For ladycordelia17, my 100th reviewer on "Forbidden". Thank you for reading and your continued feedback and inspiring words of encouragement. Although I'm playing a bit with Tseng and Elena in another piece, this is my first complete endeavor in writing them, and I do hope I got it right!

Rated M for adult situations and themes and explicit erotic content.


fire mystic

Fantasy Awakening

It was dark and quiet. Finally. He was sure he had faded in and out of consciousness more than a few times, but he couldn't tell how much time had passed. He tried to move, though he knew it would be agony. In the end, the effort was futile. Not only was the pain beyond what he imagined but the effort brought about a fit of coughing, filling his mouth with the metallic taste of blood, reminding him of how bad his injuries probably were.

The Remnants had done a number on him.

The silence was broken by a slight shuffling off to his right followed by a low moan. He listened carefully, trying to discern the extent of pain and injury, hoping Elena would be smart enough to stay still and not cause further injury.

He had done what he could for her. Before he had collapsed, he had managed to clean her wounds as best he could with the tiny bit of water that he found, and had used his shredded shirt, as filthy as it was, as makeshift bandages; it was better than her bleeding to death. He had worried they would do worse to her, but it was one place their luck had held. The three Remnants hadn't seemed to notice that Elena was a woman. It was a good thing; witnessing that would have broken Tseng.

She was still moving, and Tseng hissed out an order for her to remain as she was, but either she couldn't hear, couldn't understand, or was just ignoring him. She was coming closer, until he could feel the heat of her body in the chilled cave, feel her hand on his arm, searching blindly in the dark, until he could feel her press against his side and wriggle until her breath was soft against his neck.

"Tseng." Her voice was harsh, his name a rasp of sound. Screaming could do that.

"You should stay still, Elena." His voice didn't sound much better. "I bandaged you up, but you need to stay still."

"I did well, didn't I, Tseng?" There was a pleading quality to her voice, a search for recognition when she knew she had done well during an assignment, and wanted his approval. He could feel the tears sting his eyes; it was so important to her, his approval. She was always so proud when he praised her.

"You did wonderfully, Elena." And she had. Her voice held the evidence of the pain she had suffered, but she had held her ground. They hadn't been able to break her, and Tseng had never been prouder of her.

"Do you think we'll make it out of here alive?"

He wanted to lie to her. He wanted to tell her everything was going to be fine, that help was on the way, that their injuries weren't as bad as they seemed.

He couldn't do it.

"It's not looking good, Elena."

He felt her nod against his shoulder. Even that small motion hurt, but he refused to let her know that. He could feel her trembling against him. Whether it was fear, cold, shock, or a combination, he wasn't sure, but he wasn't going to admonish her for the small pain she had caused.

Her hand traced down the length of his arm, finding his and tangling her fingers with his, squeezing slightly.

"I need to tell you something, in case I don't get another chance."

He coughed again. More blood, and he felt like he was fading. He fought against the unconsciousness. It could be important, what she had to say, but she needed to hurry, or he wasn't going to be around to hear it.

"I want you to know I love you, Tseng."

The tears slid from his eyes, as hot on his face as the pain that lanced through his chest, and he gripped her small hand within his just before the world once again faded away.

Elena became aware of heat. It felt like ages since her body was this warm. And she was dry. When had that happened? Someone was touching her, examining her wounds or changing her bandages, she thought, and she could feel the cure materia working through her system. She moved slightly and a male voice calmed her, told her to remain still. She wanted to believe that voice was Tseng, but no, there was something not right about it. It was different, yet familiar, and she simply couldn't place it.

When she woke, opening her eyes just barely, blinking against the soft light that filled the room, she tried to make out something of her surroundings. It was just a room, plain and simple; just a bed with a table and chair in an otherwise empty room. And she was alone.

She managed to sit up, getting to her feet gingerly and made it to the door that connected to another room that was an exact mirror of hers, except it was Tseng stretched out on this bed, still unconscious. That someone had tended to him as well was evident in the fresh bandages and the small balls of materia nearby. She moved closer, listening; his breathing was deep and even, but there was a rasp to it, indicating damage that was still healing.

