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Off the Line

Chapter Text

"Well," Reeve said after a while, when Cloud Strife said nothing. "Vincent isn't really all of it. Currently he is the main priority for me at least, but you've surrounded yourself with some interesting people otherwise too. Even without Vincent, that alone would make me want to bring you in."

"You mean Red," Strife said. It was hard to say what he was thinking – he was still wearing the infantryman's helmet that covered half of his face. But right now Reeve didn't think the man was quite against him. Or, well. Youth, really. Strife was sixteen, after all.

"Red, yes. Princess also. But right now the Elf girl, Flower, is a bit more dangerous than the two of them," Reeve admitted, thinking back to the data. She was still all but invisible in the system and neither he nor Cait Sith had any idea how she was doing it. It probably would've freaked them both out more, if it hadn't come so close to Vincent's revelation. Hell at this point, they figured that expecting anything from Rainstorm was bad idea. Best let things happen and roll with it afterwards.

"I don't know what she is, not yet, but I have a suspicion," Reeve said. "That's for her to tell, if she chooses to, but…. Aside from Vincent I would prefer it if someone on my payroll was keeping an eye on her."

"Oh," Strife said, shifted his footing and somehow he was infinitely more like Rainstorm. "So aside from whatever you think my brain can do, you want me to spy for you?"

"Nothing so crude. I don't need spies in Terra Online. Cait Sith sees all," Reeve shrugged. "No, but… there is a certain danger with her. You do realise that you two shouldn't have been able to do what you did at the Elder Tree? Terrains aren't that malleable, and definitely not destructible, not that way. And definitely not towns."

"I've been told," Strife said, his lips a thin line. "You think she somehow made it possible?"

"I know she did. Where you play the game like you were born in it, she… bends it, like it was made for her to play with," Reeve smiled. "When Red first started playing, there were compatibility issues and he suffered many glitches. The game is made for humans, after all. Flower's brain is closer to human, but… well, the only way I can put it is that she's more powerful than the system. She forces her own reality onto her surroundings; which at times includes real world physics."

Strife considered that for a moment. "She's been playing for a while now, though. Hasn't she?" he asked. "So you've known."

"No, I haven't. She's been hidden from me by the most powerful guild in the game – the Overseers. Another tale for her to tell," Reeve said, shrugging. "Now she's broken loose from them and what's done is done. Elder Tree is destroyed, thanks to her and you. Where did you get the idea to cut off a branch anyway?"

The young infantryman shrugged. "When I jumped down, I damaged a bit of a building's roof. I figured that if I could damage that, I could damage other things," he said. "It wasn't that complicated."

Reeve snorted at that. So it stretched to other things as well. A few seconds in Flower's presence and Rainstorm had already adjusted his world view to a whole new set of rules and then made quick and ruthless use of them. Not complicated indeed.

"So," Strife said. "She's a danger to the game but you're not going to kick her out? Instead you want her watched?"

Reeve nodded. "Well, she's a danger to the game only for as long as her physics and the game physics fight each other. Cait Sith is going to change that," he said. "You will find that Terra Online evolves all the time. Whenever Cait Sith sees something or gets an idea which he likes, he incorporates it into the game. The physics she installs… they'll add a new layer of reality into Terra Online."

"One would think you'd mind something like a player changing the game."

"Other games would. I have a largely hands off approach to Terra Online," Reeve shrugged. "After I finished creating the game, I admit it lost most of its interest for me. It's more Cait Sith's baby now, than mine. And I'm perfectly happy letting him do whatever he wants with it."

It had lost its interest. Reeve was a builder, a creator, a maker…an inventor. While he could administer and manage things to the world's end, it wasn't his preferred way of going about. He was the head of Urban Development, and that was what he wanted, but… after the developing part of things was done, he got bored easily. It had happened when Midgar had been finished, after which he had delegated the management duties to others, and moved onto other things; namely, Terra Online. And then it had happened again when Terra Online had finished.

The game was changing now, though. It was hard to say which way it was going but it was going through a transformation – and Rainstorm stood at the heart of it, with the elements and symptoms of the game's changes around him. RedXIII, Treasure Princess, Bigshot, Mena, Vincent and Flower. Elements and symptoms.

"I don't think I care for the notion of being somebody's spy," Strife finally said.

"Not a spy – I told you, I don't need spies," Reeve said. "More like a bodyguard, really. Now that she's out of Alexandria and away from the Overseers and their smothering… we want her to stay out and in the field where she can wreck happy havoc on the programming and coding with her influence."

Strife didn't seem convinced.

"Well," Reeve said and laughed, shaking his head. "Truth be told, it's simply easier with all of you people in one place. Your guild, I mean."

"Hmm," Strife answered, noncommittal.

"The priority is Vincent, though. Finding him and releasing him from the game, if at all possible," Reeve added. "Everything else is just a nice bonus."

Strife looked away from him, thinking about it. "I suppose I'd have to leave the infantry," he then said.

"It would be easiest, yes," Reeve said, eying him keenly. "The pay would be better," he added.

"Tch," Strife answered and glanced at him. "I entered ShinRa for a reason and joining the techies wasn't part of the plan," he said. "As it is, I was going to stay in the infantry only because it gave me access to the gyms and health care."

"You can still have that, as a techie," Reeve said, amused.

"How about the chance to try at the SOLDIER exam? Will I still have that?"

