I'm not going to talk about how long this thing has been fermenting in my head/document folder, because it's years. YEARS.

An unconnected series of events led to this being prepared for posting.

So Shu'up and take it like a man, the second part of this two-shot will be up by the end of the week.


Tifa Lockhart was enjoying one of the rare moments in her life when everything felt like it should. Cloud had returned from his last delivery of the day without any inexplicable 'disappearances'. She, Marlene and Denzel were waiting for him at home; happy, like a family should be.

The bar was shut for the night, so they sat around and played game after game of 'chocobo trap', upon Marlene's fierce insistence. It was just the four of them making their funny, but sometimes believable, imitation of a family. It was enough.

Probably.

All Tifa had ever fought for was this; a stable and loving family like the one she lost after SHINRA had its way with her; killed her father, her friends. She had her friends now, there was no question of that, and she had a family; just about.

Although, there was that something hanging in the back of her mind, leeching on her thoughts this happy day; something dark and awful. It shouldn't have ever happened but somehow it did, and now she couldn't forgive herself or try to take it back – even if she wanted to more than anything else.

So she threw a proud blanket of repression over the thing, refusing to let her own folly spoil the evening. Tifa Lockhart did not let go of a dream without a fight, and she was nowhere near through fighting: even if it was with herself.

However, when the children and Cloud were in bed, asleep and she was left alone with her thoughts in a very separate room to his, she couldn't stop thinking about it, denying any sleep as she passed in and out of vivid dream-come-nightmares.

Eventually she lost hope and gave in, rising with the dawn just to banish her own self-torment; just to keep those awful thoughts (memories) at bay.

She was awake to hear the mail being delivered. The clumsy thud of the letters, mostly bills, on the mat downstairs, as she sat in the office flicking mindlessly through a photo album – frozen faces staring straight into the lens. Everyone always all smiles and sunshine, pretending that we aren't actually all weak and selfish people deep down; no matter who we are, or how much we try, or what we ever did to save the world.

A sudden knock followed the letters: it was probably a package. Tifa rose from her chair in the office and walked down to the side door of the bar, where the mailman stood on the other side; grinning at her through the window as she slid back the bolts on the door.

"This one was too big for your letterbox," he said jollily. "It looks important so I thought I'd check if anyone was up." He handed her the package. "Have a nice day, Miss Lockhart!"

Tifa shut the door and then hurriedly did up all the bolts again; the name that still sent an unpleasant shudder through her body – Miss Lockhart. It was still too soon to hear anyone call her that, far too soon.

The package itself was no more than a large, bulky envelope made of an expensive looking cream paper. Things were rarely printed on such good quality paper these days, but it was the letterhead that troubled Tifa the most.

The words 'From the Desk of Shinra' were etched in neat handwriting on the face of the envelope; her address sketched carefully onto the back. This too was ink obviously from the nib of a good, expensive fountain pen, and there was very little that you saw handwritten – let alone in real ink – these days.

'From the Desk of Shinra' – although this was a professional-looking letter, it read just 'Shinra'. This was odd because it was certain that anything truly official should have read 'Neo-Shinra', and not the company's pre-meteor name.

Despite the popular belief that the SHINRA corporation of old was out for the count, the general public were all very much mistaken. Neo-Shinra, the phoenix that rose out of the ashes of the old Shinra little less than five years after its fall, was very much the same creature by another name. True, the old officials had been exiled and they talked a very different game, but Tifa had every confidence that they were no different to the Shinra she'd devoted over half of her life to hating, and they would be no better given the same shot at power.

However, agonizing over Neo-Shinra and Shinra wasn't going to anyone any good, so Tifa bit the bullet and tore open the envelope. Inside was a glossy booklet and a few leaflets all promoting the WRO's work in the area, some of which Tifa had seen before; she had even left them on top bar for customers to read.

It was speaking in riddles, but she understood well enough. It was not Neo-Shinra because the sender knew as well as she did that there was no difference, and the WRO leaflets were a reminder of exactly whose flow of dirty money was supporting the World Regenesis Organization – Gaia knows they couldn't operate as a profiting business. The implosion of such a massive cooperation had left more than just the wreck of Midgar: there were billions of gil floating around in obscure safes and far-out laundering businesses, and a person with the right knowledge could filter that currency into almost anything he or she wanted to.

The WRO, for example. It was a sick statement, really, as the sender seemed unable to resist reminding her of one of the most wretched things about himself and his company: they were doing some good in the world.

Tifa tossed the pamphlets aside disdainfully, and was about to throw away the rest of the abhorrent package when one last thing fell out of it. It was another smaller envelope, apparently containing something bar paper, as the surface of the parchment was very slightly misshapen.