But he was alive, and if he remembered her confession to him in that dark, dank place, there might now be a chance for more.

Fatigue washed over her. She needed more rest, and as much as she wanted to curl up beside Tseng, she didn't want to disturb him. She turned to return to her own room, and that's when she found a note pinned to the door.

"I did what I could. Vincent."

Of course. The former Turk must have found and rescued them. She would have to remember to thank him.

When Tseng awoke later that day, there was no indication that he had heard or remembered the last words she had said to him. Voicing her feelings to the stoic man had been long overdue, and while she was relieved that she had finally mustered the courage, there was a sharp thread of disappointment in her heart that her admission was to no effect. Tseng seemed focused only on getting back to work and locating Rufus. Maybe this was for the better; she wouldn't have to worry about his rejection.

That had been two weeks ago. Tseng's concern had proven justified as he and Elena had caught up with Rufus in time to cast the nets that caught him, and now that the Remnants had been taken care of and Rufus was back in good health, things had gone as back to normal as they ever did.

Except for that niggling pain in Elena's heart. She found herself avoiding even walking past Tseng's office, and flushed anytime the man was near her. An idea had crept into her mind; maybe he had heard. Maybe he had remembered. And now, his ignoring it was his way of rejection.

She found herself wishing she had never said it, that she could take it back.


She snapped around at the command in Tseng's voice.

"My office, please."

Her heart lodged somewhere up in her throat as she followed him to his office, her mind running scenarios in high speed fast forward. This is when he told her that he had heard, that he knew how she felt and was flattered but didn't feel the same. Or maybe he wasn't flattered; maybe he would reprimand her for her foolishness. Was it her fault they had been captured in the first place? She didn't think so, but maybe something had occurred to Tseng. Or maybe, (Gaia, could she hope?) he was going to tell her he had heard her, that he felt the same, and then take her in his arms…

"Have a seat, Elena."

No, this was definitely not good. She took the offered chair, making a valiant effort to compose herself and stop imagining the worst. Tseng took a seat behind his desk, glancing at his computer screen before speaking.

"Rufus has a gala event this evening. A coming out, if you will. It will be his first steps into society since his recovery."

Elena felt the tension in her shoulders melt a bit. Protect Rufus; she could handle that.

"Who am I partnered with?"

Tseng was momentarily startled, looking up at her, shaking his head.

"You're not going as his bodyguard, Elena. Society is leery of the Shinra name, and Rufus needs someone to attend the event with him. You're going as his escort."

That tension in her shoulders tripled.

"Excuse me?"

"He needs to make a good appearance, and it would be unacceptable for him to arrive without a date."

"Is this an…assignment? Or a request?"

Tilting his head, Tseng steepled his fingers in front of him.

"Both. Rufus requested that I help him out. Giving it to you as an assignment is, I think, the safest option."

Elena nodded. As distasteful as it would be to spend the night on Rufus' arm, she would not refuse an assignment from Tseng.

"You should know I have nothing to wear to this kind of event on such short notice. Or am I supposed to wear my suit?"

A smile blossomed on Tseng's face, and he made no attempt to hide it. Leave it to Elena to ask a question like that, and with such a serious and concerned expression.

"Of course you're not going to wear your suit." He crossed the room to a small closet, and pulled out a garment bag and a small shopping bag. "Rufus has provided for everything. Try it on within the next hour, and let me know if any alterations are needed so I can send Rufus' tailor if necessary. Otherwise, there will be a car waiting outside at seven. Please be prompt."

He handed her the bags and went to open the office door, dismissing her. In a daze, Elena wandered into the hall.

Oh no. A tailor would not be necessary. The dress was perfect, and Elena couldn't quite accept the fact that the woman in the mirror was really her.

As assigned, she emerged from the building at seven prompt in a pale, shimmering gold gown and wrap. It was bright enough to dazzle, but subtle enough to let her blonde hair stand out, and it was the perfect shade to add a warm tone to her pale skin. Sleeveless and corseted on top, the long skirt was full but slit, allowing for a glimpse of slender leg when she walked, and the perfectly matched heels, higher than any she ever had a chance to wear, added inches to her height as they turned her legs to their best advantage. As if the gown were not decadent enough, the emerald bracelet and earrings she had found in velvet-lined boxes in the shopping bag were exquisitely original.

