More Rufus/Tifa? Yes. I am an insane masochist who loves Cloud/Tifa but finds herself sorrowfully (ha) writing Rufus/Tifa. Damn my alt couple tendencies! This is yet another short piece. I think it's going to be short anyway. It was intended to be short. I don't have time for long fics. And honestly I should phase out of fanfic writing as a whole. But I always say that. It's so addictive. . .
Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy 7 or its characters! If I did then I wouldn't need to write fanfiction, now would I? So, yeah, Squaresoft owns Final Fantasy, and therefore several weeks in total worth of my life over the past six years. . . bah.
Tifa waited with growing apprehension as above her and below her battles raged on to people she cared about. The torn feeling of wanting to back up Cloud coupled with the dislike of being in the flower girl's presence was enough to give her confidence to stay, but now that she thought more about it the idea seemed half baked. She was a fighter, not a killer, and being in the same room as the gruesomely murdered body of the ex-President of Shinra Inc. set her ill at ease. There were a few guards here and there as well, but they had been thrown to the walls, carelessly, by a power greater than they could have foreseen being asked to fight against. Blood was everywhere, so she rubbed her arms with cold hands and tried to find some other place for her mind to wander away from the carnage and the stink of death.
Even in a situation like this, she couldn't help but think about Cloud. Not those rosy happy thoughts that she had entertained when she had been cleaning up after a particularly rough night at the Seventh Heaven, but dark violent thoughts that involved twisting his arm behind his back and making him promise things. What those things were in general had to do with other women, but in specific she wanted him to swear never to get within a hundred yards of a certain helpless flower girl. These thoughts were tinged with bilious anger at the both of them, a sort of feeling of betrayal but with an undercurrent of expectation. She hadn't really expected him to wait, had she? To remember the promise? Obviously he had someone else he wanted to guard more, someone who had less of a capability for self preservation.
She looked around for a spot to sit down, but every surface was flecked with blood, and the smell alone was pretty objectionable underneath the rusty odor: old cologne and leather mixed together in a way that bit at her nose in an acidic manner. From the window behind the slumped figure with the sword in his back, the city was glowing. Smoke was still coming from the crushed ruins of Sector Seven. The panoramic view of the high tech top of the plates was strangely fascinating combined with the silhouette of the slain Shinra. Ignoring the horror of the moment, she walked over to the window, past the body, and glanced down. There was a strange feeling, from this height on the 70th floor, that everything down there wasn't real. The people rushing about were just dots and the toy life below was all some fabrication for the sake of a more obscure game. Maybe this is the sort of disconnection that allowed Shinra Inc. to take apart people's lives without mercy. . .
Or for a terrorist to blow up a reactor with little thought to possible loss of life.
The depressed turn of her thoughts distracted her, as she pressed her forehead against the glass. If she had been just looking out, as before, she would have seen in the reflection the guards in Shinra blue that crept up behind her. Noise wasn't an issue, as the alarms had been going non stop since Barrett and his party had been discovered in the lobby. Or at least that's what Tifa had suspected. The alarms were too late for the true danger, she had thought, since Sephiroth had come and gone. Thus, when she sensed the movement behind her, she was effectively too late to stop the inevitable.
In a twirl of hair, she caught the first punch. The guard looked shocked, then pained as she squeezed her fist in an attempt to crush his knuckles. However, the second guard, who she had only noticed upon catching the first guard's punch, landed a hit squarely on her cheek. The hit was hard, but not more than she could take except for the fact that it knocked her head against the glass and essentially scored two hits for the price of one. Probably concussed and already weary from previous battles, Tifa went down in a heap, dragging the one guard with her as her hand refused to release.
The kick the first guard had been nearly about to force upon her helpless form was stopped by the second guard.
"He said she wasn't to be harmed." The second guard said with some authority.
"Yeah, well, he also said she'd be helpless. That bitch nearly broke my hand!" The first guard massaged his hand gingerly, still smarting from Tifa's brief display of force.
The second guard shrugged. "The boss said she had uncanny abilities. Who knows, eh? Let's just get her on the helicopter before the boss is done up there. He said he wouldn't be long."
They hefted her onto the shoulder of the second guard, arms draped down his back, bottom in the air. The first guard stopped a moment to leer at the way her short black skirt pulled up. Before he could make a stupid comment the second guard hit his companion lightly to get him to move.
