Night Out With The Turks


chapter nine


Tseng’s eyes narrowed when he heard yet another aggrieved sigh over the comm in his left ear. "One more time, Elena, and I’ll have found a ‘volunteer’ for that mission in Junon," he warned, refusing to go easy on his own lover. For the most part, Elena didn’t expect any special treatment because of their relationship, but she was mistaken if he’d overlook her continuing resentment over tonight’s assignment.

"Sorry, Sir." She sounded contrite now, but he was willing to bet a month’s salary that her brown eyes were bright with anger and her lips pressed together in a thin line. More than anything, she hated to be chastised in front of her fellow Turks, even if it was just over an open comm, and he could already hear Reno sniggering in response. However, the man proved to have enough common sense for once to leave it at that.

Tseng glanced up at the uppermost balconies of the intricately decorated ballroom and didn’t see any sign of the Turks stationed there. Since three of them had been with ShinRa for several years, there shouldn’t be a glimpse of them, and Elena had earned her place as one of the Four Aces. Just as he’d thought that, there was a flash of red, followed by a chuckle over the comm link - Reno’s way of letting Tseng know that he’d been caught out on the security check. Since for once nothing had been thrown down onto the guests at the same time, Tseng merely smiled and let that slip by.

The smile quickly faded as he thought of the reason for Elena’s displeasure and Reno’s ‘restrained’ behavior. Tseng surveyed the ballroom, mindful as always of Rufus’ position near the stage that had been set up for tonight’s affair. Rod and Cyril had the pleasure of being the head bodyguards tonight; Cyril stood with his back perfectly straight and eyes constantly scanning the crowd around the president, while Rod kept flirting with one of the women in attendance tonight. Since he could flirt while dismantling a bomb and it helped to lessen the usual nervousness of people in close proximity to Turks, Tseng ignored the interaction. He trusted Rod to do the job properly or would have never given the man this assignment, and Rod’s laid-back attitude usually rubbed off on the people around him. That was something that was in desperate need right about now.

Rufus had an expression on his face that made Tseng want to reach for the gun holstered beneath his black jacket, but he forced his right hand to remain at his side. The man who was talking to the president mistook that look for one of mild interest, being too unfamiliar with what that gleam in blue eyes and slight quirk of lips truly meant. Considering that the man’s presence tonight was why Reno was up in the balcony and not at Rufus’ side, Rufus was showing remarkable restraint.

Tseng didn’t know how Rufus had managed to find out the names of the men who Reno had been ‘involved’ with because of work, and he supposed that it had been a ridiculous wish that Rufus wouldn’t pursue the matter after the Porter incident. However, the benefit of the truth being reveled meant that the president hadn’t given him any argument over the reassignment of top Turks to duties usually left to the rookies, not after Rufus received a copy of tonight’s guest list.

Due to Arlyle’s attendance, Reno was safely tucked away from any notice other than his coworkers and boss. That was why Kali was up there as well, which meant that Elena was stuck with sniper duty along with her partner. Although, judging from tonight’s attendees, it might be a very good thing that seasoned Turks were keeping an eye on things.

With ShinRa’s return to power, many of the businesspeople and social elite who had enjoyed the company’s prosperity under Rufus’ father’s rule had judged it safe to return to The Edge. They were once more participating in events such as tonight’s, throwing a bit of money around while mouthing support to WRO and encouragement to Rufus. All they really wanted was a chance to return to their former glory, and for some mistaken reason felt that Rufus’ ‘change of heart’ meant that he’d become soft and stupid enough to believe their lies. If they truly hoped that he would forget the past and trust them, then they’d had their brains seriously addled during WEAPONS’ attack.

Many of these people were cronies to the old president, and most of the rest of them had been enemies. That meant that there were some amongst the well-dressed and animated crowd who the Turks had… dealt with in a more intimate role than what was usual for them. Arlyle had been a favored crony of the old president and had expressed an interest in ‘someone pretty who could take a bit of pain’, and had been awarded Reno on three occasions – all of which coincided with Arlyle’s affirmative vote on laws that were passed in ShinRa’s best interests. Tseng assumed that Reno hadn’t told Rufus anything other than the man’s name, considering the fact that Rufus allowed the middle-aged former councilman to walk away without any injuries. Should the man attempt to strong-arm the company for any favors, Tseng would make sure that a certain disc reached his president’s attention, but would keep Reno’s secret for now. The last thing ShinRa needed at this moment was WRO poking its nose into the suspicious deaths of prominent people, but that wouldn’t always be the case.

Somewhere in the crowd were men who could recognize Kali as the woman responsible for the blackmail that had led to the destruction of one of their marriages, as well as some very ‘memorable’ nights on their part. He’d seen the red pinpoint of a rifle’s laser sight on Wood’s forehead just half an hour ago, and had rightly trusted Kali to rein in the virulent emotions she felt toward the man beyond that slight indulgence. That was in part why Rude was up there with Reno this evening; Tseng would much prefer knowing where the Turk was and that he was safely occupied when there were so many potential witnesses about.

Tseng spared the thought that the wrong people had died during the city’s destruction of a few years ago, and that some people really were like cockroaches. If he thought he could get away with it, he would pull out his gun and use all of his clips of bullets on certain guests gathered here, the end result which would be a much better society when he was finished. However, he felt that Reeve wouldn’t approve of such an action, even if the bastard knew very well what some of the people currently talking and drinking in this room were truly like. As misguided as ShinRa had been in the past, it certainly had gotten a few things right, and that was removing threats before they got too troublesome.

He watched as Rufus glared with enough vitriol at Arlyle’s retreating back to cause the woman who had dared to approach him step aside in dismay, and wasn’t surprised to see the president nod curtly to her before making his way through the crowd with an evident sense of purpose. When Rufus approached the stairwell that led to the upper levels of the room and ordered Rod to remain there, Tseng suppressed a sigh as well as a smile and tapped on the comm so only Rude would here his message. "I think it would be a good time for you to do a perimeter check."

Rude must have noticed Rufus’ approach. "Already on my way, Sir. Is there anything in particular I should check out?"

"No, just don’t draw any attention to yourself." Tseng noticed that Wood was excusing himself from the crowd of people gathered around him, and allowed his lips to curve into a predatory smile when he deduced where the short, elderly man was headed. "If you’re going to the men’s room near the back stairwell, just remember to be discreet."

