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Rufus was woken at three a.m. by the touch of a h and on his bare shoulder. He opened his eyes and found himself looking straight into Tseng’s face, striped in bands of paleness and darkness from the light falling through the window blinds. The Turk was dressed in his suit and his gloves. Rufus began to shake with fear. Get up, Tseng mouthed. Rufus eased himself quietly out of the bed, not wanting to wake his partner; not yet fully understanding. He was sixteen years old; he’d underestimated his watchdogs, and his fear, at this moment, was all for himself. Did his father know? Were they here on the Old Man’s orders?

             Tseng took him by the arm and began to usher him outside. From the corner of his eye Rufus caught sight of Knives’ small shadow moving round the bed to where his partner lay sleeping, and automatically he opened his mouth to call out a warning - but Tseng was ready, and before he could make a sound his mouth was smothered by a leathery hand; he was pushed through the doorway into the sitting room and down on a sofa, where he was forced to sit and wait, while the first boy he’d ever made love to died in the midst of his dreams, killed by a slender knife driven soundlessly into the base of his skull.  It was, by the standards of the Department of Adminstrative Research, a gentle death.

            The Turks spent a little longer in the apartment, pulling out drawers and opening cabinets to make it look like a robbery. The sheets, with their stains of semen and blood, were bundled into a large black plastic bag. Knives took the dead boy’s wallet, with his gil and his ID. He was – had been – two years older than Rufus, and thus a man, technically speaking. Wutaian, aristocratic, the youngest son of one of his nation’s newly-rich industralists, he had come to Midgar to study at the school of engineering; he called himself Arthur out of politeness, because westerners like Rufus were unable to pronounce his real name. The fact that Arthur went by an assumed name, like a Turk, seemed to lend the whole affair a certain elegant irony, or inevitability; Rufus had never been able decide which. He knew he couldn’t have what he really wanted. Arthur looked like being the next best thing. They had met at one of his father’s diplomatic dinners, and thereafter kept bumping into each other at various functions, until tonight, at the gallery opening, they had given Cissnei the slip and escaped into the streets of Midgar, roaming aimlessly, laughing at nothing, drunk on their own freedom and unable to keep their hands off each other, until eventually they arrived at the place they’d been heading for since the moment they met. 

            The Turks were silent in the sedan driving home. He could have shouted accusations, and they would not have bothered to defend themselves; he could have broken down and cried, and one of them would have offered him a handkerchief. They were in the business of following orders, not teaching lessons. They did not judge, because they did not care. Tseng was at the wheel. Rufus sat in the back seat, with Knives on his left and Two-Guns on his right. Cissnei was undoubtedly back at HQ, paying the price for her carelessness; if rumour (Reno) was to be believed, her obsession with a certain two-timing SOLDIER had been throwing her right off her game recently.

            When they got home, Rufus was surprised to find that his father wasn’t waiting up to punish him, and deduced from this that the Old Man was still in the dark. Veld had obviously decided to keep the heir’s little indiscretion a secret, another Shinra family skeleton to add to the Chief Turk’s collection. His closet must be bursting off its hinges by now. In the undeclared war of succession between Lazard and Rufus, Veld had already made it plain that his loyalties lay with the legitimate son; Rufus was more puzzled than gratified by this allegiance, which he hadn’t sought, and which made no sense to him. Of course Lazard was very stupid, but one would think the Turks would see this as a point in his favour, making him easier to control and deceive.  Rufus wasn’t deceived: he knew Veld expected gratitude in return for the Turks’ discretion, and he didn’t enjoy the feeling that he now owed the old Turk a debt to which he had not consented.

             He lay awake till dawn thinking about these things; thinking about death that came without warning, creeping up behind you on crepe-soled feet; wondering if dying in one’s sleep felt like dying did in dreams; remembering how when he woke and saw Tseng’s face bending over him, fantasy and reality had become confused for a moment; and thinking, most of all, about how much he didn't want to have sex with anybody else ever again for as long as he lived.

            About three days later he was sitting up late, working on an essay (he hadn’t really been able to concentrate on schoolwork, or keep any food down, or close his eyes, since the intervention) when somebody knocked on his apartment door; a very unusual occurrence. He said come in, and the door opened, and it was Tseng, which was an even more unusual occurrence, since Tseng had been promoted beyond basic bodyguard duties years ago. The moment he walked in, Rufus’s heart began its customary sickly pounding, a mingling of fear and lust, the one feeding off the other, intensified by the unexpectedness of the visit, the lateness of the hour, and the embarrassing erection swelling inside his pants. This room was his private space, his refuge, and now suddenly the great object of his carnal desires was in it with him, overwhelming it with his presence, asking him why he was up so late, asking him gently if he was all right, if he was sleeping all right, coming closer to lean over his shoulder, look at the essay and ask what it was about, and then putting his cold hands on Rufus’s neck. Rufus jumped as violently if he’d just been shocked by Reno’s EMR, but Tseng only said, sssh, sssh, sounding like one of the bird handlers at the chocobo races, and began to massage Rufus’s shoulders, which were now bunched up round his ears with mingled fright and disbelief.  At first Tseng’s fingers worked on Rufus’s tense muscles through the fabric of his clothes; then, when Rufus had relaxed a little, he put his hands on the shivery bare nape of Rufus’s neck, and from there worked his way slowly inside Rufus’s very expensive silk shirt.

