The Empress of Wutai and the president of the former ShinRa Electric Power Company were in the same room, and neither particularly wanted to be there. The Empress expressed her dislike… loudly. This mostly consisted of numerous repetitions of "How dare you" with slightly different endings. The former president expressed his dislike silently. This mostly consisted of maintaining a pleasantly indulgent facade in the face of the Empress' escalating anger. Inside, Rufus was bored, and angry. He amused himself by thinking of ever more elaborate ways of describing the Empress's state of mind. The latest was "incandescent with rage," Rufus decided. This was a phrase he had read when he was young and discarded as rather silly and overly poetic, but had since had the dubious pleasure of witnessing. Twice. He wondered if Yuffie would follow Kadaj's example and throw a Fire3 at him.
Still silently, he wished he hadn't put this errand off, and had actually done it three months ago, when Godo was alive and he could have gone straight to him. Godo, he thought, would have been much more pragmatic about sacrificing Yuffie's future to Wutai's prosperity. And it was traditional to ask a father for his daughter's hand in – this thought was left incomplete.
Perhaps realizing that incandescent or not, raging did not affect the president anymore, Yuffie tried a new tack.
"Please, ShinRa-", she said, removing 'scum' from the end of his name with visible effort "-please, I'm… in love." She swallowed some more of her pride, and continued, "I'll be engaged in a month." She smiled and it looked sick and small on her face. "He tries to be so secretive, but I know. And he doesn't…he loves me, he doesn't love Wutai's princess or a hero or a pretty girl. It's my dream. I've always wanted – haven't you ever had a dream?"
Rufus did have a dream, in fact. He dreamed that one day he would find someone who would never lie to him. Someone he would never need to lie to. A place where he would be safe and never worry about gaining or losing advantage. He had a vague picture of coming home, to someone who waited for, and wanted, him to be there. It was a stupid childish dream, brought about by reading too many novels, but there was a reason he hadn't been in this room three months ago.
"Yes," he said. He didn't add that if the TURKs hadn't found her lover shopping for rings he would have continued putting this errand off.
She waited. When it was evident he would not elaborate, she shifted abruptly back into rage. A few more repetitions of "How dare you," a few "WHYs" mixed in for flavor, and she was gone, yelling as she stormed out. "I will not be cowed so easily. This is not the end of the war, and I am not my father, ShinRa scum."
Rufus sat very still for a moment, letting the last of her rage wash off him, reflecting that she had left the scum in this time. "Nor am I mine" he announced to the echoingly silent room.
She sent a note several days later, inviting him to a formal tea.
Rufus had never been to a formal tea. He dimly remembered learning the etiquette in one of his foreign policy classes; back when he'd been young and strong, and confident he'd never need anything from the pathetic backwater Wutai.
He asked the TURKs for help. They'd been coming here for vacation for several years. He disregarded everything Reno said, took what seemed reasonable from Rude (Rude, he had learned young, was a good partner for Reno and is never as solemn as he seems), and accepted as truth everything Tseng and Elena said, which was precious little. Altogether, he felt completely unprepared and admired the move on Yuffie's part. To refuse the tea would give her the opportunity to damn his lack of care for her country's traditions. To go to it unprepared would do the same, with the added bonus of making him look foolish during the inevitable bargaining. He accepted the invitation.
As soon as the tea was poured, he leaned forward and picked up her teacup. He offered it to her – a sign of a gift. "Yuffie, I ask nothing from you beyond what will be on paper. You need money, I need loyalty, our world needs leadership and we have the opportunity to do something great." He picked up his own teacup without waiting for her – turning the gift into a mutually beneficial agreement. "I have a debt to pay and you have a country to save and the cost will be great but it need not be all. I won't… I won't even mind if our children 'take strongly after their mother.'"
She gave him a completely neutral stare, but took a sip of her tea, "I want exclusive access to ShinRa's newest weapons for the next ten years, control over all scientific research for the next twenty, and equal access to all records kept in ShinRa files," she smiled sweetly, "until death do us part."
Rufus leaned back and shifted his teacup to his left hand. This was an admittance of surprise, but gave him time to consider her demands. He could manage them, he thought. "That's a mighty bride-price," but he shifted his cup back to his right hand and drank acceptance. Her face darkened, and she placed her teacup down. "I am not agreeing. We are negotiating and you are telling me what you are willing to pay to accomplish 'something great'"
He'd already lost pride and the possibility of love to this idea, thought Rufus. May as well send power and support after them. He took another sip of his tea for acceptance, and listened to a list of all the things he would be giving up.
