LunchtimeAn introspective by Dare Cheung and Dot Warner
Dot's Obligatory Legalease: Changes made to this story other than grammar/spelling/punctuation/sentence structure are marked within [brackets]
STRA headquarters was a large building that employed hundreds of people. At midday, the office building turned into chaos as people headed out for lunch. This was when the majority of people left their desks and all walked to a single place, the STRA gourmet center. Several restaurants had opened up inside the set-aside court of the huge building, with permission from STRA. They served a wide variety of foods from different sorts of cultures and dimensions. It had to cater to the differing tastes of the employees.
Today, Talon insisted on leaving the office. He usually deferred the lunch location to Samui who normally chose the busy food court. It was odd, at first. When he first started working with Samui, he found her very emotionless and soft-spoken. He didn't understand why she would want to sit with so many people in a place that was filled with the buzz of hundreds of conversations happening around her.
As Talon got to know Samui more, he came up with some theories. One of his best was that there was solitude among the countless groups. Most STRA employees stayed with their close co-workers and normally minded the business of others. With so many people around her, but none particularly interested in engaging her in small talk, Samui was lost among all the little groups.
However, Talon wanted something quieter for his lunch break and didn't like being around so many people that were all going about their own business, doing their own thing. If that was the way people were going to be, he'd rather be in a public place.
"The Brighter Side of Insomnia?" Samui repeated when Talon indicated where he wanted to go eat.
"Yep," he said.
"It's a dessert place, not a suitable place for lunch," Samui noted.
"Yeah, I know, but they do have light lunch entrees. Besides, you don't eat that much and I'm not that hungry today."
"Okay, sure," Samui agreed with little difference.
"Uh, unless you don't want to go there," Talon added. He didn't want to force Samui to go somewhere she didn't want to.
Samui shook her head. "No, that's fine."
Talon was slightly disappointed. He had hoped that maybe she would have a better argument to not going. Sometimes she could be so emotionless about the little things. "I heard they have some new cakes there."
A fraction of a smile flashed by. "Only if you eat your vegetables first."
Talon grinned. "And I promise to clean my room, too."
The two STRA agents journeyed to Capow in the usual way that they did and then headed straight for the Brighter Side of Insomnia cafe. The little dessert joint had been getting a bit more business after Madoka left Capow and closed The Lurker's Retreat. The cafe wasn't filled with people, however, and it was a short wait before Talon and Samui got a little table near an open window.
Yellow daffodils sprung out of the rectangular planters that hung over the side of the windows. They were bathed in the nurturing sunlight that radiated from the clear blue sky and reflected off the brass candleholders that would be used later in the day.
"I'll have a salad," Samui told the waiter. He nodded and turned to Talon. Talon gave his order for a Black Forest ham sandwich and handed the menus back. The waiter nodded again and left to fill out their orders. Samui gave him a look. "No cake?"
Talon took a sip of water. He had only said that to start up a conversation. "Maybe after," he told her.
"Hmm," Samui answered back as she took a sip of her glass.
Talon looked up at the sky. It was a light blue and not a cloud in sight. It was such perfect weather, he noted. He glanced back at Samui who sat quietly. Talking to her sometimes was either the hardest thing to do, and at other times was so easy. He found it confusing.
Samui tilted her head a little, feeling Talon's eyes on her. Talon realized this and tried to say something. "Umm, nice day, huh?" he covered miserably. Samui nodded in agreement, adding little to the conversation.
This frustrated Talon only a little more and desperately tried to say something more interactive. "So Samui, have any interesting past childhood memories?" He flinched mentally. That might not have been the greatest topics.
"I didn't have a childhood to remember," Samui said casually.
"I see. You had to grow up pretty fast?"
Samui shook her head. "No, you don't understand." She took another sip from her glass. "I was never a child."
Talon paused, his eyes moving back and forth while he tried to understand what she was saying. It soon became painfully obvious that she was being literal. His eyes widened slightly. "You mean?" he looked her up and down, "you were like this when you were, uh, 'born'?"
"Yes," Samui responded. "Akiko Natsume was under serious pressure for a product that would compete with the other companies, so my creators couldn't waste any time to raise me, and threw me right into training." She twirled her glass idly. "Unfortunately for her, in addition to my instincts and abilities my creators programmed me with a free will, and I decided that I didn't want to be a part of her plans to dominate the market."
Talon was speechless. When he had entered Samui's mind with Shelly, they had seen Samui as a little girl. He was certain that was what she looked like when she was younger. It was only until now that he rethought that part of the trip. That may have been an image that Samui used to project herself as an innocent victim of her own machinations.
"That's why you are so reluctant on killing," Talon surmised. Then he tried to recover. "Well, I mean, everybody is reluctant to kill. But if it came down to the wire and I had to do it, I guess I could." He winced again as he remembered what had happened in Samui's home dimension. This time, not only had he stuck his foot in his mouth, but his entire leg, too. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..."
