"If he's going to be like this for the next three years I think I'll put in for a transfer back to Trabia straight away." Selphie plonked her tray on the cafeteria table, spilling considerable quantities of milkshake in the process. She nodded towards Squall, who was sitting at a neighbouring table, scowling, alone.
"We asked him to join us," said Quistis, helping Selphie to mop up the milkshake, which was threatening to flood the rest of her lunch. "He didn't even say no. Just glared."
"He's worse than ever," said Zell.
"It's not fair," Selphie complained. "Rinoa said he was really understanding when she left. According to her he completely understood why she had to go and everything. Then as soon as she's out the door and on the Ragnarok he's all cross and won't talk to anyone. He's taking it out on us, and it's not our fault.
"And it's been six months," said Zell. "He should have got over it by now."
"Another two and a half years to go," said Quistis, grimly.
Selphie groaned. "I don't think I can take it. Can't we just get her to come back?"
"Of course not," said Quistis. "She did absolutely the right thing. She needs to get this sorceress stuff under control. I can quite understand she doesn't want to depend on a knight forever. Even if it is Squall. I mean, she's a bit young just yet to settle down with just one knight."
"Besides," added Zell, "we don't know where she is. She and Matron were the only ones allowed to know where this mystic whatever-he-is lives. Except it's somewhere off planet."
"Well it's ruining the holiday spirit." Selphie prodded her lunch accusingly with a fork. "I've got the midwinter party to organise for tonight and how am I supposed to concentrate when I'm worrying about him like this? He's casting a gloom over the whole Garden."
"Don't be silly, Selphie," said Quistis. "Everyone's very excited about the party, you know they are."
"Not some people. Some people are too busy ogling cadets to help. Isn't that right, Irvine?"
"Mmm? Yeah, probably," murmured Irvine, not taking his eyes off a leggy blonde in the lunch queue.
Selphie dug him in the ribs.
"Ow! What was that for?"
"For not listening," said Selphie crossly, "and for not turning up yesterday when you promised to come and help with the decorations."
"What? Oh," a rather smug lopsided grin spread over Irvine's face, "sorry, Seffie. Only there were these twins in my class having trouble with their aim."
"You're disgusting," Quistis told him. "Completely reprehensible. I don't know why we don't just send you back to Galbadia and be done with it."
"Aw, Quisty, you don't mean that," Irvine drawled, turning soft violet eyes on her, "you love me really. You know you do."
Quistis fought down a traitorous urge to giggle girlishly, and did her best to frown at him. "You should help Selphie this afternoon," she said, "to make up for it."
"Consider it done," said Irvine. "No worries, Seffie. I'll help."
"Oh, except I did kind of arrange to meet someone."
"Irvine," Selphie growled.
"It won't take long," Irvine backtracked, hastily. "I'll be there in time to do loads of work. I promise."
"Irvine, what do you think about Squall?" Quistis' voice was low and dangerous. Irvine got the distinct feeling there was a right answer to her question, but he had no idea what it was.
"He's mean, moody and miserable?" he tried.
"And what do you propose we do about it?"
"Um leave him alone 'til he gets over it?"
"Oh, yeah, right, that's a good plan," said Selphie. "Doesn't it bother you that he's going to be hanging around like a storm cloud waiting to explode for another two and a half years?"
"He'll get over it eventually," said Irvine. "He'll probably find someone else. Didn't take you long, after all, did it?"
An awkward silence hung over the table.
"We talked about that," mumbled Selphie. "It just happened."
Zell and Quistis exchanged a glance, both suddenly wishing they were elsewhere.
Irvine looked over to Squall, who was reading some report as though it was his death warrant.
"He just needs to get laid." Irvine stood up, dimly aware that he was behaving badly, but unable to help himself. "It sure works for me."
He picked up his hat and stalked off.
"Selphie, are you OK?" whispered Quistis.
Selphie nodded, miserably. "He's right, you know. As far as he was concerned we were just taking a break, getting used to real life after Ultimecia. I hadn't gotten around to telling him it was over. It was a mean thing to do."
"Selph, you don't have to explain."
"I just couldn't get over thinking of him as a brother," Selphie explained in any case. "It was just bad luck that I got drunk at that club and I didn't know he was there and I didn't know that guy had been his best friend at Galbadia, he was just good looking and I really thought we'd locked the door..."
"It's OK, Selph." Quistis stroked her shoulder soothingly. "We understand. Irvine'll come round one day, and you can be friends again."
"When he's fucked his way through the entire population of Garden," said Zell. Then, off the look he received from the girls, "what? What'd I say?"
"It's true," said Selphie, with a sigh. "I think he does it just to punish me."
"Nonsense," said Quistis. "He's always been like that. You know Irvine. Guns and women."
"And men," added Zell.
"Well, yes. And men. Sometimes. But he'll find someone, one day. Then you can really be friends again."
"Meanwhile," said Selphie, "I've still got a hall to decorate for a party and no-one to help."
"The way they're behaving, you should just lock the two of them in there and let them get on with it," said Quistis in exasperation.
Selphie looked from Quistis, to Zell and back again.
"No," said Zell. "You couldn't."
"Squall would kill you," said Quistis.
"He might not," said Selphie. "A couple of hours locked in a room with Irvine might just make him realise how lucky he is."
"Or he might kill Irvine," suggested Zell. "That would be real good."
"Look, I don't care," Selphie banged her little fist on the table. "I just need to get that hall decorated in time for the party tonight. So long as they get the fucking tinsel up I don't care if they kill each other doing it. Quistis, you get Irvine there at two o'clock. I don't care how you do it. And Zell, you get Squall. No," she glared at him as he started to protest, "I don't care. Just do it. Two o'clock." She stood up, throwing her balled-up napkin onto the soggy mass of milkshake and fries on her tray. "And leave the rest to me."
