The profitable ones are not mine.

I don't even know what to say except that I'm very sorry it took so long. My gratitude to my long suffering beta and to Veh, who wielded the sharp stick of author guilt at the right time. Hopefully this was worth waiting for and yes, the next bit is in the works. There are two songs this time because they both seemed appropriate.

Again, sorry about the delay!

I noticed your eyes are always glued to me
Keeping them here
And it makes no sense at all…

…I guess I'm dreaming again
Let's be more than this

Crush Crush Crush - Paramore

Think twice before you touch my girl.
Come around I'll let you feel the burn.
Think twice before you touch my girl.
Come around, come around,
No more.

Think Twice – Eve 6

Rufus looked at his feet. He was moving forward; he could tell when he looked at the walls, but his feet seemed to remain stationary. It was things like this that always clued him in to the fact that he was dreaming. Dreams were like memories played forward; little details were distorted or lost altogether. He'd had a conversation with Reno about it once when the redhead had been drunk enough to be quiet and contemplative along with him. "I wouldn't run around telling people that, boss - make 'em think you're freakier than they already do." The Turk's words were no less earnest for the fact that they were slurred. Rufus could have told him that he already knew to whom he could reveal even that small, seemingly innocuous part of himself. Instead he had smiled slightly and went back to watching the sun set over Junon.

Rufus was at his office door now. The panel opened before he touched it; next he knew he was gliding toward his desk. A moment ago, it had seemed like morning, but now the sky was dark and the lights of Edge glowed softly through the plate glass windows. The lights were off in his office except for a conveniently placed lamp that lit up his desk and the surrounding area. And there, bathed in the buttery glow of the lamp, seated on his desk was Jacinta. Jace. Wearing nothing but a clingy, semi-sheer swathe of fabric that artfully revealed her smooth shoulders and bare legs. Contemplating a bowl of fruit, she selected the ripest, fullest looking peach Rufus had ever seen and slowly, so slowly, bit into it.

He stopped just outside the pool of lamplight and watched with rapt attention as she relished the bite of fruit. Her tongue ran over her lips, her throat worked and her eyes closed in what seemed to be bliss. Then, with a low, drugging laugh, she moved to deal with the peach juice covering her hand and running down her slender wrist. Setting down the dripping peach, she raised her hand to better to lick delicately at the wet trail. Starting with the drop that had made it furthest down her arm she laved her skin, giving each finger individual and dedicated attention. The entire time she seemed oblivious to Rufus who suddenly found himself without his coat. Jace gave a little sigh and looked back to the fruit bowl, paying Rufus no heed.

Next up was a strawberry, round, ripe and a deeper red than could ever be found in nature. Jace contemplated it for a moment before setting it against her plush lips and pushing it between them, an action that was accompanied by a concupiscent groan. Rufus decided now was the time to divest himself of his outer vest.

While she nibbled on cherries, broke open a fig and molested the luckiest banana on the Planet, Rufus divested himself of layers of clothing; he was down to his shirt and absently fiddling with the top button of his trousers, waiting to see what fiendish torment she could devise with a peeled orange as a prop. But instead of biting into the fruit she finally looked at him.

"Is that it?" she asked, voice rich with amusement and exasperation. "You're just going to stand there, strip and drown in your own drool? This is the man that other men fear?"

Was it possible to blush in a dream? Apparently so. The rush of blood to Rufus's cheeks lessened the sensual spell by quite a bit though it was not dissipated entirely. He cleared his throat to stall for a moment, a habit he never normally allowed himself and spoke. "I was wondering what I was supposed to gather from your… display. Are you trying to tell me something about my eating habits?"

Jace smiled and tilted her head. "Silly Rufus," she sighed. "I'm not trying to tell you anything. This is your dream. The question is - what are you trying to tell yourself? I mean, you probably should eat more fresh fruit but…." The almost-empty fruit bowl disappeared and Jace gracefully swung her legs up onto the desk; Rufus noticed that the swathes of fabric previously covering her curves had shrunk to the size of a bath towel. A very small, very thin bath towel that had also, somehow, become almost completely transparent….Somehow I don't think that's meant to be the takeaway message here," she purred.

Rufus found himself taking the few strides needed to reach the desk. That scrap of fabric protecting her modesty just kept getting smaller and he wasn't sure when he'd taken off his shirt but it wasn't there when Jace put her hand over his heart, her palm warm against his skin. She looked up at him, brown eyes gleaming. "My subconscious isn't very subtle," he murmured as he leaned in.

Jace smiled and busied herself undoing his fly.

"It can't afford to be." Rufus found himself nodding absently in agreement as she pushed aside the front of his trousers. He watched, spellbound, as Jace put a hand through the opening of his boxers and gently pulled out his cock. Her grip, he noted, was exactly as he had suspected it would be, firm but not too much so. Jace began to stroke, slowly but with just the sort of pressure he liked, her long fingers being used to best advantage. Rufus allowed his eyes to slide shut for a moment… Suddenly, a blaring noise sounded directly in front of him. Rufus' eyes flew open and he looked up to see what appeared to be a slowly suffocating chocobo…

Rufus owned an alarm clock with a strident alarm, because on the rare occasions that he did oversleep, he was very difficult to rouse according to Reno, the one who always seemed to pick the short straw when the time came. Generally, however, Rufus woke up well before his alarm and turning it off was one of his morning rituals. Unfortunately, even high priced alarm clocks can malfunction. Interrupted in the middle of the best handjob he'd received in a while by an unfamiliar noise, he woke up convinced he was under attack by something other than his libido. So it was that at 3:45 a.m. Rufus found himself alone in bed with a raging hard on, pointing a large-caliber handgun at a clock that was sure that it was 4:45.

