WARNING: boylove, shouen-ai, yaoi, explicit smut, swearing and pink carpeting.

Final Fantasy VIII belongs to Squaresoft. Bollocks.

Feedback very welcome, here or by e-mail (fanfic @ scribblemoose.co.uk)

Second story in the Magic series.

This series, for Gwen, with love.

Blood and Sand

Chapter 5 - Close

By scribblemoose

On the seventeenth morning that Irvine woke up with Squall, he told him that he loved him.

More than once.

Squall lay on his stomach, nose snuffling into the pillow, Irvine draped over his back. He buried his face in Squall's neck, burrowed under silky hair to press his lips against the soft skin beneath his ear and whispered the words there. Kissed his way down to the curve of neck into shoulder and said them again. Dragged his tongue over the muscular curves of Squall's arm, sucked gently at the ticklish tip of his elbow and chuckled when Squall jumped.

"Kinneas..." The usual menace of Squall's warning growl was completely undermined by the huge grin on his face. A grin still so unusual as to make Irvine's spine tingle. "You're asking for trouble..."

"Watcha gonna do? Happy me to death?"

Squall shot out his elbow, catching Irvine hard in the ribs. Irvine rolled onto his back, half laughing, half moaning. "Ow! Bastard!"

"Serves you right," Squall said, smugly. "You tickled."

"Wasn't even trying. You want to know what tickling is? I'll show you what fucking tickling is, Squall Leonhart!"

Irvine was kneeling astride Squall in an instant, pinning his hands out of the way with one of his own while he tickled mercilessly with the other, over his ribs, his tummy, the especially sensitive bits at his waist. Squall snorted and writhed and somehow managed to flip Irvine onto his side and free one hand, which he immediately put to good use in retaliation. They wrestled for a while, tangling themselves in pink and purple bedsheets, until finally, breathlessly, Irvine surrendered.

The sight of Squall leaning over him, eyes glittering with happy victory, didn't feel much like defeat, however. He tugged Squall's head down and kissed him soundly.

Squall murmured his approval; his tongue snaked inside Irvine's mouth, his fingers slid into Irvine's hair, and his cock pressed stiffly against Irvine's own.

"Mmm." Irvine flexed his hips, hands sliding down Squall's back to cup his ass. "Top or bottom?"

Squall tugged gently on Irvine's lower lip with his teeth, then drew back a little to consider. "Top, I think."

Irvine grinned. "You getting a taste for it, Commander?"

"Yeah," said Squall. "But this time I think I'll just fuck it."

Irvine had seen Squall in this mood only once or twice before. But damn, he could get used to it. He gave Squall's ass a playful smack and stretched out an arm for the lube. He'd just curled his fingers around the half-empty tube when the phone rang.

They shared a grimace and for a moment, for one glorious moment, he thought Squall was going to say 'fuck it' and let it ring.

But of course, he couldn't.

Irvine watched as Squall crawled away on all fours, sheets still tangled around his legs, lean and beautiful and just too damn tempting, as he answered the phone.

"Yes? ... Quistis... no, I'm awake..."

Squall settled on his elbows, arse in the air, and yawned. "Yeah, we went back last night. It looks as if Seifer's involved with Cass's disappearance, too. Anything from the security tapes?"

Irvine watched Squall's ass, transfixed. So tight and round and perfect. Pale skin dusted with a few fuzzy hairs; a tiny freckle at the top of his right thigh that Irvine suddenly wanted to kiss.

Squall was earnestly listening to Quistis, pretty much in full commander-mode. Oblivious to how astoundingly wanton he looked, laid out all naked and tempting, practically gift-wrapped in pink cotton.

A wicked idea sprang into Irvine's mind and refused to go away.

"Seifer must have someone on the inside," Squall was saying, "to mess with the tapes. Unless... yeah, that's what I was thinking, maybe if it was earlier than we thought, and- oh!" Squall jumped as Irvine's lube-slicked finger trailed down the crack of his ass, too startled even to fight him off. "... sorry, yeah, um..." he glared over his shoulder, but Irvine just smiled. "... I... yeah. Sorry, what did you say?"

Irvine added a little more lube and kept stroking, surprised but pleased that Squall wasn't putting up more resistance, still talking to Quistis as if he wasn't being fingered and petted in a way that made his cock swell and twitch up towards his belly.

"Did you manage to make out where he, uh, went?"

His voice was a little ragged, mind.

Grinning smugly, Irvine swirled his fingertip around Squall's anus in little circles.

"Underground? But..." Squall's free hand reached back and batted ineffectually at Irvine's; Irvine took no notice, pressing gently until his finger slipped inside Squall's ass. Squall clenched tight around it and groaned helplessly.

"... What? Sorry, no, I'm fine..." His voice wobbled; Irvine stroked his thigh soothingly as he gave him a moment to regain his composure. He had really expected Squall to hang up by now, but he simply took a deep breath and carried on talking to Quistis as if nothing was happening.

Irvine, however, was very much enjoying himself.

"A secret tunnel?"

Irvine wiggled his finger deeper, squirmed around to find Squall's prostate and started to rub. Squall's fingers twisted in the sheets, knuckles drawn white from the effort of holding a conversation while Irvine tortured him like this.

"How would he know about it, though?"

It wasn't good enough, Irvine decided. Squall certainly shouldn't be capable of forming coherent sentences. But he didn't dare...

Did he?

Squall covered the mouthpiece for a second. "Stop it!" he hissed. "Irvine!"

Irvine obediently pulled his finger out of Squall's ass and shifted back, hand moving to
Squall's hip instead.

"No, Quisty, I'm fine... What were you saying? The line's a bit- oh, fuck!"

Irvine grinned wickedly, the head of his prick slipping into Squall's hole in one slick thrust. Squall squirmed, confused, not certain whether to pull forward and escape, or to sink back onto the thick cock that was invading his body. Irvine leaned over his back and gently guided Squall's lax hand, bringing the phone back to his ear.

"Don't leave Quisty hanging, sugar," he said.

Squall whimpered.

"Quistis?" he managed, feebly. Irvine smiled as Squall's eyes slid shut, his tongue slipping out to lick his lower lip, already half-surrendered to pleasure. "Sorry, Irvine was... um... yeah, I'm fine. No. Listen, could I call you back later? Only, I... oh. I see. Okay, if you can't... the tunnel, you were saying about the... tunnel..."

