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Library Fines

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"Hey, Irvine. You want a book?"

The pony-tailed librarian leaned over the counter and fluttered her eyelashes at Irvine, revealing a good deal of cleavage in the process.

Irvine gave her a patented Kinneas half-grin, and enjoyed the tickle that went straight to his balls as he remembered their tryst in the stacks on the night of the victory party. She really was extremely pretty. Especially when she ran her tongue across her lower lip like that, just drawing attention to how soft and tempting her lips were...

Down, Kinneas. He wasn't here for his own nefarious purposes, he reminded himself. He was here because Selphie had strongly suggested that he should give their hyper little friend a hand with dating. And he could say one thing for Zell: he had excellent taste.

"Actually," he resisted the urge to pull the girl over the counter and kiss her breathless, "I'm here for a friend."

"Then you've found one," she husked, and popped the very tip of her little finger in her mouth, swirling her pointy little tongue around it.

Irvine cleared his throat, surreptitiously adjusted his suddenly-tight jeans, and wondered if it would really matter all that much if he just had one little...

"Zell," he said, quickly. "Zell Dincht. He asked me to give you a message."

She looked a little disappointed, and Irvine fought down a touch of smugness at her reaction. On the other hand, if he didn't somehow manage to get Zell and - whatever her name was - together, Selphie would be mad at him. Which was never a good thing.

Well, almost never.

"He was wondering," Irvine said, "about his library fines."

She frowned. "Fines?"

"Apparently he's run up rather a big tab," Irvine explained. "He's too scared to come in and 'fess up."

"Oh." She reluctantly pulled herself upright and tapped at the computer under the counter. "Wow." Her eyes widened. "He really does have a problem, doesn't he?"

Irvine leaned forwards, tracing little circles on top of the counter with his index finger. "Thing is," he said, "I don't know how I can possibly persuade him that he won't get chewed out if he comes in to pay. He's a very sensitive man, you know."

"Really?" She frowned, clearly finding this hard to believe.

"Very shy," confirmed Irvine. "Painfully so. You must've noticed."

"He always seems kinda boisterous to me," she said, doubtfully. "Anyway, he'll have to pay. Can't make any exceptions."

That wasn't the kind of reaction Irvine had been hoping for.

"I thought you liked him," he chided. "At least you said, the night of the party -"

"Oh, I like him," she said. "But he doesn't like me. He's obsessed with hot dogs, he can't stand still and besides," she winked outrageously at him, "I prefer a man with a little experience."

"You just need to get to know him a little better," Irvine said, trying his best to ignore the wink. "Trust me."

"It doesn't change the fact that he has all these fines outstanding," she tutted. "That offends my inner librarian, you know."

Irvine idly wondered if it would be simpler to try and get Zell off with a random Treppie instead. They were usually only too pleased to go out with someone who had actually been ordered about by their idol.

But Zell seemed to have his heart pretty much set.

"I think the two of you should meet up and talk it over," said Irvine. "Somewhere neutral. Like maybe the bar. That's ideal, see, because he could have a drink to get over the nerves. Of talking about the fines."

She looked somewhat suspiciously at him. "Why can't he just come here and pay them?" she asked.

Irvine shook his head sadly. "Library phobia," he said. "He's so worked up about not bringing the books back that he's developed a complex. He could no sooner walk through that door than Squall Leonhart could let a grat live in the wild."

"Oh."

"So, what d'you say? Tonight, maybe? Around seven?"

She shook her head. "Cataloguing tonight. How about eight?"

Irvine's face broke out in a big grin. "That sounds great," he said. "I'll tell him."

"Thanks," she said, slowly licking her lips. "Now, was there anything I could do for you?"

She calmly undid the top button of her blouse.

"I'd best, um... " squeaked Irvine, and fled before she could undo the next.


* * * * * * *

"That's you all set up," said Irvine, standing in Zell's doorway and feeling distinctly pleased with himself.

But to his surprise, Zell's face fell. He slumped on the bed with his head in his hands, for all the world as if he were about to burst into tears.

