By Pip

"What is life without the radiance of love?"
- J. C. F. von Schiller, Wallensteins Tod

He was still a boy. His hair was strawberry blonde, slicked against his neck by the drizzle of rain. The child's body, on the cusp of adolescence, which wore the crisp scarlet suit with a man's bearing and ease. Even scuttling over rocks and trying to keep his balance in the treacherous mud, he was as commanding as any young man could be. It was more than his upbringing, he was born and bred into money, and it showed.

It was a dreary day, the weather couldn't make its mind up between rain and sleet. His suit was a mess and his hair was ruined and somehow he couldn't bring himself to mind. There was a drainage pond nearby, and Rufus enjoyed going there. It was a place he could get away from the tutours and his awful nanny, his father and the ever present Turks. He didn't mind the tutours, who would all probably be upset about him skipping lessons, but his nanny was an absolute hag. She hated everything remotely fun. She'd probably have a fit when he came back.

Who cared?

Really, he wondered with a snort. What could she do? Yell and mumble a bit. But he was, after all, the son of President ShinRa. No one would dare anger him.

He slipped between a cracked boulder and came out looking at the pond. The water was dingy and brown, the grass around it brittle and dead. A rickety old pier lead in the water. It looked like the Promised Land to him. Then he looked again.

Someone was trespassing.

He took a moment to regain his composure, then stepped out onto the pier. "You are trespassing." He informed the person.

"Nu-uh." The figure turned. It was a young girl, with a mess of dirty black curls and dark blue eyes. Her skin was covered in grime, under the dirt he could see freckles. She was shorter than he was, and probably younger than his worldly twelve.

"Yes, you are. This is my place, and you are trespassing." He brushed his bangs back.

"Ha. Dis is a public place, ya moron. I can be here if I wanna." She said with an appalling lisp.

He was slightly confused. She was speaking back to him? He was the president's son. Didn't she know who he was? "Do you know who I am?"

She nodded. "Some rich jerk's kid."

His eyes widened. "I'm Rufus, President ShinRa's son."

"I'm Shea. Bastard." She spit in her palm and held it out.

"Excuse me?" He asked, completely thrown off guard.

"Not you. I'm a bastard. Aren't you gonna to shake my hand?" She asked.

"You just spit in it!" He pointed out.

"Yep. Are you gonna to shake or what?"

"No! That's sick!"

She burst out laughing. "You're funny, Rufus."

"I-uh-thanks?" He stuttered.

"Welcome. C'mere. You wanna see someden?" She grabbed his hand and pulled him off the dock to the mud below.

"My shoes!" He yelped, trying to get as little mud on them as possible, and failing.

"Shoes." She grinned. "Take 'em off den, Dufus."

He looked to her feet. They were bare. Sighing, he did so, then rolled up his pant cuffs.

"Kay. Now c'mere." She pulled him back. "Look."

"What?" He peered over her shoulder to where she was looking. Sitting in the mud was a family of small turtles. They were all tiny, the biggest being no bigger than a gil. As he watched, they all scuttled about, slipping into the water, then coming back out again, just popping up their heads.

"Geez. Look at them. They're so tiny." He said, half awed.

"Aren't dey? Dat one dere is dumb, because he's as big as mine." She held out her thumb to help him understand. "De one next to it is Clara, 'cause dat was my mama's name."

"Was?" He asked.

"Yea. She died a while back."

"I'm sorry."

She shook her head. "Don't be."

He glanced at his watch. Dang, he was over his limit. Any longer and they would go to Da-President ShinRa "Look, where do you live, maybe I can see you tomorrow?"

She shook her head again. "I'll be here. See ya, rich boy."

He barely slept that night, and ran off as soon as he could, right after breakfast. It was sunny now, and humid but cool. He'd tucked an apple in one pocket of his coat, in case he got hungry later.

She was sitting on the dock, swinging her legs and humming under her breath. He watched her, tilting his head slightly to the right. Shaking his head, he walked over. "'Morning."

"Yea, it is." She peered up at him from under her curly bangs. "Don't da rich sleep 'till noon an' stay in bed 'till dinna?" She asked, standing up. He noticed she was wearing the same thing she'd worn yesterday.

Rufus paused. He'd always been up by eight am at the latest, but President ShinRa always had slept late. He shrugged. "Don't you have any other clothes?" He asked.

"Nope!" She shook her head. "Neva." She grabbed his wrist."C'mon Dufus, let's play pirates."

"Play. . .Pirates?" He asked, being tugged along.

"Yep!" She stopped and threw her head back, hands on her hips. "I am da mighty an' strong pirate Shea da invincible. Give up your ships, Cap'n Rufus." She demanded.

