Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy VII, characters, places, etc. All rights belong to Square-Enix and their respected owners.

Summary: Post ACC/DoC. Because, sometimes, it's in everyone's best interest if both parties agree to commit to something as mundane as a marriage based on politics and personal gain. Better the devil you know than the one you don't. Rufus/Yuffie

The Arrangement

Chapter Seven

He decided that they would stay at the local inn for the night before departing for Junon in the morning.

It had been a thoughtful decision made on his part, and normally Yuffie would've been all too happy to agree, considering how she'd already indulged in the medicine Rufus' doctor had prescribed for her, along with two tranquilizers on the way over and had no wish to shoot up with another so soon. But still. The whole notion in staying was so completely out-of-character for Rufus, especially since the inn—the only one in town—wasn't exactly one of the five-star luxury hotels he was so obviously used to, if his renting out every room in the place said anything. He'd said that he wanted privacy, although Yuffie suspected there was something more to it than that. They hadn't been harassed by any reporters, and unless the innkeeper—whom Yuffie suspected Rufus had, undoubtedly, generously bought off to keep his mouth shut—said anything, then they really had nothing to worry about. It was highly unlikely that anyone would suspect them in a sleepy, backwaters place like Rocket Town, let alone travel so far simply to get another photo that could easily be substituted by one of the many thousands of a modern day romance fashioned by a simple illusion.

No, there was something more than just staying the night, and Yuffie knew, deep down, the reason for his spending time in a place that had never really appealed to him…was for something beyond his need to see her.

His words and actions alone were confirmation of that.

"I hope you enjoyed yourself tonight. In a way, I daresay it was almost…tolerable," a very unmoved Rufus ShinRa contended as he stood, his body braced against the cane that he held. "I confess it was rather interesting, in communing with a former band of terrorists, anyway."

Yuffie rolled her eyes at the sound of his voice. Derisive and condescending as ever. Gawd. Why couldn't he just be Prince Charming for a single night? "And you're blaming me for that, aren't you?" she snapped back. "Well, I didn't push you to into going, so it's not my fault that you didn't have any fun." She looked at him then, a hint of confusion resting disjointedly amidst her accusation. "Why did you, anyway?"

"Why what?" he asked, before he heard her cry out in frustration. He was playing at her unraveling sanity, and both knew it.

"Come, I mean," she amended, tiredly. "You didn't have to, but you did. What made you?"

Rufus, saying nothing, only glanced in her direction, never truly looking at her. He heard her sigh again, this time in defeat.

Shaking her head, she bit the lower half of her lip, strangely trapped in thought. He didn't need to be grandiose or overly wordy in his reasons; he required nothing of the sort, since his presence alone assured Yuffie of that. She'd initially been happy when he came, but after the party, when the laughter stopped and everything was all said and done, she'd found herself subjected to a very collected, if not very incensed, side of Rufus ShinRa. How did she ever get to be so lucky?

"Oh, never mind. I should've known that I'd never get a straight answer out of you. You're never that simple." She looked down at the floor then, exhausted from the party, as well as their conversation that seemed to spiral into another argument. "Look, if we're finished here, I'd like to—"

"We're not," he tactfully interjected. "In fact, we need to discuss one other thing before you go to bed."

The ninja visibly grimaced as she looked at him again. She didn't have to ask what it was; she already knew. "If this is about what you happened to see going on between me and Vincent," she began, eyeing him carefully and seeing that, yes, it was about her and Vincent. Balling her hands into fists, she vented, "Oh, come on, you know I didn't do anything with him. It wasn't like I was crawling all over him or anything." She knew it was the wrong thing to say, but she didn't care. Let him yell. It would be a refreshingly new addition to their stagnant conversations. "At least I wasn't locking lips with him again, although it probably would've been nice, compared to all of those little pecks you give me. With Vincent, at least it's the real deal."

The scar around his left eye twitched at her provocation. "You were initiating physical contact with him," he pointed out. "And, if I'm not mistaken, that falls precisely under what you promised you wouldn't do with someone, other than myself."

Yuffie blanched at the implication. He didn't mean the friend-to-friend-comforting-on-the-knee routine, did he? Gawd. Scoffing at the certainty, she said, "You are so dirty-minded, you know that? I was just reassuring him about me being there for him as a friend! I didn't mean anything else by it. It wasn't like I was giving him a lap dance." She groaned when she saw that she'd apparently failed to convince him. "I didn't kiss him, and I think you know that. The truth is: I actually realized something during that little heart-to-heart I had with him."

Rufus looked up, his eyes meeting hers, seemingly for the first time since they'd left the party. "And what would that be?" he posed quietly, almost too quietly.

Yuffie merely shrugged. "That I'm fine about letting him go."

She received a cold smile for her efforts. "There's a development, I suppose. At least you won't feel that I'm forcing you into something you consider to be nothing more than a business transaction." He tried to ignore the hurt look in her eyes when he said it, but there she was: gazing plaintively back at him, her hurt genuine. He decided to change tactics. "I just don't want a ghost from your past haunting us. I want us to stay focused on each other and our future together."

