The Business of FearFandom:
Final Fantasy VII (OGC)/Highlander (/Baccano!)Characters:
Rufus, Methos; cameos by Tseng and LuckRating:
Rufus needs men who are know something of the business of fear.Notes: Runs in the same line as New Men (Baccano!/Final Fantasy VII), but you don't need to read it to read this! Written for the no_true_pair prompt: Rufus is bound and blinded -- does Methos try to help, or take advantage of the situation?
4952 words and Rufus doing some recruiting!
Methos spends eighteen months in the shadow of the upper Plate; eighteen months from the day that he came into the city like a thief in broad daylight, stealing in with the endless migrant crowd eager to find work, a new home, a place where they'll find themselves and consequently be forgotten. Midgar rears upwards, fifty metres of space and slum territory complemented by over fifty trillion gil worth of property and trade balances that sit neatly atop 60% of the population, all of whom live below the behemoth of the nouveau riche.
The air below is stifling, but rich with an infusion of Mako and the filth of the honest. Smell always gives a place character, and in this case Methos decides that the slums must have a dramatis personae the size of one of Dante's little epics. Angels and demons inclusive – daylight sends everyone scurrying, but come night time and the air is rife with the smell of vice and its foolish younger cousin, virtue.
Before he came to Midgar he was in Kalm, doing the modern-day equivalent of shovelling horse shit: chocobo farming. Not the bravest or boldest of occupations, but a humble one. Very soothing, except for when the birds tried to peck him to pieces – other than that the days went by with the easy, endless slide of a slow century. Methos watched Midgar haul its way up from the ground and take over the horizon. When they started on Junon, he packed his bags, and came.
Midgar is one of the first of the truly changed cities of its time. Nothing like it has been ever seen before, and nothing like it etcetera, etcetera. Methos arrives, in his own time and for his own reasons. Firstly because it's tactical; secondly because he's truly tired of feathers and tack; and thirdly because it is much harder to swing a sword at another person in an urbanised ants' nest than it is out in open country. Harder to get away with it, anyway; it's never stopped anyone from trying
, but you can't have everything all of the time.
If there are any other sword-swingers in the city besides the SOLDIERs that tramp about the on-Plate sectors, Methos hasn't been holding any open houses to try and find them. He keeps to Sector Seven, where the neighbours are considerate and quick to jump to the gun the moment anything so much as glints in the dim light. If it's gil they'll take it from you wholesale, but pull a blade and they'll likely label you Shinra
, and bring down an entirely different level of hell on your head. Methos has always enjoyed populist responses to dictatorship: it always gives everyone such fervour
When young Rufus Shinra ends up his inherited throne, the air shifts, even down in the slums. There's something about that boy that really brings to mind the fact that Shinra is an electric
company. The atmosphere is charged, crazy. Rufus wants to rule with fear
, but it's fear alongside a healthy sum of the local energy supply and one of the prettiest faces and glibbest tongues that Midgar has ever had the proud opportunity of producing. What does the world think he wants them to be afraid of? Sephiroth? SOLDIER? Or the fact that Rufus Shinra's face looks out on you from every poster and every television screen, smiling, quiet, convincing
. The world would seem a lot darker without Mako and his smile. The boy and his toys do make for excellent street theatre. Rufus isn't quite content with sitting up in the sky, in which he differs very greatly from his father.
Methos takes a few nights off every week to crawl through the wonderful cesspit of life that is the marketplace, weaving through the shops and waiting up at all hours in the bar. He likes watching the people: the ones who are about to go to the Honeybee, the ones who've just come out
of the Honeybee, the top-siders who have it printed all over their faces. Eighteen months ago there would have been a general rumble of discontent and everyday complaints; today there is tension, deliberation, fizzing. Rufus Shinra is due below-Plate, rumour has it. Maybe to visit the Don. Certainly not to visit the Don's girls – they say Rufus Shinra never cries, so it's probably he doesn't fuck, either. Not those girls, in any case. (Methos has his own doubts.) Perhaps he's here just so he can feel like a real king. Royalty is nothing without the peasanthood, after all.