"What ships?" He asked, confused.

"You're pretend ships, dufus. C'mon, pretend." She sighed, exasperated with him.

"Umm. . .Right. No, the ships are mine." He said.

"Not like dat. Say "Never shall I give up ta scum like you!"" She instructed.

"Right. Never shall I give up to scum like you!" He said, getting into the spirit.

"Hah! dan I shall take dem from you by force!" She said, picking up a stick.

"What's that for?" He asked.

"Dis is my mighty sword!" She swung it at him. He jumped back, then picked up his own 'sword'.

"Hah! Never shall I be defeated by the likes of you. Prepare to be defeated, Evil Pirate Shea!" He swung at her, smiling.

"Who won?" Rufus asked without turning his head. They were lying in the grass, side by side, staring up at the sky as the sun sank into the horizon.

"I dink it was a tie." She said.

He took his apple from his pocket and bit into it. She turned and watched him, trying to hide the hunger in her eyes.

He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, then held out the apple. "Want a bite?"

She nodded and took a bite, then wiped juice from her chin. "It's not bad."

He held it out to her. "Take it. I don't like apples anyway." He lied.

She shrugged and took it, then proceeded to eat it quickly. He watched her, confused.

"Don't you eat?" He asked.

"Sure." She shrugged. "When I have food."

"Don't you have food everyday?" He asked.

"Hah. Not everyone gets four meals a day, Dufus. I'm lucky ta get a crust of bread a week." She glanced over and narrowed her eyes. "But I don't care. I'm free, like a butterfly. I can do what I want, go where I want, be who I want ta be. I don't answer ta nobody. If bein' hungry now an' then is the price, then dat's okay w'it me."

He watched her, his young mind just starting to comprehend just how caged he was. She never had to sneak out of a building to play, or lie just so she could relax,. He shook his head. "Don't you have a home?"

"Sure." She nodded. "I live on da streets. It ain't glamorous, but it works."

"Why don't you live with me? The ShinRa mansion is big enough. Though we stay in the Building, on the top three floors. It's kinda neat." He said in a streak of inspiration. He could have his new friend with him, and she could eat all she wanted.

"Nah. I'd have to give up my freedom, an' I never am gonna do dat." She shrugged. "But dank you all da same."

"Oh well. I've got to go home." He stood up and brushed off the red suit his father required him to wear.

"Can you come back tomorrow?" She asked, standing as well.

He shook his head. "I have lessons. But I'll come after their done." He said, sighing.

"Okay." She waved, then turned and ran off.

"What do you learn?" Shea asked, a month later.

It'd become habit to meet at the pond now. He usually brought her a sandwich or something, pretending it was a snack he didn't want. He'd left his overcoat behind one day, pretending to forget it. She'd taken it, and hadn't given it back. He hoped it helped her.

"Geography, math, English. Etiquette, business." He shrugged.

"What's Ed-a-kit?" She asked.

"Manners. What's polite, and what's not." He explained.

"What's that like?" She asked, picking a blade of the string grass.

"Well, if I'm hosting a party, I have to know which guests to pay more attention to. Or if I dislike someone, I have to know how to insult them without really insulting them. Stuff like that." He explained.

"And math?" She tilted her head.

"I'm learning algebra now. How to solve for a variable." He said.

"What's a variable?" She asked.

"It's a. . .well." He thought a moment. "Say you had the problem five plus seven. What that equals would be the variable. Get it?"

She nodded. "What's five plus seven?" She asked.

"You don't know?" He asked, eyes wide.

"No." Her eyes blazed at the taunt she knew was coming. "I ain't stupid. I just neva needed ta know."

"I'll teach you. You've got to know math. And English. No offence, but your lisp is weird." He told her.

"Dere's nothin' wrong with the way I talk, Dufus!" She said, standing up. Without another word, she ran off.

"Shea! Wait!" He ran after her, but she was gone.

He started teaching her the next day. She was a quick student, and by the time he turned fifteen, they were on the same level. She turned out to be a year younger than him, and seemed to blossom before his eyes. She wore a pair of cast off slacks and a blue shirt she'd found somewhere, but refused to take anything besides that from him.

She took the food, though. She was still thin, but despite that, she'd been developing some of her womanly features, he'd noticed. It was getting hard not to notice. Despite their ranks in society they'd developed a strong friendship, and he wasn't about to endanger that friendship simply because he was starting to see her in a whole new way.

In return for the lessons, she taught him to fight. He knew how to shoot, his father had insisted he knew how to defend himself. But when it came to hand to hand, he was lost.

"No. Keep your weight low, and balanced." Shea instructed him. "You duck under my arm, sweep my legs, then pin me, with my arms over my head. You should already have my arms in your hand."

