Title: Contagion 5/?
Beta: none, very rough draft
Fandom: FF7 AU (Feral-verse)
Pairing/Characters: OT4 (Aeris/Cloud/Zack/Sephiroth); Cid/Vincent; Rufus/Turks
Warnings: hints of future (and past) foursomes, m/m, xeno-sex
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VII and all related prequels and sequels belong to Square-Enix.
Summary: Long forgotten secrets of the Cetra and their culture are gradually revealed as a new, dangerous type of super-predator emerges on the Planet.
A/N: If readers are interested in more details on the setup and plot of the Feral-verse, check out the discussion of this particular OT4-plotbunny.
CREDITS: This particular batch of OT4 plot-critters was mainly fed and inspired by:
-- icedark_elf, especially "Confused" and her dark AUs "Ravens" and its prequel "Becoming Gods;
-- forgottenlover and her fic "Plans of the Dead", which gave me the perfect jumping-off point;
-- mimi_sardinia for her great ideas about Cetra viruses;
-- Princess Artemis and her Cid-centric fics "Venus Gospel" and "The Thief of Hell";
-- ciceqi's "Anthroverse", "Mascotverse" stories, and her lovely Cid/Vincent xeno-fic Wanting";
-- ladynero's Crack!Fic series, especially the stuff about O4 symbolic tattoos and suggestion what could have happened to Aeris' body;
and many others. So many thanks, guys! ^_^
[ Healin Lodge ]
It was the subtle vibration against Reno's shoulder and arm that told him exactly where that nasty growl was coming from.
"Oh, fuck...," he whispered.
When a person suddenly realizes that he's got something pissed off and snarling mad slung over his shoulder, the natural thing to do is to toss it ASAP.
However for Reno, the situation wasn't quite so simple. Namely, the pissed off snarling mad thing was none other than Rufus Shinra, his boss and occasional -- or was it 'ex-' if you haven't screwed each other in over two years? -- sex partner. Rufus's physical condition was already seriously iffy, to say nothing about his currently fucked up mental state. Reno had no desire to make things worse by dumping Rufus on his pretty blond head.
He felt Rufus's hands settle and press down on his back. Normally Reno would have no problem with Rufus groping his ass, but this time, he felt a little extra something in the other's touch....
....light stinging prickles, like being poked with a bunch of sharp pins....
Pins? One could wish, but Reno knew better. The pokey things were bloody fucking CLAWS -- claws that were long enough and sharp enough to penetrate the tight, reinforced cloth of his Turk suit -- the same stuff Shinra designed to resist edged weapons, ballistic projectiles, and other similarly nasty shit.
Reno gave up on even trying to find a good expletive to vent his feelings. As for the claws, he had a profound natural aversion to sharp pointy things near his spine. Years as a Turk had done nothing to make him change that attitude.
And now that he thought about it, was he even sure that he was dealing with the real Rufus? For all he knew, he could easily be toting around some weird-ass mimic monster that merely looked like Rufus and which was getting ready to bite off his damn head in the next few seconds. And if that was the case, where the fuck was the real Rufus? Hopefully not inside the damn mimic's stomach....
Okay, one crisis at a time, thank you.
But even as Reno tensed and prepared to dump Rufus -- or whatever -- off his shoulder, the snarling abruptly stopped.
Reno froze, then cautiously said, "Ummm, you... say something, boss?"
There was a brief pause, then he heard the other say, "Put me down. And go away. Now."
The words were quiet, perfectly clear, and perfectly adamant. In other words, except for the slightly snarly undertone, it sounded exactly like typical Rufus. Actually, it sounded like typical Rufus in a moderately pissy mood. Which was fine with Reno. Pissy Rufus, he could deal with. Frankly, at this point, Reno was willing to take any sort of rationally thinking Rufus.
"Sorry, boss, but leaving you to wander around the woods by your lonesome is not a viable option at the moment."
".... stubborn asshole."
"Yours or mine?" Reno quipped, trying to hide his tremendous relief. Yup, he was talking to the real Rufus -- a mite ticked off, perhaps, but thankfully coherent and lucid. That was the important thing. As long as the boss's brain was tracking properly, they could deal with whatever weird physical shit was going on.
