Tifa's Unusual Christmas Eve

Post-AC and DoC. I own nothing here. Happy holidays!

Tifa gave the table a scrutinizing look before wiping it for the last time. Reflecting on the events today, she would infer that this was one Christmas eve she's thankful for. There were no cumbersome customers to handle unlike last year, and people went home early before midnight. She could not say the same thing about the flow of the clients, for they were more than a handful and until now she is left wondering as to how she was able to serve them all at the same time. The thought of accomplishing customer satisfaction successfully lit a smile on Tifa's face, for this was one the things she can merely do after all that has happened to the planet. People's spirits are slowly being lifted up along with the rising of the buildings. ShinRa company changed visibly for the better; Tifa and the gang did not expect that the management under Rufus Shinra would turn out to be this acceptable. Eventually, AVALANCHE dissipated in the shadows, its cause already achieved and nothing left to fight for. However, the bonding and spirit of the team itself will never turn to dust. Ever. This was certified by the recent Christmas party in Barrett's place, one of the many gatherings that Tifa and the rest of the ex-members of AVALANCHE would organize in order to see each other and spend time together. Held two days ago, Tifa brought Marlene and Denzel there, sensing that a bigger and warmer company would cheer them up this Christmas rather staying at the bar watching customers or stare at the window for hours. Tifa had to admit that she has no time to take care of the two children especially as of late because of being busy with the bar. While thinking happily of them, she could not help but miss her friends, or "family", because she knew that their ties to them have gone deeper beyond friendship. Sighing to herself, Tifa did not notice that she was wiping the table too rigorously until she saw her own reflection on it.

"Crystal clear, I guess?" Tifa whispered as she was distracted by looking at her own face, then she looked around her bar. Seventh heaven bar did not feel like it all. It was too silent.

"I am once again reminded of my solitude when the customers' noises are no longer present." Silence was like Cloud, always tinted with sadness. As usual, the blonde man has gone off for the holidays and she remains clueless as to where he is now. Although Tifa observed that Cloud seems to be not as despondent as before, he and she remained distant to each other. "The best I can do is to understand him and leave him to his own desires," Tifa mindlessly said whilst staring at bottles of alcohol that filled the shelves of her bar. She was never the type to constrain the freedom of people she cared about, and if Cloud had wanted to stay like that she would give him space. This leaves Tifa to realize that just like Cloud, she would be alone this Christmas. No visitors, no customers. She bit her lip and let out a heavy sigh. "This is no time to be in a huff. I should check which bottles are already empty so I can buy them soon." Tifa was not the type to waste her time. After her near-death experience, she made it sure that no minute will go wasted, filling herself with determination of being productive anytime. She did not mind if this would give her a hard time; she knows she will get used to it.

"Hey, the door is still open! Does this mean we still get to have a drink or two here?"

Startled, Tifa knew that energetic voice. She turned around, already equipped with a friendly smile, to Reno, who poked his head inside the bar entrance. He smiled in turn and casually walked in without even waiting for Tifa's response. Giving a salute towards her direction, Reno shoved himself to a stool and called for a drink. "Absinthe, please. On the rocks. And, oh! Merry Christmas!"

Tifa retrieved the bottle containing Absinthe and poured the contents carefully onto a glass with ice cubes in it. She let the drink glide to Reno's direction. A smooth and clean marble table can do one wonders. Reno gave her a wink as he sipped the drink with much gusto. "Careful with that," Tifa warned as she continued to organize the bottles on the shelves. "It's Absinthe, after all. Merry Christmas, Reno!"

"Have you no date?" Reno asked, and for once he did not seem to taunt her. "Where's the Chocobo Cloud?"

"Away, as always." She tried to say as cheerfully as she can. "And I don't have a date. There are too many customers to serve and I have no interest."

Reno mocked a pout and then gave her a sincere smile. "If it's any consolation, I myself don't have any date this Christmas. Things have gone from steady to insanely busy at Shinra. Ask our boss; he's got no time for his beloved shooting practice. We never felt Christmas at the workplace. Well, you could say it felt like that a bit.. if you would identify coldness with Christmas. Hahaha!"

Tifa and Reno chatted for a short while when she was stopped midsentence by a noise outside. Her brows furrowed upon hearing a car stop in front of the bar. Will this spell some trouble for her? She was half thankful, half regretful that she left the doors of the bar open. Thankful because at least there's Reno to pass time with but regretful because of the impending trouble. Reno saw this and waved his hands up and down in an attempt to calm an alerted Tifa down. "Relax, it's just another group of single people. Mind if we spend our Christmas eve here?" he asked.