"What's up, man? I thought you'd be pleased." Irvine tried hard to keep the resentment from his voice. He'd made sacrifices, after all, and if Zell was about to change his mind...

A muffled noise came from behind Zell's hands.

"What?" Irvine moved into the room, slipped out of his duster and folded it over the back of a chair, dropped his hat carefully on top. It looked like being a long session for Advisor Kinneas. He could tell.

"Can't do it." Zell looked up, tears spilling from his eyes. "I'm sorry, after all the trouble you and Selph've been to, but I can't... oh shit, Irvine, I'm such a wuss."

On one level, Irvine couldn't argue with that. As someone who had been dating conspicuously and with considerable success since the onset of puberty, it was hard for Irvine to imagine anyone finding it as difficult as Zell clearly did, especially when most of the hard work had been done for him. On the other hand, though, he knew Zell was far from a coward. He was a fearless fighter and had accepted responsibilities that would give most young men his age nightmares. Everyone had their weak spots, Irvine supposed, and as incomprehensible as it was to him, women were clearly Zell's.

Irvine sat down next to Zell on his bed, scooting back to lean against the wall. Zell's room was full of masculine clutter: bits of dismembered T-board, various items of clothing and an alarming array of hair-care products littered every available surface. Irvine chuckled to himself: Zell was in so many ways the complete opposite of Squall. He could imagine the disapproving scowl all this chaos would put on their Commander's face.

Zell blew his nose loudly and looked up, lower lip still quivering a little. "I'm sorry," he repeated.

Irvine shrugged. "Don't worry, man."

He watched Zell carefully for a few moments. He knew his friend would talk plenty when he was ready, another contrast with Squall. Getting to the bottom of his problems usually involved a good deal of coaxing and generous amounts of guesswork. Zell, however, was more likely to need shutting up than drawing out.

Except, it would appear, for today.

"So," Irvine said, eventually. "What seems to be the problem?"

Zell blushed to his baby blonde roots, and for a moment Irvine thought he wasn't going to answer.

"You'll laugh," he said, eventually.

"No, I won't," promised Irvine. "What is it? Frightened she won't like you? Can't think of anything to say? Don't know what to wear?"

"Well, yes," said Zell. "All those. But more than that, you see, I- " he wrung his handkerchief wretchedly in his powerful hands. "I've never..." He looked imploringly at Irvine. "I've never been on a date before."

Irvine stared at him with round eyes.

"I always get so nervous," said Zell. "I can't imagine why anyone would like me and anyway even if she thought she did, when she knew what I was like and found out I sucked really she'd laugh at me and I'm not sure I could take it and it's not like I'm sexy like you or good looking like Squall I'm kinda short and stocky and girls like tall and thin kinda guys and she'll know I'm a virgin and laugh and anyway what if my dick's too small or-"

"Woah!" Irvine stopped him with a firm hand on his shoulder. "Breathe, Zell," he suggested. "I get the picture."

Zell obediently sucked in air, blushing redder than ever.

"You've really never... ?" Irvine said.

Zell shook his head.

"Wow. Well, you know, that's not a problem. Chicks like virgins. Gives 'em a sense of power."

"But what if she's a virgin too? What if neither of us know what to do and-"

"That's okay, she knows what she's doing," said Irvine, without thinking. He realised, too late, that he had smirked as well.

"What?" Zell's eyes narrowed. "How do you know, unless- Fuck, Irvine, you haven't!"

Irvine considered lying, but he knew he wasn't very good at it, not outright lying. He could lie by omission with considerable skill, but once there were Suspicions it never seemed to work. "Maybe," he conceded.

"What d'you mean, maybe?! You've either fucked her or you haven't!"

"Alright then, I have. It was at the victory party, everyone was a bit crazy that night, you know? But I'm sure she was thinking of you the whole time."

To Irvine's dismay, Zell burst into tears.

"Oh, shit, man, I'm sorry," he said, putting a friendly arm around his friend's shaking shoulders. "If I'd known it would've bothered you this much -" I would've made damn sure you never found out.

"It's... not... that," sobbed Zell. "It's just..."

