Shatter the Rules

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chapter three

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The insistent beeping of his cell phone forced Rufus from sleep, his right eye refusing to open all the way and a low murmur of displeasure building in his throat. The room was dark, there was only a faint glow visible from the windows, and the bed was addictively warm. He wanted to sink back into unconsciousness, but the damn phone snared his awareness and wouldn’t let it go.

Sliding his right arm from around Reno’s waist, he rolled over and sat up in bed while reaching for the phone, his left hand rubbing at his right eye to help the lashes come apart. "Yes?" he snapped over the connection, his mind belatedly realizing that it was Tseng on the other end.

"Earth First has just attempted to sabotage Reactor Five," Tseng informed him, and the lack of any and all courtesies forced Rufus’ brain into full awareness. Then the words finally made sense, and Rufus swore softly.

"Tell me," he ordered, his tone curt and annoyed. The last four days had been ShinRa chasing after the rival company, helping WRO build an ironclad case against the company’s disbanding while covertly attacking at the same time. He’d expected Earth First to lash out at some point, his instincts insisting that the time was now.

"We apprehended three of their agents less than an hour ago; they were attempting to make the Reactor appear in violation of several WRO ordinances. From what they’ve told us, Earth First will shortly be attacking here to draw WRO’s attention and ruin ShinRa’s credibility." Tseng spoke the words in a clipped manner, sounding slightly distracted as if his attention was divided on several fronts. No doubt he was overseeing the captives’ interrogation while informing Rufus of the situation and arranging more security.

Rufus tossed back the sheets and left the bed, hurrying to the closet to get dressed. "How soon will the helicopter be here?" There was no doubt in his mind that there was one on its way; Tseng knew well enough that he’d refused to remain in Healin Lodge while his company was under attack.

There was a very slight sigh on the other end before Tseng cleared his throat for a couple of seconds. "Less than ten minutes, President. I’ve arranged for increased security there while you join us at the Reactor."

Pausing in going through his wardrobe to look through the open door at his sleeping lover, Rufus’s lips twisted into a frown as he resumed dressing. "What are the chances of there being an attack here?" he asked as he stepped into a pair of white pants. He wouldn’t put it past Earth First to come after him on both a personal and professional front.

The lack of concern in Tseng’s voice laid his bourgeoning fears to rest. "I highly doubt that they have enough forces left to split them at all, or that they even know you’re currently at Healin Lodge." Tseng paused again, the noise of voices coming over the connection muffled as if he had placed his hand over the phone. There was what sounded to be a high-pitched scream in the background, quickly stifled. "I believe this is their last chance to cause ShinRa any harm, sir, and they’ll concentrate their forces here. May I state that it would be a good idea for you to remain in Healin Lodge?" He didn’t seem very hopeful that his advice would be taken.

"You may," Rufus replied, the phone cradled against his shoulder as he buttoned up the white shirt. He didn’t bother to add that he had no intention of following that advice.

Tseng sighed again, the sound low and frustrated. "Elena is to remain at Healin Lodge, President. I’ll update you of any more important information as I come across it." The connection was terminated, cutting off yet another scream in the background.


No longer hampered by the phone, Rufus tucked it into the right pocket of his pants and pulled on a pair of socks before stepping into his shoes. The black vest, gun holster and two white coats were draped over his left shoulder, something he could put on during the flight to Reactor Five. He took the time to fetch a gauntlet, various attack and coercion materia along with a bag for all of it, and a spare gun before he left the closet; he would be prepared for any attack now, and wouldn’t run from it like the last time.

Walking past the bed, he found himself sitting down on its edge, right beside Reno as he shrugged on first the vest then the double-gun holster. He felt an irrational fear over the fact that his lover was still deeply unconscious despite the phone call and him moving about, before he reminded himself about the sedatives.


Reno’s face was no longer bruised, and only a thin, faint scab remained on his forehead. He looked much as he did while recovering from an exhausting mission, curled up on his side with a slight frown on his face and dark circles beneath his eyes.

Rufus only allowed himself a few seconds to brush back the ragged lock of hair that covered Reno’s right cheek. No matter how much he tried to rationalize things, to rein in his emotions, the concern and affection he felt would not abate. He would be as cold as possible to Reno while his lover was awake, would work from before sunrise to late at night, and he wouldn’t feel at peace until he lay in bed with Reno in his arms. Everything he tried to diminish the emotion or gain control over it failed, dammit.

Now he had to face a direct assault on his company while worried about the ‘weakness’ he was leaving behind. Wondering what the hell he’d done to be saddled with these useless and distracting emotions, Rufus pressed his lips against Reno’s forehead for a lingering kiss before forcing himself out of the bedroom. Tseng wouldn’t put Elena’s life at risk so Rufus would trust the assumption that Earth First wouldn’t strike here as well.

Checking his holstered guns, he stepped out of the bedroom to find Rude already up and dressed, albeit in a decidedly rumpled manner complete with dark face shadowed by stubble. Rude held out a cup of coffee in his left hand while his cell phone was clutched in his right. "The helicopter will be here in three minutes, President."

Rufus accepted the coffee as he headed to the door, his nose wrinkling slightly at its almost too-hot temperature and bitter taste; instant or not, it would provide a necessary rush of caffeine. "Tseng called?" he asked once they were outside, slightly bemused at how well Rude could see in the pre-dawn darkness while wearing sunglasses.

"I heard your phone ring, sir, and you get out of bed." Rude shrugged while he explained things, his attention constantly moving from side to side as they made their way to the landing pad. "Then I got the call from the helicopter. I assume that we’ll be staying here since Tseng didn’t speak to any of us?" His low voice was a rumble pitched to not carry too far.

"Yes, and other Turks will join you." Finishing the coffee in several swallows despite a burned and abused tongue, Rufus set the empty mug on a railing and pulled on the rest of his outfit. "Keep a close watch on Reno and Elena," he said through tightly clenched teeth. That was the only concern he would allow himself, and it *would* be appeased by the thought of Rude, Saint-John, Becca and whoever else Tseng sent watching over his lover. Though with how much of a grumpy bastard Reno was being lately, maybe it would be more damaging to allow Earth First to kidnap him….

The helicopter’s arrival made him shove such thoughts aside, and he had to wait for Ling, Michael, Deirdre and Cyn to jump off the helicopter before he could climb aboard. Tosh and Pamela were still seated inside waiting for him, and once he was sitting down, the vehicle rose into the air. Looking out the window, he saw the newly arrived Turks gathered around Rude, hands holding onto their hair or lapels of their black coats while they brought everyone up to date.

"President, Tseng said to give you this." Pamela offered him a handheld device that was keyed to play a recording of some of the morning’s interrogation. While Rufus watched Rod and Jared inflict the right amount of damage to get the Earth First agents to talk, various other data flowed over the screen: the equipment and false data that the agents had planned to plant in the Reactor to make it look as if it was using Mako to produce electricity, the latest information Tseng had gathered on Earth First’s resources, the ongoing security measures at the Reactor and various other things that Rufus needed to know. Tseng sent several text messages over the device rather than calling Rufus directly, keeping him up to date as promised even though the Turk had to be very busy.

Racing toward Reactor Five, Rufus shivered under the assault of conflicting emotions. He was concerned and furious over the attack on his company by a rival that refused to give up, yet he was also exhilarated. For ShinRa Electric Power Company to come under fire like this meant it was considered a threat once more, a power to be removed so other companies could ascend to its height. It also meant that months of careful planning and arranging to ensure that his company could strike back at its attackers would be put into motion, a flexing of muscles that would determine just how much leeway ShinRa would have in the future. He’d find out if over a year of deferring at times to Reeve and WRO, of stupid press conferences and charity functions, had served him well as his new means of control. Now he would see just how much appearing to play by the rules, of making amends and learning from past lessons compared to fear-mongering and bribery.

If he could publicly put an end to a rival and still keep the people’s favor, then he could take ShinRa much farther than his father had ever imagined with his bully tactics.

First, however, he had to make sure that the approaching assault was properly put down and Earth First was finally destroyed.

*******

Rude looked at Elena who was standing by the door with her gun held in her hands, clearly ready to shoot any enemy that stepped near it, then over to Kali who grimaced and shook her head. He knew how she felt – watching Elena’s stoic refusal to relax was not only draining but depressing as well. Chances were that they’d be left alone out here, and Elena couldn’t influence what was happening at the Reactor with her fit of temper and diligence. That’s where the fight was, where she’d only make things worse by distracting Tseng and giving Earth First a valuable target if she got her wish to join the action.

Seeing no sense in telling her to relax, Rude smoothed his gloved right hand over his face and crossed the room to where Deirdre had set up her laptop and was listening in on all communications at Reactor Five and around Healin Lodge. "Find anything?" he asked while leaning over the petite woman’s shoulder. He always felt like he was looming over or hulking around her because of her size; while Deirdre could fight as well as any Turk, her specialties were computers and networks so they didn’t often interact unless Reno played a prank on the Turks’ message board.

