A Solstice fic, unknown timeline (possibly post-game?). Tseng, Rufus, and a small holiday gift.
The sun was fading behind the dark clouds that edged the horizon, casting lengthening shadows along the grey slush packed into the gutters, all that was left of the morning's snowfall.
Tseng juggled several meticulously wrapped packages as he slipped a hand into his pocket and pressed the nub on his keys making the locks of his car raise with a barely audible click.
He dropped the packages on the passenger seat and straightened checking the surrounding street. A few last minute shoppers scurried about, some with red faced, teary eyed children in tow--no doubt crying over some toy they were refused that would wind up under the tree anyway--scrambling to make those last minute purchases for the Winter Festival.
Tseng had shut the car door and moved to the driver's side of his car when the sign in the window of the pet shop across the street caught his eye; tall letters gleamed stark black against the cardstock.
A rare breed. Proud. Protective.
He glanced at his car then back to the large display window and the small, almost invisible, black bundle squirming restlessly in the saw chips near the back wall of the pen. Locking the doors again he headed across the street, his tread slow and purposeful, partly so as not to slip on the ice.
Inside the shop the air was warm as a Wutai summer and littered with the scents of sawdust, and fur, and scales. Somewhere in the back dogs barked from inside wire pens waiting for someone to come and take them home.
Tseng swept his gaze over the store out of habit noting the clerk behind the counter, the little boy and his mother peering into the rabbit bin.
He turned back to the display window and the small blue-black fur ball that slowly uncurled itself, stretching to its full length-about the size of his outstretched hand. The creature flipped onto its front and slunk toward the glass near Tseng, a low rolling mew sounding from deep inside its throat.
Tseng had just lowered his hand into the pin when the clerk appeared at his elbow, eyes agleam with the thought of a possible sale. "Can I help you sir?"
Tseng side glanced at him, motioned with a short nod of his head to the bin. "How much?"
The clerk rubbed one wrist. "Oh-um, around 400, sir, being of such a rare breed and all. But, this one," he indicated the cat currently stretching herself tall, paw reaching out for Tseng's shirt cuff, "she's the runt of the litter. Might I suggest-"
Tseng scooped up the cat before the clerk could finish his sentence. The little runt sank claws into the thick black cloth of his coat as her teeth bit lightly on the ball of his thumb. Her eyes, bright green and impishly crossed, rolled up to meet his gaze.
"You're insolent," Tseng murmured, "he'll love you."
Murr, she said and proceeded to bite once more before laving her tongue across a soot colored paw. The tentacles between her ears, barely more than nubs at the moment, twitched as he passed a hand over her head, before he strode toward the counter. The clerk followed at his heels.
The clerk seemed to gauge Tseng's gaze as he tapped up the price in the register, as Tseng pulled the card from his wallet, handed it over, and listened to the beep of the charge going across electrical pathways. 400 hardly hurt his bank account, particularly considering some of the freelance work he'd taken on in the past few weeks, but, he thought, glancing down at the cat in the box, there was no need to let the clerk know that.
He took the card from the clerk, slipped it back into his wallet, glanced at his watch as he slid the slim fold of leather into his pocket. If he hurried, he might make it back before Rufus arrived.
The fire was just beginning to pick up speed and he could feel the edges of heat from it caressing his half numb face, his hands.
The cat was currently occupied in chasing her tail before the grate and looking most offended when she managed to catch and bite the tip of it.
Tseng was just removing a hanging pot to put water on to boil when a loud bang sounded at the front door, followed by muttered, muffled curses, all in varying partnerships; such a person could never be expected to use the colloquial pairings.
At the noise, the cat streaked across the living room and through the open bedroom door. Tseng caught a glimpse of her tail disappearing under the bed.
"So much for the Breed of Guardians..." he half muttered to himself, feeling his mouth quirk at the corner. He moved toward the door, heard the curses still being muttered behind it, the sound of a key in the lock, and opened it before the tumblers began to roll.
Rufus, looking rumpled in his overcoat, hair hanging askew in his eyes, had his carry on bag slung over his shoulder; his suitcase had fallen into the room with a thud as Tseng opened the door.
Tseng raised an eyebrow. "Don't you have people to carry your luggage for you?"
"Of course," Rufus grunted, kicking the suitcase through the door. "I gave them the rest of the day off."
Tseng took the bag from his shoulder. "A surge in Holiday spirit, Rufus?"
Rufus brushed the hair off his forehead watching as Tseng placed the bag in the hall closet and turned back to face him. "Lets just say I'm not taking any chances on having these few days of freedom interrupted by old business associates rattling chains and leaking ectoplasm all over the place."