She may have to attend this event on Rufus Shinra's arm, but Tseng was the man she thought of with each article of clothing she donned.

She was handed into the car by a chauffer and found it, surprisingly, empty. Before she had a chance to ask, the chauffer leaned in and explained, "Mr. Shinra will meet you at the door, Miss."

He didn't even know her name. Elena sank back into the seats hoping this would not be an indication of how her night would go.

Rufus was standing on the sidewalk when Elena arrived. As she emerged from the car, Rufus studied her as if he were inspecting a side of beef.

"You clean up surprisingly well, Elena. Tseng said you would, but I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it."

Inwardly, Elena flinched at the veiled insult, but hid it well behind a graceful smile.

"I'll take that as a compliment, Mr. Shinra."

"Rufus. You'll call me Rufus tonight. We don't have much time, so listen carefully. There won't be much expected of you this evening. All you need to do is walk in with me and be available if I need you. You won't have to talk to anyone outside of hello and pleased to meet you. Is that clear? And dance. You can dance, can't you?"

Rufus made her feel like shrinking back into the car. Not that she had figured she would need to do anything more than hang on his arm, but his spelling it out for her made her feel like so much of a bauble, and a possibly incompetent one, at that.

She caught sight of Reno and Rude standing further up on the stairs of the building, and braced herself, dreading what fun they might make of her being dressed like this, convinced that Reno might not let her hear the end of it. Her fears were allayed when Reno turned and did a double-take, smiling genuinely for once.

"Damn, Elena. You're stunning."

Heat flooded her face. "Thanks, Reno." She waited for the other shoe to fall, for him to make some snarky comment about her wearing a dress, but it never happened.

"I need to thank Rufus. He provided the wardrobe."

Reno cocked his head to one side, smiling at her strangely. "Well sure, he paid for it. But it was Tseng who picked it all out."

"Tseng." Surprise, surprise.

"Every last bit of it. Rufus was going to pass it off to one of the secretaries, but Tseng took told him not to bother, that he would take care of it. Went to some special boutique. I didn't think he knew such places existed."

"Elena." Rufus called her to his side, and she took her place beside him and walked into the building, her mind spinning. Surely, Tseng had just had the boutique pick something for her. Knowing him, he probably brought his laptop with her profile, which included everything down to her shoe size.

As they made their entrance into the large room, standing at the top of the stairs, Elena nearly collapsed with the anxiety. Was she really up to this? Wouldn't everyone see right through the façade?

Rufus dropped her arm to remove his coat, and Reno stepped up to take her wrap, leaning in to whisper in her ear.

"Relax, Elena. You look like a princess."

She felt like one, too. She surveyed the crowd of people, hoping to find the one person she would like to be her prince.

"Tseng isn't here?"

"He had some business to take care of." Rufus had returned and led her into the room, the Turks trailing them at a distance.

Tseng observed from across the grand room. He had been right; the gown was perfect. Elena was absolutely resplendent, and the emeralds had been just the right touch. Rufus hadn't authorized the jewelry. No, that had been Tseng's idea, and like the gown, he had hand selected the pieces, but had put them on his own credit card, not the company card.

That was his gift to Elena.

He hadn't wanted to give her this assignment to begin with. Yes, it was the best option. Rufus needed someone to go with him, but it needed to be someone that could be trusted, and, though he doubted it would come up, it needed to be someone capable of defending him. He would have given anything to have another female Turk to ask, but Elena was the only option.

He had heard and remembered the last words she had whispered to him, and as he sank into oblivion, he had prayed he would live so he could acknowledge those feelings. When things returned to normal, however, Elena had turned inward, avoiding him, and he had let it go. Maybe it had been a melodramatic blunder on her part in the heat of the moment, and now she regretted it, realized she didn't really feel that way.

Or maybe he had imagined it all, or dreamt it.

