Strange Untitled Stockmarket!AUFandom:
Final Fantasy VII/Final Fantasy XII/The Stock ExchangeRating:
Tseng's in New York, Balthier's in London, and Rufus is in the sky as the world burns around them. Hedging on futures can be such tricky things.Functional explanation:
It's all ellnyx
's fault. A good chunk of this belongs to her, adapted to fit the situation and tense. You can read the original crack-ery here
to see precisely which bits. Nyx: I apologise. Profusely. But probably not profusely enough.
Mostly, this is just a trader!AU: in which Tseng and Balthier make money on the gone-to-shit stock markets of our world. And Rufus waggles his eyebrows a bit. Hooray!2425 words and oh, such a hell I am going to for this. Beware un-beta'd tense shifts!
It took the entire financial system crashing for him to be found out: the circumstances, as people would say, were extenuating. Tseng hadn't so much slept in the last two weeks as he had napped in between one market opening and another closing. There was a list on his desk that served as a body count for the days: AIG, Merrill Lynch, the Lehmann Brothers, Wachovia, Iceland. That day, he went from the floor to his office to the elevators without remembering the ring still sitting warm in his breast pocket. Principles were funny things; he couldn't talk to Balthier with it on, and he'd never visit Rufus without it.
The man knew the moment he walked in through the anteroom and in through to Rufus' office at one in the morning, almost haggard and fresh off the phone from someone somewhere in panicked Asia.
'Lose something?' Rufus asked, which made Tseng pause, and then there wasn't a point in playing any games, anymore. He unbuttoned his jacket and took out the ring and slipped it onto his fourth finger.
'If you don't like it, you don't have to,' Rufus pointed out, flat in the way he was when the world didn't bend to his will; the world hadn't been a very willing partner lately. It made Tseng want to pause. He had bad timing, yes. But it had been a bad week.
'It has very little to do with liking, Rufus,' Tseng said, very calmly, from four feet away. 'I want to.'
'In my presence,' Rufus said, making no move to close the gap.
'In your presence,' Tseng agreed, tucking his hands into his pockets. 'And out of it.'
'Here comes the qualifier,' Rufus pronounced, ironic. At least he was willing to listen, or maybe he was just tired out from the last twenty days and twenty nights of phone calls and meetings and red figures going redder. Tseng supposed he should be glad he was even being given room to explain, justify and propose an alternative route other than his immediate retrenchment and the wrath of one of the richest men in the world brought down on his head.
Tseng's lips quirked. Laughter under fire. 'Men need equals, Rufus,' he started.
It'd started the way things normally started, nothing of the starshine that characterised his relationship with Shinra, both the one Tseng had professionally and the one... otherwise. No, nothing spectacular: no sponsorships, no courtships, no fine wine. A staid lunch at a staid hotel with a boring speaker and an interesting conversationalist at the table. Afterwards they talked, and after that they fucked, and after that
Balthier turned to Tseng and said, 'Do you have any
idea at all who I am?'
To which Tseng responded, stretching slightly, 'Yes.'
There was this silence, filled mostly be Balthier's incredulity, and then by a warm kind of palpable amusement. 'And do you care at all?' asked the renegade Bunansa heir, who, if he so wanted to, could affect the lives of a good few thousand people at his whim.
'Not precisely,' Tseng said, sitting up in bed and pushing his hair out of the way. He turned, and spared Balthier a look. 'Would you rather I fawned?' asked Tseng before he swung his legs off and padded, unselfconscious and completely bare, towards the bathroom.
'No,' Balthier replied, getting up and following after. 'I just find it -'
'Interesting?' Tseng asked, turning on the shower and testing the water. 'Unbelievable, refreshing, something more than the boring debutants in dresses and the heirs in suits?'
'Most people are either a little bit apprehensive, or far too enthusiastic,' Balthier explained, crowding Tseng into the glass stall. 'I'll do your back?' he offered.
Tseng laughed, a short, sharp noise, and took the soap. 'I'll do it myself,' he said. 'I prefer the men I fuck to at least know my name before they get any ideas.'
'Ah,' Balthier said, sheepish.
'It's Tseng,' Tseng replied, scrubbing at his hair. 'Just Tseng. Keep your hands to yourself,' he added, when Balthier's fingers found the insides of his hips. 'I've a meeting in half an hour.'
'You don't speak like you're really from Manhattan,' Balthier observed, leaving his hands precisely where they were.
