- Just another day
It was just another day at the Shin·Ra, Edge HQ. Having just recently settled into the city, the situation inside the company had been quite chaotic as they wrestled with the influx of paperwork resulting from all the…strategic mergers with the more influential corporates in Edge.
The company was finally back on its feet, and, equipped with the knowledge of Shin·Ra’s future plans for development, Elena couldn’t help the excited bounce to her steps as she rushed through the long corridor of their new HQ to deliver the latest status reports to her President.
- The new branch
They’d bought a large three-storey building nestled in the busier section of Edge. The stairs were creaky woodworks, and the beige hallways still carried that smell of old paper and ink from the former printing company that had resided in the building.
It was a far cry from the Junon mansion that she was used to, but regardless Elena was happy because Rufus was here. And if Rufus was here then Tseng would be too. While Reno would be far, far away.
- Are we…safe?
Despite the work keeping her up late into the nights, Elena must admit that the timing of these takeo—these mergers couldn’t be better. Rufus had made use of the rattled state of Edge’s economy after the Deepground crisis to safely plant Shin·Ra back in Edge without much resistance from the people or WRO.
Their recovery was well back on track, but it still didn’t feel real. After so many setbacks, it was hard to find it in herself to believe that Shin·Ra was finally back on its feet.
- Maybe not that far away
“Yo, Pres, what’d you need me for?”
She’d run into Reno on her way to Rufus’s office on the third floor. Literally. Documents strewn and papers aflutter, and all. If you asked her, he’d done it on purpose just to mess with her.
Rufus looked up from his laptop as they placed the documents onto his desk. His countenance was unreadable, but the light twitch in his lower lip before he spoke alerted both Elena and Reno to his displeasure. “Reno, I called for you an hour ago.”
“It took an hour to get here from Healen!” Reno exclaimed.
- Boss, are you okay?
“What is this?” Rufus asked when she flopped the stack of folders down on his desk. The blue gaze he directed at her was hard and if she didn’t know any better, she would have thought he was annoyed at her, too. But really it was just the lack of sleep getting to him. Because, see, she hadn’t done anything wrong.
“The Junon paperwork sent over by Sir Veld, sir,” she informed, “They need your signature to proceed.”
“Very well,” Rufus nodded, “You may go, Elena.”
“Um, what about the blueprints you said needed to be copied and delivered to Corel?” Their scientists have recently developed a more efficient method of extracting oil, and they were in the process of negotiating with Barret Wallace for installation of the new equipment.
There was a split moment where she thought she saw surprise in his eyes before it disappeared. “Right,” Rufus muttered under his breath, looking tired.
- Just…another day?
“You can find it under F.” Rufus pointed to the row of filing cabinets pushed against the left side of the room.
“Sir,” Elena said and went to the cabinet, keeping a neutral face even though a few questions were popping up in the back of her mind. Standing tiptoed, she reached into the F drawer.
The ex-leader of AVALANCHE wasn’t being very cooperative in working with Shin·Ra, but still it was rare to catch the President off his game. For that matter, why would he call for Reno when Tseng was here?
And then she heard her boss say, “I want you to keep tabs on Tifa Lockhart.”
“I want you to keep tabs on Tifa Lockhart.”
Both Reno and Elena found themselves staring at their boss in shock. At Rufus’s no-nonsense expression, however, Reno straightened his back and did a quick salute. “Aye aye, boss. ‘nything in particular I should look out for?”
“Just keep an eye on her.”
“Um, well yes, but like, is there a code red?”
Rufus seemed to hesitate, “Anything significant, make notes of her plans, her interactions.”
So vague! Could it be something they weren’t cleared to know? Did Tseng know? Was it another incarnation of AVALANCHE? But Shin·Ra hadn’t done anything hostile…Well, those recent takeovers were kind of hostile, but ultimately that was just standard business. It wasn’t anything that warranted terrorism.
- It’s probably nothing
“What was that all about?” Elena asked Reno after they’d walked a corridor away from Rufus’s office. “Are we in disagreement with WRO again?”
“Dunno,” Reno shrugged with hands in his pockets. “Maybe he heard or saw something at the WRO event last week. Rude said Lockhart came to those in Cloud’s stead. Man, that guy’s always turning down free booze, and here I’m wishing Pres would take me just once.”
Elena narrowed her eyes. “…I think that’s exactly why Rufus isn’t taking you, Reno.”
“Hater,” Reno made a face but soon snapped back to his usual grin, “Anyways, Pres’ just prolly being overly cautious. I’m off to play spy, honey. Woo! Goodbye paperwork!”
Holding the blueprint in her hands, Elena narrowed her eyes at the redhead’s retreating back in slight disdain as well as envy. Not only did he have an excuse from all the paperwork they were having to deal with, Reno had just been assigned to frequent his second favourite place after the Honey Butterfly Inn. It was practically a paid vacation for him.
- When work is play
Reno lounged on the booth seat in the corner of Seventh Heaven, an arm draped over the back of the chair as he tilted his head and let the whiskey slide across his tongue and down his throat. Lockhart had a good punch and her mixes packed a pretty good one, too.
As the buzz started to spread through his system, Reno kept a lazy gaze through the rim of his glass, watching the eye candy of a barkeep wipe down the counter before the customers started coming in.
“Are you sure you’re not supposed to be at work or something, Reno?” she asked.
Oh, you have no idea, sweetheart. “Po-sitive, ma’m. Didn’t know I was so unwelcomed here,” he slurred.
“It’s not that.” Lockhart let the gray towel hung over her shoulder and put a hand on her shapely hip. Man, he missed her old outfit that showed off her midriffs. “But what’ll I do if you get fired and have no money to splurge on my bar?” she grinned, and the alcohol in his system was making her seem extra adorable.
“Pfft, no way. Pres was so impressed with my diligence he gave me days off, yo.”
“Good for you, Mr. Drunk,” she came over to grab his empty glass. “Refill?” she offered with a wink.
Damned witch trying to wring him dry. But ah this is work. He could just bill the Pres later.
Reno smirked. “Get me some of the top shelf stuff.”
- Person of interest?
It was out of nowhere and ludicrous. Lockhart, a person of interest? Her name hadn’t come up in the company for a good long while and for good reasons.
Day in day out, she tended the bar, tended her children, talked with Shelke Rui, looked out the window and waited for Cloud Strife to come back from deliveries. Her life, as it unfolded before Reno, was utterly boring. The woman was irrelevant to their endeavors and he didn’t see why the Pres had ordered for surveillance.
If anything, Reno glanced at the little girl helping behind the counter, looking into that former Tsviet member would make more sense.
“Haven’t you been around too much lately?” asked a suspicious Cloud, who didn’t have deliveries and was rearranging the tables and chairs after the busy part of the night had passed.
“Shaddup, I’m a paying customer, busboy,” Reno bristled but kept his tone laidback. He didn’t really like Cloud at the moment, what with the shaky, house-of-card deal between him and Lockhart.