"Let's go, she ain't getting any lighter, you know."
"Yeah yeah. You're just mad cause I got a better view."
The second guard sighed and tried to balance the dead weight on his shoulder. "You're an idiot. Let's just get to the helicopter."
Above them and below them, battles raged on with no knowledge of what had passed on the 70th floor. Everyone assumed Tifa was safe with the other, but only Rufus was assured knowledge of her whereabouts once he disdainfully beheld the bound and gagged bundle in his helicopter. The spiky haired blond SOLDIER had been a joke to fight, and it was a miracle that this Cloud Strife had beaten Dark Nation let alone nearly captured this woman back from Shinra HQ. Rufus was not like his father, he wasn't a fool, and the girl would not get away a second time.
The first thing she did upon waking was try to kick whatever was nearest to her. This proved to be a rather hard and painful wall which did not give in any to her vicious strike with one bare foot. It felt like she had either jammed or broken something. Tifa swore in her mind at the reflexive end to the surprise attack to which she obviously lost, judging from her bound hands. She sat up and looked around the room, ignoring for now her throbbing toes.
There was a cot and four walls, the usual sort of cell, but instead of dingy grey or even the avocado color that seemed to magically attach itself to the interior of many institutional centers, the walls were a pristine white. The bed looked fresh with white sheets. There was even a little window with bars on it painted white, though she expected that beneath the paint they were a metal strong enough not to even think about trying to break. It looked more like a room in a hospital for the mentally deranged, and would have been exactly identical to one if the walls had been padded, but, as her foot attested to, they were not.
To compliment the room, as well as add insult to injury, she was in a white dress of some sort. It was short, just brushing the tops of her knees, and billowed everywhere but at her chest, which had the ability to put strain on most outfits, so she didn't let that concern her so much as the fact that someone undressed her. She'd place good odds on that person being male, and she hoped that someday she found out who it was, so she could pass her own Tifa style of judgment on them. No one was going to see her naked, if she could help it, except for Cloud. And his privileges had even been wavering when she last thought of him.
After hobbling over to the window, she had the grand realization that the whooshing noise she had been hearing was not in fact a vent for air, but the sea outside as it crashed against the bottom of a cliff. Any hopes of getting out through the window, with or without bars, seemed as dashed as she would be on those rocks if she managed to get out. Someone had really designed this place to be maddening.
Speaking of maddening, she noticed that her ear was itching. With her hands bound all she could do was scrunch up her face and shake her head around a bit. Tifa's hair flew about in disarray, and she saw all the knots at the end with dismay. The shaking she soon stopped, not because of the knots she was causing in her hair, but because the pain was really quite bad in her head after joggling her brains about like that. It felt like there was a large bump at the back of her head and a smaller one on her jaw. The explorations of her tongue turned up a raw spot where her cheek was healing from being knocked into her teeth. That bastard had punched her harder than she thought a Shinra soldier could hit. Maybe he just got lucky; crazier things had happened.
Combing her hands through her hair absently, catching on the many knots and only half heartedly trying to straighten it, Tifa paced about the room slowly in her partially limping fashion. She was alive, and that was a boon, but she was once again imprisoned and she wasn't sure what the status of the rest of her group was at the moment. All she could do was wait and attempt to think up some sort of escape plan until more information presented itself. Even if she was emotionally heated in some aspects of her life, she had a lot of patience. She had waited for years, trained for years, started and continued to run a successful bar, and now that she decided to take initiative to change the way power structures ran in the city she paid for it. At the moment she didn't know how dearly she was going to pay for her actions, but if this was the worst of it then she could stand it. Eventually she grew tired of pacing and sat on the bed, resting her bound hands on the taut sheets.
This was excruciatingly boring. Not even her apprehension over her future could keep her eyelids from drooping a little. The sounds outside were fairly soothing, the steady crash of waves and whistle of wind, and with her body hurting and still recovering from a stressful day of activity and fighting she was almost glad for the stimuli-free room. It was just when she was becoming lulled into a restive state and soon to enter sleep that the bolt outside the door was thrown back. Tifa assumed that's what the sound was, because metal had a distinctive clang to it, and nothing else would explain the noises coming from the door unless someone was prepping an enormous gun. Suddenly she wished she didn't have thoughts like that as she swallowed hard and stood up, chin high in the air, eyes proud.
