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 Three
By Garden’s Gnome

Stepping into the elevator, Irvine quickly hit the door close button and leaned against the back wall as the lift began to move, leaning his weapons against the wall next to him. Not that he was in any real hurry to get to Quistis’ office. In fact, he’d purposefully taken the long way around the Garden to waste as much time possible.

After the slap to the face, Irvine didn’t get the chance to see the commander’s expression as Squall had turned immediately and fled the training centre. Quite the slap too, Irvine thought as he examined his reddened cheek in the glass that lined the wall of the elevator. But it was worth it for the taste.

He had tasted like strong coffee with a hint of honey and cinnamon. Irvine knew that Squall usually had breakfast after his morning run and a shower because the group sometimes waited for the brunette to join them before eating, but coffee always came before the run. Irvine ran his fingers over his lips, recalling the soft feel of Squall’s breath when he had gasped and the heat of his mouth. But he knew that each action had a consequence, and now he had to face them.

Stepping out of the lift and heading towards the doors to the headmistress’ office, Irvine politely tipped his hat to Xu as he passed her in the hallway.

“They’re waiting for you,” she told him.

“Thanks. Who’s in there with Quistis?” Irvine asked Xu, needing the information to figure out what kind of explanation was going to be needed.

“Um…just Selphie. They’re going over some reports from the doctor.”

Irvine nodded his thanks and opened the door slowly before stepping into the room. Quistis was seated in her usual chair with Selphie sitting on one of the desk corners.

“Well, it’s about time!” Quistis said as she pushed her glasses back up her nose. “I was about to send Selphie here to look for you. What took so long?”

“Good morning, Irvy.”

“Good morning, Selphie,” Irvine addressed the petite woman, not really wanting to answer any questions.

“Well? And what happened to your face?” came Quistis’ inquiry. The cowboy sighed silently.

“I decided to take the long way around to see if any of the Card Club members were watching. I got some of what I wanted from Tobias, but I’m waiting to see if something I tried gets other results,” he told the blond as he tossed the small packet containing the tablets onto the table.

“Give those to Dr. Kadowaki for testing. Don‘t worry about the face, Quis. Just ran into a firm object in the training centre this morning.”

“You’ve gotten this far already? Thank you Irvine.” Quistis handed the packet to Selphie. “Please take these to the doctor, Selphie.”

“Sure, then can I head to breakfast?” Selphie asked.

“Yes, we’re done here and Squall should be finished his run by now.”

“Woohoo! Glorious food, here I come!” Selphie said happily as she practically bounced out of the office. Both Irvine and Quistis watched her go with small smiles. Irvine turned back to Quistis and cleared his throat.

“About Squall…I guess he didn’t come here after his run?” he tried to ask as casually as possible while fiddling with his vest buttons.

“No, should he have? Did you see him in the training centre?” the blond asked, watching the nervous cowboy closely. “What’s wrong Irvine? You seem jittery.”

“Me, jittery? Guess I’m just happy to have some results so soon,” he said with some false cheer before answering the other questions. “Ah…yes, I saw him in the training centre and spoke with him too. Just wondering if you’d seen him since then?”

Quistis watched Irvine over the rims of her glasses. He definitely looked nervous and she was almost willing to bet that it had something to do with the commander. She was about to ask some very pointed questions when her communicator buzzed.

“Trepe here.”

“Quistis…” came the quiet male voice and she looked at Irvine as he shook his head silently, clearly indicating that he didn‘t want Squall to know he was there.

“Squall, where are you? Irvine’s here and is looking for you,” she told the brunette, disregarding Irvine’s frustrated sigh at being ignored. There was a long pause before Squall spoke again.

“Come down to the front entrance and bring Irvine with you,” he commanded.

“Okay…we’ll be there in five. Trepe out.”

Quistis turned off the communicator and raised a blond eyebrow at the cowboy as she heard him swearing quietly to himself and touching his reddened cheek. Interesting, she thought. Closing the files on her desk, she stood and headed to the door before turning to Irvine. “Well, you heard him. Let’s go.”

