A Break in Character

BY : Resting-Madness
Category: Final Fantasy VIII > Yaoi - Male/Male > Irvine/Squall
Dragon prints: 34
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters or setting of the Final Fantasy VIII universe and make no money from this work of fan fiction. It's all for fun.

Commentary: That being said, writers for fun are paid by your reviews, as an entertainment advertisement for other readers. So please review when you can. And thanks for reading. This won't be a traditional romance or this would be terrible as I am not good at that. But I still very much wanted to write this because I love this couple.

I also want to mention that this is a different take on the game. I hope not to confuse it too much even to myself, hahaha. It happens sometimes.

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The music was playing so loudly that the whole stage and seating rows shook. It was a wild scene to look at from the outside; however, the crowd was quite different in behavior from the noisy up-and-coming band playing on the stage. While the lights shown brightly intertwining with each other to create new colors of their combined glow shining brightly on the singers, the patrons stood lightly swaying and singing along but mostly they got situated in their seat with blankets, snacks, and drinks all snug and secure in their possession. The opening-act may well just be background music that you'd get dressed to in the morning.

"Thank you very much," Irvine took hold of the thermos filled with hot white-chocolate handed to him by the concessions employee. "And can I say, you have a beautiful smile. The lights must be reaching beyond the stage to shine on you."

The lady of mid-thirties laughed like a young girl of nineteen, cutely into her hand, over the compliment; the young man sounded so sincere, whether he was or not the words made her day.

"Ohhh," she waved him away. "go watch the show, Cassanova."

Grinning his thanks again, Irvine tipped his head in a small bow then walked away. He's been dying to see this show, and was finally able to snag a ticket; he can thank an exhausting night of staying up listening to 38 songs from various artists before he heard the selected word announced. It didn't buy him a ticket, but it may as well have because the code offered a huge discount on a front row seat. They are pricey, and compared to the 'cheap seats' there's usually one or six left available simply because concert-goers couldn't afford that much. Sometimes there's a price too high, even if it'll make you happy.

"Second row. I love it!" He sat down on the fifth chair; the drink, he placed at his hip and covered it with his thick coat, it felt like he had a personal heater stashed under his clothes. Blowing heat into his gloved hands, he couldn't help wishing that Deling hosted more concerts. Better weather, no winter effects beyond it being the season.

But it's not easy finding stage space in a city without closing off streets. And a hustle-and-bustle like Deling won't go for that, not without it being of utmost importance. Like a parade for a sorceress, for example.

'It's a good turn out,' Irvine thought, as he looked about and saw seats filling up in each section. He likes for the artist to feel assured they aren't wasting their breath for a handful of people. 'I wonder who's beside me?' If the seat remained vacant, he would head off for snacks at intermission. No body means a snack-buddy. He was fine either way.

...

Squall Leonhart walked down the rows of seats all filled up with fans, chatting and looking around, taking pictures of the venue, or leaned back to snap selfies with friends to make it appear as though they're closer to the stage than they were. It was one thing to be excited, which he is; however, he hoped he's not seated next to someone who's too loud or would bump into him too much. This isn't a rave, this is a concert. That fact could make it all the worse, calm events could make the person next to you want to conversate.

'Hyne. Don't let me be next to a talker.' He prayed to the God-like deity. 'Second row, seat four… Damn it.' It couldn't be. It shouldn't be. Why him? Out of everyone. Quistis made more sense, hell, even Seifer. 'I should go before..'

"Squall? Hey, Squall!"

'Damn it.' Squall closed his eyes. The concept of bolting was still on the table. What's the harm in it? So he'd hurt Irvine's feelings; he's tough, he'll bounce back. He's unintentionally hurt the guy before, it's a pattern. It could be their 'thing'.

"Hey! Can you hear me?" Irvine called through hands cupped at his mouth.

'I can hear you.' Thought Squall.

Defeated, as he really wanted to see the performer, he started over to his seat beside the sharpshooter. It would be dumb to have spent so much money for a ticket to have to turn around and just go back to Balamb Garden.

"Hi." Irvine greeted Squall properly once he was seated. "I didn't know you were a Sadne fan."

'Who isn't.' Squall nodded.

"Small world." Irvine nudged him with his elbow. "What's your favorite song?"

"Are you planning on talking the whole time?" Blunt as ever; he wanted them to get a couple boundaries straight before the concert was forfeit for another reason. Chatter.

Irvine shook his head. "Nah. I might sing some, but I won't chew your ear off." He scratched the back of his head; tugging a bit at the band that's keeping his hair in a ponytail. It's a habit of his, done whenever he became a bit uncomfortable. "I know you hate that."

'Then maybe you should switch seats with the person beside you.' He grumps to himself. 'At least I'm right at the end for easy fleeing.'