It earned him another arch of Tseng's eyebrow. 'What does
anyone from Manhattan sound like? No one's really from Manhattan, Bunansa.'
'Call me Balthier.'
'Balthier,' Tseng said, his tonality heavy on the vowels, and then he flipped the water on to cold.
'You're a cruel man,' Balthier informed Tseng as they dressed. Tseng's reply was a non-committal noise. Tseng's shirt was another matter altogether, and caught Balthier's attention far more readily for how it was, for one, something worth less than a hundred dollars. 'You're from Shinra, aren't you?' he asked, handing Tseng his jacket. 'And they dress you in that?'
'I dress myself,' Tseng said, mildly. He shot Balthier a glance as he flipped up his collar and reached for his tie. 'You'll excuse me if I prefer not to waste the wealth of small nations on my wardrobe.'
'But a man's clothes say so much about him,' Balthier sighed.
'Yes,' Tseng nodded, finishing off his knot. 'They do, don't they?' If there was irony in his voice, he didn't let it show. Not in so many words. Finished, Tseng leaned against the wall and watched Balthier. 'You are a rich man. You should know. Yours is the breed that invented multiple ways of tying a noose.' He threw Balthier's tie at the man. 'Poor men like myself would rather it just over and done with. I'll be going.'
'Hey,' Balthier called out, still halfway through his cuffs by the time Tseng was at his hotel door. 'Leave me your number, at least.'
That was a smile on Tseng's face, he supposed. 'It's in your phone already,' the man replied. 'Under my name. I took the liberty of taking yours at the same time.'
Balthier let his hands drop. 'Do you do anything straightforward?'
'I was taught to be suspicious of expensive men,' was all Tseng said before he closed the door behind him.
It was an on-again, off-again, as-and-when kind of thing. Tseng never said a word about where it was going, and he didn't think Balthier the sort who cared. Tseng was in New York, Balthier in London: they met, at best, three times every quarter, and were mostly too tired to care much for conversation any of the times they did meet. Their conversation they saved for long-distance phone calls, usually filled with mockery.
Tseng would be over in the NYSE, standing in his office or somewhere overlooking the floor, while down in the bullpit his men climbed over people and frothed at the mouth everytime the market was shorted or some people ran on the banks.
Thousands of miles away, Balthier would take one good look at the FTSE, and pick up the phone.
Tseng phone would sound as the ring went into his pocket.
'Are you an optimist?' Balthier would say into the receiver, when Tseng picked up.
'No,' Tseng would reply.
'Or a betting man?' Balthier would ask.
'Maybe,' Tseng would reply, because he was, in some senses, betting his livelihood on a President who couldn't find his arse with a torchlight and candidates who were too busy ripping out each other's throats to approve bailouts which might just have saved the rest of the world from the next Great Depression. He might just have been a betting man, yes.
'Ah,' Balthier would nod. 'Want to make a wager? Say, for every 100 drop on your end, mine'll follow.'
'What are the stakes?'
'What are you wearing?'
-- and so on.
Tseng'd send Balthier Hawaiian print t-shirts for Christmas. (Even if he'd never give Rufus a gift in his life.) Balthier would respond more subtly: for some reason whenever Tseng stayed the night in Balthier's mansion he could never find where he put his suit the morning after. There were always these Hawaiian teeshirts laid out by the house staff. No pants, either.
And when Balthier came over to stay in Tseng's apartment, he sometime ended up on the couch. Tseng was not known for his sympathy; whenever Balthier complained of backaches and cramps, his response was invariably, 'Does my poverty offend you?'
(Rufus never stayed the night, nor did Tseng ever ask him to.)
There was getting used to the time difference, which Balthier tended to shake off with his -- activities. There was also getting used to Tseng, which was another thing altogether. It did not matter at all how long Balthier'd known him (long), or how well Balthier knew him (well). There were some things that Balthier simply didn't adapt to naturally. Tseng's washing machine, for example, and the fact that it didn't come with anyone to press the buttons for you. The fact that the man ate like a bird, if he ever ate at all, and slept like a vampire, if he even slept. It put Balthier off, made him want to run his fingers over everything to find the places where his nails'd catch in the cracks.
Tseng never cracked, not easily. Not even when it was Sunday in New York but Monday in the east, and not even when he was on the phone at two in the morning with his voice drowsy but sharp, and not even when Balthier rolled over and onto him. The most reaction he ever got was a raised eyebrow. A little sign: I know what you're doing.
