July '03

Disclaimer: All the Final Fantasy characters in this fic belong to those talented people at Square. Lucky them. The main pairing will eventually be Irvine and Squall, possibly some others showing up later on…not sure yet.

This is YAOI - boys with boys, caring, desiring, kissing, hugging, groping…um, yeah…but that’s why you’re reading this, yes?

In The Cards - Part One
By Garden’s Gnome

Quistis Trepe walked through Balamb Garden, listening to the bustle of everyday life that went on within its walls. Students making their way to classes, the cafeteria, even the library or just standing around chatting in small groups. This is what life had settled into after so many hectic months of cleaning up and restoring order.

Five months. That was how much time had passed since the defeat of Ultimecia and the prevention of the Time Compression that would’ve been the end for all of them. So much had happened since then.

Immediately following the celebratory party, Quistis had been appointed headmistress, with Squall Leonhart retaining his position of commander. Together they had put into motion a worldwide clean up. A large contingent of SeeDs, including Zell Dincht and Selphie Tilmitt, were immediately dispatched to Esthar to assist in the destruction of the multitude of monsters leftover from the Lunar Cry.

Galbadian sharpshooter Irvine Kinneas, accompanied by the newly made sorceress Rinoa Heartilly, were sent to prepare the students of the cowboy’s former Garden for the return trip from Cape Good Hope to the Monterosa Plateau. After being towed in a rather bumpy fashion back to Galbadia, it was decided that the G-Garden would not travel again and the flying mechanism was dismantled.

It was while passing through Balamb on the way to Trabia Garden that the ex-sorceress’ knight, Seifer Almasy, approached Quistis and Squall to request reinstatement into the SeeD program. Repentant for the hurt he caused while under the sorceress’ control, the blond was welcomed home with open arms and promptly dragged off to Esthar by Squall. Whatever happened during their time together in the field may remain unknown but when the pair returned with the rest of the SeeDs two months later, a firm friendship flourished to the astonishment of the rest of the orphanage group. A week later Seifer officially joined the ranks of SeeD.

The president of Esthar and Squall’s father, Laguna Loire, aided in the clean-up process as best he could. Seeing that two of the three Garden’s which provided such well trained individuals were in disrepair due to recent events, he provided the funds and personnel to restore the ruined Garden’s to their former glory.

Now, a total of five months after the end of the war, everyday life had mostly settled down again. Students were returning from missions to continue with their studies and training. Both Galbadia and Trabia Gardens were almost fully repaired and would soon take in new students. And the very elite of Balamb Garden were all home to rest.

Quistis smiled as she remembered the various reactions from the group when she had informed them of the weeks leave they had earned. Selphie and Rinoa had happily bounced around together, promptly claiming ‘dibs’ on the airship Ragnarok, planning visits to the nearest beaches and shopping trips at all the major cities in excited voices. Zell asked to be dropped in Balamb to visit Ma Dincht, claiming that it would be safer to have a holiday away from the other guys in the group. Seifer and Irvine had glared at the blond and then laughed at the pouting Squall, who had realised he would be locked out of his office because of his tendency to be a workaholic. They took pity on the brunette and promised they would keep him entertained. At the time Quistis almost felt sorry for him, but that was before she saw the three devilish grins on the boys faces before they chased Zell out of the office, yelling something about giving the tattooed blond a present to remember them by while he was away.

Relegating most of her responsibilities to her second in command, Xu, Quistis had opted for a week of light duties in order to be accessible should any major problems arise.

That had been six days ago. Since they were returning to full duties the next day, the whole group was once again under one roof. The headmistress had been called back the day before when two cadets had been found unconscious in their shared dorm room. Both were still under observation in the infirmary. Quistis was awaiting test results before taking any action regarding the matter.

As she headed for the infirmary after having lunch with Xu, Quistis thought she heard loud laughter and running coming from the direction of the Quad. Because of the danger of hurting one of the fellow students, running was still prohibited within the Garden. Entering the Quad, Quistis stopped at the top of the stairs, her eyes widening at the total mess to be found.