She laughed at that. "And you don't have any ghosts from all the girls you've charmed into hanging onto you from beyond the grave?" she teased. "It's okay if you had a harem of women at some point; I'm not going to get mad, since it's not my heart that's at stake here."

He curtly nodded in understanding. "No, it's something more important than that," he acknowledged, knowing very well that she'd meant Wutai and wasn't at all offended by it. "Well, you needn't worry about that; I'll keep my word to you on that count, since I'm very faithful in the vows I make."

Yuffie grinned at his spin on their upcoming nuptials. He was creative; she had to give him that. But there was something else, something a little more than that. She couldn't help but think of the moment he'd made his presence known at Cid and Shera's. He'd come, true, but he'd also done something even more unexpected than that: he'd finally said her name. And although he'd only done it because he was furious from what he'd happened upon, he'd said it nonetheless, and Yuffie smiled, unable to deny her happiness. "You know, in a way, I'm now glad you came tonight. I actually want everyone to not be at each other's throats. And, yes, I mean you, me, your dogs, and those 'terrorists' I consider my friends. I really want us to try to move on from all of that. I want you and everyone to get along, because life's just too damned short not to, you know?"

And she meant it.

It would be a shame to waste the second chance the Planet had given everyone.

And Rufus conceded, if only slightly. "Very well," he finally said, faintly giving into her again as he crossed over to her side, his cane tapping softly against the wooden floorboards. "I'll…try to extend every courtesy I can afford your friends." He made a face at the sight of her smile. He'd actually pleased her with this small concession. It almost surprised him; but, knowing Yuffie as he did, it took very little for him to accomplish such a feat. Freeing one of his hands from the cane, he slightly moved it forward and reluctantly grasped one of hers. He heard her breathe in, a soft sigh, at the contact elicited. He almost smiled. It took very little to please her indeed. "Tonight wasn't that terrible," he remarkably admitted. "In a way, I actually enjoyed watching my enemies in a domesticated setting for once."

"Former enemies," she corrected with a smile. "You need to keep in mind that we're not fighting each other anymore, if that drinking contest between my friends and your Turks says anything."

He grunted at the reminder of seeing a totally hammered Reno and Rude passed out alongside Cid Highwind and Barret Wallace on the floor, but relished in the fact that she'd called his Turks something other than dogs. "Reno and Rude's habits are, I regret to say, unacceptable at times," he muttered, as far in the way of an apology. "I don't pay them to have drinking contests, especially when they're on the job." He felt her pat his arm in mock comfort. "What?" he asked, yet already knowing what her answer would be. "Is it wrong of me to feel that way as their employer?"

But Yuffie shook her head. "No, it isn't," she replied, granting him at least that much. "It's just sweet of you…since you had them watching me, even though I'm big enough to take care of myself. I didn't know you cared so much about little old me."

He frowned at her then, that sweet mocking smile still in place, never faltering, even when he shook his head and told her that what she said was far from the truth. "I don't want anything happening to you," he said, all business and no feeling. "You're important to me, Miss Kisaragi, but—"

"I'm nothing more than a business transaction, I know," she finished for him, an exaggerated sigh duly following suit after it. "Yeah, I know you're not madly in love with me—yet. But, one day, maybe I'll change your mind. I have a gift in swaying people to my side, you know. You'll go crazy at the idea of me not being in your life. Just you wait and see."

Rufus' frown dissipated as he tried to discern the meaning behind her words. He looked at her, unable to tell whether she was being serious or simply joking; but the way she looked at him, with that teasing smile and half-challenging glint in her eyes, suggested that maybe, just maybe, she'd meant something in between. He didn't know what game she was playing at, but it made him feel oddly uncomfortable. "Yes," he found himself echo, "a business transaction. Of course it is. What else can it be?" It was then he saw it: a hint of disappointment lingering in those dark eyes. But it faded as quickly as he saw it, with that trademark genki smile replacing it. "Miss Kisaragi?" he questioned, but was silenced with a soft brush of her fingertips.

"You said it, my name, when you came," she quietly reminded him, his previous words temporarily forgotten. "It's the first time you've said it."

He glanced down at their joined hands before returning his gaze to her. "I think you know why I did," he quietly returned.

And she did. He'd only done it to get her attention. But still, he'd said it nonetheless, and her heart warmed remarkably as the sound of it was now engraved in her memory. "I do," she said, conceding a little this time. "But what now? Are you going to call me Yuffie from now on or what? I happen to like hearing my name on your lips. It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Yu—ffie. Oh, come on, you know you love saying it!" she exclaimed, teasing him again.

He hesitated, clearly noting her happiness and his mistake in inspiring it, but then answered, "Until we can reach a more respectable understanding, I shall proceed in addressing you as Miss Kisaragi." It was cold and calculative, but very much appropriate in the way of their previous agreement. He'd only given in on account of her present company, but that had been his only reason, and while Yuffie seemed to accept his answer, she looked at him in a way that vexed him. He almost dreaded to know what that cunning mind of hers considered.

"Still not giving in, are we? Color me not surprised; I can't see you giving in, honestly. But then what?" she pressed, his answer apparently not good enough for her. "What will you call me after we go through with this whole shebang in getting hitched?"