Cloud kept his gaze stubborn and was about to say something when Lockhart tapped him on the shoulder. “Come on, Cloud. Reno’s family. Now come help me with this table.”
And Lockhart was off to the other side of the bar with Cloud in tow. Didn’t even spare Reno a glance.
But as he stared at her back with his chin on his knuckles, Reno felt a tug at the corner of his mouth. Yep, he’d soon prove to Rufus that the woman’s life was bland beyond anyone’s interest.
- Unease (2)
Rufus was not happy.
Their President was not happy at all. That much was clear as Elena meekly collected some folders from the drawers in the President’s office. Tension was thick in the air, choking out all other noise except for the sharp tap of a finger on the desk. Tmp, tmp, tmp, which cut through the silence like hot knife through butter.
It had been a week since Reno had started watching the barkeep of Seventh Heaven, and, as far as Elena was aware, the reports coming back had been…uneventful. Tifa didn’t do much, and Reno’s efforts in tapping the phones had only yielded telemarketers on the landline and less than juicy conversations with Cloud Strife on the cell.
Tifa Lockhart’s life was unbelievably routine.
Maybe that was the problem. Unbelievably routine. Judging from Rufus’s sour mood, he clearly didn’t believe it.
- A Turk’s Failure
Elena was helping Tseng sieve through the employee records in Rufus’s office.
She did not envy Reno, who stood before Rufus with back straight as a washboard, void of his usual attitude. His hands were clasped in front of himself, in front of his nether region – the classic pose men subconsciously assumed when they felt threatened.
“Reno,” the President’s voice was light, but it shattered the silence hard enough that Reno, and even Elena who had nothing to do with the scene before her, jumped.
“I’ve made a mistake with you.”
She could see the colour being drained from Reno’s face.
Reno stepped forward. “No, sir. I can do better. If she’s hiding something—”
A raised hand from Rufus cut him off, and he returned to his deflated posture from before, though in his eyes Elena could still see the cogwheels creaking at full speed. Both Elena and Tseng had stopped what they were doing to tune into the conversation, ready to assist their sworn brother if things turned worse.
“Miss Lockhart doesn’t suspect you.” Rufus’s tone of voice dangled in the space between a statement and a question.
“Not at all, sir! I frequent there and Tifa trusts me. She even defended me when Strife started asking questions. I assure you, I won’t be compromised.”
That was rather impressive, actually. It wasn’t every day that Tifa Lockhart defended anything Shin·Ra related. Rufus, however, looked absolutely unamused.
“Tseng will take over the mission.”
- Where loyalty lies
“Sir!” Reno began to protest.
“It’s fine, Reno. You are not being penalized. You’ll return to your post.”
“No, I—” Reno felt a twitch somewhere on his face as his mind scrambled to follow the situation. He had a million things he was about to say, but all of them had gone moot. “Um, what?”
“Rude has been overwhelmed by the work in Healen since you’ve been gone. I shouldn’t have let you leave your post for so long. Tseng will take over the mission.”
“Oh…okay—I mean, yessir.”
Rufus sat back in his chair and brushed a blond lock away from his face. “Was there anything else you wished to say?”
“Then you may leave.”
After Reno had closed the door behind his back and taken a moment to recompose himself, he realized he was already preparing himself to view Lockhart as the enemy. Loved the woman, but if she was gonna go against Shin·Ra, who was doing no wrong right now, mind you, then honest to Minerva, he’d bring her down. Her and any of her friends.
“Fuck…” Scratching his head, he strode for the stairs.
So much for family.
- Working under Rufus
No penalty? If Elena were Reno, she would be thanking the Planet’s good graces.
Despite how affable Rufus seemed to be most of the time, he ran a tight ship when it came to his company. Ruthless, perhaps; even tyrannical at some points, but they couldn’t deny that Shin·Ra under his leadership had managed to stay afloat despite the abysmal state of this year’s economy.
When he told you to do something, he expected it done and didn’t take kindly to failures. For Turks, his expectation was even higher.
A lot of pressure, but on the bright side it meant he trusted them that much more compared to the regular paper-pushers.
- Unease (3)
Reno’s mission had fallen on Tseng now, and that said something. Tseng was Rufus’s aide and the Turk’s leader as well as pride. A figure like him didn’t get assigned to missions unless it was very important.
Elena suddenly realized that whatever that was going on with Tifa Lockhart must be bigger than she’d originally thought.
- Déjà vu?
“So I’ll be keeping an eye on Miss Lockhart?” Tseng confirmed.
“Yes.” Rufus looked like he didn’t want to pursue the subject any further, which didn’t make sense to Elena. She knew Rufus had a tendency to be cryptic, but he’d never been this vague with missions before.
Tseng most likely thought the same as her. He remained silent, dark eyes assessing their President as though deciphering a code. “Is there any particular purpose to this mission?”
“To keep watch on her.”
Tseng nodded. “Not a problem. But is there anything in particular that you’re looking for?”
“Just watch her.”
Elena just stood and watched the exchange with slightly narrowed eyes.
Tseng was in his own office now, accompanied by Elena. He turned the pages of Reno’s reports that Rufus had given to him for shredding, saying that there was no use keeping them.
Watch for Tifa’s plans and interactions, Elena had supplied when she’d found Tseng mulling over the reports, and he didn’t see a problem with the work Reno had done with that instruction in mind.
However, wasn’t Tifa Lockhart’s life a bit too mundane? Maybe Reno had missed whatever that Rufus was looking for, and if that was the case, their target was being extremely careful.
“Do you think this is anti-Shin·Ra, Tseng?” Elena asked from the corner of the room, where she was feeding the older reports to the shredder. “We were doing so well, too.” He could hear the dejection in her voice.
“We should only speculate based on evidence,” Tseng reminded as he moved around the room, organizing paperwork as well as preparing for his mission, “I think Rufus might not even be sure what exactly he wants to find out.”
Something about this mission felt very strange to Tseng, and Rufus’s vagueness was just a part of it.
- Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst
Rufus was going off of a hunch, Elena concluded. And while he had always had good instincts for this kind of things…“I hope he’s wrong this time,” she confessed, turning to look at Tseng.
Tseng glanced up from the cardboard box he was shuffling through and held her gaze for a significant moment. “So do I,” he conceded and went back to his work.
It made her feel better to know she was not alone in thinking so. They’d all been through enough, whether it was Shin·Ra or AVALANCHE. The world didn’t need another conflict.
Well, the mission was in Tseng’s hands now. He would surely clear up this cloud of suspicion, be it for better or worse.
- Tseng the overachiever
Elena had a glimpse through the notes Tseng had taken for his report. They detailed not only Tifa’s activities but also her relationships, from close friends to passing customers.
Nothing was too minor. No interaction was overlooked.
All the information Tseng collected was…for lack of better wording, stalker level – sans the obsession, of course…and the professional language made it less creepy…or more depending on how you tilt it (he kept referring to Tifa as ‘the target’).