She shook her head, short black hair with a blue streak fanning about from the motion. "Nothing unusual here, and the radar feeds show our airspace as clear." A fierce frown wrinkled her plain face as she held a slender finger in front of the laptop’s screen. "Well, other than some fucking birds; they’re such a nuisance." Her expression was so laden with disgust that Rude couldn’t help but remember how Reno reacted to the wildlife outside.

"Be thankful they’re not bats," he grunted after a quick glance at the closed bedroom door. Cavish had said that Reno should be waking up soon, and Rude still wasn’t quite sure what he was going to tell his partner.

Deirdre’s expression became filled with even more disgust. "Why couldn’t Meteor have obliterated the damned forests? Then Cyn wouldn’t have so much grief with the damn sensors," she muttered as she typed something. The disgust turned into concern as a new window popped up onto the screen. "We’re taking casualties," she whispered, her dark brown eyes pressing shut as if to hold back tears.

"Who?" Michael demanded to know as he limped over to join them. The tall, broad-shouldered Turk shouldn’t even be back on active duty for another month at least, and was just as pissed off as Elena at being here and not at the Reactor. At least he knew that he wouldn’t be of any use in that fight and didn’t take it out on the rest of them.

"Emmanuel and Tosh are down," Deirdre announced in a grim voice as she continued to pull up more information. Kali joined them as well, a warm presence lightly pressed against Rude’s left side. "Ah… Sara’s injured, too, by an explosion. It…." She took a deep breath as Sara’s status changed on the screen. Rude felt as if he was punched right below his sternum; just two days ago she’d been teasing him about how he must dye his goatee to hide any grey hair and now she was dead. Yet another Turk who shouldn’t be dragged into the fight, but had willingly joined anyway despite her age. Dominic would be devastated as they were one of the very rare partnerships that had lasted since they’d joined the Turks and been assigned to each other.

Over by the door, Elena scowled fiercely and muttered something while an obviously saddened Ling gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. If they didn’t have to be on guard, Rude would pull Kali and Deirdre close for a hug of shared misery, but he couldn’t allow his emotions to get the better of him now. Turks died – he’d learned that lesson within the first two months of being one, and it wouldn’t change any time soon. "Pay attention to the airspace," he ordered, his tone gruff with grief as he tapped his right forefinger against the laptop’s screen.

"Yes, sir." Deirdre sniffed and did as she was told while Rude shared another look with Kali. She nodded once and headed for the door.

"We’re going to do another sweep and see if we can’t help Cyn with the sensors," she announced as she latched onto Elena’s arm and dragged her still muttering partner through the door. "She should be done by now so something must be wrong."

Deirdre pulled up an instant message screen. "She’s having trouble in section three-beta." She blinked her eyes twice before they widened to an almost impossible degree. "There are fucking *snakes* out here? Rude, can she shoot the fucking things?" There was a note of hysteria in her already high-pitched voice, and she frantically searched about the room as if expecting to see a snake slithering its way toward her.

Wondering why he always had to be the damned voice of reason, Rude shoved the small Turk aside and typed an order for Cyn to *not* shoot *anything* unless attacked; the last thing they needed were random gunshots to put them even more on edge. "Most of them should be hibernating by now," he tried to explain to Deirdre, who had dragged her feet onto the chair as if afraid of being bit.

"I hate this, I hate this, I *hate* this," she chanted, which was pretty much word for word with what Cyn had texted back, minus a few blistering curses. "Give me rats any damn day." The bitching out of the way, she resumed monitoring the various programs she had running.

Turning to the other Turks in the room, Rude arched an eyebrow in a silent question if they had any problems with reptiles. Michael appeared to be doing his best to stifle a laugh, his normally ruddy complexion even redder, while Ling did a very impressive Tseng impersonation, his grief clearly under control now. "Go help Saint-John and Becca," Rude ordered, worried that someone might have slipped past the sensors after all. "On the way, check up on Dr. Cavish and see if she knows anything about Tosh and Emmanuel." He was willing to bet the doctor was doing much the same as Deirdre right now, keeping a careful watch on the Medical department’s comm.

Michael, his good mood now gone, went immediately for the door while Ling gave Rude a concerned look. "Should we bring back any tranquilizers?"

Rude only hesitated for a few seconds. "No." Should the worst happen, it would be better that Reno was awake and not doped up; at the very least, Reno could do his best to bitch the enemy to death.

Ling bowed his head and left with his partner, both of them holding guns in their hands. No one was treating the threat as a joke, not when they’d given Rufus and Tseng their loyalty and devotion years ago. The room now much quieter than before, Rude tugged on the cuffs of his coat before he went to the small kitchen.

Cavish had left some instructions for Reno’s breakfast, and Rude busied himself with cooking the food, working as quietly as possible so he could hear any alarms or sounds of struggle. Once the eggs were done and toast lightly buttered then slathered with raspberry preserves, he poured some juice, filled a large glass with water and prepared to be yelled at for the lack of coffee. Having Reno awake during a possible attack was one thing, wired on caffeine while deprived of his cigarettes was another thing entirely.

Deirdre was still hunched over her laptop, huddled in her black coat as if it would prove a shield against Healin Lodge’s many native creatures. Hoping that no centipedes had crept into the cabin and attempted to surprise the Turk, Rude shook his head and went to the bedroom; there was still a hole in the floor from when Reno had shot at one of the bugs.


Rude felt a pang of envy when he opened the door and saw the huge, comfortable-looking bed. Several nights of sleeping on the couch, even if it was a very nice couch, left him longing for his own bed. Unfortunately, he’d be here for at least another week, possibly more depending on how things went today.

To his surprise, he found Reno already awake, lying on the bed with his right hand draped over his eyes. "What the hell is going on out there?" Reno grumbled, his voice thick with sleep and already possessing a bitchy undertone.

"Good morning," Rude replied, hoping to avoid an answer for the time being. He set the tray down on the nightstand before going to the windows – then he rethought his actions and returned to the bed, leaving the curtains drawn. "Time for breakfast."

Reno made an obscene noise and removed the arm from his face so he could give Rude the finger. Then he curled onto his right side, his face pressed against the pillow and his left arm spread out over the bed, the picture of abject suffering.

Giving in to the urge to sigh, Rude wished that he was Reactor Five fighting alongside the rest of the Turks, rather than dealing with the ongoing mess here. There at least he had a good excuse for bashing in a couple of very stupid heads.

*******

Reno heard Rude’s annoyed sigh and knew that he was pissing off his best friend. However, he kept his eyes closed, pointedly ignoring Rude as his fingertips brushed against the cold, soft sheets of the bed. It had been yet another morning of waking up to find Rufus gone, something that was making Reno seriously cranky.

Despite his growing anger, he couldn’t help but remember the morning when all this shit had started, the way he’d woken up to feel Rufus pressed against his back, his lover’s mouth against his neck and fingers inside of his body. Now he didn’t expect to have a nice fuck with the two casts and the rest of the injuries, but he was getting damn tired of being treated as something to be ignored. If it wasn’t for the fact that the sheets smelled of Rufus, he’d think that the bastard wasn’t even sleeping in the same bed as him.

Whatever the hell had happened after the kidnapping attempt – and Reno certainly wouldn’t know much with the way he’d barely been awake since then – it seemed to have changed the way Rufus felt about him. Just when things had been going so good, when they’d only fight once a week instead of every other hour, Rufus had to turn into a humongous asshole again. Well, dammit, Reno was getting so fucking sick of this.

He grumbled under his breath a mix of curses that didn’t make any sense and curled up even more beneath the sheets. The left side of his chest wasn’t happy with the position, but it hurt less than it had the day before so he could ignore it.


What he couldn’t ignore, however, was his stubborn partner. "Reno, the food’s getting cold." Rude *really* didn’t sound happy, which didn’t bother Reno as much as it should.

"Then eat it yourself," he replied, tilting his face far enough from the pillow so he could be understood. "I’m not hungry," he lied, hoping the sheets and blankets were thick enough to keep any sound of his stomach rumbling from being heard. So what if it was childish or silly to lay about in bed feeling sorry for himself; he felt it was warranted in this situation.


The bed shifted as Rude sat down. "Reno, you *will* eat." His resolute tone made it perfectly clear that Reno would do that whether he was willing or not.

Reno grunted as he used his left hand to retrieve Rufus’ pillow, grateful for the fact that the cast was short enough that he could bend the arm. "Give me some fucking pills then go fuck Kali," he muttered before placing the pillow over his head. Why the hell couldn’t he be left alone? Between Cavish and Rude fussing over him whenever he was awake, he was ready to steal the ‘copter and go back to the penthouse. So what if its security was ‘compromised’; at least he could have a fucking drink and smoke there.

The bed shifted again, giving him hope that Rude would just leave him alone, then there was pressure on the top pillow. Its soft, silky surface pressed against his face, his air supply slowly being cut off while a weight settled against his left shoulder.

