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 Two
By Garden’s Gnome

It was just before sunset when Irvine and Quistis arrived at the Squall’s private rooms. Being the commander of the best Garden certainly had its perks.

A small foyer behind the main door lead into a sunken living area. A large entertainment system filled one side of the room, with a few couches along the wall across from it and an odd assortment of beanbags and cushions tossed on the floor around a very low table. On either side of the couches and opposite to the foyer, stairs lead up to a kitchenette. Two doors lead off either end of the small cooking area, one to the tiny laundry and the other to a bathroom, which housed a shower and toilet. Another set of stairs led up to Squall’s room on the left of the living area. The bedroom had it’s own en-suite, including a full length and very deep bathtub. The apartment even had a private balcony. Some days it paid to be in charge.

After removing their shoes, the pair moved to join the others on the floor. Seifer, Selphie and Zell were currently involved in a fast-moving game of snap, the cards blurring and almost unreadable as they were slapped on the card pile that the three surrounded.

Squall and Rinoa were up in the kitchen putting final touches to what looked like pasta with a few different sauces. After the end of the war, Rinoa had gotten over her infatuation and had become good friends with the brunette. Along with helping the once silent man open up to his closest friends, the raven-haired woman had taught him how to cook. Now, once a week, the group gathered in Squall’s apartment to just hang out and eat the latest product of his cooking lessons.

While Irvine sauntered down to join the card game, Quistis headed in Squall’s direction. Speaking rapidly into his ear as the brunette ladled steaming sauce into a serving bowl, the blond soon had the attention of the entire group. Looking at Quistis and then to the group on the floor, Squall sighed and gave the full bowl to the blond. Then he followed her down to the floor where a low table had been set-up for their meal.

“Sorry guys, but the movie night is off.” Squall told everyone to a chorus of groans and a not fair as he sat in between Quistis and Irvine.

“But why? I really wanted to watch ‘Plague of the Vampiric Blobras’ tonight!”

“You know that’s not what we chose, Zell, so stop pouting.” Selphie told the blond.

“That means I can move around a seat,” said Rinoa, moving from her spot next to Zell so that her back was facing the TV.

“I don’t have germs, ya know,” grumbled the still pouting blond.

“But both you and Seifer put your elbows out like wings…” Rinoa began to say.

“Don’t even say it!” Zell threatened Seifer, who tried to look innocent while mouthing the word chicken at the tattooed blond next to him.

“…When you eat. This way there’s more room for all three of us.”

Soon the room was filled with the sound of forks hitting plates and of sauce covered pasta being slurped into hungry mouths. Since they had arrived last, Quistis and Irvine washed up the dishes as Squall tidied up his kitchen. Once this was finished, the group settled back on the floor with hot drinks and a chocolate cake made by Rinoa for dessert. All eyes turned to the headmistress expectantly.

“The female cadet who passed out in the dormitory at lunch time woke up and was lucid enough to be questioned this afternoon. She’d gone into the training centre with her boyfriend Josef. They’ve only been together about two weeks and spend most of their time chatting and generally getting to know each other. This was the first time he’d taken her to the ‘secret area’. They had been sitting down sharing a bottle of water when she’d started to feel dizzy. Josef gave her a tablet claiming that it would help. Instead she believes she passed out. The next thing she remembers is waking up in the infirmary. Doesn’t remember leaving the training centre or walking through the dorms.”

“Have you checked the surveillance tapes?” asked Selphie, after sipping at her cup of tea.

“Yes, and they show Josef helping her out of the training centre. But then he went back inside while she continued on towards the dorms. In the tapes she looks fine, fully awake actually, until she passed out in the hallway. It makes no sense.” Quistis let out a frustrated sigh.

“Who is Josef? It sounds like you know him,” asked Zell as he reached for a second slice of cake.

“He’s known as Jack of the Card Club.” Quistis told the group.

“Has he been questioned?” asked Squall

“Xu asked Josef some questions when he came into the infirmary to see how the girl was doing. I would’ve spoken to him myself but…another two students were found. One had passed out in the quad and another in the library. Both had the second drug that we cannot identify in their bloodstream. That’s why we’re discussing this now and not tomorrow. We need some answers.”

Quistis looked at the group, weighing in her mind the theory she had come up with while watching the tapes. Seifer and Zell were fighting over the last slice of cake. Rinoa had gone to get refills for her and Squall’s drinks. Selphie was laughing at the two blond men as she filched the last piece of cake while they argued. Squall looked deep in thought, and Irvine was drinking his hot coco while watching the stormy eyed brunette from under his hat that he really wasn’t supposed to be wearing to dinner…Irvine watching Squall?!? Quistis almost choked on her coffee with the quickly indrawn breath. After a few thumps on the back from Seifer she managed to regain her composure.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, breathed in at the wrong moment. Thanks.” Quistis looked again at Irvine but the cowboy was now watching her. I never did get a chance to ask him about that club. Perhaps it wasn’t a girl.

Once everyone was seated again and Zell had stopped pouting across the table at Selphie, Quistis shared her thoughts.