It was a beautiful wedding, everyone agreed. Even Rufus agreed, though for slightly different reasons.
He hadn't planned it. Really. No one would ever believe that, not even Yuffie. It had just slipped out during the vows. A mish-mash of Midgar's and Wutai's marriage and political vows, which had somehow been cobbled together into a form both he and Yuffie could accept, and he'd messed it all up on a whim. It had gone smoothly - "I pledge the support of myself and those I stand for. We will bring nothing but peace and cause nothing but growth," - and so on, until he reached the end and mysteriously blurted out, "and I as Rufus alone pledge to you as Yuffie alone that I will never lie to you, for any reason of business, personal, or otherwise."
Yuffie looked surprised and angry. Rufus supposed he did, too. It was true he had dreams of going to a home where he needn't lie, but it was far truer that he knew they were dreams. The only saving grace was that he gave his vows first. Yuffie played it off with the quick thinking Rufus had come to expect, though she naturally didn't respond in kind. Instead she pledged "as Yuffie alone to Rufus alone, to answer any question you might ask, for any reason of business, personal, or otherwise."
It wasn't necessary that she speak to him after the wedding or at the party afterward, and she didn't. All of the other members of what had grown out of AVALANCHE did somehow manage to find their way over to him over the course of the evening. Rufus got quite tired of having his life threatened.
The first was Barret. Rufus had seen his file many times, but nothing in it accounted for the man's sheer presence. Taller and broader than anyone had a right to be and looking plain dangerous even in a suit, with the gun converted into a metallic hand and a little girl hanging on the other arm.
"I don't mince words and I don't like you," said Barret. "Seeing as I have my daughter here, you won't see how much I don't like you. I will only say – if you hurt her there will be no place or person that will keep you safe."
Rufus said, "That won't be necessary. Yuffie knows better than to allow me close enough to hurt her." He was being infuriating and he knew it. It was tiring to be polite to people who had no trouble showing how much they hated him, and during the wedding planning he had had more than enough. Luckily, Barrett stomped away rather than staying to argue the point. Rufus was surprised to see the little girl smile and wave at him before turning around. One person he hadn't invited to the wedding didn't hate him. It almost made him regret needling Barrett.
The only other one really of note was Tifa. She came at it with the subtlety Rufus should have expected from a former bartender. She waited until a set when Yuffie was dancing with a young Wutaian man Rufus didn't recognize. Rufus sat - his legs still ached when he stood for more than a few minutes - and watched them and tried to decide something, when she sat down beside him.
"Yuffie looks beautiful…" she said. It was slightly wistful, while somehow also managing to convey the warning heard so many times that night: Yuffie is important to us and you are not.
Rufus watched the couple on the floor another few moments before turning to look at Tifa. His eyes flicked past Rude on the way, who nodded confirmation to his suspicion. "As were you, a couple sets back," he said. "Women have the special gift of being most beautiful when with the one they love."
Tifa met his eyes for a long moment. "Yes," she said finally. They had reached an understanding. "Good luck, ShinRa scum."
"And to you, terrorist."
Then she smiled, and after Rufus forgot everything else about that night he remembered how good it felt to win someone's trust. At least, as much trust as he ever shared.
They had their honeymoon in the Gold Saucer. Yuffie arranged for Avalanche to send them off cordially (excluding Barrett and Cid, who "still had F&$ing principles, G#**3&it"), smiled demurely and held his arm for all the media throughout the whole day. In return he arranged for the Saucer to be open to them at night, when he let her drag him around the entire park, acting in a play she made up on the spot on the stage in the empty auditorium and watching the fireworks from the gondola, and pretended not to hear her sobbing in the shower. He slept on the couch of the honeymoon suite.
Then the work started. They made compromises and contracts every day, from dawn until dusk, and often further. Wutai dispatched squadrons to Edge and Midgar and Junon for relief work. ShinRa poured money into alternate fuels. Rufus agreed to drink tea in the morning instead of coffee (which Yuffie insisted was the drink of the devils and angered Da Chao and she had had quite enough of back when she and her friends were running around kicking his ass, thank you very much). Yuffie agreed to reduce the number of "Gawd"s she said in one day to three (yes, even when there was nobody else present).
It was agreed they would live in Wutai primarily; Wutai had the plural advantages of better security, better guards, and fewer angry citizens-cum-assassins. But they lived in Junon first, while Rufus closed down his offices there. He showed her to the master bedroom in Junon's ShinRa mansion, and then showed her the small private passage to the "Mistress' Suite".
