Sorry for the long delay, once again. But - at last - it's finished!

Thank you so much to everyone who has read, reviewed and/or favourited this fic. It means a great deal. This is the first longish fic I've actually finished. Thank you all for your support and patience.

As Licoriceallsorts so rightly pointed out, it seemed unfair to leave poor Rude and Elena doing nothing but playing cards - so there's a little Rude/Elena here. But this is primarily a yaoi fic, so I'm afraid I've had to leave the details of what they get up to to your (I'm sure active) imaginations... If you'd like me to write it in a separate fic, I could...

This is also the first threesome I've ever written. It was hard ^^. I hope I've managed to, er, pull it off...

Warnings: mainly male people having sex in twos and threes. What can I say?

Elena set down her cards with a little smile, and looked up at Rude. Her smile widened to a triumphant grin. "Straight flush! I win!"

Rude nodded, and pushed the pile of Gil across the coffee table without resentment. "When did you get so good at poker? You must've been spending too much time with Reno."

"No – I've hardly seen him lately. The Boss keeps sending him on these really boring missions…"

"Hm. Rufus…" Rude began.

"Rufus what?"

Rude shook his head slowly. "No. I'm probably wrong."

"Oh, come on Rude. You can't start saying something interesting and then just stop! What about Rufus? Something to do with Reno?"

Rude said nothing. Elena looked at him carefully, but his poker face was back in place, and pretty much unreadable.

"Okay. Then I'm going to guess…"

"It's nothing."

"So tell me!"


"Okay." Elena got to her feet, and wandered in the direction of the kitchen. "Nother beer?"

"Yeah – thanks."

Elena returned with two opened bottles and handed one to Rude, setting her own down on the coffee table. Lacing her fingers behind her back she stretched, muscles tired from sitting in one position playing cards for the last two hours. Rude tried not to notice the way her back arched; the intriguing pull of her dove-grey silk top over high, nicely rounded breasts; her neat form.

Shiva, he thought, I need to get laid! Damn car… Not good when you start looking at your colleagues. No wonder Reno was… sorting himself out, earlier. I wonder if Rufus…"

"Did Reno do something to piss Rufus off?" Elena asked, turning quickly to observe Rude's response. But Rude only shook his head, unflustered. "No more than usual, as far as I know."

"No…" Elena looked thoughtful. "In fact, the Boss seemed quite pleased about winning that bet. What was all that stuff about really? With the plants?"

"I'm not sure. Just Reno being Reno probably. He has a low boredom threshold."

"Hmm." Elena perched on the edge of the coffee table and picked up her beer. Head on one side, she looked at Rude, eyes narrowed. "Okay, big guy, how much of an interrogation is this going to have to be?"

Rude leaned forward, hands clasped together, and returned Elena's gaze, his own eyes barely visible behind the dark lenses of his glasses.

"Your eyes are brown, but your sister's are green aren't they?" he asked.

"Huh. She'd say aquamarine. I've always thought of them as more grey-green. Like pond water. Or sludge. Reno's are aquamarine."

"Women always like Reno's eyes."

Elena shook her head. "Not me. I mean, they're pretty, but I prefer dark eyes."

"Like the Director's?"

Elena tossed her head, but there was no real discontent behind the gesture. "Again? Doesn't that line of teasing ever get old for you and Reno?"


Elena sighed. "I did have a bit of a crush on Tseng. I admit it, okay? Back when I was a rookie, and he was just so…" Elena's expression softened for a moment. "But I grew out of it. Anyway – does Tseng even have sex? He hardly ever comes out with the rest of us – and even when he does, I've never seen him leave with anyone."

"Whatever the Director does, he does discretely."

"True." Elena smiled. "He's like anti-Reno. I can't remember when Reno ever came out with us and didn't leave with someone! And as for the Boss…"

It was the tiniest of responses – a mere twitch of the eyebrows, and a sudden moment of stillness – but Elena pounced on it instantly. "I knew it! That's what you were going to say – something about Rufus' sex life!" Then she frowned, puzzled. "But what's that got to do with Re – NO!"