            By this point it was clear to Rufus what was going to happen, and he knew he was no more capable of stopping it than he had been of saving his friend’s life.  He wondered by what process the decision had been reached.  Did Veld know how he felt about Tseng? Had the old Turk issued the order? Or had the team drawn straws? And if they had, had Tseng drawn the short straw? Or was he here of his own free will, on his own initiative? It would be nice to think so…

            Tseng fucked him with all the thoroughness and attention to detail that one would expect from a Turk trained to Veld’s exacting standards.  During the course of this lengthy and exquisite fucking, Rufus, in one of his few coherent moments, caught himself thinking, this is the real thing, a phrase that would haunt him for months to come.  Afterwards Tseng held him close and whispered in his ear, “Only me from now on; no one else but me,” and Rufus, free-floating in post-coital bliss, murmured his agreement.

            He woke to an empty rumpled bed and the cold light of dawn falling onto his face through half-drawn curtains. After recovering from his initial (bitter, brief) disappointment, he reminded himself that it was for the best. Tseng was not going to ‘be there for him’ – whatever that clichéd phrase meant. If he started deluding himself about the nature of their relationship, the only person who would get hurt would be himself. 

            For a short while he was angry – though not so much at Veld, who was only protecting his own interests, as at fate, which had demanded a friend’s life before it would give him Tseng.  Did someone really have to die in order for me to have what I wanted?  Further reflection led to the conclusion that, after all, nothing worth having came cheaply. A Shinra, in particular, ought always to remember that.           

            They quickly settled into a routine of three nights a week, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Rufus often wondered what the code word was for “fucking the Vice-President” in Tseng’s diary, and wished he had the nerve to try to make Tseng laugh by asking. Usually if he made Tseng laugh, it was by accident. Rufus was inexperienced, ardent, clumsy, noisy; Tseng was patient, quiet, skilful, and very impersonal, but at least he took his gloves off first.

            Rufus wondered about many things. He assumed Tseng was working in obedience to Veld’s orders, though he did not ask about this (did not need to ask, did not want to know; preferred the shadow of a doubt in which his daydreams could shelter from the harsh light of day), and he wondered if the other Turks were aware that Tseng was now taking care of the Vice-President’s awkward predilections (such a potential nightmare for PR). Another thing he would have liked to know was how Tseng had acquired his expertise in fucking men (if it wasn’t presumptuous of Rufus to call himself a man), when it was clear that his personal preferences lay with the opposite sex.

            The word among the Turks was that Tseng was in love with a beautiful girl in the slums, the same girl who had stolen the heart of Cissnei’s SOLDIER. It wasn’t easy for Rufus to gather much information on her, since even Reno took care to watch his mouth around the top executives.  Her name was a strange one, and he wasn’t sure he’d got it right; it sounded like something elemental, earth, air.  He knew the other Turks teased Tseng about his infatuation with this girl: apparently his feelings were not requited. Rufus, who had a passing acquaintance with the SOLDIER in question, could only conclude that the girl was a moron, or else blind. So: Tseng was in love with a beautiful simpleton, an untouchable angel shining all the brighter for the dinginess of her surroundings… Even Rufus could see that there was something rather desperately romantic in this cheesy love-triangle, of which he formed no corner. He wasn’t even a point on any line.

            Nevertheless, as the weeks turned into months a degree of intimacy grew between him and the man he was careful never to think of as his lover. It could hardly have been otherwise; Tseng, for all his many godlike attributes, was only human, with human weaknesses. They didn’t spend all their time fucking (though teenage Rufus wouldn’t have minded if they had): they also talked, and sometimes they played chess, or watched a movie, or did Rufus’s homework together; and once in a great while Tseng, who was no gossip, might tell some little anecdote about his day at work, offering tiny glimpses into his private feelings that Rufus zealously collected and later spent many hours sifting through in search of encouragement. He didn’t hope to be loved; he would never be so impractical. But he did rather hope that Tseng was starting to like him.

            “Kiss me,” he said one night – only it sounded more like a question. Kiss me?  

            It wasn’t as if he didn’t know what it felt like to be kissed. Plenty of girls had kissed him, some more pleasingly than others. He didn’t dislike girls; he just liked boys more. He and Arthur had kissed for hours, kissed until their lips were swollen and their tongues raw and burning with sweetness, like that one time when he was five and Palmer had slipped him an everlasting gobstopper and he’d sucked on it for two days until nanny had finally taken the nasty, bloody thing away.

            Tseng’s mouth was acquainted with every inch of his body, but they had never kissed; it was the one thing they hadn’t done. Rufus had been thinking for a while now about raising the subject, but had always lost his nerve at the critical moment. He didn’t want to risk losing what he had by reaching for more than he was entitled to.