"My old man liked to have women visit…discreetly," he said, as he showed her the second room. It was smaller, and the exit was unremarkable, and seemingly distant from the center of the household. "No one should know that you don't stay in the master bedroom."
Rufus slept in the master bedroom in the house in Wutai, too. Yuffie followed him to it every night, then disappeared. He asked her, the first night, what her plans were. She didn't bother to hide her disdain.
"The pearl of Leviathan's eye does not need secret passages to be 'discreet'," she replied. And she was good, too. It took the TURKs a full month to find which room in the palace she slept in – when she slept there at all.
He had a target range to practice marksmanship at his house in Junon. In Wutai he set one up in the rear garden. His vision was still blurred and painful in his right eye, and he thought it important to not rely totally on the TURKs for defense. This was occasionally unfortunate, as it was over the rear garden wall that Yuffie snuck out to, and back in from, visits to her lover. The first time she had returned while he had been in the garden they had met eyes awkwardly. Rufus opened his mouth to utter the words guaranteed to make her regret ever being unfaithful, to gain him leverage in her shame – and slowly closed it. He had offered her freedom in this with the marriage, and he would not break his word – not without a more immediate reward. Instead, he tried to think of something comforting. What does a man say to the woman who has just returned from an adulterous trip he has condoned?
In the end she saved him the bother. "Target practice, one-eye?" she asked, as she sauntered over.
"As far as nicknames go, I preferred ShinRa scum," he replied. This, as per his vow, was true. The ShinRa name was beyond his control, while the injuries were the result of his own stupidity and hubris.
"Fair enough, double-S," she said. "Betcha I can get ten shuriken notches inside the bullseye before you get in one bullet hole." This was hardly fair - she did have considerably more experience and less handicap – but, as she began throwing before he had time to point that out, he merely reloaded and fired patiently. Scum pride was on the line now.
"How many notches?" he asked when he stopped to reload again. He was good enough to hit the target consistently, but still struggling to regain the ability to find the bullseye.
Yuffie considered. "A dog," she replied, and Rufus sighed. This was her revenge for his impromptu addition to the vows. Occasionally, mostly on unimportant questions but also vitally important matters, she would simply lie in the most obvious way. She would answer any question, but often untruthfully. In return he simply refused to answer some basic questions. It was petty. Yuffie brought that out in people.
Rufus had a large office in their shared palace in Wutai. It wasn't as large as the president's office of the old ShinRa building, but it was still larger than he could possibly need, and, unlike the ShinRa president's office, it was conveniently located down the hall from a kitchen. Also unlike the ShinRa president's office, it was not a sanctum of privacy.
"Hi there Gimpy!" Yuffie announced as the bounced into the room. She had picked up this charming nickname after a particularly busy day had brought him to limping on the short trek from his office to hers.
"Yuffie," he acknowledged, then ignored her to continue reading a report on the construction of an automobile factory outside Junon. This was a small revenge for the nickname. A not particularly successful revenge, as she was able to toss the file she had been holding across the room to neatly cover his own report.
"I think he's lying about the budget," she said. "There's something off, but I can't pick it out. Give it a look over?"
Embezzlement was something they could agree on stopping, and unquestionably an area in which he had more expertise.
"Certainly," he said, and moved the file off to the side to continue reading his report. Another small revenge. She made a face at him, but returned to her own office. Logically, Rufus knew that not only was her request more urgent, but in putting it off he only forced himself to walk to her office later. Still. Yuffie was a difficult person to act logically around.
Predictably enough, several hours and one half-eaten dinner delivered to his office later found Rufus braving the walk to her office.
"You were right," he announced. "It's in the price of materials, and discrepancies with reported wages between this report and the previous year's." He leaned against the doorjamb, and hoped it looked casual, and not as though his legs were once again paining him. Evidently he failed, as she frowned at him and stood up herself, walking over to take the file rather than insisting he bring it all the way to her desk.
"Thanks," she said, looking through the corrections he had made and the total amount of stolen money he had totaled. "So little money…" she said. "Why bother?"
"I imagine it's hardly so little to a regional manager as it is to you," he said wryly.
She snorted, then turned to him and drew breath as if to say something, before turning away and letting it out in a sigh. "I think this office is too big," she said to the window opposite the door. "For one person, anyway."
He made a noncommittal sound and wondered what that had to do with misappropriated funds.
Her eyes slid sideways towards him again. "And yours is even bigger," she said. When he didn't respond, she said "More like a size for two people."
"You would annoy me until I did everything you asked before finishing my own work," he said.