Squall doesn't want to be mean. Really, he doesn't! He actually likes Irvine. He's… interesting, to say the least. And he was considerate of his, and the others, feelings. But, the sharpshooter can be a chatter-bug, lewd, and easily led to go along with others to keep things easy. He's too easy-going, in Squall's opinion. A person needs a certain degree of.. fret to their character, to keep them human.

"Would you like a drink? I bought hot chocolate a short while ago. It's white chocolate." He attempted to temp. "And we don't have to share from the cap." He exposed the thermos, removing the bottom of it to show off that there is indeed a second built-in cup. "You can have the first half."

"I'm good."

"You sure?" Receiving a nod, he held up his hand in retreat. "Alright."

The lights on stage dimmed before glowing up again, brighter now to reveal the lovely singer Sadne, dressed in a cream and burgundy full body suit, before the crowd. Everyone cheered and whooped. Applauded. Then they fell silent as the artist sang.

Squall sat tense in wait to be bombarded with commentary or questions; after all, the famed 'stiff of Balamb Garden' was at a concert, indulging as a fan and not a hired bodyguard. Surely some questions have arisen, if not to sate curiosity but to tease. People love teasing those who have very little to give to the world of themselves. However, Irvine remained enamored with Sadne; enjoying the show like everyone else. He spoke to him but once to say...

"This is my favorite song," he then sang along at a lower volume with the singer and the rest of the crowd. It was easy for a man to sing along and not sound ridiculous because Sadne is known for her smooth, baritone voice.

Squall glanced at Irvine, noting the serene smile on his face. It was then that he'd fully let himself relax. He may have been wrong about the playful sharpshooter. Maybe he won't bother him as others, for example Seifer, would. Irvine was simply there to enjoy the show, and got lucky when meeting up with a friend. It'd be an ideal situation for anyone. And oddly convenient as Squall's seat could have been anywhere in the stadium.

'Guess it's fate.' Squall shifted in the uncomfortable feeling that statement created. He hated such words and meanings. How can anything be meant to happen without the chance of change? Deciding to drown it, he asked for a drink after the first hour. It was bound to be cold, but whatever, he was thirsty.

Irvine handed the before-offered thermos of chocolate to Squall, who poured the piping hot liquid into the upper cap. The thermos has isolation to keep it's contents hot or cold. It was a pleasing rush of heat through his system.

"Are you all having a good time tonight?" The artist asked the crowd receiving a loud cheer and scatter of replies. "Sing with me if you know this one."

Music began to play signaling the start of a very beloved song, and the audience frenzied before they sang along; this would likely be where the ribbing would come in. Irvine would ask him to sing, Squall would refuse. Irvine will ask again, calling him a name, Squall will tell him to shut up or, as per usual, shell out a reflective "Whatever". But, it didn't happen. Irvine just sang along with the rest of the crowd, hands clapped in time with the beat as before. He is focused to the degree that even when Squall mouthed a few lines from the song the sharpshooter remained in his own world without noticing the open window beside him. Squall doesn't mean to hide himself, especially from close friends. But, it keeps life simple when he doesn't have to deflect so much human condition. He isn't so fragile, but being part of the 'mocking birds' can be pretty dull. Exhausting, and obnoxious to constantly have to handle.

The gunblader caught his breath suddenly; now, he would be lying if he said his breathing didn't turn heavy when Irvine wrapped his arm around his shoulder, after which he then rested his chin on the shoulder close to him; he sang quietly at Squall's ear, as if the words were meant for him. He felt a shiver from the warmth of close contact, the metal of his earring yielded to the proximity of heat radiating from their closeness. The whole of it felt so sheltered. Personal.

'Meant for me, right.' Irvine couldn't know that this crowd-pleaser just happened to be one of Squall's favorite songs. It has such beautiful lyrics and meaning, about a love that's firm even when the pair are apart. Even when their best self isn't present.. the love won't fray.

"Oooh, when you're cooold," Irvine sang. "I'll be there to hold you tight to me." He affirmed this by jostling his drape around Squall's body.

Squall allowed a small smile from the action, he also hummed the next bar, only the word "cold" was traded for "low" in the lyrics.

"I'll be there, by your side, baby." Irvine sang out loud what Squall didn't. It wasn't aimed at Squall, but the stage. Yet..

The two of them made their exit for the bathroom when the intermission came up, and another act hit the stage to make their presence known to viewers. The portable toilets had too long of a line, so they sped over to a nearby convenience store.

Maybe it was the February air. Maybe it was a certain song, or even the weight of the words. But some sort of voodoo transpired that when the concert came to an end, and all the seats were emptied of occupants who loaded boats or submarines, late night trains to take them home; Squall Leonhart, stayed over with Irvine at the hotel in Fisherman's Horizon after an impromptu invite to do so. Irvine rented the room because he was staying overnight, and would head back to Garden in the morning. A plan all laid out. Right. In a world so unpredictable. Who can try to outline? The lone-wolf never could have imagined that the invite would illicit such a reaction from the lion. Something like that could not be planned between anyone but lovers. So he was very thrown as he was barely at the door when he was pounced!