Whatever the scenario, it's no longer unthinkable that a Shinra come wandering down here in the dead of the night. Rufus seems to take a sordid kind of pleasure in running the gauntlet in the Sector Seven slums. Whether it's because he likes to carry out his policies first-hand or whether he simply enjoys the danger of walking, impervious, down the streets where his name is a swearword, Methos won't try to guess. The boy must be either fascinatingly cocksure or self-assuredly immortal.
It's the latter that worries Methos.
Since knowledge is the mother of all well-born retreats, Methos stays out at the marketplace's favoured watering hole and waits. The drinks aren't terrible, the company is only mildly pungent, and the place is so bright and crazy with life that no one pays any mind to a man who wears a trench in all seasons. Rufus has practically brought layers back into style, thinking about it. Methos is, of course, eternally grateful. He's been at this game three months now, and he's still only seen wisps and shadows. Mostly men and women in black suits. He doesn't try for their
attention; neither does anyone else in this part of town, not if they know what's good for them. Turks are bad news in any book. Methos chooses, with some caution, to see them as a particularly well-kept breed of crow. Carrion-fowl. Harbingers. Heralds.
When the first suit walks in through the door that night, Methos knows that he's in on some luck. The crowd surges, hit with the shock of his arrival, before resettling into a wary pattern. Another Turk comes in. There's a flash of white, and maybe gold.
'That's my cue,' Methos grins at the bartender, snagging his drink and sliding off his seat. 'Gotta go.'
The bar doubles up as a club, and whichever way Methos looks at it, he's been in better – the place is noisy in a way its sound systems can't make up for, dark and unbearably crowded. But beggars aren't picky, and it's done an admirable job of trying to emulate the Plate-side elitism that everyone down here hates: there's a cordoned off area on the mezzanine for the VIPs of the VUP world. Usually home to the Don or the top dog of the moment, but today the moth-eaten red velvet area-cordons are being drawn back for Rufus-fucking-Shinra.
Methos times it perfectly. It's the Slums, it's dark, he's just one of a million faces, and one of a thousand
that carry drinks around in this place. The littelest Shinra is being a neatly wide girth, just the amount of space needed to – ah, yes – trip neatly over one's shoes and up-end ---
Methos gives the Turk credit: he moves like he's paying attention, and sacrifices those neat black lapels to the after-effects of whatever alcoholic mix it is that Methos accidentally
tosses in Rufus' direction. 'Whoops,' Methos declares, a grin on his face wide enough to insinuate a drunken stupor. It's not hard to believe – only a inebriated idiot would've done what he just did.
Then it hits him, full in the stomach and ringing in his ears, but also strange
. Methos blinks. He knows he's not sensing a full-blooded Immortal, but whatever it is, it doesn't feel pre-
Immortal either. He looks up and catches a glimpse of cold blue eyes. Rufus keeps eye contact with him for half a second, and then there are hands pushing him upright, and the neat, efficient press of a gun barrel seeking out one of the spaces between his ribs.
'That's not very friendly of you,' Methos says to the Turk holding him back.
'I apologise,' the Turk replies, pressing the gun down further against Methos' chest. Out of the corner of his eye, Methos can see the other one round up next to Shinra's side.
'But then again,' Methos amends, 'it was very clumsy of me
.' He hears a laugh from behind the Turk; Rufus apparently finds it very funny when people don't lose their heads around his goons. Excellent. Methos extends a hand. 'I can do friendly, though. I'm Pierson. Adam Pierson.'
The Turk doesn't raise his hand to shake. 'Luck Gandor,' he replies, and for a split second Methos thinks that the Turk actually looks perturbed
There is a beat. Noise rushes in to fill the silence. Then another beat. That's one beat too long. The gun is still there, far too present for any of their likings.
'I didn't know Turks had last names,' Methos says with a smile that is all teeth.
'We don't,' replies Luck Gandor
, still blocking his President.
'Luck,' Rufus says, bringing up one hand to brush pale fingers up against the side of Luck's arm. Luck steps, automatically, aside. When Methos sneaks a downward glance, he can't see the gun anywhere. It disappears between folds of white and black.
Rufus comes forward. 'No need to get offended. I'm sure Mr. Pierson's accident was unintentional.' He does not look at Luck as he speaks.