Reno absently wondered if he dared to cop a feel of Rufus's butt, seeing it was so conveniently at hand, then remembered those damn claws.
For Rufus, the curing of his Geostigma had been a decidedly mixed blessing. Because even as his physical condition had improved, his mental condition had slowly, but inexorably deteriorated. Getting rid of a fatal disease was all well and good. But if given a choice between physical pain and losing his mind, he'd take the physical pain every time.
The onset had been subtle. He had found himself becoming increasingly distracted and unable to focus. His thoughts began to take strange, inexplicable turns. Odd fancies and feelings haunted both his waking and dreaming hours. But at the same time, his senses were growing more acute and sensitive to his surroundings -- sometimes, unbearably so. Somehow, he was becoming simultaneously disconnected and -too- connected to the world around him.
Still, with considerable effort, Rufus had managed to hide the problem. At first he had hoped that it was merely a passing phase, a sort of rebound effect of his body being relieved of the stress of the Geostigma. But to his dismay and increasing concern, his condition was not improving at all.
As his mental state continued to degenerate, Rufus knew he couldn't hide his condition from the Turks for much longer. And just as he was struggling with how to broach the subject with Tseng, the damn virus came and made the situation orders of magnitude worse. Forget about trying to act remotely normal, not when everything around him turned into a seething, impossibly confusing tangle of colors, noises, smells, and sensations.
But suddenly, through that mad sensory haze, he had become aware of a... wrongness... in his environment. That awareness had roused him from his near-stupor and sent him into the woods, driven by pure instinct and the knowedge that this 'wrongness' needed to be tracked down and removed.
Reno's appearance had changed the situation. The 'wrongness' was no longer merely a vaguely annoying semi-threat, but now a definite and urgent danger. Not to himself, but to Reno. He didn't know why, but Rufus -knew- that Reno was much more vulnerable than he was. That shift in awareness cut through his mental confusion, at least partially, and he was thankful for that.
"Reno... put me down and go away. NOW."
"Sorry, but I'm going to have to respectfully decline, yo," Reno retorted as he continued down the path.
Rufus knew he wasn't explaining himself clearly, but articulating his reasons turned out to be unexpectedly difficult. He was acting almost entirely on instinct rather than logic, something he had never done before. But with his brain teetering on overload, translating those instincts into human words took ridiculous amounts of effort.
And now Reno was going all protective on him -- which Rufus appreciated, truly -- but the timing basically sucked. The threat was moving ever closer and he wanted Reno gone, away from the source of danger. Or at least, he wanted Reno together with the other Turks. In a group, they would be safer. Not much, but safer.
Rufus struggled to find the right words to explain the situation, to persuade Reno to leave him behind and to go on without him. It would have been a difficult task under ordinary conditions, but in the present circumstances, it was impossible. His brain simply would not cooperate. The certainty of Reno's and the other Turks' vulnerability was pushing something in him ever closer to the breaking point. Rufus choked down the urge to snarl -- snarl? -- in a mixture of anger and frustration, as he felt the 'wrongness' moving ever closer.
But the exact location of the approaching threat eluded Rufus. There was simply too much sensory information to deal with. His nervous system felt raw as it struggled to sort through so much input.
So when the attack actually came, it took a few critical fractions of a second before Rufus managed any sort of response.
"Reno, on your left!"
Reno heard Rufus's warning, and started to turn even as he caught a blur of motion from the corner of his eye. The scaly car-sized monster was heavily armored but bloody fast, with long, viciously hooked tusks bracketing a fanged cavernous mouth big enough to gobble down a man whole.
Reno knew he had a slim but decent chance of dodging the creature's initial blitz attack. However, doing so would have required him to turn, exposing his right side and shoulder... and Rufus.
So Reno held his ground, well aware that he would probably pay big time for that decision. But that was fine, because there was no way in hell he was about to allow that monster a clean shot at Rufus.
The monster -- some sort of mutated wild pig? -- bellowed furiously. Reno managed to fend off the first slash of the tusks, but not the second. With a quick jerk of its head, the monster managed to bury a lower tusk deep into his left side.
Man, it was going to fucking hurt SO bad when that tusk came out...
