Irvine arrived at Tavern Town on a Saturday afternoon in mid summer, on the sort of day that doesn't end, where dusk slips into dawn with barely a sliver of night in between. He wasn't sure how he'd got from the Bo Jangles to the huge gates that marked the entrance to the town; Jack had been singularly vague about how teleportation worked on the heap of junk he used to travel the universe and it was nothing like any form of travel, sub-molecular or otherwise, that Irvine had ever experienced.
And Irvine had travelled a lot.
He arrived at Tavern Town out of breath, fog-headed and, most perplexing of all, wet. Drenched from head to foot and smelling slightly salty, as if he'd been dunked in the ocean. On closer inspection he found a piece of seaweed in one pocket and a rather startled shrimp in his hat. No doubt Odine would have had a perfectly unintelligible explanation, and Irvine was so counfounded he might even have taken comfort from listening to it, just for the air of certainty the bewildering little scientist exuded. But Odine wasn't there, Jack was long gone and Irvine was.... here. Stranded. On the vacation from Hell.
Quite literally, in fact. He'd been working with Selphie and Quistis on the Island Closest to Hell for about six weeks when he'd met Jack in a cave, and decided to take a trip while Squall worked out whatever he was trying to work out with Rinoa. Jack has promised the trip of a lifetime (and a few other things), and it had all been going just fine until Jack got some kind of emergency call, had to go save the world and for some reason didn't think Irvine could help.
So Jack had dropped him here saying it was a bit like a resort for the adventurous hero, muttering something about Disneyland, and here he was. Soaked from head to foot, outside an enormous pair of gates. Thirsty, hungry and kind of horny.
Irvine shook himself like a dog, wrung out his hair, stepped up to the gates and knocked.
To his surprise, they swung open almost immediately, and he was greeted by a huge duck wearing a sailor suit.
It was when the duck spoke that Irvine knew for sure that he was dreaming.
The dream-duck led Irvine across a large, paved courtyard. The buildings surrounding it were huge and ramshackle, packed tightly together and interrupted only occasionally by alleys which led off into the dark and gloomy distance. The courtyard itself was bright and cheerful; a friendly, picture-postcard place, light streaming from streetlamps and windows, amber and gold.
"I'm Donald," the duck said in an odd, quacky sort of voice. "Are you here for the wedding?"
"What? Oh, sure, I guess." Irvine caught himself just in time before he asked whose wedding it might be.
"Most of the guests are arriving tomorrow. Clever of you to come today, there's still some rooms left at the hotel, I think."
"Oh, good. Where is the hotel?"
"It's just around the corner. I can show you, if you like? You look like you need to," and the Duck made a noise somewhere between a quack and a chuckle, "dry out a bit."
Irvine accepted Donald-the-duck's offer - there would be time for slinking around alone later, when he'd got the lay of the land - and checked in at the hotel. The hotel was clean and the room he was given was large and comfortable, with a huge four-poster bed in the middle. The Duck bustled off while Irvine showered, and returned in a few minutes later with Irvine's clothes all clean and dry. Irvine was used enough to odd things happening not to question how the Duck had accomplished this - after all, it was a dream - and got dressed again, grateful for the absence of salt water about his person. Then he asked Donald-the-duck, "what do people do for entertainment around here?"
"There's a tavern," Donald-the-duck ventured. "That's about it when the shops shut."
"A tavern sounds excellent," said Irvine with his best smile, and the Duck quacked happily and led him there.
Once inside the door, however, they were greeted by a large, lolloping yellow dog (who apparently went by the name of Pluto). Pluto-the-dog and Donald-the-duck were obviously good friends with lots to do, so Irvine found himself at the bar alone, ordering a drink in a currency he didn't fully understand, and wondering when he was going to wake up.
The tavern was lit with candles and wall-lights that looked a bit like lanterns. A buzz of chatter and laughter surrounded him, but even those few near the door who had noticed him come in didn't seem to give him a second glance. Either they were used to seeing ducks and cowboys around here, or it really was a dream.
A talking duck. And a talking dog. Of course it was a dream.
At least the talking animals were friendly. Irvine had had worse dreams.
Then the small crowd of guys who had been standing next to him at the bar got their drinks and moved away to a nearby table. Irvine's eye was immediately drawn to the figure just beyond the newly-formed gap. About five foot six, dark collar-length hair, leather trousers and belts. Many, many belts.
"Squall?" Irvine's heart lurched: this dream had suddenly just got a whole load more interesting.
