So I have never done an FF7 fic before, but I felt that I needed to do one. Strangely, even though I was/am a diehard Cloud/Tifa fan I need to do a Rufus/Tifa. Just know that officially Tifa *must* be with Cloud, but in fanfiction I can be a little more lenient on my version of canon pairings. Aerith, however, is dead and she can stay that way. I wasted so much time leveling up that little. . . and then she frikkin goes and DIES? Well, she will never appear in this or any other fic I write. That was simply too upsettingly traumatic.

Just so I get that out of the way. Oh yes, and I change a few things, but it gets explained, don't worry. Review and be nice wonderful beauteous readers. Sorry it is so rushed, but I got a little over excited and sometimes I rush things when that happens. Bah.

Oh, and tell me, if you review if I should make this R or not. I'm waffling between keeping it PG-13 or making it R. There isn't a huge difference, but enough to make me think about it. Thanks!

Disclaimer: Squaresoft and a bunch of other corporate entities own everything Final Fantasy and I don't pretend I own a bit of it. This is just a way to eat up some time and have some fun.

Chapter 1

Tifa gently pinched the bridge of her nose with her eyes tightly shut and a grimace of pain touching her lips. After a moment she tossed back her thick mahogany hair from her face and turned to the men that stood above her with arrogant grins on their faces. It was morning, it was cold, it was foggy, and she needed to get a lot done before she was emotionally prepared to face these men. For her, the night had been long, and tonight was going to be no different and if they thought she would tolerate them with the same strained patience, they were in for a rude awakening. Her hands reflexively clenched and opened as if she were getting ready for a fight, but no matter how much she wanted to, she didn't need assault charges making this even more complex of a situation.

"I told you, I'm not selling the bar. Not for any price. This is my life and I have no desire to change it." She spoke slowly, through her teeth, unknowingly cracking her knuckles. The men continued to smile. They were large men, in black suits, but they didn't resemble the sort of men who work in an office each day so much as thugs that had been outfitted hastily by a greater power.

"Miss Lockhart," The representative goon, smaller than his compatriots but no less threatening in his own way, (she suspected he was a lawyer) pursued the issue as Tifa began the process of undoing the various locks on the front door. "You must understand that this is vital for the well being of the city. My client simply wishes to help enrich this area and help bring in more tourists. You are the only one who is fighting this in the community. . ."

"That's because your bastard boss had everyone in the area evicted or paid off! Most of them had nowhere to go, except the slum on the other side of town. I am the only one fighting this in the community because I am all that is LEFT of the community. Now go away before I have you removed for trespassing on my property." She opened the door with a firm, quick movement and slammed the door behind her and making the small chime near it give a piercing clang. Leaning against the door, she slid down with her back to the sturdy wood until she was nearly squatting on the floor.

"Miss Lockhart," The slimy man just didn't seem to know when to quit. "If you don't respond to my client's more than generous offer, then I'm afraid you leave us little choice than pursue other methods to ensure your cooperation." From the way he said it, she was sure none of those 'methods' involved the local governmental services. Tifa simply wrapped her arms around her and shrank into a tighter ball, holding in the anger imperfectly as her body shook with the desire to just run out there and punch them until her knuckles bled. "Have a good day, Miss Lockhart." The hollow creaks from the stairs announced the exit of her antagonists.

Tifa stood up and walked swiftly to the corner to grab a broom. She attacked the dirt in corners and under tables until the air was filled with as much dust from her vicious whisking as she had gathered in a pile for the wastebasket. It was not as satisfying as a fight, but at least it was hands on. Tears formed in her eyes as grit marred her vision, and as she wiped it away she noticed that not all of that wetness was from the dirt. She felt helpless, she felt victimized, Tifa was indignant for the community and the pain it had gone through when they all had suffered so much already. Jarta was a medium sized city that wasn't too far away from where Midgar had lain, and it had been somewhat prosperous in its own way. Once the larger city had suffered its catastrophes many of the displaced people made their way to Jarta and the town's size seemed to double overnight with a suburb of shanties. She had no idea all this was happening at the time - she was too busy saving the world with Cloud. . . no she wouldn't go down that road again. Not now, when she was too weak to guard against the pain.