Tifa gave him a puzzled look, but her attention suddenly turned to the door when a huge man walked inside. It took time for Tifa to recognize that it was Rude. He looked around, checking as if something's amiss or the kind of inspection one would give to a place reported with a bomb. After a minute, Rude gave a thumbs up sign towards the direction of the door. "Hey! I'm here!" Reno shouted. "Do you not trust my presence that this place is safe and I have already checked it with my keen senses!?"

"It is because you are rather reckless at times," Tseng appeared before the entrance, shooting a look at Reno briefly. He placed his hands in front of him and seemed to be waiting for someone else at the door. Elena entered and after her was a dashing (although looking weary) handsome man thickly covered in suits. Tifa gasped. Rufus Shinra, current president of the Shinra electric company was in her bar! A sloppy-looking bar (well, she just assumed that it looked like that for someone as rich as him)!

Reno hopped in the table where Rude and rest, including Rufus himself, decided to be seated. The redhead was poking the shades-wearing man, still annoyed for not relying on his inspection. Tifa observed that Elena and Tseng also seemed to relax; Tseng's features looked softer and Elena gave a soft laugh while she watched Reno and Rude bickering.

"We're sorry for the late company. I'd pay for our drinks double the price." Tifa was shaken from her dazed state upon hearing Rufus's deep voice echo across the bar. "Ahah! I knew it. Boss will never let us down! It's on his for all rounds!" Reno took no shame in prancing around the bar like a unicorn on a rainbow. Tifa was worried how worse the gangster-looking Turk would be when he turned drunk. The presence of the other Turks eased her of the troubled thoughts concerning the handling of a crazy, drunk Reno. After that, her attention was back to Rufus. Did he really say that? A generous boss, I'd say. She came near them, like an enthusiastic waitress fetching orders from her customers. They'd get special service, she thought. I never did this to any of my customers.

"Thanks, um.. Mr. Shinra." Tifa could not believe she was running out of words when Rufus turned his gaze towards her. It's as if she turned into an awkward teenager all of sudden whose crush is looking at her. What happened to tough ol' Tifa? Of all the people in Midgar, she never expected to be spending Christmas eve with her group's former enemies. Oh, the ways the world would turn..

Tonight was also the first night that she was able to look at him up close, and it never occurred to her how handsome he was. Tifa, girl… Hold it in. You're losing your composure. It's just a man. You've been around men lots of times.

.. but not a man as charming as this.

Tifa shook her head in annoyance. Ugh! Not now. Attempting to regain herself she repeated, "Thanks, Mr. Shinra. But no, it's alright. You don't have to pay in double. I am not awaiting any visitors tonight and I have no appointment as well, so the presence of your company is not, should I say, a burden or any trouble to me."

"Please," he said. "This might also help you renovate this bar. It's getting old. I am betting that it will take only a few more months before the ceiling goes down."

Tifa popped an angry vein. Ever the cocky bastard, eh? She tried hiding her vexation with a twitching smile, which did not look like a genuine smile at all. Whatever charm he has on her now disintegrated into pieces. But I have to admit, the bar itself needs fixing. But was it really necessary for him to put it that way? It's not like my bar's about to crumble into pieces.

"As much as I appreciate your remark, I think that this bar is my own business and I don't help whatsoever."

"But you do. In fact, the 'help' of people, in the form of money, runs this bar. So, what difference does it make when you get MORE money from the people who run your store? We are, just like them, your customers."

Tifa darted back, surprised. His plain honesty could really get nasty. Even the Turks got serious and turned their attention to the two of them. Tifa is not some joke for a fighter. Although they look up to their boss for his finesse shooting skills, the woman standing in front of him is a force to be reckoned with as well. Rufus gestured with the palm of his hand to the Turks, informing them that there is nothing to get them worried about. But the tension in the air is so thick it's pretty much palpable.

Tifa, not wanting to turn the evening into a fighting match, changed the topic by asking for their orders. "What kind of drinks would you like to have, Mr. Shinra and the rest?" She gave a weak smile while turning to the Turks.

"Rufus, please." He said. "Give us the best drink you can offer. And remember, the best drink is not necessarily the most expensive one."

"We'll have what our boss is having." Tseng added.

He's been here only for a few minutes, but he never runs out of surprises, this man.. Tifa turned his attention to Rufus. "Okay, Rufus." She firmly said and nodded to the Turks.

"I guess I'll be paying you in triple for the emotional stress caused by our conversation." Rufus looked back at her.