Irvine curled his fingers around Squall's shoulder to brace himself, the other hand guiding his cock as he sank deeper.

Squall's head drooped, his back arched and he shoved backwards, taking Irvine to the hilt. Irvine bit his lip to keep from crying out, eyes tight shut, overwhelmed for a moment by the slick grip of Squall's ass.

"Yeah..." Squall murmured; Irvine couldn't tell whether it was encouragement or part of his conversation with Quistis. "Okay... yeah, carry on..."

The last vestiges of Squall-the-Commander listened - barely - to Quistis, while Squall-the-true-Galbadian threw his head back and wriggled around to claim his pleasure. Irvine started to move, rocking slowly back and forth, every stroke blissful heat and friction to his straining cock. He'd just got a good rhythm going when Squall's phone beeped again.

"Sorry," Squall gasped at Quistis, "got another call. Just a sec... oh!"

Squall froze.

"Hi Dad," he squeaked.

Squall's eyes flashed open and his head drooped; suddenly Squall's attempts at escape were wholehearted, and Irvine willingly let him go. He knelt with his forehead resting in the small of his lover's back, panting, as his cock softened stickily against his thigh. Fucking Squall while he was on the phone to Quistis felt kinky. Fucking him while he talked to his father, on the other hand...

Irvine shuddered and tumbled sideways onto the bed, pulling Squall with him.

"Quistis just told me." Squall's voice sounded drained now, faintly irritable. Irvine cuddled him closer, softly kissed his shoulder. "... Are they? Here? Okay. I'll be down in half an hour... I'm fine. Just woke up, is all... no... okay..."

The thing was, once Laguna got talking, it was always hard to shut him up. After ten minutes of holding an increasingly tense Squall while he tried to wind up both conversations, Irvine took the liberty of snatching the phone from him and turning it off. He threw it over the edge of the bed for good measure.

"Damn," he said. "Looks like you were cut off."

"Hey," said Squall, more surprised than mad, fortunately. "But-"

"C'mere." Irvine nuzzled his neck, ran his hand over the smooth skin of Squall's chest, down to his belly. "Mine. 'Til breakfast. Mine."

Squall sighed. "We missed breakfast. We're late for two meetings already."

"Butbutbutbut," whined Irvine.

"And we really shouldn't have done that while I was on the phone," said Squall, pulling himself out of Irvine's arms despite his protests. "We should both treat Quistis with more respect than that. Especially with this crisis on."

For a minute Irvine thought Squall really was mad at him, or worse still about to start torturing himself with guilt. Then Squall turned to chuck him a towel and Irvine spotted the grin on his face.

"Shower, Kinneas. Now."

Irvine shuffled off the bed. "Can we-"

"No," said Squall, firmly. "Later. Work now."

Irvine sighed, watching the subtle twitch of Squall's butt as he followed him into the shower.

And he hated Seifer more than ever.

Squall wasn't kidding about missing breakfast. No sooner were they clean and uniformed than he marched them to his office in the administration wing, where Selphie was waiting with Fujin and Raijin. Irvine hadn't seen Seifer's old sidekicks since shortly after Ultimecia and he didn't regret it much. He didn't understand their devoted loyalty to such an asshole, for one thing.


Didn't seem like Fujin's communication skills had improved any, either.

Squall strode over to his desk, and started to sift through a pile of reports. "Where's Seifer?"


"We're in the dark too, ya know?" Raijin looked genuinely rattled. Fujin too.

Squall glared at them.

"Look, there's doughnuts and coffee," said Selphie, with a meaningful glance at Irvine. "Let's tuck in before Zell gets here and snaffles all the best ones."

Irvine's growling stomach approved of that idea. "Come on, Commander," he said. "You made me miss breakfast, after all."

"Alright," Squall snapped, irritably. Selphie bounced happily down onto one of the low, semi-circular sofas around the table, and Raijin and Fujin followed her lead. Irvine brushed a hand over Squall's shoulder as he joined them, coaxing him as best he could to keep his patience.

"Raijin was telling me about Seifer on the way here," said Selphie. "He's been having some problems adjusting."


"Because of what he did?" said Irvine. She was sitting stiffly, on the edge of the couch, hands twisted together in her lap.


"Because he lost the sorceress," said Raijin. "He hated what she did to him, but he needed her, ya know?"


"He missed the power?" said Selphie.

"No," said Squall, quietly, coming to sit next to Irvine. "He missed being her Knight."


"That's about the size of it, man."

Irvine caught a flash of pain as it crossed Squall's face, an echo of the misery that he hadn't really seen since the winter festival. Yet in an instant Squall had buried it again, fixing a blank, professional expression on his face, taking a gulp of coffee before turning to Raijin and asking him when Seifer had started to feel that way.

"He never recovered, man. Not really. Went about his business, but always kinda sad. Took us a while to work out what was wrong."


"Did he tell Edea, or Cid?" asked Selphie.


"It was like he was being punished, ya know? Like he wanted it. Thought he deserved it."


"So what happened?" asked Selphie. "What does he want with Odine?"


"If he's taking his punishment like a man," said Irvine, "why's he shown up here and started to kidnap people?"

"Tanya." Raijin spat the name out in disgust. "She put ideas in his head, man. Bad ideas."


"What sort of plans?" Squall frowned. "I don't understand. What would she get out of it?"

Fujin looked straight at Irvine. "REVENGE."

"She's got it in for you," said Raijin. "Whatever you did to her, pissed her off royal, ya know?"

Squall snorted; Selphie raised an eyebrow.

"I was getting that impression," said Irvine, his heart sinking. "I wish I could remember what I did..."

"So this Tanya comes to Seifer and asks him to help her get revenge against Irvine?" Selphie said, helping herself to another doughnut.

"Not exactly like that," said Raijin. "They met at FH. She worked in the store there for a while. Didn't know who he was. It was fine, we hung out. I kinda liked her. Then he told her about... what happened. After that, she was kinda-"


"Yeah, that's about it. Then they disappeared; turns out they came here. That's all we know, man. I swear."


