It was one week before Shinra Corporation’s Yule ball, the offices were gaudy with decorations, the backstabbing over seating arrangements had reached its annual fever pitch, and Tseng was airing out his formal robes.
Indications of the season indeed.
He lifted each layer carefully out of its drawer and unfolded delicate, crackling paper, spreading his armfuls of silk and shining embroidery out on the floor mats so he could inspect the seams before hanging them to air.
“I never realized just how much fabric that is,” Rufus said thoughtfully from where he was curled up on the end of Tseng’s couch. “What’s it like to wear?”
“Heavy,” Tseng told him dryly as he pulled out the last layer, that being the most pertinent part of the answer for Rufus. Before Tseng had gotten his shoes and jacket all the way off or undone his cuffs to roll them up, this evening, Rufus had already shed his linen suit in favor of an ancient T-shirt and sweat pants that had migrated to Tseng’s apartment in the city. He could, he supposed, imagine Rufus putting up with formal court garments if there was some overriding reason to do so, but he had no doubt whatsoever the complaints before and after would be epic. Rufus didn’t even like the mere two or three layers of Midgar suits.
So he was a bit surprised when Rufus made an interested sound. “They look easy to move in, though.” He rested his chin on folded arms across the arm of the couch. “Do you have any others I could try on, just to see?” Tseng raised his brows, and Rufus smiled. “You always look… different in them, at the Yule ball. I’ve been curious.”
“Hm.” Tseng sat back on his heels, considering the silk spread out around him. He did have casual cotton robes in this apartment, but that wouldn’t answer Rufus’ question, not really. And while a lingering part of him was shocked by the idea of dressing Rufus in these, another part of him was very entertained by the suggestion. It was the same part of him that kept thinking about taking Tifa on a tour of Wutai’s temples just so he could watch her wipe the floor with every master of their arts that she met.
And after all, weren’t Imperial robes appropriate to Rufus Shinra? Tseng knew he was smirking a little, and Rufus grinned back at him, straightening up. “We can use these,” Tseng said, picking up the short innermost robe and shaking it out gently. “You’ll need to undress again, though. Believe me, you don’t want to be wearing any extra layers under all this.”
Rufus shrugged and promptly stripped out of his shirt and sweats, tossing them over the back of the couch. He didn’t have anything under them, and Tseng reflected with some amusement that now he knew what Rufus had originally planned for the evening.
Perhaps they’d get to that later.
He stood Rufus in the middle of the room and draped him in one layer after another, fingers stumbling now and then as he knotted ties and folded belts because he was so unused to doing them this way around, now. They weren’t exactly traditional in any case; he had long ago cut each and every tie and belt somewhere unobtrusive and sewed in break-away snaps. The hems were cheated, too, carefully taken up so his feet were free under the last two layers. On Rufus they were actually far closer to the proper, floor-dragging, foot-muddling length. Even on these altered robes, though, the details were still fine enough, and many enough, to distract him from the point of the project until he tied the last, ornate knot and stepped back to regard his handiwork as a whole
And then the breath went out of him.
Rufus stood in the center of the room, straight and still under the weight of the robes, a straightness Tseng’s gut recognized; it was the way every noble child learned to stand, under those layers, and the sudden sight of Rufus standing with a noble’s still poise made Tseng’s chest tighten. The lift of Rufus’ chin was the same determination Tseng saw every day, but he now saw, abruptly, that it was also the straightness of honor fit to accompany the imperial seal embroidered into those robes. This, the silk whispered to him as Rufus shifted slightly, was indeed his rightful ruler, and the faint smile that grew on Rufus’ lips as he watched Tseng was weighted with all the knowledge a lord should have of his man.
The weight of blood and history, of need and duty, pressed down on Tseng until his knees hit the floor. Rufus’ eyes followed him down and the acceptance in them was not only the possessiveness of a son of Shinra. In the light reflected up from that rich silk and gold, it was also a ruler’s awareness of obligation, to and from those he commanded. It was everything Tseng had longed passionately to believe Rufus could do and be. Everything he’d told himself he must not dare hope for. It felt like falling and catching himself to complete his bow, hands spread out against the floor before him, head bowed down.