When a distinctive looking man entered the room, Tifa tried not to let a sneer creep onto her face. That wouldn't help matters, but even her best efforts could not prevent it. Rufus Shinra was not the person she wanted to see most at the moment, and judging from his sharp assessment of her he didn't seem to be particularly thrilled with her either.
"It's funny," he said in that lazy cultured tone of his, "When one pictures an ancient master race, one thinks that their descendents would be a little more. . . fragile looking."
She held back a response by biting her tongue, one more injury to add to the rest. So what if she was not a spare, breakable little bit of fluff like that flower girl? Tifa was confident in her appearance and she refused to be degraded by the likes of a Shinra. What's more, now she knew that this was just a case of mistaken identities. If they had Aeris they would certainly know she wasn't anything special, and then Tifa herself would be in a world of trouble. Best to say nothing and play along.
"I thought you people had strange powers, why didn't you just heal up that nasty bump on your face?" He sounded falsely sympathetic. "I did so tell them to be careful, but my father instilled a rather 'brawn over brains' mentality in his organization. Unfortunate if sometimes useful."
"I suppose you're different." Her acidic remark flew past her thinly pressed lips.
The way he laughed was almost melodic, but there was an edge there that said he wasn't actually amused by her question. "I surpass my father in all ways I can think of. It was only a matter of time before I would have killed him myself. Sephiroth did me a favor."
Her lip curled a little, as she tried not to let her revulsion for this evil man spill over into vengeful violence. The reaction was not lost on Rufus.
"You're a spirited little thing, aren't you? That's just as well. If I had to worry about suicide attempts it would be a terrible inconvenience." He motioned to the doorway and large men in white button up coats came and held her down on the bed. She kicked and swore, but their greater numbers as well as her fatigue and the surprise of the maneuver overcame her. "Now hold still." Rufus ordered serenely over her shouts.
A warm light suffused her body as the healing spell restored her body even if it did not take away her feeling of fatigue. Her struggling became more vigorous.
"Tut tut, someone with as noble a bloodline as yours shouldn't use such language. People would think you had grown up in a slum." The barb might have hurt more if Tifa actually had grown up in a slum, like Aeris, but that he would even say such a thing to her still got the effect he had desired.
"I'll kill you!" She roared. "I'll break every bone in your body!"
This seemed to amuse Rufus more than it threatened him, and he was honestly laughing even as he put her to sleep with a hazy cloud of energy. It took a few tries, because of how hard she was fighting against him, but eventually she had to succumb. The orderlies laid her on her back on the bed before they left. Rufus brushed back her hair gently, examining her head for any other marks of combat. Her reposed face in sleep was fascinating to him, for some odd reason, and he stared a moment before pulling himself away.
His little Ancient was safe in his grasp, just where she should be.
Rufus sauntered through the Shinra Convalescent Home at his leisure, before returning to the comfortable suite of private rooms at the top level of the ten story building. Walking through the building was oddly depressing for him. Having never been truly incapacitated for any reason, to see so many crippled soldiers from his own private army was causing him to have a visceral reaction. He hated weakness, particularly disease, and it manifested in his disinterest in ill people and a slight fear of doctors. The only reason he was here with that girl now, the Ancient, was because experiments needed to be done and he didn't know anywhere else to safely bring her. There needed to be a place he could regroup, and the city was chaos at the moment. Eventually he would remove himself to Junon for some ceremonial passing of power. . . parades and meetings for hours is all that sounded like to him. Compared to the tedium of that, a little break here was fine.
He entered the elevator and pressed the button for Floor 10, along with the key code needed for access. Behind him, the glass revealed a long grassy hill that led down to some serene coastline. Beyond the foothills and some low mountain was the Golden Saucer. It lit up the mountains at night, he vaguely recalled, and made the Home here seem more urban than it really was. The property had been cheap by the ocean, and the atmosphere was oddly warm. The research and development laboratory beneath the Home was the real reason for this building's existence, however, rather than any true good will towards disabled soldiers. It was just like every Shinra action: villainy disguised as philanthropy.