An agonizing minute or two later, the pillow was removed, leaving him gasping for air as he was unceremoniously pulled onto his back then forced into a sitting position. The pillow was shoved behind his back to keep him upright, and while he slumped forward in pain, a tray of food was set on his lap.

"Reno… please eat your damn breakfast." Rude sounded more upset than angry, and he gently brushed aside the hair clinging to Reno’s sweaty forehead.

"Some… fuckin’… nurse… you are," Reno managed to spit out, more or less.

Rude sighed again, his fingers trailing along the right side of Reno’s jaw before he held up the glass of water, a few blue pills in his other hand. "Take these first."

His eyes narrowing, Reno accepted the glass of water but not the medication. "What the hell are those? They gonna make me sleepy or something else?" His breathing still ragged, he felt great satisfaction at the surprise on his friend’s face. "Didn’ think I’d figured that out, didj’a?"

"They’re just pain pills, nothing in them to make you sleep," Rude explained as he held them just in front of Reno’s face. "I promise."

Snorting softly, Reno took a sip of water, waited for Rude to retrieve the glass so he could pick up the pills with his right fingers, then accepted the glass again. Even if they did knock him out like the other ones, he needed something for the pain right now. Rude had been mostly careful despite the suffocation attempt, considering how he could have really messed Reno up to get him to listen, but Reno’s left side and head throbbed in aching pain. As if to make his list of complaints even longer, his fever went up a notch or two and his vision did the funky color thing again until he blinked his eyes a couple of times.

Knowing the drill by now, Reno finished the entire glass of water; Cavish constantly threatened him with IVs if he didn’t drink enough liquids, and since he was just getting to the point where he could move around without too much help, he didn’t want to be stuck dragging that shit around.

"Why are you taking the pills if you know they knock you out?" Rude asked while Reno munched on a piece of toast. Asshole that he was right now, at least Rude remembered how much Reno loved raspberries and had covered the bread with enough jelly.

"What the hell else am I gonna do besides sleep?" Reno asked after licking the jelly from his lips. Besides, he wasn’t an idiot; he realized that he could easily be doped up another way so he went along with the deception in hope that he would heal faster. The sooner he got the damn casts off and could go back to work, the better.

Rude didn’t seem to know what to say to that, so Reno focused on finishing his breakfast before he was smothered with the pillow again. Maybe he could talk Rude into letting him soak in the tub after this and helping him wash his hair – he couldn’t take a damn shower thanks to the casts, but he should be able to keep them out of the water.

There was the sound of the front door of the cabin opening and closing, the noise setting Rude on edge as he moved from the bed with his hand inside his black coat. Reno remembered the voices he’d heard earlier, back when he’d still been groggy from the drug-enforced sleep, and set his tray aside.

Rude went to the bedroom door and slowly opened it, edging around it just enough to look into the other room. Someone sounding an awful lot like Saint-John said that things were all right, so Rude closed the door and returned to the bed.

His arms folded over his chest as much as the cast would allow, Reno gave his partner a suspicious look. "Okay, what the hell is going on?"

Rubbing his right hand over his bald head in a sign that always meant that Rude was nervous about something, the bastard had the audacity to glance aside and mumble "nothing".

"Oh, don’t even try that shit with me!" Reno tossed back the sheets and moved to get out of bed – and ended up shoved back down and tucked into bed within three seconds. "Hey, don’t fucking push me around!" Rude was a friend and his partner, but there were limits. Reno had enough of being treated like a fucking invalid and kept in the dark.

Letting out a weary sigh, Rude sat down, trapping the sheets tightly enough over Reno’s legs that he’d have trouble getting out of bed. "Earth First is attacking Reactor Five right now," Rude explained, his deep voice quiet and perfectly serious. "There’s some concern that they’ll attack here, too."

"Where’s Rufus?" That was the only reason Reno could think about those Earth First assholes wanting to do anything here, unless they hated the damn bugs as much as he did. "Don’t tell me he’s in his office while that’s going on." Only if Tseng had ordered him handcuffed to the chair to keep him away from the fighting, Reno was willing to bet.

Rude fidgeted with his sunglasses, another sign that he was uncomfortable with the conversation. "No, he left for the Reactor about two hours ago."

"Then why the hell are you still here? All of you should be watching over him, stupid asshole that he is. Man thinks he’s fucking invulnerable," Reno huffed, growing confused over the situation since nothing made sense.

Something that crossed Rude’s face made him sit up straighter on the bed. "What, he doesn’t want your help?" Already pissed off at his lover, Reno was growing more furious; sure, Rufus was obviously blaming him for what had happened the other day, and now he seemed to be taking it out on Rude, too. "He’s a fucking asshole."

"No." Rude rubbed his head again, his dark skin glistening slightly from sweat. "Look… there are a few things you need to know, Reno." A few things that Rude didn’t want to tell him, from the sound of it.

"What?" Reno snapped, so fucking sick and tired of being kept in the dark and about to break something. "Did he demote you and me or something?" If so, Reno was going to see how long Tseng would suspend him for shoving his baton up Rufus’ ass… well, as soon as he got issued a new baton, that was.

Rude took a deep breath and slid his glasses down enough so Reno could see his dark eyes, something that he usually only did when he wanted to prove a point. "We’re here to protect you."

That answer shocked Reno, as it was nothing that he expected to hear. "What the fuck?" he whispered, too stunned to speak very loud. "Tseng wants me dead or something for the explosion?" He could just imagine how pissed off Tseng was over all the paperwork from the incident.

"That’s it, no more pills for you. They’re obviously frying what’s left of your brain," Rude said in a frustrated growl. "No, you idiot, Earth First wants your ass!"

Again, Reno was shocked by the answer, but this time it made him laugh as much as his sore chest would allow. "Aw, damn partner, I know it’s pretty fine but that seems a bit much." He grinned at Rude for a minute, the expression slowly slipping when Rude stared back at him with obvious annoyance. From past experience, he knew that expression usually meant he was about to be strangled or worse. "Ah, seriously, they’re that pissed off that I saved Rufus?" That didn’t make much sense, but Earth First obviously weren’t firing on all cylinders if they thought it would be easy to take down Rufus or ShinRa.

"You would try the patience of an Ancient," Rude muttered as he pinched the bridge of his nose. "For an intelligent person, you’re a fucking moron, Reno."

"Oi! No need for insults!" Reno yanked the sheets up as far as he could, which was only to his chin. With Rude sitting on the bed like that, he couldn’t even stretch out and pretend to go back to sleep. "Why the hell do they want me, then?" Revenge, he could understand, or the desire to take out one of the top Turks; those were the only reasons he could think of being a target.

The way Rude’s lips pressed together and his dark eyes narrowed meant he had a hell of a headache, and Reno was about to suggest he take some damn pills when Rude spoke again. "They’re hoping to use you against Rufus," he said, each word forced past clenched teeth.

Okay, at first the thought of Earth First trying to get their hands on Reno was funny, but now the joke was getting old. "Why the hell would they do that?" Reno asked, his own teeth gritting together as he wondered just how much it would hurt to whap his idiot partner over the head with his left arm. "Any Turk can be used against him, Tseng most of all."

"Not every Turk is fucking him!" Rude shouted, loud enough that the words echoed around the room and Reno’s ears began to ache. "They’re after you because you’re his damn boyfriend! You, the fucking moron!" Rude’s face instantly became flushed and his eyes widened after the outburst, especially when Saint-John opened the door and poked most of his upper body inside.

"Want to shout that a little louder?" the Turk asked, a look of disgust on his handsome face. "I don’t think they heard you all the way to the Edge." He glared at Rude a moment longer before tugging on the long brown braid that was draped over his shoulder and closing the door behind him.

Rude’s hands were over his face and muffled what he was saying. Still, Reno got the idea that he was being blamed for his partner’s encroaching insanity and figured any comments from him at the moment wouldn’t be appreciated, if not met with outright violence. So he bit his tongue and waited for Rude to glare at him, something he was sure would happen soon enough.

His partner didn’t prove him wrong. His brow furrowed by an impressive frown, Rude pointed at Reno. "They’re after you because of your relationship with Rufus. Elena’s here as well, because they found out that she’s dating Tseng." He was a lot quieter this time, but not much calmer.

Reno clicked his tongue as he thought how that explained why Elena had been so upset lately. No doubt Tseng would have to kiss some serious ass to get back in her good graces and avoid being shot. "I can see Tseng wanting her someplace safe and her being a target, but it doesn’t make any sense for me to be stuck in this hellhole with her," he said, scratching at the bug bite on his right forearm.

It wasn’t very often, but every now and then Rude made this funny as hell growling sound as if he was a bear or something, right before he literally ripped some poor asshole’s head off. He did so now, and Reno chuckled nervously and began to inch his way across the bed since it was obviously directed at him. "Reno," Rude said, speaking in a tone that he usually reserved for the poor bastards they were beating up for information. "What the hell would you call your relationship with the president?"