Rude had never seen such a perfect caricature of disbelief. Elena's mouth had fallen open in an astonished O. In spite of her comical expression, Rude found himself thinking that she had a very pretty mouth, even now, gaping like a goldfish. Without pausing to think, he put one finger gently under her chin and tilted her jaw up so that her mouth closed. Her lips looked soft, their coral pink shade natural, he thought. Elena rarely wore much makeup, even on their evenings out; her delicate colouring didn't need it. Rude wondered what it would be like to kiss her, then tried to make himself concentrate on what she was saying, because kissing Elena would definitely be a bad idea. Wouldn't it? He was sure it would – but at this precise moment, he couldn't seem to remember why.


"Um – yes. Sorry…"

"I said, 'You can't seriously think there's anything going on between Rufus and Reno!' I mean – Reno? Come on! He always leaves bars and clubs with women."

"Almost always. But that's not what I was going to say. I think Rufus has… I don't know what you'd call it. A crush? I know it doesn't sound like the Boss…"

"You think Rufus has a crush on Reno? No way!"

"Rufus watches him – all the time – when he thinks no one's looking." Rude didn't say any more, but he remembered an incident two weeks ago, when he'd been getting a photo from a file in the corner of the office. He'd been quiet, because Reno was asleep on the battered couch, having been up all night on a surveillance mission watching some quack doctor who'd claimed to have found a cure for geostigma, and who was fleecing desperate people in Edge. Rufus wanted him under surveillance until he was sure that the potion the guy was selling was definitely a dud. Half hidden behind the clutter of desks, crouched by the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, Rude had seen Rufus open the office door. He'd been about to greet the boss, when Rufus had caught sight of Reno, and the look on his face had stopped Rude dead. Rufus had stayed motionless by the door as seconds ticked by, gazing at Reno with a look of naked hunger that was a shocking contrast to his normally carefully guarded expression. Then the Boss had let out a long breath, and turned away, closing the office door quietly behind him. Rude had waited a few seconds before straightening with a soft curse and stretching the cramp out of his left calf muscle.

"You must be imagining it!" Elena told him. "Rufus and Reno? No! No, no, no."

"I'm not imagining it. I'm sure Rufus wants Reno. I don't know if Reno knows, or what he'd do about it if he did."

"Don't tell him! At best it would make things awkward. At worst we'd never hear the end of it. Reno's bad enough just thinking all the women fancy him – imagine what he'd be like if he thought all the guys did too!"

"I'm not going to tell him."

"Good." Elena sipped her beer, and moved to sit next to Rude on the sofa. "Just 'cause he's easy on the eye, Reno thinks he can get away with anything!"

"You think Reno's easy on the eye?" Rude raised his eyebrows and Elena laughed. "Yes, sure. If you like that pretty-boy look. Personally, I wouldn't want a guy who spends longer on his hair than I do."

"Well – I guess that would make me your ideal man then," Rude observed, with a small, self-deprecating smile.

Elena turned and looked him up and down, head on one side, smiling. "Yes – pretty much the complete package. Shame we're colleagues. And I'm hardly your ideal woman, am I? Kind of lacking in Tifa Lockheart-style assets…"

Rude groaned. "Don't bring that up!"

"You mentioned Tseng first. Your Tifa crush was at least as big as my Tseng one!"

"Okay, you're right. But… that was a long time ago, like you said. Back when you were just a rookie who couldn't keep a secret to save her life."

"Hey!" Elena set down her beer bottle, noticing with some surprise, that it was empty. "That's not true!"

"And I quote: 'Rude and I will go after Sephiroth, who's heading for Junon Harbour'…"

"Oh give me a fucking break! Didn't I get enough stick from Tseng for that? And then the pair of you - nonstop. You know, last time we went into Edge I had the, 'Hey – where're we heading, Laney?' line from Reno, and two seconds later you get in the car and it's, 'So – where is it we're heading Elena? Exactly?' And then Reno winds the window down: 'Make sure you say it loud enough Laney – or Strife might not hear you!' I mean, I wouldn't mind – but Reno wasn't even there!"