Well. The records did say that Strife had started out as one of the SOLDIER exam candidates. If that was still the man's goal…. "The next exam is, when, in four months?" Reeve asked, considering it. Strife failed to enter SOLDIER on his first try, meaning he'd need to train and practice if he ever wanted to have a chance. As an infantryman most of Strife's time was taken by menial duties, probably. At least they would be, until Strife got prompted and got his chance to try himself against tougher missions. As it was… as an infantryman the youth didn't really have that good a chance for self-improvement.

Working for Terra Online's development group would give him more free time for self-training. "I don't see why you couldn't try the exam again, even if you were a techie," Reeve said finally. "No, it would probably give you more time for training and such. Plus…" Plus it would give Strife access to all the toys in Reeve's department.

"Plus?" Strife asked.

"Well, the pay is good," Reeve shrugged, smiling. "A month of working for me, you can probably start buying your own gym equipment, if you wanted to."

Strife said nothing for a moment, before finally sighing. "I need to think about it," he said. "And I need to know what would be expected of me, what my duties would be, stuff like that. No way am I entering any ShinRa contract blind."

"Of course," Reeve agreed and stood up. Lots of people would, just for the chance of better pay. Not to mention that working in Urban Development versus working in the infantry? Much better for your health in general. "Come with me and I'll have someone print the contracts and terms for you to study."

Strife nodded, but didn't budge. "Out of curiosity, which one are you trying to hire here?" he then asked. "Cloud Strife or Rainstorm?"

"I'm hiring the brain behind both," Reeve grinned while picking up the signal jammer from the table and flicking it shut. "But it will be Cloud Strife's name on the contract, for legal reasons. Avatars, as it is, don't have legal rights."

The infantryman snorted and nodded, following him out of the meeting room. As they walked, Reeve kept a curious eye on the infantryman. It was somewhat… amusing, seeing Cloud Strife after having seen Rainstorm first. The Viera was quite a bit taller than Strife was. Also the moment they stepped out of the conference room, Strife shifted back into his previous behaviour, becoming the stiff, nervous infantryman once more and that was even more hilarious after having talked with the spirit behind Rainstorm first.

"How do you do that?" Reeve asked, amused, as they entered the elevator.

"Do what, sir?"

"Change personas like that."

Strife didn't answer, not before they were in the elevator and the doors were shut. Then he shrugged. "It's just a mindset, in the end," he said. "Rainstorm doesn't have to bother with social norms and appearances. Cloud Strife does."

"I suppose so," Reeve murmured. He didn't really play Terra Online so he didn't have that duality of how things were in real life and how they were in game. In Asgard player and character interactions were completely different and behaviour didn't really factor into it as much as it did in Terra Online. He supposed it was like that with most Terra Online players – most of them were probably different in game than they were in real life.

Cloud Strife and Rainstorm seemed to be two whole different people though. "If you had to choose, which one would you be?" Reeve asked curiously.

The infantryman made a face. "Cloud Strife, obviously," he said. "He gets to wear clothing."

Reeve smiled wryly at that. "That's not what I meant."

"Well you haven't even bought me a drink yet, sir," Strife said blandly. "So I am afraid I'm not inclined to discuss such personal matters with you."

Reeve snorted and shook his head while the elevator let out a ding and the doors opened. He led the infantryman – who once again ducked his head down and became all humble – out and to one of the floors that belonged to Urban Development – this being floor 34. It was mostly offices for Research and Development here – meaning that half of the offices were empty, and other half were probably used for poker tournaments. There wasn't much left to be researched or developed in Midgar.

It was also where the UD secretaries were, though.

While Strife hung back awkwardly, looking out of place in his infantry uniform, Reeve had one of the secretaries print out all of the necessary forms. The woman kept giving Strife some curious looks while she did so – and no wonder, it wasn't every day Reeve recruited as it was and definitely not from the infantry, but Reeve ignored it.

"Here, this should be all of it," Reeve said once the printing of the good thirty pages was done. "Take it all with a grain of salt, though, especially the parts about work duties. Your case would be… mostly hands on field testing, really."

"Meaning?" Strife asked, frowning.

Reeve shrugged. "I wouldn't waste your abilities in front of a computer or behind a desk. No, you'd be in VR most of the time. It'd start with us testing to see how far your abilities stretch, what you can do in other virtual reality simulations, but overall… it would mostly be about Terra Online."

Strife nodded, accepting the stack of papers. "How much time do I…?"

"I took you off duty for the day, so you have some time," Reeve assured and took out his phone. "I'd prefer it if I got an answer today, though," he added, holding the phone out to Strife, showing him the screen. "My number. Let me know when you make a decision."

Strife nodded, copying the number to his own phone. "Thank you, sir," he said. "I'll let you know when I make up my mind."

Reeve watched as the infantryman returned to the elevator and headed down. It didn't take long for the secretary to dash past her desk and to his side. "Who was that, sir?" she asked. "He must be someone special. I've never seen an infantryman here. Never mind one brought by you!"

Reeve smiled. "We'll see, won't we?" he asked and with a chuckle headed off. Hopefully Strife would come to the right decision. And if he didn't, well….

Strife was the first and only prodigy of virtual reality he had ever come across and he had only scratched the surface of his own abilities, if even that. So, really. It wasn't beyond Reeve's pride to pester, bribe and bother him until he changed his mind.