"That? We’re fuckbuddies, partner," Reno said with a, exaggerated roll of his eyes. "We’re not dating like Tseng and Elena; he tells me to bend over, I bend over. I’m more a damn pet than anything." There was a surprising amount of bitterness as he explained things to his friend, his right hand wrapped around the long earring that brushed against his shoulder. "You should know that better than anyone, considering how often you tell me he treats me like shit."

Rude removed his glasses so he could rub his hands over his face, yet another bad sign. Then he put the glasses back on and folded his arms over his chest. "You’re practically living with the man and you’ve been his ‘fuckbuddy’ for over five years now, Reno. For some odd reason, Earth First believes you to be Rufus’ boyfriend and that they can use you against the president."

Once again, Reno had to laugh over the ridiculous statement. "They’re a bunch of dumb fucks. Rufus wouldn’t give a damn if they got their hands on me." Something occurred to him just then, something about the way his lover had been acting. He went perfectly still, his fingers clenched tightly around the earring’s chain as the pieces clicked together in his mind. "Fuck me, that’s why he’s been acting the way he has lately," he whispered as pain bloomed inside of his chest, something gnawing its way inward to his heart.

"What?" Rude appeared suddenly hopeful. "He’s obviously been worried about you."

And people called Reno an idiot. He spared his friend a pitying look and snorted in derision. "No, he fucking isn’t. He’s breaking things off, you dumb ass." It all made sense now, the way Rufus had been acting the last few days; distant, cold as hell and bitching at him the few times he’d deigned to speak to Reno. He’d been acting as if Reno was one big burden to him, which seemed to be the case now. By ending the fucked-up relationship between them, Rufus wouldn’t have to worry about losing one of his experienced employees. "I can’t be used against him if he’s not fucking me anymore," Reno said, hunching over even more as the pain increased.

The room was quiet for a minute or two, Rude staring at him with the most incredulous expression Reno had ever seen on his partner’s face. Then Rude removed his sunglasses, went over to the door and with his right hand on the doorknob, actually banged his head against the wall several times before yanking the door open. He left the room without saying another word.

Reno watched the door for a few more minutes, just to make sure that no one else came in and tried to tell him a bunch of bullshit. It sounded like Saint-John and Rude argued about something, the words too low for him to make out but their tones upset. Deciding that he’d had enough shit to deal with for the day, Reno forced his right hand to let go of the earring and reached between the mattress and box spring for the pills he’d stashed there; it was pretty easy to palm a pill or two to try to lessen the dosage a little.

Wanting to just escape his thoughts and the pain for a while, Reno swallowed half of them dry. That should be enough to knock him out for the rest of the day, and hopefully Rufus would have his hands full with Earth First and leave him alone for a while. For once, Reno thought it would be damn good to be ignored.

He lay back down on the bed, worried about his fellow Turks and worn out by the damn, gnawing pain that wouldn’t go away. Yet his fever didn’t increase as it usually did when he was hurting, so he had to wait for the pills to kick him and drag him from disturbing awareness.

*******

Tseng entered the office that Rufus had taken over upon arriving at the Reactor, currently tapping something onto a handheld while his cellphone vibrated to let him know that he had yet another text message. Busy as Tseng was, he paused to place a heavy hand on first Dyson’s and then Geoff’s shoulder. The two Turks nodded with sorrowful acknowledgement before they left the room to stand guard outside.

Rufus stood behind the desk, hunched over as he typed something onto a laptop. On the desk, his phone rang several times before falling silent, only to ring again a few seconds later. Rufus glanced at its LCD screen before resuming whatever it was he was typing.

"Reeve will be sending a crew soon to collect all of the security video and to investigate the attack," Rufus informed him after he straightened up, his blond hair falling onto his face. His appearance wasn’t up to its usual immaculate standards, yet he came across as perfectly calm and in control.

Tseng bowed his head slightly and handed his president the handheld. "The records are already being gathered for WRO to review. I expected that Reeve would ask for them." There was no need to tell Rufus that WRO wouldn’t find anything to use against them, if that’s what the organization wanted. As a former ShinRa employee, Reeve had to have misgivings about the company flexing its muscles once again, but enough changes had been put into effect that the man would have little to complain about. The situation was clear – ShinRa Electric Power Company had only defended itself after an unprovoked attack. While Reeve and his friends focused on what had happened at the Reactor today, the Turks would finish eliminating the last of Earth First.

Going over the information on all the damage to the Reactor during the battle, Rufus nodded several times. "We should be back online in two days. I’m authorizing triple-pay around the clock to make sure that deadline is met." He looked from the device’s screen to directly at Tseng. "I believe the weather forecast is for a sustained cold front by the end of the week."

"Yes, and people will need the electricity to keep warm." If it wasn’t for all the losses occurred today, Tseng would almost be grateful to Earth First; their actions would only help ShinRa to overcome the lingering doubts most people held toward the company. "The information about the pay will make it into the news somehow."

"Of course." Just then, Rufus’ smug smile was an echo of his father’s, and Tseng had to stop himself from stepping backwards to put some distance between them. He was under no delusions that Rufus was a kind and generous man – at least, he wasn’t to most people. Those chosen few who Rufus considered ‘his’ would be very well looked after, while everyone else was there to be used. As long as the Turks were in that first group, Tseng would remain unconcerned about that attitude; Rufus was more than intelligent enough to not let it rule his actions as his father had.

Noting the tension in his president’s white-clad shoulders, Tseng bowed his head slightly. "Rude reported that there were no incidents at Healin Lodge, other than Cyn finding out that she suffers from a snake-related phobia." Despite the pain he felt, Tseng’s lips twitched at the thought of reading the woman’s report; he was sure it would be a spot of brightness in an otherwise dark day since she could be even more inventive with her curses than Reno and Rod.

Rufus acted like a person who didn’t want others to know he was relieved – he fussed with a few papers and picked up and set down his phone three times before he looked Tseng’s way again. "I assume that the security won’t be lessened until we’re certain that Earth First no longer poses us a threat." There was an edge to his voice that Tseng had only heard in the last few days, one of iciness and possession that always surfaced when a threat to Reno was discussed. Tseng couldn’t help but wonder how many enemies would make the mistake of going after Rufus’ lover and find themselves ruthlessly destroyed as a result. Since the thought of anyone harming Elena or using her against him made Tseng think of increasingly sadistic things to do to in retaliation, he didn’t have it in him to reproach Rufus.

"No, sir. I’ll rotate a few of the teams stationed there, but the security will always be more than adequate." Iron control kept Tseng from frowning when he thought about Elena’s reaction when she found herself ordered to remain at Healin Lodge for a few more days. For someone who claimed that she understood why she was there, she was growing increasingly upset over the situation and took it as an affront to her status as a Turk.

"I don’t doubt that all of them are ready to get away from Reno right now," Rufus remarked as he walked around the desk to lean against its front. "For a man who’s barely awake more than three hours a day, he’s being a right bastard." He appeared ready to shoot something, preferably a certain redheaded Turk.

"I believe that part of the problem Dr. Alim has with the man in question is that Reno has never been the best of patients," Tseng pointed out, barely holding back a wince when he recalled the last time Reno had tried to leave the Medical department without the doctor’s permission.

Rufus groaned and rubbed his hands over his face, for the first time in the last few hours appearing tired. A moment later, he was combing back his hair and was once more perfectly alert. "How many did we lose, Tseng?" he asked, his tone grave and lacking any of its usual frostiness. At Tseng’s startled look, he nodded once. "It’s not like you to make small talk at such a critical time."

No, it wasn’t, and Tseng would have to watch out for that from now on; he couldn’t afford such giving tells, even with Rufus. Sometimes… especially not with Rufus, as there were things that the president did not need to know. "I’m sorry, sir." Rufus waved aside the apology and stood there, clearly waiting for the report. "Most of the Turks received minor injuries and are being checked out by Medical. Only four of them are cause for any concern." He gave Rufus his own handheld so the president could read the list himself. "Dr. Alim feels confident that Tosh and Ben are responding positively to the potions, while Emmanuel will require a few days of therapy before he fully recovers. Julia is still in surgery, so I’m unsure of her current status."

"Let me know once Alim’s people report to you," Rufus ordered, his attention focused on the device as he tapped down another page. "Two fatalities for a prolonged fight are rather low." He sounded as calm as always, but there was a narrowing of his eyes and a tightness around his mouth that betrayed how the loss affected him.

Tseng expected nothing less from the man his people had sworn their lives and loyalty to, and was proud that they hadn’t done so foolishly. "Yes, President." Considering how close and dirty the fighting had become, Tseng was pleased there weren’t more casualties or deaths. Still, he’d lost two Turks he’d counted to be among the best. "Sara has a younger brother and several nieces and nephews, while Jared’s mother is still alive."

