Shatter the Rules

*******

chapter two

*******

Once he was in his office, Rufus grimaced in distaste as he shrugged off his blood-splattered white shirt. He was tired, his stomach unsettled from the awful stench that clung to his clothes, and angered over the information they’d finally extracted from Mason. He and Tseng had left the broken man to Elena, Kali, Cyril and a newly arrived Rude, certain that they’d make the last bit of his life filled with intense agony.

"Here you are, sir." Tseng handed him a clean white shirt clearly borrowed from a Turk. Rufus accepted it with a polite nod and ached for the moment when he could take a long, hot shower.

"Not that I expected differently, but that was rather disappointing," he said as he buttoned the shirt.

Tseng’s lips pressed together for a few seconds. "They were very careful to not let him know about more than a few double agents. At least we now know about his contacts and the extent of the information he revealed to them."

Rufus tugged sharply on the left cuff that he’d just buttoned. If he didn’t have so many other things requiring his attention, he’d still be in the interrogation room. While Mason hadn’t been able to reveal too many company secrets because his low status amongst the Turks, he’d done enough damage.

Earth First had all the information on the Turks that Mason had been able to access without drawing attention to himself, as well as an idea of Rufus’ upcoming schedule. Several important security codes and procedures would have to be changed, as well as the company’s network thoroughly searched for any other ‘surprises’. The computer system would need an overhaul and shifts would be reassigned for the next few weeks. That was just the damage related to ShinRa Electric Power Company.

"I’m going to Medical to speak to Dr. Alim," Rufus informed Tseng as he straightened out the borrowed shirt and wished that he had a clean jacket to wear. He had the feeling that the doctor wouldn’t care to see him splattered with blood from a person he’d just tortured so he left his dirty clothes here in the office. "As soon as he says that Reno’s stable enough to move, we’re going to Healin Lodge." He made it clear with his tone that he was not going to be influenced into changing his mind.


To his surprise, Tseng only bowed his head. "I’ll start with the arrangements." Noticing his expression, Tseng smiled and smoothed his right hand over his hair. "Considering the level that security’s been compromised, I believe it’s best if you’re somewhere else for the next few days."

"I’ll remain there for two days; any longer and it’ll affect business," Rufus pointed out, growing worried that staying at the retreat might not be such a good idea after all.

"President, I believe you’ll be safer at Healin than you will be here. You can always commute between there and work for the next week or two while I tend to this mess." Tseng didn’t sound as if he was giving Rufus much of a choice in the matter.

Rufus considered the situation. He was certain that Tseng had already dispatched some reliable Turks to ensure that his penthouse was secure, but there was still a chance of an attack until they could neutralize the security leaks. "As long as we have an understanding that I will still work while you handle the situation," he said, giving in with mostly good grace.

Tseng bowed before he pulled out his phone, busy once again making arrangements. Rufus left him so he could go to Medical, not surprised when Jared and Rod fell in step behind him once he was out in the hallway. He knew he was going to be closely guarded in the next few weeks and accepted the fact that it wouldn’t always be by Tseng. Earth First had its chance to take him out and failed; Tseng was clearly determined to make that the only opportunity that they’d ever have.

However, thanks to Mason’s betrayal, the group knew that there was more than one way to get at Rufus. Mason had been very clear that his orders were to arrange things when the group could go after Rufus *and* Reno. Earth First probably figured that they would be successful even if their attack on Rufus failed as long as they got Reno.

The news would never have sat well with Rufus, who didn’t care for the idea that his enemies would use the people around him as targets. Now that he’d realized his true feelings for Reno, he couldn’t allow anyone to use his lover to get to him. Like it or not, things would have to change; he wasn’t foolish enough to think that he could just end the relationship and solve the problem. No, his enemies would only assume that he was doing his best to protect Reno from harm and be more determined to kidnap or kill the Turk. There was also the fact that Rufus would *not* give up his lover. Reno was his, and the truth about his feelings only ensured that Rufus would never let him go.

Something would have to be done, and he had a feeling that whatever the solution, Reno was not going to be pleased. Too bad, Rufus thought with growing annoyance. Reno was to blame for this mess, for forcing Rufus to feel something he’d never expected to and making himself vulnerable in the end. No, Reno would have to accept the changes because there were no other options. All that mattered was that Reno was safe and not in a position to be used against Rufus; his pride or concerns did not enter the equation.

*******

Reno became aware of heat roiling through his body, cracking his skin and melting his bones. He struggled to breathe, the air thick in his lungs as he recalled seeing fire surround him, heard the whine from his baton before it exploded and the shield collapsed, felt the-

Gasping for air, he realized that he was awake and instead of fire, was surrounded by beeping instruments and white sheets. He tried to toss the sheets off only to gasp again, this time in pain. His body was *not* happy to move at all, and he was just about to give up when he felt a cool hand press against his forehead.

"Stay still," Rufus murmured, sounding distinctly annoyed. "Doctor, he still feels warmer than normal," he said a moment later, the annoyance in his voice replaced by a familiar coldness that made Reno lie back down in the bed.

His lover was standing to the side of the bed, his white suit blending in with the sheets. Reno blinked his eyes repeatedly in an attempt to get them to focus better and wasn’t very successful. A couple of times, the washed out images of Rufus, machines and the bed blurred into glowing lines and forms, each object a different color. Another blink and Reno’s sight returned mostly to normal, except for some blurriness.

"He’s been running a fever since he arrived; we’re carefully monitoring it to make sure it doesn’t go too high." Oh great, Reno was hurting and could barely move, and Alim was in the room; he was dead. At least the quack didn’t sound too smug about his condition – if anything, Alim seemed anxious. "I believe his temperature will return to normal once his body is finished healing."

"’Believe’, Doctor?" Rufus asked, in a tone that made Reno close his eyes and pray that he wouldn’t be noticed anytime soon. Things never went well when Rufus sounded like that.

"President… as I’ve already explained, this is unknown territory for me and probably any other doctor you can find. So far, most of my hypotheses on Reno’s condition have proven correct." Now Alim sounded a bit pissy, which was what Reno expected to hear. He carefully cracked open his eyes, barely having the energy to do that.

"Fuckin’… poshun’" he mumbled, doing his best to speak and failing miserably. He felt like shit, worse than after being stabbed by Strife or the one car crash, and he wanted the pain to go away so he could think clearly. Why was he hurting so much?

Rufus combed his fingers through Reno’s hair, brushing them against the cuff on Reno’s right ear. "If that was a request for a potion, I’m afraid we’re going to have to disappoint you." Once again, his voice was cool and distant, even as his fingers gently stroked along the side of Reno’s neck. "They’re part of the problem."

Managing to turn his head slightly to the right, Reno found Rufus staring down at him, expression perfectly impassive and eyes glittering bright. His lover appeared in immaculate condition, no signs of the bruises and scrapes from the attack. Reno opened his mouth again, ready to ask what had happened, when Rufus shook his head.

"Go back to sleep, Reno," Rufus commanded, and Reno couldn’t look away from his lover, not even when Alim approached the bed and fiddled with something off to the side. He attempted to lift his hand to still the fingers caressing his neck - even that slight touch was enough to cause pain - when the world became even more blurry. He thought he heard Rufus say something to Alim as everything bled to white before turning into darkness.

*******

The pain was still there when Reno woke up again, along with the heat, though neither was as bad as before. Reno was actually able to shift about on the bed, his left leg and arm refusing to cooperate. Opening his eyes, he found that the weight holding his arm to the bed was actually a cast. He glared at the injured limb, covered from just below his elbow to past his wrist in plaster and swore. Make that tried to swear, as all that came out was a garbled sound.

"About time you woke up," Rude’s deep voice rumbled through the room, distracting him from thoughts on how the hell he was going to be able to do *anything* with a broken left arm. He realized that his eyesight wasn’t as blurry this time, which was a relief. However, the sight of Rude appearing completely healed while he was stuck in a hospital bed was annoying as hell.

Rude got up from the chair stationed by the door and approached the bed, dressed in his Turks’ uniform and sporting his glasses. He reached for something on a table not far from the bed, which turned out to be a plastic pitcher and cup. Once the cup was filled with water, the bastard actually put a straw in it and held it to Reno’s mouth. "Don’t even think to ask for any alcohol," Rude said, his lips twitching ever so slightly.

Since he couldn’t bitch out the bastard if he couldn’t talk, Reno allowed the indignity of having his cup held for him while he sipped through a straw. The water felt cool in his mouth and it actually hurt the first couple of times he swallowed, until his throat became moist enough. He didn’t stop drinking until the cup was dry. "Wha’s goin’ on?" he managed after clearing his throat.

Setting the cup aside, Rude leaned against the bed, his expression smoothing out in a manner that made Reno grow concerned. "Oh shit, what? Who’s dead?"

"Nobody," Rude replied as he removed his sunglasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Nobody who matters, anyway. Mason was behind the sabotage, but we got to him before he did any more damage." He didn’t put his glasses back on, just held them in his right hand while he looked down at Reno.

"Okay." Reno should feel a smug sense of pride that the asshole responsible for what had happened was dead, but he still hurt and felt uneasy about the situation he was stuck in. Had he imagined waking up before? What had Rufus told him, something about potions? "What’s goin’ on?" Reno repeated, grateful that he could mostly speak properly again.

Rude sighed and rubbed his left hand along the back of his shaved head. "Quite a lot, Reno. Everyone’s running around trying to uncover any other spies in the company while Rufus is doing some major spin control. He’s done a great job of turning the public’s opinion on Earth First and even has WRO’s help in dealing with the company. Even so, we’re all on high alert and will be for at least a couple of weeks."

So far, that wasn’t anything that Reno hadn’t expected to hear. He felt a wave of relief over the news about Rufus; if his lover was busy sucking it up to the press then Rufus hadn’t been badly injured during the fight. Still, Rude was being evasive. "Why won’t you tell me how long I’ve been out and why I’m still in bed?" he asked, feeling sweat break out on his body as the room seemed to grow warmer.

