What Blooms in Winter

by llamajoy

authors note und disclaimer: ever wonder where the cat came from? yeah, me too! square owns the world; these guys aren't mine. *...sigh* i guess there are yaoi implications, but hey, this is me. by now you shouldn't be surprised. ^_# to get you into the holiday spirit...

the climate must be perfect all year
a law was made a distant moon ago here
and there's a legal limit to the snow here--
the snow may never slush upon the hillside
by nine p.m. the moonlight must appear
in short there's simply not
a more congenial spot
for happy ever-aftering...

It was still snowing.

Not surprising, really, considering the grey wool weight of the clouds hovering low over Midgar. Considering the dismal weather forecasts on all radio frequencies, the severe-weather train schedules on both citylevels, the extra plows to clear the roads. He should know; he'd been the one to call the radio stations and arrange for those same emergency vehicles. Such things one must do oneself, when over half one's staff calls out. Stuck at home with drifts of dingy snow piled at their doors, unable or unwilling to risk the trudging commute through slushy streets.

He envied them. But when one spends the night on the couch in one's office, one hardly has reason to call in the next day.

Reeve sighed. Maybe the snow didn't look so bad from up here, from the fifty-seventh floor. Really, it drifted down almost sweetly, lazily crystalline and-- Right. Blindly he shifted the blueprints on his desk, dimly aware of the rustling mess he was making, keeping his eyes always on the snow falling beyond the window. The sky was dreary as it always was, the citylights never quite bright against the sky. And the snow only served to make it damn cold.

Swallowing unpleasant thoughts about ill-planned cities in general and Midgar's ridiculous energy plans in particular, he rolled his chair away from his desk and strode purposefully out of his office. At least there was certainly little enough competition for the coffee dispensed from the vending machine down the hall, and no one in the hallways to notice if he'd left his shoes in the office, toed off underneath his desk. It must have been the temperature that had him walking sock-footed to the elevator, though, because he didn't particularly trust the coffee.

The building was uneasily silent, so many employees holed up at home. Beyond the stairwell he saw only a few stragglers here and there, hurrying through the corridors in an eerie parody of normal working routine. Where WAS everybody?

Oh, for crying out loud. The other executives were probably nursing hot toddies in front of their elaborate fireplaces, feet buried in expensive high-piled fur carpeting.

Maybe he was just cold.

Inconspicuous to curious eyes, the floor thermostat nestled behind the extra-tall potted plant by the elevator seemed to him to gleam with metallic promise. He eased it up another degree and a half. Not too much, he cautioned himself. Only so much to go around these months, and he more than anyone knew the state of those confounded reactors. Well... He upped it another whole notch, rubbing his palms against his slacks to warm them. Happy holidays.

It was about three-thirty in the afternoon, if he had to guess, when he heard it. Drifting languidly down from some floor above... music? He blinked abstractedly at the chart of org numbers he was trying to puzzle through-- honestly, did anyone know how to balance their books these days?-- and looked up.

Hmph. Some highlevel punk temp thought he could take advantage of the snowday and blast his music. Technically he could call them on it, walk up there and politely request a reasonable reduction of decibels, but he really hadn't lasted as long as he had by drawing attention to himself. He reached to turn on his own radio, to block the noise--

And recognized the awful din from upstairs as The ShinRa Official Company Song. He groaned, resisting the urge to crawl under the heaps of paper on his desk and hide.

The company holiday party. The one he'd gotten that belated email invitation to, the one that would be scheduled for the most miserable day all year. The one with Scarlet's infamous laced eggnog and Palmer's long-winded anecdotes and President ShinRa's stirring company speech.

The one he had no excuse not to be attending right now.

He didn't even realize he was already tightening his tie, straightening his tucked-in shirttails, absent-mindedly shuffling papers. Such was the power of company loyalty.

He was rummaging underneath his desk for his other shoe when there came a knock at his door.

The door was open, of course; he kept it that way out of old habit. If one would make oneself accessible, a bolted door that reads only "SECRETARY URBAN DEV" is not very inviting. So, whoever it was standing in his doorway got a prime view of him bumping his head on the underside of his desk and fumbling ungracefully for his balance and his shoe.

