Yuffie learned after-the-fact that their success at stopping Shinra's attack hadn't been entirely without casualties; they just weren't the personal kind. Reeve had lost people fighting off the decoy teams before they hit Midgar, and the blackout from the damage to the No. 5 reactor had affected one of the city's hospitals. With Midgar's already diminished power supply, there weren't enough back-up generators to go around for critical areas. In the time before power could be rerouted, people had died.
But it hadn't been another Sector 7. The mood wasn't celebratory and everybody was tired, but the relief was palpable. Yuffie dodged most of the hugs, but when they regrouped back at the parking lot outside of the Sector 3 headquarters, she graciously allowed Tifa a few seconds. Yuffie knew how stressful this kind of stuff was for her, and then she'd missed out on the real action. Plus trying to send Aeris someplace safer had backfired on her; Aeris had gotten the first and the longest hug, but Yuffie had turned away before she could witness any kissing.
Tifa gave Yuffie's arm an extra squeeze as she pulled back. "You guys did good," she said.
"'course we did," Yuffie said, planting her hands on her hips. She couldn't let on how good it was to hear that.
"Oughtta grab ourselves dinner someplace," Barret proposed. He was still carrying Jessie around, even though Yuffie was pretty sure she could've managed standing on that leg by now.
"It's well-earned," Zack said in agreement, "but where, exactly? It's too late to make it back to the slums..."
Tifa turned aside. "Rude, you know any places topside?" she asked him, and the usual chill in her voice when addressing either of the Turks had subsided to a neutral politeness. He must have done okay by her at their reactor.
Rude regarded her silently, long enough that Yuffie thought that might have been the extent of his response, but then he nodded. "I have to report to Reeve, but I can give you directions."
"You know..." Tifa ventured carefully, "you two should join us, if you want."
"...I'll tell Reeve."
Rude turned to head inside, and Wedge shared a skeptical glance with Zack.
"I'll go along to convince him," Wedge volunteered.
"Guy's a workaholic," Zack added by way of explanation as Wedge disappeared inside after Rude.
Yuffie didn't care one way or the other whether Reeve joined them (he was an okay guy, but he seemed boring), but she guessed he deserved to relax for a minute. Organizing stuff could be plenty hard work, too.
Barret at last eased Jessie to the ground while they waited, though she went on leaning against him for support. He pulled out his phone, and Yuffie glanced skyward. The sun had set a while ago now, and despite it being Midgar's sky, she thought she could make out a single star up above them. It was definitely past Marlene's bedtime, but Yuffie made out Elmyra's voice on the other end of the line. More relief, and Barret asked her to relay his promise that he'd be back tomorrow to see his daughter.
It was her first reminder that they'd be moving on to other things, now that the immediate threat to Midgar had passed. That meant going back to Wutai.
Wedge returned with Reeve before she could think too hard about that.
"No Rude?" Zack wondered.
"I think he wants to talk to Reno," said Reeve.
"What's gonna happen with him?" Yuffie wondered.
There followed an uncomfortable exchange of glances. It was a complicated question. What did you do with a guy who had no loyalties? They couldn't depend on him, and they couldn't cut him loose. AVALANCHE had never been big on prisoners, but Reeve had a growing number of Shinra lackeys in custody, and Reno was just the highest-ranking of them. What did they do with any of them?
"Think that's somethin' we can figure out later," Barret said at last.
"His intel did turn out to be good though," Wedge put in.
"At the eleventh hour," said Tifa.
"Like Barret said, let's leave it for later," said Aeris. "I'm beat, and I'm hungry!"
Reeve shook his head. "I can't believe you've got me going out to dinner at a time like this..."
"This is the best time!" Zack exclaimed, slinging an arm around the smaller man's shoulders and startling him. "I know there's still damage control, but we won. You gotta relax sometimes, man. Learn to delegate."
"I know, I know... Domino's been pestering me for more responsibility, so... We'll see."
"Who's Domino?" Yuffie asked.
"Mayor Domino," Wedge clarified.
"What, like somebody actually elected him?"
"There did used to be a government here," said Jessie. "It was always sort of second fiddle to Shinra, but once the war broke out, they really gave up even pretending. I don't even think there's been an election since then..."
"Believe me, that's been on my mind, too," said Reeve.
