She had come to the city to try and find work, a new start.
She could take care of herself, yet her heart had always been soft as butter, as he mentor had chided her time and time again. Hesitate, and in one moment your whole life could be undone. The slums was no place for a sixteen year old girl though, motherless, fatherless. Alone.
She had taken up the only trade available to her, and not by choice either. It was the only way she could eat, stay someplace with a roof over her head. A roof she shared with other women; some like her, here with no other choice, others that relished their day-to-day work. Don Corneo. He had taken away what little treasure remained within her. She became a ghost; a ghost that hungered for something different, for a better life.
-3. Head Hunter-
After that night at the bar, Roxie didn't come into work for a while, despite Tifa's protests that she stay with her until a solution could be reached. It constantly played on my mind; I had tried to act the hero for once, and it had all blown up in my face. I only hoped that they didn't hurt her anymore, because of me.
Tifa was working on the bar a lot more these days, covering Roxie's usual shifts. She would study me, periodically inquire about meaningless things, as a ruse to draw me into conversation.
I wasn't in the mood.
I continued to ignore her, until one evening, when I was waiting for her to hand over my pay for the shift, she locked her office door.
"Vincent, we need to talk."
"What about?" I watched her circumnavigate her desk, seating herself behind it with a weary sigh.
"You know what," She huffed impatiently. I'm worried about Roxie."
I conceded to my fate of being trapped in here, taking the seat opposite her once again, running a hand over my face. "As am I."
"Do you know who her employers is, Vincent?"
"It's this man." She jerked her thumb behind her, gesturing toward the photograph of the fat, moustachioed man wearing a purple velvet jacket; the very same picture into which I had embedded my knife into, weeks before. It looked like it had been clipped from a newspaper, and it was well worn. "His name is Don Corneo. He runs a brothel in Wall market."
I raised a brow. I'd never seen the man before in my life, though the name I had heard of before. Somewhat of a notorious letch, I believe. "Where Roxie works."
She nodded, and then to my confusion, turned a shade of red. "Um… it is also where I worked, for a time." I said nothing, allowing her to continue. "I first came here when I was sixteen. After a year of trying to earn money, I was told to go to the Don's mansion. I'm not proud of myself for it, but for a girl like me… It seemed there was no other choice."
I felt an unfamiliar burning sensation, heat rising up my neck. "Why are you telling me this?"
"I am telling you this, because… Because I hate the man. With every fibre of my being. And you… You were once, or still are- A Turk. I will pay you a grand sum of money to … give him what he deserved, and bring Roxie backI watched her circumnavigate her desk and crouch before her safe. It was a black, hulking vintage affair with an old fashioned clicker dial and a polished silver handle. After she entered her combination, she produced an envelope, dropping it within my reach upon her desk. I didn't need to pick it up to know that it was stuffed with gil. I estimated into the thousands.
I blinked slowly. "What if she doesn't want to come back?"
"Then just kill him, for the sake of all women-kind." I thought about refusing then, but something in her expression stalled me. Before me sat a woman who had built her life up from nothing, and was doing her best to help others in a way that nobody helped her; A strong, wilful, beautiful girl like her shouldn't have to suffer. Damn, I had always had a weakness for the pretty ones.
"I… I need some time." Her face fell visibly, clearly anticipating my refusal to her terms. Little did she know, I also hated scumbags like the Don. I wasn't going to pass up on a chance to remove yet another leeching parasite from the face of the planet. "-to map out the perimeter. Get a scope of how his ah… Mansion, did you say- is defended."
Her expression brightened instantly, and I cursed myself for being so damn malleable. Had I always been like this? "Thank you, Vincent. I mean it. I know revenge isn't the best medicine. Often it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, but-"
"Not always." I remarked, recalling just how good it felt to empty several magazines into Hojo's flailing corpse. That bastard could die a million times over, and I would still enjoy watching, over and over. "Consider it done."
I exited the room, leaving the envelope untouched on the desk. Whether she expected me to take it today, or when the job was done, I didn't know. All I knew was that seeing someone like Corneo die was payment enough for me.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I paid her a visit in the day time. Not that there was any fluctuation in the light intensity to suggest what time of day it was. She was surprised to see me, peering through the gap in the door, bound by a rather heavy-duty safety chain.
"Hold on a sec Vincent." I waited politely as she clattered around on the other side of the closed door for a few moments, before she swung the door open wide to admit me. "This is a pleasant surprise!" She stepped aside, gesturing for me to step into her apartment.