Passing by the guards standing at attention, guns on shoulders, he thought about all the paperwork that needed to be changed now. At least he too was a Shinra, so that was convenient in some respects, but now he needed new business cards, a new seal, and new stationary for the entire company would probably needed to be made. Anything that had his father's name on it would have to be erased. There was almost a sort of desperate need for him to erase all memories of that man as fast as humanly possible. The logistics of it were already causing a frown to mar his handsome features and a slight pressure to develop around his temples. His blood pressure was already high from the stress of being in this hospital, and now he just didn't want to confront the magnitude of the changes he had to activate.
When one is suddenly ruler of most of the world, one has issues.
He fell down onto the couch, white suit crushing beneath him. It didn't matter if it wrinkled, just like it didn't matter if it stained. Rufus led an immaculate life, with everything in its place, and if his coat was ruined then he'd just have it replaced. The whole of his life was, and always had been, disposable. Break a toy? Buy a new one. Break a person? Hire a new one. It was all the same to him. But now he had a toy he couldn't break, one he had to be careful of. . . that girl.
Rufus didn't even remember her name, assuming she had said it. When he had dropped on that rooftop he could barely see around the bright search lights that scanned from the helicopter. The way that the rag tag group of terrorists had introduced themselves had seemed to fade into the background of his mind, but past the glare of the lights there had been the illuminated shine from the shirt the girl wore. When he told his soldiers to go after the girl, he was sure she had to be the one. Vaguely he remembered another girl there, a wan thing with a fat braid, but she had had no presence and was a side note in his recollection. Surely, the one who stood out so startlingly had to be the last Ancient. Her face, now that he had seen it so clearly, refused to erase itself from his mind's eye.
The scientists weren't prepared for her yet. They had requested all sorts of equipment that needed to be shipped from the nearly useless Midgar HQ. In addition, things were in disarray since Hojo. . . The man was a mess. Rufus didn't like him because he added an element of disorder to the whole of Shinra Inc. that Rufus felt they couldn't afford in the long run. Genius came with a price, but Shinra Inc. seemed to always have to foot Hojo's bills. It might be easier, more cost effective, to have him killed.
With a groan, Rufus rubbed at his eyes. He had been up for far too long, and the girl had been more hurt than he had suspected. It took a lot of concentration for him to aid her, but he didn't trust anyone else to do it. In general he just didn't trust anyone else. Who did he have to trust? The servants his father sent to keep him in check? The only ones who could be counted on were either inefficient but highly paid morons, like the Turks, or inefficient and highly paid psychotics, like Scarlet and Palmer. Why his father had ever commanded respect continued to astound Rufus, and now he had to deal with a legacy of leadership in the company he couldn't trust and didn't respect.
Things would be different now. No more misdirected energies. They would get everything running again, all of it back on track. Once this Sephiroth problem was taken care of Rufus could get back to what he was destined for: the hostile corporate takeover of the entire planet and all its inhabitants. He would bring order to all of them, whether people wanted it or not. His paradise would become real.
. . . and somehow that girl in the basement levels was the key.
Tifa did another pushup, panting softly as her sore muscles screamed in protest. She had nothing else to do all day except exercises and forms. People brought her food. People took away her bedpan. The little buzzing bees in this hive didn't seem to have a pattern they just knew when she needed things. She didn't even have to ask. It was downright creepy. The only real downside was that it had been two days, and she still hadn't gotten a bath. Her whole body was grimy and she was getting pretty angry about it. They could probably bring her a bathtub, but there must be facilities in this weird place that accommodated showers or something. Hell, they could drag her to the kitchen and she would bathe in a pot if it came down to it, so long as she didn't have to see her scraggly strands of hair anymore which were beginning to remind her of dreadlocks more than their normal silken but disarrayed locks.
What would two days have brought her party? They would have noticed surely that she was M.I.A.; she had faith enough for that obvious step. Now whether they would have gone back. . . that was another story. She was conflicted about how people would choose to address the problem of her absence. They could have gone back, found nothing, continued on. . . or they could have assumed she'd find them and things would be ok. In either case, they wouldn't be any closer to knowing where she really was, and she was most likely on her own until she was released or escaped.