Quistis and Zell watched her as she stomped out of the canteen, swing doors squeaking behind her.
"Two o'clock?" whispered Zell, weakly.
"Who would you rather argue with," said Quistis, "Squall and Irvine, or Selphie in a blind rage?"
"Two o'clock, then," he said.
"I know Selphie wants me to help," Irvine explained patiently to Quistis. "But I really don't feel in the mood for midwinter parties, or any kind of party. I just want to go to bed this afternoon and wake up when it's all over. There's a whole Garden full of people who'll be only to happy to help her. Why me?"
"Because you owe her," said Quistis. "You were mean to her at lunch today."
"She was mean to me, sleeping with my almost-best friend."
"That's getting tired, Irvine. I'm sorry it didn't work out for you guys, but these things happen. You can't bear a grudge forever."
"So, please. For me, Irvine. Please? It's only a few bits of tinsel and some balloons."
"Nobody mentioned balloons," he said grumpily, but he was smiling.
"Just for me? It would make life a lot easier for all of us if Selphie were happy. And you know parties make her happy."
"Yeah. Oh, alright, Quisty. You know I can never refuse you anything."
Actually, I didn't. But I'll bear it in mind. "Right. Two o'clock, OK?"
"I'll be there."
"Decorate the hall? Me?"
Zell was beginning to wish he hadn't brought this up while they were in the training centre. Squall's gunblade was all sharp and pointy and very ready.
"Selphie's a bit stuck," he said. "She's been really down lately, and it's hard getting people to lend a hand. She already got me to do the posters, and you know how crap my drawing is."
"Yes. Fuck, really? You? She must have been desperate."
Thanks Squall, now I feel better. "Yes. So, would you, then? It'll make her so happy. And you know, happy Selphie, always a good thing."
"No. Can't. I'm supposed to go over the ammunitions inventory with Xu."
"Well, that's easy. I'm seeing Xu myself this afternoon. I'll tell her something came up and I'll help her with the inventory. I may not be able to draw," he gave Squall a slightly resentful look, "but I can count bullets."
Squall sighed. "This is some attempt to cheer me up, isn't it? Like the dumb concert at FH that time. Why can't everyone just leave me alone?"
"Fuck, self-absorbed or what!" Zell took a deep breath. He hoped this was going to work. Or he'd be a dead man. "Well, I'm sorry, Mr 'My Life's Over Just Leave Me To Die', but not everything's about you. This is about Selphie. Selphie who followed you to the ends of the earth and saved your sorry ass more times than I can count. She wants one, tiny favour from you in return, that's all. But I can see that's way below you, Mr Commander person. So I'll just go and explain to Selphie that now you don't have any world saving on your to-do list you don't want to be her friend any more."
Zell braced himself, trying to keep his eyes from flickering nervously to Lionheart's blue glow.
Squall was looking at him as though he would cheerfully dice him into tiny chunks and serve him to the grats. On toast. So Zell was particularly relieved when he put Lionheart away, with a resigned sigh.
"Alright, I'll do it. But only for an hour, and I'm not going to enjoy it."
Zell let his breath out slowly. "Thank you," he said, his voice rich with heartfelt gratitude. "You've no idea how much it means to her. Me. Her. Me."
Squall shrugged. "It's only a bit of tinsel," he said.
"There might be balloons," warned Zell, and suddenly panicked in case he'd blown it with this final admission.
But Squall seemed unperturbed.
"Whatever," he shrugged.
Irvine sat on an upturned crate in the SeeD recreation hall, twisting a piece of string round his middle finger for no particular reason. He heard the swoosh of the doors opening and looked up, mildly surprised to see Squall entering, rather than Selphie.
"She get you to help, too?"
"Where is she, incidentally?"
"On her way. Look, let's just get this done as fast as we can and get out, right?"
"Fine by me. I'm only here at all because Quistis turned the fluttery eyelashes on me, peeking over those little librarian glasses like she does."
There was another swoosh, and the doors opened to reveal Selphie struggling inside with a large box. Squall went and took it from her.
"Phew, thanks. That was heavy. Right, you're both here, then? That's great. Everything you need's in that box. I'll see you in a couple of hours."
"Er, Seffie, Quisty said just an hour and I've got to " said Irvine.
"Yeah, inventory," added Squall.
"Oh well," Selphie gave a happy little shrug. "Not a problem. Just do what you can. After all, the door's open whenever you want to leave." She pressed the open-door button as if to demonstrate, and stepped outside. "Except " she leaned a hand against one door, stopping it from closing automatically, " oh yes, I lied. The doors are going to be locked until four o'clock, by which time the hall will be finished. And although you're more than welcome to try and get past my security code, I wouldn't recommend it. Have fun, boys!"
She let go of the door; it swished closed.
"Shit," said Irvine, "she hasn't really locked us in, has she?"
Squall kicked the door savagely. "Yes," he said. "She really has. Damn but she's so fucking irresponsible."
Irvine chuckled. "That's my Seffie," he said. "Oh. Hang on, no, it isn't. Not mine. Oh, crap."
Squall flashed him a surprised look.
"Have you guys split up?" he said.
"What?" Irvine gaped incredulously at him. "Where have you been the last two months? Of course we split up. She dumped me and then I dumped her back because I found her in bed with my third-best friend from Galbadia. Gods, man, I thought the whole Garden knew."
Squall shook his head, unconcerned. "Not me. I guess I've not been paying much attention. I'm sorry. About you and Selphie. But we should know better, really. Nothing lasts, does it?"
"Oh, hang on a minute," said Irvine. "That way danger lies. This is where you tell me all women are fickle and it's impossible to have a decent relationship with any of them, right?"
"And men. Men are just as bad."
"Oh, great. Abandon hope all ye who do midwinter festival decorating with Squall Leonhart."