            Tonight, though, things felt different. In fact, things had been shifting around for a while now between them: at the beginning it had all been about Rufus, about containing and satisfying his needs; but one-sided pleasure was intrinsically unsatisfying, and Rufus was determined to teach his Turk the blessings of receiving as well as giving. By patient study he had learnt what Tseng liked (practice makes perfect, as nanny used to say), and could, on the rare occasions when Tseng permitted it, pleasure his Turk into the sort of mellow mood where all kinds of liberties were tolerated. Tonight, for instance, he was playing with Tseng’s hair, that marvelous hair, heavy and strong, lustrous as an oil slick, and so straight it looked as if someone had pressed it with a hot steam iron; he was picking up black handfuls and letting them slide between his fingers, and Tseng, lying there with his eyes closed, did not tell him to stop. Tseng’s mouth was slightly open; he looked as if he might be falling asleep. His long eyelashes quivered with each breath he took. Rufus wondered where his imagination had carried him off to, and who he was thinking of. 

            “Kiss me,” he said.

            Tseng opened his eyes. They were as black as holes.

             “All right,” he said. “Come here.”

            He didn’t so much kiss Rufus as permit Rufus to kiss him. With one hand on Tseng’s chest, and the other tangled in his hair, Rufus bent over and pressed their mouths together. Nothing happened. Tseng’s lips were cool, firm, dry, unresponsive. Rufus ran his tongue across them, and then, when they parted, slipped his tongue inside to feel the sharpness of Tseng’s teeth, the humidity of his breath. Rufus’s heart was already thundering in his ears and his prick swiftly hardening, but Tseng remained unmoved, pulse beating in a slow, even rhythm. Rufus kissed him harder, mashed their mouths together, leaned his weight into Tseng’s face so that teeth were cutting into lips and nose bumped nose; drove his tongue as deep as he could, feeling his way, looking for some reaction.

            Under his palm he felt Tseng’s heart skip a beat.

            Next moment Tseng’s fingers were digging into his hair, tugging at his head, breaking the suction, pulling his mouth away as if it were the tentacle of a Malboro; he found himself flipped onto his back, and Tseng’s mouth went straight back to work, fulfilling its more customary duties.

            Has he ever kissed her? Rufus wondered. As soon as he asked it, he realised he already knew the answer.  

            He considered writing a letter of complaint to Veld. ‘From the office of the Vice-President, to the Director of Administrative Research. Dear Commander Veld, the lover that you sent me is broken…’

            But I can’t complainbecause I like him that wayI like the smell of iron and gunpowder in his hair. I like the fact that, no matter how hard he scrubs, he can’t always get the blood out from under his fingernails. I like thinking about what he does with his hands when he’s not with me. I like fantasizing about him putting those hands round my neck while he’s fucking me. Maybe he likes that thought too. Maybe, one day, he’ll do it.

            When Rufus finally rebelled, it happened on the spur of the moment. One couldn’t plan for such things. He hadn’t even known he was going to do it until the moment he realised that his bodyguard for the evening, Rod, was looking the other way, attention wholly absorbed by a pair of shapely female buttocks sashaying their way across the crowded foyer.  Rufus was wearing a dinner jacket that night instead of his trademark white, and the barber had gelled and combed his hair into an unnatural submission; it was thus a simple matter for him to melt into the throng, easing his way past acquaintances until he found a side door, opened it, stepped out into the lane behind the theatre, chose a direction at random, and set off, wondering how long it would take them to find him this time.

            Four hours, was the answer. When they eventually tracked him down to the public toilets at the back of Robson’s supermarket, a venue notorious for such encounters, he was so drunk he could hardly stand; he’d lost his jacket and given away his pearl cufflinks; his trousers were around his ankles, and he’d just come in spurts all over the hand of a Wutaian waiter he’d picked up in a backstreet take-away over in Sector Two. The young man barely spoke the language, and had no idea who he was.  His heart was still pounding and his breath ragged when Tseng grabbed him by the back of the shirt, pulled him out to where Rod was waiting to take charge of him, went inside the cubicle, and shut the door.

            Rod half-dragged, half-carried him to the waiting car. Rude was sitting at the wheel. He didn’t even turn his head.

            “Tseng’s just jealous,” Rufus slurred, as Rod helped him in to the passenger seat.

            “Whatever you say, V.P.” Rod leaned in to fasten Rufus’s seatbelt.

            “He kissed me,” said Rufus. “He tasted rather strongly of garlic, but it wasn’t unpleasant. Garlic and coriander.”

            From inside the toilets they heard the sound of Tseng’s gun being fired, just the once.

            Rufus knew that any normal person would be feeling guilt, or at least remorse. He felt neither of these things. Instead, he felt triumphant - valued - and, for the first time since Tseng had started fucking him, a sense that he was the one in control. You pulled the trigger, he thought, but I made you do it.           

            In that moment, with that thought, Rufus Shinra had his first true insight into the corrupting nature of love.