Splat! Autumn’s lips curled into a pout as the top of her ice cream cone hit the cobblestone road and started melting into the cracks. She looked around for the person that had bumped into her but the courtyard around the fountain was bustling with foot traffic and the party responsible was probably long gone by now. It served her right for not paying attention to where she was going.
It was a nice day and her thoughts drifted to her first assignment as a turk. As a young woman she'd been asked to patrol this sector. Autumn couldn’t help thinking it was a bit of a joke. Nobody was brazen enough to cause any real trouble up here on the plate. Still, it seemed to affect a lot of new recruits. A little taste of the good life went a long way with some people.
Autumn had been coming here since she was a child. Her mother’s favorite bakery was just around the corner. In fact, it was probably time she stopped messing around with street vendors and got to her destination. It was her mother’s birthday and she needed to pick up a package from the bakery; a box of a dozen perfect pink cupcakes.
The smell of fresh baked bread was always nostalgic; a scent tied to a happy childhood. Leonhardt took a moment to himself, taking the time to stare down at the pasties locked away behind chilled glass. The devil cupcake on his shoulder tried to coax the ex-SOLDIER into buying some, but his thinning wallet was saying otherwise. Besides, this purchase wasn’t for him. He straightened himself and faced the baker behind, who failed to hide an audible gulp when making eye contact.
“Fresh bread. Three loafs.”
His voice was deep but clear, one could almost feel the bass in their chest. He placed a small bag of gill on the counter. Should be enough. He wanted to surprise the Neighborhood Watch, and they had earned something more than two-day old bread. Hard as a rock. Not even the monsters in the scrap yard would eat it.
Lost in his own thoughts, he sighed audibly. He put his hands in his pocket and and waited patiently, occasionally throwing a side eye at those pasties. He put his hood up to act as a blinder, in hopes of keeping himself from making an impulse buy.
Post by Autumn Nevada on Apr 19, 2020 14:47:31 GMT
A little bell chimed on the door as Autumn pushed her way into the cozy Life’s Dream bakery. She made her way past several people who were waiting for their orders and leaned in over the counter to get the sales person’s attention.
“Excuse me.” She smiled as she caught the eye of the mousy teenage girl that was running the place at the moment. “I have an order for pickup. Should be under Nevada.”
The girl nodded and went into the back, presumably to grab Autumn’s order.
Autumn backed up a little to wait and bumped into what felt like a wall. She glanced over her shoulder at a broad chest and then up towards the face of a rather imposing and suspiciously hooded figure.
“Sorry buddy! Didn’t see you there.” She blushed a little and averted her gaze. Looking at his feet, she noticed the standard issue Shin-Ra boots and was immediately put at ease.
Autumn scurried back to the counter as the young girl returned with the box and placed it on the counter. She opened it up and marveled at the creativity and skill. Each cupcake was uniquely posh.
“Thank you.” She chimed in a sing-song voice as she struggled with the foldable box. She was about to go when the girl placed a smaller box, big enough for a single cupcake, on top of her order. “Uh… What’s this?” Autumn asked as she attempted to balance her various purchases. The tiny box seemed precarious.
A baker’s dozen? Autumn sighed. It sucked that she had to worry about it but there was a good chance someone would try to rob her on the train ride home and she needed a free hand. She watched the girl bring out some loaves of bread for the big guy and got an idea. She exited the shop, waiting for him to come outside.
"Hey Soldier! Do you want a free cupcake?" Autumn smiled and held out the little box for him to take.
Customers had come and gone since his arrival; you just can’t rush good bread. Each time the little bell rang, Leonhardt to glance over, tilting his head enough to alter the shape of the hood so his sideways glance could peek at the newest arrival. He couldn’t tell if it was hyper-vigilance or paranoia, but it was beaten into every SOLIDER. The newest arrival, however, seemed to raise the hair on the back of his neck. Maybe it wasn’t so bad.
He watched her without moving his head, trying to appear as if he was just waiting for his order. Acting natural. A task that always becomes more difficult when a predator enters a prey’s space. The fact that she had placed an order for pick-up helped to ease the internal tension. His closed his eyes for a moment, when bump.
“Sorry buddy! Didn’t see you there.”
His blue, mako-infused eyes shot open and were met with a reddened face looking up at him. She looked away quickly, seemingly embarrassed, but seemed to relax after a moment. A strange predator, to be sure.
Her presence would only need to be tolerated a few moments more. Eventually, the baker brought out her order, but she seemed to linger. His order had arrived not long after. She was watching him. It was time to go, but running would only make things worse.
