Shatter the Rules

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by nekojita

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chapter one

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Rufus managed to wake up before the alarm went off, lying still for a minute before he reached over to reset it. The bed was nice and warm, he could hear the sound of rain through the bedroom’s windows and patio door, and Reno was asleep just a few inches from him. Rolling onto his left side, Rufus spooned behind his lover, his right arm sliding along Reno’s waist.

The first year or two that they’d been together, Rufus had learned the hard way not to touch Reno like this while the Turk was sleeping. He’d made sure to keep a few potions on hand for the nights when they’d basically passed out after sex and Reno hadn’t left while he was asleep. As time had passed, Reno grew accustomed to his presence and he didn’t have to worry about inadvertently touching his sleeping lover and ending up with a black eye or throttled neck. Now, Reno didn’t even stir when Rufus pressed against his back, even though he’d wake up in an instant if anyone else touched him.

Beside the benefit of not being nearly killed in his own bed, Rufus had to admit it was nice to be able to start the day like this, Reno in his arms and his morning erection rubbing against his lover’s ass. His right hand trailed down Reno’s abdomen, fingers brushing against crisp, curly hair before wrapping around warm flesh that slowly hardened at his touch.


Reno moaned, the sound soft and pleading, and turned his face toward the pillow. Rufus smiled at his lover’s reluctance to wake up, even to pleasure, and shifted about until his left hand could brush aside some of the long crimson strands that had escaped the haphazard ponytail Reno had tied before falling asleep. Once there was no danger of lying on the hair, Rufus sucked on two of his fingers then snaked them between his and Reno’s bodies. There was another soft moan as they rubbed against Reno’s opening, the sound making Rufus shiver.

Plotting out his moves, he grinned in anticipation between fleeting kisses peppered along the back of Reno’s neck and right shoulder. Keeping his touch deliberately light, he gave Reno’s cock feathery brushes of his fingertips, just enough to make his lover feel good but not fully wake up the same time he carefully worked his fingers inside. There was something undeniably exciting about being able to do these things to one of the most dangerous people on the planet while he slept and to get away with it without broken limbs or neck.

Reno murmured something that sounded like Rufus’ name, his hips beginning to rock back and forth yet his eyes still closed. Rufus sucked lightly on the side of his lover’s neck, and after pulling his fingers free he used the ball of his thumb to spread around the precome leaking from his own cock. He didn’t want to move away from his lover to search for the lube and spoil the fun; they’d used plenty last night so things should be fine as long as he took it slow.

His fingers curling around Reno’s hard cock, he slowly pushed into his lover, mindful of the increased tightness. He was breathing heavily by the time the head of his cock pushed past that tightness, a low groan  reverberating in his throat over the building pleasure that washed through him.

"Rufus." Reno sounded almost awake, his voice thick with sleep and blurred at the end by a moan. His hips pushed back against Rufus, prompting sharp hisses from them both, before his body went still. "Fuck," he whispered, his face turning from the pillow.

"As observant as always," Rufus replied as he continued to slowly push inside, pausing every few seconds to give Reno time to adjust. "Should I stop?" he asked when Reno inhaled suddenly.

"No, oh no." Reno still sounded groggy, yet he reached behind to tangle his fingers in Rufus’ hair. "No."

So Rufus continued, sighing in pleasure when he was fully inside his lover’s body, keeping the thrusts shallow and slow as his hand pumped steadily along Reno’s cock. The pleasure was more about tightness than friction, was the faint whimpers and moans from his lover each time he pushed in as far as possible, the way Reno moved against him in languorous undulations. He let the ecstasy gradually build for both of them, a tingling through his body and quickening of his heartbeat.

His face buried in the crook of Reno’s neck, he focused on all the little sensations that were usually lost in the more passionate encounters: the slight tremors through Reno’s body, the feel of hair against his cheek, the way skin grew slick and salty with sweat. He smiled when Reno cried out his name, the sound loud after endless minutes of murmurs and gasps, so lost in his own feelings that Reno’s orgasm took him by surprise. The tightness, which had been almost overbearing before, increased in clenching waves and brought on his own climax.

They laid on the bed for several minutes, struggling to breathe normally and, at least on Rufus’ part, enjoying the moment as much as he could before having to face a long day of work. The bed was almost too warm and so comfortable, Reno was practically boneless in his arms and Rufus simply felt very good. He’d always enjoyed starting the day with sex, even if it was an indulgence he couldn’t often afford with his schedule.

Reno chuckled, the sound pleased and still a bit sleepy. "Best damn alarm clock, I swear." He tilted his head back to rub his cheek against Rufus’ shoulder. "Any chance of just staying here all day?" He had the gall to sound surprisingly hopeful.

"You should know better than to even ask." Rufus gave Reno’s bruised neck a kiss and slowly shifted back, his right hand smoothing along his lover’s hip when Reno hissed in pain. "Am I going to hear about your problems sitting down today?"

"Nah." Reno sat up, the motion seductively languid, and reached back to undo the tie in his hair. "Not unless you want a quickie in the shower."

Rufus found himself seriously considering the offer before he forced himself off the bed. "Go wash up in the other bathroom," he ordered his lover, putting temptation far out of reach. The sound of Reno’s laughter followed him into the bathroom, and he found himself smiling in spite of himself.

Mindful of how he was now behind schedule, he didn’t spend much time in the shower. Once clean and shaved, he dried off and went to get dressed, running into Reno in the walk-in closet. Reno mumbled something about coffee as he pulled on his black coat and headed for the kitchen, leaving Rufus to get dressed alone.

When he entered the kitchen, he found a mug of coffee waiting for him and a couple of scones that had been baked the night before. Reno was busy slathering the pastries with what looked to be raspberry preserves, his eyes closing in delight once his breakfast was shoved into his mouth. Rufus watched the process be repeated several times as he sipped his coffee and enjoyed two scones himself.

Once breakfast was over and they were done getting ready, they left the penthouse for work, Reno appearing to fall back asleep once they were in the limo. Rufus wondered what would happen if he made Reno fly them to work each morning and figured it would just mean starting the day off with a litany of complaints during the ride. He powered on his laptop and made his way through over a dozen emails by the time they reached ShinRa Electric Power Company's headquarters..

It had stopped raining by then; Rude was waiting for them and opened the limo’s door, bowing slightly to Rufus as he left the car. Reno slapped his partner on the back and asked Rude about the bald Turk’s date with Kali the night before. Rufus did his best not to smile when Rude visibly squirmed under the force of the teasing ‘interrogation’, trapped with Reno in the elevator.

Rude let out a loud sigh of relief when Reno’s cell phone rang, sparing him from any more teasing. "Yo," Reno drawled into his phone, a lazy smile on his face as he leaned against the elevator’s wall next to Rufus. "You’re kidding me. Didn’t we take his sorry ass out drinking two weeks ago?" Reno rolled his eyes as the person on the other end went on about something, glancing at Rufus with a curious expression on his face. "Tonight? Should be able to stick around for a drink or two, but I’m not putting up with Jared’s moping for long." When Rufus didn’t object to what sounded like a night out drinking, Reno grinned and stuck his tongue out at Rude. "Well, make sure Kali’s invited and I’ll bet that he’ll be there." He laughed for several seconds and shook his head. "Nah, haven’t seen him but we just got here. For fuck’s sake, don’t invite him along. One moping bastard is bad enough." Laughing once more, he ended the call and slipped the phone back into his inner coat pocket.

"Do I want to know?" Rufus asked, not willing to lose his good mood so early in the day.

Reno shrugged, a slight smirk on his lips and his eyes bright with amusement. "Jared got dumped again so we’re supposed to buy him drinks to cheer him up."

"I’m beginning to suspect that he’s purposely getting dumped so he doesn’t have to buy any rounds," Rude complained as he tugged on his right glove.

"Yeah, that’s why I told Cyril that I’ll only stop by long enough to laugh at the poor bastard." Reno rolled his eyes again and fussed with the end of his long ponytail. "You got that interview tonight, right?" he asked Rufus, shifting a bit closer as he flicked the tips of his hair against his lips.

Resisting the urge to brush the hair aside and trace his finger along those still smirking lips, Rufus nodded and smoothed his gloved right hand along the front of his coat instead. "I should be home by nine o’clock."

"Good, that’ll be my excuse to ditch the party." Reno smiled as if very pleased with himself, while Rude mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like ‘so whipped’. That made Reno glare at his partner and approach the tall man, hissing under his breath some sort of nonsense about black pots. Rufus did his best to ignore the squabbling Turks during the last few floors. To think that these were two of his best employees, acting like children barely five minutes into their shift for the day.

At least the idiots stopped fighting when the elevator doors opened, falling silent as they checked to make sure everything was okay before escorting Rufus down the hall. He had the impression that the argument would continue at a later time, hopefully when they were out drinking and not on the way to his first meeting for the day.

As they approached his office, Rude coughed quietly. "Who was Cyril asking you about?" He didn’t sound upset, merely curious.

Reno yawned before he answered. "Oh, yeah, he wanted to know if we’d seen Mason. They’ve been on shift for a couple of hours now, and Mason took a break over half an hour ago and hasn’t come back."

Grunting softly, Rude opened the door to Rufus’ office and did a quick search before motioning Rufus inside. The bald Turk and Reno didn’t bother to wait outside since Rufus was mainly here to gather some documents before leaving for the meeting with Reeve.

"Tseng’s not going to be happy about that," Rude commented as he moved his neck from side to side, producing a loud cracking sound.

"Nope." The smirk on Reno’s face was decidedly evil; Rufus knew that his lover hadn’t gotten along well with the new Turk after Mason and Cyril’s failure to adequately protect him the one day. While Cyril had managed to redeem himself in his coworkers’ eyes, the same could not be said for Mason.

A bit displeased that something was going on with his Turks that he didn’t know about, Rufus stared at Reno and waited for some sort of explanation. Reno correctly deciphered the look and shrugged, his baton tapping against his left shoulder. "Mason’s been AWOL a bit for the past two weeks. Take’s breaks and forgets to report back in time, shit like that." He sounded surprisingly offended by the lack of professionalism, even going so far as to sniff in disapproval.

Rude suddenly had to cough while Rufus found his lips twitching in an effort to grin over Reno’s hypocrisy. "I’m sure Tseng is left in unfamiliar waters by the situation," he replied, careful not to make his tone too sarcastic. Reno picked up on it anyway, his pale eyes narrowing and his arms folding over his chest, the baton now tapping against his right shoulder.

Before Reno could come up with some sort of caustic remark, Rufus held up the folder he needed for his meeting. "I believe that someone’s waiting for this information."

"Let’s just hope that ‘someone’ left the fucking cat toy at home," Reno muttered as he pushed away from the wall and smoothed his left hand along the front of his rumpled coat. "Not in the mood for it or its fucking weird accent." He let out a sudden yelp when Rude reached over and smacked the back of his head. "What the hell was that for?"