"You’ve been out about twenty-four hours," Rude answered after a slight pause. "From what I’ve heard, you woke up a bit last night but they knocked you out so you could get some rest." He turned to glance at the door as he slipped back on his glasses, his lips pressed together in a frown. "I’m supposed to let them know when you wake up again."


"Don’t," Reno gasped, trying to put things together while more heat flared through his body, dampening the pain but leaving him feel weaker than before.  "Why am I here?" He managed to move his right arm enough to brush it against Rude’s hand.

Rubbing his head again, Rude snorted once and grinned, the expression bereft of any amusement. "Trust you to get everyone all worried and then bitch about the aftermath." He reached over to tuck aside some of the hair that had fallen onto Reno’s forehead, his frown returning. "Like it or not, I’m going to have to call Alim in a moment. Your fever’s back."

"Rude," Reno managed to growl as he wondered if he could move his left arm enough to smack his friend with his cast.

"I know." Making a show of picking up the nurse call button, Rude held it in his hand but didn’t push the button. "I’ve done my best to figure out what the doctors have been saying, and it’s something to do with all the potions and elixirs you took and the materia blast. It’s like your body’s overdosed on the stuff." Rude’s voice took on a rough edge as he looked at the call button. "Tseng told me that the doctors almost killed you when they tried to heal you with materia after finding you, and Alim’s ruled out any use of it or potions until he’s certain it won’t affect you like that again. So you’re stuck healing the usual way, except you seem to be doing it at an accelerated rate."

"Which is why I have fucking casts on my arm and leg, and can’t move," Reno said through gritted teeth as the heat increased. It wasn’t the worst sensation he’d ever felt, just an invasive, burning ache that set his nerves on edge.

"Your wounds appear to be caused by your baton exploding and then pieces of the building falling onto you," Rude explained. "Because of the potions, you were barely burned in the explosion and had even begun to heal from the other wounds, which meant the doctors had to re-break several of your bones and set them properly." His thumb hovered over the call button. "Dr. Alim said that if your body keeps healing at a steady rate, you’ll be out of the casts in two weeks instead of two months." Holding up the call button, he made a show of pressing it.

Reno bared his teeth at his partner despite his gratitude for being filled in on the situation. The last thing he wanted was to deal with Alim when he was tired and hurting. "Thanks," he tried to snarl, the word coming out more whiny than angry.

"Your blood pressure went up; someone would have come in anyway to check on you." Rude shrugged and stepped away from the bed, just as Alim hurried through the door. The doctor appeared decidedly rumpled; his grey-shot hair was sticking up in a few places, his light blue dress shirt wasn’t buttoned all the way and his white lab coat had a coffee stain and several wrinkles on it.

"Has he tried to do anything?" Alim snapped as he motioned for Rude to step back even further from the bed.

"He just woke up, Doctor. I gave him something to drink." Rude crossed his wrists in front of his body and raised his chin, his attention focused on the door.

Alim lifted the plastic cup and sniffed it as if making sure it had contained water. Then he busied himself with reading all of the various machines that surrounded Reno, tweaking buttons and actually turning two of the devices off. Once done with them, he finally looked at Reno. "Your color’s better. How are you feeling?" For once, he actually sounded as if he cared.

Reno managed to lift his right hand a few inches from the bed and flopped it around. "Like you’re keeping the good drugs away from me," he complained. "It hurts, dammit."

Alim rechecked a few machines and grabbed Reno’s right hand to examine it. "Is it a stabbing pain or more of a consistent ache?" He seemed to be checking Reno’s maneuverability, which made Reno want to smack him. Unfortunately, he was too weak to do anything other than give the doctor the finger.

"It aches, mostly, and I feel really hot." The pain died down a little more, leaving him to feel as if he’d overworked his body or something. His joints ached and his muscles were stiff, the pain and heat strongest in his left arm and leg. Dammit, this was what he got for playing the fucking hero.

Setting Reno’s arm back on the bed, Alim pulled a small flashlight from the front pocket of his coat and shined it in Reno’s eyes. Reno hissed at the brightness, his eyes watering and the world going blurry again, comprised of glowing colors. "I suspect that the aches and the fever are a result of your accelerated healing. You’re not healing as quickly as you would normally with a potion or use of materia so you’re noticing the strain it puts on your body," Alim said, easily ignoring Reno’s muttered curses. "I need to run a few more tests."

"Fucking Hojo wannabe," Reno snarled as the bastard pulled an empty hypodermic and alcohol wipe from a pocket and jabbed him in his immobile left arm. By the time he worked up the energy to swing his right arm at the quack, Rude was holding it trapped against the bed. "Traitor."

Rude ignored the insult with ease. "The President wants him released as soon as possible," he said, staring hard at Alim over the rim of his sunglasses.

"I am well aware of that, Turk," Alim muttered as he squirreled Reno’s blood away and pulled out another needle filled with some sort of medication. "I won’t be rushed on this; he’ll be here one more night for monitoring and to ensure he’s stable enough to be moved."

"Where the fuck am I going?" Reno demanded to know, and was ignored by both men. When he attempted to sit up in bed, Rude pushed him back down while Alim injected whatever was in the needle into a shunt on his IV. Reno barely got out a few heartfelt curses before the world began to swim in front of his eyes, colors merging together as the bed spun around slowly. Closing his eyes only made the sensation worse, the bed seeming to pick up pace before he lost consciousness once again.

*******

Rude was in the Turks’ locker room gathering a few things from his and Reno’s lockers when Kali came over and gave him a gentle hug. "Has anything leaped out and bit you yet?" she asked as she leaned against the locker next to Reno’s.

"No, though I think I disturbed a new type of life form on one of the shelves," he answered, the corners of his mouth twitching as he fought not to smile. Reno wasn’t the slob that most people took him for because of the way he dressed, but he didn’t bother to keep his locker as clean as his apartment. Between half-eaten candy bars, an open can of soda and a few samples that Rude was very certain were supposed to have been turned in to the lab several months ago, he was surprised to still have all of his fingers by the time he’d searched Reno’s locker for a few things. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in it so he’d have to go to the penthouse for enough supplies to last his partner for a couple of weeks.

"They were probably hoping you were their god and were too stunned to attack right away when they didn’t recognize you." Kali laughed at the joke but seemed too distracted to be amused. "You’re getting things ready for tomorrow morning, aren’t you?" she asked, all attempt at levity gone from her tone.

"Yes." Rude put the few things he could scavenge for his partner in a duffel bag then went through his own locker. There were some things that he didn’t want to leave around here for a couple of weeks; Tseng made it pretty clear that he wouldn’t be leaving Reno’s side until his friend was healed, so he took that to mean he wouldn’t be back from Healin Lodge for a while.

Kali played with the ends of her long hair for a moment, and Rude allowed him to get distracted by the sight of his lover. She looked so much better now that she’d stopped dying her hair blond, although he had to admit that he’d always been partial to brunettes. Still, as attractive as Kali looked at the moment, the subdued air around her didn’t suit her very well.

"Is something wrong?"

"No, not really," Kali said as she shrugged. "Looks like we’ll be seeing a lot of each other for the next few weeks." When Rude stared at her in confusion, she brushed her hair aside and offered him a shaky smile. "Elena and I will be stationed with you at Healin Lodge. The order just came down from Tseng a few minutes ago." She didn’t sound upset to be basically stuck in the middle of nowhere while the rest of the Turks cleaned up the mess here and took on Earth First.

Considering the situation before he spoke, Rude finished retrieving what he needed from his locker and closed it. "He’s getting her out of the way," he said, sure that Kali knew what he meant.

She nodded and pushed away from the lockers to sit on the wooden bench in front of them. "You may be big but you’re certainly not dumb." Her smile grew stronger when Rude glared at the old saying, tired of people assuming that muscle meant the lack of intelligence.

"Yes," she continued a moment later and watched him zip closed the other bag. "Elena’s not pleased about it, but I think Tseng even got Rufus’ approval so she has no choice. Guess that means you and I will have to really be on guard."

Rude hadn’t been happy with the thought of dealing with Reno once his partner figured out that he was in Healin for his own protection, and now he had Elena to deal with as well; at least Reno had no clue what was going on while Elena had been part of Mason’s interrogation. Not for the first time, Rude wished that they’d dragged things out a bit longer, even though he knew that they’d wasted too much time as it was getting back at the traitor. Mason had been as amused as a tortured man could be when he finally told Rufus and Tseng that he’d informed Earth First of their respective relationships. The rival company had been very happy to know that they could use two Turks against the President and Head of Turks of ShinRa Electric Power Company.

"It’s for her own good." Rude sat beside Kali, a frown on his face as he chose his words with care. "She should have been aware of the risks she took when she started dating Tseng." The same could be said for Reno, who still seemed to think that he was nothing more than Rufus’ fuckbuddy. While Rude sometimes had his own doubts on the two men’s relationship, seeing the way Rufus had gone all ice and reduced Mason to a sobbing wreck whenever the traitor had dared to insult or mention Reno convinced him otherwise. There was also the fact that Rufus was never away from the Medical department for more than a couple of hours since the kidnapping attempt… though he always visited when Reno was unconscious.

"Something tells me that all she really cared about was the fact that she was getting a chance to admit her feelings to the guy she’s had a crush on for a couple of years," Kali pointed out and leaned against him. Rude allowed himself a moment to enjoy her warmth and the scent of his favorite perfume; Kali had probably worked several shifts back to back already, energized by elixir and caffeine, yet she smelled so good.

He grunted softly and tucked a strand of hair behind her left ear. "That implies that she deliberately set out to develop a relationship with Tseng; at least Reno and Rufus had the common sense to keep things casual when they started out." Even if things had happened over the years to turn a fuckbuddy relationship into something serious enough that Reno risked his life for Rufus without any qualms. All of the Turks were willing to take a bullet for Rufus; Reno had gone far above that in his attempt to eliminate the enemies after his president.

