Final Fantasy 7. Rufus/Elena. Mention of Rufus/Tseng. R. 5000 words. Futurefic.
It was a rare thing to see Rufus smile, and she held onto that as it turned into a far more familiar smirk.
Rufus gritted his teeth. The railing he braced himself on did little to steady his legs as the elevator car rattled in its bullet-fast descent. The shotgun in his free hand was a holdout weapon, but the militant activist group had never gotten close enough that it mattered. As soon as the report came in that there were casualties and they’d breached perimeter he’d been ushered away to the dubious safety of a shelter which was next in line to be decommissioned.
Reconstructing ShinRa’s public image had taken time and money, and like the city of Midgar itself the company was making a solid comeback. Unfortunately, despite good relations with the WRO, Rufus’s attempt to amend old wrongs found resistance at every step. Even dismantling dangerous, large-scale weapon facilities met its share of contention amongst the populace.
PR did what it could, but ShinRa had been the only game in town for a long time going on forever, and without reliable independents capable of handling a job like this, protesters were a given. Rufus didn’t blame the public; had the company remained as it was, there would have been ample reason to distrust his entering a location housing vast stores of munitions and missiles a few keystrokes away from going live.
The usual crowd of sign-wielding demonstrators had clustered around the cars on approach, but there was no sign of the violence that would force them to reschedule. Rufus’s increased efforts in the past months to hold open forums seemed to be winning the various groups over. Once the convoy had passed inside the gates however, new faces hidden within the rest had broken ranks with devastating results.
The lights above the elevator’s doors switched from red to green, signalling something that definitely had nothing to do with rate of speed. The car continued to hurtle downwards. Standing wide-legged beside Rufus, Elena holstered her pistol to press her fingertips to her earpiece. “I’m losing you. Say again. Over.”
“How long?” he asked, glancing up. He flexed his hand around the grip of his shotgun and fought gravity to turn his head towards Elena. It was almost as if he could feel the weight of the earth pressing down around them, tons upon tons of it swallowing the tiny elevator.
The car’s breakneck plunge slowed nearing the bottom of the shaft and Elena swore under her breath as she withdrew her firearm again. “Based on Tseng’s last transmission we’re looking at an estimated retrieval time of three hours. I’ve lost contact though, there’s some kind of interference this deep.”
The answer was less than satisfactory, but the fault didn’t lie with Elena. Outside, with no intel forewarning them of plans to hijack the facility, things were sure to be a mess. Rufus levered up his shotgun.
“Please remain behind me until we reach the vault, sir,” Elena said, stepping forward with her pistol aimed straight ahead.
“Lead on,” Rufus said as the doors slid open.
Located down a short corridor and behind a set of blast doors, the shelter resembled a holding cell. Not built for comfort, a stainless steel toilet and sink were bolted near one corner, and dozens of supply crates teetered in haphazard stacks that showed little organisation. Rufus hauled one down for a place to sit.
Elena kept position near the door. She smothered a sigh as her hand dropped away from her earpiece. “Still nothing.”
“I guess we wait,” Rufus said. He crossed his legs at the knee and folded his hands together. Ever since he’d been a small child, waiting had been a familiar affair. That was, perhaps, why he loathed it.
Not caring which way the wind blew was Reno’s department, so when the lights died, Elena didn’t feel the slightest bit self-conscious for the way her pulse leapt as the darkness crashed in.
Ghostly afterimages waltzed around her in the blackness. She closed her eyes and reconstructed her surroundings, starting with the stack of crates to her left and spanning out across the room to the wall partitioning the toilet. Recreating it in her mind’s eye was simple; she’d memorised the layout ten seconds after walking in. Given that it wasn’t that much larger than her bedroom, the task wasn’t precisely on par with mapping out a museum wing or a casino floor on the fly.
Without the constant drone of the generator, the silence was smothering. Twelve feet away Rufus stood up. The soles of his shoes scuffled quietly on the concrete floor, and she tried to guess at his movements by the rustling of his suit.