"Just an accurate observation. Now, seeing as we're stuck here, shall we just get on with the job in hand? Only I have a lack of life I really need to get back to."
"Fine by me. I have a set of twins I need to get back to."
"Twins? You're such a kink, Irvine Kinneas."
"Famous for it." Irvine started to rummage in the box. "Do you want to blow up the balloons or tie the knots? Answer carefully, because there's a lot of balloons."
Irvine produced a handful of balloons and began to stretch them out, one by one.
"I don't mind either."
"Oh, give them here," Squall reached out a hand. "I'll blow for you."
They looked at each other in silence for a long moment.
"I didn't say that, Kinneas. I didn't."
"No. Of course not. Um balloon?"
Squall glared at him, and Irvine went back to searching through the box. "There's all sorts in here," he said, "do you think she wants everything up, or should we go subtle and artistic?"
Squall didn't answer, blowing up a balloon and passing it to Irvine for tying.
"I can't imagine Selphie thinking we'd be subtle," Irvine seemed happy to answer his own question.
"No." Squall agreed, and started on his second balloon.
"I guess it's not too easy without Rinoa, huh? Holidays are a bitch when you're on your own."
"Like you'd know," Squall gasped, momentarily breathless from balloon inflating.
"On the contrary," said Irvine, mildly. "The last three years I've been completely solitary for the whole festive period."
Squall snorted. "I can't believe that. I thought you could always get laid."
"It's the time of year. No-one wants a casual fling on the most romantic night of the year. It's all about the first flush of new love, or going back to your ex, or hanging on and not dumping someone until the holidays are over."
Squall rolled his eyes. "We're well off out of it," he said.
"Oh yes, I forgot. Abandon hope. She'll come back, you know. Rinoa."
"She might. But she'll be different. She won't need me anymore." Squall toyed with the balloon in his fingers, stretching the rubber thin, then letting it snap back again. "Not that it's any of your business," he added brusquely, as if he was frightened he might have given away too much.
"No, course not. Well, plenty more fish in the sea, man. Believe me, some of them are tasty little morsels, too."
"Oh no. Not again. It always ends badly. No, Irvine, I'll leave the fishing to you." He started to blow up the third balloon.
"Sometimes things work out," said Irvine. "I mean, there are lots of happy couples around."
"Maybe. But I don't seem fated to be one of them. Here, tie this."
"But Rinoa was a bit unusual."
"Everyone I love turns out to be a bit unusual."
"Yep. Is that string? We ought to put these in bunches, don't you think?"
"Yeah. Good idea. So, before Rinoa?"
"Before Rinoa what?"
"You loved someone else?"
"Well, there was the whole family thing. Being orphaned or thinking I was, and Ellone going away, and Matron "
"Of course. But that turned out okay, didn't it? You found Ellone, and Matron came back to us, and you got Laguna too. So, happy ending there."
"Kinda. Well, yes. But unusual."
"Mmm. Okay. Who else?"
"I thought you knew."
"What doesn't matter? Oh, come on Squall, don't hold out on me. What did you think I knew?"
"Me and Seifer."
Irvine let go of the balloon he'd been trying to tie. It shot round the room briefly before landing, limp and pathetic looking, at his feet.
"You and Seifer?"
Squall seemed genuinely surprised at his ignorance. "Yeah. We were together for a while. Before well, before he turned into an evil megalomaniac and sorceress' sidekick, mainly. No, actually, he was always a bit of a megalomaniac. But not so evil. At least "
"Fuck, I had no idea."
"Sweet Hyne, you actually look shocked. Why so surprised, Irvine? You swing both ways yourself, I know you do. Nida told me."
"That was just a thing at a party. He let me have a go of the navigation stick."
Squall raised an eyebrow.
"Well, OK, yes, I'm not gender specific in my affections. But you and Seifer?"
"It makes sense, if you think about it. Why did you think we hated each other so much?"
"I just thought it was kind of nemesis stuff. Chalk and cheese, good and evil, white hats and black hats, all that kind of thing."
"Oh come on, Irvine, what do you think we are, characters in some video game? No, Seifer was pissed because I wouldn't open up to him. He couldn't accept that I didn't need him. He couldn't take that I wanted to be a good SeeD more than he did. So he left. Like they all do."
"I'm surprised the others didn't tell you."
"Quistis certainly did, and Zell. And Rinoa. Not sure about Selphie."
"Oh. And of course, Rinoa and Seifer "
"She was kind of his rebound girl, I think."
"Oh my. Well, you and Rin did have something in common, then."
Squall gave him a dark look.
"We didn't discuss it," he said.
"No. Of course not." Irvine picked up the deflated balloon. "Well, you wouldn't, I suppose."
"Let's just shut up and get this done, right? I really don't want to go over my life story just now."
"That's cool. As you like. But wow, you and Seifer."
Squall's eyes were the colour of lead shot. "Kinneas," he growled.
Irvine just grinned at him and went back to sorting through the box.
"So, there's no point me fixing you up with someone for tonight, then?" he asked, after a short while.
"Don't make me laugh," said Squall.
"Well, you could have your pick of anyone in Garden, more or less. Seems a waste, really."
"Don't be a wanker, Irvine. I don't want anyone. And I'm sure nobody wants me. I won't even be going tonight."
"Ah well. That's a shame. Here, I've found some more string."
"Good, we're running out. No, it isn't a shame. It's the way I want it."
"Why? You and Rinoa didn't agree any pledge of celibacy while she was away, did you? 'Cos in my experience, that kind of pledge doesn't work out too well. Especially between eighteen year olds. Too many hormones."
"No, we didn't. We said we'd meet up when she got back and get to know each other again."
"So, that's cool. You're single. Attractive, in that broody, intense kind of way women can't get enough of. Hey, I could lend you a twin."
"Irvine, just shut up and leave me alone. I don't want anyone. At all."
"What, not even to get laid?"