After the alarm was turned off, a few moments were spent checking the room before President Shinra realized that he didn't face any threats in the room besides bad luck and substandard craftsmanship. Making a mental note to have Tseng draft an angry letter to the manufacturer, Rufus uncocked his gun and slid it back under the pillow before contemplating his undaunted erection.

This wasn't the first time he had awakened from a dream involving his secretary in some setup straight out of those magazines Elena wouldn't admit to reading. The first time was after Jace's very first day; she'd been scantily clad with a gleam in her eye. Chalking it up as a normal reaction to pretty girl had been easy. True, she'd made more appearances than he might have expected, but he did see her often and she did have a way about her. Who wouldn't be attracted to her?

But now, several days later, Rufus was beginning to think he had a rather definite problem beyond his current physical condition. As he walked carefully toward the shower, he reviewed the last few days. After Reno had nearly walked in on their kiss the Turk had been unusually thin lipped with everyone. Rufus was morbidly curious about how Reno and Jace would act around each other afterwards, but they had gone to amazing lengths to avoid that situation coming to pass. Even without direct contact with the Turk, Jace had spent the past few days looking by turns tired, lost and angry whenever she thought no one was looking. She seemed oblivious to his occasional lingering glances, a state of affairs he preferred.

Rufus entered his shower stall and turned on the cold water. As he shivered under the icy blast, he considered how the more time he spent with Jace in the real world, the more she occupied his dreams - and yet, he found himself coming up with reasons for her to come into his office and stay there. She wasn't the prettiest girl he'd ever seen; there were plenty more women he would have looked at first. But he didn't think there was another woman he'd yet seen that he'd choose to look at longer. Jace was all long lines interspersed with curves in the right places. Breasts that sat high for their size and a round firm backside were matched with elegant arms, long fingers and slim, muscular legs. Jace tended to wear flats but every now and again she would saunter into the office in a pair of heels and her calf muscles would flex as she walked by. Rufus was fairly sure that she didn't like wearing heels though, because whenever he walked by, she hurriedly hid her bare feet under her desk.

Thinking about Jace's slower, more deliberate walk in heels was not helping Rufus little problem to deflate. He realized he had moved out of the direct spray and was slowly, almost gingerly, stroking himself. He was partially appalled at his distracted state and partially desirous of finishing what he had started. The image of Jace, sitting on his bed, slowly pulling off one high heel and then the other, before looking up at him expectantly, decided it.

The shower was switched to hot and Rufus stepped back under the spray, determined to do it but quickly. Focus on Jace. Her lips, her breasts, her legs, her long fingers and the contrast of her brown skin as she wraps those fingers around my cock…. That got him most of the way there, but what pushed Rufus over the edge was the other memories he'd hidden even from himself. Jace smiling that sly smile she occasionally flashed when she thought no one was looking. Her sarcastic sense of humor and wide eyed glee when she figured something out or was given a project that actually challenged her. The adorable, quickly hidden puckering of her lips when she was confused. The way she nibbled her lower lip when she was thinking…

The rush as he came was short, sharp and only moderately satisfying. Slumping against the tiled wall, he contemplated this unwelcome fact. The law of diminishing returns rears its ugly head… His recent uptick in masturbation could be very simply explained, but his body didn't want self gratification - it wanted Jacinta Guerin. As Rufus reached for the soap, he pondered both that truth and the larger implications of the situation. The sexual attraction wasn't really the problem… ok, it wasn't the main problem. If it had just been that, he would have just found himself a substitute or in extremis, he might have arranged for a convenient moment for them to 'be overcome by passion' in some safe location vetted by Tseng.

The difficulty is, I don't want to just have an interlude. I am… somewhat fond… of Jace. She's far more tolerable than the grand majority of the people I come into contact with. It was partially because of the connection to Reno no doubt; for all his faults, the other man was an excellent judge of character and would not allow someone he didn't trust near his boss. Reno's trust, however conditional, is high praise. But even more that Jace has… a way about her. Bold and careful by turns, she was interesting to watch.

As he stepped out of the shower, Rufus struggled to determine the exact quality that made Jacinta Guerin able to command his attention so completely when more accomplished, more comely and most importantly, more appropriate women had failed. It was only after Rufus had toweled himself dry and completed his morning ablutions that an answer began to take shape.

I am attracted to Jace because she is interesting. I want to know what she laughs to herself about, why she and Reno are avoiding each other and how she can stand to eat dry cereal. None of these questions stemmed from a desire to use the information against her; instead he desired only to have the knowledge itself.

What would Jace look like thrilled? Or crying? Or sleeping - or right before she came? Would she babble and close her eyes? Or would she be silent and look right at me so that I can watch her eyes haze over and her lips part? Rufus indulged that vision for only a moment, wary of his body's likely response. As he checked himself in the mirror before he began his day, there was only one question. What to do about it?