'I'm sorry,' Methos says, articulating his words far too clearly for a drunk man. The buzz is still there, at the back of his mind, itching
Rufus' lips curve upwards. The next moment, he brushes past Methos and goes up the stairs. The Turks follow, and Methos loses them to the darkness of the cloistered mezzanine.
The sense of discomfort at the back of his head disappears along with them.
Because they are consummate professionals, they do not talk in public. Instead, Luck takes the directive from Tseng to stay next to the President, while the Director heads off to the floor. Rufus sits, neatly and expansively, back in his seat and watches Luck from behind clear eyes. Tseng comes back three minutes later, with drinks. The drinks settle themselves: two on the table, one in Rufus' hands.
'So?' Rufus asks softly, sipping. His eyes coast over the people, the darkness, the lights.
'Gone,' Tseng replies, and with a suit that black he almost blends into the background when he comes to stand at loose attention behind the President.
'Mm.' Rufus nods, then gestures at the remaining drinks. 'One for you, Luck?' He catches Luck's gaze over his glass. 'Or should I call you "Mister Gandor" again, since you seem so set on the name tonight?'
Luck reaches for one. 'Luck, sir,' he says, just loudly enough to be heard and just quietly enough to sound as discomfited as he feels. 'Just Luck.'
Questions now answered, Rufus lifts his glass in toast before turning his attention back to the world at large.
Tseng, on the other hand, has more patience. He opts not to drink, and waits out the three, four hours that Rufus wishes to spend away from the Tower in silence. If he notices Luck fidgeting, he does not mention it. It is not until Rufus is returned to his rooms and the two of them are alone on the lounge on the 68th that he turns and says, 'Explain.'
Luck reaches up to loosen the knot of his tie. 'It is a condition,' he says, slowly. 'Born of the elixir, or of the alchemical immortality. In the presence of another immortal I must declare my true name.' He swallows, thirsty from the alcohol and the night. Tseng notices – Tseng notices everything. The Director opens a small fridge and passes Luck a bottle of water. Luck breaks open the seal and drinks. Better. 'I've never seen him before, sir,' he admits at last.
'Adam Pierson?' Tseng asks, eyebrow raised. 'Not in all of your
'No, which is what worries me,' Luck says with a small shake of his head. He wets his lips. 'There may be a complication.'
Tseng crosses his arms. 'What kind?'
Luck casts his eyes upwards. 'If you require him removed –'
Raising one hand to stop Luck, Tseng laughs, a raw and very quiet noise. 'Removing someone of that much potential is the last thing we would think of doing. I'd have thought that you, of all people, would know that, Mister Gandor.' Luck narrows his eyes. Tseng smiles. 'Keep an eye on him. Rufus has his interest piqued.'
'If and when we choose to try to kill
him, though, I hope that your techniques will be inventive as opposed to fatal. Dismissed.'
Methos would be the first person to call himself paranoid, but the problem with paranoia is this: the other people have to be right only once, you
have to be right all of the damn time. Making contact that night was strategic, but knowing the enemy is only one half of the battle. If it comes down to numerical superiority, the odds are stacked so highly against him that the first order of the day should be to get out of Midgar, get out as fast as he can. The only problem being that the city is surrounded by nothing but blighted desert and farmland: clear, even plains for miles out. There isn't a lot of sense in taking the needle out
of the haystack before the game even begins.
Hide and seek is something Methos has come to be good at over the years, but he has absolutely no illusions about playing against the Shinra Company: they only own every piece of public property in the city. He lays as low as he can; keeping to the crowds, moving in the daylight hours, avoiding common occupations, staying off the trains. It works, or seems to work, for a week. Then two weeks, three weeks, a month. Nothing. No sense of the pseudo-presence, no associations with Shinra.
The first night he goes back to the watering hole, nothing happens. Same for the second night. He dares a drink on his third night, then a smile for his seat mate on the fourth weekend. A little bit of a flirt a few days after that,, just to release the tension. By the time a new month rolls around he's calmer. He has a boy, to celebrate a successful evasion and the superior bastardry of Midgar that keeps Shinra above and the general population below. The boy's good looking, a requisite when it comes to working for the Don: blond hair, blue eyes, icy enough all over that Methos rather enjoys peeling off his layers and watching him fall apart.
