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Title: Affairs
Author: [personal profile] samuraiter
Rating: T
Warnings: None.
Word Count: 2,005
Prompt: Final Fantasy VII, Tifa/Rude: Undercover individual falls in love with a member of the group they are infiltrating - On the rocks
Summary: Tifa discovers that being a Turk is not all that bad, honestly.
A / N: Rude can be a real sweetie at times. (This takes place after Dirge of Cerberus, BTW.)

The disguise had been designed to stand up to all types of scrutiny, from the wigs – all of them short and chestnut, prepared in a variety of ready-to-go styles – to the suits – crisp, black three-piece affairs, cut to perfection, including a selection of red ties and dress shoes – to the firearms, all of them customized to her high standards. Granted, she did not enjoy having to bind her chest every day, and the drops she used to alter the color of her eyes had a real sting to them, but nobody had noticed her deception, and she had been able to insert herself easily into the structure of the organization.

Her ace – a blue orb, set in a ring small enough for her to attach to a silver chain around her right thigh – had been a gift from Vincent, retrieved from a cluster of Materia that he had been developing in his lair since his struggle against the Deepgrounders. As long as she had it on her person, it misdirected the vision of anybody looking at her, making her about as obvious as the scenery. Her disguise served for most situations, but that Materia served to increase its effectiveness. Frequently, her new companions in the Turks had to make a real effort to notice her presence among them.

Except for Rude. As soon as she entered a room, he always turned his head, his eyes almost invisible behind his sunglasses. At first, she thought it might be because he had a separate Materia that might counter the one she had, but she realized, as her assignment stretched across the months, that he simply had a strong awareness of his surroundings, noticing small things that the others – Reno, in particular – missed. If he had any suspicions, he did not share them ... at least until Tseng assigned him to her as her partner for the next mission in the queue. That seemed like a red flag.

The reason she had been asked – by no less than Reeve – to infiltrate the Turks in the first place had been a rumor that Shinra had been reassembling, in a laboratory under the sea, one of the largest Materia that had been discovered to date. The code name for that object, Goddess, suggested that it might be linked to a previous incident involving Shinra, and Reeve had been concerned enough about it to mobilize the entire WRO at once. Different members had been assigned to different regions, and Tifa had been placed inside the Turks in order to corroborate any and all findings.

She had retrieved the location of the laboratory from a file that Elena had been carrying. For all intents and purposes, she had only to relay the information to Vincent – her contact, thanks to his knowledge of all the protocols the Turks used – and request the extraction she needed. She had been ready to take that step for days, but ... she had not, and she suspected that the reason might be her partner. She and Rude had been dispatched to the ruins of Midgar to observe a disturbance that may or may not involve remnants of the Deepgrounders, and they had been alone together for days.

It all came to a head after Rude informed her that he had a lead for them to follow in the remains of Sector 7. That seemed too good to be true, and she prepared herself for a fight – possibly involving a full-scale ambush that had been set for her in advance – as they made their way through a passage that a previous expedition had constructed for getting at anything that might still be under the plate that had been dropped on the Sector itself. That Rude had been involved in that incident did not escape her. He had to be aware of her identity, and that raised the question of what do about him.

After negotiating the passage and visiting all of its waypoints to activate the beacons that served as the only source of light in the artificial caverns that had once been Sector 7, they came to a stop in a building that Tifa recognized, and she tensed for a fight as soon as Rude paused at the bar – her bar, no mistake – and set down his gear, resting his elbows on the one spot that had not been crushed by debris. If he sensed her changing her stance, he did not give a sign, preferring instead to drop his gaze, as if catching his breath, eddies of dust and grit swirling in the air around him.

"I'm not going to fight you, Tifa," he said, glancing at her over his shoulder as he folded his hands in front of him, "so you don't have to do that." He had not seen her raise her hands. How had he – ? Perception. He must have had a gift for it. That might explain why he had been recruited for the Turks, at least. "And, before you ask, I've known from the beginning. It's the way you walk. You carry yourself differently because of your training. Hard to hide." He had a point there. Her Materia, handy as it was, still did nothing to change the way she moved. "Had to see what you were going to do."

"Then you know I've seen the file," she replied, gauging the distance between them in case he decided to change his mind, "and you've had a good idea what I've been trying to find all this time." She blinked. "So why didn't you do anything to try and stop me, Rude? You've had every opportunity. If you let me escape, you know it's going to end badly for your boss. For the others, too. Why would you put everybody at risk if – ?" He rose to his feet, adjusting his tie before turning to face her. Had it come to violence after all? For all of the tension in the air, he seemed as relaxed as he could get.