In a much less impressive part of town, at roughly the same time of the morning, Jace was lying in bed contemplating her ceiling while cursing Rufus and her long-dormant hormones. "This is ridiculous," she muttered as she rolled onto her side. I have to get up in a few hours and I don't have time to fantasize about the epitome of a bad idea. Rufus is not a good option. Not. And you are not that hard up. A moment of depressingly honest thought later, she crossly punched her pillow.

Okay, you are that hard up, but there are plenty of blond men out here. And plenty of them have perfectly lovely smirks. And have heard of the latest fashion innovations like colors and 'casual Fridays'. The man needs to be stripped down before he faints the next time he steps outside a building in August. Then again, he'd probably have Tseng shoot anybody that tried. A body would have to sneak up on him, like when he's at his desk - I'm sure Tifa has a Still materia lying around somewhere that I could borrow. Stroll in one day after he's finished his meetings, get him to stand up and then bam! He'd have to stand there while I stripped off his coat and vest – fast, before the Still wore off – and then he'd probably stare at me for a second or two before saying in that king-of-every-frickin'-thing voice, "You may continue."

Jace rolled onto her stomach. I sure as hell would! Shirt off, trousers open and I'd be able to see the crowning glory of the Shinra. I bet he's lovely all over, but there, particularly perfect. Not too long, 'cause nobody likes it in the cervix. A little thicker than usual. Cut… or uncut? Eh, doesn't matter. I'd take him out of his… boxers? Boxers. I'd take him out and start slowly. Let him get an idea what the plan is. Then I'd stand up and go in for a kiss… It was then that she realized she was slowly rotating her hips and pressing her pelvis down on the bed. Stupid hot Rufus Shinra, she mentally groused as she rose to make herself something to drink. Normally she would have just stayed in bed and had a little personal time, but that would have made three times in one night and she was starting to feel a little pathetic.

As she stood at the kitchen counter, mixing powdered chocolate and milk, Jace sighed heavily. The past week had been… well, tiring really. Tiring and annoying and frustrating. Yuffie was easy to avoid since she worked in another part of town; Reno, not so much. Jace couldn't decide if it was fortunate or not that the Turk seemed no more eager to talk to her than she was to him. She also couldn't tell if Reno was holding back because he was still mad, because she'd actually managed to hurt him, or what. He would hardly look at Jace and the couple of times they'd found themselves alone together on an elevator, Reno had studied the buttons as if they held the secrets of the Ancients. Being around Rude wasn't much better. Jace was pretty sure that he, at least, wasn't mad. But that didn't mean he didn't wash his hands of the bitchy stray who'd insulted his partner. Of course once Jace started thinking about that, it was one short step to what Tifa likely thought, and then it was back to whether Yuffie was totally disgusted with her - or just sort of.

The biggest question, of course, was the blue-eyed demon himself. Rufus 'The Iceberg' Shinra seemed completely unconcerned by what had almost happened. The day after their near-miss he'd been exactly as calm, dismissive and distant as he had been the day she met him - no more, no less. Well, except for that look. Maybe she was paranoid or maybe it was wishful thinking, but Jace could swear that Rufus was thinking something… but what, she wasn't sure. Was he regretting having soiled himself with a plebian? Was he planning to ravish her as soon as he could figure out a way to avoid Reeve's wrath? "Or maybe I just have something stuck in my teeth", she muttered, energetically stirring the clumping powder into the steaming liquid.

The uncertainty, coupled with the stress of working in fairly close proximity to an oddly quiet Reno, an even more inscrutable Rude, a suspicious Elena and a potentially disapproving Tseng, let alone the clients, was wearing Jace down. She'd gained weight from all the calming hot chocolate, to the point that her custom made suits were strain at the seams a wee bit. Furthermore, her lower lip was drying out from the amount of time she spent worrying it; a nervous habit that seemed to make Rufus somehow annoyed – or maybe she was overreacting, and it was merely his paperwork being frowned at.

A mind reader I am not. Taking a sip of cocoa, Jace frowned at her maudlin thoughts. There's no reason to believe that the encounter was anything but a… an… aberration. "And, it's not as if a relationship would go anywhere, anyways," she announced to her kitchen, hoping that saying it out loud would make her feel better. It didn't work. The man is making my head hurt and I can't even complain about it. The Turks are out and so are Tifa and Yuffie. Ivy and the W.R.O. crew would have it on the front pages fifteen minutes after I talked to any of them, and Aunt Hypatia would just cluck her tongue and ask me if I'm taking 'precautions' before telling me that my generation didn't invent it - hers did. Jace shuddered. She loved her aunt but had already learned the folly of discussing sex with her.

No real use worrying about it anyway, since there are only five days left before I go back to the 'real world' of the W.R.O. Jace sighed, sipped her drink and then shook herself a little. Whether or not I've burned my bridges with Reno and the rest, I still have a job. I have other friends, even if I haven't talked to them in a while. Grimacing, she resolved to call Rourke and the rest during her lunch hour the next day. Working at Shinra, even as a temp, had skewed her view of the world. It was easy to forget that life outside of the Turks and Ruf… President Shinra existed. But it did and it was time Jace remembered that. Just a few more days and it all goes back to normal.

