Rufus saw the shot coming. He saw the tail of fire rapidly shooting towards him. Yet he did not move. -I will not die, he thought stubbornly and gazed firmly at the approaching death. - I refuse! Rufus clenched and unclenched his fists, but still; he did not run. - I did not survive what my father put me through just to have it end so shortly after taking over MY empire! I refuse! First there was a blinding bright light that made him raise his right arm to shield himself, then everything exploded into pain. He heard the building collapse, windows shattering and the heat of flames as he was flung back against the wall and finally everything went black...

1. "I can't believe I'm doing this..."

Long after the dust had settled, a battered form drew a shivering breath under a pile of office-scrap. Something pierced through the blissful dark that had engulfed Rufus, something too strong to ignore; pain. Raw, unbearable pain! Rufus ShinRa wasn't dead, but his first thought was how he wished he was. He managed to open his eyes, but had to blink several times to focus enough to understand what he was seeing; complete mayhem and there was not a living soul in sight. Rufus made an effort at a deep breath, coughing as the pain raged though him, only to black-out again by the strain.

The sun had set when Rufus slowly returned to conciousness again and it took him several minutes to register the burning ball on the sky.

- Meteor... he thought, - it's still here and just coming closer... I survived merely to see the death of everything.

Rufus tried to move his arm, biting his teeth together to endure the pain and not pass out again. It wasn't broken, was the conclusion, so he tried his left arm. Equal success there. A good 15 minutes later, Rufus concluded that no arms or legs were broken. However, his right leg did ache like hell, and he knew he'd at least broken two or three ribs, had several bleeding cuts and a severe blow to his head left him constant nauseous with the world swimming past his eyes. The young man managed to free himself of the office-wreckage on him and somehow sit up.

"Great..." He mumbled and stroke a hand over his bloody and dark-grey jacket in a futile attempt to bring out the once so white colour. "Just great..."

Rufus sat silently for a while, adjusting to the pain, and cleared his mind. -Now what...? He thought, and wondered vaguely if he could walk. - ShinRa is in ruins... Sephiroth is going to destroy the world... and my best suit is ruined... Damn.

The pain made it hard for him to think, and suddenly he found himself struggling to his feet. Where he was going to, Rufus did not know, and he honestly didn't care. He just couldn't stay here any longer. So he walked out of the ruins while leaving a trail of blood as if the company itself was bleeding to it's death.

Rufus never knew something could hurt this much. He'd never felt anything like it, and was walking more by instinct than his own will. And just when Rufus thought it couldn't get worse, he suddenly found himself facing having to walk down all those stairs to reach ground level! He halted at the top, took a hold of the railing, and sank down against the wall. It would appear that he wasn't going to see the end of everything after all...

That was when he thought he heard voices. -That blow to the head must have been harder then I first figured, Rufus thought grimly, as he felt himself slipping towards the silent dark place again.

"Wait! I see someone!" A female voice said and it was soon was followed by the sound of footsteps.

"It's not possible!" A man exclaimed, and several other voices made similar comments. "He's... he's alive?!" The man asked, and Rufus felt a hand gently checking his pulse at the side of his neck.

"He's alive alright," the soft female voice said. Rufus wanted to open his eyes and talk to them, but was too far into the darkness. That voice... it seemed so familiar... He had heard that voice before! All of them!

"Come on," a third voice said, this too a male, "leave him."

There were the sound footsteps moving away, but then the female voice rang out; "No! We can't just leave him! He's wounded! He needs help!"

A snort was heard; "Bah! He's done this to himself! And he wouldn't hesitate to leave us wounded!"

The woman kneeled down beside Rufus. "But that's where we're different! That is WHY we're different!" She insisted, "WE don't leave wounded people to die! If we leave him here to die; we've become everything we've fought against!"

"Tifa is right, " a fourth voice said, "come on. We're taking him with us."

-Tifa! Rufus thought numbly, - That is her name! Tifa! The girl with Cloud.