It certainly wasn't planned in Squall's evening out for a light dinner, then to listen to fine music, and follow it up by getting ensconced in a head rush-inducing lip-lock with the resident war-hero, better known as a playboy of Garden- either pick. Because according to Quistis, Irvine was making himself popular as a flirt. And each Garden saw the stoic commander the same way as the latter. Squall knows this. Since his recovery he's heard a few whispers about him from curious romantics finding him "hot".

Galbadian cadets are currently staying over at Balamb while they get their school back in order. Balamb isn't spacious enough to house them all, so the newcomers are holding up in the barracks; it's where older cadets go before they venture out into the world at the age of eighteen. That's as long as the Garden keeps students who don't make SeeD. Which has Irvine around his childhood friends more than he normally would be.

Childhood friends, huh? This was a new way to play. Irvine had no idea Squall housed so much.. passion. Where did it come from? And was it for him specifically, or does it just exist in general? Finding out would certainly write a novel, that was for sure.

Squall absently noticed a knocking sound coming from the door, it was like tiny elves were trying to get in or out of the room. When he peeked his eye open he saw that it was the keycard being repeatedly popped against the door while Irvine blindly sought out the reader. Taking the sharpshooter's firm wrist, he assisted him in unlocking the door, then shoved it open and pushed Irvine through the entry way.

'How am I taking the lead in this?' Weren't tete-a-tete of the body Irvine's field? Wondered Leoonhart. He simply could not fathom it. Involved in a random hook-up with someone who has most likely seen his fair share of the activity, and is notably seen as straight. Preposterous! Unbelievable! Unreal! And yet... There they were, having 'private talk'. Lover's speech. Breath and pressed flesh. And he liked it.

As for his own orientation, Squall doesn't know. He's more of a defense player than attacker. All wanton suitors can thank Quistis Trepe for that. She was relentless to figure out her emotions, and unfortunately presumed them as feelings of romantic love towards him. Maybe he's never been straight. There went the hopes of the others trying to hook him up with the 'righteous' Rinoa. Or maybe he could go either way? He wouldn't know his feelings until the offer presented itself, because he just doesn't think about love as much as than half of the planet does; he does, however, believe that it isn't something that's done in a certain cookie-cutter way, because even with a cutter the dough could tear or the shape would shift during the baking process. So nothing is so neat or perfectly defined at all times.

And as he breathed in sync with Irvine, he felt his torso clench when warm hands slid up his bare abdomen, the area tightened as though he were doing crunches for fitness. That wasn't the only part of his body becoming tight. He let out a low moan when Irvine's hand palmed the awakened area between his thighs. Most people in these situations blame alcohol, if only Squall could. It would be so easy if the tale was dragged out of him. But he and Irvine are underage, and had hot chocolate. It certainly did not taste of any additives to cause inebriation. Oh, this was pure, 100 percent sincere, animal instinct. Euphoria could be the new inebriation. He certainly felt intoxicated, and the cure seemed to be at the back of Irvine's throat as he sent his tongue in as deep as it could explore inside the sharpshooter's mouth.

He felt butterflies dancing in his chest. Squall had to wonder if he was doing an okay job of it? He's never kissed anyone before. Not romantically or sexually. He's kissed the cheeks of Matron and Sis, this he knows from the return of his memories. But he's never done it with anyone he's shown interest in. Interest. His heart pounded more at the thought. Was he interested in Irvine, or was he simply acting on desire? A person can pleasure themselves for nothing. Bodies drink it in and don't give a damn about who, how, or why.

So, was he interested?

When Irvine lied back on the bed, Squall sat down on his cure's lap feeling something hard through the sniper's jeans, his nervous system trembled when his own hidden place beat against the door to be let out to interact with it's neighbor. It wasn't until nimble fingers played upon his binding clothing that the situation came staggering to a stop. Leonhart shook his head, and backed away from the bed. Irvine remained in place, a hard pant going in and out of his mouth before the breaths turned into a breathy laugh.

'What was that? Was I really about to..? With Irvine?' He had no "of all people" tinged in his words. He was simply shocked. 'He must be just as stunned, if he's laughing about it.'

"I'm glad you stopped us, because I couldn't." Stated the invisible man.

The room is a black void all around them making Irvine nothing but a voice. He was a much-too-needed ship in a very thick fog in Squall's mind. But the ship was where Squall had escaped from, he can't go back or he'll be right back in the cloister of its embrace, and he won't want out.

"You mean you wanted to?" Squall asked with a bit of that inner self-conciousness that all the world possessed, he's no more stable with his breathing than the sharpshooter; who's words came in clear for him to respond to.

"Well, yeah, I mean.. This is way too fast- even for me." He slung his arm over his closed eyes. "I was caught up."

