Disclaimers:  I do not own Final Fantasy VII or any of its characters.

Notes:  Cloud is disturbed to find Reno's fever higher.  Rufus has a bout of wakefulness.



Risks and Wagers



Part Six



Cloud returned to the bar and looked around at the remaining patrons.  All were looking at the stairs.  "Closing time," he
announced with a frown.  He didn't want to deal with a bunch of people who were either out for Rufus' blood or after his ass.

Kyle nodded.  It was one thing that Cloud liked about the young man.  You didn't have to explain everything to him.  He did his
job and didn't go on and on with meaningless chatter.  When he spoke, it was to convey of point, or gain an answer.  "Okay
people, you heard him!  We're closing up.  Quit gawking and get moving!"

Once the last grumbling customer had left, Cloud rubbed his head absently.  He really didn't want all of this chaos in his life.  
"Sorry."  He wasn't supposed to have closed the bar this early.  It should have been open for several more hours in fact.

Kyle snorted and started cleaning up.  "Don't worry about it.  Five more minutes in here and a riot might have broken out.  Tifa
would be more pissed about that than anything else."  He paused and glanced toward the stairs.  "What employee of Shinra's is
here?  He must be bad off if you're letting him and Rufus Shinra himself stay here."

Cloud inclined his head in a brief nod.  "I have an X-Potion I plan to give him in the morning if his fever hasn't broken.  As to
who he is, that's not important."  He sighed and glanced up the stairs.  "Shinra is staying the night."

There was a slight clatter and Kyle swore softly.  He and Cloud both knew this was probably going to lead to trouble in town.  
Not many people were fond of Shinra these days.

"Are you cool with that?  After all, he is a bit of a prick."

Cloud eyed the man silently.

"Okay, so he's WAY more than just a bit of a prick.  He's a downright asshole sometimes."

Cloud scowled.  "I don't have much of a choice.  He hasn't done anything lately except annoy me.  So there's no real reason to
turn him away.  He is looking after the welfare of one of his men, or so he says."  He moved toward the stairs.  "I'll see you
tomorrow."

Kyle chuckled good-naturedly.  "Don't worry, we'll clean up down hear and I'll lock up on my way out," he said, gesturing
briefly to the waitress, then returned to his cleaning.

Cloud didn't see the need to discuss anything more with the staff.  He returned upstairs and headed back to the kids' bedroom.  
He had a feeling he should check on Shinra, but dismissed it.  He was still pissed off that Tseng had dropped the CEO off at the
bar rather than bring him home and he was in no mood to deal with the arrogant blonde again.  He frowned and reached out to
the door handle, opening it as swiftly and silently as he could.

In a few quick strides, he was at Reno's bedside.  He sat and stretched out a hand to brush through the redhead's sweaty hair.

Reno jerked slightly in his sleep, fever-hazed eyes blinking open to stare at nothing though they seemed to be aimed in Cloud's
general direction.  "Hmmm?  Zack?  That you, man?"

The mention of his friend's name startled Cloud, but he didn't say anything.  He needed to keep Reno calm.  Gently, he dabbed at
the man's heated skin with the rag he'd brought up earlier.  The water in the bowl was tepid now, but it would still cool the fever
in Reno's skin.

"You're safe.  Go back to sleep."

Reno groaned, tilting his face toward the damp cloth.  "Am I in trouble again?  I feel like I got on Rude's bad side again."  He
blinked his eyes and looked in Cloud's direction.  There still seemed to be no recognition in those hazy orbs.  "You gonna keep
me company for a while?  Maybe talk to me?  You're good at that."

Cloud sighed.  He might as well keep up the pretense.  He didn't want to distress the already ill man.  "What do you want me to
talk about?"

Reno pursed his lips.  He smiled.  "How about that grunt you keep promising to introduce me to?  The blonde one.  Discord?  
Dissent?"

Cloud rolled his eyes.  He was well aware of the synonyms to his own surname.  "Strife."

Reno grinned and closed his eyes.  "Yeah, that's the one," he hummed.  "You keep telling me that he's just my type.  And since
you keep going after that cute flower girl and don't have time to talk to me like you used to, I guess I'm just lonely."

Zack had told Reno about him and said that he was Reno's type?  That surprised Cloud to no end.  Although, now that he
thought about it, Zack had said he wanted to introduce Cloud to someone once they got back from their last mission.  That was
before everything had gone so horribly wrong.

