A/N: Because power can be quite lonely…
Chapter 18 - Family Portrait: Rufus
Sometimes when he closes his eyes and the breeze lifts the hair off his forehead in just the right way, he remembers him mom. Such memories only come when he is far from ShinRa Headquarters. The memories are no longer defined and solid, but more like wisps of who she was. Long full skirts that sounded like a field of long grass when she walked. A smile completely isolated from the rest of her face because that was the part he tended to focus on. And the way she loved Midgar. Though he can't remember a single sentence she had ever uttered, he has a certainty of this fact that must have been built on the words she'd said once.
He opens his eyes to a squint, the bright sun burning his pupils and blurring the blue sky. Turning his head slightly to the side, the sun is replaced by the ShinRa logo. It seems to vibrate through the interference of his lashes. Opening his eyes fully, the ShinRa logo falls onto the backdrop of the magnificent form of the transportation depot building. The building is an architectural masterpiece, a collection of curved walls with a large cantilevered second floor that extends over a courtyard in front of the lobby. He'd built it after the geostigma epidemic ended. It was a project driven by the adrenaline rush of cheating death again.
Now it is the reason Midgar is finally reclaiming its role as a center of trade, reconnected with the great cities of the world with the most efficient transportation hub on the planet.
He comes here when he is trying to realign himself. It's ironic really, because here he feels like another person, looking at his life from the outside in. Wearing a black suit with long, lean lines that make him appear taller than he is, and a black wide-brimmed hat, no one recognizes him. No one ever does when he is in a place like this, as if they could only recognize him in the context of ShinRa Headquarters, surrounded by his Turks. Perhaps he is not a man at all these days. Perhaps he is just a symbol, a power, a force that shapes the world. How poetic that sounds. Maybe he'll have that added to his will to be placed on his tombstone when he dies.
Sitting on one of the empty benches that line the waiting areas around the bus loading stations, he carefully positions himself to lounge casually, back slouched and one arm extended along the bench's back. In front of him there is a bus being loaded, a line of people waiting to board. A woman with a baby, eyes darting back and forth, beautiful but alone. Is there a father? Or is he gone? A man trying to stare at his toes past the bulge of his belly. A couple holding hands, backpacks slung over their shoulders, both looking anxiously at the bus door as they inch toward it. A family—a man, woman, and three children. A girl holds a bright, yellow rubber ball far above the heads of her siblings. She is obviously the alpha. And he marvels that it only takes three children to create a microcosm of world politics.
He comes here to observe the individual lives in the city he considers his. He'd almost died of geostigma once, but it had been a gift. He'd met others with the disease and had realized for the first time that Midgar was made up of individuals. To his father it had always been just a general mass to control. He'd been heavy-handed because of that. But Rufus appreciated the intricacies. Always looking at the details. "Father, why doesn't your office have a trapdoor to escape?" or "Shouldn't we have a kill switch in case the SOLDIERs get out of control?". That first suggestion his father had listened to, and it had saved Rufus' life when the Weapon hit the top floors of the old ShinRa building. The second, he had not, and so Rufus had needed his own kill switch.
"Sir, can ya spare some change?"
He glances up at the woman holding out a paper cup. Her clothes aren't the latest fashion, but they look to be in relatively good condition. Shoes on her feet. Face is clean, black hair tied back neatly. Eyes are a little bloodshot, but he can make out the circle of green around the irises, very faint, like a halo. Mako addict. She can't be more than thirty, skin lacking the vibrancy of youth but also the wrinkles of age. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a few coins and drops them into her cup.
"Thank ya!" she exclaims, smiling with too-thin lips.
"Tell me, what do you think of ShinRa Corp?" he indicates the logo on the bus depot building with a flick of his chin.
"Ooooh, you sure ask a loaded question Mistah. Ah've heard many a complaint on that score-ah have." Her accent is distinctively from the sector 5 lower plate—back when it had a plate.
"Everyone has an opinion." His words are calm, but behind them, he has the feeling he is handing her a knife.
"Well, ah suppose ShinRa's tha reason this city is getting back on its feet, but some folks say it woulda nevah suffered so much at all if ShinRa hadn't been around. All ah can say is that us poor folk nevah got anything from it. 'Suppose rich folk love ShinRa though. I hear the young ladies going on 'bout that young President. He looks handsome enough, but I 'spect he's pretty powah hungry."
