Everything was fine.

That thought, in and of itself was nearly terrifying. Rufus Shin-ra was healed of the geostigma. Reno and Rude were unharmed. Tseng was recovering very well from his injuries. Even Elena was near to her top fighting form. Her right foot still ached white fire from when Kadaj had crushed it, and the various other injuries throbbed lightly, but those were ignorable.

Turks were not Turks for nothing. And rookie though she was, she was still a Turk.

Reno was babbling animatedly about a celebration. She was fairly certain it involved something with a bar. That was the last thing she wanted to do at the time. She wanted to go home and fall over. Quickly.

She glanced over at Tseng as subtly as she could. He looked cool, calm, professional, unconcerned with everything but the fact that Rufus was healed from the horrible blight that had racked his body with pain for so long. His torture had been worse than hers, and yet he seemed to bear no scars from it.

She knew he did. Physically, at least. She'd seen them, once, new red tears layered onto paler, older marks on his pale skin. She'd peeked when they were in the healing hall, while he'd been slowly changing his clothes.

She hated the crush. But she couldn't stop it. Who could? One look at Tseng, and she just melted all over again. It didn't help that he did nothing to dissuade it. He was polite and businesslike on duty, and quietly attentive and just as polite while off duty.

Sometimes it was so damned hard to be professional around him, when she just wanted to throw herself into his arms and ask him to take her back to his apartment. While that was a wonderful fantasy, it was unlikely that that was the sort of thing Tseng wanted in a woman.

Elena wasn't even certain that he wanted a woman. He didn't show any interest in the coy looks of Shin-ra's secretaries, or the women on the street.

Then again, maybe he just doesn't want to catch some kind of horrible disease. Elena didn't have much credit for women who slept with every man they saw.

I just want to sleep with one man I see...

She quickly dispelled that thought. She didn't need to be distracted right now. Apparently, the threat of Kadaj and his gang were over. That was a relief; she never, ever wanted to see them ever again. The fact that they were dead certainly increased that chance.

She was glad they were dead. She could still hear Tseng's screams of pain sometimes, when she was half-asleep, and the nightmares took hold. Because of me.

"Hey, rookie, wake up."

Her gaze snapped up to Reno. "What?"

"You're slipping." Reno's smug smirk was as annoying as ever. And she'd never been happier to see it. "I, for one, am going to a bar. You're coming, right?"

"No, I don't think so." Elena shook her head. Getting drunk was the very last thing she wanted to do right now. Well, getting drunk in a public bar, anyway. Maybe in the quiet of her own home, a bottle of wine wouldn't be too bad...

"C'mon! Rude's coming, and Tseng will too, right?"

"No." Tseng said calmly, as Rude stared at Reno, clearly having been informed of his presence at the bar for the very first time.

"What? Why not?" Reno looked at Rude, shrugging off the bald man's stern look.

"It hardly sounds appealing to me right now. Besides, someone needs to stay and guard the boss until he goes home." Tseng's logic was, as always, flawless.

Except for the fact that Rufus Shin-ra was not stupid. "I will return home directly, then." He stood up, moving with the newfound restless energy of one who has sat for too long and can now move again. "I could do with time to myself, for once."

This was the polite way of saying "I am not stupid, you are exhausted, and you will return home immediately to rest." Tseng knew that. So did the others. For a moment, no one said anything.

Then Reno had to open his stupid mouth. "C'mon, boss, why don't you come to the bar with Rude and I?"

Rufus turned a blank, emotionless look on Reno. Reno tried for a winning smile. It penetrated; Rufus' lips twitched upward slightly. "Not tonight."

"Your loss, boss. Elena, Tseng, c'mon..." Reno turned his attention back to them.

"No." Tseng said firmly.

"No, thanks," Elena said, simultaneously. She stood quietly for a moment, before forcing herself to admit it, before Reno could say anything else. "I'm really... tired, Reno."

Reno fell into an uncharacteristic silence, as what she said clicked. "Oh. Oh. Yeah." The expression on his face showed the wheels in his head clicking. The blood-smeared ID cards. The gunshots. The North Crater. He was talkative, excitable and edgy. Not stupid.

Tseng glanced quietly at Elena, and she fought down a flush of shame. She hated admitting the weakness, especially in front of Tseng. She'd worked so hard to be the Turk she should be. Tseng would never admit to weakness. Rude wouldn't. Neither would Reno, for all his unprofessional behavior.

The double stigma. Being a rookie... and being a woman.

"You did well."

Elena looked up quickly, blinking. That compliment came from the most unexpected source; Rufus himself. "Sir?"