"And look where it got those two." There was an odd note in Kali’s voice and she was intently staring at the lockers in front of her. "I thought it was a pretty good idea at the beginning and understood why Veld didn’t order Reno to break things off. Anything that made Rufus care more about the Turks was fine in my book, considering that his father didn’t give a shit about us," she said, her expression one of immense bitterness. "Reno sorta stayed out of trouble, we all got to bet on whether or not the seats of the helicopters he used to fly Rufus about would need cleaned after an assignment, and it seemed as if us Turks were one up on things for once."

Rude nodded, easily remembering the early days of his friend’s relationship with Rufus. Once it had sunk in that the two men weren’t going to break up after a few weeks, the Turks had looked on the relationship with pride. Despite the old president’s attempts to force Reno to break things off with Rufus, Reno had the support of his coworkers. That support had been rewarded when Rufus took over, even after the company was mostly destroyed by Meteor. Then Rufus came down with Geostigma and things had changed between him and Reno, only to change again over a year ago. Rude still had to get a straight answer from his friend over Reno’s earring, but he was more than smart enough to put a few things together because of the way that Rufus had ceased being quite so jealous over the redhead.

"Only now, ShinRa’s enemies know they can use Reno to get to the president." Rude didn’t want to think that if Rufus had been possessive of Reno before, what was going to happen now that Reno was a target on his behalf. Nor did Rude want to dwell on how Reno was going to handle being treated as a target; all he knew was that he better start buying the anti-acids and headache medicine in bulk.

Kali gave up on staring at the lockers to look at him. "You think that’s a bad thing, don’t you?" she asked, shocking him with the question.

He slid his sunglasses down his nose to give her an incredulous look. "Are you telling me that you actually believe that there’s nothing wrong with this situation? What about Elena?"

She shrugged and leaned back a little, her expression solemn and her lips pressed together as if she thought about her answer. "On the whole, I agree that it’s not a good situation; a friend and coworker is being put at risk because of his lover. However, do you honestly think that Rufus would settle for a celibate lifestyle?" When Rude shook his head, she smiled slightly. "Oh, I’m sure he’d go back to the way things were before he and Reno got together; out with a different person every other week, but eventually he would settle on someone to either get married or to save himself from having to date so many people. There’s also the fact that he relies on Tseng as more than just an employee." She sighed and brushed back the hair falling over her shoulder. "My point is, even Rufus Shinra, one of the most reserved and guarded people that I’ve ever known, has weaknesses. Would you rather that weakness be some high society twit or a fellow Turk? The same can be said for Tseng."

Rude gave the question serious thought. "I don’t like my friends being hurt because of who they’re fucking." They were in enough danger from their job; things didn’t need to be complicated because of what they did on their off-hours. Well, not quite their off-hours, in Reno’s case.


"We’re targets no matter what," Kali pointed out, her eyes losing focus for a few seconds. She’d lost her fair share of partners over the years, to the point where she’d only accepted being Elena’s because it wasn’t a full-time position. "Let me put it another way; do you think so many of those bastards would be dead after trying to kidnap the president and his lover if that lover hadn’t been a Turk?"

She’d come up with a very good argument, one that Rude had to seriously consider for a minute or two. He’d always wondered if that was one of the reasons that Rufus had stayed with Reno; in their own way, Turks were tougher than SOLDIERs and could be depended on to fight to their last.

"All right, I guess I have to agree with you somewhat on that, though I bet Reno won’t feel the same way since he’s the guy everyone’s after now." Rude smoothed his right hand over his head and massaged the back of his neck. "He’s a special case, though."

"So you don’t think that Turks should involve themselves with other Turks?" Kali asked, barely after he’d finished speaking.

Rude stared at his lover for several seconds, trying to figure out where Kali was going with this. She seemed too interested in the topic for it to be about just Elena and Reno. "I sometimes think that we can only be involved with other Turks, but we should have the common sense not to treat the relationships as anything more than temporary."

Something that he said made Kali laugh, the sound only partly amused. She closed her eyes for a moment and when she opened them, gave him a wry grin. "Good thing you’re sitting down, then." The smile faded away as she shifted closer. "Rude… not counting the times we screwed around when Rufus was the vice president, we’ve been together for over a year now."

There was a distinct feeling of panic at the word ‘together’ which made Rude struggle to swallow. He suddenly had the urge to run. "I thought we agreed that we were just ‘friends with benefits’," he said, wincing when his voice cracked over the words.

Kali combed her fingers through her hair. "Yes, we did… at first. Look, I’ll admit that this isn’t the best time, but when I saw how badly injured you were yesterday…." Shaking her head, Kali rubbed her eyes before she looked at Rude, her expression solemn once more. "You don’t have to give me an answer any time soon, but I don’t think that ‘friends with benefits’ is going to be enough for me any more. I’m hoping that when this assignment is over, we can make things a bit more ‘proper’." She leaned forward to brush her lips against Rude’s before she got up and quickly left.

Rude stared after her, unable to move for a couple of minutes as he tried to process what the hell had just happened. He liked Kali – maybe more than liked her as he’d been more than willing to allow things to continue as they’d been for the past year. After the ridiculous fight over shirts between Rufus and Reno, he’d decided to stop lusting after his partner and resumed the arrangements he had with Kali back before Avalanche and Sephiroth had resurfaced. He hadn’t thought of it in any other way than a safe outlet for his sex drive, even though he spent most of his free nights with Kali; he just put it down to Reno more often than not being with Rufus instead of hanging out with him. When the hell had ‘fuckbuddies’ turned into ‘boyfriend and girlfriend?"

The one thing Rude was clear about was this would *never* have happened if it wasn’t for Reno. If his friend had come to his senses and stopped fooling around with Rufus years ago, the idiot wouldn’t be stuck down in Medical and Rude wouldn’t be faced with the choice of losing someone he’d come to care about as more than friends or finding himself in a *relationship*, of all things. He winced when he imagined calling his mother and telling her he actually had a girlfriend… maybe that would make Kali change her mind….

Feeling the urge to beat up an unconscious redhead, Rude decided he’d spend a few minutes in the gym working off some aggression before he went to the penthouse for Reno’s clothes and such. One thing was certain – the bastard was going to be stuck wearing his own shirts for the next few weeks. If Reno had bothered to do that over a year ago, none of them would be in this fucking mess.

*******

Rufus clenched his jaw in annoyance when he heard Tseng enter the room then murmur something to Dr. Alim, the words too soft to be deciphered. However, he was reasonably certain he knew what those words were; an assurance that Tseng would keep an eye on him and Reno. He was half tempted to raise his hand just to see who would drag him from the room first.

Instead, he reached out to tuck back the lock of hair that had fallen onto Reno’s face, a slight smile on his face when he heard both men take a step forward before realizing he wasn’t doing any damage. Tseng murmured again and Alim finally left the room.

Gazing at his lover, Rufus trailed his fingers along a high cheekbone, following the line of a crimson tattoo. The marking stood out in even sharper contrast than usual, Reno’s skin almost as white as the bed’s sheets at the moment. His fever had gone down a degree or two from the feel of it, which gave Rufus hope that they would indeed be leaving for Healin Lodge in the morning.

Most likely, Reno would be conscious soon enough, no longer doped up to speed his healing. Rufus idly wondered how long it would take for Reno to realize that he was part of the reason they’d retreated to Healin Lodge and what sort of reaction there would be as a result. He was willing to bet it would involve a lot of swearing and probably a few thrown objects.

"Be prepared for us to leave at six am," he informed Tseng as he continued to caress Reno’s face; that seemed to put his ‘watchers’ at ease when he was being demonstrative with affection and it lessened his own annoyance.

"Dr. Alim feels he’ll be ready to leave by then?" Tseng asked, already pulling out his handheld and typing..

"Yes. Dr. Cavish will come with us to keep an eye on Reno while Dr. Alim will visit every other day, but he feels that Reno will heal just as well there as here." And no doubt the doctor wanted his department free of Turks once again, after a fight had broken out between two nurses who Rod had been flirting with.

Tseng typed for another minute then put his handheld away. "Did he say anything about you getting some rest, President?"

Rufus fought the urge to sigh, his fingers tangling in Reno’s hair and tugging gently. "I’ll rest once we’re there." He was using elixirs to remain awake, determined to organize as effective a counter-attack against Earth First Energy Corporation as possible. This time, he refused to let the rival company emerge mostly unscathed after daring to attack ShinRa so openly. Earth First had finally managed to stick its head into the noose, as winter was approaching and the public had no sympathy for an attack on the one electrical company that had proven itself reliable in the past year and a half.

"Good." Tseng nodded as he stepped closer to the bed, his expression going carefully impassive as he looked at Reno. "Reeve said WRO has begun its searches of Earth First’s energy reactors and have already found several violations. The information that we uncovered about their problems was correct."

"That only stands to reason, considering the desperation of the kidnapping attempt." Rufus slid his fingers from Reno’s hair and faced his Head of Turks. "WRO and the public are behind us; I refuse to back off of Earth First until they’re destroyed. Not just revealed as terrorists and broken, but utterly destroyed." He’d learned his lesson from AVALANCHE, something that he’d never thought would resurrect itself and take on Shinra Electric Power Company again.

Tseng bowed his head slightly. "Sir, I believe there would be an insurgence amongst the Turks if you tried to pull them away from Earth First before it’s destroyed. Everyone’s willing to work however long is necessary to ensure that you’re safe once more."

Rufus was certain it wasn’t just concern for himself and his company that motivated the Turks, though he didn’t slight their devotion, either; all of them must know by now how Reno had been targeted as well, and that Elena was being watched by the rival company. Two of their own, two of their Four Aces, put in danger because of personal relationships with the men they worked for.