"It must weigh on him though—the responsibility of all that power. He couldn't rebuild the city without it."
"Everyone's got fans ah suppose. But let 'im live on tha streets for a day and see how long he lasts." She laughs then, a high-pitched giggle. Shaking her head, she raises her cup to him and shuffles away.
Letting out a slow, long breath, he takes a finger and runs it along the brim of his hat, lowering it over his eyes slightly. He'll see that money he gave her again eventually. He controls most of the mako trade in the city. Mako derivatives had been around long before Meteor had ever been a threat, and in the aftermath of the near destruction of the world they became an easy escape route for those unable to cope with their altered lives. Back when the crime syndicates controlled its flow, violence was much higher. But now that he controls it, he can keep things in check. He has one massive carrot with which to pull people where they need to go to make Midgar great again.
Once, he'd thought of spending more time helping individuals. During the geostigma outbreak, he'd sent his Turks to do what they could for people. But then he'd almost died at the hands of the Remnants and he'd realized—he was wasting his time. He is Rufus ShinRa. He doesn't have time to hand a starving old lady a bowl of soup. He is the only one with the power to heal Midgar from its mortal wounds.
And so he doesn't have time to be an individual man. He needs to be a Corporation.
That's right. That's why he likes to come here. It reminds him of that.
Glancing at his watch, he realizes it is almost time for his meeting. He stands like a man waking from sleep, stretching his arms to either side, and heads toward the transportation hub exit.
"I hear you're having a shindig at your place tonight."
He is several blocks from the transportation hub, standing at the bus depot they'd agreed to meet at. The large man who has just taken up the spot next to him is wearing a tattered green hoody with the faded words "Costa Del Sol" on it. The hood is drawn up, but Rufus can see the bright red of a beard and the end of a cigarette past the edges of the fabric.
"I noticed I wasn't invited," the gruff voice responds.
Rufus glances up at the shiny blue bus sign on a post with a series of numbers and letters that designate the bus route. "I wasn't the one handing out the invitations."
"Fair enough. Our deal still stands then?"
"Can you deliver?"
"50-50 chance. But we don't have a large window to try. The technique Hojo perfected for sealing up the alterations in the cells only works when the cells aren't too used to relying on those alterations. The kid's been using his new-found powers pretty heavy-duty to help those crazy SOLDIERs and his crazy pseudo-father. That gives us less time."
"I need something definitive." Rufus glances down the street, the concrete sparkling in the bright sun. Several cars wait at a stoplight on the next block.
"I can't give you that," the man says, shrugging. Rufus still can't see his face, but he can imagine the careless expression it wears. "It could be too late already. There's no precedent for this. We always used the procedure directly after our experiments."
"Then what am I paying you for?"
A long puff of smoke wafts in the air. The man pauses to drop his cigarette to the ground and scuff it out with a black boot. "My winning personality?"
"Obviously not," Rufus responds sourly. Rows of houses line the streets here, pressed up together wall-to-wall. Brightly colored doors and faux stone facades distinguish them as belonging to the more privileged class, people who can afford to keep up with the recent fashion trends of bright colors and natural elements in decorating.
"Look, we can wrap this up real quick if you want. The SOLDIERs are still sedated for now, so poison is an easy out, but they may not be for long."
"They're going to wake them?" Of course they are, with their unrealistic idealism. It's only natural that they'll assume they can fix them.
"The boy gives them hope. They are already planning to wake up one this afternoon. They think they can do anything with that kid. Even fix 'em mess-ups."
"What do you think?"
A short pause, then, "I think when you have a pet that's in pain and terminally ill, you put it to sleep to spare its suffering." Minimal inflection makes the statement sound absolute.
Rufus finally looks at the hooded figure, studying the profile briefly. A ruthless man with no care for anything but mad science and money. He's yet to see another side to him. "I see why you were one of Hojo's favorite assistants. Come to my office late tonight, at 11pm, after this meeting that Cloud and Tifa have called is done. I'll tell you how to proceed then."
He can end it. End it all. All he has to do is give Jenkins the green light at 11pm. One word and the SOLDIERs die, quietly in their sleep. One word and Denzel is just a normal boy again—well, maybe. And if not? If it's too late for the boy's power to be locked away again? He can't afford to leave loose ends. He won't risk another megalomaniac Jenova-derivative.