Despite the little he’d said, Rude must have picked up on his meaning since the quiet Turk chuckled in a manner that usually meant that blood would soon be spilled. "I think I’ll check up on Deirdre and Cyn while I’m on my rounds, Sir." That should ensure that any incriminating video footage was destroyed before Reeve could send his people around to investigate a guest’s beating tonight. As the affair wasn’t taking place on ShinRa property, Rufus had made it clear that his Turks were only there for his protection.

With his president occupied for the immediate future and some long overdue revenge about to be extracted, Tseng resumed wandering around the crowd, given plenty of space once the guests recognized his black suit. He paused to talk to a few people, mainly WRO agents and various businesspeople who had joined Rufus in his task of rebuilding the city, inwardly pleased by the looks of fear and concern that were sent his way. While the world was slowly thinking of Rufus Shinra as a ‘good’ man for his recent generosity, the Turks had regained some of the reputation they’d had before so much had been destroyed. They didn’t slink around as much in the shadows anymore, but everyone knew them as the people who did the jobs that few had the skills, courage or stomach for. A measure of respect had returned, encouraged by Rufus’ insistence that the Turks were necessary to get things done.

That good mood lasted for all of twenty minutes, when he came face to face with someone from the past he’d done his best to forget. He knew the instant she recognized him in return by the way her light brown eyes went wide, but she’d matured enough over the years to not give herself away in any other manner. The man she was with, her elder by what had to be at least fifteen years, appeared nervous to have a Turk standing still in his way. "Good evening?"

It took Tseng’s brain a few seconds to provide the man’s name and position; Jeremy Hodgell, the newly appointed councilman in charge of transport and road infrastructure. He’d been an aide to the former councilman of that department, and considered honest enough by WRO to receive its backing for the job. Tseng had read that the unpresuming man had a wife, but had failed to notice her maiden name. To be fair, the first name ‘Sarah’ was common enough, and all he’d been interested in was that she’d passed through clearance.

"Good evening." He bowed slightly to the couple and struggled to hold on to his composure. "Please excuse me." The relief that flashed over Sarah’s face as he left made his hands clench into fists.

Castigating himself for focusing so much on other people that he’d failed to spot a small yet important detail like that on the attendance list, he focused his attention strictly on his job after that. When Rude informed him that he was back in position and that by some odd coincidence that a man had been found injured in the bathroom, all he did was order the Turk to pay attention, and he didn’t even make a sly comment when he ran into a slightly disheveled and very pleased Rufus a short time later. In a small portion of his mind, he remained aware of Sarah’s position in the large room, careful to never get too close again. He told himself it was to spare any possible scene between the two of them, which mostly worked.

Fortunately, Rufus soon decided that he’d been social enough for the night and that he was heading home. Tseng made sure that Rod and Cyril were going with him and ordered the rest of the Turks to pack up and get out of there as soon as Rufus was safely in his car. Ignoring Elena’s question on if he would be by her place that night, he stayed long enough to make sure that Rufus was on his way home before heading to the nearest bar.


The place was quiet, but that might have to do with Tseng’s presence. He’d found a bar about eight blocks from the where the party had been held, eschewing the first few he’d come across despite his resolve because of their formal air. This one, while still a far cry above the many dives he’d visited over the years, had a less stuffy atmosphere and a very good selection of whiskey. He’d walked straight up to the half-empty bar, hung his coat on the back of his chair and ordered a double of the first bottle he’d identified. Since then, he’d switched to a better quality whiskey and currently had the beginnings of a very pleasant buzz that would help to numb the memories and emotions he’d done his best to suppress years ago.

Several people had left after he’d taken up space at the bar, and twice someone had entered, seen him and then walked back out the door. When he heard the door open again and one set of heavy footsteps, he waited a few seconds for them to leave. Whoever it was paused, and he looked up when the person approached the bar.

Make that ‘people’ – Reno was too damn good at being sneaky, although it helped to have a partner like Rude, Tseng supposed. There hadn’t been enough time for them to go home and change so they both wore the black pants of their uniform, but Rude had exchanged his shirt and jacket for a black, form-fitting t-shirt whereas Reno was wearing a black vest that Tseng swore had been on Rufus earlier that evening with his unbuttoned white shirt over that. Even without the distinctive Turk uniform, the bar’s inhabitants seemed to guess what the two men were; it might have been with how Reno didn’t make a sound as he crossed the room, or the surprisingly fluid grace that Rude moved with despite his large build. Most of the other people left, including everyone else at the bar.

"See, I knew you’ve become a fancy boy since you took over," Reno teased as he sat on Tseng’s left, his hand sliding some money toward the now frowning bartender. "Three shots o’ whatever he’s drinkin’." The bartender, a young man who had been unfailingly courteous to Tseng all night, nodded once and hurried to comply, even if he looked rather unhappy at losing most of his customers for the night. His mood took a turn for the better when Reno waved off the change from the drinks. While the redhead might take great delight in tormenting most people, he rarely did so to bartenders and servers. Tseng felt the first urge to smile in over an hour as he wondered how long before they got a free round or two of drinks.

"I don’t think you should call anyone a ‘fancy boy’ considering your new digs," Rude said, his deep voice pitched to a low, amused rumble.

"Heh, even got a toilet that washes my ass." Reno grinned as he picked up his shot of whiskey, and Tseng had to shake his head when he realized the Turk was wearing a leather collar that hadn’t been there earlier that night – nor had a few of the bruises on his neck and collarbones.

Rude snorted and raised his glass. "Well, then, here’s to Reno’s clean ass."

Tseng lifted his glass as well and tossed back the drink, shivering a little as the shot trickled down his throat. "I’m not sure if that’s a suitable topic for the evening." Just having the two Turks here with him made muscles that had been tense for the last hour or so finally relax. How many nights had they spent in a bar together – albeit a much lower-class bar than this one – and dealt with the… difficulties of their jobs?

"It’s a damn suitable topic. Finest ass on tha damn planet," Reno sneered, his tongue flicking out to catch a drop of whiskey.

"It’s certainly one of the most well-used ones, I’ll give you that," Tseng replied with pretend gravity. "And you’d be terribly poor if I did ever dock your pay for each time you put it to use while on duty." He got a better, longer look at Reno’s tongue this time as it was stuck out at him, and Rude laughed in pleasure at the jab before ordering another round. Tseng fell quiet while the shots were poured. "So, how did you know to come find me?"

Rude shrugged and stared at his drink, the glass appearing tiny in his large hand. "You seemed ‘off’, so we scoped out the crowd." A simple explanation spoken with few words, as was normal for the quiet man, yet it filled Tseng with a sense of pride and joy. Despite all that had been done to them over the years, despite all the loss and shame, the ties that held them together as Turks were still strong. While that was part of the reason he was here working on one hell of a hangover, he was still happy over it at the same time.

