Woah, neat feedback. Yes, I actually agree with you. The prologue is dry and rather hard to swallow in one fell swoop. It's also not my favorite style of writing, and I think it shows. I prefer lots of imagery and tons of dialog, but NaNo is a time to be reaching out and experimenting! *cough* Eventually, (haha, like, after NaNo, so December?) I will go back and make it more palatable for human consumption. I might even turn it into a proper story format.

...The important part of this chapter is Irvine and Leon's conversation and subsequent thoughts. And then there is filler, with vague hints as to other side plots that haven't developed yet. Once we meet Cloud, things will be far more interesting. And luckily, he shows up in the next chapter. Thank god. Cloud is so much fun to play around with.

Forgot this last chapter, but...

Disclaimer: I am but a poor college student, who should probably spend far more time on her studies than on imaginary characters, that are owned by a slew of other people and companies. I don't own Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts and it's related series, or Final Fantasy VIII.


Indulgence

irvine decides to intervene.

Sunlight filtered though the window in fat, sparkling beams, the dust in just the right position to be seen as glittering points of light. A man by the name of Squall Leonhart sat with his back to the wall and in view of all exits, dutifully going through the paperwork that Neo Balamb Garden managed to accumulate. His comrade, Irvine Kinneas, was sitting upon the edge of his desk, fiddling with the small bowl of paper clips.

"You're way too tense, Squall," Irvine noted, "Everyone has noticed it. When was the last time you allowed yourself to take a break?"

"The name is Leon," he noted absently, signing another paper. "And I haven't the time to relax. I think I have negotiated a good alliance out of Organization XIII though, so we won't have to worry about them trying to take out our operatives anymore..."

"As great as that is, Leon," Irvine drawled, "You either need a break or something to help relieve your stress. Seeing as how even Quistis laughed when I mentioned that we should send you out on an enforced break, I have found an alternate solution."

Leon looked up from his documents, hard eyes inquisitive. "Do tell," he answered mockingly.

Irvine simply grinned back. Hey, at least I got the man's attention. "This," he gestured to the envelope in his hands. "When I went out asking for people who would be interested in a mercenary job, someone pointed out that the prison would likely be full of people I could bail out and send off for a quick assassin job without the worry of ever needing them back. Not what I was looking for, but still good information."

Leon raised a skeptical eyebrow. "And this is relevant how?"

"Beneath the prison is a slave hold - one from Galbadian roots, apparently. They pick out the better fighters and the more attractive prisoners to sell off as slaves, as well as have some shipped in from off planet. You should go check it out to make sure they're not doing anything totally despicable, and maybe pick up a bed-warmer for yourself."

Leon snorted at the earnest look on Irvine's face. "So you're now approving of slavery to get me to relax? Wasn't one of SeeDs unofficial goals to stop the slave ring?"

"Well, yeah, but that's a long time coming, and hey! We both know that you would treat anyone from there way better than some stuffy old bastard would. Sure, it'd be a slave, but you're by far the lesser of several evils, and eventually, we might even be able to induct them into SeeD if they prove trustworthy enough. You obviously don't want to engage in casual sex between any of your subordinates anymore, so go pick out someone out of our circle."

A thoughtful look actually crossed Leon's face, making Irvine smirk inwardly. He'd get the commander to relax if it was the last thing he did. The man needed to be able to release all of that tension that taking care of a six hundred strong mercenary group tended to build up. Even if most of their SeeDs weren't living at Neo Balamb Garden, giving orders, taking reports, and negotiating treaties wasn't an easy job. And they were still scouring the land for acceptable applicants, as they didn't want just anyone showing up to be a SeeD. They hadn't advertised as much as the original Balamb Garden did, which meant that Leon also had to go about arranging private contracts with the people who did manage to uncover their growing metropolis.

