"Rufus Shinra, may I present you with: the slums of Sector 3."
Reno watched as the young vice president stared down from the helicopter. Even from one hundred feet in the air, the dirt and destitution on the ground was apparent. Rufus blinked and swallowed. "We're going down there?"
"Yup." Reno pulled his head back into the cockpit and smiled grimly. "Another lesson for you, homecoming for me."
It took a minute for the meaning of his words to sink in. "You lived here?"
Reno nodded, amused at the young man's surprise. "Not everyone in ShinRa was born like you. I wasn't born into this life; I had to work my way up to where I am now. Left quite the trail of blood, sweat and tears behind me too, if I may be excused the cliché." His smile turned bitter. "I've still got the scars."
Rufus was silent for the few minutes it took for Tseng to maneuver the helicopter onto the top of a building that looked hardly capable of sustaining it's own weight. Tseng and Rude jumped out of the front as Reno and Rufus climbed out the side door. Once Rude had gotten the rest of the details of the trip, he had requested permission to join them. Surprised, Tseng had agreed, against Reno's protests that if they were going to get fired or (more likely AND) get killed, then at least one of them should be left.
Now, the three Turks stood silent as Rufus looked out over the slums that stretched for miles in every direction.
"Do they all- I mean, the Sectors, are there always-?"
Reno nodded. "Each Sector's got it's own little place to call hell," he said, lighting up a cigarette. "Some of them- they're bigger than the residential sections. Ain't nothing to do about it, either. Nothing we can do."
"Let's go." Tseng turned and vaulted over the low wall surrounding the roof, grabbing hold of an old metal fire escape. "We've got a lot to cover before we go back up."
Reno shrugged at Rufus and grinned, sliding down the rusted metal. Rude motioned for the young man to go first, then followed silently. While not against holding conversation with his co-workers in the privacy of any of their apartments, he was reluctant to speak more than a few words at a time with anyone else. Both Reno and Tseng were silently honored at this distinction of respect.
"Where do you want to start?" Reno murmured to Tseng as they reached the ground.
"Let's just walk. We'll find what we're looking for." Tseng brushed back a strand of black hair and turned to watch Rufus and Rude descending the staircase. "I'm going to let Reno take the lead for now," he said. With the exception of Rufus, they all knew that was a notice to Rude and Reno both that the younger Turk was going to be in charge from here on out. As the leader of the Turks, Tseng was well versed in all areas of Midgar, but the slums were Reno's territory.
As Reno led them past a strip of rundown shacks on a street covered with garbage and filth, Rufus shuddered and pulled his white jacket tighter.
"What's the matter, kid, don't like it?" Reno's tone was light, but his eyes hard. "Just remember that you have the choice. You don't have to be down here. These people do." He jerked his head over towards what Rufus had taken to be a lump of dirty rags. When he looked closer, he realized that it was a person. "They live down here cuz they gotta. They're the by-product of your father's manufacturing that ShinRa don't want anyone to know about. And as long as that thing stays," he said, pointing upwards at the Plate, "so will they."
Rufus nodded, but said nothing. They continued on down the street, dodging beggars, tramps and prostitutes.
"Hey, honey, wanna come over? I could give you a real nice time, ya know."
"Like what you see? Lots more inside. Come on, only fifty gil for an hour."
"Spare a gil, mistah?"
"Buy materia?" That one from a scruffy haired child who looked no older than six. He held out three lumpy, green painted stones. "Fire, Cure and Ice. Only one hundred gil apiece, how 'bout it?" The boy looked up at Rufus with wide eyed innocence.
"I-" At a loss, Rufus cast a look towards Reno. The redheaded Turk smiled and pulled a stack of gil notes out of his wallet. "C'mere, kid," he said, beckoning to the boy to come over. "How about I give you two-fifty for them all?"
The boy pretended to think about it for a minute, then nodded. Reno peeled off a bunch of bills and handed them to the kid, taking the stones. He studied them a moment, then raised an eyebrow at the kid. As the boy made a move to run off, Reno grabbed the back of his collar.
"Gah, mistah, don't hurt me. I gotta make some money somehow. My- uh- my sister's in the 'ospital. My mam's sick too. And so's my da. Yeah, the whole family's sick and I gotta take care a them all and I gotta make money and I-" the boy continued to babble on, backing up slowly.
"Kid-" Reno began, but the boy didn't hear him, just talked on. "KID!" This time the boy stopped and looked at Reno, wide eyed with fear.