In any case, at this rate there was no way Tifa could hide anything from Tseng.
It was day two into Tseng’s endeavours to capture the daily life of Tifa Lockhart on paper. A lot of paper.
Elena, who had stood in as Rufus’s temporary aide for the duration of Tseng’s mission, gaped in awe at the thickness of the report being presented before Rufus as Tseng stood impassively, waiting for feedback. From next to Rufus, she glanced at their President’s expression to confirm the same awe, or at least a spark of appreciation in those cold blue eyes, but saw none of the sorts. Just a look of resignation, of all things.
Why? Elena wanted to cry out as Rufus flipped over – flipped, not read, flipped – the report with his lips in a thin line as though holding back a sigh.
“You’re very good at your job, Tseng,” Rufus said, which gave her a small ray of hope. Of course, Tseng was good at his job!
“You’re too kind,” Tseng dipped his head for a fraction of an inch.
Rufus rubbed his thumb over the bridge of his nose as if to ward off a looming headache and set down the report. “I’m taking you off the mission.”
- A Turk’s failure (2)
Rufus’s words came as a shock to both Elena and Tseng. Her mouth hung open, and Tseng lost his staid demeanour, if only for a second.
The President hadn’t said it, but he hadn’t needed to. They had heard it loud and clear in his tone: ‘I’ve made a mistake with you.’
“With all due respect, sir, was the report lacking in any way?” Tseng inquired.
Elena wanted to protest with all her might. Lacking? There was no way that report was lacking.
And it had only been two days! Who terminated a spy after two days!?
“No, not at all,” Rufus said carefully, and Elena simmered down a bit. The President placed his hand on the report, “but I didn’t need you to do this.”
Blood drained from Elena’s face as she swore she saw something break in Tseng’s eyes. She wanted to run over and hold him together lest he started falling apart right then and there.
- Isn’t that what spying is?
“You didn’t alert Miss Lockhart at all,” Rufus voiced his question like a statement.
Tseng, who’d recovered quicker than Elena could blink, replied, “Yes, sir. The target is none-the-wiser.”
Rufus made a noise of acknowledgement and seemed to be perusing something, his long fingers rapping out a distracted rhythm on the folder of Tseng’s report.
As the figurative clock ticked on, she caught Tseng’s gaze and they exchanged a look. She quirked an eyebrow to ask if Tseng had any idea why their President was acting like this, to which Tseng slowly closed his eyes in place of a wry headshake.
She stifled a sigh. Tseng knew Rufus best and even he was clueless.
“Elena, you take over.”
She straightened her posture. “Yes, President.”
- Wait, what!?
Elena had so many questions, so many grievances she didn’t know where to begin.
Did Rufus just give a mission that Tseng and Reno couldn’t do to her? Rookie Elena?
Was she supposed to outperform her seniors? In what way? How? Did Rufus trust her that much?
- Rookie no more
Wait, did Rufus trust her that much? If he said she should do it then he believed she could do it. Then who was she to disobey? Rufus always knew best. The current Shin·Ra was proof of that.
So she accepted the mission with wholehearted motivation. She wasn’t going to fail their President. She would finish this mission and prove the worth of Turks in the company.
The clumsy rookie was a thing of the past, much like the old Shin·Ra tower.
- A Turk’s failure (3)
“What are you doing here, Turk?”
The sound of a gun being cocked was chillingly loud in the dark alley behind Seventh Heaven, and Elena found herself staring down the muzzles of Cerberus.
She squeezed her eyes and pressed her lips together to keep her scream of exasperation at bay.
The scent of smoke from her notes, which she’d burnt in haste to erase evidence, mingled with the smell of garbage and some substances she’d rather not name, creating a putrid mixture that made Reno’s alcohol breath smelled like sun-dried linens.
Stupid, stupid, stupid Elena.
- How she got here
Three days into her mission, Rufus had seemed decently satisfied with the reports Elena was bringing back. “So the old AVALANCHE party is gathering in Seventh Heaven,” he’d mused, “Pay attention to it, Elena.”
And she’d been right on top of it. Allegedly, the gathering was for a birthday, the little boy’s, Denzel’s. But when extremists were involved, who knew what they were really plotting behind that innocuous façade.
Her logic made sense.
As Elena stood with gloved hands in the air, the boisterous sounds of laughter and people moving around inside Seventh Heaven could be heard drifting through the small, bright window above her head.
It made sense…Right!?
- A respected senior
“I asked a question, Turk.” The dark voice belonged to none other than Vincent Valentine, the former Turk who now belonged in WRO’s ranks, and her and Tseng’s saviour, i.e. someone she really, really didn’t wish to get on the bad side of.
“Nothing, senior!” she simpered. “J-just a stroll.” Dammit her voice cracked.
Brooding crimson cape dissolving into darkness and bandana obscuring his visage, Vincent was impassive. His glowing red eyes glanced down at the last bits of Elena’s notes that were still burning a cherry shade, then back to Elena.
Elena averted her gaze. She wanted a hole to crawl into.
- Could we be the bad guy…? Again?
“What does Shin·Ra want with us?” asked Vincent, gun still pointed at her head.
Very good question, senior!
What did Rufus want with Tifa Lockhart? From what Elena had managed to observe so far before Vincent showed up, the bartender’s life was just as bland as Reno’s and Tseng’s reports.
She saw no sign of any foul play. If anything, their – the Turks’ – invasion of the woman’s privacy was the foulest thing that had happened during the past week and a half.
When Vincent saw that she couldn’t, rather than wouldn’t, give a definite answer, he let her go with a warning. Maybe that was why Rufus was so secretive regarding the details.
“President, I take full responsibility for mission failure,” she said with head bowed so low her back could be used as a makeshift table. “I’ve neglected to take into account Vincent Valentine’s keen senses and prior Turk training. It can be assumed that Tifa Lockhart is now alerted to our supervision of her.”
“It’s fine,” his voice startled her first before the meaning sank in and she perked her head up to a – if she wasn’t mistaken – pleased Rufus.
- A Turk’s…success!?
It was by no mean apparent. Rufus had a smiling poker face that lost only to Tseng’s and Rude’s stoic ones.
However, Elena could tell, as one of his closest employees, that this was one of his pleased smiles. It was the ghost of a glint that brightened his eyes, the relaxed tilt of his head, and the way he angled his shoulders that made the air around him easier to breathe in.
“…Sir?” Elena didn’t hide her perplexity.
“It doesn’t matter that she knows. Please continue to keep an eye on Miss Lockhart.”
- Late night visitor
The metal doors slid open with a ding, and Rufus got out of the elevator. He slid his key card through the recognition pad to enter his penthouse on the seventeenth floor. As soon as he stepped into the darkness and the door closed behind him, he knew there was something wrong because the usual beeping of his security system wasn’t there to nag him for the disabling code.
He immediately reached for the sawed-off shotgun inside his suit, eyes scanning the living room with the aid of the city lights. Before he could contemplate turning on the lights, however, he’d found the intruder.