"Do you want me to hit you? Because you're going the right way to get beaten to a pulp."
"Only thing is, if you don't want to get laid, you shouldn't wear so much leather."
Their eyes met.
"Leather?" said Squall, his voice a little weak.
"Yeah. It's sending out signals, big time."
"Bollocks. I just like leather. It has nothing to do with signals."
"I bet Seifer liked you in leather."
"Leave Seifer out of this."
"OK. What are we going to tie these balloons to?"
"What?" Squall was starting to feel confused. Talking to Irvine, even trying not to talk to Irvine, was never straightforward. Just when he thought he was in control of things Irvine managed to neatly twist the conversation around to throw him completely off guard.
"The balloons. Where shall we put them?"
Squall looked around the walls. "Tie them to the wall lights," he said.
"There, you see, that's what I like about you. That's why you make a good leader. Give you a problem and you come up with a solution straight away." Irvine grinned. "Let's get them tied up, then."
Squall glared at him, picked up a handful of balloons and stormed over to the wall to start tying.
Irvine followed him, laughing.
"What's so funny, Kinneas?"
"You don't often see people carrying balloons looking quite so mad," he explained. "It looks kind of funny."
Squall ignored him and realised with some trepidation that the wall lights looked higher up now he was closer to them. He stood on tiptoe, but the it was just out of his reach. "Fuck," he said. "Need something to stand on."
"Let me," Irvine leaned over his shoulder, making use of his extra four inches in height to pop the balloons neatly in place.
He froze for two reasons. Firstly, he was severely pissed with Irvine, for being such a smart-arse and especially for being taller than he was.
Secondly, Irvine's hair was tickling his neck, and he could feel his breath on his ear.
And he liked it.
"There we go," Irvine all-but-whispered, and turned back to get more balloons.
Squall stared at the wall and counted to twenty.
"Hey, there's loads of tinsel. We could wind it round the pillars."
"Whatever," said Squall, under his breath.
"I said oh, never mind." He rather pointedly fetched a chair to stand on under the next light and wrestled the next bunch of balloons up.
"So, no point in me trying to fix you up with someone for tonight, then."
"For the last time, no. I'm not going."
"Don't you have to go? Commander and all that?"
"It's not an official function."
"Oh. Still, Selphie'll be mad."
"Why? We're decorating the fucking hall for her, aren't we? Surely she doesn't want me hanging around as well? I'm not exactly the life and soul of parties, in case you haven't noticed."
"No. Well. I see your point."
To Squall's relief, he was quiet for a while after that, busy untangling tinsel while Squall put up balloons.
Eventually, however, the silence that Squall cherished apparently got too much for Irvine. "Squall "
"How old were you, when you started going with Seifer?"
"Fifteen. Or thereabouts. I don't remember."
"So he was your first?"
"There was a girl, before Seifer. Just for a few weeks. Didn't work out."
"Let me guess, she couldn't get close to you?"
"People don't. I don't like it."
"Why? Because you're frightened of getting hurt?"
Squall said nothing.
"Only, it doesn't work, does it? It's not up to you whether people hurt you or not. It's up to them."
"Probably. It doesn't matter."
"And if you don't let anyone get close, how can they make you happy?"
"Don't, Irvine. Just leave it."
"OK, I tell you what. It's your turn. Who was your first? How old were you?"
"She was called Rainbow. I was fourteen."
"Was it serious?"
"Yep. Real love, as far as I knew at the time. She was twenty, already a SeeD. She left Garden that summer, I never saw her again."
"Oh. That's sad."
"Maybe. It sure was at the time. But actually it's kind of normal. It's part of growing up. I didn't treat her as well as I could've. Next time I fell in love it was much better. And I appreciated it."
"Your point being?"
"You have to take heartache sometimes, so you appreciate the good stuff."
"This lecture's getting old, Irvine."
Irvine shrugged. "Just sayin'."
"Anyway, you're not exactly a good advert yourself. I'm not the only one who's been ditched round here."
"Ouch, Commander. That hurt."
Squall noticed a flash of real pain in Irvine's eyes.
"Sorry. That was a cheap shot."
"Mmn. Okay. You did warn me to shut up, I guess."
"No, I mean I'm sorry. Really."
Irvine raised one enquiring eyebrow.
"Tinsel?" said Squall.
"Yeah," drawled Irvine, slowly. "Tinsel."
Neither of them moved.
"It hurts, doesn't it?" Squall whispered, eventually. "Really hurts."
"Yup," Irvine held Squall's gaze. "Like a kick to the gut from a wendigo."
"How do you bear it?"
"I don't know. How do you?"
"Oh, it doesn't "
"You're not going to tell me it doesn't hurt, Squall. Don't insult me with that lie."
Squall looked into the sharp violet of Irvine's eyes.
"I felt like I was going to die," he said, softly. " The first three nights I cried myself to sleep. Then I decided to close down. I've been closed down most of my life, it works quite well, really."
"You don't believe that."
"No. Maybe not. But it's how I am."
"Don't you get lonely?"
"That's kind of the idea of being alone."
"Don't you? Get lonely? Sleeping with a different person every night?"
Irvine turned away. "Yeah," he sighed. "Yeah, I do. But, hey. It passes the time."
Squall didn't know what to say to that, so he busied himself picking up odd bits of string from the floor and putting them in the bin.
"Can you reach the top of the pillars?" he said, eventually. "I'll pass the stuff up to you, if you like."
"Okay." Irvine sounded somewhat subdued; there was a distinct possibility that Squall might get his peace and quiet at last.
He didn't want it, all of a sudden.
He stood behind Irvine as he reached up to tie tinsel around the top of the pillar, watching the ripple of lean muscle across his back as he stretched, his short vest riding up to reveal even more flesh than usual.
He wanted to touch it.
He wanted to kiss the small of Irvine's back and run his tongue up his spine.
