Dec ‘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 Nine
By Garden’s Gnome

“Thank you for calling Balamb Garden. We are currently experiencing problems with our communications system and are unable to answer you call. Please try again later. Have a nice day!”

Laguna stared at the smiling girl on the screen and disconnected the call. This is impossible, he thought to himself as he moved to the large window that dominated one wall of his office, deep in thought. They can’t be having problems with their communications system because it was made here in Esthar and we have never had trouble with ours!

Ever since the Garden had left sometime early that morning, Laguna had been trying to contact Quistis to find out what was going on. The headmistress of the Garden was supposed to be meeting him for lunch and then they were going to see if the analysts working on the drug samples from Doctor Kadowaki had found anything of use. It was now early afternoon and he still couldn’t make contact. Quistis would never leave without at least calling and explaining why.

He knew Squall was on an undercover mission in relation to the drugs found within the Garden. Everything had been explained when they had arrived to ask for assistance - the drugs, the unconscious students and the Card Club’s involvement. As much as he would love to send his own soldiers in to help solve this problem, it was an internal matter. Plus they still needed more information before making a move.

Laguna sighed and moved towards his desk as the door opened and Kiros entered the room. Long legs quickly brought the dark skinned man to the desk.

“They’re at Fisherman’s Horizon,” Kiros told Laguna as he dropped a folder onto the president’s desk. “And that’s from the drug specialists. He said you should look at it immediately and then contact him if you needed to ask any questions.”

“Have you had any luck finding someone to talk to? I’m still getting the automated message,” Laguna asked as his eyes began to skim the first page of the report.

“No,” Kiros said as he sat opposite his friend. “I’ve been getting the same message. Do you recognise the girl?”

“Hmm? Oh, I think she’s their librarian. I’ve only met her once when Squall gave me a tour of the Garden after the communications system was installed.”

“What do we do now?” Kiros asked, reaching out to grab the first page from in front of Laguna.

“Well, there’s not much we can do until we can contact Quistis. It’s just strange that no one is…“ Laguna’s chatter faltered and then stopped as he stared at the next page in his hand. “Fuck!”

Kiros immediately came around the desk as Laguna pushed his chair backwards and dropped to the floor. Looking down, he watched his friend tap a few times on a floor panel before it popped open.

“What’s wrong, Laguna?” he asked.

“I want you to call the air station and tell them to prep the Rag,” Laguna instructed as he pulled a small case out of the floor. “Then get in touch with Ward and tell him he’s in charge until we return.”

Kiros did as he was told without question, watching as Laguna attached a silver pin to his collar and powered up the small but hi-tech communicator he now held. Then without even bothering to close the hidden compartment, Laguna headed towards the door.

“C’mon, Kiros,” called Laguna. “I’ll explain it as we head to the air station. Oh, and grab the report. The others will want to see it. Hurry…we have no time to waste!”

Kiros hastily followed his friend all the while asking himself one question. What the hell was going on?

*****

“Man, I can’t believe this. What a waste of time,” Zell grumbled as he and Selphie wandered through the halls of the Estharian Presidential Palace.

“Not really, Zell. At least we now know that neither Mrs. Dobe or the aide here in Esthar are involved,” Selphie said.

“As far as we can tell.”

“Um, yeah,” the petite brunette agreed as they finally left the palace.

“What now?” Zell asked, faintly aware of a distant beeping sound that he could not place.

“Well, I guess we call Quisty and tell her we found nothing. Then we go home,” Selphie shrugged and looked around also trying to find the source of the sound.

“Yes!” The blond cheered and Selphie giggled as she watched Zell bounce happily. “I’m gonna have a hotdog the moment we arrive.”

“Hey, Zell…is that your communicator?” Selphie asked, finally finding the source of the sound as she watched the martial artist stop bouncing.

“Yeah…it is. But who?” Zell reached to check his communicator. Each had a different call tone and this was one he’d never heard before. He was stopped when Selphie grabbed his arm and his attention.

“Look! Is that Sir Laguna and Kiros?”

“Yup, sure looks like them,” Zell agreed as the two men came running out of the Palace. “Let’s go check it out.”