"No. I meant..." Nevermind. That the sniper wanted to stop was certainly a surprise. "With your reputation, I assumed."

"Mm-mm. Never assume. I may like to flirt, and even get into some heated make-out sessions, but it's gonna take a lot more time to get into bed with me." He snickered. "Unless you wanna drug me."

"You're safe." Squall all but rolled his eyes as Irvine's cocky personality showed itself.

Irvine snickered at the sincere retort. He sat up and beckoned Squall over to the bed by an audible popping sound that invited him to take a seat. Squall wasn't too far from the dangerous area, but he was assisted all the same with a row of slender fingers that dipped a bit into the waistband of his jeans to help guide him forward by a light tug. If Kinneas had truly wanted to stop, that was not the way to keep it in red. The cautious lion took the offered seat, but he sat two person's away. Just to be safe. Not from Irvine, who seemed firm in his words, but from himself who thought 'What do I have to lose?' and 'What does it matter if it's lost?' However, it mattered. His head knew it, even if his loins thought otherwise. He's human, his body got horny even if his head or heart aren't in it.

"Squall.. Do you like me?"

"As a person, friend, or lover?" He asked in depth. It was hard to know what was being asked of with such a broad but vague question.

"Umm, all of the above," his shrug was heard by the movement of his clothing.

"I don't really know you as well as everyone else." He replied honestly. "I like you as a person. ...I think, as a lover, I could.." He sounded unsure.

"Could?" He sounded neither intrigued nor offended. "Would you want to go out with me?"

Squall scoffed, though not because of the question. "Would you want to go out with me? After what just happened, we could easily just sleep together and be done with it."

Even he hated the sound of that. He's not the type of guy to just have sex and be done with someone. From what he's learned, and even imaged, sex is about loving the person you're with to some degree. He's never once thought he could sleep around with anyone he finds attractive, have sex, then walk away as if it was just any other activity.

Squall swallowed down his personal thoughts. That he would want to be more was too new to explore right now. He can't handle a relationship based off of this random moment of desire. He's not even sure where the desire came from. "I think we should just leave this moment as what it was."

"...Okay."

"You sound disappointed."

"I am. I like you."

Irvine gave such a plain-faced response, Squall had to catch himself from laughing. And instead, he retorted. "Why? Because I seem easy?" Now he was turning on his own fail-safe facade. Haute, clipped tones meant to ward off invading emotions he does not want to feel.

"No. I just do. When we all met up again... it shook me how much I missed you all. You especially; you were always so closed-off. Then to see you out on the field, all comrade and commander. It was really cool. I felt like I never knew you like the others."

"I'm not that interesting." If this "crush" was a matter brought on by admiration, Squall was ready to pass on the situation indefinitely.

Irvine patted Squall on the shoulder. "You don't have to be."

Squall felt himself shrinking. Attention was one thing, but so exclusively tended to make him squirm. "How could it have lasted though? I was in a coma for half a year."

Irvine nervously tugged at his hair band. "Yeah… So like, we all went visiting you from time-to-time, while the war was going on and.. I don't know, I kinda developed a deeper crush."

"What? Like 'Sleeping Beauty'?"

"Well, not to base it solely on looks, but yeah. It can be described as that." He reached over and popped Squall's shoulder. "Don't be offended, it was only for the sleeping part."

"I'm not offended. I actually think it kinda makes sense. You had someone to talk to who wouldn't talk back." He lied himself back, staring at the darkness where the ceiling was slowly revealing itself in the approaching dawn. "I kind of feel like the same thing happened to me with you."

"How is that possible?" He wondered almost at a quote to the gunblader's aforementioned reason of wonder, of how someone could garner feelings from a coma.

"I know; I was out-cold on the outside, but inside I could hear you guys talking; telling me about the war or random things from your day."

Irvine laughed. "That must have sucked for you; you're the last person I'd expect to be settled with hearing the drone of conversation."

"Yeah. But, it wasn't so bad. I felt like I was there fighting along side you guys." He turned his head. He could see the outline of the sharpshooter now as the room continued to brighten around them, even more so because of Irvine's light blue sweatshirt. A lighthouse in the dim.

They sat in amicable silence for a moment. Each in his own thoughts. It was Squall who spoke up first to ask.

"You said it's not just my looks… what else is there to like?"

"You have a nice personality." Irvine replied very openly.

Squall felt he could have laughed for an hour. That was certainly the first time Mr. Stone-Cold has ever heard anyone compliment his personality. He's the kind of guy who often hears "You're mean" because of something he'd said or some way he's acted towards a go-getter.

"I can hear you stifling laughter, but I'm serious." He pat the gunblader's thigh.

Squall dwelled on every touch as it resonated his touch-free senses. It would seem a full-on relationship wasn't the only new to get used to for him.

Irvine went on explaining, knowing nothing of how he's making Squall feel just by behaving with him on a familiar level. "You say funny things, you don't get bothered so easily. And you're encouraging- even if it's inconvenient to you."

