Chapter 26

Where the Sidewalk Ends

"There is a place where the sidewalk ends/And before the street begins,"

By the time the helicopter landed, she felt a thousand years older. Her upper and lower eyelids were fighting to reunite with one another and she could swear weights were attached to her limbs. She politely thanked the pilot before climbing out onto the tarmac of the Junon Airport. Security escorted her to the exit, where she was thankful to see a cab waiting.

She walked up to the cab and climbed inside. "Boy am I happy you're here," she signed, closing the door behind her. The cabbie was wearing a baseball cap, and nodded. Bee took a deep breath and leaned her head back. The cab pulled away from the curb.

"Tenth Avenue please," Bee said. The cabbie said nothing.

She allowed her mind to wander as the lights of the city started flying by her window. The past few days seemed almost a dream, a reminder of how different her life would be had she never ran away. She loved the normalcy she had built for herself in Junon; at least, the normalcy that existed prior to six months ago.

Her mind wandered to the man in her apartment, and worry crept back into her skin. She hoped he was okay while she was gone. Part of her had considered mentioning him to her captors, so that she could make sure he was okay. For some reason, however, she had not been able to bring herself to do it. The man had been her secret from the start – she couldn't bring herself to break it now to a bunch of strangers.

Annoyance bubbled up in her tired heart. She understood why Rude had to do things the way he did, but it still stung a little. As willing as she was to help prevent ShinRa from taking over the world again, she still hadn't been given a choice in the matter. They were lucky to get a willing prisoner, but they would have used her whether she liked it or not.

She shook her head. It was over now. There was no use getting upset about things that already happened. She was just happy that she could go back to life as usual, and hopefully never see any of those people again.

The thought made her stomach drop. After all was over, the news stations had a lot of stories to play. She remembered watching the footage of the ShinRa tower falling. She remembered them talking about the Shinra family and rehashing the fact that her father had died months before. But she remembered more than anything the terrible, guilty relief that flooded her body when she heard her brother was presumed dead in the fall of the tower.

She had been anxious for about of week or two after, and monitored the news obsessively. Bee had been nervous some overeager journalist would dig too deep, and find out there was still a living Shinra. It seemed that, luckily for her, there was enough to cover without needing to dig deeper into anything. And until AVALANCHE, no one had dug.

But now she knew her brother was alive. He was right back to where he had been before, vying for political power and control. No different than the boy she had known twenty years before, insisting that he was the president of their club and therefore got to decide whether they played tag or four square. Worse, he knew she was alive, and possibly even where to find her.

It was over, she had to remind herself. They had only found her because of Rude; no one else would find her. No one else would want to find her. Her brother got her signature, the only thing he would ever need from her, and is no doubt thrilled to go back to pretending she doesn't exist. Now, she can make sure the Man is okay and go back to her life 72 hours ago.

She pressed the heels of her hands into her eye sockets. Her mind was racing, but her body was exhausted. She blinked her eyes and looked out the window again. Having been so lost in her head, she hadn't realized her street was coming up.

"You can pull over right by that motorcycle," she instructed, happy to see her apartment building.

The cab made no signs of slowing down.

Her brow crinkled, and she sat up in her seat, leaning forward. She lightly touched the cabbie on the shoulder. "Sorry, you must not have heard me. My apartment is right over there, you can pull over."

Her stomach sank as she watched her apartment whiz by her window.

"Excuse me," she said, fear creeping into her heart and her voice. "Please pull over."

"I can't do that."

This time, fear was like a stab to the gut. Surprisingly, annoyance accompanied the emotion. She just wanted to go back to normal, was that so much to ask? Her mind somehow processed all of these emotions while simultaneously wishing for a weapon.

"Pull over right now," she warned, "or I'm calling the police."

The lights of the city were taunting now, as they flew past her window. She searched the door to see if she could, in a bind, pull open the door and dive you.

"You don't have a phone," the cabbie said, "or you were just ignoring my calls."

He turned his head, and Parker's eyes met her. Relief flooded through her body as she realized the cabbie was not a psychopath or another Shinra-related kidnapper, but rather her friend the helicopter pilot. "Oh my god," she breathed, collapsing against the seat. "Thank god it's you."