"Next bit, please."
"Come on Squall, next bit of tinsel. Please?"
"Oh. Sorry." He obediently handed Irvine another strand. "Um, Irvine "
"Yup?" Irvine turned back to the pillar.
"I didn't "
"Sorry, what? Fuck, I can't get this round oh, there it goes damn. I can't quite "
"Hang on, I'll catch it the other side," Squall sounded slightly breathless.
"Thanks." Irvine lowered his arms for a moment, shaking his hands to relieve the stiffness. Then he reached round the pillar, until he felt the warm brush of Squall's fingertips reaching to take the tinsel from him. "Got it?"
"Yeah." Irvine wasn't certain, but he thought Squall was just a little slow in taking the tinsel and breaking the contact between their fingers. Fancy that.
"So, what were you going to say?"
"What? Oh, I can't remember. Nothing."
"Just pull that bit down some, it's not parallel."
"Shit, you're such the perfectionist, Kinneas. We'll never get done at this rate."
"I've decorated for Selphie before. She's very exacting."
Irvine sighed. "Never mind. Here, coming back round your side."
"Got it. Did she have to lock you in then as well?"
"Oh, no. Well, it was at FH. I was so desperate to get into her knickers then, I'd have decorated the whole fucking town if she'd asked."
"You really have a way with words, you know that?" Squall peeked round the pillar to shoot Irvine a disapproving look.
Irvine grinned. "Don't knock it, it worked," he said. "Until she decided my fourth-best friend from Galbadia was a better bet."
"That must have been rough. Did you really find them in bed together?"
"Yup. In glorious Technicolor."
"How have you managed to stay friends, after that? If Rinoa " Irvine could sense Squall's shudder, even through the pillar.
Irvine knelt down to wrap round the last few feet.
"We haven't, really. We're civil to each other but I guess it just takes time. I know she's really sorry. And to be honest," his voice was quiet, "it bothers me more that she doesn't want me, than that she wants someone else."
"Yes," said Squall. "That makes sense."
Irvine reached round the pillar to make the final twist, and found himself touching cool leather.
"That's my leg," said Squall, after what felt like a long time. His voice had a squeak to it that made Irvine want to laugh out loud.
"Sorry, man." Irvine surrendered his end of the tinsel, and stood up. He stuck his head round the pillar, watching Squall vigorously tying knots to keep the spiral in place. "I did warn you about the leather."
And before Squall could react, he strode off to get fresh supplies from the box. He heard Squall follow him, felt the aggression fizzing in the air, and sure enough, Squall grabbed him, pushing him roughly against the next pillar, shoving a handful of tinsel at his chest. Irvine relaxed his body and let himself be pushed. "Will you just shut up about my leather, and decorate?" Squall hissed, steel - and something else - in his eyes.
Irvine paused for a moment, holding eye contact, and licked his lips, considering.
"Ow." He said, eventually. "That's a bit unnecessary, you know. I was only saying "
Squall let him go, exasperated. "What, exactly, were you only saying?"
"I like it."
"Leather. You. You in leather. I like you in leather."
"You know, you're not good at taking compliments."
Squall decided not to dignify that with an answer.
"You're shaking," said Irvine.
"No I'm not," said Squall, a little too quickly. "I'm pissed, is all."
"Look at me."
"Kinneas, you're really asking to have your head removed, you know?"
"Why? What have I done to get you so riled up?"
"Oh, alright then. I'll try not to do nothing again. Only, you're trembling mighty fierce for nothing."
Squall finally looked up and met Irvine's penetrating gaze.
He felt like a rabbit frozen in headlights. He considered storming off, but thanks to Selphie, there was nowhere to storm off to. And, of course, it was too late. Irvine was good at this. He knew. Squall wondered where, along the line, Irvine had managed to turn the tables on him.
"Oh well," said Irvine, leaning casually on the pillar Squall had thrown him against. He held a long piece of blue tinsel, one end in each hand, spinning it like a skipping rope. "If you say so, nothing it is."
Squall swallowed, still trapped in those violet eyes, trying desperately and incompetently to think.
"Only," Irvine continued, slowly, "if I didn't know better "
"No," said Squall.
"Really?" Irvine took a step towards him.
Squall licked dry lips, tried to slow his breathing.
"Yes. No, I mean, yes, really. No. Fuck."
Irvine deftly flicked the tinsel around Squall's neck, holding the ends.
"That's pretty," he said.
"What?" Squall was lost in confusion again.
"You," said Irvine, and pulled on the tinsel, drawing Squall closer.
"Me?" Squall realised that any connection between his brain and his body had apparently melted.
"Oh yes," husked Irvine, and kissed him.
Irvine had expected to meet some kind of resistance, at least at first. He didn't expect Squall to moan softly and kiss him back, sliding his arms around Irvine's neck.
But that's what happened.
"Gods, Squall," Irvine said, when he finally came up for air.
"What?" Squall's eyes flickered open to look at him.
"You're so hot."
"Uh oh, Hyne."
To Irvine's dismay the haze had cleared from Squall's eyes and he pulled himself out of Irvine's arms. "Squall, are you OK?"
"No. I'm not. I'm just " he cleared his throat. "Sorry. Sorry. That shouldn't have happened."
"Yes it should. You wanted it. You're too hard on yourself."
Squall shook his head. "No. I don't want no."
"Okay. Okay," Irvine moved to stroke the hair out of Squall's eyes, but he flinched away. "Steady. It's alright. Look. Let's just decorate, yeah?"
Squall looked at his feet, breathing hard. "Yes," he said in a small but steely voice. "Let's do that." He turned back to the box of decorations; Irvine turned to the pillar.
They worked in silence until the box was empty.
Irvine put up the last balloons by the door, just as the lock clicked open. He checked his watch: four o'clock on the dot. Selphie was nothing if not good to her word.