And what about Cloud? Cloud should have been a risk too. Cloud, who had Jenova cells in abundance from Hojo's experimentation. Cloud, who could have joined the Remnants but didn't. Elena had asked him once what made Cloud different. He'd told her nothing did, because that's what the answer should have been. But it hadn't held true… even after Cloud's recent dose of mako, he hadn't lost his mind and joined the SOLDIERs in their crusade. He'd stayed true to his purpose.
Stepping into the shadow of ShinRa Headquarters, he stops for a moment to compose himself, looking up toward the hazy black sky, aware that they are watching him from the windows of the ShinRa lobby. Tseng had been the one to come this morning and request this meeting. He had been firm and resolute, but not too firm and resolute to ask Rufus how he was recovering.
To that Rufus had smiled and said he was recovering just fine, conscious of the fact that he would never walk without a limp again.
His breath finally catches up with him. He is still weak from his injuries but he can't let that show. Taking controlled steps that are as smooth as he can manage, he crosses the street and opens the lobby door, analyzing the faded forms of its occupants through the glass as he does.
They are all there, strewn about in clusters. The Turks are on the left, all standing except for Reno who is spread out casually across the red couch. Ren sits stiffly in a chair. Tifa is standing to the right shifting her weight from foot to foot. Cloud is next to her, leaning against the wall, sword noticeably absent. Is he leaning for the effect of casual confidence? Or is he too feeble to support his own weight? It is clear the recent events have taken their toll. In the bright fluorescent light of the room, he looks thin and tired.
One more figure emerges from the corner of the room. It is a man in a long brown cloak with a scar on his cheek, pale skin, and eyes that glow aquamarine. He walks with slow, lumbering steps to a spot between Ren and Tifa and lowers himself so that he crouches there, arms crossed over his knees, looking up at Rufus with a granite-hard expression.
Bravo. What a practiced display of intimidation. Rufus wonders if he should be taking notes.
So that's the SOLDIER they chose to wake first. That man had been willing to slaughter them for no real reason, crazy enough to want to avenge the empire of Rufus' father years after its demise. All that could be forgiven so easily? They are so trusting… and it reminds Rufus of why he must keep such drastic measures at his disposal.
Choosing his words and tone carefully, he says, "The SOLDIERs are awake?"
"Just Sevi," Ren replies quietly, glancing at the man briefly. "The SOLDIERs should be represented here as well."
A bitter laugh from the left side of the room. "Welcome to the party," says Reno, spinning his electric nightstick casually over his fingers. Meeting Reno's eyes, Rufus is struck by the depth there. A silent acknowledgement of shared experiences passes between them and he knows that Reno understands the danger of this situation. They need to be careful. Waking up the SOLDIERs is absolutely irresponsible.
He briefly checks the expressions of the other Turks to ensure they are all on the same page—to know if their alliance still stands. He has been somewhat hard on his Turks at times. He's done it because he needs them to be hard. There will be many more difficult days to come as they continue to rebuild. He doesn't let a flicker of softness mar his diamond-cut expression, but that silent acknowledgement of support from Reno leaves him calmer inside. He'd felt the same when Tseng came earlier.
"So, where do we begin?" Rufus asks.
There is a moment of confusion, as looks are exchanged and people who aren't used to silently communicating with each other try to silently communicate. Ultimately, it is Ren who breaks the awkward pause. "We have questions about what your involvement in all this was." Ren is tapping his knee nervously.
"I have nothing to hide," Rufus replies with a smile that he taints with just a touch of cynicism. Then adds, "Now, anyway."
"You ordered the SOLDIERs to attack the mako mines. Why?" It is Cloud's voice, even and strong, if not slightly strained. He hadn't even told the Turks that bit. Cloud must have found out from the SOLDIERs. The Turks thought those had been rebel attacks.
Walking over to the large oval reception desk in the center of the room, now vacant, and leaning against its edge, he responds, "To control supply. A balance of how much mako is harvested must be reached, or we'll overwhelm the planet. Also, I needed to keep the SOLDIERs busy. They were getting restless and dangerous, so I told them to ensure production was cut." That wasn't completely true, but it was close enough.
Tifa has stopped shifting her weight and is balanced on a wide stance that stretches her mini-skirt around the curve of her hips. It is easy to note the strong muscles of her legs. Cloud still hasn't moved, but is watching warily with the eyes of a predator.
And that SOLDIER… he is absolutely still, like a statue. Eyes glassy and far away.
