries about the peons."
Reeve stared, simply stared. It wasn't so much shock at the sentiment - money and power did corrupt, and treating maintenance staff as invisible happened at far less mighty corporations than Shin-Ra - as the way Rufus (Rufus Shinra/, the back of his mind nudged him, you know it has to be /Shinra/) seemed to find the idea of assisting someone in need to /necessarily be false, or prompted by ulterior motives. Because he was hurt didn't seem to be a believable reason to him at all, and Reeve found himself at a complete loss for words as a result.
Rufus frowned at him - his expression severe, nearly scowling, as if waiting for Reeve to confess whatever game it was he was supposed to be up to. And Reeve found, against his better judgement and budding survival sense, that his own response to that viewpoint was pity. If Shin-Ra was a den of backstabbing vipers, it was at least a world made by and for adults, and adults lived in it. Rufus' glare made Reeve think that that world was all Rufus /knew/, and because it was at the top it must represent all the world there was, or all that mattered of it. And he wasn't sure what to say to that. Rufus was, after all, only responding to the world he saw, heard, lived in every day. He wouldn't exactly believe in something just on Reeve's say-so, and as Reeve was of a similar mindset himself, he wasn't about to try.
Besides. If he /did/, this boy's father could squish him into soup without sparing more than five seconds of effort. And probably would. There really wasn't anything Reeve could say.
So he didn't. He looked away from that angry, confused glare, and said, "I'd better go. I have a lot of work to do."
Matching action to words, Reeve turned to leave, heading back to the elevator. His own keycard would serve to take him down to his proper floor. But he wasn't too surprised when, after a few steps, he heard, "...Reeve."
Reeve turned back, keeping everything about himself blank and calm. Whatever it was Rufus was looking for, Reeve didn't want him to find it. Not with those eyes, that saw an honest desire to provide assistance as some kind of desire to exalt oneself. "Yes, Rufus?" he answered quietly, politely.
Rufus stared at him for several seconds. Reeve wondered if even that had failed some kind of test. Then Rufus' hand flicked. "Nevermind. Go on."
Reeve gave Rufus a little bow, as to an equal or superior, and Rufus didn't stop him again. He used his keycard to get back to his own floor, and wondered to himself just what sort of fallout there would be from the afternoon's activities.
When he got back to his little cubby of an office (at least now he knew how small it looked to his boss) he checked the door and sure enough, his nameplate had gone missing somewhere. Oh well, it didn't really matter. He'd talk to Takei about it the next time the man dropped by to check on him. He went inside, closed the door, turned on the light...prepared to settle in for a long afternoon.
He didn't remember the apple core until he started going through his paperwork - as that was what the apple was sitting on. He tossed it into the trash, and quickly sank again into the near-zen state induced by having far too much to do and far too little resources to get it done with.
The cleaning lady gave him an odd look when she came in that evening, but said nothing. The next morning, Reeve found his nameplate had been replaced - he only noticed because the engraved metal had quite a different look in the slot than the molded plastic that had been there. Reeve almost, almost smiled, and made a note to himself to leave a bowl of hard candies on his desk and to offer the cleaning lady one. Nobody here worries about the peons. Reeve's mother had taught him a little bit better than that. And maybe it would serve him better than growing a set of shark teeth. He settled into a comfortable routine - one that involved long days, to be sure, but he was at least getting something done on that reactor, even if nowhere near enough or as much as he'd like...
"Reeve." The tone was low, sharp, and it cut through his train of thought. He looked up to see Rufus leaning against the doorway, hands in his pockets. When he saw he had Reeve's attention, he said, "Looks like you got a new nameplate."
"Yes," Reeve agreed. Rufus' tone was odd, and Reeve wondered whether he was meaning to say hello or /it's not supposed to look like that/.
Rufus, for his part, had a closed-off sort of look to him that he hadn't had before. "You know who I am," he stated.
Well, that explains your attitude, Reeve thought, and nodded. "Yes, Mr. Shinra. I worked it out."
Rufus frowned at him, and once again Reeve had to wonder what it was that Rufus heard in Reeve's words, and what made it unfavorable. When he said nothing, Reeve returned his attention to his work.
Reeve looked up. "Yes?"
Rufus was entirely closed off; nothing in his face or voice gave anything away. "Go down to the sixty-first at four. There's some people I want you to meet."
Reeve had to wonder what sort of people they were, and if it was going to hurt. Probably not; four was still business hours, so the worst that it could be would be an enforced request to clean out his desk - which he wouldn't need to do as he hadn't had time to put anything personal on it. "All right," he agreed.
Rufus moved to leave, and Reeve turned back to his paperwork. "Oh, and Reeve?"
"Yes?" Reeve asked, looking back up again.
"It's Rufus. It's always Rufus. My old man is Mr. Shinra."
Reeve had to smile. He was fairly sure part of it was pride and an attempt at being individual, but somehow what it sounded like was an apology - and maybe an offer to be friends. "All right, Rufus. I'll remember."