The Turks had always been loyal to ShinRa Electric Power Company, but during the cruel years of his father’s presidency, they had drawn into themselves, had placed a very high value on protecting their own. Rufus enjoyed the benefit of that loyalty and protection, and knew that part of Earth First’s downfall would be for underestimating it. The rival company may have gotten to Mason, a young Turk disillusioned by his own failure, but there were no other traitors amongst the Turks’ ranks. Tseng truly hadn’t rested until he was certain of that, and Rufus didn’t begrudge him any of the time and attention that had been taken away from Earth First; once the Turks were whole again, they would hound the company until it was completely broken.

He allowed himself another minute to assure himself that Reno was indeed recovering, momentarily bitter over this newly discovered weakness. Part of him whispered that he’d kept if not strengthened the loyalty of his Turks by expressing such concern for one of them, the only thing that made walking into this room time and time again bearable. However, even if there wasn’t that slim excuse for his pride, he’d be here; he felt drawn to Reno, felt the need to reassure himself that Reno was still alive. How people managed to deal with being in love on a daily basis, he had no clue.

The bruises and cuts on Reno’s face already appeared well on their way to being healed. His left eye was noticeably less swollen, some of the scratches were already gone, and Dr. Alim had removed most of the bandages, relying on smaller patches rather than swathes of gauze. Dr. Alim claimed that the internal injuries had healed to an extent that moving Reno wouldn’t cause any harm, and he now swore by his two week time limit for the casts to be removed. That meant in three weeks or less, Reno would be back to work, tormenting Rufus by sauntering into the office uninvited, acting unprofessional, risking his life-

Rufus swore, the words barely audible, as his hands clenched into fists. Once more he felt the urge to lash out at his lover, to return some of the pain that he felt. When Tseng touched him lightly on the shoulder, he allowed the Turk to lead him from the room. Right now, he needed space so he could think clearly and gain control over these traitorous emotions.

Tseng didn’t say anything until they were out of Medical and in the elevator, Michael and Ling doing their best to fade into the car’s brushed metal walls. "Sir…perhaps it would be best for you to go to Healin Lodge alone. Reno should be fine in Medical," he said, an unusual emotion in his voice.

Looking away from the digital numbers that announced the floors, Rufus glared at Tseng. "We’ll be leaving tomorrow morning, unless you can swear to me that there are no more traitors in ShinRa." He didn’t often have cause to be so cold with Tseng, but the man was pushing past all respected boundaries at the moment.

Tseng bowed his head for a few seconds, his expression utterly impassive when he looked up again. "President, I’m responsible for the welfare of my people. For whatever reason, you seem to be upset with Reno and I’m left with doubts on whether or not it would be in his best interest to leave Medical."

Rufus’ hands once more clenched into fists and he told himself it would not be a wise move to reach for his gun while arguing with the Head of the Turks. "He’ll be fine, Tseng," he snapped, holding his glare until the elevator’s doors opened. Stalking into the hallway, he headed straight for his office, so furious just then that he wanted to destroy something.


He also wanted to slam the door in Tseng’s face once he reached his office, but knew that they had important matters to resolve before he could leave in a few more hours. Slapping his hands against the top of his desk, he gave Tseng the most vitriolic glare he could summon. "I am *well* aware of my responsibilities to the Turks and what I owe them; *never* insinuate that I would abuse one of them for personal reasons, especially not while he’s wounded from protecting me." He might think about it, such as those times when Rude had appeared too close to Reno, but he’d never given in to the impulses.

To his credit, Tseng didn’t flinch from the glare; he merely stood there, the personification of calm. "If we were discussing just a Turk, it wouldn’t be a problem. However, Reno is more than that, sir." There was finally a crack in Tseng’s impassiveness as he let out a deep breath and slicked his hands back over his hair. "I’m well aware that he was protecting his lover, not his president. I can’t complain too much because the problem wasn’t unexpected and he still did his job, if a bit overzealously." He looked Rufus directly in the eye before he spoke again. "I just didn’t expect *you* to be reacting to his actions as a lover, not the president of ShinRa."

The statement caused Rufus to flinch, ever so slightly, and to grow angry for that tiny slip. "What do you expect of me, Tseng?" He truly wanted to know after putting up with barely masked disapproval ever since he’d slept with Reno that first time. "Do you believe that I should end things with Reno?" As if that would make things any better.

"No, sir." Once again there was a flash of that unfamiliar emotion that Rufus belatedly realized was pity. "I just want to make certain that he’s not going to suffer for saving your life, and that you won’t allow him to influence your thinking at such a critical time."

Rufus seriously considered going for his gun just then, even if Tseng would merely slap it from his hand the moment it was free of its holster. His next response was to repay an insult with another insult, before he managed to regain control of his emotions. However, he still couldn’t resist lashing out to prove a point of his own. "I’m sure there’s no personal reason at all why you’ve insisted that Elena accompany me to Healin Lodge, never mind the fact that you’re concentrating three potential targets in one area."

Tseng’s back stiffened as the jab hit home, his impassiveness cracking again to reveal a hint of embarrassment. "Elena doesn’t have to worry about me hitting her, sir."

"That won’t happen again," Rufus said through gritted teeth as he sat back in his chair. He’d let himself be carried away one time, and no one seemed willing to forget it.

"If you say so, President." Tseng bowed his head slightly. "I apologize for overstepping my bounds, but I need to be certain about a few things."

Well, wouldn’t it be nice if one of them was no longer confused, Rufus thought with growing bitterness. He wanted nothing more than to lose himself in dealing with Earth First, with tearing to shreds an enemy and proving to any other potential threats that ShinRa Electric Power Company was not to be taken lightly, yet he was forced to handle something that he didn’t quite understand.

"Right now, I am mainly focused on Earth First," Rufus explained in as calm a manner as possible. "By leaving for Healin Lodge, I hope to remove myself from outside scrutiny and allow myself to concentrate my attention on our enemies while making it easier for you to clean up the company. As much as I wish otherwise, I realize that Reno has come to occupy some of my attention and hope that taking him with me will correct that problem." Rufus looked directly at Tseng as he spoke, not allowing himself to reveal any signs of weakness. "I would think that you could understand that last part, considering your relationship with Elena."

Tseng closed his eyes for a moment, his lips pressing together as if to prevent himself from saying something. When he looked at Rufus again, his expression was surprisingly uncertain. "And your relationship with Reno?" He didn’t look aside while Rufus merely stared back, unwilling to say anything. "President, you must realize that things will have to change."

Yes, Rufus did realize that, even if he wasn’t certain what the changes would bring. "The plans are still the same as yesterday, Tseng. I’ll spend two days at Healin Lodge to give you the opportunity to do a thorough sweep through ShinRa without having to worry about me. Then I’ll commute from there for the next two weeks, which should be an adequate amount of time to set up new security protocols and procedures; those will take into account the fact that other enemies will no doubt consider Reno as a means to get to me."

There was no way to go back and change the past, to undo the damage that years of being with Reno had done to Rufus. All he could do was move forward, and he refused to let some troubling emotion or any enemy take away something that was his.

For the first time during their conversation, Tseng appeared to approve of his decisions. "I’ll be ready to move the moment you leave the building, sir." He straightened his tie and glanced over Rufus’ shoulder, to the windows currently covered by curtains. "If you plan to continue your relationship with Reno, it will affect his job at some point."

Rufus nodded and opened his laptop. "I’m aware of that, Tseng. I don’t intend to ask that of him until absolutely necessary." He knew how much being a Turk meant to Reno, and there was some safety in the fact that Reno would be mostly surrounded by his coworkers from now on.

With that out in the open, he expected Tseng to make some comment about how things would be best served if he ended his relationship with Reno. When Tseng did say something, Rufus was left feeling stunned.

Still fiddling with his tie, Tseng stopped looking at the window and at Rufus instead. "Rude understands that he’s responsible for you both, now, and doesn’t have a problem with it. However, there’s the matter of Reno’s apartment, which can’t be adequately covered. With your permission, I’ll move his belongings into your apartment while you’re gone." His lips twitched slightly when Rufus could only stare back in shocked silence. "President, it’s my understanding that he’s basically living with you already and hasn’t been to his apartment in almost a month. This is the most practical solution to the problem at hand."

It would also mean that Rufus wouldn’t be able to deny that he was in a serious relationship with his lover. As much as he’d fought against the idea in the past, he had to admit it was indeed a practical solution, and one that would bind Reno even closer to him without seeming as if there was another – ulterior - motive of his own. No, even if something inside of him didn’t lash out at the thought of ending the relationship, the fact remained that if he made any attempt to break up with Reno now, it would just be proving to his enemies that he felt the need to protect himself and could be influenced by their actions.

However, just because the decision was logical, it didn’t mean that Reno would appreciate the care given to his safety. Rufus tried to imagine how his lover would react to the loss of his apartment and winced. "You’ll be the one to break the news to him?" he asked, unable to keep the hope out of his voice that Tseng would be the sacrificial lamb in this situation.

Tseng was very quick in shaking his head. "President, you can tell him it was my suggestion, but you have the honors of explaining things to him." That said, he gave his tie one more tug and bowed low. "If that’s all, sir, I have a few things that require my attention. Ling and Michael will be assigned to you until you leave." As soon as Rufus nodded in approval, Tseng was halfway to the door, his phone in hand once more.

Rufus only allowed himself a couple of minutes to go over their conversation and all that it implied. For the first time that he could recall, he had the impression that Tseng didn’t mind his relationship with Reno and he was left wondering why that was so. Because Reno proved that he’d still do his job in the end, or was it Rufus’ own behavior?

Whatever the reason, Rufus had been distracted from what was truly important for long enough. He had a long list of things he needed to finish tonight before he could leave for Healin Lodge in the morning, and sitting here lost in thought would accomplish nothing.