“Lord,” Tseng breathed in his own tongue, the single word bare of extra honorifics that proclaimed, not merely formal, but personal loyalty. The one word that paraded for all to hear that he belonged to this man, body and blood. He knew, he knew, Rufus wouldn’t understand all that it meant, but he couldn’t help offering it anyway. Offering it and claiming the rights of honor and service that went it.
Robes rustled with slow steps toward him, and the rhythm was off, more uncertain than any noble Rufus’ age would be. Even so, it was the sound that told him his lord approached, and it kept him down like a hand on his nape.
Until Rufus’ hand cupped his jaw and drew his head up.
Tseng was breathing fast, shocked by the intimacy of his lord stooping to touch him and raise him. Rufus didn’t mean it that way; he touched Tseng freely all the time. But feeling the weight of Rufus’ wide sleeves against his shoulder made Tseng shiver with his nearness, with the sweetness of being permitted this familiarity. There was heat in Rufus’ eyes, the heat that Tseng’s surrender always lit there. Tonight, though, Tseng finally thought he saw the measure of his own loyalty reflected, weighed justly by the one he’d given it to. As Rufus’ thumb stroked down the line of his jaw, he prayed to every god he’d ever tried to turn his back on that it was true.
“You’re mine,” Rufus told him, and Tseng couldn’t help the tiny sound that wrung out of him, because Rufus’ voice was quiet. It wasn’t Rufus’ triumph that Tseng heard in that claim tonight—it was his answer to Tseng’s need, and Tseng almost slid away from his hold to bow his head again in acknowledgement and gratitude. But resisting Rufus’ hand would be unthinkable, in this moment. “Yes,” he whispered instead.
Rufus’ eyes were dark. “Come and take these off,” he said, very softly, straightening up again to stand quiet and poised. Tseng shivered and nodded, wordless. He rose from his knees and began to undo Rufus’ robes, lifting each one off his shoulders with careful hands. When the last one was laid aside, Rufus leaned back against Tseng, and Tseng’s breath caught. He folded his arms around Rufus’ waist, bending his head to press his mouth to Rufus’ bare shoulder, a little dizzy with the feel of Rufus relaxed in his arms. This was a gift, not merely of Rufus’ trust but of his understanding. He’d seen what Tseng needed.
“I beg you to permit me,” he murmured against Rufus’ skin, and he knew Rufus wouldn’t understand the words but the language of Midgar didn’t have the words, the forms of submission and obligation, to shape his entreaty in.
Rufus seemed to hear what he meant anyway. He leaned his head back against Tseng’s shoulder, smiling, body language perfectly at ease in the curve of Tseng’s body. “Yes,” he said, and the word was permission and command. It shivered through Tseng and he gathered Rufus closer, one hand sliding up to press over Rufus’ heart, offering his own body as Rufus’ shield and shelter. This was his role, this was his place, and he was fighting not to flinch with the memory of every time the instincts of his upbringing had cried out for him to destroy whatever offered Rufus insult—and had to be stifled. This was his lord, and Tseng’s heart told him he had failed in what he owed far too often, despite his mind’s insistence that it was necessary, that Rufus himself would never have allowed Tseng to upset Shinra’s delicate political balance to answer those slights properly.
“Tseng,” Rufus said softly, and Tseng prepared to draw back, to box up this part of him again because he knew full well it was too passionate to let run free in this land. But Rufus didn’t move away. He lifted his arms up and reached behind him to twine them loosely around Tseng’s neck, uncovering himself completely. There was nothing to guard him at all, now, but Tseng’s arms around him, and Tseng’s breath nearly stopped.
“Rufus,” he whispered, shaking. Terrifying warmth curled through his stomach, that Rufus would give him this, trust him like this, see him like this. His hands stroked over and over Rufus’ body, helplessly protective, and Rufus relaxed into them, eyes closed. Tseng was speaking in his own tongue again, phrase after rippling phrase in the most abject form, begging humbly for the favor Rufus had just shown him because he couldn’t quite believe it was this simple.