She grinned. "So you're not impervious to annoyance? 'Cause I'm good at that!" Just as quickly as it came, her humor disappeared. "You wouldn't have to walk down the hall as much," she said.
He hadn't realized she cared. His mind immediately calculated possible causes for her actions – cultivating a favor, avoiding irritating him by pointing out his weakness, actual sincerity – and benefits to be gained from each. His stomach twisted and his heart beat sideways, just once. His mouth twitched up a bit at the corners all on its own before he said. "That may be more efficient."
There was a second desk in his office before he arrived the next day, but the Single White Rose didn't occupy it until near midmorning. She, and, Rufus noted, the TURKs spent all day yawning.
Rufus was squinting at the latest missive from his representative in Icicle Inn. He was trying to convert the town from coal to geothermal power, but most of the world had learned to be wary of ShinRas offering power. Particularly when it came out of the earth, in a way most people couldn't understand. Work was going slowly, even though he had replaced his old representative with one who was Wutaian. The only change this seemed to have made was that the new man's handwriting was worse than the old.
Yuffie was also working late. One of the Southern Principalities had decided that a Kisaragi who would stoop so low as to marry a ShinRa was too weak to rule, and was making tentative economic steps toward cessation. It wasn't overt enough to validate any active measures, but she was trying to make equally subtle signs that they had better not try it or they'd incur the wrath of the "Shinobi's greatest daughter." Her words.
She had asked him for advice on sneaky countermeasures, and he considered briefly asking her advice on inspiring confidence. Anyone who could steal a group's materia and be immediately welcomed back had to have some tricks he could use. He blinked, and found that it took longer than expected to reopen his eyes. Dinner was a distant memory and he realized he had no idea how late it was. He sighed, and leaned his head back against the headrest of his chair, at the exact moment Yuffie did the same to his left.
"I need food," she said. "You want food?"
"The kitchen staff has left for the night," he said. She rolled her eyes.
"I can cook, Mr. Pampered-into-oblivion," she said. "Let's go." She was at his desk faster than his tired mind could follow, grabbing his hand and pulling him toward the kitchen.
"One mouthwatering midnight morsel, coming up," she said as he established himself in a stool at one of the counters. She pulled what seemed like random ingredients out of various cupboards, and soon something was sizzling on the stove. She hummed to herself for a while.
"So how come you still have tons of money?" she abruptly asked, turning her back on the concoction. "I mean, I distinctly remember your capital getting totally trashed."
He blinked. He'd been almost dozing in the stool. "My old man was fairly paranoid," he said slowly. "So was I, I suppose. Those who have power always fear losing it. He knew gil was subject to the whims of the economy and I knew inflation would be an inevitable side-effect of any sort of disturbance, so we invested in materials – equipment and materia. I think at one point we owned about three-quarters of the mithril mines. Much of that's gone to the WRO now, though."
She cocked her head to the side. "Shouldn't you be watching that?" he asked, nodding at the now-popping stovetop.
"It'll be fine for a couple minutes," she said. "You didn't like him, did you?"
"The old man? He was a brilliant businessman, but there's very little else positive anyone could say of him." He tilted his own head, in question.
"You don't call him by name, or title, or even Dad or Father," Yuffie explained. "It's doesn't fit in how you usually talk."
Rufus smiled grimly. "Too much respect, in all those titles." He paused, then continued without quite knowing why. "Even after I started pulling his company out from under him, I still dreamed he'd find me and acknowledge that I could do it. That I was doing it. I'd hated him for years, but I was still…sad, when Sephiroth killed him. That opportunity was gone."
"I know what you mean," she said softly. He glanced up, but she had turned back to the stove and was dishing a multicolored steaming mixture onto two plates. He took a tentative bite, and exhaled in relief.
"That's actually good," he said.
"Of course it's good, strawberry-headed jerk!" she cried, shaking a fist at him.
They ate in silence for a moment, then, "Campfire breakfast was my specialty, on the road," she said. "Tifa was better when she could pick ingredients, but everyone handed it over to me when we had leftover bits of everything and no one wanted to eat any of it." She smiled fondly at her plate. "Barret and Cid would always trade me watches for cooking duty. Cait Sith told them nobody was fooled when they took my watches even when it wasn't their turn to cook."
"They took care of you," said Rufus. He was thinking of the TURKs.
"Hmmmm," she said. They finished quietly, and he took the dishes and set them in the sink for the morning staff.
"Thank you for the midnight morsel," he said.
"Mouthwatering midnight morsel."