Rufus didn’t answer. The silence roared louder. It crested like a wave in her ears, an overwhelming static hiss, and Elena noticed eventually that both she and Rufus were holding their breaths. A sound sliced through the room from Rufus’s direction, and Elena felt the muscles of her arm jump, training pushing her to go for her gun. She had just convinced herself she imagined the whine when a distinctly metal groan echoed out of the ducts like an aftershock. A faint hiss of air pushing through the vents started back up and just like that the lights resurrected themselves.
Rufus’s back was to her, and Elena could read the wrongness in his stance. She picked herself up off her crate, tried to forget every horror movie that Reno had ever made her sit through, and cleared her throat.
“Sir, are you all right?”
He nodded, shifted as if he’d toss her a glance but stopped halfway and ran his hands through his hair. He slowly rolled his neck from side to side.
“How long?” he asked.
Elena wasn’t sure when the question had turned from how long until retrieval to how long had they been in here, but it definitely had. “Eleven hours and counting.”
“Wonderful,” Rufus spat.
At sixteen hours, Elena helped Rufus drag a bunch of detritus off the low bed pushed against the wall of the shelter. Too tired to pretend at organisation, they piled the mess in the corner to be ignored.
The bed was a sad thing to look at. The mattress was as thin as a towel and a noticeable stain suggested the maintenance crew had a bit of recreational fun instead of fixing that knock in the air scrubber.
Elena knew there were a few blankets around somewhere. Dozens of these little bomb shelters were scattered around the world and all of them stocked the same generic items. She quickly ran into the problem that none of the shatter-proof crates in this one were labelled. She cracked open the nearest one just to have a look when she heard the squeak of springs.
Rufus had flipped the mattress, which took care of the stain, but did nothing for the way it lay there like a tired old dog. Elena gnawed on her lip and peeked into the next crate, ready to apologise for the lack of bedding despite it being nowhere near her fault. The apology curled up in her throat when she glanced over to find Rufus spreading his long coat out over the mattress and smoothing it out as best he could.
It full out died and tried to choke her when he straightened up and gestured at it with the sort of impeccable manners he used when meeting important investors.
“For me, you mean?”
Rufus retook his seat. His expression being hard to read on a good day, right now it bordered on impossible. “I’m sure you’re more tired than I am.”
Having been awake for over twenty-four hours she probably was, but being one of the only women in her department, admitting things like that usually carried a pretty high price. “I’m on duty.”
“Precisely,” Rufus said, irritatingly astute. “Which means, crippling boredom aside, you haven’t had the leisure to nod off on the comfort of a box filled with dusty rations.”
“Sir, I can’t.”
“I could order you.”
Elena folded her arms over her breasts, plastering on the expression that worked about half the time when Tseng was being a supercilious ass during a debriefing. “Per Article 44 of the Code of Conduct for Administrative Research, I may respectfully refuse to follow an order that could bring harm to the company head.”
Rufus slid his hands into his pockets and fixed her with an even stare. Elena’s stomach did a little twirl. She wondered if she’d crossed a line.
“And I may respectfully fire you,” he said.
She nearly missed the amusement trying to creep onto his mouth, but it broke free when her body betrayed her and her head cracked in two on a yawn. It was a rare thing to see Rufus smile, and she held onto that as it turned into a far more familiar smirk.
“You play dirty,” she said. She removed her holster and left it on a neighbouring shelf.
“This is news to you?” Rufus replied. He shrugged out of his suit coat as well to offer it as a pillow.
She accepted the bundle with reluctance, and stated definitively: “We sleep in shifts.”
Elena winced as she lay down and pillowed her head on a lump of silk that probably cost more than her nicest pair of shoes. And, as her eyes turned leaden, she tried extra hard not to notice just how good it smelled.
Sleeping in shifts had been fine for the first few days, but by the fourth, caution had given way to luxury. Having someone to interact with became far more important than procedure.
“Two packets of corned beef and a can of pudding.”