"Yer a Turk, ain'tcha?" he said. "Ah, I'm real sorry fer cheating ya, 'ere, I'll give ya yer money back, just lemme go, don't kill me-"
Reno waited, amused, until the kid had talked himself out. When he paused for breath, Reno held up his hand. "Jes' listen, okay, kid?" He smiled, rolling the green rocks over in his hands. "Got some advice fer ya. Make sure the stones are more round, smooth, got me?" He winked at the boy, who nodded, his mood shifting immediately as soon as he realized he wasn't in trouble. "Next time, ya might not sell to someone so nice. Keep the gil. And one other thing." Reno grinned. "Work on yer story, okay? Family's nice, but even a chocobo could see through that one."
Rufus watched as the boy grinned back and scampered away into an alley. Reno kept walking, tossing one of the boy's "materia" over his shoulder to Rufus. The young man caught it and stared.
"Down here, even the kids gotta work to make money," Reno explained without looking back. "Most of them'll try to scam you, some'll just steal your wallet. Our clothes, 'specially yours, make us easy marks for them both, not to mention the adults. You're probably the richest piece these whores have seen in a lifetime."
"What about you?"
"Whatcha mean?" Reno still didn't look back, just kept walking.
"You said you lived down here. What did you do?" Rufus tried to imagine Reno as a child, trying to sell junk materia or darting in from the shadows to dip his hand into someone's pocket. Somehow, neither of these pictures seemed to fit.
"I-" Reno paused and motioned for them to turn left into a side path. "Well, kid, there's a third option down here for some lucky ones." His tone was bitter and he stared straight ahead. "Some got blessed with good looks and cute faces. I ain't just talking about those pieces back there. I mean kids. Boys. C'mon in here." He ducked inside a small building, mores sturdy than the shacks they had passed earlier. Rufus followed him in and nearly gagged at the smell.
"The Nailbat," Reno said as he found them a table in the crowd. He motioned to a harried looking waitress. "The only really decent place to eat around here. Taste's better than it smells, so don't worry." He turned to the waitress. "Specials all around, plus some beers, I guess." He took off his sunglasses and looked around.
"Did I hear you right? Before we came in here- that you used to-?"
Reno finally looked at him. "Best just be blunt about it," he said. "I was a whore." He watched Rufus' face pale and snorted. "It was a living," he said. "And a good one. I might not have been no good at anything else down here, but I'll be damned if I wasn't the best lay in the Sector. Too bad I wasn't no high class bitch like some of them. Couldn't get anyone to pay more'n maybe five hundred gil a spread, but it was enough. I had sibs to support and they had to eat somehow. Turn a few tricks and I didn't hafta hear them crying cuz they were hungry, and better me than them."
"But how- I mean, now you're a Turk. How did-"
Reno blinked and shot a glance at Tseng, who had hitherto been silent as Rude. Startled, Rufus realized that he had completely forgotten about the Wutain Turk, and that he had been listening in on their conversation the entire time. "Tseng-?" he started, then looked down and blushed.
"You're jumping to conclusions, I'm afraid," Reno said, eyeing the young man. Just then, the waitress arrived with their food. Five Daily Specials and a round of beers. Wait- five? Rufus was suddenly made aware of Rude's foreboding presence across the table and swallowed, mentally chastising himself for being so distracted.
"Dig in," Reno told him, picking up his fork. "No sense in letting it go cold- hard enough to eat as it is."
"Ahh." Rufus poked at his plate with his own fork and drew back, making a face. Reno watched him from his place to his right. "C'mon, kid, eat. There were times when I'd have killed for a meal like this. Hellfire, I have killed."
Tentatively, Rufus lifted a forkful of the stuff into his mouth and chewed. Actually, it wasn't all that bad. Washed down by enough stale beer, it was really quite palatable. For fifty gil, at least.
As they stepped back out into the street, Rufus stopped Reno before he could continue.
"So what happened, anyway?" he asked. "How did you make it up to be a Turk?"
Reno looked at him silently for a few moments. "You really want to know?" Rufus nodded. "Then you're gonna hafta earn the rest of it."
"Wait, what? How am I supposed to do that? I don't understand." Rufus looked at Reno in confusion.
"It's easy," Reno said, lighting up yet another cigarette. "See that building over there?" He pointed.
"Yes." Rufus still didn't understand what an old, dilapidated wreck had anything to do with this. "What about it."
There was no answer. Abruptly, the young Vice President turned to where the three Turks had been standing. The spot was deserted.
"Reno?" Rufus cast around, searching for a glimpse of the crimson hair, the pinstripe suit. "Tseng? Reno?" His voice grew higher with each breath, fear constricting his throat until he thought he couldn't breath. "Where are you?" Still no answer. He began to panic now, running through the crowds, searching this way and that, but to no avail. Finally, completely run out, he stopped to catch his breath against the side of a fence.
Shit, he thought to himself as he gasped for air. Where the hell did they go? He looked around for the first time and his eyes widened. To hell with them, where in the name of the Ancients am I?