He smiled. The food and conversation had pushed back the edges of the exhaustion "I have a question to ask regarding Icicle Inn," he said. "My agent there is having trouble gaining trust for…"
He knew there was something wrong the moment he entered the office. Yuffie smiled sunnily, Reno looked extremely serious, and Elena looked disapproving. Reno was no longer on duty, and Yuffie rarely beat him to the office even when she hadn't spent all night moving office equipment.
"What did you do?" he asked the three of them.
"This morning I stole Cloud's bike," Yuffie lied with absolute gravity, at the same time as Reno said "Nothin, yo," totally innocently.
Rufus looked at Elena.
"They absolutely did not paint your chair black, sir," she said, snapping off a picture perfect salute.
"Elena!" whined Reno.
Rufus ran a finger along the chair he had been about to sit in. It came up black, paint nearly invisible against the gloss of the chair's leather. He glanced down at his customary white suit.
"But why?" he asked. He thought over the past few days, and things had been going well, really.
Reno paused in the act of wrestling Elena into a headlock. Yuffie scowled. They all looked at him. The tableau stayed perfectly still for a moment.
"Happy anniversary," Yuffie said. She stood up and stormed out. Reno followed, sketching a lazy salute and mouthing "doghouse."
"It's not, really, is it?" asked Rufus. He tried to think back, and found it had been a year to the day. He was caught between laughing at the absurdity of celebrating the anniversary of a sham marriage and a horrific sucking guilt.
"I appears you forgot, sir!" said Elena. He sighed. They really should have done some public celebration. The thought was distracting enough that he sat down. He closed his eyes on realizing the blunder, and opened them to Elena's horrified expression.
"Not a word of this," he said, and she nodded vigorously. He sighed again, thinking it would be through the TURKs and all around the compound before dinner.
His marksmanship gradually improved. He wanted to believe his eyesight was improving, but suspected he was simply growing accustomed to working with less. He could now hit a bullseye five times further than the JENOVA casket had been, and in fewer shots. Yuffie could still beat him though. She appeared three or four times a week now. He had recovered from the initial loss of words, and when she appeared he would ask where she'd been. She would lie outrageously for an answer, taunt him amiably, beat him soundly at target practice, and retreat indoors for a final evening round of the paperwork that continually overran both of them. She was well on her way to stage three of this process when the messenger arrived from Cid.
He found her again in her bedroom. She glanced up, but didn't seem surprised that he knew where her room was. She was wearing traveling clothes and shoving clothes, weapons, and materia in a bag.
"Where are you going?" he asked, following her as she headed out into the foyer.
"Barrett took Marlene with him on an coal dig and she's disappeared," she said, continuing to the kitchen to shove some food in her bag. "He's asked Avalanche to help with the search."
"I'll send the TURKs," he said, without thinking. He remembered a small face waving to him from behind a much larger shoulder.
"No," said a voice from the corner. Rufus jerked around, startled. His injured eye had failed him again, because there was the airship pilot. Rufus remember him as the one who had blown smoke in his face while explaining that if Yuffie Kisaragi were to be hurt in any way, he, Rufus, would be hunted to where an airship couldn't find him – "which are )%^ few %^(# - ugly places."
"TURKs are as like to kill her as save 'er," he said. "Maybe ransom her out – again." He drawled the last word, spilling smoke in a steady stream that made both Rufus' eyes water. He swallowed several remarks about the effects of second-hand smoke on children and the part the TURKs played in saving this same girl from the remnants. Instead he took a deep breath and turned to Yuffie.
"The TURKs can take the choppers. Another pair of eyes in the sky will facilitate recovery, and I swear to you – she will be as safe with them as with any other," he said to her.
She glanced at him, then her eyes flitted almost guiltily back at the pilot. "Do it," she said, "and don't wait up!" She flashed a huge grin and dashed out of the kitchen.
"I'm waiting, old fart!" she called from outside. Cid was watching him strangely. He gestured at the door and the pilot jerked, shook his head at Rufus, and followed the girl.
As soon as the door was shut, Cid paused for a brief but intense argument. Maybe tirade. From Cid's side Rufus heard, "…girl…TURKs…dirty business…Gold Saucer…" and in a rising howl at the end "…man's got enough to deal with without us inviting the same$&$ jackals that hurt her before to go lookin' fer her again!"
"He has never broken his word to me," Yuffie said, slowly and clearly. "I trust him."
Their shadows left the space under the door. Rufus called Tseng and gave orders, then sat down in the empty kitchen. He had occasionally wondered if Yuffie even remembered his vow. Of course she did. At least, Yuffie was observant enough to have noticed that she had never caught him in a lie. She was also observant enough to know what Cid probably had not: that through the thin ornamental door, Rufus would hear every word she said.