"Pay me as you please." Tifa said as she stomped back to the drinks area like a kid. This man could really make fun of any person he speaks to! Is this really how rich people treat others! But he was only being truthful.. Still. Tifa shot a wary look on the table where Rufus and the Turks had settled. Giving up on thinking about his manners and behavior, she got the bottle of Honeycritter's tears and placed it in bucket full of ice. She placed it in a tray along with five simple glasses (reminding herself she need not to get the flashy glasswares, for this might give Rufus the impression that she's trying to show off) and brought it on the table with grace. As she was about to return to the serving area, she felt a hand grab her arm. Quick to her own reflexes Tifa was able to let herself free and pose for a fight. Needless to say she did look ridiculous while a still and confident Rufus shook his head and smirked. Reno who was about to pour himself a glass full of Honeycritter's tears was stopped, his mouth open with shock.

"W-what was t-tha-hat for?" Tifa tried to suppress herself from blushing but failed to do as her cheeks were suffused with a light shade of red. Rufus found this cute. I'm stuttering! Tifa gave herself a mental slap to the forehead. What on Minerva's magic happened to me?

"Join us, please." Rufus told her after sipping from his glass. "This may not be the best drink I have ever tasted, but I think I'm with the best woman I've ever seen."

Upon hearing this, Reno sprayed his drink all over Rude's face, who was caught off guard (unfortunately). Tseng almost did this as well, but thankfully he had a better control of himself than Reno had. Elena was practically screaming inside of her, in a fangirl-like manner. Hey, she's still a woman deep inside who gets swooned by the sweetness of such situations. It's been so long since she has witnessed a scene like this.

"E-excuse me?" Tifa's knees were turning into jelly. Again, she was in for one of Rufus's surprises. It's like hearing Sephiroth say he is fond of little ponies chasing after each other in a field full of flowers. Even worse, she was not sure if she will feel insulted for his remark about the drink or melt because of his compliment on her.

"Apparently, that wasn't clear to you." Rufus cleared his throat and said, "Merry Christmas, beautiful Tifa. Care to join us?"

"Okay, this time I heard it—" Reno was heard in the background but was unable to continue, with Rude's hand suffocating him and preventing him from speaking. Elena was batting her eyelids and gave a dreamy sigh, and this disturbed Tseng. It took a minute before Tifa was able to speak. "Thank you, Rufus. Let me go upstairs for a moment and I'll join you afterwards." The woman hurried and left the company to themselves.

The Turks gave Rufus a look of disbelief and wonder. "I am always straightforward. To not beat around the bush: that's a principle I hold highly in and out of business." He casually said as he sipped another drink from his glass.

"Someone's getting red this Christmas," Reno whispered to Rude, and Rude in turn punched Reno, as he looked on his now wet coat.

Okay. Tifa locked the door in her room, panting. I need to do this. "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAHHH!" She let out a scream. "What the hell is wrong with him?" The president's odd behavior had shaken Tifa to her depths. One moment he'll make you hate him and the next minute he'd sweep you off your feet. Aware that she has little time left, Tifa wandered around the room looking for her mirror. "Man, I look haggard!" She told herself when she found a mirror. The next thing she grabbed was a comb. Brushing her hair frantically, she noticed how her skimpy outfit had gone messy. Her suspenders were not aligned together and her white tank top was held up too high, her stomach was too exposed! After a minute or two, Tifa was able to fix herself and wink at her own reflection in the mirror. Let's do this. An air of confidence surrounded the pretty woman. I'll make sure I'll remain the best woman in his eyes. She was up for the challenge and live up to her image. She was not planning to attract Rufus, but at least impress him that he'd mean what he told her. Tifa knew that she had this trait of maintaining the positive perceptions people has about her, and of course, get rid of what negative things they would say to her (if there were). She got out of the room with a brave look, coming back to the bar.

The night felt too long (in a good way) with all the conversation going on with Tifa and the Shinra gang (As what she calls them collectively in her mind). Tifa was given a special privilege, but of course without the subtle yet terrifying threat of Rufus in case she decides to spill the beans, on being in the know about the company's development plans. Being the courageous and determined people-helper she was, Tifa gave her own helpful suggestions on the agenda laid out by Rufus. To her surpise, Rufus welcomed this and observed that he truthfully listened and considered what she had said. Later on, things shifted to a personal level as the eleventh bottle was served (this time it was Vodka) and an annoying Reno was dancing on top of another table.

"You don't have plans of getting married?" Tifa asked, perhaps being too brave under the influence of alcohol. Nevertheless, she was able to keep herself from appearing to be tipsy.

"Not until I'm done with renovating the company and aiding the planet's recuperation," Rufus brushed the bangs blocking the view of his eyes. "A big task, I should say.. but no task is left abandoned by a Shinra. It runs in our blood."

"I hope being exploitative doesn't continue to run," Tifa mindlessly said. Rufus frowned at her and it is only then that Tifa realized what she had said, covering her mouth and turning her look away from Rufus.