He looked over his shoulder at Squall, and realised he was watching him.
He still had the tinsel round his neck.
"The door's open," Irvine said. "We can go."
Squall walked towards him, leather creaking, hips swaying, frowning.
"I've been thinking," he said.
"Yeah?" Irvine fought the urge to make some wisecrack. This felt important, although he wasn't sure why.
"It would be just sex, yeah? With you?"
Irvine's heart was pounding all of a sudden. "Is that what you want?" he asked.
"And you wouldn't tell anybody? It would just be between us?"
"If that's how you want to play it," said Irvine carefully, "I don't like secrets, but I wouldn't say no, just this once." I've wanted you since I first laid eyes on you. I'm never gonna say no.
Irvine realised he was grinning. "Really?"
Squall nodded. "If you want," he said, casually, as if he were asking Irvine for a game of cards.
Irvine crossed the distance between them in two strides and kissed Squall hard, groaning with satisfaction as Squall ground his hips into Irvine's, sliding his arms around Irvine's waist and stroking the bare flesh there with soft fingers.
Then Squall was pulling away.
"No, Leonhart," Irvine hissed. "You don't get away this time."
"The door's open," Squall pointed out, reasonably. "Come to my room. It'll be a little more private, don't you think?"
"Uh.. oh. Yeah," Irvine felt slightly foolish. He took Squall's hand and led him to the door.
"Hang on," Squall turned and surveyed their handiwork with a critical eye. "Just one thing "
Irvine watched, amazed, as Squall raised a hand in a swift gesture, feeling the familiar surge of magic. With a little flicking motion Squall cast his spell, and the air was suddenly sparkling with glitter and tiny lights, hovering in the air like fairy dust.
"Wow," said Irvine. "I've never seen that before."
"Rinoa taught me."
"Selphie'll love it." Irvine squeezed his hand. "Come on. Before she comes to inspect and I lose you again."
Squall nodded and let Irvine lead him away.
By the time they got to Squall's room any idea Irvine might have treasured of taking things slow had long-since evaporated. As soon as the door was shut they fell on each other, all hands and lips and tongues, leaving a trail of discarded clothing all the way to the bed.
Squall pulled Irvine's hair tie off with something like triumph, breaking their kiss to watch as Irvine shook his head, his hair settling loose around his shoulders. "I love your hair," he breathed, "you wouldn't believe the times I've watched you and wanted to touch it " he bit his lower lip, knowing he'd given something away. But Irvine took care not to show he'd noticed, and just smiled, running his fingers through Squall's own hair.
"Me too," he said, "it gets in your eyes sometimes and I just want to "
Squall silenced him with a kiss, sliding his tongue between Irvine's lips and pulling him close, delighting in the feeling of naked skin on naked skin, hardness on hardness, soft mouth on soft mouth.
He let himself fall backwards on the bed, pulling Irvine down with him.
"Gnngh Squall you're so hot " How does he keep all this passion locked up inside himself? Why?
Squall put his lips to Irvine's ear, teased his earlobe with his tongue. Then he whispered: "fuck me. Now."
"Oh, Hyne, Squall " Irvine pulled back a little to look at Squall's face. "Are you sure "
"Yes fuck, Irvine, I'll beg if I have to."
Irvine smiled down at him. "That won't be necessary," he said, "at least, not this time."
Squall almost-smiled back. Irvine drank in the sight of him; face flushed, soft lips parted slightly and glistening wet, chest heaving with short, urgent breath.
"There's some stuff in the drawer," Squall said, "towards the back."
Irvine hesitated, just for a second. This was all going very fast and he'd had some very definite and detailed ideas about what he'd do if he ever got Squall into bed. A quick fuck wasn't really part of the plan. But he looked into Squall's impatient eyes, read the need there and decided he didn't really have much choice, at least for now.
He dragged himself away from Squall's body just long enough to fetch the tube from the nightstand. Even that brief absence seemed to frustrate Squall; he growled hungrily as Irvine returned, pulling him back on top of him, his mouth begging to be kissed, his hard sex begging to be stroked.
Irvine was happy to oblige, kissing and stroking lovingly, slicking his own cock with lube at the same time. He was so tempted to linger, to shower Squall's pale skin with kisses
"Now," Squall's voice was harsh, impatient, his fingers clutching the hair at the back of Irvine's neck, then softer: "please, Irvine. Inside me. Now."
Irvine couldn't resist that urgency; he positioned himself between Squall's thighs and entered him in one quick movement, thrusting straight through resistance to bury himself up to the hilt in Squall's hot, tight body.
Squall grunted, a flicker of pain on face, and Irvine instantly regretted that he'd given in to Squall's desire for haste, wishing he'd made him wait. He hated to think he'd hurt him, it wasn't his way.
Then Squall's eyes flickered open, cloudy heat with a hint of steel. "Move," he said, "move "
He wanted it like this, Irvine realised, he wanted it fast and hard and hurting.
He took a deep breath and started to thrust, carefully, damned if he was going to hurt Squall, however much Squall might have wanted it. But Squall kept rocking his hips impatiently, forcing Irvine to a faster pace.
"Harder fuck me hard I can take it "
Suddenly, Irvine understood. Seifer. Of course. This is what Squall knows.
He gave in then, and pumped harder, pulled Squall's hand to his own cock, watching how he touched himself, what he liked. For later.
It didn't take long before Squall arched his back and came, flooding his belly and squeezing Irvine deep inside him. Irvine let go himself with a little sigh, pleasure washing over him well enough, but leaving him sad and empty at the same time.
He pulled away, carefully, and lay on his side next to Squall, watching his face as his breathing slowed and his heartbeat went back to normal, an almost painful vulnerability written in silver-grey eyes.
"Was that what you wanted?" Irvine asked, softly.
"What? Yeah. That was good."