He recognized all their voices now; Tifa, Cloud, Barret, and Cid. But then somebody took a hold of him and yanked him up, and everything exploded into darkness.

This time it wasn't the pain that awoke Rufus, though it was still very much there, it was the feeling of a wet cloth to his damp face and the low humming of Tifa's voice. He forced himself to swallow, and the humming stopped. She was watching him nervously as his eyes slowly opened and managed to put on a thin uncertain smile. "Hi there. How are you feeling?"

Rufus managed to lift an arm and fan away the cloth."Where am I?" He asked in a rusty voice.

Tifa fidgeted nervously with the cloth. "You're in Kaln. We brought you here after... Uhm, we've healed the broken bones, but there are still some cuts and bruises that might sting a little."

Rufus closed his eyes again, absorbing the news and considered his options of what he could do. A moment of awkward silence. "So... where's your boyfriend?" He finally asked, and set his eyes on the girl sitting beside his bed.

Tifa frowned confused before she almost flinched with embarrassment and something else... "Cloud? Oh. No, he's not my boyfriend! And, uhm, he's downstairs with the others. They're waiting for you to wake up, I think they want to ask you some questions or something..."

Rufus sighed and pulled a hand through his hair. "Oh joy..." He muttered, "and who are ''the others'? If I may ask, that is."

Tifa glanced over at him, picking up the poison in his voice. "Barret, Cid, Red, Cait, Yuffie and Vincent. And I can see you're well enough to talk with them..."

She got up and sent him a strange look that made Rufus wonder if she would have left him in the ruins if she got a second chance after their little talk. Yet, as their eyes locked, it was Tifa who finally looked away and mumbled that she was going to talk to Cloud.

Rufus merely closed his eyes again. His fate was still pretty uncertain. Up until this moment he had been sure Cloud and his band of do-gooders wanted him dead, very dead, only now they had actually saved his life. No. Tifa saved his life. The others would have left him there for dead. At that moment, Rufus felt a deep and intense hatred for Tifa. He'd never owed anyone anything throughout his entire existence, and now he owed this goody twoshoe-girl his life. Could things get any worse?

As if to answer his question; Rufus heard Cloud and Barret's voices arguing heatedly over something, where the name 'Rufus ShinRa' came up several times. Rufus opened his eyes again and stared at the ceiling. It was clear that the big brute wanted him dead so Rufus didn't figure his life was quite safe yet. Nothing prevented them from saving his life only to take it themselves. He could not afford to relax before he was far away from these people. Here Rufus ShinRa was on his own, no guards, no shotgun, no nothing! He painfully sat up only seconds before the door opened and the gang of good samaritans entered the room.

Pale as a ghost, with ruffled hair and a dust-covered/blood-stained suit; Rufus ShinRa still gazed at them with an arrogant and patronizing look.

-Does he ever have the brains to be scared? Cloud wondered, -Was he scared when the building collapsed?

Barret, on the other hand, stared murderously at the provoking whelp, while Cid leaned against the door-frame, inhaling thoughtfully from his cigarette as the rest of AVALANCHE walked into the room.

"Rufus..." Cloud began and was met with the indifferent stare of ShinRa's former president, "we all thought you were dead... The way Weapon completely destroyed the building... Everybody thinks you dead."

Rufus once again took in the new information silently before giving a light shrug. "Then everybody is wrong, aren't they now?"

He bit back the physical pain that followed of his action and hid it with a mask of indifference.

Cloud cleared his throat. "True, but ShinRa has fallen completely into pieces and it's hardly the most popular name around here."

Rufus snorted with a look of pure arrogance. "ShinRa has never been popular. Popularity means nothing. You don't earn any gil by being popular. Now, cut through the chitter-chatter, Strife, and tell me what you want from me."

Barret sneered with anger and unknowingly grasped his gun-arm, only barely able to stifle the urge to shoot the obnoxious little twerp due to Tifa's calming hand on his shoulder.