A caped figure tucked away in the corner, and a pair of red eyes gleaming in the shadows.
Rufus chuckled under his breath and lowered his hand from the gun’s handle. “Vincent Valentine,” he greeted, hitting the light switch to reveal one of the world’s heroes, standing rather out of place against the white-toned wall.
- Roles in a story
“I assume Miss Shelke Rui helped you fry my alarms?” Rufus gestured to the silent numeric keypad to his left, “You know if you’d just knocked I would have happily invited you in. Breaking and entering is terribly unbefitting of a man of your status, don’t you think?”
“And yet you’re never above meddling with people’s lives,” Vincent countered from behind his collar.
Rufus shrugged off his jacket before taking a seat on the couch by the coffee table. “I play the part of the villain quite well if I do say so myself. Would you care for tea?” he offered, pulling a tea set out from underneath the table.
“Why are you watching Tifa?”
What tea that was left inside the pot was stale, so Rufus got up to discard it. “Miss Lockhart? Whatever gave you that idea?”
“A Turk was at Seventh Heaven.”
“You mean yourself?”
Narrowed red eyes. “The girl. Elena.”
“Our Elena? I’m afraid I can’t help you. Elena had been off duty as of late. I don’t know how it is in WRO but Shin·Ra doesn’t keep track of—”
“If you hurt her.” Vincent was suddenly right in front of Rufus as he was about to arrive behind the kitchen counter.
Rufus smirked as the silence consolidated between Vincent and himself. Tifa, Tifa, Tifa, look at all the hearts you’ve captured.
- The harmful element
Matching the hard stare from Vincent, Rufus could see in those blood eyes the determination to make truth of the unsaid threat. The sharpshooter was too close for comfort, but he wasn’t about to back away even if it meant regaining his personal space.
“I shall heed your caution, Sir Guard Dog. Though, are you sure you should be worrying about me hurting her?”
Vincent’s expression, if there was any, seemed to be more out of mistrust than anger. Rufus walked around Vincent and dumped the teapot’s content into the sink. “Now,” he opened the cabinet right above the sink and counted through the tea jars inside, “would chamomile tea be okay? I can attest that it helps with relax—”
He turned around to find that he was alone in the living room, and the sliding door to his balcony was open, welcoming a chilly breeze into the penthouse.
Coming and going as he pleased. My, such impolite company, that man.
- Meanwhile in Healen…
“Rude! You’re back, yo!” Reno popped up from behind a comically tall wall of folders on his desk.
Rude gave a grunt and closed the door behind himself, hanging up the car key on the hook by the door. So Reno had returned while he was gone. Good. He’d been a bit apprehensive to leave Healen with just the new Turks.
“Partner, you gotta hear this,” Reno walked around the desk to saunter over to Rude, hands waving around as he was probably working himself up to telling some crazy story.
“We might go to war with WRO!”
It was crazy.
- Was it not obvious?
“I’ll listen later.” Rude usually didn’t mind humouring Reno, but he’d just returned from Junon and was tired from the drive. They also had some more accounting reports that they needed to straighten out before the next meeting and he needed some rest first.
Glad that he had his sunglasses to hide his bloodshot eyes from Reno, Rude pushed a stack of reports onto Reno. “Take care of this,” he said and headed for the bedrooms.
“No, man, just listen! It’s Tifa Lockhart, yo.” Reno followed him and stood between him and the bedroom door, still holding onto the stack of paperwork. “Pres, told me to keep an eye on her. I thought it was just him being paranoid but then he got super pissed when I got no dirt on her—”
“Rufus is interested in Miss Lockhart,” Rude interrupted.
“And then it was so scary when he— What?” Reno’s shoulder gesticulation balked and he looked up at Rude with eyes as wide as dinner plates.
“He likes her,” Rude repeated. He just wanted to get this conversation out of the way and to his bed.
When it seemed that Reno’s slack jaw wasn’t going to move again anytime soon (or any other body part for that matter), he guided his shell-shocked partner aside and went into the bedroom.
- Where were you when we needed you!?
“Junon.” Rude deadpanned over the video call with folded arms.
Elena wasn’t sure if Rude was being snappy when he’d answered the rhetorical question. It didn’t sound like him, but he had just been dragged out of bed by Reno to call them.
Even through a blurry video, she could tell that his sunglasses were doing a poor job of hiding his frown, and everything in the way he had his arms folded said he wasn’t happy about this situation.
- Person of interest? (2)
Reno leaned against his desk and sighed to himself as he watched Rude talk to Elena and Tseng on the screen. The talk about the shocking revelation regarding Rufus and Reno’s favorite bartender.
It was still out of nowhere and ludicrous, but as fate would have it, Tifa Lockhart was officially a person of interest. Albeit their boss’s interest alone. Man, that was one fine piece of ass he couldn’t make passes at anymore.
But what was this stupid lightness in his chest? He just had to snicker at how ridiculously relieved he was. Reno could focus on how the Pres never let him have the good stuff, but on the bright side, he still had a bar-slash-second-family to drown his sorrow at. As long as they weren’t going to be enemies, Rufus and Lockhart was something he could get behind, and he guessed he’d be fine with just drinking at the Seventh Heaven.
- Pride (2)
“Can you identify when was it that his interest started?” Tseng asked.
Somehow, Elena sensed he was more concerned about how he hadn’t noticed Rufus’s…condition…rather than the condition itself.
- To spark Rufus Shinra’s interest
Rude seemed to give it a little bit of thought. “WRO’s party in Nibelheim.”
“Over a year ago?” Elena gasped.
“It’s only old news to you cuz he takes you to those meetings, yo” Reno came up behind Rude and leant his arm on Rude’s shoulder. “Pres hasn’t made a squeak ‘bout Lockhart elsewhere. Damn, he hid it real good.” He chuckled with a shake of his head. “And why haven’t you told us sooner, Rude? Coulda saved me and Tseng the run-around.”
“Not my place to discuss.”
“Wasn’t that the night he got back early, soaking wet?” Tseng said with a light frown.
Rude nodded. “Shoulder-thrown into the mansion’s fountain.”
- Unexpectedly devoted
“Damn, it’s still unbelievable he’d been crushing on Lockhart for over a year.”
“Is it though? He is Rufus. He’s good at hiding his personal aff— Reno, stop playing with that folder! You’ve dropped it five times already!”
“I’m sure it’ll survive a dozen more.”
Elena resisted the urge to just end the call right there. Rude had already excused himself to bed and Tseng had left not too long ago after getting all the information he needed regarding Healen’s and Junon’s statuses. That left her with no one to keep Reno in check.
“Rufus is Rufus, but still,” Reno started to balance the corner of the folder on his fingertip, but soon dropped it again. “That’s some serious fixation right there, yo. He barely sees her except for the nights WRO hosts something, and that’s what?” Reno counted his fingers. “Four incidents in total counting the Nibelheim…hem, touchdown. Goodness, I’d have moved onto the next sweetheart in half the time it took him to get a second encounter.”