But Reno refused to worry about it as he somehow managed to toss Rufus clear of the area. Shoving the pain in his guts aside, he took advantage of the monster's closeness to bury the business end of his shock staff deep into the beast's right eye.
Before the creature could pull away -- and rip his insides out in the process -- Reno set his weapon on overload and hit the trigger. Even as the charge raced down the staff, Reno felt an unexpected flare of power from within himself join it. As the massive combined energy charge ripped deep into the creature's skull, he braced himself for the inevitable....
He didn't bother trying to hold back his scream as the monster's death throes tore him open, nor did he waste time looking down at the damage. He wasn't particularly interested in seeing his guts spilling all over the ground. Instead, he concentrated on hanging on and making sure that the fucking pig-critter was dead as he could make it. He grinned savagely as he caught the smell of charred monster brains and watched the life fade from the pig-creature's remaining eyes. Watching the beast's head split open from the internal pressure of boiling brain matter was just an added bonus.
Even as he hit the ground, Reno felt a decent sense of accomplishment. At least the damn monster was down and Rufus was safe....
.... or perhaps not.
Even as everything around him faded to black, Reno heard more crashing, snuffling noises all around him.
Well, shit. The fucking pig had buddies.
It was fascinating how a desperate crisis could make one's world suddenly snap into focus.
The sight and smell of Reno's blood was shock enough, but the way Rufus could -feel- for himself the redhead's physical pain and grim determination gave him the jolt he needed to fight his way through the confusion inside his head.
For nearly as long as he could remember, Rufus had been the one to stand back while others did the dirty work. Those in charge gave the orders and subordinates carried those orders out. That was simply the way of things as his father had taught him.
And that worked fine if one thought only about results and didn't give a damn about what it took to achieve those results. But when one started to view those subordinates as real people and not merely as expendable, easily replaced commodities, things became... complicated.
At some point, Rufus had begun to care. True, he had used the Turks to further his own schemes just as much as his father did. But unlike his father, he had also grown to appreciate and value the Turks for who they were, not merely for what they could do for him.
But caring made one vulnerable, so naturally he had done his best to hide his sentiments from everyone. He worked especially hard to hide those emotions from his father. In his increasing paranoia about his heir -- partially justified, Rufus supposed -- his father would have severed any contact between him and the Turks and/or found a way to exploit his son's feelings as a means of control.
The Turks had inevitably picked up on his feelings, of course. And in time, they were no longer Shinra Corporation's Turks or the President's Turks. They were -his- Turks. And within the constraints of his situation, he had done what he could to protect them and prevent them from being wasted.
It had been a precarious balancing act that became increasingly difficult to maintain as his father become more obsessed and eccentric. Killing his father was one of the very few things Rufus was prepared to thank Sephiroth for.
But during the Meteor Crisis, after Diamond WEAPON's attack, that was when Rufus began to fully appreciate the extent of the Turks' loyalty. With the Planet teetering on the edge of destruction, they were under no obligation to protect him. Yet they did. And afterward, they stayed with him -- injured, sick and slowly dying as he was -- when they could have easily struck out on their own. People with their skills were always in demand.
It was that appreciation of the Turks and their loyalty which made the recent Sephiroth clone episode particularly infuriating. Once again, he had been stuck on the sidelines, unable to help, as the Turks risked their lives dealing with Kadaj and his companions.
That made his final conversation with Kadaj all the more enjoyable. The opportunity to drive the verbal knife into Kadaj and give it a few good twists had been a small but highly anticipated payback for all the harm Kadaj and his brothers had inflicted on Rufus's people.
Now everything became beautifully, exquisitely clear to Rufus.
This was his territory, his domain.
But far more importantly, Reno and the Turks were HIS people. And Rufus Shinra was not about to lose any of them, especially not to Jenova's tainted spawn.
So when the dead monsters's companions burst out of the undergrowth, Rufus was ready and waiting for them. He watched, quite unfazed, as they tossed their massive heads, shredded the foliage with their razor-sharp tusks, and tore deep grooves in the earth with their equally sharp hooves.
When he smiled and bared his teeth at them, he saw uncertainty, then fear, dawn in their dull piggish eyes. They shifted nervously from hoof to hoof, then started to back away.
Unfortunately, it was too little, too late.