"What is it, Zell? Come on, you can tell me." He gave Zell's shoulders a little squeeze.

"It's so easy for you," said Zell. "You've fucked everybody. You get laid every ten minutes. You only have to talk to someone for thirty seconds and wham! They're all naked and begging you for it."

Irvine frowned. "Well, it's not quite like that. Even I've had my dry spells," he said.

"Really? When?"

Zell waited patiently while Irvine thought, a puzzled expression on his face.

"Well, it's different," he said eventually. "It just kind of happens to me, for some reason. I think I'm a bit of an exception, y'know? And I haven't had everyone. I haven't had you, f'rinstance." The words were no sooner out of his mouth than he regretted them.

"Exactly," Zell said, his eyes filling with fresh puddles of tears. "Even the sniper slut of Galbadia doesn't want me."

"Hey! Less of the-" Irvine took in Zell's sad expression and sighed deeply. "Never mind. Look, I never said I don't want you. But all you've ever talked about, for as long as I've known you, are hot dogs, and whatever-her-name is, the library girl. Now, unless you want to start fucking hot dogs, I suggest we do some thinking about how you're going to get in her knickers tonight."

Just the slightest, oddest expression raced across Zell's face at the mention of the hotdogs. Irvine suppressed a shudder and decided he was never, ever going to mention them in the same sentence as a sexual act ever again.

"Will you help me, then?" Zell all but begged.

"Of course," soothed Irvine. "There's really nothing to it, you know."

"That's all very well for you to say," grumbled Zell.

"Stop that," said Irvine firmly. "We need a positive attitude here. You have to stop thinking of yourself as a chicken wuss, and start thinking of yourself as sex on legs. Otherwise no other bastard will. Okay?"

Zell nodded, a little intimidated by the unusually authoritative tone to Irvine's voice.

"Good. So. Well. Let's start at the beginning. What're you going to wear?"

Zell shrugged. "This?" He plucked cluelessly at his baggy shorts and bright orange T-shirt.

"No," said Irvine, horrified. "Oh no, that'll never do. What else you got? Anything with leather?"

Zell looked helplessly at him.

"Oh," said Irvine. "Well, we'll have to improvise." He looked Zell critically up and down. "How tall are you?"

"Five-five," mumbled Zell.

"Hmm. Okay. You got jeans?"

"I guess," said Zell, looking about the room. "Somewhere. I haven't worn them in months, hardly ever. Ma bought them for me, they're too tight around the-"

"No," said Irvine. "They can't be. Listen to me, Dincht. There is no such thing as a pair of jeans that are too tight. Not unless you pop the buttons when your dick gets hard."

Zell's eyes widened. "They're not that tight," he squeaked.

"Good. Now, go find them, there's a good little chicken."

Zell paused to give him the briefest of glares before scooting off the bed and delving into his closet.

"You'll need a shirt, too," said Irvine. "A vest or a T-shirt or something, a bit soft, chicks like to nuzzle into a nice, soft-"

"Here they are!" yelled Zell triumphantly, pulling a pair of almost new pre-faded jeans from the bottom of his closet. "Are you sure about this?" He squinted at them uncertainly. "They look a bit ... clingy, to me.

"We can work with those, so long as you don't mind them being ripped up some." Irvine took them from him, surveying the blue denim with a critical eye. "Listen. Why don't you go take a nice hot shower or something, and I'll do what I can with these, okay?"

"Really?" Zell's eyes were shining with hope all of a sudden. "Irvine, I can't thank you enough for this. I feel so much better already."

Irvine smiled benevolently. "Glad to help," he said. "Now, go get clean, and let me work my magic."

"Sure!" Zell grabbed a towel from radiator and headed off for the bathroom.

Irvine, meanwhile, set to work on the jeans, with a pair of scissors and a determined expression. There was no point in dressing Zell up, he knew that. He'd never feel comfortable in anything that was deliberately sexy. At least, not yet. But a pair of jeans with rips at the knee, maybe one or two on the thigh... that always seemed to go down with the opposite sex, in Irvine's experience. Or anyone, come to that. Irvine took a moment to gaze into the distance as he recalled Squall caressing his own thigh through just such a rip, with that approving little glint in his cloudy eyes. Which reminded him: a good, solid leather belt never went amiss...

