Mar ‘04’

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 Ten
By Garden’s Gnome

Seifer sat next to Zell and listened as Squall’s father explained what was going on. His blonde boyfriend had been right. They had been missing something and it was right under their noses the whole time. Nida was King of the Card Club and now had control of the Garden.

Balamb Garden. Their home.

All four of them had read the report about the mind control drugs and tried to think of ways to stop their fellow students from attacking without hurting them. Status ailments like sleep were the best choice, but Siren was junctioned to Irvine. The power of their connection would not be available to help them.

“We will be landing shortly,” came Kiros’ calm voice over the crackling communications system.

“We’re at Fisherman’s Horizon already?” Selphie asked as she moved to look out the windows.

“Ah, no,” Laguna said as he moved to exit the command room.

“What do you mean ‘no‘?” Seifer asked as he jumped up to follow the older man. “How are we supposed to help our friends and comrades if we’re not even going there?”

“Don’t worry. We’ll get there soon,” Laguna assured the group as they all arrived in the cockpit to watch the landing. “And they won’t even know we’re there.”

Rinoa frowned at the president’s satisfied smirk. “How Laguna? The fastest way to travel is in the Ragnarok and that’s way too big for us to arrive with any kind of stealth.”

“You’re right, it is. But a little while back, Squall and I sat down and modified the plans to one of the water assault skiffs. They won’t see us if we’re under the water,” he told her with a pleased smile as Kiros landed the Rag smoothly and they all moved to exit the airship.

“No way!” exclaimed Zell, bouncing on his feet in excitement as he raced for the exit.

“What Zell?” Seifer asked his boyfriend, trying to keep up.

“They made a submarine out of one of the skiffs,” Zell called over his shoulder as he ran towards the harbour that was in a cave nearby.

“A submarine?” Selphie asked.

“Yeah, about a month ago, Squall asked my advice on altering Level B1 into a launch platform for a few submarines. They’re undetectable by normal radar and can launch attacks from underwater,” the blonde informed his friends as they made their way through the cave. “How advanced are they?” he asked.

Kiros just looked at him with a raised brow.

“Heh, well that answers that.”

“Oh, WOW!” Selphie exclaimed.

As one the group stopped at the top of the stairs leading down to the dock. One and a half times the size of a regular Garden assault skiff, the submarine bore the same blue-black colours of its above water cousin. Similar in design, the most noticeable difference was the lack of the blast doors that protected the front exit. In their place were missile launch tubes, slightly covered by the most evil and smug looking smile that was painted onto the bow of the vessel.

Seifer laughed at seeing the artwork and started down the stairs. “Mine!” he declared, waving a hand at the submarine.

“What’s so funny?” Rinoa asked the blonde man.

Seifer turned around and smiled. Rinoa looked from the sub to Seifer’s grin and back again. “Oh dear,” she muttered, rolling her eyes.

“Who asked for that to be painted on?” Selphie asked as they arrived on the dock and proceeded into the interior of the vessel.

“Surprisingly enough, Squall did,” Laguna told the group as Kiros powered up the submarine.

“Why?” Seifer asked.

“Well, that grin would be enough to make your enemies a bit fearful.”

“Didn’t scare them,” Seifer told Squall’s father, indicating Zell, Selphie and Rinoa.

“That’s because we knew you wouldn’t really hurt us,” Zell told the other blonde as he wrapped a muscled arm around his waist. “Not intentionally, anyways.”

“Still…” Seifer pouted. Zell grinned and pulled his boyfriend towards a seat.

“How about we grab a seat so we can go strike fear into the Card Club and get our home back?” the tattooed blonde asked.

Seifer grinned back and leaned over to kiss Zell lightly on the lips.

“I like the sound of that.”

*****

Far away within Balamb Garden, a phone rang.

“Balamb Garden front entrance…”

“Ace! Where the hell is Nida?”

“Geez Marius, hello to you too.”

“I don’t have time for this. Where is King?”

“He’s probably down taunting the headmistress. That or he’s off in Fisherman’s Horizon somewhere. I’m not his bloody secretary.”

“Right. Fine. Drop whatever you are doing and fly over here now. Leave a message with Heart for King. I need to get there fast.”

“Why? What’s happened?”

“We’ve been compromised. That fool Galbadian thought he could play both sides of the game. He and Joker are on their way back there and I can’t get in contact with Tobias. He’s probably turned off his communicator.”

“Sounds like Joker. Is it just you?”

“No I have a ‘guest’ that needs to come with me. Bring something with room to move.”

“A guest?”

“Leonhart.”

The phone was quickly dropped back on its cradle as Ace sprinted to the Card Club’s private airship, dialling Heart’s communicator code as he ran.

*****

Swaying with the motion of the train, Irvine sighed and stopped gazing out the window as Tobias returned from the restroom. So far the trip had been a relaxed affair, with both men lazily playing cards and making observations of the other passengers on the train.

While the card player had been gone, Irvine had debated sending a message to the others but decided against it. Squall had agreed to contact them when he got out and Irvine wasn’t sure if he’d run into the others anyways.

Smiling lightly at his companion, the sniper turned his eyes to the window once more in time to see a sleek airship fly past.

“Hey, what was that?” he asked as he kept watching the quickly vanishing craft.

“That was…” Tobias began to say but stopped and frowned.

“What’s up?”

“That…um, nothing Irvine. I’ll explain it later when we reach Fisherman’s Horizon.”

