Reno sat beside the fire, listening to Rude flip through the pages of the book he had brought with a sigh. He hadn't brought anything besides some clothes; he had been a little too preoccupied with the dreaded thought of spending an entire week alone in bum-fuck-nowhere with a man who he had made hate him that he still loved but knew couldn't love him back because Reno was too much of a dick-head to figure out how to apologize correctly. The color of his skin had returned to its normal pasty white, but he still felt blue with chill and sadness on the inside. He had been wracking his brains for the past few hours, or at least they felt like hours, for a way to apologize. He had yet to come up with anything that he deemed useful; so far only sappy, trivial ways to say he was sorry had popped into his head. Sadly, however, simply saying, "I'm sorry," had not yet crossed his mind.

Reno turned and stared at Rude, his mind whirring like a ceiling fan as he went around and around his mind, pacing through the rut he had thought he pulled himself out of. He was back where he had been not even a month ago, running mental laps through this rut he had created for himself and struggling with his own indecision. There wasn't much he could do to fix things and all the baggage he had dragged into the rut to try and give himself a boost out hadn't helped at all. His feet were dragging over the idea of apologizing to Rude, mostly because he wasn't sure what to apologize for first.

Rude raised an eyebrow and closed his book, watching Reno watch him. "Can I help you?"

Reno blinked and looked at Rude. "Huh?"

Rude chuckled and shook his head. "Never mind, you're out of it."

"Out of what?" Reno tilted his head to the side, his ponytail falling off his shoulder and tickling his elbow.

"Your mind." Rude laughed and picked his book back up, trying not to watch Reno's hair as it waterfalled over his arm.

"What makes you say that?" Reno raised an eyebrow. Perhaps he had been staring too hard? Whatever he had done, he had obviously given himself away. This whole situation took too much thinking and, for the past few weeks, he had done more thinking than he ever had in his whole life. He had never been one to think for long on anything, he usually just did what came natural. Perhaps that was all he needed to do now?
"You've been staring at me for twenty minutes like you're trying to decide whether you want to hit me or eat me." Rude tried to find his place in the book he had brought, not remembering where he had been because, for the past twenty minutes, he had been more focused on Reno focusing on him.

"Oh…Sorry?" Reno shrugged and watched Rude's hands as he thumbed over pages. He liked Rude's hands. They were big, strong, and warm and he felt a sudden longing to hold them again. He had been ignoring such urges and wants for a while now and he was feeling the craving more than normal now.

"Apology accepted." Rude found a spot in his book that at least looked familiar and began reading again, shifting in his seat as Reno's eyes bored into his book. If the red-head stared any harder, he'd probably set the pages on fire.

Reno stared, trying to untwist his tongue so he could say what he needed to. However, it seemed that unknotting his tongue was as impossible as winning a sword fight with a feather. He opened and closed his mouth several times, gaping like a fish out of water as he tried to get enough air in his lungs to force out a few words that were probably not well chosen, but needed to be said. The something he had been ignoring was fighting for dominance as he tried to squash it to the back of his throat in favor of what he wanted to say. He was losing a fight with himself.

Rude set the book down, unable to concentrate when Reno was sitting in front of him, staring and flapping his mouth comically. He tried to keep laughter out of his voice as he questioned the method to the redhead's madness. "What on Gaia's green planet is wrong with you tonight?"

"Everything?" Reno raised an eyebrow and cleared his throat. "I'm trying to figure out how to apologize best…But I can't really figure out what words to use."

"Actions might work better than words. We both know you've never been the best at speaking." Rude watched Reno, getting a small bud of hope in the middle of his chest that, perhaps, his waiting had paid off and his efforts hadn't been wasted. Maybe he had gotten through Reno's thick skull after all?

"Actions?" Reno scratched his head, frowning softly in thought. What did Rude mean? Should he hug him? Tromp out into the snow and buy him flowers? Well, the second idea sucked anyways because Rude was allergic to most flowers, but the first idea was iffy. What if Rude meant he should just be nice? Well, Reno wasn't good at that either… To Reno, it seemed like the hug idea was the only one with any merit in it at all. It was worth a shot, right?

Rude waited, watching Reno think. How hard was it for Reno to figure out what he meant? He didn't want to spell it out for him, that would be pointless, but Reno knew him well enough that he could easily figure out what he meant, right? Well, maybe not. If Reno knew him at all he wouldn't have left him in the first place.

Reno scratched his head. "I'm really no good at thinking either…Rude, I just keep running around in circles. I want you, but it terrifies me, but the thought of not having you scares me even more…So I'm gonna slap my heart on my sleeve for a minute here okay?"

Rude raised an eyebrow. "Okay?"

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry for leaving you, for playing games with you, and for letting Rufus even touch me. Course, that last part wasn't one hundred percent my fault. He's very persistent and happens to take advantage of people who are terrified of his nasty dog." Reno scowled and picked a thread in the carpet, eyebrows clicking together in an angry frown.

"Wait, what?" Rude raised an eyebrow.

"His damned dog got all whippy with the damned tentacle thing on her head and he told me she'd feel better if he…munched on my mouth for a bit." Reno rubbed the back of his neck, blushing softly at the memory of it.