A blond eyebrow raised in obvious confusion. "I imagine you'll be called Mrs. ShinRa then." He heard her scoff instantly at the suggestion. "What? You'll no longer be a Kisaragi. Logically, it makes sense for me to call you by your married name."

Yuffie glared at him, her expression nothing short of repulsed. "You know, you can shove your logic up that pristine white backside of yours. There's no way in hell I'll allow you or anyone else to call me by that name."

His expression hardened instantly. How dare she scorn his family name? "Then perhaps you should stop behaving like a spoiled child and call me by my first name. I'll gladly reciprocate the same."

"Not in a million years, ShinRa."

He gladly met the challenge she'd placed before him. "Very well…my future Mrs. ShinRa, I shall gladly adhere to your request."

It took everything within Yuffie not to snap. She was trying to be patient with him; she really was, but he was beyond anything she'd ever had to deal with. And this is going to be a lifetime commitment, too…

The thought nearly made her laugh and cry simultaneously by turns. How had they ended up here? First, they were arguing over Vincent and whether or not she'd gotten all touchy-feely with him, and then they were provoking each other—bantering, really—and now…They were back to arguing again. It was a cyclical cycle and Yuffie was growing rather tired of it. "Look, I think you and I both know how much I despise your name," she said, attempting to reach some kind of accord. "But it is what it is, isn't it? And even though there isn't a snowball's chance in hell of you ever changing it, it's still going to be part of our lives regardless. I don't want to be called that, so you can find something else. You can always call me Mrs. Yuffie or something," she suggested, almost hopefully, but the look in his eyes said that he wouldn't. She frowned then, almost at her wit's end. "Then what will you call me?"

He looked at her, purposely slow in his response. "I believe we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," he said, infuriatingly evasive in his answer. "Until then, I suppose we shall carry on as we have. We aren't married yet, Miss Kisaragi," he reminded her. "So, we have a little time."

"Only a few weeks," she muttered lamentably. "That's really not all that much time."

Rufus shrugged one of his shoulders. "Plenty of time to consider our present dilemma," he remarked, ever the practical-minded businessman. His answer, however, made Yuffie want to scream.

"It just isn't fair, none of this is," she muttered, knowing well enough that she was behaving like a child, and that Rufus would even say as much. But, somehow, amazingly, he didn't. Instead, she felt him pull his hand out of hers. She looked down, almost disappointed by the loss, before gasping at the feel of his arms around her. What on Gaia was he doing? He surely wasn't offering her any comfort. Was he? But he was, in his own, unusual way, he was. And she welcomed it, while the silence overtook them as Rufus ShinRa held her without another word.

This isn't like the time he held me when I puked on him, she thought. No, that had simply been a means for revenge. This present embrace was for something else entirely. A slight frown edged around the corners of her face. She had to be crazy to let him hold her, but she couldn't help herself; his touch felt oddly comforting to her, and she had no wish to let him go. Not now. Maybe not ever.

She couldn't say for how long they stood there like that, but she was sure it had been for quite a while. The small digital clock on the bedside table read 12:31, so, yes; it had been for a while. And then, to her sadness, he finally let go.

"I think we should rest," he said, his voice strangely distant. "We only have a few hours, Miss Kisaragi."

Yuffie looked down at the tips of her tan shoes. "Oh," she murmured, unable to think of a more, coherent response. "Yeah, you're probably right; I guess I do need to get my beauty sleep." She looked up at him then, a smile in place of her hesitation. She took a cursory step away from him, making her way towards her own room. It was an odd thing, but Rufus had to have a room with a bed in the farthest part of a room, and the inn only had one room with an arrangement like that. It was a strange quirk of his, and was one that clearly came out of left field, but Yuffie thought it almost as sweet as her obsession with Materia. Rufus ShinRa was a liquorice allsorts of surprises.

"Aren't you going to say goodnight?"

The question made her stop dead in her tracks.

Say goodnight? When had that become one of their nightly rituals? Usually, he worked late into the night while she went onto bed, so why the sudden change in routine? The only possible thing she could think of was that he wanted to make their relationship into something more than what it already was. After all, in a few short weeks, she would finally become the loathed Mrs. ShinRa, with goodnight kisses and a throng of predetermined children to follow. So, why not just appease him by offering up some false kindness? What did she have to lose, other than a few seconds of her time? And so she turned, carefully measuring the look in those Mako-infused eyes, yet finding that they gave away absolutely nothing.

"Goodnight," she said in a voice vaguely reminiscent of her own. She caught sight of a faint smile, mysterious and inviting, and she turned, her hand reaching for the doorknob. She grasped it, intending to go to her own room, though not before adding over her shoulder, "And just so you know, I like arguing with you better, anyway." She threw him a provocative wink, a direct invitation at a pass, something of which neither expected from her.

Rufus refrained from taking her up on the offer as he instead looked at her, skeptically. "Should I feel honored by that, Miss Kisaragi?" he queried. Just where was she going with this?

Yuffie only laughed. "Maybe," she answered. "The thing is: I actually enjoy fighting with you, since Vincent scares the living daylights out of me, whenever I argue with him."