"Wow... Don't think I've ever been in here, before." Reeve heard the voice before he maneuvered out from underneath his desk, heard the eggnog talking perhaps most of all. So he was surprised that the slurred, jovial voice belonged to a lanky red-headed Turk, one whom he had only ever seen looking coolly professional and mildly frightening.

"Reno?" Reeve realized how surprised he sounded, realized he still had his shoe in his hand. Hastily he shoved it on, but the Turk in question was apparently watching the snow fall outside the window and didn't even notice.

"Nice office, sir," he said appreciatively, and the 'sir' was certainly an afterthought. He must be very drunk, Reeve thought, to be socializing with me. Hands shoved into his rumpled pants pockets, Reno walked abstractedly around Reeve's office, as if he'd never seen bookshelves full of binders and manuals, or a drafting table scattered with blueprints, or a decent couch.

"Oh, what's this?" Mild appraisal became definite curiosity, as the redhead swiveled to that drafting table and squinted a bit too closely for Reeve's comfort at the plans lying there.

"Um, I don't think I should--"

Another set of footsteps in the doorway startled them both.

"Excuse me," a new voice said, impassively. "Is he bothering you? Apologies, Reeve-san. May I collect this idiot?"

Reeve, grateful for the interruption, and faced with two out of three of the most dangerous people he knew, thought he'd try bemused and sympathetic. "Scarlet's eggnog?"

To his surprise, Rude cracked a smile. At least he thought it was a smile; it might have been a facial twitch, for as long as it lasted. "I'm here to keep him on track," he nodded his head once. "The Vice President was wondering if you could run an errand for him-- as the only executive not yet at the party," he added, and Reeve tried to hide his dismay. As if he had a choice, late to the company party and-- they certainly were short-staffed if they sent Turks to fetch him.

"Aw, but Rude, you should look at these--" Reno, already meandering to Rude's side, waved a vague hand in the direction of the drawing table.

Reeve coughed. "I'd be happy to-- do whatever the VP requests," he shrugged, with a nervous half-smile, surreptitiously stepping between Reno and those blueprints.

Rude nodded approval, and Reno narrowed his eyes, seeming fully aware of what Reeve was doing. Then he seemed to shrug, one casual lift of an insolent slender shoulder. "Don't envy you, Mr. Secretary. He wants you to--"

Interrupting evenly, Rude went on, "Your fellow executives seem to have run out of... refreshments. To keep the peace, Rufus wants to restock."

Looking as if he were used to being talked over, Reno grinned at him from behind Rude's shoulder. "He means that Scarlet et al. need more booze if they're gonna stay happy. You shoulda seen Heidegger's secretary trying to keep him off the--"

"I'll go," Reeve said quickly, shrugging into his coat and herding them to his door. He was suddenly eager to be out of his office, out of the building, out of the whole complicated diplomatic tangle that was Shinra. "I've got some funds on the account card for Urban Dev; just tell me what I need to get."

Outside, it was colder than he'd thought, though he wasn't sure what he'd been expecting.

He hunched his shoulders, trying to avoid the cut of the wind, his lips stinging with the cold. Ooh, he didn't envy anyone working outside today, that was for sure. He thought of some of the newer techs, assigned to emergency generator duty, and wondered if he could get away with upping their overtime salary. Some days, a crazy office job seemed almost appealing--

Until he remembered just why he was out here in the first place. It might be pleasant to avoid the drawing-room politics for just a little longer, and a blast of wintry air down his collar didn't seem so daunting, compared to a room crowded with high alcohol-content hobnobbing. Rubbing elbows with some of the higher-ups, at the best of times, tended to be an unpleasant occasion. Out here, at least his elbows were buried under three layers of wool and flannel.

Still, he hunkered down into his scarf and wished he were home.

Something caught his attention, a shadow at the corner of his eye, something moving even in a moment when the wind stilled. Reflexively, he turned--

A little black kitten with a white face, a smudge in the snow. Watching him with eyes a color he couldn't name.