By the time Zell came back, damp and pink from the shower, scrubbing at his head with a towel, Irvine had expertly distressed the jeans, and also managed to find not only a belt, but a plain blue vest shirt that was suitably soft to the touch, and still smelt freshly laundered, probably by Ma Dincht, if the tell-tale signs of ironing were anything to go by.

"You can find your own socks and underwear," said Irvine. "Everything else you need is here."

Zell looked doubtfully at the jeans. "My legs'll show," he pointed out.

"Only bits of them," Irvine countered. In fact Zell showed off a good portion of muscular calf all the time in his baggy shorts, but Irvine let that go. He was trying to build the boy's confidence, after all. "Put them on, you'll see what I mean."

"Okay." Zell dropped towels in a puddle around his feet. "Just let me find some clean boxers..."

Irvine found himself staring in what could be construed as an ungentlemanly fashion at Zell's naked groin, and reluctantly wrenched his eyes away.

Well I never.

"Here we go." By the time Irvine had recovered his composure, Zell was standing in front of him dressed in plain blue boxers and matching socks, his hair dripping in his eyes. He took the jeans and vest from Irvine and struggled into them, showing none of the grace that won him battle after battle on missions. If he didn't know better Irvine would have said Zell was a clutz on purpose sometimes, knowing full well it was adorable.

"What d'you think?"

Irvine looked Zell up and down, and a smile spread across his face.

It was an astounding transformation.

"I think we have sex on legs," said Irvine. "You look... great." He paused to take in the full impact of his handiwork. Zell stood before him, the vest showing off his well-muscled arms and shoulders to perfection, skin still glistening from the shower; the snug, belted jeans rested on his hips, just the barest flash of hipbone and toned abs showing above the top button, which was begging to be left undone. There were tantalising glimpses of thigh muscle shifting under the carefully placed rips in the denim, teasing as he moved. He squirmed around, trying to look at himself from behind.

"You sure my butt doesn't look too big?" He fussed.

"No," said Irvine, his mouth suddenly dry. "Your butt looks just fine, believe me."

Zell opened the closet door and took a good look at himself in the full length mirror there. He grinned, and bounced a little, shadow boxing with his reflection. "Wow, baby, cool!"

Irvine watched the newly-displayed body moving with casual grace, strong and lean. Beautiful. He surreptitiously adjusted his own jeans to account for his stiffening dick.

"Are you sure she'll like me like this?"

"Absolutely," said Irvine, with conviction. "One hundred percent."

"There's a gap round my tummy button," said Zell, pulling his jeans a little higher up and his shirt down.

"There's supposed to be," said Irvine, and before he knew it he was on his feet, standing behind Zell and tugging his pants back down to once again flash that tempting v that pointed from hip to-

"Irvine?" Zell said, uncertainly, as Irvine pressed close against his butt, snaking his fingers around to undo the top button that so begged to be popped.

"Huh?"

"You're, um... digging in..." He wriggled his butt to show what he meant.

Which didn't help at all.

Irvine looked at Zell in the mirror, the toned body, the soft blonde hair, long damp strands falling into his innocent blue eyes. He looked completely different with his hair like that, a ragged frame to his face. Irvine was surprised at how long it was, and he wanted desperately to run his fingers through it, to touch it and muss it and...

"Irvine?"

He should move away, laugh, tell him he looked incredibly sexy and now they should do some breathing exercises to help him cope with the nerves and, and, and...

Irvine spun Zell around by his shoulders, and kissed him.

There was fierce resistance at first. (Much fiercer than there had been with Squall, Irvine was amused to note.) Zell pulled back and glared at him, bringing his palms up flat against Irvine's chest to push him away. But Irvine held his gaze, breathing hard, and raised one hand to cup the base of his skull.

"What the fu..."

Irvine took a chance, and kissed him again.