"Like you’re one to talk about accents," Rude answered, sliding his sunglasses down enough to give Reno a look of longsuffering.

"Oi! Least I’m from the fucking neighborhood, more or less!"

"Gentlemen, I’m about three seconds from requesting a new set of bodyguards for the day." Rufus frowned at the two idiots as he stood in front of the door, impatient to be on his way and growing annoyed at how easy it was for Rude to tease Reno. "Save the comedy routine for another time."

Rude was instantly contrite and professional once more, back ramrod straight and face impassive. Reno, on the other hand, was muttering something under his breath and gave Rufus a flippant bow as he opened the door.

Deciding that it would be a waste of time to have two new Turks assigned to him, Rufus gave his lover a warning look before leaving the office. Reno better remember that he was working now, or Rufus would have to take steps to remind the Turk of his proper place during business hours. His good mood somewhat diminished, Rufus announced that they’d take a car to WRO headquarters, just to deprive Reno of the joy of flying as punishment.

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Rude’s hand hovered over the controls for the radio, his attention focused on the mostly muffled noises in the back of the car. While he wasn’t driving one of the company’s limousines today, the large black sedan did come equipped with a glass window between the front and back seats to allow Rufus some privacy. Considering the fact that Reno was in the back to ‘guard’ Rufus, Rude was very grateful that the window was up at the moment.

Judging from the angry voices he’d heard soon after they’d gotten on the road, Reno had managed to piss Rufus off already, and it wasn’t even ten o’clock yet. Rude wondered if it was about the plans for going out tonight or something that had happened in the office; Rufus hadn’t seemed too upset until they’d left for the meeting with Reeve. However, no matter how curious he was, Rude wasn’t going to involve himself in this fight. Rufus didn’t seem inclined to take out his anger on Rude lately, and Rude wanted it to stay like that. The president had finally stopped glaring at him each time he teased or touched Reno, for which Rude felt immense relief.

He was also relieved that Reno and Rufus hadn’t been fighting too much recently… at least, until this morning. Reno hadn’t sported any bruises other than hickeys in the last few weeks, Rufus didn’t seem as if the slightest thing was about to set him off on a killing spree, and a bottle of anti-acids had lasted Rude for more than a month. Even Tseng seemed more relaxed whenever the president’s unusual relationship was brought up, although he made sure not to schedule Tosh on bodyguard duty.

Rude thought he heard something being hit behind him and immediately lowered the volume of the radio, listening intently for any sounds that would indicate a fight. There was another, softer ‘thump’ of impact, followed by a very familiar, decadent chuckle. Rude’s fingers fumbled with the radio controls to increase the volume as quickly as possible.

Apparently, Reno was well on his way to being forgiven for whatever it was that had upset Rufus, if Rude had to hazard a guess on the situation. Turning the volume up a little louder, Rude returned his attention to the road in front of him. To get to WRO headquarters, they had to drive past part of destroyed Midgar, something that he wondered if it was intentional. While the road had been cleared, there were still plenty of derelict buildings in the process of falling down; he wished that Rufus had allowed himself to be flown to WRO instead of going by car, which only strengthened the feeling that the course they took today was intentional. Rufus appeared perfectly serious about restoring the world, while Reeve was equally determined to not let Rufus forget the debt he owed as a Shinra.

Not wanting to be distracted or to miss anything, Rude turned down the volume after a couple of blocks and was relieved to not hear any embarrassing noises from the back of the car. The president didn’t often ‘amuse’ himself while on the way to an important meeting, especially not when he was about to see Reeve, who had known about Rufus’ relationship with Reno for years. Rude put the earlier noises down to Reno squirming his way out of trouble and turned the radio off all-together, feeling uneasy as he drove through the deserted area. Something didn’t seem right, didn’t sit well with him but he couldn’t figure out what.

The sudden flash of green on the top of one of the more intact buildings made him slam on the brakes and swerve to the left seconds before the road about half a block up exploded. Swearing under his breath, he quickly switched the car into reverse when there was a whizzing sound from off to the either side, followed by muffled explosions and the car shaking before settling lower on the road. That was followed by more gunshots, this time from the back of the car.

Diving across the front seat, Rude smacked his left hand against the glove compartment the same time as the window partition lowered. "You okay, partner?" Reno asked, the question almost drowned out by more gunshots.

Rude grunted in response and grabbed the metal container stashed in the glove compartment. "The president?"

"Just fine and kicking ass."  Reno sounded too fucking cheerful considering their current situation. "He took out one of the shooters."

"Two of them," Rufus replied, his voice as smooth as always and containing a hint of boredom. "Are we going to sit here and wait for more to show up?"

"No." Rude looked at his partner, who nodded and held up his cell phone for a moment before carefully tucking it inside his coat, its front panel filled with flashing lights. The Turks were now aware that there was a situation and should be able to track them as they left the car.

Pulling out his own gun, Rude nodded in response and used his right foot to open the driver’s side door before giving it a powerful kick. He quickly scrambled out of the car, gun held ready to shoot any targets – such as the sniper at nine o’clock. Rude barely flinched when the bullet whizzed past his right ear, concentrating fully on the target before the person vanished. Two shots later, he smiled with grim pride as the dead sniper tumbled off the roof and waited for Reno to take out two attackers dressed in black. As the stench of burned flesh filled the air, Reno went to fetch Rufus from the car.

Rufus had his gun in hand as Reno hustled him from the car and across the road, a very annoyed expression on his face that did not bode well for whoever was behind the attack. Once Reno and Rufus were safe, Rude sprinted across the road to join them, the speed more so they could all leave the car behind rather than fear of being shot. Reno had him covered and patted him on the shoulder once they were all safely hidden from any overhead shots.

"The blast came from in front of us," Rude explained as he handed Reno his gun so he could open the metal box. "They used materia."

"Which is interesting to know considering how the following attacks were of more mundane means. I’m left to believe that this might be a kidnapping attempt rather than an assassination," Rufus pointed out as he snatched the gun from Reno and held it in his left hand, his demeanor calm and focused.

"We should get moving." Reno was in constant motion while checking the area, though he never stepped more than two feet away from Rufus. "Put the damn gauntlet on already," he snarled, his eyes narrowed as he peered into the darkness of the building’s interior.

Motioning for Reno to lead the way, Rude finally managed to open the box and smiled in relief when he found several glowing green spheres and a few yellow ones. He could sense the Fire and Restore, and at least one of the spheres should be Lightning for Reno. Picking up the gauntlet, he quickly slid it onto his right hand… and swore. "Fuck." The word was little more than a whisper, yet completely heartfelt.

"That is not something I want to hear while in this situation," Rufus coolly remarked and turned to look over his shoulder at Rude. When Rude held up the defective gauntlet, its materia slots too damaged for use, Rufus’ blue eyes widened for several seconds before narrowing in anger.

"Aw, ya gonna keep me in suspense for a bit longer or ruin the surprise for me?" Reno asked, his tone sarcastic and accent a bit stronger than normal. He didn’t look at Rude like Rufus had done, instead he kept scanning the area in front and around them as he led them away from the car.

Barely resisting the urge to toss aside the useless device, Rude checked the gauntlet one more time to make sure he wasn’t imagining things. "It seems that the gauntlet’s defective." He pitched his voice lower than normal to keep the sound from carrying very far.

Reno didn’t say anything for several seconds, not until they’d crossed the street and were once more inside another decrepit building, this one missing its roof. "The meetin’ was scheduled last night, right?" he asked, all traces of humor or sarcasm gone from his voice.


"Correct. Reeve requested it because of some concerns he has with smog emissions and wants to lessen the oil usage at Reactor Four. He specifically asked for the meeting to be kept as quiet as possible so there wasn’t any hysteria about the new energy sources." Rufus looked around as he talked, both guns held at ready. Rude didn’t ask for his back, just returned the gauntlet to the box and pulled his spare gun from its holster in the small of his back while he kept making sure that their followers weren’t too close. He hadn’t heard anything from them yet, but would bet his life savings that they were there. Catching his partner’s eye for a second, he slid his glasses down enough to share a significant look.

The way Reno’s lips pressed together and he seemed to stare off behind Rude for a couple of seconds was not reassuring. Reno’s senses were sharper than Rude’s and he noticed things that went by too quickly for Rude to pick up. Judging from that worried expression, things weren’t very good. His suspicions were proven correct when Reno flashed six fingers and the signal that those were just the number of followers he could confirm.

"We need ta find cover ASAP," Reno whispered, his lips barely moving as he spoke. "Someplace ta hole up, because I’m thinkin’ that we may be here for a bit."

Rude nodded in agreement and began searching for someplace where they could either hide or stand their ground, preferably the first. As much as he hated to even consider it, chances were good that someone had gotten to a Turk and they couldn’t count on immediate back-up. There might be other problems keeping their cohorts from reaching them quickly, and more than likely the tracker on the car was disabled. All they had were their cell phones, which could be jammed.

For a day that had started off pretty good, things had certainly gone downhill so fast it made Rude’s head ache just to think about it. How much could they rely on Reeve realizing something was wrong when they failed to show up and send out a search party? Did Tseng know that someone had betrayed Rufus or was the double-crossing bastard busy making sure that the Turks didn’t find them? Those thoughts were foremost in his mind, almost drowning out his attempts to think about the situation and come up with a solution. At least he had his partner, who was in his element with fucked-up messes like this.

*******

The lack of any more gunfire or materia blasts were getting on Reno’s nerves. He knew they were being followed, could catch glimpses of movement on the occasional rooftop and knew it wasn’t fucking squatters or birds. He also knew that they were basically being driven deeper into the warren of half-collapsed buildings, past streets effectively blocked by tons of scattered rubble. While he might be choosing where they went, the main thing was they’d left the car behind, along with the most direct way to get to them, other than by air. As much as he loved a good bet, he wasn’t going to take the odds on his friends getting a helicopter anywhere near their location, not when at least one of the assholes behind them had materia.

That led to thoughts about the sabotaged gauntlet, which he did his best to ignore right now. He knew who’d ‘cleared’ the car earlier and so was most likely to be blamed for things, but it didn’t do him any good right now. No, he needed to stay focused on getting Rufus out of here alive.

"We’re not being shot at," Rufus pointed out, his voice so quiet that Reno instantly felt on edge to hear it; his lover usually only talked like that when very, *very* pissed off.

"Nah. Think ya were right about the kidnapping theory," he said as he scoped ahead. This was an old tourist section so most of the buildings were only a couple of stories tall. What looked to be a hotel was not too far up ahead, its roof mostly gone but its sides still upright. Well, sorta upright if one wasn’t picky about right angles and the such.

"They should have had more people on hand to immobilize us once we left the car," Rufus continued, bless his anal little heart. The man just had to analyze shit to death.