To her greatest dismay she found that she was missing human company more than anything else. Tifa had always been a people person, surrounded by friends, would be admirers, bar customers, and later fellow members of AVALANCHE. There had been no time in her life when she had been truly alone, even if she thought she had felt alone without the all important presence of Cloud. Now, facing the fact that the flower girl was the most sought after person on the planet, she was filled with a tearing sense of loneliness, of displacement, and she struggled against it as she knew how best to: fighting.
Another hundred pushups should keep her body busy and her mind out of trouble.
"Well, aren't you industrious. Using your time for training? You know you're just making it all the easier for the scientists to make a case for rigorous physical tests."
The voice caused her to grind her teeth together as she pushed herself all the way off of the ground and dusted her hands together to get the grit off.
"Why, President Shinra, don't you have some other rock you can crawl under right now?"
Rufus smiled again. This girl really was so much more entertaining than anything else in this building. He hadn't been able to stay away any longer. "Please, call me Mr. Shinra. President sounds so. . . cold."
"What if I call you Rufus?"
"I didn't realize we were on such intimate terms already."
The arch of his eyebrow made Tifa's mouth pucker as she crossed her arms defensively. "Just get to the point. Why are you here?" Perversely, she was enjoying this, just for the time spent using her voice in conversation with another human being.
"Seeing as we're currently having some transportation issues, and you won't be needed by the doctors for some time, I thought I would offer you a small deal." He gave her a smile, the thin one he used while negotiating with smaller corporations when he came in and snapped up all of their assets. "You see, I'm rather curious myself about what you might know, and in exchange for your painless imparting of information. . ." he paused.
"Well?" Tifa said, taking the bait and betraying her interest.
"Why, I would update your living arrangements. I can see you clearly need to have a bath and a change of clothes." He watched the hurt vanity in her eyes turn to anger in a flash of cinnamon fire. "And seeing as you have nothing to get out of denying me this boon except continued smelly boredom, I thought you might actually welcome this. Up until now I assumed you would spit in my face. Did time provide enough incentive?"
There was a minute while Rufus saw the cogs turn in Tifa's head. She tapped her foot lightly and folded her arms the other way before responding finally. "How do you know you can trust what I tell you?"
Suddenly, Rufus felt off balance in this conversation. He came offering insults and bribes, and she returned it with a question about her own integrity? Who thought this way? Certainly no one he had ever known before.
"I'll simply trust you, Miss. . ." the pause continued for some time.
At this point, Tifa figured it didn't matter. If she made up a name, she would probably forget it. Lying was just not something she did easily or well. Giving her last name was too easily traceable, and she absolutely refused to use the flower girl's name.
"Tifa. Just Tifa."
Mockingly, Rufus offered her a polite bow. "Very well, Tifa, do you accept my offer?"
Deals with the devil, she sighed in her head. "This once. Don't expect I'll always be this accommodating in the future."
"I wouldn't have it any other way, I assure you. You shall be fetched shortly and escorted to the proper facilities. In exactly two hours I will speak with you again. Farewell, Tifa." He waved and she was soon surrounded by the large orderlies who attempt to grab her by the elbows and forcibly escort her past a smirking Rufus.
She struggled out of their grasp as he watched them go by, insisting that she could walk without such measures. Tifa was doing this somewhat voluntarily after all, she was a woman of her word and if she was going to offer him answers, then she would do so to the best of her ability. Maybe it wouldn't be wholehearted, but it would be honest. In general, Tifa knew so little about this Ancients mess that she doubted Shinra could get anything out of her even with his clever manipulations. All she wanted out of this was a bath and a change of clothes; the talking with Shinra was simply a necessary evil on the path to cleanliness.
It was embarrassing to be watched as she bathed, but at least it was a matronly looking nurse with permanent frown lines rather than one of the bulky male orderlies. Tifa didn't have any real shame in exposing her body, but the constant radiating disapproval from the woman was giving her a sort of reactionary shame out of empathy. Towards the end of her ablutions, Tifa completely forgot her guard and just enjoyed the fact that she was in her second tub of warm water (having left behind the first dirty one after fifteen minutes of scrubbing off the surface grime). Her shriveled pink fingers and toes brought her new amusement, even if the puckered skin wasn't her favorite effect of a thorough soaking.