Later that morning

Rufus looked up from the report regarding Tseng's pet project and smiled slightly. The Director was sitting in one of the chairs in front of Rufus's desk looking just the slightest bit uncertain. For Tseng that was the equivalent of madly batting his eyelashes, an image that amused Rufus immensely. Looking down at the dossier again, he was confident that Tseng had covered every angle. I have no intention of countermanding his plan at this stage, but no harm in making him squirm a bit.

It had taken Tseng a long time to get Rufus to consider expanding the Department of Administrative Research and even longer to find worthwhile candidates and train them to his satisfaction. But all the factors had finally come together and now the Director of the Turks had come before his employer to state his case. Specifically, Tseng was of the opinion that the six people whose files Rufus was currently examining were Turks in all but name and it was time to take that last official step.

Breaking the silence, he murmured, "You are becoming more visible again, sir, both because of your work spearheading alternative fuels and because the world has stabilized enough to be interested in what the rich and famous are doing. In order to provide you with optimum protection, it is imperative that you never be without fresh Turks who are able to provide the best protection and support. Reno, Rude and Elena are impressive but even they require rest."

Rufus smirked, noting that Tseng admitted to no such physical limitation for himself. Finally, he closed the file folder. "I trust your judgment and leave it to you to inform the new Turks today; have plans for a more formal investiture ready as soon as possible." Tseng nodded then gave his employer a questioning look. Rufus smiled. "I'll also trust you to keep the informal welcoming ceremony… reasonable."

As he stood, Tseng bowed. "I'll do my best, sir, but it will be impossible not to invite Reno. Also," Tseng paused and gave Rufus a quick look, obviously gauging just how deep his boss's good mood ran. He seemed reassured by what he found and continued on, "Miss Guerin will be leaving us soon. Particularly in the light of the current climate, I have made space in your schedule for you to interview replacements for her position."

"The current climate?" Rufus repeated, keeping his tone even and his face politely attentive.

Tseng made the strategic decision to remain standing – in case a rapid retreat was required - as he replied, "One of the benefits of Miss Guerin's time with us has been that she is well liked by the staff." Yourself chief among them, he mentally added, though he didn't pause during his monologue. "That is no longer the case. It is hardly conducive to an efficient work environment to have the President's personal secretary hiding from his Turks, much less for any of the Turks to be similarly avoiding her; therefore it is inadvisable to extend her contract. Additionally, due to her temporary status, Miss Guerin's security clearance is very basic. To be blunt, President, work of a classified nature has been piling up. It would be advantageous to find a dedicated person capable of handling all aspects of the role as your personal secretary as soon as possible." Tseng resisted the urge to watch Rufus' hands in case he was reaching for his gun.

A few moments later, a sigh that would have been inaudible to a less experienced or less interested party reached Tseng's ears and Rufus spoke in oddly resigned tones. "Of course. If my schedule allows, I will meet the first candidate this afternoon."

Tseng relaxed infinitesimally and inclined his head. "Is two o'clock amenable to you, sir?" he asked. Rufus nodded, his eyes already on his computer, and Tseng took that as his cue to leave. Once the door was safely closed behind him, Tseng briefly contemplated mentioning to Jace that her replacements were going to be interviewed in the coming days. After a moment, he elected to say nothing and walked past her desk with only a faint nod of greeting. She smiled brightly in return before continuing with her work.

Four days before Jace's departure…

"So, how's it been going?" Ivy looked expectantly at the woman across the table.

Jace didn't meet the other woman's eyes, but she managed a sickly smile while pushing a noodle around her plate. "I hate alfredo. Don't know why I ordered it," she said after a long silence.

Ivy cleared her throat. "Riiight… are you okay, Jace? You've been kinda… spacey."

"You know how it is," she replied. "Things are tough all over."

Ivy raised an eyebrow. "Jace, sweetie, you sound like a depressed fortune cookie. And I don't know how 'things' are in the Shinra building – that's why I asked. You haven't been calling people or returning messages; Rourke and Maddie were about to stake out your apartment. Everyone back at the office is dying to hear the goods, so spill the beans, dearie - how the hell is it? What's it like working with the Turks? Is Rufus Shinra really that dishy up close? Do you get to ride in the limo? And how much did that suit cost, because it looks like a lot... speaking of which, do you get to keep the clothes? How much are they paying you? Come on! Spill!"

Jace sighed. "I'm sorry Ivy; I've just been really stressed. I've missed you guys and I'm sorry I haven't been in touch. As for work… um… let's see. The Turks are polite… (as if I were a stranger) and President Shinra is very attractive up close… (and oh, have I been close!) Sipping her water, she continued, "I've never been out of the building with the President and I honestly don't know the price of the clothes." Actually I do know, but if I give you a clue you'll strip me naked, raid my apartment and sell the goods on the black market.

Before Ivy could ask any more questions, Jace hurried on. "I think I get to keep the suits because most of them were tailored. I'm not going to tell you how much I'm being paid, but I will take you and the rest of the crew out for drinks."

Ivy leaned back and smiled widely. "The fact that you're willing to pay our tab tells me that you're in the money. And tailored suits! Shame about the limo, though. I would love to hit the town dressed to the nines and meeting the kind of men who do business with Rufus Shinra. Talk about husbands on the hoof!"

