"At the Moment of Death" - The day Shin-Ra died.
Heidegger's shout rang through Reeve as he was thrown into one of Hojo's holding cells, his head hitting the wall hard enough to make him dizzy. Dizzier; he'd gotten a few heavy knocks on the way down, as well. He dropped heavily to his knees, trying to find his balance.
"But...but you'll come, won't you?"
God, if they didn't, Midgar was completely, utterly fucked. Damnit! All of their work -
Reeve gulped air around the dizziness in his head. On his hands and knees on the cell floor, he listenined to Avalanche get ready. Cait was freaking out badly on the internal system - Reeve! Reeve! Answer me! Reeve, please! Please answer me! - but he didn't dare. He didn't dare breathe a word, didn't dare pull down the little microphone to reassure - the guards hadn't taken it from him, but if he tried using it they'd probably notice their oversight. He didn't dare say a thing - the transmissions from Cait were the only hope he had left.
Oh, God, Rufus...
There hadn't been time or place to show grief before. Not in front of Heidegger and Scarlet, not with ...everything.../They've lost their minds. Taking power's more important to them than having anything to take power of./ And Rufus...the pain there was going to swallow him, he knew it. And now...was now the time?
Is now ever the goddamned time? If you'd just paid attention to now instead of waiting for the right goddamn time, would you even be IN this mess?
His head was pounding - throbbing, in fact, as if to its own oblivious drummer. He forced himself to rise up on his knees, and then get - rather unsteadily - to his feet. Damnit, Reeve, you're not sixteen. Dying with your intended is for plays run on hormones, the people of Midgar don't need it. He had to hope an opportunity would come. If nothing else, his guards might get called away when Cloud started decimating what was left of Heidegger's forces. The thought brought a somewhat vicious, somwhat vindictive smile to his lips as he sat down on the cell's lone bunk. Heidegger's SOLDIERs, Scarlet's robots - and AVALANCHE has gone through it all and then some and they're on our side -
Our side? Well - himself and Cait Sith, yes, but that hadn't been the 'our' he'd meant. Once again, Reeve reined grief in hard - the effort making his breath come in ragged gasps. But Cait...Cait would make them pay. With no confirmation that his master and maker still lived, Cait would want vengeance. And AVALANCHE backing it would make sure vengeance happened, even if that wasn't quite the intention of the group at the time.
He tried to steady himself. Breathe. Breathe, damnit. You can't do anything if you're too dizzy to move.
Reeve made himself lie down, forced himself to breathe slowly, deeply, evenly. He kept his eyes closed until the throbbing receded somewhat. He listened to AVALANCHE, being led by Cait through the city. Listened to the Turks back off.../They weren't the company's. They were always Rufus'...and if he's not here, why shouldn't they save their own necks?/ Or try to recover the President's body...or something. They'd belonged to Rufus, but there might be a limit to their devotion. The city falling down around their ears if Hojo fired that cannon, for example. He listened dispassionately as AVALANCHE faced off with Heidegger and Scarlet. Only one more to go...and then he heard Hojo's voice through Cait's ears. "Energy level is at...... 83%. It's taking too long."
Had he not already been lying down, he'd have needed to. They made it. They made it in time.
Relief flooded through him. The city had a chance. AVALANCHE would stop this, would take the President's enemies out. Among other things, that meant he really, really needed to get out of here. But on the plus side, as the last surviving member of the executive board, the company was his. He got up to tell the guard this, and - Oh, great. Everyone's gone. How am I going to get out of the cell? But there was something he could do, at least. He pulled the stiff microphone wire down from his headset. "Cait?" he asked quietly. "Cait, it's me."
"REEVE!" cried Cait Sith into his ear, relieved. "Reeve, I thought you were - how are you? Are you okay? Do you -"
"Hush!" Reeve hissed. There was a scuffle down the hall - he couldn't see it, but it could mean anything. "I'm fine. Make sure Hojo doesn't fire that cannon - kill him if you have to!"
"No problem there," Cait answered with cheerful viciousness. "Guess you haven't got the video hooked up - he's turned into something really really nasty. I don't think anybody wants to hand him a paycheck now. We're taking care of it - you're okay?" The tone switched from sadistic glee to concern with robotic speed.
But Reeve could only hiss a quick "Shh!" in reply, letting go the microphone to slip back into his earpiece. Someone was coming -
and his jaw dropped as he saw who it was.
Rufus, flanked by his Turks, with his shotgun held at the ready. He was missing his trademark white overcoat, and looked more than a little worse for wear, but his expression said that anyone getting in his way would suffer Shin-Ra's classic Termination With Extreme Prejudice.
"...!" said Reeve, too shocked to make his throat work properly. Surprise, relief, and amazement rendered him mute.
"Cavalry to the rescue," said Reno with a wink as he unlocked the door. "Tell your friends thanks for not holding us the fuck up, will ya? Took forever to find him."