"You sound as though you're describing a stranger."

"More like your B-side." Laying down on his side, arm bent to support his cheek in his hand, he studied the person coming into a sharper view beside him. It was such a familiar sight for a good few months. Too many months, if you ask the 'orphanage gang' and their friend, Rinoa.

Squall had fallen into a coma after they rescued him from prison. Edea Kramer had injured him badly, but the electrocution is what put too much strain on his still recovering body. Even with magic to help them get him to the hospital, the wounds were too severe and the gunblader simply drifted away. If anyone asked him "What's the last thing you remember?", Squall would tell them it was the school taking off. He'd gone to bed and stayed there. After that it was dark, then images showed up whenever one of his friends came and spoke to him from beyond the veil.

Squall Leonhart remained in a coma under the care of Dr. Kadowaki until Nida and the others figured out how to steer the mobile building. From there he was placed in a hospital in Deling, watched by near-government-official security. He had to be, he was part of the group who'd helped the Timber resistance, he needed maximum security during those times. No one knew he was there but Garden staff and his friends, and General Caraway, who had provided the security. Though under the rule of the enemy, where better to hide than under their noses? And out of all the locations, it was safe from danger.

The news of what happened staggered Selphie and the two others who'd gone to the desert base with her. Rinoa and Irvine. The resistance leader blamed herself for hiring them. Rinoa had told the comatose commander that she would fight extra hard to make up for his absence. She must have, because the sorceress war was over when he'd opened his eyes.

Squall Leonhart woke up mid-January to Irvine, actually, talking to him about something so completely unrelated to anything, that he wasn't sure if he'd opened his eyes to tell him to shut up or to pat him on the back for saying something so ridiculous that he wanted to respond to it or even just laugh. And the need was so great that his eyes opened, sluggishly bringing his senses along.

That was the moment which he'd felt the spark. Was it a Florence Nightingale moment? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Because he's here now, still feeling the same spark of interest he had back then for the sharpshooter. And to learn that Irvine likes him back to some degree… It's all very strange.

"...So like, do you wanna have breakfast with me? It's getting early, and we have to eat anyway.." He shrugged out his hand.

"Sure." Squall sat up.

"Great! Oh, but, you know that I was asking like, a date-date kind of breakfast with you."

"A date? Oh…"

"I shouldn't have?"

"It's fine. I just don't know if I'm ready for dating or whatever. It's too new, and I don't know how to be a boyfriend."

"There's nothing to it."

"There's a lot to it. ...Expectations that I can't, or won't, want to live up to. So many things I could screw up, and it would ruin our friendship because we'd become uncomfortable around each other."

"More uncomfortable than knowing that we like each other but didn't act on it?"

"Yes." His sat up, elbows resting upon his thighs, and his chin on his balled hands. "Don't you?" He asked locking eyes with a pair that's now in full visibility. It's 6:20 am. The world between awake and asleep.

"No. You said you don't remember me from our childhood, and you don't know me as we are now, not by much.. So why not get to know each other?"

"In the worst possible setting? Relationships, from what I've seen, are always bad news for getting closer to each other."

"For some. But frankly, if you think about it.. you're only nervous because you don't wanna hurt that person that you like so much. That's a really sweet compliment, regardless of having a tough time in a romance... that you don't wanna hurt someone… It's really touching."

"You're too optimistic."

"Maybe. But, hey, it's fine." Standing, he held out his hand to pull Squall up. "We still have to eat."

"You're not mad?"

"Naah. Besides, nothing's worth it if you have to force it. I'd feel like a jerk."

Standing with the offered help, he didn't need it, but why ignore Irvine after he's dealt him so many blows left and right from now and since then in the past. "Irvine?"

"Hmm?"

Squall leaned up towards him eliminating the small space of their height distance, and in a breath he kissed him both briefly but tenderly. "If I can get over the hesitance.. someday I'd like to change my answer."

Irvine smiled. "I'd like to be given the chance to make the offer." He wrapped his arm around Squall's lower back and gave him a kiss in return.

Mouth open and breath stealing, as well as giving; Squall could taste the faintest bit of sweet cream flavor of white chocolate has still lingered there from last night's concert. It seemed so long ago that they were just sitting in companionship as they watched an artist they both enjoy; this moment behind closed doors has stolen everything else away and has become all consuming. And he allowed Irvine to rule over his movement by accepting a simple sweep of his tongue. That brush had egged-him-on to go further with this. With what had driven him to seek pleasure in the first place.

It wasn't Irvine's intention to resume their fevered kiss, but Squall was restored to want to. And his hands movements were copied as he learned the feeling of places along Irvine's back up under his sweatshirt, and a touch, just the smallest touch beneath the waistband at the back of his jeans. Their kiss broke as Squall had to catch his breath from a rush of pleasure speeding verbally out of him when Irvine grabbed his rear during his own expedition of the terrain uncharted by visitors.

