Bleed or Cry

A/N: My first attempt at an, ahem, 'proper' fanfiction. That's right, this one should actually have… a plot! And serious characterisation! Not parody! My titles always suck, and I see no reason to break tradition in that respect. Call it my signature move. :P Okay, I think that's all, so let's go!

… … …

"… Just who are you?"

Rufus Shinra didn't look particularly angry at finding his new office full of riffraff (terrorist riffraff, no less), simply bemused. Or possibly amused, thought Tifa, narrowing her eyes as what looked like a slight smirk played around the blonde's lips. One glance at Cloud told her that he, too, didn't get the joke.

"I'm Cloud," he shouted, "ex-SOLDIER, First Class!" Shinra's face remained impassive.

"I'm from AVALANCHE!" Barret added, glaring. Was it Tifa's imagination, or did Shinra's left eyebrow rise up a notch, as if to say, 'no shit.'? She bristled at the (possibly imagined) insult and glowered at Shinra.

"Me too!" Tifa looked Shinra dead in the eye. Or would have done, if he hadn't been a typical male, with his gaze fixed stubbornly… elsewhere. Tifa fought the impulse to fold her arms; she didn't want him to know he was getting to her. Instead, she looked sideways at Aeris, who was supposed to be adding her bit now. It seemed to Tifa like Aeris was purposefully waiting too long, enjoying Tifa's discomfort as Shinra ogled her.

Well, thought Tifa savagely, I just spent the night in the same room as Cloud, so screw you.

"A flower girl from the slums," Aeris said eventually. Shinra made a noise that was somewhere between a cough and a snort, and Tifa felt a little guilty. She'd be embarrassed, too. There was a reason she hadn't said 'barmaid'.

Red XIII dryly finished, "A Research Specimen."

Tifa watched as Shinra paused for a beat. And then another beat. Dammit, she wanted to punch the stupid not-smile off his face, but she knew the Turks would be on her in seconds if she tried. Instead, she settled for glaring at him and hoping he was boiling in all those retarded layers of black and white. Finally, Shinra's eyebrows raised fractionally, giving him an air of perfect blue-eyed innocence.

"What a crew," he said conversationally.

Tifa bared her teeth in a snarl. Shinra looked at her again, and this time he kept his gaze trained on her face as he continued, "Well, I'm Rufus." He didn't seem to need to blink. Tifa tried to stare him out, but to her shame her eyes started to water after a couple of seconds. Furiously, she tried to keep them open as Rufus opened his mouth slightly. He seemed to be tasting his next few words before saying them aloud, testing them out in silence.

Instinct grew too much to bear, and Tifa had to blink. Rufus was no longer looking at her, turning his attention to the group as a whole. And, dammit, he still hadn't blinked!

"The President…" Rufus said, turning back to Tifa and slowly, slowly closing one eyelid, opening it, and then doing the same with the other, "of Shinra Inc."

"You're only President cuz yer old man died!" Barret cut in. Tifa sighed; Barret had obviously mistaken Rufus' challenge for misplaced pride. Barret had a knack for taking things the wrong way and missing the point. He was a good friend, and a good person, but she wished for the millionth time that he thought a bit more before he spoke. Rufus gave Tifa a slight smile; she turned away, feeling her cheeks flame. She had the uncanny feeling that he'd just read her thoughts.

"Correct," Rufus mocked in his deadpan way. "I'll let you hear my inauguration speech."

Tifa didn't interrupt with '"let", indeed'. That was what he wanted her to say. Fine, if he wanted to issue a challenge, she'd meet it head on, and see how he liked that!

Sure enough, Rufus seemed slightly surprised (his expression remained impassive, but his hand paused mid hair-toss) as he continued his speech. As he walked around the room, Tifa found she couldn't concentrate on the words, instead finding herself preoccupied with watching him. He didn't move like most people; every last gesture seemed planned, artifice. Tifa wondered if the man ever did anything on a whim.