Rude nodded. "I guess we do lay it on a bit thick. But it was funny." Looking at her thoughtfully, Rude added, "You know – swearing doesn't suit you."

"What? Oh – so first you endlessly take the piss out of me for talking too much, and now you're telling me how to talk as well?"

"No – didn't mean that. It's just…"

Elena knew that Rude and Reno loved winding her up to watch the inevitable reaction. One of the things she had found so compelling about Tseng from the start was the way he always seemed so calm – although since those early days she had seen him lose his temper on a handful of occasions. Rude shared the Director's generally unflappable nature, while Elena always found it difficult to hide her feelings. Aware that she was on the edge of being drunk, and trying hard to keep a dignified demeanour, she looked at Rude and said, "It's just what? Because I'm a woman?"

"No. Plenty of women curse a blue streak. You should have heard Scarlet in the old days whenever anyone crossed her. It's… just not your style."

"Right. And what is my style, exactly, Rude?"

Rude knew the danger signs: Elena's golden-brown eyes were very bright, and her pale cheeks were touched with a faint rosy flush that would darken when she got really angry. She was sitting up straight, shoulders back, in a confrontational pose that made it difficult for Rude to keep his eyes on her face.

"You're more… I don't know. You're just… better than that."

"Oh!" That hadn't been at all what she was expecting. She relaxed, just a fraction, looking at Rude curiously, uncertain. "You want to be careful," she told him with a little smile that didn't quite match the expression in her eyes. "That almost sounded like a compliment."

"Hm. I think it was one."

"Right." Elena looked down at her hands, and Rude's eyes followed her gaze. Tiny hands, Rude thought – deceptively fragile-looking. He knew from experience the kind of punch Elena could deliver: she hadn't won all those elite emblems at the academy for nothing. Her fingers were pale and slender, the neatly filed, unvarnished nails delicate and pink as the translucent shells scattered along the tide line in Costa del Sol. Without giving himself time to think about it, Rude took Elena's right hand in his own, stroking his thumb over her knuckles. Elena didn't move – didn't object – only watched, registering the difference in scale between them - the way his thumb was longer than her whole hand was wide – noticing the pleasing contrast between the caramel richness of his skin and the creamy pallor of her own.

Rude's other hand came up to cup her cheek, her skin warm beneath his cool fingers.

"Tell me to stop," Rude said, almost as though he wanted her to. Elena closed her eyes, turning her head to kiss his palm. "Don't stop," she murmured, her words muffled against his hand. With gentle pressure he turned her face towards his own, and kissed her parted lips - a softly asked question. She looked at him then, reaching up to take off his sunglasses. His eyes were deep brown flecked with amber and gold.

"Don't stop," she said again, certain, definite.


Reno looked at Rufus, and gave him another one of those smiles that set his pulse skipping. "Switch off the light," he whispered.


"Yeah." The undertone of dangerous laughter in Reno's voice shot lust through Rufus again, bullet-fast. Reaching for the light switch, Rufus wondered how it had happened: tonight he seemed unable – or unwilling - to assert himself. Instead he found that he wanted to allow anything Reno suggested – especially when Reno's suggestions were so damned good.

Quietly Reno rolled over Rufus in the sudden darkness, pausing on top of him for a hasty, breathless kiss, before settling down on the side of the bed usually occupied by his boss.

Tseng opened the door and closed it quickly behind him. Reno nudged Rufus, who said, "Reno?"

"Yo, Boss."

Reno had to admit that, apart from Tseng's voice being slightly deeper than his own, it sounded a hell of a lot like him. Almost gasping aloud when Rufus' teeth nipped his earlobe, Reno shivered as he felt a cool hand stroking his thigh, moving upwards with tantalising slowness. Into the darkness, Rufus said calmly, "Reno – I've been thinking about you."

"Yeah?" Tseng's reply sounded exactly like Reno's most casual drawl.

"Yes. Kiss me."

