There were two vistas in Midgar: the acropolis, a steel structure
known as the Plate which pillars held aloft high above the ground; and
the slums, where folk lived chaotic but hardy lives upon terra firma
from which the Plate blocked all sunlight. It was thought this thriving
light and shadow, built by a single enterprise called the Shinra Electric
Power Company, would be a sight that endured forever.
      Four years ago, when the Lifestream started to flow out of the
ground, most residents believed Midgar would crumble and fall. With
only their personal effects in hand, they fled their neighborhoods—
and yet, the people were unable to distance themselves from the city
of steel. Maybe they thought they could return to their halcyon dream,
so long as its intrepid outlines were near. Eventually, a town named
Edge was built next to Midgar.
      Edge's main avenue started at the border of Midgar's Sectors Three
and Four, and stretched due east from there. The town sandwiched the
avenue and sprawled north and south from it. From far away it
appeared to be a splendid town, but most of the buildings were
constructed from scraps carried out of Midgar. The streets smelled of
iron and rust.
      Johnny ran a café that sat along the avenue. It was a simple
establishment; all he did was lay out tables and chairs on the empty
lot, and set up an open-air stand where he could do some simple
cooking. He called the café "Johnny's Heaven." It was named after
"Seventh Heaven," a diner-bar that used to be in Midgar's Sector
Seven slums. Johnny had been in love with the bartender there, a girl
named Tifa.

      Several months after the bar was lost during Sector Seven's fall,
Tifa reopened a new Seventh Heaven in Edge. At the time, Johnny
was among the masses who couldn't figure out how to move on, and
he was moved by the strength with which Tifa lived. Somewhere
along the line, the former object of his unrequited love had become a
mentor of the heart he could look up to. Let me live like Tifa. All right,
how? I know, I'll open up a place, too. Give hope to the lost.
That was
the start of Johnny's Heaven, and its patrons were subjected again and
again to the Tale of a Johnny Reborn.
      And because of that, his patrons visited Seventh Heaven, wanting
to get a look at Tifa, and wound up becoming regulars. Unaware of
this, Johnny waited six days a week for anyone to show up who might
listen to his tale of love and hope.

      And eventually, someone did come. Just a boy. Not often I get a kid
coming in alone. Oh-ho, if it ain't Denzel!
Denzel was a special boy to
Johnny. Part of my heart mentor's family. Gotta go all out with this one.
      "Make yourself at home, Denzel!"
      Johnny bowed deeply. But Denzel only turned to face him for a
moment before taking a seat at the farthest table from the stand.
      "Come sit a little closer!"
      "No! I'm meeting someone."
      Meeting someone? A kid this young, on a date? Okay, okay. I'll
take good care of you. Everything's on the house. You're a special guy.

      "On a date, eh? Go get her, kiddo!"
      Dissed?" Ohh, he must be embarrassed.
      "Call me over if you can't get the conversation going. I'll teach you
some funny material. Heck, why wait—"
      Denzel suddenly jumped to his feet. Did I make him mad? Johnny
peered at Denzel, but the boy's gaze was directed at the café's
entrance, not at him.

      A man stood there in a severe black suit.
      "Come on in." greeted Johnny, averting his gaze away from the
man. Reeve. A former Shinra executive. It was Johnny's first time to
see the man, who now led the WRO, up close. He had a reputation for
bringing death. What business does a guy like this have at my café?
      Reeve glanced around at his surroundings—a habit of his?—as
he walked up to Denzel's table, and sat down. Johnny figured it
out instantly.
      He's scouting for the WRO! Reeve is trying to lure Denzel into the
army. I have to stop him, no matter what. If that goes down in my café,
I'll never be able to face Tifa again.

      Resolved to the core, he sneered at Reeve, only to receive a cordial
expression in return.
      "A coffee, if you don't mind." So dignified!
      "Yes, of course." Johnny stood up as straight as he answered, then
scurried back to the stand. Talk about your tough customers.
      Denzel was especially surprised that Reeve, the head of the WRO,
had come to his interview. He stood there, unable to get so much as a
greeting out.
      "Have a seat."
      Reeve's voice snapped him out of it, and he hastily sat down.
      "Now then, Denzel. I don't have much time, so allow me to get
right to the crux of matters," stated Reeve in a pleasant tone of voice.
"I should be up front in telling you that we aren't the same as we were
before. The days of welcoming just anyone into the group have
passed. If you want to be a reconstruction volunteer, call your local
leaders. The WRO is an army now."
      "Yes, sir. I'm prepared for the dangers."
      "I'm sure you are... All right, why don't you tell me about
yourself? Starting with your background.
      "Background? I don't, I mean, I... I'm only ten."
      "I know. But even a ten-year-old must have a background."

[Johnny eavesdrops on the boy's story.]

      ...The sun had grown stronger and Denzel was sweating.
      "Damn... This heat." Reeve said in the direction Johnny. "Could
you bring us some water?"

      ...Denzel put the coffee to
his lips. He really hated the drink—it was very bitter—but he wanted
to hurry up and learn to like the taste.

      Denzel: ...There's no point in life without
laughter. You're right, Mom. A rat full of nasty germs should help me
solve that problem.

      "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" barked Johnny, who had been listening to
the story from close by.
      "I'm just saying what I thought at the time. But I was wrong.
That's why I'm still around."
      "Well, yeah—"
      "So the best encounters were still ahead."
      "Uh-huh. Just when things were looking the worst."

      Denzel: ..."I don't remember anything after that. When I woke up
I was in a bed. Tifa and Marlene were looking after me. The already
know, right?"
      "I owe my being alive to so many different people. My parents,
Ruvie, Gaskin, my friends from the Triple S. The living, the dead.
Tifa, Cloud, Marlene. Even..."

      Reeve nodded like he already knew.
      "I want to be like that for someone. It's my turn to do the protecting."
      Reeve was silent.
      "Please, sir, let me join," Denzel said, leaning forward.
      "No! N-O spells no!" said Johnny.
      "Would you shut up!"
      "But you're still just a kid!"
      "That doesn't matter!"
      "Actually." Reeve spoke up. "The WRO no longer enlists children."
      "There, told ya!"
      "Then why didn't you just tell me in the first place?" Denzel
said sullenly.
      "Well, you see, I just decided. While listening to your story.
Children have something only children can do. I want you to do that."
      "...What is it?"
      "Bring out the strength in us adults."
      Denzel waited for him to continue. But Reeve stood up as if to say
their talk was over.
      "Oh, one other thing..."
      Denzel looked at Reeve expectantly.
      "Thank you for taking care of my mother."
      Reeve took a handkerchief out of his back pants pocket and
flapped it around. The pattern had lots of little flowers.
      Johnny started to clean up the table after Reeve left. Denzel
was looking at his own handkerchief, which he had set on the table.
      "Hey." Johnny stopped cleaning. "If you wanna fight, you can do
it anytime you want. You don't need to be in the WRO. Why's that so
important to you?"
      "What about him?"
      "He's strong because he used to be in the army way back. I wanna
be strong like that, too."
      "Times...change, I think."
      "Well, lessee. Say, instead of some guy who swings around a
sword, it's the guy who always knows how to rub away the pain that
gets all the chicks now."
      "I'm not after chicks." Denzel answered coolly, but he thought of
all the pats on his head and hands on his back, encouraging him. Men
and women, adults and children—and as he remembered them now,
each of their hands was full of strength.