He grinned. "Thought you were getting kidnapped again?"

She barked her laughter. "I was starting to think I was wearing a sign or something." Slowly, though, her relief faded, and the oddness of the situation started to sink in. "But what are you doing? I have to say, if this is a prank it's in poor taste."

Parker turned his head back to the road. Her brow began to furrow again. The past few sentences replayed in her head, and the bad feeling in her stomach deepened. "And how did you know I had been kidnapped…" she asked with the feeling she didn't want to know the answer. The dread crept over her shoulders like a chill on a winters day, spreading goosebumps wrapping all over her skin. Fear welled up once more as the more pressing, perhaps telling, question bubbled up to her lips. "Who are you?"

He flipped on his turn signal, and the lights of her hospital glared out at her. He was aiming to pull into the parking lot. As he began to pull in, the furrow in her brow deepened.

"Listen Bee," he said as he began to maneuver towards the parking garage. "I need a little bit of your trust here."

Anger shot through her too tired limbs. "Well if you know that I was just kidnapped," she growled, "you should know I'm not in a very trusting mood."

He began to peel up the levels of the parking garage, passing many open spots but going up and up still.

"Parker," she barked, "what the fuck is going on?"

He met her eyes in the rearview mirror. "I'm saving your life."

They finally reached the topmost floor of the parking garage. He pulled into one of the many stops, and opened up his door. Bee climbed out. He started to walk towards the hospital. When he realized she wasn't following, he turned around.

"Come on," he called impatiently.

"I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what is happening here."

He had the nerve to look annoyed of all things. He strode over to her hastily, and come in shockingly close to her. Their faces hovered inches apart, yet there was nothing but urgency in the air between them. "You can't go home," he said in a low voice, "because two SP agents your brother sent are waiting there to kill you."

Her heart froze. There was no love lost between her and her brother, but she didn't think he would have her killed. "He got what he needed from me," she said. "Why would he kill me?" She narrowed her eyes at him.

Parker sighed. "I know you don't want to believe me. So just listen really quickly before we find out if a sniper was following you from the airport." His eyes bore into hers. "My name is Parker. You have known me for years. What you don't know, is that I am the leader of a group who knows exactly what is going on with Auhncore, and is doing anything we can to stop them."

Bee's eyes widened. Parker's eyes darted around, and she realized his hand was on her arm, as though ready to pull her if he needed to.

"They're in my apartment?" she breathed. She didn't know if she believed him or not. She didn't know who or what to believe. She had known Parker for years, and now he was apparently fully aware of who and what she was. Had it been the whole time? Was he telling the truth? Another thought sunk into her gut. Was he truly trying to save her, or was he just another group trying to exploit her? Worse, could he be the assassin, hired to keep tabs on her all theses years?

"Yes," Parker breathed.

He mind jumped to the Man. "Oh no," she said. If that was the truth, she may have gotten him killed. "My roommate," she said.

Parker looked at her sidelong. "You don't have a roommate."

His assertion, so confident, annoyed her. "I had a friend staying with me. He's hurt."

Parker shook his head. "I monitored your apartment while you were gone. No one has been there."

"You monitor-" she started to say incredulously.

"No time," he cut her off. "We have stood still too long."

He strode off, and the thought of a sniper made her follow. "Talk to me," she demanded.

He slammed open the door to the stairwell that led into the hospital. He didn't look back as he spoke. "Auhncore has a lot on the line. You were, until recently, no threat to them. Now, you're a risk. They want you eliminated."

Bee shook her head. Her, a threat? They rapidly descended.

"I have known who you were from the moment I met you," Parker revealed. "We wanted to keep tabs on you, in case you were ever an asset. But it was clear your family wanted as little to do with you as you did with them. You didn't even attend your mother's funeral."

She couldn't help but eye this man she thought she knew with apprehension and fear. Her eyes kept searching the stairwell for anything she could use as a weapon, just in case.

He stopped suddenly on a landing, and turned to her. "I don't know how to make you trust me. I don't expect you to. I just need you to trust that I am trying to save you."