“Okay, I’ll wait.” Irvine stretched out on his seat and tipped his hat over his eyes. “Gonna take a nap. Wake me when we arrive.”

Tobias hummed his agreement quietly, evidently still thinking on what Irvine saw. He watched the sniper relax in apparent sleep, contemplating how the cowboy’s assistance would gain them Galbadia Garden and it‘s military strength. He was still thinking when his phone beeped.

“Joker here,” he said quietly, only to quickly pull the phone from his ear as Marius’ shouted at him.

“Where the hell have you been?!? You’re supposed to keep your phone on at all times, Tobias.”

“Sorry Marius. We went through a non-service area so I turned it off to save power. Forgot to switch it back on until just a moment ago.”

“Don’t do it again!”

“Yes boss.”

“Where’s the sniper?”

“Irvine’s here but he’s dozing. Why?”

“Listen to me very carefully cause I’ll only say this once. He is not to be trusted. First chance you get, give him some of the drugs and command him to tell you of his groups plan.”

“What?” Tobias hissed into the phone, trying to keep his surprised voice quiet. “What plan? They kicked Irvine out of the Garden. What makes you think he’d…?”

“He’s been sleeping with Leonhart right under our noses the whole time he was here! That’s why I think this.”

“No…” whispered the card player in disbelief, eyes darting to the gunman.

“I have Leonhart in my custody right now. We’ve been set up. Ace is taking us to Fisherman’s Horizon. Deal with the cowboy and meet us there. Don’t kill him though, I can still use him for Galbadia.”

“Yes Marius.”

Hanging up the phone, Tobias frowned at the sleeping form of Irvine and began thinking when might be the right moment to deal with the sniper. Couldn’t do it here on the train because someone might notice something strange going on if Irvine was answering questions with a blank look on his face. It would have to wait until they arrived at FH.

Joker’s hands clenched into fists. He’d been played and he didn’t like it one bit. Nobody got away with that sort of thing. Perhaps before Marius sent the cowboy to Galbadia Garden, he’d allow a little one-on-one time for him and his ‘friend’.

Tobias settled back into his seat, wishing the train would go faster.

*****

Punching in an elaborate code, Quistis winced as sunlight poured through the opening hatch. Removing her whip from around her waist, the blond woman quickly crawled out into the fresh air. Signally that it was clear, Xu joined her.

“We’re in Fisherman’s Horizon!” Xu said in surprise as they looked around. The sun shone brightly overhead in the clear sky, seagulls soaring on the warm sea breeze. “But why here?”

“I’m not sure, Xu, but we need to get into town without being noticed and contact the others. They must be warned.” Quistis had taken a few steps towards the ramp when she heard a familiar voice.

“But you’ve already been noticed, headmistress,” said the dark haired youth that stepped out of the shadows near the second level entrance to the Garden. “We can’t let you go into town without good reason.”

“Oh, I have reason enough, Spade. Let us pass.”

“Tut, tut Quistis,” Card Club member Spade chided. “Surely you have time to stay and play some cards with us?”

“Yes, headmistress. Stay and play with Larse and I,” coaxed the voice of CC member Club as he stepped up next to his comrade.

“I don’t have time to deal with you,” Quistis said, mind rapidly trying to think of how to subdue the two men without truly hurting them.

“You have no choice!” Thomas hissed as he moved to attack.

Jumping apart, Quistis and Xu barely missed being hit by the metal cards that were now embedded in the hull of the Garden.

“Like our new toys, headmistress? It took forever to learn how to use them but they’re not something you were trained to fight against,” Larse gloated as he dodged the first few cracks of Quistis’ whip. “Give in gracefully and we’ll not rough you up too much before returning you to King.”

“I think not,” Quistis said as she dodged another thrown card.

With Xu unarmed and junctioned to Ifrit, she was going to be able to give little assistance in the battle without causing some permanent damage to the two men. The only GF that could be safely used to subdue them was Siren and Irvine wasn’t here. The two women had very few items and no sleep powder. Quistis admitted to herself that their options were few.

Xu cried out as a card cut into her thigh, blood quickly flowing red against her skin. A second later, the young woman had collapsed unconscious on the floor.

“Xu!”

“Neat trick, don’t you think Quistis?” Thomas asked as he stood flipping a card through his fingers.

“What did you do to her?” Quistis growled out, not taking her eyes from the two men as she moved to stand protectively over the fallen woman.

“She’s not dead, if that’s what you’re thinking. That card that hit her was coated with sleep powder and a wizard stone ground together. Pretty powerful stuff too.”

Knowing she was out of options and couldn’t protect Xu and fight at the same time, Quistis did the only thing she could. Already weakened by lack of decent rest and the stress of knowing that the Garden and all it’s students were in great danger, it took only a small holy spell from her junction to Alexander to push her over the edge. Adrenaline rushed through her body and she could feel the power of her blue magic flowing in her veins.

“Forgive me,” she whispered as she cast the only thing she could think of that would be fully reversible.

Bad breath.

Reeling from the effect of the spell, Larse and Thomas both collapsed where they stood, the many status ailments wearing them down into submission. Quistis quickly turned from them when she was sure neither had been missed by the sleep part of the casting, focusing her attention on Xu. The woman was still unconscious but seemed to be all right. Leaving her, Quistis quickly found some rope on the FH side of the ramp and secured both men before preparing to use her small store of spells to save their lives from the poison and doom part of the bad breath spell. Concentrating on the cast, Quistis almost missed the sound of running footsteps heading her way.