Big and very wet splotches of colour covered the ground, walls, benches, and even the odd tree trunk. Then she heard the heavy thump of running footsteps. Dressed in a pair of full-length overalls that at one stage had been white, a laughing Squall rounded the corner and stopped at the sight of Quistis. Covered in various colours including green, blue, purple and even a spot of yellow, the brunette stood motionless with a gray balloon in hand. The paint filled balloon sloshed as he stopped dead still.

“Quistis,” he said in his quiet voice.

“Headmistress Trepe,” she replied.

Squall frowned at the title then realised that Quistis was in full uniform and therefore the role of headmistress.

Before he had a chance to question her early return to full duties, there was a whistling in the air. Squall didn’t have time to move and he was hit in the arm by a red balloon. It shattered on impact, covering his whole arm in bright red paint. He watched calmly as Quistis flicked a couple of red spots off her uniform.

“SCORE! What a shot, why didn’t you jump outta the way, Squall…Quistis!”

The elegant blond watched as Irvine approached them, sans cowboy hat, the overalls he wore mostly covered in gray, yellow and purple. Quistis eyed him over the rim of her glasses.

“Counting the many colours you are both sporting, I’d say that quite a few others are involved. Would either of you care to explain exactly what is going on and where the others are?!” she asked looking at both paint-covered boys.

“Awww Quisty, we’re just trying to have…some…fun?” Irvine’s voice squeaked out the last word as the full wrath of the headmistress came down on his head.

“Having…some…fun. FUN?! What is happening here is irresponsibility and hooliganism. You’re defacing Garden property and if any students come out here you are also putting them in danger.” Quistis looked beyond the boys at the bottom of the stairs and spotted two retreating forms.

“Mr Dincht and Mr Almasy, I do seriously recommend against walking away from me. Join us.”

Squall looked at the two blonds as they approached the irate Quistis carefully, both as covered in as much paint as their comrades. He raised an arched brow at the mostly blue and yellow covered Seifer who just shrugged.

“They had really good aim,” he said by way of explanation.

“Where?” Squall asked cryptically, flicking his eyes at Quistis, hoping the blond would catch his meaning and be subtle.

“Blue - landed a really good lob shot and covered hair in paint, gone to clean. Yellow - really not sure but hopefully not here.” Seifer answered back in the same fashion. Quistis cleared her throat loudly to regain their attention.

“You boys do realise that you are setting a bad example to the junior classmen?”

“Men, not boys. Don’t panic Quistis, we were going to clean up the mess when we finished. It’s all water based paint and won’t take much to wash off since Irvine has Leviathan junctioned to give the place a bath, so no harm done,” spoke up Seifer, his tone soft and persuasive.

“Rules have been broken here and be as it may, disciplinary regulations affect all students, including the highest ranking SeeDs in all three Gardens. As punishment two of you will report to the cafeteria each morning an hour before it opens to help in any way asked for two hours, and the other two will spend three hours each day helping out in the library. These punishments will take effect as of tomorrow morning and will last a week. Right now you will clean up any mess made by your rampant disregard for Garden property. This behaviour will not be tolerated.”

All four boys looked at each other and burst out laughing. Quistis frowned at them. Too many paint fumes, she thought and turned to leave. However the sound of squeaking footwear made her turn back. None of the four had moved. In fact, they had gone completely still. Quistis quickly counted the colours. Red, gray, green, purple, blue and yellow. Four boys, six colours.

“Incoming!!”

Oh, no!

To be honest, it was Selphie’s own fault. If she’d just looked around the corner properly before launching her missiles she would have seen the headmistress and hidden somewhere.

There was a pair of wet sploshes followed by the sound of dripping liquid.

“Miss Tilmitt!” Quistis called out loudly.

“Yes, headmistress?” came a very small voice.

“You will pay for the dry-cleaning of my uniform.”