"I asked Kali to tell Elena that we’ve a guys’ night out planned," Rude continued, his attention seemingly focused on a bowl of peanuts that the bartender had just set out.

Tseng let out a slow breath and nodded in appreciation. "Thank you." He twisted on his chair a little to find Reno playing with a long strand of hair. "What about you?" He was rather surprised to find the Turk out on such a night, considering Rufus’ behavior during the party, and was concerned that something had been said about himself.

Reno grimaced and gave his hair a quick tug before tucking the strand behind his ear. "I hafta tell him about Arlyle when I get back, ‘cause he thinks *that’s* why we’re gettin’ drunk." For a moment, his eyes were bright with hate and his lips twisted into a cruel smile. "Already called Cyn an’ she’s workin’ on a convincin’ plan for the asshole."

So much for waiting until the man tried to blackmail Rufus, but Tseng wasn’t upset over the turn of events. Reno hadn’t been the only ‘pretty’ Turk who could withstand a lot of damage handed over to Arlyle in return for favors, after all. It would be nice to finally settle that long-owed debt, but Tseng was most relieved over Reno covering for him like that. He knew that he was more private than many of his coworkers, more reserved when it came to sharing personal details like that. He didn’t mind Reno, Rude and the rest of them knowing the truth as they’d been there at the time, but the thought of Rufus knowing certain things made him very uncomfortable. Part of what had driven him here tonight was shame, was the feeling that he’d failed his own people, and he didn’t want that known by someone who wasn’t involved.

"I guess that means that Rufus will get even less work done in the office the next few days," was all he said, unable to offer up a verbal ‘thank you’ for what his friends had done. Still, Reno and Rude had known him long enough that they smiled in return, Rude patting him on the shoulder before they finished off another round together.

"Wha’s tha plan tonight?" Reno’s gutter drawl was coming out in full force even though he hadn’t enough drinks to be drunk yet, probably in response to the ‘fancy’ surroundings.

"I believe it’s rather safe to say that any and all trips to a whorehouse are out," Tseng replied, which earned him a chuckle from Rude, rolled eyes from Reno and the bartender to almost drop the empty glasses he’d just retrieved. "Also, no explosions." Now the poor kid looked about ready to faint.

Reno clicked his tongue in disgust. "Nah, tha whiskey’s too good here ta blow tha place up. An’ you two are so pussy-whipped."

"*We’re* not the ones wearing a collar and a ‘in case lost, return to owner’ tag." Rude leaned back in his chair so he could look at both Tseng and Reno, his finger pointed in his partner’s direction. "So who’s whipped again, and talk normal, dammit. Not drunk enough to put up with that damn accent this early in the night."

Reno flipped his best friend the finger. "It is normal for me, but fine, ya snobbish bastard." He wrinkled his nose as if smelling something distasteful and leaned back in his chair, the black leather collar even more evident as the white shirt fell wide open. "I’m not the one who’s afraid to go to a whorehouse."

"You’re not the one who will be shot once your… boyfriend finds out, either," Tseng snapped. No, Reno would probably have enough rough sex to ensure that he wouldn’t be able to walk properly for a week and confined to quarters again, since Rufus seemed to take out the worst of his anger on everyone else but the lucky bastard. "And enough with that topic." He regretted bringing it up, but his thoughts had laid in that direction for most of the night.

"Fine, we can go back to talking about my ass, then."

"Not that, either." A wave of exhaustion made Tseng let out a slow breath and to rub his now aching forehead. How much of their usual jokes and deflections were owed to what *some* of them had been forced to do? When would they ever most past that damage? With each new batch of Turks, the old habits and put-downs were just passed on as a mean to hide up the truth behind them. He was so tired of it.

The three of them were quiet while another round of drinks was prepared, Reno not even flirting with the bartender for once. Rude was the one to break the silence, which meant that he felt the topic truly needed to be discussed.

"We never held anything against you." The words startled Tseng since they so closely echoed his own thoughts. "You or Veld."

"Yeah." Reno twisted the long earring between his fingers, his expression stripped of its usual cockiness. "Never was your fault to begin with, you know."

Tseng shook his head, for the moment at a loss for words. "Everyone should have-"

"No!" Reno thumped his left hand against the bar’s oak top hard enough to make the bartender jump where he stood several feet away. "Trust me, the only thing that made it bearable was knowin’ that not every had to…." He pressed his lips together, the look of hate back on his face with all the virulence that meant it was directed at someone already dead and so out of range for revenge. "Besides, if it’s anyone’s fault, it’s mine."

Rude reached behind Tseng to smack his partner on the side of his head. "Quit that. The old fuck was handing out some of us before you got together with… *him*." Like Reno, his voice was pitched low enough to not carry more than a few feet away.

Not wanting to get into this discussion while they were out in public, even if it was in a mostly empty bar with a bartender who appeared smart enough to not pay them any attention other than when they needed another round of drinks, Tseng gave both men a warning look. "That’s enough."

"Stop moping over what you can’t change and we’ll drop it," Reno shot back, as always possessing more courage than common sense. He met Tseng’s furious look with ease and even had the gall to smile. "You’re no fun when you’re like this."

How many people out there would say something like that to him, while within arm’s reach and smiling the whole while? Oh, Reno respected him, that was something he never doubted, but that… whatever it was made Tseng smile and shake his head.

"You’re insane and insubordinate."

"Yep, never claimed otherwise." Reno motioned that they needed another round then looked back at Tseng, his expression serious once again. "Which doesn’ mean I don’ know better than to think I can fix the past or that you wouldn’ give about anything ta do just that." He tapped his left temple with two fingers. "Come on, just because it’s all fucked-up inside here don’ mean it don’ work on occasion!"

"Very, *very* rare occasions," Rude muttered.

"OI! You’re just a jealous, pussy-whipped bastard!"

"Who still doesn’t have to wear a collar or an ID tag, let alone grovel for a night out," Rude answered with a smile before sipping his whiskey.

"Like Kali couldn’ get you ta wear a collar if she tried," Reno grumbled, pausing long enough to toss back his drink. "An’ I’m not wearing it as a punishment, but…." His smile took on an edge so wicked that Tseng nearly choked on his drink.

"Shut the hell up about that! Tseng said no more talk about your ass or what’s going to happen to it in a few more hours!" Rude threw some peanuts at his partner, a bead of sweat running down his face when Reno chuckled in a manner that matched his indecent smile.