He nodded and came at her again, but messed up on the sweep. Again. "I can't get the sweep. How am I supposed to do it?" He asked, flicking back his bangs.

"Hook your leg between mine, then pull out towards you. C'mon, try again." She said.

He sighed, then tried again. Something clicked, and her managed to pin her. He grinned happily, trying to ignore the feel of her young body pressed against his. She was soft in all the right places.

"N-nice job." She told him. "Now do it again."

He nodded, then stood up and held down a hand to help her up. She smiled and accepted it.

Rufus glanced up and down the hallway, checking for his father. He had missed dinner; he'd gotten so caught up with Shea. He'd also missed today's lessons, and knew there'd be hell to pay.

"So the rat returns, creeping in like a thief." A cold voice said from behind him.

He slowly turned to face President ShinRa. "Hello, father."

"Where have you been?" President ShinRa walked over to his son, eyes frozen.

"I went for a walk and got lost." Rufus flicked back his bangs.

"Don't lie to me!" ShinRa roared, backhanding Rufus.

Rufus took the blow, as he'd learned a long time ago to do. Fighting back just meant more pain. His cheek stung, but he had a feeling that was the least of his problems.

"Get up, you piece of shit." ShinRa said, dragging him up. "I'm going to teach you a lesson, seeing as you saw it fit to miss your other ones."

Rufus shut his eyes and allowed himself to be dragged along.

A constant tapping woke him the next morning. Blearily, he glanced at the time, wincing at the pain the small movement provoked. He knew without looking that there would be no visible marks on his body to prove that he'd been beaten, the red strap welts would fade. ShinRa was too good, to sly to leave evidence. Shaking his head, he stood up.

"Leave the food outside the door." He said, thinking the tapping a maid. He blinked, then realized the tapping was coming from his balcony door.

He opened it and his eyes widened as Shea stood there.

"What're you doing here?" He asked, pulling her inside and drawing the shades over the door.

"You didn't show up, and it's after four in the afternoon. I thought something happened." She explained. She turned her head, trying to look at all of his room at once.

"Oh. Sorry, I had. . . Lessons." He said, turning away.

"Rufus!" She gasped. "What happened to your back?"

He turned and glanced at his back in the mirror. It was raked up and down with red marks.

"I got in a . . .Fight with one of the soldiers." He lied.

"Oh." She said softly, then turned away. "I should go."

"What?" He turned around and looked at her. "Shea?"

"I'm a bum, but I'm not stupid. If you're going to lie to me, I should go." She started towards the doors.

"Dammit." He grabbed her arm and spun her around. "Shea, I'm sorry I lied to you."

"I am too." She said. "Rufus, I thought we were close enough that you didn't feel the need to lie to me. I guess I was wrong." She shook her head and blew her bangs from her eyes.

"President ShinRa caught me sneaking in and punished me for it. That's what the marks on my back are from." He said, letting go of her to turn away. Shame welled up inside him. What would she think now? A boy who couldn't fight back? He was weak. And now she would laugh, like everyone else.

"Rufus." She laid a hand on his shoulder, careful not to hurt him. "It's nothing to be ashamed of. He's a bastard for doing this to you."

He glanced at her, saw the understanding without pity in her eyes. "Live here." He said, impulsively.

"What? I can't." She said.

"Yes, you can. You can learn lessons with me, and stay in the room across from mine. It'd be fine." He said.

"No, Rufus, I can't." She shook her head.

"Please? What will it take? I'll buy you whatever you want. Jewelry, perfume, anything. Just come and live here." He said.

"Are you trying to buy me?" She asked, eyes narrow.

"No. Please, just-"

"I'm not some toy for you to cast off when you want Rufus. I won't be bought, even by you." She turned and fled from the room.

He found her by the pond. She was sitting in the same position she'd been sitting in years ago, with her legs dangling in the pond.

He watched her, marveling at her. She was the most important thing in his life, he realized. She made him laugh, made him happy. She was his best friend, and he couldn't, wouldn't give her up. Slowly, he walked over to sit next to her.

"I don't want to buy you. It was never my plan." He said quietly.

She gazed at the water in silence.

"I just want to look out for you, you know? You're my best friend, and that's what best friends do, right?" He shrugged.

"I won't live there for free." She said softly. "If I live there, I work."

He glanced over, then nodded. "You can get a job as a maid, or a secretary. It won't be that hard."

She looked at him and smiled. "Thank you."

"For what?" He asked.

"Understanding my pride." She said.

He nodded. "C'mon, let's get you some work clothes." He stood, then held down a hand.

She tilted her head slightly, eyes wary.

"A gift, not a bribe." He clarified.