All in all, it was not healthy for Leon to keep on repressing his natural sexual urges. And if he could solve that problem by picking up a slave, then by all means, Irvine was going to get Leon to do it. Thankfully, he had already brought up the subject with the original team, and they were all in favor of allowing Leon some breathing room when it came to slavery for this issue. Even Quistis was in favor of the idea, who he had thought would be his hardest selling point.

"And how would this work," Leon drawled. "I expect you have it all planned out, so please, continue to tell me what's rattling around in that fool brain of yours."

"I'm hurt, boss. Really, I am. And honestly? There isn't much to tell. If you keep a slave locked up inside your quarters, no one ever needs to know that they are there. Because no one can get up there except for Selphie and Quistis, and they hardly ever do anyways. Meals can be brought up by you, since you hardly ever eat with the rest of us in the first place. If you get a limiter, then you don't have to worry about any powers or enhanced strength, and if you're really determined, you could have a manacle or something to keep them from tearing your room apart when you're not there. And you keep all of your electronics and records in your second office, which is locked off from your rooms. I don't really see a problem."

Leon placed his pen down and laced his fingers to rest his chin on them. "You're approving of not letting a human being see the light of day."

"Ah, no no no, boss. I mean, if you're with them, then it'd be easy to take them to a balcony, or one of the enclosed gardens or something. Which you're gonna have to do, you know. Not being exposed to sunlight isn't healthy. And since we lock off the gardens on a fairly regular basis, no one would bat an eyelash if we locked off the one you went into."

"Mmhmn. And suppose I do consider to do this. What do you get out of it?"

Irvine grinned cheekily. "Why, commander, we'd get the privilege of seeing you be able to relax a bit. Everyone's getting worried about you, yanno. Too much stress and tension could break a person, and we're still going to need you for years to come. It wasn't so bad when you were fucking Seifer, but after you put an end to that, it really started piling up." Irvine paused, as if considering, "Hey, why did you stop fooling around with him?"

Leon blinked at the sudden change of topic, but went ahead and answered. "I had sex with myself, and things weren't quite the same between us. It appears I prefer a smaller and more lithe body, than Seifer's robust frame."

Irvine cocked his head to the side in confusion. "Wait, sex with yourself? That's just masturbation, Leon, and there is no way that your right hand could be a better bed-partner than Seifer."

"No, Irvine, I had sex with my 19 year old self, as a result of Time Compression. And I was a hell of a lot skinner than I am now. I just couldn't get used to Seifer again after that."

Irvine blinked and tried not to drool a little. "That... must have been really hot. Do you have any tapes?"

"If I did, do you really think I'd show them to you?" Leon countered.

"Oh, come on, you cannot leave me hanging here like that! Ifrit's Fire, that must have been amazing. Words cannot describe how incredibly kinky that is. What made you do it?"

Leon buried his face in his palm, lamenting the fact that he had given Irvine any information at all. "Because it was all I could think about right after I came back from the Time Compression, three years earlier. I told myself to take Seifer up as a casual sex partner, so I did, but I obviously didn't realize that fucking myself would put an end to that agreement."

"That has got to be confusing, talking about yourself like that." Irvine mentally reeled himself back in, shoving pictures of Leon post- and pre- Neo Balamb Garden into the side of his mind for further examination later. "Anyways, you should go check out the slave ring." He tossed the invitation to the desk. "Some guy named Don Corneo is holding his Grand Opening; he just moved a bunch of stock to the planet. You need to have the invitation to get in, but he doesn't much care who you are, and all business is kept confidential. I doubt you'll even see the other prospective buyers."

Leon picked up the invitation and fingered the edges. "And where did you get the invitation?"

"Nicked it off some other guy," he smiled with a smug satisfaction. "He was loud and rude in the first place, and tried to end my conversation with the barmaid. I've already checked it for tracers and for personalization; there are none, so you're set to go."

Leon grunted in acknowledgment. "I'll think about it."

With a knowing smile, Irvine tipped his hat and made for the door, but paused before he crossed the threshold. "Oi, I just remembered. Quisty wants to know if you're going to come down to dinner tonight with the rest of us. I think we're going out to a bar to chill."