"But not tonight!" Zack interjected quickly. "I'm banning work talk, from now on. You do have hobbies, right?"
"You like cats?" Wedge asked him, joining in as Zack ushered Reeve towards one of the cars.
Their dinner out wasn't exactly the kind of fancy affair it probably would have been in the Midgar of a few months ago. In the wake of the explosion, power was going only to the most critical locations, and that didn't include restaurants. Even restaurants that Reeve had negotiated with to hand out a lot of free meals in exchange for prioritizing their supply chains.
The place they went had expanded their outdoor seating to envelop most of the parking lot. Torches burned for lighting, and smoke rose from grills set up to continue cooking after the power went out. It was unusual to Yuffie only in that it existed in the heart of Midgar.
It was still pretty busy, probably thanks to all the Sector 3 evacuees, but people recognized Reeve and shuffled themselves around to clear one long table for them.
Yuffie sat herself on the end to avoid feeling crowded, which put her opposite Vincent. She hadn't heard a word out of him since everyone had regrouped after the mission, which wasn't surprising. He never said anything in groups unless it was important. He and Rude had probably had entire conversations made up of nothing but staring at each other and nodding.
That got her thinking about Reno again. Not the guy himself, but what he represented. It wasn't loyalty that'd had him working as a double agent and ratting them out to Shinra, just self-interest. Fear, when you got down to it. He still thought Shinra had a chance of coming out on top, and he didn't want to be on their bad side.
Except, Shinra itself didn't have any kind of loyalty to the people who followed it. She only had to take a glance around the table to name a half-dozen instances where it had screwed over people even before they'd given any thought to standing against it.
Everything that had happened with Holy had saved Midgar's people from the lie that they needed Shinra, or at least the ones who'd stuck around. They weren't scared of life without Shinra, and since then it had only gotten more obvious that Shinra was and always had been the enemy--a danger and a disruption to their lives. But like with almost everyone at this table, it had taken something big to get them there.
How were they going to make that clear to the people of Junon?
Growing up, she'd seen Shinra categorically as her enemy--the company, the cities, the citizens, all of it. When the war had devastated her homeland, she'd wanted to bring the same thing right to them. She'd wanted to see Midgar and Junon fall to their knees, with people cowering under the might of Wutai.
Honestly, she'd still wanted that until pretty recently. She'd walked into Junon with the lofty idea of bringing it down all by herself. But what would really happen if Junon came as close to collapse as Midgar had? Who would that be good for?
Man, she hated thinking so much about that stuff. Why did Midgar have to be so depressing? She was supposed to be feeling good, after today.
They all crashed that night in the hotel on the edge of the Sector 4 plate where Reeve had put them up. Not interested in being anywhere near anybody's lovey-dovey snuggling, Yuffie had opted for the lesser of two evils and roomed with Vincent. Wedge joined them that night with a rollaway cot, unable to make the trip back to Elmyra's house.
The windows faced Sector 3, and that night, with even the critical areas still evacuated, there weren't even those sparse constellations of lights to break up the pitch black. Just a gaping maw of nothing. It wasn't until morning that she could see across the gap in the plate to the city streets. They looked just as empty in the daylight, but from the higher floors of the hotel, less like something that would just swallow you.
Yuffie wouldn't miss the place, but it was hard to feel excitement about leaving. Between the flight on the Highwind and having to talk to the pagoda guardians, who were as stuck in the old ways as Godo...
She'd expected the others would be raring to go early, but some of the urgency had gone, and Tifa must have decided to let everyone rest. Yuffie didn't get out of bed until she wanted to, and at last someone knocked at the door before she'd done much more than locate her boots. She sat down to pull them on and let Wedge answer it. Aeris stood in the dimly-lit hallway, smiling brightly.
"How would you three like to go to Wall Market?" she asked.
"Wall Market?" Wedge repeated in surprise. He glanced back at Yuffie and Vincent.
"What's that?" Yuffie asked.
"Oh, just the best place to have fun in the slums right now," Aeris answered. "Cloud heard they're throwing a little 'we survived total destruction again' party this afternoon."
"Cloud heard about a party?" Yuffie repeated skeptically.
"He's got one of those personalities that makes it really fun to drag him places."
"Well..." Yuffie could kind of get that. "Wait, but, Tifa's really okay with that? She doesn't want us to get moving right away?"