Elena made sure Reno saw her look of disdain, but he just waved a hand and continued. “According to Rude, she’s been less than cordial to the Pres, too. I wouldn’t have stuck around for that.”
Reno had a point. Considering the kind of man Rufus Shinra was, it was actually very surprising he’d hold onto unrequited feelings for so long.
- We are safe
If there was one thing they all respected Rufus for, it was that he knew how to prioritize.
Keeping that in mind, it made perfect sense that Rufus hadn’t attempted to pursue Tifa Lockhart this whole time because Shin·Ra was still recovering from Deepground. They’d been busy, and Rufus had known better that to start what would promise to be very time-consuming considering the bartender’s distaste for him.
It also made perfect sense to assume that, after narrowly avoiding the depression in Junon and safely establishing Shin·Ra in Edge, Rufus had started to pay attention to Tifa because he’d deemed the company to be in safe enough water to start…romancing?
Elena frowned, a finger to her temple. Was he even trying to romance Tifa?
- Wait, so the point of spying is…? (or, Unexpectedly alarming)
To court Tifa Lockhart? That made no sense. In what universe would having other people spy on your love interest be productive to the relationship, no matter how non-existent?
Elena slowed her fingers on the keyboard, looking at the information she was typing out on the computer. Because Rufus had been so vague with the mission, both Tseng and she had used the instruction he’d told Reno as their own. Plans and interactions of Tifa Lockhart.
Wasn’t this just stalking your love interest!?
- Boss?? (2)
She couldn’t believe Rufus Shinra would be the type to stalk the person he liked. That didn’t sound like him at all. But then nursing an unrequited love didn’t sound like him either.
Elena had also never seen Rufus court anybody. Women naturally surrounded him, and he didn’t bother pursuing those who didn’t. Could it be that he actually didn’t know the proper procedures of courtship?
She had a sudden flashback to middle school, where a boy would ask his friends to ask the girl he liked if she liked him, and shuddered. Goddess, this was outrageous.
- Are you just………shy?
“President, here is the report for yesterday.” Elena handed her fourth report to Rufus, careful to mask her hesitation. After the revelation last night, her mission had become an entirely new kind of dread.
“Thank you, Elena,” Rufus didn’t look up from the laptop, “Please put it over there.”
She paused. Come to think of it, she’d never seen him actually reading a report. By the next time she saw her report again, it would already be a pile of shredded paper.
“Was there anything significant?” And there was that question, too. What did he mean by ‘significant?’
“Aside from the fact that Vincent Valentine caught me (oh, the shame!), sir, there wasn’t much…” Elena trailed off, thoughts racing. Wait. Waitwaitwaitwait. If Rufus was really asking the Turks to stal—hem…‘keep an eye on’ Tifa because he was interested in her rather than trying to find dirt on her, then shouldn’t Elena be giving him information like… “But Tifa Lockhart did seem a lot more energetic than usual, which is a given considering she was surrounded by her friends.”
“I see,” Rufus nodded and returned to his work. “From now on an oral report will suffice. Everything regarding this mission will be off the record.”
“You may leave.”
- Between the lines
Elena wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but Rufus’s reaction was rather…flat. Was that not what he wanted to hear?
“Oh, and Elena?” he called just as she was about to leave through the door.
“You’re doing well. Keep it up.”
Elena would catch herself grinning that whole day, earning strange looks from passers-by and customers around Seventh Heaven.
It had become apparent to her that Rufus only wanted updates of Tifa’s life, not an uncovering of a sinister coup. Why he continued on being cryptic about the mission remained unanswered, but Elena supposed that was just Rufus being Rufus.
As for her mission, there was no longer a need to sneak around. To act the part of a Turk on vacation, she shed her uniform and started coming to the bar like any other person would. Although she still thought this was a terrible way to woo Tifa, Elena decided she was going to aid her boss’s rather clumsy attempt for now and perhaps give him some pointers regarding a woman’s heart along the way.
At least, Elena thought it had ended.
She wished it had ended there.
- Around the Seventh Heaven
The Seventh Heaven bar was on alert.
As Elena sat in her booth, poking the yellow olive in her martini with a toothpick, she could feel an intense gaze scorching the side of her face. She kept her head down and didn’t dare return it, but out of her peripheral vision, she would catch instances of blue mako eyes steadily watching her as a wolf would a trespasser of its territory.
Cloud Strife was not amused.
“Girly,” Cid Highwind took a long drag of his cigarette and blew the smoke out through the corner of his mouth as he trapped Elena in front of the bar together with Barret Wallace. “The fuck does that shitty brat wants with the lass?”
“Ain’t nothin’ good fo’ sure.” Barret crossed his arms, scraping the edge of his massive gun arm against the wall next to her.
Elena could only squeak out an intelligible reply, hands to her chest and head between her shoulders.
“I’d like to politely ask that you leave the premise, Miss Elena,” Reeve Tuesti, immaculate in his dark blue vest, had sat down next to her at the counter. “It’s not every day that I get to catch up with my friends, and I don’t appreciate an audience when I do so.”
At the end of the first week of the mission, Elena was back at her table in the HQ, typing up a contract for Corel, and she couldn’t help but sigh. It wasn’t just the people she could name, even the faceless customers who whispered among each other were like that.
They really, really didn’t like Shin·Ra there.
- What of the target herself?
Tifa lay on her bed with an arm over her eyes. Her heart was heavy, and the familiar feeling of unrest gnawed at places inside her chest that she couldn’t quite pinpoint. For once, the thought of Cloud wasn’t the thing that hurt the most.
This time of year was always gloomy for her, with the death anniversary of her father coming up, but some years the season just hit her harder than others.
It was hitting her pretty hard this year.
She wished Cloud was around to lend a shoulder to cry on, but he was busy delivering a package for Reeve to Corel. It was fine. Cloud was going to be there for the actual day, and that was enough. It was supposed to be.
It’s enough, she told herself, Don’t be selfish, Tifa. We need the money.
But her eyes still prickled behind her arm, and she felt a pout tugging down at the corners of her mouth. Through the noisiness of her mind, she could hear the shuffling of shoes outside her door. The kids were worried about her, but she didn’t want them to see her like this. Thank Gaia Shelke was there.
As the first drop roll down her temple, dropped past her left ear and disappeared somewhere into her mussed mass of hair, she bit her lower lip.
The second drop was in the other eye, big and fat, pooling near the bridge of her nose before it slipped down across her mouth to wet the crook of her neck.
Tifa turned around and buried her face into her pillow before the third could even form. And she remained still, hoping she could choke away the weakness like that. It was so silly. Her father was gone for nearly a decade now.
But then she remembered her childhood, the warmth of large hands on her head and at her back, comforting her through the death of her mother. His callused fingers gripping her tiny ones, leading her through the mountainous paths, pointing at intimidating terrains to show her their quirks and secrets. The kind smile he taught her to have.
She sniffed. Ugh, so stupid. Those weren’t things to cry about! She was going to look horrible tonight. Should she even open the bar?