Tseng leaned toward the bar and motioned the bartender over. "Only half shots for him now," he said while pointing in Reno’s direction. "Oh, and give him some water, too." When the redhead squawked in indignation, he reached over to tug on the large, silver D ring on front of the collar. "It’ll be *my* ass in a very not-fun manner if I drop you off dead drunk tonight."

His pale face already flushed from the alcohol, Reno mumbled something under his breath and slumped in his seat. "Spoilsport."

"Tell me that tomorrow, when you come limping into my office and grinning from ear to ear." He got Reno’s tongue stuck out at him again, but Rude was chuckling in appreciation. Realizing that all the shots had snuck up on him, Tseng told the bartender to give him some water as well, and asked if there was anything for them to eat. He wasn’t in the mood to go home just yet, not when he had two good friends beside him determined to cheer him up, and it wasn’t often that they managed to do this anymore. Part of the reason for that made him jerk his head around in Reno’s direction. "Where are they?" The words came out harsher than he’d intended as he thought about the possibility of new Turks overhearing their conversation.

Reno stroked his fingers along the collar. "Relax, tha’s why I’m wearin’ this. Let him put this on if he gave us an hour alone."

Tseng turned to Rude for confirmation of that fact, and felt relieved when the man nodded. "Saint John has permission to drag him from the bar on a leash if he causes any trouble." Rude checked his watch, appearing not affected in the slightest by the whiskey. "He and Becca will arrive in another twenty minutes."

"An’ you know he’ll do it, too, since we got him dragged outta bed." Reno rested his left arm against the bar, his head propped up by his hand. "So get it outta your system now."

While Rude winced at Reno’s direct manner, Tseng smiled and shook his head, the expression sad but grateful. "As you said, I can’t change the past so what’s the point?"

"Then stop blamin’ yourself for not bein’ passed around, or for her." Despite the flush on his face and the return of his native accent, Reno’s eyes were sharp and clear, an indication that he was holding his own against the alcohol and determined to drive home a point. Tseng turned to look at Rude, who slid his glasses down enough to revel his dark eyes.

"He’s right. None of us blame you, and… well, it helps, knowing that it wasn’t all of us." Rude’s voice was pitched so low that it was hard to hear what was being said. Then he smiled and spoke with a more normal tone. "Besides, it is nice to know you’re not perfect."

Tseng was quiet for a moment and then laughed. "I’ll remember that the next time you’re up for a raise."

"See, that’s why it pays ta fuck the boss, ya bald-headed bastard!" Reno laughed as Rude tossed more peanuts at him, retaliating by flicking some water at his partner. Tseng cleared his throat loud enough for it to ache for a minute or two, and the idiots thankfully settled down. At least, until the bartender dared to approach with the menus and Reno and Rude took to arguing over which appetizers they wanted and who would be stuck paying for the food.

Tseng smiled over their antics, grateful for their presence tonight and their refusal to hold any grudges against him. It only lessened the shame a little, something he would always bear over the fact that he’d never been ordered to sleep with any ‘targets’. That had been yet another of the old president’s attempts to fracture the Turks and leave Rufus without any support, to have the group led by someone they would believe to have been ‘coddled’ and treated favorably while they were used with such disregard, but it had failed. Tseng wondered about the afterlife and if the old bastard ever found out just how much the Turks had been on to him and refused to let him win. He hoped that was indeed possible, even if some damage had been done – mostly to him.

He thought about Sarah and that mission, on how his guilt had led him to use a young woman’s infatuation to his benefit when he’d been sent to gather incriminating information on her father. He’d let his emotions get the better of him and the mission had barely been salvaged, one of the very rare times when Veld had expressed disappointment in him and taken him to task. Only having brought to his attention that he was doing exactly what the president wanted him to do had snapped him out of it – or so he’d thought. Seeing Sarah tonight on a night when he was already doing his best to shield his people from the past…. It surprised him, how much-

"Ow!" He rubbed the back of his head and glared at Reno, who smiled in delight and pointed toward Rude.

"Sorry," Rude apologized, not looking as if he felt at all regretful. "Do you want the bruschetta, the cold noodles, the artichoke dip or something else?"

Taking into account who he was hanging out with and the fact that he seriously doubted that Becca and Saint John would just sit on the other side of the bar and watch over them from a safe distance, he pulled out his wallet and slid the corporate card toward the bartender. "Order us the whole appetizer menu." That should be good for starters, and help soak up some of the alcohol in his system. Now… now he wasn’t so much in the mood to become oblivious as to enjoy the next few hours.

"Thanks, Tseng." Rude raised his whiskey glass as he spoke, only to set it back onto the bar. "Do you think the girls will get pissed off over Becca being here tonight?"

Reno coughed at that, something that sounded suspiciously like ‘pussy-whipped’. When Rude made a growling sound, the redhead smiled and motioned to the door. "Oh come on, Becca has a bigger set o’ balls than most o’ the male Turks."

Rude considered that for a few seconds. "Very true." He nodded a couple of times in evident relief. "Besides, we can blame things on the boss, I guess."

Noticing that Reno was ignoring his shot of whiskey in favor of the bottle of water the bartender had given him, Tseng did his best not to smile. "When don’t you blame things on him, hmm?"

"He likes it when I do." Reno stretched his arms into the air and elongated his spine, upper body undulating a little as he moaned in pleasure. "Tells me I’m bein’ ‘uppity’ an’ tha I need a lesson." His grin just then left little to the imagination on how that ‘lesson’ was administered.

Rude nudged Tseng in the side. "Do you think if we start talking so much about our sex lives it’ll get him to shut up?"

"Hell, no," Tseng snorted. "It’ll just encourage him even more."

"Oh, I don’t know, maybe I can shut up for ten minutes if I get to hear some juicy details." Reno waggled his eyebrows and leered. "Just how tight is-"

"Reno!" Tseng and Rude shouted at the same time, and laughed when the cocky bastard gave them the finger in response. "Keep it up and I’ll give Elena permission to shoot you the next time she asks," Tseng warned.

Reno rolled his eyes at that. "As if. Then you’d have ta put up with *him* while I heal."

"…. Good point." Tseng shuddered at the thought of dealing with a pissed off *and* frustrated Rufus.