The intensity had briefly disappeared from his eyes, and he showed only sincerity and concern. He could be a great actor, she told herself. Yet she found herself saying to him, honestly, "I just want to go back to normal."

He let out a sympathetic chuckle. "Come on, Bee…you never really believed you could be normal, did you?"


For the first few days, silence reigned. Any conversations were muted and muffled, and everyone moved like ghosts through the large, underground apartment. They never discussed staying more than a day, but it seemed to be an unspoken expectation. They were being hunted, and the last place they were going to expect them was still in the city. Further, moving was made that much more complicated.

Plus, they just really needed a break.

The first real break in the silence came on day four, when Barrett finally burst out, commanding Yuffie to change the her Wutain TV show for something "every-goddamn-body can enjoy."

"It's not my fault you're an uncultured oaf," Yuffie shot back, pulling the remote away from Barrett's grabbing hand.

"Don't be a brat, Brat," Cid drawled. "No one else $%#*ing speaks that &*# ."

"Vin does," Yuffie retorted, never looking away from her show. Vincent sighed.

"Since goddamn when?" Barrett demanded.

"Since always," Yuffie taunted. "We talk about you guys all the time behind your back."

"That is not true," Vincent spoke. "Please leave me out of your petty dispute."

"Ha, knew you were full of it, Brat," Cid said triumphantly.

"No he really does speak it," Yuffie insisted. "He's just claiming he doesn't talk about you guys so he doesn't hurt your feelings. Cruf dras E ys hud moehk yht E femm cdub."

"But you are lying," Vincent answered. Barrett and Cid raised their eyebrows.

"You understood that # $&?"

"Damn, she was telling the truth," Barrett grumbled.

"Will you all shut the fuck up?" Reno groaned from the kitchen area. "Jesus Rude, can we go back to trying to kill them?"

"No."

"C'monnnn."

"…"

Cloud witnessed the whole exchange from the doorway. Tifa was chuckling at the stove, shoveling pancakes onto a platter. Most of the food stored was of the canned or 'just add water' variety, so he supposed the pancakes must have been that sort. If there was anyone who could make them taste like they weren't instant, it was Tifa.

Reno was drinking a water, and had the look of little sleep and a lot of booze about it. Everyone else was spread across the living area, being alternatively amused and annoyed by the scenario at hand.

"Red, E ghuf oui cbayg ed duu," Yuffie said to Nanaki.

"I'm not playing, Yuffie," Red answered.

Yuffie groaned. "What fun is it speaking two languages if no one will talk crap with you. Teeeef," she called. "I need you to learn Wutain."

Tifa brought over the pancake platter and plates and started handing them out. "Sure. I'll put it on my to do list after not getting caught and not getting murdered."

"I'd switch those if I were you," Reno attempted to quip, but groaned and chugged more water.

The banter continued, and for the first time, the sounds of conversation and laughter filled the air. Cloud sat in an armchair and looked around at their strange collection of people. If you watched, and if you didn't know any better, you could almost forget. For a minute, it almost seemed if they were normal.

The morning waned on. Food was eaten, dishes were watched, people retreated to their rooms. Cloud had considered speaking up, but the time wasn't right They needed a little longer. They needed this place.

The time came on the seventh day. As if by serendipity, they were all gathered in the common area. They had six days of rest, and now they had to acknowledge reality. The world on the surface was evolving with the new developments, while they had stayed frozen below. As much as he wanted to let them rest until they couldn't rest any more, he knew that day would never come. They had to talk about it.

"We've been lucky to have this place," Cloud spoke, and everyone turned. He could feel in the air that they felt the same as he did, that they were ready. "But we all know it can't last."

The grim looks on the faces around him told him they agreed. He sighed.

"And I wish I had the answers. But I don't. I can look at you all and honestly say I don't know what to do. But what I do know is that on the ground above, Auhncore is busy weaving a story of what happened to the public. They'll spin this, somehow, from a failure on their end to an evil on ours. The public is going to be afraid and depending on Auhncore for help."

Every eye was locked on him, and that familiar sensation of wanting to squirm came back to him. After all this time, he was still the ever reluctant leader. "We're all together, finally. And we're all free, for now."