*******

Someone was tugging on his hair. Feeling tired and achy, all Reno wanted was to sleep a little longer, so he did best to swat whoever the hell was annoying him aside. His left arm lifted only slightly, hampered by something weighing down the limb. The confusion of the situation made him reluctantly open his eyes and do his best to glare.

"Morning," Rude said, a smile on his lips as he tugged on Reno’s hair again. He was awfully damn smug for someone standing within arm’s reach… and then Reno remembered where he was and that his arm was broken.

"Fuck off," he grumbled and closed his eyes again, determined to go back to sleep. His entire body ached and he still had the damn fever, and if he was going to be this miserable then he refused to be awake. His right hand attempted to tug the thin blanket draped on top of him up over his head, only to have the blanket snatched away. "Rude!"

Rude yanked on his hair hard enough to make his eyes water, which made him open them again. "Go ‘way." He could see Dr. Alim standing behind Rude, not hiding a very amused smirk very well. Reno stuck his tongue out at the quack, and yelped again when he was jerked upright.

"Get up, Reno," Rude ordered, his hands on Reno’s shoulders and lifting up into a sitting position. "Get dressed." The smile was gone from his face, and even though he was obviously trying not to be rough, he refused to let Reno pull away and lay down again.

"Wha’ the hell?" Reno attempted to struggle, stopping a few seconds later when pain raced through his body and left him panting. He leaned forward and tried to get his brain to start working. Why was he being moved? Why could he barely remember anything other than talking to Rude… how long ago had that been? Despite the various IVs and wires on his arm, he rubbed his face with his right hand and tried to get his body under his control.

Someone approached the bed and gently pulled his arm from his face. "I’ll remove these now that the stimulant’s taken effect. He shouldn’t need them anymore." Dr. Alim didn’t sound like his usually pissy self, so that made Reno curious enough to open his eyes and look to the side. He hissed softly when the IVs were removed, watching blood well up on his arm until Alim covered the small wounds with bandages.

"Be thankful he took the catheter out while you were unconscious," Rude remarked, drawing Reno’s attention away from the doctor. He scowled at his partner who had tossed some clothes onto the bed. "Once Dr. Alim says it’s okay, you’re getting dressed and leaving with me."

Reno gave his partner the finger. "Jus’ wanna sleep." He felt more drained than he could ever recall being, his bones feeling hollow and brittle, scoured by the heat that made him sleepy. His hair was tugged on again, this time as Rude pulled it back into a ponytail. "Stop bein’ a- hey!" Now he gave Alim a dirty look as the bastard flashed a light in his eyes. "Go away!" Why didn’t anyone listen to him? Weren’t patients supposed to be humored or some shit like that?

"I think the grogginess is a mixture of the narcotics and his body struggling to keep up with the accelerated healing. He’ll probably fall asleep once you let him, and should be allowed to rest as much as possible."

"That should make things easier… once we get him out of the bed."

Reno managed to get his left arm to move about half a foot this time, before Rude caught it and pushed it back into his lap. "I’m fuckin’ here, ya know." He hated it when people talked about him like this. "Where we goin’?"

"To your favorite place," Rude answered as he undid the ties of the hospital gown. Reno shivered at his partner’s cold hands and huddled forward, his left side not terribly happy about the position and his body too tired to move any more.

For a moment Reno thought about home, of the huge, soft bed with luxurious sheets. That made him think about Rufus and he couldn’t help but frown as he wondered what was going on with his lover. Hadn’t Rude said that Rufus was fine? "Where’s Rufus?" he asked before cursing at having something soft pulled over his head. "Bas’ard."

Rude merely grunted and continued pulling what seemed to be a soft, hooded sweatshirt over Reno’s head. "The president is waiting for us." That wasn’t much of an explanation, but Reno was distracted by asking for any more when his left arm was pinned inside the shirt against his bandaged abdomen and he found himself yanked to the edge of the bed. "It’s up to you if you want to be wearing pants when we take you out of here."

That provoked a grin from Reno, who wished he had the energy to tease that if he was going to see Rufus, he’d save the time and do without the pants. However, all he could really manage was a chuckle as he helped to bend his right leg enough to get it inside the sweatpants. Rude had to help him with his left leg because of the cast, and once the pants were on, he found himself unceremoniously dumped into a wheelchair and the hood of his shirt tugged over his head. "Hey!"

"I’ll see you tomorrow, Reno," Dr. Alim said as Reno was turned around and wheeled forward, doing his best to push back the hood with his shaking right hand, only to have it tugged forward a moment later by Rude. "Dr. Cavish will look after you." He thought Alim sounded pretty pleased about something, but Reno couldn’t tell with the fucking hood muffling his hearing.

Gritting his teeth, he went to use his plaster-encased hand to get Rude to leave the hood alone, only to remember that it was trapped beneath the shirt. "You woke me up for this shit?" he muttered as he gave up and slumped in his chair as much as he could. He felt a bit more awake – which meant he was more conscious of just how much he hurt right now.

"You can go back to sleep soon," Rude soothed, right before Reno heard Rude’s name be called out by Elena and Kali. He tried to tilt his head back enough to see them, only to have Rude apply enough pressure to the back of his head that he had to lower it or have his fucking neck snapped.

"What the hell is your problem?" he hissed, wishing he had his baton on hand to zap the bastard.

"I’m following orders," Rude replied, a harried edge to his deep voice. "Be quiet, keep your head down, don’t touch anything and we’ll be in the ‘copter within a few minutes."

"Should have just left me doped up, then," Reno muttered and folded his right arm over his chest, feeling the burst of energy slowly drain away. He slumped down even more in the chair, trying to find a comfortable position for his aching body.

"Trust me, I wish I had." Okay, Rude *definitely* didn’t sound happy about something, which was only adding to Reno’s temper. He’d done his best to protect Rufus and Rude, only to have both men treat him like shit. Alim was Hojo’ing around with him, he just knew it with this shit about potions and materia, and no one gave a damn. Feeling spiteful, he reached out to pinch the leg of whoever it was walking to his right – Kali, judging from the length of her legs.

"Ow, dammit!" she cursed as she rubbed her sore leg. "Re- stop that, you asshole," she hissed, leaning down enough to give him a nasty look before straightening up.

There was another push to the back of his head. "Behave." Oh yes, Rude was really upset about something. When Reno opened his mouth to ask what had everyone all pissed off, he got a light smack to his head that made it hurt even more.

"That hurt." He tried to raise his right arm to rub against his sore head, only to have it be quickly caught and placed back onto the arm of the wheelchair by surprising gentleness.

"I’m sorry," Rude apologized, his voice hushed as they made their way to the elevators. "Just… behave for once, okay?"

"Maybe he doesn’t feel like behaving, and who can blame him?" That was definitely Elena speaking, though she sounded so upset and actually a bit snarky that Reno just had to tilt his head to the side and see her expression. Whatever snit she was in put Rude’s to shame, judging from the huge frown on her face. "Leave him alone."

"Elena…," Kali sighed while Reno tried to accept the fact that Elena had *defended* him. He must still have some drugs in his system, he thought as he closed his eyes and hunched forward.

Elena said something back, just as the elevator dinged its arrival, so Reno didn’t catch much of it. His headache increased with each heartbeat, as did the ache in his body, to the point he was willing to go *back* to Medical and deal with Alim if it meant he could lie down again. His left side wasn’t happy that he was sitting up like this, and the fever became even stronger.

He felt Rude’s hand on his from a distance, heard everyone’s voices as a soft, unintelligible murmurs. The movement of the wheelchair startled him somewhat awake, as did the feel of cool, wet air against his face and right hand. He managed to straighten up a little and lift his head when he realized that he was on the building’s rooftop.

There were several helicopters waiting to take off, a lean figure in a white coat standing in front of the closest one to the left. Reno felt his heart stutter when he saw the person, followed by disappointment when it slowly sunk in that it was Dr. Cavish and not Rufus.

The woman squatted by the wheelchair and snatched his right wrist, which made him glare. She didn’t seem to notice the look, being too busy taking his pulse, and started when she turned to face him directly. The surprise didn’t last for long, quickly replaced by a frown as she pushed back the hood a little. Reno felt some satisfaction when Rude stopped her from pushing it back too far.

"He’s flushed and his heartbeat’s elevated. Get him into the helicopter," Cavish ordered. "I can’t believe that Dr. Alim released him like this. What happens if he relapses? We don’t know enough about his condition-"

"Doctor, please shut up and get out of my way." Rude had that hint of coldness to his voice that made most people shit their pants, and Reno found himself smiling despite the fact that he was hurting and getting wet. Normally he didn’t mind the rain, but the hood was clinging to the sides of his face as it dampened.

Cavish squawked about something while Reno felt Rude’s arms wrap around him. He managed a choked-off squeak when he was lifted from the chair, pissed off at being treated like this but in too much pain to manage any swearing. A few very uncomfortable seconds later, he found himself sitting on one of the helicopter’s bench-like and thankfully very padded chairs. His eyes were closed at that point, and all he could think about was lying down. He slumped over to the right side to do just that – until he bumped into someone’s shoulder.

"Why is he wet?"

Reno struggled to open his eyes upon hearing that annoyed voice. Rufus was here, sounding just as pissed off as everyone else.

"President, we didn’t know it had started to rain, and Dr. Cavish insisted on checking on him," Rude answered, followed by the protesting squeak of bench springs. Reno finally got his eyes open and saw his partner sitting across from him. He tried to turn his head and sit up a little so he could see Rufus, too, except that his body really didn’t want to listen to him at this point.

"Rufus." It took him a moment to realize that the weak voice was his own. His lover shifted about on the seat and yanked the hood of the sweatshirt back.

"He doesn’t look any better than earlier," Rufus said as the helicopter began to lift off. Reno moved his head enough so he could see his lover’s face, and felt some dread at the angry expression that seemed directed at him. What the hell, was it his fault that he wasn’t healing fast enough?

"Blame Alim," he said, doing his best to be understood since Rufus had a death grip on his jaw that only made his headache worse.