It took a long time for Tseng to quiet himself again, and Rufus leaned in his arms the whole while, apparently perfectly content. His fingers combed lightly through Tseng’s hair now and then. “It’s okay,” he said at last, quietly, not opening his eyes. “It’s okay, Tseng. You’re mine.” He said it like it explained everything about this night, and after what Rufus had given and shown him Tseng couldn’t deny that it did. That Rufus was, indeed, a ruler who would give all of himself in return for the swords and souls his followers laid at his feet. The very one Tseng had wanted him to be, taught him to be, and never dared believe in.
It was shame for that lack of faith that put him back on his knees when Rufus finally straightened and turned—not something Tseng had expected to ever feel again in his life, but the steadiness of Rufus’ eyes on him told his heart that he should have known before this. He pressed a kiss to Rufus’ palm, and bent his head. “My life and honor are in your hand.” The words, finally spoken out loud, hung in the air of the room like a bird hovering.
Rufus’ other hand rested lightly on his head. “And my honor is in your care,” he answered. It drove a gasp out of Tseng, the gesture, the words, so perfectly right even in the clumsy language of Midgar.
“Tseng.” When Tseng looked up, Rufus was smiling. “Take me to bed.”
Tseng had to swallow. There was knowledge in Rufus’ eyes. Not the laughing victory he’d sometimes seen there when Rufus first understood his power over Tseng, nor the pleasure that had remained for all the years since. Only knowledge. This night Rufus knew, he understood the exact measure of Tseng’s surrender to his mastery. And he offered Tseng back his trust in the same measure.
Tseng rose silently and followed Rufus into the bedroom. Rufus stretched out on Tseng’s bed, relaxed and waiting, and Tseng had to swallow again against the tangle of desire and tenderness and reverence that rose in him. Slowly, every movement precise under the weight of Rufus’ eyes on him, he stripped off his clothes and folded each item. When he turned back to the bed, Rufus was smiling with the pure appreciation he so often showed for Tseng’s body. He held out a hand, offering and commanding, and Tseng came to him.
He was shocked all over again by Rufus’ pliancy against him, and found himself rolling Rufus underneath him, driven to shelter him. Rufus laughed quietly and settled against the covers, arms draped easily around Tseng’s shoulders. Tseng shivered at the sound, at the acceptance in it, and pressed his mouth to the curve of Rufus’ neck, open and deferential. “Will you tell me,” he asked, husky, “what it is you wish of me?” Because he wasn’t sure how much more he could bring himself to do without Rufus’ word. Not tonight.
“Mmm.” Rufus tipped his head back, relaxed, fingers stroking delicately up and down Tseng’s nape under the loose spill of his hair until Tseng was breathless. “I want you inside me. Slowly.”
Tseng gathered him closer, steadied by that direction. “Thank you.”
Rufus stroked a thumb over Tseng’s cheekbone, eyes dark; he understood, Tseng thought, how much the demands of this trust unsettled Tseng. Understood and required it anyway, and Tseng could only bend his head as Rufus pressed home that proof and reminder of just how complete Tseng’s submission to him was. That reminder was exactly what Tseng needed, and he was so hard from it that he was a getting little light-headed.
He went slowly, though, as Rufus had told him, gradually opening the tightness of Rufus’ body with slick fingers. The husky sounds Rufus made against his shoulder as he held Rufus close and sank two fingers deep into him made Tseng’s breath come quicker. And Rufus, almost without precedent, wasn’t pushing. Wasn’t urging Tseng on. Was relaxed in Tseng’s arms and moving against him with slow abandon, following the guidance of Tseng’s hands on him.
He closed his eyes and just breathed, trembling with the weight of everything Rufus laid so easily in his hands. No, perhaps not easily. But deliberately and without hesitation. “Please, lord,” he whispered against Rufus’ hair, not even sure what he was pleading for.
“Yes,” Rufus sighed, eyes half closed as he let his head fall back. “Now.”