"One hour. It is over. Get out now." The woman spoke, breaking Tifa's wandering reveries about how nice it was to be clean and warm. A small, rough towel was thrust in her direction and Tifa took it graciously despite her urge to toss it back with a flippant word or two. Putting on clothes wet did not sound like a worthy sacrifice to make a bad tempered person flare up. As it turned out, she might as well have done what she liked since the towel did little else than move the water around on her body. Doubly discouraging was the fact that all that awaited her was another boring white gown, the same knee length and drab design that she had tolerated for the past couple days. At least it was a new one.
She pulled her wet hair out the back after slipping the gown on. "Probably burned the old one," she mumbled to herself.
"What was that?" This woman was by far too severe to be a nurse. Then again, considering where she was held, maybe she had some sort of stigma attached to her that she was unaware of. Having people dislike her before they even met her was not something she was used to yet, outside of battle, and she resisted the urge to respond defensively.
"Nothing. Take me to where I'm supposed to go, I guess." She shrugged and then rang out some more water from the tip of her tangled but clean hair onto the tile floor.
"You are not in a position to make demands. You shall wait in the next room over until you are fetched." The smirk on the woman's face convinced Tifa that by 'room' she meant 'cell' and a quick walk through a hallway proved her right. The only bonus to being left alone was that she could attempt to groom herself without being observed. Strangely, combing her hair and stretching out her warmed muscles were far more personal activities to her than the bathing had been. Since she was higher up in this complex now, she was actually at a level where there were a few windows for decoration. They still had bars, but these windows let in more sunlight and Tifa laid herself out in a beam of sunshine and made the best of the situation as she killed an hour.
By the time more orderlies entered the room to almost literally drag her to the next destination, Tifa had almost been enjoying herself. Comparatively, of course, to her regular life, this was as horrible as she had ever feared: trapped, inactive, without friends, and soon to be prodded and experimented on. There was always the possibility of telling the truth, but she had a feeling she wouldn't need to say anything before her identity was exposed on its own. As soon as a person who actually knew the flower girl saw her they would realize that Tifa was no Ancient. In the mean time she would buy her friends—buy Cloud—the time they needed to get just that much further with whatever it was they were doing. Days of absence and isolation were making her feel distant, perhaps this close encounter with Shinra would bring back that old flare of fire and hate that provided some of her drive.
Her growing loss of faith in Cloud was taking its toll on her energy, too, in ways she didn't want to examine just yet. He was going on a date. . . but not with her. . . something suspiciously like tears began to burn at the corners of her eyes but she looked at the ceiling and watched the fluorescent lights pass by rather like the marks on a road instead. Did she expect him to wait for her like she had for him? What a silly dreamer she was. The orderlies had started dragging her more slowly, she noted by the larger time lapse in between the ceiling lights, and then they stopped entirely. Tifa looked forward again at an elevator. Lights above it lit up and only she looked up to watch the numbers descend down to their level.
The doors opened to reveal Rufus, smiling in an infuriating manner, and extending his hand to her to join him in the small elevator. When she hesitated, one of the orderlies pushed her and Rufus was forced to catch her rather than gallantly escort her into the little room. Orderlies saluted behind Tifa and exited while the doors closed on her and Rufus, who had already pushed in a code to that caused the elevator to lurch up.
"They really should have found you something better to wear. Would you like me to find you something more fetching?"
Tifa had actually been somewhat engrossed by the view from the elevator, but snapped her attention back to her surroundings easily. The price for being clean had been an agreement to talk to him, and she felt like stating a few unsolicited opinions.
"What part of my soul would I be trading away for it?"
"You wound me, Tifa, I thought I was being a good guy here."
"If you were a good guy, you wouldn't be keeping me here for medical experiments Mr. Shinra." The way she saw him look at her, mirrored in the glass, made her want to create more distance between them. She knew that look for it seemed to be universal to men with wandering eyes and, sometimes, wandering hands.
He clicked his tongue. "What happened to 'Rufus'? You should choose one or the other, you know."
"If that's the only choice I get to make here, then I'll change my mind as much as I like."
Rufus couldn't help but enjoy her answers. Playing with this new toy was turning out to be as delightful as he'd feared. He wasn't going to get anything done today if he allowed himself the luxury of speaking with her too long. Best to narrow down his questions, set a time limit, and then send her off just as he'd been intending. The door opened and he waited for her to exit first before following and striding ahead into the large open room.