“I have a theory about where the drugs could be coming from. One of the members of the Card Club, the Joker, sells items in the training centre…” she began.

“But doesn’t he only have low level stuff?” interrupted Zell.

“Yes, but Tobias also used to get requested stuff for an extra charge. He would ask us all the time if we wanted anything special that we couldn’t get in Balamb. Once a month he’d make a special trip to Timber and Dollet. Be gone for about two or three days and then come back with the extras. But I’m not sure if he’s still doing it or not. It is just a theory.”

“A good theory though because while the training centre does have some cameras there are still many places to hide. The ‘secret area’ is just one example. But why aren’t you sure now? Has Tobias been too busy to make any trips?” asked Squall.

Quistis looked down into her almost empty coffee.

“I’m not a member anymore,” she said quietly.

“How’s that work, you were the King. Don’t you have to be beaten by the other members first?”

“No, Squall. After I became headmistress the Queen herself approached me. Both Xu and I were asked to stand down from our positions. I didn’t really want to but she is the Queen and therefore we both agreed. I don’t know who took our positions within the club because I haven’t played any of them since then. Plus there’s no guarantee that the new King would want to accept a challenge from me. Might be afraid that they would lose.” Quistis allowed herself a small smile. “It was fun while it lasted though.”

“Okay, let’s say it is Joker. Any suggestions for finding out who he’s getting the drugs for?” Squall asked.

“We thump him one,” said Zell, almost putting a dint in the table with his fist.

“Not a good idea, chicken. If we let you at him with those fists of yours, he’ll be out for a week if not longer and whoever he is buying for will know something is wrong.” Seifer quickly dodged a half-hearted backhand from the other blond.

“What if he’s the dealer?” asked Rinoa.

“We would still need to know where he is getting it from. And if he doesn’t tell us, then we let Zell at him.” Selphie said, licking her fingers of the last remnants of cake icing.

“Quistis, a question. Did all the students have the first drug, the ‘Dream-maker’, in their systems?” asked Irvine quietly.

Everyone had almost forgotten that the cowboy was still at the table; he’d been so unusually quiet. Quistis watched his eyes carefully, trying to determine if Irvine had a plan or not.

“Yes, they did. Why?” she asked.

“No reason,” Irvine said as he stood and stretched. Everyone looked puzzled.

“Do you have a suggestion for what to do?” asked Squall.

“Yep.”

“Well?” said Selphie and Zell at the same time.

“Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it.” Irvine headed towards the door. “Thanks for dinner Squall, was nice.”

Everyone watched in shocked silence as the cowboy put on his shoes and opened the door.

“Just don’t change your routines for the next week or so, and don’t ask any strange sounding questions. I’ll give you some info at the end of the week.”

Then with a tip of his hat, Irvine was gone. And only silence remained behind.

*****

Irvine changed position on the branch he was sitting on for a third time, trying to relieve numb legs. Lining up the sights of his sniper rifle, the cowboy watched Squall on his morning run through the training centre. For four mornings now he had done this. It could almost be called stalking and in some small way it was. But while he really was enjoying the view of Squall’s leather clad legs and slightly sweaty body, it was part of his self-proclaimed mission.

If it truly were the same drug Irvine had been offered that time at the club, then he would need to look convincing to get Tobias to approach him with the offer to help. And that was the easy part. Long before that night at the club, the cowboy had realised he was gay. Unfortunately, it took a really special type of man to turn Irvine’s head, and the commander was certainly that.

Like the pretty thing Irvine had seen that night, Squall’s hair had that tumbled in bed look that made you want to drag him off to the nearest room and do kinky things to his lithe body. Those pouty lips that begged ravishing and the firm, leather-clad bottom had plagued Irvine’s sleeping hours since he’d joined the group during the sorceress war. But because Irvine was unsure to which way the commander swung, he’d never approached Squall nor told any of the rest of the group of his preferences. Sometimes life was beyond frustrating.

Irvine sighed quietly as Squall rounded a corner and was out of sight. As with the other mornings, he’d wait another half an hour before leaving. After picking off a couple of Grats with his rifle the cowboy clambered out of the tree, long legs reaching lower branches with ease. It was upon reaching the ground that Irvine found he had company.

“Hello, Irvine.”

Irvine frowned in fake concentration, trying to look like he was placing the person in front of him with a name from memory. Then he smiled, “Hey, Joker.”

The man laughed quietly. “Call me Tobias. If we ever play serious cards then you can call me Joker.”

“Sure, no prob.”

Together they walked to the bridge that Tobias usually waited for customers at. For a few long moments, the item seller watched the cowboy closely. He noted that Irvine was looking towards the entrance.

“You know that if you try to kill the commander you won’t live long enough to leave the training centre?” he asked in a half threatening tone.

Irvine’s head swung around, truly shocked. Then he realised how the card player would come to that conclusion. He did bring his sniper rifle with him every morning as well as his shotgun.

“Um, it’s not what it looks like, I promise you.”