"Yeah, unless they weren’ really prepared or a hundred percent sure that we didn’ have any working materia other than this," Reno explained and lifted his left arm to show off his baton. "Or ta make us run ta either ta wear us out or amuse themselves." He didn’t think of himself as too prideful; the fact was that he and Rude were two of the best Turks and weren’t to be taken lightly, and Rufus wasn’t a wuss in the self-defense department, either. It would be easier on whoever wanted to snatch Rufus to chase them around, get them farther from hope of rescue and try to make them use up their ammunition in the process – especially if the enemy hadn’t had time to work up much of an attack strategy.

Rufus didn’t appear happy with his explanations, and Reno was a bit too busy to care about that right now. His job was to make sure that Rufus remained alive and was kept safe, and he’d be damned if he failed. No one was going to touch his lover; the sight of Rufus with dust along his right cheek, white and black clothes smeared with dirt and disheveled was disturbing as hell to Reno. Things wouldn’t be right until Rufus was back in his office, immaculate as always and going after the head of whoever had the balls to betray them.

Reno decided that the hotel would be as good a place as any to hole up in. Destination in mind, now was the time to figure out what to do to remain alive and free until Tseng showed up to save their hides. A couple of guns, his baton, Rude’s bombs and whatever potions they had between them wasn’t exactly the stuff that helped to create legendary defenses.

Motioning toward the hotel, Reno raced across the street, back twitching as he expected to be shot at any second. Once in the relatively safe shelter of the building’s front entrance, he kicked open the wide doors and darted inside. He pissed off a bunch of rats and a few birds, but the place looked uninhabited so he waved his right arm out the door.

The lobby was littered with broken glass, rotting furniture and chunks of steel and concrete. At one point there’d been a glass ceiling overhead, which had been blasted away. They could take cover behind some of the debris or in one of the lobby’s nooks to protect themselves from an attack from above while giving Tseng and the others easy access to their location. Whenever Tseng got his ass into gear, that was.

"You have quite the talent for finding the most interesting places," Rufus commented as he glanced around the lobby and headed straight for a nook that had a large chunk of the former front desk blocking most of it. Not too far away was a door which probably lead to either a ballroom or the hotel rooms, possibly even a service corridor.

"What can I say? I get bored with all the fancy office buildings and restaurants," Reno said with a mock sniff. Deep breaths were not his friends at the moment, not when the air was pretty damn rank with mildew and shit. The three of them crept around the debris and settled in the nook, Rude turned slightly to keep an eye on the side door while Reno watched the main entrance.

Not bothering to look away from the doors that Rude had muscled shut, Reno reached into his pocket to fetch his cell phone. A quick glance told him it was still sending out a location signal, not that he was at all certain that his friends were able to track it. There was no sense in calling anyone as it could be blocked or overheard, so all he did was drop the phone into one of Rufus’ many pockets.

Rufus gave him a cool look for his actions and attempted to restore some sort of order to his outfit. "Am I to hope that one of you has a plan to get us out of this ridiculous situation?" He didn’t sound the slightest bit worried, his expression still utterly calm when Rude shook his head and looked at Reno.


Oh, great, why did everyone always expect him to think his way out of shit like this, especially when they considered him an idiot the rest of the time? Reno chewed on his bottom lip as he went through over a dozen plans, dredged up snippets of thoughts he’d put together over the years and recalled what had worked in the past. Unfortunately, the situation was pretty bad and whatever he thought up would have to be rather extreme. The main thing was getting Rufus to safety, which simplified matters a bit, even though Reno was hoping to live through this as well. First priority – deal with the assholes following them so Rufus could make a run for it. Second priority….

Reno shared a look with Rude. They both knew that the situation wasn’t good; they couldn’t use the rest of the materia without a gauntlet, they didn’t have an endless supply of bullets or bombs, and more than likely there were too many enemies to take on hand to hand. Back-up should arrive soon… but it seemed that neither of them believed that they’d hold out that long, even if Tseng was leading the charge. That ruled out using his baton to set up a shield because it wouldn’t last long against a determined, direct assault. Oh well, ‘desperate times’ and such, he thought with a sudden chill and put into action the only plan he thought had the slightest chance of working.

Cursing under his breath, Reno patted all his pockets for anything that might be of any use. He gathered together the spare Lightning materia he had and carefully set aside the two vials of hi-potion he kept on hand ‘just in case’. The mostly empty clip in his gun was replaced with a full one, and he removed the remaining bullets from the used clip before he shrugged off his jacket. "Rude, give me all materia and whatever bombs ya have on ya," he said in a low voice as he quickly undid the buttons of his shirt. Now that he had settled on a plan, he hoped that Rufus and Rude didn’t give him any shit or ask too many questions.

Rude did as he was told, even as the bald bastard just had to ask ‘why’. "What hair-brained scheme do you have in that addled head of yours?" He handed over the container of materia and a couple of lumps of explosives, his eyebrows arched over his smudged, scratched sunglasses.

"Yes, what are you up to now?" Rufus inquired while glancing back and forth between Reno and the directions the enemy would soon be coming, a gun pointing at each door.

Summoning a cocky grin, Reno placed the materia, explosives and bullets into the middle of his spread-out shirt. "Oh, just something I thought up one day when I was really bored." During those times when his mood would be curious or morbid and he didn’t have any distractions on hand – times when he would think about a bunch of ‘what if’ and ‘wonder if it’s possible’ scenarios. This was one that had come to him a couple of years ago, and quite honestly, he’d hoped to never have to see if it would work or not. Fate was a bitch like that, though, throwing him into yet another impossible situation with the lives of his lover and best friend on the line, and his as well. If only he had a correct idea of the enemy’s numbers and firepower… or, more importantly, they hadn’t been betrayed by one of their own. Both of those factors left things too uncertain for Reno to take too many chances, not when Rufus was stuck in this shit with him.

He tied the shirt closed and carefully set it aside, his left hand settling lightly on his baton and switching it to one of the lower settings. Then he put his jacket back on. "I think I might have a way ta get us outta this mess… or at least buy us some time."

Rufus looked at him with a dubious expression on his dirt-smeared face. "An idea that requires explosives and several spheres of materia, not to mention the fact that it was thought up by you. Somehow, I don’t believe that I’m going to like this," he said, sounding as if his patience was being pushed to its thin limits. "Now is not the time for games, Reno."

"No, it isn’t." Mindful of how those assholes were probably surrounding the place right now, Reno blurred into motion. The same time he flicked his baton ‘on’, he swung it up and around so he could tap it against the back of Rufus’ neck. There wasn’t much of a charge… but it went directly to his lover’s nervous system, causing Rufus to make a choked-off cry and slump forward. Instantly dropping the baton, Reno caught the twitching man in his arms and held him close. "I better get a damn good raise outta this," he mumbled, his voice thick for some odd reason. He pressed a gentle kiss against Rufus’ gasping lips and gave his lover an apologetic smile. "An’ ya better not have my balls for doin’ that ta ya." First priority. First priority and any other ones be damned, he thought with a surprising lack of bitterness. In the end, Rufus was all that mattered.

Pushing Rufus toward Rude, Reno reached into the white overcoat and pulled out Rufus’ stash of hi-potion and elixir, leaving only one hi-potion behind. He wasn’t sure what good the latter vials would do him, but at this point, he didn’t think they’d hurt, either. Even if the odds were pretty fucking slim in his favor, he’d do what he could to be around later so Rufus could bitch him out. "Get ‘im the hell outta here before he can move again," he told his partner, his voice even more hoarse now as he put Rufus’ fallen guns into the coat’s pockets. "I’m not in the mood ta get my ass kicked."

"Reno…." For a moment he was afraid that Rude would waste precious time and argue with him, try to talk him out of whatever it was he planned to do, but Rude merely shook his head and wrapped his left arm around Rufus. His right arm stretched out to grab Reno by his left shoulder and yank him close. There was a lingering pressure against Reno’s forehead, Rude’s lips dry and warm, then he was pushed away. "I’m not breaking in a new partner," Rude warned as he stood up, Rufus cradled in his arms.

"Then don’ piss me off so much and get ya fat ass in gear," Reno teased, striving for a bit of levity in such a dangerous and hopeless situation. "They’re prolly already here."

"I know," Rude sighed, the words almost lost in the garbled sounds that Rufus made. Reno forced himself to turn away from his lover and friend. "Be careful, Reno."

"As much as I’m able." Reno waved his left arm, both in acknowledgement of Rude’s concern and to urge the man to get the hell out of here. "Go," he whispered and strode out from behind the desk. Rude didn’t say anything else, all that could be heard was his fast-paced footsteps fading away, and Reno wouldn’t allow himself to look back. Instead, he got ready for what was to come.


The hi-potions and elixirs went into his right coat pocket, the caps on the vials loosened a bit. He changed the setting on his baton, readying it so all it would take was a flick and it would do what he wanted. It dangled from his left wrist while his hand gripped the gun, and the bundle of materia and explosives was cradled the crook of his right arm. Now the only thing he could do was wait and see if this would work or not.

All it took was another minute before the assholes, twelve men garbed in black from head to toe and even wearing ridiculous masks over their faces, began to trickle into the demolished hotel lobby. They crept forward slowly to surround Reno, each of them with weapons in their hands. Reno kept his attention on the three with the materia gauntlets while hoping that this was most of them. He wouldn’t assume that Rude hadn’t been noticed while running from the building, but it seemed that most of the enemy was here. "’Bout time ya assholes showed up," he called out, a brash smirk on his lips.

The guy who seemed to be in charge straightened up from his crouch and took a step forward, the other two men around him falling in behind. "I’m sorry to have made you wait," he said, the words laced with heavy sarcasm. "I know you don’t have many weapons left; did you stay behind to stall us?" The mask only revealed his eyes, but he seemed to have a curious air about him. Fucker probably thought it wouldn’t hurt to waste time yakking since Reno was effectively ‘caught’.

"Nah, I jus’ hate runnin’." Reno’s right arm twitched; he pushed aside the impatience, intent on giving Rude and Rufus enough time to get away from here as possible. The second he moved, he was sure these assholes would attack. He had gambled that they wouldn’t want him instantly dead, not after the way they hadn’t shot to outright kill, but he knew they wouldn’t stand still and let him take potshots at them. "Now I wanna play."

The head honcho scoffed and did something with his gauntlet. "I’m sorry to say that we’re not in a mood to play. Thank you, though, for making things a little bit easier on us." He seemed to be preparing a spell, be it to incapacitate Reno or kill him, Reno didn’t know and figured that he’d run out of time.

"Spoke a bit too soon, there," he said and in one smooth motion threw the bundle into the air the same time he sighted his gun on it. He managed to get two shots off just as something bit into his left leg, before he could activate the barrier spell on his baton. It formed around him as he crumbled to the ground, and there was this terrible sound while the air around him became stained with brilliant red streaked with a rainbow of colors.