She tore it open suspiciously, and was reviled at what she found. Underwear. Although they were not provocative or... lewd in any particular way, seeing it was more than enough to push a blade of dread down her throat, and for a very good reason. It was hers.

A small, handwritten note fluttered out in the wake of her knickers and Tifa snatched at it in a panic, scrutinizing the looped text.

'I believe you may have left this in my office, Miss Lockhart.

R.S.'

It read with precise strokes of a high-quality fountain pen, and Tifa felt a bitter taste rise in the back of her mouth. She prayed that she wouldn't be sick, but her stomach had turned over so many times now she couldn't escape the nausea.

He was really going out of his way to rub it in her face. Yes, there was no doubt that Rufus Shinra was chuckling away to himself as she read this.

She was about to crumple the slip up when she noticed an additional line on the back; this read...

'P.S. I hope you don't mind my having them dry-cleaned prior to posting.'

Oh he was a sick bastard indeed.

She should have never gone to there; this wouldn't have happened if she had only listened to her own good advice. But of course she had to convince herself – in spite of her best instincts – that there was a greater good to mankind, and that perhaps Rufus Shinra really was a reformed character.

She was just a little curious about him after the attack of WEAPON as well, but didn't care to admit it to herself.

In retrospect it was undoubtedly the biggest error of judgement Tifa ever made in her life. As she stood leaning against the bar, fixed in a kind of horrified paralysis, she found herself unable to hold back any longer, and her carefully prepared guards came crashing down.

She couldn't stop the memories returning any longer, and as soon as she started to recall each shocking and vivid detail right from the very beginning, she knew it was a lost cause. Sinking down to the floor with her head in her hands, she begged herself not to cry as she relived the events of that afternoon one more time.

Mr. Rufus Shinra of the Neo-Shinra organization had initially requested her 'audience' on the basis of her occasional work with the WRO, and she thought perhaps he wanted to make amends and try to start anew; even offer an apology if she was lucky - and Rufus had seemed cordial enough at first, and he had tried to have her executed.

Surprisingly enough, the new NEO-SHINRA HQ was in fact a tumble-down, grubby little office in the most crowded part of Edge. They hadn't even bothered to take down the sign advertising the last company who used the building, and according to some they received far more requests to fumigate houses than do any of their own work.

As Tifa stepped into the room that fateful morning Rufus stood up from his chair in an act of his well-bred gentility; he even offered to hang her jacket beside his long white one, on a salvaged hat stand in one corner of the room, but she refused.

"I am fine," she said stiffly as she looked over the 'reformed' Rufus Shinra, dressed down a little more than his usual ties-and-tails combination, but still formal in suit trousers and an immaculately ironed shirt.

"Then please sit." He signaled that she take a chair opposite to his, which she noticed was on the same side of the large desk that occupied the back of the room, and she foolishly read it as an insignia of equality.

He started to talk without invitation – mostly about Shinra's debt to the planet, the goals of Neo-Shinra, and some other things of little relevance as Tifa gripped her seat and pretended to pay attention while resisting occasional urges to jump out of her chair and punch him: he was undoubtedly spouting no more than mere propaganda created to quell the company's old enemies. Herself included… he had tried to have her executed after all.

She expected that Neo-Shinra was just as corrupt as before, and would do everything they could to seem like they were on the side of the heroes, while dealing to the world from the bottom of their already-fixed pack. She could not be so indifferent to these things as Cloud; her heart could not forgive so easily.

However, oddly enough, Rufus seemed to twist the conversation off course without Tifa realizing. Slowly the questions became more personal: he asked politely of Cloud's welfare, and then the children they were caring for – he somehow knew about them – and then how business was doing in Heaven's Edge. The multitude of pointless things that a man like Rufus Shinra should have had no interest in seemed to be rather fascinating to him all of a sudden.

Tifa resisted this prying as well as she could, as she was already regretting ever setting foot inside this building, but the former President had an unnerving talent for working his way into people's minds without any hope of escape. A cat holding its paw above a simple unsuspecting mouse.

He picked at her as if she were no more than a rag doll, slicing stitches so delicately that Tifa never noticed being pulled apart at the seams; until she was somehow assembling the notion that her life wasn't completely satisfactory: Cloud still disappeared without any warning, Barrett took Marlene (and Denzel with her) away on weekend trips and holidays more often than she truly liked, because she always missed them horribly but did not want to be seen as irrationally clingy, which she knew she was being.