"Make sure they receive the full benefits." Rufus scanned the data for another minute then returned it to Tseng. "Please inform me of any ceremonies held for them."

Things were too uncertain for Rufus to attend such events, but Tseng wouldn’t mention that right now. He knew Rufus was serious about being there to honor the Turks, which was all that mattered. "There’s already been complaints that with the overtime expected to continue a few more days, there won’t be any memorial parties held anytime soon." His people reacted as they always did to a comrade’s death: telling jokes, drinking copious amounts of alcohol and acting as if they weren’t bothered by the loss. There had been too many years where a Turk’s death was neglected by everyone other than them that it had become an ingrained habit, attempting to downplay it as much as possible.

Rufus stared off into the distance as he folded his arms over his chest. "I’m afraid I can’t do anything to change that, but once the situation has calmed down, make suitable arrangements and bill it to ShinRa." His expression softened as he once more regarded Tseng, revealing a rare depth of emotion. "Tseng, I’m very sorry."

"You aren’t responsible for this, President," Tseng reminded his employer. Earth First had dug its grave by going after Rufus and Reno, now it had ensured that the last shovel-full of dirt would be tossed within the next day or two by claiming Turk lives. "And thank you, sir. That is more than generous."

"Reno will be upset if he misses it," Rufus muttered, almost as if he hadn’t meant to speak aloud. He rubbed the back of his neck as he frowned, the expression so dark that Tseng grew concerned. "Is his apartment packed up yet?"


The sudden change of topic threw Tseng for a moment. "Ah, mostly, sir." Despite everything else that was happening the last few days, he’d spared a couple of Turks to check out Reno’s apartment to ensure that nothing potentially damaging fell into Earth First’s hands.

"Good." Rufus moved to go back behind the desk, sitting in the chair this time. "Obviously, moving his things will have to wait until things have improved." He typed on the laptop for a moment before he changed the topic again. "I’m sure Reeve will be arriving soon. Escort him here, after ensuring that he sees as much of the damage to the Reactor as possible." Once again, Rufus had returned to normal, focusing on the matter at hand and spinning it to ShinRa’s advantage.

Tseng bowed deeply. "Yes, President." He recognized that he’d been dismissed and left the room, allowing himself to be distracted by Rufus’ odd behavior for a moment, rather than think about darker, sadder things.

All those years, he’d been puzzled and exasperated by Veld’s knowing smile when the matter of Rufus and Reno’s relationship had been brought up. Since Weapon’s destructive blow to ShinRa, he’d begun to understand what it was his dear mentor had set into motion and why. Now… now he was left wondering if Veld hadn’t underestimated the two men he had cleverly manipulated over the years. That there was a deep and abiding bond between Rufus and Reno, there was no doubt, nor that it benefited both Rufus and the Turks. However, Tseng wasn’t sure that either man could handle the realization of just how closely they’d been bound together. Rufus apparently had a revelation of sorts a few days ago and still wasn’t back to normal. As for Reno….

Tseng winced as he pulled his phone from its pocket. Rufus’ reaction had been bad enough, and he possessed a lot more control than Reno. How the Turk was going to handle realizing that Rufus was more than an employer and sexual partner, Tseng wasn’t sure about other than he knew he didn’t want to be around when that happened. He feared that whatever damage wasn’t done by Reno at that moment, Rufus would finish when he reacted to his lover’s actions. And of course it would be up to Tseng to moderate things when that finally occurred.

He really should have shown less respect and care to the old bastard when he’d sparred with Veld.

 

*******

Rufus felt the urge to sigh in relief and rub his eyes when the helicopter set down. It had been an extremely long day and he was grateful to be back at his temporary home. Two days after the attack at Reactor Five, and he finally felt that the matter of Earth First had been resolved; the Reactor was back online, and Tseng had informed him early in the morning that the rival company could be declared destroyed. On an official front, it would take a day or two more for WRO to make the same proclamation, but the Turks had made sure that Earth First would never pose a threat to ShinRa Electric Power Company again.

That said, Tseng had asked him to remain at Healin Lodge for a few more days, almost until the end of the initial two week period that they’d agreed upon. The Head of Turks wanted to make sure there were no rash acts of revenge upon Rufus, and there was still the matter of creating new security protocols which had been delayed by the attack. Rufus had agreed, not willing to upset Tseng any more than necessary at the moment.

He kept his laptop close by as he left the helicopter, nodding in greeting to Saint-John and Becca as they waited by the edge of the landing pad. They fell instep behind him, Saint-John’s long braid in his left hand to keep it from whipping about as the helicopter took off again, Becca unbothered as the wind tousled her short, dark brown hair.

The cold wind bit at the back of Rufus’ neck; he didn’t waste any effort to adjust the collar of his white coat or the wool scarf since it was a short walk to the cabin. In fact, the air helped to wake him up a little and clear his thoughts, which allowed him to put the day’s events into proper perspective and focus on something else. His company was safe, now he could afford some rest.

Unfortunately, all notion of rest vanished as he entered the cabin to a cacophony of yells and something hard hitting the wooden floor. Rude had his arms wrapped around a clearly furious Reno, huge hand gripping Reno’s right wrist in an effort to control the large, very sharp-looking knife the idiot was currently holding. Reno was busy kicking his feet against the floor and Rude’s legs, and the bald Turk grunted softly whenever the cast connected with his shins.

"Just gonna take the fucking things off, you bastard!" Reno shouted. "I’m not gonna slit my damn wrists or throat."

"No, but I’m about to do it for you," Rude mumbled, his sunglasses askew on his flushed face.

Taking a moment to gauge the threat, Becca and Saint-John went to help their fellow Turk, Becca prying the knife from Reno’s hand while Saint-John prevented the redheaded bastard from biting her for her troubles. That only led to more yelling and noise, Becca trading insults with Reno while Saint-John called them both children, and Rufus merely shook his head and went to the bedroom. He set his laptop safely aside and removed his winter coat. Upon remembering how Reno had ‘accidentally’ spilled a drink on him last night, he gritted his teeth and removed the white jacket and gun holster beneath that, leaving on the black vest and white silk shirt. Even when the bastard wasn’t wearing Rufus’ clothes, he still managed to ruin them.

Rufus braced himself for the mess he’d find outside the room, wary over how the screaming and insults had died down. He opened the door to find a sulking Reno seated on the couch, arms folded over his chest and his eyes bright with anger. Since he wasn’t wearing anything other than boxers and a t-shirt, it was easy to spot the damage he’d done to the cast on his left leg. He’d actually managed to cut into it a good inch before being stopped.

Stepping back into the bedroom, Rufus looked around and found the white robe he’d leant his lover lying on the floor by the bed. He picked it up and went into the other room, where he promptly threw it at the idiot’s head. "Put it on," he ordered, tired of Reno’s utter lack of modesty.

"Fuck you," Reno spat, right arm moving to brush the robe aside as he continued glaring at everything and nothing.

Rufus had enough of this. He leaned over the couch, grabbing hold of Reno’s long earring before his lover could move away. "You will put it on *now*," he said, letting his temper frost his voice and show how he was one step away from strangling Reno, the same time he used the earring to force his lover’s head backward. "Or I’ll order Dr. Cavish to keep you sedated enough that you won’t be able to move, let alone get out of bed." He meant it, too; right now the thought of Reno being unconscious for the next week was very tempting.

Despite his tone of voice and the scowl on his face, his lover had the audacity to grin at him, the expression more one of contempt than amusement. "Aw, what’s the matter? Didn’t get a chance to boss enough people around today that you have to take it out on me now?"

"Why would I waste my breath when you don’t listen to me?" Rufus tugged on the earring again, harshly enough to make Reno wince. At the moment, he didn’t care about the feverish brightness in Reno’s aquamarine eyes or the flush on Reno’s normally pale face. Any sympathy the bastard had from him for being injured while protecting him had been used up by the second day that they’d been here.

Even with his neck bent like that, Reno managed a rather nasty chuckle. "Wow, maybe you’re half as smart as they say you are if you’ve finally figured that out. Now why don’t you go fuck off and leave me alone, you prick." There was no mistaking the contempt in his voice that time.

For more than a week, Rufus had dealt with one crisis after another: the kidnapping attempt, Reno’s injuries, the revelation of Rufus’ true feelings, the threat to ShinRa, the attack on Reactor Five and WRO’s attempt to supervise his company. To say that he was tired and pushed to the edge of his endurance wasn’t much of an exaggeration; he would manage just fine if Reno wasn’t doing his best to tear into Rufus and showed an utter lack of respect. *That* was what caused Rufus’ control to finally snap, and he let go of the earring to punch Reno.

As soon as he realized what he was doing, he shifted aside enough that his fist only grazed Reno’s cheek, unable to lessen the blow in mid-swing. Reno moved as well, falling onto the couch as he did his best to avoid the blow. Regretting his lack of control, Rufus stood there and waited for Rude or Saint-John to drag him away from his cursing lover, only to find the three Turks deliberately looking aside.