Jogging to catch the men as they turned to head for the airstation, Zell called out to Squall‘s father. “Hey Laguna. What’s up?”

“No time to explain. Follow us,” the older man commanded before heading once again in the direction of the airstation.

“Huh?” Zell asked even as he kept pace with the running men.

“What’s going on?” Selphie asked. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be seeing Quistis at the moment? Lunch or something?”

“She never arrived and I haven’t been able to contact her,” Laguna told them.

“But why are we going to the air station? The Garden’s on the other side of…” Selphie said, beginning to point an arm behind them.

“It left this morning. We have located it at Fisherman’s Horizon. We’ve been trying to call Quistis since we found that they had left but no one answers,” Kiros answered, as Laguna seemed to be busy changing the settings on his communicator. The tall man then concentrated on clearing the path to the launch bay, ignoring the many startled looks from workers within the airstation.

“We didn’t see them…” Zell commented, scratching his head in puzzlement. “Must’ve been still in transit when we were on our way from FH to here.”

“You just came from FH?” Laguna asked surprised by how fast the teens managed to get around. “Why?”

“Well, we’re trying to find the Card Club members, but lost their trail,” Selphie told the men as they finally reached the Ragnarok. “Our next best guess was to ask people who played Squall during the Queen’s card quest thing. So far we’ve found nothing.”

“Where’s Seifer and Rinoa?”

“They went to Deling City and Timber,” Selphie told Laguna as they strapped themselves into the seats in the cockpit of the Rag. “Seifer wanted to be within striking distance if Squall needed any help.”

“Where is my son?” Laguna asked as he keyed in the launch sequence.

“In Dollet with Irvine,” Zell answered as he tried to ignore his stomach protesting the speed with which they took to the air.

“Irvine? But isn’t Squall undercover?”

“Yup,” Zell said with a small grin. “We staged throwing Irvine out of the Garden and he went with Joker. As far as we know they went to where Squall is.”

“How did you find us?” Selphie asked Laguna.

“When we re-did the communications system, Squall gave me all the codes to the group’s emergency frequencies. And this is an emergency.”

“What’s happened?” Zell asked, a sinking feeling in his gut.

“The results for the drug samples were finalised this morning,” Kiros told two teens as Laguna growled in anger.

“It’s a mind control drug. And it works.”

*****

The first thing Quistis was aware of was that the surface she was laying on was softer than the floor but hard enough to be uncomfortable. Her mind felt fuzzy as she fought to shake off the remnants of the sleep spells cast on her by Nida and his students.

Nida was King, Quistis thought as she hurried to sit up, remembering what had happened on the control deck. A wave of dizziness washed over her as hands helped to steady her swaying body.

“Quistis, here drink this,” came Xu’s voice as a bottle was pressed into her hands. Cool water trickled down her throat as she shook off her fatigue.

“What…what happened?” she asked her long time friend.

“The Card Club has control of the Garden. All the students are following Nida’s orders and I think Bethany is Heart.”

“Bethany…The librarian? But how?” Quistis asked truly surprised that the sweet girl that had once liked Zell would aid in the overtaking of the Garden.

“She knocked me out when I was asking questions in the library,” Xu said as she lifted Quistis’ hand to feel the rather large lump on the back of the dark haired woman’s head. “Not hard enough to do serious damage but I do have one hell of a headache".

“Let me fix that,” Quistis said as she probed gently. Xu winced but then sighed as a low-level cure spell fixed the injury. “What else has happened?”

“Not much,” Xu said now totally relaxed at the relief from pain. “As far as I can tell the Garden is no longer in Esthar. I have no idea where we are now.”

Quistis carefully got off the mattress that had been placed on the floor and looked around their surroundings. Instead of being put in normal confinement, they had been taken to level B1...the elevator!

“Don’t bother,” Xu told Quistis as she made her way to the far side of the room to the lift. “It’s been disabled. Nida said that only he had the new override codes.”

“They’ve changed the codes?” Quistis asked as she began to examine the room further.

“To the elevator - yes. The rest of the Garden? I don’t know.”