"I'm flattered," he placidly returned, although he was anything but.

She laughed again. "Yeah, you should be," she rejoined, sharing in his odd sense of humor. "I am irresistible, after all." She paused before adding something that had been in the back of her mind for almost six months. If they were playing around the truth in being honest, why not have the final word? "Well, since you enjoy being flattered like the spoiled CEO you are and everything, I might as well fess up to something else." She waited then, allowing for his curiosity to build up before setting it ablaze. "I didn't think it was possible, but I have to say that you're also a much better kisser than Vincent, so you have him there." She grinned impishly as she saw something, fleeting though it was, flicker in those Mako-blue eyes. Transfixed by the sight, she hurriedly added, "Actually, I'd rather steal a kiss from you, in some dark street corner than share a thousand with Vincent any day. Just thought you'd like to know that, too."

Attempting to leave before she said anything else embarrassing, she opened the door. "I guess I'll see you in the morning. Pleasant dreams, ShinRa."

"Wait."

The door shut automatically and Yuffie turned, eyes wide, as she found herself staring into the face of one expressionless Rufus ShinRa. How had he gotten over here so quickly and without her noticing? He'd just pulled a Vincent on her and it, in part, very much unnerved her. Just how had he done it, and with his cane, too? She had no time to ponder the possibility, not when those Mako eyes were staring so glacially down at her, their regard almost judgmental. "ShinRa, what on Gaia—"

She could say no more—not when he shushed her quivering lips with the tips of his fingers—as his very touch ignited something deep inside of her. He wasn't wearing his trademark fingerless gloves—hadn't been for a while now—and Yuffie somehow, belatedly, noticed just how pale and soft his hands were. They weren't exactly the calloused hands of a factory worker, nor did they possess the skillful agility of a trained assassin, but were somewhere in between. She couldn't help but stare at his hands and admire the figurative sense of godlike power they so seamlessly executed. She vaguely heard his cane fall as it clattered to the floor. He was standing on his own now, although he lent a considerable amount of his weight against the wall, his arms bracing against the door, with her inescapably caught in between them.

He was pulling her in, like a supermassive black hole, and she had no hope of escape.

"Say it."

His name, she suddenly realized, he wanted to hear it. And Yuffie stared at him, dazed and suddenly at a loss for words. It was nothing more than a whisper, a gentle command, but she felt the hard steel within his voice all the same. She remained forbiddingly silent.

Cane forgotten, he moved in closer. "Say it," he commanded again. "Say it, Princess of Wutai, and let us put an end to this silly game. Let us begin now as partners, as equals."

Yuffie's mouth quivered in between silence and speech, her face drawn into something akin to disbelief. What he said tempted her beyond all imagination, to be equals with Rufus ShinRa, a man considered a god in some respects, as that very same divine individual proposed that she, a mere mortal, be equal to that of a god. It was both absurd and flattering at the same time. Though all the same, she couldn't help but feel herself wanting nothing more than to give in. She was slipping away. Fast. Like a siren, he charmed her to perish upon the ocean's rocky shoals. Say it, say it, say it, the voice in her head sang. "I…I…" she began, gaining ground as she fought for control of her voice. "I'd…like to…but I can't." Shaking her head, she looked at him with an expression that bordered on regret. "I'd almost forgotten how charming you can be."

Something indecipherable crossed his face, his arms falling to his sides. "So, you won't say it?" he asked, his tone unsurprised by this extraordinary turn of events.

The ninja shook her head, a small, mischievous smile resting at the corners of her mouth. "It's nothing personal, but I like playing this game with you. You're fun, ShinRa, maybe a little too fun."

He grunted in response. "I'm fun?" he reiterated, seemingly surprised by the revelation. "Am I, Miss Kisaragi? If so, then how?"

She hesitated then, as if considering whether to continue with her present line of thought before deciding to simply answer him. "You just are; I can't explain the hows or the whys, but you are. And you know, I have to say that, in spite of all of the baggage that exists between us, I actually like being around you and I don't know why. I just do. But when I think about it, I can't help but feel that maybe this isn't a mistake, and that we can make this work out; because, maybe, just maybe, you might also happen to think so, too." She leaned in close, a little too close, her breath teasing the open collar of his shirt. She felt him tense before she heard a slight intake of breath, a broken one, and she smiled. "You see, I think you also know that; and whether you believe it or not, I can give you what you need. I'd be surprisingly good for you, Rufus ShinRa."

She'd almost said his name. Almost. But she'd attached his surname to it at the end. It jolted him to reality. And he silently thanked her for it.

Glancing away like the pathetic coward he so despised, he finally found his voice. "I…I think you should get some rest. We'll be returning to Junon early."

It was a piss poor excuse to end the awkwardness between them and both knew it.

And yet, Yuffie couldn't help but ask, "But what about you? Shouldn't you get some sleep, too? I really don't want to have a sleep-deprived zombie for a husband." She heard what could almost pass as a slight snicker from him and she frowned. "Oh, come on: you know you need some sleep, too. You honestly can't hope to keep running on pride and stubbornness alone, can you?" She stood on the tips of her toes then and gave him a peck on the cheek for good measure. "There, now," she said, as if pleased by her attempt to appease him. "You've gotten your goodnight kiss from me, so now you can go to sleep."