"We're trying," said Selphie, with far more compassion than Irvine could muster. "It looks from the security tapes we have as if he and Odine plain disappeared; there's a segment missing. Quistis has a theory that they left through a secret door underneath his laboratory, an escape tunnel left over from the Sorceress Wars. We're just trying to find it."

"Are we?" This was news to Irvine.

"Yes." Squall shot him a look, and there was more than a little mischief in his eyes. "Didn't you hear me talking to Quistis about it on the phone this morning?"

Irvine grinned right back at him. "Must've been busy."

He held Squall's gaze for a fraction longer than he should have, enjoying the secret.

"So we need to find this Tanya," said Selphie, with a curious look at Irvine. She didn't miss a thing, his Seffie. "Maybe she'll lead us to Seifer. Right, Squall?"

"Yes. If we can find her. She said she was meeting with Seifer last night, but there's no telling where she is now."

"MUST FIND," said Fujin, an unusual tone of desperation in her voice. "PLEASE."

"I know you and he had... well... you don't owe him anything," said Raijin. "But he tried. He's not bad, ya know?"

"He's dangerous," said Irvine. "He's abducted two people already. That's not what I'd call 'good', exactly."

"It might not be his fault," said Squall, unexpectedly.

Irvine couldn't imagine a scenario where that might be the case, and opened his mouth to say so. But Selphie beat him to it.

"Of course it's his fault!" she said. "You don't kidnap people by accident. You said yourself how dangerous it is to underestimate him. And if he feels bad after what happened... well, he deserves it! No-one made him become evil's bitch."

Irvine noticed the clench of Fujin's fists, the steadying hand Raijin laid on her shoulder.

"Edea did," said Squall, quietly. "When she was Ultimecia. That's how it works. It's a powerful thing. You don't understand."

It was the first time Irvine had heard Squall talk about Seifer with anything approaching pity. He didn't like the sound of it.

"It's still no excuse," Selphie insisted. "He could have gone for help, he could've-"

Squall cut her off. "It doesn't matter now. Our priority is to make sure Cass and Odine are safe. Then we'll work out what to do about Seifer. And Tanya."

Selphie's anger subsided a little; Fujin's fingers uncurled.

"Selphie, would you show Raijin and Fujin to their rooms? Irvine, you're with me," said Squall.

"Sure," said Irvine. "Where are we going?"

"Underground," said Squall.

One look at Quistis' face when they got to Odine's lab told Squall that she was making good progress.

That and the big hole in the floor she was standing next to.

"We couldn't detect anything," she explained, pushing her hair off her damp forehead with the back of one somewhat grubby hand. "So I got the engineers to help us take up the floor. They're using probes to make sure it's safe, then we can go down."

"At last," said Squall. "Get Selphie and Zell down here. Kiros..." he was about to issue an order, when he noticed the wry smile on Kiros' face. He'd forgotten for a moment that he wasn't really in command here. "Could you call Laguna? I'd like permission to get down there as soon as possible."

"Of course," said Kiros, with a gracious nod.

"Do we have any idea where it goes?" Squall asked Quistis, as Kiros turned away to make the call.

"It's hard to be sure. We found some old maps, and it seems likely that the tunnels could be accessed from most of the key locations in the city at one time. They might go further, even. Perhaps to Lunatic Pandora."

"That's a big area," said Irvine. Suddenly, Squall noticed a mark on Irvine's neck, a small, purple bruise, and knew that he'd put it there. And then, while one part of his brain dealt with the job in hand, Squall found the other part remembering how it had felt earlier, when Irvine...

Suddenly it was hard to look Quistis in the eye.

"They were built during the sorceress wars," Quistis was explaining to Irvine. "Kiros thinks there's some kind of refuge down there, a place where important people could hide until the threat was over. A bunker. Only, when it came to it, Laguna wasn't about to let anyone run away, so they never got used. They were so well hidden that people eventually forgot where the entrances were. Of course, there were no records."

There was a clatter of footsteps from down the hall as Selphie and Zell arrived.

"You found it?" Selphie skidded to a halt by Quistis, and peered into the hole. "What's down there?"

"We'll find out, soon," said Squall. "Check your junctions."

Shiva stirred in the back of his own mind. It felt like a long time since they'd done this for real, outside of training and monster culling. He called the others: Siren, Doomtrain, Diablos. Felt the rush of power, magic vibrating through his veins.

The taste of it reminded him, suddenly and painfully, of Rinoa. Without thinking he reached for her, trying to sense her, to grasp the link between them. But of course, she wasn't there.

Irvine looked quizzically at him; noticing something wrong even though Squall was sure it didn't show on his face. He took Squall's hand and Squall let him, however damn unprofessional it was. For a moment, he didn't care, didn't even look to see who noticed. The long fingers curling around his were strong and comforting, and diminished the sense of loss.

The technician who had been monitoring the probe from a nearby computer terminal cleared his throat to gain Squall's attention. "You're all clear, Commander Leonhart. The probe reports nothing out of the ordinary."

"Thank you," said Squall, pulling his hand reluctantly from Irvine's.

Laguna rushed into the room, almost knocking Zell into the tunnel in the process. "What did I miss?"

"Hey!" said Zell. "Watch where-"

"We've uncovered the tunnel we believe Seifer used to abduct Odine," said Squall. "I request your permission to-"

"Hell yeah," said Laguna, staring curiously down the hole. "Mind if I tag along?"

Squall looked doubtful; Laguna was useful to have around in a fight, but he could be a liability where stealth was concerned and if Seifer was down there, Squall had harboured hopes of sneaking up on him. But Irvine squeezed his shoulder, and he noticed something else behind the eagerness in his father's eyes. He wanted Seifer, too. He felt responsible.

"It's your tunnel," said Squall.

Laguna grinned. "So it is. But it's your mission."

"Let's just get on with it," said Squall.

The tunnel was narrow, but tall enough for even Irvine to stand up straight. The walls were tiled and although some cracks had appeared over the time the passages had been deserted, probably a result of the Lunar Cry, in general the Estharian engineering had stood up well. The soft floor covering made it easy for even Zell and Laguna to walk quietly, and there were emergency lights in the walls, still working after all these years. Whoever had built the tunnels had meant them to last.

They'd also built a lot of them.