This time the resistance was fleeting; Zell murmured something that sounded a little like a protest against his lips, but Irvine opened his mouth a fraction and darted his tongue out, and with only the slightest pressure found Zell's lips parting to welcome it. He tasted of toothpaste, mint and fennel, and his mouth was soft and giving.

Zell had started to tremble, his shoulders quivering under Irvine's touch. Suddenly Irvine remembered that Zell was new to this, that he was the first person to break through and make fantasy become reality and...

"Shit, Irvine, what are we doing?" Zell pulled away, more determinedly this time, wiping his moist mouth with the back of his hand.

"Felt like we were making out to me," said Irvine lazily, giving him a bit of space, letting his hands fall to his sides but holding Zell firmly with his eyes.

"But..." Panic and confusion swarmed in Zell's blue gaze. "I'm not gay, I..."

Irvine shrugged. "Labels," he said, dismissively. "You liked it," he pointed out.

"I never thought of you that way before," Zell said.

Irvine was a little surprised by that, and felt just a little ashamed at the surge of lust that came as he recognised a challenge. There was a part of him that wanted to make sure that Zell ~always thought about him that way in the future.

"Me neither," he said, casually. "It doesn't mean anything, Zell, 'cept you're horny as fuck." He searched Zell's expression carefully, noted the rapacious desire underneath the uncertainty. "I could help you out with that."

Zell's eyes went wide and he instinctively brought his hands up in a defensive move, probably without even realising it. Irvine kept carefully still, hands by his sides. "How?" asked Zell, breathlessly.

"That's up to you." Irvine risked reaching out, past Zell's lightly clenched fists, to touch his hair. "What d'you want?"

"I don't know. I don't... I haven't... I've never even... I haven't done anything, man. That was my first kiss." An intense blush flushed his cheeks at the admission, making the tattoo stand out starkly on his blonde-fuzzed cheek.

Irvine tried to imagine the past five years without sexual contact, and failed. He had no way of knowing how Zell was feeling. And yet he recognised the need that was winning out over other emotions in Zell fevered mind, and felt his pulse race at the thought of corrupting that innocence. He shouldn't, really. It should be for whatever-her-name-was in the library to do that. But then again, she'd thrown away a lot of chances, and if it weren't for him the two of them wouldn't even have a date. And hadn't she said she liked men with a little experience?

Then Zell was leaning his face into Irvine's palm. Submission. Compliance. Need.

"It might make it easier," Irvine heard himself say. "If we fool around a little now, get some of that stuff under control." His eyes darted involuntarily to the impressive bulge in Zell's jeans. "Then if anything happens tonight..."

"I thought of that," said Zell. "I jacked off in the shower. But I guess it wasn't enough."

Irvine swallowed hard, contemplating for a moment the particularly inspiring mental image of Zell, naked and streaked with water, pleasuring himself with that steady, powerful fist.

"No, can't've been enough," he mumbled. "Definitely a good idea to-" And then the last vestiges of his self control evaporated, and he pulled Zell back for another kiss, harder this time, thrusting his tongue inside Zell's mouth and tangling his hands in damp blonde hair. Zell responded enthusiastically now, pushing his body against Irvine's, moaning with pleasure as Irvine ran his hands over his back and down to his hips. Keen to get another look at the cause of the impressive ridge that was pressing against him, Irvine deftly undid the remaining buttons of Zell's jeans, stripped the buckle open and sank to his knees.

He pushed denim and cotton down powerful thighs, and relished the slap of Zell's newly-freed erection against his cheek. Irvine closed his eyes and nuzzled happily into the tight pouch of Zell's balls, drinking in the smell of him, his natural musk mixed with shower gel. He ran his fingers slowly up the length of Zell's cock, wrapping thumb and forefinger around the girth - just. His earlier glimpse had not been misleading. Zell was seriously hung. It was thick and long, and curved at a very interesting angle.

Irvine couldn't suppress a smirk. The library girl was sure in for a treat, if Zell could just be shown how to use it right.

He cupped the lightly-furred balls in the palm of one hand, gripped a hip with the other, and set about licking Zell's length from root to tip.

There was a grunt, and suddenly Irvine's face was sticky-wet.