"I guess I have," he concurred and he regarded her quietly. He said nothing else when she opened the door and left, only watched her go, her retreating footsteps echoing hollowly before fading away completely. He shut his door the moment he heard her shut hers, confident that she was safe, since he had both Reno and Rude, albeit sadly half-sober, stationed outside. She would be fine, he was sure, although he could hardly say the same for himself. Glancing down at his hands, he considered what had transpired only a few moments ago and wondered how he'd come to acquire a woman who was both coarse and as smooth as the finest Wutainese silk. How had he ever come to be so fortunate? But then, he had the devil's own luck, and he smiled—a subtle, triumphant smile—that darkened around the corners of his face.

He hadn't gotten a consolation prize, after all. He was still ahead in the running, when it came to the solitary ownership of Yuffie Kisaragi's flagrant affections. Of course, he wouldn't necessarily deem what she felt as love, since it was, as she'd said so sensibly, that what they felt for one another was solely based on business. But regardless. A business arrangement could always be modified, and a heart—her heart—could, indeed, be at stake. He would have to consider that, should the possibility arise. But for now, he had other things to consider. Namely, whether to be a gentleman and let her collect herself—in her own room—or indulge that wish here…in his. He could always have his Turks to fetch her, or he could go to her room himself; he wasn't above disrupting her own privacy.

But then, his better side—the more gentlemanly side—unfortunately won out, as he allowed her some peace from his presence. There would plenty of opportunities to make good on her offer. He considered that and more as thoughts of the arrangement he'd made with her father came to the forefront of his thoughts. He frowned then, with Godo's sharp words echoing so stridently inside his mind:

"Be sure to treat her well, ShinRa, or you'll have the whole of Wutai to answer to, and we are more than simply a blot of an island on a world map. Be sure to also remember that."

He scowled at the reprimand—for that was what it had been—for he remembered it quite well. How could he forget? He'd practically signed his good name over to a man his family had defeated fifteen years before. Not that such mattered, of course. He hadn't lost an inch of his freedom in this little gamble he'd taken; and while it was true that he'd been totally indifferent to Godo's proposition at first, in regards to anything that concerned Yuffie Kisaragi, he could not assure himself of the same now. For what he presently felt toward the young lady in question was far from well-meaning—according to Lord Kisaragi's definition, anyhow.

Yes, he would treat Yuffie Kisaragi very well indeed, if in his own, affectionate way. It was the least he could afford her after teasing him with likes of Valentine. He laughed then, that devilish smile inspiring more than just a little fear. For now, she would sample only a taste of his affections. After the wedding…

Well, that would entirely be up to him.

Assured in the knowledge that one of his problems could be so easily taken care of if needed, his thoughts returned to the present as he glanced down at his cane, which had sadly lain there, wholly neglected. It was a pity that he had to rely on it at all; it should've been nothing more than part of his appearance, an accessory. But regardless of his opinion, he couldn't deny that he needed it; and so, without care that one of his Turks could relieve him of his need, he leaned down and picked it up himself. Might as well take responsibility, after all; he'd been the one who'd carelessly dropped it. And it was all because of what she said.

He should've been angry with her, or at least offended; the girl's boldness was boundless. And yet, he couldn't help but commend her for it as he stared down at his cane and wondered, if fleetingly, if having her as a crutch for the rest of his life was a terrible thing. He considered the thought, rolling the possibility over in his mind as he dissected it at every angle and found, to his surprise, that, no, having the girl as a form of support might not be so terrible at all. He almost smiled. Was almost satisfied by it, but was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of click of metal upon metal. Setting the cane aside with his left hand, he instinctively reached for something—secretly concealed in the thick folds of his overcoat—in his right.

Switching off the light, he listened, those Mako eyes the only evidence of his presence as he listened, carefully, to the silence without. He waited, his fingers poised around the brass knob that served to shield him from the world without. In silence, he listened, waiting ever so patiently, until he heard it again. Another soft click. Rufus inwardly raged against the sound. A hired assassin. A foolish mistake. It would be the man's last.

Opening the door, he pulled the business end of his favorite sawed-off shotgun upward, his finger on the trigger as he fired into the darkness.

"I hope you don't hate me if I puke all over you again."

Rufus made a noncommittal sound in the back of his throat, yet abstained from pulling away from a near-comatose Yuffie completely. If he were to be perfectly honest, he was close to collapsing himself. Eyes bloodshot, he raked a hand through his unkempt hair as his rumpled suit did little to counter the fact that what he really needed was one of Reno's cigarettes. The past few hours had been particularly rough, and their present flight to Junon was no better. He had no wish to go into the particulars; his mind was already a muddled mess, just as was the inn that they'd left, not even an hour ago. He closed his eyes when he felt a pain in his right temple. Instinctively, he rubbed it with a tired hand, his other occupied in comforting his paling bride-to-be. How they had gone from resting at a small, insignificant inn, to practically flying like a bat out of hell to his fortified domain in Junon was something that gave even a disenchanted overlord like Rufus pause. He had no answer as to what happened, only knew that the aftermath would remain as a constant reminder that he should've been better prepared.