Then the guy at the bar turned to look at him, and Irvine's jaw dropped.
It did look like Squall. It looked a lot like Squall. But last Irvine looked, Squall didn't have breasts. His body didn't go in and out at the waist like that. And he most definitely hadn't been wearing lipstick.
"Squ-...?" Irvine stammered.
"Irvine?" Girl-Squall said.
"Apparently," Irvine managed.
"You're here? You're really here?"
"Last I looked," Irvine said, weakly.
Girl-Squall was suddenly right there next to him, peering at him as if he were a mirage. Or a laboratory specimen.
"I thought you were lost," she said. "I thought..."
"Wait. Lost from where exactly?"
"From Balamb. From our world. When the heartless came."
"From our..." Something Jack had said echoed in Irvine's mind. "You mean your dimension."
Girl-Squall frowned at him as if he'd said something particularly stupid. "Yes, our dimension. What happened?"
"I think there might have been some sort of mistake. Well, for a start, I'm dreaming, but even if we put that to one side and apply a bit of logic, I don't think I'm actually your Irvine."
"What d'you mean?" There was an edge of danger to Girl-Squall's voice that Irvine recognised all too well. Squall clearly wasn't any more patient with people when in possession of breasts than he was without them. Which surprised Irvine a little. He'd expected that having breasts might make a person more mellow; after all, you could play with them whenever you wanted-
Girl-Squall raised one menacing eyebrow.
"You're certainly not my Squall," Irvine said, with conviction.
"I don't go by that name here," she said. "I'm Leona."
"Leona? Right. Okay. But even so, Leona, you're still not the Squall I knew back in Balamb."
"Well, you have different, um, attributes."
"You're a girl."
"You're telling me your Squall is a boy?"
"Oh. Well. Whatever."
She turned back to the bar, knocked back most of whatever was in her glass, then signalled to the barman for a refill.
"This is-" Irvine started, but Leona treated him to a Grade-A Squall-style glare that stopped him in his tracks. More so than usual, even, because there were tears in her eyes. Glassy, brittle tears, but tears nonetheless. Irvine reached out a hand without even thinking, but she knocked it away with a good deal more force than was strictly necessary. Irvine's hand banged hard on the bar. "Ouch. Fuck!"
"Sorry," said Leona, gruffly, and turned back to her drink. "It's just... my Irvine is probably dead. It's weird seeing you standing there looking like him but not.... being him."
"I am a he, then? In your world?"
Leona snorted. "Oh yeah. You're all man. Think you're Hyne's gift. Took me six months of beating sense into you before you got the message I wasn't interested."
"Ah. So we never.... ?"
Leona gave him a sidelong glance through long, dark lashes that made his heart skip a beat. "Oh yeah. We did. Once you'd learned your place."
Irvine swallowed hard. If his brain hadn't already been scrambled by the concept of Squall in a girl's body - a gorgeous girl's body, with curves in all the right places and still every ounce of beauty: the pale skin, the blue-grey eyes that saw right through you, the dark hair that flowed over her shoulders and danced when she moved - as if that wasn't enough, now she was getting all dominant on him.
It turned Irvine on when his Squall got dominant. Girl Squall getting dominant...
"Can I buy you a drink?" he asked.
Leona snorted and drained her glass again. "Sure. Double starfruit vodka with ice and lemon. Knock yourself out."
Irvine got Leona whatever a starfruit vodka was, and a beer for himelf. "So what's a heartless?"
Leona stared at him. The barman stared at him. It felt as if the whole bar was staring at him.
"What? I'm new in town, okay?"
"You really are," said Leona. "Okay. The heartless are the enemy. They're what happens when the darkness in peoples' hearts takes over. When there are enough heartless in a world they consume it, shatter it to pieces, until something like this is all that's left."
"So this was once a world? A whole world?"
"Yes. And now it's just a tiny fragment, and the only way to save even this is to protect and train a keyblade weilder. I don't suppose you have a keyblade?"
Irvine patted his pockets. "Not on me." He smirked. "Guess I'm just pleased to see you."
Leona glared at him.
"Okay," said Irvine, and cleared his throat. "So you don't know for sure that everyone died." He signalling to the barman for a drinks refill.
"It seems likely. The kind of force that tears a world to bits..."
"So you actually know what happens to worlds when the heartless win?"
"Well, no," Leona conceded.