“I’ll meet your beef and raise you a tin of fruit.”
“Too rich for my blood.” Rufus dropped his cards onto their makeshift table. He leaned back to stare up at the unchanging palette of concrete and fluorescent lights. “I’m out.”
“Wise decision, sir. A few more hands and with the way you play, I would’ve won the shirt off your back.”
“Rude taught you to bluff, didn’t he,” Rufus said wryly. Having a preference for strategy over statistics, poker had never been his game, and if Elena was rumoured to be in the habit of blurting things out, she was a stone wall with a handful of cards.
“Reno, actually,” Elena answered. She gathered up the cards and shuffled them once before sliding them back into their little box. “Don’t tell him I said so, but in all honesty? Rude has a terrible poker face. Absolutely terrible. He gets this little tic above his eyebrow whenever he has a decent hand.”
“It’s true what they say then, you can’t judge a book….”
Elena laced her fingers together to stretch her arms up over her head and laughed. Rufus had already become accustomed to the sound. She’d always been quiet on the job before, filling silences with nervousness unless occupied.
“Care to taste your defeat, sir?” she asked, cracking open one of the pudding tins that had migrated from his stack of rations to hers.
“Maybe next time.”
“As you continue to remind me.”
In the corroded mirror fixed to the wall above and to the left of the toilet, Elena held a staring contest with her reflection.
She didn’t consider herself to be particularly vain—even taking into consideration the collection of nice shoes and handbags to match that took up more than half her closet space—and while working for a man like Rufus definitely skewed the median of that particular curve, she figured she was well within the norm regardless.
So although she wouldn’t say she was hung up on her appearance, she was far from being as comfortable sporting a slovenly appearance as certain redheaded co-workers of hers. She had her lazy days, but all in all, Elena preferred to give the same level of care to her appearance even outside of the restriction of a professional dress code.
And the camisole she’d been wearing for a week coupled with lank hair placed her so far down on the scale of good grooming, she was at a loss as to what to do. Reno managed better than this on his worst just-rolled-out-of-bed-with-a-hangover days.
Huffing a sigh, Elena turned away from the mirror. She tucked a clump of hair behind her ear, forcibly ignoring the greasiness it left on her fingers. Rufus lay flat on his back atop the bed, his hands clasped behind his head and eyes closed. The muscles at the corners of his mouth carried a faint tightness that said he was busy thinking about something.
Elena held back to let him have his peace. She kept an eye on him while moving through a sequence of stretches. She tried to keep her surveillance innocent, but since the night before last, Rufus had slept stripped to his shorts, matching her decision to delay the need to consider they might be down here long enough that doing laundry would become an issue.
“Fuck this,” Rufus said, heaving up onto his elbows. His collarbones stood out sharply, gathering shadows. “Grab the soap.”
For a moment of pulse-spike excitement, Elena thought he might have heard something–she’d faked herself out on the crack of the outer doors a dozen times already. His words sunk in slowly.
“Soap,” Rufus said, shoving himself up the rest of the way.
Elena found it even harder not to stare. Rufus kept himself in good shape, better than her by the way his muscles worked under his skin, and he moved like he always did: purposefully. It hadn’t taken much for the line between company president and attractive young man roughly her own age to get tangled up, and now they kept crisscrossing faster than she could straighten them out.
But if she’d gotten used to spending time around Tseng without taking every available minute to imagine fucking him into whatever handy surface was nearby she could do the same with Rufus. No matter how nicely toned his muscles or the way he’d probably fuck as smooth and certain as he moved. Realising she’d just wondered what it’d be like doing her boss’s boss against the cinderblock wall, Elena cleared her throat, counted to ten, and focused on finding the soap.
She gave up on her fourth set of ten and just melted through the floor when Rufus helped wash her hair and proved he had very strong fingers.
Twelve notches scored the wall on the day Rufus woke to find Elena curled up close with one of her bare legs tangled over his. What the laughable excuse of a mattress lacked in comfort it made up for in that it easily slept two. Falling asleep they kept to their own sides, but since Rufus habitually was the last to rise, he had no idea if Elena naturally gravitated close at night or if the previous had been particularly chill.