The TURKs gave him hourly updates, but it was Yuffie who told him when Marlene was found.
So everyone was so freaked out about Marlene that no one even thought about the miners, 'cos their shift wasn't over till hours after everyone had started running around looking for her. Spikes just told Barret to look into it because he was driving all the people on the ground crazy with his hovering, and boom bam! Turns out there was a cave-in and when he breaks into a tunnel there's Marlene with all the miners right under our noses after we've worked up a 50 mile perimeter.
She laughed, and he spared a brief moment to consider that it was a beautiful sound, even distorted over a PHS.
So the TURKeys weren't too useful, but neither was Cid and you can bet he ain't happy about that. And…thanks. For sending them. Anyway.
"You are welcome," he said, and meant it. There was a brief pause, in which he thought he heard other laughing voices in the background of the call.
Well anyways, me 'n the crew here are gonna have a smash-down throw-up party, since we don't get together too much. Ask Gorki to deal with my messages, willya?
"I will. Enjoy yourself," he said, and he meant that, too. After a moment he called Reno and Rude's chopper.
"Marlene has been found," he said shortly. "She was evidently trapped in a mine, and our aerial services are no longer needed. Please inform Tseng and return."
Yo boss came Reno's lazy reply Roger that. A brief pause. So, uh, boss - TURKs ain't had a vacation in near a year now, and since we're here right near the Gold Saucer and all, I figure it's time for Tseng to show Elena that good time he's been promisin' her, yanno?
"And your own desire to gamble has nothing to do with this request," Rufus stated, and calmly ignored the splutters and squawks of innocence from the PHS. He sighed. "Vacation granted," he said, "Take a week. Enjoy yourselves," he said. He still meant it.
Sweeeee cried Reno, and Rufus cut off the call before the end of the drawn-out word. He set the PHS down, and found himself blankly watching Yuffie's empty desk in his empty house. He let out a long breath and drew a petition for his approval regarding a new wind farm in the Fort Condor area.
Something changed after what he dubbed the "Marlene Incident." It started with Vincent Valentine. The ex-TURK appeared in his garden one evening, halfway through Rufus' exercises.
"Mr. Valentine," Rufus greeted calmly. He had long since learned not to show surprise, particularly in front of TURKs, even 'retired' ones.
"Yuffie tells me she is able to best you with the shuriken in both speed and accuracy," said Vincent.
"Well, yes," said Rufus. This conversation had begun bizarrely and was only growing stranger.
"A firearm should be a marked improvement over thrown weapons," said Vincent. "I may be able to give you some advice for overcoming adversity in their continued use after physical alterations."
Rufus did not look at Vincent's metal limbs. "Certainly," he said.
Nanaki called the next day, and offered him research the Cosmo Canyon elders had done on the windmills that powered their enclave. "They were built a long time ago, but we have records and Elder Farnan has studied them extensively. He's offered to visit and examine your plans for the Condor area," the cat explained.
"That would be appreciated," Rufus said.
"I took a delivery to Icicle," said Cloud the next week. "I ran into your employee there, so I gave him a few numbers. The mayor there owes me a favor."
A hand-made card arrived a further week later, with a child's drawing of a helicopter on it. A splodge of red was visible in one of the windows. "Thank you," said the inside, signed by Marlene. And by Barret Wallace.
The card was dropped off by Cid, who insisted loudly he was no one's mail courier. He hung around the house long enough to catch Rufus alone and give him a package of black tea. "'s got near as much caffeine as coffee," he muttered, and it sounded like an apology.
Rufus said nothing, but snatched the tea and held it close. Cid laughed.
Tifa arrived with Reeve, the next time he reported on the WRO. She met his eyes and smiled. "I haven't seen Yuffie in a while," she said. "We should all get something to eat."
Rufus paused. "Thank you," he said.
He continued to practice in the garden. Implementing some of Vincent's advice found his aim steadily improving.
He smiled when his wife appeared vaulting over the wall. "Where were you?" he started to ask, but choked off halfway through. This day, instead of meandering over to the target ring she remained collapsed at the base of the wall. It took him a few stunned seconds to realize that she was crying, and a handful more to make it to where she sat.