Jarta, after the seven years since Midgar's effective destruction, had absorbed most of the population that had flocked there in addition to many people from smaller towns that just hadn't been able to deal with the increased number of monsters on the outside. The reason they went to Jarta, rather than another one of the numerous towns, was that Jarta had the Wall. The Wall, a massive project that was nearly completed after five years of constant construction, protected this city and allowed everyone to thrive without fear of attack. As a result, craftsmen flocked to the city to set up shop and Jarta was a trading capital with wealth to spare in a world where everyone was trying to reconstruct a society that had fallen into near chaos less than a decade ago. But, as Tifa had always known to be true even before Meteor threatened their lives, the new wealth was not evenly distributed. New firms rose from the rubble; none as powerful as Shinra Inc. but all of them aspiring to be so. The town was effectively an oligarchy, at the moment, but it didn't touch the lives of many of the people whom Tifa lived and worked around. The working people, the blue collar population who kept the city working and who did the jobs that the nouveau riche wouldn't touch and the artisans couldn't be bothered with, made up the clientele for Tifa's small bar, the Rusty Wrench.

These hardworking men and women who had come to the city that breathed with promise for the ambitious and beckoned to the outcasts from all walks of life were now being denied even the small pleasures they had come to rely on. The stability they desired, the ability to simply live without fear, well. . . the bastards on top apparently couldn't even let them have that much. Rather, the rich idiots were alienating the very workers who made the town live by banishing them to the slums for the poorest of the poor on the other side of town so that they could build a hotel and shopping center for the large tourist population that came through on business and for pleasure throughout the year. The slums lay on the side where the Wall was not finished, and monster attacks were not uncommon even now. Tifa herself would be there if not for the fact that she happened to rent a house just outside of the targeted area for construction. Her bar was not so lucky.

The bell chimed with a gentle tinkle, and Tifa looked up to greet the smiling face of Yuffie. Tifa realized she had just been staring off into space for the last few minutes and with a last couple sweeps she laid the broom aside and wiped her hands on her apron to rid herself of the dust. Yuffie held up a bag.

"Yo, Tifa. Look who has breakfast! Aren't I the coolest friend in the world?" Tifa felt some cheer well up inside of her at the kind gesture. The stormy mood that had possessed her was shoved aside. The oblivious ninja seemed unaware that anything was wrong. "Hey, I was just checkin' up on you before I hopped on over to the shop. Vince says that he'll have the books for last week all worked out by tonight, and I'll have 'em when I start my shift."

"That sounds fabulous Yuffie. I knew I could count on you two, though where Vincent learned accounting I'll never know." Tifa started to take down chairs from a table. "Do you know what time it is? It seems like the food shipment is a little late today."

"Dunno. The fog is so damned thick I can't make out asses from elbows." Yuffie shrugged and helped Tifa take down chairs. "Vince is complaining all the time about 'punctuality' and 'professionalism', and I just hope you don't start taking after his anal retentive habits." The words were harsh, but she said them with a certain fondness.

"I guess you could say I'm just getting suspicious. Boss Nova had his goons down here first thing to greet me. I gave them a piece of my mind and sent them off, but they made it all too clear that they'll only play fair so long as it continues to suit them." Tifa pushed some errant hair from her face with a rather forceful swat. "I have half a mind to march downtown and talk to Nova myself."

Yuffie looked like she was about explode, mock punching in the air she practically yelled her vociferous opinions about what Tifa should have done. ". . . and then WHAM, and once one of the big ones was all doubled over then I would have appeared! Oh, boy, it has been too long since the last time I got into a fight, and I mean a real fight and not all this sissy monster hunting. Vince says that there's a lot of money in insurance right now, and we're good at it and all-what with selling weapons too we make a bundle, but damn it Tifa I miss the old days."

Tifa and Yuffie together did not exactly make the wisest entity when it came to diplomatic negotiations. "Yeah, and you think the saviors of the planet would have a little more clout! He can't threaten me! I was making my own way and just because I won't bow to his will doesn't give him any good reason to start strong-arming me." Yuffie had a gleam in her eye, and the two women felt perfectly ready to take the world on. . . again.

"Ya need any help?" Yuffie flexed a bit, but looking down she cursed. "Ah, curse everything! I'm in my 'meeting the clients' clothes. Vince said if I ruin another set of clothes, the nice ones anyway, then he'll sedate and brainwash me until I behave. Gawd! Isn't he a riot?" Tifa gave the girl a sidelong glance, one eyebrow raised, the relationship (as it were) that those two shared was mystifying.

At the knock at the back door, some logic forced its way into the angrily buzzing mind of the former fighter. "Maybe now isn't the time to talk to that creep. Food beckons, and there's plenty to do before I open. Tomorrow the bar'll be closed. I can go give him a piece of my mind then."