Irvine followed the headmistress quietly, sniper rifle slung across his back and carrying the shotgun, his mind running through various scenarios of what could happen next. He knew that he should warn Quistis but didn’t want to ruin any reactions that could be observed by their ‘prey‘. And the members of the Card Club would certainly watch them if they were meeting Squall at the front entrance.

Exiting the lift, Irvine and Quistis walked towards the front gates, passing three club members - Jack and the two girls knows as Diamond. All three watched their passing with obvious interest, as most of the students knew that the headmistress usually had breakfast at this time unless something important was afoot. And the view was all the more interesting because the cowboy was obviously armed.

Walking down the stairs, Irvine stopped the moment he laid eyes on Squall. But it wasn’t just the sight of the commander that made him pause. It was the couple of bags sitting on the ground next to him. Irvine watched Quistis hurry down the remaining stairs and begin questioning the brunette.

“What’s going on, Squall?” Quistis enquired, watching Squall’s eyes as they looked over her shoulder to where the cowboy stood.

“I have to leave,” he said not taking his eyes from Irvine.

“Leave? Why?” Quistis asked.

“Something has happened and I can not stay here at the moment,” Squall told the blond as he pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket as Seifer drove up in one of the Garden owned cars. “This will hopefully explain everything. You can reach me at the number listed on the bottom. Seifer also has the number and only one of you two are allowed to contact me and only in an emergency.”

Irvine listened to Squall’s words, desperately wanting to know if Squall was leaving to help with their mission or running away from him. His feet moved of their own accord as Seifer began to load the bags into the car. Stopping next to Quistis, Irvine looked down into stormy eyes, unsure of what to say.

“Please Squall, not like this,” he said in the softest of whispers and sighed sadly when the brunette flinched slightly.

“Like what?” asked Quistis, also seeing the flinch.

“I have to…there is no other way, no time…I need to deal with this on my own,” Squall told Irvine, his eyes troubled before he got into the car. Irvine started to reach out to the brunette but was stopped by Seifer. He looked into hard green eyes and swallowed.

“Leave him alone, cowboy. Once I find out what’s wrong, I’ll be looking you up. If you think you need to hide, I’d start running now,” the blond told him before releasing his arm and getting into the car.

Irvine stood rooted to the spot long after the car was out of sight. He could feel Quistis’ mind ticking over beside him and waited patiently for her questions. Pursuing the brunette would have to wait, especially if his leaving was to aid the mission. Irvine wished he knew. Finally, Quistis turned to him and looked at him with narrowed eyes.

“What did you do to Squall?” she asked. Irvine hoped that she would not take too much offence to him making a scene.

“Nothing that concerns you,” he told her as he began to quickly walk up the stairs

“He’s my second in command. Of course it concerns me. Now tell me, what did you do?” the headmistress commanded, her firm tone implying that ‘none of your business’ was not going to be tolerated as an answer as she walked quickly after him.

“It’s between me and Squall, Quistis. Just leave it alone,” Irvine told the blond woman, not wanting to think about the fact that the brunette was no longer at the Garden.

“Irvine Kinneas, Hyne help me! Don’t make me have to…” Quistis threatened the cowboy as she grabbed his arm to make him face her only for him to turn on her in a small rage.

“What Quistis? Tell or you’ll expel me? Demote me? I’m not even SeeD so you have no hold over me there. I’ve done my bit for the world, helped save everyone and become a hero. Leave my personal life alone!”

Quistis watched as Irvine stormed off to the training centre, his long coat billowing behind him.

“My office Irvine. Be there after lunch!” she called after his retreating form before heading to the cafeteria for a quiet breakfast. She’d get some answers out of him then.

*****

Idly shuffling his cards, Tobias smiled as he heard a series of rapid shots fired in another part of the training centre. Irvine was taking his time, obviously working off some steam on the monsters kept within the enclosure. Ever since Irvine had left earlier, the Card Club member had known his every move as the sniper wandered throughout the Garden thanks to the other members reports.

He’d been slightly shocked at the cowboy’s direct approach at getting the commander’s attention. What the Galbadian had done almost ruined the plans carefully set out by the group but when Squall had suddenly left the Garden for places unknown to all but the headmistress and his best friend, Joker had been told to offer the cowboy with a way out. Not really for his own peace of mind but because he knew too much and could hinder other events that were about to be set into motion. Plus he could be of use in other areas.