"Yuffie! What's wrong?" he asked, sliding into an ungainly seat facing her and just to her left. She only leaned over and into his chest in response. He put his arms around her, but paused. He had little experience comforting distraught women (though rather more again causing their distress). He looked up and suddenly Tseng was there. Silently Tseng pantomimed rubbing his arm up and down. Rufus started and belatedly began rubbing Yuffie's back. Tseng then pointedly pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and retreated out of hearing range. Rufus pulled out his own handkerchief and offered it to Yuffie, who blew her nose messily, but still did not speak. Rufus resumed rubbing her back, and even resorted to whispering inanities such as, "Hush, it will be alright, everything will be okay," in what he hoped was a comforting litany.
Presently her tears subsided and he felt safe to ask again what was wrong. "It wasn't yours," she hiccupped, and with no apparent regard to sense she continued, "it wasn't yours and it's gone and I don't know whether I'm happy or sad, because it wasn't," she paused to blow her nose again, "yours."
"I don't understand," he said. "What is not mine?"
"The baby," she said. His hand stilled on her back.
Rufus led Yuffie inside and made her tea and got the story, in small bits between sobs. She had reasoned she was pregnant a short while after the "Marlene Incident." This had been more a cause for distress than joy, because "gawd, I am way too young," and had brought to light further issues with infidelity and "Kisaragi honor and… stuff." She had covered her visits to her doctor with visits to her lover. Rufus listened to an imaginary Tseng telling him that he really shouldn't point out that she wouldn't have been able to hide that for long.
And the end of the story was that she wasn't even a full month in, and tonight her doctor told her that the baby was gone and it didn't even mean much to her except she had been wishing it was gone since she knew it was there and maybe she had killed her baby and what sort of story is that - the Great Ninja of Wutai: baby-slayer but it really did make things easier because now she didn't have to tell Rufus anything at all except when she landed in the garden and saw him the tears just started and so she did.
Of course, it didn't come out nearly that coherently. She fell asleep at the end of it, which was more like the middle of the story, having already told the end at the beginning. Rufus watched her sleep for a while, considering the idea of raising another man's child. He had promised, he knew, but confronting the actuality was something more. He'd do it still, he decided, if it was also Yuffie's. Eventually he shook her shoulder gently.
"I can't carry you," he said, "but I imagine tomorrow morning you'll rather have slept in a bed."
"Gimp," she insulted him sleepily.
"Ha ha," he muttered, giving her shoulder a harder shake.
Rufus called Tifa and asked her to visit again. He assigned Elena to time alone with Yuffie in case she needed more time with other women. He asked the kitchen staff to make the meals he knew she liked best, and stock up on her tea. He prepared a speech about his renewed dedication to her child, whatever its paternity, and mustered all of his empathetic reserves. Then he tried to sleep.
But she bounced into the office the next morning and promptly insulted Rude about the morning light gleaming on his bald head. "What are you staring at, one-eye?" she asked, and he closed his mouth with an effort and tried to focus again on Mideel's request for new equipment for their mako-damaged ward. He couldn't take more than half his attention away from the other desk though, which is why he noticed her staring absently at the wall. Usually Yuffie's focus was even more intense than his. She shook herself back into work, but would end up lost in thought again within minutes, and judging by her expression the thought was not good. "Mideel needs more equipment," he mentioned next time he caught her thinking. "Icicle Inn approved a reactor," the next time. "What do you think of the progress on the wind farm?" the next. She didn't want his direct help; that was fine. He had grown accustomed to helping indirectly.
She continued to mock him, disappear at odd hours, and beat him at target practice after visiting her lover. Less and less often he would catch her staring blankly at some piece of scenery. He continued to needle her about some part of their shared work, or suggest a break that got her moving outside. After Tifa left, he invited Nanaki to consult about further alternative power sources, then Cloud to discuss the formation of a highway system extending beyond Midgar, Edge, and Kalm.
Time approached a date he now had carefully marked, and he sent Tseng to an abandoned lot in Sector six of Midgar.
When Yuffie arrived in the morning, he presented her carefully with a white rose from Aerith's home garden.
"A rose for the Rose," he said. "I heard they were growing white now."
"Where?" she asked, holding the rose like it might break if she breathed too quickly.
"Elmyra's," Rufus admitted. Yuffie nodded, and he presented her with a vase and set it on her desk. He pulled out her chair and offered it to her.
She sat, and the expression of awe she had worn since seeing the rose morphed into surprise. She tried to shift position, but the glue Reno had helped him paint on the seat held fast.
Rufus smirked. "Happy anniversary," he said, as he sauntered out of the room. Her laughter followed him down the hallway, and he let the smirk melt into a genuine smile. It was still a beautiful sound.