Jace thought of the clients she had ushered into the office over the past week. "I don't think you'd like them, Ivy. Most of them put the 'old' in 'old money'. But I'll be sure to let Rourke know that if he dyes his hair grey and wears a suit, you're ready for double occupancy."

Ivy giggled. "Rourke is my sweetie, but they say it's just as easy to love a rich man as a poor one. Speaking of which, let me tell you what that fool did last Tuesday for dinner…"

Jace listened to the story of Rourke's ill-fated attempt at pot roast and laughed but her mind was on other things. Loving must be easier than lusting, because so far lusting has cost me both friends and sleep.

Three days to go…

Eew. This is exactly the sort of guy that I was describing to Ivy yesterday!

Olaf Guntersson not only put the 'old' in 'old money', but also in 'dirty old man'. Practically from the moment he stepped out of the elevator, he had ogled Jace like she was wearing plastic wrap instead of a staid beige suit. It had been an act of will for Jace to turn her back on him in order to lead him into Rufus's office. Sure enough, he had taken advantage of the opportunity and pinched her behind.

Jace stiffened but did not pause or alter her speed. I'm ignoring you, la la la. Guntersson pinched her again and chuckled under his breath. Gritting her teeth, Jace lengthened her stride. Stupid Shinra and his stupid huge office giving this stupid creepy git another chance to be stupid. Showing Guntersson and his secretary to the chairs in front of Rufus's desk, Jace gave a passing moment's thought to the fact that Guntersson had a male secretary. Then again he likely couldn't keep a woman near him for money, let alone love. The old goat couldn't get laid in a monkey whorehouse with a banana hanging out of his... "Refreshments?" she sweetly inquired, praying for a 'no'.

"No, thank you," Guntersson said and Jace's smile relaxed. Without sparing Rufus a glance, she turned towards the door with the intention of making good her escape until Guntersson asked, "Your secretary won't be staying, Shinra?"

No, you low rent lounge lizard, she won't be staying. She will be in the bathroom trying to scrub 'lecher' out of the seat of this skirt.

"Miss Guerin has other duties to attend to."

You tell him, Rufus!


On you, you pervert.

"Would you prefer that she stay, Guntersson?"


"Well, I wouldn't want to keep her from anything crucial, but…"

"Miss Guerin?"

Jace ground her teeth and halted a few scant inches from freedom. Turning back to face the room at large, she resisted the urge to cringe when she found every eye on her. Tseng and Reno stood behind Rufus, as impassive as their boss. Guntersson's secretary Julian appeared terminally bored, while Guntersson himself was doing a bad job of concealing his avidity under a mask of polite inquiry. Had he directly asked her, Jace would have had no compunctions about making an excuse. However, Rufus had requested her presence, so she was stuck.

Suddenly, I feel like I'm a Summon; going where I'm called, will ye, nil ye. Walking back across the room to Rufus's desk, she made sure to stay out of lecher-range. "Shall I take notes, sir?" she asked a tad too brightly. Rufus inclined his head and Rude brought a chair to the side of his desk. Once Jace was seated, he returned with a laptop, booted up and ready to go. Joy, she thought as she plastered an attentive look on her face and positioned her fingers over the keyboard, just… joy.

Two hours later, Jace was bored to tears listening to Rufus and Guntersson's verbal fencing over what was an extremely simple transaction. Guntersson owned land rich in mineral resources, some of which showed promise as alternative fuel sources. Rufus wanted to buy that land outright or, failing that, lease it for no less than five years. Guntersson was willing to sell the land, though he preferred that Rufus leased it. The sticking point was that, buy or lease, Guntersson wanted a cut of any profits the land might accrue. He desired these rights in perpetuity, or at least for the next couple of decades or so.

Jace struggled mightily against the desire to roll her eyes as these two titans of industry danced about the issue like middle schoolers trying to find out if their crush liked them or not. She dared a glance at Julian; he was typing with one hand and stifling a yawn with the other. A look at Rude and Tseng showed them to be seemingly unaffected. Earplugs? Jace mused before forcing herself back to the task at hand.

An agonizing forty-five minutes after that, Rufus and Guntersson were still at it. Jace had twice stealthily checked to ensure that she wasn't drooling from boredom, while keeping an eye on Julian, who had begun to list sharply to one side. Help arrived from an unexpected source.

"I'm parched and starved and other things I shouldn't have to be. Lunch, Shinra?" Guntersson boomed, not-so-gently shoving Julian upright.

Jace barely stifled the urge to shoot Rufus a pleading look. Anything, anything that will shut you two up!

Rufus ignored her as he considered his guest before nodding slightly. "I would be delighted. If I remember correctly, you enjoy steak. I know a restaurant famous for their meat." Guntersson leered and Jace would have sworn Rufus looked pained for a moment.

"Come on, ladies, let's go!" Guntersson cackled, clapping Julian on the back hard enough to nearly knock the younger man out of his chair before rising and striding toward the door. Julian shot a less-than-fond look at his boss's back before collecting himself and his laptop and following. Jace saved her work before jauntily closing the laptop in front of her and rising. She turned to face Rufus, smiling like she'd just won an all-expenses paid trip the Golden Saucer. "I hope you enjoy your lunch sir!" she chirped. I wouldn't bet on it, considering who you're stuck with, but I will send positive thoughts your way!