"Reno…." He didn’t know what to say as he tried to help his lover sit upright, Reno shrugging off his hands while laughing. The sound wasn’t nasty anymore, but oddly pleased. His right cheek appeared more flushed than the rest of his face; he pressed the back of his right fingers against it and stared directly at Rufus.

"Do it, dammit," he hissed, his grin as pleased as the laughter had been while his voice was rough with pain that was too strong to be from that glancing blow. "Fucking *say it* already!" His left hand reached out to grab hold of Rufus’ vest and yanked on the expensive material.

Feeling more confused than he could recall being in the past year or two, Rufus grasped Reno’s hand and forced it to let go of his vest. "What the hell are you talking about?" Had Dr. Cavish changed Reno’s medication or something? Or had the idiot taken too many pills again?

However, before he could get any sort of straight answer out of his lover, Rude appeared and pulled Reno from the couch. "Becca, fetch some ice," he said, his deep voice lower than usual as he literally shoved Reno in Saint-John’s direction. "Put him to bed and sit on him if you have to if he tries to leave it."

"Hey! I’m not a fucking kid!" Reno no longer sounded as if he was hurt, just furious as he’d been when Rufus had returned. "What if - fuck off!" The rest of what he was going to yell was cut off by Rude draping the robe over Reno’s head while Saint-John bent down and yanked the idiot onto his shoulder. Carrying Reno like that, he shared a look with Rude before he headed to the bedroom.

An icepack in her right hand and a glass of water in her left, Becca hurried from the kitchen. "How many of these will knock him out for the night?" she asked Rude, tapping her right hand against the bulging pocket of her black coat, which promptly rattled.

"Three should do it. Make sure he doesn’t palm any and force them down his throat if you have to." Rude slid his glasses further up his nose as he gave orders to the younger Turk. "Both of you stay with him until he’s asleep."

She nodded two times before she rushed to the bedroom, spilling some of the water along the way in her haste. When the bedroom door opened, Reno’s voice could be heard loud and clear telling Saint-John that his mother had been a cheap whore who had a thing for fucking dogs before something muffled the words. Rufus was willing to bet on part of the robe being shoved into his lover’s mouth.

"I need a drink," he muttered once the door was closed and the cabin mostly quiet. He’d thought to work on his laptop for an hour or two tonight, but wasn’t in the proper mood now to handle company business. What he needed was a couple of shots of whiskey and a bit of privacy to gather his own thoughts and attempt to figure out what had just happened.

What he *didn’t* need was for Rude to follow him into the kitchen, where he planned to search through the cupboards to find the hidden alcohol. He glared at the Turk while he turned and leaned against the counter, his arms folded over his chest. "Shouldn’t you be calling Tseng or Alim right now to tell them about how mean I’m being to poor Reno?" he asked, his tone vicious and cold.

Rude shrugged once as he pulled open a drawer and replaced the knife he’d taken from Reno earlier. "Tseng would agree that he was being insubordinate."


The calmness of Rude’s words and the way he didn’t show any anger to Rufus helped to put Rufus at ease. He waited until the Turk had finished locking the knife drawer shut with a bit of improvisation and a pair of hand cuffs before he spoke again. "I’m sure Alim wouldn’t see it that way."

Rude shrugged again. "No, not likely." He gave the drawer an experimental tug to make sure it wouldn’t open then looked directly at Rufus for the first time since entering the kitchen. "I don’t think you should have hit him, but he shouldn’t have spoken to you like that, either." The warning ‘so don’t hit him again’ was left unspoken, but was still made perfectly clear.

Rufus didn’t take to being told off, even if so mildly, and narrowed his eyes in anger. "Someone should tell your partner that he should be more careful about what he says."

Slight amusement crept over Rude’s tanned face. "He just ignores that advice," he snorted as he went over to the fridge and reached into the cupboard above it. "Pardon my saying so, President, but you should be used to it by now." Standing on his toes, he managed to reach back far enough to snag the hidden bottle of whiskey.

"I am, for the most part." Rufus retrieved a glass and waited for Rude to hand him the bottle. Not bothering with water or ice, he poured what had to be three shots worth of the alcohol into the glass and drank about a third of it right away. He grimaced slightly as he went to the fridge to fetch a couple of ice-cubes, telling himself it was from the sting of warm, potent alcohol.

Reno had certainly insulted him before, but he usually only reserved venom like just now until they were in the middle of a huge fight. For him to turn so insolent so quickly, it was almost as if he was deliberately provoking Rufus. In fact, considering the redhead’s nasty temper and constant attempts to pick fights with everyone around him the last few days, Rufus would say that it had most definitely been deliberate.

That led him to remember what his lover had said to him before Rude has interrupted. "What was he talking about?" Rufus asked as the bald Turk attempted to sneak out of the kitchen; he’d caught Rude with his hand on the kitchen door, about to push it open.

Rude sighed, the sound loud and unhappy, and leaned his head against the doorframe for a moment before turning around to face Rufus. "I don’t understand what you’re asking, President."

Displeased that Rude was daring to play the fool with him, he set the glass of whiskey down on the counter with a loud ‘click and folded his arms over his chest. "He was saying something about me ‘doing it’." He thought about Reno’s cryptic words a little longer. ""Say it’, he told me. What the hell is he talking about?" When Rude remained quiet, he stepped closer to the Turk. "That’s when you dragged him off the couch, which leaves me very suspicious that you know something."

Letting out a deep breath, Rude ran both gloved hands over his head. "President… I really don’t want to be involved in your relationship with my partner."

That wasn’t what Rufus was expecting to hear, and the words caused jealousy to flare to life inside his chest. Reno and Rude had always been close and shared confidences, and that wasn’t something Rufus could easily accept when he was still struggling to control his true feelings for the redhead. "Tell. Me," he ordered, leaving no doubt that he was to be obeyed… or else.

"Yes, sir." Rude sighed and edged closer to the door, his eyes masked by the sunglasses but his posture one of wariness. "The day of the attack on Reactor Five, Reno found out that the reason why he’s here is because Earth First considers him a target." Judging from the bead of sweat that rolled its way down Rude’s left temple, it wouldn’t take much effort to figure out who’d told Reno the truth.

"What was his reaction?" Rufus was curious despite himself; he still had to tell Reno about the new living arrangements and wasn’t in any hurry to do so.

If Rude hadn’t looked uncomfortable before, he certainly was now. "He refused to accept that anyone would believe that you’d care if your ‘fuckbuddy’ was taken hostage."

Rufus picked up the whiskey glass and drained it before asking another question, refusing to dwell on what those words made him feel. "He doesn’t believe that he’s at risk because of his relationship with me?" That still didn’t explain why Reno had become so antagonistic the last couple of days.

"No, President." Rude wiped his right hand along his sweat-covered forehead. "Sir… all my attempts to explain the situation to him failed. He truly doesn’t understand why he’s a target and… that failure has led him to the assumption that you’re currently distancing yourself from him to break off the relationship."

It was a good thing that the glass was nice and thick, or Rufus would have shattered it when his hand clenched hard around its smooth surface. Setting it down, he quickly poured himself some more whiskey. "The idiot actually thinks that I’m ending my relationship with him because of a threat?" He was half-tempted to go to the bedroom and throttle some sense into his lover.

"Yes, President." Rude’s head hung forward and he pushed the door open a little more. "In my opinion, he’s trying to provoke you to make you end the relationship quickly." He edged backwards, left foot now outside of the kitchen.

Rufus regarded the Turk for a moment and considered what he’d just been told. "Thank you, Rude. You may want to go help Saint-John and Becca sedate Reno, as I’m sure he’s giving them a lot of trouble." Now that the door was open, muted sounds of curses – not all of them Reno’s – could be heard.

Rude didn’t bother to say anything else before he fled, the door swinging shut behind him. Left alone in the kitchen, Rufus picked up the refilled glass and held it against his lips while he contemplated what he’d been told.

Reno’s actions certainly made a bit more sense now, though Rufus was still furious with his lover for the insults and insolence. He also felt angry with himself for being so easily provoked, and regretted the punch. No matter the strain he was under, he shouldn’t have resorted to violence like that when Reno was injured; but dammit, Reno certainly knew how to push his buttons.

So the idiot actually believed that Rufus would end things between them so easily? Despite the earring and his promise to not share Reno with anyone, to not let him go, Reno thought a threat like Earth First would make Rufus change his mind? Rufus scoffed before he drained the glass dry of whiskey a second time, sputtering slightly as he wiped his gloved hand over his mouth.

Clearly, Reno needed to be reminded of the fact that he belonged to Rufus. This new situation only strengthened Rufus’ resolve to make sure that Reno couldn’t return to his apartment and use it as a way to put distance between them. No, the point would be driven into that idiot’s head that no matter what happened, Rufus would never let go of something that was *his*.