"See, tha’s why I should get hazard pay, dammit. Or at least a comfy chair." Reno pouted at his bottle of water, white shirt sliding off his right shoulder, strands of hair falling onto his face and the collar a decadent beacon around his bruised neck. Tseng blinked his eyes a few times then looked away, only to groan when he found the bartender staring at the redheaded bastard with obvious infatuation. How the hell he managed such a thing….

Hearing Rude groan as well, he shared a commiserating look with his friend and tried to think of how much money they’d save tonight on the free drinks and food.


After receiving a brief call from Tseng to inform him that his lover was on his way home, Rufus finished work for the night and went to the bedroom, his hands busy undoing the many buttons of his shirts. He hadn’t bothered to do more than remove his tie and jacket after returning from the night’s boring social event, and his vest had already been shed to make sure a certain idiot was semi-decently dressed. His lips curved with possessive pride at the thought of what else Reno had been wearing tonight.

By the time his lover returned, Rufus had showered and dressed himself in a white silk robe. He was standing by the glass doors that led to the room’s small balcony when Reno stumbled inside, pale face flushed, long hair disheveled and white shirt half off. The grin he gave Rufus was more than a bit unfocused, and his speech was slurry. "Yo, lookin’… lookin’ good."

Rufus stared at the redhead for several seconds, not very surprised by how things were going but disappointed none the less. Stepping away from the window, he stopped in the middle of the room with his arms crossed over his chest. "Am I to take it that you’re drunk?"

"Somethin’ like that," Reno drawled as he stumbled toward the bed and collapsed onto it, a faint chortle escaping him as he rolled onto his back. "Good party tonight. Shoulda been there."

Lying like that, with the right sleeve of the shirt entirely removed from his arm, crimson hair spilled across the bed and knees splayed apart, he was a very tempting invitation. Rufus felt his heartbeat accelerate when he saw the black leather collar with its gleaming silver accruements wrapped around Reno’s throat, and he was next to the bed without any conscious thought on his part. Between his reaction and Reno’s mistaken beliefs, he quickly found himself more annoyed than aroused – by the slightest of margins, but still enough to regain some control.

Straddling his lover, he placed his hands on either side of Reno’s head and leaned forward. "Do you really think that I’ll fall for this?" he asked, shifting back just enough so he could move his right hand freely. Even moving as fast as he could, his hand was stopped a couple of inches away from Reno’s face before its palm could connect with a flushed cheek. "If you insist on acting like a drunk fool, I’ll make you sleep on the balcony to ‘sober up’."

Reno stared back at him for several seconds before grimacing. "I’ve been drinkin’ all night."

"Which is nothing new to you," Rufus pointed out as he tugged on his right hand, wanting it free from Reno’s grip. "If you truly were as drunk as you’d like me to think you are, then you would have been carried in here. No, I think you’re shamming to get out of your end of our bargain." He glared at his lover and sat back on Reno’s legs, his hand now free and playing with the D ring of the collar.

"Bastard." Reno let out a puff of air in an attempt to blow aside the lock of hair falling into his right eye. "Tseng wouldn’t let me get trashed when he found out about our deal."

"Imagine that. Perhaps he realized that I’d be very upset by you doing your best to not honor your end of our bargain by being passed out from alcohol." Rufus pulled hard enough on the ring to make Reno’s shoulders lift from the bed. "After all, I honored my part of it by letting you go out." He’d spent the night doing his best to distract himself from wondering what that bastard Arlyle had done to Reno, what it was that made Tseng put the Turk so far out of the man’s reach. For the past few months, ever since he’d gotten the names of Reno’s past… ‘targets’ out of the redhead, he’d had to suffer through the times when he’d run into the former councilman. And each time he’d mentioned Arlyle’s name to Reno, he’d noticed the way that aquamarine eyes would start to glow, the way that Reno would become quiet and change the topic as quickly as he could. "Tell me what he did to you," Rufus ordered, all the usual smoothness gone from his voice as anger and possessiveness threatened to take over.

Reno was quiet for a few more seconds, never a good sign since it normally meant he was about to be up to something, and then chuckled. By rights he should sound nervous as hell, not so relaxed and wanton that Rufus had to shift about for a moment. His eyes became heavy-lidded as he raised his arms slowly, his motions languid as his hands came to rest on either side of his head, the one of submission and promise. His tongue flicked out to lick his lips, a leisurely swipe that made Rufus think of all the times he’d come between those now slick lips, about how damn agile that tongue could be….

"Wanna hear me go on about how he fucked me? I can tell ya about the way he’d prepare me, his bony fingers buried deep in my ass as he licked down my spine. He had a thing for fuckin’ me on all fours, his hands grabbin’ onto my-"

Sparing a curse for his lack of control, Rufus used his hold on the D ring to yank Reno up far enough to bring their mouths together in a mix of pain and pleasure. The fingers of his left hand buried into tangled strands of crimson as he pressed Reno’s lips even harder against his own, the familiar taste of alcohol and tobacco almost as heady as the passion he felt. He allowed himself to indulge in it for a minute or two, long enough to enjoy the feel of Reno rocking against him, his lover’s hands scrambling at *his* hips and delicious warmth soaking through the thin robe.

Just a minute or two, then he shoved Reno back onto the bed with enough force that a red mark was left on the exposed, pale skin of Reno’s chest. "Do you truly believe that I enjoy these games?" he asked, managing a civil tone even as he struggled to control his breathing.

Reno was struggling as well, face even more flushed than before and his expression annoyed. He glared for several seconds before closing his eyes, his left wrist coming to rest over them as he let out a slow breath. "Can’t this shit wait until tomorrow?" He didn’t sound drunk anymore, which was a sign that he just might be moving beyond the senseless games – that or getting ready to lash out, which made Rufus lean forward to pin his lover’s wrists to the bed. Reno glared again as he opened his now exposed eyes but didn’t put up any struggle.

"No, it can’t wait. Tell me what he did to you." Whatever it was, Rufus had figured out that it wasn’t good. No, not when such pains were taken to keep Reno from Arlyle when the Turks were aware that Rufus knew the truth, nor when Reno had agreed to tonight’s outrageous condition for the opportunity to go out drinking for a bit. Something had bothered Tseng a lot tonight, something that made Reno and Rude concerned, and for someone who took stoicism and rendered it into an art-form, it had to be something truly bad to affect Tseng. In Rufus’ opinion, that usually was something that had hurt either a Turk or ShinRa itself. Combine that with how Reno had spent the night out of sight, and Rufus suspected that it had something to do with Arlyle.

He was about to swear at the stubborn fool beneath him when Reno sighed and shook his head. "You’re not gonna like it," he said, voice pitched low and so serious that he didn’t sound like himself.