"The Highwind's not quite back yet," Aeris explained. "She and Barret are headed out to the farm to pick up the Huge Materia and visit with Marlene before we go jetting off to the other side of the world again. So, the rest of us get to goof off a little in the meantime."
"I'm surprised they're okay with Yuffie going..." Wedge remarked.
Aeris smiled. "We might not have mentioned where the party was," she confessed.
That had Yuffie intrigued. A place the responsible types wouldn't like her going? Probably it just meant there was a lot of booze or something, but considering her alternatives... What, was she going to hang around the hotel doing nothing? With Vincent? Or check in with Reeve to see if he'd put her to work helping move people back into Sector 3? He'd been planning to give the all-clear this morning, but just because she didn't want anything horrible to happen to Midgar didn't mean it was fun helping them cart their stuff around.
"Yeah, okay," she decided, hopping to her feet.
"I mean, sure," said Wedge with a helpless shrug. "It could be fun with all of us together. How about it, Vincent?"
Vincent raised an eyebrow, as if the whole question was absurd.
"Jessie said you're not allowed to decline," said Aeris. "It sounded like she had something special she wanted to show you? I don't know what it is, but I guess she knows Wall Market better than I do."
"Ohh, maybe she found your old house or something," Yuffie suggested. "Or like, your great grandniece?"
"Doubtful," Vincent said dryly.
"Well, I know I'm curious," said Aeris, "so I'm not letting you stay behind either."
Vincent shrugged and moved away from the door to gather his own meagre belongings. Yuffie was used to travelling light, but all the stuff she was missing right now stung. She pocketed the bathroom soaps on a quick check of the room, just to make herself feel a little better.
"Where is Jessie anyway?" Yuffie asked as she joined Aeris, Vincent, and Wedge in the hallway. She could see Zack and Cloud waiting near the stairwell, but no Jessie.
"Waiting for us down in the lobby," Aeris answered. "She said she wanted to see off Tifa and Barret, but I think she just wanted him to carry her back downstairs."
"I thought you said her leg was totally healed."
"And I thought he told you they were dating."
Yuffie made a face, realizing Jessie was just doing it for fun--and Barret was going along with it. He wasn't stupid. She so did not get the appeal of letting somebody cart you around. Going down ten flights of stairs was a pain, but she might've opted for it even if the elevators were running. They were okay for a couple floors, but she'd gotten enough of being stuck in a metal box back at the reactor.
Jessie was sitting in one of the plush chairs in the lobby, texting someone on her phone. She looked up as they approached, her glance sweeping over all of them.
"So, are we all in?"
"Uh-huh!" Aeris confirmed cheerfully. "It didn't even take much convincing."
"Really? Well, I'm glad to hear it." Jessie got to her feet, pocketing her phone. "Should be plenty of time to make the midday train down."
"Any word from Reeve on how things are looking this morning?" Wedge asked as they crossed the lobby to the exit.
Jessie nodded. "He's getting more accurate casualty counts in, but no real surprises so far. They adjusted power output on the other reactors and did a controlled shutdown of the No. 5 early this morning so they can assess the damage."
"Can't they just leave it off?" Yuffie wondered. Pushing out through the lobby doors, she looked in the direction of the nearest reactor, the No. 4. Buildings blocked her view of the reactor itself, but that greenish smog rose into the daylight.
"It's not off the table," said Jessie. "With Sector 8 empty, the other three reactors can handle the load, but it means there's no redundancies. If something happens to one of them, generators aren't gonna keep the city running."
"So," Aeris said, "does it depend on how badly damaged it was?"
"Yeah. The people who'd be repairing it are the same crews who're working on the prototype wind turbines. So if they estimate it'd take as much work to repair the reactor as to get that project off the ground..." Jessie shrugged. "All they'd have to do is make sure there's nothing that could impact the rest of the system."
"Here's hoping you messed it up just the right amount," said Zack, and Yuffie hoped so, too.
Jessie gave a little grin. "Heh, yeah."
"Have we heard anything on Shinra's end?" asked Cloud, spoiling the moment.
"Mm, Sash says things are pretty quiet for now," said Jessie. "We knocked 'em back pretty good, and they're licking their wounds. Of course, the official story on the news is that their brave men were able to thwart further attempts by AVALANCHE to destroy Midgar once and for all."