Yuffie and Vincent had their work at the WRO a lot of the time, which did not take them out of the way completely but Vincent was not a social creature and Yuffie had a blossoming Empire across the ocean to manage and inherit. Cid had a baby of his own to look after, as well as pioneering the new space plan, and Red wasn't really the most frequent of visitors as he was busy on his Doctorate in Cosmo Canyon at the moment. Reeve occasionally dropped by, but he was the busiest of everyone.

All in all, it sometimes – only sometimes, never enough to complain – resulted in her finding herself all alone in the bar, feeling like the last, lost child at playtime.

"Loneliness, Miss Lockhart," Rufus said quietly; flexing his fingers against each other; a calm smile on his face and the shadow of his hair hanging over his eyes, "is inevitable. There will always be those moments of longing. We are isolated creatures. Bar scattered moments of belonging we have nothing; we are all born and die alone…." He stopped for a moment, and she could have sworn he almost looked sad, before he added, "I am more aware of that than most, perhaps."

Tifa resisted the urge to hug herself; the statement was brutally cold, but she could tell it had come from the heart – she saw the person before President Shinra, who been formed with those ice-cold views, the one who had spent most of his life years horribly and negligently alone.

Rufus took the whole issue far more lightly, but he did not know any different. He was far more interested in knowing that there was a big, unspoken something missing in Lockhart's life… and his guesses could prove to be entertaining to say the least. If he could manipulate and break apart her character, then he would; it would fascinate him to discover what made her tick, if only for a little while.

Tifa got up in a rush not long after this, intending to leave when Rufus began to pick insistently at issues that she would prefer to keep to herself. However each time he managed to say something that stopped her from storming out – made a passing comment that she simply had to correct, or commented on her 'running away' from the truth; little things that she just couldn't leave be and kept her from walking out just yet.

It was eventually so that ex-president Shinra calmly said – after she had been trying particularly hard to convince him (as he made himself particularly difficult to convince) that the reason she missed the kids so much wasn't because she was bored and had nothing else to do; she hadn't meant to sound so flustered and hyped-up as she snapped at him, but unfortunately it came out that way. It was just after this that Rufus said, with a slight smirk behind his lips.

"You know, you are rather beautiful when you are being argumentative, Miss Lockhart. It animates you." The statement sounded out like a shot in an empty room, and although it wasn't a totally untoward kind of thing to say to a woman, he somehow managed to make it feel slimy and awkward.

She fell dumb for a moment as she tried to process the compliment, of all things.

"That isn't to say... that you aren't so all the time," he added. "You are a naturally beautiful woman.... Though I wonder how long it has been since Strife…no," he cut himself off, "since anyone told you that." He fell quiet again, and at that Miss Lockhart stood up from her seat as if it had given her an electric shock.

At first with the intention of leaving, but then after hearing his final snipes with the goal of a withdrawal from the rude, proud egomaniac. How dare he make comments like that? It was not his place to make any little observations about things that had nothing to do with him. The compliment was obviously no more than a set-up on which to vault his new attacks of course, and she would make sure he learned his place.

"I have a good mind to…" she began while taking a few aggressive paces across the floor towards Rufus, only for him to stand at the last second and lean in uncomfortably close into her personal space.

"You wish me to take a compliment back? Miss Lockhart?" he said softly as he leaned in, and Tifa felt a slight tang of mint and expensive aftershave on the inside of her lips as she inhaled, surprised by the sudden confrontation.

"Well... " he appeared to think about it, "absolutely not." His his voice dropped to a hoarse whisper, and as he exhaled she felt his breath on her skin. She was rooted to her spot with a curious mix of shock and surprise. It took a whole third second of Rufus Shinra's face being very dangerously near to hers before Tifa regained control of her body, pushing, shoving, backing away from him and running towards the door.

For all the ways she'd prepared herself not to be frightened of him, it'd only taken a single breathtoo, too close to send her into fight or flight mode. She was not here for a fight so out the door it was.

"Miss Lockhart," he said formally as she tried to wrench the door handle open, but the rusted contraption that had let her in so easily beforehand now wouldn't budge.

"Miss Lockhart," he repeated insistently, and she heard the rustle of fabric as he moved across the room, but thankfully did not make any advance upon her.

"Miss Lockhart," he used the tone that had sent people to their deaths, she was sure of it, and try as she might she could not ignore it any longer.

Reluctantly she turned away from her escape route, and let her gaze slip back towards Shinra over the seat she'd very recently occupied, one of his hands laid gently over the soft jacket she'd left across the back of the armchair.

"I believe this is yours," he said coolly, and she drew her face into a tight expression of discomfort.

"Is this door locked?" she asked, as once more the handle wouldn't budge despite her trying it again and again behind her back.