At the first crossroads, Squall followed his instincts and kept going straight. At the second, he stopped, already in sight of the third. "We need to keep an eye on the map, and cross reference with the surface."

"Already on it," said Selphie, waving a scanner cheerfully at him. It beeped.

"There's no trail," said Laguna. "How do we know which way he went?"

"We don't. I'm working on a hunch. When we saw Tanya yesterday, she was on her way to meet with Seifer. She wasn't wearing much and she didn't have a coat, but it was freezing outside. I figure they met near the Torama. Seifer wouldn't risk being seen around the city, so I'm thinking she came down here from an entrance near the club."

"Wow," said Laguna. "You worked all that out by yourself?"

"He's not just a pretty face," said Irvine, with a smirk.

"If I'm right it should be a couple of miles in that direction." Squall pointed towards the left turn.

"It's could be closer than that," said Selphie, frowning as she tapped out a few rapid calculations on the scanner. "We're taking a much more direct route than we could on the surface, because the transporter tubes aren't in the way and-"

"Good," said Squall. "Let's go, then."

Selphie was right. Within half an hour, they reached a thick metal door, and Squall knew he'd found what he was looking for.

Shiva was buzzing in his mind, more loudly than ever. He could feel the magic surging through the door, raw and unguarded. It tasted like Cass's kiss. Almost like...

What had Seifer done?

"Junction," he whispered. "And don't assume we know what we're dealing with. Quistis, Selphie, Zell, watch our backs. Irvine, with me. Laguna, keypad."

Laguna stepped up to the entry pad and swiftly keyed in his override code.

The doors slid open to reveal a laboratory, pretty much a copy of Odine's main lab overground, which made sense: if Odine had planned on taking refuge down here, there's no way he would have done so without his equipment. Odine himself was typing away at a computer, apparently oblivious to his imminent rescue. There were two exits in the opposite wall, one at each corner.

Seifer stood in the middle of the room, gratifyingly startled by their entrance; he raised his hand and Squall braced himself for a magical attack, but nothing hit him. Instead a shimmering wall sprang up between them, settling quickly to transparent, fizzing electric blue and silver around the edges.

"Stay where you are, Leonhart," growled Seifer. "If you touch that you'll fry."

He had changed, in the half a year since Squall had last laid eyes on him. The usual arrogance was there, sure enough, the swagger and menace that was as familiar to him as Quistis' grace, or Selphie's unquenchable enthusiasm.

But Seifer looked wretched. His normally immaculate hair was scruffy and uncombed; he looked pudgy, some of his once enviable muscle turned to fat. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his mouth was drawn in a grim, humourless half-smile. He didn't appear to be armed, but he must be junctioned... where the fuck did he get a GF from?

"Where's Cass?" said Squall.

"She's mine," said Seifer, defensively. "I won't let you have her."

"Let down the field, Almasy. Return Odine and the girl to us." Laguna said; but Seifer didn't take his eyes off Squall. "We can sort this out. We can help her to find her power. It's not-"

"Too late!" yelled Odine, spinning around suddenly on his stool. "It is done! I, Odine, achieved the impossible! I activated a daughter of Hyne! I, Odine-"

"Oh, shut up," said Seifer; and to Squall's surprise, the odd little man obeyed. He turned back to his computer, a little huffily, but in silence.

"I don't think he needs rescuing," said Squall, eyeing Odine in disgust. "You didn't kidnap him, did you?"

Seifer shrugged. "Not exactly."

"This can't work," said Squall. "I know how you feel, but you can't be her Knight. It's not right, she needs help to..."

"What the fuck do you know about it?" Seifer's eyes blazed anger. "You've still got Her, haven't you? You have Her with you every day, feeding you, wanting you, needing you. I've got nothing. I'm one big gaping hole where she used to be, my soul leaking out, bit by bit. You'll never fucking know, Leonhart."

Squall was dumbstruck for a moment; Seifer had found his weakness again, without even trying. He always found his weakness.

"That just shows what you know, Almasy," growled Irvine.

The door just behind Seifer and to his left slid open. Squall could feel Cass' presence before he saw her; her magic rolled out in a wave before her, crashing against Seifer's barrier in a shower of sparks. Her eyes were blank and unfocused; power crackled about her, raw and wild.

"What have you done?" said Quistis, staring at Cass, horrified. "She's an ordinary woman, she doesn't know anything about... she-"

"She has more power than any of you can imagine," said Seifer. He stood perfectly still, voice deceptively calm and steady. "It's hers. It's her birthright. If you'd found her first, you would have stolen it from her. Tamed her, like some kind of domestic animal-"

"Bollocks," said Squall. "It's not safe to leave her to cope with it alone and besides, that's not her natural power, is it?"

"It's her potential," said Seifer. "It's her-"

"No!" Cass raised her hand and released her magic in a cloud of stars, spread wide to fall on Seifer, Odine and herself. There was a blinding flash and a rush of white noise that deafened him for a moment.

By the time Squall's eyes blinked open, they'd gone.

"I thought you'd had it with this place."

Irvine and Squall stood outside the Torama, pink and purple neon washing over them. It was cold, close to freezing and Squall shivered, fists thrust into his jacket pockets, shoulders hunched up to his ears.

"So did I," he said, grimly.

"Are you going to let me in on the plan, then, or do you want me to follow you as an obedient yet ignorant sidekick? Because, you know, I could do either." Irvine gave Squall a gentle smile, warmth spreading in his belly when it was returned.

"The girl behind the bar last night. I think she'd seen Tanya before. She said something about her that made it sound like she didn't expect Cass to be friends with her."

"That's pretty slim pickings, babe. You only have to look at Tanya to work out she's bad news."

"I know." Squall sniffed. "But it's all we've got. She might know what Seifer's planning."

"You cold?"

Squall shrugged noncommittally, even though his lips were turning blue. Irvine resolved to go out as soon as the shops opened and buy him a duster. That damn jacket of his was too short for winter.

"C'mere." He opened his coat and tugged Squall into his arms, wrapping the worn leather around Squall's back. Squall scowled at him, but he didn't resist, and once Irvine had kissed him even the frown disappeared. Squall settled, albeit stiffly, into the warmth of Irvine's body and rested his head on his shoulder.

"How come you don't remember?" Squall murmured.

"Remember what?"