"Alright." She put her hand in his, and he pulled her up.

She got the job with little trouble. That night, she went to his room, still marveling at how good it felt to be clean and have a full belly. She wore a light red skirt and a cream shirt, both gifts from Rufus. Gifts. How many had he given her in the past few years? She wondered. Her hair was pulled back, but still fell in her eyes. She blew a strand out of her eyes, then let herself in.

He was hunched over something, back to her. She tilted her head and walked over.

"What're you drawing?" She asked.

He jerked his head up, startled. "Shea! What're you doing here?" He asked.

"I don't have anything to sleep in." She explained, trying to see the sketch pad. "What're you drawing?"

"Nothing." He said. "Here, you can sleep in one of my shirts. It should be big enough." He walked over to the closet and tossed her a shirt, still not allowing her to see the picture.

"Rufus, let me see the picture. Please?" She asked, catching the shirt. "I never knew you liked to draw."

He shrugged and held out the sketchpad.

He'd been sketching her. She'd seen him drawing while she tried on clothes, but she hadn't realized he'd been drawing her.

He was beyond good, the skill much too mature for such a young artist. She flipped through the pages. He seemed to capture the essence of his model, the feeling of the scene, put it down on paper in blended lines and curves.

"Rufus. . .These are amazing." She said, awed. She sat down on his bed, continuing to look.

He walked over and sat next to her. "You really think so?" He asked, resting his chin on her shoulder so he could look at the pictures as well.

She ignored how close he was. "Yes. You're really, really good."

"Thank you." He smiled. "I like drawing you."

She smiled. "I know." She flipped a page. He'd drawn a headshot of her. She had her nose wrinkled in disgust, her eyes squinted shut. She laughed. "I don't look like that!"

"Yes, you do. When you see something that doesn't suit you…." He told her, turning his head slightly to sniff at her neck. She smelled so different from him.

"What about here?" She flipped the page to where he'd sketched her with her eyes half-closed in pleasure, a sleepy smile on her face. She tried to ignore the feelings he was arousing.

"A while back. You were tired, and I did something goofy." He slid his hand over her hip to rest it on her stomach.

Her head fell back slightly. "And here?" She pointed to a picture he'd done of her gazing lovingly at something or someone.

"I was stuck in class, dreaming of you." He murmured, kissing the side of her neck. His hand traced circles over her stomach.

"Oh." She sighed softly, letting the sketch pad slip to the floor. Turning her head, she found his lips with hers.

He lowered her back against his bed, following her down. Gently, his hand slid under her shirt, marveling at her skin, exploring it. She wrapped her arms around him and was lost.

Rufus rested his chin on Shea's hair, staring at nothing. She was curled against him, and he held her close. He'd never intended to make love to her. He didn't want to mess up their friendship, and now, he was terrified. What if he did mess it up? What if she didn't like it?

"It's my birthday today." He murmured, out of the blue. It was all he could think of to say.

"Happy birthday." She dropped a kiss on his collarbone. "I didn't get you anything."

He kissed her hair. "It's okay. You moved in with me. I'm happy."

She smiled. "I'm happy too." She yawned. "Don't leave."

He shook his head. "Never. Go to sleep now." He stroked her hair. "I'll be right here." This, he discovered, was what made time stop. She lay against him, and he could hear her heartbeat, feel her breath against his neck. He let his eyes close, pulling her closer.

Time flies when one's having fun, doubly so when one's in love. Rufus constantly found excuses to see Shea, even if it was just to pass her in the hall. They ate lunch with together, took walks, and he helped her with her work. If his father noticed the attention his son was paying to this maid, he passed it off as a simple dalliance.

It was more.

Rufus couldn't seem to tell her he loved her. He knew it was love, it had to be. Nothing else could be so consuming, so…. Something. He wanted to shout it, and somehow, to tell her seemed like the ultimate sacrifice. Somewhere in his brain, he connected love with death. He had loved his mother, she had died. He couldn't bear to tell her he loved her, only to lose her. It was a punishment no one deserved, to be able to love, but not to be able to speak it.

Sighing, he went up to the grand ballroom, a place he went to think.

Shea sat on the floor in front of the huge banquet table, her chin resting on her knees. She was looking out at the empty ballroom, but she didn't see the beautifully tiled dance floor, or the breathtaking view of upper Midgar, lit up like a forest full of Faeries.

Instead, she saw Rufus, as she'd seen him for the first time. The snotty young prince, born to become the most powerful man on the planet, bred to be the richest. He represented everything she'd learned to hate as a small child.

She was seeing him as they watched the family of turtles, remembering the brief yearning she'd experienced the ache to be part of a family, to matter to someone. Anyone.