Readying her whip, the blond headmistress of Balamb Garden turned to face this new threat.

*****

“I’m not pushing too hard?” Seifer asked as he pushed down and forwards on Zell’s shoulders.

“Nh, ’m fine,” came a slightly muffled reply as the shorter blond relaxed under his boyfriend’s touch, his tattooed cheek resting on his legs.

The submarine hummed quietly around them as Seifer helped the martial artist stretch and limber up for the fights they were expecting upon their arrival at Fisherman’s Horizon. Across the room at one of the tables, Laguna and Selphie were looking over building plans for FH, trying to figure out if the Card Club’s base of operations could be located there. However, seeing as they didn’t know exactly what to look for, neither brunette was having much luck.

Sitting back up, Zell rolled to his feet and was about to see if he could help with the building schematics when he was pulled back into a tight hug. He smiled and leaned into Seifer’s hold, looking up as a light kiss was placed on his brow.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“Just thinking about what I’m going to do to you when all this is over.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes,” Seifer said with a smirk. “I’m going to appreciate you flexibility very much.”

Zell turned in his boyfriend’s arms and leaned up to brush their lips together. “Can’t wait,” he whispered, smiling against Seifer‘s lips.

“Hey, you pair! Enough of that,” Laguna called from across the room. “Plenty of time for playing later. Come have a look at these plans.”

Strolling over to the table, Seifer noted that Rinoa was still curled up on the sofa, fast asleep. About five minutes after they arrival in the room, the young sorceress had said she was tired and simply passed out after getting comfortable. She had yet to stir.

“How long has Rin been out?” he asked.

“Um, since she went to sleep which was right after she lay down. She hasn‘t woken up yet,” Selphie answered. “Why?”

Seifer didn’t answer as he walked to the sofa and knelt beside it. He placed a hand on the young woman’s cheek.

“What’s wrong?” Laguna asked as the other three crowded around.

“This…isn’t natural,” Seifer said, frowning down at the relaxed sorceress.

“Huh? What’s not natural?” Selphie asked.

“Rinoa being asleep. She doesn’t need sleep as much as she normally would with all the power going through her system. She’s almost comatose.”

“What?!” exclaimed all three.

“When they use a lot of power, sorceress’ need to rest just like everyone else,” Seifer began to explain. “But she hasn’t used any magic recently…except for tracking Squall. That’s hardly anything compared to what she’s capable of.”

“Should we wake her? Can we wake her?” Laguna asked.

“I don’t know how deep under she is, so we may not be able to wake her until whatever is going on is over.” Seifer stood, sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. “If I was her knight, I’d have no problems waking her. But I’m not and Squall isn’t here.”

About to turn away, Seifer watched as Rinoa’s eyes fluttered and opened.

“Squall?”

“No Rin, just us,” Seifer said quietly. “Are you okay?”

“Um, yeah. I think so,” the dark haired woman said as she sat up and rubbed her eyes.

“What were you doing?” Laguna asked as he sat next to Rinoa, handing her a glass of water.

Rinoa took a sip of the cool liquid and tried to gather her thoughts. Sleep clouded eyes cleared quickly and widened as the young sorceress remembered what she was doing.

“I was checking up on Squall.”

“And you fell asleep cause of using you powers?” Zell suggested helpfully.

“No,” she told him, reinforced with a shake of her head. “Squall’s asleep.”

“But how does that affect you?” Seifer asked, frowning as he searched his mind for what he knew of the sorceress/knight bond.

“It’s a forced sleep. Like a spell or drugs…” Rinoa said and quickly clasped her hand over her mouth in shock.

“You think that Squall’s been captured?” Selphie asked, worry lacing her question.

Rinoa nodded sadly. “There’s no other reason for him to be asleep like that. His normal sleep patterns don’t affect me though the bond.”

“So what do we do now?” Laguna asked, standing to walk back over to the table, needing something to take his mind off his son‘s danger. The others followed.

Looking down at the plans, Laguna shook his head. They had to save the Garden first. Then they could look for Squall.

“We’ll find him, Sir Laguna,” Selphie said as she saluted the older man.

Laguna smiled slightly and was about to say something when the door opened and Kiros entered.

“We’ve arrived and are docking right now. Please follow me.”

Leaving everything where it was, except for Seifer who grabbed Squall‘s gunblade along with his own, the group followed Kiros through the narrow corridors towards the exit.

“Where are we docking?” Zell asked.

“There’s a platform at sea level right next to where the Garden docks. You‘re getting out there.”

“You’re not coming?”

“Laguna needs me here more than up there. If anything should happen, I’ll have to…”

“Nothing’s going to happen, Kiros,” Laguna told his friend as they reached the door. The light flashed red for a few moments, and then turned a solid green.

“Right, let’s go,” Laguna said as he grabbed his gun and hit the lever to open the hatch. “Back soon, Kiros.”

Balamb Garden loomed above the group as the hatch closed behind them, the submarine submerging and leaving them alone on the small pier. Quickly looking around, Laguna took point and lead the way to the nearest ladder.

“Where first?” he asked.

“The Garden, of course. We have to see about rescuing Quisty,” Selphie said as she climbed up behind the Estharian president. “You better not be looking up my skirt!” she hissed back at Zell.