It didn't look hungry in the slightest, only cold. He guessed that scraps were easily forthcoming in the busy city streets; any self-respecting cat could fend for itself out of the alleyway garbage cans of a deli, or a coffee shop.

But the cat was following him, walking only in his deep boot footprints in the gathering snow.

For three blocks, to and from the liquor store, it shadowed him, shying back with half cat-steps whenever he would turn back to look at it. What a picture we make, he thought. He could just hear his coworkers derisive laughter, snickering into their mittens. Well, let them laugh. Since when had he had a public image to maintain, anyway?

Finally he knelt, cocking his head to one side and making encouraging noises.

It eyed him with complete disdain, and he almost laughed. "Fine, then, Mr. Cat," he said. "I won't feed you the takeout leftover from lunch."

When, as a last gesture of goodwill, he held out his hand, it leapt at him.

With a little yelp he stumbled back, landing on his backside in the snow. Of all the-- now there was a purring kitten at his neck, nuzzling and trying to squirm itself bodily underneath his scarf. He did laugh, then, at the ludicrous position he found himself in-- soggy in the slush, with an overenthusiastic kitten firmly entrenched on his shoulder. Damn, but those tiny claws were sharp-- they went right through his coat. Little thing was not to be shaken.

"Let's go somewhere warm, ne?," he said, not really realizing that he was talking aloud. Picking up the heavy bag of company liquor and careful of the small warm body at his neck, he dusted as much of the snow off himself as he could. Still, he could feel an icy trickle into his boots, making his socks a misery.

But trailing his booted way back through the snow, he was entertained by the swipe of tiny white-footed paws, darting out from his scarf to bat the juicy passing snowflakes-- and he forgot to notice the cold quite as much as he thought he would.

He was glad, for once, for his instinct to double-check things, to have backups and spares for every plan. His colleagues may have called him overzealous-- but it was worth it, more than worth it, to find a clean, blessedly dry change of clothes back in his office.

More than once he'd spent the night, and he'd learned the hard way what a drag it could be working in the same clothes for two days in a row. And there were people on his floor who would notice that sort of thing, of course. Gossip, naturally, always gossip. Secretary of Urban Dev wearing the same tie, two days in a row... all nonsense.

He found thick, warm, dry socks and the world was a happier place.

The kitten mewled softly, inching its way down his coat and eyeing its new surroundings suspiciously.

"This is where I work," he explained, rationally, not feeling odd in the slightest. The brown paper bag was so full that it sank down a little into the couch when he set it down. "And eat," he added dryly, rubbing his tired shoulder, "and, lately, sleep..."

It paused in the act of sniffing the arm of the couch, and tilted its pointed feline head at him, unblinking.

"Hey," he said, defensively, lifting his hands. "I only--" Then he realized just with whom he was trying to reason, and gave up, laughing. "Fine, cat, make yourself at home."

He didn't realize how quickly the little animal would take it to heart, however, and watched amazed as the kitten, with a flying pounce, deftly subdued the flowcharts on his desk. Obviously seeing imminent threat in such menacing papers, it batted determinedly, until the Sector 7 spreadsheets slid off the blackmetal surface and splashed dryly into the neatly stacked piles of Sectors 4 and 1. Neatly stacked no longer, and the kitten looked supremely self-satisfied.

"Thanks," he said, and meant it. "I've wanted to do that a few times, myself."

It meowed at him, blinking its luminous eyes slowly. As if to say, 'of course.' As it prowled territorially over his desk, it walked deliberately over his laptop, two feline footprints on the right keys powering it down.

He shook his head, wondering. "You're the best company I've had all week. Here." He was breaking off pieces from last lunch's cold eggroll onto the desk, wondering if Wutai might not be the best cuisine for a kitten. But it stalked the proffered treat gleefully, wiggling its tail and taking an experimental spring before devouring its prey. He had to lunge for the laptop, so it didn't fall off the desk-- but there was no harm done.

Reeve wasn't looking forward to taking the liquor to the party; he could tell by how long he kept putting off going. Already it was growing dark outside, the snow-heavy clouds getting dense. Surely closing time would call a halt to the festivities. Just a few more minutes, he thought, and they won't even remember that I'm not there. Right. Worth a try.