"I think you should do more than give him a piece of your mind. If he tries anything, just come get me 'n Vince. We're always behind you." Tifa took Yuffie's outstretched hand, and the girls grinned at one another. "A good fight is just what we need to get our spirits up anyway. See ya later." Yuffie gave a little wave and ran off to go take care of her own business.

"Hey Arnie," Tifa called as she ran towards the back. "Just drop it off in the usual spot! I'll be right there!"

* * *

Outside it was cool for autumn and people smiled as they entered the warmth and life that embodied the Rusty Wrench. The men and women who came were construction workers, Wall guards, janitors, maintenance workers, ex- soldiers, mechanics, and so on, and in Tifa's place they were right at home. She knew these people. These were her people. Some of them she knew by name, but most of them she simply knew by common experience. None of them had had easy lives and now they all shared a dingy little bar on a Saturday night to forget for just an evening how hard it all was. Tifa liked to think she helped reconstruction one drink at a time. Everyone needed to unwind, and these men and women needed it far more than the ones who sweated over mere policy rather than concrete and grease.

"Tifa! Come join us!" A red nosed auto mechanic who had been displaced from his home a few weeks ago gave a wave and a wink.

"You know I don't drink with customers!" Tifa gave a laugh as she poured a shot, grabbed a beer, and spun out a platter of whatever fried concoction table three had ordered. Her deft hands, good balance, and quick mind kept this place functioning with such a small staff: her, Yuffie, and the cook, a tall quiet man with a scar on his right cheek who rarely spoke but who everyone called Simon. Simon cooked, or rather he fried things, and he did it quickly and well so Tifa was grateful for him and he in turn was grateful to find a job after years of being a mercenary had left him with a limp and few other saleable skills. Vincent had referred him to her when she had just gotten into town, back when he and Yuffie had just been starting their own business venture and Tifa only had a glimmer of one in her eye.

While Tifa attempted not to get an oil burn on her fair skin she picked up the drunken ramblings of one man at the bar who was going to be denied any more liquor for the evening. His friend gave Tifa an embarrassed smile, and a shake of her head as if to apologize.

". . . and I wanted to march right up to him and punch him in the face but my wife, bless her heart, she stopped me. I tell you, there are some elements around here that make me ashamed to call myself an honest citizen of Jarta. I've been here since the beginning! The beginning! Do you know what that means? It means that I should have respect, but instead they kick me out of my own home." His voice rose and fell as the emotions warred with his inebriated state which seemed to want to claim his consciousness. "And I've heard things about Boss Nova. The way he doesn't come out in daylight. The way he'll only meet with people from behind a screen. And that he gets all his meals delivered to that fancy building of his, but that he only eats once a month. No one has seen his face. . . I bet he ain't even human." The woman next to him tried to quiet her friend, but he did her job for her and passed out. She caught his slumped form and with an odd little grimace hefted him up onto her shoulder and marched out.

Tifa polished a glass in the rare lull, while people quaffed and ate and laughed, to think about what the man had said. Boss Nova may be a monster, but in Tifa's experience humans were far more fearsome. Only a human would run out an entire sector of the city to turn a profit. Humans built the cities, the reactors. . . made people like Sephiroth, and Cloud. . .

The gloomy reflective thoughts were cut off as the door swung open and cold air blasted all the way over to where Tifa stood. They looked like bad sorts, but so did a lot of her friends, so she didn't hold it against them.

"Oi! You lot close that door!" The noise started up again after Yuffie's yell and soon the smack of darts and the strains of some ridiculous song gave the atmosphere a convivial feeling again. The two large men came up to the bar and looked Tifa right in the eyes; she neither looked away nor flinched.

"What's your poison?" Her smile didn't falter either and the men looked at one another quizzically.

"Beer." Came a grunt from above.

"So where do you boys work?" Yuffie asked a question silently, pulling out a dagger in a flash and then arching her eyebrows with a big smile. Tifa gave a little shake of her head. If they weren't trouble then it wouldn't do to be rude to customers for no reason.

Apparently this was a difficult question. One that took a lot of thought. They were silent until the beer was set down with a thunk in front of them. "Around." They grabbed the beer and without pausing to breathe each drained their glasses and set them down once again.

"I can see you boys are busy, I'll check back with you later."

"He wants to meet wit you." The rumble from above was startling. Tifa tried to think of what they could mean.

"Who wants to meet with me? I assure you, I'm a busy woman and I don't do well with summonses." The smile was fixed, but her eyes narrowed and beneath the counter her hands flexed.

"Boss Nova don't take no for an answer miss. Not coming with us isn't an option."