Tseng half smiled. "Someone has been reading classics again." He picked up the suitcase to take it to the bedroom.
Rufus watched him move, the fluid half bend from the knees, the way Tseng's hair fell silkily over his shoulders, like water, free and careless. He followed the strands to the collar of the shirt, the slip of olive skin shown there, the silky looking "v" where the collarbones met.
When Tseng turned Rufus watched him walk, smooth and unhurried as always, the soft black pants moving just right around the muscles in his legs.
"What is it?" Tseng asked when he returned, one eyebrow rising ever so slightly at Rufus' examination.
That did it. That damned eyebrow. Rufus still wasn't sure how such an innocuous curve of hair could be so sexy but Tseng made it so.
Almost without thought Rufus was on him, mouth pressing hard to Tseng's, seeking out the taller man's tongue, hand's tangling in the long black hair, moving under the shirt to touch hot skin.
Tseng, though taken slightly aback, regained himself, took Rufus to the floor with him, stripping him of his coat, laying them out before the fireplace, cradled on white leather lined with silk. They shed clothes like old skin, reveled in the heat from the fireplace, the silkiness of the coat, the searing smoothness of each other's bodies.
Neither had any regard for gentleness. The pace was rapid, a frenzy of fingers, teeth, and lips culminating in starbursts of white that shattered and fell around them like a multitude of snowflakes as their laboured breathing slowed, Rufus' stirring the black veil that fell across his face, Tseng's increasing the humidity in the crevice of Rufus' shoulder.
"Aa-" Rufus murmured.
"Is that all you can say?" Tseng asked as he lowered himself to Rufus side, finger's curling possessively over the slim, pale hip.
"...Thanks," Rufus supplied, pausing as a low chuckle came from Tseng. Rufus propped himself up on his elbow. "I did need that after dealing with those bloody bureaucrats all week."
"Finding politics not to your liking?"
"Despite his obvious short comings...I'm afraid to say my father was a bit more diplomatic than I am-" Rufus shifted, "at least when he was in the conference room," he added as an afterthought.
"Hm. As long as I do before I break and have them all sacked and used as fish food. I-" Rufus stopped, a peculiar look sliding over his face.
Tseng, about to ask him what the matter was, paused as a low, delicate sound rumbled over the air.
Two ears peaked over Rufus' side, followed by two paws resting on the curve of skin there, the sharp, pin points of claws digging in slightly before the cat leapt and settled herself on Rufus' hip.
"Tseng," Rufus said, looking at the little creature looking at him with her crossed green eyes, "what is this?"
"I spotted her while I was out today. She's the same breed..." he said, letting the words trail off into silence, knowing he didn't need to say anything further.
Rufus reached out, pulled the cat from his hip, sitting up to hold her in front of him. He passed a hand over the small tentacles on her head. They twitched under his touch and she blinked at him, then let out a loud purr.
Rufus' lips curled softly into an unhindered smile. "What's her name?"
Tseng, who'd mentally been calling the cat Runt, declined to comment knowing Rufus' penchant for dramatic names. "She doesn't have one. I thought you'd like to name her."
"She's so small." He lifted the cat, holding her beneath her forelegs and she stretched long, spreading her small toes and raising her forepaws toward the ceiling.
Tseng blinked. "What?"
Rufus glanced at him. "Dulcamara. As in Solanum. Nightshade."
"/Where/ did you learn that?"
"During one of my stints with teen angst when I kept thinking of slipping something into my father's evening Gin." Rufus grinned sharply, lay back down on his coat, pulling the cat with him. "Dulcamara. It's too big a name for you right now," he said near the cat's ear, "but I think Mara will work."
The cat seemed to eye Rufus critically for a moment before moving forward on his naked chest and curling herself in the curve of his throat, just below his chin, purring like a plane engine on its last legs.
Tseng watched the two for a moment before gathering his scattered clothes, slipping on his pants and leaving the shirt unbuttoned over them. He rose and returned to the kitchen to start the process of cooking that Rufus' arrival had interrupted. Occasionally he glanced at the two forms before the fireplace, Rufus' face slack with sleep, the ball of black fur like a breathing growth on his throat.
Outside a mist of snow began falling, illuminated by the sickly glow of street lamps five four stories below. Inside, the firelight and lamplights mingled, casting warm honeyed light across the room's occupants, highlighting the shadows beneath Rufus' eyes, catching in the blue undertones of Mara's coat, shining on the strands of Tseng's hair as he took his seat next to the strange sleeping couple as satisfying smells began to fill the rooms.
Resting his hand on Rufus' that lay curled over Mara's body, he held his glass of red wine to the fire's light and said his personal salute to the closing of the year.
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