It was situated on the first floor, above the bar, accessed by a metal stairwell from the alleyway that ran down the eastern side of the building. A quick appraisal of the place revealed it to be a neat, clean and airy space, painted cream and crammed full of her personal effects. I quickly appraise my surroundings, an old habit, and notice the security alarm console by the door. Every door in this place could be alarmed if need be.
Perhaps I should have given her some notice of my visit, I think, as I watch her shove aside a stack of books with her foot as she walks ahead of me, guiding me into her open kitchen. I notice something smells incredibly appetising, and upon my remark, she insists I stay for dinner. I consider protesting, though looking upon her face I see a woman who is pleased for company. That it must be me, must mean she gets it so infrequently. Before I can formulate a reason why I shouldn't really stay I find myself seated at her counter eating a slice of pie fresh from the oven and talking about the Chocobo racing results like we had known each other for years.
It feels nice; to be this at ease with someone I know so little about, and I almost forget the real reason for my coming. As she clears away my plates, I clear my throat.
"I'm sure you are wondering why I came to see you," I begin, almost wincing at the sight of her shoulders slumping slightly; nothing to do with the added weight of dishes stacked up her arm.
"I did wonder," She admitted, setting the tap running to hot in her sink. Steam bellowed out, condensing on the cool glass of the window above. It is black outside, looking out onto the alley. My watch tells me it is three in the afternoon.
"I have been doing some research. I assure you that our agreement still stands. Only I did not realise that his compound would be so heavily fortified. I had to be cautious. His guards have been… edgy recently."
"You think someone tipped them off?" She asks me over her shoulder, scrubbing fervently at some stubborn mark upon her plate.
"I cannot say for sure. Though I've been keeping an eye on them for several days, memorising the guards shifts, when they change over, that sort of thing."
I notice her smile, and I realise she is impressed. There wasn't any glamour to surveillance though, I thought with a dry chuckle that she addresses with a raised brow. Lying on some grimy rooftop on your stomach, rifle zoom pressed against your eye until your brows begin to ache from constantly squinting through the narrow metal lens. Hours and hours of nothing but snacking whilst at your vantage point… I tell her this and she just laughs.
"Well, it shows your dedication and attention to detail at least. I have faith you will succeed. Any sign of Roxie?"
I shake my head, and she sighs, chewing on her bottom lip fretfully. "You bring her back; I'll give you a bonus."
"About the money… Tifa, I don't want you to pay me."
I raised my palm to silence her. "I am already in your employ. Consider this part of my contract."
"You can't be surviving on what I pay you Vincent," I wonder how she is surviving too, and how she managed to accrue enough gil to probably pay my motel bill for a couple of months. I'd been considering the possibilities for hours during my boring stints of spying on Don's mansion.
Something just didn't add up.
My shifts at the bar told me all I needed to know about its income. Hers wasn't exactly a booming trade, and at my calculations Tifa made enough to pay her staff's wages and buy back her stocks, with room for little else. So how had she afforded the building itself? I'd seen enough of the slums to know that Tifa's establishment was one of a kind in its appearance. Clearly a lot of gil had been pumped into it at some stage, to make it look the way it did; refitted inside and out.
I'd also been inside her apartment. She wore clean, simple clothing that looked recently acquired, and her furniture and crockery were of good quality. Not to mention that state of the art security system, and the stash of gil she had locked away in her safe.
So where was she getting her money from?
"I'm doing just fine," I assured her, taking a sip of my coffee. Like her, I had something up my sleeve too.
"Well, good. That's good," Absently, she wiped her sudsy hands on a dishrag before glancing at her watch. "Sorry to rush you, Vincent, but I have some things to take care of before I open up tonight. I'm going to have to say goodbye until your next shift."
"Of course." I wonder what I could do with myself—it is my night off. I suddenly find myself curious, too. What things, exactly? "Don't let me keep you."
I planned on finding out.
He had not returned to Midgar since his Turk days, when the world atop the plate was a glistening metropolis of swanky bars, exclusive apartments and people in suits. The world beneath the plate was equally something to behold, though for different reasons. Pollution, vices, and makeshift shanty towns all cowered beneath the shadow of the plate above.
So he supposed it was only justice that the underworld, as those up top called it, had survived the worst of meteor, and the ShinRa headquarters above now stood like a ghostly sentinel in the perpetual dusts, dark, hollow windows gaping. The underworld had survived. All that was bad, and poor about this city has survived. Yet those who lived beneath the shadow of the plate were innocents, when it came to what ShinRa had done. Nobody's crimes could ever compare.
Save for his.
A/N: Well, its been a while with this one, but I actually have a few good ideas knocking around for this story. I plan on bringing in Cloud & Co. at some point as well, but not in the next few chapters at least. *gasp* Where is going?