To know she wasn't alone.

She saw him as she'd taught him to fight in the ways of a child who'd had to fight their way into the world. She saw again his delight when he'd finally managed to pin her. And the memory of the strange feeling she'd felt drifted back. A brief fluttering in her stomach and the embarrassing heat that occurred lower. She saw him trapped in classes, saw him covered in mud when they'd gotten into a mud fight. Saw him swallowing his pride and chasing after her, when they both knew she couldn't run far.

She saw him as he turned away from her in shame, trying to hide his scars. She saw him, as he looked down at her the first night she'd come to live at the ShinRa house, no longer the prince, or a boy teetering on the edge of manhood, but a lover. Her lover. She saw him as he made simple excuses just to see her, saw him as he sketched absently as they talked, saw him as he toyed with a strand of her hair. She saw him teaching her math and English, how a society lady walked and talked, saw him bringing books and food to a poor street girl with a mess of greasy curls. Saw him as he promised to always be there.

She loved him.

Rufus found her there, young vulnerable, and utterly compelling. He leaned against the doorframe, watching as the lights of Upper Midgar played against her, caressing her lips as his lips ached to, the way the lights glided over her hair in a way his hands itched to. He wished for his sketchpad and a charcoal, a napkin and a pen, a burnt stick and a wall. She was so . . . Beautiful wasn't a strong enough word. Breathtaking. Compelling and magical. Knock him to his knees gorgeous.

Why was it so hard for him to tell her he loved her?

There'd been no other woman he'd loved like this. There was no other woman for him. It was as if he shared a heart, a soul with her, and now that he'd found the other half of himself, his entire being wanted to shout it, whisper it, just to tell her.

Why wouldn't the words come?

Slowly, as if in a trance, he walked over to her and crouched before her seated form so his eyes could tell her all the things his voice couldn't. Let them explain to her his obligations to his father and his family, let them show her the scared five year old who knew mommy was gone, but didn't know why or where she'd gone. Let her see the confusion, the years spent wondering if maybe there was only cruelity in the world. Showed her his hidden sketchbook, him memories filled with pain and torture. Begged her to understand.

Her eyes stung with tears, knowing it was impossible for them to be together, yet knowing she would die if they weren't.

He stood up, and she moved in harmony with him, mirroring him perfectly. He folded his arms around her, gently, afraid to break her if he held her too tightly, but afraid to lose her if he didn't hold on to her tight enough.

"Dance with me." He whispered achingly. It wasn't a request; it was a prayer, a plea.

She nodded against his shoulder, trying to stop the tears even as they came.

Rufus limped up the stairs, trying to stop the ringing in his ears. President ShinRa had been really mad when Rufus had refused to go to the U.D.D.'s charity ball with some bimbo named Cindi. But he could handle the punishment that his father dished out. He just wondered how long he could keep Shea safe. He'd kept her safe for three years now, and it was getting harder everyday.

The light was on in his room. He walked in, trying to hide the limp the best he could, hide the blood on his face and knew the marks about his neck would be bright red against his skin.

"Eh?" Shea spun around, ready to defend herself. Then she saw him and stopped dead. "Rufus."

She was dressed for bed, in one of his shirts. He'd gotten her a wardrobe, but she'd insisted on keeping his shirt of a nightgown. He sighed and walked over to her, the door sliding closed behind him.

"Rufus, if I'm going to get you in trouble, I'm going to leave. I don't want to make your father mad." She started.

"Don't." He cut her off. "I can handle President ShinRa. But only if you stay. If you go, I won't be able to stay here." He tore off his shirt, ignoring her gasp as his back and the tops of his hips were revealed. The shirt was tossed into the fireplace, as usual.

"But . . ." She shook her head.

"Please. What will it take to make you stay? I'll give you anything." He turned back, staggering over and cupping her cheek in his palm. Even after the years they'd spent together, the feel of her skin, the texture, fascinated him.

"We've been through this. You can't buy me. But. . ." She turned to press her lips to his palm. "If you want me to stay, give your heart."

"I can't." It came out a whisper.

She shut her eyes against the pain. She'd been dreaming anyway. Like some poor urchin would ever get the love of a rich boy.

"I gave it to you years ago when I met you at the pond." He finished softly.

She looked up at him, searching his face. "You mean...?"

He nodded, then gathered her close, carefully. "I didn't know love until I met you."

She held him as tight as she could, fearing he would disappear in the blink of an eye. "I love you." She said softly, into his chest.

"And I you." He flicked a hand towards the lights and the darkness hid the wounds.