"Of course," he replied calmly, a devilish smirk on his lips and something sinister playing itself out in his eyes.

"I would like to leave now," she said; not moving from her hold on the door nor letting her expression soften despite the almost sympathetic smile flashed her way. "Goodbye," she added as an afterthought.

"Without your jacket?" he questioned, then followed it with a hushed tutting sound. "That is careless, Miss Lockhart. If you left such an item here I would be inclined to return it to you, and judging by your scowl I would say you are not keen on such an idea. Am I correct?"

Of course he was right, she thought vehemently. He was always right while wearing that self-sastified smirk of a man holding all the cards.

"Unlock the door," she demandedmoreso than she requested, but Rufus wouldn't have done it either way.

Instead he laughed, and beckoned her closer; a command she begrudgingly obeyed as she reached out for the jacket she was ready to leave behind. As she drew nearer, all of a sudden Rufus closed the final distance with a single movement; for someone recently in a wheelchair, he seemed surprisingly lithe.

"You seem very tense, Miss Lockhart, perhaps I could suggest you try to relax a little…" he suggested, and the words alone sent twitches down her neck, although his face being uncomfortably close to hers certainly didn't help.

It was when one of his hands somehow found its way to brush gently against her forearm that Tifa took a step back and slapped Rufus smartly across the left cheek, a satisfying clap ripping across the room as his jaw was wrenched violently to the side. Restraint was not an option for when it was Rufus Shinra making a pass at her.

However, it was with curiosity that Rufus raised a hand to press against his assaulted cheek, which was already tingling under the whirlwind force of none other than the Tifa Lockhart; luckily for him the damage was only skin deep; having to undergo any more reconstructive surgery would probably be the death of him.

"That hurt, Miss Lockhart," he stated in what sounded like surprise, and wiggled his jaw from side to side and felt it click.

'It was meant to' was what she wanted to say, but never had a chance before he spoke again and cut her off before she had even started.

"But I suppose I would deserve it after the pain Shinra has caused you…" That was practically one half of an apology from him, but much to Tifa's disappointment hearing it had absolutely no effect on the anger bottled up inside her, and she was no less enraged facing him than she was when she arrived.

Her fists tightened and flexed, and when Rufus looked straight at her again, and in the same restrained voice said, "You may strike me again if you like." She couldn't resist, and the vengeance in her heart took hold.

She slapped him again, across the right cheek this time, and then again and again and again. He made very little effort to ease the blows and hardly flinched as she grabbed him by the collar and anchored him in place to hit him one last bone-crushing time.

Cloud – for everything that was presumed about him – forgave easier than Tifa did. Rufus had to do no more than give him a job and put them on the same side; if they were fighting for the same cause, Cloud would not antagonize them, and he seemed to understand something that Tifa never did about Shina. Maybe it was because he used to be one of them. Maybe he was just a better person.

Tifa had been one of the core members of AVALANCHE, and hating Shinra was as natural to her as breathing. She simply did not want to forgive them: she just wanted to pound them all to pieces.

As she swung her hand around to deliver the final blow, Rufus Shinra suddenly twisted his head away – an act of self-preservation – and pulled his shirt collar easily out of her hand; allowing her palm to sail harmlessly over his head and shake her off balance with her own force.

Using this as an opportunity to regain the upper hand, Shinra caught one of Tifa's surprisingly delicate wrists and pulled her out of step with herself, which then forced her into stepping closer to him to regain her balance.

The angles of this entire manoeuvre (having quite possibly been configured prior to the event itself) meant that Rufus had only to turn his head to the side in order to bring his mouth a whisker away from Tifa's cheek – possibly even pressing against it for a transient moment – and after that it was only another slight shift that placed him in the opportune position to whisper in her ear, lips brushing her earlobe as he spoke.

"I apologize to you, Miss Lockhart," he said softly, and the fingers wrapped around her wrist squeezed together very slightly as his little finger traced a popped vein down to the base of her hand, "For everything. If there were ever a way I could make it up to you…" he began, and Tifa's eyes widened as for a second time she realized she way too close to this man, so tearing her hand away she hurried over to her jacket and snatched it up into her arms. He found a way to spoil everything.

'For everything' indeed. Could he apologize for Aerith? What about Zack? Or for Cloud's memories? Neiblehelm? Could he apologize for having to live a life rougher and poorer than Midgar beggars while their ragtag group tried desperately to fight against him to save the world? Or for an ex-Turk shut up in a coffin for thirty years?

Everything was a mighty bold word for Rufus to throw around like that, and she wondered if he even had the tiniest idea as to what everything might entail? Her lost love? Weeks, months and years of heartache for a boy who forgot he ever loved her? Her parents and home? Her life aged 14, and every single thing she'd had to deal with since that day…. Did Rufus Shinra really think he was in any position to start apologizing to her?