"Tanya. What she thinks you did to her."

"I don't know. It was a difficult time."

"Why?" Squall's arms slid around Irvine's waist, cold hands coming to rest on his back.

"It was after Rainbow left. You remember, I told you about Rainbow. I was in a pretty bad way after she moved on. For the next year or so I was... well, I didn't care a whole lot about very much." He nuzzled Squall's neck. "I did some stupid things. I was out of control."

He waited for Squall's reaction, bracing himself for commanderly disapproval, but Squall seemed more curious than anything.

"So what happened? How did you stop being like that?"

"Martine sorted me out in the end. Gave me the lecture, confined me to Garden, made me put everything into training. I owe him a lot, really. And you. I owe you, too."

"Me?" Squall raised his head, surprised.

"Yeah, you. Martine made sure I could fire a rifle. You showed me where to point it."

Squall snorted laughter. "That's... quite an image."

Irvine took a moment to work out what he meant, before he laughed too. "When did your mind get all dirty? Here's me making a perfectly serious point, and... anyway, Martine. Ew. No." He hugged Squall a little tighter, revelling in the last ripples of laughter that bubbled from Squall's throat. Then he dipped his head and kissed Squall's nose, his cheek, his mouth. Lingered there, his eyes fluttering shut, Squall's body warm now, pressing into his.

Irvine was happily losing himself in the rhythm of Squall's warm breath, when there was a loud clang from the alleyway behind them and a manhole cover scraped noisily against the tarmac. In an instant Squall was out of his arms and racing towards the source of the disturbance; if there had been a flash of blue heralding the sweeping arc of Lionheart he wouldn't have been surprised.

But instead, there was simply a startled "fuck!"

Irvine caught up with him in time to see a shadowy creature crawling from the hole in the ground; Irvine suspected a slimy, slippery monster of some kind, until the flickering neon above the Torama's entrance revealed a glimpse of grubby blonde hair and pink, scraped skin; an undeniably female human form.

She was deathly pale, dark shadows under haunted eyes. Squall dropped to one knee and extended an arm to help her; Irvine grasped an elbow to steady her as she staggered clear of the opening.

She looked up at Irvine, and blinked.

"Oh bugger," she said. "It's you."

Tanya fell unconscious into Squall's arms.

Esthar looked much prettier at night, Irvine decided, as he looked out from the window of yet another wing of the Presidential Palace. Once the sun had gone down the garish pink and blue faded, blending to a muted purplish glow that bled into the black sky, decorated with bright, twinkling stars.

He wanted to go and drag Squall out of his meeting, to make him come and look. He felt an overwhelming urge to share everything with his lover; storing up details so he could tell him later, even though he knew deep down that he'd forget when they were together again, and anyway, it would seem foolish when he got around to it.

Irvine may have slept with men before Squall, but he'd never been in love with one, and he wasn't sure exactly how to handle it. He remembered the first time he'd told Rainbow that he loved her; the feelings so new and dramatic that making a fool of himself had seemed obligatory. Expected, even. For a month after that he'd given her flowers every day, or when money was tight, bad poetry - he still cringed to think how bad - or left notes on the pillow for her to find in the morning when he'd gone.

He tried to picture the expression on Squall's face if he were to suddenly receive a dozen red roses and a note signed 'your cowboy'; the image made him laugh out loud.

A door opened behind him and Quistis emerged from the medical centre. She quirked a brow at him with a little smile; she'd obviously heard him laughing to himself in the corridor.

"How is she?" he asked, feeling a little foolish.

"Okay. A few cuts and bruises and the remnants of what looks like a pretty nasty magical attack. But she'll be fine."

"Does she have any idea where Seifer is?"

"She's not very chatty, and I haven't pushed her. Apparently Seifer ended their relationship, then she got into some kind of argument with Cass. That's all I know. Oh, and I found this when we were sorting out her clothes." She produced a little leather wallet from her pocket and offered it to him, looking a little pensive. "I thought you should take a look, before we give it back."

Irvine took the wallet from her, and peeked curiously inside.

It was a little photo book, and the first thing he saw was a photo of himself. His much younger self: skinny, gawky, grinning cheekily at the camera. There was a little clip of auburn hair, too, coiled and trapped behind the plastic window.

He flipped the page to the next photo: a young girl, with pale freckles; short, chestnut hair in a ragged bob.

Finally, Irvine began to understand.

"Hello, Koshi."

Her eyes fluttered open. She looked pale, apart from the livid bruises to her jaw and arm, too far gone to be healed by Squall's cura spell. She seemed smaller, lying on her back in the big, clean bed. Vulnerable.

"Praise be to Hyne," she muttered, voice dripping sarcasm. "You remembered."

"You could've just told me." Irvine sat carefully on the edge of her bed. "Why play all these stupid games?"

"Why should I bother? If I meant so little to you that you could forget, why should I be the one to remind you?"

"I didn't forget," said Irvine. "I didn't recognise you. There's a difference."

"Like I give a shit," she said, with a vehemence that made Irvine flinch.

She wouldn't look at him; staring instead at the plain white ceiling. Irvine fought his resentment at her childishness and blossoming guilt, as he looked around the sterile room. It was stainless steel and white tile: three beds, but Koshi was the only occupant.

"I know you weren't happy when we broke up," he said, softly. "But this has gone too far, don't you think?"

She laughed, harsh, incredulous. "Not happy? That's a fucking understatement. You made promises, Kinneas. You said you loved me. You said we were forever."

Irvine frowned. He was sure he had said nothing of the kind. "I liked you, but-"

"Do you remember when we met?"

"That party at your school. Your friend was dating my friend, they set us up." He very nearly hadn't gone. He hated blind dates.

"It was the best night of my life. I'd wanted you for the longest time."

"Oh? I didn't know that."

"We used to hang around near Garden to watch the cadets, me and my friends. I remember seeing you, on your way to some kind of battle drill, so handsome in your uniform... You always seemed to be in trouble for something or another. I think I fell in love with you the first time I saw you. When we met that night and you said you liked me too... I was over the moon."

Irvine shifted uncomfortably, not liking where this seemed to be going.

"I can't believe how naive I was. Of course, you betrayed me. You deserted me, just when I needed you the most."