"Mmm." Irvine flopped onto his back, and threw an arm over his face, not wanting Squall to see the sadness and regret he knew was there.
He felt Squall move beside him, slithering off the bed, and tensed.
There was a creak of leather; Irvine realised Squall was planning to leave.
"Oh no, babe," he said, "we're not done here."
Squall looked at him in surprise; he'd managed to get his leather jeans back on, about to pull his shirt over his head.
He shrugged. "Aren't we?" His voice was cold, distant, he wouldn't look Irvine in the eyes.
"No. No, dammit," Irvine pulled himself to his feet and pulled Squall roughly towards him, one large hand behind his head, tangled in irresistible messy brown hair, forcing Squall to look at him. "No. I shouldn't have let you " he stroked along the line of Squall's jaw with his thumb, "you've had it your way, I did exactly what you wanted. Now it's my turn. Let me show you how good it can be." He tipped Squall's face and kissed him softly, relaxing his hold as Squall leaned naturally into the caress, winding his arms around Irvine's neck.
"What do you want?" Squall whispered, lips soft against Irvine's.
Irvine brushed the hair back from Squall's eyes so he could be sure Squall understood him. "I want you to be my uke," he said.
"Uke?" Squall was confused. "But we just I.."
"No, you didn't. Uke doesn't mean what you just did. It means to receive," Irvine husked, "admit, let in." He pushed Squall gently back onto the bed and sat astride him, pulling the zip of his jeans down and sliding them over slender hips and long legs, then kissing his way back up past calves and knees to thighs, hard muscle next to soft, sensitive skin. "Not endure, or punish, or hurt." His tongue found Squall's cock hard already, twitching slightly; he bathed it soothingly, caressing the sensitive parts with little licks and kisses; his lips hummed softly along the length of it. "Receive, accept. Like a gift. Let me do that for you, babe."
Squall made a little purring noise in the back of his throat that Irvine had never heard before, and relaxed at last, stroking Irvine's hair by way of encouragement, unconsciously rocking his hips gently into the rhythm Irvine was setting up; not a rhythm for coming, just for building, no urgency this time, just soft, languid pleasure.
Squall dissolved under Irvine's hands and lips and tongue, the letting go almost painful at first, he'd kept himself so tight, so closed for so long. He'd never intended this, never wanted Irvine to get his close, but it felt so, so good and then he didn't want it to stop, ever, he wanted to have this intimacy and touch forever; he was lost. The dam he had rebuilt so carefully after Rinoa left collapsed under Irvine's stroking and licking and kissing, and he flooded with feelings, he fell and fell and fell, weightless and dizzy with lust.
There was a pause, when he could feel only Irvine's hand on his cock, stroking softly, so softly he thought he would explode. And then he felt Irvine's fingers inside him, no pain, just slick with sweet, sweet pleasure. Irvine knew, he watched all the time to make sure he was delivering just the right caress, the right pressure, to make Squall purr and squirm under him.
Then Irvine was kissing him again, rolling them over so Squall was on top of him. He opened his eyes almost reluctantly to look into Irvine's, soft violet, cloudy with desire.
"I'm trusting you," said Irvine, slowly. "If I get the slightest idea you're even thinking of rushing this, I'll stop. OK?"
Squall nodded, a smile flickering over his lips. "OK," he said. "Promise."
"Give me your hand."
Squall realised Irvine was holding a potion bottle, oil of a thousand colours swirling inside it. He held out his hand and Irvine poured a generous puddle of elixir into his palm, fizzing and glowing against his skin. Squall shuffled back a little so he could spread the magical oil over Irvine's cock, massaging soft skin over hard flesh with a gentle twisting motion, watching Irvine's face and enjoying his pleasure.
"Okay, that's enough," said Irvine, breathless, "that's just too damn good, babe. And I want to be inside you."
Squall smiled a wide, sexy smile that Irvine had definitely never seen before, and wanted to see again. Often.
He lifted Squall just enough to let him guide his aching cock inside his body, slowly, slowly, slowly. Squall was trembling with a desire to simply impale himself on Irvine, but Irvine wasn't going to let him; he held him firmly by the hips and took his own time, pulling Squall down on him, easing inside, inch by inch until finally, finally he was buried in the slick heat of Squall's body. It felt like the first time; as far as Irvine was concerned, it was the first time.
Squall surrendered, then, and let Irvine guide him, let himself take the pleasure without fear, lose himself in it.
"Squall, open your eyes, babe."
He obediently fluttered heavy eyelids open and watched as Irvine poured a rainbow over the head of Squall's cock, the magical oil warming sensitive skin, tingling like champagne bubbles. Squall became transfixed by the sight of Irvine's long, sensitive fingers caressing him, his touch perfect, not too hard, not too soft, and with a gentle squeeze everytime Irvine's cock hit the centre of Squall's pleasure, deep inside him.
Squall would have come in seconds, but Irvine understood that, too; somehow he just missed the exact rhythm that would have pushed him over the edge, never stopping, just changing something about the way he was stroking or rubbing or sliding into him, to bring him back from the brink.
His mind slipped away, and let his body take over completely.
"Irvine oh, yes please please "
"When I'm ready, babe. Not before. You can beg all you like, I don't care. It won't make any difference."
Squall moaned, looked down at Irvine with pleading eyes, and smiled.
That did it.
"No fair," said Irvine, with a grin. "Got me." And he finally gave Squall what he needed, timing thrust and stroke as perfectly as the slash and shot of Squall's gunblade.
Squall looked achingly beautiful as he came, head thrown backwards, body arched, spurt after spurt splashing on Irvine's hair and chest and belly. When he'd done his eyes stuttered open and he smiled that sexy smile again, making Irvine melt inside.
Irvine started to move again; he reached his come-covered fingers up to Squall's mouth, and as Squall eagerly sucked them between lust-swollen lips, Irvine gave himself up to his own pleasure, breathing Squall's name as a whisper as he closed his eyes and came, long and deep and perfect.