Hearing the crunch of dirt underneath boots, Tobias looked up to see the cowboy finally arrive.

“Hey, Irvine. Heard you made quite the impression on the commander,” Tobias said casually only to end up with Exeter stuck against his throat.

“Don’t even go there. Just…don’t,” Irvine commanded the card player, not really ready to take shit from anyone. Then he remembered why he was here, sighed and lowered the gun. “Sorry. It’s just the gang wants to know every single bloody thing that happens, regardless of whether they should know or not.”

“Hey, it’s okay. I understand. Kinda like that in the card club. Having to report who’ve we’ve played against, win or lose.” Tobias looked into Irvine’s narrowed and pissed off eyes and hastily amended his last words. “Then again, I guess it is different when it’s your heart that’s involved.”

Moving to sit on one of the benches nearby, Irvine took off his hat and ran a tired hand through his hair. “I just couldn’t help myself…he looked so good all sweaty and glowy from his morning run. Like he’d just had a good romp in the bushes. Dammit, I should’ve waited. Now I‘ll have to leave and Quistis won‘t tell me where he is…I‘ll never get to see him again. Bloody stupid, impatient fool I am.”

Tobias sat next to the sniper and listened as the cowboy cursed his luck and over eagerness. After a hasty discussion with the other members, it had been decided to send Irvine to the Den and see if he could be convinced to work for them, as getting the sniper out of the Garden would further the plans on this end. Now all the card player had to do was assure the other man that leaving and going with him was a good idea.

“Irvine, if you leave the Garden, where will you go?” he asked carefully.

“I don’t really know. Can’t go back to Galbadia Garden - Quistis will make sure that I never become SeeD now.” Irvine shrugged. “Might hire myself on as someone’s bodyguard or something. Or maybe I’ll just roam around for a while and see what Hyne’s trio of fates decide to offer me. Can‘t stay here though,” he finished, waving an arm to indicate the Garden in general.

“What if I could offer you some work? I’m not sure what you’d be doing but I could recommend you to my boss. Maybe set up an interview?” Tobias asked the cowboy.

Irvine felt some of his helplessness of the situation with Squall flow off of him as he listened to the other man. This was what he was doing this for - the mission to save the Garden students from drugs. Maybe if he could convince himself that he’d only kissed Squall because he had to make a believable cover and not because he’d wanted to for the longest time. Maybe then he wouldn’t be worrying so much about whether or not Squall was thinking of him too. Thinking of that kiss.

*****

Squall moved in his seat, adjusting his seatbelt as he reached to change the music channel for the tenth time. Seifer watched the brunette’s actions out of the corner of his eye as he concentrated on the road. It had been an interesting morning.

Waiting in the cafeteria for his breakfast, the blond had received a call from Squall on his phone. “My room, NOW!” He wasn’t given the chance to ask any questions as the other man hung up before he could say a word. Arriving at Squall’s suite, the blond had walked in to find the brunette throwing clothes hastily into a few small travel bags and packing Lionheart in it’s case.

“Alright, I’m here. What the fuck are you doing?” he asked.

Squall gave him a quick glance as he went into the en-suite to get his toiletries bag.

“Squall, you just dragged me away from breakfast and a morning of teasing Zell. This had better be good,” he told the brunette as he folded his arms and leaned in the doorway.

“I’m leaving.”

“Say WHAT?!” Seifer asked, genuinely surprised.

Squall sighed. “I must leave and it has to be now, before he gets a chance to talk to me…here carry this, will you?” the brunette said as he threw one of the bags at the blond and grabbed the other plus his sword and then headed for the door. Seifer had to walk fast to keep up.

“Why are you leaving and who is ’he’?” the blond asked patiently, knowing that if he kept asking Squall would eventually tell.

“There’s no time. Give me the bag and go get one of the cars - preferably the fastest. Meet me out front.” And then he was gone.

When Seifer had pulled up out front of the Garden, Quistis and Irvine had been with Squall.