"It's a long time ago. I was fucked up, we were both so young, we only went out for a few weeks. I really don't-"

"You're not listening. You destroyed me."

Irvine stared at her, amazed.

"You were the only person I ever trusted," she continued. "I thought... you were supposed to save me, and instead you made my life a living Hell."

There were tears in her eyes, real, honest, painful tears. "I'm sorry," said Irvine, meaning it. "I had no idea you felt that way about me. We were just teenagers."

"You used me, like you used every girl who was stupid enough to spread her legs for you."

Irvine opened his mouth to protest, but couldn't find the words. Perhaps because she'd struck a chord somewhere. He found himself remembering something Selphie had said, in that last, awful row before he left. The trouble with you is that you don't really know what you want. You're just trying everything in the hope you'll stumble across it...

"I should've known better. My father ran out on me. Every man I ever met wanted something from me, and would give me nothing back. I don't know why I expected you to be any different. But I did. You said you wouldn't leave me."

Guilt surged through him; he got up abrubtly, crossed to the window. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you felt that way. I wasn't really thinking straight, and it wasn't working out..."

"You were already looking for the next fuck, you mean."

"No, I..." The thing was, she was right, in a way.

"You wouldn't even go away. You never went away. You paraded all your new conquests in front of me. You ran off and got to be a hero. Everywhere I went people were fucking talking about you. Even in FH, the dustbin of the world, they talk about you." She gave a bitter little laugh, and Irvine turned back towards her, guilt twisting into somthing like compassion. "Seifer understood that, at least. It didn't do him a lot of good, either. I thought..." Fresh tears welled in her eyes and she fell silent.


"Go away." Her voice small and trembling. "Please, just go away."


She turned away from him, face buried in the pillow, body quivering with her sobs. Irvine reached to touch one shaking shoulder, but she flinched away, as violently as if he'd slapped her.

He lay her wallet on the bedside table, and quietly crept away.

Squall stepped carefully through the maze of paper on the pink-carpeted floor to lay the final piece of the map into place. Then he slumped cross-legged to the floor beside it, and glared at it.

It was a great map, and it was fascinating to see how the Estharians had managed to link all the key locations with an economical network of beautifully engineered tunnels. But it was pointless. As soon as Quistis had told him about the exit to the Estharian Plains Squall knew that was where Seifer would have gone. If Seifer had had any say in where Cass had taken them. If she'd been able to control where they ended up, even.

He could be anywhere by now.

Squall sighed deeply, relieved to hear soft footfalls behind him as Irvine entered the room.

"Hey, babe. What's all this?"

Squall turned and smiled at Irvine, feeling a little lurch of pleasure inside at the sound of his lover's voice. "Useless," he said.

"Oh, I don't know." Irvine squatted down behind him and kissed his neck. "It covers up the carpet."

"That has to be a good thing," Squall agreed. Irvine started to knead his shoulders and Squall leaned back into the caress.

"Are you done for the day?"

"I think. There's nothing else we can do until we have at least a theory of where Seifer's gone."


Squall couldn't fail to notice that Irvine was being a lot tougher on his muscles than usual. It felt good, though.

Irvine sighed.

"You okay, man?" Squall tipped his head back to look up at Irvine, to try and find some clue as to this unusual mood. He caught a trace of worry in Irvine's eyes, soon masked by a smile, but not altogether gone.

"Yeah. It's been a long day. Doesn't matter now."

He tugged Squall back against his chest, his arms sliding firm and reassuring around Squall's middle as he hugged him.

"What a mess," he murmured.

"We'll fix it," said Squall, with more confidence than he felt. "In the morning," he added, as Irvine's tongue rasped wetly over his neck.

"Yeah. In the morning." Irvine hugged him again and nuzzled his hair, just behind his ear.

"Feels good." Squall felt himself begin to relax, and rubbed his cheek against Irvine's stubble. "Bed?"

"I need a shower first. Why don't you go on ahead? I won't be long. Unless you want to join me?" Irvine nipped at Squall's earlobe.

Squall was about to turn and push Irvine to the floor for a little pre-shower romping, when his phone rang. He plucked it from his pocket and answered it out of habit; Irvine sighed again, got up and padded towards the bathroom with scarcely a backward glance.

"... it's on for three days, so..."

"Sorry, Dad. What?" Squall tried to concentrate on Laguna's voice, pushing aside lingering concern at Irvine's odd mood.

"The music festival. We could go tomorrow, if you're busy tonight."

"Music festival? Why in the name of Hyne are you thinking of going to a music festival when Seifer and an out-of-control sorceress are out there fuck knows where?"

"Because the City's been closed for two days now and people are getting jumpy. You know, there's more to all this than running about fighting enemies. Rumours and fear can be just as much of a threat as magic. The best way to take care of those things is to behave as if everything's normal, in public, at least. It's like looking after kids. If you look as if you're not bothered by anything, they'll feel safe."

While some part of Squall was resenting Laguna's inference that he had anything whatsoever to learn about his job, at the same time he'd dealt with enough panicking cadets in his time to know he was talking sense. But still. A music festival?

"I thought you could bring Irvine," said Laguna.

"Irvine?" asked Squall, confused.

"Well, there's plenty of tickets, you can all come, but I thought maybe you could ... officially bring Irvine. As your consort. Partner. Kind of thing." Laguna cleared his throat.

"Oh," said Squall. He felt a blush rise up his cheeks, and was immensely grateful that the conversation was taking place on the telephone.

"Only if... well... you know."

There was an uneasy pause.

"I really like Irvine," said Laguna.

Despite his cringing embarrassment and lack of anything at all to say in response to Laguna's suggestion, Squall realised he was pleased. Not so much at the bizarre request, but that Laguna approved of Irvine.

Not that it mattered. But still.

"Me too," he said.

Laguna's laugh took Squall by surprise; he hadn't meant to be funny, it was the only thing he could think of to say.

"So you'll ask him?"

"Yeah," said Squall. "Okay. Um."

"I'll leave you to it then. I mean. Er... well."

"Goodnight, Dad," said Squall, firmly.

"Goodnight, son. See you at the briefing tomorrow."

Squall let the word 'son' echo around his head for a moment, surprised at how right it felt.