Rufus glowered at her for a moment before his features smoothed out and he rearranged some papers as he stood. "With you there to enliven the conversation, how could it not be pleasant?"

Eyes wide and mouth frozen in a grin, Jace took a moment to process her boss's statement. After a moment she decided that surely she must have heard him wrong. "I'm so sorry, I must have misheard you. Did you mean I'm going with you?"

Rufus walked around his desk and stopped in front of her. "Your hearing leaves nothing to be desired. I would appreciate your company."

Before Jace could formulate a polite response, Julian appeared at the door. "Mr. Guntersson," he drawled, eyes slowly sweeping from Rufus to Jace and back again, "will be waiting by the elevators. Shall I tell him to meet you at the restaurant?" Unbeknownst to each other, both Jace and Rufus took a moment to ponder how a man could sound so disinterested without sounding the least bit rude. Deciding it was some sort of natural gift, they looked at each other.

"Surely you wouldn't leave me alone with them." Rufus pitched his voice so low that Jace barely heard him. She raised an eyebrow and was met with the Shinra version of a pleading look, which was much heavier on the compulsion than it was on the plea. But still, it was an amusing image. Behold Rufus Shinra, a titan, if not the titan of industry, appealing to his lowly assistant for moral support in the face of boredom beyond bearing. The very thought was absurd but there was a grain of truth to it. If Julian's blatant disinterest didn't get him, Guntersson's horrible sense of humor likely would. Plus, it might be possible to warn the waitresses to avoid Guntersson as they would a zolom. I don't flatter myself that Rufus Shinra actually needs my support. But how can I turn him down?

"We'll be along shortly," she stated loudly enough for Julian to hear. The man shrugged and ambled back out of the office. She looked back at a now smirking president. "I hope you know, sir," she said quietly to Rufus as she moved toward the door, "that I will be ordering two desserts." Stupid Shinra puppy dog eyes. With my luck, I'll have strangled myself with my napkin before we even get to the entrée, let alone dessert.

Heels again today. After taking a moment to fix the image of Jace's initial move toward the door in his mind, smug grin still in place, Rufus took a moment to confirm that he and Tseng were thinking of the same venue. He left the other man to the business of arranging their table and followed his secretary, taking care to not quite catch up at first. She was, as usual, moving at a slower pace than normal in a pair of higher than normal heels. What was that phrase Reno had used on the princess? I hate for you to go but I love to watch you leave. If Rufus remembered correctly, Reno had recounted the story while nursing a bruised jaw, the cause of which the Turk refused to reveal but was easy to guess. He idly wondered what his secretary's reaction would have been to his thoughts as she'd approached his desk. For a moment he'd been overwhelmed by the images from his dreams. The admission would never be made outside of his head, but Rufus owed Guntersson for distracting him from a potentially embarrassing and highly public hard-on.

The memory of Guntersson's mishandling of Jace made Rufus grind his teeth. Guntersson was sadly mistaken if he thought that his actions had been overlooked. The negotiations had been conducted on partial autopilot as all the ways Shinra power could be used to torment the old coot were gone over in scrupulous detail. He will be called to account in due time, but at the present moment it makes things simpler for me to let the old bastard think he's getting away with something.

The fact that Guntersson had gotten away with it was at once gratifying and annoying. However, the fact that Jace could comport herself correctly, even when mistreated, was important knowledge. But Rufus had a suspicion that Jace would have loved to have slapped the old lech's hand without a second thought - in fact he dared Guntersson to try it when she was off the clock. With that in mind he had anticipated some sort of objection from her about joining their lunch party. Under different circumstances he would have left her behind, but Jace's presence provided several advantages. She was a distraction to Guntersson and therefore an advantage to him. Plus you'll have someone worth looking at, his mind helpfully supplied. Ignore the somnambulist and the lech and it's almost like a date!

Rufus frowned for a split second before out of habit his brow smoothed. It was true that a couple of days ago he had contemplated his next course of action regarding Jace. But what seemed so clear cut in the middle of the night was infinitely less so with the sun up. She was, after all, his secretary. I can, and do, enjoy her company, but I'm still strategizing how best to set the scene without seeming like Guntersson - just with more hair. Their interrupted kiss the other day had been the culmination of felicitous circumstance and he wasn't sure how best to replicate that while better controlling certain redheaded variables.

You. Are. Stalling. A few days from now she goes back to the W.R.O. and, if Reeve has anything to say about it, you'll never see her again. Stop waiting for the perfect lighting and just kiss the girl!

The voice in his head might sound like Tseng, Rufus thought wryly, but it didn't always sound like him. As he stepped into the elevator, he noted that Jace had all but wedged herself into the corner furthest from Guntersson, who was only barely concealing his leer. Rufus didn't so much insert himself between them as he casually happened to stand in such a way that Guntersson's view of Jace was almost entirely blocked. Everyone politely ignored how the older man's face fell as Rude pushed the button to start the elevator's descent and Rufus's inner dialogue continued.

I am not stalling. I'm just making sure that the situation is as well planned out as it can be before acting.

You want to banter a little and then sleep with the girl, and then banter some more. How complicated a plan do you need besides locking your door this time?

I'll move when the time is right. In the mean time, this is not a date, it is a business meeting and Jace would not be joining us if her attendance did not provide certain advantages.