Samui cut Talon off with a wave of her hand. "It's all right." she set her glass back on the napkin. "It's natural for people to avoid talking about unpleasant things."
"I guess," Talon breathed, not sure how to proceed. Luckily, their orders had arrived and the waiter set them on the table, giving Talon another object to which he could fix his attention.
Samui munched on a forkful of salad but she seemed more open, now. "So what was it like for you, growing up? What was it like having parents?"
Talon almost choked on his sandwich. He finished his bite and put it down. "Having parents?" He let out a long breath. "Whoo boy. What can I really say? That's a hard question." Talon paused, wondering how to explain it exactly. "One person might say they got along with their parents. They might say they were always supportive, loving, caring. Another person might resent their parents. They could be bitter over having never gotten that support or approval. Not everyone is a good parent.
"Did you love your parents?"
Again, the question caught Talon off-guard. He felt put on the spot and a bit of heat rising up his collar. "Uh, yeah I guess. It's, uh, somewhat touchy subject, especially with men."
Samui nodded plainly. Talon waited for another question but none came. He wondered if she just merely filed the information into her memory and left it at that. Frowning at himself slightly, he went back to munching on his sandwich.
However, the silence was broken again after a few moments. "Tell me about Rodick."
Now the tables were turned and memories flooded back into Talon's mind. His failure as a leader, the death of the little boy. His mental collapse. He supposed it was only fair that Samui have her chance. "Small town, a miner's sort of place, really. They mined for Mako so that Shinra could use them in their reactors." He stopped to take another bite, and Samui waited patiently for him to continue. "That's what Shinra came to Rodick for, to claim all the Mako we found. They also had other resources like wood and stuff. Shinra wanted it all and they were only paying a measly price. Much less than what they normally sold it for. But Shinra was either going to pay that price or take it by force. The latter happened when the miners got outraged and began protesting violently." He shook his head gravely.
"You still haven't told me about Rodick," Samui pointed out.
Talon smiled weakly. "Ah, you're right. Umm..like I said, small town. The houses were mostly wooden because of the abundant forests nearby. Cozy homes actually. Although nobody was really well-off, you could tell they came home from a hard day in the mines and really looked forward to it. They relaxed, unwound, interacted with their families. If it weren't for Shinra, these people would still have a home."
His face became a little distant and he moved his eyes from Samui to the daffodils on the window. "I remember there used to be a little flower garden in the center of town. It was the smallest, poorly tended garden you'd ever seen. A third of what grew in there were weeds, dandelion-milkweeds mostly.
"Anyway, I always walked by that garden every morning as I surveyed the town. One time, there was this little girl, maybe 5 or 6 years old. Brown hair, ponytail, big skirt, a bit dirty. She snapped off one of the milkweeds and blew the little seedlets into the air, like a cloud. Then, she saw me watching her and came up close. She said, 'Isn't that the most beautiful garden?'" Talon chuckled a bit. "I had a hard time trying not to laugh. I had seen much better looking gardens at Shinra headquarters, but I agreed with her anyway just to humor her. Then I realized something. For such an abandoned, weed-infested garden, it was still something that the people of Rodick cherished and loved. In their eyes, it was the most beautiful thing in the world." He felt a little awkward and wasn't sure if his meaning was getting through to her. "Um, it's hard to explain."
A smile almost creased Samui's eyes. "No, I know what you mean."
Talon scratched his head sheepishly. "You do? That's good. I'm not very good at explaining things like these to other people."
For the rest of lunch, Samui returned to her quiet self. Talon didn't mind so much. It was a long time since they had spoken at such great lengths and didn't want to push her into opening up. Last time he did that, she had literally clammed up and ran away from him.
After they had paid the tab and left the cafe, Samui stopped and turned around. "Oh, I think I left something in the cafe."
Talon turned back. "What is it? I'll go get it for you."
Surprisingly, Samui his arm lightly. "No, that's okay. I'll get it." Without letting him say another word, she headed back to the cafe.
Talon stood for a few minutes wondering what it was Samui had forgotten. He didn't recall her carrying anything with her. When Samui did not return quickly, he began to wonder even more.
Then, the familiar head of green hair emerged out of the cafe. She was holding a bag with a box inside. When she caught up with Talon, she handed him the bag. "For you," she said.
"Huh? What's this?" He opened up the box. Inside was a slice of cake. He looked back to Samui. "What--"
"You forgot to order it."
Indeed he had, but Talon really didn't have the urging for cake as he had told her earlier. Yet she went out of the way to bring him a slice? He was very surprised. He should have known Samui wouldn't forget anything. In a sense, he almost felt a little silly.
"Un, thanks, Samui," was all he could say.
They headed back to the office.
Samui took in a deep breath and for a moment her footsteps seemed a bit lighter. "You know, I think it was a good idea to come here today."
Talon nodded. "Yeah, me too."
Notes: I just had an urge to do something introspective, light and perhaps meaningful. This little scene takes place around the time that Madoka closed the Retreat and Katt staged her unwavering vigil outside the locked doors.