"How exactly are they rationalizing that we want to attack a city that's not controlled by Shinra?" Wedge wondered skeptically.
Yuffie had the answer to that one. "They've got this whole spiel about how AVALANCHE wants to destroy the Mako way of life and end civilization as we know it," she said. "Folks in Junon still believe you guys did Sector 7, so... they think we want to take out anybody who supports the reactors. They're spinning it like there's still some loyal Shinra citizens in Midgar and we're tryin' to wipe 'em out."
"Sounds like somebody's projecting..." Zack commented.
Wedge shook his head. "Makes me glad we don't get the news out of Junon. I don't think I could listen to that."
"Yeah, it was a lot of bullshit," Yuffie agreed. "Almost blew my cover once, I wanted to punch the TV so bad."
"You really were meant to be Barret's kid," Jessie said fondly, and Yuffie had her explain the story behind that remark as they continued on to the station.
There was plenty of room on the train. It had already passed through Sector 3, depositing any returning residents who'd taken refuge over in Sector 2, and past Sector 4 its route took it spiraling around the main support and into the slums, so the workers joining the Sector 5 emergency response weren't using it.
That made it a little more tolerable. The nearest station to Wall Market was all the way over in Sector 5, by the church, and Yuffie wasn't complaining about the walk if it meant getting off sooner. Cloud's stupid bracelet really did work a bit, but it wasn't a cure-all. She hadn't eaten yet, and she wanted her appetite back by the time they hit this so-called party.
What kind of a party could you have in the Midgar slums anyway?
But the difference was obvious, right from the start. Wall Market was apparently so named for being right up against the wall that had separated it from Sector 7, and with the Sector 7 plate gone, that meant that Wall Market got actual daylight. Not like if the Sector 6 plate hadn't been there, but the early afternoon sunlight slanted in over the top of the wall. It couldn't hit anything directly, but it was enough that most of the streetlights stood dim.
The signs were lit, though. As they entered Wall Market, they passed beneath big neon letters reading 'South,' and a hodgepodge of signs within vied for her attention. Shops and bars and ads for things she didn't totally get even if a lot of them were in Wutain. The buildings were still mostly made from scrap, but people had put effort into making them look attractive. At the least, they didn't look like they'd collapse under a stiff breeze.
The streets were busy, too. Yuffie understood why; despite the hike to get here, it had to be about the nicest place in the slums right now.
"Make sure you stick close to one of us, okay?" Jessie said to her. "Don't go off alone."
"What, are you scared I'm gonna get mugged?" Yuffie wondered.
"Barret would want us to keep an eye on you," said Aeris.
"Oh, come on. Just because he's getting all overprotective doesn't mean you guys have to."
Jessie exchanged glances with Aeris. "In this instance, I think it's warranted. Besides, it's what you signed up for, isn't it? Barret is a very dedicated father."
"Isn't part of be a parent learning to let go?"
Jessie just laughed, and Yuffie knew it was kind of a wild concept for Barret. She was going to be stuck with him for the rest of her life.
That was okay.
"Anyway, c'mon," said Jessie, and she threw a look over her shoulder. "He said to meet him at the gym, right?"
Cloud nodded. "Yeah."
"I'm so excited," said Aeris. "I always wanted to meet the Beautiful Bro. Tifa had his autograph up in her bar, did she know him?"
"He came into the bar once," said Wedge. "Tifa won a round at arm-wrestling, so he felt like he had to, you know? That was sure a day. Everyone went crazy went it happened."
"Who are we talking about?" Yuffie interjected.
"The Beautiful Bro," Aeris repeated, like that was supposed to answer it for her, but she went on, "He's a famous wrestler from the slums. He'd even fight some matches up on the plate. It was exciting, like he was up there fighting for all of us."
And his handle was the Beautiful Bro? Weird. "I never thought you'd be into wrestling..." Yuffie said skeptically.
"Hm, I'd bet it was more the muscles than the fighting," Jessie speculated.
"It was both," said Aeris. "I had such a crush on him growing up."
"You never told me that," said Zack.
"I didn't want you getting your feelings hurt," said Aeris. "He is very pretty."
Zack opened his mouth as if to protest, but instead he shrugged. "Well... Yeah."
The gym was a huge building with a sign out front loudly proclaiming MEN MEN MEN in Wutain characters. Not exactly the most inviting for people who weren't, Yuffie thought wryly, but they all went in anyway.