He looked down at her, so beautiful. She was sleeping, curled up against him. A lock of her hair had fallen across her eyes and he gently brushed it back, letting his fingers trail down her cheek, down to her neck. He knew her body, had spent countless nights finding out what made her gasp and sob. And yet, he still found her amazing, stunning.

His father would never let him marry her. Or even be seen with her. And he wanted to marry her more than he had ever wanted anything in his life. He wanted to take her to Costa del Sol and show her the beach house, then take her up to Nibelheim and show her where he'd grown up before she'd come.

But his father wouldn't let them.

He knew that for a fact. He father wanted him to marry some rich bimbo, so he could gain more money. But he couldn't. He wanted a quick-witted woman with curls of jet.

And he would have her, if they had to drop off the planet to be together.

"Then Jenni, ya remember her, the maid on floor 19? Yes, well, she was talkin' to one of his highness's secretaries, an' the little tramp was talkin' about hows that Miss Scarlet's been all over the head of security when really the thing had been doin' the same things she was, an' how it was simply appallin' the state the 57th floor rug was in." Mrs. Hellopa, a big black lady who was in charge of floor 16's maids said as she dusted off a cabinet.

Shea, who was absolutely fascinated by the motherly woman, looked up from washing windows. "The 57th floor rug?" She asked, reminding herself to ask Rufus about that.

"Yes. It's simply in tatters. I swear, it must be about six months old, if it's a day." Mrs. Hellopa smiled. "And the young highness's 20th birthday bein' soon 'as everyone hoppin'."

Shea smiled. She'd saved for a while, and had gotten Rufus a new sketchpad and set of charcoals as a gift. "I know."

Mrs. Hellopa winked at the younger woman. "But the real news is his highness's newest ladyfriend."

"Rufus's?" Shea asked, forgetting herself.

"Yes, but don't let anyone hear ya call him that, honey-chile. Scuttlebutt has it that he's seeing some blonde fop from Icicle Inn, pretty as a penny, she is, but just as smart as one as well." Mrs. Hellopa smiled, waving her duster at Shea. "Not like you, honey-chile. Your as sweet as candy, and quick as a whip, if I say so myself. When are you goin' ta settle down, honey? I got a nephew who's about your age, sweet boy, handsome too."

"She's not interested."

Shea gasped as Rufus walked over. "Rufus! You scared me." She batted at him with her cloth. "Don't do that."

Rufus flipped his bangs dismissivly, catching the cloth and dropping a kiss on her nose. "Although you were correct about the other things, Miss. She is sweet and smart." He smiled slightly. "Pretty too, don't you think?"

"Pretty as a picture, Sir." Mrs. Hellopa agreed.

"Several sketchbooks full of them." Rufus murmured.

"Oh! Rufus, this is Mrs. Hellopa. She's the head maid on floor 16. Mrs. Hellopa, you know Rufus." Shea introduced, distracted as Rufus played with a strand of her hair that had escaped it's bun.

"Of course." Mrs. Hellopa nodded. "Is there somethin' I could get ya, Sir?"

"No, no. I just stopped by to see Shea." He smiled. "Your sources are wrong. Elena is the head of one of my SOLDIER units. She's very intelligent, most of the time." He wrapped his arms around Shea from behind, drawing a protesting gasp from her. "Really, my latest lady love is this pretty sprite." He set his chin on top of her head with a smug smile.

Mrs. Hellopa chuckled. So the rumours were true, the prince really was in love with her little maid. "You take care of her then, Sir. President's son or not, I'll take a paddle to your bottom if you hurt this one."

"I understand." Rufus kissed Shea's ear. "I need to talk to you."

"When?" She asked, looking up at him.

"A few minutes? At the dock?" He asked.

She nodded. "I'll be there." She watched him walk off, then sighed happily and turned back to Mrs. Hellopa. "May I take a break? A short one?"

Mrs. Hellopa chuckled again. "Go on girl. You get and make that boy happy. Heaven knows he deserves some happiness, bein' the son of his highness." She added in a whisper, then watched the younger woman go. The boy had changed so much since he fell in love, she noted with a sigh.

"Young love. The only kind." She said to herself, then went back to her dusting.

"You wanted to talk to me?" Shea asked, stepping onto the dock.

Rufus nodded and beckoned her over. She walked to him, then turned her face up to collect a kiss from him. Smiling, he kissed her, then stepped back and knelt before her. "I've got something to ask you." He said, taking her hand.

"Oh..." Her eyes widened.

He took out a box, then opened it to reveal a simple diamond set in platinum, with four tiny, perfect rubies on either side of it. "Shea, will you marry me?" He asked, holding his breath.

They were too young. High society would never accept her. Reasons to say no flashed through her mind, and one word passed through her lips. "Yes." She nodded, trying not to cry.