In the interests of not creating any more awkward tension, he had let it drop. Now he looked out over the crowd at the woman, and knew that somehow, some way, he would have to find the truth.

Rufus hadn't been lying when he said there wouldn't be much expected of her. Even in the dancing department, he led her to the floor once, and after that, took up the company of other women he seemed to be familiar with. Not more than a half hour into the evening, he had made it clear that Elena's usefulness was done, and while this could have been an evening of magic despite her assignment, Elena hadn't been given the opportunity to enjoy it, and was now left feeling little more than an overdressed wallflower. Adding insult to injury, this wallflower had ears. Wandering the crowd, she picked up tidbits of conversations concerning Shinra, Rufus in particular; they always stopped as Elena came close. Elena wondered if it was simply because she was with Rufus, or if they knew more about it.

Her question was answered when a large, older man asked her to dance. She didn't like the idea; there was something about him that made her want to ignore him, but as she looked around for an excuse, she caught Rufus' eye and he nodded at the man, face stern, and Elena knew she had no choice.

No sooner had the man led her to the floor, he addressed what had clearly attracted him to her.

"You must confirm for me a rumor I have heard this evening."

Elena turned inquiring eyes up to him.

"What have you heard?"

"The word about is that you are a Turk. Is that true?"

Rufus hadn't covered the base of what to do if someone recognized her for what she was. Should she lie, act ignorant, or go with the truth. She decided coy might be the best option.

"Really sir, do I look like a Turk to you?"

His laughter was dark, and left her feeling rather disgusted.

"I've heard the Turks employ a variety of people. I've also heard they are talented in a variety of…skills." As if the suggestive tone were not enough to convey his meaning, he was leaning into her, drawing her closer. Elena bit down on the panic, putting her hands between them to maintain distance, but he refused to release her. Elena kept the struggle minimal, knowing that it would not reflect well if she made a scene; all she had to do was get away.

"Excuse me, sir. May I cut in?"

Elena hadn't seen Tseng approach, but there he was, taking her hand and intervening himself neatly between her and the disgusting creature she had been dancing with. He swept her around the dance floor in measured steps, clearly adept at dancing.

"Thank you, Tseng."

"He was out of line. You don't deserve that."

She thought he would excuse himself from the dance now that his rescue had succeeded, but she was not to be disappointed.

"This is a beautiful gown. Thank you for choosing it."

"It is nothing less than your beauty deserves."

Her heart nearly stopped, and then picked up a racing rhythm. Tseng was being polite and charming, and she could easily imagine it meant so much more. Tseng adjusted his hand against her back, and through the laces at her back, cinching the corseted top, Elena could feel the warmth of his fingers and palm against her flesh. He was holding her so close, guiding her in the dance with such graceful ease, and she was inundated with the scent of him, the presence of him. Tseng broke the spell.

"If you're feeling calmer now, I'm going to return you to Mr. Hart."

"You can't!" Her eyes were wide. Tseng had just defended her actions; now he was going to throw her back to the wolves. This night had become a nightmare, one that she was completely unprepared to handle. She hadn't realized how sensitive she would be to the feelings stirring within her.

She would have protested, but they were nearing the other man, and she broke from Tseng's grasp to move away, retreating quickly to the ladies room, the only place she could imagine a woman could take refuge.

She had breathed a sigh of relief as the door shut behind her, closing her into the frilly, flower scented room, but her reprieve was short-lived as the door swung open and Tseng appeared silhouetted in the frame. He took in the room, nodded at the two women that had been perusing their hair and makeup in the mirror, and spoke in a quiet tone.

"If you would excuse us, Ladies, we need a moment."

Elena wanted to grab them and hold them in the room with her, but she knew it would do no good. When they had exited, Tseng closed the door, checking the bathroom to make sure there were no other occupants. Then he turned his rapt attention on Elena, his expression serious and forbidding.

"We can't have any breach of behavior mar this evening for Mr. Shinra, Elena."

"Oh, please, Tseng. You obviously heard what he said to me. Even Rufus didn't expect me to sleep with him. Am I expected to..."