When her lashes flickered and she began to stir, he offered a quiet, “Good morning.”
She jerked violently, eyes flying open as she pulled back like a bullet had struck the space in front of her.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” Rufus said, but Elena buried his apology under one of her own. He brushed it off along with the sleep in his eyes, and shoved himself up to sitting.
They’d ceased to ask anything resembling “how long” although Rufus didn’t doubt that they both had it echoing around in their heads whenever the minutes began to drag. Luckily, he’d never been one to let despair sneak in, and although he hadn’t pressed the matter, Elena remained at least optimistic on the surface.
“So what’s on the menu this morning?” he asked.
Elena groaned and dragged herself to the foot of the bed. She perched there with her knees drawn high and eyeballed the pile of cans and pouches that the day before had been built into a miniature replica of the former ShinRa tower plus surroundings. “The same, the same with gravy, more of the same, and a delightful side of…well, you know. Ugh.”
“I’d kill for a scone,” Rufus said, swivelling to join Elena in staring at the entirely unappetizing store of their foodstuffs.
“I’d kill for a stack of waffles piled high and absolutely oozing with strawberry syrup and melted butter.”
“A blackcurrant scone with lemon curd and a pot of strong, black tea.”
“Fresh whipped cream….”
“Maybe a slice of quiche.”
Biting her lip, Elena moaned quietly. Her toes curled over the edge of the mattress and she rocked back to glance at Rufus. “Eggs aren’t really my favourite, but right now, I could so kill for some quiche.”
They played “I’d kill for” until it grew as tedious as card games and ration sculptures.
Elena wasn’t ready for the lights to die this time anymore than she had been when they’d briefly lost power in their first twenty-four hours down here. She found herself equally unprepared for the sharp hitch in Rufus’s breath that triggered a flood of adrenaline into her bloodstream.
The lights kicked on again within seconds, and her gaze jumped immediately to where Rufus’s hands had curled into tight fists.
“I’d kill for a better generator,” she said, pretending not to have noticed.
Rufus remained silent.
Reno always teased her for carrying around a little black notepad in the inside pocket of her suit. He claimed she couldn’t remember anything. Like usual, Reno was full of shit. Elena used the notepad for things she had to remember on the job right along with keeping her grocery list close not because she was a goldfish but because it was just plain handy. Currently, her notepad had been serving as a diary.
The first entry of the day read: toilet stopped working.
She had flipped it open about four times since, but couldn’t bring herself to write more. The relative lack of personal privacy and space had been hard enough to cope with; if things degraded further one of them was going to snap and it wouldn’t be pretty.
Since of the two of them Rufus could pee into a bucket without the fear of falling into it, she knew which chocobo she’d put her money on.
“Hm?” He lifted his head. Calling him by his given name had become natural for Elena. He supposed it made sense. The calendar she had been marking on the wall said they’d been trapped together for a few days shy of a full month.
“You think they’re all dead?”
Rufus rolled up the sleeve of his shirt and fixed an eye on her. He didn’t have to deliberate, not when he’d been wondering the same thing since day two. “It’s possible.”
After the toilet failed them, the air went next. It had taken Rufus a while to recognise what in their environment had changed between the time they had gone to bed and the time they had hauled themselves out of it.
“It isn’t completely off,” he said, standing on the sink to get the height to hold his palm over one of the vents.
“Well that’s something,” Elena said, no trace of sarcasm in her voice.
She steadied him as he climbed down, and her proximity helped ease the nervous tremor cooling his guts. More and more her ability to remain positive about their situation impressed him.
“Times like this one learns to treasure the little things,” he said, dusting himself off once he was back on solid ground, “…like breathing.”
Elena had just started to laugh when everything died.
Silence raged in the sudden darkness and this time Elena was ready for the way Rufus went scared-animal still.