He laughed triumphantly, standing and slipping the ring on her finger as he kissed her. Then breaking the kiss, he picked her up and spun her around.

"Rufus! Put me down, you'll send us both into the water!" She shrieked, laughing.

He grinned. "Who cares? It's warm. I love you." He laughed happily, kissing her again. "God, I love you. You want a town named after you, love? How about two? Heck, the entire north continent is now Shealand." He kissed her again.

"Silly. I don't need anything but you." She said, looking up at him. "I wish everyone was in love, so they could know how happy I am." She said, leaning against him.

He stroked her hair. "I know."

Shea smoothed her hair nervously. "Are you sure I look okay, Mrs. Hellopa?" She asked again.

Mrs. Hellopa laughed. "Honey-chile, you're stunnin'. You'll knock his highness on his royal bottom."

Shea studied herself in the mirror one last time, then kissed Mrs. Hellopa's cheek. "Thank you. Wish me luck!" She said, walking out of her room.

"Good luck, Honey-chile. You'll need it, to charm the president." Mrs. Hellopa said, softly.

Shea stepped down the stairs, then froze as she saw Rufus standing below, waiting for her. He looked stunning, wearing a suit of charcoal and grays, a simple muted red shirt offsetting the entire outfit. Turning, he looked up.

She wore a gown of crimson, the colour of ShinRa. The gown had a high waist, falling from just under her breasts into a loose and full skirt, moving softly with every light breath. The neckline was simple, embroidered with tiny flowers and fruit, arching and curving to a point . The sleeves were loose, almost covering her hands. Her curls had been piled atop her head with a small golden circlet, a few strands tumbling down over her neck. And on her left hand she wore his ring.

She smiled at him and walked down the stairs. He took her arm and led her into the dining room.

President ShinRa looked up as his son entered the room. "You didn't tell me we were having company." He said.

Rufus seated Shea, then took a seat next to her. "Father, I'd like you to meet Shea, my fiancée. Shea, President ShinRa."

"A pleasure, sir." Shea smiled and nodded.

ShinRa surveyed her. "Like wise, I'm sure. You didn't tell me you were getting married." He spoke to his son.

Rufus shrugged. "It was a bit of a surprise to us as well. I just proposed to her, today, actually."

"Mm." ShinRa looked to Shea. "Tell me, M'dear, just where are you from?"

"Midgar, sir." She said.

"Really? Strange, I haven't seen you before." ShinRa shot a look to his son. "Just what is it you do for a living?"

"Actually, I work for you sir." Shea smiled.

ShinRa frowned. "Which department?"

"Um, no department, really. I'm a maid on floor 16." She looked down at her hands folded in her lap, then over at Rufus, who smiled at her. Inwardly, Rufus braced himself. He knew what was coming wouldn't be good. But he wanted her and he would have her.

"A. . . maid?" ShinRa said slowly. "You are going to marry a. . . maid?"

Rufus nodded, defiantly. "Yes, President ShinRa, I am."

"Oh, no. You are not." ShinRa looked to Shea. "Leave. You are dismissed from this room and this company. Don't let me see you again." He said, voice biting.

Shea started to rise.

"Stay." Rufus said softly, lacing his fingers through hers.

She stayed.

ShinRa's eyes narrowed. "Guards." He murmured. The boy was becoming a problem. Six men slunk from the shadows, weapons in hand. "Remove her."

Rufus leveled a look at the guards. "Stay where you are." He commanded. His father's voice held a death threat to any that disobeyed. His own promised worse.

The guards froze, unsure.

ShinRa sighed and stood up. "Guards, take her away, and ignore the boy."

Rufus rose as well, tugging Shea behind him. "Father, if you or the guards lay a hand on her, you will learn just how well I can wield the handgun you gave me for my birthday." He said in a tone that would have frozen a Shiva. The handgun was already out and leveled it at the older man.

ShinRa turned to his son. "Stop being a fool. This tramp is obviously trying to get your money."

"Apologize to my fiancée or I will start to shoot my way up from your feet." Rufus's eyes narrowed. "Say it again, and I'll stop at you waist."

"Or maybe I should just teach a certain boy some manners." ShinRa sneered.

"Now, see, sir, if you touch him, I'll just have to kill you myself. So I guess you should just stay there." Shea said, moving over to stand beside her love.

"Oh, my dear girl. You see, no one would care if I killed the boy." ShinRa laughed bitterly. "And you couldn't stop me."

"But I'm your only heir." Rufus pointed out softly. "You need me, so you can pass on the family business. And besides that, don't forget that I'm one of your most valuable employees. Without me, ShinRa Inc. would go bankrupt in a month."