Doing his best to ignore the pain in his leg and the mess he’d just created, he grabbed the vials, his right hand trembling as hell literally formed around him, kept at bay by a barrier that was already sparking in protest. He let his baton fall from his hand, the weapon growing hot as it strove to keep on working, and yanked off the vials’ caps. Some of the healing liquid splashed onto his fingers, but he managed to get most of it into his mouth before his baton made a screeching sound and literally shattered. Then it was as if lightning coursed through his body when he swallowed the potions, energy exploding in him and around him. There was pain, burning, shocking pain that made him feel as if his bones were melting and his skin was being scoured off, soon to be swallowed up by darkness.

*******

Rude ran as if hellhounds were at his heels, forcing his body to move as fast as possible. He never enjoyed running – didn’t like losing a fight and quite honestly he wasn’t built for speed. Running was something he usually left to Reno, who could taunt the hell out of an enemy even while retreating with amazing speed. Yet he’d left the idiot behind and was racing as quickly as he could away from him.

Rufus twitched in his arms and tried to speak, something that sounded an awful lot like ‘Reno’; Rude held him tighter and just hoped that he was moving fast enough to get away from whatever his partner had planned. Those explosives were specially mixed and damn powerful, and he had an idea about what Reno needed them for. Once again, he cursed the destroyed gauntlet and whoever had sabotaged it. As soon as this was over, the Turks were going to seriously clean house.

The whizzing of a bullet to his left jerked him from his thoughts and made him falter; he almost fell before he regained his footing and swerved in the direction of the last shot. Dammit, they still had at least one enemy on their tail – Reno better do something quick since Rude couldn’t carry Rufus like this and shoot at the same time.

"Stop! I’ll fucking shoot you if you don’t!" someone called out, and this time a bullet grazed Rude’s right arm. "Stop, dammit!"

Cursing from the pain, Rude managed to stumble toward a block of concrete that had once been part of a building’s outer façade. He crouched down low, placed Rufus on the ground and huddled over his president while he pulled out his gun. The situation wasn’t ideal – the enemy would surround them soon enough and flush or drag them out, but Rude was hoping it wouldn’t be much longer. He just had to hold out until Reno did his thing. At least the enemy seemed determined to take them alive, which would be to his benefit.

"Just fucking surrender already! We’ve got the redhead so come out from there *now*," the sniper shouted. "It’ll go a lot-"

One minute things were relatively quiet, except for the asshole who thought Rude would merely hold up his hands and surrender without a fight, and the next… the next there were explosions and flashing lights and, quite honestly, the most horrid sound Rude had ever heard. He could *feel* something racing toward him, something hungry and terrifying, and wrapped his arms around Rufus to protect him with his body. The air seemed to tear apart around them, destroyed by heat and lightning and an overwhelming sense of magic, while Rude struggled not to crumple beneath its onslaught. Whatever the hell Reno had done, he’d seemed to have unleashed hell all around them, and Rude barely had time to spare a thought for how his partner could possibly survive this before something slammed into his back and knocked him out.

*******

Struggling to breathe, Rufus finally regained enough control over his body to shove Rude aside. The large Turk was unconscious, black suit burned from his back and exposing skin that looked raw and mangled. Blood trickled down Rude’s face from a spreading bruise on his forehead, the left side of his sunglasses shattered.

Rufus made sure the Turk was still alive, his fingers trembling as he pressed them against the side of Rude’s neck. He thought he felt a pulse; his ears were still ringing from whatever the hell that explosion was, so he didn’t attempt to listen for a heartbeat.

Every bit of him ached, his face felt as if sandpaper had been rubbed over it and he had trouble moving his limbs. The air was filled with an awful stench of burnt flesh, magic and scorched building materials, still several degrees hotter than it had been just a short while earlier. Doing his best to force his watering eyes to focus, Rufus cautiously peeked over the edge of concrete and looked around to determine just how much trouble they were in.

A body lay about twenty feet away , a mess of seared flesh and exposed organs. Another lump by the foot of a small building might be human as well, though Rufus wasn’t going to go there and find out for certain. He looked in the direction he thought Rude had run from to find what remained of the hotel, a wreck of crumpled, charred walls that had partially fallen onto each other.

"Reno," he said, the name little more than a raspy sound because of his sore throat, and struggled to stand up. His body loudly protested the movement, sending a wave of incapacitating pain through him and making him collapse against the concrete. He had to close his eyes and just breathe for a minute, doing his best to quell the pain and nausea he felt. When he opened them again, he found himself staring at Rude.

No matter how much he wanted to go see if Reno was alive, he had a responsibility for the Turk he was certain wasn’t dead. That thought provoked pain harsher than before, his breath catching in his throat as his eyes were stung by tears. He must have some debris in them from the explosion and did his best to carefully wipe it away, forcing his thoughts from Reno for the time being.

A quick search of his coat revealed his and Reno’s cell phones, his two guns and a lone bottle of hi-potion. There was a fleeting memory of Reno’s hands in his coat after the electric jolt, and he felt some of the pain and anxiety ease inside of his chest. Reno wouldn’t have taken the potions if he hadn’t thought up a use for them. The bastard was probably just too stunned from the explosion to find Rufus.


For now, Rufus was left with only one potion while both he and Rude were injured. His first impulse was to give the potion to Rude before common sense kicked in. There was no way of knowing if the single potion would be enough to heal the Turk to the point of being able to function normally, not to mention that Rude was currently unconscious. Making a decision, Rufus swallowed half the potion; his injuries weren’t severe and he could always force the remaining half on Rude. Right now, he wanted to be able to fend off another attack while waiting for Reno, Tseng and the others to arrive. They better get here damn quick.

He’d just found Rude’s gun and spare ammunition clips when the sound of helicopters filled the air. Crouching down beside the Turk, Rufus narrowed his eyes as he searched the sky for the vehicles. The sight of the ShinRa logo on the black helicopters were reassuring… until he remembered the sabotaged gauntlet. He didn’t move from his position as the nearest helicopter landed in the narrow clearing, obviously having homed in on the cell phone signal. Up in the sky, two more helicopters hovered.

A black-clad figure slowly stepped out of the vehicle, his long, straight hair whipped by the wind from the slowing blades. Tseng held his hands away from his sides, clearly unarmed although the two Turks who quickly joined him on the ground, Elena and Kali, held guns at the ready.

"President?" Tseng called out, looking in Rufus’ direction. "Reno?  Rude?"

If it were any other Turk, Rufus would have hesitated or asked for confirmation that he wasn’t about to be betrayed; not with Tseng. He slowly stood up, his healing body protesting a little, and let his right hand, still wrapped around the gun, fall to his side. "Tseng."

The Wutian rarely allowed true emotion show on his face, yet now he was visibly relieved. "Sir, I’m sorry," Tseng said as he hurried toward Rufus. "The situation is now under control. How are Rude and Reno?" The words flew after each other, as hasty as Tseng’s movements.

Rufus slumped against the block of concrete and motioned to his feet. "Rude’s here and needs medical attention. As for Reno…." He felt the pain and anxiety return as he waved in the direction of the still smoldering hotel. "He’s there, Tseng. He did something to buy us time." The last few words came out in a squeak as his throat grew tight. He would punch Reno for scaring him like this, then dock him a week’s pay for that stunt with the baton.

Tseng merely nodded and pulled out his cell phone to issue a string of orders while Elena stood on guard and Kali fetched someone from the helicopter who turned out to be a doctor. The tall woman practically dragged the much shorter man toward Rufus, her face paling when she finally saw Rude.

"Oh hell." The words were barely audible as she fell to her knees beside Rude, her trembling right hand reaching out to the unconscious Turk’s face. Meanwhile, the doctor attempted to fuss over Rufus.


He shoved the man away and glared. "Tend to Rude; I’m fine for now." The potion had cured most of the aches and restored his hearing; he could wait for a more thorough examination once he knew about Reno. Stumbling from around the concrete, he approached Tseng. "Let’s go."

A strong grip on his left arm prevented him from getting more than two steps away from Tseng. "Sir, you aren’t going anywhere near that building." Tseng ignored the virulent glare sent his way and issued another command on the cell phone. "No, land near us; the building appears too unstable." Once finished, he dragged Rufus away from the clearing. "We’ll look for him in a minute while you go to Medical, sir."

"The hell I am!" Rufus hissed in fury and attempted to free his arm. "In case you’re not understanding the situation, Tseng, Reno’s in there! I’m not leaving without him."

Rare anger crossed Tseng’s face as he gave Rufus’ arm a painful squeeze. "I am very aware of that, President, just as I’m aware that he’s there because he was protecting you. So stay here rather than risk both of your lives and let people experienced with this ‘situation’ get him." He returned Rufus’ cold look before tucking back a strand of black hair that fell onto his face. "President… we were five miles out when we saw the… the explosion. If it wasn’t for that, we would have been here a few minutes earlier; we had to wait for the air to stabilize enough for the helicopters. The fact that the building is still standing leaves me amazed, and I won’t make Reno’s sacrifice meaningless because you went in there and brought it down on your head!" He was actually shouting by the end of the speech, leaving Rufus more stunned than he could recall being in years. "I’m sorry, sir."

"Tseng." Rufus stopped what he wasn’t even sure he was about to say as two more helicopters landed in the street. The mention of ‘sacrifice’ made his heart feel as if someone had shoved a hand into his chest and squeezed it. Reno was probably a bit banged up, not…. He shook his head violently enough to cause a headache and refused to think any more. Reno was alive.

As Rufus watched with growing impatience, several Turks, all of them ones he recognized as having worked for ShinRa the last few years, fanned out from the vehicles. Rod and Jared were hustling what appeared to be Dr. Cavish toward the hotel while Ling and a limping Michael approached with Dr. Alim walking between them.

Rufus waved Alim away, much as he had the other doctor. "Go look at Rude," he ordered, which Dr. Alim ignored.

"This will take only a moment, sir," Alim said as he closely examined Rufus, even grasping him by the face to flash a light in his eyes. "Have you taken any potions recently?"

Furious that he had to suffer this while there were several pressing issues that required his attention, Rufus bit back on a curse when he noticed Tseng’s warning look. "Yes, a few minutes ago. Reno knocked me almost unconscious with his baton, and I seemed to suffer minor burns and bruises because of the explosion," he explained, knowing that Tseng would not talk to him about the situation until Dr. Alim was certain that he was all right.

Dr. Alim muttered something under his breath and checked Rufus’ pulse. "You’ll undergo a full examination once we get back to Medical, but you seem all right for now." He nodded to Tseng before going to look at Rude, barking orders to the younger doctor once he saw the wounded Turk.