"Unlock the door," she said with much more composure than she felt, which was very largely due to the fact that Rufus Shinra had possibly just given her a kiss on the cheek, and she didn't think there was enough hot water in Edge to cleanse that from her body. However this restrained front seriously wavered when Rufus only laughed at her request.

"I will in time, Miss Lockhart," he replied calmly, "but I would like to hold your company for just a little while longer. I do not entertain many visitors personally these days." Tifa was barely listening to him now, as the only thing that mattered to her now finding a way out of spending any more time with this sociopath.

"Unlock the door, please," she reluctantly groveled, hoping that a subservient lip service might procure a release. This didn't have the desired effect at all, as it only caused Rufus to follow her back across the floor of the room and once again close that dangerous gap between the two of them.

"I wonder what else I could get you to say please to me for," he remarked inquisitively, taking yet another step forwards and observing the space between him as if those three inches of air held a secret no man had ever discovered.

"Don't…" she began threateningly, but just as the word had left her lips Rufus's eyes dropped from her face and carefully traveled down her body and back up again: an obvious act of evaluation. Meeting his eyes again Tifa suddenly noticed that Rufus's left pupil was significantly smaller than his right, and she also saw a set of very faint but still noticeable scars under his eyes, on his nose and in front of his ears.

It occurred to her that she could only see his scars if she was this godawfully close to him, and almost felt a pang of guilt for making all those harsh judgments from all the way across the room where she couldn't even see the marks of pain he'd endured. Maybe she had been just a little unfair, when she'd thought just about her pain and problems without considering Rufus's lot, because she could easily imagine that it wasn't all rainbows and sunshine: she could see the end product, and that was not the result of a perfect upbringing.

"Perhaps, Miss Lockhart," he said hypnotically, and he quirked his head very slightly to the side. "Perhaps I could offer you a compromise… "

"Let me leave," she whispered so quietly he would've had to be that close to hear her. He gravitated in even closer, and slowly without even moving his lips breathed a few words across the non-existent space.

"Are you sure that's what you want?" His mouth now hovered over the corner of hers for a second and she screwed her eyes shut with a mixture of horror and paralysis. She wanted to move but it was like one of those nightmares where she simply couldn't. A more rational part or her knew that if she ran away he'd just chase her again and again until something snapped.

The scent of fine aftershave floated off the pale skin of his neck, and she wondered how he managed to stay so clean – every man she'd known in the past ten years or so had been covered in a basic level of grime that seemed to accompany the average Gaian working male. But here was Rufus, an inheritor and upper class; he probably had a degree or two and had never worked hard labour in his life.

He was something rich and 'tasteful', the kind of thing that the common man (or woman) wasn't ever supposed to have; like foie gras or caviar, because it simply wasn't suited to their palette, and to them just tasted like crap. He was a rich, jumped up, self-serving rich boy. But for some stupid reason she had let him get to her, and she knewhe would leave a bad taste in her mouth but she needed to prove something.

"Is it what you really... want... right... now?" he breathed, and brushed his lips feather-light against her cheek again; more of a contact than a kiss. She slowly raised her hands from her sides, and her fingers came into contact with the loose ends of a waistcoat, her knuckles sliding against the delicate silk lining and closing tensely in his one hundred percent linen shirt.

Her hands were knotted there for seconds that feel like hours, and a dizzying sensation took over her head and everything began to feel blurry from the rush. The lightest tug on the bottom of that shirt – her hands moving when her mind could not – provoked a reaction from him in an instant, and no sooner had her muscles twitched into that motion than his lips were pressed flat and firm against hers. Whether that was what she'd wanted him to do was another matter: this was simply what she'd got.

She shuddered as his hands skimmed immediately down her sides and around her waist, settling comfortably over her hips as he quickly ended the kiss and initiated another, lighter one, and then quickly followed it with a heavier more passionate clash. She felt his tongue brush against her lip and part of her wanted to bite it off, but the other part wondered how long it had been since she had done this. She had bedtime kisses and well-done kisses and make-it-better kisses for the children. She had we're-alive kisses and I-missed-you kisses and congratulations kisses for all her friends.

She even had spur-of-the-moment-forced-on-you kisses and I'm-sorry kisses from Cloud, which he always rejected or apologized for, but it was too damn long since she'd ever had a 'I want you' kiss.

To goddam long.


Done! Posted! HO'SHIT!
Review it quick before it disappears!

Also I have a cruel throat infection and it hurts like a bitch. Sympathy me.