A muscular woman in a tight dress stood in front of a mirror at the far end of the room, just slipping her foot into a high heel. On seeing them in the mirror behind her, she turned and exclaimed "Cloud!" in a voice that Yuffie would normally have pegged as a man's, and suddenly she was the weirdest combination of confused and excited. She had no idea what this person was. Maybe neither?
"Hey, Jules," said Cloud, scratching his head. "You're looking good."
"Of course," Jules replied confidently. "And you brought all kinds of friends. Who's the rude one?"
"Huh?" said Yuffie, realizing he(?) was looking at her.
"I am not!" she protested reflexively. Some of the others threw her skeptical looks, and she fidgeted. "It's just... uh... I mean, are you trans?"
"Bold," said Jules, raising both eyebrows. "No, I'm not. I just don't think it's fair if only women get to wear beautiful things. I look just as good in a skirt as they do." He flipped his hair back over his shoulder, and then he regarded Yuffie thoughtfully. "But y'know, it's an eye-opening experience for some."
"It sure is," said Aeris.
"I don't think that's what he meant, Aeris," said Zack.
"Plenty of guys in the community are gonna be at the party," Jules went on. "I can introduce you... assuming anybody's going to introduce me."
Cloud sheepishly went on to make introductions, while Yuffie threw a glance at Vincent. She couldn't read his expression, but Jessie caught her eye and winked. Was this why she'd wanted to drag him down here? Yuffie couldn't imagine him ever having any kind of 'community.'
Yuffie couldn't imagine what it looked like at all.
"Well, the lot of you are not dressed for a party," Jules observed, "but since I'm betting AVALANCHE is a big part of the reason we're having it, I'll excuse you."
"Where's it at, anyway?" Zack wondered. "I didn't see anybody headed over to the bar."
"Mukki's hosting, over at the Honey Bee."
"Uhhh," said Wedge, glancing at Yuffie and then looking to Jessie. "Are we sure that's okay?"
Zack ran a hand through his hair. "Come on, Wedge, you know it's not... that anymore."
"Yeah, it is," said Cloud.
"Oh, come on," said Yuffie. She turned to look at all of them, planting her hands on her hips. "I'm seventeen, not a baby! What, is it one of those places where people do hard drugs?"
"It's a brothel," Jules stated matter-of-factly.
"Sometimes there's drugs," Zack added helpfully, and Cloud threw him a look.
A brothel? They were having a party in a brothel? Okay, that wasn't so easy to shrug off. She didn't want to be somewhere where that stuff was going on. It was bad enough seeing her friends get all mushy with each other.
"No one's supposed to be working today," said Jules. "And since it's not for business, they're probably not gonna come onto a kid."
"Someone might," Aeris said brightly, giving her an encouraging pat on the shoulder.
"Yeah, like they'd have a chance," Yuffie managed, hurriedly finding her way back to her usual bravado. She could always leave if something gross happened, but she wasn't going to let the idea of it faze her. She was not a kid.
They backtracked the few blocks back towards the south entrance, then took a side street down to a building absolutely plastered with the tackiest signs Yuffie had ever seen. They weren't even all lit, but weird pink bees with women's heads hovered on either side of a sign naming it the Honey Bee Inn, along with the outlines of a whole lot of hearts.
Someone had hung a bunch of balloons to one side of the door, and it was the first time Yuffie had ever thought balloons looked mature.
Inside, the decor was overwhelmingly gold, from the wall paint to the lighting to some kind of mural in the tiles beneath their feet. There were too many people for her to make out the image, and maybe that was a good thing.
As they entered, some middle-aged musclehead with no shirt and a big moustache lifted an arm to wave enthusiastically. "Jules! Zack! Get over here."
"Mukki, hey!" Zack called back, and Yuffie took that for her cue to slip away from her friends before they could go around introducing her to people. It wasn't her style; she'd rather get the lay of the place and find the food first. Then maybe she could decide if anyone seemed cool enough to be worthy of knowing her.
The place was crowded, and appearances varied even more wildly than Yuffie had seen in the rest of Midgar. Some people were, like Jules, dressed for a party, with tight dresses and leather jackets, and some people were in a state of undress that Yuffie didn't want to look at too hard. There was dyed hair spiked high enough to rival Cloud's, and the smell of hair product and perfume hung in the air. The music wasn't loud, but the conversation was.