“I’d say you’re quite beautiful when you cry.”
Tifa froze at the memory. She slowly sat up and pushed a tangled curtain of hair away from her face. She sniffed again, wiping at the drying streaks on her face, and headed for the bathroom to wash up.
- Around the Seventh Heaven (2)
Elena stood across the street from the bar after its closing, looking up at the window on the second floor, which she knew belonged to Tifa Lockhart’s room. The bartender had mostly stayed in the kitchen tonight, and the glimpses Elena did catch of the woman hadn’t looked good.
“Oh, not a face I expected to see around here.” In the darkness of the night, she saw a swaying flame then finally noticed the large red beast that had skulked up next to her. Red XIII had only arrived this evening to visit Tifa. “Have you come as a friend or a foe?”
Elena remained silent as she looked into one reflective golden eye. She knew she wasn’t here as a foe. But could she be considered as a friend?
“I see you like late night strolls, too,” she gently denied having come for Tifa.
“Ah, yes, there aren’t quite as many humans on my path.”
“I see,” Rufus said simply the next morning that Elena reported to him in his office. He made no effort to move from the couch, with legs propped on the white ottoman and fingers knitted over his stomach.
Elena didn’t know if she was just projecting her own thoughts onto his blank slate of an expression, but she dared think he looked worried. Just a little bit.
“There’s no need to watch her today,” he decided. “You can have a day off.”
- Boundaries (2)
Though the President said there was no need, Elena was still worried and decided to drop by the Seventh Heaven anyway. Perhaps it was unprofessional of her, but she was off duty.
“Go back to Shin·Ra, Turk.” Vincent Valentine hadn’t been hostile, but he’d blocked Elena not too far off from the entrance. And she’d listened to him. It was the death anniversary of Tifa’s father and all of her friends had come to pay their respect. There was no place for a Turk there tonight.
Such a morose custom the Nibelheim folks had.
- Around the Seventh Heaven (3)
It was unusually hot for an autumn day, and Elena would kill for a tree shade. But tree shades were almost non-existent in Edge (Shin·Ra and WRO were going to get to that soon), and the bar wasn’t going to be open until much later; so she was stuck dallying around in the stuffy shadow of the empty house nearby.
“Miss Elena, here you go!”
Elena wiped the sweat rolling down her cheek and turned to the bright smiling countenance that could have rivalled the afternoon sun currently shining above Edge.
“Thank you so much, Marlene!”
After Marlene Wallace had returned from school, the little girl had offered to bring her a bottle of juice from the fridge. It was a lovely gesture, although Elena actually wished the girl had offered to bring her to the fridge so that she could climb inside and hide there until winter decided to come. But she supposed this was fine too.
Next to the little girl, Denzel Wallace cast her a cautious look from behind his brown bangs but said nothing. The boy, Elena sensed, was still deciding whether to like her or not. Distrustful was one way to put it, smart was another.
“Don’t drink too quickly,” Denzel said suddenly, and something in his manner as he did so reminded her of a watered-down version of Cloud Strife’s aloof attitude. At her surprised look, he added. “It’s not good to drink cold stuff in the heat, Tifa said.”
Elena resisted a giggle and smiled at him. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
- In Corel
“Hey Tseng, what’s with Shin·Ra’s funny business around Teef’s bar?”
Tseng stared at Yuffie Kisaragi from across the old coffee table in WRO’s Corel HQ.
“Ya can tell me, Tseng,” she grinned, wiggling an eyebrow. The young girl had her legs folded on the worn brown couch and was leaning toward him with eagerness in her eyes. “C’mon, Tseng. Pretty please?”
“There is no business, Miss Kisaragi. What Elena does on her days off doesn’t concern Shin·Ra.”
“C’mon, one Wutain to another?”
“Miss Kisaragi, please, about the oil reservoirs…” he said with waning determination. A half-hour meeting regarding Shin·Ra’s involvement in Corel had been stretched into one hour, and still there was no sign of an end.
“Oh, all right…” Yuffie sat back in her seat, and they continued to discuss, thankfully with no more digression until the contract was signed.
As Tseng got up to leave, Yuffie shuffled close to him, face inches from his, and whispered, “If Rufus is planning something evil and you’re bound by contract, blink once.”
- For the love of…
Coming back from North Corel, Tseng found that the heatwave they were experiencing in Edge was still quite heavenly compared to the harsh desert climate. The latter had been especially unkind to him considering the Turks’ uniform, and, as the helicopter took off the landing pad in Corel, a small part of his mind had wondered if they should have the Turks assigned there wear something more accommodating.
However, as comfortable as he was standing in Rufus’s air-conditioned office, Tseng couldn’t help the tiredness mixed in with his voice as he reported, “Also, WRO might try to interfere with the matter concerning Tifa Lockhart now.”
Sitting at his desk, Rufus glanced up from the Corel mine contract.
Tseng held back a sigh.
It wasn’t that the little antic was any clever prank, or even an original one. But someone who would have the gall to mess with Tseng of the Turks, and even drive said Turk to the point of resignation, deserved credits long overdue.
Rufus gave a final chortle and wiped the corner of his eye, shooting Tseng an apologetic look. Not that the Turk needed the apology, standing there with a faint smirk of his own. Rufus wasn’t concerned because there was little the self-righteous WRO could do regarding this matter, but, ah, Yuffie Kisaragi. Such an amusing creature.
How regretful. If the young princess of Wutai wasn’t so closely aligned with WRO he would have recruited her, then put her in Edge indefinitely.
It would be nice if a certain barkeep could laugh more.
- The chase
“I must say, Rufus, while you are free to fancy whomever, what exactly are you trying to do?” Tseng’s question had Rufus pausing in the middle of turning a contract page. He’d known the cat was out of the bag with the Turks for a while now, but he hadn’t counted on Tseng to point at it.
“Ah, you know, some harmless fun.”
“Am I to believe you define a possible future of bruising and broken bones as harmless?” Tseng had his arm clasped behind his back, that inquisitive smile on his mouth.
“Parts of a process, Tseng. You make her sound like such a violent woman, but it’s just her way of showing love.”
“You meant hate.”
“Have I said something else?” Rufus smirked and the chuckle Tseng offered in return sounded humourless.
- A broken status quo
Whatever feelings Rufus had for Tifa Lockhart, they had survived over a year on crumbs worth of interaction with the bartender. An impressive feat, indeed, but knowing Rufus Shinra, he probably hadn’t been nursing a lonely heart and feeling sorry for himself. Far from it. This was a man who would only ever maintain the status quo if he was satisfied with it.
So the question that should be asked here was why now? Why had he chosen to disturb the status quo?
Elena had assumed it was because Shin·Ra was starting to do well, but Tseng thought that was only a small part of the reason. Something had to have triggered this the last time Rufus had seen Tifa, especially when that meeting had occurred not too long ago at the WRO party and right before this whole chain of events had gone into motion.