Rufus snorted once and pushed him away, almost making Reno fall toward the door. "Alim wasn’t the idiot who took a bunch of potions and elixirs before attempting to blow himself up," Rufus snapped while moving about. Reno barely managed to right himself and turned to look at the bastard, to find Rufus removing his long, white outer coat.

Most sane people wouldn’t fight with Rufus Shinra when he was having such an obvious snit, but Reno had never been a big fan of sanity and figured he could partially blame it on the drugs. "Fuck off," he said, the words coming out as little more than a hoarse whisper as his vision swam and he started to sway back and forth. He’d nearly killed himself for the bastard, only to end up in pain and abused by everyone. Next time, he’d let the assholes have Rufus and save himself some aggravation.

"Obviously you’re still recovering if that’s the only comeback you can think up," Rufus replied with frosty annoyance as he grabbed Reno’s right arm. Reno found himself yanked to the side, this time unable to prevent himself from falling over. He landed with his head on Rufus’ legs, his right hand scrambling against the soft material of Rufus’ coat. Part of the garment was flipped over his side like a blanket while Rufus’ arm pressed with a little too much force against his hip. "Stay still."

Reno did his best to tell his lover to ‘fuck off’ again, the words too garbled to be understood between the pain and exhaustion. His eyes were drifting shut, requiring too much effort to keep open.

Rude said something, the words lost in the low rumble of the helicopter’s engine, and there was a gentle touch to Reno’s hair. He gave in to the exhaustion, hoping that people would leave him the hell alone for a while.

*******

Rufus sat in the helicopter while Elena and Kali did a quick check to make sure things were all right. His fingers continued to stroke through Reno’s hair, playing yet again with the ends scorched by fire; he’d have to cut those parts out later and hope they grew back quickly.

Elena approached the helicopter, flanked by Sara and Dominic who had been assigned to ready the ShinRa quarters at Healin Lodge for Rufus’ arrival. Opening the door, Elena bowed her head to Rufus and waited for him to leave the helicopter.

"I’ll take him, sir," Rude offered, hunched over to avoid hitting his head on the metal ceiling. As he approached, Rufus felt his fingers tangle in Reno’s hair before he forced them to pull free. "It’ll be easier than putting him in the wheelchair."

Rufus knew from bitter experience that it wasn’t a comfortable ride from the helicopter pad to his cabin, so he nodded and motioned for Rude to pick up his lover. Reno’s eyes fluttered open at Rude’s touch, something that was probably meant to be a swear word escaping his lips, before Rufus brushed aside the hair on his flushed, sweaty face. "Go back to sleep."

Reno’s eyes narrowed as if he wasn’t happy with the order, but he grunted once and let them drift shut once Rude picked him up. Worried about his lover’s lethargy and appearance, Rufus quickly followed, his right hand inside his jacket and fingers stroking along the handle of his gun.

Healin Lodge appeared much the same as when he’d left it; the trees just as huge and impressive; some of their needles and leaves were snapped free by the wind and flew through the drizzling rain. Dominic held an umbrella over Rufus’ head as they hurried to the main cabin, Dr. Cavish attempting to do the same with Rude until the tall Turk ordered her to just hold it over Reno. The redhead was out of it again, cradled in Rude’s arms; the sight made Rufus’ fingers tighten around the gun and his vision to narrow to the back of Rude’s head.

Cursing his emotions when he realized what was happening, he never-the-less kept the hold on his gun until they were safely inside the cabin. Only Dr. Alim and the Turks knew about the plans to come here, but Rufus would be overly cautious until Tseng found all the leaks in the company.

The cabin was much the same it had been when Rufus had last been here, the wood gleaming and the air scented by cedar. For a moment he remembered seeing Reno writhing on the floor with Rude unconscious beside him, as Kadaj approached Rufus with a disturbing grin on his face. Rufus shook his head to get rid of the mental image and went into the bedroom.

There were lots of memories here, too; Reno holding him as the pain became too much, the way they’d huddled together when utterly exhausted, the feel of warmth beside him as he lay between the soft sheets. He pulled back the bed’s covering and motioned for Rude to lay Reno down.

As soon as Reno was on the bed, once more muttering, Dr. Cavish was there to fuss over him. She checked his pulse and temperature while he seemed to struggle awake, then pulled a hypodermic needle from her bag and quickly injected him with something. Reno’s eyes had barely fluttered open before they closed again, his breathing evening out as his body relaxed.

"How much longer are you going to do that?" Rufus asked while Dr. Cavish continued with the exam. While an unconscious Reno was much easier to deal with, he didn’t want his lover to become addicted to anything or be over-medicated.

Dr. Cavish flinched a little at the question. "President, Dr. Alim feels that Reno will heal faster if he’s resting." She set aside a piece of equipment and pulled several bottles out of the bag. "I can probably switch him to pills now, but with the stress of the relocation, he needed something stronger." Her tone was slightly reproachful as she announced that fact.

Rufus didn’t ask any more questions after that; he’d been the one to order Reno awake during the transfer here, not wanting the redhead to be unconscious if anything bad were to happen. Having Reno remain asleep – as long as there were no adverse side-effects – was probably a good thing considering how much he hated Healin Lodge.

A few minutes later, Dr. Cavish finished her exam and changed a couple of Reno’s bandages. "He shouldn’t wake up until this evening, when he’ll need some fluids in him and something to eat. If the fever spikes any more, I’ll have to set up an IV but I think he’ll be all right." She frowned as she stared at Reno for a moment, then shrugged and put everything back into her bag.

Rufus murmured ‘thank you’ as she left the room, escorted by Dominic to her quarters. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Rufus felt the last couple of days catch up on him, his vision dimming slightly and his heartbeat racing. Rude’s hand on his shoulder kept him steady until the fit passed.

"Sir?"

"I’m fine," Rufus said and shrugged off the Turk’s hand. He wasn’t used to relying on elixirs for so long, not like the Turks, and knew that he’d have to stop soon. At least he was at Healin Lodge now and could get some rest while Tseng worked hard to set things right. "Fetch my laptop from the helicopter and put it in my office," he ordered, wanting Rude gone for a few minutes. "Then have some coffee and sandwiches sent there as well." He’d taken the elixir a couple of hours ago, so he should be able to work for most of the day before exhaustion caught up with him.

Rude hesitated a moment, until Rufus gave him a cold look. The Turk ducked his head and murmured an apology before leaving, adding that he’d be back with the luggage once things were set up in the office.

Watching him leave, Rufus waited until the door was closed before returning his attention to Reno. His lover appeared a little less flushed now, the fever seeming to have dropped a degree or two thanks to whatever Dr. Cavish had done. He brushed aside the hair clinging to Reno’s sweaty forehead before rising from the bed to go to the bathroom. Wetting a hand towel, he returned to the bedroom and gently wiped Reno’s face clean of sweat.

The towel was set aside while he managed to remove the sweatshirt, cursing under his breath a time or two on how difficult it was to deal with an unconscious patient. Once it was over Reno’s head, he tossed it aside and cleaned his lover’s chest, mindful of all the bruises and bandages. The thought that Reno was better than yesterday wasn’t very comforting when he took in all the darkened marks which were beginning to fade and turn greenish around the edges. At this rate, they’d be gone before Rufus returned to Edge.

The pants were easier to remove than the shirt, thankfully, and Rufus gave up on the idea of sliding a pair of boxers onto Reno. That could be dealt with later when Reno woke up, and he certainly wasn’t going anywhere. Turning his lover slightly onto his right side, Rufus pulled open the nightstand by the bed and searched through its contents for a few seconds before finding a bright red elastic band. Reno had left the things all over the place, pulling back and undoing his long tail of hair all the time. Wishing he had a brush, Rufus used his fingers to comb through his lover’s hair and braid it, promising to redo it later. Reno was settled onto his back and had the covers pulled up to his shoulders.

Remaining on the bed for a little longer, Rufus traced his right forefinger over his lover’s tattoos. Two days in the middle of nowhere to watch Reno heal and recover, to get the traitorous emotions the redhead inspired in him under control. When it was time to return to work, he wouldn’t allow himself any distractions or weaknesses. His feelings and concerns would have to be left here.

Despite not knowing how the hell he was going to manage something like that and the creeping exhaustion he felt, Rufus was oddly at peace right now. He and Reno had made it here safely, and for the first time in two nights they’d share the same bed. The one time Rufus had attempted to get rest since the failed kidnapping, he hadn’t been able to sleep at all; he doubted that he’d have that problem tonight.

How did people deal with the fact that their lives were suddenly and stealthily intruded upon by someone else, someone who made them feel dangerous motions and inhibited their ability to think? Love seemed like such a disastrous emotion, yet Rufus knew his history and what it inspired people to do – sometimes driving them to madness and spectacular failure. What would happen to him now?


His right hand caressed its way downward, past Reno’s chin to wrap around his neck. A bit of pressure in the right place and there wouldn’t be anyone to be used against him, Rufus thought as he stared at his unconscious lover. No more weakness and confusion, no opportunity to be broken for another’s sake. He’d been raised to eliminate any threat to himself, yet he couldn’t make his fingers move just now.

Cursing under his breath, he yanked his hand free, only to turn it around and stroke the back of his fingers along the left side of Reno’s face. Every stiff brush of bandages or bump of healing scratches made his chest tighten, and he found himself leaning forward to press a tender kiss against Reno’s dry lips.

The knock on the door made him finally leave the bed and his lover to walk over and open it. Rude told him that the office was prepared to his specifications, standing there with his hands full of luggage. Stepping aside, Rufus let him enter the room and went to his office, refusing to turn around and look at his lover one more time.

