Author's note & disclaimer: As a long time lurker this is my first attempt at a fan fiction. I never really considered the potential between Rufus & Elena before reading the few and far between stories on them that are out there, now it's one of my favourite pairings. Anyway, hope you enjoy- apologies for any British-isms in spelling or phrasing, it's just how I was raised!
Oh, and I don't own anything to do with FFVII, it all belongs to Square Enix.
From his vantage Rufus Shinra could look down over the expanse of the newly emerging city. Not that there was much worth admiring. Edge, the shabby misfit phoenix that had arisen from the charred remains of old Midgar was hardly a model of urban design. Just a sprawl of lowrise buildings, hastily erected from whatever scrap material the masses had managed to scavenge. To Rufus' eye the 'city' was little more than a glorified refugee camp, an old sector slum that had been allowed to grow unchecked. Hardly a comparison to the elegant metropolis his forefathers had dedicated their lives to building. But then again the current president of Shinra Inc. was hardly the great leader he once was, both in status and physique.
A low, irritating background drone alerted Rufus to the fact that the man was still speaking. Dragging his pale eyes away from the window he slowly turned to face his former employee and would be business contemporary.
"...initial excavation suggests a wide network of underground chambers. We've been cross-checking it against what existing blueprints remain of the old HQ but have so far brought up a blank. Whoever built the damn thing didn't bother to put it on any map."
Shinra eyed Reeve Tuesti through strands of blonde hair before making his way back to the desk. His progress was slow, body leaning heavily against the black lacquered stick that had become a permanent fixture in his ensemble.
"We think it may be some kind of research facility, yet another one of Hojo's pet projects..." Reeve faltered under the unwavering glare of his old boss. "Does the codename 'Deepground' mean anything to you?" No response. "Did the old president mention it? Maybe Scarlet, we've recently recovered some of her files pertaining to the project." Still nothing.
Rufus tilted his face to study Reeve through his damaged eye. Quick medical attention and months covered with a patch had managed to save the eye, yet the sight in it had been all but lost, the intelligent green iris now rendered a scarred, milky gray. For most other people such an affliction would be a burden, it took an individual like Rufus Shinra to twist it into an asset- the cold blind stare being so much more unreadable and disconcerting to its receiver.
As if on cue Tuesti started to feel himself squirm under the scrutiny. A slight smirk played across Rufus' features before he turned away with a deliberate sigh.
"You know I wish I could help you Reeve. I'm afraid the old man wasn't one for sharing. Kept me at arm's length doing admin work in Junon for most of his presidency." Rufus turned back to smile at Reeve. "You know, anyone might think he felt somewhat threatened by me. His own son, imagine!"
Reeve felt his jaw tense slightly, whether Rufus knew anything or not he clearly wasn't about to divulge it. The only thing he'd achieved by coming down here was providing the president with some afternoon sport.
"I'm sorry to hear that. Well, if that's the case there's no point in my hanging around, I have other business that needs attending to. Thank you for your time Mr. President."
Rufus watched as the other man made to leave.
"My apologies once again Reeve." He purred " If there is anyway Shinra might be able to assist your efforts at WRO you must be sure to let me know."
Reeve looked up startled. Once again the corners of Rufus' mouth twisted up slightly in a knowing smirk, the unspoken fact of the WRO's anonymous benefactor charging the air between the two men.
"No si-, I mean thank you. Good day Rufus."
Reeve stepped out the office closing the door behind him. Leaning back in his chair Rufus contemplated the stick in his hand, twirling it slowly between thumb and index finger.
Despite himself the meeting with Reeve had served to unease him. Was this what things had come to? Watching his empire crumble around him while a former employee, a traitor to the company nonetheless was building a force stronger than his own.
He shook himself inwardly, grimacing at this short unchecked drift into melancholy. He was not the only one to have fallen after all, he'd learnt enough from Reno's slack mouth along with other sources to know how others were also allowing themselves to wallow in guilt and self-pity; once great heroes now reduced to barmaids and delivery boys. Such possibilities wasted.
His thoughts were interrupted by a buzz from the intercom. Shifting his weight he reached out and pressed the voice button.
"Sir, Elena is here with her report."
Shinra raised a forefinger to his eye, tracing the scars in a contemplative gesture before pressing the button on the desk intercom.
"Send her in."
A few seconds later a light rap sounded on the door and the Turk entered, a manila envelope clutched in her hands.
"My report sir" She stated briskly, extending the envelope towards him.