"Oh, man, I'm sorry. Fuck."

Irvine caught the final spurts of Zell's sudden ejaculation neatly on his tongue, and kissed the quivering head of his friend's cock. "'S okay," he said. "You've got a bit of catching up to do, huh?"

Zell slid his back down the closet until his butt hit the floor with a loud flood. "I had no idea..." he mumbled. "No idea it could feel... like that..."

Irvine wiped his face on a nearby towel and helped Zell out of the tangle of jeans and underwear, freeing his legs to stretch out in front of him. His balls flopped down neatly between his thighs, his softening cock draped over them, still huge, dribbling the last few drops of come out of its tip.

Irvine took in the novelty that was Zell, sprawled out there in nothing but socks and T-shirt, promptly divested his friend of the latter, and smiled benevolently.

"You okay?"

Zell nodded, stunned.

"You mind if I...?" Irvine indicated his own groin, and the conspicuous swelling of his own erection which was clearly outlined in the tight fabric.

"Sure," said Zell, weakly.

Irvine unzipped his own jeans and straightened out his cock, running a finger around the crown that peeped over the waistband of his underwear, spreading precome over the sensitive flesh. Zell watched, enraptured, as Irvine pushed his clothes out of the way, and started to stroke himself lazily with one cupped hand.

He noticed Zell's cock twitch in response. It was curled up like a sleepy puppy on it's plump cushion, soft and fat and tempting.

"Y'know, it's a crime you kept that to yourself all these years," Irvine murmured. He shifted onto all fours, and started to lick up Zell's leg, from wrinkled sock to knee, still caressing his own dick, delicious tension coiling deep inside him. He paused briefly to toss his ponytail back over his shoulder and out of the way, before advancing up the sleek skin of Zell's inner thigh, until his nose bumped against the end of Zell's cock, cool and wet. He opened his mouth and slurped up the sticky-soft flesh, letting it loll on his tongue as he nibbled his way down the shaft, until it was all inside, his lips clasped around the root, nose firm against Zell's groin.

Zell wriggled, and clutched at Irvine's head with tense, desperate fingers. "Oh baby!" he whispered, and Irvine shut his eyes and relaxed his jaw and tongue to accommodate Zell's swelling length.

"Oh baby, that's so good..."

Irvine pulled back for a moment to nibble on the frilly end of Zell's foreskin, licking underneath so it could slide back easily from the rapidly emerging head. Then he took it in his warm mouth again, marvelling at the powerful reach of the thing as it extended down his open throat.

Zell didn't move at all at first. He just sat there and watched slack-jawed as Irvine started to pull firm lips up and down his length. After a while the fingers in Irvine's hair relaxed a little and laced together at the back of his head, cradling his skull. Irvine pulled on Zell's hips, encouraging him to thrust, helping him to find a workable rhythm. When things seemed settled in for a while, he released his hands and let Zell fuck his mouth in long, firm strokes, while he pulled on his own cock in time. At the same time he softly tickled Zell's balls, pinching the loose skin around them very gently between finger and thumb, cupping his hand so that they bounced gently against his palm. He considered widening his exploration, but Zell's cock already felt fit to burst, and besides, Irvine thought it would be only fair if he left some of his friend's territory virginal. At least for now.

"Irvine, oh fuck, baby, oh fuck..."

There was no shyness now, no reluctance in the urgent snap of Zell's hips to Irvine's willing mouth. He snuck a look upwards and saw Zell's face, a picture of bliss, his head thrown back against the closet, neck a glorious arch, strands of honey blonde, almost dry now, streaking his cheeks and wafting over his nose with the puffs of breath that were forced from his lungs with every thrust.

Then he was holding Irvine's head tight and Zell's huge erection was plunged down his throat so hard and fast he almost gagged. Irvine snorted through his nose and shut his eyes as he felt the first blasts of semen splattering his gullet. He pulled back once Zell had relaxed his grip enough to allow it, and greedily sucked the remaining squirts out of him. Zell slumped forwards, whimpering, clutching Irvine's shoulders, his cock still twitching. He watched Irvine's hand fly over his own dick, swiftly dragging his load out of his throbbing balls and into his waiting palm with a loud groan.