Vincent gazed silently at them from his dark corner and already knew of Rufus pain and nervousness. From years and years of merely observing, Vincent quickly caught up what others failed to see. The young ex-president was tired, in pain, confused and quite lost in his way. Things was going to turn out quite interesting indeed.

"Have you seen the sky?" Cloud asked, glancing over at the window.

Rufus nodded. "Yeah... I saw it. Meteor is closing in. It looks like Sephiroth is succeeding..."

Cloud gazed back at Rufus and got a determined look in his eyes. "But we're going to stop him! Both him and Meteor."

Rufus leaned back, too tired to sit up straight, now with a glimpse of malice in his eyes. "Aww. You're gonna save the world?"

This time Barret actually took a step forward until Cloud raised a hand to signal him to stop. "Yes. We are going to save the world. Going to try anyway."

Rufus sighed again, feeling his strength leaving him already and leaving him only wanting to sleep. "So what does this have to do with me?"

Cloud flung out his arms in frustration. "You live on this planet too! And ShinRa is to blame to this entire mess anyway!" He quickly continued before Rufus could get in his objections; "Sephiroth is strong. So strong I don't know if we can stop him, but the more we are; the stronger we are!"

Rufus actually looked surprised for a few seconds, then laughed. "Oh, this is a good one! You actually want me to join you?!"

Yuffie stomped her foot angrily. "Why not do something good for a change, you jerk?"

Rufus merely laughed again, it was a hard laugh, so hard and cold it made Tifa shudder. The ex-president shook his head slowly. "I don't believe I actually heard that." He met Clouds angry eyes with a clear challenge, "and if I refuse? Then what? You're gonna kill me?"

Cloud smiled sadly. "No, we're not like you that way, Rufus. But I know you're a skilled fighter, so, if only for yourself; why not fight to make sure this planet survives?"

Rufus lifted a tired hand to his left cheekbone which started to hurt for some reason, only to feel a deep cut underneath his searching fingertips and wondering idly if it would leave a scar. "I don't think so, Strife. You and me have too different ways of thinking that we ever could work together. Besides, with you lot going off; why should I worry? Sephiroth doesn't stand a chance against the army of good samaritans!" Rufus saw the angering effect his words had and smirked. "And as I'm going to re-build ShinRa; I've got a lot of work in front of me and should start as soon as possible!"

Vincent shook his head quietly. "ShinRa is finished, Rufus. You know that." He said in his silent, soft voice.

The young ex-president glared over at the semi-visible figure of the former Turk. "I'll build it up again. Stronger then before!"

"Realise it, numb-skull!" Cid sneered from his position by the door, "ShinRa is done for it! People snap at the mere mentioning of the name! Nobody is going to allow another dictator get to the power of this land again!"

Rufus lifted both his hands to his temples as vicious headache was starting to make itself known. "You're wrong. All of you; you're wrong! I know what mistakes I made. I won't do them again. A new, stronger, bigger ShinRa!"

Moving over to place a slim arm around his shoulders, Tifa stroke a reassuring hand over Rufus' hair and gazed at the others. "I think that's enough. Let him rest for a while now and think about it. He's not fully healed, remember?"

Barret made some comments about a permanent cure for Rufus ShinRas, while the other left silently, save Cloud, who halted in the doorway. Gazing back at Tifa by the mumbling Rufus, he got a worried look. "Are you sure you don't want me to stay? That IS Rufus ShinRa, you know..."

Tifa smiled warmly to him, grateful for the offer. "No, thanks. It'll be fine. He just need some more sleep, that's all."

Cloud nodded with a doubting look on his face and closed the door quietly behind him.

When they were finally alone again, Tifa gazed over at Rufus again. "Rufus, calm down. You should get some sleep. Heal those cuts of yours."

He blinked as he regained control over himself, suddenly very aware of her arm around him. "Y-yeah..."

Noting how Rufus leaned away from her, Tifa got up with a sigh. He clearly didn't want her there. "Are you ok up here? Do you want me to get you anything?"

Rufus shook his head without looking at her, not sure why he was so eager to get her out of the room. "Nono. I'm fine. As you said, I just need some sleep."