Especially when Rufus had returned that night with a bruised cheek he’d refused materia treatment for.
And Tseng worried.
Because, for all his talents and wiles, Rufus also tended to be impulsive.
And Rufus was surely acting on impulse regarding Tifa Lockhart.
- Concern of an aide (or, Pride (3))
“I’m glad you are enjoying yourself, Rufus, but might I advise that you don’t play with her heart?”
Tseng could see the casual smile on Rufus’s face slipping into the guarded smirk he often resorted to in order to mask his fluster. Fluster that would very soon turn into annoyance. Ah, there it was.
Though Rufus maintained an open body language, he held Tseng’s gaze in a confrontational manner, challenging Tseng to overstep the line. Tseng knew better than that. He’d said enough. His words had done their job, and now he needed to back off.
“I didn’t know you cared for Miss Lockhart so. Should Elena and I be worried?”
“No, sir,” Tseng tucked his chin closer to his chest. “I simply would like to still have a President to serve after this is over.”
Rufus scoffed, in slightly better humour. “I’m in love, Tseng, not a war.”
But Tseng wasn’t sure Rufus drew a distinction between the two. Regardless, he chose to let the matter rest for now. “So I see.” The President had decided, and as his Turk, Tseng could only oblige.
- Around the Seventh Heaven (4)
Shelke Rui was one of the few people that didn’t act hostile to Elena, with the others being Vincent Valentine, the children and, shockingly enough, Tifa Lockhart (though the woman simply ignored her aside from completing her drink orders).
On the second Thursday night, business at the bar was going slow, and Tifa had gone to check up on stocks at the back. That left Elena with Shelke and the odd clusters of customers who occasionally erupted into a hybrid of laughter and heated debates. As Shelke moved around to clean the counter, she asked, “What kind of man is Rufus Shinra that the Turks follow him?”
Elena tore her distracted eyes from a customer she didn’t recognize drinking alone in the corner to meet Shelke’s mako eyes, which were patiently waiting for an answer. She knew Shelke wouldn’t hold it against her if she remained silent, but the larger part of her wanted to answer even though she didn’t quite have an answer ready.
“Well,” Elena took a sip of her bitter cocktail and placed the dainty glass down on the counter, twirling the stem between her fingers. “I can’t say for others, but for me, it’s how he always know…always so sure.”
That was why it had worried her to see him hesitate on this mission.
She respected him. Not dissimilarly to the way she respected Tseng.
- Actually, can I take that back?
Friday came, and Elena was reporting to Rufus, who lounged crossed-legged in the armchair in his office when Cloud Strife arrived (more of a barged in manner) as WRO’s messenger. Apparently, WRO had issued a formal request, signed by Reeve Tuesti himself, demanding that Shin·Ra ceased its attempts at prying into WRO’s volunteers’ private life.
Still in his seat and holding the WRO document in one hand, Rufus glanced over it and smirked. An unrestrained, full-blown smirk completed with the short escape of air that indicated a silent but derisive snort.
He was having the time of his life messing with people, wasn’t he?
It was just the man he wanted to see.
When Cloud Strife had pushed his way in before the escorting Turk could announce their arrival, Rufus had been caught off guard, and by the time he recollected himself it was already late to level the playing field. Cloud and his short stature seemed to tower over Rufus, with only a small coffee table separating them.
Though having to look up was as a disadvantage, the last thing he wanted to do was let his opponent see a hasty attempt to regain equal footing. Besides, spend enough time in a wheelchair and you’d find that, with the right attitude, sitting was a powerful position to assume.
So Rufus didn’t bother getting up, just as Cloud hadn’t bothered with the greeting and simply proceeded to shove a legal document in his face.
“As I keep telling WRO, Shin·Ra has no interest in Miss Lockhart,” Rufus said, not forgetting to concoct a helpless sigh to accompany his words, as he placed the WRO letter down on the coffee table. It hadn’t taken much acting because, as entertaining as this was, he had not intended to get so many people looking into his personal affairs.
“Then tell your Turks to stop bothering Tifa, Rufus.”
“If this is about Elena’s visits to Seventh Heaven, once again, Cloud,” he punctuated his voice with frustration to complete the charade, “I do not control where my employees go on their days off.”
“She’s standing right here,” Cloud gestured with a jerk of his chin. “Doesn’t look very off duty to me.”
“She’s not at this moment, no,” Rufus conceded, “Elena here had just returned from her vacation and is currently requesting more time off. I, too, am at a loss at what to do with this girl.” Out of the corner of his vision, he saw Elena giving him a look.
“Fire her?” Cloud glared at Elena, to which she responded with an exasperated, “Hey!”
The laugh that left his lips didn’t need any artificial effort as he rested his face against his knuckles. “And here I’m the one they call cold-blooded. We could really use someone like you—”
“I’m not here to play games.”
“—in one of the branches. How about coming to work for Shin·Ra—”
“—We pay our executives better than WRO—”
“Rufus Shinra!” Cloud folded his arms, a movement that, according to Rufus’s observation, meant the other man was stopping himself from getting physical. Immediately, Elena and another female Turk, who’d escorted Cloud here, inched closer to Rufus’s side. The two women were visibly on edge because, even without the oversized swords, Cloud still posed a very real threat.
“Go have your fun elsewhere.”
“I promise, Cloud, I derive no pleasure from our recent line of conversations.”
“Leave it to Rufus Shinra to smirk in the face of woe.”
“I can’t say I’m ashamed of my resilience.”
“You will stop bothering us.”
“You will understand,” Rufus kept his voice mellow and tapped the letter on the table, “The action of one person does not speak for his or her organization. Shin·Ra has not transgressed in the manner stated in this document.”
“You mean like how Shin·Ra never destroyed Nibelheim?”
He chuckled and sat back in the armchair. “Is that your best accusation, Cloud? Dragging up the past?”
- This kind of man…
As the verbal tennis quieted down to a hush, Elena felt lightheaded. Rufus had looked so embittered when he gave that wry chuckle, and his posture as he leant back seemed to exude a sort of tired arrogance, a frustration at the general mistrust for Shin·Ra and himself.
With him looking like that and the sincerity in his voice, it was easy to forget that he was, indefensibly, guilty on all charges. He was lying through his teeth regarding Tifa (although he’d probably say he wasn’t because Shin·Ra truly wasn’t interested in the bartender) and had practically thrown Elena under the bus, twice!
Granted, Cloud, in his irritation and hot-headedness, had argued himself into a corner, but it was terrifying how Rufus had claimed the moral high ground in a conversation where Cloud was in the right.
Elena was working for such a person.
- Declaration of intent
With all the poise of a man carrying the weight of the world, the President pushed off the armchair and rose to his feet, straightening out his jacket.
“I will respect WRO’s request as good faith. Please tell Reeve I look forward to our cooperation in Corel. However, do know that I’ve also given Elena the extra vacation time she wanted, and what she does during her time off is entirely up to her.”