“Yes, headmistress.”

“And Selphie?”

There was the sound of an uncoiling whip as Selphie stuck her head around the corner to see what was going on.

“Yes, Quisty?”

“Start running…now!”

Selphie’s face took on a look of dawning horror as an enraged headmistress advanced towards her hiding place. Seeing that the paint coated boys would be of no help, the boisterous brunette prayed that her speed would be enough to save her. Watching for her chance, Selphie took the only gamble she knew was available as the whip’s motion changed from lazily trailing to cracking attack. She threw her last paint filled balloon and ran.

Seeing the shocked look on Irvine, Zell and Squall’s faces at her audacity and the smirk sported by Seifer for the direct hit as she flew past, Selphie headed for the only guaranteed sanctuary - the dorms. If she could get in her room and lock the door she’d be safe for at least one day. Or so she hoped.

Dashing across the bridge and along the open corridor, Selphie sped around the corner only to run into a hallway crowded with students. Immediately feeling the tension in the area, Selphie switched into field command mode and began asking questions.

“What’s going on here?” she asked the nearest student.

“I’m not sure, I wasn’t around when it happened but my friend says that the girl was just walking along the hallway when she collapsed,” said the student.

“Yeah, it was like in mid-step she fell asleep or something and went down. Not a sound at all as she hit the floor,” said another student.

Selphie forced her way into the group of students, cadets and SeeDs closest to the girl. After checking for a pulse, the brunette concluded that the female student was in a state of deep sleep. Looking at the concerned faces, Selphie started issuing orders.

“You,” she pointed to the closest cadet, “run back down the hallway and grab the headmistress. She should be heading this way. Tell her to hurry and then go the infirmary and tell Dr Kadowski we’ll be bringing an unconscious student to her.”

Selphie watched the cadet running down the hallway, praying that they wouldn’t question the paint covering the headmistress, before scanning the crowd for someone to carry the girl.

Quistis caught up to the small group, which included two of the girl’s friends, at the end of the corridor.

“Report.”

Selphie admired that Quistis could still be a commanding presence even when covered in yellow paint. They continued through the Garden, getting many strange looks from the students.

“I was heading down the corridor when I came upon a large group surrounding the female student. I’ve been told that she just collapsed in the middle of the hallway. I’ve checked her vitals and it seems that she is in a deep sleep. We were just heading for the infirmary.”

Quistis frowned, immersed in thought, and Selphie couldn’t be sure but it sounded like the headmistress said ‘that’s three now’.

“Three what, Quistis?” Selphie asked.

Quistis stopped just outside the infirmary doors and motioned for the male SeeD carrying the unconscious girl to go inside. Then she looked at Selphie.

“I want you to find the Commander and tell him where I am and why. Tell him to come here. Then find the others and meet us in my office. We’ll be up as soon as I have some answers.”

“Yes, headmistress.” Selphie said as she saluted the blond, pivoting smartly on her feet to walk back down the hallway.

“And Selphie?”

“Yeah?”

“Could you grab my spare uniform from my dorm and bring it here? Also, don’t forget to get cleaned up. I’d hate to have to ask you to pay for my office furniture to be cleaned as well as my uniform.” Quistis said with a small twitch of the lips.

“Sure, Quisty.”

Quistis watched the little brunette give her a dazzling smile before she went to talk to Dr Kadowski and the girls’ friends.

*****

Two hours later found five of the six paint-bomb fight participants awaiting their friends in the headmistress’ office.

Selphie had raided Quistis’ munchies jar and was currently popping mints into her mouth, occasionally throwing one in Irvine’s direction, the cowboy appearing asleep on the couch that almost filled the length of a wall. Across the desk from her, Seifer lounged in the large leather chair, boots resting on the hardwood surface like he owned the place. Next to the petite brunette in one of the matching chairs that faced the big desk sat Rinoa, her dark hair now free of paint, and she hummed quietly while digging through the jar for more mints. Holding up a place along the wall of windows behind the desk was Zell, the blond watching the scenery outside while absently peeling paint flakes from under his fingernails, a foot tapping against the floor.