Were those the same advantages you were checking out on the way to the elevator?

Just be quiet.


An hour and some odd minutes into the meal at the sort of restaurant that she could previously only dream of patronizing, the conversation had not gained any zest and Jace was seriously considering the merits of doing herself in with one of the pieces of silverware. This has got to be what hell is like. Expensive restaurant, I'm all dolled up and with the most eligible bachelor on the Planet. A hand suddenly appeared on her thigh. And what am I doing? Jace casually picked up her fork and examined hand, having been recently introduced to Mr. Fork's sharp tines, skittered away. I'm fending off Father Time's horny younger brother.

Guntersson pouted slightly. "It's so cold in Midgar this season," he said, apropos of nothing in the current conversation. Rufus raised his eyebrow slightly at the odd comment before humming noncommittally and resuming his statement. And if he was fighting the desire to slip the safety off his rifle and shoot a potential business partner between the legs, who was to know? Silently seething that Guntersson had managed to position himself next to Jace and continued to harass her, Rufus took some comfort in his secretary's quiet but spirited defense. Noting that she was keeping a loose hold on her fork, he fought down a grimace. Guntersson was going to pay later but for now… hopefully Jace's next strike would draw blood.

Jace expanded her options. Homicide or suicide, someone isn't making it out of this meal alive. Widening her fake smile, she strove to look like she wasn't plotting carnage. Julian wasn't even doing that much. Boredom radiated from every inch of the man, a fact that didn't seem to bother Guntersson in the slightest. If I cared, I might find enough energy to wonder about their relationship.

After debating with herself for a moment about whether it was worth the bother, Jace decided that she didn't really care if Julian was Guntersson's son, nephew, protégé or newspaper boy, she just wanted to leave. There had been a faint hint of excitement earlier when Guntersson's bodyguards met them at the restaurant, but once she'd looked them over and pegged them for the Turk knockoffs they were, the amusement of staring had paled.

When the battle of attrition that had been lunch finally wrapped up after two desserts that she couldn't even enjoy because of the stultifying atmosphere, their party headed for the exit. It was all Jace could do to not dance a little. A judicious bit of maneuvering had put most of the party between Guntersson and herself, making her a much happier girl.

Preceded by his bodyguards, Guntersson exited the building, followed by Julian, Reno, Rufus, Jace and finally Tseng. Limousines were waiting at the curb and the groups began to split amongst polite goodbyes. After cheerfully waving to Julian as a fellow sufferer, her salute returned with a desultory flutter, Jace practically skipped toward the car.

"Hold on Shinra, I have a question about the…" Guntersson's voice stopped on a shocked exhalation. Jace turned around just in time to see Rufus flying towards her, as if he'd been knocked off his feet.

She had no time to brace before she was toppling over backwards onto the concrete sidewalk with her boss sprawling on top of her; there was a moment of shock before the pain started. Rufus had tried to avoid putting his entire weight on her but that just meant he'd landed more on her left side. Her back hurt, her head hurt and Jace just lay there, staring at the blue sky, hearing nothing more than the blood rush in her ears and trying to breathe through more pain than she'd felt in a long time.

"Stay down." Rufus leapt off of her a split second later and disappeared. Jace's ears decided to come fully back on-line and suddenly she could hear everything. Screams and gunshots and a faint crackling sound and then more screams and someone was laughing. Jace carefully turned her head, and seeing no immediate danger, rolled over and took note of her surroundings.

Tseng was crouched behind the open car door, multitasking as usual; his eyes were constantly moving to cover any potential threats and one hand held a gun as he barked into a PHS. At the same time he was blocking as much of Rufus as possible, and seemed to be trying to shove the president into the car with his butt. Jace fought down a hysterical giggle at the image; she could imagine how little it would be appreciated. Poor Tseng, trying to protect a man who seems determined to stay in the thick of it. Peering around, she decided to obey Rufus and stay put. Was that Julian's reddish brown hair a few feet away, among the bystanders who were also trying to become one with the concrete? That unmoving lump next to maybe-Julian might have been Guntersson, but Jace couldn't tell and chose not to focus on it.

There was a lull and Jace looked back toward the car in time to see Reno appear next to Tseng, his face split in a feral grin. His shirt had splatters of red on it and his EMR was out. Oh hell. That must have been the crackling noise… things have gone seriously pear-shaped!

"Those you killed will be remembered. Their names will be sung by our brothers and sisters," a man's voice crooned. It came from in front of Jace and she watched as Reno, Tseng and Rufus turned to look. She dared turn her head just far enough to spy the speaker and decided that for an assassin, he was rather nondescript.

Who is he talking about? Then Jace remembered the blood on Reno's shirt. Oh. This guy has friends. Or he used to…

Brown hair, plain features and muddy-colored street clothes; no one would have given him a second glance. The only interesting things about him were the maniacal glint in his eyes and the materia-studded metal gauntlet he wore. As Jace watched, the man strode forward, seemingly unperturbed by the scene around him.

"But my name will be remembered most of all. For my deeds will be the greatest. First, two of the captains of hell," he said, pointing the gauntlet towards Reno and Tseng, "and then the dark one himself."