The mood in the room was decidedly downtrodden. He knew that the illusion of safety they had constructed for themselves in this safe house was melting away, leaving only fear and uncertainty.

"I don't think any of us know what to do next. There is one thing we all know though: we need to take Auhncore down."

Cid muttered a 'Hell yea,' under his breath. Others were nodding.

"But if this feels like a restart from when this all started, remember that we have one advantage we didn't have before. We're together. And we all know that together, we do some damage."

A couple grins spread across his companions faces. He smiled slightly himself.

"So let's talk."

The floor was open. Everyone looked around, seeing who would break the ice first.

"Well I don't see why we can't stay # $%in here. We got everything we need, and we can plan here. Where #$ %in better to fight the # $%in beast than in the belly?"

"We can't stay here," Yuffie answered. "Rufus may not know how to get here, yet, but he knows its here. The city borders are probably shut down. When he realizes that no one has seen or heard from us, he'll realize we're still here. And he'll remember this place. It's only a matter of time before he starts looking, if he hasn't already."

"But what's the alternative?" Tifa spoke next. "We can't get out of the city, you said so yourself."

"The tunnels, yo," Reno drawled.

"Tunnels?"

"We discovered a massive underground tunnel system," Vincent explained. "It seems to have tunnels to everywhere on the Planet."

Awe crossed many faces. "Where did it come from?"

"Some long forgotten ShinRa project," Elena spoke. "They aren't all complete."

"So then ShinRa knows about it," Cloud pointed out.

"Probably not," Rude's low voice came.

"What makes you say that?"

"The tunnel project was really old. Nothing even shut it down, it just kind of faded into oblivion," Elena explained. "Which means that it's unlikely anyone remembers. Something dramatic, like a cave in, would of had to happen for people to remember a shut down project."

"That's comforting," Cid grumbled.

"There's a risk, sure," Reno smirked. "But what's the other option?"

Silence reigned once more.

"Even if we can take these tunnels," Tifa, always the voice of reason, spoke. "Where will we go? Everyone is going to be looking for us, everywhere we go. And there's way too many of us to go undetected."

Reno shrugged. "We could split up," he suggested.

"No," Cloud said harshly. He looked around when he realized he had been echoed by at least three other voices. No one's faces betrayed who had spoken. "We stay together," Cloud said firmly.

Reno threw his arms up. Rude stayed stoic. "That limits the options," Rude said evenly. "There is no where that we can all hide. It's not just Auhncore and the SP we have to avoid; it's anyone who will report us. Which is everyone."

Yuffie's face suddenly lit up. "Not everyone. Not everywhere."

Everyone turned to her, and she was grinning ear to ear. "I know one place where they won't believe anything any vunaekhan tells them."

The discussion raged on. Every possible scenario was discussed and dissected. Cloud couldn't help but find extreme relief in the democracy of it all. For once, not every head was turned to him for a decision. For once, he could take the backseat.

Finally, it was decided that Yuffie's suggestion was the only plausible scenario. Elena pointed out that they didn't know if the tunnel to Wutai was complete, but it was decided that it was their best hope.

"So we agree." Cloud's quiet voice finally came. "Tomorrow, we leave for Wutai."

He was met with a chorus of solemn nods, and one pair of lips trying to hide a grin.


Being PA to Rufus Shinra was an experience like no other.

Despite the many rich men who ended up sitting in the Honey Bee Lounge, she had little experience with their lives outside four sleazy walls. Rufus Shinra was more than just a rich man; he was THE rich man.

They had avoided bitterness or suspicion from the old receptionist by setting her up with a modeling contract. Kylie had asked if she could tail her for a week, but Jamison wanted nothing to do with that. He wanted Kylie to be nearly as off the grid as Rufus. She never met the old receptionist, just got all her old notebooks and day planner as hand-me-downs.

"She couldn't know who he really was. She rarely even saw him, if ever. But now with you," Jamison had said to her as she sat, excited and terrified all at once, "you can be a personal assistant to him. God knows he needs one."

She nodded solemnly.

"Think you're up to it?" he asked, and for a moment, he almost seemed friendly. A closer look at his eyes, however, revealed no humor. They were flat, like the eyes of a shark.