Cloud looked like he’d just bitten into something sour, Rufus smirked, and blue gazes clashed silently.
“How very generous.”
“Not at all.” As Elena was busy gauging Cloud’s expression and the hard clench his jaw was set in, Rufus continued on, “You must understand, Cloud, it’s only good business to take care of my employees. And Elena has proven herself indispensable to Shin·Ra.”
There was a delay before she realized what had just been said and stole a glance at the President. It-It was a lie, right?
Cloud waved a dismissive hand and headed for the door. “Stay away from Tifa.” The warning was for everyone in the room, but Elena had more than a feeling it was directed mainly at Rufus.
“Give Miss Lockhart my regards for me,” Rufus said, stopping the swordsman at the threshold, “All right? Elena?” He pronounced her name lazily with his smirk, and she just wanted to run for cover from the glare Cloud set on her the following moment.
Stupid, it’s a lie. Obviously a lie! Stop it! Stop. Thinking. About. It.
Elena rolled onto her back and draped an arm over her forehead, counting the ticking of the clock that was invisible in the darkness. She was tired. But she felt like tossing and turning. She felt like kicking the blanket off the bed and pace around the room at the risk of tripping over the baggy pyjamas trousers she had on. Damn Rufus and the things he said that always walked that fine line between truth and lie.
“Elena,” a strong arm slipped underneath her and pulled her to bare chest, “Rufus wasn’t lying. You are indispensable. Now go to sleep.” His voice was a soft, groggy mutter, rumbling against her hand, and a few stray strands of black hair fell to her cheeks.
“Stop thinking about another man in my bed.” He cupped her face with his other hand and placed a quick kiss on her temple. “Sleep.”
And as his breathing evened out, Elena remained still as a statue, face pressed into the crook of his neck by a firm but gentle hand behind her neck, blushing furiously.
Now she really couldn’t sleep.
- So here I go again…
By Monday afternoon, Elena took some actual time off to go get coffee and a nice break from her…‘vacation.’
She was sitting at an outdoor table of the coffee shop in a busier section of Edge, enjoying her hot drink and a slice of creamy, creamy cheesecake when her eyes caught a red gaze from across the street.
- This is too sudden
“Where is he?” Tifa Lockhart asked with arms crossed and a dark look on her otherwise beautiful face, the fingers drumming on her biceps spoke volumes of her impatience.
Elena just stared up at Tifa, in the middle of tilting the cup of cappuccino against her mouth. Surprised would be an understatement, as this was the first time Elena had been confronted by Tifa herself in the entire length of the mission.
And considering that Tifa was still in a bad mood after having just argued with Cloud about the line at which spending time in a church (Cloud had been very insistent that the debate was about a church and not the church) ceased to be healthy and soothing and crossed over to self-tormenting, Elena knew Tifa was the last person anyone would want to offend right now.
So excuse her if she was a little freaked out. “I-I’m not following you right now, I swear Tifa! Rufus gave me a day off a-and…” she faltered, her own words running through her mind again, “n-not that I’d follow you if it wasn’t my day off. Shin·Ra isn’t interested in you in the slightest!” She was just digging her grave deeper and deeper, wasn’t she?
“You’ve already made that quite clear with my friends, Elena, and no, I don’t believe you, either.”
Guh, the one time she really wasn’t following the target.
“Where is Shinra?”
Elena stared and eventually managed a very intelligent “What?”
“Rufus Shinra. He said to ask a Turk for his whereabouts whenever I liked.” Elena’s eyes went wide at this. “Last time I checked, you’re a Turk.”
When had Rufus said that!?
- Good job, Elena
Elena was still chasing after Tifa Lockhart down the streets when she ended the call to HQ, dread bubbling in her stomach as the final piece of the puzzle clicked into place in her mind.
‘Good job!?’ President, there’s a fuming martial artist heading there for your life!
She had, at last, understood the true nature of her mission and wished that she was in Rufus’s office to shake him out of his-his…idiocy.
It wasn’t that Rufus wanted to stalk Tifa for information or some silly updates on her life. He wasn’t a clumsy love-stricken fool. Good Gaia, no. He knew what he was doing. He simply wanted to annoy Tifa (and oh how he’d succeeded!) with the existence of a spy and prompt her to come see him in some twisted form of mind game. Worse yet, this feat depended on the spy failing at discretion.
That was why Reno and Tseng had ‘failed’ the mission.
That was why she’d ‘succeeded.’
And just now she’d finished the mission with flying colours.
So why wasn’t she even a little bit happy?
- Common sense
“Don’t you dare stop me, Elena,” Tifa warned dangerously over her shoulder just as Elena caught up with her.
Elena had no intention to. She had a thing called common sense that told her not to engage angry beasts. She just hoped her President also had the same thing.
- He doesn’t have it
The HQ, thanks to Elena’s phone call, was prepared.
No security guard stood in their way as Tifa burst in through the front door, kicking open heavy mahogany like it was cheap plastic. Employees clambered to part way as the bartender strutted through the front hall with the deadly grace of a black panther, long dark hair swaying and measured strides that belied her temper.
The door to Rufus’s office was also opened none-too-kindly, doorknob hitting the drywall with a slam so loud that Elena didn’t doubt a crater had just been carved into the plaster.
At the far end of the room, Rude and Reno looked over their shoulders, shock and surprise all over their faces. Behind them was Tseng, who stood next to Rufus.
Their boss himself sat in his chair in all his pretentious glory, paperwork in hand as though he’d been working when he was so rudely interrupted. But, oh Gaia, the smirk on his lips, it sparkled with a rare childish glee that told her he was going to have fun at everyone’s expense, not excluding his own.
Elena had given Rufus too much credit. He wasn’t a middle schooler. This was elementary school, where boys teased the girls they liked.
- The end (of the beginning)
“Shinra,” Tifa could have tamed Gongaga wolves with her glare alone.
“Miss Lockhart,” Rufus slowly got to his feet, setting down his ‘work.’ “What have I done to deserve this honour?”
Elena resisted the urge to slap her forehead in response to the amount of smugness that was on Rufus’s face. He looked short of gloating about his victory to a game whose rules were known to him alone.
Rude(who, for some reason, had a white bandage across the bridge of his nose instead of his sunglasses) and Reno seemed utterly confused and hesitated between guarding Rufus and getting out of the way. They had probably just arrived from Healen. Meanwhile, Tseng stood vigilant by Rufus’s side, his entire body language spoke of his nervousness about their dim chance at stopping Tifa should her fuses blow.
“You are not seriously asking me that.” Tifa pushed past Reno and Rude.
Rufus chuckled, brushing his bangs back. “Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but you did say you haven’t got time for me the last time we part.”
Was that was what this whole mess was about!? Elena felt lightheaded all over again. And the horrifying part was that…this was only the beginning, the first of Rufus’s wooing attempts. If you could call it ‘wooing.’
The Turks in the room met eyes for a brief second, and it was enough for all four to see they were thinking the same thing, with varying degrees of grief.
They were about to get very, very busy.