Reno vaguely heard/felt something pass over him. Blade, wind, lightning... whatever it was, it reeked of deadly power. He heard a short panicked squeal, then the unmistakable thud of many pounds of flesh hitting the dirt. Actually, it was multiple thuds.
It seemed that the rest of the guys had finally arrived and hopefully in time. But what the fuck had Mac and Tasha used to take down those monsters so fast? Because if it was a weapon, he couldn't wait to get his hands on it.
He hoped the guys had a good healing materia or potion on them, because otherwise, he was in a shitload of trouble. He hurt like hell and most of his blood was in places where it shouldn't be. But he wasn't ready to pass out, not just yet. First, he wanted to be sure that Rufus was okay. Barely conscious, Reno waited to hear the familiar voices of his fellow Turks.
But as the silence continued, he finally worked up the energy to pry open his eyes and look around. His eyesight sucked, but he managed to make out a slender white figure walking toward him. Great, Rufus was on his feet and apparently unhurt.
But as Rufus moved closer and knelt down beside him, Reno noticed something a bit unusual about the other man.
".... you've got a tail. Tails. Big fluffy glowing tails," Reno mumbled through the blood in his mouth.
Rufus looked thoughtful, then reached behind him, and pulled a mass of pale golden fur into his lap and examined it. Definitely tails in the plural, and definitely glowing. In different colors, no less.
"So I do," Rufus observed, holding his tails up like a bouquet of flowers and looking at them with mild curiosity.
"....pretty...," Reno whispered.
"I'm glad you think so."
Although things started to go dim, Reno could see well enough as one of those pretty glowing tails -- the green one -- settled lightly over the gaping wound in his midsection. As its glow intensified, the pain in his guts immediately began to fade. If he didn't know better, he would swear that Rufus was using a healing materia. Not just any healing materia, but a seriously powerful one.
But that was impossible, right? Because it wasn't just a matter of having the right materia -- you also needed the power to use it properly. And with the exception of Cloud and some of his buddies, Reno didn't know of anyone else strong enough to use anything more powerful than a high-level Cure. What Rufus was doing with his tail was much more than that. He wasn't merely stabilizing Reno's condition -- he was really fixing stuff and doing it with hardly any effort.
Already feeling a little bit stronger, Reno reached up and patted the glowing gold-furred tail draped over him. It was softer than he expected, the long hairs tickling his skin. The tail tip twitched, then coiled snugly around his wrist like a warm fuzzy bracelet.
Reno glanced up at Rufus and caught a slight startled look on the blond's face.
"Not expecting that, were you?" Reno said with a faint grin.
Rufus shrugged, but said nothing as he continued to give that particular tail a pensive stare.
"So tell me, boss. What the fuck are you doing with furry TAILS, in the plural? Not just tails, but glowing tails that apparently cast high-end healing spells? Oh, let's not forget about the snarls and the claws, while we're at it."
"That's just the way I ended up after the Change."
"The Change. I Awoke and I Changed," Rufus said with a nonchalant shrug.
"I hate to say this, but you seem to be taking this 'Change' stuff way too calmly, yo."
"I just don't see the point of panicking -- or angsting -- about an inevitable and irreversible situation," Rufus said with a cool smile.
True, Rufus had handled the news of his Geostigma in the same cool, deliberate manner. But this wasn't the dignified acceptance of an unpleasant fact. Reno couldn't shake the feeling that Rufus was satisfied and maybe even enthusiastic about the present situation. That was a bit worrisome.
"I'm fine," Rufus said, almost as if he could read Reno's thoughts. "I know this is probably a shock to you. It's quite a surprise to me as well, which is why I'm going to need more time to get used to my present state of being."
"O-kay," Reno said a bit warily. Rufus's expression was blandly thoughtful, which warned Reno that the blond was plotting something sneaky and devious.
"Reno, I'm afraid I need you to take a nice long nap."
"Huh!?" He didn't like the sound of that and the twinge of uneasiness must have shown on his face.
Rufus chuckled softly. "Don't worry. After all, you're mine. And I take care of what's mine."
"Hey, I don't see your name tattooed on my ass," Reno complained, mostly on principle.
"I'm glad to see that you're feeling much better now. And I can arrange to fix that little deficiency on your ass."