"There you go, then. After all, you survived. The other people here survived their worlds, right?Your friends could walk through that door any second, for all you know." Irvine breifly contemplated the notion of meeting himself, as it were, under such circumstances. It was intriguing, if faintly disturbing.
"People do... turn up sometimes. But... It's not straightforward."
"Sometimes they're kind of different."
Irvine grimaced. "What, like mutants?"
Leona shook her head. "No, nothing like that. It's to do with time compression, I think. Like, there's this girl that a friend of mine knew on their home world. I think they may have been dating, I don't know. I kind of got that impression. But she turned up a few weeks ago, and she's fifteen years old."
"Bummer. This friend of yours, is he..."
"She. She's called Cloud and she could kick your ass any day."
"And you and she were....?"
"Friends," Leona said slowly and carefully, as if talking to someone who was hard of hearing. "I'm straight, if you must know, and I'm not a fucking cradle snatcher. Hyne, you never stop, do you?"
"I was only asking," Irvine said, affecting his best offended tone. "You want another drink?"
Leona shrugged. "Why not? It's not like there's anything better to do."
Irvine signalled the barman and bought more drinks.
"Nonononononono. You don't wanna go at a fireball with a firaga! 's gonna make things worse, I told 'em. Tried t'explain. But... Ooops!"
Leona picked up the empty bottle she'd just knocked over on the bar, and peered into it. "Oh. Empty."
Irvine looked in the vague direction of the barman, but he was busy washing glasses at the other end of the bar. Something about the vigor with which he scrubbed told Irvine he wasn't about to rush over and give them more beer. Come to think of it, it was getting a little late. They were the last customers, and the rest of the bar was in darkness, chairs on tables. It was entirely possible they'd outstayed their welcome.
"More beer?" Leona said hopefully, waving her empty bottle. "More nice foamy beer?"
"I don't think so," said Irvine. "I think they're all shut."
"Oh," said Leona, and set her bottle down with a disappointed little clink. "I could fight someone for beer?"
The barman looked up, alarmed, shaking his head frantically. Irvine guessed that Leona had established something of a reputation for violence.
"No," said Irvine, firmly. "No-one left, see?"
The barman ducked down behind the bar. Leona squinted around, then let out a deep, shoulder-slumping sigh. "Oh. Still 'wake. Not ready to go home jus' yet, y'know?"
"If you want," Irvine licked his lips and smiled, "you could come back to the hotel I'm staying at."
"Don't need a hotel room. Got a house."
"No, I mean, you could come back to my room. If you want to, y'know, talk. Some more."
Leona squinted at him.
"I think there's a minibar," Irvine said. "Might be beer."
Leona brightened instantly. "Yes! Good! Let's go there, then."
She half-hopped, half-fell off her bar stool, and didn't object when Irvine grabbed her elbow to steady her. She leaned into him, giggling.
She didn't object when he didn't let go, either.
Irvine dropped a rather substantial tip onto the bar, and guided Leona towards the door.
The fresh air didn't do much to sober Leona up, and by the time they entered Irvine's hotel room she was in mid-ramble, something about battle tactics and nobodies. It didn't make much sense, but Irvine got away with a few well-placed nods and smiles.
"Oh," Leona said, as Irvine shut the door behind them. "Here already."
"Yep. It's convenient, I'll say that for it."
"No fightin'," Leona said, a little sadly. "Not even a single nobodyody."
"Hm," said Irvine. "Apparently not. Would you normally expect a fight? Seems like a pretty quiet town to me."
Leona snorted derisively. "Shows what you know. Just we beat the livin' crap out of 'em a couple days ago, is all."
"Well, I'm glad." Irvine tipped his hat back and smiled at her. "I can think of better things to be doing right now than fighting a bunch of monsters."
"Hm. Me too." Leona looked around the room. "Like drinkin'. You said there was beer."
"Sure. Over there, in the wardrobe. There's a fridge."
Leona's face brightened, and she treated him to a lopsided grin that was pure, total Squall.
Then she stole his hat. She perched it on her head at a jaunty angle, and sauntered across the room to the minibar.
Irvine sat down heavily on the end of the bed. It had been a long day - or a long dream - and it was getting more surreal and confusing by the minute. It was nothing short of exhausting.
Leona located a handfull of tiny bottles, and tossed them on the bed. She kicked off her boots and sat beside him on the bed cross-legged as she sifted through her selection. "Hmm... brandy, vodka, something green with a name I can't pronounce... ooh! Elixir!"
"Elixir? Really? That's a kind of healing potion, right?"