Then he shut his phone off and went through to the bedroom. He stripped slowly, tossing his clothes onto a nearby chair: jeans, t-shirt, belts. It was the first night since he and Irvine had got together that he'd undressed himself, he realised.

"Who was that on the phone?" Irvine emerged from the shower, naked and beautiful, his skin slightly pink from over-hot water, russet hair dripping around his shoulders. He took a towel from the end of the bed and wrapped it around his waist.

"Dad. There's a music festival he says we should go to. Public confidence building or something."

"Not tonight?" Irvine looked almost as panicked as Squall had felt at that idea.

"No, tomorrow."

"Oh. Good. Don't feel much like going anywhere tonight, do you?"

"No. But I thought maybe... tomorrow... we could go together?"

"Sure," said Irvine, voice muffled by his towel as he dried his hair.

Squall frowned. That wasn't quite the effusive response he'd hoped for. It was the first actual date he'd asked Irvine on, after all. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," said Irvine, tugging on the tangles in his hair with his comb.

Squall was certain he wasn't fine, but he figured if Irvine didn't want to discuss whatever was on his mind, well, that was his business, really.

But he looked so sad.

Squall sat on the edge of the bed and wondered what, if anything, he should say. Irvine finished combing his hair, stuffed dirty clothes into the hamper and finally, came to sit next to him.

Squall opened his mouth, but there were no words, as usual. So he pulled Irvine close and kissed him instead.

Irvine responded instantly, his arms resting warm on Squall's shoulders, his skilled lips taking the kiss smoothly from an affectionate peck to a whole different level. By the time he pulled back, Squall was breathing hard and his tummy was fluttering
with anticipation.

"Oh gods," murmured Irvine, cradling Squall's head in one hand and leaning in for another kiss. "I want to make love to you all night."

Squall felt as though he was melting inside. Irvine had never called it that before. Neither of them had. It had always been fucking, or screwing. It was only words, but it felt very different.

"Can I?" murmured Irvine, licking along the clean line of Squall's jaw.

Squall realised he still held his phone in one hand. His thumb ran smoothly over the keys until he found the off switch.

He pressed it, eliciting a single, satisfying beep and dropped the phone to the floor.

"You promised to show me," he panted, pressing kisses into Irvine's hair. "How to make it last forever."

Irvine chuckled, deep in his throat. "I'm not sure about forever." His lips skimmed breifly over Squall's before settling on his throat. "But yeah. I could show you a few things." His fingers stroked the back of Squall's neck, teasing the fine, ticklish hairs that grew there.

Squall bristled slightly at the implication of his own innocence, but decided to let it pass for now. "Please," he breathed into Irvine's ear.

"I'll just have to get some things. Don't go anywhere. Take these off." He twanged the elastic of Squall's boxers.

Squall shucked his underwear off and waited patiently on the bed as Irvine gathered a few items together. Lube, coconut oil, towels and a large chocobo feather.

Irvine knelt on the bed, revealing a tantalising glimpse of thigh through the gap in his towel as he settled back on his heels.

"Ground rules," he said. "This won't be easy. You have to do as I say, and relax. Especially the relaxing part."

"I can do that," said Squall, hoping he could.

"No rushing. And no coming, until I say you can."

That could prove difficult. His body was already telling him, in no uncertain terms, that he should fuck Irvine into the mattress as soon as possible.

Irvine slipped off the towel; his cock stretched stiffly up towards his navel, a tiny bead of moisture at the tip. Unconsciously, Squall licked his lips and reached out a hand, but Irvine caught his wrist.

"No touching," he said playfully. "Not yet."

Squall heard a little whine escape from his throat.

"Back rub first," said Irvine. "Lie down on your front."

Squall did as he was told and stretched out on the bed, forehead resting on his arms.

"The idea is to get as relaxed as you can," said Irvine. "And feel what's happening. Be in the moment."

Squall knew that wasn't one of his strong points. Fighting was all about anticipating, and command was all about planning. He didn't often have the luxury to look around and see what the present was all about. It made him nervous, as if he was letting his guard down. As if to stop thinking about the future was to leave himself open to nasty surprises.

Gradually, though, Irvine's fingers started to work their magic and he found himself drifting.



"You know I'm not going to leave you, right?"

His hands swept rhythmically over Squall's shoulder blades, pushing the tiredness out of his tense muscles.

Squall didn't know what to say.

"I meant what I said last night," Irvine continued. "I love you. I'm not planning on running out on you or anything."

"Good," said Squall.

There was a pause, and then he added: "I love you, too."

Irvine dropped a kiss onto Squall's neck, and returned his attention to the massage. Humming softly now as he worked over back and shoulders, arms and legs, paying brief attention to his buttocks before he turned him over and started on his front. Chest and tummy, skimming over hard nipples, skirting around his aching cock and balls. Something that could only be the feather floated over his chest, not quite tickling.

Finally, Irvine knelt at Squall's side and stroked his face, smoothing over cheekbones, circling temples, easing out the tension in jaw and skull. Squall felt as if he were floating; Irvine's touch was feather-light now, painting tiny circles and spirals over his skin, leaving warm tingles behind it.

"Good babe?" Squall felt warm towels being spread over his body, and found himself incapable of speech. So he smiled instead.

"Take as long as you like," said Irvine. "Then it's my turn."

Squall stroked Irvine's arm; Irvine caught his hand and kissed the palm.

"There's this game you can play," he told Squall, licking between his fingers. "Where you take it in turns to be each other's slave. Not just in bed, but for a whole day, or more. Concentrate on giving pleasure, without worrying about receiving it. I'd like to do that with you one day. To take care of you, make you feel good."

"Mmm," said Squall. "We could do that. When all this is over."

Irvine dipped his head and kissed him. "I'd like that."

Squall could happily have stayed there forever; body lax and content, Irvine's soft kisses brushing over his face. Except that the kisses were waking up at least part of his body rather rapidly, and he was anxious to return the compliment. So he somehow summoned the will to pull himself upright, dimly aware that he had a foolish smile on his face, and gently pushed Irvine back against the matress, and rolled him over onto his front.