A dry look was shot in his direction. "I doubt it. There's a backlog of reports from active SeeDs that I need to look through, and I was planning to go through them tonight. However, tell Quistis that if I manage to get through them faster than I expect to, I'll see about joining you."

"Sure thing, boss man." Grinning all the while, Irvine continued out of the office, closing the door firmly behind him.

Realizing he still carried the invitation in his hands, he opened the stiff parchment envelope to extract the note inside. It was a delicate thing, likely made from vellum, with swooping lines and a looping font, shadowed by a fine gold inlay.

Don Corneo

proudly presents

the grand opening of

Brawling Barbarians,

specialized slaves that were born for a fight.

-

Come join us to view a melee anything goes tournament,

as they fight for their life, and the privilege of a night of pleasure.

Our doors will open at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, August 24th.

Parking is available in levels B2-B4 of Caraway Prison.

Entrance to the event is located on level B13.

Invitations required for entry.

No dress code.

Frowning thoughtfully, he flipped open the PHS on his desk and brought up his schedule for the 24th. He was fairly sure he had a meeting scheduled with Esthar's president on that day... When the entry came up completely blank, he didn't stop the scowl from forming on his face. Irvine... But this did prove to him how serious Irvine was about getting him to go. The rest of his team all seemed uncomfortable with President Laguna. Laguna always seemed to be searching for something in their eyes, himself especially, and they all knew it. What he was looking for was unknown, but if Irvine had volunteered to go to the meeting instead, it looked like he was pretty damn determined to have Leon do this.

And if he knew Irvine, the man had probably already cleared it with the rest of the team as well, since they weren't inclined to get into real altercations with each other. Selphie and Zell's mock fights were for fun, but ever since they had defeated Ultimecia together, there wasn't much that they quarreled over anymore. It seems that banding together for a common goal of protecting the planet gave each-other a lot of leeway in lifestyles. And since mercenaries had rather loose lifestyles to begin with, as long as you cleared it with everyone else, there really wasn't much they couldn't do without having the support of their comrades.

Leon let out a little groan, but went ahead and entered the event into his calendar. It was probably better to go ahead with Irvine's idea while it was still relatively tame. Hyne knows what he'd come up with next should he refuse to go. Besides, he wasn't obligated to pick someone up. It was just a foray into different possibilities. After all, 'Brawling Barbarians' did not lead to small and lithe fighters; they were all likely to be large muscled brutes, which would do nothing for him. Hyne, they were probably all worse than Seifer, anyways, and if it really came down to it, there was a good chance he could just ask the bastard for another go. He'd probably agree to it, even if he was currently involved with that Sorceress Rinoa.

His thought process derailed as Rinoa crossed his mental tracks. That woman... One of the reasons he had allowed Seifer to bring Rinoa into Neo Balamb Garden was to keep an eye on her. He didn't trust Sorceresses at all. What with Ultimecia and Adel, and what could have happened to Edea had Cid not removed her powers, Sorceresses were just trouble, plain and simple. When he had first meet Rinoa, she seemed incredibly frustrated that he wouldn't respond to her flirting, like she had expected him to immediately like her. That in itself was rather strange, as he was commonly known as Shiva's Lover in the underground, and they were currently at a gathering for the members of that society. Other, newer SeeDs also referred to him as the Ice Prince of Neo Balamb. He was not known for friendliness, and most people considered it a good thing if he didn't pay them any attention. Being on the end of civilly cold conversations was usually not anyone's idea of fun.

What was even more unusual was that after giving her the slip, he found Seifer delighting in her company. The same Seifer who had nearly thrown a fit about coming to this gathering in the first place. Now, Seifer could have just been enjoying the company of a pretty girl –he could admit that, even if she wasn't the gender he prefererd– but something just struck him as off about the situation. As he was called to a different conversation he couldn't observe them further, but his inner 'danger radar' twitched whenever she was around.

