Chapter 4

A/N: Here at last.

"Ruffy...?" the blancmange croaked.

"Rufus," Rufus replied. Tseng had to hand it to him; there weren't many guys (could Rufus be described as a 'guy?') who could maintain an aura of dignity and silent menace while trapped in a tangle of limbs on the floor. "And Tseng. Say hello, Tseng."

"Hello." Tseng sat up and looked the woman straight in the eye. "It's a pleasure to meet you, ma'am." He was not going to let Rufus get his petty revenge.

"Hello, er, Sun," came the reply. Tseng restrained an instinctive wince as the woman arranged her face into a lightless smile. "Are you a friend of Ruffy's?"

"After a fashion." The waves of fury now emanating from Rufus were some compensation for the embarrassment. "He can be a little difficult to get on with sometimes- can't we all- but the trick, I find, is perseverance."

The blancmange laughed and wobbled down onto the sofa by the window. Rufus made a sound that could have been mistaken for a growl.

"Well, that's a relief! To tell you the truth, I was starting to despair of the boy!"

"Ah, ma'am, I know the exact same feeling. It's one of those..." Tseng trailed off. Rufus was watching him. Being watched by Rufus felt like a cross between having one's mind read and having it ripped into pieces by a hungry mu. "... It's hard to find the words, I mean..."

"Oh, no, I know exactly how you feel, trust me!" the blancmange gave another icy, tinkling laugh. "But then I always say that you get out what you put in, and there's no excuse for letting children like yourselves suffer because of circumstances beyond your control, you know? It's a responsibility, no, a duty to show children like Ruffikins some love and compassion, because otherwise, we release monsters into the world, don't you agree?"

Tseng felt extremely uncomfortable. Rufus' eyes were glittering.

"Well, Tseng?" the boy prompted. "What do you say to that?"

"I..." Tseng tried to collect his thoughts and ignore the static. "I think..." Why did this always happen? What kind of a Turk was he? "I think... we should love for the sake of loving."

Rufus roared with uncontrollable laughter. It was frightening to watch.

And he's going to take it out on me later when he feels embarrassed about losing his composure.

Tseng tried not to let his shoulders slump as the blancmange fixed him with a penetrating glare, paying proper attention to him for the first time.

"Do go on," she said, and there was a definite curl to her lip.

"We'd have world peace in an instant," Tseng replied, trying to turn it into a dry joke. The lip curled further; the blancmange was no fool. He cursed inwardly.

You should not be a Turk you should be out there in the green forests of Mideel hugging every last tree and kissing the cockatrices you idiot.

"How charming!" The blancmange gave another icy smile. "Speaking of charming, I do like your suit."

Could today get any worse?

Out of the corner of his eye, Tseng looked at Rufus. Rufus, having (naturally) anticipated the look, replied with a blank stare that crowed 'I told you so', 'you are an idiot' and 'get some self-control' simultaneously. That blank stare was met with narrowed eyes, which were, in turn, met with twitching lips and another blank stare, this time of the 'oh well, no harm done' variety. This, above all, irritated Tseng.

"So, Ruffy!" the blancmange clapped her hands. "You will be thrilled to hear that I have a special treat for you today!"

"Words cannot express my delight," replied Rufus, and with a slight sigh, he sat up. Tseng tried and failed to detach himself as the wave of gloom, resignation and utter misery crashed over him. Being around Rufus was often like having a bat flying around inside his head.

No, really, what the hell is wrong with me.

"Come on, up, up!" the woman gestured at Rufus. Tseng noted that even as her arm stretched out, her shoulders recoiled and she twisted a little to the side in obvious repulsion. "Come and sit on my lap, my pretty little popinjay!"

"No," said Rufus.

There was an awkward silence.

"Ruffy..."

"Get to the point," Rufus cut in. "What do you want and what's in it for me?"

That's probably what he says on dates...

The woman was silent for a moment, arm still outstretched. Then the arm lowered, the smile vanished, and the layers of the dress shifted, seemingly deflating, as she sat up straight. Shoulders back, eyes dead, jutting chin and one of the most violent, bristling auras Tseng had ever sensed: the woman bared her teeth. Beside him, Tseng felt Rufus relax a little.

Trust him to prefer a dragon breathing flame to a dragon pretending to be a zemzelet.

"If you think you have any power right now, think again," each word made shock waves. "It's not a question of what I want you to do; it's what you are going to do. Understand so far?"

Rufus' face was inscrutable. "Perhaps."

The woman tensed for a moment, her eyes flicking around on impulse for something to chuck at the boy. Tseng noticed the ghost of a smile on Rufus' lips and a tiny shake of the head. Tseng frowned. Honestly, sometimes his friend was very patronising. Then again, that was probably the intention. He sighed as the woman took a deep breath, regained a little composure (although her nostrils still flared) and pressed on.

"My niece-"

"No."

"You don't-"

"I do."

"Don't-"

"Don't embarrass yourself."

The woman clapped her hands together. "If that's-"

"I warned you." Rufus' shoulders twitched; his equivalent of a shrug. He got to his feet. "If that's all, I'm going. Coming, Tseng? I'm anxious to mingle, and there are plenty of young men for your delectation."

Tseng was saved the effort of responding as the woman leapt to her feet.

"You're not leaving this room."

"No?" Rufus sounded amused. The woman glared, strode in front of the door and then turned to face him, folding her arms.

"No."

"And what if I try to push past?" Rufus' lips twitched.

"Your father will hear of it. He'll make you cry."

Tseng restrained a snort. Rufus took a step back, eyebrows raised. "My, my, my! But what if..." He put a hand in his pocket and pulled out a sizeable rock. "... I throw this?"

The woman's lip curled as Rufus put a little more distance between the pair of them in order to adjust his aim. "I wouldn't advise it," she said.

"Pity," said Rufus, and for the second time that day, Tseng grabbed his ankle as he made a leap for the window.

"You must think I was born yesterday," said Tseng.

"We should love for the sake of loving," replied Rufus.

...

The blancmange and her attractive blonde niece were sitting on the same sofa. Tseng was standing by the table. Rufus was sitting on it.

"It's no use; I won't change my mind," Rufus said with a shrug. A large shrug. His voice was a little higher than usual, too. Tseng sighed. While it was true that these women had brought Rufus' wrath upon themselves, he couldn't help but think that his friend was being childish.

Sure enough, both women exchanged a quick look, eyes lighting. Tseng was always amazed at the way people continually underestimated Rufus.

"Aunty, I don't think... I think we may be wasting our time," the blonde woman sighed, pouting. Tseng shook himself slightly (although Rufus had already noticed, dammit). She slid to her feet, flowed over to the table and touched Rufus' elbow; Rufus shivered. "Oh well, it was interesting meeting you."

"And you, Scarlet," Rufus replied, voice an octave higher and cheeks ever-so-slightly pink. The girl, sensing opportunity, brought her lips to his ear.

"I mean it," she murmured. "To be honest, I'm glad you're not keen; you're still a little young for me, but give it a few years. I'll wait."

"You'll be waiting a long time," said Rufus with a petulant scowl and furious blush. The women left. The scowl and blush vanished in a blink.

Make the worthless think they're wanted, and they won't bother with as strong a defence. Saves headaches further down the line when it's prudent to have them destroyed. Fools assume, and an arrogant sociopath is a predictable fool. Pretend to hide a limp and they'll think you have a bad leg.

Tseng sighed.

...

A/N: I'm actually curious about what method Rufus used to make himself blush. Emotion memory? Generating pressure? Dirty thoughts about Tseng? The mind boggles.