He poured oil into his palm, his eyes running over the curves and angles of Irvine's body. Irvine stretched, yawned, and settled himself for Squall's attentions; golden skin glowing in the soft lighting, russet hair falling in lazy waves down his back, almost reaching his perfectly rounded ass, until Squall swept it out of the way with his spare hand, spreading it across the pillow. Irvine rested his chin on folded arms, and watched him out of the corner of his eye.

Squall had never massaged anyone before; he'd tried to rub Rinoa's shoulders a few times, only she didn't seem to like it much. But it wasn't as if touching Irvine was a chore, after all, so he took his turn and carefully coated Irvine's skin with the scented oil. He took a deep breath and started to rub.

Irvine all but purred.

Squall soon lost himself in his task, methodically teasing out the knots in Irvine's muscles, prodding and coaxing them to relaxation.

There were a lot of knots.

He worked carefully to ease them all.

By the time he got to Irvine's front, he was enjoying himself. He hovered on all fours over Irvine's body, and couldn't resist a lick at one nipple, but Irvine gently pushed his head away with a whisper of "later". Squall got back to work, kneading the muscles like Irvine had his own, until Irvine seemed to be asleep, his body soft and relaxed, even his cock resting quietly in its nest of auburn curls.

Squall watched it, longing to take it in his mouth and suck it to stiffness. But he guessed, if nipple licking was a no-no, that would definitely not be allowed.

"How did you get so good at this?"

Startled by Irvine's voice, Squall dragged his eyes guiltily up his body to find Irvine watching him. "Am I good?"


"I just did what you did."

Irvine smiled lazily. "You really are a very fast learner."

He tugged Squall's head down and kissed him. Slowly, languorously and very thoroughly. Squall moaned softly and trailed his fingers down Irvine's chest, across his belly, towards his navel and-

"Not yet." A firm hand clamped around his wrist.

Squall sat back on his heels, surprised and a little rejected. His eyes darted unbidden to Irvine's sex, half-hard now from the kissing. It looked so... inviting...

"Not yet," repeated Irvine, clambering into a sitting position. "First, we breathe."

Squall was about to tell him he was breathing perfectly well now, thank you, and when were they going to get around to having sex, but one look at Irvine's face stopped him in his tracks. Irvine's expression was soft, but undeniably serious.

He knelt in front of Squall, took his right hand and placed it on his own chest.

"Your hand to my heart," he said, as he laid his palm on Squall's chest in return. "My hand to your heart."

Squall swallowed an embarrassed laugh, and concentrated hard. He could feel the steady beat of Irvine's heart beneath his fingers.

"Look in my eyes."

Squall locked his gaze to Irvine's. Warm, familiar eyes, indigo with violet flecks, long, russet lashes.

"Whole breaths," said Irvine.

Squall let his breathing deepen, falling easily into a pattern familiar from years of training. He heard Irvine's breathing change too, first matching, then alternating with his.

His hand against Irvine's chest felt warm. His fingers tingled.

"When I breathe out," Irvine said, "I send my heart energy to you. When I breathe in, I take the energy you've given me."

Squall swallowed his cynicism, and not just for Irvine's sake. Deliberately took down the walls to lose himself in Irvine's gaze, feeling his heartbeat, breathing in time...

It was like a junction. Like a tingle of magic that spread through his body, warming and soothing and energising him. Like drinking elixir, or being bathed in a cura spell.

As one, they leaned closer; their foreheads touched. Then Irvine kissed him, softly, on the mouth, on his cheeks and nose and eyelids, as if he were setting out to systematically kiss every inch of his face. Squall kissed back, Irvine's skin soft under his lips, even his chin and jaw, freshly shaved. Irvine's fingers stroked Squall's skin in the wake of his own kisses, caressing his face and neck and throat; Squall sucked them into his mouth, his eyes on Irvine all the while, as they bathed each other in kiss and touch.

It was heaven, timeless. Squall had forgotten the urgency of his need, living only for the next touch, the next kiss, the next breath. He'd never felt so close to another human being in his life, relaxed and happy; Irvine sneezed, and Squall laughed, and it didn't matter.

Irvine moved, re-arranged their limbs so they sat closer still, legs wrapped around each others' ass, cocks touching. He drizzled oil to slick them both, locked fingers with Squall and brought his hand down so they could touch each other, squeeze their matching erections together, rubbing, sweet, sweet friction.

It wasn't like jerking off, not really. He could feel his whole body thrumming with the rhythm of his cock, he'd never felt anything like it before. An orgy of fingers, cocks and tongues and mouths, and whenever the urge to thrust and come got too much, Irvine would stop, squeezing on the magic spot to take the need away, and they'd go back to kissing or breathing for a while, and start all over again.

Squall lost count of the number of times Irvine took him to the brink like that and brought him back again. He didn't care. Irvine was flushed, body glistening with oil and a sheen of sweat, his lips swollen with kissing. Squall moaned, the aching need inside of him becoming unbearable, irresistable.

"Look in my eyes, lover. Let go."

He squeezed, once, and Squall's body spasmed; thick white streams shot from his cock, and then from Irvine's, and it all mixed together in one glorious slick mess. It was everywhere, coating their cocks and bellies and fingers and chests, warm and sticky on sensitive skin. Squall breathed in the scent of it; warm come and coconut oil; he tasted it, on his fingers, on Irvine's fingers, on his lover's lips and tongue and face. He revelled in it, bathed in it, wallowed in it, until finally the strength went from him, and he slumped into Irvine's arms, panting.

"Oh babe," Irvine whispered.

"Yeah," said Squall, surprised he could find any words at all.

He found himself drifting off to sleep like that, still kneeling there, his head on Irvine's shoulder, Irvine's fingers combing tenderly through his hair. He was vaguely aware of Irvine wiping him down with a towel, licking his twitching, hyper-sensitive cock clean, laying him down on cool sheets.

And then he slept.

Irvine tossed the last of the towels into the hamper and curled up on the bed to watch Squall sleep. Tried to ignore the nagging worries that had crowded back into his mind as soon as his body had let his mind take over again.

Seifer. Cass. And Koshi.

All his own stupid fault.

How could he tell Squall that it was all his fault?

He stroked Squall's arm, raising little goosebumps.



"Get into bed." Squall opened one eye. "And stop tickling."

Irvine obediently shuffled under the covers and let Squall tug him close.

"Better," Squall announced and closed his eyes again, already drifting back to sleep.

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