Because of the nature of the venue, the party wound up compartmentalized. Most of the doors off the lobby stood wide open into different rooms. People stood in knots of conversation or sat cross-legged together on beds that Yuffie was not touching.
She found the food set up on some tables in the dressing room in the back, and that felt a little safer. She picked over her options, avoiding any of the seafood, and listened to the chatter behind her. Most of it was pleasantly mundane. Someone had been putting up his uncle from Sector 3 for the past few days, and he was relieved the old man and his smelly feet would be headed home today. Someone else was talking about some amateur theatre group and how they'd settled on some production that could really make use of the forced ambiance of the daily brownouts.
Loud laughter drew her attention to a group seated together around the vanity mirrors on the far side of the room. There was something about them that stood out, and Yuffie stood puzzling it over as she popped some kind of sticky bun into her mouth.
There were six of them, most of them in their twenties or maybe thirties, she thought, except for one older woman who sat dead in their midst. At least, Yuffie thought she was a woman. She would've been hard-pressed to say for sure about a couple of the others, so she wondered if she could be getting it wrong, like she had with Jules. They all seemed really at ease, but a couple people chatting at the food table to her left made it hard to catch what they were talking about.
She missed Jules coming in until she felt his hand clap down on her shoulder. "Looks like you already beat me back here, huh?"
"Wha?" Yuffie said around a mouthful, shrugging out from under his hand.
He gestured to the group by the vanities. "Said I'd introduce you, didn't I?"
"Well-- Hang on..." she protested, but Jules was already waving to catch their attention, and his hand against her back nudged her closer. She swallowed the last of the sticky bun and went along with it, frowning.
"Oh, who let you in, sweetheart?" asked the older woman before Jules could say anything.
"I am not your sweetheart," Yuffie retorted reflexively.
"Hey, cool it," Jules told her. "This rude little punk's one of Cloud's friends. Name's Yuffie."
Yuffie didn't warm up much with that introduction, but the group brightened with interest. "Cloud?" asked a smartly-dressed person who might have been a man. "Does that mean you're with AVALANCHE?"
"...yeah, that's right," she answered.
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Yuffie. I'm Flick. And don't mind Gaz, she calls everyone 'sweetheart.' It's practically meaningless."
Yuffie started to relax, and Jules went on to introduce the rest of the group to her. She listened carefully for pronouns, but not everyone came with any on the first go-around.
"So Yuffie," said Gaz, "exactly how close did we all come to utter annihilation yesterday? The news just said the No. 5 got damaged during a confrontation with Shinra, but I bet you know all the juicy details."
The question caught her off-guard, and for a second, Yuffie felt bad again. Everybody at this weird party must've spent all day yesterday bracing for the worst, unable to do anything about it. And they knew exactly what the worst looked like: it was just over the wall.
But things were okay now, and the tone of Gaz's voice was all gossip. She wanted a story.
"Oh, super close," said Yuffie. "The Shinra actually got their bomb all the way inside, and there must've been like 5 seconds left on the clock when Jessie disarmed it." She glanced towards the door, but there was no way she would've been able to spot Jessie wherever she was. "And she wouldn't've been able to get in there to do that if I hadn't been there. I cleared the path and everything, y'know, boom, bang!"
She was only exaggerating her role a little bit, and nobody called her out on it, even though she caught a few smiles that looked more amused than impressed.
"Good thing you were there then," said one of the younger women who'd been introduced as Xinyi. There was no trace of accent in her voice and she'd probably never so much as been to Wutai, but Yuffie gave her a nod like it was one of her own recognizing her work. Maybe she'd heard stories of the prowess of Wutain ninja from her family, or something.
"So how'd you get involved with AVALANCHE anyway?" Flick wondered. "I haven't seen you around with Cloud or Zack before."
"Oh please, I recruited Zack," she said, which was also close enough to being true, she figured. "I've been going around doing important stuff, keeping on top of what Shinra's been up to and everything."
"Keeping on top of Shinra?" repeated the person named Dagny.
"You're not saying you've been around Junon, are you?" Jules wondered, sounding impressed.
Yuffie lifted her chin. "All the way inside."
"Is it crazy over there?" asked Xinyi. "I can't figure on what they must be thinking, coming after us like this when we're already beat to hell."