He was in the garden again. It was only a few months since he had trained briefly with Vincent, but it was more progress than nearly two years on his own. He could sometimes beat Yuffie to ten bullseyes now. If she was distracted. Still, it was more than sufficient for self-defense. He had considered reducing his practice time, but discarded the idea. The relatively mindless exercise – sight, squeeze, eject, reload, repeat – gave him time to think. In the first year and a half of his marriage, he had thought mostly about political concerns, creative mistruths, and hierarchies of bargaining chips. Recently his thoughts had shown a distressing tendency to drift to more pedestrian concerns – AVALANCHE's acceptance, and the unsettling amount of comfort it brought him; the TURKs, and how they too were adjusting to a life of relative honesty. Tonight his efforts to consider the budget allotments to investigatory science research vs. practical applications of old discoveries were sadly sidetracked by pointless worry.
Something happened with Yuffie, and she was avoiding him. She still worked regular hours in their office, but replied absently, or not at all, to his comments. She had even altered the schedule of her visits to her lover, so she wouldn't run into him in the back garden as often. It surprised him. He had thought they had… something. A shared understanding, at least. Shared space and truths and cares. And it had been growing, since she had confided in him about the baby, before this sudden reversal.
It didn't surprise him how much he missed her ideas at work, or her affectionate mocking of his aim. He knew his own heart. He also knew she wasn't still thinking of the miscarriage. She had thanked him, in an oblique way, for his oblique help, almost three months after she had vaulted over the garden wall and collapsed into tears. Her thanks had been more than a month ago, and she had stopped frowning into the distance even before then. And then she started again. He wondered if he had perhaps pushed the boundaries of their - arrangement - too far, and caused her to reconsider any amicable relations with the ShinRa scum he was. He tried to picture firing a small amount of the worry with each bullet, leaving him space to think. The target was decorated with worry, but he had plenty left.
Yuffie appeared over the wall, and he was almost disgusted with himself at how happy he was to see her.
"Where were you?" he asked, smiling.
"Waiting right outside," she said. She wasn't smiling. "Let's have some tea."
She made the tea this time. She took the opportunity while she was facing away to say, "I haven't seen him in months."
There was no question who 'he' was. "Why not?" asked Rufus.
"Because he's gone," said Yuffie. She calmly poured two cups of tea. "He left when he heard about the baby." She sipped at hers. "He should have left before then. We were trying too hard to make it work."
"But…" said Rufus. He had been receiving his usual reports on the lover, with no mention of any of this. He looked at Rude, currently on duty.
"The TURKs serve the ShinRas," Rude said, looking almost apologetic behind the sunglasses. "You forget you're not the only ShinRa anymore."
"People change, Rufus," said Yuffie. "They grow, and sometimes they grow together and sometimes they grow apart." She sipped her tea again and Rufus noted she had picked it up with only three fingers of her left hand. A sorrow.
He leaned forward. "Tell me about him," he said. He didn't want to know. He'd never asked the TURKs the man's name. He hadn't known what he looked like before the wedding. He'd asked the TURKs to restrict their reports to security risks and not personal information. Originally he hadn't cared. Later, it had made it easier to keep things in the abstract.
But Yuffie wanted to tell him, so he listened, while she poured it all out. She didn't cry, but she did fall asleep again at the end.
He woke her again. She protested and leaned on him, so he led the way to the bedroom she slept in.
She never really woke up on the way, so he led her over to the bed. He considered taking off her shoes, since that's what people generally seemed to do, but really. They laced up to her knees. That would take forever. He decided to leave it, and stood up.
"Rufus?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Do you love me?" she asked.
Slowly, he sat back down. She sat up, and she didn't look half-asleep anymore. His mind scrabbled briefly at possibilities.
"Yes," he said.
She nodded, and looked away. He wondered if he should go. After a few moments he moved to stand up again, but
"I think this bedroom is too big," she said to her bedsheets. "For one person, anyway."
His breath caught in his throat, and his heart beat sideways once, twice, three times -
Her eyes slid up towards his. "And yours is even bigger," she said. When he didn't respond, she said "More like a size for two people."
"But you don't…" he protested feebly.
"What I don't is appreciate men saying they love me and leaving. I don't invite men to stay that I don't love in return. I told you he left months ago – why do you think I kept showing up in the garden? Gawd, for a political genius you're kinda slow."
She kissed him, and it tasted like the tea that she loved and he hated. It tasted like home, better than anything he had ever tasted.
"That was the fifth Gawd today," he said. "You're well over quota."
She laughed, and after a beat he joined in. Then he kissed her again.
Eventually he did end up taking off the shoes.