When he did not sense her behind him, he turned to find her looking a bit wild and scared. The tangled hair, the wide eyes, and the pursed mouth all contributed to the image, but when she had gotten her bearings she stiffly walked into the room and sat down on the couch. Her back straight, she seemed to be concentrating very hard on a point on the back of her hand which at the moment was clenched into a fist in her lap.
"Would you like a drink?" Rufus asked her as he crossed the room and discarded his standard white coat onto a stool by the small bar's counter. The sun had been pouring into the room for some time, making it quite warm. He knew that this place, being his own apartment, was a site that would put her at further disadvantage since he was perfectly comfortable here. Even if he didn't plan on imbibing anything alcoholic, it would be useful if the girl did. While her nervousness was obvious, Rufus would have given quite a lot to know what was going through her head.
"No." She didn't soften her response, since at the moment all she could do was panic. Why did she think she could just waltz up here and bluff her way through a conversation with Shinra? She should have spent all that time she had coming up with a story, an identity, something clever to mislead Shinra and help Cloud and the rest. Why was she so bad at strategy?
"I'm going to have one if you don't mind." His false courtesy, as if she were a guest and not a prisoner, was giving her that strange pressure in her arms. It was an itching desire to stand up and blast him into the ground with her bare knuckles. They were alone, she just might be able to do it. . .
Then she noted, as he sat down, the unconscious grace and efficiency with which he moved. The muscles on his arms stood out clearly even if they were not bulky, and thus reminding her of Cloud. People had often underestimated him because he looked smaller wirier than the typical SOLDIER, but after fighting with him Tifa knew the truth of his power. Tifa was inclined to think that perhaps Rufus was no pushover after all, although now that she had drawn the parallel to Cloud she felt discomforted even more in Rufus' presence.
"Is there something wrong?" Rufus asked her as his dark blue eyes met hers, not a far enough cry from the Mako blue she had been picturing to reassure her.
Instead, she chose gruffness to hide her disquiet. "What a stupid question." He chuckled, and she wished the sound were less condescending. She was not some badly behaved child. "Were you going to ask me something real, or were you just going to make fun of me for the rest of the day?"
"Straight to business," normally he liked that kind of attitude, but even with his own self-imposed limitations he wanted to drag this out a least a little more. "I don't suppose you'd know where your companions are."
"Ha. Even if I knew, I wouldn't tell you."
"Then in lieu of that you can tell me about each of them."
Tifa paused. She thought he was going to ask about what being an Ancient was like. That was something she knew little about, but when it came to Barrett, or Cloud. . .
"What do you want to know, exactly?"
Rufus' eyes sparkled with something akin to glee. "Forcing specifics? Very well. Tell me about the one that I fought, the blond one."
"What do you know about him, Shinra?"
"Aren't you the one who's supposed to be answering questions?"
"Didn't your mother tell you it's impolite to answer a question with a question?"
Rufus took a long sip from his drink while Tifa bristled and crossed her arms over her chest. Now that she was agitated she was just going to be difficult for the sake of it. Maybe a more direct approach would be more effective if he didn't want this session to be a waste of his time, no matter how internally amused he was by it.
"Very well, Tifa. I'll tell you what I know and I'll show you where you can fill in the blanks." He leaned forward in his chair next to the couch, making sure to grab her eyes with his own. "I know that you all work for AVALANCHE, headed by Barret Wallace, who has a gun for an arm and a bad temper." Tifa seemed to go very still at this. "We collected only that much information before he managed to make good on his potential and explode a healthy portion of Midgar. Up until then he had only been labeled a 'minor threat' and one worthy of little notice. Am I right so far?"
"Yes." She responded tightly, muscles so tense now that they were trying to cramp in places.
Rufus saw the way her jaw and fists were flexing and knew he had found a good tactic. "Nothing comes to mind about the skinny girl with the braid, as well as the dog I saw on the rooftop. I assume a fellow experiment."
"You find this all so funny don't you?"
He continued. "And then there was the SOLDIER. Cloud Strife, didn't he say his name was? Not one that leaps to mind, but then again I don't tend to concern myself with the names of the military branch. They call me 'sir', and I give them orders and that's all that matters."
"Looks like you have everything figured out then. You don't need me here anymore."