"There's really not much more to say.  Unless there was something I missed earlier."  

The redhead shook his head.  "Nah.  You just keep going on about how adorably shy he is.  You know how much I like drawing
the quiet people into a conversation.  And hell, when you get 'em warmed up they can be real wildcats in bed."

A faint warmth heated Cloud's face.  He wasn't sure he liked the way this conversation was turning.

Reno's hand raised, his fingers barely brushing Cloud's wrist before falling back to the bed.  "Man, Zack ... I hope you don't take
this the wrong way, but I feel like shit and I need some sleep."  He shifted as if trying to get comfortable.  "Will you stay with
me?  You know I hate being alone when I feel like this."

Cloud inclined his head.  "I'll stay."

A soft groan was Reno's only reply, though a small smile twitched the corners of his mouth.  He patted the bed beside himself,
inviting Cloud to lie down with him.

Cloud settled the back of his hand against the redhead's temple.  He frowned deeply, troubled by the heat pouring off the other
man's wiry frame.  It looked like he'd have to use that X-Potion.  Reno's fever was dangerously high.  "I want you to take
something for your fever first.  Then you can sleep."

"Okay, whatever.  Hurry up, yo.  I'm tired."  He closed his eyes.

Cloud retrieved the X-Potion quickly.  Despite a look of disgust on his face, Reno obediently swallowed it all.  He honestly looked
as if he'd never tasted anything worse.  Cloud almost found himself grinning as Reno scrunched his face and licked his lips
distastefully.  He shook his head at himself, then dropped the empty bottle in the trashcan beside the bed.

"Come on, Zack" Reno groaned, his eyes slipping shut then fluttering open a crack.  He weakly lifted his hand and gripped
Cloud's fingers.  "Keep the bad memories away, huh?"  He tugged at the blonde's digits.

He blinked, staring down at Reno unsurely.  He hadn't considered this was what Reno had meant before and he wasn't certain
how to proceed.  He had already said he'd keep the Turk company, so he probably should play along.  And with Reno so ill, it
would be better to placate him.  He was in no condition to cause Cloud any harm at any rate.  It wouldn't hurt any to do what
Reno wanted in this instance.

Shrugging to himself, he pulled his hand out of Reno's weak hold.  He slipped out of his shoes and other clothing easily enough,
leaving only his underwear.  He decided that Reno must really be ill since the redhead didn't comment on getting a free strip
show.  Without preamble, he got into bed and fought a flinch when Reno almost immediately curled against him.

"Thanks, man," Reno mumbled.  "Hurts to be alone sometimes."  His words grew fainter as sleep easily overcame him.

Cloud let out an uneasy breath.  He wasn't truly comfortable, but he decided to make the best of it.  Carefully, he adjusted the
blankets over the two of them and tried to settle himself.  Not knowing what else to do with them he wrapped his arms around
Reno.  He was somewhat surprised at how nice Reno felt against him, regardless of the heat pouring off of the Turk's frail
form.  If only Reno were serious in his flirting.  Just because Zack had mentioned introducing them didn't mean Reno really
meant what his fevered brain was making him say.




*****



Rufus groaned as he opened his eyes.  They wouldn't focus, his vision wavering in and out, sometimes flickering out
completely.  He looked around, as best as he could, and blearily managed to make out the outline of the bed.

His entire body hurt.  His stomach roiled even though there was nothing in it.  He'd skipped lunch the day before, as well as
breakfast.  After a night of drinking, he often couldn't eat in the morning.  Not eating in the afternoon was all his own fault
though.  He should have eaten something.

The bed was a welcome, albeit hazy, sight.  He struggled, but only managed to push himself up with his arms a few inches at
most.  The pain in his head doubled and thick droplets of sweat rolled down his face.  He wanted to get to that bed, needed to.  
Sleeping on the floor would only worsen his condition.  Of course, it hadn't been his intention to sleep there in the first place.  
He'd passed out, much to his great annoyance.  He was only thankful that Tseng wasn't here to see this.  The man would only
remind him of his inferior health and that he should have listened to him and gone home to bed.  It pissed him off that Tseng had
been right.

He only got a few feet at most, nowhere near the bed, when all of his strength fled him.  He collapsed, breathing heavily.  It was
too much.  His heart jackhammered in his chest and his body gave up on him, his vision going black once more.



To Be Continued ...