Whatever boundaries there had been between them, sleeping in the same bed for a month and then pissing in the same bucket for a week had done a pretty thorough job of stamping them out. Elena groped for Rufus in the darkness, walking her hands up his arm to his shoulders.
Since the previous time the lights cut, she’d gone over the situation a hundred times. She chewed it over in part because there was little else to do, but mostly because it fascinated her. It was her job to know Rufus’s phobias, but there were relatively few things that ruffled his calm. Claustrophobia or a fear of the dark would’ve been easy to spot. She wasn’t exactly all peaches and cream about the fact that the systems providing them with light were also providing them with heat and breathable air, but Rufus’s body language was edging on full-blown panic.
“I bet this means the air is fixing itself,” she said, not because she believed it, but just to say something.
Once her voice had cracked the silence, she found it easy to continue, a stream of pointless comments and wild speculation dropping out of her to bounce around what the darkness made feel like a cavernous space.
Rufus didn’t quite relax, not enough to dull the warning buzz in Elena’s skull that the swift, shallow cut to his breath was Very Bad in capital letters.
“I hate the dark,” she said, and it wasn’t all a lie. She tugged at the front of Rufus’s shirt and he twitched. All his concentration seemed bent to the task to stifle the violent jerk of flight-ready muscles. With how important control had been to him when the geostigma had raged in his limbs, she imagined how desperately he must be working to gather himself together.
To give him something beyond her voice to focus on, she drew closer. The heat of Rufus’s skin flowed into her where they touched.
“Used to sleep with a light on as a kid,” she said, and Rufus made a non-committal sound. Strained as it was, it gave her encouragement. “If it went out I’d cry like a baby until my dad came and fixed it.”
Gingerly, she pressed her cheek against Rufus’s chest and drew her shoulders together. He responded slowly, as if it taxed him greatly, but letting him project onto her did its job. He closed an arm around her, and a shaky exhalation of breath ruffled through her hair.
Rufus’s grip was painfully tight. When a blast somewhere behind the walls made the room shudder and debris rain down around them, so was hers.
Grit pelted Elena’s arms and caught in her hair, and it clicked in her why he was terrified. This far underground, if things came down around them, there’d be no crawling out.
The generator came limping back in at half-power to cast the room in a sickly glow, faint and greenish like weak mako.
At some point during the quaking, Rufus’s hand had moved to curl protectively over the back of Elena’s head. She didn’t move. Neither did he. The air pressed down around them, laden with unspoken fears. Seconds ticked by.
Slowly, she peeled herself away from Rufus. They’d need to make a decision. If the full force of ShinRa’s munitions had been unleashed the devastation would far surpass Meteor’s, and there were limited alternatives to starvation. The way the bunker was designed had been as much prison as shelter, and without the proper tools, dismantling the locking mechanism from the inside without jamming it had an extremely low probability of success.
To delay that conversation as long as possible, Elena plucked at the front of Rufus’s shirt. The seams were showing wear, the buttons loosened, and doing laundry in the sink had dulled the white. “What’s your biggest regret?” she asked.
Rufus’s attention shifted from her hands to her face and she felt her cheeks burst into a blush.
“You’re asking that of a man like me?”
Whether that meant he had too many regrets or still held to the notion that he had none, Elena nodded. “Make it purely selfish then. What’s the one thing you wish you’d done more than anything else?”
Rufus’s lips thinned and Elena felt a flush of elation as he put serious thought into an answer. When his mouth softened and his eyes shifted out of focus without him saying a thing, curiosity gnawed at her insides.
His gaze snapped back to her and his mouth twisted into the sort of rueful smile she never in a million years had expected to see on his face. “Honestly?”
“Yes, honestly. Stop stalling!”
“My biggest and most selfish regret would probably be,” he paused, and she would’ve screamed if the tone of his voice wasn’t choked and thin, “failing to take the opportunity to fuck Tseng during the Company’s pitiful excuse for a winter holiday party.”
Elena’s mouth dropped open, and not just because he’d practically stolen her answer.
