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The Hound and the Cat

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Parties were only as good as the alcohol served there. The Turks had been the ones to instruct Reeve in that little-known fact, and he had never forgotten it. The Turks, of course, always had the best parties; they simply brought the best alcohol and poured it down everyone's throat until no one could see straight enough to realize that there really was nothing but alcohol and music to their parties. Sometimes, the music was forgotten, and Reno would belt out some tune with a little back-up from his too-often-stoic partner.

Reeve liked Turk parties.

He did not, however, like the company parties. Particularly the costume party that the President insisted was the best fun every year. Reeve had never exactly been comfortable wearing a costume in front of the other executives, had never been that comfortable with the President either, for that matter.

There was a reason, he supposed, that the President had long since also insisted on masks. Preferably full-face masks.

Some people were still obvious. Palmer, for example, never quite managed to blend in anywhere, and Heidegger's laugh immediately gave him away if you happened to overlook the bushy beard that pushed his masks up. Scarlet was a good deal harder to spot when she brought her crew of pretty, also-blond receptionists and weapons specialists, and sometimes, Reeve lost track of her. He was very careful not to flirt with anyone until he located her again, and after the disaster of the past few parties, he had stopped flirting with people at these functions all together.

This year, Reeve was wearing a plain, blank mask and a relatively simple tuxedo, something nondescript and easily overlooked. He liked being overlooked, liked the thought that no one would quite be able to remember what he had dressed as since, well, he wasn't dressed as anything since he had chickened out of wearing the cat ears that Reno had so graciously supplied him. He was simply there— because the President required him to be— and he was skirting the very edges of the party, wine glass in hand as he attempted to locate the nearest place to get a refill. He was going to need more than just a few glasses to get him through the evening.

The new glass that appeared in front of him took him a moment to process, and he took it carefully, relinquishing his empty glass to the bearer with a slight noise before he looked up. There was no mistaking Rufus, who went without a full face mask, who wore a narrow, dark gold, flared mask across his eyes. They were startlingly blue next to the navy trim of the mask, and Reeve's own gaze narrowed. Eyeliner, maybe, was helping that along.

Rufus tilted his head toward Reeve, raising an eyebrow, and he leaned in just close enough to be heard over the music when he said, "You cheated, Reeve. You're not dressed as anything."

The very beginnings of a blush touched Reeve's face, and he was never so grateful for the mask he was wearing. He shook his head, not saying anything, and Rufus laughed, leaning against the wall next to him.

So much for being overlooked.

He could hardly be overlooked when he was standing next to Rufus Shinra, who was wearing dark clothes for the first time that Reeve could ever remember. All dark blue, close to black. His suit jacket had a single long tail that fell from the shoulders, and Reeve's brow furrowed before his eyes widened in realization.

"You're a guard hound," he said softly, and Rufus glanced at him, a very slight smile— something genuine, which never ceased to make Reeve's breath catch because nothing about Rufus was genuine when he was in public— touching his face. "Dark Nation?"

"I am certain she'd be terribly insulted, but I did use her as inspiration this year. ... You're the first person to guess correctly. It's a shame I can't return the favor, Reeve. Did you really not dress as anything specific?"

Rufus's voice was low, pitched just loud enough for Reeve to hear over the music, and Reeve couldn't quite stop the shiver that it sent down his back. He leaned back against the wall, lifting his wine glass idly to tap it against the mouth on his mask. He'd been tugging his mask up enough to steal sips from his previous glass, but with Rufus standing so close, so sure that it was Reeve he was speaking to— and how did he know like that? How was he so ridiculously confident that he had the right person?— Reeve couldn't make himself do it again. Instead, he simply shrugged, and he glanced back out across the dance floor.

"Never was very good at the whole costume part of this party," he replied, and he looked back at Rufus. "How did you know it was me?"

Rufus's grin sharpened, and Reeve felt his lips part just a little, sucking in a slight breath. The blond leaned in a little closer to Reeve and murmured, "Heard you were going to be a cat this year, you know. I was looking forward to the ears."

Reeve was pretty sure that he was more red now than he'd ever been in his life— thank Shiva for that mask, for that black mask because Reeve's certain that his cheeks were red enough that they might have shown behind a white mask— and he tried to find words, find something that he could say in response to that.

(The cat ears, tucked in his pocket, suddenly felt as though they were made of lead, and the wicked grin Reno had given him when he'd shown Reeve how to put the ears on made sense. Made more sense than Reeve really wanted it to.)

"I ... What? Reno told you?"

A laugh, and then Rufus was leaning back, raising an eyebrow. "A cat suits you," he said, studying Reeve for a moment. Then someone was calling for him, was waving and Rufus cast a glance over his shoulder with that political smile on his face. He tilted his head slightly, holding up a hand in the classic 'one-moment' signal. His attention slid back to Reeve, and Reeve managed a small, tight smile.

Not that it mattered. Rufus couldn't see it.

"Half-mask next year," Rufus said, and he was studying Reeve intently enough that Reeve wouldn't have been surprised to feel one of Rufus's fingers sliding down the side of his mask. Not that Rufus would have done that in public. No, there were facades to maintain no matter how drunk the party got. Facades that had nothing to do with the masks they were wearing. That didn't stop Rufus from tapping Reeve's wine glass with a fingertip though. "So you can drink your wine."

Then Rufus was gone, sliding through the crowd to whoever had called for him, and Reeve reached up to touch the pads of his fingers against the side of his mask. Half-mask next year. Maybe the cat ears too.