The irony of it doesn't escape Methos when he realises that it's the boy who sells him out. He's getting his clothes back in order when there's a polite knock on the door. Half a second later and the door comes crashing down, and a Turk comes through. They don't come in with guns blazing, Methos observes dispassionately. Their shots are very, very precise. Through the heart, this time. If only it hurt less every time he died.
He topples, breathing through and with the pain, waiting for his vision to start to blur up. In the meantime he sees the boy stand to pocket something from the Turk – gil, perhaps? - then everything starts to go black. Methos almost enjoys
this part, now. It'll take him a minute or two to revive from a shot like that, and with some hope the Turks will use their famed efficiency to conclude that he is, in fact, very boringly dead, and maybe go away. Oh, optimism.
When Methos blinks open his eyes, it's to see his own sword in the hands of one of the Turks. Same one from the night before, the one with the shorter hair. The buzzing is back. So it's not
Rufus Shinra. Interesting. Methos coughs up a little bit of blood, wiping it away with the backs of his fingers. 'Could I have that sword back?' he asks the Turk, his voice hoarse.
The Turk steps forward, glancing sidelong at the blade. 'Yes,' he says, and then he plunges it through Methos' heart.Damn
There are a number of reasons why Methos doesn't like dying by the sword, one of which is that a sword must first be removed
before anything else can happen. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out; only some experimentation, and more pain on his part than he's inclined to ever feel first-hand. When he returns to consciousness this time, it's to the feel of metal resting alongside the inside of his guts. The Turk did him the courtesy of returning his sword through his abdomen. Hazy with pain, Methos gropes for the hilt. His hands, at least, are unbound. Deep breaths. One. Two. Fuck
Methos' hands are clammy enough that he drops the sword. It clatters to the ground. Somewhere at the back of his mind, Methos registers the dull, clattering noise of metal on cheap concrete flooring. It takes a while for everything to come back to him, but when his nerves fire tentatively back into obedience his fingers go, instinctively, to his chest. The whole left side of his shirt is ruined; they must have ran him through the side as well, to keep him down long enough to move him here, wherever "here" is.
'I would apologise,' a voice calls out, bouncing words off the far walls. Methos snaps his head up. 'But I've been told that I am not very good at the business of repentance.'
They are still below-Plate. There isn't enough room up above for a warehouse this size, and even if there were, Methos doubts that Urban Development would allow anything so unkempt. The windows have been methodically knocked out and covered over. Cardboard and black electrical tape, mostly, and dust everywhere. The height clearance suggests that this is one of the old storage facilities that held generator parts while the city was still fledging. Tri-level. Expansive ceiling. Balconies on the upper floors. Methos chuffs a resigned sigh. 'It's all right,' he calls over. 'I'm quite comfortable now.' Sword in hand and foot in mouth. As good a proposition as any, Methos supposes.
Rufus Shinra sits like a scar of white in the middle of the dirty floor, seated in a rickety metal chair. The intonation of his words comes sharp after two years of street slang and Eastern colloquialism. But the truly interesting part of this encounter, Methos thinks, is that he – a known Immortal – has a weapon in his hand, while Rufus Shinra – the most expensive man in the world – has his
own hands linked neatly behind his back. Methos taps his fingers along the hit of his sword, considering. 'Are you
comfortable, President Shinra?'
Rufus shakes his wrists demonstratively, rattling metal cuffs against the chair frame. 'Quite. Call me Rufus,' he says. 'Or Rufus Shinra, whichever suits you better.'
Methos takes a few steps towards the man. They had propped him up against the far wall while waiting, and left Rufus in the centre. Too much room for any sudden moves. 'Well, Rufus Shinra,' Methos says, lightly balancing his blade on the rise of one shoulder. He throws a quick look behind him. The wall is sticky with drying blood. There is a copper stink in the air. 'You left me in a bit of a mess.'
'I was surprised,' Rufus replies, at ease; legs lazily parted, the fall of his white jacket careless, the crease of his sleeves sharp enough to cut. 'You clean up far less neatly than what I've come to expect.'