Thinking of Rinoa also reminded him that he hadn't seen Seifer in a few days. This wasn't so unusual; Seifer had the clearance to come and go as he pleased, but he usually left some kind of notification telling Leon how long he'd be gone. Their relationship was far from the constant animosity they had while training to be SeeDs. The scar that ran down his face could even be recalled with faint amusement now, instead of the blinding rage it used to bring up; knowing that he had gotten it from Seifer. Seifer also felt the same way, but more because he knew Leon was a great fuck. In any case, it was slightly strange not to have heard from him, but Seifer was a grown man, he could take care of himself. If he hadn't reported back in a month, then he might send someone into the field to seek out what had happened to him.

Shaking his head slightly to clear his thoughts, he straightened the set of papers directly in front of him and then stood. Sliding the PHS into his pocket, he picked up a manilla folder and placed all of the completed, sealed, and coded documents into it. He took a couple of seconds to organize the remaining papers, but they were hardly confidential, so if anyone managed to get past the security system, they still wouldn't be seeing anything damning.

With a brisk stride he set off towards the stairs, jumping over the railing and falling to the next floor. That was actually one of the perks of Neo Balamb's architecture. Many of the experienced SeeDs wanted to be able to move around quickly and not have to rely on the moving shafts. They were smooth and held a good deal of people, but they were also slow, and after Ultimecia, no one wanted to be in that position again. As such, Neo Balamb had been built to allow for quick movement from floor to floor, so long as you had the flexibility and strength to use the shortcuts.

A quick detour into Headmaster Cid's office landed him with a few more papers to deliver, and some dry commentary.

"I thought you were going to rework the system so less paperwork was required, Leon," Cid teasingly mocked.

"It's on my to-do list," Leon replied dryly. "I thought I should keep that Organization XIII from killing off good men and women. We've lost five SeeDs who tried to take a look at what they were really doing. When they attempted to make contact, I decided that we probably should make some sort of accord, because apparently we've also taken out some of their targets."

Cid chuckled under his breath, "You're moving onto each-other's turf, and we're not exactly above board yet, so you don't want to cause any major altercations."

"It's a sound decision," Leon replied, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "We're not quite where I want us to be before we introduce ourselves to the higher powers of the planet. We are not going to be governed by any political body like Galbadia Garden was."

"Mmn, that is true. I hadn't known that things had gotten so bad in the other Gardens, since I didn't have as much direct contact with them." Cid shook his head sadly. "In any case, you're a good man, Leon. And you're doing right by the other SeeDs. Just make sure to let yourself relax a bit from time to time, eh?"

Leon quirked an eyebrow, but nodded anyways. He hadn't realized that his stress was visible to people outside his team. Maybe he should take Irvine's advice and pick up a slave. Or at least find Seifer.

He continued down another level to drop off the papers into Neo Balamb's inter-Garden network; knowing that they would get to where they needed to go. As a passing thought, he decided to see if Raijin was around before he returned to his office, and ask the man if he had seen Seifer recently. He made a quick stop by the Discipline Committee's meeting room, but only found Fujin. He winced inwardly. While the woman was a competent SeeD, she couldn't hold a conversation worth shit. He was going to turn around to look for Raijin later, but stopped when Fujin called out to him.

"COMMANDER."

"Ah, Fujin," he inserted quickly. "Have you seen Almasy lately?"

"NO," Fujin replied with a dark frown.

"Tell him to report to me if he come in."

"RIGHT."

Quickly exiting the room, he ascended the stairs to return to his office. Reading through reports indeed took him the rest of the night, and the next few days were also spent going over unofficial contracts and requests for further improvement on the growing Neo Balamb.

It was far too soon in Leon's opinion, but August 24th was upon him, his PHS blinking at him with a vengeance. And so Leon found himself slipping off into one of the nicer black cars, and making a trip down to Caraway Prison.