"I was planning to pay your boss a visit tomorrow, as it so happens, so he can wait until then." The land masses of goons rose from the barstools and growled low. One reached over the bar with a ham hand. "Yuffie! Backup!" The ninja was already halfway over. With a loyal hometown war cry, Yuffie had launched herself onto the back of one man and tightly wrapped the towel she kept with her to wipe down tables tightly over his eyes and nose.

The man who was grabbing at Tifa found that the target herself had vaulted over the countertop and was in the middle of a forceful punch, large smile on her face.

"I've been waiting all day for this!" Tifa's fist connected with a sound like a steel beam hitting a bag of wet cement and there was a distinctive 'oof' from above as the large man staggered back.

People, noticing the commotion but knowing better than to get involved, lined the walls and stayed quiet, with the occasional drunken cheer for Yuffie and Tifa. It only took Tifa two more shots to the belly and one to the head and the behemoth went crashing down backwards onto a table, breaking it. Mainly, rather than being annoyed about the table, she was sad that the goon had posed so little challenge. Too slow. Yuffie jumped down from the other goon, who had flailed about vainly trying to remove the pugnacious young woman. He noted his fallen compatriot.

He also noted Simon, who was just as big and carrying a large butcher knife with a dark look and a flex of muscle.

"Why don't you take your friend off my premises and don't come back. Hauling away that garbage will be payment for the beer you drank. I'll just forgive you for the table. . . that was my doing." She didn't sound too dismayed, and cracked a knuckle as she gave a pretty smile. "I'll see your boss tomorrow, and you can tell him I have plenty to say to him."

The bar filled with applause and whistles as Tifa became an even greater hero to the common person in Jarta. Albeit, most of these people were drunk, but it was nice to knew she still had enough personal power to throw someone out of her own bar. Hey, it was in self defense right?

The man slung the other over his shoulders with some difficulty as a room full of eyes watched his progress. Once he left, people began to cheer again, and order even more food and drinks. Some of them tried even harder to get Tifa to join them but, as usual, she just laughed and declined.

"What about me!" cried Yuffie. "I helped!" Her irritated yell was greeted with a drunken cheer for her as well and she beamed at everyone. "That's more like it."

* * *

Tifa looked up, and up, at the building that housed the majority of the legal and planning and who knows what other divisions of The Nova Company. It had been a few years ago that this business sprang up and soon it was ruthlessly shoving out smaller businesses and efficiently taking over contracts for various products and buildings. At the moment, from what she had been hearing on the streets, Nova was the biggest growing business in town and if they kept going like this they would be the only business in town.

But business had never really interested her, and now she was no terrorist but a small time bar owner who just wanted to be left alone. The doors slid aside for her and she eyed the large guards in suits that lined the walls every few steps.

"What a friendly atmosphere. . ." She straitened out her pants and blouse. It was the one nice outfit she owned, but even so she felt underdressed. Compared to Yuffie she was the peak of femininity but as she locked eyes with the prim lady secretary near the elevators, she could feel the penetrating disapproval. "I'm here to see Boss-I mean, I'm here to see Mr. Nova."

"I take it you are," the receptionist put on glasses, small ones, that perched precariously at the tip of her long nose. "Miss Lockhart?"

"That's me." She tried to seem friendly, even as nervousness began to make her doubt herself a little. "Where do I go?"

"Floor 15, there will be a white lounge. Take a seat there and you will be fetched. Good day." The tone did not imply that she wished Tifa anything even resembling a good day, but rather than dwelling on it Tifa simply got into a lift and pushed 15. For a moment she tried to determine why this lift was so eerie, and decided with a start it was because there was no cheesy music playing. The terrible foreboding that was clutching at her heart only multiplied at the doors opened at the 15th floor to blind her with the contents of the room.

The white lounge was true to its name, with white tables and chairs. A white couch, and white sculptures. Small indoor ponds with water cascading down a white wall, and glaring lights were on either side of the room making it all glow in a surreal manner and also making her squint. It was almost scary, and she was afraid to touch anything lest she dirty the pristine nature of the room. For once she realized how odd a total lack of color really was. Rather than chance soiling a chair, she sat on the floor and watched the water flow down one of the walls and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

She was getting very irritated. The room hurt her eyes and for some reason was giving her the feeling of vertigo. She had been pacing around after her legs had fallen asleep twice as she sat, and she nearly fell into one of the ponds already. The room was also cold, but then what else should she have expected? A mug of cocoa? Magazines? This was business and he was making her wait to throw off her ability to negotiate. The problem was that her ability to negotiate was not that good to begin with and this was just pissing her off. When the white doors opposite to the elevator opened, at last, she had been minutes away from punching them into little splinters.