Quistis sat back on the mattress beside Xu and began to take stock of their supplies. Quistis had a few healing items but nothing to assist in getting out of the room. She had two Guardian Forces - Pandemona and Alexander. Surprisingly, Quistis also still had her whip, having wrapped it around her waist like a belt. Apparently whoever dragged her in here decided not to worry with a weapon search. Unfortunately, Xu had been searched and therefore had nothing except for the GF Ifrit. They were still mulling over their options when the elevator hummed to life.

The doors opened and Nida and Bethany stepped out of the elevator. Nida’s face held a look of great triumph and contempt. The librarian followed Card Club King quietly, almost mechanically.

“Good morning, Quistis. How are you this lovely day? I’m fine myself…More than fine actually.”

Quistis motioned for Xu to stay silent and did the same. She had nothing to say to the once trusted pilot. She just glared at him.

“Oh, not speaking to me? I’m hurt,” Nida said insincerely as he and his companion stopped a few meters from where the two women sat. “No matter. You need say nothing because I’m going to tell you what exactly is going on.”

“Your precious Garden is now the property of the Card Club as are its students. Soon all three Gardens will belong to us and there is little you or anyone else can do. An army of the finest trained fighters and killers will be ours to use as we take over the world”

Quistis sighed silently as Nida gloated. Why was it always about world rule or imposing your dictates on others? Why couldn’t they just exist in peace and all get along.

“How do you propose to take over the other two Gardens without bloodshed?" she asked. "I’m surprised that the SeeDs here are following your orders.

“That’s the beauty of it Quistis. They have no choice and probably don’t even know what is going on in their lives at the moment. They do what they are told, no questions asked.”

“How? Why?” Xu asked, getting tired of Nida’s overbearing attitude that was only a few steps down from gloating.

“Ah yes, the one question that has all the answers. You were so close to finding the answers too. Such a shame that we were a few steps ahead. You would never have known any of this had that idiot Irvine controlled his hormones and given Squall those drugs. Then Squall would have been under my control. No one but the headmistress questions the orders of the man who slew the sorceress, and we would have taken care of you as well. But the cowboy screwed up and Squall left. Lucky that we had a back-up plan. And the good doctor Kadowaki was so willing to help after I forced the same drugs down her throat. Mind control is such a wonderful thing.”

Quistis gasped in shock. Everyone in the Garden was under Nida’s control. If the others came back they would be attacked and would not fight back for they, like herself, did not want to hurt their own. She glared at Nida as he smirked down at her.

“What do you plan to do with us?” she asked.

“Hmmm, well I think I’ll let you suffer down here for a bit. Then when your friends arrive, I’ll give you a little something before sending you to greet them,” Nida grinned maliciously at the blond woman before turning to head back to the elevator. “Sorry I can’t stay for longer. Duty calls and I must make my report to the Queen. Will catch you later…don’t either of you go anywhere now.”

Quistis fought the urge to race over and wipe the smile off his face with her fist. They had to find a way out and tell the others what was going on. There had to be a way to save the students without hurting them. The blond looked over to see the elevator doors closing, Nida waving a cheerful farewell as he laughed at her predicament. She was not about to sit here and do nothing.

“C’mon Xu, we’ll show Nida and his little Club why I’m in charge here and not him,” she said to her companion as she made her way to the section of wall that hid one of the many secret passages within the Garden. They would see who laughed last.

*****

Seifer glared into his drink before finishing it off in one swallow. Around him the other patrons of the Timber pub drank and talked as fast as their inebriated states would allow. Pushing away from the bar, the tall blond made for the door.

Once outside in the fresh air he began to make his way to the house where Rinoa was. Seeing as their search for the missing Card Club members had turned up nothing after asking questions for the past few days, the young sorceress had taken the opportunity to visit old friends while Seifer contacted Quistis. But Seifer had been unable to reach the headmistress of the Garden, or anyone else for that matter, getting the automated communications system problems message. It was frustrating the hell out of the blond that they’d gotten no results at Deling City and now the same nil result in Timber. He’d left a message on Selphie’s communicator instead and then gone to get a drink or two while waiting for a reply. That had been a few hours ago. Selphie was such a social butterfly that she couldn’t go an hour without checking her messages. Maybe they had found something.

