One of the things that I like about Final Fantasy VII is the wide array of characters to fall in love with. Some of the characters are handled much better than others, but after replaying the game again and re-watching the movie, I finally realized that Final Fantasy VII has a lot of characters with disabilities. From Barret’s missing arm to Cloud’s clear mental issues and struggles with his identity, FFVII has a lot to offer, and as I’ve been looking for disability fics recently, this fandom was a good place to start.
The character Rufus Shinra is, to put it rather bluntly, a privileged asshole. While I don’t believe that he’s anywhere near as evil as the original game makes him out to be, his character acts as an antagonist throughout the majority of the story. Not only that, he’s someone who grew up in luxury and was the heir to a huge corporation that rules the world. The end of the game tricks us into believing that he dies—he’s inside the Shinra building when it explodes—only for Advent Children to reveal that he survived, but not completely unscathed.
The injuries he sustains from the explosion leave him unable to walk, stand, or support himself for long periods of time, and he requires a wheelchair to move around. There is a novella that explains how Rufus survived the explosion, but before that, us fans could only speculate, and thus were born a bunch of AU fanfics such as From Out Of Your Soul. In this fic, Rufus survives because the main characters Vincent Valentine and Cid Highwind find him and take him back to Cid’s home to recover.
Days turn into weeks.
Rufus grows used to the monotony of Cid’s small home. His vision returns after a few days, and he gets Vincent—not Valentine, Rufus, I have a name—to open the blinds so he can stare out, across the grassy plains and away from town, dreams of Midgar swimming in his head. He had removed the bandages covering his right hand after the first day, but replaced them quickly. He must’ve tried to protect his head as he fell from the building, skin scraped and angry red against the white fabric, cracking with movement.
He began to refuse Cure spells, waiting instead for his bones to heal on their own. The old President Shinra had insisted that they made you weak, made you rely on others for support and you shouldn’t do that, Son, because you don’t need anyone else, Son.. His father had refused them to spite Hojo and his science department, to show that he was made of stronger stuff than them, and to show the world that he was not easily beaten by trivial wounds.
Rufus refused healing because he wanted to world to beat him.
Vincent and Cid had both tried to get him to talk, after his minor breakdown in the kitchen, about what had happened. They’d assured him that yes, Cloud and the others are looking for the Turks now, I swear and it’ll be okay kid, but Rufus didn’t listen. He wanted to give up—to just let the Planet open up and swallow him whole, the way the Planet had opened up and fought Meteor. He wanted to just live out the rest of his life alone and quiet and beaten.
He didn’t want to fight anymore.
The fic ends when Vincent manages to contact one of Rufus’s Turks, Elena, and she comes by to see how he’s doing. Seeing her lifts Rufus’s spirits and it’s not long until all the Turks show up to take him to their new home.
Part of me is perturbed that a villainous character who used to stand at the top of the world gets a disability shoved on him as part of his punishment. Disability as punishment is a longstanding problem in a lot of the media we consume, and more often than not, these kinds of character arcs are offensive. At the same time, however, as much as I dislike the Advent Children movie, part of me really does appreciate how it handled Rufus’s character. A big problem that many wheelchair users face is violence and discrimination for not being seen as “disabled enough”. Many people fail to realize that a good number of wheelchair users are capable of walking, but use wheelchairs because maybe they cannot walk for long distances, or walking hurts them, or any number of reasons besides being paralyzed.
I admit that this mindset is something I’ve been guilty of in the past, and when I first watched Advent Children and saw Rufus Shinra, a former villain who is cunning and manipulative, stand up from his wheelchair and attack another antagonist, I assumed that he had been faking his disability the whole time. Throughout the whole movie, we maybe see him walk for a collective five seconds, before he’s right back in the wheelchair. Showing a character who is both capable of standing and walking, but who also still requires a wheelchair for most day-to-day activities, is pretty important when it comes to representation.
However, it’s still a little problematic that this representation is done only through a former villain who almost destroyed the world and is rather good at manipulating people. Numerous fanfic writers have made the assumption that Rufus is faking as a result. For the most part, though, it’s been my experience that these writers are in the minority and that most fic writers, such as hyperion flare, recognize his disability is genuine.
From there, we’ve gotten numerous fics that help explore his character while also addressing some of the limitations and difficulties he faces due to his disability. These fics do a lot of justice to the situation, and through developing and exploring his character, his disability stops being a punishment and simply becomes an aspect of his character. I wish the original source material had done a better job with this; since it didn’t, fics like From Out Of Your Soul are well worth the read. From Out Of Your Soul is a oneshot that’s just over 3k words, and it has a pretty happy ending. Be sure to check it out here.