“If I do, it is not on purpose,” he said defensively. “I swear!” he said as the petite brunette stopped and glared back down at him. Then she smiled and kept climbing.

Behind him he could hear Rinoa make the same demand from Seifer, and heard the green-eyed blond mutter something about girls choosing to wear skirts into battle instead of pants or even overalls. Zell snickered and followed Selphie to the upper levels of Fisherman’s Horizon.

Finally arriving at the platform just a short distance from the Garden, the group stilled at the sound of voices and the crack of a whip.

“Quistis!”

Running towards the ramp that lead to the Garden, none of the group were prepared for the sight of Quistis powering up for a blue magic spell. Only Seifer’s quick shout of her name made the headmistress realise who she was about to attack.

“Quistis…STOP!”

“Seifer?”

“Yes, so don’t attack us.”

Quistis turned quickly and went back to the two unconscious Card Club members. She looked over as Selphie crouched beside her.

“I had no choice but to use blue magic on them,” she said as she watched the other girl begin to cure the worst of their status ailments, leaving them asleep.

“What happened to Xu?” Zell asked as he and Seifer began checking over their fallen comrade.

“She got hit by one of their cards and is asleep,” Quistis said as she joined them. “Thomas…CC Club said that the cards were coated with sleep powder and wizards stones.”

“Nothing an esuna can’t fix,” Seifer said confidently as he cast the spell. A few moments later, the young woman awoke.

“Quistis…what happened?” Xu asked groggily as the last of the sleep vanished from her body.

“You got hit,” the blond headmistress told her as she cast a cure over where the card had cut her leg.

“Sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Quistis told her friend and gave her a brief hug before both women stood.

“What now?” Zell asked.

Quistis looked over to Laguna and Rinoa who had been keeping an eye out to make sure no one surprised them. “President Loire?”

“Here’s what we know,” Laguna began as Xu took over watching for enemies. “Everyone in the Garden except for us and the Card Club members are under mind control.”

“Heart too,” Xu added.

“Huh? One of their own…what makes you say that?” Seifer asked.

“She could be right. Bethany didn’t seem all that alert when she and Nida visited us. More like a mindless follower,” Quistis added, backing up Xu’s assumption.

“The librarian is CC Heart?” Zell asked, truly surprised that the girl who had been once interested in him was working with the Card Club. Quistis nodded.

“Okay…so the CC members could also be under the influence of the drug too. If we come across them, try to subdue without harming them too badly. We’ll get Dr Kadowaki to run tests on them all later,” Laguna continued and the others agreed with nods.

“Should we contact Irvine?” Rinoa asked quietly.

“No. He’s undercover and will contact us if there’s anything we need to know,” Quistis told the sorceress. Quistis looked a bit closer at the young woman. “Rinoa, you’re very pale. Is something wrong?”

“They have Squall,” Laguna said, jaw clenched is obvious worry.

“What? How?”

“We don’t know Quistis,” Seifer told her. “All Rin can tell us is he’s asleep and it’s not natural.”

“And he’s here.”

They all turned to look at Rinoa in varying degrees of shock.

“What?!?”

“I can feel that he’s much closer than before, which means he’s here somewhere,” Rinoa told them as she closed her eyes to concentrate on the status of her knight. When she opened them again, Seifer and Zell were holding her up. “He’s definitely here,” she told them. “And he’s waking up.”

“We have to find him,” Laguna said.

“Oh my…Guys?” called Xu from over near the ramp.

“What is it?” Quistis asked as she joined her second in command. Xu pointed.

“Is that Irvine?”

“Irvy? Where?” asked Selphie, jumping to her feet and joining them.

“Entering that door over there. He‘s alone too.”

“Yes, I’d know that hat and duster anywhere,” Selphie said as she returned to the two card players and cast another sleep spell. “Let’s go.”

*****

Walking away from the train station, Irvine stretched with a happy sigh, glad to be out of the train and it‘s not so luxurious seats. He quietly followed his companion, taking in deep breaths of fresh air.

“Smell that ocean air, Tobias. It’s so different from the air in Dollet or Balamb. Purer somehow.”

“Perhaps it’s because we’re surrounded by water,” the card player said as he led the way through Fisherman’s Horizon.

“I think you right,” Irvine said easily as they strolled through the town. “Guess I just can’t help but be fascinated by all this water seeing as Galbadia Garden is no where near the ocean.”

Instead of turning left and heading for the Garden, the two men turned right and headed for the Mayor’s house. Irvine decided to keep up the steady chatter of non-important topics. It wasn’t that he was bored or nervous about going into the lair of their enemy, but was instead to hopefully help Tobias to relax.

Card Club Joker had been tense even since the phone call on the train and was having trouble hiding it. He barely spoke to Irvine and seemed to be looking for something. Irvine knew something was up by the way the young man had spoken to the Queen’s son while he faked being asleep but would have to wait until Tobias decided to make his move. If the card player was no so tense then Irvine stood a better chance of getting out of this unharmed.

“Of course, being here in town is nothing like being out there,” the cowboy continued talking, waving his hand towards the water. “Should’ve seen me gawking around a the ocean when the gang and I walked along the railway tracks to Esthar. Thank Hyne I won’t have to do that ever again. It’s a long way.”

Irvine stopped talking and looked around. There were behind Mayor Dobe’s house, where they usually docked the Ragnarok when they flew in it. Joker was standing still, back facing the sniper.