"In the Crater." Rufus met her gaze. "You did well. Both of you. I'll expect a full report tomorrow morning. Until then, you are all dismissed. Get some rest." He glanced at Reno, a smirk touching his lips. "Whatever sort of rest you wish that to be."

"Even drunken reveling rest?" Reno asked, eyes alight and hopeful.

"As long as your partner accompanies you to make sure you don't do anything stupid, yes." Rufus glanced at Rude, the smirk still on his face.

Rude sighed, but nodded. "Of course, sir. Someone's got to keep an eye on him."

Elena hid a smile. I swear, Rude's going to have to marry Reno to keep an eye on him. They already share an apartment as it is.

"Goodnight, men." Rufus said, waving a hand. "Tseng, Elena, be in my office by nine."

"Yes, sir." Elena murmured, hearing Tseng echo the answer. She dropped her head as Rufus walked out, her muscles complaining with fatigue. She just wanted to give up and fall over.

"Come on." There was a hand on her arm now. Belatedly, she realized it was Tseng's. This was going to haunt her later. Probably in the form of dreams. Hot, steamy dreams.

"Sir?" She asked, her mind thankfully reacting on instinct, and not blurting "Gods, you're damned sexy, why don't we go back to your place, strip down and have insane sex in every corner of your apartment?" That would have been worse than passing out. Much worse.

"You're exhausted." It must have been obvious; she was too tired to bother hiding it. "I'll escort you back to your apartment."

"I'm fine," she protested, mortified that he was... coddling her like this. "Honestly."

"Elena." His voice was firm. He stole a glance over at Reno and Rude, who were having a one-sided argument about which bar to go to- Reno was arguing, Rude was calmly stating that he didn't give a damn- then glanced back at Elena. "If you feel anything like I do, it's damned amazing you're still on your feet. Come on."

Elena blinked, then allowed him to tug her off with a wave to Reno and Rude, dazed. He had just admitted that he wasn't much better off than she was. She knew what he'd gone through. She could see he was pale and obviously tired, but exhausted? It made sense. Even though he was Wutarian, he was no different than she was.

Just like me. Tired. Drained. Almost dead.

Gods, they'd come so close. So close to death, and she'd never gotten the courage to tell him how she felt.

She still wouldn't tell him. She never would. She couldn't risk it. It was unprofessional. It was unrequited.

He didn't love her. No one loved her. She was a Turk.

She had to be fine with that.


Reno had chosen a small, out of the way bar a few blocks from Shin-ra headquarters. It was poorly-lit, but not run-down, and had decent drinks for decent prices.

In other words, cheap beer was cheap there. Rude seriously doubted that his partner could afford anything more. He didn't know what Reno did with his salary, but whatever it was, it left very little for personal pleasures.

Or maybe that was entirely what he spent it on in the first place.

Somehow, the thought of Reno going to a brothel didn't shock him as much as it probably should have. He was extremely conservative with his money, using it only to purchase necessary foodstuffs and pay the rent on their apartment, setting the rest aside for (ha!) retirement. Every so often, he could get Reno to pay his part of the rent, but that was rare. Usually, Reno "compensated" for his half of the rent by taking Rude "out" somewhere (usually a bar, like this one) getting drop-dead drunk and offering to help Rude "work over his tensions".

Rude liked to pretend that his partner was talking about sparring, or picking him up a woman somewhere. He knew that couldn't be further from the truth. Especially since the last time Reno was drunk, he'd succeeded in getting Rude halfway to second base.

His partner was damned sexy.

Wait. Aren't I supposed to be calm, unflappable and definitely asexual?

He had told himself, when he first became a Turk, that nothing at all was going to come between him and his duty. Nothing at all; not even the red-headed squirrel that had been assigned as his partner.

Maybe rabbit was a better term. Rabbits were jittery, and yet they were furry balls of sex. Like his partner.

Reno was halfway to blissville already, and Rude had barely had half of his first drink. "I'm tellin' ya, Rude, tellin' ya, it's so great they're alive. Woulda- woulda been hell, just the two of us... Just us..." He leaned on Rude's shoulder, blinking up at him. "Just... the two of us... all... all th' time..."

Rude stared back at him, expression blank, eyes hidden by the sunglasses he always wore. Thankfully; his eyes betrayed his confusion as his expression did not. What? What is he babbling about? Does he want the two of us to be alone? Hell, no. That is a recipe for disaster. I would do something stupid... like fucking him into a wall... oh, shit.

There was that thought again. It popped up every now and again. So randomly, too. He would be thinking about something completely different- work, dinner, even Rufus Shin-ra, and the thought of "Gee, it'd be nice to fuck Reno into a wall," would simply pop into his head.