Now to figure how to go about convincing Reno of that in such a way that it didn’t lead to them trying to kill each other….

*******

Reno cursed under his breath and threw the book that Becca had leant him against the closet door. He swore that his fellow Turks were giving him the most boring stuff they could find, no matter how many times he asked them to swing by his apartment and pick up some of his manga collection. Tseng wasn’t quizzing him on any of this shit so he refused to read ‘one of the greatest novels in Midgar’s history’.

Saint-John poked his head inside the room a few seconds after the loud ‘thump’ of the book hitting the door, looked about and gave Reno a warning glare before retreating. Reno just managed not to give him the finger for checking up on him like that; he had the impression that he was in enough shit with his coworkers and had better behave for a bit. They’d given him hell over provoking Rufus last night and hadn’t taken the hits and bites he’d dished out while they forced him to swallow the sedatives with very good humor. Bastards.

Even if they were stuck in this hellhole with him, at least they could walk around and talk to other Turks. Being stuck in bed most of the time was driving Reno nuts; there wasn’t any cable television out here, no one would lend him a laptop and he didn’t even have a fucking radio. The only fun he had was when Elena sat with him for a while and they could both bitch about the assholes they were fucking – well, had been fucking. Reno hadn’t gotten any action since the morning he’d been injured, while Elena had every intention of not screwing Tseng until she got him to promise to never stick her in the middle of nowhere during a crisis again. Normally Reno would put his money on Tseng, but Elena was *really* pissed off and took her duties as a Turk very seriously. He just hoped the boss man gave in before he was well enough to go back on active duty.

That thought led him to scowl at his casts, which were driving him almost as nuts as the boredom. The fevers had been happening less and less the last couple of days – until he’d needed to heal from Rufus’ love-tap and the struggle with his coworkers. Why couldn’t Rude have checked up on him twenty minutes later yesterday? He’d have had the leg cast off by then, and could have argued for removing the one on his arm, too.

Now he was stuck in bed, threatened to be sedated if he caused any more trouble, and basically ignored by everyone. Only Cavish seemed to pay him any attention, and that was only to see how well he was healing so she didn’t get in any trouble over him dying on her. Even Alim had been pretty curt during the doctor’s last visit.

Utterly bored, Reno looked through the stack of books on the nightstand for the tenth time in the past hour in hopes of finding something that wasn’t too dull or inane. He had the feeling that he’d be reduced to reading the romance novel Kali had given to him with a laugh for the fifth time; maybe he could act out the sex scenes and see if his loud moans and pleading for ‘more, my lord, I want to feel more of your throbbing manhood’ would get him any attention. Damn, but Rude had to be a lousy fuck if Kali actually got off on that shit.

He’d just gotten to the second chapter of the book, where a barely five foot tall and hundred pound woman with tits bigger than Kali’s was supposedly passing herself off as a stable boy when he heard a knock on his door. Dammit, the next two pages were where the twit of a heroine got her first glimpse of chocobo cock, which was barely bigger than the freak of nature that she’d fuck in another seven chapters, and nearly passed out. "What?" he snapped, half-tempted to throw the book at whoever stuck their head into the room this time.

The door opened slightly, but his friends were learning because Rude didn’t enter the room at all. "Come out here for dinner." His partner didn’t say anything other than that, and left the door open before walking away.


Reno eyed the door for a moment while he considered if it was worth the effort to do what he’d been told. He really did need to get back on his friends’ good sides soon, at the least if he expected any decent entertainment, and he was feeling pretty hungry. Also, he could smell something truly delicious and a lot better than the bland meals he’d been forced to eat since being injured. Figuring out that he could stop being an asshole long enough to have dinner, he set the book aside and looked about for the cane he used to hobble around. It was on the other side of the room, leaning against the small padded chair on which his borrowed robe was draped.

Getting out of bed, he managed to hop over to the chair and debated putting on the robe. He didn’t see what the big deal was since all his naughty bits were covered and he even had a t-shirt on, but he pulled on the robe anyway. Rude and the others would be pissed off at what they saw as him deliberately provoking Rufus if he didn’t, and it wasn’t like him trying to push Rufus too far was doing any good. All he got out of it was a sore cheek, and the asshole was still dragging out breaking off their arrangement.

The pain in his chest returned at that thought, and as usual, Reno waited for the fever to grow stronger and heal it. That hadn’t happened yet, so after a few seconds he tied the robe closed and used the cane for support as he made his way out of the bedroom. As he went, he tried to cheer himself up with the fact that he’d finally be rid of the damned earring when Rufus kicked him to the curb, and he could cut his hair short again.

At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him when he left the room and stepped into the main section of the cabin. The light was dim and flickering, the air sweetened by scented candles that were scattered all about. In the middle of the room was a table covered with a long white tablecloth, fancy table settings and several mouthwatering dishes; it looked as if it had been snatched from a very classy restaurant, and Reno waited to see some snooty waiter appear.

There was no sign at all of Rude or the other Turks, and while Reno tried to figure out if this was a prank or if he was dreaming, Rufus entered from the kitchen, dressed in yet another impeccable white suit and an open bottle of red wine in his hands. He stared intently at Reno for a moment before letting out a slow breath. "I hope you at least brushed your teeth today," he said while motioning for Reno to sit down.

"What the hell is going on, Rufus?" Reno didn’t want to sit down, but his left leg was giving him some grief about him standing up so he hobbled over to the chair. He’d just sat down when Rufus set the bottle on the table and actually pushed the chair forward, provoking a startled yelp from Reno. "Have you finally lost your mind?"

Rufus’ lips twitched for a moment, a clear sign that he was doing his best to keep his temper in check. His hand brushed against Reno’s left shoulder before undoing the clasp in Reno’s hair and combing through his hair. The contact startled Reno, since it was the first time that Rufus had touched him in days, other than the punch from yesterday.

"Because of Earth First, Tseng doesn’t feel that it would be wise for me to dine out for the next few days," Rufus explained as he tugged Reno’s hair into some semblance of order and slipped the clasp back on. "So I’m making do with dinner here." He sounded slightly bored, as if he was talking to an idiot.

Reno waited until his lover walked away before lifting his right hand to touch the now mostly tangle-free ponytail; he was grateful that he’d managed to talk Rude into helping him wash it the other day and wondered why his scalp wouldn’t stop tingling. "That doesn’t explain why you dragged me out here."

Rufus snorted, the sound almost masked by wine being poured into crystal goblets. "The others are on duty, and I don’t particularly care for the idea of dining with Dr. Cavish. That leaves you as my only option." His lips pressed together as he stopped speaking, the last word barely formed, and set one of the full wineglasses in front of Reno. "You’re only allowed the one glass tonight."

If he hadn’t been deprived of anything alcoholic since being injured, Reno would throw it in the bastard’s face and tell him to fuck off and find another dinner guest. So he was Rufus’ last option, eh? Why the hell wouldn’t the bastard just end things and stop toying with him?

Reno picked up the glass and managed to drink half of it before strong, warm fingers wrapped around his wrist and yanked it down. He cursed at Rufus for depriving him of that little bit of alcohol, the words turning into mumbles when Rufus’ right thumb brushed against his lips, catching a drop of wine. Rufus let go of Reno’s wrist and sucked the drop of wine from his thumb.

Watching the digit vanish inside his lover’s mouth for a couple of seconds, Reno had trouble swallowing and had to look away. Dammit, it had been over a week since he’d enjoyed any sex, other than what his own hand could provide. Rufus made him horny at the best of times, and right now he just wanted to shove all the plates and food off the table, crawl onto it and drag his lover on top of him. A lover who wouldn’t be that to him for much longer.

His thumb now clean, Rufus inclined his head and motioned to the food laid out on the table; salad with pears and blue cheese, a loaf of warm bread, filet mignons and some sort of potato dish that Reno didn’t recognize but smelled damn good. "Eat before the food grows cold."

Reno couldn’t recall all the times he’d shared dinner with Rufus, most often back at the penthouse when they either ordered out or Rufus had his barely present chef cook something for them. A few times Reno had even made dinner, some simple but tasty dish that he’d learned over the years. Rarer than that were the times when Rufus took him to a restaurant, usually someplace small and obscure where no one would notice them, but once to a hideously expensive and fancy place to celebrate Reno’s anniversary with the Turks. Except for the few times they dined out, dinners were all very casual affairs, mostly eaten in the kitchen or in the living room after Rufus had issued enough threats about not spilling anything on the carpet or couch.

Now they were in the middle of some nature hellhole, just the two of them after a week of Rude, Kali, Elena or some other Turk always hovering around, about to eat a dinner that had to be specially flown in since Reno could recognize most of the food and had a bloody, barely cooked slab of animal flesh in front of him. Warning bells were going off inside his head loud enough to give him a headache and suppress his appetite. Despite the fact that he would have killed a person earlier to have a meal like this, Reno pushed his plate aside. "I’m going back to bed," he said in a hushed voice, shoving away from the table and telling himself that Tseng would have his balls if he threw the steak knife at Rufus.