But again, he had no wish to think about it, as he instead chose to comfort an ailing Yuffie who seemed to cling to him like a lifeline. "It's going to be all right. Just go to sleep," he quietly said in comfort to her, his arm tightening around her shoulders. But of course, neither could find much comfort in his words, not when both were so unsure of everything simply being "all right." But regardless of their uncertainty, Rufus still made the effort to comfort her, and Yuffie held onto him as she had no other. It didn't matter whether she got sick on him or not. Nothing mattered. Save for the silence and the need to reassure each other that they hadn't been the successful target of a very elusive assassin.

He scowled inwardly, while the thought that he'd been so careless angered him even further. He should've known that things wouldn't go as smoothly as the media had made it seem. There were those opposed to the marriage, certainly, but there were more who were against his existing at all. Death threats were nothing new to him; he'd received more than his fair share, and had even the occasional few from Yuffie's own friends. But then, the now disbanded members of AVALANCHE weren't behind tonight's little fiasco. No. It was from an entirely different source—one completely unknown to him—and Rufus hated it.

Being a ShinRa, he was used to uncertainty, the improbability behind certain outcomes, but this time…More than his own life was at stake.

Glancing down, he noticed that Yuffie had finally fallen asleep, her expression almost peaceful amidst the pain of her motion sickness. It hadn't always been so. Not even an hour before another expression had adorned that almost childlike face, one of express determination. He mentally shook his head. It shouldn't have surprised him to see Yuffie enter the hallway the moment he'd fired, armed with a deadly shuriken. The sound had evidently roused her from her sleep, her ninja's instincts never failing her as she threw her weapon at the shadow of her intended target. He'd heard her mutter something when it hit nothing but the wall, the would-be assassin already making well his escape. Shaking her head, she turned toward him instead before making her way over to him.

Tseng and Elena, as was expected, had also rushed in when the firing started, as they fired their own weapons at the gaping expanse of nothingness. They'd come to Rufus' side immediately, checking to see if their employer and young charge were injured. Yuffie had waved off their concern, instead voicing her opinion on the cause of their wakeful night. Rufus instantly recalled her words about not understanding why someone would pull a job as careless as that, since the entire setup was too obvious. He said nothing in response; he didn't have to, since she'd continued on with her own doubts, which coincided with his own. It had only been then that a semi-coherent Reno and Rude came barreling in through a side door, nightstick and drunken fists armed at the ready.

"Um, you're a little late, boys," Yuffie had commented dryly to them. "You can go back to as you were—passed out in the lobby downstairs."

But Rufus quickly shot down that suggestion, where he had instead ordered the Turks to pack his and Yuffie's things and make a one-way flight back to Junon. He recalled Yuffie opening her mouth to counter him, but halted when she saw the look in his eyes. It was an order that wouldn't be questioned, much less disobeyed. He hadn't even given her time to change, having opted instead to drape his coat around her shoulder, her nightshirt and shorts—naturally decked out in green stripes and smiling cats—concealed from the public eye. She'd almost fought him over it, but gave in when he told her that he refused to argue with her. She would obey him, if in this alone.

And she had, even when he had to escort her to the helicopter personally. His Turks saw to everything else, the matter of damaging half of the upstairs hall taken care with a sizable amount of gil and a subtle promise that the innkeeper would surely regret it if word of what happened got out. Having an intruder boded ill for the inn's reputation anyhow, as the innkeeper was wont to point out when he freely accepted the money in exchange for his silence.

He had Reno and Rude to handle the rest; for in spite of their intoxicated state, a half-sober band of employees were better to have than none at all. On the other hand, Rufus swore to himself that they would be suitably punished for their carelessness in leaving Yuffie unguarded. He would inform them of their punishment when they sobered up in Junon. For now, his only concerned rested with the girl in his arms. How close he'd come to possibly losing her, he couldn't say; but there had been more than the assassin, as he again thought of the party he'd been forced into attending. He sighed then, his thoughts returning to the question she'd asked and he'd neglected to answer. She'd asked him again, in the midst of the chaos surrounding them as they prepared for the long flight home, why before she conveyed her thanks in the only way she knew as she accepted one of his hands in an unspoken truce.

And wonder of all wonders, she took the initiative and did something that neither expected as she leaned forward and embraced him, her slender arms wrapping around his imposing frame, her face buried in the multiple folds of his shirt. She'd felt him still, however briefly, at the contact, but then relaxed as she breathed in the scent of his cologne. "I should've known that helicopter was yours. I mean, who else would fly into Rocket Town so late? I know it's been a long night and everything, but thank you for coming," she whispered softly, seemingly enjoying the warmth he exerted. "I didn't think you would, since I know how much you don't like being around everyone. But you did." She'd looked up at him when she said it, her dark eyes meeting his in unspoken uncertainty. The question why lingered on the tip of her tongue, but Rufus silenced it when he cupped the base of her chin with a gentle hand.