He had barely sighed and sat down on the couch before his lap was decidedly claimed. The kitten, seeing an available surface to seek the ever-elusive nap, forgot all about sticking its nose in his wastepaper basket. Two smooth, quick curling turns, the white-tipped tail tickling his arms, and the small head nestled against his belt buckle.

Something abruptly made sense, and Reeve's eyes flicked over to his designing table-- making a mental note to adjust those blueprints just a smidge. Why bother with a complicated design when simple can be just as effective?

He didn't realize he was smiling, even when the little warm ball of black and white fur closed its eyes and began to purr.

"Now," he mused, "you need a name."

The kitten stirred only to stretch a languid paw to bat at his tie. He laughed outright, until a one-eyed glare of protest from the occupant on his lap forced him to sit still. "All right," he conceded, and loosened the tie. "But you still need a name, Cat."

It opened its other eye, seeming to consider. Again he was struck with the odd color of its eyes, not quite golden, not quite silver. Some mysterious inbetween sort of shade, with those slender cat-irises that made its gaze seem wiser.

"Snowflake," he said, knowing it wouldn't do, mostly wanting to watch the cat's disapproval. He got a thighful of claws for his trouble, though the low thrum of its purr did not stop. "Okay, okay. Not Snowflake... Shadow?"

The other front paw flexed and he raised a hand in defeat. "Fine. You tell me, then."

"Who are you-- talking to?"

"Ah..." He fumbled as it occurred to him he hadn't the foggiest notion of ShinRa policies on in-office animals. But as his eyes flicked guiltily to his lap, he realized the cat was nowhere to be seen. Heh. Effectively removing itself from a sticky situation. I only wish, he thought. Reeve found himself grinning as he turned towards the door, waving a hand and not working too hard to maintain the general impression of absent-mindedness. "Oh, myself," he said, "I just--"

His voice deserted him, and it was all he could do to clear his throat. Maybe he'd thought it was Rude and Reno again, or Heidegger's secretary, or maybe Ramuh in a chocobo costume-- he just hadn't been expecting a young man with golden hair and painfully blue eyes.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Secretary, I don't suppose we've been introduced yet," he said coolly. "I've just come to pick up the refreshments I've been told that you procured?"

"Yes," he said, in a fair imitation of his usual voice, standing to lift the bag from the other side of the couch. "Yes, I did-- the Vice President's request-- I mean, I'm sorry I haven't made it yet. I was just--" he cast around for a lie, any lie, and couldn't quite find one. What he settled on was mostly truth. "Thinking about some last-minute blueprints I've been working on."

The young man's eyes narrowed, no less blue. Reeve wondered briefly how he knew which corner of the office to look in, those eyes resting discretely on those exact design papers. "Ah. The covert surveillance assignment? Yes, I heard Tseng mention it."

The corner of Reeve's mouth twitched. He was about to ask some damn fool question like, say, "how the hell did you know that," but he certainly hadn't majored in Engineering because of a poor grasp of Logic. He swallowed. "Sir," he said, and had to start again. Company rhetoric was always easy enough to fall back on. "I apologize for the delay in complying with your orders."

He smiled, the young man did, a knife's edge slip of sunshine across his golden face, and his eyes were sharp, appreciative. "It's all right," he waved a hand, casual, precise. "My father and his officers enjoy getting drunk for the holiday; I cannot blame you simply because you do not wish to join them."

Reeve felt his ears reddening, but the Vice President was dismissive. "Here, let me." He reached out to take the laden bag from Reeve's arms--

--and stopped, half-way, an unguarded look of surprise on his face.

The kitten was twining around his legs, distinctly black against the trim white suit. Reeve, liquor forgotten in his arms, was thinking, oh well, I never liked working here anyway, really--

"A kitten?"

--though it's too bad about the raise I would have gotten three months from now, and I did kinda start to get good at this stuff, I guess I won't miss Heidegger's stupid laugh or Scarlet's lewd emails or--

He almost didn't notice the other man's grin.