Reno reached into the darkness, trying to ignore the building excitement as Rufus' hand on his thigh moved higher. Then Tseng's hand caught Reno's and lifted it to his face. Reno ran his fingers over the newly familiar contours of Tseng's cheek and lips. Tseng tensed, suddenly aware that something was different – a scent – a taste – that he knew intimately, but that was not Rufus.

"Boss?" he asked, uncertain.

"Well - if you're Reno, guess I must be," replied Reno, pulling Tseng down into a long kiss before he could struggle or protest. Reno had to hold back a little moan of pure pleasure as Rufus' hand closed tight around his cock while he kissed the Director hard and slow.

"Reno!" gasped Tseng when he was finally released. Reno laughed, and reached for the light switch. "Am I?" he asked, doing a good impression of being genuinely confused. "I'm not really sure any more. Guess we'd better have a look."

Rufus let go of Reno and pulled the sheet over his semi-naked body as soft lamplight illuminated Tseng's face. The Director's expression was difficult to read as he looked down at Reno, then across at Rufus, then back at Reno – surprise mixed with a trace of amusement and undeniable desire – but something else too. As he looked down at his subordinate who gazed up at him from Rufus Shinra's bed, all that wonderful red hair loose and disordered from whatever he'd already been doing with the president, Tseng experienced an instant of doubt, and saw it reflected in Reno's eyes. But then Reno smiled, and said, "Good. So – Rufus, this is Tseng. You might know him as Reno – but – there's only one Reno, yo!"

Instinctively understanding that he needed to take charge for the moment, Reno gestured to the other side of the bed, and Tseng moved automatically, never questioning Reno's unspoken order, so that Rufus lay between his two senior Turks. Immediately Tseng's uncertainty was gone: this was how things were supposed to be - the president flanked by people whose sole purpose was to keep him safe, Tseng at his right hand, Reno at his left, eternally his bodyguards. "And if we can't protect him from the disease," Tseng thought, "At lease we can keep the pain away for a while." Suddenly tender, he kissed Rufus for the first time as himself, and not as an imagined version of Reno.

"Tseng…" Rufus murmured, his hand against Tseng's cheek - "I knew it had to be you – but I was never sure. You were so good…"

"Yeah," said Reno, stretching, relaxed, also feeling that things were beginning to settle into their proper places. "He's good. Good at being Reno – but better at being Tseng, yo. So – we gonna chat all night, or what?"

Tseng gave an amused chuckle and Rufus laughed.

"What?" asked Reno.

"You're accusing us of talking too much?" Rufus said, raising his eyebrows incredulously.

"Yep," Reno replied, unabashed. "Way too much." Rolling onto his front, Reno looked down at Rufus and flashed that devastating smile again. "So shut up and kiss me," he said.

Rufus did as he was told, taking his time, his desire sharpened by the acute awareness of Tseng's gaze, as present to his senses as a physical touch, making his skin tingle. At last Rufus pulled back and looked up at Reno, his blue eyes focussed on the soft curve of Reno's lower lip. Reaching up, Rufus ran one finger along it, slowly. "Fuck, Reno," he murmured – "Your mouth… It was always about your mouth…"

Reno's smile was wicked. "Anywhere you want it, Boss. Only have to ask…"

Rufus shook his head. "I believe you're responsible for this…interesting situation. You decide."

Unfazed, Reno reached across Rufus, took Tseng's hand and guided it to Rufus' cheek. Tseng leaned over to kiss Rufus again, and Rufus threaded his fingers through Tseng's hair, releasing it from its low, Reno-style ponytail, letting it fall soft and heavy around their faces, spilling, fluid and ink-black, over the white pillow.

Reno watched Tseng and Rufus kissing, not sure exactly how he felt about it. Tseng was beautiful – Rufus was gorgeous – objectively they made a pretty damned irresistible sight. But there was a part of Reno that wanted Tseng off Rufus and in his own arms – something that looked at the Director – the smooth sweep of his long, black hair, the way his fingers lingered on Rufus' cheek, the memory of those now-familiar kisses – and whispered, "mine". Smiling to himself, Reno dismissed the jealous impulse with an internal shrug. "He's mine – I'm his – but, comes down to it, we're both Rufus's," he thought. "We always were. Tseng's right – as usual. There's nothing I wouldn't do for Rufus."