A small trembling hand held out a paper bag with three, baguette-like loafs. He took the bag in hand while leaving a tip on the counter as thanks. It was here when Leonhardt noticed she was gone, the little bell being the only indicator of her departure. Once settled, he stepped out of the store to find that woman was still there, seemingly waiting for him.
"Hey Soldier! Do you want a free cupcake?"
To say that that Leonhardt was caught off would be an mistake. It took most of his willpower to not reach for his weapon and defend himself from an assault cupcake. He took a moment to let the sudden spike of adrenaline melt away, to think, as he shifting his gaze from the little white box to the unknown redhead in front of him. Was she Shin-Ra or a fangirl? No, most fan clubs were for the First Class. She had to be some kind of employee, an enemy.
He said, his voice a bassy monotone, as he walked passed in the direction of the train station.
Post by Autumn Nevada on Apr 19, 2020 22:28:54 GMT
“Oh! Ok.” Autumn nodded more to herself than anyone else as the man had already rejected her offer and was walking away. She figured he must really hate cupcakes. Maybe too many sweets made him sick. Did SOLDIERs have special diets they had to follow? Now that she thought about it she was sure they did. Autumn felt pretty bad about tempting him with the cupcake.
She headed off in the direction of the train station which happened to be the way that the man from the bakery was going. She kept a polite distance of about ten feet between them for a few blocks. She thought he would turn off the path eventually but as they neared the station it became clear that his destination was the same as hers.
“Hey!” She chuckled as she stepped onto the platform, “Fancy meeting you here. I’m sorry for bothering you again. I’m just headed to a party in Sector 5.”
She leaned forwards to peek down the tracks in the direction that the train would be coming but there was no sign of it yet.
The streets of Sector 8 were always bustling, though the types of crowds attracted changed with the dawn and dusk. During the day, the crowds were looking to finish errands or have friendly chats at local cafes. These were a carefree people, oblivious or apathetic to the slow-burn death of the world. With a sign, Leonhardt made it a point to invite someone to join him in running errands. Someone who was more chatty then him.
Little the little the density of the crowds became less like ants scurrying around and colony, and more like the oceans in the wave. A sign that he was getting closer and closer to the train station. Suddenly, the prickly feeling of his hair rising at the back of his neck began again. Was he being followed? The woman again? Leonhardt prepared himself for the worse as he stepped onto the concrete platform to patiently wait for the next train, when...
Oh no. He lowered his head to the right and, lo and behold, there she was with her boxes of cupcakes. Laughing.
“Fancy meeting you here. I’m sorry for bothering you again. I’m just headed to a party in Sector 5.”
Leonhardt couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. Nothing about her actions made sense. Why give away so much information to a random stranger? He sighed, knowing full well that, for better for for worse, he was going to be stuck with this conversation until the strain arrived. If an attack was coming, it would happen there.
A master conversationalist, Leonhardt was. He watched the woman lean forward to find a better view down the rails, he presumed. Part of him instinctually wanted to pull her back, but he kept his hands to himself.
The crowd at the platform was rather thin. Despite the slightly appearance of the occasional traveler, Leonhardt felt that he was going to be here a while. With her.
“Well, well…” Autumn smiled mischievously at his hesitant inquiry. “Are you looking for an invite?” This mystery man seemed a bit guarded but she had found that was often the case with SOLDIERs. It was obvious that he was just being polite but she liked to chat people up in public places. She knew that a young woman waiting for a train by herself looked like an easy target and she didn’t have time to deal with any nonsense today.
“It’s just a little soirée at my parent’s place. My mom’s turning 50 this year and she loves these cupcakes.” The truth was that Autumn hated these parties. It was just going to be a bunch of rich people asking her questions that they already knew the answers too. When are you going to get that promotion? Have you found a man yet? Small talk that was intended to make her feel small.
It would be nice to have someone along that was actually interesting for once and this guy had definitely peaked her interest. Now she just needed to sell it! “This isn’t all though. We’ll have the best food in Midgar, live music, champaign…” Now that she was closer, Autumn could see a part of his face but it was still mostly covered in shadow. She did her best to gauge his reaction.
Now he’d done it. Leonhardt didn’t know what he was thinking by asking, but it was too late now.
“Are you looking for an invite?”
It was a firm response, despite the usual monotone. Whether he wishes to go or not, he had somewhere else to be, people to take care of. It wouldn’t be right to abandon them to go to a random party. Still, his response did little to stop the woman from elaborating “It’s just a little soirée at my parent’s place. My mom’s turning 50 this year and she loves these cupcakes.”