"You are expected to go out there and apologize, offer to finish the dance you started, and politely refuse any advance you find unacceptable."

Elena dropped her head into her hands. "I can't Tseng. This night has been…I can't do this. I need to get out of here."

This was so unlike Elena. Although she didn't always excel, she always took her job seriously and applied herself completely. Tseng wondered if Hart's behavior had been something Elena had never experienced, or if there was something else weighing on Elena's mind. In either case, her distress was obvious and escalating, neither of which could be allowed.

"What's the trouble Elena?"

The soft concern in his voice was her undoing. This wasn't about her being a Turk; this was about her being a woman, and she wanted him to understand that.

"What would you want me to say, Tseng? You want me to tell you how used I feel? How I have on this beautiful gown and jewelry and how this is an evening a woman should enjoy, but instead I am a convenient escort? I know I'm nothing more than payroll to Rufus Shinra, Tseng, but no one should be treated like this. I shouldn't have had to come here alone, and I shouldn't have to leave alone, and I understand that this is not a real date, but he didn't have to go out of his way to make me feel like trash. And worse, I feel if I had come with…" She managed to stop before she explained more than she should have. It was too late.

"If you had come with whom?" Tseng was mere feet away from her and she again found herself struggling to think straight.

"When I arrived tonight, Reno said I looked like a princess. If I had come here with the man of my choosing, I think he would have treated me as such. I think he would have been a gentleman, made me feel worthy, and I think he would never have traded me off to some business associate like a common whore. And I think he would never have left me to make my way home alone."

There. She had said it and she believed every word of it, and if she had sounded whiney and self-centered, she felt she was entitled, and had at least managed to not set herself up for rejection.

"Who would you have chosen, Elena?" Tseng thought he knew the answer; hoped he wasn't wrong.

Oh, no. She couldn't answer that, and she couldn't come up with a lie fast enough. Alarms went off in her head. Damn him, why was he cornering her like this?

"I can't…" she tried to admit. His hand was on her wrist, preventing her from hiding her face.

"Tell me."

There was no lying, not to his face, not with him so close, and she couldn't keep it a secret any longer. The single word answer came out hardly a whisper.


Tseng sighed, his hope confirmed.

"That's what I thought." So this wasn't about how some associate of Rufus' had treated her. This was Elena, whose sensibilities as a woman, not a Turk, had been offended.

Elena was sure he would be full of quiet words of admonishment, and a tear that she had managed to hold back until now slipped loose at the thought. His reaction, however, was more than she had hoped for, and certainly not what she expected.

He stepped into her, backing her to the wall, and when she couldn't retreat any further, he raised a hand to cradle her face, his thumb skimming over her lower lip and then wiping the stray tears from her cheeks. If he had his way, he would never see tears on her face again. He would certainly never be the cause of them. He lowered his head till his cheek was nearly touching hers.

"Did you mean it, Elena? What you said that night, in the dark, in the cold? Or did you just say it because you thought we were both going to die?"

The tears came harder at his acknowledgement of her words, and it took her long seconds before she could speak to confirm them.

"I had to say them because I didn't think I would get another chance, because I wanted you to know how I felt. I meant them, every word."

"Say them again."

"I love you Tseng."

He closed his eyes against the emotion those words evoked.

"Whatever else happens tonight, Elena, I can assure you that unless you choose it, you will most certainly not go home alone." He used his hand to turn her head to meet his lips.

He was gentle, his lips grazing hers softly, almost as if seeking permission. His fingers were caressing her cheek, her chin, her hair, and his body was closing the distance between them, pressing into hers until it was evident that he was interested in more than a simple kiss. His other hand was skimming up the length of one arm, those fingers finding the ridge of her bare collar bone, tickling the skin there, dipping into the gentle hollows there.

Breathing, thinking, moving; they were all out of the question when he broke the kiss. She had told him she loved him. He had kissed her. He had offered more. But, as always, his close proximity addled her brain, and left her completely speechless.

Two fingers under her chin drew her gaze to his.

"You have to go out there and do your job, Elena. You're a Turk first tonight. Once you've made your apologies, make your excuses, and there will be a car waiting for you outside."