"Are you happy?" Rufus snapped, feeling more helpless by the second and infuriated by it. "Will you insist that I take a fucking nap before you inform me about what’s going on in my own Turks and company?" However, he found it a bit difficult to glare at someone when he couldn’t stop glancing back at the hotel.

Tseng didn’t seem bothered by the nasty tone or look; if anything, he smiled slightly and nodded once. "Tell me what happened first, sir."

"We were ambushed on the way to the meeting. Rude said they used materia to stop the car then disabled it with bullets." Rufus felt some of his calm return as he went over the day’s events. "It was clear that they wanted us alive, so we left the car to find someplace safer where we could wait for you." His eyes narrowed as he recalled what had happened next. "Someone sabotaged the gauntlet stored in the car, Tseng." That didn’t provoke as much of a reaction as he thought it might, just another curt nod. "Reno led us to the hotel, asked Rude for all his materia and explosives and then incapacitated me. Rude took me from the hotel and I think you can guess the rest." Dammit, why had Reno done that? If Tseng had been close enough to see the explosion, that meant they could have held out until he’d arrived.

Tseng began to walk toward the hotel, motioning Rufus to follow but not letting him take the lead. "We’re just getting a little closer, sir." He was quiet for a few seconds, and Rufus could hear some shouts from inside the mostly destroyed hotel. "I was suspicious as soon as we got Reno’s emergency call yet no alarm from the car itself. Cyril and Mason were responsible for checking the vehicles this morning."

The fury from earlier returned as Rufus accepted the fact that he had indeed been betrayed by one of his Turks, that one of Reno’s own coworkers was responsible for this situation. "Where are they?"

"Cyril is currently doing his best to help us track down his partner." At Rufus’ curious look, Tseng shrugged and came to a stop, making sure that Rufus stopped, too. The bastard actually grabbed him by the arm again, and Rufus didn’t have the strength to break free. "I don’t believe he’s involved in this, President. He had a fight with Mason, who inspected the car without his presence, then came to me to report his partner’s behavior. Cyril was in my office when the alert came through, and I have no doubt that his reaction was honest. Deirdre checked Mason’s cell phone and computer records while we were in flight, and noticed that he’d called a disposable cell phone and attempted to disable your, Reno and Rude’s trackers before leaving work." Tseng sounded calm as he reported the betrayal, the gleam of anger in his dark eyes the only show of emotion.

"Reno mentioned that Cyril had asked him about Mason this morning," Rufus remembered with a growing sense of dread. "We’ll have to go over *everything* to find all the security leaks." Dammit, why was Reno still in the building? One of the walls was listing even more inward, and other Turks had joined Rod and Jared.

"That’s what delayed our arrival, sir," Tseng explained, seeming unconcerned about what was going on just a short distance away. "We had to make sure that the helicopters hadn’t been sabotaged and that headquarters was secured. I’ve taken-"

Tseng was cut off by Rod yelling for Dr. Cavish while he stumbled out of the hotel, a limp body draped over his shoulder and supported by Jared. Rufus felt a painful stab to his heart when he saw long red hair and shoved Tseng aside to run toward his lover.

"Why the hell did you move him, you idiot!" the doctor shrieked as she hurried toward Rod.

"Because the fucking building’s gonna come down any second!" he yelled back, Jared by his side and helping him to lower Reno to the ground. They laid him out as straight as possible, hovering beside him even when the doctor swore at them to move.

By the time Rufus reached his lover, Tseng had caught up and made him stop a couple of feet from Reno. He was close enough to see Reno’s uniform burnt in several places, shredded all over and covered with blood. Reno was clearly unconscious, his face smeared with blood. Most of the injuries were on his left side, though Rufus didn’t see too many open wounds.

"He was in the center of the debris; it looked as if he was hit by some of it." Jared looked away from Reno to Tseng, his haggard face covered from soot. "Sir, no one else is alive in there. One of the walls collapsed while we were searching so…."

"All that matters is finding Reno," Tseng assured the Turk.

"If they didn’t kill him by dragging him out of there like that," Dr. Cavish muttered as she pulled on a gauntlet. "He has several broken bones, has lost a lot of blood, is suffering internal injuries and I’m willing to bet a concussion from the lump on the side of his head. I’m going to stabilize him and let Dr. Alim fix him up." Her face had paled during the examination, her expression growing guarded. That she didn’t look at Tseng or Rufus as she explained Reno’s condition was another worrying sign, but if Dr. Alim had brought her, Rufus assumed she could be trusted.

That assumption only lasted as long as it took her to slot a healing materia into the gauntlet and use the magic against Reno. Once the magic began, Reno went into convulsions, his back arching completely off the street and blood bubbling from his lips.


"Stop it!" Rufus ordered and fumbled for his gun, the same time that Dr. Cavish screamed for Dr. Alim and Tseng pointed a gun at her head. She didn’t stop screaming, though she quit using the gauntlet and allowed Rod to snatch it from her hand. Once the magic ended, Reno quieted down, falling limply against the street and his breathing labored. Rufus knelt beside his lover and swore when his hand brushed against feverish skin. Reno always felt warmer than most people, but right now he was burning up.

"I didn’t do anything!" Dr. Cavish babbled, tears streaming down her face as she looked toward Dr. Alim. "All I did was try to stabilize him, I swear it! I-"

"Hush, Debbie," Dr. Alim said as he knelt beside Rufus. "Let me look at him, President." He gently pushed Rufus aside and pulled on his own gauntlet, his expression growing grim as he touched Reno’s face.


Once again, Reno went into convulsions as soon as any healing magic was directed at him. Dr. Alim actually swore as he quickly tossed the gauntlet aside, his hands once more touching Reno’s face. "What happened?" he demanded, not turning his attention from Reno.

"I just tried to-"

Dr. Alim once again cut off a crying Dr. Cavish. "No. What did he do, President?"

"I’ve no fucking clue," Rufus snapped, fighting the urge to shove Alim aside to make the man stop touching Reno. "As I said, he stunned me with his baton; all I know is he took all the materia and most of my potions and elixirs."

Dr. Alim muttered something under his breath and leaned forward to sniff Reno’s mouth. Then he picked up Reno’s left hand and sniffed that as well, followed by Reno’s right. The doctor’s expression turned even more grim as he held Reno’s right hand below his nose for a moment. "I’m taking him to Medical right away. Dr. Cavish, get the stretcher." He resumed checking Reno’s wounds, his lips pressing together more and more with each passing second.

"What’s wrong?" Rufus asked, about to go for his own gun again if Alim ignored him. Luckily for the doctor, the question was quickly answered.

"He’s clearly having some type of reaction to materia; I think he must have taken all of your potions. As of right now, I’m forbidding any healing magic for him until I know for sure." He finally looked at Rufus. "President… some of these wounds appear partially healed. That is a positive sign."

Rufus nodded, appalled with himself that such a blatant attempt at reassurance actually filled him with hope. Reno was alive, and Dr. Alim would make sure the stubborn idiot remained in that condition. When the stretcher arrived, Rufus had to force himself away from Reno so his lover could be safely flown out of here.

Barely a minute after the helicopter carrying Reno was in the air, a loud groaning sound made everyone look at the hotel and witness its collapse. Tseng blocked Rufus’ view as a wave of dust was sent through the air the same time he pushed him in the direction of another helicopter. "We’re leaving, President."

Not about to argue, Rufus sighed and lifted his right hand to rub his face when he noticed that it was smeared with Reno’s blood. His throat going tight and his eyes once more stinging with tears from the dust, Rufus headed toward the helicopter. "I want to know exactly what’s going on, Tseng."

"We’ll know better once we find Mason, sir," Tseng said as he helped Rufus into the helicopter. "Now that you’re safe, I can send out more Turks to find him."

Nodding in approval, Rufus curled his right hand into a fist and settled it on his lap. Reno’s blood was sticky and warm from contact with his skin. Looking down at the remains of the hotel, the clear center of a fresh explosion that had leveled several other buildings, Rufus squeezed his hand and did his best to not think about his lover and the odd, powerful emotions that constantly caught him off-guard. He couldn’t afford any weakness at a time like this, for his and Reno’s sake.

*******

Standing outside of the examination room, Tseng answered his phone as soon as he heard it ring. "Sir, we’re at Mason’s apartment now. It’s clear he was here to retrieve some belongings." Elena sounded frustrated, as if she’d expected the former Turk to still be at home.

"What are you doing now?" he asked, doing his best to split his attention between Rufus’ examination and Elena’s report. Dr. Cavish appeared to have learned from the mistake with Reno and made sure that Tseng could see what she was doing at all times, but Tseng would watch over his President all the same.

This time, Elena sounded very pleased. "He didn’t take his laptop. Cyril’s attempting to log on to see what he can find."

Tseng was tempted to order her to bring the laptop here immediately before he caught himself. Nothing that they’d uncovered so far pointed out to Mason doing a ‘professional’ job of being a double agent, so chances were that he didn’t have the proper software on his computer to destroy all information upon an attempt to access it. Tseng was willing to risk the low odds of that happening against Cyril investigating the device now and hopefully picking up a lead with enough time to catch Mason. "Call me when you find something."

"Yes, sir."

The next call was from Pamela, who informed him that all the vehicles had been checked and were now safe for use. Several helicopters had been tampered with, their tracking devices and alarms turned off as well as weapon caches sabotaged, all of a similar make and model that Reno preferred to use when flying the president to meetings. The more information that Tseng heard, the more it became clear to him that today’s attempt had been a rush job. Also, he felt more assured that Mason was the only traitor amongst the Turks, considering the lack of damage they’d found. That didn’t leave out the possibility that more traitors were hidden elsewhere in the company; he wouldn’t rest until *everything* and *everyone* had been checked out and cleared. Someone had tried to kidnap his president; he would make sure they didn’t get another chance to catch him off-guard.

At least Rufus was safe; Tseng tried to console himself with that fact when Dr. Cavish told Rufus that he could get dressed. However, Reno was still in surgery while Rude had just gotten out. Two of his best Turks were incapacitated, all because another Turk had betrayed them. Tseng’s phone creaked as his hands balled into fists, and he had to put it back in his pocket so it wasn’t damaged.


He still didn’t know what exactly Reno had done, other than it had involved materia, explosives and potions. Jared had reported that the few bodies he could find had been little more than lumps of charcoal, yet Reno was barely burned. Jared had also said that it looked as if Reno’s baton had exploded; bits of it had been scattered around Reno and the last report from Dr. Alim had mentioned the removal of shrapnel from the left side of Reno’s body.

More than likely, he had used his barrier shield to protect himself from the worst of the blast, Tseng surmised as he did his best to piece together what happened. Materia spheres were known to explode if they sustained enough damage, and a couple of Rude’s special explosives should be able to do just the trick. The longer that Tseng thought about things, the more he was surprised that Reno had managed to survive. The only thing he was certain about was that Reno had done his job to the best of his ability, and that Rufus was alive and well because of him.