He'd said nothing, only looked at her. She'd expected him to tell her why he'd come, although she already knew he'd no intention in doing so. He'd thrown himself into a quagmire of work for the sole purpose in not going. But then, he hadn't counted on one thing, as Tseng, who had dutifully stayed behind, briefed him as the Turk's words still echoed in his mind like a dizzying mantra:

"But, Mr. President, Valentine will be there. Rude confirmed it to me, not even a moment ago."

That reason alone had been enough to make Rufus cancel the rest of his evening meetings, having had Tseng order a direct flight to Rocket Town. The young president didn't waste a single moment of the precious time allotted to him as he'd tasked the Director of the Turks to fly the fastest aircraft in his private arsenal. And, from the looks of what he'd happened upon, he'd barely made it there in time. His competition would sorely regret waking up from his thirty-year nap if the man continued to pursue whatever the hell Yuffie had with him. Rufus felt himself losing all sense of his self-control. The girl was his, not Valentine's. And the former Turk would do well to remember that. He would never again settle for being second. Valentine wouldn't factor into either of their lives. He would make sure of it.

But of course, he couldn't tell Yuffie that. Thoughts of what he'd possibly interrupted still nagged at him, but the feel of her, simply embracing him as she looked up at him with absolute joy made him falter. He'd forgotten about Valentine and their potential assassin, his interests elsewhere. "Miss Kisaragi…" But Yuffie had silenced him with a slight shake of her head.

"You don't have to say anything," she'd replied softly, almost affectionately. "You don't even have to say my name."

And he hadn't. Although whether he wanted to take her up on her offer or not left a splinter of doubt as to what he really wanted. Name or not, would it tilt the scales in his favor if he told her his reasons? Probably not. After all, it hadn't been out of a personal desire to make her happy; her happiness in his being there with her, to share in her delight of their upcoming marriage, hadn't been his reason for coming at all. His unexpected appearance had been for another reason entirely; and it would be something he would carry to his grave, since he'd see himself dead before he ever revealed the truth. And yet, as he looked down upon her sleeping visage, he couldn't find it within himself to be cruel to her, his hatred ebbing away by the unassuming innocence Yuffie unconsciously displayed. It was something he hadn't seen in years, if he'd ever seen it at all.

He gently caressed one of hers cheeks, seemingly unaware of his actions as he thought of tonight and the growing sense of unease he presently felt. She'd assumed that he'd been the target, and had even said as much as she promised to protect him as she would those she considered family. Like Dark Nation, she would willingly throw herself into the fray, no matter that it was he, the very devil, she took a bullet for. He thought her willingness in protecting him almost genuine, though to no avail. It wasn't he who had cause to worry, but she. He hadn't shot at the shadow so near her door if he hadn't been sure, that the faceless assailant had been after her and not him.

Unless there had been some mistake, and that idiot thought I was staying there with her instead.

But mistakes, in his experience among assassins, even sloppy ones, were few and far between.

"I'd be surprisingly good for you, Rufus ShinRa."

He closed his eyes at the sound of her voice as it reverberated within his consciousness. How those words haunted him even now: teasing him, tormenting him with things her inexperience could never hope to know. It had taken everything within him to send her away, lest he discover just how good she really would be for him. Pernicious little siren, he thought, but then suddenly felt the description lacking. She was so much more than that; he just couldn't ascribe as to what she was, only that she was something more than a mere slip of a girl who'd somehow left him completely stunned and grasping madly at his lost sense of composure.

Opening his eyes to reassure himself that she wasn't some sort of a ghostly apparition that his imagination had somehow conjured, he clutched a sleeping Yuffie closer, his gaze surveying her lithe figure underneath the white folds of his overcoat. He looked at her face before glancing down at her hands…and almost froze at the sight of the ring he'd given her, tucked so safely around the lapels of his coat. She hadn't taken if off, even while she slept; and the thought of such, while unexpected, almost hearted him as his resolve in protecting what he considered his strengthened. He would not tell her the truth; she had enough to worry about, and his Turks could handle what those bumbling idiots at the WRO could not. She would be safe, his bargain with her father remaining intact with every breath she took. He already had Tseng on the case, which wouldn't take the director long to ferret out the truth. In any case, Rufus would find out who was behind the failed attempt on her life soon enough, and when he did…Gaia only help the poor, misguided fool who'd dared to cross the likes of a very angry, very tireless, very unforgiving Rufus ShinRa.

He shook his head, quietly dispelling all thoughts of revenge as he continued in his silent watch over the sleeping woman in his arms. He sighed, reluctantly giving into exhaustion as he closed his eyes and thought of the wedding. It was set for the thirteenth, an unlucky number for some, but Yuffie, who seemed to favor the day because it reminded her of a friend, would have it no other way. He almost commended her for her strong-willed nature. Leave it to his future bride to cause a sensation for those superstitious, since the only thing she wanted, other than a way out of their marriage, was for him to finally say her name.

It was something he'd never grant her, never consciously, and yet, when he envisioned her holding onto him so trustingly, he couldn't help but feel a small sliver of compassion stir inside of him. For just how difficult was it for him to utter so meager a thing as her name aloud? Opening his eyes, he looked down at her and considered his options, catching a slight smile that warred against everything he believed of their relationship.