She didn’t seem to be lying, but something felt off about her statement. Leonhardt seemed incredulous, raising an eyebrow slightly under the shadow of his hood. It was fine. She was entitled to her secrets like he was. It would be strange if she told him about every bone in her closet.
“This isn’t all though. We’ll have the best food in Midgar, live music, champaign…”
Sounds like an upper-crust party. Too rich for him, though his face remained neutral. Leonhardt held no hate for such a gathering, simply a disinterest. He always felt that such events were a facade for the topsiders with money to try and gain some kind of advantage over their fellow topsiders with money. Etiquette, maybe? It was he always saw when he had to go to Shin-Ra parties. His thoughts were cut short, however, as the woman beside him spoke, now looking up at him under the hood. For the second time they had made eye contact, prompting Leonhardt to slightly turn so the side the side of the hood would obstruct her immediate line of sight.
"I'm Autumn, by the way... and you are?"
It was a simple alias, common enough to be considered a basic name, but still close enough to his name that he wouldn’t forget to look if called.
“What do you do for work?”
A probing question, but hopefully innocuous enough to not raise any suspicion. Despite this woman’s seemingly playful demeanor, she was still a predator.
Post by Autumn Nevada on Apr 22, 2020 18:54:26 GMT
“Nice to meet you, Leon!” Autumn smiled. She felt oddly privileged to get even just his name. He struck her as someone who didn’t like to give anything away and this was something.
“I work for the Shin-Ra company, same as most folks.” She hoped her answer would satisfy his curiosity while remaining purposely vague. “I’m a recruiter with the General Affairs Department.” It was the company line and it came out sounding like she’d said it a hundred times. She probably had. The wording tended to put civilians at ease but certain people might know she was talking about the Turks.
“What about you?” Autumn asked just as the train came rolling around the bend and into sight. The lights around the tracks started flashing and several other passengers moved up around them expectantly waiting to board the train. It wouldn’t be long before she’d get to enjoy these delicious cupcakes.
With a small nod and grunt, Leonhardt returned the greeting, opting to listen to what his company had to say.
“I work for the Shin-Ra company, same as most folks. I’m a recruiter with the General Affairs Department.”
He’d heard that line before. A Turk. The type of people who would shoot you in the back if Shin-Ra was having a bad day. How did this happen?Tens upon tens of thousands of employees and he ends up next to a Turk. To send a single Turk to talk to him was either an insult, part of a greater plan, or just a coincidence on the street.
“What about you?”
The question pulled Leonhardt out of his own head, long enough for him to put his anxiety on the metaphorical shelf. No matter what, he could not allow this woman to follow him home.
“You already know.”
It was a lie, of course, base on her own assumptions, but it had some credence. His luck looked up for a moment as an iconic whistle was heard in the not-so-far distance. The slight trickle had turned into a veritable wall as people began to huddle together in hopes of getting onto the train. The screeching of breaks rang out, followed by the hissing of steam, filling the immediate with a warm haze and humidity. The bane of made and styled hair. It only took a few moments, the people on the plant form wait while the occupants of the train step off, then board as quickly as the can. A dance that has been performed for as long as the trains have ran.
Leonhardt‘s broad size and the sword on his back often meant discomfort for himself and whoever thought it was a good idea next to sit to him. He opted to stand, using one arm to hold the bread from underneath, while he held onto one of the several poles to secure his footing. It seemed that most of the other occupants chose to sit and stand on the opposite side of Leonhardt, leaving most seats on the benches open. Once settled, he turned to face the woman, half expecting her to join him, half to keep her in his sight.
Post by Autumn Nevada on Apr 23, 2020 22:30:02 GMT
Autumn nodded as Leon confirmed that what she had assumed based on his appearance was probably correct. He looked like a SOLDIER. He had that sort of build and his gear was of that make but more worn than was typical. She knew from personal experience that the Turks were forced to undergo rigorous visual inspections on a daily basis, although it didn’t prevent some of their ranks from adding their own individual flair to the look. She assumed the hood was just his attempt to lay low while he was off duty but it struck her as a little odd given that SOLDIER was a more militant branch.
A baleful whistle cut through her thoughts as the train rumbled to a stop in front of them. Autumn turned to cough into her elbow and looking up he’d already gone. She pushed forwards, leaping in and out of sight like an excited chihuahua as she elbowed her way through the crowd. Her copper hair would have made her difficult to miss as she glanced around wildly in search of her new friend. She spotted him and expertly squeezed into the virtually nonexistent space between him and an older lady that had sidled up next to him. Autumn clutched the paper box of cupcakes carefully to her chest, hoping against hope that no one would back into her and smash it.
