The unthinkable had happened. Cue the volcanic eruptions, blazing meteors, and the destruction of all mankind; the world was probably about to end:

Seifer Almasy was nervous.

It really was the most aggravating thing, he thought as he paced, practically wearing a path in the thin carpeting of the SeeD dorm. He was so unaccustomed to being unsure that it was more obnoxious than anything. He was Seifer fucking Almasy, after all - the man who had nearly brought the world down around everybody's ears, or at least who had assisted the person who could. A name to be fearfully respected, or respectfully feared. The former head of the Disciplinary Committee. He was supposed to be the one who was always certain of himself, always confident. What the hell had happened?

Well, actually, he knew what had happened. Or rather, who had happened.

When, why, or how he had ever noticed the sniper was beyond him. No, not 'noticed' - the smug bastard made very certain he was always noticed, even by people who would rather avoid him. How could Seifer explain what had happened, then? Not 'noticed,' but... 'fallen for'? No, that was disgustingly girly. 'Gotten attracted to,' maybe. That was probably the best way he could put it. He had gotten attracted to that over-confident, overly flirtatious cowboy son of a bitch.

He hadn't the faintest idea how. Yeah, the man was attractive (and flaunted it, the self-indulgent ass) - but Seifer had never liked guys. At least, he'd never had a documented case of having done so before. Besides, this wasn't a one-time, drunken, 'let's-fuck-and-then-never-talk-about-it-again' sort of lust. This was a full blown, gut-wrenching, gnawingly insistent crush.

Hyne all mighty, Seifer had a crush. On Irvine Kinneas.

What a fucking nightmare.

At least, he reflected, he had finally decided to do something about it. Gods only knew he'd been mooning around about it - okay, less 'mooning' and more 'snapping at anyone who asked why he was acting strangely' - for long enough now. Even Raijin had remarked on his behavior, and the man was dumb as a brick. One of his closest friends, but certainly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Fujin had commented on it in her way, although she'd provided no help whatsoever. Seifer hadn't really expected any from that quarter, honestly.

So he'd gone to one person he could rely on to give him advice, even though it had taken a hell of a lot of effort to choke down his pride and man up enough to ask.

Admirably, Quistis hadn't laughed at him. Too much, anyway. Of course, he had kept the identity of his 'crush' (Hyne, he hated that word; it made him sound like a moronic schoolgirl) under wraps. No need for the woman to know too much. She was sharp, though, too damn smart for his tastes. If she figured it out... well, fuck it, the whole damn Garden would know eventually. Gossip spread like a freaking plague.

Of course, this was assuming he managed to go through with his plan, calculated after some extensive discussion with the red-headed professor and a whole lot more agonizing over the fact that he was taking advice from a girl. And assuming it actually worked.

A knock on the door interrupted his train of thought and his pacing, and Seifer cursed none-too-softly under his breath, to be met by a muffled chuckle from outside the door. Oh, that was a good start. Trying to smooth his expression into one a little less angry (a difficult thing, considering he always looked vaguely irritated at something, if not downright pissed off) he went to the door, swinging it open.

Irvine stood there, looking vaguely amused, as he usually did, casual as always, half-slouching against the door frame. That idiotic (if strangely appealing) cowboy hat was in place as ever, brim tilted slightly down, giving him a rakish look. That easygoing air had always been something of note to Seifer; now it was just grating. The sharpshooter was easy - to everyone except him.

Not that he behaved differently towards Seifer. No, he was probably the only one who acted the same around him since the blonde had come back to Balamb, although admittedly he hadn't been in the Garden before. Still, they'd known each other, years ago. Irvine had been the same even when they'd been kids, open and casual, although not as free with his favors. They'd been too young then, obviously. Now, though...

Seifer swallowed, forcing a smile. "Hey." His voice still sounded too gravelly, too angry. That wasn't going to win him any points. Trying and failing to modulate it into more pleasant tones, he stepped out of the doorway, gesturing into the room. "Come in?"

The cowboy flashed a grin. "Don't mind if I do." He edged past Seifer, sauntering - Hyne, he had never met anybody who actually sauntered - into the room.

It was nothing remotely special, just the same single SeeD dorm everybody else had. Seifer had made the effort to actually clean it, though, which mostly involved shoving all of his clutter into the bedroom and, where possible, under the bed. It looked very stark, very empty, but at least it wasn't his usual chaos. It was better than nothing.

He had also, although now he cringed at the fact, gone so far as to put a sad little stub of a candle on the coffee table. Now, belatedly, he realized he'd forgotten to light it. Another mental spate of curses went through his mind as he noted the faint smirk on Irvine's lips; the sniper didn't miss much.