“Hey Tobias…”

Tobias whipped around quickly, weapon easily coming to hand. The gunman in Irvine appreciated the way the Card Club member handled the heavily modified handgun. The young man knew what he was doing with that weapon and Irvine had to force himself not to react with any sudden movements.

“Shut up, Irvine. Just…shut up!” Tobias said as he glared at the cowboy.

Irvine held his arms out away from his body. No point in encouraging Tobias to shoot him.

“What’s wrong T…?”

“I know, alright. I know.” Irvine gave the card player a quizzical look and Tobias continued. “About your little group trying to stop us by sending you undercover. And we know about Squall.”

Irvine’s gut clenched at the mention of his commander. He would have no choice but to cooperate if he hoped to help his lover. “What have you done to him?” he growled at the card player.

“Nothing yet. That airship you saw was Ace going to Marius and Squall and bring them here.” Tobias looked at his watch. “They should be here by now.”

“Ace?” Irvine asked carefully.

“You remember the old guy who watches the gate? The one no one ever really pays attention to? He makes it so much easier to get stuff in and out of the Garden,” Tobias gloated.

“What about Squall?”

Tobias smiled and pulled something out of a pocket. “You should be more worried about what I’m going to do to you,” he suggested.

“And that is?” Irvine asked as the other man tossed a clear plastic packet at his feet. Irvine knew what he was looking at.

“You’re going to take those tablets and then we’re going to go see Queen and you’re going to tell us everything that you and your friends have planned.”

“Queen is here?” Irvine asked as he moved very slowly into a crouch, Tobias’ gun still trained on him.

“Yes,” the other man admitted. “She’s very interested to hear what you have to tell us.” Tobias’ voice turned hard. “Take the damn drugs, Irvine,” he commanded.

Reaching towards the small packet very slowly, Irvine reached into his mind and felt Siren answer his summons.

Don’t hurt him too badly. Will need him later.

Yes master.

Happy that Tobias would be available for questioning later, Irvine picked up the packet and stood.

“It’s a pity that it had to come to this,” Tobias was saying. “I like you, Irvine. We could’ve been good friends. But you had to try and play us for fools.” Tobias shook his head and motioned with the gun for the sniper to get on with it. “Now you will be our mindless little slave.”

“Mind control drugs?“ Irvine asked quietly as he looked at the packet, frowning. Could this be how they got control of the Garden? Irvine asked himself.

“Yes, Irvine. Made it so easy to get all the students and SeeD to do our bidding once we gave them those two little tablets. Now it’s your turn.“

“Dream on Joker.”

Irvine threw the packet of drugs at the card player and let Siren’s power loose. From behind her protective shield he saw the young man’s look of horror as he realised he was beaten. As Siren’s power faded, Irvine saw Tobias sprawled on the ground, unconscious.

Thanks Siren.

Yes, master.

Examining the sleeping form, Irvine found a few more of the drug packets and more ammo for the handgun. He also found a small access card that he’d never seen before. I wonder where this is for?

Standing, Irvine dragged the sleeping man out of sight, tied him up with some wire he found and made his way back towards the Garden. He’d have to be careful now that the Card Club knew he was not working for them. Probably best to go into the Garden first and see if he could locate Quistis. Then he’d try and contact the others and see if they had found anything.

Cautiously heading to the small elevator that ran from Fisherman’s Horizon to where the Garden was docked, Irvine had to quickly hide as Card Club Jack came into view. The young man had just exited the lift and was walking around the tower towards the Garden. Irvine watched as he stopped and opened a rusty looking panel. Nothing in the panel was rusty at all. Pulling out a card similar to the one Joker had carried; CC Jack swiped it over the panel. A seam appeared in the metal to the right of the previously hidden panel as a door slid open. The young man stepped through and the door closed behind him.

Irvine quickly keyed the lift to return and soon found himself standing in front of the same hidden door. After finding that the panel was only required the card to work, he swiped it and quickly entered the tower, hoping to get away from the feet he had heard running down from the Garden.

He was not prepared for what he saw inside.

Inside the tower was mostly hollow. Walking across the platform that spanned half the open area, Irvine leaned over the railing and looked down. Below him he could see lights of three different areas. The closest was about five floors below him. Small rooms lined one curved wall, large clear windows facing outwards and the cowboy could see men and women working on the same drugs that CC Joker had tried to force feed him.

On the next few levels, more workers filled open areas full of machinery that was mass making weapons and then upgrading those weapons to their full potential. Irvine shivered at the sheer magnitude of the armaments in the building.

It was what appeared to be the ground level that caught his attention most. The lift that had apparently carried Jack to the lowest level had stayed down the bottom. And near it was the sleek airship that was said to have brought Squall here.

About to go and take the stairs nearby that also lead downwards, Irvine turned quickly, Exeter at the ready, as he felt a strong breeze coming through the door.

“Put that thing down,” Selphie hissed at the sniper as the group poured through the door.

“Well, hey guys,” Irvine greeted them. “Good to see you safe Quistis.”

The blond woman nodded her thanks and walked to the railing and looked down before turning back to Irvine. “Report Kinneas.”

Irvine saluted smartly. “I got here by train not too long ago and had to subdue CC member Joker as he was going to force some mind control drugs on me. CC Jack is below somewhere and seeing as there’s a small airship down there, I’m guessing that Marius and Ace are also here.”

“Ace?”

Irvine looked at Selphie who had asked the question. “The Balamb Garden gatekeeper is Ace, their pilot.”