He tilted his head to one side as he asked, "Why don't you start asking yourself the same questions? Maybe I've had every opportunity to stop you, but you've had every opportunity to escape. So ... which one of us has it right?" He took a step towards her, and she reflexively raised her fists – no gloves, but she had no need for them, not against another person. "Calm down. I meant what I said. Not gonna fight you. Looks like there's some air here that needs clearing, though." A long pause. "What's it gonna be, Tifa? Why didn't you run? Why'd you let me lead you all the way down here?"

Silence filled the space between them, but neither of them moved. Despite that, a series of thoughts ran through her head as she searched for the answer to his question. She thought of how things had changed between her and Cloud, of how he had become distant to the point of seeming otherworldly, attuned to the voices of the Lifestream instead of the here and now. She thought of how eagerly she had accepted the assignment from Reeve, of how quick she had been to pick up and disappear from day-to-day life and practically give herself a new identity, all for the sake of –

The sake of – ? Her stream of consciousness caught on that point, and she said, forcing herself not to look at Rude, "I don't know. Things have –" Changed? Did that seem to be the best term for everything that happened? "It's all messed up. So here I am. Are you going to take me in, or –?" He shook his head. Emphatically. That seemed unlike him. He had always been one to do everything by the book, to follow orders and keep his superiors happy. Granted, he had occasionally subverted those same orders, but it had always been for the sake of the mission. The sake of his fellow Turks, too.

"Here. Have a seat." He gestured to a stool – intact despite all the debris – at the bar next to him. To her surprise, she obliged him, easing herself onto the round seat and slumping her shoulders as all of the adrenaline drained from her body, leaving only a pit of exhaustion that she had been trying to keep at bay for about as long as she had been among the Turks. He placed one arm around her shoulders, and she did not protest. "You've been pushing yourself too hard. Not a secret that you're on the rocks." It seemed strange to hear a soft, conciliatory note in his gruff, impassive voice.

"You're right," she answered, not minding his nearness. Despite being her opponent in more fights than she could immediately recall, he had a safe quality to him, a stability that she had come to know in her months as a Turk. If Rude said he was going to handle anything, he handled it, no complaints. He never worried Tseng, managed to keep Reno more or less in line, and encouraged Elena as needed. The other Turks, too, had a high opinion of him. Despite being a Shinra employee, he was – Tifa almost hated to admit it – basically a good guy. Or at least a decent guy, if nothing else.

She had been told – by Reno, of course, and he had needed no prompting from alcohol to admit it, for once – that Rude had a crush on her, back during the days before the crisis, and she had looked for hints of that after joining the Turks, but he had managed to keep everything professional, everything on the up and up. She liked that about him. He put the needs of others before himself – the opposite of Cloud, if she thought about it honestly. For all the things she liked – loved – about the former SOLDIER, he had always been self-involved to the point of frustrating everybody around him.

Rude? Not self-involved at all, and he proved it by saying to her, "You can see Goddess for yourself if that's what you're after. Might give you a chance for a little R-and-R." Did she detect a twitch at the corner of his mouth, as if he wanted to smirk, but lacked the capacity? "Because, y'know, even with all the pieces together, that Materia's inert. It expended all its charge ... before." No need to mention that incident. She had read up on Angeal, Genesis, and everything that had involved them. "It's a dead end. President Shinra just doesn't know that yet. I kinda hate to disappoint him, but there it is."

"R-and-R, huh?" She thought about it for a second before looking up at him, her face wan despite a small smile. "You know, I don't think I've had a break since, what, before Meteorfall? Before the Reactor 1 bombing? It's just been one thing after another for years." She looked past him to the wreckage that had once been her bar. "And ... I'm tired of it. Really. I'd like to just ... just –" No, she was not going to cry. And yet she accepted the handkerchief he offered despite forcing her tears down into herself. "All right. After this, I'll go. With you. I've still got to transmit my info, but I'll go."

This time, he did smirk, and it seemed so out of place on his face that she had to stifle a laugh. "Okay, I think that's fair. Your secret's safe." He glanced at the bar behind him again. "Y'know, I'd offer you a drink, but I ... kinda broke all your bottles. And your glasses. And your ... entire bar." A genuine note of apology sparked in his eyes, sunglasses or no. "I'm ... sorry, for what it's worth. Just so you know." Then, he turned to walk towards the door, and she found herself trailing after him. What was she doing? Her first duty was to the WRO. Right? ... Right? And yet she kept on walking.

END.
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