This was the scene that greeted the headmistress and the commander when they finally arrived at the office. Quistis immediately frowned at the blond in her chair.

“Seifer, move,” she told him, swatting one of his shoulders with the file she held as she came around the desk.

“Alright, alright. No need to get violent.” Seifer went over to the couch, whacking Irvine’s boots to get them out of the way.

Irvine peered out from under the brim of his hat and grunted when he saw the blond. He lifted his boots out of the way only to put them back down the moment Seifer’s body hit the couch. Irvine moved them just as quickly when the man at the other end of the seat started to twist one of his ankles. Zell left his place at the wall to sit between the pair.

“Stop it or I’ll bang your heads together,” he warned Seifer and Irvine as they glared at each other over the blond’s head.

“But he started it,” pouted Seifer.

Squall looked up from the files he was studying and glared at the men on the couch.

“Enough you two, or I’ll tie and gag you both at opposite ends of the room.”

“Promise?” asked Seifer, his eyes shining with lustful hope and a cheeky grin on his face.

Everyone just rolled his or her eyes at the blond.

“What?!” he asked. And was promptly ignored.

Quistis looked around at the group and tapped the file on the desk to gain everyone’s attention.

“We have a problem arising with the new cadets. Yesterday morning two male cadets that had recently transferred here from Galbadia Garden were found unconscious in their shared dorm room. Both appeared to be deep asleep but otherwise unharmed when taken to the infirmary. Then this afternoon, a female cadet from Trabia passed out in the dorm hallway. Apparently between steps she fell asleep or that’s what it looks like. At first we thought it was simply caused by the change in daily habits as they adjusted to life at this Garden. However, after tests it has come to light that somehow the new students are receiving drugs.”

Quistis sat back and let the information sink in. All residents of the Gardens were tested regularly. Mandatory checks were carried out every six months to help insure good health to the students and staff. It was practically impossible to get any dangerous substances into the Garden as everything coming in was looked over before being passed onto the proper recipient. However, it appeared that someone was taking advantage of the recent turmoil and targeting the newest additions to the Garden.

“What can you tell us about the drugs, Quistis?” asked Seifer, the blond sitting forward on the couch, his fists clenched at the thought of someone harming their own.

“We have a positive analysis on the first but not the second. When the boys were found the both of them had collapsed on the floor in a state of undress. From the nature of the drug we have a good idea of what they were doing. Apparently it loosens the inhibitions of the imbiber and also works like an aphrodisiac. We’re guessing that this was the first time because it seems that their bodies didn’t like the drug and shut down.

“No Quistis, you could wrong about that,” said Irvine, pushing the hat back from his eyes. Everyone looked at him curiously as he got up from the couch to lean against the desk.

“If it’s what I think it is, the boys passed out because they didn’t have the other part of the drug.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s called Dream-maker, yes?” Irvine questioned the blond, tapping a word on the files on the desk. She nodded and motioned for him to continue.

“A year and a half ago, a whole group of us went into Deling City to take in the night-life. You know, hit the clubs and dance until we dropped. We all had fake I.D. and looked older than we really were. It was disgustingly easy to get in. Anyways, being the sociable person that I am, I danced with everyone there. Had a blast. Until this guy approached me. Said he’d seen me eyeing off some pretty young thing all night. I couldn’t deny it, it was the truth. That’s when he offered me a guaranteed way to get them to want me back. All I had to do was drop the little pill in a drink and give it to them. Said it would make my target feel really good. Then he said if the person in question cooperated I was to give them another pill to counter-act the sedative within the drug. If not, to let them pass out and do whatever I wanted.”

Irvine took in the various degrees of shock on his friends’ faces. He’d never really shared much about his days at the Galbadia Garden with them. It wasn’t anything spectacular and he preferred to think more on his life now.

