The Watcher

(a working title)

By JessicaJ

Cloud and the notorious members of Avalanche have saved the world from the threat of the super-being Sephiroth, and the corrupt weapons corporation Shi-nRa. All is not well though- meteor left behind a broken city, a city the struggles still to find its footing in the aftermath. The super company has fallen, and in a world without energy the failing economy leaves thousands starving, struggling to survive in a broken world, trying to define themselves, trying to regain their breath after resurfacing.

One woman among millions is doing just that, unaware that her story is known to one man; An outcast even among his own comrades, he struggles to find a place in the world just like so many others around him. He doesn't know why he sought her out, a bright burning soul in the gloom of the Midgar slums, but he hopes to find out.

-1. Security Wanted-

Midgar. What a putrid, godforsaken city. Yet here I was, tramping the streets looking every bit like any other inhabitant infesting its streets, dressed in black, or grey, stinking of pollution, alcohol, and sometimes vomit, and wearing an expression that said one thing. There was no hope, here.

The looks I saw in people's eyes; they all had the same dull gleam, the same vacancy stared back at me in every face, young or old, man or woman- Midgar was consuming them, slowly, but surely, whether by drink, drugs, sex or gambling… all could be found here, in the slums, for a cheap price. Nobody here had much money. Not least the people who needed in the most.

My boots thudded on uneven paving stones, the occasional step punctuated by the crunch of broken glass underfoot. The streets were littered with the stuff, glinting in the harsh glare of the streetlights and neon signs. I supposed it was the urban, post-apocalyptic equivalent of flowers, these days.

I rounded the corner onto yet another street, a busier hub than most, aware of people yelling, calling to one another. Some voices sounded angry and aggressive, others somewhat jubilant, sounding from within a bar or another such establishment that thrived in these parts. I didn't even want to think about the brothels.

My purpose here was not necessarily as unpleasant as had been upon previous visits I had made over the years. When I was younger I never really ventured here for my pleasure. It was all 'business'. Today found me on different circumstances. I was looking for work. Not necessarily because I needed it, or even want it. Money had never mattered to me. In the grand scheme of things, it was just a means to achieve an end. No; I wanted work because I wanted something that would stop me thinking, something to occupy my hands and busy my mind.

I passed through steaming alleys and bustling streets, ghostly roads and corners dogged by rough-looking youths, though none gave me any trouble. Perhaps I looked intimidating enough to warrant them giving me the benefit of the doubt; and as I passed a window and caught sight of myself, I couldn't blame them.

After a short walk, I reached my destination. In my pocket, the paper ad crinkled in my fist, thrust in there to keep warm. The establishment wasn't quite what I had been expecting it to be like; my first impression was good—not many owners of bars around these parts kept the outside clean, nor had I seen a building less garish. It looked well-tended and tasteful, as though it made enough money to pay for itself. Though a place making a lot of money wasn't necessarily a good sign, I reminded myself as I stepped inside, conscious of the eyes of patrons burning into me. It only raised questions in the end as to how they got it.

Dismissing the stares, I swept my gaze across the bar. That seemed enough to deter them from staring at least, and the comfortable babble of chatter soon resumed. Stares, I was used to.

There were two barmaids that I could see, both reasonably pretty for Midgar women. I wondered if barmaids were really all they were. It would certainly explain the success of such a place, were that indeed the case. Pretty girls were only one vice in a city of vices. The flyer in my pocket crinkling again, reminding me of my purpose for being here in the first place, I stepped forwards toward the bar.

The girl behind it couldn't have been much older than twenty, barely out of her teens, long red hair bobbing in its ponytail as she turned her head to address me. "What can I get you?" She was resting on one elbow atop the bar, chewing gum incessantly as she waited for my response. "I said what can I get you, sir?" She repeated herself, barely giving me enough time to consider her offer. In her defence, I had not exactly made eye contact, instead choosing to examine the shelves behind her. It was a well stocked bar in any case.

"I'm not here to drink." I say, placing my palms firmly down on the bar top. She cocks a brow, eyebrow piercing catching the light.

"Well this is a bar. If you ain't gunna drink, then feel free to take a seat. But if it gets busy, I'll have to ask you to leave in favour of a paying customer. Boss won't appreciate loiterers." The second barmaid, a blonde girl who was currently filling the fridges with bottles of beer scrambled to her feet, glanced staring at me curiously.