He was a little shorter than Cloud, which Tifa found amusing, although she wasn't quite sure why. He took long, confident strides, trenchcoat rustling, and paused by the different AVALANCHE members at different points during his speech. When he reached Tifa, she had to force herself to maintain eye-contact; Rufus was staring at her so intently she felt self-conscious under the force of his scrutiny. It didn't help that he smelled of lemongrass, a scent she'd always been fond of. Rufus drew closer as he spoke, practically whispering in her ear. She could feel his breath on her cheek. Angrily, she fought the impulse to ball her hands into fists and take a step back; she wouldn't let him know he was getting under her skin.

Eventually, Rufus Shinra pulled away, and Tifa let out an audible sigh of relief. And then cursed silently as he gave her a not-smirk. He'd heard. Damn.

Feeling her cheeks flame for the second time in as many minutes, Tifa tried to come up with something cutting to cover up her embarrassment.

"He likes to make speeches," she said, "just like his father."

Well. It sounded better in her head.

To Tifa's surprise, however, Rufus' face twitched slightly. She wondered if that was the closest he ever got to looking angry. And then she wondered if the Shinra Science Department hadn't done some experiments on the new President at some point, for the sole purpose of making his face unreadable in business meetings.

Rufus said nothing, but looked away from her, and Tifa felt the strangest sense of… disappointment? As though she'd screwed something up, failed some test before she even knew she was taking it.

Cloud didn't notice her mood, of course. Cloud never noticed anything. Cloud was currently looking at Aeris. Tifa managed not to bite her lip as Cloud yelled to Barret, "Get Aeris out of the building!"

Tifa tried not to be jealous. They'd come there to rescue Aeris, after all; why would Cloud ask Barret to take care of anyone else? And it wasn't like Tifa needed any looking after; she would have protested if Cloud had suggested it.

But all the same… it would have been nice… if he'd just suggested.

She gazed around the room, trying to keep her mind off things, and caught Red XIII's eye. She didn't like the


way he was looking at her and quickly looked away again. That dog-cat-thing was too bright. Tifa tuned in to Cloud's and Barret's conversation just in time to catch the end.

"I'll go after I take care of him!"

"Alright, Cloud!" Barret went with Aeris. Tifa looked at Cloud for a moment, confused.

You said 'I', not 'we'...

Cloud gestured for Tifa to go with the others. Fighting back the completely irrational tears that had just sprung up out of nowhere, Tifa nodded and turned on her heel, ignoring the urge to sneak another quick glance at Rufus Shinra. She knew he'd see her if she did.

That night, as Tifa lay on her hard mattress in Kalm inn, she thought restlessly about the way things were going between her and Cloud. Ha, her and Cloud indeed. It was the next worst thing after 'not even knowing she existed'; the point was, Cloud did know, and he didn't particularly care. And ever since Aeris had appeared, Tifa had felt him pushing her further and further away. He could have asked her to be in his party when they left Midgar, but no, she'd been sent away with Barret, while Cloud travelled with Aeris and Red XIII. Unless… maybe he did like her, and he was just trying to cover it up? Or maybe-

Stop it! Tifa told herself, tossing and turning in her scratchy sheets. You're just deluding yourself and not seeing what's right in front of your face.

Or maybe he just wanted to be welcoming to the new people, and it was a display of kindness…

He doesn't like you he doesn't like you he doesn't like you

Or maybe he was just getting her back because she was so obviously attracted to Rufus Shinra…

He doesn- waitaminute, WHAT?

Tifa sat bolt-upright. Where the hell had that come from? Shinra? She didn't… he wasn't… oh, for Shiva's sake, the man was despicable! And yet, when she remembered the way he'd flicked his hair back with those long piano fingers, she shivered.

Well, alright, he's graceful, so?

She tried to remember his face, but Tifa had always been awful with faces. She was pretty certain his eyes were blue (or maybe grey… or green… or… dammit) and his nose was straight, but that was about it. She hadn't thought he was handsome, she knew that. He'd looked kind of demented, with low cheekbones and ridiculous chocobo hair

(Says the girl who fancies Cloud Strife.