*******

Reno slowly drifted awake, groggy and aching and not entirely sure that he shouldn’t be sleeping still. The room was dark and quiet, there was a faint murmur of voices to his right, and the air was scented with cedar and the damn lavender perfume that they always dumped on the sheets at Healin. Thoughts muddled and refusing to collate, Reno could at least figure out that he was at Healin Lodge. As a sense of panic slowly built, what he was most confused about was why Rufus wasn’t in bed with him; he didn’t feel his lover’s warmth, hear his breathing or smell his spicy, damn expensive cologne. Rufus was *always* in bed with Reno here; that thought made the panic spike sharply and Reno to force himself upright to look for his lover, turning to the right where Rufus usually lay – only to end up falling onto the floor when his protesting body refused to work properly and he unexpectedly ran out of bed.

"Fuck!" he managed to yell as he crashed onto the floor, somewhat protected by the sheets and blankets entangled around his body. His right shoulder hit first, causing a painful twinge in his neck as his head then the rest of his body smacked onto the floor. He tried to brake the fall with his left hand, only to yelp in pain when it hit against hard wood.

The door was yanked open and light flooded the room as he lay there in pain and confusion. "Reno, what the hell are you doing?" Rufus demanded in a voice loud enough to not do much good for Reno’s aching head.

Whatever retort that Reno was searching for died when he managed to focus his eyes on his lover. The sight of a healed and obviously pissed off Rufus made more memories crash through him, reminding him of the last few days’ events. Meeting with Reeve, ambush, explosion, hospital room, the bastard Alim, the helicopter….

"What’s going on?" Reno managed to gasp as he struggled to sit upright. Rude and Dominic warily walked around Rufus and knelt down to help him. Reno hadn’t seen Dominic in *months*, and now the stocky, older Turk was in Healin Lodge of all places trying to put him back in bed. "Why are we here?" For a moment, Reno was terrified that Rufus would roll up the right sleeve of his shirt and reveal the black stain of Geostigma.

"Relax," Rude suggested as he and Dominic got Reno mostly untangled from the bedding and up onto the mattress. Dominic dropped a blanket onto Reno’s lap while looking away, a blush on his scarred face and his dark eyes hidden by his thick brown bangs. The Turk seemed very grateful when Rufus ordered him and a reluctant Rude out of the bedroom.

Feeling even worse than he had upon waking up, Reno did his best to get his eyes to focus properly and his thoughts in order. The glowing colors were back, rendering Rufus the brightest object in the room, before his vision returned to normal. That was damn annoying and made Reno wonder what kind of shit they were shooting into him.

"Why the fuck are we here, Rufus?" He rubbed the back of his sore head while Rufus searched through a couple of drawers of the large bureau across the room. "I thought we were going home."

Rufus went still for a moment before turning around and tossing a pair of silk boxers at Reno. "Put those on and tell me how you ended up on the floor first." His tone made it perfectly clear that Reno wouldn’t get any answers until he complied.

Trying to cross his arms over his chest, Reno swore when he whapped himself with his cast and settled for hunching forward in an attempt to relieve some of the pain. He held the boxers in his right hand and glared at them for a few seconds before giving in and doing his best to pull them on. "I woke up and thought it was… well, the last time we were here and that something had happened to you," he attempted to explain as his anger continued to build. "Who was the asshole that put me on this side of the bed?" He always slept on the other side and had thought that he was rolling to the middle of the bed instead of off it.

"That would be me." Rufus leaned against the bureau, his arms folded across his chest as if to mock Reno. He didn’t offer any help, not when Reno sucked in his breath from a stab of agony when he tried to move his left leg. Closing his eyes, he did his best just to breathe for a few seconds before pulling the boxers on the rest of the way. That done, he let himself fall down on the bed and curled up on his right side. Dammit, he must have injured something during the fall, judging from the pain and the fact that the fever was back, worse than ever.

"We’re at Healin Lodge while Tseng tracks down all the spies at work," Rufus continued after a minute, making Reno open his eyes and focus on the words as much as possible. "While we uncovered a few leads during the interrogation of Mason and investigation into his activities, there’s more to be done before the building’s security can be considered adequate. I’ll work from here for the next two days then commute while you remain here to recuperate." Rufus sounded bored and still a bit pissed off, as if Reno was somehow to blame for all this mess. For fuck’s sake, Reno hadn’t put a gun to Mason’s head and made him turn traitor, or been behind the kidnapping attempt.

Struggling to keep his eyes open, Reno forced his body to move so he could roll onto his back and glare at his lover. "Great, back with the fucking bugs. Couldn’t we have just gone home?" At least Rufus’ apartment had cable and no insects crawling all over the place, not to mention a decent stash of alcohol; right now, Reno could really use a few swallows of something potent to help dull the pain.

For a moment it seemed that Rufus’ pissy attitude was gone; his cold stare softened and his lips twitched as if to smile, then he was back to being a bastard. "Mason compromised the penthouse’s security as well."

"There’re hotels, dammit," Reno hissed, his right hand rising to cover his face. His head throbbed in time with his heartbeat and he felt the trickle of blood on his abdomen. Laughing softly, he told himself that he always knew that Healin would be the death of him.

The door opened again then a weight settled on the mattress; Reno moved his hand to find Dr. Cavish sitting on the edge of the bed. She was marginally better than Alim, and with her blond hair and light blue eyes a hell of a lot better looking, but he wasn’t in the mood to be poked and prodded right now. "Fuck off," he muttered and covered his eyes again. "Go mutate some more rats."

"To think I always wondered why you and Dr. Alim never got along," Cavish shot back as she pulled Reno’s hand from his face. For someone a few inches shorter than him, she had a good bit of strength and smiled in victory when she was able to check his pulse. "Lie still and I’ll be done soon enough."

"You sound like the first guy who fucked me." Reno was somewhere he hated, in pain, confused as hell and being given the cold shoulder by the man he’d nearly died for the other day; to say he wasn’t happy was like saying that Sephiroth had been slightly unbalanced. "Ya gonna leave me a hundred gil, too?"

"Reno." Oh boy, someone sounded even more pissed off than before, which would be impressive if it wasn’t for the fact that he was pissed off with Reno.

Still, Reno didn’t see how the situation could get any worse so fuck it. "What, you think I should charge more?" he asked as a blushing Cavish undid one of his bandages. "Maybe two hundred? I can do a lot more than just ‘lie still’ now." He managed a nasty smile for Rufus for all of three seconds, before Cavish poked at the wound and made him flinch. "Least you didn’t tell me ‘this won’t hurt’."

Rufus pushed away from the furniture and approached the bed, his eyes almost glowing in the room’s soft lamplight. "Is there any chance of having his jaw wired shut?"

Cavish shook her head and reached into her bag for something to deal with the opened wound. "Not unless it’s broken."

"That can be arranged."

"President!" Cavish stopped what she was doing and glared at Rufus for a few seconds, until she must have realized who she was giving a dirty look. Even if it was a short bit of defiance, Reno decided he liked her a lot better now. "I’m afraid I don’t find that joke very funny," she mumbled as she sprayed something that burned like hell onto the wound.


Reno hissed and did his best not to move – not that his body was willing to listen to him at this point, it was so sore and battered. "He’s not joking," he said, which made Cavish’s hand shake. Wanting this over with as soon as possible, Reno actually did shut up, after giving Rufus a nasty look of his own.

After a few down right excruciating minutes, Cavish had everything cleaned and bandaged and was packing up her bag again. "Reno, I can give you something for the pain now and let you sleep, but you’ll be back on the IV. If you think you can handle eating, it would be better and you can take something afterward," she offered, glancing nervously between him and Rufus.

As if it was a fucking choice. "I’ll eat." Reno wasn’t about to get knocked out again and be left in Rufus’ hands, not when his lover was furious at him. Despite the gnawing pain and the strong urge to just sleep until things were better, he did his best to sit up in bed a little more. Cavish plumped some pillows for him and helped him into a more upright position that was almost comfortable.

"I’ll order you something to eat." She actually smiled at him and brushed back some hair that had fallen into his eyes. "It shouldn’t take too long." Rising from the bed, she grabbed her bag and looked in Rufus’ direction. "President, if you’d join me." She stuttered a little as she spoke, her bag clutched in front of her.

Rufus waved her aside. "No, thank you." His tone should have caused frost to form on the windows, and made Reno seriously reconsider being doped up again; yes, he’d be helpless but he wouldn’t feel a thing, either.

Despite the fact that most people would have run babbling from Rufus at that point, Dr. Cavish squared her shoulders and held her bag in front of her as if it was a shield. "President… I’ve specific orders from Dr. Alim." She glanced at Reno, her face blushing again, before she stared at Rufus.

Looking as if someone had dared to call him out for being an utter bastard, Rufus glowered for a few seconds then stalked toward the door. "The both of you are being highly irrational," he spat as he left, leaving Reno to wonder what the fuck he’d done now. ‘Irrational’? A bit snarky, yes, but he wasn’t the guy acting like a prissy bitch who was pms’ing.

He’d almost managed to fall asleep again when he heard footsteps and looked over to find Elena entering the room, a large tray in her hands. "Oh fuck, now I’m gonna be poisoned," he groaned.

Elena smiled and set the tray on the nightstand. "Yep, something wonderfully slow and agonizing. I’m going to record every minute of it and become rich selling it on the ‘net."

Reno stuck his tongue out and attempted to tuck his hair behind his ears with his right hand. Why the hell did his left arm have to be the one that was broken? "Just tell me that you’ve brought a bottle of whiskey." He even gave her a pleading look, to which Elena looked away, a slightly sad expression on her face.

"I wish, Reno. Nothing I’d like better than to join you," she said as she handed him a glass of water. "You’re to drink that before you can eat."

Reno wrinkled his nose at the glass but since he was thirsty, he did as he was told. "What’s wrong, Elena?" They might fight like hell sometimes, but he trusted and cared about her.

Elena took back the glass and handed him a bowl filled with a delicious smelling broth and enough chunks of meat to negate all the vegetable floating about. "It’s…." She shook her head. "I don’t know what I should say or what I shouldn’t at this point." Reno waited patiently while he ate the soup, feeling an appetite for the first time since he’d been injured. Just when it looked like Elena was going to start speaking again, Rufus entered the bedroom.