“Damn. Knew he didn’t watch everyone as closely as he should,” Zell said as he and Seifer looked over the edge for themselves.

“Continue please Irvine,” Quistis commanded.

“Right…According to Joker, Queen is in this tower somewhere too.”

“What about Squall? He is here too,” Laguna said, speaking up from his place watching the stairs.

“How do you know about that?” Irvine asked the longhaired man.

“I can feel him Irvine,” Rinoa said as she approached the sniper. “He’s in here and he’s awake now.”

“He was asleep?“ Irvine asked as he closely watched Rinoa as she approached him and crowded right into his personal space. “Ah…Rin…Whatcha doing?” he asked, more than slightly shocked.

“Shhh,” was all the young sorceress whispered as she looped her arms around Irvine’s waist and buried her face into his chest. Irvine looked helplessly at his friends.

“She’s connected with Squall right now,” Seifer explained. “Rinoa’s feeling everything he’s feeling to make sure he’s okay until we find him. He doesn‘t have his sword,” the green-eyed blonde said indicating the other sword he carried with his own Hyperion.

“He wants you so badly, Irvine. I can feel it. You’re all he is thinking about right now. He burns for you.”

Irvine just stood there absorbing all that the dark haired woman was telling him about his lover when she suddenly gasped and tensed in his arms.

“What? What’s happened?”

“He’s in pain. He’s being attacked. Below us!”

As one the group dashed to the side of the platform and looked down. Below them they could just make out the uniforms usually worn by the two women who were Card Club Diamond stalking a third figure.

Squall.

What can I do? Irvine thought to himself as his mind quickly ran over the fastest options for getting down there to aid his lover. There was the lift that had to return first before he could use it or the stairs that ran past all the workers. I won’t make it in time!

Master…

What Siren?

There is one who can help but you will have to trust us.

Trust you?

Yes.

Irvine staggered slightly at the images flowing through his head. What his GF planned was insane but if what she implied were true, it would work. Walking up to Quistis, Irvine smiled at his childhood friend.

“What Irvine?” she asked.

“Sorry about this but I gotta borrow someone.”

Quistis frowned at the sniper but he was already moving and she could feel the pain of magic flowing out of her body. She stood there gasping for breath as Irvine drew Pandemona from her. Irvine paused long enough to make sure Quistis wasn’t hurt too badly before racing over to Seifer and grabbing Lionheart out of the blonde’s hand.

“Hey!” Seifer called, attempting to get the sword back but the cowboy was already out of reach.

The group watched in horror as Irvine raced for the edge of the platform, Exeter in one hand and Lionheart in the other, and jumped.

*****

Slowly coming to awareness, Squall opened his eyes the smallest bit and viewed his surroundings through dark lashes. Lying very still, the brunette watched as Ace and Marius exited the room through a nearby door, talking quietly to each other. Squall caught a few words “drugs“, “give…five…up to twenty“ before the door slid shut behind them and he was left alone.

Sitting up, the brunette found that he was lying on a sofa in what appeared to be a room that was neither in the Garden or of the Dollet hotel. The clothing he’d been wearing as part of his disguise was gone, and he’d been dressed in a pair of leather pants. Not as comfortable as his own, he noted as he stood and stretched, but better than the skirt he had been wearing. None of his other clothing or weapons could be found nearby as he quickly searched the room.

Making his way to the door, Squall placed his ear against the cool metal surface and once he had determined there was no noise beyond, he hit the keypad, stepping back in surprise as the door opened easily, no blaring alarms and no guards racing into the room. It was suspicious but he was not about to question a clear path to escape.

The airship was not very large and Squall quickly found the exit, cautiously peering out the main hatch. By the look of the surrounding crates he figured that he was in some kind of warehouse, possibly even the main headquarters that the Card Club operated out of. Remaining undiscovered was of upmost importance, followed by finding a weapon, determining his exact location and contacting the group.

Squall hoped that they were all safe. Knowing the Card Club had possession of the Garden meant that there was a very good chance that they also had Quistis in their custody. Then there was the fact that he did not know where the others were as neither he nor Irvine had contacted them since he’d last seen Seifer in Timber at the start of the mission. Squall thought about the many different calls he would have to make, and without his personal communicator, just to find his friends and decided the easiest choice would be to contact Laguna in Esthar and see if he knew anything. Considering that was where Quistis was originally taking the Garden, his father should know something.

Being in the main headquarters of the Card Club also meant that Irvine would be here somewhere. Squall knew that his being captured had put his lover in greater danger, as their enemies now knew that they’d been found out. This meant that Irvine was going to have to think quickly should anything happen. Squall had faith that the cowboy would make it through whatever the CC had planned.

The only problem was that Squall feared he was what the CC had planned to use against the sniper. He vaguely remembered being given some tablets and a sip of water, Ace forcing them down his throat after they had landed, and being barely awake, he’d swallowed them out of reflex. Since then he’d been feeling warm and tingly all over and knew the drugs were doing something to his body. What exactly that was, Squall could only wait and see.

They’d never tested any of the students who were on the mind control drugs…hadn’t even known what they were dealing with at the time, only that something was happening to the students and it was up to the gang to find out.

Each time Squall thought of his friends, his mind turned to his lover. Irvine’s smiling eyes, his warm skin, the possessive kisses and the lingering touches that made Squall’s own body sing with want. Even just thinking about it made him wish the cowboy right there where he could rip off their clothes and let Irvine have his way with his willing body. The brunette couldn’t believe how turned on he was getting by just thinking of the sniper.