Squall woke first, feeling unusually content and toasty-warm snuggled into Irvine's side.
A shock ran through him.
He blinked his eyes open and slowly propped himself up on one elbow, observing his sleeping lover with vague disbelief.
He felt the cold chill of air on his shoulders, sharp contrast to the warmth under the covers. Irvine stirred slightly, a tiny echo of a smile on his face: Squall couldn't resist reaching out to stroke his hair, his skin, softly brushing bare shoulder with the back of one hand.
He tried to fight down the feelings that threatened to rise in his throat and choke him: fear, pain. Love.
Love. Oh Hyne.
He carefully slid himself out of bed, pulled a warm towel off the radiator to wrap himself in and wedged himself into the little window seat, one of his favourite brooding places. He hugged his knees to his chest.
It was snowing again, big flakes drifting down under the fairy lights that covered the whole Garden, undeniably beautiful. The shortest day was over, full dark had come, and Squall watched the snow fall, trying not to listen to Irvine's steady breathing, resisting the temptation to watch him sleep.
Gradually, bit by bit, he rebuilt the icy walls around his feelings that Irvine had shattered with a simple gift. It was just sex, after all. Great, mind-blowing, absolutely the best sex of his life so far, but then what had he expected from the great Irvine Kinneas? It was still just sex. It hadn't changed anything: Rinoa was still gone, his life was empty of all but duty and responsibility. Irvine would move on to his next conquest, probably before the holiday was out. The awkwardness between them would make the others wonder for a while, but it would fade eventually.
Irvine stirred, reached out an arm towards the space where Squall had been. Probably as used to waking up next to someone as Squall was to waking up alone.
"Hi." Irvine lazily opened his eyes and smiled his irresistible, languorous smile.
"Hey," said Squall, more softly than he'd intended. He let regret wash over him and fade.
"Fine. It's still snowing." Squall turned back to the window, not watching as Irvine sat up and stretched like a cat.
"Are we going to get ready then? For the party?"
"You can do what you like. I'm not going." He kept his eyes fixed on the snowdrifts and the fairy lights.
"Oh. I see." There was rustling, as Irvine got out of bed and started to pull his clothes on.
"Like I said," Squall kept his voice carefully level, " I don't want anyone to know. It was just sex."
"Right. Yes, of course. Sorry." Irvine finished getting dressed in silence, and Squall fixed his gaze on the tree outside his window, eyes tracing branches feathered with frost and snow.
He heard the beep of his door as Irvine opened it.
"If you change your mind "
"I won't," said Squall, quickly. "But thanks. For everything." The words were out before he could stop them.
"Right. Well, this is the part I'm used to, at any rate. The leaving. See you round, Squall."
He was gone.
Squall pulled his knees tight to his chest and leaned into the window, not noticing the cold of the glass as it chilled his barely-covered flesh.
"What's got into Irvine?" Quistis collapsed untidily onto a sofa next to Selphie and Zell, a little tipsy. They all looked over at Irvine, sitting on his own, twirling a balloon sadly between his fingers.
"I don't know," said Selphie. "He's been like it all night. He won't dance, or talk to anyone, and he hasn't touched a woman all evening."
"He's been Squalled," said Zell. "It's infectious. Two hours in here with only the Commander-of-Pain for company, and he's got Brooding Syndrome."
"It's such a shame," said Selphie, "they did such a good job, the room's beautiful and it's a great party and Irvine's miserable, and Squall hasn't turned up at all."
"Yeah," said Zell. "Who'd've thought two guys would be so great at interior design."
Selphie and Quistis looked at him.
"What? What've I said now? Sheesh, what's with the "
"Oh!" Selphie interrupted. "There's Squall! Hey, Squall!"
"He's not paying any attention," observed Quistis. "Is that tinsel round his neck?"
"Fuck me," said Selphie, "it really is."
They watched as Squall strode into the room, passed their sofa without so much as a nod, and headed straight for Irvine.
Irvine raised his head, surprised.
Squall stood in front of him, and slowly pulled the tinsel from round his neck.
"You were right," he said. "It's not a good night for a casual fling. So I thought maybe we could try something else."
Irvine stared at him in amazement. "Anything in mind?" he said, his voice a hoarse whisper.
"I don't know," said Squall. "But I promise you won't find me in bed with any of your acquaintances from Galbadia."
"In that case," Irvine ran his tongue over dry lips, "I can promise I won't leave you to go train with a mystic in outer space."
"Good." Sensual as a cat and sexy as melting chocolate, Squall swung one long leg over Irvine's and sat, facing him, in his lap.
He slowly draped the tinsel around Irvine's neck, blue bright against the auburn silk of his ponytail; and right there, in front of all their friends and most of Garden, Squall kissed him, soft and deep and long.
There was a ripple of applause, but Squall and Irvine just grinned at each other.
"Scared?" Irvine whispered.
"Terrified," admitted Squall.
"Welcome back to the world, Commander Leonhart," said Irvine softly, brushing Squall's hair back from his eyes.
Then there was Selphie and Quistis and Zell jumping on them, all drunk and excited, and after that there was a lot of champagne and dancing - even Squall - and then they all went outside and made snowmen at midnight. Finally Squall and Irvine snuck away, and there was soft bed and warm bodies and wet kisses, until the longest night of the year gave way to sparkling, snow-bound dawn.
Squall stroked Irvine's hair as he watched him sleep, and slowly started to heal.
A/N: Hope you liked it! For those of you who enjoy the odd statistic, here's the result of the pairing poll:
All the boys: 7%
Everyone (!): 5%
All the girls: 2%
Total votes: 96! Thank you to everyone who took part, it was fun ::festive hug::
Happy Holidays, everyone ^_^
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