Tifa sighed and placed her arms around herself. "Alright. We're just downstairs. If you need anything, that is... or you wanna talk. So, ok then."

After she'd left, Rufus didn't dare relax until several seconds had passed and then finally sunk back into the pillows. Dear planet, his head was hurting! Rufus knew there was so many things he needed to decide, but he was simply too tired right now and sank into a blissful dream-free sleep.

"I say we kill'im!" Barret raged, waving his gun-arm angrily as Tifa came walking in.

"He didn't say he wouldn't join us," Cloud answered from where he was sitting in a chair by the window, gazing at the ever-approaching Meteor.

"Uh, not to bust your bubble, Cloud, but I think it's a bigger chance of seeing Vinnie with a tan rather then Rufus ShinRa fighting with us!" Cait Sith declared.

"Cait!" Tifa scolded, glancing quickly over at the dark figure with his usual expressionless face. "Ignore him, Vincent."

The former Turk might have shrugged, Tifa wasn't sure.

"So... if Rufus decides NOT to come with us..." Cid philosophized as he checked the sharpness of the Venus Gospel, "then what?"

Cloud sank back in his chair and sighed. "I don't know. Nothing I guess. We go our way. He goes his."

Yuffie jumped up from where she'd been sitting on the floor. "You really mean that?! You're just going to let him go?!"

Red glanced over from where he was lying infront of the fire-place. "That man has so many lives on his conscience... Are you sure we should just let him go?"

Cloud smiled bitterly. "I can't see the harm. You all speak as if Rufus ShinRa is our biggest problem, let me bring your minds to the sky. I say we focus on stopping Sephiroth and Meteor first, and then, if we succeed and we're still alive, then can we deal with Rufus!"

The others nodded wearily. "Of course," Red mumbled. "You're absolutely right, Cloud."

Barret nodded, still not comfortable with the idea, but learning to accept it.

Cloud gazed over at Tifa, "so how is His Highness doing?"

She gave him a weak smile and shrugged. "He'll be good as new tomorrow, I think."

Cloud nodded and smiled back. "With you helping him? Of course he will!"

Tifa laughed softly. "I'm not so sure Mr ShinRa would agree on your high opinion of me, I'm afraid."

Cloud frowned. "Why? Did he say anything to you?"

Tifa shook her head with another smile. "No, he behaved. He was too tired to start acting up. We'll see tomorrow!"

Cloud sank back in his chair. "Yeah," he said absently while gazing up at Meteor. "Tomorrow..."

Early the next day, Rufus was sitting outside the inn, gazing absently up at the Meteor in the sky, and was trying to sort out what he was to do.

He knew he had several choices; he could return to Junon and gather the remains of ShinRa. Or he could disappear; do something else with his life. Travel perhaps? Live the life of a rouge? And finally; he could join Cloud and co to make sure the planet really did survive. His options would really turn limited if Sephiroth did succeed...

Rufus sighed and pulled both his hands through his hair as he leaned slightly forward. He couldn't quite see himself working side by side with Cloud Strife, but then again ,he hadn't quite pictured himself out on the bum either. The sound of voices made Rufus look up and he saw a couple walking by him and into the materia-shop. The town was pretty desolated and sometimes he felt the silence was about to choke him. Staring down at the ground again, he let his mind wander...

Rufus glanced up at Meteor once more. If that thing wasn't stopped, there would be no more world. That much was a simple fact. If only he'd had the ShinRa army, he could've... He suddenly frowned annoyed at his own thinking. Rufus didn't need anyone to do his fighting for him! He'd fought every day of his his entire life, and now that he'd lost the empire, temporarily, he still had himself.

Hours had passed as Rufus sat there, thinking, when suddenly he realised someone was walking towards him. Staring defiantly at the ground, he saw two pair of feet halting straight infront of him. "Hey! You!"

Rufus lifted his face with a bored sigh. "Yes?"

Two men stared angrily with clenched fists as they studied him. "You're that ShinRa-fellah! That Ruf-something ShinRa!"