"Mm, I mean, it's crazy like Midgar used to be crazy, I guess," Yuffie decided. "Shinra's got 'em all brainwashed thinking stuff like yesterday is the work of AVALANCHE and they're tryin' to stop Midgar from tearing itself apart. Y'know, like... with Sector 7."
They all nodded seriously.
"That was a tough pill to swallow," said Flick. "But after what happened with Corneo..."
"Who's Corneo?" Yuffie asked.
"He used to be in charge around here," Gaz explained. "He wasn't Shinra, but he was cozy with them. He and his goons knew about Shinra's plans for Sector 7, and not all of them kept their mouths shut. After everything went down, Shinra soldiers showed up. Corneo just disappeared, but they arrested a whole bunch of his lackeys. Pulled some of 'em right out of the Honey Bee."
"And good riddance," added Dagny.
It was at that point that Yuffie made a realization. "Do you guys... work here?"
"Sure, most of us," Flick confirmed. "You didn't know?"
"Well, I don't know." Yuffie shifted her weight uncomfortably. She'd never really thought about what kind of people prostitutes were when they weren't doing gross stuff, but these guys definitely didn't fit her mental image. "I thought places like this were mostly... I mean... you know, women?"
Flick shrugged. "It's true our clientele is mostly men who're mostly into women, but we get all kinds. More so since Mukki took over management."
"Flick is only mostly a man himself," Dagny added jokingly.
"You mean, like Jules?" Yuffie asked, glancing up at him with furrowed brows.
"No, not like me, kiddo," said Jules, and his gentle tone almost made her overlook him calling her a kid again. The others picked up on it, something shifting in the way they looked at her.
"You know the difference, right?" Flick asked her. "Between looking the part and feeling it."
She hesitated. "...yeah, I think so. But, I'm not sure what you mean about being mostly a man?"
"Well, today I'm a man. Some days, I'm a woman. I just roll with it, you know?"
Yuffie thought about that for a minute. She wasn't sure she got it exactly, but if it was about how you felt... Could gender be like a mood, something that changed from day to day? That was what Flick made it sound like.
"Is there a word for that?" she asked.
"Sure," said Flick. "We call it 'genderfluid.'"
Gaz smiled at her. "You looking for your own word, sweetheart?"
It took her a minute to find Vincent. She knew exactly where to look, and the place was pretty well-lit, but there just weren't any out-of-the-way corners with no people. She spotted him back in the lobby, stationed against the wall near the door, watching the partygoers with his usual stoicism.
"Vinny," she said excitedly. "Vinny, there's a word for it. You know, the whole none-of-the-above thing? They call it 'nonbinary.'"
Vincent didn't look at her. She huffed in annoyance, and she was about to call him out on it when she realized maybe he didn't look entirely stoic.
"You okay?" she asked.
"They're so... obvious."
Yuffie followed his glance. Cloud was talking to some shirtless guy--a shirtless guy with scars on his chest.
"I knew one other person like me, before," Vincent went on. "We barely spoke."
"I don't think this's exactly your scene either," Yuffie commented.
"No," he agreed. "But, it would have been affirming, just to know about it."
Given her experience of five minutes ago, Yuffie could totally get that. Not that she needed anyone to validate who she was, but it was nice somehow to know that she wasn't the only person in the entire world who felt like that. Apparently Vincent hadn't really had that, and it made her kind of impressed with him for once. He'd been sure enough to do the whole thing on his own.
"Better late than never?" she offered.
"...yes. I suppose so."
"Y'know, there's at least one old person here like you," she said. "You could like, go and reminisce or whatever."
Vincent didn't reply.
"Maybe they know how you're feeling, is what I'm saying."
"I know." Finally, he looked at her. "Thank you, Yuffie."
"Look, we're uh... I mean, this is our thing, right? We gotta look out for each other."
Vincent nodded. "So... Nonbinary, is it?"
"Yeah. Kinda cool, right?"
"It suits you. You would never care to be pinned down by one thing or another."
Yuffie wasn't going to say it, but that was the moment she decided to promote Vincent from total weirdo to weirdo friend, because maybe they did kind of get each other, sometimes.
And maybe Midgar wasn't wholly depressing after all. There were one or two things that, in spite of everything, had managed to thrive here, and they'd be worth checking up on now and again, when she felt like it.