Not that he was overly worried. Selphie and Zell were both SeeDs of the highest rank. They could handle any situation they found themselves in. But Seifer still found himself concerned for their welfare, especially Zell‘s. His relationship with the tattooed blond was so new that he still couldn’t believe that it was real. If anything should happen…Seifer shook his head to keep his mind away from the ‘what if’ thoughts that made him doubt that they would solve this new threat. The gang had defeated the sorceress so this small thing should be easy.

His grey trench coat flapping in the breeze as he rounded a corner, Seifer stopped suddenly as he saw Rinoa hurrying his way. Green eyes widened at the sight of Kiros and Selphie following her. What were they doing there? If Selphie is here, where is Zell?

“Seifer, thank Hyne we found you. We must leave immediately,” Rinoa called to him as she turned and began to run the other way. Seifer quickly gave chase and ran close to Selphie.

“Where’s Zell?” he asked.

“On the Rag with Laguna. We’ve got to get a message to Squall and Irvine somehow. Any ideas?”

As the group raced out of town and into the airship, Seifer tried to think of how they would get a message to the other two men. Blond brows came together as he frowned.

“What’s going on?” he asked as he watched Kiros take the pilot’s seat from Zell, who quickly made his way to his boyfriend’s side.

“Laguna is in the conference room,” Zell told Seifer as he pulled the other blond towards the elevator. “He’ll explain everything.”

Seifer let himself be pulled along, Selphie and Rinoa following close behind.

*****

Squall leaned against the wall, swaying in time with the beat that throbbed through the air around him. Feeling someone beside him, he opened his eyes and found himself mesmerized by another set of eyes peering into his own. Blue eyes full of laughter and daring and life. Eyes that he could fall into forever.

A hand on his shoulder pulled him out of the memory and back into reality.

“You zoned out for a bit there, Storm. You okay?” Irvine asked.

“Yes, thank you. I’m fine,” Squall replied, inwardly annoyed that he could not figure out what he was seeing, also hating the feminine tone of his voice as he spoke to the cowboy. He longed to return to the room given to Irvine and be alone with his lover. Instead they were both stuck down in the Triad room, working.

For three mornings Squall had awoken wrapped in the arms of his cowboy lover. While it was not the most ideal conditions to start a relationship in, both men made the most of what time they had alone.

The first morning, Squall awoke a little sore and was having some difficulty getting his legs to cooperate enough to make it out of the bed and to the bathroom until Irvine had wrapped him up the bed sheets and carried him into the shower. The sniper had then proceeded a slow, wet seduction of the brunette’s tender body, showing his commander that having company in the shower was much fun. On the second morning, the brunette managed to sneak from the protective shelter of his lover’s arms and shower alone, until Irvine climbed in and pressed his naked body against Squall’s soap covered one. Then this morning, Squall woke to the light nibble of Irvine’s teeth and lips to his cock, his own fingers subconsciously sunk into auburn tresses as the gunman held him down, driving the dreams away with a better reality.

Each day then proceeded the same. The pair would eat breakfast together then Squall would leave to help the other girls clean up from the night before. Irvine wandered around freely, asking questions and observing operations within the gaming club. Lunch was again taken together, followed by playing Triple Triad and make out sessions so the men monitoring the sensor cameras would not be suspicious of the time they spent alone. Not that what they did was meant for their observers. Then they would return to the card room to work and watch those who they were trying to stop.

“You sure you’re alright?” Irvine pressed, seeing the small frown creasing his lover’s face.

Squall looked up and was about to answer the sniper when he spotted a familiar face over Irvine’s shoulder.

“There you are, Irvine,” Tobias said as he approached the couple. He placed a hand on Irvine’s shoulder. “We have to see Marius and then we’re leaving.”

“So soon?” Irvine asked, knowing that it had been three days like they’d been told. Time to get back to real work. He looked down at Squall. “Storm, be a doll and go pack my gear. We’ll be back shortly.”