Against his will, he whispered it before closing his eyes once more, a small, satisfied grin resting at the corners of his mouth before he joined her in sleep.

Author's Note: I cannot believe I have another chapter out so soon. I really hadn't seen that one coming; but since today's my birthday, I figured this would be a nice present for everyone. So much Rufus/Yuffie angst and love to go around! :D

I'm also sorry if the chapter was a little short. This was the other scene I'd originally planned to add but decided to cut. And yet…We do see a lot of Rufus, so maybe that's not such a terrible thing, after all. XD I also hope this chapter turned out all right. I know the ending was a little fast-paced, with the sudden inclusion of an assassin and everything. It really isn't something that I was entirely comfortable having here. It has to happen, but I'm still not certain if I executed it as well as I should have. (Sighs.)

As for Rufus in this chapter…I hope he's not getting a little out-of-character or anything, but I wanted there to some sort of shift in his and Yuffie's relationship. The name thing between them…is it getting to anyone else?

Chapter music inspiration: Oomph's! "Niemand," Two Steps from Hell's "Black Blade," Filter's "Hey Man, Nice Shot," and more from Inception's music score. I think I've also found the song title that best fits with this story, but I probably won't reveal it until the final chapter. But, oh, how the song fits the theme of this story…like a glass slipper! :D

Special thanks to Joy Blue for the "surprisingly good for you" song quote. I now love that quote to pieces; it really fits Rufus and Yuffie so well. Thanks so much again for letting me use it!

Kadajclone100: Oh, the pleasure was all mine; I really just enjoy having the chance to talk with everyone. It's so wonderful to meet and chat with fellow Final Fantasy fans, and I also have to say that I can't promise I won't have some form of a ménage à trois in this. It's just too tempting to pass up! :D And I can't express how delighted I am that you enjoyed the chapter. I honestly struggled in writing it out, since there were a few things that I wasn't so sure about. But again, you summed up everything about Yuffie and pretty much everything else that's going on perfectly. I'm honestly glad that you felt that she's come a long way with her character from the original game till now. And, yes, I totally agree: Vincent needed to be chewed out and then some. I was so glad that Yuffie didn't make an exception with him, no matter how she feels/felt for him. There are just some things that he can't get away with, no matter how dark, sexy, and tragic his character is. I also like how you compared everyone in AVALANCHE to that of a big brother/sister. They really are that to Yuffie, in regards to her relationship with Rufus. And, yes, Rufus gets a lot of flak for being the son of the man who pretty much inspired the problems in FFVII. Granted, Rufus was in power at the end of it, and he attempted to have his father killed on more than one occasion, but still…He isn't as bad as his father by any means. Let's just hope the Compilation continues with his redemption, because I think I'd cry if he turned completely evil or were killed off for no good reason. :(

You're also right about there being something left unsaid between Yuffie and Vincent. I feel the same, especially on Vincent's side. We'll definitely see him again before this story's over. I'm also glad you enjoyed Vincent and Rufus' little stare-off contest! And your description of Rufus…ah…waving his junk around…had me rolling. Oh, my God…that was well-said. Well-said indeed! :D But, yes, he would be ten different kinds of absolutely fucked if he messed with Vincent. I don't think Rufus should take Vincent very lightly. And thank you, I was so afraid that it would be one of my worst chapters, but I'm happy that you felt otherwise. Thanks so much again for reading, and I absolutely loved reading your long review, by the way! :)

SansaStark: Hello there and thank you so much for reading my story! I'm so happy that you enjoyed the resolution between Vincent and Yuffie. It was really something that needed to be done. And, yes, I also feel that Yuffie needs to err on the side of caution when around Rufus; the man is certainly a master at manipulation, and I'd hate to see her get hurt. And, yes, Vincent's regret…I totally didn't see it coming, but I'm glad it's there. I think it will add for a very interesting dynamic for everyone involved. Thanks so much again for reading, and for also sharing your thoughts on Yuffie's little dilemma!

XfashaX: Oh, wow, thank you so much and especially for your in-depth analysis on the Vincent/Yuffie/Rufus love triangle. It is a little hard to see her with someone other than with Rufus, isn't it? I mean, while I adore Vincent, I just don't feel that he's what Yuffie needs, not in this story, anyway. You also hit it on the mark on what Rufus and Yuffie can be, especially in helping each other become better people. I believe they would be good for each other, especially since I can't see Yuffie simply standing on the sidelines and letting Rufus do whatever he wants. It's just not in her nature to let that happen, just as her friends, as you pointed out, wouldn't stand for it, either. (Grins.) And while I think Yuffie should approach Rufus with caution, I also feel he needs to do the same with her and especially with AVALANCHE. I'd like to think that they've finally reached a sort of understanding, but I guess we'll have to see how it plays out between them. Thanks so much again for reading and reviewing!

And again, thank you, everyone, for staying with me and this story! I hope everyone enjoys this latest chapter; it's pretty much a prelude to something we've long waited to see! :D

Until chapter eight!

Kittie