"True. But nobody would miss her." ShinRa pointed to his son and two more guards melted from the shadows to disarm Rufus then hold him back.

ShinRa walked over and picked up the handgun. At that moment, Rufus realized what was going on.

"No!! Father, don't do this! Shea, get out of here!! Now! Please, Father, don't do this!" He struggled against the guards' grip lashing out best he could. "Run, Shea!"

Shea's eyes to Rufus and back to his father, slowly backing toward her lover. A guard caught her arm. "I can't. The doors are blocked. Rufus…?"

ShinRa leveled the gun at Shea. Rufus had stopped hearing himself, he was begging his father not do it, over and over, praying to whatever god there may be.

The blast was defining. After that, there was only silence. Shea's eyes widened, her hands going to her stomach, where blood already seeped through her gown. He gaze flew to Rufus's.

"Shea!!" With a roar, he tore himself from the guards and ran to her, dropping to his knees. Gently, he cradled her onto his lap. "Shh ...We're going to get you some help. A restore spell, something. It'll be okay."

She shook her head weakly. "Rufus, it hurts." She whispered, then shut her eyes.

"I know, baby. I know. Just hold on." He looked around wildly for a restore materia. "I need a restore. Who has one?" He asked desperately.

ShinRa made a motion. No one stepped forward.

"Rufus..." Shea said softly.

Rufus turned his eyes back to her and cradled her closer. "I'm here."

"I love you." She said, then shut her eyes for the last time.

"Aww, is she dead? To bad." ShinRa remarked.

Rufus stood up, her limp body in his arms and turned his gaze on his father. His eyes were frozen, cold and deadly enough that the guards stepped back. His suit was covered in blood and tears trailed down his face. He shifted Shea's body and wiped his face with his hand. It came away wet, but not bloody.

"My face is wet?" He asked softly, as if a child who'd discovered something shocking and amusing.

"Because you're crying. People do that when they're sad." ShinRa answered in a tone one would use with an exceptionally stupid person.

"Crying. . .I've never seen you cry, you know? Not once, not even when mom died. But now I know why. Only people cry, and you aren't a person." He shook his head.

"Now that that business is over. Let's finish supper, hmm?" ShinRa turned back to the table.

"Don't ever turn your back on me again." Rufus's voice cracked like a whip.

"Excuse me, let me remind you who you are talking to." ShinRa's eyes narrowed.

"Who? Who am I talking to?" Rufus inquired the edge of his voice tipped with poison.

"Your father and the President of ShinRa."

"No." His gasp came out sardonic, icy. "I couldn't be talking to my father. I don't have one." Rufus shook his head and turned to walk out.

"If you walk out now, you will be written out of my will." ShinRa threatened.

"Oh, you silly, pathetic, worthless excuse for a man." Rufus turned back. "You see, I am going to destroy you. Not by leaving you to fend for yourself. Not by killing you. But by building up ShinRa. By making it a multi-billion dollar corporation. By making you blissfully happy, richer than you could ever dream. And then, just when you are at the height of you're glory, I'll take it away. And I'll be laughing when I do so.

"Understand," his voice left little room for any in the room to do anything besides that. "I am no longer your son. I am an employee, nothing more. After this, you shall never see me again. I am dead to you, but I will haunt you. So I'm going to build your empire, President ShinRa, but know the truth. You killed your own son, your heir, your chance at immortality, when you shot this woman. You are a coward, a murderer, but perhaps, worst of all for you, you are mortal. And one day, you shall return to the pit of hell that you came from." And with that, he turned and walked out.

He was a man now. His hair was still strawberry blonde, slicked against his neck by the drizzle of rain. The lean body wore the crisp gray suit with innate bearing and ease, and even walking though the mug and slush, he was commanding. It was more than his upbringing, he was born and bred into pain, and it showed with every movement.

It was a dreary day, the kind where the weather couldn't make its mind up between rain and sleet. His suit was a mess and his hair was ruined. He didn't care.

He was numb.

He came to the dock, where a small raft floated. On the raft, Shea's still body lay. He walked onto the dock and knelt down, gazing down at her pale face. Turning, he looked to the star-filled heavens and stared at them, searching, trying to find a reason amid the mocking blazes. With a sigh, he turned back and picked up a torch beside him. He lit it, then set it on the raft, which caught flame. Heedless of the threat of burns, he pushed the raft out onto the lake, then stood, watching as it raged.

Blood dripped from his fist, where the diamond of her ring cut into his palm. He looked down at it, the only thing he really had left of her, beside his pictures. Again he looked up at the stars, the back at the blaze.

"Wait for me." He whispered, then turned his back on the blaze, on his childhood, and on his heart.

Pip Malloy's Fanfiction