'Oh?' Methos says, turning back and coming forward. 'Does Gandor simply...' He makes an expansive gesture. 'Clean up after himself whenever he's stabbed?' Another few steps closer. His footsteps are loud in the cavernous space, but Rufus doesn't flinch with the sound. Tap. Tap. Tap.
'Actually, yes,' says the blond. 'Some sort of evolutionary advantage I assume. He doesn't leave much of a trace at all.'
Methos comes to a stop in front of Rufus, matching Rufus' easy stance. 'I highly doubt that my kind evolve.' He swings his sword off his shoulder. It swishes idly through dead air, promising.
The president of Shinra tilts his head up, laconic, to look at him. 'Physically, no,' he murmurs.
Methos cocks an eyebrow. 'Allow me to offer you a piece of advice –'
'— I have lived,' Methos enunciates, 'for a very
long time, Rufus Shinra
, and I got tired of having people play mind games on me, oh --' Methos squints upwards, thinking, before he looks back down. 'More lifetimes ago than I care to remember. I'll be the first to admit: I'm easily amused.' An easy smile. He complements it with the sharp edge of his sword against the yielding skin of Rufus' neck. 'And I'm also very
easily frustrated. What do you want.'
Rufus tilts his head to the side. 'That didn't sound like a question, Mr. Pierson.' Methos applies more pressure. Rufus strains away just enough to avoid having blood drawn. 'I'm trying very hard to be diplomatic, Mr. Pierson,' he chastises.
'Ironically, so am I,' Methos agrees with great cheer, pressing down further. Rufus tilts the chair back onto its hind legs to maintain distance. 'I'm also trying very hard to be patient
Rufus clears his throat. 'You could say that I like to do my recruiting first hand.'
Methos keeps his hand very steady. 'Maybe I'm going deaf in my old age. Excuse me?'
Rufus slowly, slowly, slowly
brings his chair back down onto all four legs. He resettles. The edge of the blade matches the sharp line of Rufus' lips. 'I gather you don't get job offers very often?'
'I'm terrible at customer service,' Methos says. 'And very picky about my perks.'
'I'll give you immortality,' Rufus drawls, his eyes half-closed.
'Immortality I already have, thank you,' says Methos, gently drawing the sword across the plane of Rufus' neck, letting the blade run its course until the tip flirts with the bump of Rufus' adam's apple. 'What else do you have to offer?'
'Not anything that I think would interest you.' Rufus shrugs, the audacious bastard: he lifts one shoulder and lets it drop again. Methos can practically feel his pulse, steady and undisturbed, anchored by the danger instead of swayed by it. Methos has seen his breed before; the rare creatures that tore across the world, frontiering and conquering because the alternative was unthinkable. 'Money,' the President lists idly, 'power, an office with a view, travel opportunities, etcetera. When I said immortality
, Mr Pierson, I didn't mean it in the way I think you imagined.'
'They won't remember your name,' Rufus says, casting a quick glance beyond Methos' shoulder, towards the rest of Midgar. 'Everyone in this city; anyone
in this city, or any city. "Adam Pierson" probably isn't even who you really are – do you even like who Adam Pierson
is? Do you recall what it felt like to walk past the brave new world – what were your words? – "more lifetimes ago than you care to remember", when you were yourself? How they
'No, not particularly,' Methos says, evenly. 'What do you assume it felt like?'
'Fear.' Rufus' eyes are bright, solid blue.
Methos' eyes are old. 'I'm not sure I'm in that business.'
'Well.' Rufus presses his cheek against the flat of Methos' blade, his eyes sliding closed. His breath leaves condensation on the cold surface. Inhale, exhale, inhale. Methos watches Rufus' mouth move with the shape of his words. 'You seem to be enjoying this. If you're going to live forever anyway, Mr. Pierson, you might as well -'
'Methos,' Methos cuts in. 'If you're going to buy me you might as well know it. Caveat emptor.
Rufus' eyes snap open. 'Methos,' he corrects, the name coming slow and familiar to his lips. 'If you're going to live forever in any case, you might as well keep living
'And is living synonymous with survival
for you?' Methos brings his sword away from Rufus face. He touches the blade with the pads of his fingers: the metal is warm.
'A fair question.' Rufus jerks his hands to his side. 'Next to my chair. It's a guarantee,' he says as Methos walks over, cautiously bending to the side to pick up a simple black case. 'An offer made in trust.'