He pressed his forehead against Irvine's shoulder, then he shook his head. He's never been touched in such a way, never felt such emotions. Yes. Relationships could be dangerous. He's not ready to cross those stormy waters, if he can't fully cross the choppy waves. The breath from Irvine's nostrils blew his hair beside his ear from his near-silent laughter. Squall smiled when feeling the sharpshooter's embrace around his back.

"So, sweet or savory?" He asked.

Squall scoffed a reply. So many feelings were passing through him, he felt like a tourist attraction to them. And over there you'll see a teen experience pleasure and hesitancy despite becoming a man of eighteen-this-year, flustered over a kiss. Life was going to be interesting from then on, he could tell. But, it wasn't such a bad thing. Maybe.

Balamb Garden rose early with the attending cadets. The lights glowed throughout the halls, the fountains began to spray an endless supply of recycled water around the indoor mote. And the elevator was once again operable for student use. So nice and peaceful… Unfortunately not everyone has a peaceful state-of-mind.

'This is not going to be a good day.' Squall thought.

He felt like he had to sneak around inside his own mind as it kept bumping into thoughts of last night. Mostly... of Irvine. It wasn't fair. First Galbadia invaded their school- twice- but now one has invaded his mind. And judging by the morning wake up call, has managed to capture his flag. How was this fair? He is pursued, not the other way around. Certainly not for somebody who's loved by everybody. That's so cliche. So flawed. So not making a difference, because dammit, he can still see him! Irvine is practically magnified in his memory where he never was before.

His crystal blue eyes, such a fine sea glass. He has a handsome nose; Squall didn't know he could notice such things, but there it was. And Irvine has a great smile.

Over breakfast, Irvine smiled at him from across the table while making idle chit-chat; Leonhart had the oatmeal and side of fruit, the sharpshooter had French toast and hash browns. The portions were roughly the same, so the conversation was a give and take in equal during the dining duration. Irvine paid for the meal, and glancing at the card Squall noticed the S after the sharpshooter's name.

"S?" It was a rhetorical wonder to himself, but he was replied to. The S is for Sigfrido. A North Western region name. He remembered having heard the accent for the first time when they went to Montrosa Plateau on that fateful mission to the city. It made Squall wonder more about his childhood friend. Because it was just some small tidbit more of the guy he remembered little about from the past. It was kind of… exhilarating. It was like having something to himself that few knew. And that made the cliche of the situation flawed. He needed that flaw… or didn't. He's completely mixed up about how he wants to feel towards Irvine.

It nearly kept him up all night. Mental tennis. Like him as a friend, like him romantically. Back and forth the pros and cons fought. It came up a draw due to mental wear down.

But the scenario is too perfect. It is so messed up that they are friends, childhood friends, and no one would think twice about his hanging out with Irvine in a group- or exclusively. So why was he so nervous? Why the pins-and-needles? Today is just like the days before, it couldn't be like yesterday because yesterday he was making-out with Irvine Kinneas. After which they agreed upon just being friends. So, today is fresh and new, and completely separate from yesterday. He just needs to make sure the sharpshooter understands that and sticks to their decision not to pursue each other. Irvine may have said he's fine with being friends, but you never know with people.

Having that moment between them was like the Hope Diamond. Beautiful. Rare. Cursed. Something to brag upon if it's in your possession, even if it is now a past tense. If it were him and Seifer, ha! It'd be all over the cafeteria by now. A nice serving of juicy gossip resting on each plate, with a side of mouth-watering details to chase it down.

Dammit, why doesn't someone invent a time machine already?!

'What was I thinking? What came over me?!' He beat himself senseless mentally. 'I don't act on impulse, that's for the rest of the world. So why? Was it such a treat to be treated like any normal human being that I just lost my senses?'

Guys like him are viewed as 'silent badasses', or 'loners', but add someone like Seifer Almasy into the created persona and it's bye-bye badass and hello someone to tease for being overly terse. Why had he come back? To torment him? Seifer is good at cracking people, whether it be harassment, or just a sudden burst of friendship that you thoroughly enjoy because when you tear away the asshole, Seifer is really a great guy. He knows this because he's not just the guy's rival but his best friend. Still, this situation with Irvine would bring out the assume instead of the friend.

The emotional-wreck groaned inwards. 'Why am I worked up about this? We're friends! Not lovers sneaking around.'

The cause of distraction walked down the hall towards him. Squall felt a lump forming over how this would go. It did not look good, because when he was spotted a smile accompanied the unexpected eye contact. He was about to firmly reject the assumed lavish greeting he presumed he'd receive, but it suddenly came flying out before he could so much as shake his head.

"Hey, Squall, Seifer."

Squall, having expected more, visibly bristled like he heard something different. Then in an attempt to lag behind following his friend into the cafeteria right away, he turned as though he'd forgotten something.