The car was waiting, as he had promised, and this ride was entirely different from the earlier ride of the evening. Tseng was sitting beside her, reaching over to curl her hand in his and hold it on his knee. She couldn't seem to do much else but stare at those two hands, locked together, but the warmth spiraling through her from where their hands were connected was a source of wonder.

"What are you thinking, Elena?"

He was smiling down at her, a combination of curiosity, amusement, and a sweet, dark hunger. Elena could hardly believe that smile was for her.

"I really do feel like a princess right now."

When they reached Shinra Headquarters, Elena realized he hadn't returned her to her apartment after all. Instead he led her through the private entrance to his own quarters, and for the first time, she was welcomed into the immaculate apartment. The furniture was sparse but tasteful, exactly as she had pictured it, but when she turned to compliment Tseng, the expression on his face took the words from her.

"Would you like a drink?"

The only thing she wanted was Tseng.

"I want you to tell me this is real, that I'm not dreaming."

He took her wrap from her, draping it over the back of a nearby chair, and skimmed long, tapered fingers along the smooth, tender skin of her arms.

"Let me show you." His hands slid around her shoulders, hot against the bare flesh of her back, as he drew her to him.

Over the years of secretly yearning for him, Elena had often seen Tseng drop his stern, serious façade. There was a man in there who was compassionate and understanding, who could bend the rules when he had to, when he knew it mattered, who cared for others, who had his own private yearnings. She treasured each of those instances; they lasted only seconds, but they gave her hope that someday that expression might be meant for her. It never had been, until this moment. He was still the same intense Tseng that she knew, and it occurred to her that he would be as intense in love as he was in everything else. Now, however, there was something softer in his expression as he drew her near, something open and sensitive, tender. It was almost intimidating to be this close to him and know that the feelings she saw reflected on his face were now for her.

When his lips met hers, the hard line of his mouth melted into hers, gentle and demanding at the same time. Parting her lips, she breathed him in, a spicy mixture of fragrances that overwhelmed her senses: The shampoo he had used, which she was so familiar with; the cologne he was wearing, which she was not familiar with; the heady scent of a vodka martini lingering on his breath. His mouth lingered on hers, his lips testing the texture of hers, his tongue dabbing and swiping at the sensitive skin until she was leaning into him, her knees no longer able to hold her, and then he lifted her, crushing her to him, and his tongue finally delved deeper into the recesses of her mouth, sweeping long slow strokes within as he tasted her.

Elena was past thought, unaware of her surroundings now, aware only of this man holding her and the light-headed pleasure she was drowning in. He was carrying her, she thought, but wasn't sure until her feet once again touched the floor. She whimpered as he broke the kiss.

His hand came up to frame her face, caress one delicate cheek, and then he turned her in place, and she felt his fingers, warm and confident, against the skin of her back, as he methodically loosened the laces of her gown. It was a painfully slow experience; the fabric of the dress had become constrictive and suffocating, and Elena had to control the urge pull the laces and wriggle out of it herself.

"Please…" Was that her voice? She didn't recognize it, the desperation in it, the pleading, the desire. She could feel, finally, the laces loosening, and the brush of his fingers as he pulled the fabric, lowering it from her body, sliding it over the slight swell of her hips, letting it fall at her feet. His hands skimmed up her narrow waist, tickling over her ribs, then came around her to press firmly against her belly and the tender spot beneath her ribs, drawing her back into his embrace.

Burying his face in the crook of her neck, Tseng inhaled deeply the scent of a delicately scented soap and sexual arousal. This was Elena, one of his Turks, a woman who had cared for him for…how long?

"How long, Elena? How long have you wanted me?"

He flexed his fingers against her skin. Elena had to breathe deeply, evenly, to concentrate.

"I was having trouble with the kickback on the gun, and you came down to the range and held my arm while I fired, told me to let my body absorb the impact. You were holding me almost like this."

He slid the lower hand till it skimmed along the edge of frilly underwear.

"You were still training." He remembered it as if it were yesterday. He hadn't thought it would be that vivid. He couldn't believe it had been that long ago.