Alive and well… and clearly distracted by Reno’s condition. As soon as Tseng entered the room, Rufus stopped buttoning his dirt-covered shirt and demanded an update. "How is he?"

"Still in surgery, sir," Tseng answered, not needing to know who ‘he’ was. "I did overhear orders to prepare a room for him by the nurse’s station so I assume he’ll be out of surgery soon." Rufus had every right to know the condition of his Turks, especially one who had been injured protecting him. He’d always been concerned about his people, which was part of how he earned and kept Tseng’s and the others’ loyalty. However, Tseng believed it was more than just ‘concern’ here and was worried. Rufus refused to acknowledge his feelings for Reno at the best of times, and a situation like this would make his reactions very unpredictable. Tseng would have to keep a close eye on his president.

Rufus appeared mollified by that and resumed putting on his dirty and torn clothes. "Sir, I can send for a clean suit," Tseng offered.

"No, thank you." Rufus combed his fingers through his hair and gave Rufus a cool look. "I’m sure everyone already knows what’s happened, and I won’t give the impression that I’m trying to hide anything. I was attacked by terrorists and defended by my Turks." For a moment the cool expression wavered, replaced by worry. "That attack failed and I won’t waste any time in putting things back to order." His expression changed again, this time to something very cold and cruel. "Besides, I’ll be there when you interrogate Mason. I see no reason to ruin another suit today."

"Understood, sir," Tseng said with a slight bow. "I expect to hear that he’s been caught very soon." Elena had sworn that she wouldn’t return without the traitor, and Kali was almost frightening in her determination to make Mason suffer. Add to that the fact that Cyril insisted on being the one to find Mason, and Tseng was certain the three Turks would soon be successful.

Rufus attempted to brush some of the dust from his coat. "Call me the moment Reno’s out of surgery," he ordered Dr. Cavish before motioning for Tseng to leave the room. "I assume that Reeve knows why I didn’t show up for the meeting?"

"Yes, sir. He heard about the explosion and has repeatedly offered whatever help he can provide." Tseng hesitated for a moment. "I informed him about Reno’s condition and he’s eager to talk to Dr. Alim to find some sort of solution."

The muscles in Rufus’ jaw twitched, the only sign of a reaction to the news. "I’m sure Dr. Alim will be grateful to hear that, considering that it appears Mako is involved. Has WRO suffered any attacks?"

"No, sir. There’s also been no other signs of sabotage within our company, though my people haven’t completed their checks." All the Turks understood that there would be no rest at all for the next few days, and Tseng needed to talk with Dr. Alim about authorizing additional elixirs to keep them going.

"If they got to a Turk, I’m certain there are others," Rufus pointed out, his thoughts the same as Tseng’s on the matter. "As soon as we have a clear target, I plan to go public about the attack. I believe ShinRa has been adequately redeemed in people’s minds to garner enough support to turn the attack back on those responsible."

Tseng nodded, willing to bet that they both knew who was behind today’s events; Earth First had done their best to sabotage ShinRa Electric Power Company since the company had risen from the ashes of Weapon.  "From a tactical viewpoint, they were very foolish to proceed with such a hasty plan against a well-protected foe."

Rufus was silent for a minute as they headed to the elevator. "Why today, Tseng? I admit the location was ideal for an ambush, but it wouldn’t have been the only opportunity. What convinced them that they had to move before things were adequately set up?" He seemed truly curious about what had prompted his enemy to move against him so rashly, as was Tseng.

"I don’t know, President. Hopefully Mason will be able to answer a few of our questions." Tseng would redeem his failure by forcing Mason to reveal every last bit of information he had… which probably wasn’t going to be that much, unfortunately. Still, Tseng and his people could work miracles with only the slightest bit of leads.

As if to restore his faith in his people, his phone rang once they reached the elevator. This time, it was Cyril. "Sir, I’ve found something on Mason’s computer," the young Turk said in an excited rush.


"What would that be?" Tseng asked, conscious of Rufus’ sharp attention to the conversation.

"Several of the IP addresses from deleted emails match those known to belong to Earth First networks. Also, I’ve found recent searches for train schedules."

"So you believe he’ll leave the city by train?" While elated about the link to Earth First, Tseng was leery about the other bit of information.

"No, sir." It sounded as if Cyril was still typing on the laptop. "I think it’s a false lead – there was some attempt to erase the email information while this was easy to find. However, it made me remember that Mason borrowed Tosh’s computer the other day." His voice grew more excited the longer he talked. "I called Tosh, and he told me that Mason had visited a couple of sites selling cars. Once he sends us the information, we’ll find out what he’s using to get out of the city."

A pleased smile spread across Tseng’s face. "Very good, Cyril. Thank you for the update." He was even more certain that it wouldn’t be much longer now that the Turks would be able to close the matter about their traitor. Ending the call, he then shared the information with Rufus.

"Good." Rufus reached into the inner pocket where he usually kept his cell phone. "As I said, call me once Mason’s here." He pulled out the phone as if to make sure it was still functioning, his impassive expression changing into one of pain. Tseng was about to stop the elevator and make it return to the Medical Department’s floor when he realized that Rufus was holding Reno’s cell phone.

"He slipped it into my coat before he shocked me," Rufus explained as he stared at the phone, its surface covered with several colorful stickers and small stuffed moogle hanging from it.

"We used it to find you, sir." Tseng quietly cleared his throat and hoped that Rufus regained his composure before the elevator came to a stop; once again, he was grateful for the elevator’s slow speed. "He knew the odds were better if you had several phones on your possession, in case one of the numbers was blocked or if a phone became damaged."


"It would also mean that he didn’t expect anyone to come looking for him." Rufus’ tone turned cold, his expression matching it as he shoved the phone back into his pocket. "Then again, I doubt anyone could have missed that explosion. He’s not allowed to play with any bombs in the near future, Tseng."


"Yes, sir," Tseng replied, the only thing he could think to say since he wasn’t certain if Rufus was joking or not. The elevator’s doors opening spared him from having to say anything else, while Rufus was once more the calm, authoritative figure that ShinRa’s employees expected to see.

Tseng prayed that Dr. Alim wouldn’t call with any bad news about Reno, or Earth First might be successful with their attempt to deprive ShinRa Electric Power Company of its president after all. That thought bothered him, circled around his mind whenever he wondered about why Earth First had moved today… the first day in over a week that Reno had accompanied Rufus to a meeting.

*******

Each time Rufus’ phone rang, he felt a tightness in his chest that only slightly lessened when he realized it wasn’t Dr. Alim on the other line. The old adage was ‘no news is good news’, something that wasn’t exactly reassuring when one’s lover was currently in surgery for too long a time.

Since he’d just spoken to Reeve and Tseng was standing a few feet away, Rufus hesitated a moment before he looked at the screen of his phone. The tightness flared agony when he saw Dr. Alim’s name on the caller ID. "What is it?" he snapped, using anger to cover weakness.

"President, you wanted me to call you when Reno was out of surgery," Dr. Alim explained, his tone exhausted yet pleased. "He’s in the room closest to the nurse’s station."

"Thank you, Doctor. I’m on my way down." The pain slowly weakened as Rufus closed his laptop and moved from his desk. "How was the surgery?" He wanted to know Reno’s exact condition.

"More involved than I thought because of the shrapnel, and the fact that more bones were broken than I suspected. All have been reset correctly and his wounds can heal now that they’ve been cleaned of debris."

For such a positive report, Rufus couldn’t help but notice the reserved manner in which Dr. Alim remarked on Reno’s injuries. "When will he be fully recovered?" Rufus asked, his eyes narrowing in anger when the doctor didn’t immediately answer. "Dr. Alim, I expect an experienced doctor such as yourself to be able to provide me with that answer."

What sounded to be a muffled sigh came over the connection, followed by Dr. Alim clearing his throat. "President… the matter is complicated because of Reno’s reaction to the potions and Mako in the materia. His regenerative ability has been increased by the exposure, which is placing a strain on his body. Any attempt to use Mako to either stop or aid the process causes a reaction similar to what you saw earlier. At this point, all I can say is that he should heal faster than normal, possibly in as little as two weeks’ time."

Rufus wasn’t in the mood for hypothetical guesses and felt some annoyance for Reno because of this ridiculous situation. Trust Reno to protect him in such a flamboyant, ridiculous manner then complicate things even further with his condition. "If his healing is accelerated, why will it still take so long?" For some reason, the question made Tseng stare at him in a concerned manner while Ling and Michael took a quick step closer to the elevator door – away from Rufus.

Dr. Alim sighed again, apologizing this time. "I’m sorry, sir. Reno has suffered several breaks to his left leg, forearm and ribs. There was a disturbing amount of shrapnel from what I assume to be his weapon, along with debris from the building. He also received a concussion from the building falling down around him, as well as numerous contusions. Normally, I’d say he’d be in casts for at least two months with the severity of the wounds, but his body is reacting as if it’s being powered by the potions and elixirs, if that makes any sense. I’m assuming that the effect won’t stop until it burns itself out or Reno’s injuries are healed." He almost sounded peevish by the time he was done explaining the situation.

Mindful of the people around him, Rufus took a deep breath to calm himself. "He will fully recover from the injuries?" he asked, desperate for something to understand, some assurance that things would return to normal soon. He wouldn’t allow Earth First to win a victory over him at Reno’s expense.

"Sir, I must admit that I’m leery with any predictions because of the unknown factors in the situation… but yes, with the information I have on hand, I believe that Reno will fully recover. He will be weak for some time because of the strain on his body and that the injuries which were partially healed had to be reopened or broken to assure proper healing."

"Thank you, Doctor." Rufus pressed his left hand to his forehead for a moment, almost dizzy as the tension in his body suddenly relaxed. Reno would be all right, and Rufus could deal with him over his foolish actions soon. There would be no more flamboyant gestures if he could help it. "We’re almost there."

As soon as the elevator door opened, he stepped forward, not waiting for the Turks to clear the hallway for him. There were very few people roaming the hallways now, and Medical had already been cleared by Tseng.

Heading straight for the nurse’ office, Rufus felt his lips twitch at the thought that it was only because of his lover that he knew the Medical department’s layout so well. However, the amusement was short-lived when he recalled how many times he’d been down here to find Reno unconscious or seriously injured. Each time, it was more painful, more stressful, and he was almost filled with dread by the time he saw Dr. Alim waiting for him by an opened door.

"President Shinra, he’s still unconscious from the surgery. I don’t expect him to wake up for a few more hours, and I’m considering keeping him sedated for the next few days to lessen the strain on his body," Dr. Alim warned, his right hand hovering above Rufus’ left arm as if to stop him from entering the room. "I’ll… I’ll be out here if you have any questions." He rubbed his eyes as he stepped away from the door, clearly exhausted.