Rufus' fingers tightened in Tseng's hair, pulling him closer. Reno leaned over and pressed his lips against the back of Rufus' hand where the pale skin contrasted so starkly with the bruise-black stains of the stigma. He allowed himself one moment, inhaling the wonderful scent of Tseng's hair, before murmuring, "Tseng… let me get you out of my jacket, huh? It's not a great fit…"

Reno helped to remove the too-snug jacket as Tseng continued to kiss Rufus. Rufus' fingers were working to undo the three fastened buttons of Tseng's shirt. As Reno peeled off the shirt, letting it drop to the floor beside the jacket, he couldn't resist running his hand over the hard muscles of Tseng's shoulder, and the smooth, golden skin of his back. His breath caught as he was hijacked by a flood of almost overwhelming desire for Tseng – a yearning to fit his naked body to the graceful curve of Tseng's spine, to lose himself again in all that black silk hair, pressing his mouth into the warmth of Tseng's neck.

But that wasn't what Reno was doing in Rufus' bed. Tonight was all about the Boss – making Rufus feel alive again – giving him a moment's release – however brief – from the relentless advance of geostigma's pain.

Lost in each other for the present, Rufus and Tseng's kisses grew more urgent. Reno ran his hand lightly over Rufus' torso beneath the open black shirt, trailing his fingers over Rufus' abdomen, wondering again at the physical perfection of the man everywhere that was untouched by the stigma. Reno's tongue followed the path of his fingers, sliding over Rufus' belly, exploring the contrasting textures of soft skin and hard muscle.

When he reached Rufus' already hard cock, Reno sucked it gently, eyes closed, simply enjoying the sensation, his tongue moving lazily over firm, hot flesh. Hearing Rufus' sharply in-drawn breath, Reno opened his eyes to see both Rufus and Tseng looking down at him. Rufus' blue eyes sparked mako-bright; Tseng's were smoke-dark, smouldering.

Reno let Rufus' beautiful cock slip out of his mouth, stroking it slowly instead with the palm of his hand.

"Kinda lonely down here," he stated, meeting Tseng's dark gaze with a little smile and a suggestively raised eyebrow.

Tseng glanced at Rufus, who murmured, "Fuck – yes!"

Tseng kissed Rufus again, his tongue sliding against Rufus' like a promise. Then he pressed his lips against Rufus' jaw – the base of his throat – trailing kisses downwards over the President's chest, his flat stomach, the concave curve below his hipbone…

Reno's hand tangled in Tseng's hair; drew him into a soft, lingering kiss – the only one they would share tonight – enough to reassure them both that this was right. Reno smiled at Tseng, then ran his fingers lightly over the taut muscles of Rufus' left thigh. Tseng mirrored the action on the right. Moving together, Reno and Tseng licked the length of Rufus' cock, one on either side. Rufus arched into the touch, breathless at the sight – the incredible sensation – of both of them focussed entirely on giving him pleasure.

Reno moved back to lick and nip gently at Rufus' balls while Tseng took the President's aching cock deep into his mouth and sucked hard. Reno felt himself responding, stiffening again at the memory of the things Tseng's skilful tongue could do. Kneeling between Rufus' thighs, Reno asked, "You want more, Boss? You want me to fuck you again, maybe?"

Rufus' stuttering "Y-ye..ah…" was lost in a groan as Tseng's mouth distracted him from everything else, but it was enough for Reno. In one smooth movement Reno lifted Rufus' thighs up onto his own, thrust forward, and sheathed himself in the welcoming heat of Rufus' body. Tseng shifted to the side to make room, his hand replacing his mouth on Rufus' cock. Rufus cried out as Reno entered him, and Tseng paused for a moment, concerned, but Rufus only gasped, "D – don't stop!"

"No," Reno promised, throwing Rufus a razor-edged smile. "I remember Boss. We'll do it your way this time. Hard and fast – the way you like it."