"Yes." Her hips wanted to press back into him and forward into his hand at the same time.

"All these years; why didn't you say anything?"

"I…don't know. You're my boss. You didn't seem interested; your interests were in another."

That had been true. Elena would never forget the pain of witnessing the play of emotions on Tseng's face as he kept watch over the Cetran.

Tseng hadn't thought anyone had known of his infatuation. It had never been more than that, and it seemed like a lifetime ago, and he…

"I was a fool."

A palm found her breast, cradled it, molded it in a firm grasp; released it to circle his palm over the hardened nipple.

Her head falling back against his shoulder, her mouth dropping open in a gasp, Elena felt the illicit caress deep within the center of her body, building the tension, and again as he repeated the action, drawing a moan from her, adding to the tightening ache.

He turned her, lifting her from the layers of fabric that lay around her feet, and took the remaining step to place her on the edge of the bed. As he stepped back, Elena's fingers dug into the fabric of a soft, thick quilt, a luxury she would not have attributed to Tseng. She looked down to find it not black, as she had first thought, but a deep, midnight blue.

A whisper of fabric brought her attention back to Tseng. The jacket to his tux was now in his hand, and he was retrieving her gown from the floor. With long strides, he hung both in a nearby closet, removed his shoes, and then circled the room, lowering the lights, lighting a few candles, leaving Elena awash in the pale glow, her creamy skin gleaming in the soft light.

He couldn't take his eyes from her, couldn't believe he had denied himself this for so long.

Elena watched him as if entranced in a dream.

When he returned to the bedside, his shirt was unbuttoned to his waist, exposing a lean V of smooth chest and stomach. Elena's hand was drawn to that skin, and Tseng's hands stilled as hers slid beneath the fabric, along the rigid planes of his stomach, pushing the fabric aside. When it wouldn't go any further, she withdrew her hand to tackle the clasp and zipper of his pants, and then the last buttons of the shirt so she could run both hands down his body. She heard the intake of breath as she let her nails rake softly against his skin, and she glanced up to find his head bowed, his eyes closed as he swayed into her touch. Raising her hands to his cheeks, the first time she had touched his face, she drew him down to kiss her, and he laced his fingers through her hair to hold her in place. As he kissed her, her hands wandered down his body, pulling at the loosened waist of his pants, letting them slide away, and then looping her fingers in the band of his boxers, careful of the rigid proof of his desire as she slipped them off as well.

She flushed at the sight of him naked before her. Tight and lean, this was a body she had been pressed against on more than one occasion during missions, always with layers of clothes between them, but he was as she had envisioned him; strong shoulders tapering down into a long, narrow waist, muscles and bone structure well defined, his thick sex elegantly arched in need. She wrapped a hand around the heated length of him and stroked the plush tip against her cheek, feeling a drop of moisture smooth against her skin. She pressed her lips to where that fluid had leaked, relishing the small growl that it drew from his throat. His hands came up to remove her from her fascination, and he lowered her to the bed.

Lifting one foot, then the other, he removed her shoes, running a thumb down each instep as he did so. The muscles in her legs froze in anticipation as he ran his hands down each leg to remove the thigh-high stockings, and then quivered as his hands returned, this time smoothing over bare skin. He climbed on the bed to kneel above her, and very slowly, gracefully, sank down beside her.

His hands. She had known the power of his hands, the strength of them, had marveled at the sight of them wrapped around cold steel, sighed in comfort as they had tended to her when she was injured. Now they were on her, grazing over her flesh, massaging occasionally, drawing her, inevitably, to arch into his touch. Her hands followed his, attempting to cool the flashing heat left in his wake, tangling with his, drawing them where she wanted them most. Practically thrashing beside him, incoherent mewling sounds emanating from her throat, she pushed her hips into his hand as it slid up her inner thigh and came to rest over the last bit of lacey fabric that covered her. Passion glazed eyes slid open to meet his.

"Please, Tseng."

His fingers slid under and past the lace, stroking the damp flesh, then dipping deep within, drawing a cry from her.

It wasn't enough. It would never be enough. Not for either of them.