The command, soft as it was, eased Tseng back from the edge again and his hands were steady as he laid Rufus back against the sheets and settled between his thighs. The vulnerable arch of Rufus’ body as Tseng pressed into him nearly undid him again. Even after taking so long in preparation, Rufus was tight and fiercely hot around Tseng’s cock, and his unrestrained moan cut Tseng’s breath into gasps. His eyes were locked on Rufus’ face, on the softness of his parted lips as Tseng drove into him with long, slow thrusts. To be given this, and to have this required of him… it was like a hand, Rufus’ hand, reaching down into him to grasp all the things that he held behind a proper reserve and bring them up to the light, laid bare. Tseng groaned wordlessly as Rufus’ fingers slid through his hair, down his throat to grip his shoulders. He was dizzy with the pleasure of burying himself in Rufus’ body and the sweetness of submitting to Rufus’ will.
Rufus moaned as Tseng drove into him deeper, hands stroking over his shoulders, down his chest. “Tseng.” The next words were a husky whisper, “This. Needed this. Need you.”
That admission, that need, broke Tseng open at last, broke through him in a graceless tumble of words gasped out between kisses as he gathered Rufus tight in his arms. “Yes, my lord, my love, I swear I’m yours, yours for all life and time, body and soul and blood, I belong to you…” Rufus’ arms locked around him and his body tightened on Tseng hard. Tseng fell right after him, shaking against Rufus as heat shuddered through his bones in hard, gasping waves and the acknowledgement of Rufus’ dominion wrapped around his heart.
Eventually they just lay together, panting for breath. After a few moments, Tseng stirred and murmured against Rufus’ neck, “Forgive me. Forgive me for not seeing, for doubting the heart of you. I offer no excuse.” This time, at least, he managed to translate his apology.
Rufus’ fingers stroked through his hair. “I should have asked,” he said quietly. “I was just… afraid of what the answer might be.” His voice turned wry. “I mean, there are all kinds of reasons you could choose to serve me without… belonging to me. Willingly, at least.”
Tseng swallowed and made himself lean up on his elbows to meet Rufus’ eyes. “I serve you willingly, with all my strength and soul,” he said, low. “I have belonged to you since the moment we met.” And before that, truth be told, but saying that would only distract Rufus right now. “I made that choice in full knowledge.” That, at least, was the whole truth.
Rufus looked up at him, eyes clear and bottomless as the sky. “Do you really…” He hesitated, eyes suddenly flickering aside as his fingers stroked lightly over Tseng’s chest.
Over his heart.
Tseng really did blame a great deal on the language of Midgar, which was so gracelessly frank about these things that it made Tseng downright embarrassed to speak openly of love. He pressed a kiss to Rufus’ brow and another to his lips and murmured, eyes closed for a moment. “Yes. I do. As my student. As my lord. As my friend. As my life.”
Rufus shivered and pressed closer letting out a slow, slightly shaky breath. “Thank you,” he said against Tseng’s shoulder. And then he added, rueful. “I don’t know the right words for any of it. But, yes.”
Fine tension Tseng had barely even noticed relaxed all at once, and he settled against Rufus with a soft sigh of his own. “Thank you,” he whispered back.
He might find the language of this city awkward and distressingly blunt for expressing heart truths in, but Rufus had never even really known the meanings of his own native words. To recognize love, loyalty, trust nevertheless… Tseng was grateful for that as he would be for any miracle. The fact that Rufus had worked this one out of the pure steel of his soul was exactly the reason every word Tseng had spoken tonight was true.
For the knowledge that Rufus truly cherished his people, that he knew the true measure of Tseng’s loyalty and could return it, Tseng might just be willing to offer up true thanks. At least, he would if he’d thought Leviathan or any other god had had a damn thing to do with it, which he most assuredly did not.
No, what he offered up was himself, and only to Rufus’ hands.
Which was why he wrapped himself around Rufus, close and protective as was his right. And smiled into the half-light of the city’s night through his window as Rufus settled against him.
He belonged to Rufus Shinra, and this was his.