Rude clenched his fists, watching a blush of embarrassment climb up Reno's cheeks to his tattoos. "So you let him?"

Reno sighed. "Well it was that or pretend I was okay with his bitchy dog whipping me again. That stinger hurts like hell. Just sayin'."

"Did she leave a mark?" Rude raised an eyebrow, hands still clenched at his sides.

"Yeah." Reno opened his shirt to show Rude the remaining welts that Nation had left on him more than once. "She really hates me, the stupid mutt. She got me more than once, same spot too."

Rude took the opportunity to get a closer look and slid off the couch to kneel by Reno. "Dang, those look painful."

Reno nodded and showed Rude his bandaged hand. "She took a slice out of my hand the other night too. I hate that damned mutt."

Rude took Reno's hand gently and held it. "There's an upside to being with me then. I don't have any pets and I don't mind if you get that iguana you've been wanting for forever."

Reno blushed, realizing Rude's proximity. "Rude…"

"That's not the only upside either." Rude gently pulled down Reno's collar, watching him blush. He had wanted Reno to make the first move, but Reno was too busy apologizing to give him the apology he actually wanted. "I don't break the skin."

"I know, Rude." Reno shifted, feeling more heat from Rude than he could get from the fire. "Rude, there are about fifty million upsides to being with you. The only downside I can see is that if we don't work out I'll end up hurt as hell."

"What makes you think we won't work out?" Rude raised an eyebrow, keeping his voice low and watching goose bumps raise on the back of Reno's neck.

"Me." Reno squirmed, doing his best not to look at Rude's eyes, trying to find anything else to focus on instead.

"What about you? Do you think you can't give me what I want? Do you think you can't stay faithful? What is it?" Rude gently tilted Reno's face up to his, knowing that he would get a straight, albeit stammered and disconnected, answer if Reno looked him in the eyes.

Reno shook and turned his eyes away from Rude's, looking to the side and trying to find something interesting on the wall the focus on. "Both…I…I've never seen a good committed relationship. I have no frickin' clue how they work. I don't even know if I want one."

"Oh, you want one. You want to know why?" Rude smiled and inched closer to Reno, amused by Reno's resolve not to look him in the eyes.

"Why?" Reno felt himself start to shake as Rude's breath ghosted over the side of his face, his body tensing in anticipation as he started to melt inside.

"Because if you're in a committed relationship, you get sex even when I'm pissed at you and an alibi for those sick days you take when you feel a little too hung-over to go to work. Tseng questions you, not me." Rude held Reno's hand gently, lowering his voice and whispering in Reno's ear gently. "Besides, when we had our dates every Friday night, did you ever want to be with anyone else before Rufus pulled his tricks on you?"

Reno did his best not to moan as Rude's lips ghosted over his ear, the soft whisper tickling the back of his neck. "N-no…"

"Did you ever hit on anyone else?" Rude could tell he was winning; Reno was shaking with the effort his self-restraint took.

"No, never even w-wanted to..." Reno closed his eyes and tried to focus on lowering the tent he had unwittingly raised in his trousers.

"So in a way, you were committed to me. You just didn't realize it because you hadn't labeled it that way." Rude pressed his lips to Reno's ear and set Reno's hand on his shoulder, smiling as Reno gripped his shirt tight. It freed up his hands and he began ghosting them over Reno's back, holding Reno close as he did.

Reno couldn't hold back a moan and held Rude's shoulders with both hands; he hadn't realized just how badly he wanted him. He wasn't even registering what Rude said, he just didn't want him to stop whispering in his ear. Rude's voice sent chills down his spine and he shivered as he felt his back touch the carpet, the firelight painting warm shadows across them. He weakly stammered, realizing he ought to say something, even though he wasn't one hundred percent sure what was going to come out of his mouth. "I-I love you, Rude!" Reno blushed dark as he heard his voice, almost able to see his words hanging in the air above his face.

Rude pulled back and pushed Reno's thin red bangs out of his face. "I love you too, Reno."

Reno smiled and gently pet Rude's face. "Mean it?"

"Of course." Rude smiled and pressed into Reno's hand, kissing his palm softly.

Reno leaned up and kissed Rude gently. "Me too."

Rude chuckled and pressed Reno back against the carpet. "I can't believe it took me this long to get you to admit it."

"What can I say? I'm stubborn." Reno smiled and watched the light from the fire play across Rude's face. "So…does this mean we get to spend the rest of this trip making up for lost time?"

"Sure, if you want to. Don't we have a mission though?" Rude smiled and traced the edges of Reno's tattoos with his fingers.

"Fuck Elena's mission. She can shove it right up her stuck up little ass." Reno pulled Rude down for a kiss and wrapped his legs around him, eager to set things in motion so he could get Rude out of his clothes and into him.

Author's Note: It took forever, but it's finally finished. That lowers down my load for writing from 6 to 5 stories! Huzzah!

I'm going to miss this story though, it was lots of fun (at least up until this last chapter where nobody wanted cooperate and they fought tooth and nail to get away from me. If this chapter's quality isn't up to par, I apologize and blame Rude. He's the one who caused the most problems.)

Thank you to everyone who read, reviewed, or even glanced at this, and a special thank you to Square Enix for creating characters who are so much fun to slash write!