Shut up.

And Reno has high cheekbones, and he's definitely a heroin addict.

I said shut up!)

and sticky-out ears. Not a patch on Cloud.

Sighing, Tifa tried to get back to sleep, closing her eyes and sinking back down onto the bed, but her thoughts were still flitting like moths in the dark. The way she'd felt like she instinctively understood Rufus, picking up on all the tiny expressions that eluded her team-mates. The pleasing tone of his voice (she couldn't remember it now, but she'd liked it. He had a bit of an accent, though she couldn't think where she'd heard it before) and his scent. She'd expected soap and disinfectant, sterile as the walls in the Shinra building.

Idly, she mused on the fate of the old President Shinra's body. Buried? Cremated? Tossed out of the window? Probably the latter, if Rufus had his way. That thought made her smirk. And then scowl. Dammit, she did not like him! Tifa punched her pillow (and bruised her fist for her troubles; the mattress was so old it felt like it was made of stone) and forced her mind to go blank.

Except for the odd President.

"…And, finally, I'm cutting the budget for the Shinra Peacekeeping division by thirty percent, as punishment for the giant balls-up that was 'yesterday'." Rufus smiled icily as Heidegger spluttered.

"But, s-sir, I'm sure nobody was expecting Sephir-"

"AVALANCHE were in this building earlier, you bloody idiot," Rufus cut him off. He looked at the other people sitting at various intervals around the boardroom table. Scarlet, who'd slept her way to the top and then shot anyone who tried to knock her down again. Rufus had a grudging respect for her, but he wished she'd stop trying to corner him in the lift. Bloody nymphomaniac. Reeve, the spineless wonder. Palmer, whose ineptitude was rivalled only by his waistline. Hojo, the sadist with a God complex. And, of course, the battle-scarred Heidegger, good for bluster and pomp but useless under pressure.

Rufus didn't bother to disguise the irritation that settled over his face. All these people had been chugging along for years, pushing the company steadily closer to debt and disaster. Aside from Scarlet, he couldn't respect any of them as businesspeople. Reeve was an engineer and didn't understand the first thing about marketing. He had been given a seat on the Board of Directors to prevent him from working for another company, and everyone knew it. Gast had been a visionary; Hojo was his infinitely inferior fanboy. Rufus' lip curled as he pictured Hojo begging for an autograph.

These were faces Rufus had grown up knowing all his life and hating the entire time. Anyone who was a friend of his old man was an enemy by default. And as for incompetent friends… With a glare, Rufus addressed the room. "Are there any questions?"

Scarlet cleared her throat, softly placing her hands down on the table. "Mr…" she paused, "… President, sir, don't you think it would be… wiser… to increase the Peacekeeping division's budget, so that they have the necessary resources to do their job? Just a suggestion, sir." Scarlet smiled, her lipstick glistening. Rufus made a supreme effort not to roll his eyes.

"No, Scarlet, I do not. And are there any questions from anyone who isn't currently banging half of the Peacekeeping division?"

There were none.

… "Junon," said Cloud the next morning, as they got ready to leave. Immediately, Tifa gasped. Barret gave her a funny look.

"Yo, somethin' up?"

"Er… no… I just… remembered something," Tifa mumbled. The others shrugged and left her to it (Tifa did this a lot), heading towards the town gates.

Junon! That's the accent! she was thinking. That's where Rufus is from… I wonder why that is?

And then: And why do I care?

Feeling an unwanted blush steadily creeping up her cheeks, Tifa hurtled after her team-mates.

… … …

A/N: There! Done! One day I'll get good at ending my chapters in the right places… :P Until then, there's stuff like this. Ah well. Please review, because this is my only serious fic, and I'd really like to know if I carried it off. Concrit please! Tell me why I suck! And some day, someday, I'll be better.