It's the years of celibacy, he told himself firmly. It's just a glitch in the system. I can make this go away.

"You ain't drinkin'," Reno pointed out. "C'n I have all your beers?"

"One of us needs to stay sober," Rude pointed out. "The car's here."

"So I c'n have all your beers." Reno attempted to give him a level, searching look. It ended up looking more glazed and... sexy than anything else.

Gods, yes, just stop looking at me! "Yes, you can have all the beers I won't have," Rude muttered, looking into his beer, and taking another sip. He hated being drunk anyway. That loss of control, the impaired functions and thought patterns, the way his mouth would just open without meaning to and things would just spill out...

"Yay!" Reno actually clapped and flopped back into Rude's lap. "Yer the best, best partner ever," he told Rude. "And you are damn sexy."

"Get out of my lap, Reno," he said evenly, counting to ten.

"It's comfy."

"Get the hell out of my lap."

Reno sat up, blinking hazily. "Is something wrong, man?"

Rude hadn't meant for his tone to sound so strained. "I'm fine, Reno. It's been a long week, and I've lost two pairs of sunglasses thanks to you."

"What the hell?" Reno's face was a mask of indignation. "I didn't break your sunglasses, yo!"

"Two pairs," Rude held up two fingers. "Once when you hit me in the face, the other when you were throw into me by one of those little bastards."

"I didn't hit-" Rude tapped the bruise next to his eye where Reno had hit him with his electrified weapon. "-oh. Heh." He rubbed the back of his neck. "What can I say? Accidents happen..." He tilted his head, and reached out to trail his fingers very gently over the injury. "That musta hurt... came close to the temple too, might've knocked you out, if we weren't lucky..." His face screwed up and he downed another beer. "And- and then you could've been killed!"

Death was a fact of life to Rude. He'd nearly died too many times to care that much about it. Maybe that was why Reno never set any money aside for later- he knew that he'd probably be dead before he hit anywhere near retirement age.

Turks never lived long. He was surprised that they all had survived for as long as they did. It was a painful fact of life for them all. Serving Rufus Shin-ra was a great honor, but it also came with a great price.

Tseng and Elena's pain only attested to that fact.

He hadn't realized he was brooding until Reno poked him in the arm. The slender man had managed to down two more beers in the time Rude had been thinking about his own mortality. Holy Hell. He really is insane. "What?"

"You're ignoring me." Reno said petulantly.

Rude simply stared at him. Anything he would have said would have been completely pointless. Reno was wasted, completely and utterly. He'd had over seven beers now. Rude polished off his one, single beer. "I think that's enough for you."

"I'm not done yet," Reno pointed a finger at him. "You're ignoring me, and you won't sleep with me."

The bartender glanced at them, looking amused. "Shut up and give me something strong," Rude snapped at him.

"Sorry, sir, you've had one beer, and you've already said you're driving this young man home..." It was not his imagination; the bartender looked smug. Reno's been here before. The question was if he'd set this entire thing up, or if it was a horrible twist of fate.

Rude forced himself to calm down. Only Reno could try his patience like this- only Reno when he'd had half a dozen or more beers anyway. Usually, he could handle his partner's talkative and irritating nature, but Reno was absolutely insufferable while drunk. "You're right, Reno. I won't sleep with you."

Reno looked triumphant, nodding, and looking around as if to say "See? See how he treats me?"
"And why won't you sleep with me?"

"Because you know that I'm not interested." Rude tried to lapse back into his customary silence, as was safe and well-known to him.

"Like hell you're not interested," Reno said, resting his hand on Rude's knee and squeezing slightly. "I know you are... you were so hard last night, when I came out of the shower in a towel..."

Blood rushed to Rude's cheeks, and he coughed quietly, looking down. "Reno, shut up."

"No, no!" Reno pointed at him. "See, I'm right, and I made up my mind, tonight we're gonna go home and have crazy sex..."

"Ok, right." Rude looked at the bartender. "Get him something strong."

The bartender's lips twitched upward faintly. "Right."

Reno examined the shotglass in front of him, head tilted. He looked birdlike- and beautifully innocent. Experimentally, his tongue darted out into the glass, licking up some of the liquid, cat-like. Rude groaned as softly as his could, teeth clenched. Now he was hard, of course, and he clenched his fists until his blunt nails bit into the palms of his hands. The pain barely distracted him- he was too used to pain.

Reno, meanwhile, had knocked back the shot and flopped back into Rude's lap, which certainly didn't help his rather large and becoming noticeable problem. "Hey, hey Rude. Rude... guess what?"