He couldn't make Tseng's breath catch, though it wasn't for lack of trying.
And there were certain things about Balthier that set Tseng on edge. Or closer to the edge. Tseng was all edges; he suspected a word didn't exist for what Balthier made of him.
Balthier would have a limo waiting for him at the airport every time he arrived; the limo'd be quite awkward in the very narrow streets fourteen floors below Tseng's apartment where it delivered Balthier to Tseng's lobby door. Balthier would bring supplies. Food that shouldn't have been called food with the processing it'd gone through, bread that shouldn't have been edible with the lack of processing it'd gone through, coffee of a quality that probably crippled a country to produce. After the first time (and Tseng remembered how easily, blithely and amazingly Balthier had placated the prostitute downstairs after the washing machine'd flooded her apartment), Balthier brought sheets. Lots of them. Brand new ones. Tseng was sure the threadcount was a manufactured impossibility, but if Balthier knew anything it was of manufacturing, money or impossibilities.
Tseng knew what it was about him that made him an object of fascination for those rich men's sons. In a skyscraper high enough that Tseng could see the true edge of the city, veiled in a velvet night and the starlight of a true impossibility, Rufus once told him what it was.
Tseng was careful. He never let Balthier see the ring.
Tseng always kept the ringtone on his second mobile phone very quiet. When it rang, it didn't wake Balthier from his stretched sleep, awkward, naked, and entirely too long-legged for Tseng's couch.
Tseng was very careful. He never let Rufus see Balthier.Rich boys,
Tseng was wont to think to himself, silently: they never grow past their fathers.
Rufus was unimpressed when he finished. It was in the defensiveness, the flatness, the old signs that dated back to when his empire'd been small, and when the two of them had been even smaller men themselves. Tseng shifted his feet, to show some penitence.
'So he's your equal?' Rufus said at last, all golden and bright and untouchable and less afraid than Balthier ever was or would be. 'What does that make me? The other woman?'
That made Tseng laugh, honest and loud and long. 'I think you lack several of the definitive features, Rufus,' he said, which earned him a look. 'No,' he said, sober. 'You're not the other woman. Neither are you an equal. You're Rufus Shinra. I follow in your wake; sometimes that means I need something more base. Men need equals. You are more than me, Rufus Shinra.'
'Sometimes I doubt that,' Rufus said, with all the years he did not have on Tseng. 'The way I lose you so easily makes me doubt even more.'
Tseng cocked his head, at that. 'You also lost another four million on the market this afternoon,' he felt justified in pointing out.
'Is that meant to be salt on the wound?' Rufus snapped.
'What are you going to do about it if it is?' Tseng said, quietly, stepping forward one, two, three feet. 'Be passive, the way you used to be? No.' He put his hand on Rufus' shoulder, because ever since his father died Rufus never wore a tie. 'Go out,' Tseng said, into Rufus' ear. 'You told me once you liked me for a lack of fear.'
Rufus turned his head to catch Tseng's eye. 'The poor man and the rich boy. We've both heard this story before.'
'Mm,' Tseng agreed, his fingers tapping a rhythm on Rufus' shoulder. 'Rich boys coming into money. The people you mix with, eager to love you and slow to abandon you because they are afraid of losing the things they never earned themselves. You are right. I'm not afraid of the same things you are afraid of. I earned everything I have.' Tseng pulled Rufus closer. 'And if I lose it,' he said. 'I would earn it back again.'
Rufus looked at him for a long while, before he reached up, and traced the rim of Tseng's ring with his fingernail. 'Who is he?'
'If I tell you, you'll have something done,' Tseng replied.
'Who is he?' Rufus asked, again.
Tseng sighed. 'Monogamy is a relatively new concept, Rufus; it's fidelity you should be concerned with. In that respect you have nothing to fear from me.'
'Who,' Rufus asked, a third time, 'is he?'
'You'll wage war,' Tseng warned, as they both began to back up towards Rufus' desk.
'Knowing you,' Rufus said, eyes deepening to black, 'you'll have picked someone who'd enjoy the act. What's his name?'
'You men of empire,' Tseng grunted when his back hit the wooden edge of the desk. 'He's a Bunansa. You're a Shinra. Tell me how this will go well, Rufus.'
'You tell me,' Rufus replied, reaching for Tseng's tie. Rich men and their nooses. 'You're the one who started this.'