"How long have you known about the SOLDIERs?" Cloud finally asks.
"Quite a while now. About three years ago there were some murders in the mako belt. Rather gruesome murders. When I investigated, I heard stories of men with glowing eyes yielding monster swords. The description fit. They were stealing mako from the dealers so that's what I used to lore them out. Once I started supplying them, the killings stopped."
"You knew for that long?" Tifa questions.
"Didn't you?" Rufus replies, genuinely surprised. "Don't tell me Cloud never encountered them on his journeys. Ren did."
Cloud shifts his weight and nods a quick assent. "What were you planning to do with them?"
"At first I thought I might be able to use them. They were loyal to ShinRa after all. But then I realized their minds were too far gone. They were erratic, violent, and dangerous. I started thinking about how to best deal with them."
Interrupting the flow of Rufus' words, Ren interjects, "So you were supplying me with mako so I would build the army you needed to destroy the SOLDIERs." It's not a question, and Rufus is glad Ren is intelligent enough to see the facts line up.
"I didn't have the forces to fight them myself, so when I heard what you were planning it seemed to be the perfect opportunity" Rufus continues, "and I didn't know how many SOLDIERs there were or where they all were to make sure something like a poison would spread to all of them. When I did finally try that, it was because I had exhausted all options. I was out of time. The stakes rose tenfold when Denzel's powers were released. Denzel was far too dangerous to risk him allying with the SOLDIERs." A pause. He purposely looks at Sevi and braces himself for the next part, "That's why I poisoned the mako I gave you." He needs them to see how dangerous these men are.
Sevi takes the bate. Glassy eyes suddenly sharpen into acute awareness. "You killed my friend," Sevi snarls, his upper lip curling to show the yellow of his teeth.
Rufus meets the wild eyes evenly. He must play this carefully. Without flinching, he responds, "You were a threat to my city—the city you are supposed to protect."
"We didn't want to hurt anyone. We just… needed mako!"
"But you did hurt people, didn't you? And you would have hurt more. You slaughtered people."
"And you slaughtered my friend," Sevi growls. In a flash of brown fabric and skin, Rufus feels Sevi's arm against his throat at the same time he is registering the visual of his movement. The large SOLDIER pushes him back, throwing him against the floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the lobby. His head makes a loud "thud" and he feels the warmth of blood. Staring into the eyes that flick back and forth erratically, Rufus gasps for breath through his restricted windpipe, but there is nothing. Feeling lightheaded, he waits for deliverance.
Sevi arches his back suddenly, his arm releasing its hold on Rufus' throat, and drops to his knees. Reno is pressing his electric nightstick into the SOLDIER's back at the base of the spine, but Rufus sees the expression of rage only an instant before the SOLDIER turns to attack—much too late to shout a warning. Reno is lifted in the air and thrown to the ground with a yell that is animal. Rude is there to slam into the SOLDIER's side a moment later, preventing any follow-up attack. And then Tseng and Elena are on him—Elena with a gun pointed to the SOLDIER's head and Tseng with a dagger pointed at his throat. The SOLDIER kneels on the ground where he had fallen from Rude's impact. Every muscle is tensed and it is clear the man is not ready to give up.
With inhumane agility, he flies into the air, somersaulting over the shocked faces of Elena and Tseng before they can redirect their weapons. He lands in front of Rufus and Rufus thinks that perhaps he had miscalculated. Perhaps provoking Sevi wasn't the wisest course of action after all. He reaches under his jacket for the gun hidden in a holster attached to his belt.
The SOLDIER shifts his weight to dive at Rufus again. And stops. Because that is when Cloud steps in between them. "Sevi. Stop this."
Sevi stares intently at Cloud with lowered brows. "He killed my friend."
"But killing him won't change that. You can't just… kill people like this."
"Even a traitor? He's betrayed the ShinRa I am loyal to. You've betrayed the ShinRa I am loyal to as well."
"Think Sevi. That was the past. That's gone now. Think where you are. When you are. You aren't a ShinRa SOLDIER anymore. You have a daughter and she needs you to be her father."
Something suddenly drains out of Sevi's expression, like sediments of metal settling out of a liquid. "Acadia."
"A little girl?"
"No, Sevi. A teenager now. Put the pieces together."