It wasn't the best ever. Irvine had really wanted to sink his dick into some part of Zell's body and fuck like fury, rather than do himself. But sometimes it really was better to give than to receive, he thought, as he sat back on his heels and licked his own come from his hand, holding Zell's lust-clouded gaze all the while, and enjoying the foolish grin that spread across his friend's relaxed and open face.

Zell was stunned completely silent, for the first time in all the months Irvine had known him.

"Alright, Zelly boy?" Irvine teased, brushing the hair out of Zell's eyes, dropping one last kiss on his startled lips.

Zell nodded.

"Good," said Irvine. He appraised Zell's body critically. "You could probably use another shower," he said. "And then there's some breathing exercises you could use to calm the nerves."

Zell stared at him. "Breathing?" he said, vaguely.

"Yep. You know. That thing you do every fifth sentence."

"Am I still going tonight then?" He asked. "I mean that was... do you think I'm gay?" He looked panicked.

"Nah. Just labels, remember? Besides, you've wanted her forever. It's going to be great. Even better than this," he said, enjoying the flash of disbelief that crossed Zell's face. "This was just the appetiser. Believe me."

And very appetising it was too, he thought, licking his lips as he watched Zell stumble back into shower.

* * * * * * *

Irvine and Selphie sat in the bar, at a discreet distance from Zell and whatever-her-name-was from the library, and watched the fruits of Irvine's labour with shared satisfaction.

"That's so sweet!" gushed Selphie. "See, he's holding her hand! That's so..."

"Sweet?" guessed Irvine. It seemed to be Selphie's adjective of choice on this occasion.

"Exactly! Aw. See how he touched her knee with his knee just then?"

"Yup." Irvine was starting to feel smug.

"I like the makeover," said Selphie. "Cool jeans. And he should keep his hair like that. All straggly and stuff."

Even as they spoke, the girl was reaching out to touch it, hooking a wayward strand behind Zell's ear.

"I did what I could," murmured Irvine. "Took me forever to persuade him to leave it like that."

Selphie watched for a while, sucking the last of her soda through her straw.

"He seems different," she mused. "More... confident, somehow."

"Really?" said Irvine, innocently.

She looked at him suspiciously.

"What did you do to him, Cowboy?"

Irvine tried on a look of righteous indignation. "What makes you think I..."

But he knew it would never work. Seffie knew him too well: her beautiful green eyes were boring right into his soul, as if she could see every single thing he'd ever done, read every thought that had ever passed through his mind.

"I gave him a blow job," he admitted.

"Irvine!"

"She said she preferred experienced men!" Irvine leapt swiftly to his own defence. "And he was a virgin."

For a moment he thought she was mad at him, but her face broke into a wicked grin, and she smacked him playfully on the arm. "You slut," she said affectionately, her eyes twinkling.

He supposed he couldn't really deny it, under the circumstances. So he just grinned at her, and slid an arm around her shoulders, cuddling her into his side, warm and safe.

They watched the couple across the room in silence for a few minutes.

"Looks like our work here is done," said Irvine eventually. "Judging by the way she's groping his leg I don't think he'll have to worry about his fines again for a while."

"No," said Sephie, dreamily.

"So who's next? You got anyone else in mind who should be got together? Xu? Quisty, maybe?"

"Well, I was thinking I might find someone for Quisty in Trabia. Maybe my friend, the one who's doing the design for the new training centre there?"

"Oh." Irvine had managed to forget, for a while, that Selphie was off to Trabia in three days time. For a whole six months. Without him.

"You okay?" She looked up at him, ran the tips of her tiny fingers down one cheek.

"Hm," he said. "C'mere."

He kissed her lightly, firing up her body with the barest touch, and held her close, trying not to imagine what it was going to be like without her.

"You want to come back to my room?"

He shook his head, burrowing his nose into her neck.

"It'll be okay, Cowboy." She was stroking his hair, long sweeps of her palm down its glossy length. "I love you."

Irvine hugged her tight, not trusting himself to speak.