"Would you watch where you're going?" Seifer muttered after lightly pushing Squall from his person that was bumped into.

"Why don't you give me breathing room, instead of walking close enough to hit the backs of my shoes." Sniped Squall.

"I approached, you stalled. Who's to blame?" Seifer pointed down at his friend and better-known rival from an overhead reach, as if shining a hot, bright light over a suspect in an interrogation.

"Whatever. Sorry." He shrugged his hand. What more does Seifer want?

"Go back to sleep, screwball."

He fixed Almasy with a glare, because it sounded like he was fusing his name with the insult. "I'm not tired." He turned back in the direction he'd been headed in the first place. 'I'm exhausted.' He walked down the hall and into the cafeteria wing.

Seifer furrowed his brow, not sure which was more strange in the encounter. Squall apologizing or his spasm when seeing Irvine. He can't seriously be harboring ill-feelings towards the lone ranger, as Zell does. Kinneas is harmless. A flirt, yes, but is it bothersome enough to dislike the guy? Not even a little. It must be something else.

'Hn. Probably in his head again and was startled when he realized he's not in his dorm.' Seifer pressed forward knowing that must be it. Squall was often spotted by him, and others, lost in thought. Maybe someday he'd ask him about it. But… teasing the dweeb is a lot more fun.

Squall glanced at where the others were seated, tables 3 and 4. There are only four chairs to a table, and six of the friends within the 'orphange gang' so they usually push two together, only in times of needed conversation. Otherwise they simply talked and turned as needed from their chosen table. The gang don't always eat together, it was a sort of new thing since the Garden's hero-commander woke up from his six months coma. To check-in with their past, to be near in their future together, and not lose each other for years again. Selphie's idea. It was better than posting on the message board, which could be forgotten and ignored.

At first, all the togetherness seemed annoying, but everyone gradually accepted and liked it. It felt natural. Even for Squall, who usually ate alone or accompanied by some random cadet that couldn't find a seat at any other table. Why not eat with the guy who has three available seats. He or she would only need to be uncomfortable for ten to twenty minutes while they ate around the resident stoic, badass, who got high marks with use of the tricky gunblade weapon. No big deal.

He can sit beside Irvine at the extra table. Perfect cover. Near, without being obvious of wanting to be near. He's got to behave normally. Otherwise… 'Otherwise, someone might notice and ask. Then, thinking it's no big thing, at least for him in his world, Irvine will tell them. And my quietly existing along side of everyone will be hell.'

He grabbed a small box of frosted flake cereal, and a carton of whole milk, a banana, and a straw then went over to the vacant table. Seifer chose a hot meal of eggs, hash, and buttered toast, and joined him shortly afterwards taking the seat beside him.

"Oooh," Selphie sang. "Kissy-kissy."

Squall stiffened. Irvine didn't. He wouldn't. Would he? Had he? While out in the hall, did he just drop the bomb? 'I'll kill him.'

"Aren't Sherie and Tommy so cute? They started dating just last month," she went on. "And are already at the feeding each other stage. Aaaaw."

"I don't care. I don't know them," Zell replied for the whole table's agreement. He stuffed a thick sausage tucked into a roll into his mouth and took a big bite.

"So," Selphie stuck out her tongue. "Just be happy for the situation, the mood."

"The mood?" Zell snickered. "What? Are you feeling the love bug?"

"Me?! No way!" she laughed. "Well, unless Sir Laguna would like to date me." Selphie held her blushing cheeks.

Zell nearly choked on his food. "He's in his forties!"

"And soon I'll be eighteen. So?"

"So any man that age willing to date someone at your age is gross, and should be locked up."

"You're too righteous." She momentarily slumped. "Fine, I can wait until I'm twenty one; if only so he can save-face."

"Still gross." Muttered Zell around a bite of oatmeal. He chuckled when receiving a shove from the daydreaming young lady.

Seifer chimed in. "I'm with you, Selphie. Laguna is attractive, a good actor, great soldier from what the history webpages depict." Giving her a nod, he says. "You have my blessing."

Selphie beamed. "Seifer… you're the best!"

Squall, from what he recalled from his comatose dreaming, was told that Laguna Loire, Galbadian soldier now President of Esthar, and complete doofus, was his birth father. Not adopted. Not cool. He honestly doesn't know how to feel about that truth. Laguna hasn't made any attempt to contact him since his return to consciousness. Maybe the man doesn't know, or care. Who knows. But it was not a bridge he was ready to cross any time soon.

"Just remember that on birthdays." Seifer's voice cut through Squall's thoughts.

Teasing, Selphie asked. "December-baby blues?"

"You try getting a birthday gift on the twenty-second of a holiday month."

Squall ate his breakfast in peace. 'What was I worried for? My friends are insane.'

Irvine stood up. "I hear ya, sometimes mine falls directly on Thanks. No one is thinking about anything more than which sweats to wear during dinner the meal, and who in the family to accost to celebrate." He walked his tray to the return area.