Quistis was shuffling through the papers in her hands looking for anything on the second drug that he had mentioned. Selphie and Rinoa had both stopped chewing their mints and watched the cowboy warily, not wanting to ask the question foremost in everyone’s mind. Squall was in commander mode, watching the three men on the couch while he worked out this new information in his head, frowning occasionally when thought eluded him. Zell just looked at the floor, knowing that the moment he opened his mouth he’d ask. In the end it was Seifer who did it.

“So what did you do?”

“What do you think?! Grabbed one of my mates, dragged him outside and snotted the little slime ball. Then we raided his pockets for any substances he might be carrying and went inside and flushed the lot. Wasn’t in the mood to party after that so I bought that cutie I had been watching a drink and went home.” Irvine shrugged.

“You’re kidding. After buying a drink for someone you’d been drooling over half the night, you left?!”

“I felt it was the least I could do for all the bad thoughts that had been sent in their direction, Zell. Besides, after what the dealer had suggested, the whole night felt…tainted.”

Everyone fell silent.

“Do you think that the second drug is the one you mentioned, Irvine?” Quistis asked.

“No, for two reasons. One - she passed out, which shouldn’t have happened if what I was told is true, and two - she would’ve been with someone and not wandering the halls. The dealer definitely implied that anyone having one of those pills would be very hot under collar, if you catch my meaning.”

“We need more information. Have the students been questioned yet?” Squall looked at the blond headmistress expectantly.

“We talked to the boys yesterday and searched their dorm room. It came up clean. They were embarrassed by what they’d been caught doing and were reluctant to talk. They did confirm that it was their first time with the drug, any drugs actually. Said a student within the Garden gave them them. Unfortunately because they have only been here a short time they couldn’t confirm identity on the dealer. We still have them in the infirmary to make sure there are no side-effects.”

”What about the female cadet, Quistis?” Squall asked.

“She’s not conscious yet. Dr. Kadowski promised to call the moment she awakens. Until then we can do some searching.”

Everyone looked at the blond upon hearing the tone of voice that promised missions.

“Selphie and Rinoa. I want you to go to the dorms and search the girls’ room. Her two friends that came to the infirmary today are also her roommates. Xu questioned them today with me but I don’t want them to see if you find anything. Send the friends to me and anything that is found please bring to the infirmary.”

“Yes, Quistis,” said the women after swallowing more mints.

“Also buy some mints for my jar, thank you,” she said while taking the almost empty jar from Selphie’s hands.

“What about us Quistis?” asked Zell.

“I want you and Seifer to wander around and see what the students are saying about toady’s events. Make a note of anyone that seems suspicious, or too interested. You both know the drill.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said the two blonds in unison.

“I’ll put a message over the bulletin system reminding all students to be mindful of their sleeping and training habits. With any luck those who know about some students collapsing for no apparent reason will put it down to body stresses,” said Squall as he headed for the door to go to his own office. He stopped in the open doorway.

“Everyone still coming for Sunday night movies?” he asked. Getting nods from the group, he left.

“What about me, Quisty?”

As everyone followed Squall out the door, Quistis looked at Irvine as he stood up and stretched.

“You’re coming to the infirmary to talk to Dr. Kadowski. She’ll find the information you have very helpful. That and I want to hear more about this girl that caught your eye that night.”

Irvine followed the blond headmistress out of her office, trying not to grin at the thoughts running through his head after recounting some of the night to his friends.

Who said it was a girl?

END PART ONE

Notes from Gnome: So, there it is. My first chapter in an IxS fic. In truth, I want to try out all the pairings eventually with Squall and I’ll admit I’ve found it easiest to write SxS. *points accusing finger at Sukunami* It’s all her fault - she corrupted me! Makes me want to write SxS until my head is all fuzzy *laugh and hugs Su while grinning wickedly* But I like the corruption!. Anyways, hope you like it so far and continue to read. Bye ^_^

continued - part two