"What, Reno?" He prayed his tone didn't sound horribly strangled.

"The- the room's spinning," Reno's voice dropped to a whisper, as if he was trying to tell Rude something confidential, or he didn't want to offend the room. "Maybe- maybe you could tell it to stop, man? It's making me really dizzy, man..."

Rude sighed and looked up at the bartender. "The tab, please." He examined it, sorted out some money, and slapped it down on the bar, leaving more than enough for a generous tip. Anyone who dealt with Reno when he was like this, however indirectly, needed one hell of a compensation. Without waiting to see the man's reaction, he half-picked Reno up, throwing one of the inebriated man's arms over his shoulder, and wrapping one of his arms under Reno's arms, hauling him up and out of the bar.

"Now- now the street's spinnin', man..."

Rude sighed. "You're shit-faced, Reno. Nothing's spinning."

"Nuh-uh. It's spinnin', man."

At least his partner wasn't talking about how hard Rude was anymore. And at least he hadn't seemed to notice his recent problem in that department. "Whatever you say, Reno."

"Yeah, whatever I say, man." Reno nodded, flopping into the passenger seat of the car. "So I say we go back to the place, man, and do it."

"Shut up," Rude said, shutting the door and moving around the car. Apparently, Reno had started to respond to his gruff reply to his "order", and hadn't noticed that Rude wasn't in the car. When he opened the door, Reno's eyes were closed, and he was still talking.

"-ain't, fair, man. You're sexy as all hell, an' I ain't even allowed to touch? Just one touch, man, just one, just take off your pants, babe, I will make you feel damned good..."

Rude's hands gripped the steering wheel with almost supernatural strength, and he was surprised it didn't shatter into splinters in his hand. "Shut the hell up, Reno." He kept his voice as emotionless as he could, but that was either a tell, or Reno just knew him better than he thought he did.

"You want it, don't you?" Reno cackled and slid his hand over Rude's thigh as the larger man started the car. "Hell, yeah, you do... Everyone wants me..."

"Yes, that's it, isn't it?" Rude said, glancing at him with an eyebrow raised. "Everyone wants you- except me."

"Pffft." Reno waved a hand. "'kay, not everyone wants me... Tseng don't."

"Neither do I." Rude smacked his hand away from his leg and focused on driving.

"Like hell, man." Reno was unbuckling his seatbelt. He wouldn't have had it on anyway, if he were sober; Rude had strapped him in. "You want me, you're hard and hot for me, and I'm gonna give you what you want..."

Rude burned rubber up to the apartment. Leaving the bar had been a mistake; now he was exhausted and alone with Reno- with a very drunk, extremely seductive Reno. I am fucked.

Or rather, Reno was going to be fucked, if he didn't shut his goddamned mouth.

Granted, that was probably what Reno wanted... I have got to stop thinking about this. Easy enough to say, difficult to do when your partner was palming you through your slacks.

Unable to stop a gasp from escaping him at that, Rude slammed the car to a stop in the parking structure of their apartment building. "Get the hell out of the car, Reno."

"This is as good a place as any," Reno slurred, resting his chin against Rude's leg. "I've never had sex in a car before."

Rude unbuckled his seat belt and got the hell out of the car himself. Moving around to the passenger's side, he hauled Reno out, silently.

"Ohh, you're gettin' all strong on me..." That phrase made absolutely no sense, and it gave Rude a moment to calm down as he pondered it, dragging Reno into the apartment and shutting the door behind him. A few punched buttons and deadbolts slammed home, and they were secure.

"C'mon, man... you know where my room is..." Reno purred in Rude's ear, delicately lipping the edge. Shuddering, Rude gathered up the last of his composure, threw Reno into his room and shut the door, turning and all but sprinting for his own room, slamming and locking his door, then sliding down as his legs became suddenly weak. Damn, that was close. Too close.

He couldn't afford to start some sordid relationship with his partner. He seriously doubted that Rufus would understand or approve.

He waited, fully expecting Reno to open the door to his own room, pad across the small living area, and try to get into Rude's room, or at least knock and say something devastatingly sexy what would probably break the last of Rude's tenuous hold on his control, and break his will, causing him to open the door, drag Reno in and strip him down, throw him to the bed and...

Stop. He wouldn't fantasize about it. He refused.

But silence came from the living area. Reno didn't leave his room. And Rude was too tense and drained to go check on him. Taking off his suit jacket and shoes, he untied his tie, unbuttoned his shirt, and crawled into bed without another thought.

I hope he passes out on his side, was his last coherent thought, before he slipped into a sleep filled with lidded green eyes, and a low sexy voice, purring encouragement to him.