Rufus didn't contradict Reno, although, since Reno had shown him different possibilities earlier in the evening, he had rather revised his opinion about the ways he liked it. But this is sure as hell still one of them, he thought, as Reno made good on his words and slammed him back down into the mattress. Tseng lay next to Rufus, his mouth on Rufus' again, giving him the deep, hard kisses that stole his breath and left him dizzy. The director's hand on his cock stroked him firmly, moving against the rhythm of Reno's powerful thrusts.

Reno moaned Rufus' name as he came and Rufus almost lost it then, but Tseng's hand stilled on his throbbing cock, and the director's calm voice in his ear said, "Not yet…"

"Tseng…" Rufus thought about protesting, but found that Tseng was right – he didn't want it to be over – not yet. He wondered at the shifting patterns of power and control between the three of them. At the start Rufus had given himself into Reno's hands, their normal hierarchy reversed – Reno directing, Tseng facilitating, and Rufus happy, for this one time in his life, to simply accept all that they gave him. But now things had changed again – Reno lay beside him panting, one arm flung over his eyes, temporarily out of action – and Rufus found himself waiting for Tseng to tell him what to do next.

But as though he could read Rufus' mind, Tseng moved away slightly and shook his head, looking down at the president thoughtfully. "I think you need to tell us, Sir," Tseng said. "Whatever you want. Me – or Reno –"

"I want you both," Rufus said. "I think I always did. Reno and Tseng – how could I choose between you?" Rufus got to his knees and leaned down to kiss Reno who smiled at him vaguely, still half lost in a post-orgasmic haze.

Tseng removed the rest of his clothes quickly, and then moved back to kneel behind Rufus. Pulling the black cotton shirt aside he kissed Rufus' neck, his face pressed into soft, pale hair, one hand reaching around to stroke the hard muscles of the president's abdomen below the bandage that covered his upper torso. Pressing his chest against Rufus' back, careful not to lean too hard on the spot below the left shoulder-blade where he knew the dressing covered a particularly painful geostigma wound, Tseng let his hand drift lower until he found the hard heat of Rufus' cock. Rufus tensed expectantly as he felt the insistent press of Tseng's erection against the base of his spine.

"Have us both," Tseng murmured, his mouth against Rufus' ear. "It's what we're here for – whatever you need."

Suddenly doubtful, Rufus admitted, "I don't know if I'm strong enough…"

"You're strong enough," Tseng told him, his voice steadying - gentle and firm.

Reno reached up and ran his fingers over Rufus' mouth. "C'mon Boss," he said, "It works both ways, yo. We both want you, too." He pressed up into Rufus' longing kiss, twining his fingers through fine golden hair. Rufus moved forward, Tseng's hand on his hip guiding him. Reno moaned softly as Rufus entered him, smooth and easy.

Rufus' fingers ghosted over Reno's still too-sensitive cock. Reno gasped, "Fuck, Boss…"

"Too much?"

"Just – give me a minute, yeah?"

Rufus kissed Reno again, as he felt Tseng beginning to push into him slowly. Rufus gasped, and Tseng held still until Rufus took a shuddering breath and whispered, "Y-yes… Okay…"

When Tseng began to move the pleasure was so intense that for a moment Rufus was sure he was about to pass out. For a while he could do nothing but let the experience take him, unable to move against Tseng or Reno. Gradually he settled, learning the pattern - the rhythmic thrusting of Tseng into him: of himself into Reno. He reached down to take Reno's cock in his hand, smiling when he found it was already hard again. "Damn, Reno!" he exclaimed in frank admiration, "That didn't take long!"

Reno shook red hair out of his eyes and grinned, panting with the force of Rufus' thrusts. "Can't – uh – keep a good Turk down…" he managed, before shuddering and biting his lip to suppress a moan of pure need. Rufus smiled, about to make some clever reply, but it turned into an unintelligible cry as Tseng began to move harder, faster, and little points of light started to fizz at the edges of Rufus' vision.