I profile them in my mind; an old habit that I never quite shook. They weren't prostitutes, I decided. In fact, their clothing was altogether decent. They both wore what appeared to be the bars uniform, a white t-shirt with a logo of a black heart with '7th' written through it in silver stitching, along with either denim shorts, or a fitted knee-length skirt. From the redhead's dialect, I decide that she isn't, or perhaps had not always been a city girl. Her swagger and attitude appear somewhat learned. Their parents were probably all dead, a reason to drive grief-stricken youngsters looking for success to the city. A place where they would never find it for sure- instead swallowed up by the hell-hole of empty promises, filth and greed. Just like the rest of us.

"I'm here about the job." I tell her after a moment, aware that at my words the blond girl seems to scrutinise me further. The redhead ceases chewing her gum for a moment, swilling it around in her mouth as she considers me.

"TIFA?" She yells suddenly, angling her head behind her, never taking her hazel eyes away from my face. I cringe inwardly, aware that several of the patrons have also returned their attention to me. In the sudden lull, I pick out the sound of a chair scraping back, footsteps, and then a door opening to the left of the bar, down a small side corridor which also lead to the washrooms.

"What's up, Natasha?" From my vantage point, I could not see the owner of the voice, another woman. 'Tifa's 7th Heaven' had been in my mind at least, some sort of high-end brothel. I was quite surprised now that I was here to find that it indeed was not. In fact, it appeared to be quite a respectable business, from what I had seen so far. None of the patrons were drunk yet, at the reasonable time of 1900 hours. Most of the people on the streets were, and perhaps had been all day.

"There's some guy here about the security job you sent flyers out for." The girl named Natasha answered over her shoulder. The blonde's curiosity seemed insatiable, and I resisted the urge to glare at her, instead focussing my attentions on the whiskey bottles lined up on the top shelf. Again, I appreciated the fine selection.

"Right, ah… get the man a drink, and send him through. It's on the house." The door was pulled partially shut, the owner of the voice retreating back into what must be her office. Natasha grins at me, her disposition somewhat warmer.

"What'll you have?"

"Coffee. Black… If it's not too much trouble." Natasha raises her perfectly plucked brows again.

"Sure, if you don't mind waiting. An' it's from the kitchen upstairs, mind."

"That will suffice, thank you." I give a rigid nod, stepping around the bar towards the door that she is now ushering me towards. Steeling myself, I tap upon the doorframe politely, even though the door is stood partially ajar, and I wait.

The bar's owner glanced up at the sound of a knock at her door. Brow's furrowed a little at the ledger she had previously been poring over, she calls "Come in!" glancing up to behold the man who enters the door before her.

Pale; so pale, and yet his hair is shockingly dark, tumbling way past his shoulders in uneven lengths, haphazardly tied back by some kind of cord. He closes the door softly behind him, and turns to face her. Firstly, she notes his stature. He could be considered neither lank, not quite well-built, yet she can tell from his posture that there is a quiet strength to him. He keeps his shoulders straight and his spine tall, his arms controlled at his sides. Secondly, she notices his eyes as the catch the light. Ruby red; an achingly beautiful colour that neither wine nor stone could hope to recreate.

Remembering herself, she stands, hand outstretched. "Welcome, please take a seat." His hesitant hand is cool between her fingers momentarily. She notes that his left hand is gloved, where his right was not. "I'm Tifa, I own this place. I'm assuming you are here about the post for security I advertised?" At his curt nod, she smiles.

He sits at her invitation, looking all together out of place in the old, yet comfortable easy chair set across from her desk. She allows him to remain in silence, content to examine her potential employee. "So you're name is…?"

"Vincent." He replies, his voice deep and quiet. She almost shuddered involuntarily.

She lets the silence pass for a few moments, returning his gaze, equally unwavering. "I have had many other applicants who would dwarf you," she says. "Why should I choose you?"

He says nothing, fingers splayed neatly on his knees. Staring at a point over her head, he seems to consider something carefully before standing rather suddenly, reaching beneath the folds of his coat and producing a knife. He throws it expertly, point first. She ducked instinctively, though she can hear the quiet singing of the metal, following the delicate thud as it embedded itself in the wall. Turning, she notes that knife quivers in the corkboard where she pins up pictures of dangerous men she does not allow within her bar. The blade is perfectly placed between the eyes of a certain Don Corneo. Not that she was likely to forget that fat face, mind.