"Rufus," breathed Reeve, stunned. Rufus was pleased - even smug - at the reaction he was getting, and it did nothing to change Reeve's overwhelming relief. His hands twitched; he wanted to pick the little President up and hug the life out of him, but the Turks were there.
Damn the Turks, he decided abruptly, and the shotgun became an impromptu chaperone as it got wedged between them.
"...Reeve?" Rufus asked, a wince in his voice, almost worried at the uncharacteristically open display, though it didn't seem to set the Turks off at all. He barely noticed Reno passing Rude a small wad of bills. "How long were you in there?"
"I thought you'd died," Reeve confessed quietly, holding tight. "How ...?"
Rufus gave him a look usually reserved by parents for three year olds who insist chocolate cake is a GOOD breakfast, really, and held out his wrist. In the bracer shone the faint light of materia orbs.
"Exit materia," explained Reno, as Rude indicated they should get moving. "Only using it halfway through a fireball, from the top floor of the headquarters, meant he could land anywhere in Midgar."
Reeve's hindbrain finally re-grasped the immediate need to, yes, get the hell out of here, and he let Rufus go - well, mostly - to catch up to the Turks. One hand was clamped around Rufus' wrist as he did so, though - he wouldn't risk losing him again. There had been the scent of burned hair and flesh at that range - Rufus had only barely gotten out.
"Anyway, your call to AVALANCHE meant Heidegger wanted to wave his balls in the wind in front of Scarlet, so he ordered us out after 'em," Reno continued blithely, all the while keeping up a good pace, with his mag-rod at the ready. "We were just gonna put up a token fight anyway, but they were more after Hojo so we gave 'em a wave and kept looking."
"He'd landed on a dry cleaner's," Elena noted dryly, from her position as forward scout. "His coat's a mess. Fireball toasted it, roof finished it."
"Yes, well, I can get another coat," said Rufus shortly. "Anyway, when they caught up to me and filled me in, I knew we had to get you out of the crossfire. So here we are."
Time. There wasn't enough time - again - to really process everything. Reeve ran alongside the other four, pelting down the stairs, and knew himself in shock. Rufus was dead - and then he was fine. He himself was prisoner and free, Hojo and Heidegger and Scarlet were alive and then dead, the city was in danger and then - "We have to get out of here."
"We're working on it," snapped Rufus, jumping down most of a flight of stairs and hitting the bottom three at a run. "The company's finished, at least for now, we've got to -"
"Get the people to safety," finished Reeve, and got brief stares from the others as they pelted their way outside. "Meteor's coming. It's headed right for Midgar. We've got to get people out."
"You're going to have to," said Rufus bluntly, leaning against a building to catch his breath as he looked up at what was left of the damaged headquarters. "After this debacle it's going to take time we haven't got to put a decent PR spin on events." His eyes narrowed as he looked away, towards the Sister Ray. "Tell me they were worth the investment, at least."
Reeve nodded. His headache was coming back. "Scarlet and Heidegger are dead," he said. "Scarlet had a killer machine built for two that she called the Proud Clod. She and Heidegger got blown up in it." He closed his eyes, panting as he listened to AVALANCHE talking. "....And Hojo'd infected himself with Jenova. They've taken him out, too."
"Good," said Rufus, in a tone that made Reeve think of Cait. Rufus pushed away from the wall and hefted his shotgun. "They're worth the effort, then." But his voice was tired.
"We're not going to get anything done tonight, sir," said Elena, eyeing the commotion in the streets ahead of them. "Suggest we duck into the slums, rest and heal."
Reeve nodded, though the rising intensity of the pounding in his head made it a questionable prospect. Rufus had just had a fireball aimed at him, the Turks had been through hell. A minor concussion was just that - minor. "Can take over Don Corneo's old place near the Wall Market," he offered, though the Don's taste in just about everything was doing nothing for Reeve's nausea.
"Workable," Rufus agreed. "Rude, Reno, with us. Elena - if the city's going down I want Tseng out. Go get him, take him to Kalm. Call the Don's place when he's out of the way."
"Sir," Elena affirmed, and snapped off a bow before running off. Tseng was out of danger, but it would be months at least before he was back to full health. And a woman in the Wall Market always brought more attention than the group could handle right now.
The four used the rail tunnels to get down into the slums, the Turks throwing grapples where they were needed. The population was in chaos; the whole city had felt the Sister Ray being powered up. Most had heard gunfire, some had seen explosions. Reeve discovered adrenaline did wonders for pain when someone all but ripped his suit jacket from his back; Rude took care of it quickly with a practiced slam to the offender's jaw.
He picked up the torn jacket. "Damn," he said quietly. No tailor in the world could save it now. He fished in the pockets for his keys, wallet, links to Cait and his company badge, and let the thing fall. Rufus slanted a look at him.