“Thanks for grabbing me a spot.” She smiled genuinely, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but you’re not like the SOLDIERs I usually work with. Most can’t wait to brag about their rank... Although, to be honest I'm usually stuck babysitting kids that don't know any better."
It was an entertaining sight, watching the top of Autumn’s head bob and weave through the crowd. He couldn’t help but expressing his amusement with a slight curl at the tip of his lip.
A boisterous reaction to be sure. The curl faded quickly when she forced her way between an older woman and himself. Leonhardt reflexively reached out to help balance the woman by placing his hand on her shoulder. Once he felt she no longer posed a fall risk, he let her go. It did little to help her mood, but that wasn’t his problem. “Thanks for grabbing me a spot.”
The older woman’s expression went from angry and offended, to intimidated as she became aware Leonhardt. She quickly walked away to give as much space as possible. He couldn’t help but sigh.
He adjusted himself, shifting slightly to face Autumn so that she was no longer under his arm. He was caught off-guard by her smile. It was surprisingly warm. “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but you’re not like the SOLDIERs I usually work with. Most can’t wait to brag about their rank... Although, to be honest I'm usually stuck babysitting kids that don't know any better."
Leonhardt hadn’t laughed like that in a long time. A small smile formed on his lips as he remembered his younger self, who very much fit that description. He hadn’t spoken of his former rank in years. Lead to trouble more often than not.
“Oh, sorry!” Autumn called over her shoulder at the old woman as she shuffled away. She wasn’t really. The woman’s absence meant more room for her but she had to acknowledge her mistake after Leon called attention to the situation. It was important to practice good manners even if there was no genuine empathy behind her actions.
Autumn was surprised when her new friend burst into a sudden bout of laughter. She hadn’t intended her comment to be all that funny but she was glad to see him smile. Maybe she could get through that gruff exterior after all. The corner of her red lips curled into a goofy grin that touched the corners of her blue eyes and she chuckled along with him, though she didn’t quite understand why.
“It’s not so bad though, really. I just wish I didn’t have to spend most of my day off running errands. I was kind of dreading the long train ride to be honest but it’s not so bad with good company.” She was still smiling as she spoke but suddenly her eyes got wide, “You’re not getting off at the barracks are you?” It would be a shame to part with her traveling companion so soon.
Something about that apology felt off, as if it was said for the sake of being said. Lip service. Something Leonhardt greatly disliked. The curl at the tip of his lips faded away back to neutrality. She was young, He felt no want to change. Then again he had just met her. The big smile on her face, and her laugh also seemed off. He felt as if he was watching a mirror that would reflect an image after the the fact. Maybe it was in his head. It had been sometime since he had interacted with a topsider. Maybe this is just how they were?
“It’s not so bad though, really. I just wish I didn’t have to spend most of my day off running errands. I was kind of dreading the long train ride to be honest but it’s not so bad with good company.”
Leonhardt remain silent. There wasn’t much he felt a need to respond to. He simply looked out the window. As pieces of piping and scaffolding zoomed passed in a blur, the Shin-Ra tower stood, looming in the distance, as a testament to profit at any cost. He always felt that the tower looked like the hilt of a knife sticking out of the ground. The thought made him tighten his grip on the stanchion. His thoughts were cut short, however, by Autumn’s voice.
“You’re not getting off at the barracks are you?”
Another question she already knew the answer to. Leonhardt breathed a sigh and loosened his grip, suddenly aware of the tension in his hand.
The answer was more for him than for her. He did need someone chatty to walk with him. Maybe it was time to actually converse with this woman.
Autumn shifted a couple of inches away, filling in some of the vacant space left by the old woman, as Leon’s smile faded. It was like the sun had shone through the eye of the storm and was gone as quickly as it had come. She wondered if she had done something wrong. The box of cupcakes was starting to feel heavy in the crook of her arm so she readjusted to a more comfortable balance. The little box with the single cupcake sure looked lonely sitting there on top.
“I was just curious... I was hoping you weren’t getting off just yet.”
Her eyes fell upon the loaves of bread in his hands and Autumn looked Leon over again. This time, really looking. Sure he was built and some of his gear spoke of a time in the military but that time seemed long past. He was older than her by probably a decade and he might even live in the slums. Maybe she was being too forward.
Autumn brushed her hair behind her ear, “So… Are you in a rush to get home? Do you have kids or…?” It was her clumsy attempt at idle chit chat. Personally, she hated being asked that question but she didn’t know how else to get to know him.