Rufus accepted it silently, however rather than given her leave to go he gestured for Elena to sit at the chair recently vacated by Reeve. Hesitating at the unusualness of the request Elena hovered a moment before sitting upright and awkward in the high-backed chair.
Sliding the file out of its envelope Rufus stole a sidelong analysing glance at the woman in front of him. Absently she grasped at her elbow with the opposite hand, hugging the arm close in a protective gesture. Jaw set and eyes slightly downcast she seemed to be gazing at nothing.
Tseng had been made of a tougher stuff. Years of the harsh brutality of life as a Turk not to mention his previous near-death encounter with Sephiroth had hardened his facade. Any lingering pain or anxiety after the incident at the North Crater was well hidden under his mask of business-like professionalism. Elena was different though. Even after two years as a Turk she'd still been green, a rookie, unprepared for the suffering she experienced at the hands of the remnants. And now it showed. Even Rufus had noticed the change; the once eager, brash, almost irritating Turk was now a silent, demure husk of her former self.
'Broken' he thought to himself. There'd been a time when he hadn't wished to be affiliated with such weakness. Damaged goods such as these would be demoted to office work or sent out of sight to one of the more distant backwater Shinra outposts. However, Rufus was shrewd enough to see the irony of such a move given his own condition. Plus he felt an odd, be it grudging, sense of responsibility towards this loyal employee. The missions he had therefore been spoon-feeding her of late were designed to keep her active if out of the line of direct combat action.
He flicked through a couple of pages before turning to question her.
"No run ins with the gun-armed brute I trust?"
"What about Highwind?"
"He's too caught up with his new airship fleet to take much note of who or what's going on around him."
Shinra nodded, massaging a page of the report between two fingers.
"Do we have any idea of the scale of the oil reserves?"
"Only rough estimates. They need to do a proper survey but I get the impression funds are a little tight at the minute."
"Hmm, maybe if Tuesti spent less resources turning over rocks in Midgar to see what's wriggling underneath and more effort on fuel sourcing..." Rufus trailed off, his eyes scanning the lines of the report as silence filled the room. A minute ticked by.
"Why do you fund him sir?"
Rufus' eyes snapped up from the page to bore into the impudent young Turk. Though his dealings with WRO were common knowledge amongst his subordinates no one had yet had the brazenness to acknowledge it openly, let alone question him on the subject.
Elena met his gaze briefly before dropping her large eyes to the ground once more. "That is.. if you don't mind me asking...s-sir." A light crease appeared on her forehead and her lips tightened in vexation as she inwardly berated herself for her presumptuousness.
For the first time all day the smile that crossed Shinra's lips was genuine- here was a glimpse of the old Elena; impetuous, self-abasing, so very easily flustered. Maybe more was retrievable than he had first imagined.
He lounged back in his chair and faced her head on. "Perhaps I feel a debt towards the planet. Sins to be atoned for and such like." He paused a moment then tilted his head along with a questioning hike of an eyebrow "What say you Elena, can one literally try to pay for one's sins?"
"I wouldn't know sir" came the meek reply.
He rubbed the hollow of his eye socket with his finger again, a gesture that was rapidly becoming a habit much like the hair tossing of his more youthful days.
"Then again, one can become overly preoccupied with the mistakes of the past. Pity, especially self-pity, is never an admirable trait." A vision of a certain old adversary flashed briefly in his mind. His lips twisted, half-derision, half-amusement.
"You know someone once told me they felt sorry for me... Tell me Elena, do you pity me too?" The question was rhetorical but nonetheless Rufus was surprised by the number of queries he was directing to Elena, using her almost as a muse to bounce his own thoughts off.
She looked up and for the first time held his gaze. A second passed before she spoke, her voice quiet but steady.
He held her gaze, daring her to crack, falter- show some sign of falsehood. None came.
"Hmph", the snort was mocking, sardonic. Elena dropped her gaze and he felt a tang of bitterness, immediately regretting this scoff at her sincerity. He suddenly felt the urge to act, no more wallowing; it was time to start rebuilding what was broken.
Standing up abruptly he dropped the file on the desk. Automatically Elena rose up with him, standing to attention.
"I have a new assignment for you Elena."
"Review the current status of our active stations in the Western Continent. Also bring me a list of former-Shinra engineers whom we still have known locations for- preferably not ones currently affiliated with WRO. I want a surveyance party heading out to the Corellan oil fields within the month."