A fireball erupted from the gauntlet and Jace closed her eyes against the white-hot flare. The heat when it passed was so intense Jace could feel her clothes react and her unprotected legs felt as if they were being flash cooked. It took a moment for her to understand that the smell of burnt hair was hers and then another moment to check with one hand that she'd only been singed. When she dared look again, the door of the car was shut. Tseng must have won his battle to shove Rufus to safety. A black line scorched into the sidewalk and the smoking side of the vehicle marked the path of the incendiary. A few people behind the attacker screamed and one even got up and ran. Jace paid them barely any attention, her focus on something else entirely. Reno was just gone.

I-… He must have gotten into the car right? RIGHT? But even as she reassured herself, she worried. What're the chances that all three men had managed to throw themselves into the car and close the door?

The assassin was still standing in the same place, appearing disappointed and confused. Jace's eyes darted from him to the car.

Go. Go! You're all in there, you have to be! So leave already before he gets it together and fries you and me to boot! Just as Jace decided to run for it, Reno reappeared, and faced off against the foe. He blurred, and the next clear view Jace had was of the Turk holding his attacker aloft by the throat and grinning.

The man struggled to aim his gauntleted arm and Reno's grin widened as he first brought his E.M.R sharply down on his prey's wrist before striking the other man's face. The man emitted a wheezing howl and tried to clutch at his nose. Reno laughed and struck the metal gauntlet again, but this time much harder. The would-be assassin screamed in anger. He didn't seem inclined to give up though, because he lashed out with a booted foot and Reno went down. Yanking free, the man stumbled backward a step, his eyes wide as if he couldn't believe he was free. But he regrouped quickly and brought his arm up again, no doubt intending to fire another blast at point-blank range.

This time, Reno's fingers clawed into his enemy's throat as he rammed his E.M.R. into the man's chest. For just a second Reno glared into his erstwhile attackers' eyes; the man whimpered and Jace could hardly blame him. The crackling noise she'd heard earlier started again; once, twice the man jerked and twisted, then fell limply to the ground. Watching the Turk coolly electrocute someone without being affected was… frightening. Reno nudged the fallen man with the toe of his boot before surveying the scene. When his predatory gaze swept over Jace, she quailed and remained very, very still even though the altercation was obviously over.

Reno stood there for a minute, scanning the surroundings and occasionally kicking the assassin in the side. She started when strong hands took hold of her arms and hauled her up. Tseng, the owner of the hands, was checking her for damage, looking for all the world like a man who hadn't just escaped being barbequed. He seemed satisfied with his inspection and bundled her into the limo; she was still too stunned to resist. I wonder what happened to Guntersson and Julian? She looked around as if the two men might materialize in the empty seats but it was only Tseng, Rufus, herself and the driver. Is that one of the Elite Security Team? Kinda hard to tell from the back of their head.

"Are you alright?"

Startled, Jace looked at Tseng; his gaze flickered over to Rufus and her glance followed his. Her boss studied her intently as he again asked, "Are you injured, Miss Guerin?"

Slowly shaking her head, Jace returned the visual inspection. He looks… kinda cute actually. Rufus' hair was sticking out in all directions, there were black marks on his immaculate coat and his trousers were rumpled and dusty. Definitely cute. Also definitely tired, poor thing. The signs of fatigue were subtle; a slight droop to his shoulders, the way his eyes weren't open as widely as normal and the fact that he hadn't fixed his hair yet.

After she responded in the negative, Rufus took a slow deep breath and turned to speak to Tseng in hushed tones. They conferred briefly before Tseng turned away to type something into his PHS and Rufus gazed out the window. It was everything Jace could do not to move into the empty space on Rufus' other side and just cuddle him. That man needs a hug. And if he doesn't, I sure as hell do. I doubt Tseng would go for it though.

Well, if hugging was out, verbal comfort was going to have to do. Not that Jace couldn't appreciate this glimpse of Rufus Shinra: Human, but it just seemed wrong to leave the fact unacknowledged. When all else fails, use sarcasm. She leaned back in her seat and spoke as nonchalantly as possible. "If I knew I was going to get shot at," she said calmly, "I would wear less white." Rufus raised an eyebrow; Jace smiled wryly.

"Your concern for my wardrobe is duly noted," he replied, a small smirk very much in evidence and his eyes brighter. There, she thought, that's much better.

The rest of the drive back to the Shinra Building was accomplished in silence. Just as the car entered the parking garage, Rufus' phone rang. A brief conversation followed and as it progressed, he appeared increasingly annoyed although his voice did not change. Hanging up, he declared, "Reeve wishes to assure himself that Miss Guerin is unharmed. Deliver her to the W.R.O. offices." As the limo pulled into the reserved section, Tseng produced a comb and Rufus spent a few moments fixing his hair.

The limo door opened to reveal Rude. Tseng briskly exited, asking questions and issuing orders. Rufus was next, with nary a backward glance. She barely caught a glimpse of his backside before Rude firmly closed the door and the car pulled away from the curb.

The trip to the W.R.O. was accomplished in complete silence. When the limo pulled up in front of the building a few blocks away, Jace awkwardly called her thanks to the driver as she let herself out. Shestood on the sidewalk for a moment, just… breathing.

"You're welcome."

Jace barely managed not to jump and in a panic, spun to face the speaker. The woman breezily grinned and gestured towards the entrance. "So… shall we?"