She smiled, and tried to make sure it reached her eyes. His had made her conceal a shudder. "Bring it on," she grinned.

And on it was brought. The old receptionists notes were a mess, and so peppered with her personal life that Kylie ended up throwing it all out. She decided it would be better to start from scratch than try to mimic a half-assed job.

Luckily, at the moment he didn't have much on his plate. Due to his low key status, there were only certain meetings he could attend and certain things he could do. It was nice that she could be eased into it.

She was sitting at her desk outside his office when he buzzed her in. She stood up and pressed down her secondhand matching skirt and blazer before walking in. When she did, Rufus was sitting with his back to her, staring out at the city.

"I'm incredibly…bored," he sighed when he heard the door shut.

She wasn't sure how to respond. Control of a company, no, a corporatocracy, and he was bored? "I apologize, sir."

He swung around, and he had an amused expression on his face. She noted the amusement danced in his eyes. Bad guy he may be, sleazy even, but it was comforting to know he had emotions; unlike his partner, Shark Eyes.

"First of all," he said through a smirk, "don't call me sir."

Jamison had instructed her to never call him Rufus. "Would you prefer Mr. Core?" she asked. She had spent years taking her clothes off and flirting with men, yet somehow the entire corporate situation had her feeling uncomfortable. She never felt uncomfortable. It almost pissed her off. Kylie had never been the 'yes sir, no sir' type. Her cheeky attitude was what her customers liked so much about it.

"I suppose you can't call me Rufus, except in private," he said, the wolfish grin still on his face. "So how about 'R.'"

She nodded. "Okay Mr. R."

He laughed, but let it go. "Mr. R," he repeated. "I'm not buying it for an instance."

She raised her eyebrows. "Excuse me?"

He stood up and strolled over to her. Even the way he walked spoke of money – of boarding school and leadership courses. The slum in her wanted to slug him and laugh when he went down. He stood in front of her, his curiosity-filled eyes digging into hers.

"Don't tell me," he said softly, almost a whisper, "that you expect me to believe that you don't want to cringe with ever 'Mr.' and every 'sir.'"

Her lips pressed together to avoid the smile that was plucking at them.

"I know about you, Ky," he continued. "You're from the slums. You barely made it through school. Not because you weren't smart – your teachers described you as gifted, but unmotivated. You just said you wanted to live."

Her heart nearly stopped, but she refused to let it show on her face. So far he was completely accurate, and if that continued to be the case, she was in serious trouble.

He paused as he searched her face, which had grown stubborn without her even noticing. He chuckled and turned, strolling away.

"Only child," he continued, causing her muscles to relax. "Orphan. You've taken care of yourself your whole life." He stood facing the city again, but cocked his head to the left. "So don't tell me it doesn't kill you to yessir and no sir me."

She hadn't even noticed her hands migrating to her hips. She strolled over to him and stood next to him, staring out the window. Her arms folded across her chest while her heels planted on the ground. "I have survived my whole life," she stated, "on my own, you are right about that."

She could see his smirk in her periphery. She turned back to the city.

"But I wouldn't be standing on the top floor of the newest, big, bad company in town if I didn't know how to play the game." Kylie kept looking straight, but she felt Rufus looking at her. "I'm smart, Mr. R," she continued. "And sometimes that means knowing where and how to fit into things.

He nodded, and silence settled between them. She saw the city in front of her, so much still in ruins, and had to admit to herself she never though she'd be seeing it like this. Looking towards the slums, she almost felt as though she had a telescope in her mind. She could see what was happening down below in her mind's eye. She saw the women selling themselves and the men buying. She could hear the children's voices, begging for food. She could smell the stench of the homeless. She could feel the money being pushed into her shirt by overeager hands. Her whole life was the slums, and she would never forget that. She had to remember, because she had to hate him. She had to make him pay.

"Let's take you shopping," he suddenly announced, and she turned. He shrugged, his face stoic. "If you are going to be my personal assistant," he said, his usual unaffected tone back, "you will be dressed well."

He strode out of the room and she followed him, thinking this was indeed going to be an experience unlike any other.