Damn it.

"You wanna sit down?" Gods, he was full of stupid questions tonight. It was difficult to be as smooth as he ought to be, though he'd certainly rehearsed the situation several times in his mind. It wasn't the same as actually trying to enact it. Not in the least. Having Irvine actually there threw him off terribly.

The sharpshooter only smiled, almost indulgently, and settled on one end of the couch, comfortably at his ease despite Seifer's awkwardness.

Now he was floundering for conversation. He had invited the other over on the pretext of needing to speak to him about Selphie's latest attempt to make the Garden Festival a travesty of epic proportions, and the need to keep her in check. It was a lame excuse. A really lame excuse. Seifer did not, nor had he ever, given a shit about the Garden Festival. Or Selphie. Hell, it was kind of entertaining to watch such a small girl wreak havoc on the cream of the SeeD crop. Watching the high-and-mighty headmaster get flustered was well worth it. So he figured that Irvine had already guessed that wasn't what he was here for.

Still, he should at least keep up the pretense, right? That was what Quistis had suggested - keep it casual, subtle, instead of just barging in as Seifer was wont to do. He much preferred the head-on approach. This dancing around the topic had him on edge.

"So," he started, neutrally. That smile had him on edge, too. Hyne, did Irvine know?

There was no possible way. Seriously. Seifer hadn't told anyone, and Quistis would take at least a bit longer to put the pieces together. Right? He wasn't exactly being obvious, was he? Shit, this had been a bad idea.

"So," the cowboy retorted, grinning. "You gonna sit down, or just stand there twitchin' like a rabid Belhelmel?"

Scratch that. This had been a terrible idea.

Irvine's obvious amusement was grating on his nerves, but he plunked himself down on the couch nevertheless. All of Quistis' careful lessons about body language had gone out the window; now he was just annoyed at the fact that things were going so poorly.

"So," Irvine repeated, leaning casually back against the couch, sly smile still very much in place on his lips. "You wanted to talk to me?"

Seifer would never understand how someone could take a statement that utterly innocent, completely lacking in any form of context or subject, and make it sound seductive. He blamed the drawl. Half the time it was just a pain in the ass, since it made it seem like the man was utterly unaffected by anything, but the other half of the time... he could be reciting a fucking grocery list, and people would hang on every word.

Or maybe that was just him.

"Yeah. About the Garden Festival." He, on the other hand, sounded like a complete moron at the moment. A gruff, angry moron. Coughing, he shoved himself to his feet again, trying like hell not to look as flustered as he felt. "You want a drink or something?"

"I'll have whatever you're having." Damn the man's self-assurance. Seifer would really like to shatter that composure for a bit, even if just to make himself feel better. Well, that among other reasons... Shaking off that thought, he headed for the tiny kitchenette attached to the room (the Garden apparently wanted to keep even their top students dependent on the cafeteria food). The mini-fridge held a good quantity of beer, but that was hardly the most seductive of drinks. He hesitated for a moment, eyeing the purchase Quistis had insisted he make: a bottle of red wine, sitting there on the small stretch of counter. She'd even made sure he bought glasses.

He considered for a moment. Go for it, when things were already going so poorly? Or...

Aw, fuck it. There was no point in this. He grabbed a couple of beers from the refrigerator, opened them, tried to shake off the feeling that he was being a chicken-wuss for abandoning the plan mid-stream, and headed back to the couch. Trying for nonchalance, he slid one bottle across the table towards Irvine, taking a (probably bit too long) sip of his own. "Right. So Quistis has been whining about this damn festival thing, you know? Says Selphie's gonna run the Garden into the ground. And since you're the only one who can keep her on a leash..."

The smirk the cowboy flashed was enough to simultaneously make Seifer want to pounce on him and go find the flip-haired brunette and strangle her. There was something particularly suggestive about the look, and everyone knew the two had gotten together at least once...

That was the last thing he wanted to think about. He took another swig of his drink, wishing he had invested in hard liquor instead of that damned wine. It would have been more useful to him.

"I didn't realize you cared about Garden affairs," the sniper responded lazily, turning the beer bottle in his hands rather than drinking. "Turning over a new leaf?" Coming from anyone else, the comment would have sounded snide; from him, it was merely teasing.

"I really don't, but Quistis wasn't gonna leave me alone until I did something," he covered with a mock scoff, shrugging his shoulders as though this was all something he'd been put up to. Right. Like he hadn't been agonizing over it for days. Totally. This was all just a casual meeting because the girls were annoying him.

Hyne, he was an awful liar.