When Rufus smiled again, Reno couldn't help noticing Rufus's teeth, marvelously white but with just a hint of unhuman sharpness. The sight should have been unnerving, even creepy. Instead, the exotic touch only made Rufus look even sexier, in Reno's opinion.
"Selfish possessive bastard."
"I am. Is that a problem?" Rufus retorted mildly.
"I guess not. It's a lot better than you going all sweet and mushy on me. That would've really weirded me out."
"I thought the Turks prided themselves on being able to adapt to any situation."
"Yeah, but some situations require a lot more adapting, yo," Reno replied with a wry grin. "And a 'lovey-dovey Rufus' is definitely one of them."
Shit, he was tired and achy. All he wanted to do right now was to curl up under that magnificent mass of furry golden tails and go to sleep. Which was exactly what Rufus wanted him to do, of course. But before he could relax and close his eyes, Reno had to know one thing.
"Are you -really- all right, Rufus?"
"I'm fine, Reno. I may not know exactly what's going on, but I know this much with certainty -- everything is as it should be with me."
"You're going to have lots... of explaining... to do... when I wake... up...."
When Reno's voice trailed off into a soft snore, Rufus smiled and took the opportunity to run his fingers caressingly along Reno's blood-smeared cheek.
"I suppose I do owe you some explanations, but not as many as you think, Reno. Because once you Awaken and Change, you too will be as you were meant to be. And a great deal will make sense without the need for any words."
Absently licking Reno's blood from his fingertips, Rufus scanned his surroundings. There were no more Jenova-spawn in the area. Tasha and Mac were rapidly headed in his direction. He detected some stress in them, but nothing serious. Reno's condition was weak, but stable.
Rufus had a few minutes before the other Turks arrived and in that time, he needed to set the scene properly to make his story believable. While it was feasible for Reno to kill one or even two of the large pig-beasts on his own, killing the entire pack of ten large heavily armored Jenova-spawn by himself was stretching the bounds of plausibility.
Rufus incinerated the remains of most of the monsters, except for the beast Reno had actually killed and one other. It took no concentration or conscious effort, merely a few instinctive flicks of a redly glowing tail. Another tail sent a quick breeze to scatter the ashes just enough to make the identification of the dead monsters impossible. The charred patches of earth left behind would only indicate the presence of multiple attackers and nothing more.
Once that was done, Rufus disappeared his tails and settled himself beside Reno. He wasn't ready to reveal himself to the world or the Turks just yet. Rufus wanted a few more days for the Change to settle completely in both his mind and body.
Tasha skidded to a stop beside him and the unconscious Reno. Mac followed a bit more slowly, taking time to survey the bodies of the dead monsters. Both Turks were breathing rather heavily and they looked dirty and disheveled.
"Are you all right?" Rufus asked sharply.
"Just a few scrapes and bruises. Nothing important," Tasha replied.
Mac added, "Sorry we couldn't get here any quicker. We got hung up by a bunch of moss flans. Haven't got a clue what the hell they're doing here out in the open, though."
"How are you feeling, Sir?" Tasha said, looking quite concerned.
"I was feeling rather woozy, but I'm fine now," Rufus said, deliberately allowing a tone of exhaustion to seep into his voice.
The two Turks continued to look worried, but they were also obviously relieved. No doubt Tseng had relayed Reno's earlier report on his mental condition to them.
"Did Reno do all this?" Mac said, jerking a thumb at the nearest monster corpse.
"Yes, he managed to kill that one as he went down."
"A hell of a job, considering the scaly armor on these things. Tasha, have you seen anything remotely like this before?"
"No. It's probably some sort of mutant." She was busy checking Reno's pulse.
"What the hell did that?" Mac muttered, moving closer and staring down at the deep wound along Reno's left side.
"The monster nearly disemboweled him with one of those huge tusks," murmured Rufus, leaning against a nearby tree as if for support. But as nasty and serious as the wound looked, it was nothing compared to the original massively gaping injury.
In the back of his head, Rufus felt a part of him twitch in annoyance at leaving its task half-done. He soothed the healing tail to stillness and turned his attention back to the Turks as they made arrangements to transport both him and Reno back to the Lodge.