Author: Guede Mazaka
Rufus sucked in his breath and pressed his cheek farther into the mattress. The intense stabbing pain in his back didn’t go away, but at least it sharpened into something narrow enough for him to work around.
“Doing all right?” The whirring stopped and Reno ducked down to peer concernedly in Rufus’ face. Since he forgot to leave the bloody probe and needle-scalpel out of view, the effort was mostly useless. “Want any—”
“No.” Frankly, if Rufus never had to hook up to another drug-line again, it would be too soon. So many years…so many goddamned years hallucinating and floating out of his mind, dimly aware that his father was screwing him over before he’d even got a chance, and able to do nothing about it. And everything he’d done instead—which hadn’t entirely been because of the drugs. Frustration taken to a high enough level more or less equaled stupidity, and if Rufus’ health profile came back disease-free, he might throw his first damned party just to celebrate that.
Shrugging, Reno swung back over and resettled himself on Rufus’ waist. He clicked something, then returned to cleaning out the bloody pocks in Rufus’ back where all the implants had been. “Well, you’re the boss.”
“Yes, I am,” Rufus said. The edge to his voice caused Reno to hesitate, but the other man resumed his business before Rufus had to yell at him again. There was that, too: the former Head had made damned sure the current generation of employees saw his son as nothing more than a drug-addled sex fiend. It was going to be difficult to correct that impression.
It was going to be difficult simply to get through the day without passing out. The probe nicked something that sucked all the air from Rufus’ lungs and left behind only a ferocious burning pain.
“Shit. Sorry about that.” A light spray hit the wound. It stung even harder, but quickly numbed the area so Rufus almost missed the touch that rubbed around it. He gritted his teeth and lifted himself up to look behind himself just as Reno was about to stick that finger in his mouth.
Rufus sighed. “I’m not letting Tseng detox you anymore when you do that. Either stop or suffer with a paralyzed tongue for twelve hours. Which I presume would be a fate worse than death to you.”
Reno lifted the surgical tools from Rufus’ skin as he rocked back, mouth slightly open in surprise. He narrowed his eyes, then snickered a little disbelievingly. “Man, you remember that? How much else do you remember?”
“I had automatic narcotic injectors implanted in me that suppressed any independent thought I had. I didn’t have parts of my brain removed,” Rufus acidly replied. He regretted the sharp tone almost immediately; he might remember that about Reno, but his memories regarding any preferences Reno had let slip about his loyalties were much fuzzier. Tradition was strong and the Turks were meant to guard whoever was the current Head to the death, but Rufus couldn’t be sure of that. Not yet.
For a moment, Rufus thought Reno would be audacious enough to bring that up. But the other man twisted up half his mouth in a smile and put down his tools. “Weird seeing you all…well, no offense intended, but aware of things,” Reno said. He stretched out a finger and traced a lopsided figure-eight around the bottom two scabs along Rufus’ spine. “Shit. Should I be terrified?”
“I think that’s a question you should direct towards yourself.” The skin where Reno was moving his finger was swollen and tender from infection, so Rufus could feel the fingertip as a dot that left a hot, prickling trail behind it. His jaw muscles were beginning to cramp from clenching so hard. His arm muscles were shaking a little from the strain of holding himself up and so he laid back down. “Is Sephiroth in any condition to hold an intelligent conversation?”
Instead of going back to tending Rufus’ wounds, Reno continued to let his fingers play over the inflamed skin. Rufus’ body was starting to let out natural painkillers into his system, so the burn gradually turned into a kind of edged warmth. “Smecker says no, give him another day. I’d ask Valentine, but Tseng seems to think I’d try to strangle the bastard.”
That gave Rufus pause for a second. He had to struggle to make the necessary calculations about personal motives and future actions; his mind was still wrung-out from dealing with the withdrawal purges. “Really.”
“Yeah, really.” Something brushed over Rufus’ shoulderblades, dancing in a random pattern: Reno’s bangs. His breath ghosted over Rufus’ back and painfully, pleasurably tickled the ragged edges of the holes dotting it. “Hear he used to be a Turk, but he sure doesn’t count as one in my book anymore. Son of a bitch…it looks like he just ripped them out of you.”
He had. He’d had that clawed cyborg hand and its tips had gone through Rufus’ flesh like electricity through steel. Rufus had been in the middle of asking—slurring, really; he’d managed to have a fragment of an argument with dear Daddy earlier, so dear Daddy had upped his dosage—whether his father had sent Valentine in to fuck him or kill him, and Valentine had just…
“…match made in hell. Sephiroth’s psychotic anyway and heals fast, so he’ll keep the bastard occupied. He’d better. Valentine comes in here again and I’ll—”
Rufus temporarily dismissed the Vincent-issue and rolled over to grab Reno’s chin. He strained and scraped his wounds as he did, but fought down the pain in favor of staring hard into Reno’s eyes. There’d been an odd undertone to the other man’s voice—almost passionate. “You’ll do what I tell you. I don’t waste resources lightly.”
Reno actually held Rufus’ stare for nearly a minute, which more or less summed up how much work Rufus had to do in terms of gaining people’s respect. Then Reno turned his head aside and coughed in a way that was nearly a sharp laugh. “Yes, sir. Said I always would, but I guess you don’t remember that conversation.”
That conversation? It was on the tip of Rufus’ tongue to ask for clarification, but Reno picked up the scalpel and flicked it on so the buzz ruptured their talk. A shocking display of insolence…but on second thought, Rufus decided he had to let it pass. He was in no shape to pursue more lines of investigation beyond the ones he already had going, and furthermore, the lay of the conversation wasn’t advantageous. He’d be the one asking, the one at the mercy of whatever Reno chose to reveal as his supposed memory.
“Flip over, sir. Only have two left, and then you can go tackle the server problems,” Reno said.
“I think I’ll talk with Valentine first. Have someone track him down and request—nicely—a meeting.” Rufus felt the other man pause again, but after a long moment, Reno got online and sent the message. For the moment, Reno was on his side.