Rufus lost all track of time. He found himself gazing down at Reno spread out beneath him, lips parted, sea-green eyes wide and dazed. Long strands of crimson hair clung to the Turk's forehead and he had long ago given up trying to hold back the moans that spilled from that perfect mouth as Rufus moved inside him. Rufus thought he'd never seen anything as sexy as Reno losing control like this – never felt anything as intensely, deeply satisfying as this dual sensation of being enveloped and filled at the same time. Tseng's mouth was hot against Rufus' shoulder, pressed against yielding skin, the rhythm of the Director's hard thrusts controlling the motion of all three of them, carrying them inexorably towards orgasm. No pain could reach Rufus here – only overwhelming pleasure – pure sensual experience.

Reno's hand closed over Rufus' on his cock. "B – Boss," he stammered, "Please…"

"Hold on, Reno," Rufus told him, his own control close to breaking point. He tossed back sweat-damp blond hair, and looked into Reno's eyes, seeing the same growing desperation he had felt earlier, when Reno had been the one in charge. Tseng's guiding hand on Rufus' hip tightened. Rufus turned his head, and the Director's mouth met his, Tseng's fierce kiss hard and urgent. Rufus closed his eyes, gave himself up to sensation - losing himself – abandoning his eternal struggle for control – Reno and Tseng seeming part of him – Tseng and Reno setting him free.

"Come with me," he heard himself whisper, to Reno, to Tseng. Beneath him Reno cried out wordlessly, and Tseng's unrestrained moan was echoed by Rufus as they came together. Rufus felt that he was falling, that he was breaking into pieces like the shattering shards of his vision, fragments of light and darkness dancing behind his eyes… He fell forwards, utterly fractured, and Reno caught him; let him rest against his shoulder, fingers stroking his hair gently, until he began to come back to himself. Or were those Tseng's fingers, Tseng's lips warm against his cheek? It didn't matter anymore which was Tseng and which Reno. They were only his – his Turks – and he was in their hands, and he was safe there.

Rufus slept, freed from pain.


Rufus woke in the breaking dawn, soft grey light filtering through the blinds. He was lying curved against Tseng, his head on the Director's shoulder. Reno's arm was draped across his waist, his breath warm on Rufus' back. Although his body was starting to trouble him again with the slow-burning ache that would inevitably flare into geostigma's too-familiar pain, Rufus lay still, wanting to hold onto this unaccustomed feeling of peace just a little longer.

"This won't happen again," Rufus thought. "If there's no cure, I'll be dead soon. If there is – I'll have to start again – build everything again - and this… it wouldn't be appropriate. This – tonight - has been perfect, but I need to take back control now – of them – of myself. I'm still the head of Shin-Ra – the head…"

And then he knew where salvation might lie, and what it might cost all of them.

"I'd have to send all four of them," he thought. "The Northern Cave is a hostile environment at the best of times – Reno will get them in, Tseng will lead them, of course. It should be a simple retrieval mission, but…" Rufus remembered lab reports, Hojo's gleeful explanations, Jenova's alien capacity for reunion. Who knew what malign powers those cells might retain, even now? And yet what choice was there? It was hope – for himself – for all those afflicted by geostigma's curse.

It had better be as soon as possible, Rufus thought. Tomorrow. He gazed at Tseng's strong profile as the Director slept, the outline of his handsome face already clearer than it had been a few moments ago, as the dawn sharpened relentlessly into day.

It is tomorrow, Rufus realised. But still he didn't move. Not yet. Not quite yet.

He would tell them when they woke, and he knew they would obey without resentment, without question, as they obeyed all his commands – all his requests – however bizarre or impossible they might seem. Somehow he had never been able to tell them out loud how much that loyalty meant – the strength of his gratitude. He hoped that they knew it anyway.

Thank you, he thought. Rude for your strength, for your constant, unspoken support – Elena for your energy and eternal optimism – Tseng… Tseng for so much… for holding everything together when the world was falling apart; for being the strongest of us all.

Rufus didn't turn to look at his red-haired Turk who was still sleeping quietly behind him, but he laid his arm alongside Reno's and covered the Turk's hand with his own. And you, Rufus thought. For never letting anything defeat you. For making us all laugh, and for giving me a reason…

Just – for being Reno.

The End

Thank you for reading.