Tarnished Side Chapter 5

By Janet Monstwillo

Wall Market had the creepy atmosphere that had become almost synonymous with underplate life. Rude could never walk through the place without getting chills down his spine. Though both his father and older brother died in Shinra's epic loss, part of him remained thankful. That loss had set back the company enough for him to have grown up seeing the sun.

(Every village covered by this floating hell would have been reduced to this. That's why Shinra must be stopped. Our home must remain inhabitable.)

The stern man peeked over his trademark sunglasses, keeping a silent guard over a shop, as the others picked out dresses. That was his part in this mission, to resist the delectable ladies of the night, in order to make sure no unexpected guests disturbed their infiltration of the Don's.

A pale hand suddenly appeared in the doorway of the shop, beckoning him. A pretty face soon followed, with burgundy eyes winking and a sweet smile gracing, as Tifa peeked around the side of the doorjamb. "We're ready," she called.

Rude kept his face blank until she disappeared inside. Sometimes he wished Zack hadn't made his affection for Tifa quite so obvious. (It hurts too much to even pretend she is attainable.)

Glancing around once more to make sure things were safe, Rude stepped inside the shop.


"Ta da!" The first thing that caught his eye was Tifa striking a pose. Her long, dark hair had been woven into a braid, which circled her head like a crown. Light blue satin shimmered around her; the tank dress hugged her curves just enough to tease, while displaying little cleavage and ending sensibly, just above the knee.

"Hold still, girlie," squawked the dressmaker's daughter, who was attending to Tifa's scar with a make-up sponge.

"It's a good choice," said Rude nonchalantly. "What about Zack?"

"Oh." Tifa giggled. "Zelda's doing just fine."

"No, I'm not," complained a tired-sounding falsetto voice.

"Come show Rudie how be-yoo-tiful you are!"

A scowling Zack emerged from the corner. With the help of a little padding, he had filled out a simple yellow peasant dress. Unstyled, his black hair fell into soft waves, framing his face. A bit of mascara and a touch of rouge...

Rude whistled. "Damn, you clean up well!"

"Shove it, shiny skull."

"Tsk, tsk. That time of the month, Z?" He cracked a small smile. "Seriously man... You've managed to look believable."

"I told you I could handle this." Tifa grinned. "I guess I know what his color is."

"Where's Jess?"

"She changed her mind about her dress...again."

A soft voice called out. "I'm good now. Just was worried about how bad I make this dress look, once it's on me."

She walked in from the changing room, green-blue eyes fixed on the floor, biting her lower lip. Her dark blue dress was long and elegant. A plunging neckline was made decent by a gauzy overlay. Only one syllable came to Rude's mind as he appreciated how the dress showed off her figure.

And Zack uttered it. "Wow."

"Didn't think I could do the dress this much injustice, huh?" She fidgeted nervously, a finger twirling a bit of her hair.

"Honey, you're a shoo-in!" exclaimed Tifa. "You should let your hair down more...I can't believe how full it is."

Jessie turned to Rude. "As I figured, not even a nod of approval from you."

Tifa smiled and said, "What do you expect from our resident stoic?" Grabbing "Zelda's" arm, the two of them headed out the door.

"Thank you for everything!" Jessie cheerfully shook the hands of the dressmaker and his daughter, before they gathered the discarded clothing to store in the back. "We should go now, too," she said softly.

Rude caught her arm as she turned to leave.

She glanced back at him in confusion, noting that he had removed his trademark sunglasses.

"Why have you been hiding how beautiful you are? Behind the frumpy clothes and headbands and..."

"No use competing with Tifa," she interrupted, a hidden bitterness creeping into her simple words.

"There's no contest," he said softly.

Jessie yanked her arm away. "We have a miss-"

"Zack and Tifa can handle themselves in hand-to-hand combat. If that Corneo gets you in a bad position, just be loud enough for me to hear you."

"I'll be fine." She was blushing at this bizarre outburst of warmth.

"You better be," Rude swore, replacing the sunglasses.

As the two of them walked out the door, Jessie wondered what "that Corneo" was like. (I hope we realize what we're getting ourselves into.)

* * * * * *

"Hands up in the air, come out of there slowly." Tseng pointed a pistol at the red-headed stowaway.

"Daddy!" exclaimed Raieyana.

"I want to know how much and what you heard," Tseng said calmly to Reno.

"Enough to know you had an innocent girl abducted," he sneered. "If I didn't already have Shinra business, I'd take you out."

"I doubt it." The ex-Turk was calm. "You're untrained and very rough around the edges. Ray could take you."

"I don't want to." The girl crossed her arms. "He has a right to be angry if his friend was traded in for me."

"This is not the time nor the place." Tseng lowered his weapon slightly. "I am presumably under their protection and we are just outside the tightest security prison in the world."

"Is that where they took Aeris?" asked Reno.

"Presumably, she's in a science lab."

"Bastards," he muttered.

"I am no Shinraphile at the moment, either. Care to catch a ride back with us? Tell us your story, perhaps?"

Raieyana's face brightened. "That would be cool."

"I think you could help us," said Reno, "but I have to get her back."

"I want to go too!"

Tseng's eyes widened. "No, Raieyana."

"How can you ask me to trade her freedom for mine?"

His voice was stern. "I never asked."

"You can't force me. Give me the gun and I'll go in with him." Father and daughter stood eye-to-eye.

"I'm not giving you the gun." He stepped to the Gelnika and grabbed an exquisite staff from inside.

She took her weapon gratefully. "Thanks, Dad."

"Come back safe." His voice wavered on the last word, but Tseng shook the emotion off. "I'm going to have to leave when those Soldiers return..."

"When we finish, sir, I'll escort her home," Reno promised. (What am I getting myself into?)

"Home is on the completed portion of Upper Junon." He swallowed and handed Reno a plastic card. "This will allow you two access to the elevators within the building. You should get inside before those men return to fly the Gel back."

Reno nodded and headed to the entrance. Quickly wrapping her arms around her father, Raieyana whispered "love you" before trotting off after him.

Tseng slowly entered the aircraft, preparing himself for a departure exactly the same as his arrival. Alone.

* * * * * *

"Our informant said that the headquarters of the terrorists was located under Sector 7."

"What exactly does that mean, Mr. Jordan?" President Shinra folded his hands on his desk.

"Basically, it means what it says," said Reeve, smoothing back his dark hair. "Now all we have to do is place posters around the village, offering a reward for the capture of-"

A feminine laugh drifted into the board room.

"Now, now, it isn't nice to mock the new executive," chided the president.

"I just wonder how he got to be an executive." The woman smiled softly and entered the meeting. She was rather plain, with mousy brown hair, and dressed in a conservative suit.

"He was top of his class, the first year of graduates from our Junon Academy. He did well here...and we need fresh blood to head urban development here in Midgar."

"I suppose promotion has to be harder than it was in my time."

"She's been here since right after the war," the president explained to Reeve. "This is Renee Scarlet, head of our Defense Department."

She held her hand out to the young businessman, who shook it cordially.

"This is Reeve Jordan." The president smiled. "He found a source...that says our enemy is holed up in the slums beneath Sector 7."

"If we weren't so backlogged with construction in that area, I'd say drop the plate, blame it on them, and be done with the whole mess."

Reeve gasped.

Scarlet laughed again and rested a hand on his shoulder. "He's definitely still wet behind the ears. Which gives me an idea..."

The president leaned forward eagerly.

An odd titter escaped from her lips. "Kya ha ha... Well, actually, I've had it up in my mind ever since my agent told me the location of the terrorists..."

Chapter 6

Final Fantasy 7 Fanfic