"President?" she asked, her voice squeaking slightly.

Rufus, still seeming a bit pissed-off but not as much as earlier, gave her one of his patented haughty looks and went to the room’s closet. "I plan on enjoying a nice soak." He didn’t say ‘if that’s all right with you’, but it was evident in his tone, just as his expression clearly said that he didn’t give a damn if it wasn’t. Elena stuttered some more while Reno finished his soup, utterly ignored.

Whatever it was that was bothering Elena, there wasn’t a chance to hear about it after that. Reno ate the rest of his dinner; some bread and what he was assured was rice pudding, the sound of running water from the attached bathroom very conspicuous all the while. Elena didn’t completely clam up - she filled Reno in on a few things that had happened in the last two days and gossiped a little.

By the time the food was all gone and he’d drank another glass of water to wash down a couple of pills, Reno was squirming around on the bed as much as he was able. "Help me to the bathroom," he asked as he tossed the blankets aside.

"Maybe I should get Rude or Dom," Elena said and looked hopefully at the bedroom door.

"Nah, I don’t fucking need carried." The food had helped a lot, even though he was still very sore, and Reno felt confident that all he needed was to lean against someone for support to cross the room. "Besides, I thought you’d give anything to see Rufus naked."

"That’s not funny. Just for that, I’ll let you fall to the floor after three steps," Elena snapped, but she was very careful about helping him stand up and kept a firm grip around his waist for the ten hobbling steps it took for them to reach the bathroom. "I’m not going in there," she said with a violent shake of her head.

"Just wait here." Reno was ashamed to find himself out of breath from pain and exertion. He fumbled with the doorknob a couple of times before it opened and he practically fell into the bathroom. Thankfully, the toilet wasn’t far from the door and there were several handy railings about for when Rufus had been sick, so he made it without doing any more damage to himself. As for his lover, Rufus barely glanced at the door and went back to enjoying his soak.

"Never mind me," Reno gasped as he collapsed on the toilet, reduced to sitting down to take a piss. "Go back to playing with the fucking bubbles."

"The drugs must have convinced you that you’re actually amusing," Rufus replied sarcastically and tilted his head back to lean against the edge of the tub. If Reno wasn’t shaking so much that he almost fell off the toilet, he’d go throttle the bastard. What the hell was Rufus’ problem? He’d dearly love to know, but right now he needed to get back into bed before he passed out. Either the medication had hit him quick or he was more fucked-up than he suspected.

It took a few minutes before he could get the energy to stand up again and hobble back to the door, Rufus remaining in the tub the entire time. Elena kept him from diving face first into the floor and pretty much dragged him back to the bed. Dignity be damned, Reno figured he’d let Rude carry him the next time he had to take a piss.

Thankfully the pain meds kicked in all the way a short time later, allowing his body to relax for the first time since he’d waken up and fallen out of the bed. It took a lot of shifting about before he found a comfortable position on his right side. Rude had said it would take two weeks for the casts to come off, which sounded like a damn long time right now. Two damn weeks spent in pain, crippled by plaster and trapped at Healin Lodge.

Reno might be fucked up from his injuries and the drugs, but he knew that something was going on, something that was being kept from him. There were a lot of places where Rufus could have gone, and he didn’t need to drag Reno with him. Maybe it was some plot to drive him mad.

What he really didn’t understand was Rufus’ fucking attitude. Reno hadn’t expected a huge raise and a new… oh, what the hell, bike or office or some shit like that just because he’d done his job. What he had expected was to be treated like someone who’d risked their life for another, who hadn’t run away when times got tough. Rufus wasn’t the most demonstrative bastard in the world unless he was truly pissed off, but he usually acknowledged it when a Turk had saved his sorry ass. Hell, Tseng would smack the bastard for the way he was treating Reno… if he was here, that was.

Filled with doubts and confusions, Reno punched the mattress once and decided to just give in to the exhaustion. Perhaps Rufus’ shitty mood was a temporary thing brought on by the attack and the threat to ShinRa. If that was the case, sooner or later he’d go back to normal and be a more bearable bastard. He better do it quick, though, before Reno got his hands on a gun.

On the edge of sleep, Reno felt someone press against his back, someone’s arm gently slide along his waist to hold him close. Warm lips brushed against the nape of his neck after his hair was carefully combed aside, the person clearly settling in for the night. Smiling at the odd dream, Reno fell asleep.

*******

Rude rubbed the back of his neck and wished that he could have a drink. Two days of elixirs were starting to wear on him, but not as much as the tension that formed whenever Rufus was around. The president had been in a terrible mood all day, his already bad temper flaring over whatever had happened when Dr. Cavish had checked Reno after the fall.

"Rude, get some sleep tonight," Kali said, her dark eyes shadowed by concern. He was about to ignore the advice when Dominic echoed it.

"You’re crashing on the couch; get some rest and we’ll take turns tomorrow." Dominic had helped train Rude, so he found it difficult to ignore the older man, even if Dominic and Sara had basically been on desk duty for the past year. They were old-timers who remembered when Veld had just been another Turk, two people who Rude knew he could trust both for their judgments and loyalty to ShinRa.

Sara, her black hair shot with more grey than Rude had remembered, gave him a light touch on his arm. "You’ll be dealing directly with those two tomorrow so rest while you can." Her green eyes sparkled with amusement even though her expression was otherwise impassive.

"All right, I won’t argue," he said, his expression softening when Kali flashed him a grateful smile. He might not have a clue what he was going to tell her when things calmed down, but he still cared a hell of a lot for her and wanted her to be happy.

Off to the side of the small patio where they were gathered to discuss the situation, Elena rubbed her hands up and down her arms. "Kali and I will take the first shift tomorrow." She smiled at Sara, the first time she’d appeared anything but upset in the last hour.

"Sure, deal with them while Rufus is busy working and Reno should still be sleeping," Sara remarked, as sharp as ever. "Ah well, Dom and I should be nice and rested when it’s our turn to deal with them, at the least."

"I didn’t tell Reno that the pills were more than painkillers, and I’m pretty sure Cavish didn’t say anything." Elena tucked back her hair, the strands glimmering softly in the moonlight. "He shouldn’t notice anything for a day or two."

"Then watch out," Kali said and winced. "Let’s just hope by then that Rufus is over his bad mood." All of them exchanged looks, not very hopeful about the situation.

Rude was pretty sure he could handle Reno; his friend would be pissed about being doped up, but Reno wanted to heal as fast as possible. Oh, there’d be some tantrums, probably an attempt or two at arson and all weapons were being kept under lock and key far out of the redhead’s reach, but things should be bearable. Worse come to worst, Rude would sit on the complaining bastard for a few hours. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option with ShinRa’s president.

"Cavish really pissed him off tonight," Dominic said, his gravelly voice pitched lower than normal as if Rufus might overhear them. They’d waited until Rufus had turned in for the night before gathering for this discussion. "She actually thought he was gonna hurt Reno?"

"I guess." Rude remembered his debriefing with Tseng and the private orders to watch Rufus around Reno.

"Pretty stupid for a doc," Dominic scoffed. Nothing was said for a while after that, Rude unwilling to bring up his doubts right now. Rufus wasn’t acting as normal when around Reno, was acting unpredictable at a time when that was the last thing they needed.

"Well, we’ll be alone here tomorrow until Dr. Alim stops by. Tseng said something about recalling us when Rufus heads back, probably to replace us with someone a bit younger." Sara laughed at that, still amused but sounding tired. There was silence again for a few minutes before she shook her head. "Never thought we’d have to worry about other Turks."

"It’s just the one and he’s been dealt with," Elena pointed out. "Right now, Tseng’s problem is there’s not enough of us to make the search through the company as fast as he’d like." Even though she was clearly upset with her lover, she still defended him. Rude and Kali exchanged a quick smile.

Kali cleared her throat and leaned back against the patio’s railing, her head tilted up so she could see the stars. "That means we’ll need more recruits, and Tseng will work us twice as hard on the background checks and such." She wrinkled her nose at the mention of more work. "I think all of us better get whatever rest we can."

Everyone agreed, and that acted as the signal for them to head back to their respective posts. Kali lingered for a moment, telling Elena she’d catch up in a minute. "You think they’ll be much of a problem tomorrow?" she asked, her smile returning when Rude stepped closer.

"Rufus won’t be happy with Alim visiting and yelling at him for moving Reno, but I think that’ll be about it." Judging from the curious look Kali gave him, Rude decided that Tseng was keeping Rufus’ little… ‘slip’ in Medical a close secret. As long as it was just Rufus reacting to Reno almost dying for him, Rude was willing to let it remain a secret. "I’m going to keep shoving those pills down Reno’s throat for as long as possible." The last thing he needed was Reno deliberately setting off an unpredictable and stressed Rufus.

Kali laughed at that statement and shook her head. "Good luck. Maybe Rod can bring you some tranquilizer darts the next time you see him." She was about to walk away when Rude gently grasped her left wrist and pulled her closer. Moving slowly, he leaned down for a kiss, one that he was careful not to make too passionate. It was little more than a lingering brush of the lips, but it made him feel better and less tired, and Kali’s smile in response when he pulled away was the most beautiful thing he’d seen in days. "Good night, Rude."

Nodding in return, Rude watched her leave, filled with the sinking feeling that Reno was probably going to tease the shit out of him once the bastard was better. A sigh escaped him as he rubbed his head, torn between the blaring mess that was Reno and Rufus’ relationship and how good Kali could make him feel. All that time obsessing about his partner and an enemy, and he got caught by the woman he went to for ‘relief’.

Between trying to figure out what to do with his ‘relationship, the potential doubling of his workload and being stuck around an injured Reno and possible deranged – because of Reno – Rufus, there were times when Rude regretted his part in saving the world.

*******

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