"I already know that." Rufus sat back on his heels, his hands still around Reno’s wrist; the flexible bastard had no difficulty in following him up into a sitting position. "Yet here I am, still waiting for an answer." He gave those wrists a warning squeeze, Reno’s quick pulse beating against his right thumb.

"Why the fuck couldn’t you have been in bed already?" Reno asked, his tone sardonic enough to indicate that he’d known better than to hope for that too much. He stared back at Rufus, his eyes gradually taking on a green glow that – along with his quickening heartbeat – was a sign that something bothered him.

"He’s a sick fuck." Whenever Reno finally got tired of the games or got into an exceptionally cruel mood, he cut straight to the heart of the matter with a precision that always reminded Rufus to never consider his lover as stupid. "Gets off in causin’ a lot of pain an’ seein’ whoever he’s fuckin’ bleed. Not too many whores out there willingly let him do that to them… or can take his abuse. Your old man bought a bunch of favors by givin’ us to the asshole for a night." There was no emotion in his voice as he spoke, no expression on his face, and he didn’t even sneer as he insulted Arlyle. Whenever Reno shut down this much, went from being so animated and full of life to a perfect, soulless doll, it meant that the situation even worse than bad.

Rufus had to force himself to swallow, his throat had become so dry. He let go of Reno’s left wrist to trace his fingers along a crimson tattoo, down warm skin and over stiff leather until he brushed against roughness. There were so many scars on his lover’s whip-thin body, and until now he’d always thought of them earned in fights of some sort. Had Arlyle left marks on this body? Did the sick bastard close his eyes and recall marking this skin? Rufus’ nails bit into the scar for a moment as his breathing grew harsh.

"He beat you?"

"Yeah." A hint of emotion crept into Reno’s voice now, almost mocking as he stared back as if he hadn’t noticed how furious that Rufus was becoming. "Liked ta use a belt, said he gotta thrill outta wearin’ it afterwards. Would spend a few hours beatin’ the shit outta me an’ then another one doin’ the fuckin’. Took the bastard forever ta come." It was as if Reno was doing his best to make Rufus regret ever asking for the truth. As if he hoped to break Rufus of an annoying habit once and for all.

If that was his intent, it was a failed effort. Rufus was even more determined to find out all the things that Reno tried to hide from him, to ensure that all of Reno was his, even if it was just the past. "How many of these are his?" Rufus hissed as he scratched at the scar again, as if to erase it from *his* lover’s body.

Closing his eyes, Reno captured Rufus’ hand and pulled it away from his chest, yet continued to hold on to it as he fell back onto the bed. "Few scars on my back, the last I looked, but it’s hard ta tell what’s what anymore." He sounded tired, as if worn out from a hard day’s work and desperate for the grace of temporary oblivion.

Rufus wanted to roll the redhead onto his back and look for those scars, to… to…. He couldn’t erase them, so what else could be done? Cover them with new ones? While their relationship had contained violence from time to time, he could honestly say that he’d never gotten off on hurting Reno. Vented more than a little frustration and anger, yes, but the only pain he’d inflicted in regards to pleasure had been for Reno’s benefit.

Unsure of what he should do next, he stretched out on top of his lover, fingers sliding into long hair to comb through the tangles. "Why were you picked?" He hated how rough he sounded just then, at how clear it was that it mattered to him if Reno had been hurt for his sake. It was bad enough that the man he loved had been treated like whore because of their relationship, and he hadn’t thought it possible to hate his father anymore than he already did.

Reno cracked open his left eye, and whatever he saw on Rufus’ face made him open his eyes all the way. "Nah, I think in that case, he jus’ figured that I could take the abuse. Made a comment about a son of a whore bein’ a natural for the job." He sounded as tired as he looked, his still glowing eyes surrounded by dark circles and his body almost boneless beneath Rufus’.

"Was it just you?" Rufus wouldn’t ask for names, had accepted that the Turks deserved their privacy in return for their loyalty. When Reno shook his head but didn’t say anything, he felt relieved and not the slightest bit curious.

"He’s dead," he whispered, his lips brushing against his lover’s tattooed right cheek.

Reno scoffed at the declaration, the same time he brushed back the hair falling onto Rufus’ face. "Just because he beat an’ then fucked me?" He was the one who appeared curious, his expression more of expectation than displeasure.

"Yes." Rufus saw no reason to lie; he knew that he was possessive as hell with what was his, and even if Reno seemed determined to refuse to ponder why that was so, he’d at least accepted that he belonged to Rufus. Well, mostly accepted. Rufus flicked a finger against the silver buckle of the collar and thought about all the times the redhead had refused to wear it. Was it because of Arlyle? For a moment, his anger burned even hotter, leaving him tempted to track down the man and kill him with his own hands tonight.

"Says the man who’s only too happy to send me after whatever mutant gene-combo fuckfest Hojo came up with during one of his wet dreams." The trace of gutter accent was gone, as was the eerie glow to now heavy-lidded eyes. "I think you’re a sick bastard, too." Reno’s lips were curved the slightest bit, and his body was no longer entirely relaxed.

"Keep in mind that I let you kill them." Rufus didn’t hide his smile as he settled more firmly between his lover’s thighs. "That’s more than fair, isn’t it?" That way, Reno got to have some ‘fun’, even if he did bitch up a storm about such missions, and whatever it was that dared to touch him, even if it was to destroy, ended up dead.

"Not when I spend a fucking week down in the sewers," Reno grumbled, his expression very displeased even as he hooked his left ankle behind Rufus’ right calf. Then he turned serious, his fingers tightening in Rufus’ hair to prevent a kiss. "Is that it?"

At a loss as to what the question was about for a moment, Rufus carefully shook his head as much as that hold would allow. "Did anyone else treat you like that?" There were still two names on the list that he’d never forget, even if he had little or no hope of doing anything about them.

Reno’s tongue flicked out for a second as if probing a sore spot on his lip. "No. They just got turned on by someone wanting to fuck them." He was too young still to sound so weary just then, even more so then after a difficult or bloody assignment. "You can’t change the past, you know. I’m getting tired of reminding people of that fact."

Wondering who the other people had been, Rufus tried bridging the space between them and was relieved when he didn’t lose any hair in the process. "Not everyone lives so much in the present like you do." Was that personality trait a response to the years spent as a Turk, or had Reno always been like this? While Rufus could see how such a mentality could come in handy because of the redhead’s job, it was a disadvantage at times, too. After all, there was an old Wutian proverb about how the past was the foundation for the future – something that Reno had no apparent interest in, other than his next fuck, kill or bottle of alcohol.