Tifa's petulance was beginning to try even Rufus' patience. It was starting to be less amusing and more irritating. "If you don't cooperate with me a little more wholeheartedly, Tifa, then I'm going to have to use more forceful measures."
"Like what? Threaten to kill more people? Destroy a few lives just to make me give you information that you have already?"
She was getting righteous as well as defensive. He shouldn't have gotten hasty. He had one last set of tactics. While doing this the short way would have been the most efficient, he thought that this last resort would probably end up being more pleasant.
"We started out wrong. Shall we try again?" He stood up and left, walking into the elevator and then out again. Tifa watched his progress with narrowed eyes, trying to understand what exactly he was trying to pull on her. When he walked in this time, a startlingly genuine smile on his face, she wasn't sure what to do. "Why, Tifa, isn't this a pleasure. I'm sorry I'm late, but you know the demands on my time as the new President are just massive. In addition for arranging a proper burial for my late father, I have to see everyone through a smooth transition. But I won't burden you with the details. Tell me, are you being treated well during your stay here? Can you hand me my drink?"
It was as if she wasn't sure where she was for a moment once she handed him his glass. Tifa was transported back to her bar, greeting friendly patrons and getting along in the world. "I've experienced worse. You make the best of it." Her sense of reality was still reeling. The way her shoulders slumped as she relaxed and smiled helped her muscles relieve some tension.
"Honestly, tell me how people have been treating you. I ought to know these things."
"I. . . uh. . ." She looked down at the white fabric beneath her and remembered where she was and how the person with the wide grin leaning on the back of the couch was certainly no harmless bar regular. "Stop that!"
"Stop what? I thought we were having a friendly conversation. There can't be anything wrong with that, right?" The way he laughed and swept a hand through his hair as if he was slightly nervous continued to set her tension high. She knew he was acting, damn it!
"You can't be so stupid as to think that you can just waltz back in here and pretend like history erased itself. I'm still me and you're you, and I'm not telling you anything."
Rufus closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "You're on edge, it seems. I think that we should continue our conversation later, when you've had some time to think about things." He offered her a hand to get up. "Shall I walk you back?"
She stood up from the couch, face set into a deep frown, and ignored the proffered hand. "Just call your goons already, then."
The way he tilted his head she could almost believe he was confused by her behavior. Without saying another word to one another they both stepped into the elevator, and then walked back to the cell which she had been occupying. Every so often she would steal a glance at her transformed host, but he was all congeniality in her direction and she turned away quickly. As hard as his sudden personality shift was to take at face value, it was unsettling for her image of him. It's easy to hate someone who treats you badly. . .
They reached her cell and she stepped inside. He didn't cross the threshold, but he did clear his throat to get her attention. "I hope you'll be joining me for dinner this evening. Usually I eat alone, but I think that perhaps we can start over in a better manner if there is something constructive in front of us."
"I guess. . . it isn't like I really have a choice, do I?"
"Oh no, if you promise me you will have dinner with me this evening, then that would please me. If not, you won't have to hear from me until tomorrow. I think that the first few doctors get in this evening. . ."
Apparently, even acting like a nice person couldn't hide his nature. The threat wasn't even veiled. She could have dinner with him or she could go through preliminary tests. She didn't want to be found out just yet.
"I promise I'll have dinner with you." The dry tone to her voice seemed to slide past him as he gave her a slight nod.
"Then I shall see you later, Tifa." He left, closing the door behind him. She waited for the sound of the bolt sliding home, but it didn't come.
Tifa ground her teeth together as she continued to wait for the sound of the bolt. That bastard! He wasn't even going to lock her in anymore? Didn't he realize that if he was so trusting then she could walk right out of here and. . . no, that wasn't right. There were a couple problems with that picture. The first problem was all of the orderlies, and the second problem was her promise to have dinner with him. She would chance fighting her way through, but she couldn't bring herself to break a promise. Even if her guilty conscience could stand the whipping, there was something so counter to her being about not being a creature of integrity. Damn that man.
The injury wasn't added to insult until an hour or so later when an orderly brought her something to wear for dinner. That's when she began to really loathe Rufus again. It was a good feeling. The anger had begun to fade in the dull confines of her cell, and to have it regenerate so quickly spoke well of her ability to withstand these pathetic attempts to get on her good side. She'd show him.