"The old man's company is finished," he said flatly, as they headed up to the mansion. "I've got the data, too. No more reactors. Means no more Mako, no more revenue - and hell, you're the only exec left alive."
"Don't talk like that," snapped Reno, an edge to his voice. "You've still got us. We can rebuild, right?"
"He's talking PR, not resolutions, Reno," said Reeve. Ah. Adrenaline did wonders for a headache for a while/. "I doubt he's going to go buy a farm in Kalm and grow chocobo greens." But he looked at Rufus as he said it, wondering what the man /was thinking, as they stepped - at last - through Corneo's doors. Don Corneo would have no need of the place now, and the beds might be garishly colored and obnoxiously scented, but they were big and soft and there were rooms to spare. Rude shut the door and set about finding things to bar it with, while Reno led the two executives upstairs.
"The Don's room's the biggest," said Reno, opening a door. "Boss? All yours."
"I'm staying with you," said Reeve abruptly, and then colored scarlet as both Rufus and Reno turned looks of absolute surprise on him.
"Shiva's tits, what timimg," Reno said, breaking into laughter. "Okay, fine." He undid his bracer and tossed it to Reeve. "But heal the boss up first, or I'll have to hurt you when you come out."
The only sign Rufus gave of being both surprised and delighted was a slight widening of his eyes, and a raised eyebrow that said clearly, I think I get a say in who's going to be sleeping in my bed. But the Turks were his, had always been his even when they'd had to report elsewhere. They knew well enough what was up.
Besides; Reeve was sure it was making both of their nights to watch him - after everything that had happened - blush like the virgin he very much wasn't.
"If you must," said Rufus, his tone amused rather than aggravated, and headed into the bedroom. Five seconds later Reno was laughing again, as Rufus' incredulity carried through the door.
"...For the love of Ramuh's little toes, was Don Corneo /color blind/?"
"Thanks," said Reeve quietly, meaning the bracer, and decided to go and see how bad it was. He'd heard - well, Cait had heard - horror stories from Tifa and Aerith.../and for once they weren't exaggerating,/ he realized as he laid eyes on it. Rufus' tendency toward black and white was about the only thing that could have saved him from clashing with everything in sight. "...Great Alexander," he winced. "Maybe it won't be as bad in the dark."
"Your timing," Rufus informed him in the growly tones of the exhausted, as he pulled off what was left of his shirt, "is terrible. Years I've waited for you to say something like that, and -" he stopped, wincing.
Reeve had barely heard him in any case - Rufus' turtleneck was black, and so neither blood nor char had shown, but underneath was clear evidence how close that blast had come to killing the President. He must've used what focus he had to heal his face and hands, Reeve realized, as he automatically snapped Reno's bracer in place on his wrist. "Or perfect," he replied. "Lie down - I can heal this. You'll sleep better."
"Be my guest," said Rufus, not bothering to hide his exhaustion now that the Turks weren't looking to him. He flopped backwards onto the bed, exposing the burns on his chest and stomach.
Reeve first used the materia to heal his own concussion - it would help his focus - and then spread his fingers over Rufus' chest, barely above the skin. Materia was the only true combat-worthy skill he had, and healing materia the first he'd ever mastered, but he'd never had to heal damage like this. Rufus had fallen asleep well before he'd finished, ravaged flesh now new and pink. Materia drew in part on a body's own resources to heal it, so there was no chance of Rufus waking as Reeve carefully finished undressing him - more to make sure he'd finished the job and make Rufus comfortable than any ulterior motive. When he'd healed the last of the burns, the part of him that was still awake enough to think had to marvel that Rufus had been able to move, function, while suffering such hurts. Then again, he's always been tougher than you. Good thing, too, or he'd be dead now.
It wasn't the best way to heal, but time - as always - was at a premium. Rufus' immune system would be all but nonexistent for weeks, perhaps months, he'd tire easily and he'd have a horrible appetite until he'd replenished his body's reserves. But, and this was the important thing at the moment, he wasn't dead and he was reasonably mobile.
He unstrapped the bracer and opened the door, where Rude and Reno were having a quiet game of cards. He handed Reno back the bracer. "He's fine now," he said. "But he's going to have a ridiculous appetite when he wakes up. Just to let you know."
"Yeah, but who for?" Reno dismissed, waving Reeve back inside. "Stay put. You didn't see his face when we told him Heidegger'd had you locked up."
"No fear," said Reeve, and closed the door again.
Undressing, he decided, was being far too optimistic and was in any case far too much work. He undid his tie, letting it fall, and got out of his shirt and undershirt. Shoes and belt followed, but after that Reeve decided he'd filled the minimum requirements and half-fell into the bed. One arm went across Rufus to make sure he didn't roll off or something, and then sleep overtook him.
To hell with the 'right time'. He would make time.