“Yours?” he prompted. He lightly cupped her elbow with a hand, brushed a bit of hair from her face with the other.
She shook her head. Her fingers twisted in the front of his shirt until her knuckles went white. Admitting something so similar wouldn’t be trite, the lump in her throat just refused to let her say anything at all. They were probably all dead up there, and it was a stupid question in the first place.
“You realise that…” Rufus said, and his glance upwards said everything.
His mouth shaped to say something more and Elena squeezed her eyes shut before she did something embarrassing like cry.
“If those missiles went off,” he continued, more softly now, a whisper like the leak of air through the vents, “it’s our duty to repopulate the planet.”
Elena choked on her own spit. She pulled away to stare owlishly at Rufus. He caught her chin with surprisingly warm fingers and gave her a steady, searching look that made parts of her turn to jelly. In a low voice he outlined reasoning that started rational and swiftly veered towards ludicrous until she was distracted to the point where she couldn’t figure out if the tightness in her ribs was grief, or lust, or fury. When he pulled her back into a hug and a quiet laugh shook through him she did the only thing she could: she started beating him.
Busy pelting Rufus with a flurry of open-handed smacks that just made him laugh harder, Elena didn’t even recognise the sound of the doors opening, just the rush of air, cool and fresh, that pulled at her clothes.
Hands falling limply against Rufus’s chest, she was reduced to staring blankly again, this time at Reno giving them a distinct look while nudging a toe at a garbage pile of empty ration packets.
“Should I come back?” he asked, his gaze continuously skipping between Elena and Rufus and Rufus’s hands low on her waist. He sniffed loudly, leered, and inched towards the door. “I should come back.”
Elena’s pretty sure their combined howl of “Reno!” could be heard all the way up the elevator shaft.
Poorly maintained equipment, structural instability, and outdated software were the official excuses on the paperwork Rufus kept on the corner of his desk as a memento. He’d given some consideration to framing it, or at least the paper-clipped photo of the dismal little shelter’s condition after a month of dual occupancy. It was rare having something around to remind him that the world wouldn’t fall apart if he wasn’t around to pull the thinnest of strings.
His assistant’s voiced buzzed over the intercom and he flipped the file folder over as the door swung open. Elena entered, back to crisp and clean in her Turk blacks. “You’re looking well,” he said. “Got plenty of sun, I see.”
Tseng had granted her a month’s vacation time at company expense. He hadn’t seen her since their release, but the present span of weeks couldn’t erase what he’d learned about her in the prior. He slid his pen repeatedly between his fingers and made note of the tension and awkwardness carried rigidly in her shoulders.
“Very much, sir.”
Rufus pulled open a desk drawer and retrieved a writing pad. He flipped to a clean sheet and began drafting a letter. In his peripheral vision, he watched Elena’s discomfiture gradually diluted by boredom.
“You asked to see me?”
“Mmhmm,” Rufus agreed. Ink continued to flow across the page.
“About?” Elena prompted.
Picturing the little twitch to Elena’s mouth that would betray her frustration, Rufus waited another few seconds before answering: “Unfinished business.”
“I believe you owe me an answer.”
By Elena’s silence, he gathered that she knew precisely to what he referred. With a quick glance to catch her light tan doing nothing to hide a blush, Rufus proved his theory.
“Rather than detain you further while you have other duties to attend to, I’ll consider the matter closed,” he said. He tore the sheet from the pad and folded it neatly in three. “However, please deliver this to your superior at your earliest convenience.”
Elena stepped forward to take the letter and Rufus released it into her care. He leaned back, elbows propped on the arms of his chair and fingers loosely steepled. “You can read it if you’d like. It contains a dinner invitation.” Something flickered across Elena’s expression and Rufus tracked it like a bird of prey before she turned stiffly on her heel.
“The invitation is extended to you as well,” he said as she grabbed the handle of the door to exit. “Now that you’re done soaking up rays on my dime you might care use the opportunity to ask me what my second biggest regret is.”