His mouth claimed her skin, licking, tasting her, as his fingers set a languorous rhythm, driving her further even as he withheld what she would need for release. As her body threatened to go over the edge, he drew back, removing his fingers, letting her settle back into the plush bedding. Her sigh was somewhere between relief and frustration.

Tseng took time, removing the impeding bit of cloth, letting her body simmer as she watched him with eyes gone dark and passionately fierce. He imagined his eyes matched hers if they showed even half of what he was experiencing. Making love to this woman, now knowing her feelings, recognizing his own, was intoxicating.

He kneeled between her legs, committing to memory the sight of her body stretched out before him, pale, glowing skin and blonde hair magnificent against the deep blue of the quilt. She trusted him. She had always trusted him. Why had it taken him this long to see her, to understand what she meant to him? She had been there, in front of him, caring for him, loving him, since she had trained as a Turk. And he had what? Refused to see it, refused to acknowledge it, the tender expressions of concern, the way she covertly watched him, the way she blushed when he caught her unaware. The wounded expression he had seen in her eyes, but didn't understand, when he had watched over Aeris.

He had hurt her, caused her pain, without even knowing about it, without thinking about it. He would never be the cause of that again.

Falling forward to catch himself on his arms, he brushed swollen, masculine against slick feminine flesh.

"I didn't ever, don't ever want to hurt you, Elena."

A flash of confusion crossed her face as she tried to process his words. He had never intentionally hurt her and she knew he never would. Tangling one hand in the long strands of jet hair and whispering the other down his chest, over his abs, curling it around his hips, she drew him into a deep kiss as she drew him into her body.

"You won't," she whispered into his mouth. Wrapping herself around him, drawing him deeper, she reassured him, not with words but with her body, and took the same from his.

Deliberate, thoughtful, methodical. Intense. They were all words Elena associated with Tseng, and in making love to her, he did not fail. In slow, measured strokes, he brought her to the edge of passion repeatedly, only to cease his ministrations as she reached the precipice. The unsatisfied pleasure, the unfulfilled expectation had the typically practical woman writhing and pleading beneath him, and only when she was wrung and incoherent with the pleasure did he deepen his thrusts, pushing them past their final point of endurance into a wrenching release that left her drained and semi-conscious. Arranging her to curl within the curve of her body and pulling the blanket over them, he held her as they drifted into sated sleep.

Sometime during the dark hours of the morning, Elena blinked her eyes open to flickering candlelight and turned within Tseng's relaxed embrace to face him. As she lovingly pushed a strand of silken hair from his face, he woke, and, for the first time, she watched the man she loved awaken. He smiled at her softly and lifted his head slightly to gently kiss her.

"What happens now?" Her voice was quiet, but her words rang clear in the still room.

He reached for her, stroking a hand down her neck. She took that hand in hers, holding it steady.

"I mean tomorrow, Tseng. What happens tomorrow?" While she didn't want the fairy tale to end, she was a realist. She had to know how, if, this was going to work.

The change of expression on his face made her wish she hadn't asked. That bit of reality had brought back his stern demeanor.

"You'll remember your place, Elena." He was speaking softly, gently, but her heart nearly burst at what sounded like a reprimand. "You're a Turk, and I'm your boss. That means when you are working that you are focused and follow my orders and do what must be done to get the mission accomplished, no matter how distasteful."

She knew that and she understood it. It was the truth of what they were, but she would not let it get in the way of being with Tseng, if he would allow it.

"However," he continued, "when we're not in the office, when we're not at Shinra's beck and call, that's a different matter." These words removed any sting his practical advice might have left. "I claimed a princess tonight, Elena. I would ask that she remain as mine."

Elena felt the words tug at her heart, a dream come true. "I've always been yours, Tseng."

In the dimming shimmer of the candles, the shadows finally falling to darkness, so different from a cold night not so long ago, when she had admitted her long-felt, but unreturned love for him, Tseng held her close, luxuriating in the warm comfort of her body, her love, and spoke tenderly the words he had not yet given voice to.

"And my heart is now yours, Elena. I love you, Princess."