"Yes," said Leona, regarding him as if he were completely stupid. "Heals wounds, restores energy, antidote for most known poisons."
"Oh yeah." Was that a twinkle in Loena's eye, or was it just a reflection from the lights?
"Thank Hyne for that. I was worried for a minute it might work differently in this dream."
"Dream, world, whatever. Chuck us a brandy?"
Leona ignored him, turning the elixir bottle slowly in her hand. "You think this is a dream?"
"It seems likely. There's talking ducks, the houses are all a weird shape and my best friend's turned into a girl."
"Oh. I see."
"It's nothing personal," said Irvine.
"I thought the same."
"When I first got here. Thought it was all a nightmare. I think a lot of people do. But I can promise you, it's real."
Leona's gaze was steady, her eyes calm and certain. "But-" Irvine began.
She kissed him.
All at once, just like that, her mouth was on his, soft and warm and comforting and weirdly, definitely like Squall's. Her hand cupped the back of his head, fingers stroking their way through his hair to massage his scalp.
Irvine hesitated for the barest moment out of pure shock, then started to kiss her back.
"So." She drew back a little, licked her lips. Irvine couldn't take his eyes off her mouth, so soft and pink and oh Hyne, wet.
"So." Irvine moved in for another kiss. She was wearing his hat, she was stroking the sensitive place on his neck, and her tongue was slipping between his lips. So sexy, so fucking...
"Wait," he gasped. "Just a minute."
She made a little growl of protest as he pulled away. He fumbled around on the bed for a bottle, ripped off the lid and gulped a mouthfull. Lunged forwards and kissed her, letting the sweet liquid trickle from his mouth to hers.
She resisted for a second, just a second, then relaxed into it. A glow grew around them, a soft rainbow sphere, shimmering, melting to nothing. Irvine's head cleared and his senses came sharply to focus.
Leona raised an eyebrow at him. "You think I've got some nasty disease or something?"
"No, no of course not. It's for the alcohol. I don't want you to do anything you might regret in the morning."
Irvine was relieved to note that she was still stroking the back of his neck. Still had one thigh draped over his. One slender, strong, leather-clad thigh.
"Impressive," Leona said. "You appear to have morals."
"Can't get rid of them. What can I say? I'm a good guy."
Leona grinned that sexy lopsided grin. "You'd better be."
"So you still-"
Irvine never got to finish his sentence. She shoved him back on the bed, hard, and landed astride him in one fluid, graceful move. She pinned his wrists down to the bed, and kissed him senseless. Irvine was helpless. She was incredibly strong. But her lips were soft; her skin was soft; her hair was soft where it tickled his cheek. He slid a hand under her t-shirt, followed the line of her spine until he met her bra. Twitched it undone in one economical, skillful move.
"Not bad," Leona said, and Irvine touched her breast: soft, soft, soft.
She gave a very satisfying little moan, and licked his neck.
For a while, Irvine lost himself in the pleasure of Leona's body. She moved differently from Squall; she twisted and writhed in a very womanly sort of way. But other things... her hips were lean and boyish, her hands and arms were very strong. She made a similiar sort of snuffling noise when Irvine touched that particular place at the curve of his spine, no, her spine, and her kiss... but no. She wasn't Squall. There was no denying that, with the curves and the breasts, and the slick wetness between her legs. No cock, no manly grunting, just contented humming sounds and soft, soft skin.
She wanted him, though, and she wanted him in that fierce, commanding way that Squall often wanted him. And for the moment Irvine found himself thrusting into her, burying himself to the hilt in hot, wet cunt, and it was enough. More than. It was good. It was amazing.
Leona gasped and tightened her fingers in his hair. He paused. "You okay?" he asked.
She nodded. "Just very... strangely... familiar."
"Ah," said Irvine, and began to move again.
Leona's head tipped back, and Irvine kissed the long, smooth lines of her neck. Her jaw. Her mouth. Oh Hyne. Her mouth.... His mind blanked out at last, and there was nothing but rising, rhythmic pleasure.
She got wild towards the end, when he was flicking his tongue over her nipple and fucking her with long, even strokes. Got the timing just right, watching with satisfaction as she came. She wrapped her legs tight around his waist, sucking him deep inside and spasmed, every wave clutching at his cock, sending him closer to the edge himself every time. When she'd done coming she just started to move her hips again, driving him on, on, on....
The first glow of morning light was seeping through the gap at the bottom of the curtains before Irvine finally slipped, exhausted, into a deep - dreamless - sleep.