"I-- sir?"

Crouching on his heels, one slim hand playing with the fur behind the kitten's ears, the Vice President looked up at Reeve with laughter in his eyes. "I realize most apartments around here have a no-animals restriction, but I'd never thought to bring one to the office."

Giving me way too much credit, Reeve thought but naturally did not say. He fidgeted with his hair. "Well, I'm here more often than I'm home these days, anyway."

"What's his name?" he asked, his hand now working its way down the muscled little back, bemused at the lift of the kittenish tail.

Reeve was about to confess that he didn't know, but at that moment the cat-- head tilted up greedily into the caresses it was receiving-- looked at him. Suddenly he remembered a story he'd heard as a child, of the faery cats of the hollow hills, the fey ones with the wild eyes and enigmatic smiles. Never quite to be trusted.

"Cat-- cat-sidhe," Reeve said, tongue twisting on the unfamiliar island words. "His name is Cait Sith."

"Hello, Cait Sith," he said, his voice lilting and foreign for a second, pronouncing it perfectly. "I'm Rufus."

Reeve found himself bridling at the odd behavior. He introduces himself to my cat, but not to me? But the little black and white head lifted and looked not at Rufus, but at him, and blinked his eyes, contented. Reeve found a silly grin creeping to his lips, and the office seemed to get a little cozier, a little warmer.

"I'm sure he's glad to make your acquaintance," Reeve said humorously, feeling bold, "as am I."

"Ah yes." Rufus seemed to remember himself, and straightened and stood, inclining his head just a little-- of course, as befitting a higher-ranked individual.

Still, Reeve didn't feel a bit put in his place. "Your apartment have a rule against them, too?" he offered, intrigued and feeling uncharacteristically inclined towards conversation.

He was glad to see that the Vice President's smile was less strained, less stiffly polite. "Well, yes, in a fashion. You see, my lover doesn't like cats very much. Though I enjoy their company."

Reeve might have felt a twinge of jealousy. Of course this shining youth had to have a lover, and as powerful as he was? It was not a surprise. But--

"Rufus-sama, your father requests your presence."

They both started, though Rufus not as noticeably. Just within the doorway, long dark hair and immovable dark eyes, stood the head of the Turks. "He has sent me to find you, Rufus-sama."

"Too long out of his sight, I suppose," Rufus said with barely disguised sarcasm. He looked at his hands, as if wondering what he'd been doing just now, as if just now realizing that he was in Reeve's office, standing at ease by the couch. "Well, I appreciate his concern. Thank you, Tseng."

Maybe it was the unearthly timing, or maybe something fey and feline moved over him-- but Reeve felt suddenly cold, and did not miss the look that passed between them.

Nor did he miss the fact that Cait Sith had vanished, nowhere to be found.

Does President ShinRa know you're sleeping with your bodyguard, Mr. Vice President?

Reeve managed to lift the long-awaited liquor and hand it over to Rufus, but he must have held some of his mistrust in his eyes, for Tseng intercepted, taking the offering in his own hands. His voice was cold. "We thank you, Reeve-san, for your contributions to the company." And with a practiced turn of his shoulder, he shadowed Rufus out the door.

What a bitch of a way not to be invited to the party, he thought, and belatedly realized that it was full dark outside, the falling snow a barely visible grey. He thought maybe the whole thing had been his overactive imagination. It seemed to him that Rufus might have wanted to say something, before he walked into the hallway.

Of course not.

Or maybe he'd wanted to properly bid farewell to the cat.

It made him want to laugh, or hit something. Nothing made any sense, these days, and it must have been the cold that made his chest ache so.

Well, at least he'd managed to keep his job.

Cait Sith was waiting for him in his coat pocket, and he couldn't help laughing aloud. "No, no, I won't go home without you, Cait. Seems you're the only friend I've got, these days."

The kitten's only response was to climb to his neck and sit demurely on his collar, waiting to be wrapped beneath his scarf.

And he wondered again, as he walked out under the dense clouds and dodged the blowing snowflakes, if it was all his imagination.


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