Sevi's gaze drops, eyes glazing again, as he shrinks into himself. Not unlike a child. And Rufus considers, not unlike himself in the days when his father used to ruthlessly corner him in an argument. "I missed so much of her life," Sevi says very quietly. "She was the one I needed to protect and I wasn't there. I didn't know. I didn't know."
Cloud puts a hand on Sevi's shoulder and says, "That's why you need to be there for her now."
Sevi nods and steps backward until he is a safe distance away from Rufus. What did he just witness? How had Cloud reasoned with the man so easily? "You knew what to say."
"We've been in each others' minds," Cloud says quietly, turning halfway so that he can look at Rufus. He eyes the gun still in Rufus' hand warily.
The psychic link. Of course.
Straightening the twisted jacket of his suit and the collar of his expensive white shirt, Rufus says, "You know those men are dangerous. Do you really want an army of Sephiroths on the loose?"
"That won't happen."
"We won't let it." But Rufus catches just the slightest hesitation in Cloud's voice. Maybe Cloud isn't completely blind to the danger. And that's when Rufus notices Cloud is gripping the pockets of his cargo pants in an odd way. His hands are shaking violently, even clutching the fabric as they are, it's impossible to hide. Withdrawal.
Purposefully letting his gaze linger on Cloud's hands before meeting his eyes, Rufus says, "Ah, I see. You always have Denzel, who can kill a person with his mind."
"But he wouldn't!" Tifa shouts defensively.
"Children decide not to follow in their parents' footsteps all the time. What if, one day, he chooses to follow a path you don't approve of, and no one can stop him? Perhaps he will go into the Lifestream and put you to sleep."
In a low, barely-audible tone that demands attention, Cloud says, "You did this to him. Now he has to live with it. And you will have to live with someone having more power than you."
Leave it to Cloud to shock everyone with a statement like that—because everyone knows it's the truth, even Rufus. But it's only part of the truth, because it isn't just Rufus that has to live with it, it's the world.
But he has a way to eliminate the threat. Just one decision and his trump card will be played.
"What will you do with the SODLIERs?" Rufus asks. Sevi has backed himself into the corner and is staring distantly.
Ren speaks up now, clearing his throat first. "They'll stay at HHI. I am making HHI into a sanctuary for those recovering from mako addiction."
"That's noble," Rufus says, and he means it, though he knows he sounds sarcastic when he says it.
"We are going to build a better world, with or without your help."
Laughing, Rufus is struck by the irony of all this. Isn't he the one doing the rebuilding here? "And how am I to help?" he finally manages. He notices a crooked smile on Reno's lips and even a twitch of Rude's cheek. Tseng and Elena are both expressionless.
Ren is silent.
"Help us clean up the streets and get addicts to come for rehab. Stop selling mako."
"And then give you money?"
"It wouldn't hurt," Ren relents.
Of course, he won't stop selling mako. He isn't naïve. Mako isn't going to just disappear. If he doesn't control the market, someone else will. The crime syndicates will become powerful again and he will lose his ability to manipulate this city into doing what is best for its own improvement. He won't waste time negotiating with street gangs. That isn't why he is still alive.
Nodding, Rufus smiles. "Okay. Philanthropy is good for public image."
"Is that the only reason you would do it?" Ren adjusts the watch on his wrist as he speaks, hands going to the sleeves of his shirt next to adjust the cuffs.
"No," Rufus replies. He resists the urge to glance at Tseng. Tseng who is a recovering addict. Tseng who will be loyal to him indefinitely if he supports such a cause.
Finally, roused from his daydream, Sevi focuses his deep-set eyes on Rufus. "I do not trust you."
"And I don't trust you."
"I would like to kill you."
"But I have to be something different than what I was. I have a family. The others are my brothers. I have a daughter. We were driven by impulse for a long time, but that time is over."
"You are choosing to be sane men," Tseng says. The dagger is gone, back in its hidden sheath.
Sevi's features lift. "Yes."
Nodding, Tseng gives the other man a tight smile. "I understand."
The words hang in the air until the silence becomes awkward.
Finally Cloud says, "I think it's time to go."
Rufus nods in agreement and all but the Turks file out the front door, Tifa glaring at him as she goes.
When they are gone, he lets a long breath ease out of his lungs and walks over to the couch dropping himself into it heavily. "Well, that was fun," he says. He brings a hand to the back of his head and feels the matted, wet hair there.