Rufus nodded in gratitude to the doctor and ordered Ling and Michael to remain in the hallway. The Turks glanced at Tseng as if to confirm the order, which didn’t do anything for Rufus’ uneven temper. He was about to remind the men who they worked for before Tseng gave them new instructions. "We may be here for a while so go assist Deirdre." When the Turks left, Tseng motioned to the open door. "After you, sir."

Even though he understood why he wasn’t being allowed some privacy with Reno, Rufus felt annoyance that he pushed aside as he entered the darkened room. Tseng was only doing his job and ensuring that Rufus wasn’t placed in danger again, never mind the fact that he was in healthy condition and easily able to look after himself… unlike Reno. The fear Rufus felt in regards to his injured lover had taken on an almost irrational, paranoid edge and he was helpless to reason the emotion away. Despite a thousand more important things that warranted his attention, he couldn’t stop worrying about one man.

Close enough to the bed to see its occupant, Rufus stared in shock at his lover. He’d heard Dr. Alim rattle off all of Reno’s injuries, but it didn’t seem to have sunk in until just now how badly Reno was hurt. The unconscious redhead was mostly wrapped in what had to be an excessive amount of gauze. There were two bandages on his bruised and scratched face, one along the left side of his nose and the other on his forehead. His hair was singed in some places, and the little bit of his skin that wasn’t bruised or covered with bandages seemed to glow in the room’s dim light. Reno lay unnaturally still in bed, his plastered left arm resting on top of the covers, his upper body elevated slightly and too many lines from IVs and monitors attached to his body.

Approaching the bed with a hesitant step, Rufus fought the urge to turn around and leave. This wasn’t Reno, wasn’t the loudmouthed, irrepressible idiot Turk who infuriated Rufus on a daily basis. There was no movement, no sound; the only way he knew that Reno was still alive was from the beeping of the monitors. He wanted Reno to wake up, wanted to call Alim in here and make the doctor heal his lover, to do something that would have Reno open his eyes and smile.

The terrible, gnawing feeling that had filled him since the attack grew so strong that Rufus stumbled and had to catch the bed’s railing to keep from falling. He waved Tseng’s help aside and edged closer to his lover, near enough so he could brush aside a singed lock of hair that fell over Reno’s swollen right eye.

The feel of feverishly warm skin sent a jolt of… of something through him, something that made his heart beat faster and slightly soothe the emptiness in his chest. He could feel that Reno was alive and know that his irrational fears were unfounded.

He stood there for several minutes, the tips of his fingers resting against Reno’s forehead as if he was afraid the pale skin would begin to cool at any second. Then it hit him, slammed into him with so much force and awareness that his legs wavered and his left hand had to clutch the railing  again to keep him upright. He couldn’t bear contemplating living without Reno beside him or the mere possibility that Reno would escape him through death and leave him alone. Somehow, his lover had become too important, too… too necessary to Rufus. As much as he shook his head in denial, he couldn’t ignore the fact that the emotion that inspired all the fear and worry and pain he’d felt in the past couple of hours… was love. That was the only name he could think for the overwhelming concern, need and… and…. He’d never felt like this before, never depended so much on another person, until Reno.

Somehow, he’d fallen in love with the bastard. He’d missed whatever it was that had turned their relationship from purely sexual into something that terrified him. How had he given so much of himself to the Turk? Had let Reno in to this extent? All Rufus could think about was that he cared too much for Reno, had become vulnerable in a manner he’d never expected and could see no way to correct, and it was all the fault of the bastard lying in bed.

Without a conscious thought on his part, his right hand raised and moved backward before darting forward with as much force as he could put behind the motion. There was a spark of pain when his hand smacked against Reno’s face, a growing ache that he ignored as he pulled his arm back so he could smack his lover again. Reno didn’t wake up, didn’t protest at all; his head turned to the side from the force of the blows that shook the bed.

"President!" A painfully tight grip latched on to his right wrist and Rufus found himself jerked away from Reno. Tseng dragged him from the bed, the Turk’s fingers digging into Rufus’ flesh as if to crush bone. "What are you doing?"

"Get him the hell out of here!" Dr. Alim screamed and rushed toward Reno, going so far as to shove Rufus out of his way. "President, you’re barred from this room!"

"Let me go, dammit," Rufus swore through gritted teeth. He didn’t want to leave Reno, wanted to hit him some more until the bastard woke up so Rufus could yell at him for what he’d done. How dare Reno make him fall in love!

Tseng didn’t stop until they were out of the room and down the hallway. "What are you doing?" Tseng asked again, a very rare display of disgust on his flushed face as he shoved Rufus against the wall and kept him there by still holding on to his wrist. "Are you trying to kill him?"

"Let me go!" Rufus tried to claw his wrist free from Tseng, and when that didn’t work, went for his gun. He swore when he didn’t even manage to get his hand inside his coat before Tseng slammed him against the wall a second time, Tseng’s left arm pressing painfully hard against his upper chest until Rufus gasped for breath.

"Sir, you are not in control of yourself," Tseng panted, his hair tousled and a distressed look on his face. "Are you being influenced in some manner?"

Rufus had to laugh at the question, the sound faint because of the difficulty he had breathing. He’d been betrayed by one of his employees and nearly kidnapped, surviving only because his lover’s insane sacrifice. After all of that, he’d discovered that he had stronger feelings for his lover than he’d ever anticipated, and Tseng clearly thought he was out of his mind at the moment. The Wutian bastard didn’t know how right he was.

Still laughing, Rufus let his head loll back against the wall and stopped struggling. "The fucking bastard," he managed to gasp, the too-familiar sensation of tears stinging at his eyes that he couldn’t blame on dust now. That made him stop laughing as he struggled to not cry, to not let Reno steal something else from him.

"Do you mean Reno, sir?" Tseng asked, removing some of the pressure from Rufus’ chest while making it clear that Rufus wasn’t going to be able to go anywhere. "He saved your life."

"I know," Rufus whispered, no longer feeling the urge to laugh or cry, just wanting to slide down to the floor and hide his head beneath his arms. He felt so tired, drained by the day’s events and revelations. "He shouldn’t have done it, not that way." Not at such a high cost, and not for Rufus’ sake.

Tseng slowly removed his arm from Rufus’ chest and stepped back a little. "Quite honestly, President, I think that was the only way he could have saved you and Rude." He hesitated a moment, his hands rising to comb through his disheveled hair. "Sir… he should be commended for what he’s done. I doubt I would have thought up such a solution and not been killed."

Rufus stared directly at one of the people he trusted the most and scowled. "Do you honestly think he expected to live through that?" That had him almost as upset as the fact that he was in love; Reno had been willing to risk so much and leave him behind to suffer alone.

"The fact that he’s alive while the enemy is dead proves that he did his best to survive." Once again Tseng paused; when he finally spoke, his voice was lacking the calm reassurance from before. "Sir… Rufus…he kept you alive; that’s his job. Don’t blame him for doing what he’s supposed to do." He seemed to be struggling to say something, picking his words with slow care yet appearing displeased with them all the same. "He… he clearly cares very much about you, more than anyone else."

Stung by the words, Rufus was about to angrily retort that Reno just ‘doing his job’ was what pissed him off when he realized what else Tseng had said. His right hand lifted to brush against his lips as he recalled the tender kiss Reno had given him before telling Rude to leave. Reno could have set the explosives to blow up the materia and run away with them, yet he’d chosen to ensure that his plan worked. Reno had never been so suicidal in the past. Somehow, it made Rufus feel better if Reno might feel the same for him, be wrapped up in identical irrational emotions and impulses.

Lost in his attempt to figure out his lover’s actions and feelings, Rufus wasn’t aware that Dr. Alim had left Reno’s room until the man stood beside Tseng and loudly cleared his throat. Dropping his hand back to his side, Rufus straightened up and glared slightly at the doctor. "Do not attempt to tell me that I’m banned from seeing him again," he said, guessing what it was that Alim wanted to discuss.

Dr. Alim’s angry glower went up a notch. "I am in charge of the Medical department, sir, and will *not* stand to see my patients abused in such a manner!"

Rufus pushed aside his anger and folded his arms over his chest, his expression turning to the icy indifference that he found worked best when dealing with stubborn fools. "And I’m the man who owns your department, not to mention pays your salary. I can have you physically removed from the building with a simple command," he pointed out with a frigid tone. "The situation will never happen again, and I’ll see Reno whenever I want."

The doctor didn’t appear happy to be put in his place, but after a quick glance at Tseng, nodded in defeat. "Hit him again and I’ll risk losing my job, President. I refuse to allow an unconscious and injured man to be beaten." Having said his peace, Dr. Alim let out a slow breath and took on a more amiable demeanor. "Well, you’ve seen him, and I must assure you that he’s in better shape than he appears. As I told you, the healing’s still accelerated, sir. I’m unable to explain what exactly is happening, but he should be out of danger within the next few hours."

"Thank you, Doctor." Rufus considered the new bit of information and forced himself to focus on the problem at hand. His company was compromised; he was relatively certain that Mason was the only betrayer amongst the Turks, but wasn’t absolutely sure and knew that there would be more elsewhere in ShinRa.

He stepped away from the wall, forcing Tseng and Dr. Alim to move backward. "Dr. Alim, I want Rude fully recovered as soon as possible. Have someone you trust handle his case while you personally tend to Reno." He fixed the older man with a stern look as he brushed a bit of dirt from the front of his ruined jacket. "If anything happens to him, I’ll hold you responsible." He didn’t look away until he was distracted by the sound of Tseng’s cell phone ringing, and Dr. Alim audibly gulped when he shifted his attention to the Turk.


"I promise you, President, that he’ll be fine. I’ve already restricted access to him to those staff I implicitly trust."

"Good. I’ll have something better arranged for him by morning, Doctor." Rufus stared at Tseng, who had stepped further down the hall to talk on the phone. Tseng noticed his attention and returned the look, nodding slightly. "There will be two Turks stationed at this door at all times," he informed the doctor. "One of them will accompany you or your staff inside the room." The instructions garnished another nod from Tseng, and Rufus felt better for giving in to the paranoia because of that calm acceptance. If Tseng felt he was being irrational, the Turk would have said something. Rufus pushed aside the new wave of concerns that thought provoked.

Dr. Alim bowed and took a step back. "Understood, President. If you’ll excuse me, I need to run a few more tests so I can better understand exactly how Reno’s body is reacting to the mixtures of Mako." He hurried down the hallway, calling out to one of the nurses as he passed the station.

Rufus stared after him for a moment and resisted the urge to go check on Reno. He didn’t quite trust himself with his lover right now, not when he was still upset over the revelation about his emotions. Instead, he stood by the door and waited for Tseng to finish the call.

A couple of minutes later, Tseng snapped his phone shut with a predatory smile on his face. "Sir, Pamela and Tosh are on their way here."