"That's what I want to remove in the image of our company," Rufus explained. "Old man had let power run over his head. At first, he was my hero. I even counted on his ideals when it came to the management of the company. Apparently, it turned out to be an idiotic and unwise strategy. I will have to admit that a little exploitation every now and then is necessary, but not so much that it will hurt the well-being of the people and the workers. I will recreate Shinra along with the world. The company would not stand if not for the people who support it. Remember what I told you earlier? You would always need the 'help' of your clients. Your patrons. That's how business goes."

"Oh," was the only thing Tifa managed to say. This man never really ran out of things to surprise her. It brought her so much relief that the Rufus in front of her now had changed for the better. This was an unexpected yet good Christmas "gift" to know the current head of the Shinra company.

"How about you, miss Lockhart? I find it strange that an attractive woman like you has to spend the Christmas eve alone, if not for us."

"In the same way I find it strange that an attractive man like you has to spend the Christmas eve without a woman by her side, if not for this visit in the bar." It was Tifa's time to turn the tables.

"Well," Rufus started, "I do spend Christmas with a woman. Elena, you see, is a woman. So yes, I spend Christmas with a woman, but not with her alone. I spend Christmas with my bodyguards, the Turks, consisting of three men and a woman."

Tifa gave herself another mental facepalm. It's forever crests and troughs with this man.

"So, what about you?" He continued to ask. "Where is Cloud Strife?"

"Honestly, I don't know.." Tifa sighed. "I let him be by himself. I don't want to force him to be here; I want him to flow freely where he wants to."

"Even if it means he doesn't necessarily end up with you?"

Tifa turned to meet Rufus's orbs steadily gazing at her. This caused her to blush lightly, but this did nothing to hide the look of sadness in her eyes. "Um.."

"I know people, miss—"

"Tifa alone, please." She winked. At least she was able to bring herself to that moment.

"Okay, Tifa. During the course of time I've been in the business world, I know people and how they behave. You can't wait for Cloud forever. You are young and free. The worst is over and the planet is up for change. And you must be as well. Whether you deny it or not, you're still pining for him. How many Christmas evenings will you spend doing that? In business you cut your losses when you know your investment will lead you to nowhere. I do believe that goes the same for our personal lives."

A former arch-enemy telling her about her feelings and giving her a piercing yet sincere advice. Oh, Tifa.. how strange this world really turns… She shook her head and for the very first time, sweetly smiled at Rufus. It caught him off guard and Tifa giggled as she noticed Rufus blushing… a trait that is so out of character for him. Whether it was because of the alcohol consumption or her smile, Tifa was delighted at how humane their interaction turned out to be. "Thanks," she said. "Hey, know what.. You can come visit my bar and drink here for free. Anytime. You give the best help a customer can.. a worthwhile talk. That's all I needed."

"I'm not sure someone like me would appreciate the privilege of a free drink, for paying here still feels like drinking for free.." Tifa raised a brow signalling irritation, but Rufus continued, "but yes, I do appreciate talking to you, and would love to do so more often. It's not always that I get to talk that is worth my time that is not business-related. Thank you."

"Merry Christmas?" Tifa told Rufus as the clock in the bar struck midnight.

"Merry Christmas, Tifa." Rufus held up his drink and shared a toast to Tifa. Tifa did the same as their glasses clanked together. They were about to drink when a loud noise was heard outside. It turned out that Reno was chasing cats in the neighbourhood and this caused people to go out of their houses to beat up poor, drunk Reno.

The rays of the Sun peeking from the window awakened Tifa from her long, sleep. She did not mind opening the bar at such a late time, for she was able to rake in enough cash last night (including Rufus's payment) that would amount to three days of sales. She comfortably stretched in the bed before getting up and taking a bath. Last night was fantastic… Tifa caught herself smiling in the mirror as she remembered waving goodbye to Rufus and the Turks as they had to get out as quick as they can before Reno makes another disturbance in the neighbourhood. A long gaze was exchanged between her and Rufus before he got inside the simple yet slick limousine. She watched the car until it was out of sight before going inside the bar to finally close the doors.

After Tifa was finished preparing herself for work, she got down the bar and the first thing she did was to collect the glasses and bottles they had consumed. She put them on the serving area and walked to the door, opening it. Tifa was surprised to see a bouquet of white roses lying on the floor. Picking it up, she saw that there was no note attached to it, but the smell of the roses reminded her of someone's alluring scent. Tifa went inside the bar and as she searched for a vase to hold the flowers, she heard the noise of a car outside proceeding to go.

Smiling, she whispered to the flowers: "Merry Christmas, Rufus."

The END

Merry Christmas, everyone!