It would be the height of idiocy to think that Rufus Shinra is not still a dangerous man while tied to a chair. Methos keeps his sword held loosely in one hand while he throws the catches on the case with the other. There is a hiss of decompressing air as he lifts the cover, and then Methos catches sight of a faint, liquid glow of deep green and yellow. 'Mastered,' Rufus comments as Methos strokes the materias' brittle curves
Methos curls his fingers under a ball, bringing the materia up out of its individual pocket to view it in the dying light. 'Very impressive.' It's beautiful the way that the pinnacle of modern technology in any age is. Whole cities live and die by this same kind of energy, which Shinra took and compressed into globes that now fit into the palm of a man's hand. He throws a thoughtful glance at Rufus. 'How many of your men are watching us now?'
Rufus laughs, throaty. 'Including you? I have four men here.'
Methos throws a look around the room, spotting no one. 'You presume I've said "yes" to your offer.' He shakes his head and snaps the black case shut. He pushes one of his sleeves up, revealing a bracer equipped with a single red globe. He inserts his chosen new materia, listening for the soft click
as it secures itself in position. He turns his wrist a few times, waiting, and then he feels the burn of power go up his arm. Tendrils of deep colour wind around Methos' fingers. 'I haven't,' he tells Rufus.
'I'm open to negotiation,' Rufus says as Methos comes in close, kicking Rufus' feet apart to stand between them. Methos brings his hand up to the side of the young Shinra's face, feeling skin and feathery wisps of hair. 'Very open,' Rufus breathes, still relaxed. He reminds Methos of all the men that new history has forgotten: the Alexanders and the Caesars, the Qins and the Ci Xis, the men and women who made empire and who believed
in it, and who made others believe as well – whether through faith or through fire. Methos digs his fingernails into Rufus' temple.
Rufus' throat isn't the only one that hitches when the shot of Manipulate hits him. Mastered, the materia heats pure and runs smooth, a science
refined into magic that feels so close to a Quickening that Methos can feel the currents of energy slide down his forearm, draining and eddying. He watches Rufus' eyes change. Blue irises wrap around the edges of pupils, black wavering before going shot and spreading, dilating, then spreading again. Rufus' next breath is haggard, as though he's struggling to suck air into seizing lungs. Methos smiles and cups his cheek. 'Answer very carefully, Rufus Shinra,' he murmurs, letting his sword go as the simmer of materia starts to settle deep as his bones. 'Do you trust your men?'
Rufus' head lolls to the side as though he's been drugged. Methos watches him as Rufus struggles against the influence, sweat beading on his forehead as he jerks himself back upright. The materia shorts his nerve endings, a veridical twenty times as strong as any Methos has ever seen induced chemically. The blond's tongue seems thick in his mouth as his jaw works, silently, for a few seconds without producing any sound. 'Do you?' Methos asks again, patiently soothing Rufus' hair out of his face as he skims his fingertips over aristocratic cheekbones.
'I trust,' Rufus Shinra slurs, his head hitting the back of his chair as he slides it back to look up at Methos. 'I trust my men to enjoy themselves
Methos glances up for one last time at the shadowed floors above where Rufus' men are watching but also waiting. He has Rufus so high that their President would dance off the Plate if Methos so much as uttered a word, but still there is no movement, no protest. Rufus' own legs are spread wide and unresisting. He's not even fighting. Methos knows from experience that men like him only stop
when they've won. 'Why am I not surprised that you have no problems with exhibitionism?' he asks Rufus as he cracks the materia case open a second time.
'No problems with exhibitionism, sir
,' Rufus whispers, blinking rapidly against the influence.
Methos efficiently arms a Silence. 'Sir
,' he repeats in a resigned and expectant drawl. As he feels the materia charge, Methos settles his fingers around the base of Rufus' throat.
Rufus laughs, hard and honest noises that vibrate through all his body and that end in a trickle of energy and gasping, wordless noise.
Methos receives instructions, two days later, to return to the same warehouse. It's empty this time, no Presidents and no ambushes, just the chair that Rufus had sat in with a perfectly fitted suit and tie hung onto it, and a pair of open handcuffs dangling slowly back and forth.