"What?" Faster than Reno could move with the casts and the gnawing, terrible pain in his chest, Rufus got up and was behind Reno’s chair, pushing it back toward the table. "You’re not going anywhere. We’re having a nice dinner and you will *stay* here!" He pushed the chair so hard that the table’s edge bit into Reno’s chest.

"Why the hell are you even bothering?" Reno shouted as he grabbed hold of Rufus’ right arm and yanked the bastard around to face him. "Look, I’m not one of those bitches who you used to date!" he snarled, furious that he was being treated this way and growing more tempted to face Tseng’s wrath by the second. "Treat me like a fucking man and come out and say it, dammit!"

Rufus jerked his arm free and sat on the edge of the table, his expression one of extreme coldness as he glared at Reno in return. "What the hell are you talking about? You’re making even less sense than normal."

Reno pushed the chair back enough so he could breathe properly, baring his teeth at Rufus when the asshole reached out to make sure he didn’t move too far away. "Just fucking break up with me already! You’re doing what you do with those brainless rich twits – treating me to a fancy dinner before telling me to get the fuck out of your life. Guess what, you don’t have to worry about me causing a scene so you just wasted a bunch of gil on nothing!" Reno didn’t know what had him more pissed off, the way Rufus was treating the whole thing or playing stupid.

Leaning forward, Rufus grabbed him by the shoulders, fingers digging into his flesh as he was shaken very vigorously several times. "Listen to me, you moron. I am *not* breaking up with you! I won’t allow Earth First or anyone else dictate my life to me, especially my l- sex life!" He gave Reno a few more shakes before letting go, leaning back and snatching up Reno’s wine glass, which he promptly drained.

"That was my fucking wine," Reno grumbled as he rubbed his very sore shoulders and tried to figure out what the hell was going on. In the end, he was really only concerned about one thing. "You’re not breaking up with me?" He eyed his lover with growing suspicion, still confused by this whole setup.

"No, I’m not." Rufus sounded a good deal calmer now and combed his fingers through his hair in an effort to tuck his bangs back. "If by some chance I would ever considering doing such a thing, I’d let you know right away, preferably by shooting you."

Reno picked up a pear slice to munch on while he considered that. "Then why have you been such an asshole the last week or so, and what’s with all of this?" He motioned toward the table, snatching up another pear slice since they tasted delicious.

Rufus sighed as he refilled Reno’s wine glass, making sure to stop when it was half-full, the bastard. "Reno, has it escaped your attention that ShinRa has been under attack until yesterday? I was focusing all my attention on making sure that we won."

"Bullshit." Reno didn’t buy that for a second, not with how calmly Rufus discussed a threat to his beloved company. There was also a huge difference between being ignored and being treated like shit. "You’ve been avoiding me and barely said anything civil to me ever since I saved your fucking life," he pointed out, stabbing in Rufus’ direction with another pear slice. Dammit, he only had a couple left on his salad now….

Rufus snatched away the fruit and ate it himself, smiling when Reno called him an asshole. "Maybe it’s also escaped your attention that you’re injured. I left you alone so you could heal." That still didn’t sound exactly true, but Reno didn’t get a chance to argue before Rufus leaned in for a kiss. His lover tasted like wine and pear, his lips warm and touch gentle. Reno moaned at the contact, his hands scrambling to tangle in Rufus’ hair and keep the bastard from pulling away any time soon. Unfortunately, he was the slightest bit too slow.

A very smug grin on his face, Rufus got up from the table and returned to his seat, where he picked up a fork and had a bite of his own salad, still covered with plenty of pear slices. "Now shut up and enjoy the meal," he said, his tone perfectly civil.

Picking up his own fork, Reno looked across the table and tried to figure his lover out. Okay, so he’d finally accept that Rufus wasn’t going to break up with him over dinner, which had been a stupid thought on his part since Rufus wouldn’t waste the meal on him like this. That still didn’t explain why his lover had gone through all this trouble for him, not to mention that kiss after so long of not even touching him. True, he’d been out of it a lot since being injured, and he still had the weird vision thing going on from time to time and the fever. Despite what he told Cavish and Alim, they both insisted that the casts had to remain on for at least a few more days. Alim had even bitched him out about using the cane when he’d been by for a check-up yesterday, and still refused to give him any potions….

The fork made a loud clatter when it fell onto the salad plate. Rufus immediately looked up from his own meal to stare at Reno, who stared back as he felt his stomach suddenly turn queasy. "That’s it – I’m fucking dying, aren’t I? Alim messed up and you’re throwing some pity my way before I croak." *That* was about the only thing he could think of that would make Rufus stop being such a prick and treat him to a fancy meal like this.

"Reno…." Rufus set his fork aside and reached for his wine glass, not saying anything else until the wine was gone. "Father should have let Hojo study you after all. You’re the most delusional idiot that I’ve ever met." Leaning back in his chair, Rufus folded his arms over his chest and glared across the table. "You are *not* dying. We are *not* breaking up. Say one more stupid thing to me this evening and I’ll have Cavish induce a coma on you for the next month." He spoke in that crisp, cold manner which always meant that he wasn’t fucking around. "One more time – shut up and enjoy your fucking dinner!"

Figuring it might be a good idea to at least finish his salad before pissing Rufus off any more, Reno muttered under his breath and did as he was told. He was halfway through his steak, his stomach truly happy for the first time in days, before he dared to say anything else. "Look, I’m still not getting why you went through all this trouble just to feed me." He motioned with his fork around the room. "Really, what’s going on?"

Rufus paused in eating his steak to wipe his mouth with the napkin. "Do I really need a reason to enjoy a good meal with the man I’m sleeping with?"

"Considering who you are, I’d say ‘hell, yes’," Reno replied with a derisive snort. "If you’re trying to get into my pants, you don’t have to work that hard." The casts would be a bit of a pain, but he was sure they’d figure something out. Growing hard just at the thought of sex, he began to rise out of his chair.

"Reno, sit down. We’re *not* having sex while you’re still injured," Rufus said, completely shooting down that fantasy and leaving Reno with no real reason for them dining together like this. "Finish your dinner."

"I’m getting sick and tired of being told to eat my dinner." Reno tossed his fork onto the plate, only to pick it up a few seconds later; the steak was pretty damn good and there was no telling when he’d get a meal like this again. "You’re up to something," he told his lover as he cut the rest of the steak into pieces.

"You’re paranoid," Rufus said before refilling his wineglass. When Reno pointedly pushed his empty glass across the table, Rufus sighed and poured about two inches of wine into it. "Don’t blame me when you have a reaction with the painkillers."

"I’m barely taking them anymore." Reno wished he could get people to believe that he really was mostly healed and should be allowed back to work. Hell, he’d take being on medical leave as long as he got back to the penthouse and its cable, liquor cabinet and his stash of sex toys and cigarettes. Then he wouldn’t be so bored, and he should be able to join Rude, Rod and the others when they held the wake for Jared and Sara.

That thought dampened his mood somewhat, leaving him to finish the meal in silence. Once the food was gone, Rufus told him to stack his plates to the side and went to the kitchen, returning a minute later with two plates of something decadently chocolate and raspberry and gooey. There was even a dollop of whipped cream, and Reno gave his lover an assessing look as he swiped up some on his finger and licked it clean. "You’re definitely up to something." He couldn’t figure out what it was, but he would kick his lover’s ass when the truth was finally revealed.

"Fine, in the future I’ll be sure to not bother with any more meals such as this," Rufus said, sounding slightly offended. He had an expression on his face that usually meant something wasn’t going the way he’d intended and he wasn’t able to figure out why. Reno’s shoulders twitched because a confused and displeased Rufus wasn’t someone he wanted to be around while weaponless.

"Eh, you’re just getting my hopes up for sex," he drawled as he licked more whipped cream off his fingers, praying for a distraction before Rufus’ mood turned black.

That seemed to do the trick; Rufus’ slight frown turned into a pleased smirk. "I wouldn’t need to go through this much effort for that."

"Bastard, you’re just rubbing it in now." Reno picked up a forkful of the dessert and made a big show of enjoying it. "So, how much longer will we be stuck here? Don’t tell me *I’m* paranoid when Tseng won’t let us go back to the penthouse."

Something he said seemed to make Rufus even happier, though Reno couldn’t figure out what. This whole evening was strange, Rufus’ behavior most of all. It left Reno with the impression that he’d be paying for the meal somehow, and he didn’t like being in debt to anyone.

"I’ll know better in another day or two. Tseng’s busy with setting up the new security protocols, and should have something adequate in place soon." His good mood restored, Rufus went on about work while Reno mumbled the occasional encouragement and did his best to mentally will the last bit of wine into his wineglass. Oh yes, something was going on all right… but he was damned if he could figure out what.

*******

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