Rufus flicked back a lock of his hair and smirked. "Rufus ShinRa, president of the ShinRa incorporations. That's me."

He could feel the hostility and threats from the two, but he'd be damned before he showed fear infront of two red-necks like that! The two men watched as Rufus slowly and gracefully got up and they raised their fists.

"I don't know how you survived the attack on Midgar," the tallest growled, "but that's one mistake I'm happy to correct!"

Rufus gazed indifferently at the two while his mind was racing. One; he had no weapon. Two; he still wasn't fully healed and not ready to jump around in a fight. Three; they were two and he was one, which only caused a problem as he hadn't trained his hand-to-hand combat-skills for at least a year. Still, Rufus gave them a lazy smile, "Well, come on then. Or will old age be the death of me?"

He raised his fists as the two approached him, then somebody cleared his throat. "Two against one is hardly fair now, is it?"

Rufus glanced over his shoulder to see Cid leaning lazily against the door-frame at the inn, Venus Gospel in one hand, cigarette in the other.

The two men planing to attack Rufus stared furiously at the relaxed pilot. "Don't interfere with this! That is Rufus ShinRa!"

Cid inhaled a final time from his cigarette as he straightened and threw it away. "I know. But I never could stand to see an unfair fight."

The men glanced frustrated at each other before returning their attention to Cid. "Stay out of this, stranger. Life is never fair! Mr ShinRa here has taught us that!"

Rufus wasn't sure what the pilot had planned, but prepared himself to fight alone.

"Well, fellas, what's it gonna be?" He asked with an arrogant smirk and the two fastened their gazes at him.

"You die!" The tall one sneered and just as he was to throw a punch at Rufus, when yet another voice broke in.

"Insist on this, and it wont be ShinRa that dies..." Vincent said gently.

The two men started violently when they suddenly saw the former Turk appearing out of nowhere to stand next to Rufus, who at that moment was as confused as his two attackers.

"But please don't let that stop you," Yuffie grinned from her place up on the roof above them.

"Could be nice with a little practice," Red said lightly as he came walking out from the inn.

Rufus glanced around, and blinked even more confused as he saw Tifa standing beside him in silent support like Vincent.

"But hasn't there been enough blood-shed?" Cloud said as he too came walking out from the inn. Even that toy-cat came wobbling!

The two men backed away a few steps. "We, er, we wont forget this! We'll get you ShinRa, maybe not now, but sometime!" Then they turned and ran for dear life.

Yuffie whined disappointed and disappeared up on the roof again. While Red, Cid, Tifa and Cait Sith walked back inside the inn again. Rufus wasn't surprised to find Vincent vanished, but Cloud stood watching him.

"I could have handled them," the ex-president sneered,

Cloud sighed resigned. Doubting if Rufus ever has the brains to be afraid... "Maybe, maybe not. Now we avoided a fight entirely and the attention it would've brought." He knew his words fell for deaf ears and shifted uneasily as he saw Rufus glare after where his attackers had run. "So... have you decided, Rufus?"

The ex-president crossed his arms and frowned thoughtfully. "Normally I would have said that I wouldn't work with you until hell froze over, but by the looks of things, Meteor will send me there to check on the weather conditions there sooner than I'd prefer if I don't do something..."

Cloud blinked surprised and was just about to say something when Rufus raised his hand to silence him.

"But let's make one thing clear, Strife and I mean crystal clear! I'm not working for you. I never will. I don't take orders. In fact, I'm not even sure we can call it working 'with' you, but alright; I'll tag along to face Sephiroth." He smirked, "I have to secure the future of ShinRa inc, don't I?"

Cloud turned to walk into the inn again. "We leave for Rocket Town in a few hours. I'll tell the others." As Rufus was left alone, he shoved his hands into the pockets of his pants and stared down at the ground.

AN; Wow... Can't believe I made this many mistakes! xD Luckily, I love this story. Considering the amount of stuff I had to correct, it would have been easier just to delete the entire thing, but love prevails!