Squall stayed against the wall for a few moments more and watched his lover and one of their prey leave to go meet the Card Queen’s son. Now that things seemed to moving, he only had to stay another day or so before he would just disappear and Storm would be nothing more than a memory to some of the patrons here. Entering the room they had shared the past few days, the gunblader moved with efficient motions to collect all of Irvine’s gear. Once the bag was closed, he sat next to it and waited.

A few minutes later the door opened and Irvine wandered in, calling over his shoulder to Tobias something about a private goodbye that would only take a moment and then they would be on their way. He closed the door behind him and moved to pull Squall up off the bed and into his arms.

“Listen carefully,” he whispered into the brunette’s ear, making it look as if he was nibbling on the other’s neck. “We’re heading to Fisherman’s Horizon. They have the Garden…” the sniper felt his commander stiffen in his arms. “We’ll get it back. The others are not there except for Quistis and Xu. As far as I can tell Nida is in charge and Marius seemed very pleased with that.”

“They weren’t after just the students, but the whole Garden,” Squall whispered, his brow furrowed in thought. “That’s probably why they want you for Galbadia Garden. To take it over for them.”

Irvine nodded.

“That’s my guess too. I’m still not exactly sure how they did it but you need to get out of here soon so you can find the others and come help me.”

Squall leaned his head to the side as the cowboy threaded his fingers through his dyed hair. The grip changed and he felt himself being pulled closer to his lover. Tightening his own arms around Irvine’s waist, Squall pulled them together faster, lips parting the moment they met. Squall plunged his tongue into the welcoming heat of the sniper’s mouth, tasting and memorizing the feel of Irvine in his arms. A knock sounded at the door and they dragged themselves apart.

“As soon as you get out, send me a message. We’ll figure this out and get our home back.”

With one final look and a brush of Irvine’s thumb across kiss-dampened lips, the sniper shouldered his bag and made for the door.

“I was beginning to think you’d never come out, Irvine,” Tobias said with a leer as he took in the swollen lips and tousled hair of Storm.

“Just giving the lass a proper kiss to remember me by,” Irvine told the card player as he turned back to Squall. “Thanks beautiful. Hope we get to do that again sometime. Take care now.”

Irvine tipped his hat in farewell and was gone.

Squall made his way slowly back down to the Triad room, deep in thought about his next move to get out of the club and back to the others. As he wandered over to get a drink from the bar, he was grabbed from behind.

“Well now, aren’t you a pretty one,” came the slurred voice in his ear as one of the more inebriated patrons tried to fondle his breasts.

“Unhand me!” Squall demanded as he felt a hand move to his throat to twist his head around. He struggled and wrenched himself free.

“Don’t you dare…touch…” Squall’s angered voice trailed off as he heard his words and then looked at his attacker’s hand.

The man had ripped off his choker.

Oh. Fuck.

The reaction was almost immediate. The two men guarding the door come forward as the patron yelled ‘it’s a man’, ready to restrain the ‘girl’ called Storm. Squall drew his daggers from his boots and prepared himself for battle. One that never happened.

Something flew past his ear, cutting lightly into his cheek. He felt a trickle of blood make it’s way down his skin. Then he felt nothing as his body became numb and he collapsed to the floor. Booted feet came into view and picked up the metal tipped card that had landed near his head, one of its corners covered in blood.

“Hello Leonhart,” Marius’ voice said pleasantly, almost smugly. “Was wondering where you had gotten to.”

It was the last thing he heard as he slipped into unconsciousness.

END PART NINE

Notes from Gnome: You don’t have to say it cause I’m already saying it myself…’about fucking time!’ *grins* Sorry it’s taken so long but I have been writing other stuff while trying to get these muses to talk to me. I have had this chapter in one form or another since I did ch8...that was like…back in September. OMG! Sorry, sorry, sorry for the wait. Just one or two more chapters now plus the epilogue. I’ll try to get these done but it won’t be until after the New Year cause other muses are demanding attention. Hope you enjoyed it and thanks for being so patient about all this. ^_^

continued - part ten