Watching the group out of the corner of his eye as he put the stuff in the vehicle, the blond had paid close attention to the interaction between the commander and the cowboy, the way they watched each other gained the blond‘s interest. What could Irvine have done?

“Please Squall, not like this,” he heard Irvine say and saw Squall flinch.

“Like what?” asked Quistis, hovering near the two men.

“I have to…there is no other way, no time…I need to deal with this on my own,” Seifer heard Squall tell the cowboy, before he got into the car. Seifer watched Irvine start to move and decided to step in. He looked into light blue eyes and also noticed the red cheek the sniper was sporting.

“Leave him alone, cowboy. Once I find out what’s wrong, I’ll be looking you up. If you think you need to hide, I’d start running now,” the blond threatened Irvine before releasing his arm and getting into the car and driving off.

Now they were away from the Garden and Seifer decided it was time for answers.

“So, tell me…what did Irvine do?” he asked casually and saw Squall start slightly at the mention of the cowboy’s name.

“…” Was the brunette’s answer as he gave up on finding a decent radio station and turned the stereo off.

“I thought we got over the silent answers when we were together in Esthar. I’ll ask again…what did Irvine have to do with our leaving the Garden in a big hurry?”

“It’s for the mission,” Squall said, sounding somewhat evasive about giving answers.

“For the mission?” Seifer asked, eyebrows raised in obvious disbelief. “Don’t give me that shit, I know you better. You like to plan things out with Quistis most meticulously and she appeared to have no idea at all. Besides, we all agreed to talk as a group before taking action the other night after that Hyne awful vampire flick that we watched.” The blond sighed, this is getting nowhere fast, he thought before asking. “Will you tell me why or are we going to play twenty questions?”

“…”

“Fine, questions it is.” Seifer began to tap his fingers on the steering wheel as he tried to think of appropriate questions. “Where to start…did you go for your run this morning?”

A nod.

“Okay, did you see Irvine and was he with that card member, Toby something?”

“Tobias.” Two nods. Two yes’, good.

“Tobias then. Um…let’s see.” The blond’s brows furrowed in a frown of concentration. “Did you leave the training centre straight away?

A shake of the head. ‘No’ then. Hmmm, whatever it is happened there.

“Were you still in the training centre when Quistis called Irvine to her office?”

A nod as Squall turned to look out the window. Seifer watched as the brunette ran a gloved finger over his lips. What could that mean? he asked himself. The blond sighed.

“You realise that it would be a hell of a lot easier if you just tell me what happened.” Silence was given to the blond for an answer. “C’mon Squall, talk to me. I can see your mind ticking over with thoughts. Stop talking to yourself and talk to me…please?”

Squall gave the blond a slightly startled look when he heard the ’please’ leave his lips. He ran his fingers through his tousled hair and sighed in frustration at not understanding. How to explain when I don’t really understand Irvine’s actions myself, Squall thought.

“Oh, I don’t know. I guess what he did had to do with the mission. Probably got the idea from what the drugged students were doing,” he told the blond, waving a hand dismissively.

“Which students…the guys?” Seifer asked, determined to get to the bottom of this.

“That’s what it has to be,” Squall nodded his head before beginning to shake if negatively. “He couldn’t of meant anything by it.”

“He couldn’t have meant what? What the fuck did Irvine do to you?” Seifer asked, hitting the steering wheel in frustration. “Did he tease you, fight you, and hit you? No that’s not right because you don’t look like you’ve been hit…but he did.” He turned to Squall, his eyes widening in realisation that it was the brunette that had whacked the sniper one.

“A very convincing cover story…but why me?” Squall said, still half talking to himself. Seifer laid a hand on the brunette’s shoulder to get his attention.

“Did you hit him?” he asked.

“Yes I did, right after he…kissed…me…” Squall admitted and then blushed a deep red.

Holy Hyne.

“He kissed you? The cowboy kissed you? And you hit him for it?”

A small nod. Seifer sighed. This is going to be quite the story.

“Alright,” he said slowly, “start from the beginning and leave nothing out.”

END PART THREE

Notes from Gnome: Poor boys. So confused. Next chapter - Quistis finding out some interesting things and possibly Squall wearing ???…You’ll have to read it and find out then. See ya.

continued - part four