Squall, natural as can be, as he was done with his cereal right then, brought his tray up as well. The others continued talking about this and that as he left from earshot of their voices. Standing beside the sniper, he felt an internal buoyancy when his presence received a smile.

"Thank you."

Genuinely stumped, Irvine asked. "For what?" He slowly put his tray and bowl into the proper return bin.

"For not saying anything about last night."

"It's nobody's business." He shrugged his shoulder. "Why would I?"

Squall felt a little embarrassed at bringing up his own fame, however small, but it was necessary. "Most people see me as cold and aloof. So, getting so close to me would be news worthy." He cringed in disbelief that such words came out of his mouth.

"Aah." The tone of acknowledgement was all that came in reply.

"Sorry."

"No. It's true. And I get it."

He really does. Everyone was talking about Squall Leonhart, and his immense courage and bravery during the first wing of the Sorceress war. He'd sustained a major injury that was barely allowed to heal due to their capture, he was reported tortured in prison, then to summon strength and get back to Garden to warn them of a missile strike. The guy was a juggernaut! A true hero. A hero that when checked on the next day was found in a coma… Squall Leonhart became a legend then.

"You do? Because that's not me talking." Squall fished into his pocket removing two silver gil, which he handed to Irvine.

"What's this for?" He asked once waving away the earlier comment. He knows it's not his friend talking big about himself. He also knows how much Squall hates the praise. He's amazing as a soldier and mercenary, that he knows of. But Irvine knows the Squall from childhood. Anything great he did, he liked to keep his head down about it. From cleaning up, to giving check-ins on what the others were getting up to. He's spied such things from Leonhart while they grew up together for four younger years.

"We look suspicious just standing here talking," Squall mentally glanced over his shoulder for leering eyes. "Get a drink from the machine, so it seems like you were bumming money." He added with a smirk to their private knowledge. "Big shot lottery winners don't carry small change."

Irvine chuckled. It would seem Squall was telling the truth about having heard them while he was unconscious. He told the sleeping lion about winning the lottery. In fact, it was what he'd said to him before looking over and seeing that his beautiful blue eyes were open. He remembered smiling at the sight, it looked like his eyes held tints of grey as well. It was beautiful. Squall could be very handsome. It made the sniper's senses malfunction because he hasn't been able to think straight since that day.

Kinneas moved over to the vending machines, then selected an insulated carton of hot chocolate. The money rolled into the machine with an audible plunk. A carton of steaming chocolate liquid was shoved forward like a bungee jumper pushed off by force for taking too long on his own.

"So like," he bent over and grabbed the drink, the warmth heightened the body heat of his hand. "Do you wanna hang out later, at the barracks- unless you're busy."

Squall blanched. He wanted to hang out but didn't dare to ask. Now he has an opening. "What would we do?"

"Game. Movie. Triad." He threw out suggestions. "It's your call. I just wanna hang out with you."

Squall gulped. 'How does he talk like that without embarrassment? We're world's apart in maturity.' The realization had him feeling a little mystified and pissed. He's not a chicken. He's just not ready for the change. "Sure. …But it's not a…?"

"No. Just a getting-to-know-you now type of thing." Irvine gave him a playful shove. "Been a long time since we were kids. A lot has changed."

'There's an understatement. I'm gay. Or could be, if the right person came along.'

Irvine took a couple sips of his delicious, though unwanted drink, then stated. "I'll pay you back. Later."

"Yeah." He felt that feral beast inside him growl watching the departure of a strong stride covered by the brush of his duster. 'Hyne. I gotta control myself.'

"Are you busy?" Seifer's voice came at Squall; a lot closer than the unsuspecting bystander could have known. "We should hit up the field for a training session."

"Yeah."

Seifer was glad for the positive reply. Squall clearly has something on his mind today that's distracting him too greatly, because he saw the small raise of his rival's shoulders when he spoke to him. Much too jumpy today. Better Squall battled it out than constantly stand around looking stupid. In Seifer's opinion.

"Twenty minutes." Almasy walked away through the exiting and entering crowd of cadets.

'…He knows.' Thought Squall. 'And now he's gonna confirm it by getting me to spill it when exhausted.'

This was the last thing that the gunblader wanted to have happen. He was actually hoping this situation would be so far into the future he'd be living on his own away from Garden. He and Irvine would either be together still or broken up, but either way, he'd be too old to care how anyone reacts, and far beyond embarrassment by the new feelings within himself. It's possible.

At least he had twenty minutes to school himself back into his normal stoicism. He could be wrong. After all, Seifer is his rival and friend, he may really just want a good practice to help with the rust of his skills brought on by the coma.

'Looks like I'll see when he gets there.' He thought solemnly.

Leaving the school, once he grabbed his weapon, Squall waited for Seifer while thinking about hanging out later with Irvine.



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