What You Carry With You/What You Leave Behind
A 30 piece project by Sweetest Oblivion

.Smoke Bomb/030

"Well look over here."

The voice was feminine, lilting and yet coarse. It was the sweater that was beautiful in design and motif, but deadly underneath the fabric's folds. The tigress stalking the photographer as prey. This voice that could speak novels, calm a wearied traveler, and put a cave of marlboro's in check – it was… less than pleased. If anything, the calm, rational fury was more frightening than any scream, yell, or violent outburst. She was displeased and had any individual at the faux oak table been paying attention, they would have heard her footfalls, a cacophony of leatherwork and steel trim. In fact, had Tifa Lockheart been in any other location, she would have been shocked. But she was in her bar, the Seventh Heaven. Her bar. Hers.

Six individuals sat at the table farthest from her perch as barkeep. Five men, one woman. All but one were wearing finely stitched suits of black – zippered blazers, dress pants, polished shoes, clean and pressed dress shirts. One of these men she could consider a friend. He sat in a direction not facing her, sipping a Nibelheim lager with a jovial expression, bearded with the appearance of a youthful accountant. Yes, a friend. An ally. The other three men as well as the woman, were simply "okay" in her mind. She dealt with them out of necessity. The Wutaiian man, tall and stoic, along with the blonde and perfectly manicured female were individuals Tifa had little understanding of. She didn't go out of her way to get to know them, nor did she wish to. The other two – a somewhat bedraggled and lanky redhead and a bald, emotionally placid man were… all right. She had dealt with them on numerous occasions and while they weren't entirely friends, she couldn't say that she hadn't enjoyed herself with their unintentional slapstick. They came here often. They weren't the problem.

Tifa's eyebrows furrowed. No. He was the problem. The man in white – a mocking white. Purity? Hah! This man was anything but pure. He sat regally, tall and aloof, standing out amongst his crowd of professional bodyguards.

Tifa snorted. Boy was that stupid.

Had she seen this man two months prior she would have rubbed her eyes and ordered a psych consult on herself. Despite her attempts at being a good person, a noble person, a forgiving person… Tifa had to admit that it was rather unfortunate that rumors of Rufus Shinra's passing at the blast of a certain Diamond Weapon were vastly miscalculated. Not only was the president of Shinra Inc. still alive, but he was in near perfect form, as if nothing had ever happened.

She could feel her hands shake as she made her way to their table, her boots clicking menacingly. While he sat and sipped red wine from a fluted glass, friends of hers had died in just as horrid a fashion as he… hadn't. Crushed, burnt, stabbed, slaughtered gleefully – why was it that this money clad monster could live while those she loved – those noble individuals should perish?

She wouldn't – couldn't make a scene. She had far too much composure for such childishness and she knew he would get a rise from it... But she was furious. Just seeing Rufus Shinra made her very blood turn acidic.

That Machiavellian asshole had tried to have her executed on national television…

…had professed his motives to rule the world with fear as his ally.

…he had the gall to live, breathe and laugh. And worst of all, he was flaunting this in her bar. Her sanctuary. Her livelihood.

No, Tifa Lockheart could not stop herself from moving toward the table closest to the door.

"Well, look over here."

It had been two weeks. Two weeks since the truth had been ousted. Rufus Shinra. Alive? Attempting to rebuild? This had been a strange sort of pipe dream up until that moment when Cloud Strife had been summoned to the Healin' Lodge – a location used to treat a strange and now thankfully extinct malady known as Geostigma. Rufus Shinra. Alive. Or at least what was left of Rufus Shinra. Rufus had been one of the first to contract the illness and had used it as yet another reason to stay in hiding. The disease had left him in crippling pain, unable to walk for more than a few steps on his own. After the defeat of the strange silver haired men who had attempted to resurrect Sephiroth and destroy the world, purifying waters had healed him, restoring him to the man of near perfect health he had been in before his infection.

Because of the years of hiding, it came as a huge shock that the president of Shinra Inc. was not only alive, but had fought against the disease that had ravaged the planet – as well as staving off the crazed man known as Kadaj as long as he had. His second in command now, the beareded man known as Reeve who had once been head of Urban Development had been credited for the construction of knew and affordable housing. Of course it made perfect sense. Reeve was a good man. He had defected to Avalanche during the Meteor-Sephiroth incident. If anyone was to use the billions upon billions of gil that Shinra had left over to commission housing and coal mining, it was Reeve.