Reno snickers. Rude shakes his head. There is a long red mark along the side of Reno's face from when Sevi threw him. It is already starting to turn purple and bruise.
Almost whistfully, Tseng says, "We recruited those SOLDIERs." He is staring through the glass doors at the figures crossing the street. "Can they be rehabilitated?"
"It's hard to say," Rufus replies, being as honest as he can be. "I doubt they've even been able to wean Sevi off of it yet. He would have been suffering obvious withdrawal if they had. Those SOLDIERs have had far more mako put in their systems than you ever had, Tseng. We always cut off mako injections when a SOLDIER retired. There was a detox period when they went through the stages of withdrawal, and then we were careful to keep them clean, even as the effects of poisoning became more and more noticeable. Many of them ended up as addicts getting drugs on the street, but what they got on the street was never as pure as what we gave them."
"Ren will work hard to try," Elena says. "He's very passionate."
"Yes, I believe he is." But can he do it? Rufus is doubtful.
"Hey Boss," Reno says, dropping lazily into the chair that Ren had occupied before. "I have a question… If you ordered the SOLDIERs to attack the mako mines, why did one of yours get hit?"
Rufus smiles. "Barret was asking a lot of questions. He's been trying to bring down the mines for a while. He was starting to suspect that I was the one behind the mine attack. He thought I was trying to kill competition."
"And you were," states Tseng.
Rufus turns to him, studying the steely blue eyes. What is going on in Tseng's head? "Yes. Those other mines were being run by a crime syndicate that has been recently gaining some power. Believe me, they are not the men you want controlling mako supplies. Not all mako ends up in the form of a drug. You know its medical uses. And it is still used for energy in some places because the truth is, we haven't found anything more efficient. I ordered the SOLDIERs to attack one of my mines to throw Barret off. I didn't want him figuring things out before I'd had a chance to deal with the SOLDIERs."
Tseng is still staring silently out the glass doors when Elena speaks up. "Sir, we need to talk to you about something." She looks up at Tseng, as if asking for his approval. Tearing his eyes away from the windows, he glances down at her and nods.
"Tseng and I have decided that we would like to know the details of our assignments beforehand… so that we can decide if we can accept them."
Instead of replying, Rufus directs his gaze to Tseng, willing the man to speak.
"I would like to help Ren, where I can. His cause is something I believe in. I may not always be able to do what you ask if it's a conflict of interests, and I will not take an assignment if I cannot commit to it fully."
"Ah Tseng, so you've developed a moral compass?"
"Well, as long as I don't give you any conflicts of interests to worry about, this shouldn't be an issue, correct?"
"What about you Reno? Rude?"
Looking briefly at his partner first, Reno answers, "No issues here, Boss."
Wearily, Rufus nods. It's enough for now. "Then I'm going to bed." Rising, and meeting the eyes of each Turk in turn, he turns and heads toward the elevators.
He can end it all with a word. But what would be the consequences? Cloud would come after him, of that he feels sure. He'd seen the way Cloud had stepped in, the responsibility Cloud seemed to feel toward Sevi. And he'd seen the way Sevi responded. In a few sentences, Cloud had displayed more control over Sevi than Rufus had ever had. And what had been the key? The man's daughter.
But what if the other SOLDIERs didn't have such sentimental ties?
And then there were Tseng and Elena. There was no missing that Tseng felt a connection with the SOLDIERs because of their shared addiction. And Elena would go wherever Tseng went. If he had the SOLDIERs killed, he might actually lose their loyalty.
Will he give up half his Turks for the security of having the SOLDIERs eliminated?
Maybe there is middle ground…
He is in his office, sitting in the black leather chair with his elbows on the ornate wood desk and his chin resting in his palms. He taps his lips with his fingertips, turning over the options in his mind. His eyes are directed toward the security monitors on one wall, the panel that normally hides them tucked away. It is almost subconscious when he reaches over to the remote sitting on his desk to press the button that will unlock the lobby door a moment before Jenkins reaches for the handle. He watches as the man trudges toward the elevators and presses the "up" button. Inside the elevator, the security camera looks down from above, and Rufus stares at the bald spot just starting to show through the unruly red hair.
Finally, there is a knock on the office door, which Jenkins opens without waiting for Rufus to respond.
Rufus is already sitting up straight with his hands folded in front of him and a practiced expression of authority on his face. "Hello Jenkins."