Tobias just raised a brow, waiting for an explanation. He watched the cowboy shift uncomfortably from one foot to the other. If he’s not here to shoot the commander but is watching his every move so closely…?!

“You’re stalking him,” Tobias said calmly.

Irvine sighed, thankful that he wouldn’t have to bash the man over the head with his shotgun. Now if he could say the right things to get the information they wanted.

“How could I not want to stalk the man? That tight leather-clad ass is begging for attention.”

“Have you told him that you want him?”

“Hell no! If I asked him out and he turned me down, I’d probably have to leave and I like it here. I’m not even sure what his preferences are. Plus if the rest of my friends found out, only Hyne knows how they’ll react.” Irvine crossed his arms in a defensive look.

“Okay, calm down. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the commander with a girl in the secret area. Except the night of his graduation when the headmistress, then Instructor Trepe, dragged him in here. Nothing happened though.”

“You’ve seen lots of comings and goings for the secret area. Any suggestions on how I might get the commander to notice me?” Irvine asked.

“Well, instead of hiding, how about we play cards together when he’s on his daily run. That way he’ll see you away from the distractions of your friends. If that doesn’t work I have a few ideas that will.” Tobias smiled confidently.

Another four mornings passed when Squall finally stopped during his run and wandered over to Irvine and Tobias. With a brief nod to the Card Club member, the brunette turned his attention to the cowboy.

“We missed you at dinner last night. Because you didn’t go with Zell to choose a movie like you were supposed to, the rest of us had to sit through that vampire flick he wanted to watch. Where were you?”

“I was here brushing up on my card skills so I could challenge you and have a better chance of winning. No need to get jealous, commander.”

“I am not jealous. If you want to miss a free dinner, that’s your choice. Don’t get too distracted playing cards, Irvine. Remember, you have a mission in a few days.” Then with another nod at Tobias, Squall unsheathed Lionheart and ran back into the surrounding foliage.

“He’s a hard one to read,” said Tobias.

“You have no idea. It’s always the mission or the Garden. I wonder if the guy has ever taken a holiday.” Irvine shook his head. “I doubt that I’ll ever make a big enough impression for him to notice me as other than a friend.”

“I can help you Irvine, if you’re that set on the commander. But my methods may seem a little unorthodox, even drastic.”

“I’ll do pretty much anything at this point to make him mine.” Irvine succeeded at sounding defeated while his mind raced with other thoughts. So close...Give me what I know you have.

“What I’m about to give you must not be shown to anyone else. Do I have your word?” Tobias asked seriously.

“Sure.” Irvine had no trouble agreeing, as he knew that his promises to help the group always came first.

Tobias looked around them carefully. Reaching slowly into a pocket he took out a small packet and handed it to Irvine.

“Inside this are two tablets. The first is an aphrodisiac that will help weaken the commander natural defences to intimacy of any form. The second will counter the sedative type side effects of the first.”

“But I don’t want to take Squall against his will,” said Irvine.

“With this in his system, it won’t be against the commanders’ will. His wants and needs will take over and he’ll want what you have to offer him. I promise.”

Irvine took the small packet reluctantly. He was about to question Tobias further when the communications system came on.

“Irvine Kinneas, report to the headmistress’ office. I repeat, Irvine Kinneas, report to the headmistress’ office.”

Irvine sighed and gathered up his rifle. “See you later on, Tobias. Let ya know how it goes.”

“Sure. I’ll be around somewhere. Good luck!”

Irvine waved as he walked away from the small bridge, and began to quietly whistle a tune. Part one of his plan had worked. Now all he had to do was get the information about where the drugs were coming from outside of the Garden. That would be a somewhat harder puzzle to solve. As he rounded the last corner that lead to the training centre gates, Irvine saw Squall waiting for him. The cowboy’s mind quickly fed him a plan, and as he approached the brunette all Irvine could think was - I hope Squall don’t kill me for this.

“I heard the call for you to go see Quistis so I thought I’d wait for you,” said the brunette as he watched the gunman approach.

“Thanks. Some company is appreciated.” Irvine smirked down into wide, stormy coloured eyes as he crowded into Squall’s personal space. “Let me show you how much.”

Irvine captured Squall’s lips in a possessive kiss that made the brunette gasp, shocked by the assault. Feeling the lips part, the cowboy’s tongue plunged in for a taste. So sweet and warm, thought Irvine, sorely tempted to lose himself in the feel of the body in his arms. Then remembering what he was doing, Irvine reached down to grasp the commander’s bottom - hard. Squall reacted immediately. *Crack*

Breaking free of Irvine’s hold, the brunette swung a gloved hand at the cowboy’s face, slapping him hard. Irvine staggered slightly from the blow and then turned to watch the commander run from the training centre. Placing his gun on his shoulder, Irvine followed slowly with a small smile on his face, heading for the headmistress’ office and Hyne only knows what reactions from his friends.

END PART TWO

Notes from Gnome: And so, hmmm. Another chapter out of the way and Irvine gets his first taste of his commander. Ah, the things one has to do for the mission. A bit of angst in coming up in the next chapter so stay tuned. Bye.

continued - part three