Funny how things turned out.

For reasons the press had been unable to hound from those close to him, Rufus Shinra was behind it all. Further in the realm of mysterious was his being alive. But Rufus Shinra had an uncanny ability to disappear when he wanted to, just as he was able to dodge a question as if it were a slow-flying paper airplane. And if all else failed, he was an expert liar. Just as he wouldn't admit to the permanent blindness that Diamond Weapon had inflicted on his left eye, he wouldn't say why he was putting so much time, money, and effort into this project. There was a certain degree of dogged determination that was unexplainable, almost as if he were fighting fate.

Some assumed he was trying to clear his name. That he had seen the error of his tyrannical ways and was attempting to right his wrongs. And while this was a plausible argument, there was still one massive gaping hole.

Rufus Shinra was involved and Rufus Shinra hadn't changed much at all. While those around him sat, enjoying their drinks, still celebrating the third fall of Sephiroth and Jenova, Rufus sat coolly, sifting his drink to and fro its fluted glass. He appeared bored with the entire situation, almost as if he'd been dragged there not of his own accord. Further, Rufus had clearly heard the brunette coming his way. He had felt her burning gaze on him from the moment she relieved their original server of her post for the day. And while he had once had a taste of her fighting style, he was not afraid. More than anything, Rufus Shinra was amused by the prospect of dealing with the woman who hit harder than most men he had known.

So when her lilting voice had rung out among the common sounds of the bar scene, he wasn't surprised. He had been waiting for it.

"Miss Lockheart. To what do I owe the pleasure?" He coolly replied with a smirk as he stood up and stood in front of her. Rufus was over a head taller than the young warrior and while he had lost weight due to his former illness, he still managed to make her look diminutive. Something in his aura just screamed power. Even when he had hidden himself under that sheet, locked away in a wheelchair at the Lodge, Rufus had been able to command anyone he wished. Even if they didn't realize it.

"Just lucky, I guess." She responded, attempting to mask the fire of rage burning in her eyes. She could see, beyond the young president that each member of his tabled party – the four Turks and one very nervous executive were staring and sitting quite literally at the edge of their seats.

"Yes. I would say that it is luck that brings us together once more. Unfortunately, it seems as if my time here at your establishment is soon to be up and I must take my leave for the moment."

His voice was clipped, educated, but with a certain degree of dry wit. She hated his voice like no other. And then when she thought she was going to snap like a shaken bottle of warm, highly carbonated soda, something happened that nearly made her choke on the dryness in her mouth.

Tifa Lockheart's glove-clad hand was suddenly grasped in the very warm hold of the blond man before her – her sworn enemy. She watched in numb, passive shock as Rufus Shinra bowed slowly and kissed her hand, grinning as he rose back up and fixed his eyes on her own.

Rufus straightened up his posture, still holding her gaze, unwavering.

And that's when it suddenly snapped, came crashing down and Tifa Lockheart lost control of her rage. Shaking, she reared sideways and backhanded the young president hard across the face, feeling numb satisfaction as Rufus' jaw seemed to unhinge as his head turned with the motion.

"Get. Out."

Rufus Shinra didn't look at her, but he could smell the anger and fire emanating from her slender form. He could hear her breath heaving in her chest and out of the corner of his good eye he could see her usually neat hair now wild; unbridled like her fury. Working his jaw back into place, he snapped his fingers and his four trusty Turks stood and left the Seventh Heaven.

"Reeve. I trust you to take care of the tab. You will of course be compensated." Rufus' voice was the same as always, despite the blow to his face and ego. He then turned and looked at Tifa, coolly. "Until next time, Miss Lockheart, I wish you many good returns."

And with those parting words, Rufus Shinra left Tifa Lockheart with a certain degree of skeptic curiosity and confusion. She had no clue – no clue what that could have been about. And Rufus Shinra knew this. He reveled in it.

It was a game, now. He could have anything in the world if he put his mind to it. If he truly wished for it, it would soon be his. Rufus wanted his company back. Rufus wanted redemption for his actions during both his father's reign and his own during Meteor. He would be the one to turn everything around. Him. Rufus Shinra.

But now he had something else he wanted. A grin spread across his face as he stepped into the passenger seat of his company's car.

"Tifa Lockheart," he thought surreptitiously. "You will be mine."

Author's Note: Twenty nine more of these to go...