"Are you sure they’re a good choice?" Rufus asked, unwilling to allow his enemies another chance to strike at him in any manner, or for Reno to affect him any more than he already was.

Tseng didn’t appear offended by the question. "Yes, sir, I am." His expression turned cold, his features sharpening as he looked in the direction of Reno’s room. "Cyril, Elena and Kali tracked down Mason and are bringing him in. Once we deal with him, I will make certain that there are no other betrayers among the Turks." His tone was heavy with menace and left Rufus with no doubt that he’d be able to fully trust the department once again.

They waited for Pamela and Tosh to arrive, both of the Turks slightly out of breath as if they’d raced to the Medical department. Their black coats were unzipped, revealing the double gun holsters they wore beneath the garments and the various weapons strapped to their belts. Both had on materia gauntlets as well, appearing ready to battle anything. Rufus smiled in approval while Tseng gave them their orders: ensure that no one endangered or kidnapped Reno.

Rufus inquired about Rude’s condition before he left Medical and was informed that the Turk should be able to return to active duty within the hour.  That seemed to cheer Tseng up some, who made a call and issued several more orders. The situation in Medical tended to for the moment, Rufus and Tseng went to await Mason’s arrival.  Tseng had wanted to wait until more Turks arrived as an escort before Rufus ordered him to leave now; Rufus was well enough to defend himself, and Tseng was a better bodyguard than most of the paired Turks.

They encountered few people in the hallway on their way to the elevator, ShinRa essentially placed under lockdown until they established just how badly Earth First had infiltrated the company. Tseng waited until they were in the elevator to speak to Rufus.

"We’ll know better shortly, but I’m confident that the situation can easily be brought under control," Tseng said as he punched the code that would take them to a restricted floor. "That said, we must take a few precautions, sir."

Pressing his hands to his temples, Rufus nodded slightly and realized he’d require another elixir soon. The day’s events, as well as his emotions, were wearing on him and he needed to be as alert as possible. "I want to interrogate Mason before we settle on a definite plan." He needed to know just how bad things were and what steps were necessary to fix the problem. At least what was happening to his company was something he could control, could fix with enough effort and power.

"Understood, sir. For now, I’ve placed most of the new Turks under supervision." Tseng stared at the door of the elevator as if trying to melt the metal with the heat of his glare. "I am truly sorry, President. I never would have thought that one of my people would betray ShinRa."

Rufus nodded and combed his fingers through his hair, doing his best to forget about the man currently resting in a hospital bed. "It’s not your fault, Tseng." If he felt it was, he’d replace the man in a heartbeat. "We knew there was a danger in hiring so many new recruits at once."

"I have every intention of going over the recruitment process once we’ve talked to Mason." Tseng bowed to Rufus, his right hand slipping inside his coat as he straightened up. "Here." He handed Rufus an elixir.

"Thank you, Tseng." Rufus gratefully accepted the vial and drained it, not even grimacing at the taste. He felt his energy begin to return and for a moment considered changing his clothes so he’d feel even better before he remembered where they were going. As he’d said earlier, there was no sense in ruining another suit.

They reached the floor which held the interrogation rooms and left the elevator, quickly striding down the brightly lit hallway. Tseng’s phone rang again, this time to announce a text message from Elena to notify him that they’d returned to the building. Rufus followed his Head of Turks into a series of rooms, watching Tseng select a variety of potions and materia from various cabinets along the way.

The interrogation room itself was a simple matter; a chair bolted to the floor with various hooks and bars hanging from the ceiling, several locked cabinets along one wall and a padded cot on the opposite wall. In the corner were a small sink and a length of hose. The walls, ceiling and floor were painted a grey so pale it almost appeared white, the color blurring before Rufus’ eyes if he stared at it for too long.

Tseng opened one of the cabinets and pulled down a piece of metal that acted as a shelf upon which he could place the potions and materia. He’d brought spheres to heal, restore and force compulsion, all standard for interrogations. Unlocking another cabinet, he pulled out a baton and handed it to Rufus. "Here, sir, you might want to use this."

Accepting the weapon, Rufus felt that now maddeningly familiar tightening sensation in his chest when he realized how similar the baton was to Reno’s. There was even Lightning materia slotted into the handle, and it sizzled to life when he turned it on. He placed its strap around his right wrist and accepted a sheathed knife and a loaded gun as well.

By the time Tseng had finished setting up a variety of implements for torture, the door opened to reveal Cyril carrying an unconscious Mason over his left shoulder. Cyril’s face was flushed from exertion and his lips pressed into a thin line, the expression shared by Elena and Kali. They helped him put Mason in the chair and cuff his feet to the furniture’s steel legs. Tseng handed them more restraints and nodded at Kali. "Thank you for your help. Go assist Rod and Jared."

Kali didn’t do anything but stand up straight and look at Elena, who blushed a little and moved to stand in front of Tseng. "Sir… I promised her she could be here for this," Elena explained, her shoulders tossed back and her chin tilted up.

Tseng’s dark eyes narrowed as he focused his attention on Elena. "You had no right to promise that. I need her-"

"Sir," Kali said, loud enough to cut him off. "Tseng, sir, I’m standing in for Rude." She also stood at attention while addressing her superior, a look of grim determination on her face and a roughness to her voice. "He’s unable to be here, so…." She glanced at Rufus for a moment before returning her gaze to Tseng. "I’m here for Rude."

Tseng returned her look for several seconds before giving her a curt nod. "If you fail to properly follow my instructions, I’ll have you dragged out of here. First and foremost, our goal is information, not revenge." When Kali nodded and whispered her thanks, he turned toward Cyril. "You don’t have to be here for this."

Cyril’s face flushed a darker red. "I want to be, sir," he said in a rush as he stepped away from his disgraced partner. "I’m not- I know it doesn’t prove anything, sir, but I want to be here." His expression turned into one of intense disgust when he glanced at Mason. "I’m not like him, sir, I promise. I never would do what he did." His tone was almost pleading, his eyes shining as if he was doing his best not to cry. At that moment, he appeared as a young, anxious man and not a Turk. Rufus couldn’t help but compare him to Reno, and swore under his breath at himself for that mental slip. Now was *not* the time to think about Reno and his fucked-up feelings for the redhead.

Tseng turned toward Rufus, who regained his composure and signaled back that it was the Turk’s call. He didn’t know Cyril very well, but felt he had no reason to distrust the young man after all he’d done to track down his partner. If it was a ploy on Cyril’s part to gain their trust, he was a brilliant actor.

After a moment’s deliberation, Tseng nodded and walked toward the shelf to retrieve the Restore materia. Once the sphere was slotted, he went to Mason and forced the traitor to wake up. When he stepped aside, Rufus was sure to take his place, tapping the baton against his right shoulder in a motion reminiscent of Reno. This time, he didn’t bother to swear at himself.

Mason moaned and struggled against his restraints, his eyes fluttering open as the cuffs around his hands clinked against the back of the chair. He seemed to realize where he was with a sudden jolt, his dark eyes going wide and his breath coming in pants.

"Good evening, Mason," Rufus said, his tone perfectly cold and smooth.

"Fuck," the traitor spat, quickly looking around the room at everyone, his gaze skittering away from the shelves with the various instruments spread about. He stared at Cyril, despair flickering across his face before he attempted a mask of scorn. "Aren’t you the good little puppy?" he sneered, his voice thick and slightly quivering. "You think you’re gonna get a gold star for bringing me in? Did you go running to them right away, sniveling and begging to be trusted?"

Cyril stared at his disgraced partner, his color returning to normal as he took a deep breath. "Don’t even tell me you thought I’d cover for you." Disgust was plain on his face, his eyes narrowing in anger or hatred. "You betrayed me, too, you fucking bastard."

Mason laughed, the sound not very convincing as he shook his head and once more fought against the restraints. "You’re an idiot, Cyril. They take you out drinking and you think you owe them your loyalty for that."

Tiring of the private discussion that was useless to him, Rufus motioned for Cyril to be quiet while he stepped closer to Mason and tapped him on the left shoulder with the baton, the weapon set at its lowest level. When the man was done shuddering from the quick jolt of electricity, Rufus smiled and held the baton right beside Mason’s left ear. "I’m not in the mood to hear you fight with your ex-partner. We’ve more important things to discuss." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cyril’s face become flushed again and the Turk move to stand beside Kali.

"Why can’t you fucking die?" Mason moaned in a piteous manner, spittle flying from his lips as he did his best to focus his bloodshot eyes on Rufus.

"Because it takes more than a piss-poor attempt set up by a traitor to kill me," Rufus replied, having the feeling that the interrogation was going to be a while. "How long did you have to wait for your chance, hmm? And what did it get you? Nothing."

Laughing again, Mason slumped back in the chair and sneered. "Come on, don’t tell me I didn’t manage anything," he said, a note of desperation in his voice. "I don’t see Rude or your fucktoy, Reno." He glanced around the room before looking at Rufus once more, his sneer growing stronger. "You missing a Turk or two?"

Glancing at Tseng who nodded in approval, Rufus flicked the baton to a higher setting and lowered it, pushing the weapon against Mason’s crotch. A putrid, burning odor filled the air while the man screamed in agony, annoyingly high-pitched wails that lasted about half a minute. As soon as he passed, out, Tseng was there to heal the damage just enough so it wouldn’t be life-threatening and then revived the traitor.

It took a few minutes before Mason seemed able to focus on anything. He whimpered the entire time, hunched over in his chair and kept from falling onto the floor only by all the restraints. The air was foul with the stench of bodily fluids and scorched flesh.

Rufus used the tip of the baton to force Mason to lift his head. "Perhaps now you’ll understand what’s going to happen to you. We’ve enough potions and materia to keep you alive for a very long time, albeit in a not very functional condition. The more you insult us and attempt any pathetic guilt trips, the more damage you sustain. Only when we’re certain that we’ve put you in a suitably cooperative mood will we use materia to confirm what you’ve said," he calmly explained. "The faster you behave, the sooner it’ll be over." That wasn’t quite true – once they had the information they needed, then it would be time to mete out their revenge for Mason’s betrayal.

Mason shuddered and began to cry. "All I wanted was to be a Turk." His eyes glittered with hatred as well as tears. "You only care about the Turks you fuck," he spat, sobbing for a few seconds before he tried to turn his head aside. Tseng took up position behind the young man, his gloved hands on either side of Mason’s jaw to force him to look straight ahead.

"Your theory is flawed as I only fuck one of my Turks," Rufus pointed out, growing bored again. He motioned to Tseng, who broke the traitor’s collarbones with an enviable ease.

Waiting for Mason’s screams to die down, Rufus lowered the baton’s setting again and powered it back on. He was beginning to see his lover’s fascination with the weapon, even if he was still furious at having it used against him. "Now then, tell me all about when you stopped wanting to be a Turk."

*******

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