Reno scoffed again, his lips brushing against Rufus’. "Not everyone is as fucked up as me, either. And speaking of fucking…." His tongue flicked out, a wet, brief touch that made Rufus shiver.

They could trade barbs and witty banter all night, or they could do something much more enjoyable. Rufus had a very willing lover beneath him, staring at him with evident desire, wearing a collar he’d put on himself just a few hours ago. The earring lay amidst Reno’s hair, sparkling as if strewn with tiny stars.

Rufus kissed him then, finally giving in to the passion that always churned beneath the surface whenever he thought of the bastard. Tomorrow would be soon enough to deal with Arlyle.

He slid his hands along Reno’s throat, lingering for a moment on the collar that looked so right against pale skin. Continuing on until he felt fine linen, he began to undo the straps of the black vest, hampered by the way that Reno moved beneath him, hips rocking up to meet his and hands sliding beneath his robe.

"Don’t say anything but ‘please’ and my name," he ordered, temper still frayed enough that the last thing he needed to hear was Reno comparing him to Arlyle or another lover, or even mentioning the bastard’s name.

"How about ‘you’re so big’?" There was laughter in Reno’s voice, the twisted sense of humor that always pushed things to the edge and often beyond.

"That’s a given." Rufus smiled at his own smug retort before beginning another kiss that prevented a comment that might end with Reno gagged for the night. After all this time, all the fights and power struggles, he still couldn’t completely control the redhead. As much as that fact annoyed him, it also turned him on, kept him fascinated and curious to see what would happen next. Tonight, he had an idea where things would lead, to a long overdue bout of pleasure that they both seemed to want.

It didn’t take much to shed his robe, while Reno’s clothes were a bit more trouble. However, that fact was more than made up for by the way Reno moved beneath him to shed the pants and vest, an erotic show that left Rufus even harder than moments before. He stroked his hands along now-exposed skin, delighting in the way Reno trembled and gasped out his name. His lover was definitely ready for him, ankles hooking behind his legs and hands grabbing him by the upper arms to pull him forward.

"I thought you were hoping that I’d be asleep," Rufus commented as he gave in to his lover’s persistent demands, his left arm pushing Reno’s leg upward while his right hand delved down. When he felt something slick against smooth skin, he smiled as he pushed a finger into tight heat.

Reno hissed at the sudden intrusion, more out of surprise than pain if Rufus was any judge. While still a bit tight, it was clear that the bastard had spent some time preparing himself before returning home.

"Figured that I wouldn’t be so lucky." Reno lifted his hips in a very helpful manner, his eyes glowing once more and lips bearing a very pleased smile. "And when haven’t we ended a fight with a fuck?"

"Very few times." Usually, only when one of them wasn’t in good enough of a shape to go through with the act. Rufus supposed that in a way they were growing predictable with each other, but since he enjoyed the sex, saw no reason to change that particular habit of theirs. "Don’t try to tell me that you don’t pick a fight on purpose just for that reason."

Reno chuckled as his hands tugged on Rufus’ hips, a clear invitation to stop with the preparations and get down to business. "As if you mind."

"I distinctly remember telling you to not speak anything but two things right now." Rufus allowed himself to spend a moment fantasizing about shutting up his lover by a very pleasurable means, but decided that could wait until later. There was no way he wasn’t going to take thorough advantage of a mostly compliant Reno tonight, after all.

His lover grinned in response, and for a second appeared ready to start yet another fight when he opened his mouth. However, all he did was moan in such a lascivious manner that made Rufus’ heart race even faster then speak with a very low, husky voice. "*Please*, Rufus."

Determined to reward such good behavior, Rufus grabbed his lover’s hips and rolled onto his back in one smooth motion, laughing himself when he startled a gasp from the Turk. Reno’s surprise was soon replaced with evident pleasure, his grin wicked as he settled himself around Rufus’ hips. After a minute’s pause where he grabbed some lube to slick up Rufus’ cock, he didn’t waste any more time sinking downward, even grinding his ass against Rufus’ groin to take the cock in as deeply as possible.

"Rufus," he moaned, the one word laden with so much need that Rufus felt almost ready to come. Why the hell did the sight of Reno straddling him like this, long hair clinging to a thoroughly aroused body and emotions so evident on that beautiful face, break through his defenses so easily? It was more than pleasure, more than desire, more than the annoying sense of love that wouldn’t go away. The only thing that kept him from shoving Reno away – other than incredible ecstasy – was that he was certain it cut both ways. With each passing week, Reno gave away more and more of himself, and Rufus would keep pushing and manipulating until he had *everything*.

Right now, there was no doubt that Reno was giving him everything he had; his lover gripped him so tightly that there was an exquisite edge of pain to the pleasure, a moment of breathlessness before Reno would slam downward and take him in to the balls again. In return, he would shove his hips upward to meet his lover every time, fingers digging into Reno’s hips so deeply that his nails pierced skin. There was no hesitation, no tenderness to the sex, just the fervent desire to ‘consume’ each other completely, to take all that was being offered and more.

Reno jerked himself off as they fucked, continuing to slam down so hard that they both would end up bruised, and Rufus didn’t give a damn. They stared at each other and made no pretense to kiss, not when they both seemed caught up in watching the other, to see what effect they caused. Rufus took in the bright, glowing eyes, pale skin flushed ruddy enough to mar the lines of red tattoos, teeth biting into a full bottom lip as if to keep words trapped inside, the way that light and motion made the silver buckle of the collar and the faceted stones of the earring gleam. He didn’t know what it was that Reno saw in return – it probably was a very good thing that he didn’t – but the sight before him was just as stimulating as his lover’s hot, tight body and frenetic pace.

He cried out when the feverishly hot grip around his cock tightened even more, the spasm echoed in the way Reno’s eyes fluttered shut and his name was choked out. Pulling his lover down with harsh force to ensure that he was buried as deeply as possible, he cried out himself during the ecstatic waves of Reno’s orgasm, managing a few more thrusts before giving in to his own.

The world greyed out for a few seconds, the sound of his heart beating as loud as a klaxon during that time. So much pleasure that it drove him mindless, all thoughts wiped away by emotion. Gradually, sensation other than bliss crept back, such as the dryness of his throat, the faint burning in his chest as if he’d been deprived of air, the sweaty, limp weight of his lover sprawled on top of him that in part explained the difficulty he had in breathing.