And he didn't think Irvine was buying it. The expression with which the other regarded him was not quite skeptical, but certainly not the open belief some would have offered. "Right," was all he said, though, still twisting the beer bottle, almost endlessly fidgeting.

For some reason, perhaps the fact that he already felt like a massive failure, this irritated Seifer even more. "You want something else?" The words were sharp, pointed. He sounded a great deal more like himself.

The sniper smiled.

"Just tryin' to figure out what you're really about, Almasy. Quisty badgered you for years, and you never gave two damns. What's the real story?"

Shit. Seifer almost choked back another gulp of alcohol, than decided on another tactic: honesty. Not complete, but at least a little. Enough to maybe defuse the awkwardness of the situation. He was going to kill Quistis for not coming up with a better cover story.

"Look," he started, raising a hand and raking it through his hair, a definitely nervous gesture. "You're the only person at this Garden who doesn't treat me like I'm some fuckin' monster, all right? Kind of nice to have company every once in a while. I mean, Fuu and Raij are all good, but..." An expansive shrug made it clear that his friends, loyal as they were, had their limitations. Sometimes a man had to branch out, especially if he got tired of hearing constant verbal tics.

Again Irvine smiled, and finally took a sip of his beer. "All right, Almasy. Whatever you say."

Several beers later, the conversation had gotten easier. For Seifer, at least - he was under the distinct impression that Irvine had in fact been nursing the same drink for the past hour or so, despite the collection of empty bottles that had appeared on the table. Neither of them was drunk - Seifer was smart enough to keep himself in check enough that he wouldn't spill anything he didn't want known - but the sharpshooter seemed particularly sober still. The blonde, at least, was pleasantly buzzed. It helped to ease the sting of having completely derailed his plan. At least he still had company. It was pleasant, even though his original statement about wanting it had been a complete lie. So long as he managed to restrain any urges to jump the cowboy that might arise, he was actually enjoying himself.

Did that mean he had entirely given up?

Hell no.

By the time the night had worn on, and small talk and beer supply had been all but exhausted, Seifer was feeling just reckless enough to make another attempt. Despite the several drinks he'd had, his hands were still steady as he pulled the cork from the bottle of wine, pouring two glasses.

Irvine looked far too amused as he accepted the glass, smirking over the rim of it at Seifer. "Why, Mister Almasy, are you trying to seduce me?"

The reaction was a dose of shock so cold it chased away the beer buzz. He managed, by long training of his reflexes, to neither drop the glass in his hand nor snap the damned spindly thing. Did the sharpshooter know? Had he known all along?

Seifer Almasy had never yet had the occasion to really, truly feel like an absolute idiot. Now he understood why people hated it so much when he did as much to them. He felt like a complete strung-along, blind dumbass. For a moment it was all he could do to remain where he was, staring at the cowboy, torn between surprise and anger.

That feeling quickly evaporated, though, as the sniper kept talking. "... because you really don't have to try so hard."

Another shock. Now he really didn't know what to think.

Irvine laughed; Seifer thought he probably looked absurd, practically gaping at the man like that. In one smooth motion the sniper stood, setting the glass down and easily taking Seifer's from his hand, putting that on the coffee table as well. With an almost proprietary air, he smoothed down the lapels of the blonde's coat, got a firm grip on the leather, and kissed him.

Seifer was fairly certain that, at least for a very brief moment, he entirely forgot where he was, what he had been planning, and possibly how to breathe.

Like his momentary flash of anger, it did not last long. With a sound that was almost guttural, he pulled the sharpshooter hard against him, turning to push him against the wall between crappy living room-slash-study and standard-issue bedroom. Irvine made a noise of response that might have been laughter, but Seifer wasn't focusing on that; his lips crushed hard against the cowboy's, tongue sliding into the other's mouth without mercy. And the sharpshooter gave as good as he got, mouth opening under Seifer's onslaught, a hand sliding under his coat and vest, grasping at bare skin.

Only when it was physically impossible to continue at this rate did the blonde pull back to breathe, panting heavily as he dropped sloppy kisses along the sniper's neck. Again Irvine laughed, turning his head to nip at Seifer's ear, the brim of his hat knocking against the man's forehead (how it had managed to stay on, he'd never know). "How long've you been waiting to do this, Almasy?"

In answer, Seifer pushed him towards the couch. If he heard a glass break, he ignored it.

xxx

He knocked on Quistis' office door, making an attempt to hide the smug look on his face. The redhead answered, looking tired and irritated; she rolled her eyes behind her glasses before opening the door entirely. "What is it, Seifer? Need more advice on your little 'problem'?"

"Actually, no," the blonde retorted, and the sheer satisfaction in his voice took her aback. "But I do need some pointers on how to get red wine out of carpet..."