Jenkins swaggers into the room, pulling the door shut behind him. He comes forward and places one palm on Rufus' desk, pulling a small bottle out of the pocket out of his baggy black jeans and placing it down with the other. The bottle is red and has a skull and crossbones on it. Rufus almost laughs.
"Do ya know what this is?" Jenkins asks menacingly.
"Hmm… let me guess… poison?"
Putting his hands on his hips and stepping back, Jenkins chuckles. "Course not! You think I'm stupid enough to hide poison in a bottle like that? Just a little joke to break the ice."
Rufus sighs. It is unfortunate that Jenkins is the foremost mako expert on the planet. He would never deal with this man otherwise.
"Consider the ice broken," Rufus replies coldly.
"You got it, Mr. President." Jenkins grins and winks. "So what's the verdict?"
"What kind of ongoing treatment do you expect to give the SOLDIERs?"
"If they're dead?"
"If they're alive." He doesn't feel particularly patient.
"Anti-toxins and such. Same as I'm using on Tseng."
"For how long?"
"Depends on how bad the withdrawal symptoms are."
"You'll do it indefinitely for the SOLDIERs. And you'll keep poison on hand. If the SOLDIERs look like they are about to become a threat again, we'll hide the poison in their anti-withdrawal medication."
"And the kid?"
"Recommend the same treatments for Denzel."
Jenkins takes the bottle from the desk and pushes it back into his pocket. He pulls a package of cigarettes out of the inside of his black jacket, takes one and sticks it in his mouth. He doesn't light it. For several seconds he regards Rufus curiously before saying, "I wouldn't have pegged you for being soft."
"I'll pay you, of course," Rufus adds, feeling very tired.
"Of course." Jenkins replies.
"Cross me and I promise you, you will not think me soft."
Jenkins stares at him a moment longer and shrugs. "You keep paying me and I don't care if you're a fluffy teddy bear." Then he turns and leaves the room.
When Rufus is alone again, he stares out the glass windows of his office at the surrounding city. Midgar is his home. His name is stamped on every building and in the track marks of every junkie. He wonders if anyone really understands that. The Turks might.
Swiveling in his chair, he reaches under his desk to press a button that releases a hidden compartment that drops down just above his lap. Inside is a padded case with several green vials. After his recent fall out of the helicopter that Denzel had helped destroy, his doctor had used mako to keep him alive while blood had poured out of an internal wound. Without it, he probably would have died. That was over a month ago now. After that, he'd had a choice. He certainly didn't need to keep taking mako.
But sometimes, on carefully planned rare occasions, he wanted to know what it felt like to be like them. To allow himself to be flawed. To not be Rufus ShinRa.
Will Ren be able to rehabilitate the mako addicts? If he does, Rufus won't be sorry. He'd rather have a city of productive citizens than one riddled with addiction. He can always find other ways to maintain control. If he is honest, he actually hopes Ren succeeds, even if he doesn't believe it can happen.
Taking one vial out and carefully inserting it into a syringe, he presses the needle into his hip where no one will ever see the track mark.
The word "Lifesblood" drips over his lips in the empty room, spoken to no one. He is alone. Because he is not a man. He is a Corporation.
He twists to look at the blurring outlines of the Midgar skyline. But he does love this city. Just like his mom did.
End Chapter 18
End "Family Portrait"
Hello Readers! So, here we are. At the end. Finally. This is the last chapter of this story. I hope you all enjoyed it. I appreciate the reviews and hope more of you will give me feedback (Please!). I put a lot of effort into these chapters and would really love to hear what worked and what didn't. Thanks again for sticking with me for so long during my multiple hiatuses from writing.
It took me a while to figure out how to end this story. Rufus seemed fitting to be the last character I explored because he contrasts so well with so many of the other characters. I find him rather tragic really. Where Cloud has family to ground him, Rufus can't allow himself to be so close to people. Even the Turks always seemed to be kept at arm's length. Growing up with the father he did, I imagine he would believe that close human relationships are not compatible with power. Hence, Cloud has the support he needs to fight addiction and Rufus ends up toying with it to deal with a loneliness he can't even acknowledge.
Just a side note… I tried to make this story fit the best I could with the On The Way to A Smile novellas, since they are part of cannon. However, some of the novellas in that series weren't released until after I started working on this story. I think for the most part, this story fits with them anyway, but I thought I would mention it in case someone notices something that doesn't really fit with those stories.