The chair creaks a little as it accepts the return of his weight. Her expression trained to stay perfectly blank, she stands and tugs the knife out of her cork board. It is a good weight in her hand, cool and steady.

Smiling softly, she turns the knife in her hand, angles her wrist and flicks firmly. The blade sings as it spins through the air, coming to quiver point first in the back of the door, just above the handle. "Close the door on your way out, please."

The man regards her quietly from behind dark lashes, before standing.

"Tell me. Is that knife yours, or did you have to kill a Turk to get it?"

He stops, halfway to the door, only turning his face part way toward her. She notes his fist quivers slightly as it clenches. "Will my answer in any way alter your decision?"

"I don't believe I revealed to you my decision."

His frown comes into full fruition as he takes a half step around. "You asked me to leave."

"But I didn't give you my decision. Nor did you give me an answer: why should I choose you? Why do you want to spend your time protecting six women?"

"Because I have to do something." His reply is more honest than any she was expecting.

"About what?" She walks around her desk to perch on the edge of it, arms folded across her chest. She wore the same t-shirt as the other girls, underneath a chequered shirt.

"I need to do something. Anything."

Now she was totally lost. "Do you need money? Because there are easier ways to get money here, and faster. Certainly more than I will be paying you."

"I…" His reserve seemed to be faltering, at last. "I need a job, I don't care about the money. I just want something to occupy my time. Somewhere I am needed. Is that a good enough reason for you, or should I take my services elsewhere?"

They stare at each other for a while, the sounds from the bar permeating the thin walls. They hear Natasha's voice, male laughter, and the chink of glassware. She runs her tongue over her lip, before capturing it between her teeth. "I pay you 200 a night, and if there is any trouble that you can diffuse, you get a bonus. I need you 5 nights a week. Do you agree to these terms?" He gives a curt nod. "Be here this time tomorrow, Vincent."

He nods again, this time somewhat more respectfully, though he offers her no thanks. No doubt she had irritated him somehow in her grilling, so she does not begrudge him. Tugging his knife free, he marches out of the door, just as Natasha got to it, a cup of coffee in her hand.

"Aw man, you ain't even going to drink this?" She exclaimed to his retreating back, turning to Tifa after getting no response with a bemused expression on her face. "What a strange man! Well, I guess it doesn't matter."

Tifa sighed, walking back around her desk to resume her seat. "He'll be here tomorrow."

"What? You hired him?" The redhead's indignance irks her.

"You don't like it?"

"Well it's just… He seemed a bit weird-" The girl shrugged, suddenly noticing the tear in the mug shot board behind Tifa. "-Like some kind of dark horse- Or masochist, at best! He might be a psycho killer!"

Tifa chuckled dryly. "I don't think so- At least to the last two things. I just… I don't know. I liked him. I felt like he needed this, as much as we needed someone like him."

"If you say so. Well, those pints ain't gunna pour themselves. I'd better get back out there. Hey, you drink black coffee, right? You may as well have this." Natasha sets down the untouched mug of black coffee before returning to the bar, leaving Tifa alone with her thoughts.

There was something odd about Vincent alright, but she'd had a feeling about him. Quiet and no doubt skilful, though she could tell he had a chip on his shoulder, or perhaps even several. That came as not much of a surprise though—this was the slums after all. If money wasn't as issue, she had to question why he had come to Midgar of all godforsaken places on this earth looking for something, some kind of redemption maybe.

She was curious about the knife, too; a Standard issue Turk's knife. She'd had enough encounters with the navy-uniforms to recognise one. It had seemed to strike some kind of fear or anger into him at the mention of it—an heirloom of a fallen comrade or family member, perhaps? That would explain his apparent desire to distract himself. Midgar was a Shin-Ra city, after all. Most people had to have been an employee, or related to one at some point.

Well, whatever it was, she was damn intrigued by it all, and if her curious nature on top of Natasha's inability to intercept the pathway between her thoughts and her mouth didn't drive him away, she mind just get to know more, in time.

A/N: I have a direction that I was to go with this. As you will soon be able to tell, Tifa and Vincent have never met, though in fact no events of the game have changed save for that, which should suggest some things to you, things which will be divulged later. I hope you enjoy this, something new from me after a while at least!