Squall felt his gut knot with worry. This is what the Card Club planned to do with him. He’d been given the mind control drugs and commanded to distract Irvine for Hyne knows what purpose. All he knew was that with each thought of his auburn haired lover, he wanted him more than ever before.

Outside the airship, a large metal staircase wrapped itself upwards into darkness within the warehouse and nearby there was what looked like a freight lift. There were no people in sight.

Leaving the relative safety of the entranceway to the airship, Squall dashed barefoot across the concrete floor towards the lift. He’d almost made it when two young women came out from behind some of the crates, talking quietly between themselves.

“Can you believe that Marius has captured the Commander so easily?” the first asked her companion as they headed towards the airship.

“Well, he is the Queen’s son so he wouldn’t be making big claims like that without having Leonhart.”

“True…Hey, isn’t that…!”

The two women who made Card Club Diamond halted as they spotted their Commander near the freight lift. Both drew their weapons and aimed them at Squall.

“Step away from the lift, Commander. We can heal you after we shoot but it’s still rather painful to get shot.”

Holding his arms out wide to indicate the he was unarmed, Squall backed away from the elevator and started to move into the shadows cast by nearby crates. Giving the two women one last look, he turned and fled into the darkness, only to find that his way was blocked. All of the crates were too high to climb.

It was a dead end.

He turned and watched the two women standing between him and the only way out.

"Where do you think you’re running off to, Commander?" the first girl asked, flipping a deck of cards from hand to hand, tossing a card or two to glance off the brunette's bare arms, lightly cutting into him. Squall frowned, trying to remember the names that Quistis had given at the start of the mission as he ignored the stinging cuts on his arms.

“Yeah,” spoke up the second girl, her gun trained on him as he stood in the darkness. “Cianne and I were just coming to take you to see Queen. It’s not very nice to run away. Such bad manners,” she chided.

That would mean that Cianne has those cards similar to Marius, Squall thought as he tried to find a solution to his situation. And that would be Kyra who has the gun.

Squall stood in the shadows, weaponless, quite possibly drugged, outnumbered and wearing nothing but a pair of leather pants. There was no way out except past CC Diamond. He was about to try to rush the two women when he felt it. Cool air coming down from above and then behind him. He could’ve sworn he heard feet hit the ground before his thoughts centred on the cold, hard object whispering it’s way down his spine. It curved off to one side and slid itself between his ribs and his elbow, sliding forward until clear of his bare skin.

Two shots rang out in the warehouse.

Cianne and Kyra hit the ground. Asleep.

Exeter withdrew and a warm arm reached around and pulled the brunette back against an equally warm chest. Squall shivered at the heated air that whispered past his ear as Irvine greeted him.

“Hello lover.”

Squall had to warn him, had to tell Irvine that he’d been drugged and was now the enemy but his body had other ideas. Surrounded by the heat of the cowboy’s body, the brunette trembled with desire.

“Irvine, I…”

“Hang on, Squall,” Irvine said, reaching around with his other arm. “Have this first.”

Squall’s eyes widened at the sight of Lionheart. “But Seifer…”

“They’re up the top and on their way down. Quistis too. They will be here as soon as possible,” Irvine told the brunette as he handed over the gunblade and then proceeded to take his duster off. “Here, put this on. You’re trembling.”

Squall handed the blade back to the sniper and shrugged into the long coat, revelling in the warmth and scent of his lover as it surrounded him. Taking the sword back, Squall frowned at Irvine and then looked above them.

“How did you get down here?” he asked.

“Heh, that was the fun part,” Irvine said as he adjusted his vest, a slightly reckless grin on his lips. “Pandemona has amazing control over air.”

“You jumped?”

“Yup,” the sniper said, grinning more widely now, as if it was the easiest thing in the world to fall over twenty stories and not worry about getting killed.

“Irvine we have to…” Squall said quickly as his sense of dread built.

“Well, well. Isn’t this a nice little reunion?” came Nida’s voice from behind them.

Squall turned and looked back at the opening to the small corridor. Just beyond it’s entrance stood Nida, Marius and Card Club Queen. Ace stood a bit further back with the sleeping forms of Diamond at his feet. Marius had Kyra’s gun trained on them both.

“Leonhart, come here.”

I’m sorry Irvine.

Squall walked to Queen’s side and stood there, Lionheart still in his hand and looked back at his lover.

“Squall?” Irvine asked in a pained and confused voice.

“Surely you would know that we’d take the first chance to drug the Commander of Balamb Garden,” CC Queen said as she stroked a pale hand down one of Squall’s cheeks. Squall suppressed a shudder of distaste. “Least we got it right and gave him the drugs, unlike you who can’t follow a simple suggestion,” she continued.

Irvine frowned in thought. I’ve never had drugs to give to Squall except…the original ones from Joker!

“That’s right, Kinneas,” Nida said at seeing the realisation on the sniper‘s face. “If you had given Squall those tablets that Tobias had given you, none of this would have happened and the Card Club would have had control of the Garden weeks ago. But you just can’t keep your hands to yourself,” the pilot spat.

“I can’t help it if he’s so desirable,” Irvine said, shrugging the accusation away as he took a step forward. A shot rang out and Irvine felt his hat fly into the darkness behind him.

“Stay where you are,” Marius commanded.