"Mr. Nova will see you now, Miss Lockhart." The aide looked placid. He was dressed in a black suit, and Tifa was grateful for the relief he provided to her eyes after nearly two hours in the horrible white room.

"It's about damn time." She mumbled it, but loudly enough for the aide to hear. She wasn't the sort of person to hide her malice for any reason. Dishonesty was as unnatural for her as running from a fight.

Through the black hallway, she felt as if she had moved underground and struggled to see. What was next? Grey? Sadly, her assumption proved correct. The room she emerged in after the long black hallway was simply a grey room with grey furniture that was only relieved by a brown desk and green chair in the corner. The aide announced her name and then withdrew, closing the doors behind him.

"Miss Lockhart, I must admit, I was startled to learn that the owner of the small bit of bar that prevents me from starting my next major project was one of the famous saviors of the planet. You all have kept a very low profile, and it seems to some that maybe you are really just a legend. I know better-there is always some truth in the legend and you all touched far too many lives to be mere imagination." The voice was familiar, but Tifa couldn't place it. Probably he just sounded like every other politician she had had the displeasure to come across. His chair remained swiveled around, facing the large window behind the desk.

"Look, Mr. Nova, I'm glad you think I'm real, but if you know I'm real then you should talk to me like a normal person, face to face." She walked forward; she was no longer afraid now that the butterflies in her stomach had disintegrated against the force of the acidic bile of her ire.

"Ah, Miss Lockhart, gentle as always." The chair turned around and Tifa blinked a few times to make sure what she was seeing was real. The voice and the face aligned with an old memory that played out like a grainy home movie in her head. She spoke the name without thinking.

"Shinra. . ." It was him, except for the lack of distinctive white trenchcoat. But no slate grey suit could hide who he was.

"Excuse me? What did you say?" His face was impassive, eyes sleepy looking as he carefully took in her appearance since she had moved up to his desk while he had spoken.

"Rufus Shinra."

"I'm afraid you have me confused with someone else. My name is Nova." Tifa seemed like she was about to argue, but then got a perplexed look on her face. Her past was trying to reassert itself, but now was not the time to think about Sephiroth, or Jenova, or most especially Cloud. Rufus had been a side note in her life, a brief flash of evil, and right now she was working hard to avoid coming back to that past as a whole.

"Whatever. . ." she pushed her emotional baggage aside and tried to tackle the problem at hand. "Now I want you to stop threatening me and harassing me or I'll have to go to the authorities." She slammed one hand down on his desk a little too hard and had the grace to look slightly off put when it made an audible cracking noise. Tifa withdrew the fist almost apologetically before putting on a fierce scowl.

"I need that land your bar occupies, Miss Lockhart. I would forget about bothering with it and go ahead with construction, but I need to own a block all around the proposed hotel site before I can get approval for construction. Maybe we could come to some sort of compromise." His voice stayed bland, and not once did a smile even touch the corners of his mouth, but the tone was so smooth you could pour it in coffee. "I don't have time today, but if you would meet me for dinner. . ."

"Hell no, we solve this now." She almost hit the desk again, but stopped short and simply clenched her fist and put it against her side, arms stiff.

His mouth quirked a moment as if a smile had tried to start and then died on the way to his lips. "You are being unreasonable. I am offering you a civilized solution, and merely explaining that I do not have the time to outline it at the moment. If you had time last night it would be a different story, but-"

"Your minions tried to kidnap me!"

"A miscommunication. They have been disciplined, I assure you." He took out a piece of paper and grabbed an expensive looking pen from its holder on the desk. With a few flourishes he had the note finished and handed it to the skeptical woman who warily examined it.

The beautiful, precise cursive read: '8:30, The Reactor' and she vaguely recognized the name of the posh restaurant uptown. She'd never be able to justify eating somewhere so expensive when there were thousands of people just getting by. She had made a fair amount of money in her travels, and even though she spent a fair amount to buy some property and start up her bar she was still comfortable. Going to a restaurant where a bowl of soup cost as much as she made in a week was not her idea of fun. But it wasn't supposed to be about fun, it was about him keeping her at a disadvantage. Well, she'd show him.

"I'll see you tonight, then." With more confidence then she thought she had, she crumpled up the paper and threw it at him. She only blinked when his left hand snapped it up before it hit his eye.

"Then good day, Miss Lockhart."

"Same to you Mr. Shinra."