"Are… you trying to kill me?" he asked when he finally had the breath, then did his best to spit out the hair that had someone ended up in his mouth. While Reno was incredibly sexy with it long and unbound during sex, Rufus sometimes felt sympathetic toward cats with the way he was always trying to clear his mouth of the wayward strands.

In way of a response, Reno bit him on the right side of his neck hard enough that he *knew* there’d be a mark soon enough. "Ha ha. You’d be dead, then." Reno lifted his head from the crook of Rufus’ neck and seemed to be trying to glare, something that was hampered by all the hair falling onto his face. After a few seconds, he gave up on that in favor of trying to blow the strands aside.

"I don’t know, you are rather lazy." Mustering enough strength, Rufus reversed their positions again, hissing a little as his cock slipped free of his lover’s body.

Reno laughed and wrapped his legs behind Rufus’ thighs, a silent signal that he wasn’t ready to put an end to the ‘fun’ for the night. "I don’t know, you’re like a damn cockroach when it comes to dying." His smile slipped for a moment, his gaze distant as if recalling something unpleasant, and then was his usual cocky self again.

Leaning down for a brief kiss, Rufus then nuzzled his way to the pierced ear bearing his family’s logo. "I refuse to leave this earth while you’re still on it. You’ll use the excuse of my wake to finish off every drop of alcohol I own, and probably put my ashes in a used take-out carton."

There was more laughter as Reno bucked his hips against Rufus’. "Nah, I’d just set up a booth and let people do nasty things to your body for ten gil a minute. That’s what you deserve if you put all my hard work to shame by droppin’ dead." His smile was steadier this time, and had a cruel edge to it that made Rufus wonder if the bastard really would do such a thing. Disturbed by the way that he could easily imagine that scenario coming to be, he forced himself upward, breaking past the barrier of Reno’s legs to climb off the bed.

"Oi! Where ya goin?"

"To take a shower," Rufus called back without turning to look at the bed. He heard his lover grumble something that most likely was about either his state of mind or his parentage, and then get off the bed as well. Pleased at being followed, he began to plot out the rest of the night. He didn’t think that Tseng would mind if he was late to work for the next day, not if the man had gone out drinking tonight, and he didn’t have any important meetings until after lunch. That left several more hours to enjoy himself and see what other secrets he could pry out of his lover – who in return would be doing his best to distract Rufus from what he’d learned tonight. It was a very good thing he’d had the foresight to swing by headquarters and pick up a few potions after leaving the party.


Tseng sat down at his desk and leaned forward, elbows resting on its clean surface and his head held cradled between his hands. He closed his eyes and remained like that until there was a faint knock on the door, followed by Elena quietly stepping inside the office.

He smiled in gratitude when she set a cup of black coffee on his desk, her answering smile making him feel a bit better. Despite him staggering to her apartment while drunk as hell, she’d let him in and put him to bed. She’d left for work on time, while he took advantage of his position and came in later. Besides, one of the last things he remembered from last night was Reno promising to make Rufus late for work today.

The coffee helped a lot, and Elena kept refilling his mug when it became empty. Rude stopped by the office at one point to give him a thumb’s up sign, leaving Tseng to write a note to himself that R&D had to run some serious tests on the bastard and figure out why he had such an unnatural tolerance for alcohol.

A check of his voicemails revealed a rather hoarse-sounding Rufus informing him that he’d be in shortly before lunch. When he’d been notified that the president had finally arrived, he’d left his office to go pay the man a visit. He found Reno fast asleep on the couch in Rufus’ office, but was willing to overlook the lack of professionalism because of the Turk’s ‘sacrifice’ last night. From the looks of it, the collar hadn’t been removed yet…..

"President?" Tseng asked as he came to a stop in front of Rufus’ desk, very grateful that he’d had a couple of hours to shake off the after-effects of last night.

"Good afternoon, Tseng." Rufus continued to type on his laptop for a few more seconds, and when he looked up, his eyes were slightly bloodshot, as if he hadn’t much sleep the night before. "Do I need to say anything other than ‘Arlyle’?"

"No, sir. I already have Deirdre and Cyn working on a suitable ‘accident’." He was also grateful for Reno’s forethought last night, and judging from the preliminary email Cyn had sent him this morning, the matter was left in the best of possible hands.

"Good." Rufus’ handsome face was twisted with anger and hate for a moment, then it settled into its usual impassive mask. "May I say that I really don’t care for things such as that to be kept from me, or for having to barter for that information." For a second, it was clear from his expression that he knew why Tseng wasn’t forthcoming with such things, a mix of compassion and regret, and then he stared back with slight displeasure. "It wouldn’t be for the best for me to be keep finding these facts out like that."

Tseng bowed slightly. "In all honestly, I believe that is all in regards to Reno." Over from the couch, he thought he heard some faint mumbling, but Rufus didn’t even glance in that direction.

"I sincerely hope so," Rufus replied after a moment’s pause. His demeanor hinted at suppressed curiosity on his part, which Tseng was certain would be contained as long as it really wasn’t anything pertaining to Reno. Tseng was relieved over that, as he still felt a bit ‘off’ over last night, due to the steps he had to take to protect his people and his own lingering guilt. At least he no longer had any doubts over how his closest friends and coworkers felt on the matter, even if he still had a bit of a nasty hangover.

Rufus leaned back in his chair and flicked his right fingers in the air, a sign that he was through with that particular topic. "Do I want to know what possessed you to put last night’s indulgence on the corporate card?" he asked, eyes narrowed yet lips twitching upwards the slightest bit.

Tseng tilted his head to the side. "There were no explosions, no calls to the police, and no lewd events that could have possibly been recorded," he countered, figuring that having Reno mostly behave for the night would be worth having the company pick up the tab.

Rufus seemed to consider that for a few seconds and looked back at his screen. "Then why is the tab not as bad as I’d expect for five Turks spending the night in a bar?" He stared back at Tseng, who decided that silence was the best possible answer just then. Judging from the way Rufus’ eyes narrowed even more and his lips thinned out as he glared in the couch’s direction, Tseng assumed that the man had figured things out on his own. "Thank you. I believe that will be all."

"Yes, Sir." Tseng bowed again. "Please keep in mind that I need Reno for an assignment tomorrow," he said as he headed for the door.

"That’s what potions are for," Rufus muttered, followed by the sounds of his chair being pushed away from the desk.

Deciding that the president would be suitably occupied for the next few hours, Tseng returned to his office with a smile on his face, certain that he’d be left un-interrupted long enough to get some work done.


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