Irvine glared at him.

Card Club Queen started to laugh. But it wasn’t a light feminine laugh. It was a cruel and taunting laugh, deep and definitely male.

“Oh, this is too much to ask for. I have been looking for you for a few years and now you simply drop into my lap. Perfect.”

Everyone looked at Queen strangely except for Squall who stood still, his eyes watching Irvine and Marius, who kept the gun trained on the sniper.

“What?” Queen asked the cowboy. “Don’t recognise me? I’ll admit I didn’t realise who you were until I saw you without your hat. And the Commander here just confirms who you are.”

“Who do you think I am?” Irvine asked.

“Not think. Know. You’re the young man I have to thank for giving me the opportunity to control the drug ring and ultimately the Gardens.”

“What? I think you’re a bit delusional, Queen.”

“What if I mention a little nightclub that you visited a few years back, underage Galbadian Garden cadets enjoying a night out on the town,” Queen said smugly.

“No way…” Irvine whispered harshly, verbally denying what his mind was now sure of. Queen has to have been that drug seller that he and his mate had dealt with. But that meant… Irvine thought as he looked in dawning horror at his Commander and lover.

“Yes, Irvine,” Queen confirmed as he continued to stroke Squall’s cheek. “That pretty little thing you had your eye on that night has been under your nose this whole time.”

Squall’s confused eyes widened in surprise. This was what his visions had been of. Memories of that night at the club, of watching Zell dance and being offered a drink by a guy who said it was from a friend. But it was actually Irvine who had wanted to give him the drink. He remembered his eyes. He watched Irvine struggling with a way to deal with this. If he moved, Marius would shoot him. What did the Card Club have planned?

“Thanks to you and your young friend flushing my stash, I had to hide from my boss. Had to dress like this,” Queen said in disgust at the clothing he wore. “Said he would kill my son should I show my face again. I did show my face, right before Marius and I killed him. But by then everyone was used to seeing me dressed as I am now so I kept the Queen persona and used it to move throughout the world. Then the sorceress war happened and I figured that being a drug lord wasn’t enough. We decided should we survive, we’d rule the world.”

“The only reason you survived was because we defeated the sorceress,” Irvine argued.

“True,” Queen conceded the point. “However, your main concern should now be what we have planned for you and the Commander. See, Ace gave your lover some of our drugs. He’s nothing but my mindless little slave now.”

Irvine gritted his teeth. In the back of his mind he knew there had been a chance it would come to this if he resisted Joker. Squall was now theirs and would do what they say. Irvine would have to surrender.

“Fine, you win.”

“What? Oh no, you don’t get to give in. You get to die.”

Irvine’s eyes snapped to Lionheart that was grasped in Squall’s hand. Under the control of the drugs, Squall would never know he had killed his lover, would never mourn his passing. Perhaps the others would arrive in time to stop Squall from killing him. Irvine strained his ears, trying to catch a hint of sound that would announce the arrival of the group.

“If you’re waiting for your friends, don’t. Jack is up in the laboratories and will deal with them before they even get halfway here,” Nida said quietly.

“Leonhart, kill him,” Queen commanded.

Squall stood there for a second and considered the command. He felt no particular compulsion to follow the order. Mentally, he frowned. I shouldn’t be able to think for myself if I’m under the drug’s control. What the hell did they give me?

“No.”

All eyes turned at the sound of that one word so quietly spoken.

“No?” Queen asked, his hand tightening around the base of the brunette’s neck.

Squall attacked immediately. Ducking away from the grasping hand, he crouched and turned, slashing out at the body behind him. He dimly heard Marius’ shout of ‘father’ before he was dodging bullets directed almost blindly at his bare feet. He rolled and took cover behind some nearby crates. Peeking out, he saw Marius dragging Queen towards the airship, Ace and Nida laying cover fire as Queen held an arm across his bleeding stomach. More shots rang out as Irvine fired upon the group.

“Halt right there,” Quistis’ voice rang out.

Everyone looked over as the rest of the gang pounded down the last of the stairs, Seifer dumping the sleeping form of Card Club Jack on the floor and drawing Hyperion.

“Card Club King, protect us!” Marius shouted at Nida.

Nida immediately dropped the gun he’d been using and drew a deck of card from his pocket. With practised ease, the Garden pilot started flipping cards at everyone. The exploding cards quickly made them find cover.

By the time Irvine managed to get a shot off to knock Nida out, the airship was powered up and the moment the flight doors were open enough, it took off.

“They’re getting away!” Selphie exclaimed, running towards the opening.

They stood and watched the airship gain altitude a moment before they had to cover their eyes as it exploded over the ocean.

“No they’re not,” Laguna said with grim satisfaction as he put his communicator away.

“Kiros?” Zell guessed. Laguna nodded.

For a few moments longer the group stood and watched the debris of the destroyed airship fall into the water. Then they all turned to Quistis as the blond woman cleared her throat to gain their attention.

“We have to secure this facility and then regain control of the Garden. Squall, I want you and…Squall?”

The sound of Lionheart hitting the floor had Irvine running to catch Squall before the brunette could land there as well. Quickly checking his lover for wounds, the cowboy breathed a sigh of relief and allowed a small chuckle.

Squall Leonhart was fast asleep.

END PART TEN

Notes from Gnome: Well finally...that took forever. Epilogue next and then it will be finished and I can move onto the next fic project guilt free ^_^

continued - epilogue